ASH/HCC: Precinct 13

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Mon Mar 12 20:03:51 PDT 2012

     [The cover is an homage to the Nast political cartoons that attacked
Tammany Hall, a room full of party machine fat cats dining on an oversized
steak that looks vaguely like Manhattan.  A cloaked figure lurks in the

 '|`  /|(`| |                   "Precinct 13"
     /-|.)|-|          copyright 2012 by Dave Van Domelen

     [Historical disclaimer: the 13th Precinct is a real part of the New York
City Police Department, and during the Boss Tweed era really did operate out
of the building described here.  However, to the best of my knowledge it had
no special reputation for corruption: that element is a fabrication for the
purposes of this story.]

[May 21, 1954 - Manhattan, New York]

     "Man, I can't believe this thing was still standin'," Charlie tipped
back his cap as he surveyed the decayed building.  "I've seen slums that were
in better shape."
     Mack smirked.  "D'ya know this usedta be a precinct house?"
     "Shut up!"
     "Yeah, old home t'the Dirty Thirteenth, one of the most corrupt cop
shops to ever dance at the end of Tammany's strings," Mack nodded.
     "What, under Mayor Walker?"
     "Nah, farther back.  I think they'd moved th' Thirteenth by Jimmy's
day.  This was an old Boss Tweed money pit.  Crowded precinct house over a
buncha chicken coops, if y'can believe it.  Hardly mattered, most a' th' cops
assigned here never actually stepped inside.  Or existed, fer that matter."
     "Oh, th' old only-on-paper trick," Charlie nodded, poking at one of the
half-rotted walls with the business end of his sledge hammer.  "I remember
the unit I was in back in Korea, there was a company that didn't have any
actual soldiers, just rich officers takin' th' pay.  Boy did th' press love
tearing someone a new one over that!"
     "My grandpa was a cop, he told me the Unlucky Thirteenth did have some
real cops, mostly guys who'd pissed off the wrong guy and had to sleep over
the chickens as punishment, plus a bunch who were on the payroll but never
walked a beat in their life," Mack was rapping on the wall, figuring out
where to start knocking it down.
     "Ya think we'll find any bodies?" Charlie jerked his thumb at the wall.  
     "Jeezus, I hope not," Mack sighed.  "Then we get way behind schedule
while the real cops come in and sort it out.  Probably just gonna find a
buncha garbage, whoever built all th' extra walls in here woulda cleaned out
th' goods ages ago."
     The two were tasked with carefully knocking down a few walls that were
likely to be hiding secret rooms or passages...the building was smaller on
the inside than the outside, and no one could find the original blueprints.
Some of the additions were probably Prohibition-era, but a lot must've dated
to the original Dirty Thirteenth.
     "Maybe they used 'em t' work over guys what didn't roll over and pay
protection?" Charlie suggested.  "Or t' hide their girlfriends from their
     "THAT one I c'n believe," Mack chuckled.
     "This bit seems weakest," Charlie indicated a spot on the wall.  "I take
high, you take low?"
     "Sounds good to me," Mack nodded, and the two swung their sledges.  
     A few strikes later, and fresh air (or as fresh as central Manhattan
ever got on a late Spring day) was streaming into the walled-off room for the
first time in decades.
     "Holeeee," Mack exclaimed as the dust settled and he could make out the
contents of the room.  "Maybe gramps wasn't pulling my leg when he said they
had mysterymen back when he was a kid...."
     Much of the room was covered in mildew and decay, but the corkboard
dominating the far wall had been spared most of it.  A recognizable map of
Manhattan was at the center of the board, with pinned threads leading off to
various newspaper clippings and other pieces of paper on the sides.  It
looked like a command post for an operation aimed at taking down someone.
     "What...mysterymen against...Boss Tweed?" Charlie squinted to make out
the faded newsprint.  "Th' guy in th' old political cartoons they made us
read in school?"
     "The same, Charlie, the same," Mac stepped into the room and pulled a
flashlight off his belt, carefully aiming the bulky metal tube at the corners
of the room.  "Look, masks and hats," he pointed the beam at a rack on one
wall.  "Y'suppose th' guys that got chicken coop duty decided t'fight Tammany
Hall?  As, y'know, mysterymen?"
     "You know what I think, Mack?"
     "I think we could make a few bucks selling this story t'someone...
'specially since Tammany Hall's tryin' t'get back in business.  Might make
some useful publicity for someone, just sayin'...."


Author's Notes:

     Written for High Concept Challenge #28, "The Last Place You'd Think To
Look".  In this case, the last place you'd think to look for a secret
vigilante organization would be in the middle of the corruption it was
fighting.  For now, I'm going to leave open the identities of the vigilantes
(were they the good cops who got punishment detail, were they "bad cops" who
were faking it as a cover, etc), what they called themselves (although
"Precinct Thirteen" seems like it'd work), and whether their group persisted
past the fall of Boss Tweed.  Heck, a sequel to this story's certainly
possible, if bringing these secrets to light causes trouble for Charlie and
Mack.  Tammany Hall's power wasn't broken for good until LaGuardia's election
in 1932, plenty of time for some pulp-era proto-supervillains to get in on
the act.  And that's assuming Boss Tweed himself didn't have powers in the
ASH Universe.... about halfway down
shows the precinct house photo that inspired my choice of locations for the
story.  I'd already decided on a 50s-era demolition project as the setting of
the story, so the fact the real building was demolished in 1954 (along with
the oh-so-pulp "Thirteen") pretty much sealed the deal.  I'd initially been
trying to find a precinct number that wasn't being used so I could make it
entirely fictional, but that sort of information isn't trivially found online
for someone without specialist historian skills.  It's probably out there
somewhere, of course, I just couldn't find it in what I considered a
reasonable amount of time.  So I apologize to the real Precinct 13 and
intended no slight upon their reputation.


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