by Tom Curry
It’s No Trick to Vote Tombstones, But When Crooked Politicians Start Using Livestock for Ballots the Ace Trouble-Shooter of the F. B.I. Turns Goat-Herder!
WHEN you are an Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation you do not have to think up trouble for yourself. They do it for you and believe one who knows, they are experts at it, always having plenty on tap.
An official report to the Bureau is as dry as a mouthful of alkali dust and just as inspiring. My handle is Dan Harwin. I have Irish sap in my bruised veins—and there are many strange aspects to the case of the beautiful Louise Reeves and the two strong men who fought each other all around the city of Lewiston to make her smile and also make up her mind.
But could I stick that in my report? You said it. The Bureau is chiefly interested now in what you might call the illegal aspects of a matter such as exactly who stuffed which ballot-box, the culprit’s past police record and where an officer might call upon him at the moment.
And that was the case that my Tsar, Inspector Duncan McIntosh, threw in my lap.
To keep from bursting I put it all down in my report as it looked to me, what happened in that duel of wits and halfwits in the Midwest metropolis of Lewiston. Maybe you can help me decide if I am correct in believing the fight between George Vernon, reformer of Lewiston, and Tim Hale, the entrenched city boss, was one of those bouts knights of old staged to show off to a lady.
I pulled into Lewiston one crisp evening in reply to an urgent call from Inspector McIntosh, who already was on the scene. I found him in a midtown hotel suite and had to look twice to spot him in the overstuffed armchair as he is about the size of a flea and can bite just as hard. He wears thick-lensed specs and has been a cop so long his face is accordion-pleated from screwing it up in suspicion.
Lewiston lay out of the front windows. It was a typical town: a couple of hundred thousand soles and heels, plenty of high buildings it was proud of, a square with a World War cannon plugged up so the kids couldn’t shoot it off Halloween, some anemic elms, well-paved streets and factories along the river on the outskirts. Low-domed hills surrounded the valley it stood in.
“Mr. Vernon,” McIntosh growled, introducing me to the gent beside him, “this is my star roper, Dan’l Harwin. If any mon can feeret out the evidence ye need, Dan’l can do it. He’s a natural born sneak. Dan’l, this is the Honorable George Vernon, President of the Lewiston Reform Committee.”
“Pleased to mitt you, Mr. Vee,” I said gravely.
Vernon was a stalwart young man with curly dark hair, and a straight face—my only grouch was that he kept it too straight. You could see at a single glance he was an upstanding man, serious and a reformer. I have hit too many of these burgs not to be able to pick out a political white hope when I bump into one.
Vernon shook hands with me, nearly cracking my knuckle bones, and we squatted, all looking very grave. I waited for the bad news, surreptitiously massaging the lump in my spine which I had acquired during the last task set me by McIntosh.
VERNON had a swell court-room voice and let me have it full. “We have requested,” he booms, “assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation because our local courts are controlled by a venal city administration of which the spider in the middle of the web is Boss Timothy Hale. We have not had an honest election in Lewiston, the magnificent Midwest metropolis, for years. And a Citizens Reform Committee has designated me as leader in the great movement of the people—”
By the time he was through my eyes were glazed.
“ ‘Ear, ‘ear,” I muttered weakly, and started to clap—I was exhausted as I had gone without sleep all the last week, working 26 hours a day on the job.
McIntosh scowled at me. “Where’s our jurisdiction come in, Inspector?” I snapped. “This is a local feud.”
“Under the civil rights and domestic violence statute, Dan’l,” says McIntosh quickly.
“We know that voters are coerced in Lewiston,” Vernon intones, “and that repeaters visit the polls so often their arm muscles get tired pulling the machine levers.”
“Why not subpoena the ballots and check them back with the voters?” I asked.
“I thought of that right away,” says Vernon, “but Tim Hale beat us to it. There was a fire, of ‘unknown origin,’ that burned down the warehouse where the votes were stored. They stop at nothing, Agent Harwin.”
“What, not even murder?” I asked. “Not even murder. And I’m quite sure that some of the men who work for the Hale machine are entirely capable of it.”
“How merry,” I exclaimed. Things were starting off fine. “Now, listen, Inspector, this is supposed to be my month’s vacation. I had just got into bed for the first time in thirty weeks when your wire brought me out here—”
“Don’t worry aboot not bein’ on reg’lar duty, Dan’l,” interrupts McIntosh kindly. “Knowin’ how eager ye’d be, lad, to see justeece done in Lewiston, I obtained special permission for ye to do this job, even though ye are s’posed to be off. I couldn’t get your reg’lar pay, of course, but I know ye’re not the kind to theenck of that.” And before I could ungasp, he jumped up and hustled to the door, saying, “Now that’s all settled, Dan’l can start work, Meester Vernon. Say, ’tis lovely air ye have here though it does make the throat a wee bit dry.”
Vernon got the hint, and invited us down to the grill room for a snifter.
“Listen,” I whined, as I trotted after them to the elevator, “how about furnishing me with a voters’ list and, a few tips, Mr. Vernon? I’ve got to get a start somehow.”
“My entire organization is at your disposal, sir,” snorted Vernon.
“Do ye stand down the bar a ways, Dan’l,” ordered McIntosh, before we left the elevator. “Won’t do for the local satraps to see ye hobnobbin’ with Meester Vernon and me. I’ll be the front, laddy, and ye can be the—”
“Part that gets kicked,” I snarled.
So I had to pay for my own beer, while Vernon treated the inspector. Suddenly, as we stood in the grill room, which had tables for ladies in it, the air charged up like it does before a lightning storm. A big hombre had come in, with as neat a little feminine trick as I have ever seen.
THIS fellow weighed around two-forty, though he didn’t look fat. He was tall and broad-shouldered and had a paunch, but it wasn’t anything to worry about. A good-natured grin was on his Irish mush. He wasn’t more than forty to the bad, and was right handsome for a political chief. He had on an expensive gray suit, and carried a fifty dollar hat. A sparkler as big as a dog tooth shone in his cravat. Black hair smoothed back, a big snout, a broad mouth with a few lines at the corners, and brown eyes.
The lady was petite, as the Arabs put it. She was blond of hair, violet eyes and peaches-and-heavy-cream complexion— Say, I’m going poetical like “Dopey” Joe Willis, the Village Bard, whom you haven’t even met yet. But that lady was a beauty and take it from one who has seen them from Bar Harbor to Hollywood.
“Who’s the extra-heavy artillery?” I asked a barkeep.
“What!” cries he. “Don’t you know Tim Hale yet when you see him!” He ran up to the bar, smiling and yelling, “Welcome to the Eagle Grill, Mr. Hale, welcome!”
George Vernon’s spine was stiff as a ramrod and he frowned as he watched Hale, his enemy and rival. Hale just laughed back.
“Where’s your axe today, Vernon?” I heard the big fellow remark.
Some raucous cackles sounded from half a dozen tough hombres in wasp-waist suits. They had bulges under the armpits, no doubt the Big Boss’s bodyguard.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Vernon,” says the young lady.
“Good afternoon, Miss Reeves,” replied Vernon, his rich baritone shimmying in the breeze. “I trust you are in the best of health?”
“Oh yes, thank you, I am,” she told him, and her smile made me blink. Either she was as pretty as an angel or else I need to go to another oculist.
Vernon was all stirred up, too, at sight of her, much more so that I was. It was plain to me he was entirely gaga about her and I couldn’t blame him. Even McIntosh paused drinking his free liquor to ogle her. She wore something bluish and tiny little golden slippers. Hale and she squatted at a table nearby, and his bodyguard moved close to them, scowling at everybody in the big room, me included.
Vernon was whispering to the inspector, no doubt telling him this was Tim Hale, the crooked boss I was being sicked on. A couple of slim young men came in after a few minutes, spotted the little lady and Hale, and trotted over. I flapped my ears back so I could catch what they were saying.
“Hello, Sis,” says the light-haired one. “Hello, Bobby dear,” Miss Louise Reeves said fondly, dimpling up.
“Sit down, Bob, and have a drink,” Hale ordered quickly, no doubt trying to get in right with big sister by soft-soaping little brother.
Bob Reeves was around legal voting age; he was too good looking, really pretty. He had a weak chin and mouth. The lad with Bobby boy was lean and dark, sort of hungry looking, with very deep, soulful eyes. He wore a silk bow-tie, untidy clothes and an absent-minded manner.
“Well, Joe Willis,” says Hale in a patronizing voice, “what have you written now?”
AND before anybody could stop him, Dopey Joe, the poet, reels off one that went something like this:
“The stars that shine
Shine not for me;
The moon’s sweet glow is naught.
The Heavens above, the flowers below,
Others, their lures have caught.
Alone, but you my world contains,
My Own, till infinity wanes.”
“Phooey,” I growled, but the little lady looked very pleased.
“I’ve written one for you, too, Mr. Hale,” says the poet, and before anybody could ram a dishrag in his mouth he spouted:
“Upon the mountain brow there stands
A mighty man in whose great hands
Our Destiny remains. . .”
I couldn’t take any more so I threw down my money and strolled out of earshot. Vernon and McIntosh came out, and as he passed me, Vernon whispered:
“I’ll have the voting lists for you this evening.”
After dinner a messenger brought me the Lewiston voters’ list. It meant a lot of checking and so I start out gaily enough, figuring evening would be a good time to strike as the men would be home from work. I visited two or three shanties that seemed okay enough, far as I could tell. Then I tried William A. Nanny. The address was down a back alley, and it looked more like a hovel than a home. I could smell something was wrong as I tapped on the door.
No answer, so I rapped again. I could hear somebody moving inside, so I hit the door a really hard bang and it opened.
“Hey,” I growled, “who’s in there?” and stepped inside. Something hit me in the legs, and I tripped. Then it was all over me, as I fought for my life in the darkness.
A man came running out from a house near at hand, waving a flashlight and a double-barreled shotgun. I was having all I could do to defend myself, and he grabbed me by the collar and dragged me outside, pushing back a big black goat with one foot and slamming the door shut.
“Tryin’ to steal my goat, huh?” he snarled, cuffing me.
“Now wait, you got me wrong, mister,” I said with as much dignity as I could with straw all over me and lying flat on the ground. “I’m looking for William
A. Nanny. According to the voters’ list this is his residence.”
“Oh, yeah?” he sneered. “Who sent you snoopin’, George Vernon? Listen, you git and git fast, ‘fore my trigger finger slips!”
“A machine supporter,” I deduced, as I ran for my life.
Started on the right scent by that goat, I tried another name nearby. Ebenezer Schnauser.
Schnauser tore my pants when his master opened the door. He was as ugly a dog as ever snapped at me. Next stop was Jack D. Onkey—yes, it was a stable and there was a stunted mule inside.
I didn’t even ring Felix Doberman’s bell. I could hear him barking from the porch steps. Same for Terry R. Bites. I nearly fell into the pond where the four Drake Brothers—Wilfred, Algernon, Manny and Horace—had their abode. The owner of the ducks caught me and I had to explain again. He was worse than the first fellow, suspicious at once.
Once on the track, I knew just where to look, as I had checked up voters’ lists before. Mrs. A. O. Kowe mooed at me and I mooed back, hitting the pike as the farmer emerged. There was a Mr. Goate and fifty or sixty Katzes, though the latter were all out, as it was night.
OF course, I went to the cemetery next and there was a whole raft of voters, names perfectly okay, written right off the tombstones. Most of them had been dead for years. I did have to admit Tim Hale had a great sense of humor, as I laboriously made notes on all the phonies that voted for him and his tools.
I was beginning to get sort of worn out around the stumps and found me an iron bench on which I sat and lit a cigarette.
Just as I took the first puff, I heard a rustle in the grass behind me and before I could move, two men, one from each side, stepped around and sat down beside me.
“Well, well,” says one in a gruff voice, “robbin’ graves again, hey?”
“A ghoul!” growled the second.
I sniffed. I could feel gun muzzles, held in their side pockets, pressing against my pelvis.
“Now looka, gents,” I whined, “I am only doing my sworn duty and I am a—”
Wham! The rowdy on my right didn’t say that. He did it, gun butt clipping me over the ear.
Of course, I tried the old park-bench trick: suddenly shoving against the dirt with both feet and throwing my weight back. The iron bench tipped over backward and we three went sprawling. I whirled up on my knees, slammed a hard one to the nose of Rowdy No.1, kicked like Jack D. Onkey at the second and was reaching in my shoulder holster for my trusty Colt when four more men leaped from the shadows and set upon me, knocking me flat with their sheer weight. The other two rushed back into it, and the half-dozen, after snatching my pistol, kicked me in the face, jumped up and down on my spine, and wiped my nose in the dirt.
When they were puffing for breath from the exertion, they quit, standing around and glaring down at me.
“Let this be a lesson to you, graverobber,” snarled the biggest of them—they looked an awful lot like Tim Hale’s bodyguard from what I could see in the dim light—“and if we ever catch you within twenty miles of Lewiston, somebody is goin’ to be robbin’ your grave, savvy?”
“I believe you,” I gasped. Now I was beginning to get sore.
They picked me up, toted me to the street and flung me into a big black limousine. I was covered with a blanket and we rode on out of town, while they talked me over.
“D’you think boilin’ in oil would be better than usin’ him for an archery butt?” one asked.
“No, no, that’s old stuff,” another one growled. “A pal of mine’s got a cannon he’ll just fit in and we can see how far we can shoot him.”
We rode for maybe half an hour, and then the car stopped. I expected machine guns as they yanked me out, but either they had forgotten them or else thought I’d have sense enough to keep away from their town. I would have, too, if it hadn’t been I wanted to tell McIntosh what I thought of his ideas. No doubt some of the animal voters’ owners I had called on earlier than pleasant evening had phoned in a tip to Hale that there was a snooper around.
The moon was high in the sky, gleaming on the water of a big square reservoir. They didn’t bother to search me. Evidently they were sure I was some private sleuth sicked on them by George Vernon, the reformer.
“Ain’t you afraid he’ll poison the water, Buck?” a hood asked, as they took me over a low fence up to the brink of the reservoir.
“So what? This ain’t Lewiston’s supply that we drink. It belongs to a village five mile north.”
A COUPLE of husky hoods picked me up, said:
“One, two, three—” and I flew through the air, landing in the water.
“Welcome to Lewiston!” one of them called, and after sending a couple of warning shots into the water, they turned and drove off.
I was always a strong swimmer and I made the shore easily. I pulled myself out and sat down to think it over. It was chilly and after a while I struggled to my feet and hoofed it to the pike, where I headed back for Lewiston, making up choice adjectives to tell the inspector what I thought of him.
However, I got tired after a few miles. And I didn’t dare ask for a lift because Tim Hale had the town and everybody else sewed up. But after a time I saw a big, deserted farm house, with a large red barn, off to the side of the road and headed for it. I just had to have a rest.
There were no lights on, and the place seemed empty when I peeked in the window. But I got a barn door open and sure enough, there was a swell hayloft to which I retired, first taking off my suit and hanging it to dry. I covered up with some old horse blankets and burrowed deep into the hay.
Next thing I knew, I was waking up. Yellow streamers of sun poured through the cracks in the barn walls, but that wasn’t what had disturbed me. There were men in the yard below and their voices and the cars they had come in, had finally brought me to life.
“Hey, Boss,” a gruff voice asked, “is it okay if we try a little target practice in the back?”
I recognized that voice, it was one of the hoods who had given me the ride the night before. They were all outside there, and so was Tim Hale. With the mayor was young Bobby Reeves, who Hale hoped to make his brother-in-law some day soon. Hale was very sugary with Bobby, and slung an arm around the kid’s shoulder, saying:
“Now, my boy, I am going to reward you for your good work last election, and I hope you won’t forget to tell your sister.”
“Sure, I’ll tell her, Tim. She thinks you’re a great guy,” says Bob.
He was a spoiled brat, and a dumb one at that. I was peeking through a crack, and could look down and see Tim Hale standing there with Reeves. A couple of shots, the hoods shooting at targets, came from the other side of the hill.
Hale passed a legal looking paper to Reeves, who held it in hand, staring at .it.
“What’s this?” he asked. “That, Bob, is the deed to this place, the old Phillips Farm,” says Hale gravely. “It’s around six hundred acres and is the key to Lewiston’s new sewage disposal plant. This is the only spot it can be situated in. I defy any engineer to find a better one or even another one. I’ve had the deed recorded in your name and you can imagine how much money it’s worth. Take good care of it.”
“I will, Tim, sure.” Reeves stuffed the deed in his coat pocket.
Evidently Hale had had Bob on his payroll for a while, breaking him in. One look at Reeves told me he would have a tough time holding any job. He was conceited and stupid. But, of course, Hale wanted to stay in right with sister.
“Just keep your mouth shut, Bob,” Hale warned him. “Vernon has made a lot of talk around town, you know that. That speech he made at the Hall last night was mighty insultin’ and sooner or later I’ll give him a lesson. As long as he talks and nothin’ else, that’s okay.”
THE big thing in these cases is to get someone on the inside who will turn Federal evidence. A hood isn’t much account, because nobody believes anything he says even if he knows much. Believe me, I was anxious to leave Lewiston behind forever. I had already picked out my victim, the hombre who would spill the dirt to the jury and papers when I pulled the strings. And that was Dumb-bell Reeves himself.
In fact, my mouth watered, not only for coffee and cakes, as I was starving, but for a few minutes alone with Reeves. He was perfect for my purpose and I would grab him at the earliest moment.
After a while they all drove away, and I sneaked out. My suit was all wrinkled up and I had no gun, but I stalked up the pike with my shriveled shoes and on coming to a roadhouse on the outskirts of the town, I bought me a couple of meals. The waiter told me where the Reeves home stood, and I picked up a local Lewiston paper and read:
GEORGE VERNON ATTACKS MAYOR HALE IN RED-HOT SPEECH!
Vernon had given Hale hell, but the tone of the article was half-kidding, making more fun of Vernon than of the Mayor. Sore as Vernon was, he lacked the necessary proofs against Hale. There was a small item down at the bottom which said:
The Phillips farm must be bought by the city for the new sewage project. Only site possible.
I read that over too, learning that the old farm, picked up for a song years ago by Tim Hale, was necessary to Lewiston because of the contours of the country for gravity flow and proximity.
Not wishing to have Hale’s pals give me another welcome to Lewiston, I stayed outside the town. I didn’t even phone McIntosh, and who could blame me? I hitch-hiked around the north of the city, where the Reeves home stood. It was a large, square, white house, with pretty gardens and shrubs in green lawns. After looking it over, I retired to the nearest beer tavern and spent the rest of the afternoon resting up. . . .
When evening fell, I was lurking in the shrubs at the side of the Reeves home.
The first one to appear was Tim Hale. He drove up in his Rolls, his bodyguard following in the car they’d taken me for a ride in. They placed themselves around the front, watching the driveway. I glanced through a side window and saw Miss Louise Reeves greet Hale, in the drawing-room. You could see that Hale was goofy about her and she smiled sweetly on him.
As I was snooping around, a familiar sound come to my ears: little clickings, and words I had often heard. A cellar window stood open, and peeking in, I saw the game room in the basement. On a green-velvet pool table a couple of goofs were rolling dice. I recognized my quarry, little Rollo Robert Reeves and Dopey Joe Willis, the village bard.
They were engrossed in their game and Dopey Joe was rolling the bones.
“Oh, dice, I pray thee fall for me, as rain upon the lush green lee,” he poetically urged them. “A seven or eleven would put me entirely to the good!”
“Come on, snake eyes,” growled Reeves. He was looking worried, and no wonder. His pockets were turned out and he had just laid his last sawbuck on the line. Dopey Joe, impractical poet that he was, evidently had the inspiration, for he had a pile of cash in front of him big enough to choke Mrs. A. O. Kowe.
BUSY watching them, figuring how I might snatch Reeves, I nearly got taken myself. A hoodlum, one of Hale’s men, came strolling my way and I swung just as he spotted me. He cursed and started for his rod, opening his mouth wide to yell for his mates. I drove my fist to his tonsils, got hold of his gun wrist as I whipped past, snapping his arms up behind his collar in a jiu-jitsu hold. As he bent over I kicked him in the nose and fell on him for a last down, cutting off his yelp with my paw.
His arm was cracked and he moaned in pain. I gagged him with his own necktie, fastened him together at the wrists and ankles with hankies, and located his .45 automatic pistol, extra clips of ammunition. I slipped these into my own coat. I couldn’t leave him lying around where his pards might stumble on him, so I dragged him well back in the rear bushes and left him.
Naturally, this all took time and when I slid back to the basement window the dice game was winding up.
“I’m ruined, Joe!” Reeves was yelping. “You’re the luckiest guy I ever met!”
Dopey Joe chuckled; his pockets bulged with cash. I stuck my head in the window and remarked:
“Good evening, gents.”
Both of them jumped, turned, staring at me.
“Who—who the hell’re you?” demanded Reeves.
“Oh, one of Tim’s boys,” says I easily, dropping into the basement. “Quite a cunnin’ game you have there. What do you call it?”
Reeves’ eyes opened wide as teacups. “You mean you never played it?” he asked carelessly.
“Never. Show me how, will you? I love games.”
Reeves glanced at Dopey Joe Willis, who shrugged.
“Okay,” says the bard, “I’ll lend you ten, Bobby.” After throwing a sawbuck to Reeves, he waddled up the stairs and bent down by the money he had won from the kid.
“I haven’t seen you around before,” Reeves remarks, “but Tim’s always hirin’ new hoods. What do they call you when you’re out?”
“Archie,” I told him. “I’ve heard of you. Tim claims you’re one smart lad.”
I rolled the bones, a seven, first cast. “You lose,” growled Reeves, the little cheat. He took my money and the dice, and rolled a three. “Pay me,” says he brazenly.
I let him cheat me for he was honing for revenge after the cleaning Dopey Joe Willis had given him.
“Tim says you did swell work durin’ the election,” I say easily as we played.
“Sure, sure. I do what Tim tells me. He’s a great guy, is Tim. I know all about him.”
“What, everything?” I ask, unbelievingly.
He did, too, and he told it to me as he took my hard-earned cash.
An hour or so later a car roared up and I heard loud voices coming from upstairs. Reeves had my bankroll and we stepped to the stairs to listen.
“That’s George Vernon,” cried Reeves, and galloped up to the main floor, me at his heels.
I stayed back in the hall, out of the way. George Vernon stood in the big drawing-room, facing Tim Hale, arms folded, noble brow a washboard. He was yelling at Hale.
“Timothy Hale, you have corrupted the very life of our noble community. I say to you that you shall pay for your crimes. You have taken the money of our decent citizens, spent it in loose living. You have made a pest of the Bill of Rights and the conscientious vote of our honest people. I will grind you beneath the heel of the righteous.”
“Dry up, Vernon,” growled Hale, face red.
MISS LOUISE REEVES watched them, lips a little open, eyes shining. The two were making monkeys of themselves to impress her.
Tim was sore. His fists doubled up. Vernon stuck out his jaw, shouting:
“Strike, venal Colossus, strike, I dare you!”
As I said, Hale couldn’t have thought up that voters’ list without having a sense of humor, and Vernon’s showing-off struck him funny. He began to laugh, shrugged, turned his back on the reformer. Hale’s bodyguards had trailed Vernon in, and the leader of them asked:
“Shall we throw him to the crocodiles, Boss?”
But Hale shook his head. “No, Ace, it would only give them a bellyache,” he remarked dryly.
So George Vernon, having had his say, glanced sideways at Miss Reeves to see how he had impressed her, about-faced like a second lieutenant, and stalked back to his car.
Reeves started to leave me and I grabbed him by the elbow.
“This way, Bob,” I whispered. I want to talk to you.”
“Leggo,” he ordered impatiently. “I got to speak to Tim about somethin’ important.”
“Wait,” I argued, holding him. “Let’s play some more craps, kid—”
But something had him worried and he yanked away. I grabbed him again, and he slammed a fist into my eye, which annoyed me. So I picked him right off the carpet. He yelped and Miss Reeves heard him, crying out in alarm.
“Oh, Bobby dear—someone’s hurting my brother!” she wailed.
I held him, a hand across his mush, trying to back out of the way, but Tim Hale jumped into the hall, saw us struggling in the shadows.
“Ace—Bull—Lew! Hurry! Kidnapers!”
Holding Bobby under one arm I was cut off as Hale’s troops ran around to take me. Also, a couple of servants appeared from the other direction. I was annoyed, because I had wanted to spirit Reeves away. But I was not letting go now, and I started up the main stairs for the second floor.
Louise Reeves switched on the hall lights and revealed me in all my glory, dragging my prisoner up. I yanked the Colt automatic I had confiscated from my pocket, and held Reeves in front of me as a shield. A hood had sent a wild shot, the explosion rattling in the big house. The slug ripped a chunk of carpet from the steps we had just left.
“Shoot if you must this old gray head but spare your boss’s brother-in-law,” I said.
And Miss Reeves was screaming the same thing only in a different way.
“Don’t shoot, don’t! You’ll hurt Bobby!”
“Lay off, you fools,” snarled Tim Hale.
1 was up at the second-story by that time. Bobby Reeves was whimpering in fright, and a poke from the automatic pistol muzzle kept him obedient.
“Say, Tim, that guy works for Vernon,” Ace howled.
“We met him before, checkin’ up on voters!”
“He’s a madman,” Hale shouted, and I agreed with him at that.
There were too many lights and too many doors, back stairs and so on, on the ground floor to suit me. So I steered for the attic, hearing the hoods and servants running around below and coming up the other way to cut me off.
“Do what I tell you, Reeves, and you won’t get hurt,” I growled, making it sound tough to keep him scared of me.
I SHOVED him up the steps to the third floor, and as I climbed after him, a bullet hit a piece from my flying coat tail. Ace had reached the top bannisters and crouched there, trying to pick me off. I let him have one back that saved him the price of a haircut and sent him tumbling down the main staircase. Three at a time I raced up, caught hold of Reeves as he tried to duck aside, and popped into a room close by.
I was puffing now from the run, and decided to hole up where I was. I slammed the door, locked it, and jumped over to the window. Moonlight was streaming in. The chamber was a storeroom filled with old furniture and boxes, exactly what I needed. Looking from the window I could see the front lawns and driveways.
Bobby Reeves was whimpering in a corner.
“What—what you goin’ to do me, mister?” he whined.
“Nothin’,” I growled. “Unless they come too close. Then—” I left it to his imagination.
They were up on the third now, banging around, hunting me. It wasn’t long till they found the locked door.
“He’s in there,” I heard a hood say. “Let’s bust the door in.” They crashed against it and it nearly broke in, so I put a slug through the top panel to discourage them.
“We’ll have to call the fire department and get a long ladder,” somebody remarked.
“Now, Rollo,” says I, very tough to my prisoner, “you remember who I am. What you’ve told me is what the Law wants to know. As long as you behave and do what I tell you to, you’ll be okay. In fact, you’ll get off very easy if you help the Government.”
“The—the what?” he gasped. “You heard me,” I replied. “I’m a Gman, my boy.”
“A—a G-man? Aw, I don’t believe it!”
“I’ll prove it to you,” says I, and striking a match, I showed him my credentials.
He began to sniffle and his face was white as chalk.
“Why—why, this is awful. You always get your man—”
A bullet roared from a dormer window. One of Hale’s men had got out on the slate roof, crawled along the gutter, and spotted my lighted match. His slug ripped a hole in the flesh of my left calf, laming me. Blood spurted, running down my sock into my shoe.
I whirled on my other leg, and sent back several slugs through the glass. The noise was terrific, the explosions banging in the room.
“Oh, Bobby’s killed, Bobby’s killed— ” Miss Reeves was screaming.
“Cut it out, boys, cut it out,” Reeves yelped, but his pipe was lost in the shuffle.
For a few minutes they let me alone, afraid of hurting Reeves. I bandaged up my leg wound as best I could. Reeves was limp as a rag, gasping in fright.
Then I heard the clang of bells and sirens shrieking, drawing closer. The fire department and the cops were coming! Some confusion, believe me. I lay back, my leg throbbing, for there was nothing I could do now but hold out.
Up comes the hook-and-ladder, and they ran up a couple of scaling ladders. The cops took charge in the hall and the chief of police yelled in to me to surrender. Knowing that Hale had appointed the whole shebang, I didn’t see much use in quitting. I was in a fine pickle.
A crowbar drove through the door panel, smashing a hole in it. Then I heard something heavy hit the floor, and another, and a third.
“Tear gas,” I cursed.
THOSE new grenades work fast, and before I could hobble around hunting them in the dark, the room was full of smoke. Choking, eyes smarting, I knew there was no use staying there. I limped to the window; the fire laddies had a ladder up and reached for me, but I ducked and started for the door, which was now open.
Bob Reeves crawls out on his hands and knees and was snatched up by helping hands. I staggered over, gun still in hand, and crashed over the sill, gasping for fresh air. Before I could get any, a dozen men jumped me and dragged me away.
A whole mob glared at me, Tim Hale, his bodyguard or what I had left of them, a squad of cops and the chief of police himself. Servants, and Miss Louise Reeves, who was holding her beloved kid brother’s head in her lap, stroking his forehead and murmuring:
“Did the nasty man hurt-um?”
Tim Hale was furious. He kicked me in the slats.
“Take this garbage out and never let me see him again!” he roared.
“Yes, sir,” cried his chief hoodlum, and they grabbed me and picked me up, starting to hurry me down the stairs.
But Bobby Reeves came to, and cried: “Hey, wait—you can’t do it! He’s a Gman, I tell you! We’ll all get the hot seat! If you kill a Fed, that’s what happens. Look at Dillinger. Look at Barrowes.”
Well, it was better than a bomb exploding. Reeves was scared silly of me and he put all he had into it now, and it gave the others the shivers.
“Who—who says he’s a G-man?” snarled a hood who had me by the ankles.
“Look at his papers and everything,” Reeves argued, getting up and coming over.
They did. “Alcatraz!” blubbered a big hood, turning and racing down the stairs.
The chief of police was right sore. “What d’you mean,” he growled, “by hornin’ in here, Fed, without lettin’ me know?”
“Listen,” I growled back, “Hale appointed you. There would have been one grand duck if you’d savvied we were in.”
“There’s goin’ to be one, startin’ now,” another gunman snapped, starting to follow his pard downstairs. “Why, they don’t even let you chew gum on the Rock!”
Everybody was anxious to get away from me. Tim Hale was scowling and so was his police chief. The panic was contagious and they couldn’t finish me there with everybody looking on.
“No use running, boys,” I remarked smoothly, bluffing. “I have the joint surrounded. Throw down your guns.”
Tim Hale took a step toward me, fists clenched.
“I’ll break your neck, Fed,” he snarled. “I—”
Miss Reeves was crying, as if her little heart would bust.
“Oh, Bobby, you’ve been naughty, I know it! What have you done! You’ll go to prison! Oh, oh—”
Bobby Reeves was right with me. He snatched a riot gun from a big cop who was gaping at the scene.
“You let him alone, Tim, damn you! This is all your fault. I’ll shoot any man who touches the G-man! I won’t burn for anybody’s fun!”
That really broke up the party. The hoods half believed what I said about them being surrounded. Reeves waving the shotgun scared them the rest of the way, and automatics began hitting the floor. The boys crowded around me, all offering to squeal if I would give them a break.
JUST then, more sirens shrieked, and there was a hubbub downstairs. Pretty soon up charges Inspector Duncan McIntosh, with a whole Flying Squad of Federal men behind him, armed to the gills!
He roared up to Tim Hale, tweaked his nose.
“What have ye done with the body of my best agent, Dan’l Harwin?” he demanded. “Ye’ve kilt him, I know, Hale! Yer men were seen forcin’ him into a car at gun’s point—”
The little rascal had figured I was bumped off, had called the riot squad from Chicago, and come a-running!
I pushed my way through the crowd and McIntosh spotted me. His mouth opened and his eyes blinked behind his thick cheaters.
“Why, damn ye, Dan’l,” he snarled indignantly, “ye’re not dead! What d’ye mean by it? Who’ll stond the expense of the planes the boys flew here in?”
Well, that was that. I was worn out and left the handling of my prisoners to the inspector. They rushed the whole gang off to the cooler.
Along around noon next day, I hobbled into the Federal office McIntosh had set up in George Vernon’s quarters. They had Bobby Reeves there, Tim Hale, and Vernon himself, his chest puffed up like a pouter pigeon’s. McIntosh was taking down depositions, and Bobby Reeves had spilled the whole works.
After while somebody tapped on the glass and in came Miss Louise Reeves, very pale, her head held high. Behind her trailed Dopey Joe Willis, the village poet. He had on white spats and carried a yellow malacca cane and stood absent-mindedly in the background.
Tim Hale and George Vernon leaped up and stood before the dame they had been fighting for.
“I’m sorry this had to happen, Louise,” Hale says.
“So am I,” the lady remarks coldly, giving him the icicle eye. “Mr. Hale, I hope you will not speak to me again. You have made a common criminal out of my dear brother and I do not feel I can ever forgive you.”
George Vernon seized her hand. “Miss Reeves, I’m so glad you’ve come. Due to your brother’s assistance, we—”
The lady yanked her hand away as though Vernon were a red-hot stove!
“Don’t touch me, sir,” she ordered, and Vernon shivered as he got the icicle eye. “You—you trapped my poor brother, and set this awful man”—I jumped, too—“on his trail. I can never forgive you.”
“Lady, lady,” I growled, “they done it all for you!”
“Then,” says Miss Reeves, “I consider them the worst sort of fools. I have come,” she went on, turning her back on us and speaking to Inspector McIntosh, “to free my brother. My husband will post any bail you demand.”
“Who?” gasped Vernon and Hale together.
“My husband, Mr. Joseph Willis,” says the dame, indicating Dopey Joe the village poet. “We were married this morning.”
“And where would he get bail money?” I asked, in surprise. “We need your brother, he’s our key witness, Miss— I mean Mrs. Willis. When we’re through with him we’ll let him go off, perhaps with a suspended sentence, but—”
Dopey Joe was whistling a little tune as he dragged a check book out of his pocket.
“I just sold the old Phillips farm for a tidy sum,” Willis says.
“You sold it,” yelped Hale. “Why, I made that property over to Bobby Reeves to please his sister!”
“Yeah,” Willis replies, “but I won it last night shooting craps, Hale!”
We pulled out of Lewiston later, leaving the prosecution to George Vernon and his reform committee. McIntosh borrowed fifty cents from me to send a telegram to the Bureau at Washington. I was leaning on the counter with one arm and a cane with the other, being still lame, and heard the operator read the telegram back to the Inspector:
“I have trapped the criminals and brought decency to Lewiston. McIntosh reporting.”
“You?” I gasped. “Yes, me. C’mon, laddie, and I’ll let ye buy me a beer!”