The Hobo, The Librarian and the Spy
The Globe, Toronto, January 11, 1932. “Storm Is Aroused By Berlin’s Protest Of Inability To Pay” – London January 10, “Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald said tonight that Chancellor Heinriech Bruening’s declaration of Germany’s inability to pay reparations,,,”
The drone of flies overcame the sound of screaming. I had been awake an hour now. The screaming stopped when I woke. I had never heard the screaming. I had once imagined the sound after coming on the bodies, some were my work. Most pilots never meet their kill.
Every pre-dawn I’d hear the German planes warming up, even though several miles away. They sounded like flies anticipating breakfast blood.
Flies are attracted to blood. Here was a lot of blood.
I thought I could help. It was foolish to go alone. I didn’t even know where I was going. I just started walking down the road. Did the flies wake me and bring me here? I could not have heard his screams.
He was clearly dead now, hanging upside down from a rope with a bad knot tied over the limb of a tree.
What to do? The detective in me looked for clues as to the perpetrator. I knew nothing of the victim. He did have some kind of uniform on. He had been beaten to death. Stoned, it appeared. Many lay below the body. Why? Did he give up information or was this a message to someone. Probably he sang a secret. This was too deep in the woods for anyone to find soon.
I decided it best to keep this to myself. Hobos are often guilty until proven innocent. There was no help for him now. I left him to the flies.
I hiked back to the hobo camp shaking off the shivers. I acted out a pretend scene in my head as if I had got up early and gone for a morning walk and that everything was normal in the world.
“Hey old man! You need to get to the office and get to work on those files.” A young boy made his way towards me. William, new to the hobo camp last year had survived a winter. We met last fall before I headed south to escape the cold and snow. He found a library in New York City that paid him to clean it and he slept in the attic without anyone knowing.
“I have some evergreen tea for you.” William placed a cup on a stump. Steam rose from a light green liquid.
“Thank you. You have new clothes. They almost fit.”
He was a head taller since I last summer. That put him an inch under me and almost a man. Still wiry and somewhat gangly like a cat wet after being dunked in a stream. A ready smile helped him play the con artist, which he enjoyed. Sometimes too much.
“Drink your tea old man. The creek is cold but you smell like a hobo and you need a shave and a haircut and a bath. I found some vegetables for our mulligan stew. Breakfast is ready but there's plenty of time for you to get yourself presentable for that job interview.”
William walked off to tend the stew. No one owned the pot. No one knew where it came from. It was here last summer.
William was one of few that could trade quips with me on an equal level. How he swung the library thing was remarkable. He did read everything he could get his hands on and was better educated than most adults.
Men gathered around the fire scooping stew from the pot with their cups. Several after brushed their teeth. I approached with my cup and asked if anyone needed a shave or haircut. Two replied yes and made their way to the makeshift chair as I scooped a mug of today’s gourmet breakfast. I opened my kit.
I had become the camp barber among other things. Not that I was good at it but I had a pair of clippers and a real razor and the job made me feel useful. Everyone needs to feel they are contributing something.
My wife died soon after the war and soon I hated going into work each morning. The depression came, the factory closed and they took the house. I started walking. It’s easy to ride under a train and live off the land. No responsibility, simple things like a good meal made the lifestyle addictive. I did feel needed. Here were people needing help.
“New bull at the yard - Kinda dumb, overweight and mean.” My haircut head said as I started clipping. I did not know his name. I didn’t know most of their names. Some had nicknames pertaining to some trait they had. This head was trait less.
“Aren’t they all?” The town we were near had a huge railway yard and was a crossing for many companies. It had seven ‘mules’ – railway engines that shuffled boxcars around to be sent out on another direction. The town was built and survived on the activities of the railway companies.
“I think this one got your friend William. I saw some bad bruises when he was bathing earlier.” The haircut head went on. “Thought you should know.”
“He seems OK but I’ll check with him.” I finished with him and brushed off his hair and jacket.
“How much do I owe you?” The head asked.
“One good deed made to a stranger.” I shook his hand and waved my next customer on to the chair. “Welcome to my office.”
My new client sat down smiling. “A little off the top please and I think I’ll try a shave. There might be some work at the yard and I look younger and better fit without the beard.”
As I was performing the final strokes on his shave the new talking face said. “I saw your friend William get beaten by the bull. William was reading a book under a tree not far from the yard. The bull snuck up on him and hit him a couple of times with a baseball bat before the youth could get out of the way. I was too far to do anything about it. William ran away and the bull left shortly after. I recovered the book.” With that the face dug into a large pocket in his overcoat, pulled out a book and handed it to me. “I think it’s a library book. It’s got a pocket inside the cover.”
“Thanks. I’ll see he gets it back.”
I handed the talking face the only mirror in the camp so he could see his new face and head. He smiled showing one missing tooth. “You do good work J.J. Wish me luck!”
I did so and started cleaning up. William approached after most of the men in the camp had left. A couple went back to sleeping, or as they put it, security detail. Hard work.
“I’m going into town to the library.” William took off his jacket and tied it around his waist with the sleeves. It was warming up. “Are you going as well?”
“Yes.” I said and handed him his book back. “One of the men recovered your book after the bull left.” I noticed the cover as I handed it to him. “Law Of Success by Napoleon Hill.” I pulled off my jacket and hung it over my shoulder as well.
We walked up the trail to the road. The town was a few miles away along a gravel road that was oiled a couple of times year to keep the dust down. Half way it connected with a highway that went north past the railway yard then continued to the City of Buffalo.
“If you keep your back to a fence or something it will be hard for someone to sneak up on you from behind.” I ventured. The boy didn’t really need a lecture but the subject needed to come up between us.
“Yes, I know,” William replied. “I wasn’t even near the railway yards. I just found a nice spot on a beautiful day to sit down and read a book. But, as you say, I could develop better habits for my own protection.”
Changing the subject I said. “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” It was an ongoing question.
“That’s easy.” William had a smile now as he put forth a new answer. “Rich!”
“Oh really.” I smiled back happy to see him in good spirits. “And what will you do then?”
“I don’t know, but you know, it does change your thinking to ask the question differently. What would you do if money were not in the scenario?”
“That’s easy.” I replied. “Right now money is not in the scenario and I know what I want to do.” I was being smug.
“And that is?” William asked.
“I’ve always wanted to be a private detective. You know, a private eye. For some reason sometimes they call him a shamus.”
William brought me back to reality. “Of course you would need an office for that and a floozy secretary in the front office and a phone and a gun and of course a murder to solve.”
“Yes, I suppose that it’s hard to run a private detective agency from a hobo camp.”
“You’re the one who advocates this wonderful lifestyle. Not a care in the world. No office to go to each morning to punch a time clock”
We reached the road to town. It was raised above the fields to allow passage during floods, straight as far as the eye could see and surrounded by ditches.
“There are no trees along here. We are more exposed than ever.” William observed.
“Well.” I replied. “The sun is not too hot and the wind is mild. It should be a nice walk in.”
“I wasn’t thinking of that. Someone in a car coming can see you for miles. It’s like you suggested my getting the habit of keeping my back to a fence. Here you’re vulnerable to any approaching car.” William gestured down the road.
“You have a point. I’ll petition the railway manager for more trees along the roads. Should help keep the dust down and stop the snow drifting in the winter. And it will be great for hobos to hide behind.”
“Seriously, I’d like to find a better route to town. The only other way is through the railway yard and that’s not healthy. Besides it’s longer. Isn’t it the state’s job to plant trees along the road?”
“Yes, I think so. But the railway yard owner also owns most of the town and the surrounding area and nothing gets done without his approval. I’ll have a word with him next time I see him.”
William shifted his book to the other hand. I had seen the date for return. It was due today. He had a library card with no fixed address. “Have you ever met him?”
“No. His chauffeur comes in to buy gas once in a while but he doesn’t talk much and the car has never come in when he’s been in it. Joseph Watts is his name. He owns the land on the yard and leases it to the railways. My understanding is he owns some controlling shares in a couple of the minor railways as well. Some of the businesses in town like the grocery store he owns as well.
“That would be Watts Grocery.”
“Exactly. I know that he tried to buy Georges Hardware when it went through some trying times but he didn’t get it.”
“Is that the same George that owns the garage and gas station that you worked part time for last summer?” William asked.
“They’re connected back to back but each front is on a different street. One of the things I want to do in town is see if he needs me at all this summer. We had a good working relationship and I enjoyed it. There was lots of fabricating to make things work and he has a small machine shop in the back that does some other jobs for various companies in town. The only other machine shop is at the railway yard. Often some farmer will come in with some broken piece that needs to be rebuilt from scratch.”
“Where did you learn how to do all that?” William took off his jacket now as the sun was warming up the day.
“I was an engineer before the crash.” I replied. “Plus, flying an airplane in the war meant you had to make do with whatever was available.”
“You can fly an airplane!” William was intrigued.
“Sure. Planes were not as good back then. They were all biplanes and not always of good design or for that mater the best construction. Planes today are all mono, steel and the engines are far superior. A bunch of us went to France to help in the Great War. The French planes were pretty but needed constant maintenance. It’s where I really learned my way around a machine shop. When I wasn’t flying I was in the shop making something.”
I stopped and held my hand to shade my eyes. “You know you’re right about this road being exposed. There’s a car coming about a mile off. See that little puff of dust?”
William held up his hand as well. “Well if the corn here was a little higher rather than just sprouts then we could hide in there.” He pointed down to the crop lower than the road that was trying to become. Eventually, a brightly polished Model A Ford pulled up beside us. A big gold star adorned the door. A fat man in a beige uniform leaned over to the passenger side.
“Ah, J.J. I was coming to see you.” The sheriff said with a smile. “Who’s your friend?”
“William. Meet Sheriff Johnson.”
William put out his hand and shook the sheriff’s. Pleased to meet you sir!”
“Say, I have a report from the bull in the yard who says he run off a boy that was trespassing. That wouldn’t be you would it?”
“I’ve never been in the yard sir.” William responded firmly.
“The bull said that he had to defend himself with his night stick as the youth threw some rocks at him. Said he hit him good at least once. I see you have a bruise on the side of your neck.” The sheriff paused.
“I was under a tree reading this book a good half mile outside the yard and the bull attacked me from behind. I rolled out of the way and ran off.”
I said, “There was a witness. Another man recovered the book and returned it to me confirming the whole thing.” The bull was clearly being, shall we say over zealous.”
“It won’t be the first time I’ve heard of this bull over stepping his authority.” The sheriff pulled out his notebook and scribbled. “I’m seeing his nibs Watts tonight. I’ll run this by him. The boy’s all right?” The sheriff directed the question at me as if I was his guardian.
William answered. “I’m all right and I learned to watch my back in the process.”
The sheriff looked back at William and I could see he was sizing him up. The boy was too much of an adult for his looks.
William was quick. ‘Say sheriff, if you’re going back to town now could you give us a lift? I have to return the book to the library and J.J. has to see George.”
On the way back to town I inquired. “So, what’s new in town sheriff? Both of us have been south for the winter.”
The sheriff liked to talk. “A couple of months ago his nibs got audited. They sent a taxman down from Washington very official like. He had a lot of pencils and even one of those comptometers. After spending a few weeks at the yard going over the books this auditor goes missing. Without a word he just didn’t show up one morning. The hotel where he was staying still had all his stuff. He was just gone.”
The sheriff made a gesture as if into thin air. “Anyway, if that wasn’t enough, because he was technically a federal representative, they sent two agents from the Bureau of Investigation.
“They sent the Feds in? Here?”
“Yes. They’ve been here for two weeks now. I guess they think a small town sheriff can’t handle the job even if it is in my jurisdiction. They’ve been all over town and questioned everybody. Agent Wallis and some snooty new guy Agent Barnes. I think this is his first assignment.”
“Have they found anything?”
“Darned if I know. They don’t report to me. As a matter of fact it seems if I’ve been kept out of the loop on purpose for some reason.”
“Just like the Feds though. It’s their style," I said. "I wouldn’t take it personally. And they do have a point. One of their agents even if he is just a pencil pusher is still one of their own. If I was one of them and I was missing I’d want someone looking for me.” I wanted to ask more but I didn’t want to seem to be prying. There would be all kinds of people to talk with about the goings on of a missing person in a small town.
A short time later the sheriff dropped us both off in front of the Library. “Oh, I almost forgot. The reason I came out to see you. Minister Smith wants you to stop by. He didn’t say why. Maybe he has some work for you. See you. Nice to meet you William.” The sheriff pulled off.
“Seems like an OK sheriff.” William said. “Nice of him to give us a ride.”
“And it makes us look good to be on friendly terms with the sheriff in front of the whole town.” I observed.
William just smiled. “I’m going to catalogue some books for Miss Abernathy. She feeds me as payment and she’s good company. Stop by after you’re done and maybe we can walk back together. I’ll introduce you. Oh and she’s single.”
“She’s also very pretty.” William shot back.
I made an ‘Oh Sure’ gesture that could be taken as I didn’t believe him or I didn’t care. In reality I didn’t believe it would make any difference. William went up the steps shaking his head and I walked into town.
The church was at the corner of the town that had two main streets connecting at right angles shaped like an upper case ‘L’. Along the base were all the stores with the library at one end and the church at the other. From the church going north were all the industrial factions. George’s Gas and Hardware were at the far end.
I walked slowly down the street taking in changes. A couple of people said hi and long time no see. It felt good to still be recognized and great to be back.
I stopped by Watts Bakery. It was also a small coffee shop. I knew the manager. I had fixed his oven and his car last summer. Upon seeing me he came out and dragged me in. A coffee and sticky bun were put on the counter in front of me while we exchanged pleasantries. I told him I was back for the summer and would drop in often. Free coffee and buns will bring any hobo back often.
I knew the manager of the grocery shop as well, also called Watts Groceries, but would drop in later. He was a kindly sort but handouts were strictly controlled. Under Mr. Watts guidance though, he supplied much of the food for the soup kitchen run by the minister. Most of the food was yesterday’s produce unsold or expired goods or stuff that just didn’t sell. Nonetheless it helped people in need and all were grateful.
The minister, Mr. Smith, was a kindly sort, which sort of went with the job one would expect. He was a fitness advocate and ran every morning summer and winter. His wife had died a few years ago. All the single women in town now went to church. He originally started the bakery but got Mr. Watts to invest in it to make it a growing concern. Mr. Watts agreed as long as his name went on it and he had fifty one percent. Minister Smith gets free coffee and sticky buns as well.
As I approached the church I found the popular minister outside one of the side windows with a can of paint and a ladder. He was obviously his own maintenance man.
“Church collection plate contributions must be down James.” I approached and we shook hands. He was a friend and I was glad to see him again.
“If it wasn’t for the income from the bakery this church would be in tough shape.” He placed the lid on the paint can and gestured inside. “Come inside. I have fresh coffee and sticky buns.”
I didn’t tell him I just indulged. “The trip south was good for me. I love the ocean and had a chance to try sailing. It might even be more fun on the bridge rather than working on the engine.” I followed him inside. Coffee perked from a very old pot. He must have seen me coming down the street from the bakery
“You look healthy anyway. Any chance you’ll settle down and work at a real job soon? Raise a family? Paint a picket fence? The new librarian’s single.”
“I would think it would be a crime to put up a picket fence around a hobo camp. Besides, there is still a world to enjoy on a beautiful day with wonderful people.”
“Speaking of crime. I asked you to drop by for a reason. There is something I’d like to bounce off that calculating mind of yours? The minister was now very serious.
“Sure. Go ahead.” I held a porcelain coffee mug up to receive the black liquid.
He put an entire plate of sticky buns in front of me. I felt as if I was about to be bribed. James knew of my sweet tooth.
It was the second reference to the new librarian. I had dodged it artfully and without the slightest acknowledgement or hesitation. Why hadn’t he gone after her? He was single too.
“What do you think of these?” He handed me a church contribution envelope.
I opened the envelope. Inside were two crisp twenty-dollar bills. I held them up to the light. “What about them? I asked. “They look good to me. I thought you said contributions were down?”
“They’re counterfeit. Yet they are absolutely perfect. If you hold them up to a regular bill you can not tell the difference.” The minister took a sip of his coffee. “Oh I forgot. You wouldn’t have one.” He dug out his wallet and pulled out a twenty and handed it to me.
I put the three bills beside each other. After a few minutes staring at the bills I looked up. “I can’t see any difference. How do you know they are counterfeit?” I asked.
“Take a look at the serial numbers.” James was watching me closely now waiting for my reaction.
“My-gosh! They’re the same. The very same.” I looked at how the serial numbers were inked. “The ink is a different colour than the rest of the bill.” I ventured out loud.
The minister went on. “I don’t get a lot of bills at all in the collection plate and when I do it is usually a few smaller denominations like ones and sometimes fives. Occasionally I’ll get a ten but when someone in my congregation gives the church higher amounts they write a check so as to get a tax receipt. I provide a confirmation at the end of the year as well.
“What tipped you off about the serial number? I would have just thought you had a mysterious benefactor.” I was curious about how he had found it and I hadn’t seen it.
“It started four weeks ago. The first two I thought just as you did. But I started thinking and after the third week I missed going to the bank to deposit them so I then had two of them together after the fourth week. It was then I sat for a longer time than you just staring at them.” The minister took a sip from his coffee mug and reached over for a sticky bun. He had just as sweet a tooth as me.
“OK. How can I help? I mean you have all the recourses I have. This is a police mater I think.” I took a sticky bun. It was the bakeries trademark special. This was now my third.
The minister topped up my coffee mug. “I think a hobo may have put the money in the plate.”
“Oh.” I bit into my bun and chased it with coffee.
“It makes sense. Most hobos are very honest folk. The thing is no hobo would have a denomination as high as a twenty and people would start to question as to why he did. I think a hobo has found a stash of counterfeit money and is dropping it in the collection plate as he doesn’t know how or what to do with it.” James grabbed another sticky bun.
“And you want me to ask around the camp about it? I took another bun as well. That was four.
“Look, I know it’s stretch and I could easily be wrong but it’s the only explanation I could come up with. I know all the other people that come here regularly. The only people that have changed in the last few weeks are the hobos.”
“It might not be the people have changed but the circumstance of someone has changed.” I put forward an alternative theory.
“Yes, I thought of that too. There is also the matter of the missing accountant doing the audit for Mr. Watts. Maybe the two things are linked.” James poured more coffee.
“OK. I’ll check around very discreetly. If it gets out that there is a stash of money somewhere we’ll never get to the bottom of it.” I was thinking out loud. “Say do you have a pair of binoculars?”
“No but I can get a pair. You think you could watch the plate travel from some unseen part of the church?”
“Why not? It can’t hurt anything to try. This is Friday? I’ll get up in the ceiling somewhere before anyone arrives.” This might even be fun. A stakeout! A couple of things: One, maybe you should inform the bank about those other two bills. They have a right to know. Give them the serial number of the suspected bills. Two, why not call these two federal agents in. This is something they may know a lot more about than us and they have recourses to follow up on whatever is afoot.”
“Do you think I should inform the sheriff? He’s likely to get his nose out of joint if I don’t.” James said.
“You know. It might be a good idea that he informs the two Feds. That way they will tell him to stay out of it as they always do. It still makes him look good and maybe he’ll even attend church once in a while.” I took another sticky bun. Five.
“I have a box of yesterday’s sticky buns that you can take back to the camp.” James said. “After you’ve seen George I’ll drive you there.”
Six sticky buns later and I didn’t feel guilty at all. This is the way life should be lived. I had wondered how he knew that I was to see George but didn’t ask.
George’s gas station has a two bay garage and he also owns the only hardware store for miles. I was good as an engineer and a machinist and I was cheap labour. I pumped gas, fixed cars, made things from scratch and did inventory control in the hardware store. George was flexible with the barter system. We had a rule. He didn’t have to know if it could be said it was to his benefit.
A bright yellow cab honked at me from some distance. The driver waved his cap out the window. “Hey JJ. Welcome back.”
The cab driver got free maintenance from me through George’s establishment. He did have to pay for consumables and parts but all of George’s employees got free cab rides inside the town limits for free. It was a great deal. George lived on the edge of town and when the weather was bad his kids got a free ride to school. All of George’s relatives work at the stores either full or part time.
I never did know his name. Everybody called him Cabby. I really didn’t need a cab as I would have enjoyed the walk to Georges but I wanted to talk with Cabby. He was known for knowing all the gossip and it would be good to remind George that it was I who had negotiated the deal with Cabby some time ago.
Cabby owned his own cab, a fairly new Chevrolet painted bright yellow. He had a wooden leg, the result of a land mine in the Great War. It made for some interesting shifts but he made do. Cabby spoke with a cockney or an English accent, (I couldn’t tell) which made it hard to understand him sometimes.
I smiled and walked over to the cab. He reached over the seat into the back and opened the door from the inside. He shook my hand vigorously and turned off the car radio interrupting a new hit by the Boswell Sisters.
After some niceties Cabby started the car and drove off down the street. “Where to Gov.? You off to Georges?”
“Yes Cabby. It’s good to see you’re healthy and doing well.”
I made it a point to admire his car while talking. It was his pride, joy and often he slept in it claiming to always be ready for a fare. It was spotlessly clean.
“The Chevrolet seems to have withstood the winter well.”
Cabby smiled. “I spray oil on her undercarriage in both the fall and the spring. She’s due right now. I was hoping you’d be back to do it personally. Oh and I think it’s time to change the spark plugs. There’s six you know: not like them Fords with only four.”
“I’m sure we can arrange something with George. If we get her up on the hoist we can probably get into some of those nicks and crannies where rust could grow. I can file the points and check the timing at the same time.” I watched Cabby beam. “Say, I heard there was an accountant missing a while back. Seems there’s a couple of Feds here?”
“Yep. They’re staying at the Watts Hotel. I’ve been driving them once in a while as sometimes their car won’t start. They’re not very good tippers.”
“I expect they’re under some kind of restraint as to what they can spend being federal agents and all. Know if they’ve found anything?”
“No bodies or anything if that’s what you’re asking. Seems the guy just disappeared. The feds do spend a lot of time at the yard going over paperwork. I heard one of them complain there’s a ton of it. Of course they also spend a lot of time at the library. That may be because of the new librarian.” Cabbie winked.
We arrived at George’s gas station. I got out, shook Cabby’s hand again and walked in.
George was getting on in years. Since I’d seen him last his belly had grown a couple of inches and his hair had gone from gray to white. His three teenage daughters caused it he claimed. He had a shotgun in the back to keep the young boys and some men at bay. The girls worked in the hardware store part time.
“Hi George. Can an old engineer find work in this town?”
“You’re late!” George looked up from his clipboard and put a pencil behind his ear. “If you hadn’t been eating all those sticky buns you might have got a half days work in by now.” He put out his hand and shook mine warmly. “I made out a list of things that need fabricating in back. You can start now. The girls have sandwiches coming so you won’t have to go out for lunch. I have enough work to keep you busy all summer half days six days a week. I might even have to consider paying you. Matter of fact I am.”
With that last statement I gave him a shocked look. Our former deal had been very casual and some pocket change.
“Don’t give me that look. You don’t have to punch a clock or anything and you can still come and go as you please but it’s not right that I exploit you. I want you to go over to the town bank to sign the papers. I opened an account three weeks ago when you phoned to tell me you were coming up here. I used this address on the application form. They’re expecting you at three this afternoon. It’s on the way past the bakery. Now get to work.” George gestured for me to go into the back. “Oh, and welcome back.” With that George went out to talk with a customer that pulled up in a shinny Cadillac. One of his employees pumped gas and ran around the car checking the oil and cleaning the windshield at a flurried pace.
I went meekly into the back that housed the machine shop. There was a clipboard there with a very long list. I looked for the perpetual coffee pot that had been there last summer. It was missing. We’d soon fix that. I sat down and looked at the list, categorizing what was needed quickly, what was urgent and what would be summer projects. It was a long list. I had expected to sort of go through a humble job interview. This was a bit much but acceptable as long as I didn’t have to punch a clock. Yes, he did say that. Did he say bank?
I had only been back a couple of days and already the universe was trying to domesticate me. I was to have a bank account and an address. I remembered Jim’s barb about a white picket fence.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t appreciative but I had come to like my new freedom and accepted the fact that the next several years I would live without any responsibilities. Now imposed on me were both an address and a back account. Well OK. As long as they didn’t get upset when I didn’t show up on time because I wanted to lie back on the ground and watch the clouds float by. It wasn’t as if I was planning on this life style for the rest of my life, but a few years I expected would be acceptable to the creator to appreciate his creation.
I sauntered down to the bank not in the best of moods. I knew it wasn’t three o’clock but of course hoboes don’t have watches. I would have to have a bankbook I reasoned. I had a bank account once. I remember I had to put on a suit to go in and do business there. Well, I left my suit at the cleaners. What would I do with a checkbook? I did try to make myself presentable. There was no use taking out my frustrations with society. The unsuspecting bank teller is only doing his job.
To my surprise everything was taken care of. A young, skinny and very English fellow with greased down hair and bow tie was most accommodating. There was a small nameplate in front of the wicket. Mr. Bartholomew. He even suggested that they keep the bankbook and checkbook in a filing cabinet in the bank for use whenever I needed it. All they needed was my signature. George had already deposited ten dollars in advance in my account. I didn’t even have to remember my account number. For opening a new account I was given a coupon for a free coffee and sticky bun at Watts Bakery. I was beginning to like Mr. Watts.
I thanked Mr. Bartholomew by name. “What’s your first name?” I asked.
“Call me Bart.” He replied. Somehow the last name seemed to fit more than the first.
The young teller took my dirty hand without hesitation and I was on my way for another coffee. I certainly wasn’t going to starve in this town.
As I was walking to the bakery, Minister James caught up with me. “I talked with the sheriff. He’s going to talk with the feds. It was a good idea to include him. He was absolutely beaming.”
We walked into the bakery together, had another coffee and sticky bun and I left shortly after returning to Georges with the coupon still in my pocket.
First priority on George’s list was a car in the back that had a cracked carburetor and the car was no longer in production. I was to fabricate an intake manifold adaptor and take another carburetor from a completely different make and install it for a very rich customer. It was a simple task but would require some tuning later. A carburetor was tagged for this purpose on the bench and I checked to see if the needle jets could be adjusted for air fuel mixture. Satisfied that it could be done I started looking around for some flat steel stock.
George stuck his head in. “Oh yes! The carburetor. It broke just after Christmas. The guy’s been asking about it weekly ever since. I told him you were back and would get right on it. You think you can do it?”
“I can fabricate the adaptor plate tonight but it will take a day to install it and another to set it up and tune it.” I lied. It was a simple job and I could do it in a couple of hours.
“Fabulous.” George was gone in a flash without saying goodbye.
I wasn’t cheating George. Miracles take time and he would have to imply the same to his customer and charge him as well. I made a coffee with the new pot borrowed from George’s Hardware store and surveyed the steel plate I had selected. It would fit the carburetor but I needed the intake manifold to set up the other side. Grabbing a toolbox I went out to the car. In short order I had the part in my hand and knew it was time for another coffee.
William came in. “Are you making enough for two?
“Sure, It’s a percolator. Makes six cups. What I don’t drink I use to clean tools.” I motioned him to a stool by the bench. “I thought you were to be at the library all day?”
“I was but working people need coffee breaks. Any sandwiches left?” There was a couple on the table that William had seen and was pointing to.
“Oh, that’s my lunch. I forgot that they were here. I was busy.” I picked up the plate, grabbed one and handed him the other.
“You got full on sticky buns. You should try and eat something more nutritious.”
“How is it that everyone in town knows that I had a sticky bun today?”
“You had at least a dozen by noon and that’s when I lost count.”
“Exaggerations. Lies! How does everybody know?”
“This is a small town. I can sit in the library and hear people talking about you and just about everybody else in town as well.” William devoured the sandwich.
“Have you heard anything about our missing accountant tax man?” Ever the sleuth I had been thinking about it all day.
“Oh yes, and to be truthful, the real reason I took off for an hour is Miss Abernathy has students in from the local school for a library class. She teaches them functions of the library and then they have free reading time and can check out books or whatever. She’s a very devoted lady.” William wandered around the shop checking things out.
“Quit stalling. What did you hear about the missing accountant?” I knew he was egging me on and taking some delight in holding back some crucial bit of information.
“Well, I found some time ago a wall divider between a row of books that is four feet thick. It was really curious that it was even there. It looks like there was an expansion at one point in the building’s history and the wall surrounded what was once an outside wall and was just boarded around so as to match the wood interior.
“So what did you do, stand behind the wall and listen to unsuspecting patrons talking?” I knew he was dragging this out.
“Oh, it’s way better than that.” William had a big smile on now. “You remember I told you that I found a way into the attic and had actually slept there a few times?”
“Yes, but I thought that was in New York City?” I finished my sandwich and went to tend the coffee, which was now perking away. I turned the burner off and left the coffee to continue perking until the burner cooled down on its own.
“Well yes, that too. All libraries have attics. You just have to find the way in. It’s often a panel in a washroom. Anyway, I was exploring the attic in this one and found that the wall was mostly empty except for what remained of the foundation that was too hard to remove. The rest of the wall is hollow. It’s a great place to have a nap without anyone knowing you’re there.”
William folded his arms in front of himself in self-congratulatory style very proud of himself. He eyed the coffee pot that had now stopped perking except for the odd pop. I went over and grabbed two mugs off hooks on the wall.
“So what did you hear from behind your new vantage point?” I poured two coffees and handed one to William.
“Well, you know there are two federal agents in town?” William asked.
“Yes. The sheriff told us on the way in. They’re looking into the missing accountant tax guy.” I sipped my coffee. It was perfect. All hobos make great coffee and take it black. It saves trouble of storing cream and finding sugar.
“Well, these two were in looking over old newspaper files for something. Gosh, they are a piece of work. They're right out of the comics. I didn’t know people could actually talk like that - and even privately among them selves. I thought they just talked like that to put on a show for civilians, you know as part of their training.” William paused to take a sip.
“How so?” I let him go on. He would tell me sooner or later.
“Well, I couldn’t actually see them. There are a couple of cracks that I can see out of but they weren’t in view. But I’ll bet you they practice walking like zombies just to keep in character.” William made a zombie like walk to accentuate his point.
“So how do they talk different?” I was curious of Williams view.
“Well, for one, they always, but always talk in monotone at an even pace.” William spoke in monotone mimicking them while still walking like a zombie.
“And, they always address each other by their formal title. Yes Agent Barnes. No Agent Wallis. It’s not like Hi J.J. Hello William or anything like that. They are just weird.” William sat down and sipped his coffee.
“So what did they say about the tax accountant?”
“Oh. Well it turns out he’s not actually an accountant at all. Or even from the tax department. William sipped again.
“So, where is he from?” I put down my finished mug.
“Turns out he’s from the treasury department. So what do you think of that?” William was pleased with himself.
A bell went off inside my head. I told William of my meeting with Jim.
“It sounds mysterious. Did they say what the treasury agent was doing here in town?”
“No that’s all I got. I only managed to listen for a short bit. They were checking past newspaper archives to see if they could come up with anything. I don’t think they did. They seemed to be without much in the way of clues the way they were talking. Say, what does a treasury agent do anyway?”
“I was just thinking the same thing. I’m not sure. It must be something to do with money you would think.” I poured William another coffee but left mine empty.
It was a very good question. I wondered if the agents had talked with the sheriff yet. If I had put two and two together the feds would also. Had a hobo really put a twenty in the collection plate? Where would he have got it? I was the highest paid hobo around and I only had ten dollars and I wasn’t putting it in the collection plate.
I decided I did need another cup of coffee. “Say, could you research it at the library? I mean that’s what a library’s for isn’t it? You’re probably better at it than me and you’re there anyway.”
“Sure. It will be fun. I’ll get Miss Abernathy to help. She’s really good at that kind of stuff. Research I mean. She even likes detective stories. You are going to like her.” William gulped down the last of his coffee. “Well, I should get back. Thanks for the sandwich!”
“Oh, before you go. The minister has a box of sticky buns for the hobo camp. Can you pick them up and take them back there for me? And tell Jim. He was going to drive me back.”
“Sure. Aren’t you coming back tonight? William washed his mug and re hung it on the wall. “You should really meet Miss Abernathy.”
“I have to finish this adapter plate tonight. I can sleep on the couch here and then start work on the car early in the morning. There’s a shower in the back and the girls bring sandwiches. I’ll be fine even though I’ll have to shave with the shop razor.”
William left and I went about working in the machine shop. Two hours later I was done and it was dark outside. I found an old car blanket, took off my shoes and fell asleep on the couch. Why should I meet Miss Abernathy?
“Things you want, you strive for. Things you need, God provides.”
I woke with a start. I heard a noise. I’m not sure what kind of noise but it was a noise that shouldn’t be. I opened one eye cautiously. It was still dark. Dark doesn’t make noise. There was a light moving in the far side of the shop. A flashlight? Yes, moving away from me and scanning the desk. I knew there was a safe George had cemented in the floor just behind the next door. It had to be a burglar. I watched for a long minute more. He found the safe and bent over to examine it.
Silently, I slid out from under the blanket. Picking up a length of one-inch pipe from the workbench I snuck up behind the intruder. When I was just upon him I thrust the pipe in his back.
“Stick em up!” I said and pushed the pipe harder. “What do you want here?” I moved with him as he stood up raising his hands as he rose. That’s when the lights went out.
* * *
I woke with a start. I heard a noise. Someone mumbling. I wasn’t sure what kind of mumbling but I was supposed to answer it somehow. Something hurt somewhere.
There were people all around me. “J.J. Wake up!”
The light hurt my eyes. I tried to move. My head hurt when I did that. Oh. I remember.
“What happened J.J.?” It was George.
“Burglar.” I mumbled. “I didn’t know there were two of them.”
“Did you get a look at them?” It was the sheriff.
“Not really. It was dark. They found the safe. I was sleeping on the couch. Flashlight. Big man. He had a very nice suit. Too nice.” I moved to get up. It took a couple of tries. I was back on the couch. The girls helped me sit up. I reached for the back of my head. Under a bandage was a big lump.
“They used a hammer. It could have killed you.” The sheriff was concerned. “Can you remember anything else?”
I shook my head. That hurt. It was easier just to talk. “Sorry. Maybe later something will come to me but I can’t think of anything more right now.” I looked at George. Did they get the safe open?”
“Yes, and that’s the funny part.” George looked at the sheriff. “It’s a very good safe. The combination is almost safe crack proof. It had to be a very good safecracker to get into it.”
“Well.” Said the sheriff. “It would not be the first time that professional thieves have been in our town.”
“Yes, I know.” Said George. “But the funny thing is that they didn’t take anything. The payroll is intact. There is several hundred dollars still there.”
Everyone pondered this for a minute and then the party broke up. I went back to sleep on the couch – Georges orders.
* * *
I woke up for the third time that day. William was shaking me.
“Hey J.J! Hobo Sleuth! I found out what the treasury does.”
“That’s Hobo Shamus and not so loud.” My head still hurt. They really did hit me with a hammer. I sat up. “Did you save me a sticky bun?”
“Food. Always food.” William pulled one from under his shirt and bit into it without handing it to me. “The sheriff gave me a ride back last night. He was investigating something. It was a good thing as the minister gave me two full boxes, too much for me to carry all that way. Are you OK? I heard what happened.”
“My head is going to hurt for the rest of the summer but I’m functional. Did anyone make coffee?” I got up slowly and put on a pot as no one had. “So what did you find out? What time is it?” There was a box of stale sticky buns still on the bench. I looked in and there were six left. Where did they come from?
“Four O’clock.” He pulled out a piece of paper from his shirt. “A treasury agent is for investigating and prosecuting tax evaders, counterfeiters, forgers, smugglers, illicit spirits distilleries and gun law violators.”
“Gee, that just about covers everything.” I mused.
“It doesn’t cover burglary.” William said. He went on reading from his notes. "It was started in 1865 in Washington D.C. and was called the Secret Service. Its main purpose was to suppress counterfeit currency but was later expanded to include people perpetrating fraud and still later it included protecting the president." William put down his sticky bun. "In 1915 it was assigned to investigate espionage in the United States."
I checked the coffee. It was taking its own good time. How many sticky buns were left?
“If you think it might have been the feds that hit you I don’t think it’s their style.” William sat on the bench.
“You’re probably right. They would have just shot me and claimed I was a burglar.” I heard the coffee pot make one perking sound.
“More to the point, I don’t think they could have opened the safe.’ William said. He went and got two mugs.
“I don’t understand what they were looking for.” My head was still spinning. “Gee my head hurts!”
“Maybe they were looking for these?” William pulled out an envelope from his shirt. “This was sticking out of one of the books returned to the library. It was taped sticking way out so I couldn’t miss it. It has my name on it and a note to donate it to the library fund.”
William handed me the envelope. In it were five new crisp twenty-dollar bills.
“All the serial numbers are the same.” William pointed out. “Miss Abernathy suggested I give them to the sheriff.”
“How did you spot all the serial numbers being the same? I missed it” I inquired. Everybody had picked up on this except me.
“Actually I didn’t. Miss Abernathy did. She’s pretty sharp!” William went over and turned the coffee burner down. It had made it to full perk.
I examined the notes. “It’s probably best that you follow her advice and give them to the sheriff. It might make him look good to the feds. I understand they’ve been meddling in his affairs.”
“The problem with that is that my name is on the envelope. The feds are going to want to talk with me at some time. I don’t really want to talk with them. They make my skin crawl.” William made a shivering shaking gesture.
“It’s evidence of a crime. You need to do your civic duty.” I went to pour the coffee. The perking had settled down. “You say Miss Abernathy figured it out?” I felt hurt.
We ate sandwiches and sticky buns and talked and then I shooed William out as I had work to do and he had to find the sheriff. I went out to the car and set up a light so I could install the manifold with its new adaptor plate for its new carburetor.
George found me at work under the hood. “You OK to be working already? It’s not that much of a rush. The car’s been sitting here for months.”
“It’s good therapy. If I’m working I don’t concentrate on the pain. I should have it together by midnight.” It was almost done and it wasn’t full dark yet.
“OK. I stopped by to warn you. Those two feds are going to stop by tomorrow.” George hesitated. “They seemed kind of obnoxious. Seems they think the hobos are involved in some kind of conspiracy or something.”
“There’re investigating one of their own that’s missing.” I said. They have a right to be a little strong.” I knew I was going to regret saying that.
I went out to install the carburetor on the manifold with the new adaptor. Work like this was like therapy and helped me think. I had a few questions turning around in my head. The sleuth was coming out of me. Why didn’t the thief that hit me steal the payroll? What happened to the missing treasury agent? Why did he portray himself as a tax auditor? What had this to do with the counterfeit twenties? Who was passing them out anyway and why? What were the two federal agents really doing here?
One of the questions I did have a handle on. I suppose the proper term for a shamus would be a lead. Perhaps I should start talking like a detective if I was going to solve the crime or crimes perpetrated.
The person handing out the counterfeit twenties knew both the minister and William. He also appeared to be charity oriented. Question; did the person handing out the bills make them or did he or she get them from somewhere? Is Sunday tomorrow? I was supposed to watch the contribution plate as it’s passed around the congregation. I had better check the date. Hobos aren’t much for calendars or dates or even time unless it has something to do with food.
OK. The questions weren’t solving anything. What are the facts? There were two guys that hit me. They didn’t touch the payroll. That means they were after something else. What? There are two federal agents. Did they hit me? Someone’s handing out twenties for charity. Does he know that they’re phony? There’s a missing treasury agent. Was he involved with the counterfeit money? Maybe that’s why he was here. Better still, maybe that’s why he’s missing. My hurting head was repeating myself.
I attached the fuel line to the carburetor and checked to see that the air cleaner would clear the hood when lowered. All that was left was to install a cable for the choke and modify the linkage from the gas pedal. It was almost midnight by the clock outside Georges gas bar.
I decided to call it a night. My head felt better and there was one sandwich and one sticky bun left for a midnight snack before crawling onto the couch. The air was clean with no wind. Moonless the stars gave an eerie glow and reflected off the buildings down the street. It was a peaceful night. I brought my snack out with a cold stale coffee to the porch in front of the gas bar, sat in the bench provided for customers and gazed down the street. A few lights were left on, just enough to navigate if the need arose.
A shot burst from down the street. Then another, louder. I stood up spilling my coffee. It seemed to come from the far end of town. I wasn’t sure of the first shot but the second was a shotgun without doubt. Two shots from different weapons meant two people firing at each other.
I walked to the centre of the street. What was at the far end of town? The church of course! I started in that direction almost at a run and then stopped. What am I going to do? There are two guns there and neither one of them mine. My friend Jim was probably there and maybe in trouble. Phone! Use the phone. That’s what it’s for. I ran back in and cranked the handle. It was forever. When someone finally came on I yelled. “Get the sheriff! Two shots just came from the church.”
After doing the intelligent thing I did the stupid noble thing and ran down to the church. When I got there all the lights were on and Jim was standing in the doorway with a double-barreled shotgun cradled in his arm.
“You OK?” I called out.
Jim nodded. “I had a couple of burglars too!” Jim came down the steps to meet me. Some lights were coming on down the street.
“I called the sheriff.” I said out of breath. I used to run every morning some time ago to stay in shape. That was a long time ago.
“I was up late doing some paperwork in my study and heard a noise in the office. That’s where I have a small safe in the floor. When I went in I surprised two men, one big and the other small. They both dove to the floor when they saw Betsy but the little one pulled a pistol and fired. I let one barrel go and they both took off.” Jim was very calm for one that had just been fired on and I said so.
“I spent a lot of time in the great war as a non combatant ministering to the troops. I almost got it once when an opposing infantryman jumped into my trench and fired two shots killing two friends of mine instantly. He would have killed me too but his gun jammed. As he was trying to un-jam it I grabbed a rifle from my shot compatriot and fired. Once you face death that closely fear becomes a tool rather than a limiting emotion. My adrenalin is invoked but my mind is calm.”
We chatted for a couple of minutes until the sheriff finally showed up. Jim explained the whole thing again.
“Oh. This might not mean much but I did see that they were well dressed. The suits they were wearing seemed expensive.”
“Maybe they now have a couple of holes and they’ll need some mending?” The sheriff was playing detective and not very well.
“I don’t think so. I fired at the ceiling. At first I didn’t know who was there. It might have even been a couple of kids. I like to see what I’m shooting at before I fire. Jim had now broken open the shotgun and rested it against the church railing. “They were gone before I could get off a second shot and I’m not sure I would have if they were retreating. There is nothing of value in the office. There’s less than ten dollars in the safe.”
Jim’s eyes met mine. The two twenties were in the hands of the sheriff and now with the feds.
The sheriff was on to another angle. “You think it might have been the same two that hit JJ. on the head?”
“Makes sense but I can’t be sure.” I commented.
After the sheriff left Jim and I went in for a fresh pot of coffee. We decided I would sleep in the church for the night as it would throw off the feds questioning me in the morning and that was a thing to do just because it seemed right. There was some security being together rather than two victims sleeping alone.
“Why did you go into the room with the shotgun? I didn’t even know you had one.” I asked.
“I just had a feeling. Sometimes you just go with a hunch.” Jim was very cool. “The previous minister had it behind the pulpit. This was the Wild West fifty years ago.”
“The feds will figure out I’m here in the morning.”
“Good. They should hear my wonderful sermon and contribute to the collection plate as well.
I liked the minister’s attitude. We both slept soundly.
The sheriff arrived early Sunday morning with the two federal agents in tow. He seemed kind of miffed like he hadn’t had breakfast or something. I on the other hand had a great breakfast and a real shower and shave compliments of my host with the promise of tuning his car. I would have tuned it anyway.
Agent Barnes was obviously very young and new to the service. He seemed to have some preconception that federal agents should be brash, obnoxious and ugly. He got right to the point. “Mr. J.J. We have decided that the Federal Department will take over the task of observing who is depositing counterfeit money today at this church. Agent Wallis and I will be stationed strategically during the sermon. Your service is appreciated but no longer required.”
Obviously they didn’t think I was worth interrogating. I was a little miffed but kept my mouth shut. Maybe they didn’t think hobos capable of anything. And, I was looking forward to seeing their Mutt and Jeff routine. A future shamus needs to see federal agents in action if he’s to learn anything. I decided to sit like a good boy in church and watch them work. William arrived and we sat together, alone in the center of the second last pew, with our hands folded like good little boys back in grade school.
Hobos by nature stay out of sight and in a church usually sit in the rear rows. It also provides a quick exit if the need arises. Several hobos from the camp arrived including a few new faces I had not seen. The minister’s service was popular as after was a free luncheon with lemonade, sandwiches and sticky buns.
Agent Wallis sat in the third from the last pew, conspicuous as ever. Agent Barnes found a spot in the balcony and sat hanging over the rail looking down with a pair of binoculars in his hands.
I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. They had to know that any hobo would spot them right away. I sat in disbelief hoping that I was wrong and that I would learn something.
The quire was very good and had won some local competitions. Near the end of the sermon a ghastly smell engulfed the back two rows. Agent Wallis seemed unaffected.
An old familiar figure sat down on the other side of me. “Hello Captain John.”
“Captain Hewitt.” I replied. “It’s got to have been thirteen years.”
“I lost count.” The unkempt beard hid most of his face. “You adopt the hobo life? I thought you were going to get married and build things.”
“She passed away and so did the job.” I turned to get a better look at him. “What’s that smell?”
“Bear grease. Black fly seasons coming. This is the only thing that’ll stop em. See you.” And with that he left. He was overdressed in a heavy leather overcoat that he had obviously salvaged from the war.
I turned around and looked on after him departing. Glancing up I saw Agent Barnes had scrutinized the whole exchange brief as it was.
William nudged me from the other side. “Miss Abernathy is here.” He pointed. “I’ll introduce you. She’s part of the quire. She’ll be handing out sandwiches with the minister later.”
After the sermon William did indeed introduce me to the librarian. She was very pretty and a matronly outfit accented it even more.
“William’s mentioned you often.” Her voice captivating. I caught William sporting a big grin. He was playing matchmaker.
“We’re both avid readers. I’ve meant to get down to the library before this.” Polite conversation is a good thing when a pretty woman catches you off guard.
“I arranged for William to get a library card on his honor that the books get returned. I’m sure that we can do the same for you. This town adopted the philosophy of Andrew Carnegie that books should be free to the public. As many of our books are from his foundation.” She almost curtsied when she spoke. “I understand you’re working part time for George. Stop by during a break and I’ll give you the tour.” She twirled her parasol.
Was she making a date with me?
Just then Agent Barnes showed up. “I’d like to have a word with you.” It was like an order that I should respond to.
“Excuse me. I’m being consulted.” I said to Miss Abernathy. “I’d love to have a tour of the library.”
With that I turned to agent Barnes who was already walking away towards Minister Jim and Agent Wallis. I took my time. Hobos are never in any hurry unless they’re being chased.
When I finally arrived Agent Barnes started in. “Who was that man you were talking to?” He demanded.
“Thurston Hewitt the Third. He was a captain in the Great War, decorated several times. Known as a scrounger he initiated several escape attempts, most of them by tunnel. That’s where I met him, in one of his tunnels. I was told the Germans experimented on his brain and he was never the same again. He is constantly scrounging and will pick up anything not bolted down. You should keep an eye on him. He is known to take things not his. He’s not really bad. He just can’t help it. He’s still in the war.” I looked Agent Barnes right in the eye. “Did you see anyone deposit a twenty in the plate?” I asked timidly.
Minister Jim stepped in. “No they didn’t but all the same there is a new twenty here. Did you see anything J.J?”
I spoke directly to Jim looking passed Agent Barnes. I caught Agent Wallis eyeing me over while I spoke. “No Jim. But I was in the second last row and the plate never even went along the last two rows.”
Agent Wallis finally stepped forward. “Have you any idea how the money could have got in the plate Mr. J.J?
OK. It was a fair question and asked politely. I decided to give a straight answer. “Hobos are different from bums. Most of them work if they can and only steal when it’s absolutely necessary for their survival. They develop skills the average person doesn’t see and have a code of operation. Some by necessity have learned to pickpocket. Others know how to pick a lock. They even have signs left to tell other hobos what to expect. Come over here.” I pointed to the front of the church. They followed me to a large tree in front. Carved on the tree was a circle with a cross inside. “This means good handouts. If you look on the other tree down the road you’ll see a cross. It means talk religion and you’ll get food.”
Agent Wallis was impressed. “I’m impressed. I think Agent Barnes and I need to do some re-thinking. But, you didn’t answer my question. Do you have any idea who put the money in?”
“No I don’t.” I answered truthfully. “But I have a better question. Where is the money coming from?”
Agent Barnes dismissed me. “If you find out anything you can reach us at the town hotel.”
I walked back to William who was gorging sandwiches. I stuffed some in my pocket and we left for the walk back to camp.
It was great to have an evening to myself and to crawl into my own bed in the evening. Yes, I know it’s a bed of pine needles out in the open but no one was to hit me over the head or shoot at my friend or interrogate me like I was a second-class citizen.
I awoke with a smile on my face at dawn, went for a swim and kindled the fire for breakfast. A second pot of water full of fresh pine needles was brewing on the side. I was shaved and clean and had a good nights sleep with a full belly and it was a beautiful Monday morning in May. I wondered if our new librarian woke at dawn. I smiled again. She probable uses a dictionary as a pillow.
A cloud drifted into the clear sky casting a shadow over breakfast. I was sitting chatting and planning the day when one of the men came over to me.
“Sheriff’s up by the road. Got a couple of men with him. They want to see you.” The man was very serious.
I thanked him with a nod and ambled up towards the road. I didn’t see any sense in hurrying. William caught up with me. I was glad to have him there, if nothing else for a witness. I wasn’t sure why I felt that way. I was soon to find out.
“Morning sheriff.” I said with a smile. Mutt and Jeff were with him. “Gentlemen.” I acknowledged their presence.
Agent Wallis was quick to the point. “Sheriff tells me you teach the hobos camp craft.”
“The sheriff was strangely quiet.
“Sure.” Never answer more than is needed. Something was up. This was a different type of interrogation. I felt like I was back in France in a prisoner of war camp.
“You would know how to make an animal snare? Agent Barnes stepped in.
“Yes.” I replied.
“Come with us.” Agent Wallis directed me towards the sheriff’s car.
William started to accompany me but Agent Barnes barked at him. “Where do you think you’re going?”
I gave William an ‘It’s OK’ Look and he stepped back.
After we got in the car agent Barnes started to say something but Agent Wallis, clearly the senior motioned for him to be quiet. I sat beside the sheriff and the two agents sat in back.
Agent Wallis sat right behind me and spoke directly in my ear. “Your young friend had an altercation with the security agent from the railroad yard.”
It was a statement so I said nothing.
Agent Barnes couldn’t keep quiet. “Did you see it?”
“But he told you of it? Agent Wallis was right in my ear.
“Have you known this young boy to ever resort to violence before?” Agent Wallis was good. It was a twisting of the truth leading me on.
I had enough of this Cat and Mouse, Mutt and Jeff routine. “Where are we going?”
The sheriff finally said something. “There’s been a killing. We’d like you to take a look at it. At least I’d like you to take a look at it. It doesn’t seem right in my mind. Maybe you can shed some light on it.” The sheriff seemed nervous. He might have overstepped his authority with the two agents by saying anything at all.
“I turned around and faced Agent Wallis right in the eye. “The young boy was attacked by the bull and fled leaving his library book. Another hobo witnessed it. The boy was not on the railway property and has never ever resorted to violence.”
“The bull is dead and we have to investigate every possibility.”
“Isn’t this a matter for the sheriff? Why is the Federal Bureau getting involved?” I turned around again and looked at both of them.
“We’ll ask the questions.” Agent Barnes was getting agitated.
Agent Wallis held up his hand. “The bull was actually a federal agent.”
I hesitated a little. This needed to sink in a bit. “I’m not impressed. Why is a federal agent going about beating up boys with a baseball bat?”
“He didn’t know it was a boy and he also didn’t know the property lines.” Agent Wallis was very calm. “He was perpetuating his cover as a very bad bull hired to keep out hobos among other things.”
“I’ll tell that to the boy. I’m sure he’ll take comfort in it.” I was a little ticked off and expressed it.
“You’ll not tell anyone anything.” Agent Wallis said calmly. “This is still an ongoing investigation of national security and you will keep quiet about everything you see and hear from here on in. Is that understood?”
I just looked back at him.
The sheriff interrupted. “From here we walk. J.J. A young farm boy found the body. The coroner is coming from Buffalo and will be checking over things. We’re not to touch or move anything and even not to walk around near the body.”
Cabby’s cab was parked in front of us.
“Cabby’s watching the crime scene for us so as to make sure no one touches anything.” The sheriff started down a path.
“Is he a federal agent too?” I asked. No one replied so I assumed not. I followed the sheriff and the two agents fell in behind me.
We were all the way on the other side of the yard now a mile from camp. There were signs that an old hobo camp had been here years ago. This had probably been abandoned for the new camp location we used now which was between the yard and the town and had a fresh running stream.
I heard flies.
“Why did you pick me to come out here? I mean you have lots of experts far more qualified than me in this sort of thing. What do you expect me to do?” It was a valid question.
“You have a degree in electrical mechanical engineering with a certificate in chemistry. Your war record shows you were decorated as a pilot and ran a resistance operation after being shot down and escaping from a prison camp. Your survival skills are in your record. It shows you set traps that unsuspecting soldiers fell into causing havoc behind the lines. We’d like your opinion of this trap.” Agent Wallis kept on. “We had heard you were teaching the hobos how to set a snare to catch a rabbit. This man was caught in such a snare.”
We came upon Cabby. He was keeping his distance from the scene partly just to be away from the flies. The sheriff nodded at him and he hobbled away without a word anxious to be out of there.
Hanging from the branch of a huge willow tree was the bull. His feet were tied with rope to a branch several feet above him and his arms hung down tied together not quite reaching the ground below. He was covered in blood from the chest down or should I say up as he was inverted. His arms were totally covered as well. Flies were all over him. His face was battered and the colour of his hair was indiscernible. There was a puddle of blood beneath him covered with flies.
Agent Barnes was the first to speak. “Well Mr. J.J. What do you think? Is this one of the snares that you teach to the hobos?”
“Do you have any plaster packs? I think you might want to make casts of the footprints around the body.” I spoke to Agent Wallis.
Speaking again agent Barnes liked the sound of his own voice. “We have a team coming from Rochester. It looks like they trapped him in the snare and then stoned him to death. There are many jagged rocks around the body - most covered in blood as well." He rambled on as if it helped him take in the brutality of the murder. "This must have taken some time. The pure cold bloodedness,,, His hands are tied. He held up his arms to ward off the rocks." He suddenly realized just how and what had taken place.
I was about to tell him not to throw up on the crime scene but thought better of it.
The coroner and the team that were to analyze and collect evidence of the crime scene arrived.
“Who and when did they discover the body?” The coroner asked without even saying hello. He was a tiny man, bald with glasses on his forehead.
The two other men had brought duffle bags and were mixing plaster in a few minutes. They didn’t say anything at all.
“Last evening just before nightfall two boys from a neighboring farm came across the scene.” The sheriff started. “They ran home immediately and their parents phoned me. By the time I got out here it was 9:00 PM and dark.”
“The sheriff didn’t phone us until after midnight.” Agent Barnes complained. “That’s why we didn’t get on to it until then.”
“I had to rope off the scene. I didn’t want anyone to disturb the body. I got cabby to watch over the scene as well.” The sheriff defended himself.
“Well from the dried blood and viewing the body from here time of death is a few days ago. That’s the best I can do until I can walk over the plaster casts of all these foot prints.” The coroner pulled open his bag and started writing in a journal.
“The sheriff marked his footprints where he went to check the body.” One of the men applying plaster all over the place stated. “Almost all of these footprints are the same. One is the victim’s. There is the sheriff’s and two others.”
“That’s all?” Agent Barnes asked.
“Yep.” The man went on with his work. “I think it all happened here. There’s no sign of the victim being dragged here.”
“So the victim tripped a snare, got hauled upside down and then was stoned?” Agent Barnes was still on the original scenario.
“No.” I said.
“What do you mean no?” Agent Wallis was interested. “Don’t you teach hobos how to catch animals with a snare for food? What’s the difference of using the same thing for a man?”
I accommodated him. “You might be able to do it in another country like Africa or something but to haul a man up like that takes a lot of strength and the trees around here just aren’t up to the task. If you try later to bring that branch down to the ground and tie it off you’ll break the branch. Also you’ve got to tie it off onto something. When you do it with a rabbit or squirrel you don’t even try to lift him off the ground. All you need to do is close the loop and the animal is trapped.”
Agent Barnes looked back to the tree and over to Agent Wallis.
I went on. “If you look at the loop around the bull’s leg it’s hardly big enough to get over his feet. He’d have to be standing perfectly still right in the loop with both feet together at attention in order to get caught. This is something the bull would not do.”
“And why is that?” Agent Barnes asked.
“Because his left leg is made of wood and he needs to stand with his legs apart for balance. He can’t stand at attention.” I motioned to the coroner. “Check it out.”
The coroner had made his way over to the body. He pulled on the leg and it came off from his knee, the pant leg falling to the side. At this time the rest of his leg swung away, swinging the body in a circle hanging from one leg only. The coroner stepped back and the wooden leg separated from the wooden foot with a click. The left boot popped out of the top of the noose and the rest of the wooden leg fell to the ground. From there the only thing holding the rest of the body up was the other leg and it slowly slipped through the noose and the body fell to the ground with a plop.
“I have a couple of questions.” I faced Agent Wallis. “Why was he killed and why was someone interrogating him?”
“You think he knew something?” The sheriff was now interested.
“Yes. Find out what and you’ll find out why he was killed and probably who killed him.” I said matter of fact. “Do you need me anymore? This is obviously not the work of any hobos. The man still has his wallet in his pocket.”
“You can go.” Said Agent Wallis. “But remember not to say anything about this to anyone.”
I turned and left without another word. I had to walk back but it was still a nice day and by the time I got back to camp it would be lunch.
The walk did me good. I wasn’t sure if I was mad at myself for being drawn into the fiasco or the fact that there was so much incompetence collected together serving and protecting citizens. I was more at ease by the time I got back. I was doubly at ease that no one had figured I was there earlier.
To my surprise nobody was there. William I knew had gone to the library and the others had gone about their business. I wanted to tell someone about what happened if for no other reason in that I was told not to tell anyone. The nerve saying I couldn’t talk to anyone. I rekindled the fire and made some evergreen tea.
It was too late to go into town now. I suspected it was late afternoon. The walk back had been longer than I thought. The work on the car would have to wait until tomorrow.
There were some sticky buns left. I added them to the stew. It would make it thicker and maybe even a little sweeter.
I set to work preparing supper for all on a log near the huge pot. It was perpetually filled with different things over the summer and allowed to rust during winter. The fire under it supported by a few firebricks was almost always alive and there was a makeshift lid that kept out rain and bugs. Sometimes the bugs got in but they were added protein and no one ever complained. The flavor of course changed daily and weekly and it was breakfast lunch and dinner and no one was ever turned away. Most of the time it did taste good. Some people were not allowed to touch it of course and they knew who they were. They could of course bring items to someone else qualified to make a decision as to how much of something to add or how. Some things are downright poisonous. Some combinations just don’t go together. Adding too much salt or some spice could also make the stew inedible and have dire consequences for the cook. Salt and most spices should be added after cooking anyway.
“Are you J.J?” A deep voice went through me from behind.
I turned with a start. I thought I was alone. A giant man stood ten feet from me with his arms behind his back. He wore a uniform and a gun strapped to his side. He was six foot six and looked like a soldier. I nodded without speaking.
“I thought I’d pay a visit. There is a new sign up by the yard. It says trespassers will be shot. The sign means what it says and makes it legal for me to do it. It might be a good idea you tell your hobo friends about the sign.” He leaned forward and stepped forward at the same time. “It would be a real good idea. Do you understand?”
I nodded again.
He stepped closer and his palm rested on his holster. “Let me make myself very clear.”
He stepped closer again. Now his head was a foot away from mine. I realized that even his head was big - at least another 50 percent bigger than mine.
“If I see someone in the yard I’ll get upset.”
He got closer still. His voice was lower and almost a whisper. “You don’t ever want to get ME upset.”
With that he turned and walked off towards the yard.
I went back to my stew thinking. Gee that was fast. No one even knew that the old bull had been shot and now there’s a new bull already walking a beat. I noticed the gun was a Luger.
Of course! He was another agent. Agent Wallis had made a phone call and it was made to happen while we were investigating the body. It was also how he knew my name and why he carried a gun.
The others straggled in and during mealtime I told them about the death and the new bull with the gun. I told them everything I could think of that I wasn't supposed to tell. Some elected to leave town as there was nothing to keep them here. ‘This is a nice camp but there are others down the road.’ They would be off in the morning after a good meal.
* * *
Three men asked for haircuts and shaves in the morning. They would leave shortly. I was on my way into town with William by mid morning.
“I promise I’ll stop in and see Miss Abernathy later this afternoon.” I told William and we departed at the library.
I wanted to see Minister Jim and let him know what had happened. When I spoke to him he already knew of the dead bull. I told him about the new bull and he let loose a long slow whistle.
“Time for some coffee and a sticky bun.” He waved me into his study.
“I do my best thinking that way.” I replied.
After we had our first sip Jim stated. “Lets see. What have we got? A missing treasury agent, a dead bull and some counterfeit money. Also a couple of bad guys with guns and a hammer are floating around. Do you think they killed the bull?”
“It makes sense.” I answered. “I was wondering why they interrogated him.”
“What’s with the stoning? There aught to be a better way.” Jim bit into his sticky bun.
“Oh. They might be trying to mimic an incident last fall in a town a couple of hundred miles south of here. Seems a few of the town’s folk didn’t like the hobo camp so close to town and a few went in with baseball bats to move them out. The hobo’s got wind of it and ambushed the few townsmen with a bunch of rocks thrown from trees. Next day over a hundred men converged on the camp only to find it deserted. When the townsfolk went back to their cars they found all the tires slashed and a few windows broken. It was a no win situation for all concerned. Not to mention the expense, the town lost all its cheap labour. There are hobo signs all over; two circles overlapping. It means hobos arrested on sight.”
“So you think they were trying to send a message as well as interrogate the bull?”
“One or the other or both.” I said. “It must have been noisy. The guy was brutally tortured to death.”
“Maybe the bad guys knew he was a federal agent.” Jim reflected.
“Could be. If they didn’t know then they probably do now. This torture took a long time. I would have said anything.”
The money seems to be what it all comes back to. It’s what the feds are looking for. It has to be what the bad guys are looking for.” Jim paused for a second. “You know, I don’t think the bad guys got anything. If the bull is a fed and he found the money then all the feds would be gone.”
“I would think the feds are assuming their treasury agent is dead as well.”
“You know there’s another thing. It all seems to revolve around the yard.” Jim stood up and poured us another cup. “The Treasury agent was auditing the yard’s books. The bull worked for the yard. I wonder what his nibs Mr. Watts has to say about it all.”
“How many twenty dollar bills have we seen in total now?” I asked.
“There were two more in the plate yesterday morning.” Jim put in. “I do an evening service. The plates aren’t even past around.”
“Really.” I exclaimed. “Do the agents know?”
“No, not yet. Whoever did it this time grabbed a couple of the contribution envelopes at the back of the church. I put them back there so people can write on them to get a tax receipt at the end of the year.” Jim showed me an envelope. “He had to know he was being watched. I mean it was fairly obvious.”
“How many does that make?” I asked again.
“That’s six to me that I know of and William got five?” Jim counted in his head. “That’s two hundred and twenty dollars.”
“That we know of.” I expanded. “How fast does a printing press run?”
“Oh I looked some of that up. Money made by the government is issued depending on how much gold they have. It’s made in large sheets and then cut to size. The serial number is added after with another press that advances the number after each stroke. Apparently this machine is quite complicated and there are several of them. It’s probably why there is only one serial number on all these bills.”
“So, how fast?” I asked again.
“Oh the government machine is very fast but you mean how fast could a counterfeit machine run?” Jim reflected for a moment. “Let’s say about one every two seconds. That’s thirty per minute. That then is one thousand eight hundred per hour or thirty six thousand dollars per hour.”
“Which is how much per eight hour shift?” I was ahead of him.
“Fourteen thousand four hundred bills or Two hundred and eighty eight thousand dollars per day.” Jim sat back and then forward again. “You know these bill are absolutely perfect. I mean put right beside a real one with a magnifying glass I can’t tell the difference.”
“Your point is?” I didn’t follow where he was going.
“It took a lot of money, time and effort to make the plates that make this twenty and the press that runs it is of the finest quality. None of the bills are off centre and even the serial numbers are dead square.” Jim said.
“It takes money to make money.” I said. “This does appear to be pretty profitable. Once the plates are made the only ongoing cost is labor, paper and ink.
“J.J., you’re not following me. What if there is really a lot of money. I mean really a lot, like a mountain of it.”
“It would answer a couple of questions like why people are dead and why the feds are here.” I rambled on.
“How big is that? I mean a day’s production, Fourteen thousand four hundred bills?”
I did some calculations out loud. “One hundred dollar packs are about five eights thick, let’s say three quarters with a band. There would be one hundred forty four of them. That would be one hundred and eight inches thick.”
“Divide by three across and three down and you have nine. I remember that’s how money was transported in the military. That means it would be about twelve inches thick.” Jim was fast.
“So we’ve got a box about two feet long by one foot wide by one foot deep.” I reflected. “A box two cubic feet with over a quarter of a million dollars.”
We both sipped our coffee.
“I guess I had better get to work on that car.” I got up. “Thanks for the coffee.” Jim was still in reflective mode. I thought I was the one that had the shamus sleuth bug.
When I got to the garage George was waiting for me. “Mr. Watts wants you to join him for lunch.”
“Oh really?” I replied. “And to what do I owe this honor?”
“I don’t know.” Said George. “I have a luncheon with him and several other town businessmen once a month. A few times my wife and I have been invited to a function that he’s run but I’ve never had lunch alone with him.” George shrugged his shoulders.
“What kind of a guy is he anyway?” I asked.
“He seems fair enough. All business. Most of the negative stuff you hear is because he has so much money. He’s never done me wrong or anyone I know of personally.” George looked me straight in the eye. “Are you OK?”
“Yes. I still have a bit of a bump but it doesn’t hurt anymore. Thanks for asking.” I said sincerely.
“I have to ask this. You’re not involved with any of this business are you? I mean if there’s anything I can do just let me know.” George was very serious.
I looked him back, square in the eye. “George, I know I seem to be at the centre of all this but I’m at a loss as to what’s going on just as much as you.”
“Then you tell his nibs Mr. Watts that if he tries to steel my chief mechanic I’ll be real ticked off.” George shook my hand. “Mr. Watts’s chauffer is going to pick you up at quarter to twelve.”
“Good thing I shaved today.” I replied. “I better get some work done on that car before I go.”
I had the car going in less than an hour. I gave it a quick test drive and was happy with the results. I wanted to go over the rest of it before notifying the customer and let George know. “It just needs the brakes adjusted and a couple of other little things. You can tell him by tomorrow evening.” I was pretty happy with myself. It was a good job and a pat on the back for me.
Mr. Watts’s chauffer was a very large man dressed in a dark blue suit. He had left the tie off and I noticed he only wore his jacket outside of the car. “I understand you’re a mechanic Mr. Jackson. Would you like to drive? Not many people get to drive a Rolls Royce.”
I liked this man. “Sure.” I said and climbed into the driver’s seat.
The chauffer climbed in beside me and handed me the key. “It’s a twenty twenty-five. The phantom is its big brother but it is a little overstated for North America. It has a separate chauffer station that Mr. Watts didn’t want as sometimes he likes to go for a drive on his own.”
Mr. Watts of course had a very large house on the top of a hill about a mile North West of town. A gate at the bottom of the hill was opened by a young man who also appeared to double as a gardener. I noticed a buzzer system if he wasn’t there. The chauffer waved to the gatekeeper as we went through. It appeared everybody belonged to one very happy family.
As I pulled up to the front of the house the chauffer got out, put on his jacket and opened the driver’s door for me. “I’ll be waiting here to drive you back after lunch.” He said and walked off to a building around the side.
The entrance was made for no other reason than to impress. There were huge columns on either side of giant double doors. As I approached one of the doors opened and a butler stepped out to greet me.
“Good day Mr. Jackson” He said. “Please follow me to the dinning room. Lunch will be served in five minutes. Mr. Watts is on the phone and will be in shortly. May I get you something to drink while you’re waiting?”
“Just water.” I said. We went through a large living room and then a library to get to a small dining room.
“This is the business dinning room. Mr. Watts prefers it to the formal for most occasions, as it is smaller and more intimate. I hope you’ll enjoy your stay and your diner.” A jug of water with lemon slices floating among ice cubes was on the table. He poured for me. Not one lemon slice or ice cube landed in the glass.
The table sat twelve but only two were set for lunch. The butler left me alone to look at several early sketches of the town that were handing up around the room. The walls were made of Honduras mahogany stained dark with a reddish tint.
Joseph Watts entered the room in a rush. He was dressed in a dark blue suit perfectly tailored. Somewhat short but not small he held a barrel chest and although balding somewhat, had a distinguished look. He came around to my side of the table and thrust out his hand and shook mine.
“Sorry I’m late Mr. Jackson. It’s John isn’t it? Or do you prefer J.J.?”
“My friends call me J.J.” I answered.
“My friends call me Joe. It’s short for Joseph. It does sound better than his Nibs. Ha! Ha!” Joe motioned to the chair I was next to. “Please be seated.”
“Thanks.” I said.
“I hope you like pheasant. I have them brought in from Canada frozen. This is the last of the lot so do enjoy. It appears they lost a railroad car with a case full of them. It is embarrassing when you own the business and you lose your own stuff.
As he sat down, no less than eight waiters appeared and a meal was before me piping hot with a salad on the side and a small glass of tomato juice.
“Please dig in.” Joseph said and he set about gorging himself.
“If I may be so bold.” I
started. “You strike me more like a Joseph. It may sound a little formal but it
seems to fit better.”
“Joseph it is then.” Joseph downed his tomato juice.
I tried the tomato juice as well. It was freshly squeezed. I went for the salad slowly. I watched Joseph eat. Being a hobo means sometimes you go hungry. Among hobos a sign of character is when offered food when you are extremely hungry is to take your time eating even if it hurts. Often at a hobo camp someone has to bite the bullet and eat first. Sometimes a formal grace can get things started or the cook can say something like dig in gents but there should be a dignity to food when it has become more important in life.
Half way through his meal a waiter appeared with a bottle of white wine. He opened it, smelled it and left it for Joseph to pour.
“Just half a glass for me.” I said as he went to pour mine first. “I’ve essentially given up alcohol since it became illegal and in practicality, I’ve lost the taste for it.”
Joseph obliged without comment and poured his glass to the top.
I started in on the pheasant. “This is very good for frozen. This is very good for fresh. I certainly can’t tell. My compliments to your chef.”
“Thank you. I do have a chef but I cooked this myself. I love to cook and I’m forced to take long walks in the morning to wear off my indulgence.” Joseph smiled. “I must apologize for the small deception but compliments are often cheap to the host and I do like some honesty once in a while.”
“I can safely say that if you want to come into the camp someday you can have full rein of our kitchen and all the compliments will be honest. Bad cooks get ousted quickly.” I wasn’t lying. He was a good cook.
Joseph chuckled. “I may take you up on that someday.” Joseph finished the last of his pheasant and poured himself another glass of wine.
I was half way through mine. “I’ll supply a live pheasant.”
“And maybe a bullfrog or a rabbit.” Joseph sat back and watched me finish.
I sat back and tasted the wine. It was perfect. “South American?” I ventured.
“Very good J.J.” Joseph smiled. It was like I had passed a test.
“You seem to know a lot about me Joseph.” It was a statement and a question.
“I’m a businessman. No, let me rephrase that. I’m a ruthless businessman.” Joseph sat up. “I make it my business to know things. Wisdom is the use of knowledge but without knowledge there can be no wisdom.”
“Makes sense to me.” I thought it best to let him have his little say. I was curious as to why I was having lunch here but there was no hurry.
“You’re no doubt wondering why I called you here.” It was a statement. “I appreciate your patience and you are without doubt a gentleman. Also I’ve heard good things about you from a number of people about your integrity.”
He was getting a little fluffy but there was no point in stopping him or being humble.
“I’m missing a few pieces of knowledge and if I do nothing there is no doubt that I will never get those pieces of knowledge.” Joseph paused for a second and let it sink in.
He went on. “You have no doubt heard of our missing treasury agent and the death of one of my men, the bull who I find out later is another agent. There is also the matter of some counterfeit money floating around.”
I nodded in agreement.
“Mr. Jackson.” We were back to formal. “I have around me probably two deaths being investigated by an incompetent sheriff. I have another two federal agents that have played me since day one and still there have been no answers and I now have a man carrying a gun that’s another agent forced upon me by Agent Wallis’s boss in Albany, an Agent Smith if you can believe that.”
“I hadn’t thought of it from your prospective before. It must be frustrating.” I encouraged.
“I had supper with Miss Abernathy the other night.” Joseph calmed down. “She tells me you have aspirations of becoming a private investigator.”
“I’ve read too many detective novels.” I was put off guard and humble came in from nowhere. Was he dating our new librarian?
“Don’t be coy with me Mr. Jackson. Do you want the job or not?” Joseph looked me straight in the eye.
“What job?” I asked.
“I need somebody to investigate what’s going on here that has a head on his shoulders and can move about without everyone following him.” Joseph sat firm and waited for an answer.
“You mean you want to hire me as a detective?” I was flabbergasted.
“It has a hundred dollar retainer. You get ten dollars a day for two months and I have the right to continue longer if needed once you start. You can claim expenses up to one hundred dollars per week as long as you get receipts, paid weekly. If you need more you have to come to me for approval. The money will be deposited directly into your account. I will need a report by phone every Friday evening even if you have nothing to report. If you find the missing man or the killer or what’s with the counterfeiting you get a bonus of one thousand each to a maximum of three thousand dollars.”
“Sounds good to me.” I couldn’t believe I said it that fast.
Joseph pulled out two pieces of paper. “Sign here on both. It’s what we just agreed to on paper. In addition, you can’t divulge, except by court order, who has employed you. That includes the feds.”
“I don’t like talking with them at any time.” It was true.
“Don’t underestimate Wallis. He appears dumb but part of that is because his boss, Smith, is stifling him. Barnes isn’t dumb either. He’s just new and rash.”
“I’ll keep it in mind.”
“I mention it because they might be an ally later on and you may need them at some point. You never can tell. Oh I got some books on becoming a detective for you at the library. Just ask Miss Abernathy to get them for you. We managed to get through a friend of mine in government a copy of the Bureau of Investigation’s training manual. There’s probably a lot of stuff in there that may help you.”
“Thank you. Should I keep my job at Georges?” I inquired.
“Best to keep up appearance. And I promised George I wouldn’t steal his mechanic.” Joseph smiled.
I put out my hand getting ready to leave and was about to say thank you again.
“One more thing. Young William read Napoleon Hill’s book Law of Success. In it is a line that says whenever you make a contract with someone always start by giving more than you originally contracted for.” Joseph was leading to something.
“I read it some time ago but I do remember it.” I wasn’t sure where he was going with this.
“This might be dangerous. We haven’t discussed this and it needs to be addressed. Your friend was shot at and my employee was killed, brutally I’m told.”
A waiter brought in a wooden box and put it on the table in front of me and left without a word.
“A detective needs a gun. This is a new model Walther PPK just in from Europe. It has a holster that fits in the small of your back and there are four boxes of one hundred rounds of ammunition with it as well as a spare clip. I arranged for a licence to carry and your detective licence as well.” He handed me the box.
I walked out with Joseph to the front door.
My employees know you work for me now and you can get in here at any time. The new bull at the yard knows you’ll be doing some bookwork for me as well as some maintenance so you can get in the yard as well.
I shook his hand, thanked him and walked towards the car where the chauffer had opened the passenger door. I then had a thought and walked back to where he was standing.
“One question. The agent that was supposed to be auditing you, do you know what he was working on when he disappeared?”
“Oh yes. He was interested in the railway cars. He poured over the inventory thinking we might have too many and hadn’t reported them for tax purposes. I told him the cars aren’t ours. We just own the land and charge a fee for shuffling, maintenance and sometimes we store the contents in a warehouse. There is a frozen section where I store the lunch you had. I have about twenty five employees there and at any one time over a thousand cars.’
“Thanks again.” I turned and got in the Rolls.
“Good luck detective.” Joseph smiled and waved.
The chauffer dropped me off back at George’s garage and I went in quickly so no one would see the box I was carrying. George had supplied me with a locker some time back with a combination lock and I intended to put the box in there.
One of the problems being a hobo is that you have nowhere to keep your stuff. Everybody has stuff. I have a basic barber kit and it is OK to keep it in the camp. Anyone could borrow it if they wanted but probably no one would as I cut hair for free and probably do a better job than one could do on their own. The shaving blade was used sometimes when I wasn’t there but not often. This is the only thing I own other than the clothes on my back. I have an extra pair of socks and rotate them daily when I’m in camp and can wash them in the stream. Most men have some kind of a kit that has a toothbrush and a couple of personal grooming items and maybe a couple of clothing changes kept in some kind of bag that they can carry.
It becomes a different story when you have some important papers or other items that need storing. Most resort to friends or relatives that they might see once a year or so. I had a couple of items stored in the locker already. There were some mementoes, a photo of my past wife and some papers like my engineering degree and pilots licence. There was an old jacket there that I had forgotten about. I hadn’t opened the locker since last fall.
I opened the box, took out the licenses, a manual and the cleaning kit and stored them in the locker. I loaded one clip, put it in the gun and then the gun in the holster and ran the holster through my belt. I put twenty-five rounds in my pocket to practice with later and locked everything up in the locker.
I had a coverall that I used when I worked on cars and it covered up the gun well. I went out to finish work on the car. It needed the brakes adjusted, spark plugs cleaned, an oil change, and the points filed.
After all this I decided that I didn’t need to wear the gun at all times and I took it off and placed it behind the locker while I was washing the car. I needed to think about how I should approach wearing a gun and when I should not. I had this feeling that it should be close and was wondering if it was just the adventurer in me talking or whether it was intuition. Someone had shot at my friend and someone had hit me over the head. Both times the gun wouldn’t have made any difference. I decided that there were places that I should have it with me - and others that didn’t. Pumping gas didn’t really require a gun. I wanted it on me to and from town though, which meant having it on as I went to the library on my way back to camp.
I parked the car in front of the garage and made out an invoice for George to present to the customer, used the shower in the back and set off to the library. Why had I showered? Normally I would have just washed up after working on the car. Maybe I wanted to smell extra clean.
Miss Abernathy stood up as I came in the main entrance doors still propped open. The afternoon heat trapped in the old building was alleviated somewhat by a fan set up by the door. She wore a white clingy top but looked very cool in spite of it and tight slacks that forever changed my image of her as a spinster librarian. She had a very tiny waist.
“Good afternoon J.J.” She had an infectious smile that made her instantly likable, at least to me. “I’m glad to see you again. William’s cataloguing some books upstairs and I have a list of books I’m told you would like to look over.”
“Yes. Joseph said you had some books for me to read Miss Abernathy.” I found myself fumbling over words.
“Please. It’s Wendy.” She came around from behind the desk and she was a very different person than I had met after church. She handed me a list. “The books you’re looking for are already catalogued and William set you up with a library card that you can leave here. If you want to check out a book you have to follow the procedure like everyone else. It’s on the wall by the checkout counter. Most of the patrons here check books out by themselves. It’s an honor system.”
“Thank you.” And after a second I added. “Wendy.” I wanted to stay and just talk with her and kind of just stood there.
“About half the books are upstairs and the other half down.” She pointed to the list.
“Oh.” I said and fumbled opening the list. There were ten books and five periodicals listed.
“I’d start with the Federal Training Manual. It’s upstairs. It’s a good overview and then you can find what you need from the others on the list. If you need help looking for something else that’s not on the list I’ll be right here.” She went back behind the desk and stood there waiting, I expect for me to say or do something.
“Thanks.” I said and retreated upstairs. Why was I so nervous with her?
William was upstairs engrossed in a book, Principles Of Electricity. I found the text recommended and took it to a table. The text was huge. I didn’t really want to carry it back to the camp. I dug into it.
For a small town librarian Miss Abernathy, Wendy, had done a marvelous job of creating a learning environment. The chairs were comfortable and there were even a few wing chairs in the corners. Lighting was excellent and a couple of fans could be moved if it got too hot.
After what seemed like only a few minutes William came over. “It’s closing time. We have to go.”
“I just got started.” I objected.
“You’ve been at it for three hours.” William smiled. “Miss Abernathy has to close up. You can leave it on the table. It will be here in the morning. Here’s a bookmark.” He handed me a red ribbon.
On the way out I thanked Wendy and told her I’d be back in the morning.
Outside William punched me playfully. “She’s really pretty.”
“She had supper with Mr. Watts.” I retorted.
“It doesn’t mean she’s dating him.” William came back.
“It puts me out of the picture money wise.” I was in a real negative streak.
“Can’t hurt to have a coffee and a sticky bun with her.” William wasn’t going to let up.
“You have a point. But there isn’t a way I can ask her out on a date. You know there isn’t a good restaurant in this town. As a mater of fact the only restaurant is in the hotel. I doubt she would want to eat with us in the camp.”
“You’re not listening to me.” William stopped and grabbed my arm. “You wouldn’t think twice about grabbing some sticky buns and going over to Minister Jims to talk. All you have to do is the same thing. After all she did you a favor about those books. You have the perfect opportunity to pay her back with the wonderfulness of your presence.”
We started walking again in silence for a bit.
“How and where did you learn so much about dating?” I asked.
“I read different books than you.” William came back. After a pause he came back again. “And, not having a lot of experience I haven’t yet learned how to fail.”
I punched him back playfully. We made it into camp before dusk.
“There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold.”
R. W. Service
I woke with a smile again. After breakfast I told William to go on to town ahead of me. I wanted to go back to the scene of the bull’s murder to see if there were any clues that the feds had missed. This part was true but what I really wanted to do was try out my new gun and dial in the sights. I reasoned that if at this place no one had heard the bull (except me) being brutally tortured, no one would hear a small pistol being shot.
After a brisk walk the air was still again. I was sweating and I wished for a gentle wind. The sun said no. I kept on my jacket as it hid the holster from view. There was no one around but you could never be too sure. Having the gun on made me feel like somebody was watching me. I felt like a kid doing something wrong and was about to be caught.
The gun reminded me of the war. People did die there. Worse, some got hurt.
The place was a complete mess. There was still blood, flies and plaster splatter all over the ground. I decided to make several widening circles around the scene and hopefully I might pick something up.
My thinking was that only one of two things accounted for the bull being there. He could have been lured there for some reason or he was brought here in which case it was either by force or by coercion. Maybe the two men that attacked Jim and I dragged him here. If so there should be a trail and that trail should lead somewhere.
On my third loop I found some tracks. Following them away from the scene it was clear that the man walked with a limp or at least put a different amount of weight on each foot. The bull had a wooden leg similar to Cabby's. The tracks led out of the woods and at the edge of the woods was farmland fallow. Across the other side of the field was the railroad yard. The bull had walked unaccompanied. He had been lured here somehow.
I decided to go back and make another very wide circle to see if there were any other tracks I had missed. My hunch paid off and I found two sets of footprints leading off at right angles to the bull’s footprints. I followed these for some time and came to another road perpendicular to the road I came in on. I patted myself on the back for my tracking ability.
Reasoning that the attackers came in a car I looked around for evidence of it. I doubted they would leave it on the road so they must have driven it in the woods out of sight. I walked both ways up and down the gravel road for a few hundred yards each way. Nothing. I was about to give up and start back when I saw it. A fresh bush just didn’t seem to be growing correctly. I went over and pulled on it and it came away in my hand along with a couple of others behind it revealing and old farm tractor path no longer in use. This was where they had parked their car.
From here I was stumped as to what to do. I had a scenario of what happened but the ground was hard and there were no tracks visible and even if there were there was nothing to compare them to. I went back down the path deep in thought as to what to do next as my first professional job as a private detective. What prompted the bull to walk into the woods?
I had borrowed a couple of C-clamps from Georges and a couple of rubber pads. Some debris near the site had old fencing and some boulders that had been discarded and some of it I could use to lock the gun down when it fired. Holding it by hand would have been OK but I wanted this to be as accurate as possible. I found a square heavy board and propped it up and locked it in position firm with several boulders. Using the C-clamps and rubber pads I secured the handle of the pistol firm to the wooden beam and sighted down the barrel to a large tree I measured with a measuring tape to be twenty-five yards away. I then took a potato and dug away a round hole just big enough to put the whole potato over the end of the gun’s barrel. I wasn’t sure if my silencer would work or not as I had only read about it but it made good sense.
I fired the gun and my silencer was a limited success but I was confident I had not woken up any of the neighbors. I checked the sight on the gun first making sure it had not moved from its original fastening. The spot on the tree was about two inches from where I had aimed. I fired again.
My potato had slipped a bit and now with the second shot the hole all the way through had become somewhat larger but it was still doing its job. The new spot on the tree was a couple of inches away but higher than the original. I fired off the remaining rounds in the clip and the potato was pretty well gone by then. I dissembled the clamping and cleaned the gun and reloaded the clip.
I went over to closer examine the pattern. By taking an average of all the shots I figured center was about two inches to the left of what I was aiming at. This was a very good gun, very well made and the factory dial in was the best I had ever seen.
With two hands around the handle I tried firing one shot alone and then two bursts of three shots quickly. All seven hit the tree although the pattern was more than a foot across. I would have to work on it. Proficiency with a handgun required constant practice. Where had I read that? Oh, in the Bureau’s Training Manual last night.
I reloaded the clip. I remembered from a western movie that you never holster a gun without first reloading. It seemed like a good practice. I started my trek back to town.
Walking is a good tool to help you think. I wanted to be able to report something to his nibs Friday rather than just say nothing. It established that at least I was working and his investment at least got him something. True, what I had was not startling information and didn’t at this time give me any leads as to where to go next but it was something rather than nothing and that gave me value. It was evidence that I would have to tell the sheriff but there was no hurry and Joseph could have it for at least twenty-four hours before anyone else. The sheriff would in turn have to give it to the feds but that could be a day late too.
It was a long walk back to town. I decided that I would go to the yard office later and establish what the treasury agent was working on. It might give me some direction.
William was right. I should get Wendy a coffee and some sticky buns. I did sort of owe her something. It certainly couldn’t hurt. I should probably buy them rather than get yesterdays. It meant I would have to go to the bank and draw out a couple of dollars. Oh, Jim is going to catch me for a donation for the church. I should probably draw out ten. Tithing was the accepted practice. Sometimes your brain can also ramble when you’re walking.
I walked into the bank. “Hi Bart.” I called out. He had taken off his jacket and sported a crisp white shirt with bright blue suspenders.
Bart was very attentive and shortly after I walked out with ten crisp one-dollar bills. I checked the serial numbers and they were all different.
I stopped by the church to say hello to Jim. He was working on the plumbing. No hot water made for cool showers. We set up a plan to watch for the counterfeit twenty contributor the coming Sunday. William would be able to help.
On the way to the library I stopped at the bakery and they had a special on. Buy a dozen assorted sticky buns with various toppings and you got a free coffee mug. It was perfect and the money in my pocket was burning a hole. With gift box in hand I made my way on to the library.
Wendy had her own coffee percolator in a back room that doubled as lunchroom and sorting area. Patrons were welcome to help themselves for free coffee.
I wasn’t sure of what I was about to say and I wasn’t prepared for a busy day at the library. Three teachers and a number of kids surrounded Wendy in the lobby. She was busy giving a lecture on the use of the facility. I left the box on her desk and went upstairs to dig into my studies - So much for William’s brilliant plan.
William was busy, cataloguing books that the library had acquired somewhere and I spoke to him about what had happened with Jim’s collection bowls and the upcoming Sunday plan. He was enthusiastic. He had ideas as to how to set it up.
After a few hours of studying I went down to Georges to start an afternoon’s work. George was happy to see me.
“That customer was very happy with what you did to his car. Say’s it runs better than when he bought it. He came back an hour later to give me ten dollars as a tip for you. It’s now in your bank account.”
I thanked George and went about working on the next few items on his list. A rush of people buying gas slowed the afternoon down. I decided to phone Joseph and report on my findings even though it wasn’t yet Friday.
Joseph was happy that I had been working and had turned up something. I told him I would have to tell the sheriff, it was evidence after all, but would probably not do it until tomorrow.
On the way back to the library to pick up William Miss Wendy stopped me in the front hall. She had been painting and wore a cap and farmer’s pants with suspenders. She looked very good in them.
“Thanks for the buns and I could use a new cup.” She was very bubbly.
I was very humble. “It’s the least I could do.”
William saved me from myself. The three of us carried on a conversation about me with William doing most of the talking for a good half hour.
“How are you finding the books? Wendy asked.
“Oh. He’s already applied what he’s learned. This morning he went back to the scene and found new evidence.” William was enthusiastic. Every man talking to a pretty woman should have a William.
The next morning I walked in early with William and after dropping him off at the library, had sticky buns with Jim. Jim was a good person to bounce ideas off of even if I ended up fixing his botched pluming job. He agreed it was a good idea that I go to the yard office to find out what the treasury agent was working on. This was why he had disappeared. Doing it late afternoon near closing might get me better results without people hanging over me.
Disappeared. Two people from around the yard were gone - The accountant and now the bull. What did they know? I made a mental note to myself not to disappear.
I made my way down to the sheriff’s office. It was a basic affair with a one-cell jail back of his desk. Another desk had a phone and a typewriter and there was a shotgun on the rack over it. Several filing cabinets were covered with junk and a sofa held the sleeping sheriff.
“Good morning.” I said and he jumped up with a start. I filled him in on what I’d found.
“Not much I can do with it but it will go in my report.” He said. “And of course I’ll eventually have to tell the feds of course.”
“Of course.” I affirmed. I left the sheriff to fight crime and went over to Georges to get some stuff done.
Noon came and went and by mid afternoon I had had enough pumping gas and went over to the library to work on my studies. They were coming right along and after a few hours I closed the library again. Wendy and I exchanged pleasantries.
I helped her lock up and walked with her a block with William in tow. As she turned to go down the side street to her home she put her hand on my shoulder rather than wave goodbye. I caught William smile.
On the way back to the camp I told William to go on alone. I took the highway north to the yard. I would be home later and keep the stew hot.
The yardmaster was a surly old man raised on a snarl. Yes, he had been told that I would be dropping in but he didn’t know anything. I didn’t ask him if he knew anything but he made it a point to tell me anyway. His office was a desk with a typewriter; a telegraph system, several stamps and two ink pads, one red and one black. He could look out the window above his desk and see most of the yard. Two of the yard mules were busy putting together a train from various freight cars in strategic positions. Putting together a train is like getting a parts order from any supplier. The cars are just parts that go into a line that are going to somewhere else where they’re broken up again and shipped somewhere else. The yardmaster explained it to me. Most hobos could tell you where every train within several hundred miles was and is going to. I let him ramble on for some time as I surveyed the office.
“Do you know where the agent accountant spent most of his time while he was here?” I asked figuring he might point me in at least the right area.
“He was comparing incoming and outgoing freight cars with inventory is all I know. He did seem to spend a lot of time with the T. H. & B. files. Told me once that he had to make a trip to Buffalo City to confirm something but he didn’t tell me nothing. They’re mostly in the back room. Customs forms accompany them but they’re filed separately.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I’ll try to keep out of your way.” I went into the back room and tried to familiarize myself with the system. After a couple of hours I had the system figured out but realized that there were a lot of files to go through. I could see why they had sent an accountant type to go through all of them.
I had had enough for the evening and was about to leave when the door burst open. It was the new bull that had intruded with a threat at the camp.
“I see you’ve come a ways since our last meeting.” The man strode in with long hard pounding steps. “My name is Brown. That’s Mr. Brown to you. Just in case you’re thinking about it there’ll be no wandering about the yard without me with you.” He leaned forward and got close to my face. “This is a busy yard. Sometimes accidents happen. We wouldn’t want to lose another investigator now would we?”
“We definitely wouldn’t.” I assured him.
He continued to bend over above me in my chair looking me straight in the face for about another thirty seconds. Then he abruptly stood at attention, turned and left.
I walked back to the camp briskly. It took most of the walk to get the adrenaline out of my system.
The next morning with Jim over coffee and sticky buns I explained what had happened.
“He’s a very big guy with a gun.”
“Sounds like you’re scared of him.” Jim poked fun at me.
“Yeah!” I said gulping down more coffee.
“Well the way I see it is it’s what you can’t see that you should be worried about.” Jim was thinking out loud. He was good at that.
“What do you mean?” I wanted to hear his thinking.
“The guys that clubbed you and the guys that shot at me and the guys that killed the old bull were not Mr. Brown.” Jim leaned back grabbing another sticky bun. “He didn’t arrive on the scene until after that all happened.”
“Right. He’s supposed to be a fed as well.” I reasoned.
“There’s something else I was thinking.” Jim reflected.
“We’ve been thinking that these guys are looking for some stash of counterfeit money, say a box of it with over a quarter of a million dollars in it.” Jim leaned forward.
“Yes. It answers some questions.” I said
“Yes.” Jim said. “But it really brings to mind more questions. I’m still not comfortable that these guys didn’t take the payroll. They had nothing to lose and lots of time. It was only a few hundred dollars or whatever but it’s still loose change. Why not?”
“OK, Why not?” I said. “I thought it was just that they got interrupted before realizing it was easy loose cash.”
“What if it’s not the money they are looking for but the plates that made the money? They would have then perpetual and unlimited money making capabilities. More than that, what if the plates could by some method lead to whoever made them in the first place? Then they would have real motivation for getting them more than the money itself.” Jim sat back and pondered.
“You have a point.” I picked up a sticky bun and headed off to Georges.
“Say by the way.” Jim got up and walked me to the door. “You know that I’m on the town council?”
“Yes. I hadn’t thought of it but I remember you mentioning it some time ago.”
“Well last night we had a meeting. Mr. Watts is on the council as well you know?”
“I didn’t know but I would now that you mention it expect him to be on it.”
“You probably didn’t know that Miss Abernathy and George are on the council as well.” Jim was leading up to something.
“They’re good people. They would make good council members.” I said patiently.
“Well, during last night’s meeting Mr. Watts announced he had hired a separate private investigator to look into this affair.” Jim looked at me for a second.
All I could speak out loud without profanity was. “Oh my-gosh.”
“Yes. He named you.” Jim still had his coffee cup in hand.
“He made me promise not to tell anyone.” I said. “The whole point was that as a hobo I could travel unnoticed and maybe get some information. This will severely hamper anything I can do.”
“It may have a positive slant.” Jim finished his coffee and threw out the grains left in the cup on the lawn in front of the church.
“What could that be?” I asked.
“It forces you to perform.” Jim looked at me. “Everyone would expect a hobo to fail. The sheriff and the feds think you will get in the way. Maybe Mr. Watts is cleverer than you think. You had a minor success. Now you have to deliver on a regular basis. Think positive. You’re now known in the town as a private detective. You have a new identity. Throw away the old one.”
“Maybe you have something there. At least it’s something to think about. I was treating it like a part time job or a hobby. Maybe it’s time to get innovative.”
Jim just laughed. “And watch your back!”
I made my way to Georges. He was in a jovial mood.
“So, am I going to lose my favorite mechanic machinist?” He said casually as he washed his hands in the shop sink. “You’re kind of the topic of the town.”
“It was supposed to be kept quite George. The agreement with Mr. Watts was not to say anything to anyone.” I looked very apologetic.
“It doesn’t bother me none,” Said George. “But I guess it will affect how you go about looking for whatever it is you’re looking for. From the town’s point of view, it might even be good for business. If it hits the papers in Buffalo people might even come down to see what it’s all about.” George laughed.
“If it makes everyone feel better I’ll put on a clown suite.” I was not taking this well.
“I don’t think it’s that bad. And you know everyone here likes you. But, of course you know this is a small town and it’s news and gossip and something to talk about other than the weather.” George finished cleaning up.
“But nobody thinks that I’m capable of accomplishing anything. I’m just a hobo that works in a garage.” I didn’t realize how much I wanted my hidden identity.
“Miss Abernathy does. She brought up that you were studying very hard and you had some past qualifications that would be advantageous.” George was in a positive mood.
“Oh my-gosh. I forgot about her.”
“Usually men don’t forget about women that pretty.” George laughed again and left for the gas bar.
I went to work on George’s list. He had a hoist that he wanted installed in an adjoining garage so he could do oil changes while working on another car. By noon I had the foundations marked out and was ready to drill.
George peeked his head in. “Those fed guys just drove up. You can disappear for a while if you like.”
“Thanks for the heads up George, but I’ll have to see them sooner or later.” I was washing up when they came in the door.
Agent Barnes led the way. “Mr. J.J. I hear you found some evidence and didn’t get it immediately to us first.”
“There’s no phone in our camp and I don’t have your number anyway.” I replied casually. “You didn’t give me a card. You gave the sheriff a card. You gave Mr. Watts a card. You even gave Miss Abernathy a card. How am I supposed to get in touch with you?”
Agent Wallis put his hand up to his fellow agent before he could reply. “Mr. Jackson.” He reached into his jacket. “Here is my card. We are staying at the only hotel in this town. Any information you turn up would be appreciated.”
I took the card. “I’ll surely keep you informed.” I said overly politely.
“And if you get in the way of our investigation I will have you locked up pending charges until the investigation is over.” Agent Barnes stepped forward. “Mr. Brown has told you to stay away from the yard. It might be a good idea if you get my drift.”
It was my turn. “I was hired by the owner of the yard to investigate it. I was also hired obviously because you have turned up nothing because of your incompetence and in the process got one of Mr. Watts employees killed. If you hamper my investigation Mr. Watts will have the Buffalo paper in on it.” It was an empty threat but I thought it sounded good. I made sure to keep my voice slow and calm.
Agent Barnes was now beat red. “You wouldn’t dare! The security of the nation at stake and one of our agent missing and you would take it to the papers?”
“National security?” I questioned. I was getting to like being a detective. “You know I’ve been kind of wondering. You guys have been here a couple of weeks and no one has seen you doing anything. Just what are you doing anyway? What evidence have you turned up? Maybe at least you can tell me where the missing agent isn’t?” I was on a roll. Offense is often a good strategy particularly with federal agents that are used to everyone doing just what they tell them.
“It’s not in the nation's best interest to tell you.” Agent Wallis had realized that I was on to something and that they had said too much.
We stood there looking at each other for a few seconds.
Finally after a few seconds more I decided to back off and throw them a bone. “OK.” I said very slowly and methodically. “Look guys, I’ve been hired and am being paid to do a job.”
Agent Barnes started to say something but Agent Wallis held up his hand. “Let’s hear him out.”
“Minister Jim and I have come up with a plan to see if we can catch whoever is dropping the counterfeit twenties in the church.” I paused to let it sink in. “You guys have no expertise in pick pocketing, theft or slight of hand. The hobos are doing stuff like this every day. Let the experts do their job. Stay away from the church this Sunday and maybe we might have a chance at it.”
The two agents looked at each other and after a few seconds nodded.
“OK.” Agent Wallis said. “This Sunday. After Church come over to the hotel and show us what you’ve found. Make it for Lunch. Agent Barnes will buy.
The two agents left and were confronted by George.
“You left your car in front of the pump. I assume you wanted it filled.” George held out his hand.
Agent Wallis pulled out his wallet and paid him without a word.
I finished cleaning up and went over to the library to continue my studies. Of course I stopped by the bakery on the way for a coffee and sticky bun.
William wasn’t there. Wendy said that he was over at the church for something. I knew what it was but didn’t say anything.
Wendy said. “I’m starting another pot of coffee. Would you like some?”
I indicated that I would.
“Have you had any luck on finding out what the federal agent was looking for? Pardon my curiosity but you’re the most excitement this town has ever had. And please feel free to stop me if I’m prying too much.”
“You’re not prying.” I helped her by cleaning up and washing some dirty mugs. “As for my progress, well it has been slowed down by Mr. Watts telling everyone what I’m doing. Sometimes if people are forewarned then they can take steps to hide whatever I’m looking for. As for what the agent was looking for it seems to be something to do with counterfeit money.” I didn’t know how much she knew and there was no sense in broadcasting more information than was necessary.
“Didn’t he go to the City of Buffalo just before he went missing?” Wendy, after preparing the pot put it on the burner already hot. It started hissing immediately.
“Yes. I know he went to the T. H. & B. but to see who or what I don’t know.” She knew more than I thought.
“What’s the T. H. & B?”
“Oh. It’s The Toronto Hamilton and Buffalo Railway. It’s a private company originating in Canada that has track & trains running between those three cities. Goods and people are often transported across the border on the system. Hobos use it a lot traveling under it mostly. It even has a nickname, Tramps, Hobos and Bums.”
“Would it have an office in Buffalo?” Wendy asked.
“Of course. It would also have a customs office.” I replied
“Well, I can’t imagine anywhere else that the agent would go to if he was checking out the T. H. & B. Why don’t you take a trip there? Didn’t Mr. Watts give you an OK as to some expenses?” The coffee started perking and Wendy turned off the burner on the stove. She seemed to know a lot about my contract. How much was said at that town hall meeting? I was flattered that she was taking such an interest.
“You know, that’s a good idea. But I have a way of going so that no one will know I’m there until after I’ve been. I won’t need any expense money. It was a good idea. This woman was smart.
“And if you’re representing Mr. Watts then you have every right to look at the files pertaining to his company.” Wendy poured two mugs full of coffee and handed me one. “I hear you take it black. Me too.” Where did she hear that?
“I still don’t know what I’m looking for. Mr. Federal agent accountant treasury guy was in Mr. Watts’s office for some time and for some reason went to the City of Buffalo. I’ll be walking in blind.” I sipped the coffee. It was perfectly brewed. “On top of that the treasury agent had a badge that probably would get him into offices that may be denied me.”
“Well, what could he be looking for? Can you make a list before you go?
“Oh the list is easy,” I said. “It’s the length of each item that’s a lot.
“What’s on the list?”
“There are only three items. Cargo, and that can be separated as to domestic and imported. There are the freight cars themselves and with those the same two sub categories. The third is orphans.” I sat sipping my coffee. With her across from me trying not to be too obviously staring at her. I decided that it was OK to look at her eyes. She had great eyes.
“What’s an orphan?” Wendy asked.
“Oh it happens a lot. Mostly on long hauls but it can happen anywhere. For instance a company rents an entire freight car to send stuff to Alaska. This is where it happens most. They don’t actually rent the car they just plan that the size of their load is the same as the inside of the car. They get charged for the freight delivered to the destination. But the car never gets sent back to the original starting point. Thousands of cars end up in remote places until a large train is put together just to get the cars back.” I sipped again.
“Could an orphan happen here in town?” Wendy was curious and seemed to be going somewhere.
“Sure, easily.” I replied. “But the problem with orphans as for something we’re looking for is the cargo is distributed to the customer. Orphans are usually empty.”
“Is that the only way an orphan can occur?” Wendy asked.
“What do you mean?” I replied.
“Well, is it possible that someone could make an error on paperwork and we end up with a car that is bound for somewhere else and another car takes it’s place and we end up with a car here that’s full and the paperwork says it’s empty? I realize that’s a mouthful, but is it possible?” Wendy reached under the counter and pulled out a box. “There are a couple of sticky buns left” She offered me one.
“Thanks.” I accepted. I was finding I liked this woman more and more. “It would probably mean two errors. But yes it’s certainly possible.”
“So there’s a car out there in the yard from T. H. & B. maybe from Canada that is full and some other car somewhere else that is empty but the customer did not get what he wanted.” Wendy stuck a sticky bun in her mouth.
“You might make a good detective.” I reflected.
“I’ll leave that to you. I like being a librarian. Oh by the way, now that I know what you’re really doing I have some more books to add to your list.” She pulled out a paper from here pocket. There were four more books on it. I had my work cut out for me.
“I guess I won’t see you tomorrow. I’ll be in the big City of Buffalo. Anything I can get while I’m there? I asked finishing my coffee.
“If you can I didn’t get the latest Sears Mail order catalogue?” She smiled and got up. “Thanks again for the buns and the mug.”
“My pleasure.” I replied and it was. I went upstairs to study. I was actually retreating. I had spent too much time looking at her. My jaw was sore from smiling.
* * *
The next day I caught the train to The City of Buffalo. When I say caught I literally mean caught. The train slowed down to take a curve just after the town and I ran beside it and grabbed the rail of one of the boxcars. My plan was to ride on top if the weather was nice or on the bumper between the cars if it was cool. To my luck one of the side doors was open and I road inside a boxcar all the way there. As soon as we neared the station I jumped off and walked into the station house. There was a map of the city there with some of the major attractions marked. Sears had a store not far away. I asked where the T. H. & B. office was and was directed up the street following the tracks about two blocks north.
The T. H. & B. office was a busy affair with three women taking orders over several phones. There were typewriters on each desk and a Morse station tapping away in the corner. The place was a full of filing cabinets and I suspected there were more in the back rooms.
I introduced myself to one of the ladies who stood up on my entry. I was from Mr. Watts who wanted me to continue looking at the files that the auditor was looking at some time ago.
It was kind of lame but I couldn’t think of anything else. To my surprise she was most accommodating and showed me to a back room and a desk. “All the files pertaining to Mr. Watts are here as the accountant left them. The two government men that came in here last week didn’t go in here. They were kind of nasty.”
“Sometimes government men can be like that.” I said.
“They didn’t even say please or thank you. When they orderred to get for them all the files, I told them they couldn’t leave the building. Then they just left.” The lady wanted to make a point. “Can you tell Mr. Watts that they were here and not nice?”
I assured her I would make a point of it. On a hunch I asked. “What did they look like? I wonder if I know them.”
“Oh, one was short and stocky. He had on yellow spats. No one wears them anymore. You think the government would have a dress code or something. The other was very tall and lean. He was obviously the boss and did most of the talking. He didn’t have yellow spats but his shoes didn’t match his suit. Both wore a dark blue pinstripe with double-breasted lapels. Their hats both had a white bandana around it. Such a pretty sight, but not very tasteful in my mind. You could see them coming a mile away especially in that car.”
“What kind of car was it?” I asked.
“Oh it was a Packard to be sure. My husband has always wanted one. I wondered how they could afford one of those on a government salary. The only other place I’ve seen one is in the papers when the border patrol caught one being used as a rumrunner. This one was shiny black with bright red seats.”
“Maybe the government men are using the confiscated cars to keep costs down.” I offered.
“You know I sometimes wonder if they were even government men at all. I’m glad they didn’t come back. There’s coffee next door. Feel free to help yourself. I’ll be in the front if you need anything just call.” And with that she was away.
I went through the files as best I could. I stopped for coffee and chatted with the ladies for a bit and then went back at it. The accountant had pulled files out separately and there were notes attached to many. As near as I could figure what he was looking for was complaints of goods not delivered. There were several hundred of them. It appeared that after a problem occurred and was later fixed no one ever made a note in the file that it was fixed. The accountant had found several that were obviously OK after some time but no notation appeared in the file.
Before bidding the ladies goodbye I suggested to them that if anyone else wanted to see those files they should check with Mr. Watts first. “I have to check at the other end for some of the files there and I’ll be back in a few days.” Of course I didn’t mention that they hadn’t checked up on me either.
I headed up to where the Sears & Roebuck Company was. It was just an office. The retail store was downtown. I managed to talk the clerk into giving me a catalogue and left for my way back to the station. I bought a ticket. It was the first time in a few years.
* * *
The town’s station was separate from the yard and several hundred yards north. Cabbie was there by chance and gave me ride back to the library. Wendy was just closing up. I handed her the catalogue. I smiled with my sore jaw.
“Oh, thank you J.J. It would take a month to get one by mail. Did you find what you were looking for in the city?” She juggled some packages to fold into her arms the catalogue. “Say, I could use a hand getting these home and there’s roast in the oven that I can’t eat all by myself and I’d like to hire you to look at my car if it’s not too much trouble.”
“I’ll look at your car for supper Wendy. If there is to be some work done on it you’ll have to pay George, but I’m sure we can work something out. What’s wrong with it anyway?” I grabbed some packages including a couple of books.
“Oh, I just think it needs a tune up or something. It’s hard to start sometimes. I inherited it when my father passed away a few years ago and mostly I just don’t use it very much. I walk to the library and groceries are delivered. Someone said if I drove it more it would run better. I heard you did a marvelous job fixing the car that sat at Georges all winter. Where did you learn how to do it?”
“I used to patch airplanes up with whatever was around during the war. We had a shortage of mechanics and they spoke only French. If your life depended on how well your plane worked you made sure it ran well.” I caught myself showing off. “Just what kind of car is it anyway?”
“It’s a Bentley. Mother’s still alive but she has a chauffer and having the car around was just too much trouble. She sold the house upstate and moved permanently to the winter house in Florida. The car’s several years old now but it has a good heater for the winter and I guess it does have some sentimental value as well. Both Mr. Watts and George have offered to buy it but I would just have to get another.” She swayed with short little steps that made her hips move and swish her skirt back and forth. It brushed against me every other step.
We arrived at the end of a side street to an old Victorian house with an attached double garage. A porch went across the front and around the side opposite the garage.
A maid greeted us at the door and I was introduced to her. “J.J. will be staying for supper.” Wendy said and I followed her in. She took longer steps across the porch in front of me.
“This is a nice place.” I said wondering how she could afford this on a librarian’s salary. The entrance way gave way to a library and office. There was a formal dining room that I could see through double doors.
“We’ll eat in the kitchen as it’s already set up if that’s OK with you. Let me have those.” Wendy took the parcels.
I had the feeling I was on some kind of test. I wasn’t sure if it was the creator doing the testing or Wendy but one thing was for sure. This woman was full of surprises.
Wendy said. “You can have a quick look at the car and then wash up beside the kitchen. The door to the garage is here in the kitchen.” She pointed to the door. “I have to get out of these clothes. I’ll be back down in a few minutes.”
I went out to the garage and found the light. It shone on a very shiny silver Bentley four-door sedan sitting with the keys in the ignition. I started it up. It sounded like it was in perfect running order. I turned it off and opened the hood or as the British say bonnet. It was spotless. There wasn’t anything wrong with this car. It sure did start easy enough.
I went back into the kitchen and Wendy had changed into blue jeans and a sweatshirt. She had a way of making me feel comfortable. “I heard you start it. What do you think?” She sat and pointed to a chair close beside her. She smelled good. I heard the maid leave through the front door.
“Honestly, I can’t seem to see anything wrong with it. Did you say it was hard to start?”
”When it rains it’s a beast. I’ve been stranded a couple of times.” Wendy motioned and we started in on a fabulous meal.
“Oh, the British are known for it. Their cars have to be in the cold and fog for them to run. I think I may have a fix. If you like I can pick it up in the morning and take it over to Georges.” I dug in again to a wonderful meal, the second in a week. I told her of my day and what I had found out about the two men in the Packard. She told me of her day with school kids visiting. Teaching the children made her job worthwhile. She wanted to expand it into a course, possibly mail order or something so other librarians could do it. We retired to her personal library for coffee after and talked until well after dark.
"I lived here for a few years in the summer doing the books for my father's ship building business until he passed. Then the board's accountants took the job over for mom. The library job came open and I decided to stay through the winter. It's been wonderful and I couldn't think now of ever doing anything else."
Having a hat gives you another tool. I thought it might be a little awkward to shake hands goodbye and even more so to kiss her goodnight. (Although I thought of it.) A hug might have been OK but didn’t seem right. I tipped my hat and thanked her again for the meal and wished her goodnight. It was a wonderful walk back to the camp.
The next morning I picked up the car and drove it to Georges. I fabricated a shield for the ignition system made from a couple of rubber gloves glued together. I cut the tips off the fingers and fed the ignition wires through putting the rest of the gloves over the distributor. It didn’t look very good but I was sure that it would give a lot of waterproofing just like a raincoat. Finally I got some nail polish and sealed up all the places where water could leak on the ignition and covered it up as well. I tested it with a garden hose and it seemed to work. The real test would be in a rainstorm. I prepared an invoice as I had used George’s tools but kept the labour cost low. I parked the car to the side and went to work on Georges lift system.
Jim brought some sticky buns over to share for lunch and we had sandwiches together. I told him of my discoveries in the City and he noticed the Bentley.
“Isn’t that Wendy’s car?” He pointed.
“Yes.” I told him about what I had done to it.
Jim chuckled. “You know of course that she hasn’t drove that car since they brought it over here. George goes over and starts it up every other month just to keep it going. Once a year he lubes and oils it. He’s tried to buy it from her but she just keeps it in the garage.”
“Maybe she knows it doesn’t start in the rain from when her father drove it?” I thought out loud.
“Maybe she just wanted you to earn your supper.” He poked fun at me.
“Did William set things up for us at the church?” I tried to change the subject.
He’s over there now. I borrowed the agent’s binoculars and William took them
but he kind of figured they might just get in the way. He was going to try them
in a test run after he got set up. I’m the guinea pig.” Jim got up to leave.
“That reminds me I should get back. You should get back to work too. You said
you were going to get that hoist ready for George and you’re doing free work
for the librarian.”
”My works free but I was going to put the rest on her tab with George.” I defended.
“George doesn’t charge her. She does all kinds of charity work in town. She baby-sits his kids when he has to go out or away. She mans the phone for the sheriff when he’s out and a whole lot of other things.” With that he left whistling as he walked down the street. He turned and added with a big smile. “Maybe you should get to know her better.”
I smiled back and went back to work on the hoist. Maybe I should, I thought.
William came by a couple of hours later and reflected that I had made a lot of progress on the hoist.
“It should be operational by next week.” I said and noticed George had put his head in and heard.
“Glad to hear it.” He said. “Is the Bentley OK?”
I told him what I had done. He just shook his head.
“I expect it needs a good run. It just sits there. You should probably offer to take her on a picnic or something in it. She can cook and you can drive.” With that he just walked away still shaking his head.
“Want to ride in a Bentley?” I asked William. ‘I’ve got to take it back and the library’s on the way. I still have some studying to do as well.”
“Good idea!” William was enthusiastic. “And on the way you can teach me how to drive it.”
“You’re on. Let me wash up first.” I was covered in grease. “I have to make a couple of phone calls. Why don’t you look over the manual? It’s in the glove box.”
I phoned Mr. Watts and reported what I found and then the hotel where the feds were staying. Agent Wallis came on the line and was very cordial. I gave him what I had and he thanked me. Don’t these guys work? I thought. They never leave their hotel room.
Afterwards, I went over the controls with William and he drove to the library like he’d been doing it all his life.
We both went in and William went upstairs and left me alone with Wendy.
“We’ll have to wait until it actually rains but it withstood the garden hose straight on so I think it should be OK.”
I went to hand her over the keys and she declined. “Can you put it back in the garage for me? It’s an awfully tight fit.”
“Sure.” I kept the keys. “I have to work on my studies so I can give you a ride back at closing.”
She nodded and I went upstairs and dug into a book on forensic science.
A short time later she came up. I gathered that she wanted to talk.
“Sometimes sitting in a library all day can get quite boring.” She went on. “It’s nice sometimes just to have someone to talk with.”
I agreed. “Sometimes in the hobo camp there are not a lot of people that can hold up an intelligent conversation. William is an exception. He’s well read.”
“Yes. I’m trying to see if we can get him to pass his high school examinations along with some others at the end of the term. I have a high school principal that agreed and is setting it up.” She sat down beside me. “How’s the investigation coming?”
“I’m going back to the yard tomorrow. I had Mr. Watts tell the new bull to let me loose on the grounds without escort. I’m not sure what I’m looking for but I wanted to get a feel for it.”
“What about the two men in the Packard? Do you have any leads for them?” She was a good conversationalist.
I pulled out a pad that I had been writing down some ideas on. “They have to be staying somewhere and they don’t appear to be the camping type. They’ve been here for some time, maybe a month. They have to eat, sleep and buy gas. No one’s seen them in town that I know of and they would probably stick out like a sore thumb in this town anyway. The City of Buffalo is too far away so they’ve got to be in a nearby town. That’s my reasoning so far.”
“They could be renting a house out of town. There are lots for rent for both short and long term stays.”
“How would they go about renting? I asked curious as to where she was going.
“I would look in the Buffalo paper. We have it downstairs and archive them going back a year.” She went on.
I had an idea. “If I go back to when the Treasury agent first came here and list the rental houses and find which ones stopped advertising shortly afterwards, I would have a good indicator as to what was rented.”
“It’s probably a lot of work to set it up and there may be a lot of leg work but why don’t we check out the papers first to see what it looks like?” She led the way downstairs.
After a couple of hours it was plain that this was going to be a lot of work. There were a lot of ads and many of them only had a phone number or name to contact through the paper. I made a list of possibilities and resigned myself to that fact that this was a long shot but the only lead I had. It was closing time quicker than I realized and I drove Wendy home and parked the car. Where did William disappear to?
“Why don’t you come in and help me finish off that leftover roast? It’s sandwiches but I make a mean salad we can have on the side.” Wendy said.
It was an offer too good to refuse. I lost track of William. I guess he walked home from the library. I walked home after several hours of conversation and too much coffee. It was a wonderful walk back.
William was up waiting for me quietly stoking the fire. “So, tell me how it went.” He grinned, pouring me some evergreen tea. He had some stale sticky buns as well.
I gave him the abbreviated version.
“This woman cooked supper for you twice now” William reflected. “So. Did you kiss her good night?”
“No. I tipped my hat.”
William started to chuckle. Then he toned it down for fear of waking the others. “You what?”
“Never mind.” I shot back. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“I understand that Mickey Spillane’s ‘Mike Hammer’ would have kissed her. William leaned forward and almost whispered. “He certainly wouldn’t have tipped his hat. Isn’t that twice you’ve done that?” William’s voice was rising. “That’s a rule. Never do the same thing twice. You have to keep them guessing.”
Whose rule is that?” I answered. “You’ve been reading too many detective novels.”
you suppose to ask her – no make that tell her that you were going out on a
picnic with her?” William wasn’t stopping. “There’s got to be some nice
romantic setting somewhere around here.”
”She’s had supper with Mr. Watts.” I said.
“And she’s made supper twice for you.” William paused and let it sink in. “It’s time to step up and act like a man.”
I just looked at him.
attracted to your masculine energy. It’s way more than his nibs. She may not
even know it but she’s testing the quality of your character.” William paused
again. “Run with it.”
What would you have, do or be if money was not an obstacle, excuse or limitation?
William woke me up. I had slept in again. It was beginning to be a habit. The dew rolled off my tarp. The sun was hidden this day. Frost covered the grass and it was nice and warm under the tarp.
“Hey old man. There’s detective work to be done. Did you think someone was going to punch the clock for you? It was after two AM when you crawled into your bed.” William found my jacket for me.
I crawled out from under and accepted the it. It was still cool and looked like it would stay that way all day. “Since when did you get a watch?” I mumbled crankily.
He didn’t answer but walked away to the stream. “Stews on.” He called back. “Get yourself moving.”
“What day is it?” I called out.
“Sunday.” William called back. “You best pretty up for church.” And then he turned and said loudly so everyone else could hear. “Are you going to sit up front with Miss Abernathy?”
“Never mind.” I realized I had been smiling when he woke me up.
Some of the other men in the camp smiled but I was thinking that might be a good idea. She sat with Mr. Watts before. He arrived at the last minute, fashionably late. It might be fun to take his spot. But this was to be a working day.
A short time later William and I and a few other men from the camp walked into town. Hobos have things to pray for and of course there was free food after the service. A couple of men had even joined the quire and were talented enough to be a welcome addition. Minister Jim had constructed a winning system. Some of the men liked to work off the food and cleaned the grounds, mowed the lawn and helped in the kitchen. It didn’t feel like charity as they had earned it. A little self-esteem made the day go better. A couple of the fields had fresh manure and the smell stole from the spring air. The night before the state had spread old used oil and tar on the gravel road to keep the dust down and we walked near the edge so as to not get it covering our boots. It would not do to walk into church and dirty the floor. The men that sang in the quire, decided to practice on the way in. After a bit we all joined in. Those that didn’t know the words hummed.
William had spent the week working with Jim installing a new one-way glass mirror. There was a door off to the side near the front that went to his office and Jim wanted to see before his grand entrance if the pews were full. It also gave William a chance to see what was going on without being seen.
William and I walked at a slightly quicker pace and were some distance from the rest of the group. A model T went by full of family on the way into town. They honked and waved.
“You know Miss Abernathy is paying me for the work at the library.” William stated.
seem to remember it somewhere.” I answered. “She should. You’re doing a lot of
”Yes, and she’s set up with the local high school for me to take tests at the end of the spring.”
“That’s great! She does seem like a very nice person.”
“That’s true, but it’s not what I want to talk to you about.” William had a concerned tone.
“Go on.” I encouraged.
“You see, she set up a bank account for me. She got the idea from George setting up one for you.”
“So.” I said. “What’s the problem? What did she do? Use the library as your address I suppose. That’s what George did. The Bank even holds my book. I don’t even have to carry it around. Bartholomew is a little weird but he seems OK.”
“It’s not that. I went over to the bank. They wanted me to sign the form.” William went on.
“I know you can read and write. What’s the problem?” I teased.
“Have you checked your bank book lately?” William asked.
“No. There’s been no need. I drew out some money last week for my trip to the big city but didn’t even look at the book. Bartholomew entered stuff in it and put it back in the drawer.” I was curious now.
“William said.” Maybe you should check it.”
“Why? What’s up with yours?”
“There’s an extra hundred dollars in it. I’ve only been here a few weeks and I get a dollar a week.” William was worried. “If the Feds find out they might think I’m the one that killed their agent.”
“Oh.” He was right. I probably should check my account.
“It has to be whoever is depositing counterfeit money at the church. They’re trying to frame me.” William was indeed worried.
“Let’s not jump to conclusions. First, we’ll see if we can find this guy today. Second, I can’t go to the bank today as its Sunday but I’ll check first thing tomorrow. Third, if there is more money in my account then it’s directed at both of us. I have an idea that our friend just might be giving the money away so as to create a bunch of false paths. After I check tomorrow at the bank I’ll contact the feds and let them know before they find out themselves. I don’t think you’re a suspect. They just walk around accusing everybody as a way of life and hope that someone will get scared and give them-selves away. Mr. Watts seems to think agent Wallis has some smarts even though he appears to be a dummy.”
William settled down. “Maybe we’ll get lucky this morning in church.”
We got to the church. I sat in the back and William went up and through the door just to the right of the front podium. We were a few minutes early and I watched the congregation come in. The quire was seated and Wendy was with them. Church in a small town is quite a social affair. People dress up in ‘their Sunday best’ and come early to gossip and make plans and renew old acquaintances. Two elderly men in very formal attire ushered in the townspeople to their favorite spot next to friends and relatives. They would pass four large wooden bowls around later. Two bowls would start at the front at one end at the first and third row and the other man with the other bowls would start at the other side with the second and fourth rows. As the bowls were passed along the row accumulating money at the end of the next row the usher would pass it down to the next set of rows and collect them at the end. As the congregation was sitting and the ushers standing they could easily see everything that was going on with each bowl. It didn’t happen very often but sometimes a member of the congregation thought that the church owed them.
With William in position and me watching as well I prepared to enjoy the morning’s service. I saw a couple of the men slip quietly to the separate section at the left front at right angles reserved for the quire. I moved to the left of the pew to make sure I had a good view. I didn’t think William would be able to see them from his vantage point. They would give their donation separately to the left usher. I hoped William had this covered. I wasn’t sure if there was a separate plate or how it got around the corner at the far end. There were four short rows.
Jim’s sermon was well presented if but a bit long. I confess that I don’t remember what it was all about. It must have been a lesson that I already knew and so it passed over me. The quire was in fine form with a guest soloist from a nearby town and the school quire paraded in and did a guest spot as well. The whole thing, normally an hour, lasted an hour and a half. Several of the congregation and a couple of the quire bent low so as not to obstruct anyone’s view left for the washroom and came back bent low again with relief on their faces. Without pause they took off where they left off as if they hadn’t missed anything.
Of course my friend from the Great War showed up about half way through the sermon. His smell of bear grease preceded him and when he figured out that the sermon was lasting much longer than normal he went to the washroom bending low like all the others in spite of the fact that we were in the second from the back row. He didn’t come back.
When the collection time came I watched the quire side usher. He took his extra duty in stride and used one of the plates to cover the additional rows darting behind them to pass the bowl back and then back to the main rows to service them. He did it without incident or losing time at all. It was all very smooth and professional. I didn’t see anything at all like someone slipping a twenty into the bowl anywhere.
At the end of the service Jim walked down to the entrance of the church as we all left in orderly file and Jim shook everyone’s hand and called him or her all by his or her first name thanking them for coming and it was going to be a beautiful day. Last out I shook Jim's hand and walked with him to where the ladies had set up tables with sandwiches and sticky buns and lemonade. Several of the hobos were already there. I went over to join them. The ladies made good sandwiches and I helped myself as much as anyone else. Mr. Watts said hello and by his side was Miss Abernathy who seemed embarrassed on seeing me. They greeted all the elect of the town present and discreetly left.
William finally made it out of the church. He was giving me the ‘yes’ sign. He’d found our man. I made my way towards him. Jim saw him make the sign as well and we converged on him together.
“He’s really very smooth. It’s so professional that even when I saw it I did a double take on how natural it seemed.” William was excited and it rubbed off on us.
“Alright. Who was it and how did he do it?” I asked. Jim just nodded affirmatively.
“He comes in just before the ushers are going to walk down the isles to hand out the bowls.” William was having trouble getting it out. “He says hello coming in on the old guy’s left side and puts his right hand his left arm while he’s doing it. Sort of like instead of shaking hands you just touch him. Anyway with his left he puts his hand over the guy’s right hand and shoves the bill in between the bowls with his thumb. There are two bowls. The bill’s covered until the ushers hand it down the isles. No one’s looking into it until after it passes the first person. Then it’s too late.”
“Well, who was it.” Jim was really excited now.
I could tell William had picked up on Jim’s impatience and was dragging it out.
“We should have figured it out. It makes perfect sense.” William was a master and was making like he was about to walk away without revealing who it was.
Jim finally said. “Who!”
“Oh. It was Thurston Hewitt the Third.” William said calmly.
It caught me off guard too. I had not thought of him but it made sense. He was the scrounger in the prisoner of war camp and was now a kleptomaniac. I watched to see if anything was missing every time I met up with him.
“It’s absolutely amazing.” William was still going on. “I couldn’t do that without a hundred practice runs and he does it with that bear grease smell advertising his coming for a hundred yards off.”
We all turned at the same time to look at where Thurston Hewitt was last standing near the sandwich table. He was gone. We spread out looking over the field nearby and down the road to town. He was gone.
“Do you think he heard us? Jim asked.
“No doubt.” William responded. Evidently this man impressed him. He looked at me. “I think he was on a mission and when it was over he made like he was doing what everyone expected of him by going to the sandwiches but really it was his escape route.”
I nodded agreement. “He doesn’t stay with us at the camp. The other guys don’t trust him as he often takes things and he’s not all right in the head as they say. Do you have any idea where he camps out?” I asked William.
William said no but he would ask the other men discreetly.
“Let’s get some sandwiches before they’re all gone.” I said. “Thinking is best done on a full stomach.”
After a while I said. “I’m going to look for his camp. It may take a bit of traveling but I think I know how he thinks. Let’s keep it quiet that we know who’s doing it for now. If the feds come looking I guess you’ll have to tell them but you don’t need to tell them everything.”
The two nodded agreement and I was off.
I had seen a map of the town and the surrounding area from an aerial photograph on Mr. Watt's wall. To the north of the yard was an abandon track that used to be used as a siding before the yard came into being. As the main track had a curve to meet other mainline tracks it used to be a favorite spot for hobos to jump on a train, as they had to slow down for the curve. As a stream went along the curve I expected there might be an abandon camp that Thurston would find useful rather than build his own from scratch.
I saw cabbie sitting having a coffee and sandwich and got in the back. “Can you take me up to the road that goes along the North side of the yard?” I asked.
A half hour later I was walking along a road ten miles north of town and just a little North of the yard at a point where the track crossed the road. I waved Cabbie goodbye and started down the track. After twenty minutes I found a path leading away from the track and shortly after I knew I was in his camp.
The first clue was the unmistakable odor. Thurston’s love of bear grease to stop black flies from biting was almost legendary. I knew he spent a lot of time in the Canadian North too. There are stories of mosquitoes there as big as wasps.
Scattered around the camp was a collection of parts from cars, household items and railway tools. A small log hut about ten feet by fifteen feet with a tin roof had a smoldering chimney. I opened a beautiful hardwood door with a glass window. Hung with barn hinges, a hook and peg lock opened to a carpeted floor. Surprisingly the inside was clean and orderly. A small cot bed was made with gray army issue blankets. A black stripe went down the centre perfectly and I noted a crisp hospital corner. A small bench adorned a table bolted to the wall and a coffee pot was on a set of shelves near a pot stove. I found some coffee and a water jug. Stoking the fire I made myself a pot and waited for Thurston to return.
There was a small book collection in the hut including two library books that were not overdue. Both were an analysis of Shakespeare plays. I took a book of Robert Service’s poems from his shelf and sat outside in his yard reading.
Thurston Hewitt still responded to me calling him ‘Captain.’ We were both fliers at one time and met under the worst of circumstances. It was strange that we were meeting here again, both hobos in a different era.
I didn’t hear Thurston approach but I did hear the birds stop singing. I gave it a minute and then said. “I made enough coffee for two Captain.” And then I continued on reading without lifting my head.
Without saying anything Thurston went and got a coffee and came back to where I was sitting on a log. He pulled up another stump and sat across from me.
“You have good taste in reading.” I said as I closed the book and placed it on the log beside me. “I need you to give me the money back.”
“I was wondering when someone would come around to getting it. That’s a lot of money.” Thurston said as he sipped his coffee. “I usually make this stronger. Maybe if I let it sit for a day it’ll get there.”
“How much did you give away? I asked. I felt like I was carefully interrogating a small schoolboy that had done something bad.
“About half.” He answered. “It’s been a few months.” He was very humble in his speech.
I kept it up. “You’d better show me where the rest is.” Implying that he was in trouble with the tone of my voice. At the time of our incarceration during the Great War I outranked him by being a class above him as Captain. He was Captain second class and from a different country. I thought it Canada but wasn’t sure. He often called me colonel which was not technically correct but I let him just the same.
He led me over to a wood box in disrepair. The disrepair was faked as soon became apparent. He pulled some of the wood out to make it lighter and tipped the whole thing up on end. Hinges held it in place covering a second box underneath holding a steel ammunition box about four feet long. Thurston pulled out the box and handed it to me.
“Where did you find it?” I asked as I undid the steel clips holding the waterproof lid tight. I flipped open the lid.
“Army used to have a base for training north of here. There are all kinds of stuffs still there. Lots of tools are just lying around. Got this axe there.” Thurston pointed to the axe.
“You mean this money came from an army base?” I didn’t follow.
“No, just the ammunition box. The money came from the boxcar.” Thurston pointed in the direction of the yard. “It was in a box with someone’s name on it. I think someone was trying to mail it but the address label came off. There was no return address so I took it.”
“How big was the box?” I said as I started to pull out the bag from the ammunition box. “I mean, how much money was in here? How much is left?”
“About half I think. It’s hard to tell.” Thurston was starting to ramble.
I let him go on, prodding him every once and awhile. It was easier to do this than just interrogate him. He wasn’t quite right in the head so they say and I was sure that he had not thought he’d done anything wrong.
“How much is that in dollars Thurston?”
“I think they planned on it being a million. It makes a nice round number. The box was still almost full but I can only guess as to how much originally. There might have been another layer of a different currency that I didn’t see any of.” Thurston went to get more coffee.
“Did you count it?” I asked.
“Oh yes.” Thurston called back. “Nine hundred seventy two thousand, one hundred forty dollars.”
“And how much is left?” I called back as he returned with the reheated pot.
“Four hundred thousand, six hundred twenty.” Thurston sat and smiled.
“You mean to tell me that you gave away over half a million dollars?” I sat back and picked up my coffee cup.
“Yes. It didn’t seem right to keep it.”
“You’ve been giving twenties to the church for several weeks at best. That doesn’t add up to half a million. Where did it go?” I used my father headmaster captain voice to the small bad schoolboy in front of me.
I put twenties weekly in several churches depending on where I was. And it was
easy to deposit money in yours and that young William’s bank account as long as
I got a different teller at different times. I tried it once with the hundred
and that slick Bartholomew started asking a lot of questions. Last Christmas I
dropped a lot of hundreds into pots beside a Santa Claus stand.”
”Wait. You said there are hundred dollar bills in here?” I started opening the bag.
“Yes. It’s about half and half.” Thurston stopped and sipped.
I pulled out two packs of money. There was a band around each. One was twenties and the other hundreds. I pulled one bill from each. The serial numbers were the same.
“So, how did you give away the rest of the money? How much money did you put in my account anyway? I sat thinking of the ramifications of what he did.
“I went to the library and found the name and addresses of charities all over the world that needed money. There are hundreds of them. I would take ten one hundred dollar bills and send it to an orphanage in South America. There is a hospital in Africa that got money. I bought stamps and envelopes with the twenties. It was a lot of work.” Thurston wiped away some imaginary sweat from his brow.
“How much is in my account?” I asked again.
“Didn’t you look at your book when you got it?” Thurston looked up surprised.
I thought back to when I went back to sign the account. I had looked at the book’s cover but Bartholomew had put it in a drawer for me. The only other time I saw it was when I took out ten dollars to go to the big City. I hadn’t looked inside it then either. Bartholomew had written in it and put it back. I never saw any need to look at it as I thought I knew what was in it. “No.” I said. “It’s in a drawer at the bank. How much is in there?” I asked again.
“That’s when that snoop started asking questions. I put ten thousand in there and he had to call over some other guy. He said it was above his pay scale.”
”Ten Thousand!” I stood up. So did Thurston and then he hung his head. I guess he was waiting for a reprimand. He then stood at his best attention stance.
I sat back down. Thurston remained standing. I motioned him to sit back down with a wave of my arm.
“You do know that one person and possible another has died over this money?” I said.
Thurston just lifted his head and looked at me with puppy dog eyes. “Yes Captain. I buried one over behind the trees. I think he was an accountant or something. Found him tied in the woods. Later whoever did it did another same place but someone found him before I could bury him too.”
“I found him and then the sheriff found him and on top of that Minister Jim was shot at and I got a lump on the head.” I went on. “Do you have any idea where this money came from?” I asked not expecting an answer.
“Oh yes sir.” Thurston had got his voice back. That’s easy.”
“And?” I had to push now.
“Oh, Germany to be sure sir.”
“How do you know? I asked as calm as I could. There wasn’t any point in putting down Thurston. He didn’t know better and he thought he was doing good acts.
“It was written on the other boxes.” He said. More calm now it dawned on him for the first at the same time that I thought of it. He said slowly. “Oh my-gosh.”
Slowly I said. “Where did you get this box?”
“It was in the yard.” Thurston was thinking now. I gathered that it was just now dawning on him that there was more money. “I followed a money trail. There were loose bills every hundred yards or so. I just followed the tracks and ended up at the storage yard.” He looked straight into my eyes now somewhat excited more from understanding than anything else.
“The agent was looking in the yard.” I said out loud. I was thinking it more than saying it but it came out anyway.
“It’s gone now.”
“What’s gone Thurston?” I prodded again.
“The railway car. This box was broken. A crane hit the car and smashed this box. That’s why I took it. The label was gone and the bills were just blowing away.” Thurston was still thinking as he spoke.
I wasn’t sure it was a good thing for him to think. “”You mean to tell me there were more boxes like this in a railway car?”
“Oh yes. I fixed the car. They were just falling out. I got some boards from the warehouse and nails and a hammer and good as new in a couple of hours. You wouldn’t be able to tell. I replaced that shiny new lock too. Any fool would know that a lock that big and shiny would be locking up something of value.
“How many boxes were in the car Thurston?” I went on. My ocean of patience was receding.
“Oh. I don’t know how many. It was full though. I think only this one fell out.” Thurston was proud of himself.
We sat and didn’t say anything for some time.
“Thurston, how big was the original box?” I had a thought.
Thurston didn’t say anything but got up and went and grabbed the board that was part of the original box.
I looked at it. It was soft wood and about two feet long. “Thurston. This is about two feet long. How was the shape of the box from this?”
Thurston thought for a second or two and then said. “It was about one foot wide by six inches tall.”
“That’s one cubic foot. Two by one by one half.” I said out load. “A railway car is about 40 feet long by 10 feet high by 10 feet wide.” I didn’t really know but this was a good guess. “That makes 4,000 square feet or that many boxes. Holly cow that’s a lot of money!” I still was adding the zeros.
Thurston added. “Four Billion dollars.”
“From Germany.” I said out loud but was lost in thought. I needed a long walk. I knew I was in over my head and had no doubt now that there were people out there that would do a lot to find this money.
“Thurston. Is there anything else you need to tell me? Did you leave anything out? The tiniest detail may be important.” It was obvious that I was agitated now and Thurston was picking it up.
“No. That’s about it.” He sipped the last of his coffee casually.
I sat and thought some more. “The car was one of T H & B’s?”
“Yes. It was old. Are you going to try and find it?” Thurston was thinking now. Not a good thing but he was I remembered at times, brilliant.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this money is evil. Dumped on this soil it will affect the economy, which is not all that healthy anyway. Whatever it buys or whatever cause it is fueling is not in this country’s best interest.” I was thinking out loud again.
“I remember that I used white painted boards to fix the damage. It should stand out from quite a ways. The car is very old and dirty. The lock on there now is standard railroad issue.” Thurston shrugged. “That’s all I can think of.”
“That’ll help.” I thought some more. “Thurston, you have another camp way north in Canada as I remember?”
“I want you to go there and stay there for at least a year. And for at least a year don’t tell anyone of this.” I was sure his life was in danger.
“Captain?” Thurston stood up. “Did I do something wrong?”
“No Thurston. You made a mistake. The good thing is maybe this mistake might stop whatever evil someone is trying to implement.” I stood, shook his hand and patted him farewell on his shoulder. “I want you out of here on the train tonight.”
Thurston stood back assumed attention and saluted. I returned it and he made ready to leave.
Coming out of his hut with a knapsack on his shoulder he said. “Captain, there’s a shotgun and a Tommy gun under the bed. The floor flips up on a hinge. You might just have need of some more firepower.” With that he was gone.
I finished the coffee. I thought of burning the place down but there was no point. After Thurston left I checked under the bed. A sawed off 12 gauge double-barreled shotgun with the handle cut back and a Tommy gun were there wrapped in oiled cloth. There was lots of ammunition. I grabbed the shotgun and found it had a sling to carry underneath your clothing. I put a box of shells in my pocket. There was another knapsack in the hut. I put the money in it and threw it over my shoulder. I left the Tommy gun there. It was too much to carry and even a professional wouldn’t find it without knowing specifically where to look for it. Even looking at it and knowing, I couldn’t see any telltale sign of a hideaway under the bed.
Surveying the camp I figured it needed to look as if it had been some time since someone had been there. I went around displacing things and then threw some soil about over everything I could think of. It wouldn’t fool a professional if it was analyzed tomorrow but a few days from now it would look like no one had been here in months.
With my new shotgun and four hundred thousand six hundred and twenty dollars on my back I started back to town. I flipped up my new gun and loaded two shells in the chambers as I walked. I had my pistol with me as well but there is something about walking down a very open road with a lot of money over your shoulder that can just give you the willies. I slowed down my pace. Hobos don’t normally walk this fast. It was afternoon now and getting hot and I had an overcoat on that I didn’t want to take off. But I did want to get back to George’s garage before dark. I could cut through the yard but for sure the new bull would see me and I didn’t want him or anyone to know where I had been.
As if because I was thinking of it I saw the new bull coming across the field to the road ahead that I was walking on. There was no doubt that he had seen me and was making to the road to intercept me. More to the point I was a mile north of the yard and he had to be coming to look for me. How did he know I was here?
The bull made his way to the road and waited by the side for me to come to him. He stood almost at attention with one hand leaning on his gun. His railway uniform was perfectly pressed and fit as if tailor made. His boots shone with polish and the leather straps comprising his lanyard and belt glistened with wax as well. His cap I suspected was not railway issue but the peek glistened in the afternoon sun. He was freshly shaved and his hair was military short. In another place he would pass muster for parade duty.
I stopped about ten feet from him and contemplated the contrast between us. I was dressed in an old dusty overcoat with a rumpled hat and the last time my shoes were polished I couldn’t remember. I had shaved that day for church but afternoon shadow was creeping over my face and sweat trickled from under my hat. My backpack was old and grimy and even had some paint specks on it.
“Afternoon Mr. Brown.” I said nonchalantly.
“Where have you been? What’s in the backpack?” Clearly Mr. Brown wanted to get right to the point.
“None of your business on both points.” I wasn’t having any of this.
“How about I put a bullet through your head and make it my business.” Mr. Brown shifted his legs about to make a move.
“Then you still won’t know where I’ve been and you’ll have a hobo’s kit for all that work trying to hide the body.” I looked him straight in the eye.
Brown sized me up. I could see the wheels turning in his head. He was obviously disciplined, trained, a lot bigger than me and armed. To him it was a no contest.
“How about I take you into the woods and beat the crap out of you and then let the birds eat your body. Then I’ll know where you’ve been, what’s in your backpack and I’ll have had fun doing it.” Brown made an attempt at a smile.
His hand came off the gun. Big mistake. He took a step towards me, Second big mistake. I slipped my hand through my right pocket and pulled up the shotgun through my overcoat pointing it low at Brown’s feet.
“I have no desire to blow away a Bureau’s agent. I will blow away your foot if I get any more garbage from you.” I was enjoying this even though I knew I was treading on thin ice. “Pull out your gun with your fingertips and drop it on the ground. I’ll give it to Agent Wallis next time I see him.”
Brown had by now an icy calm mask on his face. It was like an animal readying to spring at his prey. Instead of dropping the gun, he pulled it out slowly with his fingertips and held it for a second.
I stepped back a pace. “Don’t even think of it. I’m a hobo and I can and will disappear and not even think about trying to hide your body.”
Brown sized me up and looked at how I was holding the shotgun. Even with that he didn’t drop the gun but knelt and laid it on the ground. He stayed there a second, kneeling and then slowly stood up.
“Walk back to the yard.” I orderred.
Brown looked at me a second more and then walked back down the slope towards the yard. He kept on walking without looking back.
When he was out of sight I picked up the gun. It was a German Luger. I picked up my pace now and walked back into town without further incident.
I needed a good story to throw the track off Thurston, something that I could tell the agents that was partly true as they needed to know of the railway car but not more than was necessary for them to do their job. There was still the mystery of who killed the bull and what happened to the missing agent.
I got to within a mile of the town and I saw cabby’s car coming out to meet me. He pulled up right in front of me on the wrong side of the road and got out. It was clear that he was upset.
“Are you alright J.J?” He came right up to me and touched my arm as if to verify that I was here.
“Sure, why wouldn’t I be?” I asked as calmly as I could.
“That new bull. He got in the back of my cab and put a gun to my head. Told me if I didn’t tell where I took you he would pull the trigger. I had to tell him J.J.” Cabby was clearly upset.
“It’s OK Cabby. Mr. Brown and I had a little talk, that’s all. He is one for playing up the dramatics though. Hey, I need a ride back to the church. It was nice of you to come out and get me.” I put my hand on his shoulder and got in the back of the cab.
The feats of greatest courage come from times of greatest oppression.
Jim served coffee and sticky buns while I reiterated my afternoon’s adventure. The basement of the church was part workshop, part kitchen and dimly lit with a single hanging light bulb. Old pews in repair amid tools were scattered around a picnic table rescued from age and weather. One wall supported a table with more tools, some dishes, and a sink with a single cold water tap. A very modern electric icebox was to the left and an old wood stove butted up the left. Two small dirty windows let light escape into the night.
William came in half way through so I had to start over. I didn’t want them to know everything but I had to tell them as I wanted them to forget about Thurston and they both knew it was him that put the money in the collection bowl. The new story was to be that a small Mexican family had found what was left of the money, donated it to the church and had taken off when I found their camp. It sounded plausible and left me free to look for the killers and the missing railway car.
After several coffees and too many sticky buns Jim phoned the hotel and agents Wallis and Barnes said they would be right over. It was going to be a long night. I suggested that William go back to the camp. He grabbed the rest of the sticky buns at Jim’s suggestion and left.
After Jim was through with the phone I called Mr. Watts and told the whole story to him. He was very happy but said. “I’m going to have that bull Brown removed. I need security in the yard not some guy putting a gun to Cabby’s head. And I’ve never had a problem with hobos in the yard anyway. He had no right to go into your camp in my name. Hobo’s jump trains to be sure but not in the yard. I’ll have a call into Agent Smith in the morning. There’s a bonus for you and your still working on finding the car and the killers if you’re up to it.”
I assured him I was and we hung up.
Agent Wallis and Barnes came in. I told the story again. It was starting to sound rehearsed. It was. I gave the moneybag to Agent Wallis and handed the gun I took from Agent Brown.
Agent Wallis took the moneybag and started counting it. He gave the gun to Agent Barnes who seemed very intrigued with it.
“This is not standard Bureau issue.” He said finally. He gave a questioning look at Agent Wallis.
“There’s nothing to say he can’t use it in the agent policy manual.” Agent Wallis took the gun and looked at it himself. “Sometimes you get used to a gun and know how it fires and fall back on that training. Lots of agents use a 45 because they used it in the war. Agent Brown is German. Maybe he got it in the war.” He handed it back to Agent Barnes.
Barnes examined it again. “He’s not thirty. I doubt he served in the Great War.” Agent Barnes finally put it away and helped count the money.
After some time it was confirmed that there was exactly $400,620.00
Agent Wallis stacking the bills said. “And you think there was a million in the original box?”
“There were a couple of boards that had not made it into the fire pit. I’m guessing of course but it makes sense. The Mexicans sent some of it home to family and some they gave to charities. I’m amazed at their generosity. I don’t think there was much more than what you see here. I think the box they found was severely damaged and most of the money lost.”
“We’d like to talk with the Mexicans ourselves.” Agent Barnes spoke up.
“Yes.” Agent Wallis added.
“It was take the money or get the Mexicans. After I had talked with them one of them threw the moneybag into the fire and they all took off. I had a shotgun and could have blasted them but I just couldn’t do it.” That was my story as they say. And I was sticking to it.
The two agents looked at each other. I couldn’t tell if they were buying it but they didn’t say anything more about it.
Agent Wallis said to his partner. We’re going to have to call Agent Smith tonight.” He said it as if it was something he dreaded doing.
“Who is agent Smith?” I asked. “Mr. Watts mentioned calling him as well.”
“Why will Mr. Watts be calling Agent Smith?” Agent Wallis asked perking up to this new information.
“He seemed upset that agent Brown acting as one of his employees put a gun to Cabby’s head and threatened him. He’s going to ask that Agent Brown be removed from the yard.” I let this sink in and then added. “So, who is Agent Smith?” I asked again.
Agent Wallis looked at his partner again. Finally he said. “Agent Smith is District Head of New York Territories. We were sent here by head office in Washington and then Agent Smith told us he was heading the investigation. He’s very high up in the Bureau, came from army intelligence and was decorated. They say he was a spy or something. Very hush, hush as to what he actually did, but he seems to know many of the upper crust in Washington.”
Jim popped up. “You can use my phone. May as well do it now. If I know his Nib’s that call has already been made and it might look better if you appear to be very on top of the situation.”
Agent Wallis looked at his partner again and they both nodded. It was becoming apparent that they both didn’t want to talk with Agent Smith.
“I have question.” I looked at Agent Wallis. “Would either of you have put a gun to Cabby’s head as did Agent Brown? I mean it doesn’t seem to me to be Bureau policy.”
“Some agents do get carried away with excessive zest.” Agent Wallis answered all too quickly.
There was something afoot here, as Doctor Watson would have said. I had my answer. I was getting good at being a detective.
“Will he be reprimanded for what he did?” I asked. There was something here. Maybe if I pressed a little I might find out something as to what was going on?
“I doubt it. If he had actually hit the Cabby or shot him maybe, but as there was no damage to person, property or the Bureau’s reputation, no.” Agent Barnes butted in. He seemed more up on policy than his partner. “However, he might be reprimanded for losing his gun to a hobo half his size.”
Both agents smiled. Jim started another pot of coffee. Maybe there was some character in Agent Barnes makeup after all.
Jim took it up from my lead. “So I take it that Agent Smith brought in Agent Brown and not you two?”
“We didn’t even know of it until after he was here for a day.” Agent Barnes accepted another mug of coffee. “We didn’t even know that the agent that got killed was ours.”
“But you of course knew of the accountant tax agent working on the case?” Jim was talking and it allowed me to concentrate on watching and listening.
“We were sent here to help him and the agent had us running around looking up files and customs records.” Agent Wallis now accepted another mug refill.
“I’m kind of gathering that you two have been rather idle since he went missing?” Jim was pressing hard now.
The two agents looked at each other and then Agent Barnes said. “Let’s just say that we spend a lot of time at the library.”
“You were told not to get in the way?” Jim picked up on it very quickly and he made the statement with a bit of a laugh so as to presume he knew the predicament the agents were in. I was glad he was doing this. I had a feeling that Jim being a minister gave him the air that was beyond reproach. If I had said the same thing I would have bet that internal alarms would have gone off in both agent’s heads and the friendly questioning would be over.
Both agents smiled and then Agent Wallis said. “We better make that call. It’s getting late.”
Jim offered up the phone to Agent Wallis. He took it and walked to a desk in the corner. After ten minutes he was through, hung up and walked back to the table. “We have to make up a report in triplicate so they say.”
“What was his reaction? Jim asked. It seemed a fitting question.
Agent Wallis pondered and replied. “Typical bureau response-which is no response at all. What can he say though? Nothing to be done about it now.”
Agent Barnes got up shook our hands. “Thanks for the coffee.” And then they were gone.
Jim and I were left alone. We talked for a bit and finished the sandwiches that were left over from brunch.
“It’s been a long day. I think I’ll sleep at the garage tonight. I owe George a good day’s work and if I start early I can get that hoist up and running before dusk.” Tucking my new shotgun under my coat I started walking down the street.
I was happy with my new acquisition. Hobos by nature aren’t supposed to get attached to possessions but the shotgun fit and gave me confidence and a feeling of security and oh yes, power.
I was analyzing my reaction to it when I past by a car just out of the light some ways down a side street that, for some reason grabbed my attention. It seemed out of place somehow. Oh! It was still running. There was no one in the car.
Not much light illuminated the town at night and Sunday evening of course none of the shops had anyone working late and all the buildings that normally shed light were dark as well. Town council proposed to add some more lights to the street but it had been shelved for a couple of years and wasn’t likely to happen for another couple of years. One storeowner on his own had a floodlight installed that shone down the street and another storeowner following suit had done the same at the opposite side of town. The effect was somewhat eerie and the cast shadows hid objects until my eyes adjusted to the glare.
I took a few steps down the ally on a whim and as soon as I did I heard a noise past the car further down. Stepping out of the light into the shadow instinctively, my eyes adjusted again and the car became visible. The car was a black Packard sedan. I was glad I was out of the light.
As my pupils opened more I could see further and four men were standing about half a block away.
“I’ll take that.” One of them said and I could see him grab something from one of the other two men. “And we’ll have your guns too.” He added.
It didn’t take a lot of deduction to figure that the two agents that had just left me were being held up. Gee, this was a busy day.
I continued to watch, hoping for something of an opportunity to come up where I could do something. The two agents were now some distance from the other two but I was sure they had guns trained on them even though I couldn’t see them in the little light leaking in from the street.
One of the two with the guns turned to the other and said. “What’ll we do with them now? We can’t just leave them here.”
I had to do something so I yelled. “Heh! What’s going on down there?”
Reacting to the distraction one of the agents pulled a gun from nowhere and fired as he jumped behind a shed. The other agent jumped the other way behind a pile of garbage.
One of the assailants yelled “Ah!” and fired a pistol instinctively as he did. I didn’t think he hit anything of consequence.
The other, with a machine gun strafed the shed, grabbed his partner and dragged him back to the car in front of me.
I moved round the corner back into the light as a shot from the agent hit the wall just above my head. I heard a door open and quickly slam close.
With my shotgun and one eyeball I peered around the corner and let both barrels loose into the front of the car. The radiator spit steam. Not enough. I was determined that this car was not going far if at all. Another shot from the agent’s pistol hit the back of the car as I reloaded. Then a door opened and slammed closed.
I did the same thing again, this time aiming as best I could for the driver’s window. I got the whole front windshield and was sure the side window as well before ducking back again around the corner of the building. Another strafing came from the machine gun this time at me all along the corner of the building where I had just been. Gears ground unmercifully as the drive tried to force the car into first. It was time to find another place to be. I ran down the front of the building to the other end reloading at the same time. Just as I rounded the corner the car came out to the main street spraying bullets at the place I was a few seconds before. I found a small sand box to hide behind lying down on the ground. As the car came round the corner and down the street I heard another shot from the agent. He had followed the car out to the street. I fired broadside at the car as it went past taking out more glass and putting a lot of holes in the side. After a moment the car was gone and it was quiet.
I stood up slowly. Agent Barnes walked up to see me. I could see Agent Wallis now just coming out of the ally.
“You OK?” I asked to both at the same time.
Agent Barnes nodded and then sat on the step still holding the Luger I had handed him a short while ago. Agent Wallis came up and sat with him. I saw Jim coming up the street with his shotgun as well.
Agent Wallis said. “When they asked for our guns, I though we were done. I forgot you still had the Luger.”
“I missed him with it though.” Agent Barnes said. “That’s the first time I’ve ever shot at anyone.”
“No you didn’t. The other guy had to carry him back to the car. In the dark and jumping at the same time it was a pretty good shot. That’s how it will be written up in my report.” Agent Wallis was consoling.
“We lost the money.” Agent Barnes said. “That’s not going to look good in any report.
I sat down with them and soon Jim did as well. We sat for a few more minutes. No one else came out from the town’s inhabitants.
I left first. I was tired and I wanted to think. How had these two men found the agents so quickly? Co-incidents like this were flags but I couldn’t see where it was going. I got back to Georges and fell to sleep quickly on the couch. I made sure the door was locked first.
The next morning after showering and coffee I got to work on the hoist. There is something about working with your hands that helps you think or so I thought anyway. I was still at a loss as to where to proceed next. I thought that there might be a trail of the car that was damaged, but it was gone and I didn’t know how far it could go without a radiator. Even without it they could keep throwing water down its throat to keep it going to wherever they were hold up. There might be an angle as to how they might get it repaired. The same was true for the wounded assailant, but I kind of figured they would know that. It brought to mind though, another question. It did appear that these two men were under the control or guidance of someone else. Who? What organization?
I ran the seven primary questions through my head. Who? What? How? Why? When? Where? Which? The hoist was coming together. George popped in.
“Sheriff says there was some shooting last night. Was that you?” George already knew the answer.
“Oh, did we disturb the sheriff’s sleep?” We both chuckled.
“Mr. Watts wants to know if you can fix his airplane. I told him yes but I’m charging him air mechanic rates. Is this going to be done today?” George checked over the hoist.
“Yes. You can start advertising for your quick lube and oil change any time now. I tested it and it works fine. All that’s left to do is put in the safety rails. I’ll put in a couple of lights and you’ll be all set.”
“The airplane is just north of his nib’s house. Start tomorrow morning. Take the tow truck. Didn’t that young kid friend of yours want to go up in a plane? Or was it he wanted to learn to fly one? If anyone asks I didn’t know you took him with you.” George smiled as he left.
A few hours later I had the hoist done complete with lights and everything. It was now dark. I hadn’t seen the time. I had even missed lunch. Not a good thing. There were some sandwiches left inside. I had a shower and went to find William.
If I had been smart I would have taken the back ally to the library but I went down the main street past the hotel. There was a new Ford Coup V8 in front of it. It was basic black with no options. It had to belong to one of the agents. I hurried along and got about a block away before I heard someone call.
“Mr. Jackson. A moment if you please.” Someone called. I didn’t recognize the voice.
I turned and four men were walking toward me at brisk pace. They stopped a few feet in front of me.
“Agent Wallis, Agent Barnes, Agent Brown.” I acknowledged their presence. To the other I said. “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure.”
“I’m Special Agent Smith, head of this sector and leading the investigation you keep interfering with.” Agent Smith didn’t put out his hand. I noticed Agent Brown was in a suit rather than his yard officer uniform. It didn’t fit well.
I didn’t offer my hand either. “Sorry about that. It wasn’t intentional and it won’t happen again.” There was no point in keeping this conversation going. I made a motion to leave and was about to say good day.
“Not so fast. If you do interfere, I’ll have you arrested and put in jail for a very long time.” Agent Smith hadn’t talked much with his agents. I would have bet he did all the talking and the agents had done all the listening. It works in the military sometimes but if you never listen you don’t hear anything.
“Is that all? Your Agent Brown there at least threatened to put a bullet in my head and all you’re going to do is put me in jail. Sounds like three square meals a day to me.”
Agent Smith sized me up. He was in good shape and obviously had been around and commanded authority. His clothes were not off the rack and fit perfectly.
He took a step forward and said in a low voice. “Let’s just say that the jail you would end up in would not be as nice as you’re used too and Agent Brown on my say so might get upset. Do I make myself clear?”
As if on queue, Agent Brown stepped foreword and leaned over me, obviously for intimidation effect. He was at least six foot six and in very good shape. He leaned over me looking straight into my eyes for a second.
“You don’t EVER want to see ME get upset.”
I had heard this before. Somehow the second time it seemed to have lost some of its steam.
It was not a time for confrontation so I backed down. I could have shot him but that was probably not a good idea as there were other agents there with guns. And then opportunity stepped in. I saw he was looking into my eyes and with purposeful intense focus his peripheral vision was limited.
As the agent leaned, towering over me his overcoat slipped open. The agent’s badge was clearly visible hanging from his inner pocket. I put up my hands in a defensive position and ever so softly slid them down the front of his clothes. The prize slid into my opposite sleeve and I reassumed my defensive stance. Finally the agent backed off, figuring the message was delivered.
I’d had enough of this. One of the things about being in a German prisoner of war camp is that all other internments, threats and bullies seem trivial. I said. “As I said before - very clear sir. You’ll not have any interference from me.” I turned and walked away before he could say any more leaving all four of them standing.
There was something about Agent Smith that gnawed at me. I had a hard time believing that this guy was a spy and a war hero as well. He just didn’t seem to have the finesse to pull something like that off. He seemed more like a sergeant major type. I filed it away as I walked up to the library to fetch William and walk back to the camp.
Miss Abernathy was all over me and wanted to hear all about yesterday’s event and the shooting and was I all right and was I ever frightened? “No, I was too busy to be frightened.”
William had not seen me since he left early back to the camp but knew enough to keep quiet until later on the walk back to camp.
“I wonder if I could use the library phone tomorrow afternoon to follow up on those rental homes we found where the two men might be staying.” I diverted attention from having to explain all the details of the last couple of day’s happenings.
“Oh no you don’t.” She was too quick. “You’re not getting away from me until I hear all about it. You and William are coming back to my house for a proper supper and I get all the grisly details. Of course you can use the phone.” With that she started to pack up and close the library and I saw William leap in to help. The things I have to go through to get a good meal.
Two hours later and a full stomach William and I gave our leave and started walking back to camp. I had told her all about the day previous but lied about Thurston. She got the Mexican story. She got Agent Smith as well. I was curious to see if that got back to Mr. Watts. Yes I tipped my hat as we parted. William restrained from laughing.
“You want to fly an airplane?” I said to William, as we got further down the road.
“I’ve never even seen an airplane up close. I have read a pilots training manual though.” William kept his cool but I could tell he was excited.
“Well Mr. Watts wants me to get his plane going for him. He stored it last fall just after he bought it and it needs some service and of course I’ll have to test it in the air.’ I said. “There’s a passenger seat beside the pilot’s. I think you’ve earned a lesson for spotting the twenty-slip yesterday. I’m not sure I would have caught it.”
It suddenly dawned on me that Mr. Watts was keeping me very, very busy.
* * *
The next morning we were up before dawn. We got the tow truck and drove to Mr. Watts kept plane. It took up space in a hanger north west of town along with some other toys he had accumulated. There were a couple of cars under sheets covered in dust. They hadn’t been touched in some time. A guard that did double duty as a gardener, caretaker and general lands keeper nodded hello and then we never saw him again.
William helped me roll the light aircraft out of the hanger by picking up the tail and steering it as I pushed the front. It had no tail wheel, just a drag bar that slid over the ground. The entire aircraft weight wet and full was less than a thousand pounds. We pushed it up to the tow truck and I started changing the oil and doing some routine maintenance items. William crawled all over the aircraft.
“It’s a Taylor E2 Cub.” He said after reading the nameplate. “37 horsepower. Top speed 75 M.P.H. Cruising Range 225 Miles Landing Speed 26 M.P.H.” He got into the open cab and started moving the controls.
To keep him busy I said. “Hey, why don’t you do a pre flight inspection?”
The Cub was a light training aircraft with two seats side by side and the wing over head. There was little to it and that made it cheap and easy to fly for a beginner. Also, its very open cockpit gave a feeling of being with nature and flying with the birds.
On the down side it was extremely slow, underpowered and its limited range gave it little commercial use other than as a trainer.
But, it was a beautiful day and I hadn’t been in the air in some time and I was looking forward to getting up.
After a couple of hours of work on the plane Mr. Watts drove up in his Rolls. He had a box with him. “I bought this last year. The plane needs a compass. I can’t imagine the manufacturer not installing one. How does she look?”
“She’s in fine shape sir. I was just about to take her up, but you can do it if you like. She’s ready to go.”
I was watching William watch Mr. Watts from the corner of my eye. The boy knew that we were planning to take him up without Mr. Watts OK.
“No. I’ve got an appointment in town. Why don’t you take Young William up with you? I understand he was the one that saw the twenty-dollar insert. I hear you’re going to take the high school tests later this year.” He finished by addressing William.
“Yes sir. Miss Abernathy has helped me a lot.” William stepped out from behind the plane.
Getting back to me he said. “There are some things I’d like you to look at when you get up. Maybe young William here can take notes.”
With that William pulled out a pad from his pocket and a pencil right on queue.
Mr. Watts continued. “The carburetor heat lever keeps drifting out. It’s a constant problem always having to push it back in. The throttle doesn’t stay where I want it, which is usually full on, which brings us to the main point. The engine needs more power. Also it’s noisy. Maybe a car muffler could be installed or something. Oh and one more thing, I think there’s room between the wings for an additional reserve fuel tank maybe with a couple of valves to switch tanks or something. Have George send me a bill” And then he was gone and William and I were left alone with the plane.
I said to William. “Set up the compass here outside the plane so we can find North without the steel from the dash affecting it. When we install it we’ll have to adjust it by aiming the plane and dialing the needle to North.”
William set to work at it while I looked at the cables for carburetor heat and throttle. The carburetor heat was easy and with a barn hinge over the leaver bent to close it in by its weight I had a fix in a few minutes. The throttle was going to take a setscrew to tie it down and increase the resistance but I would have to do that back at the shop later.
I looked at the engine. Four open eighteen inch long pipes protruded from the exhaust valves and I was sure they could be constricted into a single pipe with a small muffler without too much loss of power. A good engineer might even tune them into getting more power.
William had taken the initiative and found some screws and was installing the compass above the cockpit under the wing. I looked in and checked the tachometer, oil pressure gauge, engine temperature and altimeter. There was no air speed indicator and checking the wheels I saw there were no brakes. There was one centre stick and one set of peddles and the seat wasn’t all that wide. It was good the cockpit was open as both of us could put our arms out the side and give us a little more elbowroom inside.
I put William in the pilot’s seat and went to the front of the aircraft.
“Magneto Off! Throttle closed!” I yelled.
William acknowledged and I grabbed the propeller and pulled it through two complete revolutions.
“Magneto ON! Throttle half open!” I yelled and waited for acknowledgement again.
I had perfected my foot in the air cross swing down stroke out of the way procedure during the war and vowed then that I would never again fly an aircraft that didn’t have an electric starter. The aircraft sputtered and coughed a few times but did not start.
“Magneto Off. Throttle closed!” I turned the propeller backwards one revolution and then two more times forward and after going through the procedure again the engine caught.
I had William feather the throttle while I ran to the tail, picked it up and turned the craft into the wind. William was in heaven by this point and so was I. Hopping in, grabbing the stick and balancing the pedals I moved the throttle forward and the plane gradually slid down the grassy runway passing the wind sock slower than a walking pace.
The temperature gauge was climbing up and there was oil pressure. At about eighteen hundred revolutions per minute the plane picked up speed and we bounced down the grassy runway. I hadn’t seen them before but there were two pairs of goggles hanging from a hook. William grabbed one and handed the other to me. After about a hundred yards the tail lifted up and when it did I pushed the throttle in further. In less than fifty yards we drifted off the ground and the whir of the propeller could be heard above the noise of the exhaust. We began a slow climbing turn to the north and I leveled off at two thousand feet. The tachometer read twenty two hundred RPM and the engine had a nice tone to it there. I figured we were doing a little over fifty miles per hour. It would be nice to get an air speed indicator. I told William to put it on his list. It would be a good reference if we were to do some performance improvements.
“OK, your turn to fly. Just hold level flight for a while to get the feel of the stick. We’ll try some gentle turns after a bit. Follow that road down there beside the railroad track. It will take us into the City of Buffalo. I’m looking for an old railway car there that has had a recent repair job on one of its corners with bright new white painted wood. Then we can take a trip over to Niagara Falls from there. I’ve never seen it from the air. I’ve heard it’s very pretty.”
I handed over the stick and within minutes he had the feel of it. I pulled out the binoculars borrowed from George’s Garage & Hardware store and started surveying the ground below to get a feel for the optics.
We approached The City Of Buffalo and I directed William to follow the railway tracks to the Buffalo yard and make a few large circles around it. I watched with the binoculars for about five minutes and three complete circuits without any luck in spotting the railway car that Thurston had repaired. I motioned for William to follow the Niagara River to the falls. You could see a bit of the mist rising from it in the distance.
Circling the falls a couple of times we then followed the river downstream to the whirlpool and after checking the fuel I figured we better start back.
Another plane past close enough for us to wave at each other. Some tourists had chartered a biplane to see the falls and with faces pressed against the windows we could see they were more interested in us than what they paid to see. William made machine gun motions with his hands as if we were in a dogfight. A little more than an hour later we touched down ungracefully at our departure point. It had been some time since I landed a small plane and I was rusty.
Refueling and stowing the aircraft, we started back to town in George’s tow truck. I took the long way around and dropped William off at the camp and then retraced my way back. I stopped by Thurston’s old camp and checked to see if anyone had been there. There was no doubt that Agent Brown’s big ugly footprints covered the loose dirt I had thrown around. The camp was overturned for sure and the shed was torn apart. I found the Tommy gun plus the extra ammunition and took it all back to the tow truck.
A year ago I had made a false wall behind the stove at Georges to reflect the heat and keep the stove from causing a fire. I had kept one end of it loose and on a hinge to store some personal things. The shotgun was there and now I added the Tommy gun.
George stepped in. “If you’re not doing anything this evening there’s a coupling for a farmer’s tractor that need re-making. He wants to get started plowing or something tomorrow.”
“Sure. I’m done flying for the day. I’ll make out a bill for you to send to Mr. Watts. There’s more to do and some parts to order like an air speed indicator, but that’ll take a couple of days.”
George came in and started making some coffee. He wanted to talk. “Those Agents came over and talked to me. At least they all came over and the one Mr. Smith did all the talking. He wanted to know if you had a record.”
“That’s dumb.” I said. “Agent Wallis knows my history. He had me checked out and let me know that he had.”
“There does seem to be some dissention among the ranks. Wallis seems to have his head on but not allowed to do his job. Brown is obviously muscle. Barnes is just some gung ho kid.” George put the pot on the stove. “Watts checked this guy Smith out though. He is who he says he is. Apparently he has quite a history as a war hero and has made great strides inside the Bureau in the last few years.”
“He doesn’t strike me as bright enough. Maybe he knows somebody.” I looked over the part the farmer had left.
“Watts thinks the same thing but he also had this comment. Some people get medals and rise up in the world by pure ruthlessness.” George checked the coffee. It was just starting to perk.
Holding up the part. “This shouldn’t be any problem. He can have it by tomorrow.”
“This guy Smith seems to have it in for you. He asked me a lot of questions about you including your daily activities.”
I knew George wouldn’t have told them anything about my activities. For the most part George honestly didn’t know of my activities. “I do seem to have embarrassed them in solving parts of their case.”
“Something like the Keystone cops without the slapstick humor. They’ve been here for a few months and accomplished nothing. I would have thought that there would have been a hundred agents here if two of their own had gone missing or were killed. This whole thing smells.” George picked the pot off the stove and the perking died down.
The door opened and Agent Wallis walked in. “I smelled coffee. Can an old flatfoot get a mug without getting shot at?”
George and I looked at each other surprised but George was quick to respond. “Sure. Pull up a chair.” George poured three mugs and sat down himself. “J.J. has some machining to do for a farmer up the road and I’ve got some paper work I need to get back to but we both need a break.” He offered the agent a mug.
“Thanks. I’ve got paper work myself. As a matter of fact it’s all I’ve done for the past month or so. I needed a walk and I saw your light still on.” The agent took a sip and warmed his hands around the mug. Speaking to me he went on. “I haven’t had a chance to thank you for stepping in last night. It may have made the difference that saved our lives. Agent Barnes thinks so too.”
“Thanks for saying so.” I saluted my mug to him. “Your boss doesn’t like me too much. Sorry I might have put you in a bind.”
“He’s not really my boss but he is high up on the Bureau and he has a lot of very high friends. I talked with my boss about him. He told me to do a lot of kowtowing. I am. So is Agent Barnes.” Agent Wallis took another sip.
Just at this point Minister Jim stepped in. “I heard there was a party so I brought sticky buns.” He set a small box on the table and went to get his own coffee.
The door opened again and Miss Abernathy stepped in. She wore men’s blue jeans and a sweatshirt – both too big for her. Four men rose from the oversize picnic table that served as workbench and lunch table. “Oh sit down. It’s not fair that only men get to wander around at night and have coffee and sticky buns.” She went and got her own coffee, came back to the table, sat beside me and grabbed a bun. “So tell me the latest. I need to be kept up to speed on the money, missing tax man and the murdered bull agent.” With that she bit down on the sticky bun.
No one answered so she said. “If you don’t talk I’m going to assume you’re all guilty of something and I’ll bring it up at the next town council meeting.”
Four men chuckled but still no one said anything.
“All right. Is there anything more about the shooting about last night? The sheriff didn’t know anything about it so he says.” She was persistent.
“Oh my-gosh.” Agent Wallis said. “In all the excitement we forgot to tell the sheriff what happened.” The statement brought a roar of laughter.
“You know. He never did appear.” I said. “And it happened less than a block away from his home and office. I can’t believe he slept through the whole thing.”
Wendy joined in the small talk. After hearing enough she commented. “Well, I think that gives us just cause for new street lights.” Wendy paused. "I did some research on countries counterfeiting. It's not a new thing. The British in the late 1700's forged paper money and sent it into France to undermine the French revolution. About ten years ago the German National Defense Force was caught printing false French franc notes in order to pay reparation demands. In 1926 the Germans again printed 12 million rubles of Russian Chevrolets. It appears to have a triple affect. It weakens the economy, it buys product for the bearer, and it supports revolutionary factions or spy operations." Wendy paused again. "I still want those street lights." Everyone laughed.
George made exaggerated motions to leave saying to me on the way out. “How do you get any work done with all this partying going on every night?” He left shaking his head.
Shortly after that Jim and Wendy left and I was left alone with Agent Wallis. I would rather Wendy have been the last to leave but it was clear that there was a talk coming on among men. The agent made himself at home and got another cup of coffee pouring me one as well.
“I wanted to talk with you.” Agent Wallis sat down in across from me and chose his words carefully. “I’ve been on the force for several years and as a police detective before that for many more. I’ve not ever come across anything quite like this.”
“How so?” I prodded gently while retrieving a sticky bun.
“A case this size with this amount of money should have more resources thrown at it for one. I’ve been on cases of a few thousand dollars and there were twenty men on it. Once a bank robber killed an agent and there were over a thousand men actively involved full time and there was a nation wide alert.” Agent Wallis looked at me. “There’s something else. Agent Barnes and I have our hands tied. We’re supposed to be going over papers of railway cars and accounts. We should be out in the field looking for something or anything. Whatever we’re looking for isn’t going to be found in our hotel room.” Agent Wallis took a sip.
“So, what do you want me to do? Your boss, Smith made it pretty clear that I was to do nothing as well.” I was sympathetic but wasn’t going to reveal any information.
“I guess I just needed to vent. Thanks for listening.” Agent Wallis grabbed a sticky bun. After a second he went on. “You know that part hit me too. Even rookie Barnes picked up on it. It’s like the only guy that has found anything now has his hands tied too. It’s like Agent Smith doesn’t want anything found at all.”
I pondered that for a moment and then said. “What would happen if you found all the money?” It was a casual remark that I had got from a book on brainstorming. You simply do what ifs as to what and where the evidence leads.
What Agent Wallis said next was very sobering. “I have a feeling that Agent Barnes and myself would end up dead.”
“Sounds like a scenario. What would happen if you found the killers? Same thing?” I asked.
Agent Wallis didn’t answer. “I’m kind of wondering why you’re not dead yet.” This was very much more sobering.
After letting that settle I said. “Do you think Agent Brown would have killed me?”
“I don’t know him. He’s definitely not from the Bureau. There are things brought up in conversation that any agent would pick up on that he hasn’t. I have no doubt he’s capable of murder.” Pausing he went on. “He was not around for the first agent’s disappearance and he was with us when the second agent was killed.”
“What do you know of the first bull? Was he an Agent?” I asked.
“He’s been around for some time. He’s a paper pusher and put there so he couldn’t cause any trouble in the field.” Agent Wallis thought a little further. “You know, he was told not to go into the railway office but to just keep everyone out of the yard that shouldn’t be there. It was put to him like a vacation to get out of the office.”
“Who put him there?”
“Agent Smith.” The lights were coming on in Agent Wallis’s head.
“OK, so what have we got?” I pulled up a piece of paper and a pencil and started writing and talking out load.
“1 A box of counterfeit money gone.
2 A missing railway car of counterfeit money
3 A missing agent and one dead agent.
4 Two bad guys with guns and a shot up car.
5 Something weird about the Bureau Chief and or policy”
“That’s all I got.” I said. I’ve been mulling over it for some time too.
“Six.” Agent Wallis added. “Where are the counterfeit plates and where did they originate?
I had an inspiration. “Maybe the question isn’t where. I think they might have been German made according to the Mexican who saw the original box. Maybe the question is why.”
”I’m not following you. Germany has money problems to be sure as much or more than anyone else.” Agent Wallis said. “They are also recovering from a war they lost. The economy there is horrible.”
“Yes, but we’ve been assuming that it’s some kind of organized crime group that made the money as they would be the only ones with enough money and resources to make the quality of plates we’ve seen.”
“Who else would do it?” Agent Wallis asked.
“What if a government was doing it to relieve the economic strife?” I proposed.
“Oh.” Agent Wallis thought for a moment. “There’s a second reason. It could be to finance a war. We have intelligence that certain factions in Germany are gearing up for war. There are many treaty violations including manufacturing of weapons of all types strictly forbidden by the treaty of Versailles.”
“Manufacturing war machines costs money.”
“Not only manufacturing, there are bribes and payoffs and many other things.” Agent Wallis was sitting up straighter now.
“I’m thinking something different. The Mexican said there was an address on the box that he couldn’t read. There were a lot of boxes in the railway car. What if each box was to a different person in the United States and that person was to do something with his money if nothing else to get parts for a German factory.”
Agent Wallis was ahead of me. “If we found that railway car we’d know the names and addresses of each person that was to receive a box.”
“Would you call that person a spy Agent Wallis?” I asked.
“Of course. How many boxes did you say there were?”
“I can’t be sure, but it’s possible that there are four thousand boxes.”
Agent Wallis stood up and spilled the last of his coffee. “Holy cow! I had no idea it was this vast!”
I remained calm. I had already thought some of this through. Walking a lot helps you think. At least it was proving to be a better method than sitting in a hotel room. “What’s the penalty for spying?” I asked.
“It depends on the circumstances. There could be jail time, deportation or if certain conditions were met it could be considered treason and that brings in the death penalty.” Agent Wallis looked at his spilled cup and went to get another refill. He brought the pot back for me too.
“I seem to have read somewhere that for large crime operations to be sustainable police organizations must be infiltrated.” I sipped my cup.
Agent Wallis just looked at me. It had crossed his mind as well.
“I was thinking about what I should do if I find this railway car. It’s a little big to bring in and too valuable to leave lying around. I was thinking of destroying it if possible. What do you think?” It was a question I had been pondering for some time.
“That might be a good idea normally but we want to see the names of the recipients of each one of those boxes. That’s the real reason people are dead and or missing over this. It took a lot of time and energy and yes, money to set up four thousand people working for a country. It was secondary to get money to them for them to operate.” Agent Wallis took another sticky bun. “Gee these are good! How does he make them? Barnes and I are both addicted to them now. It could be that several boxes are addressed to the same person. Maybe ten boxes each equals four hundred people. These numbers make more sense.”
“Secret recipe.” I offered but in truth I had no idea. “So if I find this railway car, my best move is to get all the names off the boxes and then destroy it?”
“You’ve got a lot of confidence for a guy that’s been hit on the head and shot at. So, I take it you’re not going to follow Agent Smith’s directive of staying away from this investigation?” The agent took another bun.
“Not in the slightest, but I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to tell him.”
“I won’t unless he asks and he hasn’t asked anything of either Barnes or me yet.” The agent made ready to go. “There is one thing though, if you do get the names, I would take them directly to Washington. They are probably more valuable than the money to both the good guys and the bad guys.
“I wasn’t thinking of giving them to Smith. Is there anyone you know of that I should hand them off to?”
Agent Wallis thought for a minute. “There is one guy. I’ve never even met him. I don’t even know his name. They call him Mr. X. He lives somewhere on the north shore of Lake Ontario. The only way anyone can contact him is by short wave radio.” Agent Wallis took my piece of paper and pencil. “Here is the frequency. When I first got the reference there was something said about 8:00 O’clock by Morse code only.”
“Is he connected with the Bureau?” I asked.
Agent Wallis got up taking what was left of the sticky buns under his arm. “I asked the same question when I heard of this. Don’t ask how I heard it but it was given to me with the idea of a last resort if I ever got in trouble. The response I got was The Bureau answers to him.”
“Good night Agent Wallis. It was a pleasure talking with you.” I let him out and locked the door behind him. It was a new habit I had taken on after getting hit on the head.
Another couple of hours later I had the coupling for the farmer done and was fashioning two exhaust headers and mufflers from some pipe and a tractor muffler. It was the flow through type and I thought even getting the end of the exhaust past the cockpit would reduce the noise considerably. The next thing was to fashion a spare gas tank from one of the farm spares. I found one of ten gallons and put it together with a couple of hoses and stop cocks to be installed on the airplane the next chance I had.
* * *
It was late morning when William stopped by and found me asleep on the couch.
“Hey old man! It’s time to get up and punch that clock.” William banged a pot. “You haven’t even got coffee on for me.” And he proceeded to make a pot.
“How did you get in here? I locked the door.” I asked.
“You taught me and several others how to pick a lock last year.”
“Oh yes. I remember now. It was your foray into crime techniques.” I was slow getting up.
“That and George has a key and let me in. He’s looking for the farmer’s part.” William put the pot on the stove.
“Oh. It’s on the counter along with the old one. Can you take it to him while I get dressed and showered?”
“Sure. I’ll meet you back at the Library. Miss Abernathy sent me to fetch you. She has a way to narrow down your search for the two bad guys and where they’re staying.” William grabbed the part and was out the door.
Twenty minutes later I was out the door showered, shaved and coffee sustained. I saw one of George’s mechanics working under the new hoist and checked with him that it was working OK.
George stopped to check it too and approved.
“What do you think the modifications to his Nibs plane are going to cost?” I asked.
I knew he wanted to charge him a lot. There was a friendly rivalry between them. Mr. Watts inherited a lot of money and expanded it and came from blue nose family background. George on the other hand was raised locally and worked hard and smart and had several businesses in town as well as the garage and hardware store. He had also been very successful in the stock market and was the only person I knew that had come out ahead in the 1929 crash.
“I can charge him anything you want. It’s mostly my labour and you can claim engineering charges as well.” I said.
“How much did that plane cost originally? George asked.
“I think I saw an ad once for $1,325.00 about a year ago. It’s not an expensive airplane. That’s the sale point behind it. It’s easy to buy and fly.”
“What would be the next plane up in cost?” George was calculating something.
“I think there’s a Gipsy Moth you can get from Briton for about 650 pounds. The Canadian Bush pilots are using them with pontoons. By the time you get it here it must be a cost of a few thousand dollars.” I wondered what George was going to do.
“If you do everything he asks will he end up with a good plane?”
“Oh sure. I can double the range and add some performance stuff. I’m on to that already. There are structural limits and at some point it will be unsafe.”
George sat pondering for a moment. “Charge him one hundred and fifty percent of the original cost of the airplane.” George smiled inwardly.
“Should I do it in stages or all at once when I’m done.” I asked.
“Oh, wait until it’s all there. Itemize it all. Show every nut, bolt and part including fuel and your hours in the air. You can even hire William as a helper at while he learns to fly. George was smiling openly now.
“Do you mind my asking?” I started to say.
“Not at all. I told his Nibs that he wouldn’t be satisfied with a little basic airplane and if he was going to do it he should get something substantial. He just scoffed at me. He’s only been up in it once. He’d be better off with something bigger and capable of at least four passengers and several hundred miles cruising range. Then he could use it for business and have fun flying it as well.
Given freedom to do whatever I wanted, I went back into the shop and phoned The City of Buffalo and orderred the air speed indicator. It was to be shipped marked RUSH to Georges shop. I was surprised to find George had an account there.
I went down to the Library and found Wendy and William hovered together over a mass of papers both the published kind and loose-leaf kind. They were both beaming. Wendy just stared at me with a big smile. William caught it as well.
Wendy spoke up. “We figured out a way to narrow down your search for where the bad guys are staying.
William spoke now. “I found it in a novel. You profile the bad guys and that puts together a particular behavior pattern.”
“We made up a behavior pattern from what we know of these two men. For example, they are both well dressed. They have an expensive car. They have access to equipment such as guns. They must be in constant communication with their employer.” Wendy said.
“There are other things too.” William broke in. I could tell they were excited. “We know they’re ruthless. They kill and torture.”
“We’re kind of making a jump here but William and I both started by saying that these men have no regard for the law.” Wendy was slowing the conversation down to allow me to see how they found it.
“That would be an understatement.” I added.
“Also from their description they have a certain flamboyance about them.” Wendy kept going.
“They would certainly stick out in this town.” I added.
“They would stick out in any town around here.” Wendy said. “Do you know why Mr. Jackson?” Wendy was now teasing.
“No. Please tell me why Miss Abernathy.”
“Because this town is dry J.J.” William butted in.
“And every town around here is as well.” They had made an important distinction.
“They need to let loose and have fun. They wouldn’t ever stand being kept up in a farmhouse for months without entertainment.” Wendy said. “A smart employer would know that.”
William burst in. “Buffalo has speak-easies.”
I sat down and thought about it for a second. “Of course. It answers other things as well. How are they to keep that car hidden and repaired? It would stand out anywhere and the other garage mechanics would all talk about it.”
“I think you should buy us a store bought lunch.” William said.
“Always thinking about your stomach. I have a better idea. I’ll buy some fixings for the camp and you can cook them. Then I can buy Miss Abernathy a store bought dinner.”
Did I detect a blush? Maybe it was my own.
Wendy said. “OK but it’s not to be the one in this town. Next town to the east has a decent restaurant. I’ve been a couple of times.”
“Oh and I talked George into hiring you to help with the airplane.” I lied really well. I suddenly had an urge to change the subject. “We have a long flight later on this week and several parts to install starting day after tomorrow.”
“William made a pumped fist. “YESSS!”
“OK head down to the grocery store and tell them I’ll be in later to pay for it. Then you can head back to camp.”
William was gone in flash. I was alone with Wendy. I felt my face flush.
I turned to Miss Abernathy. “Say, does George have any interest in airplanes?” I hadn’t forgotten about the decent restaurant in another town. Truth is I didn’t know how to address the subject.
“Oh yes. In The City of Buffalo he owns a piece of a company called Consolidated Airlines. They’re working on an amphibious twin engine. I think they call it a PBY. They have great hopes for it. Why?”
“Oh, nothing. It does explain something though.”
spent the afternoon going over files with Wendy. She was wonderful to work
“And the strangest thing that I ever did see…” R. W. Service
They don’t tell you in detective school that a lot of the real work is tedious going over paper work and files and phone calls and more paper work. Such was my next few days at the library with Wendy interspersed with short bursts of work for George at the garage. By Friday I had the location of the bad guys down to seven possibilities. She didn’t bring up the restaurant again. I found myself disappointed that she didn’t. Of course it might be for the same reason that I didn’t bring it up. Fear? She seemed kind of fearless. I was not.
It was going to take a trip to get any further without arousing suspicion. I was wondering if there would be a way to take Agent Wallis without the rest of his associates knowing.
During my stint at the library with Wendy I had neglected my work on the plane and George had a couple of rush items for me to build. I spent Friday afternoon at Georges and Saturday and Sunday working on the plane, after church brunch of course.
Monday the plane needed testing and because William helped over the weekend it was his turn to start the plane. At least that’s what I told him. The E-2 Taylor Cub now had a performance header on it and I had exchanged the carburetor for a larger two barreled one, hopefully to give more power as well as being I thought maybe easier to start. Out on the end of the port wing was an air speed indicator out of the way of the propeller. This would give me real data on performance improvements of the aircraft. Two new ten-gallon fuel tanks were installed up under the wing brace and four stopcocks controlled the flow to the engine virtually doubling the range of the aircraft less the extra fuel used due to the anticipated higher performance.
I’m not sure if William was a better starter than me or it was the modifications but the engine started first crank and William ran and climbed into the cockpit.
Takeoff was the same as before, but when we started climbing I noticed a better climb rate and when we settled into cruise mode the engine seemed happiest at 300 RPM higher than on our previous flight. The airspeed indicator showed 65 miles per hour. I was sure this was faster than before.
We made the same trip to Buffalo but this time after checking out Niagara Falls I had William steer 315 degrees towards Toronto.
I got out my borrowed binoculars again and checked out the T. H. & B. yard as William made three slow circles around the yard. There was still no sign of the railway car that Thurston had repaired.
William banked left coming to 230 degrees heading towards Hamilton and we checked out the yard the same way. I did notice there were a bunch of cars under a canopy that we couldn’t see under. It looked as though this might be a central repair yard covered for workers to fix things out of the weather.
We were now past half our fuel left and I had William steer 135 degrees until we picked up the road and railway tracks back to where we started. I figured we had traveled over two hundred and forty miles and we still had a quarter of our fuel left. Our range was well over three hundred miles and at I would have guessed fifteen miles per hour faster cruising. I let William land the plane. He did it better than me and glowed.
“And I get paid to do this?” He helped clean the plane up, refuel and stow it in the warehouse. He handed me his notes. “What else can we do for this plane?” He asked.
“There’s not much we can do for it performance wise. It could do with a better valve arrangement. I’d like to cover those open springs and add a positive oil pump and maybe oil cooler but any major increase in horsepower is going to require a frame reinforcement to take the strain. Also you probably noticed there are no brakes on the wheels. There isn’t even a wheel at the back to steer with. You just land and the drag stops you. You then pick it up and take it to where you want to park it.”
“I know what it does need.” William volunteered.
“It needs a place to put stuff. It needs a tool kit to go with the plane and a couple of leather jackets for the cooler weather.” William motioned me over to the plane. “We could put a luggage compartment behind the seats. That entire fuselage is empty space except for some rigging and a couple of control lines. We just need a door and a box fastened inside. We can leather cover it to make it up to Mr. Watts standards.”
“I like it. Measure it up. Include both inside dimensions and outside. It should be easy to make. I was thinking there should be a place for a canteen inside the cockpit as well.”
We pondered other modifications but most were just more excuses to go flying. I loaded the tools into George’s tow truck as William went over the plane with a measuring tape copying dimensions on his clipboard.
As we were starting to leave Mr. Watts rolled up in his Rolls. He got out and came over to the side of the pick up truck. This was an overly friendly gesture William noted before he got close. Normally I would have gotten out and gone over to his side window.
“Top of the evening.” He spoke to both of us and then to me. “How’s young William’s flying lessons coming along?” he asked good-naturedly.
“We’re going to get into dog fighting soon.” I wasn’t half lying. “He did a landing today.”
“That’s good. How are the modifications coming along?”
I had William quote from his pad the list of things we had done to the aircraft and the things yet to do.
“And this is going to cost me how much?” Mr. Watts asked seriously.
“George told me to charge you double and added William on as a helper.” I answered. I was tempted to say triple for William but thought better of it.
“Just as long as it’s not triple. Can I take her up? Is she ready to fly?”
“She’ll always be ready to fly unless we put a chain around the propeller. We can come back and help you get her off.”
MR. Watts agreed that it would be helpful and we let William do most of the work. He was quite competent around the plane and Mr. Watts said so.
He then pulled me aside. “How are you coming in finding the railway car and the two bad guys?”
I told him what I had found during the flights and what I was planning on doing in the city of Buffalo. He already knew of Thurston and the damaged railway car that was repaired.
“I have an idea on the railway car. The only other car that we’ve had missing is the one that was bringing me pheasants from Canada. They were in a chilled ice packed railway car and it’s missing from all our files here. Here’s the number of the railway car and the order forms. I think there may be a file on it in Buffalo at the T. H. & B. office there. If you can find that car then maybe you may find the car you’re looking for.”
I agreed it was worth a trip and I was going to The City of Buffalo anyway.
“I understand Agent Watts is going into town as well. Apparently he and his partner Agent Barnes have been without guns for the past week and they’re being shipped to the Bureau’s office in the City. Why don’t you hitch a ride with him and pick his brain?”
Was Mr. Watts reading my mind? I had not told anyone of Agent Wallis’s conversation with me.
“I think that would be a great idea. I wouldn’t think that Agent Smith would think so though. He seems to want me to disappear.” I answered. “It might not be in Agent Wallis’s best interest or his career for me to be seen with him.”
“Agent Wallis and I had a talk in the bank today. He opened an account some time ago. He told me of your conversation with him.” Mr. Watts gathered himself. “I’ve arranged for you to go into the T. H. & B. office. They know you’re coming. I’ve also arranged for you to stay at the hotel across the street. Agent Wallis will stay at the Bureau’s office. He seems to think that there might be a chance that the two men you’re looking for will try to repair their car at some of the sleazier garages in the city. He has a list he wants to check while he’s there. I think he wants some backup.”
“I’ll bring the Tommy gun as well as the pistol.”
“Thurston had a Tommy gun as well as a shotgun? This is a good scrounger.” Mr. Watts added. “Wallis will pick you up on the road north of town tomorrow morning at eight.”
A short while later Mr. Watts was off in his airplane having a grand evening flight. I dropped William off at the camp and went back to George’s and prepared for my trip.
* * *
True to form Agent Wallis was prompt and his Model A Ford was clean and appeared to be in perfect functioning order. I had a small bag with my kit in it and I threw it in the back seat.
few years old and I’m due for a new car but the agencies on a very tight budget
so they keep approving repairs. I can’t really complain.” He went on. “When
your head of a division you get a new Ford flathead V-8 like Agent Smith.”
”And how is Agent Smith?” I inquired mockingly. “I’m assuming he doesn’t know I’m with you.”
“You assume right. Technically I have a couple of days leave coming and I’m not doing anything that Barnes can’t do without my supervision. I’ll stay at the office. It has accommodation for agents out of town. It’s actually an old house converted but there are still a few bedrooms to stay in for traveling agents. I talked with the supervisor there. Our guns are in with more budget changes. They’re both used army surplus 1911 model forty-fives. The super said they looked well used but seemed to at least be clean.”
Agent Wallis wanted to talk. I wanted to listen. Maybe I might even learn something. He went on.
“Barnes is new I’m sure you guessed, but he seems OK. He’s single and kind of gung ho. Somehow he missed the war and feels like he missed out. Me, I’d like to settle down, get married and raise kids. Maybe I’ll find a nice little town like this and get a job as sheriff.” He chuckled. I have some family back in New York and some relatives in Washington. I’m going to give them a call from the office.” Then he hesitated for a moment and got serious. “I’m going to talk to my regular boss as well. Officially I’m under Smith while I’m out here so I’ll have to be careful what I say.”
“What do you plan on saying?” I asked keeping the agent going.
“I’m going to ask him to look into what is behind all of what’s going on here very discreetly. He’ll know what I mean.”
“Like what we talked of the other night about how there isn’t the manpower behind all of this and the quiet way we’re going about it all.” I encouraged.
“Yes. I’m not even supposed to do anything on this trip except get the guns and come back. I would be reprimanded if they found out I was looking for the two bad guys or I was helping you look for that missing railway car.”
“On that note I brought something that might help us out.” I reached into my bag in the back seat and brought out the Tommy gun.
“Oh my-gosh! You are full of surprises Mr. Jackson.” Agent Wallis exclaimed. “I wasn’t too happy about going after these two guys with just a used forty five. I was going to lend you Barnes’s until we got back to town.”
“I have a pistol as well” I pulled out the semi automatic from my back holster. “It’s a smaller caliber but very accurate. When you get a long open stretch of road could you stop so I can test fire the Tommy gun? I’d rather try it here for the first time than learn at the same time we really need it. It’ll only take a minute.”
”Here’s as good a place as any.” Agent Wallis stopped the Model A.
I stepped out and put the round can into the gun. “The round cans I’m told hold one hundred 45 caliber rounds. The bar clips hold just fifty.”
I aimed at the base of an old worn out sign and pulled the trigger. It made a lot of noise. I figured about twenty rounds went out in a few seconds. “I was told to aim low as the gun tends to rise. They weren’t kidding. It has a lot of kick.” I pulled the can from the gun and got back in the car.
Agent Wallis thought a moment. “Seeing that now I’m really glad you had that shotgun with you the other night. Those guys have one of those too. Where did you get it?”
“I asked the guy that got it for me and he said don’t ask.” I said. “I noticed the serial number is filed off though.”
Agent Wallis dropped me off at the City of Buffalo yard and I walked into the T. H. & B. office. The ladies remembered me and acknowledged that Mr. Watts had called. They had even pulled a section of files out for me to go through. I had brought them a box of two-dozen sticky buns and instantly we were like family. I was careful getting the box out of the bag. It would be hard to explain the other things in there.
Coffee was made and no one worked for the next hour. Over coffee I learned a lot about shortcuts necessary for the daily operation of a railway system. Not all cars have a serial number. Some are just tagged with a destination painted on the side. Orphans, or cars that are empty and sitting around get tacked on to the end of a train put together that is going back to one of the centres. There is no need of any record until the car arrives. If it passed through another yard and was put together with another train it may or may not be logged depending on who was doing the logging. Often only billable cars get logged as they get copied later. After about two hours I found the car with the pheasants had been shipped to the California. I spent the next few hours looking for a gap that was filed with our mystery car that may have fit the empty spot. In the process I found that the pheasant car had made its way back to Toronto Ontario. I would have expected that the ice finally melted. There was no record of what finally happened to the birds. The right number of cars had been sent to Mr. Watts yard but there was no way of knowing if the right number of cars left and came back to the T. H. & B. - Dead end.
I thanked the ladies at the end of the day and walked over to the hotel that Mr. Watts had reserved for me. It had a full restaurant and was very busy being the only one at that part of town. Travelers or businessmen in suits took all the other rooms. I fit right in. I had supper and a shower and read one of the books on being a detective borrowed from the library. In the morning I had another shower and Agent Wallis joined me for breakfast.
“I talked with my boss in Washington.” Agent Wallis said. “He’s going to look into this case on the sly. It may take a few days. He’ll have to be very discreet. He did agree with me that it all was very odd. Just to cover myself I did give him your name and told him what we are doing together. He said he agreed with my assessment as well and that it may be a good idea that someone else in the Bureau knows your working with me even if it’s against what Agent Smith orderred. I’m sure he’ll keep quiet about it. We’ve known each other for some time.”
“Sounds good to me. You have a list of garages for us to check out?”
“Yes and I managed to get a map of the city at the Bureau. Talk about budgets. This is the only one there is. I’ve sworn to return it.” Agent Wallis dug into three eggs and pancakes with coffee.
“I have a thought.” I said between bites. It had been a while since I had an expense account and I was over eating. “Maybe we can shorten our legwork. There must be a Packard dealer in this city. If we just go there and see if another dealer has orderred a front window, a side window and a radiator we may find the bad guys close by.”
“I heard you were reading books on how to be a detective. Maybe I should be reading them with you.” Agent Wallis finished with a last gulp down of his coffee and we were off.
We stopped at a Ford dealer on the way downtown and he directed us to a dealer that sold Packard’s as well as other high end automobiles in the West end. A half hour later we were in the dealer’s showroom. I went to talk with the parts department. There was indeed an order for the parts we thought were from our shootout by a small garage in the South East end. I got the address and we headed out.
“Let me see your map.” I said as we started on our way. “Instead of going directly there, why don’t we go to the nearest house on my list and see if anyone’s home?”
“Why don’t we just go to the garage and get the address to make sure it’s the right one?” Agent Wallis asked.
“I have a feeling that the dealer we were just at might phone the dealer we’re going to and the car or records for whoever orderred it may disappear.”
“We’re going to have to hire you as a Bureau agent.” Agent Wallis smiled. “Hey. I forgot. I have something for you.” He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a pair of sunglasses handing them to me. “Now you look like an agent.”
We found the small dealer quickly and drove on past. The house closest on my list was just a couple of blocks away. We drove by it too and parked around the corner.
“Do you think you’d recognize those two guys again if you past them on the street?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. If they were all dressed up in those pretty clothes, yes I would, but to identify them in court out of context I would have to say no.”
We both got out. I was carrying my bag. It was awkward but I wasn’t going to be caught without what was in it with these two guys. It was too hot to be wearing my overcoat to hide the Tommy gun under.
Two young children went by going to school. I had an inspiration.
“Hey, we’re looking for a couple of friends of ours. We know they live on this street but I don’t think we got the number right. Have you seen a couple of guys with a fancy car and really nice clothes?”
All three children looked very dumb and looking at each other for confirmation finally after shrugging said no. I thanked them and wished them a nice day.
“It was a nice try.” Agent Wallis said. “OK, what now?”
“Let’s see if there’s an ally behind these houses.” I knew it was weak but I didn’t like the idea of walking up to the front door and saying hello.
We did find an ally behind the row of houses but it had a very high fence along the entire section. We walked to the far end and then around the block on the far side eventually coming back to the car.
“Say, did you drive this car all the way from Washington?” I asked passing the time while I was thinking.
“No, it belongs to this office here. I have it on loan as long as I’m assigned to this case. Why?”
“Oh, I was just wondering. You said you were due for a new car.”
“I am and have been for some time. Actually I don’t have a car now. Washington is my office but I live in New York as most of my work is there. It’s sometimes better to get a cab although it would make my life easier if I had one. But it’s a distant budget away yet.”
“I was just thinking.” I was good at that. “Then it won’t be a problem if this car gets shot up a lot. You’ll still get your new car when the time comes.”
“It sounds like you have a plan that may not be in the car’s best interest.” Agent Wallis said.
“You might say that. It might not be in your best interest as well.” I answered. “There is a saying if you can’t put a plan together then just go in shooting.”
“Who said that?” Agent Wallis asked.
“We can’t just break down the door and go in with guns drawn. There are some laws against that I’m sure.” Agent Wallis got into the car after me.
I pulled out the Tommy gun and put the clip on. “Drive up to the front of the house, get out, walk up to the front door and knock. I would stand by the side of the door as a precaution. If someone answers the door and it’s a nice little old lady then we go and try somewhere else. If a bullet comes through the door we found the right place.”
“I don’t like your plan.” Said the agent.
“How could it be improved upon?” I asked.
“It should be you that goes to the front door.” I knew he was going to say that.
“I’ll flip you for it.” I pulled out a coin. It was one I had been saving. It had two tails
“No you don’t.” Agent Wallis said. “Take off those glasses. You’re a hobo. Go on up there and do a hobo thing like ask for work or a glass of water or something hobo-like.”
He was right. I gave him the Tommy gun.
I never did get into the art of walking up to a home and asking for work, money or food. Some hobos did it easily and it was second natural to them. William could do it in a heartbeat. He was among other things a natural actor. He should have been in the movies. It wasn’t that it was beneath me or anything but I always thought I should be the one giving or contributing in some way. I felt like I was a burden to society. I had assets, talent and health. I should be doing something with them. Of course I always had a job, food and some money so I wasn’t motivated as some. Sometimes I could even meditate and foster an attitude of gratitude.
I got out of the car and reached down on to the rubber of the tire rubbing it over with both hands and then my hands to my face. It gave me a grubby look.
There was a walkway and then a series of steps up to the row house and a porch large enough for one to step aside while opening the door. I knocked three times firmly on the screen outer door.
A frail short elderly lady opened the wooden door and looked at me through the screen door without saying anything. I had been ready to go for my gun and relaxed as I saw her. I went into my speech. “Madam, I’m kind of down on my luck. Do you have any work for an able bodied man? I’m quite handy with tools.”
A small boy came to the door peering around to see past the elderly lady.
“Edwin, get my broom.” The elderly lady said to the boy. Without emotion her gaze never left me as she spoke
A thought struck me. I was not prepared to work. The boy was going to get a broom for me to sweep something or somewhere. How was I going to get out of this?
The boy appeared a moment later and the lady took the broom from him. I stepped back to allow her to come out of the door. She still had not said anything. She opened the screen door.
“Scallywag! You’ve been told before not to come around here!” As she said it she hit me over the head with her broom. Keeping up the attack she hit me again. “We don’t need your kind. Get out! And stay away!”
She went to hit me again but by this time I had realized what was going on and retreated down the stairs. The broom swiped air. I made my way down the walk in a hurry and saw Agent Wallis with his jaw hanging open. I thought it better not to get in the car and walked at a fast pace down the street and around the corner. The lady was still yelling something after I made it out of sight.
I went down about half way to where the ally started and waited for some time for Agent Wallis to come and get me. I was about to go back when I heard the car start and he came around the corner. I got in.
“I flashed my badge at the old lady asking if I could be of assistance.” Agent Wallis said. “She wanted me to arrest you and all your kind. I guess some hobo stole from her some time ago.”
“I should have taken the Tommy gun.” I answered. My pride was bruised. “I was hoping you’d shoot her.”
“It happened so fast that I did bring the gun up to the window. The only reason I stopped in time was I couldn’t get a clear shot. You were in the way.”
“I have a feeling that you’ve practiced two man operations with Agent Barnes.” I said still bruised.
“He does at times provide entertainment.” Agent Wallis started the car. “I did find out something though.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The lady rents out an upstairs flat with a private entrance in back. Two men answering our description checked out this morning after a stay of a few months. They had a fancy car she said.”
“It sounds like the garage guy made a phone call before we could get here.” I said. “Does this destroy any chance of me ever becoming a Bureau agent?”
“On the contrary. You fit right in with Agent Barnes and several other green agents I know of.” Agent Wallis was having a good time at my expense.
“I feel like we should go and lean on the garage owner a bit and see what turns up. I feel like shooting a gun or something.” I said.
“That’s not a bad idea.” Agent Wallis said. “I am a Bureau agent, and I can’t see anything else we can do at this time.”
“It might mean your life if this ever gets back to Miss Abernathy.” I put the Tommy gun back in the bag as we drove on to the sleazy garage in the South East end.
I put my new sunglasses on. “Hey, these might start a trend for Bureau agents.”
Agent Wallis said. “They already are in some parts. In New York I don’t even have to show a badge if I have the sunglasses on.”
“I guess I better not let Agent Deputy Director Smith see me with them.” I said. “I have a question.”
“Go ahead.” Agent Smith pulled up to the garage. It was dirty and open. Several wrecked cars were parked just about anywhere they fell and obviously were not going to ever be moved. It was actually more of a wrecking yard than a repair garage. We sat in the car and surveyed and talked for a minute.
“How did those bad guys know you and Agent Barnes had the money?”
“Agent Wallis said. “Now that’s a very good question. You didn’t tell anyone. We left before you from the church.”
“And I went straight to the church from the site that I got the money. The only one I talked to was Agent Brown. He knew I had something but I don’t think he figured out that I had anything of real importance.”
“Anyone else?” Agent Wallis was very analytical.
“Cabbie drove me there. He was very shook up and I’m sure he went straight home after. He didn’t know of the money for sure. He knew I had talked to Agent Brown but I didn’t elaborate.” I was very analytical too.
“The only one we talked with was Agent Smith on the phone and at the time he was still in Albany.” Agent Wallis said.
We left it at that and got out of the car. Both of us had our sunglasses on.
As we walked over to the office on the lot I asked. “Say, I never asked. Did you get a hand gun, and do you have it with you now?”
“Yes. It’s a forty-five. I have Barnes’s with me as well. I tried them both last evening in the basement of our office just to be sure. They’re not pretty but both work very well. I haven’t had a chance to sight them though.” Agent Wallis said. “Let me do the talking here. I’m used to it. Just stand at attention and look like you’re going to kill someone if they breathe the wrong way.”
“That’ll be easy because it’s not far from the truth.” I said.
Two men stopped work and walked up to us. A couple more stopped work a minute later to see what all the conversation was about. They came over to see as well. Then a man came out of the office. He was fat and had a white shirt on with a tie that came down half way to his waist.
Agent Wallis flashed his badge and there was a lot of talking but five minutes later we were back in the car driving away no further on our quest for two bad guys in a fancy shot up car.
“We did learn one thing.” Agent Wallis commented. “The car is still operational. Somehow they got the radiator in and fixed. The windows are back orderred.”
“Yes.” I said. “But it must stand out with a few holes in it. They might get the windows at a glass shop. Who knows what mechanic did what to it by now. They may have even traded it in on another somewhere. I remember that car was a favorite for smuggling booze across the border from Canada some time ago.”
“Yes, nowadays they use railway cars.” Agent Wallis was making his way back downtown. “Say, why don’t we go back to that hotel and have lunch and strategize what to do now?”
“OK. Sounds good to me.” I heard something he said and was trying to make it register. “Say, what do you know of railway cars used for booze smuggling?”
“Oh, I saw a couple of cases come by my desk.” Agent Wallis pulled into the hotel lot. “Excuse the pun.”
“What did they log the cargo as? Do you remember?” I got out of the car and grabbed my bag from the back.
“It’s usually logged as a perishable. They even pack it with ice in a special railway car. That way there is an urgency to get it delivered. There is always a special truck at the arrival point with an insulated cargo bay to instantly unload the booze. Sometimes they even really do have perishable items surrounding the booze so if someone inspects the railway car they find frozen chickens or whatever.” Agent Wallis got out of the car and we both walked up to the hotel.
I was abuzz with what the agent had just said. “Mr. Watts told me to check on his missing pheasants from Canada. They were to come down by railway car but never arrived.”
“Did you find anything?” Agent Wallis asked.
“Yes, the car came here, was emptied as near as I can figure and for some reason it ended up in California. It was then shipped back to Hamilton or Toronto as an orphan.” I held the door open for the agent.
We sat down at a table. I dumped my bag on the floor by my feet. A coffee was poured for both of us automatically without our asking by a waitress with too much makeup in clothes that didn’t fit. She threw two menus down in front of us and pointed to the chalkboard on the wall. “Specials.” She said and walked away.
“How much pheasant did Mr. Watts order?” Agent watts asked.
“He doesn’t remember. He did it over the phone and for several restaurants that he shares buying power with. One person buys a large quantity at a discount and then everyone divides the order up and each share the cost. He thinks it should have been a carload. He’s done it in the past.”
“And you think that the car with the money and the car with the pheasants got switched?” Agent Wallis sipped his coffee. “I think I’ll have the special.” He hadn’t looked at the menu.
“You haven’t looked at the menu.” I objected. “I don’t think you even looked at the board.”
“I’ve eaten here before. If you don’t order the special it takes an hour to get your food.”
The waitress came back. “Two specials.” I said. “And a couple of glasses of water.” I sipped the coffee. It was bitter having been on the burner for some time.
“I don’t think the cars got switched. I do think that maybe the records or the numbers on the cars got switched or something like that.” I continued. “I’ve been over the records for some time and there is something there that I’m missing.”
“Is the count right? I mean there must be so many cars coming in and then going out. They must get counted at both ends and even along the way.” Agent Wallis said nursing his coffee.
“The right numbers of cars go in and out at both Mr. Watts’ yard and here in the city. I can even trace them across the border and the numbers still match.”
Agent Wallis said. “Well then if that’s what the evidence says then that’s what is to quote Holmes.”
The waitress came again with large plates of food. It was some meat with mashed potatoes, corn and peas on top of toast with butter and gravy all over it. “There’s pie for desert. I’ll bring it shortly.” She left and then brought back our water without another word.
“Maybe we’ve got this backwards.” Agent Wallis stopped for a moment to shovel some of the mixture in his mouth. He approved after a second. “Not bad for what it is. At least it’s hot.”
“How is what backwards?” I asked.
“We’re assuming that the money came in from Canada and was destined for Mr. Watt’s yard in the town. The money is delivered to a truck and then distributed from there.”
“Go on.” I said.
“What if a truck came in and unloaded Mr. Watts pheasants and then loaded up the railway car full of money?” Agent Wallis asked.
“Oh my-gosh! That makes sense. It accounts for the cars and as I remember there were supposed to be addresses on each box for distribution already. But what happened to Mr. Watts. Pheasants?” I asked.
“Anything. They could have just dumped them somewhere. There is a lot of open country. Maybe some butcher got a payoff unexpectedly or they were used as barter for some thing else.” Agent Wallis was enjoying the food.
“The money never got to where it was supposed to go. That’s what all the fuss is about.” I said.
“We know that it did get on the train. Your Mexican friend saw it.” Agent Wallis said and then stopped eating. “You’re sure the Mexican saw it. Your description of getting the bag seems to have been rather exciting and not allowing a lot of time for questions and answers.”
“I made the story up. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but yes I’m sure the money was seen on the train.”
“You’re protecting someone. OK.” Agent Wallis stopped eating again to think out load. “Let’s say the pheasant car is now full of money. The question is, did it leave the yard still full of money?”
“Good question. Let’s say it did. The railway car did not seem to go where it was supposed to go. I think my friend may have changed the numbers on the side of the car now when he repaired it. It may be only on one side so when it got to California it became an orphan because the people there read the numbers on the other side.” My brain was putting this together as fast as I could say it.
“And where did you say the car is now?”
“It might be in Hamilton under a shroud.” I answered. “I wonder if anyone ever checked to see if the car was full or empty.”
“You’re going to have to check that on your own. I have to be back later tonight and I said I’d do some shopping for the guys while I was here.” The agent gulped down the last of his plate. “That tasted better than it looked.”
“I have a question. How is it that these two bad guys always seem to have the one up on us?” I asked. “I mean they just seem too lucky. Who’s calling them and alerting them? They were all set to check out before we arrived. They had to have done that before any phone call from either garage.”
“Someone might have seen us coming out of town. Someone certainly could have seen me depart from the hotel. As for whom I talked to, no one knew I was to see you except Mr. Watts. I did tell Barnes but he’s very good about keeping his mouth shut when he’s told to do so. How about you? Anyone else know other than Mr. Watts?” Agent Wallis flagged the waitress and made a motion that said we were ready for desert.
“Young William knew but he wouldn’t say anything. I can’t imagine Mr. Watts telling anyone. George might figure it out but he’s very closed mouth.” I finished my plate as well. It was good.
The waitress came over with two pies and took the plates away.
I said to the waitress. “Is it possible to get a fresh cup of coffee?”
“Sure. They’re bottomless. Give me a minute. There’s a fresh pot brewing.” And she was off in a rush. The diner was now full. She came back a couple of minutes later with two new cups and took the old ones away.
“The ladies in the T. H. & B. office wouldn’t know what I’m doing really.” I offered.
“Lets see.” Agent Wallis took out his pad and pencil. “They hit you over the head and checked out the safe.”
“It’s the only safe in town outside the bank of any size.” I offered again. “There’s no timing to that incident though. It could have been anytime they hit the safe.”
“Maybe, but it’s right after you showed up. They might have thought you put something in the safe.”
I agreed with a nod and Agent Wallis went on with his thinking out loud.
“They went into the church and shot at Jim after he had told the sheriff of what he was getting in the collection bowl.”
“It was a little later. The sheriff knew a few days before. It was the next night after I was hit though. I do have a thought on that. If they are staying in the city here they must have stayed overnight somewhere near by.”
“They knew Barnes and I had something. They were waiting for us for sure. It was like they were listening on the phone and knew exactly when and where to hit us. We only had a few blocks to walk and we were caught with our pants down so to speak.” Agent Wallis put his pencil down and hit into his pie. “This is good too.”
“And they seemed to know that we’d be here as well.” I offered again. “I wonder if they said something to the little old lady.”
“I don’t have the feeling they’re that clever. When Barnes and I were talking with them at gunpoint they seemed like a lot of brawn and little brainpower. They are definitely under someone’s guidance in my mind. The question is as you say who, how and where?”
The waitress dropped the bill on our table.
“And I’ve got some ideas on that.” Agent Wallis said finishing his pie. “If you sit around a hotel long enough doing nothing, you are bound to come up with some ideas. As to who, I think we’ve narrowed it down to some faction of the German government. There’s a party making noises there called the Nazi party with a guy called Hitler head of it. We have a watch notice on him.”
“This pie is good.” I said acknowledging Agent Wallis’s analysis earlier.
“As to the how, I think they’re using our standard delivery systems like the post office for parcel delivery. Once we found a parcel using the bus courier. As to where, I’m thinking this is a lot larger than we thought in the beginning.”
“You mean that they’re printing money in Germany and mailing it over here?” I asked.
“Maybe it’s not quite as simple as that but that’s the gist of it, yes.” Agent Wallis said.
“It seems to me that we should also be looking for the plates. Do you think there making money here or in Germany?”
“It could be either but I would bet that it’s in Germany and they are making multiple currencies and shipping them over seas to various counties.” Agent Wallis looked thoughtful and took out his pad again. “I think I’ll have my boss check and see if anything has turned up in the British Islands. If Germany is dong it here then they probably are doing it there as well.”
“France?” I offered.
“No. I would think if they’re doing it then they would go after the leading industrial nations. The United States technically is friendly with Germany as well and even Great Briton trades with Germany. France is super suspicious and the slightest wind of something like this would be blown out of proportion whereas you can see that there is very little concern here.” Agent Wallis kept making notes.
I assigned the bill to the hotel room giving exactly a fifteen percent tip. “Let’s get back to that. Why don’t you have your boss get on to some other areas that we talked about and I think it might be a good idea if I try to get in touch with this mysterious Mr. X.”
“I like that.” Agent Wallis said. “We’ll keep in touch of course but we’ll both be super quiet about what we’re doing or saying to anyone.”
“Yes, there’s got to be a leak. What about your temporary boss, Agent Smith? You have to tell him what’s going on.” I said as we started to leave.
“No I don’t. Technically I’m not doing anything but sitting in a hotel room.”
“What if I find the plates here? Do I destroy them?” I asked.
Agent Wallis thought for a moment. “Yes. We want the names of the people the boxes of money are to be sent to but the money and or the plates need to be destroyed as well.”
We shook hands and Agent Wallis departed. I grabbed my bag from the floor and went back up to my room.
“There’s men that somehow just grip your eyes, and hold them hard like a spell;” R. W. Service.
So far this had been fun. I mean there were parts that were not so much fun, like getting hit in the head and such. And I’m not so much fond of friends getting shot at or little old ladies hitting me over the head with a broom. No one had been killed so far. Oh well, I didn’t really know the agent missing but buried in the forest or the bull that got tortured and killed and no one liked him anyway that I knew. No one had been killed yet that I liked or knew very well.
But I knew I was getting in over my head. There were two guys out there that seemed to have resources that I didn’t know anything about. On top of that they seemed to know things that they couldn’t know. They were always one step ahead of me or Agents Wallis and Barnes.
I wondered about my ability as a detective. I was pretty smug about being able to find stuff the agent’s hadn’t. It was now clear that the agents had been held back. I had been working alone. It was also clear that Agent Wallis knew this and was using me to solve the case. He had as much said so.
In my room I wanted to modify the Tommy gun so I could carry it under my jacket. I regretted taking it instead of the shotgun. It worked well but it was longer that the shotgun and hard to hide under my jacket. The second thing about it was that it was noisy. The ammunition rattling as you walked was not a good thing. It could easily tip someone off when you might be trying to not be heard. Hobo’s traveling under trains didn’t want to be heard or seen.
My plan was to visit Hamilton and search for the missing railway car. In flying over the yard there was a very large area covered that looked like a repair area.
The major part of my plan was to not let anyone know I was going. This meant going under the train rather than inside as a paying customer. I made a couple of slings and found that the can and the gun could be slung over my back securely if not attached to each other. Anyone looking close would see it so I gave up the attempt.
Taking the slings I found that I could rig them to the bag I was carrying so as to carry the bag as a knapsack. This fit right in with my hobo identity and no one would suspect that it had a gun inside it.
I went down to by the front desk and said goodbye to the front clerk and said I would be back by evening. I wasn’t going to be.
I had heard of other hobos going across the border by the suspension bridge into Canada and never having a problem. Checking my schedule from the T. H. & B., I walked across the street, crawled under a boxcar and waited for the train to move. The car I had chosen had a number of slats that went across the bottom for strength. I lay on top of them and as soon as the train started to move I fell asleep.
Occasionally I woke as the train shifted or sped up or slowed down. The view over the Niagara river was spectacular and coming into Fort Erie the train didn’t even stop but kept right on going beside highway number three for a bit, crossing up through St. Catharines and then along Lake Ontario to Hamilton. A few hours later the train stopped, parking in a freight unloading area. I slid off the car and started walking down the tracks to the nearest road crossover and hailed a cab that took me to the north east end of town where the repair yard was. It was getting dark. I saw a diner close by and had the cab driver let me off there. I gave him exactly a fifteen percent tip.
In the washroom of the diner I cleaned up. Traveling under a train can be dusty at times and often soot from an engine can find its way under a boxcar. By the time I had a light meal it was dusk and the sunset was pouring over the harbor full of ships transferring their cargo to rail cars. Other ships brought in ore for the steel mills. Plumbs of smoke trickled up through the sky. The smell of sulfur competed with dead fish on the beach of Lake Ontario.
I casually walked into the yard through a bent-over section of fence and went up and down the rows of boxcars looking for my quarry. All were in some state of repair. Many were off the track on the ground stacked up on wood with their wheels missing. They were being robbed for parts. I saw the railway car I was looking for.
I might have missed it if it wasn’t for the light shinning over top of the row of cars into the next lane. A low flatbed in the middle let the beam from the tiny bulb find its way onto the repair that Thurston described. It was glaringly new wood painted white on a very old car and the entire corner was rebuilt. It must have taken some time. I strolled over to the side of the car. The doors were open and the inside of the car was empty. I leaned in and looked both ways in the dim light. All I could see was dust.
I guess I was expecting to find something but the empty car hit me. Now I had another dead end and I felt kind of deflated after my exuberating feeling of finding the car. I didn’t have any new ideas as to what to do now. My short-lived career as a detective was over.
“Heh you there! What are you doing in here?” Someone called out.
It was close, too close. I had been lax in keeping my guard up and letting my imagination wander in a place that I should have kept my wits up. Think fast. Think right.
I remembered that I had taken Agent Brown’s badge. When I had done it, it was almost automatic and in truth to get back at him in a somewhat childish way. Afterwards I had chastised myself that he was probably just angry at me for taking his gun away and I would have made him just angrier at me for pick pocketing his badge. Now I thought fate made me do it just for a time like this. I pulled out the badge and flashed it as I turned around and confronted what and who I knew to be a yard bull.
“Agent Brown of the Bureau of Investigation.” I flipped the wallet sized package open in front of his face. On one side was a very shiny badge and on the other a black and white photo that could have been anyone.
“I was just coming to find you. Is the yardmaster still around?” I was quick and full of authority.
Yard bulls are not hired on their brilliance although some are retired police officers and at least know procedures and some law.
“No, he just went home as I came on shift.” The bull said. He was looking me over. I got the impression that I had disturbed his night of rest and he was now in a quandary as to what to do.
“I’m sorry, I should have gone to see him first. I guess it will have to wait until morning. What time does he get in? I have some questions for him about this car. It shouldn’t take to long. I might even be able to do it over the phone.” I was making this up as I went along in the fashion I had seen the agents do in the last couple of weeks. I might even phone him now that I had said it.
“Maybe I can help.” The bull said. “I know just about everything there is to know about what’s going on here as anyone. What’s the matter with this car?” He pointed at the one that I had referred to and had just had my head in. “I see It was repaired somewhere else. Was it in an accident or something? What are you here for?”
Think fast again J.J. I said to myself. Lying sometimes gets complicated and you can lock yourself in loops if you’re not careful. I started wondering if this guard was smarter than he looked. I went on, as now it was the only thing I could do.
“I’m investigating some smuggling of livestock across the border. Some of it is frozen and distributed to warehouses in the United States. I think this car started out as one and ended up switched with another cargo by accident maybe because of some accident that caused the ice to melt prematurely. If I can find out what cargo they switched for the frozen birds we think were in here originally then maybe that may help lead to the smugglers.” I was proud of myself. It was a good story.
“I thought all you guys did was look for booze being smuggled. Why all the fuss about some birds?” The guard asked.
“The frozen birds surrounded the booze to hide it. There’s a lot of money involved. It’s not just this one car but many more running into thousands of dollars.” I answered quickly. I kept it short.
“You don’t say?” He stroked his chin. “Well there was some cargo. The car was full of boxes with addresses on them but no return address. Some of the address labels were spoiled as well. Anyway it looks like they were supposed to be mailed to the addresses but there was no postage paid so the post office is holding them until someone pays. If no one does within ninety days they are sold at public auction. I think they may try and contact some of the addressees and see if they can find out who was supposed to pay originally.”
This bull was very well informed. I was ecstatic again.
“So where did they take these boxes for storage?” I asked.
“Some trucks came around, took the boxes. The main post office is downtown but their yard is over on the east end. I’m not sure where they took them but you’ll have to go downtown to arrange to see them. Policy is all postal packages are stored inside. We have a track that goes right through the post office downtown so trains can pick up a mail car there on an inside spur.”
“You’re really well informed.” I said. “Most security I run into wouldn’t be nearly so on the ball.”
“I’ve worked here for thirty years.” He said. “Often I put the cars together in a pinch when they’re short handed.”
“I have one more question.” I said as I started walking to the front of the yard with him. “As I’m from out of town can you recommend a good hotel downtown so I can check with the post office first thing?”
Shortly later I took a cab downtown and checked into the Royal Connaught Hotel at King and John Street.
“Just recently expanded to accommodate you sir. We’ll put you in the new wing.” I checked in and had a shower and went down to explore leaving the Tommy gun and my topcoat upstairs. Then I had a thought as I was closing the door and went back. I left the kit in the washroom and my topcoat in the rack by the door but I took the Tommy gun out of the bag and placed it under the sofa. On exiting, I took a hair freshly pulled from my head and placed it on the inside of the door as it closed by the hinge. If anyone opened the door, the hair would drop and I would know before entering.
As I walked out by the front desk I considered myself foolish and was overplaying detective. No one knew I was here. I had made sure of that. Still, I told myself that I was making good habits that might come in handy once. And it only takes once.
I walked around the corner to John Street and up to Main Street where the post office was. There was a regular post office up a couple of stairs that was closed but there was also a ramp leading down. A truck went right by me and proceeded down the ramp at a good and possibly unsafe clip. I followed it down. At a loading dock a half dozen men were moving mail from the trucks onto carts and back again in organized chaos. I approached one of the men that appeared to be in charge. I gave him my story about looking for the railway car goods and that the security guard at the railway yard had suggested coming here. The man knew the guard personally and he redirected me to the warehouse by the rails on Hughson Avenue a couple of blocks away. I thanked him and walked back up the ramp. It was a beautiful night for a walk. I was glad now that I had pocketed Agent Brown’s badge. I was getting a lot of mileage out of it.
It was the same scene on the Hughson Street lot by the railway station. There was a large passenger depot here and several people were waiting for trains. The postal section was across the tracks and I made my way over to another man that looked like he was in charge. I gave him the same story. I was getting good at it now. He directed me back to the Main and John Street building from which I had just come and told me to ask for the supervisor.
“Sure, we have the boxes. Glad someone finally came from our mailings and now we can get rid of them. They’re taking up a lot of space here.”
“You said mailings?” I asked not knowing what he was talking about.
“Well as I’m sure you know there was no postage on any of the boxes and of course no return address. So we took all the names and wrote a letter mimeographed to each recipient to send postage for their box.” The man waved me to follow him. “Some of the boxes have some external damage. We think a truck must have hit the car in a yard somewhere. Someone went to a lot of work to repair it. There are about four hundred large boxes. We sent out four hundred letters last week. Here’s a list.”
He handed me several sheets of paper with a lot of names and addresses on each one. I tried to remain cool and collected. What I had been looking for was in my hands.
“Where are the boxes?” I asked. We walked through several concrete columns supporting the ceiling to a large open area at the back. Men were moving goods on skids with handcarts.
We stopped in front of a wall of boxes pilled high to the ceiling. A whole railway car of boxes stood in front of me. A few billion dollars if I was right in my calculations. They boxes were casually roped off and a sign in front ‘DO NOT SHIP’ hanging from it.
“Can I have this?” I asked speaking of the papers in my hands.
“Sure, if it helps. We just did it to get a mailing list, typed nice and neat.” The man said.
“Say, you wouldn’t know of anyone with a short wave set around here would you?” I asked. ‘I need to talk with the office and that’s the best way to do it.” I knew this sounded strange but it was in keeping with my new identity as a Bureau Agent.
“Sure, one of our guys is a ham operator. His kid is too. He’s off tonight though. Lives up on the mountain.”
He saw the bewildered look in my eye. “Hamilton is built in two layers. The higher layer is a hill a few hundred feet up. A few miles out it’s rural and farm area. Fred lives on a farm just south of number Fifty-Three highway. I’ll give him a call if you like.”
This was too easy. Something was going to come my way.
“That would be great.” I said. “I thought I’d be here for ages searching for this stuff. If I can get these addresses back to the Bureau fast we might be able to make something of it. I have a feeling that the recipients of these boxes might be part of some kind of conspiracy.”
“What kind of conspiracy?” The man asked. “Say, what’s in those boxes anyway?”
“I was told not to ask, but I think they are some documents regarding national security. I was told to destroy them if I couldn’t get them back.”
“And this has something to do with food and booze being smuggled across the border? The plot thickens.” The man laughed.
I realized that he too had talked with the bull at the yard or at leased the man I talked with earlier.
“Come on. Let’s see if we can get hold of Fred.” The man escorted me to his office. “Sit down.” Offering me a chair across from his desk covered with paper, he picked up a phone on his desk. It had a rotary dial that was well worn. Most of the numbers were missing. He dialed the operator and in a few minutes was arranging for Fred to help me. Fred was agreeable and his son wanted to meet a real G-man.”
“He’s going to want to see your gun.” The man said. “Here’s how to get there.” He drew a map on a blank paper and handed it to me. He then reached down into his desk drawer and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and two glasses, setting them on the desk in front of me.
“No thanks.” I said. “I appreciate the offer but I’m on duty and it’s still illegal in my country.”
“Oh, I forgot.” He said. And then I got the feeling like I was being tested. He put the bottle and glasses away.
“I truth, I haven’t had a drink in ten years. If I had one now I’d probably fall flat on my face." I kept eye contact with him.
The man laughed again and we made our way out of the office.
“Were you in the war?” The man asked.
“Pilot. Started out in France flying things that should not be flown. Got shot down, escaped and got shot down again. The second time wasn’t pleasant.”
”The shift is changing. There should be a cab hanging around here somewhere.” I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night for you if you’re going to send that Morse. The boy said he’d help but still that’s a long list.
“What’s your name? I’ll need to get in contact with you again to arrange shipment of the boxes.” I shook his hand as a cab came up.
“Johnson.” He said. “I’m postal supervisor here.”
The cab ride was spectacular. To get up the Mountain the cabby had to get into first gear in his Model A Ford but the view over the city that was lit up to the harbor was great. A ship was coming in from Lake Ontario full of lights. After an hour or more we finally arrived at Fred’s farm. I paid the cab and tipped him exactly fifteen percent.
Fred was a jovial character and his teenage son was too. Both were overweight, dressed in farmer johns and talked about G-men and science fiction non-stop. The farmhouse was small and several additions had been added although only the main room had a wood stove. The barn just held stuff they told me. The land was rented out as he had a job and the boy was in school.
“First things first.” The boy said. “We need to see your badge and your gun. What do they give you these days anyway, a forty-five? We have a shotgun in the back just in case.” The boy went on and I never did find out in case of what.
“Well with budget cuts and whatever we G-men have to make do with whatever we can get. Often we have to do with public transportation and guns are often army surplus forty-fives or police special thirty-eights. I got lucky and acquired this through a friend.” I pulled out my 7 millimeter. Ejecting the clip handed it to Fred who eyed it with awe and then he past it to his son who did the same thing.
“Hey, you want some coffee?” Fred asked.
“I thought you’d never ask.” And Fred’s son handed back the gun reluctantly as we went to the kitchen. I saw his face and then pulled Agent Brown’s badge and handed it to him. His face lit up. He held it up to the light.
“It doesn’t look like you at all.” He said.
“Nope.” I affirmed. “I’ve tried to get it redone but when they’re taking photos I’m always away. Most people never look at the photo anyway so it hasn’t been a problem so far.
“While we’re waiting for the brew. What’s the frequency of this message you want to send?” Fred was more serious.
I got the feeling his and his son’s hobby was part of their life. Looking around the kitchen I saw radio parts all over. I pulled out the paper Agent Wallis had given me and handed it to him.
“Well, it’s the eight meter band but not anybody I know uses this frequency. Do you have any idea where this site is located?” Fred asked.
“I’m not one hundred percent sure but I think it’s on the North shore of Lake Ontario.
Fred motioned to his son who left and shortly I could hear him moving stuff outside.
“The boy’s setting up the antennas for frequency and direction. If he’s on then we’ll get him.” Fred smiled.
I had no doubt about Fred and his boy’s capabilities. As we came back into the living room I now saw the entire wall was short wave equipment. I had not seen anything like it even in the military. The walls were covered with Q contact cards mailed in from all over the world. I openly admired them. Fred’s boy came back in. Fred started throwing switches and lights on the equipment came on. I had a thought.
“I have to tell you something before we start.” I said.
Both of them stopped and looked at me questioning.
“I haven’t been one hundred percent truthful with you on all that is happening.” I paused. “There have been men killed over what I’m sending right now and I’m not even sure that we’ll be able to contact this guy at all. What I’m saying is you’re lives may be in danger just by my being here.”
Both of them looked at each other shrugged and went about their flicking dials.
Fred said looking at my paper. “This says Eight o’clock. It’s getting close to midnight. Do we have to wait until tomorrow morning or evening or can we try now.”
“I’ve been thinking about that.” I answered and took a paper off his desk and started writing.
MR X EIGHT OCLOCK AGENT WALLIS GAVE ME THIS PREPARE FOR LONG LIST OF NAMES AND ADDRESSES JJ
“Try sending this and see what happens.” I said.
The boy took it and looked at his father. “Is J.J. you?” The boy said as he started sending. The boy was smart.
“Yes.” I said.
We sat and waited for about five minutes. The coffee started perking and Fred went to get it. Soon we were drinking and waiting.
Fred sent the message again five minutes later and we waited more.
“Is Agent Wallis your partner?” The boy asked.
“I hadn’t thought of it that way but I guess you could say that. Usually I work alone.” I sipped more coffee.
The radio sparked.
WHAT IS WALLIS PARTNER NAME
We all looked at each other.
“Send BARNES.” I said and spelled it.
“One hundred and fifty each. We’ll try fifty each and then rotate.” Fred said. He and his son were excited. “I’m assuming this is going to save the world.” He went on half jokingly.
I assured him it was.
THREE SENDERS ROTATING Fred started and went right into the list.
“I want them to know there are more than one sender’s. They will be able to detect each of our sending styles.” Fred said as he pumped out code very quickly.
Later his son jumped in and he was very fast as well. By the time I jumped in I had already made apologies for being so slow.
Both Fred and his son used a fully automatic key that bounced on a spring flowing back and forth left or right for dots and dashes. I opted for a semi automatic that had a spring as well but only in one direction. I was sending at half the speed the others were.
“It’s been a long time and I haven’t used these muscles in a while.” My whole hand was sore.
In a couple of hours we were done.
GOT IT GET OUT OF THERE
“What does he mean by that?” Fred’s son asked.
“I don’t know.” I answered. “But I have a feeling that maybe this guy knows a lot more about what we’re doing than we do.” I looked at both of them. “Do you have anywhere you two can stay for a few days?”
“We can stay in Toronto for a few days. Relatives have been trying to get us to come up and visit since mom died last year.” Fred said.
“Should we take the shotgun?” The boy asked. He was smarter and quick on the uptake.
“Yes. Have you got a car?” I asked.
“Pick up truck.” Fred said.
“Get packed and let’s get going.” I said and they both went about shutting down the place. In ten minutes we were all squashed in an old ford truck heading back to the city with luggage in the back. The boy had the shotgun under the seat.
They dropped me off downtown and I shook hands with both of them. As I saw them drive off I pondered the absurdity I had brought into their lives and the easy acceptance of what they had done to help me. The badge helped of course but these were people just trying to do the right thing.
Back entering the hotel I said hello to the clerk at the front desk. He seemed agitated. I stopped just around the corner and heard him dialing the phone. I couldn’t hear what he said but the hair on my back was raised like a cat that had just confronted a big dog. I went up the two flights of stairs to my room.
The hair was gone. I went to the next room to the left and picked the lock hoping no one was in. I got lucky. No one was. Crossing the room cautiously I went to the window, opened it and climbed out onto the ledge. It was easy and some foolish architect had designed it for just this purpose. I had opened the window earlier and it was still open. I stepped inside and looked around. My kit was still there but someone had moved it ever so slightly. I packed it up and retrieved the Tommy gun with a sigh of relief that I had hid it out of habit. Putting it in the bag I went back out the window to the next room. I needed a shower. I couldn’t think of any rule that said I had to have it in the room I was assigned.
I showered and shaved and was about to go to sleep when I heard some men start talking in the room that was originally assigned to me. I grabbed the glass off the table and put it to the wall just like in the detective novels. I pressed my ear close. It did seem to work as long as I didn’t breath.
“Did he really kill that old bull at the yard?” It sounded like the desk clerk. “I know his brother.”
“He must have beat him up some before killing him.” Deeper voice. “His head was caved in.”
“His brother was what alerted us to him. He tried to call him after Brown went to see him at the post office. Thought something was up and was just checking.” Another deeper voice spoke this time. “Seems he just wanted to get a fix on whether what he did was right.”
“We have a car going up to Fred’s house right now. There’s no answer there as well.” It was the first deep voice again.
The clerk said. “He showed me a badge and identification. Agent Brown. That’s what he wrote in the register.”
“Well it look like he’s flown the coup now.” First deep voice said. “Did he pay in advance?”
“There’s a deposit but we wave it for police officers.”
“Look like he stiffed you.” Second deep voice said.
“Nothing more we can do here.” I heard the door slam closed.
It was time for me to leave. I needed to think and walking often helped in clearing the mind for deep thought. I went out the window and climbed around the corner and worked my way down to the ground via a well-placed fire ladder. It was late at night. Everything was closed and most of the city lights were off. I couldn’t think of any reason to stay in this town. The money had been found. Mr. X, I presumed had the names and I still had a list of them if he didn’t. I thought maybe it might be a good idea to mail the list to Agent Wallis next time I’m near a post office.
Post Office. What was it that I was forgetting? Who killed the bull I just talked with earlier this evening? It had to be the same people that killed the bull back in the town. Those two men in the fancy suits and fancy car must be here. How did they find the bull here? I hadn’t left a trace. I had even gone under the train to travel rather than buy a ticket to make sure no one knew exactly where I was.
I saw a phone booth and had an inspiration. Why not just call Agent Wallis and bounce what I had done off him? I entered the booth and called the operator. You get your nickel back when you do that. Collect back to the hotel in the town person to person. “Yes I know it’s late but it’s an emergency.”
Surprisingly I got through very quickly and marveled at modern technology. I told him of the past day’s activities and the bull being killed.
“It sounds like they were trying to get information out of him just like the other bull.” Agent Wallis said. “No I didn’t tell anyone about your tracing the car anywhere. I didn’t even talk about it to Agent Barnes. Agent Smith has been on the phone all day. I understand he was checking up on me. He phoned the City of Buffalo’s office while I was out with you. It’s a good thing I did a lot of shopping. I came back with a carload of stuff for us at the hotel room. The new magazines were well received, even by Agent Brown.”
“Someone might have followed you from the hotel in Buffalo to the yard. They might have seen you get on the train to Canada. They might have even been on the train.” Agent Wallis postulated. “They might even have agents at each yard. You say there are 400 names on the list.”
“I wonder what they wanted from him.” As soon as I said it I knew the answer.
“The new dead bull.” I said. “I might have killed him by default. The bad guys now know where I went. I’m glad I got Fred and his son out of there. Mr. X said to get out of there over the air and we followed up immediately.”
“Where’s the money now? Still in the post office?” Agent Wallis asked.
“Oh my-gosh. That’s where they’ll be heading now. I have to go.” I hung up and started running.
It was a couple of blocks back to the post office. I came around the corner to Hughson Avenue and slowed to a walk down the ramp to where I had first talked with… What was his name? Johnson. I hoped he was still alive. How could I have been so stupid? That’s a lot of money to just leave lying around a post office. People kill and already have for just a little bit of this money.
I walked down the ramp calmly, getting my breath back and trying to make my ears work better. Reaching in my bag I made sure that the ammunition case was securely fastened to the Tommy gun and even made sure the safety clip was off.
More deep breathes. What was I going to say? He probably already talked with the police if they’d been to my hotel room. I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction I was going to get. Suddenly I felt very naked and wished I had all the other cans of ammunition with me. It was very quiet. I stopped and listened harder. Quiet. The men must be on break. There were several men sorting and moving around mail earlier in the evening. It had been several hours. Maybe they had a late night lunch break. I resumed walking down the ramp.
There was Mr. Johnson looking down at a clipboard in his hands. No one else was around.
“Hi. Remember me? I came back to thank you for your help.” I walked toward him. Ever muscle was tense but I tried to look and act calm.
“Glad I could help.” Johnson said. He said it in monotone.
“Say, where is everybody? Is it lunch time?”
“They’re on break.” Johnson said with another monotone response. He looked strained and I saw a bead of perspiration from his forehead.
I hesitated. “Well, I’m off then. Say could I get another coffee before I hit the road?”
“Sorry, we just ran out of coffee. Look, thanks for stopping back but I’m really very busy.” He turned to go into the back room through the concrete doorway.
“Be seeing you.” I waved and turned to go back up the ramp my eyes and both ears straining to see what it was I wasn’t seeing.
That was it. I hadn’t had coffee. Johnson had offered me liquor but I had declined. There wasn’t a coffee pot in his office.
“Take him out!” A new voice echoed loudly from back through the concrete pillars.
I dove behind a garbage dumpster none to soon. A lot of noise and for sure bullets hit the steel siding and I heard some more shouting. I think I saw Johnson dive down under the loading dock abandoning his clipboard in the process.
“Did you get him?” The voice shouted.
“No!” Came the response.
I was in a pretty safe position except I was pined and not able to go forward or back.
A second volley of bullets came my way sending pinging sounds off the steel dumpster. It was firmly built and I had my war experience to thank for mentally marking it as I had gone down the ramp. Now what?
A third barrage of bullets came from a different angle hitting the wall behind me. Several come very close from the ricochet. These guys had done this before. It had to be the two guys with the fancy car. At least I thought there were only two shooting at me.
“Move over to the right. See if you can get a better crossfire.” These guys were good.
Maybe they weren’t that good. They didn’t know I had a sub machine gun. As a matter of fact I was surprised that they hadn’t just walked up and openly shot me. I thought it was about time they knew.
I was about to just send a wild burst over the top of the dumpster when I noticed something. The dumpster was on wheels. Of course, it had to be. They pushed it over to load and unload it. I took a quick peek around the side to see where I was and if I could see either of my opponents.
I was rewarded with a quick view of Johnson. He was still alive but it looked like he took a bullet in the leg. He was cowering under an overhang from the loading dock. There was a concrete set of stairs up to the dock and from there were several concrete pillars separating sections of the warehouse.
I started pushing the dumpster towards the set of stairs. Bullets came from both positions. I heard the one on my left unclip the canister of ammunition from his gun. Having momentum now with the dumpster I found I could easily steer it and I pushed far to the left of the stairs and was sure it would also give Johnson some protection. I gave the dumpster a final heave and let loose a spray of bullets back in his direction as I dove behind the stairs.
Another volley of bullets came from forward and to the left but there was a break and I took a chance and made to one of the pillars. I just made it when the other guy let loose a barrage while the first one I was sure reloaded a new can of forty-five caliber slugs. They had both let loose a hundred shells and I had wasted twenty on my test and lost another twenty for covering fire. I had about sixty left. Oh, and I also had my pistol.
I called out. “Johnson. Where are the other men?”
“They shot two. The others they locked up in the back room. They should be out by now. It has a hidden removable wall that goes to the next building. If we can hold out long enough the police should come.” He was in pain obviously. “The police were here earlier. They said you killed my brother.”
“Not me. These two guys have killed a few others as well.” I answered. Our opponents were quiet during all this banter. As it was going on I surveyed the room as best as I could see from this vantage point. Behind me was his office and in front of that were several desks and worktables for sorting. Hanging from each was a light bulb and there was an oil lantern in case the power went out I figured. Off to the right was the open area where the money stood against the wall. I looked at the lantern again and then the money.
Keeping in line with the other pillars I walked back to the desk and picked up the lantern. It was full of lamp oil. A box of wooden matches was beside it. I lit the lantern and threw it with all my might at the wall of boxes containing the money.
It was anti climatic. I was hoping for a huge explosion that would engulf the boxes but there was just a little whooshing sound and finally a small flame appeared that grew ever so slowly.
I figured this at least might be a little bit captivating so I leaned around the right corner of the pillar and fired about a half dozen rounds down the line of sight of the rest of the pillars. I then fired another at the place where I figured the other guy was.
I heard a car. I hadn’t seen it before but there was the Packard roaring up the ramp. I fired another dozen shells up the ramp after it but it was gone.
I went to Johnson after I had verified they we were truly alone. He was hurt bad and had taken one in the arm and two in one leg. I helped him up onto a bench.
“Are your men really gone or were you making that up? I asked.
“I made it up. Go and get them. I’ll be OK for a bit.” He waved me towards the back.
As I went by I saw my fire was growing. I could stop and fight it but it was now pretty big. Priorities first. The men in back might be able to help and they could help me get Johnson out as well.
I pulled out my badge and hug it from my shirt pocket. The men came out from behind the barn style door and saw the fire and panicked. I got them under control quickly enough and they helped Johnson onto a dolly and we all went up the ramp. I figured the fire might even burn itself out. I had fleeting thought. Maybe I should just save one box.
One of the men called back to me and said. “I’ll call the fire department and an ambulance. Maybe I should call the police too?” It was both a question and a statement but he took off before I could answer.
Johnson looked up at me. He was almost unconscious with the pain and he had lost a lot of blood.
“Take it easy.” I said. “Help is on the way.”
“Fred? They made us tell where you had gone. His son? They made a phone call after I told them that a Bureau agent was here.”
“They’re OK. I sent them to Toronto for a few days. They might not have a farm to come back to when they get back though. These guys get mighty worked up when they don’t get their way.” I was trying to comfort him but I suddenly realized I might have said the wrong thing.
Johnson coughed a laugh and blood came out of his mouth. “Fred was upset because my other brother sold him farm insurance. It helped get my brother past the million dollar club.”
“That means there are other bad guys in the area.” I said it almost to myself.
“I thought we were all going to die. Those men made us help them load a bunch of the boxes in the rear of their car. If you hadn’t interrupted them, I’m sure they would have killed us all. They wanted to get a lorry to pack the rest of the boxes in it. I told them there wasn’t a lorry that big in the whole city and they got mad and shot Joe to make me tell where to get one. I told them it didn’t matter how many they shot there still wasn’t a lorry that big. Then they shot Ralph just to make sure I wasn’t lying.”
“Are you sure no one is left in there?” I asked. There were a couple of men close by.
“We’re all here.” One of the men standing said.
I looked back at the entrance to the ramp leading down into the building. “I need to go back and get one of those boxes. Is there any other way out of the building?” I asked the men.
One of them said. “Sure there has to be. Fire code says so. Just past the boxes along the wall there’s a door leading up to the back ally.”
“I also need to disappear. I’m supposed to be here incognito and my cover is already blown. The police will tie me up for days with questions.” I didn’t say this to anyone in particular but a couple of the men just nodded. With a nod back I left them and walked back down the ramp.
I don’t know why I did this. I had no intention of using the money and there was every good purpose in the world to have it engulfed in fire. I had in the back of my mind that there might be some future purpose for me to have a million dollars of even counterfeit money for some unknown reason. Maybe it just might feel good to walk around knowing that I was a millionaire.
The smoke from the fire was crawling along the ceiling now and roaring up the ramp. I could feel heat from it as well. When I got to it most of the pile was engulfed except for a small section at the far end. I looked and saw that the ceiling was concrete as well but there were a lot of wooden structures and furniture such as tables, desks and cabinets. I saw a fire axe and grabbed it. Running past the fire to the far end I drove the pointed end of the axe into one of the end boxes and dragged it after me into the next room. Would I really never spend it?
I broke open the box with another couple of blows and saw the bundles of cash staring back at me. I felt a giddiness come over me. It lasted until I heard the siren. I went back to the first room and found my bag thrown where the dumpster had been. I still had the Tommy gun over my shoulder and now I took the canister off it and put it all in the bag along with my kit. I went back to the box and stuffed as much money into the bag as I could. I then took the box and threw it back into the fire. It was starting to roar.
I had a thought. The fire truck was on its way and if it got here too soon the fire would be put out. I looked around for answers to a question I hadn’t thought of before. How do I make this fire bigger now? The answer came in a can behind a desk. There was a coal oil can for filling the lamp I had thrown on the boxes to start the fire in the first place. Beside the can was a waste pail. I filled the pail and started throwing the liquid on the fire. After three throws I knew this would be an unstoppable fire shortly and I needed to get out now. The sirens stopped outside the ramp. I ran, grabbed my bag and found the door leading up the stairs to the ally.
Outside I could hear a lot of commotion around the corner. There were sirens still howling away and emergency vehicles of all types whizzed past. As I came out of the ally onto the main street people were running to the scene. A police car went by and the officer in it gave me a long stare but kept on going. A fire truck stopped beside me. Several men got out and ran around the corner. I looked down the street and could see the whole area was now blocked off. I walked the other way.
I walked for some time and came down to the harbor. It was dark and quiet. There was no chance of me getting a cab now. It was well onto the morning hour and soon the city would be waking up. I was tired. It had been a busy night. The road ended and railway tracks presented themselves at the steel mill. I strapped myself in under a boxcar and was soon fast asleep, out of sight, safe with my bag of money and machine gun.
“Then I ducked my head, and the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark” R. W. Service
A bang and shudder and the railway car rocking back and forth woke me up. It was late in the morning. William was right. I was getting old. I used to get up at dawn no mater what. The railway car was moving. I struggled to see in what direction but the view isn’t the greatest from under a boxcar. I could tell the sun was high from the shadows and we were picking up speed. There was nothing to do but wait until I could figure out a landmark to see what direction I was bound. If it was east then I could just lie tight and it would probably go back across the border to The City of Buffalo. Any other way might put me in Toronto or even Windsor eventually.
It didn’t matter. Eventually I fell back asleep again for what I figured about an hour. It was the cold that woke me up again and then it started to rain. I still had my overcoat and hat of course but the car I had chosen had a section at the front of it that was catching the rain and funneling it right at me under the car.
Some boxcars are made better than others. Most have support struts right across the bottom forming triangles to add stiffness to the car. The better ones have steel or more struts. This is the perfect hideaway for a hobo. Often it’s impossible to see anyone there from outside as the struts are high up inside. The car I had chosen was of lesser quality. The struts were steel but low and this was by design to keep the level of the floor low in the boxcar, hence more internal space for goods. I was getting drenched. It was time to move inside.
Getting inside a boxcar is not that easy from where I was. I didn’t even know if the sliding door was locked and crawling out from under a moving car requires a bit of athletic ability. Carrying a bag of money and a machine gun makes the feat more interesting. I decided that it would be better if I went to the front of the car first and then make it inside from there or if I had to, just sit on the couplings until the train slowed down and jump.
I made my way up underneath and managed to get to the front of the railway car OK. But it was going to be hard to get around the edge with my makeshift backpack on. Finally after much struggling I managed to get my arm around the coupling without falling and without putting my hand inside the grapple.
Watching all of this from the platform of the car in front were four elderly ladies complete with parasols and Sunday best outfits that had come out of the car for some air.
One of them said. “Young man, do you have any matches?”
I said. “Pardon?”
She said. “Matches.”
“Yes. I think so. Give me a minute.” I remembered that I had put the matches from lighting the lantern in my pocket. “I hope they’re not wet. What do you need them for?” I made my way up onto the coupling and finally stood across the join looking at the ladies all dressed up staring at me.
“We need to have a cigarette.” One of the ladies ventured.
I searched my pockets and produced the box still dry. “Where are you going?” I asked, as it would also tell me where I was heading. It was pretty clever of me now that I think of it.
“We’re the district ladies woman suffrage movement.” The lady produced a cigarette from a small package in her purse and passed the package to her friends.
“I thought that kind of disbanded when you got the vote. Say, aren’t you not supposed to drink or smoke?” I handed over the box across the coupling to the closest lady. She promptly lit up and passed the match to the lady next to her. After two matches used she handed the box back to me.
“Well, once in a while a little sherry and when cooped up on long train rides of course.” The lady said. “We would never do it in public of course.”
“Of course.” I answered.
“Would you like one?”
“No thank you madam. I never got the habit.” Where was this train going?
“What were you doing under the train?” Another lady asked.
“I was checking for hobos madam.”
“You obviously didn’t find any.” The fourth lady answered with a bit of a giggle.
It was becoming apparent that these ladies were all slightly sloshed. I didn’t think that is was from just sherry either.
“Are you from the United States District Movement?” I asked.
“Why yes. We’re on our way home after visiting the district friends here. How did you know?” Lady number one asked.
I pulled out my badge. “Agent Brown of the Bureau Of Investigation Madam. It’s my business to know.”
“Oh my-gosh.” Said another one of the ladies. “You won’t tell the other ladies inside will you?”
“Not my business to do so madam.” I was sounding very official. “Say, do you know how long before we get into Buffalo?”
“One O’clock the conductor said.” Answered the first lady. “Say, what’s in the bag?” referring to my makeshift backpack.
“I keep my kit, bedroll and machinegun there madam.” I answered. “Always ready as they say.”
The ladies all giggled again and I thought that now would be a good time to leave. “Say, where is the conductor? I should talk with him.” Nothing could be further from the truth.
“Oh he went back to the caboose with those two fancy pants rude men.”
“Good riddance,” her friend added.
The ladies wanted to talk. I guessed that it goes with sherry and cigarettes. I let them go on. I wasn’t going anywhere. I was out of the rain now and it was starting to let up even. Occasionally the sun tried to break thought the clouds.
“I think they’re up to drinking something stronger than sherry.” Another of the ladies continued. “It’s probably what makes them all so rude. They should join our movement. Then their wives would make sure they had better manners. Don’t you think so Mr. Bureau man?”
“Absolutely madam. I never touch the stuff myself. I need to stay sharp at all times and it is Bureau policy to be polite at all times, even in the face of extreme adversity.”
“You seem like such a nice young man. What’s your name again? I’d like to write a letter to your boss and tell him what a nice man you’ve been.”
“Agent Brown madam.” I replied.
The train went around a long curve. From around the corner between the cars I could see that we were near the front and all the cars behind were freight cars except for a couple of flatcars with machinery on them. It looked like there were about twenty cars in all, which was normal. On the other side of the train I could see bits of water, which I assumed was Lake Ontario. We were now heading south towards Fort Erie and the bridge to the City of Buffalo.
“Do any of you know the time? You say we get into The City of Buffalo at one O’clock?” I asked.
“It’s coming up to twelve thirty.” One of the ladies had a wristwatch. She had to lift her glasses to read it.
“Thanks, Say, this is a Pullman car isn’t it? I thought they only used them down south.” I observed.
“Our group reserves it once a month for our sufferance business trip.” One of the ladies spoke up. “We’re the only passengers on board. Normally this is just a freight train. That’s why we were disturbed when those two rude men tried to crash our car.”
“If they’d just been polite and asked we would have said sure you can ride in our car. But they just walked in and pulled out a bottle of moonshine. The nerve. Of course we called the conductor right away even before we got moving.”
“It’s lucky we found a conductor. Normally we don’t have one, as we’re the only passengers in our own car.”
These ladies were slurring their words a bit and rambling on but it wouldn’t be long before I was back across the border.
“So what were these two men doing traveling on a freight car if they weren’t paying passengers?” I asked just to keep the conversation going.
“Oh they’re traveling with their car. I saw them load it on the boxcar just in front of the caboose. They’re supposed to stay with it but the conductor invited them back to the caboose.” One of the ladies offered. She butted her cigarette on the floor of the car and kicked it over the edge.
“I’ll bet they offered the conductor some of that foul liquor they had.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me a bit madam.” I offered. “Say what kind of a car was it? Did you see?”
“It was a Cadillac.” One of the ladies said.
“No dear, it was a Packard. It was a shiny black Packard. My father had one.” Another of the ladies said. “They said they were painting it in Hamilton.”
“Ladies. It’s been a pleasure talking with you.” I said.
I pulled my makeshift backpack around and undid it. Out of it I pulled the Tommy gun and the canister. Clicking the canister in the slot of the machine gun I said to the ladies. “You should go inside now. I have to finish my inspection of this train for stray hobos.”
“Isn’t that a little severe for hobos?” one of the ladies said.
“We just like to throw a scare into them. It keeps them from coming back.” I said to the four now wide-eyed ladies as I turned and crawled up to the top of the boxcar behind me.
The rain stopped and the sun was trying to break through. The train had passed through several little towns but not stopped. I saw we were going through Welland and it didn’t look as if we were going to stop here either in spite of it being a major junction.
I slung the Tommy gun over my shoulder and started walking to the back of the train checking first to see if there was anything in front coming up soon. I dropped down twice to travel along a flatcar and then finally the last flatcar was just before the last boxcar and then the caboose.
Looking along the side of the boxcar I could see that the sliding door was closed. The latch was clasped but there was no padlock. I made my way along the top and hung over the side far enough to reach the arm of the clasp and swung it over. Climbing back up, I pushed the door open from the top and then swung down again hanging and eventually dropped right into the boxcar. I looked around outside first to see if anyone passing by had seen me. Turning, I could see the Packard right in front of me. There were a couple of holes from a forty-five in the back. On the back seat was a blanket that I pulled back to reveal six boxes neatly stacked.
I opened the trunk and found two Tommy guns there with two extra canisters of ammunition. I put one in my bag and exchanged the other for mine on the gun. It was almost empty. Opening the back door I found two luggage packs. Opening them revealed nothing but some extra clothes and their kits.
I opened the gas tank and stuffed a shirt down it letting it soak. Finding a small tool kit for changing tires I opened the boxes and spread the money out all over the front seats and onto the floor of the car. When the shirt was soaked I laid it over the money and opened another box and did the same over the shirt. I grabbed another shirt and stuck it in the gas tank as well. This was going to be fun. It took me several minutes to do six shirts and open six boxes. I stuck another shirt in the tank and then pulled it out and inserted it in the other direction. Some of the wood from the boxes I laid over the money as well. I put the rest under the gas tank and another soaked shirt over it. I lit the shirt stuffed in the gas tank. The fire caught quickly and soon the car was engulfed. I was getting better at building a fire and logged in my memory that gasoline is better than coal oil.
I made my way out of the boxcar without closing the door. Back up on the roof I could see we were now in Fort Erie and about to cross over the bridge to the City Of Buffalo. Crossing over the coupling to the flatbed car I waited.
The smoke was really pouring out of the boxcar now and I could see trickles of flames breaking through the smoke. The boxcar itself had caught on fire. Of course some gasoline spilled on the wooden floor of the boxcar might have had something to do with it. I heard a bullet fire inside the boxcar. This was now not a safe place to be. Several muffled shots rang out.
As we approached the bridge I leaned down and started undoing the trailing cars. This isn’t easy when a train is in motion but after some effort I disconnected the lines and pulled the pin from the main grapple as the cars bounced against each other. Slowly the boxcar and the caboose fell back as we started across the bridge. I made my way forward and up and over the next couple of boxcars. Looking back from between the cars I could see the trailing boxcar was now engulfed in flames as it started to go over the bridge.
From the caboose I could see men climbing towards the back and one man was franticly twisting the wheel that engaged the manual brake. Slowly the two cars stopped on the bridge. One was completely on fire and four men stepped onto the tracks and made there way back to the Canadian side looking back occasionally. I slid under the boxcar and waited to cross into the City of Buffalo.
* * *
A few hours later I was back in my hotel having a late lunch at the hotel restaurant. I had a shower, packed my things and checked out. I took a paid train ride back to then town and enjoyed staying inside the car passing the time reading a crime magazine that I had purchased at a nearby tobacco shop. I also purchased a flying magazine for William and book on gardening for Miss Abernathy as well. I was feeling quite satisfied with myself.
Following a custom trained as a hobo I got off before the station near the rear at the leeward side of the train from the station so no one could see me get off. I didn’t need to. No one knew I was coming and or when I was if they did. Besides I was carrying a machine gun and a lot of money that I wanted to hide before I saw anyone.
I saw William get up from under a tree a few hundred yards away. He had set himself up with his back to a fence so anyone coming from behind would have to climb over it to get to him. Glancing farther down the fence I saw he had set up an old can precariously on one of the wires so that anyone climbing it would make it fall. The boy was learning. He made his way toward me.
After our usual greeting William spoke up. “Glad I caught you before you got into the station. Smith is there, waiting for you. I think he’s got a warrant for your arrest. Sheriff’s dead. Shot up by where Thurston’s hut is. I heard he went up there with his bloodhound looking for the money. Dog’s dead too. They found his car still on the road yesterday. Doctor in from the big city is up there today checking over the body and the crime scene.”
“Thanks. I have a good alibi. I was with a federal agent when the crime occurred but I guess that won’t make any difference to Smith. Where was Brown when all this happened? Better still, where is he now?” I answered while pulling out some stuff from my bag. “How’d they know I would be on the train?”
“Brown’s with Smith now but I don’t know where he was before. Don’t know. I didn’t tell anyone and I’m sure Miss Abernathy didn’t. Did you have any luck in the big city?” William asked.
“I found the money and burned it. There are now three more dead men but I burned the fancy pants clothes and their car as well. The two bad guys got away though. I’ll tell you the rest later when there’s time. What are you reading?”
“High school final tests are this coming month.” William showed a book on algebra.
“I got you a magazine on flying.” And handed it to him.
Accepting gratefully William continued. “Agent Smith asked me a lot of questions about you. I played dumb. Then he went and talked with the reverend for a bit. Then he went and talked with Miss Abernathy for a bit. I asked her what they talked about but she played dumb with me but then she spent a lot of time on the phone long distance.”
“I got her a book on flowers. Can you give it to her but don’t let anyone know I’m back other than her or Jim.
“Where you going and what are you going to do? William asked.
“Well first, I’m going to check out the crime scene. Those guys probably missed and then messed up any clue that might be there. I’ll be able to do it better knowing that Smith and Brown are here.”
“They won’t be for long. The train is in now. The next one’s not until later tonight. They might wait for it but they don’t seem to be the waiting type.”
“Good point but I’ll be quick. With luck those other guys will have left by now. They didn’t take much time the first time they were here.”
We waved goodbye to each other. I thanked William for waiting for me and we both set off in different directions. As I was walking away I had an idea and called him back. Reaching into my backpack I pulled out the list.
“Can you make a couple of copies of this and mail one to me and one to Wallis in Washington?”
William said sure and took the list and we set off again.
I changed my mind and decided I wanted to get rid of my bag of money and the machine gun. I headed back to Georges.
Inside I quickly put the bag, less my kit in behind the wall, pulled out the shotgun and a package of shells. I slipped off my overcoat, as it was getting hot. The shotgun went under the jacket nicely and wasn’t as heavy and the extra shells went into the pocket nicely as well. I didn’t really need the shotgun but I had a lot of bullets thrown at me lately and I felt better with it.
As I started towards the door someone knocked on it from outside. I opened it and there was Agent Wallis.
“I watched William take off towards the station. When he came back I figured you were back too.”
I went out the door without inviting him in. “Come on. You can drive me to where the sheriff was shot. I’ll fill you in on my trip as we go.” I closed the door behind me.
On the way I told him everything except that I now had a bag of money.
“Good idea about mailing the list. Mr. X having it as well gives me relief. I’ll bet he’s already moving on it. I have a feeling that the Bureau has been compromised. My boss said so as well. He checked up on Agent Smith. Did you know that Miss Abernathy was checking up on him as well? My boss got a request from one of her relatives. Apparently she has some very powerful friends.” Agent Wallis said as he drove the Model A North.
“She did? I didn’t ask her to.” I thought about it for some time. “Maybe she was trying to help me. She did help William and I with the newspaper ads.”
“Agent Brown appeared from out of nowhere. Of course, he’s Smith’s man and obviously new but he has no history at all. There isn’t even a file on him until the Bureau hired him a little while ago. Even new recruits have something of their past in their file.” Agent Wallis turned left onto the gravel road. “What are we looking for at the sheriff’s death site? I mean, anything in particular?”
“The standard stuff, like who killed him.” I shifted the shotgun, as the seats were small.
“You like to be prepared.” Agent Wallis remarked.
“The sheriff had a gun.” I quipped back.
“And he wasn’t shot in the back” Agent Wallis commented.
We arrived and two men were loading the body in the back of a truck. I got out and requested that I be allowed to look at it. They objected and I was about to pull out my badge or more correctly Agent Brown’s badge when Agent Wallis pulled his out. I forgot that I hadn’t told him about stealing Agent Brown’s badge. There was no need to tell him now. At the site of Agent Wallis’s badge they were more cooperative.
They had him wrapped in a blanket and unrolled it for us. There was a single hole in his head.
“Anything on him?” I asked.
One of the men produced a small box. “His gun, badge and wallet.” He handed it to me.
“Gun hasn’t been fired.” I said to Agent Wallis.
“What about the dog?” Agent Wallis asked.
The same man answered. He seemed to be in charge and was definitely more competent than the person that had done the previous crime scene earlier. “Single shot as well.” He opened up the blanket on the back of the pickup. “Looks like a smaller caliber.” I’ll have to check but I think a forty-five made the hole in the sheriff. The dog’s maybe been shot with a nine-millimeter or 7.65. I don’t want to dig it out here. I’ll phone you later if you give me your number.”
Agent Wallis gave it to him. “See anything else?”
“Looks like the sheriff was shot close up. There is some powder residue on his face and shirt.” The man continued. “Death was a good thirty six hours ago. Rigor mortis has subsided. It was cold last night and the body was in the shade during the day. If I had been called earlier I could have narrowed it down more. I’ll have to check my charts back at the office but I think the dog was shot at the same time. Also, as I remember .38 caliber is the same size as a nine millimeter but the weight’s different.”
“Thanks. We know how you feel. We’re just getting here now.” Agent Wallis said. “Find anything at the scene?”
“No, but it’s not my department. I’m just the coroner. We tried not to disturb anything as much as possible and put flags where the sheriff was and the dog of course. There are some photos. I’ll make copies for you.”
We thanked the two men and they drove off.
“You looking to find anything in particular?” Agent Wallis said as we climbed down from the raised gravel road and proceeded to the path leading to where Thurston had once lived.
“Not really, but I’m sure that the two bad guys that did the deed to the bull weren’t here as I saw them in Canada”.
“Actually, we don’t really know that. We just assumed it.” Agent Wallis followed me down the trail.
“Good point, but I’m still assuming it. What we have though is two more guys that are involved in this thing and the evidence is leading to Smith and Brown. One has a 9-millimeter Luger and I’ll bet the other, Smith has a forty-five.”
“The Tommy gun is a forty-five as well.” Agent Wallis said.
“Yes, but it was a single shot to the head close up. You saw how the sub machine-gun fires. It would be almost impossible to do it with that gun. I think it was execution style and then the dog got mad and the other guy shot it. What is still a mystery is what the sheriff thought he might find and why the guys that shot him followed him or went with him.” I stopped as we came upon the camp.
“Wow. This is a better setup than our hotel.” Agent Wallis started examining the hut.
It was just as I left it. I checked the hidden section under the cot. It was intact and still empty.
Agent Wallis whistled again. “Pretty elaborate for a couple of Mexican hobos.”
“Just one lived here. He was in the Great war.” I answered.
“So you did know him from before?”
“Yes.” I answered slowly. “I haven’t seen him in years. We were both in a German prison together. He was a scrounger.”
“There’s a tin smoke hut over here. I’m sure a bloodhound would gravitate towards that.” Agent Wallis looked it over. “Looks like a double boiler type. Nice craftsmanship. Are you sure this guy wasn’t a boy scout as well?”
“He was crafty and resourceful. I saw him make things out of the most improbable articles.”
“If I was going to thwart a dog’s nose that’s where I’d put a hideaway. The smoke hut would draw the dog away from the compartment under the cot as well.” Agent Wallis started taking apart the smokehouse.
Finally I had to help as the steel housing about three feet in diameter was attached to a cement base. Together we picked it up and moved it over it over.
“You know this is a pretty elaborate base for a tin smoker that probably wouldn’t do a half dozen fish.” I said.
“That’s what I thought.” Agent Wallis said. “I’ve never smoked anything but as I remember it takes a long smoldering fire heating wet hickory or something. Building fires on concrete isn’t as good as on gravel and there’s lot of gravel available back on the road. Let’s see if there’s anything under the concrete. We need a steel pole or log or something for leverage.” The agent went off looking as I looked closer at what we had uncovered.
“There seems to be notches in the surface for the legs of the smoker.” I said out loud as I brushed some of the old charcoal away off the top of the concrete slab. “He poured it into a form as well. The sides are smooth and round.”
I grabbed some branches and began brushing away all of the old fire remains from around the concrete form.
“It looks like there’s a ring around the slab like two pieces joined together. We need something like a knife or bar. Maybe we can pry them apart.”
I was still brushing away all around the slab when Agent Wallis came by with his jack knife. “Will this do?” He handed it to me.
I slipped the knife into the edge of the slot between the slabs and it moved ever so slightly.
“It’s working but we’re going to have to get some other things to put under it as we go around the sides to lift it up.”
Agent Wallis found several flat pieces of metal objects as I worked them into and around the concrete to expose what now was looking like a lid. Eventually we got a log under it and popped it over and off a couple of steel dowels. What was exposed underneath was a floor safe just like George had except that it was here in the middle of the woods. There was even a ring cut into the surface all around with a drain hole to keep away rainwater.
“Your Mexican friend is a man of many talents.” Agent Wallis said. “It’s hard to see how deep this is but it’s got to be at least a few feet down. It must weigh over a thousand pounds.
“It’s a one ton safe. George has one, and your right; my friend is a man of many talents. I never even thought that this could be here. I wonder if the sheriff knew of it.” I sat back and looked at it in disbelief.
“Did your friend and the sheriff know each other?” Agent Wallis sat down and looked at it as well.
“I don’t know. But they both were in the same neighborhood of course for at least a few years. Their paths must have crossed.”
“You’re the engineer. Can you get it open? Agent Wallis asked.
“The engineer in me might get it open after drilling several holes in it but the hobo in me might be better equipped. I need a piece of steel pipe about two feet long.”
Agent Wallis got up, walked around and shortly came back with a short piece of pipe that might have been part of plumbing in some abandoned building. “Will this do?”
“Perfect.” I put one end to my ear and the other to the concrete around the safe and turned the dial. Yes, I could hear the dials clicks magnified as it picked up the next ring. “This might take several tries as I don’t do this often and it takes practice.”
Agent Wallis nodded and left me to my work. After a bit he got up and started to examine the site again to see if there was anything else we might have missed. After a while he came back and held up in front of me two shell casings, one from a forty-five and the other from a nine millimeter. He didn’t talk and I didn’t answer as talking changes your auditory sensibility.
After about half an hour I finally got it and the safe clicked open. I lifted the assembly clear of the base and reached deep down inside. I pulled out a satchel and opened it up.
“Looks like a bunch of passports.” I thumbed through them. “Thirteen in all.” I handed half to Agent Wallis and started looking through them. “They all appear to be German.”
“They’re currant.” Agent Wallis replied. “Oh, Oh. Look at this.” He handed one back to me.
“It’s Agent Smith.” I exclaimed. “Only here it’s Mr. Schmitt. It seems he was born in Germany.”
“I wonder what his Bureau file says as to his birth place.” Agent Wallis was still reading intensely. “This guy is an agent with the Bureau as well. I’ve seen him at the Washington office. That’s not his name though.”
“I don’t recognize any of these other names but they are all currant and all German.” The last one jumped out at me. “Here’s Agent Brown. Only here he’s Hans Svelt.”
“The question is are they agents for the United States government acting as spies in Germany or are they spies for Germany infiltrating the United States?” Agent Wallis was sitting down again.
We traded piles of passports and went through them all again.
“If they shot the sheriff then that question’s pretty much answered.” I answered in my thinking out loud voice.
Agent Wallis said. “How did your friend get these?”
“Did the sheriff know that he had them here?” I answered back. “And to top it off, how did Agent Smith and Brown know that the sheriff knew of what was here?”
“Do you have a camera?” Agent Wallis said. “I’d like to photograph these and make a couple of prints.”
“Back in town. Jim has a good one and there’s a darkroom in back of Georges. He has a share of Kodak.”
“Lets put the safe and smoker back together so no one knows we have this stuff until they need to know.” We got to work.
* * *
Back in town it was getting dark and I wanted to check on William but getting the passports photographed seemed to take priority. I wanted to talk with Jim as well about how well he knew the sheriff and whether Thurston and the sheriff might know each other.
Jim was coming back from the bakery with a box of sticky buns when we arrived at the church. Perfect. Jim got out his camera while Agent Wallis and I told him what had happened and what we found as I got the coffee percolator started. Jim set up a light and had thirteen shots of each passport lain on the table before the coffee was done. He rewound the exposed role and handed it to me just as the pot started to perk. I took off my coat and put the shotgun down beside the chair and we dug into the sticky buns.
Jim started. "Maybe we can check at the telephone exchange and see if any calls came in from outside the country to the sheriff’s office lately.”
“Now that might start to make sense. I’m sure Agent Smith has a tap on the sheriff’s phone set up in the hotel. There are three phones up in his room and I don’t even have a phone in mine. I have to use the one at the front desk. There are wires leading over to the exchange which is the next building.”
“Why would anyone want to tap the sheriff’s phone? If there is anyone in my mind that didn’t know what was going on it had to be the sheriff. He’s known for having gone fishing when any police work has to be done.” I said.
Jim laughed. “Yes, your right but the sheriff’s also known as the local gossip. If anything’s going on, he’s on the phone talking about it to someone.”
“You say that Agent Smith has three lines tapped? I can’t even imagine who else he would tap.” I said out load.
“There are two guys that know everything going on in this town. One’s your boss George and the other is his nibs, Joe Watts. Jim spoke up.
“Oh my-gosh. I’ve talked with Mr. Watts over the phone several times.” I said. “They know everything I said to him.”
“That’s how he knew you would be looking in the City of Buffalo for the bad guys probably.” Agent Wallis said thoughtfully.
“I wonder if earlier the bull in the yard that died phoned Mr. Watts.” Jim asked.
We all looked thoughtfully at each other for a minute.
“When you phoned your boss in Washington did you use the phone in the hotel?” I asked.
“Once.” Agent Wallis replied. “But I don’t think Agent Smith was there at the time. The other time I used the library, oh and once I used the phone in our office in the City Of Buffalo.”
“Why don’t you use Jim’s phone here and call these names in to your boss and in the meantime I’ll go back and develop the photos. I’d like to send a set of photos to Mr. X as well. Maybe he has a post office box or something.”
“Good idea.” Agent Smith said. “As soon as I’m done I’ll send these to Washington on the bus special delivery though. They’re too hot to keep here and I want my boss to see if the rest of these guys are agents as well. Do you mind if I use your phone Jim?”
Jim and I devoured sticky buns while Agent Wallis went through the whole discourse on the phone. His boss had Agent Wallis read all the names of the names on the passports as well as all the additional information on each one. Fifteen minutes later he said goodbye and hung up.
He looked at me and smiled and then held up his hand before I could ask anything. He phoned the hotel and told Agent Barnes to come over for some sticky buns if he wasn’t doing anything. He then set the phone down on the desk and came over to our table, very serious and somber.
“Barnes is on his way over.” He said and then looked at me. “My boss says there is enough evidence here for at least an investigation. There may be enough for a charge of treason. He’s getting a warrant for Agent Smith’s arrest and Agent Brown’s as well. Barnes and I are directed to arrest them both and bring them back to Washington.”
“Sounds like your boss has a good grasp of what’s going on.” Jim said. “But it might be a formidable task bringing these two guys in.”
“Well, I’m looking for help and my boss has been most accommodating at least from far away.” Agent Wallis said.
“What do you mean?” Jim asked. “You know that both of us will help.”
“Well, thanks Jim but official policy doesn’t allow us to enlist the aid of ministers.”
“Well, you know I’ll help. It’s in my best interest anyway.” I volunteered.
“I was hoping you’d say that.” Agent Wallis answered. “But my boss thinks you should do it in a more official capacity.”
I looked at him questioningly.
“He’s authorized me to swear you in as a temporary agent of the Bureau.” Agent Wallis sat back to watch my reaction. Jim sat back also.
I guess I didn’t react at all. I had this vision in the back of my head that I wanted to be a private eye. I was actually living it as well. I had a client. The client was even paying me and here was a new opportunity in a different direction that I had not even envisioned. “Oh.” I said.
“It is temporary but all jobs with the bureau start that way.” Agent Wallis went on. He waved Agent Barnes to the table as he came in. “And you’ll have to go through training later.”
Agent Barnes sat down mystified as to what was going on but grabbed a sticky bun in one hand and stuck the other out over the table. “Welcome to the department.” He then turned to Agent Wallis and said. “What’s up? Why the distress code?”
Turning to Jim and me Agent Wallis said. “We have a distress code that we use over the phone or wherever we don’t want anyone to know something. It’s simply giving the wrong time by forty five minutes.”
“So I brought Betsy and Gertrude.” Agent Barnes held up two shotguns and handed one to Agent Wallis.
Agent Wallis asked Agent Barnes. “Do you know where Smith and Brown are?”
“They’re not in their room but I did get a funny alert from head office about Agent Brown. It seems he’s in the news. Apparently he saved several people in some kind of gangland shooting spree in a post office in Hamilton Ontario. The mayor there wants to send the Bureau some kind of commendation.”
“You wouldn’t know anything about that now would you Agent Jackson?” Agent Wallis said.
I pulled out the badge and ID from my jacket and held it up for all to see.
“You might want to hide that.” Agent Barnes said. “You see there’s another news report about an Agent Brown setting fire to one of the T. H. & B’s boxcars. Some ladies from a temperance movement identified you. They’re looking for compensation for damage.”
“The car started on fire all by itself and took out the boxcar. I saved the entire train from being consumed by disconnecting it.” I said. It was partly true.
“That makes a good story for us to tell the agency later.” Agent Wallis said. He pulled out the passports and showed them to Agent Barnes. “What do you think of these?” He asked. “Do you know any of these guys? You’re newer to the agency than me. Did any of these guys go through training with you?”
Agent Barnes had been standing getting a coffee and now sat down slowly. He pulled out Agent Smith’s and Browns passports quickly and three others. “These three aren’t who the passports say they are. This guy’s in Washington as a clerk and these two I’ve seen in the field in New York City.”
“And I know this one as an agent in Washington as well. I have to make another call into the office if you don’t mind Jim.”
Jim nodded OK and Agent Wallis was on the phone again for some time as we filled in Agent Barnes on what had happened.
When he was off the phone Agent Wallis picked up the passports and put them back in the pouch as he sat down. “That confirms it. One of the men Agent Barnes knows, my boss knows as well. There is no way he was brought on the force with any knowledge of prior German heritage. He’s issuing a warrant for all of the men here.” He held up the passports.
“I think we should get over to the bus station and get these on their way.” Agent Barnes said.
We all got up to leave.
“Jim, why don’t you come back with me and we’ll get at these.” I held up the roll and then put it back in my pocket. Adjusting my shotgun I led the way to the front of the church.
Agent Wallis and Barnes, my new compatriots, followed Jim and I out the heavy front door and started down the steps to the walkway.
“Hold it right there!” An order in a loud deep voice commanded. “Hands up and keep them in sight. No sudden moves!” The voice continued.
A gun was stuck in my back hard and another pulled at the shotgun hanging from its shoulder strap. There were several men. I counted seven.
Agent Smith came into the light. “Get all their guns. Take them back inside.”
Agent Brown came up close and in my face. “You’ve been a lot of trouble.” He went through my jacket and pulled out his badge and ID. “I thought so.” He then hit me below the stomach hard with the point of his pistol. I was surprised the gun didn’t go off. I went down, the wind knocked out of me. He grabbed me by my overcoat and threw me towards the door with one hand. The other calmly was kept pointed at the others while men I had not seen before were unarming them. I then recognized one of the men from the passports, as he got close. Agent Brown then kicked me into the side of the door and then again to send me sprawling into the church.
I was almost blacking out but forced myself to keep operational. Agent Brown recognized this and pistol-whipped me for sport on the side of the head. I had seen this in the prison camps. It was designed to hurt and not send anyone into unconsciousness.
Agent Smith saw it and said. “Enough. I don’t need more dead bodies. Get some rope and tie them up.”
I then saw the two men I had confronted in the post office and later on the train. One of them recognized me and came over close.
“This is the one that burned the money.” He said to Agent Smith.
“Never mind. You’ve still been paid well, we still have resources and there’ll be more money later. It’s time to get out of here and start over. If I know Agent Wallis’s boss well this place will be swarming with agents in a few hours.” Agent Smith looked around.
Then I saw Wendy. She had tape over her mouth and another huge man had brought her into the church. Her hands were behind her, surly bound and there was a strained look on her face. She had been roughed up. The man went to put her in the pile of us as we were being bound with rope but Agent Smith stopped him.
“Not her. She’s coming with us.” He then looked at me and then to Agent Wallis to make sure we were listening. “Just in case we need some leverage later. Human bodies make very good shields.”
Agent Wallis was covered in blood. I was wondering if I was as well.
“When you get free later we handcuffed the boy to a railing over at the library.” Agent Smith said to me. “Feisty little kid. He took a hit when we grabbed the girl. He’ll be all right though. We don’t kill little boys.”
“Just old men.” I answered. It got me another kick with Agent Browns foot.
* * *
A short while later I woke up. “I guess I passed out for a bit.” I shifted and saw we were all still bound up very tight with more than a lot of rope. “Gee Jim, where’d you get all this rope?”
“I was saving it for a church sale.” Jim was groggy. He’d been hit too.
Agent Wallis was conscious but Agent Barnes was lying face down in a lot of blood.
“Is he all right?” I asked both Jim and Agent Wallis.
Agent Wallis answered. “He’s still breathing but I think he’s in a bad way. I can’t even move to see him better. I tried yelling earlier and Jim did too but to no avail.”
“How long has it been since they left?” I asked again.
“It has to have been at least half an hour.” Jim answered. “But I can’t see the clock and time gets distorted when you’re having so much fun. I don’t think anyone’s going to come tonight. I don’t even have any appointments here in the morning. I have no idea how long it will be until someone finds us.”
“William will be here shortly.” I offered.
“He’s handcuffed over at the library.” Agent Wallis said. “And he’s unconscious. I heard them say so as you went under.’
“Yes. I heard them too. When he wakes up he’ll come and find us.” I said and then noticed my voice was slurred. I glanced down and saw a lot of blood on my chest. I tried to move and found I was held very fast. “Can either of you move?”
“No. We’re all tied to different sections of the church pillars.” Jim offered. They made sure we were far enough away from each other so we couldn’t untie each other.”
“They didn’t get my handgun. It’s still in the holster in the back of me but I can’t reach it. I can’t tell if I still have the film.”
“They did a good job of it. It’s just as well as if they thought we could come after them they would have shot us all I’m sure.” Agent Wallis said.
“Do I look as bad as I sound?” I asked. “I don’t seem to be articulating as well as I normally do.”
Jim twisted to get a look at me. “I don’t see anything that a hundred bandages won’t fix. Your upper lip is split and your lower is all swelled up. I wouldn’t try to kiss Miss Abernathy without a shave and shower though.”
“Gosh, we have to get out of here.” I was reminded that they had her. “I counted eight. Was that what you got?”
“Yes, although there might have been others outside. That makes for at least two cars. Someone might have been staying with the cars while this was going on in here.” Agent Wallis concluded.
“Are you guys crazy?” Jim said. “They have all the guns and they’re machine guns and your shotguns as well and there are eight of them with at least an hours start now and we don’t even know where they’re going. And all you have is your pistol and two other guys and maybe my shotgun if they didn’t find it.”
Agent Wallis looked over at me and then said to Jim. “He’s in love with the girl. We have to go after them!”
“Well we’re not going to be able to until we get out of these ropes and that won’t be for a very long time. By then the other agents may be here and they’ll be long gone.” Jim finished.
“I think they’ll go to Canada. They’ll probably take the train and my machine gun is in George’s office.” I countered.
“And just how are you going to catch up with them?” Jim asked.
“You and Agent Wallis are going to get Miss Abernathy’s car and head to the City of Buffalo. It’s a lot faster than anything around here. If all the town’s phones aren’t out you might try to contact the office there. William and I will commandeer Mr. Watts’s airplane and see if we can head them off.
“Jim twisted around again. “J.J. you’re not thinking clearly. If they took the train they’re already in the City Of Buffalo by now and are about to cross over the Niagara River.”
“We can tell if they took the train if they left two cars at the station.” Agent Wallis said.
“It won’t make any difference. By next morning they’ll be long gone. Jim said.
“Minister Jim. You’re the one that’s supposed to propagate a little faith in times of trouble. William will be here shortly.” I said.
“He’s handcuffed over at…”
Jim stopped as William ran in.
“It’s about time.” I said.
William said. “Sorry. I was out cold. How long has it been? They got Miss Abernathy. Where’s a knife?” He looked at Jim. “How come they didn’t put gags over your mouths?”
“About an hour. Knifes’ in the kitchen.” Jim said. “How’d you get loose?” Jim asked to William’s back as he sped off not answering.
After a minute William came back with several knives and we were free in short order. Agent Barnes was hurt bad and barely breathing. William rolled him over and Agent Barnes moaned.
“I took a course in lock smithing. Handcuffs are easy if you practice.” William started to get Agent Barnes clothes loose and put a pressure wad over blood coming out of his shoulder.
“Jim, you’ll have to stay with him until we can get him medical help. I’ll go get the doctor and see if I can make a phone call on the way back.” Agent Wallis justifiably had priorities with his partner.
“William said. “Powers out on the other side of the street. So nothing’s working here. The phone at the station is on the railway line though and doesn’t go through the exchange so it may work.
I handed Agent Wallis my gun. “It’s a gift so I’d like it back some time in the near future.”
Agent Wallis said. “Wait a minute. Keep your gun. There’s Jim’s shotgun here. Go. I’ll see if I can catch up to you.
Jim said. “Wait a minute. Here’s a thought. They must have something set up. There are at least eight men and a woman with tape across her mouth and machine guns and a shotgun. This is a traveling circus. A lot of people will see them. They must have their own railway car if that’s how they’re traveling.”
“Good thinking Jim. Let’s go William.”
Agent Wallis was already out the door with Jim’s shotgun in hand. He ran up the street to where the doctor lived. He would be a good guy to have for a partner I thought.
William and I ran up to George’s so I could get the machine gun. While I was in there, William went into the hardware part of the complex and came back with a bag and a smile on his face.
“What’s in there?” I asked.
“Dynamite.” He answered.
“I like the way you think.” I said. “Let’s go.”
We went outside and I was thinking George’s tow truck might be there but it wasn’t. I scanned the street for transportation and cabby drove up with the window down to where we were standing. There was no hiding the machine gun and as he got closer he must have seen my face and then Williams.
He simply said, “What’s up?” in a very casual voice.
“Cabby, we need to get to Mr. Watts airplane fast.” The machine gun in my hand had to tell of the urgency. Maybe the blood on my face made it graphic urgency.
“Get in.” was all I heard him say. He didn’t even ask any questions. Gee, I liked this guy. His cab even had a clean fresh scent. Funny the things you think about when there’s a boy with dynamite beside you and you’re checking the canister of a Thompson sub machine gun while on the way to save the girl and shoot the bad guys.
William said casually. “So, I’m going to land you on the moving train, if we find it, like some kind of barnstormer and all this in the dark.”
“Yes, I guess that’s about it. I haven’t really thought it all the way through. It’s just I want to be sure that I tried everything when I wake up some morning in the distant future. Are you up for this? I kind of dragged you here.”
“Oh yes!” William said. “You couldn’t stop me. It’s just that you know of course that I haven’t even soloed in an airplane yet.
“We’ll set up some lights for you to land before we take off. Landing in the dark is a little harder. Actually the hardest thing is to find the place to land in the dark. If you have to land on a road somewhere it’s OK. We can get it back later.”
William said, “My high school exam is tomorrow. It’s a good thing I did all my studying before.”
Cabby spoke up for the first time. “I can wait for you Master William. I can even set up some lights to help you land and then drive you right to the school in the morning.”
“Thanks Cabby. I’ll take you up on that and wash your cab later.”
I was glad to have Cabby back up William’s landing. It’s hard to land a plane at night even with experience. “Even if you just shine the headlights of your cab down the field it makes a big difference. We used to do that in France.” I volunteered.
Within minutes of getting to the hanger William and I were in the air. I said to Cabby as we were taking off. “If Mr. Watts shows up tell him the Bureau has officially commandeered his aircraft.”
Cabby called back. “Nothing would please me more!”
We circled once as we climbed and I headed over to the tracks and north along them at more than normal cruising speed. It was hard to see the dials and I said to William. “Make a note. Install light to see instruments at night.” Over the yard we saw two cars parked near the tracks. Several men were standing around.
“Maybe we should install a head light as well?” He answered.
We both were making witty remarks to keep our mind off Miss Abernathy. What we were doing was risky and had little chance of success and to top it off I wasn’t one hundred percent sure just what I was going to do. William had picked up on me dropping on to the moving train from the airplane. I had never seen it done and William confessed that he hadn’t either. He had seen a photo of it somewhere in a book though, so it must be possible.
We were running wide open and I caught the engine temperature gauge heading towards the end of its travel. I pointed it to William and he backed off the throttle a little and the needle stopped climbing. We were almost into Buffalo before we saw the train.
“I don’t think it’s going to stop at the station.” William said. It doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Are they not supposed to stop before crossing over the border?”
“Yes. I expect they’ve taken over the train. There are a lot of men with guns and there’s no telling what’s on their mind. They might even be somewhat panicky as the money’s gone and they know they’ve been found out. For the life of me I can’t see any reason for them to have taken Miss Abernathy. She has to be a deficit to any sane criminal mind.” I was rambling on out load.
“You forget that they may be thinking they are fighting for a cause. They’re from another country and in the last war we were the enemy.” William said bringing me down to earth.
“You know, I was thinking that they should have just taken the cars to the border and crossed over on the Peace Bridge.” I was thinking out load again. “Why did they take the train?”
“Maybe they met some of their friends on the train and the two cars weren’t enough for all of them.” William was being too cheerful with his statements.
“You have a point. After they make a run through the Buffalo station someone is going to make a phone call to authorities on the other side. They have to know that.
“There might be some cars on the Canadian side to take them all away!” William exclaimed.
“Good thing you brought the dynamite.” I said. “How am I supposed to light it?”
“You’re not. I’m going to bomb the train as a diversion while you infiltrate the cars and get Miss Abernathy out. I brought some matches and a couple of cigars.” With that William took out one from his bag and stuck it in his mouth.
“Good thing I brought the machine gun. I think we’re only outnumbered and out gunned by thirty to one.”
“That’s thirty to two!” William corrected.
“I was thinking there are sixty people on that train.” I re-corrected.
“You know, if we split the train in half that’s thirty to two.” William was now thinking out load.
“You know that’s a good idea. If we can de-couple the train in the middle half of the bad guys are gone.” I said.
“Can we figure out where Miss Abernathy is on the train, either the front or the back?” William kept on talking.
“She’ll be in the back half with Smith. I kind of gather he thinks that she’s some kind of prize or something. Maybe he just likes her company or maybe he just likes someone to see how powerful he is.”
“How do you know he’ll be in the back?” William asked.
“There’s a Pullman back there. It’s the most luxurious railway car there is. He’ll be there and the minions will be up front. Pullmans are at the back so they won’t get engine noise and smoke.” I started inspecting and assembling the Tommy gun and then slung it over my shoulder, as we were getting close and then I remembered four little old ladies that had come out of a Pullman at the front of the train.
“Do you think we could get a stick of dynamite in the engine compartment just in front of the coal tender?” I asked William.
“There’s a stretch of flat land coming up just after the station and there’s a curve. I can get us close and you can throw it. If you wrap some of that light chain around it will throw better and when it goes off the bits of chain will act like a small hand grenade.” William maneuvered the plane.
“You’ve read this in a book somewhere? Was it fiction or based on fact?” I asked as I prepared the dynamite.
“I just made it up!” William replied. “You better make it a novel based on a true story!”
As we got closer to the train and the City of Buffalo the spill of light from the city gave some clarity to the dim of the cockpit. I could read the gauges now and they looked fine. I had a good look at William. He was covered in blood as well. I suddenly felt guilty in my haste to rescue Miss Abernathy by commandeering William into my plans. He was still a boy and I had been treating him like any man in my command during wartime. I realized that he was taking all the hits like any man would and was up front to volunteer like any of the bravest.
William on the port side of the cockpit was flying up alongside of the train now. I looked to the right and could see a couple of men having a smoke between the last and second last cars. There were six boxcars behind the engine and coal car and then the Pullman brought up the end. There was no doubt that was where Miss Abernathy was and Smith as well.
William was lighting his cigar while holding the control stick with his knee like he’d been doing it all his life.
“Cuban.” He said.
I finished wrapping the stick of dynamite and then did a second and while we were getting close to the engine I did a third.
“How can we be sure that they aren’t kidnapping the engineer and using him at gunpoint to run the train?” I asked.
“Sorry. I’ve been neglect in bringing you up to speed. Smith and Brown talked about what they were going to do to the other men as I was being handcuffed to the post. I wasn’t unconscious until Brown hit me again while I was handcuffed. I think he did it to impress Miss Abernathy. I don’t know whether it did or not as I was out from then on. Anyway, they arranged for this train to be put together and one of the men said he could drive it. They didn’t want any other excess baggage on it as he put it. The only other person on the train we have to worry about is Miss Abernathy.” William brought us in closer to the train.
I could see a couple of men on the coal car now and one had a machine gun slung over his shoulder.
“One second per inch.” William called out. He was referring to the wick sticking out of the dynamite. This kid was a formidable foe. I was glad he was on my side.
There was five inches on each of the wicks already stuck into the dynamite. When had William done this? He was thinking way ahead of me. He handed me the lit cigar and pulled out another and lit it: all the while flying with his knee.
“Stand by!” He called out, and he moved the plane with increasing speed sideways closer to the train about twenty feet above it.
The man on the coal car was quick. He stood up and started firing which brought the two men between the last two cars climbing up to the top of the boxcar to see what was happening. It would be their undoing.
William yelled. “Now.” And he flew the plane in and over the train just above the man on the coal car as I threw the first stick as best I could into the cab of the engine.
I missed my mark by a good deal but it worked out anyway. It fell on the coal of the car just behind the engine and exploded. The man with the machine gun was instantly dead and the resulting explosion blew a large amount of coal up into the air. Everyone in the engine cab was dead as well near as I could figure and the coal that went up into the air came back down on the back half of the train and knocked the two men off the train.
“Wow!” William yelled. “Did you practice that?”
I didn’t respond. I was in disbelief that it had worked so well. I still had the other two sticks in my hand and was wondering what to do with them. I stuck them in my coat pocket and slung the gun over my shoulder.
“Get me in close.” I said and made my way over the port side hanging on to the struts holding the wings.
Parts of me were still hurting from when I’d been beaten and climbing over the side took muscles that hadn’t been used in a while. William held the plane just off the top of the train but the plane still wavered a bit. I got over the side OK but getting down to the wheels and hanging down from them was more difficult. To make matters worse when I got there I could see that the engine was leaking oil and it was dripping down on me and making everything slippery.
“You have an oil leak!” I called out back to William as loud as I could while hanging ungraciously from the wheels about ten feet off the plane.
“It won’t matter. There’s a gas leak from the wing tank and I think a bullet hit the propeller. She’s starting to shake!” He yelled back down to me hanging his head over the side.
We had thought that when I let go the weight loss would give William in the plane a sudden boost of buoyancy or lift so he was going to keep going down until I let go. It sounded good in theory anyway. I was hoping that he wouldn’t land the plane on top of me.
I could see the gas leak now that he pointed it out to me. It was coming out in a steady stream. It wasn’t just a leak. Several bullets had hit in the same area and at least three were close together and had ripped a small triangle and there would be no gas in that tank in less than a minute or two. I hoped William had switched off the valve to that tank. There was no doubt that William was not going to make it back to Mr. Watts but landing a plane under power is easier than not and there is always the option of choosing to where you land under power as well.
“Descending!” William yelled out.
I dropped cleanly on all fours and saw the airplane drift up as planned. It went forward as well and William caught it before it went up past the engine. That made sense even though we hadn’t thought of it. William was on top of it anyway and the airplane looked like it was well under control. I noticed the top of the car was covered in gasoline. Looking forward I could see that the two cars in front of me were covered as well. It would evaporate soon.
Without any hesitation I turned and went on all fours to the back of the car. I noted I was on the third car from the back as I slipped over the end between it and the next one. No one was shooting at me yet. That was good.
I heard the airplane cough and go quiet. I looked back up over the end of the car towards the front and saw the propeller wasn’t moving and the plane wasn’t going up and forward any more. William made a perfect landing on the coal car. I saw him scramble out over the side with a knapsack and duck out of sight between the coal car and the boxcar behind it.
The plane shuddered and it looked like its wheels were caught and the plane jammed in the car solid. This train was still running and there was no one at the controls. It was quite a sight as we rounded a curve I saw a sign CANADA off to the side and there was the Peace Bridge just south of the railway bridge across the Niagara River. The train had a new set of wings just behind the engine that appeared to be helping it along.
I looked at the railway bridge again. It had three sections and upper supports beside and over where the train was going. There was no way the plane was going through. It was too high and it had wings that were never meant to go through a bridge.
Just then William popped up on the next car back behind the coal car. He had a fuse in his hand and was lighting it. He dropped the fuse down between the cars and ran full tilt to the back of the car and went down between them. His head popped up again on the other side and he had another fuse and he lit that one as well. He ran down the length of that car as well and disappeared again. Once more he popped up and did the same thing and now that he was closer to me I could see him better. He had three sticks of dynamite in his hand and a long fuse and was waving me back as he ran toward me.
There was no point in me staying there so I started my way to the back of the train. I only made it one more car back and then the shooting started.
I was lucky. I had just poked my head up over the edge of the car when I saw there was someone there at the back poking his head up over it to see what was going on and where the two men were that had fallen off the train earlier. He was quick and shot a spray of bullets that just missed me. I fired back over the edge a spray without putting my head up.
As I was about to send another volley there was an explosion up front. The plane had hit the bridge and the plane lost its wings and the top of the bridge caught the tail of the plane snapping it into the coal car. The fuel tank burst with a small explosion and fire engulfed the coal sending up volumes of black smoke. Shortly after the three boxcars behind were engulfed in flames as well being soaked in gasoline. It made a pretty sight, lighting up the Niagara River as we made our way into Canada.
Just then William’s first sticks of Dynamite exploded and I felt a lurch and saw the engine, coal car and what was left of the plane separate from the boxcar behind. We started to slow down.
William popped up from below. He had crawled under the cars and made his way up from below. “Hang on.” He said.
“Why?” I said. I immediately regretted saying anything. I thought I had been too long where I was and a new volley of bullets came from the car in front. The men in the boxcars all around us were coming out the side doors and the men in the boxcar in front of us were shooting back towards us. They set up a barrage alternately with the men in back and the ricochet at the ends of the cars were coming in to where we were huddled.
“I planted six charges under each boxcar and timed the fuses so they’ll all go off at about the same time. It won’t be exact or anything but it will be within a few seconds.” William was watching his watch. I hadn’t even seen him with one before.
“How many sticks?” I asked. I knew I was going to regret the answer.
“Three each. You saw what one did to the coal car. I used one to blow the coupling hoses and the safety pin to separate the engine from the rest of the train. But it’s going to make a lot of pieces of wood fly through the air.”
“You were carrying eighteen sticks in that satchel?” I asked. “You did all six cars! How’d you get by me?”
“More, I gave some to you and there was a couple I used so far.” William responded. “I’m almost out.”
I let out a burst of fire from the Tommy gun over the top of the car first in the front and then in the back to keep the bad guys at bay and then I did it again front and back along the starboard sides where the doors were open. I checked around the port side. For some reason they hadn’t figured out that they could get out there as well. Bad guys are sometimes dumb.
“This train is slowing down.” William said. He still had a cigar in his mouth. “I almost lost the satchel coming back for you under one of the couplings. One of the bad guys looked down from his perch on the ladder at the end of the boxcar and saw me. I had to scramble.”
Indeed the train was slowing. Without the engine of course it would. We were coming to a stop near the centre of the bridge and the first three boxcars were on fire. Some men were using jackets to try and slow the flames down with little success.
“I thought you had made it to the end of the train.” William grabbed my arm and looked me in the eye. “J.J. we need to get off this train NOW! It’s going to blow and going to blow big.” He pointed down to the tracks below and nodded up and down. “Look! It’s gravel and you can’t see the railway ties.”
It was known in the hobo circles as the hidden dismount. You hang underneath a boxcar by all fours feet forward with your back parallel to the ground and hope the train is moving very very slow so you don’t roll when you drop off. The train rolls over you as long as you keep your knees and elbows flat. After the train is gone you get up and walk away. It often hurts a lot. I had never done it and I already hurt a lot. William was right about the railway ties. If they were visible this was an impossible feat. You ended up stopping dead and that’s what you were soon to be as you needed to slide a bit before you stopped or you would end up rolling and that brought body parts up in contact with the moving train.
There was no other way. If we jumped off the side the guys at the back would shoot us as they drifted by. There were people shooting at us from the front and the back and all six boxcars were about to blow. That would take care of all the bad guys in the boxcars and all we would have to deal with was the bad guys in the Pullman. I followed William down as he crawled under and down to the far end of the car and positioned himself. As I positioned myself I saw William’s dynamite charge tied above me. The fuse was almost to the end. It was time to leave.
I dropped first. I was right. It hurt a lot. I think I uttered a word that was not polite. William didn’t seem to be hurt at all. I got up and looked back to the train that had just rolled over me.
We were still on the bridge and the train was almost stopped. It finally came to rest about fifty yards from the far end of the bridge and about the same distance from us.
William grabbed me and pulled me to the side of the bridge and we hid behind one of the steel struts. Looking back at the train I could see two brave men walking cautiously with machine guns along the top of the last two boxcars to where we were. The first charge went off at the very front car. It was still on fire and the centre went up into the air through the bridge struts. The sides shattered and buckled over on to the bridge. A couple of men that were still standing beside the boxcar were now on fire and they jumped off the bridge and then out of site into the murky water below. What was left was a flatcar with a hole in the centre.
The two men on top further back stood in disbelief. One of them yelled. “Get out of here!” He yelled too late.
The last two cars went up within a couple of seconds of each other. Both men ended up rocketing through the bridge struts high in the air and falling into the Niagara River never to be seen again. The Pullman was unscathed as far as we could see from our angle and I reloaded another canister on to the Tommy gun while waiting for the last three cars to go still attached to the Pullman.
The occupants of the Pullman had to know that something was happening. The last two explosions I could feel through the bridge floor. There was still no sign of activity from it.
“Did you plan this before you laid the charges or did you make it up as you went?” I asked while we were waiting.
“The original plan was for you to do all the work and me to take the plane back.” William answered. He still had a cigar in his mouth. “You better give me those other three sticks.” You’ll have your hands full in a minute after all the wood comes to rest. Someone will come out the back of the Pullman after they see what has happened at the front. I think I can crawl under the bridge out of sight.” With a nod he was gone. Again I was glad he was on my side.
The last three cars blew sequentially about five seconds apart. Some of the men were at the side walking back and talking. It was a mistake. I looked closer. A couple of the cars had actually jumped off the track. There was a downward force as well and that meant outward too. The walking men were blasted out through the side struts into the river below dead before they hit the water.
The bridge now was quite a sight. There were wood splinters all over and many piles of them on fire giving the bridge an eerie glow in the moonlight. I looked back and could see flashlights approaching. I turned back and kept my focus on the Pullman.
I was not disappointed. Brown came out of the back door and stood looking at me as if I was supposed to say something. He had a pistol in his hand and started to move. Without any hesitation I shot him with a burst from the Tommy gun. He fell over the end of the railing, dead. I wasn’t upset.
Two men just passed the Pullman climbed over the side of the bridge near the last foundation and started to make their way down the side of the concrete into the Niagara River. I fired a burst at them but they were too quick and dove into the river from twenty feet up. I didn’t need to but it felt good shooting at something.
From the open door I saw Miss Abernathy step out. Behind her was Agent Smith. He had a pistol to her head. Her hands were still tied behind her and there was still tape over her mouth. He pushed her up against the rail on the back of the car hard just to let me know he could hurt her. I got the message.
“Throw the gun over the side.” He yelled at me.
“Let her go.” I yelled back knowing it was useless. I also new there wasn’t much time left. This was not going to be a long negotiation as there were men coming up from behind.
“If you don’t throw it over quick I can put a bullet in her arm to speed things up.” He said more casually this time.
I threw the gun into the Niagara River. It was like losing a trusted friend. I knew I still had my pistol hidden and it was as good as his but he was too far away for an accurate shot. I’d be awfully lucky not to hit her. The thought struck me that I could fire several rounds at both their feet. Miss Abernathy would probably get hit as well but so would he. They would both go down but, then what?
He brought her down the steps roughly to the ground of the bridge on the port side of the train, his gun now pointed at me. I stood there thinking of something clever to say or a miracle to happen. And then it did.
He fired at me. He missed of course but it started a chain of events. I dove behind the shelter of one of the risers at the side of the bridge. I think the men behind me did the same.
Miss Abernathy tried to scream something. It was hard to tell what with the tape. Then she struggled and tried to hit him with her shoulder.
It separated them for a moment.
Agent Smith was about to fire at me again when William appeared from his behind. It shocked Agent Smith to be sure as William was quite a sight covered in blood, soot from the train and some engine oil to mix it all together.
He held in his hand three sticks of dynamite bound together and huge fat wicks burning with an enormous bright sparkle producing a hissing that I could hear from over fifty yards away. They were taped to one end of a set of handcuffs. The other end William clasped with amazing agility to Agent Smith’s now free wrist.
William said very casually as he held the sticks up to Agent Smith’s face. “Ten inches equals Ten seconds.”
William dropped the sticks and stepped back, leaving them dangling from Agent Smith’s wrist hissing like several snakes.
William didn’t move. He simply looked Agent Smith straight in the eye and then glanced at the water below and shrugged his shoulders. “Eight seconds.” He said even more casually.
Smith got the message and literally dove though the bridge uprights and down into the Niagara River which no doubt put out the fuse.
William without looking after him walked over to Miss Abernathy and started undoing her bondages.
I counted and didn’t hear a boom. I guess Agent Smith lived to fight another day.
Wallis came up behind me. “That’s one interesting boy.”
Miss Abernathy sat opposite me in a very fine restaurant in the next town. A week had gone by. William had passed his exams and was now a high school graduate.
I had a new suit on and was clean-shaven and apart from a couple of scars looked somewhat presentable.
“I heard you were buying the sheriff’s old house in town. I guess that means you’ll be staying.” Miss Abernathy sipped her wine. We had just finished an outstanding meal.
“I need some roots. I can convert the jail into a home office and that gives me some extra room in the back. It also has a garage and I bought the sheriff’s old car as well.”
“Mr. Watts paid you well.” Miss Abernathy was toying with me, or was it flirting?
“There was some money deposited into my account by our friend.” I said casually. Thurston had said it was ten thousand but he had done it twice. I didn’t need for everybody to know how much money I now had. “I tried to get it reversed as I’m sure it was counterfeit but the bank said no, it was real and they would have caught that amount of money if it had been counterfeit.”
“It gets into the banking community system. I doubt it could be traced now.” Miss Abernathy was getting into the wine. She was wearing that white sweater again.
“Mr. Watts said I should invest the rest or at least a good portion of it. He has a friend with a company called Hughes Tool and Die and then George said to put some of it into the airplane company he is associated with.”
“William says you’re going to be a bureau agent.” Miss Abernathy took yet another sip.
The waiter brought over desert and took the dishes away while topping up the wine glasses. We both dug in.
“It means I’ll be away for some time training of course and there is a lot of stuff to do that requires traveling. They should hire William. He’s quite a hero.”
“You both are.”
“Yes, but I couldn’t get over his calmness after he delivered the dynamite. He just stood there looking at Smith. I would have run grabbing you in the process. If those three sticks had gone off the whole rear end of the train would have been gone with all three of you with it.
“The sticks were dummies.” Miss Abernathy said.
“He told me later. He twisted fuses together as well so as to get a much brighter light and sound. Close up there was even a lot of smoke coming from them. If he had run then Smith would have shot both of us automatically.”
I just smiled. William was an interesting man to be sure.
“They’re converting the City Of Buffalo office and eventually I’m going to be the agent in North West New York. The Bureau has plans for a special branch called forensic science, which I’m going to be a part. The name is going to change as well. It will be called the Federal Bureau of Investigations.”
“I thought you wanted to be a private eye?” Miss Abernathy was now definitely flirting.
“Well, the pays better but it lacks a sense of duty. I’ve always thought I belonged in service of some type and this is interesting and I could probably contribute some positive changes in operation.” I can flirt too. When being flirted with the best offence is to completely ignore it. “Besides, being a private eye in this town might lack clientele. There’s only been one case here that I know of. I always wondered why they had a sheriff.”
Miss Abernathy finished her wine. “I think I’m getting a little tipsy. I guess you’ll have to drive me home now.”
We both got up and made our way out. Getting Miss Abernathy in the car was fun. She definitely was tipsy and very flirtatious.
I got her in and shortly we were on a lonely road back to the town.
“I wonder if Jim’s bakery is open still. I’ll have to get a dozen before the night’s over.” I can be flirtatious too.
“I already anticipated that. There’s a dozen in my icebox.
Miss Abernathy won the flirtation contest.
Cabby and William sat in the yellow cab under one of seven newly installed streetlights a block from Miss Abernathy’s house. They both grabbed a sticky bun from the box between them on the dash as they watched the couple pull up in the Bentley, got out and entered the house. A short while later the lights went out.
William turned to Cabby. “You know, next time I’m going to get the girl.”
Cabby smiled still watching the house. "Sure you are." He then looked at William for a few seconds. "Are you sure there was only one railway car full of money?"
The ‘Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory’ officially opened on November 24th, 1932 under J. Edgar Hoover.
On April 19th, 1933 President Roosevelt “in an effort to control inflation” announced that the United States was going off the gold standard.
On December 6th 1933 President Roosevelt announced the end of Prohibition in the United States.
In 1935 The Bureau officially changed its name to “Federal Bureau Of Investigations.”