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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.
“Them That Lives By Their Guns” originally appeared in the August 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.
“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.
Business is good. It’s surprising what a lot of trouble there is in the world. That’s why lawyers and—and investigators can make a go of it. I don’t like being called a detective. To my way of thinking, most of them are the bunk. Across my office door run the simple gilt letters:
Those last two words say a mouthful and no mistake.
The police work too close with the newspapers for the upright citizen who’s slipped some place along that straight and narrow which the world thinks he’s been following. As for the private concerns—they take too many notes and things bob up later in life which don’t leave the upright citizen sitting none too pretty.
I don’t say that the private agencies won’t wink at the law. There are many of them that will give you evidence in plenty, and witnesses to back it up at so much per. But they don’t take the chances outside the law that I take—not by a jugful, they don’t. In my game, I stand alone. Unique is the word if you’ve got a fancy for digging into the dictionary. I ain’t, but a lad hung it on me once and I pass it along for what it is worth. That’s me—Race Williams. I tackle any little job, providing there’s enough money in it. I ain’t just been put into this world to help others. Not an endowed institution, you understand. I’m straight and clean and on the level. I’m always with the right, and my idea of what’s right and what’s wrong suits me.
This little shower of bouquets is for them dear friends who have been questioning my methods: “them that lives by their guns” sort of business. Well, I take my chances. If a lad’s got the nerve and the eye and the trigger finger, I’ll swap lead with him any place. Forty-second Street and Broadway ain’t barred. There—that’s me. Let’s go!
His name was P. Harrington Cardigan and it fitted him well enough. He was dressed up like a sore thumb, with a vest that would bust a chameleon wide open trying to keep up its reputation as a lightning change artist. Top this off with two or three chins, a pasty kisser, piercing gray eyes, and you have P. Harrington in the flesh. An eyeful to be sure—six feet of beef.
He had an eye for beauty, had this P. Harrington, and he stood in the doorway lamping me for several seconds before he spoke. Then he shoved out his chest, leaned a bit heavily on his cane, and threw his name at me—all of it. But it didn’t take with me. P. Harrington and I had not slapped fins at the same social functions.
On the outside he’s a million dollars; hard, cold, calculating; shrewdly alert, both physically and mentally. But under that skin of his, P. Harrington is playing a losing game. He’s fighting them nerves of his, and he’s coming off second best in the battle. His fingers twitch about the cane, and his free hand is playfully rubbing his chins and brushing imaginary crumbs off the shrieking waistcoat. But it’s his party, not mine—so I just give him a nod and jerk a thumb at an empty chair. I don’t go in for to show emotion, and when he pulls out a check book and a fountain pen, it’ll be time enough for me to coddle to him. So far, he’s a dead fish, and I wait.
“Race Williams,” he finally opens up. “You’ve been highly recommended to me, and yet I hesitated coming to you. You are looking at a man who has already sent two men to their deaths.”
I guess I show a little interest. After all, this bird has something real on his chest. It took time to spill anything; but when he did, he sure shot a carload, you’ll admit. But I encourage him. This sounds like real business—big money.
“Why hesitate at a third?” I slip him a smile. “What’s another death between friends?”
And he gets it. The doubt sort of slips off his map. I can see in his eyes the realization that he is facing a real man—the dawning light that his friend who recommended me told him nothing but the truth. Also I read something else—something one wouldn’t expect to find in that hard, coarse face. Not just the hope which shone for a moment, but behind the sudden brightness of his eyes I read feeling—see a momentary dimness and the glistening of a drop of water. He was a hard man, but something was touching him deeply—and it wasn’t money and it wasn’t fear—not personal fear anyway. Oh, I can read men like a book.
He didn’t speak for a bit; kind of wobbled on his feet and then stepping over to my desk, stretched a cold, damp hand across it and mitted me. It was like shaking hands with a seal.
“I’m not going to try to buy you in; hold up the shining gold to dim your eyes to the truth—the real danger—the almost certain death. I have done that with two men. And one more—God knows where he is.”
His eyes were a softer gray as he looked down at me.
I’m not strong for the drooping violet stuff, and I’ve stepped calmly into dives where a dozen or more have been stretched. I don’t get a thrill hearing of another lad being kicked off—unless I happen to do the kicking.
“Mr. P. Harrington Cardigan.” I give him the whole works. “You can save yourself those very touching obituaries. If your job is honest and your price good, I’m your man. I can’t weep over dead strangers. And furthermore—” I point my finger at him now. He’s listening to gospel and I want him to know it. “Furthermore—I ain’t afraid of nothing. But the more dangerous the game, the bigger the fee.”
Kind of “anything you say will be used against you” stuff, yet this lad looked and acted like he was more than dough heavy.
Score two for me. He straightens and gasps. Besides, we save time. He gets down to business.
“My daughter has disappeared,” he says suddenly and, I think, a little coldly. “If you take the case you may name your own figure. I thought it only fair to warn you, but here’s the facts. I take it, that’s what you want.”
I nod and he carries on.
“I am a broker and have made considerable money. My daughter, Gladys, and I lived alone—her mother is dead. I have given her,” and he paused a moment, raising his hand to make it more emphatic, “everything that money could buy—everything but—at least, outward show of affection. Mr. Williams, like a great many men, I have been a fool. I have told myself that I have been too busy for a home life. A distant coldness grew up between Gladys and me. She ran away—just nineteen—ran away to California to be a movie actress. Like thousands of others she failed in her desires—sent on to me for money. I wanted her back—also I wanted to teach her a lesson. I sent her nothing but a ticket home. That was six months ago—she did not return.”
I looked up—surely he didn’t expect me to go looking for a movie-mad dame! But he wasn’t finished—just started.
“Three months ago I heard from her—a pitiful letter. She had met up with a movie director who offered great possibilities in Mexico. And—and she went.” He leaned far forward before he spoke again. “You know what a trap that is—what becomes of such poor, unfortunate girls.”
I did. Thousands each year pass out of the world through that back door, lured to the filthy dens of Southern California through just such bogus promises.
“But she did not go the way of the many,” he went on. “She saved herself from that fate by—God, I think it is a worse one. She married—her husband is a gambler, a crook, and I believe a murderer. He also is a blackmailer. She wants to come back. I want her back—this brute is killing her. Beaten and abused, she lives in the hope that her father will save her. And I have done nothing—done nothing but send this brute money, that he may not kill her.”
Something fishy somewheres. He knew where she was—who her husband was and—and he was an American.
“Have you appealed to the government—the police?”
I shot the question at him suddenly. But he didn’t try to duck it. His shoulders squared and his head came erect.
“I cannot appeal to the police or the government. Mr. Williams, perhaps it will be enough if I tell you that I was not always rich—did not first accumulate my money in America. I made my first stake in Mexico—I even knew this man’s father. If it would save my daughter, I would face the disgrace—perhaps worse. But he would kill her first and disclose my past afterward. Need I tell you more?”
Another one. An upright citizen who had slipped along the way some place. I’ve met thousands of them, done work for nearly fifty. Honest, straightforward, well-thought-of men—some of them even famous, but the day always comes when they’d give a fortune to turn the clock back. It’s a great thing to have a clean record. I’ve sent many crashing over the hurdles—but there ain’t a one that I don’t think the world’s better off for his going. And there ain’t a one I wouldn’t face again—yes, and croak again. That’s me. I ain’t got nerves and I ain’t got regrets.
“Mr. Cardigan,” I give him the up and down, “I’m not interested in your past—I take it you want me to have an eye to your future. I am to understand that your daughter wants to come back, and that you want her back, and you’ll pay me to bring her back. That’s the ticket?”
“Yes!” He bobbed his head, like it worked on wires. “But I want you to know that two have died.”