Roy Glashan's Library
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HENRY TREAT SPERRY

GUNLESS COP

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RGL e-Book Cover


Ex Libris

First published in Detective Tales, December 1935

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version date: 2022-01-20

Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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Detective Tales, December 1935, with "Gunless Cop"



Young Cliff was headed toward the last mile—old Iron Mike knew
that—but he didn't think his nephew had fallen so low he would
bait a death-trap for the man who had raised him from a kid....




Illustration

Iron Mike had tried to keep that orphaned nephew straight....



CLIFF BURNELL glanced up from the newspaper he was reading as his uncle came into the room. His eyes crinkled with the expression of sardonic amusement that was usually in them when he looked at Iron Mike Burnell.

Iron Mike, "The big detec-a-tive!" Cliff laughed inwardly whenever he thought of it. Mike looked so much like what he was that it was funny. Big, tall, paunched, grizzled and flat-footed—a typical dick. Not the dapper, smart-looking modern kind of dick whom Cliff admired—except that anyone had to be a mug to work for a cop's salary—but an old-fashioned flat-foot right out of an 1890 mystery.

"Hello, Iron Mike!" said Cliff, and grinned.

His uncle grunted and hung his derby hat on the hall tree. When Cliff called him by his nickname it was a jeer. But Detective Mike Burnell was secretly proud of it. He was a hard cop—he never denied that. He knew what they said about him on the force: that he was so tough he'd pinch himself, if there was cause. He never denied that, either.

Ponderously he walked in from the hall, sank with a wheezing sigh into his old morris chair and started loosening the laces of his enormous brogans.

His eyes were on his thick, hard fingers fumbling at the shoestrings, so he wasn't looking at his nephew's face when he started talking.

"Heard something I didn't like today, Cliff," he said, "something I didn't want to believe...."

"Yeah?" said Cliff easily. "Guys with ears as big as you've got hear a lot of balony. What was it?"

Iron Mike finished with the first shoe before he settled back in his chair and went on. "You're not hangin' around that Cleek gang any more, are you, Cliff?"

Cliff's eyes shifted momentarily, then came back and returned squarely to his uncle's gaze. "No."

Mike Burnell sighed and fished a cigar out of his pocket, bit off the end and lit it.

He knew—knew beyond a shadow of a doubt—that his nephew was a liar. He had been fighting for years to keep that orphaned Cliff from the bunch of hoodlums who had been his school companions. And that was Iron Mike's own fault.

Years ago he had seen in what direction those youngsters were heading. When you've had as much experience as old Mike, you can pick out the instinctive criminal at a pretty tender age....

He blew out a cloud of smoke and settled back in his chair. He watched it roll toward the ceiling. "I'm glad to hear that you ain't trailing with any of that bunch," he said quietly. "Because—"

He was about to say, "—because most of them will be caught by tomorrow night." But he checked himself. He couldn't trust Cliff, he realized bitterly. If he let it out that he had gotten a tip that Cleek and his pals were to pull off that warehouse job tomorrow night, Cliff—the kid he'd tried to bring up straight—would warn them.

But Detective Mike Burnell wanted to warn Cliff, too. He wanted to be sure the lad wouldn't be caught in the bloody pay-off that was bound to come. Damn it—somewhere in that kid was good stuff—Mike, was sure of that. It was Mike's responsibility to find it, to bring it out, as he had promised his widowed sister on her deathbed. Somehow Mike had to save the kid....

Cliff interrupted his thoughts. "Listen," he said. "When are you going to lay off this guardian stuff, Mike? I'm nineteen years old. You never seem to realize that I've grown a day since I came to live with you, fifteen years ago. I'm a man. I can take care of myself—and I don't need a moss-backed old fogey like you to tell me where to pick my friends."

Cliff's face was suffused with sudden, reasonless anger. He glared at the old man. Damn it, that grey-haired cop was always butting into his affairs; acting as though he didn't have any judgment or sense enough to think for himself. The blighted old fool! What had his sense and judgment gotten him? He had been a slave on a pauper's pay for thirty-five years... and he was dumb enough to like it!

He whirled suddenly, and stalked out of the room. Why argue with a thickheaded cop like Iron Mike Burnell? Some day—and soon, too—he'd have money enough to get out.... And if he ever saw that old flat-foot again, it would be too soon!


LATER that night, Cliff was chuckling to himself as he walked down the rickety stairway from the headquarters of the Waterfront Club—of which one Pudsy Cleek was president. Cliff's chuckle was silent, for Pudsy Cleek had just outlined a certain plan—a plan that, if it worked according to schedule, would give Cliff something to laugh at for a long time to come. No one but a smart bird like Pudsy could ever have thought it up.

But that was just the start of Pudsy's planning, because Pudsy was a real brain-guy. After Cliff left, Cleek winked at his chief lieutenant, Max Schiff, and he also winked at his third in command—The Smoother.

"That dope fell for it," chuckled Pudsy, "and he'll take care of his end of it, all right. Cliff is a born stooge. Now, you guys, here's the lay: Greasy and Chink will back the truck up to Merrill's Warehouse at twelve sharp. Before that, Max and I will take the watchman. The cop on the beat is fixed. We got nothin' to worry us, and it'll go off like soup through a tin horn. After that—the real fun begins. But remember: We don't want to raise too much hell. Lip is the gun-guy. Nobody else is to touch his gat unless somethin' goes screwy. Lip, you'll be in that area-way on the north side of Blair's drug store. Wait until this ham cop, Iron Mike, is close enough so you know you can't miss before he gets it. Then—right through the old conk—and be damn sure his yella brains is comin' out the back of his dome before we scram."


OLD MIKE BURNELL was down in the basement of his apartment. Now he stood with his thick legs spraddled out, and sighted, with one eye tightly closed, down the barrel of his service revolver. He pulled down on the target and watched the bull's-eye waver crazily over the front sight, like a tiny balloon on a string. After a while he squeezed the trigger, but he didn't have to walk down to the target to know that he hadn't come within a foot of its center.

Iron Mike was beginning to regret having wangled his way out of pistol practice, during the past five years. During that time he had hardly had a gun in his hand. His precinct captain, by almost imperceptible degrees, had shunted Mike off onto routine tasks and paper-work. The result had been that, while still nominally and officially on the active list, Mike had actually almost been retired. But now Mike had need of reviving his lost art of markmanship.


MIKE had watched the Cleek mob develop from twelve-years-old hoodlums into one of the toughest and most menacing bunches in his neighborhood. And because they were in his precinct, he had tried in his own stiff-necked way to keep them within the bounds of the law. He didn't want to put them on the books any more than was absolutely necessary. More than once, members of that gang had gotten off with a few black eyes and swollen noses. Mike knew, as well as he knew his own name, that he could have sent them up the River.

But Iron Mike had had a show-down with Pudsy Cleek a few days before. The gangster, for the first time, had openly rebelled against his belated show of authority—just has Mike's nephew had the night before.

"Get this, you old fool," Pudsy had shouted. "We're not a bunch of kids you can bully-rag! We've got connections—see? You get heavy with us, and you'll be wonderin' where you'll get your next job!" Then Pudsy had added pleasantly, "if you're lucky enough to need another job!"

There had been murder-lust in young Cleek's eyes—Iron Mike knew that look—and he caught his breath in the realization that these kids, in spite of all he could do, had started flirting with the chair. They were killers now—in thought and intent, if not actually in deed. They were hard, dangerous men—and as vicious as maddened snakes.

Once they couldn't come tough enough for him. Iron Mike—that's how he'd won his nickname—had gone up against the worst of them; traded lead for lead with a gun-hand that never wavered and nerves like chilled steel. Now....

Mike cursed deep in his throat and sent five shots smashing toward the target as fast as he could trigger his gun. They all went wide. And it wasn't all due to his lack of practice and advancing age....

Mike would never admit, even to himself, that some of the unsteadiness of his old, thick-fingered fist was due to jumpy nerves. No, he'd never admit that.


GIVING it up, he wearily climbed the stairs to his apartment. He went in and tossed the gun on top of the library table, then clumped heavily back to the bathroom to wash up for dinner.

Cliff was there in the living-room, as usual, his leg thrown over the arm of his chair, newspaper in his hands, cigarette pasted to his lower lip. The corners of his eyes crinkled with amusement as he watched the thick-set, ungainly figure of his uncle clump into the bathroom. Cliff looked back to the pistol on the table, and his grin deepened. But it had disappeared by the time his uncle came back to the living room.

Mike sank into his morris chair, and bent over wheezingly to loosen his shoelaces. His feet weren't standing up the way they used to, back in the old days....

"Supper nearly ready?" he asked, with a slight wheeze in his voice.

"Yeah," grunted Cliff. The two of them were fed by a housekeeper, who likewise made some attempt to keep the small apartment in order.

Cliff was silent a few moments. Then he cleared his throat. "Say, Unk," he said suddenly, "just to show you that I'm straight when I tell you I'm not in with Pudsy any more, I'm goin' to tell you something. I heard today that his bunch are breakin' into the drug store on Barrow and Sixth, tonight...."

Mike lifted his grey head.

"You think I'd be rattin' on my pals like that—if they was my pals?" Cliff said.

Old Mike's fingers stopped fumbling with his shoelaces. Slowly he straightened until his steely-grey eyes were boring straight into those of his nephew. For a long time he probed the face of his dead sister's son, and gradually a sense of lightness and relief flooded his heart.

By God—he'd done the boy an injustice, after all! Cliff's was really an honest face. Mike never doubted that, underneath, he had good stuff in him—he'd have to, to have been Mary's kid....

Iron Mike lowered his gaze, suddenly fearful that his eyes were accumulating an undue amount of moisture. "Why—why—thanks, Cliff," he said in a voice that was a shade more husky than usual. "Any idea when they plan to take the joint?"

Cliff breathed a long, silent sigh. It had been a tough ordeal, looking innocent as a wet-nosed baby under those X-ray eyes of his uncle's.

"Why—yeah," he said. "I got all the dope from Chuck Willets—he hates their guts—and I figured, since you got the idea I'm still mixed up with 'em some way, I'd pass it on and let you do what you liked about it. That would give me an alibi, too, if they was to get caught....

"They figure to crack the joint just after midnight."


AT eleven-thirty, as Iron Mike Burnell shrugged into his suit coat, his eyes were on his pistol, still lying on top of the table in the living room. He went over to the weapon, picked it up and regarded it with a gloomy, brooding expression. Cliff, standing unobserved in the inner doorway, was just able to make out what he said: "Never did like it—and I still don't.... Can't hit the broad side of a barn with it, anyway...."

Iron Mike tossed the Police Positive back on the table, turned and ambled out into the hall. He caught up the derby hat that Cliff could never look at without grinning, and went out the door, slamming it behind him.

Cliff's gaze went back to the gun on the table. In his eyes was a faint, thoughtful smile.

Iron Mike was so damn dumb it was pathetic....


SHADOWS cloaking Barrow Street were like layers of black gauze; static; almost physical. No noises penetrated here save an occasional rumble from the L structure five or six blocks east. It was silent in Barrow Street—as silent as waiting death.

Perhaps Iron Mike Burnell sensed the threatening quality of that brooding stillness. Maybe some half-awakened sixth sense whispered a silent warning to him.

He slackened his pace as he neared Sixth. He tried to walk a little more quietly, but his big brogans seemed to thunder and creak in the silence with a noise that must have heralded their approach for at least a block.

He was doing his best to creep along close to Merrill's Warehouse, his eyes fastened on the blacker blot in the gloom across the street that was Blair's Drug Store.

Suddenly he stopped and cursed under his breath. What the hell was the matter with him? Here he was, as scared as a rookie on his first tour—and all he was after was a bunch of young hoodlums he had been batting around since they were wet behind the ears....

He straightened his shoulders and walked out boldly across the street toward the drug store.

If his old eyes had been sharper he might have detected the faint gleam of reflected light on black metal coming from the north side of Blair's Drug Store. He might have seen other sinister glints at the alley entrance. But Iron Mike's eyes were fixed on that black blot of the drug store. He saw nothing else.

He was close now; very close to the little store on the corner ... coming toward the cold-eyed killer who waited in those shadows with a gun.


IRON MIKE didn't hear the crack of the automatic. He thought, for a second, that someone had dashed a cupful of milk into his eyes—milk that was blindingly white, that was somehow cool and warm at the same time. He felt no pain. Nor did he know when he fell heavily to the sidewalk—he seemed to be falling a far greater distance than that—-down a long tunnel that at first was starred with flashing lights, and afterwards was just inky black.

Barrow Street was roaring with sound when finally he came to. Flame was lancing out from around the corners of buildings, from area-ways and alleys—and suddenly one brighter flame flared directly above him. There were no more flashes from the north end of Blair's Drug Store, following that; and the next time that chatter and flare roared out, there was a terrible scream from across the street, near Merrill's Warehouse. Then, far in the distance, Mike heard the wail of patrol sirens—but Mike wasn't listening to that. He was listening to a voice coming directly above him.

"You were good to me, Mike," the voice was saying. "You used to scrimp yourself so's I could have new clothes and stuff. You bought that old second-hand motorcycle for me, when you didn't have hardly a change of socks.... And I let you go up against these yellow rats without even a gun on you...."

The voice seemed to choke and then it cursed. And once more the roar and flame flared out above the prostrate body of Iron Mike....

"But I didn't know the lay, Mike," Cliff's voice continued. "Pudsy said it was just a joke; said he was going to put a smoke-bomb in the stove of the drug store. Then I was to get you down there and when the bomb went off you'd have busted in and shot up the joint—done a lot of damage all for nothing.... And I—I thought it would have been a riot—a laugh—"

Weakly Iron Mike rolled over on his side. His head pounded as if a thousand hammers were drumming on it, but there was a sudden gladness in his heart.

"Listen," Mike said, grabbing out for Cliff's wrist and wrenching the pistol away from him. "You got no permit even to carry a cop's gun—let alone to shoot people. Didn't you ever hear of the Sullivan Law? I could send you up for—"

But whatever threat Mike had intended it was lost in the roar of the prowl cars that howled into Barrow Street just then.... And besides, old Mike couldn't talk so good with his nephew, Cliff, hugging him like a damn young bear and yelling into his ear at the top of his voice....


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.