The Nose of Nemesis

Damon Runyon

November 1912


Bill—his registry name is “Lord Brazon,” and his number 6532, if you care to look him up in the “A. K. C. Blue Book”—once the best quail and chicken dog in western Kansas, was stretched out on the station platform at Quinby one fine afternoon, absorbing the sunshine, which was as balm to his old and aching body.

Bill was not old as you and I reckon years, but he was quite ancient and decrepit for a pointer dog. From early puppyhood, his winters had been spent in the bristly stubble-fields. The cold, gray mists of the morning had seeped into his very soul, and made his bones brittle and rheumatic. The frozen hummocks had worn his feet, and the dried corn-stalks, which lay across the land in the autumn, after the harvests, like a sowing of bayonets, had scarred his liver-and-white coat in long seams.

So now Homer Handiboe, the railroad’s local detective, went afield with a son of Lord Brazon—out of Pawnee’s Pride, 9461 —ranging ahead of the muzzles of his double-barreled shotgun; while Bill hung around the station, and inhabited other spots frequented by the sun, and was pointed out as a great old has-been by the bird-shooters of Quinby, who could tell you many amazing stories of the aged dog’s wisdom.

Samuel J. Withers, president of the Metallic National Bank, of Topeka, alighted from his special car, the Algonquin, which had been switched from the Santa Fe flier to a spur near the station. As he strolled along the platform, he did not notice the shabby old dog stretched out in his path like a dirty white rug, blotched by liver-hued discolorations. Neither did he pay any attention to the gaping natives who stood gazing at him, profoundly awed by the presence of this celebrated Western financier.

Samuel J. Withers was a tall, thin, cold-looking man of middle age, with a pair of thin, cruel lips, and narrow eyes, the color of skimmed milk. His hair was thin, and his hands were thin, and folks said he had a thin soul, but a wonderful knack of making money and keeping it. His physician had ordered him to take a rest from his labors, and on the advice of some Topeka club friends he had decided upon a brief season of bird-shooting in the western part of the State.

And when I say to you that the prospect of the sport aroused in his bosom no pleasant anticipation, you may understand that there was no human note whatsoever in Samuel J. Withers.

He walked along the platform with impatient strides, his mind far from his surroundings. It chanced that Bill lay directly in his path.

As the old dog slumbered in the sunlight, he dreamed, as dogs will do. He dreamed, doubtless, of the open places; of hard marches across the bitter stubble in the white frosts of the morning; of swift sallies through dried and matted grasses, in and out of hedges, and up a long, silver lane that was the river; of sudden, blinding flurries of feathered things, which shed a warm odor that was as perfume to his senses. He dreamed, perhaps, of smashing volleys, and of the thumps of small bodies against the hard ground, while clouds of delicious gunpowder incense rolled over the world.

If such were Bill’s fantasies, they disturbed his slumber, for he growled, and whined, and stirred uneasily. Then, suddenly, he leaped to his unsteady legs, barking gutturally, only to gaze about him with a sheepish expression when he discovered that somnolence had made a fool of him; for Bill was a dog of great reserve and much dignity.

Mr. Withers was right upon Bill when the old pointer came to life, and the financier was startled for the first time in many years. It made him furious. Apparently he construed Bill’s movement as hostile, and the thought of even a dog offering hostility to Samuel J. Withers increased the banker’s resentment. He did not like dogs, anyhow. He considered them useless, and a nuisance.

“Confound you!” he cried petulantly. “What d’ye mean? Get out of my way!”

And then, to the everlasting shame of Samuel J. Withers, he pulled back a thin leg, and let fly a thin foot, which struck Bill in the side.

“Get out!” said Samuel J. Withers again, raking Bill’s ribs with another accurately directed kick.

Bill did not yelp. The blows hurt him, but he had never given open manifestation of pain since he was a puppy. Besides, he did not fully appreciate the indignity which had been done him. No one had ever before raised a hand, much less a foot, against Bill in anger.

The old dog moved slowly out of range of Samuel J. Withers’s long, thin leg, eying the financier with a curious expression, but stepping with grave, gentle dignity, which, of course, Samuel J. Withers did not understand. Bill walked over to the crowd of spectators, and sat down on his haunches. From that vantage he continued to gaze at Samuel J. Withers, as if fixing the man’s face in his mind.

Samuel J. Withers resumed his stroll, dimly conscious not only that his action had been a trifle small and undignified, but that it had created a most untoward stir among the group of onlookers.

However, he impatiently dismissed the matter from his mind, and turned to the contemplation of more serious affairs. Things were not going altogether well with Samuel J. Withers at his bank. He, one of the leading financiers of the State, had been using large sums of the depositors’ money for his own purposes, investing heavily in enterprises that were not prospering.

That, too, he soon dismissed, because Samuel J. Withers had been confronted by similar situations in the years that had gone before, and had triumphed over all difficulties. He crackled his thin lips in a thin smile as he saw a party of prominent citizens of Quinby bearing down upon him with words of welcome.

Homer Handiboe was out of town on business, and it was agreed that the indignity put upon Bill should not be mentioned to Homer if he returned before the departure of Samuel J. Withers. The railroad detective was a man of but indifferent poise, and the townspeople felt that as the financier was, in a sense, their guest, and his presence in Quinby an honor to the community, Homer’s unrestraint might work an injury.

Homer saved them the trouble of secrecy, however, by remaining away until Mr. Withers had concluded a brief foray into the fields, attended by various prominent citizens and his own private secretary.


They say Samuel J. Withers hunted birds much after the fashion in which he hunted dollars—with swift certainty. He had the instinct of a pot-hunter. He shot game just as he found it—sitting, or flying —and he preferred the former, because, he said, he disliked to waste ammunition. He refused to have dogs with his party. He used an automatic shotgun, and he shot with cold, calculating thrift. He candidly stated that he found no great degree of interest in the hunting, but the actual killing diverted him.

And he got his birds. The people of Quinby will always remember the financier as he came into town after the first day’s shooting, with dead birds stuffing the game-bags carried by his secretary, and dead birds hung about the secretary’s neck in long strings, as well as festooning the thin frame of Samuel J. Withers himself.

Six substantial old farmers who had planned investing in a land-reclamation project promoted by Withers reconsidered their intention, and four merchants who carried deposits in the Metallic Bank decided to do business elsewhere.

“I suppose you’d call that a good days work,” said Samuel J. Withers, without enthusiasm, as he sat in the observation end of his car that night with his secretary, surrounded by local citizens. “I told my friends in Topeka I’d have some game for them when I got back. By the way, Kirwan,” he called to the secretary, “those game-bags are too small. You’d better empty out that old black leather grip of mine, and we’ll take it with us to-morrow to carry the extra shells and bring home the dead.”

Two days of slaughter satiated the financier. When his car returned to Topeka his own hands carried the black bag, crammed with game, to his bank, where he distributed the dead birds among the more favored clerks, with the air of a man bestowing great favors. He tossed the bag into a corner of one of the vaults, where it was soon forgotten.

Old Bill held himself aloof from the station platform until after the special car had been removed. He moped at home, or in the seclusion of sunny alleyways, and he greeted even old friends with suspicion. Manifestly, his faith in human nature had been sorely tried.

When Handiboe returned, and was informed of what had occurred during his absence, he was extremely angry, because Homer loved Bill best of all the things in this world—his shotgun ranking second, perhaps, and the son of Lord Brazon a poor third. He sat down and wrote a letter to the president of the Metallic Bank, whom he had never seen.

He never told what he said in this epistle, and Samuel J. Withers did not divulge its contents, but it must have been a sparkling effort for a man of no great education, because shortly afterward Samuel J. Withers casually dropped in on his

friend, Herman Reniker, head of the secret service of the Santa Fé; and shortly after that, Herman Reniker asked Homer Handiboe for his resignation. The detective guessed the cause, but he did not care; he had had his say.


The hunting-field has a world-wide freemasonry. Homer Handiboe recalled that he knew the head of a private detective agency in New York, with whom he had hunted. He applied to this man for a situation, and was ordered to report in the big city as soon as possible.

And then Handiboe was confronted with the very serious problem of disposing of Bill. The son of Lord Brazon caused him no trouble, but none of Homer’s close friends manifested any enthusiasm when the old dog’s name was brought up.

“I’ll take him with me,” said Homer finally. “He ain’t got long to live, and he’s been a good pal to me. There must be places around New York where he can sort o’ hang out and get his sunshine, and I’ll know where he is. If I left him here, I’d be worried, sure!”

And so they went—Bill in the baggage-car, marveling greatly, but satisfied, by frequent visits from Homer, that all was well.

Life in the big city was a lonely experience for Bill. Homer found a quiet boarding-house on East Twenty-Ninth Street. The landlady was a fat German woman, who agreed to attend carefully to Bill’s wants, and who meant to do so; but her idea of attention began, and ended, with a daily rasher of food-scraps. Handiboe had to be away a great deal of the time, and, naturally, he could not take the dog with him.

Mrs. Schultz, the landlady, fixed a place for Bill down in the basement, near the coal-bins and the storerooms, but big, vicious alley cats infested that domain and made life a burden for the poor old hunting-dog, who had been taught early in life not to bother cats. He had been on friendly terms with all the felines in Quinby, but when he endeavored to establish amicable relations with these neighbors of the coal-hole, he nearly lost his eyesight. So Handiboe took Bill into his own room at night, and endured Bill’s stertorous breathing as best he could, although other roomers complained.

During the day, Bill wandered listlessly along the block in front of the boarding-house, following the patches of sunshine as they shifted from place to place on the sidewalk. He tried staying around the house, but the voice of Mrs. Schultz pelted him constantly with querulous exclamations, and that got on his nerves.

He could not become accustomed to the roar and bustle of the streets. Twice he was rolled over by flying automobiles. In Quinby, when Bill crossed a street, with slow and dignified tread, teamsters and horsemen pulled up and let him pass; here in New York no one had any consideration for an old dog.

He missed the breath of the earth; his heart yearned for friendly faces. Boys had always been Bill’s comrades; he understood boys. Back in Quinby, when he could no longer range with the men, he had occasionally found enjoyment in trailing parties of small boys who made vainglorious sorties into the field armed with twenty-two-caliber rifles—a puerile amusement, in Bill’s judgment, but good enough for an old dog. He endeavored to strike up an acquaintance with the boys he met in Twenty-Ninth Street, but they fled in wild dismay before his advances, or resented them with hostile gestures.

Meantime, Homer Handiboe was also having his troubles. He was not getting along very rapidly with the detective agency.

“I’ll tell you what it is, Handy,” said Dick Raymond, his employer. “You’re a grand good fellow, and a good wing shot, but I’ll be blamed if I believe you’ve got any talent for private detective work. You’ve fallen down and skinned your nose on four jobs in a row, which is a rotten average. Three would have been bad, but four is too many. I don’t believe I’m going to be able to use you much longer. You had a chance to hook a nice piece of reward money in two of those cases, too. You’d better go back to spotting stolen freight-cars in Kansas!”

Just then a clerk came into the room and handed Raymond a card.

“Show him in,” said Raymond. “Here comes a pal of mine who’s got a job with the State game-warden’s department,” he explained to Handiboe. “I’ll introduce you. He don’t know any more about game than you do about getting divorce evidence, and maybe you can trade information. How are ye, Bramble?”

A short, rotund man, wearing nose-glasses, and displaying an amazingly discordant tie and waistcoat, had suddenly bounced into the office.

“Dick, I want you to lend me a good man,” he said, without preliminary. “I want a guy that knows something about game—birds and things—not baseball, or three-cushion billiards. My office is on my hip about raiding some of these swell hotels that are dishing up game out of season, see? I don’t know quail from turkey, after they’re both on toast, but I’ll pay somebody that does, because I don’t want the office sending some hick in here on me to show me up.”

Raymond arose with alacrity, and dragged Homer Handiboe forward.

“Bob Bramble, I want you to shake hands with Handiboe, the best game-grabber what is! Handiboe, Bramble—get together, and get out!”

“I ain’t what you call a wise game-warden,” explained the voluble Bramble, as they walked down Broadway arm in arm. “Fact is, my job’s rather political. I’m an automobile salesman by trade. All we got to do is nose around these Broadway hotels, and take in the cafés on the avenue, and see whether they’re selling game out of season—which they are, because I was in a joint with Miss Blondine one night last week, and got nicked six seeds for a rail-bird, or a reed-bird, or something. I can’t tell venison from mutton, except by the price; but we’ll work this together, and when you jerry me that you think there’s game in the house, we’ll pinch the ice-box, see? I owe some of these swell snares a roust, at that!”


As Handiboe and Bramble were strolling down Broadway, Bill was sprawled on the sidewalk in front of the boarding-house— a lonely, disconsolate old dog. He was thinner than when he arrived in New York; life in the big town demands agility even of the aged.

Bill was dozing fitfully, but he had learned to sleep with his senses at half-cock. Suddenly he raised his square muzzle from the inhospitable concrete, and batted his dim and watery eyes at the figure of a man in the far distance. The man was moving away from Bill toward a region which, as the dog had learned from experience, was dangerous territory for him. He did not know, of course, that it was called Fifth Avenue.

The man was roughly dressed. There was mud on his clothing. It was not the dress, however, which attracted the old dog’s attention so much as a long, cylindrical object which the man bore over one shoulder, slanting upward and outward at an angle to his head.

Bill was not close enough to inspect the man carefully, but something stirred at the old dog’s heart, and he arose tremblingly to his feet. Well he recalled the appearance of Homer Handiboe on those frosty mornings of the long ago, when he would come shuffling out of the kitchen in similar rough attire, with just such an object over his shoulder, to whistle shrilly into the dim light of the dawn for Bill.

Clearly this man down the street was going hunting. Clearly he needed a dog, for there was none with him. Bill started after him as rapidly as the old dog’s feeble legs would permit, doddering along with a queer side-to-side movement, his tail wagging eagerly, and his nose in air.

Bill never learned that the man was an Italian laborer with a section of gas-pipe over his shoulder.

The old dog hurried across Fourth Avenue, then across Madison, the man always some distance in front. At Fifth Avenue, the Italian walked through a lane of horses and snorting autos, held in leash on either side, like greyhounds in the slips, by the uplifted hand of a traffic policeman. just as Bill reached the corner the hand came down, the two lines rushed together, and the lane was obliterated.

Bill waited with unconcealed impatience, the passers eying him with amusement. When the policeman again opened a new lane, the Italian had disappeared.

Bill hastened across the avenue, gazing excitedly about him and snuffing the air. He was too anxious and eager to be disturbed by the clamor about him, or by people brushing against him. The aged dog whined audibly, and swung his inquiring nose into the breeze that fanned softly up the avenue.

Aha! Far down the street he saw the feathery spray of green trees, tossing lightly in a dark channel of buildings. That was undoubtedly the hunting-field. He would find his man there. Bill could not appreciate the fact that he had merely discovered Madison Square.

He set off eagerly down Fifth Avenue, dodging pedestrians, ducking under the very noses of horses, and holding to a straight course regardless.


Samuel J. Withers left a small hotel in Twenty-Sixth Street, turned into Fifth Avenue, and directed his footsteps toward Madison Square. He bore a battered old black grip in one hand. He walked rapidly, with many a furtive glance to the right and left. He was headed for the Hudson Tubes, in Twenty-Third Street, and, ultimately, for a steamer which was to sail for Europe that morning.

He did not notice a liver-and-white pointer dog rolling unsteadin along in the swift stream of humanity. He did not notice that his black bag grazed the dog’s head. Samuel J. Withers’s mind could not absorb trifles, at the moment.

Then a curious thing occurred.

Bill drew his head aside as the swinging bag brushed his ear. Suddenly he came to a full pause, raised his square muzzle in air, and sniffed. Down came the nose again, to a dead level; the muscles of the dog’s body became rigid; his tail stood out behind as straight as a handle. He raised his right foreleg from the ground, and held it doubled beneath him. His ears were slightly raised, and his nostrils quivered delicately with excitement.

Old Bill had come to a full “stand” in the heart of the crowded way.

Spectators paused in astonishment. Women timidly drew their children into near-by doorways. Men laughed. A dandified young fellow, with a smear of mustache across his upper lip, and a wide-brimmed derby slanted back from his forehead until the rim rested on his ears, started to poke Bill with a little, pliant cane. Two carefully groomed old gentlemen, with silver hair, raised warnig hands. The crowd stood back and watched Bill.

“What a picture!” said one of the old men. “It takes me back thirty years!”

“Dat ole dog’s gone bugs!” commented a cocky little gold-braided door-tender from a near-by jewelry store.

Meantime, Samuel J. Withers moved on down the street, unconscious of the stir be- hind him. Soon Bill broke his plastic pose, and followed on, his body one straight line from his nose to the tip of his quivering tail. He seemed to slide stealthin along, rather than walk. The ‘crowd trailed him, picking up additions as it went. The care- fully groomed old men headed the mob, talking excitedly.

A few yards behind Samuel J. Withers, old Bill came to a second “stand.” This time he rolled a questioning eye to his rear. He was waiting for the familiar crash of the shotgun, and, doubtless, wondering what sort of an amateur was behind him.

The spectators now numbered several hundred, and some one had suggested “mad dog”—which brought a couple of policemen hurrying to the scene. One of the old men jerked an authoritative thumb at the officers, and they fell back with an apologetic―

“All right, inspector!”

Homer Handiboe and the loquacious Bramble were standing at that corner of the Flatiron Building which acts as a breakwater for Broadway and Fifth Avenue, where the two streets roll together at Madison Square, and which splits the currents out again into their proper channels. Bramble and Handiboe were debating the choice of a café for their first inspection, when Samuel J. Withers moved diagonally across their line of vision, headed into Twenty-Third Street. They saw an old pointer dog rush into view, crouching as he ran, and come to a “stand” in the middle of the street.

For an instant, the incongruity of the picture did not strike Homer Handiboe. He had been talking about game, and hunting, for two hours steadily. There were trees and grass in the near distance. Unconsciously, Homer’s arms and hands came to the position of “ready,” and his fingers groped for the trigger-guard.

Then he saw the amazed crowd drawn up in an eager line behind the dog. It occurred to him afterward that he also vaguely noted that the dog’s general attitude was expressive of disgust.

“Why, it’s Bill!” said Homer wonderingly.

Intuition immediately shifted his eyes along the line of the dog’s “point.” Traveling straight from Bill’s nose, through a crowd of people milling along the sidewalk, Handiboe’s gaze picked out the thin figure of Samuel J. Withers. Then his eye gathered in the black bag in Withers’s hand.

“Bramble, we’ve got a game-dealer right here!” he said quickly. “That’s my dog,

and he’s pointed on the bag in the tall fellow’s hand. You bet there’s game-birds in that satchel, or Bill wouldn’t be acting like an old idiot. Hi, Bill!”

Traffic had halted on either side of the dog, forming a deep ring about him, rimmed by the inquiring heads of drivers and chauffeurs. Handiboe’s cry was a welcome note to Bill. Here, at last, was a man who knew what to do. Bill tensed himself for the roar of the gun, but instead felt Handiboe’s fingers gripping his collar, and Handiboe dragging him to the sidewalk. Bill did not understand, but he was content. He trusted his master.

Meantime, Bob Bramble was scuttling importantly down the street in the wake of the tall, thin man, who was rapidly effacing himself in the dense crowds of Twenty-Third Street.


Police Captain O’Malley looked up with a sternly reproving expression as a large concourse of people came flocking turbulently into his office, headed by a short, stout, voluble man, who was leading a tall, thin man by a thin arm. At the heels of the delegation crept an old liver-and-white dog, who evaded the doorkeeper’s rush with surprising agility. The animal seemed interested only in a black hand-bag carried by the short, stout man. Outside the door, a big crowd was gathered, talking wildly.

The tall, thin man was protesting.

“I charge this man with unlawfully and feloniously having in his possession” began Bramble, grandly, but O’Malley cut him short.

“Who are these people, and what’s the row?” he demanded of an officer who brought up the rear of the procession with deprecating tread.

“They claim he’s got something in the bag the old dog smelled out,” said the officer ambiguously. “I can’t make head or tail of it myself.”

“I’m a deputy game-warden,” declared Bramble pompously. “Open the satchel—that’s all! The dog smelled ’em!”

Captain O’Malley grew purple in the face. Words struggled to his lips, but were

choked by anger. And then a quiet voice reached his ear.

“Open the satchel, captain,” said one of the old men who had followed Bill down the avenue. “I think there’s something to this, and the gentleman surely can’t object. I’m curious myself.”

“I’ve got valuable private papers in there,” began Samuel J. Withers feebly. “I protest against this high-handed outrage. I—”

But the captain had recognized the inspector.

Placing the black bag on a table, he hastily occupied himself with the clasps. The spectators crowded about him craned their necks. Even Bill’s muzzle could be seen thrust forward, the nostrils quivering, and the old eyes fairly sparkling with interest. Unnoticed, Samuel J. Withers sank into a chair and covered his face with his hands.

Amid a deep silence, Captain O’Malley pulled the throat of the bag asunder, and packages of green currency popped out.

O’Malley looked at the money with bulging eyes. A low murmur ran over the crowd. Then the police captain glanced sharply at Samuel J. Withers, and turned to his desk. Fumbling among some papers for a moment, he produced a yellow telegram, which he handed to the thunderstruck inspector.

That gentleman wonderingly adjusted a pair of nose-glasses, cleared his throat, and read:

“TOPEKA, Kansas—To all officers: Arrest and hold Samuel J. Withers, formerly president of the Metallic Bank, of this city. We want him for bank-wrecking, and will pay five thousand dollars reward for his apprehension anywhere within the United States. Withers probably has with him two hundred thousand dollars of the bank’s cash, which he removed from the vaults on the night: of his departure. He may still be carrying the money in a black leather hand-grip, as he was seen leaving the bank with this bag, which he picked up in the money-vault, and filled with all the available currency, when he found he would have to flee. Even if found discarded, this bag should furnish a clue as to his movements. It is easy of identification, as the interior will be found blood-stained, having once been used for carrying game. Withers is a man of—”

There was an interruption. Bill forced his head through the circle about the reader, moved over to the table upon which stood the open bag, raised himself by his forepaws, and nosed the packages of money, snuffing vigorously. Slowly he dropped himself to the floor again, and slowly he walked out of the room—manifestly disappointed and disgusted.