“May 12, Liquor, investigation, Panama—$6.50?”
But here I began to feel the tangling strands. Was it not stated that all applications for reimbursement required an exact itemized account of each separate expenditure, with the price of each? It did. But in the first place I did not know half the beverages consumed in that investigation by sight, smell, or name. In the second place I came ostensibly as a “rounder”; it would perhaps have been advisable at the close of each evening’s entertainment to draw out note-book and pencil and starting the round of the table announce:
“Now, girls, I’m a dee-tective. No, keep yer places, I ain’t going to pinch nobody. Anyhow I’m only a Zone detective. But I just want to ask you a few questions. Now, Mamie, what’s that you’re drinking? Ah! A gin ricky. And just how much does that cost—here? And you, Flossie? An absinthe frappe? Ah! Very good. And what is the retail price of that particular drink?”—and so on ad nauseum.
“Very true,” replied authority, “that would of course be impossible. But to be reimbursed you must set down in detail every item of expenditure, and its price.”
Reason and government red tape move in two parallel lines, with the usual meeting-place.
Nor was that all. While the black Peruvian was on my staff I gave him money for food. It was not merely expected, it was definitely so ordered. Yet when I set down:
“May 27, To Peruvian for food—$.50.” authority threw up its hands in horror. Did I not know that reimbursements were only for “liquor and cigars, cab or boat hire, and meals away from home?” I did. But I also knew that superiors had ordered me to feed the Peruvian. “To be sure!” cried astounded authority. “But you set down such an expenditure as follows:
“‘May 27, Two bottles of beer, Pan., investigation—$.50.’
“And as you are allowed cab fare only for yourself, when you take the Peruvian or any one else out to Balboa in a cab you set down the item:
“‘May 26, Cab, Ancon to Balboa and return, investigation—$1.’”
The upshot of all which was, not feeling able with all my patriotism to “set up” $45 worth of mixed drinks for Uncle Sam, I was forced to open another investigation and gather from all the Z. P. authorities on the subject, from Naos Island to Paraiso, the name and price of every known beverage. Then when I had fitted together a picture puzzle of these that summed up to the amount I had actually spent, I was called upon to sign a statement thereunder that “this is a true and exact account of expenditures during the month of May. So help me God.”
But then, as I have said before, these things are not Z. P. faults, they are the faults of government since government began.
It had become evident soon after the Inspector’s return that unless crime began to pick up down at the Pacific end of the Zone, I should find myself again banished to the foreign land of Gatun. For there had been a distinct rise in the criminal commodity at that end during the past weeks. The premonition soon fell true.