“Bat, I Need A Favor”
(This is the first of the Bat Masterson / John McMullen stories)
It was the morning of July 25, 1906, a sweltering day, and I was sitting at my desk at the New York Morning Telegraph sharing a Dodge City tale with my office boy Sam Taub when NYPD Detective John McMullen walked in. As I rose to greet him, he said “Bat, I need a favor” and I knew I was in trouble. “Sure, John. Sit down and tell me about it.”
As McMullen sat down, he cast a quick look at Taub who was sharp enough to stand and say “Well, I better get back to work.” I nodded, “Thanks, Sam. I’ll talk to you later.”
I turned to look at McMullen, a burly bear of a man. We had been friends for a few years and we both were friends of Teddy Roosevelt, now the President of the country. McMullen was off the boat from Ireland about fifteen years ago and had a wife and young son. He was a good tough cop. “What’s going on, John?”
“I haven’t told anyone, Bat, not even Margaret, but last week I was jumped and thrown in the East River by six or seven toughs. I was lucky, I suppose, that they didn’t grab my gun and shoot me. By the time, I got out of the river, they were gone and I was soaked. I walked around until I dried off and then went to the station house and changed into some clothes I keep there.”
McMullen was a sergeant and ran the Pickpocket Squad in Manhattan and would have had clothes for undercover work. He’s been good fodder for my column over the years.
“Do you know who they were? You can arrest them, then, for assaulting an officer.”
“That’s the problem, Bat. One of them was my brother-in-law, Tommy’s son, Jimmy Gallagher. He’s a wild one and is hanging around with older toughs. I don’t want to send him away — Margaret would want to kill me. But I can’t lock up the others and let him off the hook. I just want to teach them all a good lesson.”
I understand, John. What do you want me to do?
“Well, I’m going to go up against them when I find them — one or two or three at a time. I was hoping you’d stand with me.”
“Me? John, I’m almost fifty-three years old — and you said that they were young toughs.”
“Yeah, you — you’re Bat Masterson of Kansas and that should scare the shit out of them — the guy with the cane and gun. I can’t ask anyone on the force. I don’t want anyone to know about this — both for my sake and Jimmy’s. I really don’t think you’ll have to fight anybody — I can take care of that.”
Common sense told me to plead age, injury, or vacation plans with Emma — anything to bug off from this insanity. Instead I said “Ok. What do you want me to do?”
So I found myself three nights later standing at the end of an alley next to the side door of “The Wild Rose” with John. “They hang out here and come out to plan their next crimes and smoke” he said, “We just have to wait a while and someone will show up.”
“What do you want me to do, John?”
“Just wait here when I make my move. If I get outnumbered by more than two of them, come and bail me out. I don’t think that it will come to that.”
So we waited and talked. It seemed that his son, Wash, had just turned 2 on the day that he had come to see me. “It looks like he’s a smart kid, Bat. He’s always asking questions. Are all kids like that?”
As I was about to answer that I didn’t know as Emma and I never had any children, John said “There’s 3 of them now. I’ll be right back”, and ran toward the saloon door.
I watched as he walked up to the three men lighting cigarettes and, without a word, smashed one in his right kneecap with his nightstick. As another of the three lunged at him, he brought the nightstick up and with two hands caught the assailant under the chin.
The third turned and ran down the alley toward me. “Get out of the way, old man.”
“Old man?” I brought up the cane and speared him in the stomach as he got to me and, as he stood straight up, hit him in the face with my left hand. He fell backwards onto the pavement.
Using the same hand, I planted my cane hard on his stomach and with my right hand, pushed my coat away to reveal my holstered 45. “Old man?”
He was gasping and almost crying as John ran up. I looked over his shoulder and saw the two that he had attacked trying to stand.
“John, they’re getting up.”
“That’s ok, Bat. I’ve got their guns and knives. They’re not so tough now and they know it. They’ll be walking past us so as not to alert the others in the bar and they’ll slink on by. Give them the Dodge City stare.”
The one gasping on the ground gurgled “Bat?” and tried to get up until my cane pushed him hard. Sure enough, as John had said, the two came by us, trying not to look, one of them both limping and moaning as he rubbed his knee. John said harshly “This will be the end of it unless you ever ask for more.”
John looked down at the one pinned to the ground. “Would you look at this one, Bat.? This is my tough nephew, Jimmy. He can’t even hold his own with a fifty year-old newspaperman. Not so tough without 6 others, Jimmy?”
Jimmy sputtered “Uncle John, I didn’t know it was you. Billy just said that we were going to teach some cop who had been breaking their balls a lesson — and, if I wanted to hang with them, I should come along.”
“And wasn’t that a good idea? If you weren’t my nephew, you’d be on your way to jail now instead of just lying on your ass in an alley. Where are the other 4?”
Jimmy hesitated and then blurted out “They’re inside making friends with some fancy dressed guys, queers I think. The plan was that they’d bring them out here for a smoke and roll them.” He hesitated, realizing that he had just given up all his friends, and then asked “Are you really Bat Masterson, the Marshall who shot 27 men in Dodge City?”
I smiled and didn’t bother to tell him that none of stories were true — they had been told to a gullible New York reporter by a liar in Denver years ago and the stories had preceded me to the city. I just nodded and said “At your service.”
“Let him up, Bat, and we’ll go down the alley to wait for the mugging. Jimmy, run on home now — and tell your dad that I’ll be stopping in soon.”
“You’re not going to tell my dad, are you Uncle John?”
“We’ll see, Jimmy.”
As he walked up the alley, John said “His father would beat him bloody for a week if he heard this. Just the threat of this should keep him straight.”
We positioned ourselves in the darkness on both sides of the alley door and, sure enough, after about five minutes, a boisterous bunch of people spilled out into the alley. As soon as they were all out the door, John came out of the darkness and smacked one of them right in the face, I drew my gun and clubbed another tough looking one across the back of his head and pointed the gun at the others.
Just then, one of the “fancy queers” said “Bat, what are you doing here?”
It was Allan Pinkerton, grandson of the founder of the famous agency. He was heading up the New York branch of the agency.
“Allan, these young not-so-toughs with three other morons, jumped my friend Sgt. John McMullen of the local police force. We were here to teach them a lesson. What about you?”
“These same morons mugged one of my clients from Chicago here. He reported it to the police but then had to return home. He can identify them and will return to testify if we can bring them in.”
“As far as I’m concerned, they’re yours. John?”
“Just a moment. I’m not quite finished.” As he said that, he turned and brought his knee up very hard between the legs of one the toughs and, before the fourth could put his hands up, punched him hard in the nose, probably breaking it. “Ok, they’re all yours.”
Alan Pinkerton laughed and said “You guys are the stupidest crooks in New York City — you mug a New York Cop, bring Bat Masterson into the act, and then try to mug Pinkerton detectives. Well, you’ll have a lot of time to think it over.”
He turned to his companion, “Let’s get our handcuffs on these guys.”
John took Allan aside and said “I can use our new call box over there to get a wagon to come pick you and these dweebs up. I just happened to be walking by to call it in and Bat wasn’t even here, alright?”
Allan said, “Fine with me and thanks for the help.”
As we walked away, I told John “I can’t even write about this without getting us both in trouble — two police officers mugging muggers.”
John said “And we can’t even tell Margaret and Emma. They wouldn’t be happy. So how about, I’ll just buy you a beer?”
So he did!
Author’s Bio — John F. McMullen is a New York — based columnist, author, poet, and radio host. His books are available on Amazon and the URLs for his 153 radio episodes to date are available at www.johnmmac13.com.
Author’s note. John McMullen, one of the main characters, was my grandfather. Bat Masterson, frontier Marshall turned New York newspaper columnist, has fascinated me for years. Both knew Theodore Roosevelt. As a further coincidence, Sam Taub, the office boy mentioned in the story, later became a famous boxing announcer and hosted a radio show, which I was, at the age of 12, allowed to be in the room with him and his panel and spoke on the air. While the above story is fictional, my father, also an NYPD police officer, told me that seven toughs had mugged my grandfather and thrown him in the East River and that his father arrested none of them but “got them one by one and beat the hell out of each.”
Copyright John F. McMullen, 2016