Again the town constable of Coport fell in behind us and trailed us past the hotel.

By Gregory Clark, April 18, 1931.

It being almost the trout season, I usually have about me such things as feathers, eyed hooks and tinsel to tie the odd trout fly during lunch hour. It keeps you from thinking May first will never come.

Chatting with Griffin the other day, I happened to pull a brassy cock’s hackle out of my match pocket.

“What the deuce is that?” demanded Frederick.

“That,” says I, “is a honey dun glassy hackle from a game cock.”

“Is it a charm?” asked Frederick, with Irish respect for all charms, tokens and other things pertaining to the little people.

“No, sir,” I replied. “It is the main ingredient of a fine trout fly I am going to tie some day soon. A fine honey dun hackle, glassy and long, and it will be wound round a tiny hook, with a bit of raffia for a body, and the biggest trout I ever hope to see will rise to it, smoothly, savagely‚Ķ”

“Ho, hum,” yawned Griffin. He has no use for fishing.

“Feathers like this,” said I, holding it up to the light so it shone like spun antique gold, “are mighty rare. They come from the neck of a rare kind of game cock.”

“I’ve seen thousands of game cocks in Mexico,” said Griffin. “Why didn’t you tell me, and I’d have brought you home a potato bag full of feathers.”

Some people have all the luck. It is Grif- fin, who does not know how to cast a fly, who gets all the assignments up to northern Ontario and Quebec for stories, where trout are to be had right off the little station platforms!

“Now there,” said Frederick, sitting back in his chair, “is a sport! Cock fighting. If I were a man of means, I would have a beautiful big country place filled with game cocks.”

“Would you give me hackle feathers off them?” I asked wistfully.

“Get your own country place!” retorted Griffin, indignantly. “Do you think I want people coming round plucking feathers off my beautiful birds?”

“Did you see cock fights in Mexico?” I asked, apologetically.

“In order to see anything in Mexico,” said Frederick, “you have to look through a kind of haze of cock fights. There are cock fights on all the front lawns of the best residential districts. Throughout the poorer quarters, traffic has difficulty in moving at all owing to the number of cock fights being staged on the streets. On all the roofs of the houses, more cock fights are being held. And it is beautiful sight to see all the public parks and squares crowded with thousands of merry cock-fighters, young and old, in brilliant costumes, only outshone by the brilliance of the plumage of the fine birds.”

There is a slight strain of Mr. Dooley in Griffin. He speaks in symbols and allegories. If it is cock fighting you would like to know about, he will oblige, eloquently.

“But it’s a cruel sport,” said I.

“It is,” said Frederick. “Although I can’t think of anything a game cock would rather do than fight.”

“Cock fighting is prohibited in Ontario,” said I.

“So is speeding,” said Griffin. “But a little of it goes on.”

“By George,” said I,” I’d like to attend a cock fight, and maybe I could pick up some of the dead birds cheap, and get some wonderful hackle feathers! They fight to a finish, don’t they?”

“To the bitter end,” said Griff. “And sometimes both birds conk out in one fight. Anyway, a man whose bird loses a fight is generally so mad, he would give you the carcass for nothing.”

It’s All Very Secret

“Do you think we could attend a cock fight?” I asked.

“Nothing easier,” said Frederick. “All You have to do is ask Lou Marsh. He knows where everything like that goes on.”

So we went in and asked Lou.

“Cock fights?” said Lou. “Sure. There are plenty of mains down in Oshawa or Peterboro. Some of the finest game birds in America are bred down in those towns.”

“We could go down there and see one,” said I. “I suppose they are easy to get into?”

“Oh, sure,” said Lou. “Just as easy as attending a murder.”

“Would there be any in Toronto?” I asked.

“Just a minute and I’ll see,” said Lou. And he reached for the phone and rang up a gentleman whose name would bring the gape of astonishment to your face if I gave it away. He might just as well have rung up the lord bishop of Toronto.

“Any mains in town the next couple of weeks?” asked Lou. The answer appeared to be in the negative. Lou asked where the next good main was likely to be, and he got the name of a certain town not a thousand miles east of Toronto. Let us call it Coport, just to fool you.

“There is a big main,” said Lou, hanging up the phone, “at Coport next Friday. If you would like to go, I will get you an introduction that will let you in.”

“How about it, Griff?” I asked.

“Suits me,” said Griffin.

So Lou, in his headlong manner, promptly telephoned long-distance to a barber in Coport who seems to be secretary of the game chicken association of that town, and he told him that Griffin and Clark of The Star Weekly would be down Friday night to see the main, and would report personally to the barber.

“Tell them,” said the barber to Lou, “not to say they are newspapermen, or they might have trouble getting in. Just tell them to come and see me as soon as they arrive in town and I will fix it for them. They can pretend they are just a couple of sports.”

“Should we dress up tough?” I asked.

“Half the millionaires in Ontario will be there.” said Lou. “But if you want to disguise yourselves a little, it won’t hurt, because that mug of yours might be recognized.”

“Is there anything we ought to know be forehand?” asked Griffin.

“Take your cash roll right in your pants,” said Lou. “There will be people from Buffalo, Montreal and all over, big bettors. Each owner of a game bird and his friends bet against the other owner and his friends, and all betting is on the finger. You just stick up your finger and say, ‘Fifty on the Graham bird.’ and your bet is up.”

“Where are the mains held?”

“Oh, in a disused foundry or some old building on the outskirts of the town,” said Lou. “It’s all very secret and quiet. The lights are dim, except the light over the ring. It is a prize fight in tiny miniature. You will get a great kick out of it. It’s stealthy, quiet; betting in hoarse whispers, door guards calling shush to you, and the dark shadows of the big barn or factory flickering as a background for the brilliant, fierce birds fighting.”

Griffin put on his eagle look. It sounded like a story!

So Friday afternoon, in the locker room, Griffin and I changed into sweaters, caps and army breeches which he had brought down to the office, and we set out in the roadster for Coport.

After a lively drive, we arrived at supper time, and located the barber just as he was closing up for the day. He was a rosy little man, with his hair parted in the middle and slicked up in two spit curls on either side. And he had on blue sleeve garters.

“I hoped you’d come,” said he. “Now, it would be better if you just go to the hotel for supper and hang around. Walk about and see the town. And about eight o’clock I will telephone you there at the hotel and advise you where to go.”

“Won’t you tell us now where it will be held?” asked Griffin, who likes to see places in daylight, the better to manoeuvre in case of trouble in the dark.

“Nobody knows where the main is to be held yet,” said the rosy and gentle little barber. “It’s very secret. I will telephone you at the hotel at eight o’clock sharp.”

“He Thinks We’re Bandits”

So we parked the roadster up near the hotel and went in to supper.

The hotel was quite full. There were a number of distinguished looking men amongst them, some of them elderly, and a large number of them had their hair parted thinly in the middle, with the two spit curls brushed up on either side, like the barber.

“All those with their hair done that way are cock fighters, I bet,” said Frederick, as we sat down.

There was an air of interest and excitement around the hotel dining room. Everybody seemed to know everybody else. There were cautious greetings and nods. Even the waitresses seemed excited.

“By jove,” whispered Griff. “This begins to look good. The gathering of the clan from far and near. See that short fat man there; I bet he’s from Buffalo. And those two dark men are Montrealers. They look like game roosters themselves. And look at their hair!”

They had spit curls, too.

We dawdled over our supper in the crowded room, enjoying the sight of all these queerly mixed men, all of whom spoke so guardedly that strain our trained newspaper ears as we might, we could not hear any of their conversations.

So about seven o’clock we walked out to see the town. Griffin had on a peaked cap, high rolled sweater and a coarse Irish tweed jacket, with breeches. I had a cap and pullover and a sporty looking old white trench coat and shooting boots. I admit now that we did look a little tough. But it was too late to fix our hair like cock fighters.

We stepped out the hotel door and the town constable who had been sitting on a veranda chair rose as we came out and stood watching us.

“Nix on the cop,” I whispered to Frederick.

Griffin gave the constable a slow stare.

We sauntered down the town street, past the stores that were closed, watching the townspeople out for the evening walk.

The town constable followed.

At the corner, we paused, undecided which way to walk next.

On the corner where we paused was a bank.

The constable had stopped up two or three doors away and was watching us intently by reflection in a store window.

“That cop is watching us,” I whispered to Griffin.

“Let him,” said Griff.

“That’s a bank here,” I said in a low voice. “Maybe he thinks we are a couple of bandits.”

And Griffin turned and stood staring at the small red brick bank building. He walked to one side and surveyed the bank from the side street.

I glanced along and saw the town constable fairly trembling with excitement.

“That’s what he thinks,” I hissed to Frederick. “Don’t rag the poor fellow.”

So Frederick and I walked back up the street. The constable stood still until we passed, and then he fell in behind us and slowly dogged us up the street. As we passed the hotel, there were a large bunch of the spit curled guests gathered on the veranda. They, too, stared at us with interest, as the constable followed. And in their midst, I saw our old friend the barber. He winked at me, and I waved a salute at him.

Up the main street to the next corner Griff and I walked. And as we paused on that corner, I saw, to my horror, that there was another bank on it. Another red brick, one storey bank.

“Come on,” I said to Frederick, seeing the constable out of the corner of my eye. But Griff, with great deliberation, stood and stared carefully and long at the bank. And he even walked a step or two down the side street to take a look at it from that angle.

“Nix,” I called, anxiously. “The cop is following us. He is suspicious.”

“Can’t I look at a bank if I want to?” demanded Griff. He has always had a natural Irish antipathy for police, and you might as well try to cure him of teasing a constable as to teach him to say “heavens.”

Conspicuous Objects of Suspicion

Finally, I persuaded him to come along, only making the cop more suspicious by my efforts. Again we walked back down the main street, and again the town constable of Coport fell in behind us and trailed us past the hotel.

By now there were forty or fifty gentlemen, standing on the hotel veranda. And, to my horror. I realized that they were all, everyone of them, looking very pointedly at Griffin and me and the cop. Most of them looked very solemn, with toothpicks and cigars. But I thought, as I gave them a sharp once-over, that some of them had a curious smirk on their faces.

“That cop is making a fool of us.” I declared to Griffin. “Every one of those cock fighters on that veranda will recognize us to-night. We will be objects of suspicion.”

“Then,” said Griff, “we will give this cop a little exercise.”

So at the far end of the main street, we turned off and followed a side street a couple of blocks. Behind us, at a crafty distance, followed the town constable. We paused and examined buildings, barns and the odd little frame factory. Darkness came, and we walked fast along and around all these side streets of the town, but the town constable stayed like a bloodhound on our trail.

At eight o’clock we were in the hotel, in time for the phone call from our friend the barber. And the hotel was deserted.

Not one of the ruddy faced, split curl gentlemen was to be seen!

At eight sharp the phone in the booth rang. It was for Mr. Clark.

“Is that you?” said the barber, in hushed voice as from a great distance. “Now listen carefully. Wait right there in the hotel until eight-thirty. Do you hear?”

“Eight thirty,” said I. “Yes.”

Then walk down one block east of the hotel, up three blocks north, where you come to a path leading across some fields. Do you get that?”

“Yes,” said I, making notes on a pad.

“At the far end of that path you come to a dirt road. Follow it past a chicken farm and you will see a large building out in the middle of a field. Come to the south door and rap three times quickly. I’ll be there to let you in.”

“Right,” said I.

“Have you got it clearly?” asked the barber faintly.

“O.K.,” said I.

I came out of the booth, and as I did so, I saw the town constable looking in the door and beside him was another policeman in a blue uniform.

I walked over and sat down beside Griff in the lobby. The place was deserted. Even the commercial travellers had gone. The aged clerk at the desk was watching us sourly.

“Now there are two cops watching us,” said Frederick.

In a quiet voice, I explained the situation to Griffin.

“Down here one block, out three blocks, across a field by a path until we come to a road follow it past a chicken farm until we come to a big building out in the fields.

“Let’s go,” said Griff.

“We have to wait here until eight-thirty,” said I.

And there, at the door, looking in from the night, were two uniformed policemen.

“Now you’ve done it!” I said. “With your monkey tricks with the police. We’ve got to shake those two birds before we get to where the cock fight is.”

“That won’t be hard in the dark,” said Griff.

So we sat in the lobby, while the long minutes ticked past on the yellow wall clock. And when it rang half past eight, we rose quietly and walked to the door.

As we stepped forth into the night, the two constables were standing a little to one side and we walked past them jauntily. They followed.

Landing in a Mess

At the proper corner, we paused. They paused. We turned north up the quiet side street. The constables followed. Three blocks up, we saw a path turning off at an angle across a dark field.

“Don’t turn!” hissed Griff. “Let’s walk straight on, and then make a break suddenly in the dark and get into the field and regain the path further on.”

“Right!” I hissed back. It is rather hard to hiss that word. But I managed.

Up the street about forty yards we came to a dark spot and without a glance backward the two of us took a short quick run and then leaped off to the right into the weedy pasture lot, stumbled a dozen jumps and then crouched and hid.

We heard pounding feet. The two constables passed up the street. And then Griffin and I walked across the field to the path, which we found easily, and followed it about two hundred yards until we came to a lonely dirt road. On our left we saw a house and the scattered small buildings of a chicken ranch. This we passed and presently saw, looming out of the darkness ahead, a large building like a factory, set back from the road.

Stealthily, we approached it. We found the door easily. Stepping up to it, I rapped loudly and quickly three times.

And with one bound, out of the darkness came two constables and before we knew what had happened, Griff and I were backed up against the wall, pinioned.

Ah, ye murdherers!” cried one of the two constables.

“What’s the idea!” demanded Frederick, angrily. “How dare you jump on top of a couple of respectable citizens like this!”

“What’s the idea of you two birds prowling around this factory in the middle of the night?” retorted the constable, prodding us with something dark and menacing looking.

“We – we – we came here to meet a friend,” said Frederick, suddenly realizing that we two were in a mess.

At that moment, the door we had rapped on opened, and we turned eagerly to greet the barber. But a perfect stranger with a lantern in his hand appeared instead.

“Goodnight, watchman,” said the constable we knew best. “We just nabbed these two bandits in time, or if you had answered the door, they were going to slug you – or worse – and blow up your safe.”

“Ug!” said the watchman, starting to shake all over.

“What place is this?” I asked indignantly.

“This is the Bugle Plate Factory,” said the watchman.

“Is the barber in there?” I asked.

“The barber?” said the watchman. “No, there ain’t no barber or anybody else in here. But I’ll have two of my sons up here as soon as I kin telephone.”

“Come on,” said the constable, who had me by the slack of my shoulder.

“Just a minute,” said Griff, struggling. “What are you going to do?”

“We are going to lock you up,” said the cop.

“On what charge?” demanded Griff.

“Vagrancy, acting in a suspicious manner, prowling around a factory where it is known they keep large sums of money in the safe!”

“We can explain,” I said. “We came up here to Coport to see some friends on a private matter. The barber – you know the barber – well, the barber is our friend, and he will identify us as a couple of Toronto newspapermen…”

“The barber can identify you all right, me lad,” said the constable, pushing me off down towards the road. “It was the barber that gave us the telegram warning us to be on the lookout for two desperate characters and describing you two exactly.”

“What!” roared Griff.

“Come quietly,” warned the constable.

And in silence, we were led back into town and by side lanes into the back door of the lock-up, where the two constables set us down in chairs, having already found we were unarmed.

The Fateful Telegram

“Here are my credentials,” said Griffin, reaching into his pocket for his police pass case or wallet. But he had left them in his business suit at the office.

I had nothing to identify me. But we told them our names and occupations.

“You say,” said Frederick, impressively, “that the barber gave you a telegram he got describing us and saying we were desperate characters.”

“Here it is,” said the senior constable. It read:

“Tip off local police two well-known holdup men visiting your town to-night, short one and tall one, clean shaven, caps, sweaters, breeches, look like racing touts. Signed: Friend of Coport.”

‘What time,” asked Griff, “did the barber give you this telegram?”

“About six-thirty,” said the constable happily.

After he had seen us first,” said Frederick to me.

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“How long have you been on the police force here?” said Frederick.

“Only about six weeks,” said the town constable grimly. “That’s what makes this capture worth while.”

“Do you see it?” roared Frederick to me. “Do you see it? A new constable on the job. The boys aren’t very sure of him. So to keep him busy, this barber fellow gives the police a tip that we are a couple of yeggs.”

“Oh, no!” I gasped.

“Oh, yes,” shouted Griff. “Don’t you remember all the boys on the hotel veranda giving us the eye as we walked along with this egg trailing us!”

“The barber is a friend of Lou’s,” I said.

“What do cock fighters care for the likes of us!” roared Griff. “Then he telephones. us and gives us a steer to the wrong place where he knows these cops will nab us.”

“And in the meantime….” said I.

“In the meantime, all undisturbed by the new and zealous town constable,” declared Griff, “they go ahead with their cockfight.”

“What are you two birds trying to figure out?” asked the cop.

“Should we explain to him?” I asked.

“No,” said Griff, fiercely. “If we squeal, we are poor sports. Let’s sit here and I bet, about midnight, our barber friend will come and bail us out.”

“We have to lock you up now,” said the constable.

So we went into the grill and sat down and talked about this and that from about nine-thirty to about a quarter to twelve.

I explained the whole art of fly casting to Griff. With imaginary fly rod and imaginary stream, I demonstrated casting. The junior policeman sat outside the bars and watched with great interest. Griffin yawned and groaned and strode up and down. Then about eleven o’clock, he started to laugh. And he laughs just as violently as he rages.

Griffin laughs just as violently as he rages.

And he was still working on his laugh. which is like whooping cough with him and has to be got over with, when there came into the lock-up our little rosy friend the barber.

He was excited and gay and looked as if he had had a wonderful night of it.

“My, my, boys. I’m sorry,” he cried, on seeing us.

We looked at him stonily.

“Yes you are,” said Frederick between his teeth.

“It was all a big mix-up,” said he. “I will have you out of here in a minute. The senior constable will be here any minute. I explained to him that you are friends of mine and o.k.”

“We were very useful to you,” said Griff.

“Gentlemen,” said the little barber, “I see you have figured it out. Well, much as I regretted inconveniencing you, it appeared this afternoon that- er – ah – we might have certain difficulties. Our police force was only recently appointed, and they are a very zealous and conscientious body, if I may say so.”

The junior policeman walked away in pleased embarrassment and looked out the window.

“So I knew if you were friends of Lou, you would not mind, in the interests of sport, if we employed you in a rather selfish way.”

“Where did you hold the main?” asked Griff, grimly.

“In the Plate Works, where I told you to come,” said the little barber.

“In the plate works! Then you were there when we were grabbed?”

“Yes, indeed. You interrupted the main event of the evening.”

“And the old watchman?”

“The old watchman,” said the barber, “is one of the greatest living umpires of cock fights in North America.”

The door opened and the senior constable came in.

“Here,” said Griff, sticking his hand through the bars to the little barber:

“Shake!”


Editor’s Notes: I would consider this one of the pre-Greg-Jim stories, when Greg would write a story like this, with another person working at the Star as the sidekick, in this case Fred Griffin. A few of these stories were printed before the regular Greg-Jim feature began in 1932.

“Coport” is likely a mash-up of Cobourg and Port Hope.

Mr. Dooley is a fictional Irish immigrant bartender created by American journalist Finley Peter Dunne, and whose essays contain the bartender’s commentary on various topics.

Lou Marsh was a pioneering sports reporter for the Toronto Star.

“Pinioned” means to tie or hold the arms or legs of someone. “Yeggs” is slang for burglars.