DISTRUST

As Flash entered the bedroom, a stocky, middle-aged man in a captain’s
uniform, turned to face him. He regarded the young man with an alert,
penetrating gaze.

Major Hartgrove, his head and leg swathed in bandages, sat in a wheel
chair by the window. He too appraised the visitor.

“You wished to see me, sir?” Flash inquired.

The Major nodded. “Captain Johns,” he said gruffly, “this is the young
man I was telling you about. The photographer who pulled me out of the
wreck. Your name—”

“Evans. Jimmy Evans.”

“I am pleased to meet you, sir,” Captain Ernest Johns spoke cordially
and extended his hand. “So sorry I must be going. Another appointment.
You will excuse me?”

Without waiting for a reply, he departed, carefully closing the door
behind him. Clearly the speedy leave-taking had been prearranged.

“Sit down!” invited the Major abruptly.

His tone was so explosive that Flash jumped. He dropped into a chair
opposite the army man.

“Evans,” said the Major, “I’ve tried to locate you ever since the night
of the wreck. Where have you been hiding?”

“Indianapolis,” Flash returned, and explained how he had substituted as
a cameraman for Joe Wells.

“So you’re a professional photographer?” inquired the Major. “Took a few
pictures of the train wreck, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have they been published?”

“I couldn’t say. I sent some of my films to the _Brandale Ledger_.
Haven’t had time to hear from my editor yet.”

The Major took a quick turn across the room in his wheel chair. He came
back to the window again.

“If I remember correctly you shot a picture of me.”

“Of you?” Flash asked in surprise.

“A flash bulb went off just as I was trying to pull myself from the
wreckage.”

“Oh, yes, I remember,” Flash nodded. “I doubt if that picture will be
much good. I didn’t send it with the others.”

The Major relaxed in his chair.

“You still have it?” he demanded.

“Yes, but I haven’t had time to develop the film yet.”

“How long will it take?”

“Why, I don’t know,” Flash replied. “I have no developing outfit with
me. I could send it to a local newspaper—”

“Not to a paper,” Major Hartgrove interrupted. “To a studio where
photographic work is done. I’ll want no publicity.”

Flash smiled, rather amused by the army man’s assured way of giving
orders.

“As soon as the film is developed, bring it to me,” the Major resumed.
He hesitated, and then added: “Under no circumstances must that picture
be published until after I have seen it. You understand?”

“I hear,” responded Flash dryly. “I can’t say I understand. After all,
I’m a professional photographer. If a picture has news value it’s my
duty to publish it unless I have a mighty good reason for doing
otherwise.”

The Major made a rumbling noise in his throat.

“Young man, a hint to the wise is sufficient. There are certain things I
am not in a position to explain. However, great harm might result if
that picture were printed. I wish to make it clear that if you disregard
my wishes, you may find yourself in trouble with the government.”

“I doubt if the picture would be worth it, Major. However, I’ll try to
cooperate with you.”

“I am glad that you are taking a sensible attitude,” the army man
returned. “I assure you the picture has no value save to myself and
possible enemies. Upon second thought, you are to bring the film to me
undeveloped.”

Again Flash smiled. The Major mistook his silence for consent.

“Where is the film now?” he questioned.

“In my luggage.”

“Then please bring it to the hospital without delay,” the army man
requested in dismissal.

Flash walked to the door. There he paused.

“Oh, by the way,” he said carelessly, “did you ever learn who it was
that struck you over the head?”

Major Hartgrove made a swift turn in his wheel chair.

“What was that?” he demanded.

Flash repeated the question.

“You’re mistaken, young man,” the Major snapped. “No one struck me. What
gave you that idea?”

“Merely your own words. When I helped you from the wreck you muttered
that someone had struck you and taken your wallet.”

“Then I was dazed. I may have been hit by a falling timber when the car
was derailed. Nothing was stolen from me. An absurd notion!”

“Oh, I see,” said Flash. “My mistake, Major.”

Without waiting for a reply he went out the door, softly closing it
behind him.

George Doyle had remained at the elevator.

“Well, did the Major make you a pretty little speech of gratitude,
Flash?” he inquired curiously.

“He made me a speech. Period.”

Doyle pressed a button and the automatic elevator descended to the lower
floor.

“What was it all about?” he probed.

Flash had no intention of confiding in the technician and so made an
evasive answer. Doyle took the hint, but he lapsed into sullen silence
as they walked back to the parking lot where the sound truck had been
left.

“Where are you going now?” he inquired, watching Flash gather up his
camera and luggage.

“The hotel. I think I’ll stay here a day or so and rest up before I
start back to Brandale.”

“I may hole in myself,” Doyle responded. “I gave _News-Vue_ this town as
my address. I’m stuck here until Clewes sends me orders. I’ll probably
be seeing you at the hotel.”

“Well, if we shouldn’t meet again, good-bye and good luck with your
pictures.”

“Same to you.”

They shook hands with a show of cordiality and parted company. Flash was
glad to be done with the pretense. He never could like George Doyle and
was relieved to escape from him. Doubtlessly, the technician felt the
same way about him.

At the corner, beyond Doyle’s view, Flash paused. Opening his handbag,
he removed the holders which held all the exposed films still in his
possession.

“Wonder why the Major is so anxious to see that picture of himself in
the wreck?” he mused. “At the time I snapped it I didn’t think I had
anything. Maybe I was wrong.”

Deeply puzzled, he could not guess why the picture had any special
significance. Yet he shrewdly reasoned that Major Hartgrove would not
bother to obtain the negative save for a very particular reason.

The army man’s assured way of expecting his orders to be obeyed without
question annoyed Flash. Obviously, the Major had sought to confuse him
by contradicting his first story that he had been struck over the head
by an assailant.

“I’ll have the film developed and see what all the shooting is about,”
he decided. “Then maybe I’ll deliver it to the Major, and maybe I
won’t.”

Walking along Main street, Flash presently came to a small photographic
studio. Entering he spoke to the owner, Mr. Dee.

“I have some films here to be developed and printed. How soon may I have
them?”

“Tomorrow.”

“This is rush work. I’ll be glad to pay extra but I need them right
away.”

“Make it three hours, then,” replied the photographer.

“I’ll be back for them later,” nodded Flash.

He walked on two blocks to the Columbia Hotel. The lobby was crowded. In
response to his inquiry for a single room, the clerk shook his head.

“We’ve been filled to overflowing ever since the train wreck. Folks
coming to see their relatives in the hospital, you know. For a while we
were selling cot space in the halls.”

“No chance then?”

“We did have a double room but it was assigned a few minutes ago. If you
don’t object to sharing it, I could put you in there. The young man who
occupies it isn’t much over your age, and is very respectable, sir.”

“How about him complaining?”

“He took it with the understanding he might be compelled to double up.
The room has twin beds.”

“All right, I’ll take it,” decided Flash.

A boy conducted him up two flights of stairs, through a dingy hallway.
He knocked and opened the door of Room 42. Flash stepped inside.

At the writing desk sat George Doyle. They stared at each other.

“I seem to be your new roommate,” said Flash at last. “Hope you don’t
mind.”

“No, of course not. Come on in.” Doyle spoke with an attempt at
friendliness. “Wait, I’ll take my junk off the bed.”

He arose and carried an armload of garments into a near-by closet.

The bellboy opened a window. An unexpected gust of wind carried a sheet
of paper from the writing desk. Flash stooped to pick it up. A name
caught and held his attention. It was his own.

Without meaning to read what Doyle had written, he saw the entire
paragraph at a glance:

“… rid of that pest, Evans at last. If you put in your application
without delay, you should get Wells’ job, and hold it permanently.”

Without reading further, Flash replaced the letter on the desk. Scarcely
had he moved away, when George Doyle stepped from the clothes closet. He
glanced sharply at the young photographer, but Flash’s face gave no
indication that anything was wrong.

Doyle removed the remaining garments from the bed. Then, walking quickly
to the desk, he picked up the letter, and thrust it into his pocket.

“Don’t let me interrupt you if you’re busy,” Flash remarked.

“I was only writing a letter to a pal. I’ll finish it another time.”

The bellboy pocketed Flash’s tip and left the two together. A
constrained silence settled between them. Flash began to unpack his
shirts and socks.

“Staying long in Columbia?” Doyle inquired after an awkward moment.

“A day or two, perhaps.”

Flash spoke shortly. Doyle glanced at him curiously, aware that for some
reason he was offended.

For the next few minutes the technician made a special effort to be
agreeable. Flash could not respond. He felt that the man’s sudden
friendliness was only a pose.

“Doyle has no honor,” he thought. “Instead of being loyal to Joe, he’s
scheming to install a friend in his job. Between them they’ll arrange it
so that Joe never does get his place back again.”

The telephone jingled. Doyle answered, and learning that a telegram had
arrived for him, ordered it sent up.

“It must be from the _News-Vue_ Company,” he remarked. “My boss is the
only one who knows where to reach me.”

The telegram was brought to the door. Doyle ripped open the envelope.
With feet propped on the foot of the bed, he read it and chuckled.

“It’s from Clewes himself.”

“District manager of the _News-Vue?_” Flash recalled.

“That’s right. The auto race pictures turned out great. When Clewes
wastes money on a congratulatory telegram you know you’ve hit the bull’s
eye!”

Flash could not help feeling elated that his first work as a newsreel
cameraman had been successful. He waited for Doyle to read the telegram
aloud or offer it to him. Instead, the technician stuffed it into his
pocket.

“I’m going to jog downstairs and get something to eat,” he said
genially. “Coming along?”

“No, thanks.”

After Doyle had gone, Flash flung himself on the bed, relieved to be
left alone. He wanted to think.

Although annoying, it didn’t really matter that Doyle belittled his
efforts and withheld praise. What worried him was the letter he had read
by accident. Should he warn Wells that the technician was trying to
transfer the _News-Vue_ job to a friend? And what could Joe do about the
matter? Nothing. It would only serve to make him uneasy.

Flash could see only one solution, and that, not to his liking. Still
thinking the matter over, he arose, washed, and scribbled a hasty letter
to his mother.

Deciding not to mail it in the hotel box, he walked to the post office.
As a matter of routine, he asked if any mail had arrived for him,
general delivery.

Thumbing through a thick stack of mail, the post master proffered a thin
envelope bearing the name of the _Brandale Ledger_.

As Flash eagerly opened the letter, a crisp new bill fluttered to the
floor. He picked it up and saw that it represented twenty dollars. The
letter was from City Editor, Riley. Scattered phrases seized his eye:

“… Your train wreck pictures scooped the East…. shots of the
Indianapolis races best we’ve run in years…. Congratulations on the
excellent work! Accept this twenty dollars as a bonus, and have a good
time on your vacation.”

Flash pocketed the money and read the letter twice. At least Riley
appreciated his work even if George Doyle didn’t! He was glad to know
that all his pictures had turned out well. A big load had been lifted
from his mind.

Leaving the post office, Flash glanced at his watch. Two hours had
elapsed since he had left the undeveloped camera films at Mr. Dee’s
photographic studio. He wandered slowly about for a half hour longer and
then dropped into the establishment.

“Your pictures are ready,” the photographer said, offering him the
packet. “However, I’m afraid you’ll not be very well pleased. Only two
of the prints came out well.”

“I didn’t expect much from them,” Flash replied. “I hope you printed
them all.”

“Yes, I did.”

Flash paid the bill, and took the prints over to a window. Running
rapidly through them he came to the picture which Major Hartgrove had
requested.

There was nothing so very startling about it. Major Hartgrove appeared
as an unrecognizable, shadowy figure, with his face half turned away
from the camera. But as Flash studied the scene carefully, he
distinguished the faint outline of another form—a man slipping away into
the darkness.

“I wonder if that might not have been the person who ran when I called
to him!” he reflected. “It might be the same man who struck Major
Hartgrove and tried to rob him.”

By this time Flash no longer doubted that the army man had been the
object of an attack. What the mysterious assailant had been after he
could not guess, unless the Major had carried valuable military plans or
other documents upon his person. Certainly no ordinary thief had been
responsible for the assault.

“I would think Povy might have had a hand in it,” he mused, “only Povy
was killed in the wreck. So he’s out.”

To make certain no mistake had been made in the records, Flash decided
to investigate further the following day. While very unlikely, there was
still a chance that Albert Povy’s name had been listed by mistake.

“The Major won’t learn much from this picture,” he thought. “But it’s no
good to me. I’ll take it around tomorrow just to keep him from breaking
a blood vessel.”

Rapidly he glanced at the remaining prints. The pictures taken at the
auto races were only moderately good, and without news value.

With a shrug, he pocketed the envelope and returned to the hotel where
he dined and went to bed early.

He did not hear Doyle come in, but when he awoke in the morning, his
roommate already was up and dressed. The technician stood by the window,
looking over the prints which Flash carelessly had left lying on the
dresser.

“These aren’t such hot shots,” he commented, observing that Flash was
awake.

“Just some of my bad ones. I study them to learn my mistakes.”

“Ambitious, aren’t you?” Doyle’s lip curled in amusement. “This one of
Rascomb is the best of the lot.”

Flash rolled out of bed.

“Rascomb?” he questioned. “Who’s he?”

Peering over Doyle’s shoulder he saw that the man was gazing at an
auto-racing picture. It was a shot of one of the drivers talking with a
distinguished looking individual in street clothing.

“That’s Rascomb,” identified Doyle, jabbing at the figure with his
thumb. “You see him at most of the big sporting events.”

“Never even heard of him. But I thought there was something familiar
about his face! Still, I can’t remember ever having seen him before the
day of the races.”

“Rascomb has plenty of dough,” Doyle remarked enviously. “Swell car, a
plane of his own, even his own private landing field. He’s a good polo
player and has a hunting and fishing lodge up in the north woods. The
news lads always give him favorable publicity, and he returns the favor
with invitations to his lodge.”

“Have you ever been there?” Flash inquired curiously.

“No, but the fellows who have gone tell me he’s a wonderful host. Gives
you everything.”

Flash dressed leisurely. As he combed his hair, he saw through the
mirror that Doyle was watching him with a peculiar, speculative
expression.

“Any plans for this morning, Flash?” he inquired casually.

“None in particular. I thought I would go over to the hospital. Would
you like to come along?”

Doyle shook his head. He seemed relieved by Flash’s answer.

“No, I’ll be tied up all morning. I want to check over my sound
equipment and get ready to roll when my new assignment comes through.
Tell Joe hello for me.”

Flash ate breakfast and reached the hospital in time for the ten o’clock
visiting hours. The door of Major Hartgrove’s room stood ajar. But the
bed was empty and attendants were stripping off the linen.

A nurse was passing in the hall. Flash stopped her and inquired where he
would find the Major.

“You are too late,” she replied. “Major Hartgrove left the hospital
early this morning.”

Flash went on to Joe Wells’ room. He had made up his mind not to tell
his friend of George Doyle’s treachery. However, when Joe again urged
him to take the newsreel job for at least a month, he gave the matter
rather serious consideration.

“The only reason I might do it would be to protect you, Joe,” he
replied. “If I held the post until you were up and around again, no one
could steal it from you.”

“Oh, that wouldn’t happen,” his friend responded carelessly. “I have a
good stand-in with the _News-Vue_ people.”

“Even so, you can’t tell what will happen these days,” hinted Flash.

“Then will you take the job if I can land it for you?”

“I’ll not promise yet, Joe. Tell you what I’ll do. I’ll wire Riley and
see what he says. I can’t afford to jeopardize my own place on the
_Ledger_, you know.”

The matter was allowed to rest. Leaving the hospital before the visiting
hours were over, Flash dispatched the telegram, and then returned to the
hotel.

As he passed through the lobby he was surprised to see George Doyle
sitting in a near-by chair, his back turned. He was talking earnestly
with an alert-eyed, gray-haired man of forty.

Instantly it struck Flash that Doyle had wished to have him away from
the hotel at the time of an anticipated interview. Impulsively, he
crossed the room, intending to test out his theory by speaking to the
technician.

Doyle did not see him approach. As Flash paused just behind the
upholstered chair, he arose and extended his hand to the man who faced
him.

“I’m glad you liked my work,” he said heartily. “And I’m sorry about
Evans. He’s given me to understand he wouldn’t be interested in any
proposition.”

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