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ERB’S BIBLE BLUES:
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Keep marching fellow readers for we are only halfway on our safari through the dark continent. We now join Tarzan of the Apes and the “Gunner” in the slave raiders’camp after it has been Thompson submachine gunned by Danny.
Chapter Thirteen: The “Gunner” Walks
Like a great cat, Tarzan of the Apes scaled the palisade of the raiders’ village, dropped lightly to the ground upon the opposite side and ascended the cliffs a little south of the village where they were less precipitous. He might have taken advantage of the open gate; but the direction he chose was the shorter way; and a palisade constituted no obstacle to the foster son of Kala, the she-ape.
The “Gunner” was waiting for him upon the summit of the cliff directly behind the village, and for the second time these strangely dissimilar men met – dissimilar, and yet, in some respects, alike. Each was ordinarily quiet to taciturnity, each was self-reliant, each was a law unto himself in his own environment; but there the similarity ceased for the extremes of environment had produced psychological extremes as remotely separated as the poles.
The ape-man had been reared amidst scenes of eternal beauty and grandeur, his associates the beasts of the jungle, savage perhaps, but devoid of avarice, petty jealousy, treachery, meanness, and intentional cruelty; while the “Gunner” had known naught but the squalid aspects of scenery defiled by man, of horizons grotesque with screaming atrocities of architecture, of an earth hidden by concrete and asphaltum and littered with tin cans and garbage, his accociates, in all walks of life, activated by greed and petty meannesses unknown to any but mankind.
“A machine gun has its possibilities,” said the ape-man, with the flicker of a smile.
“They had you in a bad place, mister,” remarked the “Gunner.”
“I think I should have gotten out all right,” replied Tarzan, “but I thank you none the less. How did you happen to be here?”
“I been looking for my side-kick, and I happened to see you go over the edge here. Obambi here, tipped me off that you was the guy saved me from the lion – so I was glad to step for you.”
“You are looking for whom?”
“My side-kick, Smith.”
“Where is he?”
“I wouldn’t be lookin’ for him if I knew. He’s went and lost himself. Been gone since yesterday afternoon.”
“Tell me the circumstances,” said Tarzan, “perhaps I can help you.”
“That’s what I was goin’ to ask you,” said the “Gunner.” “I know my way around south of Madison Street, but out here I’m just a punk. I ain’t got no idea where to look for him. Geeze, take a slant at them mountains. You might as well try to meet a guy at the corner of Oak and Polk as hunt for him there. I’ll tell you how it happened,” and he then briefly narrated all that was known of the disappearance of Lafayette Smith
“Was he armed?” asked the ape-man.
“He thought he was.”
“What do you mean?”
“He packed a shiny toy pistol, what if anybody ever shot me with it, and I found it out, I’d turn him over my knee and spank him.”
“It might serve him in getting food,” said Tarzan, “and that will be of more importance to him than anything else. He’s not in much danger, except from men and starvation. Where’s your camp?”
Danny nodded toward the south. “Back there about a thousand miles,” he said.
“You’d better go to it and remain there where he can find you if he can make his way back to it, and where I can find you if I locate him.”
“I want to help you hunt for him. He’s a good guy, even if he is legitimate.”
“I can move faster alone,” replied the ape-man. “If you start out looking for him I’ll probably have to find you, too.”
The “Gunner” grinned. “I guess you ain’t so far off, at that,” he replied. “All right, I’ll beat it for camp and wait there for you. You know where our camp is at?”
“I’ll find out,” replied Tarzan and turned to Obambi to whom he put a few questions in the native Bantu dialect of the black. Then he turned again to the “Gunner.” “I know where your camp is now. Watch out for these fellows from that village, and don’t let your men wander very far from the protection of your machine gun.”
“Why?” demanded Danny, “what are them guys?”
“They are robbers, murderers, and slave raiders,” replied Tarzan.
“Geeze!” exclaimed the “Gunner,” “they’s rackets even in Africa, ain’t they?”
“I do not know what a racket it,” replied the ape-man, “but there is crime wherever there are men, and nowhere else.” He turned then, without word of parting, and started upward toward the mountains.
“Geeze!” muttered the “Gunner.” “That guy ain’t so crazy about men.”
“What, Bwana?” asked Obambi.
“Shut up,” admonished Danny.
The afternoon was almost spent when the “Gunner” and Obambi approached camp. Tired and footsore as he was the white man had, none the less, pushed rapidly along the backtrail lest night descend upon them before they reached their destination, for Danny, in common with most city-bred humans, had discovered something peculiarly depressing and awe-inspiring in the mysterious sounds and silences of the nocturnal wilds. He wished the fires and companionship of men after the sun had set. And so the two covered the distance on the return in much less time that had been consumed in traversing it originally.
As he came in sight of the camp the brief twilight of the tropics had already fallen, the cooking fires were burning, and to a trained eye a change would have been apparent from the appearance of the camp when he had left it early that morning; but Danny’s eyes were trained in matters of broads, bulls, and beer trucks and not in the concerns of camps and safaris; so, in the failing light of dusk, he did not notice that there were more men in the camp than when he had left, nor that toward the rear of it were horses tethered where no horses had been before.
The first intimation he had of anything unusual came from Obambi. “White men are in the camp, Bwana,” said the black – “and many horses. Perhaps they found the mad bwana and brought him back.”
“Where do you see any white men?” demanded the “Gunner.”
“By the big fire in the center of camp, Bwana,” replied Obambi.
“Geeze, yes, I see ‘em now,” admitted Danny. “They must have found old Smithy all right; but I don’t see him, do you?”
“No, Bwana, but perhaps he is in his tent.”
The appearance of Patrick and Obambi caused a commotion in the camp and that was wholly out of proportion to its true significance. The white men leaped to their feet and drew their revolvers while strange blacks, in response to the commands of one of these, seized rifles and stood nervously alert.
“You don’t have to throw no fit,” called Danny, “it’s only me and Obambi.”
The white men were advancing to meet him now, and the two parties halted face to face near one of the fires. It was then that the eyes of one of the two strange white men alighted on the Thompson submachine gun. Raising his revolver he covered Danny.
“Put up your hands!” he commanded sharply.
“Wot’ell?” demanded the “Gunner,” but he put them up as every sensible man does when thus invited at the business end of a pistol.
“Where is the ape-man?” asked the stranger.
“What ape-man? What you talkin’ about? What’s your racket?”
“You know who I mean – Tarzan,” snapped the other. The “Gunner” glanced quickly about the camp. He saw his own men herded under guard of villainous looking blacks in long robes that had once been white; he saw the horses tethered just beyond them; he saw nothing of Lafayette Smith. The training and the ethics of gangland controlled him on the instant. “Don’t know the guy,” he replied sullenly.
“You were with him today,” snarled the bearded white. “You fired on my village.”
“Who, me?” inquired the “Gunner” innocently. “You got me wrong, mister. I been hunting all day. I ain’t seen no one. I ain’t fired at nothing. Now, it’s my turn. What are you guys doin’ here with this bunch of Ku Klux Klanners? If it’s a stick up, hop to it; and get on your way. You got the drop on us, and they ain’t no one to stop you. Get it over with. I’m hungry and want to feed.”
“Take the gun away from him,” said Capietro, to one of his men, “also his pistol,” and there was nothing for Danny the “Gunner” Patrick, with his hands above his head, to do but submit. Then they sent Obambi, under escort, to be herded with the other black prisoners and ordered the “Gunner” to accompany them to the large fire that blazed in front of Smith’s tent and his own.
“Where is your companion?” demanded Capietro.
“What companion?” inquired Danny.
“The man you have been traveling with,” snapped the Italian. “Who else would I mean?”
“Search me,” replied the “Gunner.
“What you mean by that? You got something concealed upon your person?”
“You mean money, I ain’t got none.”
“You did not answer my question,” continued Capietro.
“Where is your companion?”
“I ain’t got none.”
“Your headman told us there were two of you. What is your name?”
“Bloom,” replied Danny.
Capietro looked puzzled. “The headman said one of you was Smith and the other Patrick.”
“Never heard of ‘em,” insisted Danny. “The guy must of been stringin’ you. I’m here alone, hunting, and my name’s Bloom.”
“And you didn’t see Tarzan of the Apes today?”
“Never even heard of a guy with that monacker.”
“Either way he’s lying to us,” said Stabutch, “or it was the other one who fired on the village.”
“Sure, it must have been two other fellows,” Danny assured them. “Say, when do I eat?”
“When you tell us where Tarzan is,” replied Stabutch.
“Then I guess I don’t eat,” remarked Danny. “Geeze, didn’t I tell you I never heard of the guy? Do you think I know every monkey in Africa by his first name? Come on now, what’s your racket? If we got anything you want, take it and screw. I’m sick lookin’ at your mugs.”
“I do not understand English so well,” whispered Capietro to Stabutch. “I do not always know what he says.”
“Neither do I,” replied the Russian; “but I think he is lying to us. Perhaps he is trying to gain time until his companion and Tarzan arrive.”
“That is possible,” replied Capietro in his normal voice.
“Let’s kill him and get out of here,” suggested Stabutch. “We can take the prisoners and as much of the equipment as you want and be a long way from here in the morning.”
“Geeze,” exclaimed Danny, “this reminds me of Chi. It makes me homesick.”
“How much money you pay if we don’t kill you?” asked Capietro. “How much your friends pay?”
The “Gunner” laughed. “Say, mister, you’re giving yourself a bum steer.” He was thinking how much more one might collect for killing him, if one could make connections with certain parties on the North Side of Chicago, than for sparing his life. But here was an opportunity, perhaps, to gain time. The “Gunner” did not wish to be killed, and so he altered his technique. “My friends ain’t rich,” he said, “but they might come across with a few grand. How much do you want?”
Capietro considered. This must be a rich American, for only rich men could afford these African big game expeditions. “One hundred thousand should not be excessive for a rich man like you,” he said.
“Quit your kidding,” said the “Gunner.” “I ain’t rich.”
“What could you raise?” asked Capietro, who saw by the prisoner’s expression of astonishment that the original bid was evidently out of the question.
“I might scrape up twenty grand,” suggested Danny.
“What are grand?” demanded the Italian.
“Thousand – twenty thousand, explained the “Gunner.”
“Poof!” cried Capietro. “That would not pay me for the trouble of keeping you until the money could be forwarded from America. Make it fifty thousand lira and it’s a bargain.”
“Fifty thousand lira? What’s them?”
“A lira is an Italian coin worth about twenty cents in American money,” explained Stabutch.
Danny achieved some rapid mental calculations before he replied; and when he had digested the result he had difficulty of repressing a smile, for he discovered that his offer of twenty thousand grand was actually twice what the Italian was now demanding. Yet he hesitated to agree too willingly. “That’s ten thousand iron men,” he said. “That’s a lot of jack.”
“Iron men? Jack? I do not understand,” said Capietro.
“Smackers,” explained Danny lucidly.
“Smackers? Is there such a coin in America?” asked Capietro, turning to Stabutch.
“Doubtless a vernacularism,” said the Russian.
“Geeze, you guys is dumb,” growled the “Gunner.” “A smacker’s a buck. Every one knows that.”
“Perhaps if you would tell him in dollars it would be easier,” suggested Stabutch. “We all understand the value of an American dollar.”
“That’s a lot more than some Americans understand,” Danny assured him; “but it’s just what I been saying right along – ten thousand dollars – and it’s too damn much.”
“That is for you to decide,” said Capietro. “I am tired of bargaining – nobody but an American would bargain over a human life.”
“What you been doing?” demanded the “Gunner.” “You’re the guy that started it.”
Capietro shrugged. “It is not my life,” he said. “You will pay me ten thousand American dollars, or you will die. Take your choice.”
“Oke,” said Danny. “I’ll pay. Now do I eat? If you don’t feed me I won’t be worth nothing.”
“Tie his hands,” Capietro ordered on of the shiftas, then he fell to discussing plans with Stabutch. The Russian finally agreed with Capietro that the palisaded village of the raider would be the best place to defend themselves in the event that Tarzan enlisted aid and attacked them in force. One of their men had seen Lord Passmore’s safari; and, even if their prisoner was lying to them, there was at least another white, probably well armed, who might be considered a definite menace. Ogonyo had told them that this man was alone and probably lost, but they did not know whether or not to believe the headman. If Tarzan commandeered these forces, which Capietro knew he had the influence to do, they might expect an attack upon their village.
You have to hand it to the “Gunner,” he can confuse the enemy without really trying. And it appears that Lord Passmore’s safari is the only one left intact.
By the light of several fires the blacks of the captured safari were compelled to break camp and, when the loads were packed, to carry them on the difficult night march toward Capietro’s village. With mounted shiftas in advance, upon the flanks, and bringing up the rear there was no lagging and no chance to escape.
The “Gunner,” plodding along at the head of his own porters, viewed the prospect of that night march with unmitigated disgust. He had traversed the route twice already since sunrise; and the thought of doing it again, in the dark, with his hands tied behind him was far from cheering. To add to his discomfort he was weak from hunger and fatigue, and now the pangs of thirst were assailing him.
“Geeze,” he soliloquized, “this ain’t no way to treat a regular guy. When I took ‘em for a ride I never made no guy walk, not even a rat. I’ll get these lousy bums yet – a thinkin’ they can put Danny Patrick on the spot, an’ make him walk all the way!”
Well now we know why this chapter was called “The ‘Gunner’ Walks.” In the next we return to the land of Midian and our lost hero, Lafayette Smith, and the two women, Lady Barbara Collis and her friend and perhaps lover, Jezebel. See you then.
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ERB'S BIBLE BLUES :: TARZAN TRIUMPHANT
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