In this wide-ranging and exclusive New Romanticist interview, ex-Muslim artist extraordinaire Bosch Fawstin discusses: his new graphic novel series The Infidel and its’ hero Pigman — the Jihadist’s Terrorist; the influence of Frank Miller, Alex Toth and Ayn Rand on his work; the errors of George W. Bush and his contemporaries; his appearance on the Daily Show and the solution to dealing with Islamic terrorists. Enjoy!
NEW ROMANTICIST: Who is Bosch Fawstin?
BOSCH: A life-long comic book fan whose love of heroes led him to Ayn Rand’s novels and her philosophy of Objectivism, which my own fictional heroes embody.
I decided in my mid-20’s that I would turn my love of comic books into a career and released my first graphic novel, TABLE FOR ONE in 2004. The book led to a “Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer” award nomination, as well as an “Eisner Award” nomination for “Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition”.
I’m currently working on my second graphic novel, THE INFIDEL, featuring PIGMAN, the pigskin-clad, counter-jihad superhero.
NEW ROMANTICIST: Ayn Rand? Yes, I see the author of Atlas Shrugged she even makes an appearance in Table For One. What inspires you about Ayn Rand and her philosophy Objectivism in regards to your art?
BOSCH: Ayn Rand is the most fully realized artist I’ve ever come across. She wrote the truth as if her life depended on it, and she made me conscious of the fact that my favorite artists have always been the most honest. Her philosophy of Objectivism is what helps keep my life and the lives of my heroes in full intellectual engagement with reality. Its focus on what really matters helps me better recognize the unimportant and the unnecessary in my life and in my art, which is a great value in keeping my stories anchored to reality and true to themselves.
NEW ROMANTICIST: Who are your influences from comics – both in writing and art?
BOSCH: Frank Miller and Alex Toth are the big two, the ones whose work most challenged me to get real serious about my writing and drawing in order to show and tell my stories in the best way I can. Miller, mainly for his writing, and Toth for his inimitable drawing and storytelling ability.
NEW ROMANTICIST: For those new to Toth, what do you recommend as your favorite?
BOSCH: When it comes to the work of Alex Toth, I find it very difficult to play favorites because when thinking of your question I had a flood of images and stories in my head. But here’s a link to a short story that he drew that really shows how singularly great he was as a comic book artist. You can imagine how I felt when, less than a week after I sent him a black and white xerox copy of Table for One, I received a handwritten post card from Alex Toth himself, praising my efforts. I had heard about his famous post cards, which were truly a work of art in and of themselves. The one thing his appreciation for my work did is to make me dig deeper to get better, which is something he did throughout his entire career.
NEW ROMANTICIST: I see some John Romita Jr. in there too – particularly in the panel with your character Killian inking his comic with his library in the background. Also, some of those characters seem reminiscent at times of Herge’s Tintin. Wasn’t Miller an Ayn Rand fan too (though by no means could one call him an Objectivist)? I remember reading that Miller was particularly influenced by her work on esthetics, The Romantic Manifesto, which I assume you have also read?
BOSCH: Definitely, I read it a number of times, and I recall that when I first heard of Rand’s influence on Miller, I felt “Of course”, after having read his work for a number of years. John Romita Jr. was my favorite penciler in comics for a good number of years, especially when he had his early runs in Amazing Spider-Man and X-men, and I still appreciate his work, but I’d love for him to draw stories that he thinks are truly worth telling because when he’s asked about his best work he goes back nearly twenty years to his collaboration with Frank Miller in Daredevil: Man Without Fear.
NEW ROMANTICIST: Miller also has been fairly vocal against the Jihadists and in his defense of Western Civilization, to the point that many of the left-leaning of those in the comic world label him a “fascist” etc., despite the fact that Miller is a defender of free speech. Are there others in the comic world with your views, and how do your views on 9/11 differ with his?
BOSCH: I do know of a number of creators in comics who understand the threat we face, but I’m not sure they’d want to associate themselves with my particular position, so they’ll go unmentioned by me. I do know that Miller intended to pit Batman against al Qaeda in a story he called “Holy Terror, Batman!”, but for whatever reasons (we can imagine what they were), Miller has now replaced Batman with his own creation, “The Fixer”. To think that Batman went from taking on Jihad to now taking on a Muslim to be his “French Batman” shines some light on why Miller’s project didn’t go through. Nonetheless I personally think Batman is not built to take on mass murderers anyway, since DC doesn’t allow him to kill, and being willing to kill is a requisite for fighting jihadists. Regarding any differing views Miller and I may have with respect to our approach in taking on this enemy, the Infidel takes on all of Islam — it’s laws, its doctrine of warfare, etc.. By contrast, from what I’ve read about Miller’s views and his project, I’ve never heard him get explicit about Islam per se, so he may just be focusing on al Qaeda. The fact that even that is considered controversial is just another sign of how far removed our culture is from where we need to be during this war.
NEW ROMANTICIST: What are your thoughts of Alan Moore, creator of Watchmen?
BOSCH: While I appreciate the craft Moore brought to Watchmen, because it must have taken a lot of thought and a lot of work to put it together the way he did, I’ve never been moved by his stories. The only time I felt there was something strong and true happening in Watchmen is when Rorschach entered the story. Not surprisingly, Rorschach was based on Steve Ditko’s Objectivist-leaning character, The Question. I think Moore tried his best to cut The Question down to size in order to characterize him as a psycho, but I think the character ended up being the most compelling in the story, despite Moore’s intent.
NEW ROMANTICIST: Who did you discover first – Miller or Rand?
NEW ROMANTICIST: Have you sent a copy of The Infidel to Miller?
BOSCH: I did ask a mutual friend to pass it on to him, so I’ll wait and see what happens. I’d love to discuss taking on Jihad through comics with him, and find out exactly where our approaches differ.
NEW ROMANTICIST: What is The Infidel about?
BOSCH: The Infidel is a story about twin brothers Killian Duke and Salaam Duka, whose Muslim background comes crashing to the forefront of their lives on 9/11. Killian responds by creating a comic book featuring a pigskin-clad superhero named Pigman, who takes on Jihad. Salaam’s response is full submission to Islam. Pigman’s battle against his arch-enemy, SuperJihad, echoes the escalating conflict between the twins.
NEW ROMANTICIST: Who is Pigman and how did he come about?
BOSCH: Pigman is aka Frank Warner, an ex-Muslim who, prior to 9/11, wrote and published books critical of Islam and Jihad. After the atrocity, Frank realized that he would have to take the war into his own hands when he saw Washington’s pathetic response to 9/11. The idea of Pigman came about when I started thinking about the enemy and what would be their worst nightmare personified. He’s a pigskin-clad superhero, a physically big, strong, ruthless defender of Western Civilization who fully understands the enemy and speaks his language. He is the perfect weapon against jihad.
NEW ROMANTICIST: What would you have rather seen Washington do? What do you think of those who said that Bush went “too far” in Iraq, and look what that has led to?
BOSCH: In addition to immediately bombing the mountain ranges of Afghanistan to wipe out most of al Qaeda, I would have wanted Washington to bomb Iran to show what happens to the world’s greatest state sponsor of jihad terrorism after an attack like 9/11, not to mention as a long overdue response to years of aggression against us.
George “Islam means peace” Bush, after having the green light from the American people to do whatever it took to End the threat facing us, decided to show our enemies that they can get away with mass murdering Americans if they belong to a religion. I really think Bush went after Iraq in order to avoid confronting Iran and Saudi Arabia, the two greatest threats we face in the region, which just happen to be the two most Islamic countries in the Muslim world. I think Bush’s decision to go after Saddam Hussein is because he appeared to be the least Islamic – i.e. “religious” — of our enemies in the Muslim world. And the fact that there was no love lost between Sadaam and his neighbors meant Bush could avoid Iran and Saudi Arabia without too much of a price to pay from an American public uninformed about who our greatest enemies actually are.
In the aftermath of 9/11, we needed an American president who understood that an enemy who flies planes into buildings, and a culture that celebrates that evil, would have to be dealt a devastating blow that would force it to end its jihad once and for all and begin to accept that we live in the 21st century.
NEW ROMANTICIST: How did you come about your views of Islam?
BOSCH: I was born into a Muslim family and, while my parents were not devout, anti-Semitism, misogyny, and a rejection of all those outside of our own kind was the norm in my upbringing. Only after 9/11 did I read the Koran and study Islam and its jihad. I needed to know firsthand whether Islam sanctioned the atrocity and I found that it did — that however insane the act seemed to the civilized world, Islam gave the 9/11 Muslim mass murderers a moral sanction for their evil act. We are still so far removed from the realization that Islam’s heroes are its jihadists, from Mohammad to Osama bin Laden.
NEW ROMANTICIST: Wow! Leaving Islam. Doesn’t that make you an Apostate?
BOSCH: It does, and according to Islam, I’m to be killed for it. It’s similar to how deserters of armies have been dealt with by their superiors when caught, which only emphasizes the militant nature of Islam.
NEW ROMANTICIST: Well at least you are in good company. So I take it you would not put Mohammad in the same category of Jesus or Buddha?
BOSCH: Mohammad was unique among those who claimed to be prophets as he had his critics assassinated, he waged wars against neighboring tribes and spread his religion by the sword. Mohammad made the founders of other religions seem rational by comparison.
NEW ROMANTICIST: Well how would you reply to Former President George W. Bush and President Obama who say that Islam is a “religion of peace”, and that Osama and those violent Muslims are “extremists?”
BOSCH: Islam means submission, submission to the will of the malevolent Muslim God, Allah. Osama bin Laden has never been repudiated as a deviant Muslim by any honest Muslim who knows Islam. The mass-murderer Osama bin Laden is revered in the Muslim world as the closest thing to Mohammad today, which really is all one needs to know about Islam and what it truly means.
NEW ROMANTICIST: Yeah, but those moderate Muslims aren’t killing anybody. In fact you have a peaceful, moderate Muslim as a character in your comic-book. What does that make them?
BOSCH: “Moderate Muslims” aren’t Muslim in any way that Islam would recognize. The problem with them is that they give Islam a better face than it deserves, and some mistake them for Islam itself, sometimes citing a decent person who happens to be Muslim as proving that Islam’s fine, outside of its “extremists.” I’ve thought about this for a while, and I think I’ve found a good way to make my point about it: Your average Muslim is morally superior to Mohammad. They are individual human beings who may or may not be a problem. It’s Islam’s consistent practitioners, especially those who are active in Organized Islam, who are the problem.
NEW ROMANTICIST: It’s quite intriguing how you have a story within a story. You have the counter-jihad superhero, PIGMAN, whom is the fictional creation of Killian Duke, who is himself is a fictional creation by you. It works on so many layers tailored to multiple audiences. How did you come up with that idea?
BOSCH: At a certain point in putting together my ideas for the story, I thought about the fact that not only must we wage a ruthless battle against the jihadist enemy, but we also, as individuals, have to fight through the self-destructive barriers that our culture has built around us in order to dissuade anyone from taking on a project such as The Infidel. It’s as if somehow those who are most invested in these barriers think that they can protect themselves from acknowledging certain terrible truths without paying any real world consequences for it. As Ayn Rand has stated, “To fear to face an issue is to believe that the worst is true.” So the story of Pigman took on a whole new dimension for me when I decided to write about the kind of cartoonist who would create such a comic book in a world that demanded it, but that does its best to ignore the necessity for it, which made me even more interested in taking the project on.
NEW ROMANTICIST: If you could describe Pigman in one or two words what would you call him?
BOSCH: Jihadists’ Terrorist.
NEW ROMANTICIST: And would it be safe to say, given the similarities, that Killian Duke is an autobiographical version of you?
BOSCH: Yes, he is.
NEW ROMANTICIST: So how has been the response to Issue#1 of The Infidel so far?
BOSCH: The response to The Infidel #1 has been gratifying. There have been two reviews published so far, both positive. One was written by someone who disagrees with the theme of the work; one by someone who is sympathetic with it. Reader response has been as good as I could have hoped for, both from long-time comic book fans and from those for whom this may have been a first-time comic book purchase. Nearly ten years after 9/11, The Infidel #1 is the first comic that has taken on jihad in a significant way. I believe today’s pop culture has to show and tell the truth about what we are facing in the post-9/11 world; it has to bring it to the enemy the way the culture of the WWII generation did.
NEW ROMANTICIST: …and it also looks like you will be making an appearance on The John Stewart show?
BOSCH: Yes, after they read my critical comments about the “Muslim” Batman, they found out about Pigman and invited me on to discuss both in an “interview” conducted by their “Liberal Muslim”. And even though I thought the actual shoot went pretty well, who knows what will air, since their job is get as much laughter as they can from their segments. But I figured this would be a good way to get Pigman out there to a culture that has seemed to want to keep him out. The segment I’m on has been rescheduled a few times already, but it looks like it will now air either Mon. Feb. 28, but more likely Tues., March 1st. I’ll keep everyone updated about that on my blog.
NEW ROMANTICIST: So what can we expect in Issue #2?
BOSCH: The twins engage in a war of words that only makes matters worse between them, but sheds more light on who these men are. In Pigman’s world, SuperJihad makes his first strike.
NEW ROMANTICIST: Fantastic…thank you for sharing your time with us Bosch, and we hope to hear from you again.
BOSCH: I appreciate the opportunity to get the word out about my work, thank you.
Order a copy of issue#1 of the Infidel at Bosch’s website.
I first noticed Cox & Forkum when I spotted a cartoon called “The Blogger’s Cycle.” I thought, “Wow. These guys nailed me! I could have written this myself, if only I were that clever and talented.”
I immediately read the rest of the Cox & Forkum weblog, where I was astounded by the sharp, professional level of their work. As their web site explains, Allen Forkum generally writes the cartoons, while John Cox illustrates them. They’ve been collaborating together on various projects for many years, but have only recently branched out into political cartooning. Their work is currently unsyndicated, but they are self-publishing a book called Black & White World, which I’d put on my Amazon wish list if it were available through Amazon! I must say, they were a fun interview, and probably the easiest one I’ve ever done. –Dean
Q: Where do you guys hail from? Where do you live now?
FORKUM: I’m from the Nashville area, and that’s where I live now.
COX: I grew up all over. I was born in Pensacola, but by the time I graduated high school, we had lived in Cincinnati, Birmingham, Orangeburg, S.C., Houston, Denver, and finally Huntington, W.V. Today I live in Atlanta.
FORKUM: Since we have to collaborate from different cities, one might think we have a direct connection via the Internet. But we’re still using fax machines. I fax sketches to John. We discuss them by phone. He faxes back the roughs and finals. Technologically speaking, we’re stuck in the ’80s.
COX: That’s 1880s. I recently sold my mule for a pack of quill pens and a whole bunch of fancy white paper.
Q: I take it that you still use pen and ink, and then just scan the cartoons. What are your favorite art tools (pen, brush, inks, etc.)?
COX: I’ve always had a love affair with old materials: oil on canvas, woodcuts, charcoal on parchment. Pen and ink has a rich tradition, and I’ve been enjoying the chance to put my stamp on it along with my cartooning heroes: Michael Ramirez, Ben Sargent, Mike Peters, and Jim Borgman. I love the high-contrast nature of ink and the emphasis it puts on design. Our cartoons often require a certain “trickery” to pull off, so the challenge to raise the bar is fascinating to me. These days I use Faber Castell brush pens, Pigma Micron pens, Speedball steel-nib pens and smooth bristol board. I do all the pencil work with a 4H and a 2B…and a big, fat eraser.
Q: Your work is easily as good as most of what’s seen on newspaper editorial pages. Have you approached any of the newspaper syndicates, to see if they’d be interested in your work?
FORKUM: So far we’ve only approached one syndicate. We were fortunate enough to have a contact at a syndicate that I thought was a perfect match for our work, because they had many columnists that our cartoons would compliment. But they turned us down. This was very early on, before we had a lot of work to show. We need to re-submit to them as well as other syndicates, but we’ve been too busy maintaining our blog and trying sell our self-published book, Black & White World.
COX: Before we tried our hand at editorial cartooning, Allen and I created Captain Speewak!, a daily comic strip that spoofed science fiction/adventure serials. It had ray guns, evil alien empires, idealistic heroes, disembodied tyrants and, of course, a large space ship shaped like a hand.
Sample Captain Speewak! cartoon. Previously unpublished.
None of the syndicates were interested in it. We still have a soft spot for the calamitous endeavor, so every once in a while it pops up in an editorial cartoon (e.g. “Leftists in Space“). Maybe Speewak will see the light of day when there’s an audience for goofy space characters who do battle against intergalactic socialism.
Q: Ever think about doing much with color in your cartoons?
COX: When it comes to bold, exaggerated cartooning, color can be a distraction. Black-and-white work seems to have the most emotional possibilities. It’s probably why I prefer black-and-white photography–and zebras.
Q: You don’t cartoon full-time, so what do you do when you’re not cartooning?
COX: I raise gerbils and set them free.
No, actually, I show my paintings at a local gallery and do caricature gigs at many corporate functions.
FORKUM: My background is in graphic design. I’m co-owner and art director of a small newspaper publishing company, which is where John and I first collaborated on cartoons. The newspaper needed a monthly gag cartoon to accompany a humor column in Automotive Reports by a guy named Buster McNutt. That was in 1990 and we’ve been doing it ever since. By comparison, the Buster cartoons were and are light-hearted: Gorillas in tutus. Amish vs. Technology. Drive-thru plastic surgery. That sort of thing.
Q: Your description of yourselves on your weblog says the two of you met in art school. Where did you go to art school? When did you graduate–or did you?
FORKUM: We met at the Art Institute of Atlanta in 1983 in the Commercial Arts program. After a disappointing first year we decided, along with a few other students, to enroll at Dekalb Tech, which at the time had a highly-regarded commercial arts course. It was only a one-year program with no degree, but we learned a lot and ultimately graduated. I think we got certificates.
COX: Prior to that, I went to Marshall University just long enough to realize I wanted to go to an art school. After graduating from Dekalb, I hit the streets and landed a job at Cargill Wilson & Acree as a remarkably talented comp dude–which means I drew mock-ups of ads. Yeah, I know: the glamour is blinding.
Q: Noam Chomsky once said that curious green ideas sleep furiously. Do you think they do?
COX: Of course, but only when mysterious pink lizards harmonize silently.
Q: Your political cartooning seems to have begun primarily at The Intellectual Activist, and you say your cartoons are “inspired by” Objectivism, which is what Ayn Rand called her philosophy. To what extent would you consider yourselves to be Objectivists?
FORKUM: I’m an Objectivist.
COX: I’d be an Objectivist, too, if it weren’t for the funny hats.
But really, when I was 23, I read The Fountainhead and was utterly transfixed. (I remember insisting that Allen read it… GEEZ, he read the hell out of it!) I immediately quit my “second-hander” job at Cargill and began my freelance and fine art career. I’ve enjoyed Rand’s works ever since and find her emphasis on excellence and individualism a great source of creativity.
FORKUM: One reason I say “inspired by” is to indicate that we’re not trying to speak for Objectivism. Read Ayn Rand’s brilliant books for that. She advocated, among other things, reason, individualism, secularism, individual rights and free markets. The cartoons are usually created from that perspective. I’m also literally inspired by Objectivism, inspired to speak out against today’s irrationalism, whether it’s from leftists, conservatives or libertarians.
Q: I’ve long been under the impression that most Objectivists have their
senses of humor surgically removed. Thanks for clearing that up for me, but,
have you ever noticed that some Rand devotees are a little, uh, rigid?
FORKUM: If you mean “rigid” in the moral sense, Objectivists are rigid. That is, we take an uncompromising stance on absolute moral principles. Objectivism is steel compared to today’s rubbery moral relativism.
But if by “rigid” you mean “humorless,” that hasn’t been my experience. I have noticed that, because of Objectivism’s emphasis on logic and reason, many people assume that it shuns emotions all together, as if the goal is to be Mr. Spock. Some Objectivists may even mistake it in such a way. But the philosophy is about rationally pursuing one’s own happiness and having the moral right to do so. That requires passionate values and a love of life, which is what characterizes the Objectivists I know.
Q: A large number of self-described objectivists and libertarians firmly opposed the war in Iraq. Yet you have been generally supportive of the Bush administration’s war policies. Why the disconnect, do you think?
FORKUM: The disconnect is that Objectivists aren’t libertarians, not if they follow Ayn Rand’s ideas consistently. She explicitly rejected libertarianism as anarchism years ago, and today it’s even clearer why she did. Prominent libertarian organizations opposed the war with Iraq as meddlesome government intervention, as if all government action is inherently wrong.
Objectivism, however, holds that government is essential to a just society but must be limited to protecting individual rights. Such protection sometimes involves foreign intervention, such as waging wars against hostile enemies. If anything, it was a lack of intervention — from the Iranian hostage crisis to the USS Cole bombing — that emboldened the Islamist murderers of 9/11. Objectivists might disagree about military priorities, such as whether Iraq should have come before Iran, but none that I know were against war in principle. I recommend that people read the op-eds at the Ayn Rand Institute for more information.
Q: You seem to pick on Democrats more than Republicans. Why is that?
COX: I can’t draw elephants.
Actually, the leftists among Democrats are just hysterical to me. Their over-ripe sincerity must be lampooned.
FORKUM: Recently, a couple of the Democratic presidential candidates were bragging about spending time in jail, as if we’re still in the ’60s. It’s a real challenge to top that with a cartoon. But we do criticize both parties, mostly for their socialistic expansion of the government. It’s just that Democrats are generally worse about that than Republicans — though lately Bush seems to be trying to out left the left. And we’ve been critical of Bush on other issues, such as his push for a Palestinian state and his multilateralist tendencies.
Q: Many of your cartoons take a firmly pro-Israel stance. Why is that?
FORKUM: Our stance is that Israel, as a free country, has the right to militarily defend itself against terrorists, just as America does. Israel is hated by its enemies — both in the Middle East and in the West — for a number of reasons, not the least of which is anti-Semitism. But I think the primary reason is something Ayn Rand called “the hatred of the good for being the good.” For those who want Islamic fundamentalism to reign supreme, who despise individualism and capitalism yet envy its wealth and power, and who evade the blatant failure of their own socialistic ideals, Israel is a constant reminder of the truth — that a small, poor, newly-formed nation can grow into a prosperous, mighty nation by valuing freedom. That is also why America is hated.
COX: Yeah, what he said.
Q: Are either of you Jewish?
COX: I’m not.
FORKUM: Me neither. But I might be if it weren’t for the funny hats.
Q: Is there a difference, in your view, between patriotism and jingoism? If so, what is it?
FORKUM: I understand “jingoism” to be an irrational sort of patriotism, a nationalistic desire to wage war for war’s sake, to conquer weaker countries, to expand an empire, like Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan. But “patriotism” is simply a love of one’s country. In America’s case, that means a love of liberty and justice. Of course, to those who equate Bush to Hitler and America to an imperialist aggressor, patriotism and jingoism are probably indistinguishable.
Just how McWilliams felt we had no means of knowing; but we knew our hearts would not beat freely until his infernal Special should slide safely over the last of the 266 miles which still lay between the distressed man and his unfortunate child.
From McCloud to Ogalalla there is a good bit of twisting and slewing; but looking east from Athens a marble dropped between the rails might roll clear into the Ogalalla yards. It is a sixty-mile grade, the ballast of slag, and the sweetest, springiest bed under steel.
To cover those sixty miles in better than fifty minutes was like picking them off the ponies; and the Five-Nine breasted the Morgan divide, fretting for more hills to climb.
The Five-Nine — for that matter any of the Sky-Scrapers are built to balance ten or a dozen sleepers, and when you run them light they have a fashion of rooting their noses into the track. A modest upgrade just about counters this tendency; but on a slump and a stiff clip and no tail to speak of, you feel as if the drivers were going to buck up on the ponies every once in a while. However, they never do, and Georgie whistled for Scarboro’ junction, and 180 miles and two waters, in 198 minutes out of McCloud; and, looking happy, cussed Mr. McWilliams a little, and gave her another hatful of steam.
It is getting down a hill, like the hills of the Mattaback Valley, at such a pace that pounds the track out of shape. The Five-Nine lurched at the curves like a mad woman, shook free with very fury, and if the baggage-car had not been fairly loaded down with the grief of McWilliams, it must have jumped the rails a dozen times in as many minutes.
Indeed, the fireman — it was Jerry MacElroy — twisting and shifting between the tender and the furnace, looked for the first time grave, and stole a questioning glance from the steam-gauge towards Georgie.
But yet he didn’t expect to see the boy, his face set ahead and down the track, straighten so suddenly up, sink in the lever, and close at the instant on the air. Jerry felt her stumble under his feet — caught up like a girl in a skipping-rope — and grabbing a brace looked, like a wise stoker, for his answer out of his window. There far ahead it rose in hot curling clouds of smoke down among the alfalfa meadows and over the sweep of willows along the Mattaback River. The Mattaback bridge was on fire, with the McWilliams Special on one side and Denver on the other.
Jerry MacElroy yelled — the engineer didn’t even look around; only whistled an alarm back to Pat Francis, eased her down the grade a bit, like a man reflecting, and watched the smoke and flames that rose to bar the McWilliams Special out of Denver.
The Five-Nine skimmed across the meadows without a break, and pulled up a hundred feet from the burning bridge. It was an old Howe truss, and snapped like popcorn as the flames bit into the rotten shed. Pat Francis and his brakeman ran forward. Across the river they could see half a dozen section-men chasing wildly about throwing impotent buckets of water on the burning truss.
“We’re up against it Georgie,” cried Francis.
“Not if we can get across before the bridge tumbles into the river,” returned Sinclair.
“You don’t mean you’d try it?”
“Would I? Wouldn’t I? You know the orders. That bridge is good for an hour yet. Pat, if you’re game, I’ll run it.”
“Holy smoke,” mused Pat Francis, who would have run the river without any bridge at all if so ordered. “They told us to deliver the goods, didn’t they?”
“We might as well be starting, Pat,” suggested Jerry MacElroy, who deprecated losing good time.” There’ll be plenty of time to talk after we get into Denver, or the Mattaback.”
“Think quick, Pat,” urged Sinclair; his safety was popping murder.
“Back her up, then, and let her go,” cried Francis; “I’d just as well have that baggage-car at the bottom of the river as on my hands any longer.”
There was some sharp tooting, then the McWilliams Special backed; backed away across the meadow, halted, and screamed bard enough to wake the dead. Georgie was trying to warn the section-men. At that instant the door of the baggage-car opened and a sharp-featured young man peered out.
“What’s the row — what’s all this screeching about, conductor?” he asked, as Francis passed.
“Bridge burning ahead there.”
“Bridge burning!” he cried, looking nervously forward. “Well, that’s a deal. What you going to do about it?”
“Run it. Are you McWilliams?”
“McWilliams? I wish I was for just one minute. I’m one of his clerks.”
“Where is he?”
“I left him on La Salle Street yesterday afternoon.”
“What’s your name?”
“Just plain Ferguson.”
“Well, Ferguson, it’s none of my business, but as long as we’re going to put you into Denver or into the river in about a minute, I’m curious to know what the blazes you’re hustling along this way for.”
“Me? I’ve got twelve hundred thousand dollars in gold coin in this car for the Sierra Leone National Bank — that’s all. Didn’t you know that five big banks there closed their doors yesterday? Worst panic in the United States. That’s what I’m here for, and five huskies with me eating and sleeping in this car,” continued Ferguson, looking ahead. “You’re not going to tackle that bridge, are you?”
“We are, and right off. If there’s any of your huskies want to drop out, now’s their chance,” said Pat Francis, as Sinclair slowed up for his run.
Ferguson called his men. The five with their rifles came cautiously forward.
“Boys,” said Ferguson, briefly. “There’s a bridge afire ahead. These guys are going to try to run it. It’s not in your contract, that kind of a chance. Do you want to get off? I stay with the specie, myself. You can do exactly as you please. Murray, what do you say?” he asked, addressing the leader of the force, who appeared to weigh about two hundred and sixty.
“What do I say?” echoed Murray, with decision, as he looked for a soft place to alight alongside the track. “I say I’ll drop out right here. I don’t mind train robber, but I don’t tackle a burning, bridge — not if I know it,” and he jumped off.
“Well, Peaters,” asked Ferguson, of the second man, coolly, “do you want to stay?”
“Me?” echoed Peaters, looking ahead at the mass of flame leaping upward — “me stay? Well, not in a thousand years. You can have my gun, Mr. Ferguson, and send my check to 439 Milwaukee Avenue, if you please. Gentlemen, good- day.” And off went Peaters.
And off went every last man of the valorous detectives except one lame fellow, who said he would just as lief be dead as alive anyway, and declared he would stay with Ferguson and die rich!
Sinclair, thinking he might never get another chance, was whistling sharply for orders. Francis, breathless with the news, ran forward.
“Coin? How much? Twelve hundred thousand. Whew!” cried Sinclair. “Swing up, Pat. We’re off.”
The Five-Nine gathered herself with a spring. Even the engineer’s heart quailed as they got headway. He knew his business, and he knew that if only the rails hadn’t buckled they were perfectly safe, for the heavy truss would stand a lot of burning before giving way under a swiftly moving train. Only, as they flew nearer, the blaze rolling up in dense volume looked horribly threatening After all it was foolhardy, and be felt it; but he was past the stopping now, and he pulled the choker to the limit. It seemed as if she never covered steel so fast. Under the head she now had the crackling bridge was less than five hundred — four hundred — three hundred — two hundred feet, and there was no longer time to think. With a stare, Sinclair shut off. He wanted no push or pull on the track. The McWilliams Special was just a tremendous arrow, shooting through a truss of fire, and half a dozen speechless men on either side of the river waiting for the catastrophe.
Jerry MacElroy crouched low under the gauges. Sinclair jumped from his box and stood with a band on the throttle and a hand on the air, the glass crashing around his head like hail. A blast of fiery air and flying cinders burned and choked him. The engine, alive with danger, flew like a great monkey along the writhing steel. So quick, so black, so hot the blast, and so terrific the leap, she stuck her nose into clean air before the men in the cab could rise to it.
There was a heave in the middle like the lurch of a sea-sick steamer, and with it the Five-Nine got her paws on cool iron and solid ground, and the Mattaback and the blaze — all except a dozen tongues which licked the cab and the roof of the baggage-car a minute — were behind. Georgie Sinclair, shaking the hot glass out of his hair, looked ahead through his frizzled eyelids and gave her a full head for the western bluffs of the valley; then looked at his watch.
It was the hundred and ninetieth mile-post just at her nose, and the dial read eight o’clock and fifty-five minutes to a second. There was an hour to the good and seventy-six miles and a water to cover; but they were seventy-six of the prettiest miles under ballast anywhere, and the Five-Nine reeled them off like a cylinder-press. Seventy-nine minutes later Sinclair whistled for the Denver yards.
There was a tremendous commotion among the waiting engines. If there was one there were fifty big locomotives waiting to charivari the McWilliams Special. The wires had told the story in Denver long before, and as the Five-Nine sailed ponderously up the gridiron every mogul, every consolidated, every ten-wheeler, every hog, every switch-bumper, every air-hose screamed an uproarious welcome to Georgie Sinclair and the Sky-Scraper.
They had broken every record from McCloud to Denver, and all knew it; but as the McWilliams Special drew swiftly past, every last man in the yards stared at her cracked, peeled, blistered, haggard looks.
“What the deuce have you bit into?” cried the depot-master, as the Five-Nine swept splendidly up and stopped with her battered eye hard on the depot clock.
“Mattaback bridge is burned; had to crawl over on the stringers,” answered Sinclair, couching up a cinder.
“Back there sitting on his grief, I reckon.”
While the crew went up to register, two big four-horse trucks backed up to the baggage-car, and in a minute a dozen men were rolling specie-keg’s out of the door, which was smashed in, as being quicker than to tear open the barricades.
Sinclair, MacElroy, and Francis with his brakeman were surrounded by a crowd of railroad men. As they stood answering questions, a big prosperous-looking banker, with black rings under his eyes, pushed in towards them, accompanied by the lame fellow, who had missed the chance of a lifetime to die rich, and by Ferguson, who had told the story.
The banker shook hands with each one of the crews. “You’ve saved us, boys. We needed it. There’s a mob of five thousand of the worst-scared people in America clamoring at the doors; and, by the eternal, now we’re fixed for every one of them. Come up to the bank. I want you to ride right up with the coin, all of you.”
It was an uncommonly queer occasion, but an uncommonly enthusiastic one. Fifty policemen made the escort and cleared the way for the trucks to pull up across the sidewalk, so the porters could lug the kegs of gold into the bank before the very eyes of the rattled depositors.
In an hour the run was broken. But when the four railroad men left the bank, after all sorts of hugging by excited directors, they carried not only the blessings of the officials, but each in his vest pocket a check, every one of which discounted the biggest voucher ever drawn on the West End for a month’s pay; though I violate no confidence in stating, that Georgie Sinclair’s was bigger than any two of the others. And this is how it happens that there hangs, in the directors’ room of the Sierra Leone National a very creditable portrait of the kid engineer.
Besides paying tariff on the specie, the bank paid for a new coat of paint for the McWilliams Special from caboose to pilot. She was the last train across the Mattaback for two weeks.
On the West End we had all night to prepare, and at five o’clock next morning every man in the operating department was on edge. At precisely 3.58 A.M. the McWilliams Special stuck its nose into our division, and Foley-pulled off No. 1 with the 466 — was heading her dizzy for McCloud. Already the McWilliams had made up thirty-one minutes on the one hour delay in Chicago, and Lincoln threw her into our hands with a sort of “There, now! You fellows — are you any good at all on the West End?” And we thought we were.
Sitting in the dispatcher’s office, we tagged her down the line like a swallow. Harvard, Oxford, Zanesville, Ashton — and a thousand people at the McCloud station waited for six o’clock and for Foley’s muddy cap to pop through the Blackwood bluffs; watched him stain the valley maples with a stream of white and black, scream at the junction switches, tear and crash through the yards, and slide hissing and panting up under our nose, swing out of his cab, and look at nobody at all but his watch.
We made it 5.59 A.M. Central Time. The miles, 136; the minutes, 121. The schedule was beaten — and that with the 136 miles the fastest on the whole 1026. Everybody in town yelled except Foley; he asked for a chew of tobacco, and not getting one handily, bit into his own piece.
While Foley melted his weed George Sinclair stepped out of the superintendent’s office — he was done in a black silk shirt, with a blue four-in-hand streaming over his front — stepped out to shake hands with Foley, as one hostler got the 466 out of the way, and another backed down with a new Sky-Scraper, the 509.
But nobody paid much attention to all this. The mob had swarmed around the ratty, old, blind-eyed baggage-car which, with an ordinary way-car, constituted the McWilliams Special.
“Now what does a man with McWilliams’s money want to travel special in an old photograph-gallery like that for?” asked Andy Cameron, who was the least bit huffed because he hadn’t been marked up for the run himself. ” You better take him in a cup of hot coffee, Sinkers,” suggested Andy to the lunch-counter boy. “You might get a ten-dollar bill if the old man isn’t feeling too badly. What do you hear from Denver, Neighbor?” he asked, turning to the superintendent of motive power. “Is the boy holding out?”
“I’m not worrying about the boy holding out; it’s whether the Five-Nine will hold out.”
“Aren’t you going to change engines and crews at Arickaree?”
“Not to-day,” said Neighbor, grimly; “we haven’t time.”
Just then Sinkers rushed at the baggage-car with a cup of hot coffee for Mr. McWilliams. Everybody, hoping to get a peep at the capitalist, made way. Sinkers climbed over the train chests which were lashed to the platforms and pounded on the door. He pounded hard, for he hoped and believed that there was something in it. But he might have pounded till his coffee froze for all the impression it made on the sleepy McWilliams.
“Hasn’t the man trouble enough without tackling your chicory?” sang out Felix Kennedy, and the laugh so discouraged Sinkers that he gave over and sneaked away.
At that moment the editor of the local paper came around the depot corner on the run. He was out for an interview, and, as usual, just a trifle late. However, he insisted on boarding the baggage-car to tender his sympathy to McWilliams.
The barricades bothered him, but he mounted them all, and began an emergency pound on the forbidding blind door. Imagine his feeling when the door was gently opened by a sad-eyed man, who opened the ball by shoving a rifle as big as a pinch-bar under the editorial nose.
“My grief, Mr. McWilliams,” protested the interviewer, in a trembling voice, “don’t imagine I want to hold you up. Our citizens are all peaceable —-”
“Why, man, I’m not even asking for a subscription; I simply want to ten —-”
“Get out!” snapped the man with the gun; and in a foam the newsman climbed down. A curious crowd gathered close to hear an editorial version of the ten commandments revised on the spur of the moment. Felix Kennedy said it was worth going miles to hear. “That’s the coldest deal I ever struck on the plains, boys,” declared the editor. “Talk about your bereaved parents. If the boy doesn’t have a chill when that man reaches him, I miss my guess. He acts to me as if he was afraid his grief would get away before he got to Denver.”
Meantime Georgie Sinclair was tying a silk handkerchief around his neck, while Neighbor gave him parting injunctions. As he put up his foot to swing into the cab the boy looked for all the world like a jockey toe in stirrup. Neighbor glanced at his watch.
“Can you make it by eleven o’clock?” he growled.
“Denver or the ditch, Neighbor,” laughed Georgie, testing the air. “Are you right back there, Pat?” be called, as Conductor Francis strode forward to compare the Mountain Time.
“Right and tight, and I call it five-two-thirty now. What have you, Georgie?”
“Five-two-thirty-two,” answered Sinclair, leaning from the cab window. “And we’re ready.”
“Then go!” cried Pat Francis, raising two fingers.
“Go!” echoed Sinclair, and waved a backward smile to the crowd, as the pistons took the push and the escapes wheezed.
A roar went up. The little engineer shook his cap, and with a flirting, snaking slide, the McWilliams Special drew slipping away between the shining rails for the Rockies.
It belongs to the Stories That Never Were Told, this of the McWilliams Special. But it happened years ago, and for that matter McWilliams is dead. It wasn’t grief that killed him, either; though at one time his grief came uncommonly near killing us.
It is an odd sort of a yarn, too; because one part of it never got to headquarters, and another part of it never got from headquarters.
How, for instance, the mysterious car was ever started from Chicago on such a delirious schedule, how many men in the service know that even yet? How, for another instance, Sinclair and Francis took the ratty old car reeling into Denver with the glass shriveled, the paint blistered, the hose burned, and a tire sprung on one of the Five-Nine’s drivers — how many headquarters slaves know that?
Our end of the story never went in at all. Never went in because it was not deemed — well, essential to the getting up of the annual report. We could have raised their hair; they could have raised our salaries; but they didn’t; we didn’t.
In telling this story I would not be misunderstood; ours is not the only line between Chicago and Denver: there are others, I admit it. But there is only one line (all the same) that could have taken the McWilliams Special, as we did, out of Chicago at four in the evening and put it in Denver long before noon the next day. A communication came from a great La Salle Street banker to the president of our road. Next, the second vice-president heard of it; but in this way:
“Why have you turned down Peter McWilliams’s request for a special to Denver this afternoon?” asked the president.
“He wants too much,” came back over the private wire. “We can’t do it.” After satisfying himself on this point the president called up La Salle Street.
“Our folks say, Mr. McWilliams, we simply can’t do it.”
“You must do it.”
“When will the car be ready?”
“At three o’clock.”
“When must it be in Denver?”
“Ten o’clock to-morrow morning.”
The president nearly jumped the wire.
“McWilliams, you’re crazy. What on earth do you mean?”
The talk came back so low that the wires hardly caught it. There were occasional outbursts such as, “situation is extremely critical,” “grave danger,” “acute distress,” “must help me out.”
But none of this would ever have moved the president had not Peter McWilliams been a bigger man than most corporations; and a personal request from Peter, if he stuck for it, could hardly be refused; and for this he most decidedly stuck.
“I tell you it will turn us upside-down,” stormed the president.
“Do you recollect,” asked Peter McWilliams, “when your infernal old pot of a road was busted eight years ago — you were turned inside out then, weren’t you? and hung up to dry, weren’t you?”
The president did recollect; he could not decently help recollecting. And he recollected how, about that same time, Peter McWilliams had one week taken up for him a matter of two millions floating, with a personal check; and carried it eighteen months without security, when money could not be had in Wall Street on government bonds.
Do you — that is, have you heretofore supposed that a railroad belongs to the stockholders? Not so; it belongs to men like Mr. McWilliams, who own it when they need it. At other times they let the stockholders carry it — until they want it again.
“We’ll do what we can, Peter,” replied the president, desperately amiable. “Good-bye.”
I am giving you only an inkling of how it started. Not a word as to how countless orders were issued, and countless schedules were cancelled. Not a paragraph about numberless trains abandoned in toto, and numberless others pulled and hauled and held and annulled. The McWilliams Special in a twinkle tore a great system into great splinters.
It set master-mechanics by the ears and made reckless falsifiers of previously conservative trainmen. It made undying enemies of rival superintendents, and incipient paretics of jolly train-dispatchers. It shivered us from end to end and stem to stern, but it covered 1026 miles of the best steel in the world in rather better than twenty hours and a blaze of glory. My word is out,” said the president in his message to all superintendents, thirty minutes later. “You will get your division schedule in a few moments. Send no reasons for inability to make it; simply deliver the goods. With your time-report, which comes by Ry. M. S., I want the names and records of every member of every train-crew and every engine-crew that haul the McWilliams car.” Then followed particular injunctions of secrecy; above all, the newspapers must not get it. But where newspapers are, secrecy can only be hoped for — never attained. In spite of the most elaborate precautions to preserve Peter McWilliams’s secret — would you believe it? — the evening papers had half a column — practically the whole thing. Of course they had to guess at some of it, but for a newspaper-story it was pretty correct, just the same. They had, to a minute, the time of the start from Chicago, and hinted broadly that the schedule was a hair-raiser; something to make previous very fast records previous very slow records. And — here in a scoop was the secret — the train was to convey a prominent Chicago capitalist to the bedside of his dying son, Philip McWilliams, in Denver. Further, that hourly bulletins were being, wired to the distressed father, and that every effort of science would be put forth to keep the unhappy boy alive until his father could reach Denver on the Special. Lastly, it was hoped by all the evening papers (to fill out the half first column scare) that sunrise would see the anxious parent well on towards the gateway of the Rockies.
Of course the morning papers from the Atlantic to the Pacific had the story repeated — scare-headed, in fact — and the public were laughing at our people’s dogged refusal to confirm the report or to be interviewed at all on the subject. The papers had the story, anyway. What did they care for our efforts to screen a private distress which insisted on so paralyzing a time-card for 1026 miles?
When our own, the West End of the schedule, came over the wires there was a universal, a vociferous, kick. Dispatchers, superintendent of motive-power, train-master, everybody, protested. We were given about seven hours to cover 4oo miles-the fastest percentage, by-the-way, on the whole run.
“This may be grief for young McWilliams, and for his dad,” grumbled the chief dispatcher that evening, as he cribbed the press dispatches going over the wires about the Special, “but the grief is not theirs alone.”
Then he made a protest to Chicago. What the answer was none but himself ever knew. It came personal, and he took it personally; but the manner in which he went to work clearing track and making a card for the McWilliams Special showed better speed than the train itself ever attempted — and he kicked no more.
After all the row, it seems incredible, but they never got ready to leave Chicago till four o’clock; and when the McWilliams Special lit into our train system, it was like dropping a mountain-lion into a bunch of steers.
Freights and extras, local passenger-trains even, were used to being sidetracked; but when it came to laying out the Flyers and (I whisper this) the White Mail, and the Manila express, the oil began to sizzle in the journal-boxes. The freight business, the passenger traffic — the mail-schedules of a whole railway system were actually knocked by the McWilliams Special into a cocked hat.
From the minute it cleared Western Avenue it was the only thing talked of. Divisional headquarters and car tink shanties alike were bursting with excitement.