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Trapped in an Alley With You

31 Mar

“There’s nowhere to go,” I hissed. Randy and I were crouched behind a bunch of garbage cans in an absolutely filthy alley that was doing nothing for my shoes. The icy sleet had slacked off a bit but its best friend rain was making itself real comfortable. I’d be soaked through by the time I got out of here.

“Sh.” Randy raised one hand – probably to put it over my mouth, but I twisted away from him. He jerked his head towards the mouth of the alley, where just outsideentrance1then two silhouettes, ugly as sin, were poised. I didn’t dare breathe. I knew what guys like this were capable of; I’ve come up against them before. If Lady Luck was with us, they’d scram and nobody would be the wiser…if, on the other hand, the lady withheld her favors, we were in a rather untenable situation.

The two silhouettes looked around, in that exaggerated manner silhouettes have. The shorter one nudged the taller one with his elbow. “They ain’t here,” he said, in a rough East End accent. “We’ll get ’em – either now or later.”

We waited till their footsteps had faded into the distance, then stood up slowly. I felt like I’d been folded inside the trunk of a car. “What do they want with us?” Randy asked. “They must have followed us to the Heartache.” He took hold of my elbow, like I was made of glass. “Come on. I want to get you home.”

I opened my mouth to protest, then shut it again. I wanted to talk this whole thing out with somebody, and he was the perfect fish. We flagged a cab on Water Street and rode to my place, neither one of us much in the mood for chatter. I tipped the cabbie two bits and Randy and me went up to my place in the elevator.

“Coffee?” I slung my coat at the hook. “I think I got some sinkers around here somewhere.” I kicked my shoes off.  “Check the icebox, wouldya?” monitor-top-refrigerator-freezer

I went around the room, pulling down the blackout blinds, then switched on a light. The landlady was stingy with the heat, it being wartime and all, but she must have been feeling the cold herself: the radiators were warm. I heard Randy rustling around in the kitchen, and went in to see what was going on. The coffeepot was already bubbling on the stove and he’d found the doughnuts in the icebox. “You should take your clothes off.” His face turned red from the neck up. “I mean, you’re wet, you should – I should, too, I guess.” He reached to take the coffeepot off the stove. “You know what, I’m just gonna go…”

“Stay there,” I ordered. I went into the bedroom and found the two bathrobes I’d stored away in the closet. They belonged to an earlier era in my life, when I was younger, thinner, and a lot less happy. “Here.” I tossed one of the robes at Randy. “Get out of those wet clothes and put this on before you catch pneumonia.”

I started stripping as soon as I closed my bedroom door. My blouse was soaked through and my nylons were stuck to my legs. I took off everything, right to the skin, then wrapped myself in the robe. It had been a present from a guy I knew, way back in New York before the war. I loved the thick terrycloth feel of it. Him, not so much. I wrapped a towel around my wet hair and went out to the kitchen. Randy was wearing his bathrobe – pale blue, with a thick shawl collar that gaped open nicely to a view of his muscled chest. I sighed inwardly. You are one lucky dame, Suze, I told myself. What a view!   Even better, he’d made himself at home on the bedspread – mostly because my place is a one-room closet and there’s nowhere else to sit, but still. Maybe the weather would turn stormy, and it would be too cold and nasty for himHe'd made himself comfortable on the bedspread... to venture out, later. Maybe the streetcars would be off the streets, not even a cab running, and he couldn’t walk all the way to the East End, wearing only a bathrobe. Maybe they’d have to ration the electricity, and there’d be no heat, and we’d have to huddle together for warmth–

“Did you say something about doughnuts?” he asked. I tried not to roll my eyes. Men! “Say, what’s your landlady going to think about me being here with you? Some people are fussy about that sort of thing.”

“She doesn’t care as long as the rent’s paid,” I said. I sat facing him and tried not to gawk at the view. “But don’t get too noisy or she’s liable to throw us both out.”

“I’m not real worried about noise, it’s just that—”

I was interrupted by a knock on the door. No, scratch that. They weren’t knocking on the door, they were pounding on it fit to break the wall down. I held up a hand to Randy, gesturing for quiet. “Who’s there?” I expected my landlady, Mrs. Blake, to give me an earful on the other side of the door.

Instead, the voice I heard drew icy fingers of utter dread up and down my spine. “Open the door, little girl, and nobody gets hurt.”

forty

Dancing With Tears in My Eyes

10 Feb

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” I came downstairs as soon as I heard the bell. I’m not the type to leave a guy hanging and I don’t go for any of that making-him-wait stuff. Sure, that was fine for our grandmothers, but I got things to do. “Maybe we shouldn’t be seen together. People might get ideas.”

“How about you forget what people are thinking and just be with me tonight?” Randy held the door for me as I got into the taxicab. It was a nasty night out and I was glad for the cab’s interior warmth. I was even gladder when he slid in and sat close beside me. “Besides, we made a deal. You want information about your friend’s kidnapped pal and I want to spend an evening with you.” He spoke briefly to the cabbie and the car pulled away from the curb. “You look gorgeous,” he added, with an appreciative glance. I had to admit he was right. I’d spent hours getting all dolled up, had splashed out on a new lipstick and everything. It went without saying that Randy looked good. He’s the type that cleans up real nice and he knows how to dress himself. 

“Where are we going?” An icy sleet was falling, coating everything in sight, and I couldn’t see much out the window.

“The Harbourside Grill for dinner and after that…well, you’ll have to wait and see.” He grinned at me. “Are you interested yet?”

“None of your business. And don’t go looking at me with that face, either.”

“What’s wrong with my face?” he wanted to know.

“Nothing,” I replied. “It’s a very nice face.”

“Well, good.” He sat back, his arm across the top of the seat and not-quite touching my shoulders. “Here I was thinking I’d lost my charms.”

The cabbie let us out in front of the Harbourside Grill, easily the swankest place in town, a restaurant that probably charged you just to sit down at a table. It even had its own dance floor, complete with a nice little band to play the latest Benny Goodman. “Are you sure you can afford this?” I smirked, “On a reporter’s salary?”

“Shut up, wouldya?” Randy put a hand in the small of my back and playfully pushed me in the door. “If I had to listen to you for the rest of my life – ”

“You should be so lucky.” I handed my coat to the hatcheck girl and took a look around. “Pretty swank. You impress a lot of janes with this place?”

“You’re the first.” The maitre’d appeared and ushered us to our table, a secluded little number near the back.

"You impress a lot of janes with this place?"

“Oh, I get it,” I said. “You brought me here so you could have your wicked way with me.”

Randy took the wine list from the waiter and scanned it briefly. “The ’34 Lynch Bages,” he said.

My eyes bugged out but I got over it. Hell, it was his funeral. “So come on, give.” I flapped my napkin open and dropped it in my lap. “What did you find out about the kidnapping?”

“That’s what I like about you, Spade: cut right to the chase.” He glanced up as the waiter appeared with our wine, and we lost several minutes to pouring, sniffing and tasting. Finally the waiter left and I held out my glass for Randy to fill. “Your friend’s kidnap victim is very important indeed. He wasn’t lying when he said he’s an assistant to the British Consul here, but there’s more.”

“Like what?” I tasted my wine. It tasted expensive.

Randy leaned forward and spoke confidentially. “Keep this under your hat. All the bets aren’t in yet and I’m still waiting on a couple of my sources but word is, this guy is big.”

“Whatta ya mean? The Mob?”

“No, not the Mob. Big as in Us against Them. Big as in kicking Adolph to the curb. Big as in a very, very important player in this war. He’s a police captain from Egypt. I’m not sure how he and Stoyles met, but that’s neither here nor there. He’s been liaising with the British government and his own, using St. John’s as a base.” Randy stopped talking and reached across for my hand. “Come on. You want to dance.”

“What? Since when?”

“Come on.”

"You want to dance."

He yanked me up onto my feet and whirled me out onto the dance floor. I don’t remember what the band was playing but I assume it was good to dance to, since we weren’t the only ones up there. Randy held me pressed tight against him and I wasn’t complaining except for the way his eyes kept darting around the room, and the way his arms were trembling like a hat full of bees. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“Nothing.” He pressed his cheek against mine and spoke into my ear. “Don’t turn your head but some characters just came in and I don’t like their looks.”

“What characters?”

“I said don’t turn your head! I don’t want them to think we’re looking.”

He was too late: the three wiseguys had spotted us and were making their way across the dance floor. Randy grabbed my arm and pushed me ahead of him. “Out the back door, right now.”

“Listen here – ”

Right now – goddammit, there’s no more time.”

…to be continued…

Any Other Town

3 Feb

RECAP: In our last issue, Suzi was called to the Heartache Cafe on Water Street where owner JACK STOYLES advised her that someone had been kidnapped...

The Heartache Cafe


“They send a note?”

Jack nodded. “Yeah. I got it right here.” He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a crumpled slip of paper, handed it across the table to me.

“That’s it? They didn’t say anything else.” I turned the note over; there was nothing written on the back. The bottom of the note appeared torn and I asked Jack about this. “Did you tear something off here?”

“Nope.” He shook his head. “That’s how I got it. It was shoved through the mail slot in the front door. Chris found it yesterday morning.”

“Huh. Keep the envelope, did you?”

“Uh, let me ask Chris.” He called the bartender, who brought it over.

“There was no stamp or postmark,” Chris said, handing the envelope to me.

“Not your fault, angel,” I told him with a smile. Damn, he was nice to look at. Maybe it was the mop of dark hair or maybe it was the long eyelashes, the dimples, or his broad shoulders. Hell, maybe it was the whole damn package.

It was an ordinary airmail envelope like you’d see anywhere; Jack’s name and address had been written on the front of it but that was it. “Tell me everything the way it happened,” I said. “Chris found the envelope. What were you doing when Chris was fetching the mail?”

“Uh, I was back in the kitchen.” Jack gestured towards the back of the cafe. “Talking to the cook about the dinner menu. We’d decided to try and mix it up a little, offer some traditional fare along with the American stuff. Chris thought we should switch up the ice cream sundaes, maybe put in a soda machine, but those things cost plenty and I’m not sure where I’d get one, what with the war and all.”

“Yeah, that’s great Mr. Stoyles, but can we skip the gastronomic review? You were in the kitchen. Was anybody hanging around outside the restaurant when Chris fetched the mail?”

“Well, there’s only the two doors up front and both of those are locked when we’re not open. I don’t remember seeing anybody but like I said, I was in the kitchen.”

“What about you?” I asked the bartender.

Chris thought for a minute. “Nobody…I don’t think so, anyway…I mean, there’s always people around, but nobody that looked, you know, suspicious.”

Chris thought for a minute...

“Nobody that looked suspicious.” I tapped the envelope against the top of the table. “So who did they kidnap?”

It was like shutting off a light; both men went completely silent.

I repeated the question.

“Jack, you should tell her.”

“Skip it, Chris.”

“No seriously – tell her.”

Silence. I laid the envelope down and got up from the table. “Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure. Call me if ever you have need of a private investigator.” I picked up my coat and hat and started for the door.

“Wait!” It was DuBois. “He’s a…friend of Jack’s.”

I glanced back towards the table. Stoyles was sitting silently, his cheek in his hand, gazing at nothing.

“Stoyles?”

“What Chris says is true.” He took out a pair of reading glasses and put them on. He smoothed the note out on the table. “I keep waiting for another note. But there isn’t one.”

He put on a pair of reading glasses...

“Who’s your friend, Jack?”

“His name is Samuel Halim. I met him a few months ago. He and I…” His hands clenched on the tabletop. “We’re very close.”

“What Jack means is – ”

“Chris, I can tell it myself.”

“Sam is the assistant to the British Consul here. I don’t know all the details but he’s doing some important work for the war effort…and now I’ve probably told you too much.”

“No, you haven’t told me nearly enough, which worries me.” I leaned on the bar. “If you want my help, I need to know everything – and I do mean everything, gentlemen – with nothing left out. Maybe this is just your average dumb gunsel thinking to cash in, and maybe not. The fact that he`s attached to the British Consulate makes me think Adolph might be involved.”

Adolph might be involved...

I glanced from DuBois to Jack Stoyles` tense, worried face. Five would get you ten that Halim was more than just a friend, but I wasn`t gonna be the one to say it. What a guy gets up to on his own time is his own business and anyway, there`s enough hate in the world as it is. If somebody finds love with somebody else, who am I to argue? “Alright.” I tossed my coat and hat onto a table. “I`ll take the case – ” DuBois and Stoyles exchanged a relieved glance. “But you tell me everything – and I mean everything or the deal`s off. I find out you been holding out on me, I`ll have your guts for garters. You understand me, Stoyles?”

He grinned. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Okay. Somebody pour me a stiff cuppa coffee and let`s get down to business.”`

* * *

I hailed a cab outside the Heartache and told the driver to take me to the Daily News building on Duckworth Street; I needed to see a friend of mine. The receptionist knew me on sight and waved me into the elevator but, with all this taxiing around I needed the exercise so I took the stairs to the second floor, where I spotted my quarry, his feet up on the desk, talking on the phone. I reached him just in time to catch his end of the conversation: “No, Jerry, that would be the wrong interpretation.” He caught sight of me and grinned. “Listen Jerry, I got company. A lovely lady wants to see me. Maybe see you later in the Duke. Yeah. Okay, bye.”

He hung up and his feet came down off the desk with a thump. “Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. Suzi Spade! Haven’t seen you since Taft was president. How ya keepin?”`

Why, Randy Stone, you old son-of-a...

“Randy Stone, as I live and breathe.” I stuck out my hand and he shook it. “You old son-of-a-gun. I thought you lit out for Chicago. What happened?”

He made a face. “Let’s say I put my nose in where it shouldn’t have been, angered some people I shouldn’t have angered and I had to get out of the Windy City in a hurry.” He looked me over. “But what about you, Suze? Last I heard you were in New York. What gives? You make somebody mad?”

I raised an eyebrow. “A failed romance. Beyond that you don’t need to know.”

“Ah-hah, let me guess, that insurance guy? What was his name again? Reardon? Good looking guy, big and strong, just the way you like ’em? So what happened? He didn’t like the way you flipped his flapjacks?”

“I flipped his flapjacks just dandy.” I was eager to change the subject. “Listen, I ain’t here to bandy words with you; I need a favor.”

“Uh huh.” He pushed his hat back on his head and grinned at me. “Sure, whatever you like, but on one condition.”

I grit my teeth. Whatever it took to get the job done, that’s what Dix had taught me. Whatever it took.

“Name it.” I had a feeling I was going to regret this.

He stopped grinning; he was dead serious now. “Have dinner with me.”

Oh boy.

…to be continued In Our Very Next Issue…

Suzie Spade, Girl Detective

27 Jan

Suzi Spade, Girl Detective

 

It was one of those cold January days like we often get around here, when it’s more than your best pair of nylons are worth to even venture outside your domicile. Me, I was holed up in my office trying to gnaw my way through the backlog of paper that was threatening to break the legs off my desk, when the phone opened up.

“Suzi Spade, Girl Detective. What’s eating you?” It’s hard to talk and apply lipstick at the same time but I manage.

“I need your help.” The voice on the other end of the phone was male, and plenty bothered by the sound of it. “There’s no time.”

“No time, huh?” I buffed my  nails on the hem of my skirt and examined them critically. As much as I love being a gumheel*, there’s times when this work puts a serious dent in your manicure. “What about right now, handsome?”

“You have to understand: this isn’t the sort of thing that can get out. You have to swear to me – swear, on your knees and on your mother’s grave – ”

“Whoa, wait a minute there, sailor. This is starting to sound like a popular song.” I pulled a fresh piece of gum out of the pack and stowed it in my cheek. “Why don’t you slow down and tell me what’s wrong? Maybe we can come to some sort of an agreement.”

“Well, alright. But I don’t want to do it over the phone.”

I had to bite my tongue at that one…”Okay, where do you want it?”

I run a cafe down here on Water Street. Right now we’re in the midst of the lunch rush but it usually settles down about three. I can get my bartender Chris to handle things while you and I talk. Does that sound okay?” He gave me the address and I jotted it down, made a promise to meet him there at three and hung up. Two things I’ve learned since I started in this business: #1 – the tumble ain’t always worth it; #2 – always carry a gun.  This first one I had to learn during my apprenticeship, when I was working for Dixon Steele out in SanFran; Dix was one of those tough old-school guys who hit first and ask questions later but he was always good to me. The first time we got drunk together I invited him to check the seams in my stockings but Dix told me that wasn’t kosher: ‘Sure, it might be a lot of fun and I’m sure we could get plenty happy but we’d pay for it in the end. I wouldn’t be your boss no more and that’s all wet. You see what I mean?’ I didn’t, not right then, but after I’d thrown away a good few Saturday nights on some pretty worthless sack time, I understood where he was coming from. Yeah, there’s lots of nice meat walking around but that don’t mean a girl’s gotta always indulge. Sometimes it’s better if you just look. Lucky for me, Dix was easy on the eyes: not too tall, but handsome, with big brown eyes and the kind of long eyelashes that belong on a showgirl, lips that wouldn’t quit. He had a way of talking, a way of looking at you that made you think it was gonna be all silk, if only he’d give in, but he never did.

Dixon Steele, one hell of a shamus

#2 is self-explanatory. I mean, come on. I’m not dumb. I carry a Colt .45 automatic and before you say “that’s too much gun for a skirt” let me advise you of your rights: you have the right to shut the hell up or I’ll shoot your lips off. And I can hit you from a damn good distance. For added insurance I keep a derringer strapped to the inside of my left thigh, just in case. A girl can’t never have too much insurance these days and most wise guys will clam right up once you show ’em the artillery.

I caught a cab the eight blocks or so to Water Street. Call me lazy if you like but by three that afternoon the temperature had dropped to minus-minus and there was no way I was walking it. The driver was nice enough – young and cute, just the way I like ’em – and his conversation was so pleasant that I wasn’t sure I even wanted to get out. I passed him my calling card along with the fare and a nice tip that hopefully would pique more than just his interest. “Call me sometime.”

I caught a cab...

He grinned when he saw the money, but his face just about split in two when he saw the card. “You got me wrong, lady.”

“Why?” I asked. “You spoken for? Or maybe you prefer to keep out of the struggle buggy – is that it?”

He was young and cute, just the way I like 'em...

“In a manner of speaking.” He had dimples, right where they should have been. “It ain’t what you think but I’m as clammed as they come…and thanks for the lettuce.”

The cafe was quiet, just like he’d said on the phone: there was a guy wiping down the bar and another guy sitting at a back table, pretending to read the newspaper. A radio was playing, low in the background: Why Don’t You Do Right? and the girl singer was giving it her best Bessie Smith. I sidled up to the bar and the dish with the wet rag gave me a smile I felt in my kneecaps. “What’ll it be, lady?”

“How about a double shot of you with a beer back?” I presented my card. “Here’s my little breath-saver. Somebody called me earlier today, said you guys were having a problem.”

“Oh, yeah, that’d be the boss.” He nodded to the guy at the back table. “Hey, Jack – lady here to see you.”

He stuck the newspaper under his arm and came over to meet me. He didn’t look scared, exactly – but he looked like a guy who’d had a bad shock. He was maybe forty, with wavy dark hair and big brown eyes, and he was nicely dressed in a shirt and tie. I guessed they liked to do it up classy in this joint. “Jack Stoyles.” His grip was nice and firm and I held on maybe a few seconds longer than I should. “We can talk in my office, if you don’t mind?”

“Sure.” I winked at him. “Maybe we better leave the door open. I’d hate for Mother to worry about me.”

He must have really been behind the 8-ball; he didn’t even crack a smile. “Right here. Please, have a seat.” The office was little more than a small room at the back of the cafe, outfitted with a desk and chairs, a lamp, an old army cot, some bookshelves, filing cabinets, floor safe, the usual stuff. On the wall behind his head there was a painting of a frail in desperate need of clothes, only that didn’t seem to bother her any, and an overflowing ash tray pinned down the corner of his desk. He reached into the bottom drawer of the desk and brought up a fifth of bourbon and two glasses. “Drink?”

“Sure,” I said. “It’s five o’clock somewhere.”

He didn’t laugh. “I have a really big problem.” He rubbed a shaking hand over his face. He looked like he wanted to cry.

“I’ll help in whatever way I can.” It struck me that what he needed most was a soft shoulder to cry on – not some dame he hardly knew to be cracking wise. I reached across the desk and laid my hand on his. “Please tell me how I can help.”

“They took him.” He inhaled, a sound like a sob. “I got the letter this morning. They’ll kill him if I don’t pay up.”

…to be continued in Our Very Next Issue

*gumheel: if a male shamus is a gumSHOE a female detective is a gumHEEL, correct? 😉