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Thrilling Detective, September, 1945
DEAD MAN’S NERVE
By JACK BRADLEY
Old Jimmy Cantrell of the Force starts off on the last tour of
his beat—and runs smack into a gruesome case of murder!
HEY had all been nice down at the
station house before he set out.
Everyone had been careful not to
notice that his shoes were unshined and his
shabby old uniform unpressed. And, above
all, they had been careful not to notice the
smell of liquor on his breath. Some of the
older cops, whose lives he had saved
during the wild raids and gunfights of the
crazy Prohibition Era had come up to grin
embarrassedly and shake his hand. One of
the police reporters had even done a brief
article about him with the headline:
VETERAN PATROLMAN TO RETIRE
Old Jimmy Cantrell’s Last Tour Tonight
The article was a brief sketch of his
twenty years as patrolman in Hell’s
Kitchen. It told of innumerable fights and
raids in which he had taken part. The time
he had shot down three of the Krumer
mob. Of a night when he had walked into
a hail of lead, his own gun shot out of his
hand, to smash down an escaped convict
with his nightstick.
It was a nice story and old Jimmy
T
THRILLING DETECTIVE 2
Cantrell rather enjoyed being the center of
attraction for once. If only it hadn’t been
for that talk with Captain Marvin.
Marvin had called him into his office
just a before he left.
“So this is your last tour, eh, Cantrell?”
he had asked quietly. “You’re letting your
application for retirement stand?”
Cantrell turned his head a bit so the
Captain wouldn’t smell the liquor on his
breath.
“Yes, Captain, I’m letting it stand. I—
well, I guess I’m getting a little too old to
pound a beat, sir.”
Marvin looked at him somberly for a
moment.
“All right, Cantrell,” he had said then.
“That’s your privilege. Only we do need
cops pretty badly these days, you know.”
Before Cantrell could answer, young
Lloyd Marvin, the Captain’s son, had
walked into the office. As always, Cantrell
had felt his heart leap at the sight of the
trim, athletic young cop. He was so young!
So young and clean-looking!
If only things could have been
different and he could have had a kid like
that on the Force! His fingers had tingled
with desire to muss that mop of unruly
blond hair, and he had tugged
embarrassedly at his tunic, ashamed of the
wild intensity of his emotion. It was plain
Hades to love another man’s son like that.
“I just wanted to speak to Jimmy
before he left,” Lloyd had said easily.
“Save it until he comes off duty,
Lloyd,” his father had said curtly. “We’ll
both see him then. Right now, I’m talking
to him myself.”
“Okay, then. See you later, Jimmy.”
Lloyd had grinned and gone out.
HEN he had left, Captain Marvin
had cleared his throat
uncomfortably a couple of times before he
could blurt out the question he wanted to
ask.
“Uh—that trouble you told me about
that time—you know. That still as bad as
ever?”
Old Jimmy had looked stonily at a map
on the wall.
“Yeah. Just the same as it has been
ever since that fight with Tiny.”
Marvin nodded understandingly. “I
see. Well, then, maybe it’s better this way.
It’s just that I’m worried about Lloyd.
He’s been seen going into Tiny’s club a
couple of times lately, and I can’t
understand it. I know the boy’s ambitious
and it might be that he figures Tiny can
help him get ahead. That no-good is
swinging a lot of weight in the precinct,
lately.”
“I know,” Cantrell had said. “I tried to
speak to Lloyd about it a couple of times
but I didn’t get far. Lloyd hasn’t got much
use for sloppy cops.”
“He’s too young to understand, Jimmy,
and he doesn’t know about your trouble.
Anyway, there’s probably nothing you
could do about it. So, we’ll just forget the
whole thing. And tonight, when you come
off duty, you’re coming home with us for
a bit of supper. Good luck, Jimmy!”
He had pressed Cantrell’s hand quickly
and turned back to his desk. . . .
Old Jimmy Cantrell was making his
last tour! All over the grimy, ancient
neighborhood the word had spread and he
had to stop a score of times to pass a few
words with friends. The long years of
exposure to wind and rain, plus the oceans
of whisky he had consumed, had given
him a bad case of arthritis. And now his
stiff, bent figure in the faded old uniform
and his slow, steady “harness bull” walk
made him look, for all the world, like an
aged beetle, as he plodded through the
littered streets.
On past Mike’s Lunch Room, where
he always stashed his raincoat when a
W
DEAD MAN’S NERVE 3
storm threatened. On past Kiernan’s—a
moment’s stop at Klotz’s Liquor Store, to
try the door. Old Man Klotz had been
yammering about that bum lock for five
years and hadn’t done anything about it.
Another stop at Tony’s fruit stand, where
Tony was waiting breathlessly to make
him a present of a huge basket of fruit.
Cantrell began to feel a warm glow in
his heart because of the grand friendliness
of these people. He knew them so well!
Twenty long years of looking after them,
keeping their kids out of trouble, giving
them advice. Why, that warehouse down
the street—that was where he had taken
the escaped convict the police reporter had
written about. But he, himself, thought of
it as the place he had caught Tony’s oldest
boy breaking into.
He had grabbed the kid by the scruff of
the neck that night, and whaled him plenty
with his night-stick. Tony had never
known about that night. The kid was now
a foreman in a war plant.
Yes, it was going to be tough leaving
these people. He almost wished—
He snapped out of it abruptly. He had
run into trouble and it was the kind of
trouble he dreaded most. Nothing more
than a bunch of longshoremen gathered
around a sidewalk crap game, but he knew
only too well what could happen. He
forced a tolerant grin on his weatherreddened face as he came up to them.
“All right, boys. Break it up. Break it
up. You can go into the alley, back of
Hannegan’s and shoot craps all night, for
all I care, but not out here in plain sight of
everybody. Come on, now, break it up.”
Most of the men in that crowd were
the old-timers he had known for years and
they moved back at once. But there were a
couple of strangers to him and one of them
had the dice. That one faced about
hostilely.
“Say! Why don’t you go take a walk
for yourself, copper? We ain’t botherin’
you!”
It started to come up, the way it always
did, that old feeling of sick panic. Jimmy
Cantrell swallowed the lump in his throat
and pushed forward calmly.
“I wasn’t kidding you, fellow. I said to
break it up and I meant it. Come on, now!”
He prodded the stranger lightly with
the tip of his night-stick. And that touched
it off.
“Who are you pokin’ around,
flatfoot?” the man snarled.
Suddenly he slapped the night-stick
aside and lurched forward, swinging a
right hook at Cantrell’s jaw. And it landed.
Landed so clumsily that it was almost
harmless, but it landed.
And, as always, the panic changed to
an insane red haze, and through the haze
Jimmy Cantrell felt himself moving
forward, his stick poised in cold,
murderous readiness. He heard a voice
within him shrieking:
“Careful, now! Don’t cripple him.
Don’t get yourself into another jam!”
VEN as he started to swing, it was all
over. Two of the old-timers had
grabbed the stranger and yanked him back
out of reach of that club.
“All right, Jimmy!” one of them yelled
sharply. “Don’t hit him! We’ll take care of
it! Easy, now!”
Between them they hustled the man off
down the street and as they went Cantrell
heard one of them saying breathlessly:
“Don’t ever do that again! Don’t ever
lay hands on old Jimmy Cantrell. I’ve
known that cop for the last fifteen years
and I bet he’s been up on charges a dozen
times or more for half killing fellers that
laid their hands on him. He’s funny about
that. He just can’t stand it when you put
your hands on him.”
The stranger growled something in
E
THRILLING DETECTIVE 4
reply and then they were out of hearing
down the street. Cantrell turned and went
on down his beat. He was shaking like a
leaf and the sweat was pouring out of him.
All of the warm, pleasant feeling he had
had was gone.
Suddenly he looked up sharply. Young
Lloyd Marvin was standing across the
street, looking at him. Just standing there
looking. Cantrell wondered how anybody
could put so much searing contempt into a
look as Lloyd was doing.
He started to raise his night-stick in
halfhearted salute. Abruptly Lloyd
snapped about and strode away, without
returning Cantrell’s wave.
Far down the street, Jimmy Cantrell
saw him turn in at the entrance of Tiny
Anderson’s club. He started after him,
then gave it up. That would involve
explaining about “that trouble”, and
Captain Marvin was the only one in the
precinct who knew about that.
It had happened during the second year
Cantrell was on the Force. Prohibition was
in full swing and the mobs were riding
high. Night after night big black sedans
roared in from sheltered coves on Long
Island, their tonneaus piled high with
liquid platinum. Gangsters swaggered
through the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, their
pockets bulging with money, their guns for
hire to the highest bidder. Money, money,
everywhere to the man who was willing to
take a chance.
Jimmy Cantrell and Joe Marvin,
himself a patrolman at the time, had been
sent to arrest a cheap hoodlum named
“Tiny” Anderson. It was a routine arrest, a
matter so unimportant that Joe Marvin had
stopped off to make a phone call while
Cantrell strolled in alone to make the
arrest. They had forgotten that the man
they were after hated cops more than
anything else in the world.
“Tiny” Anderson had been a promising
heavy-weight prizefighter before he lost
his license for crooked fighting. He had
always blamed the cops for the loss of his
license and when Cantrell came in, he had
seen his chance.
He had taunted the green young
bluecoat into laying aside his gun and
night-stick, and then had gone to work.
Slowly. Carefully. Jimmy Cantrell had
never had a chance, from the first, against
those trained fists. Tiny could have
knocked him out any time he wished.
But he hadn’t wanted to knock out the
young cop. He had wanted to hurt him.
Dancing around Cantrell, he had bored in
again and again, planting his skilled hands
like a medieval torturer planting his
knives.
Old-timers in Hell’s Kitchen still
talked about that fight, but Jimmy Cantrell
never remembered much of it afterward.
To him, it had been only an eon-long
nightmare of getting up off the floor to
face that bullet-headed figure with the
broken nose boring in—always boring in.
He had been out on his feet toward the
end of it, and only dimly aware of Joe
Marvin rushing in past him, of Joe’s nightstick smashing across that broken nose.
Later, in the hospital, they told him that
Marvin had beaten the big ex-prizefighter
to a pulp, but that hadn’t changed things
for Jimmy Cantrell.
A week or so after he had left the
hospital and gone back on duty, he had
had to break up a fight between two
drunks. There had been a brief tussle that
another cop would have forgotten in five
minutes. And afterward Joe Marvin had
found him crouched over in an alley,
shaking, sweat pouring down his face. He
had straightened himself shamefacedly as
his fellow officer had come up.
“I’m all right,” he had said shakily.
“Just a touch of nerves, I guess.” He told
about the brief tussle he had just had. “I’ve
DEAD MAN’S NERVE 5
been that way ever since the fight I had
with Tiny. Soon as anybody lays their
hands on me, I simply go to pieces. Looks
like I’ll have to get off the cops if this
keeps up.”
“Aw, forget that stuff,” Marvin had
said heartily. “Give up your job when
you’ve got a sick father to look after? You
can’t. Why, anybody’s liable to be a bit
jumpy after a fist fight that’s put him in
the hospital for two months. But you get
over things like that after a while.”
H YES, you get over things like that
after a while, old Jimmy Cantrell was
thinking now. For the first few weeks you
walk your beat with your, heart in your
throat at the sight of any harmless drunk,
who might swing at you.
And then you learn that if you take just
the right amount of whisky the panic isn’t
so bad, and if you do run into trouble the
whisky in your brain turns that panic into a
murderous red rage that will carry you
through if only you can keep from hurting
your man too much—and most of the time
you can.
So you get the reputation of being a
mean-tempered cop and the neighborhood
toughs learn to keep their hands to
themselves and things are much better.
Fight after fight comes up through the
long, long years and you gradually gain a
deadly sureness with gun, night-stick,
chairs, bottles—in fact any weapon except
your hands. You never get over that. The
fact is that you’re not the least bit afraid of
any weapon on earth except the hands of
men.
In the course of time, you win a couple
of citations for bravery and, almost
inevitably, you save the lives of a number
of your fellow officers. After that they sort
of look after you. They make no effort to
hide their disgust at your sloppiness and
your drinking, and they keep away from
you as much as possible. But after all,
you’ve saved their lives so they sort of
look after you when things are too bad.
Oh yes, you get over things like that
after a while.
Cantrell was snapped out of his painful
reverie by a voice calling him.
“Hello, Jimmy!” It was old man Klotz,
hurrying toward his liquor store, a huge
cardboard sign under his arm. “I hear this
is your last night?”
“Yup. Through tonight, Mr. Klotz.”
“Well, I’ll be down at the store,
working late. Stop off on your way home
and I’ll have something for you. One of
these.” He held out of sign for Cantrell to
see. It read:
WE HAVE A LIMITED AMOUNT OF SCOTCH
FOR SALE
CUSTOMERS ARE LIMITED TO ONE BOTTLE
Old man Klotz chuckled. “Limited
amount,” it says. I got my whole cellar full
of it—every bottle the ABC board will
allow me. What that stuff would bring on
the black market! And me selling it at
ceiling price! Anyway, I’ll have a bottle
for you. Just rap on the window and I’ll let
you in.”
“Okay, Mr. Klotz. I’ll be seeing you.”
Cantrell nodded as pleasantly as
possible and walked on. His mind was a
seething turmoil as he remembered the
look of utter contempt on Lloyd Marvin’s
face and realized that he had to find some
way to warn the boy about Tiny
Anderson’s crowd. The big ex-pug had
risen a lot since the old days, but he was
still a mobster. And nothing but trouble
ever came when a cop started getting
chummy with that sort.
Down at the waterfront, Cantrell
swung around, and hurried back to cover
the rest of his beat. There was only one
way to go through with a fight. Get in and
get it over with. When he passed Tiny’s
O
THRILLING DETECTIVE 6
club, he would go in and have it out with
the kid.
He stopped at the Jerome Street box to
ring in, then cut across past Klotz’s Liquor
Store. Abruptly he stopped. There wasn’t
anything wrong that he could see. It was
just that sixth sense that any cop develops
that had made him stop. He looked inside
cautiously.
There was a dim light burning over the
cash register and the stock on the shelves
seemed in order. Then he saw what it was
that had made him stop. The small cabinet
Klotz used for special displays had been
pulled aside. And that cabinet usually
rested over the trap-door leading to the
cellar. The special trap-door old Klotz had
had made, so he wouldn’t have to go out
on the street in rainy weather to get into
his cellar.
Even so, Klotz was probably working
down there. He had been headed for the
store when Cantrell had last seen him.
Jimmy Cantrell tried the door cautiously.
It swung open at once. He stepped in and
snapped on the light.
Old man Klotz was lying sprawled out
on the floor, behind the counter. His bald
head rested on the new sign and the
lettering was blotted out in one place by
the blood from a hole over his right eye.
Beyond him, Cantrell could see the open
door of the cellar. Somewhere old man
Klotz had bragged to the wrong person
about that cellarful of Scotch.
ANTRELL walked over to the
telephone unhurriedly and dialed, his
keen, old eyes going over the place, while
he waited for Marvin to answer. There was
the alcove where the look-out had stood,
watching the street both ways. It hadn’t
been too difficult, nor was it difficult to
figure out who had pulled this job. This
was strictly neighborhood stuff, and it
fairly shrieked of Tiny Anderson and his
mob.
“Hello!” he heard a rasping voice over
the phone. “Captain Marvin speaking.”
“Jimmy Cantrell, Captain. Somebody’s
knocked off Klotz’s Liquor Store and
killed old man Klotz. And I’m pretty sure I
know who done it. It’s—”
He stopped short as though a gun had
been jabbed into his back. He knew police
procedure only too well. One minute after
he mentioned Tiny Anderson, a squad car
would be roaring through the streets to
Tiny’s club. And if they found Lloyd
Marvin in there, it would mean a terrific
black mark against Lloyd’s record at the
least. At the worst, Tiny might have
planned some way of involving Lloyd in
this job.
“Who’d you say it was, Cantrell? I
didn’t get it. Hello! Hello!”
Old Jimmy Cantrell sighed jerkily and
hung up, his face a sickly gray. Well, then,
this was it. The one thing he had dreaded
more than anything else, during the long
years. He would have to face that brokennosed figure again.
For a long moment he stood there
beside old man Klotz’s body, feeling
himself go weak with fear. Then he turned
and went out of the door, closing it behind
him.
A fire-escape led up past Tiny’s club
and Cantrell climbed it as quietly as
possible. A window slid up without too
much noise and he stepped into a dark
back room, his Police Positive held alertly
in his hand. A connecting door, leading to
the front room was closed but a glint of
light showed under it. Old Jimmy Cantrell
tiptoed over and put his eye to the keyhole.
Lloyd Marvin was sitting alone at a
table, a half empty whisky bottle before
him, his blond head on the table on his
arms. Even as Cantrell looked, he heard
the door open and two of Tiny’s hoods
came into his view. They were the Marino
C
DEAD MAN’S NERVE 7
brothers, Phil and Danny. They started
slipping out of their topcoats at once and,
at the slight noise, Marvin raised his head
groggily.
“Hey! Where you been?” His voice
was thick.
Danny Marino laughed harshly.
“Where have we been? Why, we’ve been
right here with you all the time, chum. We
was just going out for some fresh air. You
want to go ring in? Come on, I’ll give you
an arm.”
Lloyd stumbled to his feet and rubbed
his eyes. “Don’t tell me that I passed out
on two drinks.”
So that was it. Lloyd was to be their
alibi, and they had pulled the job on old
Klotz. Cantrell raised up, shoved the door
open and stepped into the room, his gun
held steadily on the Marino brothers.
“You passed out, all right,” he told
Lloyd. “Your whisky was doped, you
fool.”
Danny Marino spun about, his hand
starting toward his shoulder.
“Go right ahead, Danny,” Cantrell told
him genially. “You might make it at that.”
The hood dropped his hand sullenly.
Back of him, Lloyd Marvin looked at
them, bewildered, but Cantrell knew there
was no time to explain.
“Where’s Tiny?” he snapped.
“Right here behind you, Cantrell,” a
voice said placidly. “I got here a little
ahead of the boys and stepped behind the
door when I heard you open the window.”
Tiny Anderson stepped out, holding a
heavy automatic in his hand. The big expug was smiling a little as he came
forward on the balls of his feet, as lightly
as a cat. He waved the big gun at Cantrell.
“All right, Jimmy. Drop your gun and
night-stick. This little visit of yours is
going to change our plans a bit but it won’t
make too much difference. It just means
that we’ll have to go to the trouble of
getting rid of you punks, that’s all.”
Cantrell let his gun and night-stick fall
to the floor and. just as Tiny picked them
up, young Martin went for his gun. Even
in that blurry moment, old Jimmy had time
to feel a kindly contempt for the young
fellow’s rash clumsiness.
He saw Tiny Anderson step aside and
swing the big gun—almost leisurely it
seemed—and saw Lloyd’s face turn to a
bloody smear as he went down with his
nose crushed.
“That’s the first payment on what your
old man did to me once, punk!” the big
man snarled. “You been hanging around
my boys for a long time now, trying to get
a line on them, so how do you like it now
that you got what you were after?”
E STOOD above the unconscious
young cop muttering oaths, but
Cantrell did not hear them. He stepped
forward and lifted a heavy oak chair. As
calmly as a boxing instructor planting a
punch he meant to explain later, he swung
the chair against Danny Marino’s skull
and knew the man was dead before he hit
the floor. The chair swung back and there
was a dull snap as Phil Marino’s neck
broke.
And then he felt the chair snatched out
of his hands, caught one flashing glimpse
of that broken nose boring in again as he
crashed back against the wall, blood
spurting from his split lip. Tiny Anderson
stepped back, rubbing his skinned knuckle,
his eyes raging pools of madness.
“Before you go out of here in a box,
I’m going to give you a taste of what I
gave you twenty years ago!” he snarled.
His left slashed out and Jimmy
Cantrell felt the searing pain of the blow,
knew that his nose was broken. Then his
eyes widened with surprise. And suddenly
he laughed!
He was not afraid! For the first time in
H
THRILLING DETECTIVE 8
nearly twenty years he was facing the
hands of a man without that sick feeling.
And why not, he thought briefly. He was
as good as dead, already. What was there
for a dead man to fear? It didn’t make the
slightest difference how much he was hurt.
The only thing that mattered was to hold
this murderer long enough for that fool
young cop to come to and take over.
Tiny came in with a rush, hooking
those hurting fists into his stomach, and
that was all that Cantrell needed. He knew,
of course, that he could never land one
punch on a trained fighter and he did not
mean to try.
He simply reached out and grabbed
Tiny’s coat lapels, yanking the big man off
balance for the one moment he needed.
Then those rheumatic old fingers closed
around Tiny Anderson’s throat and stayed
there.
It was really a lot like that other time
he had fought Tiny. There was a great
roaring in his ears and he was only dimly
aware of what was happening. There were
terrific flashes of pain, as Tiny’s fists
landed time after time against his
unprotected face, but somehow he
managed to keep his jaw close enough to
the big man’s chest to keep from being
knocked out.
Then the flashes of pain stopped and
he felt Tiny’s fingers tearing frantically at
his hands, realized with a thrill that the big
man was going mad with terror. After that,
there was a long period of just holding on
against those tearing fingers. Until he
realized that there was more than one set
of fingers tearing at his. From a long way
off, somebody was shouting at him and he
realized that it was the voice of Joe
Marvin. Then he sighed a little and let the
grateful blackness roll over him. . . .
He must have been out quite a while,
he thought, because the grimy clubroom
was full of people when he opened his
eyes. Doc Raymond was sponging away
the blood from Lloyd Marvin’s face and a
couple of plainclothesmen were going
through the pockets of the dead
prizefighter. He struggled to sit up and Joe
Marvin came over to him at once.”
“Are you all right, Jimmy?” he asked
anxiously.
Old Jimmy Cantrell grinned weakly
through his battered lips.
“Sure I’m all right,” he said. “May
have to ask for a couple of days off, on
sick leave, but I’ll be right back on my
beat in less than a week.”
Captain Marvin looked at him sharply.
“Oh. Then you’re . . . you want to
withdraw your application for retirement?”
“That? Sure I’m withdrawing it. The
only reason I ever made the application, in
the first place, was that trouble we talked
about. And I got over that tonight.”
Joe Marvin grinned and ducked his
gray head closer to old Jimmy’s.
“Sure you did, you big fool. I told you
that night, twenty years ago, that you get
over things like that after a while.”

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