The mother figure, the male criminal and pot-boiler Freudianism
"Listen,” Ma said, “we could be in trouble. That chippy of Eddie’s told a newspaperman about Johnny. This guy has probably gone out to talk to Johnny. If he gets tough with the old drunk, Johnny will talk. You three go out there fast. Wipe Johnny out. We should have done it before now. If the newspaperman’s there when you arrive, knock him off too. Bury them both. Get going!"
"It’s a four hour drive,” Flynn grumbled. “You sure…"
"You heard what I said!" Ma roared, jumping up and smashing her big fists on the desk. "And drive like hell! You’ve got to get there before Fenner does!"
Slim said, "I’m not going. To hell with it! I’ve got something better to do."
Ma came around the desk. She looked so mad even Slim drew back.
"You’re going! You’re getting too goddamn soft! If you don’t shut that old drunk’s mouth, you’ll lose your plaything. You hear me? Now get the hell out of here!"
Muttering, Slim followed Flynn and Woppy out of the room.
"As bad as that, Ma?" Doc said feebly. He wished he hadn’t had that extra drink. He was feeling dizzy.
"Women! Women! Women!" Ma snarled, pounding on the desk. "Always the same! Barker… Karpis… Dillinger… they all went the same way… because of women! Everything I’ve planned could be shot… just because a goddamn chippy opens her goddamn mouth!"
Ma Grisson was just finishing an early lunch from a well-loaded tray on her desk when the telephone rang.
Doc Williams who was keeping her company, drinking, but not eating, picked up the receiver.
“It’s Eddie.” Eddie Schultz’s voice sounded strained. “Ma there?”
Doc offered the receiver to Ma.
She took the receiver, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand.
“What is it?”
“Trouble, Ma. Remember Dave Fenner who worked on the Tribune? He’s been here while I was out. He kidded Anna he could put her on Broadway if she could give him a line on the Blandish snatch. She told him the last time she had spoken to Riley was at Johnny’s place. He’s gone off like a bat out of hell.”
“What?” Ma bellowed, her raddled face turning purple. “I know that sonofabitch! He’ll hammer the truth out of Johnny! I always said we should have knocked that old drunk off!”
“That’s why I phoned, Ma.” Eddie sounded badly shaken. “Listen, Ma, we can’t blame Anna. She didn’t know what we know.”
“Come down here!” Ma snarled.
“The punk’s nearly bust my jaw,” Eddie said. “I’m feeling like hell. I thought you’d better get Flynn…”
“Don’t tell me what to do!” Ma snarled and slammed down the receiver.
Doc’s face had gone grey. He looked helplessly at Ma.
“Don’t sit there like a damned old dummy!” Ma bawled at him. “Get Flynn, Woppy and Slim! Hurry!”
Doc hurried out.
Within a few minutes Flynn and Woppy came in. They both looked startled. Doc came in a moment later with Slim who was scratching his head and yawning.
“Listen,” Ma said, “we could be in trouble. That chippy of Eddie’s told a newspaperman about Johnny. This guy has probably gone out to talk to Johnny. If he gets tough with the old drunk, Johnny will talk. You three go out there fast. Wipe Johnny out. We should have done it before now. If the newspaperman’s there when you arrive, knock him off too. Bury them both. Get going!”
“It’s a four hour drive,” Flynn grumbled. “You sure…”
“You heard what I said!” Ma roared, jumping up and smashing her big fists on the desk. “And drive like hell! You’ve got to get there before Fenner does!”
Slim said, “I’m not going. To hell with it! I’ve got something better to do.”
Ma came around the desk. She looked so mad even Slim drew back.
“You’re going! You’re getting too goddamn soft! If you don’t shut that old drunk’s mouth, you’ll lose your plaything. You hear me? Now get the hell out of here!”
Muttering, Slim followed Flynn and Woppy out of the room.
“As bad as that, Ma?” Doc said feebly. He wished he hadn’t had that extra drink. He was feeling dizzy.
“Women! Women! Women!” Ma snarled, pounding on the desk. “Always the same! Barker… Karpis… Dillinger… they all went the same way… because of women! Everything I’ve planned could be shot… just because a goddamn chippy opens her goddamn mouth!”
As Woppy and Slim made for the exit, Flynn who had made a date with Maisey for the evening, paused by her as she was arranging her cloakroom counter.
“We got business, babe,” he said. “The date’s off. I’ll be lucky if I get back by nine.”
He ran on down and joined Woppy and Slim as they bundled into the Dodge.
Maisey shrugged. She wasn’t sorry the date was broken. Flynn was mean to go out with. He just wouldn’t keep his hands to himself.
She put on her coat. It was time for lunch and she was hungry. She nodded to MacGowan, the bouncer, as she went down the stairs.
“See you around nine, Mac,” she said. “I’m going to nourish my curves.”
MacGowan grinned. He watched her hips swing down the stairs into the courtyard.
Maisey always went to the same place for lunch. It sold the best hamburgers in town and it wasn’t far from the club.
Rocco knew this, and happening to be near the restaurant he decided to eat there himself. Maybe, if he talked right, he might get some information from the doll. She looked dumb enough, but maybe she might let drop something he could use against Ma.
On his way to the restaurant, he had spotted the Dodge edging its way through the heavy traffic and he was surprised to see Slim as well as Woppy and Flynn in the car. He wondered where they were going.
He found Maisey sitting at a corner table, carefully studying the menu.
“Hello, beautiful,” he said. “Mind if I buy you a lunch?”
Maisey looked up and smiled. She knew Rocco had once owned the Paradise Club. She was flattered he should pay her any attention.
“I won’t fight against it,” she said. “I’m always glad of company.”
Rocco pulled out a chair and sat down. His legs ached and his feet were sore. He had had a hard morning but at least now he was finished for the day.
He ordered the lunch special and a crab salad for Maisey.
“Well, baby, how’s the club going?” he asked. “Doing all right?”
“Sure,” Maisey said. “I guess they must be coining money.” She sighed. “I wish some of it came my way. I only get a lousy thirty bucks and tips and I have to provide my own uniform.”
“I should have thought you’d have got more than that. With the shape you have on, you could do better in a honky-tonk.”
Maisey looked indignant.
“I wouldn’t be seen dead in one of those joints. I’ll have you know I’m not that kind of a girl.”
“Pardon me, my mistake,” Rocco said.
The food came and for a while they ate in silence. From time to time Rocco glanced at the girl, trying to make up his mind how to proposition her. He decided regretfully the only thing she could be interested in was money.
When Maisey had finished, she sat back with a sigh of content.
“That was pretty nice. Thanks: you’re nice.”
“I’m not so lousy,” Rocco said modestly. “Say, baby, how would you like to make yourself thirty bucks?”
Maisey looked suspiciously at him.
He patted her hand.
“Not what you’re thinking. It’s strictly business. How’s about you coming back to my apartment and discussing it with me?”
“No, thank you,” Maisey said firmly. “I’ve heard that one before.”
Rocco pretended to be shocked.
“You’ve got me wrong, baby. I have an idea I want to talk over with you: an idea that could earn you another thirty bucks a week. But if it doesn’t interest you…”
“Another thirty bucks a week?” Maisey sat up. “What’s wrong with talking about it right here and now?”
Rocco shook his head. He got to his feet.
“It’s strictly confidential, but forget it. I’ll find another baby who isn’t so fussy as you.” He signaled for the check and paid from a big roll of bills which he let Maisey see. He put the roll back in his pocket, aware that Maisey was eyeing it greedily. “Well, thanks for your company. Be seeing you.”
“Hey! Don’t be in such a rush. Maybe I could change my mind. Where’s your apartment anyway?”
“Just around the corner. Take us two minutes.”
Maisey hesitated, then she got to her feet.
“The risks we poor girls have to run for a little dough,” she said. “Well, okay, but remember—no funny business.”
“The idea never entered my head,” Rocco lied.
He had a convenient little apartment on the third floor above a filling and garage station with a back entrance though a courtyard that was used as a parking lot.
Maisey was surprised to see how nicely the big sitting room-bedroom was arranged and kept. The furniture was of light oak. A few rugs made islands on the polished floor. The chairs were big and overstuffed. There was a vast divan capable of sleeping four people: five at a pinch.
Maisey stood gaping at the divan.
“That’s pretty ambitious for a little guy like you, isn’t it?” she asked as he helped her off with her coat. “I’d have thought you would have got lost in that desert.”
“You’d be surprised what goes on in that bed,” Rocco said with a wink. “Me—I like plenty of room to maneuver in.”
“I’ll say you do,” Maisey said admiringly and giggled.
As she began to wander around the room, peering at his possessions, Rocco fixed two stiff drinks.
“Come and sit down, baby,” he said, “I want to talk business to you.”
Maisey lowered herself into one of the big lounging chairs. It was so deep, her knees were higher than her head. As Rocco handed her the highball, he looked with interest at what he could see of her from where he was standing.
“Talk away,” Maisey said. “I’m listening.”
Rocco waved his glass at her. Maisey drank half the whiskey in her glass, then blew out her cheeks.
“Say, this is strong enough to knock over a pregnant mule.”
“You think so?” Rocco said and patted her exposed knee. “But then you’re no pregnant mule.”
Maisey giggled. She didn’t often get a chance to drink good Scotch. As Rocco offered her a cigarette, she emptied her glass.
“I’ll give you a refill,” Rocco said, taking her glass to the cabinet.
“Only a small one,” Maisey said, settling herself comfortably, “or I’ll get cockeyed.”
“Why should you worry?” Rocco said as he sloshed four inches of whiskey into the glass and a little soda. He put the glass within her reach, then he sat opposite her.
“I’m looking for a smart girl who can get me some information. This is strictly confidential, baby. I want to get a line on the Grisson gang. You’re on the inside. You could get me what I want.”
Maisey didn’t like this idea at all. She was scared of Ma Grisson. Monkeying with Ma could be dangerous. She drank some of the whiskey while she attempted to think. To Maisey any form of thinking came hard. Rocco could almost hear her brain creak.
“If the idea doesn’t jell, baby,” he said, “forget it. I’ll play you some records instead. I’ve got a great library of jazz, but if you want to pick up a steady thirty bucks a week, here’s your chance.”
“What sort of information do you want?” Maisey asked cautiously.
“I’m not fussy,” Rocco said. “I haven’t been in the joint since Ma took over. Anything illegal going on in there?”
Maisey belched gently.
“Plenty,” she said. “I get the jitters sometimes in case there’s a raid.”
“Don’t be coy,” Rocco said, “Let’s have some details.”
Maisey wagged her finger at him.
“Let’s have some money first, bright boy.”
Rocco sighed. Women seemed, these days, he thought, to think only of money. He took out his roll, thumbed off twenty one dollar bills and handed them to Maisey.
“I trust you, sweetheart,” he said, wondering if he was wasting his money. “Now give me something.”
Maisey finished her drink. She was feeling a little dizzy.
“Let’s see.” She frowned up at the ceiling. “They’ve got a roulette table. That’s illegal, isn’t it? Then upstairs they have a brothel. That’s illegal too. I’ll tell you something else. All the doors are made of steel and there are steel shutters to the windows. By the time the cops break in, I’ll bet there’ll be nothing to see.”
Rocco looked at her unhappily. He knew most of what she had told him. He tried another angle.
“Where were the boys going just now?” he asked. “I saw Flynn, Woppy and Slim in the Dodge heading out of town.”
Maisey crossed one long leg over the other. Rocco blinked. From where he sat, he could see plenty.
“I wouldn’t know,” she said. “Flynn said it was business.”
She blew out her cheeks. “Phew! that Scotch is strong! He said they wouldn’t be back until nine. How’s about another drink?”
Patiently, Rocco fixed her another drink.
“Keep trying,” he said. “Is there anything out-of-the-way going on in the club? Anything odd?”
Maisey groped for her drink and nearly dropped it.
“Whoops! That nearly lost good liquor,” she said. “I think I’m just a little bit plastered.”
“Not you,” Rocco said, helping her put the drink on the table. “You’re just happy.”
“Yeah, maybe.” She tried to focus him without success. “I’ll tell you something: Slim’s got a girl friend.”
Rocco shook his head.
“No, baby, not Slim. He’s never had a girl friend, and never will have. He’s not built that way. Try something else.”
Maisey glared aggressively at him.
“Are you calling me a liar? I’m telling you he’s got a girl who he keeps locked in a room upstairs.”
Rocco felt a sudden quickening of excitement. Could he be getting somewhere with this dumb chick?
“Why does he keep her locked up?” he asked.
Maisey fanned herself with her hand, shaking her head.
“Search me. Mind you, if that streak of horror took a notion for me, I’d have to be locked up if he was to get anywhere with me.” She giggled. “I’m sorry for her. Slim scarcely ever leaves her. He stays in that locked room with her nearly all the time.”
Rocco was getting intrigued.
“Have you ever seen her?”
“Just once, but I hear, every night before the club opens, Slim takes her for a walk. They don’t stay out long. I reckon he just walks her around the block and brings her back. I got to the club a little early: my watch was wrong. That’s when I saw her. Slim and the girl were coming down the stairs. I only got a glimpse of her because Ma appeared and hustled me into the Ladies’ room.”
“What was the girl like?” Rocco asked, listening intently.
“I didn’t see her face. She had a scarf over her head and pulled across her face, but there was something queer about her. She walked down the stairs as if she couldn’t see —the way blind people walk.”
“Ma know about all this?”
“Sure, and Doc too. Doc goes up to her room every day.”
Rocco thought for a moment. This might be worth investigating, he thought.
“I want to see this girl,” he said. “How do I do it?”
Maisey smiled drunkenly at him.
“I’m not stopping you. Stick around the club between ten and eleven and you’ll see Slim and her taking a walk.”
If Slim was going to be out of town until nine, Rocco thought, there wouldn’t be much chance of seeing this mysterious girl tonight.
“You don’t tell me he takes her out through the front entrance?” he said.
Maisey was suddenly feeling faint. The room was moving slowly up and down with the motion of a ship.
“There’s a back entrance,” she said, “through the warehouse next door.”
Rocco smiled. He was now sure he hadn’t wasted his money.
“That Scotch seems to have been a little too much for you, baby,” he said. “Come and lie down.”
“You’ve got something there,” Maisey said. “I feel terrible.”
Rocco pulled her out of the chair. She staggered against him and would have fallen if he hadn’t caught hold of her.
“Whoops! Someone is rocking my dream boat,” she said and clung hard to him.
Rocco looked at the clock on the mantel. The time was a little after three. He guided Maisey to the divan and lowered her gently onto its wide softness.
“The same old, old story,” she said, her eyes closed. “The guy says strictly business and it’s always strictly something else.”
Rocco lowered the blinds.
He believed in the right atmosphere.
Maisey sighed happily when he took her in his arms.
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