“That’s it, boss,” Mackie said. “I figured you’d want to know.”
“So, Pauley and Dapper John were in to see Doc a couple nights ago,” Eel O’Brian said. “How did you find out?”
Mackie smiled. “It’s like you was saying about the cheese, except I knew what kind of cheese Doc was after.”
O’Brian ginned as well. “Say, that’s right. He’s got a thing for your aunt.”
“I asked him if he had heard anything about the robbery, and he said he wasn’t sure,” said Mackie. “When I told him that I’d talk to Aunt Rosie, well, he suddenly became a lot more sure.”
“Good old Pauley,” Eel said. “Likes to brag and doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut.”
“Uh, boss, can I ask you something?”
“Sure, Mackie. What do you want to know?”
“Why are you so interested in the robbery?”
“Will it satisfy you if I just say for personal reasons?”
“Good enough for me.”
“That’s what I like about you — you’re easy to please,” Eel laughed. “Find Tommy, and then the two of you, see if you can track down Pauley and Dapper John. If you do, let me know. I’ll take care of things from there.”
Detective Jim Corrigan found out pretty much the same thing from Doc that Mackie did. He knew the two men in question; petty thugs, the both of them, trying to make a name for themselves in the underworld. He also found out that O’Brian was asking questions as well. He knew it was time to do a little digging into the man’s past.
While the boys in blue were busy looking for his suspects, Jim spent the day at City Hall going through records. It was nearly five o’clock before he stumbled across a certain bit of information that filled in a big chunk of the puzzle. Armed with this new information, Jim decided to track down O’Brian or his men and let them lead him to the true crooks.
The detective got lucky, and he knew it, when he decided to stop at a restaurant and grab a bite of supper. He had no more than walked through the door when he noticed O’Brian’s goons sitting at a corner table. After a healthy tip to the headwaiter, Corrigan was given a small table where he could keep an eye on his two targets.
It didn’t take him long to realize that they were settling in for a while. That meant they had come up empty-handed, or they had hit the jackpot. By their relaxed manner, he figured it was the latter. Around nine o’clock, Tommy got up, walked over to the headwaiter, and asked to use the phone. He disappeared into the office for a couple of minutes before returning to his table.
Less than an hour later, Eel O’Brian came waltzing through the door with a noticeable spring in his step.
So, Jim thought, it looks like I’m the one who hit the jackpot.
O’Brian sat down for a few minutes, then all three men got up and started toward the door. Corrigan was surprised when Eel made a detour past his table.
“Well, Detective Corrigan. What a pleasant surprise.”
“I stopped in for a bite,” Jim said. “Didn’t know it was my lucky night.”
Eel sat down. “How would you like for your night to get even luckier?” he asked.
“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out you were lookin’ for me and my boys, even if this was a coincidence.”
Corrigan’s face remained emotionless.
Eel shrugged. “How would you like an early Christmas present?”
“Me and the boys were about to pay a visit to your orphanage thieves; care to join us?”
“I know why you are doing this,” Jim leaned forward and whispered.
“Do you now?”
“You’ve got a soft spot for the orphanage. They took you in for a few months when you were just a small boy. Your momma was sick, and they offered to help her with the burden of trying to raise a child in her condition.” Jim could tell that Eel had not expected to hear that.
“Not bad, Detective,” O’Brian finally said.
“If you’re serious about handing these guys over to me, I’m in.”
“What are we waiting for?” Eel asked. “Let’s go. Boys, you take our car, and I’ll follow along with the detective.”
As the four men left the restaurant, Jim glanced at his pocket watch. “Damn,” he muttered.
“Something the matter, Detective?” O’Brian asked as he climbed in the passenger seat.
“I promised a little girl a new doll from Santa, only now, the stores are closed.”
“One of the kids from the orphanage?”
“Which one?” O’Brian asked.
The detective thought about it for a second and then decided that Eel O’Brian wouldn’t do anything to hurt the children. “Her name’s Mary Ann. Why?”
“Just making conversation.”
That, however, was the last of the conversation until Eel pointed out that the boys had pulled to the side of the road. They were a couple of miles outside of town. Mackie came walking back to Corrigan’s car, and Jim rolled down his window.
“They’re just up the road a piece. It would probably be better to the rest of the way with our lights out.”
“Sounds good to me,” Jim told him.
“So, boss,” Mackie asked, “how do we handle this?”
Eel looked at Jim.
“I’ll go in the front. You boys circle around to the back and make sure they don’t get out that way. Eel, I want…”
“I’ll go with the boys,” Eel said. “It wouldn’t do for me to be seen with you.”
“Fine,” Corrigan agreed. “Just remember, boys, no killing.”
The unlikely allies proceeded the rest of the way as planned. As his boys moved around to the back of the house, Eel took a quick peek in one of the windows; he signaled to Corrigan that they were both inside and, apparently, unarmed.
“Good,” Jim muttered to himself.
A board squeaked under his foot as he stepped up on the porch, causing him to stop in mid-stride. He paused for a few seconds, waiting to see if anyone investigated, before continuing. Pulling his revolver out of his pocket, he silently counted to three and then kicked the front door in.
Dapper John loosed a stream of obscenities as Pauley fell over backward in his chair. Corrigan kept his pistol aimed at John while trying to keep an eye on the other man.
As Pauley got up, Jim saw that he now held a gun of his own.
“You’re a dead man, copper,” John said. “Waste ‘im, Pauley.”
As Pauley cocked the hammer back, he suddenly went limp and crumpled to the floor. Jim caught a glimpse of Eel slipping back into the other room.
When John saw his partner out cold, he knew it was over. Keeping his gun leveled on the man, Jim pulled out a set of handcuffs and proceeded to fasten one around the man’s wrist and the other around the unconscious man’s ankle. He pocketed the fallen man’s weapon.
He had just picked up the telephone to call for help when he heard a car fire up and drive away.
Jim Corrigan sat for what seemed like forever in his car outside of the orphanage. He knew that inside, a little girl had probably given up on believing in Santa. He had rehearsed what he was going to tell her a dozen times, about how busy Santa was and that he might not make it the orphanage until tomorrow. The more he thought about it, however, the lamer it sounded, even to him.
“Oh, well,” he said, “I might as well go in there and tell her that I made a mistake.”
As he got out of his car and started toward the front door, he noticed Mary Ann looking at him through the window. When her little face disappeared, he knew this was going to be bad.
Before he had a chance to knock, the door flew open, and Mary Ann stood there holding up a brand-new doll. “See what Santa brung me. Her name’s Holly, and she even has a carriage.”
Mr. Tandy stepped up behind her. “Merry Christmas, Detective Corrigan. Do come in.”
When he stepped inside, Jim saw that Mary Ann wasn’t the only one with a new toy. Every child in the orphanage was clutching something that Santa had brought him or her.
“It appears that we had another break-in last night,” Mr. Tandy said, “although I don’t think we will need to report this one.”
Jim was still at a loss for words.
“Oh,” Mr. Tandy said as he reached into his pocket, “I almost forgot. Here. This was under the tree, and it has your name on it.”
Jim accepted an envelope from the director.
Merry Christmas, Detective Corrigan was all it said.
“And to you, O’Brian,” he whispered. “And to you.”