Back | Next



TOMMY BIGHEAD’S coupé was proceeding leisurely along the highway toward Detroit. The solitary driver, yawning, leaned back on the soft, leather-upholstered seat of the closed car, holding the wheel carelessly with one hand and looking out sleepily upon the sun-parched country outside. Hotter and hotter the sun beat upon the top of his coupe, making the air inside closer, and Tommy sleepier. Tommy had had a strenuous morning of it.

It was not Tommy’s habit to loiter through life at the rate of fifteen miles an hour. On the contrary! The eight cylinders of his motor car were accustomed to full-speed action, and Tommy Bighead was considered the smartest reporter on the Michigan Evening Post.

When something interesting happened in the most forsaken corner of the State of Michigan, Tommy Bighead would dash precipitately straight to the spot and ask “What’s up?” and would bet that in an hour his story, fresh from the press, would be available at every newsstand in Detroit. He seldom found anyone to take his bet, however, for everyone knew that the alert reporter was not boasting.

There was good reason for him to be squandering his valuable time at the moment. He had just witnessed the launching of a new boat on Lake Erie, and had found occasion to ask “What’s up?” so many times that his throat was as dry as tinder and had to be wet at frequent intervals with ice-cold lemonade from a sandwich and soda water stand put up for the occasion by some enterprising concessionaire near the launching dock. But the launching had been uninteresting, and not story enough to make him rush back to his home office.

Softly and monotonously, like a great bee, droned the motor . Tommy was tired, so tired that he was nearly falling asleep; and the car moved more and more slowly, swerving sometimes from: one side to the other of the endless, glittering road ahead of him.

A sharp clatter suddenly aroused Tommy from his drowsiness. His head went up with a start, and was dismayed to find that he was receiving a traveling companion. Outside on the running board stood a tall man, wearing a leather outfit, who was knocking vigorously on the glass.

Tommy quickly came to himself. “The man doesn’t look like a thug,” he thought. Quick as a flash he shut off the gas and applied the brakes which, shrieking, brought the car to a sudden stop. At the same moment he opened the door.

“What in Heaven’s name do you want?” he exclaimed, in a tone that was far from friendly.

The stranger stepped off the running board, bowed shortly but politely, and said in English with a foreign accent: “Pardon the intrusion, sir! I should like to ask you what time it is now?”

“What? That’s why you stopped me while I was going full speed?” replied Tommy furiously. Then he muttered something that sounded like “impudence.”

“It could hardly be called full speed,” calmly answered the stranger. “Anyway, you should be glad that I awakened you before you found yourself reflecting on your carelessness in a roadside grave.”

“That’s so,” said Tommy in embarrassment, and his face became a shade friendlier. “You’re right! Thanks! Now, what can I do for you? Speak up! Do you want a lift?”

“No! I am not going to Detroit. I should like to know what time it is now.”

“Queer duck!” thought Tommy, reaching for his watch. “It is exactly seven minutes. past twelve.”

“Seven minutes past twelve,” repeated the stranger. “Thank you very much. Is your watch reliable?”

“Can you imagine Tommy Bighead without a reliable watch?” retorted Tommy impatiently.

“Very pleased to have met you, Mr. Big—”

“Bighead,” supplied Tommy impatiently. “Don’t you know the name of the best reporter in Michigan?”

“Are you that?” The man smiled. “Then I can repay your kindness, Mr. Big—Bighead. I have some very interesting news for your paper.”

“Good,” said Tommy delightedly, and leaned out of the car with a show of interest. “Shoot! What’s up? I’ll bet that your news is off the press in an hour.”

Eagerly he took out his notebook and pencil.

“Write that to-day at noon, at seven minutes past twelve, you spoke with me.”

“What else?”

“Nothing else. That is all.”

Tommy looked at the stranger suspiciously, as though doubting his soundness of mind, and answered with an aggrieved air: “I will eat my automobile if this news interests a single one of my readers. How much will you bet?”

“I’d be sorry for your nice automobile, Mr. Bighead; because your meeting me is really of great interest for all your readers. You must send out an extra edition immediately!”

“Say, but you have a nerve!” exclaimed the reporter, in exasperation, from his car. “Are you the emperor of Siam or the world’s boxing champion!”

“My name is Hans Hardt. I am a German, and I should judge there are not ten men in the United States who know my name,” replied the stranger with utter calmness.

Then he drew a parcel from the pocket of his leather coat.

“Here, I have brought you something, Mr. Bighead. It is a bottle of beer, a rare thing in the land of Prohibition, and I hope you will drink the contents to our mutual health.”

Tommy was convinced that he was dealing with a lunatic. However, he took the bottle, which was wrapped in a newspaper, and courteously thanked the man for it in order to get rid of him as quickly as possible.

“Another little matter,” continued Hans Hardt, as the reporter was about to start the car. “You know that we Germans like to have things in proper form. Would you be good enough to acknowledge in writing the acceptance of the bottle?”

With these words he unfolded and handed a passport through the car window to the surprised reporter; Tommy had no other recourse than to comply with the novel wish of the insistent donor.

“You can send me the bill!” he said rudely, while he scribbled a few words on the passport. “It would not be worth while, sir. Besides, you have forgotten to give the exact time in your receipt. Seven minutes past twelve, please!”

Tommy suppressed an oath, and added the required note.

“Is there anything else I can do for you?”

“No, Mr. Bighead. Thank you!”

“All right. Good-by!”

Tommy sighed with relief as he let the car dash ahead.

“He’s nuts,” muttered Tommy as, pressing the accelerator to the floor, he speeded on. When he looked back, he no longer saw the stranger, who must have taken to the fields beside the road. Distrustfully he took the bottle from its wrapper.

“Want to see what this queer bird handed me,” he said to himself, as he let the porcelain stopper pop up and cautiously sniffed at the opening.

It was indeed real beer, and the German script label proclaimed it to be Muenchener Export beer. Tommy turned the bottle over and over in his hands, then put it back into its newspaper wrapper, wondering what on earth it was all about.

Back | Next