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The Men From the Boys
This page formatted 2005 Blackmask Online.
For Carla Jump-Jump who faithfully manned the duty watches
As if I wasn't feeling bad enough it had to be one of those muggy New York City summer nights when your breath comes out melting. With my room on the ground floor and facing nothing, I lay in bed and sweated up the joint.
The summer hadn't been too rough till the last few days, about the time my belly went on the rocks, when it became a Turkish bath. I stared up at the flaky ceiling and wished the 52 Grover Street Corporation would install air conditioning. Almost wished I was the house dick at a better hotel. No, I didn't wish that—I had a sweet deal at the Grover. With my police pension, the pocket money the hotel insisted was a salary, and my various side rackets, I was pulling down over two hundred dollars a week in this flea bag— all of it tax free.
Turning over to reach a cool part of the sheet, this warm, queasy feeling bubbled through my gut. I belched and snapping on the table light took a mint. All I had on was shorts, but they were damp and as I started to change them, there was a knock on the door.
When I said, “Yeah?” Barbara opened the door, fanning her face with a folded morning paper. She never slopped around in a kimono or just a slip. Barbara was always neat in a dress and underthings, and shoes, not slippers. Which was one reason I let her work the hotel steadily. Her simple face might have been cute—ten years ago. Now it held that washed-out look that comes with the wear and tear. But her legs were still cute, long and slim.
She closed the door and leaned against it. “My—what a lump of man.”
“You should have seen me when I was younger and real hard—I looked like a tub then, too. What time is it?”
“Eleven-something. I'm knocking off, Marty. Ain't no customers. Guy'd have to be a sex maniac in all this heat.”
“All right, take off.”
She gave me a tired smile. “Dropped by to see if you wanted anything, maniac.”
“Beat it, you sweatbox.”
“You ain't kidding, I feel soggy. —Just me and Dora. Jean never showed. I left the money with Dewey.”
Another thing I liked about Barbara: she was honest. I got half of every three bucks the girls made. Out of that twenty-five cents went to Dewey, the night clerk, and he took care of Lawson, the bright joker who handled the desk during the day. Kenny, the bellhop, took another fifteen cents besides his tips. Out of my share I handled the pay-off to the cops. The 52 Grover Street Corporation got theirs in the usual way; there was a $2.50 room charge every time. It wasn't big time nor was it exactly penny ante. On a busy week end we often had ten girls working the hotel.
I got into a clean pair of shorts as she asked, “Hitting the sheets so early?”
“My stomach's been a brute. Gas, the runs, and feeling crummy in general.”
“Watch what you eat in this heat, Marty. Try some warm milk with a little rice; that will settle your belly. And lay off the bottle.”
“Honey, I can't even smoke, much less hold any booze down,” I said as the house phone rang.
“Wish my Harold couldn't hold it down. I'm in no mood for any rough stuff.”
“Tell your Harold if he puts a hand on you I'll knock his head from under his fat ears,” I said. That was a lie. I wouldn't mind working Harold over, I never had no use for pimps, but the 52 Grover Street Corporation wouldn't like the idea.
All I ever saw of the “Corporation” was Mr. King, an old and busy accountant who came around every day with his skinny nose up in the air. He was both auditor and hotel manager. Actually the Grover was owned by one of the largest and most respectable real-estate outfits in town. Which figured: “respectable” people always owned “houses.”
The phone rang again. As I picked it up, Barbara thumbed her nose at me, opened the door. “See you tomorrow, lover.”
“All right, honey.” Then I asked the phone, “What's the trouble, Dewey?”
“Couple of truckers in 703 hitting a bottle and making noise.”
“All right.” I hung up and started to dress. Never failed. When I wanted sleep some joker's whiskey had to start talking. Not that the Grover was very rough. Around 1900, I'm told, when this section was full of private houses, it had been a first-rate hotel with a view of the Hudson. Then it became an artists' hangout and speakeasy. When the midtown markets expanded, the Grover was just near enough to get a lot of truckers, along with a few seedy permanents —civil-service workers—and some transients who wandered in because they didn't know any better, maybe saw our roof sign from the highway.
Bending down to lace my shoes I brought up some gas and it was like an old sewer coming to life. I needed to see a doctor. The phone rang again. I grabbed it, told Dewey, “All right, I'm going up there!”
“Marty,” Dewey's soft voice said, “there's a cop in the lobby to see you.”
“Which one?” The greedy punks knew I paid off direct.
“New one. Sort of looks like a store cop to me. Youngster I never seen before. He asked for you.”
“Is he a cop or a uniformed guard?”
“Well,” Dewey hesitated, “he looks like a cop and then again he don't. You know, one of them Civil Defense cops, I think.”
“All right, tell him to wait. I'll see him in my office and straighten the bastard out.”
I hung up and cursed. Things must be getting bad when a phony cop had nerve enough to be on the take. Hold his hand out to me and I'd break it off.
We had a small self-service elevator in the rear that the maids used during the day and I took it up to the seventh floor. These two clowns in 703 were singing and as I passed 715, Mr. Ross, one of the permanents, an old crotchety bald-headed bookkeeper, was waiting by his open door. He said, “Really, Mr. Bond, on a warm weekday night, this is an outrage!”
“They'll quiet down in a minute, Mr. Ross. Go back to sleep.”
“Sleep? In this heat?”
“The Grover isn't responsible for the weather,” I said, a poor joke that Ross didn't crack a smile over. Of course I could tell him a few things Barbara had told me about him that would make Ross hysterical, but I kept on walking down the hallway.
I knocked three times on 703, but the two of them were harmonizing on some hillbilly ditty and didn't hear me. They sure couldn't sing a little. I had my coat on and a tie, and my shirt was damp already. Opening the door with a passkey, I stepped inside and shut it quickly.
I'd never seen these truck jockeys before. They were both about twenty-seven, tall and lean, cocky punks. They were lying on their beds, each working on a pint, and wearing dungarees and shoes. There was an empty fifth on the floor. They jumped to their feet when they saw me. They were nicely built boys, ridges of muscles across their stomachs. The smaller one asked, “Don't you ever knock?”
“I knocked—you were blowing your nose too loud to hear me.”
The bigger one said, “Don't have to ask who you are— house dick written all over your fat puss.”
“That's me. Look, it's hot, I don't want no trouble. How about sleeping it off?”
“Want a shot?” the smaller trucker asked, waving his bottle at me.
“Too hot. I just want what you guys need—some sleep,” I said. This bitter-greasy taste suddenly flooded my mouth as the big one winked at his buddy. I got sore. On a steaming night these clowns wanted trouble, a little action. I got a mint in my mouth and chewed it quickly.
Big boy said, “We feel like singing. We're happy. Got us a load going back just like that.” He tried to snap his fingers.
“You want to sing, go down on the docks and sing your fool heads off.” I nodded at the beds. “Also, you ain't on the farm now and this ain't no pigpen—take your shoes off when you hit the sack.”
The smaller guy came toward me, waving his bottle. “Aw, have a drink with me.”
I wanted them both in close—although they didn't look like bottle throwers. I made one last effort. I said, “It's awful hot, no point in any of us working up a sweat. Take off your shoes and cut the singing! Tomorrow I'll take that drink.”
“Kind of old and fat for all that tough talk, ain't you, baldy?” the big one asked.
“All you whiskey-big-mouthed jokers give me a headache,” I said as I hooked the smaller one in the gut. He landed on the bed, skidded off onto the floor, fighting for breath and puking all over the old plush carpet. Big boy didn't move fast at all. I grabbed his bottle hand, jerked him to me and kicked his shin. He sat down hard, holding the leg, rye spilling over one bed.
“It's very hot, let's not have no more exercise,” I said.
“You fat bastard, I'll kill you!”
I pulled big boy up by his hair, planted a solid one under his ribs and let him sprawl on the floor. His hands clutched at his belly, clawing at the skin.
That was it: they'd never been hit like that before and their eyes were all fear. I said, “Either of you have any ideas about pulling a knife, forget it. I can give you a real beating if you're asking for it. I asked you in a nice way, but you hardheads got to get smacked down.” I glanced around the dirty room. If they had a return trip set, they were loaded. “You slobs made a mess of this room, ruined the rug. Be trouble if the chambermaid yells. Maybe hotel sues you. Best you leave her a tip—now.”
The smaller guy rolled over and dug into his pocket. “Be ten bucks to clean the rug, at least. And worth another ten for the work she'll have to do,” I added.
He waved a fistful of bills at me. Nothing like a wallop in the gut to take the starch out of a rough stud. I reached over—carefully—picked up two tens. As I opened the door I told them, “Now go to bed or poppa will have to spank again.”
“We'll never come here again!” big boy gasped. “You do, I'll throw you out the front door. Go to a flop joint where you belong.” I shut and locked the door, waited in the hallway for a moment. The clowns weren't marked —if they yelled they couldn't prove a thing. They were stupid drunk and fighting when I came in.
I was sweating a lot and stopped in at my bathroom, washed up, and it was a lucky move, for I got a sudden cramp. When I was ready I took a mint and called Dewey. “Room 703 is okay. Now send that jerky cop into my office.” In my office I took out my wallet and left it open on the desk so my card in the Policeman's Benevolent Association showed—to let the punk know who he was talking to.
He was a young cop, slight, with a skinny chicken neck, and the face looked a little familiar. He sure looked like a real cop, except for the patch on his shoulder, and the badge was smaller and the cap looked cheap. He had a gun belt on with bullets but no gun. Just a night stick and something in his back pocket that could be a sap.
He stood in the doorway, a silly grin on his narrow face, held out his arms like he was modeling the stingy uniform, asked, “Like it, Marty?”
For a moment I didn't recognize him. Hell, the last time I'd seen the kid was during the war, and he wasn't more than a dozen years old then. The grin on his face faded as he asked, “Marty, don't you remember me?”
The sort of plea in his voice did it. I jumped up and shook his small hand. “Lawrence, boy! Where do you come off with that not-remembering line? I was merely dazzled by the blue. Come on, put it down. When did you get the badge?” He always was a frail kid and now he looked compact, but like a weak welterweight. On his collar he had a gold A.P.—auxiliary police.
He sat down opposite me, pleased with himself. “Well, I'm not exactly a real cop. I'm with Civil Defense and we put in a few hours a week doing patrol duty—sort of practice for us, in case there ever should be an emergency, a bombing and all that. But I'm going to take the police physical next fall. I've been building myself up for it, go to the college gym every day.”
“How's your mother?” The kid had always been muscle-happy and cop-crazy. Maybe because he was always so delicate and sickly.
“Just fine. Guess you know she married again?”
“Yeah, I heard. Right after the war, and to some duck working in the aircraft factory with her. Hope she's happy. I gave Dot a rough time.”
“Mom never understood you,” Lawrence said. He had a good voice, deep and relaxed, and when you looked at his eyes for a while, you knew he was no longer a kid but a man. “Marty, I didn't mean to barge in on you so late, but I was just assigned to this precinct, and... uh... I thought you'd still be up.”
“I never hit the sack before three or four in the morning. Lately I've had some bum food and my stomach won't let me sleep anyway. You say you're going to college?”
He nodded. “Law school. I wanted to work and go nights, but Dot has been simply wonderful—insisted upon putting me through day school.”
“What's the idea of this tin-badge deal?”
He flushed. “Actually, I thought it would help me, give me a working idea of the force, so when I pass the physical and become a real...”
“You're studying to be a shyster—why you want to be a cop?”
He smiled as if I'd said something clever. “With the name Bond, what else could I be? Some of the men at the station, the regular police, asked me if I was related to you.”
“Down in this precinct—they remember me?”
“Every cop remembers you.”
“Are you... uh... defense cops under the precinct captain?”
“No, we have our own setup. Before this I was assigned to a station house up in the Bronx. But I mingle with the real cops.”
“They giving you a hard time because of me?”
He opened his collar, pushed his cap back, said flatly, “No one gives me a hard time, not the son of Marty Bond, the toughest cop on the force.” He sounded pretty hard. The kid could be more rugged than he looked—or nuts.
“That what they still call me?”
He turned his palms up, waved them. “Oh, a few said something about the... uh... Graham case, that you gave the force a black eye. But I told them off, reminded them you were the most cited man in the history of the New York City police force.”