the rest of chapter two, no orchids for miss blandish

7
 
POLICE SUSPECT RILEY GANG RESPONSIBLE FOR
POLICE SLAYING
Murdered man identified.
John Blandish pays ransom money.
Our reporter learnsthe man shot to death at the Palace Hotel has been identified as Alvin Heinie, the free-lance society gossip writer. It was Heinie who informed the police that the Riley mob had questioned him concerning the movements of John Blandish’s daughter, the kidnapped heiress.
It is understood that the ransom demand of a million dollars is being paid today. Mr. Blandish, fearing for his daughter’s safety has refused to cooperate with the authorities. The Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are standing by. They will go into immediate action when it is known the kidnapped girl is safe.
The police have reason to believe that Alvin Heinie was murdered by the Riley gang as an act of revenge…
Ma Grisson read the story to the gang who listened, grinning.
“Nice work,” Flynn said. “Riley’s getting blamed for everything. I bet if the Chief of Police fell downstairs, he would say Riley had pushed him.” Eddie was looking thoughtful.
“Maybe it’s okay, but I’ve been asking myself who did shoot Heinie. It wasn’t Riley and it wasn’t us. This Borg girl bothers me. I think she knocked Heinie off. Why? We do know she’s connected in some way with Riley. I think we should do something about her.”
“You’re right,” Ma said. “Before we collect the money, we must find out where she fits in. You go into town, Eddie and ask around. You might get a lead on her.”
“Okay,” Eddie said getting to his feet. “You coming with me, Slim?”
Slim was sitting in a corner away from the rest of the mob. He was reading the comics. He didn’t even look up when Eddie spoke to him.
“You go in alone,” Ma said. “Leave your rod here.” Eddie went out into the hall. Ma followed him. “You go and talk to Pete Cosmos,” Ma said. “He knows all the girls in town. Gimme your gun.”
As Eddie handed the .45 over, he said, “Can’t you tell Slim to leave the girl alone, Ma?” Ma stiffened.
“Mind your own business, Eddie,” she said. “You’re a good boy. Don’t start poking your nose into something that doesn’t concern you.”
“Come on, Ma,” Eddie said coaxingly. “That girl’s too nice to have Slim messing her around. Give her a break, can’t you?”
Ma’s eyes suddenly snapped with rage. Her face turned purple.
“Slim wants her,” she said, lowering her voice and glaring at Eddie. “He’s going to have her. You keep out of it! That goes for the rest of you too!”
Eddie showed his disgust.
“To hell with a punk who can only get a girl by filling her with drugs,” he said.
Ma struck him across the mouth with the back of her hand. It was a heavy blow and sent him back on his heels. They stared at each other, then Eddie forced a grin.
“Okay, Ma,” he said. “I was talking out of turn. Forget it”
He left her glaring after him, her face dark with rage.
As he drove downtown, he told himself, he would have to be careful. Ma was as dangerous as Slim. She wouldn’t hesitate to shoot him in the back if she thought he was going to cause trouble in the gang about the Blandish girl. He shrugged his shoulders. He felt sorry for the girl, but he wasn’t going to risk his life for her.
He arrived at the Cosmos Club a little after two p.m. The cleaners were still clearing up after the night before. The girls were rehearsing under the direction of a little man, dressed in a blazer and white trousers. The pianist was pounding out jazz, a cigarette dangling from his lips. The girls, wearing shorts, all smiled at Eddie. He was well known at the club and popular. He paused long enough to pat a few sleek behinds and crack a joke before going on to the office.
Pete Cosmos was sitting at his desk, reading the newspaper. He seemed surprised when Eddie walked in. Pete was a fat ball of a man with a pencil-line moustache and a liking for violent, hand-painted ties. The tie he had on made Eddie blink.
They shook hands.
“Hi, Pete,” Eddie said, sitting on the corner of the desk. “What’s cooking?”
Pete tossed the newspaper on the floor. He shook his head, scowling.
“That’s the trouble,” he said, offering Eddie a cigar. “Nothing’s cooking. Since all this shooting, business has gone to hell. We only had ten people in last night: four of them were my wife’s friends and didn’t pay.”
“Yeah,” Eddie said sympathetically. “I get the same story wherever I go. This punk Riley really seems to have started something.”
Pete lit his cigar.
“I can’t understand it, Eddie. I would never have believed Riley had the nerve to snatch that dame. He was strictly small time. He must have gone nuts. Now if it had been Ma who had pulled the job…”
“She didn’t,” Eddie said. “We’ve been out of town all week.”
“Sure, sure,” Pete said quickly catching the sudden hard note in Eddie’s voice. “I haven’t seen you or the boys for weeks. All the same, if I had snatched the girl, I’d be Very, very careful. As soon as the ransom’s paid and the girl returned, the heat’s going to be turned on that’ll paralyze this town. You mark my words.”
“It’s Riley’s funeral,” Eddie said.
“I’d like to know where he’s hiding,” Pete said.
“Who’s Anna Borg?” Eddie asked casually, studying the glowing tip of his cigar.
“What’s she to you?” Pete asked sharply.
“I want to know who she is,” Eddie said. “Do you know her?”
“Sure.”
“Who is she? What does she do for a living?”
“She totes the gun,” Pete said.
Eddie was surprised.
“Is that a fact? Who does she carry the gun for?”
Pete smiled.
“Who do you think? Riley.”
Eddie whistled.
“Well, well! Certainly news to me.”
“I’ll tell you something else,” Pete said. “Anna’s been left high and dry and the boys are asking why. She and Riley were like that.” He held up two dirty fingers close together. “Then Riley pulls the biggest snatch of the century and Anna’s left out in the cold. It doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe Riley got tired of her,” Eddie said.
“The boys say not. Anna swears Riley wouldn’t have ditched her. She thinks something’s happened to him.”
Eddie’s face became expressionless.
“You know women,” he said with a sneer. “They’d say anything to save their face. You can bet Riley’s ditched her now he’s heading for the big money. She just won’t admit it.”
Pete shrugged.
“Could be. Anyway, it’s not my business.”
“Is she still living at the Palace Hotel?”
Pete looked curiously at him.
“Why the interest in Anna?”
“Ma wants to know.”
Pete looked surprised.
“Yeah, Anna’s still at the Palace. She has a couple of dicks parked with her. The Feds think Riley came to see her, ran into Heinie who was staying there and couldn’t resist knocking Heinie off for ratting on him. They think Riley might come back to see Anna so they’re waiting for him.”
Eddie rubbed his jaw, his mind busy. Finally, he said, “I want to talk to this baby, Pete. Here’s what you do: telephone her right now and tell her to come here. I’ll talk to her here and the Feds won’t know we’ve met.”
“What do you want to talk to her about?” Pete asked suspiciously. “I’m not getting Anna in trouble. She’s okay with me.”
“No trouble, Pete. Do what I say. Ma’s orders.”
Pete was scared of Ma. He called Anna’s apartment.
“That you, Anna?” he asked while Eddie watched him. “This is Pete. Something’s come up important. I want you over here right away. No, I don’t say it’s a job, but it might lead to one. You’ll come? Okay, I’m waiting for you,” and he hung up.
“Okay?” Eddie asked.
“She’s coming. She’ll be here in half an hour.”
“Thanks, Pete. I’ll tell Ma. She won’t forget you.”
“I’d rather she did forget me,” Pete said uneasily. “And listen, Eddie, no rough stuff with Anna.”
“Relax. I just want a brotherly talk with her.” Eddie grinned. “Suppose you take a walk and leave me here. Come back in an hour.”
Pete shrugged his shoulders.
“Well, it’s time I had lunch. I guess I’d better have it.”
“And Pete,” Eddie said. “You got a gun?”
“What do you want a gun for?” Pete asked startled.
“Come on, come on! Don’t talk so much. Have you got a gun?”
“In the top left hand drawer,” Pete said.
“Okay.You take off.”
When Pete had gone, Eddie went around and sat behind the desk. He opened the drawer and took out a .38 which he laid on the desk. He didn’t intend to take any chances with a girl who carried a gun for Riley. Gun-girls had lots of nerve, and besides, he was pretty sure Anna had knocked Heinie off.
After a wait of thirty minutes, he heard the click of high heels coming down the passage. He put his hand on the gun.
The door swung open and Anna walked in. She was wearing a pale green summer dress and a big straw hat. Eddie thought she looked terrific.
She was halfway across the room before she saw him. She had swung the door to as she had entered. She stopped short, the color leaving her face. Her eyes went to the gun on the desk.
“Hello, baby,” Eddie said. “Come on in. Keep your pants on. This is a friendly meeting, but let’s have your handbag. Pass it over.”
She hesitated, then tossed her handbag on the desk. Eddie scooped it into a drawer. He put the gun in the drawer beside the bag.
“I don’t have to introduce myself, do I?” he said.
She had recovered from the shock of seeing him. The color came back to her face. She moved to a chair and sat down. She crossed her legs, showing him her knees before adjusting her skirt.
“I know who you are,” she said.
He took out a pack of cigarettes, got up and offered her a cigarette. She took it and he lit it. He sat on the edge of the desk close to her.
“What was the idea handing me your address and then yelling for the cops, baby?” he asked. “You nearly had me in trouble.”
She let smoke drift down her nostrils. She didn’t say anything.
“Don’t act sullen, baby. You and me could get along fine together,” he said.
“Could we?” Her blue eyes were cold. “Where’s Frankie?”
“What makes you think I know where Frankie is?”
“You and Flynn met Frankie the night he disappeared. You met him at the filling station outside La Cygne. The boy there is a friend of mine. He called me. He said you and Flynn had guns. The next day, the boy was found shot through the head. Where’s Frankie?”
Eddie was a little startled by this information. He saw now Ma had been smart to have thought of getting rid of the boy.
“I don’t know, baby,” he said. “I guess he’s holed up some place. You should know more about him than I do.” Anna continued to stare coldly at him. “What did you want to pull a gun on Frankie for?” she asked.
“Bailey was jumpy,” Eddie said. “I didn’t pull a gun, it was Flynn. There was nothing to it. He had the Blandish girl with him. I was a dope not to recognize her. If I had recognized her, I’d’ve taken her from Frankie, but I didn’t. I’ve been kicking myself ever since. He told me she was a new girl friend and I fell for it. I let him drive away.”
Two spots of red showed on Anna’s cheeks and her eyes flashed angrily.
“I don’t believe Frankie would walk out on me,” she said. “I think something’s happened to him and you know what it is.”
“You’re wrong, baby,” Eddie said. “I’m just as much in the dark as you are, but I’ve got a few ideas.”
“What ideas?”
“Forget it,” he said, shaking his head. “Why rake over dirt? I know what the boys are saying, but they could be wrong.”
“What are the boys saying?” Anna demanded, her eyes glittering.
“They say Riley’s walked out on you. He’s fallen for this Blandish girl.”
Anna jumped to her feet.
“That’s a lie! Frankie loves me! I know it’s a lie.”
“Sure, sure,” Eddie said. “It could be, but where is he? Why hasn’t he contacted you? When he lays his hands on the ransom, is he going to give you any of it? Doesn’t look like it, does it?”
She began to move around the office. He could see he had undermined her confidence in Riley.
“That Blandish girl’s a beauty,” he went on. “You know it could be that Riley has ideas about her. You’d only be in the way if you were with him. I’m not so sure the boys are wrong about you and Riley. I guess he’s taken you for a ride.”
She confronted him.
“Shut up!” she shrilled. “Frankie wouldn’t do a thing like that to me!”
“They all say that,” Eddie said and moved over to look out of the window. He could see he had said enough. After a moment or so, she came over and stood by him.
“What am I going to do?” she said. “I haven’t a dime.”
“I’ll lend you some money,” Eddie said. “I like you, baby. How much do you want?”
“I wouldn’t take money from you!”
“Okay, suit yourself. Any time you’re short or in trouble, let me know. Pete’ll tell you how to contact me. I’ve got to get moving. Forget Frankie. You’re wasting your time thinking you’ll hear from him. When he gets the ransom he’ll have all the girls after him. So long, baby.”
He went out of the office leaving Anna staring out of the window, tears scalding her eyes.
 
8
 
Flynn looked at his watch.
“Another five minutes,” he said to Woppy who was nursing a Thompson machine gun. “Sweet Christ! I’ll be goddamn glad when this caper’s over.”
“Yeah,” Woppy said. “Still Ma says it’s a cinch and she always knows what she’s talking about”
“Then what the hell are you sweating for?” Flynn demanded.
The two men were sitting in the Buick which was drawn up by the side of the road in the shadows of a clump of shrubs. They had a clear view of the road ahead.
“You aren’t so calm either,” Woppy said, taking out a dirty handkerchief and mopping his face. “What’s the time now?”
“Oh, shut up!” Flynn snarled. He was wishing Eddie had come with him. Woppy got on his nerves. With Eddie, he always felt if they got in a jam, they would get out of it, but Woppy was too excitable. He jumped off the deep end the moment anything started.
“I can hear a car,” Woppy said.
In the distance, headlights appeared above the crest of the road.
“Here he comes!” Flynn said. He scrambled out of the car, pulling a powerful flashlight from his pocket.
The approaching car was traveling fast. When it was about three hundred yards from Flynn, he started flashing the light.
Woppy watched, his hands clutching the machine gun, his heart hammering. Suppose the car was full of Feds, he thought. Those boys never took chances. They would storm past, spraying lead.
The approaching car slowed down. Flynn could see there was only the driver in the car. Blandish was obeying orders all right, he thought. The car swished past him. From the window a bulky object fell and thumped onto the road. The car went on, disappearing into the darkness.
Flynn blew out his cheeks. He ran to the white suitcase and picked it up.
Woppy put down the machine gun and started the car. Flynn scrambled in. He put the suitcase on the floor between his feet.
“Get going!” he said.
Woppy stepped on the gas pedal and the car surged forward. Flynn twisted around and stared through the rear window. They drove fast for three or four miles. No cars followed them.
“It’s okay,” Flynn said. “Let’s get home.”
When they walked into the sitting room, Ma, Slim, Eddie and Doc were all waiting. Flynn dumped the suitcase on the table.
“No trouble, Ma. It went like you said.”
Ma got slowly to her feet and walked over to the table. She snapped back the twin locks of the suitcase. The others crowded around her. Even Slim seemed mildly excited.
She lifted the lid. They all stood staring at the neat packs of bills. They had never seen so much money in their lives.
“Man! Doesn’t that look good!” Eddie said. “Man oh man!”
Slim hung over the money breathing heavily, his mouth hanging open.
“Well, there it is!” Ma said, trying to speak calmly. “A million dollars! At last!”
“Let’s split it up, Ma,” Eddie said. “I’m itching to spend some of my share. Come on! What’s the split going to be?”
“Yeah,” Woppy said, so excited he couldn’t keep still. “What am I going to get, Ma?”
Ma closed the lid of the suitcase. She looked at each man in turn, then she moved heavily to her armchair and sank into it.
The gang watched her, puzzled.
“What’s biting you?” Eddie asked impatiently. “Let’s have the money.”
“Every one of those bills in that case has a number,” Ma said. “You can bet your life the Feds have a list of the numbers. This money is so goddamn hot, it’s on fire.”
“What are you saying?” Eddie demanded, startled. “Can’t we use the stuff?”
“Sure you can if you want a free ride to the gas chamber,” Ma said. “I’m telling you it’s suicide to spend it.”
“Then what the hell did we get it for?” Flynn snarled.
Ma crackled.
“Okay, boys, relax. I’ve taken care of that angle. I’m trading this hot money to Schulberg. He’s willing to sit on it for years, but in return we only get half a million. Still half a million of money you can use is better than a million you can’t use.”
Slim suddenly spat in the fireplace.
“Talk!” he said in disgust. “That’s all you do. Talk!” He went over to the couch and lay down on it. He started to read the comics.
“That’s not so hot, Ma,” Eddie said. “I was expecting a split of two hundred grand.”
Ma laughed.
“I dare say you were.”
“What’s the split then?” Woppy asked looking anxious.
“Each of you is getting three hundred dollars,” Ma said, “and not a dollar more.”
“You kidding? Three hundred bucks?” Eddie said, his face turning red. “What is this?”
“That’s your spending money,” Ma said. “Each of you is entitled to one hundred thousand dollars, but you’re not getting it. I know you boys. If you got your hands on money that size, you’d make a splash that would put the Feds onto you in a week. You couldn’t resist throwing your money around. That’s the way most hoods get caught. They just can’t resist flashing their bankroll and the Feds know it.” She pointed her finger at Eddie. “What story would you tell the Feds if they asked you where you got all your sudden money from? Go on, tell me.”
Eddie started to say something, then stopped. He was quick to see Ma was talking sense.
“You’re right, Ma. This is a hell of a thing, isn’t it? I thought I was going to be rich.”
“Now I’ll tell you what’s going to happen to the money,” Ma said. “We’re going into business. For years now I’ve been wanting to go into business. You boys are going to handle it for me. I’m going to buy the Paradise Club. It’s on the market. We’ll redecorate it, get girls, a good band and we’ll make money. With half a million bucks, we’ll be able to turn the joint into something high class. I’m sick of running a small time gang. We’re moving into big time. From now on, we’re going to be in business. How do you like it?”
The four men relaxed. Slim was the only one who wasn’t listening. He continued to read the comics.
Doc said, “You certainly got a brain in that head of yours, Ma. I’m for it.”
“Me too,” Eddie said. “It’s a swell idea.”
“Suits me,” Flynn said.
“You going to have a restaurant, in the club, Ma?” Woppy asked. “Could I cook?”
Ma grinned.
“You can cook, Woppy. We each will own a fifth of the club’s profits. You’ll all be in the money and you’ll have a reason for being in the money.”
“Wait a minute,” Eddie said. “Suppose the Feds want to know how you financed the deal. What then?”
“That’s taken care of. Schulberg will say he lent me the money. That’s part of the deal.”
“You’ve certainly thought of everything,” Eddie said. “When do we start, Ma?”
“Right away,” Ma said. “The sooner the better. I’ll buy the club tomorrow.”
Flynn said, “And now there’s the girl to be got rid of. Have you talked to Doc about her yet? And where are we going to bury her?”
The genial atmosphere exploded into pieces. Ma stiffened. She went white and then red. Doc’s beaming smile slipped off his face. He looked as if he was going to faint. Slim dropped the newspaper and half sat up, his yellow eyes gleaming.
“Bury her?” Slim said. “What do you mean? Talk to Doc about what?” He swung his feet to the ground.
“Nothing,” Ma said quickly. She looked as if she could kill Flynn.
Eddie decided this was the opportunity for a showdown.
“Just what is going to happen to the girl, Ma?” he asked, edging away from Slim who had got to his feet.
Ma hesitated, but she realized this was no time to back down. Without looking at Slim, she said, “She’s got to go. She knows too much. When she’s asleep…”
“Ma!”
Slim’s voice, slightly high pitched, made them all look at him. He was glaring at his mother, his yellow eyes smouldering.
“What is it?” the old woman asked. She felt a chill of fear around her heart.
“She belongs to me,” Slim said, speaking slowly and distinctly. “No one touches her unless they want to reckon with me first. She belongs to me and I’m keeping her.”
“Look, Slim, don’t be foolish,” Ma said. She spoke with difficulty. Her mouth felt dry. “We can’t keep her. It’s too dangerous. She’s got to go.”
Slim suddenly kicked a chair out of his way. His knife jumped into his hand. Woppy and Doc hurriedly backed away from Ma, leaving her to face Slim alone. She stiffened as Slim began slowly to move towards her.
“Then you’ll reckon with me,” he said viciously. “Do you want me to cut your throat, you old cow? If you touch her—if anyone touches her—I’ll cut you to pieces!”
Eddie slid his gun into his hand. Ma saw the move.
“Put that gun up!” she said hoarsely. She was terrified Eddie was going to shoot her son.
Slim turned on Eddie who backed away.
“You hear me?” Slim screamed. “She’s mine! I’m keeping her! No one’s touching her!”
He stared around at each of them in turn, then he went out, slamming the door behind him.
There was a long pause. Ma was pale. She went slowly to her chair and sat down. She looked suddenly old.
Eddie and Flynn exchanged glances. Eddie shrugged and made for the door. Flynn followed him out of the room.
Woppy, sweating, sat on the couch and pretended to look at the comics. Doc poured himself a stiff drink. The silence in the room was painful.
Slim stood at the head of the stairs, listening. He grinned to himself. At last he had shown his power. He had scared them all. From now on, he was going to have his rightful place in the gang. Ma was going to take second place. He looked down the passage at Miss Blandish’s room. It was time he stopped sitting by her night after night. He must show her he wasn’t only master of his mother, but master of her too.
He started down the passage, his yellow eyes gleaming. He took the key out of the lock after unlocking the door. He went into the room and locked the door.
Miss Blandish watched him come across the room. She saw his new confidence and she guessed what it was to mean to her.
Shuddering, she shut her eyes.
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