He had never been a Big Shot, and if he had been content to remain more or less obscure he might have gone along about his business for some time until there arrived the allotted moment when, like many of his late friends and acquaintances, he should be elected to stop his quota of machine gun bullets; but Danny Patrick was ambitious. For years he had been the right hand, and that means the pistol hand, of a Big Shot. He had seen his patron grow rich—“lousy rich,” according to Danny’s notion—and he had become envious.
So Danny double-crossed the Big Shot, went over to the other side, which, incidentally, boasted a bigger and better Big Shot, and was a party to the hijacking of several truck loads of booze belonging to his former employer.
Unfortunately, on the occasion of the hijacking of the last truck, one of his former pals in the service of the double-crossee recognized him; and Danny, knowing that he had been recognized, sought, quite pardonably, to eliminate this damaging evidence; but his unwilling target eluded him and before he could rectify his ballistic errors the police came.
It is true that they obligingly formed an escort to convoy the truck safely to the warehouse of the bigger and better Big Shot, but the witness to Danny’s perfidy escaped.
Now Danny ‘Gunner’ Patrick knew the temper of his erstwhile patron—and who better? Many of the Big Shot’s enemies, and several of his friends, had Danny taken for a ride. He knew the power of the Big Shot, and he feared him. Danny did not want to go for a ride himself, but he knew that if he remained in dear old Chi he would go the way of all good gunmen much too soon to suit his plans.
And so, with the 20 G. that had been the price of his perfidy, he had slipped quietly out of town; and, being wise in his day and generation, he had also slipped quietly out of the country, another thread to be woven into Fate’s tapestry.
He knew that the Big Shot was slipping (that was one reason he had deserted him); and he also knew that, sooner or later, the Big Shot would have a grand funeral with truck loads of flowers and, at least, a ten thousand dollar casket. So Danny would daily in foreign climes until after the funeral.
Just where he would daily he did not know, for Danny was shy of geographic lore; but he knew he was going at least as far as England, which he also knew to be somewhere in London.
So now he lolled in the sun, at peace with the world that immediately surrounded him; or almost at peace, for there rankled in his youthful breast various snubs that had been aimed in his direction by the few fellow passengers he had accosted. Danny was at a loss to understand why he was persona non grata. He was good looking. His clothes had been designed by one of Chicago’s most exclusive tailors—they were quiet and in good taste. These things Danny knew, and he also knew that no one aboard ship had any inkling of his profession. Why then, after a few minutes conversation, did they invariably lose interest in him and thereafter look through him as though he did not exist? The ‘Gunner’ was both puzzled and peeved.
It was the third day out, and Danny was already fed up on ocean travel. He almost wished that he were back in Chicago where he knew he could find congenial spirits with whom to foregather, but not quite. Better a temporary isolalion above ground than a permanent one below.
A young man whom he had not before noticed among the passengers came and sat down in the chair next to his. He looked over at Danny and smiled. “Good morning,” he said. “Lovely weather we’re having.”
Danny’s cold, blue eyes surveyed the stranger. “Are we?” he replied in a tone as cold as his gaze; then he resumed his previous occupation of staring out across the rail at the illimitable expanse of rolling sea.
Lafayette Smith smiled, opened a book, settled himself more comfortably in his chair and proceeded to forget all about his discourteous neighbor.
Later that day Danny saw the young man at the swimming pool and was impressed by one of the few things that Danny could really understand—proficiency in a physical sport. The young man far outshone the other passengers both in swimming and diving, and his sun bronzed body evidenced long hours in a bathing suit.
The following morning when Danny came on deck he found that the young man had preceded him. “Good morning,” said Danny pleasantly as he dropped into his chair. “Nice morning.”
The young man looked up from his book. “Is it?” he asked and let his eyes fall again to the printed page.
Danny laughed. “Right back at me, eh?” he exclaimed. “You see I thought youse was one of them high hat guys. Then I seen you in the tank. You sure can dive, buddy.”
Lafayette Smith, A.M., Ph.D., Sc.D., let his book drop slowly to his lap as he turned to survey his neighbor. Presently a smile stole across his face—a good natured, friendly smile. “Thanks,” he said. “You see it is because I like it so well. A fellow who’s spent as much time at it as I have ever since I was a little shaver would have to be an awful dub not to be fairly proficient.”
“Yeah,” agreed Danny. “It’s your racket, I suppose.”
Lafayette Smith looked about the deck around his chair. He thought, at first, that Danny was referring to a tennis racquet, as that would be the thing that the word would connote to the mind of so ardent a tennis enthusiast as he. Then he caught the intended meaning and smiled. “I am not a professional swimmer, if that is what you mean,” he said.
“Pleasure trip?” inquired Danny.
“Well, I hope it will be,” replied the other, “but it is largely what might be called a business trip, too. Scientific investigation. I am a geologist.”
“Yeah? I never heard of that racket before.”
“It is not exactly a racket,” said Smith. “There is not enough money in it to raise it to the importance and dignity of a racket.”
“Oh, well, I know a lot of little rackets that pay good—especially if a fellow goes it alone and doesn’t have to split with a mob. Going to England?”
“I shall be in London a couple of days only,” replied Smith.
“I thought maybe you was goin’ to England.”
Lafayette Smith looked puzzled. “I am,” he said.
“Oh, you’re goin’ there from London?”
Was the young man trying to kid him? Very good! “Yes,” he said, “if I can get permission from King George to do so I shall visit England while I am in London.”
“Say, does that guy live in England? He’s the fellow Big Bill was goin’ to punch in the snout. Geeze, but there is one big bag of hot wind.”
“Who, King George?”
“No, I don’t know him—I mean Thompson.”
“I don’t know either of them,” admitted Smith; “but I’ve heard of King George.”
“You ain’t never heard of Big Bill Thompson, mayor of Chicago?”
“Oh, yes; but there are so many Thompson’s—I didn’t know to which one you referred.”
“Do you have to get next to King George to get to England?” demanded Danny, and something in the earnestness of his tone assured Smith that the young man had not been kidding him.
“No,” he replied. “You see London is the capital of England. When you are in London you are, of course, in England.”
“Geeze!” exclaimed Danny. “I sure was all wet, wasn’t I; but you see,” he added confidentially, “I ain’t never been out of America before.”
“Are you making a protracted stay in England?”
“Are you going to remain in England for some time?”
“I’ll see how I like it,” replied Danny.
“I think you’ll like London,” Smith told him.
“I don’t have to stay there,” Danny confided; “I can go where I please. Where are you goin’?”
“What sort of a burgh is it? I don’t think I’d like bein’ bossed by a lot of savages, though a lot of ’em is regular, at that. I knew some negro cops in Chi that never looked to frame a guy.”
“You wouldn’t be bothered by any policeman where I’m going,” Smith assured him; “there are none.”
“Geeze! you don’t say? But get me right, mister, I ain’t worried about no cops—they ain’t got nothin’ on me. Though I sure would like to go somewhere where I wouldn’t never see none of their ugly mugs. You know, mister,” he added confidentially, “I just can’t like a cop.”
This young man puzzled Lafayette Smith the while he amused him. Being a scholar, and having pursued scholarly ways in a quiet university town, Smith was only aware of the strange underworld of America’s great cities to such a sketchy extent as might result from a cursory and disinterested perusal of the daily press. He could not catalog his new acquaintance by any first hand knowledge. He had never talked with exactly such a type before. Outwardly, the young man might be the undergraduate son of a cultured family, but when he spoke one had to revise this first impression.
“Say,” exclaimed Danny, after a short silence; “I know about this here Africa, now. I seen a moving pitcher once—lions and elephants and a lot of foolish lookin’ deer with funny monickers. So that’s where you’re goin’? Huntin’, I suppose?”
“Not for animals, but for rocks,” explained Smith.
“Geeze! Who ain’t huntin’ for rocks?” demanded Danny, “I know guys would croak their best friends for a rock.”
“Not the sort I’m going to look for,” Smith assured him.
“You don’t mean diamonds then?”
“No, just rock formations that will teach me more about the structure of the earth.”
“And you can’t cash in on them after you find them?”
“Geeze, that’s a funny racket. You know a lot about this here Africa, don’t you?”
“Only what I’ve read in books,” replied Smith.
“I had a book once,” said Danny, with almost a verbal swagger.
“Yes?” said Smith politely. “Was it about Africa?”
“I don’t know. I never read it. Say, I been thinkin’,” he added. “Why don’t I go to this here Africa? That pitcher I seen looked like they wasn’t many people there, and I sure would like to get away from people for a while—I’m fed up on ’em. How big a place is Africa?”
“Almost four times as large as the United States.”
“Geeze! An’ no cops?”
“Not where I’m going, nor very many people. Perhaps I shall see no one but the members of my safari for weeks at a time.”
“My people—porters, soldiers, servants.”
“Oh, your mob.”
“It may be.”
“What say I go with you, mister? I don’t understand your racket and I don’t want to, but I won’t demand no cut-in whatever it is. Like the old dame that attended the funeral, I just want to go along for the ride—only I’ll pay my way.”
Lafayette Smith wondered. There was something about this young man he liked, and he certainly found him interesting as a type. Then, too, there was an indefinable something in his manner and in those cold, blue eyes that suggested he might be a good companion in an emergency. Furthermore, Lafayette Smith had recently been thinking that long weeks in the interior without the companionship of another white man might prove intolerable. Yet he hesitated. He knew nothing about the man. He might be a fugitive from justice. He might be anything. Well, what of it? He had about made up his mind.
“If it’s expenses that’s worrying you,” said Danny, noting the other’s hesitation, “forget ’em. I’ll pay my share and then some, if you say so.”
“I wasn’t thinking of that, though the trip will be expensive—not much more for two, though, than for one.”
“Frankly, I don’t know, but I have been assuming that five thousand dollars should cover everything, though I may be wrong.”
Danny Patrick reached into his trousers’ pocket and brought forth a great roll of bills—50’s and 100’s. He counted out three thousand dollars. “Here’s three G. to bind the bargain,” he said, “and there’s more where that came from. I ain’t no piker. I’ll pay my share and part of yours, too.”
“No,” said Smith, motioning the proffered bills aside. “It is not that. You see we don’t know anything about each other. We might not get along together.”
“You know as much about me as I do about you,” replied Danny, “and I’m game to take a chance. Maybe the less we know the better. Anyhow, I’m goin’ to this here Africa, and if you’re goin’ too, we might as well go together. It’ll cut down expenses, and two white fellows is got a better chanct than one alone. Do we stick or do we split?”
Lafayette Smith laughed. Here, perhaps, was the making of an adventure, and in his scholarly heart he had long held the secret hope that some day he might go adventuring. “We stick,” he said.
“Gimme five!” exclaimed ‘Gunner’ Patrick, extending his hand.
“Five what?” asked Lafayette Smith, A.M., Ph.D., Sc.D.