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Hamilton H. Craigie

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Detective, November 1933

The Ape Man Was Too Brutal, Even for His Own Pals, So They Set Him Adrift in a One-Way Car

 

THE Gorilla would have stolen a car from any one of a number parked along the curb, but time pressed. As he had turned the corner of Broadway into Forty-fourth, out of the tail of his eye he had seen the implacable, brick-dust countenance beneath the “iron” hat; it was the face of MacAllister, from headquarters. The Gorilla, upon the instant, had gone away from there under his own power, with the clutch thrown into high.

The Gorilla was a good driver—none better—he was an excellent “mechanic,” too, in the crook sense, but not in the sense that he was a mécanicien of cars. The interior mechanism of automobiles was, to him, a sealed book; he had never found it necessary to know anything more about cars than to start and stop them, the manipulation of the wheel, three speeds forward, and reverse. And he could drive—there had never been any doubt about that. But at the moment he did not have a car.

The Gorilla, his great, bowed shoulders hunched forward, had broken into a swift, shambling walk. MacAllister had seen him—of that he was convinced. And his name and description had been read out to the men in all the station-houses; it had been posted conspicuously in a string of country “juge” (post offices) from California to Maine.

His last touch had resulted in the brutal and entirely unnecessary bumping-off of a superannuated bank watchman; he had killed the man with a ferocious casualness that had been stone-blind to his victim's terrified and futile plea. As others of his ilk had expressed it, the Gorilla was too brutal, even, to be a successful gun; he was a throwback, an atavism, a caveman, with a heart that was just a muscle, without pity and without truth.

If he had not stopped long enough to murder the blackie he would have made his getaway—clean. As it was, he had just made it in a hot lamas, before the hue-and-cry; turning and doubling like a hunted wolf, he had thus far won clear.

Behind him now as he went forward there came on a sudden the clumping, quick pound of hurrying feet—MacAllister! It would be the plainclothesman, sure enough; the peterman was in a trap. Ahead of him—for by now he had reached the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Forty-fourth—the Avenue for the moment showed bare and empty for as much of it as he could see. As the Gorilla came onward the guardian of the crossing raised his hand.

The peterman, his hand in a quick stab for his automatic, halted, pig eyes aflame with a wary desperation. Which way to turn? MacAllister had seen him, and the reward offered by the Bankers' Association had stipulated ten thousand dollars, alive or dead. Glancing about him like a cornered wolf, with the quick purr of a motor just behind he leaped sidewise as the light car drew level. It was a Department car, and in it, as he stared, gray-faced, he saw the sheen of brass buttons, a patrolman hunched forward above the wheel, so close, indeed, that he might have reached out and touched him, a hand's-breadth from the curb.

But the car roared past him, heading for the Avenue at speed.

The Gorilla could hear those footsteps; they were running now; the sound came to the fugitive like a summons of doom. He could hear the blare and rumble of the approaching parade; that had been the reason for the empty Avenue; that way he was effectually shut off.

Lip lifting from his stained and blackened teeth, as a trapped animal grins at the hunters, the Gorilla, his glance upon a narrow hallway just across, was bunching his muscles for the leap. Once inside, he might be able to make his getaway, upward, to the roof.

It was a loft building, with, behind the freight elevator, a dark and narrow stair; the Gorilla knew that, because he had been in there before. For it had been, from that rooftop, or from the one adjacent, that, on a dark night of storm, he had hurled into eternity Red Masterman, because he had been a snitch and a stool. Masterman had not been, but no matter! for the Gorilla it was just an excuse.

The Gorilla, measuring the distance between where he was and that hallway, felt all at once a light pressure on his elbow; he swung 'round with a sort of mewling snarl. Then:

“Hell!” he ejaculated, thickly, in a whistling croak.

For the face that he beheld was not the face of MacAllister, the fly-cop; it was a face, three-pointed like a rat's, hairless, with a skin that was like the color of old putty; the peterman gave a hissing whisper of relief:

“Cincy Slim!”

The newcomer wasted no time in preliminaries. “I seen MacAllister,” he breathed hoarsely. “Up th' stem . . . come on, fella—do a fade!”

Slim in the lead, the darkness of the hallway swallowed them up. Nor did he lead the way, upward, to the roof. A quick, scrambling run down an iron ladder, a dark corridor traversed in silence and darkness, with, presently, the drip-drip of water, with the dank odor of a cellar, several stories below the street. A light, seen like a wavering star out of the blackness, and presently, the slap and gurgle of water against piles.

It was a disused sewer, an old waterway beneath the city, deep down. And for a moment now, with, as it happened, the Gorilla in the lead, into the face of the yegg called Cincy Slim there had come a brief, tigerish gleam. It was like a grin, but a grin that was, of a sudden, ferocious, gloating, assured.

He and the Gorilla had run together in the same mob, but that had been some time in the past. And perhaps he was remembering something now that the peterman had long since forgotten. But the grin faded abruptly as the Gorilla with a swift motion had turned.

“Hell, Slim,” he muttered. “Someone's walkin' over m' grave! 'S cold, I tell ya! A fine place for a murder, yeah! Well, you better go on ahead.”

His companion had given a little chuckle, taking the lead. Perhaps, as the Gorilla had expressed it, that had been his thought: a fine place for a murder—to knock someone off. But, whatever he had been thinking of, after perhaps fifteen minutes, perhaps ten, his knuckles sounded with a peculiar, rubbing rasp upon a door.

The door opened grudgingly, on a crack, through which a thin red pencil of light grew and broadened to a fan-like arc of yellow flame; they found themselves in a speakeasy, a story below the street. A man with a mouth like a straight gash in a double-chin barbered to the blood grinned them a greeting behind the stained and battered bar.

“'Lo, guys!” he said, as the Gorilla, this time in the lead, went over to a side table against the wall. With his glance around the low-ceilinged room the peterman leaned close. There were perhaps half a dozen men in the long room, wolfish, hard-bitten taxi drivers, with, upon their faces, the sign-manual of the Wolf; two men in a far corner whom the Gorilla recognized as automobile thieves; they were past masters in their line.

For the matter of that, Malachi Grogan, the man in the dingy white jacket behind the bar, was, among other things, a fence who specialized in the disposal of stolen cars; just above the speakie there was a garage; a car might roll into it, and often did, never to be seen again as the same car.

The section was a tough neighborhood, even by day. Men could disappear here, and did, and nobody ever the wiser. And the Gorilla, strong-arm, thug, yegg-man and murderer that he was, might have—if he had seen the silent signal between Grogan and Cincy Slim—been given food for thought. But he turned now to his companion with a quick, rumbled oath:

“I gotta grab me a car, Slim,” he muttered. “But I ain't got no jack. I left m' wad up at Looie's when I beat it outa there three jumps ahead of MacAllister, th' damn dick! I ain't goin' back t' Looie's, but I'll drive out t' Newark, see? An' I'll get me a stake off of Deacon Jones an' hit f'r Ti Juana maybe, I guess. But—I gotta get me a car.”

The man called Cincy Slim nodded, his gaze in a fixed, unwavering, unwholesome brightness, like a painted flame, upon the Gorilla where he sat. He was a small man, like a ferret, with red hair that sat upon his lean skull like a mat; by comparison with the Gorilla he seemed negligible, mean.

But there was a something deadly about him, like a snake. The peterman, his thick brows drawn downward in a scowl, appeared to be aware for a moment of a subtle antagonism as if radiated toward him from the man known as Cincy Slim.

For thoughts are things.

But again he said heavily, as if repeating it by rote:

“I gotta grab me a car.”

For a moment there was a little silence; then the man called Slim glanced sidewise at Grogan, behind the bar. He favored the peterman with a split-toothed grin.

“Easy does it, monkey!” he told him. “Sure— guess we can fix y' up.”

He rose, again with that quick look at the bartender behind the bar, speaking out of the corner of his mouth, in the prison twist:

“Upstairs, fella; you can pick out what you want. You take it on over to the Deacon's place— you figurin' t' stay there for a while, hey? Well, y' can send th' car back any time; no trouble a-tall. Now—watch your step!”

Slim in the lead, through a door opening at the far end of the room they went upward along a high and narrow stair, to find themselves in a garage, silent and dark, out of the shadows of which, at a low word from Slim, three men came forward, hump-shouldered; the Gorilla could see that they were husky garage mechanics, and that was all.

But even in the dim light it could be seen that they were powerful men, their long ropes of muscle sliding easily to the swift play of the tremendous shoulders; by comparison with the Gorilla, even, they were huge. There was a heavy car before them; it was in the way. At a low word from Slim the foremost of the three heaved, and the five thousand-odd pounds of dead weight rolled forward and away.

 

THE Gorilla, although not a mechanic, had an eye for cars. And the choice that he made now was instantaneous; perhaps the man called Slim had known that it would be when he had offered the peterman his pick. It was the first of the long line of cars, shrouded, and, somehow, in the dim light, like beasts, couchant, and waiting for the word. The Gorilla was anything but imaginative; he saw merely a low-hung roadster, built for speed; seventy miles in the hour would be asking an easy performance of it . . . and upon the instant he had made his choice.

But, somehow, as he twisted in under the wheel, a tiny thought, like the knocking of an invisible hammer at the base of his brain, came and was gone as, behind him, once again there showed in the face of Cincy Slim that brief, tigerish gleam.

For the thing that the Gorilla had forgotten had been remembered by the man there at his back; it had been merely a trifling matter of the doublecross; the Gorilla had, in the argot of the Underworld, jobbed Cincy Slim; the latter had been “kangarooed”—sentenced for something he had never done; he had bided his time. Besides this, unknown to the Gorilla, he had been a friend of Red Masterman, and that was that.

But if there was one thing that could be said of Cincy Slim, he was not a snitch. His seven-year sentence had been commuted to “four years—nine” for good behavior; he had been a model prisoner; perhaps, after all, he was returning good for evil in furnishing the Gorilla with his getaway, the means ready to his hand.

The Gorilla had not remembered because, at the time, he had been certain that the other had not known; the brief, subconscious warning that he had received had faded, with his hand upon the wheel.

The man known as Cincy Slim was very well aware that MacAllister would have paid well for information as to the man there in the car, but that was not Slim's way; his way was different because it was the way of a serpent upon a rock. The car which he had furnished the Gorilla was a powerful one; in the gas tank there were twenty gallons of gas; the Gorilla, starting the motor, listened to its smooth purr of harnessed power with an expansive grin.

The mechanics rolled back the doors. The garage, at the street level, faced upon a blank wall, the blank wall of an alley that was, in effect, a mews; it was open only at one end. This alley was not wide enough for a direct turn; a driver, issuing from the garage, after making a short left turn, would be compelled to put his car in reverse; after that it could be made in “one.”

Slim, with a low word to the three mechanics, walked forward alongside the car as the Gorilla, his foot upon the gas, tooled it slowly through the doors, turned, pointing the car forward to the wall, and bringing the wheel hard over before reverse.

With the smooth ease of the professional driver, bringing the car to a stop an inch from the blank wall, he put it in reverse; the gears meshed as on a bed of oil; there was no sound.

Slim, standing to one side, seemed all at once curiously rigid, like a hound in leash, to bend forward like a sprinter upon the mark as the Gorilla stepped on the gas. He straightened as the car went backward in a smooth, easy curve, turned, its hood pointed for the bright patch of sunlight that was the Avenue without. The motor purred, the gears meshed, the car rolled slowly forward, as the three mechanics, panting a little from the exertion of rolling back the doors—and they were easy-rolling, and the mechanics were strong—abruptly disappeared.

They grinned together in the semi-darkness of the garage. They were extremely powerful men, but even the slight exertion of closing shut the ponderous doors appeared to have taken it out of them, or it may have been merely the weakness of their laughter as they leaned against the wall. As if, say, in common, they were sharing some cosmic jest.

They were, all three, close friends of Slim's; besides that, they were, all of them, indebted to him, one way or another; be this as it may, they waited, as, all at once, there came the staccato thunder of a motor from the Avenue without. A hoarse oath came to them, with, once again, the stuttering roar of a motor, turning at speed, a brief, barking order—above the clamor of the engine it cut sharp and clear.

 

THE Gorilla, his foot upon the gas, had rolled slowly toward that patch of sunlight, feeling his way. Once in the Avenue, and among the tides of traffic, he would be safe.

But as, emerging from the Alley, he peered outward above the wheel, abruptly his face darkened; a startled curse rumbled in his throat. Before him, and coming inward at an angle, there was a light, black-painted car—the sort of car that given a driver of merely average skill, can turn on a dime, like a whippet or a greyhound rounding a sharp turn at speed.

There, at the wheel of the light car, he saw a face—it was not MacAllister's—beneath a hard derby hat. The plainclothesman—for it was a Squad car—had not seen him—as yet. The man would have his description, however; as a matter of fact the police had been combing the city for him since the message of the murder had been flashed southward over the wire.

It would be touch and go. Back there, in the semi-darkness of that alley, he would not be seen. With a lightning movement he slammed in the clutch, putting the gear-shift in reverse; then, almost with the same motion, gave her the gun.

Then—his mouth opened in sheer panic and a stupefied amaze. For the car, that should have leaped backward like a frightened horse, stood like a rock, immovable; the motor roared and reverberated between the high walls; the great car shook with the galloping rush of its eighty horses, but it did not move.

The Gorilla became aware that the light car had drawn level; behind the grim face of the driver there showed another—it was MacAllister's—and it was bleak and hard.

“Put 'em up, and keep 'em that way . . . put the cuffs on him, Clancy . . . good!”

As in a daze the peterman heard MacAllister's voice. He got down stiffly, his gaze upon the car in a queer befuddlement and a bemused unbelief. Like a man drunk he suffered the manacles to be snapped upon his great, hairy wrists; then, head down, at the brief, barking order of the plain-clothes man, moved stiffly to obey.

The thing had been simple, but the Gorilla never found out. The man known as Cincy Slim had been aware that two at least of the Department cars had been doing twelve-hour shifts up and down the Avenue; from a window of Grogan's garage he had seen—for the thing had not been coincidence—the light car as it stood, its engine idling, at the curb.

It was not in Slim's code to betray his enemy, by message or by word of mouth; he had a better way. For, as the Gorilla had turned the wheel there against the wall, putting the shift into reverse, the three giants in their dingy dungarees had laid hold of that car bodily, to pull it backward—in reverse!

For, as it happened, the car which he had furnished the Gorilla had had no reverse! And the Gorilla had neither seen nor known. He had thought that he had reversed it, to drive forth into the sunlight, and instant recognition by the detectives at the curb.

As to the car: as to its final disposition neither Slim nor Grogan would lose sleep. But as for the Gorilla, Nemesis had overtaken him, in the full measure of his sins.