Thubway Tham's Chrithtmath
by Johnston McCulley
Author of "A Crook Without Honor," etc.

THERE was a flurry of fine snow in the stinging air as Thubway Tham came to a stop at a corner of Madison Square, the collar of his overcoat turned up and his gloved hands thrust deep down into the pockets.

It was a little after seven o'clock on Christmas Eve, and Thubway Tham had been purchasing presents. He had them in his pockets now--a new pipe for "Nosey" Moore, who conducted the lodging house where Tham had a room he called home, and a duplicate of it for Detective Craddock.

Thubway Tham chuckled at the thought of a pickpocket of the professional variety giving a Christmas present to the detective assigned to watch him and capture him if he could. But the relationship between himself and Detective Craddock was peculiar in many ways. Each considered the other a foe-man worthy of his steel. For almost two years Detective Craddock had been trying to catch Thubway Tham "with the goods," that being the only way in which he could land the little dip in the big gray prison up the river, but the detective's efforts had availed him nothing.

And now Thubway Tham stood back against a building and watched the happy, jostling crowd. Men rushed here and there, their arms filled with bundles of odd shapes and sizes. Women chatted gayly as they hurried toward the nearest subway entrances. The people seemed happy, and the weather was just right. Tham felt that it was going to be a good Christmas.

He watched the throng for a time, and then lighted a cigarette, took half a dozen puffs at it to get it going properly, bent his head against the force of the stinging wind, and crossed the street to enter Madison Square.

Though it was far too cold to sit on a bench, Thubway Tham wandered from force of habit to the corner where he did sit on pleasant afternoons. He was hoping that he might run across Detective Craddock--and he did.

Just then the big officer came slowly along the walk, chewing at a cigar and watching those who passed. As they met, Craddock grinned.

"Tho I thee your ugly fathe again, do I?" Thubway Tham said by way of greeting.

"Even so, Tham! This is indeed an unexpected pleasure," Detective Craddock told him. "I little expected to run across you in this part of our fair city at this hour of the evening. I had a lurking suspicion that you traveled toward the south when dusk came and remained in that section about which the least said the better."

"Ith that tho?" Tham wanted to know. "And what ith the matter with the part of town in which I live?"

"There is nothing the matter with that part of town, Tham, but some of the people there are under suspicion."

"Uh-huh! Everybody ith under thuthpithion if we leave it to thome of you withe copperth," Tham said. "I wath jutht thtandin' here watchin' the crowd."

"It'll bear watching--in spots," Detective Craddock retorted, grinning again.


"So! It certainly gratifies me, Tham, to find you out in the open like this. Were you in the subway, now, I'd have to keep an eye on you continually, and I have other things to do this evening. Men of your ilk, Tham, are especially active in the happy Christmas throngs."

"Ith that tho? My goodnethth!" Thubway Tham gasped out. "Any crook who would thteal from a perthon on Chrithtmath Eve ought to be thhot at thunrithe."

"Tham, that sentiment, coming from you, rather surprises me," the detective admitted.

"You thay, Craddock, that I am a dip and----"

"I'll say again that you are!"

"Maybe tho! But, if I do happen to be a dip--and I ain't thayin' that I am-- take it from me that I would not work on a night like thith!"


"No!" Thubway Tham declared earnestly. "There are dayth and dayth on which a dip can work. And if one thtealth from a man or woman what might be money for Chrithtmath preth-entth, it would be bad luck."

"Oh, I see!" I'm getting a new angle on crook superstition!" Craddock said.

"It ith not thuperthtition--it ith jutht common dethenthy!" Thubway Tham declared. "I would go hungry before I would thteal on Chrithtmath Eve!"

"And I believe that you actually mean it!" Detective Craddock exclaimed. "I feel greatly relieved, Tham. I won't have to shadow you to-night."

"You couldn't thhadow an elephant," Tham told him. "Craddock, you are a copper, but you're dethent and have thome thenthe. I'll thay that much."

"Thank you kindly!" said Craddock, bowing.

"And tho," Thubway Tham added, pulling a little package from one of his big overcoat pockets, "I have gone and bought you a Chrithtmath prethent."

"Tham, you overwhelm me!" the detective declared. "This is not offered in--er--in the nature of a bribe?"

"Craddock, don't be an athth!"

"I humbly beg your pardon, Tham. Thanks! A pipe!"

"You thmoke, don't you?"

"I do, and I happen to need a new pipe. I'll have a little present for you to-morrow, Tham, if I happen to run across you. But understand me, old-timer, I'd take you in this minute if I had the goods on you."

"That ith underthtood," Tham replied. "When you get the goodth on me, Craddock, I'd ought to be taken in and given twithe the limit. I'll thay I had!"

"Nevertheless, old boy, one of these days----"

"I know that old thpeech!" Thubway Tham interrupted. "One of thethe dayth you are goin' to catch me dead to rightth and thend me up the river for about fifteen or twenty yearth. Uh-huh! It theemth to me that I have been hear-in' that thtory for quite thome little time now. But I'll thay thith much, Craddock--if I ever am taken in I hope you'll be the copper to do it, and get all the credit."

"Thank you kindly, again!"

"Even if you are a thort of thimp at timeth," Tham added. "Merry Chrithtmath!"

Detective Craddock grinned as Thubway Tham continued along the walk, looked at the pipe, and put it into his pocket, and then walked briskly in the opposite direction, toward a corner where he believed that he had important business. Some pickpocket, it had been reported, was working there.

Thubway Tham meant what he had said. He never lifted a leather on Christmas Eve, or on the Fourth of July. He felt sure that it would prove to be ill luck. Of course, if there were extenuating circumstances, he might feel called upon to do so--but he never had met such extenuating circumstances.

He crossed over to Broadway and walked slowly in the direction of Times Square. There, he had decided, he would take a subway express for downtown, go to the lodging house of Nosey Moore, give Mr. Moore his pipe, and then retire.

Though he had few real friends in the world, Thubway Tham felt happy. The spirit of Christmas was upon him. It was as though the folks of the world were all in one big family, and he belonged. He purchased newspapers he did not want, and gave them back to the newsboys. He bought a sprig of holly and put it in the buttonhole of his lapel. When men and women jostled him and almost knocked him off the walk and into the street, Thubway Tham did not glare, as he would have glared on any other day.

Descending into the subway, Thubway Tham waited on the crowded platform until a downtown express roared in, and boarded one of the crowded cars. As the train started its dash through the big tube, Tham could not help wishing that it was not Christmas Eve. Here were so many "business" chances!

Tham saw half a dozen men near him, any one of whom would have been a prospective victim had he been at "work." But he did not contemplate breaking his rule. There were no extenuating circumstances, as far as he could see.

He glanced around at the happy faces, listened to meaningless chatter, yawned once or twice. He pulled off his gloves and dropped them into an overcoat pocket. It was hot in the crowded car.

And then his eyes bulged suddenly!

Within six feet of him he saw a small-sized man deliberately "lift a leather."

Thubway Tham experienced mingled emotions. In the first place it was unpardonable to lift a leather on Christmas Eve, and the man who did it deserved bad luck for a year. In the next place the subway was sacred to Thubway Tham. All recognized crooks realized that fact and left the subway strictly to Tham. And here was some man Tham did not know lifting a leather on a forbidden day, and doing it in the subway.

"Why, the dirty thneak!" Thubway Tham growled to himself. "It would therve him right if------"

A sudden idea came to Tham. He glanced at the pickpocket and then at the man standing to the right of the pickpocket. Yes, that was the victim, Tham felt sure; the man's overcoat was dark gray, and it was through the flap of a dark gray overcoat that the pickpocket had reached to lift the wearer's wallet. Well, the crook had nerve to continue to stand beside his victim.

"I'll bet that poor fellow needth the money," Tham told himself. "Maybe it ith Chrithtmath money! And that dirty thneak touched him for hith purthe right before my eyeth. Hith work wath coarthe at that!"

Tham's idea was completed by this time. He would touch the dip in turn, he decided, and restore the purse to its owner. That would be a kind act, and Christmas was the time for kind acts, the way Tham saw things.

He swayed forward as the train dashed around a curve and got nearer the pickpocket. He awaited his chance, when the train was coming into the station. His hand darted forward, the purse was taken, and slipped down into Tham's overcoat pocket.

The train stopped, the doors went open, and the owner of the purse got out. Tham stepped out of the car behind him and tried to catch him before he got up to the street. He managed it as the street was reached and touched the other man on the arm.

"Well?" the other said snappily as he turned.

Tham had not expected such a surly tone, but he told himself that perhaps this man had troubles. He grinned and extended the pocketbook.

"You dropped your purthe, thir," Thubway Tham said. "Here it ith!"

The other man looked at him blankly for an instant.

"My----Oh, yes, my purse!" he exclaimed. "And you picked it up, I suppose?"

"Thomething like that," Tham admitted.

"Um! And how does it happen that you didn't keep it?" the other asked snapping the purse open.

"That would be a dirty trick on Chrithtmath Eve," Thubway Tham told him. "That ith right--open it and count the money. Think that I "thtole thome of it?"

"Certainly not, my man," the other responded. "Had you been wanting to steal, I suppose you would have retained the whole thing. Let me see! A hundred and five--that is correct! Here!"

He extended a five-dollar bill toward Thubway Tham.

"I wath not thinkin' of getting any reward for returnin' the purthe," Tham said.

"Yes, I appreciate that fact, my man, but you are going to take this five just the same," the other replied. "Buy yourself something for Christmas--anything you like. And--thanks! I thank you very much! I--er--appreciate this!"

Thubway Tham accepted the bill. "That ith all right, thir," he said.

And then the other man smiled and turned away. Thubway Tham looked after him and grinned. It struck Tham as funny that he should return a purse stolen by somebody else, and one that still held a hundred dollars, and get a reward for doing it.

Tham was several blocks from the establishment of Nosey Moore, but it was not so cold now, and Thubway Tham decided that he would walk the remainder of the distance rather than descend into the subway again and wait for a train. So he went off down the busy street less than half a block behind the man to whom he had returned the stolen purse.

He had lifted a leather on Christmas Eve, but there had been extenuating circumstances, Tham told himself. He had stolen from a thief and returned the loot to its owner. Tham felt a sudden glow that came from what he considered a kind deed well done. He promised himself that he would spend that five dollars for something that he could keep as a memento of the occasion.

Three blocks down the street he went, and then he came to a sudden stop where some children were singing in the street. Tham waited at the edge of the crowd, already feeling in a pocket for a coin to give when the collection was gathered. He heard two men talking to one side, and when he turned, thinking that he recognized one of the voices, he saw that it was the man to whom he had returned the purse.

"I call it rich!" the man was saying. "The fellow made a mistake, naturally. He saw somebody drop a purse and ran after me and handed it back, thinking that it was mine. A hundred and five in it, too. I gave the boob a five for his honesty, and he broke his tongue thanking me!"

At that his companion laughed.

"Ha, ha!" laughed the man to whom Tham had returned the purse. "A cool hundred to the good! Here it is--see? I'll put it with this other hundred of mine, roll it all together. Some little celebration we'll have to-morrow!" At that he discarded the leather, and a few moments later Thubway Tham picked it up, opened it and found that it contained a card bearing the owner's name and address; then tucked it safely away in an inside pocket.

Thubway Tham felt his blood boiling. So! He had believed that he was doing a kind act, and this man--this crook-- had taken advantage of it! And now he was boasting, and calling Thubway Tham a boob! That was the worst of it!

It seemed to Tham that he saw red for a moment. He wanted an instant revenge! He wanted to get back that money, since it did not belong to the man to whom he had given it.

Here, Tham told himself, were extenuating circumstances. If he committed a robbery on this man it would be a just affair. But here was no leather to lift. The scoundrel had wrapped the bills around his own hundred dollars and had put the roll into his coat pocket. Getting it would be more difficult than lifting a leather after the established fashion.

Yet Tham was determined. He forgot all thought of Christmas. He forgot superstition, and the season, and remembered only that he must get that roll of bills.

When the two men started down the street, Thubway Tham followed them through the crowd. He did not even see the little girl who held out a hat for a coin, now that the singing was at an end. He saw nothing except the scoundrel who had duped him.

And Tham felt ill at ease, too, because this was not in the subway, where he generally worked. He did not want to snake the attempt until he was reasonably sure of success. Thubway Tham did not wish to spend Christmas Day in prison, waiting for trial on a serious charge. And the true story, if told, would not be believed, and would not help him if it was believed.

He remained just far enough behind to avoid being seen and recognized by the man to whom he had given the purse. On down the street they went through the joyous, jostling throng. They approached another corner where young street singers were at work, and Tham thought that possibly he might make the attempt there, if his prospective victim stopped to listen to the singing.

They stopped. Thubway Tham glanced around quickly, searching for the best get-away in case ill luck befell him. He glanced back--and was in time to witness a scene.

Detective Craddock was plowing his way through the crowd. Tham thought at first that the detective was coming straight to him to engage him in conversation and spoil his chances for getting the money back. Craddock had journeyed downtown on police business, he supposed, and it was bad fortune that he should appear at this corner at this particular time.

But Craddock, it was evident, had not seen Thubway Tham. He went around the edge of the crowd. Three quick steps forward the detective took--and touched on the shoulder the man to whom Thubway Tham had given the purse!

"I want you, Canderon!" Craddock said.

There was a curse and a short scuffle. Tham shuddered.

"Now, take it easy!" he heard Detective Craddock saying. "We've been looking for you for five or six months. You were foolish to come back to town so soon, Canderon. We'll take a little trip to headquarters now. As for your friend-----"

But Canderon's companion had darted into the crowd and disappeared.

"Probably somebody else that's wanted badly," Craddock said. "Come along, Canderon!"

The detective scattered the immediate crowd with a few growls and led his prisoner away. Thubway Tham slipped after them. Confound it! Craddock had spoiled things now! What fate was it that had brought Craddock there just at the wrong minute? Was Thubway Tham to lose his chance for revenge?

Craddock, he knew, was bound for a patrol box on the next corner, there to flash a message for the wagon. There seemed little chance for Thubway Tham to do anything.

Tham remembered that roll of bills in the man's pocket. He wanted the roll. He wanted the hundred dollars, and he wanted Conderon's hundred also, by way of profit and revenge. And the presence of Craddock spoiled things!

"Yeth, the thimp!" Tham said growlingly to himself. "Why couldn't he have found hith man a few minuteth later? Thith ith what I get for givin' him a Chrithtmath prethent!"

Detective Craddock went directly to the patrol box, paying no attention to the low mouthings of the prisoner. Tham followed a few feet behind. Curious ones stopped to turn and stare. They came to the patrol box, and Craddock sent in his call, and waited.

Thubway Tham was desperate now. His chance to get that roll of bills was lost, he told himself. Craddock, even as he thought this, turned and saw him, and grinned.

"Why, hello, Tham," he said.

"Hello, yourthelf!" Tham replied, stepping nearer, "Made a catch, did you?"

"I certainly have, Tham. Mr. Canderon, here, is badly wanted for swindling women and children. Better take a lesson from this, Tham, and lead a straight and honest life. If you don't, I'll be taking you in like this one of these days."

"Yeth?" Tham said. "Maybe tho and maybe not. Tho thith bird hath been swindlin' women, hath he? He lookth like that thort of a cuthth. I hope he getth twenty yearth!"

"Tham, wishing bad luck to a brother in crime?"

"He ith no brother of crime of mine," Tham declared stoutly. "I don't care if you hang him!"

"Yes, he'll get a few years to think it over," Craddock replied, chuckling. "He'll eat his Christmas dinner in jail, Tham. You be careful that you don't."

The prisoner had regarded Thubway Tham with amazement at first, and now he turned his face away from the curious throng and looked down the street. Tham stepped a little closer.

"Craddock, lay off that thtuff!" he said in low tones. "Callin' me a crook in front of all thethe folkth? Wonder you wouldn't make them go on about their buthinethth!"

Detective Craddock turned quickly to see that the crowd was growing denser and pressing closer. A patrolman,came charging through it,

"Need any help, Craddock?" he asked.

"Just send these people about their business," Craddock said.

The patrolman whirled toward the crowd and brandished an arm, meaning that he expected an instant dispersal of the mob. Craddock watched him at the work.

But Mr. Canderon at that moment decided that he did not wish to eat his Christmas dinner in jail if it could be avoided. While Craddock's back was turned, Canderon gave a quick spring forward, knocked Craddock to his knees, and jerked himself free.

Craddock's yell as he struggled to get to his feet caused the patrolman to turn and rush to the rescue. But Thubway Tham had acted already.

Tham saw his chance. He hurled himself forward and thrust out a leg. Mr. Canderon crashed to the pavement, and Tham, with a flying leap, was a-straddle him. There was a sharp, fierce tussle. And then Craddock and the patrolman were at the scene, a blackjack descended, and Mr. Canderon passed out momentarily.

And then Tham got to his feet and started brushing his clothes. The "wagon" arrived, and the prisoner was turned over. Detective Craddock stepped up to Thubway Tham and slapped him on the shoulder.

"Thanks, Tham!" he said. "Good work! I must be growing careless. But I am rather surprised that you'd help an officer against a crook."

"But there are crookth and crookth," Thubway Tham recited.

"He might have escaped in the crowd. You certainly bowled him over."

"I tripped him," Tham explained.

"A good job, too! Tham, I appreciate it! And that reminds me--I won't be able to see you to-morrow, because when I reported an hour ago I got orders to go to Philadelphia to-morrow and bring back a prisoner. Hot way to spend Christmas."

"Tough luck," Tham commented.

"But you're going to have a Christmas present from me, old-timer! Here is a five-dollar bill. You buy yourself something you really want, and tell me about it later."

"Yeth, but----" Tham began.

"Go on and take it, or you'll make me feel mean. And I want to be square with you so, in case I get the chance to land you, I can do it with an easy conscience."

Tham accepted the bill. "Thanks, Craddock!" he said. "Buthinethth ith exthellent thith evenin'."

Craddock waved his hand and went down the street. Thubway Tham, chuckling, walked rapidly in the other direction. He had the five Craddock had given him, and the five Canderon had given him for returning the purse--and the two hundred he had lifted from the latter's pocket as they had wrestled across the walk.

Before Thubway Tham went to his room that night he made a little journey to the home of the man whose wallet he was carrying. Tham returned the wallet and with it the one hundred and five dollars it had contained when its owner entered the subway. Joy was in Tham's heart, for he had made glad the heart of another.

"Merry Chrithtmath!" Thubway Tham said with a happy smile as he hurried toward the lodging house of Nosey Moore. "Merry Chrithtmath! I'll thay that it ith!"

The End



ALONE in the office of a telephone company in Eagle, Wisconsin, Miss Louise Breichenbach, an operator, thwarted five safeblowers who early one recent morning attempted to rifle the vaults and safe-deposit boxes of the Bank of Eagle. From the window of the office Miss Breichenbach saw the yeggmen working at the safe. She turned to her switchboard to call the town marshal, but found that the switchboard was dead. One of the two trunk wires had been cut. She circumvented the robbers, however, by hooking up several private lines, and shortly there appeared a posse of citizens, all armed, advancing upon the bank.

The posse surrounded the bank while the safeblowers were inside, and opened fire. Concentrating a return fire upon citizens grouped about the front door, the robbers shot their way out of the building, ran half a mile to a cemetery, and escaped in a waiting touring car.

Miss Breichenbach is credited with saving the bank fifty thousand dollars, of which nine thousand dollars was in currency.


Another earlier Johnston McCulley "Thubway Tham" story can be found at the Online Pulps page at: http://pulpgen.com/pulp/downloads/