Burton E. Stevenson
LIEUTENANT DENNIS FLAHERTY sat in his chair and yawned. Then he stretched his great arms high into the air, and his great legs out before him, and wriggled. He had inside him an uncomfortable, stuffed feeling. For Lieutenant Flaherty had long contracted the habit of eating more than was good for him, and the consequence was not only an increasing embonpoint, but a habitual torpor, as of a gorged python. When he had been a patrolman, these 76
effects were less marked, since exercise and fresh air aided digestion. Even as sergeant he had had to move around a good deal. But since his promotion to the lieutenancy, his duties had consisted largely of sitting in a chair and looking wise. So his girth increased and his mental agility diminished, until there were times when his brain seemed scarcely to work at all.
It had cost Flaherty six hundred dollars to be made a sergeant, and
twelve hundred ‘to secure the lieutenancy. He didn’t fully understand the workings of the game—indeed1, he considered it none of his business— but he knew that twenty-five hundred more would be needed before he could get a captaincy. Who got the money, he didn’t know, but that was the price. He looked upon it as an investment, and a good one. Oh, yes, he had read newspaper denunciations of “the system,” just as he had read denunciations of many other things. Them newspapers fellers had to have somethin’ to fill up with, and the world seemed to wag along pretty much as it had always done.
So, since the hour of gaining the lientenancy, Flaherty had set himself to save the sum needed to secure the next promotion. And this was about to be accomplished. He had eighteen hundred dollars, scraped together from the unfortunates of his district, and the wardmen, who dealt with the powers that be, had offered to take his note for the remaining seven hundred. So Flaherty was happy. He knew that, as captain, it wouldn’t take him long to raise the money to pay that note, and then he could begin saving for the next degree. He had visions of the day when, as inspector, he would be in receipt of that more comfortable income which, it was well known, inspectors always enjoyed.
Now, don’t, in the innocence of your hearts, go to condemning Flaherty. He was no moral leper; he was an honest and generous, if somewhat thick-headed, Irishman. We are all the products of our environment, and Flaherty was the product of his, no more to be blamed for obliquity of vision than is the cannibal who eats his fallen foe. In fact, Flaherty was a better man than some. He had risked his life in places where others had held back; his hand was always in his pocket, and if the money he gave away had really been earned by others, why, how many of us earn the money we call ours?
Can you see him sitting there, with his rotund body, and florid face, and
big black mustache, and black closecropped hair growing low on neck and forehead; with the little goodnatured creases at the corners of his eyes, and the great stretch of jowl that hung above the collar? He tipped the scales at two hundred and ninety pounds, and that was one reason he was fonder of sitting than he used to be.
Well, there sat Flaherty at his station that July afternoon, when in unto him entered a slim, nervous, prosperous-looking individual whom he had never seen before. And this is where our story begins.
“Lieutenant Flaherty?” asked the stranger.
“The same,” said Flaherty.
“My name is Jones,” continued the stranger, and handed Flaherty a card. “Of the American Vitagraph Company. We want your assistance.”
Flaherty had a dim idea that it was new patent medicine, and that a testimonial was required for insertion in the newspapers, together with his photograph, in uniform. He had been exploited in this way before, once in company with Mrs. Flaherty and the •children. It had tickled them to have their pictures in the papers. Besides, it paid.
“Set down,” said he, and waved toward a chair. “Glad to meet you, Mr. Jor.es. Now, what kin I do for you?’’
“Well,” said Jones, sitting down and settling back in his chair and carefully crossing his legs, as if they were fragile and might break, “you know we’re a big concern—the biggest in the country. We’ve got ’em all beat when it comes to lifelikeness and sensation. But we’ve got to keep hustling, for some of the others are pretty close to our heels. The younger generation, you know.”
Flaherty didn’t know, but he nodded. He had learned long since the folly of asking questions. They only displayed one’s ignorance.
“What we want to engineer now,” added Jones, “is a bank robbery.”
“What?” said Flaherty, sitting up. “A bank robbery!”
“Yes ; the real thing, you know ; hold-up, murder of faithful employee, get-away, and final capture. You can fake the interior scenes all right, but we’ve got to take the exterior on the street. We thought of the National Trust. It has an imposing facade.”
The last word was Greek to Flaherty, and the idea flashed through his head that he was talking to a lunatic. The stranger’s eyes were certainly preternaturally bright.
“Go on,” he said.
“The trouble with these street scenes is to keep back the crowds, especially in New York. You know this is the worst rubber-neck town in the. world. We carry our own people, who knowjust what to do, and if the crowd breaks in, it spoils everything. The success of the whole thing depends on the effect. We rehearse the whole thing in advance, work out every detail. I don’t imagine the scene at the National will take over four or five minutes. We want to show the thieves running out and down the steps and hopping into their autos. We’re going to have a pursuit by the police, and a running fight, but that can be done out in the country somewhere, with nobody around to bother. You can’t imagine how critical the people who go to see these moving-picture shows are getting to be.”
Flaherty heaved a sigh of relief and mopped his face with his handkerchief. At last he understood.
“Mighty hot in here,” he said, “Not a breath of air. Let’s go acrost the street an’ git somethin’ cool.”
Mr. Jones assented and they crossed the street to the Imperial Cafe, where two tall glasses, in which ice clinked and mint floated, were soon set before them.
“Nice place,” said Jones, looking around. “First time I was ever in it.”
“Yes,” agreed Flaherty, “and does
a good business.” He had often thought that, if he were not in the police and on the highway to promotion, he would like to conduct such a place as this—a nice, clean, law-abiding place, with a steady custom. “Now,” he added, as he pushed back his glass, “go on with the story.”
So Mr. Jones told in detail of the plans of the Vitagraph Company for a wonderful new picture, which would catch and hold the multitude by the impressiveness of its detail. It was to show a bank robbery, the robbery of the biggest trust company in New York. The robbers would dash up in their automobiles, enter the building, overpower the clerks, hand-cuff them to the railings, perhaps shoot one or two as examples to the others, grab the trays of money standing about and empty them into the suit-cases they had brought with them, enter the safe and fill their suit-cases with the currency stored there; then they would dash back to their cars, and a wild ride would follow through the streets and out into the country, with the police in hot pursuit. At last the robbers would be brought to bay, some would be killed, and the rest captured and led back by the police in triumph, while the stolen money was restored to the vaults of the trust company, greatly to the relief of its president, who was just preparing to commit suicide.
“That last don’t sound hardly nateral,” objected Flaherty. “He’d be more apt to cop out what was left an’ hike out fer Canada. You don’t know them presidents.”
Mr. Jones admitted that his acquaintance with the presidents of trust companies was not extensive ; but the important thing with moving pictures was not so much a slavish adherence to the truth, as the introduction of certain homely elements which touched the heart of the multitude. They had thought they might show the president rewarding the widow and children of the old and trusted employee who had lost his life in defense of the company’s millions. Perhaps
they would do that yet; meanwhile, suppose we have the glasses replenished?
“Of course, you know,” he said, “you couldn’t really pull off a thing like that. All the teller's got to do is to touch a button at his elbow an’ send in an alarm that’ll bring about a hundred men on the scene inside o’ three minutes.”
“It’s the teller who does that, is it?” inquired Mr. Jones.
“Yes; the payin’-teller. He’s in a little cage right at the left as you go in. An’ even if he didn't git to do that, a crowd o’ men runnin’ down the steps would be nabbed by somebody. There’s always a special officer on duty at the door, an’ a patrolman on the block.”
Mr. Jones nodded and rattled the ice around in his glass reflectively.
“Oh, well,” he said, at last, “it’s just like the stage. A lot of things happen in real life. All the people ask is to be amused and excited. Just so it’s pulled off in good shape—that’s all they want.”
“That’s your lookout,” said Flaherty. “What is it you want me to do?'’ “We want you to take a detail of six or eight men down to the National Trust and hold the crowd back on either side, while we take the picture of the get-away. It won’t take over five or six minutes, so that traffic won’t be impeded. Anybody who’s in a hurry can cross over.”
Flaherty looked at his companion. “What is there in it for me?” he asked.
“How will two hundred do?”
“Make it two-fifty. I’ll have to give the men a fiver apiece.”
“All right,” agreed Jones. “I guess we can afford it. If the film turns out all right, it’ll be a gold mine. Of course, if it don’t turn out right, we’ll expect you to give us another chance. Something happens, once in a while, to spoil the film, and then we have to take it over again.”
“That’s all right,” said Flaherty. “When do you want to do it?” so
“Suppose we say to-morrow morning. We’ve got the film all ready up to this point, and we’re anxious to get it out. The fact is,” he added, leaning across the table and speaking in a lower tone, “we’ve got a tip that Pathe Freres are working up a big film along these lines, and we want to beat them to it.”
“To-morrow mornin’, then,” said Flaherty, “What time?”
“Nine-thirty’s the best time. There won’t be so many people around as later in the day.”
“That’ll suit,” agreed Flaherty. “I’ll have the men there on the dot.”
“Good!” said Jones, and got out his pocket-book. “Here’s the two-fifty,” and he counted out five fifty-dollar bills.
“Thanks,” said Flaherty, and slipped the bills into his pocket. “Have somethin’ more?”
“No,” said Jones, rising. “I’ve got to be getting along. I’ve got a lot of details to attend to.”
“Good-by till to-morrow, then,” said Flaherty, and they shook hands and parted.
Flaherty stopped to purchase and light a black cigar. Then he returned to his chair at the station, and fell into a pleasant reverie, as he watched the smoke circle upwards. He would take eight patrolmen and give them five dollars apiece. That made forty dollars. Taking out another ten. to be spent in celebration, left two hundred. He would have to borrow only five hundred. Captain—then inspector— it wouldn’t take long! And, smiling a satisfied smile, his chin sank lower and lower upon his breast, his cigar dropped from his fingers, and he peacefully slept the remainder of the afternoon away.
PROMPTLY at nine-thirty the next morning, Lieutenant Flaherty marched his detail of eight men down the avenue to the National Trust. He found two automobiles drawn up by the curb before the building. One of
them had a big moving-picture camera mounted over the dash, and the operator was busy adjusting it. Six or eight men lolled in the tonneaus, among them Jones, who sprang out as he saw Flaherty and his men approach.
“Everything’s ready,” he said, and Flaherty noticed again how bright his eyes were.
“All right,” said Flaherty, and his men began to push back the crowd which had collected in a minute. “How much space will you need?”
“Oh, about fifty feet. And keep a lane clear, so that the cars can get away.”
“All right,” said Flaherty again, and threw a line across the pavement on either side of the building.
The patrolman on the block came running up to investigate, and Flaherty explained the situation. Then, as the cars backed around and headed uptown, the crowd saw the picture machine and understood, too. Some moved on, but the greater part tarried, grinning expectantly, to see what would happen.
“I guess that’s all right, said Flaherty.
Jones looked over the preparations with a critical eye.
“Yes,” he said; “but be sure nobody breaks through.”
“Oh, nobody’ll git* through,” Flaherty assured him. “Don’t you worry about that.”
“All right,” said Jones, and nodded to the men in the cars.
The operator of the picture-machine began to turn the crank; the men jumped out, each with a suit-case, and, with Jones at their head, charged up the steps of the building. An instant later, the great doors swung shut behind them.
One minute, two minutes, three minutes passed, while the crowd watched the entrance, still grinning expectantly. A depositor hurried up and protested loudly at being detained for such foolishness.
“Just a minute more,” said Flaherty soothingly. “Just a minute more.”
“I don’t feel just right, some way,” remarked the patrolman, watching the entrance anxiously.
And then the doors swung open and Jones appeared at the top of the steps, his men behind him, suit-cases in hand.
There was a sudden shout from the crowd, and Flaherty’s men held it back •with difficulty. The motors in the cars were humming, and Flaherty saw that a wild-eyed man, with a broken hand-cuff dangling from one arm, was following the make-believe robbers down the steps.
“Thieves!” he screamed. “Thieves! Stop them, officer !”
His face was white and agonized as he turned it to where Flaherty stood immobile.
“Thieves !” he screamed again.
“Good actor,” said Flaherty to himself. “But what’s the use of him yellin’ so? That won’t show in the picte r.”
And then, as the patrolman, who was young and inexperienced, mopped the sweat from his face, the rearmost of the robbers, feeling the pursuer at his heels, paused, turned, levelled a revolver, and fired.
The pursuer stopped for an instant rigidly on tiptoe, half-way down the steps, then crumpled and rolled limply to the bottom and lay there on his face.
The crowd cheered.
“Great!” said Flaherty. “Astonishin’ how them actors kin fall like that without hurtin’ themselves.”
The patrolman did not answer, only mopped his face again.
But the robbers were in their cars and off like a shot through the lane that’ had been cleared for them, the man at the machine in the rear car turning the crank frantically. And the passers-by understood and1 smiled and made way.
Flaherty watched them until they were out of sight, then, as he turned, he saw that the limp figure still lay where it had fallen at the foot of the steps. Flaherty bent over and shook his shoulder.
“All right, old sport,” he said. “It’s all over. You kin come to, now.”
The still figure did not respond, and, with a sudden tightening of the heart, Flaherty turned it over. Blood! was slowly oozing from an ugly hole in the forehead. The man was dead.
“Why, that’s Dixon, the watchman,” said the patrolman, his face livid, and a sudden frightened stillness fell upon the crowd.
Flaherty felt his throat constrict and go dry as he sprang up the stepá and hurled himself through the door.
A groan burst from him as he saw what lay inside.
Prone on the marble floor, where a bullet had stretched him in the first instant, lay the paying-teller; while a dozen pale and frightened men were neatly handcuffed to the railings. The money-trays were empty and the doors of the great vault stood open.
The robbery had been accomplished just as Jones had outlined it the day before. And as he bent above the body of the teller, slain before he had had a chance to touch that button at
his elbow, Flaherty groaned again. For he felt that the blood of the murdered man was on his head.
THE cars were found, an hour later, in the garage from which they had been rented. Their drivers reported ■that they had stopped at Times Square and that all but one of the men had got out and walked quietly away. The man who remained had come on to the garage, paid for the rental of the cars, said he would send for the camera, and disappeared in the crowd outside. That was the end of them. The camera proved to be only a box with a crank to it, and a cheap lens in front.
And Flaherty? Oh, Flaherty is now the proprietor of the Imperial Cafe. You may see him there any day. He’s not as fat as he was, and he looks considerably older. They tell me he is subject to fits of melancholia.