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Chapter 8 A Friendly Little Game

  • For a time the little brother of the car on Punchbowl Hill plowed valiantl_n, and neither the detective nor Bob Eden spoke. The yellow glare of the su_as cooling on the gray livery of the desert; the shadows cast by th_ccasional trees grew steadily longer. The far-off mountains purpled and th_ind bestirred itself.
  • "Charlie," said Bob Eden. "What do you think of this country?"
  • "This desert land?" asked Charlie.
  • Eden nodded.
  • "Happy to have seen it. All my time I yearn to encounter change. Certainl_ave encountered that here."
  • "Yes, I guess you have. Not much like Hawaii, is it?"
  • "I will say so. Hawaii lie like handful of Phillimore pearls on heaving breas_f ocean. Oahu little island with very wet neighborhood all about. Moistur_angs in air all time, rain called liquid sunshine, breath of ocean prett_amp. Here I climb round to other side of picture. Air is dry like last year'_ewspaper."
  • "They tell me you can love this country if you try."
  • Chan shrugged. "For my part, I reserve my efforts in that line for othe_ocality. Very much impressed by desert, thank you, but will move on a_arliest opportunity."
  • "Here, too," Eden laughed. "Comes the night, and I long for lights about m_hat are bright. A little restaurant on O'Farrell Street, a few good fellows, a bottle of mineral water on the table. Human companionship, if it's no_sking too much."
  • "Natural you feel that way," Chan agreed. "Youth is in your heart like a song.
  • Because of you I am hoping we can soon leave Madden's ranch."
  • "Well, what do you think? What are we going to do now?"
  • "Watch and wait. Youth, I am thinking, does not like that business. But i_ust be. Speaking personally for myself, I am not having one happy fine tim_ither. Act of cooking food not precisely my idea of merry vacation."
  • "Well, Charlie, I can stick it if you can," Eden said.
  • "Plenty fine sport you are," Chan replied. "Problems that we face are no_ithout interest, for that matter. Most peculiar situation. At home I a_alled to look at crime, clear-cut like heathen idol's face. Somebody killed, maybe. Clues are plenty, I push little car down one path, I sway about, seeking another. Not so here. Starting forth to solve big mystery I must firs_sk myself, just what are this big mystery I am starting forth to solve?"
  • "You've said it," Eden laughed.
  • "Yet one big fact gleams clear like snow on distant mountain. On recent night, at Madden's ranch, unknown person was murdered. Who unknown was, why he wa_illed, and who officiated at the homicide—these are simple little matter_emaining to be cleared."
  • "And what have we to go on?" Eden asked helplessly.
  • "A parrot's cry at night. The rude removal of that unhappy bird. A bullet hol_iding back of picture recently changed about. An aged pistol gone from dust_all. All the more honor for us if we unravel from such puny clues."
  • "One thing I can't figure out—among others," said Eden. "What about Madden?
  • Does he know? Or is that sly little Thorn pulling something off alone?"
  • "Important questions," Chan agreed. "In time we learn the answers, maybe.
  • Meanwhile best to make no friend of Madden. You have told him nothing abou_an Francisco, I hope. Shaky Phil Maydorf and his queer behavior."
  • "No, oddly enough, I haven't. I was wondering whether I hadn't better, no_hat Maydorf has shown up in Eldorado."
  • "Why? Pearls are in no danger. Did I hear you say in newspaper office yo_ould greatly honor by following me?"
  • "You certainly did."
  • "Then, for Madden, more of the hoo malimali. Nothing to be gained by othe_ourse, much maybe lost. You tell him of Maydorf, and he might answer, deal i_ff here, bring pearls to New York. What then? You go away, he goes away, I g_way. Mystery of recent event at ranch house never solved."
  • "I guess you're right," said Eden. They sped on through the gathering dusk, past the little office of the Date City optimist, deserted now. "By the way,"
  • added the boy, "this thing you think has happened at the ranch—it may hav_ccurred last Wednesday night?"
  • "You have fondly feeling for Wednesday night?" asked Chan. "Why?"
  • Briefly Bob Eden related Paula Wendell's story of that night—Thorn's obviou_xcitement when he met her at the door, his insistence that Madden could no_peak to her, and most important of all, the little prospector with the blac_eard whom the girl saw in the yard. Chan listened with interest.
  • "Now you talk," he commented. "Here is one fine new clue for us. He may b_ost important, that black-bearded one. A desert rat, I think. The young woma_oes much about this country? Am I correct?"
  • "Yes, she does."
  • "She can retain secrets, maybe?"
  • "You bet—this girl can."
  • "Don't trust her. We talk all over place we may get sorry, after while.
  • However, venture so far as to ask please that she keep her pretty eyes ope_or that black-bearded rat. Who knows. Maybe he is vital link in our chain."
  • They were approaching the little oasis Madden had set on the desert's dust_ace. "Go in now," Chan continued, "and act innocent like very new baby. Whe_ou talk with father over telephone, you will find he is prepared. I have sen_im telegraph."
  • "You have?" said Eden. "So did I. I sent him a couple of them."
  • "Then he is all prepared. Among other matters, I presumed to remind him voic_oming over wire is often grasped by others in room as well as him wh_eclines at telephone."
  • "Say—that's a good idea. I guess you think of everything, Charlie."
  • The gate was open, and Chan turned the car into the yard. "Guess I do," h_ighed. "Now, with depressing reluctance, I must think of dinner. Recall, w_atch and wait. And when we meet alone, the greatest care. No one must pierc_y identity. Only this noon I could well have applied to myself resoundin_ick. That word unevitable too luxurious for poor old Ah Kim. In future I mus_ick over words like lettuce for salad. Good-bye and splendid luck."
  • In the living-room a fire was already blazing in the huge fireplace. Madde_at at a broad, flat-topped desk, signing letters. He looked up as Bob Ede_ntered.
  • "Hello," he said. "Have a pleasant afternoon?"
  • "Quite," the boy replied. "I trust you had the same."
  • "I did not," Madden answered. "Even here I can't get away from business. Bee_atching up with a three days' accumulation of mail. There you are, Martin,"
  • he added, as the secretary entered. "I believe you'll have time to take the_n to the post-office before dinner. And here are the telegrams—get them off, too. Take the little car—it'll make better speed over these roads."
  • Thorn gathered up the letters, and with expert hands began folding them an_lacing them in envelopes. Madden rose, stretched, and came over to the fire.
  • "Ah Kim brought you back?" he inquired.
  • "He did," Bob Eden answered.
  • "Knows how to drive a car all right?" persisted Madden.
  • "Perfectly."
  • "An unusual boy, Ah Kim."
  • "Oh, not very," Eden said carelessly. "He told me he used to drive a vegetabl_ruck in Los Angeles. I got that much out of him, but that's about all."
  • "Silent, eh?"
  • Eden nodded. "Silent as a lawyer from Northampton, Massachusetts," h_emarked.
  • Madden laughed. "By the way," he said, as Thorn went out. "Your father didn'_all."
  • "No? Well, he isn't likely to get home until evening. I'll try the hous_onight, if you want me to."
  • "I wish you would," Madden said. "I don't want to seem inhospitable, my boy, but I'm very anxious to get away from here. Certain matters in the mai_oday—you understand—"
  • "Of course," Bob Eden answered. "I'll do all I can to help."
  • "That's mighty good of you," Madden told him, and the boy felt a bit guilty.
  • "I think I'll take a nap before dinner. I find, nowadays, it's a great aid t_igestion." The famous millionaire was more human than Bob Eden had yet see_im. He stood looking down at the boy, wistfully. "A matter you can't grasp, just yet," he added. "You're so damned young—I envy you."
  • He went out, leaving Bob Eden to a Los Angeles paper he had picked up i_ldorado. From time to time, as the boy read, the quaint little figure of A_im passed noiselessly. He was setting the table for dinner.
  • An hour later, there on the lonely desert, they again sat down to Ah Kim'_ooking. Very different from the restaurant of which Bob Eden thought wit_onging, but if the company was far from lively, the food was excellent, fo_he Chinese had negotiated well. When the servant came in with coffee, Madde_aid:
  • "Light the fire in the patio, Ah Kim. We'll sit out there a while."
  • The Chinese went to comply with this order, and Eden saw Madden regarding hi_xpectantly. He smiled and rose.
  • "Well, dad ought to be struggling in from his hard day on the links any minut_ow," he said. "I'll put in that call."
  • Madden leaped up. "Let me do it," he suggested. "Just tell me the number."
  • The boy told him, and Madden spoke over the telephone in a voice to comman_espect.
  • "By the way," he said, when he had finished, "last night you intimated tha_ertain things happened in San Francisco—things that made your fathe_autious. What—if you don't mind telling me?"
  • Bob Eden thought rapidly. "Oh, it may all have been a detective's pipe dream.
  • I'm inclined to think now that it was. You see—"
  • "Detective? What detective?"
  • "Well, naturally dad has a tie-up with various private detective agencies. A_perative of one of them reported that a famous crook had arrived in town an_as showing an undue interest in our store. Of course, it may have mean_othing—"
  • "A famous crook, eh? Who?"
  • Never a good liar, Bob Eden hesitated. "I—I don't know that I remember th_ame. English, I believe—the Liverpool Kid, or something like that," h_nvented lamely.
  • Madden shrugged. "Well, if anything's leaked out about those pearls, it cam_rom your side of the deal," he said. "My daughter, Thorn and I have certainl_een discretion itself. However, I'm inclined to think it's all a pipe dream, as you say."
  • "Probably is," agreed Eden.
  • "Come outside," the millionaire invited. He led the way through the glas_oors to the patio. There a huge fire roared in the outdoor fireplace, glowin_ed on the stone floor and on wicker chairs. "Sit down," suggested Madden. "_igar—no, you prefer your cigarette, eh?" He lighted up, and leaning back i_is chair, stared at the dark roof above—the far-off roof of the sky. "I lik_t out here best," he went on. "A bit chilly, maybe, but you get close to th_esert. Ever notice how white the stars are in this country?"
  • Eden looked at him with surprise. "Sure—I've noticed," he said. "But I neve_reamed you had, old boy," he added to himself.
  • Inside, Thorn was busy at the radio. A horrible medley of bedtime stories, violin solos, and lectures on health and beauty drifted out to them. And the_he shrill voice of a woman, urging sinners to repent.
  • "Get Denver," Madden called loudly.
  • "I'm trying, Chief," answered Thorn.
  • "If I must listen to the confounded thing," Madden added to the boy, "I wan_hat I hear to come from far away. Over the mountains and the plains—there'_omance in that." The radio swept suddenly into a brisk band tune. "That'_t," nodded Madden. "The orchestra at the Brown Palace in Denver—perhaps m_irl is dancing to that very music at this moment. Poor kid—she'll wonde_hat's become of me. I promised to be there two days ago. Thorn!"
  • The secretary appeared at the door. "Yes, Chief?"
  • "Remind me to send Evelyn a wire in the morning."
  • "I'll do that, Chief," said Thorn, and vanished.
  • "And the band played on," remarked Madden. "All the way from Denver, mile hig_mid the Rockies. I tell you, man's getting too clever. He's riding for _all. Probably a sign of age, Mr. Eden, but I find myself longing for th_lder, simpler days. When I was a boy on the farm, winter mornings, the littl_choolhouse in the valley. That sled I wanted—hard times, yes, but times tha_ade men. Oh well, I mustn't get started on that."
  • They listened on in silence, but presently a bedtime story brought a bellow o_age from the millionaire and Thorn, getting his cue, shut off the machine.
  • Madden stirred restlessly in his chair. "We haven't enough for bridge," h_emarked. "How about a little poker to pass the time, my boy?"
  • "Why—that would be fine," Eden replied. "I'm afraid you're pretty speed_ompany for me, however."
  • "Oh, that's all right—we'll put a limit on it."
  • Madden was on his feet, eager for action. "Come along."
  • They went into the living-room and closed the doors. A few moments later th_hree of them sat about a big round table under a brilliant light.
  • "Jacks or better," Madden said. "Quarter limit, eh?"
  • "Well—" replied Eden, dubiously.
  • He had good reason to be dubious, for he was instantly plunged into the poke_ame of his life. He had played at college, and was even able to take care o_imself in newspaper circles in San Francisco, but all that was child's pla_y comparison. Madden was no longer the man who noticed how white the star_ere. He noticed how red, white and blue the chips were, and he caressed the_ith loving hands. He was Madden, the plunger, the gambler with railroads an_teel mills and the fortunes of little nations abroad, the Madden who, afte_e had played all day in Wall Street, was wont to seek the roulette wheels o_orty-fourth Street at night.
  • "Aces," he cried. "Three of them. What have you got, Eden?"
  • "Apoplexy," remarked Eden, tossing aside his hand. "Right here and now I offe_o sell my chances in this game for a canceled postage stamp, or what hav_ou?"
  • "Good experience for you," Madden replied. "Martin—it's your deal."
  • A knock sounded suddenly on the door, loud and clear. Bob Eden felt a strang_inking of the heart. Out of the desert dark, out of the vast uninhabite_astes of the world, some one spoke and demanded to come in.
  • "Who can that be?" Madden frowned.
  • "Police," suggested Eden, hopefully. "The joint is pinched." No such luck, h_eflected.
  • Thorn was dealing, and Madden himself went to the door and swung it open. Fro_here he sat Eden had a clear view of the dark desert—and of the man who stoo_n the light. A thin man in an overcoat, a man he had seen first in a Sa_rancisco pier-shed, and later in front of the Desert Edge Hotel. Shaky Phi_aydorf himself, but now without the dark glasses hiding his eyes.
  • "Good evening," said Maydorf, and his voice, too, was thin and cold. "This i_r. Madden's ranch, I believe?"
  • "I'm Madden. What can I do for you?"
  • "I'm looking for an old friend of mine—your secretary, Martin Thorn."
  • Thorn rose and came round the table. "Oh, hello," he said, with sligh_nthusiasm.
  • "You remember me, don't you?" said the thin man. "McCallum—Henry McCallum. _et you at a dinner in New York a year ago."
  • "Yes, of course," answered Thorn. "Come in, won't you? This is Mr. Madden."
  • "A great honor," said Shaky Phil.
  • "And Mr. Eden, of San Francisco."
  • Eden rose, and faced Shaky Phil Maydorf. The man's eyes without the glasse_ere barbed and cruel, like the desert foliage. For a long moment he stare_nsolently at the boy. Did he realize, Eden wondered, that his movements o_he dock at San Francisco had not gone unnoticed? If he did, his nerve wa_xcellent.
  • "Glad to know you, Mr. Eden," he said.
  • "Mr. McCallum," returned the boy gravely.
  • Maydorf turned again to Madden. "I hope I'm not intruding," he remarked with _an smile. "Fact is, I'm stopping down the road at Docto_hitcomb's—bronchitis, that's my trouble. It's lonesome as the devil roun_ere, and when I heard Mr. Thorn was in the neighborhood, I couldn't resis_he temptation to drop in."
  • "Glad you did," Madden said, but his tone belied the words.
  • "Don't let me interrupt your game," Maydorf went on. "Poker, eh? Is this _rivate scrap, or can anybody get into it?"
  • "Take off your coat," Madden responded sourly, "and sit up. Martin, give th_entleman a stack of chips."
  • "This is living again," said the newcomer, accepting briskly. "Well, and ho_ave you been, Thorn, old man?"
  • Thorn, with his usual lack of warmth, admitted that he had been pretty good, and the game was resumed. If Bob Eden had feared for his immediate futur_efore, he now gave up all hope. Sitting in a poker game with Shaky Phil—well, he was certainly traveling and seeing the world.
  • "Gimme four cards," said Mr. Maydorf, through his teeth.
  • If it had been a bitter, brutal struggle before, it now became a battle to th_eath. New talent had come in—more than talent, positive genius. Maydorf hel_he cards close against his chest; his face was carved in stone. As though h_ealized what he was up against, Madden grew wary, but determined. These tw_ought it out, while Thorn and the boy trailed along, like noncombatant_nvolved in a battle of the giants.
  • Presently Ah Kim entered with logs for the fire, and if the amazing picture o_hich his keen eyes lighted startled him, he gave no sign. Madden ordered hi_o bring highballs, and as he set the glasses on the table, Bob Eden note_ith a secret thrill that the stomach of the detective was less than twelv_nches from the long capable hands of Shaky Phil. If the redoubtable Mr.
  • Maydorf only knew—
  • But Maydorf's thoughts were elsewhere than on the Phillimore pearls.
  • "Dealer—one card," he demanded.
  • The telephone rang out sharply in the room. Bob Eden's heart missed a beat. H_ad forgotten that—and now—After the long wait he was finally to speak wit_is father—while Shaky Phil Maydorf sat only a few feet away! He saw Madde_taring at him, and he rose.
  • "For me, I guess," he said carelessly. He tossed his cards on the table. "I'_ut of it, anyhow." Crossing the room to the telephone, he took down th_eceiver. "Hello. Hello, dad. Is that you?"
  • "Aces and trays," said Maydorf. "All mine?" Madden laid down a hand withou_ooking at his opponent's, and Shaky Phil gathered in another pot.
  • "Yes, dad—this is Bob," Eden was saying. "I arrived all right—stopping wit_r. Madden for a few days. Just wanted you to know where I was. Yes—that'_ll. Everything. I may call you in the morning. Have a good game? Too bad.
  • Good-bye!"
  • Madden was on his feet, his face purple. "Wait a minute," he cried.
  • "Just wanted dad to know where I am," Eden said brightly. He dropped back int_is chair. "Whose deal is it, anyhow?"
  • Madden strangled a sentence in his throat, and once more the game was on. Ede_as chuckling inwardly. More delay—and not his fault this time. The joke wa_n P.J. Madden.
  • His third stack was melting rapidly away, and he reflected with apprehensio_hat the night was young, and time of no importance on the desert anyhow. "On_ore hand and I drop out," he said firmly.
  • "One more hand and we all drop out!" barked Madden. Something seemed to hav_nnoyed him.
  • "Let's make it a good one, then," said Maydorf. "The limit's off, gentlemen."
  • It was a good one, unexpectedly a contest between Maydorf and Bob Eden.
  • Drawing with the faint hope of completing two pairs, the boy was thrilled t_ncounter four nines in his hand. Perhaps he should have noted that Maydor_as dealing, but he didn't—he bet heavily, and was finally called. Laying dow_is hand, he saw an evil smile on Shaky Phil's face.
  • "Four queens," remarked Maydorf, spreading them out with an expert gesture.
  • "Always was lucky with the ladies. I think you gentlemen pay me."
  • They did. Bob Eden contributed forty-seven dollars, reluctantly. All on th_xpense account, however, he reflected.
  • Mr. Maydorf was in a not unaccountable good humor. "A very pleasant evening,"
  • he remarked, as he put on his overcoat. "I'll drop in again, if I may."
  • "Good night," snapped Madden.
  • Thorn took a flashlight from the desk. "I'll see you to the gate," h_nnounced. Bob Eden smiled. A flashlight—with a bright moon overhead.
  • "Mighty good of you," the outsider said. "Good night, gentlemen, and thank yo_ery much." He was smiling grimly as he followed the secretary out.
  • Madden snatched up a cigar, and savagely bit the end from it. "Well?" h_ried.
  • "Well," said Eden calmly.
  • "You made a lot of progress with your father, didn't you?"
  • The boy smiled. "What did you expect me to do? Spill the whole thing in fron_f that bird?"
  • "No—but you needn't have rung off so quick. I was going to get him out of th_oom. Now you can go over there and call your father again."
  • "Nothing of the sort," answered Eden. "He's gone to bed, and I won't distur_im till morning."
  • Madden's face purpled. "I insist. And my orders are usually obeyed."
  • "Is that so?" remarked Eden. "Well, this is one that won't be."
  • Madden glared at him. "You young—you—er—young—"
  • "I know," Eden said. "But this was all your fault. If you will insist o_luttering up the ranch with strangers, you must take the consequences."
  • "Who cluttered up the ranch?" Madden demanded. "I didn't invite that poor foo_ere. Where the devil did Thorn pick him up, anyhow? You know, the secretar_f a man like me is always besieged by a lot of four-flushers—tip hunters an_he like. And Thorn's an idiot, sometimes." The secretary entered and laid th_lashlight on the desk. His employer regarded him with keen distaste. "Well, your little playmate certainly queered things," he said.
  • Thorn shrugged. "I know. I'm sorry, Chief. But I couldn't help it. You saw ho_e horned in."
  • "Your fault for knowing him. Who is he, anyhow?"
  • "Oh, he's a broker, or something like that. I give you my word, Chief, I neve_ncouraged him. You know how those fellows are."
  • "Well, you go out tomorrow and tie a can to him. Tell him I'm busy here an_on't want any visitors. Tell him for me that if he calls here again, I'l_hrow him out."
  • "All right. I'll go down to the doctor's in the morning and let him know—in _iplomatic way."
  • "Diplomatic nothing," snorted Madden. "Don't waste diplomacy on a man lik_hat. I won't, if I see him again."
  • "Well, gentlemen, I think I'll turn in," Eden remarked.
  • "Good night," said Madden, and the boy went out.
  • In his bedroom he found Ah Kim enraged in lighting the fire. He closed th_oor carefully behind him.
  • "Well, Charlie, I've just been in a poker game."
  • "A fact already noted by me," smiled Chan.
  • "Shaky Phil has made a start on us, anyhow. He got forty-seven precious iro_en this quiet evening."
  • "Humbly suggest you be careful," advised Chan.
  • "Humbly believe you're right," laughed Eden. "I was hoping you were in th_ffing when Thorn and our friend went to the gate."
  • "Indeed I was," remarked Chan. "But moonlight so fierce, near approach was no_ossible."
  • "Well, I'm pretty sure of one thing, after tonight," Eden told him. "P.J.
  • Madden never saw Shaky Phil before. Either that, or he's the finest acto_ince Edwin Booth."
  • "Thorn, however—"
  • "Oh, Thorn knew him all right. But he wasn't the least bit glad to see him.
  • You know, Thorn's whole manner suggested to me that Shaky Phil has somethin_n him."
  • "That might be possible," agreed Chan. "Especially come to think of my lates_iscovery."
  • "You've found something new, Charlie? What?"
  • "This evening, when Thorn haste to town in little car and I hear noisom_nores of Madden who sleep on bed, I make explicit search in secretary'_oom."
  • "Yes—go on—quick. We might be interrupted."
  • "Under mountain of white shirts in Thorn's bureau reposes—what? Missing forty- five we call Bill Hart's gun."
  • "Good work! Thorn—the little rat—"
  • "Undubitably. Two chambers of that gun are quite unoccupied. Reflect on that."
  • "I'm reflecting. Two empty chambers."
  • "Humbly suggest you sleep now, gathering strength for what may be most excite_omorrow." The little detective paused at the door. "Two bullets gone wh_nows where," he said, in a low voice. "Answer is, we know where one went.
  • Went crazy, landing in wall at spot now covered by desert picture."
  • "And the other?" said Bob Eden thoughtfully.
  • "Other hit mark, I think. What mark? We watch and wait, and maybe we discover.
  • Good night, with plenty happy dreams."