r•••••••■•••■•■•••••■••••••••••■■••••••••••••■•••••••••r...,•■•••••••1 Charles y Barry I T is a self-centred crowd which packs Fanconi's lounge at six o'clock every evening. Nobody takes any notice of anybody outside his own immediate circle. That is why three very ordinary looking men chose it for their confidential talk; that is also why they did not notice another very ordinary looking man at a neighbouring table who held a newspaper in front of him.
" Well, that's settled," one of the three men, obviously au Irishman,
was saying, " we tackle the old boy tomorrow as he comes out of the — " A waitress dropped a metal tray. The man with the newspaper uttered a cluck of annoyance.
" —ry funny," another of the three men, whose accent betrayed the Australian, was talking now, " how the old gag works. It never fails."
"I hope you're right, Tom," the third man replied in tones reminiscent of the Bronx.
" I'm right, all righto!" the Australian declared confidently, " you'll see. People always want something for nothing."
" I know they do," the American answered, " but gosh! why pick an a hard shell American business man? He ain't such a sucker if he's been able to pull down a million dollars. Why not try it on some silly woman with oodles of dough?"
" That's where you're wrong, Fixer," the Irishman cut in, " it's the hard shell business man who falls for it every time. That's why the likes of us can make a living out of the likes of him. They never complain either, because they hate to confess they've been done."
" That's right," the Australian confirmed. " Trying it on any but an American or colonial business man is the surest way of falling into friend Soppy's hands."
" Who's Soppy?" the American asked sharply, " a dick?"
" One of the smartest on Scotland Yard's pay-roll," the Australian replied.
The listener behind the newspaper raised his hand to his head in a gesture resembling a salute.
" Why do you call him Soppy?" the American wanted to know, " if he's what you say he can't be so darn soppy."
" He ain't," was the emphatic reply, "I don't know why they call him that, unless it's because his name is Sopwith —Detective-Sergeant Sopwith."
"It's not only that," the Irishman said, " I found out the real reason when he got me for that mail order job three years ago."
" Tell us," the others urged.
At this moment the listener rose from his place, and keeping his back towards the trio made silently for the passage where stood a row of telephone booths.
The Irishman finished his drink.
" Did either of you ever hear of a guy called Aesop?" he asked.
The Australian shook his head.
" Wasn't he a guy," the American asked, "who wrote bedtime stories?"
" Near enough," the Irishman replied, " he wrote fables. Things like The Lion and the Mouse and so forth."
" That's what I said," the American declared, " bedtime stories, but what the hell has that got to do with this Soppy guy?"
" Everything," was the reply, " this Aesop had a fable to fit every situation you could think of. So has Soppy. Soppy is short for Sopwith, all right, but it's short for Aesop, too."
"I getcha," the American said, " so what? He tells you one o' these bedtime stories when he gets you. Is that it?"
• " That's it," the Irishman answered, "he's a funny bird. He acts as if he was more sorry than angry for what you've done, and tries to show you how foolish you've been by reading you a little tale out of a fat little blue book he carries about with him—and when you begin to think it over you find that the tale fits your own case like a glove. The tale is one of Aesop's Fables."
" Yes," the Australian declared, " a dirty trick!"
The American was amused.
"I'd like to meet that guy," he said.
" You will," the Irishman told him, " if you try the ' con ' game on the wrong sucker."
" Oh, I leave the choice of suckers to you boys," the American said, " and being new to this racket of yours, let's see if I've got the play right. I got to get goin' and I don't want to ball things up."
" Let's have another drink," the Australian suggested, and raised his hand for a waitress.
Before coming to him, the waitress went first to the adjoining table where two young fellows had just sat down. Tom then gave his order, and while they waited nothing was said of the matter under discussion. In the comparative silence they could not help hearing something of what the two young fellows were saying. One of them in particular seemed to be in high spirits. The reason was soon obvious.
"Gosh, George," he was saying to the other, " it's hardly believable. Thirty thousand jolly old quidlets!"
" Yes, it's a big sum," George replied, " what are you going to do with it?"
"Spend it, of course," the first speaker said, " what else?"
" I know. Easy come—easy go," the other answered soberly. "I suppose your idea of spending it will be a hundred pounds each way on the losers instead of your usual bob."
" Oh, I'll certainly make my bets a bit heavier now," the lucky one declared, " but I'll do other things as well. I'll travel and—" "Oh, dry up," his friend advised, "here are the drinks. Dip your nose into that, I've got to go soon."
The three conspirators at the other table had followed every word, and there was a characteristic gleam in the eyes of each one of them—the eyes of hunters who have spotted their quarry.
"Look here, you guys," the American whispered when the waitress had gone, " just you leave this to me. This is the racket I was raised on. I can part that sap from his dough beforeayou can say knife.'" The Irishman looked at him coldly.
" Look here yourself, Fixer," he said, " one job at a time."
" This ain't a job," the American retorted, " this is kid stuff."
"Don't forget," the Irishman said, "this isn't God's own country. The racecourse game may be easy over there, but it won't work here."
" Yes, it will," Fixer declared, "I've got it all doped out."
" The lad looks a good prospect," the Australian put in, " but there's nothing doing till the other bloke goes. He's a wet blanket." "I guess you're right," Fixer agreed, " he'd crab the act."
It was as if Fate were playing into their hands. As he spoke the young man in question rose from his seat.
"I wish you didn't have to go," the other was saying. "Here I am with money to burn and nobody but myself to spend it on."
" There's no hurry to spend it," George replied, "there's plenty of time. Cheerio! See you to-morrow."
Fixer rubbed his hands gleefully as he saw the man leave his companion alone at the table.
" Mick," he whir pered to the Irish man, " tackle this my way, but you've gotta back me up if needed. You're still the Honourable Clarence Desmond."
" All right," he consented, but don't blame me if it doesn't pan out."
" I'll back up your play," the Australian added, " but don't ask me to do any thing on my own. I don't savvy this racket."
" That's O.K. by me," Fixer declared, and promptly rose from his seat.
As he passed the young man's table he stumbled. He stretched out his hand to steady himself and in a second the young man's glass was on the fl oor.
The American was all apologies. Mick, looking on, could not but admire his friend's flow of language. In vain the young man tried to stem it by assuring Fixer that it was all right. Fixer insisted on calling a waitress, borrowing a napkin, wiping the liquid from the youth's coat and ordering the drink to be replaced by a fresh one—" just to wash away all trace of my clumsiness."
The young man accepted and pushed forward the chair vacated by his friend George, for Fixer had ordered two drinks.
" This is a cinch!" Fixer said to himself, but aloud he said: " Mighty nice of you to take It like this. Many a man would have wanted to knock my block off," The reply was an embarrassed laugh. " My name's Tinsdale," the crook went on, " Elmer G. Tinsdale."
" Searle is my nameJack Searle," the young fellow said in his turn. " You're an American, aren't you ?"
" Yeah, I'm from the States. Ever been there?"
" No, but I was thinking of going over there." Searle told him, " that is, when I've seen a bit of Europe first."
" Good! There's nothing like travel for broadening the mind," Fixer declared enthusiastically. "I've been around a bit myself—Vienna, Rome, Berlin, Paris —ah, Paris! The Bois de Boulogne, the races at Longchamps and Auteuil! Gosh! I've had some good times on the continental racecourses, and I've cleaned up some on 'em too."
" Cleaned up? Wha—" " Oh, sorry! That's our way of saying beat the bookies.' " " That takes some doing," Searle replied with a timid laugh, " at least, over here."
" M'yes, it's no cinch," Fixer agreed, " unless you've got the inside dope. Now, over in France I've got a lot of good friends and when there's a good thing going they always let me in on it. Why, only last month I cleaned up a couple of hundred thousand francs doing small stuff. My friend over there, the Honourable Clarence Desmond, followed my advice and he won in a big way, but then, he's rich already—son of old Lord Fitzdesmond, who made his money in sheep."
The young fellow's air was now thoughtful. Fixer knew the symptoms and was silent. A few minutes were necesary to let what he had said sink in. More talk would probably spoil matters.
" Is there any racing going on there now?" Searle asked suddenly.
Fixer could hardly refrain from shouting. Things were going exactly according to plan.
In France?" he replied. " Sure! It's the middle of the•season. Why?"
"I think I'd like to go over," was the reply. " I wonder when the next meeting is."
" There's one at Auteuil day after to-morrow," Fixer said, " my two friends and I are flying over."
" Flying? By Jove, that's another thing I want to do!" Searle exclaimed. " I think I'll go over too."
" Got your passport?" Fixer asked promptly.
The youth's face fell.
"No," he replied, " I forgot about that. T wonder if it takes long to get one."
" Being an American, I wouldn't know. I'll ask my friends. They're sure to know."
He turned towards the table where Mick and Tom, while pretending to talk, were drinking in every word, and repeated Searle's question.
" That depends," Mick answered, " on a lot of things. You see, there is the— .but hang it, man, I can't shout these things across the room. Come over here and—er—bring your friend."
" Why, thanks, old man," Fixer said, and rose at once. " Come on, Mr. Searle. Meet my friends, the. Honourable Clarence Desmond and Mr. Pendexter. Mr. Pendexter owns a fine racing stable in France."
In a moment they were all seated at one table and another round of drinks was on order. Mick atete Clarence, was at once the friendly Mentor and was explaining with perfect accuracy how a passport could he obtained in twentyfour hours. Searle's shyness wore off as he listened to the well-modulated voice and was profuse in thanks.
The others were all protests. " Not at all. After all, it was nothing. One gentleman to another. Noblesse oblige!"
It was crude, perhaps, but all three were by virtue of their chosen calling good psychologists, and it worked. Searle appeared to be most interested in the lanky Australian.
" I'm awfully thrilled," he said, " to meet the owner of a racing stable."
"He's got a couple of horses running at Auteuil. Haven't you, Pendexter," Fixer asked.
"Yes, in the same race," the Australian answered with a laugh, " so they won't both win."
"Which one is going to?" Fixer wanted to know.
" That would be telling," Tom answered with the crook's instinctive knowledge of what was expected.
" Oh, between friends," Fixer insisted. " We'll tell nobody. I suppose you're afraid the odds will shorten if any money is put on."
The scene which followed was, though unrehearsed, well played. As a special favour Fixer, alias Tinsdale, as being the one who could spread the bets best over a number of bookmakers, was entrusted with the name of the dead cert. Searle, as a more special favour still, was allowed to have a share in the " investment" and he parted with most of his ready cash—a matter of a hundred pounds—together with his cheque for another five hundred.
There was no indecent haste to break up the party, but after a little Fixer was left alone with his victim. When they finally parted it was on the understanding that all four would meet at the aerodrome on the next day but one.
When the American reached his hotel the others were awaiting him. They were generous in their congratulations. Fixer was complacent.
"I knew I could swing it," he said simply. " It's not a big haul," the Irishman declared, " but still, when you get that cheque cashed first thing to-morrow, that will mean £200 a head."
" Say!" Fixer exclaimed, " How do you get that way? This was my racket, You only backed me up. This ain't a threeway split. I'll give you twenty pounds apiece." " That be blowed for a tale," the Australian retorted and was about to advance on the American when there was a knock on the door. " Come in," Fixer called out. The door opened slowly and in the aperture appeared the man who had, unknown to them, been listening to part of their conversation at Fanconi's.
Mick sprang to his feet. " Good Lord!" he exclaimed, " Soppy!" "Soppy?" the American echoed, "that's the guy you—" " Sergeant Sopwith to you!" the visitor interrupted. " I'm sorry, Mick, but you and your friends must come along with me." " Why?" Mick asked, " you've got nothing on me."
" Haven't I? What about obtaining money by means of a trick from Mr. Jack Searle?"
The Australian turned on Fixer, snarling. " Yah! You poor boob! You knew you could swing it!" " Tut! Tut!" the detective said, " Don't talk like that. Anything you say will be taken down and—" " O.K." Tom interrupted, " let's go." They went.
In the charge room of the police station they saw Searle at the other end of the desk, Beside him was his friend said the American to himself, George. ,.A h! "that's the guy who gummed the works."
When the formalities were over the Detective Sergeant drew from his pocket a book bound in blue leather.
"If you don't mind, boys," he said,
AI'll read you a little story—one of esop's Fables. You needn't listen, but—"
The Irishman laughed.
" Go on, Soppy," he said, " I was telling the boys about your stories. Which one is it this time?"
"It is called ' The Dancing Monkeys,' Sopwith declared, and began to read: " A prince had some monkeys
trained to dance. Being naturally great mimics of men's actions, they showed themselves most apt pupils; and when arrayed in rich clothes and masks, they danced as well as any of the
courtiers. The spectacle was often repeated with great applause, till on one occasion a courtier, bent on mischief, took from his pocket a handful of nuts and threw them on the stage. The monkeys at sight of the nuts forgot their dancing and became (as indeed they were) monkeys instead of actors, and pulling off their masks and tearing their robes, they fought with one another for the nuts. The dancing spectacle thus came to an end, amidst the laughterand ridicule of the audi.
When he had finished the detectivesergeant looked at his prisoners smiling.
" You see," he explained mildly, " I couldn't catch either the name of the sucker or the place where you were, to work him, because of a clumsy waitress, so I got a couple of my boys, Detectives Searle and—"
"I get you!" the American exclaimed. " We are the dancing monkeys, and those two guys, George and Jack, are the—"
"Nuts!" Soppy completed.