more from james hadley chase’s no orchids for miss blandish

‘Rocco stared at her. He had never seen a more beautiful girl. There was something familiar about her face. He felt almost sure he had seen this girl somewhere before.


He moved silently into the room.


Miss Blandish didn’t look up. She suddenly let the cigarette slip out of her fingers. It fell on the carpet and listlessly, she put her foot on it.


“Hello,” Rocco said softly. “What are you doing here?”


The heavy drugged eyes stared at him.


“Please go away,” she said.


Her pinpoint pupils told Rocco plenty.

James Hadley Chase was born in London, the son of an army officer, and was educated at King’s School, Rochester, Kent. At age 18 Chase left home and then worked in several jobs, including children’s encyclopedia salesman and book wholesaler, before devoting himself entirely to writing. Inspired by the works of hardboiled American crime writers, Chase’s first book was No Orchids For Miss Blandish (1939). It became a huge success and is still claimed to be one of the bestselling mysteries ever published. Although Chase produced around 40 thrillers and gangster stories set in the United States, he only went there on short visits. In all, Chase wrote more than 80 books.

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3


A little after five o’clock, Rocco left his apartment and walked briskly to the main street. He had rested on his vast bed for an hour after Maisey had gone.


The mysterious girl Maisey had told him about intrigued him. He had decided he would investigate. He knew Slim, Flynn and Woppy wouldn’t be back until after nine. At this hour, it was unlikely Eddie Schultz would be in the club. That left only Ma Grisson and Doc Williams to worry about. He would have to be careful, but he felt pretty sure he could handle Doc if he had to. Ma scared him, but with any luck he wouldn’t run into her.


It was Saturday, and the warehouse next to the club was closed. Maisey had told him there was an entrance to the club through the warehouse. This entrance he intended to find.


The building next to the warehouse was a shabby hotel. He knew the owner, a fat Greek whose name was Nick Papolos. He told Nick with a wink that he wanted to admire the view from the hotel roof. Nick stared at him, shrugged his fat shoulders and told him to help himself.


“Just don’t get me into no trouble,” the Greek said.


Rocco patted his arm.


“You know me, Nick,” he said. “Strictly no trouble.”


He took the elevator to the top floor, opened a skylight and got onto the flat roof. From there it was easy to enter the warehouse. It took him twenty minutes of careful searching before he found the hidden door leading into the club. It took him only a few seconds to pick the lock and get the door open. He stepped into a dark passage, gun in hand, his heart thumping. At the end of the passage was another locked door. This he opened without difficulty, then he found himself looking into a large, well-furnished room with a big television set facing him. Across the room was a door, and for a long moment, he stood hesitating. He moved silently to the door and listened against the panel. Hearing nothing, he opened the door and peered into the ornate bedroom.


Miss Blandish was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring with blank eyes at the floor. She had on a white cotton dress that Slim had bought her. A cigarette burned between her slim white fingers.


Rocco stared at her. He had never seen a more beautiful girl. There was something familiar about her face. He felt almost sure he had seen this girl somewhere before.


He moved silently into the room.


Miss Blandish didn’t look up. She suddenly let the cigarette slip out of her fingers. It fell on the carpet and listlessly, she put her foot on it.


“Hello,” Rocco said softly. “What are you doing here?”


The heavy drugged eyes stared at him.


“Please go away,” she said.


Her pinpoint pupils told Rocco plenty.


“What’s your name, baby?” he asked.


“My name?” She frowned. “I don’t know. Please go away. He wouldn’t like you to be here.”


Where had he seen this girl before? Rocco asked himself. He looked at the red-gold hair. Then a surge of excitement ran through him. In his mind, he saw the dozens of pictures that had appeared in all the newspapers of this girl. This redhead, sitting so lifelessly on the bed, was John Blandish’s daughter! How the hell had Grisson got hold of her? He was so excited he could scarcely breathe. What a chance to level his score! Besides, there was a reward of fifteen thousand dollars for this girl!


“Your name’s Blandish, isn’t it?” he said, trying to control his shaking voice. “You were kidnapped nearly four months ago. Don’t you remember?”


She peered at him.


“Blandish?” she repeated. “That’s not my name.”


“Yes, it is,” Rocco said. “You’ll remember in a little while. Come on, baby, you and me are going for a walk.”


“I don’t know who you are. Please go away.”


Rocco put his hand on her arm, but she jerked back, her face tightening with fear.


“Don’t touch me!”


The shrill tone of her voice brought Rocco out in a sweat. Any moment Doc Williams or Ma Grisson could walk in. He was determined to get the girl to his place. He was tempted to knock her unconscious and carry her out, but he knew this would be impossible in broad daylight.


“Come on,” he said, his voice hardening. “Slim’s waiting for you. I’ve got to take you to him.”


This was an inspired idea. Miss Blandish immediately got to her feet. She allowed Rocco to lead her into the sitting room. He guided her through the door to the passage leading to the warehouse. She moved like a zombie.


It wasn’t until he had got her from the warehouse, down the alley that ran along the back of the club and the warehouse and into a cruising taxi that he began to relax. He told the driver who was staring curiously at Miss Blandish to take them to his apartment.


While this was going on, Ma Grisson was talking to Flynn on the telephone.


“It’s all fixed,” Flynn was saying. “We’re on our way back. No trouble at all.”


“Both of them?” Ma asked.


“Yeah.”


“Fine, fine. Hurry on back,” and Ma hung up. Her office door opened and Eddie Schultz came in. He had a livid bruise on the side of his jaw.


Ma glared at him.


“You and your goddamn women!” she snarled. “That chippy could have blown the lid right off this setup.”


Eddie sat down. He lit a cigarette and fingered his jaw.


“It wasn’t Anna’s fault. What’s happened?”


“It’s fixed, thanks to me. Flynn’s just been on. They wiped out both Johnny and that punk, Fenner.”


“It wasn’t Anna’s fault,” Eddie said. “All she told this guy…”

“I’m not having her in the club again,” Ma said. “I’m not having anyone here who talks.”


Eddie started to say something, then seeing the evil look in Ma’s eyes, he stopped. He remembered Anna had asked who the girl had been in Slim’s room. If he told Anna Ma wouldn’t have her in the club, Anna might turn nasty. She might even start talking about this girl. He knew if he told Ma this, she would get Flynn to knock Anna off.


Ma saw by his expression that he was uneasy and worried about something.


“What’s on your mind?” she asked, staring at him.


“Look, Ma,” Eddie said, “so far we have got away with murder. We have this club: we have all the money in the world and we’re sitting pretty. But for how long? Okay, Anna talked and it looked like the setup was going to blow up in our faces. We had to knock off Johnny and this newspaper guy. So we’re now sitting pretty again, but for how long, Ma?”


Ma moved restlessly. She knew what Eddie was driving at. There came a tap on the door and Doc Williams came in! His face was flushed. Ma could see he had been drinking again.


“What happened?” he asked as he sat down near Ma.


“It’s all fixed,” Ma said. “You’ve got nothing to worry about.”


“Until the next time,” Eddie said. “Why don’t you get smart, Ma? So long as the girl is here, we’re sitting on dynamite.”


“Are you telling me what to do?” Ma snarled, glaring at him.


“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Eddie said. “We would be in the clear with not a thing to worry about if it wasn’t for the Blandish girl. Why did we have to knock Johnny off? Because we were scared the cops would bust in here and find the girl. If she wasn’t here, we could have let the cops in and we could have laughed at them.”


Doc took out a handkerchief and wiped his sweating face.


“He’s right, Ma,” he said. “So long as she’s here we’re vulnerable.”


Ma got to her feet and began to pace up and down while Eddie and Doc watched her.


“Couldn’t she have a heart attack?” Eddie asked Doc. “Slim wouldn’t know you had anything to do with it.” He was putting his finger right on the problem. He knew both Ma and Doc were frightened of Slim.


Ma stopped prowling. She stared at Doc.


“I could give her something,” Doc said. He looked appealingly at Ma. “I don’t like doing it, Ma, but we just can’t keep her here any longer.”


Ma hesitated.


“Would Slim know?”


“He couldn’t prove anything,” Doc said. “She’d die in her sleep. He—he’d find her dead.”


Ma looked at the desk clock.


“He’ll be back in a couple of hours.” She stood hesitating, looking from Eddie to Doc and back to Eddie again.


“We’ve got to do it, Ma,” Eddie said.


Ma sat down. Her great hands turned into fists.


“Yes, we’ve got to do it.” She looked at Doc. “You fix it, Doc. When you’ve done it, get out and stay away until late. Let him find her. I’ll tell him I haven’t been near her. You keep away too, Eddie.”


Eddie drew in a long deep breath. It would be all right now, he was thinking. Once the Blandish girl was dead, Anna could come back to the club.


Doc stood, hesitating, sweating and scared.


“Get going,” Ma said to him. “The sooner it’s done now, the better. Don’t sit there like an old fool. This had to happen. Get going.”


Doc got slowly to his feet and went out of the room.


“And you get out,” Ma said to Eddie. “I don’t want you around until ten tonight. Go to a movie or something, but keep out of the way.”


“Okay, Ma,” Eddie said and started for the door, then he paused. “When she’s gone, it’ll be okay for Anna to work here, Ma?”


“Yes, it’ll be okay,” Ma said.


She moved slowly to her desk and sat down. Eddie watched her.


“I’ll have to find Slim another girl,” Ma said. “He’s got the taste for girls now.”


Eddie grimaced.


“That won’t be so easy,” he said.


Ma’s face crinkled into a cynical smile.


“I’ll find someone,” she said. “You can do anything if you have enough money.”


Eddie went out. He saw Doc Williams going up the stairs. He was glad he hadn’t to do the job. He felt sorry for the Blandish girl. She had had a tough break. As he walked across the courtyard to where he had parked his car, he was thinking she would be better off dead anyway.


He got into his car. There was a movie he wanted to see. He’d take a look at it, then he would pick Anna up for dinner.


As he drove away, two detectives, acting on Brennan’s instructions, took up positions where they could watch the entrance of the club without being seen.

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