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Fulton's Fury

It's All in An Act — Chapter Twenty-One
Written by Frank Charles aka weinerdawgy

The telegraph wires crackled as confirmation for Private Investigator status came for Lucas and Bat. Tom went back to his regular work and let his guests begin to prowl New York on their own. They were anxious to hit the streets and use their alias names and new clothes. Lucas first wanted to return to the Fulton market and have another round of that deep fried fish. They felt more at ease now mingling in the crowd.

Bat sent a telegram to his old friend, Buffalo Bill Cody. He asked him if he could find a time for them to meet. He also sent one to ask John Browning if there was any chance that they could work together with his approval. It occurred to him that the timing could be right and it would make things easier than going it alone close to the time Bill would leave for England. Lucas wanted to see Annie Oakley perform and thought that the show could help him feel a little more at home. He also asked Tom to see if there was a way for him to try his hand at fishing from a boat in the harbor.

Lucas and Bat began their quest to infiltrate the cottonseed oil consortium. They paid visits to many companies, some of which specialized in exporting cotton and oil to Europe. One of the practices was to mix cotton oil with olive oil then sell it as pure olive oil. It was hard to tell the difference. Cotton oil by itself was not that appealing but the more expensive olive oil could mask the color and flavor. Even though the Europeans figured this out and placed high tariffs on it there was still a high demand for olive oil abroad and in the US. Many people were simply not aware. There was a great deal of experimentation going on to find uses for the substance. It could be mixed with pork fat to form compound lard and then there was a butter replacement known as margarine. Soap manufacturers were adding it to their recipes with good results. Almost any product that had a form of fat in the ingredients was giving it a try. They discovered where much of the oil was coming from, Texas. The trains delivered both cotton and oil directly from the south. Some oil came on ships from New Orleans, Houston, and Galveston. As they met with people in the business they posed as buyers or investors and passed the name of Robert J. Graham around in limited fashion along with others they learned of. Many knew of him but there wasn’t a direct connection so far.

On the fourth day of visiting these companies they came across an establishment that both knew of Graham and the consortium. They purchased by products and raw oil at a lower rate shipped by rail then processed it to extract ammonia for sale to the brewing industry. This saved a fortune in the cooling of beer. Winter harvested ice was a very expensive commodity and the modern method of using ammonia to take away heat in absorption coolers was much cheaper. As they showed interest at investing in this business the owner started to open up and tell him about their organization. The American Cottonseed Oil Trust sought to issue certificates to the southern farms and mills in order to have rights to all of the oil produced and in many cases gain ownership of the crushing mills. These certificates gave the struggling mill owners a profitable share of the entire business of the trust, but they had no ownership or influence over the equipment, buildings, or property directly. A familiar scheme! In similar fashion, certificates were issued to the business owners that joined the trust and bought their products. As time passed the trust owned more and more assets from both ends of the industry.

Lucas and Bat found the connection. It was more about property ownership than a particular product. Of course the products made money, but the asset ownership gave the cotton oil trust power. This power gave the trust control over the cotton oil market and allowed them to play the stocks with confidence. They could drive down the price of the oil as it was bought in the south and then sell it higher in the north. This is where the big money was made. So they discovered that the oil was not the only motivation for the crime. Renfro was part of a larger organization that had been playing this same game in every aspect of their business. This included petroleum, linseed oil, cattle, and other agricultural products. They organized the properties into ownership by a trust or fraudulent entity then issued promissory certificates and a partnership in the entire organization. In many cases the legal owners were actually under the table employees of a man like Renfro and acted the part only for legal validity. Many of the organizations had no proper residence in the states they owned assets in. Lucas was amazed at the open way they spoke about the practice of cornering the market to control and profit from the stock. But they were small players in a very large game. They thought that Allen Danforth and Bill Roth were only trying to get in on the deal. Now that they could tie Graham in with the trust they could concentrate on other aspects of the investigation. They went away with an understanding that they would come back to meet with a trust representative.

In the evenings they kept watch on the area near Gerald’s flat. They saw him come and go from the theater as well as visit with friends but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Finally, the time came for Tom to go to the Ashford Theater to see “Coming of Age”. After the play Tom had a chance to chat with Gerald and invited him and his friends to a fancy meal at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. The popular grand dinning room was filled to capacity with dignitaries and celebrities from every corner of town. Gerald and his friends were delighted to have a chance to be seen there. Tom knew this would make a good impression.

“Mr. Garret, this is such an honor, how can we ever thank you for inviting us here. Our humble play is not in the same league as the actors present tonight.” Gerald looked wide eyed as a waiter poured some very expensive wine.

“Think nothing of it my friends. I enjoy this setting often and your play is better than you realize. It will do you good to be seen here.”

“To say the least! Why look over there, Fred Billington from “Ruddigore”! And Elsie Cameron! Wasn’t that a great play?”

“Yes it was. I thought that the story was very clever indeed. I particularly enjoyed the ghosts coming out from the paintings on the castle wall. And the way the audience reacted to the tax return line was my favorite moment. I love Gilbert and Sullivan, they can do no wrong in my opinion.”

“That is so true. I study their methods and attend all of the plays. Broadway is such a fantastic place to be. I don’t care if I make it as long as I’m here to try. I thank my lucky stars that I’ve had a chance to be here at all.” Gerald couldn’t stop looking around to see who he recognized.

“Are you from New York Gerald?”

“Oh no, my family originates from here though. My father is a lawyer in Dallas, Texas. He sent me here to go to school a long time ago. I didn’t do so well and acting became my passion. I work part time as a butler to make ends meet.”

“I admire that, you seem to be very dedicated to your art. I think you act very well and stand a great chance at success. Your voice is solid and you deliver your lines in a most natural manner. I believe if you stay focused and work hard you’ll make it. If there is ever anything I can do for you, just let me know. My recommendations carry some weight in theatrical circles. I have been attending theater for a long time. Some of the owners are my clients in fact.”

“Are you a lawyer Mr. Garret?”

“Yes I am. I have an office in midtown, above Madison Square. I’m involved with business law and keep books for some of my clients. I invest in various stocks and monitor the exchange. It can be quite boring so I enjoy the theater to keep things interesting.”

“You’re very much like my father then, only he deals with cotton farms and cattle ranches, along with various small business concerns in Dallas. He wanted me to become a lawyer as I grew up but I didn’t have the talent or the patience for it. He sent me here to get me out of the way in fact. Little did he know that I was going to love New York!” Gerald laughed and his friends joined in to show agreement.

“Becoming a lawyer can seem a noble thing when young. I found out that the world won’t let you be noble for very long. It does provide me with a good living though. I just have to be careful about the less than noble part if you know what I mean.”

“I know exactly what you mean sir. I won’t say that my father is crooked, but he exists within a den of thieves and tries very hard to keep his nose clean. I got to know most of his clients as I ran errands for him growing up. Some of the things I saw are what kept me from wanting to be a lawyer. I prefer to make people feel good and acting is a great avenue for that.”

“I think that’s very wise of you. You are seeking your dreams and that is rare. Most people seek security and only want to follow. You, my friend, desire to lead. Never look back, keep your ship sailing straight ahead. I predict you will go far.”

“Thank you Mr. Garret. I appreciate the advice.”

“Call me Tom from now on. I get enough of the mister stuff in my work. Now lets decide what’s for dinner, I’m hungry!”

Tom and his friends enjoyed a fine dinner with plenty of conversation. Lucas and Bat took this opportunity to watch outside Gerald’s apartment to see what goes on when he was not there. Most of the time they enjoyed their cheroots and kept quiet sitting on a bench. It took patience to hang around and look inconspicuous. The streets were not crowded at this hour but they managed to keep their wits about them. Lucas passed the time by watching people come and go and wondering what they had on their minds. Jules Verne and a newspaper kept him company as well. He longed to return to his ranch and get back to gazing at the stars from a dimly lit porch. By midnight the clamor of horses quieted and they saw Gerald approach as he sang to himself. He went up the stairs and turned on the lights. They waited a while then saw the lights go off. They were just about to leave for Tom’s place when they were surprised to see Gerald leave. They stayed out of sight and followed as he walked back onto Broadway and several blocks down. He entered another apartment building and Bat elected to go in soon after to see where he was going. Lucas waited across the street. Bat followed the stairs to a third floor and held back to see Gerald take out a key and enter. After a few moments he walked up to the door and listened. He could hear some movement from what seemed to be the kitchen but there were no voices. The noise soon stopped and the dim light from under the door went away. Bat wrote down the number on the door and went back outside to record the address.

“This looks to be another residence. I heard some noise from the kitchen and then the light went out. I wonder why two places?”

“I know one reason that comes to mind, Vernon Carlson. We have to find out who is listed at this address.” Lucas was getting tired of the cold. “Let’s get out of here, we don’t want to be seen.”

“Right you are Lucas. I think Carlson is the number one suspect, but Gerald may also be involved with a woman or some such thing. We’ll have to get someone to knock on that door real soon. Just a few minutes to make sure he doesn’t leave again. I don’t think he will though. No lights in any of the windows so far. I bet he went to bed.”

“I don’t care if he did or not. It’s late, let’s get back to home base, we know enough for now.”

“I suppose you’re right, but it was just like this a few minutes ago and look at what we have found. I know this is a pain, but we have to find out as much as we can. Let’s walk up the street and return before catching a ride back to Tom’s.

In the morning they compared notes with Tom and learned that Gerald was working as a part time butler. This could easily be a lead to Carlson. Along with the connection with Graham and the American Cottonseed Oil Trust the puzzle was starting to come together. It seemed too easy at this point, but nobody expected this investigation so far. Tom warned them that there could be ties with organized crime and they might not care if somebody was looking for them. They specialized in dealing with such nuisances in a less than subtle way.

Tom had Joe look up the addresses and found that the first flat was in Gerald’s name. The second place was not so clear. A lady named Madelon Briggs was listed there but Joe also found that she had passed away over 7 years ago. Since then there had been no new tenant reported. This encouraged Lucas and Bat as they already thought Carlson could be the force behind this residence. Joe offered to have one of his men investigate. Bat suggested that it was still a little early to spook them at this point.

“I know that you guys have a time issue, but I think it best if I get to know Gerald just a little better. He seems so well mannered and dedicated to his dream. I would hate to ruin that for him by being too hasty.”

“I understand Tom. It’s not our wish to hurt Gerald in any way. We must discover if he is involved with Carlson. Maybe you can think of a way to meet with him at this flat during the day when he’s at his butler job. See if you can give him a recommendation to a better play perhaps, something that must happen fast. Do you know of such a thing?” Bat was hopeful that Tom’s willingness to help would not become a burden.

“I can ask around, why don’t we go out to another theater tonight? A friend might know where we can find such a resource. There are many productions underway and they are always looking for actors. Gerald is very talented. Maybe we can even do him a favor at the same time we discover who his boss is.”

“I think that’s a good angle. If we were to disrupt his day job, he can always move on to pursue his dream full time. But we must also be prepared for the fact that he is complicit with Carlson in the fraud. He may have to come to justice as well.”

“I won’t let my love for the theater cloud what we are up to Bat. And I have to be careful if I recommend Gerald to a friend. But I do know some in the business that would be willing to help. After all it may only be an audition we ask of them.”

“That’s great, I don’t want you going too far with this Tom, we can always think of another way. What about a long lost relative come to look up Madelon Briggs? Just knock on the door and see who’s there.”

“Maybe Greg can do something like that, we’ll see what we can come up with if I get Gerald away for the audition. What I want to do now is see if we can connect Graham to Carlson. The money has to be going someplace. If Graham doesn’t really exist, then we should be able to force their hand somehow. It would be nice if a Board of Director’s meeting was scheduled soon, but I don’t see any mention of that so far. Gerald has already told me that his father is a Dallas lawyer and involved in the cotton business. He must know something. We don’t need to force Graham to appear, but maybe we can find a reason to need his signature.”

“I’ll keep Templeton aware, we have Renfro and Gusset under watch right now. If they make a move towards New York, we’ll know about it. They must have somebody here to sign for him, I’m going to return to the man who informed us about the American Cottonseed Oil Trust. There has to be a way to find out if there is a meeting. You are a stock holder in one of his companies Tom, it’s time to ask some questions.”

“I agree. I can simply go there and ask how to meet R. J. as I have some very important matters to discuss. I think I might have a big money client who wants to make a larger investment and my opening purchase, with your money of course, is merely a testing of the waters before a big move can be negotiated.”

“Templeton did mention that he thought we could do something like this in our real names. Why don’t we get the ball rolling for Lucas McCain and Bat Masterson? We don’t have to appear right away. Just tell them that you represent us and that we want to invest some big money and have an interest in the oil. When they hear our names, all hell will break lose. Renfro will find out and maybe he’ll show us his hand. We know these guys are guilty and we don’t have time to fool around.” Bat was eager to make this move.

“We’ll check on the investment angle soon, I think it is still too early to go all in. Let’s see what we can find out from Gerald in the short term.”

“I guess you’re right Tom. We must be patient and we don’t know when or if we will hear from that refrigeration outfit. We can always approach the Graham people up front when we’re ready. It’s time for a short rest and then on to the theater.

“Alright Bat, sounds good to me. We’ll see who is looking for talent this evening and I’ll stop by the Ashford, say tomorrow night, to let Gerald know I might have a lead. I’ll ask him if I can let him know early the next day.”

That night at the theater Tom did find a need for the services of Gerald Beckwith. A mid level part in a new play was still open. Tom told Gerald that he might know of this but he was waiting for a final word and would have to contact him sometime early tomorrow. Gerald gave him the address to the Briggs’ flat and said he would make arrangements to get time off. The next day Tom met with Gerald as planned. He was dressed in a suit ready for the audition. Tom looked around inside and saw nothing of interest. It seemed as if a curmudgeon might be living there, not a family sort of abode. He detected a slight hint of cigar smell and the leather chairs and thick rugs could not have been to a woman’s liking. They went together for the audition, Tom made sure ahead of time that Gerald was not the first to go. Meanwhile, Greg went to the apartment and knocked on the door. He posed as a church solicitor. An elderly man answered.

“Sir, forgive me for intruding. My name is Robert Crowley and I represent the Lower Manhattan Independent Church Association. We are stopping by in this area today to ask for donations and pay a visit to those in our community.”

“I’m not interested in any visit, thank you for your offer, goodbye.” Vernon started to close the door.

“Oh but sir, wouldn’t you be willing to help us, just a little?”

“I don’t have any money right now, I’d like to know where you guys get your nerve to come around here.”

“To tell you the truth, we have records going back many years. We used to call on a Madelon Briggs at this address.”

“Well she no longer lives here, please take this address off of your list then, I’m an old man and I don’t have time to deal with these things. Be gone with you now!”

“I will make note of that sir. I am new to this particular area and this is the first time we have gone door to door this year. Would you mind if I add your name to our records?”

“Yes I would, my name is my business, you can leave the name of Briggs on it as far as I’m concerned, she was my sister.” Vernon lied in the hopes that this is all that would come of the question.

“Very well my friend, I will leave the record alone and see that nobody bothers you again. Thank you for your time sir.” Greg turned and proceeded to the next door as Vernon Carlson shut his in disgust. He hated it when Gerald was not there to answer the door during the day. He thought little of the matter and went back to his desk. The new stock performance report was in and he wanted to review his income. He noticed a one thousand dollar purchase by a Thomas Garret among the new investors. This was a large sum for an unknown first time customer.

A few hours later, Gerald came back with a very big smile on his face. “I think I killed them Vernon! I might have this part, a big part. That is, in comparison to what I’m doing right now.”

“Why that’s marvelous my boy! I’m glad that you’re making such good progress. How has this come about?”

“I accidently bumped into a man at the Fifth Avenue Theater a while back. It turns out that he knows people in the business. He showed up to see “Coming of Age” and he thought I had potential. So he told me about an opening in a new play and the auditions were today. I’m sorry I had to take time off this afternoon.”

“That’s OK, I’m glad for you. By the way, not long after you left I had a knock on the door. Some man was soliciting for an independent church organization. Have we ever had them come around before?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard of such a thing. We’ve had a few salesmen over the years and the Catholic church does pay a visit several times a year, but that’s all I can remember.”

“He said they had records of Madelon Briggs having donated in the past. I suppose that’s not too suspicious by itself, but he asked for my name and kept after me once I said no. Just thought it was unusual so soon after you left. Probably nothing.”

“I hope so, but it has been a long time since anyone has come around, it is usually quiet around here. I wonder what the neighbors know about this?” Gerald turned to go next door.

“Don’t bother asking next door, I saw him knock there. Mrs. Klein would have donated for sure. Try a few doors down and some on the second floor.”

Gerald checked at some of the neighbors and found out that only a few on the same floor had been asked to donate. He went back to inform Vernon.

“Gerald, forgive me for asking this, but can you tell me about the man that is trying to help you all of a sudden?”

“Yes sir, his name is Tom Garret. He’s a lawyer from midtown.”

“Tom Garret! I just saw that same name on the new stock report! I wonder if it’s the same man? Oh my, this could be trouble!”

“He told me that he played the stock market and I even discussed my father and his wanting me to be a lawyer. What was I doing?”

“It’s alright Gerald. I have been expecting trouble ever since I heard about William Fulton returning to Dallas with Bat Masterson. Sarah Cockrell went and tried to give him his farm land back. Now it looks like Masterson might have his suspicions about our entire operation. We must be very careful.”

“Do you want me to pass up this opportunity with Garret?”

“Not for the time being. It could be genuine for one thing and if he is probing into our affairs it might be better if we have an eye on him. This smells like more than a coincidence to me though. What would lead him to invest in our business?”

“Talk of the oil trust has been going around. There are many articles and companies involved now. It could be as simple as reading about it in the Times.” Gerald paced back and forth starting to realize just how careless he had been with Tom.

“You had no way of knowing son, just relax. It’s something that was bound to happen.

If things get worse, I can take a trip. I’ve been getting restless of late. Quentin and I have been working on an escape route for some time now. We have plenty of money and retirement is starting to look pretty good. I’m more concerned that you should be able to get out of this on your own and become the actor you aspire to be. I’m old and getting tired of my game. You’ll have enough money and can always ask for more. The other men who run the trust can do well without me telling them what to do. Quentin has even heard rumblings back home about resistance to the trust, especially in Louisiana. We may have passed our prime and should cut and run. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. We haven’t learned enough and we may be able to scare them off. Let’s get dinner ready so you can be off to the theater.

Gerald was shocked that his seeming good fortune had all of a sudden fallen into suspicion. Vernon was a veteran of paranoia and always thought in the realm of the worst case. They talked more over dinner and Gerald actually felt better now that he knew the score. It was time for him to play the role of a lifetime on more than one stage!

Greg recognized Vernon Carlson. The man at the door looked very much like the photos Lucas and Bat brought with them. He reported this in the afternoon upon his return. It was up to Bat to decide what comes next.

As fortune would have it, Gerald was informed several days later that he got the part. It was not a leading role but he had two songs and his character was involved through the entire play. “Adele’s Romance” was going to open at the Liberty Theater in four weeks. Rehearsals were already happening in the mid afternoon and some evenings. Gerald had two weeks in which he could continue with his current play as he wanted to give his understudy more time to work into the role. “Coming of Age” had several months left to run and Gerald did not want to seem ungrateful for his opportunity by leaving so soon.

Tom was elated at the news and took Gerald out for another dinner at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. This time they were alone and Gerald wanted to find out just what was going on. He didn’t want to bring up the stock purchase but he tried to think of a way to get Tom to talk about his work.

“Tom, you have done so much and it has occurred to me that we hardly know each other. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions? I would feel better about my good fortune if I understood some things.”

“Anything you like Gerald. I realize that this is a big break for you and if not for the silly mistake of bumping into each other this would never have happened.”

“That is just it. Was that really a mistake? Was it really a random meeting?”

“Yes it was. I was attending “Ruddigore” entirely of my own decision and my clients were in different seats. It all happened quite naturally I assure you.”

“Then what is your interest in me? I’m just an early career actor in my first role of any meaning. My talents are not that outstanding are they?”

“Gerald, you struck me as a very fine young man. I took it upon myself to see your play and I thought you were of good talent. I just happen to know about this play and the theater owner is my client. I enjoy doing a favor if one comes my way, nothing more.”

“Well I hope so. It’s just that my father sometimes tries to check on me or maybe do something like this to push me into a higher level than what I’m ready for. Promise me that you’re not doing this for my father.”

“That, I can tell you right now, would never happen. I only know what you have told me about your father. I have no connection with him whatsoever. Are you alright Gerald? I hope you’re not upset over any of this. I’m excited for you. I’ve never seen anything like this happen. This play can be a major break. It’s a musical and you have a chance to let your light shine. Let me put it another way. I don’t have children to think of. My seeing you benefit from this gives me the great pleasure of witnessing a young man grow. I want nothing in return, just go out there and make it big, become one of these stars if that is what you desire. For whatever it’s worth, I’m only showing you a path. You went to the audition and earned the part. It’s your talent that made this become reality not anything I said.”

“Thank you Tom. I don’t want you to think I’m not grateful. You must understand that I’ve been under my father’s thumb for most of my life, but he can’t control me here. Maybe I’m paranoid because this is unusual and your being a lawyer scares me.”

“I never thought about it. I suppose you have a right to feel that way. Well, it’s all water under the bridge now. You go with this opportunity and I hope you do well. I just want to be a friend. Tom sensed that Gerald might be apprehensive about something else and that maybe Greg had spooked Carlson. “Let me ask you something now. I have been involved in commodity trading for a very long time. Didn’t you say that your father was involved in the cotton market?”

“Yes sir. John Beckwith is his name. What can I do for you?”

“I was advised to invest in an outfit known as R. J. Graham Textiles. I hadn’t ventured into cotton before this. I put down a thousand dollars to get started. I don’t know much about it and perhaps your father can tell me if this is a good way to get in the market.” Tom felt it was better if he seemed comfortable talking about this subject.

“I don’t have to talk to my father about that one. He’s been familiar with them for a long time. They own a farm right outside Dallas. It’s quite a big operation and does very well. I spent a great deal of my childhood in that very place. I’m not sure how RJ’s

stock is doing these days, but he is all over the industry and very well known. I’d say you made the right choice.

“That’s very interesting. Now who would have thought that I would bump into somebody such as you that is closely tied to something I just invested in? It is kind of strange how we met. It’s a small world Gerald, perhaps fate has a reason for us to meet.”

“That could be, if you have any more questions we can always send my father a telegram. I’m sure he would be happy to give you some advice. Isn’t that what the stock market is about? Gambling on what you can find out about an investment? A thousand dollars is a serious amount of money. But I think you’re safe with that.”

“I can afford a loss if it goes bad, but as you say, they have been around for a long time and that’s a sign of success.”

“What else do you invest in? Commodities must take a lot of effort to stay informed.”

“I’m not a major player, but I try to improve my fortune so I can retire at an early age. Sugar and petroleum are two of my larger investments. Cattle, pork, corn, wheat, and rice are also in my portfolio. We all have to eat so they say. It was a client I know in the petroleum industry that told me about how cotton was on the rise and that R. J. Graham was a good place to start. I had no idea myself.”

“All I can tell you is that where I come from cotton is king. Fort Worth is a cattle town but Dallas makes its fortune with cotton. I was glad to get out of there though, a boring place if you ask me. Once I was through with grade school, I knew it was time to leave. Dad figured I wasn’t going to become a lawyer in Dallas. He hoped that I would get interested in law once I came here. When I started at college I became interested in literature and art. That led me into acting. It has taken a long time to break into Broadway, but here I am!”

“You certainly are. Congratulations Gerald!” Tom raised his glass of wine and they had a toast. “Here’s to success for the both of us. Our time to shine has come!”

Fulton’s Foray — Western Influence

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

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