As in other moments of stress and perplexity, Lidgerwood was absently marking little pencil squares on his desk blotter.
“I wouldn’t get down to the desert level, if I were you, Mac,” he said thoughtfully.
“I’m down there right now, in self-defence,” was the sober rejoinder. “And if you’ll take a hint from me you’ll heel yourself, too, Mr. Lidgerwood. I know this country better than you do, and the men in it. I don’t say they’ll come after you deliberately, but as things are now you can’t open your face to one of them without taking the chance of a quarrel, and a quarrel in a gun-country——”
“I know,” said Lidgerwood patiently, and the trainmaster gave it up.
It was an hour or two later in the same day when McCloskey came into the private office again, hat tilted to nose, and the gargoyle face portraying fresh soul agonies.
“They’ve taken to pillaging now!” he burst out. “The 316, that new saddle-tank shifting-engine, has disappeared. I saw Broderick using the ’95, and when I asked him why, he said he couldn’t find the ’16.”
“Couldn’t find it?” echoed Lidgerwood.
“No; nor I can’t, either. It’s nowhere in the yards, the roundhouse, or back shop, and none of Gridley’s foremen know anything about it. I’ve had Callahan wire east and west, and if they’re all telling the truth, nobody has seen it or heard of it.”
“Where was it, at last accounts?”
“Standing on the coal track under chute number three, where the night crew left it at midnight, or thereabouts.”
“But certainly somebody must know where it has gone,” said Lidgerwood.
“Yes; and by grapples! I think I know who the somebody is.”
“Who is it?”
“If I should tell you, you wouldn’t believe it, and besides I haven’t got the proof. But I’m going to get the proof,” shaking a menacing forefinger, “and when I do——”
The interruption was the entrance of Hallock, coming in with the pay-rolls for the superintendent’s approval. McCloskey broke off short and turned to the door, but Lidgerwood gave him a parting command.
“Come in again, Mac, in about half an hour. There is another matter that I want to take up with you, and to-day is as good a time as any.”
The trainmaster nodded and went out, muttering curses to the tilted hat brim.
“This switching-engine mystery opens up a field that I’ve been trying to get into for some little time, Mac,” the superintendent began, after the half-hour had elapsed and the trainmaster had returned to the private office. “Sit down and we’ll thresh it out. Here are some figures showing loss and expense in the general maintenance account. Look them over and tell me what you think.”
“Wastage, you mean?” queried the trainmaster, glancing at the totals in the auditor’s statement.