I has now been six months since I stepped away from Little Orphan Annie, much longer than I had intended to. It occurs to me that it would be nice to have all those posts in one place. As soon as I get them moved here, I will continue from where I left off (February, 1938).
MAY 1939: “Daddy” Warbucks re-enters the strip Sunday, April 30. Having had no luck contacting Warbucks via radio, Axel has sent a messenger. The messenger reaches him and is under orders to return immediately with a reply. Warbucks feeds the man, but refuses to let him leave, opting instead to answer Axel’s message in person. Warbucks shows Punjab Axel’s message, which Punjab declares “very bad news… for Axel.” Warbucks and Punjab split up and travel separately because Axel has the roads watched. Warbucks travels in disguise.
Punjab sends Axel a threatening telepathic message, then meets Wun Wey “somewhere in the Orient.” In Istanbul, the Asp receives a radiogram, then leaves for America. At the Buckle farm, Sandy seems to sense that help is on the way. Punjab soon arrives, claims Sandy and departs. Tuck asks if he can come along, and Punjab agrees.
One of Axel’s guards, Manual, overhears Annie and Dona Delores scheming. He Attempts to blackmail her, and she suggests they meet on the wall at midnight. She gives him a chop to the adam’s apple and he falls 200 feet to his death.
When Dona Delores was six years old, her estate was overrun by bandits. She watched helplessly as the servants and their children were executed by firing squad. Then her parents were lined up against the wall. At that time, the Venganzas had been hosting a house guest, a prospector, who killed the bandits and saved her parents. He refused reward and she never learned his name, but suspects she would recognize him if she were to ever meet him again. The next day, an addled old prospector comes staggering to the door. Axel is about to have him shot when Dona Delores noticed a small pouch clutched in his hand. The pouch contains platinum, and Axel decides to nurse him back to health in order to learn the location of the mine. Delores recognizes the “prospector,” Oliver Warbucks, as the same man from her youth who saved her parents. Warbucks is wearing a disguise, but she recognizes him by looking into his eyes.
JUNE 1939: Warbucks rigs up a way to send messages using a flashlight and a kite. Axel has his men search Warbucks’ room, but they find nothing. Warbucks lets his guard down for an instant, and Axel sees him without his disguise. While Axel interrogates Warbucks, Annie flies the kite. She doesn’t know “Daddy’s” code, but she knows enough Morse to signal “S.O.S.” Punjab et al breach the compound. While Axel is distracted, Annie tackles him while Dona Delores douses the light. By the time he relights it, they are gone. Dona Delores knows the hacienda’s secret passages and has led them to the old dungeon.
Axel finds the entrance by accident and locks them in a cell. As Warbucks’ men overrun the compound, Axel seals the entrance to the dungeon with dynamite and takes a shortcut to his waiting plane. Punjab fires his machine gun and pierces the planes fuel tank. With the plane afire and losing fuel, the last we see of Axel is him preparing to bail out.
In the dungeon, there are slits in the 20 foot thick walls which let in light and air. But the dungeon is next to a waterfall, designed to drown out all sounds of torture from disturbing those in the hacienda above. Tuck takes a bullet meant for the Asp fired by the last of Axel’s men, but he is not killed. Sandy, following Annie’s scent, leads the others to the secret entrance, but the passage is hopelessly sealed. Punjab examines the grounds from the outside, trying to determine where the dungeon is and to seek another was in. Meanwhile, Annie, Warbucks and Dona Delores grow weaker and weaker due to lack of food.
JULY 1939: Annie, Warbucks and Dona Dolores are trapped in the dungeon of the hacienda. Outside, Punjab deduces the location of the dungeon and spies the small, downward-sloping openings that admit a modicum of air and light. Punjab fires an arrow with a line across the river into one of the openings. Annie finds it, but cannot rouse “Daddy” from his stupor to answer the coded message relayed through the line, but she answers with S.O.S., the only Morse she knows. Soon, food, drink and medicine is being send across the river via the line.
They cannot dynamite the wall for fear of flooding the dungeon, but Tuck has an idea. Having studied engineering during the war, he suggests rerouting the river. After all, there is evidence that it had been changed once before, hundreds of years ago, to where it currently flows in order to drown out the sounds of torture coming from the dungeon. They change it again using dynamite, and after that it is only a matter of time before they are freed. Annie and sandy are reunited at last!
Warbucks offers Tuck an engineering job that requires a lot of travel, but only if he’s married. (The old matchmaker!) Within a week, he has proposed to Dona Dolores and she has accepted. Punjab finds the wreck of Axel’s plane. There’s no body, but there are tracks leading away. Punjab and the Asp follow them. There’s not much chance of Axel being alive. Between him and the nearest village there is 100 miles of sand, no water and a mountain range, but they need to find his body to be sure.
They don’t find his body, but they do find the camp of five prospectors murdered from ambush. Axel left behind some poisoned water and supplies, but Punjab doesn’t fall for it. Axel gains the high ground nd sees his pursuers from a distance. He sets a trap and dynamites a mountain pass. The pass is destroyed but Punjab and the Asp survive. Punjab starts a small fire to signal Warbucks’ plane which is passing by. The plane spots the fire and awaits Punjab and the Asp on the plain below. Axel thinks the fire was caused by the explosion. He sees the plane and hides from it, thinking he’s safe.
AUGUST 1939: Axel sees Warbucks’ plane for a second time and knows Punjab and the Asp will be waiting for him at the end of the trail. In fact, they aren’t content to wait for him, but rather head up the trail to meet him knowing it’s the only way he can go. But Axel has rope. Not wanting to leave his burro behind to indicate where he left the trail, he kicks the trusting animal off a 1000 foot drop, then he descends. Punjab and the Asp go all the way to the point at which he destroyed the trail, then double back until they spot the burro’s body. Axel watches them, hidden in the jungle far below. It takes them a day to get to that spot, but by now Axel is heading to the village where the plane is. He shoots the pilot and takes the plane, leaving Punjab and the Asp stranded behind. The pilot lives, and they stay behind to care for him.
Meanwhile, “Daddy” and Annie vacation if the mountains while Tuck and Dona Dolores honeymoon in Singapore. One day a man comes. Warbucks is prepared for trouble, but it is only his man Blake with a message. One of Warbucks’ less scrupulous employees is up to something in the London office, which Warbucks needs to deal with in person. It’s important, but he’s not in a big hurry. More important at this point is that he travels incognito. He has Blake gets tickets for a train and secure passage on a ship under the name “T.J. Smith.” This time he decides to take Annie along.
When they get to the port, Blake is there to meet them. (Not being followed himself, Blake took a faster mode of transportation.) Warbucks disguises himself as a porter and carries two hampers aboard. (In the hampers are Annie and Sandy.) Despite his precautions, Axel spots him boarding the ship. After the ship has left the harbor, Axel reveals himself. He plans to abduct Warbucks but he doesn’t needs Annie at this point. She fights back, and Sandy is thrown overboard. They tie and gag Annie, then throw her over as well. (Axel was awaiting a rendezvous with his own smaller craft.)
Meanwhile, Annie sinks like a stone. Using techniques Punjab taught her, she slips her bonds and swims to the surface, but the water is cold, it’s dark and foggy and she is adrift, not even knowing in which direction is land.
After today, I’m likely to be offline for several days so I’ll give you two months.
SEPTEMBER 1939: Annie sees the outline of a boat in the fog. It’s Axel’s. She hears four shots, then the sound of four of his accomplices being thrown overboard. The boat leaves. She then hears the distant sound of a dog barking. Sandy! He’s floating atop a piece of jetsam. She grabs ahold. After days, she can hardly stay awake. She keeps slipping off and Sandy has to grab her by the sleeve with his teeth. They are swept past a channel buoy. Then they bump into a boat. They are rescued by John and Jill Tecum, a young couple on vacation.
By the time Annie awakens the fog has lifted. There is no news in the papers about a missing girl, but Annie tells John and Jill the whole story. They see an item in the paper that Silas Blake, Warbucks’ man, has been murdered. John is a lawyer and concludes that it is safer for Annie if they don’t report that she is alive. They decide to pass Annie off as their niece, the daughter of Jill’s non-existent dead widowed sister. John works for the firm of Harpe, Scarp and Titleman. He prepares cases for the senior lawyers but never tries them; the partners take all the credit for his work.
OCTOBER 1939: With the vacation over, the three of them settle into the Tecum’s modest house. Annie immediately starts mowing the grass… without being told. She passes her first test, interrogation by the town gossip Mrs. Glouch, with flying colors. John tecum works overtime every night, then he works at home. He wins a $20,000 case, but his only “reward” is another case, one worth a half million. Mrs, Blattle, another gossip, pumps Annie, but she deflects her wquestions better than Jill does. Jon and Jill philosophize about being parents and enroll Annie in school.
Annie meets the firm secretary, Tally Rand, who gives her the lowdown on the partners. There is a kind of “triangle” among John and Jill and Tally. Jill is a little jealous of Tally, but pretends not to be. As the firm wraps up one high dollar case, they move on to another will a low fee. Tally suspects a dirty deal. Enoch and Ella Key worked hard to make their son Jasper a success. When he is killed, the executor of the estate, Anson Jog, stands to collect the $100 thousand dollar insurance settlement and Jasper’s parents get nothing.
That’s the case the law firm has taken. It’s too bad that the parents get nothing, but that’s what relief is for, ha, ha, ha! Annie asks how Jasper was killed. John quits the firm. I haven’t read beyond this point yet, but if he’s going to take the Keys’ case, I’m not sure that’s ethical, is it? Harold Gray, as we have seen, often turns a blind eye toward “ethics” in matters where “right” is concerned.
NOVEMBER 1939: Tecum quits the firm than Tally quits. She makes clear that she doesn’t love him, and that she has passed the bar and proposes that they become law partners, Tecum and Rand, and that their first case will be to prosecute Anson Jog. John tells Jill. Annie points out how “lucky” Jog is that Key was killed while Jog was still executor of his estate, just before Key was going to change. John, Jill, Tally, Annie and sandy all go to look at Key’s car, which smashed through a fence and fell 1000 feet into a quarry. Evidence suggests that the car might have been side-swiped, but there’s no proof.
The mechanic, Banko, calls the gangster Nick Gatt, and Annie overhears. He then is very obvious about writing down the license plate of their car. Two muscle men threaten John, but he punches them out. He then calls a friend of his, lieutenant of detectives Patrick Potsy, who arranges Tecum, his family and Tally to be guarded by honest, off-duty policemen. Gatt helped the D.A., Jack Black, to get elected, and Judge Knuckle is in Jog’s pocket. A car full of gangsters, with the intention of throwing acid in Jill’s face (and maybe Annie’s, too, if there’s any left) is stopped by the off-duty cops. The gangsters were not acting on Gatt’s orders, but Gatt blames Banko for drawing attention to him.
Papers are served to Jog’s “chauffeur” and “secretary.” The police commissioner cannot fire Potsy, and gatt will turn on Jog if it comes to that. Gatt calls Tecum to set up a meeting. Tecum agrees, but only in Gatt comes to him. Gatt agrees and tries to go to Tecum’s house one night, but Lt. Potsy won’t let Gatt down the street, insisting that Gatt go to Tecum’s office the next morning.
DECEMBER 1939: Nick Gatt proposes that Tecum drop the case if Anson Jog agrees to give the settlement to the Keyes, to which Tecum agrees. But when he approaches Jog with the idea he refuses. Gatt gives Tecum the go ahead to proceed. (Gatt has the annoying habit of referring to himself in the third person in alomost every sentence, once three times in a single word balloon.) Jog flips Gatt’s men Slug and Punk and stages a coup. Gatt turns the tables on them and breaks their necks. Jog gets word. Gatt asks the police commissioner to promote Pat Potsy to captain. Potsy arrests Anson Jog. At Gatt’s request, Judge set bail so high Jog can’t jump it. Also at gatt’s request, the D.A., Jack Black, appoints Tecum special prosecutor. Tecum knows Gatt is using his political clout to convict Jog, but why?
Tally doesn’t come to work one day. She didn’t give any advance notice and Tecum is unable to contact her. John, Jiull and annie go to her house to check on her. They find her taking care of her own sick husband as well as his parents and her deceased sister’s five kids. Annie goes to Gatt for help. I’m not sure why she thought this was a good idea, but her instincts were good as Gatt (anonymously) sends a santa LCaus for the kids, a doctor for Mr. Rand and pays all their bills. Soon thereafter, Skoop Bros. Contractors transfers all their business from Tecum’s former firm to his current one.
JANUARY 1940: There is a lot of behind-the-scenes political maneuvering going on this month, and Nick Gatt is behind all of it. Harpe moves to disbar Tecum. Annie goes to Gatt again. Tecum won’t blackmail Harpe, but Gatt will. Harpe retires to South America citing an imminent nervous breakdown. Scarpe retires to live off his mother. Titleman asks Tecum for a job. Senator Boogle retires. Jack Black takes his place. Tecum becomes the new D.A., supposedly at the behest of the “Onward and Upward League,” but actually due to Gatt behind-the-scenes pulling strings. It turns out that Gatt, while he started out as a gangster, now really does see himself as a reformer. (It’s difficult to imaging Chester Gould taking such a tack.)
FEBRUARY 1940: Tecum confronts Gatt. Tecum arrests the gangster Pete Elpaso, which appeases the Onward and Upward League, but Elpaso actually voluntarily took the fall as a favor to Gatt. Gray takes a very cynical view of the “On & Uppers” as he calls them, while holding up Gatt as a social reformer. Tecum’s secretary, Joe, is an experienced politician, and he points out Gatt’s hand to Tecum when Gatt can’t see it himself.
Gat and Annie are involved in a drive-by shooting, but it turns out Annie is the target; she spots Axel in the car. It was a chance encounter; neither had expected to see the other, but they recognized each other and Axel took a shot, bring volume eight to a close.
MARCH 1940: Annie tells John and Jill about Axel’s murder attempt and Gatt helping tally’s husband. The police pick up an innocent cart vendor named Samuel who matches Axel’s description and give him the third degree over the course of two days before bring Annie in to identify him and set the record straight. They release him, but his cart is gone and he has no livelihood. Annie takes Samuel to Gatt who sets him up with a store to manage for a 50/50 split. Meanwhile, Axel’s man Sokal discovers Annie at Tecum’s house. Before he is able to kill her, Gatt grabs him from behind. He and his men beat Axel’s location out of him, then prop his body in a gunny sack against Axel’s door and knock.
Axel’s men have been staking out local elementary schools. One of the men spots Annie, but Axel gets to him before he can report to Axel. Unfortunately, a local candy shop owner is able to identify Annie to Axel. He pretends to be a friend of “Daddy” Warbucks’. Gatt is suspicious and has him followed. The shop owner waits for days to get Annie alone, then lures her into the store with a false message from “Daddy,” but Gatt’s men are watching the shop and shoot him.
APRIL 1940: The candy shop owner was Gregory Itchkovitch. His widow, Katerina, takes on the task of disposing of Annie. John Tecum is to prosecute Gregory’s killer, Nick Gatt’s man, which will help make Tecum’s reputation. The gunman will have to take the fall, but Gatt has assured him some sort of fix is in. Annie stops by the shop daily now. Katerina drugs some candy and gives it to Annie who shares it with Sandy. Gatt’s men are following, but too far behind to stop Axel’s men from kidnapping their unconscious bodies. Sandy is shot and thrown from the car into a field where he is found by John and Jill.
A “high society” guy, Byron Bolo, comes to town and starts suggesting that Nick Gatt probably knows what happened to Annie. John and Jill go to see Nick, whose sincerity convinces them of his innocence. He promises to find Annie. Bolo wants to take over Nick’s rackets. Axel is after Gatt, too. Annie is being held by Axel until he can determine who she’s told about him. His plan to to take over the country by getting his men elected into positions of power. Annie throws a message in a bottle out the window into the river with a note for Nick. Nick gets the message and follows Annie’s instructions how to let her know.
MAY 1940: Gray spends the entire month exploring his “It can’t happen here” scenario in some detail. Axel and Katerina fight over which one gets to kill Annie. (Axel wins.) Annie overhears and is able to get a message (in a bottle) to Gatt. Axel ushers her into a room where he has a hot poker and a pan of kerosene. Just as he is about to get started, Gatt arrives. Axel throws the kerosene in Gatt’s face, but Gatt is still able to beat him down and escape with Annie.
Gatt takes Annie to his hideout in the woods, hours from the city, for her safety. She writes daily letters to the Tecums so they know she’s all right. (Even Sandy, now recovered, seems to know.) Bolo is also plotting against Gatt. Gatt is aware, but his top priority is Axel. Gatt captures one of Axel’s top men, Fedor, and forces him to spill Axel’s timetable and plans. (Axel plans to stage his coup in three weeks.) Meanwhile, Bolo approaches local businessmen to turn them against Gatt, and the businessmen approach Tecum.
I’m not really sure what Gray is up to with Nick Gatt. Apparently he is a criminal who runs a protection racket, but the businessmen are convinced that he actually provides protection (from rival gangs). Chester Gould would never have written such a character. One of Gould’s characters, Steve the Tramp, was sent to prison, found religion and reformed, but Dick Tracy never encountered a villain who did “good” from the wrong side of the law.