Crime of the Century

Header image with historical images

Pat Crowe in 1921, left (National Photo Company Collection, Library of Congress). Pat Crowe arrest photo in Butte, Mont., 1905, right (Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Archives).


On the eighteenth day of December in that first year of the century, when the old earth was nearing her darkest calendar day, Billy Cavanaugh and I parked our horse and buggy at the corner house on Dewey Avenue. Billy held the reins to our ragged silver pony. I ignited a calabash pipe with two matches after the buggy jolted to a stop, thumbing the bowl to get the tobacco rolling. Billy fit on a pair of cloth gloves and stared up at the darkening slab of sky, a low rind of winter sun in the west. The last whiskers of daylight. There was no wind. A light snow fell as gently as dust swept off a rooftop.      

Neither of us said a word to the other as we sat parked along the curbstone. The hour approached seven. I jumped down from the buggy and fed our pony an apple from my trouser pocket. I scanned the street: a brick neighborhood avenue— void of traffic— that was lined on both sides by opulent mansions, the types with cupolas and double chimneys and crawling ivy. A scarf of river fog blew over from the Missouri. A lamplighter made his rounds, igniting gas street lights with a long wand. Coming around to the other side of the buggy, I elongated a spyglass and focused its sight at the mansion on the corner. The estate, a twenty- two room Victorian surrounded by a gable fence, sat on a half acre of land and was home to Edward Cudahy and family. I glassed the young man inside the room, sixteen- year- old Eddie Junior. He was knocking around balls on a baize- covered snooker table. 

After a moment of studying the youngster, I collapsed the spyglass and returned to my seat on the buggy, crossing my arms across my chest.

“What’s he doing?” Billy asked.

“Playing billiards against himself.”

“Against hisself?”

“Nine ball by the looks of it.”

Our pony shivered in the cold. Twenty more minutes passed and the snow fell harder: fuzzy and diagonal. Night arrived in full. A new moon hung over the trees, low and fat. Billy socked a wad of leaf tobacco the size of a walnut in his lower lip and collected his spit in an old pineapple can. Spitting on the street came with a ten- dollar fine, which was twice the amount of money either one of us had in the wide world. I pulled the large storm collar of my overcoat around my neck.

Halfway past the hour, a police officer in a bell hat and wool tunic approached from the opposite side of the street, doing whirligigs with his nightstick as he walked his beat. Billy and I both offered a friendly nod as the officer passed.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” the officer said.

I doffed my bowler. “Good and cold.”

“You fellers have business on this street?”

“What else?” Billy said.

“Forgive him, officer,” I said. “He’s Florida born, and the winter makes him somewhat choleric.”

Billy sneered and spit into his old can. “I’m merry in all weathers.”

“Yes,” I said. “Ordinarily as kindly as a Texas cyclone, this one.”

“Don’t go to upsetting me, now.”

The officer asked, “What are you twos doing on this block?”

“Waiting on a fare,” I answered.

The officer craned his neck to get a look at the handle of a revolver bulging from a shoulder holster inside my coat. “You got a permit for that roscoe?”

I eased myself off the buggy and stood in front of the patrolman. I pulled open the left side of my overcoat to reveal a fake badge pinned to my suit lapel. “I’m Detective Dobbs of Sarpy County. My less cordial partner here who gets grumpy past his suppertime is Detective Saunders. We’re scouting a young man who escaped from reform school yesterday and robbed his poor auntie of five hundred dollars this morning. She’s one Mildred Finnegan, resident of 3710 South Dewey,” I said and pointed at the house next door to the Cudahy mansion. “Which is that one right there.”

The officer considered the house. “You boys are good ways out from Sarpy County.”

I flipped open my timepiece. “Three and one-quarter miles to be exact.”

Billy began, “The longer this mule sticks around—”

“Quite right,” I interrupted him. “If our young runaway would happen by and see us conversing with a uniformed lawman, it might just may scare him off.”

“It common practice in Sarpy County to send out two detectives to retrieve a juvenile escaped from reformatory school?” the officer asked.

Billy and I exchanged a look.

“What precinct in Sarpy are you boys from?”

I furrowed my brow. “What’s your name, officer? I’d like to have it in case I have to report to my captain that a third-shift beat boy of the okey-doke variety spoiled our opportunity to apprehend our suspect.”

“My name is Donald Marsh. And you can report me to President McKinley if you want. I’m doing my duty, and I asked you a question.”

 

 

“South Sixteenth Street Precinct,” I responded harshly. “Now, I can appreciate you doing your duty, but I’m going to ask you this once to be on your way out of respect for our surveillance. Surely you have other routes on your beat that are in need of your attention. But if I have to ask again, you’ll be stripped of your badge and folding sheets in a Chink laundry before the week’s out.”

The officer backed away. “You Sarpy boys are a real pair of sweethearts.”

“And a merry Christmas to you and yours on the Douglas side,” Billy said.

“Detective Dobbs, was it?” the officer asked me.

I tipped my hat in a parting gesture. “That’s right.”

“Detective Saunders,” the officer said to Billy as a farewell. “Happy hunting, gentlemen.”

We watched the officer leave. He walked briskly to the corner of Dewey and turned left, heading south. He’d been whistling a tune when he came down the street, but was silent during his exit. No longer was he twirling his baton.

Billy paid heed to the difference. “Man left with a purpose.”

I climbed back onto our woeful buggy.

“Suppose he heads to the nearest call box and dials up central station to check on those names you gave him?”

“Suppose he does,” I said and opened my spyglass again to examine the Cudahy mansion. Eddie Junior was no longer in the parlor. “He’ll find out that Detective Dobbs and Saunders are real fellers. Came into our shop a couple times for chops.”

Billy chuckled without amusement. “You and your split tongue. How many times have you lied to me and I’ve not known it?”

“If I ever lied to you, you’d know it good and well by the sixth syllable.”

“If he doesn’t come out soon, we best pull it in for the night,” Billy said and nodded toward the Cudahy residence. “Come back tomorrow or the day after.”

I collapsed the spyglass. “He’s coming out now.”

The front door of the mansion opened and exiting the house was Eddie Junior, carrying a bundle of books bound in a belt strap. Tall and pale and thin- shouldered, he wore a knitted cap and knickerbockers. Following him down the drive was the family pet, a spotted collie with a bobbed tail like that of a lion. He closed the front gate behind him, calling out for his dog to stay close as it was without a leash. Billy shrugged a cape of monkey fur around his shoulders and bent his head low, leaking more tobacco juice into his can. I jumped down to my feet again and watched the young man from behind the buggy.

Eddie Junior stopped three houses down: a three-story, Georgian Colonial affair with sash windows five across on the top floor and a wraparound porch. He rasped at the door and was greeted by a woman in a gingham apron who invited him inside immediately. His collie waited on the porch, pacing.

I ran a pocket comb through my beard. “Get the rig ready.

When he comes back out, we’ll scoop him up on his way home.”


You’ve just enjoyed an exclusive pre-publication excerpt from World, Chase Me Down.   

 

World, Case Me Down Cover

Andrew HillemanAndrew Hilleman ‘12 MFA will have his debut novel published by Penguin Books on January 24. The book is based on a true story of the 1900 kidnapping of the son of a wealthy meatpacking magnate—the first successful kidnapping for ransom in U.S. history—by notorious and charismatic thief and robber Pat Crowe. 

Michael Punke, author of bestselling book and movie The Revenant, called it “A rollicking great read that careens between funny and poignant, intimate and epic, action-packed and romantic. And like the best historical fiction, its themes are as contemporary as breaking news.” Publishers Weekly praised it as a “lively first novel” and “a raucous example of narrative invention.”

Penguin Books is an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. 
Copyright ©2017 by Andrew Hilleman.
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