Chapter XLVII
 

When his visitors had gone Cappy Ricks gave orders that he was not to be disturbed on any pretext whatever. Then he locked himself in, swung his legs to the top of his desk, slid low in his chair until he rested on his spine, bowed his head on his breast and closed his eyes. The battle was on.

One hour later J. Augustus Redell entered breathlessly in response to a telephonic invitation from Cappy.

"Gus," the latter began, "am I right in assuming that you possess a reasonable amount of influence with that hair-trigger partner of yours, Live Wire Luiz?" Redell nodded. "And is Luiz absolutely trustworthy? Will he stay put and keep his mouth closed?"

"He is my partner, Cappy. He's mercurial, but a gentleman. I'd trust him with my life, and I always trust him with my bank roll. He requires no watching."

"Good! Gus, send Live Wire Luiz down to Guaymas and have him incorporate the North and South American Steamship Company there, under the extremely flexible and evershifting laws of the Republic of Mexico. Luiz is a Peruvian and speaks Spanish, and knows the Mexican temperament. He can easily procure three Mexicans to act as a dummy board of directors; his own name, of course, for obvious reasons, must never appear in connection with this company. A thousand dollars ought to cover this Mexican expense."

"Consider that point attended to, Cappy."

"Fine! Now then, when this corporate vehicle is in running order and has opened an office in Guaymas, Live Wire Luiz will write your company, The West Coast Trading Company, saying that his company has been referred to you by some mutual friends in Guaymas. Of course Luiz doesn't sign this letter. It is signed by the North and South American Steamship Company, per the dummy secretary or president. The letter goes on to say that the latter company is in the market for a steamer, the general specifications of which, singularly enough, fit the Bavarian. The vessel is to be used for transporting troops up and down the west coast of Mexico and for freighting munitions from Japan; and in a delicate way it might be hinted that the de facto Mexican Government is the real buyer. A commission of five per cent is offered you for buying the vessel for them, said commission to be split fifty-fifty with the North and South American Steamship Company; this being the Mexican way of doing business, as you know."

"Consider that matter attended to also. I'll write the letter myself before Luiz starts for Guaymas, so I'll be certain the job will be done exactly right."

"As soon as you receive this letter you get busy and wire the North and South American Steamship Company that you have just the vessel they want, price three hundred thousand dollars. Live Wire Luiz will then cause a reply to that telegram to be sent, advising you that his clients would not balk at paying half a million! That, of course, is hint enough for you. Right away you see the old Mexican graft sticking out, and you say to yourself, 'Why not?' And you do! You reply to that telegram, saying you erred when naming the price in your first telegram; that it is five hundred thousand instead of three. Then you come down to me and I hand you three hundred thousand dollars in currency; for in such a transaction as this, checks, with their indorsements, provide a trail that may prove embarrassing. You take that money and deposit it in escrow in any local bank against a bill of sale of the Bavarian from Mrs. Koenitz to the North and South American Steamship Company, of Guaymas, Mexico. Before doing so, however, have Mrs. Koenitz place the vessel under Mexican registry. She can do that through the Mexican Consul for the de facto government; and when the bill of sale is turned over to you, record it promptly with the Mexican Consul. Later you will record it in Mexico.

"The vessel is now the property of the North and South American Steamship Company; and the North and South American Steamship Company is the property of Cappy Ricks and the West Coast Trading Company, per Senor Felipe Luiz Almeida. But we must never admit this. To have the North and South American Steamship Company transfer the vessel to us would be very coarse work indeed; so we must avoid that."

"How?"

"I'll get to that presently. The steamer is now in our possession, and you will already have notified her German skipper and crew to hunt a new residence. You will then put an American skipper in charge and ship American engineers and a crew of parrakeets; and on the very day the sale is consummated, just before the customhouse closes, have the skipper clear the vessel for Guaymas and put to sea that night. Since she carries no cargo the collector of the port will not stop you; the risk of going to sea is all our own--if we care to take it.

"The next day the newspaper boys will be hot on the trail. An interned German merchantman has suddenly transferred to Mexican registry and put to sea! Now! Inquiry at the customhouse and at the Mexican consulate shows that the vessel has been sold, and the trail leads straight to the office of the West Coast Trading Company. You are interviewed--and say nothing; and that day, when I appear on 'Change, these baffled journalists drive me into a corner and ask me what I think about it. And I'll tell them it's just another case of the lowly Mexican peon being hornswoggled by the foxy Americano. The Mexicans wanted a ship and asked the American to buy one for them. He did--only he forgot to tell them she was a German. She was such a good buy they snapped her up without asking questions, though in all probability the poor devils had no knowledge of Kaiser Wilhelm's edict that no German ships shall be sold without the consent of the German Government. I will say that it looks to me as if the ancient rule of caveat emptor applied, and that the Mexicans are stung and have no comeback. Then, again, it may be a shrewd German trick to put something over.

"Well, they make a snorting story out of what I give them; the frau's friends read it and think she's done something smart. Nobody feels sorry for a Mexican. Next morning you come out with a blast of righteous indignation and admit that you cannot or will not deny that the vessel was sold to parties representing the de facto Mexican Government. You deny, however, that you sold them a pig in a poke; and the papers print a copy of your letter to the North and South American Steamship Company specifically advising them that the vessel was a German and liable to prove an embarrassment. This, of course, clears you, and the blame for the graft is placed where it belongs--on the shoulders of the North and South American Steamship Company, which has deliberately stung the de facto government!"

"Cappy," said J. Augustus Redell admiringly, "you're immense!"

"I accept the nomination. Upon her arrival in Guaymas the Bavarian's name is changed to La Golondrina, or Sobre las Olas, or Manana, or Poco Tiempo--whatever's right. I think we may safely gamble that she will arrive in Guaymas in the light of what the British Consul told us; and, in view of her departure unannounced, no British warship on the West Coast can get so far north as Guaymas in time to intercept her.

"Well, having changed her name, she picks up a general cargo and comes back to San Francisco, where she goes on dry dock and is cleaned and painted, has her gear overhauled, fills up with fuel oil and stores, and--but that's enough. Now comes the blow-off.

"Strange to relate, you haven't received a cent of that five-per-cent commission due you from the North and South American Steamship Company for buying the Bavarian for them. The issue is in dispute. They claim you are not entitled to any commission, because you stung them with a German vessel; and you claim you told them she was a German, but that they needed her so badly they would take a chance. Also, the fact that she went to sea that time in such a hurry, and forgot to pay for her fuel oil and stores, looks rather suspicious; so, when the vessel comes off dry dock, with about ten thousand dollars' worth of bills against her, you decide to protect your claim for the commission--and, by the Holy Pink-Toed Prophet, Gus, you libel her! The news breaks into the papers, and next day every creditor of the ship files a libel on her, also, to protect his claim. Gus, she'll have so many plasters on her she'll look like a German coming home from the war."

J. Augustus Redell leaped from his chair and picked little Cappy Ricks up in his arms and hugged him.

"Oh, Cappy! Cappy!" he yelled. "You're the shadow of a rock in a weary land--a cup of cool water in the suburbs of hell!"

"Are you game?" Cappy gurgled.

"Does a cat eat liver? Cappy, you've solved the problem! Naturally the North and South American Steamship Company does not directly or indirectly make any attempt to lift these libels and get the vessel to sea. Why? I'll tell you--or, rather, I'll tell the newspaper boys and they'll tell everybody. It will appear that as soon as the Mexican Consul here got an inkling of the apparent plan of the North and South American Steamship Company, of Guaymas, to sting Don Venustiano Carranza by slipping him a steamer with a clouded title, he must have wired Don Venustiano to round up the directors of the said company and give them the ley fuga. Fortunately for these culprits, however, they got next in time to get out from under. Mounting swift steeds, the entire board of directors fled north and east, never pausing until they had joined Pancho Villa; and we learn from some Border gossips that all three subsequently were killed in action. But, before leaving Guaymas, they left their tangled steamship affairs in the hands of their attorney--"

"Nothing doing, Gus! They left their tangled steamship affairs in the hands of my attorney, and they gave him an absolute, ironclad, airtight power of attorney to sell the ship, receive and receipt for all money due the company, and so on, and so on, ad libitum, ad infinitum; said power of attorney being nonrevocable for five years."

"Great stuff! In due course the libelants sue in the United States District Court; your attorney appears for the defendants and confesses judgment, but pleads for a ten-day stay of execution until he can raise a mortgage on the vessel. But, strange to relate, the ten-day stay expires and the judgments against the steamer are not paid; so the judge of the United States District Court orders the steamer sold at public auction on the floor of the Merchants' Exchange to the highest bidder, to satisfy the claims of the creditors. Thirty days later the United States Marshal conducts the sale, and a gentleman named Cappy Ricks buys her in. The United States Marshal gives the said Ricks a bill of sale for her, which the said Ricks thereupon records in the United States Customhouse, and--"

"Und Hoch der Kaiser! Und Hoch der John J. Bull! We've finally got that clear American title we've been looking for. It makes no difference what the nationality of a vessel is; the minute she enters the territorial waters of the United States of America she is amenable to the laws of the United States of America, one of which reads thusly: 'Thou shalt pay thy bills; and if thou dost not, then poco tiempo thou shalt be made to pay them, even unto the seizure and sale of thy ship.' And with the purchase of that ship, under an order of sale issued by the United States District Court, she becomes a United States ship; we register her as such; and the United States simply has to stand back of the bill of sale it gave us. Germany knows that; England knows it; Austria knows it; and from the jackstaff of the late Bavarian, now renamed the Alden M. Peasley, in honor of my first grandson, there floats--"

J. Augustus Redell raised his index finger, enjoining silence:

"Now then! One, two, three! Down, left, up!

     "O-ho, say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
         What so-ho pro-houdly we hailed at the twilight's last
            gleaming?"

Cappy Ricks sprang to attention. Presently, through the partition, his cracked old voice reached Mr. Skinner:

     "Then conquer we must, when our cause is so just;
         And this be our motto: 'May we nev-er go bust!'"

"What's doing here?" Mr. Skinner demanded, banging at the door, which was locked.

"Go way back and sit down!" Cappy shrilled. "I'll show you and Matt Peasley where to head in, yet--see if I don't!"