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The mean streets have never been so divided, nor so willing, to pay Race Williams for his services. So when private investigators start turning up dead in Coburn, and a dirty gangster warns him not to go, Williams is only too curious to find out what’s amuck in the city. Yet, Race Williams doesn’t work for free, and his services follow the highest bidder. With two warring sides willing to offer him any amount for a job, Williams must walk a thin line to avoid upsetting the wrong man and keep his head on a swivel to avoid being the next to get taken out. Story #14 in the Race Williams series.Carroll John Daly (1889–1958) was the creator of the first hard-boiled private eye story, predating Dashiell Hammett's first Continental Op story by several months. Daly's classic character, Race Williams, was one of the most popular fiction characters of the pulps, and the direct inspiration for Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.
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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.
“The Super-Devil” originally appeared in the August 1926 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.
This lad walked into my office almost on my heels and before I even had time to get a slant at the morning mail. As he closed the door behind him I stepped to the window and threw it open. He was no doubt used to himself, but I wasn’t. He should have been arrested for vagrancy. From his checked cap, down over his dirty gray sweater to the shabby spats above his shoes, he was the typical East-side gangster. His face was bushy but you couldn’t rightly call it whiskers. Just a mat it was, and if he didn’t state his business quick I’d be apt to wipe my feet on it. His was a breed I didn’t fancy.
“Howdy, Race Williams.” He was one of these friendly guys; smiled with his lips, his green teeth being too busy chewing the mangled end of a badly rolled cigarette. “You don’t know me, maybe.”
“Maybe—I don’t.” I slid upwind from him. His face was familiar perhaps—but then, you could drag a net through the back alleys of New York City and catch yourself a hundred just like him. It was his hands that I watched.
“Ya did me a good turn oncet. Ya wouldn’t remember it now.” A dirty hand waved aside my unspoken question. “I’ve come to pay ya back.” He smacked his lips before he spoke again, leaving the butt sticking to his upper lip. “You’re booked for a slow ride.” And this time his words were very confidential and shot through the side of his mouth.
“Any particulars—any certain person?” That I was open season for a flock of gunmen and many dicks, was no news.
“That ain’t the lay.” He shook his head sadly. “Maybe I won’t name no particular person, but I’ll give you some particular advice. There’s a town ya want to erase from your visiting list—Coburn, New York.” Rat-like eyes narrowed suddenly. Was he studying me or marking me?
But I didn’t have time to make a study of his features. His right hand shot against his sweater and beneath his shining blue coat. Man! he was as near death as he had ever been and as white as he could get under the conditions. Both our hands shot up together. I was looking at a newspaper in his hand, but he was looking down the muzzle of my forty-four.
His head jerked back and his left hand jumped before his face. For once he was being natural.
For my part, I felt a little foolish and a little mad. But I made no apology, nor gave any explanation as I parked my gun. He licked his lips, jerked his fingers under his neck-band—but said nothing. I learned little from that movement, except that his neck hadn’t been washed for years. The hand that held the newspaper trembled and the skin cracked, showing tiny lines of white. He was the typical killer. Given a gun and a chance to use it, he was the devil among the tailors—but when it was the other way around he was just a plain rat.
I glanced down at the headlines of a column that was marked with red ink.
“Another Detective Mysteriously Slain in Coburn.
“Lawson Adams, of Chicago, head of the well-known agency which bears his name, found brutally hacked—”
His thumb covered the harrowing details, and when he spoke now he kept one eye on me and one on the door. The gun gone, he was feeling a bit more cockey.
“You have read of this before?” He gave that unmistakable switch to his trousers that comes with nerves.
“I never read the comics.” I shook my head. Then more seriously, for there was no humor to this lad, “What’s the game?”
“You ain’t been asked to take a trip to Coburn?” He jerked his head up at me.
“Maybe not.” He could think that one over, though I had never heard of Coburn.
“Don’t go—that’s my warning to you. Not that you’d ever get there. But let me know that you won’t go. A word to me on that score will—well—we all like to live—” He got that last off in a deep, warning voice.
“You’ve been reading the obituary columns.” I shook a finger at him. “And you won’t be the first man who held the hopes of seeing Williams figure prominently under the W’s. Do you warn me for another or is the threat personal?”
He sort of straightened before he spoke, and there was a certain pride in his voice.
“I’ve been dragged in twicet for a bit of killin’.” His eyes brightened with fond memory. “Oncet I done a long stretch—the second time a guy with a pull had me sprung. I’ve been offered somethin’ to come here and warn ya. If you tell me you won’t be takin’ any upstate trip, it’s jake by me. If you don’t—and I get the office—well—I know where there’s one grand for the man that blows you over.”
“Very pretty.” I couldn’t help but smile. Here was this bird threatening me, and all the time he was making it clear with his hands that he had no intention of pulling a gun. This might be deep, and again it might be just some threat of a cheap “gun” I had given a ride. Still, it was getting tiresome, and the thing was anything but new to me.
“Listen, Dirty-Neck.” And I laid a finger so hard against his chest that his eyes popped. “You’ve been paid to come here, and I wouldn’t stand in the way of your earning an honest dollar. Go and tell the lad who sent you that I was scared stiff, and collect. After that, keep your face closed or someone will pat it with a shovel.” Not elegant, perhaps, but it would be classical to him.
“You’re a quick shot, Mr. Williams—none quicker. That’s not denied. But a bullet in the back of the head—” and he hunched his shoulders.
“All right.” I was through with him. “Have it your own way. You’ve been offered money to get me, or frighten me, or both. Now—out! You’ve smelled up this office long enough.” My hand shot out, twisted him around—and the next minute he was picking ’em up and putting ’em down as I ran him to the elevator.
It couldn’t have been planned better if we’d had a dress rehearsal. There was a nice, well-polished hall from my door to the elevator, and he took it on the slide. A light flashed as the elevator stopped—the door opened and I let Dirty-Neck go. Just as his feet shot up, a man stepped from the elevator, caught the full force of the would-be assassin, and sitting on his chest rode back into the car with him. Two birds with one stone was right. The man coming from the elevator was a life insurance agent who, not knowing I was a bad risk, had bothered me for months.
I was whistling softly as I stepped back into my office. Now for the mail. There would be something there, maybe, which might explain my visitor; something that would concern Coburn, New York—and Dirty-Neck.
There were four letters, beside the bills—two of them were threats of violence. Nothing definite, you understand; just the regular thing. One was postponed for five years and nine months. That boy meant business—his imagination didn’t give him any hazy idea of breaking jail before his time was up.
The other two letters were interesting. I was as short of money as a goldfish is of wings—a century note dropped out of one envelope. I read that letter first. It was short and crisp.
“One hundred dollars for ten minutes of your time. Kindly call at this office before noon today, or not at all.
F. Harrington Phelps.”
I knew that mouth-piece, Phelps, by reputation. He was a lawyer who had made his jack. Perhaps not in shady deals, but he was known to be a bit venturesome nevertheless. Besides, he dealt in big things only. Most lads, when they need me suddenly, send more money—generally a thousand. This lawyer was not throwing anything away—besides, he used cash. Yet the price was high—ten dollars a minute. Of course, I read between the lines. He was not sure that he wanted me at all. But he was sure he’d see me before the other side could approach me. It was then half-past ten. I was short of money and I’d go, of course.
The other letter proved just as interesting even if no money fell out of it.
“Come and see me before calling on any other client.
I whistled softly. Did this second writer have the first in mind when he penned that note? And the address was a good one. The Sportsmen’s Club, over on Madison Avenue. Two high-class customers. Which should I take? There was only one answer—the man with the money talks. Besides, they mightn’t be connected at all, and I could play the second letter after the first. They both smacked of real money—of which I needed nothing but.
My office is uptown, and as I had plenty of time, I decided to trot by the Sportsmen’s Club on my way down to Phelps’ office. I had a reason, of course. I wanted to kill time. This Phelps would get an idea that I’d rush down to connect up with a big case such as he handled, and he’d size up my anxiety and cut my price accordingly. I had until twelve o’clock, and I’d walk in on him about ten minutes before the hour.
I was shadowed the minute I left my building. Now, there’s no harm in that and I have little objection to it. But it’s not good for business to let the impression get around that you’re an easy man to dog. The same lad that’s having you watched might want to use you some day, and hold it against you.
There are several ways to get rid of a shadow. Lead him into a dark apartment and crash him is one way. Crude, but effective just the same—and I don’t frown on that method. But uptown here I have a better way. The cop on the crossing often gives me a helping hand. So I shot across the street, passed Clancy and gave him the high sign—just a nod, which he understood. He’d watch now and see if I was followed and if he could place the lad who was getting my smoke.
When I crossed back again, five minutes later, Clancy was in on the know. I raised a hand, straightened my hat and quickened my gait. Once I glanced back. Clancy was in interested conversation with a well-dressed young chap that he held by the arm. A private detective was my guess as I ducked up a street, down another, and over to Madison Avenue. That would set me back a five spot, but it was worth it.
The Sportsmen’s Club looked the real stuff. A great Elk’s head was carved in stone above the door and a uniformed attendant stood by the curb. But it was the windows I lamped. Would a face be peering out, watching for me? There wouldn’t be many at the club at this hour of the morning and a face at the window would be my man. I pulled my hat well down as I glanced up. A lad would have to know me pretty well to recognize Race Williams in that slouching figure that sailed by.
But no face decorated the glass; just half-drawn shades and a subdued quiet from within. A boy rushed down the steps—almost brushed against me, but looked neither to the right nor left as he sped toward a taxi and hopped in. Just a messenger he was, but I got a good look at him. As a rule, messengers don’t ride in taxis. I wondered—gave the puzzle up and took it easy until I hit the Grand Central Station, and then jumped the subway for downtown.
Coincidence—perhaps, but I like to call it the faculty of being on the job and keeping your eyes open. As I stepped into the big office building downtown the first person I saw was the messenger who had hurried from the Sportsmen’s Club. I stretched out a hand to grab him by the arm as he passed—hesitated, and he was gone. And that was that. I shrugged my shoulders as I stepped into the elevator and shot up to the sixteenth floor.
There were hundreds of offices in this building, any one of which that messenger might have visited. Had it been Phelps’s office? I dismissed the incident as I opened the door of F. Harrington Phelps’s office and walked in.
“Mr. Phelps is expecting you.” An eagle-eyed, middle-aged woman came from behind a fence and set her bird-like face close to mine. “You are to wait in the library. He won’t be long.” With that she sniffed, threw open a door on her left, did tricks with the gate before me, and I passed through.
I don’t often get surprises, but this time I did. Three well-known dicks were already parked in that library.
There was Morrison, of the Smith-Morrison Agency; Tony Marino, who had lately quit the Italian squad of the New York police; and old Humphries, of Philadelphia. I knew all but Humphries personally, and his picture had lately decorated the papers for slipping the goods on three bank robbers, though I think he framed the boys. But any one of these three could be counted on to pull a crooked deal.
They knew me of course—all but Humphries—and though they nodded, their looks were cold. The others whispered my name to Humphries, who immediately started to frown me down. His expression took on something of the appearance of a belligerent cow.
We didn’t shake hands—not us. And I wasn’t sore; things were mutual. If they were thinking about me what I was thinking about them, it was an even break all around. But I was satisfied as I killed a butt. Things sure looked big. I didn’t have any respect for the outfit of detectives gathered there, but I knew it smacked of money. Whatever this game was, it was being done in a big way. This trio was high-priced talent.
A bell rang in the outer office. The hatchet-faced dame shot through, opened a door in the rear of the library, let out a little runt who swung a cane and strutted by us like a game-cock. Another dick, sure; yet I couldn’t place him. The female turned to Morrison—started to open her mouth when I cut in.
“Does Mr. Phelps know that I am waiting?” I saw the others gasp. “You may tell him that I’m a busy man.”
“You’ll have to wait your turn,” she snapped, and started toward the inner door with Morrison in tow. “You take my message in that door,” I pointed at the inner one, “or I walk out that one.” I pointed at the outer one. “Tell him I don’t fancy the company.”
The woman hesitated a moment, got a look in my eye, wasn’t sure of her ground, and finally motioned Morrison to wait as she shot through the door. She thought that she closed it tightly behind her, but she didn’t. My foot just partly held it—so I heard the message she delivered inside.
“One of those detectives won’t wait—insists on seeing you now,” she chirped.
A soft, low voice answered her.
“Which one, Miss Thomas? There are many, you know. One more or less would hardly matter.” There came a scraping sound. “Or perhaps we should know. Which one?”
The woman hesitated a moment—and then she lied. Of course there mightn’t be anything to it—just the resentment of my attitude.
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