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).
FEB 1938: To make himself look good, Gudge give Mrs. Alden an extension, little knowing that all the money for the mortgage has already been raised. The trick is getting her to accept it. Jack convinces her, and when Gudge arrives with the sheriff to evict her, she pays him off in full. After that the truck drivers give Gudge a little “bonus” (they rough him up) while the sheriff makes himself scarce.
A one-legged tramp named Shanghai Peg shows up to beg a meal. In gratitude, he stays on, sleeping in the wood shed, doing odd jobs. When Gudge attempts to burn the house in revenge, Peg is there to stop him and threatens him with a knife. When Jack hears about Peg, he goes over to see what’s what. They almost get in a fight, but they become friends. Next, Gudge hires a thug to kill Peg, but Peg turns the tables on him, takes the money Gudge paid him, leaves a sarcastic note in the thugs wallets for Gudge to find, and drops the unconscious body at Gudge’s house.
Gudge learns that, quite by coincidence, his old captain was Mrs. Alden’s husband. He uses the money he took off the thug to anonymously buy gifts for Mrs. Gudge, Annie, Rose and Danny. Jack knows who bought the gifts and buys a truckload of wood so Peg won’t have to chop it himself.
Okay, Annie is back after a six month hiatus. I you feel as if you need a refresher, you need go back no further than December 1937 (starting with “On a windy day…”). Now, without further ado, on to…
MARCH 1938: Seeking comeuppance, Gudge reports Shanghai Peg to the cops on the off chance he has a criminal record. Actually, he has served with both the French Sureté as well as Scotland Yard. A green cop named Tommy looking to make a name for himself doesn’t trust him, however, and gives him a hard time (or tries to). The next day, Tommy is involved in a high speed chase on motorcycle. The car Tommy is chasing is doing 80 mph, and when it passes Mrs. Alden’s house, Shanghai Peg throws an ax through its window, bring it crashing into a stone barn. Tommy is injured, however, and Shanghai Peg gives him first aid saving his life.
When the reporters show in search of a story, he gives them one. He puts on a disguise, give his name as “Tom Brown” and tells them he was raised by Indians. The reporters go away happy, but Gudge is up in arms. He goes to the chief of police, who pretty much ignores his complaints. Then he pressures the weak-willed sheriff, who begins an investigation. Then Shanghai Peg saves the sheriff’s daughter from an oncoming bus, and the sheriff is so ashamed of letting himself be pressured into hassling Shanghai Peg that he punches Gudge in the nose.
Shanghai Peg refuses a reward from the bus company, but Jack suggests to Mr. Crosswalk, the company’s representative, that the best way to reward Shanghai Peg would be to help those he cares about. He then introduces Crosswalk to Mrs. Alden who lets him sample her coffee and donuts. Crosswalk is so impressed that he makes her house a regular stop for all his busses. Mrs. Alden is unsure and waits for Annie to get home from school before she agrees. The passengers of the first bus to stop are at first upset at the delay, but they soon change their tune after tasting the coffee and donuts.
APRIL 1938: Gudge takes advantage of a local zoning restriction to force Jack’s trucking business and Mrs. Alden’s donut shop out of business. There are only about 30 eligible voters, and Gudge has swayed them all to his side, but Annie finds a loophole. Jack owns 400 feet of frontage property. He deeds ten foot “lots” to 40 of his truckers, making them local property owners and eligible to vote. The local judge buys in, and Gudge is shocked at the result.
After that, Mrs. Alden’s wood-burning stove craps out. She needs an electric oven, and Jack’s connections enable him to find one cheap. They also rig up electric lights while they’re at it, and Shanghai Peg repaints the kitchen. The theme is “turning disadvantage into advantage, and Harold Gray shows us what that looks like. Shanghai carves statues for his own amusement. Tourists stop in and buy two for $500. After some argument from Mrs. Alden, he puts this money in the “pot.”
MAY 1938: Caleb Alden was murdered, years ago, in an apple orchard near his home. Ironically, he had retired from the sea to live a less dangerous life. The killer, a man named Slither, was apprehended. Throughout his trial, Slither remained confident that he would get off. He was sentenced to hang, and seemed as if he had further details he wanted to reveal. Then he had some sort of a stroke or something which prevented him from doing so, then it was too late. Gudge acquired all of Alden’s land, except the house where Mrs. Alden now lives, but he didn’t come to town until a year after Slither’s trial. At the time, Mrs. Alden was grateful to Gudge for cleaning up Mr. Alden’s affairs.
A local man named Ballast remembers all the details of the trial. A big fire 20 years ago burned the police station, the library and the newspaper. Then Annie finds out that Ballast grabbed a record book at random as a “souvenir” of the fire. It is the book which contains the court records of Slither’s trial. Both slither and Gudge come from the town of Springfield, but no one suspects a connection between the two other than that.
While all this is going on, Jack is making doe-eyes at Rose. Jack is thinking of expanding the business. He’s also thinking about marriage, but if he takes Rose away, who will make the donuts? But rose reveals she cannot marry Jack because she’s already married to a gambler named Ace Chance. At one point, he left her $1000 and set off to make something of himself. It was then that Rose was hit on the head and robbed, and left in the snow where Annie found her.
Jack is devastated. He throws himself into work, he even drives one of his trucks, returning only to pay bills and sign paychecks. He’s also a bit reckless. (Ah, for the days when motorcycle cops would routinely fire warning shots at speeders!) On his way back into town one day he picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be none other than (wait for it)… Ace Chance!
Remarkable bit of dialogue:
ROSE: “It’s a funny world—eh, Annie?”
ANNIE: “No, not particularly.”
JULY 1938: Bindle Al needs a transfusion of a rare blood type to save his life, and Jack has it. Jack flies specialists in from out of town and donates blood in order to save Ace from a murder rap for rose’s sake. When he recovers, Ace is not grateful. (Rose thanks Jack, though.) In fact, Ace punches Jack in the jaw, then blames himself for being out of condition when he loses the fight the follows. Jack offers Ace a job, which he accepts, undetr the condition that, once he has regained his strength, he will beat up Jack. (Gray is illustrating that when a weak man becomes strong, it changes his character.) Bindle Al comes calling seeking revenge on Ace, but Jack chases him off. A truck falls off a jack and smashes Ace’s foot. Ace can no longer work in the garage, so Jack gives him an office job: payroll. Then Jack leaves town.
AUGUST 1938: Ace wrestles with temptation, but a new driver, “Cracker”, is tempted more. He sees the payroll as an easy theft with a built in mark. Sure enough, the office is broken into, the payroll is stolen and Ace is the only suspect. Jack returns but doesn’t believe it. Cracker is caught in short order, justifying Jack’s faith and proving Gray’s point. In days to come, Ace beats up a guy for bad-mouthing Jack.
Then the story abruptly shifts to the murder of Captain Alden 30 years ago. Gudge has been out of town since Ace rolled in, but Shanghai never stops thinking about him and the murder. One day, Ace relates the story of his childhood to Shanghai and Annie. At first it seems to be nothing more than a Harold Gray homily about overcoming adversity, until he tells the story of something that happened to him 30 years ago when he was six years old. He had been playing hide and seek and was hidden inside a piano crate when he overheard two men planning a murder. He doesn’t know who the men were, but he got a good look at them through a crack in the case and will never forget them. Oh, and he lived in Springfield at the time.
This information raises enough suspicion in Annie and Shanghai that they put together a book of “mugshots” from newspaper clipping and ask Ace to look through it on some pretext. Sure enough, the only two men Ace recognizes are the man who was convicted of Alden’s murder and (wait for it)… Uriah Gudge. This enough for Annie and Shanghai, but it’s not enough proof for a court of law, even in Harold Gray’s world.
Meanwhile, Gudge has returned to town and opened an opposition trucking line. His drivers are rather thuggish, and they are reckless as well, causing accidents and causing deaths of four of Jack’s drivers. Also, Gudge has underbid several key contracts in an effort to drive Jack out of business.
SEPTEMBER 1938: A driver named Grump quits Jack to work for Gudge. Jack heads out on a rainy night with a souped up truck with no payload. Gudge lures the cops away from “Corkscrew Grade” with a false report and his driver tries to run Jack off the road, but he turns the tables and runs Gudge’s driver off the high bridge 150 feet into the canyon “with 15 tons of truck as a parachute.”
Gudge then decides to get Jack by suborning Ace. Acr refuses to speak to Gudge’s man Grump, but agrees to meet Gudge by the well at midnight. Ace agrees to betray Jack and accepts $500. Shanghai overhears and confronts Ace, but Ace convinces Shanghai he’s really on Jack’s side. From her bedroom window, Annie sees Ace coming out of the orchard in the middle of the night. Raose knows that Ace slips out every night, but doesn’t know where he goes or why.
The next night, Annie follows him and overhears him give Gudge enough information to outbid Jack on an important contract. Impulsively, she is about to speak up when Shanghai, who also followed them into the woods, stopped her. Ace explains that the contract is a gyp that Jack doesn’t want any part of, and that it will tie up Gudge’s trucks for weeks before he learns he won’t collect.
Gudge eventually finds out, but Ace snows him. Desperate, Gudge plans to hire a couple of men to shoot Jack in his office. Ace’s role will be to give the police a false description of the murders. Ace finds out that Jack himself is going to make an important run with a cargo worth $½ million. Ace passes this information on to Gudge and suggests robbery and murder on the road. Shanghai and Annie overhear, and even Shanghai is beginning to doubt Ace at this point. Ace insists that Gudge’s plan to murder Jack in his office would have worked and to trust him. Shanghai does, reluctantly, but Annie remains skeptical. On the day of the run, Ace drugs Jack’s coffee and takes his place behind the wheel.
Interesting stuff, as always.
Gudge then decides to get Jack by suborning Ace. Acr refuses to speak to Gudge’s man Grump, but agrees to meet Gudge by the well at midnight.
I'm really surprised that nobody wound up in the well!