Notice any gold dust on my back? No? Well it’s a wonder there ain’t, for I’ve been up against the money bags so close I expect you can find eagle prints all over me.
That’s what it is to build up a rep. Looks like all the fat wads in New York was gettin’ to know about Shorty McCabe, and how I’m a sure cure for everything that ails ‘em. You see, I no sooner take hold of one down and outer, sweat the high livin’ out of him, and fix him up like new with a private course of rough house exercises, than he passes the word along to another; and so it goes.
Sewell Ford’s story appears in a collection of Shorty McCabe tales called Side-Stepping With Shorty, available at Project Gutenberg.
Curiously, the original 1908 copyright for the book was held by Mitchell Kennerley, the colorful publisher and antiquarian book seller.
This last was the limit, though. One day I’m called to the ‘phone by some mealy mouth that wants to know if this is the Physical Culture Studio.
“Sure as ever,” says I.
“Well,” says he, “I’m secretary to Mr. Fletcher Dawes.”
“That’s nice,” says I. “How’s Fletch?”
“Mr. Dawes,” says he, “will see the professah at fawh o’clock this awfternoon.”
“Is that a guess,” says I, “or has he been havin’ his fortune told?”
“Who is this?” says the gent at the other end of the wire, real sharp and sassy.
“Only me,” says I.
“Well, who are you?” says he.
“I’m the witness for the defence,” says I. “I’m Professor McCabe, P. C. D., and a lot more that I don’t use on week days.”
“Oh!” says he, simmerin’ down a bit. “This is Professor McCabe himself, is it? Well, Mr. Fletcher Dawes requiahs youah services. You are to repawt at his apartments at fawh o’clock this awfternoon—fawh o’clock, understand?”
“Oh, yes,” says I. “That’s as plain as a dropped egg on a plate of hash. But say, Buddy; you tell Mr. Dawes that next time he wants me just to pull the string. If that don’t work, he can whistle; and when he gets tired of whistlin’, and I ain’t there, he’ll know I ain’t comin’. Got them directions? Well, think hard, and maybe you’ll figure it out later. Ta, ta, Mister Secretary.” With that I hangs up the receiver and winks at Swifty Joe.
“Swifty,” says I, “they’ll be usin’ us for rubber stamps if we don’t look out.”
“Who was the guy?” says he.
“Some pinhead up to Fletcher Dawes’s,” says I.
“Hully chee!” says Swifty.
Funny, ain’t it, how most everyone’ll prick up their ears at that name? And it don’t mean so much money as John D.’s or Morgan’s does, either. But what them two and Harriman don’t own is divided up among Fletcher Dawes and a few others. Maybe it’s because Dawes is such a free spender that he’s better advertised. Anyway, when you say Fletcher Dawes you think of a red-faced gent with a fistful of thousand-dollar bills offerin’ to buy the White House for a stable.
But say, he might have twice as much, and I wouldn’t hop any quicker. I’m only livin’ once, and it may be long or short, but while it lasts I don’t intend to do the lackey act for anyone.
Course, I thinks the jolt I gave that secretary chap closes the incident. But around three o’clock that same day, though, I looks down from the front window and sees a heavy party in a fur lined overcoat bein’ helped out of a shiny benzine wagon by a pie faced valet, and before I’d done guessin’ where they was headed for they shows up in the office door.
“My name is Dawes. Fletcher Dawes,” says the gent in the overcoat.
“I could have guessed that,” says I. “You look somethin’ like the pictures they print of you in the Sunday papers.”
“I’m sorry to hear it,” says he.
But say, he’s less of a prize hog than you’d think, come to get near—forty-eight around the waist, I should say, and about a number sixteen collar. You wouldn’t pick him out by his face as the kind of a man that you’d like to have holdin’ a mortgage on the old homestead, though, nor one you’d like to sit opposite to in a poker game—eyes about a quarter of an inch apart, lima bean ears buttoned down close, and a mouth like a crack in the pavement.
He goes right at tellin’ what he wants and when he wants it, sayin’ he’s a little out of condition and thinks a few weeks of my trainin’ was just what he needed. Also he throws out that I might come up to the Brasstonia and begin next day.
“Yes?” says I. “I heard somethin’ like that over the ‘phone.”
“From Corson, eh?” says he. “He’s an ass! Never mind him. You’ll be up to-morrow?”
“Say,” says I, “where’d you get the idea I went out by the day?”
“Why,” says he, “it seems to me I heard something about——”
“Maybe they was personal friends of mine,” says I. “That’s different. Anybody else comes here to see me.”
“Ah!” says he, suckin’ in his breath through his teeth and levelin’ them blued steel eyes of his at me. “I suppose you have your price?”
“No,” says I; “but I’ll make one, just special for you. It’ll be ten dollars a minute.”
Say, what’s the use? We saves up till we gets a little wad of twenties about as thick as a roll of absorbent cotton, and with what we got in the bank and some that’s lent out, we feel as rich as platter gravy. Then we bumps up against a really truly plute, and gets a squint at his dinner check, and we feels like panhandlers workin’ a side street. Honest, with my little ten dollars a minute gallery play, I thought I was goin’ to have him stunned.
“That’s satisfactory,” says he. “To-morrow, at four.”
That’s all. I’m still standin’ there with my mouth open when he’s bein’ tucked in among the tiger skins. And I’m bought up by the hour, like a bloomin’ he massage artist! Feel? I felt like I’d fit loose in a gas pipe.
But Swifty, who’s had his ear stretched out and his eyes bugged all the time, begins to do the walk around and look me over as if I was a new wax figger in a museum.
“Ten plunks a minute!” says he. “Hully chee!”
“Ah, forget it!” says I. “D’ye suppose I want to be reminded that I’ve broke into the bath rubber class? G’wan! Next time you see me prob’ly I’ll be wearin’ a leather collar and a tag. Get the mitts on, you South Brooklyn bridge rusher, and let me show you how I can hit before I lose my nerve altogether!”
Swifty says he ain’t been used so rough since the time he took the count from Cans; but it was a relief to my feelin’s; and when he come to reckon up that I’d handed him two hundred dollars’ worth of punches without chargin’ him a red, he says he’d be proud to have me do it every day.
If it hadn’t been that I’d chucked the bluff myself, I’d scratched the Dawes proposition. But I ain’t no hand to welch; so up I goes next afternoon, with my gym. suit in a bag, and gets my first inside view of the Brasstonia, where the plute hangs out. And say, if you think these down town twenty-five-a-day joints is swell, you ought to get some Pittsburg friend to smuggle you into one of these up town apartment hotels that’s run exclusively for trust presidents. Why, they don’t have any front doors at all. You’re expected to come and go in your bubble, but the rules lets you use a cab between certain hours.
I tries to walk in, and was held up by a three hundred pound special cop in grey and gold, and made to prove that I didn’t belong in the baggage elevator or the ash hoist. Then I’m shown in over the Turkish rugs to a solid gold passenger lift, set in a velvet arm chair, and shot up to the umpteenth floor.
I was lookin’ to find Mr. Dawes located in three or four rooms and bath, but from what I could judge of the size of his ranch he must pay by acreage instead of the square foot, for he has a whole wing to himself. And as for hired help, they was standin’ around in clusters, all got up in baby blue and silver, with mugs as intelligent as so many frozen codfish. Say, it would give me chillblains on the soul to have to live with that gang lookin’ on!
I’m shunted from one to the other, until I gets to Dawes, and he leads the way into a big room with rubber mats, punchin’ bags, and all the fixin’s you could think of.
“Will this do?” says he.
“It’ll pass,” says I. “And if you’ll chase out that bunch of employment bureau left-overs, we’ll get down to business.”
“But,” says he, “I thought you might need some of my men to——”
“I don’t,” says I, “and while you’re mixin’ it with me you won’t, either.”
At that he shoos ‘em all out and shuts the door. I opens the window so’s to get in some air that ain’t been strained and currycombed and scented with violets, and then we starts to throw the shot bag around. I find Fletcher is short winded and soft. He’s got a bad liver and a worse heart, for five or six years’ trainin’ on wealthy water and pâté de foie gras hasn’t done him any good. Inside of ten minutes he knows just how punky he is himself, and he’s ready to follow any directions I lay down.
As I’m leavin’, a nice, slick haired young feller calls me over and hands me an old rose tinted check. It was for five hundred and twenty.
“Fifty-two minutes, professor,” says he.
“Oh, let that pyramid,” says I, tossin’ it back.
Honest, I never shied so at money before, but somehow takin’ that went against the grain. Maybe it was the way it was shoved at me.
I’d kind of got interested in the job of puttin’ Dawes on his feet, though, and Thursday I goes up for another session. Just as I steps off the elevator at his floor I hears a scuffle, and out comes a couple of the baby blue bunch, shoving along an old party with her bonnet tilted over one ear. I gets a view of her face, though, and I sees she’s a nice, decent lookin’ old girl, that don’t seem to be either tanked or batty, but just kind of scared. A Willie boy in a frock coat was followin’ along behind, and as they gets to me he steps up, grabs her by the arm, and snaps out:
“Now you leave quietly, or I’ll hand you over to the police! Understand?”
That scares her worse than ever, and she rolls her eyes up to me in that pleadin’ way a dog has when he’s been hurt.
“Hear that?” says one of the baby blues, shakin’ her up.
My fingers went into bunches as sudden as if I’d touched a live wire, but I keeps my arms down. “Ah, say!” says I. “I don’t see any call for the station-house drag out just yet. Loosen up there a bit, will you?”
“Mind your business!” says one of ‘em, givin’ me the glary eye.
“Thanks,” says I. “I was waitin’ for an invite,” and I reaches out and gets a shut-off grip on their necks. It didn’t take ‘em long to loosen up after that.
“Here, here!” says the Willie that I’d spotted for Corson. “Oh, it’s you is it, professor?”
“Yes, it’s me,” says I, still holdin’ the pair at arms’ length. “What’s the row?”
“Why,” says Corson, “this old woman——”
“Lady,” says I.
“Aw—er—yes,” says he. “She insists on fawcing her way in to see Mr. Dawes.”
“Well,” says I, “she ain’t got no bag of dynamite, or anything like that, has she?”
“I just wanted a word with Fletcher,” says she, buttin’ in—”just a word or two.”
“Friend of yours?” says I.
“Why— Well, we have known each other for forty years,” says she.
“That ought to pass you in,” says I,
“But she refuses to give her name,” says Corson.
“I am Mrs. Maria Dawes,” says she, holdin’ her chin up and lookin’ him straight between the eyes.
“You’re not on the list,” says Corson.
“List be blowed!” says I. “Say, you peanut head, can’t you see this is some relation? You ought to have sense enough to get a report from the boss, before you carry out this quick bounce business. Perhaps you’re puttin’ your foot in it, son.”
Then Corson weakens, and the old lady throws me a look that was as good as a vote of thanks. And say, when she’d straightened her lid and pulled herself together, she was as ladylike an old party as you’d want to meet. There wa’n’t much style about her, but she was dressed expensive enough—furs, and silks, and sparks in her ears. Looked like one of the sort that had been up against a long run of hard luck and had come through without gettin’ sour.
While we was arguin’, in drifts Mr. Dawes himself. I gets a glimpse of his face when he first spots the old girl, and if ever I see a mouth shut like a safe door, and a jaw stiffen as if it had turned to concrete, his did.
“What does this mean, Maria?” he says between his teeth.
“I couldn’t help it, Fletcher,” says she. “I wanted to see you about little Bertie.”
“Huh!” grunts Fletcher. “Well, step in this way. McCabe, you can come along too.”
I wa’n’t stuck on the way it was said, and didn’t hanker for mixin’ up with any such reunions; but it didn’t look like Maria had any too many friends handy, so I trots along. When we’re shut in, with the draperies pulled, Mr. Dawes plants his feet solid, shoves his hands down into his pockets, and looks Maria over careful.
“Then you have lost the address of my attorneys?” says he, real frosty.
That don’t chill Maria at all. She acted like she was used to it. “No,” says she; “but I’m tired of talking to lawyers. I couldn’t tell them about Bertie, and how lonesome I’ve been without him these last two years. Can’t I have him, Fletcher?”
About then I begins to get a glimmer of what it was all about, and by the time she’d gone on for four or five minutes I had the whole story. Maria was the ex-Mrs. Fletcher Dawes. Little Bertie was a grandson; and grandma wanted Bertie to come and live with her in the big Long Island place that Fletcher had handed her when he swapped her off for one of the sextet, and settled up after the decree was granted.
Hearin’ that brought the whole thing back, for the papers printed pages about the Daweses; rakin’ up everything, from the time Fletcher run a grocery store and lodgin’ house out to Butte, and Maria helped him sell flour and canned goods, besides makin’ beds, and jugglin’ pans, and takin’ in washin’ on the side; to the day Fletcher euchred a prospector out of the mine that gave him his start.
“You were satisfied with the terms of the settlement, when it was made,” says Mr. Dawes.
“I know,” says she; “but I didn’t think how badly I should miss Bertie. That is an awful big house over there, and I am getting to be an old woman now, Fletcher.”
“Yes, you are,” says he, his mouth corners liftin’ a little. “But Bertie’s in school, where he ought to be and where he is going to stay. Anything more?”
I looks at Maria. Her upper lip was wabblin’ some, but that’s all. “No, Fletcher,” says she. “I shall go now.”
She was just about startin’, when there’s music on the other side of the draperies. It sounds like Corson was havin’ his troubles with another female. Only this one had a voice like a brass cornet, and she was usin’ it too.
“Why can’t I go in there?” says she. “I’d like to know why! Eh, what’s that? A woman in there?”
And in she comes. She was a pippin, all right. As she yanks back the curtain and rushes in she looks about as friendly as a spotted leopard that’s been stirred up with an elephant hook; but when she sizes up the comp’ny that’s present she cools off and lets go a laugh that gives us an iv’ry display worth seein’.
“Oh!” says she. “Fletchy, who’s the old one?”
Say, I expect Dawes has run into some mighty worryin’ scenes before now, havin’ been indicted once or twice and so on, but I’ll bet he never bucked up against the equal of this before. He opens his mouth a couple of times, but there don’t seem to be any language on tap. The missus was ready, though.
“Maria Dawes is my name, my dear,” says she.
“Maria!” says the other one, lookin’ some staggered. “Why—why, then you—you’re Number One!”
Maria nods her head.
Then Fletcher gets his tongue out of tangle. “Maria,” says he, “this is my wife, Maizie.”
“Yes?” says Maria, as gentle as a summer night. “I thought this must be Maizie. You’re very young and pretty, aren’t you? I suppose you go about a lot? But you must be careful of Fletcher. He always was foolish about staying up too late, and eating things that hurt him. I used to have to warn him against black coffee and welsh rabbits. He will eat them, and then he has one of his bad spells. Fletcher is fifty-six now, you know, and——”
“Maria!” says Mr. Dawes, his face the colour of a boiled beet, “that’s enough of this foolishness! Here, Corson! Show this lady out!”
“Yes, I was just going, Fletcher,” says she.
“Good-bye, Maria!” sings out Maizie, and then lets out another of her soprano ha-ha’s, holdin’ her sides like she was tickled to death. Maybe it was funny to her; it wa’n’t to Fletcher.
“Come, McCabe,” says he; “we’ll get to work.”
Say, I can hold in about so long, and then I’ve got to blow off or else bust a cylinder head. I’d had about enough of this “Come, McCabe” business, too. “Say, Fletchy,” says I, “don’t be in any grand rush. I ain’t so anxious to take you on as you seem to think.”
“What’s that?” he spits out.
“You keep your ears open long enough and you’ll hear it all,” says I; for I was gettin’ hotter an’ hotter under the necktie. “I just want to say that I’ve worked up a grouch against this job durin’ the last few minutes. I guess I’ll chuck it up.”
That seemed to go in deep. Mr. Dawes, he brings his eyes together until nothin’ but the wrinkle keeps ‘em apart, and he gets the hectic flush on his cheek bones. “I don’t understand,” says he.
“This is where I quit,” says I. “That’s all.”
“But,” says he, “you must have some reason.”
“Sure,” says I; “two of ‘em. One’s just gone out. That’s the other,” and I jerks my thumb at Maizie.
She’d been rollin’ her eyes from me to Dawes, and from Dawes back to me. “What does this fellow mean by that?” says Maizie. “Fletcher, why don’t you have him thrown out?”
“Yes, Fletcher,” says I, “why don’t you? I’d love to be thrown out just now!”
Someway, Fletcher wasn’t anxious, although he had lots of bouncers standin’ idle within call. He just stands there and looks at his toes, while Maizie tongue lashes first me and then him. When she gets through I picks up my hat.
“So long, Fletchy,” says I. “What work I put in on you the other day I’m goin’ to make you a present of. If I was you, I’d cash that check and buy somethin’ that would please Maizie.”
“D’jer annex another five or six hundred up to the Brasstonia this afternoon?” asks Swifty, when I gets back. “Nix,” says I. “All I done was to organise a wife convention and get myself disliked. That ten-a-minute deal is off. But say, Swifty, just remember I’ve dodged makin’ the bath rubber class, and I’m satisfied at that.”