[Transcribers Note:- Some words are missing on Page 112.]
A STORY OF LOS ANGELES
JAMES H. RICHARDSON
Published by the Author by Special Permission of
LOS ANGELES EVENING HERALD
In Which the Story First Appeared in Serial Form
TIMES-MIRROR PRESS Los Angeles, Calif. 1922
EVENING HERALD PUBLISHING COMPANY
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Dedicated to MY WIFE Who has—"watched for my unworthy sake."
One day the editor stopped beside my desk and told me he wanted me to write a novel about Los Angeles to appear in serial form. Seven weeks later "Spring Street" was on his desk. I was assigned to write it as I would have been assigned as a reporter to "cover" a big story.
Writing a novel to appear as a serial in a newspaper is vastly different from writing one for publication in book form. "Spring Street" was written primarily as a serial and is offered now as a book in response to requests by friends and from readers of The Evening Herald.
Let me say that I lay no claim to being a novelist because I wrote "Spring Street." I have sufficient pride in my profession to desire to be known only as a reporter.
There are many to whom I owe thanks for their help and encouragement. Especially am I indebted to Dr. Frank F. Barham, publisher of The Evening Herald, and Mr. Edwin R. Collins, Mr. John B. T. Campbell and Mr. Wesley M. Barr, its editors.
His father was dying.
John Gallant paced the narrow sun-baked lawn between the porch of his home and the street.
Soon, he knew, the door would open and he would be called inside. That would be the end. A sickening feeling of terror gripped him and his heart pounded in his chest.
He took a step toward the door, which was really an involuntary movement. No, he couldn't go in there. The doctor was in a chair at the bedside, watching, helpless. He would only look up and say again that there was nothing to do but wait.
For a moment he hated that doctor because he sat there without doing a thing. His brain, inflamed and racked by the strain, throbbed in his head. He had a distorted idea that the doctor was making a coldly scientific observation of his father's death, perhaps taking mental notes for a paper to be read to a class of medical students.
He had tried waiting inside. That Mrs. Sprockett from across the street, who was with his mother, had whispered to him to be brave. His mother sat very still in her rocking chair, her head bowed, her hand pressed to her eyes. He knew she was praying. Unable to hold himself, he had dropped at her feet and buried his head in her lap. He had cried brokenly, his shoulders heaving spasmodically, and he had felt her hand gently touching his head.
They had not spoken, but the feeling that she was suffering with him had assuaged his agony until that Mrs. Sprockett had touched him on the shoulder and spoken to him.
"Do be brave, John, you must be a man now," she had said, and he had rushed outside to begin his pacing, back and forth, back and forth.
He began his walking again, ten steps across and ten steps back. At first he strode furiously, almost running, uttering queer little sounds like a whimpering animal, tears streaming down his cheeks. Now his throat was swollen and dry and his eyes smarted.
A few doors down the street children shouted at some wild game. Suddenly they stopped and he knew that they had been told to be quiet. He thought he saw their frightened faces as they were told that Mr. Gallant was dying. He remembered how he had been shocked to dumbness years before when someone in the neighborhood had died.
A boy passed on the sidewalk and looked at him with widened eyes and gaping mouth. He hurried by as though he feared that death might steal out from the Gallant house and take him.
Somewhere across the street a phonograph started blaring out a jazz piece. Then it stopped as suddenly as the shouts of the children. A lot they cared, he thought. All his father's death meant to them was the irritation of stopping the phonograph.
The blind on a window of the house next door was pulled to one side, emitting a shaft of light across the path he paced. A head—the head of the little girl his father had so often petted as he strode up the walk when he came home from work—shut off the light. He heard a scuffle of feet and she was pulled from the window.
Mrs. Sprockett's husband, in his shirt sleeves, came over and stood on the sidewalk.
"Is Maude in there with your mother?" he asked.
John looked at him, without a word.
"Beg your pardon," said Mrs. Sprockett's husband, backing away. "She didn't say—didn't leave any word—and the baby—and—"
The crying of the Sprockett baby could be heard faintly.
"I didn't think—I—I——" and Mrs. Sprockett's husband turned awkwardly and went back to the house.
Everything was quiet, so quiet that it startled him. A mocking bird warbled in a tree by the porch. He remembered his father saying one night that there was no music sweeter than its song.
Fragments of memory came to him vividly. His father pulling him from under a bed the night he was punished for stealing apples at the corner grocery store. His father reading David Copperfield to him and their mutual rejoicing when Betsy Trotwood lectured David's firm stepfather. His father closing his eyes and leaning back and a soft smile on his lips as his mother played "Annie Laurie."
These thoughts carried him away so that he stopped quickly when they left him. For a moment he could not realize that death was taking his father. He felt he had been out of his head, walking out there, that it was all a horrible nightmare. He almost began to laugh and dash up to the door to find things as they always had been. He staggered back with an impulse to shout in his agony as realization came back to him.
A wild hope seized him. He had been walking there for hours, for days it seemed, and the door had not opened. Perhaps the doctor was wrong, after all. Perhaps his father had rallied strength and would live. His heart beat exultingly. Perhaps——
And then the door opened.
* * * * *
He knew that his father had left them nothing but what was in the house. He had not spoken to his mother about it. He had been beside her bed until after dawn when, with a gentle sigh, she had slipped off into a merciful sleep.
Mrs. Sprockett, who left them only for a few minutes in the morning, he thanked with a guilty feeling of having not appreciated what she had done. The doctor had spoken to him kindly.
"My boy," he said, "this comes to all of us. Your father passed as gently as he lived. Remember, there's no sorrow nor suffering where he has gone and—be good to your mother."
It was not until after the funeral that John and his mother talked of the life before them. He told her that they would not have to leave their little home, that he would quit school and find work so they could go on together.
"Dearest, dearest mother, you shall be with me always," he said to her. But she replied:
"We owe a heavy debt, John, that must be paid at once."
He saw she was worrying over the expense of his father's funeral. He knew how sensitive she was about debts.
"I can get money somewhere, dearest mother," he said. "Don't worry."
"Somewhere—I'll get it. Please, oh, please don't think about it any more."
He could tell, however, that she could not put it out of her mind. There was a look about her eyes that told him it weighed upon her. It disappeared when he held her in his arms and comforted her; she tried bravely to hide it from him, but it was there, in his mind, haunting him.
He came to his decision about the money for the funeral director quickly. He told her he was going to look for work and went to George Blake at his Spring street gymnasium. Blake, an instructor in boxing, had seen him spar in amateur bouts and had taken him in tow. He boxed because he liked it; never with a thought of ever fighting for money. Only a month before he had refused an offer of a bout at Jack Doyle's Vernon arena.
"George," he said, "can you get me a bout at Vernon?"
"What's the big idea?" asked Blake with a smile.
"I need the money."
"As soon as I can get it."
"I'll see Wad Wadhams, tonight," Blake said. "If there's a place on the bill I'll get it for you."
The next day Blake called him to the gymnasium.
"You'll go on in the preliminaries," he said. "Two hundred if you win, a hundred if you draw and fifty if you lose. How's that?"
"That means I must win," John said.
In his pocket as he spoke was the funeral director's bill for $200.
"You'd better get to work right now, then," cautioned Blake. "You're matched with a tough boy, but if you're in any sort of shape at all you should come out on top."
They went to work. As he roughed it with the young fellows Blake sent against him he thought of his mother. Perhaps, after it was all over and their debt had been paid, he would tell her how he got the money. He couldn't tell her now. She had even tried to persuade him to stop boxing for exercise and if she thought for a moment that he had arranged to fight for money——
A fist thudded against his jaw. Absorbed in his thoughts he had left an opening and the boy in the ring with him was quick to take advantage of it. Instinctively he "covered," bending over with his arms wrapped around his head and body for protection until his brain cleared.
Then, savagely, he tore into the boy before him, jabbing him swiftly with his left glove and suddenly sending over his right with a snap. The boy sank to the floor.
"That's enough, Gallant," admonished Blake. "Take it easy."
He lifted the boy to his feet.
As he pounded at the punching bag a few minutes later he promised himself that this would be his one and only fight in a ring, for his mother's sake.
That night, when he left for Vernon, he told her his first deliberate lie.
* * * * *
He was in his corner. A scrawny youth with a twisted nose, a jersey sweater and a husky voice was tying on his gloves.
"Wot's your name, kid?"
The announcer was bending over him.
"Gallant," he answered, after hesitating. The announcer turned and crossed to the opposite corner of the ring and John's eyes followed him. He saw his opponent, a thick-shouldered Mexican, with flashing black eyes, gleaming white teeth, a broad, deep chest tapering to a slender waist.
The Mexican returned his appraising look, and sneered.
Arc lamps threw a heated white light down to the canvas floor of the ring. The chatter and rumble of voices came up from the crowd. He looked out past the ropes and saw faces—hundreds of them—dimly through clouds of tobacco smoke. He could only distinguish those at the ringside. He saw Charlie Chaplin, the famous film comedian, looking at him. There was Jack Dempsey, the world's ring champion, towering up in his seat. There was——
"Come on, kid," the announcer was calling to him from the center of the ring.
John dropped his bathrobe from his shoulders and went forward.
"On my right—the Gallant kid," shouted the announcer, pausing for the laugh that came up from the crowd.
"The what?" a voice asked.
"The Gallant kid, he calls himself," shouted back the announcer. "On my left—Battling Rodriguez. One hundred and thirty-five pounds."
John went back to his corner. He rested his gloved hands on the ropes and scraped the soles of his shoes into a box of rosin shoved beneath his feet by the twisted nose youth, who had a towel thrown over his shoulder and a pail of water near him.
Blake pulled himself up beside him.
"Remember, John, keep cool and keep jabbing that left in his face," he said.
John looked out at the crowd. A thought of his mother flashed into his head and he seemed to see her face in the blue haze of smoke.
"He'll try rushing you—he thinks he's another Joe Rivers," said Blake. "Wait for a chance to soak him."
The gong sounded and, whirling around, he went to the center of the ring. The Battler came dancing out to meet him. They touched gloves for a handshake and each took a step back. The Battler moved his gloves in quick little circles and the noise from the crowd stopped. John forgot everything else, the fight was on.
The Battler feinted, swaying his body from side to side, and came at him. He shot out his left hand, jabbing at the swarthy face of the Mexican. His fist struck only the air and the Battler, his lips drawn back, his eyes blazing, crashed into him.
A fist pounded into his stomach and another ripped into his face. He heard a wild shout from the crowd and the Mexican jumped back, smiling. A trickle of blood dropped to his cheek from a cut over his eye. He heard the Battler's seconds shout to their man to "tear into" him. He watched, his left extended, his right close to his body.
The Battler rushed again, swaying from the hips. John's left fist found its mark. He jabbed—once, twice, three times—and lashed out with his right. The blow glanced off the Mexican's shoulders and they clinched. He felt the Battler's strength in that clinch and he realized it was more than his. The referee called "Break!" and they pushed away from each other.
He must keep his head. The Mexican was fast; he pounced like a panther. Blake's warning came back to him—"keep cool and wait." That was it, wait, wait for a chance to land a blow that would end the fight.
He shot out his left again as the Battler came at him. It missed and the strength he put behind it carried his head forward. Like a flash the Mexican's right crashed to his jaw. John stumbled to his knees. The referee was over him.
He felt his head slowly clearing. What a punch that Mexican had! He must get to his feet and cover.
He found strength to jump up. He saw nothing before him. He heard shouting, miles away, it seemed. His arms were heavy when he lifted them to his head. He tried to set himself. His body reeled as the Battler pounded him, his head, his face, his back.
Back across the ring he staggered until he went down again.
"One—two—three—four——" the referee's arm waved up and down in front of his face. His arms, holding up his body from the floor, began to sag. Blood poured from the cut over his eye. Faintly he saw the sturdy brown legs of the Mexican dancing before him.
He pushed himself up to his knees.
He got to his feet, his arms hanging loose at his sides. The Battler swung forward on his toes for another rush. He tried to lift his hands. They were like dead things. He tried to run out of the way of that tornado of blows and he tottered back against the ropes.
The gong rang and saved him.
He sank into the canvas camp-chair that was pushed under him in his corner and gulped at the wind fanned into his heaving lungs by the towel flapped up and down by the twisted-nose second. A sharp pain as the cut over his eye was burned with caustic brightened his brain.
"Has he had enough?" he heard the referee ask Blake, who was behind him.
"No, give me a chance," he gasped.
"Let him try another one," Blake said.
The pounding of his heart slowed and his head cleared so that he could make out the figure of the Battler leaning back in his chair, his arms spread along the ropes, smiling.
A second massaged his arms and he felt life coming back into them. Blake whispered in his ear:
"One punch will end that Mex. boy; try to land it this time."
John nodded. He must land it. He MUST WIN. For the first time since the fight started he thought of why he was there. If he could only rest here a minute more—just until his head cleared a little—the gong rang.
He rushed and saw a look of surprise cross the Battler's face as he dodged to one side. He hooked at the black, shaggy head with his left and felt his fist crack against the Battler's ear. He swung his right with all the strength he had in him and grunted as he felt it sink into the Battler's stomach. He stepped back. He heard shouting. He saw the Mexican double over and cover his head with his arms.
"Atta boy!" someone in the crowd yelled.
The Battler uncovered slowly. He went in again, jabbing with his left. It struck the Battler's thick arms wrapped around his head. With a spring like a cat the Mexican was on him. He shot up his right and it pounded into the Battler's ribs. He tried to wrestle himself out of the clinch into which the Mexican had thrown himself.
The referee tore them apart.
"None of that," he said to the Battler. "Stop holding in the clinches."
The end came a minute later. They were roughing it in the center of the ring and the crowd was on its feet, howling. The Battler swayed far to the right, the glove of his right hand almost touching the floor. John brought his guard down, fearful that the punch the Mexican was swinging was aimed for his body. He started a counter-blow with his right and the Battler's fist rose high and crashed against his jaw.
A white flash blinded him as he dropped. He was down for the count of eight. He was "out on his feet" when he struggled up again. He smiled feebly and pawed in front of him with his left. The Battler brushed it aside and as John fell forward in a last desperate effort to clinch, his right went over. The smack of the Mexican's fist as it landed the knockout punch sounded like the slap of a paddle on water.
They carried him to his corner, the Battler on one side, the referee on the other. As through a fog he saw the Mexican dance back to his corner to be received joyously by his seconds. He saw Jack Dempsey looking up at him, nodding his head and smiling. He saw a terribly anxious look on a pale, strained face he slowly recognized as that of Charlie Chaplin.
He closed his eyes. If they would only let him alone and stop throwing water on him. He could not see out of one of his eyes. They tore the gloves from his hands and the sharp odor of smelling salts bit into his nostrils. His head ached, his lungs burned.
"Come on, kid, get back to da dressin' room," a husky voice said.
He pulled himself to his feet. He was whipped. His only chance to get money to pay for his father's funeral was gone. So weak that his body shook and his legs trembled, hysterical tears sprang to his eyes and he sobbed—gasping sobs that choked him.
The hot tears smarted like salt in the cuts on his cheek as he stumbled up the aisle toward the dressing rooms.
Someone came running up behind him. A hand grasped his arm and he heard a voice say:
"Just a minute, my boy, I want to talk to you."
He looked up into the whimsically comic face of Charlie Murray, famous in film farces—with funny features and gruff ways, but a heart as soft as a mother's. With no idea to whom he was speaking, John Gallant blurted:
"Please, not now—I can't."
"Just a word with you, son; come along, let's get back to your dressing room," said the other without taking his arm from his shoulder.
As they left the arena they heard the gong sound for the opening round of another bout. It brought back to John the bitterness of his loss in defeat and his chagrin. He had made a mess of things. How could he go back to his mother with his face battered and swollen and without the $200 he had expected to take to her to pay for his father's funeral?
He flung himself on a bench in his dressing room and buried his face in his hands. He sat for a time until he had choked back his hysterical crying and when he looked up he saw the stranger who had stopped him in the aisle gazing at him intently. He saw something in the mild blue eyes of this man that overcame the momentary feeling of shame he felt for having given way to his bitterness and despair.
"What's your trouble, son?" the stranger asked.
He sat silent.
"Out with it, son, something's wrong somewhere and I may be able to help you."
"Who are you?" John asked.
"I'm Charlie Murray—if that means anything to you. And, believe me, son, I know that something beside the licking you got out there is worrying you. That's why I followed you here. Let's have it; come on, tell me what's wrong. It'll make you feel better."
Before he really knew it, John was telling him his story.
"That's the reason I made a fool of myself," he said. "I couldn't help crying like that. I guess I was too far gone. I don't know what to do now. It will break my mother's heart when she sees me in this condition. It would have helped if I could have handed her enough to pay the funeral expenses.
"I don't know why I've told you all this. Making more of a fool of myself, I suppose."
Murray listened to it all, silently. Then he rose and went to the door.
"Oh, Murphy," he called, putting his head out the dressing room door.
The youth with the twisted nose whom John remembered as his second answered Murray's call.
"Fix this boy up, Murphy," said Murray. "Patch up his face the best you can and keep him here until I get back. Understand, keep him here until I get back. Don't let him out of your sight."
"I heardja, boss, I heardja," said Murphy.
And Murray hurried out, leaving John wondering, in Murphy's hands.
* * * * *
It was just before the main event that Murray came down the aisle and climbed into the ring, brushing the referee announcer, seconds and others into the corners. He stood in the center of the ring and held up his hand for silence. The crowd quieted.
"What is it, Charlie?" someone shouted.
"It's this, boys," he said. "I've just had a talk with the Gallant kid, who was knocked kicking a few minutes ago by Battling Rodriguez. You saw the fight he put up and you know it's only a good, game kid that can fight like that.
"I don't know how many of you saw it, but the Gallant kid—that's his real name, John Gallant—was crying when he went out of this ring and he wasn't bawling because he got licked, either.
"I'll tell you what he told me back there in the dressing rooms. Do you know why he was here fighting, tonight? He was here to get enough money to pay for his father's funeral. He had to have the money given to the winner and he lost. He didn't tell his poor little mother he was coming out here. He wanted to surprise her.
"Now, boys, the only surprise he'll take home to her is a battered face unless you want to surprise him with—"
A silver dollar spun through the smoke-filled air and hit the canvas at Murray's feet. That started it. For a full two minutes the air was thick with flying coins. They clinked and rolled around in the ring. Bills weighted with coins caromed along the canvas floor.
Murray and a few others collected the money and counted it, standing in the ring.
"Is it enough?" asked a voice from the crowd.
Murray looked up with a broad smile. His hat, held in his hands, was brimming with the money picked from the floor of the ring.
"Five hundred and fifty-six dollars and sixty cents," he said.
"Where's the kid?" someone demanded.
"That's the idea, show us the kid," shouted the crowd.
* * * * *
When John was brought back into the ring, embarrassed, awkward, trying to smile through his swollen lips, the "house" was quiet. Murphy pushed him to the center, where Murray was waiting for him.
"That's for you, Mr. Gallant, with the compliments of the boys out here who know a good, game kid when they see one and whose hearts are always in the right place," he said, handing him the hat full of money.
He felt the tears coming back in his eyes.
"I don't—I can't——" he said hoarsely.
"Oh, yes, you can," interrupted Murray. "You take it and forget about it."
The crowd cheered. A thick-shouldered individual pushed himself through the ropes into the ring.
"For the keed, Meester Murray," said the newcomer, handing him a $20 bill. "Hee's a gude keed, maybe I help."
It was Battling Rodriguez. He crossed over and taking John's hand grinned out at the crowd.
John felt the tears coming again and was thankful when Murray led him to a corner and helped him down out of the ring.
"One of the newspaper men wants to speak to you," he said. "Here's your man, Morton."
He shook hands with the newspaper man.
"You're not a fighter by profession, though you're game enough to be a champion. How are you fixed for a job?" asked Morton.
"I need one," John replied.
"Tell you what you do, then," said the other, who seemed to take John's answer for granted. "You come down and see me tomorrow and I'll see if I can't find something for you to do. How would you like to get into newspaper work?"
How would he like it? John felt that nothing in the world would he like better.
"Tomorrow, then, ask for me," said Morton, turning to watch the two boxers who entered the ring to fight the main event.
As he went up the aisle men reached out and shook hands with him. Some of them dropped money into the hat brimming with bills and coins that he still held in his hand. He filled his pockets with the money and handed the hat to Murphy to be returned to that prince of men, Charlie Murray.
* * * * *
With the money given him by the crowd, the $20 bill Battling Rodriguez added to it and the $50 he received as the loser's end of the purse in his bout, he had more than $625 as he boarded the car from Vernon to the city to return home. His happiness was dimmed, however, by the thought of facing his mother, who, he knew, would be waiting up for him.
When he transferred at Seventh and Spring streets and boarded another car a woman gasped at the sight of his face. Murphy had used every trick known to a professional second to doctor his battered features, but nothing could hide the swollen lips, the cut over his eye and the eye that was puffed so that there was only a thin slit between the lids to see through.
He decided that it would be easier upon his mother for him to tell her everything. Then it would be over and done with. She would not worry then as she would if he told her some impossible story.
She was in her chair in the living room when he returned home. He threw himself at her feet.
"Mother," he said, "please."
"My boy," she said, waiting for him to lift his face from her lap.
He felt he could not raise his head. They sat silent for a while and then she put her hands on each side of his head and lifted his face to hers. He shut his eyes. He could not stand to see her look as she saw his condition.
He waited, his battered face upturned. It seemed hours that she held his face, without a word. Then she leaned forward and her lips touched his forehead gently in a kiss.
"My boy," she said and her arms went around his neck.
They rose at last and she bathed his wounds, smiling through her tears. When he kissed her goodnight she whispered again, "My boy." He knew he was forgiven and he went to his room thinking of the adventure waiting for him in the morning when he would meet Morton and begin work in a newspaper office.
* * * * *
He was bewildered when he entered the editorial department of the afternoon newspaper of which Morton was sporting editor. Never had he seen such a busy place.
Telegraph instruments and typewriters clicked and clattered incessantly. Although it was broad day outside, electric lights burned brightly over desks. The floor was covered with discarded newspapers and scraps and balls of copy paper.
Men and boys hurried from desk to desk, back and forth, in and out of swinging doors. As he watched them, wondering if they really knew what they were doing themselves, they reminded him of ants around an ant hill. He was thrilled by the life and energy of the place, the speed and earnestness of the workers.
At a flat-topped desk over which was a sign with the words "City Editor" sat a fat, bald-headed man wearing a green eye-shade, who spoke over his shoulder to a younger man at another desk close to his. This younger man wore a telephone headgear, receivers over both ears, and punched at the typewriter before him with the first finger of each hand. John saw he was writing what someone was dictating to him over the telephone.
"T, like in Thomas; I like in Isaac; P like in Peter," the man with the headgear shouted into the mouthpiece of an extension close to his face.
John tried to fathom what the man with the headgear was talking about and it finally dawned on him that he was making certain of the spelling of the word "tip," dictated to him, by repeating the letters as they appeared in other words.
He caught sight of Morton at a desk on the far side of the big, high-ceilinged room and crossed over, weaving his way through a labyrinth of desks, chairs and tables. Morton, who had been glancing over a newspaper, looked up as he approached.
"Well, if it isn't the Gallant kid!" he exclaimed. "I'd almost forgotten all about you. Sit down."
John sat down while Morton questioned him. No, he had never done any writing except a little for his school paper. Yes, he'd like to start in as a reporter. It didn't make much difference how much he was paid as long as he could get started.
"All right, then," said Morton, rising. "We'll go over and see P. Q., but don't you ever blame him for getting you started in this game."
The sporting editor led him to the fat, bald-headed man with the green eye-shade.
"P. Q.," he said.
The city editor looked up.
"Here's the young fellow I was telling you about this morning; name's John Gallant."
"P. Q."—John afterward learned that those were his initials, uniquely symbolical of his perpetual order to reporters to be "pretty quick" in their work—looked at the marks on John's face left by the fists of Battling Rodriguez.
"Fighting face, all right," he said. "Well, suppose you go to work."
He reached back to his desk and brought up a handful of clippings from a newspaper from which he selected a few short ones.
"Grab a typewriter and rewrite these," he said, handing the clippings to John. "Keep 'em short. Twenty-five words each. Remember that always. Keep everything short. Keep your eyes and ears open and read the papers. Read everything in them. Now get over there and start writing and I'll call you when I need you."
John knew that as long as he lived he would never forget that first day in newspaper work. He rewrote the clippings carefully, counting the words to make certain that they did not exceed the twenty-five ordered by P. Q. He had done some typewriting at school and practiced more by filling page after page of copy paper with the old favorite beginner's sentence, "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party," and its twin, "The quick, brown fox jumped over the lazy dog."
He watched in open-mouthed wonder at the speed with which the other reporters—he counted himself one of them—wrote their stories. He learned that everything written for a newspaper is a "story," everything from a three-line item about a meeting of the Colorado State society to a banner-line murder.
He was fascinated by a reporter whom P. Q. called Brennan and who worked at a typewriter close to where he was sitting. Brennan, thin-faced, about thirty, John judged, turned out page after page of typewritten copy, stopping at the completion of each page to throw back his head and shout: "Boy! Oh, BOY!" at the ceiling. In response to this call a copy boy appeared and carried the page to P. Q. As he worked he smoked cigarettes, lighting each fresh one from the stub of the one that preceded it. These cigarettes he carefully stood on end on the desk as his fingers pounded at the typewriter.
When he took a deep inhalation of tobacco smoke during his writing Brennan paused and gazed, dreamy-eyed, out into space. Then suddenly, he stood his cigarette on end again and attacked the typewriter keys furiously. John noticed that Brennan, like the man with the headgear, used only one finger of each hand in typewriting.
Along in the afternoon, when he had stopped hammering at his machine, he turned to find John staring at him. Stretching out his arms, yawning, he asked:
John said he was.
John said it was.
From Brennan, John learned many things. He learned that P. Q. had an unswerving prejudice against reporters who used the touch system in typewriting.
"He says they use a typewriter like it was a piano and get into the habit of not looking at what they are writing," Brennan explained. "He says the touch system has ruined more reporters than shorthand."
"Why shorthand?" asked John. "I thought——"
"I know, you thought every good reporter should write shorthand," said Brennan. "Well, that's one thing P. Q. and I agree on. I've seen a lot of them in my time and I've never seen a reporter who wrote shorthand who was a real star man. Writing shorthand kills your imagination. All you write is what other people tell you and exactly as they said it. Somehow, a shorthand man doesn't get pep into his stuff, take it from me."
John thought he understood.
"You work hard and long in this game and it makes an old man of you before your time," Brennan continued. "But it's a great game. Once it gets into your blood you're a newspaper man for life.
"Generally speaking, there are two kinds of reporters. One is the kind with a nose for news and without any particular ability to write. The other is the kind that can write without being able to get the news for themselves. When you get the two in one, a man who can write and get the news himself, you've got a star, but they are few and far between.
"P. Q. says once in a while that I can write and I think I'm a demon news-getter and there you are—that's me.
"Let me tell you how it is about writing a story. Suppose Mary Jones, aged 18, of 1559 Fifty-Ump street, shop girl, kills herself and leaves a note saying she did it because the man she loved threw her over. It's no story to write it that 'Mary Jones, 18 years old, a shop girl, who resided at 1559 Fifty-Ump street, ended her life today because of an unhappy affair with an unnamed man.'
"Plain 'Mary Jones' isn't the story. Probably only fifty people in the city know her. What do the others care? Not much. This is your story—'An 18-year-old girl who dreamed of a Prince Charming to come and carry her away from a monotonous life behind a store counter and a dreary third-floor-back room, took her life in Los Angeles today.'
"Get the idea? 'Mary Jones' isn't the story. What she did, how she lived, what made her do it, that's what the story is. That brings a throb of sympathy, a tear perhaps, for her from someone who never heard of her and it helps to make better folks and a better world."
Brennan's way of talking entranced John. He realized there was more in reporting than he had ever imagined. P. Q. seemed to have forgotten him completely during the next few days. In the mornings he was given a few short clippings to rewrite and that was all.
"Don't worry, he's got an eye on you," Brennan told him. "And let me tell you something. Perhaps you've read stories about the cub reporter scooping the town, landing the big exclusive story and all that. Well, that's bunk. No cub reporter ever did it, not unless he was working against a bunch of other cubs. Why, he's lucky if he knows what to do with a big story when he's got one, let alone put it over on the star men of the other sheets."
A really first-class newspaper man, Brennan told him, was born and not made.
"You can make them up to a certain point, but no further," he said. "And take it from me, the ones that are born newspaper men aren't born every minute for Mr. Barnum or anyone else to get."
It was at noon of the third day he had been at work when John was given his first assignment. He saw P. Q. rise from his chair and look over the reporters at their desks and he heard him call his name.
"Here, Gallant, I want you to do something," the city editor said. "Lawn fete—charity stuff—out at palatial home of the Barton Randolphs. Society affair. Must have representative there. No story. Society editor takes care of that. Just get list of names and how much money they take in. Here's admission card. Beat it."
John was disappointed. He had hoped for something with a touch of adventure. Not until he left the office did he fully realize where he was going. Society lawn fete! He looked down at his well worn suit and remembered the patch on his trousers beneath his coat tail.
The home of the Barton Randolphs, in West Adams street, was one of the old mansions of that exclusive colony toward which the business district of Los Angeles was advancing, block by block. Set back from the street, its immaculate lawn dotted with shade-giving sycamore trees, it was reminiscent of one of the "stately homes of England." An iron fence topped with spear heads gave it a finishing touch of haughtiness.
John liked to think of homes and of trees as people. A stiffly built, sharply roofed house with "gingerbread" trimmings reminded him of a prim old maid. He imagined that he knew what sort of person owned a particular house simply by studying it. Houses, especially old homes, fascinated him and he worshiped trees with the fervor that inspired Joyce Kilmer.
The Barton Randolph home made John think of a fine old aristocrat, holding aloof from the world, conservative and with a love for old fashions and old friends, a contempt for things that are modern. As he stood at the gate he thought that the mansion was glaring at him with an upturned nose and this imaginative quirk caused him to hesitate to enter.
Before him on the cool green lawn moved groups of men and women, the women in snowy white. At intervals there were tea tables around which were couples, chatting languidly. Servants moved with quiet efficiency from the tables to the house and back again. The shade spread by the sycamore trees was pierced with shafts of sunlight that gave the lawn a mottled look. It seemed a place removed from all the world.
Once more John looked at his shabby suit, his dusty, worn shoes. Unconsciously he tugged at his coat tail because of an instinctive fear that the patch was showing. An idea of waiting outside until the fete was over came into his head.
"It can't be any worse than the wallop Battling Rodriguez gave me, so here goes," he said, starting up the finely graveled driveway with the same feeling he always had when he dashed down the beach to plunge into the cold waters of the ocean.
He tramped steadily along until he discovered that the driveway was circular and that if he kept on he would land out on the street again. Boldly he started across the lawn in the direction of the house. Somewhere on the grounds a stringed orchestra was playing. As he passed the tea tables he heard the clinking of ice in glasses. Looking neither to right nor left he felt that the eyes of everyone he passed were upon him. He tugged again at his coat tail.
He saw a servant stop and wait for him and he marched straight toward him.
"Tradesman?" asked the servant.
"Reporter," he said, looking straight into the other's eyes somewhat defiantly.
"Whom do you wish to see?"
"Mrs. Barton Randolph."
"This way, please."
He followed, past more tables, past more eyes. He watched while the servant approached the woman he knew to be Mrs. Barton Randolph, who excused herself from the group around her. The servant returned.
"You were sent here from your office?" he asked.
John produced the admission card given him by his city editor.
"Very well. Mrs. Randolph instructs me to tell you that any information you desire may be obtained from her secretary in half an hour. In the meanwhile you are to consider yourself as one of the guests."
He was not long in reaching the gravel driveway again and he was headed for the street, determined to wait there for the thirty minutes, when he noticed that to his left only a few of the tables were occupied. At one of these he could wait in the shade. Besides, he had a feeling that he was little more than a coward if he went outside.
Far back from the driveway, in fact at the table farthest from the drive, he seated himself with a sigh of relief. For a while he believed himself well alone, before he discovered that directly facing him sat another man, a man lounging in a wicker garden chair, alone, idly smoking a cigarette and gazing at him somewhat intently. Instantly John disliked this man, for two reasons: he was too immaculately dressed and his hair was so perfect that it appeared to have been moulded on his head.
The man continued to gaze at him, and John, feeling his face grow hot, stared back.
Then the man flicked the ash from his cigarette, turned lazily in his chair and raised his hand as a signal to a servant who was hovering over a table and who hurried to him in response. He spoke to the servant and inclined his head slightly in John's direction. The servant bowed and came toward John's table.
"If you're not a guest here, sir, you will kindly leave the grounds," he said.
John felt his blood gush through his veins. He saw the man in the wicker chair smile mildly and look up into the branches of the tree overhead. He overcame a wild impulse to step over and ruin the perfect hair.
"But it happens I am a guest," he said, as clearly as his choked back temper permitted.
"You are, sir!" the servant pretended astonished humiliation. "Would you be so good as to say by whose invitation?"
Then it happened. John afterwards was never quite sure what would have taken place there had it not occurred.
To John she seemed to have blossomed up out of the ground before them. He never saw anyone who looked more like a flower, a delicate, beautiful flower. She was in white, a quaint frock with ridiculously tiny puffed sleeves reaching only halfway to her elbows, gathered in with a narrow black ribbon. Something about her, the way she looked, the dress, the whole expression of her face, sent the thought "an old-fashioned girl" coursing through John's brain.
The servant stepped back.
"Do you happen to be the newspaper reporter—?" she said.
"Then I am so glad to have found you. Mrs. Randolph felt she was rather abrupt when you asked to see her and when she noticed you walking rapidly away she feared you were offended. I volunteered to find you." She was in the chair beside him.
"You are very kind and I am very happy," he managed to say. "I wasn't offended. I was embarrassed and frightened."
"By all this. The servant asked me if I was a tradesman—whatever that is—isn't that enough to frighten anyone?"
"I've read stories of reporters who never knew fear. And in plays the reporter always does the bravest things."
"In stories and in plays," he repeated. "This, too, is like a story or a play. Here I am rescued by a heroine who is—who is——"
"Who is what?"
"Beautiful." The word was no sooner spoken than he could have bitten off his tongue.
He hoped she would laugh it away, but she only looked at him, her lips parted, a hint of incredulousness in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said. He was glad now that she had not laughed or taken the word he had spoken lightly. He felt she knew he had not said it in an attempt at silly flirtation.
"You spoke of being rescued," she said, smiling again.
"Yes, and the villain is yet in the background," he said. "A devilishly handsome villain he is, too."
She glanced back over her shoulder. The servant had disappeared. The man in the wicker chair was looking at them, a half smile on his lips.
"Surely," she said, "not Mr. Gibson?"
"If Mr. Gibson is the gentleman in the chair over there, yes."
"And why a villain?"
"Well, he whispered something to the servant who was here when you came that caused him to come here and ask me to leave. That was how you rescued me."
"It is like a book or a play, isn't it?"
"Only in books and plays dreams come true," he told her. "And villains are vanquished."
"And what dream do you wish to come true?"
"A dream—a rather silly, hopeless, golden sort of dream—a dream of meeting you again."
Once more he could have bitten off his tongue. Now she would think him a maudlin flirt. He looked to the ground and saw his dusty, worn shoes. He was afraid to hear her speak, afraid to look up. At last he did, expecting to find her gone. But she was there, looking at him as she had when he told her she was beautiful, the same hint of incredulousness in her eyes.
"Don't say you're sorry," she said softly. "I'd like to think you meant it."
They were silent. He saw the man in the wicker chair rise, toss aside his cigarette and come toward them, slowly. They waited, without speaking, until he reached their table.
His eyes met Gibson's steadily for two tense seconds. Then he saw Gibson turn from him to the girl as if he was not there.
"Consuello," Gibson said.
"Reggie," she said, "a friend, Mr.——"
"John Gallant," John said, slowly.
"Mr. Gallant, Mr. Gibson," she said. They shook hands.
"I believe I saw Mr. Gallant several nights ago," Gibson said.
John waited, wondering how Gibson would say it.
"He was very busily engaged with another gentleman"—he gave a slight emphasis to the "gentleman"—"whose name, I believe, was Rodriguez."
"Really! You have met before?"
"Come, Consuello," said Gibson, "we must be trotting back to the house. The afternoon will be gone soon."
She saw the look in John's eyes before she answered:
"Reggie, you must excuse me. I'll be along shortly—with Mr. Gallant."
"Very well," Gibson turned leisurely and they watched him walk away.
He was only slightly incensed by Gibson's deliberate insult in strolling away without acknowledging, by even so much as a nod of his head, their introduction to each other by Consuello. He felt a tinge of satisfaction, of even vengeance.
"You mustn't let me keep you," he said, as he saw she still looked at Gibson's retreating figure and that an expression of astonishment was puzzling her face.
"It was wrong of him—I do not understand," she said. She laughed lightly. "But you must not believe him a villain. It was so unlike him. I'm sure he will tell you so himself before you leave."
The hum of starting motors came to them and through the trees John saw the first of the long line of automobiles go up the driveway toward the house. The fete was ending; the guests were leaving. He remembered why he was there; his appointment to meet Mrs. Randolph's secretary. They started across the lawn.
"Mrs. Randolph will believe I'm lost," she said. "I shouldn't be surprised if she has already sent someone to look for me."
"I hope——" he began.
"I hope you do not feel I have been bold," he said. "It was rude and presumptuous for me to say the things I did to you. Please try to understand and forgive me."
"If I say I believe I understand and that there is nothing to forgive, will you think me vain?" she asked.
They reached the driveway. Luxurious sedans and limousines with liveried chauffeurs blocked their crossing. She turned to him, her hand extended.
"Good afternoon," she said. "Sometime, soon perhaps, if you wish, we will meet again; you will hear from me, because—because I—think you meant it." She added the final words lightly and with a smile.
"I did," he said.
She turned to the driveway. An automobile stopped and she crossed over in the gap of the line of motors it made for her. The machine moved forward again, blocking any sight of her as she went on toward the house.
The list of guests and the amount of money netted by the fete he received from Mrs. Randolph's secretary in neatly typewritten lists. The last of the motors were chugging up the driveway as he left. He walked out into the street, toward the car line, bound for his office.
As he waited at the corner for his car a low, rakish roadster stopped before him. He heard a creaking of brakes and saw the back wheels of the machine lock as it came to a stop. He looked up. Gibson was at the wheel, Consuello at his side.
"Mr. Gallant," Gibson called.
John stepped forward. Gibson leaned toward him, his hand outstretched.
"Miss Carrillo has reminded me I made rather a fool of myself back there at the table," he said, smiling. "Perhaps you may understand the position I was in. I offer my apologies."
John gripped his hand.
"Thanks," said Gibson. "You understand how it is."
"Yes," assented John, without really knowing what his answer meant.
"Sorry there isn't room to give you a lift to town," Gibson said, racing the motor and shifting the gear. As the machine moved away John saw Consuello smile and there was an echo of gladness in his heart.
But a disconcerting thought crept into John's mind as he watched Gibson's machine disappear in the traffic. Had she only been kind to him because of an instinctive sympathy, born of good breeding, for his embarrassment there on the lawn? Was she laughing now with Gibson, telling him of her experience with a flirtatious or sickly sentimental cub reporter? Something in the manner of Gibson as he offered his apology caused this suspicion to spring into his mind against her.
Yes, that was it. She had only pitied him, his awkwardness, his apparent discomfort, his shabby suit, his worn shoes. She had led him artfully into telling her she was beautiful and that he dreamed—he cursed himself as he remembered his words, "a rather silly, hopeless, golden sort of dream,"—of meeting her again. Meet him again? Why, she would probably forget him tomorrow unless she recalled how he had acted and told it as something to laugh over.
What a fool, what a weak, mawkish, insipid fool he had made of himself!
He burned with humiliation. Even if she had been sincere, what would she think of him when Gibson told her of his fight at Vernon with Battling Rodriguez? He could see her, in his imagination, assuring Gibson that had she known he was a prize fighter, a brute who fought with his fists for money, she would never have spoken to him. Of course, Gibson would not tell her why he had fought at Vernon. He felt this instinctively.
He pictured her and Gibson together at all sorts of places, on a yacht cruising around Catalina island, on the links at a country club, a ball at the Ambassador, racing along the coast road to Santa Barbara in Gibson's expensive car, at the opera and supper later. Then thought of the patch on his own trousers. Oh, what a fool he had been!
When he returned to the office—it was after 5 o'clock—he found it deserted except for Brennan and P. Q. Brennan was squatted on the city editor's desk. P. Q. was leaning back in his swivel chair, his feet perched on the desk before him.
"Well, son, how did you enjoy your afternoon in society?" he asked as John handed in the typewritten sheets given him by Mrs. Randolph's secretary. He glanced at the list of guests.
"I see Gibson's name here—Reginald Gibson—did you happen to meet him or see him out there?"
John was startled. He had heard the reporters tell of P. Q.'s superhuman ability of knowing, without being told, what his men did out on assignments. What made him ask if he had met Gibson?
"Yes—I saw—I met him," he replied.
"You did, huh? Well, you must have been mixing in proper. I wish I'd known Gibson was out there. Brennan, here, has been trying to find him all afternoon. You don't happen to know where he is now, do you?"
"I saw him leave."
"No, there was someone with him in his car."
"Who was it?" Brennan asked.
"Miss Consuello Carrillo," John answered, puzzled by this cross-examination.
"Good!" exclaimed Brennan, sliding from his perch on the desk and seizing a telephone book.
"How did you happen to know who it was with Gibson?" asked P. Q., as Brennan disappeared into a telephone booth.
"I—I—met her," John said, his puzzled feeling turning to astonishment.
"Well, well, you WERE mixing in, weren't you?" P. Q. smiled. "Gibson was appointed police commissioner a few hours ago. He's a good man for you to know, because if we're not mistaken he's going to start something that will keep him on the front page for some time to come."
Brennan came hustling out of the phone booth.
"She asked if you were here—wants to speak to you," he said.
"To me? Who?" asked John.
"Miss Carrillo. I telephoned her place to try to reach Gibson. She said he had just left and asked me if you had returned yet. Get in there and find out if anyone's got to Gibson yet about his appointment as police commissioner."
Brennan stuck his head in the booth to listen as John lifted the receiver.
"Hello," he said.
"Mr. Gallant?" it was her voice.
"You see, he did not forget. I did not ask him to make that apology; I only told him I thought he had been forgetful."
"Yes," said John, realizing she was referring to the apology offered him by Gibson.
"Now that he is a police commissioner he will need you, as a newspaper man, for a friend."
"Ask her if he has given any interviews yet," Brennan put in.
"Has Mr. Gibson made a statement concerning his appointment?" John asked.
"No, I don't believe he knows yet that he has been appointed."
"Where is he now?" prompted Brennan.
"Do you know where he went when he left your place?"
"No, I'm sorry, I don't. Home, I suppose."
"Thank you, Miss Carrillo."
"Don't think him a—a—a villain, will you?"
"Why should I?"
"You thought him one at the fete this afternoon. I'm sure you know now that he is not. And remember, we are to see each other again."
"I won't forget. Good-by."
"What did she say?" demanded Brennan.
"She says Gibson doesn't know yet that he had been appointed commissioner and that she supposes he started for home when he left her place."
Brennan eyed him shrewdly.
"You seem to know her rather well," he ventured.
P. Q. said it was too late to get anything Gibson might say if they located him into the last edition for that day. He instructed Brennan to see Gibson as early as possible in the morning.
"And suppose you take Gallant along with you. He seems to have got acquainted with Gibson," he added.
"And Consuello," appended Brennan.
The story that Gibson gave John and Brennan the following morning carried the big black banner headline in every edition—"Gibson Plans Cleanup Crusade," "Gibson Charges L. A. Police Graft," "New Commissioner Wants Police Shakeup." Beside the story, which was written by Brennan, were photographs of Gibson glaring into the camera with an upraised fist. "Action stuff," it was called by P. Q.
Gibson was in his office in a downtown business block when Brennan and John found him.
"How are you, Gallant?" he asked, smiling and brisk. "Glad to meet you, Brennan. Step right into my office, boys. I suppose you're after a story. Well, I'll give it to you."
He handed them each a typewritten statement.
"Read that through and if you have any questions I'm here to answer them," he said.
Two pages of the statement contained a hot attack on the police department. He charged that the department was disorganized, honeycombed with graft, tolerating and protecting vice conditions, inefficient and negligent. He cited the operations of bunko swindlers, gamblers and bandits and declared that the city was "wide open."
"The fair name of Los Angeles is being dragged in the mire by grafting politicians, crooks and police grafters," one sentence of the statement read.
In another page and a half he pledged himself to a crusade to clean up the city, announcing that he had been assured of the support of the churches and various business organizations as well as, he believed, "every self-respecting and upstanding citizen of the city."
"I intend to hew to the line, let the chips fall where they may," the statement said. "I'm in this fight to the finish. Vice, gambling, banditry, lewd women and graft must go. Without having received the slightest intimation that the mayor intended appointing me to the board of police commissioners I have been accumulating evidence of conditions in Los Angeles for months. I have enough information now to start firing my guns and I call upon the law-abiding citizens of this great city to stand with me in the fight."
To the statement was affixed the signature, "Reginald Gibson."
"I suppose, Mr. Gibson," said Brennan, "that everything you care to say now is included in this statement?"
"There is only one question I wish to ask you."
"Shoot," acquiesced the new commissioner.
"Have you any intention of entering the race for mayor at the next election?"
"None whatever," Gibson hammered his fist down on the table. "I have no political aspirations. I am actuated only by a desire on my part and on the part of other citizens and organizations who realize conditions in Los Angeles to restore this city to its place as the great metropolis of the West."
"I understand," said Brennan. "I only asked that question in fairness to yourself."
"I'm willing to write out a check right now for $1,000 to be given to charity the minute I announce myself as candidate for mayor or for any other public elective office," Gibson declared.
"No need, Mr. Commissioner," Brennan said. "We'd like you to stand for a photograph, if you have no strenuous objection."
"I suppose I'll have to," he said. "How do you want me?"
The photographer, called in from another room, set up his camera.
"One at your desk first, Mr. Gibson," he said.
Gibson drew a small pocket mirror and looked into it, smoothing back the hair that had irritated John when they first met because it was so perfect. John saw Brennan wink at him.
"How's this?" asked Gibson, seating himself at his desk, turning toward the camera in his swivel chair and holding a sheet of letter paper as though he had been disturbed by the photographer in the middle of the reading of an important document.
"Fine, hold it," said the photographer. The flashlight boomed, sending a puff of white smoke into the air.
"You had better take another, I blinked my eyes that time," said Gibson.
"Gotcha before you blinked," the photographer explained. "Now one standing if you please, Mr. Gibson. Bend over a little. That's it, clinch your fist and raise it up as though you were going to hit someone. That's it. Fine, thank you."
The flashlight boomed again, filling the room with smoke.
"I dislike this business of posing for photographs," Gibson said. "I suppose it has to be, though."
Brennan tipped another wink to John. This time John winked back.
On their way back to the office John asked Brennan what he thought of Gibson and his statement.
"It's a story, a good one," said Brennan. "One of the kind that's always good. Wealthy young reformer wants to clean up town. Out to clean up the police department. It's always gone big since Roosevelt did it in New York. Lot of bromides in the statement 'hew to the line and let the chips fall where they may,' 'fair name of our great city being dragged in the mire' and stuff like that, but it'll get over."
John was somewhat surprised by Brennan's way of answering.
"And what about Gibson?" he asked.
"Gibson may be sincere and he may not. He's either a comer or a sap. If he means what he says and goes through with it, he'll have the whole city behind him. If he's just doing a lot of grandstanding or if he's playing someone's political game, that's another thing. Just remember one thing, we may need it some time; remember what he said when I asked him if he was out to be mayor!"
John was unwilling to take the skeptical attitude shown by the older reporter.
"If he really has no idea of running for mayor, what else could cause him to do what he says he will except a sincere desire to keep things clean and straight?" he asked.
"Well," said Brennan, "some of them are out for glory and some of them play a deeper game. Sometimes it's a girl."
John thought of Consuello.
"Maybe he's in love with fair Consuello," Brennan suggested, smiling. "Wants to do something big and glorious to win her."
"I'm willing to give him a chance," John said. "I can't help but think he's sincere. Let's hope so, anyway."
"Gallant," said Brennan, after they had walked half a block without speaking. "I'd give anything in the world to have your faith in mankind. Try and keep it as long as you can. That's the trouble with most reporters. They see so much of the other side of life that they drop into cynicism and that ruins them. You are ready to believe, I am ready to disbelieve. Keep on believing, Gallant. If you're deceived once, twice, any number of times, keep on believing."
John was strangely impressed by these words from Brennan. It was a new light on the character of the most interesting man he had ever met. He wondered if years ahead he would be saying the same thing to some young reporter.
As P. Q. had predicted, Gibson was in the headlines for the remainder of the week. His announcement of a clean-up crusade although apparently a direct slap at the administration, was followed by a pledge from the mayor to support him.
"What else could the mayor do?" Brennan said to John. "He can't very well sit back while Gibson goes ahead in his campaign to clamp down the lid and clean up the department. He would put himself in a position to be attacked for failure to enforce the law.
"He can't fire Gibson. That would give Gibson a chance to holler that the mayor was afraid of a graft expose and was hand in hand with crooks. If he comes out and fires him as a misguided sensationalist—it would be hard to get that across because of Gibson's holler about graft—it's a confession of his own poor judgment. Whoever wished Gibson on him certainly got the mayor in a jam.
"Suppose he goes ahead and supports Gibson, don't you see what that will mean? It means that Gibson will be mayor. Everybody will say, 'Why didn't our mayor do this before Gibson came along?' Gibson will be the uncrowned king. Why, unless something upsets him, Gibson will be able to name the next mayor of Los Angeles by simply indorsing the man's candidacy.
"Gibson may not realize all this, but if he doesn't I'll be badly fooled. Whatever his game is, he has the mayor all tied up right at the start. All he has to do is to go ahead with his program of personally conducted raids and exposes. Then he'll be the most powerful man in Los Angeles. When he is that, we'll know for sure whether he was right or not. It's when a man gets power in his hands that you can tell what he is."
Two days after his appointment as a commissioner, Gibson demanded the resignation of Police Chief Sweeney. He gave Brennan and John the story, another typewritten statement, to which was attached his letter to the mayor calling upon him for Sweeney's removal.
"That's a pretty one," commented Brennan. "Now, if the mayor fires Sweeney, Gibson will be able to name the next chief. If he doesn't let Sweeney go, Gibson will be able to holler that the mayor isn't supporting him."
John was still reluctant to believe Gibson's moves were as sinister as Brennan viewed them. There were times when, under Brennan's logic, he began to doubt Gibson's sincerity.
Then Gibson disappeared. For three days he was absent from his office. Brennan and John sought him at his home, his club, without success.
"He's up to something," predicted Brennan. "There'll be a story popping when he shows up again."
* * * * *
It was Saturday morning when John received a note from Consuello inviting him to spend Sunday afternoon and evening at the ranch home of her father and mother.
"I am keeping my promise," she wrote. "Would you care to visit with me at the home of my father and mother, Sunday? It is such a delightfully interesting old place. I'm certain you will enjoy it.
"If you find yourself able to accept this invitation let me know by telephone and we will arrange for me to pick you up when I drive out early in the afternoon. I do hope you can come."
It was signed, "Sincerely, Consuello Carrillo."
He found her telephone number listed beside her name. The fact that she resided in Los Angeles while her parents apparently lived out of the city puzzled him.
"Town house and old country home," he said to himself as he picked up the telephone to call her.
"Oh, I'm so glad you can go with me," she said. "I have a car. Shall I call for you at two? Or shall I meet you somewhere else you may suggest?"
He thought of the commotion it would cause in the neighborhood of his home to have her call for him there.
"Could I possibly meet you at Seventh and Broadway?" he asked, fearing that such a request might be considered extraordinary.
"Seventh and Broadway at two, then," she said.
A liveried chauffeur was at the wheel of the big touring car in which she met him. It frightened him somewhat to think that such wealth was hers. Curiously, he was relieved when she said:
"A friend is so kind as to place this car at my disposal every Sunday, so I may make my week-end visits home in comfort."
Instinctively John felt that it was Gibson's machine.
As the automobile glided through the city traffic and out to the smooth boulevards of the open country they spoke of Gibson's mysterious absence during the past few days.
"He told me that business, something very important, called him away," she said. "He promised he would be back some time this week. I suppose whatever has taken him away has to do with his work as a commissioner."
She wore the same quaintly beautiful white frock that John had so admired when he first saw her at the lawn fete at the Barton Randolph home. He saw that her eyes and hair were brown, her lips a coral red, her skin faintly tinted olive. Her features were small and delicately formed. Her feet were positively tiny and he marveled at the natural curve of the high instep.
"Tell me," she said, "what do people think of Mr. Gibson as a commissioner?"
He thought of Brennan's skepticism and the frankly expressed doubt of other newspaper men of Gibson's motives.
"Generally he has the support of the city," he answered. "There are some, however, who impute a selfish desire for political power to his work."
"How ridiculous!" she exclaimed, laughing. "Hasn't he told you he has no aspiration to become mayor or to be rewarded with anything else but the satisfaction of knowing that he has done something for the city?"
"He has, and I believe him."
"Why did people doubt? He has told me that it will be a struggle and has been so kind as to ask me to keep faith in him no matter what arises. He knows that he will be attacked viciously by the element he is seeking to drive from the city. I believe in him. I think it is such a splendid thing he is doing. I knew that you would feel the same."
Brennan's words, "Some of them are out for glory and some of them play a deeper game, sometimes it's a girl," came back to him. If it was for her, to win her commendation and respect, that Gibson was fighting, then, John thought, Gibson was a modern knight-errant riding into battle against the forces of evil, a twentieth century Sir Galahad. And what a "lady fair" to battle for!
"But let's forget all that for now," she said. "See, we are leaving the city behind us. That is how I always feel when I'm on my way home again. The ranch is home to me, you know. I was born there. I do not know what would happen to me if I was unable to return home at least once every week. It takes me away from all the fret and bother of the city."
John wondered what her "fret and bother" in the city could be except, perhaps, a never-ending round of parties and lawn fetes and social affairs. Why had she to live in the city at all and why wasn't it her machine they were riding in and her chauffeur at the wheel?
"You'll love my father," she said. "Everyone does. He is such a dear, gentle old soul. He was born on the ranch 72 years ago. And mother's grandfather sailed from New York to Nicaragua, crossing over to the Pacific Coast by foot and in the canoes of natives. At San Juan del Sur he was carried out through the surf into boats that took him to the steamship which brought him to San Francisco. Father's stories of the old days in Los Angeles are a treat.
"Let me tell you one of them. Do you know how Spring street came to be named? Lieut. Edward O. C. Ord—for whom Ord street was named—was one of the first to make a survey of what is now the city of Los Angeles. At the time Spring street was surveyed he was asked to name it. He was in love with the beautiful Senorita Trinidad de la Guerra, to whom he always referred as Mi Primavera, which is 'My Springtime.' So when he was asked for a name for the new street he replied gallantly, 'Primavera, of course, for Mi Primavera.' That is only one of the stories he tells of the romance of old Los Angeles."
The automobile, traveling out along the Laguna-Bell road, reached a cross-roads shaded by tall and spreading trees. Back from the road John saw an old house that charmed him. It was of whitewashed adobe, two stories in height. Entirely around the second story was a balcony of wood, ascended by an open stairway. Wooden shutters were opened at the windows, the sills of which were two feet in thickness.
"The old Lugo ranch house," Consuello explained, catching his inquiring look. "Don Mario Lugo was a sturdy caballero in old Los Angeles. He had a silver mounted saddle, bridle and spurs that cost $1,500 and he wore an ornamental sword strapped to his saddle in Spanish soldier fashion.
"He owned the San Antonio rancho and when he was 75 years old he owned 29,000 acres of land. His three sons owned another 37,000 acres. Twenty-two thousand acres—the Rancho del Chino—was granted him by the government. Father remembers him well.
"How few of us living in Los Angeles now know of the sleepy little old town it used to be. How little we know or seem to care to know of the old days, the days of adventure and romance. For me, my father's stories of old times never grow old."
It was as John thought. She was an "old-fashioned" girl. How refreshing she was, how different from the girls he saw on Broadway. She was the girl he had dreamed of. This "girl of his dreams" had been a vague picture, but he realized now that she was the girl who was beside him.
He recalled how bitterly he had felt toward her when he left the Barton Randolph lawn fete, how he had cursed himself as a fool for ever having told her she was beautiful. He wondered if Gibson had told her of seeing him in the ring at Vernon, if they had ever spoken of him at all. He could not think of her now as pitying him as he had when he berated himself after first having met her.
Thoughts of Gibson and Brennan came back into his mind. He believed more than ever that Gibson was sincere. He could not force himself to believe that Gibson would intentionally violate the trust and faith Consuello had placed in him. He knew now that she cared for Gibson, perhaps loved him. There was no doubt that Gibson was in love with her. Brennan was right in one thing, that Gibson was working to win Consuello's admiration, but he was wrong, as he had confessed was possible, in suspecting Gibson of a greed for power simply for power's sake.
Where was Gibson, anyway? What was he doing? What would be his next move? Would the mayor remove Chief Sweeney at his demand?
Their machine turned abruptly into a side road, shaded by widespreading walnut trees.
"We're nearly home," Consuello said.
On either side were orchard trees. The air was quiet, cool. Hedges of pink Cherokee roses lined the road. The machine stopped beside a stretch of closely cropped lawn. On the wide veranda of the Carrillo home John caught his first glimpse of Consuello's father and mother, seated restfully in porch chairs. He saw both had snow white hair.
"Here we are—there's daddy and mamma," Consuello said, waving to them.
They started across the lawn to the house, Consuello skipping a few steps ahead of him. He thought her more beautiful than ever before as she danced before him clearly outlined in her white frock against the deep green of the grass.
In the cool of the evening, after dinner, they sat on the veranda listening to the reminiscent stories of Consuello's father, the first of the fine old Spanish aristocrats of Southern California John had ever met. Don Ygnacio Carrillo wore a dark blue broadcloth suit with black velvet lapels and cuffs, a spotless, stiffly starched, pleated linen shirt and a loose black silk bow tie. His fluffy white hair contrasted beautifully, John thought, with his skin, tinted a pale amber.
The gracious hospitality of his hosts, so typical of the pioneers of the early southland, had put John completely at his ease. They had eaten from a solid mahogany table which, he was told, had been brought "around the Horn" in a sailing vessel.
Consuello curled herself at her father's feet. Her mother, whose grandfather made the arduous trip across the isthmus which Consuello had described, was the descendant of a New England family who had adopted the picturesque customs of the Spanish family into which she had married. As she sat with them she wore a finely-spun black lace mantilla, or shawl, around her shoulders.
"I promised Mr. Gallant you would tell us stories of the old days in Los Angeles, father," said Consuello.
"Ah, no, Mi Primavera. I would not care to bore Mr. Gallant with such dusty old tales. He is a lad of today," her father stroked her head as it rested against his knee.
"Mi Primavera," My Springtime, how well her father's pet name suited her! John wondered why he had not transferred it to her when she told him the story of the naming of Spring street.
"Do tell us, Mr. Carrillo," he begged. "Consuello has already told me how Spring street was named. Old stories, old homes, the old names of old streets charm me."
"Old streets—old names," said Don Ygnacio, as if to himself. "Si, I will tell you. Pardon an old man if he seems garrulous.
"What is now San Fernando street, my children, was once the Street of the Maids. Was not that a prettier name? Aliso street is from the Castilian 'aliso,' meaning alder tree. In 1829 Jean Louis Vignes—after whom Vignes street was named—set out a vineyard through which Aliso street now runs. Someone misapplied the word 'aliso' to a sycamore tree in front of the Vignes home and that was how the street was given its name.
"Broadway was Fort street. J. M. Griffith built the first two-story frame house in Los Angeles between Second and Third on which is now Broadway in 1874. Judge H. K. S. O'Melveney built the second. Then it was the choice residential district.
"I remember that Senor Griffith spoke to me one day. I think it was in '74, telling me that Fort street was destined to become the most important business street of Los Angeles. How strange his words seemed to me then!
"My friend, George D. Rowan, who brought to Los Angeles the first phaeton seen in our streets, was responsible for the changing of the name of Fort street to Broadway. I remember when he subdivided the block bounded by Sixth, Seventh, Hill and Olive streets and sold 60-foot lots for $600. Ah, if we had only known in those days what a great city Los Angeles was to become!
"Late in the fifties O. W. Childs contracted with the city to dig a water ditch 1,600 feet long, 18 inches wide and 18 inches deep and the city allowed him a dollar per running foot. In payment for the ditch digging he took land, a large part of which was the square from Sixth street to Twelfth street, from Main to Figueroa. When Childs put this property into the market his wife named the streets.
"Because of the large number of grasshoppers in the vicinity she called the extension of Pearl street, which is now Figueroa, Calle de los Chapules, or the Street of the Grasshoppers. Three streets she called after the trio of Graces. Faith, Hope and Charity. The street she named Faith is now Flower and Charity street became Grand avenue. And can you imagine why these names were changed? Why, because residents of the two streets objected to being referred to as 'living on Faith and Charity!'
"None of us old settlers placed much value on real estate then. Childs gave to the church the block bounded by Broadway, Seventh, Hill and Sixth. In the boom year of 1887 this block was sold for $100,000 and St. Vincent's college, which had occupied the site, was moved to the corner of Washington and Charity—Grand avenue it is now.
"In those days too, we had a Lovers' Lane. It was a narrow road, deep with dust and shaded by willow trees that followed the line of what is now Date street and Main street was then Calle Principal. There are few who recall where Pound Cake Hill was. It was the hill on which now stands the county courthouse at Broadway and Temple.
"My father often told me of the great horse race between Jose Andres Sepulveda's 'Black Swan' and Pio Pico's 'Sarco.' Don Jose imported the 'Black Swan' from Australia while Don Pio's horse was a California steed. The race was run along a nine-mile course on San Pedro street in '52.
"Whoever had money to bet and those who had not were in Los Angeles that day, many coming from San Francisco and San Diego. Twenty-five thousand dollars, 500 horses, 500 mares, 500 heifers, 500 calves and 500 sheep were among the stakes put up. The wife of Jose Sepulveda was driven to the scene of the race with a fortune in gold slugs carried in a large handkerchief which she opened to distribute $50 gold pieces to her attendants and servants to wager. The 'Black Swan' won easily."
John was carried away by the stories told them by Don Ygnacio. He closed his eyes as the old man spoke and into his mind came the pictures of the Los Angeles of other days, the romance and adventure of the drowsy little town that has become the greatest city of the West.
A full moon touched the house, the lawn, the trees, with silver. Consuello, too, he saw, was dreaming of the days of long ago. As her father completed the story of the horse race he paused and they sat silent, the spell of reminiscence upon the elder couple and of imagination upon Consuello and John.
"It is growing late, Mi Primavera," her father said. "If you are to return to the city tonight you must leave soon."
Consuello rose and went into the house with her mother. Don Ygnacio and John stood waiting. Finally, breaking a silence of several minutes, the old man spoke.
"This is the home of my fathers," he said. "All that is left. They counted their land in hundreds of acres. Now only a few acres remain, just as much as you can see. What little is left will go when I go and the Carrillo home will be no more."
John felt the mood of the elderly aristocrat of other days. He stood silent.
"Where you stand Pio Pico once took me, as a child, in his arms. Here we danced and sang and loved and lived and here also will I die."
Consuello and her mother returned and they walked out to the waiting automobile.
"I have never had such a delightful day," John said to her father and mother as they took their seats in the machine. "I thank you—from the bottom of my heart."
"Come often, my boy, the home of the Carrillos is always open to a friend of Mi Primavera," said Don Ygnacio.
They rode in silence for many miles, the automobile humming over the smooth, deserted boulevards almost as bright as day in the moonlight.
Then Consuello spoke.
"I always hate to leave them there—they seem so lonely," she said.
"You must leave them?" John asked in surprise.
"Yes," she said, slowly, softly, thoughtfully.
She offered no explanation. John wondered why it was. He had always thought of her as the daughter of a family financially comfortable, perhaps wealthy. He recalled that there was no automobile or garage at the Carrillo home and that they were riding in a machine some one had put at her disposal. Her name, he knew, as a Carrillo was enough to admit her to such homes as the Barton Randolphs.
The words of her father—"this is all that is left, what you see around you"—came back to him. Could it possibly be that they were actually poor?
Because it was late she insisted upon taking him to his home.
"Sometime," he said as they parted, "I want you to meet my mother."
"I should like to very, very much," she answered. "And we must see each other again, soon."
"You have already made a dream come true," he said. "I shall never forget your kindness."
"Do not think of it that way," she said. "We shall be friends, very good friends, I am sure. Good night."
"Good night and—thank you," he said.
That night he lay awake until past midnight, recalling everything that happened during the day. His thoughts of Consuello gave place to speculation of what had become of Gibson and what would develop with his return in the coming week.
Early Monday morning Brennan and John were called to the city editor's desk and P. Q. ordered them to renew their search for Gibson.
"Drop everything else and don't stop until you find him," he said. "As you say, Brennan, he's up to something and it's up to us to keep our eyes wide open. The mayor is sitting tight on Gibson's ultimatum on Chief Sweeney's resignation and Sweeney's out this morning with a demand that Gibson co-operate with him and the department in his campaign. Get to work now and find Gibson."
"I was thinking," said Brennan, "that Gibson's friend, Miss Carrillo, might know where he was. Gallant here should be able to find out what she knows."
"Miss Carrillo knows no more than we do," John volunteered.
"What makes you think so?" asked Brennan.
"She told me."
"What did she say?"
"Gibson told her that important business was taking him away and that he would be back sometime this week."
"And she has no idea of what he's doing?"
"Well," said Brennan. "That's that. Come on, Gallant, let's be going."
The first edition of their newspaper carried Sweeney's statement calling upon Gibson to work with him instead of against him and the department in his effort to clean up the city.
"If Commissioner Gibson has any evidence that Los Angeles is wide open, as he says, he should turn it over to the police department and I'll guarantee that conditions will be remedied before morning," Sweeney's statement read. "The police department is functioning. I'll stay on the job until the mayor removes me.
"I deny the commissioner's charge that graft exists in the department and that the city is wide open. Let him come out and put his cards on the table, face up. If he has any reason to hesitate to take me into his confidence, why doesn't he say so. He speaks of the fair name of Los Angeles being dragged in the mire. I claim he is broadcasting that the city is wide open without tangible substantiation of his charge."
Brennan puffed at his inevitable cigarette as they headed for Gibson's office.
"She said she had no idea where he is and what he is doing, did she?" said Brennan. "How come you thought of asking her about it?"
"She mentioned it to me," evaded John, reluctant to relate the details of his conversation with Consuello. There appeared no reason, he thought, to bring her into the situation precipitated by Gibson's disappearance.
They went over the ground they had covered the week before in searching for Gibson, but were unable to uncover a single piece of information concerning the commissioner's whereabouts. At his office his secretary told them that he had not seen nor heard from him since the day he disappeared.
"Aren't you a bit concerned about his unusual absence?" asked Brennan.
"No, you see he told me he would be back sometime this week and cautioned me not to seek to locate him," the secretary answered.
"Wherever he is, he's certainly covered up his tracks well," commented Brennan as they left.
"What about Sweeney—is he square?" John asked.
"I don't know anything against the chief," Brennan said. "It seems to me he has the town as clean as it has ever been. I think he's straight. I think most of the men in the department are straight. Some of them are grafting—there are always a few crooks in any large body of men—and the chief has always fired them as fast as he found them.
"That's what makes me inclined to believe that Gibson may be off on the wrong foot. That and one other thing."
"What?" asked John, expecting to hear another skeptical dissertation by Brennan on Gibson's motives.
"Because the mayor and Sweeney are hated by 'Gink' Cummings," said Brennan. "If Los Angeles ever had a boss of the underworld, the 'Gink' is the man. He bosses everything, gambling, stick-ups, bookmakers, pickpockets, bunko men, street walking women and dope peddling.
"He's been out to get Sweeney and the mayor ever since they took office. Whoever the 'Gink's' against you can bet all you have is straight. Until the mayor and Sweeney stepped in the 'Gink' had everything his own way. If the department is as rotten as Gibson says it is then you can blame it on the 'Gink.' Gibson must know him. I've been wondering why he hasn't come out with a blast about him."
"Perhaps that's why he disappeared—working to get Cummings," John suggested.
"Maybe," said Brennan. "I've thought of that, too. What I can't understand, though, is why Gibson wants Sweeney fired when the chief is the 'Gink's' worst enemy."
That afternoon they heard from Gibson. The secretary of the missing commissioner called them by telephone and they hurried to his office. He handed them a sealed envelope addressed, "Brennan and Gallant." Brennan tore it open and extracted two sheets of paper.
At the bottom of one of the sheets appeared Gibson's signature. It was a statement issued by the commissioner for publication and read:
"I feel that the mayor has had a reasonable amount of time in which to consider my request for the removal of Chief Sweeney. Unless such action is taken by noon tomorrow I will know that the mayor is against me instead of with me in my efforts to clean up Los Angeles. In that event I will endeavor to put before the people of this city satisfactory evidence of my charge that the police department is disorganized, inefficient and honeycombed with graft."
The other sheet was a brief note to Brennan and John which was marked "Strictly Confidential."
"Don't try to find me," it read. "There is no reason for you to worry about my continued absence. Tomorrow night, if the mayor does not ask for Sweeney's resignation, be at your office at 6 o'clock and you will hear from me. I'll probably have a real story for you."
"What did I tell you?" said Brennan, showing as much excitement as John had ever seen him give way to.
Gibson's ultimatum demanding Sweeney's resignation by noon of the next day was printed under another heavy black headline and brought the situation to a crisis. The chief repeated his declaration that he would stay in office until the mayor called for his resignation and the mayor locked himself in his office at the city hall. Only those the mayor sent for, to confer with concerning the predicament in which Gibson's latest statement had placed him, were admitted to his office.
The organizations that Gibson had named as standing behind him in his crusade came out with hastily adopted resolutions indorsing him and stating openly that they would consider it as a "hostile" move if the mayor refused to oust the police chief. Principal among these commendations of Gibson was that of the ministerial association, an organization recognized throughout Los Angeles as determined to keep the city clean and free from political graft and bribery.
Tuesday morning the mayor took his stand. He announced that he could not accede to Gibson's demand for Chief Sweeney's removal.
"Commissioner Gibson has failed to furnish me with any evidence to support his charges against Chief Sweeney and the police department," the mayor's statement read. "In the absence of such information, I cannot see why I should ask for Chief Sweeney's resignation. It would be manifestly unfair to remove a man like Sweeney without proof of a sufficient reason for such action."
"It's a war now—war to the finish," said Brennan, who waited at the city hall until after 1 o'clock in the afternoon, half expecting the mayor to accede to Gibson's demand at the last minute or to see Gibson appear with evidence against Sweeney to force his removal. But the mayor "stood pat" and Gibson remained away.
The office was deserted as they waited that night for the call Gibson promised he would make at 6 o'clock. They showed Gibson's note to P. Q. when they reached the office with it and he had given them rather unnecessary instructions to be on the job.
"Don't get lost or wander away," he said. "I've ordered Benton to be here with you and I'll be at home if you want me in a hurry."
Benton was the staff photographer.
Brennan covered the top of his desk with cigarette stubs, stood on end in his characteristic way, as the hands of the clock neared 6.
"I hope Gibson is letting us have this alone—didn't tip the other papers," he said.
Sharply at the appointed time the telephone bell tinkled and Brennan lifted the receiver.
"Yes," he said. "This is Brennan. Yes, he's here.—Where?—All right, we'll be right down."
"He's at his office," Brennan explained and they started away, the photographer trailing them.
The door of Gibson's office was locked when they reached it. Brennan rapped.
"Who is it?" they heard Gibson's voice ask from the other side.
"Brennan and Gallant."
The key turned in the lock and the door opened. They scarcely recognized Gibson as he stood before them. He wore a peaked cap pulled down over his eyes, a flannel shirt and a well worn suit, spotted with grease and oil. A stubble of black beard covered his face and his hands were black and grimy.
"Come in, boys," he said, laughing. "Something's going to happen before morning."
Gibson carefully locked the door behind them as they entered and led them to an inner office, the door of which he also locked. The blinds of the window were down in this room and an electric globe over Gibson's desk furnished the only light.
As the commissioner pulled the cap from his head and seated himself at his desk, motioning them to other chairs, John was astonished by the change in his appearance. His hair, usually so perfectly combed, was tousled and unkempt and his eyes were a trifle bloodshot. He noticed that Brennan was also studying Gibson questioningly.
"I gave you something of a surprise, didn't I?" said Gibson with a laugh, as he saw the reporters examining him.
"You certainly did," said Brennan. "I've been trying to figure out what's coming."
"No need," said Gibson. "I'll tell you everything. But before I begin I must ask you to pledge yourselves to secrecy. Not a word of what I am about to tell you must be breathed to a soul until I give permission. I'm going to put my trust in you boys and you must also agree to go through with your parts in what I am going to place before you. Is it a go?"
John waited for Brennan to answer.
"You can rely on us," Brennan said, and John nodded his assent when Gibson looked to him for confirmation.
Gibson drew a watch from his vest pocket and glanced at it. John noticed that it was a cheap nickel-plated timepiece instead of the thin gold one he had seen the commissioner wear previously.
"I'll have to talk fast," Gibson said. "I haven't any time to spare. Every minute counts now and as I tell you my story you'll understand. Pay close attention because you must grasp the situation thoroughly."
The last admonition was superfluous. Brennan and John were on the edge of their chairs.
"I'll begin at the beginning," he continued. "About a week ago one of the detectives I have employed to help me in my crusade came to me with information concerning a plot to wreck and rob the Southern Pacific passenger train 'Lark' near Los Angeles. He told me that the man planning the robbery was known as 'Red Mike,' an ex-convict with a grudge against the Southern Pacific. He had run across 'Mike' in a Los Angeles street rooming house.
"This detective gained 'Red Mike's' confidence and he wanted him to join with him in the wrecking of the 'Lark.' My detective learned from 'Red Mike' that he planned to throw the 'Lark' into a ditch by placing a derailer on the track at a point in the hills a short distance from the city and to rob the mail car in the confusion of the wreck.
"'Red Mike' said he could not carry the thing through himself, that he needed a partner, someone to help him carry away the loot and drive an automobile in which they were to escape over the border into Mexico. My detective told me that 'Red Mike' was desperate and knew his business.
"When I heard this story I decided to thwart 'Red Mike' myself. I told my detective I would act the part of 'Red Mike's' partner and frustrate his fiendish plot at the last minute so that I could have evidence enough to send him to the penitentiary for life. I outfitted myself in the clothes in which you see me and bought a car so that my disguise as a rent-car driver would be complete."
Brennan lighted a fresh cigarette, carefully standing its predecessor on end on Gibson's highly polished table.
"When I disappeared from my office I went with my detective to 'Red Mike.' We had to work carefully so as to get 'Red Mike's' complete confidence. I have been living with 'Mike' ever since and tonight he means to go through with it. He has everything ready. Last night he took me to where he plans to wreck the 'Lark' and we rehearsed what we are to do. We are to put the derailer on the track, send the train into the ditch and, during the confusion, rob the mail car and make our getaway in the machine.
"And this is how I have arranged to save the 'Lark' and get 'Red Mike' red-handed. The Southern Pacific superintendent knows all this and will bring the 'Lark' to a stop as close to the derailer on the track as he can. My detectives will be hidden all around. As the train pulls to a stop they'll close in and everything will be over."
John gasped at the sheer audacity of the story as it fell from Gibson's lips. He saw Brennan, his eyes glittering, nervously taking deep inhales of tobacco smoke.
"Now, this is what you are to do," Gibson continued. "You will go with my detectives and see the whole show with your own eyes. You will be the only reporters with them. I am to meet 'Red Mike' at 7 and go with him. You can understand how essential it is that everything goes just as I planned it. If there's a slip-up anywhere it means my life. 'Red Mike' has told me that he'll kill me if he finds that he has been double-crossed.