Forgetting the promise he had made to rise and telephone his father early i_he morning, Bob Eden lingered on in the pleasant company of his couch. Th_agnificent desert sunrise, famous wherever books are sold, came and wen_ithout the seal of his approval, and a haze of heat spread over the barre_orld. It was nine o'clock when he awoke from a most satisfactory sleep an_at up in bed.
Staring about the room, he gradually located himself on the map of California.
One by one the events of the night before came back to him. First of all th_cene at the Oasis—that agile steak eluding him with diabolic cunning—the gir_hose charming presence made the dreary cafe an oasis indeed. The ride ove_he desert with Will Holley, the bright and cheery living-room of the ranc_ouse, the fox-trot from a Denver orchestra. Madden, leaning close an_reathing hard, demanding the Phillimore pearls. Chan in his velvet slippers, whispering of psychic fears and dark premonitions. And then the shrill cry o_he parrot out of the desert night.
Now, however, the tense troubled feeling with which he had gone to bed wa_elting away in the yellow sunshine of the morning. The boy began to suspec_hat he had made rather a fool of himself in listening to the little detectiv_rom the islands. Chan was an Oriental, also a policeman. Such a combinatio_as bound to look at almost any situation with a jaundiced eye. After all he, Bob Eden, was here as the representative of Meek and Eden, and he must act a_e saw fit. Was Chan in charge of this expedition, or was he?
The door opened, and on the threshold stood Ah Kim, in the person of Charli_han.
"You come 'long, boss," said his confederate loudly. "You ac' lazy bimeby yo_o catch 'um bleckfast."
Having said which, Charlie gently closed the door and came in, grimacing a_ne who felt a keen distaste.
"Silly talk like that hard business for me," he complained. "Chinese withou_ccustomed dignity is like man without clothes, naked, and ashamed. You enjo_ong, restful sleep, I think."
Eden yawned. "Compared to me last night, Rip Van Winkle had insomnia."
"That's good. Humbly suggest you tear yourself out of that bed now. The grea_adden indulges in nervous fit on living-room rug."
Eden laughed. "Suffering, is he? Well, we'll have to stop that." He tosse_side the covers.
Chan was busy at the curtains. "Favor me by taking a look from windows," h_emarked. "On every side desert stretches off like floor of eternity. Plent_cres of unlimitable sand."
Bob Eden glanced out. "Yes, it's the desert, and there's plenty of it, that'_ fact. But look here—we ought to talk fast while we have the chance. Las_ight you made a sudden change in our plans."
Chan stared at him. "Why not? You yourself hear parrot scream out of the dark.
'Murder. Help. Help. Put down gun.'"
Eden nodded. "I know. But that probably meant nothing."
Charlie Chan shrugged. "You understand parrot does not invent talk. Merel_epeats what others have remarked."
"Of course," Eden agreed. "And Tony was no doubt repeating something he hear_n Australia, or on a boat. I happen to know that all Madden said of th_ird's past was the truth. And I may as well tell you, Charlie, that lookin_t things in the bright light of the morning, I feel we acted rather foolishl_ast night. I'm going to give those pearls to Madden before breakfast."
Chan was silent for a moment. "If I might presume again, I would speak a fe_earty words in praise of patience. Youth, pardon me, is too hot around th_ead. Take my advice, please, and wait."
"Wait. Wait for what?"
"Wait until I have snatched more conversation out of Tony. Tony very smar_ird—he speaks Chinese. I am not so smart—but so do I."
"And what do you think Tony would tell you?"
"Tony might reveal just what is wrong on this ranch," suggested Chan.
"I don't believe anything's wrong," objected Eden.
Chan shook his head. "Not very happy position for me," he said, "that I mus_rgue with bright boy like you are."
"But listen, Charlie," Eden protested. "I promised to call my father thi_orning. And Madden isn't an easy man to handle."
"Hoo malimali," responded Chan.
"No doubt you're right," Eden said. "But I don't understand Chinese."
"You have made natural error," Chan answered. "Pardon me while I correct you.
That are not Chinese. It are Hawaiian talk. Well known in islands—ho_alimali—make Madden feel good by a little harmless deception. As my cousi_illie Chan, captain of All-Chinese baseball team, translate with hi_ulgarity, kid him along."
"Easier said than done," replied Eden.
"But you are clever boy. You could perfect it. Just a few hours, while I hav_alk with the smart Tony."
Eden considered. Paula Wendell was coming out this morning. Too bad to rus_ff without seeing her again. "Tell you what I'll do," he said. "I'll wai_ntil two o'clock. But when the clock strikes two, if nothing has happened i_he interval, we hand over those pearls. Is that understood?"
"Maybe," nodded Chan.
"You mean maybe it's understood?"
"Not precisely. I mean maybe we hand over pearls." Eden looked into th_tubborn eyes of the Chinese, and felt rather helpless. "However," Chan added,
"accept my glowing thanks. You are pretty good. Now proceed toward th_iserable breakfast I have prepared."
"Tell Madden I'll be there very soon."
Chan grimaced. "With your kind permission, I will alter that message slightly, losing the word very. In memory of old times, there remains little I would no_o for Miss Sally. My life, perhaps—but by the bones of my honorabl_ncestors, I will not say 'velly.'" He went out.
On his perch in the patio, opposite Eden's window, Tony was busy with his ow_reakfast. The boy saw Chan approach the bird, and pause. "Hoo la ma," crie_he detective.
Tony looked up, and cocked his head on one side. "Hoo la ma," he replied, in _hrill, harsh voice.
Chan went nearer, and began to talk rapidly in Chinese. Now and then h_aused, and the bird replied amazingly with some phrase out of Chan's speech.
It was, Bob Eden reflected, as good as a show.
Suddenly from a door on the other side of the patio the man Thorn emerged. Hi_ale face was clouded with anger.
"Here," he cried loudly. "What the devil are you doing?"
"Solly, boss," said the Chinese. "Tony nice litta fellah. Maybe I take 'um t_ook house."
"You keep away from him," Thorn ordered. "Get me—keep away from that bird."
Chan shuffled off. For a long moment Thorn stood staring after him, anger an_pprehension mingled in his look. As Bob Eden turned away, he was deep i_hought. Was there something in Chan's attitude, after all?
He hurried into the bath, which lay between his room and the vacant bedroo_eyond. When he finally joined Madden, he thought he perceived the afterglo_f that nervous fit still on the millionaire's face.
"I'm sorry to be late," he apologized. "But this desert air—"
"I know," said Madden. "It's all right—we haven't lost any time. I've alread_ut in that call for your father."
"Good idea," replied the boy, without any enthusiasm. "Called his office, _uppose?"
Suddenly Eden remembered. This was Saturday morning, and unless it was rainin_n San Francisco, Alexander Eden was by now well on his way to the golf link_t Burlingame. There he would remain until late tonight at least—perhaps ove_unday. Oh, for a bright day in the north!
Thorn came in, sedate and solemn in his blue serge suit, and looked wit_ungry eyes toward the table standing before the fire. They sat down to th_reakfast prepared by the new servant, Ah Kim. A good breakfast it was, fo_harlie Chan had not forgotten his early training in the Phillimore household.
As it progressed, Madden mellowed a bit.
"I hope you weren't alarmed last night by Tony's screeching," he sai_resently.
"Well—for a minute," admitted Eden. "Of course, as soon as I found out th_ource of the racket, I felt better."
Madden nodded. "Tony's a colorless little beast, but he's had a scarlet past,"
"Like some of the rest of us," Eden suggested.
Madden looked at him keenly. "The bird was given me by a sea captain in th_ustralian trade. I brought him here to be company for my caretaker, Loui_ong."
"I thought your boy's name was Ah Kim," said Eden, innocently.
"Oh—this one. This isn't Wong. Louie was called suddenly to San Francisco th_ther day. This Ah Kim just happened to drift in most opportunely yesterday.
He's merely a stop-gap until Louie comes back."
"You're lucky," Eden remarked. "Such good cooks as Ah Kim are rare."
"Oh, he'll do," Madden admitted. "When I come west to stay, I bring a staf_ith me. This is a rather unexpected visit."
"Your real headquarters out here are in Pasadena, I believe?" Eden inquired.
"Yes—I've got a house there, on Orange Grove Avenue. I just keep this plac_or an occasional week end—when my asthma threatens. And it's good to get awa_rom the mob, now and then." The millionaire pushed back from the table, an_ooked at his watch. "Ought to hear from San Francisco any minute now," h_dded hopefully.
Eden glanced toward the telephone in a far corner. "Did you put the call i_or my father, or just for the office?" he asked.
"Just for the office," Madden replied. "I figured that if he was out, we coul_eave a message."
Thorn came forward. "Chief, how about that interview for Holley?" he inquired.
"Oh, the devil!" Madden said. "Why did I let myself in for that?"
"I could bring the typewriter in here," began the secretary.
"No—we'll go to your room. Mr. Eden, if the telephone rings, please answe_t."
The two went out. Ah Kim arrived on noiseless feet to clear away th_reakfast. Eden lighted a cigarette, and dropped into a chair before the fire, which the blazing sun outside made rather superfluous.
Twenty minutes later, the telephone rang. Eden leaped to it, but before h_eached the table where it stood, Madden was at his side. He had hoped to b_lone for this ordeal, and sighed wearily. At the other end of the wire he wa_elieved to hear the cool, melodious voice of his father's well-chose_ecretary.
"Hello," he said. "This is Bob Eden, at Madden's ranch down on the desert. An_ow are you this bright and shining morning?"
"What makes you think it's a bright and shining morning up here?" asked th_irl.
Eden's heart sank. "Don't tell me it isn't. I'd be broken-hearted."
"Why! Because, while you're beautiful at any time, I like to think of you wit_he sunlight on your hair—"
Madden laid a heavy hand on his shoulder. "What the blazes do you think you'r_oing—making a date with a chorus girl? Get down to business."
"Excuse it, please," said Eden. "Miss Chase, is my father there?"
"No. This is Saturday, you know. Golf."
"Oh yes—of course. Then it is a nice day. Well, tell him to call me here if h_omes in. Eldorado 76."
"Where is he?" demanded Madden eagerly.
"Out playing golf," the boy answered.
"Where? What links?"
Bob sighed. "I suppose he's at Burlingame," he said over the wire.
Then—oh, excellent young woman, thought the boy—the secretary answered: "No_oday. He went with some friends to another links. He didn't say which."
"Thank you so much," Eden said. "Just leave the message on his desk, please."
He hung up.
"Too bad," he remarked cheerfully. "Gone off to play golf somewhere, an_obody knows where."
Madden swore. "The old simpleton. Why doesn't he attend to his business—"
"Look here, Mr. Madden," Eden began.
"Golf, golf, golf," stormed Madden. "It's ruined more good men than whisky. _ell you, if I'd fooled round on golf links, I wouldn't be where I am today.
If your father had any sense—"
"I've heard about enough," said Eden, rising.
Madden's manner changed suddenly. "I'm sorry," he said. "But this is annoying, you must admit. I wanted that necklace to start today."
"The day's young," Eden reminded him. "It may get off yet."
"I hope so," Madden frowned. "I'm not accustomed to this sort of dilly- dallying, I can tell you that."
His great head was tossing angrily as he went out. Bob Eden looked after him, thoughtfully. Madden, master of many millions, was putting what seemed a_ndue emphasis on a little pearl necklace. The boy wondered. His father wa_etting on in years—he was far from the New York markets. Had he made som_laring mistake in setting a value on that necklace? Was it, perhaps, worth _reat deal more than he had asked, and was Madden fuming to get hold of i_efore the jeweler learned his error and perhaps called off the deal? O_ourse, Alexander Eden had given his word, but even so, Madden might fear _lip-up.
The boy strolled idly out into the patio. The chill night wind had vanishe_nd he saw the desert of song and story, baking under a relentless sun. In th_andy little yard of the ranch house, life was humming along. Plump chicken_nd haughty turkeys strutted back of wire enclosures. He paused for a momen_o stare with interest at a bed of strawberries, red and tempting. Up above, on the bare branches of the cottonwoods, he saw unmistakable buds, mut_romise of a grateful shade not far away.
Odd how things lived and grew, here in this desolate country. He took a tur_bout the grounds. In one corner was a great reservoir half filled wit_ater—a pleasant sight that must be on an August afternoon. Coming back to th_atio, he stopped to speak to Tony, who was sitting rather dejectedly on hi_erch.
"Hoo la ma," he said.
Tony perked up. "Sung kai yet bo," he remarked.
"Yes, and a great pity, too," replied Eden facetiously.
"Gee fung low hop," added Tony, somewhat feebly.
"Perhaps, but I heard different," said Eden, and moved on. He wondered wha_han was doing. Evidently the detective thought it best to obey Thorn'_ommand that he keep away from the bird. This was not surprising, for th_indows of the secretary's room looked out on Tony's perch.
Back in the living-room, Eden took up a book. At a few minutes before twelv_e heard the asthmatic cough of Horace Greeley in the yard and rising, h_dmitted Will Holley. The editor was smiling and alert.
"Hello," Eden said. "Madden's in there with Thorn, getting out the interview.
Sit down." He came close. "And please remember that I haven't brought thos_earls. My business with Madden is still unfinished."
Holley looked at him with sudden interest. "I get you. But I thought las_ight that everything was lovely. Do you mean—"
"Tell you later," interrupted Eden. "I may be in town this afternoon." H_poke in a louder tone. "I'm glad you came along. I was finding the desert _it flat when you flivvered in."
Holley smiled. "Cheer up. I've got something for you. A veritable storehous_f wit and wisdom." He handed over a paper. "This week's issue of the Eldorad_imes, damp from the presses. Read about Louie Wong's big trip to Sa_rancisco. All the news to fit the print."
Eden took the proffered paper—eight small pages of mingled news an_dvertisements. He sank into a chair. "Well," he said, "it seems that th_adies' Aid Supper last Tuesday night was notably successful. Not only that, but the ladies responsible for the affair labored assiduously and deserve muc_redit."
"Yes, but the real excitement's inside," remarked Holley. "On page three.
There you'll learn that coyotes are getting pretty bad in the valley. A numbe_f people are putting out traps."
"Under those circumstances," Eden said, "how fortunate that Henry Gratton i_aring for Mr. Dickey's chickens during the latter's absence in Los Angeles."
Holley rose, and stared for a moment down at his tiny newspaper. "And once _orked with Mitchell on the New York Sun," he misquoted sadly. "Don't le_arry Fladgate see that, will you? When Harry knew me I was a newspaper man."
He moved off across the room. "By the way, has Madden shown you his collectio_f firearms?"
Bob Eden rose, and followed. "Why no—he hasn't."
"It's rather interesting. But dusty—say, I guess Louie was afraid to touc_hem. Nearly every one of these guns has a history. See—there's a typewritte_ard above each one. 'Presented to P.J. Madden by Til Taylor'—Taylor was on_f the best sheriffs Oregon ever had. And here—look at this one—it's a beauty.
Given to Madden by Bill Tilghman. That gun, my boy, saw action on Front Stree_n the old Dodge City days."
"What's the one with all the notches?" Eden asked.
"Used to belong to Billy the Kid," said Holley. "Ask them about Billy over i_ew Mexico. And here's one Bat Masterson used to tote. But the star of th_ollection"—Holley's eyes ran over the wall—"the beauty of the lot—" He turne_o Eden. "It isn't there," he said.
"There's a gun missing?" inquired Eden slowly.
"Seems to be. One of the first Colts made—a forty-five—it was presented t_adden by Bill Hart, who's staged a lot of pictures round here." He pointed t_n open space on the wall. "There's where it used to be," he added, and wa_oving away.
Eden caught his coat sleeve. "Wait a minute," he said in a low, tense voice.
"Let me get this. A gun missing. And the card's gone, too. You can see wher_he tacks held it in place."
"Well, what's all the excitement—" began Holley surprised.
Eden ran his finger over the wall. "There's no dust where that card should be.
What does that mean? That Bill Hart's gun has been removed within the last fe_ays."
"My boy," said Holley. "What are you talking about—"
"Hush," warned Eden. The door opened and Madden, followed by Thorn, entere_he room. For a moment the millionaire stood, regarding them intently.
"Good morning, Mr. Holley," he said. "I've got your interview here. You'r_iring it to New York, you say?"
"Yes. I've queried my friend there about it this morning. I know he'll wan_t."
"Well, it's nothing startling. I hope you'll mention in the course of it wher_ou got it. That will help to soothe the feelings of the boys I've turned dow_o often in New York. And you won't change what I've said?"
"Not a comma," smiled Holley. "I must hurry back to town now. Thank you again, Mr. Madden."
"That's all right," said Madden. "Glad to help you out."
Eden followed Holley to the yard. Out of earshot of the house, the edito_topped.
"You seemed a little het up about that gun. What's doing?"
"Oh, nothing, I suppose," said Eden. "On the other hand—"
"Well, Holley, it strikes me that something queer may have happened lately o_his ranch."
Holley stared. "It doesn't sound possible. However, don't keep me i_uspense."
"I've got to. It's a long story, and Madden mustn't see us getting too chummy.
I'll come in this afternoon, as I promised."
Holley climbed into his car. "All right," he said. "I can wait, I guess. Se_ou later, then."
Eden was sorry to watch Horace Greeley stagger down the dusty road. Someho_he newspaper man brought a warm, human atmosphere to the ranch, an atmospher_hat was needed there. But a moment later he was sorry no longer, for a littl_peck of brown in the distance became a smart roadster, and at its wheel h_aw the girl of the Oasis, Paula Wendell.
He held open the gate, and with a cheery wave of her hand the girl drove pas_im into the yard.
"Hello," he said, as she alighted. "I was beginning to fear you weren'_oming."
"I overslept," she explained. "Always do, in this desert country. Have yo_oticed the air? People who are in a position to know tell me it's like wine."
"Had a merry breakfast, I suppose?"
"I certainly did. At the Oasis."
"You poor child. That coffee."
"I didn't mind. Will Holley says that Madden's here."
"Madden? That's right—you do want to see Madden, don't you? Well, come alon_nside."
Thorn was alone in the living-room. He regarded the girl with a fishy eye. No_any men could have managed that, but Thorn was different.
"Thorn," said Eden. "Here's a young woman who wants to see Mr. Madden."
"I have a letter from him," the girl explained, "offering me the use of th_anch to take some pictures. You may remember—I was here Wednesday night."
"I remember," said Thorn sourly. "And I regret very much that Mr Madden ca_ot see you. He also asks me to say that unfortunately he must withdraw th_ermission he gave you in his letter."
"I'll accept that word from no one but Mr. Madden himself," resumed the girl, and a steely light flamed suddenly in her eyes.
"I repeat—he will not see you," persisted Thorn.
The girl sat down. "Tell Mr. Madden his ranch is charming," she said. "Tel_im I am seated in a chair in his living-room and that I shall certainl_ontinue to sit here until he comes and speaks to me himself."
Thorn hesitated a moment, glaring angrily. Then he went out.
"I say—you're all right," Eden laughed.
"I aim to be," the girl answered, "and I've been on my own too long to tak_ny nonsense from a mere secretary."
Madden blustered in. "What is all this—"
"Mr. Madden," the girl said, rising and smiling with amazing sweetness, "I wa_ure you'd see me. I have here a letter you wrote me from San Francisco. Yo_ecall it, of course."
Madden took the letter and glanced at it. "Yes, yes—of course. I'm very sorry, Miss Wendell, but since I wrote that certain matters have come up—I have _usiness deal on—" He glanced at Eden. "In short, it would be mos_nconvenient for me to have the ranch overrun with picture people at thi_ime. I can't tell you how I regret it."
The girl's smile vanished. "Very well," she said, "but it means a black mar_gainst me with the company. The people I work for don't accept excuses—onl_esults. I have told them everything was arranged."
"Well, you were a little premature, weren't you?"
"I don't see why. I had the word of P.J. Madden. I believed—foolishly, perhaps—the old rumor that the word of Madden was never broken."
The millionaire looked decidedly uncomfortable. "Well—I—er—of course I neve_reak my word. When did you want to bring your people here?"
"It's all arranged for Monday," said the girl.
"Out of the question," replied Madden. "But if you could postpone it a fe_ays—say, until Thursday." Once more he looked at Eden. "Our business shoul_e settled by Thursday," he added.
"Unquestionably," agreed Eden, glad to help.
"Very well," said Madden. He looked at the girl, and his eyes were kindly. H_as no Thorn. "Make it Thursday, and the place is yours. I may not be her_hen myself, but I'll leave word to that effect."
"Mr. Madden, you're a dear," she told him. "I knew I could rely on you."
With a disgusted look at his employer's back, Thorn went out.
"You bet you can," said Madden, smiling pleasantly. He was melting fast. "An_he record of P.J. Madden is intact. His word is as good as his bond—isn'_hat so?"
"If any one doubts it, let him ask me," replied the girl.
"Of course she'll stay," Bob Eden broke in. "She's eating at a place i_ldorado called the Oasis, and if she doesn't stay, then she's just gone an_ost her mind."
The girl laughed. "You're all so good to me," she said.
"Why not?" inquired Madden. "Then it's settled. We need some one like yo_round to brighten things up. Ah Kim," he added, as the Chinese entered,
"another place for lunch. In about ten minutes, Miss Wendell."
He went out. The girl looked at Bob Eden. "Well, that's that. I knew it woul_e all right, if only he would see me."
"Naturally," said Eden. "Everything in this world would be all right, if ever_an in it could only see you."
"Sounds like a compliment," she smiled.
"Meant to be," replied the boy. "But what makes it sound so cumbersome? I mus_rush up on my social chatter."
"Oh—then it was only chatter?"
"Please—don't look too closely at what I say. I may tell you I've got a lot o_y mind just now. I'm trying to be a business man, and it's some strain."
"Then you're not a real business man."
"Not a real anything. Just sort of drifting. You know, you made me think, las_ight."
"I'm proud of that."
"Now—don't spoof me. I got to thinking—here you are, earning you_iving—luxurious pot roasts at the Oasis and all that—while I'm just father'_ittle boy. I shouldn't be surprised if you inspired me to turn over a ne_eaf."
"Then I shan't have lived in vain." She nodded toward the far side of th_oom. "What in the world is the meaning of that arsenal?"
"Oh—that's gentle old Madden's collection of firearms. A hobby of his. Come o_ver and I'll teach you to call each one by name."
Presently Madden and Thorn returned, and Ah Kim served a perfect lunch. At th_able Thorn said nothing, but his employer, under the spell of the girl'_right eyes, talked volubly and well. As they finished coffee, Bob Ede_uddenly awoke to the fact that the big clock near the patio windows marke_he hour as five minutes of two. At two o'clock! There was that arrangemen_ith Chan regarding two o'clock. What were they to do? The impassive face o_he Oriental as he served lunch had told the boy nothing.
Madden was in the midst of a long story about his early struggle towar_ealth, when the Chinese came suddenly into the room. He stood there, an_hough he did not speak, his manner halted the millionaire as effectively as _istol shot.
"Well, well, what is it?" Madden demanded.
"Death," said Ah Kim solemnly in his high-pitched voice. "Death unevitabl_nd. No wolly. No solly."
"What in Sam Hill are you talking about?" Madden inquired. Thorn's pale gree_yes were popping.
"Poah litta Tony," went on Ah Kim.
"What about Tony?"
"Poah litta Tony enjoy happly noo yeah in Hadesland," finished Ah Kim.
Madden was instantly on his feet, and led the way to the patio. On the ston_loor beneath his perch lay the lifeless body of the Chinese parrot.
The millionaire stooped and picked up the bird. "Why—poor old Tony," he said.
"He's gone west. He's dead."
Eden's eyes were on Thorn. For the first time since he met that gentleman h_hought he detected the ghost of a smile on the secretary's pale face.
"Well, Tony was old," continued Madden. "A very old boy. And as Ah Kim says, death is inevitable—" He stopped, and looked keenly at the expressionless fac_f the Chinese. "I've been expecting this," he added. "Tony hasn't seemed ver_ell of late. Here, Ah Kim"—he handed over all that was mortal of Tony—"yo_ake and bury him somewhere."
"I take sum," said Ah Kim, and did so.
In the big living-room the clock struck twice, loud and clear. Ah Kim, in th_erson of Charlie Chan, was moving slowly away, the bird in his arms. He wa_uttering glibly in Chinese. Suddenly he looked back over his shoulder.