'All colored citizens,' Coffin Ed interrupted.

Anderson ignored it. 'Man sees stranger wearing his own new suit, slashes him with a razor.' he read on. 'Man dressed as Cherokee Indian splits white bartender's skull with homemade tomahawk… man arrested on Seventh Avenue for hunting cats with hound dog and shotgun

… twenty-five men arrested for trying to chase all the white people out of Harlem — '

'It's Independence Day,' Grave Digger interrupted.

' Independence Day! ' Lieutenant Anderson echoed, taking a long, deep breath. He pushed away the reports and pulled a memo from the corner clip of the blotter. 'Well, here's your assignment — from the captain.'

Grave Digger perched a ham on the edge of the desk and cocked his head; but Coffin Ed backed against the wall into the shadow to hide his face, as was his habit when he expected the unexpected.

'You're to cover Deke O'Hara,' Anderson read.

The two colored detectives stared at him, alert but unquestioning, waiting for him to go on and give the handle to the joke.

'He was released ten months ago from the federal prison in Atlanta.'

'As who in Harlem doesn't know,' Grave Digger said drily.

'Many people don't know that ex-con Deke O'Hara is Reverend Deke O'Malley, leader of the new Back-to- Africa movement.'

'All right, omit the squares.'

'He's on the spot; the syndicate has voted to kill him,' Anderson said as if imparting information.

'Bullshit,' Grave Digger said bluntly. 'If the syndicate had wanted to kill him, he'd be decomposed by now.'


'What maybe? You could find a dozen punks in Harlem who'd kill him for a C-note.'

'O'Malley's not that easy to kill.'

'Anybody's easy to kill,' Coffin Ed stated. 'That's why we police wear pistols.'

'I don't dig this,' Grave Digger said, slapping his right thigh absentmindedly. 'Here's a rat who stooled on his former policy racketeer bosses, got thirteen indicted by the federal grand jury — even one of us, Lieutenant Brandon over in Brooklyn — '

'There's always one black bean,' Lieutenant Anderson said unwittingly.

Grave Digger stared at him. 'Damn right,' he said flatly.

Anderson blushed. 'I didn't mean it the way you're thinking.'

'I know how you meant it, but you don't know how I'm thinking.'

'Well, how are you thinking?'

'I'm thinking do you know why he did it?'

'For the reward,' Anderson said.

'Yeah, that's why. This world is full of people who will do anything for enough money. He thought he was going to get a half million bucks as the ten per cent reward for exposing tax cheats. He told how they'd swindled the government out of over five million in taxes. Seven out of thirteen went to prison; even the rat himself. He was doing so much squealing he confessed he hadn't paid any taxes either. So he got sent down too. He did thirty-one months and now he's out. I don't know how much Judas money he got.'

'About fifty grand,' Lieutenant Anderson said. 'He's put it all in his setup.'

'Digger and me could use fifty G's, but we're cops. If we squeal it all goes on the old pay cheque,' Coffin Ed said from the shadows.

'Let's not worry about that,' Lieutenant Anderson said impatiently. 'The point is to keep him alive.'

'Yeah, the syndicate's out to kill him, poor little rat,' Grave Digger said. 'I heard all about it. They were saying, 'O'Malley may run but he can't hide.' O'Malley didn't run and all the hiding he's been doing is behind the Bible. But he isn't dead. So what I would like to know is how all of a sudden he got important enough for a police cover when the syndicate had ten months to make the hit if they had wanted to.'

'Well, for one thing, the people here in Harlem, responsible people, the pastors and race leaders and politicians and such, believe he's doing a lot of good for the community. He paid off the mortgage on an old church and started this new Back-to-Africa movement — '

'The original Back-to-Africa movment denies him,' Coffin Ed interrupted.

'— and people have been pestering the commissioner to give him police protection because of his following. They've convinced the commissioner that there'll be a race riot if any white gunmen from downtown come up here and kill him.'

'Do you believe that, Lieutenant? Do you believe they've convinced the commissioner of that crap? That the syndicate's out to kill him after ten months?'

'Maybe it took these citizens that long to find out how useful he is to the community,' Anderson said.

'That's one thing,' Grave Digger conceded. 'What are some other things?'

'The commissioner didn't say. He doesn't always take me and the captain into his confidence,' the lieutenant said with slight sarcasm.

'Only when he's having nightmares about Digger and me shooting down all these innocent people,' Coffin Ed said.

' ' Ours not to reason why, ours but to do or die,' ' Anderson quoted.

'Those days are gone forever,' Grave Digger said. 'Wait until the next war and tell somebody that.'

'Well, let's get down to business,' Lieutenant Anderson said. 'O'Malley is co-operating with us.'

'Why shouldn't he? It's not costing him anything and it might save his life. O'Malley's a rat, but he's not a fool.'

'I'm going to feel downright ashamed nursemaiding that ex-con,' Coffin Ed said.

'Orders are orders,' Anderson said. 'And maybe it's not going to be like you think.'

'I just don't want anybody to tell me that crime doesn't pay,' Grave Digger said and stood up.

'You know the story about the prodigal son,' Anderson said.

'Yeah, I know it. But do you know the story about the fatted calf?'

'What about the fatted calf?'

'When the prodigal son returned, they couldn't find the fatted calf. They looked high and low and finally had to give up. So they went to the prodigal son to apologize, but when they saw how fat he'd gotten to be, they killed him and ate him in the place of the fatted calf.'

'Yes, but just don't let that happen to our prodigal son,' Anderson warned them unsmilingly.

At that instant the telephone rang. Lieutenant Anderson picked up the receiver.

A big happy voice said, ' Captain? '

' Lieutenant.'

'Well, who ever you is, I just want to tell you that the earth has busted open and all hell's got loose over here,' and he gave the address where the Back-to-Africa rally had taken place.


'And then Jesus say, 'John, the only thing worse than a two-timing woman is a two-timing man.' '

'Jesus say that? Ain't it the truth?'

They were standing in the dim light directly in front of the huge brick front of the Abyssinian Baptist Church. The man was telling the woman about a dream he'd had the night before. In this dream he'd had a long conversation with Jesus Christ.

He was a nondescript-looking man with black and white striped suspenders draped over a blue sport shirt and buttoned to old-fashioned wide-legged dark brown pants. He looked like the born victim of a cheating wife.

But one could tell she was strictly a church sister by the prissy way she kept pursing up her mouth. One could tell right off that her soul was really saved. She was wearing a big black skirt and a lavender blouse and her lips pursed and her face shone with righteous indignation when he said:

'So I just out and asked Jesus who was the biggest sinner; my wife going with this man, or this man going

Вы читаете Cotton comes to Harlem
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