Chapter XIII. A Baffled Car Manager
 

It was nearly seven in the morning when Phil's vigil was rewarded by the sight of a man in his pajamas, emerging from the rival car. The man stood on the rear platform and stretched himself. All at once he caught sight of Car Three.

The fellow instantly became very wide awake. Opening the car door he called to someone within; then three or four men came out and stared at the Sparling car.

"They are pretty good sleepers over there, I guess," grinned the rival car manager, for such he proved to be.

The men dodged back, and there was a lively scene in the rival car. The men realized that they had been remiss in their duty in sleeping so late, but still they had not the least doubt of their ability to outwit their rivals, for the crew of Car Four was a picked lot who had never yet been beaten in the publicity game.

About this time Phil Forrest strolled out to the rear platform of his car. He was fully dressed save for coat and vest and hat, yet to all appearances he, too, had just risen.

The manager of the rival car came out and hailed him.

"Hello, young fellow!" he called.

"Good morning," answered Phil sweetly.

"Seems to me you sleep late over there."

"So do you," laughed Phil. "There must be something in the air up this way to induce sleep."

"I guess that's right. Who are you?" inquired the rival manager.

"I am one of the crowd."

"You're the programmer, perhaps?"

"I may be most anything."

The manager of the rival car strolled toward Car Three, whereupon Phil started, meeting him half-way. For reasons of his own he did not wish his rival to get too close to the Sparling car.

"I never saw you before," said the rival, eyeing Phil keenly.

"Nor I you."

"What's your name?"

"Philip."

"Glad to know you, Philip. How long have you been with the car?"

"A few weeks only."

"Who's your car manager?"

"A fellow named Forrest."

"Never heard of him. Is he in bed!"

"No; he is out."

"Humph! What time do you start your men on the country routes?"

"Usually about seven to seven-thirty."

"Well, you won't start them this morning at that time."

"No; I think not."

"I'll tell you what you do; you come and take breakfast with me. We won't go to any contract hotel, either."

"Thank you; I shall be delighted. Wait till I get my clothes on."

Phil hastened back to his own car.

"That fellow is playing a sharp trick. He is trying to get me away so he can get his men out ahead of mine. I will walk into his trap. He knows I am the manager. I could see that by the way he acted."

Phil stepped out and joined his rival.

"I believe you said you were the manager of that car, did you not?" asked the rival.

"I am, though I do not recollect having said so."

"A kid like you manager of a car? I don't know what the show business is coming to, with all due respect to you, young man."

"Oh, that's all right," answered the Circus Boy with a frank, innocent smile. "I am just learning the business, you know."

"I thought so," nodded the rival. "My name's Tripp--Bob Tripp."

"You been in the business long?"

"Fifteen years, my boy. After you have been in it as long as I have, you will know every crook and turn, every trick in the whole show business," said the fellow proudly. "You are a bright-faced young chap. I should like to have you on my car. Don't want a job, do you?"

"No, thank you. I am very well satisfied where I am. I can learn on a Sparling car as well as anywhere else, you know."

"Yes, of course."

The couple stopped at the leading hotel of the town, where the rival manager ordered a fine breakfast. Phil Forrest was quite ready for it. He already had done a heavy day's work and he was genuinely hungry.

"Guess they don't feed you very well with your outfit," smiled Tripp.

"Contract hotels, you know," laughed Phil. "I do not get a chance at a meal like this every day."

"Do the way I do."

"How is that?"

"Feed at the good places and charge it up in your expense account."

"Oh, I couldn't do that. It would not be right."

"That shows you are new in the business. Get all you can and keep all you get. That's my way of doing things. I was just like you when I began."

They tarried unusually long over the meal, Tripp seeming to be in no hurry. Phil was sure that he was in no hurry, either. And he knew why there was no need for hurry. Bob, in the meantime, was relating to the show boy his exploits as a manager. In fact he was giving Phil more information about the work of his own car than he realized at the time.

Now and then the Circus Boy would slip in an innocent question, which Bob would answer promptly. By the time the meal was finished Phil had a pretty clear idea of the workings of his rival's advance business, as well as their plans for the future, so far as Tripp knew them.

"By the way, how did you happen to get a berth like this, young man?" questioned Tripp. "I thought a fellow by the name of Snowden was running Car Three for old man Sparling."

"He was."

"Closed?"

"Yes."

"What for?"

"I would rather not talk about that. You will have to ask headquarters, or Snowden himself. You see, it is not my business, and I make it a rule never to discuss another fellow's affairs in public."

"Nor your own, eh?"

"Oh, I don't know. I think I have talked a good deal this morning. But you and I had better get back to our cars and get our men started, had we not? This is a late morning all around."

"No hurry, no hurry," urged Bob. "Why the men haven't got back from their breakfast yet. Wait awhile. Have a smoke."

"Thank you; I do not smoke."

Tripp looked at him in amazement.

"And you in the show business?"

"Is that any reason why a man's habits should not be regular?"

"N-n-n-o," admitted the rival slowly.

"Well, I must be going, just the same. I have considerable work to do in the car."

Bob rose reluctantly and followed Phil from the dining room. He had hoped to detain the young car manager longer, or until his own men could get a good start on the work of the day.

He looked for no difficulty, however, in outwitting his young opponent.

As they approached the railroad yards each car stood as they had left it, shades pulled well down and no signs of life aboard.

"Looks as if your crew was still asleep," smiled Tripp.

"I might say the same of yours, did I not know to the contrary," answered Phil suggestively.

Bob shot a keen glance at him.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing much. Of course I did not think your men would be asleep all this time. They are surely out to breakfast by this time."

"You ain't half as big a fool as you look, are you?" demanded the rival manager. "Well, I will see you later."

Each went to his little office and began the work of the day, but there was a grim smile of satisfaction on the face of each.

Fully an hour passed, and one of the lithographers from the rival car went aboard with the information that they were unable to get a piece of paper in any window in town thus far.

"Why not?" demanded Tripp.

"They say their windows are already contracted for," was the answer.

"Contracted for?"

"Yes."

"By whom?"

"I don't know. That's all the information we can get."

"Seen any other showmen about town this morning?"

"No; not any that I know, nor any with paper and brush under his arm."

"H-m-m-m," mused the showman. "That's queer. It can't be that the young man across the way has got the start of us. No; that is not possible. He is too green for that. Have his men gone out on the country routes yet, or are they still asleep?"

"I don't know. Nobody has seen a living soul around that car this morning, so far as I know."

"I'll go over town and do a little squaring on my own hook. I'll soon find out who has been heading us off, if anyone has."

The manager hurried off with his assistant, but even he was unable to get any information.

He was baffled and perplexed. He did not understand it. Tactics entirely new had been sprung on him. He was an expert in the old methods of the game, but these were different.

In the meantime, Phil Forrest, the young advance agent, sat calmly in his stateroom, now and then receiving a report from Teddy Tucker who sauntered in under cover of a string of freight cars on the opposite side, then slipped out again.

Teddy was Phil's blockade runner this day.

At noon the party on the rival car all adjourned for luncheon, and there they were joined by their manager, who discussed the queer situation with them. This was the time for Phil Forrest.

"Now for the surprise," he said, hurriedly going uptown, where he got his own lithographers together, and the crew that he had hired in town. Every man had been pledged to silence, as had the livery stable man and his helpers.

"Now, shoot the stuff out! Get every window full before those fellows are through their dinner. A five-dollar bill for the man who covers his route first. The banner locations we cannot fill so quickly, but they are all secured, so our friend can't take them away from us. Now get busy!"

They did. The men of Car Three forgot that they were hungry. Never before had the lithographers and banner men worked as they did that day. With the extra help that Phil had put on he was able to cover the ground with wonderful quickness.

When the men of the rival crew emerged from the contract hotel, and sat down in front to digest the contract meal, they suddenly opened their eyes in amazement.

In every window within sight of them there hung a gaudy Sparling circus bill, some windows being plastered full of them.

They called the manager hastily.

"Look!" said his assistant.

"What! We're tricked! But they haven't got far with their work. They haven't had time. Don't you see, the lazy fellows have just got to work. After them, men! Beat them out! You've got to out bill this town!"

As the men hurried out into the other streets the same unpleasant sight met their eyes. Every available window bore a Sparling bill; every wall obtainable had a Sparling banner tacked to it. One could not look in any direction without his gaze resting on a Sparling advertisement.

Bob Tripp was mad all through.

He had been outwitted.

In his anger he started for Car Three. Reaching it he discovered the young advance agent on the shady side of Car Three, lounging in a rocking chair reading a book.

Phil's idea of dramatic situations was an excellent one.

"What do you mean, playing such a trick on me?" demanded the irate rival.

The Circus Boy looked up with an innocent expression on his face.

"Why, Mr. Tripp, what is it?"

"Is that the way you repay my hospitality?" he shouted.

"Please explain."

Phil's tone was mild and soothing.

"You have grabbed every hit in this town. It's unprofessional. It's a crooked piece of business. I'll get even with you for that."

"Why, Mr. Tripp, how can that be, I am green; I am only a beginner, you know," answered the Circus Boy, with his most winning smile.

Bop Tripp gazed at him a moment, then with an angry exclamation turned on his heel and strode back to his own car.

Half an hour later Phil Forrest's men drove in from their country routes. They had covered them quickly, having got such an early start.

Phil heard their reports. They had left nothing undone. Phil then hurried over town to pay the bills he had contracted, first leaving word that not a man was to leave the car until his return.

He was back in a short time.

"We go out at two o'clock, boys," he announced upon his return. "I am leaving the banner men here. They will take a late train out tonight, and join us in the morning."

An express train came thundering in, and before Bob Tripp knew what was in the wind it had coupled on to Car Three. A few moments later Phil Forrest and his crew were bowling away for the next stand. His rivals would not be able to get another train out until very late that night.

Late in the afternoon Bob Tripp's country crew returned, tired, disgusted and glum.

"Well, what is it?" demanded the now thoroughly irritated manager.

"Not a dozen sheets of paper put up by the whole crew," was the startling announcement. "That Sparling outfit has plastered every spot as big as your hand for forty miles around here."

"What! Why didn't you cover them?" shrieked the manager.

"Cover them--nothing! They had every location cinched and nailed down. Every farmer stood over the other fellow's paper with a shot gun."

"Sold! And by a kid at that!" groaned Bob Tripp settling down despairingly into his office chair.