short storyBy Margie Harris, Racketeer Stories, February 1931
(Courtesy of John Locke. His collection of her stories is available from Amazon)
It’s a hell of a thing to be waiting for the rubber hose in your B.V.D.’s and suddenly see yourself looking into your cell at you, with blood all over your face!
horty Breen, get-away driver for the Bull Coleman gang, was keenly alive to the trouble hunch which had been riding him all afternoon. So it needed but the touch of heavy fingers on his shoulder to send him jerking, leaping, twisting through the crowd on Fourteenth Street.
His first spring carried him through a group of chattering women. In a few seconds more he was clattering down the steps of the subway. Behind him was the usual chorus of “Stop, thief!” but over all resounded the bull-like roar of Police Captain McGrehan.
An express train was standing in the station. Shorty dropped a nickel in the turnstile, dashed aboard as the doors closed. Damn McGrehan anyway. Two nights before he’d caught Shorty in a dark corner and given him purple hell for playing with Bull’s gang.
“Damn ol’ goat,” Shorty growled. “Where’s he get ‘at stuff? You’d think he was me ol’ man, instead of him being just a guy ‘at wanted to marry Mom w’en she was a goil!”
At Thirty-fourth Street he slipped from the train and cast a furtive eye over the crowd. Hell’s fire! There he was, getting out of the last car! There was no mistaking the blue uniform with its captain’s bars and stripes in gold, nor the heavy, squared jaw above it. Shorty dashed up the stairs two at a time, made the first half block at a rapid walk. Then he slowed, but no police uniform showed behind him.
At Eighth Avenue he turned south, stopping for a final survey of his back trail. He was safe. McGrehan had lost him. Heaving a sigh of relief, Shorty started to stroll along toward Finnegan’s café and Bull’s headquarters above it.
For the moment his underworld guardian angel was not on the job. He stopped at the curb to light a cigarette in the lee of a parked Checker cab. He gave the cab and driver no attention until he sensed a flurry of movement. He started to turn but it was too late.
A blue clad arm shot forth, clamped iron fingers on his shoulder, dragged him, struggling, into the cab. A split second later he heard the order.
“Down to Center Street, lad; drive right intuh the garage.”
Shorty didn’t need to see his captor’s—McGrehan’s—face. He couldn’t, had he wanted to. His face was jammed into a corner of the seat, his knees were on the floor. The pressure relaxed; Shorty heaved himself erect, only to suffer the shame of being shoved back, slowly, relentlessly into his former position.
“You’re a tough guy, Clyde!”—Jeez! how he hated that pansy name Mom had given him—“But I’m tougher than all of you gaycats. Now sit you down and listen to me.”
The big hands heaved again, slammed him back onto the seat.
Captain McGrehan’s eyes were blazing; steely fingers were digging into Shorty’s shoulder muscles. Shorty tried to out stare the cop; his eyes fell first.
“What th’ hell?” he growled. “This a pinch?”
“What does it feel like—a swimmin’ lesson?”
“Aw, what have I done? You got nothin’ on me.” The old formula between cop and crook the world over.
“I have me hand on you, which’ll do for the present,” McGrehan responded with heavy wit. “It looks like a tough night for you, Clydie.”
Shorty winced again at the hated name. “Clyde!” for the speedball who drove the chopper car last week when Bull Coleman’s rodmen shot it out with The Yid’s organ grinders, hijacked two trucks of alky. Uh-huh. Two cops had been killed, but that was their hard luck.
“You don’t take kindly to th’ name a good mother gave you, Clyde.” There was contempt in the Captain’s sarcastic drawl. “Well, it’s a hell of a name for a gangster—and it’s a hell of a gangster you’ll be after this night.”
Shorty stirred uneasily. Jeez! Suppose some of Bully’s scouts saw him riding with McGrehan. They’d be calling him “Canary” and tomorrow taking him for a ride. Yet he hated a “chirper” worse than anyone, almost.
“Lissen, Cap,” he pleaded. “Lemme go. Jess because you’n Mom went to school together’s no reason fer youse to get me put on the spot.”
“The spot, is it now?” The reply was a bellow of derision. “You’ll be wishin’ for the spot before tonight’s over. It’s the Third we’re fixin’ up for you.”
Shorty’s blood turned cold within him. The dreaded “third.” And at the hands of this ramping, raging old Mick on whom he’d always looked, though from a distance, as a family friend!
“Yuh can’t give me no hosin’,” he said. “Whaddyuh think you got on me?”
McGrehan’s lips didn’t move; his hand did. It slid down to a point on Shorty’s arm between elbow and shoulder. The fingers tightened, dug into the nerve center under the biceps. Shorty tried to jerk loose. The movement brought a howl of pain from his lips. McGrehan was pitiless. Slowly the grasp tightened. Horrible searing pains flashed down the arm to the finger tips, up over the shoulder.
“Enough?” The Captain growled the word. Shorty nodded in mute agony.
“Listen to me, then. Don’t you start tellin’ me what I can or cannot do this night. In five days more I retire on pension. Nobody can change that. Them five days is to be given to runnin’ down some rats that killed two brave men recent—and to makin’ a man out of Mary Ann Breen’s lousy brat—or killin’ him.”
Shorty sunk down in his corner. Suddenly he felt terribly alone. McGrehan he knew was tough, iron hard. It was said he preferred a billy to a rubber hose—and followed his liking.
“Yes, Clyde,” the Captain’s tones were silky now. “It’ll be a tough night, and here we are ready for it to start.”
The cab swung across the curb, into a big room filled with riot cars, prowl cars, the fast buses of the strong arm squad; the big racers in which the Commissioners and Brass Collars buzzed to danger points. McGrehan handed the driver a bill, pointed over his shoulder with a big thumb.
“Out,” he growled.
As the automatic doors closed, he spun Shorty about, crossed his pile-driver right to the button with a snap.
Shorty went limp. McGrehan caught him, did not let him fall.
“Poor, dumb lad,” he half whispered. “Spoiled as he is, I wish he was mine.”
Two plainclothes men came from the shadows, took the drooping form, carried it to the silent cells where there is only silence.
While Shorty still was unconscious, the detectives stripped him of coat, hat, shoes, collar, trousers, hat and tie.
“Cap said to leave him his cigarettes and matches,” one of the searchers said.
“Yeh?” his mate replied. “The ol’ boy’s gettin’ soft. Wouldn’t be surprised to come down here in a day or two an’ find he’s been getting drinkin’ water.”
Doubling for Shorty
“McGrehan speaking, sir. I have the lad. May I come up?”
“In five minutes, Captain. I’ll ring.” The Commissioner’s voice was curt but friendly. “Any trouble?”
“For him, not for me, sir.”
McGrehan sensed the beginning of a chuckle as his superior hung up the receiver.
Commissioner Van Voort turned back to the stockily built, severe faced man opposite him, Captain Michaelson, Chief of New York’s Secret Police.
“That was McGrehan,” Van Voort said. “Reporting he’s turned in the Breen boy. Dammit, Michaelson, I don’t like the thought of Springer and Haddon taking such chances.”
“Nor do I.” Michaelson’s face was granite hard. “McGrehan’s plan to save this little Breen rat is apt to spoil it all. But we’re ready—checked and rechecked on the plan.”
“Yes, we’re too deep in now to change,” Van Voort replied. He drew a map toward him. “We’ll go over it once again; then you can get your crew together. Here’s the district, with the route marked in red arrows.
“The point marked ‘J’ is where the truck will be, with tools, tear bombs, extra ammunition; whatever’s required. When Bull’s third car passes, the boy who’s been trying to start the engine will slip around the corner and signal Lieutenant Henry. The signal to close in will be a burst of blank cartridge machine gun fire. Right? All clear?”
“Perfectly, Mr. Commissioner. And in the meantime the other group will surround Bull’s headquarters over Finnegan’s. When the word is passed that the warehouse raiders have been mopped up, we’ll hit Bull from all sides and the roof.”
“Good, Captain. Goodnight and good luck.”
A touch on the button brought McGrehan from downstairs.
“Good work,” the Commissioner said. “Anyone see you get him?”
“Not a chance, sir. I snatched him offen the sidewalk before he could squawk. He was goin’ to Bull’s; thought he’d ditched me in Thirty-fourth Street. I hopped a cab, beat it the other way and copped him on Eighth Avenue.”
The Commissioner stared for a moment at the stubborn old face before him.
“See here,” he said. “It’s a devil of a thing you’ve made me ask of Springer—to gamble his life for a crook like that.”
“Wait ‘til you’ve seen Springer in his clothes. They’re enough alike to be twins, except their eyes is different. Springer has painted a couple of fine blue bruises on his lamps to take care of that. You’d swear he’d been in a pip of a fight.”
“It’s a terrible chance—” The Commissioner paused.
“No worser’n any other man of the Secret Squad’s takin’ every day, sir. No more than the other boy we shoved in on Bull’s gang. It’s all risky; that’s how we’re cleanin’ up on the tips they get.”
“I hope you’re right, McGrehan. Anyway, after tonight there’ll be no more cop killings by the Coleman gang.”
“Which’ll be a blessin’ in a wicked world, Mr. Commissioner.”
McGrehan saluted, about faced and departed.
Thirty minutes later the lookout at Bull Coleman’s headquarters opened the peep panel, recognized Shorty Breen and admitted him.
“Where th’ hell youse been, punk?” the lookout demanded. “Bull’s been askin’ for youse.”
“Aw hell! I had a fight wit’ a guy over a pool game,” Shorty replied out of the corner of his mouth. “I got a pair uh shiners.”
“Damn if you ain’t—an’ maybe Bull won’t slap youse down fer that.”
Shorty did not reply. Instead he shambled across the room and, dropping into a chair commanding a view of both the office and entrance doors, he seemed to doze.
The Stage Is Set
Sharp at 10 o’clock Bull Coleman opened the door of his private office to crook his fingers at four of the loungers. Shorty followed Ginger Olsen, Chopper Allen and Sid Haddon into the room.
“Shut the door, kid,” Bull growled. “All of youse set down and hang out an ear. Everything’s set. Sid’ll drive the lead car wit’ two roddies an’ Chopper wit’ his grinder. Shorty’s to drive the guard car. He’ll take two more rods, an’ Ginger wit’ his Tommy.
“On th’ way youse’ll pick up the third car, which’ll run between lead an’ guard. That one’ll back into th’ shippin’ alley beside the warehouse. Shorty pulls down th’ street half way of th’ block, headin’ east. Sid heads back west and pulls near to the corner. That way, if they’s a ruckus, they won’t burn each other down.
“Now lissen. That gives a guard car headed whichever the dope buggy heads when it comes outta the alley. The other one’ll swing an’ follow. Get me?”
All nodded, but Bull, himself a strategist, duplicated the scene of a few moments before in the Commissioner’s office, when he produced a rough map of the route to show the course to be taken.
To one man in the room the scene had its element of humor. It was his second view of the maps—one down in Center Street, the other in Bull’s office. For Sid Haddon was the “other fellow” mentioned by McGrehan—a member of the Secret Police, planted on Bull’s gang through clever plotting.
Something warned Haddon. He looked up, caught the burning eyes of Chopper Allen studying him intently. Instantly he let his face go blank, gazing back almost stupidly at the other. This simply wouldn’t do. Allen never had been friendly. Just now it is possible the man had caught the half grin on his face.
Bull’s bellowing voice brought the duel of glances to an end.
“Everybody out now,” he said. “But stick around. Youse know th’ rules. I’ll tell youse when it’s time.”
That was Bull’s method. At the last moment he outlined his plans in detail. After that no one was allowed to leave the hangout or to telephone. Even then the exact hour was kept secret until the moment of departure.
At the door, Chopper turned back.
“See you a moment, Bull?”
“Yeh. What youse got on your chest?”
Chopper saw to it that the door was closed. He returned to the desk and leaned forward.
“It’s that guy, Haddon,” he half whispered. “Lemme knock him off, chief; he’s poison. Don’t ask me how I know. I just feel it. I’ve seen him in my dreams putting the cuffs on me. Every time he comes near me I smell the cops.”
“Aw cripes, Chopper, you’re nuts,” Bull answered. “He was sent to me by Mickey the Harp from Chicago after he got into a jam there. I had him watched plenty, and I know he’s all right. Just because you’re a damned old woman’s no reason for me to lose a guy with th’ kinda guts he’s got. He’ll go down intuh hell if I send him—’n come back wit’ a bottle of pre-war in each hand.”
Chopper shrugged, started for the door; turned back.
“Lissen, chief—” He was bitterly, insanely angry now. “When this guy sends you to the Big Squirm up in Sing Sing just remember that I told you to get rid of him.”
Bull’s heavy face crimsoned, turned purple.
“Get th’ hell outta here, you damned croaking louse,” he shouted. “When anybody sends me to the Hot Seat it’ll be some rat like youse, afraid of his own shadow. Mebbe you’re th’ one ‘at needs his horns knocked off—”
Chopper shivered involuntarily.
“Forget it, chief,” he said placatingly. “It’s you I’m worryin’ about; not me. When do we start?”
“When I send you, rat,” Bull snarled. “That good enough for youse?”
Chopper slouched to the door, white-faced, humiliated.
The stage was set for the third act of the drama of Secret Police versus the Coleman dusters.
Zero hour was 1:30.
Bull strode into the main room, followed by Ginger and Chopper, each carrying his favorite sub-machine gun.
“Smitty and Shuffle!” he barked. “Get your rods and go wit’ Ginger. Dutch and Ike, you go wit’ Chopper. He’ll tell youse what to do.”
“Come on, punk; get your driving eye alive,” he snapped, halting before Shorty’s slouched form. He stopped and peered under the boy’s hat brim.
“Jeez, you would pick a night like this to get slapped up,” he snarled. “One slip-up from you, gaycat, and I’ll knock youse off myself. Kin you see well enough to drive?”
Shorty spat nonchalantly. “Sure!” he responded. “What’s a shiner got to do wit’ steppin’ on th’ gas?”
“Hell! Get goin’,” Bull demanded. “Ginger’s grinder in your car. If he tells you to drive offen a dock—do it.”
Quietly the four slipped through the outer room, down the rear stairs to the alley garage where waited a stolen Packard touring car. Shorty wriggled under the wheel, touched the starter, listened for a moment to the motor’s purr. He cut the switch, looked about him tranquilly.
The outer door opened. Sid Haddon entered, followed by Chopper and the two rodmen. Beside the opposite wall stood a Buick. Half way there, Haddon whirled and said to Shorty:
“Slip us a pill, kid, I’m all out.”
Shorty obligingly extended a package of cigarettes to Haddon.
Before returning it, the other snapped his pocket lighter and set the fag going. Stepping close to the side of the Packard he handed the package back to Shorty with his right hand. At the same time, with a deft twist of his left, he tucked a squat automatic between the padding of the front seat and Shorty’s leg.
“Thanks, kid—see you in church,” he said nonchalantly, turning back to the other car.
Shorty’s eyes flashed to the rear vision mirror. Had Ginger or the other two seen Haddon slip him the rod? It was Coleman’s rule that drivers of get-away cars must not be armed. Thus, if they started any treachery, they’d be at the mercy of the other gunmen.
Seemingly Haddon’s sleight-of-hand had gone unnoticed. Dutch Schmaltz, who had been standing at the right of the car, slipped in beside Shorty. He inspected his automatic, lighted a cigarette and wriggled to a comfortable position.
“All right—let’s go,” Ginger said in a moment. “Follow Chopper half a block behind, When we pick up the other car on Eleventh Avenue slide back a little further; don’t want it to look like a parade.”
The garage doors swung open on oiled hinges. In another moment they closed behind the two dark cars. The side curtains were up on both, but a touch on the bottom buttons would open them for the death-spewing choppers. Otherwise there was nothing to distinguish them from the other motor-cars of the night.
Shorty kept a watchful eye on the red tail light of the Buick. He speeded up when the other driver found a hole in traffic; slowed when the lights caused a temporary jam.
On Eleventh Avenue, where traffic was light in the early morning hours, a dark shape curved out of an intersecting street, buzzed up alongside the Buick, then dropped into line. It was the raiders’ car. Shorty slowed down to give it room behind the lead car.
“All set now,” Ginger barked. “Remember, when we get to the warehouse, you pull east and stop about fifty feet past where Sid turns and heads west. Let the engine run and be ready for a quick lam.”
“Gotcha!” Shorty grunted. “Second corner, ain’t it?”
“Yeh. What th’ hell’s that ahead of us?”
At the curb ahead the lights had picked up an unlighted black shape. As Ginger spoke he saw the twinkle of a flashlight and lifted the grinder from the floor. Shorty gave the engine more gas, swung so that his lights also lit up the scene.
By the curb stood an ancient Model T Ford, seemingly broken down. The hood was up and an elderly man, overall clad, was looking on as a youth tinkered with the engine.
“Breakdown,” Shorty called over his shoulder. “ ‘Sall right.”
“It is—like hell,” Ginger growled “It’s punks and old apple knockers like that who’ll remember seein’ three cars come along and turn the corner.”
Grumbling, he glared back through the rear window. Shorty swung his car on the trail of the other two. He cut his lights as he saw the first car turn west. The second was backing into the loading area.
Fifty feet farther on he drifted to a silent stop, jazzed his engine to blow out the last vestige of carbon, then let it purr sweetly while they waited.
In the rear vision mirror he could see the outlines of the Buick at the opposite curb behind them. He grunted as he reached for a cigarette and remembered the orders were: “No smoking.”
As he sat there in the darkness, he felt his nerve tauten as he visioned dark forms creeping through the warehouse, stalking the watchmen, ready to hijack the trunkful of cocaine and hyoscine Snuffles Thornton had stored there three days previously.
Wriggling about as though he tried to see farther up the street behind him, Shorty succeeded in getting the automatic under his coat and thence to the holster under his armpit.
Ten minutes passed, fifteen, twenty. Still there was no sound from the warehouse, no movement in the street.
“Looks like a pipe,” Ginger whispered. “They’ve got the watchman by now, an’ if there’s any dingdongs, they’ve beat ‘em. Pink Tiernan’s the best man in the world on alarm systems.”
Another five minutes dragged by. Suddenly three bird notes sounded shrilly. It was the “Get Ready” signal—a special whistle carried only by lieutenants in charge of a job.
It meant that the raid had succeeded, that the others were coming out. In a minute or so the trunk would be tossed into the rear of the raiding car. In thirty minutes it would all be over.
“Hold ‘er, Shorty,” Ginger warned raspingly. “See which way they turn. Only one man knows. That’s Bull’s system.”
With the last word every man in the car stiffened to attention. From somewhere in the distance came the muffled tac-tac-tac of a machine gun—a sustained burst which ended as suddenly as it had begun.
“W’at th’ hell?” Ginger growled. Shorty unlatched the door and looked back up the street. When he resumed his seat he saw to it that the latch did not catch.
“Sounded like a grinder to me,” he said. “Long ways off, though.”
He let his eyes probe the darkness ahead. There were shadows, he thought, shadows in the heart of shadows out there; flitting forms, or did his eyes play him tricks?
He turned his head, spoke over his shoulder to the others.
“Prob’ly somebody else turnin’ a trick,” he said. “This’ll be a damn good part of town to get away from quick.”
Ginger grunted assent, moved uneasily.
A shot crashed somewhere near at hand. Then it seemed that the whole world went mad. Orange and blue streamers of flame sprang out of the night everywhere. Ginger howled curses, thrust his weapon out through the curtains.
“Now or never,” Shorty whispered to himself. He gathered his body into a compact ball, slid the door open another inch; fell against it and to the ground.
As he struck, instead of leaping to his feet, he rolled under the body of the car, lay there quiet. Fifty-feet distant Sid Haddon was executing a similar maneuver, warned by the crash of the first shots. Now the two cars were driverless, helpless until one or another of the rodmen took the wheel.
Heavy feet scraped the pavement in the darkness nearer and nearer at hand. From doorways service guns were belching streams of death. Ginger, still howling curses, shifted his grinder to the left door, sprayed the shadows with red-hot bursts of fire.
Somewhere in the darkness a moan told of a stricken man’s agony. A pistol fell to the pavement, followed by the thud of a falling body.
Over the staccato barking of the rods and the deeper growl of the Tommy guns, grew a new sound. Motors were dashing up from every hand. It was but the second minute of the attack but already scores of blue-clad cops were out of hiding, converging to add their share to the death din.
Bullets were thudding now into the body of the car above Shorty. Something wet flowed along and soaked his coatsleeve as he lay hugging the pavement. A strong odor assailed his senses. Gasoline! A cop’s bullet had punctured the gas tank. Shorty dragged himself a bit to one side. It wouldn’t do to soak up a lot of that stuff and then get in the way of a pistol flash.
The body of the car above him swayed and groaned. Someone put his weight on the running board, dragged something from the tonneau, pattered across the sidewalk. A moment later Ginger’s chopper began chattering from a recessed doorway where he had taken up his position.
The value of his strategy was proved instantly. Entrenched as he was, he could hose death at the compact group of police across the street. Wounded men shouted, fell. The group melted, tried to re-form; melted again. Viciously Ginger swept the muzzle of the chopper right and left.
Bullets from service guns slithered off the brick walls of the entryway, ricocheted. Ginger stopped only to change clips, then resumed his firing.
“Dammit—get that guy!” The command was bellowed from somewhere near at hand.
Shorty swung crosswise under the car, lifted the muzzle of his rod; tried to peer back of the spitting flashes to get a bead on Ginger. It was no use. Another agonized shriek came from the ranks of the attackers. Shorty loosed two shots from his rod at a point beside the spitting muzzle of the chopper. His answer was a burst of slugs which spun from the pavement near his head. Ginger was not to be caught that way.
Shorty raised his hand to rub his dust-filled eyes. The odor of gas was strong again.
That was the way! He lay for a moment, trying to think clearly. Yes, he could do it—provided the cops did not kill him the first second or two after he had acted.
Rolling out from under the car he came to hands and knees. Overhead was the sound of the passage of swarms of giant bees. The smashing impact of slugs against the car’s riddled sides was nearly deafening. The roll of pistol fire was thunderous.
Shorty snapped his gat back into its holster. His right hand felt for and brought out his pocket lighter. Holding it within his cap, he spun the wheel. The first spark failed—and the second. Then the wick caught.
Deftly he skidded the metal box across the pavement, then dropped flat, rolling rapidly toward the opposite curb.
Almost there he collided with someone’s legs. A great weight descended on him; throttling hands caught at his throat.
“Springer—headquarters!” he gasped.
The hands still held for a split second. The flame from the lighter snatched at a drop of gasoline. Instantly the opposite curb for a distance of twenty feet burst into flames which eddied and danced, making the scene light as day. Whoever was holding Shorty loosed his grasp. A tongue of fire ran along the pool, under the tank, leaped up and enveloped the container. The force of the outpouring liquid was too great as yet to permit the fire to enter.
With the lift of the blaze an exultant shout rang out.
“There he is—that doorway! Get him, men!”
Shorty stared across the way. Ginger and his chopper were outlined as on a motion picture screen. For a second he squatted there, staring dully at the blaze. Police guns barked. Ginger instantly fell prone, sending his stream of death back full in the faces of the attackers.
It was a moment of intense drama. Outnumbered, knowing that he could not escape—that the infuriated police would stop shooting only when he was dead, Ginger lay there coolly, firing methodically into the shadowy groups across the street.
The car’s body was burning now. Flames burst from underneath the hood and chassis, climbed up the sides, caught at curtains and top. One of the rodmen, badly wounded, pitched out through the flaming curtains, his clothes smoking. Police guns rattled. Dust spots billowed from his clothing in a score of places.
He twitched, died. As the curtains burned away, another huddled form could be seen in the tonneau. Death had been merciful to one gunman.
Ginger was still in action, but he was firing jerkily now. A passing gust of breeze made the light lift, grow stronger. It showed a hate-twisted, bloody mask, little resembling a human face.
A dozen police pistols crashed simultaneously. No one possibly could live through that storm of lead. Expectantly the cops held their fire.
There was a moment’s pause, then an unbelievable burst of shots from the doorway. “Tac-tac-tac-tac-tac!” Twenty-five, thirty times the grim chopper sang its song of menace. Silence at last.
The police guns roared again. One man, braver than the rest, charged into the doorway, firing as he ran. In a moment he was out, waving his hands excitedly. Others rushed to him.
“He’s dead!” they shouted after a moment. “Croaked with his finger on the trigger.”
They dragged the body into the light, marveled that one so torn and mutilated could have the spirit to continue fighting.
“All right, men.” It was a captain calling. “That mops up this bunch. The others are inside yet. We’ve got ‘em from above and from all sides. Get in there. Don’t let one get away.”
Shorty turned dazedly, walked a few steps toward the Buick. He realized now that the firing there had stopped long before. In the darkness he collided with someone in civilian clothes.
“You, kid?” the other asked.
“Haddon!” There was joy in the tone. “You got through all right, too!”
“Yeh—just a few scratches. Better duck now. You know the orders—under cover with cops as well as civilians. They’ll mop up this mess, and anyway I want to be in on the raid on Bull.”
Together the two Secret Police melted into the darkness, caught a nighthawk cab and speeded back to the vicinity of Finnegan’s.
“I had to tell a flattie I was from headquarters after I’d touched off the gas,” Shorty said after awhile, “but he didn’t get a good look at me. Everything’s jake.”
“Nice party,” Haddon said reflectively. “Wonder what the real Shorty’d have done in your place!”
“That fuzz-tail!” Springer’s voice was hard. “He’d be dead back there with the rest of ‘em. Wonder why McGrehan wanted to save him?”
“Damfino! Hell with that. If you want something to fret about, figure what the newspapers are goin’ to say about half the department layin’ for a bunch of thugs and knockin’ ‘em off. Them and the reformers. Hooey!”
“I can see ‘em now,” Springer answered. “And I’m damn glad I’m on the Secret Police instead of the regulars.”
The taxi rounded the last corner, skidded to a stop. Uniformed police blocked the way. “Broadway or Tenth,” they chanted monotonously. “Don’t turn up Seventh or Ninth.”
The trap was being sprung at Finnegan’s then, according to plan. Haddon and Springer, ex-Shorty, dropped out and paid the driver. For two blocks the avenue was free of moving traffic. At the corner nearest the hangout stood several armored motorcycles, police prowl cars, and two of the big armored trucks used by the riot squad.
One of the flatties came over to them.
“What’re youse guys hangin’ ‘round here for?” he demanded truculently.
“Sixty-six,” Haddon replied, giving the code word which in the department on that particular night meant “on special duty.”
The word changed nightly. Only men within the department could know it. It was whispered to each relief on leaving the station.
“Oh, yeh?” the policeman said. “Well, youse guys better crawl intuh th’ ol’ tin vests if youse’re gonna stick aroun’ here. Know what’s doin’?” He leered at them craftily, with the curiosity of the harness bull as to what the plainclothes men were doing.
“No, handsome; what is it?” Haddon’s reply was like a slap in the face.
“Ahrrr, nuts!” the cop replied. “Kiddin’ somebody, aintcha?”
Turning, the two scurried along the darkened store fronts. A rhythmic pounding, somewhere ahead, came to their ears.
“Smashing down Bull’s steel door in the middle of the stairway,” Haddon said.
“That’s a tough spot,” Springer replied. “Be plenty hell when they finally get through.”
His words were prophetic. Guns were in action now, their spatting sound curiously muffled by the building’s walls. From higher up came a crashing, rending sound. The roof detail was smashing a way through to the upper floor. Across the street someone opened a window on a fire escape. Two cops with a machine gun stepped out onto the landing, trained the weapon on the windows opposite.
The armored motorcycles made a crescent before the open doorway. Each carried a passenger in its protected tub; each passenger carried a Tommy gun. The men in the saddles crouched forward behind their shields, automatics ready for business.
The shooting, which had died down after the first few shots, crashed forth again. A policeman, his right arm dangling loosely, blood dripping in a stream from his fingers, staggered from the doorway.
“They’re givin’ us hell in there,” he said through set lips. “Door’s down but they’re hosin’ the stairs with a rapid fire from back of a steel shield set on the second flight. Never get ‘em this way.”
Springer turned on Haddon, jerked his head. Haddon nodded.
“Try it, anyway,” he said.
They raced toward the front of the place but were stopped by a captain.
“Sixty-six,” Springer whispered. “My friend thinks he knows a way in through Finnegan’s. There’s a half balcony there and a doorway that’s been boarded up. We’ll signal through the window.”
“Good! The other way’s suicide. See what you can do, boys.”
In the rear of the hallway, under the old-fashioned stairway, was a descending stairway leading to the Finnegan half of the basement. Haddon clicked on a pencil flashlight; inspected the lock. Springer flicked out a bunch of skeleton keys, turned the lock with the second.
In a moment they stood in the cellarway. A heavy partition divided the two halves of the basement from left to right. Along this stood a table where peelers prepared the vegetables. At the left, at the wall, was a narrow stair—hardly more than a ladder.
Springer led, tried the door at the top. It was held by a bolt on the other side.
“Hold my feet so I don’t slip,” he said. Swinging as far back as he dared, he launched his wiry shoulder against the barrier. It creaked but did not give. A second thrust splintered a panel.
Three or four driving blows with his palm made a hole big enough to admit his arm. The bolt clicked back. They were in the café now. Outside the Captain stood shading his eyes, peering into the window. Springer seized a bill of fare, wrote on it; ran lightly to the front.
“hallway. through cellar and back up here,” the Captain read by beam of his hand torch. He nodded, ran to the doorway, beckoning others to follow.
Springer looked about. Haddon was at his side. “Boost,” he demanded.
“Right, kid,” the big fellow said, catching the smaller man by the cloth at his hips; boosting him straight up as one might raise a chair.
Springer’s hands caught the cross-piece; pulled him up.
“Go up the stairs,” he whispered. “Feel along the wall from the stair head toward me. I’ll work back. There’s a boarded up door somewhere.”
They met, but without result. “It’s farther back,” Haddon said. “I remember now.”
It was almost at the back corner. They ripped away the light deal casing.
“This won’t get us anywhere,” Haddon whispered. “They’re still on the floor above us.”
“Old building,” Springer grunted. “I’m gambling the stairs are built all the way up on a scaffolding. You know the old system. Four-by-fours, with two-by-four supports; like a grandstand. Get under there—shoot hell out of the choppers from underneath.”
“Sure’s hell something there, or there’d be no door,” Haddon replied.
“Cripes, listen to those flatties stumble up the stairs!” Springer said. “Good thing everybody’s shooting.”
He flashed his torch to outline the way to the stairs. Three men accompanied the captain. One carried a chopper. The other had a sawed-off shotgun and a net of tear bombs.
The third attacked the door slit with a jimmy. The old wood gave readily. Back of it, as Springer had surmised, was a dark passage which led toward the rear of the building under the stair supports.
One of the flatties produced a long-beam flashlight, disclosing twenty feet back, the outlines of the second floor landing.
“I’m going up,” Springer said quietly. “When I find which step they’re on we can shoot ‘em loose in two seconds.”
He dropped his coat, set the pencil flash upright in his vest pocket; shinned up to the first cross support. From there he swung like a monkey, up and back to a point a score of feet above the others’ heads.
Their flashes revealed him as he balanced on a two-by-four, clinging with knees and one hand. With the other he felt of the risers and treads until vibration told him where the gunmen rested for their shooting down the stairway.
Still clinging precariously, he took out his flash and counted the stairs. It was the seventh. A moment later he dropped to the floor, dripping with sweat, his palms bleeding from a score of sliver wounds.
“The seventh stair,” he said, “but there’s no use shooting them out of there until the cops are set for a rush. Get word out to be ready.”
“That’s the dope,” the Captain replied. “I’ll send word for the boys to be ready. Here, Wilkins, get out and tell ‘em what we’re doing. When they’re ready to rush, wig wag me with a light and when you hear my whistle, you other boys blow them rats to hell outta there.”
The police machine gunner took up his place back in the darkness, found a rest; set his weapon with the rays of a flash so he could spray his death hail through the rotting wood of the stairway.
It was stifling in the narrow passage. The minutes dragged terribly. At intervals firing was resumed in the stairway. Also there was firing at some distant point; probably the roof crew fighting their way downward. Below, in the rear, were other smashing sounds as the basement was occupied.
Haddon, his nerves ragged from waiting, started toward the balcony. Before he had taken three steps, a shrill note cut through the medley of other noises.
Springer and the harness cop threw their flashes upward. The gunner’s finger compressed on the trip and the Tommy-gun began its death chatter.
Its barking roar smashed on their ears like the turmoil of a boiler shop. Orange flames spurted in a continuous stream from its blunt muzzle. The tread of the seventh stair seemed to lift under its smashing blows. Men bellowed in agony and a heavy object clattered downward. The stairway creaked. The tread flew apart; became a mass of splinters.
Springer touched the flattie’s shoulder; mentioned for him to sweep the remaining six steps to blot out any lurking thugs.
He obeyed. Other yells of pain or anger burst out in answer. He hosed every nook and corner where a gunman might be hiding.
“Hold it!” Springer barked the word. Heavy footed men were pounding up the stairway from the ground floor. It wouldn’t do to shoot down any of the attackers. The cops had gained the hallway now, but were being fired on from within the gang’s assembly room. From farther back came the chatter of guns as well.
“Bull’s holed up in the office,” Haddon muttered. “He’s cornered, but it’ll take a hell of a lot of lead to get him out. He’s shooting from behind the big safe; that’s a bet.”
Springer shrugged. “Let’s get going,” he said. They slipped back through the café and cellar, into the hallway.
The heavy fumes of cordite made it almost impossible to breathe. The stairs were heavy, slippery with broken plaster, pools of blood. At the top the cops stood massed out of range of the death hail from inside.
As they watched, Springer and Haddon saw three men raise the steel shield from behind which the defenders had held the stairway. Others fell in behind it, pushed it through the open doorway of the clubroom. The others thrust forward. Springer nudged Haddon, pointing.
Three dead men lay at the foot of the second flight of stairs. Another sprawled grotesquely over the splintered tread.
“Must have got them with the first burst,” he said. “Wonder if we can drive Bull out the same way?”
“Nope. Safe’s on a steel plate about seven by four feet. It stands across the corner. Anyone behind it, with the doors open might as well be shooting from a battleship.”
“I’ve got it through the wall.” Springer rushed back along the stairway, returned in a moment, cursing. “Hall only goes part way back; they’ve built a partition there,” he said.
“Above then,” it was Haddon’s turn now. “There’s some way for us to get at that rat.”
They ran up the stairs, shoving the body of the dead gangster aside as they went. Springer leaped to the door at the head of the stairs, opened it, slammed it again—dragged Haddon down flat on the floor.
Lead smashed in a stream through the panels at the height of a man’s chest. More of the defenders were in there, holding back the crew attacking from the roof.
A battered broom stood in one corner. Springer tiptoed over to it, tore loose the cord of a droplight and wound it about the handle, leaving one end free.
“We’ll pen ‘em in there,” he said. “Door opens inward. When it comes time for them to smash us from the rear, they can’t get out.”
Silently he slipped to the door-casing, laid the broom across horizontally, motioned for Haddon to hold it level. He wound the wire several times about the doorknob, then about the broom, tied a granny-knot. Purposely he jiggled the handle. More slugs crashed through, then someone tried to pull the door open from the inside. It held.
“That’ll keep ‘em off our backs. Come on,” Springer barked. They ran to the rear of the hallway. The attic scuttle stood open. Back in the shadows he could make out the outlines of a face.
“Up with them—I’ve got you covered,” a voice commanded.
“Sixty-six,” Springer replied. “Drop a couple of men down here into the hallway to help smash into them from the rear. I’ve got the door barred from this side.”
“How’ll that help,” the other demanded suspiciously.
“Easy. They figure they can hold us off, while Bull stands your fellows off from back of the safe in his office. We’ve got to smash this bunch and then get Bull through the floor from above.”
Long, blue clad legs appeared in the opening. The cop swung for a moment by his hands, fell to his knees. Another followed with drawn gun.
“All right, Bob,” the first said. “Headquarters, special service men with the password.”
“Get a grinder,” Springer interrupted. “We’ll never get anywhere with hand guns.”
The second cop was still suspicious.
“Say,” he demanded. “Who in hell are you anyhow, young fellow? You look a helluva lot to me like a punk that hangs ‘round with this gang.”
“Yeh!” Springer snapped. “And if it means anything to you, I look a lot like my father too. Come on! Get busy. Introductions can wait.”
Still surly, the copper went back and called to someone above through the scuttle. In a moment a third policeman swung down, holding by one hand while he passed over a Tommy gun.
“How many in there?” Haddon asked. The policeman rubbed his nose reflectively.
“Half a dozen anyway. We got into the attic all right, but they pumped so many holes around our feet that we couldn’t break through. Four of our boys are up there, shot up. They burned the hell out of us every time we started.”
“What’s the layout?”
“Two big rooms with a door in the center of the partition. Two rooms on this floor, three in the same space on Bull’s floor.”
Springer pointed to the door with its broom-and-wire lashing.
“By now they’ve found its barricaded,” he said. “That gives us a chance to surprise ‘em. Put the guy with the grinder on the stairs, with just the tip of the gun showing over the landing. You others plant back in the dark and knock over the ones he don’t get. I’ll loosen the bar and kick the door open.”
The firing within was intermittent. It seemed that the gangsters were satisfied with a stalemate; glad to hold the raiders from the roof on the attic floor. Springer’s hands were working now at the wire lashing. Silently he released the broom but retained his hold on the doorknob. Flattening himself against the wall he waited for another burst of firing.
When it came he nodded to the others, turned the knob and sent the door sweeping back against the inner wall. Someone inside loosed a scattering spray of shots from an automatic through the opening. The copper on the stairs withheld his fire for a second, while the others, waiting for his first burst, stood silent.
Springer looked over his shoulder and unconsciously flinched aside from the doorway as the Tommy-gun went into action. He could feel the death-draught of the flying lead.
A medley of cries came from within. A bullet or two buzzed through the opening, smashed harmlessly into the plastering.
Haddon and his two supporting cops leaped forward, but Springer was first into the room. Four men were prone on the floor. A fifth, his legs shot from under him, was trying to crawl into the second room.
Springer’s gun belched twice. The crawling gunny squirmed; lay still. Feet were thudding on the floor inside as the cops dropped from the low attic opening.
Springer turned and ordered the man with the Tommy-gun to keep on firing erratic bursts so Bull and his group could not know that the cops finally had occupied the floor above him.
“Give me a jimmy,” he gritted. “I want to tear up the floor in this corner.” He cast his eyes about the two rooms. Roughly they approximated the three of the gang headquarters below. Therefore the southeast corner would be directly above the spot where Bull was holding out against his attackers.
One of the cops disappeared; returned almost immediately with a jimmy big enough to wreck the City Hall. Springer snatched at it hungrily; turned to the corner baseboard. His agile shoulders twisted. The baseboard came loose. Another wrench. The inside flooring board flipped back in splinters. Another. Another. Haddon slipped to his knees beside Springer.
“Easy does it,” he warned. “You’re tipping your mitt. Can’t you hear? They’ve stopped shooting downstairs.”
Springer stared at him, wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Who the hell cares?” he snarled. “I’m going to get Bull.”
“Be smart,” Haddon said and caught at his wrist. “Don’t be a sap. We’ve got all night—but we’ve got to put this thing over or the Commish is sunk.”
Springer nodded in understanding. He slipped the jimmy under the next board and levered it up carefully. It ripped loose at one end. Haddon slipped his fingers beneath the edge and wrenched quietly. Another board gave. Springer arose, wiped the sweat from his eyes.
“Enough?” he said, indicating the opening. Haddon shook his head. “More,” he said. “At least three feet. Safe stands across the corner, you know.”
Springer loosened two more boards, then a third. Haddon levered them out, keeping the nails from creaking. Then the firing started up again on the floor below, Springer motioned to the copper with the Tommy.
“Lie down,” he directed. “Listen carefully and see if you can tell from the sound just about where he’s standing.”
The cop complied, laid there a matter of moments, then arose, grinning.
“Bet I knock a hole in his skull first thing,” he boasted.
“Then get at it,” Springer snapped, passing the gun to the man’s waiting hands. “There’s a big safe across the corner that he’s using for a shield. Sponge out every inch behind it.”
The cop up-ended the weapon, stopped to kick loose a sliver of board from a cross beam. He grinned over his shoulders at the others.
“Watch this,” he said.
He brought the trigger back; drew a jagged line of holes straight from the corner back almost to his feet. The slugs tore through the plastering as a knife cuts whey. He moved the muzzle patiently from left to right and back again, probing into every possible corner. Suddenly there was a dull crash followed by a white dust cloud. A square yard of the ceiling had fallen.
Several slugs from automatics buzzed through the opening and crashed into the attic flooring but Haddon, unmindful, leaned forward to peer down. Springer shouldered him aside roughly.
The top of the safe was heaped with fallen plaster, as was the floor beside it. Two huddled forms were slumped against the wall. Springer detected sudden movement and dragged Haddon back as one of the two fallen men jerked half erect and emptied a clip from his rod at the faces above him.
Feet dashed across the floor below. Rods spoke their death word and the gangster, riddled anew, pitched forward; lay there quietly.
“Come on—it’s the finish.” Springer snatched at Haddon’s arm and raced to the stairhead. In the club-rooms below they came upon a scene none of the living participants forgot for days.
Five wounded or dead police lay in a corner where they had been dragged by their comrades out of the line of Bull’s murderous fire. The door and partition between the two rooms were splintered wrecks. The steel shield, used first by the defenders and then by the attackers, lay overturned near the doorway. Hardly an inch of its surface had escaped a scoring by flying lead and steel. Back of it lay one of the police, one side of his face shot away by a long burst of fire.
Within the inner room the walls and furnishings had been torn to fragments by the hail of bullets. Bull had left open the big doors of the safe as an added protection against police guns. The drawers and pigeonholes were wrecked, their contents smashed and torn until they were mere heaps of waste paper and rubbish.
Three dead gangsters lay in a corner back of a heavy oak table which they had up-ended to use as a shield. Another lay beside the safe, at the left.
A policeman caught at a pair of feet protruding from behind the safe and dragged out a wounded man. His head was smashed, but he still breathed—horribly, bubblingly.
Springer wriggled through the press and caught Bull’s inert form by the collar. The gang leader was badly slashed about the head, either by grazing bullets or falling plaster. Blood gushed, fountain-like, from a wound in his left shoulder. One wrist was smashed. The hand hung, grotesquely, like a wet glove.
The movement roused the gangster to consciousness. He gazed, dazedly at first, at Springer. For a moment hope leaped into his eyes. Then he saw the police uniforms and realization came to him. Hate distorted his blood smeared features; his hand clawed at his trousers band for the spare rod he carried there.
“You damned, stinking, lousy rat!” he whispered. “Turned stoolie—gave me up to the bulls, damn you! I’m goin’ out—but I’m takin’ you with me.”
Bull’s great body surged forward, his right hand clutching at Springer’s throat. Then, forgetful of his wounds, he tried to put his weight on the smashed wrist. The bones grated against the floor; sent him crashing back onto his face. The others were gathering up the injured policemen, only Haddon standing by.
Springer jerked Bull erect into a sitting posture again. The gangster’s eyes shifted to Haddon’s face.
“Another—rat!” he whispered. “Stool! Snitch! And I—I was warned. You—Shorty—lice, both of you!”
Springer leaned forward until his face was within inches of that of Bull. Hatred blazed in his eyes.
“No, not Shorty, Bull,” he snarled. “His double. Eddie Springer, son of one of the cops you and your rods knocked off two weeks ago. Take that down to hell with you—and see how it tastes for a kid to make things square for his old man.”
Bull’s eyes widened in utter unbelief. “Liar!” he mumbled. “You’re Shorty—and a stool.” He sagged back hopelessly. Springer shook him viciously.
“Your mob’s gone,” he gritted. “Every one at the warehouse, everybody here. They’re all finished—like you’ll be in a minute.”
Bull sighed. Suddenly his body went limp.
The Bull Coleman gang was wiped from the roll of “men wanted for major crime.”
Daylight! Shorty Breen awoke, shivering in his underclothing in the silent cell. Slowly his mind grasped his predicament. He was A.W.O.L. with Bull. That meant he’d have to duck the town or take a one-way ride with some of his former pals.
Damn old McGrehan! Just like a thick-headed cop to get a fellow into a jam like this.
Feet resounded eerily down the corridor. Shorty strained his ears to hear. Then he leaped upright, gibbering with fear.
His senses told him that he was sitting erect on the hard board in the cell, yet there he stood outside the locked door, dressed in his everyday suit, peering in through the bars at himself!
For the first time in years, Shorty made the sign of the cross. The figure outside stood leering at him, wordlessly. Shorty tried to mouth a question—ended with a shrill scream. The words would not form in his mouth. His throat was a frozen waste. With the sound the other Shorty moved soundlessly aside, disappeared.
Long minutes passed. Never ending minutes. Once Shorty thought he heard whispering in the distance.
The boy fought to still the trembling which shook his every nerve and muscle. He lay back, eyeing the steel grating above him. It was a trick, a dream; something they were doing to crack his nerve. Well, damn them, he’d fool them.
Then, while he promised himself they wouldn’t frighten him again, there was a loud click. He snapped erect, gazing in wide-eyed horror; burst into a shrill torrent of screams.
The other Shorty—his counterpart—was back, unlocking the door—coming in after him. He covered his eyes with his arms, cowered back against the cold steel wall of the cell. The other was inside now; probably come to take him down into hell.
A heavy hand clutched his shoulder, dragged him up, and out, and into the corridor.
It was more than even gangster flesh and blood could stand. Convulsively, squirming like an eel, Shorty broke the hold, ran down the corridor at a shambling pace, rounded the cell block—smashed full into the burly form of Captain McGrehan.
Clyde Breen, ex-speedball and gangster, burst into tears.
He forced himself to look into the eyes of the double who now stood at his side. His face was bloody, his hands gory and torn.
“Get goin’; the Commissioner’s waitin’.” Captain McGrehan was speaking for the first time.
“Here he is, Mr. Commissioner,” said McGrehan, thrusting the half clad Shorty opposite the official.
For a long moment the Commissioner stared appraisingly into Shorty’s eyes. Finally he spoke.
“Of all the Coleman gang, Breen, you only are alive today.”
Shorty stared at him, unbelievingly. The toneless voice continued:
“We trapped them in the warehouse raid, surrounded Bull and the others over Finnegan’s in the hangout; killed every one of them. Captain McGrehan saved you—for your mother’s sake.”
“Why? How?” The words were whispered. Shorty’s world had come tumbling about his ears.
“Why did we clean them out?” The Commissioner’s tone was savage. “Well, you know why. You drove the chopper car on the raid on The Yid’s trucks. That night two policemen were killed. One of them was the father of Springer here—this boy who wore your clothes, pretended to be you tonight—and drove one of the cars to the warehouse.”
Shorty turned and stared wonderingly at Springer. Within his mind he said one word. It was “Guts!” The Commissioner’s dead voice continued tonelessly.
“Better men than you’ll ever be, died tonight, Breen. They’ll lie and mold in their graves while you go on living, breathing, maybe loving.
“Captain McGrehan convinced me we should save you for two reasons. The first is to keep your mother’s heart from breaking. The other is that you’re going to sit down now and tell a stenographer about everything you know that the Coleman gang did in a criminal way, including the death of the two policemen. You hear me?”
“I hope he says ‘no,’ Mr. Commissioner. I want a chance to slap him down until he’s only two feet high.”
Captain McGrehan, fists clenched, was advancing from the doorway.
“Get square, kid; start all over again—we’ll all help.” It was Springer who drove the clinching nail.
“I’ll do it,” he said.
Shorty saw the Commissioner but once more.
That was the day when Mom and Captain McGrehan went before the good Father O’Grady and rectified the mistakes of their younger years.
The Commissioner was best man. Shorty gave the bride away.
At the end of the ceremony, the Commissioner said good-bye to Shorty last of all.
“Keep your head up, boy,” he said earnestly. “You’ll make it all right.”
“An’ damn well you know it,” his new father growled. “He’s ji’nin’ th’ Navy tomorruh.”
“Uh—uh—why, sure!” Shorty replied.
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