Sincerely, Joseph Brandon, editor, Boy's Magazine.
"Gee," breathed Jimmy, "a check!"
Jake laughed roughly. "Shakespeare," he roared. "Don't corn up your stuff! You put too many errors in! Wow!"
Jimmy's eyes began to burn. He had no defense against this sarcasm. He wanted praise for having accomplished something, instead of raucous laughter.
"I wrote it," he said lamely.
"Oh, go away!" roared Jake.
Jimmy reached for the check.
"Scram," said Jake, shutting his laughter off instantly.
"It's mine!" cried Jimmy.
Jake paused, then laughed again. "Okay, smart kid. Take it and spend it!" He handed the check to Jimmy Holden.
Jimmy took it quickly and left.
He wanted to eye it happily, to gloat over it, to turn it over and over and to read it again and again; but he wanted to do it in private.
He took it with him to the nearest bank, feeling its folded bulk and running a fingernail along the serrated edge.
He re-read it in the bank, then went to a teller's window. "Can you cash this, please?" he asked.
The teller turned it over. "It isn't endorsed."
"I can't reach the desk to sign it," complained Jimmy.
"Have you an account here?" asked the teller politely.
"Well, no sir."
"No--no sir," said Jimmy thoughtfully. Not a shred of anything did he have to show who he was under either name.
"Who is this Jimmy James?" asked the teller.
"Me. I am."
The teller smiled. "And you wrote a short story that sold to Boy's Magazine?" he asked with a lifted eyebrow. "That's pretty good for a little guy like you."
The teller looked over Jimmy's head; Jimmy turned to look up at one of the bank's policemen. "Tom, what do you make of this?"
The policeman shrugged. He stooped down to Jimmy's level. "Where did you get this check, young fellow?" he asked gently.
"It came in the mail this morning."
"You're Jimmy James?"
"Yes sir." Jimmy Holden had been called that for more than half a year; his assent was automatic.
"How old are you, young man?" asked the policeman kindly.
"Five and a half."
"Isn't that a bit young to be writing stories?"
Jimmy bit his lip. "I wrote it, though."
The policeman looked up at the teller with a wink. "He can tell a good yarn," chuckled the policeman. "Shouldn't wonder if he could write one."
The teller laughed and Jimmy's eyes burned again. "It's mine," he insisted.
"If it's yours," said the policeman quietly, "we can settle it fast enough. Do your folks have an account here?"
"Hmmm. That makes it tough."
Brightly, Jimmy asked, "Can I open an account here?"
"Why, sure you can," said the policeman. "All you have to do is to bring your parents in."
"But I want the money," wailed Jimmy.
"Jimmy James," explained the policeman with a slight frown to the teller, "we can't cash a check without positive identification. Do you know what positive identification means?"
"Yes sir. It means that you've got to be sure that this is me."
"Right! Now, those are the rules. Now, of course, you don't look like the sort of young man who would tell a lie. I'll even bet your real name is Jimmy James, Jr. But you see, we have no proof, and our boss will be awful mad at us if we break the rules and cash this check without following the rules. The rules, Jimmy James, aren't to delay nice, honest people, but to stop people from making mistakes. Mistakes such as taking a little letter out of their father's mailbox. If we cashed that check, then it couldn't be put back in father's mailbox without anybody knowing about it. And that would be real bad."
"But it's mine!"
"Sonny, if that's yours, all you have to do is to have your folks come in and say so. Then we'll open an account for you."
"Yes sir," said Jimmy in a voice that was thick with tears of frustration close to the surface. He turned away and left.
Jake was still in the outside office of the Yard when Jimmy returned. The boy was crestfallen, frustrated, unhappy, and would not have returned at all if there had been another place where he was welcome. He expected ridicule from Jake, but Jake smiled.
"No luck, kid?"
Jimmy just shook his head.
"Checks are tough, Jimmy. Give up, now?"
"No? What then?"
"I can write a letter and sign it," said Jimmy, explaining how he had outfoxed the ticket seller.
"Won't work with checks, Jimmy. For me now, if I was to be polite and dressed right they might cash a twenty if I showed up with my social security card, driver's license, identification card with photograph sealed in, and all that junk. But a kid hasn't got a chance. Look, Jimmy, I'm sorry for this morning. To-morrow morning we'll go over to my bank and I'll have them cash it for you. It's yours. You earned it and you keep it. Okay? Are we friends again?"
Gravely they shook hands. "Watch the place, kid," said Jake. "I got to make a phone call."
In the morning, Jake dressed for business and insisted that Jimmy put on his best to make a good impression. After breakfast, they set out. Jake parked in front of a granite building.
"This isn't any bank," objected Jimmy. "This is a police station."
"Sure," responded Jake. "Here's where we get you an identification card. Don't you know?"
"Okay," said Jimmy dubiously.
Inside the station there were a number of men in uniform and in plain clothing. Jake strode forward, holding Jimmy by one small hand. They approached the sergeant's desk and Jake lifted Jimmy up and seated him on one edge of the desk with his feet dangling.
The sergeant looked at them with interest but without surprise.
"Sergeant," said Jake, "this is Jimmy James--as he calls himself when he's writing stories. Otherwise he is James Quincy Holden."
Jimmy went cold all over.
Jake backed through the circle that was closing in; the hole he made was filled by Paul Brennan.
It was not the first betrayal in Jimmy James's young life, but it was totally unexpected. He didn't know that the policeman from the bank had worried Jake; he didn't know that Jake had known all along who he was; he didn't know how fast Brennan had moved after the phone call from Jake. But his young mind leaped past the unknown facts to reach a certain, and correct, conclusion.
He had been sold out.
"Jimmy, Jimmy," came the old, pleading voice. "Why did you run away? Where have you been?"
Brennan stepped forward and placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Without a shadow of doubt," he said formally, "this is James Quincy Holden. I so identify him. And with no more ado, I hand you the reward." He reached into his inside pocket and drew out an envelope, handing it to Jake. "I have never parted with one thousand dollars so happily in my life."
Jimmy watched, unable to move. Brennan was busy and cheerful, the model of the man whose long-lost ward has been returned to him.
"So, James, shall we go quietly or shall we have a scene?"
Trapped and sullen, Jimmy Holden said nothing. The officers helped him down from the desk. He did not move. Brennan took him by a hand that was as limp as wet cloth. Brennan started for the door. The arm lifted until the link was taut; then, with slow, dragging steps, James Quincy Holden started toward home.
Brennan said, "You understand me, don't you, Jimmy?"
"You want my father's machine."
"Only to help you, Jimmy. Can't you believe that?"
Brennan drove his car with ease. A soft smile lurked around his lips. He went on, "You know what your father's machine will do for you, don't you, Jimmy?"
"But have you ever attended school?"
"No." But Jimmy remembered the long hours and hours of study and practice before he became proficient with his typewriter. For a moment he felt close to tears. It had been the only possession he truly owned, now it was gone. And with it was gone the author's first check. The thrill of that first check is far greater than Graduation or the First Job. It is approximately equal to the flush of pride that comes when the author's story hits print with his NAME appended.
But Jimmy's typewriter was gone, and his check was gone. Without a doubt the check would turn up cashed--through the operations of Jake Caslow.
Brennan's voice cut into his thoughts. "You will attend school, Jimmy. You'll have to."
"Oh, now look, Jimmy. There are laws that say you must attend school. The only way those laws can be avoided is to make an appeal to the law itself, and have your legal guardian--myself--ask for the privilege of tutoring you at home. Well, I won't do it."
He drove for a moment, thinking. "So you're going to attend school," he said, "and while you're there you're going to be careful not to disclose by any act or inference that you already know everything they can teach you. Otherwise they will ask some embarrassing questions. And the first thing that happens to you is that you will be put in a much harder place to escape from than our home, Jimmy. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir," the boy said sickly.
"But," purred Uncle Paul Brennan, "you may find school very boring. If so, you have only to say the word--rebuild your father's machine--and go on with your career."
"I w--" Jimmy began automatically, but his uncle stopped him.
"You won't, no," he agreed. "Not now. In the meantime, then, you will live the life proper to your station--and your age. I won't deny you a single thing, Jimmy. Not a single thing that a five-year-old can want."
Paul Brennan moved into the Holden house with Jimmy.
Jimmy had the run of the house--almost. Uncle Paul closed off the upper sitting room, which the late parents had converted into their laboratory. That was locked. But the rest of the house was free, and Jimmy was once more among the things he had never hoped to see again.
Brennan's next step was to hire a middle-aged couple to take care of house and boy. Their name was Mitchell; they were childless and regretted it; they lavished on Jimmy the special love and care that comes only from childless child-lovers.
Though Jimmy was wary to the point of paranoia, he discovered that he wanted for nothing. He was kept clean and his home kept tidy. He was fed well--not only in terms of nourishment, but in terms of what he liked.
Then ... Jimmy began to notice changes.
Huckleberry Finn turned up missing. In its place on the shelf was a collection of Little Golden Books.