murder mystery, crime, & detective fiction

Five Cents A Life


by Maitland Scott

Author of Last-Mile Bargain, etc.

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Ten Detective Aces | Mar. 1938 | Vol. 32 | No. 1

Est. Read Time: 22 mins

A man's life is worth what he can get for it. ‘Tight-Spot’ Andrews figured his was worth at least a nickel.




John “Tight-Spot” Andrews of the Daily Dial wandered aimlessly into the Red Parrot, a second-rate night club, and sat down at an inconspicuous table in the rear. The Red Parrot’s owner, Ernie Trauber, darted a narrowed gaze at the tall form of the lanky reporter. Trouble, serious trouble, too often happened where Andrews turned up. For more than one reason the big, florid-faced Trauber wondered if the newshawk’s aimless attitude might not be only pretence.

Gracie, the cigarette girl, started oft toward Andrews’ table the minute she spotted him, a bright, glad smile on her crimson lips — there was something in the young-old eyes of the newspaper man that attracted women. Trauber watched narrowly, saw her nod as the newshawk held up three fingers, questioningly. The night-club owner’s heavy jowls tightened, and a deep, slow flush of anger crept up his thick neck.

That was it, he concluded. Sure, Grace had been near when he’d told the doorman to signal him the minute any of Mike Malone’s hoods showed up. She’d tipped off the news monkey that three of them were coming. Well, Mike had said that his cannons were making only a nice, friendly visit.

But Big Ernie Trauber was worried. Suppose Mike, growing racket boss, had changed his mind since he’d argued him out of making the Red Parrot pay tribute? He and Mike had been pals in the old days, but Mike’s night-club protection racket had grown — and Mike Malone, the big boss, was getting greedier by the day … . Anyhow, that smart dame Grace had no business blowing off to Andrews. It might all mean nothing, but be didn’t like to have the bad-luck scribbler around on a night like this. And did Mike have to send three hoods?

Across the smoky club Trauber’s gaze met the reporter’s, and the latter saw that his three-finger questioning had been observed.

Grace circulated among the tables, silken tights gleaming against Hie soft eurvee of her nimble legs. Trauber went to his small office on the main floor, there to have her sent to him. He’d teach that dame a thing or two … .

Ernie Trauber rang for one of his floormen, told him to send Grace in. But Grace didn’t come. Instead, the floorman returned with a note from "Tight-spot” Andrews. Trauber cursed and dug into his desk for a special bottle when he read the newshawk’s three-word note:

I wouldn't, Trauber. — Andrews

A couple of years ago, Ernie Trauber had beaten up a check-room girl. She had been afraid to bring charges for fear Trauber would see to it that she got plenty from a hired strong-arm thug or two. Ernie Trauber did things that way.



Tight-spot Andrews lolled boredly at his table, apparently too lazy to even touch his highball. Andrews was worth his weight in gold to his paper. It was good for circulation to have a star reporter who often figured more in sensational headlines than did the police themselves.

The newshawk had made an extensive and detailed study of every known criminal that he could in his five years of reporting since he’d left college. He claimed that complete knowledge of their personal lives was invaluable, but it seemed miraculous to even his city editor how he managed to be on the scene of so many shootings. And nearly always Andrews got into a spot from which it seemed humanly impossible to escape; hence the nickname.

Tonight, however, Tight-spot Andrews was unarmed. In the recent cleanup of a desperate narcotic ring, too many narcotic peddlers had been found dead — with bullets from Andrews’ pistol in them. His license had been recalled by a cantankerous official, who maintained that the newshawk was gaining a killer’s reputation and that legitimate killing should be left entirely to the police.

Andrews had recently dropped in at Malone’s "front,” a medium-sized ice plant, and chatted with the racketeer on whom the police were aching to pin a heavy rap. Andrews wasn’t sure, but he thought — from Malone’s growing pretentiousness — that he was about ready to spread his reign of tribute-collections, even as far as his old pal Ernie Trauber.

Andrews figured that Trauber might be stubborn, relying on his past friendship with Malone to get out of paying tribute money. There might, just possibly might, be something hot doing — if Malone decided to bump off Trauber as an example to other night-club owners. Such things had been done before. And Andrews wanted proof for his paper. He wished that tonight he were armed. He shrugged finally. It had always been his boasted theory that no matter how tight a spot a man got into, there was always some possible way he could think himself out of it … .

Joe Sauchelli was the first of Mike Malone’s henchmen to enter the nearly empty Red Parrot, and Andrews drew back a bit into the semi-shelter of his booth-table. It might not do to be seen. If something really were to come off tonight, Malone’s outfit wouldn’t want a witness running around loose. The few remaining patrons of the early morning didn’t matter: half tipsy and unobserving, and obviously not of the type to recognize underworld characters.

But John Andrews of the Dial knew the Malone outfit, and the Malone outfit knew him.

Tight-spot Andrews watched Joe Sauchelli, saw tk racket thug wander slowly by Ernie Trauber. The two spoke briefly, and then Sauchelli seated himself at a table near a center part of the small dance floor. Andrews studied the man’s face and then drew back farther into his booth and reviewed the main characteristic of Sauchelli — thirst for vengeance.

A year ago Sauchelli’s brother, Luigi, had been found murdered in his apartment. Joe had been trying to find his killer with all the intentness of an emotional Latin nature. Joe had never been either pleasant or unpleasant, but since his brother had been murdered — with some heavy blunt object, and no clue of the killer found — his lean, olive-complexioned face had become a dull, saturnine mask from which vicious little eyes gleamed, questioningly, ever searchingly. He was a small man, physically, but stocky and tough.

A few more customers reeled out of the Red Parrot, homeward bound, and then Tony De Carlo came in. A big, lumbering man with heavy features, he repeated the wandering perambulations of Sauchelli, ending up at the table with his racketeer pal.

Andrews could see that Ernie Trauber was becoming perceivably nervous.

In fact, Trauber wondered for a moment or two if he should not have hired a few hoods for the night, just in case. But he quickly reasoned that he could argue Mike Malone’s organization out of making him hand over a cut from his profits. Sure, he could argue his way out of it again. Hell, hadn’t he and Mike been old-time pals.



The third malone henchman, Frank Adamo, a catlike, light-stepping gunman whose mouth twitched nervously, came in when the place was almost deserted. With scarcely a word to Trauber, he joined the first two.

Tight-spot Andrews suddenly realized that something was doing. The three men were obviously waiting for the night club to become entirely empty. Andrews was about to formulate a plan of leaving the place and returning, somehow, through a window, to watch, when Sauchelli suddenly turned and peered in his direction. Tight-spot drew back farther into the shadows of his booth. But then, he saw that it was too late — he had been spotted.

The three gunmen talked together for a minute or two out of tight, scarcely moving lips. Then De Carlo lifted his rumbling weight from his chair and walked carelessly to the newshawk’s booth. With feigned surprise he pretended to discover suddenly the reporter from the Dial.

“Well, if it isn’t our great big newspaper hero. Come on over and have a drink with us. The boys’ll be glad to see you tonight.”

“No, thanks, De Carlo,” Andrews replied lazily, then added: “I’m leaving soon, anyway.”

The gunman’s heavy face was rutted with smiles, but his hand slipped slowly toward a lapel of his coat as he returned slowly, heavily: “Oh — no, you’re not — big boy. We — like your company.”

For a moment the reporter did not move. Things were beginning to look bad. He should have gone out earlier, as he’d contemplated, and returned from the rear some way to watch from a safe, hidden vantage point.

“Oh, all right,” he said finally, shrugging, “since it will please the boys so much.”

Adamo greeted Andrews with mock heartiness, but the gimlet-eyed Sauchelli merely nodded coldly and gestured toward a chair. Andrews sat down. De Carlo filled a glass for him from a bottle in the center of the table.

“What’s up, boys?” the reporter asked after several long, silent moments.

The three eyed him slowly, and then De Carlo said: “Nothing — nothing at all, Tight-spot. Just takin’ it easy, having a few drinks. Why, we like to have you with us tonight.”

He paused, then added: “Besides, what if something is up? Ain't you Tight-spot Andrews, who says he can always figger a way out?”

Andrews made no reply, but he was thinking swiftly, desperately — and finding no way out. He felt sure that there was something up, and that since he had seen and recognized the three, something else would be up: his own number. After whatever was coming off came off, or even just before it, his life wouldn't be worth a wooden nickel.

Gracie, the cigarette girl, passed by, dressed for the street. But Andrews saw by her face that she was entirely unaware of the situation. He could hope for no help from her. She had given him the steer for which he had asked her. She obviously thought he wanted the present situation. With a brief smile she was gone.

John Andrews' heart sank. He hadn’t thought any way out of this spot — yet. He smiled slightly, cynically, and thought: “Tight-spot Andrews — huh. What a swan song!”

Adamo saw the smile and asked: “Enjoyin' yourself at last, eh, Tight-spot?”

“No!” Andrews flared back, angrily. Then he was on his feet, starting out of the place.

Sauchelli and Adamo glanced swiftly around, hands darting gunward, noticing that although Trauber was just shooing out the last of his tipsy customers, waiters and bus boys were still working around the place. Then De Carlo had the reporter’s arm in a viselike grip.

“Now — be a sport, Tight-spot,” De Carlo was saying. “The party ain't finished yet. We gotta finish this bottle. Sit down and I'll show you a little trick, make a little bet with you.”

John Andrews allowed himself to be slowly shoved down on his chair, realizing that the gang didn't want to give him the works with any witnesses around. Just what the works would be — he wondered.

Silent until now, but watchful, Sauchelli suddenly called out: “Come here, Trauber, we want you in on this party, too — until the joint is cleared.”



Ernie Trauber came over to the table, his big frame, which dwarfed even De Carlo's size, moving stiffly. He stopped the nervous tightening of his heavy jowls with an effort. Before he could speak, Sauchelli added:

“And your hood, too.”

Trauber hesitated, then turned and beckoned his floorman over.

Sauchelli moved back from the table so he could face both squarely, and his hand rested significantly inside his coat.

“You can't buck this outfit, so be good,” he said. “We're too strong.”

Andrews could see that from the floor-man, at least, there would be no trouble. A cheap little gunman in a theatrical dinner jacket, his face was paling with abject fear.

“Now, we'll all enjoy the little trick Tony’s gonna do to keep Tight-spot amused until everybody else is outta this joint.”

De Carlo grinned with the pleased happiness of a man who loves to show off, as he said: “Well, I guess it'll be the good ol' dollar bill and glass and nickel trick.” He placed an empty tumbler on a dollar bill laid flat on the table; then he carefully balanced a nickel on the rim of the glass.

“How much you bet, Tight-spot, that you get the dollar out without touchin' the glass, and without knockin' the nickel off the edge?”

Andrews shrugged. He didn't know the trick; he wasn't interested in the trick; he was interested only in saving his skin.

“Oh, couple of sawbucks,” he said. “I’d bet a couple of sawbucks you can’t do it. I can’t figure any way. You might just happen to miss. I figure my odds are better that way.”

De Carlo grinned. Carefully, without touching the glass, he rolled an end of the bill against the glass. Holding the ends of the roll between thumbs and forefingers of both hands, and still without touching the glass, he kept rolling the dollar. He did this slowly, evenly, forcing the tumbler to move smoothly along the bill until clear of it, on the table doth, and with the coin still balanced.

Andrews accidentally moved a knee against the table, and the nickel tinkled down inside the tumbler.

“Okay,” he said quickly, “you win. That was an accident.”

The reporter started to reach inside his coat for his wallet.

“Hold it, Andrews!” Sauchelli snapped, and glanced around the now empty room. “Frisk him, Tony.”

Tony did, said: “He’s clean, Joe.”

“Okay, now case the joint, Tony. And make sure everybody’s gone.”

They all remained silent, motionless, until De Carlo returned and reported that, “The joint is like a graveyard, boss,” and laughed raucously.

Frank Adamo laughed, too, and his laugh was even more significant than De Carlo’s.

Trauber’s face had become stoical, impassive. But his floorman was cringing visibly, although he was silent — knowing that anything he could say could never change whatever was slated to come.

Sauchelli’s automatic was out now as he ordered: “Tony, do your stuff — the way I told you.”

Andrews watched Tony’s face turn from a smirk to a sullen scowl as he frisked Trauber and his lieutenant, shoving the guns into his side pockets. Then De Carlo herded them both into the night-club owner’s office, where he turned on a radio — loud.

Andrews thought to himself: “They’re getting ready fast, and I haven’t thought pf a way out of this one.”

Adamo grinned evilly, got up and walked across the club to its entrance. He pulled aside an inch or two of lowered blind and stood there looking out.

Sauchelli kept his automatic lazily covering Andrews, who watched De Carlo, Trauber and the floorman come out of the office. Trauber stopped beside Grace’s glass-enclosed cigarette stand, the fat roll of the night’s take held in one hand.

“All right,” De Carlo was saying, “hand over fifteen per cent of the night’s business. I’ll count it out.”

Trauber glared and shouted: “Malone can’t do this to me — we’re old pals!”

De Carlo didn’t say a word, but his scowling face and steady gun muzzle — his very silence — spoke more than words.



Boiling anger welled up in ernie trauber, and a slow flush of rage crept up the big man’s bull-like neck. Even through a red haze of fury, he tried to reason with himself to pay the cut to the outfit against which it would be impossible for him to pit himself. But anger won out … .

Craftily, Trauber held out the money. De Carlo reached, but before his gun-free hand could touch the money, Trauber dropped it to the floor and darted behind the cigarette stand. At the same time, the dapper little floorman started to duck.

Tony De Carlo was quick for such a big man. He snapped a quick shot that took the little gunman in the throat and laid him out dead on the floor on his back. Ernie Trauber was making a plunging dive toward the inside of the show case, and De Carlo’s gun roared again.

A tiny hole appeared in Trauber’s forehead. But the big man’s dive had already commenced. He kept going, his clawed, outstretched hand seeking the gun hidden among the cigarettes and cigars inside the show case. There was a crash of broken glass, and Trauber lay still; his right fist, clutching a handful of cigars, was poked through a jagged hole in the front glass of the case.

The radio blared on, an ironic blanket of aound for exploding cartridges.

De Carlo picked up the fallen money, then glanced back at the cigarette stand. He saw Trauber’s grotesquely grinning face and the outstretched hand holding the cigars. The show-off in De Carlo was irrepressible.

Grinning, he plucked a cigar from the hand and said, ‘"Thanks, pal,” and then, noticing a streak of blood on the cigar, he threw it away and spat after it in disgust.

"Cut the horseplay,” came Sauchelli’s sharp voice. "Come here with that dough.”

De Carlo brought the money over to the table, where Sauchelli had calmly sat and watched the double murder, keeping Andrews covered at the same time.

Again De Carlo’s smirk turned to a scowl, and he said: "Okay to give this damn scribbler the works now, eh, Joe?”

"No, you fool,” came Sauchelli’s quick reply. "Why do you think I didn’t do that already. This has just gotta be a regular gang killin’. It’d raise too much stink to have a reporter’s stiff found here — and I don’t aim to have no corpse rddin’ around with us. We’ll tie him up, hold his nose an’ make him drink plenty whisky, till he’s good an’ drunk. Then we’ll just have a good ‘live drunk in the car — in case … . Well take care of him later.”

Tight-spot Andrews had been doing a lot of thinking during the past few minutes, reviewing in his mind detail after detail concerning the lives of these men, searching desperately for some way out of this, his tightest spot yet. Somehow, his eyes had returned, time and again, to the nickel in the glass on the table in front of him. That glass with which De Carlo had done his trick, and the nickel inside it, seemed to hold some solution to his tight spot. Then, quite suddenly he remembered that other glass with that other nickel in it … .

De Carlo, grinning again, started toward the man from the Dial.

"Hold it!” Andrews suddenly snapped.

The unexpected imperativeness of the reporter’s tone halted De Carlo. Sauchelli did no more than nod to De Carlo to continue to do a good job of knocking out the newsman. But Andrews’ next words stirred fiery, fierce interest in Joe Sauchelli’s eyes.

"Sauchelli — -you’d like to know who murdered your brother, wouldn’t you?” De Carlo fell back a pace and looked questioningly at Sauchelli, who said: "You — better have something to say — or I’ll use a knife on you.”

His voice rose thinly, cruelly: "I’ll — I’ll cut your damned heart out!”

Tight-spot Andrews pointed calmly to the nickel in the glass, saying: "That glass with the nickel in it suddenly reminded me of another glass with a nickel in it — and that other was found in the room with your brother Luigi’s body.”

Sauchelli’s face was contorted with emotion, and he was speechless.

De Carlo said, "Say, you tryin’ to — “ and stopped quite suddenly.

Frank Adamo had now come away from his post at the entrance, and he was listening intently a few paces off.



Finally Sauchelli snarled: "Why, you damn punk, you can’t try to fool me. I searched every inch of that room, looking for something the fool cops mighta missed. There wasn’t no glass in the room with no nickel in it.”

Andrews leaned forward, fixing Sauchelli with intent eyes, and said: "The police removed the glass before you came. You see, they took some things down to headquarters for special fingerprinting other than what was done around the room.”

Joe Sauchelli looked queerly at De Carlo.

"Joe, you don’t think I coulda — “ De Carlo gasped, and got no further as fear lumped his throat.

Adamo came closer on catlike feet, a strange, tense look in his eyes.

"I know, De Carlo,” Andrews was saying, "a thousand guys probably know that glass trick. However, who else did Luigi know that did that trick?”

Andrews knew he was only shooting in the dark, and he waited tensely.

De Carlo paled at sight of Sauchelli’s blazing eyes, and gulped: “It’s this damn scribbler’s trick. Joe, that ain’t no proof — that ain’t no proof.”

“You sure you wasn’t there, Tony?” Sauchelli asked, icily.

“No, Joe, I wasn’t there — I wasn’t there.”

Andrews noticed that Frank Adamo’s mouth was twitching more than usual; that the man’s face was drawn.

“I know that ain’t no real proof,” Sauchelli said, thoughtfully, “but there’s a chance you were there that night — an’ not in Philly. Maybe you an’ Luigi had a fight over somethin'. I dunno about the nickel in the glass, but maybe I oughta — Say, it seems to me that you were pretty sore that time my brother got a bigger cut on a job than you did.”

Tony De Carlo's face looked as if it would never smirk again, as he begged: “No — Joe, don’t give it to me just on a thing like that. I was there, Joe, but I never done it. I tell you what I saw … .”

Joe Sauchelli’s eyes were filled with a deadly belief that he had found his brother’s murderer.

“Put your hands on the table, Tony,” he said, coldly.

De Carlo’s trembling hands came up, away from Trauber’s and the doorman’s guns he had put in the side pockets of his coat.

“Stalling now, eh, Tony?” Sauchelli said, sneering. “Gonna make up a story about somethin’, eh?”

“Better hear what he’s got to say, Sauchelli, before you shoot,” Andrews advised.

The expression on Frank Adamo’s face was changing from tense anger to puzzlement, to anger again.

“Yeah — listen, Joe,” De Carlo pleaded, “I went up to see Luigi — I got back from Philly ahead of time — an’ I see a guy come sneakin’ out of the apartment. So I duck into that dark corner of the hall, an’ I watch. He wipes his fingerprints off the knob of the front door an — “

Frank Adamo stepped a pace nearer and interrupted with: “You don’t say, Tony. Did you see who he was?”

De Carlo looked up into Adamo’s eyes, which were fixed on him like those of a snake, and stammered: “No — no I didn't get a very good look at him. ... I got into the apartment through a window from the fire escape. I saw that Luigi was dead. I didn’t tell Joe because I didn’t want to get mixed up in any trouble with him not believin’ me — or somethin’.”

“You are goin’ to tell me who that man was,” came Sauchelli’s icy tones. “I think you’re lyin’.”

Andrews suddenly leaned forward and said: “I hinted at it before, when I asked De Carlo if Luigi knew anybody else, personally, who did the glass trick. Perhaps — ah, Adamo learned it from De Carlo. There was a glass in that room, a glass with a nickel fallen into it.”

Adamo started forward, viciously. But Sauchelli stopped him with a significant movement of his automatic.

“Tony,” said Sauchelli with deadly chill, “you’re acting too damned scared and yellow. Somebody killed Luigi for that big cut he got, and I know you were sore ‘cause he got so much more’n you.”



The muzzle of Sauchelli’s gun rose a trifle, centering more perfectly on De Carlo’s heart.

De Carlo hesitated, then burst out: “I ain’t never ratted before, but you ain’t gonna give it to me for nothin’, Joe. I know who done it. Frank done it! He’s the guy I saw coming out of Luigi’s room.”

Frank Adamo leaped to one side, catlike, hand clawing for his gun. Joe Sauchelli slipped to one knee from his chair and pulled trigger. Then the air was filled with the thunder of both men’s guns.

Tight-spot Andrews backed swiftly away from the table. De Carlo, caught between two fires, grabbed spasmodically at a shoulder when he was hit; then he slumped to the floor. The reporter saw Adamo stagger and fall, mouth gushing blood, after Sauchelli’s fourth shot. Desperately, the reporter launched his long body in a tackle at De Carlo.

The newshawk's shoulder hit the table, , and it skidded across the dance floor and crashed against a pillar. But Andrews' outflung hands seized the wounded De Carlo, and the reporter pulled the racketeer's body up and over. Using it as a shield, he struggled to his feet.

Joe Sauchelli's automatic spat — once, twice. Andrews felt the thudding impact of bullets tearing into De Carlo's big body. Then he hurled the weight from him, straight at Sauchelli.

Sauchelli went down under De Carlo's big body, and Andrews threw himself at both of them, fists flailing. Those fists were wasted on De Carlo, as Tight-spot found out afterwards, but one hefty swing put Sauehelli out for a good ten minutes — long enough for the Dial man to telephone the police and for them to arrive … .

Much later that morning, Tight-spot Andrews and Captain of Detectives, Bert James were drinking coffee and munching rolls in a dog wagon. Both were well pleased — although the captain was a bit irate because Andrews had been taking undue delight in holding out on him about the mystery of the glasses with the nickels in them.

Captain James growled: “Come on, sorehead, just because I haven’t had a chance to read your old newspaper story, why hold out on a fella?"

John Andrews smiled and explained: “When I went up to Luigi’s apartment with Lieutenant Doyle, it happened that neither he nor the boys with him had a nickel to feed the pay phone in the hall to get the corpse doc and the fingerprint crew. I was fumbling with my change, and I dropped one of my nickels in a glass that happened to be on a table. He wouldn’t let me fish it out for fear of disturbing any prints. I remember looking down at it and making a wisecrack about somebody getting graft. Somehow, at the Red Parrot, my memory kept asking me where I had ever before seen a glass with a nickel in the bottom of it. Foolish — but then I have a theory that similarities — "

The captain broke in with: “All right, all right, John — just let it go that that great crackpot, Tight-spot Andrews, got out of another impossible jam."