Illustrated by Jim Garrison


By Martin McCall

Mace Wagner made it so easy to hate him, I almost felt ashamed. Maybe that was why I let him come into my office and ask me for help. I almost began to like him when he offered me twice my usual rates.

He paused to light a pipe -- without asking if it was all right --and watched me out of the corner of his eye as he did so. I kept my face as immobile as a rock, or so I hoped, and said nothing.

"Well?" he asked me after a moment. "Are you in or out?"

I said, "Why me?"

"No mystery there. You're the best private shamus in town." He paused and said again, "Are you in or out?"

I was trying to figure out his angle, but the truth was I couldn't see any, at least until I knew more about what was going on. I shrugged. Wagner and I had been staying away from each other for a good long time; he'd made it a point not to do anything that might get me working against him, and I'd turned down one or two cases because I thought he might be involved. I didn't much care for him, but he had a sister I had been crazy about once. "I guess I'm in if you're on the up and up, Mace. But I'll have to hear your story, first."

"It's Lucy. Somebody's grabbed her."

That was a shocker.

Lucy was Mace's daughter. She was cute as the dickens, and probably no wilder than anyone else's twenty-one year old daughter. "Somebody grabbed Lucy?" I said. "And the son of a bitch is still alive?"

"Only because I don't know his name."

"But you got as rough a gang as there is in this town. Why involve me?"

"Because I don't want to inadvertently put the guy who kidnapped Lucy in charge of finding her, that's why."

"You think it's someone in your organization??"

"You're asking too many questions, Taggart."

"Not if you want me to find your daughter, I'm not. If Lucy's in trouble and you don't trust your own men, then I guess you better trust me. Do you know who's doing this?"

"No, I don't. "

"Anyone you're particularly suspicious of?"

"I suspect all of them," he admitted. "Every last one of them. Except one. He's actually pretty decent, and he's waiting out in the hall. You can use him to help you search for her."

"That's an impressive list of suspects," I said. "Who's the one you trust?"

"The big guy. The really big guy."

"You mean Sammy Farber? Is he up to this?"

"He's no Einstein, but he can be useful. For one thing, if you run into anyone who's bigger than you are, he's unlikely to be bigger than Sammy."

That was for sure. Farber was three or four inches over six feet tall, broad as a building, and looked like he could wrestle a Mack Truck -- and win.

I decided to trust Wagner's judgment -- for now. "Okay then, Mace. How do you want me to do this?"

"Just nose around., for starters. If a likely suspect turns up, let me know who it is and I'll do the rest."

"That sounds like a good way to get Lucy killed."

Wagner looked mean, but then he always looked mean. He thought for a moment, though, before he said. "Yeah, it does, doesn't it?"

"You're going to have to put this in my hands and let me handle it my way. That means involving the police if I think they need to be involved."

He glowered again. "You mean if you need to save your neck."

"I'm always interested in saving my neck," I said. "But I think you know me well enough to realize Lucy comes first -- even before my precious one-of-a-kind neck. If I'm in this, I'm in it all the way."

"What if I fire you?"

"You know better. I can't be fired unless I do the firing. Fire me without my say-so, and I'll just keep on working. Only I won't be under any obligation to fill you in on anything then."

"You saying you're under obligation to fill in the cops, though?"

"Hell, no. If I look for the girl, I'll do my best to find her and get her out of whatever mess she's in. What I'm saying is, calling in the cops, the feds, even Buck Rogers is my decision. Freeing Lucy is a lot more important than keeping you happy about it."

"Okay, then, you find her and get her out. Then you get out of the way. What happens after she's safe is my call."

I knew it would be a waste of time to argue with that, not that I really cared. Wagner'd been too close to running this town for too many years to pay any attention to me about it. I said, "Whoever it is deserves whatever's handed out to him, anyway. Give me the details."

He filled me in on what he thought I should know, some of which was incriminating and handed me some walking around money. I finally told him to get out of my office and to stop worrying about it as much as he could, and I'd see if I could dig anything up.

We'd spent some time talking, but he hadn't given me a whole lot to go on. She'd disappeared about two nights ago, while she was out on a date with her boy friend, Jimmie Hanson. Hanson would have been nobody except for the fact his old man ran a bank. He fancied himself a player, however, and had some minor gang connections. Though Lucy was good looking, the fact that he'd dated her probably had more to do with who her father was, than how pretty she was. Hanson was ambitious but he wasn't any too smart.

I couldn't think of anything I could do just sitting n my office, so I got up, grabbed my hat, ankled to the door and stepped out into the hall. Standing there was the guy named Sammy Farber.

He was taller than the average bear and in a fair match I wouldn't necessarily bet on the bear. I looked up at him, which threatened to put a crick in my neck at close range like this, and growled, "Get lost, Bunion." It was supposed to be a pun on Paul Bunyan but he didn't catch it. Hell, I almost didn't catch it myself.

"The boss asked me to stick with you, to help you out if you need it."

"Your boss said he didn't trust anyone who worked for him."

He was soft spoken for someone who looked like he could over power Green Bay, by which I mean the whole town as well as the football team. Polite, too. He had his hat off and was holding it in his hand.

"The boss says you might need someone to run some errands for you. And if you get in trouble, he wants me to help you out."

Neither one of those was anything to scoff at. I had a couple of guys worked for me when I needed them, but neither one was half as big or tough as Farber. "Did he tell you to do what I tell you to do?"

"Short of going away. He said I'm not to leave you, no matter what you tell me. Oh. He said, ‘Within reason.'"

"He told me he didn't trust anybody, including any of his boys."

"I'm not like the other guys. And he said I was to give you any help you need."

"Did he tell you why?"

"He said I'm not supposed to talk about that, except to you."

"Okay, Smokey, welcome aboard. Just don't forget who's in charge. You got any money?"

"How much you need?"

"I don't need any, I was just asking. You might need to take a cab once in a while, which is why I asked the question. But you'll need to think on your feet too, because in general, I don't want anyone to know you're following me unless I get into trouble."

"Yeah. That makes a lot of sense."

"Ordinarily, I'd give you the slip and do this on my own, but people say you're a reliable guy. If you notice something or think of something I might need to know, find a way to tell me. Try not to give away that we're working the same side of the street, but at the same time, don't get coy if there's a reason to tell me something."

"But otherwise let you alone."

"More or less. If anyone tries to kill me or beat me up, try not to let them."

"Oh, don't worry about that."

"Actually, I'm not." I could feel the crick in my neck again. "I'm beginning to think you might be useful to have around. Let's go check a few places. You got any ideas?"

"The boss never told me I was expected to have ideas."

"Well, give it a try anyway. It'll be a new experience for you."

He laughed. "Yeah, that's what people say. That's what people always say. Sometimes I fool 'em, though."

He put his hat on his head and started toward the elevator. I ambled after him, and couldn't help but wonder if he was going to fool me. Not to mention when. #

I had a car in the parking lot across the street. I wanted to ask hum some questions, so I let him ride with me. We got in and the car seemed a lot smaller with him in it. I was pretty proud of the jalopy when it turned out it could haul his weight, though. I'd been worried about that.

As we drove I asked Farber a couple things I needed some information about; just routine stuff, nothing big, like whether or not Wagner had been behind the Lindbergh kidnapping. If I had, I'm pretty sure he'd have given me a straight answer. He seemed happy, even excited. Maybe it was the first time in his life he'd ever been allowed to ride as a passenger in the front.

"The girl was last seen at a dive called Rollo's," I said. "You ever been there?"

"I been there a few times with the boss. If it's early in the morning the chef cooks me scrambled eggs and biscuits. They're pretty good."

He was grinning at the memory. He added, "I don't go there on my own, though. I don't like to drink."

"Then I'll take care of that end of it," I told him.

We drove a bit more before I asked, "Tell me about Lucy."

"You don't know Lucy?" he said, surprised.

"I've seen her around. Nodded and said hello a couple times. I think maybe we flirted once or twice. But you got to understand, I'm not exactly a close family friend."

"That's what the boss says about you," Farber said. I was beginning to think of him as 'Sammy.' He was pretty likeable for a strong-arm goon.

Rollo's was closed. Not that odd this early in the day, really. I looked around. The doors were locked, I couldn't hear anything. I picked the lock, told Sammy to wait outside and went in for a look around. It was a waste of time. I went back outside and said, "Let's go visit Hanson."

Jimmie Hanson, who had too much money, lived in a ritzy apartment building about ten blocks from Rollo's. I parked across the street, got out. As big as he was, Sammy had a bit more trouble getting out of the car than I did. I said, "Sorry. I'll try to have a sedan next time I take you driving."

He said, "That's okay. They're all like that for me."

I said, "I bet," and crossed the road.

Like I said, it was ritzy a ritzy place. There was a doorman uniformed like an extra in a Sigmund Romberg musical. He started to block my way. Then he noticed Sammy and moved aside.

Inside the lobby there was an even bigger guy on duty. When he saw me he said, "May I help you sir?"

"Sure. I'm here to see Mr. Hanson." I started toward the elevator. "He knows I'm coming, so there's no need to bother announcing me."

He had already grabbed the phone.

Before he could dial, Sammy had him by the scruff of the neck and was lifting him off the floor. Wisely, the bozo let go of the phone.

My hand snaked into his jacket and emptied the holster I found there. "Don't hurt him, Sammy. We need somebody to drive the elevator for us."

Sammy, a big grin on his face, pushed him into the elevator. The guy was smart enough to start it as soon as we were all inside. When we got to Hanson's floor, I shoved the guy off and pushed him toward the door to Hanson's apartment. "Knock and tell him you have a telegram."

He did as he was told. I heard Hanson's voice on the other side of the door saying he'd be right there, and nudged the apartment guy in the ribs with the gun I'd taken off him. He went back to the elevator and the elevator door closed before Hanson's door opened and he saw Sammy. Imagine his surprise.

Hanson got out about two fifths of a yelp before Sammy's hand closed over his whole face. He shoved him back into the apartment without removing his hand and I followed after, enjoying the sight of Sammy working. Judging from the grin that hadn't left his face the whole time, Sammy was having a lot of fun, too.

"Let go of me, you goddamn son of a bitch," Hanson said desperately, squirming to get his head free of the hold Sammy had on him.

"I saw him do that to two watermelons at the same time, once," I said. "I bet the mess you make when your head bursts open is even harder to clean up."

Sammy gave Hanson's head a shake and Hanson gave a very sincere yelp.

"We're looking for Lucy, you creep."

"I don't know no Lucy."

"You sure that's the line you want to take? We were sent here by her old man."

"She's not here. For god's sake, I wouldn't bring Wagner's daughter to my own apartment. You think I'm crazy or something?"

"You sure you want me to answer that? Better let go of him, Sammy. He looks like he's about to pass out."

Sammy looked downright disappointed, but he let go of Hanson's head and the creep slid to the floor.

"Where's Lucy," I asked.

"I don't know her."

"Wrong answer," I said and slammed him a good one in the ribs with my right shoe. I heard something crack. I hoped it was his ribs but I suspect he had a pen in his pocket because ink began spreading across his shirt.

He was moaning convincingly, though. I grabbed a good handful of his shirt front and jerked him to his feet.

"You've maybe noticed I've conducted all the festivities so far. But I'm just the amateur. My friend though -- he's the All-American at this sport."

"You keep him away from me."

"Why would I do a thing like that?" I shoved him up against the wall, hoping it would hold him up, and stepped back.

If I hadn't been enjoying myself so much, I think it would have hurt my feelings. Here I'd been doing all the work -- and handing the son of a bitch all my best punches -- and he was staring in wide-eyed fear at Sammy.

"He doesn't get to work you over until I'm through with you," I told him. "But that won't be long."

"Please, don't hurt me. I don't know nothing."

"Boy, if that's the truth Hanson, you're in real trouble."

"This is taking too much time," Sammy said. He pushed me aside so he could get in front of Hanson.

"Keep him away from me! Don't let him, don't let him, don't let him." At least I think that's what Hanson said. It's hard to understand a guy when he's that hysterical.

Sammy hit him and I thought it would take the son of a bitch's head off. He started screaming. Sammy drove his fist into Hanson's stomach. Hanson shut up very suddenly, bent over and started retching.

"You're going to ruin this nice carpet," I told him.

"But I don't know nothin'," Hanson said, with a lot of effort.

"That's a real shame," I said. "Sammy, take your time with this one. And be inventive."

I didn't bother to count the number of times the son of a bitch said, "No," but I know it was a lot. After a few seconds I interrupted Sammy and said to Hanson, "All we want to know is where the girl is. We don't care about anything else."

Sammy said, "Stop wastin' our time, creep," and hit him again.

Hanson started babbling, incoherently. I told him to slow down, but he didn't slow down until Sammy told him. He took three deep breaths then said a name. The name was Butch McGowan.

Well, that made a kind of sense, I suppose. McGowan and Wagner were in the same line of work, which made them rivals. For years people had been expecting some kind of blow-up between them, but so far they'd laid off each other, at least publically. It wouldn't be any surprise to find out the blow-up was about to happen. But that wasn't why I'd been hired.

"So why the girl?" I asked Hanson.

It was Sammy who answered. "That's easy. To make the boss fork over some cash."

"But why wait two days for that? That doesn't make any sense at all."

Sammy looked perplexed and shrugged. I didn't shrug but I bet I looked just as perplexed as he did.

"What do we do now?" Sammy asked me. "Go see McGowan?"

"It's not my favorite thing to do," I admitted. "But frankly, I can't think of anything else. We just need to find some place to lock up Hanson so he can't call and tell McGowan we're coming."

"We don't have to go to all that trouble," Sammy said.

He tapped Hanson on the jaw so fast his hand was just a blur. Hanson hit the floor. Sammy said, "You think we can find her before midnight?"

"I'm pretty sure of it," I said. "Why?"

"He ain't gonna come too until after midnight," Sammy said.

We drove to McGowan's. I went over several contingency plans until Sammy interrupted me. "Look, I can't keep all that in my head. Let's do it my way."

"What's your way?"

"We go McGowan's and start hitting people until we get what we're after."

I actually thought he was joking right up until we pulled up into McGowan's drive.

As I set the brakes, two guys came up to the car, one on each side. I rolled down my window and one leaned down to talk to me. "This is private property, sir. You can't use this drive unless you have an appointment."

"In that case," Sammy said, "We're making one now."

He opened his door, knocking back the guard on his side. The guy yelped and tried to get to his feet. Sammy, showing more speed than I believed possible, knocked him down again. The guy was obviously out. Sammy snatched the gun out of the guy's holster and turned around to deal with my guy.

My guy was grabbing for his own weapon. Neither of these guys seemed good enough to be earning their pay. I reached through the window, grabbed his necktie and slammed his head against the top of my door. The gun, unfired, fell into my lap.

I got out of the car. My guy was way too close to the car, so I brought my foot down on his face, which rendered him unconscious. I heard Sammy say, "Nice job," admiringly. I was out of the cr by then, running toward the house.

I reached the front door a step behind Sammy who dropped his shoulder with impeccable timing and butted his way through it without losing so much as a step.

There were two men in the living room, one of them McGowan.

I grabbed him, while Sammy took care of the other one. I'd never really tangled with McGowan. I'd heard he was tough, so I didn't mess around. While he was still gaping at Sammy, I drove my left into his stomach. He made several sounds all at once, one of them being a lot like the sound you make when you belch. He tried to fall down but I grabbed his color and kept him standing.

"Where the hell is the girl," I said, and for emphasis, I hit him in the stomach again.

He held his hand up and pointed toward a door. He could barely speak but he said something which I presume was "In there, in there." I hit him again and this time he went down for the count.

Sammy and I ran to the door. I let him reach it first, the better to take the door down.

The girl was seated in a kitchen chair, expertly tied.

Sammy said, "Oh, somebody's going to pay for this," and ran to her side.

He had the handkerchief off her moth almost before I noticed it. He said, "Sweetheart, sweetheart," and she said, "God, Sammy. I'm really glad to see you."

They kissed like they'd just invented the art, then Sammy tore the ropes off. He snapped them with his hands, and did it carefully so as not to hurt Lucy.

Then they really kissed.

"What's going on here?" I said.

Lucy noticed me then. "Who's that?"

"That's Taggart, the private eye. He's a pal of mine. He's gonna be best man at our wedding."

"Him? That's wonderful;" she said. She reached out to shake my hand. "I'm Lucy Wagner. I've seen you around, haven't I?"

"Yeah," I said, then turned to Sammy.

"Ain't she a doll?" he said, beaming with Pride. Lucy and I are going to get married."

"You mean to each other?"

"Of course I mean to each other Whadidya think I meant?"

"Does her old man know about this?"

"We weren't going to tell him until after we'd done it, Sammy said. "That's why I was so upset."

"I can't wait to see how her father takes it."

"But they were kissing again and not paying any attention to me.

I gather Mace didn't like it one bit, but there was nothing he could do about it short of killing Sammy. Both Sammy and Lucy made him understand in no uncertain terms that neither one of them would let him get away with that.

The wedding took place about two weeks later, and sure enough, I got to be best man. Mace Wagner was game enough, but I'm pretty sure he was play acting. Srill, I couldn't help thinking he was luckier than he deserved, getting a son in law like that.

The End


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