Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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Doc Turner, kindly old protector of the downtrodden, proves that he knows his chemistry as well as his crooks, when he devises a new kind of third degree.
AN "EL" train rattle-banged along the girder-stilted trestle that darkened Morris Street. Pushcart peddlers raucously shouted their wares, or engaged in shrill, vituperative chaffer with beshawled, vociferous women, playing in the New World the ancient barter-game born in the ghettos and bazaars of the Old. Half-naked, grimy youngsters darted perilously under the lunging hoods of lumbering trucks, shrieking their delight at the drivers, and the drivers bawled curses, as brakes squealed and gears clashed.
The blasting clamor of the slum impacted only dully on Andrew Turner's ears. Stooped, feeble and gray, he stood in the doorway of his shabby-fronted corner pharmacy, a faint smile edging the thin lips under his bushy white mustache, a faraway look in his eyes of faded blue.
Doc Turner was thinking of the long-ago day when Morris Street was an elm-shaded suburban lane and he had first opened the brightly painted door of the drugstore where he surely would make his fortune.
If success is measured in dollars, Andrew Turner was a failure. But wealth of another kind was his full measure. The consciousness of long service was his, the memory of selfless ministry to the denizens of the rabbit-warren tenements that replaced the white cottages of that distant time. His treasure was the trust and affection and love of poverty-stricken aliens, bewildered by the strange customs of a strange land that belied the Promise that had brought them adventuring here. Andrew Turner had never married, but these were his children; these friendless poor, young and old, whose only friend he was. Now, in the evening of life...
A sudden silence, startling and ominous, jerked Doc Turned out of his reverie.
A hot-corn seller's mouth gaped, his cry frozen, his glittering, appalled eyes staring... A wizened hag rigidly held an apron across her scrawny breast, her fingers dough-white against the gaudy print, her beady eyes dilated...
A quarter-block away a blue sedan, front door open, was skewed sidewise to the pushcart-line curb. Jammed against its side, a squirming figure struggled voicelessly, hopelessly, to get free of the thick, hairy fingers that had slammed him there. The burly, blunt-jawed captor's free fist, hamlike, brass-knuckled, flailed at his victim's writhing face...
Plock! The meaty thud was sickening. Plock! The face against the car side was no longer a face. It was a scarlet smear... A scream gibbered through Morris Street's hush. The beaten man sprawled, hurled into a pile of black muck. The sedan door slammed—the car surged away, its horn blaring a hastily cleared path for it.
A broken, twisted form flopped in the debris-strewn gutter, for all the world like a landed fish, save that a fish cannot scream in agony. Morris Street came alive, its thirty seconds of startled paralysis over. Running feet pounded. A mass of rushing, jabbering humanity screened from Doc the form in the gutter.
"Ai!" a small boy's voice chattered at his elbow. "Ai, Meester Toiner." It was his errand-boy, Abie—swart-countenanced, hook-nosed, his tight black curls a kinky cap. "Vot ees? Vot heppendt?"
"Abe! Here's a nickel." Turner thrust the coin into the youngster's grimy paw. "Get the police. Tell them to pick up a sedan, license 1V246, and hold the occupants for assault."
"Vun wee two fordy-zex," the urchin repeated, whirling back to the store entrance. Abie Ginsburg was trained to instant obedience. More than once had his quick wit come to Doc's aid in his forays against the wolves that prey on the helpless poor. "Shoor. I..."
A lantern-jawed husky banged into Abe, toppled him, sent him skidding along the sidewalk. The crowd was still streaming by, and it might have been an accident. But Turner was almost sure the collider had been standing calmly nearby only an instant before. He started toward the store to himself give the alarm. The fellow bulked in his path, blocking him.
"Forget dat marker, if yuh know what's good fer yuh." The growled words thudded flatly. "Fergit it." A harsh palm jolted the old man's chin, knocked him off balance, slammed him across the sidewalk. Doc caromed into a pushcart, snatched at it to keep from falling... The man was gone, merged with the pell-mell throng, no one of whom had noticed the incident, so deftly had the attacks on Abe and his employer been accomplished.
DOC TURNER'S seamed face was bleak, his eyes slitted, dangerous. He went across the sidewalk. His nickel pinged into the black box in the phone booth...
A roaring wave of voices, the scuffling of many feet, met him as he came out of the booth. The victim of the vicious attack was being carried into the store. As many hands were on the tossing body as could reach it, the volunteer first-aiders hoping against hope that Doc would permit them to remain to feed their morbid curiosity.
"Take him in back. Put him in my desk chair, and then get out." The old druggist spoke quietly, confident of being obeyed. "There's an ambulance coming."
Abe had the door closed against the crowd outside. "Who did it, Georgic?" Doc demanded, his bony, transparent hands busy with soft cotton and a soothing lotion. "Who did it, and why?" He bathed the pulped, raw mass that had been the high-cheekboned, stolid face of a Polish laborer, washing the blood away.
Pain wrenched a whimper from Georgic, his gnarled hands squeezing the chair arms. "Fife dollair," he moaned. "For fife dollair."
"Five dollars. What do you mean?"
"I do nod pay, so dey—dey do this to me. Aaah, dot iss better. Dot feel mooch better." A bubble of blood plopped from between mashed lips. Doc wiped it away, tenderly.
Sirens wailed in the distance. Sirens of police radio cars, searching for the sedan with the license number 1V246.
"You didn't pay someone five dollars, so you were beaten up. Is that it?"
"Da. I loan ten dollair, promise pay back t'ree a week for fife weeks.—Nod pay one time, pay four all rest weeks. Nod pay again, fife dollair.—I pay fourteen dollair, still owe fourteen. I get mad, say nod pay no more. He say I pay—or else."
"And what just happened to you is the 'or else'! I..." Ambulance bell clangor, loud through the door Abe had opened, drowned out the rest of Doc's sentence. A white-clad interne barged in, after him a florid-faced patrolman.
"Gee, Doc," the cop blurted. "Yuhr tip was all to de good. Conners picked up th' sedan over on Garden Av'noo."
"Then they've got the thugs. Good!"
"Th' hell they got 'em. Dey ducked out, got away. Th' heap's a stolen car—no way o' tracin' it. That's that."
What little color it had held drained from Doc's face, and it was gray as his silky hair. But deep in his eyes a light glowed, the reflection of an icy inner fire. "No, Fallon," he murmured. "That's not that, at all. It isn't ended. Not if I've got anything to say." The old man turned away to help the hospital physician, but the young doctor was not doing anything.
"Gone," he whispered. "Heart conked."
The light in Doc's faded orbs grew even more icy. There were men behind bars, and men in dishonored graves, who had before now caused that chill glow to burn there. A kindly, doddering old man Andrew Turner might be, but when danger threatened his people he could be cruel, relentless...
THE rumble of an "El" train was like ominous thunder over Morris Street, and the shadow of its trestle a brooding pall. The slum thoroughfare had apparently settled back into its usual routine, but a new note underlay its clamor, a note of hushed fear. The crowds had thinned, and there was gray terror in the faces of those remaining. Women leaned out of curtain-less windows in grimy facades, their anxious eyes peering for sight of wage-earners who would soon return from sweating toil. The pushcarts were doing almost no business, though this was Saturday afternoon...
Doc Turner jabbed the time-scarred edge of his sales counter with an acid-stained thumb. "We've got a job on our hands again, Jack."
"I don't get it." The barrel-chested, carrot-topped young man on the other side of the counter was Jack Ransom, Doc's right hand when the old druggist was on the prowl in behalf of the slum folk. "Georgic owed some money and got beaten up because he didn't pay it. Pretty tough, but it don't call for us to be getting all worked up."
"Maybe it wouldn't if that was all there was to it." Doc's attention seemed concentrated on a pile of cough drop boxes. He was piling them up in an intricate pyramid, his brow seamed as though he were working out some baffling, three-dimensional puzzle. "If it was, he'd have been caught up some dark alley or in a hallway, where there wouldn't be any chance of interference, of the thugs being caught. It was done in the middle of Morris Street, so that their other victims could see what happened to him, and take warning."
"There was a lookout posted at this corner. I am certain there were more covering the rest of the block. The attack was too well organized, and there were too many concerned, for a petty, two-bit racket. Big money is wound up in it, and any scheme getting big money out of this neighborhood involves—"
"Pretty damn near everybody around. I get it!" Growing excitement showed in Jack's freckled face.
"Most of the families around here have been on relief," Doc hammered home his point. "Conditions are better; the men are going back to work. But as soon as they get jobs, the dole is cut off. There are no savings, they cannot draw pay for a week or more. They are offered small loans to tide over the slack. Fifty percent interest does not deter them.
"The first or second payment is difficult, and they are encouraged to skip it. The penalty of an extra dollar on each remaining installment doesn't sound too much for the favor, not till they have to pay it the next week. Then they skip again, incurring another penalty. Now they are really in trouble. They manage to pay off the original debt after awhile, only to find that they still owe more than they borrowed. That loan of ten or fifteen dollars that was a godsend when it was needed so badly has become an incubus, a vampire nightmare, draining them dry."
"It can't be collected. The law says that a usurious contract is void!"
"The law! The brass knuckle is the gang's law, and the blackjack; and if need be, the bullet. But above all, fear. They planted the seed of that fear this afternoon, and watered it with Pavel Georgic's blood." Doc's old hands knotted into fists on the counter. "There will be very little food on Morris Street's tables from now on. The children will go ragged, and the rent will not be paid. But the money-gang's collectors will be busy, raking in endless payments from frightened men."
Jack Ransom's good-humored grin was no longer in evidence. "You win, Doc." His words were a growl, deep down in his throat. "We've got to stop it!"
"Yes. But how? Where are the bloodsuckers? Who are they? I've been asking questions, and getting no answers. As usual, the fools have shut up like clams, voiceless with terror. I—"
HINGE-SQUEAL of the opening door silenced Doc. An overalled man kept his hand on the knob. "Turner?" he questioned gruffly. He had an envelope in his free hand.
"Yes?" Doc came around the end of the sales counter. Past the man, he could see a small truck backed to the curb, another overalled man wrestling an apparently heavy crate to the tailboard. "What is it?"
"Package for you—come on, Hen." The man outside got the big box to the end of the truck-bed.
Turner's brow furrowed. "I'm not expecting any—" The box slipped from the truckman's hand, crashed to the cobbles—sidewalk and truck were obliterated by a gigantic burst of flame. Sound, monstrous and solid-seeming, blasted Doc down. Plate glass smashed...
Doc Turner rolled over, shook his head to clear it. He couldn't hear anything yet, for the ringing in his ears. But he could smell the acrid fumes of cordite. He could see the shambles out there, the jumble of twisted iron and steel that had been a delivery truck, the gory splatter that had been a human! The body of a little girl lay very still on the shattered pavement, brown locks matted with a scarlet, viscid fluid.
"A package," Doc muttered, insanely. "Package of Death."
The overalled man pushed shaking hands against the splintered doorjamb, his thighs muscling for the getaway—Jack leaped past Doc. His fist crashed against the truckman's jaw, and the burly fellow slumped, the stiffening suddenly gone out of him.
"In the back," Turner husked. "Get him in the back. Under the counter."
"What...?" Jack stared from eyes that were lurid coals. "Why...?"
"Get him in the back. Hurry!"
The youth bent, effortlessly lifted his victim to his brawny shoulder, strode through the half-dismantled store and vanished through the grime-stiffened curtain over which a sign said, "Prescription Department."
Doc Turner struggled to his feet. A police whistle shrilled, somewhere. Frightened faces peered out of doorways. A few daring ones ventured out into terror-emptied Morris Street and a blue-uniformed cop pounded around the corner.
Doc picked up the white envelope from the floor, moving jerkily, like a rundown mechanism. He ripped it open, ripped out the slip of paper it enclosed. Letters on it were crudely printed, in red ink, simulating a bill-head:
MORRIS STREET COLLECTION AGENCY
OUR MOTTO: PAY UP—OR ELSE...
and written underneath, in palpably distinguished handwriting:
For getting nosey... 1 Blast-out
THE paper rattled with the tremor that shook Andrew Turner's hand. This thing was puerile, infantile. But it was lent dreadful meaning by the horror just outside the smashed door. That had been meant for him, and this scarlet-lettered bill had been intended to be read when he was beyond reading anything.
The crate was an infernal machine, devised to explode when he tugged at its boards, opening it. He was alive, at this moment, only by virtue of a sheer accident.
"Package of Death," Doc muttered again, the phrase pounding in his brain. He was no longer trembling. Momentarily he was rigid, a frail-seeming statue of white rage.
Then he was moving to the front of the store, moving to the tumult of jabbering voices, of clanging ambulances and howling radio cars, of gruff, braggart officialdom. He didn't know anything about what had happened, he said. He had ordered nothing that might have exploded like that. Maybe some peddler...
He said nothing about the prisoner Jack had concealed in the prescription room. He said nothing about the macabre bill. That was a challenge directed at him, and he had taken up the challenge—he did not intend police blundering to come between him and his enemy. There would be no glib-mouthed criminal lawyers, no tricks of the law, to shield the perpetrators of the outrage from vengeance.
Jack Ransom, glowering and thin-lipped, confirmed him where confirmation was needed.
THE street lamps were aglow before the smashed pavement was cleared, the depression roped off, the gaping drugstore front boarded up. Morris Street was crowded once more, as it should be on Saturday night, but the pushcart line was very thin. No use, the hucksters decided, to stand there and shout, and not sell anything at all. They would try their luck over on Pleasant Avenue, or far uptown in the market under the railroad viaduct.
Doc locked the store door from within, turned to Jack. "Let's get busy," he said, his voice toneless. "We'll get answers to our questions now." They went back between showcases disordered by the cataclysm, went through the dingy curtain into the bottle-walled sanctum.
It was seemingly empty. But Ransom knelt alongside the long prescription counter, tugged at something beneath it. There was the sound of fabric scraping along wood, and then the youth was pulling an overalled form out into the center of the backroom floor, a burly form whose wrists and ankles were bound by strips of adhesive tape, whose thick lips were laced with the narrow, white plaster.
There was a blue bruise on the blunt jaw, the mark of Jack Ransom's knuckles, but out of the bristly unshaved face, red-rimmed eyes stared, their pupils a fathomless black with hate.
Jack poked a thumb at a flat automatic, gleaming bluely on the scrubbed counter top. "He had that on him when I frisked him."
"Put it in your pocket," Doc grunted, kneeling. He ripped the short strips of plaster from the captive's lips, reckless of the bits of skin that came away with the adhesive. Obscenity spewed out, filthy vituperation.
Turner slapped the man's cheek, hard. "Shut up," he grated. "Speak when you're spoken to." Ransom's eyes widened at the grim ferocity in the old man's voice. In all their adventures, Doc never had betrayed such virulent rage. He had always been calm, collected...
Jack hadn't seen the broken little body on the sidewalk. By the time he had gotten out there, the crowd had been too thick around it.
"Wats de ideer?" the prone thug jerked out. "First me helper gets blown ter bits and den yer ties me up like dis."
"I said I'd do the talking," Turner rasped. "What's your name?"
"Wats dat ter yer?"
"What's your name?" The question was a low monotone, but somehow there was infinite threat in it.
"That will do for the moment. Who sent you here with that crate?"
"I dunno. Guy left it at de office, wid de bill. We don't ask no questions w'en de express is paid."
"You're lying, Sam. That was no regular express truck. There was no name anywhere on it. There was no other freight on it. Truckmen don't usually carry guns. You knew what was in that crate. I think your helper didn't. You were afraid to handle it yourself, and you kept him in the dark about it so he wouldn't be. That's where you made your mistake."
Sam's thick lips curled in a sneer. "Wise guy, ain't yer. But it ain't goin' ter do yer no good. Yer kin have me jugged, an' see how quick I gets sprung."
Turner's mustache twitched to a smile that was utterly without humor. "No," he said softly. "I'm not going to turn you over to the police. I'm going to keep you right here, and you're going to talk—Who's the big shot of the money-lending racket, and where can I find him."
"Wouldn't yer like to know?" the prostrate man jeered. "I bin worked over by the bulls before an' dey didn't get nothin' out er me. Yer ain't got a chanct."
AGAIN that humorless smile licked Doc's old mouth with pale flame. "I won't use the water cure on you, and I'm not going to keep you awake with a bright light on you for hours and days. I haven't any rubber hose here with which to knock you around. But there are things in those bottles more terrible than anything the police ever used on you. And I know how to use them."
"G'wan. Yer ain't kiddin' me." There was a quiver, the tiniest possible quiver, of uncertainty, in the man's response. A muscle twitched in his cheek.
"Right. I'm not kidding you." Doc shrugged. "I don't like what I'm going to do, even when it's scum like you that it's going to be done to, but if you insist..." He broke off, his sudden silence more insidious than any threat, lifted himself erect. Sam watched through slitted lids as he pulled open a drawer in the prescription counter, lifted out two pairs of rubber gloves, a roll of bandage, a wad of absorbent cotton.
He put the cotton in a mortar, soaked it with liquid from a bottle whose label Sam could not see. Separating the wet fibres into two batches, Doc beckoned Ransom wordlessly to him, laid one of the wads over the youth's nose and mouth, taped it there.
"Do the same for me, Jack," he said, "and then put on a pair of those gloves. If anything goes wrong, we'll need all the protection we can get."
The redhead obeyed, his eyes flashing a question Doc refused to answer. The two were oddly ghoulish, the white gauze obliterating their features, their hands glistening black and rubber-smooth. There was a brittle silence in the small space. It was suddenly mysterious with its gleaming apparatus, its ranged vials of drugs and chemicals, esoteric-seeming in the glare of a single unshaded bulb.
Doc padded to the shelf over the sink, took down from it a couple of glass graduates, a stirring rod. He was back at the counter. The prisoner on the floor couldn't see what he was doing, but there was the pop of a drawn cork, the gurgle of liquids being poured. The light hazed with a brownish mist that rose from whatever it was the pharmacist was concocting. The fumes drifted downward, billowing. Sam's nostrils were stung, abruptly, by an acrid, biting odor. His throat muscles constricted, half-choking him.
"Yer ain't kiddin' me wid no smells," he grunted, whipping his failing courage to defiance. "Yer can't scare me."
Only the clink of a balance pan answered him. He heard crystals sift off a paper, make tiny splashes into liquid. There was a whispering hiss from the counter above him, the hiss of boiling froth. Greenish tendrils crept up into sight, wavering through the brown fumes.
"Hold him down." The druggist's tones were muffled by the cotton wadding. "Keep his head steady."
Jack dropped, his knee bored into Sam's chest, pinning him down. Strong fingers clamped either side of the captive's head. Doc turned. An enameled metal funnel was in one of his hands, and in the other was a graduate containing the liquid from which the fumes rose. The solution was boiling with the rapid evolution of gas.
It was greenly iridescent, glowing in the light with a luminescence that was queerly alive, eerily evil. It was like nothing Sam had ever seen.
The thug's body arched, spasmodically, in a desperate effort to throw Jack off. The red-topped head swayed toward the graduate.
"God!" Turner's exclamation thudded through the soaked cotton over his mouth. "Be careful! If a drop of this gets on you..."
"He won't move again," Ransom muttered. Sam's teeth clenched against a scream that was tearing his chest.
"Pry his mouth open," Doc directed.
"What are you goin to do, Doc?" Ransom exclaimed. "You're not..."
"Pry his mouth open." Muffled and flat and toneless, that voice. Grim—relentless.
JACK'S thumbs dug into his victim's jaw hinges. Excruciating pain rayed from that remorseless pressure. The cold sweat of agony stood out on Sam's forehead. His teeth came apart—the funnel stem clinked between them. The graduate dipped to its wider end and the fumes poured over the indented lip, just ahead of the seething liquid...
A scream shrilled through the funnel, a shriek of ineffable terror. "Don't. Oh Gawd, don't!" The graduate hesitated, the frothy solution lapping at its very edge. "I'll talk. I'll spill me guts."
"Talk quick, then, before I change my mind." There was disappointment in Doc Turner's voice. "I've tried this on animals, but I've always wanted to see just how it would work on a human being..."
"Geeze mister, not on me. Listen. Half-Nose McGoorty is the boss o' dis racket. De runners turns in de dough ter him back o' Lapidus' Delicatessen, corner Hogbund Place. He's dere now, rakin' it in. Geeze! I'll get mine fer squealin' ef yer don't get him foist. It'll take a regiment o' perlice to cop him. Half-Nose has got dat back room planted wid Tommy guns, an' he's got some kind o' getaway I don't know nuttin' erbout. Dey got ter camp around de whole block an'—"
"There will be no police in this," Doc said, setting the graduate down on the counter. "The two of us will settle with Half-Nose and his merry men." He was ripping the bandage away from Sam's face. "Tape up our friend Sam again, Jack, while we go on a little trip."
"Gawd, mister," the quivering man squealed. "Don't leave dat stuff dere. It might spill on me..."
Turner chuckled. "It wouldn't hurt you if it did. It's just potassium nitrate—saltpetre—and bicarbonate of soda, dissolved in water, with some acetic acid, to liberate carbon dioxide gas and the brown-colored nitrous fumes. The green was from a crystal or two of copper salts. You could drink a gallon of this stuff and all it would do would be to bloat you, or maybe make you a little sick to the stomach."
"Gawd," Sam grunted. "Gaw..." Adhesive plaster clamped his mouth shut. Jack scrambled erect, tearing off his gloves and mask.
"You put on some act, Doc," he grinned. "It had me winging, till I saw the label on the bottle from which you wet this cotton and read, 'Distilled Water.' But why don't we call in the cops, now that we've got the dope?"
"Because we haven't a scintilla of legal evidence against this—er—Half-Nose McGoorty. The next move is to Lapidus', to try and pick up some."
"But they'll spot us and guess what we're up to. We..."
"Not when I get through. Go out front, like a good fellow, and get some hair dye from the shelf. Nelson's. It washes out easily in an alkaline solution. And grab a handful of grease paints from the showcase next to the telephone booth. I keep them in stock for a burlesque queen who lives around the corner. They'll come in handy."
DOC was not idle while Ransom rummaged for the items of disguise. A close look might have penetrated the masks of the couple that strolled down Morris Street a half-hour later. The shorter man was somewhat foppish with his sleek black hair and short-clipped black mustache, his skin smooth with a coating of rouged collodion, pink wax making a hump on his nose. The taller one was stooped, his high-cheekboned countenance wrinkle-seamed, his reddish hair gray at the temples. But the denizens of the slum were preoccupied, no one bothered to give the two that closer look.
They turned into a combination delicatessen store and lunch room two blocks down the avenue, walked leisurely to the marble-topped table farthest from the door, sat down at it, facing one another. An aproned waiter came out from the high counter that paralleled one wall of the store.
"Two hot pastrami sandwiches," Jack ordered, "and two bottles of celery tonic."
"Cole slaw or mustard?" The heavy-jowled attendant gusted garlic-laden breath as he slammed down two thick glasses of water. "Peekles? French-fried?" He managed to make a deafening clatter with two sets of tarnish-splotched knives and forks. "Tea?"
"I said celery tonic. No cole slaw, an' no French-fried for me. I got too much fat on me already. How about you, Ike?"
"No, Harry." Doc seemed to jerk out of a reverie. "I get eet sahch heart-boin from dem t'ings, you have no ideer." His accent was a deft reproduction of Abie Ginsburg's. "Veil, maybe ah couple peekles, hah?"
"Four dill pickles. None o' dem raw cucumbers dat's been dipped in de vinegar barrel, neider. An' a plate o' black olives."
"Pastrami samwiches without nottin'. Celery tonic. Peekles. Bleck olives. Dat's right?"
"Yeah. Step on it."
The waiter went behind his counter.
"Doc," Jack murmured. "There is only one door in the partition behind you. Its edge is worn, and smeared with greasy hand prints. The kitchen must be behind it."
"No reason why there shouldn't be something else. These stores—I remember their being built—are eighty feet deep. The partition cuts this one in half. That would make a pretty big kit—got to get a tousand dollers by tomorrah or de benk calls de mortgage." Lapidus' man was coming toward the table with their order. "De momserem. Dey know ven der season starts I'll have plenty geld, baht no, dey got to have deir payment right now."
"Wisht I could help you, like, but I'm tied up." Jack spread his hands wide. "All summer Rebecca's got to stay at the beach, and de kids just got to go to camp. A bloodsucker dot woman is, I tell you. A leech."
"I'll geeve eet a tousend dollars bonus fahr a tousand, undt pay beck helf in six weeks, helf in t'ree monts. Eet's ah goodt proposishun, Harry. I'm desperet."
"Yeah. But I can't..."
"Fifteen hoondredt bonus. I'll raise my prices ten percent ah garment."
"Oxcoos me fahr buttin' een," the waiter butted in. "Baht maybe I could get eet fahr you de moneh, hah?"
Doc looked up. "Who's eskin' you to butt een?"
"I said excoos me, didn't I? Do you need eet ah tausend dollars or do you don't?"
"I do. So vat?"
"So you eat your pastrami samwich und your peekles mit ah goodt appetite und I go talk to some vun. Maybe ven you're zuppin' ahp de crumbs I got goodt needs fahr you."
"Look, I'm eatin' alretty."
The aproned man went through the partition.
"Hooked!" Jack murmured. "Hooked, by jingo."
Turner's smile was weary, gray-lipped under that clipped mustache. "Hooked is right, my boy. But the question is, who?"
"Hell! You don't think...?"
"I don't think what to think. This seems too easy... He's coming!"
THE man was back. "Eet's all feexed." Gold glittered in a toothy smile. "Eef you got eet goodt security you sign ah seexty day note fahr two tausend dollars und you go from here mit ah tausend."
"Ai!" Doc's hands spread wide. "I taught vould be a ketch. If I got security vould I pay sahch a bonus? Vot you teenk?"
The waiter blinked. "Den ees no epples. Security re got to hav eet."
"No security. Baht mein friendt Harry I offered feeteen hoondredt bonus und I shtick to eet. Feeteen hoondredt, mitout security."
"Veil, I got to go esk."
"Esk aheen, esk akerr." Ask here, ask there. "Vot kind from beesness ees dees esking? Eef you gaht eet somevun vot wants to do beesness, tell him to come out here und talk to me. I'll talk to him, believe me."
"Heem vot has, dun't come. Heem vot vants, goes."
"Who said I vouldn't go?" Doc stood up. "Vere do ve go?"
Jack's chair also scraped back. "Sure. We're ready to talk business, but not no more through agents. We'll talk to the principal, and we don't pay no commissions."
"Who's esking fahr commeesions? Commeesions!" The aproned waiter snorted. "Lapidus Service, dot's vot you're getting. Come on."
They followed him through the partition, into a narrow room where the odor of smoked meats was heavy, nauseating. Jack threw a worried look at Doc, but the little man was moving confidently in the wake of their guide. A panel in the workroom's rear wall slid open.
"In dere," the waiter said. "Go aheadt."
They went through the panel, and it shut behind them with a dull, metallic sound. Instinctively they halted, their shoulders touching as if for mutual comfort. They were in a smaller room whose atmosphere was greasy, spiced; and hazy with drifting tendrils of cigarette smoke. The shadow of iron bars lay against the wired ground glass of the only window, and there was no visible exit except that through which they had entered.
"Well," a husked, grating voice greeted them. "What's your story?"
The owner of the voice was alone in the room. His feet were propped up on a desk top, and his black derby was jauntily cocked askew. But there was nothing jaunty about his countenance. Its left side was heavy-jowled, florid; but some accident had happened, long ago, to the right. It was bashed in, its glistening parchment the pallid gray-white of a blind slug revealed by an overturned rock. There wasn't any motion in the right half of his mouth, and the corresponding portion of his nose had been obliterated, so that what remained was a livid, single-nostriled shred. There was something indescribably revolting, ineffably sinister, about that tortured mask.
Doc threw his hands wide, shrugged thin shoulders to his ears. "I got to hev eet ah tausendt dollars by tomarrah morning or de benk takes eet avay mine pents fectory. I got no security, bat de season starts ahp next mont', undt den geefs plenty income. So I got eet to pay a beeg bonus fahr de moneh, hah; fahr seex weeks oder ninety days."
Half of McGoorty's mouth twisted in a grimace that might have been intended for a grin. "You'll pay a bonus, all right." His shoes came down off the desk top, and his big torso swung forward, the swivel chair creaking. "You'll pay two for one, and like it."
"Ai," Doc wailed. "Mine skeen he vants to tear off. Twelf-feefty, undt nod a cent more."
THE seated man's hand slid under his lapel. "Good act," he lipped. "But it don't go over, Mister Andrew Turner. I knew Sam Crain wasn't hurt, and I had your store watched. I was waiting for you." The hidden hand came out with a bulldog-nosed revolver...
"Crack!" Pistol bark and crash of metal seemed one sound. McGoorty's gun was no longer in his grip, and there was a splotch of blood on the fingers that had held it.
"Reach," Jack grunted, the automatic he had taken from Sam snouting at Half-Nose. "Reach for the ceiling or the next one'll tear away the other side of your face."
McGoorty's hands went above his head, but there was no emotion in his dreadful visage. "Pretty shooting," he murmured. "I could use you."
"Where you're going there's going to be plenty guys that can shoot," Ransom growled. "But it will be you their guns will be loaded for. They'll be standing on a high wall, and they'll be watching you making little ones out of big ones."
"Yeah?" the other responded heavily. "And how do you expect to send me there?"
"We have enough on your henchman, Sam, to make a murder indictment stick." Doc had abandoned his counterfeit accent. "And in your desk there's enough corroborative evidence to confirm his story."
"Sure of that, aren't you?" The man's calm was ominous. "Very sure?"
"You can't run a business like yours on memory. You've got records, and I'm going to get them, right now." Doc got into motion. "Watch him, Jack."
"No, Jack," McGoorty said, low-toned. "Just look to your right. And I'd advise you to look, too, Turner, before you come any nearer."
Ransom's glance flicked to the right-hand wall, flicked back. But there was no longer any color in his face. He had seen a slit in that wall, and poked through that slit the barrel of a tommy gun. He couldn't see it any longer, staring as he was at the half-nosed man, but he was acutely, terribly conscious of that black death's-eye glaring at him. His finger tightened on the automatic's trigger.
"Think again," Half-Nose murmured. "You can plug me, but my friend will get both of you. Both! You haven't a chance to get out of here alive."
"You win." It was Doc who spoke. "Drop the automatic, my boy. Drop it!"
The gun's thud on the floor pounded dull despair into Jack's brain. If only Doc weren't here...
McGoorty's hands came down, to push down on the desk, shove him erect. "It doesn't pay to get nosey, Mr. Turner," he snarled. "Now does it?"
"Evidently not, this time." Doc's hands were above his head, but his tone was smooth, unruffled. "I know when I'm defeated. Let us go, and I'll promise for both of us that we'll stay out of your affairs from now on. I'm an old man, but life is still sweet. Sweeter than the pocketbooks of the fools who fall into your clutches."
McGOORTY pulled open a desk drawer, fumbled out another pistol, like a twin to the one Ransom's shot had smashed. "Hard to get out of the character you assumed," he chuckled. "You've got to keep on bargaining."
"I'm offering you a chance to keep on with your racket. You can kill us, but you'll have to get out of the city if you do. We were seen coming in here, and I'm too well known not to have been recognized. Too well loved for the people of Morris Street, ignored as they usually are, not to raise such a howl as to compel the police to act."
"You weren't recognized, coming in here. You took good care of that yourself." The gun Half-Nose held seemed to cover both Jack and Doc at once. "It will be from your store you will have disappeared, and the body of Sam Crain, his throat slit, will explain why you vanished."
"You can't get two cadavers out of here. Since that explosion, the police are searching every truck and car for blocks around, looking for another bomb."
McGoorty's smile was grotesque, as half of his mouth refused to move with it; horrible, as no amusement showed in his slitted eyes. "They search the truck you go out of here in, and they'll find a nice batch of pickled meats, all carved neatly and still hot from the cookers. I figured an all-night delicatessen would be a good front for my racket, but I didn't figure how handy it might turn out."
His meaning penetrated to his hearers, and a thick, horrified silence spread in the room like a pall. McGoorty broke it. "Come on in, Joe. I've got them covered."
The gun-slit in the wall widened, spread vertically. It was a narrow opening through which a runted, simian-visaged individual came in, the tommy gun cradled in his arms. The aperture slid shut behind him.
"Geeze, boss," he whined. "You're a lulu. Let me do the carvin'." His tongue licked his cracked lips. His tiny eyes, red with murder-lust, fastened on Doc with grisly anticipation.
The disguised druggist was a shriveled ancient. His fear, despair, squirmed in his collodion-smeared face, and he backed away from the killer, backed till he reached the farther wall. Joe slithered after him, grinning lasciviously, and McGoorty watched with sadistic satisfaction, savoring the terror the announcement of his intentions had inspired.
Doc reached the wall. His arm jerked down, swiftly. A small globe leaped out of his sleeve, arced into Joe's face, burst there with the tinkling splutter of thin glass. Liquid sprayed...
Ransom left his feet in a thunderbolt dive that carried him under McGoorty's startled shot. His arms were around the disfigured man's waist, and they crashed together to the floor. Another shot blasted...
The killer's shrill, agonized scream cut through the pound of the shots, through the thump and the snarling of the struggle on the floor. "I can't see! I can't—!" Tommy-gun chatter drowned that scream.
Bullet spray jabbered out of the machine-gun nozzle, but it tore into the floor. Doc, springing in at the blinded man, took advantage of his momentary shock to shove the death-hose down with fiercely clinging hands...
A cruel thumb gouged for Jack's eye. He wrenched away to avoid it. McGoorty rolled, half-lifting to free his gun arm, to bring his revolver to bear on the redhead...
Lifting into the lethal torrent loosed by his tortured henchman! The whipping death-rain carried away the untouched side of his face.
Still screaming, Joe fought his arms up against Doc's desperate hold. The aged man's momentary strength seeped out of him. Bullet-pour plucked at his trouser hem—and stopped suddenly! Jack had catapulted to his feet, had crashed a bone-smashing fist into the thug's twisted face. The killer was down, was rolling in agony, his writhing form daubed by the scarlet life fluid gushing from the big shot who had ordered him to his doom.
"Hell," Jack Ransom mouthed, inanely. "I was waiting for you to do something, was ready to get into action when you did. You always have something up your sleeve, but I didn't think it would be an ampul. How'd you manage to keep it there all the time?"
"I didn't. It was in my vest pocket, and I slipped it out when you pulled your gun on McGoorty. I let it drop when I lifted my hands, and prayed that it wouldn't get caught in a fold of my shirt."
"It didn't—praise be. Say, what was the stuff? It's burning my knuckles, where I hit the son."
Doc's thin lips twitched in a grisly smile. "Pickling them, you mean," he said. "I knew I'd need something, and the acetic acid was handy, the acid from vinegar that they use to pickle delicatessens."
"God!" the youth groaned. "I used to like that stuff. But I'll never eat it again."
"Nor I, my son. Nor I."
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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