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JACKSON GREGORY

INDIAN GIFT

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First published in Dective Fiction Weekly, 16 September 1939

Reprinted in Black Mask Detective, March 1951

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-03-05
Produced by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

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Detective Fiction Weekly, 16 Sep 1939, with "Indian Gift"



A fortunate man is one who can emerge from a variety of experiences with a fuller life. Such has been the case of Jackson Gregory, reporter, cowpuncher, press agent, teacher, principal and... free-lance writer. Perhaps that is why he can treat, as he does in "Indian Gift," the seriousness of the young which is so often overlooked or underestimated. His Chuck is a kid with the wrong dream in the right heart. We have all been guilty of hero worship. In many instances, we have termed it friendship. But how many of us have been asked to for it?




THE society pool hall is way out on Ninety-fifth. When you enter it, there is first a magazine stand and a cigar counter. Then you go back to the pool room. There are six pool tables and two snooker tables. Except for them and for the few chairs and the cue-racks along the walls there isn't any other furniture. But it's a popular place and somebody is always in there.

This night it was crowded. All the tables were busy and ten or fifteen men who weren't playing were standing around watching. All day it had been sweltering, and now in the big room tobacco smoke hung in flat clouds in the hot, dead air. The blended murmur of voices was lifeless, sapped of energy.

Two men were at the third table. The one whose turn it was, stood back chalking his cue and studying the balls. He was tall and lean and the front of his face was a flat plane broken by the beak of his nose. His coat was off and the blue of his shirt was dark with sweat.

As he set the chalk on the edge of the table, he growled: "This is a lousy setup." He wiped the fingers of his left hand on his pants, leaned over the table. His shot missed. He stepped back in disgust, weighted his cue in his hand as though it were to blame.

The other man at the table was a silk-stocking salesman. He was short and fat and too uncomfortably hot to take any interest in the game. He shot carelessly. Then he asked: "Going upstairs tonight, Nick?"

"I am like hell!" the fat-faced man snapped. "That louse Moxie is sitting in. You don't catch me in a game with a chiseler like him."

At the next table Chuck Daly was leaning over to shoot when Nick said that. Chuck was big and husky and to hear him you'd think he was a tough guy. But, underneath his bigness and his toughness he was just a blond kid seventeen years old. He should have been out trying to find a job instead of spending his time there in the pool hall where he got ideas.

When Nick said that about Moxie he straightened up and turned around. His face had lines in it that you wouldn't look for in a kid seventeen years old, and now those lines were harsh, angry. He stepped over to Nick, spun him around.

He looked straight into Nick's eyes and said: "What're you blowing off about sour-puss?"

Nick couldn't figure it out. "What's got into you, kid?" he snapped.

"You were shooting your mouth off about Moxie!" Chuck crowded the flat-faced man back against the edge of the table. "Maybe I didn't hear right—what was it you said?"

Chuck was big and very husky, even though he was only a kid. It was plain enough to see that where he was concerned this guy Moxie was tops. Nick should have seen that, but he was hot and irritable and he didn't like being pushed around.

"If it's any of your business," he snarled, "I said that he was a stinking rat and that..."

Chuck dropped his cue to the floor. He reached up with his left hand and took hold of the front of Nick's shirt. Nick tried to slug, but he couldn't do anything. Chuck bent him back over the table and then reached up with his right hand and slapped Nick's head from side to side on the green felt.

Pop is the guy who owns the Society Pool Hall. Pop is sixty and bald, and he learned a very large number of years ago how to handle men. He came back and dragged Chuck off of Nick, shouldered the two of them apart. He kept them that way until they had cooled down enough to listen to him, then he said:

"Okay, boys, what's it all about?"

"That punk!" Chuck glowered past Pop at the flat-faced man. "He thinks he can go around cracking his face about Moxie behind Moxie's back. If he had the guts..."

"I got a pool hall here," Pop said. "I don't run it for guys to fight in. You started the rough stuff, Chuck, so you're going to beat it out of here. You don't come back at all tonight."

"You think that breaks my heart?" Chuck grabbed up his cue, strode over to the wall with it, slammed it in its rack. He went toward the door without even looking back at Nick.

Pop followed after him, stopped him when he reached the counter up front.

"Wait a minute, Chuck," Pop said. "Don't get sore about me running you out of here. You get in a fight and I got to do that. It's business."

Chuck shrugged his shoulders. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. Now look Chuck, I know it's none of my business and I'm not trying to butt in but..." Pop leaned one elbow on the cigar counter, looked narrowly at the blond boy. "Nick Alisino is pretty big stuff in the policy game. He's not the kinda guy I'd want to be smacking around."

"That guy!" Chuck knew that he had made a damn-fool play, and it scared him a little, but the sneer he put on his face hid that. "I'd like to see him try something."

"Okay," Pop shrugged. "I don't think he will try anything."

If you'd been going by outside on the sidewalk then and had looked in through the window that had Society Pool Hall written on it in white letters, you probably would have stopped for a minute to watch those guys in there. You would have seen that it didn't matter that one of them was old and the other just a kid—you would have seen that each one of them really had something on the ball. But you wouldn't have heard Pop say in his soft voice:

"You think Moxie's a pretty swell guy, don't you, Chuck?"

Chuck's answer was: "So what!" No kid seventeen is going to admit that everything he does, he tries to do just the way he thinks Moxie would do.

"Moxie's okay." Pop knew better than to come out and tell the kid that Moxie was a rat. "But Moxie's not the kinda guy to tie your kite to. He fights his own fights, and don't give a damn for me—or you, Chuck. He's not a guy that's going to do you any good."

Chuck looked pityingly at Pop. He liked the old guy but well, that was it. Pop was old, and what did he know about the things a guy had to face today? Now Moxie was different. He wasn't old, and he was on his toes.

Chuck said: "Don't go worrying yourself about me. I can take plenty good care of myself in this town."

"Sure," Pop nodded. "Now you can beat it on home and next time you come in here don't go starting no fights."


CHUCK didn't go home. He went to a joint across the street and half way down the block where they would sell him beer without asking how old he was. The bar was crowded so he took his beer across the room and watched a guy playing a pin game. There were six racing cars lighted up on the board at the back of the machine and every time the ball hit a spring one of the cars jumped ahead.

By stringing his drinks out, Chuck made the thirty cents in his pocket stretch out for almost two hours. All that time he kept glancing at the door of the pool hall. Moxie was in a poker game on the third floor up above Pop's place, and pretty soon he'd be coming out.

It was one-thirty when Moxie came out. Chuck set his empty glass on the bar, went out of the joint, crossed the street. He pretended he didn't know Moxie was there, and that he hadn't seen him.

Moxie was slender and dark and dressed like he had his own tailor. He had a thin line of a mustache on his lip and he was very good-looking—like Ronald Colman. Chuck knew that, because he could never look like Moxie no matter how much he tried.

When he was ten feet away Chuck looked up and like he hadn't seen Moxie before, said: "Oh, hello, Mr. Harper."

"Hello, Chuck." Moxie's voice was low and smooth. "The boys inside were telling me about you and Nick."

That made Chuck feel good and at the same time uncomfortable. He said: "Aw, that wasn't anything, Mr. Harper."

"My friends call me Moxie, Chuck."

"Yeah, sure—Moxie."

The gambler took a thin silver cigarette case from his pocket. He opened it, held it out toward Chuck. Then he lighted his and Chuck's cigarettes with his silver lighter.

"Guys like Nick..." Moxie studied the tip of his cigarette. He knew the blond kid in front of him thought he was just right. "You don't pay any attention to what guys like him say. He's small stuff. I'm betting that you're going to be a big shot one of these days, Chuck, and then you'll have a lot of guys like Nick that are jealous of you."

"Yeah, that's right." Chuck blew a cloud of smoke at the top of his cigarette. Moxie was smart. He knew just how to handle a punk.

A taxi came by then and Moxie flicked his hand at it. When k pulled to the curb he said: "I got something here, Chuck. I'd like to give it to you." He reached in his pocket, took out a rabbit's foot. It was about an inch and a half long set in an ivory cap. Moxie held it out.

"This has brought me plenty of luck in the last ten years." That wasn't true because Moxie had bought it for a quarter a couple of days before. "I'm giving it to you because you've got the sort of stuff in you I like."

When Moxie went away in the cab, Chuck stood there turning the rabbit's foot back and forth between his fingers. Inside he was hot and excited and more sure of himself than he had ever been. Moxie had said that some day he would be a big shot, and then Moxie had given him this rabbit foot, Moxie's own lucky rabbit foot.

Chuck went on down the sidewalk with his hand in his pocket and the rabbit's foot tight in his hand. He thought about Pop and that gave him a laugh. At lot Pop knew about Moxie! Or about anything else.


HALF the summer went by before Moxie stopped again to talk to Chuck. Whenever he saw the blond kid he'd say, "Hello, Chuck, how goes it?" and Chuck would answer: "Swell, Moxie!" but it was never more than that.

Two or three times Chuck saw Nick in the pool hall, but he remembered how Moxie had told him: "You don't pay any attention to guys like that." He had pretended Nick didn't exist, and Nick hadn't come over to try and start anything.

That rabbit's foot was one thing Chuck had with him all the time. He knew that one of these days he was going to be a big shot like Moxie. When he didn't have anything else to do, he'd shove his hand in his pocket and roll the rabbit's foot back and forth between his fingers.

The night that Moxie stopped him, it was along toward the' last of August. Chuck was over on Seventy-ninth and Moxie pulled up alongside of him in a cab and got out.

"Hello, Chuck," Moxie said. He came over and put out his hand.

"How are you, Moxie." Chuck tried not to let it show on his face that it was something special for Moxie to shake hands with him.

Moxie started up the sidewalk. "If you're not busy how about having a drink?"

"Sure."

The gambler led the way to a beer joint and to a booth in the back. He ordered two whiskeys from the waiter.

When the waiter brought their drinks, Chuck raised his, said: "Here's mud in your eye."

Moxie nodded absently. He turned his drink around on the table, frowned at it. After a couple of minutes he asked softly: "You're not working, are you, Chuck?"

"No," Chuck said. "There's not a thing a guy can make any money at."

Moxie looked up, studied the kid. "You could use a Utile money?"

"Could I!" Chuck leaned forward to say how much he could use money. Then he saw that would be blowing off his face, so all he said was: "Yeah, I could use a little money."

"I've been thinking about you," Moxie told him. "You look like the right kind of a guy to me—a guy that's got guts. Maybe you'd fit in on this little idea I got in mind."

"Try me," Chuck said.

Moxie lifted his drink, sipped at it. "Maybe you wouldn't like this job. If we get caught at it, we'll either get a slug in the back or a stretch up the river."

"So what." Chuck shrugged. "Maybe even that'd be better than sitting around. What's the job?"

"You remember Nick Alisino?"

"Sure, but don't tell me that guy's in on it."

"He's in on it, all right," Moxie said. "He's the guy we're going to take. That's what guys like him are for—to keep you and me in the dough."

Chuck was puzzled. "How?" he asked. "What can we get out of that guy?"

"Plenty!" Moxie's voice was very low now, so that Chuck had to lean over the table to hear. "Nick's the boy that picks up the numbers racket dough. He collects from the spots this side of Sixtieth every Thursday. This is Thursday, Chuck, and he's walking around with five or ten grand in his pocket. I know a spot where a coupla guys with enough guts could take him easy."

"Yeah?" Chuck felt down into his pocket. The rabbit's foot was there and it looked like it had brought him his break. A job—a big job—with Moxie. "Sounds okay."

The gambler smiled. "I knew you were the guy I wanted in on this with me." He looked at the watch on his wrist. "Nine now, nearly. Alisino collects at the hash houses across from Murchison's warehouse at about eleven. You meet me there in the alley at ten-thirty. That'll give us plenty time."

"Swell." Chuck's eyes were shining. "I'm going to get a kick outa that mug's face when we take him."


BACK in the alley at the side of the warehouse it was dark. Chuck, waiting there against the loading platform, could see out the mouth of the alley to the cheap little restaurant across the Wilton Street. In there, a woman was waiting on a guy at the counter.

Chuck was scared. He kept taking the rabbit's foot out of his pocket and rubbing it between his hands. If anything went wrong... It wasn't the cops he was scared of. It was Nick Alisino and the gang Nick worked for that made his stomach feel heavy and sick. If they found out that he and Moxie had taken Nick...

Moxie came. Chuck didn't hear him until he had come all the way from the back of the alley and was there at the loading platform beside him.

Moxie whispered: "Okay, Chuck?"

"Sure, Moxie, sure."

"Good." The gambler pressed a revolver into Chuck's hand. Chuck slipped his finger around the trigger. Somehow he felt better, safer, with that gun. He felt a lot better with Moxie there. They stood side by side in the dark, waited.

Nick Alisino drove up in a big black sedan. He parked it in front of the hash house, got out, went inside.

Moxie nudged Chuck with his elbow. "Okay. We're going to get in the back of that car. Follow me and keep down low. It's a cinch, Chuck."

They went out of the alley. The street was empty. Crossing it they crouched low, kept the car between them and the restaurant so that Nick couldn't see them. Moxie opened the back door of the sedan, motioned Chuck in. Then he slid in, eased the door shut.

Nick stayed in the restaurant about ten minutes talking to the woman. When he came out he was humming tunelessly under his breath. He got into the car, started it rolling down the dark, deserted street in second gear.

Moxie nudged Chuck in the ribs. They raised their heads above the level of the front seat. Moxie had an automatic and he slid it over the seat until its blunt muzzle pressed the back of Nick's neck.

When Nick felt the pressure of the gun, his foot jerked off the throttle. The car, still in second, bucked.

"Easy, lug." Moxie's voice was a tight hiss. "Keep moving."

Chuck was kneeling there with his revolver centered on Nick's head. There was something strange about it all, as though he wasn't there, as though he was someplace else watching Nick and Moxie. It was sort of like he was just something extra and didn't belong there at all.

In that unrecognizable hissing voice, Moxie directed Nick down Wilton, then right into an alley that ran through for three blocks. When they stopped they were between two dark, bulking warehouses. Ahead of them half a block was a streetcar line.

"Take it easy!" Moxie warned. "If you're good you might live through this."

Nick sat with both his hands high on the steering wheel. He was so stiff and motionless that the only sign of life in him was the heavy breathing.

Moxie, without moving its snout from the back of Nick's neck, transferred his automatic from his right to his left hand. Chuck noticed then that the gambler's hands were gloved. He should have thought of that for himself. It made the sweat come out on his body wondering if he had left his prints anywhere on the car. What a dumb trick!

Moxie reached over with his right hand, took hold of Chuck's revolver. Not understanding what he wanted, the kid kept his hold on the gun. Moxie tugged at it once, then jerked it out of Chuck's hand. The kid couldn't see Moxie's face, but he got the feeling that something was wrong.

Moxie pushed the revolver against Nick's back, dropped his own automatic into his pocket. Then he reached over the seat, groped in under Nick's coat, fished out the automatic that was there in its shoulder clip. He set that down on the back seat of the car.

"Okay," Moxie grated. "Let's have the dough."

Nick's voice was flat. "What dough?"

Moxie didn't say anything to that. He just pushed Chuck's revolver hard into the back of Nick's neck, twisted it. The skin on Nick's neck twisted with it. Nick grunted, then said: "Okay."

He handed the fat roll of money back over his shoulder. The noise of a streetcar, out on the street ahead, rumbled back into the alley. Moxie took the money, shoved it into his pocket. Then he slid back onto the seat.

"Okay," he said. "Turn around, Nick."

When nick turned, Chuck could see his flat profile outlined against the light from the street. Nick's nose was big over the thin line of his mouth. The streetcar was opposite the mouth of the alley and its noise was amplified by bouncing echoes.

"That's right, Nick," Moxie said. Then he fired the revolver. He fired it just once and the slug smashed in through Nick's upper lip. Chuck saw Nick's mouth fold into a gaping hole. The shot was loud in the car, but outside the streetcar swallowed it up.

"Yike!" Chuck said. Right away his body was shaking all over. Nick's head had slid slowly out of sight down onto the front seat. "You killed him, Moxie!"

"Had to, Chuck." Moxie's voice was soft and low. "He saw us. He got a good look at both of us in the rear mirror."

"I..." Chuck kept seeing the hole in Nick's face, where his mouth had folded in. He grabbed at the car door, swung it open, stumbled out. Leaning against the side of the warehouse, he vomited.

Chuck didn't hear the second streetcar coming. He was still too sick. It was Moxie's voice that he heard, saying sharply: "Chuck! Chuck, turn around!"

Slowly the kid lifted his head, turned, Moxie fired out through the car door. He had Nick's automatic now, and he fired it four times. The slugs hammered Chuck back against the warehouse, held him there until he slid down to the cobbles of the alley.

The rest was easy for Moxie. He dropped Nick's automatic, up front on the floor next to Nick's hand. He left the revolver that had the kid's prints on it out next to Chuck's body. Peeling a couple of the bills from the roll, he shoved them in under one of Chuck's legs.

When that was finished, he stepped back from the car, surveyed what he had done. The bodies wouldn't be found until morning. Then it would look like the kid had held up Nick and the two had shot it out. There'd be plenty of people to tell about the fight those two had had in the pool hall.

If any of Nick Alisino's gang got to wondering what had happened to the numbers money, there were those two bills crumpled under Chuck's body. That would make it look like the kid had spilled the money on the ground and then that somebody had happened up the alley during the night and picked up all the dough—all except those two bills that Chuck had fallen on.

Moxie turned and went back down the alley. He had a fat wad of bills in his pocket and... he was in the clear.


MOXIE HARPER sat in his apartment the next morning, and, over his coffee he read the paper. He didn't like it at all, what he read there. The eleven o'clock edition, it carried a brief article on the second page about the finding of Nick's dead body in the alley.

There wasn't anything at all in it about Chuck. All it said was that Nick Alisino's murderer had been wounded, for the police had found a pool of blood, not Nick's blood, alongside the sedan.

When he finished reading that, Moxie got up and walked back and forth across the carpet in his apartment. He didn't know what to do. Chuck wasn't dead, and he didn't know what Chuck would do....

After a while Moxie went over and got his automatic and put it in its shoulder clip. Then he went out to call the places where the kid might be, but he didn't find him.

At the end of a week he still hadn't found Chuck. He asked around quietly but nobody had any idea where the kid was. The cops were still looking for the guy who had killed Nick Alisino—for a guy who was badly wounded. Yet, even with Chuck missing nobody got the idea that he might be the man the police were looking for. Moxie didn't do anything to give them this idea.

When three weeks went by, Moxie began to hope and maybe to believe a little bit that the kid had crawled off somewhere and died. So Moxie went back to gambling with the thirty-six hundred dollars he had taken from Nick's body. He began to think about the kid less and less, but he always carried his automatic in its shoulder clip.


DURING the first part of September the weather was very nice, and then a hot spell hit. On the second night of this hot spell, Moxie was in a game on the third floor above the Society Pool Hall. Because he was still wearing his gun he kept his coat on, and it was sticky and uncomfortable. The curtains in the open window behind him hung lifeless. Smoke in the room rose slowly through the hot, dead air, mushroomed out into the flat clouds.

Moxie had been in luck for the past few weeks and he had more money than he had taken from Nick Alisino's body. Tonight he was riding his luck, bucking the pots hard. When the door to the room opened, he was busy studying his hand.

It was Pop's voice that brought his eyes snapping up. From the other side of the doorway Pop said: "Go in there, Chuck. Moxie's in there." Chuck came in through the door. He looked like hell. He looked like a twisted old man, not like a kid of seventeen.

He had on the same suit he had been wearing the night Nick was murdered. The stains of his own blood were hidden by the filth that covered it. The way it hung in folds showed how his starved and pain-sickened body had sunk in. His whole left side was twisted and paralyzed—one of the slugs Moxie had driven into him was still lodged in the flesh near his spine.

It was his face that was the worst. It was gaunt and white and covered with the dirty blond stubble of his beard. A scar that had healed in a puffy red welt ran back from his left eyebrow across his cheek bone to the tip of his ear. From the side of it his eyes looked out, round, blue, staring.

His twisted lurch carried him a few feet into the room. There, with his right hand jammed deep into the pocket of his coat, he stopped. With a slow, blank lack of expression he looked at the face of each man at the poker table. His eyes traveled as far as Moxie's face, stopped there.

"Chuck!" Moxie stood up, pushed his chair behind him with his knees. His clenched fists lay on the table before him. His eyes kept jerking from Chuck's face to Chuck's right hand jammed in his pocket. "Chuck!" Moxie cried. "What the hell's the matter!"

"It was you..." Chuck shook his head heavily.

"It wasn't me, Chuck!" Moxie's voice began to rise, to grow like a woman's scream. "I didn't do it to you. It was Nick. He wasn't dead! He did it to you, Chuck!"

"You gave it to me," Chuck said dully. "I gotta give it back."

Moxie was sobbing: "Listen, Chuck! You got to listen to me. Nick wasn't dead when I shot him. It was him that got you. I wouldn't of shot you like that. Gee, Chuck—listen!"

"You gotta take it." There was a bewildered look about Chuck. He lurched forward toward the table; he began to pull his hand out of his pocket.

"No!" Moxie shrieked. For an instant he was as though paralyzed with the fear inside of him. Only his mouth moved, twitching so that the black line of his mustache crawled on his lip.

Then he grabbed for his gun, tore it out from under his coat. Without even aiming, he jerked the trigger in a frenzy of terror. The gun banged again and again, sent its bullets ripping wildly at the air.

One of the slugs hit Chuck but he felt the shock of it hitting, no more. That side of his body could feel no more pain. Like a bewildered animal in the face of that blaze of gun fire, he kept coming toward Moxie, crowding against the table.

The gun bucked itself empty. Twice Moxie jerked at the trigger, then hurled the useless weapon at the white, round stare of the kid's eyes. The gun missed and Chuck kept coming. Moxie screamed, stepped backward.

The chair was there behind Moxie. His legs struck against it and he tripped, sprawled backward toward the open window. He grabbed at one of the slack curtains and it ripped loudly between his fingers.

Then, silently, his throat choked with terror, Moxie went backward through the window, fell three floors to his death.

Chuck shoved at the table, pushed past it and went around to the window. He stood in front of it, staring out, with his back to the room.

Pop had come into the room and was standing still, watching Chuck's back. When one of the men who had been at the poker table said: "Hell, Pop! What was that about!" he shook his head.

"I don't know," Pop said. "The kid there is nuts. I found him walking up and down outside. He didn't know who I was. Didn't even know his own name. He was just walking up and down staring into people's faces—like he was looking for somebody and could never find him. I thought maybe he'd remember Moxie because he always liked Moxie. That's why I brought him."

Chuck turned from the window. His eyes were frightened, uncomprehending. He lurched back around the table. His lips were moving.

"Wait a minute, kid." Pop put out his hand to stop him. "Where are you going?"

"I knew he needed it." Chuck's words were heavy, unsteady like he was crying inside. "I got to give it to him."

"You already have, kid. He's got his! No matter what he did to..."

"No. It's his." Chuck shook his head heavily. He had to make these guys see. He raised his right hand slowly, opened it, showed them the rabbit's foot. "It's Moxie's," he said. "It's Moxie's good luck. I got to give Moxie his good luck back. Let me go. I got to give it to him."


THE END


Cover Image

Black Mask Detective, Mar 1953, with reprint of "Indian Gift"


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,
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