From THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER MAGAZINE SECTION, FEBRUARY 28, 1932, here is a nearly 85 year old short story by Homer King Gordon that’s completely unknown (it’s not in the FictionMags Index so probably didn’t appear in the magazines (Homer King Gordon)). This was the only paper I found it listed in.
“Silk and Birds of Prey” by Homer King Gordon (as by Homer K. Gordon)
MILLIONS of dollars worth of silk lay in the warehouses which lined the dimly lighted street, deserted except for an occasional taxicab uptown-bound, and a lone uniformed figure.
Clip Madigan walked slowly down toward the crosstown street marking the end of his beat. It was raising slightly, so he kept close to the buildings as he went from door to door.
He found the delivery door of the Maddox warehouse open, but old Chris Olsen, the Maddox watchman, was standing just inside the doorway.
“Hello, Chris, you lucky old stiff,” Clip hailed him, making a pass at the pudgy watchman’s stomach with the end of his nightstick. “You old-timers get all the breaks. It looks like my slicker for me.”
“Yas, it will be a vet vun tonight,” Chris agreed. “But maybe I’m not so lucky yet.”
“No, why not ?” Clip asked. The old watchman looked uneasily at the freight elevator before he answered.
“I ain’t so young yet,” he muttered, stroking the butt of his revolver and then letting his fingers wander restlessly to the time-clock hooked in his belt. “Maybe that’s it. Yas, you think so ?”
“Depends on what you’ve got on your mind,” Clip said gravely. “Anybody been hanging around here acting suspicious ? What’s happened ?”
Chris shook his head.
“It’s like somebody was watching me. I dunno. Tonight I felt like that, so I waited for you to come by.”
“Well, let’s have a look,” Clip suggested. “I’ll make the rounds through the building with you.”
THE old watchman’s fingers trembled as he locked the door. Clip followed him through the corridor into the big office room on the pavement level. The Maddox building consisted of four floors and a basement.
They started their tour of the building in the basement, reached by a narrow stairway at the rear of the building.
A squad of policemen could not have searched the basement thoroughly in the time it took the old watchman to complete his duties there, but Clip circled the room once and looked into as many of the possible hiding places as he could reach before Chris was ready to go upstairs.
He found nothing there to justify the old watchman’s fear, nor did he find anything in the floors above. However, he did not feel that his time had been wasted without cause. Chris was a former policeman with medals to prove his nerve and courage.
“Why don’t you call up your patrol chief and tell him what you told me ?” Clip Madigan urged.
Chris shook his head. “If I see something, yes,” he agreed. “But just because I feel something, no.”
Clip could understand his reluctance.
A night watchman with jumpy nerves got little sympathy from a hard-boiled patrol chief.
“I’ll look in when I come around this way again,” Clip promised.
A fortune in silk was stored on the two upper floors of the Maddox building.
Clip squared his shoulders and snapped his night stick out to the end of the leather thong so viciously that it cracked his knuckles when it flew back.
Naturally, the time-clock stations were wired to a central agency; and if old Chris did not punch in each station at the approximate time it should be punched, an emergency squad would come and investigate.
But in Clip’s opinion, by the time they got there it would be too late to do anything more than investigate, as far as any silk robbery was concerned. It was up to the police to see that the robbery was stopped before the stolen silk was carted away.
It was up to him.
CLIP had not walked more than a block from the Maddox building when he saw the slinking figure of a man slip out of the recessed doorway of a cigar store and walk rapidly down one of the side streets.
Clip quickened his step and when he arrived at the corner he was not surprised to find the side street deserted. The tail-light of an automobile could be seen in the distance.
When he found nothing to justify an alarm or an extensive search of the neighborhood, Clip abandoned the side street. It was nearly time for him to ring in, and his call box was several blocks away.
That was an important bit of routine which had to be followed. Clip was a patrolman who let nothing interfere with the strict observance of his official duties; but half a block away from the call box he looked anxiously up and down the street then stepped into a small lunch counter restaurant. The red-headed girl dressed in white who sat on a stool behind the cash register would have provided an excellent excuse for any man to neglect his business for a cup of coffee.
The chef, a dark-faced fat man, sprawled across the lower end of the counter with his head pillowed on his arms, winked a bilious eye at Clip.
The red-headed girl was not to indifferent.
“Hello, you,” she said smiling. “How’s crime tonight ?”
Clip leaned against the cigar counter and grinned. “How’s a cop to keep his mind on crime when it keeps him awake day and night worryin’ about you ?”
“Don’t lose any sleep over me, big boy,” she advised him. “Nothing’s ever happened to me, and won’t.”
He shook his head and sighed with mock seriousness.
“If Ziegfeld or any of them glorifiers ever get a flash at you, what chance would a poor cop have after that ?”
“Well,” she reminded him, “I still buy my silk stockings at bargain counters.”
“Are you blaming me for that ?” he asked.
“The wife -”
“Of a common ordinary cop couldn’t even afford silk stockings,” Clip finished the remark when she hesitated. “Only, darlin’, my career is just started; and how’ll you expect to claim credit for my success if you wait until I’m an inspector before you marry me ?”
“No, Clip,” the red-headed girl told him quickly, “you’re not common and ordinary, but -”
Clip had known Ellen Fogarthy for eighteen of her twenty years. They lived in the same block and had played under the same fire department sprinklers as kids.
ARE you hintin’ that I should do a little graftin’ on the side – say, wink one eye and let a load of silk get out?” he demanded.
“You’re too dumb to be anything but honest,” she retorted with a smile.
“See any strangers drifting around here tonight ?” he asked.
“I don’t remember any,” she answered quickly. “Why ?”
Clip told her about old Chris, the Maddox watchman, and of the man he had seen sneaking out of the cigar store doorway.
“Why don’t you call in and have a car sent up ?” she suggested.
That was the same advice Clip had given the old watchman.
“And let the boys think I had a case of nerves ?” he said lightly.
“I suppose you’d rather play hero and have a swell funeral, even if it did mean that some company lost a hundred thousand dollars worth of silk ?” she commented, shrewdly enough to make Clip wince.
Clip’s jaws snapped shut.
“I’m not yelling wolf until I see one,” he stated stiffly.
“Some men hate to be laughed at,” Ellen observed. “Me, I’d rather have a few jeers than a few roses any time, especially if I had to get the roses as coffin decorations.”
“Some of us are dumb, I guess,” Clip agreed, turning toward the door. “See you later.”
“Don’t you want a cup of coffee ?” Ellen asked quickly.
“Got to ring in.”
He walked out of the restaurant without turning his head. The red-headed girl ran around the cigar counter and caught the door before he had time to close it completely.
“I’m sorry, Clip,” she begged. “I didn’t mean to be nasty.”
“Forget it,” he patted her hand. “I-”
Without finishing the remark, he started past her down the street.
Coming toward them was a little boy three or four years old.
The youngster had his hands up over his face and was crying bitterly.
“Lost, poor kid,” Clip chuckled. “I wonder where the heck he come from.”
THE little boy screamed with terror as Clip squatted on the pavement in front of him.
When he found him too hysterical to be soothed in any other way, Clip took him in his arms and walked back to the restaurant door and gave him to the girl.
“Take him inside and we’ll see if we can’t get him quieted down,” he advised. “He’s just lost and scared. His clothes aren’t wet, so he must belong around here somewhere. Ever see him before ?”
There were two red fingermarks on the youngster’s face where someone had pinched or struck him.
“Clip, I saw this kid in an automobile that passed here about five minutes before you came in,” Ellen declared. “I was at the window when the car drove past, and I noticed the kid because he was crying then. He had his face up against the glass at though he was trying to get out. It was a big, closed car with two men in it.”
“No women ?”
“No. I’m sure.”
“That would account for his clothes being almost dry,” Clip commented. “Maybe the cars parked here somewhere. The kid may have been left in the car.”
“Clip, this boy never belonged in that car. Look at the bruise on his cheek. He’s been beaten. That’s why he’s crying so hard.”
Clip looked at the youngster’s clothes. The blouse was of cheap material and had been laundered many times. The shoes were cheap and worn.
“He might have been kidnapped,” he agreed quietly. “But if he was kidnapped, how did he get away from two men in a closed car and get here ? And why would anyone want to kidnap a kid that comes from as poor a family this one does, if he’s wearing his own clothes ?”
“Somebody wanted to lose it maybe,” offered the chef, coming up from the back of the restaurant to shove a thick sandwich into the little boy’s fists.
Clip looked out of the window just as a big car flashed past.
“That’s the car,” Ellen cried excitedly. “I’d swear it’s the car, Clip.”
By the time Clip reached the door the car had swung around the nearest center and had disappeared. He started after it and then slowly came back to the restaurant.
“Listen, sweetheart, he said earnestly. “I’ve got a hunch that kid was planted where I’d be sure to find him. If I’m right, the kid was planted here to keep me busy for ten or fifteen minutes. The men who left him here knew when I was due to ring in. I’m going over to the Maddox building. If I’m not back here or haven’t telephoned within fifteen minutes, call up headquarters and tell them to send up a squad car. I think there’s a silk job on.”
As he finished speaking a muffled explosion came faintly from the direction of the Maddox building.
Clip heard it and started to run.
When Clip turned the corner he could see a large van backed across the sidewalk in front of the Maddox shipping door.
Clip rapped the sidewalk with his night stick and while the street was still echoing with the noise of this call to the other officers in the neighborhood, he drew his gun and ran toward the truck.
The truck’s horn sounded one sharp blast of warning before the driver swung down to the pavement on the far side of the engine and began pumping buckshot at Clip from a sawed-off shotgun.
Some of the shot ricocheted from the pavement and stung his legs, but Clip knew the range was too great for a shotgun.
He dodged into a doorway long enough to fire one bullet toward the crouching driver.
Throwing his shotgun away, the driver turned and ran, almost as though inviting pursuit.
CLIP ran out into the middle of the street and, dropping on one knee, took careful aim and fired again.
The fleeing gangster threw up his arms and pitched forward. It might have been a ruse to get him closer. Clip did not fall into the trap if it was such. The Maddox shipping doors were open, but so blocked by the truck that he had to get down on the pavement and crawl under it to get into the building.
Chris Olsen, the night watch-man, was lying on the floor by the elevator door.
Blood was running from his mouth, but he was conscious and able to speak faintly when Clip raised his head.
“They came through the penthouse,” he mumbled. “Man was hid on top elevator.”
He continued to mumble, but Clip laid him gently on the floor and turned to the stairway door. There was a chance that the silk thieves would use the elevator and try to make their escape with the truck, but Clip figured they would try to get out by the way they had entered.
Anyway, the elevator was at the top floor, according to the indicator, Clip saw as he opened the stairway door. By watching the indicator as he passed each floor level he would know if the elevator started down.
No one challenged him on the first three floors, and the elevator remained stationary. But as he opened the stairway on the fourth and last floor, he was greeted by a fusillade of bullets.
It was a steel-covered fire door, and that saved his life.
Hiding behind it, he fired at the flashes of the guns across the room.
In the darkness of the smoke-filled room he was unable to see the silk thieves, but he knew they were on the narrow stairway which led up to the elevator penthouse.
Risking the chance that one of the robbers might be waiting for him at the head of the penthouse stairs, he stumbled over the bales of silk to the foot of the stairs and sent one bullet up towards the door.
It was not answered.
But the battle was resumed the instant Clip stepped out on the roof.
A gun flashed on the next roof and a bullet flattened itself on the door just above Clip’s head.
There was enough light on the roof for Clip to see the shadowy figure of a man dodge behind the elevator shafthouse on the roof from which the shot had been fired.
Grimly resolved to hold his fire until he had a target Clip tried to run across the roof. Something warm and sticky filled his shoes and he felt his legs wobbling.
From all around him he heard the sirens of approaching fire apparatus and police cars. Ellen had certainly turned in enough alarms, or someone else had.
Three men suddenly stepped out into the open with level guns.
“Put ’em up,” Clip growled.
Their answer was a hail of lead.
Clip saw one of them drop before he himself went down.
He was not conscious of any pain, although he knew that he had been hit and that the men had left him for dead.
He saw two of them start across the roof-tops and watched two others join them.
In an instant later police reserves swarmed over the roofs.
WHEN they found him Clip was propped up on one elbow, snapping his empty gun at the spot where he had last seen the men who had shot him.
After they had taken him downstairs and were about to put him in the ambulance Clip recovered consciousness for a few seconds.
A girl was bending over him, talking and crying. It was Ellen.
“Clip,”, she sobbed. “Why did you have to go get yourself killed ? I didn’t mean it, Clip, honest I didn’t. I woulda married you any day if you’d only asked me. I was proud of you.”
“Listen, lady,” a hospital attendant pleaded, “give him a chance, will you ? He can’t hear a word you’re saying an’ he’s bleeding to death.” (I think it would have been lees awkward or confusing if it had been written as “ambulance attendant” – DLS).
Clip wanted to call him a liar but before he could get the words started everything faded away into drowsy blankness. He woke up in a hospital bed.
Ellen was in the room, but, as she was wearing her street dress and the sun seemed to be shining, Clip concluded it must be the morning after the battle.
She was right at his side the moment he opened his eyes. She kissed him first and then put her fingers firmly over his lips to keep him from trying to speak.
“You’ve been out of your head a whole week, Clip; but the doctors say you’ll get well if you’ll be quiet. I gave you a pint of my own blood and you had to get three pints more besides.” She exclaimed happily, “You killed two of the silk thieves and wounded another one, they caught the other three.”
The nurse warned Ellen not to excite him, but Ellen kept on talking.
“The kid was just a plant; you were right. I telephoned the police the minute you left and then I went out and turned in a fire alarm. As soon as you get well you’re gonna be promoted an’ get a medal. The Maddox Company let me pick out ten dress patterns from everything they had in the house.”
Clip’s stern look was not misunderstood.
“I know what you’re thinking.” Ellen admitted. “You’re saying to yourself that a cop’s wife shouldn’t accept rewards. But darn it, that’s why I picked out good ones. I’ll marry you an’ probably never get a good silk dress as long as I live, so I took enough to last me a few years.”
Ellen stopped to get her breath and Clip cautiously kissed her finger tips.
“No, don’t try to talk,” she warned. “Save your strength. As soon as you can say your part of the ceremony I’m going to marry you.”
—- END —
ENJOY PULPS – David Lee Smith