Alex the Great
by H. C. Witwer
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No—easier! Because you gotta climb Pike's Peak before you can fall off. You may be a guy like Hector Sells, which started life with a straight flush, and played it like it was a pair of deuces. If somebody hadn't peeped over his shoulder, seen what he held and played it for him, Hector would still be thinkin' that the only guy in the world drawin' over twenty bucks a week was J. P. Morgan. As it is, Hector has $2.75 right now for every wave in the ocean, and when you go to see him, you become acquainted with all the office boys in the world.

Here's the answer.

One night after dinner the wife and I are provin' to each other that the road of true love is rough and full of detours, when they's a ring at the bell. We practised self-denial and laid off scrappin' long enough for friend wife to open the door. I made a bet with myself and win easy. In comes Alex.

"Huh!" he says. "Is they an argument goin' on here again?"

"You said it!" I tells him. "Come on in, you're just in time. We'll make it three-handed!"

"I don't know why you got married when you're always quarrelin'," he says, sittin' down.

"That ain't all you don't know!" I says.

"Kindly lay off my cousin," says the wife. "They ain't no use in showin' the world that I have married a brute!"

With that she presses four dollars' worth of Irish lace against her eyes and develops a cold in the head. So the same as usual, I went over and patted her on the shoulder which was shakin' the most.

"You win, honey!" I says, with a dollar's worth of vaseline on every word. "I'll never speak another harsh word to you or Alex again. The next time I feel sarcastic, I'll go out in the kitchen and have some words with the cat. Everybody in the apartment house knows what I think of you, and I must be wild over Alex or he'd never be in this flat a second time. If—"

"Never mind the salve!" cuts in the wife. "You'd talk your way out of pneumonia!"

But they was a smile went with that—the same giggle that used to make 'em fight for standin' room in the Winter Garden. So we was all happy and carefree again, with the exception of Alex.

"You're too easy with him!" he growls to the wife, disappointed because peace had come. "If you'd punish him, he'd be a better husband."

"She does punish me somethin' cruel!" I says. "By invitin' you up every day!"

And then of course all bets was off and we all went over the top again!

In about an hour, the people in the next flat had enough, and mentioned the fact to the landlord. He let us in on it by way of the phone, and all was quiet along the Hudson again.

"I come up here to-night to tell you somethin'," says Alex.

"They's always the United States mail," I says.

"I ain't talkin' to you, I'm speakin' to Cousin Alice!" snarls Alex.

"She can read too!" I says.

"I been thinkin' this here thing over for weeks," he goes on, turnin' his chair so's I can get a good view of his back, "and I made up my mind to-day to go ahead with it."

"What is it, Alex?" asks the wife, all excited. "I know it's goin' to be somethin' wonderful!"

"You ain't gonna tell me you're gonna stop eatin' here, are you?" I says. "Because if you are, I'm gonna beat it! I heard tell of guys dyin' of joy and I ain't takin' no chances!"

"The whole trouble with you," says Alex, "is a simple case of jealousy. You was born and brung up in this rube burg called New York and the best you could do in thirty-five years was to get yourself foreman of a baseball team! I—"

"Yeh!" I butts in. "I fell down the same as Caruso. All he can do is sing!"

"I come here from Vermont," goes on Alex, now on his favorite subject, "and right off the reel I get me a ten thousand a year job, not countin' commissions, sellin' autos. Now I claim that what I did in New York can be done by anybody—and I'm here to prove it! It's just as easy to be a roarin' success in New York as it is in Paterson, N. J.—and just as hard! There's many a Charlie Chaplin sellin' groceries and many a Theodore Roosevelt carryin' bricks! In their off hours and in the privacy of their homes, them fellers is doin' for nothin', what Chaplin, Roosevelt, Dempsey and so forth got paid off on! If a man's a gambler, for instance, and he bets on a race horse, the chances are he stays up all night lookin' up the past performances of that horse and seein' just what he can do under all conditions. He studies how the horse finished on a muddy track and where he come in when the track was fast. He makes note of what the horse did under different weights and different jockeys. He watches what it does against certain other horses. Then when he thinks everything is favorable, he bets his money! He—"

"Look here, Alex!" I butts in. "Did you come all the way up here to-night to lay me on a horse race?"

"No!" he snorts, in disgust, "I come up here to lay you on yourself! If this same man that studies the dope before he bets on a horse, would study the dope on himself with the same attention to detail, before he enters the handicap of life—he'd be a winner! He wouldn't have to bet on no horses or nothin' else, because he'd be his own best bet! He'd find out what his particular ace was and play it to the limit every time! Instead of that, the average feller spends his time sittin' in the greatest game in the world—life—drawin' five cards every time and waitin' for the royal flush to be dealt him pat. He—"

"My goodness, Alex!" remarks the wife, "I didn't know you was a gambler. Where did you learn all those poker terms?"

"He once claimed casino was vicious, too!" I says.

Alex gets up and reaches for his hat.

"There ain't no use talkin' to people which has checked their brains with the hat boy!" he says. "But before I go, I wanna tell you this. Every man has got the key to his own success buried in him somewhere, and I'll bet I can take the champion dub of any given precinct and make him a winner the minute I find out where he hid his!"

"Let's go to the movies, instead of fightin' like cats and dogs," remarks the wife, puttin' on her handbag.

"Yes!" sneers Alex, "let's go to the movies and knock the leadin' man because he's gettin' $30,000 a year, and let's explain to each other how he's gettin' away with murder and ain't got a thing but his looks. That's much better than sittin' down and figurin' how we can make the same amount of money, if we—"

"Look here, Alex!" I interrupts, gettin' a trifle peeved. "You took me for eight hundred berries when you first invaded New York and, sucker like, I'm lookin' for a come-back. Are you on the level with that stuff about you bein' able to put anybody over if you get in their corner?"

"Am I on the level with it?" he says. "Why, say!—I'm goin' in the business of makin' successes outa dubs! I'm gonna take 'em one by one, put 'em over and charge a reasonable percentage for my work. I'm sick and tired of the automobile game and I'm gonna incorporate myself as Alex Hanley, S. D."

"What's the S. D. for?" I asks. "South Dakota?"

"No—Success Developer!" he says. "I ain't selfish—I put myself over and now I'm gonna put 'em all over! At the same time, as I say, I'll charge a reasonable sum for my work. Why this is bigger business than Wall Street, makin' men instead of breakin' 'em and—"

"Stop talkin' for a second, Alex," I says, "and get a new sensation! I got an idea of what that reasonable charge of yours will be, that's provided your scheme works, which it prob'ly won't. If you cause a guy to make himself twenty dollars, your fee won't exceed a hundred and fifty! You're as liberal with money as Grant's Tomb is with advice. But if you're on the level with this, I'll bet you a thousand bucks, American money, to five hundred of the same coinage, that you'll flop like a seal on your first try. They's only one thing you gotta do!"

"What is it?" he asks. He was thinkin' of them thousand bucks and his eyes sparkled till you could of hocked 'em anywheres for five hundred apiece.

"You gotta let me pick the first victim!" I says.

"Not to change the subject," remarks the wife to me, "if you got a thousand dollars for purposes of bettin', they's a ring in Tiffany's window which will come here to-morrow escorted by a C.O.D. bill. The price and one thousand dollars is the same."

"Do you think I print this money myself?" I hollers.

"I would of married you long ago if I did!" she says, smilin' sweetly.

"Think of a man mean enough to argue about money with his lovin' wife!" sneers Alex.

"If you was married," I says, "your wife would think they had stopped the circulation of all money, with the exception of nickels!"

"Ha! Ha!" he sneers, like a movie villain. "I just give Eve Rossiter an engagement ring that can be pawned for eight hundred men!"

"I think you're four flushin'," I hollers, gettin' warmed up, "but you can't hang nothin' on me! You go down to Tiffany's, honey," I tells the wife, "and get that thousand buck ring—but put up a battle for it at $750!"

The wife pulls her million-dollar smile and gimme a chaste salute, as the guy says, on the forehead. Then she opens her sea-goin' handbag and takes somethin' out.

"Here it is, dear!" she says, with the giggle that made me a married man, "I knowed you'd fall, so I got it this morning! It was only $987. Ain't I the great little buyer?"

Oh, boy!

"Well," I says to Alex, "it seems to be the open season for takin' me. Does that bet go?"

"It does!" he says, rubbin' his hands together like a crap shooter.

"And I produce the first candidate for fame and fortune?"

"Bring him on!" he grins, winkin' at the wife—a thing he knows I loathe.

We shook hands on it and I went out into the kitchen to laugh it over with the cat. I'm a soft-hearted boob and I hate to take a sucker, at that. But accordin' to my dope, that dough of friend Alex's was the same as in the bank in my name!

Now the bird I had in mind to make me win this bet from Alex was a pitcher I had on the payroll who's name was Hector Sells. He would of been just as rotten a ball player if his name had been First Base, Center Field or Short Stop. He could do everything in the world with a baseball, with the slight exception of gettin' it over the plate, and, when he pitched, his main difficulty was keepin' the pill outa left field. In the seven years he had been stealin' wages from my club his twirlin' percentage read like the thermometer in Alaska and when he come to bat, as far as he ever found out, first base was in Berlin. I put him on the third base coachin' line one afternoon and he tries to send a runner back to second when the batter triples. I tried this guy out at every position on the team and he made so many errors that the official scorers went out and bought addin' machines every time he appeared in the line-up. If they was anything on earth connected with the game of baseball that Hector could do, he never showed it to me, and puttin' a uneyform on him was the same as givin' a blind man a pair of opera glasses.

Yet with all this, that guy thought he was the greatest baseball player that ever laid hold of a glove. He not only thought it, he conceded it.

For the past year, Hector had played out the schedule from the dugout, with the exception of six games he pitched against the Athletics. He lost an even six. I sent him to every flag station in North America where they looked on baseball as a game, and Hector would come back at the end of the season with his suit case jammed full of unconditional releases. Him and pneumonia was just as easy to get rid of as far as I was concerned and we started off every season with Hector in our midst.

Three winters in succession I loaned that guy enough dough to set himself up in business, so's he'd lay off me and watch the pastime from the grandstand. He lost a cigar store shootin' craps, a pool room bettin' with the customers and a delicatessen because he eat all the stock himself. I got him a job on the road sellin' sportin' goods, and the only thing he sold all year was a pitcher's glove at $1.25. He bought that himself.

Now the thing is—why did I keep a guy like that on my club for the lengthy space of seven years? The newspaper birds claimed Hector had seen me murder somebody or somethin', because they says I wouldn't let him in a ball park with a ticket, if he didn't have somethin' on me that must be kept from the world at any price. Well, it wasn't nothin' like that—but it was somethin' just as good, as the grocer says. Me and Hector was kids together in the same ward, and when we started out to dumfound the world, he had a bankroll which his beloved father left him and I had nothin' but freckles. I practically lived off that guy till me and real money became well acquainted, so I couldn't see him get the worst of it now. It would of broke his heart if he ever got shoved outa organized baseball—he was a maniac about the game! So Hector drawed his dough every season, come what may—and at that I was doin' no more than he did for me.

I managed to keep him busy in some way about the park—always with a uneyform on—and now and then I let him pitch an innin' when we had the game locked away in the safe deposit vault. In all the seven years, he never missed a single day showin' up at the park and he was the rottenest ball player that ever stood under a shower. Them was Hector's two records!

Well, I dragged Alex out to the ball park the next day and pointed out Hector to him. We was playin' St. Looey and along around the sixth innin' we had the game sewed up so tight that they couldn't of won it in a raffle. I took out Harmon and sent Hector in to pitch.

"Gaze over this bird carefully, Alex!" I says, "because he's the baby you're gonna pay off on! I claim you are now peerin' at the champion dub of the world. If you can make a winner outa him or discover what he has failed to develop that would make him one, I'll not only pay my end of our bet with a grin, but I'll throw in a weddin' chest of silver for you and Eve Rossiter!"

"Write that down!" says Alex; "and sign your full name to it!"

"You don't think I'd welsh on you, do you?" I says, gettin' sore.

"I don't know if they's enough ink in this or not," he answers, handin' me a fountain pen. "Write it on the back of this card."

When the crowd sees Hector strollin' out to the box, they give him his usual reception, which was the same as the Kaiser would have got if he'd walked down Broadway along in April, 1917. The first guy up for St. Looey hit a roller through the box and Hector stood on his left shoulder tryin' to pick it up. The runner only got as far as second before Hector arose. The next guy put a neat round hole in the right field fence, makin' it two runs. Well, before it was three out they had got four more and the only guy connected with the St. Looey team that didn't get a hit was the owner. They only quit slammin' the pill because they had batted themselves sick and could no longer stagger up to the plate.

Hector comes to bat in the next innin' with the bases as full as a miner on pay night. He lets two go by, right in the slot, and he fell down skinnin' his nose, swingin' at the next for the third and last strike.

I removed him by hand and sent in a ball player to pitch the rest of the game.

"Well, Alex," I says on the way home, "what do you think of your patient?"

"Is he as bad as that every day?" he asks me.

"No," I says. "He was Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson to-day, alongside of what he usually is!"

"Hmmph!" grunts Alex. "I can see he ain't a ball player, anyway."

"You been readin' 'Sherlock Holmes,'" I says.

"Baseball ain't everything!" declares Alex, rubbin' his nose. "And the point we have to consider is—what can he do?"

"That's easy!" I says. "How much is seven from seven?"

"Why—nothin'," says Alex.

"That's Hector!" I says.

With that I told him Hector's pedigree from the time he crossed my path when an infant, to date. I left out nothin' and laid it on good and thick. I explained how Hector had been the world's most consistent failure from the time he had been introduced as "It's a boy!" up to the time of writin' and when I got all through, Alex grins like a wolf.

"A most promisin' case!" he says. "This here's somethin' that's gonna put me on my mettle, right at the start. The tougher a thing looks, the more appetizin' it strikes me! Now I'll take it for granted that this man's got no strong points. All right—that's nothin' but a detail! You've told me a lot of hard things about him, but you ain't said he ain't human—and if he's human he's got a weakness! A well-developed weakness in a man has often been turned into glitterin' gold. Does he drink?"

"Let's save time," I says. "Hector don't know whether whiskey and beer is drinks, or the battery for to-day's game. He couldn't tell you offhand whether tobacco was a thing to chew and smoke or the latest fox trot. The only woman he ever met twice was his mother, and he thinks sayin' 'Darnation!' in earnest is the same as homocide. His only love is baseball and his only weakness is his stomach!"

"Aha!" says Alex. "I knew we'd get at it! He's fond of food, eh?"

"Fond of it?" I says. "Why, this guy can do more things with a steak than Edison can do with a pint of electricity! He took me to a dinner he cooked himself one night and the only thing I recognized on the table was the water. Everything was fixed up after his own recipes and at the drop of a hat he can tell you how many of them calories and proteins they is in a pea!"

"That's enough!" hollers Alex. "He's as good as over right now! He simply picked the wrong trade when he took up baseball, and I'll get him a job as chef in one of the famous hotels so—"

"Don't make me laugh!" I cuts him off. "Would I of bet you, if it was as easy as that? They ain't a chance on earth—I thought of that years ago. Hector wouldn't boil water for money—he only cooks that stuff up for himself. He—"

"A true artist, eh?" says Alex, kinda thoughtful. "That makes it all the better! Bring him up for dinner to-morrow night and let me study him. In a week I'll collect that little bet from you and then I'll be ready to take on the next case."

"You certainly stand well with yourself, don't you?" I sneers. "Well, lemme give you a little tip. Don't try to get that bird to give up baseball, because they ain't a Chinaman's chance of that! The only chance you got is to put him over as a ball player, and if you can do that, I can sell electric fans to the Esquimaux!"

"Bring him up to-morrow night," says Alex, grinnin' like a wolf. "This looks like a cinch to me!"

I went to Hector in the clubhouse the next afternoon. He had had a hard day playin' the White Sox—from the bench.

"Where are you goin' to-night?" I asks him.

He flushes up a bit.

"Well, Mac," he says, "I have finally found a joint where they know how to cook 'em without abusin' 'em and I was figurin' on goin' there first, so—"

"Cook what?" I butts in.

"Alligator pears!" he says. "Y'know they is a lot of nourishment in them babies when they're properly prepared and—"

"You'll be around at that beanery to-morrow night!" I shuts him off. "To-night you're comin' up and have dinner with me."

He gets one shade redder.

"Why," he stammers, "Ahumph! That—er—that's terrible fine of you, Mac, but on the level, I—y'know this place is the only one in New York where they can cook them things and I'm a hound after them! I—"

"Come on!" I says. "We're gonna give the subway a play. The wife's expectin' you and I got a friend that's crazy to meet you. Are you gonna throw me down?"

He backs away and ruffles his hair.

"Mac," he says, "I'll have dinner with you to-night on one condition!"

"Shoot!" I says.

"Well, Mac," he tells me, "they ain't no doubt in my mind that your wife is some cook, but if I'm gonna eat this stuff—I—well, I demand the privilege of cookin' it!"

"Where d'ye get that stuff?" I says. "Why—"

"Lemme do this, Mac," he says, "and you'll never regret it. I can hang it on any chef in New York for money and you'll eat the greatest meal you ever got outside of in your life!"

Well, this was new stuff to me, but I figured I was gonna get five hundred bucks outa it by way of Alex, so I fell.

"All right!" I says. "Come up and cook your head off. I'm game! But if you're as good a cook as you are a ball player, I can see where me and the wife suspends friendly relations for about a year!"

Alex is already on hand when we get to the house and I introduced him to Hector.

"Howdy!" he says. "I seen you pitch the other day and I must say it was a treat! The support they give you was brutal or you'd of shut them other fellers out with ease."

"You know it!" says Hector. "If they's any one thing I can do, it's play baseball. That's my dish!"

The wife horns in.

"I'm so glad to meet you, Mister Sells," she says, givin' Hector the old oil. "My husband talks of nothin' but you night and day!"

Which was true—only not the way she meant it.

"That's fine!" says Hector. "Me and Mac has been friends since they burnt Rome. Where's the kitchen?"

I showed him, and the wife shakes her head as much as to say, "Another rummy, eh?" I steered Hector over to the ice box and told him to go ahead and run wild. When I come out, Alex is featurin' his famous grin, and I gotta show the wife my breath. In about ten minutes the kitchen door opens and Hector's head pops out. His hands is full of flour and so's his suit for that matter, but his face is all lit up like Coney Island.

"I don't wanna be no bother, Mrs. Mac," he pipes, "but could a man get a apron around here?"

We got him inside of some gingham, and he disappeared into the kitchen again.

"Where d'ye get them birds?" says the wife, noddin' after him.

"Sssh!" says Alex. "That feller there is gonna make us all rich before the month is over! We'll have more money than we can count and—"

"Oh, won't that be grand!" says the wife, who'd believe Alex if he told her Missouri started the war. "Then I can have everything I want."

"I thought that happened when you got me," I says.

"Still," she sighs, payin' me no attention as usual, "money ain't everything."

"No," says Alex, "but it'll get it!"

"We always was used to money," goes on the wife, gettin' kinda doped under the influence of the sweet and savory odors which was comin' from the kitchen. "You know, Alex, that our family was connected with the best people in Vermont."

"They ain't got a thing on a telephone operator," I says. "They get connected with the best people in the United States every day!"

I don't get a tumble from either of them.

"There was Great-uncle Ed," proceeds the wife, kinda dreamy. "If he hadn't died so sudden, he'd of been worth a million."

I tried my luck again.

"That's the one that turned out to be a carbolic acid fiend, ain't it?" I says.

At this point, the greatest meal that ever played a date at our flat, come outa the kitchen escorted by Hector. One whiff of that layout and the greatest chef in the world would of gone out and bought a revolver. Hector is nothin' but smiles.

"Give this a whirl!" he says. "And lemme know what you think of it. I didn't have much to work with—only lamb chops, vegetables and the like, but I did what I could."

Oh, boy!—that was some feed! Conversation lagged a bit for about half a hour, while we fell to and demolished this stuff, and Hector swells up like a human yeast cake under the kind words that come his way. Finally, we had to quit eatin' for lack of further accommodations and the wife tells Hector that they ain't no doubt about it, as a cook he wins the garage.

"Oh, that's nothin'," he says; gettin' an attack of modesty. "I'm kinda fussy about my food and I been figurin' out different ways of cookin' up stuff to get the best outa it, for years. That's the only amusement I got. I ain't so much as a cook, but you oughta see me play ball, heh, Mac?"

The old glitter comes into Alex's eyes.

"I seen you play ball, Mister Sells," he says, "and you are a knockout! But what you just said about food interests me more. I'm kinda odd regardin' vittles myself and what I seen in the paper to-day has got me worried sick."

"What was that?" says Hector.

"Well," says Alex, "there's gonna be a fearful shortage of all kinds of meats and vegetables, because all the available food in the U. S. is about to be seized for the army. This time next year we'll all prob'ly be livin' on bread and water and lucky to get it!"

Hector gets as white as precipitated chalk.

"You don't mean it!" he gasps, gettin' half outa his chair.

"It's a fact," says Alex. "I was only readin' it this mornin'."

I thought Hector was gonna fall dead at our feet.

"But—but what am I gonna do?" he says, kinda dazed.

"What are you gonna do?" I sneers. "What are we all gonna do?"

"You don't get me!" he says. "It's all well enough for you guys which can eat common ordinary food like ham and eggs and steaks and chops, but I can't go that stuff! All the time I ain't out at the ball park I'm experimentin' with different kinds of stuff to eat, and if they go to work and shut off all them rare vegetables and so forth on me—well, I don't eat, that's all!"

He gets up and reaches for his hat.

"Well," says Alex, "I can see that you and me is pretty much alike. I can't eat porterhouse steaks and French lamb chops as a steady diet, either! My stomach craves them rare dishes the same as yours does, and it sure looks like you and me is gonna starve to death when this food conservation thing goes through!"

Hector slaps his hands together and squares his jaw.

"I ain't gonna starve!" he says. "They has got to be 1,500 calories and a amount of proteins in proportion go into my system every day. Not only that, its gotta be in a tasty form! I'm gonna go home and figure this thing out so's I'll be took care of when the government grabs off all the food supplies. They must be somethin' a man can do! Good night, folks—and thanks for the use of the kitchen."

With that he blows.

"I think he's a nut!" remarks the wife, when the hall door bangs.

"Leave him be!" says Alex, rubbin' his hands together, a habit that gets my goat. "I got him started now and—"

"Say!" I says. "I didn't see nothin' in no paper about the government gonna seize all the eats. I think you was kiddin' Hector, myself!"

"You didn't see the Civil War, either, did you?" says Alex. "I suppose you don't believe that, eh? I told you I was gonna put this feller over and if you'll leave me be, I will! I told you every man had an ace buried somewhere, didn't I? Well, Hector's ace is his mad infatuation for his stomach. He's never played it yet, because there's been no reason to do so. As long as he had the money, he could buy the stuff and hash it up in any way his peculiar tastes desired. Once he thinks he can't do that, he'll put all he's got under his hat into findin' a way to get all them proteins and calories he wants. I've given him somethin' he never had before—an incentive—and—"

"What do you figure Hector's gonna do to startle the world?" I says.

"Search me!" says Alex, grinnin', "but we'll all get paid off on whatever it is, you can gamble on that!"

The wife sniffs.

"I never heard tell of no man that couldn't eat porterhouse steaks!" she says.

"I seen a lot of them to-day," says Alex, puttin' on his coat.

"Where?" asks the wife.

"I was passin' the Evergreen Cemetery!" says Alex. "Good night, all!"

The next day, Hector comes to me before the game and you never seen such a change in a guy in your life! He looked like he hadn't slept a wink since they buried Washington and he's as nervous as a steam drill.

"Mac," he says, "I wanna ask two favors off of you, the first I asked in a long while."

"Shoot, Hector!" I tells him. "You know I can deny you nothin'."

"I want a week off and the loan of five hundred bucks," he says.

"I'll tell you," I says. "Take two weeks off and forget about the five hundred, heh?"

"No, Mac—I gotta have the dough!" he says. "With what I got saved up, I figure it'll be ample."

"Ample for what?" I asks.

"I can't tell no man nothin' about it now," he answers, "but when I come back from my vacation, I'll let you in on it. I don't like to say this, Mac—but when I was slippin' it to you, I never asked whether you wanted it to get a hair cut with or to try and put Wall Street on the bum. If—"

"That's enough!" I cuts him off, takin' out the roll. "Here you are, Hector—and if you want any more they's plenty of it where that come from!"

They was—in the mint.

When Hector had put some distance between himself and the ball park, I begin to think the thing over. If he did pull any startlin' stunt, I stood to lose a thousand bucks, not countin' the weddin' gift, to Alex. They was five hundred more I'd invested right then, makin' fifteen hundred in all, which I considered was gettin' into money. For all I knowed, Hector and Alex might be framin' me and they ain't no man livin' who loves bein' a sucker.

I decided right then and there to shoot another nickel on the thing and I called up the Ryan Detective Agency. Mike Ryan had been a friend of me and Hector since we'd been in baseball. I told him the whole layout and asked for a report on the activities of Hector the followin' day, if possible.

It was three days before I seen Ryan's report. He give it to me himself by mouth.

"Say!" he says. "This Hector bird has gone nutty, and I suppose bein' friends of his, you and me had better have him put away where he can't do himself no violence."

"What's he doin'?" I asks.

"Well," says Ryan, "I'll give you the dope since he left the ball park on Monday. The first thing he does is go to the bank and draw out every nickel he's got. Then he moves from the hotel to Cereal Crossin', N. J. This burg casts eleven votes for president every four years and they all work on the same farm. Hector hires a shack away out in the middle of the woods there and, from then on, boxes and crates begins to arrive for him from everywheres but Brazil. I met up with a Secret Service guy who had dropped in to get a line on what kinda bombs Hector was makin' before pinchin' him, and we went through this express stuff durin' the night. The first crate we tackled contained all the glassware in the world of a medical nature. They was bottles, test tubes, bowls and all the stuff usual found in a practical anarchist's workshop. After the first peep, the Secret Service guy wanted to run right over and fit Hector with iron bracelets, but I got him to hold off long enough to look over the rest of the stuff. We went through every box and what d'ye think we found in 'em?"

"I wasn't there," I says. "Tell me."

"Well," says Ryan, grinnin', "when all this stuff was assembled, it would make a first class delicatessen shop and that's all! They was meats, cheese, olive oil, fish, vegetables, pickles, mustard and about fifteen other eatables I never seen or heard tell of before in my life! We busted a lot of it open, lookin' for explosives, but they was all on the level. Why, that bird's got enough stuff down there to keep him in food for the rest of his life!"

I bust out laughin'.

"Ha, ha!" I says. "That's it! The poor fathead went and fell for that bunk Alex handed him and he's gone and laid in that stuff so's he won't starve when the government seizes the food supplies. Can you tie that?"

"I always thought he was a little queer," says Ryan. "Especially when he claims he's a ball player. Let's get him in some nice, private sanitarium somewheres and I'll split the bill with you."

"Leave him alone!" I says. "I'll take care of this myself. If he stays there long enough, I gotta chance to win a piece of money and—"

"All right!" says Ryan. "It ain't no milk outa my coffee, but that bird oughta be under lock and key!"

I could hardly wait to tell Alex about Hector's first step towards success. I rung him up immediately and give him the dope, windin' up by askin' when he'd be ready to pay me off.

"Pay you off?" he says. "Save that comedy for Cousin Alice! Just you leave Hector be now; from what you tell me everything's goin' fine and—"

"Goin' fine?" I hollers. "When that poor simp buries himself in Jersey with all the food in the world, do you call that makin' good?"

"Gimme a week!" says Alex. "He said he'd be back then, and if he ain't shown somethin' by that time, you get the check."

"Fair enough!" I says, "and have it certified."

The followin' Monday night, Alex as usual is honorin' me and the wife with his presence at dinner. I was in such good humor that I didn't as much as wince when he calls for another piece of roast beef, makin' an even eight. Hector had failed to appear as advertised and the noted Success Developer had promised to pay me off before he left. They was a ring at the bell and the wife ushers in Hector, ruinin' the night for me!

"I would of reported at the ball park this afternoon like I promised," he says, "only I was in a burg where the only time a train ever stopped there was when one went off the track."

I hardly knowed it was the same Hector which went away the week before. His cheeks was filled out past the legal limit and he had a color that would make an insurance company let him write his own policy. He was Alfred Q. Health—that's all!

"I'm sorry to see you people eatin' the flesh of the cow, roasted in an unscientific manner," he says. "One slab of that is shy just forty-eight calories and they's more proteins in a filetted bean!" He reaches in his pocket and pulls out a little package. "If I can draw up a chair here," he says, "I'll have dinner with you."

"I'll get another plate," says the wife, "and some coffee—"

"Not a thing!" says Hector. "I got mine with me!" With that he unwraps the package and pulls out a thing about the size of a deck of cards. I thought at first it was a razor hone, but Hector bites into it. "Just a glass of water," he says, "though with this a man don't even need that!"

Alex bounces outa his chair and gimme the laugh.

"What's that?" he hollers at Hector.

"That," says Hector, "is the last word in calories, protein and nourishment! It contains each and every juice and sustainin' part of all meats and vegetables known to man, with a little glutein invention of my own combined. It has got it forty ways on all other patent foods, because it's not only nourishin', it's so darned tasty that once you eat it you get the habit, like dope or somethin', and you can't eat anything else! It'll keep forever without ice or preservatives. You don't need liquids with it, it supplies its own juices. It's got a kick like booze and they ain't no alcohol in it. I invented it and I been livin' on it all week. Look me over and—"

"Gimme a bite!" yells Alex.

He grabs this weird lookin' slab of gue and takes a mouthful.

"Oh, lady!" he hollers. "They's just two things I wanna know. What does it cost to make this stuff, and will it stand scientific tests?"

"It costs about two cents a square, roughly speakin'," says Hector, "and it'll stand any test in the world! Three of them things is the day's food for a healthy man and—"

"Will you lend me one for two days?" asks Alex, reachin' for his coat and hat.

Hector pulls out another package.

"Sure!" he says. "I brung one along for you, because you claimed you was the same as me when it come to—"

But Alex and the trick cake of collapsible food was gone!

He showed up at the ball park the end of the week, when Hector was pitchin' against the Red Sox. They got seven runs off him in the second innin' and I was just yankin' him out, when Alex come runnin' down to the dugout.

"Hector!" he hollers. "You're a rich man! No more baseball for yours—why, you can buy a team if you want it and—"

"I thought you claimed you never drank," I says.

"What is your friend ravin' about?" inquires Hector.

Alex answers by shovin' a pink slip of paper into his hands. It was the first check for fifty thousand bucks I ever seen in my life and it was signed by the secretary of the U. S. treasury!

"Why—what kinda stuff is this?" mutters Hector, turnin' the check over and over. "It's made out to me! Why—who—where—who give you—"

"It's all yours!" says Alex, rubbin' his hands together and displayin' all his back teeth. "I took your food to Washington and got the government experts to try it out. They been lookin' for a one-piece ration for the army. They wanted somethin' cheap, palatable and nourishin' that the men would take to. They was after a food that could be easily packed and shipped. They give your food every possible test and accepted it. That fifty thousand is only a first payment—we still got four hundred and fifty thousand comin' for the invention and—"

"My Gawd!" gasps Hector. "They give up all this money for that?"

"Sure!" rattles on Alex. "And all you gotta do is go to the laboratory they're gonna build and show 'em how to make it. We still got four hundred and—"

"Where d'ye get that we stuff?" I butts in, seein' my bet with Alex goin' south. "Hector put that over and—"

"And I put him over!" says Alex. "I'm the young feller that showed him where his ace was! I therefore take one thousand dollars from you, with that weddin' chest of silver, and I'll only charge Hector ten per cent of his profits, as he was my first patient. I—"

"Let's git outa here!" pipes Hector hoarsely. "Think of me with fifty thousand berries and more on the fire!"

Well, we all met at the flat the next afternoon to celebrate. The wife suggested a theatre party with all that goes with it, and I was lookin' over the papers to pick out a good show. Alex is walkin' up and down the room, rubbin' them hands of his together.

"Well, well, well!" he says, slappin' Hector on the back. "To think that the days of slavery is all over! No more reportin' at the ball park every day, no more spring training no more watchin' 'em hit and run. That must be great after seven years of havin' to see it and—"

"Yeh!" mumbles Hector, kinda glum. He's all dressed up like a broken arm and takin' it just as hard.

"Well," I says, "where will we go? We got all the shows in New York to pick from and—"

"Get one that will give Mister Sells a chance to really relax and enjoy himself," says the wife. "Somethin' that will allow him to forget his former—"

"Why not ask Hector?" says Alex. "Where would you like to go, Mister Sells?"

Hector gets up and fumbles with his hat.

"Say!" he says. "Let's all go out and see the ball game, heh?"



Listen! If you ever wake up some mornin' with an idea for something new—whether it's a soup, a vaudeville act or a religion—and you expect to cash on it, go to the nearest hardware store and ask the guy behind the counter how much he'll take for all the locks in the joint. Take 'em at any price and fasten 'em on the door of the safe where you keep the idea—the same bein' your mouth—and then throw the keys in any good, deep river!

If the inventors of stud poker, movin' pictures, the alligator pear, pneumonia and so forth had gone around talkin' about them things before they got 'em patented they never would of took in a nickel on their idea, but their friends would be draggin' down the royalties yet! The minute you tip another guy to your stunt it's yours and his both. He mightn't mean to steal your stuff, but he can't help himself. The more he thinks about it, the better he likes it, and it ain't long before he gets believin' it was his idea anyways and where do you get off by claimin' you thought of it?

I admit freely that you can't cash on your scheme unless you get it before the world, but the thing is to wait till you got it covered with so many copyrights and patents that not even the James Boys could steal it and then tell 'em all at once!

If Edgar Simmons had of did that, he'd be a rich millionaire to-day instead of havin' to cut his winnin's with Alex. Edgar had an idea, and he didn't know what to do with it.

Alex did!

The wife and I is sittin' down to the evenin' meal one night, when the telephone rings. Only one of us got up.

"Hello!" I says.

"Hello!" is the answer. "This is Alex. What would you say to me runnin' up there to supper to-night?"

"Nothin'," I answers. "I see where they was a guy got pinched only last week for swearin' over the phone!"

"Look here!" he says, kinda peeved. "Do you want me to come up there to-night or don't you?"

"Don't you!" I says.

"They's plenty of places where they would be glad to have me to dinner," he snarls. "Places that is just as good as yours!"

"How do you know how good they are?" I says. "You ain't never tried no dinners nowheres else but up here."

"They ain't no man can keep me from seein' my cousin!" he says. "Tell Alice I'll be right up!"

I hung up the phone.

"Well," I says to the wife, "I got bad news for you."

"Who was it?" she asks, droppin' the knittin' layout on the floor.

"That trick relative of yours," I tells her. "He's comin' up here for dinner again, so I guess I'll go down to the corner and play a little pinochle."

"You ought to be the weather man," says the wife, "you're such a rotten guesser! You ain't goin' nowheres. You're gonna stay here and help entertain Alex."

"Entertain him?" I says. "What d'ye think I am—a trained seal or somethin'?"

"Don't kid yourself!" she says. "You ain't even makin' the money I could get with a trained seal! You gotta stop this pinochle thing—you don't see Alex wastin' his time playin' pinochle with a lotta loafers!"

"You bet you don't!" I comes back. "You'll never see Alex playin' no game where they's a chance of the other guy winnin'! He wouldn't bet zero was cold! And don't be callin' my friends loafers—every one of them guys is successful business men!"

"That mob you hid out in here one night looked like a lotta plumbers to me!" she says. "Any man who sits up half the night playin' cards is a loafer!"

"One of them loafers I while away my time with lives in the next flat," I says, "and the dumbwaiter door is wide open."

"I don't care," says the wife, flushin' all up. "Let him hear me!"

"I ain't stoppin' him," I says. "But you don't want it to get rumored all over New York that you and me is quarrelin', do you?"

The wife's answer is nothin'. She walks over to the window and looks out on Manhattan, doin' a soft shoe dance with one toe on the floor. If bein' good lookin' was water, she'd be Niagara Falls. You've seen her picture many a time on a can of massage cream—which she never touched in her life! The label claims it was this stuff that put her over, but she don't know whether rouge is for red cheeks or measles. They ain't a day goes by without some movie company pesterin' her to sign up, and she can write her own ticket when it comes to salary. Well, I'm in dutch again, but I don't care! This here knockout is wed to me, and they ain't nothin' can give me the blues!

"Listen!" I says. "Honey, we only been wed ten years—and here we are scrappin' already!"

She turns on the weeps and I'm across the floor like a startled rabbit. We come to terms in about five minutes, and as far as a disinterested stranger could of seen, everything is O.K. again.

"Well," I says, finally, "you ain't mad at me no more, heh, honey?"

She wags her head, no.

"We got that all settled, heh?" I says.

Her head is on my shoulder and why shouldn't it be, and she says yes.

They is a pause. To bust it up, I coughs.

"If that pest Alex wasn't comin' here to-night," I says, "we might go to the theatre."

"The movies hurts my eyes!" she answers, givin' me a sarcastical smile.

"D'ye mean to give the neighbors the idea I have never staked you to nothin' but the movies?" I hollers, gettin' sore, naturally enough.

"Don't be callin' my cousin no pest!" she says and—well, we're off again!

In less than five minutes, some new-comers which has a flat across the hall, knocks on the dumbwaiter bell furiously. I answered.

"Why don't you people let go?" inquires a harsh voice. "We can't stand that tourney in there no longer!"

"They ain't no way of puttin' a man in jail for movin'," I says.

"The idea of a man hollerin' at his wife like that!" comes a female voice in back of this guy.

"Shut up—I'm doin' this!" exclaims her lovin' spouse,—and then they had a melee of their own!

In the middle of this our doorbell rings and in comes Alex.

"They should of named this apartment house the Verdun," he says. "They seems to be a battle goin' on here every time I come up! I could hear every word you people was sayin' as plain as day, away out in the hall!"

"What did you come in for then?" I asks him. "Especially as you could hear this was the rush hour!"

He ignores me and kisses the wife—a thing he knows gets me wild.

"Now, boys!" butts in the wife, splittin' her world famous grin fifty-fifty, "let's stop quarrelin'. They ain't a reason on earth why we can't be friends, even if we are relatives."

"When are you gonna have dinner?" asks Alex.

"This here's eatless night with us," I says. "Not to give you a short answer."

"Don't pay no attention to him, Alex," says the wife. "You know you can eat here whenever you want."

"Sure!" I says. "Don't mind me. All I gotta do is pay for this stuff—that's all!"

The wife gimme a bitter glance.

"That's right," she says. "Tell the world that I have wed a tightwad!"

"What d'ye mean?" I hollers. "I'm as loose as ashes with my money and they ain't nobody knows it better than you. I don't even moan over the monthly phone bill, which from the last one you musta been callin' up friends in Australia!"

"Here!" butts in Alex. "This thing's gotta stop! Come on, kiss and make up. The first thing you know the Red Cross will be openin' a branch here. If I didn't know how much you people loved each other, I'd get the idea that you was really angry."

"Of course we love each other!" I says. "We only pull this now and then so's we won't get sickenin' to the neighbors by billin' and cooin' all the time! Ain't I right, honey?"

"Are you sorry?" inquires the wife.

"Sorry?" I says. "Why, I'd go out and buy a tube of carbolic acid if it wasn't so high!"

With that they was peace.

We're just sittin' down to a well-earned meal, when the bell rings again. Actin' as maid is one of the best things I do around my five rooms, if you count the bath, so I answered it. They was a man and a woman standin' there and my heart run up to play with my tonsils when I seen them. I figured they was a couple more guests for dinner and you knew what they're askin' for steak these days.

"I'm sorry to bother you," says the dame, "but we are the people who live in the flat right under yours."

"If you think we're too noisy, moan to the landlord!" I says, "I gotta right to stage an argument in my flat whenever I so choose!"

She giggles. The guy that was with her don't make a sound.

"Why, I'm sure we never heard any noise from above," she says. "I think you and your wife are no doubt the quietest folks in the whole house."

Oh, boy!!!

"How long have you been deaf?" I says.

"You're just like your wife claims," she grins. "Full of life and fun! But I'm keepin' you from your food, ain't I? I wanted to know if you'd let Mister Simmons climb down your fire escape."

"Feed him some veronal," I says, "and he'll no doubt be O.K. in the mornin'. The first day is always tough!"

"Why, what do you mean?" she says. "I merely asked if my husband could climb down your fire escape."

I seen I had wild pitched the first time, so I tried my luck again.

"Is your joint on fire?" I says.

"Oh, no!" she tells me. "But we are locked out. My husband invented a new kind of lock—he's always inventing something that will do everything but work. He put this lock on our door and now he can't open it himself! Isn't that killing?"

"A riot!" I admits. "Come right in."

The wife is gettin' nervous at me bein' out there so long, and when she heard a female voice laughin', of course that didn't help matters none. She meets this dame half way in the hall and the minute they seen each other they fall together in fond embrace. I found out later they'd known each other as long as a week and the last time they met was an hour before.

Well, we get introduced all around and then this bird which invented a lock that nobody on earth could open, includin' himself, goes out on the fire escape followed by his charmin' wife. They entered their flat by the novel method of usin' the kitchen window. This guy didn't open his mouth from the time he come in till he went out, and when spoke to, he blushed all over and acted like he wished to Heaven he could hide under the sofa. His wife, though, had nothin' against conversation as a sport. She was talkin' when she come in and she went out the same way. I never seen nobody in my life who could talk as fast and frequent as this dame and if her husband had hung that trick lock on her tongue he would of made himself solid with me!

"That's that lovely Mrs. Simmons," says the wife, when they had went. "It's too bad her husband ain't a live one."

"Gettin' married has buried many a good man!" I says.

"It didn't change you none," she says. "You was a dead one when I got you!"

"Here!" butts in Alex. "Don't you people get started again! I wanna finish my supper in peace. What's wrong with Mister Simmons?"

"He ain't got no pep," says the wife. "They's many a more ambitious man than he is with a tomb around him! He's been keepin' books for twenty dollars a week since the discovery of arithmetic, and he ain't got a raise since they blowed up the Maine. He's afraid to ask for more money for fear the boss will find out he's on the pay roll and fire him. They's one ounce more brains in a billiard ball than they is in his head. He—"

"Wait!" interrupts Alex. "This here sounds interestin' to me. In the first place, they ain't a doubt in my mind but what you got that feller figured all wrong! Like all the rest of you simple minded and innocent New Yorkers, you get brains and imagination mixed. They is a big difference! Brains is what puts a man over, and imagination is what keeps him back. The ideal combination is all brains and no imagination! The feller with brains sets his mind on what he wants, forgets everything else, goes to it and gets it. He don't for a minute consider what might happen if he fails, or that the thing he proposes has never been done before, or that maybe his scheme ain't really as good as he first thought it was. Why don't he think of them things? Because he ain't got no imagination! The imaginative feller is beat from the start. He keeps thinkin' from every possible angle, what might happen to him if he fails and, by the time he gets that all figured out, his idea is cold and his enthusiasm for it has drowned in the sea of possibilities his roamin' mind has created! The feller which said, 'look before you leap!' might of been clever, but I bet he thought a five-dollar bill was as big as they made 'em till he went to his grave! If I'd had imagination, I'd never of come to New York and made good. I'd of been afraid the town was too big for me. Now this feller Simmons, I'll betcha, is simply sufferin' from a case of too much imagination. He must have somethin' in his head or he couldn't even keep books. It takes brains to balance accounts, the same as it takes money to pay 'em. Am I right?"

"What d'ye say, if we go to the movies?" I says.

Alex gets up in disgust.

"Is that all the interest I'm gettin' here?" he asks.

"This ain't no bank!" I tells him.

"Be still!" says the wife. "I heard every word you said, Alex dear. I think you're horribly interestin'. But I still claim Simmons is a fat-head whose butcher bill gives him trouble every month! He never takes that poor wife of his nowheres, but a walk past the Fifth Avenue Library, and she don't know if they have dancin' or swimmin' in cabarets. He's always drawin' things on pieces of paper, and he sits up half the night inventin' what-nots that would be all right, if they wasn't useless."

"Yes," says Alex, "and some day he'll hit on somethin' that'll prob'ly make him famous!"

"I wanna see Beryldine Nearer in 'The Vaccinated Vampire'," I says, reachin' for my hat. "I seen her last week in 'Almost A Fiend' and she was a knockout!"

"Shut up!" says the wife. "What was you sayin', again, Alex?"

"I says it's the dreamer which has made the world what it is to-day," he goes on, strikin' a pose. "He thinks of somethin' and the practical feller comes along and makes money out of it. Take—"

"They ain't no man can keep me from the movies!" I butts in. "I ain't gonna be late and only see half of this picture. I done that too often! You and Alice can fight it out amongst yourselves if—"

"All right!" says the wife. "Come on, we'll all go. I admit freely I'm crazy to see Beryldine Nearer again, myself. I seen a gown on her in the last picture which I think I can duplicate in time for Mrs. Martin's card party. We'll ask Mr. and Mrs. Simmons to go with us too. The poor dear, it'll be a treat for her."

"It'll be a treat for her husband, too!" I says. "I ain't gonna take the whole neighborhood to the movies. You must think I'm the Liberty Loan, don't you?"

The wife comes over and kisses me.

"Now, dear," she says. "Don't be so close across the chest. Won't you take 'em for me?"

Well, when all Broadway used to roll over and play dead when she pulled that smile, what chance have I got?

"I'd take carbolic for you!" I answers, givin' her a squeeze. "Go ahead, honey, invite the first two pagefuls outa the phone book if you want and I'll take 'em all!"

"There you go," she says. "No wonder we're not wealthy! If it wasn't for me holdin' you down, we wouldn't have a nickel. I'll call down and tell Mrs. Simmons to get ready—they may have an engagement themselves!"

"I doubt if I'm lucky enough for that to happen!" I says.

Well, I missed out again. They come up all right, and Mrs. Simmons is tickled to death. When set for the street, she was a pretty good looker herself, but Simmons ain't even got a hat with him.

"Mister Simmons prefers to stay at home," says his wife, causin' my heart to leap with joy. "He has some important work to do, haven't you, dear?"

Simmons flushes all up.

"Why—eh—yes—quite so—much obliged—excuse me," he stutters, backin' away like he thought I'd wallop him for not goin'.

Alex is lookin' at him strangely.

"Pardon me," he says. "We just been talkin' over some of the wonderful ideas you been workin' on. I have a inventive twist in my brains myself and that lock you put together interests me very much. Could I see it?"

Simmons brightens up in a flash and commences to grin.

"I'd be very glad indeed to show it to you," he says. "Very glad! Its a—"

Alex goes over and puts his arm on his shoulder.

"You folks run along to the movies," he tells us. "Mr. Simmons and me is got a little conference on—eh, Simmons?" He prods him in the ribs and giggles.

Simmons wags his head. A guy with two glass eyes could see he was tickled silly.

I dragged the rest of 'em out.

Well, we come in from the movie around eleven o'clock and stopped in the Simmons flat. They had dragged me into a delicatessen parlor on the way back and put the bee on me for a cold lunch. We was to eat it in Mrs. Simmons's flat. All she furnished was the idea. Alex and Simmons is sittin' in the dinin' room and they're so interested in each other they don't even look up when we come in. The table is full of drawin's and blue prints and scraps of paper all covered over with figures. Simmons is pointin' out somethin' to Alex on a piece of paper, and I'll lay the world four to one Alex ain't got the slightest idea what the other guy's talkin' about, but he's listenin' like he's hearin' the secret of makin' gold outa mud.

"I'll bet you have gone to work and bored Mister Hanley half to death!" says his wife. "How often have I told you that strangers is not interested in them fool ideas of yours?"

"Not at all!" says Alex. "I fail to recall when I spent such a enjoyable night. Mister Simmons is a genius, if they ever was one, and I predict a great future for his automatic cocktail shaker. Then, if he gets his keyless lock workin' right, why—"

"Let's eat in the kitchen, it's cosier," interrupts Mrs. Simmons. "Do you folks mind?"

They was no bloodshed over it, and we all went in. Simmons claims he would like to change his collar, and invites me back to look over the flat, a treat the wife has already had. Once we get in his boudoir, he finds they is everything in the world in it with the exception of a clean collar, and he calls Mrs. Simmons to the rescue.

"Here!" she says, handin' him the laundry. "Hurry up, so's we can eat. He's always losin' somethin'!" she remarks.

I got a comical answer on the tip of my tongue, when Simmons drops his collar button on the floor, and, the same as all the other collar buttons in the world, they picked out the furtherest corners of the room to roll into. The poor boob gets as red as a four-alarm fire and goes crawlin' around the room tryin' to run them collar buttons down.

"It's too bad them buttons wasn't made of rubber," I says, thinkin' to pass the thing off. "They would of bounced right back in your hand, hey?"

He straightens up like he had stepped on a egg and runs his hands through his hair.

"A rubber collar button!" he mutters. "A rubber collar button! No—no—not rubber, but—"

"My Gawd!" cuts in Mrs. Simmons. "Will he ever stop it? Sit down and eat, folks, he's ravin' again! Here, Edgar, try some of this cold ham. It set our friends back a dollar and it ought to be good!"

"I'm—I'm sorry!" pipes Edgar, movin' away with that little, nervous step of his. "I couldn't eat a thing. I got a headache, I guess—I—excuse me, but I'll see you all again."

With that he blows.

"Ain't he the limit?" inquires Mrs. Simmons, grabbin' the choicest bits of that ham and goin' south with it.

"Mine's worse!" remarks the wife. "What would them men ever do without us?"

"Save money!" I says. "Slip me some of that cold chicken, will you?—I got a stomach, too!"

Well, we didn't see Edgar Simmons no more that night. In fact it was all of two weeks before he appeared again, and then it was by way of the phone. He asked me if I would tell my Cousin Alex to come down at once, he had somethin' very important to tell him. I waited till supper had come and gone that night, and then I got hold of Alex. The wife and Mrs. Simmons went to the theatre together and I arranged the conference for my flat. The minute Alex arrived I phoned Simmons and he come right up. He's all excited over somethin' and he's got a parcel under his arm.

"I have followed your advice," he tells Alex, "and at last I've invented something practical. There's millions in it!"

"What?" I says. "The mint?"

Alex kicks me in the shins under the table so hard that I moaned aloud.

"What is it?" he asks.

Simmons unwraps the parcel and pulls out a piece of cloth. It's the neckband of a shirt and the same as the ordinary neckband in every way—except it's got collar buttons built right into it!

"What's the idea?" I asks.

"Heavens, man, can't you grasp it?" says Simmons, slammin' the table with his fist. "Here we have the only collar button in the world that can't be lost! You never have to look for it, because it's always attached to the shirt. You can't lose the button unless you lose the shirt! It's made right with it! It—"

"Wait!" butts in Alex, leapin' to his feet. "Simmons—you have got somethin'! Is it patented?"

"Yes," says Simmons.

"Have you felt out the shirt people on it?" asks Alex next.

"That's what I wanted to see you about," says Simmons. "I can't get them to look at it! I get shifted from one subordinate to another and they seem to think I'm some sort of a crank. If I could only get it before Philip Calder, the president of the Brown-Calder Shirt Company, I'd be made!"

"Hmm!" grunts Alex. "Well, what d'ye want me to do?"

Simmons coughs and fidgets with the button.

"It struck me when you was talkin' to me the other night," he says, "that if there was one man in New York who could see Calder and make him realize the merits of my invention, you were that man! Will you try it?"

"I'll do it!" answers Alex. "Gimme the model and you'll hear from me in a few days. Do you wish to sell the neckbands themselves, or just the patent on your idea?"

"I don't care who makes the neckbands," says Simmons, "as long as I get paid for my invention! Of course, I don't expect you to help me for nothing, either."

"Ha! ha!" I butts in. "That bird wouldn't tell you the time for nothing You'll be lucky if you ever even see that invention any more!"

"Don't mind my cousin," Alex tells him. "Outside of a tendency to the measles, he's the worst thing we got in our family! We'll take up the financial end of this later."

Bright and early the next mornin', or eleven o'clock to be exact, Alex invites me to go with him so's I can watch how he would go about seein' the president of the Brown-Calder Company and sellin' him the Simmons patent collar button. As they is always a chance that Alex will fall down, I went along. We had no trouble at all landin' outside the president's office, but once we got there it was different.

"Is Mister Calder in?" says Alex to a blond stenographer, which looks like them movie queens would like to.

She puts four stray hairs back of her left ear and arises.

"Have you got an appointment?" she inquires.

"No," grins Alex, "my nose got that way from bein' hit with a baseball."

She had lovely teeth and showed 'em to us.

"Cards?" she says next, lookin' from one of us to the other.

"I'll play these!" says Alex. "Listen! I wanna go in Mister Calder's office without bein' announced. I ain't seen him for years and he'll be tickled silly when we meet. I wanna sneak in and just be there the first time he looks around. I'm a surprise—see?"

She looks kinda doubtful.

"W-e-ll, I don't know," she says. "I've only been here since yesterday, but my orders is to let nobody past this gate without first findin' out their business and so forth. Still and all, I don't wanna be harsh with none of the boss's old college chums or nothin' like that. If you can guarantee I won't lose my job, I'll let you get away with it."

"If you lose your job," says Alex, openin' the gate and pullin' me in after him, "I'll hire you for five dollars more than you're gettin' here. All right?"

"I only trust you're man enough to keep your word," she says. "The boss's office is the first one to the left."

"Thanks," says Alex. "Them eyes of yours is alone worth the trip!"

This guy Calder's door is open and he's sittin' at a big desk writin' away on somethin' like everything depended on speed. He's a great, big fat bird, with one of them trick Chaplin mustaches and he's smokin' a cigar as big as he is. His head is playin' it's hairless day. All in all, he looked like big business, and my knees is knockin' together till I'm afraid he'll hear 'em and turn around. Alex gumshoes up to the desk and without sayin' a word, he lays the neckband right down beside Calder, who immediately swings around with a snort.

"What's all this—how did you get in here?" he bellers.

"We took the subway down from Ninety-sixth Street," says Alex. "That thing you got in your hand is the neckband of a shirt."

"Well?" growls Calder, tappin' the desk with a lead pencil.

"It contains two collar buttons—one front and one back," says Alex. "As you may have noticed, they are built right into the cloth and are meant to come attached to the shirt. This does away forever with the necessity of buying a collar button. It cannot be broken, lost or mislaid. Any shirt manufacturer making shirts with this neckband attached will naturally have the bulge on his rivals. I can turn out the neckband for practically nothing. I hold the patent."

Calder sneers.

"Ha!" he says. "There's a million cranks come in my office every day. I suppose you want to sell me this, eh?"

"No, sir!" says Alex, with a pleasant grin.

I liked to fell through the floor at that!

"No, sir?" repeats Calder, droppin' the pencil.

"No, sir!" answers Alex.

"Well, what the—what do you want then?" roars Calder. "Come now, speak up. I'll give you five minutes, that's all!"

"That's three minutes more than I got to spare!" chirps Alex, pullin' over a chair. "I don't want you to buy this neckband, Mister Calder. What I want is this—I know that you are the greatest authority on shirts and everything connected with the business, in the United States if not in the world! I think I have a big thing here, a thing that will revolutionize one end of that business. I say I think so, because I don't know. Now—the concern I represent wants your opinion of it. We're willing to pay to have you, the world's greatest authority, go on record as to the merits of this invention. If you say it's no good, I'll throw it away and forget about it; if you say it's good, I'll have no trouble placing it anywhere in the world!"

Well, say! That old guy brightens all up when Alex calls him the champion shirtmaker of the world, and pickin' up the band, he turns it over in his hands a few times. You could see that the old salve Alex handed him had gone big!

"Hmph!" he says, finally. "How much would these things cost me?"

"Roughly speakin', about three cents each," says Alex.

"How long will they stand up under laundering?" is the next question Calder fires at him.

"They're the only thing that won't come out in the wash!" answers Alex, without battin' an eye.

The old guy smiles and presses a button. In comes a clerk.

"Send in Mister Lacy, no matter what he's doing, at once!" barks Calder. He turns to Alex as the clerk flees from the room. "Have you been anywhere else with this?" he asks.

Alex looks pained.

"Why, Mister Calder!" he says, "certainly not! Before I went any further I wanted the opinion of the greatest—"

This Lacy guy comes in.

"Mister Lacy is superintendent of our manufacturing department," says Calder. "I'm going to talk with him for three minutes about the effect of the war on the onion crop in Beloochistan. I'll send for you at the expiration of that time. Ah—you can leave the—ah—neckband here!"

"Pardon me!" says Alex, "I have got to be up at the office of the Evers-Raine Shirt Company at three and I can just about make it."

"What the devil are you going to another shirt company for?" roars Calder.

"I have an old friend in the—ah—manufacturing department," says Alex, lookin' straight at him, "who I'm very anxious to see."

Well, they stare at each other for a minute without sayin' a word. They're both playin' poker, and it's Calder who lays his down first!

"Look here!" he grunts. "I'm going to take an option on this infernal thing for a week. How much is that worth to you?"

"Ten thousand dollars," answers Alex, pleasantly.

"I'll pay seven and give you a check right now!" says Calder, slammin' the desk with his fist. "Here, Lacy!" he says to the other guy. "This is what we'll put on our shirts hereafter, unless I'm very much mistaken! What do you think of it?"

Lacy picks up the neckband and looks at it.

"And to think," he mutters in an awed voice. "And to think nobody ever thought of this before!"

"Hmm!" says Calder, takin' the band back. "That's all settled then! Young man," he says to Alex, "the cashier will give you a check. Come back at the end of the week and I'll either give you back your neckband, or a contract for five hundred thousand of them a year for twenty years!"

"Thanks!" says Alex. "Will you have that check certified?"

Well, Simmons like to went insane with joy when we sprung the news on him and Alex insists on him takin' that seven thousand dollar check whole. He didn't ask for a nickel, which had me puzzled. Mrs. Simmons goes out shoppin' for furs, diamonds and automobiles, and the wife asks me why I don't invent somethin', but outside of that they was nothin' more doin' till the end of the week. Then, Alex comes up and breaks the news to Simmons that the Brown-Calder Shirt Company will take all the neckbands that Simmons can supply, as long as people wear shirts.

"We have got to deliver 50,000 in a month," says Alex, "at the rate of two and a half cents apiece. Can you do it?"

Simmons falls back on the sofa in a dead faint!

Well, they was great excitement and the wife finally brings him to life with smellin' salts.

"It was prob'ly the sudden mention of so much money, eh?" I says.

"I'm ruined!" hollers Simmons, leapin' up and dancin' around. "Why, it took me two weeks to make that one miserable model I gave you!" he yells at Alex. "I couldn't make fifty thousand of them things in a lifetime!"

Alexis eyes glitters.

"Here!" he says, slappin' Simmons on the back. "Pull yourself together, man! You've got to think of somethin'. How did you make that one?"

"By hand!" wails Simmons.

"Well, they must be some way of makin' a machine that can turn out so many thousand an hour!" says Alex, walkin' back and forth. "Why—"

"I don't care who makes 'em!" says Simmons. "All I want is to get paid for my idea. I—"

"Listen to me!" interrupts Alex, shakin' him. "Can't you invent some kind of a machine for turnin' them neckbands out?"

"Oh, I had a little something figured out the other night," says Simmons, "but what's the use of me botherin' with that? Why, a machine of that kind would cost at least twenty thousand dollars to make! Where can I get that much money?"

"Look here!" Alex tells him. "You got seven and I'll loan you the balance. You get busy on that machine right away—there's no time to lose!" He grabs his hat. "Come with me and I'll get you the money and then we'll go to my lawyer and draw up a—that is, I'll take your receipt."

That's the last I seen of either of them for a month. At the end of that time, the wife tells me one day that Mr. and Mrs. Simmons is givin' a big dinner that night and that Alex will be there. They'll never notice us no more, if we don't come. Besides, they're goin' for a trip around the country in a few days and this here's a farewell party.

Well, it's a soup and fish affair, and naturally it takes the wife half the night to get dressed up for it. Fin'ly, however, she's dressed to thrill and we blowed in. The minute we did, Simmons pulls me over in a corner where Alex is sittin', smilin' like his name was George Q. Goodhumor.

"Well, sir!" says Simmons, no longer shy and retirin', "I just about cleaned up. My machine is turnin' out three thousand bands an hour, and I get a cent for each and every one!"

"You fin'ly doped out a machine then, heh?" I says.

"Oh, yes!" he tells me. "But unfortunately I don't control it. I have to pay the owner for each band turned out, although it's my invention. But I'm satisfied! I got a bonus of twenty-five thousand dollars from the Brown-Calder people for selling them the exclusive rights to use the neckband, and then we have the foreign rights to—"

"Wait!" I cuts in, turnin' to Alex. All this big money talk was makin' me dizzy. "Where do you get off?" I asks him.

"Well, I put the neckband over, didn't I?" he says.

"Yes," I admits, "but Simmons invented it and he gets the royalty. How much cash did he give you?"

"Nothing!" grins Alex.

I looked at Simmons.

"Perfectly correct!" he says, outgrinnin' Alex.

"You—did all that for nothin' I hollers, not believin' my ears.

"Well, hardly that," says Alex, lightin' a half-dollar cigar. "You see I loaned Mister Simmons thirteen thousand dollars, if you remember, so that he could make his machine."

"Yeh, yeh!" I says, gettin' impatient. "And—"

"Well, as it stands now," says Alex, "every time the machine turns out a neckband, he gets a cent out of the two and a half cents profit."

"Sure—he told me that!" I says. "But where do you get off?"

Alex grins some more.

"I own the machine!" he says. "Have a cigar, cousin?"



A guy once said, "Be sure you're right, then go ahead!" and like the bird which invented the sayin', "What are you gonna have?" he became famous on that one line. They's millions of people have repeated both of them remarks since. As far as the last one is concerned, it's about died out now and cracked ice has started gettin' acquainted with lemonade and the like instead of its old haunts, Scotch, Rye and Gin, which has pulled a Rip Van Winkle. I never told no man I was a fortune teller, but if I was a bartender right now, believe me, I'd spend my nights off studyin' the art of makin' chocolate nut sundaes and pineapple ice cream sodas, because the time has come with alarmin' suddenness when alcohol will be used only for rubbin' baby's head when he falls off of the table and the like.

However, that ain't neither here or there, as the guy says which mislaid his watch, so let's get back to the bird which said, "Be sure you're right, then go ahead!" That may be a good line, but it's poor dope for the young. I'll tell the world fair that no winner ever got paid off by stickin' strictly to that. If Columbus had waited till somebody sent him a souvenir postal from the Bronx, so's he'd be sure they really was some choice real estate over here, he never would of discovered America. Napoleon would never of got further than bein' a buck private in the army if he'd of played safe instead of goin' ahead on the "I Should Worry!" plan. I could name a million more guys which got over along the same lines only I hate to walk to the library. But pick up any newspaper and the front page will give you the answer. The guys that go over the top in this well known universe are the boys which goes ahead first and figures what chances they got afterwards. They let the results they get tell whether they're right or not. I don't mean a guy should bust the traffic laws of any of the prominent virtues in order to be a success, they ain't a game on earth that can't be played on the level and won clean, but instead of askin' yourself, "Can I do it?" say, "This will be soft for me!" and you're a odds on favorite to win!

Me and the wife is sittin' down to breakfast one mornin', and I have barely had time to find fault with the eggs when they's a ring at the bell.

"See who that is, will you, dear?" says the wife, turnin' a page of the Mornin' Shrapnel and shootin' the smile that used to jam the Winter Garden in my direction. "You know how tired I am in the mornings."

"Yeh," I says, very sarcastical. "Eatin' grape fruit is enough to wear down the strongest. Since how long have I became the maid around here?"

"Before we were married," she says, sinkin' the last of the cream in her coffee—a thing she knows full well practically always enrages me. "Before we was wed, you claimed you'd do anything for me."

"A man can kid, can't he?" I says.

"Don't get catty, dear," says the wife, still featurin' that million dollar smile. "Hurry, there goes the bell again. You really should put on your collar and tie before answering the door, too."

"Who d'ye think is payin' us a call—Wilson?" I says. "I ain't supposed to wear a dress suit in to breakfast, am I?"

They is no answer from the trenches across the table, outside of the munchin' of food, and as our door bell is makin' the telephone green with envy from the way it was ringin', I went out and opened the portals to our flat.

In comes Alex the Great, undisputed champion pest of the world.

He throws his hat on the sofa, kisses the wife, pulls a chair up to the table and reaches over for the paper. Every one of them things is sure fire for gettin' my goat!

"No wonder you people never get nowheres!" he remarks. "Sleepin' away half the day. Here it is eleven o'clock and you just havin' breakfast! I was up at six, had a ice cold bath and walked ten miles."

"I wish you had of made it eleven!" I says.

"Why?" he asks me.

"Because," I says, "that would of brung you a even two blocks past our house and I could of had my breakfast in peace."

"How often have I told you that I don't come here to see you?" he snarls. "If it wasn't for Cousin Alice, I'd never come near your flat!"

"You stayed away a month once," I says, "and she managed to keep out of the hospitals."

"Oh, hush!" says the wife. "You boys are always snappin' at each other. A outsider would think you was in business together or something. How is everything, Alex?"

"Fine!" he says, rubbin' his hands together and castin' a hungry eye over the bacon and eggs. "I already had a breakfast fit for a king, but the early mornin' air gimme a fresh appetite. I think I could stand a little of that bacon and—"

"They's only one piece left," I says, spearin' it with my fork. "Try and get it!"

"Will you be still?" says the wife. "We have plenty in the ice box, Alex, if you want some."

"Don't be blowin' about how much food we got in the ice box," I says. "They may be some spies from Hoover's office around."

"That reminds me," says Alex, makin' the best of it by devourin' all the crackers and jam. "I expect to go to Washington this week and offer my services to Mister Hoover."

"What was you thinkin' of doing for Mister Hoover, Alex?" says the wife.

"I got a scheme for—," he begins, when I ceased firin' on the bacon and eggs and arose.

"Listen!" I butts in. "I don't like to walk out in the middle of your act, Alex, but I gotta date. I have just bought a infielder from Jersey City which they tell me is a second Ty Cobb. The last guy which come recommended to me like that acted like hittin' the ball was a felony and he must of figured that droppin' grounders put Cobb over. I have give everything but the franchise for this new bird, and I wanna see right now if he's one of them things or a ball player."

"Don't make no engagements for to-night," says the wife, "because we're goin' to the movies with them lovely Wilkinsons."

"Who's them lovely Wilkinsons?" I says.

"You could spend a year at the bottom of the ocean and never get acquainted with a fish!" says the wife. "The Wilkinsons is the people which just moved in across the hall. Her husband is a salesman for a big wholesale clothing house downtown and if you're nice to him he can prob'ly get you a raincoat or something, for a great deal different price than you'd pay yourself."

"Yeh," I says. "It would no doubt cost me about ten bucks more, if I bought it from him! I know them birds. That guy will gimme his card and send me down to the foundry where he works, and they'll sell me somethin' which has graced their shelves for the last ten years, at ten per cent over the retail price. The public will laugh me outa wearin' it and, on top of that, this guy will want the first five rows at the world's series for doin' me the favor! Anyways, I don't need no raincoat, I got two already."

"I never seen nobody like you," says the wife. "I'll bet you think the war was a frame-up! Accordin' to you, nobody or nothin' is on the level, and the whole world and Yonkers is out to give you the work. I have already talked with Mister Wilkinson, which is a nice little innocent fellow and not a brute like you which battles night and day with his wife, and he will have a raincoat up here for you to-morrow."

I throwed up my hands!

"How much is it?" I says.

"Practically nothin'," says the wife. "Forty-five dollars."

Oh, boy!

"Listen!" I says, openin' the door. "Unless that bird has give you his age in mistake for the price of the raincoat, you can tell him that if I had forty-five bucks to hurl away like that I wouldn't wear no raincoat. I wouldn't care if it rained or not!"

"It's one of the latest trench models," says the wife. "I got two of them. One for myself."

"You and that lovely little Wilkinson will have to shoot craps for them then!" I hollers. "I wouldn't let him take me for ninety bucks if—"

"They are both paid for long ago," smiles the wife, pinchin' my cheek, and pullin' the smile that used to get her photo in the magazines. "I give him a check last week!"

As unfortunately I am nothin' but human, I beat it before they was violence and bloodshed. I was afraid to trust myself with speech, but I managed to let off a little steam before I left by throwin' three pillows and a Rumanian beer stein at Alex, havin' caught him grinnin' at me like a idiot.

It was about six hours before I got back and my temper had failed to improve with age, havin' had a rough day at the ball park. We played a double-header with the Phillies and lost a even two games. Both the scores sounded more like Rockefeller's income tax than anything else. Iron Man Swain pitched the first game for us and before five innin's had come and went, I found out that the only thing iron about him was his nerve in drawin' wages as a pitcher. Everybody connected with the Philly team but the batboy got a hit and from the way them guys run around the bases it looked more like a six-day race than a ball game!

I sent in Red Mitchel to pitch the second half of the massacre, and all he had was a boil on his arm. As far as his offerin's was concerned, everybody on the Philly club could of been christened Home Run Baker. When he throwed the ball on the clubhouse roof tryin' to get a guy nappin' off first, lettin' in two extry runs instead, I went out to the box and removed him by hand. Ed Raymond finished the game for us, and he's so scared we might win it that he walks the first three men and knocks the fourth guy cold with a inshoot. I didn't even stay to see the finish—I had enough!

One of the features of the day was the work of this so-called "Second Ty Cobb" at short. He come to bat eleven times in the two games and got one hit. That was a left jab from the Philly first baseman which got peeved at bein' called a liar and bounced one off the Second Ty Cobb's ear. At fieldin' he made more errors than the Kaiser and was just as popular with the crowd. I give up five thousand berries and a outfielder for him, and after them two games I couldn't of sold him as a watch charm to the manager of a high school club!

From all of this you may get an idea of the sweet humor I was in when I blowed into the flat that night. My idea was to put on the feed bag, and then go around to the corner and play a little pinochle with the gang. Like the guy which fell off Washington's Monument I was doomed to disappointment, because they was quite a little reception committee awaitin' me. Among them present besides the wife was Alex and them lovely Wilkinsons.

The lovely Wilkinsons consisted of the regular set—husband and wife. They had only been wed about three weeks, new time, and from the way they behaved towards each other, a innocent bystander would think they had only staggered away from the altar a hour before. They sit together on the sofa, three inches closer to each other than the paper is to the wall and both of them must of been palmists judgin' from the way they hung on to each other's hands. The male of the layout is a husky kid which either come direct from one of the college football teams or had just knocked off posin' for the lingerie ads in the subway. The female would of been a knockout, if my wife had been in Denver, but bein' in the same room with her the best Mrs. Wilkinson could do was to finish a good second. They is one thing about the wife, they may be dames which can knit sweaters faster than her, but when it comes to bein' excitin' to gaze upon she leads the league! I don't have to tell the world that, the world keeps tellin' it to me. This here is far from our first season as matrimoniacs, and when I say that it still makes me dizzy to look at her, you may get a idea of how she checks up.

But to get back to them lovely Wilkinsons, they are sittin' there on the sofa keepin' a close eye on each other, and Alex is givin' 'em everything he's got in the line of chatter. They're both payin' the same undivided attention to him that the Board of Aldermen in Afghanistan pays to the primaries in Bird's Nest, Va. Them babies is too busy gazin' on each other and bein' happy, and while that stuff gets silly at times—they is worse things than that.

After we have got the introductions all took care of, the wife rushes me down to Delicatessen Row to grab off some extry food on account of these added starters at our modest evenin' meal. I got a armful of these here liberty links, nee frankfurters, and some liberty cabbage which before the Kaiser went nutty was knowed as sauerkraut. They ain't no use callin' off all the other little trinkets I got to help make the table look tasty, especially as Mister Hoover is liable to scan this and I don't wanna get myself in wrong, but when I got through shoppin' I didn't have enough change left out of a five-case note to stake myself to a joyride in the subway.

Just as we're goin' to the post in this supper handicap, the bell rings, and in come Eve, which same is no less than the blushin' bride of Alex. They is now so many people in the flat that for all the neighbors know I have opened up a gamblin' dive or one of them cabaret things. Everybody is talkin', with the exception of me, which havin' sit down to eat proceeded to do so with the greatest abandon, as the guy says. Them three girls—the wife, the lovely Mrs. Wilkinson and Eve, was sure some layout to have across the table, I'll tell the world fair! They had the front row of the Follies lookin' like washwomen durin' the rush hour, and all I did was sit there and eat and wonder how in Heaven's name they ever come to fall for a set of guys like me, Alex and the lovely Wilkinson.

Well, the meal come to an end without no violence, and they was only one time when it seemed like boxin' gloves would be needed. Even that wasn't exactly my fault. From the general chatter of the lovely Wilkinson, I figured him as a big, fatheaded, good-lookin' bonehead whose greatest trick so far had been marryin' his wife. He got my goat a coupla times hand runnin' by dealin' himself, first, the last piece of bread and, second, the last potato on the table. Either one of them things would of enraged me by themselves, but pullin' 'em together was a open dare to me to commit homicide. I laid for him for a half hour and fin'ly I get a openin'.

"Mister Wilkinson is packed to the ears with ambition," says the wife to me across the table. "He expects to fall into a lot of money very shortly."

"I don't see how they can be no room for him to be packed with nothin' else," I says, "after all the meat and potatoes he put away to-night. And as far as that fallin' into a lot of money is concerned, he must be figurin' on stumblin' at the door of the mint, hey?"

They is a dead silence and the lovely Wilkinson give a nervous snicker and piled up his plate with liberty links and cabbage to hide his confusion. Alex laughs like a hyena and Mrs. Wilkinson looks even prettier when mad than she did when tryin' to be a charmin' guest. The wife gimme a glance that would of killed a guy with a weaker heart and tries to laugh it off.

"You mustn't mind him," she says. "He's always kiddin' that way about everything. Really—I'm—I'm so angry I don't know what to do!"

"I'll tell you what to do," I says. "See if you can get the embargo lifted on that food down at your end of the table and ease a little nourishment up here!"

"He oughta leave the table!" remarks Alex.

"You ain't talkin' to me!" I says. "I'm wonderin' if you guys will leave the table or not. You already have eat everything else!"

"That's right!" says the wife. "Go ahead and advertise the fact that I have married a roughneck!"

"My neck must of got that way from wearin' that sweater you knit me," I says. "Hey, dearie?"

Eve gimme a laugh, but I seen the wife was gettin' ready to bring up the heavy artillery so I laid off.

While the girls is seein' what soap and water will do to a pail of dishes, I released some cigars and us strong men had a even stronger smoke. The lovely Wilkinson seems to have somethin' on his mind and says practically nothin', both when he talked and when he didn't. Alex kids me about my ball team and, finely, the household cares bein' attended to in the kitchen, we all set sail for the movies.

The wife calls me aside, gimme a kiss and says for me to buy the tickets. Of course after she done that I don't have to tell you who pushed the quarters in under the cashier's window. The picture we seen was one of them forty-eight reel thrillers and was called "Lunatic Lily's Lover" or somethin' like that. They was a guy killed in every reel but the first one. They was three killed in that. The picture must of been made by the local branch of the suicide club, assisted by a lot of candidates for the insane asylum. I'll tell the world that the guy which wrote the scenario had at least delirium tremens. The girls thought it was great, but I knew better and put in my time figurin' out on the back of a envelope how many games we had to lose to be in last place by August.

The lovely Wilkinson gets very talkative once inside the theatre. He starts right in on the picture and claims it's a awful thing. Every time a guy goes over a cliff or dives off of a bridge and all the salesladies and bankers sittin' around us gasps out loud, he speaks up and says it's all faked with a trick camera and they ain't none of them really doin' nothin' at all. He claims he's got a friend which used to sell tickets for a movie theatre and he told him all about it. The more stunts the hero of this picture does, the worse the lovely Wilkinson gets, and it ain't long before he has captured the goat of friend Alex, which is champion moving picture fan of the United States and Coney Island. When the lovely Wilkinson claims that nobody in real life could do the tricks this movie hero was pullin' off, Alex butts in.

"How do you know them things can't be done?" he says.

"Anybody but an idiot could see that!" says Wilkinson. "The idea of trying to make intelligent people believe that this fellow with his hair brushed back like a rabbit's could sell one of those wealthy millionaires gold mines and the like. Why, he'd be thrown out of the office and—"

"No wonder you ain't a success!" butts in Alex.

The lovely Wilkinson shows a little spirit.

"How do you know I ain't a success?" he says. "I'm making my good twenty-five dollars each and every week."

"Yeh?" sneers Alex. "I once heard tell of a feller which was makin' thirty, but I ain't sure of it because none of the newspapers said a word about it." He turns around and lowers his voice on account of some hisses comin' from fans in the back. "Look here!" he says. "All jokes to one side, they ain't nothin' that this feller done in the picture that can't be done by anybody. A man can do anything he wants to, anything, they ain't no limit—if he's got enough sand to fight his way through whatever stands in his way! I don't care what the thing is he wants, a man can get anything if he keeps tryin' and—"

"You hate yourself, don't you?" butts in the lovely Wilkinson, peevishly. "I suppose you think you could do anything—"

"I do not," says Alex. "I know it! I ain't talkin' about myself though, I'm talkin' about you. You're a young married feller with a sweet, beautiful, and, for all I know, sensible little wife. You people are just startin' out, and I want to see you make good. I think you got the stuff in you somewheres, but not to be rough or nothin' of the sort, I must say you have been a success at concealin' it so far. Twenty-five dollars a week ain't enough wages for nobody—as long as they's somebody makin' twenty-six—understand? And if you get where they pay you twenty-five dollars a minute instead of a week, you wanna try and make 'em think you're worth thirty! The mistake you and a lot of young fellers make is quittin' at a given point. They ain't no point to quit! I bet when you was makin' eighteen dollars a week you hustled like blazes to make twenty, but when you got up to twenty-five you prob'ly told yourself that you was makin' as much as most of the boys you knew and more than some, so why wear yourself out and slave for a fatheaded boss, eh? Right in sight of the grandstand you blew up and quit in the stretch. I bet you think right now that you're makin' good because you're holdin' down the job, hey? That ain't makin' good, that's stealin' the boss's money—petty larceny, and deprivin' your future kids of a even chance—a felony! Give the boss everything you got, and he'll pay for it. If he don't, get out and dive in somewheres else! They ain't no place on earth where they ain't a openin' for a live one at any hour of the day or night!"

The lovely Wilkinson says nothin'.

Pretty soon and much to my delight, this here picture comes to a end, and while we're goin' out in the lobby, the lovely Wilkinson calls his wife aside and whispers somethin' in her ear. It ain't over a second later that we're all invited up to the Wilkinson flat for a little bite and the like before retirin'.

The girls starts a hot and no doubt interestin' argument about how many purls make a knit and so forth, and the lovely Wilkinson, after fidgetin' around a bit, calls us into another room. He closes the door very careful.

"I got something very personal and very important I'd like to speak to you about," he says to Alex.

"I'll go out on the fire escape," I says.

"No!" he says. "I want you to stay and hear this too." He turns to Alex again. "I been thinking over what you said in the theatre to-night," he begins, "and I guess you're pretty near right about me. However, I have a big chance now to make good and get out of the twenty-five dollar class, only, as usual, luck is against me."

"They is no such thing as luck," says Alex. "Forget about that luck thing, put the letter 'P' before the word and you got it! That's the first rule in my booklet, 'Success While You Wait.' I must send you one."

"Thanks," says the lovely Wilkinson. "You see, I'm a salesman for a big wholesale clothing house downtown and right at the beginning of the war I went up to Plattsburg to try for a commission in the army. I was rejected on account of a bad eye. While I was up there, I met Colonel Williams, who is now practically in charge of the buying of equipment for the army. I've been trying for months to land the overcoat contract for my house and last week I finally got things lined up. I have got to have one thousand of our storm-proof army coats in Washington by five o'clock to-morrow afternoon. At that time, Colonel Williams will see me at the War Department and I can give him prices on various lots and so forth."

"Why do you have to bring that many coats down?" asks Alex. "Wouldn't a couple be enough for a sample?"

"No," says Wilkinson. "These coats are to be given to men in a cantonment near Washington, where they will get actual wear under varying conditions. If I'm not in Washington with them at five to-morrow, I'll lose my chance because, the following day, men from four rival houses have appointments with the Colonel."

"Well," I butts in, "what's stoppin' you from goin' to Washington?"

"Nothing is stopping me," he says, "but I can't get the coats down there with me in time! The two shipments that we have sent by freight have gone astray somewhere and, as government supplies have the right of way over all other shipments, the express companies will not guarantee a delivery at any set time."

"But them coats are government supplies, ain't they?" says Alex.

"Not yet!" says the lovely Wilkinson. "Not until they are accepted. Right now they are nothing but samples of clothing. I've gone into that part thoroughly."

Alex gets up and walks around the room a coupla times, throwin' up a smoke screen from his cigar. Then he stops and looks at his watch.

"It's now almost eleven o'clock," he says. "Where are them coats?"

The lovely Wilkinson looks puzzled.

"Why," he says. "Why—they're in our stock room at 245 Broadway."

"Can we get in there to-night?" asks Alex, reachin' for his hat.

"I have a key," says Wilkinson, "but I'm afraid I don't quite get the idea. I—"

"Look here!" says Alex, very brisk. "I'm goin' to deliver you and one thousand of them overcoats outside the War Department in Washington at five o'clock to-morrow afternoon! What will you get if you land this order?"

The lovely Wilkinson leaps out of his chair.

"Why—I—," he splutters, "I—get fifteen per cent if—but you can't get the coats there, it's impossible! Why—"

"Never let me hear you use that word impossible' again!" snorts Alex. "Speak United States! I spent a half hour to-night tellin' you that a man can do anything if he wants to. Now look here, they ain't no time to lose. I'll land you and your coats in Washington to-morrow on time. That will cost your firm around a thousand dollars—the same bein' the price of the means of locomotion. I will take your word of honor that you will pay me twenty per cent of any profits you make on any order you take as a result of my efforts. Is it a bargain? Speak quick!"

"If you are thinking of getting a special train," says Wilkinson, "it can't be—"

"Yes or no!" hollers Alex. "I'll take care of the rest!"

"Yes!" yells the lovely Wilkinson, jumpin' around like some of Alex's pep has entered his system. "If you put this over for me, I'll give you half of anything I get!"

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