A MANHUNT CHILLER
HAND OF THE DEAD
by Gardner F. FOX
Originally written for MANHUNT #8 (1948) and published by Magazine Enterprises
THE METALLIC chatter of a submachine-gun broke the early morning silence. Trigger Bennett's hat fell forward over his eyes. He coughed just once ... a thin trickle of blood flowed from the corner of his mouth.
Lefty didn't bother to examine the Trigger. Without another word he crawled back to the spot behind the ashcan where Pretty-Boy Mahoney sat hunched.
“Trigger just got his, boss!" he murmured, gesturing in the direction of the Trigger's body. "With Wee Willie croaked back in the bank and Muscles Miranda tryin' to take a powder on us so's I had to administer a little lead into his back... dat leaves on'y da two of us still alive! And with th' coppers banging away at us with a coupla Tommy-guns there ain't gonna be any of us left in a coupla minutes.. if we don't amscray fast!"
"You're right, Lefty," said Pretty-Boy, between clenched teeth. “Some job this turned out to be ... an' it was supposed to be a soft touch, too! Trouble is Pretty-Boy Mahoney is too popular a name with the flatfeet these days. Let this be a lesson to you, Lefty ... try to stay out of the Number One slot on the Public Enemy list!"
The snort of machine-gun fire echoed down the alley once again, and Pretty-Boy staggered to his feet, using the brick wall behind him as a support. His right arm dangled uselessly at his side.
"They got us like rats in a hole, boss ... unless we bust into the back door of this house and get up to the roof," said Lefty. jerking his thumb in the direction of the dark building across the alleyway.
"Let's make a break for it," muttered Pretty-Boy, his face grimacing with pain. "This slug they put in my shoulder aches something awful, and at the rate I'm bleeding I'll be dry in an hour or so. I gotta get to a sawbones pronto and get patched up!"
Lefty Foster crawled across the alleyway on his stomach and tried the doorknob of the back door. They were in luck ... the door swung inward noiselessly. Lefty dashed back across the alley and half-pushed, half-carried Pretty-Boy into the doorway. As the door slammed shut behind them they heard a fare well volley from the machine-guns at the other end of the alley.
So far, so good! They had slipped by the police ... at least momentarily. Now to get up to the roof and across the tenements to another building. Then down a back stairway and they would have completely circled around the cops!
It took them half an hour to get back into the street, and when they did Pretty-Boy was almost out on his feet from loss of blood. They had to get to a doctor quickly.
“There's a sawbones on the next block," Lefty whispered to Pretty-Boy, as they turned up their coat collars and started down the street.
“There it is," said Lefty, pointing to a brownstone house in the middle of the block. "Doctor Pullman, Surgeon. Hold on just a coupla more minutes, boss, and we'll have you inside and safe!"
Pretty-Boy bit his lip in pain and merely nodded. His face was livid and he leaned heavily on Lefty as they climbed the steep flight of stone steps to the front door of the Doctor's house.
A short, stocky man in a white smock answered Lefty's insistent ringing of the doorbell. He stood uncertainly in the doorway for a moment, but one glance at Pretty-Boy's face was sufficient evidence that this was an emergency.
"Come right in," he said, holding the door open so that Lefty could steer Pretty-Boy into the hallway. "First door on your right. Get his coat off and stretch him out on the table. I'll be with you in a second."
Lefty whistled softly as he looked at the coagulated blood on Pretty-Boy's shoulder, after he had ripped off the other's coat and helped him up to the doctor's table.
"Now dontcha worry, boss," he counseled Pretty-Boy. “Dis guy'll have the slug out in a minute and then we can look for a place to hide out while the heat's still on us. You're gonna be all right, Pretty-Boy . . . 'cause I didn't pick out any ordinary sawbones to fix you up. It says here that this mugg's a 'Plastic Surgeon'... whatever that is !"
Pretty-Boy mumbled softly to himself, and the trace of a smile began to play around the corners of his mouth.
The Doctor walked briskly into the room, adjusting a pair of clean rubber gloves as he approached the table. “Of course I'll have to notify the police about this," he said, as he began to probe skillfully for the bullet in Pretty-Boy's shoulder. "Routine, you know. We have to report all instances of wounds of this nature."
And with that he held his forceps high in the air. A cylindrical piece of lead glistened dully in the shaft of light from the bulb overhead.
"That does it," he said in a matter-of-fact voice, as he applied gauze and tape to the wound. “Clean as a whistle. You just rest here for a moment while ..."
Lefty spun him around as he started for the door.
"I think mebbe you better forget about that call to the police," Lefty snarled. "I don't think they'd be interested in this case at all !" He turned to Pretty-Boy, who was sitting up on the table now, buttoning his shirt.
"Whaddya think, boss?"
"I think you made the smartest move of your life, Lefty!" Pretty-Boy answered, step ping down from the table. “Of all the docs in town you picked out a plastic surgeon ... not bad! Didn't even think of it myself ... and I'm supposed to be a bright cookie."
Pretty-Boy walked across the room until he stood directly in front of the Doctor. He lowered his head so that he was staring directly into the Doctor's perspiration-soaked face.
"You're gonna do a little fix-up job on this map of mine, understand? I want every feature changed ... nose, jaw, lips ... EVERY THING!"
Lefty's mouth dropped open in amazement, and Pretty-Boy chuckled as he saw the bewilderment on his partner's face.
"You don't know what a bright move you made, Lefty," Pretty-Boy said, a smile brightening the handsome face that had given him his nickname.
"Since the cops are turning the city upside down to find Pretty-Boy Mahoney ... I think it would be a good idea to have Pretty-Boy die ... and he's gonna do just THAT! With Doctor Pullman's help. 'Cause when he gets finished changing my face, my own mother wouldn't recognize me! As far as the cops are concerned, Pretty-Boy Mahoney dis appeared tonight. I'm switching characters from now on. When I walk out of this place in a coupla days no cop on earth will recognize me! As far as anyone but the little doc will know ... I'm Mr. X!"
With Lefty's gun in his ribs Doctor Pull man prepared Pretty-Boy for the operation. He administered the chloroform and Lefty stationed himself at the door to make sure there were no interruptions. In an hour the doctor was finished, and he stepped back from the table, pulled his rubber gloves off and wiped the perspiration from his brow.
Lefty kept his gun leveled at the Doctor's head until Pretty-Boy stirred and sat up. His face was completely swathed in bandages.
"Don't remove those bandages for at least forty-eight hours," the Doctor whispered.
"I'm glad to see that you take such an active interest in your clients," Pretty-Boy said. “In fact, I'm planning to stay here for a few days and let you look after me !"
The succeeding forty-eight hours passed swiftly, with the Doctor removing outer layers of gauze one by one from Pretty-Boy's face ... until only one layer remained. As he was about to step forward to remove the final layer, Pretty-Boy waved him aside.
"Lefty," he said to his partner, "It's about time we paid off the Doc for his efforts. Sup pose you let him have his payment!"
Before the words were out of his mouth, Lefty had emptied his gun into the Doctor's back. Then he turned toward Pretty-Boy, and looked into the muzzle of the other's gun!
"I think that Mr. X should have a really clean slate, Lefty," Pretty-Boy said slowly. "I don't think that anyone should know who Mr. X really is!"
His gun barked once ... twice! Lefty spun on his heel and fell to the floor.
In less than a minute Pretty-Boy had the final layer of gauze peeled from his face. He looked around for a mirror, saw none. His hands went to his nose, his cheeks, his chin, seeking, like the hands of the blind, to ascertain the nature of unfamiliar objects. A sense of elation swept him. His clean-lined nose, with its slightly tilted tip, was gone; under his testing fingers lay a flattened, broad nostriled shape. The little dimple had vanished from his round chin, which felt flat and hard. There was a scar of some sort on his right cheek.
He rushed out of the house, exhilarated with success. And as he walked the streets, people stared at him and knitted their brows. "The doc must have given me a real tough mug!" he decided, gleefully. "Swell! Nobody'll recognize Pretty-Boy Mahoney any. more!"
So sure of this was he that, a half-hour later, he even smiled angelically at a police man. Then the smile froze on his new face as he saw the cop draw his gun and point it right at him. Before he could yank out his own gun he heard a crash and felt the stinging thud of a bullet in his right hand. He cursed wildly and fell to the ground, trying to scramble after his gun. As his finger closed over the butt he felt a dull pain behind his ear and the street began to swim before him.
It must have been ten minutes before he regained consciousness. He was still in the center of the street, but now there was a blue wall of cops standing around him and his hands were manacled.
“You've made an awful mistake ..." he began.
The cop who had shot him leaned forward.
“Not this time, Pretty-Boy Mahoney," he said. He held a mirror up to Pretty-Boy's face so that the gangster could see his own reflection.
"That plastic surgeon you bumped off gave us a swell lead to your identity, even though you forced him to change your face before you killed him. I think it was very accommodating of him to carve your initials into your face ... so that we wouldn't forget who you were! Those letters, PBM, cut into your cheek, represent the most thoughtful bequest ever left us by a dead man!"