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ANTHONY M. RUD

LIVE BAIT

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Ex Libris

First published in Argosy Weekly, 4 January 1936

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-06-22
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Cover Image

Argosy Weekly, 29 September 1934, with "Live Bait"



Illustration

Two furtive-eyed men handed over the mysterious bait.



FOUR fishermen came from New Orleans to Pass Christian, Mississippi, by train. Accoutered, eager, carrying their heavy tarpon rods and tackle, they came at once to McClintock's pier, where the forty-five-foot power schooner, Susie B., should have been waiting for them. Canvas-covered, riding at anchor out in the harbor, the Susie B. seemed not to expect them.

Mutters among the four men. Then a violent outburst of profanity, when they discovered Captain Ian McClintock insensible under the pier—just above high-tide mark. Three empty bottles which had held Scots whisky, and a breath which cut through even the prevailing harbor odors of dead shrimp and drying trammel-nets, seemed to explain, if not excuse, the captain's condition.

At the end of the pier a seedy individual in overalls, barefooted, hauled in his second small speckled trout. This he detached from one of his hand-lines. On another line he hauled up a crab, and shook it loose with a surly oath. He paid no attention to the acrimony and disgust of the four visitors coming toward him.

"Look here, you!" said a short, stocky man in cap, corduroys and brown fishing jacket, coming up behind the lazy-looking fisherman. "D'you know Captain McClintock, who owns that boat?" The stocky man jerked a thumb toward the Susie B.

The lazy fisherman looked up, grinning slowly and scratching hie brown, stubbly chin.

"Reckon so-o," he drawled. "He gimme a drink las' night, afo' he got right ugly."

The city man scowled. He had an abrupt, nervous manner. He complained briefly that he and his companions were ready to make a trip, but that the captain was incapable.

Could this lounging fisherman run the schooner if the four guests took the responsibility, and carried McClintock along with them? There would be ten dollars if it lounger wanted to go right away.

Another strike came on a hand-line, and the overalled fisherman attended to landing the fish before he replied. Then he appeared to consider, and finally allowed he might do it if he could have half the sum mentioned to take to his old woman, along with the three fish.

The stocky man drew out a roll of bills and thumbed off one.

"Hurry, then!" he bade. "We'll be all ready for you."

"How about bait?" questioned the fisherman.

"We've arranged to get that out at Pass Mary Anne!" snapped the city man. "Go along now. How fast can you make it?" He glanced at his wrist-watch and frowned again. "An extra five if you're back here in fifteen minutes!"

"Gee, my old woman—" began the lounger.

But then he evidently decided that the extra money was worth getting, for he actually strode fast and loose-jointedly toward the shore end of the pier, and the array of shacks facing the Gulf Coast Boulevard. He made it back in twelve minutes and a few seconds.

Fifteen minutes later, with Captain McClintock sprawled out and snoring upon a hatch cover, caring not at all for the buckets of sea water which his guests emptied over him from time to time, the Susie B. headed out under power, bound for the twin "passes" (channels of deep water) and the tarpon grounds beyond.

The man in overalls, who admitted he was known as Hoky, got along all right with the auxiliary engine. Since there was a following breeze, he had suggested getting up sail; but the four tarpon enthusiasts would have none of it.

Trailing the two skiffs, they were making six or seven knots; and the breeze was too light to give this much.

The four city guests had been out on other occasions with Captain McClintock, it developed. The stocky spokesman now worked on the owner of the Susie B. and managed to get a lew hoarse, groggy sounds out of him. The moment stimulus lapsed, however, the captain groaned and subsided in sleep again.

"You'd think it was something worse than booze!" snarled the stocky man, confessing failure at last.

"Huh, three-fifths of a gallon ain't bad for one night," smiled another, a lean fellow with a wolfish mouth and steel-rimmed spectacles. "Me, I brought one pint for the whole day!" And he held up a silver flask, shook it, then helped himself to a gurgling drink.

FROM his place at the tiller, the sprawling Hoky had remarked that all four of the men had suspicious bulges either in hip-pockets or under their left arms. Well, that was all right. Hoky had a bulge in the hip of his overalls, too. At first glance he bad known that he could not trust these casual employers very far.

It was an unusual way to get bait; but the four city men appeared to know the procedure. They directed Hoky to steer a half mile east of the opening of Pass Mary Anne. There ought to be an old hulk anchored out there. It always had live shrimp for bait.

Not exactly what one would expect to use for tarpon, though when those fish were striking they could be hooked on anything from mullet-belly to a number-eight spoon. Or even a piece of red flannel, rubbed in pork grease.

Hoky did not think they would see any tarpon, so he offered no criticism about the live shrimp. When the battered hulk of the ex-houseboat came in sight—no doubt one of those affairs which had come down the Mississippi and been abandoned—he steered direct for it, and cut the motor. The Susie B. drifted up in silence.

They were expected. Two men, bearded, furtive-eyed, arose and held muttered converse with the four strangers. Then two large pails of bait were brought from the interior of the houseboat and handed over. The chunky spokesman took them and set them on deck back of the mainmast. There was no mention of payment or other business.

One of the houseboat men, with a frown back at Hoky, who was a stranger, passed across an oblong package covered with a newspaper. The chunky man took this too. Holding it carefully, he moved over to the hatch and sat down, placing it on the deck behind his feet.

Captain McClintock was making grumbling noises now. The spokesman of the quartet leaned over and talked earnestly with him for a few seconds. Then McClintock staggered up to his feet, eyes bloodshot. He glared back at Hoky in a mean sort of way.

"What the hell yuh doin' 'th my boat?" he bellowed, as Hoky started the motor again, sheering away from the houseboat. "Steal m' boat, will yuh?" He stumbled aft, his big hands opening and closing.

The Susie B. veered crazily as Hoky nimbly eluded Ian McClintock, sprinting to the bow. On the way he saw the two big galvanized pails, filled to overflowing with the crawling, smelly crustaceans. Why, if they used up all this bait tarpon fishing, they'd be out on the Gulf for a week!

There was to be no fishing at all. Captain McClintock announced that decidedly. He had been badly treated, his boat stolen, and a stranger given the running of it. He was going to put back for home, and if the city men didn't like that, they could jump overboard right now!

The chunky man from New Orleans made an immediate protest, but his companions merely sat on the rail and listened.

Captain McClintock was adamant. They were going back. He felt sick, and wasn't going on any fishing trip this day. That was all there was to it.

For such dangerous-looking men the city quartet subsided meekly, Hoky grinned to himself. He was scanning the long, monotonous salt marshes. Ah, there it was!

OUT of an aisle of water suddenly came a long brown shape, a slim mahogany speedboat. It thundered toward them so swiftly that there was no chance to avoid it, or do much of anything. On the bow there was the sinister black muzzle of a machine-gun, with a bullet-screen, and a man crouching ready to fire, and another man out of sight holding a belt of cartridges.

Low, explosive curses burst from the four city men and Captain McClintock alike. Before the stocky man could do more than seize the newspaper-covered package which had been behind his heels, the speedboat swerved alongside, its wash making the Susie B. heel over.

Two stern-faced men with Tommy-guns, beside the machine-gunner in the bow, covered the six on the Susie B. Growling, his face going an apoplectic shade of purple, Captain McClintock shut off the motor.

That was the moment when the chunky man endeavored to hide the newspaper package under his jacket, and sidle to the rail with the evident intention of dropping it overboard.

"Stop right there!" yelled one of the sub-machine gunners. "Carlin, get that bundle from him! Hand it over, you!"

As the two craft came together, one of the government men reached over and snatched away the newspaper-covered package. The two sub-machine gunners boarded, keeping the city fishermen and McClintock covered.

Hoky yelled. He had seen the chunky man do a peculiar thing—pull out an odd lever in the side of the newspaper package before passing it across! With a living leap Hoky spanned the gap between the two boats. He pounced upon the suspicious package, and flung it far. It splashed and sank into the waters of the Gulf.

"Hey! Hey! That was the evidence!" yelled one of the government operatives.

The attention of even the sub-machine gunners was momentarily distracted, though they did not take swift vengeance on Hoky.

The chunky man saw his opportunity. With a yell he and the three city guests went for their pistols, swinging them first upon the two Tommy-gun men, who were caught in flatfooted surprise.

One of the latter dropped face foremost. The second spun and staggered, his weapon hurtling a seam of bullets up through the masts and cordage.

From the speedboat came a steady crash-crash-crash! of pistol-fire. Hoky, standing there, face set and stern, looking very little like the lounging pier fisherman he had been, shot deliberately but sent every bullet to its mark.

Before he could fire a fourth shot, however, a bullet struck his ribs and right elbow, driving him backward. The automatic fell from his numbed fingers.

Gamely he ducked and picked it up left-handed—firing once more at the sole remaining member of the four city guests, but missing.

From the side, however, the second Tommy-gun operative swerved and sent a stream of bullets into the suspected smuggler. The latter dropped, dead before he struck the deck of the Susie B.

TWENTY yards beyond the government speedboat there came a churning and convulsion from the bed of the ocean. A geyser of foam, sand and water shot up twenty feet into the air!

"That's the—evidence—they wanted you—to keep!" said Hoky grimly, his face white and strained as he eased himself to the seat of the speedboat.

"That's what—happened to—George Ritter and—Hank Brett!" he added, as one of the stern men came to examine his wounds while another went hastily across to see the captives, if any still remained alive, and 'tend to the wounds of the Tommy-gun men.

Hoky mentioned an occurrence which had long been a puzzle. Ritter and Brett, with a boat belonging to the Narcotic Division, had disappeared. A few fragments of what probably had been the boat were found a month later. No sign of the men.

"They made a capture of these—dogs," said Hoky painfully. "Then that bomb did for 'em. Take a look. I think Captain McClintock ducked as soon as—the shooting started. He'll cave, if you work on him."

"We'll do that little thing!" was the grim response. "But if he keeps his trap shut?"

"Oh, take a look under the shrimp in those pails of live bait," said Hoky wearily. "They didn't go through—all this for a little five or ten pounds of coke, as might have been in that newspaper package. By the way those pails handled, there probably are fifty pounds, at least. Go see!"

"Okay, chief," said the operative.

"Two heavy tins, one in each pail!" he came back to report five minutes later. "Two of the gang are dead, and the Scotch captain will turn State's evidence. That ends it, eh?"

But Inspector Whitehill, alias pier-lounger Hoky had fainted.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.