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   Chapter 6 No.6

The Wreckers By Francis Lynde Characters: 5236

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The Alexa Goes East

I chased like the dickens on the printing job, because, apart from wanting to absorb all the dope I could as I went along on the new job, I knew I would be needed every minute right at Mr. Norcross's elbow, now that the actual work was beginning.

He and Mr. Chadwick were deep in reports and figures and plans of all sorts when I got back to the Alexa. Luncheon was served in the car, and they kept the business talk going like a house afire while they were eating, the hurry being that Mr. Chadwick wanted to start back for Chicago the minute he could find out if our connecting line east would run him special.

I could tell by the way the boss's eyes were snapping that he was soaking up the details at the rate of a mile a minute; not that he could go much deeper than the totals into anything, of course, in such a gallop, but these were enough to give him his hand-holds. At two o'clock a boy came down from the headquarters with a wire saying that the private car could go east as a special at two-thirty, if Mr. Chadwick were ready, and he put his O.K. on the message and sent it back.

"Now for a few unofficial things, Graham, and we'll call it a go," he said, after the boy had gone. "You are to have an absolutely free hand, not only in the management and the operating, but also in dictating the policy of the company. What you say goes as it lies, and Dunton has promised me that there shall be no appeal, not even to him."

"I imagine he didn't say that willingly," the boss put in, which was the first intimation I had had that he wasn't present at the directors' meeting in the Bullard.

"No, indeed; nothing was done willingly. I had to swing the big stick and swing it hard. But I had them where they couldn't wiggle. They had to swallow you whole or take the consequences-and the consequences were going to cost them money. Dunton got down when he had to, and he pulled the others into line. You are to set your own pace, and you are to have some money for betterments. I offered to float a new loan on short-time notes with the Chicago banks, and the board authorized it."

The boss pushed that part of it aside abruptly, as he always does when he has got hold of the gist of a thing.

"Now, about my staff," he said. "It's open gossip all over the West that the P. S. L. is officered by a lot of dummies and place-hunters and relatives. I'll have to clean house."

"Go to it; that is a part of your 'free hand.' Have you the material to draw from?"

"I know a few good men, if I can get them," said the boss thoughtfully. "There is Upton Van Britt; he wa

s the only millionaire in my college, and he is simply a born operating chief. If I can persuade him to store his autos and lay up his yacht and sell off his polo ponies-I'll try it, anyhow. Then there is Charlie Hornack, who is the best all-around traffic man this side of the Missouri-only his present employers don't seem to have discovered it. I can get Hornack. The one man I can't place at sight is a good corporation counsel. I'm obliged to have a good lawyer, Uncle John."

"I have the man for you, if you'll take him on my say so; a young fellow, named Ripley who has done some corking good work for me in Chicago. I'll wire him, if you like. Now a word or two about this local graft we touched upon last night. I don't know the ins and outs of it, but people here will tell you that a sort of holding corporation, called Red Tower Consolidated, has a strangle grip on this entire region. Its subsidiary companies control the grain elevators, the fruit packeries, the coal mines and distributing yards, the timber supply and the lumber yards, and even have a finger on the so-called independent smelters."

The boss nodded. "I've heard of Red Tower. Also, I have heard that the railroad stands in with it to pinch the producers and consumers."

A road engine was backing down the spur to take the Alexa in tow for the eastward run, and what was said had to be said in a hurry.

"Dig it out," barked the wheat king. "If you find that we are in on it, it's your privilege to cut loose. The two men who will give you the most trouble are right here in Portal City: Hatch, the president of Red Tower, and Henckel, its vice-president. They say either of them would commit murder for a ten-dollar bill, and they stand in with Pete Clanahan, the city boss, and his gang of political thugs. That's all, Graham; all but one thing. Write me after you've climbed into the saddle and have found out just what you're in for. If you say you can make it go, I'll back you, if it takes half of next year's wheat crop."

A minute or so later the boss and I stood out in the yard and watched the Alexa roll away toward the sunrise country, and perhaps we both felt a little bit lonesome, just for a second or two. At least, I know I did. But when the special had become a black smudge of coal smoke in the distance, Mr. Norcross turned on me with the grim little smile that goes with his fighting mood.

"You are private secretary to the new general manager of the Pioneer Short Line, Jimmie, and your salary begins to-day," he said, briskly. "Now let's go up to the hotel and get our fighting clothes on."

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