more of chapter one of no orchids for miss blandish

3

A mile outside La Cygne, Old Sam said, “We want gas.”
“Why the hell didn’t you fill up before we set out?” Riley demanded violently.
“How was I to know we were going to Johnny’s?” Old Sam whined.
Bailey turned his flashlight on Miss Blandish. She was still unconscious.
“She’ll be okay,” he said. “There’s a gas station just ahead.”
At the next bend in the road they saw the lights of the gas station. Old Sam pulled up by the pumps. A boy came out of the office, rubbing his eyes and yawning. He started to fill the tank. Riley leaned forward, screening Miss Blandish from him. He needn’t have bothered. The boy was half silly with sleep. He didn’t once look into the car.
Suddenly the lights of a car appeared around the bend in the road. A big black Buick pulled up close to the Lincoln. The arrival of this car startled the three men. Bailey dropped his hand on his gun.
There were two men in the Buick. The passenger got out. He was a tall, heavily built man with a black snap brim hat pulled low over his eyes. He looked with sharp interest at the Lincoln. He spotted Bailey’s quick movement and he came over.
“You nervous or something?” he asked in a hard, aggressive voice as he stared intently at Bailey.
It was dark and none of the men could see each other distinctly.
Riley said, “Beat it, fella, nothing’s biting nobody.”
The big man peered in his direction.
“That sounds like Frankie,” he said and laughed. “For a moment I thought it was some big shot shooting his mouth off.”
The three men in the Lincoln stiffened. They looked across at the Buick. The driver had turned on the dash light so they could see him. He was covering them with a shotgun.
“Is that you, Eddie?” Riley said, his mouth turning dry.
“Yeah,” the tall man said. “Flynn’s nursing the cannon so don’t start anything you can’t finish.”
“We’re not starting anything,” Riley said hurriedly. He cursed their luck to have run into one of the Grisson gang. “I didn’t recognize you.”
Eddie shook a cigarette from his pack and struck a match. Riley hurriedly moved his body to screen Miss Blandish but Eddie saw her.
“Some babe,” he said, lighting his cigarette.
“We’ve got to get going,” Riley said hurriedly. “See you sometime. Get going, Sam.”
Eddie rested his hand on the car door.
“Who is she, Riley?”
“She isn’t anyone you know. She’s a friend of mine.”
“Is that a fact? She seems unnaturally quiet.”
“She’s drunk,” Riley snarled, sweat running down his face.
“You don’t say!” Eddie pretended to be shocked. “I bet I can guess who made her drunk. Let’s have a closer look at her.”
Riley hesitated. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Flynn get out of the Buick; the shot gun pointed directly at him. Reluctantly, Riley leaned back. Eddie took out a powerful flashlight and shone the beam onto the unconscious girl.
“Very nice,” he said appreciatively. “You ought to be ashamed, Riley, making a nice girl like that tight. Does her ma know where she is?” He stepped back, blowing tobacco smoke into Riley’s face. “Where are you taking her?”
“Home,” Riley said. “Let’s skip the comedy, Eddie. We’ve got to get moving.”
“Sure,” Eddie said, stepping further back. “I wouldn’t be in her shoes to wake up and find myself with a car load of monkeys like you three. Beat it.”
Old Sam let in the clutch and the Lincoln shot out into the highway. It went off down the road with ever-increasing speed.
Eddie watched them go. He took off his hat and scratched his head. Flynn put the shotgun back into the car and came over. He was a little man with a thin pointed face that made him look like a ferocious rat.
“What do you make of that?” Eddie asked, puzzled. “Something’s in the wind.”
Flynn shrugged his shoulders.
“We should care.”
“You mean you should care,” Eddie said, “but then you haven’t my brains. What were those cheap mugs doing with a babe like that? Who is she?”
Flynn lit a cigarette. He wasn’t interested. They had driven up from Pittsburgh and he was tired. He wanted to go to bed.
Eddie went on, “She’s been socked in the jaw. Don’t tell me a small timer like Riley has snatched her. I can’t believe he’d have the nerve. I’m going to have a word with Ma.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” Flynn grumbled. “I want some sleep tonight even if you don’t.”
Eddie ignored him. He went over to the boy who had been staring, his eyes round with fright.
“Where’s your telephone?”
The boy led him into the office.
“Okay, buddy, go rest your ears outside,” Eddie said as he sat on the desk. When the boy had gone, he dialed a number and waited. After a delay Doc’s voice boomed over the line.
“I’m talking from the filling station outside La Cygne.” Eddie said, speaking fast and keeping his voice low. “Riley and his mob have just pulled out. They had a girl with them: high class stuff and I mean just that. She’s way out of their class. Riley said she was drunk, but she looked as if she’d been socked on the jaw. It’s my guess Riley’s snatched her. Tell Ma, will you?”
Doc said, “Hold on.” After a long delay, he came back on the line. “Ma wants to know what she looks like and how she was dressed.”
“She’s a redhead,” Eddie said. “She was morethan pretty: better looking than most movie stars. I’ve never seen a better looking girl. She had one of those long, thin, aristocratic noses and a high forehead. She was wearing a white evening dress and a black wrap, and they cost plenty.”
He could hear Doc talking to Ma and he waited impatiently.
“Ma thinks it might be the Blandish girl,” Doc said, coming on the line. “She was going to the Golden Slipper out at Pine Valley tonight and she was wearing the Blandish necklace. I can’t imagine Riley going for a job that big, can you?”
Eddie’s mind worked fast.
“Ma could be right. I thought there was something familiar about the girl. I’ve seen pictures of the Blandish girl and come to think of it, this girl looks like her. If Riley’s got her and the diamonds—he’s got plenty.”
Suddenly Ma’s harsh violent voice came over the line. “Is that you, Eddie? I’m sending the boys down right away. Meet them at Lone Tree junction. If Riley’s got the Blandish girl, he’ll take her to Johnny’s place. There’s no place else for him to take her. If it’s the girl, bring her back here.”
Eddie said, “Anything you say, Ma. How about Riley’s gang?”
“Do I have to tell you everything?” Ma snarled. “Use your head and get going!”
The line went dead.
Eddie hurried out to the Buick. He gave the boy a dollar, then he got into the car beside Flynn.
“Let’s go,” he said, his voice excited. “Ma is sending the boys to meet us. She thinks Riley has snatched the Blandish girl!”
Flynn groaned.
“She’s nuts. Those cheap hoods wouldn’t have the nerve to snatch a purse let alone the Blandish dame! Where are we going, anyway?”
“Lone Tree junction, then on to Johnny’s place.”
“Goodbye sleep,” Flynn said savagely. “That’s close on a hundred goddamn miles.” He sent the car moving onto the highway.
Eddie laughed.
“You can sleep anytime,” he said. “I want another look at that babe. Get going!”
Flynn shoved the gas pedal to the boards.
“That’s all you think about—women!”
“What else is better to think of?” Eddie asked. “It’s women and money that make the world go round.”

4

Dawn was breaking over the hills as the Lincoln climbed the long steep hill that led to Johnny’s hide-out.
Old Sam drove carefully. He was tired, but he didn’t want to admit it. He was always scared these days that Riley would get rid of him for being too old. Bailey and Riley kept looking through the rear window of the car to make sure no one was following them. They were both nervous and their tempers were short.
Miss Blandish sat as far away as she could from Riley. She had no idea where she was being taken. None of the three men had spoken to her since she had recovered consciousness. She was frightened to draw attention to herself by asking questions. She was sure that by now her father would have alerted the police and they would be looking for her. It could be, she tried to assure herself, only a matter of time before she was found, but in the meantime, what was going to happen to her? This was a thought that kept intruding into her mind, filling her with dread. She had no illusions about these men who were with her. She could see how frightened they were. The two younger men, she thought, were the ones to beware of.
During the long drive, Riley could think of nothing but the menace of the Grisson gang. He was sure that Eddie would tell Ma Grisson about the girl. Ma was the smartest and most dangerous member of the gang. He was sure she would guess who the girl was. She would know about the diamonds too. What would she do? The chances were she would send her gang after them. Would she guess they were going to Johnny’s place? He doubted this. Johnny only worked with the small timers. A gang as big as the Grisson gang wouldn’t have dealings with a rummy like Johnny.
He would have to work fast, he told himself. As soon as he had got the girl under cover, he must contact Blandish. The quicker he got the money and the girl back to Blandish the safer it would be for him.
Old Sam swung the Lincoln onto the narrow dirt road that led directly to Johnny’s place. He reduced speed, and after driving a mile or so, they came upon Johnny’s shack, a two-storied wooden building, screened by trees. Leading to it was a rough path that had been cut through the undergrowth.
Old Sam pulled up and Bailey got out.
“See if he’s around,” Riley said, staying where he was. He fingered his gun, looking nervously at the undergrowth.
Bailey went over to the shack and hammered on the door.
“Hey, Johnny!” he shouted.
There was a pause, then Johnny opened the door. He looked at them suspiciously.
Johnny was pushing seventy. He was a tall, skinny old man with a drink-sodden face and dim, watery eyes. At one time, years ago, he had been one of the best safe men in the business, but drink had ruined him.
He looked at Bailey, then over at the car. His eyes took in Miss Blandish.
“What is it?” he asked. “You boys in trouble? It’s Bailey, isn’t it?”
Bailey tried to crowd into the shack, but Johnny stood firm.
“We want to stay here for a few days, Johnny,” Bailey said. “Let us in!”
“Who’s the girl?” Johnny asked not moving.
Riley pushed Miss Blandish out of the car and, followed by Old Sam, came over.
“Come on, Johnny, don’t act coy,” Riley said. “Let us in. There’s plenty of dough in this for you. Come on; don’t keep us out here.”
Johnny stepped back and Riley shoved Miss Blandish into the shack that consisted of one large living room and two rooms upstairs leading out onto a wooden balcony that overhung the living room.
The living room was indescribably dirty. There was a table and four boxes to serve as chairs, an old cooking stove, a hurricane lantern hanging on the wall, a radio on a shelf and not much else.
Old Sam was the last to enter. He closed the door and leaned against it.
Miss Blandish ran over to Johnny. She caught hold of his arm.
“Please help me!” she said breathlessly. The smell of drink and stale sweat that came from him made her feel ill. “These men have kidnapped me. My father…”
Riley dragged her away.
“Shut up!” he snarled at her. “One more word from you and you’ll get hurt.”
Johnny was looking uneasily at Riley.
“I’m not getting mixed up in a snatch,” he said feebly.
“Please telephone my father…” Miss Blandish began when Riley stepped up to her and smacked her face. She reeled back with a startled cry.
“I told you, didn’t I?” he shouted. “Shut up!”
She put her hand to her face, her eyes flashing.
“You beast!” she exclaimed. “How dare you touch me!”
“I’ll do more than touch you if you don’t pipe down!” Riley snarled. “Sit down and shut up or I’ll slap you again!” Old Sam came over. He looked worried. He picked up one of the boxes and put it close to Miss Blandish.
“Take it easy, miss,” he said. “You don’t want to upset the fella.”
Miss Blandish sank onto the box. She hid her face in her hands.
“Who is she?” Johnny asked.
“The Blandish girl,” Riley said. “She’s worth a million bucks, Johnny. We’ll split even among the lot of us. We’ll only be here three or four days.”
Johnny squinted at him.
“Blandish—he’s pretty rich, isn’t he?”
“He’s worth millions. How about it, Johnny?”
“Well…” Johnny scratched his dirty scalp. “I guess, but not for longer than four days.”
“Where can I put her?” Riley asked. “Have you got a room for her?”
Johnny pointed to one of the doors leading off the balcony.
“Up there.”
Riley turned to Miss Blandish.
“Get up there!”
“Do what he tells you, miss,” Old Sam said. “You don’t want any trouble.”
The girl got to her feet. She went up the stairs. Riley followed her. On the overhanging balcony, she paused to look down at the three men who stared up at her.
Casually, Johnny walked over to the gun rack by the front door. There were two shotguns in the rack.
Riley kicked open the door of the room Johnny had indicated.
“Get in!”
She entered the small dark room. Riley followed her. He lit an oil lamp hanging from the ceiling and glanced around.
There was a bed with a dirty mattress, but no bedding. A jug of water with a thin film of dust floating on the water stood on the floor. A tin basin rested on a small packing case. Thick sacking was nailed across the window. There was a musty smell of damp in the room.
“This’ll make a change for you,” Riley sneered, “It’ll take some of the starch out of you. Stay here and keep quiet or I’ll come up and fix you.”
Miss Blandish was watching a large squat spider crawling across the wall. Her eyes were wide with horror.
“Scare you?” Riley said. He reached out and picked the spider off the wall. The short hairy legs of the insect waved wildly. “Do you want me to drop it down your pretty dress?”
Miss Blandish backed away, shuddering.
“You behave yourself and you’ll be all right,” Riley said, grinning at her. “Start trouble and you’ll be sorry.” While he was speaking he was pinching the spider between his finger and thumb. “If you don’t behave, I’ll treat you the same way. Now you keep quiet.”
He went out, shutting the door behind him.
Bailey and Old Sam were sitting on boxes, smoking. Riley came down the stairs.
“How about some food, Johnny?” he asked, then he stiffened.
Johnny was holding a shotgun in his hands, covering the three men. Riley’s hand moved to his gun, but the look in Johnny’s dim eyes stopped him.
“Don’t start anything, Riley,” Johnny said. “This gun’ll blow your chest to pieces.”
“What’s the idea?” Riley asked through stiff lips.
“I don’t like any of this,” Johnny said. “Sit down. I want to talk to you.”
Riley sat down near Bailey.
“It was on the radio half an hour before you arrived. Who killed the guy?”
“He did,” Riley said, jerking his thumb at Bailey. “The stupid bastard lost his head.”
“Like hell I did!” Bailey snarled. “I had to kill him. This rat let me handle him alone…”
“Oh, shut up!” Riley said violently. “What’s it matter? The guy’s dead and we have a murder rap around our necks but we’ve got the girl. If we can get the money from her old man, we have nothing to worry about.”
Johnny shook his head. After hesitating, he lowered the gun.
“I’ve known you boys since you were kids,” he said. “I never thought you’d turn killers. I don’t like it. Murder and kidnapping. You’ll have the Feds after you. You’re going to get hot. You’ll be public enemies. You are way out of your class.”
“Your share of the loot will be two hundred and fifty grand,” Riley said quietly. “That’s big money, Johnny.”
“Think of the booze you’ll be able to buy with all that dough,” Bailey said brutally. “You’ll be able to swim in whiskey.”
Johnny blinked.
“There isn’t that much money in the world.”
“Two hundred and fifty grand, Johnny: all for you.”
Slowly, Johnny put the gun back in the rack. The three men relaxed. They watched him collect some tin mugs and a big earthenware jar.
“You boys want a drink?”
“What is it?” Riley asked suspiciously. “Your own rot-gut?”
“It’s good stuff—the best.”
Johnny poured the applejack into the mugs and handed them around.
They drank cautiously. Bailey gagged, but Riley and Old Sam managed to-get the burning stuff down their throats.
“How about some grub, Johnny?” Old Sam asked as he wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “I’m starving.”
“Help yourself,” Johnny said. “There’s the pot on the stove.”
As Old Sam went over to the stove, Bailey said to Riley, “You were wrong to snatch the girl. We should have killed her. Eddie will tell Ma Grisson and she’ll send Slim after us.”
“Shut up!” Riley yelled furiously.
Johnny stiffened.
“What’s that? Slim? He isn’t in this, is he?” he said.
“He’s talking through the back of his head,” Riley said.
“Yeah?” Bailey said. He looked at Johnny. “We ran into Eddie Schultz on the road. He saw the girl. He’ll tell Ma Grisson.”
“If Slim’s coming in on this, I’m keeping out,” Johnny said, edging towards the gun rack.
Riley pulled his .38.
“Keep away from that gun! I’m not scared of Slim Grisson. He won’t bother us.”
“Slim’s bad,” Johnny said uneasily. “I know all you boys. I know when there’s any good in you. There isn’t any good in Slim Grisson. He’s mean and bad right through.”
Riley spat at the stove.
“He’s got a hole in his head,” he said. “He’s no better than an idiot.”
“Maybe, but he’s a killer. He kills with a knife. I don t like guys who use a knife.”
“Give it a rest,” Riley said. “Let’s eat.”
Old Sam was serving stew onto tin plates.
“This stuff smells like goddamn cat,” he grumbled. He spooned some of the mess onto a plate. “I’ll take it up to the girl. She ought to eat.”
“It won’t suit her fancy taste,” Riley said, grinning.
“It’s better than nothing,” Old Sam said.
He carried the plate up the stairs and he entered the dimly lit little room.
Miss Blandish was sitting on the edge of the bed. She had been crying. She looked up as Old Sam came in.
“Here, get this inside you,” he said awkwardly. “You’ll feel better for some grub.”
The gamy smell of the stew turned Miss Blandish sick.
“No… thank you. I—I couldn’t…”
“It stinks a bit,” Old Sam said apologetically, “but you should eat.” He put the plate down. He looked at the dirty mattress and shook his head. “Not what you’re used to, I bet. I’ll see if I can find you a rug or something.”
“Thank you; you’re kind.” She hesitated, then lowering her voice, she went on, “Won’t you help me? If you will telephone my father and tell him where I am, you will be well rewarded. Please help me.”
“I can’t, miss,” Old Sam said, backing to the door. “I’m too old for trouble. Those two down there are mean boys. There’s nothing I can do for you.” He went out, shutting the door after him.
Riley and Bailey were eating and Old Sam joined them. When they had finished, Riley got up.
“That’s about the worst meal I’ve ever eaten,” he said. He looked at his watch. The time was five minutes after nine. “I’d better call Anna. She’ll be wondering what’s happened to me.”
“You’re kidding yourself,” Bailey said. “You and your Anna. Do you imagine she cares where you are?” He got up and went over to the window.
Riley gave the operator Anna’s number. After a delay, she came on the line.
“Hi, baby,” he said. “This is Frankie.”
“Frankie!” Anna’s voice was strident. The three men could hear her. “Where have you been, you bastard? What do you think you’re doing—walking out on me? How do you imagine I liked sleeping on my own last night? Where are you? What have you been doing? If you’ve been sleeping with some other woman, I’ll kill you!”
Riley grinned. It was good to hear Anna’s voice again.
“Take it easy, sweetheart,” he said. “I’ve pulled a job— the biggest ever, and it’s going to land us in the money. From now on, you’re going to wear mink, baby. I’ll give you so much dough you’ll make that Hutton dame look like a pauper. Now, listen, I’m at Johnny’s place—the other side of Lone Tree junction…”
“Riley!” Bailey’s voice was high pitched with fear. “They’re coming! Two cars—it’s the Grisson gang”
Riley slammed the receiver back on its hook and rushed to the window.
Two cars had pulled up near the Lincoln. From it spilled a number of men. They started towards the shack. Riley recognized the tall, heavily built Eddie Schultz.
He spun around.
“Go up and stay with her,” he said to Johnny. “See she doesn’t make a sound. We’ve got to bluff these birds. Snap it up!”
He shoved Johnny up the stairs, and together they entered Miss Blandish’s room. She was lying on the bed and she started up as they came in.
“There’s a guy out there who’s poison to you,” Riley said, his face wet with the sweat of fear. “If you know what’s good for you, stay quiet. I’m going to try to bluff him, but if he once gets the idea you’re up here, you might just as well say your prayers—there’s nothing else you can do.”
It wasn’t the words that sent a cold chill to her heart, it was the white circle of fear around his mouth, and the lurking terror in his eyes.
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