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College For Crooks

By Tom Marvin

Phil Denver traced a sharp-fingered brat's homework to a college for crime. But instead of handing out lock-up vacations, he found himself scheduled as the star subject in the murder class.

DETECTIVE PHIL DENVER, home from his tour, drew the thirty-eight from its leather and, standing on a hassock in the bedroom, carefully dropped the gun into the chandelier that hung from the ceiling.

The little exploratory fingers of his son would never reach it there. In the dining room, Denver filched a plum from the basket and asked his wife: "Any messages for me, Mary?"

She clapped her hand guiltily to her mouth. "I forgot! Lieutenant Fargo just phoned for you to meet him at the R. and T. depot right away. It's about the Bantams."

Denver flung the plum back into the basket.

"Dammit, Mary! That'll be something important!" He returned hurriedly to the bedroom and stretched for his pistol.

Mary followed him like a clucking hen. "But, Phil, I wanted you to speak to Malcolm. He's been reading the telephone book again all day. Is that any way for a seven-year-old boy to spend a Saturday?"

"Mary, it ain't normal! That kid should be outdoors, climbing the peach tree or something. What's sharp in the phone book?"

Hastily shrugging into his coat, Denver stepped into his son's room and shook a finger at the boy. "Put that fat book away, Squirt, and go outdoors. I want you healthy, understand?"

"I ketch, Pop," the kid said. He was a blond tad with a front tooth missing in his agreeable grin. He slipped the telephone book back into his bookcase and got up from his kindergarten chair.

"What you reading the phone book for, Squirt?"

"I like to look up funny names, Pop. I found Handy Andy and Sillee Sally."

"The phone book lists names backwards, kid," Denver explained. "That's Andy Handy and Sally Sillee. You get outdoors in the sun and fight some kids or something, you hear?"

"I ketch, Pop." The Squirt's tooth-shy grin flickered. Obediently he went outside to look for a sparmate.

Denver went out to his car. His wife trailed him, saying, "Bring back a quart of buttermilk, Phil."

Mary, I got business with the toughest little gang in town and you want me to pick up some buttermilk!"

"But it'll only take you a minute to remember buttermilk!"

"I ketch," Denver said patiently. He headed his car downtown for the R. and T. station.

In plainclothes, Lieutenant Fargo was reading the headlines on the lobby newsstand. "You took your sweet time," he complained. "I think I got a line here on the Bantams."

"What's that to me?" Denver demanded.

"I'm working for homicide, not running down adolescent dips and purse snatchers."

"The dips branched out, Denver." Lieutenant Fargo pointed to a headline: "Bantams Rob Pawnshop."

"It still ain't homicide, lieutenant."

"One of these days it will be, Denver. These kids are stealing the socks off the town. Next they'll throw a gun on a currency exchange or a tavern on payday. Somebody will get plugged. Maybe a cop."

The lieutenant's stubby forefinger thumped Denver's chest.

"Phil, these aren't just kids. Some smart guy is riding herd on 'em. They"ll work up to jewelry or maybe banks. They've been responsible for most of the petty crime in this town for six months. So far, it's petty. But the newspapers are bound to start running editorials. And it's time we grabbed them."

"What's your lead here?" Denver asked.

"Call it more of a hunch." The lieutenant nodded toward the station waiting room. "There's a kid sitting in there. He'd got a gladstone bag and he don't look kosher. I'm going to frisk him. We'll meet you in the gent's room."

Denver went through the swinging door and began to wash his hands leisurely and presently Fargo came in with the kid. Fargo and Denver appeared not to recognize each other. The kid was about eighteen years old, and he wasn't a greener. His blue eyes were as brazen as a three-time loser's and his jaws missed not a chomp on his chewing gum.

THE lieutenant told the kid to stand hitched, then took his Gladstone over to the washstand, under the lights. Casually blotting his hands, Denver could see into hit.

It contained shirts, underwear, socks. But expertly concealed in the lining was a chamois mask.

Suddenly Denver felt warmly tense and eager. But Marty Fargo's wise old eyes flashed him the blanks and they both pretended they hadn't detected the mask. The lieutenant ha...

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