"Fair enough. You couldn't come any
cleaner with me than that. But I've got my own job, Fernack. I came here to do
a bit of cleaning up in this town of yours, and you know how it needs it.
But it's your business to see that I don't get anywhere. You're
hired to see that all the thugs and racketeers in this town put
on their goloshes when it rains, and tuck them up in their mufflers and
make sure they don't catch cold. The citizens of New York pay you to make
sure that the only killing is done by the guys with political connections—"
"So maybe, off the record, you'd answer
a couple of questions while there isn't an audience."
Fernack chewed the cigar round to the other
corner of his mouth, took it out, and spat expertly over the side of the
car. He put the cigar back and watched a traffic light turn from green to
"Keep on asking."
"What is this Big Fellow?"
The tip of Fernack's cigar reddened and died
down, and he put one elbow on the wheel.
"I should like to know. Ordinarily, it's
just a name that some of these big-time racketeers get called. They called
Al Capone 'the Big Fellow.' All these rats have got egos a mile wide. 'The
Big Boy'—'the Big Shot'—it's the same thing. It used to make 'em feel more
important to have a handle like that tacked onto 'em, and it gave the small
rats something to flatter 'em with."
"Yeah." The detective's cigar moved
through an arc at the end of his arm as he flicked ash into the
road. "Nowadays things are kind of different. Nowadays when
we talk about the Big Fellow we mean the guy nobody knows: the man who's behind
Morrie Ualino and Dutch Kuhlmann and Red McGuire and all the rest of 'em and
bigger than any of them ever were. The guy who's made himself the
secret king of the biggest underworld empire that ever happened. . . . Where
did you hear of
him?" Fernack asked.
The Saint smiled.
"I was eavesdropping—it's one of my bad
"Draw your own conclusions."
Fernack turned in his seat, his massive body
cramped by the wheel; and the grey eyes under his down-drawn shaggy brows
reflected the reddish light of his cigar end.
"Get this," he said harshly.
"Everything you say about me and the rest of the force may be true. I'm
not arguing. That's the way this town's run, and it's been like that ever
since I was pounding
a beat. But I'm telling you that some day I'm gonna pin a rap on that mug, judge or no judge—an' make it stick! If that line you shot at me was said to Nather, it
means there's something dirty brewing
around here tonight; and if there's any
way of tying Nather in with it, I'll nail him. And I'll see that he gets the works all the way up the
"Why should it mean that?"
"Because Nather is just another stooge
of the Big Fellow's, the same as Irboll was. Listen: If that bunch is going out
tonight, there's always the chance something may go blooey. One or two of
'em may get taken in by the cops. That means they'll get beaten up. Don't
kid yourself. When we get those guys in the station house we
don't pat them with paper streamers. Mostly the only punishment they ever get
is what we give them in the back room. An' they don't like it. You can
be as tough as you like and never let out a peep, but a strong-arm dick with
a yard of rubber hose can still hurt you. So when a bunch is smart, they
have a lawyer ready to dash in with writs of habeas corpus
before we can even get started on 'em—and those writs have to
be signed by a judge. One day a law will be passed to allow
racketeers to make out the writs themselves an' save everyone a lot of expense,
but at present you still gotta find a judge at home."
"I see," said the Saint gently.
Fernack grunted, and his fingers hardened on
"Who gave that order?" he grated.
"I haven't the faintest idea,"
said the Saint untruthfully. He sympathized with Fernack, but it was too late
in his career to overcome an ingrained objection to letting any detective get ahead of
him. "The speech came over the phone, and that's all there was."
"What did you go to Nather's for?"
"I asked you the same question, but I
don't have to repeat it. I stayed right under the window and
Fernack's cigar fell out of his mouth and
struck his knee with a fountain of sparks.
"Just in case you'd decided to follow
me," explained the Saint blandly. "This business of haring
for the tall timber in front of squads of infuriated policemen is all right for
Charlie Chaplin, but it's a bit undignified for me." He grinned reminiscently. "I
admired your vocabulary," he said.
The detective groped elaborately for his
"I had to do it," he growled.
"That son of a——pulled just one too many when he
acquitted Irboll. I may be transferred for it, but I couldn't
of stayed away if I'd been told beforehand that I was going to
wake up tomorrow pounding a two-mile beat out on Staten Island."
Simon put his head back and gazed up at the
low roof of the sedan. "What's the line-up?"
Fernack leaned on the wheel and smoked,
staring straight ahead again. Taxis and cars thrummed past them in
conflicting streams, and up in a tree over their heads a night bird
bragged about what he was going to do to his wife when she came home.
The traffic lights changed twice before he answered.
"Up at the top of this city," he
said slowly, "there's a political organization called Tammany Hall.
They're the boys who fill all the public offices, and before you were born
they'd made electioneering into such an exact science that they just don't even
think about it any more. They turn out their voters like an army parade,
their hired hoodlums guard the polls, and their employees count
the votes. The boss of Tammany Hall is a man called Robert Orcread, and the
nickname he gave himself is Honest Bob. Outside the City Hall there's a
fine bit of a statue called Civic Virtue, and inside there's the biggest
collection of crooks and grafters that ever ran a city.
"There's a district attorney named Marcus
Yeald who's so crooked you could use him to pull corks with; and his
cases come up before a row of judges like Nather. Things are different here
from what they are in your country. Over here our judges get elected;
and every time a case comes up before them they have to sit down and figure
out what the guy's political pull is, or maybe somebody higher up
just tells 'em so they won't make any mistake, because if a judge sends a
guy up the river who's got a big political drag there's going to be somebody
else sittin' in his chair when the next election comes round.
"The politicians appoint the police
commissioner, and he does what they say and lays off when they say
lay off. The first mistake they ever made was when they put Quistrom in. He takes
orders from nobody; and somehow he's gotten himself so well liked and
respected by the decent element in this city that even the
politicians daren't try and chisel him out now— it'd make too much
noise. But it all comes to the same thing in the end. If we
send a guy up for trial, he's still got to be prosecuted by Marcus Yeald or one of
Yeald's assistants, and a judge like Nather
sits on the case an' sees that everything is nice and friendly.
"There's a bunch of rats an' killers in this town that stops
nowhere, and they play ball with the politicians, and the politicians play
ball with them. We've had kidnapping and murder
and extortion, and we're goin' to have more. That's the Big Fellow's
game, and it's the perfect racket. There's more money in it than there ever was
in liquor—and there's less of an answer to
it. Look at it yourself. If it was your son, or your wife, or your
brother, or your sister, that was bein' held for ransom, and you knew that the rats who were holding 'em were as soft-hearted as a lot of rattlesnakes—wouldn't
The Saint nodded silently. Fernack's slow,
added little enough to what he already knew, but it filled in and coloured the picture for him. He had some new names to think about; and that realization brought
him back to the question in his mind
that he had tactfully postponed.