From: Red Butte Western
"This switching-engine mystery opens up a field that I've been trying to
get into for some little time, Mac," the superintendent began, after the
half-hour had elapsed and the trainmaster had returned to the private
office. "Sit down and we'll thresh it out. Here are some figures showing
loss and expense in the general maintenance account. Look them over and
tell me what you think."
"Wastage, you mean?" queried the trainmaster, glancing at the totals in
the auditor's statement.
"That is what I have been calling it; a reckless disregard for the value
of anything and everything that can be included in a requisition. There
is a good deal of that, I know; the right-of-way is littered from end to
end with good material thrown aside. But I'm afraid that isn't the worst
The trainmaster was nursing a knee and screwing his face into the
reflective scheme of distortion.
"Those things are always hard to prove. Short of a military guard, for
instance, you couldn't prevent Angels from raiding the company's
coal-yard for its cook-stoves. That's one leak, and the others are
pretty much like it. If a company employee wants to steal, and there
isn't enough common honesty among his fellow-employees to hold him down,
he can steal fast enough and get away with it."
"By littles, yes, but not in quantity," pursued Lidgerwood.
"'Mony a little makes a mickle,' as my old grandfather used to say,"
McCloskey went on. "If everybody gets his fingers into the
Lidgerwood swung his chair to face McCloskey.
"We'll pass up the petty thieveries, for the present, and look a little
higher," he said gravely. "Have you found any trace of those two
car-loads of company lumber lost in transit between here and Red Butte
two weeks ago?"
"No, nor of the cars themselves. They were reported as two
Transcontinental flats, initials and numbers plainly given in the
car-record. They seem to have disappeared with the lumber."
"Which means?" queried the superintendent.
"That the numbers, or the initials, or both, were wrongly reported. It
means that it was a put-up job to steal the lumber."
"Exactly. And there was a mixed car-load of lime and cement lost at
about the same time, wasn't there?"
Lidgerwood's swing-chair "righted itself to the perpendicular with a
"Mac, the Red Butte mines are looking up a little, and there is a good
bit of house-building going on in the camp just now: tell me, what man
or men in the company's service would be likely to be taking a flyer in
Red Butte real estate?"
"I don't know of anybody. Gridley used to be interested in the camp. He
went in pretty heavily on the boom, and lost out--so they all say. So
did your man out there in the pig-pen desk," with a jerk of his thumb to
indicate the outer office.
"They are both out of it," said Lidgerwood shortly. Then: "How about
Sullivan, the west-end supervisor of track? He has property in Red
Butte, I am told."
"Sullivan is a thief, all right, but he does it openly and brags about
it; carries off a set of bridge-timbers, now and then, for house-sills,
and makes a joke of it with anybody who will listen."
Lidgerwood dismissed Sullivan abruptly.
"It is an organized gang, and it must have its members pretty well
scattered through the departments--and have a good many members, too,"
he said conclusively. "That brings us to the disappearance of the
switching-engine again. No one man made off with that, single-handed,
"It was this gang we are presupposing--the gang that has been stealing
lumber and lime and other material by the car-load."
"I believe we'll get to the bottom of all the looting on this
switching-engine business. They have overdone it this time. You can't
put a locomotive in your pocket and walk off with it. You say you've
"Who was at the Copah key--Mr. Leckhard?"
"No. I didn't want to advertise our troubles to a main-line official. I
got the day-despatcher, Crandall, and told him to keep his mouth shut
until he heard of it some other way."
"Good. And what did Crandall say?"
"He said that the '16 had never gone out through the Copah yards; that
it couldn't get anywhere if it had without everybody knowing about it."
Lidgerwood's abstracted gaze out of the office window became a frown of
"But the object, McCloskey--what possible profit could there be in the
theft of a locomotive that can neither be carried away nor converted
into salable junk?"
The trainmaster shook his head. "I've stewed over that till I'm
threatened with softening of the brain," he confessed.
"Never mind, you have a comparatively easy job," Lidgerwood went on.
"That engine is somewhere this side of the Crosswater Hills. It is too
big to be hidden under a bushel basket. Find it, and you'll be hot on
the trail of the car-load robbers."
McCloskey got upon his feet as if he were going at once to begin the
search, but Lidgerwood detained him.
"Hold on; I'm not quite through yet. Sit down again and have a smoke."
The trainmaster squinted sourly at the extended cigar-case. "I guess
not," he demurred. "I cut it out, along with the toddies, the day I put
on my coat and hat and walked out of the old F. & P.M. offices without
"If it had to be both or neither, you were wise; whiskey and railroading
don't go together very well. But about this other matter. Some years
ago there was a building and loan association started here in Angels,
the ostensible object being to help the railroad men to own their homes.
Ever hear of it?"
"Yes, but it was dead and buried before my time."
"Dead, but not buried," corrected Lidgerwood. "As I understand it, the
railroad company fathered it, or at all events, some of the officials
took stock in it. When it died there was a considerable deficit,
together with a failure on the part of the executive committee to
account for a pretty liberal cash balance."
"I've heard that much," said the trainmaster.
"Then we'll bring it down to date," Lidgerwood resumed. "It appears that
there are twenty-five or thirty of the losers still in the employ of
this company, and they have sent a committee to me to ask for an
investigation, basing the demand on the assertion that they were coerced
into giving up their money to the building and loan people."
"I've heard that, too," McCloskey admitted. "The story goes that the
house-building scheme was promoted by the old Red Butte Western bosses,
and if a man didn't take stock he got himself disliked. If he did take
it, the premiums were held out on the pay-rolls. It smells like a good,
old-fashioned graft, with the lid nailed on."
"There wouldn't seem to be any reasonable doubt about the graft," said
the superintendent. "But my duty is clear. Of course, the Pacific
Southwestern Company isn't responsible for the side-issue schemes of the
old Red Butte Western officials. But I want to do strict justice. These
men charge the officials of the building and loan company with open
dishonesty. There was a balance of several thousand dollars in the
treasury when the explosion came, and it disappeared."
"Well?" said the trainmaster.
"The losers contend that somebody ought to make good to them. They also
call attention to the fact that the building and loan treasurer, who was
never able satisfactorily to explain the disappearance of the cash
balance, is still on the railroad company's pay-rolls."
McCloskey sat up and tilted the derby to the back of his head.
"Gridley?" he asked.
"No; for some reasons I wish it were Gridley. He is able to fight his
own battles. It comes nearer home, Mac. The treasurer was Hallock."
McCloskey rose noiselessly, tiptoed to the door of communication with
the outer office, and opened it with a quick jerk. There was no one
"I thought I heard something," he said. "Didn't you think you did?"
Lidgerwood shook his head.
"Hallock has gone over to the storekeeper's office to check up the
time-rolls. He won't be back to-day."
McCloskey closed the door and returned to his chair.
"If I say what I think, you'll be asking me for proofs, Mr. Lidgerwood,
and I have none. Besides, I'm a prejudiced witness. I don't like
Quite unconsciously Lidgerwood picked up a pencil and began adding more
squares to the miniature checker-board on his desk blotter. It was
altogether subversive of his own idea of fitness to be discussing his
chief clerk with his trainmaster, but McCloskey had proved himself an
honest partisan and a fearless one, and Lidgerwood was at a pass where
the good counsel of even a subordinate was not to be despised.
"I don't want to do Hallock an injustice," he went on, after a hesitant
pause, "neither do I wish to dig up the past, for him or for anybody. I
was hoping that you might know some of the inside details, and so make
it easier for me to get at the truth. I can't believe that Hallock was
culpably responsible for the disappearance of the money."
By this time McCloskey had his hat tilted to the belligerent angle.
"I'm not a fair witness," he reiterated. "There's been gossip, and I've
listened to it."
"About this building and loan mess?"
"No; about the wife."
"To Hallock's discredit, you mean?"
"You'd think so: there was a scandal of some sort; I don't know what it
was--never wanted to know. But there are men here in Angels who hint
that Hallock killed the woman and sunk her body in the Timanyoni."
"Heavens!" exclaimed Lidgerwood, under his breath. "I can't believe
"I don't know as I do, but I can tell you a thing that I do know, Mr.
Lidgerwood: Hallock is a devil out of hell when it comes to paying a
grudge. There was a freight-conductor named Jackson that he had a shindy
with in Mr. Ferguson's time, and it came to blows. Hallock got the worst
of the fist-fight, but Ferguson made a joke of it and wouldn't fire
Jackson. Hallock bided his time like an Indian, and worked it around so
that Jackson got promoted to a passenger run. After that it was easy."
"It was the devil's own game. Jackson was a handsome young fellow, and
Hallock set a woman on him--a woman out of Cat Biggs's dance-hall. From
that to holding out fares to get more money to squander was only a step
for the young fool, and he took it. Having baited the trap and set it,
Hallock sprung it. One fine day Jackson was caught red-handed and turned
over to the company lawyers. There had been a good bit of talk and they
made an example of him. He's got a couple of years to serve yet, I
Lidgerwood was listening thoughtfully. The story which had ended so
disastrously for the young conductor threw a rather lurid sidelight upon
Jackson's accuser. Fairness was the superintendent's fetish, and the
revenge which would sleep on its wrongs and go about deliberately and
painstakingly to strike a deadly blow in the dark was revolting to him.
Yet he was just enough to distinguish between gross vindictiveness and
an evil which bore no relation to the vengeful one.
"A financially honest man might still have a weakness for playing even
in a personal quarrel," he commented. "Your story proves nothing more
"I know it."
"But I am going to run the other thing down, too," Lidgerwood insisted.
"Hallock shall have a chance to clear himself, but if he can't do it, he
can't stay with me."
At this the trainmaster changed front so suddenly that Lidgerwood began
to wonder if his estimate of the man's courage was at fault.
"Don't do that, Mr. Lidgerwood, for God's sake don't stir up the devil
in that long-haired knife-fighter at such a time as this!" he begged.
"The Lord knows you've got trouble enough on hand as it is, without
digging up something that belongs to the has-beens."
"I know, but justice is justice," was the decisive rejoinder. "The
question is still a live one, as the complaint of the grievance
committee proves. If I dodge, my refusal to investigate will be used
against us in the labor trouble which you say is brewing. I'm not going
to dodge, McCloskey."
The contortions of the trainmaster's homely features indicated an inward
struggle of the last-resort nature. When he had reached a conclusion he
spat it out.
"You haven't asked my advice, Mr. Lidgerwood, but here it is anyway.
Flemister, the owner of the Wire-Silver mine over in Timanyoni Park, was
the president of that building and loan outfit. He and Hallock are at
daggers drawn, for some reason that I've never understood. If you could
get them together, perhaps they could make some sort of a statement that
would quiet the kickers for the time being, at any rate."
Lidgerwood looked up quickly. "That's odd," he said. "No longer ago than
yesterday, Gridley suggested precisely the same thing."
McCloskey was on his feet again and fumbling behind him for the
"I'm all in," he grimaced. "When it comes to figuring with Gridley and
Flemister and Hallock all in the same breath, I'm done."
Lidgerwood made a memorandum on his desk calendar to take the building
and loan matter up with Hallock the following day. But another wreck
intervened, and after the wreck a conference with the Red Butte
mine-owners postponed all office business for an additional twenty-four
hours. It was late in the evening of the third day when the
superintendent's special steamed home from the west, and Lidgerwood, who
had dined in his car, went directly to his office in the Crow's Nest.
He had scarcely settled himself at his desk for an attack upon the
accumulation of mail when Benson came in. It was a trouble call, and the
young engineer's face advertised it.
"It's no use talking, Lidgerwood," he began, "I can't do business on
this railroad until you have killed off some of the thugs and
Lidgerwood flung the paper-knife aside and whirled his chair to face the
"What is the matter now, Jack?" he snapped.
"Oh, nothing much--when you're used to it; only about a thousand
dollars' worth of dimension timber gone glimmering. That's all."
"Tell it out," rasped the superintendent. The mine-owners' conference,
from which he had just returned, had been called to protest against the
poor service given by the railroad, and knowing his present inability to
give better service, he had temporized until it needed but this one more
touch of the lash to make him lose his temper hopelessly.
"It's the Gloria bridge," said Benson. "We had the timbers all ready to
pull out the old and put in the new, and the shift was to be made to-day
between trains. Last night every stick of the new stock disappeared."
Lidgerwood was not a profane man, but what he said to Benson in the
coruscating minute or two which followed resolved itself into a very
fair imitation of profanity, inclusive and world-embracing.
"And you didn't have wit enough to leave a watchman on the job!" he
chafed--this by way of putting an apex to the pyramid of objurgation.
"By heavens! this thing has got to stop, Benson. And it's going to stop,
if we have to call out the State militia and picket every cursed mile of
this rotten railroad!"
"Do it," said Benson gruffly, "and when it's done you notify me and I'll
come back to work." And with that he tramped out, and was too angry to
remember to close the door.
Lidgerwood turned back to his desk, savagely out of humor with Benson
and with himself, and raging inwardly at the mysterious thieves who were
looting the company as boldly as an invading army might. At this, the
most inauspicious moment possible, his eye fell upon the calendar
memorandum, "See Hallock about B/L.," and his finger was on the chief
clerk's bell-push before he remembered that it was late, and that there
had been no light in Hallock's room when he had come down the corridor
to his own door.
The touch of the push-button was only a touch, and there was no
answering skirl of the bell in the adjoining room. But, as if the
intention had evoked it, a shadow crossed behind the superintendent's
chair and came to rest at the end of the roll-top desk. Lidgerwood
looked up with his eyes aflame. It was Hallock who was standing at the
desk's end, and he was pointing to the memorandum on the calendar pad.
"You made that note three days ago," he said abruptly. "I saw your train
come in and your light go on. What bill of lading was it you wanted to
see me about?"
For an instant Lidgerwood failed to understand. Then he saw that in
abbreviating he had unconsciously used the familiar sign, "B/L," the
common abbreviation of "bill of lading." At another time he would have
turned Hallock's very natural mistake into an easy introduction to a
rather delicate subject. But now he was angry.
"Sit down," he rapped out. "That isn't 'bill of lading'; it's 'building
Hallock dragged the one vacant chair into the circle illuminated by the
shaded desk-electric, and sat on the edge of it, with his hands on his
knees. "Well?" he said, in the grating voice that was so curiously like
"We can cut out the details," this from the man who, under other
conditions, would have gone diplomatically into the smallest details.
"Some years ago you were the treasurer of the Mesa Building and Loan
Association. When the association went out of business, its books
showed a cash balance in the treasury. What became of the money?"
Hallock sat as rigid as a carved figure flanking an Egyptian propylon,
which his attitude suggested. He was silent for a time, so long a time
that Lidgerwood burst out impatiently, "Why don't you answer me?"
"I was just wondering if it is worth while for you to throw me
overboard," said the chief clerk, speaking slowly and quite without
heat. "You are needing friends pretty badly just now, if you only knew
it, Mr. Lidgerwood."
The cool retort, as from an equal in rank, added fresh fuel to the fire.
"I'm not buying friends with concessions to injustice and crooked
dealing," Lidgerwood exploded. "You were in the railroad service when
the money was paid over to you, and you are in the railroad service now.
I want to know where the money went."
"It is none of your business, Mr. Lidgerwood," said the carved figure
with the gloomy eyes that never blinked.
"By heavens! I'm making it my business, Hallock! These men who were
robbed say that you are an embezzler, a thief. If you are not, you've
got to clear yourself. If you are, you can't stay in the Red Butte
service another day: that's all."
Again there was a silence surcharged with electric possibilities.
Lidgerwood bit the end from a cigar and lost three matches before he
succeeded in lighting it. Hallock sat perfectly still, but the sallow
tinge in his gaunt face had given place to a stony pallor. When he
spoke, it was still without anger.
"I don't care a damn for your chief clerkship," he said calmly, "but for
reasons of my own I am not ready to quit on such short notice. When I am
ready, you won't have to discharge me. Upon what terms can I stay?"
"I've stated them," said the one who was angry. "Discharge your trust;
make good in dollars and cents, or show cause why you were caught with
an empty cash-box."
For the first time in the interview the chief clerk switched the stare
of the gloomy eyes from the memorandum desk calendar, and fixed it upon
"You seem to take it for granted that I was the only grafter in the
building and loan business," he objected. "I wasn't; on the contrary, I
was only a necessary cog in the wheel. Somebody had to make the
deductions from the pay-rolls, and----"
"I'm not asking you to make excuses," stormed Lidgerwood. "I'm telling
you that you've got to make good! If the money was used legitimately,
you, or some of your fellow-officers in the company, should be able to
show it. If the others left you to hold the bag, it is due to yourself,
to the men who were held up, and to me, that you set yourself straight.
Go to Flemister--he was your president, wasn't he?--and get him to make
a statement that I can show to the grievance committee. That will let
you out, and me, too."
Hallock stood up and leaned over the desk end. His saturnine face was a
mask of cold rage, but his eyes were burning.
"If I thought you knew what you're saying," he began in the grating
voice, "but you don't--you can't know!" Then, with a sudden break in
the fierce tone: "Don't send me to Flemister for my clearance--don't do
it, Mr. Lidgerwood. It's playing with fire. I didn't steal the money;
I'll swear it on a stack of Bibles a mile high. Flemister will tell you
so if he is paid his price. But you don't want me to pay the price. If I
"Go on," said Lidgerwood, frowning, "if you do, what then?"
Hallock leaned still farther over the desk end.
"If I do, you'll get what you are after--and a good deal more. Again I
am going to ask you if it is worth while to throw me overboard."
Lidgerwood was still angry enough to resent this advance into the field
of the personalities.
"You've had my last word, Hallock, and all this talk about consequences
that you don't explain is beside the mark. Get me that statement from
Flemister, and do it soon. I am not going to have it said that we are
fighting graft in one place and covering it up in another."
Hallock straightened up and buttoned his coat.
"I'll get you the statement," he said, quietly; "and the consequences
won't need any explaining." His hand was on the door-knob when he
finished saying it, and Lidgerwood had risen from his chair. There was a
pause, while one might count five.
"Well?" said the superintendent.
"I was thinking again," said the man at the door. "By all the rules of
the game--the game as it is played here in the desert--I ought to be
giving you twenty-four hours to get out of gunshot, Mr. Lidgerwood.
Instead of that I am going to do you a service. You remember that
operator, Rufford, that you discharged a few days ago?"
"Bart Rufford, his brother, the 'lookout' at Red Light's place, has
invited a few of his friends to take notice that he intends to kill you.
You can take it straight. He means it. And that was what brought me up
here to-night--not that memorandum on your desk calendar."
For a long time after the door had jarred to its shutting behind
Hallock, Lidgerwood sat at his desk, idle and abstractedly thoughtful.
Twice within the interval he pulled out a small drawer under the
roll-top and made as if he would take up the weapon it contained, and
each time he closed the drawer to break with the temptation to put the
pistol into his pocket.
Later, after he had forced himself to go to work, a door slammed
somewhere in the despatcher's end of the building, and automatically his
hand shot out to the closed drawer. Then he made his decision and
carried it out. Taking the nickel-plated thing from its hiding-place,
and breaking it to eject the cartridges, he went to the end door of the
corridor, which opened into the unused space under the rafters, and
flung the weapon to the farthest corner of the dark loft.
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