Direct Wire, p.1Clee Garson
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This etext was produced from Amazing Stories January 1943. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
by CLEE GARSON
Mort and Mike got strange calls on this phone; they didn't come through Central!
* * * * *
He had a strange husky voice that made queer chills goup and down your spine]
There is an empty cigar store on the first floor of the loop buildingin which I keep my office. Formerly it was managed by two of theslickest small time gambling operators who ever booked a bang-tail orbanked a game of Hooligan.
There is a small, neatly lettered sign on the door of that unoccupiedstore now, however, which has caused no end of comment from the formercustomers of the "cigar store" who had always been all too cheerfullyhappy to lose their daily dollars there.
The sign reads:
"CLOSED FOR THE DURATION Due to our having Entered The Armed Forces of the U. S. GOD BLESS AMERICA Mort & Mike"
If you haven't guessed as much by now, the signatures at the bottom ofthat sign are those of the two former proprietors of theestablishment, Mort Robbins and Mike Harrigan.
Now since both Mort and Mike were of military age, and since thisnation is at war, it should hardly seem unusual that their formercustomers and all who knew them would consider their summons to thecolors something worthy of great comment. It should hardly seemunusual, that is, unless you happened to know the two, and realizedfurther that they were not drafted, but _voluntarily_ enlisted.
Neither was what you could call deeply patriotic, you see. Nor werethey the sort to be influenced by such emotional appeals as thebeating of drums, the waving of flags, or the playing of brass bandsmarching along Jackson Boulevard.
"We gotta lick them lice!" Mike constantly proclaimed in regard toAdolf and the Axis, when war discussions came up around the "cigarstore." But aside from those loud and perhaps sincere pronouncements,Mike's only contribution to the cause of Victory was the purchase ofwar bonds which he looked on merely with the cold eye of one seeking asmart investment. And as for his attitude toward the army, Mike bestexpressed himself with a small embryo ulcer which he kept always onthe verge of eruption within twenty-four hours notice to report for adraft board examination. It was rumored that, through a swift,sufficient amount of whisky, Mike could make his embryo ulcer danceangrily for the draft medicos at any time. This none too admirableaccomplishment with an ailment not actually serious had kept MikeHarrigan in Class 4 F ever since the last draft registration.
As for Mike's partner, Mort Robbins, the patriotic picture was prettymuch the same. Mort was loudly belligerent toward our enemies in allthe "cigar store" discussions, wisely put much of his funds into warbonds, but kept one of the most extensive libraries of medicalstatements from doctors in existence. All these statements concernedthe tragic asthma and hay-fever of one Mort Robbins and went on todeclare that he might possibly stop breathing completely should he beplaced in the army. The fact that Mort had connived to get thesestatements and was not really seriously troubled by those two maladiesdidn't alter the fact that they had resulted so far in keeping him outof khaki.
Consequently, since more than one of their customers knew or suspectedtheir lack of practical patriotism, the appearance of that sign on thedoor of what had once been their establishment caused quite aconsiderable flurry of comment for a time.
Naturally, no one could understand what had caused it all. For that,they can't be blamed. I'd never have understood it, if I hadn'taccidentally been the one person in the world, outside of Mort andMike, who knew the true story....
* * * * *
On the morning that it all began, I was down in the "cigar store,"killing time and having a coke and some conversation before goingupstairs to the grimly reproachful surroundings of my too neglectedoffice.
Mike Harrigan was the only one behind the counter, and I was the onlyone on the customer side.
Mike was red headed and freckle necked, a massive chap with a blarneysmile and a baby face. He's been in the "cigar store" bookie racketever since repeal had closed a speakeasy he'd had on Grand Avenue.This morning, however, he was glaring glumly down at a newspaperspread before him atop the glass cigar counter, and scarcely nodded tohalf my conversational sallies.
"What's eating you, Mike?" I finally demanded. "That ulcer gettingwell in spite of you?"
Mike ignored the crack. But he looked up from his reading and jabbed abig red freckled thumb down on a column of print in the paper beforehim.
"That State's Attorney!" Mike snorted indignantly. "He's gonna go toofar pretty damn soon!"
"What now?" I grinned. Mike was always indignant over the efforts ofthe State's Attorney to "ruin an honest man's business" with hiscrack-downs on small-time handbooks throughout the city. "What's hislatest move in the battle against Mike Harrigan?"
"This here story in the paper," Mike declared, "says how the State'sAttorney's office is starting to investigate the lists of thetelephone company in order to track down any phones used by usbookmakers in our business. It's illegal!" He concluded with thevirtuous snort of an indignant taxpayer shocked by the violation oflaw, smacking his big red-knuckled hand on the counter top toemphasize his disturbance.
"Aha!" I said. "In other words the State's Attorney's office is goingto find their way into this handbook of yours by the direct approach,eh? It'll take time for them, won't it, to go over the entiretelephone lists?"
"You never can tell," Mike predicted gloomily. "They might nail usall," he snapped his big fingers, "like that."
I glanced over at the telephone booth in the corner of the store. Itsfolding door was open, and the ever-present "Out Of Order" sign wassuspended from a cord around the mouthpiece. Over that phone Mike andMort conducted the bulk of their horse booking business. Through itthey kept in touch with a central gambling syndicate service whichprovided day-long racing results, odds and other essential data tonumerous other such small establishments around the city. Through it,also, they took in a nice business of telephone bets from wagerers toobusy to get in to make them in person. The never-missing "Out ofOrder" sign was to prevent customers from using the telephone forout-going calls which might interfere with business. The telephonewas, of course, not at all out of order.
"Maybe," I suggested cheerfully, taking my eyes from the telephonebooth, "they'll snatch out your phone on you. Then where'll you be?"
Mike smacked his open palm against his broad brow.
"My God," he exclaimed, "don't say no such things!"
I gulped the rest of my coke, lit another cigarette, shruggedcheerfully, and started for the door. I turned before leaving.
"Cheer up," I said. "This will probably blow over. And if it doesn't,there's always the army."
* * * * *
Mike glared and started to answer. And at that moment the telephone inthe booth began to ring. He started for it, and I started out the dooragain, running headlong into Mort Robbins.
"Good morning, good morning, chumly!" Mort exclaimed cheerfully whenwe had untangled ourselves. "What's new with you?"
Mort is short, slightly on the plump side, with straight, dark hair, around, beaming face, and a penchant for flamboyantly colored sportshirts.
"Nothing's new with me," I told him, "but plenty seems to be new withMike. He'
"Whatcha mean? What's on the fire now? I didn't read the morning ragsyet."
Briefly, I told him about the news story which had excited hispartner. He nodded, thought a moment, then grinned.
"They can't do that," he said. "It's illegal."
"Tell Mike, if that's so," I said. "He's working himself into a boil."
Mort hadn't heard me. He was frowning thoughtfully again.
"Or can they?" he wondered aloud. "Where's that news story?"
I pointed to the paper on the counter and he stepped over to it. Istarted
Direct Wire by Clee Garson / Science Fiction have rating 3.4 out of 5 / Based on17 votes