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Full Online Book HomeLong Stories100%: The Story Of A Patriot - Section 52
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100%: The Story Of A Patriot - Section 52 Post by :ben.g Category :Long Stories Author :Upton Sinclair Date :May 2012 Read :2115

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100%: The Story Of A Patriot - Section 52

The old plutocrat was feeble and sick, but his mind was all there, and his eyes seemed to be boring Peter through. Peter realized that he would have to be very careful--the least little slip would be fatal here.

"Now, Gudge," the old man began, "I want you to tell me all about it. To begin with, how did you come to be among these Reds? Begin at the beginning."

So Peter told how he had happened to get interested in the radical movement, laying particular stress upon the dangerousness of these Reds, and his own loyalty to the class which stood for order and progress and culture in the country. "It ought to be stopped, Mr. Ackerman!" he exclaimed, with a fine show of feeling; and the old banker nodded. Yes, yes, it ought to be stopped!

"Well," said Peter, "I said to myself, 'I'm going to find out about them fellows.' I went to their meetings, and little by little I pretended to get converted, and I tell you, Mr. Ackerman, our police are asleep; they don't know what these agitators are doing, what they're preaching. They don't know what a hold they've got on the mobs of the discontented!"

Peter went on to tell in detail about the propaganda of social revolution, and about conspiracies against law and order, and the property and even the lives of the rich. Peter noticed that when the old man took a sip of water his hand trembled so that he could hardly keep the water from spilling; and presently, when the phone rang again, his voice became shrill and imperious. "I understand they're applying for bail for those men. Now Angus, that's an outrage! We'll not hear to anything like that! I want you to see the judge at once, and make absolutely certain that those men are held in jail."

Then again the old banker had a coughing fit. "Now, Gudge," he said, "I know more or less about all that. What I want to know is about this conspiracy against me. Tell me how you came to find out about it."

And Peter told; but of course he embellished it, in so far as it related to Mr. Ackerman--these fellows were talking about Mr. Ackerman all the time, they had a special grudge against him.

"But why?" cried the old man. "Why?"

"They think you're fighting them, Mr. Ackerman."

"But I'm not! That's not true!"

"Well, they say you put up money to hang Goober. They call you--you'll excuse me?"

"Yes, yes, of course."

"They call you the 'head money devil.' They call you the financial king of American City."

"King!" cried the banker. "What rubbish! Why, Gudge, that's fool newspaper talk! I'm a poor man today. There are two dozen men in this city richer than I am, and who have more power. Why--" But the old man fell to coughing and became so exhausted that he sank back into his pillows until he recovered his breath. Peter waited respectfully; but of course he wasn't fooled. Peter had carried on bargaining many times in his life, and had heard people proclaim their poverty and impotence.

"Now, Gudge," the old man resumed. "I don't want to be killed; I tell you I don't want to be killed."

"No, of course not," said Peter. It was perfectly comprehensible to him that Mr. Ackerman didn't want to be killed. But Mr. Ackerman seemed to think it necessary to impress the idea upon him; in the course of the conversation he came back to it a number of times, and each time he said it with the same solemn assurance, as if it were a brand new idea, and a very unusual and startling idea. "I don't want to be killed, Gudge; I tell you I don't want to let those fellows get me. No, no; we've got to circumvent them, we've got to take precautions--every precaution--I tell you every possible precaution."

"I'm here for that purpose, Mr. Ackerman," said Peter, solemnly. "I'll do everything. We'll do everything, I'm sure."

"What's this about the police?" demanded the banker. "What's this about Guffey's bureau? You say they're not competent?"

"Well now, I'll tell you, Mr. Ackerman," said Peter, "It's a little embarrassing. You see, they employ me--"

"Nonsense!" exclaimed the other. "_I employ you! I'm putting up the money for this work, and I want the facts!--I want them all."

"Well," said Peter, "they've been very decent to me--"

"I say tell me everything!" exclaimed the old man. He was a most irritable old man, and couldn't stand for a minute not having what he asked for. "What's the matter with them?"

Peter answered, as humbly as he could: "I could tell you a great deal that'd be of use to you, Mr. Ackerman, but you got to keep it between you and me."

"All right!" said the other, quickly. "What is it?"

"If you give a hint of it to anybody else," persisted Peter, "then I'll get fired."

"You'll not get fired, I'll see to that. If necessary I'll hire you direct."

"Ah, but you don't understand, Mr. Ackerman. It's a machine, and you can't run against it; you gotta understand it, you gotta handle it right. I'd like to help you, and I know I can help you, but you gotta let me explain it, and you gotta understand some things."

"All right," said the old man. "Go ahead, what is it?"

"Now," said Peter, "it's like this. These police and all these fellows mean well, but they don't understand; it's too complicated, they ain't been in this movement long enough. They're used to dealing with criminals; but these Reds, you see, are cranks. Criminals ain't organized, at least they don't stand together; but these Reds do, and if you fight 'em, they fight back, and they make what they call 'propaganda.' And that propaganda is dangerous--if you make a wrong move, you may find you've made 'em stronger than they were before."

"Yes, I see that," said the old man. "Well?"

"Then again, the police dunno how dangerous they are. You try to tell them things, they won't really believe you. I've known for a long time there was a group of these people getting together to kill off all the rich men, the big men all over the country. They've been spying on these rich men, getting ready to kill them. They know a lot about them that you can't explain their knowing. That's how I got the idea they had somebody in your house, Mr. Ackerman."

"Tell me what you mean. Tell me at once."

"Well, sir, every once in a while I pick up scraps of conversation. One day I heard Mac--"

"Mac?"

"That's McCormick, the one who's in jail. He's an I. W. W. leader, and I think the most dangerous of all. I heard him whispering to another fellow, and it scared me, because it had to do with killing a rich man. He'd been watching this rich man, and said he was going to shoot him down right in his own house! I didn't hear the name of the man--I walked away, because I didn't want him to think I was trying to listen in. They're awful suspicious, these fellows; if you watch Mac you see him looking around over his shoulder every minute or two. So I strolled off, and then I strolled back again, and he was laughing about something, and I heard him say these words; I heard him say, 'I was hiding behind the curtain, and there was a Spanish fellow painted on the wall, and every time I peeked out that bugger was looking at me, and I wondered if he wasn't going to give me away.'"

And Peter stopped. His eyes had got used to the twilight now, and he could see the old banker's eyes starting out from the crescents of dark, puffy flesh underneath. "My God!" whispered Nelse Ackerman.

"Now, that was all I heard," said Peter. "And I didn't know what it meant. But when I learned about that drawing that Mac had made of your house, I thought to myself, Jesus, I bet that was Mr. Ackerman he was waiting to shoot!"

"Good God! Good God!" whispered the old man; and his trembling fingers pulled at the embroidery on the coverlet. The telephone rang, and he took up the receiver, and told somebody he was too busy now to talk; they would have to call him later. He had another coughing spell, so that Peter thought he was going to choke, and had to help him get some medicine down his throat. Peter was a little bit shocked to see such obvious and abject fear in one of the gods. After all, they were just men, these Olympians, as much subject to pain and death as Peter Gudge himself!

Also Peter was surprised to find how "easy" Mr. Ackerman was. He made no lofty pretence of being indifferent to the Reds. He put himself at Peter's mercy, to be milked at Peter's convenience. And Peter would make the most of this opportunity.

"Now, Mr. Ackerman," he began, "You can see it wouldn't be any use to tell things like that to the police. They dunno how to handle such a situation; the honest truth is, they don't take these Reds serious. They'll spend ten times as much money to catch a plain burglar as they will to watch a whole gang like this."

"How can they have got into my home?" cried the old man.

"They get in by ways you'd never dream of, Mr. Ackerman. They have people who agree with them. Why, you got no idea, there's some preachers that are Reds, and some college teachers, and some rich men like yourself."

"I know, I know," said Ackerman. "But surely--"

"How can you tell? You may have a traitor right in your own family."

So Peter went on, spreading the Red Terror in the soul of this old millionaire who did not want to be killed. He said again that he did not want to be killed, and explained his reluctance in some detail. So many people were dependent upon him for their livings, Peter could have no conception of it! There were probably a hundred thousand men with their families right here in American City, whose jobs depended upon plans which Ackerman was carrying, and which nobody but Ackerman could possibly carry. Widows and orphans looked to him for protection of their funds; a vast net-work of responsibilities required his daily, even his hourly decisions. And sure enough, the telephone rang, and Peter heard Nelse Ackerman declare that the Amalgamated Securities Company would have to put off a decision about its dividends until tomorrow, because he was too busy to sign certain papers just then. He hung up the receiver and said: "You see, you see! I tell you, Gudge, we must not let them get me!"

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They came down to the question of practical plans, and Peter was ready with suggestions. In the first place, Mr. Ackerman must give no hint either to the police authorities or to Guffey that he was dissatisfied with their efforts. He must simply provide for an interview with Peter now and then, and he and Peter, quite privately, must take certain steps to get Mr. Ackerman that protection which his importance to the community made necessary. The first thing was to find out whether or not there was a traitor in Mr. Ackerman's home, and for that purpose there must be
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Nelse Ackerman's home was far out in the suburbs of the city, upon a knoll surrounded by forest. It was a couple of miles from the nearest trolley line, which forced Peter to take a hot walk in the sun. Apparently the great banker, in selecting the site of his residence, had never once thought that anybody might want to get to it without an automobile. Peter reflected as he walked that if he continued to move in these higher circles, he too would have to join the motor-driving class.About the estate there ran a great bronze fence, ten feet high,
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