the rest of no orchids for miss blandish, chapter one

5


Riley stood on the balcony and looked down at the group of men who in turn stared up at him. Eddie was there, both hands sunk in his pockets, his black hat pulled down low. Flynn was standing on the extreme left of the group, his hands also hidden, his eyes cold and watchful. Woppy and Doc Williams stood by the door; both of them were smoking.
But it was Slim Grisson who held Riley’s attention. Slim sat on the edge of the table. He was staring blankly at the tips of his dirty shoes. He was tall, reedy and pasty-faced. His loose, half-open mouth, his vacant, glassy eyes made him look idiotic, but a ruthless, inhuman spirit hid behind the idiot’s mask.
Slim Grisson’s background was typical of a pathological killer. He had always been lazy at school, refusing to take the least interest in book work. He began early to want money. He was sadistic and several times he had been caught torturing animals. By the time he was eighteen, he had begun to develop homicidal tendencies. By then, his mental equipment had degenerated. There were times when he would be normal to the point of being quick-witted, but most times he behaved like an idiot.
His mother, Ma Grisson, refused to believe there was anything wrong with him. She got him a job in a poolroom, cleaning glasses. Here he mixed with a bootleg mob. He watched them handle guns and wads of dollar bills. He got hold of a gun. His first killing followed automatically. He went on the run and for two years his mother lost sight of him. Then he returned. He boasted of the men he had murdered during the time he had lived alone. Ma Grisson was determined he should become a gang leader. She took his education in hand herself. Before he did a job, she coached him, going over every detail with him again and again. It was like teaching a monkey to do tricks. Once he got what she wanted into his head, he didn’t forget. Ma got together several desperate men. There was Flynn just out after serving a four year stretch for robbing a bank. There was Eddie Schultz, one time bodyguard of one of the bosses of Murder Incorporated. There was Woppy, a clever safecracker, and Doc Williams, an old man who had been struck off the register and who was glad to be employed.
Over these men, she placed her son. They accepted him as their leader although it was Ma who was the power behind his throne. Without her he would have been helpless.
Riley was terrified of this reedy creature. He hung his hands on his coat lapels as a token of surrender. He stood motionless, looking down at the men below.
“Hi, Frankie,” Eddie said. “I bet you’re surprised to see me again.”
Riley came slowly down the stairs. His eyes never left the group waiting for him.
“Hello,” he said, his voice husky. “Yeah, I didn’t expect to see you so soon.”
He stood near Bailey who didn’t look at him.
“Where’s the gorgeous chick you had with you?” Eddie asked.
Riley made a tremendous effort to pull himself together. If they were going to get out of this jam with their skins, he had to bluff these men and bluff them convincingly.
“You didn’t come all this way to see her again, did you?” he said, trying to sound at ease. “You weren’t thinking of making a date with her, were you? That’d be too bad. We got tired of her company and ditched her.”
Eddie tossed his cigarette on the floor and put his foot on it.
“Yeah? You don’t say. I wanted another look at her. Who was she, Frankie?”
“Oh, just a broad,” Riley said. “No one you’d know.”
He was aware that all the Grisson gang, except Slim were staring at him with cold, bleak eyes. He had a sinking feeling they knew he was lying. The only one who paid him no attention was Slim.
Eddie said, “You didn’t happen to pick her up at the Golden Slipper roadhouse, did you?”
Riley’s belly suddenly felt cold and empty.
“That little chiseler? She wouldn’t go to a joint like that. We picked her up at Izzy’s bar. She was stewed so we took her for a ride and a little fun.” Riley forced a smile that looked like a grimace. “But she wouldn’t play so we let her walk home.”
Eddie laughed. He was enjoying himself.
“Yeah? You should write for the movies, Frankie: you sure got an imagination.”
Very slowly, Slim raised his head. He looked directly at Riley who flinched.
“Where’s Johnny?” Slim asked.
“Upstairs,” Riley said, feeling sweat running down his back.
Slowly Slim turned his head to look at Eddie. All his movements were deliberate.
“Get him,” he said.
The door above opened and Johnny came onto the balcony. He leaned on the rail. The men below stared up at him.
Johnny didn’t make enemies, nor did he take sides. He was strictly neutral.
Riley implored his silence with a long, meaning stare, but Johnny wasn’t looking at him. He was looking at Slim.
Slim rubbed the side of his thin nose.
“Hello, Johnny,” he said.
“Hello, Slim,” Johnny said, keeping his hands on the rail, well in sight.
“Haven’t seen you for a long time, have I?” Slim said with a smirking grin. His hands were on the move all the time. They moved up and down his thighs. They fingered his string tie. They straightened his shabby coat. They were restless, bony, frightening hands. “I’ve got a new knife, Johnny.”
Johnny shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
“Good for you,” he said and glanced uneasily at Eddie.
Slim made a sudden move. It was too fast for Johnny to follow. A knife suddenly appeared in Slim’s hand. It was a thin bladed knife about six inches long with a black handle.
“Look at it, Johnny,” Slim said, turning the knife in his hand.
“You’re a lucky guy to have a knife like that,” Johnny said, his face stiff.
Slim nodded.
“Yeah, I know. Look how it shines,” The light from the sun, coming through the dirty window, reflected from the knife onto the ceiling. It made a dancing white pattern overhead. “And it’s sharp, Johnny.”
Doc Williams who had been standing a little behind Eddie, nervously chewing a cigar, moved forward.
“Take it easy, Slim,” he said in a soothing voice. He recognized the danger signals.
“Shut up!” Slim snarled at him, his slack face suddenly vicious. His eyes Crawled up to where Johnny stood, motionless. “Come down here, Johnny.”
“What do you want?” Johnny asked hoarsely without moving.
Slim started to dig his knife into the table.
“Come down here!” he said, slightly raising his voice.
Doc signaled to Eddie who said, “Leave him alone, Slim. Johnny is a pal of yours. He’s a good guy.”
Slim looked over at Riley.
“But he isn’t such a good guy, is he?”
Riley sagged at the knees. The sweat glistened on his face.
“Let him alone,” Eddie said roughly. “Put that sticker away. I want to talk to Johnny.”
Eddie was the only member of the gang who could handle Slim in his bad spells, but Eddie was smart enough to know that he was dealing with explosive material. One day, he wouldn’t be able to handle Slim.
Slim grimaced, then the knife disappeared. He looked sideways at Eddie and then began to pick his nose.
“We’re interested in Riley’s girl friend, Johnny,” Eddie said. “Have you seen her?”
Johnny licked his dry lips. He wanted a drink. He wanted all these men out of his home.
“I wouldn’t know if she’s his girl friend,” he said, “but she’s in there.”
No one moved. Riley drew in a sudden short breath and Bailey turned a whitish green.
“Let’s see her, Johnny,” Eddie said.
Johnny turned and opened the door. He called and then stood aside. Miss Blandish came out onto the balcony. The men stared up at her. When she saw them, she started back and shrank against the wall.
Woppy, Eddie and Flynn suddenly had their guns in their hands.
“Get their guns,” Slim said, staring up at Miss Blandish.
“Go ahead, Doc,” Eddie said. “We’ll cover you.”
Moving gingerly, Doc went over to Bailey and jerked his gun from the shoulder holster. Bailey just stood there, licking his lips. Then Doc got Riley’s gun. As he turned, Old Sam suddenly went for his gun. He was surprisingly quick. The heavy gun boomed as Woppy shot him through the head. Doc felt the slug fan his face. He stepped back with a startled grunt as Old Sam spread out on the floor.
Riley and Bailey became livid. They stopped breathing for seconds.
Slim looked at them and then at Old Sam’s body. He had a starved, wolfish look on his face. Johnny pushed Miss Blandish, sobbing hysterically, back into the bedroom.
“Get him out of here,” Slim said.
Doc and Woppy dragged Old Sam’s body out of the shack. They came back quickly.
Eddie walked up to Riley and dug him in the chest with his gun.
“Okay, chum,” he said, biting off each word, “the act s over. You’re in a fix. Spill it. Who’s the girl?”
“I don’t know,” Riley gasped, his body shivering.
“If you don’t, I do,” Eddie said. He took hold of Riley’s shirt front with his left hand and gently jerked him to and fro. “She’s the Blandish girl. You snatched her to get the diamonds. We’re on to you, sucker. You have the diamonds on you right now.” He felt inside Riley’s coat pocket and fished out the necklace.
There was a long silence while everyone stared at the necklace. Then Eddie released Riley.
“I’m sorry for you, sucker,” he said as if he meant it. “I can’t see any future for you.”
He went over to Slim and gave him the necklace.
Slim held the necklace in the sunlight. He was entranced.
“Look Doc,” he said. “Aren’t they pretty? Look how they glitter. They’re like stars against a black sky.”
“They’re worth a fortune,” Doc said, staring at the necklace.
Slim’s eyes went to the upstairs bedroom door.
“Bring her down here, Eddie,” he said. “I want to talk to her.”
Eddie looked at Doc who shook his head.
“How’s about these punks, Slim?” Eddie said. “We’ve got to get back to Ma. She’s waiting.”
Slim was staring at the necklace.
“Get her, Eddie,” he said.
Eddie shrugged. He went up the stairs. Johnny didn’t meet his eyes as he went past him into the bedroom. Miss Blandish was leaning against the wall. She was trembling violently. When Eddie came into the room, her hand flew to her mouth and she looked around wildly for a way of escape.
Eddie felt sorry for her. He thought, even scared, she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
“You don’t have to be frightened of me,” he said. “Slim wants you. Now listen, kid, Slim’s not only mean, but he’s not right in his head. If you do exactly what he tells you, he won’t hurt you. Don’t get him sore. He’s as dangerous as a snake, so watch it. Come on: he’s waiting.”
Miss Blandish crouched back. Her eyes were dark with terror.
“Don’tmake me go down there,” she said unsteadily. “I can’t bear any more. Please let me stay up here.”
Eddie took hold of her arm gently.
“I’ll be with you,” he said. “You’ve got to come. You’ll be okay. If he starts anything, I’ll fix him. Come on now, kid.”
He brought her down the stairs.
Slim watched her as she came.
“She looks like she’s come out of a picture book, doesn’t she?” he mumbled to Doc. “Look at her pretty hair.”
Doc was worried. He had never seen Slim in this mood before. Usually he hated women.
Eddie stood Miss Blandish in front of Slim. He stepped back, watching. Everyone watched.
Miss Blandish stared in horror at Slim who smiled at her, putting his head on one side, his yellow eyes glittering.
“I’m Grisson,” he said. “You can call me Slim.” He rubbed the side of his nose with his thumb. “These belong to you, don’t they?” He held up the necklace.
Miss Blandish nodded. There was something so repulsive and terrifying about this creature that she had a mad urge to scream and keep on screaming.
Slim fingered the stones.
“They’re pretty, like you.”
He held them out. At the movement, Miss Blandish started back, shuddering.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” Slim said, shaking his head. “I like you. Here, you take them. They belong to you. Put them on. I want to see what you look like with them on.”
Eddie said, “Look, cut it out, Slim. That necklace belongs to all of us.”
Slim giggled. He winked at Miss Blandish.
“Hear him talk? He wouldn’t have the nerve to take them from me. He’s scared of me—they’re all scared of me.” He held out the necklace. “Here, put it on. Let me see it on you.”
Slowly, as if hypnotized, she took the necklace from him. The touch of the diamonds seemed to jolt her. With a gasping scream, she dropped the necklace and ran blindly up the stairs to where Johnny stood.
“Get me out of here!” she screamed frantically. “I can’t bear any more! Don’t let him come near me!”
She startled Slim. He stiffened and his knife jumped into his hand. From a weak-looking idiot he suddenly changed into a vicious killer. Half crouching, he faced the others.
“What the hell are you waiting for?” he screamed. “Take them out of here! Hurry! Get them out—get them out!”
Woppy and Flynn closed in on Riley and Bailey. They shoved them out of the shack and into the open.
Slim turned to Doc.
“Rope them to a tree!”
His face pale, Doc picked up some lengths of rope lying amongst a pile of rubbish in a corner. He followed Woppy and Flynn.
Slim looked at Eddie. His yellow eyes seemed on fire.
“Watch her. Don’t let her get away.”
He snatched up the necklace, dropped it into his pocket and went out into the hot sunshine. He was shaking with excitement. The urge to kill had taken possession of him.
He could hear Riley yammering hysterically. He could see his livid, glistening face and the way his mouth worked in terror.
Bailey walked silently. His face was pale, but dangerous lights smouldered in his eyes.
The group of men reached a small clearing in the thicket and, all realizing that this was the place of execution, they stopped.
Slim pointed to convenient trees.
“Tie them there,” he said.
While Flynn covered Bailey, Woppy fastened Riley to the tree with the cord Doc tossed to him. Riley made no effort to save himself. He stood against the tree, shuddering, helpless in his terror. Woppy turned to Bailey. “Get up against that tree,” he said savagely.
Bailey walked deliberately to the tree and set his back against it. As Woppy came up, he kicked like a snake striking. His shoe sank into Woppy’s groin, and then Bailey was behind the tree, the slim trunk between him and Flynn’s gun.
Slim became violently excited.
“Don’t shoot!” he screamed out. “I want him alive!”
Woppy writhed on the grass, trying to get his breath back. No one bothered about him. Doc stepped behind some bushes. His face was white and he looked sick. He was going to keep out of it.
Flynn slowly began to edge towards the tree while Slim stood motionless, the thin-bladed knife glittering in his hand.
Bailey looked around for a way of escape. Behind him the shrubs were thick; in front of him, Flynn approached cautiously; on his left, Slim stood with his knife. It was to his right that he must make his bid for freedom. He made a sudden dive, but Flynn was closer than he realised. He aimed a blow at Flynn who ducked. Bailey’s fist went over Flynn’s head and he floundered. Flynn closed with him.
For a minute they strained. Then Bailey who was the more powerful man, broke away. He slammed Flynn on the jaw and Flynn went down and out.
Bailey sprang away.
Slim hadn’t moved. He stood there, his thin body drooping, his loose mouth half open and the knife hanging limply in his fingers. Woppy was still out. Bailey suddenly changed his ideas. There was only Slim. Doc didn’t count. If he could knock Slim out, then he and Riley could surprise Eddie. It was worth the risk. He moved towards Slim who waited with yellow, gleaming eyes.
Then Bailey suddenly saw Slim grin. The idiot mask slipped and the killer was there. Bailey knew he was but a few heart beats from death. He had never felt so frightened. He stood still, like a hypnotized rabbit.
The knife flashed through the air and sped at him. He took the blade in his throat.
Slim stood over him while he died, watching and feeling the same odd ecstasy run through him which a killing always gave him.
Woppy had sat up, his face ashen. He began to curse softly. Flynn, still on his back, moved uneasily, a livid bruise growing on his jaw. Doc turned away. He wasn’t callous like the others.
Slim looked over at Riley who shut his eyes. A horrible croaking sound came from him. Slim cleaned his knife by driving it into the ground. Then he straightened.
“Riley…” he said softly.
Riley opened his eyes.
“Don’t kill me, Slim,” he panted. “Gimme a break! Don’t kill me!”
Slim grinned. Then moving slowly through the patch of sunlight, he approached the cringing man.

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