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Mammoth Mystery, June, 1946
Originally appeared in Mammoth Mystery, June 1946, Vol. 2, No. 3
Danny Fleck, professional dip, rarely got caught at his tradebut this time he did . . . and thought fast
THE man lay on the cold stone floor of the subway station, writhing, panting. His eyes bulged, and there was a dead shine to them. His face was abnormally red, suffused with blood. His loose lips hung open a little, and he was slavering, soiling his collar.
Around him, the crowd stood impersonally watching, while one of their number knelt and administered first aid to the hapless victim of epilepsy. It was dark in that cavernous tunnel cut from the bowels of the city, and as the morbid crowd watched, Danny Fleck moved smoothly, expertly among them.
Danny Fleck was a dipwhich is to say he made a profession of removing wallets from their unsuspecting owners. In younger days Danny had pulled down good dough as a hired gunman, but a series of illnesses had ravaged Danny's slight body, had weakened his heart, so that he had been forced to learn a new, and somewhat less exacting line of work than killing fellow humans for money.
He moved through the crowd, jostling this man and that, while his gentle hands fondled bulging hip pockets, in search of fat wallets.
Danny worked alone, having little trust in his fellow man, and he had to be careful. He bumped heavily against a fat, florid-faced man who wore prosperous-looking tweeds, said, Sorry, mister, and simultaneously extracted the man's wallet gently and swiftly.
The man nodded, grunted something about not minding a bit, and fixed his wrapt gaze once again on the writhing fit victim. Danny grinned as he moved away from the crowd, and told himself that he must not overlook the advantages of such completely preoccupied crowds in the future. A man with a fit, writhing on the pavement, certainly took the onlookers' minds off other business, such as watching out for their wallets.
Which made Danny Fleck's job almost ridiculously simple. Danny went up above, blinking in the bright sunlight that bathed the busy street, and inspected the contents of the brown calfskin wallet he had just stolen. There was a driver's license in the name of J. C. Stapleton, an Elks card, a picture of a fat, frowzy blonde woman, and seven crisp new dollars.
Danny swore, violently, as he pocketed the money and surreptitiously mailed the hot wallet in the nearest letter box. Seven lousy bucks. Wouldn't ya know? The ones that look like dough never carry nothin' but peanuts. He made a wry face. Now I'll have to pull off one more job to make the day's ante.
Danny never stopped work for the day until he had netted at least fifty dollars. The overhead in Danny's line of endeavor was high, and he always tried to keep well-heeled. You never knew when you'd have to buy your way out of trouble.
HE HOPPED a streetcar up to the next subway entrance, still fuming about the rotten luck that had plagued him all day. Three wallets, and his total take was only thirty-nine dollars. For two cents he'd quit the lousy racket for keeps and go back with the mob.
But even as he told himself that, he knew he didn't mean it. After the series of illnesses ending up with pneumonia that had had him flat on his back for six solid months, the doctor had told him: From now on you're going to have to take things mighty easy. I don't like to scare a man, but in your case it's necessary. Your heart's been affected. If you nurse yourself along, you're good for yearsplenty of thembut the least undue strain or excitement.... well, I don't like to say it.
You mean Danny snapped his fingers I could pop off, just like that?
The doctor nodded. Don't run. Take everything easy, in stride. And above all, steer clear of drugs. Stimulants in any form will be murder to you. In your shoes, I wouldn't even risk coffee. Your system lost all tolerance for such things. One cigarette makes your heart race along like a runaway freight car. Imagine the effect of a shot of whisky, or saysomething like morphine. Murder! He flung out his hands, an emphatic gesture.
Danny nodded soberly. Thanks, doc. I got you. So he'd turned dip for a living. And he did take things easy. By playing things cautious, taking no chances, he kept out from under even the shadow of trouble or undue excitement. A guy could do that, if he wasn't money hungry. And this racket hardly even began to ruffle Danny's nerves, after the years he'd put in with the mob as a trigger-quick gunman.
Down in the next subway station, he idled around, waiting for the late afternoon rush of office workers to get started. When they came, when things got crowded up nicely, he boarded a westbound train with a bunch of homebound rush riders and settled down to the task of grabbing one more fat wallet to make up the day's ante.
He finally spotted what looked like a nice prospect, a tall, prosperous-appearing gent in a pulled-down fedora leaning up against a pole trying to read the evening newspaper. The guy was absorbed in his sports page. His coat rode up high on his hips as he turned the pages, revealing the outline of his pocket-book riding his right hip pocket. There was a crowd of office girls chattering all around him, and he looked like a dead-easy mark, from where Danny stood watching.
Danny sidled up that way, not looking at him, as if he was getting ready to leave the car at the next station.
The train stopped, another bunch came rushing on. Danny let himself be carried back by the rush of their entrance, and bumped hard against the guy with the paper. As he did so, his trained hands were busy. He got the wallet just as the car was starting up again, giving his sucker another slight jostle as he extracted the leather.
'Scuse me, he mumbled. You'd think they'd put on a few extra cars for rush hours.
Yeah, the man mumbled, not even looking up from his paper. Danny grinned inside, and began unobtrusively making his way down the car toward the other doorway. He was all set, he told himself gaily, his day's work finished. This new wallet felt plenty fat; it must have at least eleven bucks in it.
His exultation was short-lived, however. Just before the train stopped at Bank Street, he heard his sucker start howling, up in the other end of the car. Hey! My wallet's gone. What the? There was a pause, while the sucker's brain went back, retracing the happenings of the last few minutes. What happened to that guy that bumped me? Where is he?
The train stopped. Danny stepped out the door, moving slowly, taking things easy. But his heart was racing, he could feel it thumping. He was in no shape for a race, and he could only hope against hope that nobody had marked him out well enough to identify him.
Then he heard one of those gum-chewing office girls say in a strident high voice: He walked down that way. The other door. You might still be able to catch him.
DANNY thought fast. As he stepped onto the platform, he suddenly tensed, dropped to the cement floor, and proceeded to give a very effective imitation of an epileptic. It was only an hour since he'd seen the real thing, and he was a fair amateur actor. He rolled, he jerked, he slavered a little, and made his eyes pop out, staring.
As he rolled, his clever hands flipped sidewise, dropping the hot wallet nimbly down over the edge of the platform. Nobody noticed the quick furtive movement, and from then on, his chief worry over, he concentrated all of his energies on his portrayal of a man with a fit.
From the corner of his eye, even as he rolled and writhed, and drew great gasping breaths, he saw the tall man race out of the other door of the subway, and glance up and down the platform wildly. The man finally went racing up the steps toward the exit, after sending one fleeting glance toward the crowd which had gathered to witness Danny's performance.
Chump, Danny thought grinning. He knew the psychology of the city, did Danny. He had been pretty sure the sucker wouldn't give a second glance at an epileptic, or the crowd around him. Once again, Danny's quick thinking had saved him from pursuit, from the excess of effort against which he'd been warned by the doctor, that might so easily kill him.
He closed his eyes, simulating a dead faint, taking things easy, listening to the gradually lessening tempo of his heartbeats. Everything was going to be okay, he realized. If you thought quickly enough, you could work your way out of any trouble that threatened.
Something stung him hard, somewhere on the arm. He popped his eyes open, gazed up into the eyes of a stout, mustached elderly man kneeling above him. The man held something in his right hand, and Danny blinked at it weirdly. It looked like a syringe; he could briefly make out the flashing point of a needle.
Hey! What the
It's all right, the man said. I'm a doctor. I just gave you a small shot of morphine. Always carry a syringe or two, for these emergency cases. You're going to be fine, soon as the drug takes hold.
Danny listened to the furious thumps of his runaway heart, growing faster, faster, and an oath twisted his hard lips as he scowled at the doctor. I'm going to be fine, he said limply. You kill me, doc. No kiddin', you kill me.