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A short story by Robert Barr

The Raid On Mellish

Title:     The Raid On Mellish
Author: Robert Barr [More Titles by Barr]

Some newspapers differ from others. One peculiarity about the Argus was the frequency with which it changed its men. Managing editors came who were going to revolutionize the world and incidentally the Argus, but they were in the habit of disappearing to give place to others who also disappeared. Newspaper men in that part of the country never considered themselves full-fledged unless they had had a turn at managing the Argus. If you asked who was at the head of the Argus the answer would very likely be: "Well, So-and-so was managing it this morning. I don't know who is running it this afternoon."

Perhaps the most weird period in the history of the Argus was when the owners imported a crank from Pittsburg and put him in as local editor, over the heads of the city staff. His name was McCrasky, christened Angus or Archie, I forget which, at this period of time. In fact, his Christian name was always a moot point; some of the reporters saying it was Angus and others Archie, no one having the courage to ask him. Anyhow, he signed himself A. McCrasky. He was a good man, which was rather an oddity on the staff, and puzzled the reporters not a little. Most of his predecessors had differed much from each other, but they were all alike in one thing, and that was profanity. They expressed disapproval in language that made the hardened printers' towel in the composing room shrink.

McCrasky's great point was that the local pages of the paper should have a strong moral influence on the community. He knocked the sporting editor speechless by telling him that they would have no more reports of prize-fights. Poor Murren went back to the local room, sat down at his table and buried his head in his hands. Every man on a local staff naturally thinks the paper is published mainly to give his department a show, and Murren considered a fight to a finish as being of more real importance to the world than a presidential election. The rest of the boys tried to cheer him up. "A fine state of things," said Murren bitterly. "Think of the scrap next week between the California Duffer and Pigeon Billy and no report of it in the Argus! Imagine the walk- over for the other papers. What in thunder does he think people want to read?"

But there was another surprise in store for the boys. McCrasky assembled them all in his room and held forth to them. He suddenly sprung a question on the criminal reporter--so suddenly that Thompson, taken unawares, almost spoke the truth.

"Do you know of any gambling houses in this city?"

Thompson caught his breath and glanced quickly at Murren.

"No," he said at last. "I don't, but perhaps the religious editor does. Better ask him."

The religious editor smiled and removed his corn-cob pipe.

"There aren't any," he said. "Didn't you know it was against the law to keep a gambling house in this state? Yes, sir!" Then he put his corn- cob pipe back in its place.

McCrasky was pleased to see that his young men knew so little of the wickedness of a great city; nevertheless he was there to give them some information, so he said quietly:

"Certainly it is against the law; but many things that are against the law flourish in a city like this. Now I want you to find out before the week is past how many gambling houses there are and where they are located. When you are sure of your facts we will organize a raid and the news will very likely be exclusive, for it will be late at night and the other papers may not hear of it."

"Suppose," said the religious editor, with a twinkle in his eye, as he again removed his corn-cob, "that--assuming such places to exist--you found some representatives of the other papers there? They are a bad lot, the fellows on the other papers."

"If they are there," said the local editor, "they will go to prison."

"They won't mind that, if they can write something about it," said Murren gloomily. In his opinion the Argus was going to the dogs.

"Now, Thompson," said McCrasky, "you as criminal reporter must know a lot of men who can give you particulars for a first-rate article on the evils of gambling. Get it ready for Saturday's paper--a column and a half, with scare heads. We must work up public opinion."

When the boys got back into the local room again, Murren sat with his head in his hands, while Thompson leaned back in his chair and laughed.

"Work up public opinion," he said. "Mac had better work up his own knowledge of the city streets, and not put Bolder avenue in the East End, as he did this morning."

The religious editor was helping himself to tobacco from Murren's drawer. "Are you going to put Mellish on his guard?" he asked Thompson.

"I don't just know what I'm going to do," said Thompson; "are you?"

"I'll think about it," replied the R. E. "Beastly poor tobacco, this of yours, Murren. Why don't you buy cut plug?"

"You're not compelled to smoke it," said the sporting editor, without raising his head.

"I am when mine is out, and the other fellows keep their drawers locked."

Thompson dropped in on Mellish, the keeper of the swell gambling rooms, to consult with him on the article for Saturday's paper. Mellish took a great interest in it, and thought it would do good. He willingly gave Thompson several instances where the vice had led to ruin of promising young men.

"All men gamble in some way or another," said Mellish meditatively. "Some take it one way and some another. It is inherent in human nature, like original sin. The beginning of every business is a gamble. If I had $30,000 I would rather run my chance of doubling it at these tables here than I would, for instance, by starting a new newspaper or putting it on wheat or in railway stocks. Take a land boom, for instance, such as there was in California or at Winnipeg--the difference between putting your money in a thing like that or going in for legitimate gambling is that, in the one case, you are sure to lose your cash, while in the other you have a chance of winning some. I hold that all kinds of gambling are bad, unless a man can easily afford to lose what he stakes. The trouble is that gambling affects some people like liquor. I knew a man once who----" but you can read the whole article if you turn up the back numbers of the Argus.

Thompson told Mellish about McCrasky. Mellish was much interested, and said he would like to meet the local editor. He thought the papers should take more interest in the suppression of gambling dens than they did, and for his part he said he would like to see them all stopped, his own included. "Of course," he added, "I could shut up my shop, but it would simply mean that someone else would open another, and I don't think any man ever ran such a place fairer than I do."

McCrasky called on the chief of police, and introduced himself as the local editor of the Argus.

"Oh," said the chief, "has Gorman gone, then?"

"I don't know about Gorman," said McCrasky; "the man I succeeded was Finnigan. I believe he is in Cincinnati now."

When the chief learned the purport of the local editor's visit he became very official and somewhat taciturn. He presumed that there were gambling houses in the city. If there were, they were very quiet and no complaints ever reached his ears. There were many things, he said, that it was impossible to suppress, and the result of attempted suppression was to drive the evil deeper down. He seemed to be in favor rather of regulating, than of attempting the impossible; still, if McCrasky brought him undoubted evidence that a gambling house was in operation, he would consider it his duty to make a raid on it. He advised McCrasky to go very cautiously about it, as the gamblers had doubtless many friends who would give a tip and so frustrate a raid, perhaps letting somebody in for damages. McCrasky said he would be careful.

Chance played into the hands of McCrasky and "blew in" on him a man who little recked what he was doing when he entered the local editor's room. Gus Hammerly, sport and man-about-town, dropped into the Argus office late one night to bring news of an "event" to the sporting editor. He knew his way about in the office, and, finding Murren was not in, he left the item on his table. Then he wandered into the local editor's room. The newspaper boys all liked Hammerly, and many a good item they got from him. They never gave him away, and he saw that they never got left, as the vernacular is.

"Good-evening. You're the new local editor, I take it. I've just left a little item for Murren, I suppose he's not in from the wrestle yet. My name's Hammerly. All the boys know me and I've known in my time fourteen of your predecessors, so I may as well know you. You're from Pittsburg, I hear."

"Yes. Sit down, Mr. Hammerly. Do you know Pittsburg at all?"

"Oh, yes. Borden, who keeps the gambling den on X street, is an old friend of mine. Do you happen to know how old Borden's getting along?"

"Yes, his place was raided and closed up by the police."

"That's just the old man's luck. Same thing in Kansas City."

"By the way, Mr. Hammerly, do you know of any gambling houses in this city?"

"Why, bless you, haven't the boys taken you round yet? Well, now, that's inhospitable. Mellish's is the best place in town. I'm going up there now. If you come along with me I'll give you the knock-down at the door and you'll have no trouble after that."

"I'll go with you," said McCrasky, reaching for his hat, and so the innocent Hammerly led the lamb into the lion's den.

McCrasky, unaccustomed to the sight, was somewhat bewildered with the rapidity of the play. There was a sort of semicircular table, around the outside rim of which were sitting as many men as could be comfortably placed there. A man at the inside of the table handled the cards. He flicked out one to each player, face downward, with an expertness and speed that dazzled McCrasky. Next he dealt out one to each player face upward and people put sums of money on the table beside their cards, after looking at them. There was another deal and so on, but the stranger found it impossible to understand or follow the game. He saw money being raked in and paid out rapidly and over the whole affair was a solemn decorum that he had not been prepared for. He had expected fierce oaths and the drawing of revolvers.

"Here, Mellish," said the innocent Hammerly, "let me introduce you to the new local editor of the Argus. I didn't catch your name," he said in a whisper.

"My name's McCrasky."

"Mr. McCrasky; Mr. Mellish. Mellish is proprietor here and you'll find him a first-rate fellow."

"I am pleased to meet you," said Mellish quietly; "any friend of Hammerly's is welcome. Make yourself at home."

Edging away from the two, Mellish said in a quick whisper to Sotty, the bartender: "Go and tell the doorkeeper to warn Thompson, or any of the rest of the Argus boys, that their boss is in here."

At 12 o'clock that night the local editor sat in his room. "Is that you, Thompson?" he shouted, as he heard a step.

"Yes, sir;" answered Thompson, coming into the presence.

"Shut the door, Thompson. Now I have a big thing on for to-night, but it must be done quietly. I've unearthed a gambling den in full blast. It will be raided to-night at 2 o'clock. I want you to be on the ground with Murren; will you need anybody else?"

"Depends on how much you wish to make of it."

"I want to make it the feature of to-morrow's paper. I think we three can manage, but bring some of the rest if you like. The place is run by a man named Mellish. Now, if you boys kept your eyes open you would know more of what is going on in your own city than you do."

"We haven't all had the advantage of metropolitan training," said Thompson humbly.

"I will go there with the police. You and Murren had better be on the ground, but don't go too soon, and don't make yourselves conspicuous or they might take alarm. Here is the address. You had better take it down."

"Oh, I'll find the place all----" Then Thompson thought a moment and pulled himself together. "Thanks," he said, carefully noting down the street and number.

The detachment of police drew up in front of the place a few minutes before 2 o'clock. The streets were deserted, and so silent were the blue coats that the footsteps of a belated wayfarer sounded sharply in the night air from the stone pavement of a distant avenue.

"Are you sure," said McCrasky to the man in charge of the police, "that there is not a private entrance somewhere?"

"Certainly there is," was the impatient reply: "Sergeant McCollum and four men are stationed in the alley behind. We know our business, sir."

McCrasky thought this was a snub, and he was right. He looked around in the darkness for his reporters. He found them standing together in a doorway on the opposite side of the street.

"Been here long?" he whispered.

Murren was gloomy and did not answer. The religious editor removed his corn-cob and said briefly; "About ten minutes, sir." Thompson was gazing with interest at the dark building across the way.

"You've seen nobody come out?"

"Nobody. On the contrary, about half a dozen have gone up that stairway."

"Is that the place, sir?" asked Thompson with the lamb-like innocence of the criminal reporter.

"Yes, upstairs there."

"What did I tell you?" said the religious editor. "Thompson insisted it was next door."

"Come along," said McCrasky, "the police are moving at last."

A big bell in the neighborhood solemnly struck two slow strokes, and all over the city the hour sounded in various degrees of tone and speed. A whistle rang out and was distantly answered. The police moved quickly and quietly up the stairway.

"Have you tickets, gentlemen," asked the man at the door politely; "this is a private assembly."

"The police," said the sergeant shortly, "stand aside."

If the police were astonished at the sight which met their gaze, their faces did not show it. But McCrasky had not such control over his features and he looked dumbfounded. The room was the same, undoubtedly, but there was not the vestige of a card to be seen. There were no tables, and even the bar had disappeared. The chairs were nicely arranged and most of them were occupied. At the further end of the room Pony Rowell stood on a platform or on a box or some elevation, and his pale, earnest face was lighted up with the enthusiasm of the public speaker. He was saying: "On the purity of the ballot, gentlemen, depends the very life of the republic. That every man should be permitted, without interference or intimidation, to cast his vote, and that every vote so cast should be honestly counted is, I take it, the desire of all who now listen to my words." (Great applause, during which Pony took a sip from a glass that may have contained water.)

The police had come in so quietly that no one, apparently, had noticed their entrance, except that good man Mellish, who hurried forward to welcome the intruders.

"Will you take a seat?" he asked. "We are having a little political talk from Mr. Rowell, sergeant."

"Rather an unusual hour, Mr. Mellish," said the sergeant grimly.

"It is a little late," admitted Mellish, as if the idea had not occurred to him before.

The police who had come in by the back entrance appeared at the other end of the room and it was evident that Rowell's oration had come to an untimely end. Pony looked grieved and hurt, but said nothing.

"We will have to search the premises, Mr. Mellish," said the sergeant.

Mellish gave them every assistance, but nothing was found.

As the four men walked back together to the Argus office, McCrasky was very indignant.

"We will expose the police to-morrow," he said. "They evidently gave Mellish the tip."

"I don't think so," said Thompson. "We will say nothing about it."

"You forget yourself, Mr. Thompson. It rests with me to say what shall go on the local page. Not with you."

"I don't forget myself," answered Thompson sadly; "I've just remembered myself. The Directors of the Argus appointed me local editor yesterday. Didn't they tell you about it? That's just like them. They forgot to mention the fact to Corbin that he had been superseded and the manager went off fishing after appointing Jonsey local editor, so that for a week we had two local editors, each one countermanding the orders of the other. It was an awful week. You remember it, Murren?" Murren's groan seemed to indicate that his recollection of the exciting time was not a pleasant memory.

"In case of doubt," murmured the religious editor, this time without removing his corn-cob, "obey the orders of the new man where the Argus is concerned. Thompson, old man, I'm wid you. When did the blow fall?"

"Yesterday afternoon," said Thompson, almost with a sob; "I'll be dismissed within a month, so I am rather sorry. I liked working on the Argus--as a reporter. I never looked for such ill luck as promotion. But we all have our troubles, haven't we, Mac?"

McCrasky did not answer. He is now connected with some paper in Texas.

[The end]
Robert Barr's short story: Raid On Mellish