more 1930s sleaze from james hadley chases’ no orchids for miss blandish

She found herself saying in a cold, flat voice, "The girl’s gone."
   Slim stiffened. He leaned forward to peer up at Ma, his thin lips lifting off his discolored teeth.
  "You’re lying," he said. "You’ve done something to her, haven’t you?"
   "She’s gone," Ma said. "I went into her room a couple of hours ago—she wasn’t there."
   Slim started up the stairs. Ma watched him come. When he reached her, she stared fixedly at him.
   "You old cow," Slim snarled. "You’re trying to frighten me, but I don’t scare easily. If you’ve touched her, I’ll kill you."


Bookseller Photo 

 

4

 
Slim stood at the foot of the stairs looking up at Ma.

Flynn and Woppy were behind and to the right of Slim. There was an expression on Ma’s face that Flynn had never seen before. He had never thought of Ma as being old. It came as a shock to him now as he looked at her to realize just how old she was.

Slim knew something bad had happened. He too had never seen this slack, defeated look on Ma’s raddled face. “What’s the matter?” he demanded. “What are you looking like that for?”

Ma didn’t say anything. One of her great hands rested on the banister rail, gripping it so tightly her knuckles were white.

“Say something!” Slim yelled at her. “What’s the matter?”

Ma thought: when I tell him, he’ll kill me. If only Eddie was here. Eddie is the only one who has the guts to stop him. Flynn won’t. Flynn will stand by and watch him kill me.

She found herself saying in a cold, flat voice, “The girl’s gone.”

Slim stiffened. He leaned forward to peer up at Ma, his thin lips lifting off his discolored teeth.

“You’re lying,” he said. “You’ve done something to her, haven’t you?”

“She’s gone,” Ma said. “I went into her room a couple of hours ago—she wasn’t there.”

Slim started up the stairs. Ma watched him come. When he reached her, she stared fixedly at him.

“You old cow,” Slim snarled. “You’re trying to frighten me, but I don’t scare easily. If you’ve touched her, I’ll kill you. I told you, didn’t I? Anyone who touches her has me to reckon with.”

“She’s gone,” Ma repeated.

Slim went past her, and down the passage. He pushed open the door and went into the sitting room. He looked around, then entered die bedroom.

Ma waited. Her sagging face glistened with sweat. She could hear Slim moving from room to room. Flynn said, “How did she get away, Ma?” Ma looked down at him. She saw the stark fear on his face. “I don’t know. I went in there. She had gone.”

“Where’s Doc?” Woppy asked, a quaver in his voice.

“He’s gone,” Ma said. “You had better go too. We’re washed up. This is the end of the road. The cops will have her by now.”

“If they had her,” Flynn said, “they would be here by now.” He started up the stairs as Slim came out into the passage. Slim had his knife in his hand. His yellow eyes were gleaming. Flynn paused, half way up the stairs, staring at Slim who moved silently and slowly towards Ma.

“You’ve killed her, haven’t you?” Slim said. “You always wanted to be rid of her. All right… so you killed her. Now, it’s my turn. I’m going to kill you.”

“I haven’t touched her,” Ma said, as motionless as a statue. “Someone took her away. She couldn’t have got away by herself. All right, Slim, go ahead and kill me if that’s what you want. Then you won’t have the girl and you won’t have me. Maybe you’ll be better off with neither of us.”

She was quick to see a sudden flicker of doubt in Slim’s gleaming eyes.

“Go ahead,” she went on. “See where it gets you. See what it’ll be like to be on your own. You’ve always wanted to be the big shot, haven’t you, Slim? But watch out. You won’t be able to trust anyone. You’ll have to keep under cover. You’ll have to find some place to hide.” She stared at him. “Where will you hide, Slim?”

The gleaming knife pointing at her wavered. Slim hesitated. He suddenly seemed lost as he looked from Ma to Flynn and back to Ma again.

“What are we going to do, Ma?” he asked. “We’ve got to find her.”

Ma drew in a deep breath. It had been a close thing. Even now she was afraid to move.

A sudden commotion at the Club entrance made them all look around. Flynn’s hand dropped on his gun butt.

Doc Williams came panting up the stairs. His face was sweating and purple. He saw Slim standing by Ma, knife in hand. He saw Ma, stiff as a statue: Woppy leaning against the wall, his face the color of dough: Flynn with a half-drawn gun in his hand.

Unsteadily, he walked to the foot of the stairs.

“Rocco’s got her!” he said. “Hear that, Ma? That goddamn little wop’s got her!”

Slim came down the stairs, shoving Flynn aside so violently Flynn nearly fell. Slim caught hold of Doc’s shirt front and shook him.

“Where is he?” he snarled. “How do you know he’s got her?”

Ma came lumbering down the stairs. She caught hold of Slim’s wrist and shoved him back.

“Leave him alone,” she said, then to Doc, “Let’s have it. Are you sure Rocco’s got her?”

Doc wiped his sweating face.

“Get me a drink,” he said and went over to sit on one of the sofas.

Ma signaled to Woppy, who ran into the bar.

“When I left you, Ma,” Doc said. “I was ready to pull out. I felt bad. I had to have a drink. I went to the bar at the corner…”

Woppy came over to him and thrust a tumbler half full of whiskey into his hand. Doc drank greedily, then he set the glass down.

“Get on with it!” Slim snarled.

“I got talking to the barman,” Doc said. “He asked me who the redhead was he had seen getting into a taxi with Rocco. I sat like a fool, drinking and talking for over an hour before it jelled. I came right back, Ma. It adds up, doesn’t it? Rocco and a redhead. It would be his way of leveling the score.”

Slim started towards the exit.

“Wait!” Ma said. “Don’t go off half-cocked…”

Slim didn’t even look around. He went down the steps, jerked open the door and moved out into the darkening courtyard.

“Go after him,” Ma said to Flynn, “and you too, Woppy.”

“To hell with him,” Flynn said. “I’m getting out of here. I’ve had enough. Give me some money, Ma. I’m quitting.”

“Oh, no you’re not,” Ma said. “You’ve got nowhere to quit to, you dope! You’re getting no money from me! Go after him and you too, Woppy!”

Flynn hesitated, then cursing under his breath, he jerked his head at Woppy and went down the steps to the door.

When Woppy had followed him out into the darkness, Ma put her hand on Doc’s shoulder.

“I thought I’d seen the last of you, Doc,” she said. “Now what are you going to do?”

Doc was a little drunk.

“What is there to do? I was going on the run, Ma, but I suddenly realized there was nowhere to run to. He’ll bring her back and it’ll start all over again.”

“He hasn’t got her yet,” Ma said. “You stick with me, Doc. I’ll find a way out of this mess. You stick with me.”

 

5

Miss Blandish lay across Rocco’s vast divan, staring with blank eyes up at the ceiling.

At any other time, Rocco would have considered himself well off to have had such a beauty in his room, but now his mind was crawling with alarm, and this long-legged redhead could have been a shop window dummy lying on his bed for all her physical attractions meant to him.

I’ve got to play this smart, he had told himself when he had persuaded her finally to enter his apartment. It’s no good calling the cops. I must contact Blandish. If I’m going to get my hands on that fifteen grand, he is my only hope. If I go to the cops, they’ll gyp me out of the money.

He had already checked the telephone book, but Blandish’s name wasn’t in it. He had called information, but the girl couldn’t or wouldn’t tell him Blandish’s number. When you are a millionaire you don’t have your name in the book. This was something Rocco hadn’t thought of. Now, after phoning most of the important clubs and restaurants asking for Blandish and getting nowhere, he was getting worried. If he didn’t find Blandish soon, he told himself, he could be in trouble. At the back of his mind, he kept thinking of Slim. He couldn’t imagine how Slim could possibly guess he had the Blandish girl, but if he did guess and if he did come here, then Rocco knew he wouldn’t have long to live.

He had tried to stimulate the girl’s memory by giving her the back copies of the newspapers that splashed the kidnapping across their pages. While he had been using the telephone, she had listlessly stared at the newspapers, but he could see she didn’t connect herself with the photographs nor with the account of the kidnapping.

He looked over at her. She continued to stare up at the ceiling, her drugged eyes sightless.

“Hey, baby,” Rocco said, aware now that they had been in this room for over two hours. “Will you try to concentrate. How can I contact your pa? I’ve called every lousy number I can think of and still I can’t find him.”

She moved her long legs as she continued to stare up at the ceiling. She didn’t seem to be aware he was in the room.

Exasperated, Rocco went over to her and put his hand on her arm.

“Hey! Wake up!”

The touch of his hand brought a reaction that scared him. She wrenched away and crouched against the wall, her eyes wide with terror.

“Okay, okay,” he said soothingly. “You don’t have to be scared of me. Will you listen? I’m trying to find your pa. What is his telephone number?”

Miss Blandish cringed away from him.

“Leave me alone.” she said. “Don’t touch me!”

Rocco tried to control his rising panic.

“If I don’t find your pa,” he said, “we’ll both be in trouble. Don’t you understand? We’ll have Slim here. How do I find your pa?”

She suddenly slid off the bed and ran to the door. She caught hold of the handle as Rocco reached her.

“Keep away!” she said shrilly. “Let me out of here!”

Sweating, Rocco threw her back onto the bed. He knelt over her, clamping his hand over her mouth.

“Shut up!” he said feverishly. “Do you want Slim to find you?”

She ceased to struggle and for the first time since she had been in the room, her eyes came alive. He took his hand off her mouth.

“Yes, I want Slim,” she said. “I want him to come here!”

“You don’t know what you’re saying,” Rocco said, staring at her. “Don’t you want to go home? What’s the matter with you?”

She shook her head.

“I haven’t any home. I haven’t anyone. I just want Slim.”

Rocco stood up.

“I’m going to call the cops,” he said. “I’ve had enough of this.” He went over to the telephone, thinking, if they gyp me out of the reward, it’ll be too bad, but I’ve got to get them here before Slim gets here.

He began to dial police headquarters. Miss Blandish made a sudden dive off the bed. She caught hold of the telephone cable and yanked it from its terminals.

For a long moment, Rocco, the dead telephone receiver clutched in his hand, stood staring at her, feeling a chill crawling up his spine.

“You crazy fool!” he snarled. “What do you imagine you’re doing?”

She backed away from him.

“You must tell him you took me away,” she said, wringing her hands. “You must tell him I didn’t want to go with you.”

“Why, you… you…” Words failed Rocco. “What’s the matter with you? I’m trying to help you. Don’t you want to get away from Slim?”

She leaned against the wall and she began to cry weakly.

“I can’t get away from him. I’ll have him with me to the end of my days.”

“You’re talking crazy!” Rocco cried. “I’m going to fetch the cops.”

She slid along the wall to the door and set her back against it.

“No! You must wait here until he comes!” she said, her voice shrill. “You must tell him you took me away!”

Exasperated, Rocco caught hold of her arm and dragged her away from the door. He threw her onto the bed. As he turned to the door, she started up. Her hand closed around a heavy glass ashtray standing on the bedside table. She threw the ashtray at him. It caught him on the side of his head and he went down on his hands and knees, stunned.

Miss Blandish leaned against the wall, staring down at him.

Rocco tried to push himself upright, then he flopped down on his side, holding his head and groaning.

The sound of a door opening made Miss Blandish look across the room. The door leading to the bathroom was opening. She stood transfixed as the door swung fully open and Slim moved into the room.

Slim had come up the fire escape and through the bathroom window. His yellow, gleaming eyes moved from Miss Blandish to Rocco sprawling on the floor.

Only half conscious, Rocco sensed his danger. An instinctive feeling warned him he was but a heart beat away from death. He rolled over on his back, his hands raised in a futile gesture of protection.

Slim came forward. He was grinning.

Miss Blandish saw the glittering knife in his hand and she turned away, closing her eyes.

She heard Rocco whimper.

The sounds that followed made her sink onto her knees, her hands over her ears.

Each dull blow of Slim’s knife into Rocco’s body made her stiffen and shudder.

 

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