There Are No Crooks can be found in






Munsey's Magazine, November 1921

There Are No Crooks

A STRANGE STORY OF THE UNDERWORLD OF SAN FRANCISCO

By Frank R. Adams

SOME streets are essentially men's streets. Women shun them instinctively—all but Salvation Army lasses. Even the so-called daughters of joy hasten to more lucrative primrose paths. For the men who sift from the sunlight above down into those thoroughfares are penniless dregs—the unemployed who have ceased to care, the hopelessly sick who wait there because of the human companionship, or unsuccessful minor criminals who are not clever enough to make a good living by their wits.

In such streets are great crowds but little movement. Men stand in groups, or, if they walk, seem to have no objective and no incentive to get anywhere.

Some alleys in Limehouse are like that. So is the waterfront at Le Havre; so are parts of Eighth and Ninth Avenues, New York; State Street, south of the Loop, in Chicago; and Third Street, San Francisco, in the neighborhood of Market and Mission.

Nominally, at least, there is no more liquor in San Francisco; but there still are bars, with all the old paraphernalia of beloved memory. Only hot dogs, pork and beans, corned beef and cabbage, liver and onions— all the most valiant of the lunch-counter standbys—are served across mahogany counters that are beginning to lose their luster. Near-beer foams deceitfully in the old schooners—but that's all, it just foams. The French plate mirrors bear, in white paint, the legend of the menu. Sawdust is still on the floors, though Heaven knows why, because sober men can hit the cuspidors; and the stained and cigar-burned tables are the altars of continuous games of rummy—not for keeps, however, if you mind the conspicuous signs which order: "No gambling, gents!"

Into the Blue Grass Bar, which is one of the Third Street hangouts above sketched, stepped a young man who was much too well-dressed for the society of that place. It is possible, however, to wear good clothes without being offensive to those who are in rags. The secret of this is not to display kid gloves, a cane, a stiff white collar, or jewelry.

This young man carried a cane, but obviously for use, because he leaned on it constantly. Otherwise he conformed strictly to the canons. His shirt, with collar attached, was of brown flannel, darker than the army kind. His suit was brown also, but of a lighter shade, and made of some soft goods like camel's hair, which looked well without appearing too recently pressed. The coat fitted snugly across a pair of powerful shoulders. Everywhere else his clothes seemed a little too loose, as if once he had been a larger man than he was now. His eyes were sunken a bit, too, as if nature had begun to collect a debt long overdue.

The double wicket doors swung to behind him, and he stood scanning the faces of the men in the card game and at the bar. The apathetic ones, the old ones, the sick ones, he passed up after a glance; but at last his eye lit with satisfaction. From a distance he carefully surveyed a man who sat alone at a table.

Excepting himself, the object of his appraisal was the only person in the place who had recently had a haircut. Aside from that, the man seated was not noticeable. He had not been shaved within twenty-four hours, and his clothes were frayed. There was a three-cornered tear in his coat sleeve.

The man at the door chuckled to himself, and, passing by several other tables where there were vacant seats, he went direct to the object of his approving scrutiny.

"Sittin' for company, old-timer?" he asked pleasantly. "If you are, I'm here. What'll we have?"

"Not any more of this stuff, stranger, if it's all the same to you."

The original tenant disdainfully indicated a pinkish liquid in a glass on the table before him.

"You're pining for a real drink, I take it," the brown- toned young man hazarded. "In your own estimation, do you think you could be trusted with a secret?"

The stranger nodded.

"All right!" He summoned a waiter and pointed to the pink lemonade. "Joe, feed this to the cat, and bring me and my friend"—he paused to accent the words "my friend"—"bring us a couple of transformers that will step up the juice to around twenty-five hundred."

The waiter nodded and departed.

"My name is Kingbeck—Dick Kingbeck," the newcomer offered.

"Mine's Peter Haegel."

Kingbeck acknowledged the courtesy.

"A man's a fool these days to invite a stranger to drink with him, I suppose; but I knew you were all right the minute I saw you." He searched the impassive face of his newfound friend for a reaction to this speech, but there was none. "I've got a kind of an intuition that protects me. I can spot a cop or a detective as far as I can see one."

The waiter returned with two glasses apparently containing ginger ale. The man who called himself Haegel lifted his glass and smelled of it.

"You can drink it," Kingbeck assured him. "It don't contain more than one-half of one percent of wood alcohol. It takes three or more of 'em to kill you. I've tried that many without any luck. You're a stranger?"

"Yes."

"Got a job?"

"No. How are things here?"

"Dead. Nothing doing. There hasn't been anything in my line for months. I'm an electrician. What's your trade?"

"Just a laborer—anything."

Kingbeck glanced at the other man's hands, but made no comment.

"Here's how!"

He raised his glass.

The other man sipped and made an involuntary face. "It is vile stuff," his host admitted. "I thought you wouldn't be used to lightning. I'm glad you're not. My advice to you is to lay off the moonshine. I suppose you think it's a little late in the day for me to be springing that, but I'm a lot older than you—"

"I don't think so," Haegel interrupted quietly. "I believe we are about of an age."

"Perhaps, if you measure forward from birth," Kingbeck conceded. "I was measuring backward from death." He smiled at the other's quick glance of interrogatory appraisal. "Partial paralysis, with complications of one sort and another," he explained. "A good nervous shock would short circuit my whole works. I don't mind much. I've done nearly everything I want to. Of course I'm lying, but it's better to kid yourself. A good bluff shuts off sympathy, and that hurts worse than anything else."

The young man in the brown suit seemed inclined to talk, and asked no confidences in return, so Haegel listened listlessly to an engaging account of a life that seemed to include a knowledge of all the less reputable localities in the western hemisphere, from the old French quarter of Montreal to the native distilleries of Guatemala and on south to the gay capital of Brazil. Once he had been a professional wrestler—now all he had left was the shoulders—and he had traveled a good deal in pursuit of matches.

"It has taken me thirty-one years to find out what I know of the half of the world we live in, and over there is Europe...

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