It was around nine at night and the Chief was just going home when the call came in. He took it, listened for a moment, then hung up.

“Greenback’s liquor store. He got held up again. Says to come at once.”

“That’s a change. Usually we don’t hear about it until a month later. What’s he paying protection money for if China Joe ain’t protecting? What’s the rush now?”

The Chief chewed his loose lip for a while, finally and painfully reached a decision.

“You better go around and see what the trouble is.”

“Sure,” I said reaching for my cap. “But no one else is around, you’ll have to watch the desk until I get back.”

“That’s no good,” he moaned. “I’m dying from hunger and sitting here isn’t going to help me any.”

“I will go take the report,” Ned said, stepping forward and snapping his usual well-greased salute.

At first the Chief wasn’t buying. You would think the water cooler came to life and offered to take over his job.

“How could you take a report?” he growled, putting the wise-guy water cooler in its place. But he had phrased his little insult as a question so he had only himself to blame. In exactly three minutes Ned gave the Chief a summary of the routine necessary for a police officer to make a report on an armed robbery or other reported theft. From the glazed look in Chief’s protruding eyes I could tell Ned had quickly passed the boundaries of the Chief’s meager knowledge.

“Enough!” the harried man finally gasped. “If you know so much why don’t you make a report?”

Which to me sounded like another version of “if you’re so damned smart why ain’t you rich?” which we used to snarl at the brainy kids in grammar school. Ned took such things literally though, and turned towards the door.

“Do you mean you wish me to make a report on this robbery?”

“Yes,” the Chief said just to get rid of him, and we watched his blue shape vanish through the door.

“He must be brighter than he looks,” I said. “He never stopped to ask where Greenback’s store is.”

The Chief nodded and the phone rang again. His hand was still resting on it so he picked it up by reflex. He listened for a second and you would have thought someone was pumping blood out of his heel from the way his face turned white.

“The holdup’s still on,” he finally gasped. “Greenback’s delivery boy is on the line—calling back to see where we are. Says he’s under a table in the back room …”

I never heard the rest of it because I was out the door and into the car. … chevronRight icon