X.

Grady’s affairs were prospering beyond his expectations, confident though he had been. Away back in the summer, when the work was in its early stages, his eye had been upon it; he had bided his time in the somewhat indefinite hope that something would turn up. But he went away jubilant from his conversation with Peterson, for it seemed that all the cards were in his hands.

Just as a man running for a car is the safest mark for a gamin’s snowball, so Calumet K, through being a rush job as well as a rich one, offered a particularly advantageous field for Grady’s endeavors. Men who were trying to accomplish the impossible feat of completing, at any cost, the great hulk on the river front before the first of January, would not be likely to stop to quibble at paying the five thousand dollars or so that Grady, who, as the business agent of his union was simply in masquerade, would like to extort.

He had heard that Peterson was somewhat disaffected to Bannon’s authority, but had not expected him to make so frank an avowal of it. That was almost as much in his favor as the necessity for hurry. These, with the hoist accident to give a color of respectability to the operation, ought to make it simple enough. He had wit enough to see that Bannon was a much harder man to handle than Peterson, and that with Peterson restored to full authority, the only element of uncertainty would be removed. And he thought that if he could get Peterson to help him it might be possible to secure Bannon’s recall. If the scheme failed, he had still another shot in his locker, but this one was worth a trial, anyway.

One afternoon in the next week he went around to Peterson’s boarding-house and sent up his card with as much ceremony as though the night boss had been a railway president.

“I hope you can spare me half an hour, Mr. Peterson. There’s a little matter of business I’d like to talk over with you.”

The word affected Peterson unpleasantly. That was a little farther than he could go without a qualm. “Sure,” he said uneasily, looking at his watch.

“I don’t know as I should call it business, either,” Grady went on. “When you come right down to it, it’s a matter of friendship, for surely it’s no business of mine. Maybe you think it’s queer—I think it’s queer myself, that I should be coming ’round tendering my friendly services to a man who’s had his hands on my throat threatening my life. That ain’t my way, but somehow I like you, Mr. Peterson, and there’s an end of it. And when I like a man, I like him, too. How’s the elevator? Everything going to please you?”

“I guess it’s going all right. It ain’t——” Pete hesitated, and then gave up the broken sentence. “It’s all right,” he repeated.

Grady smiled. “There’s the good soldier. Won’t talk against his general. But, Mr. Peterson, let me ask you a question; answer me as a man of sense. Which makes the best general—the man who leads the charge straight up to the intrenchments, yellin’: ‘Come on, boys!’—or the one who says, very likely shaking a revolver in their faces: ‘Get in there, ye damn low-down privates, and take that fort, and report to me when I’ve finished my breakfast’? Which one of those two men will the soldiers do the most for? For the one they like best, Mr. Peterson, and don’t forget it. And which one of these are they going to like best, do you suppose—the brave leader who scorns to ask his men to go where he wouldn’t go himself, who isn’t ashamed to do honest work with honest hands, whose fists are good enough to defend him against his enemies; or the man who is afraid to go out among the men without a revolver in his hip pocket? Answer me as a man of sense, Mr. Peterson.”

Peterson was manifestly disturbed by the last part of the harangue. Now he said: “Oh, I guess Bannon wasn’t scared when he drawed that gun on Reilly. He ain’t that kind.”

“Would you draw a gun on an unarmed, defenceless man?” Grady asked earnestly.

“No, I wouldn’t. I don’t like that way of doing.”

“The men don’t like it either, Mr. Peterson. No more than you do. They like you. They’ll do anything you ask them to. They know that you can do anything that they can. But, Mr. Peterson, I’ll be frank with you. They don’t like the man who crowded you out. That’s putting it mild. I won’t say they hate him for an uncivil, hard-tongued, sneaking weasel of a spy——”

“I never knew Bannon to do anything like that,” said Peterson, slowly.

“I did. Didn’t he come sneaking up and hear what I was saying—up on top of the elevator the other day? I guess he won’t try that again. I told him that when I was ready to talk to him, I’d come down to the office to do it.”

Grady was going almost too far; Pete would not stand very much more; already he was trying to get on his feet to put an end to the conversation. “I ask your pardon, Mr. Peterson. I forgot he was a friend of yours. But the point is right here. The men don’t like him. They’ve been wanting to strike these three days, just because they don’t want to work for that ruffian. I soothed them all I can, but they won’t hold in much longer. Mark my words, there’ll be a strike on your hands before the week’s out unless you do something pretty soon.”

“What have they got to strike about? Don’t we treat them all right? What do they kick about?”

“A good many things, big and little. But the real reason is the one I’ve been giving you—Bannon. Neither more nor less.”

“Do you mean they’d be all right if another man was in charge?”

Grady could not be sure from Peterson’s expression whether the ice were firm enough to step out boldly upon, or not. He tested it cautiously.

“Mr. Peterson, I know you’re a good man. I know you’re a generous man. I know you wouldn’t want to crowd Bannon out of his shoes the way he crowded you out of yours; not even after the way he’s treated you. But look here, Mr. Peterson. Who’s your duty to? The men up in Minneapolis who pay your salary, or the man who has come down here and is giving orders over your head?

“—No, just let me finish, Mr. Peterson. I know what you’re going to say. But do your employers want to get the job done by New Year’s? They do. Do they pay you to help get it done? They do. Will it be done if that would-be murderer of a Bannon is allowed to stay here? It will not, you can bet on that. Then it’s your duty to get him out of here, and I’m going to help you do it.”

Grady was on his feet when he declaimed the last sentence. He flung out his hand toward Pete. “Shake on it!” he cried.

Peterson had also got to his feet, but more slowly. He did not take the hand. “I’m much obliged, Mr. Grady,” he said. “It’s very kind in you. If that’s so as you say, I suppose he’ll have to go. And he’ll go all right without any shoving when he sees that it is so. You go and tell just what you’ve told me to Charlie Bannon. He’s boss on this job.”

Grady would have fared better with a man of quicker intelligence. Peterson was so slow at catching the blackmailer’s drift that he spoke in perfectly good faith when he made the suggestion that he tell Bannon, and Grady went away a good deal perplexed as to the best course to pursue,—whether to go directly to Bannon, or to try the night boss again.

As for Peterson, four or five times during his half-hour talk with Bannon at the office that evening, he braced himself to tell the boss what Grady had said, but it was not till just as Bannon was going home that it finally came out. “Have you seen Grady lately?” Pete asked, as calmly as he could.

“He was around here something more than a week ago; gave me a little bombthrowers’ anniversary oratory about oppressors and a watchful eye. There’s no use paying any attention to him yet. He thinks he’s got some trouble cooking for us on the stove, but we’ll have to wait till he turns it into the dish. He ain’t as dangerous as he thinks he is.”

“He’s been around to see me lately—twice.”

“He has! What did he want with you? When was it he came?”

“The first time about a week ago. That was nothing but a little friendly talk, but——”

“Friendly! Him! What did he have to say?”

“Why, it was nothing. I don’t remember. He wanted to know if I was laid off, and I told him I was on the night shift.”

“Was that all?”

“Pretty near. He wanted to know what we was in such a hurry about, working nights, and I said we had to be through by January first. Then he said he supposed it must be for some rich man who didn’t care how much it cost him; and I said yes, it was. That was all. He didn’t mean nothing. We were just passing the time of day. I don’t see any harm in that.”

Bannon was leaning on the rail, his face away from Peterson. After a while he spoke thoughtfully. “Well, that cinches it. I guess he meant to hold us up, anyway, but now he knows we’re a good thing.”

“How’s that? I don’t see,” said Peterson; but Bannon made no reply.

“What did he have to offer the next time he came around? More in the same friendly way? When was it?”

“Just this afternoon. Why, he said he was afraid we’d have a strike on our hands.”

“He ought to know,” said Bannon. “Did he give any reason?”

“Yes, he did. You won’t mind my speaking it right out, I guess. He said the men didn’t like you, and if you wasn’t recalled they’d likely strike. He said they’d work under me if you was recalled, but he didn’t think he could keep ’em from going out if you stayed. That ain’t what I think, mind you; I’m just telling you what he said. Then he kind of insinuated that I ought to do something about it myself. That made me tired, and I told him to come to you about it. I said you was the boss here now, and I was only the foreman of the night shift.”

Until that last sentence Bannon had been only half listening. He made no sign, indeed, of having heard anything, but stood hacking at the pine railing with his pocket-knife. He was silent so long that at last Peterson arose to go. Bannon shut his knife and wheeled around to face him.

“Hold on, Pete,” he said. “We’d better talk this business out right here.”

“Talk out what?”

“Oh, I guess you know. Why don’t we pull together better? What is it you’re sore about?”

“Nothing. You don’t need to worry about it.”

“Look here, Pete. You’ve known me a good many years. Do you think I’m square?”

“I never said you wasn’t square.”

“You might have given me the benefit of the doubt, anyway. I know you didn’t like my coming down here to take charge. Do you suppose I did? You were unlucky, and a man working for MacBride can’t afford to be unlucky; so he told me to come and finish the job. And once I was down here he held me responsible for getting it done. I’ve got to go ahead just the best I can. I thought you saw that at first, and that we’d get on all right together, but lately it’s been different.”

“I thought I’d been working hard enough to satisfy anybody.”

“It ain’t that, and you know it ain’t. It’s just the spirit of the thing. Now, I don’t ask you to tell me why it is you feel this way. If you want to talk it out now, all right. If you don’t, all right again. But if you ever think I’m not using you right, come to me and say so. Just look at what we’ve got to do here, Pete, before the first of January. Sometimes I think we can do it, and sometimes I think we can’t, but we’ve got to anyway. If we don’t, MacBride will just make up his mind we’re no good. And unless we pull together, we’re stuck for sure. It ain’t a matter of work entirely. I want to feel that I’ve got you with me. Come around in the afternoon if you happen to be awake, and fuss around and tell me what I’m doing wrong. I want to consult you about a good many things in the course of a day.”

Pete’s face was simply a lens through which one could see the feelings at work beneath, and Bannon knew that he had struck the right chord at last. “How is it? Does that go?”

“Sure,” said Pete. “I never knew you wanted to consult me about anything, or I’d have been around before.”

Friday afternoon Bannon received a note from Grady saying that if he had any regard for his own interests or for those of his employers, he would do well to meet the writer at ten o’clock Sunday morning at a certain downtown hotel. It closed with a postscript containing the disinterested suggestion that delays were dangerous, and a hint that the writer’s time was valuable and he wished to be informed whether the appointment would be kept or not.

Bannon ignored the note, and all day Monday expected Grady’s appearance at the office. He did not come, but when Bannon reached his boarding-house about eight o’clock that evening, he found Grady in his room waiting for him.

“I can’t talk on an empty stomach,” said the boss, cheerfully, as he was washing up. “Just wait till I get some supper.”

“I’ll wait,” said Grady, grimly.

When Bannon came back to talk, he took off his coat and sat down astride a chair. “Well, Mr. Grady, when you came here before you said it was to warn me, but the next time you came you were going to begin to act. I’m all ready.”

“All right,” said Grady, with a vicious grin. “Be as smart as you like. I’ll be paid well for every word of it and for every minute you’ve kept me waiting yesterday and to-night That was the most expensive supper you ever ate. I thought you had sense enough to come, Mr. Bannon. That’s why I wasted a stamp on you. You made the biggest mistake of your life——”

During the speech Bannon had sat like a man hesitating between two courses of action. At this point he interrupted:—

“Let’s get to business, Mr. Grady.”

“I’ll get to it fast enough. And when I do you’ll see if you can safely insult the representative of the mighty power of the honest workingman of this vast land.”

“Well?”

“I hear you folks are in a hurry, Mr. Bannon?”

“Yes.”

“And that you’ll spend anything it costs to get through on time. How’d it suit you to have all your laborers strike about now? Don’t that idea make you sick?”

“Pretty near.”

“Well, they will strike inside two days.”

“What for? Suppose we settle with them direct.”

“Just try that,” said Grady, with withering sarcasm. “Just try that and see how it works.”

“I don’t want to. I only wanted to hear you confess that you are a rascal.”

“You’ll pay dear for giving me that name. But we come to that later. Do you think it would be worth something to the men who hire you for a dirty slave-driver to be protected against a strike? Wouldn’t they be willing to pay a round sum to get this work done on time? Take a minute to think about it. Be careful how you tell me they wouldn’t. You’re not liked here, Mr. Bannon, by anybody——”

“You’re threatening to have me recalled, according to your suggestions to Mr. Peterson the other night. Well, that’s all right if you can do it. But I think that sooner than recall me or have a strike they would be willing to pay for protection.”

“You do. I didn’t look for that much sense in you. If you’d shown it sooner it might have saved your employers a large wad of bills. If you’d taken the trouble to be decent when I went to you in a friendly way a very little would have been enough. But now I’ve got to be paid. What do you say to five thousand as a fair sum?”

“They’d be willing to pay fully that to save delay,” said Bannon, cheerfully.

“They would!” To save his life Grady could not help looking crestfallen. It seemed then that he might have got fifty. “All right,” he went on, “five thousand it is; and I want it in hundred-dollar bills.”

“You do!” cried Bannon, jumping to his feet. “Do you think you’re going to get a cent of it? I might pay blackmail to an honest rascal who delivered the goods paid for. But I had your size the first time you came around. Don’t you think I knew what you wanted? If I’d thought you were worth buying, I’d have settled it up for three hundred dollars and a box of cigars right at the start. That’s about your market price. But as long as I knew you’d sell us out again if you could, I didn’t think you were even worth the cigars. No; don’t tell me what you’re going to do. Go out and do it if you can. And get out of here.”

For the second time Bannon took the little delegate by the arm. He marched him to the head of the long, straight flight of stairs. Then he hesitated a moment. “I wish you were three sizes larger,” he said.

 

Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17

LIVE TALK: Calumet “K”: Ayn Rand’s Favorite Novel by Shoshana Milgram Ph.D.

“This talk offers an introduction to the background, spirit and craft of the novel Ayn Rand called her favorite. Calumet ‘K,’ she wrote, features a ‘portrait of an efficacious man’; it reflects the sense of life of ‘a time when people were capable of admiring productive achievement.’ Dr. Milgram, associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, specializes in narrative fiction and film. She has lectured on Ayn Rand at Objectivist and academic conferences, and has published on Ayn Rand, Hugo and Dostoevsky. She is editing the draft of her book-length study of Ayn Rand’s life (to 1957).

Talk will be presented at OCON 2017 in Pittsburg, PA and is FREE for all students to attend!