no orchids for miss blandish—chapter three, continued

James Hadley Chases’s description of a nightclub-cum-bordello: Freudian symbolism for the masses:

"The decor of the club had been executed by an expensive but clever decorator. The reception hall was in white and gilt with rose-colored mirrors. To the right was the restaurant and dance floor, designed to resemble a vast cave with stalactites hanging from the ceiling and niches around the room for favored customers who wished to see, but not to be seen. The room was lit by green fluorescent tubes that cast an intriguing but ghostly light, creating an atmosphere at once decadent and neurotic."

3


Chief of Police Brennan had been right when he had told Fenner that the Grisson gang had taken over the Paradise Club, but he had been wrong when he had said the gang had bought out the owner, Toni Rocco.

Rocco had been ruthlessly squeezed out.

Ma Grisson with Eddie and Flynn had called on Rocco and had explained just why it would be more healthy for him to hand the club over to her and accept her generous offer of one percent of the profits.

At one time Rocco had been a successful jockey. He was a tiny man and Ma’s vast, menacing presence frightened him. Although he didn’t make much money out of his club, bought from his horse racing savings, he was proud of it. To give it up was to give up his dearest possession, but he was smart enough to know if he didn’t give it up, he wouldn’t last long and Rocco wasn’t ready to die just yet.

Ma saw no reason why she should spend good money for the club when she knew she could get it for nothing. Although she had now a half a million dollars to play with, the structural alterations she had in mind, the furnishings, the kitchen equipment, the mirrors and the lighting would cost plenty. She told Rocco a one-percent cut on the profits was fair and generous and she waved aside his muttered protest that a five-percent cut would be more acceptable.

“Use your head, my friend,” she said, smiling her wolfish smile. “One percent of anything is better than nothing. There’s a bunch of tough boys who have had their eyes on this club for some time. Before long they will shake you down for protection. Once they start on you, they’ll bleed you white. If you don’t pay, one of them will plant a bomb in here. If we take over the club, they’ll fade away. They know it wouldn’t be safe to threaten us.”

Rocco knew very well there were no tough boys, but he was also sure if he didn’t surrender the club, one of the Grisson gang would plant a bomb on him.

So he signed away his rights to the club with deceptive humility. The partnership agreement that Ma’s attorney drew up was a complicated document that said a lot and meant nothing. Rocco hadn’t even the right to check the books. Whatever came to him came as a favor. He had a shrewd idea that his cut of the profits wouldn’t be worth the trouble to collect.

Ma Grisson was very satisfied with the transaction, but she might not have been so satisfied had she known that Rocco had promised himself that he would settle his account with the Grisson gang. Sooner or later, he told himself, an opportunity must arise, and when it did, the old bitch would regret having done what she had done to him.

Because of his apparent mildness and his size, no one, least of all Ma Grisson, realized what a dangerous enemy Rocco could be. Behind the dark, thin Italian features, there dwelt a cunning, ruthless and vicious mentality.

Rocco got himself a job as a collector for the local numbers racket. He didn’t like the job, but he had to earn a living now that he had lost the club. As he walked the streets, entering shabby apartments, climbing stairs until his legs ached, he brooded about the Grisson gang. Sooner or later, he kept promising himself he would fix them and when he did fix them, they would stay fixed.

Ma Grisson had selected the Paradise Club not only because she could get it for nothing but also because of its convenient position.

Thetwo-storied building stood in a small courtyard off one of the main avenues. It was sandwiched between a warehouse and a clock factory: both these buildings were deserted between six p.m. and eight a.m.

The club building was so situated that in the event of a police raid, the doorman would have ample time to sound the warning bell. The building was impossible to surround.

One of the first things Ma ordered was a three-inch thick steel door with a judas window made of bulletproof glass. This door took the place of the previous door to the entrance of the club. All the windows of the building were fitted with steel shutters which could slam shut at the touch of a button on Ma’s desk.

In a surprisingly short time, Ma had converted the club into a fortress. She had constructed a secret staircase that led from the upper floor into the basement of the adjacent warehouse. Unknown to the owner of the warehouse, it was now possible to enter and leave the club unseen through the warehouse.

The decor of the club had been executed by an expensive but clever decorator. The reception hall was in white and gilt with rose-colored mirrors. To the right was the restaurant and dance floor, designed to resemble a vast cave with stalactites hanging from the ceiling and niches around the room for favored customers who wished to see, but not to be seen. The room was lit by green fluorescent tubes that cast an intriguing but ghostly light, creating an atmosphere at once decadent and neurotic.

At the far end of the restaurant, guarded by another three-inch thick steel door was the gambling room with roulette and baccarat tables. Leading from the gambling room was Ma’s office and another room used by the gang to entertain their own special friends.

Upstairs were six bedrooms for the use of high paying customers who wanted relaxation with their girl friends without the necessity of leaving the club. At the far end of the corridor was a locked door leading to Miss Blandish’s suite.

Two months after Ma Grisson had squeezed Rocco out of business, the club was reopened and became an immediate hit.

The cave restaurant was the talk of the town. It was the fashionable thing to become a member of the club, and here Ma showed her genius for running a club. She announced in the press that the membership was strictly limited to 300 members. The entrance fee was three hundred dollars. There was an immediate rush of applicants. Had she wished, Ma could have had over five thousand members within a week of opening. Refusing to be tempted, and resisting the pressure of the other members of the gang who yelled to her to take the suckers’ money, she selected three hundred names from the mass of names sent in, carefully choosing only the most influential and wealthy members of Kansas City’s society.

“This way,” she told the gang, “we get class. I know what I’m doing. I don’t want a lot of hoodlums in here, making trouble. This joint is going to be the best in town; you wait and see.”

Both Flynn and Woppy were intimidated by the grandeur of the club. Woppy was scared to go into the kitchens where three chefs, bribed away from the best hotels in the City, presided. His dream of being head cook evaporated at the sight of these experts in their high chef’s caps and their trained, efficient methods.

Doc Williams was delighted with the club. It gave him tremendous satisfaction to wear a tuxedo and act the genial host at the bar where he drank himself into happy oblivion night after night.

Eddie was also pleased with the club. He ran the gambling room while Flynn kept an eye on the restaurant. Ma seldom put in an appearance. She remained in her office, handling the catering, the books and the money.

The one fish completely out of water was Slim. He still crept about looking dirty and disheveled. He still wore the greasy black suit he had worn for years. He kept away from the activities of the club, spending most of his time with Miss Blandish.

He had insisted that Miss Blandish should have not only a bedroom but also a sitting room. Ma had let him have his way. Having the girl on the premises worried her. She was well aware of the risk they were all running, having the girl there. Miss Blandish was the only surviving evidence that the Grisson gang had done the kidnapping. If ever she was found there, all Ma’s hopes, her plans for the future would go up in smoke. She hoped before long that Slim would get bored with the girl. When that happened, Ma would get rid of her.

While Fenner and Paula were driving home, the Paradise Club was just coming alive.

Maisey, the hat check girl, was busy taking wraps, hats and coats from the steady stream of arriving customers. Maisey, hired by Ma because of her outrageous figure, was a sable-haired teenager with a vapid, characterless prettiness, a docile attitude towards exploring male hands, and an eye for the fast buck.

Her working uniform consisted of a scarlet, tight fitting jacket and white satin shorts. Her long attractive legs were in black net tights and on her head was perched a white pillbox, cocked over one saucy eye.

Maisey was responsible for two jobs: to look after the cloakrooms and to see no unauthorized person went upstairs.

For some minutes she worked hard and fast, then there was a lull in the arrivals and for a moment or so the lobby was empty.

She saw Slim come in, carrying a brown paper parcel.

Slim gave Maisey the creeps. She hurriedly turned her back on him, pretending to straighten the line of coats and wraps so she could avoid lookingat him.

Slim went up the stairs and along the passage to Miss Blandish’s room. He paused outside the door to look back along the passage, then taking out a key, he unlocked the door and entered the big, airy sitting room.

Every time he entered the room, he liked it better. He had never seen such a beautiful room. Decorated in grey and blue, furnished with grey leather lounging chairs, a blue carpet and a big television set, it was to him, the most wonderful room in the world. The only thing it lacked was windows, but even Slim realized it would have been too dangerous to keep the girl in a room with windows.

He walked into the bedroom and paused in the doorway.

This room he liked as well as the sitting room. It was decorated in off-white and rose. The large double bed dominated the room with its rose quilted head board. There was another big television set at the end of the bed. Slim was a television addict. He never grew tired of watching the moving pictures on the twenty-one inch screen.

Miss Blandish sat before the dressing table. She had on a rose-colored wrap which had fallen open to show her long, beautiful legs. Her bare feet were thrust into rose-colored mules. She was manicuring her nails lifelessly, and although she heard Slim come in, she didn’t look up.

“Hello,” Slim said. “I’ve got a present for you.” He moved over to her. “You’re lucky. No one gives me presents.”

Miss Blandish laid down the nail file and dropped her hands in her lap. There was a blank, hypnotized expression on her face that now constantly irritated Slim.

“It cost a lot of money,” Slim said, watching her closely to see if she was listening. “But money means nothing to me now. I can buy you anything I want. I have all the money in the world. Look—what do you think this is?” He pushed the parcel toward her, but Miss Blandish ignored it. Muttering, Slim put his cold, damp hand on her arm and pinched her flesh. She didn’t move. She grimaced and closed her eyes. “Wake up!” Slim said angrily. “What’s the matter with you? Here, open the parcel.”

The drugged girl made a feeble attempt to untie the string, but seeing her fumbling, Slim snatched the parcel away from her.

“I’ll do it! I like opening packages.” He began to unknot the string. “You seen Ma today?”

“No.” Miss Blandish spoke hesitatingly. “I haven’t seen her.”

“She doesn’t like you. She wants to get rid of you. If it wasn’t for me, you’d be at the bottom of the river by now. You don’t know how well off you are. When I was a kid, I saw them take a woman out of the river. She was all blown up. One of the cops vomited. I didn’t. I wanted to see, but they drove me away. She had hair just like yours.” He suddenly lost patience with the string and pulling out his knife, he cut the string, tearing off the paper. “It’s a picture. It’s pretty. When I saw it, I thought of you.” He examined the small oil painting, smiling at it. There was no form to the picture, but the colors were hard and violent. “Do you like it?” He thrust the picture at Miss Blandish who stared sightlessly at it and then looked away.

There was a long pause while Slim stared at her. There were moments, Slim found himself thinking, when he wished this girl wasn’t a puppet. Now after three months when he had done everything his perverted mind could devise to her, her drugged lack of resistance began to pall. He would have liked some opposition. He would have liked her to struggle against his advances so that he could exercise his talent for cruelty.

“Don’t you like it?” he demanded, glaring at her. “It cost a lot of money. Say something, can’t you? Don’t sit there staring like a goddamn dummy! Say something!”

Miss Blandish shuddered. She got up and went over to the bed. She lay down, covering her face with her hands.

Slim looked at the picture. He suddenly hated it.

“It cost a hundred bucks,” he said viciously. “Do you think I care? If you don’t like it—say so! I can buy you something else!” He suddenly slashed the canvas with his knife, hacking and slashing while he poured out a stream of filthy curses. “Now you’re not having it!” he shouted, flinging the ruined picture across the room. “I’m too good to you. You want to suffer! People who have never suffered, never appreciate anything!” He got up and went over to her. “You hear me? You ought to suffer!”

Miss Blandish lay still, her eyes closed. She might have been dead.

Slim bent over her. He pricked her throat with the tip of his knife.

“I could kill you,” he snarled. “Do you hear? I could kill you.”

She opened her eyes and looked at him. A spot of blood appeared on her white skin where the knife had cut her. Her dazed, enlarged pupils sickened him. He drew away. She wasn’t his, he was thinking; he was kidding himself. She was nothing—a dead body. His mind switched to Ma and Doc. They were responsible. He fingered his knife. They had spoiled his pleasure. They had turned his beautiful picture-book dream into a lifeless nightmare.

Muttering to himself, he went into the sitting room. He turned on the television. In a few seconds he was staring with fixed attention at the picture of a man and a woman passionately embracing.

Among the customers who came in a steady stream into the reception lobby was a short, stockily built man wearing a tuxedo that didn’t quite fit him.

Eddie, lounging by the cloakroom, eyed this man suspiciously. Eddie thought he looked like a cop and as soon the man had entered the restaurant, Eddie went down the doorman, a husky bouncer named MacGowan.

“Who was that bird?” Eddie asked. “He looked like a cop.

“He’s been in here before,” MacGowan said. “Mr. Williams brought him in. Mr. Williams said if he came alone, we could let him in.”

Harry Williams was one of the club’s biggest spenders. All the same Eddie decided he’d better have a word with Ma.

He found her in her office, busy as usual with a mass of papers.

“What is it?” she demanded. “I’m busy.”

“Guy just came in who looks like a cop,” Eddie said. “He signed in as Jay Doyle. Mac says he’s been here before as H.W.’s guest.”

“Don’t tell me, tell the boys,” she said impatiently. “Don’t be so goddamn helpless. You know what to do. Make sure he doesn’t get into the gambling room or upstairs.”

Eddie hurried down to the restaurant. He entered as the band leader was introducing the first cabaret act. Eddie spotted Doyle sitting alone in one of the dark corners. He couldn’t see Flynn so he decided he would watch Doyle himself.

“Well, folks,” the bandleader was saying, “this is the moment you have all been waiting for. Once again Miss Anna Borg presents yet another of her famous—or should I say infamous—passion dances. A big hand for Miss Borg, if you please.”

While the clapping started up, the drummer ran off a roll and the lights went out. A white spotlight centered on the middle of the dance floor. Out of the darkness, Anna appeared.

Eddie grinned. He had certainly been smart when he had picked Anna for his sidekick. He had had a lot of trouble with her, grooming her, helping her work up her act, but now it was paying off. Even Ma had admitted Anna was the big attraction at the club.

Anna swept into the glare of the spotlight. She had on a gold lame dress with a long zipper down the front. The band started the old favorite “Can’t help lovin’ that Man.” Anna’s voice was hard and loud. As she sang she slowly pulled down the zipper, then suddenly stepped out of the dress, tossing it to a waiting page boy who was leering at her and winking into the darkness.

Dressed now in white bra and panties, she continued to sing. The customers didn’t bother about her singing: they feasted their eyes on her body contortions.

At the end of the first chorus, she discarded her bra. At the end of the second chorus she took off her panties. Wearing only a G-string, she began to circle the tables, while the spotlight chased her.

She’s hot, Eddie thought, watching her bowing and blowing kisses at the end of her song. The customers loved her. She had slid into her dress now and the lights had come up.

Eddie glanced across the room to where Doyle had been sitting. He stiffened. Under cover of the darkness, Doyle had disappeared.


   4


   Fenner was having his morning coffee when the front door bell rang. Wondering who it could be at this hour, he went to the door.

A short stockily built man grinned cheerfully at him.

“I’m Jay Doyle,” he said. “City police. Too early for you?”

“Come on in. I’m just having coffee,” Fenner said.

“The Captain told me to call on you,” Doyle said, tossing his hat on a chair and sitting down. “He tells me you are representing Blandish now.”

Fenner poured a second cup of coffee.

“That’s the idea. Sugar?”

“No, thanks.” Doyle lit a cigarette. “For the past two months I’ve been tailing the Borg girl. There was just a chance Riley would have got in touch with her, but the Captain reckons I’m wasting my time. So I’m quitting from today. I’ve brought the copies of my daily reports. I don’t reckon you’ll find anything of interest, but you never know.” He hauled from his pocket a fat envelope which he gave to Fenner.

“I’m planning to see the girl this morning,” Fenner said. “She’s my only link with Riley. I can’t believe he left her flat. I have a hunch he must have told her something before he went underground.”

“You’re wasting your time,” Doyle said. “We had her in and we questioned her for hours. Riley did walk out on her all right. The fact she’s taken up with Eddie Schultz proves it. If she thought she had a chance of helping Riley spend the Blandish ransom money, she wouldn’t have looked at Schultz.”

“Well, I’m going to talk to her. I’ve got nothing else to work on.”

“Watch your step,” Doyle said. “Make sure Schultz isn’t there when you call. That guy’s dangerous.”

“I’ll watch it.”

“I was in the Paradise Club last night,” Doyle said. “I thought, before I quit watching the girl, I should see what her act was like. It’s some act. I don’t reckon she’ll stay much longer with Schultz. She’s got enough talent to hit Broadway.”

“It beats me that a wild gang like the Grissons should have opened a club. Schulberg must have found a lot of dough all of a sudden.”

“Yeah. I knew the club when Rocco ran it. You should see it now. You should see those hoods too: all got up in tuxedos, except Slim: he’s the same as ever.”

Fenner grimaced.

“There’s a bad one if ever there was one.”

“Yeah.” Doyle grinned ruefully. “He nearly scared the life out of me last night. While the Borg girl was doing her act, I thought it might be an idea to get a closer look at the club. The opportunity came when they turned off the lights. I wanted to take a look upstairs. There was a hat check girl on guard, but I had a bit of luck. A couple of guys came in and checked their hats. One of them knocked over the bowl the girl keeps her tips in. The money fell behind the counter. She and the two guys were scrabbling for the money and I nipped up the stairs. There are seven rooms up there. Six of them bedrooms. The door at the end of the passage is fitted with a lock and a bolt outside which struck me as strange. Why a bolt outside? There was a TV set on. The door was locked from the inside. I didn’t have long to look around when the Borg girl’s act finished. I had just got to the head of the stairs when I heard a sound behind me. I looked around. The locked door was open. Slim Grisson was standing in the doorway. He had a knife in his hand. The sight of him certainly sent up my blood pressure. I didn’t wait. I went down the stairs three at a time. The hat check girl looked at me as if I were a ghost. I kept going. When I got to the exit, I heard a shout. Schultz was coming after me. The bouncer at the door made a grab at me, but I socked him, got the door open and ran for my life. Schultz followed me as far as the main road, then he turned back.”

“I’d like to have seen you on the run,” Fenner said grinning. “Sounds like Ma Grisson’s running a brothel up there. Did you tell Brennan?”

“Sure, but we can’t do a thing. Nearly all the members are big shots with a load of influence. We’d never get a warrant to bust in there. Besides, the place is like a fort. The entrance door is made of steel and there are steel shutters covering the windows.”

“Any idea what goes on in the locked room?”

“No. Your guess is as good as mine.”

“Where will I find the Borg girl?”

“She and Schultz share an apartment at Malvern Court,” Doyle said. “Top floor. But watch it. Don’t walk in when Schultz’s around.”

When Doyle had gone, Fenner spent an hour reading through Doyle’s reports. He didn’t learn much except that Schultz always left the apartment at eleven o’clock to go to the club. Anna left at one o’clock to lunch at the club.

Fenner called Paula at the office.

“I’ll be in after lunch,” he said. “I’m going now to talk to the Borg girl. Any messages?”

“Mr. Blandish called. He’s asking for news.”

“I’ll call him from here. Anything else?”

“A fat old party wants you to find her dog,” Paula said, giggling. “I said you were allergic to dogs. That’s right, isn’t it?”

“Could be. Did she have any money?”

“Of course not.” There was a pause, then Paula went on, “I wish you were allergic to strippers.”

“Maybe I will be after I’ve talked to this one,” Fenner said and hung up.

He called Blandish.

“I still think Anna Borg could tell ussomething,” he said when Blandish came on the line. “Everything depends on how I approach her. The police have worked her over and got nothing out of her. I’m going to see if I can bribe her to talk. You said money is no object. Does that still go?”

“Of course,” Blandish said. “What have you in mind?”

“I thought I’d tell her you would put her on Broadway if she can give us any information that will lead us to Riley. That might hook her.”

“Try it,” Blandish said.

“I’ll call you back,” and Fenner hung up.

 

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