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.

 

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.

Bookseller Photo 

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.

the opening of chapter four of no orchids for miss blandish, by james hadley chase

wikipedia on James Hadley Chase:

 

"Following the U.S. Great Depression (1929-1939), Prohibition, and the gangster culture during this period, and after reading James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934), he decided to try his own hand as a mystery writer. He had read about the American gangster Ma Barker and her sons, and with the help of maps and a slang dictionary, he composed in six weeks No Orchids for Miss Blandish. The book achieved remarkable popularity and became one of the best-sold books of the decade. It was a stage play in London’s West End, was filmed in 1948 and in 1971 was remade by Robert Aldrich as The Grissom Gang."

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 CHAPTER FOUR

1

FENNER arrived at the foot of the dirt road leading to Johnny’s shack soon after four o’clock in the afternoon. He had driven hard and fast, and he was sharply conscious of the possibility that some of the Grisson gang could be coming after him.

Before leaving town, he had paused long enough to telephone Paula, telling her where he was going.

I think I’m on to something,” he said. “Call Brennan and tell him what’s cooking. Tell him to come to Johnny’s place fast.”

Why don’t you wait for him?” Paula asked anxiously. “Why go out there alone?”

Quit worrying,” Fenner said. “Tell Brennan,” and he hung up.

But now, as he drove his car off the road and behind a thicket, he began to think Paula’s suggestion had been a sensible one. This place was miles from anywhere: it was lonelier than a pauper’s grave.

He got out of the car, satisfied himself it couldn’t be seen from the road, then he started up the dirt road towards Johnny’s shack.

Half-way up the road, he paused to pull his gun and slide off the safety catch. He was pretty sure none of the Grisson gang had got ahead of him, but he wasn’t taking any chances.

The evening sun was hot, and Fenner, who hated walking, cursed under his breath as he left the dirt road and started along the twisting path that led directly to the shack.

Two hundred yards ahead of him, he could see the dense wood through which he was walking open out onto a clearing. He slowed, picking his way silently, his eyes and ears alert.

A blue-winged jay suddenly flew out of a tree close by with a flapping of wings that startled Fenner. He looked up, his heart skipping a beat and then he grinned.

I’m as jittery as an old maid with a man under her bed, he told himself, and moved on cautiously to the edge of the clearing. He paused behind a tree and looked at the shabby wooden shack that stood in the center of the clearing.

It looked as if Johnny was at home. The door stood open and wood smoke curled lazily from the single chimney.

Keeping his gun hand down by his side and out of sight, Fenner walked silently over the rough grass until he reached the front door. He paused just outside the shack to listen.

He could hear Johnny humming to himself. He moved forward and paused in the open doorway.

Johnny, his back turned, was bending over the stove. He was cooking bacon in a frying pan. The smell of the bacon made Fenner’s nose twitch.

Fenner looked quickly around the large dirty room. The gun rack, holding two shotguns was by the door, well away from Johnny.

He stepped into the room, covering the old man with his gun.

Hello, Johnny,” he said softly.

Johnny stiffened, then shuddered. He straightened and turned very slowly. His red, raddled face went slack with fright at the sight of Fenner. His dim, watery eyes opened wide at the sight of the gun in Fenner’s hand.

Take it easy,” Fenner said. “Remember me, Johnny?”

The old man seemed to be having trouble with his breathing.

What are you pointing that gun at me for?” he croaked.

Fenner lowered the gun.

Remember me?” he repeated.

Johnny blinked at him, frowning.

You’re the guy from the newspaper, aren’t you?”

That’s right,” Fenner said. “Sit down, Johnny, I want to talk to you.”

Johnny lowered himself onto an upturned box. He seemed glad to get the weight off his legs. He shoved the frying pan off the direct heat of the stove and then with a shaking hand, he rubbed his bristly chin while he squinted up at Fenner.

Now listen, Johnny,” Fenner said, “you could be in bad trouble. You could go to jail for a long stretch. You wouldn’t like that, would you? No booze; no nothing. You come clean with me and I’ll cover you. All I want from you is some information.”

I don’t know nothing about nothing,” Johnny said. “I don’t want you around here. I just want to be left alone.”

Riley and his mob were here about three months ago, weren’t they?” Fenner asked.

Johnny stiffened. He looked wildly around the room as if seeking a way of escape.

I don’t know nothing about Riley.”

Listen, you old fool,” Fenner said sharply, “lying won’t get you anywhere. They had the Blandish girl with them. Riley called his girl friend from here. She’s talking. So far, she has only talked to me, but if she starts talking to the cops, you’ll be in trouble. They’ll work you over, Johnny, until you do open your mouth. Now come on. Riley was here, wasn’t he?”

Johnny hesitated, then with a cunning expression in his eyes, he nodded.

Yeah, that’s right. He and Bailey and Old Sam and a girl. They didn’t stay long; not more than ten minutes. I wouldn’t have them here. They were too hot. I wasn’t taking a chance of getting in bad with the cops so I told them to keep moving. Riley called his girl, then they got back into their car and beat it. I don’t know where they went.”

But the way he told it, the way he looked convinced Fenner he was lying.

Okay, Johnny,” he said mildly. “That puts you right in the clear. Just too bad you don’t know where they went Blandish is offering a reward for information. Wouldn’t you like to lay your hands on fifteen thousand bucks?”

Johnny blinked. It was now over three months since he had buried Riley, Bailey and Old Sam, and what a job that had been! Schultz had promised him a cut of the ransom money, but he hadn’t had it. He knew the ransom had been paid. He had taken the trouble to go into town and buy a newspaper. He had been double-crossed and he felt mean and bitter about it.

Fifteen thousand bucks?” he repeated. “How do I know I would get it?”

I’d see you got it, Johnny,” Fenner said.

Better not, Johnny told himself. It was too dangerous to monkey with the Grisson gang.

He shook his head reluctantly.

I don’t know nothing,” he said.

You’re lying,” Fenner said and moved over to the old man. “Do you want me to work you over, Johnny? Like this?” He hit Johnny a backhand slap across his face: not a hard blow, but hard enough to make the old man rock and nearly fall off the box. “Come on! Spill it!” Fenner went on, raising his voice. “Where’s Riley? You can either pick up fifteen thousand bucks or take a beating! What’s it to be?”

Johnny cringed away.

I don’t know nothing,” he said desperately. “If you want to know anything ask the Grisson gang. They were right here. They fixed Riley…” He stopped, his raddled face turning grey.

The Grisson gang?” Fenner stiffened to attention. “How did they fix Riley?”

But Johnny was staring past Fenner through the open door. His expression of terror chilled Fenner’s blood.

Fenner looked over his shoulder. He saw a shadow fall across the open doorway: the shadow of a man with a Thompson gun in his hands.

Then everything seemed to happen at once.

Fenner dived to the floor, well clear of Johnny. He rolled towards a big iron tank that stood across a corner of the room: a tank in which Johnny used to store his horse feed when he owned a horse. As he jerked himself behind the tank with one swift movement, there came the violent and continuous sound of the Thompson firing.

A stream of lead ripped into Johnny’s chest. The old man was thrown over backwards. He rolled over, twitching, then his body went limp. Seconds later, Fenner was nearly deafened as slugs hammered against the side of the tank. He crouched down, his heart thumping, his breath whistling through his clenched teeth.

For three or four seconds the slugs beat against the side of the iron tank, making a noise like a giant rivet-gun at work. Then the shooting stopped. The sudden silence was nearly as violent as the gun fire had been.

Fenner wiped his sweating face with the back of his hand. He guessed the Grisson gang had arrived. He was in a hell of a jam. He knew if he attempted to look around the side of the tank, he would have his head blown off. His one hope was that Brennan would be arriving soon, but would he arrive in time?

He flattened himself in the dust and put his ear to the wooden floor. He couldn’t hear anything. He doubted if any of the gang out there would have the nerve to come in and tackle him.

Then he heard the murmur of men’s voices. There was a pause, then a man shouted, “Come on out! We know you’re in there. Come out with your hands in the air!”

Fenner grinned crookedly. Not likely, he told himself, if you want me, come and get me. He waited.

The Thompson started up again. The noise made Fenner wince. He could hear some of the slugs dropping into the tank, having cut their way through the outer side of the tank. The gun stopped firing.

Come on out, punk!” a voice bawled.

He lay motionless and silent.

He heard a man say, “Give it to me! Get down flat, both of you.”

Fenner stiffened. He knew what was coming. They were going to blast him out with a pineapple. He flattened down, protecting his head with his arms. The few seconds’ pause of silence seemed an eternity. Then he heard something drop on the floor. The bomb went off with a devastating bang. The blast lifted him and tossed him against the side of the tank.

He rolled over onto his back, choking and gasping. For a moment, everything became very clear and sharply etched. He could see the roof of the shack above him. It was sagging. As he watched, there came the sound of splintering wood, then the roof came crashing down on top of him.

Something hit him a violent blow on the side of his head. Bright lights flashed before his eyes, then he felt himself falling into a black, bottomless pit.

2

The darkness was suddenly pierced by a hot, hard light. Fenner heard himself groan as he raised his hand to shield his eyes.

You’re okay,” a distant voice said. “Come on; come on. Don’t just lie there pitying yourself.”

Fenner made the effort. He opened his eyes and shook his head. He became aware of a man bending over him. The man’s face swam into focus. He recognized Brennan, and he slowly sat up.

That’s the idea.” Brennan said. “You’re okay. What’s all the fuss about?”

Fenner nursed his head in his hands.

Who’s making a fuss?” he demanded, and then grunted as his head began to ache violently. Hands took bold of him and hoisted him to his feet. “Don’t rush me!” he went on, leaning on the arm of a policeman. “Hell! My head feels as if it has been kicked by a horse.”

No horse around here,” Brennan said cheerfully. “What happened?”

Fenner drew in a deep breath. He felt stronger now. Gently he ran his fingers through his hair and winced, but finding he hadn’t a hole in his head, he managed to grin wryly.

Seen anyone around?” he asked.

Just you and what’s left of Johnny,” Brennan said. “Who let off the pineapple?”

Johnny dead?”

Sure is—deader than a mackerel.”

Fenner turned and looked at the wrecked shack. He was feeling better every minute. With a slightly unsteady step, he moved out of the sun and sat down on an uprooted tree. He took out a pack of cigarettes and lit one while the three policemen and Brennan stood watching him impatiently.

Fenner wasn’t to be hurried. His mind was at work. He suddenly snapped his fingers and pointed to Brennan.

Know something?” he said. “We’re going to bust the Blandish snatch! Here’s what you do! Get your men to look around. They’ll be looking for ground recently dug. Hurry it up!”

What’s the idea?” Brennan demanded.

Someone’s been buried here recently. Come on, get going! You want to bust this thing, don’t you?”

Brennan gave orders and the three policemen went off in different directions. Brennan came to sit by Fenner’s side.

Who’s been buried?” he asked. “Let’s have it, dick, don’t act mysterious.”

It’s my bet Riley, Bailey and Old Sam are buried around here,” Fenner said. “I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am.”

Brennan gaped at him.

Who threw the pineapple?”

Again I wouldn’t know, but I’m willing to bet it was one of the Grisson gang.”

What would they want to do that to you for?”

Leave it lie for a moment, Brennan,” Fenner said. “One step at a time.”

Brennan scowled at him, then he lit a cigarette and stared across the clearing at the ruined shack.

You were lucky to get out of that alive,” he said. “I thought you were done for.”

That makes two of us,” Fenner said.

A small bird suddenly swooped out of a tree and hopped from twig to twig on a nearby bush. Fenner watched it without interest. He was sweating and his mouth was dry. He was thinking of the thirty thousand dollars Blandish had promised him if he cracked the case.

A sudden shout made both men turn sharply.

Sounds like someone’s found something,” Fenner said getting stiffly to his feet.

Both men walked towards the sound of shouting, forcing their way through the thick shrubs. It didn’t take them long to catch up with the other two policemen. They all entered a small clearing where the third policeman was pointing to the ground. The soil had obviously been disturbed although it had been covered with leaves and dead branches.

This is where someone starts digging,” Fenner said and sat down in the shade.

Brennan gave orders. Two of the policemen hurried off. After a while they returned with a couple of spades they had found in Johnny’s outhouse. They peeled off their tunics and began to dig.

It was hot work and they were sweating before they found what they were looking for. Suddenly they stopped digging. One of the men knelt on the grass and reached into the shallow hole. Fenner got to his feet and walked over to watch. The policeman was scraping the soil away with his band. A faint smell of death came from the hole that made Fenner grimace. Suddenly he saw a mud-matted head coming to light. He stepped back.

A dead man here, Captain,” the policeman said, looking up at Brennan.

There’ll be three,” Fenner said. “Let’s get out of here, Brennan. Let’s get back to headquarters. This is urgent now.”

Brennan told the three policemen he wouldsend out a truck and the Medical Officer. He and Fenner went down to Fenner’s car.

The writing went up on the wall when Ma Grisson took over the Paradise Club,” Fenner said as he got into the car, waving Brennan to the driving seat. “We should have guessed how she financed that deal. She bought the club with the Blandish ransom money!”

Brennan paused as he was about to start the car.

How the hell do you figure that one out?” he demanded.

It’s not so hard to figure. Ma gave out that Schulberg gave her the money. Schulberg deals in hot money. He has probably cleaned up with the ransom. Johnny told me just before he was knocked off that Grisson and his gang were with Riley at Johnny’s place. Somehow Grisson must have found out that Riley had snatched the Blandish girl. He would know the only place Riley could take her would be to Johnny’s. He and his gang went there, knocked Riley and the other two off and took the girl. Blandish paid the ransom to Grisson, thinking he was Riley. It adds up. As soon as the ransom was paid, Ma Grisson opens the Paradise Club. What a sweet setup for them! Riley gets the blame and they are sitting pretty.”

Where’s the proof?” Brennan asked. “Even if my boys do dig up Riley and the other two, it still doesn’t mean Grisson killed them. With Johnny dead, we haven’t any proof.”

Fenner nodded.

That’s right. We’ll have to find proof. Let’s not go off half-cocked on this. Know what I think?”

What do you think, superman?” Brennan asked sarcastically. He was pushing the car hard and they were roaring down the long main road.

I think the Blandish girl is in the Paradise Club,” Fenner said. As Brennan turned to stare at him, Fenner yelled, “Look where you’re driving!”

Brennan slammed on his brakes and drew up by the side of the road.

What are you getting at?”

Remember Doyle said there was a room upstairs in the club kept locked. It’s my bet she’s in there!”

We’ll soon find out,” Brennan said, starting the car again.

Will we?” Fenner said thoughtfully. “The club is like a fort. It’ll take time to bust in. By the time we do get in the girl will either be dead or removed. Blandish wants her alive. If we’re going to bring her out alive, we’ll have to handle this with kid gloves. We’ve got to use our heads, Brennan.”

Okay, so we use our heads,” Brennan said. “Where will that get us?”

I don’t know,” Fenner said and lit a cigarette. “Let me think about it.”

For the next half hour Brennan continued to drive fast while Fenner coped with his aching head and his thoughts. As Brennan slowed down before entering a small farming town, Fenner said, “Well pick up Anna Borg. She knows that Grisson and Riley met at Johnny’s. She’s our only witness. We don’t want her knocked off. Besides being our only witness, she spends a lot of time in the club. Maybe she knows the Blandish girl is there. Maybe she doesn’t know the Grisson gang wiped out Riley. If we tell her, there’s a chance she might rat on them.”

Brennan pulled up outside a drug store.

I’ll get things going,” he said.

Fenner watched him enter a phone booth. He looked at his watch. The time was a little after six p.m. They were still three hours’ driving distance from Kansas City.

He wondered if the Blandish girl really was in the club. If she was, she had been in the hands of the gang for over three months.

He grimaced.

What had happened to her during that time? He thought of Slim Grisson andhe shook his head.

Brennan came out and got into the car.

I’ve given orders for Anna Borg to be picked up. A couple of the boys will be watching the club.”

Fenner grunted.

Let’s go,” he said.

Brennan started the car and drove fast out of the town and onto the highway.

File:NoOrchidsForMissBlandishF.jpg

no orchids for miss blandish—the end of chapter three


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!"

   6

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.

Eddie.”

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.

Doing what?”

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.

more from chapter three of no orchids for miss blandish…

More Freud-inspired titillation for the masses in James Hadley Chases’ No Orchids For Miss Blandish:

 

"He pounced on her. Scooping her up, he slammed her face down across the bed. Holding her securely under the angle of his arm, he whisked up her clothes and began to spank her long and hard.”

 


 

 

5

 

Eddie Schultz came out of a heavy sleep with a start. The sun was shining through the blinds and he blinked, cursed, and then looked at the bedside clock. It was close on ten a.m.

Anna slept at his side. She was making a gentle snorting noise and Eddie scowled at her.

He got out of bed and searched for his cigarettes. He had a headache and he felt like hell. He lit a cigarette, then went into the sitting room. He poured himself a big whiskey and tossed it down.

The liquor exploded in his stomach. He groaned, then as the effects of the spirit reacted on his jaded system, he felt better. His sleep-sodden mind began to work.

He remembered the cop of last night. Ma had nearly flipped her lid when Slim had come down to say the cop had been upstairs. Eddie grimaced. Ma was right, of course. He had been careless, but it wasn’t as if the cop had found out anything. Slim was the one who had made the real uproar. There had been a horrible moment when Eddie had been sure Slim was going to kill him. If it hadn’t been for Ma, he was sure Slim would have stuck his goddamn knife into him. The memory of the scene brought Eddie out into a cold sweat.

Anyway, it was Ma’s fault. If she had to be so stupid to let her nipple-headed son keep the Blandish girl, then she had to accept the responsibility if anything went wrong.

He returned to the bedroom.

Anna was awake. She had kicked off the bedclothes. She was lying flat on her back, staring up at the ceiling. She had on a sheer nylon nightgown.

You’re not doing your act now,” Eddie growled on his way to the bathroom. “Cover up. You’re indecent.”

Ten minutes later, showered and shaved, he came into the bedroom. Anna still lay on the bed, still staring up at the ceiling.

Instead of acting like a hypnotized fugitive from a honky-tonk,” Eddie barked, “couldn’t you get me some coffee?”

Get it yourself; are you so helpless?” Anna sat up abruptly. “Eddie, I’m getting sick of this life. I’ve about had enough of it.”

Here we go again,” Eddie said. “Two months ago you were hiding your talents behind a couple of moth-eaten fans for peanuts. I fix it for you to work in the best club in town. You get a hundred and fifty bucks a week and you’re still not satisfied. What do you want? More money?”

I want to get into big time,” Anna said. She got off the bed and went into the bathroom.

Shrugging, Eddie went into the kitchen and made coffee. He took the coffee into the sitting room. Anna came in. She had put on a wrap and had fixed her hair. She saw the whiskey bottle that Eddie had forgotten to put back in the cabinet.

Can’t you lay off the booze for ten minutes?” she demanded. “What are you becoming—an alcoholic?”

Oh, shut up!” Eddie snarled.

They drank their coffee in brooding silence.

If I could find someone to finance me,” Anna said suddenly, “I’d get out of this town.”

If I could find someone to finance me, I’d do the same,” Eddie said sarcastically. “Will you stop yapping about your goddamn talent? Why don’t you wake up? You’re just a dime a dozen stripper. You’re getting too big for your pants!”

Anna pushed aside her coffee cup.

You men are all the same,” she said wearily. “Frankie was the same. All you’re interested in is my body and my looks. You aren’t interested in me for myself.”

Eddie groaned.

If the candy tastes good, why worry what it’s made of?”

But suppose I was ugly, Eddie? Would you look at me? No, of course you wouldn’t! But it would be me just the same.”

Oh, for the love of Mike! Can’t we cut this out? I’ve got a hell of a headache. You’re not ugly. So what?”

I’m scared of getting old. I want to be in the bright lights before that happens. I want to be someone. I want to be a star: not a cheap stripper in a cheap club.”

Snap out of it, will you?” Eddie pleaded. “You’re depressing me. You’re doing all right. Can’t you be content?”

What’s going on upstairs in the club?” Anna asked abruptly.

Eddie stiffened, looking sharply at her.

Nothing. What do you mean?”

Oh, yes there is. I’m not blind. I have an idea Slim’s got a girl up there. Who is she, Eddie?”

You’re nuts!” Eddie said angrily. “Slim doesn’t go for girls.”

I’ve seen Doc and Ma go up there. What’s going on?”

Nothing!” Eddie snapped. “So shut up!”

I must have a hole in my head to have picked you to live with,” Anna said angrily. “That’s all I ever get from you—shut up!”

You talk the crap you talk and that’s all you can expect to hear.” He went into the bedroom. It was time he left for the club. He dressed.

Anna came in.

How much longer are you going to tag along with the Grisson gang?” she demanded. “How much longer are you going to lick that old bitch’s boots?”

And don’t start that again,” Eddie yelled, struggling into his coat. “I’m getting out of here. I’ve had all I want from you for one day.”

Anna sneered.

Small-time. What I ever saw in you! Run along, gigolo. Start your boot licking.”

Don’t say you didn’t ask for this,” Eddie bellowed. “I’ve had enough of your big mouth. I’m going to teach you who’s boss around here!

He pounced on her. Scooping her up, he slammed her face down across the bed. Holding her securely under the angle of his arm, he whisked up her clothes and began to spank her long and hard.

Kicking and struggling, Anna screamed like a train whistle. Eddie continued to slap her until his hand was burning and sore and the neighbors on either side of the apartment began hammering on the walls.

Then leaving her wriggling and screaming on the bed, Eddie left the apartment, slamming the door behind him.

Fenner, sitting in his car opposite the apartment block saw Eddie come out, his face dark with rage. He watched him get into the Buick and drive away.

Leaving his car, Fenner entered the apartment block and took the elevator to the top floor.

Before ringing the front door bell, Fenner checked to make sure his gun was ready for fast action, then he pushed the bell.

After a minute’s wait, he rang again. The door remained unanswered. Fenner frowned. He was sure the girl was in. Why didn’t she answer? He placed his thumb on the bell and kept it there.

After another two minutes, the door flew open. Her face contorted with pain and fury, her hair disheveled, Anna glared at him.

What do you think this is—a fire station?” she screamed at him. “Get the hell out of here!” She attempted to slam the door, but Fenner had already wedged his foot against it.

Miss Borg?”

I’m not seeing anyone! Beatit!”

But I am from Spewack, Anderson and Hart,” Fenner lied. “Surely you want to see me?”

The name of the famous Broadway theatrical agents gave Anna pause. She stared at him.

Are you kidding?” she demanded suspiciously.

What should I want to kid you for?” Fenner asked blandly. “Spewack saw your act last night. He talked to Anderson, and if Hart had been on speaking terms with Anderson, you can bet your last nickel that Anderson would have talked to Hart. I have a proposition to discuss with you, Miss Borg.”

If this is a gag…” Anna began, then stopped. If it was true! she was thinking. Spewack, Anderson and Hart interested in her!

If you don’t want to discuss it that’s okay with me,” Fenner said, stepping back. “But let me tell you, baby, eight hundred strippers in this city would give their G-strings for the chance.”

Anna hesitated no longer. She threw open the door.

Well, come in…”

She led the way into the sitting room. She could kill Eddie, she was thinking. She had already inspected the damage he had inflicted on her. Suppose Spewack, Anderson and Hart wanted her for an audition? Suppose this guy wanted her to hop a taxi and go right downtown and do her act? How could she with the bruises she was carrying?

Would you be interested to work in New York, Miss Borg?” Fenner asked, selecting the most comfortable chair and sitting down. “Or are you all tied up here?”

Anna’s eyes opened wide.

New York? Gee! I’d love it. No, I’m not tied up.”

You’re not under contract with the Paradise Club?”

It’s only a week-to-week arrangement.”

That’s fine. Sit down, Miss Borg: relax. I have a modern fairy story to tell you.”

Absentmindedly, Anna sat down, but was up immediately with a gasp of pain.

You sit on a tack or something?” Fenner asked, interested.

Standing is good for my figure,” Anna said, forcing a smile. “In my line, I have to watch, my figure.”

Relax, baby. I’ll watch your figure. It’ll be a pleasure.”

Now, see here, mister,” Anna said, “If this turns out to be a gag…”

This is no gag, Miss Borg,” Fenner said smoothly. “We have a client with more money than sense. He wants to finance a musical on Broadway: that’ll tell you how crazy he is, but who are we to discourage him? He’s got the book, he’s got the music and now he wants a star. He insists we use local talent. He made his money in Kansas City and he’s sentimental. He wants some local girl to have the chance to be a star. We haven’t found anyone yet as good as you. Do you want the chance?”

Anna’s eyes opened wide.

Do I want it? You really mean I’ll be a star on Broadway?”

There’s only yourself to stop you. All Spewack has to do is to call our client, tell him about you and it’ll be in the bag.”

Oh gee! It’s too good tobe true!”

I said it was a modern fairy story, didn’t I?” Fenner said airily. “A year’s run on Broadway; then Hollywood. You have a great future ahead of you.”

When do I get a contract?” Anna asked, thinking she would pack at once and walk out on Eddie. “When do I meet Mr. Spewack or whoever it is?”

I’ll have a contract ready for you to sign this afternoon. You’ll be lunching with Mr. Spewack in New York this time tomorrow.”

You’re sure your client really wants me?” Anna asked, suddenly nervous. “Didn’t you say Mr. Spewack had to telephone him first?”

I’m glad you brought that up,” Fenner said, lighting a cigarette. “There is that. Before we can talk to our client, there’s a little situation that needs clearing up. We like you, Miss Borg, but frankly, we don’t like your friends.”

Anna stiffened.

What do you mean?”

Well, the boys you run around with aren’t exactly the cream of society, are they? Take Eddie Schultz as an example. You’ll have a lot of publicity, Miss Borg, once the news leaks out you’re going to be the star of this show. We have to be careful it is favorable publicity.”

Anna began to look worried.

I’m not married to my friends. Once I get to Broadway, I wouldn’t dream of associating with them any more.”

Well, that’s nice to know, but a while back you were tied up with the notorious Frank Riley and he’s right in the news. The press are certain to connect you with him. It could kill the whole show if that little item hit the headlines.”

Anna suddenly felt sick with disappointment.

I—I scarcely knew Riley,” she said. “I—I just met him. You know how you meet people.”

Look, Miss Borg, you have to be frank with me. You don’t meet people the way you met Riley just by chance. I’ve had to check on you. Don’t imagine I like poking my nose into your affairs, but if we are going to make a big star out of you, we can’t afford any scandal. I understand you knew Riley intimately.”

Anna made a despairing gesture.

Then why come here, raising my hopes? I knew this was a gag! I knew it was too good to be true.”

Hey, hey!” Fenner said. “Don’t get depressed. There’s always a way around every problem if one thinks hard enough. Now, look, Miss Borg, we can’t hide up the fact that you have associated with hoodlums. That’s impossible. So what do we do? We must use the fact to your advantage, and not to your disadvantage. They say the whole world loves a lover. I’ll tell you who the world loves even better than a lover: a reformed character! That’s what you’re going to be. We’re going to feed the press with a big sob story. We’re going to tell them how you started from nothing; how you became infatuated with Riley without knowing he was a hoodlum; how you desperately tried to make him go straight when you finally found out what he was; how you lost faith in him when he kidnapped the Blandish girl. Do you get it? From the moment Riley walked out of your life, you have been trying to get away from your sordid environment, but Eddie Schultz appeared. He forced you to live with him. Then came this chance to appear on Broadway. You seized it with both hands. The hoods of Kansas City are now the thing of the past You’re a reformed character.”

Anna didn’t think this sounded very convincing.

Do you think they’ll believe it?” she asked doubtfully.

If they don’t, baby, you’re sunk,” Fenner said, shaking his head.

Anna leaned against the mantel. She wished she could sit down. There was a hollow feeling inside her. She was sure now that this Broadway offer was going to be just a pipe dream.

How are you going to make them believe it?” she asked. “Newspapermen! How I hate them! They spy and pry and they never leave you alone once they think they have a story. They don’t give a damn how much they hurt you, how much mischief they cause, how many hearts they break so long as they get their story. I hate them all— the stinking sonsofbitches!”

It wouldn’t do, Fenner thought, to tell her that he was once a newspaperman. She would probably shoot him.

I’ll tell you how we can convince them,” he said. “Boy! What a story it would make! You’d be headline news throughout the country and good headlines at that.”

What are you talking about?” Anna snapped.

Look, suppose through you, the Blandish girl was found. Imagine! Think what it would mean to you: television interviews, your picture in every newspaper, Blandish paying you a reward and your name on Broadway in four-foot lights!”

Are you drunk?” Anna demanded, her face suddenly hard. “I don’t know anything about the Blandish girl. What’s the matter with you?”

You knew Riley. For all you know, you may have the one clue that would lead the police to him.”

Anna’s eyes turned vicious.

Yeah? Maybe Frankie did walk out on me, but I’d never give him away to the cops. What do you think I am? A squealer?”

Fenner shrugged his shoulders and got to his feet.

If that’s your idea of a reformed character, Miss Borg,” he said. “I’m wasting my time. Well, it’s been nice meeting you. I’ll just have to tell Mr. Spewack hell have to look elsewhere for our local talent.”

Wait a minute,” Anna said hurriedly. “If I knew anything, I’d tell you, but I don’t.”

When did you last see Riley?” Fenner asked.

The morning before the snatch.Bailey telephoned him about the necklace. Riley told me he was going to grab it.”

Did he say anything about kidnapping the girl?”

No.”

So you didn’t hear anything from Riley after he left you on the morning of the kidnapping?”

Anna hesitated.

Well, yes, I did. He telephoned me from Johnny Frisk’s place.”

Fenner drew in a long deep breath. Here it was at last! The new lead! Something she hadn’t told the police.

Johnny Frisk? You mean the old rummy who lives out at Lone Tree junction?”

That’s him.” Anna suddenly stiffened. “How do you know him?”

I get around,” Fenner said. “So Riley was out there? And you never told the police that?”

Anna was staring suspiciously at him.

Just who are you?” she said. “This is a gag, isn’t it? Are you a cop?”

A sound made both of them look towards the door. Someone had unlocked the front door. Quick steps sounded, then the door leading into the sitting room jerked open.

Eddie Schultz came in.

I forgot my goddamn wallet…” he began then he saw Fenner.

Pardon me, pal,” Fenner said quietly and uncorked a right hook that hit Eddie flush on his jaw. Eddie went down as if he was pole-axed.

Anna turnedand rushed into the bedroom, but by the time she had got her gun, Fenner had vanished.

Slowly Eddie sat up, holding his jaw. He stared at Anna. Then he got to his feet.

What’s going on?” he demanded shakily. “Hell! That punk’s nearly bust my jaw! What was a goddamn newspaperman doing in here?”

Anna stared at him in horror.

A newspaperman?” she screamed.

Her expression sent a chill up Eddie’s spine. He had a terrible premonition that his future was about to explode in his face.

 

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.

 

more miss blandish—the start of chapter 3, wherein we learn “a detective’s life isn’t fit for a dog”

CHAPTER THREE

1

ACROSS the frosted panel of the door ran the legend:

DAVE FENNER. INVESTIGATIONS.

The lettering was in black and recently painted.

The door led into a small, well-furnished office with a desk, two lounging chairs, a good Oriental carpet and wall shelves full of law books recently acquired and never opened.

David Fenner lounged in the desk chair, his feet on the desk. He was staring blankly up at the ceiling. He had the air of a man with nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it in.

Fenner was a massively built man of thirty-three. He was dark, with an attractively ugly face and a pugnacious jaw of a man who likes to get his own way and generally does.

A door to the left of the desk led into the outer office. A wooden barrier divided this room. One side was reserved for waiting clients; the other side was the general office presided over by, Paula Dolan, an attractive girl with raven black wavy hair, large suggestive blue eyes and a figure that Fenner declared was the only asset of value in the newly established business.

Paula sat before an idle typewriter, thumbing through the pages of a lurid magazine called Love. From time to time, she yawned and her eyes continually strayed to the wall clock. The time was twenty minutes after three.

The buzzer sounded on her desk, making her start. She put down the magazine and walked into the inner office.

“Got any cigarettes, honey?” Fenner asked, hunching his muscles so the chair creaked. “I’m all out.”

“I’ve got three left,” Paula said. “You can have two of them.” She went into her office and returned with two cigarettes which she laid on the table.

“That’s pretty generous of you,” Fenner said, lighting up. “Thanks.” He inhaled deeply while he looked Paula over. “That’s a nice shape you’ve got on your bones this afternoon.”

“Yes, isn’t it?” Paula said bitterly. “It doesn’t seem to get me anywhere.”

“How are you making out?” Fenner said, quick to change the subject. “Got anything to do?”

“As much as you have,” Paula said, hoisting herself up on the desk.

“Then you sure must be working yourself to death,” Fenner said, grinning. “Never mind: something’ll turn up.”

“You’ve been saying just that for the past month,” Paula said. She looked worried. “We can’t go on much longer like this, Dave. The Office Equipment people telephoned. Unless you pay the third installment on the furniture by tomorrow, they want it all back.”

Fenner surveyed the room.

“You don’t say! You wouldn’t think anyone in their right minds would want this junk back, would you?”

“Perhaps you didn’t hear what I said,” Paula said ominously. “They’ll take all the furniture away tomorrow unless you pay the third installment. So what shall I have to sit on?”

Fenner looked startled.

“They’re not taking that away as well, are they?”

“Dave Fenner, will you never be serious for half a minute? If we don’t find two hundred dollars by tomorrow morning, we will have to shut down.”

Fenner sighed.

“Money! How much have we got?”

“Ten dollars and fifteen cents.”

“As much as that?” he waved his hand airily. “Why, we’re rich! There’s a guy across the way who’s got nothing but an overdraft.”

“How does that make us rich?” Paula demanded.

“Well, we don’t owe the bank money.”

“That’s not your fault. You’ve tried hard enough to owe them money, haven’t you?”

“I guess that’s right.” Fenner shook his head mournfully. “I don’t think those birds trust me.”

“Oh, no,” Paula said sarcastically. “They just don’t want to embarrass you.” She patted a stray curl into place. “I’m beginning to think you made a mistake opening this office. You were making good money on the Tribune. I never did think this agency idea of yours would work out.” Fenner looked indignant.

“Well, that’s a fine thing to say. Then why did you quit your job and come to work for me? I warned you it could be tough at the start, but nothing short of a machine gun would stop you joining me.” Paula smiled at him.

“Maybe it was because I love you,” she said softly Fenner groaned.

“For the love of Mike, don’t start that all over again. I’ve enough worries without you adding to them. Why don’t you get smart, honey? A girl with your looks and your shape could hook a millionaire. Why waste your time and talents on a loser like me? I’ll tell you something: I’ll always be broke. It’s a tradition in the family. My grandfather was a bankrupt. My father was a pauper. My uncle was a miser: he went crazy because he couldn’t find any money to mise over.”

“When are we going to get married, Dave?”

“Remind me to consult my ouija board sometime,” Fenner said hurriedly. “Why don’t you go home? You’re getting unhealthy ideas sticking around here with nothing to do. Take the afternoon off. Go shampoo your hair or something.”

Paula lifted her shoulders in resigned helplessness. “Why don’t you talk to Ryskind? He might give you your job back if you asked him nicely. You were the best crime reporter in the game, Dave. He must miss you. Why don’t you talk to him?” Fenner shook his head.

“The trouble there is he wouldn’t talk to me. I called him a double-crossing, stony-hearted, brainless moron just before I quit. I also seem to remember I told him if ever he invited me to his parents’ wedding. I wouldn’t go. Somehow, I don’t think he likes me any more.”

A buzzer sounded in the outer office announcing a visitor. “Who do you imagine that could be?” Fenner asked, frowning.

“Probably the man to disconnect the telephone,” Paula said. “We haven’t paid the bill—remember?”

“What do we want a telephone for?” Fenner asked. “We’re not on speaking terms with anyone in town, are we?”

Paula went into the outer office, closing the door after her. In a couple of minutes, she was back, her face alight with excitement.

“Look who’s here!” she said and laid a card on his blotter.

Fenner read the card, then he sat back, gaping at Paula.

“John Blandish! In person?”

“He wants to see you.”

“You’re sure it’s him, not someone impersonating him?”

“I’m sure.”

“Well, what are you waiting for? Shoo him in, baby; shoo him in!”

Paula went to the door and opened it.

“Mr. Fenner is free now, Mr. Blandish. Would you come in?”

She stood aside as John Blandish entered the room, then she went out, leaving the two men together.

Fenner got to his feet. He was surprised Blandish wasn’t a bigger man. Only slightly above middle height, the millionaire seemed puny beside Fenner’s muscular bulk. His eyes gave his face its arresting power and character. They were hard, shrewd and alert eyes of a man who has fought his way to the top with no mercy asked nor given.

Blandish gave Fenner a quick critical look as the two men shook hands.

“I have a proposition for you, Fenner,” Blandish said. “I think you’re the man I’m looking for. I hear you have connections with the underworld. I believe the only way to bring to justice the men who kidnapped my daughter, is to employ someone like you who can freelance among the mobs with no restrictions. What do you think?”

“I think you’re right,” Fenner said, sitting down behind his desk. “Anyway, the theory’s right, but your daughter was kidnapped three months ago. The trail’s pretty cold now.”

“I am aware of that,” Blandish said. He took out a pigskin cigar case and selected a cigar. “I had to give the Federal Agents every chance of finding these men before I started interfering. Well, they haven’t found them. Now I’m going to try. I’ve talked to them and I’ve talked to the Police. It was Captain Brennan who suggested I should contact you. He tells me you have a good reputation as a newspaper man and wide connections among the thugs in this City. He said if I employed you, he would cooperate with you to the best of his ability. I’m prepared to give you the opportunity of finding these men if you are interested. I will pay you three thousand dollars right now and if you find them, you’ll get a further thirty thousand dollars. That’s my proposition. What do you say?”

Fenner sat for a moment slightly stunned, then pulling himself together, he nodded.

“I’ll certainly have a try, Mr. Blandish, but I’m not promising to deliver. The F.B.I. are the best in the world. If they’ve failed to find these hoods, I’ll probably fail too, but I’ll have a try.”

“How do you propose to start?”

“It so happened I covered the kidnapping for the Tribune,” Fenner said. “It was the last job I did before leaving the paper. I’ve got a file covering all the facts. This I want to study. One thing has always struck me as odd. I knew both Riley and Bailey personally. I was continually running into them in dives and clubs when I was checking for information during the course of my work. They were strictly small time. How they ever found the nerve to go through with the kidnapping beats me, and yet, apparently they did. It doesn’t make sense. If you knew the hoodlums the way I know them, you’d feel the same way about these two. Kidnapping is out of character. The most they would ever aspire to is a small bank holdup. Anyway, there it is. They kidnapped your daughter. Then I ask myself how could they have vanished into thin air? How is it none of the ransom money has ever appeared? What are these kidnappers living on if they aren’t spending the ransom? Another thing; Riley had a girl friend: Anna Borg. The Federal Agents spent hours questioning her, but they didn’t get a thing out of her. I know for a fact Riley was crazy about her and yet he just walked out of her life as if she never existed. It doesn’t add up.” He paused, then went on, “I’ll see Brennan right away, Mr. Blandish. I’ll go through the file to make sure I’ve missed nothing there that might give me a lead. In a couple of days I’ll be able to tell you if I think I have a chance or not of finding these men.” He looked searchingly at Mr. Blandish. “You don’t ask me to find your daughter. You think…?”

Blandish’s face hardened.

“She is dead. I have no doubt about that. It would be an impossible thought to think of her still alive and in the hands of such men. No, she’s dead.” He took from his pocket a checkbook and wrote out a check to Fenner for three thousand dollars. “Then I expect to hear from you in two days’ time?”

“That’s right.”

Fenner went with Blandish to the door.

“Money is no object,” Blandish said. “I’m not restricting you. Get among the underworld and let them know there’s money to be had for talking. I’m sure it’s the only way to get the lead we want.”

“You leave it to me,” Fenner said. “I’ll try not to disappoint you.”

When Blandish had gone, Paula came rushing into the room.

“What did he want?” she asked anxiously. “Has he hired you?”

Fenner showed her the check.

“We’re in the money, sweetheart,” he said. “Here, take a look. Three thousand bucks! Saved in the nick of time! You can relax. You’ve still got a chair to park your fanny on.”

2

Captain Charles Brennan, City Police, a fat, red-faced man with blue hard eyes and sandy-colored hair, greying at the temples, reached across his desk to shake hands with Fenner.

“Never thought the day would come when I would be glad to see a detective in my office,” he said. “Sit down. How’s tricks?”

“Could be worse,” Fenner said, sitting down. “I’m not the grumbling kind.”

“I was surprised to hear you had applied for a licence to operate as an investigator,” Brennan said, lighting a cigar. “You should have stuck to newspaper work. A detective’s life isn’t fit for a dog.”

“I don’t aim to live as well as a dog,” Fenner said, cheerfully. “Thanks for the introduction to Blandish.”

Brennan waved his hand airily.

“Between me and you and my aunt’s wooden leg, Blandish has been gradually driving me nuts. With any luck now, he’ll drive you nuts and lay off me.”

Fenner stiffened to attention.

“What do you mean?”

“You wait,” Brennan said with sadistic relish. “Blandish hasn’t got off my neck since his goddamn daughter was snatched. In self-defense I had to suggest he should hire you. Morning, noon and night he was either here in my office or on the telephone. When was I going to find the men who kidnapped his daughter? If I heard that once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. Those words, when I’m dead, will be found engraved on my liver!”

“Well, that’s pretty nice,” Fenner said bitterly, “and I was thinking you were doing me a good turn.”

“I’m no boy scout,” Brennan said. “I’ll tell you this much: you have as much chance of finding those punks as you have of winning a beauty prize.”

Fenner let that ride.

“But they must be somewhere.”

“Sure, they’re somewhere. They could be in Mexico, Canada, heaven or hell. Every policeman in the world has been looking for them for three months—not a sign, but I agree with you, they must be somewhere.”

“How about the girl? Do you think she’s dead?”

“Yeah. She must be dead. Why should they keep her alive? She would only be a danger to them. I wouldn’t mind betting they knocked her off when they killed MacGowan, but where they buried her beats me.”

“How about Anna Borg?” Fenner asked. “What became of her?”

“She’s still around. I’ve had one of my boys trailing her for the past two months, but it’s a waste of time. She has a new boy friend now. I guess she got tired of waiting for Riley to show up. She’s doing an act now at the Paradise Club.”

“Who’s the new boy friend?”

“Eddie Schultz.”

Fenner frowned, then he snapped his fingers.

“I know him, one of the Grisson gang; a tall, big, good-looking punk.”

“That’s him. The Grisson gang have taken over the Paradise Club: a down-at-the-heel joint run by an Italian:

Toni Rocco. They bought him out, put money in the joint and it’s quite a club now.”

Fenner looked interested.

“Where did the money come from? The Grisson gang weren’t in the dough, were they?”

“I checked all that,” Brennan said, looking wise. “Abe Schulberg is financing the club. He’s done a deal with Ma Grisson. She runs the club and gives him a fifty percent cut.”

Fenner lost interest. He lit a cigarette, sliding down in his chair.

“So the trail’s cold?”

“It never was hot. It’s a bitch of a case. The time and money we’ve wasted on it gives me nightmares. We’re no closer to a solution than when we first started.”

Fenner pulled a face. The vision of laying his hands on thirty thousand dollars now began to look remote. He got to his feet. Then a thought struck him.

“What did this Borg girl do for a living when she was going around with Riley?” he asked.

“She did a strip act at the Cosmos Club, strictly for peanuts, but her main meal ticket was Riley.”

“The Cosmos Club?” Fenner suddenly looked thoughtful. He glanced at his watch. “Well, I’m wasting your time, Captain. If I turn up anything, I’ll let you know.”

“You won’t,” Brennan said, grinning. “There’s nothing to turn up.”

In a thoughtful mood, Fenner drove back to his office. He found Paula waiting for him although it was after six o’clock.

“You still here?” he said as he entered the office. “Haven’t you a home to go to?”

“I’m scared to leave in case another millionaire walks in,” Paula said, her blue eyes wide. “Oh, Dave! I’ve been planning how we’ll spend all that beautiful money when we get it”

“The operative word in that pipe dream of a sentence of yours is when.” Fenner walked into his office. Paula trailed after him. “Since you are still working, baby, make yourself useful. Check the dirty file and see if we have anything on Pete Cosmos.”

During the years Fenner had been a newspaperman, he had systematically collected every scrap of information concerning the activities of the big and little gangsters in town. He had collected an enormous library of facts that often came in handy when he was trying to persuade some hood to give him information.

In five minutes, Paula came into the office with a pile of newspaper clippings.

“I don’t know what you’re looking for, Dave,” she said, “but here’s everything we have on Cosmos.”

“Thanks, sweetheart, now you trot off home. I’ve got work to do. How would you like to have dinner with me tonight to celebrate our riches?”

Paula’s face lit up with delighted surprise.

“I’d love it! I’ll wear my new dress! Let’s go to the Champagne Room! I’ve never been there. I hear it’s a knockout.”

“The only knockout about that joint is the check,” Fenner said. “Maybe we might go there when we have got our hooks into the thirty thousand, but not before.”

“Then how about the Astor? For the money, they say it’s the best in town.”

“Don’t be simple, baby. They didn’t say for how much money, did they?” Fenner put his arm around her coaxingly. “I’ll tell you where we’ll go, the Cosmos Club. We’ll combine business with pleasure.”

Paula made a grimace as if she had bitten into a lemon.

“The Cosmos Club? That joint’s not even a dive and the food’s poisonous.”

“Run along, baby, I’ve work to do. I’ll pick you up at eight-thirty at your place,” and turning her, Fenner gave her a slap on her behind, launching her fast to the door.

He sat down at his desk and began to read through the mass of clippings Paula had given him. After some thirty minutes, he made a telephone call, then he put the clippings back into the filing cabinet, turned off the lights in the office, locked up and went down to his car. He drove to his two room apartment where he took a shower and changed into a dark suit. He checked his .38 police special and put it in his shoulder holster.

He found Paula anxiously waiting for him. One of the important facts of life that Paula had learned the hard way was not to keep any man waiting. She was looking cute in a black dress, relieved by a red carnation. The cut of the dress accentuated her figure so that Fenner took a second look.

“What kills me,” Paula said as she got into the car with a generous show of nylon-clad legs, “is I always have to buy my own corsage. The day you think of buying me one, I’ll faint.”

“Put your smelling salts away, baby,” Fenner said, grinning. “I would never think of it. You haven’t a worry in the world.” He edged the car into the traffic. “I’ve got something on Pete. Boy! Won’t his fat face turn red when I start talking to him.”

Paula looked at him.

“I hope we’ll eat sometime,” she said. “I foresee you and that fat Italian sitting glaring at each other and grinding your teeth while I starve to death.”

“We’ll eat first, baby,” Fenner said and patted her knee.

She firmly removed his hand.

“That knee is reserved for my future husband,” she said. “You can have an option on it if you want it, but it’ll have to be in writing.”

Fenner laughed. He liked going out with Paula. They always seemed to have fun together.

The Cosmos Club was full when they arrived, but the maitre d’hotel, a seedy, narrow-eyed Italian, found them a table.

Fenner looked around and decided it was a pretty crummy joint. He hadn’t been in the club for six months. He could see it had changed for the worse.

“Charming little morgue,” Paula said, looking around. “I can’t imagine anyone coming here unless they were too mean to go somewhere else.”

Fenner let that one ride. He was studying the menu. He was hungry. A grubby looking waiter hovered at his side.

After a long discussion they decided on the iced melon, and duck cooked with olives to follow.

“At least we can eat the olives,” Paula said. “Even the cook at the Cosmos Club can’t spoil olives.”

Fenner laughed.

“You wait and see. I bet you they’ll be as tender as golf balls.”

But when the meal was served, neither of them could complain. It wasn’t good, but at least they could eat it.

Between courses, they danced. Paula attempted to get romantic, but Fenner deliberately trod on her toes. The dancing wasn’t a success.

While she was choosing dessert, Fenner pushed back his chair and stood up.

“Business now, baby,” he said. “I’m going to talk to Pete. You go ahead and stuff yourself. I won’t be long.”

Paula smiled at him, her eyes furious.

“Go ahead, Dave darling, don’t worry about me. I have lots and lots to talk to myself about. I’ll expect you when I don’t see you.”

“If we weren’t in a public place,” Fenner said, stung, “I would put you over my knee and slap you humpbacked.”

“A charming thought,” Paula said, waving him away. “Run along and talk to your friend. I hope he spits in your right eye.”

Grinning, Fenner made his way to Pete’s office. He didn’t bother to knock. He walked right in and kicked the door shut behind him.

Pete was adding up figures in a ledger. He looked up, startled. When he saw who it was, he scowled.

“Who told you to bust in here?” he demanded. “What do you want?”

“Hello, fatty,” Fenner said coming over and sitting on the desk. “Long time no see.”

“What do you want?” Pete asked again, glaring at Fenner.

“Have you seen Harry Levane recently?”

Pete stiffened.

“No, and I don’t want to. Why?”

“I’ve just been talking to him. Pete, you are in bad trouble.” Fenner shook his head sadly. “Harry was telling me about the girl you took to Miami last summer. She was a minor. Pete! I’m surprised at you! You stand to get a two-year stretch for that little indiscretion.”

Pete looked as if someone had driven a needle into his behind.

“It’s a lie!” he shouted, his face white. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Fenner smiled pityingly at him.

“Don’t be a chump, Pete. Harry saw you with her. He hasn’t forgotten you got him three years for the Clifford jewel steal. He’s aching to put you away.”

Pete’s face broke out in a sweat.

“I’ll kill the punk! He can’t prove it!”

“He can. He knows who the girl is and he’s talked to her. She’s ready to sign a complaint.”

Pete slumped back in his chair.

“Where is she?” he said, his voice husky. “I’ll talk to her. I’ll fix it. Where is she?”

“I know where she is. I know where Harry is. It’ll cost you, Pete, but what’s money,” Fenner said. “But I’m not telling you if we can’t do a deal. I want information. I’ll trade what you want for what I want.”

Pete glared at him.

“What do you want?”

“Nothing to it, Pete; just a little information. Do you remember Anna Borg?”

Pete looked surprised.

“Yes—what about her?’

“She worked here?”

“That’s right.”

“Did she ever hint that she knew where Riley was hiding out?”

“She didn’t know. I’ll swear to that.”

“She did mention Riley?”

“I’ll say! She was swearing and cursing about him all the time.”

“How did she meet Schultz?”

Pete hesitated.

“This is a trade? You tell me where I contact that little bitch and Harry?”

“It’s a trade.”

“Schultz came here a few days after the snatch,” Pete said. “He wanted to know how he could contact Anna. He said Ma Grisson wanted to talk to the girl. When I told him the Feds were watching Anna, he told me to call her and get her down here in this office. I wasn’t here when they met, but a couple of days later, Anna quit working for me. She said she had been offered a better job. When the Grissons took over the Paradise Club, she started working there. Eddie and she are living together.”

“Why was Ma Grisson interested in the girl?” Fenner asked.

Pete shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t know.”

Fenner got to his feet. He bent over the desk and scribbled two addresses on a scratch pad.

“There you are,” he said. “I’d contact those two fast. Harry is aching to see you in jail. It’ll cost you plenty to keep his mouth shut.”

As Pete reached for the telephone, Fenner made his way back to the restaurant.

He found Paula talking animatedly to a slim, handsome gigolo who was leaning over her, looking with interest down the front of her dress.

Fenner gave him a heavy nudge.

“Okay, buster, set sail and fade away.”

The gigolo looked quickly at Fenner’s massive shoulders and his pugnacious jaw and he hurriedly backed away.

“Don’t let this ape worry you,” Paula said. “Brush him off. One good smack in the jaw will fix him.”

But the gigolo was already in retreat halfway across the room.

“Hi, baby, I’m surprised at the company you keep,” Fenner said, smiling at her.

Paula leaned back in her chair and smiled at him.

“Did your Italian friend spit in your eye?”

“No, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t want to. Come on, baby. I want to go to bed.”

She looked interested.

“Alone?”

“Yeah, alone,” Fenner said, piloting her out of the restaurant. “I want all my strength for tomorrow. I’m calling on Anna Borg and from what I hear, she’s more than a handful.”

Paula got into the car and straightened her skirt.

“Isn’t she a stripper?”

“Yeah,” Fenner said and grinned. “Don’t look so prim; just because she is, I don’t have to be one of that fan dancer’s fans.”