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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.
“Say It With Lead!” originally appeared in the June 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.
The man is forty-five; that’s figuring low—fifty-five; that’s figuring high; but he don’t tell me his age. He’s tall, long, and gaunt, with great sunken eyes that are steady and piercing; scrutinizing if you get what I mean. Gray or brown and then gray and brown together. The iron gray hair runs up his age, but the jet black mustache brings it down again. Thin as a rail, perhaps, but as hard as one, too. His hand is steady and grips mine tightly, which means little—great honesty, much politics, or high class confidence stuff. Sharp nose, dominant chin, hard set mouth, and you have him. Howel L. Foster is his ticket. One last bet—he has character; good or bad it doesn’t matter. Here was a face you don’t see every day.
“Mr. Williams,” he sort of sank into a chair, “I have come from Middlend, up near the Canadian border. In a few days my life will be in real danger. I will pay you well to see that it goes no further than a danger.”
As he regarded me now, his eyes seemed to drop further and further into those great sunken hollows. I nodded but said nothing. Here was a man who seemingly controlled the time of his death—or at least the threat of his death. Undoubtedly, in a few days, he would make a decision that would call for blood.
“Your integrity is beyond doubt,” he went on, his voice free from flattery; just one who states a great universal truth. “I shall speak freely—hide nothing—and for once I think, put to the acid test that well known courage of yours. One lone question—” a long, bony finger came up and hovered above my chest. “After hearing what I have to say, are you in a position to act at once—within twenty-four hours?”
Fairly put—and I gave him a fair answer.
“I make no promise of taking your case,” I told him. “If my job is within the law, or at least,” I smiled, “within the law as I interpret it, and—” it was my turn to point a finger, “is sufficiently honest, and has a fair figure—why—I’m your man within twenty-four minutes.”
That was talking, you’ll admit—besides, I hadn’t exactly said anything.
His eyes never left mine.
“Good!” he snapped. “To begin with, my position up my way is one of considerable authority. We have politics there as well as in New York. Middlend and the county act when I speak. In case of trouble I can stand behind you.”
Good enough—but how far behind me, he didn’t say. He paused a minute—stroked his chin—then in sudden determination:
“In plain words, Mr. Williams, I am a politician; also the head of a large organization of bootleggers. I have many political friends, and in a few years have rolled up a considerable fortune shipping wet goods over the Border.”
I’m no nurse for a carload of gin, but I didn’t tell him so yet. He had the cards; let him play them. If he read anything in my face, he was welcome to it. He waited for my question that didn’t come—then he spilled the works.
“As I said—the law is my friend, but a new factor has stepped in. Hijackers.”
“And you want me to protect you from them,” I cut in.
What was the use of his wasting my time? That wasn’t my line. What he needed was a cheap gunman.
“No!” He went on hurriedly, reading the decision in my words. “Listen—I have defied these crooks—refused to be blackmailed—hired strong, quick men, one in particular—” he leaned forward now, tapping me on the knee, “a man to be feared—one to test the courage of even Race Williams—Sticker Haddock.”
Soft and low he let the name out.
If he expected me to roll over and play dead, he was disappointed. Oh, I had heard of Haddock. “The Shooting Fool” they called him on the Avenue. He lived up to his name—went West and shot himself into stir for the whole works. The last I heard of him, he was doing life for a playful bit of murder. I told Foster so.
“Just so.” He nodded. “I had him pardoned—the judge who convicted him made the appeal. I wanted Haddock with me. I got him.” Those long, bony fingers clasped together. “He’s my chauffeur, my confidential man. I’ve paid him big—trusted him—and now he has betrayed me. Within the last few days I have discovered beyond a doubt that he is working with a band of hijackers, if he is not the actual leader. He gives them information as to the time and routes of my trucks. I have been losing a fortune and dare not act. Now—”
I thought I saw the whole game as I butted in.
“Why don’t you give him the gate? Blackmail?”
“Fear.” He raised his head as he uttered the word. “The day I fire him, I can no longer call my life my own. This is the first man that I have ever feared. Haddock is a killer.”
“Frame him—ship him back to jail.”
Again came the shake of his head.
“He knows too much for that. Free, he don’t dare talk, and—”
“And dead, he can’t.” I came to my feet. “I do a bit of shooting, all right, Mr. Foster—but I’m no hired murderer. Besides, you can get a dozen lads to plug this Haddock in the back for half my figure.”
“That is not the question.” He too came to his feet and deep in those sockets his eyes blazed. “I have defied the law—yes. But I play a safe game. Howel L. Foster does not have men shot in the back. I know little of a gun. To have you with me—to let him see you—to guess your purpose in being in town might be enough. But I would expect you to shoot to protect me—and later, perhaps, to avenge me.”
I whistled softly. This man felt the approach of death. And he was right—Haddock was a bad actor—none worse. But it was not my game. It was an old story to me. Many an easy-going bootlegger had hired gunmen to protect him—gunmen who sold out to the hijackers. No law there—just the law of the gun. Not in my line. I started to open up when he broke in again.
“You too fear Haddock—and I don’t blame you.”
Though his voice was soft, his lips curled into a sneer. But I’m too old for that stuff—“Sticks and stones will break my bones” was written for children; but, it still goes for me. However, I half turned and ripped his arguing up the back.
“Your game’s a dead one.” I give him the glassy eye. “If you get bumped off, where do I fit? Oh, I might take it out on Haddock for punching holes in my meal ticket—but that comes under the head of pleasure, not business. I’m all business.”
His eyes were narrow and shrewd now—two distant slits. You had to admire the man. Haddock was a killer. This Foster was marked for death, yet he was cold enough to lean up against a gas heater and freeze the boiler.
“Race Williams,” he was playing his last card and I knew it; “come what may, I’ll fire Haddock. But—by God—Haddock won’t dare kill me. Death—or justice—or just fear, horror of the price of his crime will be over his head. He won’t dare to kill me.”
Pretty and dramatic; yes, but it didn’t give me the expected thrill. I almost looked up at Foster and winked, but I didn’t; there was something in his face that held me—something behind those crafty eyes. And this time when he spoke he said something—a real mouthful of wisdom.
“If I die.” His finger came slowly out and sought the third button of my vest. “If I am murdered, I leave a will.” He paused and smacked his lips. “The man who captures my slayer—dead or alive—will receive two hundred thousand dollars.”
His hand just circled through the air and came down on the desk before me.
Oh, I was on my feet looking at him now. The thing was new, the thing was clever; but most of all it was reasonable. It was my turn to smack my lips. And Foster saw the change come over me. I didn’t try to hide my expression. It’s always better to be dragged in than to jump in. More money, if you get what I mean.
“See the point?” His hand was on my shoulder now and he was talking rapidly. “You will come with me. Haddock will see you—understand your purpose there as soon as I fire him—and let him know just what’s in my will. He wouldn’t dare kill me, knowing there would be two hundred thousand dollars waiting for the man who got him—and that Race Williams was interested in the case.”
I’ve got to admit that here was a new interest—a most compelling interest. Still it might be better policy to wait around till Foster got himself bumped off, then step in—croak the murderer—men like Haddock aren’t captured alive—and collect. Yet—it wouldn’t advertise my business—people would know I had refused the case.
“How many know about this will?” I was thinking hard.
“Just my lawyer, myself—and now you.” Another long searching gaze, then, “And Haddock when I fire him.”
“If you live, what?”
Man! I’ll admit I was toppling—two hundred thousand dollars is real money—and Haddock was a real gunman.
“I’ll tell you,” he said suddenly. “I’ll give you a thousand dollars now—just to come up and hang around Middlend for a few days. What say? Your fear of Haddock isn’t that bad?”
What do you think? Oh, I took it—grabbed the bills and reached for my hat. This fear of Haddock talk was—well, it didn’t give me an appetite.
One hour later, we had grabbed off two lowers and were making the trip to Middlend like a couple of brothers.
Dead or alive, Howel L. Foster was money in the bank.
That ride produced some talk on bootleggers and a letter to Max Stern—Foster’s most trusted driver of his precious trucks, in case I wanted to check up on the activities of Sticker Haddock.
Queer duck was Howel L. It couldn’t be possible that he didn’t trust me—yet he trusted no one. My job was simply to hang around the town—lay close when he gave Sticker Haddock the gate, and let it become generally known that in case of Foster’s murder, I would work on the case. I was to park myself at the hotel. Foster slept alone in his big house—just one servant, who went home every night. He even ate his breakfast out. For my part, I had the run of the town—just bum around and get a line on who Haddock’s little playmates were.
Besides, I had work of my own. Foster was a big man in his own estimation. How big he really was, I wanted to find out. So that night when I left him, I slipped around to the Police Station. Foster had wised them up that I was a friend of his, and Chief Lahley received me with open arms. And open arms with Lahley was some reception. He was big enough to embrace the Leaning Tower of Pisa and straighten it out. He had an honest face and a shock of white hair that slipped all over his roof like a mop. A Chief of Police! Why, in civilian clothes, anyone might have mistaken him for an honest man, and I dare say he was in everything but what his job depended on.
And Foster hadn’t over-rated his importance so far as these birds were concerned. Every time you mentioned the big boss’s name, they did everything but get up and bow. The Chief would frown when I jokingly spoke of bootleggers and hijackers. He didn’t like being considered crooked, but I guess his wife and family, to say nothing of a couple of apartment houses, came first.
He’d just sit there and beam on me, and wonder where I fitted into the picture, but didn’t dare ask. His hands would come together, the fingers touching one another slowly, and then he’d start his fingers working all over again. A big, good natured Saint Bernard was what—
“Cling!” Like that the telephone rang. Lahley placed his cigar carefully in the corner of his mouth, tucked in his cuffs and picked up the receiver.
“Well, what do you want?”
His voice shot out like the roar of a bull. So many complaints lately that he didn’t encourage the calling of the police, I guess. But his attitude didn’t last long—the red sunk from his cheeks—went from white to pasty yellow—and the cigar slipped from his fallen jaw and rolled to the floor. Then—
“What—Mr. Foster—I say—” Dropping the receiver and turning to me, “He’s cut off—”
“Who? Foster? What did he say?”
I grabbed him by the shoulder. He had brains all right but they were like cough medicine—shake well before using.
“It’s Foster,” he finally gasped. “Someone trying to kill him, I guess. ‘Help! Come quick! Help!’ he kept muttering.”
I got the Chief into action all right, but I couldn’t get any sense out of him. Just that Foster had called for help was all he would say.