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Black Book Detective, September 1948
THUBWAY THAM’S DEED OF MERCY
By Johnston McCulley
EARILY “Thubway Tham”—
the little pickpocket who lisped
and seldom followed his
nefarious profession except in the
subway—yawned as he descended the
rickety stairs in the lodging house
conducted by Mr. “Nosey” Moore, retired
burglar.
Tham was finding that this morning it
was difficult for him to cast aside all
symptoms of slumber and become acutely
alert. A pickpocket has to be acutely alert
at all times, if he knows what is good for
him.
In the case of Thubway Tham, this was
doubly true. Detective Craddock, who had
W
BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE 2
been outwitted by Tham many times and
thus had earned the merry laughter of some
of his comrades on the Force, as well as the
caustic criticism of his superiors, had
finally turned into a man of iron.
“Tham,” he had said recently, “you’re a
common crook. You’re the best dip in
town. I like you personally, Tham. I know
you lift wallets right and left, but that at
times you do some good with a part of the
money they hold. But people don’t like to
have their wallets lifted, Tham, and also
there are laws against it.”
“What ith the cauth of thith outburtht,
Craddock?” Tham had asked.
“My boy, I am telling you that
friendship ceases here and now! I’m going
to catch you with the goods and send you
to the Big House for a long stretch. And
I’m not foolin’!”
Tham had appreciated Craddock’s grim
determination to the extent of curbing his
usual activities for a couple of weeks. It
had been a matter of comment at
Headquarters that there had been fewer
reports of subway pocket-picking than
there were usually.
But now Thubway Tham found himself
to be a creature of necessity. He never had
been noted for putting aside a few dollars
for the proverbial rainy day. He did not
have more than a couple of dollars cash
money, and his rent was due tomorrow.
Nosey Moore, though a friendly man at
most moments, had an iron-clad rule which
said rent must be paid promptly and in
advance. Knowing the quality of his
tenants as he did, Mr. Moore could not
honestly be expected to rule otherwise.
O THAM had decided the time had
come to return to his work regardless of
the threat of Detective Craddock. He would
have to risk the consequences. For he had
to have rent money and grub money and a
little additional for cigarettes and
newspapers. He was an assiduous reader of
the sports pages.
When Tham reached the bottom of the
stairs, he found Nosey Moore sitting
behind his battered desk with a fat cigar in
his mouth and an expression of gloom on
his face.
“Mornin’, Tham,” he greeted.
Tham answered, “Mornin’, Nothey.
What are you lookin’ tho glum about? Did
you looth mony latht night in the poker
game?”
“I split about even,” Nosey reported.
“Tham, you know Eddie Smead, who lives
in the little back room on the third floor?”
“Of courth I know Eddie Thmead.
What about him?”
“Tham, he just sits in his room and
coughs and coughs. I found out last night
that he hasn’t been out for three days, and
in all that time hasn’t had any food except
one bottle of milk and a few crackers.”
“My goodneth, what ith the matter?”
Tham asked.
“He’s broke, Tham—down to a few
pennies. Because he’s sick, I’ve been lettin’
the rent go—it’s up to ten dollars now. But
he’ll die, Tham, unless somethin’ is done.
He needs a doctor, and medicine. He
should go West to the desert country, or
some place like that.”
“I thuppoth tho,” Tham agreed.
“He’s been a good man, Tham. First
rate con man in his day. He was always
willin’ to help another right guy who was
in trouble. Always liberal, Eddie was. And
now he needs help, Tham.”
“I thertainly with I could do
thomethin’,” Tham said. “But you know
how it ith with me, Nothey. Craddock ith
after me, and I have to be careful. But I’ve
got to do thome work today. My own rent
ith due tomorrow, ath you know. And I’m
down to a couple of dollarth. How about
thome of the otherth?”
“What others?” Nosey asked him. “All
S
THUBWAY THAM’S DEED OF MERCY 3
the money gents are gone. The cops landed
Gus and Bert and they have given all their
dough to their mouthpieces. And there’s
nobody in the place now with more’n ten
bucks, far as I can figure. I’m willin’ to
help some myself, Tham, but I can’t do it
all.”
“Ain’t there any plath Eddie Thmead
can be thent?”
“With his record, Tham? The charity
organizations would say it served him
right. Others wouldn’t take him on account
of his bad condition. I’d hate to see him die
in the street, you might say. For a couple of
hundred dollars, he could be sent west and
have a few dollars left for expenses.”
“I don’t thee what can be done about
it,” Tham said.
“You can get money, Tham. There’s no
better dip in the world than you. One good
haul, and you’d save, or at least prolong,
Eddie’s life. You’re his only hope. There’s
no first class burglar in the house now, no
con man worth the name—”
“I’ll do what I can,” Tham interrupted.
He hauled two dollar bills out of his
pocket. “You take one of theth and get
Eddie some milk and eggth.”
“You’ll need those two bucks for
breakfast and subway fares,” Nosey
reminded him. “I’ll buy Eddie a little grub,
and get him some cough medicine, too—
maybe call a doctor. You try to corral
enough to do him some good, Tham.
“If I hadn’t bought thith new raincoat,
I’d have dough,” Tham complained.
Tham’s ordinary attire was very
ordinary. But recently, in an unguarded
moment, he had laid plenty of cash down
for an extra-special raincoat which made
the clothes beneath it look like mere rags. It
had been a wild dissipation for Tham.
“I mutht have been crathy to thpend tho
much for a raincoat,” Tham declared. “I
could have given you thome coin for
Eddie. But thith coat—when I thaw it in the
window it theemed to thay to me that if I
bought it, it would return a profit. Thilly,
huh? But that ith the way I felt.”
“You’ll need it today,” Nosey informed
him. “It’s been drizzlin’ since daylight, and
now it’s startin’ to rain in earnest. Good
luck to you, Tham.”
Tham buttoned the new raincoat at the
throat and thrust his hands into the pockets.
“Thankth, Nothey,” he replied, and started
for the street.
After a frugal breakfast at the little
restaurant he generally patronized, Tham
put on his new raincoat again and went
forth to meet a steady downpour. His plans
were perfected. He would take the subway
to Times Square, ascend to the street and
fuss around for a time, and then descend
into the subway again and begin his work.
It should be a good day. During a heavy
rain, taxicabs were hard to pick up and
more people than usual used the subways.
Those people were burdened with
umbrellas and dripping raincoats, were
uncomfortable, jammed together in the
cars, grew nervous and got their minds into
a state of chaos, during which state they
were not so likely to notice the clever
fingers of a dip.
In front of the restaurant, as he stood
beneath the awning preparing to dart
toward the nearest subway entrance, he
encountered Detective Craddock. The
sudden gloom which enshrouded Tham
became deeper than the general gloom of
the day.
“So!” Craddock said. “Who’d you kill
to get that fancy raincoat? Looks like about
eighty bucks.”
“I bought thith coat, Craddock, and
have the thaleth thlip to prove it!” Tham
snapped at him.
C
RADDOCK STARED hard at Tham
for a moment or two before he
answered.
BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE 4
“Maybe you bought it—but where did
you get the money? That’s the great
mystery of the moment, Tham. But of
course it’s no great mystery to me. You
must have lifted a fat leather, Tham. Where
are you going on such a rainy day?”
“Jutht gettin’ thome freth air,” Tham
told him.
“Thinking of taking a little ride in the
subway?”
“Ath a matter of fact, yeth! Ith there
any law agintht that? How do you ecthpect
the thubway to make a livin’ unleth people
uth it?”
“And how do I expect you to make a
living unless you use it?” Craddock asked,
grinning. “Tham, I need fresh air, too. I
think I’ll walk along with you.”
“I do not care for your company at
prethent, Craddock,” Tham replied, loftily.
“I have thome theriouth think in’ to do.”
“I’ll toddle along behind you, then, to
keep you out of trouble. A man doing deep
thinking is apt to get careless and stumble
off a curb, or something.”
Tham bent his head against the driving
rain and went to the nearest subway
entrance. He descended to the platform and
caught an uptown local, and saw that
Craddock had entered the same car.
At the Times Square station, Tham got
off the train and ascended the stairs to the
dripping street, his new raincoat buttoned
up to his chin again. He crossed the street
and entered a tobacco shop and bought
cigarettes. Craddock continued to tail. He
had meant what he had said.
Inwardly, Tham moaned and growled
and succumbed to mental lamentations. For
Craddock to tail him at such a time! He
was in desperate need of money. He needed
it for himself, and he wanted to help Eddie
Smead. Tham was always ready to aid
anyone who was ill or in hard luck.
The day was ideal for Tham’s work.
The subway platforms and trains were
jammed. Men of means who seldom rode
the subway were riding it today. Well-filled
wallets were waiting to be lifted.
Tham roamed around for a time
beneath the awnings and watched the
throng battling against the rain. Then he
went back into the subway and caught an
express train for downtown. It irked him
considerably to see that Craddock had got
into the same car.
Tham ignored him. He clung to a strap
and looked around for prospective victims.
He saw a couple, but they left the train at
Pennsylvania Station. Tham would not
have dared work on them anyhow, with
Craddock only a few feet away, watching
him and grinning.
As the train neared Chalmers Street,
Tham got nearer the door during the
movement of persons jammed in the aisle.
He waited until almost the last moment
after the train had stopped, then got quickly
through a door about to close. On the
platform, he glanced back, to see Craddock
behind him. It seemed that today Craddock
was determined not to be dodged.
Tham went up to the street with
Craddock on his heels.
“Strange part of our city for you to be
in, Tham,” Craddock suggested.
“Oh, I think not!” Tham replied. “I
think I’ll walk over to Thity Hall,
Craddock, and maybe thee the mayor.”
“Is he a friend of yours, Tham?”
“I have never met him perthonally,”
Tham explained, “but I’m a thitithen, and
he will lithten to me. I am goin’ to find out,
Craddock, if a thitithen can’t go about hith
buthineth without cops pethterin’ him.”
“Be sure you tell His Honor what your
business is,” Craddock warned. “You’d
better be wary of prowling around City
Hall, too. A lot of cops around there,
Tham.”
Tham battled the rainstorm again, and
Craddock tailed at a short distance. In vain
THUBWAY THAM’S DEED OF MERCY 5
did Tham try to dodge him. In one door of
a corner drug store and quickly out another
on the side street—and there was Craddock
grinning and ready to pick up the trail. A
sudden dart across the street just before the
traffic signal changed—but there was
Craddock hitting the curb behind him and
not having a stream of heavy traffic
between pursuer and pursued.
HAM began to feel baffled. He had to
shake off Craddock, he told himself,
and lift a leather or two. He thought of poor
Eddie Smead again, to whom a few dollars
would mean relief from misery and perhaps
longer life. He thought of his personal
needs. And there was also the eternal itch
to outwit Craddock and make a fool of him.
Tham entered a drug store and partook
of a sandwich and cup of coffee. Craddock
bought a pack of cigarettes and loitered at
the cigar stand, like a cat at a mouse hole,
Tham thought. Out in the street again,
Tham sauntered for a block or so and then
started back toward the subway.
A block from the subway entrance,
Craddock was still trailing. There was a
sudden bustle as people emerged from an
office building, and Tham tried to dodge
through the crowd and lose himself. He
thrust his way through a jam in a doorway
and got into the lobby of a big building and
flattened himself against a wall. He saw
Craddock pass the entrance and go on
down the street craning his neck and
looking ahead.
Tham emerged after a snort interval and
shadowed the detective instead of the
detective shadowing him. He had the
advantage now. He dodged out of sight
whenever he thought Craddock might turn
and look back. But Craddock was hurrying
to the subway. He thought no doubt that
Tham had rushed there to catch a train.
Tham hurried into the subway also. He
went down the steps carefully behind a
couple of men who seemed out of place
there. One was a prosperous-looking man
with hair grayed at the temples. He was the
fat and sleek type, a type Tham despised. It
was apparent that he was much pleased
with himself and his accomplishments.
His companion was younger, and
seemed to be swallowing the sleek man’s
words with relish. He smiled and “yessed”
until it made Tham sick.
“Take it when you can get it,” the
prosperous-looking man was saying.
“Don’t have any sympathy for suckers.
Look at the Government! The Government
affairs are in a mess. I decided to get mine
while the getting was good.”
“Excellent idea,” the yesser agreed.
“I’ve gambled in grain and foodstuffs,
sure. Why not? What do I care if the price
of food skyrockets? Every man for himself,
I say.”
“Certainly,” the other man agreed.
“Always be mentally alert and prepared
to take advantage of others,” the sleek man
continued. “I’ve made a fortune gambling
in food. If the other fellow gets it in the
neck, it’s his own fault. Every man for
himself!”
“Yes, sir.”
As they stopped at the bottom of the
stairs with Tham on their heels—Tham in
reality was hiding his small body behind
them in case Craddock was on the platform
and watching for him. The sleek man took
out a wallet and opened it. Tham had a
glimpse of currency as the sleek man fished
out a card.
“Here,” he said, giving the card to the
younger man. “You may be just the sort of
assistant I need for a certain project. This
has the address of my private uptown
office. Drop in and see me tomorrow
afternoon about five.”
“Thank you, Mr. Spencer. Be glad to
do that.”
“Now we must battle our way into a
T
BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE 6
subway train, I suppose. Confounded
nuisance my limousine is up for repairs and
a man can’t get a taxi quickly in this rain.
I’m overdue up Times Square way now.
Subway is the only answer. It’s quick, but I
hate to ride in it. Smelly cars, smelly
people—terrible!”
Tham felt his rage rising. He loved the
subway. He came to a swift determination
to relieve this sleek gentleman of his
wallet. Ready to kick around the underdog,
was he? Tham had a fleeting thought of
Eddie Smead starving, coughing, for want
of a few dollars.
IS eyes narrowed and glistened as he
saw his sleek prospective victim slip
the wallet into the outer left hand pocket of
his raincoat. A fool should know better
than that, Tham thought. It was an
invitation to every dip in the land.
Tham noticed, too, that the sleek one’s
expensive raincoat did not have diagonallyslitted pockets like Tham’s own, but
straight pockets without flaps—an English
model, no less!
The pair started to move on with Tham
close behind them.
“Express coming in, Mr. Spencer,” the
younger man said. “We can just make it.”
They quickened their stride and got
ahead of Tham. Others were hurrying to
board the uptown express while some were
pushing and elbowing to get out of it.
Tham saw the cars were jammed.
Then Tham saw Craddock. The
detective was on the platform watching.
Tham dodged behind a post and watched
Craddock. Passengers got out, and there
was a sudden rush and jam of those on the
platform to get in.
Tham waited until he thought it was the
proper instant. He darted forward through
the scattering crowd and got through the
end door of a car and upon the platform
there. From the corner of his eye, he saw
Craddock rushing to another door in the car
behind, the one nearest him.
The train started and roared through the
tube. Craddock had made the train, no
doubt. But if he was in the car behind he
would have much difficulty getting into
this one and within touch of Thubway
Tham.
Working carefully so as not to disturb
people too much and attract unwanted
attention, Tham neared Mr. Spencer and
the young man. It took considerable time as
the express rushed on through the bore.
“Tho, Mithter Thpenther, you gamble
in food!” Tham was thinking bitterly. “And
you hate the thubway, do you, Mithter
Thpenther? And you have a nithe fat wallet
thtuffed with money you ath good ath
thtole.”
He had overheard the man Spencer say
he was going to Times Square, so Tham
had plenty of time. Yet he got behind his
prospective victim as quickly as he could.
There was a slim chance he might lift that
fat leather and dart out the door at
Pennsylvania Station, leaving Craddock
prisoner on the train as it sped on.
But he found this impossible. As the
train slowed for the stop at Pennsylvania,
the crowd in the aisle began surging, and
Tham suddenly found several persons
between himself and Mr. Spencer. He
clung to his strap and fought to retain his
footing, and there was no opportunity for
his clever fingers to do their work.
The train started on for the short run to
Times Square. Tham got into position
again with some difficulty. If he could
press against Mr. Spencer in that jam, his
deft fingers would do their work swiftly.
He would get the wallet and put it into his
own right-hand raincoat pocket. His fingers
would extract the currency, and at the
earliest opportunity he would drop the
empty wallet—ditch the leather—so
incriminating evidence would not be found
H
THUBWAY THAM’S DEED OF MERCY 7
on his person if some alert law officer
made a sudden and unexpected grab. A
wallet is easily identified, but currency of
ordinary denominations is not.
Tham flexed his fingers in the pocket of
his new raincoat, then withdrew his hands.
The train was commencing to slow down
for the Times Square stop. As the doors
slid open at the station and the crowd
surged forward to get out upon the
platform, Tham pressed against Mr.
Spencer, who was wedged between his
companion and a jittery fat woman who
was afraid the train would start on before
she could leave it.
Tham generally waited until his victim
started to move, for a man thrusting his
way through a crowd does not feel the
touch of an alien hand as quickly as one
standing quietly. The aisle movement
began again, and Tham crowded on Mr.
Spencer’s heels. They were in the doorway
when Tham did his work.
HAM got the wallet easily enough and
thrust it into his right-hand raincoat
pocket and clutched it there. He elbowed
his way past his victim and is others and
got on the platform. And as he glanced
around swiftly his eyes encountered those
of Detective Craddock—and Tham realized
that Craddock had witnessed his criminal
act!
He did not have time to extract the
currency and ditch the leather. Craddock
would pounce upon him. Tham pretended
he had not seen the detective, and started
along the platform as swiftly as he could
travel without actually running, making for
the nearest stairs.
Fear clutched at Tham. Was this the
end? Would Craddock triumph and have
him sent to the big house up the river?
Tham felt he would soon die if compelled
to suffer incarceration. And he would have
failed in his attempt to aid poor Eddie
Smead! Why must it happen this time?
“Tham! Stop! I want you!”
That was Craddock’s voice coming
from behind him, a roaring voice filled
with determination. Tham pretended he did
not hear. He reached the bottom of the
stairs, where there was a jam of people, and
he was compelled to stop for an instant. He
bumped against a metal trash can that stood
against the wall, bumped for an instant
against the wall, shuffled his feet, and then
went on.
Craddock grabbed him as Tham came
to the upper open air. Craddock thrust him
aside, gripping Tham’s arms and thus
holding both his hands in the pockets of his
raincoat, and slammed Tham back against
the wall of the building.
“Got you!” Craddock said. “Knew I
would some day, Tham. This is curtains for
you, old boy. Since you’ve never been
convicted before, you’ll probably get a
short sentence. But you’ll have a taste of
prison life, Tham, and I’ve an idea that may
make you reform. You’re not the type to
stand it, Tham.”
“What ith all thith thermon?” Tham
demanded. “Let go of my armth,
Craddock!”
“Oh, no, boy! I saw you get that wallet
and thrust it into your raincoat pocket. And
you haven’t taken your hand out of that
pocket. since, for I’ve had my eyes on you.
That wallet is still in your pocket, Tham,
clutched in your hand. I’ve got you with
the goods!”
“Craddock, you thilly ath!”
“We’ll see who’s the silly ass, Tham.”
Seeing the minor disturbance, an
uniformed policeman had stopped beside
them. He recognized Craddock as a
Headquarters man.
“Need help, Craddock?” he asked.
“Not to handle this small fry—but I
need a witness,” Craddock replied. “You
T
BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE 8
hear what I was saying?”
“That’s right.”
“‘Stand right there, then, and see me
take a wallet from this dip’s pocket. I want
a witness that I took it off him. Then to the
jug he goes, and there’ll be a report on the
theft and I’ll hook the two things
together—time and place and all—and our
little friend here will know what the inside
of a cell looks like.”
“You let me go, Craddock!” Tham
demanded. “Thith ith an outrage!”
“So it’s an outrage to search a dip seen
in the act of theft?” Craddock said. “How
quaint! Lift your hands out of your
pockets.”
Tham’s face was an inscrutable mask as
he complied with the order. With his back
against the wall of the building, he took his
hands out of his pockets and raised them
high. With an expression of gloating in his
face, Craddock’s hand dived into the righthand pocket of Tham’s new raincoat.
The expression on Craddock’s face
changed swiftly. It was that of a man
baffled at first, and then of a man enraged.
He had found Tham’s two raincoat pockets
empty.
“Nothin’ in my pocket but my fitht,”
Tham was muttering.
RADDOCK tried to fight back his
anger. He had watched Tham from the
subway car behind the one in which Tham
was riding. He had made sure Tham did not
leave the train at Pennsylvania Station. At
Times Square, Craddock had popped out of
his car quickly to watch, and had seen
Tham take that wallet. He knew Tham had
not taken his hand out of his pocket. But
the wallet was not there.
Craddock ran his hand into the pocket
again—and again his face changed.
“What’s this. No bottom in the pocket,”
Craddock said.
“There ith tho!” Tham replied with
indignation. “Thith ith a new coat and it
thet me back many buckth. That ith a thlit
pocket, you thilly ath! If it ith rainin’, you
can put your hand through the thlit at the
top of the pocket, and get into the pocket of
your other coat underneath, and get out
thomethin, without takin’ your hand out
and gettin’ it wet.”
“Unbutton your coat!” Craddock
snapped. His rage was increasing, and he
had a suspicion that the patrolman was
laughing at him, though not outwardly.
Tham unbuttoned his coat, opened it
and spread it wide. Craddock’s swift hands
searched him well. Craddock found a dollar
bill and a little small change, and that was
all.
“You had that wallet,” Craddock
accused. “I saw you get it and put it into
your pocket, and you didn’t take your hand
out of the pocket. You didn’t slip it through
the slit and put it into the pocket of your
suit coat, either.”
“Maybe your eyeth are bad,” Tham
suggested. “If you are done, Craddock, I’d
like to button my coat again. Thith drithel
ith gettin’ me wet. I may catch a cold and
get pneumonia and be thick for a long time,
or even die.”
“Button up!” Craddock said, and he
meant both coat and lips. “I’m not done
with you, Tham! I’m going to tail you till I
catch you right! Don’t forget it!”
Craddock glared at him, glared at the
policeman, and turned to stalk up the street.
“You’d better move on, too,” the
policeman told Tham. “I don’t like dips on
my beat. But I’m glad you put one over on
Craddock.”
Tham had been watching Craddock,
known to him to be a tricky customer. But
as Tham moved on he saw Craddock still
striding up the street through the crowd.
Tham went around the corner and at a cigar
stand bought cigarettes he did not need,
and watched a time longer. Then he went
C
THUBWAY THAM’S DEED OF MERCY 9
down another flight of stairs and so came
to the platform of the subway station again,
though to a different part of it.
Watching carefully, he went along the
long platforms until he reached the one
where he had left the uptown express. He
waited until a train came in and a crowd
made for the stairs, and joined the crowd.
When he came to the bottom of the stairs,
where stood the trash can against the wall,
Tham stopped, bent over against the wall,
and pretended to be fastening a shoe lace.
His right hand darted out and got
something which he slipped into his
raincoat pocket. As he walked back along
the platform, his fingers worked at a wallet,
extracted currency and stuffing it through
the slit and into the pocket of his suit coat.
Tham walked briskly back along the
platform. As he passed another trash can,
he tossed the empty wallet into it without
stopping, his movement that of a man
disposing of a chewing gum wrapper or an
empty cigarette package.
Not until he was far from Times Square
did his breathing return to normal. At the
lodging house of Nosey Moore, he went up
the stairs to where Nosey sat behind his
desk perusing a newspaper.
“Wet out, Tham?” Nosey asked.
“Yeth.” Tham winked. Nosey arose and
stretched, opened the door of a little room
behind him, and beckoned Tham inside.
After Tham had entered, Nosey locked the
door.
Tham examined the contents of his coat
pocket. The loot was a few dollars less than
five hundred.
“Tham, you did it!” Nosey said. “I had
a doctor for Eddie Smead, and he says
Eddie has to have quick attention.”
“You give Eddie Thmead thith four
hundred,” Tham said. “That’ll take him
wetht where he can get over hith thickneth.
Take out fifty more for yourthelf for rent,
Nothey, and the retht will do me for thome
time. Eathy come, eathy go.”
“You got it!” Nosey repeated. “And
you didn’t have to pawn your fancy coat to
do it.”
“Pawn thith coat?” Tham said. “Thith
ith a lucky coat. I’m goin’ to keep thith
coat ath long ath two threadth of it hang
together.”
He lighted a cigarette, left the room
with Nosey, and ascended the rickety stairs
to his own room. He felt the glow of a man
who has done a good deed. He chuckled a
little as he remembered how he had
dropped the wallet through the slit in his
raincoat and down between that and his suit
coat, and had kicked the wallet behind the
trash can, to be retrieved later.

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