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The morning following Matt Peasley's triumphant return from Panama with the steamer Tillicum, Cappy Ricks created a mild sensation in his offices by reporting for duty at a quarter past eight. Mr. Skinner was already at his desk, for he was a slave driver who drove himself fully as hard as he did those under him. He glanced up apprehensively as Cappy bustled in.
"Why, what has happened, Mr. Ricks?" he queried.
"I have an idea," said Cappy. "Skinner, my boy, a word with you in private."
Mr. Skinner rose with alacrity, for instinct warned him that he was in for some fast and clever work. Cappy sat in at his desk, and Skinner, drawing up a chair, sat down beside him and waited respectfully for Cappy to begin.
"Skinner," Cappy began impressively, "for many years you and I have been harboring the delusion that we are business men, whereas, if we can stand to hear the truth told about ourselves, we handle a deal with the reckless abandon of a pair of bear cubs juggling hazel nuts."
"I have sufficient self-esteem," Skinner replied stiffly, "not to take that pessimistic view of myself. If you refer to the inglorious rout we suffered yesterday in our skirmish with Captain Matt Peasley, permit me to remind you, in all respect, that you handled that entire deal yourself."
"Bah!" said Cappy witheringly. "Why, you aided and abetted me, Skinner. You told me my strategy was absolutely flawless."
"I am not the seventh son of a seventh son, sir. I did not see the flaw in your strategy. You lost by one of those strange accidents which must be attributed to the interference of the Almighty in the affairs of men."
"Lost!" Cappy jeered. "Lost! Skinner, you infuriate me. I haven't lost. Like John Paul Jones, I haven't yet commenced to fight. Skinner, listen to me. When I get through with that Matt Peasley you can take it from me he'll be sore from soul to vermiform appendix."
"If I may be permitted a criticism, sir, I would suggest that you let this matter rest right where it is. Surely you realize the delicate position you are in, quarreling with your future son-in-law--"
"Agh-h-h! Pooh!" snapped Cappy. "That's all outside office hours. I haven't any grudge against the boy and he knows it. I don't want his little old bank roll--that is, for keeps. When I went into this deal, Skinner, I was actuated by the same benevolent intentions as a man that desires to cure a hound pup of sucking eggs. He fills an egg with cayenne pepper and leaves it where the pup can find it--and after that the pup sucks no more eggs. I love this boy Matt like he was my own son, but he's too infernally fresh! He holds people too cheap; he's too trustful. He's made his little wad too easily, and easy money never did any man any good. So I wanted to teach him that business is business, and if I could take his roll away from him I was going to do it. Of course, Skinner, I need not remind you that I would have loaned him the next minute, without interest and without security, every cent I'd taken from him in this deal--"
"But why peeve over it, Mr. Ricks? If Captain Matt--"
"At my age--to take a beating like that?" Cappy shrilled. "Impossible! Why, he'll tell this story on the Merchants' Exchange, and I can't afford that. Not at my age, Skinner, not at my age! I have a reputation to sustain, and, by the Holy Pink-toed Prophet, I'm going to sustain it. I'm going down fighting like a bear cat. I know he scalded us yesterday, Skinner, but every dog must have his day--and that dog-gone Matt's day dawned this morning."
"The only tactical error, if I may appear hypercritical," Skinner said suavely, "was your failure to cancel the charter on the very day that Matt slipped up on his first advance payment. If you had done that you would have had him. Don't say I didn't call your attention to the fact that his payment was overdue!"
"Yes, if I had done that I would have had him, but how much would I have had him for? Paltry nine thousand dollars! I wanted him to get into the financial quicksands up to his chin--and then I'd have had him! Besides, Skinner, I had to go slow. Just think what would have happened if Florry found me out! Why, I would have had to call off the dogs before I was half through the job."
"He's probably told her all about it by now," Skinner suggested.
"Don't get him wrong," Cappy protested. "He's no tattle-tale. He'll fight fair. However, as I was saying, I couldn't do anything raw, Skinner. I had planned, when Matt reached Panama and discovered he had been double-crossed to pass the buck up to you!"
Mr. Skinner started, but Cappy continued serenely:
"I planned to be away from the office when the blow-off came, and you were to have borne the brunt of Matt's fury and despair. Why, what the devil do I have a general manager for if not to help me out in these little affairs? And besides, Skinner, when he blew in here the day Morrow & Company hit the ceiling, he was so excited and worried I felt positive he was busted then; so what was the use calling him for his overdue payment when if I let him run on I'd have his young soul in hock for the next ten years?" Cappy leaned forward and laid an impressive hand on Mr. Skinner's knee. "You know, Skinner, we really need that boy in this office, and it would have been a fine thing to have gotten him and gotten him right. Then he wouldn't be leaving the reservation to chase rainbows. However, as the boys say, I overlooked a bet, but I'll not overlook another."
"You said you had an idea," Mr. Skinner suggested.
"I have. Just at present there is a libel on the Tillicum, and when we lift it Matt Peasley is prepared to plaster another libel on her, and another, and still another. Now, as a result of our conversation with Matt yesterday, he thinks we'll lift the libel to-day--in fact, settle with him for what he paid the crew when they assigned their wage claim to his company, and thus prevent any further libels. Now, if we do that it leaves Matt in the clear to commence discharging his cargo, but at the same time it makes it incumbent upon him to slam a certified check for eighteen thousand dollars down on the Blue Star counter, in order to hold the vessel long enough to discharge her and collect the freight. Then he'll turn the vessel back on our hands with many thanks--rot him!"
"I have no doubt that such are his intentions, Mr. Ricks; in which event he will, of course, be ready with the certified check the instant we make formal, written demand upon him for our money. I believe I have already warned you, sir, that we cannot cancel the charter without first making formal, written demand for our charter money."
"Well," said Cappy, "we'll get round that all right."
"What time did Matt Peasley leave this office after the battle yesterday?"
"I should say in the neighborhood of half after three."
"Hum! Ahem! Harump-h-h! The banks close at three, and they do not reopen for business until ten this morning. It is now exactly a quarter of nine. Has Matt Peasley had time to procure a certified check since he arrived from Panama--or has he not?"
"The situation admits of no argument," Mr. Skinner admitted.
"Exactly! He didn't have time yesterday, and he sha'n't have time to-day, and to-morrow will be too late, because his money is due us to-day! We shall lift all those libels and free the Tillicum for him; then we shall make formal demand upon him for eighteen thousand dollars, in cash or certified check--we can legally decline his check unless certified--and when he fails to make good we formally cancel the charter. Then what happens? I'll tell you. We grab the boat with a full cargo from him as he grabbed it from Morrow & Company with a full cargo. Then we collect the freight on that northbound cargo as he collected the freight on the southbound cargo, and," Cappy continued calmly, "I dare say that freight money will put us in the clear on all those bills we're stuck for."
"And to do all this," Skinner remarked sententiously, "it is necessary to tie up Matt Peasley's bank account the instant the bank opens this morning."
"Skinner," said Cappy feelingly, "you get me almost before I get myself. Now listen, while I give you your orders: Go right up to our attorney's office, take our copy of the charter with you, explain that Matt has defaulted in his payments, and instruct our attorney to enter suit to collect. Tell him to get the complaint out and filed within three-quarters of an hour, and then, the instant he has filed the suit, he is to get out a writ of attachment on the Pacific Shipping Company's bank account."
"But we cannot do that, Mr. Ricks. We must make formal, written demand for the payments in arrears before we can proceed to force collection--"
"Certainly. We'll do that after we've tied up his bank account."
"But when we get into court we'll be nonsuited because we didn't do that first."
"I sincerely hope so. But in the meanwhile we've tied up Matt's bank account, and while we're arguing the merits of our action in so doing, another sun will have set, and when it rises again"--Cappy kissed his hand airily into space--"the good ship Tillicum will be back under the Blue Star Flag--"
"But Matt Peasley will allege conspiracy and a lot of things, and he can sue us and get the boat back and force us to render an accounting of that freight money."
"That situation will admit of much argument, Skinner. However, Matt will not sue me. Florry wouldn't let him! He'll make us lift the attachment on his bank account, and then he'll protect himself and tell us to whistle for the eighteen thousand dollars he owes us. Whichever way the cat jumps he wins. What I want to do is break even and with a modicum of my self-respect left intact."
"He'll promptly file a bond to lift the attachment--"
"Will he? Who in this city will go on his bond? Who does he know?"
"There are bonding companies in business, and for a cash consideration--"
"Rot! They will investigate and ponder before granting his application for a bond. It takes a day or two to get a bond through a bonding house, and all I want to do is to tie Matt up for a day. Now, listen! You see to it that the suit is filed and an attachment levied on Matt Peasley's bank account in the Marine National. That's where he keeps his little wad, because I took him over and introduced him there myself. Well, sir, in the meantime I'll call up Matt and precipitate a devil of a row with him over the phone. I'll tell him I've made up my mind to fight him to the last ditch and that those libels will not be lifted until he lifts them himself. Of course, he'll figure right away that he won't need a certified check to-day, and maybe he'll neglect to provide himself with one; or he may be chump enough to figure we'll take his check uncertified, and if he does that will teach him something."
"Well, I'm betting he'll not be caught napping," Mr. Skinner declared, "and if you want my opinion of this new proceeding I will state frankly that I am not in favor of it. It savors too much of assination. Of course, you may do it and get away with it--"
"Pooh!" snorted Cappy. "Forget it. At ten minutes of three this afternoon the libel on the Tillicum will be lifted, and Matt Peasley will be paid in cash the sum he advanced his crew for wages. That will block him from slapping any more libels on her and holding us up. Then we'll make formal, written demand upon him for eighteen thousand dollars; he won't have it where he can lay his hands on it, and he'll be up Salt Creek without a paddle."
"I am not in favor of it," Mr. Skinner reiterated firmly.
"Neither am I, Skinner, but I've got to do something. Can't let that young pup cover me with blood. No, sir, not at my age, Skinner. I can't afford to be laughed off California Street. And by the way, since when did you become a champion of Matt Peasley?"
Mr. Skinner did not answer.
"Since when?" Cappy repeated.
"Since he administered such a thorough thrashing to the Blue Star Navigation Company," Mr. Skinner answered, "and did it without prejudice. He swatted us, and we deserved it, but he didn't get angry. Every time he banged us, he'd look at me as much as to say: 'I hate to swat you two, but it's got to be done.' Bang! 'This hurts me more than it does you.' Biff! And then he went out smiling. I used to think he was an--an--interloper, I thought he had designs on the Blue Star Navigation Company and the Ricks Lumber and Logging Company, but he hasn't. He doesn't give a hoot for anything or anybody except for what he can be to them; not for what they can be to him. He's brainy and spunky and, by thunder, I'm for him, and if you're going to hand him a clout when he isn't looking you'll have to do it yourself."
"Skinner," said Cappy Ricks impressively. "Look me square in the eye. Do you refuse orders?"
"I do, sir," Skinner replied, and looked Cappy in the eye so fiercely that the old schemer quailed. "This is an unworthy business, Mr. Ricks. You're trying to teach Matt Peasley some business tricks, and he's taught you a few, so be a sport, sir, and pay for your education."
"All right," Cappy replied meekly. "When my own general manager goes back on me, I suppose there's nothing to do but quit. The program appears to be impracticable, so we'll say no more about it."
"I am glad to hear you say that, Mr. Ricks," Skinner answered feelingly, and forthwith repaired to his own office.
Cappy Ricks gazed after him almost affectionately, and as the door closed behind the general manager, Cappy murmured sotto voce:
"Skinner, I've been twenty-five years wondering why the devil I liked you, and now I know. Why, you cold-blooded, efficient, human automaton, you've actually got a heart! Bow! wow! Faithful Fido Skinner was just a-tugging at the chain and dragging the dog house after him in his efforts to eat me up! I hope I go bankrupt if I don't raise his salary!"
He turned to a pigeonhole in his desk and drew forth the charter he had negotiated months before with Matt Peasley for the Tillicum. He read it over carefully, tucked it in his breast pocket and slipped quietly out the door. One hour later a suit against the Pacific Shipping Company was filed in the county clerk's office, and at five minutes after ten a deputy-sheriff appeared at the paying-teller's window in the Marine National Bank and filed a writ of attachment on the funds to their credit.
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