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The Wire Devils

The Wire Devils

Frank L. Packard
Introduction by Robert MacDougall
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    The Wire Devils
    Book Description:

    Best known for his Jimmie Dale series of books, which have sold more than 3 million copies worldwide, Frank L. Packard first publishedThe Wire Devilsin 1918. A "wire thriller" that uses the booming railroads and telegraph lines of the old West as its backdrop for fast-paced adventure,The Wire Devilsfollows a criminal gang of the same name who hijack a railroad's telegraph lines to glean information about profitable shipments. But foiling them again and again is the Hawk, the outlaw hero who robs from the robbers and is ultimately on the side of law and order.

    Combining elements from dime-store novels and Packard's own experience on the rails,The Wire Devilsis at once a hybrid western and a thriller still worth reading nearly a century after it was written.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8511-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Transportation Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xxviii)
    Robert MacDougall

    Industrial America was born, according to Henry Adams, in May 1844. On the twenty-fourth day of that month, Samuel Morse demonstrated his telegraph to a gathering of dignitaries in the Supreme Court chambers of the U.S. Capitol. Using the code that bears his name, Morse tapped out four words from the Bible’s Book of Numbers: WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT. His message traveled to Baltimore on an iron wire strung along the right-of-way of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. There, an associate received the message and sent it back to Washington. Henry Adams wasn’t present—he was six years old at...

    (pp. 9-19)

    Two switch lights twinkled; one at the east, and one at the west end of the siding. For the rest all was blackness. Half way between the switch lights, snuggled close against the single-tracked main line, the station, little more than a shanty and too insignificant to boast a night operator, loomed up shadowy and indistinct. Away to the westward, like jagged points sticking up into the night and standing out in relief against the skyline, the Rockies reared their peaks. And the spell of the brooding mountains seemed to lie over all the desolate, butte-broken surrounding country—for all...

    (pp. 20-28)

    The Hawk crawled out from under the tarpaulin and dropped to the ground, as the freight, slowing down, began to patter in over the spur switches of the Selkirk yard. He darted, bent low, across several spurs to escape the possibility of observation from the freight’s caboose; then began to make his way toward the roundhouse ahead of him. He would have to pass around behind the roundhouse in order to get up opposite the station and the divisional offices. The Hawk glanced sharply about him as he moved along. He dodged here and there like some queer, irresponsible phantom...

    (pp. 29-55)

    From the roundhouse it was only a few yards to the rear of the long, low-lying freight sheds and, unobserved, the Hawk gained this new shelter. He stole quickly along to the further end of the sheds; and there, crouched down again in the shadows, halted to make a critical survey of his surroundings.

    Just in front of him, divided only by a sort of driveway for the convenience of the teamsters, was the end wall of the station, and, in the end wall—the window of the divisional paymaster’s office. The Hawk glanced to his left. The street upon...

    (pp. 56-74)

    It was twenty-four hours later.

    A half mile away, along a road that showed like a grey thread in the night, twinkled a few lights from the little cluster of houses that made the town of Bald Creek. At the rear of the station itself, in the shadow of the walls, it was inky black.

    There was stillness! Then the chattering of a telegraph instrument—and, coincident with this, low, scarcely audible, a sound like the gnawing of a rat.

    The chattering of the instrument ceased; and, coincident again, the low, gnawing sound ceased—and, crouched against a rear window,...

    (pp. 75-87)

    Twenty minutes later, as No. 17 pulled into Selkirk, the Hawk, his erstwhile drowsiness little in evidence, dropped to the platform while the train was still in motion, and before MacVightie and Lanson in the rear car, it might be fairly assumed, had thought of leaving their seats. The Hawk was interested in MacVightie for the balance of the night only to the extent of keeping out of MacVightie’s sight—his attention was centered now on the office of one Isaac Kirschell, and the possibilities that lay in the said Isaac Kirschell’s cash box.

    He glanced at the illuminated dial...

    (pp. 88-104)

    The Hawk reached the door, as Calhoun stepped into the corridor from the general office and passed by outside, evidently making for the main entrance of the building. He opened the door cautiously the width of a crack—and held it in that position. A man’s voice, low, guarded, from the corridor, but from the opposite direction to that taken by Calhoun, reached him.

    “Here! Calhoun! Here!”

    Calhoun halted. There was silence for an instant, then Calhoun retraced his steps and passed by the door again. There were a few hurried words in a whisper, which the Hawk could not...

    (pp. 105-114)

    Macvightie had become troublesome. For two days MacVightie had very seriously annoyed the Hawk. It was for that reason that the Hawk now crept stealthily up the dark, narrow stairs, and, on the landing, listened in strained attention before the door of his own room.

    Reassured finally, he opened the door inch by inch, noiselessly. The bolt, in grooves that were carefully oiled, made no sound in slipping into place, as the Hawk entered and closed the door behind him. So far, so good! He was quick, alert, but still silent, as, in the darkness, he crossed swiftly to the...

    (pp. 115-128)

    It was not far to the station—down through the lane from the Palace Saloon—and close to the station, he remembered, there was a little short-order house that was generally patronised by the railroad men. Old Mother Barrett’s short-order house, they called it. She was the wife of an engineer who had been killed, he had heard, and she had a boy working somewhere on the railroad. Not that he was interested in these details; in fact, as he walked along, the Hawk was not interested in old Mother Barrett in a personal sense at all—but, as he...

    (pp. 129-142)

    The minutes went by, ten, fifteen, twenty of them—a half hour—and then, from far down the track, hoarse through the night, came the scream of a whistle. From his pocket the Hawk took out his diminutive flashlight, thin as a pencil. It might have been the winking of a firefly, as he played it on the dial of his watch.

    “On the dot!” murmured the Hawk. “Some train—the Fast Mail! I guess, though, she’ll he a little late, at that, to-night—when she pulls into Selkirk!”

    A roar and rumble was in the night again, increasing steadily...

    (pp. 143-154)

    The Hawk felt upward with his hand over the safe. It was faced, he found, toward the rear of the wagon. This necessitated a change in his own position. He listened tensely. They were coming back with the horses now, but they were still quite a little way off. He shifted quickly around until his head and shoulders were in front of the safe.

    “It was the last turn of the combination that I fell down on, though I don’t see how it happened!” muttered the Hawk.

    He felt above his head again, this time rubbing his fingers critically over...

    (pp. 155-171)

    The Hawk yawned. He had been almost forty-eight hours without sleep. He had slept all day after he had regained his room, following the night at “Five-Mile Crossing,” but after that—

    He frowned in a perturbed and puzzled way. Ensconced now in a wicker lounging chair in the observation car of the Coast Limited, he was apparently engrossed in the financial page of his newspaper, and apparently quite oblivious of his fellow travellers, some four or five of whom lounged and smoked in their own respective wicker chairs around him. On a little pad of paper, which he held in...

    (pp. 172-186)

    Five minutes later, standing in another room—his own—the Hawk rapidly changed the light-grey suit he had been wearing for one of a darker material. From the pockets of the discarded suit he transferred to the pockets of the suit he had just put on, amongst other things, his automatic and his bunch of skeleton keys. He opened his trunk, removed the false tray, and smiled with a sort of grim complacency as his glance inventoried its unhallowed contents; and particularly he smiled, as, opening a little box, he allowed a stream of gleaming stones to trickle out into...

    (pp. 187-207)

    The two men left the room. The Hawk did not move. He was fingering in a curiously absent-minded sort of way the edges of the newspaper that still protruded from his pocket. It was very simple, very easy. The window was open, the cupboard was not locked, the room was empty, there were only the Bantam and the Butcher to look out for, and they were in another part of the house; he had only to lift aside the window shade, step in, steal across the room, and steal out again—with a hundred-thousand-dollar prize. It was very inviting. It...

    (pp. 208-219)

    Two days had passed—two days, and a night. The Hawk’s fingers drummed abstractedly without sound on the table top; his eyes, in a curiously introspective stare, were fixed on the closely drawn window shade across the room. From the ill-favoured saloon below his unpretentious lodgings, there came, muffled, a chorus of voices in inebriated and discordant song—an over-early evening celebration, for it was barely seven o’clock.

    The finger tips drummed on. At times, the strong, square chin was doggedly outthrust; at times, a frown gathered in heavy furrows on the Hawk’s forehead. The net at last was beginning...

    (pp. 220-236)

    The Hawk rose, and began to move forward. Conmore was certainly an idealistic spot—from the Wire Devils’ standpoint! He frowned a little. There was no doubt in his mind but that in a general way he had solved the problem, that somewhere in this vicinity the right of way held the wire tappers’ secret; but, as he was well aware, his difficulties were far from at an end, and that particular spot might be anywhere within several miles of Conmore, and it might, with equal reason, be east or west of the station. And then the Hawk shrugged his...

    (pp. 237-261)

    It took the Hawk some twenty-five minutes to reach the spot he had selected as his objective, a spot some fifty yards east of the Conmore siding switch, and here he lay down in the grass under the shelter of the embankment. It was very quiet, very still, very dark; there was nothing in sight save the winking station lights in the distance, and the siding switch light nearer at hand.

    “Twenty-five thousand dollars!” said the Hawk very softly to himself. He rolled the words like some sweet morsel on his tongue. “Twenty-five thousand dollars—in cash!”

    The Hawk spread...

    (pp. 262-283)

    The wound was healed—partially, at least. If the Hawk had unduly shortened his period of convalescence, he was perhaps justified, and not wholly without excuse! He stood now in the black shadows, hugged close to the wall of the roundhouse. And now he moved stealthily forward, until, from a crouched position, he straightened up against the wall at the side of one of the few windows which were lighted. Lanson had strolled aimlessly across the tracks from the station some ten minutes before, and, five minutes later, MacVightie had followed Lanson—to their chosen spot for secret conferences, this...

    (pp. 284-294)

    The Hawk looked at his watch again, removed his feet from the table, knocked the ashes from the bowl of his pipe, stood up, and crossed leisurely to the window. The window gave on the fire escape. He lifted aside the shade, and stood there for a moment staring out into the darkness, then drew the shade very carefully back into place again. From the window he crossed to the door, reassured himself that it was locked, and, as an extra precaution, draped his handkerchief on the door handle, completely screening the keyhole.

    He returned now to the other side...

    (pp. 295-313)

    It took twenty minutes for the run to the Junction. And at the Junction, as far as the Hawk could tell, since, yielding to what had become a sort of habit with him, he descended to the ground on the opposite side from the station, he was the only passenger for that stop. It was dark here; strangely silent, and strangely lonely. Bame’s Junction owed its existence neither to a town site, nor to commercial importance—it existed simply as a junction, and for purely railroad operating purposes only. It was, in fact, the other extreme as compared to Selkirk...

    (pp. 314-320)

    Two days later MacVightie received a letter that had been posted the day before from a city quite a number of miles nearer the East than Selkirk was. In the left-hand, lower corner of the envelope, heavily underscored, was the word: “Confidential.” What MacVightie read, when he opened the letter, was this:

    “Dear Mr. MacVightie :—

    “I feel that you are entitled to an explanation—I will not call it an apology, for I am sure you will recognise with me the unavoidable nature of the circumstances existing at the time—of my somewhat informal leave-taking of you two evenings...

  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 321-324)