The piercing screams of a woman filled the awed hollow of silence left void by the chatter of a sub-machine-gun and acted as a magnet of sound to suck the big squad car to the scene.
That opening sentence had me diving for cover — I mean the cover of the Cliffs Notes version.
Fortunately, things took a turn for the much better, although not immediately:
Did what from the what now? From this point, things get more serious as a child has been killed with three slugs in the back from a drive-by shooting. Just to keep the reader on his toes, Barnaby and Duane are the last names of the detectives.
The boy’s mother is not comforted by the presence of the police. She shrieks, “You’re just like the gangsters wat [sic] kill my baby! You know who did it, but you won’t do nothin’!” Sadly, Barnaby and Duane know she is right to feel that way. It was probably Krako’s boys hitting one of Okmyx’s men, but nobody saw nothing and they are all politically protected. Even if they were hauled in, they would never be convicted.
It’s worth a shot, though. They see Boss Ritter in his car and pull him over. He is packing a .38, but has a permit all nice and legal. They search his car without a warrant which is not so legal. Ritter is utterly shocked when Barnaby punches him out and arrests him. By the time they get to the police station, his lawyer is waiting to spring him.
This gets Police Chief Grogan’s goat and he chews Barnaby out for slugging Ritter, illegally searching the car, and hauling him in with no evidence. He is busted down to a uniformed beat cop. He tells off the corrupt Grogan and quits.
Later at Duane’s house, Barnaby and Duane are joined by two fellow cops. The four men decide to establish an alternate legal system. Not as vigilantes, but as private citizens operating by the rule of justice rather than the rule of law. So, yeah, vigilantes.
Their first target is “Big Dutch” Ritter whom they haul out of La Parisienne Cafe before his companions see how he got his nickname. Ritter knows that a squad car ride downtown ends at the police station, which is no problem. He is a little concerned, though, that this time he has been thrown in the back of a private sedan, and the driver has an Uber rating with fewer stars than Batman v Superman. Barnaby tells Ritter they are working for a different police force now — from the City of Hell!
Ritter is hauled subterranean to their HQ in an abandoned sewer line. They say it is appropriate because it was built due to graft and is unusable. Crooked lawyers in the above-ground court-rooms can’t save him now. They have set up a whole judicial system down there including a judge, lawyer, clerk, grand jury etc that they have abducted into service as apparently kidnapping is not considered a crime in the City of Hell.
After a brief reign of
terror justice, our boys clean up the streets, the police department, and hopefully that septic tank they are operating out of. Of course there will be no repercussions for their unconstitutional shenanigans — having driven the old gang of corrupt bureaucrats out of their jobs, the City of Hell gang will assume those positions and keep their brothers out of jail. The cycle continues.
Maybe my favorite story of the collection so far. Who doesn’t love vigilantes? Until they usually end up killing the wrong person, I mean.
- First published in Black Mask in November 1933.
- Also that month: Duck Soup released.