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The Wreckers By Francis Lynde Characters: 10745

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The Directors' Meeting

I was up bright and early the next morning-that is, a good bit brighter and earlier than Mr. Norcross was-and after breakfast I took a little sashay down Nevada Avenue to have a look at our railroad. Of course, I knew, after what the boss had said to Mr. Chadwick the night before, just before we went to bed, that we weren't ever going to see Canada, or even Illinois.

I'll have to admit that the look I got didn't make me feel as if we'd found a Cullinan diamond. Down in the yards everything seemed to be at the loosest kind of loose ends. A switching crew was making up a freight, and the way they slammed the boxes together, regardless of broken drawheads and the like, was a sin and a shame. Then I saw some grain cars with the ends started and the wheat running out all along the track, and three or four more with the air hose hanging so it knocked along on the ties, and a lot of things like that-and nobody caring a hoot.

There was a big repair shop on the other side of the yard tracks, and though it was after seven o'clock, the men were still straggling over to go to work. Down at the round-house, a wiper was spotting a big freight-puller on the turn-table, and I'm blessed if he didn't actually run her forward pair of truck-wheels off the edge of the table, right while I was looking on, just as if it were all in the day's work.

In the course of time I drifted back to the office headquarters, which were at the end of the passenger station and in a part of the same building, down-stairs and up. A few clerks were dribbling in, and none of them seemed to have life enough to get out of the way of an ox-team. One fellow recognized me for a member of the big railroad family, I guess, for he stopped and asked me if I was looking for a job.

I told him I wasn't, and gave him a cigar-just on general principles. He took it, and right away he began to loosen up.

"If you should change your mind about the job, you just make it a case of 'move on, Joey,' and don't stay here and try to hit this agglomeration," he said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"It's a frost. I'm off of the Pennsy myself, and I'm ashamed to look in the looking-glass since I came out here. The P. S. L. isn't a railroad, at all; it's just making a bluff at being one. Besides, we're slated to have a new general manager, and if he's any good he'll fire the last living man of us."

"Maybe, if I change my mind, I might get a job with the new man," I said. "Who is he?"

"Search me! I don't believe they've found anybody yet. The big people from New York are all here now, and maybe they'll pick somebody before they go away. If I had the nerve of a rabbit, I'd take the next train back for Pittsburgh."

"What's your job?" I quizzed.

He grinned at me sort of good-naturedly. "You wouldn't think it to look at me, but I'm head stenographer in the general super's office."

"You haven't got much of a boss, if he can't command any more loyalty than you are giving him," I offered; and at that he spat on the platform and made a face like a kid that had been taking a dose of asaf[oe]tida.

"Yah!" he snorted. "We haven't a man in the outfit, on any job where the pay amounts to anything, that isn't somebody's cousin or nephew or brother-in-law or something. They shoot 'em out here from New York in bunches. You may be a spotter, for all I know, but I don't care a hang. I'm quitting at the end of the month, anyhow-if I don't get fired this side of that."

I grinned; I couldn't help it.

"Tell me," I broke in, "are there many more like you in the Pioneer Short Line service?"

"Scads of 'em," he retorted cheerfully. "I can round you up a couple of dozen fellows right here at headquarters who would go on a bat and paint this town a bright vermilion if the new G. M., whoever he is going to be, would clean out the whole rookery, cousins, nephews, and all."

"I think I'll have to take your name," I told him, fishing out a pencil and a notebook-just to see what he would do.

"Huh! so you are a spotter, after all, are you? All right, Mr. Spotter. My name's May, Frederic G. May. And when you want my head, you can find it just exactly where I told you-in the general super's office. You're a stranger and you took me in. So long."

Wouldn't that jar you? A man out of the general offices talking that way about his road and his own boss? I couldn't help seeing how rotten the thing must be if it smelled that way to the men on its own pay-rolls.

After a while, after I'd loafed through the shops and around the yard and got a few more whiffs of the decay, I strolled on back to the hotel. Seen by daylight, Portal City seemed to be a right bright little burg, with a cut-stone post-office and a new court house built out of pink lava, and three or four office buildings big enough to be called sky-scrapers anywhere outside of a real city like Portland or Seattle. The streets were paved, and on the main one, Nevada Avenue, there was plenty of business. Also, I tipped off a mining exchange and two pretty nice-looking club-houses right in sight from the Bullard entrance.

There wasn't much of a crowd in the lobby, and as I didn't see anything of Mr. Norcross or Mr. Chadwick, I sat down in a corner to wear out some more time. Though it was now after nine o'clock, there were still a good many people breakfa

sting in the café, the entrance to which was only a few feet away from my corner.

I was wondering a little what had become of the boss-who was generally the earliest riser on the job-when two men came bulging through the screen doors of the café, picking their teeth and feeling in their pockets for cigars. Right on the dot, and in the face of knowing that it couldn't reasonably be so, I had a feeling that I'd seen those men before. One of them was short and rather stocky, and his face had a sort of hard, hungry look; and the other was big and barrel-bodied. The short one was clean-shaven, but the other had a reddish-gray beard clipped close on his fat jaws and trimmed to a point at the chin.

After they had lighted up they came along and sat down three or four chairs away from me. They paid no attention to me, but for fear they might, I tried to look as sleepy as an all-night bell-hop in a busy hotel.

"The Dunton bunch got together in one of the committee rooms up-stairs a little after eight o'clock," said the short man, in a low, rasping voice that went through you like a buzz-saw, and it was evident that he was merely going on with a talk which had been begun over the breakfast-table. "Thanks to those infernal blunderers Clanahan sent us last night, Chadwick was with them."

"I think that was choost so," said the big man, speaking slowly and with something more than a hint of a German accent. "Beckler was choost what you call him-a tam blunderer."

Like a flash it came over me that I was "listening in" to a talk between the same two men who had sat in the auto at Sand Creek Siding and smoked while they were waiting for the actual kidnappers to return. You can bet high that I made myself mighty small and unobtrusive.

After a while the big man spoke again.

"What has Uncle Chon Chadwick up his sleeve got, do you think?"

"I don't think-I know!" was the snappy reply. "It's one of two things: a receivership-which will knock us into a cocked hat because we can't fool with an officer of the United States court-or a new deal all around in the management."

"Vich of the two will it be that will come out of that commiddee room up-stairs?"

"A new management. Dunton can't stand for a receivership, and Chadwick knows it. Apart from the fact that a court officer would turn up a lot of side deals that wouldn't look well for the New York crowd if they got into the newspapers, the securities would be knocked out and the majority holders-Dunton and his bunch-couldn't unload. Chadwick has got him by the neck and can dictate his own terms."

"Vich will be?"

"That he will name the man who is to take Shaffer's place as general manager of the railroad outfit. We might have stood it off for a while, just as I said yesterday, if we could have kept Chadwick from attending this meeting."

"But now we don't could stand it off-what then?"

"We'll have to wait and see, and size up the new man when he blows in. He'll be only human, Henckel. And if we get right down to it we can pull him over to our side-or make him wish he'd never been born."

The big man got up ponderously and brushed the cigar ashes off of his bay-window. "You vait and see what comes mit the commiddee-room out. I go up to the ovvice."

When I was left alone in the row of lobby chairs with the snappy one I was scared stiff for fear, now that he didn't have anything else to think of, he'd catch on to the fact that I might have overheard. But apart from giving me one long stare that made my blood run cold, he didn't seem to notice me much, and after a little he got up and went to sit on the other side of the big rotunda where he could watch the elevators going and coming.

I guess he had lots of patience, for I had to have. It was after eleven o'clock, and I had been sitting in my corner for two full hours, when I saw the boss coming down the broad marble stair with Mr. Chadwick. I don't think the Hatch man saw them, or, if he did, he didn't let on.

Mr. Norcross held up a finger for me, and when I jumped up he gave me a sheet of paper; a Pioneer Short Line president's letter-head with a few lines written on it with a pen and a sort of crazy-looking signature under them.

"Take that to the Mountaineer job office and have five hundred of them printed," was the boss's order. "Tell the foreman it's a rush job and we want it to-day. Then make a copy and take it to Mr. Cantrell, the editor, and ask him to run it in to-morrow's paper as an item of news, if he feels like it. When you are through, come down to Mr. Chadwick's car."

Since the thing was going to be published, and I was going to make a copy of it, I didn't scruple to read it as I hurried out to begin a hunt for the Mountaineer office. It was the printer's copy for an official circular, dated at Portal City and addressed to all officers and employees of the Pioneer Short Line. It read:

"Effective at once, Mr. Graham Norcross is appointed General Manager of the Pioneer Short Line System, with headquarters at Portal City, and his orders will be respected accordingly.

"Breckenridge Dunton,

"President."

We had got our jolt, all right; and leaving the ladder and the Friday start out of the question, I grinned and told myself that the one other thing that counted for most was the fact that Mrs. Sheila Macrae was a widow.

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