Trouble at the Bungalow Investment Company
Bradford Kerry, president and general manager of the Bungalow Investment Company, of Los Angeles, was in a bad way financially — thanks to a “sure-thing” stock tip that had gone wrong. His company, too, had one foot over the brink of ruin and a rollerskate on the other one.
Very comfortable was Mr. Kerry’s bodily posture as he cogitated on this. He was leaning back in his swivel chair, his feet resting on an open drawer of his desk. A fat, expensive cigar was between his thin lips, and a favored bottle stood handy to his reach.
What really concerned Mr. Kerry more than any financial trouble was the fact that he wanted to go fishing; spring fever was in his veins, but he did not dare to seek the wildwoods that he craved. He was afraid — afraid that in his absence one of the directors might go through his books.
Fishing, with Mr. Kerry, was a serious business of life. No one day’s jaunt to a near-by, fished-out stream would satisfy him. He wanted to get far into the mountains, to lose the world of business entirely for a fortnight. Local sportsmen quoted him as an authority on the art of deceiving the elusive mountain trout. Bitterly he cursed the stock market and his inability to take a vacation.
Business had been bad, very bad, for some months. Given unlimited authority by the board of directors of the Bungalow Investment Company in a desperate effort to keep the company solvent, he had juggled its resources in a way that would have been the envy of a vaudeville performer.
As a matter of fact, at this time Mr. Kerry was the “company,” for, confident of his ability to pull things through, as he had done before, the board had turned most of the company’s available assets over to Mr. Kerry’s personal account, taking his notes in exchange. This was not strictly according to the letter of the law regarding the conduct of such companies, and it was kept under cover.
Abstractedly Mr. Kerry ran his fingers through his mop of red hair — flaming red hair; then absently he puffed again at his cigar. The scowl deepened as he thought of the situation. This time, apparently, nothing could keep the firm from the rocks toward which it was drifting. Twice had it been necessary to postpone dividends, with a resulting decline in the price of stock. The trouble — Mr. Kerry knew all too well where the main trouble lay; in plain language, the company had bitten off more than it could chew.
It had gambled too heavily on the home-seeking instincts of people newly arrived from the East. Much land had it purchased, built standardized bungalows thereon, and disposed of houses and lots at a profit that would have made an Eastern real estate man turn a rich emerald hue in sheer envy. For the greater part these domiciles were sold on such low terms as ten per cent down, and one per cent a month; anywhere from eight to twelve per cent interest being charged on unpaid balances.
This was well enough — and the company had prospered amazingly in the past. But the board of directors had voted for expansion on a larger scale, and to purchase the McDonald ranch in the suburbs of south Los Angeles. There were six hundred and forty acres in this tract, and to acquire it the company had obligated itself for something over half a million dollars.
Ordinarily this would have been all right, for it had been the boast of the company that it had sold an average of more than one bungalow a day. They had made good on this — up to six months ago.
But in the last half year, for some unexplainable reason, bungalows had become a drug on the market. The company now had exactly one hundred and twenty-seven unsold houses on its hands, and still more were being built — per contracts. Carrying this load was causing the foundations of the firm to wabble.
This explains why the directors had been glad to pass the buck to Mr. Kerry. And the latter worried. Reaching into his vest pocket for a bank book, he noted the balance therein. A trifle over twenty-five thousand dollars of the company’s money was deposited to his order.
But what good was it — he sighed bitterly at the thought — when interests and payments on contracts that must be paid on the nail and fell due within a fortnight aggregated a total of over sixty-thousand? And the assets of the company were already hypothecated to the limit. Money was abnormally tight, anyway, and it seemed impossible to raise any now that a psychological panic was upsetting real-estate values. These conditions have been set down herewith as the explaining causes of Mr. Kerry’s deciding to flee to other climes with what money he could reach.
His musings were broken into by the entrance of the office boy, who announced the coming of one Bill Hendricks, real-estate broker.
“Show him in!” was the order. Hendricks entered the office, tossed his hat onto the desk, and announced, point-blank: “We want to buy the southwest hundred acres of the McDonald ranch.”
“Oh, you do!” It was glad news to Mr. Kerry. “What have you got up your sleeve this time. Bill? Who you representing?”
“Sh-h! That’s a secret. We’ll pay eight hundred an acre.”
“The devil you will!” rudely exclaimed Mr. Kerry. “You know darned well that we paid over nine hundred.”
“Sure!” Hendricks grinned broadly. “My clients also know that you are in a devil of a hole, and might he willing to listen to eight hundred.”
“I’ll take it!” snappily retorted Mr. Kerry. “Cash — this week!”
“Not a question about it. It’s ready when you hand over the deed.”
“That’ll be to-morrow. I’ll call a special meeting of directors to fix it up regular, so there’ll be no comeback.”
This happened on a Monday. Tuesday evening the money subject to Mr. Kerry’s personal control had swelled to one hundred and five thousand dollars. Things looked better for the company — at present. But the future was still black.
Then he thought of the private transaction of which the directors knew nothing.
“Well,” he said, debating, to himself, “it’s a case of either myself or the company going up the flue, so by a unanimous vote of one the company is elected to hold the bag.”
Arriving at this pleasant decision, he locked up all incriminating data, and announced to the office force that he was to be absent from the office all the following day. That night he left for San Francisco. Arriving in the bay city Wednesday morning, he went directly to a large employment agency. Nearly one hundred men were lounging in the waiting room, and Mr. Kerry looked them over carefully, finally picking out one with flaming red hair the color of his own.
“Would you like to make one hundred dollars?” he asked.
“Quit your kidding!” responded the other, who needed a shave. He looked Mr. Kerry up and down, noting every evidence of his prosperity.
“No kidding; I’ve got use for you. Look here, you have the same color hair that I have, and the same shade of eyes. Take it all around, you would answer a general description of me. Now, I’m in trouble with my wife — and I want to skip out. Understand? I want to make a clean get-away. I’ll give you one hundred dollars and pay all your expenses if you’ll agree to impersonate me for a while.”
The other grinned.
“Bo, it can’t be done. You can’t fool a woman. I resemble you in coloring and height, but we ain’t no twin brothers, by a long shot.”
“You don’t quite understand. I only want you to take my name, and sail for Honolulu next Sunday. Let everybody on the boat know that you’re Bradford Kerry, real-estate man, from Los Angeles. I’m away behind in my alimony, and my wife will put the officers on my trail. Then they’ll arrest you instead of me, and bring you back here. It’ll be a big joke when my wife sees you. She’ll bawl out the officers proper, and you’ll be released. To earn your money you must not deny your identity as Kerry when they arrest you. Just sit tight, and laugh at them.”
“One hundred dollars for getting arrested in your place and letting you make a clean get-away? Huh!”
“I’ll make it two hundred.”
“You’re on! D’ye know, I had begun to think there wasn’t that much money in the world.”
“All right,” smilingly said Mr. Kerry. “Meet me in the lobby of the Palace next Sunday morning at ten o’clock, and I’ll have your steamer ticket ready for you. Here’s twenty for expenses until then. That’s in addition to the two hundred. Come to think about it, better get a decent suit of clothes and a traveling bag — if you have none. Here’s fifty more.”
“But I don’t quite like the idea of getting arrested.”
“You’ll have to in order to earn the two hundred. Admit that your name is Kerry, and say no more. Just laugh at the officers, and let them bring you back to the coast. Then, when my wife sees the mistake the officers have made, she’ll throw a duck-fit. I’ll leave your trail wide open, and quietly disappear myself.”
“Very good,” said the other. “I understand the scheme now. I’ll meet you Sunday morning.”
After leaving this employment agency, Mr. Kerry made inquiries as to the whereabouts of several others. Two hours later he had located another redhaired man, and made the same bargain — with this difference: on Sunday this second man was to leave for the East.
Well satisfied with these initial steps, and chuckling to himself, Mr. Kerry boarded the next train for southern California.
On Friday he entered the Los Angeles office of the Oceanic Steamship Company and openly engaged a stateroom on the Alameda, which sailed from San Francisco for Sydney, via Honolulu, the following Sunday afternoon. The next morning he visited the uptown ticket office of the Southern Inland Pacific Railroad and bought a ticket for New York, by way of San Francisco. He was scheduled to leave Los Angeles on a train that evening and connect with an east-bound train in San Francisco the next day.
Mr. Kerry had a slight acquaintance with the ticket clerk.
“Going to remain long in the East?” inquired the latter.
“Yes; indefinitely. Pleasure combined with business, you might say. But keep it quiet until to-morrow that I’m going. The president of the Pacific Bank expects me to go yachting with him to-morrow, and I’m going to leave him flat as the easiest way of getting out of it. He bores me to death with his stale anecdotes when he gets me cornered on his boat.”
“Sure, I’ll keep it under cover,” agreed the clerk, thinking, meanwhile, that it was a hastily conceived excuse to cover something else — something big in a business way, perhaps.
Mr. Kerry had been very friendly, indeed, with the president of the Pacific Bank. Therefore, when Mr. Kerry had telephoned to him for one hundred thousand dollars to be sent over to the office of the Bungalow Investment Company, there had been no question. Sometimes, the president knew, the actual cash was handed over in a big deal, when either of the parties concerned wished the details to be unknown even to bank employees.
That evening the Northbound Limited carried Mr. Kerry in a private compartment. In San Francisco the next morning, after his leaving the Townsend Street depot, he left a blank trail as far as he himself was concerned. But of other trails there were a redundancy. Some people even went so far as to suspect Mr. Kerry of possessing a sense of humor.
At first, on Monday morning, when Mr. Kerry did not appear at the offices of the Bungalow Investment Company, no alarm was felt. At eleven, after unsuccessful attempts to reach him by telephone, the vice-president sent a messenger to try to locate him. By noon the vice president smelt a rat, and went to the Pacific Bank to investigate, for a large interest payment fell due that very day.
Then the story leaked out, and the early afternoon editions carried front-page scareheads of Mr. Kerry’s disappearance with one hundred thousand dollars. Ironic comments were made upon Mr. Kerry’s philanthropy in leaving five thousand in the bank. But even figures had been one of his hobbies.
The clerk in the uptown office of the railway company, reading of this, telephoned at once to the vice president. The latter smiled grimly upon receiving the information that Mr. Kerry was bound East, and hastened to notify the authorities. A late extra that evening announced that the absconding official had been apprehended as his train pulled into Salt Lake City. He admitted his identity, the papers stated, but refused to talk for publication. Also, he waived extradition, and would be returned immediately to Los Angeles.
So far-so good, but when the redhaired man claiming the name of Kerry arrived from Salt Lake City on Wednesday in the custody of an officer, there was a crowd at the depot to meet him, composed, for the greater part, of minor stockholders in the Bungalow Investment Company. Some of the excited ones were in favor of violence, and the police reserves were called to escort the prisoner out of the depot. Some of the officers knew Kerry by sight, and were puzzled at seeing the stranger.
“Why, this isn’t the Kerry we want,” spoke a sergeant to the Salt Lake officer. “Mighty good of your department not to wait for us to send a man after him, but there’s a mistake somewhere.”
He went on to elaborate the story of Kerry’s defalcation.
“So this Kerry gink skipped out with one hundred grand,” broke in the prisoner, heatedly. “I thought those Salt Lake people were trying to run a rannygazoo on me when they sprung that, so I earned my money by making a noise like a clam. Golly, he slipped a beaut over on me, telling me he was trying to get away from his wife! I could sympathize with him there. He paid me two hundred to use his ticket going east, and to keep my mouth shut if I got pinched.”
As newspaper copy this was A-1 stuff, and the headline writers made the most of it. Then, further sleuthing established the fact that Kerry, while throwing this blind on his trail, had sailed for Australia. At least he had purchased a ticket for the antipodes. The Evening Eagle scored a beat by wirelessing to verify Kerry’s presence on the Alameda. He had evidently, the Eagle stated, made a miscalculation in the time it would take to bring the other man back from Salt Lake City. Ordinarily the Salt Lake officials would have held the man and waited for a Los Angeles officer to come after him. There had been cases when the department had been hard put to spare a man to make a like trip, and a delay of some little time had resulted. But as it stood, the Alameda was still halfway between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Then the authorities received an answer to their wire. Kerry had been placed under arrest by the captain. So the frenzied stockholders sat tight and waited for the time to elapse that it would take to bring him back from Hawaii. The Great Northern was due to sail from San Pedro for Honolulu the next day, and a man from the sheriffs office was sent on her. This officer, by the way, was not acquainted with Kerry. Sixteen days later he returned with his prisoner.
This time the newspapers set their humor specialists to write the story, and they unanimously agreed that Mr. Kerry was a smooth proposition. Too smooth, in fact, for he had obtained a clean start of nineteen days on the authorities, and might by this time be in hiding anywhere between Honduras and Greenland.
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Van Crom’s Surprise
For years the Los Angeles Evening Eagle had been the joke of the newspaper game. Then Carl Bjorkman took it over. A stubborn, canny Swede, who had come to the United States with his parents when he was not quite two years of age, he had gotten his first job on a newspaper before he was twelve. Four years later he had graduated from office boy to cub reporter, from a foot job to the copy desk, and at thirty he had been assistant city editor on a morning paper in Los Angeles. Then his father died, leaving him considerable money, which had been made through pure luck when a worthless homestead developed into rich oil land.
With that Carl had gone into business for himself. The Evening Eagle was on the market — had been for some time — but no one else wanted to tackle such a hopeless proposition. With Bjorkman it was different.
“New blood,” was his watchword.
After subscribing to a good news service, worthwhile syndicate articles, and an expensive comic section, he began to boost the circulation of the Eagle by boldly attacking the rottenness of the city administration. Private detectives gathered information for him, while disgruntled politicians gave him still more. Rapidly, the Eagle passed one of the evening papers in circulation and was hot on the heels of the other, the Daily Sphere, when the Kerry story broke.
As a sort of heritage with the Eagle, when Bjorkman took it over, had come an old-time reporter by the name of Van Crom. On the Eagle in its rundown days he had been a star — at twenty dollars a week. As he was the best on the old staff, Bjorkman kept him on at the same salary, but shunted him off onto police-court routine, for he was a faithful, methodical plugger.
To the younger men he brought in, Bjorkman paid more money. This being pushed aside as a hopeless has-been hurt Van Crom more than a little, but he kept silent, for twenty dollars a week is better than nothing when one has a family to support. He was called old, but he was less than fifty. In the past years twenty dollars had sufficed for the needs of his family, but now he had been reduced to the most, pitiful economies. Each day he rode into town from the suburbs — a fifty minute ride with poor car service — for in his desire to own a home he had purchased a cheap one from the Bungalow Investment Company. He paid installments of twenty-two dollars a month, these payments including interest, taxes, and insurance. The future looked hopeless. Each month it grew harder and harder to meet the payments going, and even though he could keep them up, it would take nine more years for him to own the house.
Things had come to a pass where he was forced to have more money. So he bearded Carl Bjorkman in his office.
“Mr. Bjorkman,” he began respectfully, “I have a family to support, and would like a chance to make a little more money.”
“Not a chance!” said Bjorkman, shortly. “If you aren’t satisfied — quit!”
“I’m not satisfied. But I dare not quit. My wife is ill, and —”
“I know,” said Bjorkman, interrupting, “you don’t have to wade through the old story. I’m in favor of putting a younger man on your job, anyhow.”
Disappointed, humiliated. Van Crom passed out of the office with bowed head. He was sick at heart at his very helplessness. Making his way around to the reporters’ room in the police station, he slumped into the seat at his desk. Half an hour he sat there, and his thought finally strayed from what he considered the injustice of Bjorkman. Prompted by some subconscious thought, he began to concentrate on the mystery of Kerry’s disappearance.
A little later he walked back to the office of the Eagle and again entered Bjorkman’s office.
“Well?” questioned the latter. But his tone was mildly interrogative; he had lost his bad humor of an hour before.
“You are trying to get a larger circulation than the Sphere, aren’t you?” Van Crom stated this more as a fact than as a question. “If you located Kerry and got an exclusive story — one that the other papers would have no inkling of until the Eagle appeared on the streets — would it help?”
“It would,” admitted Bjorkman, displaying a little more interest “A clean scoop on an item of such tremendous local interest would just about be the finishing touch. Do you know anything?”
“Then, why take up my time?”
“Because I want more money. Would you pay me forty dollars a week, and give me a chance at bigger stuff, if I get a clean beat, and let the Eagle get the credit of locating Kerry where the police have been baffled?”
“I’d pay fifty dollars,” said Bjorkman, tapping his desk nervously with his pencil as he licked his lips and looked shrewdly at the other. “But I think you have been taking it in the wrist. Every paper in town is on its toes to locate Kerry. I have several of the cleverest men in the country working for me on the Eagle. How do you expect to succeed where they have failed?”
“These men of yours are all young — and younger men, as a rule, have not made much of a study of psychology. Why, I warrant that not a one of them has even read Spencer — or, granting that he has skimped through, that he has not made a real study of the first principles of psychology.”
“What of it?” was the blunt demand. “I’ve never read him myself.”
“Fifty dollars a week, and a chance at big stories to the man who locates Kerry!” repeated Van Crom.
“I have one religion,” frowningly said Bjorkman: “I always keep my word! If you think you can locate Kerry by using applied psychology, go to it. But I have my doubts, so don’t bother me again.”
“I should like to have a few days off.”
“Sure,” agreed the other.
“Without pay,” he added cannily.
Seething with his big idea, Van Crom left the office. Later he went up the street to the Daily Sphere building. From there he went around to call on the sheriff of Los Angeles County, an old friend of his. He was smiling as he finally boarded a car and went home to his wife. At home he carefully loaded a revolver and stuck it into a hip pocket. A clean collar and a toothbrush completed his arrangements for traveling, and he returned to the city. There, he visited a bank, where he withdrew his entire savings account — forty dollars in all. Then he used the street-car transfer he had so carefully saved from his return trip from his home, and rode down Fifth Street to the Southern Inland depot. He was seated in the smoker, frugally rolling a cigarette, when the next train pulled out for the San Joaquin Valley.
In the morning he alighted from the stage in front of the only hotel in Galena, an isolated town in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. What meager fame Galena held in the outside world came from the whopping trout reputed to be found in Galena Creek. But few sportsmen cared to hazard the trip, however, for Galena was far from a railroad, and the connecting road for the greater part was of the uncomfortable species known as “corduroy.” Entering the ramshackle hotel. Van Crom addressed the proprietor.
“Is Mr. Gilroy in?” was his question.
“No,” was the reply, “Mr. Gilroy went fishing early this morning.”
“Fishing,” repeated Van Crom softly, and he smiled.
Rolling another cigarette, he selected the best chair in the dingy little hotel office and sat down to wait. At eleven o’clock a man, black-haired and wearing enormous, yellow-lensed horn-rimmed glasses, entered the hotel. He was laden with fishing paraphernalia. Van Crom examined him narrowly, studied his profile, then smiled again, inwardly.
“Kerry!” he called out suddenly to the man’s back.
Involuntarily the man started, checked himself as he turned to look at the speaker, and continued across the office.
Van Crom arose to his feet, shifted his gun to his right-hand coat pocket, and followed the newcomer.
“Mr. Gilroy,” he questioned, “may I have a few words with you?”
“Certainly,” was the reply, and the reporter noted a curious little tightening paleness around the lips of the man he knew was Kerry.
In a corner of the office Van Crom removed his hand from his coat pocket. In it he held the gun; he was taking no chances, for Kerry outweighed him by forty pounds.
“The game’s up, Kerry,” he announced. “I’m taking you back to Los Angeles with me. Will you come quietly? Good job, by the way, that you did with the hair dye.”
“Who in the devil are you? You’re making a mistake in identity. My name’s Gilroy. Say, you’re a newspaper man, aren’t you? Used to be on the Eagle. Where do you get this stuff of trying to arrest a man?”
“Sheriff deputized me yesterday.” Van Crom showed the badge. “Are you coming back without kicking up a fuss? I know I have no authority in this county, but I’m going to take it, anyhow.” He shoved the revolver forward another two inches.
“All right,” said Kerry submissively, his eyes glued on the gun, “I’ll go back with you. But it’s got my goat how you located me here, and recognized me.”
“That,” said Van Crom, “was a matter of psychology. Here,” he displayed a pair of handcuffs with which the sheriff had supplied him, “hold out your hands.”
“You win!” Kerry wilted absolutely, seemingly hypnotized by the revolver. Van Crom had done the right thing in showing the weapon, for Kerry was gun-shy. Otherwise he would certainly have shown fight, taking a chance on overpowering the smaller man and escaping to the mountains.
On the afternoon stage they started back to the railroad. There was no sleep for Van Crom that night on the train; he sat up watching his precious prisoner. His future and the future comfort of his family depended upon the bringing of Kerry into Los Angeles. The reward — strange to say. Van Crom had forgotten entirely about the thousand-dollar reward that had been offered by the board of directors for Kerry’s return!
At the Fifth Street depot in the morning he ushered his prisoner into a taxi and drove to the office of the Eagle. Straight through the editorial room he marched Kerry, into Bjorkman’s private office.
“Here’s Kerry!” he announced; “get his story; don’t turn him over to the police until he comes through with the whole tale, and, for the love of Morpheus, let me get some sleep.”
“Kerry!” exclaimed Bjorkman, “And with black hair! Shades of Diamond Dyes! But there’s no sleep for you. Van, until we get your story. Spill that psychology stuff you were ranting about.”
“Well,” began Van Crom, “when Kerry sent out two red-headed men to lay false trails, I figured that he would change the color of his hair. Was I right? Then, the strongest point was that Kerry, who has lived all his life in Los Angeles, would have a morbid desire to read what his former townsmen were saying about him. Besides, from the local papers, he might glean valuable information as to how close the police were on his trail.
“I have worked on the Eagle for twenty years, and watched the town grow from a small village. In that time I have come to know practically every business man in Los Angeles, knowing many of them intimately, their likes, dislikes, and hobbies. Kerry’s passion, I knew, was trout fishing. I began with that, together with the sneaking notion that, under another name, he would subscribe to a Los Angeles paper. So when I left you the other day I went into the circulation department and examined the list of recent out-of-town subscribers. I found nothing there, however, to give me a clue. But I still had faith in my hunch.
“Next, I went over to the circulation department of the Sphere. A chum of mine works there, and he fixed it up for me to go through the new out-of-town list. There I noted the name of H. P. Gilroy, whose address had changed three times in the last two weeks. All three addresses were places in the mountains where there is good fishing. Why, do you know that as soon as I spotted those addresses, Gilroy spelled Kerry to me. So I took a chance, went to the last address sent in, and found him.”
To Van Crom’s surprise, Bjorkman had doubled up in a violent fit of laughter.
“Wow!” he exploded, red in the face, “Wow! This is rich! The idea of going over to the office of my dearest rival to get Kerry’s address. Man, I love your nerve! And I’m going to print it, too — the whole story. Oh boy! but I’m going to rub it into the Sphere. You may call that stuff psychology, but I’d say it was the most beautiful example of enterprising gall that I have ever heard of.”
“Do I get my sleep now?” queried Van Crom.
“Sure. Hit the hay. I’ll get the story from Kerry.” He turned to the prisoner; “Going to come through with the yarn?”
“What’s the use of doing otherwise?” returned Kerry, and he spat disgustedly as though to remove an offensive taste from his mouth. “After the story Van Crom just told of how he located me, I have such a small opinion of myself that I think I’d walk up Broadway in a bathing suit if it would please you any.”