THE FOURTH "R"
By George O. Smith
Published by DELL PUBLISHING CO., INC. 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza New York, New York 10017
Copyright 1959, by George O. Smith All rights reserved. For information contact: Dell Publishing Co., Inc.
Printed in the United States of America.
First Dell printing—April 1979
[Transcribers note: This is a rule 6 clearance. A copyright renewal has not been found.]
James Quincy Holden was five years old.
His fifth birthday was not celebrated by the usual horde of noisy, hungry kids running wild in the afternoon. It started at seven, with cocktails. They were served by his host, Paul Brennan, to the celebrants, the boy's father and mother. The guest of honor sipped ginger ale and nibbled at canapes while he was presented with his gifts: A volume of Kipling's Jungle Tales, a Spitz Junior Planetarium, and a build-it-yourself kit containing parts for a geiger counter and an assortment of radioactive minerals to identify. Dinner was served at eight, the menu selected by Jimmy Holden—with the exception of the birthday cake and its five proud little candles which came as an anticipated surprise from his "Uncle" Paul Brennan.
After dinner, they listened to some music chosen by the boy, and the evening wound up with three rubbers of bridge. The boy won.
They left Paul Brennan's apartment just after eleven o'clock. Jimmy Holden was tired and pleasantly stuffed with good food. But he was stimulated by the party. So, instead of dropping off to sleep, he sat comfortably wedged between his father and mother, quietly lost in his own thoughts until the car was well out of town.
Then he said, "Dad, why did you make that sacrifice bid on the last hand?" Father and son had been partners.
"You're not concerned about losing the rubber, are you?" It had been the only rubber Jimmy lost.
"No. It's only a game," said Jimmy. "I'm just trying to understand."
His father gave an amused groan. "It has to do with the laws of probability and the theory of games," he said.
The boy shook his head. "Bridge," he said thoughtfully, "consists of creating a logical process of play out of a random distribution of values, doesn't it?"
"Yes, if you admit that your definition is a gross oversimplification. It would hardly be a game if everything could be calculated beforehand."
"But what's missing?"
"In any game there is the element of a calculated risk."
Jimmy Holden was silent for a half-mile thinking that one over. "How," he asked slowly, "can a risk be calculated?"
His father laughed. "In fine, it can't. Too much depends upon the personality of the individual."
"Seems to me," said Jimmy, "that there's not much point in making a bid against a distribution of values known to be superior. You couldn't hope to make it; Mother and Uncle Paul had the cards."
His father laughed again. "After a few more courses in higher mathematics, James, you'll begin to realize that some of the highest mathematics is aimed at predicting the unpredictable, or trying to lower the entropy of random behavior—"
Jimmy Holden's mother chuckled. "Now explain entropy," she said. "James, what your father has been failing to explain is really not subject to simple analysis. Who knows why any man will hazard his hard-earned money on the orientation of a pair of dice? No amount of education nor academic study will explain what drives a man. Deep inside, I suppose it is the same force that drives everybody. One man with four spades will take a chance to see if he can make five, and another man with directorships in three corporations will strive to make it four."
Jimmy's father chuckled. "Some families with one infant will try to make it two—"
"Not on your life!"
"—And some others are satisfied with what they've got," finished Jimmy Holden's father. "James, some men will avoid seeing what has to be done; some men will see it and do it and do no more; and a few men will see what has to be done, do it, and then look to the next inevitable problem created by their own act—"
A blinding flash of light cut a swath across the road, dazzling them. Around the curve ahead, a car careened wide over the white line. His mother reached for him, his father fought the wheel to avoid the crash. Jimmy Holden both heard and felt the sharp Bang! as the right front tire went. The steering wheel snapped through his father's hands by half a turn. There was a splintering crash as the car shattered its way through the retaining fence, then came a fleeting moment of breathless silence as if the entire universe had stopped still for a heartbeat.
Chaos! His mother's automatic scream, his father's oath, and the rending crash split the silence at once. The car bucked and flipped, the doors were slammed open and ripped off against a tree that went down. The car leaped in a skew turn and began to roll and roll, shedding metal and humans as it racketed down the ravine.
Jimmy felt himself thrown free in a tumbleturn that ended in a heavy thud.
* * * * *
When breath and awareness returned, he was lying in a depression filled with soft rotting leaves.
He was dazed beyond hurt. The initial shock and bewilderment oozed out of him, leaving him with a feeling of outrage, and a most peculiar sensation of being a spectator rather than an important part of the violent drama. It held an air of unreality, like a dream that the near-conscious sleeper recognizes as a dream and lives through it because he lacks the conscious will to direct it.
Strangely, it was as if there were three or more of him all thinking different things at the same time. He wanted his mother badly enough to cry. Another part of him said that she would certainly be at his side if she were able. Then a third section of his confused mind pointed out that if she did not come to him, it was because she herself was hurt deeply and couldn't.
A more coldly logical portion of his mind was urging him to get up and do something about it. They had passed a telephone booth on the highway; lying there whimpering wasn't doing anybody any good. This logical part of his confused mind did not supply the dime for the telephone slot nor the means of scaling the heights needed to insert the dime in the adult-altitude machine.
Whether the dazzle of mental activity was serial or simultaneous isn't important. The fact is that it was completely disorganized as to plan or program, it leaped from one subject to another until he heard the scrabble and scratch of someone climbing down the side of the ravine.
Any noise meant help. With relief, Jimmy tried to call out.
But with this arrival of help, afterfright claimed him. His mouth worked silently before a dead-dry throat and his muscles twitched in uncontrolled nervousness; he made neither sound nor motion. Again he watched with the unreal feeling of being a remote spectator. A cone of light from a flashlight darted about and it gradually seeped into Jimmy's shocked senses that this was a new arrival, picking his way through the tangle of brush, following the trail of ruin from the broken guard rail to the smashed car below.
The newcomer paused. The light darted forward to fall upon a crumpled mass of cloth.
With a toe, the stranger probed at crushed ribs. A pitifully feeble moan came from the broken rag doll that lay on the ground. The searcher knelt with his light close to peer into the bloody face, and, unbelieving, Jimmy Holden heard the voice of his mother straining to speak, "Paul—I—we—"
The voice died in a gurgle.
The man with the flashlight tested the flaccid neck by bending the head to one side and back sharply. He ended this inspection by letting the head fall back to the moist earth. It landed with a thud of finality.
The cold brutality of this stranger's treatment of his mother shocked Jimmy Holden into frantic outrage. The frozen cry for help changed into protesting anger; no one should be treated that—
"One!" muttered the stranger flatly.
Jimmy's burst of protest died in his throat and he watched, fascinated, as the stranger's light moved in a sweep forward to stop a second time. "And there's number two!" The callous horror was repeated. Hypnotically, Jimmy Holden watched the stranger test the temples and wrists and try a hand under his father's heart. He watched the stranger make a detailed inspection of the long slash that laid open the entire left abdomen and he saw the red that seeped but did not flow.
"That's that!" said the stranger with an air of finality. "Now—" and he stood up to swing his flashlight in widening circles, searching the area carefully.
* * * * *
Jimmy Holden did not sicken. He went cold. He froze as the dancing flashlight passed over his head, and relaxed partially when it moved away in a series of little jumps pausing to give a steady light for close inspection. The light swung around and centered on the smashed automobile. It was upside down, a ruin with one wheel still turning idly.
The stranger went to it, and knelt to peer inside. He pried ripped metal away to get a clear sight into the crushed interior. He went flat on his stomach and tried to penetrate the area between the crumpled car-top and the bruised ground, and he wormed his way in a circle all around the car, examining the wreck minutely.
The sound of a distant automobile engine became audible, and the searching man mumbled a curse. With haste he scrambled to his feet and made a quick inspection of the one wabbly-turning wheel. He stripped a few shards of rubber away, picked at something in the bent metal rim, and put whatever he found in his pocket. When his hand came from the pocket it held a packet of paper matches. With an ear cocked at the road above and the sound of the approaching car growing louder, the stranger struck one match and touched it to the deck of matches. Then with a callous gesture he tossed the flaring pack into a pool of spilled gasoline. The fuel went up in a blunt whoosh!
The dancing flames revealed the face of Jimmy Holden's "Uncle" Paul Brennan, his features in a mask that Jimmy Holden had never seen before.
With the determined air of one who knows that still another piece lies hidden, Paul Brennan started to beat back and forth across the trail of ruin. His light swept the ground like the brush of a painter, missing no spot. Slowly and deliberately he went, paying no attention to the creeping tongues of flame that crept along damp trails of spilled gasoline.
Jimmy Holden felt helplessly alone.
For "Uncle" Paul Brennan was the laughing uncle, the golden uncle; his godfather; the bringer of delightful gifts and the teller of fabulous stories. Classmate of his father and admirer of his mother, a friend to be trusted as he trusted his father and mother, as they trusted Paul Brennan. Jimmy Holden did not and could not understand, but he could feel the presence of menace. And so with the instinct of any trapped animal, he curled inward upon himself and cringed.
Education and information failed. Jimmy Holden had been told and told and instructed, and the words had been graven deep in his mind by the same fabulous machine that his father used to teach him his grammar and his vocabulary and his arithmetic and the horde of other things that made Jimmy Holden what he was: "If anything happens to us, you must turn to Paul Brennan!"
But nothing in his wealth of extraordinary knowledge covered the way to safety when the trusted friend turned fiend.
* * * * *
Shaken by the awful knowledge that all of his props had been kicked out from under him, now at last Jimmy Holden whimpered in helpless fright. Brennan turned towards the sound and began to beat his way through the underbrush.
Jimmy Holden saw him coming. It was like one of those dreams he'd had where he was unable to move, his muscles frozen, as some unknown horror stalked him. It could only end in a terrifying fall through cold space towards a tremendous lurch against the bedsprings that brought little comfort until his pounding heart came back to normal. But this was no dream; it was a known horror that stalked him, and it could not end as a dream ends. It was reality.
The horror was a close friend turned animal, and the end was more horrible because Jimmy Holden, like all other five-year-olds, had absolutely no understanding nor accurate grasp of the concept called death. He continued to whimper even though he realized that his fright was pointing him out to his enemy. And yet he had no real grasp of the concept enemy. He knew about pain; he had been hurt. But only by falls, simple misadventures, the needles of inoculation administered by his surgeon mother, a paddling for mischief by his engineer father.
But whatever unknown fate was coming was going to be worse than "hurt." It was frightful.
Then fate, assisted by Brennan's own act of trying to obliterate any possible evidence by fire, attracted a savior. The approaching car stopped on the road above and a voice called out, "Hello, down there!"
Brennan could not refuse to answer; his own car was in plain sight by the shattered retaining fence. He growled under his breath, but he called back, "Hello, the road! Go get the police!"
"Can we help?"
"Beyond help!" cried Brennan. "I'm all right. Get the cops!"
The car door slammed before it took off. Then came the unmistakable sounds of another man climbing down the ravine. A second flashlight swung here and there until the newcomer faced Brennan in the little circle of light.
"What happened?" asked the uninvited volunteer.
Brennan, whatever his thoughts, said in a voice filled with standard concern: "Blowout. Then everything went blooey."
"Anyone—I mean how many—?"
"Two dead," said Brennan, and then added because he had to, "and a little boy lost."
The stranger eyed the flames and shuddered. "In there?"
"Parents were tossed out. Boy's missing."
"Bad," said the stranger. "God, what a mess. Know 'em?"
"Holdens. Folks that live in the big old house on the hill. My best friend and his wife. I was following them home," lied Brennan glibly. "C'mon let's see if we can find the kid. What about the police?"
"Sent my wife. Telephone down the road."
Paul Brennan's reply carried no sound of disappointment over being interrupted. "Okay. Let's take a look. You take it that way, and I'll cover this side."
The little-boy mind did not need its extensive education to understand that Paul Brennan needed no more than a few seconds of unobserved activity, after which he could announce the discovery of the third death in a voice cracked with false grief.
Animal instinct took over where intelligence failed. The same force that caused Jimmy Holden to curl within himself now caused him to relax; help that could be trusted was now at hand. The muscles of his throat relaxed. He whimpered. The icy paralysis left his arms and legs; he kicked and flailed. And finally his nervous system succeeded in making their contact with his brain; the nerves carried the pain of his bumps and scratches, and Jimmy Holden began to hurt. His stifled whimper broke into a shuddering cry, which swiftly turned into sobbing hysteria.
He went out of control. Nothing, not even violence, would shake him back until his accumulation of shock upon shock had been washed away in tears.
The sound attracted both men. Side by side they beat through the underbrush. They reached for him and Jimmy turned toward the stranger. The man picked the lad out of the bed of soft rotting leaves, cradled him and stroked his head. Jimmy wrapped his small arms around the stranger's neck and held on for life.
"I'll take him," said Brennan, reaching out.
Jimmy's clutch on the stranger tightened.
"You won't pry him loose easily," chuckled the man. "I know. I've got a couple of these myself."
Brennan shrugged. "I thought perhaps—"
"Forget it," said the stranger. "Kid's had trouble. I'll carry him to the road, you take him from there."
Getting up the ravine was a job of work for the man who carried Jimmy Holden. Brennan gave a hand, aided with a lift, broke down brush, and offered to take Jimmy now and again. Jimmy only clung tighter, and the stranger waved Brennan away with a quick shake of his head.
By the time they reached the road, sirens were wailing on the road up the hill. Police, firemen, and an ambulance swarmed over the scene. The firemen went to work on the flaming car with practiced efficiency; the police clustered around Paul Brennan and extracted from him a story that had enough truth in it to sound completely convincing. The doctors from the ambulance took charge of Jimmy Holden. Lacking any other accident victim, they went to work on him with everything they could do.
They gave him mild sedation, wrapped him in a warm blanket, and put him to bed on the cot in the ambulance with two of them watching over him. In the presence of so many solicitous strangers, Jimmy's shock and fright diminished. The sedation took hold. He dropped off in a light doze that grew less fitful as time went on. By the time the official accident report program was over, Jimmy Holden was fast asleep and resting comfortably.
He did not hear Paul Brennan's suggestion that Jimmy go home with him, to Paul Brennan's personal physician, nor did Jimmy hear the ambulance attendants turn away Brennan's suggestion with hard-headed medical opinion. Brennan could hardly argue with the fact that an accident victim would be better off in a hospital under close observation. Shock demanded it, and there was the hidden possibility of internal injury or concussion to consider.
So Jimmy Holden awoke with his accident ten hours behind him, and the good sleep had completed the standard recuperative powers of the healthy child. He looked around, collecting himself, and then remembered the accident. He cringed a bit and took another look and identified his surroundings as some sort of a children's ward or dormitory.
He was in a crib.
He sat up angrily and rattled the gate of the crib. Putting James Quincy Holden in a baby's crib was an insult.
He stopped, because the noise echoed through the room and one of the younger patients stirred in sleep and moaned. Jimmy Holden sat back and remembered. The vacuum that was to follow the loss of his parents was not yet in evidence. They were gone and the knowledge made him unhappy, but he was not cognizant of the real meaning or emotion of grief. With almost the same feeling of loss he thought of the Jungle Book he would never read and the Spitz Planetarium he would never see casting its little star images on his bedroom ceiling. Burned and ruined, with the atomic energy kit—and he had hoped that he could use the kit to tease his father into giving him some education in radioactivity. He was old enough to learn—
No more, now that his father and mother were dead.
Some of the real meaning of his loss came to him then, and the growing knowledge that this first shocking loss meant the ultimate loss of everything was beginning to sink in.
He broke down and cried in the misery of his loss and his helplessness; ultimately his emotion began to cry itself out, and he began to feel resentment against his position. The animal desire to bite back at anything that moved did not last long, it focused properly upon the person of his tormentor. Then for a time, Jimmy Holden's imagination indulged in a series of little vignettes in which he scored his victory over Paul Brennan. These little playlets went through their own evolution, starting with physical victory reminiscent of his Jack-and-the-Beanstalk days to a more advanced triumph of watching Paul Brennan led away in handcuffs whilst the District Attorney scanned the sheaf of indisputable evidence provided by James Quincy Holden.
Somewhere along about this point in his fantasy, a breath of the practical entered, and Jimmy began to consider the more sensible problem of what sort of information this sheaf of evidence would contain.
Still identifying himself with the books he knew, Jimmy Holden had progressed from the fairy story—where the villain was evil for no more motive than to provide menace to the hero—to his more advanced books, where the villain did his evil deeds for the logical motive of personal gain.
Well, what had Paul Brennan to gain?
Money, for one thing—he would be executor of the Holden Estate. But there wasn't enough to justify killing. Revenge? For what? Jealousy? For whom? Hate? Envy? Jimmy Holden glossed the words quickly, for they were no more than words that carried definitions that did not really explain them. He could read with the facility of an adult, but a book written for a sophisticated audience went over his head.
No, there was only one possible thing of appreciable value; the one thing that Paul Brennan hoped to gain was the device over which they had worked through all the long years to perfect: The Holden Electromechanical Educator! Brennan wanted it badly enough to murder for its possession!
And with a mind and ingenuity far beyond his years, Jimmy Holden knew that he alone was the most active operator in this vicious drama. It was not without shock that he realized that he himself could still be killed to gain possession of his fabulous machine. For only with all three Holdens dead could Paul Brennan take full and unquestioned possession.
* * * * *
With daylight clarity he knew what he had to do. In a single act of destruction he could simultaneously foil Paul Brennan's plan and ensure his own life.
Permanently installed in Jimmy Holden's brain by the machine itself were the full details of how to recreate it. Indelibly he knew each wire and link, lever and coil, section by section and piece by piece. It was incomprehensible information, about in the same way that the printing press "knows" the context of its metal plate. Step by step he could rebuild it once he had the means of procuring the parts, and it would work even though he had not the foggiest notion (now) of what the various parts did.
So if the delicate heart of his father's machine were utterly destroyed, Paul Brennan would be extremely careful about preserving the life of James Quincy Holden.
He considered his position and what he knew:
Physically, he was a five-year-old. He stood forty-one inches tall and weighed thirty-nine pounds. A machinist's hammer was a two-handed tool and a five-pound sack of sugar was a burden. Doorknobs and latches were a problem in manipulation. The negotiation of a swinging door was a feat of muscular engineering. Electric light switches were placed at a tiptoe reach because, naturally, everything in the adult world is designed by the adults for the convenience of adults. This makes it difficult for the child who has no adult to do his bidding.
Intellectually, Jimmy Holden was something else.
Reverting to a curriculum considered sound prior to Mr. Dewey's often-questionable and more often misused programs of schooling, Jimmy's parents had trained and educated their young man quite well in the primary informations of fact. He read with facility and spoke with a fine vocabulary—although no amount of intellectual training could make his voice change until his glands did. His knowledge of history, geography and literature were good, because he'd used them to study reading. He was well into plane geometry and had a smattering of algebra, and there had been a pause due to a parental argument as to the advisability of his memorizing a table of six-place logarithms via the Holden machine.
Extra-curricularly, Jimmy Holden had acquired snippets, bits, and wholesale chunks of a number of the arts and sciences and other aggregations of information both pertinent and trivial for one reason or another. As an instance, he had absorbed an entire bridge book by Charles Goren just to provide a fourth to sit in with his parents and Paul Brennan.
Consequently, James Holden had in data the education of a boy of about sixteen, and in other respects, much more.
He escaped from the hospital simply because no one ever thought that a five-year-old boy would have enough get-up-and-go to climb out of his crib, rummage a nearby closet, dress himself, and then calmly walk out. The clothing of a cocky teen-ager would have been impounded and his behavior watched.
They did not miss him for hours. He went, taking the little identification card from its frame at the foot of his bed—and that ruined the correlation between tag and patient.
By the time an overworked nurse stopped to think and finally asked, "Kitty, are you taking care of the little boy in Bed 6 over in 219?" and received the answer, "No, aren't you?" Jimmy Holden was trudging up the hill towards his home. Another hour went by with the two worried nurses surreptitiously searching the rest of the hospital in the simple hope that he had wandered away and could be restored before it came to the attention of the officials. By the time they gave up and called in other nurses (who helped them in their anxiety to conceal) Jimmy was entering his home.
Each succeeding level of authority was loath to report the truth to the next higher up.
By the time the general manager of the hospital forced himself to call Paul Brennan, Jimmy Holden was demolishing the last broken bits of disassembled subassemblies he had smashed from the heart-circuit of the Holden Electromechanical Educator. He was most thorough. Broken glass went into the refuse buckets, bent metal was buried in the garden, inflammables were incinerated, and meltables and fusibles slagged down in ashes that held glass, bottle, and empty tin-can in an unrecognizable mass. He left a gaping hole in the machine that Brennan could not fill—nor could any living man fill it now but James Quincy Holden.
And only when this destruction was complete did Jimmy Holden first begin to understand his father's statement about the few men who see what has to be done, do it, and then look to the next inevitable problem created by their own act.
It was late afternoon by the time Jimmy had his next moves figured out. He left the home he'd grown up in, the home of his parents, of his own babyhood. He'd wandered through it for the last time, touching this and saying goodbye to that. He was certain that he would never see his things again, nor the house itself, but the real vacuum of his loss hadn't yet started to form. The concepts of "never" and "forever" were merely words that had no real impact.
So was the word "Farewell."
But once his words were said, Jimmy Holden made his small but confident way to the window of a railroad ticket agent.
You are a ticket agent, settled in the routine of your job. From nine to five-thirty, five days a week, you see one face after another. There are cheerful faces, sullen faces, faces that breathe garlic, whiskey, chewing gum, toothpaste and tobacco fumes. Old faces, young faces, dull faces, scarred faces, clear faces, plain faces and faces so plastered with makeup that their nature can't be seen at all. They bark place-names at you, or ask pleasantly about the cost of round-trip versus one-way tickets to Chicago or East Burlap. You deal with them and then you wait for the next.
Then one afternoon, about four o'clock, a face barely visible over the edge of the marble counter looks up at you with a boy's cheerful freckled smile. You have to stand up in order to see him. You smile, and he grins at you. Among his belongings is a little leather suitcase, kid's size, but not a toy. He is standing on it. Under his arm is a collection of comic books, in one small fist is the remains of a candy bar and in the other the string of a floating balloon.
"Well, young man, where to? Paris? London? Maybe Mars?"
"No, sir," comes the piping voice, "Roun-tree."
"Roundtree? Yes, I've heard of that metropolis," you reply. You look over his head, there aren't any other customers in line behind him so you don't mind passing the time of day. "Round-trip or one-way?"
"One-way," comes the quick reply.
This brings you to a slow stop. He does not giggle nor prattle, nor launch into a long and involved explanation with halting, dependent clauses. This one knows what he wants and how to ask for it. Quite a little man!
"How old are you, young fellow?"
"I was five years old yesterday."
"What's your name?"
"I'm James Holden."
The name does not ring any bells—because the morning newspaper is purchased for its comic strips, the bridge column, the crossword puzzle, and the latest dope on love-nest slayings, peccadilloes of the famous, the cheesecake photo of the inevitable actress-leaving-for-somewhere, and the full page photograph of the latest death-on-the-highway debacle. You look at the picture but you don't read the names in the caption, so you don't recognize the name, and you haven't been out of your little cage since lunchtime and Jimmy Holden was not missing then. So you go on:
"So you're going to go to Roundtree."
"That costs a lot of money, young Mister Holden."
"Yessir." Then this young man hands you an envelope; the cover says, typewritten: Ticket Clerk, Midland Railroad.
A bit puzzled, you open the envelope and find a five-dollar bill folded in a sheet of manuscript paper. The note says:
Ticket Clerk Midland Railroad Dear Sir:
This will introduce my son, James Holden. As a birthday present, I am sending him for a visit to his grandparents in Roundtree, and to make the adventure complete, he will travel alone. Pass the word along to keep an eye on him but don't step in unless he gets into trouble. Ask the dining car steward to see that he eats dinner on something better than candy bars.
Otherwise, he is to believe that he is making this trip completely on his own.
Sincerely, Louis Holden.
PS: Divide the change from this five dollars among you as tips. L.H.
And so you look down at young Mister Holden and get a feeling of vicarious pleasure. You stamp his ticket and hand it to him with a gesture. You point out the train-gate he is to go through, and you tell him that he is to sit in the third railroad car. As he leaves, you pick up the telephone and call the station-master, the conductor, and since you can't get the dining-car steward directly, you charge the conductor with passing the word along.
Then you divide the change. Of the two-fifty, you extract a dollar, feeling that the Senior Holden is a cheapskate. You slip the other buck and a half into an envelope, ready for the conductor's hand. He'll think Holden Senior is more of a cheapskate, and by the time he extracts his cut, the dining car steward will know that Holden Senior is a cheapskate. But—
Then a face appears at your window and barks, "Holyoke, Mass.," and your normal day falls back into shape.
The response of the people you tell about it varies all the way from outrage that anybody would let a kid of five go alone on such a dangerous mission to loud bragging that he, too, once went on such a journey, at four and a half, and didn't need a note.
But Jimmy Holden is gone from your window, and you won't know for at least another day that you've been suckered by a note painstakingly typewritten, letter by letter, by a five-year-old boy who has a most remarkable vocabulary.
Jimmy's trip to Roundtree was without incident. Actually, it was easy once he had hurdled the ticket-seller with his forged note and the five-dollar bill from the cashbox in his father's desk. His error in not making it a ten was minor; a larger tip would not have provided him with better service, because the train crew were happy to keep an eye on the adventurous youngster for his own small sake. Their mild resentment against the small tip was directed against the boy's father, not the young passenger himself.
He had one problem. The train was hardly out of the station before everybody on it knew that there was a five-year-old making a trip all by himself. Of course, he was not to be bothered, but everybody wanted to talk to him, to ask him how he was, to chatter endlessly at him. Jimmy did not want to talk. His experience in addressing adults was exasperating. That he spoke lucid English instead of babygab did not compel a rational response. Those who heard him speak made over him with the same effusive superiority that they used in applauding a golden-haired tot in high heels and a strapless evening gown sitting on a piano and singing, Why Was I Born? in a piping, uncertain-toned voice. It infuriated him.
So he immersed himself in his comic books. He gave his name politely every five minutes for the first fifty miles. He turned down offers of candy with, "Mommy says I mustn't before supper." And when dinnertime came he allowed himself to be escorted through the train by the conductor, because Jimmy knew that he couldn't handle the doors without help.
The steward placed a menu in front of him, and then asked carefully, "How much money do you want to spend, young man?"
Jimmy had the contents of his father's cashbox pinned to the inside of his shirt, and a five-dollar bill folded in a snap-top purse with some change in his shirt pocket. He could add with the best of them, but he did not want any more attention than he was absolutely forced to attract. So he fished out the snap-top purse and opened it to show the steward his five-dollar bill. The steward relaxed; he'd had a moment of apprehension that Holden Senior might have slipped the kid a half-dollar for dinner. (The steward had received a quarter for his share of the original two-fifty.)
Jimmy looked at the "Child's Dinner" menu and pointed out a plate: lamb chop and mashed potatoes. After that, dinner progressed without incident. Jimmy topped it off with a dish of ice cream.
The steward made change. Jimmy watched him carefully, and then said, "Daddy says I'm supposed to give you a tip. How much?"
The steward looked down, wondering how he could explain the standard dining car tip of fifteen or twenty percent of the bill. He took a swallow of air and picked out a quarter. "This will do nicely," he said and went off thankful that all people do not ask waiters how much they think they deserve for the service rendered.
Thus Jimmy Holden arrived in Roundtree and was observed and convoyed—but not bothered—off the train.
It is deplorable that adults are not as friendly and helpful to one another as they are to children; it might make for a more pleasant world. As Jimmy walked along the station platform at Roundtree, one of his former fellow-passengers walked beside him. "Where are you going, young man? Someone going to meet you, of course?"
"No, sir," said Jimmy. "I'm supposed to take a cab—"
"I'm going your way, why not ride along with me?"
"Sure it's all right?"
"Sure thing. Come along." Jimmy never knew that this man felt good for a week after he'd done his good turn for the year.
His grandfather opened the door and looked down at him in complete surprise. "Why, Jimmy! What are you doing here? Who brought—"
His grandmother interrupted, "Come in! Come in! Don't just stand there with the door open!"
Grandfather closed the door firmly, grandmother knelt and folded Jimmy in her arms and crooned over him, "You poor darling. You brave little fellow. Donald," she said firmly to her husband, "go get a glass of warm milk and some cookies." She led Jimmy to the old-fashioned parlor and seated him on the sofa. "Now, Jimmy, you relax a moment and then you can tell me what happened."
Jimmy sighed and looked around. The house was old, and comfortably sturdy. It gave him a sense of refuge, of having reached a safe haven at last. The house was over-warm, and there was a musty smell of over-aged furniture, old leather, and the pungence of mothballs. It seemed to generate a feeling of firm stability. Even the slightly stale air—there probably hadn't been a wide open window since the storm sashes were installed last autumn—provided a locked-in feeling that conversely meant that the world was locked out.
Grandfather brought in the glass of warmed milk and a plate of cookies. He sat down and asked, "What happened, Jimmy?"
"My mother and father are—"
"You eat your cookies and drink your milk," ordered his grandmother. "We know. That Mr. Brennan sent us a telegram."
* * * * *
It was slightly more than twenty-four hours since Jimmy Holden had blown out the five proud candles on his birthday cake and begun to open his fine presents. Now it all came back with a rush, and when it came back, nothing could stop it.
Jimmy never knew how very like a little boy of five he sounded that night. His speech was clear enough, but his troubled mind was too full to take the time to form his headlong thoughts into proper sentences. He could not pause to collect his thoughts into any chronology, so it came out going back and forth all in a single line, punctuated only by necessary pauses for the intake of breath. He was close to tears before he was halfway through, and by the time he came to the end he stopped in a sob and broke out crying.
His grandfather said, "Jimmy, aren't you exaggerating? Mr. Brennan isn't that sort of a man."
"He is too!" exploded Jimmy through his tears. "I saw him!"
"Donald, this is no time to start cross-examining a child." She crossed the room and lifted him onto her lap; she stroked his head and held his cheek against her shoulder. His open crying subsided into deep sobs; from somewhere she found a handkerchief and made him blow his nose—once, twice, and then a deep thrice. "Get me a warm washcloth," she told her husband, and with it she wiped away his tears. The warmth soothed Jimmy more.
"Now," she said firmly, "before we go into this any more we'll have a good night's sleep."
The featherbed was soft and cozy. Like protecting mother-wings, it folded Jimmy into its bosom, and the warm softness drew out of Jimmy whatever remained of his stamina. Tonight he slept of weariness and exhaustion, not of the sedation given last night. Here he felt at home, and it was good.
And as tomorrows always had, tomorrow would take care of itself.
Jimmy Holden's father and mother first met over an operating table, dressed in the white sterility that leaves only the eyes visible. She wielded the trephine that laid the patient's brain bare, he kept track of the patient's life by observing the squiggles on the roll of graph paper that emerged from his encephalograph. She knew nothing of the craft of the delicate instrument-creator, and he knew even less of the craft of surgery. There had been a near-argument during the cleaning-up session after the operation; the near-argument ended when they both realized that neither of them understood a word of what the other was saying. So the near-argument became an animated discussion, the general meaning of which became clear: Brain surgeons should know more about the intricacies of electromechanics, and the designers of delicate, precision instrumentation should know more about the mass of human gray matter they were trying to measure.
They pooled their intellects and plunged into the problem of creating an encephalograph that would record the infinitesimal irregularities that were superimposed upon the great waves. Their operation became large; they bought the old structure on top of the hill and moved in, bag and baggage. They cohabited but did not live together for almost a year; Paul Brennan finally pointed out that Organized Society might permit a couple of geniuses to become research hermits, but Organized Society still took a dim view of cohabitation without a license. Besides, such messy arrangements always cluttered up the legal clarity of chattels, titles, and estates.
They married in a quiet ceremony about two years prior to the date that Louis Holden first identified the fine-line wave-shapes that went with determined ideas. When he recorded them and played them back, his brain re-traced its original line of thought, and he could not even make a mental revision of the way his thoughts were arranged. For two years Louis and Laura Holden picked their way slowly through this field; stumped at one point for several months because the machine was strictly a personal proposition. Recorded by one of them, the playback was clear to that one, but to the other it was wild gibberish—an inexplicable tangle of noise and colored shapes, odors and tastes both pleasant and nasty, and mingled sensations. It was five years after their marriage before they found success by engraving information in the brain by sitting, connected to the machine, and reading aloud, word for word, the information that they wanted.
It went by rote, as they had learned in childhood. It was the tiresome repetition of going over and over and over the lines of a poem or the numbers of the multiplication table until the pathway was a deeply trodden furrow in the brain. Forever imprinted, it was retained until death. Knowledge is stored by rote.
To accomplish this end, Louis Holden succeeded in violating all of the theories of instrumentation by developing a circuit that acted as a sort of reverberation chamber which returned the wave-shape played into it back to the same terminals without interference, and this single circuit became the very heart of the Holden Electromechanical Educator.
With success under way, the Holdens needed an intellectual guinea pig, a virgin mind, an empty store-house to fill with knowledge. They planned a twenty-year program of research, to end by handing their machine to the world complete with its product and instructions for its use and a list of pitfalls to avoid.
The conception of James Quincy Holden was a most carefully-planned parenthood. It was not accomplished without love or passion. Love had come quietly, locking them together physically as they had been bonded intellectually. The passion had been deliberately provoked during the proper moment of Laura Holden's cycle of ovulation. This scientific approach to procreation was no experiment, it was the foregone-conclusive act to produce a component absolutely necessary for the completion of their long program of research. They happily left to Nature's Choice the one factor they could not control, and planned to accept an infant of either sex with equal welcome. They loved their little boy as they loved one another, rejoiced with him, despaired with him, and made their own way with success and mistake, and succeeded in bringing Jimmy to five years of age quite normal except for his education.
Now, proficiency in brain surgery does not come at an early age, nor does world-wide fame in the field of delicate instrumentation. Jimmy's parents were over forty-five on the date of his birth.
Jimmy's grandparents were, then, understandably aged seventy-eight and eighty-one.
* * * * *
The old couple had seen their life, and they knew it for what it was. They arose each morning and faced the day knowing that there would be no new problem, only recurrence of some problem long solved. Theirs was a comfortable routine, long gone was their spirit of adventure, the pleasant notions of trying something a new and different way. At their age, they were content to take the easiest and the simplest way of doing what they thought to be Right. Furthermore, they had lived long enough to know that no equitable decision can be made by listening to only one side of any argument.
While young Jimmy was polishing off a platter of scrambled eggs the following morning, Paul Brennan arrived. Jimmy's fork stopped in midair at the sound of Brennan's voice in the parlor.
"You called him," he said accusingly.
Grandmother Holden said, "He's your legal guardian, James."
"Now, James, your father and mother knew best."
"But they didn't know about Paul Brennan. I won't go!"
"James," said Grandmother Holden quietly, "you can't stay here."
"We're not prepared to keep you."
Grandmother Holden despaired. How could she make this youngster understand that eighty is not an age at which to embark upon the process of raising a five-year-old to maturity?
From the other room, Paul Brennan was explaining his side as he'd given it to the police. "—Forgot the land option that had to be signed. So I took off after them and drove fast enough to catch up. I was only a couple of hundred yards behind when it happened."
"He's a liar!" cried Jimmy Holden.
"That's not a nice thing to say."
"Jimmy!" came the reproachful tone.
"It's true!" he cried.
His grandfather and Paul Brennan came into the kitchen. "Ah, Jimmy," said Paul in a soothing voice, "why did you run off? You had everybody worried."
"You did! You lie! You—"
"James!" snapped his grandfather. "Stop that talk at once!"
"Be easy with him, Mr. Holden. He's upset. Jimmy, let's get this settled right now. What did I do and how do I lie?"
"Oh, please Mr. Brennan," said his grandmother. "This isn't necessary."
"Oh, but it is. It is very important. As the legal guardian of young James, I can't have him harboring some suspicion as deep as this. Come on, Jimmy. Let's talk it out right now. What did I do and how am I lying?"
"You weren't behind. You forced us off the road."
"How could he, young man?" demanded Grandfather Holden.
"I don't know, but he did."
"Wait a moment, sir," said Brennan quietly. "It isn't going to be enough to force him into agreement. He's got to see the truth for itself, of his own construction from the facts. Now, Jimmy, where was I when you left my apartment?"
"You—you were there."
"And didn't I say—"
"One moment," said Grandfather Holden. "Don't lead the witness."
"Sorry. James, what did I do?"
"You—" then a long pause.
"Come on, Jimmy."
"You shook hands with my father."
"Then you—kissed my mother on the cheek."
"And then, again?"
"And then you carried my birthday presents down and put them in the car."
"Now, Jimmy, how does your father drive? Fast or slow?"
"So now, young man, you tell me how I could go back up to my apartment, get my coat and hat, get my car out of the garage, and race to the top of that hill so that I could turn around and come at you around that curve? Just tell me that, young man."
"I—don't know—how you did it."
"It doesn't make sense, does it?"
"Jimmy, I'm trying to help you. Your father and I were fraternity brothers in college. I was best man at your parents' wedding. I am your godfather. Your folks were taken away from both of us—and I'm hoping to take care of you as if you were mine." He turned to Jimmy's grandparents. "I wish to God that I could find the driver of that other car. He didn't hit anybody, but he's as guilty of a hit-and-run offence as the man who does. If I ever find him, I'll have him in jail until he rots!"
"Jimmy," pleaded his grandmother, "can't you see? Mr. Brennan is only trying to help. Why would he do the evil thing you say he did?"
"Because—" and Jimmy started to cry. The utter futility of trying to make people believe was too much to bear.
"Jimmy, please stop it and be a man," said Brennan. He put a hand on Jimmy's shoulder. Jimmy flung it aside with a quick twist and a turn. "Please, Jimmy," pleaded Brennan. Jimmy left his chair and buried his face in a corner of the wall.
"Jimmy, believe me," pleaded Brennan. "I'm going to take you to live in your old house, among your own things. I can't replace your folks, but I can try to be as close to your father as I know how. I'll see you through everything, just as your mother and father want me to."
"No!" exploded Jimmy through a burst of tears.
Grandfather Holden grunted. "This is getting close to the tantrum stage," he said. "And the only way to deal with a tantrum is to apply the flat of the hand to the round of the bottom."
"Please," smiled Brennan. "He's a pretty shaken youngster. He's emotionally hurt and frightened, and he wants to strike out and hurt something back."
"I think he's done enough of that," said Grandfather Holden. "When Louis tossed one of these fits of temper where he wouldn't listen to any reason, we did as we saw fit anyway and let him kick and scream until he got tired of the noise he made."
"Let's not be rough," pleaded Jimmy's grandmother. "He's just a little boy, you know."
"If he weren't so little he'd have better sense," snapped Grandfather.
"James," said Paul Brennan quietly, "do you see you're making trouble for your grandparents? Haven't we enough trouble as it is? Now, young man, for the last time, will you walk or will you be carried? Whichever, Jimmy, we're going back home!"
James Holden gave up. "I'll go," he said bitterly, "but I hate you."
"He'll be all right," promised Brennan. "I swear it!"
"Please, Jimmy, be good for Mr. Brennan," pleaded his grandmother. "After all, it's for your own good." Jimmy turned away, bewildered, hurt and silent. He stubbornly refused to say goodbye to his grandparents.
He was trapped in the world of grown-ups that believed a lying adult before they would even consider the truth of a child.
The drive home was a bitter experience. Jimmy was sullen, and very quiet. He refused to answer any question and he made no reply to any statement. Paul Brennan kept up a running chatter of pleasantries, of promises and plans for their future, and just enough grief to make it sound honest. Had Paul Brennan actually been as honest as his honeyed tones said he was, no one could have continued to accuse him. But no one is more difficult to fool than a child—even a normal child. Paul Brennan's protestations simply made Jimmy Holden bitter.
He sat silent and unhappy in the far corner of the front seat all the way home. In his mind was a nameless threat, a dread of what would come once they were inside—either inside of Paul Brennan's apartment or inside of his own home—with the door locked against the outside world.
But when they arrived, Paul Brennan continued his sympathetic attitude. To Jimmy it was sheer hypocrisy; he was not experienced enough to know that a person can commit an act and then convince himself that he hadn't.
"Jimmy," said Brennan softly, "I have not the faintest notion of punishment. None whatsoever. You ruined your father's great invention. You did that because you thought it was right. Someday when you change your mind and come to believe in me, I'll ask you to replace it because I know you can. But understand me, young man, I shall not ask you until you make the first suggestion yourself!"
Jimmy remained silent.
"One more thing," said Brennan firmly. "Don't try that stunt with the letter to the station agent again. It won't work twice. Not in this town nor any other for a long, long time. I've made a sort of family-news item out of it which hit a lot of daily papers. It'll also be in the company papers of all the railroads and buslines, how Mr. What's-his-name at the Midland Railroad got suckered by a five-year-old running away from home. Understand?"
Jimmy understood but made no sign.
"Then in September we'll start you in school," said Brennan.
This statement made no impression upon young James Holden whatsoever. He had no intention of enduring this smothering by overkindness any longer than it took him to figure out how to run away, and where to run to. It was going to be a difficult thing. Cruel treatment, torture, physical harm were one thing; this act of being a deeply-concerned guardian was something else. A twisted arm he could complain about, a bruise he could show, the scars of lashing would give credence to his tale. But who would listen to any complaint about too much kindness?
Six months of this sort of treatment and Jimmy Holden himself would begin to believe that his parents were monsters, coldly stuffing information in the head of an infant instead of letting him grow through a normal childhood. A year, and Jimmy Holden would be re-creating his father's reverberation circuit out of sheer gratitude. He'd be cajoled into signing his own death-warrant.
But where can a five-year-old hide? There was no appeal to the forces of law and order. They would merely pop him into a squad car and deliver him to his guardian.
Law and order were out. His only chance was to lose himself in some gray hinterland where there were so many of his own age that no one could keep track of them all. Whether he would succeed was questionable. But until he tried, he wouldn't know, and Jimmy was desperate enough to try anything.
He attended the funeral services with Paul Brennan. But while the pastor was invoking Our Heavenly Father to accept the loving parents of orphaned James, James the son left the side of his "Uncle" Paul Brennan, who knelt in false piety with his eyes closed.
Jimmy Holden had with him only his clothing and what was left of the wad of paper money from his father's cashbox still pinned to the inside of his shirt.
This time Jimmy did not ride in style. Burlap sacks covered him when night fell; they dirtied his clothing and the bottom of the freight car scuffed his shoes. For eighteen hours he hid in the jolting darkness, not knowing and caring less where he was going, so long as it was away!
He was hungry and thirsty by the time the train first began to slow down. It was morning—somewhere. Jimmy looked furtively out of the slit at the edge of the door to see that the train was passing through a region of cottages dusted black by smoke, through areas of warehouse and factory, through squalor and filth and slum; and vacant lots where the spread of the blight area had been so fast that the outward improvement had not time to build. Eventually the scene changed to solid areas of railroad track, and the trains parked there thickened until he could no longer see the city through them.
Ultimately the train stopped long enough for Jimmy to squeeze out through the slit at the edge of the door.
The train went on and Jimmy was alone in the middle of some huge city. He walked the noisome sidewalk trying to decide what he should do next. Food was of high importance, but how could he get it without attracting attention to himself? He did not know. But finally he reasoned that a hot dog wagon would probably take cash from a youngster without asking embarrassing questions, so long as the cash wasn't anything larger than a five-dollar bill.
He entered the next one he came to. It was dirty; the windows held several years' accumulation of cooking grease, but the aroma was terrific to a young animal who'd been without food since yesterday afternoon.
The counterman did not like kids, but he put away his dislike at the sight of Jimmy's money. He grunted when Jimmy requested a dog, tossed one on the grill and went back to reading his newspaper until some inner sense told him it was cooked. Jimmy finished it still hungry and asked for another. He finished a third and washed down the whole mass with a tall glass of highly watered orange juice. The counterman took his money and was very careful about making the right change; if this dirty kid had swiped the five-spot, it could be the counterman's problem of explaining to someone why he had overcharged. Jimmy's intelligence told him that countermen in a joint like this didn't expect tips, so he saved himself that hurdle. He left the place with a stomach full of food that only the indestructible stomach of a five-year-old could handle and now, fed and reasonably content, Jimmy began to seek his next point of contact.
He had never been in a big city before. The sheer number of human beings that crowded the streets surpassed his expectations. The traffic was not personally terrifying, but it was so thick that Jimmy Holden wondered how people drove without colliding. He knew about traffic lights and walked with the green, staying out of trouble. He saw groups of small children playing in the streets and in the empty lots. Those not much older than himself were attending school.
He paused to watch a group of children his own age trying to play baseball with a ragged tennis ball and the handle from a broom. It was a helter-skelter game that made no pattern but provided a lot of fun and screaming. He was quite bothered by a quarrel that came up; two of his own age went at one another with tiny fists flying, using words that Jimmy hadn't learned from his father's machine.
He wondered how he might join them in their game. But they paid him no attention, so he didn't try.
At lunchtime Jimmy consumed another collection of hot dogs. He continued to meander aimlessly through the city until schooltime ended, then he saw the streets and vacant lots fill with older children playing games with more pattern to them. It was a new world he watched, a world that had not been a part of his education. The information he owned was that of the school curriculum; it held nothing of the daily business of growing up. He knew the general rules of big-league baseball, but the kid-business of stickball did not register.
He was at a complete loss. It was sheer chance and his own tremendous curiosity that led him to the edge of a small group that were busily engaged in the odd process of trying to jack up the front of a car.
It wasn't a very good jack; it should have had the weight of a full adult against the handle. The kids strained and put their weight on the jack, but the handle wouldn't budge though their feet were off the ground.
Here was the place where academic information would be useful—and the chance for an "in." Jimmy shoved himself into the small group and said, "Get a longer handle."
They turned on him suspiciously.
"Whatcha know about it?" demanded one, shoving his chin out.
"Get a longer handle," repeated Jimmy. "Go ahead, get one."
"Wait, Moe. Maybe—"
"Jimmy—James." Academic information came up again. "Jimmy. Like the jimmy you use on a window."
"Jimmy James. Any relation to Jesse James?"
James Quincy Holden now told his first whopper. "I," he said, "am his grandson."
The one called Moe turned to one of the younger ones. "Get a longer handle," he said.
While the younger one went for something to use as a longer handle, Moe invited Jimmy to sit on the curb. "Cigarette?" invited Moe.
"I don't smoke," said Jimmy.
Adolescent-age information looking out through five-year-old eyes assayed Moe. Moe was about eight, maybe even nine; taller than Jimmy but no heavier. He had a longer reach, which was an advantage that Jimmy did not care to hazard. There was no sure way to establish physical superiority; Jimmy was uncertain whether any show of intellect would be welcome.
"No," he said. "I'm no sissy. I don't like 'em."
Moe lit a cigarette and smoked with much gesturing and flickings of ashes and spitting at a spot on the pavement. He was finished when the younger one came back with a length of water pipe that would fit over the handle of the jack.
The car went up with ease. Then came the business of removing the hubcap and the struggle to loose the lugbolts. Jimmy again suggested the application of the length of pipe. The wheel came off.
"C'mon, Jimmy," said Moe. "We'll cut you in."
"Sure," nodded Jimmy Holden, willing to see what came next so long as it did not have anything to do with Paul Brennan. Moe trundled the car wheel down the street, steering it with practiced hands. A block down and a block around that corner, a man with a three-day growth of whiskers stopped a truck with a very dirty license plate. Moe stopped and the man jumped out of the truck long enough to heave the tire and wheel into the back.
The man gave Moe a handful of change which Moe distributed among the little gang. Then he got in the truck beside the driver and waved for Jimmy to come along.
"What's that for?" demanded the driver.
"He's a smarty pants," said Moe. "A real good one."
"What'cha do, kid?"
"Moe, what did this kid sell you?"
"You and your rusty jacks," grunted Moe. "Jimmy James here told us how to put a long hunk of pipe on the handle."
"Jimmy James, who taught you about leverage?" demanded the driver suspiciously.
Jimmy Holden believed that he was in the presence of an educated man. "Archimedes," he said solemnly, giving it the proper pronunciation.
The driver said to Moe, "Think he's all right?"
"He's smart enough."
"Who're your parents, kid?"
Jimmy Holden realized that this was a fine time to tell the truth, but properly diluted to taste. "My folks are dead," he said.
"Who you staying with?"
The driver of the truck eyed him cautiously for a moment. "You escaped from an orphan asylum?"
"Uh-huh," lied Jimmy.
"Don't want to get sent back," said Jimmy.
"Got a flop?"
"Place to sleep for the night."
"Where'd you sleep last night?"
"Bindlestiff, huh?" roared the man with laughter.
"No, sir," said Jimmy. "I've no bindle."
The man's roar of laughter stopped abruptly. "You're a pretty wise kid," he said thoughtfully.
"I told y' so," said Moe.
"Shut up," snapped the man. "Kid, do you want a flop for the night?"
"Okay. You're in."
"What's your name?" asked Jimmy.
"You call me Jake. Short for Jacob. Er—here's the place."
The "Place" had no other name. It was a junkyard. In it were car parts, wrecks with parts undamaged, whole motors rusting in the air, axles, wheels, differential assemblies and transmissions from a thousand cars of a thousand different parentages. Hubcaps abounded in piles sorted to size and shape. Jake drove the little pickup truck into an open shed. The tire and wheel came from the back and went immediately into place on a complicated gadget. In a couple of minutes, the tire was off the wheel and the inner tube was out of the casing. Wheel, casing, and inner tube all went into three separate storage piles.
Not only a junkyard, but a stripper's paradise. Bring a hot car in here and in a few hours no one could find it. Its separated parts would be sold piece by piece and week by week as second-hand replacements.
Jake said, "Dollar-fifty."
"Two," said Moe.
"Go find it and put it back."
"Gimme the buck-six," grunted Moe. "Pretty cheap for a good shoe, a wheel, and a sausage."
"Bring it in alone next time, and I'll slip you two-fifty. That gang you use costs, too. Now scram, Jimmy James and I got business to talk over."
"He taking over?"
"Don't talk stupid. I need a spotter. You're too old, Moe. And if he's any good, you gotta promotion coming."
"And if he ain't?"
"Don't come back!"
Moe eyed Jimmy Holden. "Make it good—Jimmy." There was malice in Moe's face.
Jake looked down at Jimmy Holden. With precisely the same experienced technique he used to estimate the value of a car loaded with road dirt, rust, and collision-smashed fenders, Jake stripped the child of the dirty clothing, the scuffed shoes, the mussed hair, and saw through to the value beneath. Its price was one thousand dollars, offered with no questions asked for information that would lead to the return of one James Quincy Holden to his legal guardian.
It wasn't magic on Jake's part. Paul Brennan had instantly offered a reward. And Jake made it his business to keep aware of such matters.
How soon, wondered Jake, might the ante be raised to two Gee? Five? And in the meantime, if things panned, Jimmy could be useful as a spotter.
"You afraid of that Moe punk, Jimmy?"
"Good, but keep an eye on him. He'd sell his mother for fifty cents clear profit—seventy-five if he had to split the deal. Now, kid, do you know anything about spotting?"
"All right. Come on in and we'll eat. Do you like Mulligan?"
"Good. You and me are going to get along."
Inside of the squalid shack, Jake had a cozy set-up. The filth that he encouraged out in the junkyard was not tolerated inside his shack. The dividing line was halfway across the edge of the door; the inside was as clean, neat, and shining as the outside was squalid.
"You'll sleep here," said Jake, waving towards a small bedroom with a single twin bunk. "You'll make yer own bed and take a shower every night—or out! Understand?"
"Good. Now, let's have chow, and I'll tell you about this spotting business. You help me, and I'll help you. One blab and back you go to where you came from. Get it?"
And so, while the police of a dozen cities were scouring their beats for a homeless, frightened five-year-old, Jimmy Holden slept in a comfortable bed in a clean room, absolutely disguised by an exterior that looked like an abandoned manure shed.
Jimmy discovered that he was admirably suited to the business of spotting. The "job turnover" was high because the spotter must be young enough to be allowed the freedom of the preschool age, yet be mature enough to follow orders.
The job consisted of meandering through the streets of the city, in the aimless patterns of youth, while keeping an eye open for parked automobiles with the ignition keys still in their locks.
Only a very young child can go whooping through the streets bumping pedestrians, running wildly, or walking from car to car twiggling each door handle and peering inside as if he were imitating a door-to-door salesman, occasionally making a minor excursion in one shop door and out the other.
He takes little risk. He merely spots the target. He reports that there is such-and-such a car parked so-and-so, after which he goes on to spot the next target. The rest of the business is up to the men who do the actual stealing.
Jimmy's job-training program took only one morning. That same afternoon he went to work for Jake's crew.
Jake's experience with kids had been no more than so-so promising. He used them because they were better than nothing. He did not expect them to stay long; they were gobbled up by the rules of compulsory education just about the age when they could be counted upon to follow orders.
He felt about the same with Jimmy Holden; the "missing person" report stated that one of the most prominent factors in the lad's positive identification was his high quality of speech and his superior intelligence. (This far Paul Brennan had to go, and he had divulged the information with great reluctance.)
But though Jake needed a preschool child with intelligence, he did not realize the height of Jimmy Holden's.
It was obvious to Jimmy on the second day that Jake's crew was not taking advantage of every car spotted. One of them had been a "natural" to Jimmy's way of thinking. He asked Jake about it: "Why didn't you take the sea-green Ford in front of the corner store?"
Jake nodded. "Spotting isn't risky, Jimmy. But picking the car up is. There is a very dangerous time when the driver is a sitting duck. From the moment he opens the car door he is in danger. Sitting in the chance of getting caught, he must start the car, move it out of the parking space into traffic, and get under way and gone before he is safe."
"But the sea-green Ford was sitting there with its engine running!"
"Meaning," nodded Jake, "that the driver pulled in and made a fast dash into the store for a newspaper or a pack of cigarettes."
"I understand. Your man could get caught. Or," added Jimmy thoughtfully, "the owner might even take his car away before we got there."
Jake nodded. This one was going to make it easy for him.
As the days wore on, Jimmy became more selective. He saw no point in reporting a car that wasn't going to be used. An easy mark wedged between two other cars couldn't be removed with ease. A car parked in front of a parking meter with a red flag was dangerous, it meant that the time was up and the driver should be getting nervous about it. A man who came shopping along the street to find a meter with some time left by the former driver was obviously looking for a quick-stop place—whereas the man who fed the meter to its limit was a much better bet.
Jake, thankful for what Fate had brought him, now added refinements of education. Cars parked in front of supermarkets weren't safe; the owner might be standing just inside the big plate glass window. The car parked hurriedly just before the opening of business was likely to be a good bet because people are careless about details when they are hurrying to punch the old time clock.
Jake even closed down his operations during the calculated danger periods, but he made sure to tell Jimmy Holden why.
From school-closing to dinnertime Jimmy was allowed to do as he pleased. He found it hard to enjoy playing with his contemporaries, and Jake's explanation about dangerous times warned Jimmy against joining Moe and his little crew of thieves. Jimmy would have enjoyed helping in the stripping yard, but he had not the heft for it. They gave him little messy jobs to do that grimed his hands and made Jake's stern rule of cleanliness hard to achieve. Jimmy found it easier to avoid such jobs than to scrub his skin raw.
One activity he found to his ability was the cooking business.
Jake was a stew-man, a soup-man, a slum-gullion man. The fellows who roamed in and out of Jake's Place dipped their plate of slum from the pot and their chunk of bread from the loaf and talked all through this never-started and never-ended lunch. With the delicacy of his "inside" life, Jake knew the value of herbs and spices and he was a hard taskmaster. But inevitably, Jimmy learned the routine of brewing a bucket of slum that suited Jake's taste, after which Jimmy was now and then permitted to take on the more demanding job of cooking the steaks and chops that made their final evening meal.
Jimmy applied himself well, for the knowledge was going to be handy. More important, it kept him from the jobs that grimed his hands.
He sought other pursuits, but Jake had never had a resident spotter before and the play-facilities provided were few. Jimmy took to reading—necessarily, the books that Jake read, that is, approximately equal parts of science fiction and girlie-girlie books. The science fiction he enjoyed; but he was not able to understand why he wasn't interested in the girlie books. So Jimmy read. Jake even went out of his way to find more science fiction for the lad.
Ultimately, Jimmy located a potential source of pleasure.
He spotted a car with a portable typewriter on the back seat. The car was locked and therefore no target, but it stirred his fancy. Thereafter he added a contingent requirement to his spotting. A car with a typewriter was more desirable than one without.
Jimmy went on to further astound Jake by making a list of what the customers were buying. After that he concentrated on spotting those cars that would provide the fastest sale for their parts.
It was only a matter of time; Jimmy spotted a car with a portable typewriter. It was not as safe a take as his others, but he reported it. Jake's driver picked it up and got it out in a squeak; the car itself turned up to be no great find.
Jimmy claimed the typewriter at once.
Jake objected: "No dice, Jimmy."
"I want it, Jake."
"Look, kid, I can sell it for twenty."
"But I want it."
Jake eyed Jimmy thoughtfully, and he saw two things. One was a thousand-dollar reward standing before him. The other was a row of prison bars.
Jake could only collect one and avoid the other by being very sure that Jimmy Holden remained grateful to Jake for Jake's shelter and protection.
He laughed roughly. "All right, Jimmy," he said. "You lift it and you can have it."
Jimmy struggled with the typewriter, and succeeded only because it was a new one made of the titanium-magnesium-aluminum alloys. It hung between his little knees, almost—but not quite—touching the ground.
"You have it," said Jake. He lifted it lightly and carried it into the boy's little bedroom.
Jimmy started after dinner. He picked out the letters with the same painful search he'd used in typing his getaway letter. He made the same mistakes he'd made before. It had taken him almost an hour and nearly fifty sheets of paper to compose that first note without an error; that was no way to run a railroad; now Jimmy was determined to learn the proper operation of this machine. But finally the jagged tack-tack—pause—tack-tack got on Jake's nerves.
Jake came in angrily. "You're wasting paper," he snapped. He eyed Jimmy thoughtfully. "How come with your education you don't know how to type?"
"My father wouldn't let me."
"Seems your father wouldn't let you do anything."
"He said that I couldn't learn until I was old enough to learn properly. He said I must not get into the habit of using the hunt-and-peck system, or I'd never get out of it."
"So what are you doing now?"
"My father is dead."
"And anything he said before doesn't count any more?"
"He promised me that he'd start teaching me as soon as my hands were big enough," said Jimmy soberly. "But he isn't here any more. So I've got to learn my own way."
Jake reflected. Jimmy was a superior spotter. He was also a potential danger; the other kids played it as a game and didn't really realize what they were doing. This one knew precisely what he was doing, knew that it was wrong, and had the lucidity of speech to explain in full detail. It was a good idea to keep him content.
"If you'll stop that tap-tapping for tonight," promised Jake, "I'll get you a book tomorrow. Is it a deal?"
"I will if you'll follow it."
"And," said Jake, pushing his advantage, "you'll do it with the door closed so's I can hear this TV set."
Jake kept his word.
On the following afternoon, not only was Jimmy presented with one of the standard learn-it-yourself books on touch-typing, but Jake also contrived a sturdy desk out of one old packing case and a miniature chair out of another. Both articles of home-brewed furniture Jake insisted upon having painted before he permitted them inside his odd dwelling, and that delayed Jimmy one more day.
But it was only one more day; and then a new era of experience began for Jimmy.
It would be nice to report that he went at it with determination, self-discipline, and system, following instructions to the letter and emerging a first-rate typist.
Sorry. Jimmy hated every minute of it. He galled at the pages and pages of juj juj juj frf frf frf. He cried with frustration because he could not perform the simple exercise to perfection. He skipped through the book so close to complete failure that he hurled it across the room, and cried in anger because he had not the strength to throw the typewriter after it. Throw the machine? He had not the strength in his pinky to press the carriage-shift key!
Part of his difficulty was the size of his hands, of course. But most of his trouble lay deep-seated in his recollection of his parents' fabulous machine. It would have made a typist of him in a single half-hour session, or so he thought.
He had yet to learn about the vast gulf that lies between theory and practice.
It took Jimmy several weeks of aimless fiddling before he realized that there was no easy short-cut. Then he went back to the juj juj juj frf frf frf routine and hated it just as much, but went on.
He invented a kind of home-study "hooky" to break the monotony. He would run off a couple of pages of regular exercise, and then turn back to the hunt-and-peck system of typing to work on a story. He took a furtive glee in this; he felt that he was getting away with something. In mid-July, Jake caught him at it.
"What's going on?" demanded Jake, waving the pages of manuscript copy.
"Typing," said Jimmy.
Jake picked up the typing guidebook and waved it under Jimmy's nose. "Show me where it says you gotta type anything like, 'Captain Brandon struggled against his chains when he heard Lady Hamilton scream. The pirate's evil laugh rang through the ship. "Curse you—"'"
"But—" said Jimmy faintly.
"But nothing!" snapped Jake. "Stop the drivel and learn that thing! You think I let you keep the machine just to play games? We gotta find a way to make it pay off. Learn it good!"
He stamped out, taking the manuscript with him. From that moment on, Jimmy's furtive career as an author went on only when Jake was either out for the evening or entertaining. In any case, he did not bother Jimmy further, evidently content to wait until Jimmy had "learned it good" before putting this new accomplishment to use. Nor did Jimmy bother him. It was a satisfactory arrangement for the time being. Jimmy hid his "work" under a pile of raw paper and completed it in late August. Then, with the brash assurance of youth, he packed and mailed his first finished manuscript to the editor of Boy's Magazine.
His typing progressed more satisfactorily than he realized, even though he was still running off page after page of repetitious exercise, leavened now and then by a page of idiotic sentences the letters of which were restricted to the center of the typewriter keyboard. The practice, even the hunt-and-peck relaxation from discipline, exercised the small muscles. Increased strength brought increased accuracy.
September rolled in, the streets emptied of school-aged children and the out-of-state car licenses diminished to a trickle. With the end of the carefree vacation days went the careless motorist.
Jake, whose motives were no more altruistic than his intentions were legal, began to look for a means of disposing of Jimmy Holden at the greatest profit to himself. Jake stalled only because he hoped that the reward might be stepped up.
But it was Jimmy's own operations that closed this chapter of his life.
Jimmy had less scout work to do and no school to attend; he was too small to help in the sorting of car parts and too valuable to be tossed out. He was in the way.
So he was in Jake's office when the mail came. He brought the bundle to Jake's desk and sat on a box, sorting the circulars and catalogs from the first class. Halfway down the pile was a long envelope addressed to Jimmy James.
He dropped the rest with a little yelp. Jake eyed him quickly and snatched the letter out of Jimmy's hands.
"Hey! That's mine!" said Jimmy. Jake shoved him away.
"Who's writing you?" demanded Jake.
"It's mine!" cried Jimmy.
"Shut up!" snapped Jake, unfolding the letter. "I read all the mail that comes here first."
"Shut your mouth and your teeth'll stay in," said Jake flatly. He separated a green slip from the letter and held the two covered while he read. "Well, well," he said. "Our little Shakespeare!" With a disdainful grunt Jake tossed the letter to Jimmy.
Eagerly, Jimmy took the letter and read:
Dear Mr. James:
We regret the unconscionable length of time between your submission and this reply. However, the fact that this reply is favorable may be its own apology. We are enclosing a check for $20.00 with the following explanation:
Our policy is to reject all work written in dialect. At the best we request the author to rewrite the piece in proper English and frame his effect by other means. Your little story is not dialect, nor is it bad literarily, the framework's being (as it is) a fairly good example of a small boy's relating in the first person one of his adventures, using for the first time his father's typewriter. But you went too far. I doubt that even a five-year-old would actually make as many typographical errors.
However, we found the idea amusing, therefore our payment. One of our editors will work your manuscript into less-erratic typescript for eventual publication.
Please continue to think of us in the future, but don't corn up your script with so many studied blunders.
Sincerely, Joseph Brandon, editor, Boy's Magazine.
"Gee," breathed Jimmy, "a check!"
Jake laughed roughly. "Shakespeare," he roared. "Don't corn up your stuff! You put too many errors in! Wow!"
Jimmy's eyes began to burn. He had no defense against this sarcasm. He wanted praise for having accomplished something, instead of raucous laughter.
"I wrote it," he said lamely.
"Oh, go away!" roared Jake.
Jimmy reached for the check.
"Scram," said Jake, shutting his laughter off instantly.
"It's mine!" cried Jimmy.
Jake paused, then laughed again. "Okay, smart kid. Take it and spend it!" He handed the check to Jimmy Holden.
Jimmy took it quickly and left.
He wanted to eye it happily, to gloat over it, to turn it over and over and to read it again and again; but he wanted to do it in private.
He took it with him to the nearest bank, feeling its folded bulk and running a fingernail along the serrated edge.
He re-read it in the bank, then went to a teller's window. "Can you cash this, please?" he asked.
The teller turned it over. "It isn't endorsed."
"I can't reach the desk to sign it," complained Jimmy.
"Have you an account here?" asked the teller politely.
"Well, no sir."
"No—no sir," said Jimmy thoughtfully. Not a shred of anything did he have to show who he was under either name.
"Who is this Jimmy James?" asked the teller.
"Me. I am."
The teller smiled. "And you wrote a short story that sold to Boy's Magazine?" he asked with a lifted eyebrow. "That's pretty good for a little guy like you."
The teller looked over Jimmy's head; Jimmy turned to look up at one of the bank's policemen. "Tom, what do you make of this?"
The policeman shrugged. He stooped down to Jimmy's level. "Where did you get this check, young fellow?" he asked gently.
"It came in the mail this morning."
"You're Jimmy James?"
"Yes sir." Jimmy Holden had been called that for more than half a year; his assent was automatic.
"How old are you, young man?" asked the policeman kindly.
"Five and a half."
"Isn't that a bit young to be writing stories?"
Jimmy bit his lip. "I wrote it, though."
The policeman looked up at the teller with a wink. "He can tell a good yarn," chuckled the policeman. "Shouldn't wonder if he could write one."
The teller laughed and Jimmy's eyes burned again. "It's mine," he insisted.
"If it's yours," said the policeman quietly, "we can settle it fast enough. Do your folks have an account here?"
"Hmmm. That makes it tough."
Brightly, Jimmy asked, "Can I open an account here?"
"Why, sure you can," said the policeman. "All you have to do is to bring your parents in."
"But I want the money," wailed Jimmy.
"Jimmy James," explained the policeman with a slight frown to the teller, "we can't cash a check without positive identification. Do you know what positive identification means?"
"Yes sir. It means that you've got to be sure that this is me."
"Right! Now, those are the rules. Now, of course, you don't look like the sort of young man who would tell a lie. I'll even bet your real name is Jimmy James, Jr. But you see, we have no proof, and our boss will be awful mad at us if we break the rules and cash this check without following the rules. The rules, Jimmy James, aren't to delay nice, honest people, but to stop people from making mistakes. Mistakes such as taking a little letter out of their father's mailbox. If we cashed that check, then it couldn't be put back in father's mailbox without anybody knowing about it. And that would be real bad."
"But it's mine!"
"Sonny, if that's yours, all you have to do is to have your folks come in and say so. Then we'll open an account for you."
"Yes sir," said Jimmy in a voice that was thick with tears of frustration close to the surface. He turned away and left.
Jake was still in the outside office of the Yard when Jimmy returned. The boy was crestfallen, frustrated, unhappy, and would not have returned at all if there had been another place where he was welcome. He expected ridicule from Jake, but Jake smiled.
"No luck, kid?"
Jimmy just shook his head.
"Checks are tough, Jimmy. Give up, now?"
"No? What then?"
"I can write a letter and sign it," said Jimmy, explaining how he had outfoxed the ticket seller.
"Won't work with checks, Jimmy. For me now, if I was to be polite and dressed right they might cash a twenty if I showed up with my social security card, driver's license, identification card with photograph sealed in, and all that junk. But a kid hasn't got a chance. Look, Jimmy, I'm sorry for this morning. To-morrow morning we'll go over to my bank and I'll have them cash it for you. It's yours. You earned it and you keep it. Okay? Are we friends again?"
Gravely they shook hands. "Watch the place, kid," said Jake. "I got to make a phone call."
In the morning, Jake dressed for business and insisted that Jimmy put on his best to make a good impression. After breakfast, they set out. Jake parked in front of a granite building.
"This isn't any bank," objected Jimmy. "This is a police station."
"Sure," responded Jake. "Here's where we get you an identification card. Don't you know?"
"Okay," said Jimmy dubiously.
Inside the station there were a number of men in uniform and in plain clothing. Jake strode forward, holding Jimmy by one small hand. They approached the sergeant's desk and Jake lifted Jimmy up and seated him on one edge of the desk with his feet dangling.
The sergeant looked at them with interest but without surprise.
"Sergeant," said Jake, "this is Jimmy James—as he calls himself when he's writing stories. Otherwise he is James Quincy Holden."