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Lionel White



It was eight-thirty in the morning when Maurice Cohen reached the corner of Southern Boulevard and a Hundred and Forty-ninth Street. He went to a newsstand and bought a scratch sheet and then he found a crowded cafeteria. He ordered a cup of coffee and spread the sheet out on the table, taking a fountain pen from his inside breast pocket. He spent exactly forty-five minutes marking up the sheet. Then he carefully folded it and put it in his side coat pocket. He paid for the coffee and left.

Entering the bank on the corner near the subway steps, he strolled casually to the nearest teller’s cage. He pushed a five dollar bill under the grill and asked the girl for two two-dollar rolls of nickels. She smiled and gave them to him, along with a dollar change.

Maurice dropped one roll in each side pocket.

He was armed for his afternoon’s work. Maurice knew that a roll of forty nickels was just as effective as a blackjack—and there was no risk of facing a Sullivan Law charge in case he had to use it.

Riding downtown, he opened a morning tabloid and checked the train schedules in an ad on the sporting page. He decided to take the twelve-thirty, which would get him out in plenty of time to get down on the daily double. He wanted to have tickets on every race—just in case. At least it would prove, should there be a rumble and he find himself arrested, that he had a legitimate reason for going to the track in the first place.

Getting off the train at Grand Central Station, he climbed up to the street level and walked east on Forty-second Street. He went into the lobby of a tall office building between Lexington and Third Avenues and waited for an elevator. He knew the room number without looking it up on the board.

Mr. Soskin’s secretary came out within a minute of the time he sent his name in. She knew him and smiled.

“Busy right now,” she said. “Is there anything I can do, or would you rather wait?”

He told her he’d wait.

Fifteen minutes later she returned and beckoned him into the lawyer’s private office.

Harry Soskin didn’t bother to stand up. He waved a casual greeting and waited until the girl had left the room before saying anything.

Maurice sat down and for the first time lighted the cigar he’d been carrying since he got up that morning.

“Well, boy,” Harry Soskin said, “what’s the rumble? Don’t tell me you’re crapped up with the parole officer.” 

Maurice shook his head.

“No trouble there,” he said. “I can take care of him.”

He smiled thinly and reached into his inside coat pocket and took out his wallet. Carefully he extracted a hundred dollar bill and tossed it across the desk to the lawyer.

“I’m going to be out on Long Island this afternoon,” he said. “Queens County. I expect to be back here in town no later than six-thirty this afternoon. If I am, I want you to give me a phone number where I can reach you at that time. At exactly six-thirty. And if I shouldn’t call—well, there is just a chance I might be being held by the police. In that case, I want to get sprung on bail—as soon as possible.”

Soskin looked at him silently for several seconds and then slowly shook his head.

“Maurice my boy,” he said. “I am the last person in the world to give advice—especially for free. But I don’t think you should take any chances, not while you are still on parole.”

“I’m not taking any chances,” Maurice said shortly. “Anyway your advice is not free. That’s a hundred bucks I just tossed you. But I didn’t come for advice.”

“What will the charge be—that is assuming you are not back in town by six-thirty?”

“Nothing much,” Maurice said. “Possibly assault; simple assault, that is. More likely I may just happen to be picked up for questioning.”

The attorney looked wise and nodded.

“You know what town?”

Maurice shook his head and laughed.

“What do you want to be, an accessory before the fact?” he asked. “No, Harry, I don’t know what town. But let’s say Jamaica wouldn’t be too far off. Anyway, that’s what I’m paying a hundred bucks for. So you could maybe find out what town. And don’t forget, they got state cops, as well as county and local out that way.”

Harry Soskin reached for a cigarette from the half empty pack lying on the desk. He held one in his hand but didn’t light it.

“How big a bond would it be, maybe?”

Maurice shrugged.

“Who knows?”

The lawyer carefully picked up the hundred dollar bill, folded it twice and stuffed it into his breast pocket.

“O.K.” he said. “Can do. You want to leave me some money for a bond maybe?”

“Use the hundred.”

“The hundred is my fee.”

Maurice laughed, without humor, reached back for his wallet. He took out another hundred and handed it over.

“If that isn’t enough,” he said, “don’t stop working. I got more. And I want it back,” he added, “just in case I do make that call at six-thirty.”

“Telephone me here,” Soskin said. “I’ll be waiting.” 

Maurice stood up and started for the door.

“Be seeing you,” he said.

The lawyer said nothing, but merely watched him with curious eyes.

Having time to kill after he left the attorney’s office, Maurice started walking across town to Penn Station. Halfway there he passed a newsreel theater. He looked at his watch and then turned and went back. He found a seat in the last row. It wasn’t until the cartoon came on that he left.

He almost missed the twelve-thirty special to the track and as it was, the train being overcrowded, he had to stand up all the way out. Getting off the train, he followed the crowd to the box office. He bought a general admission and a ticket to the clubhouse. Inside the lobby of the building, he stopped and picked up a program. Then he climbed the stairs to the second floor and the main lobby leading out onto the clubhouse boxes and stands.

It took him several minutes, because of the crowd, but he found the daily double window and taking a moment to check the scratch sheet he had marked up that morning, he followed the long line to the grill. He asked for three two dollar tickets—on numbers one and six. It would, he reflected, take a god-given miracle to bring either horse in a winner, let alone both of them. He wanted those tickets after the races were over, just in case.

He was strolling past Big Mike’s bar, directly opposite the door marked “PRIVATE,” as the bugles blew for the first race.

He checked his wrist watch with the clock in the center of the bar, glanced only very casually at Big Mike and then kept on walking out into the stands.

At the end of the fourth race, he still had to collect his first winning bet.

At the end of the fifth race, he went to the bar and stood at one end, the far end away from the double doors leading out into the stands. He was not more than thirty feet from that door marked “PRIVATE.” The door that he knew led directly into the main business offices of the race track. He ordered a bottle of beer and sipped it slowly.

At the end of the sixth race he returned to the same spot. This time he ordered Scotch and soda. Big Mike waited on him and when he received his change from a five dollar bill, Maurice pushed back a fifty-cent piece.

Big Mike looked up at him, smiled, and nodded.

“Subway,” he said, under his breath, and turned and flipped the coin into an old-fashioned glass standing on the back bar.

Maurice nursed the drink until after the horses were at the post for the beginning of the seventh race—the Canarsie Stakes. He had no ticket on any horse for the classic.

He was still standing there, leaning casually against the bar, when the fight started.

# # #


Slowly one tiny, bloodshot eye opened and Tex looked up into the round moon face leaning down over him. The woman’s heavy hand lifted again and slapped him twice, once on each side of the face.

“Say,” he said. “Say, wadda hell is…”

“Get up,” she said. “Goddamn it, Big Boy, get up. You said I should get you up no matter what.”

She reached down then and grabbed one edge of the stained, gray sheet and with a sudden jerk, pulled it from the bed.

He lay there, huge, sprawling, stark naked. Then he opened the other eye, shook his head a couple of times and struggled to a sitting position on the side of the bed.

“For Chris’ sake,” he said. “Gimme a sheet or somethin’.” The blonde, her large flat face pale and dead looking, coughed and then laughed.

“You look good, big boy, the way you are,” she said. But she picked up the sheet and tossed it back to him. “I better get you a pick-me-up.”

Tex stared at her for a minute and then looked toward the drawn green curtain, fighting to keep the sunlight out of the room.

“Where the hell am I?” he asked, his voice thick.

“You’re in Hoboken, brother,” the blonde said. “In the finest damn whore house in the State of New Jersey.” She reached for the half empty whiskey bottle sitting beside the large washbasin on the old-fashioned maple bureau. She began to pour a long drink in a dirty jelly glass. Tex took his eyes from her and started to look around the room. For the first time he saw the redhead who lay next to him on the inside of the double bed.

“Who the hell is she?” he said. “Fur Chris’ sake, who…” 

“She’s your girl, you dumb bastard,” the blonde said. 

“Well, who are you then?” Tex asked, automatically reaching out for the drink she was handing him.

“I’m your girl, too, Big Boy,” the blonde said, and laughed. “Hell, don’t you remember? You come in here last night, half stiff already and you said you wanted to have one hell of a time. Don’t you remember? Said you’d be in jail in another twenty-four hours and you wanted to get fixed up right for a long stay.”

“Aw, for…”

“So you drank two bottles a booze and then Flo and I…”

Tex wasn’t listening. He had lifted the glass and drained it in one gulp. Suddenly he was bending over gagging.

It took an hour and two pots of coffee to get him on his feet, dressed and ready to leave. By that time he was reasonably sober. The redhead was still sleeping as he said good-by to the blonde.

“You come back—any time,” she said. “But you better go now. You was saying all night about some job out at the race track…”

“Forget what I said,” Tex told her, suddenly short and abrupt. “Forget what I said.”

He opened the door and started down the hallway. 

“Good-by now,” she called after him.

When he got out of the Hudson tubes on the Manhattan side, his head was splitting and he was tempted to stop in at the nearest tavern and have a quick one. But then he shook his head and walked over to the taxi parked in front of the kiosk.

Climbing in the back, he said, “Penn Station, Mac. An’ what train will I be making for the track?”

The driver pushed the car into gear and then spoke without turning his head.

“The twelve-thirty,” he said. “That is if I can get through this god damned traffic at all today.”

Getting off the train at the race track, Tex turned and started in the opposite direction from the clubhouse. It took him three blocks before he came to the restaurant. He went in and found a stool at the bar. A tired-looking, middle-aged waitress asked what he wanted.

“About a half a gallon of orange juice,” he said.

“You want a small or a large?”

“Large,” he said. “An’ gimme an order of ham and eggs.” 

“We got no…”

“Gimme a double order of eggs,” he said. “You got eggs, ain’t yuh. I want four eggs, sunny side up. An’ a double order of toast and a couple a cups a coffee.”

The woman looked at him wildly for a minute and then wordlessly turned and started for the kitchen. She came back a few minutes later with a small orange juice and an order of bacon and eggs and toast. Two eggs. He had to remind her about the coffee.

Walking back toward the track, he began to feel all right again. He was walking slowly and half daydreaming, remembering the blonde and trying to remember the redhead, when the sound of a roar from the crowd in the stands came to him. He stopped, looked up suddenly, and then hurried on. The horses were lining up for the second race when he paid his entrance fee.

It took him until the beginning of the third race to find the bar in back of which Big Mike was mixing drinks. He went to the bar and stood at the end served by one of the other barkeeps. The crowd was already leaving to go out to the track.

“What will it be, sir?”

Tex looked up at the white aproned bartender and frowned. He thought for a moment, rubbing one dirty nailed finger down the side of his unshaven chin.

“A shot a whiskey, some hot sauce an’ an ice cube. In a beer glass,” he added.

For a moment the bartender looked perplexed. “You mean a shot of Worcestershire in the whiskey. Right? Rye or bourbon?”

“That’s right,” Tex said. “Hot sauce. Any kind a whiskey is O.K.”

He nursed the drink during the running of the third race.

When the horses came out for the fourth race, Tex went out to the stands. He stayed there for the running of that race as well as the fifth race. He neither bet nor showed the slightest interest in the tote board. After the prices had been posted on the fifth race, he once more returned to the clubhouse lobby. He went back to the bar, this time crowding himself into a spot directly in front of Big Mike. He waited patiently for several minutes while Mike served half a dozen other patrons.

It wasn’t until almost the start of the sixth race that Big Mike asked him what he wanted.

“Service, you Irish slob,” Tex said in a low voice. 

Big Mike stared at him for several seconds.

“And what would yours be?” he said then.

“Bottle a beer,” Tex said.

He stood and drank slowly, stretching the bottle out until the end of the race. Then, before the crowd began to come in from the stands, he ordered another bottle of beer. It was five minutes after four, according to the clock over the bar.

At twenty-five minutes past four the bugle blew calling the horses out to the post for the Canarsie Stakes. The big race would be off within another twelve minutes.

Already people were beginning to drift away from the bar. Big Mike had found time to rest for a second between pouring drinks, and he was standing in front of Tex, mopping up the wet mahogany with a bar rag.

Tex looked directly at him and spoke in a loud voice.

“You son of a bitch,” he said, “whadda yu mean taking my drink before I finished with it?”

Out of the corner of his eye he noticed two or three men who had started to leave the bar, turn and hesitate.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” Mike said. “I…”

“Don’t tell me you didn’t take it, yu bastard,” Tex said. By this time he had raised his voice to a yell.

A dozen persons, starting through the gate into the stands, hesitated and turned back toward the bar. Almost at once a block began to form at the double doors.

Tex hesitated a moment and then reached down with one hand and picked up his beer glass.

He lifted it high and smashed it down on the bar and the glass shattered and splintered into a thousand pieces.

“You stole my drink, yu Irish bastard,” he screamed. “Now get me another before I knock your god damned…”

As he yelled the words he was aware of the crowd rapidly forming around him. He also saw, out of the corner of his eye, a large, broad-shouldered man quickly edging his way through the crowd from over by the cashier’s windows. Tex estimated it would take the man about a half minute to reach him.

He leaned as far as he could across the bar and with his open hand slapped Big Mike across the face.

Big Mike let out a roar and putting one hand on the edge of the mahogany, he stepped up on the stainless steel sink under the bar and quickly vaulted across.

He landed like a cat, directly in front of Tex.

Tex started yelling again and his hand shot out and he slapped Big Mike again.

By this time the place was in an uproar. The other bartenders were rushing down toward them and the cashier was blowing a small whistle. The big man Tex had spotted coming through the crowd had not yet reached him. The door into the grandstands was completely blocked and not one out of a hundred in the crowd really knew what was taking place.

Even as Tex pushed Big Mike away from himself, his eye went to the clock. They’d be off in the Canarsie Stakes within the next three minutes.

Big Mike had his arm in a steel-like grip as the Pinkerton man reached Tex’s side. Tex tore his arm free and his fist shot out and caught the broad-shouldered man squarely between the eyes.

The Pinkerton man had his blackjack out as Tex saw the door marked “PRIVATE” open quickly. It closed a second later behind another large, well-built man who had cop written all over him.

Tex saw the blackjack descending and he shifted so that he caught the blow on his shoulder. He slugged the private cop, a second time and this time he gave it everything he had. The man fell to the floor like a log, as half a dozen onlookers struggled to get out of his way.

Tex felt the thud of the billy on the back of his head.

It didn’t knock him out, but he started to slump to his knees.

He felt hands grab each of his arms.

As two detectives started to propel him toward a door marked EXIT, which he guessed led to the staircase, he saw Mike helping the first Pinkerton man to his feet.

He also heard a terrific wave of sound from the direction of the grandstand. He smiled. He felt fine. Johnny would be pleased.

They were off in the big race of the day. The Canarsie Stakes.

# # #


Nikki left Catskill, New York, on the Greyhound bus at midnight, Friday. He carried the 30-06 Winchester with the telescopic sight, broken down in three parts—stock, barrel and sight—carefully wrapped in rags. He had put it in an empty trombone case which he had picked up several days before in a hock shop down on Third Avenue.

The gun came from Abercrombie and Fitch’s and it had cost him two hundred and ten dollars.

After three days’ practice up at the lodge, in the hills back of Kingston, he had grown attached to the gun. He hoped that it might just barely be possible to hang on to it after it had done its work. He had sighted it in perfectly and he had been especially pleased to discover that the use of the silencer barely interfered with his aim.

The bus arrived in New York around three-thirty and Nikki went at once to a small midtown hotel. He checked in and left word to be called at eight o’clock.

He was already dressed and shaved and ready to check out when the phone rang and the desk clerk told him it was 8 A.M. He had slept badly and he was tense and high-strung. He began to chain smoke almost at once.

This is the way he wanted to be; he liked to be on edge when he had a job to do.

After a quick breakfast, Nikki went to the garage on upper Broadway which advertised rental cars—the one which specialized in convertibles and foreign sports jobs.

He showed them a Florida driver’s license and false identification papers and then left a hundred dollar deposit on an MG. The phony papers had cost him fifty dollars and he had paid another twenty for a stolen Florida plate. Nikki had contacts where almost anything could be bought for a price.

Before he took the car out, he checked to see that it had canvas side curtains.

They filled the tank with gas and he put the trombone case behind the front seat and then drove south on Broadway. He made only one stop before taking the East Side drive up to the Triboro Bridge. He pulled up in front of an Army and Navy surplus store and went in and bought a gray army blanket.

He had a cup of coffee in Jamaica.

It took him more than an hour to find a secluded spot at the end of a dirt road out near Freeport. He pulled into the shade of a clump of bushes and got out of the car. The pliers and screw driver were wrapped up in a small package with the Florida license tag. In less than ten minutes he had the New York plate off the car and had substituted the other one. Later, he found a sea food place in Freeport and had a good lunch.

He was back, cruising slowly about a mile from the track, at twelve-thirty. At twelve-forty he followed the route Johnny had marked on the map and which he had memorized and drove up to the northeast parking lot. The MG’s top was up, but he had not used the side curtains. The army blanket was spread over his legs and covered his lap and his feet, where they rested on the pedals.

The man at the entrance to the lot yelled at him as he drove across the double lane to the gate.

“Use one of the other lots, buddy,” the attendant told him as he pulled up to a stop. “This one ain’t open yet.”

Nikki looked up at the man, his eyes half closed behind the dark glasses.

“Listen, Mac,” he said. “I’m a paraplegic. I wanted to get in this lot and watch the races from my car.”

He took out his wallet as he spoke and reached in, taking hold of a ten dollar bill.

“Say, they can get you a chair…”

“I know,” Nikki said, “but I just can’t manage it. Particularly in the crowds. And I have to leave before the races are over.”

The man hesitated for a second and Nikki held out the ten. The attendant looked down and saw the blanket.

“Oh the hell with it,” he said. “Go ahead on in. We ain’t open yet so you can skip…”

“Take it and get yourself a lucky bet,” Nikki said.

The man hesitated, then, almost shyly, reached for the bill. 

“Go on in,” he said gruffly and lifted the chain barring the entrance way.

Nikki maneuvered the car into the southeast corner of the parking lot and pulled up seven feet away from the low rail fence marking its boundary. The space was next to the long aisle leading to the exit and in such a position as to make it possible to pull out either by going forward or by turning to the left. There was nothing on that side but a second aisle; there was one place for a car to park behind him and one for a car to park to his right.

He sat back and lighted a fresh cigarette.

They started running cars into the lot ten minutes before the first race was due to begin.

Nikki was reaching back for the trombone case when the man came alongside the MG and leaned on the door. It was the lot attendant who had taken his ten dollar bill.

“Bought you a program, chum,” the man said. 

Nikki looked up, startled, and then quickly smiled. “Thanks.”

“And if you want anything else, I can get it for you.” 

Nikki thanked him again.

“Not a thing,” he said. “I already got a couple of bets down with a bookie at my hotel.”

By two-thirty the lot was filled. A Packard limousine, chauffeur driven, had parked next to the MG and its four passengers had gone to the clubhouse. The chauffeur waited only a few moments and then followed them in the direction of the box office. Behind the MG was a Caddie convertible. A man and a girl had parked it and had left at once.

From where Nikki sat behind the wheel he had a perfect view of the curve of the track where the horses broke at the three quarter pole for the home stretch. The track was approximately two hundred yards away and there was nothing between the car and the track but green turf.

At the end of the fifth race, Nikki found the side curtains and put them up. There was a small oblong of plastic glass in each one. Then he reached forward and opened the hasps on the windshield. He had to loosen the top in order to drop the windshield so that it lay flat and parallel with the hood of the car.

He waited until five minutes before the start of the seventh race before taking the rifle from the trombone case. It was tricky, doing it under the blanket, but he had assembled and reassembled it so many times within the last few days that he had little difficulty.

He attached the silencer and threw a shell into the firing chamber. There were five shells in the clip, but he didn’t believe he’d have to use more than one. He didn’t think he’d have time to use more than two at the most.

It was a mile and a quarter race and the horses had to pass the grandstand twice.

Nikki, completely oblivious to the roar of the crowd, held a pair of field glasses to his eyes. He was watching the colors—brown and silver.

Black Lightning was away to a slow start, but he picked up on the backstretch and as they came past the grandstands for the first time he took the lead.

The horses were bunched the second time around the backstretch, with Black Lightning in front by a full length.

Nikki didn’t bother to look around to see if he was being observed. It wouldn’t matter now. He was going to do it anyway.

He pulled the blanket away and lifted the rifle, poking the long barrel through the open windshield.

He took his time and waited until Black Lightning was directly opposite. Then, carefully leading the target as though he were aiming at a fast moving buck, he drew a bead.

The sound of the shot, muffled as it was by the silencer, was completely lost in the steady, rhythmic roar of sixty thousand voices as the crowd urged its favorites on.

Nikki waited just long enough to see the horses behind Black Lightning begin to pile up when the favorite stumbled and fell.

There was no one on duty at the gate, a minute later, as Nikki wheeled the MG through the exit.

# # #


Val Cannon said, “You’re not talking.”

He leaned back, his hands supporting him on the desk and his back to it. He looked at the girl sitting in the chair two feet away, facing him.

Sherry Peatty looked up at him, her eyes glassy with fear. She started to say something and at once her mouth filled with blood. She leaned forward to spit it out and then she began to vomit.

Val watched her, hooded eyes cool, almost amused.

“You know something,” he said, “so why not tell me? What do you want to do this to yourself for?”

He waited until she looked up again. She started to weave and would have fallen if the fat man standing behind her chair hadn’t reached over and held her up by her arms.

“It’s four-thirty,” Val said. “I got all the time in the world. Right now I’m going out and get a drink. When I come back, I want you to tell me what you know.”

He turned to the desk and picked up his leather belt and casually threaded it around the waistband of his trousers. He watched Sherry where she sat, half conscious in the chair, naked down to her hips.

“You got cagey with the wrong guy,” he said. “Think it over. Tell me when they’re doing it. Tell me everything you know. I’ll be back in a few minutes and God help you if you’re still stubborn.”

Sherry opened her split lips. She tried to say something and then she began to cough. A second later and she slumped. 

“Fainted,” the fat man said, shrugging.

# # #

Tune in next week for the next chapter of Clean Break!

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