The Master Confidence Man
Relaxed comfortably in the depths of a big leather chair in the luxurious lobby of the Achmore Hotel, Mr. Amos Clackworthy sighed in deep contentment. He had just finished a meal which exactly suited his epicurean tastes. The Early Bird had shared the same delicious meal, but food could not appease his gnawing appetite for an adventure; it had been some weeks now since the master confidence man had engaged in that always interesting pastime of dollar hunting.
“Ah, James,” murmured Mr. Clackworthy, “that filet of sole was ambrosia fit for the gods.”
“Huh!” grunted The Early Bird. “Th’ kinda fish I’m interested in right now is—suckers. Come on, boss; bait th’ hook an’ let’s give some dollar-grabbin’ goof th’ chance t’ nibble.”
Mr. Clackworthy smiled tolerantly.
“James,” he complained good-naturedly, “you are certainly a restless soul. It seems that you can never declare a truce with careless bank balances.”
“Aw, what’s th’ use of havin’ a wise noodle like yours if you don’t use it? When a guy’s got a money-makin’ think-tank, he’s gotta keep it oiled or it’s gonna get rusty.”
“Unfortunately, James,” and the master confidence man smiled, “I do seem to get a bit rusty at times. Just now, for instance, I have thumbed my list of prospects in vain; I don’t seem to be able to get hold of a single lead. At that I am not sorry, for I am getting terribly behind in my reading.”
The Early Bird groaned as there arose before him the dismal picture of Mr. Clackworthy sitting in the library of his Sheridan Road apartment for countless hours, nose buried between the covers of some classical volume; he was very jealous of the masters, for they took much of the time which, so James told himself, could be so much more profitably turned to more practical matters.
However, what further entreaty The Early Bird might have been about to make was abruptly sidetracked as his gaze wandered to the hotel entrance and paused at the sight of an arriving guest.
“Holy pink elephants!” he exclaimed in Mr. Clackworthy’s ear. “There’s ‘Chicago Charlie!’ He must be getting’ up in th’ world, stoppin’ at this swell joint.”
“One of your erstwhile friends, I presume, James,” responded Mr. Clackworthy. He referred to his coworker’s former days, when The Early Bird was not above burgling a safe or turning his hand to various other violent means of annexing the coin which are frowned upon by the law.
“Friend!” sputtered The Early Bird. “Boss, of course I forgive you for you don’t know Chicago Charlie, but that is sure an insult. That guy a friend of mine? Ain’tcha ever heard of Chicago Charlie? But then I forgot that you didn’t used t’ pal around with th’ same bunch I did.
“Honest, boss, I’ve got every respect in th’ world for a square crook; y’ know what I mean. But that goof is so crooked that he’d make a corkscrew look as straight as a yardstick. He’s so crooked he’s gotta read a paper upside down. Alongside Chicago Charlie, Jesse James would of got a bid t’ this here Diogenes guy’s party fer honest homos.”
“Your vehemence piques my interest.” Mr. Clackworthy chuckled, casting a glance of interest to the big, heavy-jowled man who had now reached the clerk’s desk and was writing his name in the hotel register. “Suppose you tell me something about him. I judge that he must have—er —nicked you for your roll, as you would say.”
“I’ve sure got th’ old bowie knife all whetted up for that guy,” said The Early Bird. “Th’ only time I ever beat th’ ponies for a hundred-to-one shot this here Charlie was makin’ book out t’ th’ old Chicago race track. A friend slips me some live dope about a little spindle-legged filly what looked like she was sufferin’ from th’ sleepin’ sickness. So I parks a century into Chicago Charlie’s keepin’. An’ believe me, boss, them was th’ days when a five spot looked as big as th’ State of Kansas.
“Well, this little mare grasshopper gets t’ th’ home stretch about three train lengths ahead of th’ field, an’ I stands t’ collect ten thousand smackers from Chicago Charlie’s betting emporium. Does I get it? Huh! I got it all right—in th’ neck. Charlie skips out an’ grabs th’ first rattler for parts unknown! I don’t even get my century back.
“Aw, I ain’t th’ only guy that was handed th’ double cross by him. Before he blowed th’ race track that time he’d been mixed up in a coupla dozen crooked races.”
“It must have been some years, then, since you have seen him,” remarked Mr. Clackworthy.
“It does credit to your memory, James. If I am any judge, this Charlie person has now risen considerably above the level of a crooked bookmaker. He carries himself with that assurance which belongs to a man of affairs.”
“Well, y’ can lay good odds that he’s with a gang of counterfeiters, or head of a trust what’s got th’ monopoly on stealin’ pennies outta blind men’s cups or somethin’ like that,” retorted The Early Bird spitefully. He was staring at Chicago Charlie’s luggage, his brow wrinkled in deep thought.
“If he ain’t swiped some goof’s baggage—which wouldn’t surprise me none —he’s changed his moniker,” he said. “See them initials—‘J. H.,’ they says; an’ in th’ days when I knowed him, his name was Charlie Batterson. Yeah; them’s his grips aw’right. He’s pointin’ ‘em out t’ th’ bell hop. It says ‘J. M., Swaneetown, Indiana.’ “
Mr. Clackworthy referred to his carefully card-indexed memory.
“Swaneetown, eh?” he murmured. “If I mistake not, James, that is the name of the town which has enjoyed such a spectacular boom of late. A number of factories have erected large plants there; it is something less than a hundred miles from here, I believe. No doubt, James, Charlie is doing quite well. Humph!”
The master confidence man lowered his eyelids meditatively and thoughtfully tugged at the neatly trimmed point of his Vandyke beard.
“James,” he said slowly, “it may be that our dining here this evening was nothing short of providential. Who knows but that we may be able to find a way whereby we can collect this old debt which Chicago Charlie owes you—with appropriate interest and—humph —an adequate fee for my services as a collector.”
“Boss!” exclaimed The Early Bird eagerly. “Y’ ain’t stringin’ me? Honest, boss, will ya throw th’ old harpoon into that guy, will ya?”
“It’s a bad idea, James, to weigh your fish before you have so much as baited your hook,” responded Mr. Clackworthy cautiously, “but we most certainly shall look into this little matter.”
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“Chicago Charlie has certainly developed into a most shrewd person,” remarked Mr. Clackworthy as, from the window in his room of The Swaneetown House, he stared across the nondescript business street which was cluttered with all sorts of building material such as marks a growing town in the making.
“Meanin’,” said The Early Bird with a discouraged sigh, “that you ain’t been able t’ figger out th’ ways an’ means of liftin’ a bunch of his kale.”
“You have correctly stated the matter, James,” replied the master confidence man, “but, to paraphrase a bit of sound philosophy, where there is money there is always hope—of getting some of it.
“I have now spent some hours making guarded inquiries regarding our debtor. As you know, he has buttoned the cloak of respectability tightly about bis shoulders. He has taken unto himself the name of John Harley, and he is president of the bank of Swaneetown. He came here when the boom started and purchased considerable portions of real estate for practically a song.
“He has become a power in municipal politics through his money and the strangle hold which he has gotten on local affairs. I understand that all of the city officials literally eat from his hand. In addition to being president of the bank, he has numerous other investments. He has developed into a shrewd business man, and not any too scrupulous, I take it.
“He is, I judge, an extremely suspicious man, which will make it very difficult for me to win his confidence—the first necessity, of course, if I am to reduce the plethora of his roll.”
“So y’ gotta call it off, huh?” The Early Bird said mournfully.
“Did you ever know me to quit, James?” reproved Mr. Clackworthy. “I did not intend to deluge your hopes with the cold water of discouraging facts; I merely reported the situation as I have found it. It really makes the game only the more interesting. I have not quit, old dear; I have just begun.
“These facts which I have recited to you I have gathered about town. I am going over to Harley’s bank—we might as well respect his alias for the present —and open up an account.”
“Gonna put your kale in Chicago Charlie’s bank?” demanded The Early Bird. “Don’cha do it. We come down here t’ trim him, not t’ let him trim us; remember what I told y’ about him goin’ south with my ten thousand smackers. Keep your dough in your own kick; it’s safer.”
“Tut, James; the bank is perfectly safe. All banks are protected by State guarantees these days. And a clever fellow like Chicago Charlie isn’t going to risk wrecking a bank. I’ll be back presently and I may, perchance, have discovered his vulnerable point.”
Following the principle that nothing succeeds like success, Mr. Clackworthy had long since discovered that the most powerful magnet to attract money was —money. In pursuance thereof he had brought along a generous working capital.
Entering the bank of Swaneetown, the master confidence man found John Harley seated in front of an elaborate mahogany desk within the open, brass-railed space adjoining the tellers’ cages. The banker who had once answered to the name of Chicago Charlie was a big, heavy-jawed man, florid and beefy. He had learned the trick of narrowing his eyes to mere slits until he was like a man peering through a crack in a window blind; he could look into a face without giving any hint of his own emotions. It rather gave the impression of a man asleep, except for the glinting of the light against his curtained retina. His mind was very much awake.
“My name is Clackworthy,” explained the master confidence man; “I wish to open an account with your bank; it will be small for the present —only ten thousand dollars.”
“Check?” demanded the self-styled Mr. Harvey with bankerlike caution; unintroduced strangers who opened accounts with checks were, of course, open to inquiry.
“Cash,” replied Mr. Clackworthy just as briefly.
“Aw right,” said Harley. “Glad to have your account. Thinking of going into business in Swaneetown?”
“That remains to be decided.” Mr. Clackworthy smiled. He was aware that Chicago Charlie, through his half-closed eyes, was subjecting him to the most minute scrutiny. And he realized with a vague feeling of discouragement that fooling Chicago Charlie was going to prove a difficult task. The man was, without doubt, suspicious and practical; he had learned caution in the hard school of life, where the lessons are not easily forgotten.
And, had he known the thoroughness of the banker’s classification, Mr. Clackworthy would have been still further discouraged.
“A fox, this fellow,” was Harley’s appraisal. “Can’t sell him any real estate at inflated values; can’t sell him any stock that isn’t on the level. Can’t be picked for a sucker; no use wasting any time on him.”
Which was a disappointment to Chicago Charlie; every newcomer who deposited money in the bank of Swaneetown was at once sized up with a view to swelling the size of the Harley exchequer. Straightway he decided that it was going to be a cold day in August when he would try to do business with this Mr. Clackworthy.
And the master confidence man, with that intuitive sixth sense of his, realized at least a small part of Chicago Charlie’s skittish distrust. It would have to be a most unusual trap indeed that would lure Banker Harley.
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The Early Bird!
It really could not be considered strange, inasmuch as The Early Bird had instantly recognized Chicago Charlie after nearly fifteen years, that Chicago Charlie, in turn, should recognize The Early Bird. The bank president had dropped into the Swaneetown House for lunch.
Glancing across the dining room, he nodded politely to Mr. Clackworthy as is due a man who has deposited ten thousand dollars in cash the day before. Almost at the same instant he got a good look at Mr. Clackworthy’s companion. He started unpleasantly.
“The Early Bird!” he murmured, for James Early had, after all, changed very little since the time when the police were considerably interested in his movements and when James, with the capital which he had secured through extremely dubious methods, had been a regular patron at the race track.
Now the self-styled John Harley congratulated himself that he had successfully erased the unsavory pages of his past. In physical appearance he had changed a good deal; his body had thickened, his face was more full, older. After his sudden disappearance from his betting stall at the Chicago race track he had gone far West; he thought that he had thoroughly done away with Chicago Charlie. As he stared covertly at The Early Bird he detected The Early Bird looking just as covertly at him; and something told him that there was recognition in James’ eyes.
The Early Bird pressed Mr. Clackworthy’s foot beneath the table.
“He’s lamped me, boss,” he whispered. “He’s jerry t’ me.”
Mr. Clackworthy frowned in annoyance; he had thoughtlessly neglected to take into consideration the possibility that Chicago Charlie would dine at their hotel. It had not been his intention that the banker should see him and his coworker together.
Banker Harley hurried through his meal, keeping his face averted. He left the hotel and went back to his bank. For half an hour he sat, pudgy hands folded across his expansive waistcoat, chewing a dead cigar; he was thinking many unpleasant thoughts.
It was, of course, possible that he had been mistaken; that The Early Bird had not recognized him at all. Also, it was barely possible that The Early Bird carried with him no spirit of revenge, and perhaps even forgotten the incident of the welched hundred-to-one shot so many years before.
And what if The Early Bird had not forgotten or forgiven and did tell what he knew? He could brazen it out, deny that he was the former race-track booky in case The Early Bird did show a vindictive spirit; surely his word would be accepted against that of a former safe blower. But even at the best, it was an unpleasant business, would shake the local confidence in his bank if the story got abroad. If the story was believed, it might even force his resignation as president of the institution.
The crux of the whole trouble, the thing that made it so dangerous was that Chicago Charlie had not always been so wise and so cautious as he now was. He had done some very foolish things at various and sundry times, with the result that the police had “mugged” him. If the thing got far enough for that to leak out—He shuddered at the thought.
Presently Banker Harley arrived at a decision and reached for the telephone and called “Swaneetown twenty,” which was the police station. He even chuckled a little at the cleverness of his inspiration.
“Givney,” he said to the chief of police, “I want you to come over to the bank right away.”
Chief Givney came and lost no time about it; Harvey’s political machine had put him in office. The banker led Givney back to the private office and closed the door.
“Givney,” he grunted, “you want to continue to hold your job, don’t you?” The chief, looking a bit frightened, nodded vigorously.
“Aw right, Givney, it’s up to you. You do what I say—and keep your mouth shut. Understand?” Again the chief nodded.
“Now, Givney, you listen to me, and do what I tell you; your job depends on it.”
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A Game of Poker
“Boss,” said The Early Bird as he and Mr. Clackworthy sat in the lobby of the Swaneetown House, “somethin’ seems t’ tell me that we ain’t gonna trim Chicago Charlie for so much as a solitary Lincoln. Le’s grab th’ rattler for th’ big burg.”
“Not for another day or so, James,” responded Mr. Clackworthy. “We must not accept defeat so easily; I will admit “
He paused as a man sauntered up to them.
“Beg your pardon,” said the stranger. “You two fellows look as if time were hanging heavily on your hands, and I’m trying to drum up a little poker game. Oh, I’m not a professional; three of the boys are willing but three-handed draw is a little like tiddlewinks, you know. Thought I’d invite you to sit in.”
Mr. Clackworthy gave the man a swift glance of appraisal; certainly he was not a professional card sharper, and besides he was himself no novice at the game. He liked poker, and it offered a welcomed opportunity to pass away a few hours.
“What do you say, James?” he asked of his coworker.
The Early Bird eagerly assented, for he was no slouch with the cards even in a professional game.
“I gotcha,” he said. “I’m gonna get th’ chance t’ make expenses on this trip anyhow. Lead th’ way.”
Mr. Clackworthy, however, became suddenly alert as he noted the look of satisfaction which flashed over the stranger’s face; he felt instinctively that there was something behind it. His curiosity overcame any cautious misgivings he felt. The stranger led the way upstairs and to one of the ordinary guest rooms. Presently two others joined the party and the game got under way. As poker games go, it was a rather tame business.
The five had been playing less than an hour when there was a rap at the door. One of the players got from his chair and turned back the key. Instantly the door was shoved open and Chief of Police Givney faced the five players in all of his official sternness.
“You’re pinched,” he announced, “for gamblin’. Line up there; as soon as I get this here evidence together we go down to th’ station.”
“Now don’t that beat the devil!” exclaimed The Early Bird. “Caught with th’ goods—an’ me winner enough t’ buy th’ tickets home!”
Mr. Clackworthy knew that it was a frame-up; he and The Early Bird had been deliberately led into this game for the purpose of arrest but, as quick as he was at probing situations, he admitted that the motive proved too deep for him. The other three players took the matter cheerfully enough, as became true sports, and the journey was begun to the police station.
At the station all five were booked and motioned to a bench.
“I ain’t goin’ to lock you fellows up,” he explained. “I’ll take you over to the police magistrate. Want t’ call a lawyer? It ain’t much use; I got you with th’ evidence, an’ you’ll draw fines anyhow.”
The police magistrate’s office was directly across the street and, presently, Chief Givney led them thither.
The arraignment proceeded as is customary in such cases as Chief Givney formally presented his charge, displayed the evidence, and giving his details of his raid—made, he explained, when a guest in the adjoining room had notified him over the telephone that a game was in progress. Quite naturally the five prisoners had no defense.
The magistrate, a pompous man who took his judicial duties with great seriousness, glared down upon the five offenders.
“There’s been too much gamblin’ goin’ on in this town,” he declared with a nasal twang. “I’ve got to take harsh measures to stamp out this evil. Now, three of these prisoners is home boys, their faces is familiar. I fine these three”—and he read off their names—“ten dollars an’ costs.”
Promptly the three guilty men produced pocketbooks and paid their tines.
“And now,” went on the magistrate, “let’s see about these other two. Strangers in Swaneetown, huh? Professional gamblers, like as not.”
The Early Bird, enjoying the humor of the situation, shook his head; Mr. Clackworthy, likewise, denied the imputation that he was a professional gambler.
“You’d lie about it anyhow,” retorted the judge witheringly. “Now this man here has got a hard face—a hard face.” He pointed an accusing finger at The Early Bird. “He looks like a criminal t’ me.”
Chief Givney stared intently at James and simulated a start of surprise.
“Your honor,” he said, “you are right. This man is a criminal. I remember seem’ his picture in th’ rogue’s gallery in Chicago. I’ve got a good memory; I can even tell you his name. He give th’ name of Brown when I arrested him. His name’s James Early, alias Th’ Early Bird. He’s—a desprit character.”
The Early Bird’s face paled slightly at this sudden turn of events. Mr. Clackworthy, a police prisoner for the first time in his life, began to understand that Chicago Charlie was at the bottom of this; he had, of course, inspired the raid on the poker game and had supplied Givney with what was now ancient history concerning his coworker. But what was Chicago Charlie’s game? He could not quite fathom it.
“What have you to say for yourself?” the magistrate inquired crisply. The Early Bird floundered for a reply.
“I’ve pleaded guilty t’ gamblin’, ain’t I?” he demanded weakly. “I’m willin’ to fork up th’ coin for th’ fine. Ain’t that enough?”
“I haven’t indicated that I would let you off with a fine,” retorted the judge. “The penalty for this offense is a fine of not less than five dollars nor more than one hundred dollars, or a jail sentence of ninety days, or both. And don’t you talk back to this court! Have you got a police record?”
“I—I want a lawyer,” stammered The Early Bird. “I ain’t gettin’ an even break. I refuse to answer.”
“It’s too late for a lawyer now,” decreed the judge; “you’ve already pleaded guilty; you can’t even appeal from a plea of guilty. So you refuse to answer, eh? That means it’s so.
“You and this other prisoner here are together, huh? I guess you’re both crooks—you look it. If it wasn’t for puttin’ the county to th’ expense of feedin’ a couple of city crooks, I’d give you both the limit. We don’t want crooks like you in our town.
“I fine you each one hundred dollars and costs and three months in jail—and set aside the sentence, providin’ that you buy tickets to Chicago and that th’ chief of police sees you off on the four o’clock train. Call next case.”
The Early Bird breathed a sigh of relief; he hadn’t realized that a poker game could have such threateningly dangerous consequences. Mr. Clackworthy, however, refused to let the matter end there.
“If the court please,” he said calmly, “I deny your right to attempt to drive my friend and me from town in this fashion. I have a right to remain here, and I shall—even if it be in jail.”
The Early Bird stared at Mr. Clackworthy in horror.
“Boss!” he whispered hoarsely. “You’ve gone off your onion! For th’ love of Pete—”
Mr. Clackworthy smiled cheerfully.
“Wake up, James!” he murmured. “Don’t you see through it? Chicago Charlie did this—he’s afraid of us! We’ve got him where we want him. He’s furnished me with a plan, and I think we’re going to collect, after all. I’ve never been in jail before, old dear, but I wouldn’t let Chicago Charlie get away with this—not for a year in jail.”
The judge, after sputtering for one speechless moment at Mr. Clackworthy’s surprising stand, found voice.
“Lock him up!” he ordered.
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The Motive of His Voluntary Incarceration
The Early Bird, as he always did; bowed to Mr. Clackworthy’s wishes and, likewise, refused to shake the dust of Swaneetown from his new twenty-dollar patent-leather shoes. However, he was forlorn when he learned that he must bide his time to be taken into his master’s confidence as to the motive of his practically voluntary incarceration; they were locked in separate cells.
As the steel door clanged shut behind him, Mr. Clackworthy, through the bars, proffered the turnkey a neatly folded twenty-dollar bill.
“I want a little information,” he said. “I want to know what kind of a lawyer Edward Stone is?”
“Punk,” replied the turnkey. “He’s just a young fellow and pretty near starvin’ to death, I reckon.”
“What relationship has he to Henry Stone, publisher of the Swaneetown Courier.”
“Brothers they are.”
“So I guessed.” Mr. Clackworthy nodded. “Call up Lawyer Stone for me and tell him that there’s a hundred-dollar retainer fee waiting for him the minute he gets here.”
“Then he’ll get here before I can get the receiver hung up,” shrewdly replied the turnkey.
The prediction may have failed by a few minutes, but Lawyer Stone did not waste any time. He came back to Mr. Clackworthy’s cell, a neatly shabby man of perhaps thirty. He took the hundred-dollar bill which Mr. Clackworthy gave him, fingering it fondly.
“Stone,” began the master confidence man, “your brother owns The Courier?”
“I happened to be looking over it back in the hotel this morning. I saw your name in the news columns and the boost the paper gave you made me lean to the conclusion that he must be your brother. No, don’t interrupt; all of this is quite pertinent.
“Let me ask you another question: How does your brother and Banker Harley get along?”
“You say this is—pertinent?” exclaimed the attorney. “Maybe so; anyhow, you’ve given me a hundred, and I don’t know any easier way to earn it than hand you out the family secrets. Henry has to get along with Harley; Harley has a mortgage on the paper.”
“And the paper isn’t exactly a newspaper bonanza, I take it,” went on Mr. Clackworthy. “The lack of advertising patronage would indicate that your brother is having a tough time of it.”
“It does look rather sickly, doesn’t it?” agreed the lawyer. “Say, what’s the idea anyhow?”
For answer, Mr. Clackworthy drew closer to the barred door and whispered into Lawyer Stone’s ear for several minutes. When he had finished the attorney was grinning.
“I’ll talk it over with Henry,” he said. “I am dead sure he’ll do it; it will save the paper for him. Henry would commit murder for three thousand dollars right now. He hasn’t been able to rake up last week’s pay roll.” That same afternoon, less than three hours after the young lawyer’s consultation with Mr. Clackworthy, small boys began to flood the streets of Swaneetown with handbills. They read:
Banker Harley, otherwise Chicago Charlie, was at his desk when some one, coming in from the street, carried in one of the bills. His eyes lighted on the line in big type “FROM BOOKMAKER TO BANK PRESIDENT.” He gave a violent start and, with trembling fingers, began to read.
He had already been informed, of course, that Mr. Clackworthy and The Early Bird had refused to leave town; that, of course, puzzled and worried him, but this! How had they done it? There was one consoling thought; he could stopThe Courierfrom printing it. He reached for the phone and called The Courier’ office.
“Stone!” he snapped into the transmitter. “You owe this bank a mortgage for three thousand dollars on your paper. It was due today and you haven’t paid it. I’ll have to foreclose unless you meet that mortgage.”
“Why, Mr. Harley!” exclaimed Stone with apparent innocence. “Why are you so sudden about it?”
“I think you already know,” retorted the banker. “Any man who’s loon enough to flood the town with a lot of ridiculous bills like you’re having distributed this afternoon, isn’t sane enough to get credit at this bank. Of course, if you stopped this foolishness I might—”
“But I couldn’t do that, Mr. Harley,” replied the editor. “I’ve advertised it, you know, and—well, besides, I was just on my way down to pay off the mortgage. I have made other financial arrangements —borrowed the money from a—a Mr. Amos Clackworthy. I’ve got his check drawn on your bank. I’ll be right down.”
Chicago Charlie dropped limply back in his chair.
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No Intention of Blackmailing
Being a man of average intelligence, Chicago Charlie did not need a diagram to tell him what had happened to him. And he wasted no time; he had a situation to meet and he met it. He hurried to police headquarters and flung himself down into the chair at Chief Givney’s desk.
“Givney,” he commanded, “get an order from the court and bring those two prisoners over here from the jail —and then go away and let us alone. Understand?”
The chief obediently brought Mr. Clackworthy and The Early Bird from their cells in the jail and conducted them to his private office.
“Beat it, Givney; shut the door behind you,” ordered Chicago Charlie. “Sit down, you two,” he went on as the door slammed; “sit down and talk turkey. You’ve got me hooked, an’ I know it.
“I thought I’d run you out of town; it didn’t work. You two came out here to get me; I understand it now—and you put it over. There’s no use raisin’ a fuss about that part of it. The question is—how much do you want?”
The Early Bird who, a moment before had been the glummest man in seven States, stared in amazed delight at Mr. Clackworthy; somehow Mr. Clackworthy had put it over.
“I guess you ain’t forgot them ten thousand smackers of mine that you went south with, eh, Chicago Charlie?” James inquired gleefully.
The banker winced unpleasantly at the name which he had not heard for many years.
“Cut out that stuff,” he ordered. “I’m willin’ to pay a reasonable amount of blackmail to you two —”
“Blackmail!” interrupted Mr. Clackworthy. “I am quite sure that neither James here nor myself have any intention of blackmailing you.”
“Then what do you call it, I’d like to know?”
“Now come—er—Charlie,” and Mr. Clackworthy smiled. “Suppose we put this on a strictly business basis. You are indebted to Mr. Early in the sum of ten thousand dollars, a debt which has been unpaid for more than ten years. The interest on that, straight interest at six per cent, amounts to more than six thousand dollars. Should we compound it, and most certainly it should be compounded, it would reach a very large sum. However, I am sure that he will waive compound interest if you, in turn, would allow him something for the—er—expenses of collection.
“Surely there is no blackmail in a straightforward business proposition of this character. Speaking as Mr. Early’s representative, I offer you a settlement figure of twenty-five thousand dollars. Not a penny less—er—Charlie; take it or leave it, just as you choose.”
“Cut it half in two; twelve thousand five hundred,” parried the banker.
“Not a cent for bargaining,” refused Mr. Clackworthy.
“How’re you goin’ to call off your dogs?” demanded Chicago Charlie. “How are you going to shut up that newspaper? I guess he knows the whole thing, too, eh?”
“Not a word.” denied Mr. Clackworthy. “In fact Mr. Early here has not yet written his series of sensational articles, and Editor Stone rather advertised them blind; that is to say, he accepted a gift of three thousand dollars from me, given under the condition that he accepts my—er—suggestion that he popularize his paper with a touch of —ah—sensationalism. Of course he may guess at a thing or two, but so far he knows absolutely nothing.”
“All right,” brusquely interrupted Chicago Charlie. “I know when I’m licked. I’ve got to cough up. Come on down to the bank just as soon as I have the judge lift the sentences, but you ought to be in the pen—you blackmailers!”
Mr. Clackworthy chuckled.
“You know—er—Charlie,” he said, “you brought the whole thing on yourself. You forced us to the one method of—er—collection that we would have never thought of. The Early Bird would never have exposed you—not in a thousand years. He doesn’t play the game that way. But you didn’t know that. You got worried and tried to drive us out of town; if it hadn’t been for that, I would have never known that you were scared to death of a—what The Early Bird would call ‘a squawk.’ I had about given you up as a bad job; if you had let us alone we would have left town to-morrow, and you would be twenty-five thousand to the good.”
“Come on, boss; save th’ chin music until after I’ve got that jack in my mitts,” cut in The Early Bird. “I been waitin’ more’n ten years t’ find out how it’d feel t’ see Chicago Charlie count out my winnin’s on that hundred-t’-one shot. I reckon that’s worth a few hours in jail, eh, boss?”
Mr. Clackworthy’s slight shudder seemed to dispute this opinion.
~ The End ~