A Flyer in Munitions

Samuel G. Camp

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All-Story Weekly , July 20, 1918

EVER since I go to work and sink a cool one thousand bucks in that clairvoyant game, not to say nothin' of fines, taxi hire, doctors' bills, and so on, I had been scareder of the missus than a wild animal. You know where I had went into that little deal strictly contrary to the wife's advice; and if she ever found it out—oh, boy!

The missus says that although maybe Caruso and Governor Whitman and George M. Cohan and President Wilson and J. P. Morgan and Al Jolson, and maybe a few other birds like them, has a better job than managin' boxers like I—nevertheless, the missus says, the thing for you to do is stick to your knittin' and not monkey round with no side lines.

And after what I got done to me in that clairvoyant deal—well, I was inclined to agree with her.

And so then one day I was beatin' it round to call on one of the sportin' editors, and ask him where did he get that stuff about how the Kid's best blow is the one where he kisses the canvas with his head, when—

Well, the last time I seen that bird it cost me a five-spot; he was so far down and out that it looked like he wouldn't never be able to come back for another one; and so I simply kisses that fiver good-by and leave him have it to get rid of him. And that couldn't of been more than a couple of months ago.

But you had ought to see him now! He's draped in about five hunderd dollars' worth of exclusive suitings, hattings, shirtings, and everything with chunks of ice hung all over him till he looks like a Crystal Palace, and he's ridin' round in a ten-thousand-dollar flivver with a regular slave in uneyform to run it.

I couldn't hardly believe my eyesight. But when he seen me there on the sidewalk, lammin' along among the rest of the common herd, he passes me the high sign, leans forward, and gives the showfer the office, and the car draws up alongside the curb like a royal yacht drawin' into dock.

Well, of course, everybody in the vicinity that's draggin' down less than five thousand per—let's make it unanimous—stops to get an eyeful of the Count of Monte Cristo, or the Duke of Chicago, or whoever he is; and I wisht I could of passed around my card or somethin'. It would of been a good ad, for I and the Kid.

Anyways—

“Hello, Charley,” he says. “How's the boy?”

“Well,” I says, “up to a minute ago I was feelin' a good deal about as usual. But you know how it is with a man at my time of life. Any sudden shock—”

He laughs. “I don't know as I blame you,” he says. “But listen, Charley. Don't I owe you some money? Five dollars or somethin'?”

“Five dollars!” I says. “Five dollars! Listen here, fella! Fifty-fifty or I go from here to headquarters! Get me? Of course I don't know what you done—blowed a box or trimmed a rube, or somebody, or somethin'— but take it from me, you look suspicious! Believe me, your very looks is enough to convict you with anybody that knowed-you-when. And these is war-times, and—”

“War-times is right,” he says, diggin' up a fiver out of a roll of twenties or bigger and the size of your leg. “You said somethin', Charley. Right there's how I made it. Munitions, boy! Munitions!”

“How d'you mean?” I asks.

“Why,” he says, “I had an uncle die and leave me a little money. Now I know where I got to get some kind of a run for that money, and I'm gettin' tired of the ponies and all that other kind of stuff, and so what d'you know? A guy comes along sellin' shares in a company that's goin' into this here new shell- game and help wipe them Huns off the earth.”

“And so listen, Charley,” he says. “Here was my chance to do something patriotic, and, well—”

“Make a little somethin' on the side,” I says.

“Maybe or maybe not,” he says. “It was a gamble. But, anyhow, I shot the wad; and now—just look at me!”

“I would,” I says, “only it hurts my eyes.”

“Believe me, Charley,” he says, “we mopped up! I'd like to tell you all about it some time. You had ought to come out to my new place on the Hudson, right next to a bunch of other millionaires' places. Take it from me, Charley, it's some dump! And I would like to show you some of my other cars besides this little old bus I'm ridin' in. And then I got—”

“Lay off, you lucky stiff,” I says, “or I'll make good on what I said! I'll have you pinched! Maybe you got it that way, and maybe—”

“Believe me, Charley,” he says, handin' the Home James sign to the showfer, “I did! And listen, Charley,” he says, as he rolls and royces away, “take my advice, and if you get a chance at any of this war stuff, grab on! Go to it!”

“Much obliged for the tip,” I says, “and thanks for the five. And between I and you” —by this time he was cut of ear-shot— “I hope you choke!”

The lucky stiff! What d'you know about that?

And somehow—well, I couldn't seem to get the idea of that bird out of my head. To think of a guy like him, that only two months ago wasn't worth the powder to blow him to hellingone, and now, as he says, look at him! That is, if you can without havin' an eye put out. It would certainly make you sore—the luck of some people.

Well, anyways, I went round and seen that sportin' editor, and showed him where he had done I and the Kid a great injustice, and he promises to be good; and so then I lams back to the office again.

And I was just gettin' down to work, tryin' to think of somebody that the Kid hadn't trimmed—or that hadn't trimmed the Kid—so I could challenge him, when—you wouldn't believe it!

Eddie!

Yes. sir, after all his bein' directly responsible for my gettin' into that clairvoyant thing, and a sucker game if they ever was one—after gettin' me trimmed for a good two thousand dollars or more, this bird has the nerve—

Out!” I says, and reaches for the inkwell.

Kamerad! Kamerad!” says Eddie.

“Where d'you get that come-a-rod stuff?” I says. “You go a mile—in nothin'—or I'll brain you!”

“Aw, now, Charley,” he says, “come on! Have a heart! What for do you want to go and hold that up against me?”

“If you mean this here inkwell.” I says—I guess it would weigh a good pound or more— “take it from me, I'm not gonna hold it up against you more than one second longer. I'm gonna leave you have it!”

“You know what I mean,” he says, “And listen, Charley. On the level, that's why I'm here. I'm sorry I let you in for a loss on that thing: and— Look, Charley! I know where you can make good! Good? Why, you can make our fortune!”

“ 'You can make our fortune' is good,” I says. “I take the risk: you take the fortune.”

And right there was where I made my mistake. I hadn't ought to of parleyed with him one instant.

“Listen, Charley,” he says. “You know how fortunes is bein' made right along now'days in these here war-babies, and ammunitions, and submarines, and everythin'.”

Well, after just meetin' that skate that had graduated in two months from a cheap panhandler to a millionaire in his own right, I guess I knowed somethin' about the fortunes that was bein' made in this here war stuff. And so I begin to prick up my ears.

“Well,” says Eddie, “take it from me. Charley, I've got a hold of somethin' that if they don't nobody beat us to it—Charley, listen to me! In less than six weeks I and you will be givin' dinners to our friends at the Rich-Carleton, and givin' away limousines for souvenirs!”

“You mean favors,” I says. “If you was up in society like I—well, anyways, just a little old dinner to your friends at the Rich or somewhere ain't no one hundredth performance. But of course you wouldn't be expected to know nothin' about such things. Yeh! I got a picture! You mean in six weeks we'll be eatin' in a bean-wagon and layin' away our watch to pay for it.”

“Wait till I tell you,” says Eddie. “Never mind how I meet this bird in the first place. You know me; I'm always lookin' out for little things like this. Anyways, I've been workin' on this guy for a month; and now I've got him where we can cinch him. All it needs is a little money.”

“I was afraid of that,” I says.

“And believe me,” says Eddie, “it was some job! I never seen a guy more suspicious than him.”

“It depends a little,” I says, “on who you're doin' business with.”

“Even now,” says Eddie, “I don't know who he is, nor what's his name, nor where he lives. What d'you know about that? I've just met him off and on round in different joints and places. And believe me, this bird keeps himself very well covered!”

“I don't blame him,” I says, “considerin'— Say! Where d'you get this mysterious stranger stuff? What kind of business you tryin' to ring me in on? Some kind of a spy business?”

“Nothin' like that.” says Eddie. “This guy's an inventor. And I'll tell you frankly, he's crazy.”

“What could be fairer than that?” I says.

“But of course,” says Eddie, “all these inventors is nuts, and so what could you expect? Though, at that, I'll tell the world fair, this here guy is the prize pecan! You see where I'm givin' it to you all straight.”

“Oh, of course,” I says. “ Oh, certainly! Just as if you would think of doin' anythin' else!”

“But listen, Charley.” says Eddie. “Whether this bird is a bug or not ain't neither here nor there. The real point is, if this guy's got what he says he has—and of course they ain't nothin' we can do but take his word for it—I tell you frankly—”

“I suppose,” I says, “if a guy was to ask you what's the time, you'd tell him frankly.”

“If this bird's got what he claims Charley, it 'll make our everlastin' fortunes for the three of us!”

“Goin' up!” I says. “You started in with only one fortune split two ways. Now you ring in this here crazy guy and make a fortune apiece for all three of us. At that, if I had to have a fortune, I'd prefer one of them everlastin' kind. The other kind— Get businesslike! What is it this here nut claims he's got?”

“He's went to work and invented some new kind of a hand-grenade,” says Eddie. “You know what I mean. Them round things like a baseball, only different, that you touch off and throw at somebody, and it explodes and kills you.”

“What— Are you pitchrn' or catch-in'?” I asks him.

“I was gettin' ahead of my story,” he says. “What I mean, you know, the way them things is made now, as soon as you start 'em goin', if you don't get 'em right away from you— suppose you got a cramp in your arm or somethin'—they're liable to explode right there in your hand—”

“And kill somebody,” I says.

“Yeh,” says Eddie. “So this bird has went to work and invented some kind of a dingus, or business, or somethin', that makes the world safe for the guy that's doin' the heavin'—see? But the other guy—oh, boy! This bird guarantees that one of them little pills of his will do the work of one gross of any ordinary bomb that's on the market. And so what's the answer?”

“Listen, Charley,” says Eddie. “This new fool-proof grenade thing is gonna be all the rage! Why, nobody won't be able to sell them old-fashioned bombs at any price! It stands to reason. And all I and you have to do to grab off a half interest is just simply put up for gettin' the thing patented and—now— promotion. Ain't that a crime? And look,

Charley! As soon as we get them patent papers, and everythin' all buttoned up good and tight—why, we can sell out to the gover'ment in ten minutes and live on it for the rest of our natural life!

“Why, Charley,” he says, “they's nothin' to it! And so—look! I got a date all made with this bird for I and you to run out with him to the place where he's been workin' on this thing—it's a ways outside the city—this very afternoon. He's gonna give us a demonstration.”

Well, that's news to me.

“Listen, Eddie,” I says. “If it was anybody but you, and them bombs will do all that this bird claims they'll do, I liefer take that demonstration for granted. Maybe if I open the window I can hear it from here.”

But—well, you might know. What with one thing and another, I fell for it. For one thing, it looks like maybe here is a chance to get back them three thousand or more berries I went and sank in that clairvoyant thing, and then I can face the missus without feelin' like a criminal or somethin'. And for another, I can't seem to get the idea of that guaranteed fresh laid millionaire out of my head. And to think of a guy like him—well, I wouldn't like nothin' better than to make a couple of fortunes of my own, and then meet up with this bird again some day, and believe me, I would show him!

So finally I says: “All right Eddie, I'll take a chance. But you'll have to see this bird and get that demonstration put off till to-morrow. It's like this. The Kid's in a jam, and I got a date this afternoon to help him out.”

And that wasn't nothin' but the truth. For a while back it had seemed like the Kid had lost all kind of interest in his work. He wouldn't do no trainin' not to amount to anythin'; and what fights he was in, them other boys simply mops up the ring with him. So finally it come to a show-down between I and the Kid, and the truth come out.

And of course, you might know. The Kid had went and gone bugs over some girl or other by the name of Claire—Kopsky. Well, I seen where the Kid had got his, all right; and so I asks him why don't he have it over with and marry her. Believe me, the way he is now, he's not no good to himself nor nobody else; and take it from me, it's costin' us regular money to bring him back to life.

“And so the only thing for you to do,” I tell the Kid, “is kiss yourself good-by and marry the girl.”

Yeh, says the Kid—Fine! But take it from him,—Old Man Kopsky has other ideas! Worse than that. Mr. Kopsky is somehow prejudiced against a boxer. And the Kid has a rival that works in a factory; and Mr. Kopsky is backin' this red-headed, rough-necked husky to the limit. Mrs. Kopsky, it seems, is neutral. And Claire—she's all for the Kid.

“Listen, Kid,” I says. “What's the disposition of the enemy's forces?”

“Meaner than dirt,” says the Kid.

“You don't get me,” I says. “What does this here Kopsky do for a livin', and does he stick round the house much? What's the family's general habits? And this here redhead; when might you expect him round to call on Miss Kopsky? And all that kind of stuff.”

Well, the Kid says where Kopsky works somewheres outside the city; and when it comes to gettin' up in the mornin', Mr. Kopsky can make a sucker out of a milkman with the—now—insomnia; and he's away all day, and don't never get back till everybody but a night watchman calls it a day.

“Fine!” I says.

As for Redhead, the Kid says, you can depend upon him to blow round as regular as clockwork every evenin' at eight; but Redhead has a regular job, and so he don't never show up daytimes. And take it from the Kid, if him and Redhead ever gets together, and it's comin' just as sure as fate, what the Kid won't do to this bird—

And as for the family's general habits, the Kid says, they're temperate, but kind of common—exceptin', of course, Claire. Claire hasn't no outside job, and so she lives at home and helps out Mrs. Kopsky. And Mrs. Kopsky reads the movie magazines, breaks out twice a week and Sunday in a purple silk dress, and leaves Claire help her out—and don't you think she doesn't.

“I get you,” I says.

Well, I seen where somethin' had to be done right away, because, what with all this kind of stuff on his mind, the Kid is a liability instead of an asset, and if this keeps up much longer I and him might just as well go to the poorhouse in the first place. So then—of course, I seen where they was only one thing to do—I go to work and pull some deep stuff. And by this time—well, we had it all fixed up.

Claire is game; and Mrs. Kopsky, oh, well, she'll come round; and Mr. Kopsky— well, Claire's of age; and so this afternoon, whilst the coast is all clear, the Kid is goin' to call round in a taxi, just like money wasn't no object, to take Claire to a matinee. Only— listen. I'm right there in the taxi, for a witness and to kind of see that everythin' goes right; and when this day's work is done—well, the Kid is a married man, and then I guess we won't have no more nonsense.

So I tell Eddie where we'll have to put that demonstration over till to-morrow; and Eddie says all right, he can arrange that little thing easy enough; and so we leave it that way.

And take it from me, if this bird that's invented this here new hand-grenade makes good on his claims, I can see right now where we're all of us on the way to a fortune, because they's money in this war stuff, and I know whereof I speak! Why, to think of a guy that only two months ago didn't have a red cent in this world, and now—just look at him! Maybe I didn't say that this here positively fresh rich guy goes by the name of Fred Barber; and, of course, maybe I got a mean disposition, and all this and that, but—leave it to me! Just as soon as my own fortune is all laid down and salted away, I won't never rest satisfied till I've hunted this bird down and showed him! It would certainly exasperate you—the luck of some people.

But first, of course, the Kid's affairs has to be taken care of. So that afternoon, accordin' to schedule, I and the Kid drives round to the Kopsky residence. And the Kid, all dressed up like a regular bridegroom, only worse, blows into the house after Claire, whilst I wait outside in the taxi.

Well, I didn't have long to wait. The door hadn't hardly shut behind the Kid, when—Zaa-a-m! Here comes a chair through a window takin' sash and all. A lot of other bric-a-brac starts to follow it, and just about then somebody sticks their head out of another window and starts hollerin' murder and police. I guess it's Mrs. Kopsky; and when she mentions murder, believe me. she said somethin'!

Anyways, it can't be nothin' less than the next thing to it—not from the sounds. They's a constant serious of terrific crashes and yellsand everythin', enough to split your ear; and—well, even a deaf, dumb, and blind man could of told where somethin' had went wrong somewhere.

And right about then I goes over the top. And believe me, it looks like if I am to get there in time to save the Kid's life, I had better hurry.

Well, I dashes into the front hall, turns to the right, and here we are at the front. The Kid and the redhead is havin' it out all over the place—oh, boy! They're makin' a barroom brawl out of the battle of Picardy. A long- haired hophead with eyes like a couple of ounces of liquid fire is dancin' round the edges, every now and then swingin' on the Kid with what's left of the hat-rack, and missin' him—sometimes. Kopsky!

Mrs. Kopsky is gone West, draped over the window-sill, half in and half out of the house, and a fifty-fifty preposition whether she falls in or out. And Claire is on top of the piano, with her skirts drawed up like she had saw a mouse, treatin' herself to the world's record fit of hysterics.

And the place is a wreck.

And besides all this—well. I seen where somehow Claire must of tipped her mitt; and Kopsky and this red-haired bird had laid for the Kid. And furthermore. I seen where if Mr. Kopsky continues to wear out that hat-rack on the Kid, pretty soon, who knows, the Kid may get hurt serious—and take it from me, Redhead is givin' the Kid all he can handle, anyways—

And so I grabs off Mr. Kopsky for myself, and the two of us goes to it. And all I've got to say is this: don't never fight with no crazy man. All the rules is off. You can't never tell where he's goin' to hit you, nor what with. And as for takin' punishment, they can make a sucker out of an anvil.

Of course, give me time and I would of trimmed him; but—

I guess the Kid must of seen him—that cop comin' in the door—almost as soon as I. Anyways, I and him makes our getaway— through the rear of the house and out the back door—runnin' horse and horse. We done fourteen blocks in nothin' flat. It doesn't do a man no good to get pinched, no matter how much right and justice you got on your side. Then I seen a pair of swingin' doors on a corner, and we lams through, still runnin' close to the ground, for a five-yard gain which brings us to the bar.

And I guess this here was one time when I had a good excuse.

Well, the both of us looks like we had just went through a couple of gas attacks, two or three of them box barrages, half a dozen trench raids, and a big push. What that redhead done to the Kid was a crime; and what Mr. Kopsky done to me—well, anyhow, it was a misdemeanor. Though, of course, if that cop hadn't showed up just when he did—

Anyways, it's a cinch where the Kid is out of business for a good six weeks or more; and believe me, if they's money in this hand- grenade thing, it begins to look like I'm gonna need it.

“Fine business!” I says to the Kid, after I get my breath—and the change—back. “Fine business, I should say! Well, maybe the next time you're gonna get married, you'll listen to me. and take my advice, and not try to pull off no elopements. Didn't I tell you all the time where they doesn't never no good come out of these elopements. But no, of course you knowed best; and so—”

“Well, will you listen to that!” says the Kid. “But never mind. Take it from me, Charley, I'm through with this marriage game—and them Kopskys, too! Claire and all the rest of 'em. This is the end!”

“Stick to that, Kid,” I says, “and you're gettin' off easy.”

And so, maybe, after all, it might of turned out worse. With the Kid back in the game and goin' good, as soon as he recovers, and if this little flier of mine in munitions turns out like I have every reason to believe it will—well, I guess I and the missus should worry about that old high cost of livin'.

So then, the next day. I and Eddie hires a car—that is, I hires the car—and takes a run out into the country.

We got lost a couple of times, and when I seen just how far away from the city—in order, of course, to make the world safe for the people that lives there—this here inventor has saw fit to carry on them experiments—

“Hey!” I says to the showfer. “Wait a minute! Hold up!”

“What's the idea?” asks Eddie.

“We forgot our telescope!” I says.

“Where d'you get that stuff?” says Eddie. “What for do we need a telescope?”

“To view that demonstration through,” I says.

“Maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea at that,” says Eddie.

And then he goes on to tell me just what this bird claims this little bomb thing of his will do. And believe me, it was enough!

But anyways, finally we got there, and it wasn't nothin' but just a little shack away off in the woods from everythin' else.

And so then we unloads, and walks up and bats on the door.

“Come in,” somebody says, and—I leave Eddie go first.

Well, it was kind of dark inside, and so at first I didn't get him. And when I did make him, you could see at a glance, from his actions, where he had already got me. He was reachin' for one of them little round, black things that laid in a row on the workbench. And I knowed what they was—a bunch of them new model bombs each and every one of them guaranteed to do the work of one full gross of any other kind of bomb ever invented, bar none! And I knowed what was goin' to happen, too. The demonstration is about to begin right here and now!

Kopsky!

Start? They wasn't time for no such formalities as that! I was outside and fifty foot away from that shack, and breakin' all records for sustained flight, in zero.

And I might of covered twenty feet more—one step—when it sounds like all the powder in the world had went off in one blast. Boy! It blowed me flat on my face, but I'm burnin' that old ground before I hits it again on the rebound. If that thing had ever hit me—

Talk about a flier in munitions! I guess nobody never flew no faster than I! And take it from me, I keep right on goin' away from there till I drops dead and I and Mr. Kopsky is a nice long ways apart.

And I hope we don't never get no nearer to each other.

It might of been a couple of weeks later that I meet up again with this here Fred Barber, the war model millionaire, that if it hadn't of been for him—well, I wouldn't of been a lot older and wiser than I was them two weeks ago.

“Hello, Charley,” he says. “How's the boy?”

“Fine!” I says.

“How's every little thing goin'?” he asks.

“Great!” I says. “How's things with you?”

“Boomin'!” he says! “What d'you know,

Charley? I'm on the way to another million!”

“You don't say! Fine!” I says.

“Yeh,” he says. “More war stuff. I just bought up the rights to a new kind of hand- grenade, and believe me it's a winner!”

“What d'you know about that!” I says. “Who invented it?”

“A guy by the name of—”

“What was that again?” I says. Maybe I didn't quite catch him. Or did I?

“Kopsky,” he says.