TO A HOST OF GOOD FELLOWS THE ZONE POLICE
Quito, December 31, 1912
Strip by strip there opened out before me, as I climbed the "Thousand Stairs" to the red-roofed Administration Building, the broad panorama of Panama and her bay; below, the city of closely packed roofs and three-topped plazas compressed in a scallop of the sun-gleaming Pacific, with its peaked and wooded islands to far Taboga tilting motionless away to the curve of the earth; behind, the low, irregular jungled hills stretching hazily off into South America. On the third-story landing I paused to wipe the light sweat from forehead and hatband, then pushed open the screen door of the passageway that leads to police headquarters.
"Emm--What military service have you had?" asked "the Captain," looking up from the letter I had presented and swinging half round in his swivel-chair to fix his clear eyes upon me. "None."
"No?" he said slowly, in a wondering voice; and so long grew the silence, and so plainly did there spread across "the Captain's" face the unspoken question, "Well, then what the devil are you applying here for?" that I felt all at once the stern necessity of putting in a word for myself or lose the day entirely.
"But I speak Spanish and--"
"Ah!" cried "the Captain," with the rising inflection of awakened interest, "That puts another face on the matter."
Slowly his eyes wandered, with the far-away look of inner reflection, to the vacant chair of "the Chief" on the opposite side of the broad flat desk, then out the wide-open window and across the shimmering roofs of Ancon to the far green ridges of the youthful Republic, ablaze with the unbroken tropical sunshine. The whirr of a telephone bell broke in upon his meditation. In sharp, clear-cut phrases he answered the questions that came to him over the wire, hung up the receiver, and pushed the apparatus away from him with a forceful gesture.
"Inspector:" he called suddenly; but a moment having passed without response, he went on in his sharp-cut tones, "How do you think you would like police work?"
"I believe I should."
"The Captain" shuffled for a moment one of several stacks of unfolded letters on his desk.
"Well, it's the most thankless damned job in Creation," he went on, almost dreamily, "but it certainly gives a man much touch with human nature from all angles, and--well, I suppose we do some good. Somebody's got to do it, anyway."
"Of course I suppose it would depend on what class of police work I got," I put in, recalling the warning of the writer of my letter of introduction that, "You may get assigned to some dinky little station and never see anything of the Zone,"--"I'm better at moving around than sitting still. I notice you have policemen on your trains, or perhaps in special duty languages would be--"
"Yes, I was thinking along that line, too," said "the Captain."
He rose suddenly from his chair and led the way into an adjoining room, busy with several young Americans over desks and typewriters.
"Inspector," he said, as a tall and slender yet muscular man of Indian erectness and noticeably careful grooming rose to his feet, "Here's one of those rare people, an American who speaks some foreign languages. Have a talk with him. Perhaps we can arrange to fix him up both for his good and our own."
"Ever done police duty?" began the Inspector, when "the Captain" had returned to the corner office.
"Nor that either."
"Well, we usually require it," mused the Inspector slowly, flashing his diamond ring, "but with your special qualifications perhaps--
"You'd probably be of most use to us in plain clothes," he continued, after a dozen questions as to my former activities; "We could put you in uniform for the first month or six weeks until you know the Isthmus, and then--
"Our greatest trouble is burglary," he broke off abruptly, rising to reach a copy of the Canal Zone Laws; "If you have nothing else on hand you might run these over; and the Police Rules and Regulations," he added, handing me a small, flat volume bound in light brown imitation leather.
I sat down in an arm-chair against the wall and fell to reading, amid the clickity-click of typewriters, telephone calls even from far-off Colon on the Atlantic, and the constant going and coming of a negro orderly in shiningly ironed khaki uniform. By and by the Inspector drifted into the main office, where his voice blended for some time with that of "the Captain," At length he came back bearing a copy of the day's Star and Herald, turned back to the Estrella de Panama pages so rarely opened in the Zone.
"Just run us off a translation of that, if you don't mind," he said, pointing to a short paragraph in Spanish.
Some two minutes later I handed him the English version of the account of a near-duel between two Panamanians, and took once more to reading. It was more than an hour later that I was again interrupted.
"You'll want to catch the 5:25 back to Corozal?" inquired the Inspector;" Mr.---, give him transportation to Culebra and back, and an order for physical examination.
"You might fill out this application blank," he added, handing me a long legal sheet, "then in case you are appointed that much will be done."
The document began with the usual, "Name----, Birthplace----, and so on." There followed the information that the appointee "must be at least five feet eight; weigh one hundred and forty, chest at least thirty-four inches--" Then suddenly near the bottom of the back of the sheet my eyes caught the startling words;--"Unless you are sure you are a man of physical appearance far above the average do not fill out this application."
I was suddenly aware of a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach; the blank all but slipped from my nerveless fingers. Then all at once there came back to me the words of some chance acquaintance of some far-off time and place, words which were the only memory that remained to me of the speaker, except that he had lived long and gathered much experience, "Bluff, my boy, is what carries a man through the world. Act as if you're sure you are and can and you'll generally make the other fellow think so." I sat down at a desk and filled out the application in my most self- confident flourish.
"Go to Culebra to-morrow," said the Inspector, as I bade the room good-day and stepped forth with my most military stride and bearing, "and report back here Friday morning."
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