At a lunch wagon down near the water front, Bud stopped and bought two "ho_og" sandwiches and a mug of hot coffee boiled with milk in it and sweetene_ith three cubes of sugar. "O-oh, boy!" he ejaculated gleefully when he se_is teeth into biscuit and hot hamburger. Leaning back luxuriously in the bi_ar, he ate and drank until he could eat and drink no more. Then, with a ba_f bananas on the seat beside him, he drove on down to the mole, searchin_hrough the drizzle for the big gum sign which Foster had named. Just eve_ith the coughing engine of a waiting through train he saw it, and backed i_gainst the curb, pointing the car's radiator toward the mainland. He ha_till half an hour to wait, and he buttoned on the curtains of the car, sinc_ wind from across the bay was sending the drizzle slantwise; moreover i_ccurred to him that Foster would not object to the concealment while the_ere passing through Oakland. Then he listlessly ate a banana while he waited.
The hoarse siren of a ferryboat bellowed through the murk. Bud started th_ngine, throttled it down to his liking, and left it to warm up for th_light. He ate another banana, thinking lazily that he wished he owned thi_ar. For the first time in many a day his mind was not filled and boiling ove_ith his trouble. Marie and all the bitterness she had come to mean to hi_eceded into the misty background of his mind and hovered there, an indistinc_emory of something painful in his life.
A street car slipped past, bobbing down the track like a duck sailing ove_ipples. A local train clanged down to the depot and stood jangling its bel_hile it disgorged passengers for the last boat to the City whose wall o_tars was hidden behind the drizzle and the clinging fog. People cam_traggling down the sidewalk—not many, for few had business with the front en_f the waiting trains. Bud pushed the throttle up a little. His finger_ropped down to the gear lever, his foot snuggled against the clutch pedal.
Feet came hurrying. Two voices mumbled together. "Here he is," said one.
"That's the number I gave him." Bud felt some one step hurriedly upon th_unning board. The tonneau door was yanked open. A man puffed audibly behin_im. "Yuh ready?" Foster's voice hissed in Bud's ear.
"R'aring to go." Bud heard the second man get in and shut the door, and h_erked the gear lever into low. His foot came gently back with the clutch, an_he car slid out and away.
Foster settled back on the cushions with a sigh. The other man was fumblin_he side curtains, swearing under his breath when his fingers bungled th_astenings.
"Everything all ready?" Foster's voice was strident with anxiety.
"Well, head south—any road you know best. And keep going, till I tell you t_top. How's the oil and gas?"
"Full up. Gas enough for three hundred miles. Extra gallon of oil in the car.
What d'yah want—the speed limit through town?"
"Nah. Side streets, if you know any. They might get quick action and telephon_head."
"Leave it to me, brother."
Bud did not know for sure, never having been pursued; but it seemed to hi_hat a straightaway course down a main street where other cars were scuddin_omeward would be the safest route, because the simplest. He did not want an_ide streets in his, he decided—and maybe run into a mess of street- improvement litter, and have to back trail around it. He held the car to _urry-home pace that was well within the law, and worked into the direct rout_o Hayward. He sensed that either Foster or his friend turned frequently t_ook back through the square celluloid window, but he did not pay muc_ttention to them, for the streets were greasy with wet, and not all driver_ould equip with four skid chains. Keeping sharp lookout for skidding cars an_nexpected pedestrians and street-car crossings and the like fully occupie_ud.
For all that, an occasional mutter came unheeded to his ears, the close_urtains preserving articulate sounds like room walls.
"He's all right," he heard Foster whisper once. "Better than if he was in o_t." He did not know that Foster was speaking of him.
"—if he gets next," the friend mumbled.
"Ah, quit your worrying," Foster grunted. "The trick's turned; that'_omething."
Bud was under the impression that they were talking about father-in-law, wh_ad called Foster a careless hound; but whether they were or not concerned hi_o little that his own thoughts never flagged in their shuttle-weaving throug_is mind. The mechanics of handling the big car and getting the best speed ou_f her with the least effort and risk, the tearing away of the last link o_is past happiness and his grief; the feeling that this night was the rea_arting between him and Marie, the real stepping out into the future; th_uture itself, blank beyond the end of this trip, these were quite enough t_old Bud oblivious to the conversation of strangers.
At dawn they neared a little village. Through this particular county the roa_as unpaved and muddy, and the car was a sight to behold. The only clean spo_as on the windshield, where Bud had reached around once or twice with _andful of waste and cleaned a place to see through. It was raining soddenly, steadily, as though it always had rained and always would rain.
Bud turned his face slightly to one side. "How about stopping; I'll have t_eed her some oil—and it wouldn't hurt to fill the gas tank again. These heav_oads eat up a lot of extra power. What's her average mileage on a gallon, Foster?"
"How the deuce should I know?" Foster snapped, just coming out of a doze.
"You ought to know, with your own car—and gas costing what it does."
"Oh!—ah—what was it you asked?" Foster yawned aloud. "I musta been asleep."
"I guess you musta been, all right," Bud grunted. "Do you want breakfast here, or don't you? I've got to stop for gas and oil; that's what I was asking?"
The two consulted together, and finally told Bud to stop at the first garag_nd get his oil and gas. After that he could drive to a drug store and buy _ouple of thermos bottles, and after that he could go to the neares_estaurant and get the bottles filled with black coffee, and have lunch put u_or six people. Foster and his friend would remain in the car.
Bud did these things, revising the plan to the extent of eating his ow_reakfast at the counter in the restaurant while the lunch was being prepare_n the kitchen.
From where he sat he could look across at the muddy car standing before _losed millinery-and-drygoods store. It surely did not look much like th_mmaculate machine he had gloated over the evening before, but it was _owerful, big brute of a car and looked its class in every line. Bud was prou_o drive a car like that. The curtains were buttoned down tight, and h_hought amusedly of the two men huddled inside, shivering and hungry, ye_efusing to come in and get warmed up with a decent breakfast. Foster, h_hought, must certainly be scared of his wife, if he daren't show himself i_his little rube town. For the first time Bud had a vagrant suspicion tha_oster had not told quite all there was to tell about this trip. Bud wondere_ow if Foster was not going to meet a "Jane" somewhere in the South. Tha_errifying Mann Act would account for his caution much better than would th_usiness deal of which Foster had hinted.
Of course, Bud told himself while the waiter refilled his coffee cup, it wa_one of his business what Foster had up his sleeve. He wanted to get somewher_uickly and quietly, and Bud was getting him there. That was all he need t_onsider. Warmed and once more filled with a sense of well-being, Bud mad_imself a cigarette before the lunch was ready, and with his arms full of foo_e went out and across the street. Just before he reached the car one of th_hermos bottles started to slide down under his elbow. Bud attempted to gri_t against his ribs, but the thing had developed a slipperiness tha_hreatened the whole load, so he stopped to rearrange his packages, and got a_rritated sentence or two from his passengers.
"Giving yourself away like that! Why couldn't you fake up a mileage? Everybod_ies or guesses about the gas—"
"Aw, what's the difference? The simp ain't next to anything. He thinks I ow_t."
"Well, don't make the mistake of thinking he's a sheep. Once he —"
Bud suddenly remembered that he wanted something more from the restaurant, an_eturned forth-with, slipping thermos bottle and all. He bought two package_f chewing gum to while away the time when he could not handily smoke, an_hen he returned to the car he went muttering disapproving remarks about th_ain and the mud and the bottles. He poked his head under the front curtai_nd into a glum silence. The two men leaned back into the two corners of th_ide seat, with their heads drawn down into their coat collars and their hand_hrust under the robe. Foster reached forward and took a thermos bottle, hi_artner seized another.
"Say, you might get us a bottle of good whisky, too," said Foster, holding ou_ small gold piece between his gloved thumb and finger. "Be quick about i_hough—we want to be traveling. Lord, it's cold! "
Bud went into a saloon a few doors up the street, and was back presently wit_he bottle and the change. There being nothing more to detain them there, h_icked some of the mud off his feet, scraped off the rest on the edge of th_unning board and climbed in, fastening the curtain against the storm. "Lovel_eather," he grunted sarcastically. "Straight on to Bakersfield, huh?"
There was a minute of silence save for the gurgling of liquid running out of _ottle into an eager mouth. Bud laid an arm along the back of his seat an_aited, his head turned toward them. "Where are you fellows going, anyway?" h_sked impatiently.
"Yuma. You hit the shortest trail for Yuma, Bud. I'm running this."
Foster seemed distinctly out of humor. He told Mert again to shut up, and Mer_id so grumblingly, but somewhat diverted and consoled, Bud fancied, by th_andwiches and coffee—and the whisky too, he guessed. For presently there wa_n odor from the uncorked bottle in the car.
Bud started and drove steadily on through the rain that never ceased. The bi_ar warmed his heart with its perfect performance, its smooth, effortles_peed, its ease of handling. He had driven too long and too constantly to tir_asily, and he was almost tempted to settle down to sheer enjoyment in drivin_uch a car. Last night he had enjoyed it, but last night was not to-day.
He wished he had not overheard so much, or else had overheard more. He wa_nclined to regret his retreat from the acrimonious voices as being premature.
Just why was he a simp, for instance? Was it because he thought Foster owne_he car? Bud wondered whether father-in-law had not bought it, after all. No_hat he began thinking from a different angle, he remembered that father- in- law had behaved very much like the proud possessor of a new car. It really di_ot look plausible that he would come out in the drizzle to see if Foster'_ar was safely locked in for the night. There had been, too, a fuss_astidiousness in the way the robe had been folded and hung over the rail. N_an would do that for some other man's property, unless he was paid for it.
Wherefore, Bud finally concluded that Foster was not above helping himself t_amily property. On the whole, Bud did not greatly disapprove of that; he wa_oo actively resentful of his own mother-in-law. He was not sure but he migh_ave done something of the sort himself, if his mother-in-law had possessed _ix-thousand-dollar car. Still, such a car generally means a good deal to th_wner, and he did not wonder that Foster was nervous about it.
But in the back of his mind there lurked a faint dissatisfaction with thi_asy explanation. It occurred to him that if there was going to be any troubl_bout the car, he might be involved beyond the point of comfort. After all, h_id not know Foster, and he had no more reason for believing Foster's stor_han he had for doubting. For all he knew, it might not be a wife that Foste_as so afraid of.
Bud was not stupid. He was merely concerned chiefly with his own affairs—_ommon enough failing, surely. But now that he had thought himself into _ental eddy where his own affairs offered no new impulse toward emotion, h_urned over and over in his mind the mysterious trip he was taking. It ha_ome to seem just a little too mysterious to suit him, and when Bud Moore wa_ot suited he was apt to do something about it.
What he did in this case was to stop in Bakersfield at a garage that had _ombination drugstore and news-stand next door. He explained shortly to hi_ompanions that he had to stop and buy a road map and that he wouldn't b_ong, and crawled out into the rain. At the open doorway of the garage h_urned and looked at the car. No, it certainly did not look in the least lik_he machine he had driven down to the Oakland mole—except, of course, that i_as big and of the same make. It might have been empty, too, for all the sig_t gave of being occupied. Foster and Mert evidently had no intention whateve_f showing themselves.
Bud went into the drugstore, remained there for five minutes perhaps, an_merged with a morning paper which he rolled up and put into his pocket. H_ad glanced through its feature news, and had read hastily one front-pag_rticle that had nothing whatever to do with the war, but told about th_aring robbery of a jewelry store in San Francisco the night before.
The safe, it seemed, had been opened almost in plain sight of the stree_rowds, with the lights full on in the store. A clever arrangement of tw_ovable mirrors had served to shield the thief —or thieves. For no longer tha_wo or three minutes, it seemed, the lights had been off, and it was though_hat the raiders had used the interval of darkness to move the mirrors int_osition. Which went far toward proving that the crime had been carefull_lanned in advance. Furthermore, the article stated with some assurance tha_rusted employees were involved.
Bud also had glanced at the news items of less importance, and had bee_tartled enough—yet not so much surprised as he would have been a few hour_arlier—to read, under the caption: DARING THIEF STEALS COSTLY CAR, to lear_hat a certain rich man of Oakland had lost his new automobile. The address o_he bereaved man had been given, and Bud's heart had given a flop when he rea_t. The details of the theft had not been told, but Bud never noticed thei_bsence. His memory supplied all that for him with sufficient vividness.
He rolled a cigarette, lighted it, and with the paper stuffed carelessly int_is pocket he went to the car, climbed in, and drove on to the south, just a_atter-of-factly as though he had not just then discovered that he, Bud Moore, had stolen a six- thousand-dollar automobile the night before.