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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 178 pages of information about Zone Policeman 88; a close range study of the Panama canal and its workers.

CHAPTER I

Strip by strip there opened out before me, as I climbed the “Thousand Stairs” to the red-roofed Administration Building, the broad panorama of Panama and her bay; below, the city of closely packed roofs and three-topped plazas compressed in a scallop of the sun-gleaming Pacific, with its peaked and wooded islands to far Taboga tilting motionless away to the curve of the earth; behind, the low, irregular jungled hills stretching hazily off into South America.  On the third-story landing I paused to wipe the light sweat from forehead and hatband, then pushed open the screen door of the passageway that leads to police headquarters.

“Emm—­What military service have you had?” asked “the Captain,” looking up from the letter I had presented and swinging half round in his swivel-chair to fix his clear eyes upon me.

“None.”

“No?” he said slowly, in a wondering voice; and so long grew the silence, and so plainly did there spread across “the Captain’s” face the unspoken question, “Well, then what the devil are you applying here for?” that I felt all at once the stern necessity of putting in a word for myself or lose the day entirely.

“But I speak Spanish and—­”

“Ah!” cried “the Captain,” with the rising inflection of awakened interest, “That puts another face on the matter.”

Slowly his eyes wandered, with the far-away look of inner reflection, to the vacant chair of “the Chief” on the opposite side of the broad flat desk, then out the wide-open window and across the shimmering roofs of Ancon to the far green ridges of the youthful Republic, ablaze with the unbroken tropical sunshine.  The whirr of a telephone bell broke in upon his meditation.  In sharp, clear-cut phrases he answered the questions that came to him over the wire, hung up the receiver, and pushed the apparatus away from him with a forceful gesture.

“Inspector:”  he called suddenly; but a moment having passed without response, he went on in his sharp-cut tones, “How do you think you would like police work?”

“I believe I should.”

“The Captain” shuffled for a moment one of several stacks of unfolded letters on his desk.

“Well, it’s the most thankless damned job in Creation,” he went on, almost dreamily, “but it certainly gives a man much touch with human nature from all angles, and—­well, I suppose we do some good.  Somebody’s got to do it, anyway.”

“Of course I suppose it would depend on what class of police work I got,” I put in, recalling the warning of the writer of my letter of introduction that, “You may get assigned to some dinky little station and never see anything of the Zone,”—­“I’m better at moving around than sitting still.  I notice you have policemen on your trains, or perhaps in special duty languages would be—­”

“Yes, I was thinking along that line, too,” said “the Captain.”

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