Cross Words for Crooks by Paul Chadwick
A puzzle fan finds himself juggling with a tough
SAM BICKLE, who is best known to patrons of the Hotel Paris as
bellhop No. 36, swiveled his eyes in both directions along the
tenth-floor hallway. When he had assured himself that no one was in
sight, he propped his back luxuriously against a marble column beside
the elevator door. With studied carelessness, he neglected to ring
the signal bell. The car would stop at his floor in its own good
time. Meanwhile, he looked forward to a period of peaceful
Sighing contentedly, he took a newspaper from an inside pocket and
poised the stub of a pencil above one smudgy page. His forehead
wrinkled as he tried to think of a five-letter word beginning with
"A" and signifying "skillful." The rest of the lines were all filled
in. It was that one vertical that stumped him--and he prided himself
that, when it came to crossword puzzles, he was the cat's pajamas and
the canary's toenails all rolled into one.
He became so absorbed in his problem, that he didn't even hear the
elevator go by or notice that the bulb over the annunciator board
down the hall was glowing.
It wasn't until a portentous shadow fell across his page and a
porcine bulk projected itself into his horizon, that he came back to
the grim realities of life.
He found himself staring into the ruddy features of "Big Jim"
Shallop, hotel detective.
"Ah," said Sam, and made an inaccurate stab toward the elevator
button with one quivering finger.
"Yeah," growled Shallop ominously. "That's right--ring it. I been
watching you for the last five minutes. I seen you wastin' the
hotel's time on another one of them dumb crossword puzzles."
Sam tried to make his voice express an arrogance he didn't
"Is that all this cheap boarding house pays you for--just to snoop
around and spy on the bellhops?"
"My job," said Shallop pompously, "is to protect the interests of
the hotel--to see that crooks don't steal from the guests, and that
employees don't steal from the management. A guy who swipes time is
just as bad as any other kind of thief. I've told you before to leave
them crossword puzzles alone. Now, I'm gonna speak to the boss.
You'll find a pretty pink slip in your next pay envelope. You're
always lookin' for funny words. The next one you'll read in this
hotel will be a five--letter word beginning with 'F'--fired. Get
that? And you won't need a pencil to figure it out either."
As an added insult, Shallop seized Sam's newspaper and tore the
crossword puzzle in half.
"Ow!" cried Sam. "You big double-crossing ape! Just when I had it
all done but one word!"
But his complaint fell upon deaf ears. Shallop was pointing
dramatically toward the annunciator box.
"Go and see what that guy wants!" he ordered. "Make yourself
useful the rest of the time you're here. It won't be long now."
Sam shuffled off, muttering to himself. The big pussyfooting
gorilla had nothing to do but stand around looking pretty and smoking
vile cigars. Yet, he was always telling Sam where to get off. Sam had
to admit, though, that as a gumshoe artist, Shallop was all there. He
had a way of turning up when a man least expected it. He was worse
than a bad penny.
Sam slammed ice viciously into a pitcher. These darned booze
hounds with their hangovers! It was guys like that and big lard pails
like Shallop that made a bellhop's life hard.
When he got down to the street floor again, he hunched himself
disconsolately on the bench and waited for another call. His cap was
tipped forward more rakishly than the strict standards of the hotel
The gay night life of Broadway still streamed by the canopied
entrance outside, but it held no thrill for Sam. At the end of the
week, he'd be out of a job again, watching the bread lines grow
longer, and using up shoe leather in a futile attempt to find
He hadn't even a good snappy crossword puzzle to cheer him in his
hour of need. He looked at the checkered tiles on the floor, and
imagined what puzzles a man could make there with a piece of chalk
and a pencil.
It was then that he saw the two newcomers who entered the
revolving door with their big leather grips. Sam leaped forward. No
use letting a few last tips get away from him!
The strangers stared down the ends of their noses and released
their grips with seeming reluctance. Tough-looking eggs, thought Sam.
They'd be wanting ginger ale and ice water before the night was
But their grips were light. No booze there! Sam had got so that he
could classify most of the guests who stopped at the Paris. But these
two had him guessing. One was short, and dressed in gray. The other
was a head taller, and had on a brown suit with a hairline white
stripe. They both had eyes that squinted.
"Give us a room up top," he heard one of them tell the desk clerk.
"We want to be up where it's quiet--and where we can get a look-see.
This old town has grown some since we were here before."
"Yeah," said the other.
Sam couldn't see what names they signed in the register. The clerk
handed them the key to Room No. 3019. That was one of the tower
rooms. They couldn't get much higher unless they went up on the roof.
It was the part of the hotel where all the swells liked to stay. It
gave them a feeling of being high and mighty. These two had plenty of
dough. They didn't even ask the price of the room.
But when Sam showed them into it, the man who tipped him, the
taller of the two, handed him a dime. He wrinkled his nose at that.
These two birds took a twelve-dollar-a-day room without blinking,
then handed a thin dime to the guy who had carried up their
"I ain't got any change, mister," said Sam, staring at the dime in
his palm and shaking his head sadly.
"A wise guy, eh?" said the tall man.
Sam beat a hasty retreat. He had enough trouble on his hands
already. These two men didn't talk or act like the guests who usually
took rooms in the tower.
He thought no more about them until Mr. Dennison, in Room No.
3012, ordered some more grape juice for his bridge guests. A great
old guy was Mr. Dennison, one of the hotel's regular paychecks. He'd
been a society beau in his time. Tonight, he was giving a card party
to a bunch of swells. Sam had seen them coming in, tricked out in
furs and jewels. Reporters had even interviewed Dennison just to
stick advance notices in the papers.
As he came out of the Dennison suite, he noticed Shallop talking
to one of the two strangers whose grips he had carried. It was the
short man in the gray suit. He was gesturing toward a door which Sam
knew opened on a stairway leading up to the roof. Shallop was rolling
a cigar around in his mouth and looking interested. Sam couldn't help
catching what was being said as he passed by.
"We heard a noise and saw him trying to get into our room," the
short man was saying. "He ran through that door."
Sam hurried on. But when he reached a turn in the hallway, he
paused, then retraced his steps slowly and stuck his head around a
corner. Something was going on. He wasn't the sort who liked to miss
a free show.
He saw Shallop open the door leading to the stairway to the roof
and enter it, followed by the other man. Sam felt himself getting
excited. Real detective work was going on. He gathered that the two
strangers had discovered someone trying to get into their room, and
had told Shallop about it.
As long as he was going to be fired, anyway, Sam reasoned that he
might as well enjoy himself now. If there was a manhunt in progress,
he wanted to be there to watch it. He walked resolutely back to the
door of the stairway and started up.
Shallop and the gray-suited man had reached the roof now. The door
was open. Sam got a glimpse of stars, and sniffed at the fresh night
air. He heard Shallop's voice.
"If he's up here, we'll find him. There ain't no other way
Sam stuck his head through the door at the top of the stairway. He
was all agog. He saw the lumbering form of Shallop and the figure of
the smaller man behind him. Then the smaller man took something out
of his pocket and thrust it against Shallop's back.
The detective gave an audible grunt of surprise.
"Stick 'em up," said the gray-suited man in a hard, tense
"Hey!" yelled Sam.
The gray-suited man turned his head then. It almost gave Shallop a
chance to grab the gun away from him--almost, but not quite. The man
with the gat still had one eye cocked.
"Take care of that nosey bellhop," he said from the corner of his
Something hard was jammed into Sam's ribs then. It was the other
man, the tall one, who had slipped out of the shadows beside the
"Raise your mitts, too," he said, "and come on up. The air's fine.
You'll like it."
Sam kept his arms stiffly aloft, as did Shallop. He saw the man in
the gray suit go through the detective's pockets and remove a gun, a
wallet, and a bunch of keys. Then he saw him give Shallop a clip
behind the ear with the blunt muzzle of his automatic. The big
detective sank to his knees and fell sidewise.
The man behind Sam duplicated the blow, but not so expertly. Sam
ducked his head a little. He saw red-and-blue lights dance before his
eyes, and he pitched forward, but he wasn't completely out. Dimly, he
saw the two men slip through the doorway to the stairs and closed the
door after them. He heard the sound of a key being turned in the
Then he understood the whole neat trick. They had lured Shallop up
on the roof to get his keys away from him and to get him out of the
way. They were crooks, and were planning to pull some sort of job. He
thought of Dennison's bridge party and the bejeweled guests who were
He sat up, rubbing the back of his head. Then he went over to see
Shallop. The detective was breathing heavily. Sam tried to rouse him,
but couldn't. He went back to the door and pounded on it, but it was
made of metal and was locked.
He stared over the coping at the street thirty stories below.
There was no fire escape, no way of getting down. The roof was empty,
except for a few pipes and the huge electric sign that rose on a
steel framework and blinked in and out as a lure to the teeming
denizens of Broadway.
Sam gathered some rainwater in the palms of his hands and threw it
into the face of Shallop. The detective groaned, and fluttered his
eyelids. Another shower of cold water made him sit up groggily. The
sky overhead shed a faint, reflected illumination.
"What the hell?" said Shallop.
"It's me," said Sam. "A couple of crooks socked you on the dome
and took your keys away from you. What are you going to do about
"What are you doing here?" countered Shallop, glaring fiercely at
"Just looking round," said Sam. "I heard you talking to one of the
crooks. You fell for his slick trick, didn't you?"
Shallop broke into a torrent of profanity. He arose, groaned, felt
of his head, then limped toward the door.
"It's locked," said Sam. "We couldn't break it down if we tried
"We gotta," said Shallop. "They took my keys so they could crib
the sparklers off Dennison's guests. I'm cooked if they get away with
But, try as they would, they couldn't force the door.
Overhead, the big electric sign continued to wink in and out as
though in sly humor at their plight.
Then after a period of darkness:
Sam stared up at it. He began muttering to himself. Then he
grabbed Shallop's arm.
"Quick," he said, "boost me up on that sign, Shallop. I got an
Then he saw he wouldn't need Shallop's help, after all. There was
a small ladder running up to the huge letters.
"What are you gonna do?" growled Shallop.
"Another crossword puzzle," Sam shouted back enigmatically.
The cold night wind lashed at him as he hung on dizzily. When he
reached the sign, he began working with feverish energy, unscrewing
bulbs and darkening letters here and there with the confident air of
a man who knows what he is about.
When he climbed down from the big framework and joined Shallop on
the roof again, the sound coming up through the canyon of Broadway
had changed. It had a louder, more strident note. Sam looked at
It was twenty minutes later that there came a shouting and a
stamping at the door leading to the stairs. Then it opened, and a cop
came up on the roof. Shallop greeted him excitedly.
"Quick," he said, "a couple of crooks are pulling off a heist job
"I know it," said the cop. "We got 'em just as they were leaving.
That signal of yours was seen all up and down Broadway. They got the
reserves outside. We thought there was a riot here--but I've got to
hand it to you, Shallop--it was a clever trick all right. Better get
it fixed, though, as soon as you can. It's stoppin' traffic all along
Shallop seemed to fight within himself then. He squared his
shoulders and looked the cop in the eye. His lips were firm.
"I didn't do it," he said. "It was the bellhop here. He's a
crossword puzzle fan, and I've been riding him for it. When I saw him
up there unscrewing the bulbs in the 'O' and T' of 'HOTEL,' and
leaving the 'H--EL,' I didn't catch on to what he was doin', and
thought he'd gone crazy. Then, when he began puttin' out the 'A' in
'PARIS' and all the rest of the letters except the 'P,' I saw he'd
As Shallop finished speaking, he reached into his pocket and took
out a newspaper. He solemnly folded it to the crossword puzzle page,
and handed it to Sam.
"That's to make up for the one I tore in two," he said gruffly.
"Do it when you get the chance--and don't worry about your job. I'm
going to tell the boss about this, and let him know that you ain't
only a crossword puzzlin' fool, but the greatest crook-catchin'
bellhop on little ol' Broadway."