more miss blandish, sans orchids, and more of chapter two


 

3

As a street clock was striking eleven, the Buick slid to a standstill near the Palace Hotel. Eddie and Flynn got out, leaving Woppy at the wheel.
“Stick around,” Eddie said. “If you see any cops, move off, but keep circling. We may need you in a hurry.”
“Rather you than me,” Woppy said and stuck a cigarette on his lip.
Eddie and Flynn walked quickly down the street to the hotel entrance. It wasn’t much of a place. They walked into the lobby which was empty. Behind the desk dozed a fat, elderly man in his shirt sleeves. He blinked open his eyes as Eddie came up.
“You want a room?” the man asked hopefully, getting to his feet.
“No. Who’s in 243?” Eddie asked curtly.
The man stiffened.
“Can’t give you information like that,” he said.
“You’d better call around tomorrow morning and ask at the desk.”
Flynn took out his gun and shoved it into the man’s face.
“You heard what the guy said, didn’t you?” he snarled.
The man’s face went white at the sight of the gun. With trembling hands, he thumbed through the register. Eddie snatched it from him. He ran his finger quickly down the list of numbers.
“Anna Borg,” he said when he arrived at No 243. “Who’s she?” He noted the rooms either side of 243 were vacant.
Flynn slid the gun in his hand and held it by the barrel. He reached forward and clubbed the man on top of his head. The man slid down behind the counter. Eddie craned his neck to look at him.
“You shouldn’t have hit him that hard,” he said. “He looks like a family man. Better tie him up.”
Flynn went around and tied the man’s hands behind him with the man’s tie. Leaving him behind the counter, they walked over to the elevator and rode up to the second floor.
“You stay here,” Eddie said, “and watch the stairs. I’ll call on the dame.”
He started off down the passage, looking for room 243.
He found it at the far end of the passage. He listened, his ear against the door panel. Then he drew his gun and stepped into the dark room. He shut the door, groped for the light switch and turned it on.
He looked around. The small room was empty and untidy. Clothes were scattered on the bed and chair. He recognized the yellow dress the girl had been wearing hanging over the chair back. The dressing table was crowded with cosmetic bottles. The contents of a large powder box had been tipped onto the carpet. When he was satisfied no one was in the room and there was nowhere for anyone to hide, he opened drawers but found nothing to interest him. He wondered where the girl had got to. He left the room, shutting the door and joined Flynn at the head of the stairs. “She isn’t around.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Flynn said. “The room next to hers is empty,” Eddie said. “We’ll wait in there. She may come back.”
“How about the guy downstairs? What happens if someone finds him?”
“I’ll worry about that when he’s found,” Eddie said. “Come on.”
They went silently down the passage to room 241, opened the door and entered. Eddie left the door open a couple of inches. He stood by the door while Flynn went and lay on the bed.
Minutes dragged by. Then just when he was beginning to think he was wasting his time, Eddie heard a sound that alerted him and brought Flynn off the bed and to the door. Both men peered through the crack in the door.
The door exactly opposite room 243 was opening slowly. A girl appeared and looked up and down the passage. Eddie recognized her immediately: she was the blonde he had seen in the street. Before he could make up his mind what to do, she had come out, shut the door and then had run across the passage and into room 243. They heard the door shut and the key turn.
“That the dame?” Flynn asked, breathing hard down Eddie’s neck. “Yeah.”
“Nice,” Flynn said. “What’s she been up to?”
Eddie opened the door wide and moved into the passage.
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. You go to the stairs.”
Flynn went off down the passage.
Eddie crossed to the opposite door. He turned the handle and pressed. The door opened. He looked into darkness. He listened, heard nothing. He entered the room.
He turned on the light switch, then he caught his breath sharply. A short fat man lay on the floor. Blood was running from a wound in his head. He had been shot. Eddie didn’t have to go closer to see the man was dead.

4

Ma Grisson had been brooding for some time. There was an expression on her face that warned Doc Williams not to bother her. Doc was playing solitaire. He kept looking at Ma, wondering what was going on in her mind. After a while her stillness got on his nerves and he put down his cards.
“Is there anything worrying you, Ma?” he asked cautiously.
“You get on with your game and leave me alone,” Ma growled.
Doc lifted his shoulders. He got up and went to the front door, opened it and looked into the moonlit darkness. Lighting a cigar, he sat on the top step.
Ma suddenly got to her feet as if she had finally made up her mind. She went over to a cupboard and took from it a length of rubber hose.
Doc heard her movements and he looked around. He saw her climbing the stairs and he saw the rubber hose in her hand. He wondered vaguely what she was doing with it.
Ma Grisson went along the passage to the front room. She unlocked the door and entered the room. It was a small room. The window was covered with planks. There was only a chair, a small table and a mirror on the wall in the room. The threadbare carpet was dirty.
Ma shut the door and looked at Miss Blandish who was sitting up in bed, her eyes wide with alarm. In place of a nightgown she was wearing her slip. Ma sat on the bed. The springs sagged under her great weight.
“I’ve something to say to you,” she said. “Have you ever been hit with a thing like this?” She held up the rubber hose.
Miss Blandish shook her head. She had just woken up out of a troubled sleep. This visit seemed a continuation of her nightmare.
“It hurts,” the old woman said. She hit Miss Blandish on her knee. Although the blanket absorbed some of the blow, it stung. Miss Blandish stiffened. The sleepy look went out of her eyes. She struggled up in bed, clenching her fists; her eyes flashing angrily.
“Don’t you dare touch me again!” she said breathlessly.
Ma Grisson grinned. Her big white teeth made her look wolfish and strangely like her son.
“So what would you do?”
She grabbed Miss Blandish’s wrists in one of her huge hands. She sat grinning as the girl wrenched and pulled in a useless attempt to get free.
“Don’t kid yourself,” Ma said. “I may be old, but I’m much stronger than you. Now I’m going to take some of the starch out of you. Then we’ll have a talk.”
Downstairs, Doc, still sitting on the step, saw Woppy get out of the Buick and come towards him.
“Eddie back yet?” Woppy asked.
“No. What’s happened?”
Woppy pushed past Doc and went into the sitting room. Doc followed him. Woppy picked up a bottle, held it up to the light, then threw it across the room in disgust.
“Isn’t there ever anything to drink in this joint?”
Doc went to the cupboard and opened a new bottle of Scotch.
“What’s happened to Eddie?” he asked as he made two stiff drinks.
“I don’t know,” Woppy said, taking one of the drinks. “We went to the hotel and he and Flynn went in. I hung around, then I saw a couple of cops. I moved off, circled the block and when I got back, I heard shooting. More cops started arriving so I beat it.”
“Sounds as if Eddie’s walked into trouble.”
Woppy shrugged. He emptied his glass.
“He can take care of himself. I should worry.” He paused and cocked his head on one side. “What’s that?”
Doc stiffened and looked uneasily up at the ceiling.
“Sounds like the girl screaming.”
“I’ll go up and see,” Woppy said, starting for the door.
“Better not,” Doc said. “Ma’s with her.”
The two men listened to the high-pitched screaming for a moment, then Woppy, grimacing, went over to the radio and turned it on. The sudden blast of jazz drowned out the screams.
“Maybe I’m getting soft,” Woppy said, wiping his face with his handkerchief, “but there are times when that bitch makes me sick to my stomach.”
Doc drained his glass, then refilled it.
“Better not let her hear you say so,” he said and sat down.
Upstairs Ma Grisson was once more sitting on the bed, breathing hard through her thick nose. She watched Miss Blandish writhing on the bed, tears running down her face, her hands twisting the sheet.
“Now I think we can talk,” Ma said.
She began to speak. What she said made the girl forget her pain. She stared at the old woman as if she couldn’t believe she was hearing correctly. Suddenly she gasped, “No!” Ma went on talking. Miss Blandish sat up and recoiled to the head of the bed, saying “No!”
At last Ma lost patience.
“You can’t get out of it, you little fool!” she snarled. “You’re going to do what I tell you! If you don’t, I’ll beat you again.”
“No… No… No!”
Ma got to her feet and picked up the length of rubber hose. Then she changed her mind.
“I’m spoiling your pretty skin,” she said, “and that won’t do. There are other ways. I’ll get Doc to fix you. I should have thought of that before. Yeah, Doc’ll know how to fix you.”
She went out of the room leaving Miss Blandish, her head buried in the pillow, sobbing wildly.

5

Eddie stared down at Heinie’s body, feeling sweat break out on his face. If the cops walked in now he would be in a hell of a jam, he was thinking. He looked quickly around the room. There had been no struggle. He guessed someone had knocked on the door and when Heinie had opened it, he had been shot. From the small wound in Heinie’s head, Eddie surmised the gun used had been a .25—a woman’s weapon.
He touched Heinie’s hand. It was still warm. Heinie hadn’t been dead longer than half an hour, if that.
Eddie looked into the passage. Flynn was still watching the stairs. Eddie left the room. As an afterthought he carefully wiped the door knob with his handkerchief. Then he crossed to room 243 and tried the door handle. The door was locked. He knocked. Flynn looked down the passage at him. Eddie rapped on the door again. There was no answer. He put his ear against the door panel. He heard the sound of the window being pushed open.
“Hey, you in there,” he called softly. “Come on! Open up!”
Then the silence of the night was split by a woman’s wild screams. From the sound, the woman in 243 was leaning out of the window, yelling her head off.
Eddie jumped back from the door.
“Come on, stupid!” Flynn shouted. “Let’s get out of here!”
Eddie joined him at the head of the stairs and together the two men started down.
“Wait!” Flynn hissed and grabbed Eddie’s arm. He looked down the well of the staircase into the hall. Eddie peered over Flynn’s shoulder. Two cops, guns in hand, were standing in the hall. Suddenly, they moved to the stairs and started up them.
Eddie and Flynn spun around and darted up to the next landing. They could hear people shouting and doors opening.
“The roof!” Eddie panted.
They rushed up to the top landing. They could hear the cops pounding up after them. As they started down the long passage a door nearby opened and a scared-looking man poked his head out. Flynn hit him as he crowded past. The man fell down. From inside the room, a woman started to scream.
There was a door at the end of the passage which led out onto the roof. It was locked. Flynn fired two shots at the lock, then kicked the door open. The noise of the shots in the confined space deafened the two men. Gasping for breath, they stumbled out onto the flat roof and into the cool night air.
Running to the edge of the roof, they took a stiff drop onto the roof of the adjacent building, some fifteen feet below. The moon, hidden behind a cloud, made just enough light for them to see where they were going.
They paused for a moment, trying to decide which way they should go.
“We’d better split up,” Eddie said. “You go left, I’ll go right. Be seeing you.”
Flynn moved off across the roof away from Eddie. There was a sudden shout and Flynn turned in time to see shadowy figures appearing on the upper roof. He fired. One of the figures dropped, and he darted into the darkness.
Screened by a row of chimney stacks, Eddie paused to look down into the street. People were coming out of the various apartment blocks and crowding the streets. A police car was pulling up. From it spilled four cops. They shoved their way through the crowd to the entrance of the hotel. In the distance came the sound of approaching sirens.
Eddie moved off. He lowered himself onto another roof. Crouching in the shadows, he looked back. The roof of the hotel was now alive with moving shadows. A gun banged away from him. One of the shadows slumped out of sight.
Eddie stood, hesitating. None of the cops seemed to be coming his way. They were chasing Flynn. Eddie grinned uneasily. It hadbeen a smart idea to split up.
He moved across the roof to a skylight. His best bet, he told himself, was to get into the building and hide up until it was safe to leave.
Suddenly, without warning, a cop came from behind a chimney stack. The two men gaped at each other, for a moment paralyzed with shock and surprise, then the cop acted quickly. He jerked up his gun, but Eddie was a shade faster. He slammed a punch at the cop’s head and brought his gun butt down on the cop’s gun wrist. The cop reeled back, dropping his gun. Eddie could have shot him, but he knew the sound of the shooting would bring the other cops.
He jumped forward, took a stiff blow to the side of his face from the cop and clubbed the cop with his gun butt.
The cop was tough and full of fight. He was trying to pull his nightstick. He and Eddie grappled. For a long moment, the two men strained together, then Eddie punched the cop off. As he came forward again, Eddie sidestepped him and hit him a crushing blow with the gun butt on the side of his head. The cop dropped like a pole-axed bull.
Panting, Eddie looked anxiously around. He could hear distant shooting. He ran over to the skylight and jerked it open. The bolt holding it in place was flimsy and it snapped at his first heave. He looked into the darkness, then swung his legs into space and dropped. He took out his flashlight and sent the beam around the room. It was full of boxes, trunks and unwanted furniture. Moving to the door, he opened it cautiously and peered out into a dark passage. He listened, then moving forward, he reached the head of the stairs. He turned off his flashlight and made his way down to the lower landing.
Police sirens were now making a deafening noise. He could hear the sound of running footsteps. There was a great deal of distant shouting. He reached the landing and peered over the banisters. Far below, he saw three cops starting up the stairs towards him.
Sweat was running down his face now. This was getting much too hot for comfort, he was thinking.
He whipped around and noiselessly entered the first room near him. The light was on in the room. A woman was leaning far out of the window, looking down at the commotion going on in the street below. He could only see her pyjamaed back and legs, and even under this pressure, he found himself thinking she had a nice shape.
He closed the door and tiptoed across to the woman. He stood close to her, waiting. She must have sensed she was no longer alone for she suddenly straightened and whirled around.
Eddie pounced on her; one hand clamped over her mouth, theother gripped her wrists.
“Make a sound and I’ll break your neck!” he said, holding her against him.
She stared up at him. She was only a kid: she couldn’t have been more than eighteen. Her blue eyes opened very wide. She looked so scared he thought she was going to faint.
“Take it easy,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt you if you don’t make a noise.”
She leaned heavily against him, closing her eyes. He could hear the sound of voices and tramping of feet coming along the passage.
He gave the girl a little shake.
“The cops are looking for me,” he said. “You’ll be all right if you don’t make a noise and do what I tell you. Come on, get into bed.”
He carried her over to the bed and slid her under the sheet.
“Don’t make a sound,” he warned as he took his hand from her mouth.
“I—I won’t,” she said breathlessly, staring up at him.
“Good girl.”
He turned off the light, plunging the room into darkness. He lay down on the floor by the side of the bed away from the door.
“If they come in here and find me,” he said, drawing his gun, “there’s going to be shooting and you could get damaged. So don’t start yelling.”
“I won’t,” the girl said, more confidence in her voice now.
He could hear doors opening and people talking excitedly. It sounded as if the cops were going from room to room.
“It’s up to you, baby,” he said from the floor, “to stall them if they come in here.” He slid his hand under the sheet and took her hand in his. He was surprised she squeezed his hand and he winked to himself in the darkness. “You don’t have to be scared of me.”
“I’m not scared,” she said.
They waited. He could hear her fast breathing and his own heart beats.
Suddenly heavy footfalls sounded outside. The door opened cautiously. Eddie lifted his gun. The girl gripped his hand hard. The beam of a powerful flashlight swung around the room. The girl gave a little scream. “Who is it?” she quavered. The light fell on her.
“Police,” a voice growled from behind the light. “You alone in here?”
“Yes… what is it?”
“A couple of gunmen loose,” the cop said. “Nothing for you to worry about. You should lock your door, miss.”
The door closed and the heavy footsteps receded.
Eddie drew in a deep breath. He let go of the girl’s hand, got to his feet and went over to the door and turned the key in the lock. He came back to the bed and sat on the floor.
“Thanks, baby,” he said. “You did a nice job. I’ll stay here until it’s quiet, then I’ll beat it. Relax, you don’t have to worry about me.”
The girl didn’t say anything. She stared curiously at him, just able to make him out in the dim light coming through the uncurtained window.
After some minutes, Eddie found the floor getting hard. He got up and sat on the end of the bed.
“I’m getting calluses,” he said, grinning. “You get off to sleep if you want to.”
“I don’t want to sleep,” the girl said. “You scared the life out of me, but I’m not so scared now.”
“That’s fine,” Eddie said. “I scared the life out of myself too.”
The sounds in the building had died down. Some of the police cars were moving off. He wondered if Flynn had got away. He guessedhe had. Flynn knew how to take care of himself.
After a long pause, the girl said, “It was just like a movie. All that shooting… if you hadn’t held my hand I would have screamed.”
Eddie looked at her with growing interest.
“I’ll hold it again any time you like.”
She gave a nervous giggle.
“I don’t feel like screaming now.”
He got up and looked out of the window. The crowded street was now deserted. The last of the police cars were moving away.
“Well, I guess I can go. Looks like the show is over.” He came over to the bed and smiled at the girl. “Thanks a lot, baby. You were swell.”
She half sat up in the bed.
“Are you sure it’s safe to go?”
“Yeah. I can’t stay here all night.”
She settled down in the bed.
“Can’t you?” She spoke so softly he scarcely heard what she said, but he did hear. He suddenly grinned.
“Well, there’s no law against it, is there? Do you want me to stay?”
“Now you’re making me blush,” the girl said and hid her face. “What a question to ask a lady.”

6
 
Two days later, an advertisement offering kegs of white paint appeared in the Tribune.
Ma Grisson tossed the newspaper to Doc.
“The money’s ready,” she said. “Now we’ve got to collect it. It’ll be a soft job, Flynn and Woppy can handle it. You write to Blandish, Doc. Tell him to drive to the Maxwell filling station on Highway 71. He’ll know where it is. He’s to get to the Blue Hills golf course at one o’clock.” She looked over at Flynn and Woppy who were listening. “That’s where you boys will be waiting. He is to throw the suitcase out of the car window when he sees a light flashing. He’s not to stop. Warn him he’ll be watched from the moment he leaves his house. If he cooperates with the police or tries anything smart, the girl will suffer.” To Flynn and Woppy, she went on, “You won’t have any trouble. Blandish will be too scared something might happen to the girl. The road’s straight for miles. If you’re followed, drop the suitcase in the road so they can see it, and keep moving. They won’t come after you because of the girl.”
“Tomorrow night?” Flynn asked.
“That’s it.”
Flynn stuck a cigarette on his lower lip.
“Didn’t you say the girl was to be knocked off, Ma?” he said, staring at Ma. “What are we keeping her for?”
Ma stiffened. Her little eyes turned hard.
“She’ll go when we get the money.”
“Why wait?”
“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Ma snarled. “Shut your loose mouth!”
Flynn looked over at Doc who couldn’t meet his direct stare. Doc got up, muttered something under his breath and left the room.
“What’s happening to the girl, Ma?” Flynn asked. “I saw that old quack go into her room last night with a hypo.”
Ma’s face turned purple.
“Did you? If you’ve nothing better to do than to snoop around here, I’ll have to find you something to do.”
The tone of her voice alarmed Flynn.
“Okay, okay,” he said hastily. “I was only shooting the breeze.”
“Shoot it to someone who wants to listen,” Ma snarled. “Get out of here!”
Flynn hurriedly left the room. After a moment’s uneasy hesitation, Woppy followed him. The two men went upstairs and into Eddie’s room.
Eddie was in bed, reading the Sunday comics.
“Hi, you misbegotten freaks!” he said cheerfully. “What’s cooking?”
Flynn sat on the foot of the bed. Woppy straddled a chair, laying his fat arms along the back.
“We’re collecting the dough tomorrow night,” Woppy said. “The ad’s in the Tribune.”
“A million bucks!” Eddie said, lying back on the dirty pillow. “Think of it! At last, we’re in the money!”
“What are you going to do with your cut when you get it?” Woppy asked.
“I’m going to buy an island in the South Seas,” Eddie said, “and I’m going to stock it with beautiful girls in grass skirts.”
Woppy laughed, slapping his fat thigh.
“You and your women! Me—I’m going to start a restaurant. My spaghetti’s going to be world famous.”
Flynn, who had been listening, his vicious face disinterested, suddenly asked, “What’s going on in the girl’s room, Eddie?”
Eddie stopped laughing and stared at Flynn.
“What do you mean?”
“What I say. I’m in the room next to hers and I hear things. Doc goes in there. I’ve seen him with a hypo. Slim sneaks in there too. He was in there from eleven last night to four in the morning.”
Eddie threw the sheet off and got out of bed. “What do you mean—a hypo?”
“You heard me. Doc had a hypo in his hand when he went into her room. Do you think he’s drugging her?”
“Why should he?”
“I don’t know—I’m asking you. Why does Slim go in there?”
Eddie started to throw on his clothes.
“Slim! You don’t think that poisonous moron has ideas about the girl, do you?”
“I tell you I don’t know, but Ma’s goddamn touchy when I mention the girl.”
“I’m going to talk to her,” Eddie said. “I’m not standing for Slim relieving his repressions on that girl. There’s a limit, and goddamn it, that would be the limit!”
“You’d better not,” Woppy said in alarm. “Ma won’t like it. Better keep out of it.”
Eddie ignored him; to Flynn he said, “Watch the stairs. Give me a tip if it looks like Ma’s coming up.”
“Sure,” Flynn said and went out into the passage. He leaned over the banister.
Eddie ran a comb through his hair, put on a tie, then went quickly down the passage to Miss Blandish’s room. The key was in the lock. He turned it and entered the room.
Miss Blandish lay flat on her back on the bed, covered by a grimy sheet. She was staring up at the ceiling.
Eddie closed the door and went over to her.
“Hello, baby,” he said. “How are you getting on?”
Miss Blandish didn’t seem to know he was in the room. She continued to stare up at the ceiling.
Eddie put his hand on her shoulder and shook her gently.
“Wake up, baby,” he said. “What’s going on?”
Slowly, she turned her head and stared at him. Her eyes were blank: the pupils enormously enlarged.
“Go away,” she said, her words blurred.
He sat on the bed.
“You know me—I’m Eddie,” he said. “Wake up! What’s going on?”
She closed her eyes. For several minutes he watched her, then suddenly she began to speak. Her low, lifeless voice was like a medium in a trance talking.
“I wish I was dead,” she said. “They say nothing matters once you are dead.” There was another long pause, while Eddie frowned down at her, then she went on. “Dreams… nothing but horrible dreams. There’s a man who comes here, who seems very real, but he doesn’t really exist. He is tall and thin and he smells of dirt. He stands over me and talks. I don’t understand what he is saying.” She moved under the sheet as if its weight was unbearable to her. There was again a long pause of silence, then she went on, “I pretend to be dead. I want to scream when he comes in, but if I did, he would know I was alive. He stands for hours by me, mumbling.” Then suddenly she screamed out, “Why doesn’t he do something to me?”
Eddie started back, sweat on his face. The awful tone of her scream frightened him. He looked towards the door, wondering if Ma had heard her.
Miss Blandish relaxed again. She was muttering now, moving her body uneasily, her hands twisting the sheet.
“I wish he would do something to me,” she said. “Anything is better than having him standing hour after hour at my side, talking. I wish he would do something to me…”
Flynn poked his head around the door.
“You’d better get out of here. What’s she yelling about?”
Eddie shoved him out of the room and shut and locked the door. He wiped his sweating face with the back of his hand.
“What’s going on in there?” Flynn demanded.
“Something pretty bad,” Eddie said. “She’d be better off dead.”
“Nobody’s better off dead,” Flynn said sharply. “What do you mean?”
Eddie went back to his room. Flynn trailed along behind him.
As Eddie entered, Woppy looked up at him, startled by his bleak expression.
“Get out of here!” Eddie snarled and went over to his bed and lay down on it.
Woppy went quickly out of the room. He looked blankly at Flynn who shrugged his shoulders.
Eddie shut his eyes. For the first time in his life he felt dirty and ashamed of himself.
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