"Good. You and me are going to get along."
Inside of the squalid shack, Jake had a cozy set-up. The filth that he encouraged out in the junkyard was not tolerated inside his shack. The dividing line was halfway across the edge of the door; the inside was as clean, neat, and shining as the outside was squalid.
"You'll sleep here," said Jake, waving towards a small bedroom with a single twin bunk. "You'll make yer own bed and take a shower every night--or out! Understand?"
"Good. Now, let's have chow, and I'll tell you about this spotting business. You help me, and I'll help you. One blab and back you go to where you came from. Get it?"
And so, while the police of a dozen cities were scouring their beats for a homeless, frightened five-year-old, Jimmy Holden slept in a comfortable bed in a clean room, absolutely disguised by an exterior that looked like an abandoned manure shed.
Jimmy discovered that he was admirably suited to the business of spotting. The "job turnover" was high because the spotter must be young enough to be allowed the freedom of the preschool age, yet be mature enough to follow orders.
The job consisted of meandering through the streets of the city, in the aimless patterns of youth, while keeping an eye open for parked automobiles with the ignition keys still in their locks.
Only a very young child can go whooping through the streets bumping pedestrians, running wildly, or walking from car to car twiggling each door handle and peering inside as if he were imitating a door-to-door salesman, occasionally making a minor excursion in one shop door and out the other.
He takes little risk. He merely spots the target. He reports that there is such-and-such a car parked so-and-so, after which he goes on to spot the next target. The rest of the business is up to the men who do the actual stealing.
Jimmy's job-training program took only one morning. That same afternoon he went to work for Jake's crew.
Jake's experience with kids had been no more than so-so promising. He used them because they were better than nothing. He did not expect them to stay long; they were gobbled up by the rules of compulsory education just about the age when they could be counted upon to follow orders.
He felt about the same with Jimmy Holden; the "missing person" report stated that one of the most prominent factors in the lad's positive identification was his high quality of speech and his superior intelligence. (This far Paul Brennan had to go, and he had divulged the information with great reluctance.) But though Jake needed a preschool child with intelligence, he did not realize the height of Jimmy Holden's.
It was obvious to Jimmy on the second day that Jake's crew was not taking advantage of every car spotted. One of them had been a "natural" to Jimmy's way of thinking. He asked Jake about it: "Why didn't you take the sea-green Ford in front of the corner store?"
Jake nodded. "Spotting isn't risky, Jimmy. But picking the car up is. There is a very dangerous time when the driver is a sitting duck. From the moment he opens the car door he is in danger. Sitting in the chance of getting caught, he must start the car, move it out of the parking space into traffic, and get under way and gone before he is safe."
"But the sea-green Ford was sitting there with its engine running!"
"Meaning," nodded Jake, "that the driver pulled in and made a fast dash into the store for a newspaper or a pack of cigarettes."
"I understand. Your man could get caught. Or," added Jimmy thoughtfully, "the owner might even take his car away before we got there."
Jake nodded. This one was going to make it easy for him.
As the days wore on, Jimmy became more selective. He saw no point in reporting a car that wasn't going to be used. An easy mark wedged between two other cars couldn't be removed with ease. A car parked in front of a parking meter with a red flag was dangerous, it meant that the time was up and the driver should be getting nervous about it. A man who came shopping along the street to find a meter with some time left by the former driver was obviously looking for a quick-stop place--whereas the man who fed the meter to its limit was a much better bet.
Jake, thankful for what Fate had brought him, now added refinements of education. Cars parked in front of supermarkets weren't safe; the owner might be standing just inside the big plate glass window. The car parked hurriedly just before the opening of business was likely to be a good bet because people are careless about details when they are hurrying to punch the old time clock.
Jake even closed down his operations during the calculated danger periods, but he made sure to tell Jimmy Holden why.
From school-closing to dinnertime Jimmy was allowed to do as he pleased. He found it hard to enjoy playing with his contemporaries, and Jake's explanation about dangerous times warned Jimmy against joining Moe and his little crew of thieves. Jimmy would have enjoyed helping in the stripping yard, but he had not the heft for it. They gave him little messy jobs to do that grimed his hands and made Jake's stern rule of cleanliness hard to achieve. Jimmy found it easier to avoid such jobs than to scrub his skin raw.
One activity he found to his ability was the cooking business.
Jake was a stew-man, a soup-man, a slum-gullion man. The fellows who roamed in and out of Jake's Place dipped their plate of slum from the pot and their chunk of bread from the loaf and talked all through this never-started and never-ended lunch. With the delicacy of his "inside" life, Jake knew the value of herbs and spices and he was a hard taskmaster. But inevitably, Jimmy learned the routine of brewing a bucket of slum that suited Jake's taste, after which Jimmy was now and then permitted to take on the more demanding job of cooking the steaks and chops that made their final evening meal.
Jimmy applied himself well, for the knowledge was going to be handy. More important, it kept him from the jobs that grimed his hands.
He sought other pursuits, but Jake had never had a resident spotter before and the play-facilities provided were few. Jimmy took to reading--necessarily, the books that Jake read, that is, approximately equal parts of science fiction and girlie-girlie books. The science fiction he enjoyed; but he was not able to understand why he wasn't interested in the girlie books. So Jimmy read. Jake even went out of his way to find more science fiction for the lad.
Ultimately, Jimmy located a potential source of pleasure.
He spotted a car with a portable typewriter on the back seat. The car was locked and therefore no target, but it stirred his fancy. Thereafter he added a contingent requirement to his spotting. A car with a typewriter was more desirable than one without.
Jimmy went on to further astound Jake by making a list of what the customers were buying. After that he concentrated on spotting those cars that would provide the fastest sale for their parts.
It was only a matter of time; Jimmy spotted a car with a portable typewriter. It was not as safe a take as his others, but he reported it. Jake's driver picked it up and got it out in a squeak; the car itself turned up to be no great find.
Jimmy claimed the typewriter at once.
Jake objected: "No dice, Jimmy."
"I want it, Jake."
"Look, kid, I can sell it for twenty."
"But I want it."
Jake eyed Jimmy thoughtfully, and he saw two things. One was a thousand-dollar reward standing before him. The other was a row of prison bars.
Jake could only collect one and avoid the other by being very sure that Jimmy Holden remained grateful to Jake for Jake's shelter and protection.
He laughed roughly. "All right, Jimmy," he said. "You lift it and you can have it."
Jimmy struggled with the typewriter, and succeeded only because it was a new one made of the titanium-magnesium-aluminum alloys. It hung between his little knees, almost--but not quite--touching the ground.
"You have it," said Jake. He lifted it lightly and carried it into the boy's little bedroom.
Jimmy started after dinner. He picked out the letters with the same painful search he'd used in typing his getaway letter. He made the same mistakes he'd made before. It had taken him almost an hour and nearly fifty sheets of paper to compose that first note without an error; that was no way to run a railroad; now Jimmy was determined to learn the proper operation of this machine. But finally the jagged tack-tack--pause--tack-tack got on Jake's nerves.
Jake came in angrily. "You're wasting paper," he snapped. He eyed Jimmy thoughtfully. "How come with your education you don't know how to type?"
"My father wouldn't let me."
"Seems your father wouldn't let you do anything."
"He said that I couldn't learn until I was old enough to learn properly. He said I must not get into the habit of using the hunt-and-peck system, or I'd never get out of it."
"So what are you doing now?"
"My father is dead."
"And anything he said before doesn't count any more?"
"He promised me that he'd start teaching me as soon as my hands were big enough," said Jimmy soberly. "But he isn't here any more. So I've got to learn my own way."
Jake reflected. Jimmy was a superior spotter. He was also a potential danger; the other kids played it as a game and didn't really realize what they were doing. This one knew precisely what he was doing, knew that it was wrong, and had the lucidity of speech to explain in full detail. It was a good idea to keep him content.
"If you'll stop that tap-tapping for tonight," promised Jake, "I'll get you a book tomorrow. Is it a deal?"
"I will if you'll follow it."
"And," said Jake, pushing his advantage, "you'll do it with the door closed so's I can hear this TV set."
Jake kept his word.
On the following afternoon, not only was Jimmy presented with one of the standard learn-it-yourself books on touch-typing, but Jake also contrived a sturdy desk out of one old packing case and a miniature chair out of another. Both articles of home-brewed furniture Jake insisted upon having painted before he permitted them inside his odd dwelling, and that delayed Jimmy one more day.
But it was only one more day; and then a new era of experience began for Jimmy.
It would be nice to report that he went at it with determination, self-discipline, and system, following instructions to the letter and emerging a first-rate typist.
Sorry. Jimmy hated every minute of it. He galled at the pages and pages of juj juj juj frf frf frf. He cried with frustration because he could not perform the simple exercise to perfection. He skipped through the book so close to complete failure that he hurled it across the room, and cried in anger because he had not the strength to throw the typewriter after it. Throw the machine? He had not the strength in his pinky to press the carriage-shift key!
Part of his difficulty was the size of his hands, of course. But most of his trouble lay deep-seated in his recollection of his parents' fabulous machine. It would have made a typist of him in a single half-hour session, or so he thought.
He had yet to learn about the vast gulf that lies between theory and practice.
It took Jimmy several weeks of aimless fiddling before he realized that there was no easy short-cut. Then he went back to the juj juj juj frf frf frf routine and hated it just as much, but went on.
He invented a kind of home-study "hooky" to break the monotony. He would run off a couple of pages of regular exercise, and then turn back to the hunt-and-peck system of typing to work on a story. He took a furtive glee in this; he felt that he was getting away with something. In mid-July, Jake caught him at it.
"What's going on?" demanded Jake, waving the pages of manuscript copy.
"Typing," said Jimmy.
Jake picked up the typing guidebook and waved it under Jimmy's nose. "Show me where it says you gotta type anything like, 'Captain Brandon struggled against his chains when he heard Lady Hamilton scream. The pirate's evil laugh rang through the ship. "Curse you--"'"
"But--" said Jimmy faintly.
"But nothing!" snapped Jake. "Stop the drivel and learn that thing! You think I let you keep the machine just to play games? We gotta find a way to make it pay off. Learn it good!"
He stamped out, taking the manuscript with him. From that moment on, Jimmy's furtive career as an author went on only when Jake was either out for the evening or entertaining. In any case, he did not bother Jimmy further, evidently content to wait until Jimmy had "learned it good" before putting this new accomplishment to use. Nor did Jimmy bother him. It was a satisfactory arrangement for the time being. Jimmy hid his "work" under a pile of raw paper and completed it in late August. Then, with the brash assurance of youth, he packed and mailed his first finished manuscript to the editor of Boy's Magazine.
His typing progressed more satisfactorily than he realized, even though he was still running off page after page of repetitious exercise, leavened now and then by a page of idiotic sentences the letters of which were restricted to the center of the typewriter keyboard. The practice, even the hunt-and-peck relaxation from discipline, exercised the small muscles. Increased strength brought increased accuracy.
September rolled in, the streets emptied of school-aged children and the out-of-state car licenses diminished to a trickle. With the end of the carefree vacation days went the careless motorist.
Jake, whose motives were no more altruistic than his intentions were legal, began to look for a means of disposing of Jimmy Holden at the greatest profit to himself. Jake stalled only because he hoped that the reward might be stepped up.
But it was Jimmy's own operations that closed this chapter of his life.
Jimmy had less scout work to do and no school to attend; he was too small to help in the sorting of car parts and too valuable to be tossed out. He was in the way.
So he was in Jake's office when the mail came. He brought the bundle to Jake's desk and sat on a box, sorting the circulars and catalogs from the first class. Halfway down the pile was a long envelope addressed to Jimmy James.
He dropped the rest with a little yelp. Jake eyed him quickly and snatched the letter out of Jimmy's hands.
"Hey! That's mine!" said Jimmy. Jake shoved him away.
"Who's writing you?" demanded Jake.
"It's mine!" cried Jimmy.
"Shut up!" snapped Jake, unfolding the letter. "I read all the mail that comes here first."
"Shut your mouth and your teeth'll stay in," said Jake flatly. He separated a green slip from the letter and held the two covered while he read. "Well, well," he said. "Our little Shakespeare!" With a disdainful grunt Jake tossed the letter to Jimmy.
Eagerly, Jimmy took the letter and read: Dear Mr. James: We regret the unconscionable length of time between your submission and this reply. However, the fact that this reply is favorable may be its own apology. We are enclosing a check for $20.00 with the following explanation: Our policy is to reject all work written in dialect. At the best we request the author to rewrite the piece in proper English and frame his effect by other means. Your little story is not dialect, nor is it bad literarily, the framework's being (as it is) a fairly good example of a small boy's relating in the first person one of his adventures, using for the first time his father's typewriter. But you went too far. I doubt that even a five-year-old would actually make as many typographical errors.
However, we found the idea amusing, therefore our payment. One of our editors will work your manuscript into less-erratic typescript for eventual publication.
Please continue to think of us in the future, but don't corn up your script with so many studied blunders.