at 125th Street and a big diesel truck was coming from the west. The armored truck went through the red and passed in front of that big truck as close as a barber's shave.

A joker standing on the corner shouted jubilantly,

'Gawawwwed damn! Them mothers got it.'

The police cruiser stopped for the truck to pass.

'And gone!' the joker added.

The driver urged greater speed from the big laboring motor, 'Get your ass to moving.' But the meat delivery truck had got out of sight. The scream of the police siren was fading in the past.

The meat delivery truck turned left on 137th Street. In turning the back door was flung open and a bale of cotton slid slowly from the clutching hands of the two white machine-gunners and fell into the street. The truck dragged to a screaming sidewise stop and began backing up. But at that moment the armored truck came roaring around the corner like destiny coming on. The meat delivery truck reversed directions without a break in motion and took off again as though it had wings.

From inside the delivery truck came a red burst of machine-gun fire and the bullet-proof windshield of the armored truck was suddenly filled with stars, partly obscuring the driver's vision. He narrowly missed the bale of cotton, thinking he must have d.t.'s.

The guard was trying to get the muzzle of his rifle through a gun slot in the windshield when another burst of machine-gun fire came from the delivery truck and its back doors were slammed shut. No one noticed the detective on the running-board of the armored truck suddenly disappear. One moment he was there, the next he was gone.

The colored people on the tenement stoops, seeking relief from the hot night, began running over one another to get indoors. Some dove into the basement entrances beneath the stairs.

One loudmouthed comic shouted from the safety below the level of the sidewalk, 'Harlem Hospital straight ahead.'

From across the street another loudmouth shouted back, 'Morgue comes first.'

The meat delivery truck was gaining on the armored truck. It must have been powered to keep meat fresh from Texas.

From far behind came the faint sound of the scream of the siren from the police cruiser, seeming to cry, 'Wait for me!'

Lightning flashed. Before the sound of thunder was heard, rain came down in torrents.


'Well, kiss my foot if it isn't Jones,' Lieutenant Anderson exclaimed, rising from behind the captain's desk to extend his hand to his ace detectives. Slang sounded as phony as a copper's smile coming from his lips, but the warm smile lighting his thin pale face and the twinkle in his deep-set blue eyes squared it. 'Welcome home.'

Grave Digger Jones squeezed the small white hand in his own big, calloused paw and grinned. 'You need to get out in the sun, Lieutenant, 'fore someone takes you for a ghost,' he said as though continuing a conversation from the night before instead of a six months' interim.

The lieutenant eased back into his seat and stared at Grave Digger appraisingly. The upward glow from the green-shaded desk lamp gave his face a gangrenous hue.

'Same old Jones,' he said. 'We've been missing you, man.'

'Can't keep a good man down,' Coffin Ed Johnson said from behind.

It was Grave Digger's first night back on duty since he had been shot up by one of Benny Mason's hired guns in the caper resulting from the loss of a shipment of heroin. He had been in the hospital for three months fighting a running battle with death, and he had spent three months at home convalescing. Other than for the bullet scars hidden beneath his clothes and the finger-size scar obliterating the hairline at the base of his skull where the first bullet had burned off the hair, he looked much the same. Same dark brown lumpy face with the slowly smoldering reddishbrown eyes; same big, rugged, loosely knit frame of a day laborer in a steel mill; same dark, battered felt hat worn summer and winter perched on the back of his head; same rusty black alpaca suit showing the bulge of the long-barreled, nickel-plated, brasslined. 38 revolver on a. 44 frame made to his own specifications resting in its left-side shoulder sling. As far back as Lieutenant Anderson could remember, both of them, his two ace detectives with their identical big hard-shooting, head-whipping pistols, had always looked like two hog farmers on a weekend in the Big Town.

'I just hope it hasn't left you on the quick side,' Lieutenant Anderson said softly.

Coffin Ed's acid-scarred face twitched slightly, the patches of grafted skin changing shape. 'I dig you, Lieutenant,' he said gruffly. 'You mean on the quick side like me.' His jaw knotted as he paused to swallow. 'Better to be quick than dead.'

The lieutenant turned to stare at him, but Grave Digger looked straight ahead. Four years previous a hoodlum had thrown a glass of acid into Coffin Ed's face. Afterwards he had earned the reputation of being quick on the trigger.

'You don't have to apologize,' Grave Digger said roughly. 'You're not getting paid to get killed.'

In the green light Lieutenant Anderson's face turned slightly purple. 'Well, hell,' he said defensively. 'I'm on your side. I know what you're up against here in Harlem. I know your beat. It's my beat too. But the commissioner feels you've killed too many people in this area — ' He held up his hand to ward off an interruption. 'Hoodlums, I know — dangerous hoodlums — and you killed in self-defence. But you've been on the carpet a number of times and a short time ago you had three months' suspensions. Newspapers have been yapping about police brutality in Harlem and now various civic bodies have taken up the cry.'

'It's the white men on the force who commit the pointless brutality,' Coffin Ed grated. 'Digger and me ain't trying to play tough.'

'We are tough,' Grave Digger said.

Lieutenant Anderson shifted the papers on the desk and looked down at his hands. 'Yes, I know, but they're going to drop it on you two — if they can. You know that as well as I do. All I'm asking is to play it safe, from the police side. Don't take any chances, don't make any arrests until you have the evidence, don't use force unless in self-defence, and above all don't shoot anyone unless it's the last resort.'

'And let the criminals go,' Coffin Ed said.

'The commissioner feels there must be some other way to curtail crime besides brute force,' the lieutenant said, his blush deepening.

'Well, tell him to come up here and show us,' Coffin Ed said.

The arteries stood out in Grave Digger's swollen neck and his voice came out cotton dry. 'We got the highest crime rate on earth among the colored people in Harlem. And there ain't but three things to do about it: Make the criminals pay for it — you don't want to do that; pay the people enough to live decently-you ain't going to do that; so all that's left is let 'em eat one another up.'

A sudden blast of noise poured in from the booking room — shouts, curses, voices lifted in anger, women screaming, whines of protest, the scuffling of many feet — as a wagon emptied its haul from a raid on a whore- house where drugs were peddled.

The intercome on the desk spoke suddenly: 'Lieutenant, you're wanted out here on the desk; they've knocked over Big Liz's circus house.'

The lieutenant flicked the switch. 'In a few minutes, and for Christ's sake keep them quiet.'

He then looked from one detective to the other. 'What the hell's going on today? It's only ten o'clock in the evening and judging from the reports it's been going on like this since morning.' He leafed through the reports, reading charges: 'Man kills his wife with an axe for burning his breakfast pork chop… man shoots another man demonstrating a recent shooting he had witnessed… man stabs another man for spilling beer on his new suit… man kills self in a bar playing Russian roulette with a. 32 revolver… woman stabs man in stomach fourteen times, no reason given… woman scalds neighboring woman with pot of boiling water for speaking to her husband… man arrested for threatening to blow up subway train because he entered wrong station and couldn't get his token back — '

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