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Up for Grabs-A. Fair.

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this time, Bruno was educated and was complaining of headaches and dizziness, loss of appetite and all the rest of it.”

      “Did he actually lose his appetite?”

      Breckinridge shrugged his shoulders and said, “A man would miss a lot of meals for fifty thousand dollars.”

      “Fifty thousand?” I asked.

      “That’s what he says he’s going to sue us for.”

      “What’ll he settle for?”

      “Oh, he’d probably settle for ten, but the point is, Lam, we aren’t going to pay it. We used to settle these cases but making settlements in cases of this sort is simply an invitation to every lawyer in the country to come rushing in with a so-called whiplash injury case every time anybody scratches paint on a client’s car.”

      “All right,” I said, “just what do you want me to do?”

      “Pack your bags, take a plane to Tucson, go to the Butte Valley Guest Ranch, put yourself in the hands of Dolores Ferrol. She’ll see that you meet Bruno when he arrives, and she’ll see that you meet some cute little thing that’s either on the make or just spending a two-week vacation and would like to have somebody pay her attention.

      “You bring Bruno into the party and make just enough of a play for the girl so it establishes a rivalry.

      “That’s why we want a detective who is — I mean who isn’t— Well, we don’t want one who is too big and strong and husky, physically. We want one who is personable and has the ability to make women like him, but one who isn’t exactly athletic.”

      “You can’t hurt his feelings,” Bertha said. “You want a little cuss, brainy but little.”

      “No, no,” Breckinridge said hastily, “not little but just— Well, we don’t want a big coarse, beefy individual, because the malingerer will try to emphasize the qualities he has that his potential rival doesn’t have. If he can’t match brains with him, he’ll move over into the field of brawn.

      “That’s where we come in.”

      “How long do I stay?” I asked. “Do I leave when you get the pictures?”

      “No,” Breckinridge said, “you stay a full three weeks. Bruno will be staying two weeks. You get there first, and you stay after he leaves. You get everything you can on him. We want to find out all we can about his character, his background, his likes and dislikes.”

      I said, “Okay, I’ll do it on one condition.”

      “What do you mean, one condition?” Bertha Cool snapped. “He’s paying our rates.”

      “What’s the condition?” Breckinridge asked.

      “I’m not going to make a play for some girl and then put her in an embarrassing position. If I can handle things so it appears Bruno is just showing off generally, that’s one thing, but I’m not going to let some girl have her name get dragged into court.”

      “I don’t think I like that,” Breckinridge said.

      “Neither do I,” Bertha chimed in.

      “Then go get another detective,” I told Breckinridge.

      Breckinridge’s face flushed. “We can’t get anybody else. Most of the private detectives run to beef and when we use our own men we antagonize the jurors.”

      Bertha glowered at me.

      It was a good time to keep silent. I kept silent.

      “Okay,” Breckinridge said at length, “you win, but I want you to do a good job of it. There’s a lot of future work along these lines, and our company isn’t a bad company to work for.

      “We’ve decided that it’s bad public relations to have our own detectives making a setup of this sort. For the reasons I’ve pointed out, jurors don’t like that. But if we hire an outside detective on a regular basis, the jurors won’t mind it as much, and if we can keep this detective in the background, the jurors won’t mind it at all. It’s when the detective is on our payroll and makes his living doing this sort of thing that the jurors don’t like it.

      “And using a regular female operative is bad. I don’t mind telling you in strict confidence that in the last two cases the cross-examining attorney was able to establish that the pair had been more intimate than the necessities of the situation called for.

      “The attorney for the plaintiff quit talking about his client and bore down on our detective furtively slipping through the shadows between the cabins, and then asked him if he got paid time and a half for overtime. It brought down the house.

      “We don’t want any more cases like that.”

      “When do I start?” I asked.

      “This afternoon,” he said. “Get established at this dude ranch. You phone them telling them the plane you’re taking and they’ll meet you.”

      “Okay,” I said, “I’ll pack up my bags and get a reservation on the earliest plane.”

      Breckinridge said, “I have already made financial arrangements with Mrs. Cool and left her my check.”

      I saw him to the door and bowed him out.

      When I came back, Bertha was beaming. “This is the kind of work that’s respectable, safe and conservative,” she said. “We can make money on this sort of stuff.”

      “Haven’t we been making money?” I asked.

      “We’ve made money,” Bertha admitted, “but we’ve done it skating on thin ice over the brink of Niagara Falls blindfolded. From now on this agency is going to be employed by established corporations, well-heeled insurance companies. The expenses will be paid by the clients as they are incurred. We won’t be gambling a cent.

      “Here’s a whole new portfolio of legitimate insurance business and it’s up for grabs. Let’s be damned certain we’re the ones who grab it and hang on to it.”

      Chapter 2

      It was late afternoon when the plane eased into a landing at Tucson.

      I crossed over to the gate and noticed a tall blond individual, somewhere in his early thirties, wearing a cowboy hat and standing close to the gate.

      Keen blue eyes were looking over each passenger.

      There was a wire-hard competence about the man which made him stand out from the crowd of people gathered to greet incoming passengers.

      My eyes flickered to him and then were held there.

      The man pushed forward. “Donald Lam?” he asked.

      “Right,” I told him.

      Some of the strongest fingers I had ever encountered grasped my hand, squeezed it painfully, and then released it. A slow smile spread over the weather-beaten features. “I’m Kramer, K-R-A-M-E-R,” he said, “from the Butte Valley Guest Ranch.”

      There had been about forty-five incoming passengers, yet this guy had unerringly picked me out.

      “I presume you had a physical description,” I said.

      “Of you?”


      “Hell no, they just told me to meet a guest, a Donald Lam, who is coming to stay for three weeks.”

      “Why did you pick me out of the crowd?” I asked.

      He grinned and said, “Aw, I can nearly always pick them.”


      “Well,” he said, with a touch of Texas drawl, “I didn’t pick you, you picked me.”

      “How come?”

      “It’s just a matter of psychology,” he said. “I put on a cowboy hat, I stand out in front, I’m pretty well tanned from constant exposure to the weather.

      “Guests who are coming to the ranch know that someone is going to be there to meet