Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 18 The Barstow Train

  • A few moments later they left Peter Fogg standing on the neatly manicured law_eside P.J. Madden's empty palace. In silence they rode down the avenue, the_urned toward the more lively business district.
  • "Well, what did we get out of that?" Bob Eden wanted to know. "Not much, i_ou ask me."
  • Chan shrugged. "Trifles, mostly. But trifles sometimes blossom big. Detectiv_usiness consist of one unsignificant detail placed beside other of the same.
  • Then with sudden dazzle, light begins to dawn."
  • "Bring on your dazzle," said Eden. "We've learned that Madden visited hi_ouse here on Wednesday, but did not go inside. When questioned about hi_aughter, he replied that she was well and would be along soon. What else? _hing we knew before—that Madden was afraid of Delaney."
  • "Also that Delaney followed queer profession."
  • "What profession? Be more explicit."
  • Chan frowned. "If only I could boast expert knowledge of mainland ways. Ho_bout you? Please do a little speculating."
  • Eden shook his head. "Promised my father I'd never speculate. Just as well, too, for in this case I'd get nowhere. My brain—if you'll pardon the mentio_f one more insignificant detail—is numb. Too many puzzles make Jack a dul_oy."
  • The taxi landed them at the station whence hourly buses ran to Hollywood, an_hey were just in time to connect with the twelve o'clock run. Back up th_ill and over the bridge spanning the Arroyo they sped. A cheery world la_bout them, tiny stucco bungalows tinted pink or green, or gleaming white, innumerable service stations. In time they came to the outskirts of the fil_ity, where gaily colored mansions perched tipsily on miniature hills. The_own a long street that seemed to stretch off into eternity, into th_aelstrom of Hollywood's business district.
  • Expensive cars honked deliriously about the corner where they alighted, and o_he sidewalk milled a busy throng, most of them living examples of what th_ell-dressed man or woman will wear if not carefully watched. They crossed th_treet.
  • "Watch your step, Charlie," Eden advised. "You're in the auto salesman'_aradise." He gazed curiously about him. "The most picturesque factory town i_he world. Everything is here except the smoking chimneys."
  • Paula Wendell was waiting for them in the reception-room of the studio wit_hich she was connected. "Come along," she said. "I'll take you to lunch a_he cafeteria, and then perhaps you'd like to look around a bit."
  • Chan's eyes sparkled as she led them across the lot and down a street line_ith the false fronts of imaginary dwellings. "My oldest girl would exchang_he favor of the gods to be on this spot with me," he remarked. "I shall hav_uch to relate when I return to Punchbowl Hill."
  • They lunched among the film players, grotesque in make-up and odd costumes.
  • "No postman before," said Chan, over his chicken pie, "ever encountered suc_nteresting walk on his holiday. Pardon, please, if I eat with unashame_njoyment and too much gusto. New experience for me to encounter food I hav_ot perspired over myself in person."
  • "They're taking a picture on Stage Twelve," the girl explained when lunch wa_inished. "It's against the rules, but if you're not too boisterous I can ge_ou in for a look."
  • They passed out of the dazzling sunshine into the dim interior of a grea_uilding that looked like a warehouse. Another moment, and they reached th_et, built to represent a smart foreign restaurant. Rich hangings were in th_ackground, beautiful carpets on the floor. Along the walls were many table_ith pink-shaded lights, and a resplendent head-waiter stood haughtily at th_ntrance.
  • The sequence being shot at the moment involved, evidently, the use of man_xtras, and a huge crowd stood about, waiting patiently. The faces of most o_hem were vital and alive, unforgettable. Here were people who had know_ife—and not too much happiness—in many odd corners of the world. Nearly al_he men were in uniform—a war picture, no doubt. Bob Eden heard snatches o_rench, German, Spanish; he saw in the eyes about him a hundred stories mor_eal and tragic than any these people would ever act on the silver screen.
  • "Leading men and women are standardized, more or less," said Paula Wendell,
  • "but the extras—they're different. If you talked with some of them, you'd b_mazed. Brains and refinement—remarkable pasts—and on the bargain counter no_t five dollars a day."
  • A call sounded, and the extras filed on to the set and took their allotte_tations at the various tables. Chan watched fascinated; evidently he coul_tay here forever. But Bob Eden, sadly lacking in that lovely virtue, patience, became restless.
  • "This is all very well," he said. "But we have work to do. How about Eddi_oston?"
  • "I have his address for you," the girl replied. "I doubt whether you'll fin_im in at this hour, but you can try."
  • An old man appeared in the shadowy space behind the cameras. Eden recognize_he veteran player who had been yesterday at Madden's ranch—the actor known as
  • "Pop."
  • "Hello," cried Paula Wendell. "Maybe Pop can help you." She hailed him. "Kno_here we can find Eddie Boston?" she inquired.
  • As Pop joined them, Charlie Chan stepped back into a dark corner.
  • "Why—how are you, Mr. Eden?" the old man said. "You want to see Eddie Boston, you say?"
  • "I'd like to—yes."
  • "That's too bad. You won't find him in Hollywood."
  • "Why not? Where is he?"
  • "On his way to San Francisco by this time," Pop answered. "At least, that wa_here he was going when I saw him late last night."
  • "San Francisco? What's he going there for?" asked Eden, amazed.
  • "One grand outbreak, to hear him tell it. You know, it looks to me lik_ddie's come into a bit of money."
  • "He has, has he?" Eden's eyes narrowed.
  • "I met him on the street last night when we got in from the desert. He'd com_y train, and I asked him why. 'Had some rush business to attend to, Pop,' h_ays. 'I'm off to Frisco in the morning. Things are looking up. Now th_icture's finished I aim to take a little jaunt for my health.' Said he hadn'_een in Frisco since the 'nineties and was hungry to see it again."
  • Eden nodded. "Well, thank you very much." With Paula Wendell he moved towar_he door, and Chan, his hat low over his eyes, followed.
  • At the foot of the runway in the bright world outside, Eden paused. "That'_hat," he said. "One more disappointment. Will we ever get to the end of this?
  • Well, Charlie—Boston's beat it. Our bird has flown."
  • "Why not?" said Chan. "Madden pays him to go, of course. Did Boston not say h_new all about Delaney?"
  • "Which must mean he knows Delaney's dead. But how could he? Was he on th_esert that Wednesday night? Ye gods!" The boy put his hand to his forehead.
  • "You haven't any smelling salts, have you?" he added to Paula Wendell.
  • She laughed. "Never use 'em."
  • They moved out to the street.
  • "Well, we must push on," said Eden. "The night is dark and we are far fro_ome." He turned to the girl. "When do you go back to Eldorado?"
  • "This afternoon," she replied. "I'm working on another script—one that call_or a ghost city this time."
  • "A ghost city?"
  • "Yes—you know. A deserted mining town. So it's me for the Petticoat Min_gain."
  • "Where's that?"
  • "Up in the hills about seventeen miles from Eldorado. Petticoat Mine had thre_housand citizens ten years ago, but there's not a living soul there today.
  • Just ruins, like Pompeii. I'll have to show it to you—it's might_nteresting."
  • "That's a promise," Eden returned. "We'll see you back on your dear ol_esert."
  • "Warmest thanks for permitting close inspection of picture factory," Cha_emarked. "Always a glowing item on the scroll of memory."
  • "It was fun for me," answered the girl. "Sorry you must go."
  • On the trolley bound for Los Angeles, Eden turned to the Chinese. "Don't yo_ver get discouraged, Charlie?" he inquired.
  • "Not while work remains to do," the detective replied. "This Miss Fitzgerald.
  • Songbird, perhaps, but she will not have flown."
  • "You'd better talk with her—" Eden began.
  • But Chan shook his head
  • "No, I will not accompany on that errand. Easy to see my presence bring_mbarrassed pause. I am hard to explain, like black eye."
  • "Well, I shouldn't have called you that," smiled the boy.
  • "Go alone to see this woman. Inquire all she knows about the dead man, Delaney."
  • Eden sighed. "I'll do my best. But my once proud faith in myself is ebbin_ast."
  • At the stage door of the deserted theater Eden slipped a dollar into the han_f the doorman, and was permitted to step inside and examine the call-board.
  • As he expected, the local addresses of the troupe were posted up, and h_ocated Miss Fitzgerald at the Wynnwood Hotel.
  • "You have aspect of experienced person," ventured Chan.
  • Eden laughed. "Oh, I've known a few chorus-girls in my time. Regular man o_he world, I am."
  • Chan took up his post on a bench in Pershing Square, while the boy went o_lone to the Wynnwood Hotel. He sent up his name, and after a long wait in th_heap lobby, the actress joined him. She was at least thirty, probably more, but her eyes were young and sparkling. At sight of Bob Eden she adopted _ather coquettish manner.
  • "You Mr. Eden?" she said. "I'm glad to see you, though why I see you's _ystery to me."
  • "Well, just so long as it's a pleasant mystery—" Eden smiled.
  • "I'll say it is—so far. You in the profession?"
  • "Not precisely. First of all, I want to say that I heard you sing over th_adio the other night, and I was enchanted. You've a wonderful voice."
  • She beamed. "Say, I like to hear you talk like that. But I had a cold—I've ha_ne ever since I struck this town. You ought to hear me when I'm going good."
  • "You were going good enough for me. With a voice like yours, you ought to b_n grand opera."
  • "I know—that's what all my friends say. And it ain't that I haven't had th_hance. But I love the theater. Been on the stage since I was a teeny-ween_irl."
  • "Only yesterday, that must have been."
  • "Say, boy—you're good," she told him. "You don't happen to be scouting for th_etropolitan, do you?"
  • "No—I wish I were." Eden paused. "Miss Fitzgerald, I'm an old pal of a frien_f yours."
  • "Which friend? I've got so many."
  • "I bet you have. I'm speaking of Jerry Delaney. You know Jerry?"
  • "Do I? I've known him for years." She frowned suddenly. "Have you any news o_erry?"
  • "No, I haven't," Eden answered. "That's why I've come to you. I'm terribl_nxious to locate him, and I thought maybe you could help."
  • She was suddenly cautious. "Old pal of his, you say?"
  • "Sure. Used to work with him at Jack McGuire's place on Forty-fourth Street."
  • "Did you really?" The caution vanished. "Well, you know just as much abou_erry's whereabouts as I do. Two weeks ago he wrote me from Chicago—I got i_n Seattle. He was kind of mysterious. Said he hoped to see me out this wa_efore long."
  • "He didn't tell you about the deal he had on?"
  • "What deal?"
  • "Well, if you don't know—Jerry was about to pick up a nice little bit o_hange."
  • "Is that so? I'm glad to hear it. Things ain't been any too jake with Jerr_ince those old days at McGuire's."
  • "That's true enough, I guess. By the way, did Jerry ever talk to you about th_en he met at McGuire's? The swells. You know, we used to get some pretty bi_rade there."
  • "No, he never talked about it much. Why?"
  • "I was wondering whether he ever mentioned to you the name of P.J. Madden."
  • She turned upon the boy a baby stare, wide-eyed and innocent. "Who's P.J.
  • Madden?" she inquired.
  • "Why, he's one of the biggest financiers in the country. If you ever read th_apers—"
  • "But I don't. My work takes so much time. You've no idea the long hours I pu_n—"
  • "I can imagine it. But look here—the question is, where's Jerry now? I may sa_'m worried about him."
  • "Worried? Why?"
  • "Oh—there's risk in Jerry's business, you know."
  • "I don't know anything of the sort. Why should there be?"
  • "We won't go into that. The fact remains that Jerry Delaney arrived at Barsto_ week ago last Wednesday morning, and shortly afterward he disappeared of_he face of the earth."
  • A startled look came into the woman's eyes. "You don't think he's had an—a_ccident?"
  • "I'm very much afraid he has. You know the sort Jerry was. Reckless—"
  • The woman was silent for a moment. "I know," she nodded. "Such a temper. Thes_ed-headed Irishmen—"
  • "Precisely," said Eden, a little too soon.
  • The green eyes of Miss Norma Fitzgerald narrowed.
  • "Knew Jerry at McGuire's, you say."
  • She stood up. "And since when has he had red hair?" Her friendly manner wa_one. "I was thinking only last night—I saw a cop at the corner of Sixth an_ill—such a handsome boy. You certainly got fine-looking fellows on your forc_ut here."
  • "What are you talking about?" demanded Eden.
  • "Go peddle your papers," advised Miss Fitzgerald. "If Jerry Delaney's i_rouble, I don't hold with it, but I'm not tipping anything off. A friend's _riend."
  • "You've got me all wrong," protested Eden.
  • "Oh, no, I haven't. I've got you all right—and you can find Jerry without an_elp from me. As a matter of fact, I haven't any idea where he is, and that'_he truth. Now run along."
  • Eden stood up. "Anyhow, I did enjoy your singing," he smiled.
  • "Yeah. Such nice cops—and so gallant. Well, listen in any time—the radio'_pen to all."
  • Bob Eden went glumly back to Pershing Square. He dropped down on the benc_eside Chan.
  • "Luck was poor," remarked the detective. "I see it in your face."
  • "You don't know the half of it," returned the boy. He related what ha_appened. "I certainly made a bloomer of it," he finished. "She called me _op, but she flattered me. The kindergarten class of rookies would disown me."
  • "Stop the worry," advised Chan. "Woman a little too smart, that is all."
  • "That's enough," Eden answered. "After this, you officiate. As a detective, I'm a great little jeweler."
  • They dined at a hotel, and took the five-thirty train to Barstow. As they spe_n through the gathering dusk, Bob Eden looked at his companion.
  • "Well, it's over, Charlie," he said. "The day from which we hoped for so much.
  • And what have we gained? Nothing. Am I right?"
  • "Pretty close to right," admitted Chan.
  • "I tell you, Charlie, we can't go on. Our position is hopeless. We'll have t_o to the sheriff—"
  • "With what? Pardon that I interrupt. But realize, please, that all ou_vidence is hazy, like flowers seen in a pool. Madden is big man, his word la_o many." The train paused at a station. "We go to sheriff with queer talk—_ead parrot, tale of a desert rat, half-blind and maybe crazy, suitcase i_ttic filled with old clothes. Can we prove famous man guilty of murder o_uch foolish grounds? Where is body? Few policemen alive who would not laug_t us—"
  • Chan broke off suddenly, and Eden followed his gaze. In the aisle of the ca_tood Captain Bliss of the Homicide Squad, staring at them.
  • Eden's heart sank. The captain's little eyes slowly took in every detail o_han's attire, then were turned for a moment on the boy. Without a sign, h_urned about and went down the aisle and into the car behind.
  • "Good night!" said Eden.
  • Chan shrugged. "Fret no longer," he remarked. "We need not go t_heriff—sheriff will come to us. Our time is brief at Madden's ranch. Poor ol_h Kim may yet be arrested for the murder of Louie Wong."