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Carroll John Daly
© 2017 Steeger Properties, LLC. Published by arrangement with Steeger Properties, LLC, agent for the Estate of Carroll John Daly.
“Devil Cat” originally appeared in the November 1925 issue of Black Mask magazine.
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the publisher.
“Race Williams” is a trademark of the Estate of Carroll John Daly. “Black Mask” is a trademark of Steeger Properties, LLC, and registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
I’ve often said I ain’t afraid of nothing, which is truth and still goes. But that don’t mean there ain’t any living guy who hasn’t got the guts to bump me off. Of course, most of the crooks whose little games I’ve cracked wide open write me threatening letters and feed a few nickels into the telephone box. There ain’t any that get my nerve, and few that even keep me watchful. But fear and respect are two different things. And here I’ll come out flat-footed and say that there is one guy whose threats to get me are real—so real, in fact, that I’ve had it in my mind to hunt him up and blow his roof off. Cold-blooded? Perhaps. But I’m all for peace and quiet, if you know what I mean. “Uneasy lies the head that someone wants to crown” sort-a fits it.
His name is Eddie Fallon, and about two weeks ago he up and left Sing Sing flat. Not that his time was up—but a little thing like that didn’t bother Eddie. And since he’s out, he’s been boosting up the mail. As a rule, such stuff don’t bother me. Half the crooks in the city are gunning for me, and the other half—well, their relatives and friends are wishing they didn’t. But Eddie is real, and if anything in this world ever did bother me, it’s this bird’s being out in the open.
Things have been breaking good. I just finished up a soft job where the would-be crook took up burglary as a side-line and played the game safe. He robbed his aunt. It was gravy for him, with no danger of a long stretch at the end of it. I pocketed the check, did a little footwork on the would-be thief and put his aunt wise to a few patent locks.
I’ve got a car, and a good one, but this day I’m strolling down the avenue as independent as a hog on ice—there’s the thoughts of a bit of fishing running through my mind. If it’s been a good season, it’s also been a hard one. I don’t drag no cane nor hide behind a carnation, but I’m breezing along just the same.
Then I get the whiff of it. Some lad is getting my smoke—gum-shoeing along behind me. I don’t look back; that ain’t my game, but I shorten my stride and play the windows a bit. There’s the feeling that it ain’t a dick, but I make sure. There’s a harness bull directing traffic on the corner of Forty-fifth Street—a lad that I once did a turn for. He’s got an eye for beauty; used to sport a shield on the inside of his coat before he got demoted—knows every dick on the force. We don’t greet as I cross the street, but I casually raise my hand and tilt my hat. That’s his cue. He’ll watch for my shadow. Five minutes later I cross again, and he turns his back on me. So I know that it ain’t a regular that’s laying on my heels.
And I can’t spot him—not a chance. I try twenty times. Then I wonder if it’s nerves. But that gives me a laugh. I ain’t got none. If this Eddie is sending out friends who are looking for slow music and a lily, why, that’s their hard luck. Of course it isn’t Eddie himself. I could spot his phiz on the boardwalk at Coney Island—and on a Sunday in August, too. That’ll give you an idea of the respect I hold him in. But I shrug my shoulders and slip down to my office. Eddie and me are bound to shoot it out some day.
My office is on the seventh floor, well back and quiet—a deal of noise could take place there without none being the wiser. No stenographer, no office boy; when I’m not in, the office is locked. I don’t write many letters—I’ve seen too many pay through the nose because of a little literary skill. The old proverb, “Do right, and fear no man; don’t write, and fear no woman,” is meant to be funny, but take it from me—it’s gospel.
I turn down the back hallway which leads to my office, when I spot the garden party; there’s the look of cash in the dignified little man who swings a cane nervously back and forth. There’s a boy in knickers hanging to his arms and kicking his feet against the wall. But the two huskies with him hand me a frown. One I recognize—Ike Mulligan, from the Inter-city Detective Agency. That boy, Ike, is just one step above murder and about a block and a half below arson.
Ike knows me all right, but he lets his eyes look for fly-spots on the white wall when I swing down the corridor; he’s had my opinion of him, and knows that I wouldn’t be found dead in the same lot with his thirty-third cousin.
The little gent runs up to me, sputtering like a Vichy bottle.
“Mr. Williams—Mr. Williams?” he keeps gasing over and over. “I have come to see you—I’m in trouble—terrible trouble.”
“Williams is right.” I nod as I slip a couple of keys in the locks. “We’ll talk inside—you and the kid. The army—” and I shoot a glance at Ike and his side-kick, “park in the hallway.”
I’m ruffled a bit—this lad had come to me when he was on his last legs. It was quite evident he had hired these two birds for protection and information. Now he would have to let them go, and expect them to keep mum, and—oh, I know their kind—they have mouths big enough to swallow a broadcasting station and turn it loose on the air at advertising rates.
The little man hesitates, then takes the kid by the arm and steps into my office. The bigger of the two private dicks starts to follow, but Ike takes him by the arm. As for me, I stand there and wait—I want to see the lad that’s going to cross my doorway against my orders. He might cross it, of course—but that’s only a question of which way he falls.
For a moment only we eye each other; then his heart fails him or Ike whispers the right formula, for the big fellow sneers like a movie villain and turns away. In I trot; close and bolt the door. It’s good thick wood, and if those lads are figuring on getting an earful—why, they won’t even register a hum.
Into my inner office I lead the boy and the man. Once inside and he’s off again, like an Italian fireworks celebration. The kid says nothing, but sits on the window sill, looking out on the city below. I figure the boy as about fifteen.
Finally the little gent strikes a clear spot through the haze.
“You don’t like those two—two detectives I have hired?” he gets out.
And there’s something I can answer.
“No—I don’t,” I tell him, dropping into a chair behind the desk. “You’ve pulled a bone. Those sort of birds are worse than crooks. They’ll play you along until they learn something—then they’ll bleed you—do it genteel-like—double the bill.”
He sighed and nodded.
“I suspect as much. But they can’t know anything. They are only paid to protect my niece. I have given them no reason—though I more than suspect them of going through my papers.”
And he comes straight up on the edge of the chair.
“Good!” I nodded. “But if I’m in on this—you’ll have to give them the gate. Their protection is really no good, and there is always the danger of their learning the truth—” I pause and look straight at him—“if there is a—truth.”
And there is. You could see it flare up all over his chalk-colored face. This fellow had more on his mind than his hat; he kept squirming around like a chap with a sweet case of Saint Vitus Dance, with all the up-to-date movements thrown in.
“Will you—you discharge them for me—they are such formidable men. I presume, of course, that you will undertake my—my trouble. Money is no object.”
Sweet words, the last. I come to my feet. I’ll give those fellows in the hall short shrift. If I take his case—and he has the look of any ordinarily honest citizen—the pay will come later. If I turn him down—he’ll be better off, and I can charge him for my time.
“I’ll can the boys,” I say as I step toward the door. “Then we can talk business.”
“Be careful,” he warns, in the voice of a hysterical woman. “I’ll pay them what they ask.”
“A week’s pay at ten dollars a day—I know the lay,” I said grimly. “You can send them a check tomorrow.”
With that I step out into the hall. As I swing back the door, both straighten up. Just habit with them, I guess—those boys would listen at a sound-proof vault.
“You’ll get your checks tomorrow—liberal—full week.” I don’t waste any time. “You’re out—you’re canned—you’re fired.”
I know their kind, and you can’t do the gentlemanly with them.
Ike just stares, but the other one gets mussy.
“I know you, Race Williams.” He pushes Ike back and steps toward me. “You may get away with this game on Ike, but not on me. No, you don’t—” he steps quickly in front of the open door—“you’ll take a beating for this.”
His threatening attitude must have been clearly visible to those two in my little office.
I swing around. The man’s a fool. Did he think for a minute I stepped out in that hall with my eyes shut? But I watch his hands. I don’t figure him for a gun—but most of my life is spent watching hands.
His face is red with anger; it sure must have been soft picking while it lasted. For a minute, I wonder if he’s as bad as he looks. I’d look pretty, before a prospective client, pumping a little lead into this bird! That client would fancy himself playing the chief witness in a murder trial!
But this lad is actually playing for the dramatic, and Ike’s looking on with wide eyes. Ike crossed me just once—he knew. There the big brute stands, rolling back his sleeves and staring down at me.
“You’re in for it now.” His lips slip back in what his gang know for a dirty look, supposed to scare the heart out of criminals. “You can’t come your gun-play here, and—well, I spent five years in the ring. I can take any blow you can give—you dirty crook.”
And with that withering remark, he raises his hand and brings it smashing down across my face—palm open.
Oh, he was quick—I ain’t denying that. He was big and strong and knew how to hit, and you’re thinking if his fist had of been closed it would have been dickey birds for Race Williams. Well, I’ll take the load off your mind. If he’d come with his fist I wouldn’t have been there—not that I’m an expert boxer, but I sure can duck first wallops, especially when they’re announced. Besides, I had an audience which was ready to pay the price for protection. I’d let them see my stuff. But that’s all of that—he could take any blow, could he—well—I shot up a right that crashed against that jaw of his—yep, he didn’t try to duck it, rather stuck his face out to meet it. That’s the confidence he had in himself.