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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Thunder Bird - Chapter 8. Sudden Must Do Something
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The Thunder Bird - Chapter 8. Sudden Must Do Something Post by :luckystrike23 Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :2192

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The Thunder Bird - Chapter 8. Sudden Must Do Something


"I been thinking, bo, what we better do." Bland climbed down from the motor and approached Johnny eagerly, casting suspicious glances here and there lest eavesdroppers be near. That air of secrecy was a habit with Bland, yet it never quite failed to impress Johnny and lend weight to Bland's utterances. Now, having been put on the defensive by Mary V, he was more than ever inclined to listen.

"Shoot," he said glumly, and sent a resentful glance back at the house. At least, Bland showed some interest in his welfare, he thought, and regretted that it had not occurred to him to tell Mary V that and see how she would take it.

"Well, bo, all this limelight stuff is playing right into your mitt. I didn't spill who I was to them news hounds, and I don't have to. I let you take all the foreground. I was the mechanic--see? So it's you that will have to put this over; and put it over strong, I say.

"Now first off you want some catchy name for the plane, and you've got it ready-made. All yuh need is paint to put it on with. Across the top of the wings you want to paint THE THUNDER BIRD--just like that. Get the idea? And we'll go back to Tucson and clean up a piece of money. While you work into the exhibition stuff we can take up passengers and make good money. Ten minutes of joyride, at ten dollars per joy--you mind the mob that follered us to the hotel just for a look-in? Say one in ten takes a ride, look at the clean-up! You take 'em yourself, bo--do the flunkey work and look wise. I never mentioned the joyridin' at first, because I look on that as side money, and exhibition flyers don't do nothing like that. They think it cheapens 'em, and it does. But right now it means quick money, see. With all this publicity, and the Injun name--say, it's a cinch, bo! They'll fall over theirselves to git a ride.

"My idea is to get the name painted on right now, before we go back. Then we'll circle over town and do a few flops and show our sign. So right away the name'll stick in their minds and make good advertising. Then when we land, the mob'll be there--I'll say they will! And they'll take a ride, too. I wonder is there any lampblack on the place?"

Johnny smoked a cigarette and studied the proposition. It looked feasible. Moreover, it promised ready money, and ready money was Johnny's greatest, most immediate need. Not a little of his captiousness with Mary V was caused by his secret worry over his empty pockets. He grinned ruefully when the thought struck him that, if the bald truth were known, he himself did not have much more than the price of one joyride in his own machine! He had been seriously considering asking Curley for a loan when that staunch little friend returned from the search, but it galled his pride to borrow money from any one. Bland's idea began to look not only feasible but brilliant. It would establish at once his independence and furnish concrete proof to Mary V that his determination to fly was based on sound business principles. Supposing he only took up four or five passengers a day, he would make more money than he could earn in two weeks at any other occupation.

Bland seemed to read this thought. "You can count on an average of ten a day, bo--that's a hundred dollars. Sometimes, like on Sundays, it would run to two and three hundred bones. I guess that will let you throw your feet under the table regular--what?"

"What about you?" Johnny asked, looking up at him studiedly.

"Me? I'll tell yuh, bo. You give me the second ten bucks you take in. You keep the rest until the tenth passenger, and give me that, and then the fifteenth. And you pay all expenses. That's fair enough, ain't it? I'll make good money when you make better. Any exhibition work, you give me half, because it'll really be me that's pulling off the stunts. The public needn't be wise to that. You as Skyrider Johnny, see. I'm just anybody, for the present."

"Why all this modesty to-day? When you first wanted to go in with me, I couldn't call you no violet, Bland. You said then that your name was worth a lot."

Bland's loose lips parted in a crafty grin. "It is worth a lot, bo--to keep it under cover right now. One of them newspaper guys reminded me of somebody. I don't think he remembered me--but it wouldn't do us no good now to joggle his memory, bo. I ain't saying he's got anything on me--only--"

"Only he has," Johnny rounded out the sentence dryly. "All right. I'm willing to play that way till I find out more about you. We'll try your scheme out. It can't do any hurt."

He went off to the shed where all sorts of things were stored, looking for lamp black. And Bland, seeing ready money just ahead, overlooked Johnny's blunt distrust of him, and pulled the corners of his mouth out of their habitual whining droop and whistled to himself while he tinkered with the motor.

Johnny was up on a stepladder laboriously painting the R on THUNDER when old Sudden drove into the yard with half the Rolling R boys packed into the big car. They had heard the strident humming of the plane when Johnny made his homing flight, and craning necks backward, had seen him winging away to the Rolling R. They had guessed very close to the truth, and for them the search ended right there. So, after signalling the other searchers, many of the boys had ridden back in the car, leaving patient, obliging little Curley to bring home their horses.

Bud and Aleck, who had ridden uncomplainingly from dawn to dark, looking for Johnny's remains, straightway pulled him, paint-pot and all, from the stepladder and began to maul him affectionately and call him various names to hide their joy and relief. Which Johnny accepted philosophically and with less gratitude than he should have shown.

"What yo' all doin', up there?" Bud wanted to know when the first excitement had subsided. "Writin' poetry for friend Venus to read? I'll bet that there's where Skyrider has been all this while! I'll bet he's been visitin' with Venus and brandin' stars with the Rollin' R whilst we been ridin' the tails off our hawses huntin' his mangled ree-mains. Ain't that right, Eyebrow?"

Bland grinned sourly. "Us, we been gawdin' amongst the Injuns," he stated loftily. "We sure had some time. I'll say we did! Say, we're goin' to be ready to do business now pretty quick. Don't you birds want to fly? Just a little ways--to see how it feels?"

Halfway up the stepladder Johnny stopped. "What's the matter with you, Bland?" he asked sharply. "You crazy?"

"We're out to do business. That's right, boys. Now's your time to fly. All it takes is a little nerve--and ten dollars."

"Shut up!" growled Johnny. "Don't be a darned boob."

The boys looked at one another uncertainly. It might be some obscure joke of Bland's, and they were wary.

"Fly where?" Bud guardedly sought information.

"Anywheres. Just a circle or two, to show yuh how this ranch looks to a chicken hawk, and down again," Bland persisted, in spite of Johnny.

"Yeah--it's that _down again I wouldn't much hanker for," Aleck put in. "I seen how you and Skyrider come down, once."

"That there was him learnin' not to pick nice, deep, soft sand for a landin'," Bland explained equably, glancing up to where Johnny was painting a somewhat wobbly B. "He ain't done it lately, bo."

"Lemme up there, Skyrider, and see what it is yo'all are paintin' on," Bud pleaded. "If it's po'try, maybe I can sing it."

Johnny relaxed into a grin, but he did not answer the jibe. He was disgusted with Bland for having such bad taste as to drum up trade here on the ranch, among the boys who had ridden hard and long, believing him in dire need. He hoped the boys would not guess that Bland was in earnest; a poor, cheap joke is sometimes better than tactless sincerity. He was even ashamed now of the name he was painting on the wings. That, too, seemed cheap and pointless. He felt nauseated with Bland Halliday and his petty grafting.

A little more and he would have told Bland so and sent him about his business. At that moment of revulsion against Bland he was almost in the mood to give up the whole scheme and do as Mary V wished him to do: settle down there at the ranch and work out his debt where he had made it. Looking down into the grimy, friendly faces of those who had braved desert wind and sun for him, the sallow, shifty-eyed face of Bland Halliday seemed to epitomize the sordid avariciousness of the man and made him wonder if any measure of success would atone for the forced intimacy with the fellow. Mary V, had she known his mood then, might have won her way with him and altered immeasurably the future.

But Mary V knew only that he was staying down there with that unbearable Bland Halliday, fussing around his horrid old airplane instead of coming to the house and telling her he was sorry. Besides, there was her dad, who had gone to all that trouble and expense for him, not so much as getting a word of thanks or appreciation from Johnny. Instead of coming right away to see her dad, he was down there fooling with the boys. What, for gracious sake, ailed Johnny lately? He ought to have a good talking to, she decided. Perhaps her dad could talk some sense into him--she was sure that she couldn't.

So she stopped her dad when he was on the point of going down where Johnny was, and she told him what perfectly crazy ideas Johnny had, and how he had refused to listen to a word she said, but instead had taken up with Bland Halliday again. And wouldn't dad please talk to Johnny?

"He keeps harping on owing you for those horses he lost," she said impatiently. "I've told him and told him that you don't care and would never hold it against him, but he won't listen. He keeps on talking about paying it back, and making good before we can be married and all that. And he simply will not consent to come and make good on the ranch, and pay you out of his salary, if he feels he must pay.

"He says ranching is too tame for him--dad, think of that! Too tame, when he knows very well it would mean-- But he doesn't seem to care whether we're together or not. He says he can make a fortune flying, and he said he might go in partnership with Bland Halliday. He says we can't think of being married until he has paid you--and he imagines he can earn the money with that airplane! And I know perfectly well he can't, because if he does make a cent Bland Halliday will cheat him out of it. And dad--" Mary V's voice trembled "--he went off that morning with that fellow, exactly in the opposite direction from the ranch! He never intended to come, and he didn't care enough to tell me, even. He just went as if nothing in the world mattered! And we were all hunting--"

"Well, if you look at it that way it's easy enough to handle him," Sudden observed. "I've been thinking myself the young imp showed mighty little thought for you. Of course you don't want to marry a fellow like that."

"Why, I do too! What, for gracious sake, ever put that idea into your head? But I don't want him to act like a perfectly crazy lunatic. I wish you'd speak to him. He won't listen to me--we just quarrel when I try to reason with him."

Sudden smoothed down his face with his hand. "I expect you do, all right. The dove of peace is going to find mighty poor roosting on your roof, babe, if I'm any judge."

"I suppose you mean I'm quarrelsome, but you simply don't understand. It was Johnny who quarrelled with me because I wanted him to have some sense. I wish you'd speak to him, dad."

"Oh, I'll speak to him," her dad promised grimly.

Still, he did not immediately proceed to speak. Instead, he drove the car down to the garage and put it away, passing rather close to the airplane without giving much attention to Johnny. His casual wave of a hand could have meant almost anything, and Johnny felt a small tremor of apprehension. When he was merely one of the men on the payroll he had stood just a bit in awe of old Sudden, and he could not all at once throw off the feeling, even though Sudden had willingly enough acknowledged him as a prospective son-in-law. He allowed a blob of black paint to place a period where no period should be while he stared after Sudden's bulky form in the dust-covered car.

Sudden busied himself in the garage, turning up grease cups and going over certain squeaky spots with the oil can while he studied the problem before him. He had once before likened Johnny Jewel to a thoroughbred colt that must be given its head lest its temper be spoiled for all time. Just now the human colt seemed inclined to bolt where the bolting threatened disaster to Mary V. The question of using the curb or giving a free rein was a nice one; and the old car was given an astonishing amount of oil before Sudden wiped his hands on a bit of waste with the air of a man who had just made an important decision.

"If you've got time," he said to Johnny, when he approached the group at the plane, "I'd like to have a little talk with you. No hurry, though. Glad to see you got back all right. You had the whole country guessing for a while."

Johnny scowled, for the subject was becoming extremely unpleasant. "I'm sorry--but I don't see what I can do about it, unless I go off and smash things up to carry out the program as expected," he retorted, and it did not occur to him that the words sounded particularly ungracious. The thing was on his nerves so much that it seemed to him even Sudden was taunting him with the trouble he had caused.

"No, the show's over now, and the audience has gone home. No use playing to an empty house," Sudden drawled.

Johnny looked at him quickly, suspiciously. He had an overwhelming wish to know just exactly what Sudden meant. He climbed down and took the ladder back to the shed near by.

"I'm ready for the talk, Mr. Selmer," he said when he came back. Whatever Sudden had in his mind, Johnny wanted it in plain speech. A white line was showing around his mouth--a line brought there by the feeling that his affairs had reached a crisis. One way or the other his future would be decided in the next few minutes.

He followed Sudden to the house and into the office room fronting the corrals and yards. Sudden sat down before his desk and Johnny took the chair opposite him, his spirits still weighted by the impending crisis. He tried to read in Sudden's face what attitude he might expect, but Sudden was wearing what his friends called his poker expression, which was no expression at all. His very impassiveness warned and steadied Johnny.

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