Chapter XVI. A Battle of Wits
 

"The Robinson people, at least, have got to work," muttered the Circus Boy as he made his way downtown. Here and there, at rare intervals, he came across a window bill of the show mentioned.

There were blocks of windows, however, with no billing in them. Phil interpreted this to mean that his own men had secured the requisite permission to place their own bills there.

He smiled as he thought of the little trick. It was an idea of his own to square locations ahead of the lithographers. Ordinarily, the lithographer made his rounds with a bundle of bills on his arm. Entering a store he would say, "May I place this bill in your window?" Phil had adopted the plan of sending the men around first. After they had obtained the signed permission they would go back over the same ground and place the bills. This took a little more time, but it had the merit of fooling his rivals and getting many more places squared than could have been done in the old way.

Suddenly a great wall loomed ahead of him.

Phil paused and surveyed it critically.

"Wouldn't I like to fasten Sparling banners all over that place, though. What a hit that would be. Why," he added looking about him, "it could be seen pretty much all over town."

Phil started on, intending to find out who owned the building. As he did so he saw a man from the canary-colored car entering the building. The man was going into a store on the ground floor.

"I'll bet he is after that very wall. Oh, pshaw! Why didn't I stay in town and attend to my business, as I should have done, instead of racing over the country at that mad pace? I'm going over to see what he is up to."

The Circus Boy hurried along. Entering the store he saw the man from the rival car, who proved to be the manager of it, engaged in earnest conversation with a man whom Phil supposed to be the proprietor.

After a little the manager of the other car hurried out. Phil stepped forward.

"Are you the proprietor?" he asked politely.

"Yes; what can I do for you?"

"Do you own this building?"

"No, but I am the agent for it."

"Very good. You are the man I want to talk with. I am from the Sparling Shows. I should like the privilege of fastening some banners on that south wall there."

"You're too late, young man. I just gave the other man permission to do that."

"Did he pay you?" asked Phil sweetly.

"No."

"Did you sign a contract with him?"

"No."

"May I ask how much he is to give you for the privilege?"

"Twenty-five dollars."

"He ought to be ashamed to offer you such a mean figure as that for such a privilege."

The proprietor grew interested.

"Where has he gone?"

"Said he had to talk with someone back with the show by long distance telephone before he could close the bargain."

Phil glanced apprehensively at the door.

"I guess you had better sell the privilege to me while you have the chance. He may not come back, you know; then you will be out all around."

"I couldn't think of it. I gave him the privilege of buying the wall."

"Money talks, doesn't it, sir?"

"It does, young man. It always makes such a loud noise around me that I can't hear much of anything else."

Phil grinned.

"Yes; it's pretty noisy stuff."

The lad calmly drew a big roll of bills from his pocket, placing it on the counter before the storekeeper. To the pile he added his watch, a jackknife, a bunch of keys and a silver matchbox.

"Help yourself," he begged calmly.

"Wha--what?" gasped the storekeeper.

"I said help yourself. I want that wall. I leave it to you to say what is a reasonable price for it--a price fair to you and to me. You admit that money talks. This money is addressing its remarks to you direct, at this very moment."

The proprietor hesitated, glanced at the money and other articles that Phil had arrayed so temptingly before him, and turned reflectively facing the rear of the store.

"I will scribble off a little contract," said Phil softly. "How much shall we make the consideration?"

"What'll you give?"

"I've got him!" was Phil Forrest's triumphant thought, but he allowed none of his triumphant feeling to appear in his face.

"Well, were I making the offer I should say the wall was worth about forty dollars, no other bills to appear on it until after my show has left town. But I told you to help yourself. I'll stick to my word."

"Count me out forty dollars and take it. I like your style. Your way of doing business makes a hit with me."

Phil inserted the agreed-upon price in the contract.

"Just sign your name there, please," he said, still in that soft, persuasive voice.

The storekeeper read the brief contract through, nodded approvingly, then affixed his signature with the fountain pen that Phil had handed to him.

This done, the lad counted out forty dollars, stowed the rest away in his pockets, together with his other belongings, then extended his hand cordially to the proprietor.

"Thank you very much," murmured Phil, his face all aglow now.

"You're welcome. When do you put up your bills?"

"At once. We leave town tonight, and we have a lot of work to do first."

"Let's see; were you one of the fellows mixed up in that race this morning?"

Phil blushed.

"I am afraid I was very much mixed up in it. Well, good afternoon."

The lad turned and started for the door. At that moment someone entered. It was the manager of the canary car.

"It's all right. I'll take the location," he announced, smiling broadly, as he walked rapidly to where the proprietor was standing, laying two tens and a five-dollar bill on the counter.

"I--I'm sorry," stammered the storekeeper, flushing. "I have just sold it to another party."

"Sold it!"

The manager's face went several shades paler.

"Yes."

"To--to whom?"

"To that young gentleman there."

The manager whirled and faced Phil.

"Who--who are you?"

"My name is Forrest," answered Phil, smiling easily. He could well afford to smile.

"And you--you have bought this location?"

"I have."

"Whom do you represent?"

"The Sparling Combined Shows."

The Circus Boy's rival flushed angrily.

"I demand that the location be turned over to me instantly! It belongs to me, and I'll have it if I have to fight for it. Here's my money, Mr. Storekeeper. I command you to make out a paper giving me the right to bill that wall."

"I do not think he will do anything of the sort, my dear sir," spoke up Phil. "I have bought and paid for the location and I propose to hold it. You had no more right to it than any other man. You did not have the nerve to put down your money for it when you had the chance, and you lost your opportunity. You will see the wall covered with Sparling banners in a very short time."

"I will not!"

"Be on your way, my man. Let me tell you the Sparling banners are going up."

"There's my money!" shouted the manager of the canary colored car. "The wall is mine!"

He dashed out of the store and started for his car on the run.

"If you let those other showmen banner the wall I'll have the law on you!" announced Phil sternly. Then the Circus Boy ran out of the store, starting off at a lively sprint for his own car. He caught up with the rival manager in a moment, passed him and bounded on. His rival already was puffing and perspiring under the unusual effort.

"Turn out every man in town!" he called, dashing into the car. "Teddy, run to the main street and send everyone of our banner men and lithographers to the Ward Building. You and Henry carry over there at once all the banners you can scrape together. Do not lose a minute. But wait! I'll telephone the liveryman for a wagon to carry the paper, brushes and paste pots over. You remain here, Henry, and go with the wagon. Teddy, you hustle for the men. Run as if the Rhino from the Sparling menagerie were charging you!"

Teddy leaped from the car platform and was off, with Phil sprinting after him in long strides.

They passed the manager of the canary colored car just as they were running across the switches in the railroad yard. He was only then getting to his car.