The rain picked up a little so I pulled my hat down tightly and buttoned the top button of my coat. The alleyway gave scant shelter from the storm, but it was the only convenient place from which to see the back doorway in the alleyway just across the street. Being a private dick has its moments--but not this one. An old Ford Model T rolled slowly by and sputtered and gasped as it stalled out about thirty feet past my location. A tall and burly man clambered from behind the driver's seat and looked up and down the street. I was just beyond the glow of light from the streetlamp at the curbside and when the big fella started walking my way, I could tell it was Poodles Ramsey, his hair piled high on his hatless head.|
"Hey, Mac," I said, stepping from the shadows, "Gotta match?"
He stopped short, alarmed at first. But when he saw me a smile creased his wide face. "Hey Boss," he said. "Sorry I'm late. I was at the Palace and things ran a little late."
The Palace. I should've known. Friday Night Fights--and an old ex-pug like Poodles wouldn't've missed the heavyweight bout on tonight's card for love nor money.
"Did you have your money on a winner?" I asked.
He grimaced. Poodles' cash had a way of going to ground at the track, pool hall, and numbers game.
"I had a sawbuck on Kid Tindal," he said. "He didn't answer the bell in the twelfth. I picked up a fin in the preliminary bout, though. Cuz Griffin KO'd Lester Murphy in the ninth."
Up five, down ten. Another typical night for Poodles' wallet; probably nothing left in it but an expired bus ticket and a two-dollar bill. "Go over into the back of that alleyway across from us and wait. Kippy Kowalski's in that speakeasy and I want to talk with him when he comes out."
"We could go on in, Boss."
A drink sounded just swell, and I was tempted for a moment, but my puss wasn't welcome in Jackpot Joe's any more than a city copper so I just shook my face at Poodles and told him we'd wait outside. His hair was getting a bit matted from the falling rain as he crossed the street and sauntered into the alleyway like he owned it.
A couple of characters came out just after Poodles passed the doorway into the joint. That was lucky for us. The gorilla they had working as bouncer followed the two out and threatened to tie their legs together if he ever set eyes on them again. They gave a little lip back, but I noticed they kept moving. I withdrew deeper into my hiding place until the slap of their shoes was out of earshot.
The rain suddenly stopped and I unbuttoned my coat and set my hat back on my head and thought about what happened earlier that day. A dark-skinned dame had come into my office on Delancy Street. She wore a thick layer of make-up that didn't hide her busted lip or black eye. This Kowalski fella had roughed her up and stole her money--$210 in all. Rachel's a working girl from down on Pier Street near the docks. She stays in one of the flop-houses that dot that part of the city. It beats living under one of the bridges or the shanty town everyone calls Hoover-Ville across the river--but not by much. She gave me fifty dollars as a retainer, swearing it was all she had left in the world. All she wanted was her money back and for this mug to know she had got it. Being she was colored, she came to me instead of the coppers, knowing they wouldn't give a rat's tail.
It was nearing two in the morning when the big door swung open and out came Kippy Kowalski, loping toward the street with a bit of a stagger. I angled across, motioning to Poodles, who was still deep in the alley.
As I approached, Kowalski spied me and pulled out a blade. "Stay away, buster!" he barked. "Or I'll cut ya' to ribbons, see?" The knife flashed in the light of the street lamp.
"Oh, so you're a tough guy, huh?" I replied. "You know what happens to tough guys, don't you? Tough guys that bring knives and threaten dames—-maybe beat them up. Tough guys that steal money from working girls—-girls down on their luck! And some tough guy like you comes along and slaps them around a little, huh? Well c'mon, tough guy! Try 'n get tough with me.”
He took a couple wide, staggering steps, lifting the knife high over his head. That's when Poodles slugged him from behind with a left hook—-right smack into his left ear. Kippy Kowalski fell in a heap in a puddle by the curb. I reached into his coat and grabbed his wallet, counted out $210, and left the rest of the wad there. I stuck Rachel's money in my own pocket and pulled out my wallet and handed Poodles a double-sawbuck.
"Wow, Boss, thanks."
"Don't mention it. But promise me you won't spend it all in one place, okay?"
Poodles grinned and walked towards his jalopy. After three cranks the engine turned over and Poodles puttered off towards home. I looked down and noted Kippy was coming around. "Kippy!" I shouted and he groggily looked up at me. "Stay away from Pier Street. If I see or hear of you down there again you get knee-capped! Got it?"
He coughed a bit and then puked down his coat. He glared at me then and said in a hoarse whisper: "Yeah, fella, I got it, okay?"
I smiled at him and said: "Then have a good mornin', Kippy. See you in the Funny Pages."
I pointed myself toward Delancy Street thinking I had to get out of this private dick work, but realizing there wasn’t another blessed thing I knew how to do. The only good thing was, Rachel was getting her money back, and I had earned thirty bucks for myself in the deal.