New York Troopers - History
Preserving the Past for Those Who Follow
 
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Blue Book, May, 1936   HEAD WORK

By ROBERT R. MILL

CAPTAIN FIELD, the commanding officer of the Black Horse Troop of the New York State Police, drew a heavy line on a crude map. “Here is the Canadian border.” “Right.” The word of assent came from Lieutenant Edward David, who stood peering over one of the shoulders of the troop captain.

“And here,” continued Captain Field, making a dot north of the line, “is the probable location of the loading station.” This assertion was greeted with a profound nod from Lieutenant James Crosby, resplendent in the new uniform that denoted his advanced station in life, who stood behind the other shoulder. “According to my information,” Captain Field went on, “the car will cross the border on a dirt road, use the main road to Plazy, and then swing to the east on a dirt road, coming out on the main road again south of Plantville.” He drew the route on the map, and indicated a spot on the dirt road. “That should be the best spot to knock off the car.” “Hear what they are running, sir?” asked Lieutenant Crosby.” “Opium,” answered Captain Field. “Gum opium. Worth enough to pay the salaries of two lieutenants for about twenty years. And speaking of lieutenants, it is about time several of them did something to earn their salaries. So it might be well not to have any slips on this. Action, and not excuses, is what we want tonight.” Mr. Crosby remained discreetly silent. Lieutenant “Tiny” David, however, had his usual objections to any plan that involved work and responsibility.

“I don’t know that country very well,” he began. “Neither do I,” Crosby admitted.

Captain Field’s silence was ominous, but David ignored it. “Raining now. Be black as pitch tonight. How are we to find that particular spot on the dirt road?” Captain Field added some detail to the map.

“Two miles south of Plazy,” he asserted. “You have an odometer on your car. It is that dial with a lot of figures on it, and a needle. I’ll get one of the men in the garage to explain it to you.”

Tiny David sighed with resignation. “Yes sir,” he agreed despondently.

“According to my information,” Captain Field continued, “the car will start south about midnight; but you better be set some time before that.” Mr. David, with faultless logic, had discovered the only loophole. “Maybe,” he offered hopefully, “the information is phony. Maybe the car won’t make the run tonight. Maybe they gave us the tip to pull the patrols over there so they can shoot the car through another way. Maybe—” “Maybe you’ll be with us tomorrow,” interrupted Captain Field, “but I doubt it. You won’t be if you come in without that car. And that goes for you too, Crosby.”

They nodded gloomily, folded up the map and departed. HE evening was young when the troop-car pulled away from the barracks. Mr. David, a picture of pessimism, was driving. Mr. Crosby, with a face that would have done credit to an undertaker, sat beside him. The back seat was held down effectively by Sergeants Henry Linton and John King, who protested against the weather, the company, the nature of the errand and sundry other things. Plazy is east of the barracks. The car headed west.

“Thought we were going to Plazy,” demurred Mr. Linton. There was no answer from the front seat.

“Probably going via Rochester,” suggested Mr. King. “Only takes us about seven hundred miles out of our way.” This also went unanswered. “Guess he doesn’t speak English,” Linton decided. “Well, he hasn’t been in this country very long.” The rain was accompanied by a stiff wind, which sent the drops stinging against their faces. They drew their oilskins about them, and huddled together for warmth.

They were twenty miles away from the barracks, and the same mileage had been added to the distance from Plazy, when the car came to a halt. “Hop out,” Lieutenant David ordered the occupants of the rear seat. “Hop out, and give a convincing imitation of doing a lot of work. Make plenty of noise about it. Yell to Jim and me occasionally, so the customers will get the idea there are a lot of us.” He pointed at approaching headlights. “Here comes some business now.”

Sergeants Linton and King flagged the car. The driver, apparently, shared their thoughts regarding the procedure. He was returning from a vacation in Canada, and he was anxious to get back to his loft in the garment-trade section. “This,” he remonstrated, “is a fine pizness. A texpayer gets stopped by dressed-up loafers what he pays. And I am esking you, how vas I to know that you aint two of these bandit-bums?” Sergeant Linton examined registration card and driver’s license in the glow from his flashlight.

The driver appealed to his wife on the rear seat: “Rachel, look at the dressed-up loafers.

Raincoats yet; what the texpayers pay for! And we should pay for—” “Hush, Morris!” came the counsel from the rear. It was disregarded. The silence of the two troopers gave the driver courage. The tirade became personal abuse. It was punctuated with profanity.

“Hush, Morris!” A small boy sitting beside his mother raised a plaintive wail. UT the driver continued the abuse. Having exhausted the defects of the two men, he turned his attention to their families. And it was then that Linton’s temper, already under considerable strain, flared up. His hand grasped the driver by the collar, and raised him from the seat. “Oy!” came the shrill cry from the boy. “He steal da poppa!”

A guffaw from Sergeant King caused Linton to relax his hold. His anger gave way to amusement. The driver shared that amusement. “Sorry,” Linton muttered. “But you should be glad to see us out here on a night like this.” “That’s right,” the driver admitted. “It makes safeness from them bandit fellows. Look, Rachel, at the nice officers.” Sergeant King chuckled. “Go ahead,” he ordered.

Their succeeding customers were: a boy and a girl on their way to a dance; a gentleman barely on the safe side of being an intoxicated driver; a lady to whom the ordeal could not have been very trying, for she suggested prolonging it at her home near by, from which her husband would be absent for some hours; a gentleman of color, who protested because, “You-all never does take no black boys in your outfit, does you?” and a farmer returning from market. OW Tiny David called a halt to the proceedings. “Get in,” he ordered. Linton gazed at him sadly. “Tiny,”—he called his superior officer by the nickname,—“there are times when I think you aren’t quite right in the head. Other times, I am sure of it. This is one of those times.” Lieutenant David deigned to explain:

“Word travels fast sometimes. Want word to get around that a lot of us are working in this neck of the woods. Now we’ll beat it for Plazy.” Lieutenant Crosby turned half around to add a footnote.

“Sergeants,” he declared, with heavy dignity, “don’t think of little things like that. Lieutenants do. That’s why they are lieutenants.” Mr. Linton snorted loudly.

“The only thing you have done so far is sit. If we had a sandbag in your place, the car would ride better.” He appealed to his companion. “What is the trade-in value on a new lieutenant, Jack?”

Mr. King pondered. “The only thing you can figure on,” he declared, “is the nuisance value.”The long drive was enlivened by a two-mouthed discussion, during which Messrs. Linton and King weighed the qualifications of Crosby for the position he held, commented freely on his conduct since assuming that office, speculated at length upon his probable tenure of office. And after differing on several minor issues, they agreed that Captain Field must have been in a state closely akin to senile decay when he recommended Crosby for a commission; that the few human qualities Crosby ever possessed had departed upon his promotion; and that the first of the month—then eight days distant—would find him again a sergeant, or—this was more probable—no longer a member of the Black Horse Troop. All this was settled to the satisfaction of the rear seat only when the lights of Plazy appeared in the distance. Tiny David was guiding the car around the village when Crosby made his first contribution: “Naturally, you boys will want to be around to watch your prophecies come true. When I make out the stable-list Monday, I’ll see that you both are on it. Nobody can say I forget old friends.”

The purr of the motor, the rattle of the rain, the whistle of the wind, but no conversation from the rear seat featured the progress of the car as Tiny David headed south on the dirt road. Two miles beyond the village he stopped.

“Black as a lieutenant’s heart,” declared Crosby. T was indeed dark, an inky blackness that made the trees on both sides of the road indistinguishable daubs.

“No lights,” warned Tiny David, who had switched off the headlights.

They groped about in the dark until they found a patch of smooth grass at the side of the road, upon which they backed the troop-car, which was headed south.

“Now we will get organized,” Tiny David declared. “King, you stay in the car. Keep the motor running. Linny, feel your way about three hundred feet back on this road. Sing out when you are in position. Jim, you get set about two hundred feet this side of Linny. I’ll be here, not far from the car.”

He added a warning: “This is strange country to all of us. When you get to your station, paw around and make sure you are on solid ground.” They voiced their assent. “When, and if, the car appears,” Tiny David continued, “Linton will flag it. It is a safe bet they won’t stop. Take to the ditch in plenty of time. Jim, you get next smack at it. Remember where the ditch is; you probably will need it. I bat next. And if there is any shooting to be done, I’ll do it. Understand?” They admitted they did.

“If you have to jump, follow regular procedure. Pick yourself up, and run to the chase-car, so we can get after them quickly. And one more thing: hug the shadows so his headlights won’t pick you up in time for him to turn around and beat it back where he came from. Guess that’s all. But don’t try to think. I’ll do that for the party.” They started out for their stations, making pertinent remarks regarding northern New York weather. “Okay!” came the call from Linton. Crosby repeated it.

“Right!” shouted Tiny David.

They stood silently at their several positions, straining forward in an effort to pierce the gloom. Their eyes found nothing to relieve the blackness. Traffic upon the dirt road was non-existent.

An hour passed. It seemed an age. 
                                                                                                                                                                  
 
Over his shoulder Tiny David could hearthe low purr of the motor as it turned over at idling speed. All other noises were contributed by nature. And as the night dragged along, the temperature dropped. They pulled the collars of their oilskins about their necks, and longed for their sheepskins.

Then, so low that it was hardly audible, there came a whining noise from the north. It grew in volume. Soon it was possible to distinguish it as the noise of a motor being driven at top speed. The engine of the troop-car sputtered, and then settled into a monotonous hum as Sergeant King speeded it up, preparatory to the expected chase.

Three men, separated from each other by spaces of inky darkness, went through motions that were almost identical. They tightened their gun-belts. The left hand of each man was thrust into the pocket of his oilskins, from which it emerged clasping a flashlight. Then, with muscles tense, they waited.

The whine of the approaching motor became a roar. The car was hidden from them by a hill, the top of which, veiled by the darkness, loomed before them.

There was no doubt in their minds but that this was their quarry. The reckless speed at which the approaching car was being driven argued that its occupants were on an illegitimate errand. Their very presence on this out-of-the-way road screamed aloud the fact that something was amiss. HE hearts of the troopers beat a little faster. Forgotten was the grumbling. The rain and cold mattered not at all. Human pygmies prepared to test their strength against a rushing monster of steel; wasps about to attack an elephant. Perhaps they had a fleeting thought for a tablet that bears the mimes of other men in gray, who once attempted what they were about to do, and with results that were not pleasant. They pushed that thought aside. This was action; and they loved it. Two shafts of light, struggling in the moist darkness, shot over the crest of the hill. The shafts of light leveled off. They were deflected downward. They became more brilliant as they approached. Linton deserted the shadows at the side of the road and started forward. He walked warily, taking care not to allow his form to loom in the direct path of the lights. And then it happened! The two shafts of light veered to the left. Instead of continuing south toward the troopers, they raced toward the west. Then—it seemed almost at once, to the troopers—the lights swung around again, heading south. And the wanted car was speeding on its merry way along a road that ran parallel to the one upon which the troopers were stationed—and a good hundred yards away. There was no time for orders. None were needed. Crosby and Linton raced across a dark field, hoping to come out on the other road before the car had passed. Crosby made it first. His flashlight threw out a warning. He shouted the command: “Halt! State police!”

He drew himself up abruptly as he realized the ray of light and the command both were directed at the rear of a speeding car, the driver of which was completely unaware of his presence.

Linton fared the same. He and Crosby met, swore softly, and then raced back to where the chase-car had been stationed. Meanwhile, Messrs. David and King had done what they rightly considered some smart thinking. As David piled into the car, King headed south.                                  
 
This road, theyreasoned, probably had a connection with the other road to the south, as well as the one to the north, over which the dope car had traveled. Furthermore, if they headed north to the other detour, they would have a stern chase, and a hopeless chase.

All of which was excellent reasoning. Knowledge of that fact consoled them as they raced southward. But their logic had one fault. They realized that as they pulled to an abrupt halt, just in time to avoid striking a barn, which was located where the road ended.

So Messrs. David and King swore softly, turned the car around, and retraced their steps. They were joined by Messrs. Crosby and Linton. The conversation was at least spirited.

Mr. Linton suggested continuing the chase. Mr. David vetoed the suggestion, pointing out that the car had a lead it would be impossible to overcome. At this point some bitterness crept into the dialogue:

MR. KING: “I was ordered not to do any thinking. Otherwise, I would have pointed out that we might have improved the shining hours by making sure we were on the right road, and looking for crossroads and detours.” MR. CROSBY: “Point that out when the Skipper holds the autopsy. It may save you your stripes and your job.” MR. KING: “I didn’t get my job or my stripes by pointing things out, and I don’t have to hold them that way.” MR. CROSBY: “Let’s pretend I didn’t say that, Jack. I am sorry.”

MR. KING: “Forget it, Jim.” MR. DAVID: “Let’s pretend one of us has a bright thought.”

MR. LINTON: “Now that the best minds have nothing to offer, how about getting to a telephone and putting a general alarm on the teletype? A patrol down the line might pick that baby up.”

MR. DAVID: “Ever see an advertisement in a newspaper that read like this? ‘I am incompetent. I have muffed my job. I wish somebody else would do it for me.’ ” MR. LINTON: “I can’t recall ever reading anything just like that.” MR. DAVID: “What you suggested would be the same thing.”

MR. LINTON: “I am going up and have a look at that corner. I want to see how we got switched to a private road.” MR. KING: “Save some of the mud. You can show it to your grandchildren some day; tell them it came from the corner that cost Grandpappy his job.” MR. CROSBY: “Personally, I have no desire to look at the road. I know it is there. The fact that a dope car went over it at eighty miles an hour proves that it is there. I am quick like that.” MR. KING: “The Old Man is quick, too.”

MR. CROSBY: “Right. You birds were a wrong when you said I would be all washed up by the first of the month. It will happen tomorrow—today, rather. The Skipper promised it to Tiny and me if anything like this happened. Maybe you two lesser items will get off with semi-permanent assignments to the stables. After all, we were supposed to be doing your thinking for you. As we will point out.”

“All right,” said Tiny David. His voice was gruff. “Can the inquest.” He made a mental reservation that full blame for the proceedings would rest on to the shoulders of one Lieutenant Edward David, and nowhere else. “Let’s get organized. Speaking as a committee of one, I don’t yearn to go in and report how stupid we were. Furthermore, I don’t subscribe to telling the Old Man we didn’t see the car. We might get away with it, but I like to be HEAD WORK 7 able to look at myself when I shave in the mornings.”

They gave ready assent. “And that,” Tiny David declared, “brings us right back to the old stand. Just what is our story? If anybody has a thought, let the little stranger in. There are witnesses.”

Apparently no thoughts were knocking for admission. “What do you suggest, Tiny?” asked Crosby.

“We might get on a boat and go to China.” “Not far enough,” Linton objected.

“Any law against us getting a cup of coffee?” asked Crosby. “They always let the condemned man select what he wants for his last dinner.” They were seated in the car, and about to start for Plazy, when a second pair of headlights appeared to the north. These lights moved slowly. They were barely making headway through the rain. Tiny David groaned. “Might as well go through the motions. Come on.”

Their cry, “Halt—State Police!” was answered at once. The car pulled to the side of the road and stopped. Tiny David, flashlight in hand, advanced. “Hello, there.”

He threw open the door of the car, and the light revealed the occupants of the front seat. A young man, smartly dressed, was at the wheel. A stunning-looking girl sat very close to the driver.

“Streamlined,” was the softly spoken comment of Mr. Crosby, who stood behind the man with the flashlight. “What’s the big idea?” Tiny David asked. The youth appeared to be overcome with embarrassment, but the girl giggled. “It sounds foolish now,” she admitted, “but at the time it seemed like a swell idea. We were at a party. We didn’t want to go home. So we went for a ride.” Tiny David stepped to the front of the car, and then returned. “Canadian license,” he muttered. “How did you get through the Customs? They close at midnight.” The girl laughed again.

“What’s a mere customhouse among friends?” she asked. “We’ll be back before they are open. We are just going to Plantville to get a bite to eat.”  Tiny David shook his head.

“Bad business. Confiscate your car, if they catch you. And you never know what you will run into. Just to show you, a dope-car shot through here not so long ago.” The girl’s eyes widened. “Really?”

“Yes, really. Suppose you had been mixed up in an accident with it, and couldn’t show any clearance-papers to enter this country?” The girl nodded soberly. “It wasn’t such a bright idea,” she admitted. “Home for us—eh, Victor?” Tiny David chuckled. “I’m no killjoy,” he asserted. “But let’s make it regular. Tell you what we’ll do: I’ll ride back with you to the border. We will wake them up—they are friends of mine—and get you cleared properly. After that, let your conscience guide you. And the night is young.”

“That’s swell,” the girl declared. “But it makes a lot of trouble for you.”“Costs me nothing but time,” Tiny David objected. “Have lots of that. Expect to have even more later.” He turned to his companions. “Wait here for me. Won’t be gone long.” He walked toward the rear door of the car, ready to enter. The voice of the girl halted him. It was soft, musical and enticing.“Plenty of room here beside me.     

But perhaps you would rather be alone.” Tiny David grinned. “I can’t think of anything nicer,” he declared, as he crowded in beside the girl. . . . It was a short run to the border. A sleepy Canadian official protested at first, and then agreed to clear the car, as a favor to Tiny David. The Lieutenant handed the paper to the driver. “That means you are all through with us?” the trooper asked. The official nodded

Tiny David walked south to the American customs. His call soon aroused an official, and the lights on the porch were snapped on. The American official who appeared was less inclined to be agreeable. He yielded under the running fire of Tiny David’s comments.The car pulled up beside the trooper.

“Now,” said Tiny David, “if you will run me back to my gang, you two can be on your merry way. Much nicer to know you are on the right side of the law, isn’t it?”

The girl moved over to make room beside her. The light from the porch of the customhouse illuminated the rear of the car. Tiny David leaned over and apparently picked up something from the road.

“That’s funny,” he said. His deep chuckle was contagious. “Step out here a minute, you two; I want to show you something.” N the running-board of the police-car sat Crosby, King and Linton, wrapped in gloom as dark as the night. “Fixing up those dimwits,” declared Mr. Crosby, “is my idea of the last straw. I would have taken them in as an alibi. That would prove we had at least been here.” Silence greeted this announcement. “Tiny,” continued Mr. Crosby, “drives off in a closed car, sitting next to a slinky-looking dame, and leaves us out in the rain. Fine—”

“Shut up!” growled King. “It helps kill time, doesn’t it? And the more time we kill, the longer it will be before we get our chance to stand on a carpet and tell all, as the newspapers so quaintly say.”

They killed more time. The first traces of a cloudy dawn banished the inky blackness. The rain abated. There was no sign of Tiny David and his wards, but a car approached from the south.

They turned, and watched it draw near. Mr. Linton made the discovery.

“Mrs. Linton!” he moaned. “Watch over your erring son! That’s the Skipper’s car!”

Quickly they scrambled to their feet. It was an abashed trio that greeted the commanding officer of the Black Horse Troop as he stepped from his car. Behind him, making signs that this was an occasion upon which no levity would be tolerated—signs for which there was not the slightest need—came Max Payton, the top sergeant. ROSBY, the obligations of rank heavy upon him, stepped forward a little to bear the full brunt of the expected onslaught. “How is it going?” “Fair, Captain.” “Any luck?”

“Not so much luck, Captain.” “Humph!” There was a heavy, poignant silence. “Where is Lieutenant David?” “He should be back any minute, Captain.”

They saw the old familiar signs—signs they had witnessed ever so often, and signs which always foretold trouble for the persons who watched them. Captain Field’s face flushed. His arms began to swing. He paced up and down, then haltedLieutenant Crosby. “Can you answer one question intelligently?”

“I think so, Captain.”“Don’t tell me that,” snapped Captain Field. “You can’t think. I send you four nitwits out here to stop one car. And what happens. I’ll tell you—”  He halted abruptly as a sedan, approaching from the north, pulled to a halt beside him. The rear door opened. Tiny David climbed slowly out. He saluted as he saw Captain Field. That operation completed, he yawned. “Morning, Captain.” The silence that followed the greeting was ominous.

“Weather seems clearing up a bit.” Captain Field, they gathered, was not interested in the weather.

Tiny David cast about for a safe topic of conversation. “Haven’t seen a morning paper, have you, Captain? Murder trial out in Denver that I am following. They summed up yesterday, and—” HE long-delayed explosion shook the earth. It started with a picturesque account of the deficiencies, mental and physical, of four men. It continued with a list of their transgressions. It included an announcement regarding their futures. It concluded with the indictment:  “Sent out to get a car. . . . Told where to go. . . . Told what time it was due. . . . Three of you asleep. . . . Other one riding around with a girl. . . . Car runs right through you. . . . Driver didn’t even see you. . . . We pick him up five miles south of Plantville. . . . Car empty then. . . . Probably unloaded after he made monkeys out of you.”

Captain Field paused for breath. The faces of Crosby, King and Linton were studies in dismay. Payton silently conveyed his sympathy. Tiny David registered polite interest. “Was the Captain referring to that pilot-car?” Captain Field wheeled upon him. “Was I referring to what?” Tiny David sighed. All this, his manner indicated, was quite a chore, but he would attack it boldly. “The pilot-car, Captain. Went through here like a bat out of hell. But we didn’t bite on it. We figured he was empty.”

“Indeed!” There was a wealth of sarcasm in that single word, but apparently it was wasted.

“No, Captain; we stood back in the shadows and kissed our fingers at him. He figured this road was clear. He stopped in Plantville, and put in a telephone-call to the guy driving the car with the load. Glad you knocked off the pilot-car, Captain. That’s what I call real cooperation.”

He jerked a thumb toward the sedan.  “Soon as they got the word, this crowd started through. Smart people. Clean-looking fellow. Swell girl. Drive slow, so they won’t attract attention. Have a good story all ready.” He gave up his struggle against the weariness that assailed him, and sank to the running-board of the dope-car. “So sure of themselves that they don’t even try to beat it when I flag them. We pretended to swallow the story, and I rode back with them to clear the car at the Customs. . . . Went alone so they wouldn’t think we suspected anything. “They were agreeable enough. Got them straight with Canada. Did that so they won’t be able to claim the load. Fixed them up with our side of the line. That gives us clear title to the haul.” He laughed softly. “Sort of a lowdown trick on those boys at the Customs. They didn’t give the car the once-over because they saw I was in it, and they figured it must be okay. Well, we owe them that for some other deals they pulled on us.” He stifled a yawn, and continued:

“Two prisoners, Captain. Nice people. Girl with finishing-school looks and voice. Plenty of what Mae West uses. Boy with best university club manner. Nice haul, I call it. “Car loaded with gum opium. Stuffed under the back seat and in the trunk on the rear. Big consignment. So sure of themselves they even carried part of the load open on the floor of the back compartment.” The yawn was repeated.

“We were just getting ready to run them to Plantville and book them when the Captain drove up. All right if we go ahead, sir?” Captain Field’s eyes were twinkling. “Yes.” He walked toward his car, accompanied by Sergeant Payton. Lieutenant Crosby moved close to Tiny David. “ When did you tumble to it, Tiny?” he whispered. Tiny David spoke without moving his lips:

“Thought it was funny she went to so much trouble to vamp me and get me in the front seat. Wasn’t sure, but when she pulled it again up at the line, I knew something was funny. Then the light flashed on those tins on the back floor and I was sure.” Captain Field leaned from his car, and motioned to Tiny David. The big man walked to his side. “Where did you pick up the horseshoe, Tiny?”

An injured expression crossed Tiny David’s face. “I didn’t have a horseshoe, Captain. Didn’t need it.” His thumb indicated his companions. “This is a smart patrol. Use their heads every minute. Headwork gets you more than horseshoes.”

 Article compliments of Lt. Michael Kaska, Buffalo, NY Police Department

END