PETE PUTS IT OVER
PHILIP WINTER LUCE
JULIUS BLIGHT is one of those brilliant lawyers who keep this country a land of liberty for crooks. He can invent the most convincing alibis right off the bat and he beats ’em all in spotting technical errors that slip mysteriously into indictments whenever his clients have been caught in fragant delicto. That’s Latin for “his crime smells to high Heaven,” which shows how those old Dagoes could compress language.
I never knew a lawyer who wouldn’t try his darnedest to save his guilty client from getting what was coming to him, but Julius Blight goes a lot farther than that. He’ll defend only deep-dyed sinners of long experience. “The Bigger the Crook the Bigger the Fee” is his motto during business hours.
Mind you, I’m no saint myself. I don’t mind breaking a law if I don’t agree with it, but I’m open and above board in my methods and what is left of my conscience will never keep me awake because of what I’ve done.
The Vancouver city directory lists me as “Peter Keldron, taxi driver,” but what I pick up in ordinary taxi work wouldn’t keep my grease cups filled. Even if I do say it myself, Pete Keldron is the best little quota crasher that ever bootlegged immigrants from British Columbia into the state of Washington, and there have been quite a few of us on the job day and night every since Congress put a limit on the number of Englishmen and foreigners who could enter the United States legally.
TUHEN I get the message that Julius Blight wants to ' » see me I feel in my bones that there’s dirty work ahead. However, as business happens to be slack that morning, I roll around to his office.
“Good morning, Pete,” says he, geniahy. “I’ve got a little job for you.”
“Good morning, Mr. Blight,” I answer with dignity and deference. “Boundary work?”
“What else would it be?” asks Blight. “You don’t suppose I’m hiring your car for my clients to use in a bank hold-up, do you?”
“You wouldn’t take a chance like that for the world,” I come back, and Blight takes this for a compliment.
“Can you be ready to start in three hours?” he asks.
“I can start in three minutes,” I point out. “Or, anyway, in three minutes after I decide I want to crash in on this. For my own protection I must know something about these clients of yours. I’ve never been caught because I’ve never taken chances. I’ll have to put you through—” and darned if the words don’t escape me, so I have to ask him: “What is it you learned friends call it when you’re giving your witnesses the friendly third degree?”
“An examination for discovery,” grins Blight. “Go ahead, Pete. Shoot your questions fast. I’ll tell you everything I think you should know.”
“Who are these clients?” I ask. “What’s their business?
They say that he laughs best who laughs last but the only person who can laugh at this yarn without squirming is the reader—and Timothy Hay. Pete did his best to bury his sorrow but even Pete had to admit that his was a bitter-sweet triumph.
What’s their nationality? Are the police after them?” Blight gives me the hard, cold eye for a moment, but if he expects to hear shivers racing up and down my spine he’s mistaken. I don’t say I’d like to have him snarling at me in the witness stand, but this is something different.
“I know you’ll keep your mouth shut even if you turn down the job,” he says at last. “One of the gentlemen is John Morrone—”
“The Chicago pickpocket who was caught at the races with his hand in the police chief’s pocket?” I interrupt.
_ “The same,” beams Blight. “He’s in Cell No. 16 at the city lockup now, but the magistrate will dismiss the charge against him at this morning’s hearing on a technicality. I’ve seen to that.”
“Naturally,” I murmur.
“Thank you, Pete. I’m glad to see my efforts appreciated by one who will need my help some time.”
“I hope not!” I protest. “It’s my ambition to steer clear of trouble.”
“Morrone had the same idea,” smiles Blight, “and now look at him! He’ll be accompanied on his journey south by Mort Swanson and Slim Varley, both of Chicago. Ever heard of them?”
“No,” I confess. “I don’t move in criminal society any more than I have to. Pickpockets also, I suppose?”
“Correct! And as slick a pair of dips as you’ll find anywhere, Pete. They haven’t worked here, but the police are looking for them on behalf of the American authorities. There’s no Canadian warrant out against them, though.”
“I’ll have to check up on that in a roundabout way,” I warn him. “Helping fugitives from justice means five years in the pen in this country, if I remember right.”
“I hope you don’t doubt my word,” says Blight, very severely.
Pretty good, that, from a man who wouldn’t know old Lady Truth if he met her naked at the bottom of a well!
“Not at all,” I remark soothingly. “I simply want to get it confirmed. I take nothing for granted, and that’s why Timothy Hay puts absolute trust in me.”
Old Timothy Hay is my partner in this quota crashing business. He looks so much like a farmer that whenever he comes to town people suspect he’s a stage comedian, but his head’s full of brains for all that. He knows every hidden trail running into the state of Washington from the Fraser Valley, and he’s never failed to guide a party of surplus immigrants through safely.
Tim’s services as underground pilot are so much in demand that last year he quite forgot to put in any crops on his farm, and he swears it wasn’t until making up his income tax forms that he noticed it. He thought this quite a joke on two great countries, for his place straddles the boundary line. The front half of his house is in Canada; the back half is in the United States. Tim himself claims to be a citizen of both countries and has papers to prove it, but he never shows all the documents at the same time. That’s what makes it so hard for the American authorities to get anything on him.
I don’t have to tell all this to Julius Blight. He knows it already and it’s with a kind of a sniffy chuckle that he says:
“Don’t worry about Timothy Hay, Pete. It’s no crime to smuggle Americans into the United States, so he’s safe even if the party gets pinched. As for yourself, seeing I’ll be going along as far as the boundary, you’ll assume no responsibility at all.”
“That’s fair enough,” I agree, knowing Blight wouldn’t
risk running his precious neck into a noose. Then, being naturally sort of curious, I ask:
‘What’s the idea of you going along, Mr. Blight?”
“My clients need legal advice and it isn’t wise for them to visit me here,” explains Blight.
I understand. Julius Blight intends showing these birds how they may pick pockets in Canada in a perfectly legal manner, for of course Morrone and his pals will be back as soon as it’s safe. It’s none of my business, but the callous way in which Blight puts his talents at the disposal of these crooks makes me so hot under the collar that my price for^the job jumps from $100 to $150 right away.
Blight gags a bit when I mention the figure, but finally comes through. He pulls a fat roll from his hip pocket and peels off tens and twenties in a most casual manner. I guess my eyes bulge some, for he smiles:
“You’re thinking there must be almost as much money in criminal law as in quota crashing, eh, Pete? I get paid in advance, same as you do, and I always insist on cash. I don’t like the kind of cheques my clients pass around.” “I’ll trade incomes with you any time, Mr. Blight,” I grin. “That’s the biggest roll I’ve ever seen outside a gambling house.”
Blight looks flattered, then hauls out another wad about half the size of the first. It doesn’t make me regret I’m honest until the lawyer flips the bills around and I notice they’re all centuries.
“Fall money,” he explains. “The first roll is mine, but this belongs to clients whom I’m to bail out when they get arrested sooner or later, probably sooner.”
I open my mouth to say the obvious thing, then click my teeth together on second thoughts. After all, it’s his lookout if he wants to show off. We all have our little weaknesses, and if Blight gets a kick out of fondling his rolls I’m not the one to deprive him of the pleasure.
Blight tells me where to pick up his crooks and explains how he and Morrone will give the police the slip and join us later. After listening to some unnecessary advice about having the car in good shape and plenty of gas, I touch my cap and back out of the office.
Merely a matter of habit, that touching the cap. It doesn’t mean that I have any respect for Julius Blight. To tell the truth if it wasn’t for the $150 and the satisfaction of ridding Canada of three Chicago crooks, I wouldn’t turn a wheel to help him.
IN GOOD time I load Blight and his human vermin into the old bus and start on the fifty mile spin through the Fraser valley. The lawyer sits in the tonneau with Morrone and Mort Swanson and explains to them how they can get away with everything but murder, while Slim Varley has the honor of sharing the front seat with me.
Varley does his best to be affable, but I’ve already been paid and I don’t have to yessir him. The most chqerful thing he hears from me is a grunt, and after a while that
makes him sore.
I let him get away with a lot of sarcastic stuff until he gets the idea he has me buffaloed. He keeps this up, off and on, for an hour or so. Then, when he’s about to run out of second-hand wit, I open up suddenly and bawl him out in a few well-chosen words, finishing up with the good and free advice that he keep his trap shut for the rest of the journey.
“Who’s going to make me?” he sneers.
“Do you have to ask?” I snap back.
“You’re bigger than I am,” he shoots out of the corner of his mouth, “but I’ve got something here—”
His right hand is slipping towards his hip pocket, but it never gets there. The brakes jam on so suddenly that Varley shoots forward in a heap. His head bumps into the windshield, but luckily doesn’t go through. It would have cost me $7.50 to replace that glass.
All the same, Varley seems to enjoy a mild concussion of the brain long enough for me to grab his gun and open the door. He’s no more than half untangled when I
grapple with him and shove him, sprawling, into the road.
Blight and the two other pickpockets are slightly mixed upon the floor of the tonneau all this time, and I’m giving a very fair imitation of a Wild West bad man when they bob up again.
From force of habit, I suppose, Morrone and Swanson stick up their hands, showing their long slim fingers to excellent advantage.
‘ What’s the idea, Pete?” asks Blight, more puzzled than frightened. He knows I’m all right.
‘This bird in front tried to pull a gun on me,” I explain, ‘‘and I thought it wise to throw him out of the car. Will you be good enough to frisk these other gentlemen, Mr. Blight, just as a matter of precaution?”
I’ll say this for Julius Blight. He knows the kind of men he deals with, and while he apologizes nicely for my suspicious nature, he’s thorough in his frisking. Morrone is unarmed, but Mort Swanson is packing an ugly bit of hardware.
The lawyer hands it over to me without a word. I blaze away at a stump, then toss the empty pistol into the brush. The other loaded gun I slip into my pocket.
Slim Varley tries to get back into the front seat, but I change his mind for him with my left fist.
“You finish the journey riding the back bumper,” I tell him, “and if you don’t like that you can run behind the rest of the way, like the yellow dog you are.”
He rides the bumper. If it isn’t the most uncomfortable ride he’s ever had, it isn’t my fault. Whenever I miss a small rut it’s because I’m hitting a big one.
After we turn off the main highway the road gets so rough that Varley is bumped off the bumper. That worries him a good deal more than it does me and I don’t even slow up when he yells “Stop! Stop!” I figure that a little strenuous exercise won’t do him any harm and a little worry may be good for him. He doesn’t know, of course, that we’re practically at the end of the run.
I stop at the trail that leads through the bush to Timothy Hay’s little farm and sound our signal on the klaxon, in case Tim happens to be anywhere near.
Right away there’s an answering “yoo hoo” but it isn’t Tim’s. It’s little Jerry McTavish’s.
Jerry’s a smart kid who’s proved useful to Timothy Hay times without number. One of the smartest things he does is to answer “I don’t know” to every embarrassing question strangers ask him, and he does this so guilelessly that even the immigration officers are sometimes deceived.
As Jerry is still some distance away, judging by the sound of his voice, I start fussing with the engine. There’s nothing wrong with it, of course, but it gives the fares some satisfaction to see the chauffeur having trouble, so I always do it as a matter of routine. I’m an obliging cuss, that way.
Julius Blight and the others get out of the bus and stretch their legs. Pretty soon Slim Varley comes up,
puffing, sweating, and covered with dust. He’s in a vile humor and starts in to do some heavy cussing, but keeps away from me and my wrench. I’m keeping one eye an him and that’s how I notice Morrone stroll ovar and whisper a few words which make his pal shed his grief in a twinkling.
Pretty soon Mort Swanson ambles across and watches me scowl at a perfectly good spark plug.
“Got a cigarette, Pete?” he asks.
I slip him a package, telling him to keep the lot. I figure I owe him that much compensation for robbing him of his gun, though he never mentions it. He sticks around smoking and chatting easily about nothing in particular and I size him up as a likeable cuss, not at all like his pal Varley, whom he pretends to dislike. He’s bluffing about that, and he knows I know it, but neither of us minds such a trifle.
Pretty soon Swanson asks in a casual way:
“How long do we have to wait here, Pete?’
Just then I catch sight of Jerry coming up the trail.
“Here’s the lad who’ll show you the way to your pilot’s house,” I tell him. “You can start as soon as you like.”
“All ready, boys, here’s our guide,” he shouts out.
Blight, Morrone, and Slim Varley stroll back to the car and the three dips proceed to say goodbye to their lawyer.
Morrone shakes hands with him, thanking him effusively for his good services.
“If it wasn’t for you, Mr. Blight,” he says, “I certainly would have gone over this time. I sure do appreciate what you’ve done for me, see? Believe me, you won’t find me ungrateful.”
“All in the way of business, Morrone, all in the way of business,” murmurs Blight, but it’s easy to see he’s tickled.
“Business!” echoes Morrone. “Say, Mr. Blight, any lawyer can transact business, but it takes real brains to get a guy out of a tight hole. The way you turned that trick! Say, if it hadn’t been for you—”
By this time Morrone is holding Blight’s two hands in his, and Slim Varley is patting the lawyer across the shoulders and adding his few words of praise. Mort Swanson is hovering around, keeping between me and the group, but he doesn’t prevent me seeing what’s happening, all the same.
“Say, Mr. Blight,” goes on Morrone, trying hard to keep the sobs out of his voice, “do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to tell all the boys who come to British Columbia that there’s only one lawyer to see, and that’s Julius Blight. Believe me, any business I can throw your way I surely will. John Morrone never forgets a man who treats him white!”
With that he pumphandles Blight’s arms once more, drawing his body slightly forward as if about to kiss him. Slim Varley, one hand still patting the lawyer’s shoulder, slips the other into Blight’s pocket and fishes
up the fat roll I’d admired early that morning. It's a slick piece of work, but I see it, and I keep right on looking.
Mort Swanson catches my eye and steps forward as if to say goodbye. Palmed in his hand is a century note and he gives me a good look at it. I hadn’t seen Blight relieved of his smaller roll, and yet it had happened right in front of me. There’s certainly class to those Chicago crooks!
Swanson puts his hand on the radiator cap and winks at me. He’s somewhat annoyed when I hit his fingers rather hard with the wrench but he gets my meaning. He winces and pulls his hand away but doesn’t drop the bill. If he had, and it had been my good luck to pick it up, it would have been all right^to keep it. That’s not the same thing as accepting a bribe.
Shrugging his shoulders and muttering something about me being a fool, Swanson moves back to his friends. If he’d only known it, he could have collected a bonus from me for trimming Julius Blight. I never heard of anything more appropriate in the way of poetic justice.
Fortunately for the pickpockets, little Jerry arrives just as the lawyer is tiring of all this fulsome adulation, and they ease up on him. They’re all set for a quick getaway, but I spoil this by taking Jerry into the timber for a quiet chat.
“Is Tim in shape to neglect his farm for a few hours?” I ask the youngster.
“Sure!” answers Jerry. “He’s been sitting in the shade all day whittling with his pet jack-knife and praying you’d bring along a few bootleg immigrants. He’ll be tickled pink when he sees me come along with this bunch.”
“I’ve got to give Tim fair warning this is a gang of crooks,” I point out. “Got anything in your pockets, Jerry?”
“Nothing but holes,” grins the kid, turning them inside out to prove it.
“They might steal even that,” I warn the boy. Then I sit down on a log and scribble a note to my partner. I show the message to Jerry, that being the only way to keep the kid from reading it on the sly.
“That’s going to be a great joke on ’em,” chuckles Jerry, shoving the paper into his boot. “You sure do get the grandest ideas, Pete!”
I think so myself, but I’m looking as modest as usual when we get back to the car, where Morrone and his pals are still telling Julius Blight what a bird of a lawyer he is. All the same, they don’t hesitate a minute longer than is politely necessary when I tell ’em the kid is ready.
Mort Swanson gives me a dirty look as he takes to the trail, and so does Slim Varley, but I don’t mind in the least. I figure I’ve taught those crooks a lesson Continued on page 44
Continued from page 25
without it costing me anything at all.
Blight takes the front seat for the return journey. He’s inclined to be chatty and I’m willing enough to listen.
WE’RE nearly half way back to Vancouver when he refers to the farewell scene.
“Those fellows must think I’m a conceited ass to swallow all that guff,” he remarks. “I don’t have to be told I’m clever in such a fulsome manner; getting patted and all but kissed on both cheeks, as if I was a movie actor. What do they suppose all that pawing gets ’em, anyway?”
It may be rude to laugh right out loud, but I can’t help it.
“What’s the joke, Pete?” asks Blight, a bit nettled.
“What does all that pawing get ’em,” I repeat. “It surely does take you a long time to wake up, Mr. Blight.”
“Eh?” Blight’s face is a study as he glowers at me.
“You boasted this morning that they were the slickest_ pickpockets on the continent,” I remind him.
“Good Lord!” he blurts out, sticking his left hand into his trousers pocket. He draws a deep breath and sighs with relief. It puzzles me.
“Phew!” he smiles. “I thought^for a moment by the way you spoke—”
By now he’s haying a good square look at the wad in his hand, and his_ smile fades away. For cause! The wad is just a neat little roll of paper!
“The blackguards picked my pocket! He’s so amazed he leaves his mouth open when he finishes the sentence.
“They’re experts in their line. You should be proud of such clients,” I grin. But I don’t believe he hears me. He^s busy fumbling around and turning his pockets inside out, one after the other.
All he finds is another roll of paper. “They plucked me as clean as a chicken,” he finally confesses. “I’ve no idea how much they got. Fifteen or sixteen hundred dollars, probably. I wonder why they didn’t take my watch; it couldn’t have been an oversight.” “Slim Varley lifted it when Morrone was telling you he’d send yo-u lots of crook business, but the boss made him put it back,” I explain. “You might have taken a notion to look at the time before they made their getaway.”
“That sounds reasonable,” admits Blight. “I wouldn’t have lost that watch for a good deal more than it’s worth, for sentimental reasons. . . .
“Say,” and here he favors me with a ferocious glare, “how do you know about Slim Varley lifting my watch and putting it back?”
“Ocular evidence,” I explain, in my coolest manner.
“You saw him do it?”
“I did. And I’ll say you weren’t boasting when you described them as past-masters in the business.”
It isn’t often a criminal lawyer is at a loss for words, but Blight is certainly tongue-tied for a minute or so. I don’t try to help hiih out.
After he has swallowed hard a few times, he rasps out.
"Why the devil did you let them get away with a dirty trick like that, Pete? Why didn’t you tell me? You still had Slim Varley’s revolver. We could have made them hand back that money easily enough, and you’d have had a generous slice of it for your help.”
“Not for me!” This with my best Sunday School expression, haying just remembered a Scripture text I’m about to spring on him: “You earn that money by showing these crooks how to prey on
the community and keep out of jail, I figure it’s only fair they should do unto you as you would have them do unto others.”
Julius Blight just shrugs his shoulders. He’s got a hide as thick as one of his law books and thinks my spiel is a bit of a joke, judging from the way he laughs.
“If you’re so sensitive about tainted money, Pete,” he asks, “how is it you’re willing to earn a trifling $150 by carrying pickpockets from Vancouver to the boundary line?”
“Oh, that’s different,” I explain, stalling while I try to think of something good. “That’s different. I feel I’m doing Canada a kindly action by ridding the country of three crooks. I’d like to see Morrone and Swanson and Varley in jail, of course, but it’s only fair they should get theirs in the United States. Uncle Sam is entitled to that pleasure.”
“Noble sentiments!” sneers Julius Blight. “It’s too bad you didn’t get more than $50 per head for your kind offices in the good cause of moral purity. That hardly seems enough when you have to split with the men who pilots the trio to a railway station across the line. Timothy Hay’s share can’t amount to much.”
Honestly, I all but throw the old bus into the ditch. If you’ve ever tried to steer a heavy car and haw-haw at the biggest joke of a lifetime at the same time, you’ll appreciate how I feel.
“What’s the matter?” yelps Blight. “Gone crazy?”
I guess I’m not far off. I’m thinking of that note I’d sent to Timothy Hay by little Jerry McTavish.
“Dear Tim,” the message read, “Charge these three American pickpockets $500 apiece to guide them to Blayholme Station. They’ve just stolen the money from Julius Blight, their lawyer. Swanson and Varley are wanted by the American police. I'll phone the Immigration officers inside half an hour. Show the dirty crooks this note.”
Of course old Tim would know I never intended tipping off the police, but he’d back me up on the bluff; Morrone and his pals, not knowing whether they were in British Columbia or in Washington,
would be hopelessly stranded. They might rave and curse for all they were worth but they’d have to come through.
After a while I manage to quieten down enough to assure Blight I’m not crazy but he still looks kind of suspicious.
“You shouldn’t waste sympathy on Timothy Hay,” I tell him. “That old farmer is satisfied with what he can get. Maybe he doesn’t make as much as a criminal lawyer, but neither is he heading in the general direction of the poorhouse just yet.”
WE ROLL along for a -while, then Blight breaks the silence with: “Pete, I have a hunch that you’ve put something over on Morrone and his pals. I’d like to know what you’ve done and how you’ve done it. That’s what’s making you look so blamed happy. What was the trick?”
I try to look innocent but it’s no use. You can’t fool a lawyer. So I just pass it off as a joke by saying:
“I refuse to answer on the ground that I might incriminate myself! . . . Anyway, we’ve got to stop at this gas station and fill up the tank.”
The attendant pumps in five gallons and I shove my hand in my pocket to pay him—right away I get that goosefleshy feeling, but I go right on with the hopeless task of ransacking pocket after pocket. No use! My little roll is gone!
For a minute my stomach feels green and empty, but I control myself when I see a malicious grin spreading over Julius Blight’s face as he proceeds to rub it in.
“Slim Varley wasn’t so dazed through bumping into your windshield, evidently, that he couldn’t pick your pocket while you were chucking him out of the car,” he drawls. “A dip dearly loves a scuffle, and you very kindly made him a present of one—and $150!”
“Don’t forget the bonus of a straight left to the jaw,” I point out. “That was worth something!”
The memory of that wallop cheers me up. After all, those Chicago crooks are trustees of my money only for the time being. They’ll kiss it good-bye for ever and ever once old Timothy Hay gets his horny hands on it—I hope.