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PARTY FROM DETROIT
Introducing Jerry Tracy, the newest member of BLACK MASK's remarkable band of characters—a group that cannot be matched in any other magazine in the world. You'll welcome Tracy and enjoy being with him on his various adventures as keenly as you do any of the others. And you won't find his like elsewhere—anywhere.
Jerry Tracy opened a groundglass door and stepped into the dingy little Broadway office maintained for him by the Planet, New York's goofiest Tab. A hard-faced man in a derby hat sat tilted back in a swivel-chair, his big feet crossed comfortably on a battered roll-top desk. The soles of his shoes looked like twin billboards. He had the massive head and muscle-bound shoulders of a palooka heavyweight. At sight of Jerry he grinned like a St. Bernard dog and lowered his feet to the floor.
"Hawzit, Mr. Tracy?"
The flippant greeting was Jerry's cynical trade-mark along every roaring alley that radiated from the Main Stem Jerry was the Main Stem. Once a day he dished up his hot column of copyrighted chat for the Planet, consisting of leers, winks, a sprinkle of dirt, a bit of phoney mystery stuff such as: "What prominent chip-shot will be found in a vacant lot next Thursday, according to torpedo wireless? Somebody Stole My Gal is a swell tune—on the radio...."
In the course of his night and day rambles Jerry Tracy met everyone in New York sooner or later, from the Mayor to the scrub-ladies at the Palace; and his invariable gay salute to rich and poor, male and female, publicity-seeking crooks and publicity-seeking churchmen, was always the same. Hello, Bum! A queer mixture of public executioner and good time Charlie, Tracy usually withheld a dozen dirty items for every one he printed. A sucker at heart, he told himself ruefully. Brokendown actors wore his suits and overcoats. Occasionally he larded his column with a phoney scandal paragraph about some poor, tired kid in a honkytonk for no other reason except that her thin whine for the favor excited his compassion, and the dirt-clipping might help her to a better job.
Jerry removed his gray snap-brim and slipped out of the trick overcoat.
"Any fire-bells?" he asked carelessly.
"Okey, Butch. Gimme a light."
He lit the fag, blew a gray funnel of smoke and went into his private hide away. A bare, messy little place. Desk, two wooden chairs and a dusty couch. A "World Almanac" and a phone directory. In a corner, a dictating machine set on a contraption like a tea-wagon, with rubber wheels and a lower shelf piled with cylindrical records. The columnist pulled a notebook out of his pocket and flipped the pages rapidly. His patent leather toe jerked the machine closer to his desk. There was a partly used record in place; and he snapped the playback switch and listened to his own nasal voice retailing bits for the next Monday column:
"Hello, Bums.... Leap year makes the calendar long, but the depresh keeps everything else short.... One of Jack Curley's wrestlers has a headache and, boys and girls, that's news.... The medicine at the Silk Sandal is as smooth as a Scotch panhandler on Park Avenue...."
He grinned. He owned a piece of the Silk Sandal and all Broadway knew it, but the puff would pull 'em in hopefully just the same. The thundering herd! Better call up Marty and tell him to cut down on dance space. He ran through the familiar gossip and dictated a fresh item:
"Peggy Maloney—the Broadway Nightingale to you—is choo-chooing West to renovate.... The new papa will be a prominent architect.... An architect ought to appreciate Peggy...."
He thought, cynically: "She handed me that last gag herself, the cheap little tramp!"
The phone rang and he reached negligently for the receiver.
"'Lo? Oh, hello, Pat.... How's the Commish? Yeah, in and out—mostly out. Believe it or not, I'm busy. How's tricks?" He grinned. "I told your noble predecessor he was crazy when he threw out the spittoons from headquarters. You can't turn a cop-house into a furniture department without turning dicks into ducks—if you get what I mean.... What's new?"
His face assumed a deadpan expression as he listened to the Commissioner's low metallic voice. He said, once: "Don't be silly." And again: "You're not kidding me, are you, Pat? Sure thing. I'll hop over to Zogbaum's office. I breeze in there a dozen times a day—which is more than I can say for the little gray home in Centre Street. Right!"
He shrugged into the trick overcoat, grabbed his hat and stepped into the outer office.
"Going for a walk, Butch. Stick around."
"Okey, Mr. Tracy. Any message?"
"Sure. Keep away from single women with husbands."
He went downstairs and took a cab a few blocks south and east to a shabby building on a side street just off Sixth Avenue. Most of the floor space was occupied by Footlight Topics, the greatest amusement publication in the world. Footlight Topics was bible and prayerbook to a host of professional readers, from star prima donnas and millionaire comedians right down the line to five-a-day acrobats and roller-skate acts. Morrie Zogbaum was the founder and editor. His office was on the fifth floor. The tabloid columnist barged in without knocking.
Jerry noted with a grin that there were three hot numbers—a brunette and two blondes—waiting on Zoggie's hard bench for a chance to get the great man's nod. The bench was always warm. Zoggie's nod carried weight with producers; he had no use for salami and he never recommended a snide performer.
The dapper little hook-nosed man who guarded Zoggie's inner portal smiled fulsomely. "Hawzit, Mr. Tracy?"
"'Lo, Bum. Zoggie in?"
The brunette on the bench said hopefully in a fluted, baby voice: "Oh, hello, Mr. Tracy!"
"'Lo, kids." He glanced at them. That olive-tinted brunette—had he seen her before somewhere? Maybe. Couldn't place her. Broadway was full of little twists on the make who had once said hello to Jerry Tracy.
He stepped into the inner office. The spindly little publisher glanced up, jerked his thumb backward over his shoulder and said dryly: "Inside. Don't try to kid her. She's on the level."
The little inner room was Zogbaum's out whenever he chose to scram discreetly. It opened on a rear corridor that ran in L-fashion to a back stairway. As Tracy shut the door he thought cheerfully: "Two-line gag for the column. What good's a front without an exit? The bigger the front, the slicker the exit!"
A massive be-spectacled man sat silent and alone on an overstuffed chair, staring intently at the pattern of the rug.
"Hello, Pat," said the columnist. "Take off the cheaters. You wouldn't fool me, would you?"
Pat Donovan was a big man with iron-gray hair and shoulders like a bull. He removed the dark glasses without a smile. His habitually deep voice was low and metallic Jerry liked this tall Mick who had risen from pavement pounding to the main desk in Centre Street without any crooked cadging or political tap-dancing.
"I'm worried," Donovan growled morosely.
"Good sign. The last guy never worried."
The tall man shrugged. He was not in a jovial mood.
"You know every grifter along the axle, Jerry. Who's the biggest chiseler of them all?"
"Which mosquito sucks the most blood? That's easy. Solly Weinzer."
"Listen! Did Weinzer ever use a short length of pipe? Did he ever stick a gat in anyone's vest?" Donovan growled.
The columnist's eyes narrowed. "Don't be sil. Weinzer's a business man. Show him a rod and he'd turn as blue as a mandril.... Worried about this new guy?"
"What new guy?" the big man barked.
"Oh, I hear things. From Chi, they tell me."
"From Detroit," Donovan corrected. "That's all I know. Just rumors. The telegraph's a joke. The stools don't click. We can always put the finger on Weinzer if we need him—but this fella! He's the party, I'm dead certain, that plucked the vaudeville crowd opposite the Fillmore Hotel last week and shot Izzy Turkel through the neck with a soft-nose. My Broadway Squad is going to miss Izzy. He was a damned valuable little Hebe.... That's not for the column, Jerry."
"So what?" Tracy smiled vacantly. "You asking me to stool, Mister?"
"Stop clowning. What do you know about Detroit?"
"Detroit?" He chuckled. "Not a thing. I'm just a Broadway heel. My beat's between Third and Eighth. When I go as far north as Harlem I wear snowshoes and carry blubber. Detroit's just a place where Ford works. Never heard of it.... And I don't stool, even for you, oldtimer."
"Nobody asked you to stool. Just the usual, Jerry. Pass the word along to your army of stooges and get 'em to lay an ear to the ground. All I want's a lead."
"I seem to see headlines," Tracy murmured. "'Detroit Killer Slain by Rival Gang. Body Found in Bronx Vacant Lot.'"
Donovan shrugged. "You're old enough to vote. What else can we do?"
"I'm not arguing," Jerry stated calmly. "I'll see what I can do. You're a good Irishman and a square cop, Pat.... I tell Hizzoner that once a week regular, just to watch him squirm."
The big man got to his feet, unlocked the rear door and stuck his head out. Immediately he drew it in again, closing the door softly.
"I knew I was tailed here," he snapped. "There's a dame down the corridor. What the hell's that mean?"
The Planet man jumped to the knob and looked out. The rear corridor was empty. He walked down the hall to the tarn to make sure.
"I saw her," the Commissioner insisted.
"Doll, eh? What'd she look like:"
"Black hair. One of them funny tight hats. Hat was gray. Gray coat, cheap yeller fur—looked like imitation fox."
"X-Ray speaking," said Jerry lightly.
His mind jerked to the gray-clad brunette doll he had seen in Zozbaum's front office. Again she tickled his memory. Somebody had pointed her out casually to him a couple of weeks before—was it in Harlem? He couldn't be sure.... Pinky Schwartz's thick murmur flowed suddenly in his mind: 'Lamp that dame in the corner, Jerry. She usta play around wit' a high-yaller band-leader; now she's gunnin' for somebuddy else. The boy friend musta saved all his heat for the trombone....' Hold on, though! That wasn't Harlem; wasn't that the broad down in East 53rd, with the absinthe and the orchid bouquet?" The fogged picture refused to focus.
He said: "Scram, Pat. She mooched, whoever she was."
"Help me on that Detroit angle and I won't forget it, son," said Donovan slowly.
"Uh-huh." His hand closed briefly on the other man's shoulder with a faint pressure. "Ankle along."
He turned the key in the door. "A grand old guy," he thought grimly. "One straight spine in Crookedtown! I'll lay a small bet the dark babe has pulled her freight from Zoggie's hard bench. One went away an' then there were two...."
He smiled as he entered the outer waiting-room.
"What happened to the girl-friend, kids?"
"Oh, her?" The blonde on the left sniffed with malice. "You mean that Spanish broad? Somebody went by the door jingling two quarters and a dime and she scrammed."
The blonde on the right smiled sweetly.
"Don't be a mug, Claire. We wouldn't kid you for the woild, Mr. Tracy. The girl-friend went into that booth over there, right after you come in. She made a quick call and lammed."
"Thanks. I'll be seein' you somewhere, kids."
The sugary one plucked at his departing sleeve. Her eyes looked suddenly haggard and hopeful. She fumbled for words; he knew what she wanted.
He said, with a humorous inflection that was tinged with something more than mock anger: "Big-hearted Jerry! Always a sucker. Tell you what I'll do, babes. You and Claire be in the Silk Sandal about 2:30 a.m. tomorrow. Put on a short sketch. Yank hair with the girlfriend and sing a few high notes. Write down your names and your last show on a hunk of paper and leave it at the door with Marty. I'll give you three lines in the column. Slip an original gag into the act and I'll make it a paragraph. S'long...."
He breezed out, leaving a soft twin cooing behind him like the tinkle of bells.
On the sidewalk he paused for a moment and glanced about. The afternoon was waning fast. There was no sign of the jane who had made the phone call and the quick sneak. Was there a tie-up between her and the party from Detroit? For all of his wisecracks to the Commissioner, Jerry's scouts hadn't tabbed a single reliable muscle item.
He decided to drift over to Barney's. Barney was his favorite speake. Everybody went there sooner or later; he'd pile in and say "hawzit" to the Dutchman.
Barney rubbed his pink pate and nodded glumly. He was in one of his pessimistic moods. He rang up "no sale" and mixed an old-fashioned. The Planet man sipped the drink with slow pleasure and listened to his own idle queries and Barney's morose grunts. He eyed the cash register and grinned faintly. "No sale" on Detroit either! He mooched out and stood staring idly into the dusk from the top step of the speakeasy stoop.
There was a Paragon taxi at the curb and a girl was emerging from it with taut, angry lips. She stood on the sidewalk and the hackman lounged sidewise to face her. He had alert eyes in a stolid, dirty face.
He said gruffly: "Argue wit' the meter, sister. I can't add."
Her face flushed. "I can add up five blocks—and it doesn't come to sixty cents, either!"
He unlatched his door and stepped down. He gestured briefly with a cupped, dirty palm.
"Sez you. Come across, you cheap little floozie! I got no time to stand here arguin'."
Tracy watched without much interest. Squabbles over gyp meters were a dime a dozen so far as he was concerned. He reached for a butt.
The cabby was crowding the girl against the side of the hack, his palm urgent.
She said shrilly: "I'm not gonna pay a cent more than—"
He grinned as he leaned closer. Deliberately he began cuffing her, shoving her coolly around.
Tracy, to his own blank amazement, found his patent-leather feet descending the speakeasy stoop, crossing the sidewalk. He thought, swiftly: "I'm nuts! What's wrong with me?" As his fist swung he threw the weight of his body behind it. His knuckles tingled. A couple of pedestrians stopped to watch. The taxi driver got to his feet slowly, rubbing his numb jaw.
"Just for that," panted the white knight of journalism, "you don't get a damn' cent!"
"Who says so?"
"I said so!" There was a pleasant glow in his right fist. "Beat it!"
A big man in vivid pink shirtsleeves came out of the Dutchman's and walked across to the curb.
"Whassamatter, Jerry? Gyp?"
"Yeah. One of these fast clock boys."
The taxi driver's eyes shifted from the pink sleeves to the lumpy face. He began to mumble as he backed towards the door of his cab. The lumpy jaw jerked coldly. "Amscray!"
With a muttered oath the hackman clicked up his pirate flag. The cab rolled.
"Thanks, Mike," said Tracy.
"Aw, hell!" Mike shrugged and gave the girl a lidded once-over.
"He hurt you, kid?" Jerry asked her. "Come on in and have a drink."
"I'd—I'd rather go home. Sorry I hadda bother you this way."
"Don't be silly. Where do you live? I'll grab a cab."
She murmured an address. The diplomatic Mike said dryly: "I'll be seein' yuh, Jerry," swung his big shoulder and went up the speake's stoop.
The girl's long cloth coat was wrinkled but not exactly shabby. She had the thin, flowerlike face and full-curved figure so often seen in casting offices. A red-head. Good make-up. Not too prosperous.
The columnist thumbed a 15 and 5, climbed in beside her and gave the wop the address.
The cab crawled through the West Fifties and pulled up in front of a cheap theatrical boarding-house. Tracy paid off the wop and went in with her. Up three flights. Turkey-red carpet with rubber treads. She unlocked a door and smiled hesitatingly.
"Come in for a minute? I can't give you a drink. It's all gone."
"Off the stuff, eh?"
"Not that. I'm busted; or I'd have paid that yegg and saved you a lotta trouble. I—I wanta thank you."
He walked in after her and shut the door. He was mildly curious.
She was, she told him, a hoofer—a good one, too. Jerry appraised her as she removed the wrinkled coat and tossed her hat on the dresser. Swell figure and a sweet mug, The poor little rat looked hungry. Maybe he could do something for her. His glance swept the room. Pretty bare. An empty bottle, beside a glass, on a small table, bore mute evidence to her statement on drinks.
"Where you from, Alma?"
Excerpted from Jerry Tracy, Celebrity Reporter by Theodore A. Tinsley. Copyright © 2013 MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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