Why, of Course
by James Edmond Casey
How easy, when it is all over, to see just what was in the wind, all the time!
THE STOUT, loud-waistcoated man struck out of the swirl of the Broadway crowd and into the dazzling jewelry store of Radlang & Co., at Oakland, California.
"I want to buy a diamond ring for my daughter," he informed the first clerk behind the polished glass counter. "Doubtless you've read about my daughter and her coming marriage," he pompously went on, as his thick fingers fumbled amid the array of rings. "Dorothea De los O'Brien, you know. I'm Pedar De los O'Brien." And he proffered a card.
The clerk was astounded. For he had judged the man, from appearances and manner, a cheap sport, or politician of the prosperous saloon-keeper brand. But De los O'Brien! That was a name to conjure with across the bay in San Francisco. Here, in Oakland, O'Brien was known only by reputation as the lumber and shipping king of the Pacific Coast.
"This about hits what I want." The expensively though flashily dressed Mr. De los O'Brien held up a plain band gold ring set with a handsome diamond. "What may be the price of this?"
"Two hundred and ten dollars, sir."
Without another word, the portly money king drew out as portly a wallet. But, after a quick examination of its contents, it appeared something was wrong. Mr. De los O'Brien looked up.
"I have only a hundred and sixty-five dollars here," he explained. "And worse luck, I haven't got my check book on me. But--oh, I forgot----" And he withdrew from another recess of the wallet a crisp pink check.
He handed that to the waiting clerk.
"This is for one thousand dollars," he said. "You can take it out of that."
But the clerk seemed doubtful.
"I don't think we can cash it," he hesitatingly explained. "You see, sir, it is a rule with us never to accept a check for more than the amount of the purchase. But, if you'll pardon me a moment, I'll see Mr. Radlang, the boss, and find out just what we can do for you in this case."
Quickly the clerk reappeared, in the wake of a small, gray, wizened man, who was red of face and evidently angry.
"Look here, sir!" said this little person, leaning across the glass case. "you sure have got your nerve with you! Coming in here and trying to work off a bad check and pocket the change! But I'm too wise to fall for any such old game as that! Tut, tut! I don't care who you say you are! I never saw you before in my life! But I think you----"
"That'll do, sir!" The portly man had drawn himself up, indignant. "You've gone far enough. So I am trying to swindle you-- I, Pedar De los O'Brien! I'll have you know, sir, that I could buy your store ten times over and never feel it. Bad check! I wouldn't have offered it, only I never for a minute thought there was anyone in business in Oakland who didn't know Pedar De los O'Brian, of San Francisco."
The stranger's hurt, confident manner, and his quiet repetition of that powerful name, all had an effect on the little jeweler. He calmed down with surprising suddenness, and when he spoke again, it was in a more reasonable tone of voice.
"But can't you see it's a business proposition, Mr. De los O'Brien?" Radlang expostulated. "My attitude is only businesslike and perfectly proper. Personally, I would take your word for it and cash your check right now. But that isn't good business."
Mr. De los O'Brien saw that.
"You're right," he said. "You're perfectly right. But, just the same, it roiled me a bit to be mistaken for a swindler." Suddenly his face brightened, as though with an inspiration. "Jingo!" he exclaimed. "I'll tell you what I'll do. I can't let you take my word for it and cash this check. No; that isn't good business, as you say. But I'll prove to you who I am, and that will show you I am far above committing any swindle."
His enthusiasm was contagious.
"How!" from Radlang. "What is it?"
"This, just this: I'm going away for a few days--up to Eureka to look over some shipments of timber. I'll call in when I return. In the meantime, you can find out whether my check is good by putting it through the bank. You will keep both check and ring till I look in again. Now, what do you think of it?"
The jeweler failed to see how he ran any risk so long as he retained both check and ring. Added to this, his curiosity had been aroused in regard to his would-be customer. For his own benefit, he wanted to determine the true status of the man.
"I guess the old fellow's Pedar De los O'Brien all right, after all," he said to himself, as he indorsed the check and inclosed it with the others for the banks.
And, as the days passed, the stronger his convictions grew that the check was good. Why, otherwise, should the portly stranger so desire to have it put through and proven? Imagine his surprise, then, when, three days later, the check for one thousand dollars came back from the bank on which it was drawn, with a little slip attached which read: "No funds."
"Well, I see it all now," the jeweler said, communing with himself, after the first shock. "He was just saving his face by trying to make good on his bluff. Anyhow, I'll keep this as a souvenir of Pedar De los O'Brien, or whatever his real name is. For I know I'll never see him again."
THAT very afternoon, who should stride largely into the store but the smiling, portly Mr. Pedar De los O'Brien.
"Well, how about that check of mine?" were his first words.
Radlang broke into that "I-told-you-so" smile so common after elections and prize fights. Without a word, he laid before the stranger the pink check and the attached "no funds" slip.
A look of blank amazement came over the other's face. He studied the check as though unable to believe the evidence of his eyes. Then, of a sudden, he burst out laughing, his ample stomach heaving up and down and his broad face growing red with merriment.
"Well, and no wonder!" he exclaimed when he had regained sufficient control of himself. "No wonder it came back! I asked the clerk up at my hotel for a blank check on my bank--and he gave me this. Why, it is drawn on the wrong bank. Ha, ha! No wonder it came back. But no matter----"
He drew out his now well-filled wallet, and deposited the check therein. Then he withdrew two one-hundred-dollar bills and a gold eagle, which he tendered, amid profuse apologies, in payment for the diamond ring.
"I guess you won't object to taking this kind of money," he laughed. And, pocketing the ring, he departed.
Behind him, he left a sadly muddled little gray jeweler. What in the world , Radlang asked himself, was beneath all this jugglery? That something was afoot he felt in his bones; but what it was, old business man though he was, he could not tell. He had an uncomfortable feeling of being the victim of an exceedingly clever swindler. It was uncanny, like a premonition of danger; but all he could do to combat it was to breathe the hope that he had seen the last of the suave, well-fed Mr. Pedar De los O'Brien, of San Francisco.
IT was the intention of the portly check giver that he should see no more of the uncheatable Mr. Radlang. Yet that fact did not account for his going to another jewelry store that day.
It appears that Radlang was not the only jeweler in Oakland whom Pedar had favored with his patronage. For when he called at Hatton & Jenkil's "Diamond Palace" that afternoon, the head of the firm, Mr. Jenkil, gave him a nod of recognition.
The store was pretty full with the Saturday afternoon shopping crowd. De los O'Brien went to the repair counter, presented a ticket, and received a diamond ring which he had left there to be reset. He had decided to give this commission to Hatton & Jenkil after Mr. Radlang had cruelly refused to favor him with change in real money on the thousand-dollar check.
Strangely enough, however, the usually wise Pedar De los O'Brien had not profited by that humiliating experience. For here he was standing at the cashier's window, bill for the resetting of the ring in hand, and again tendering that scorned thousand-dollar check in payment.
To be sure, the check now bore the indorsement of a certain financially sound jeweler--Mr. Radlang, to be exact.
Mr. Jenkil, who was taking cash that day, said, after examining the check on both sides:
"I beg your pardon, sir, but we have never done business with you, except to the extent of resetting this ring; and this is rather a large check--one thousand dollars--to offer in payment for that service. There would be nine hundred and seventy-eight dollars change."
Mr. Pedar De los O'Brien's face began to take on a look of indignation which he could so easily summon to his aid. He did not have a chance to speak, for, noting the change in his countenance, Mr. Jenkil went on, in a conciliatory tone:
"As Mr. Radlang has indorsed this check and put his O. K. on it, it must be good. It's after banking hours, as you say, and there is no other way you can cash the check, so----"
He did not finish the sentence. Instead, he stepped off his high seat, packed out of the cash cage, slammed the grated door behind him, and stepped briskly to the rear of the store, where there was a telephone.
De los O'Brien's first impulse was to "beat it"; but by the time he got to the door, he reflected that he might be throwing away a chance to get that nine hundred and seventy-eight dollars change.
He had lived on chances several years, and his waist measurement had increased steadily. Chances were his stock in trade. The present one was rather desperate, he had to admit. He knew that Jenkil had gone to the phone to ask Radlang about his indorsement of that check. Of course--well, time enough to lay down your cards when you see the other chap has you beaten.
Mr. De los O'Brien decided to remain just where he was, standing at the door; and when Jenkil came away from the phone he would be able to see from the man's face just what had happened--whether the reply had come from Radlang himself, exposing the attempted game, or whether the reply had come from a clerk, Radlang being absent.
De los O'Brien had figured that it was about time for Radlang to be absent from his store, on his way to the ball game. If some one else answered the inquiry the information given about the check might be such as to make Jenkil waver and possibly cash it. A slim chance, to be sure; but a chance nevertheless; and Mr. De los O'Brien did not find it in his heart to throw it away. If it became necessary to beat a swift, undignified retreat, he had a taxi-cab awaiting him.
So he stood by the door, pretending to be looking at articles of jewelry, but really with his sharp eyes fixed on the telephone and the man before it.
Presently Mr. De los O'Brien saw the jeweler rattling the hook excitedly, and heard him crying "Hello!" repeatedly. Evidently the connection had been broken before his talk was finished with whomever the person was who had answered the call.
After a while, Jenkil hung up the receiver and walked back to the cashier's cage, an annoyed look on his face. The watcher at the door saw him take up the check again, put it in a drawer, and begin counting out the cash.
Expanding his chest, with renewed courage and a tolerant smile on his ample countenance, Mr. Pedar De los O'Brien moved toward the cashier to receive his hard-earned change.
RADLANG, the rich jeweler, but poor casher of strange checks, was an ardent baseball fan. It was his delight on Saturday afternoons to take off his collar and sweat on the grand stand, rooting riotously for the Oakland team. Usually he was accompanied by a man the public believed to be his bitterest rival, Mr. Jenkil, of Jenkil & Hatton, manufacturing and retail jewelers, of Broadway.
Radlang was about to call up his friend to see if he were going to the game that afternoon, when a call came from Jenkil himself.
"Say, Radlang," came over the wire, "there's a man named Pedar De los O'Brien here with a check for a thousand dollars bearing your indorsement. Did you indorse it?"
By the time Jenkil had got to his question, Radlang was so excited that he burst into hysterical laughter. "Oh, yes, I indorsed it," he answered, his fingers twitching so that he could scarcely hold the receiver to his ear. "Oh, yes. But don't you pay it, Jenkil! Don't you take it. I'll be right around. Hold the scoundrel, and I'll pick up a policeman on the way, and we'll have him locked up. Be sure you hold him, now. Get me?"
There was no response.
"Jenkil!" shouted Radlang into the transmitter. "Do you understand?"
Still no answer. Then the jeweler began to rattle the hook, just as Jenkil was doing at his end. Blessing the girl at central, and realizing that there was not a moment to be lost, Radlang caught up his hat and tore out of the store.
"Afraid of missing the first of the game," sneered one of the clerks.
"Yes," chimed in another. "The boss is getting to be a bigger bug every day on baseball."
As Radlang dashed through the street, it all came to him in a staggering flash. It was plain to him now that the purchase of the diamond ring and the putting through the one-thousand-dollar check was only a brilliant scheme to get his good indorsement on a worthless check. Then the portly swindler, by means of having a ring reset, or something, had scraped a business acquaintance with Jenkil. And now in payment he was proffering that bad check with the excuse that he could not change it elsewhere because the banks were closed.
And poor Jenkil was falling for the swindle--until he had been told not to pay it. A horrible thought entered Radlang's mind. Had Jenkil heard that part of the message? Had it reached him before the connection was broken?
With a cold shiver from head to foot, the little gray jeweler vaulted into control of himself. He arrived at the store, and stepped forward just in time to block the way of Mr. Pedar De los O'Brien.
But the latter was not in the trade of swindling business men because of any lack of brains on his part or presence of mind. His right hand shot forward to grasp that of Mr. Radlang.
"Why, how d'ye do?" he beamed. "So glad to meet you again. But I'm in a fierce hurry to get a train for Los Angeles! Good-by!"
But the jeweler, though a small man, held so tightly to the swindler's hand that he could not wrench away.
"Not so fast, Mr. O'Brien," he said loudly, to attract attention and help. "It was a close shave, but I got you by the skin of my teeth. And I'll trouble you, before I hand you over to the police, to return Mr. Jenkil his one thousand dollars."
"Wrong again, sir," returned Pedar, still calm, although a policeman now appeared at the door. "The amount is nine hundred and eighty-seven. As well be precise in business matters."
This story is from the February 1, 1912 issue of Top-Notch Magazine. The entire issue is available at the Internet Archive, but only as image files -- that is, a png image of each page. You can find the info page here, and the actual collection of page links here.
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