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Carroll John Daly
© 2018 Steeger Properties, LLC. Published by arrangement with Steeger Properties, LLC, agent for the Estate of Carroll John Daly.
“Action! Action!” originally appeared in the January 1, 1924, 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.
TEN dollars doesn't go far in the big city but with the lid down tight it will buy one swell feed and that's just what I was doing with my last ten spot.
In a way it was like taking the final plunge, for my life had been quiet and uneventful of late. The ordinary business life was not for me. That very night I had decided not to settle down; back to the real living for me—what might be called the adventure stuff though I had gone into it on a business basis.
Tonight I'd go and see Devlin, park my noble person in the best hotels and live on the fat of the land. I think it was a South American scheme which he had on tap; he wanted me—needed me. I pull a mighty mean gat and down there a quick shooter and a quick thinker is worth a greaser army.
And then I looked up and saw the face at the window again.
He was a little runt and well plumed; there was money in his make-up but not in his face. He was new rich; you had only to lamp him once to know that. I was near the window and this was about the fifth time that his flat, red nose was screwed close to the glass. Those glims of his were on me; there was no getting away from that.
I half raised my coffee cup in salute, just to let him know that I was wise. Then I looked indifferently about the room. There was no danger from this bird. I have enemies, yes; plenty of them but people bent on vengeance don't spend the best part of the night watching you load up. No—there was no danger from the nose at the window. Hence the salute with the invitation in it.
I wasn't surprised a few minutes later when I saw him slide into the seat opposite me.
“I’ll take the check—Mr.—Mr. Mack; isn't it?"
His short, stubby fingers crawled across the table and fastened on the little pink slip which had enough figures on it to warrant the use of an adding machine.
"No, you won't."
I just shot my hand out and plucked the pasteboard from his grasp.
"You have the name right—Mack—Terry Mack—and he pays his own checks; at least at the start he does."
Not that I was touchy on these little matters of etiquette. Oh, I intended that he take the check alright. But I'd let him see the manner of man he was dealing with first. This lad had the look of business about him and he might as well know that he wasn't dealing with any second-story worker. That check would serve as complete college course to him later.
"I hope you don't mind my sitting in with you like this."
"Not at all," I nodded. "It must have been cold outside." I turned the check over and looked at the addition.
"Have a cup of coffee," I suggested.
I'd gamble two bits on this fellow anyway.
"You have been recommended to me—highly recommended, Mr. Mack," he opened up when he took his face from the cup. "I think that I can put a little money your way."
"Little won't do!” I shook my head. "I'm off for South America very shortly."
"But I understood from…”
"So did I," I helped him along. "It was only tonight that I decided. The city has not been kind to me. No sir, it treats me like a step-child. It's a false alarm; the money isn't here."
And I was givin' him facts then. The lure of the old life was calling me; the life where a man's pockets were filled by the quickness of his trigger finger. Yep, it was pleasant to think of. I was going back.
"It is final?"
His voice was anxious as he leaned over the table and I caught the full reflection of his face in the light of the little table lamp. He was a squared-jawed important little fellow of about fifty and his diamond pin and larger finger rocks told of money—not class you know—just money.
"No, it's not final."
I watched his nose ring the cup. "But it's near it, mighty near it, and you'd have to talk real money. What’s the lay?"
I suddenly decided not to waste more time. Anyway, I wasn't much interested.
He sat up straight when I put the question and then came suddenly forward again, his elbows on the table.
"I have heard, Mr. Mack, that you are quick with the gun and—and in a good cause ready to use it. For such a man I will pay much money."
And that was the first time I noticed his foreign accent. I give him a quick glance. He looked enough like an American but I placed him as part Spanish; his eyes were dark and shifty, and his English was a bit off color at times.
"What's the lay?" I ask him again, lighting a butt.
"You don't ask who I am, ehe?"
And seeing that he expects an answer I give him one:
"No, I don't," is the whole of my oratory.
"I am John Rogo."
He raises his head and throws out his chest like he had handed me a knock-out. But I couldn't roll over and kick; the name meant nothing to me. He might be a boot-legger or a head waiter or any other well known character but I couldn't do a fade out. Still he was my guest; at least to the extent of a cup of coffee and I had to play the polite so I let him fall as easy as possible.
"Mr. Rogo,” I says, "I'm sorry. But your handle don't mean nothing to me. Still that don't distract from your greatness. I'm not up on the Who's Who and it would take a Morgan or a Rockefeller to get a rise out of me."
"I thought you would know."
His chest caved in and his face slipped a little.
"But it is enough that I am rich and can pay you well and that my daughter needs your protection."
Now, that was real talk you got to admit. He almost told the whole story in that one simple sentence. Later he gets down to business and turns out an earful which is like sweet music. His pay is big, the time unlimited—perhaps a week, perhaps a year but when he is satisfied that his daughter is free from all danger I come into a bank roll.
And let me tell you this much. It was a piece of change that would make my South American handout look like German marks in comparison.
His story was a good one and I liked the way he told it; he had guts for such a little runt.
There were five of them who had gone into the thing in Africa some twenty-five years ago. They had found some British Government land that appeared thick with diamond dirt. A hundred thousand dollars' worth they nailed amongst them. Well, the others had stuck him; killed his brother, knifed him and cleared out with the rocks. So they left him out there in the wilderness to die.
There was more to the yarn of course but all told it was one sweet story of treachery, low cunning and murder. But the poetic part of it was that the mine they left him wasn't just a worthless dump. The old servant who nursed him back to life gave him the secret of a real bed at the foot of the hill far into the ground. It is enough that years later he was rich—dough-heavy beyond the expectations of any of them. And now those dear old boys were blackmailing him and threatening him for an honest divvy of the coin.
He had no fear for himself and that’s what made me coddle to him; he had spunk—that lad.
It was his daughter who worried him and his description of that frail would make your mouth water for beauty and your flesh creep for unfaithfulness. She was twenty and all John Rogo could do he couldn't get her married. Not to the lad he had picked, anyway, though I took it that he wasn't over particular.
Somehow he was set on getting her married. The why of that I couldn't get. She had been engaged to half a dozen of the cake-eater variety but she always dropped them heavy before the wedding march come off.
But that wasn't so important. The former partners of his were on the war path; that is two of them were—the other one was dead. But these two were enough; from all accounts they had more roughnecks working for them than a shad has eggs.
They wanted two-thirds of his money and they threatened to hang crepe over his daughter's head. Twice they had attempted to carry her off and both times they meant business—two guards that he had hired had been killed.
Now he had come to me. My reputations had made him shake a leg. Some South American exporters had given him one grand earful of my accomplishments. And if the truth must be told they hadn't misled him none.
This Rogo knows values and he ain't no nickle nurser so before we finish our second cup of coffee I've turned over the check to him. Yep, the sad news is his; all expenses go with the job. He tells me there ain't no present danger for his daughter though he don't tell me why and I don't ask him. I ain't nosey when I'm well paid. But he wants me on the job. "The blow may fall any moment but, I'll have warning," and he shakes his head and looks troubled.
So it is that three days later finds us driving into his country home which goes by the fancy name of Three Pines. The name is high toned but has a deal more sense to it than a lot of them swell monikers. There are three great pine trees right by the gateway; one on each side of the entrance and one on a little grass plot right in the middle of the driveway. Artistic perhaps if you got an eye for beauty but dangerous on a dark night if you're bent on speed.
And the girl! She's there on the big veranda to give us a welcome. You see, she ain't in the know. She's to get the idea that I'm a visitor—a landscape artist to fix the place up. That's a rich one for me but it's Rogo's idea and I guess it's as good as another. All I got to do is park my tongue and look wise.
Now, I ain't much on women; in my business they ain't conducive to long life and liberty. Fellows I used to know in South America, right down high-class chaps, got to whispering things in the ears of dark eyed senoritas and shortly afterwards they turned up corpses. That is some of them did; others turned up missing or married.
It's just as bad either way you take it. Their gun eye was gone; they'd get a thinking how the wife would look in black or something. Leastwise I know of three what went out because of poor shooting. There ain't no other way to account for it.
But I got an eye for beauty and never let my business take on a sordid hue. And this dame is what is commonly called a fine piece of goods; there ain't no two ways about that. She's half Spanish and half American and whole flapper; just a slip of a kid with great black eyes and brownish red, bobbed hair. Not a bit of harm in her.
She's just bursting with verve and go and it really is a shame that someone don't bump off that gang what's thinking of taking the joy out of her life.
Of course she's a heart breaker. Why not? The kids young and what's Romance but youth. Peggy is her handle and she turns out a real good little sport but a tough one to order about. She's set on having her own way about things and most times she gets it.
The first thing I do is go over the whole house from cellar to attic. If a gun breaks in there I'm going to know where to look for him. Also I make it a point of seeing all the servants. In an emergency a fellow wants to know who he's shooting.
Oh, I ain't looking for no general gun play but that don't matter. I'm thorough and that's partly why I'm a high priced man and mostly why I am still a man and not worm seed. Rogo likes the way I do business. He ought to. I like it myself.
"I'm not going to be driven from my home," Rogo tells me that night when Peggy has hit the hay. "I'm afraid the blow will fall now any minute. If Peggy would only marry Leo—then—ah—but I fear—"
Then he switches suddenly.