Tag Archives: Better Than Dead

Contents Vol. 2 No. 1

Welcome to Volume Two, Number One of Dime Pulp, A Seral Pulp Fiction Magazine. The start of the new year and the beginning of the second volume of this serial pulp fiction platform also marks the conclusion of our long running serial novel, The Last Resort, A Lee Malone Adventure, by Pat Nolan who reveals that he borrowed a technique from the proto-surrealist Raymond Roussel and that the first sentence and the last sentence in his novel are the names of countries. Other than that, the last chapter of The Last Resort ties things up as neatly as Lee Malone cinching the bow on the laces of her running shoes.

The new year also brings the latest installment of Colin Deerwood’s Better Than Dead, a golden age serial detective fiction prompted by the illustration of a vintage Black Mask cover. Lackland Ask, on the lam after the massacre in the Heights and hiding out with his new partner in crime, the young,  winsome, yet feisty Rebecca Eisen, is more than a little surprised when she reveals that she has managed to make off with the rest of the diamond stash. Yet with hardly any time to rejoice in his good fortune, he makes a troubling discovery: Rebecca’s father is a bomb builder and possibly an agent for Uncle Joe. Can this mean their lips will never touch? Don’t bet on it.

In this issue as well, the third installment of Pat Nolan’s novella, On The Road To Las Cruces, Being A Novel Account of the Last Day in the Life of a Legendary Western Lawman, a work of fiction tethered loosely to historical fact. Fearful that harm has come to her husband, Apollinara hitches up the buckboard and heads down the mesa to look for him. In the meantime, the old man, encouraged by a bottle of pulque, has recounted his background as a lawman and his role in the White Sands Murders. As much a retelling of some history as it is how such a retelling might come about, On The Road To Las Cruces is represented in the manner of a tall tale, the deadpan details of a crime story, melodrama, and a conspiracy to murder.

Dime Pulp continues its crime spree with the serialization of three full length novels, The Last Resort and Better Than DeadA Detective Story, as well as On The Road To Las Cruces.

If you’ve made it this far, go ahead and follow the links below to reading entertainment with the serial contents of Volume Two, Number One.

 —Perry O’Dickle, chief scribe
and word accountant


DPjuninsetDeep in the redwood wilds along the Corkscrew River, someone is shooting neighborhood dogs. The year is 1985 and Lee Malone, former fashion model, queen of the runways from Paris to Milan, once dubbed the most beautiful woman in the world, now a part-time reporter for The Corkscrew County Grapevine, is looking for a story to sink her teeth into. When Lee finds the owner of Kelly’s Seaside Resort brutally murdered, it leads her on an adventure that includes a mysterious gray van, another murder, extortion, pornography, sex slavery, and a shadowy organization of militant feminists known as SAPHO. In the process, Lee Malone’s notorious past catches up with her.

The Last Resort, Chapter 36


“Lackland Ask is the name. ‘Lack’ to my friends, ‘Don’t’ to those who think they’re funny. You might have seen my portrait on the cover of Black Mask, the crime fiction magazine. This is my story. It starts with a blonde. This kind of story always starts with a blonde.” Thus begins the seemingly non-stop, endless narrative of Better Than Dead in which women are not the only trouble although most of it, told with the wit and street savvy of Runyon and Parker.

Better Than Dead—13


otrpic1fi2In late February of 1908, a one-time drover, buffalo hunter, saloon owner, hog farmer, peach grower, horse rancher, US Customs inspector, private investigator, county sheriff, and Deputy US Marshal set out from his adobe home on the mesa above Organ, New Mexico accompanied by a young man in a black buggy on the journey to Las Cruces. He would never arrive. This is the story of that journey, a novel account of the last day in the life of a legendary lawman.

On The Road To Last Cruces—Three—

Better Than Dead—13

by Colin Deerwood

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The sachet of diamonds dangled from her index finger provocatively. But a sack of rocks couldn’t beam as bright as the pride in what she had done. She loosened the draw strings and gave me an encouraging nod. I was to add my pebble to the pile.

Against my better judgement I dropped it in and looked her in the eye. “You got a plan on how we’re gonna divvy them up?”

“This is not a word that I know. What is this ‘divvy’?”

“How’re we gonna divide the loot?”

“You explain with one word and confuse with another.” Now she was frowning, frustrated.

“Okey, how many rocks are in the bag?”

“There are six. With yours.”

“Don’t you think that the address book with the cockamamie writing is worth all six of them?”

“I have no way of knowing. It depends on how useful is the information.”

“Yeah, but Soloman got pretty excited about getting his hands on it so maybe it was worth a lot. I got the impression that had the deal gone through without a hitch, he would have forked over all six of those babies.”

She studied me with those big blue eyes of hers and I could tell the gears were turning beneath the auburn thatch of her perfectly disheveled hair. “You are very naive for a private police, Lack. Now that you have undergone this ordeal at the hands of these men, do you think that they would have agreed to a fair exchange?”

She shook her head and I watched the ringlets bounce on her shoulder. “There is something that perhaps you do not know about diamonds. One stone alone, even uncut, is same as many, many American dollars. Six is, as you say, a ransom for a king.”

“So you’re thinking I should only get one?”

“Two, I think, would be more than fair.”

“But not three.”

She shrugged. “We must be reasonable, not greedy.”

Here we were having our first disagreement, and wouldn’t you know it, it was about money.

mitch“I have cut my ties with these bad people, Lack, I cannot go back to them and ask for help. These diamonds will allow me to start a new life here in America.” Her eyes pleaded. “Don’t you trust me? Besides. . . .”

She didn’t finish because someone was banging on the door to the tailor shop and it sounded angry.

“Quick,” she said as she steered me to the back and to a little workbench behind another curtain, “Hide in here.”

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I listened with my ear to the curtain as she talked through the door. It was the super and he was mad, bawling her out, from what I could hear, about the mess in the bathroom. He was threatening to call the landlord to have her father pay for the plumber. I could hear the surprise in her voice, at first a stuttered half felt apology and then indignant insistence that she had nothing to do with the stopped-up toilet. The super yelled that he would call the cops and that cast a shadow on an otherwise rosy picture.

radio repairThe alcove I was in was some sort of workshop, but it didn’t look like something you would find in a tailor shop. Spools of wire instead of thread, pliers instead of scissors, screws and bolts instead of buttons. There was an odd odor, too, but I couldn’t quite place it. A few sheafs of grimy paper were folded in among what looked like radio parts on the workbench. I spread one open. It was a diagram of some sort, measurements and notations, and in the same weird alphabet as in the address book. I stared at the drawing on the second page, turning it sideways and upside down. It didn’t make sense, cylinders, squares, squiggly lines, kind of a blueprint, but of what exactly?

I felt the stirring behind the curtain as Becky pushed it aside. Her frown accompanied darting accusing eyes and she was about to launch a volley when she caught sight of what I had in my hands and it seemed to deflate her. “Oh,” she said.

“So your old man repairs radios, too?” I could tell by her downcast eyes that I wasn’t going to get a straight answer.

“It is just hobby for him. He was engineer once and design wireless. When he was to come here, he must be a tailor. His father was tailor and his father before him, and so it was not difficult for him be tailor in this country.” She led me out from behind the curtain and changed the subject. “Lack, we cannot stay here. Mrazovich will call the police. We must leave.”

I was hearing what she was saying but my mind was back at the workbench. That faint acrid smell lingered in my memory too. It bothered me.

“Lack, are you listening?”

I nodded, distracted by the feeling that not everything was as it seemed.

“Yeah, yeah, I heard him threaten to call the cops. For what, a stopped up terlit? They’re not going to come for that.” I fixed her with a purposeful look. “Here’s the plan. We lie low until it gets dark and then skedaddle.”

I was about to outline the rest of the plan when it came to me. I looked back at the curtain and then back at her. It was like someone had pulled on the overhead light erasing the shadows I hadn’t even known were there.

“What is it, Lack?”

“Your old man.”

“My father? Yes?”

“He’s a bomb maker.”

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She didn’t have to deny it. I could tell by the way her face fell, the droop of her mouth, the slight tremor of her chin’s tacit agreement. Now her eyes glistened.

“It is as I have told you. I did not realize what his work for Professor Soloman had him do. He was organize the work of help refugees in warring country I think. He is a brilliant man, my father. But not a leader. It is they who use his genius, those who want power, not freedom. The criminal, the politician, the oligarch, they are all the same! He was fixing portable wireless for a friend, he said. But radio never work. He said it was missing component. Vacuum tube, he say, but wireless engineer is much more difficult than learn to speak American.”

I wanted to believe her, believe the gathering drop at the corner of her eye.

Her laugh was like a string of pearls catching light. “You say such funny things! In my country you would be a poet!”

“Then yesterday night. . . .” She stopped for a breath and fixed me with her gaze. “It seem so much longer than that, so many pages ago, but yes, after I was returned from our rendezvous with Max, I was sent to my room. My father was in his office and I went in to tell him I was safe. On the floor by the door was box he kept the small wireless and I ask if he has finally fix, and he say yes, it will be heard very loud.

“Then when they have their meeting I listen at the door because I must know what is the cause for all this activity. It is a very quiet time I have since I have come to this city. I am used to freedom because my mother, a school teacher, encourage to be, how you say, independent? But here I am bored. My father say I am too strong in the head with my ideas, but I think I am much like him for my ideas. Then you, Lackland Ask, private police, come into my life and now it is upside down.”

I wanted to disclaim any responsibility for upsetting the apple cart but unfortunately my recent activity was anything but innocent such was my duck and dodge on the mean cruel streets.

“When I have listened to the door, I hear Herr Doktor speak to my father and say that information in address book has confirm what they know about location of Black Hand in America. And he ask if the explosive is ready to be used and my father say yes and I understand that he has been making bomb again.”

“Wait a minute? Again?”

radio1“The reason he must flee to America is because of bomb that kill police officials in Salonika. They say his bomb. They say he is Soviet agent because he is graduate of university in Moscow. He was to come here and beginning again, he has told me. Now I see what it means ‘begin again.’”

“You’re sure it was a bomb? In the radio?”

A tear was poised on the brink of her upper lip. “And I will never see him again because I also hear Doktor Soloman say he has new passport and passage on ship to Rio and then another for a new assignment in Palestine.”

I put my arm around her shoulder and she wiped her nose on her sleeve. “It’s gonna be ok, kid. We’ll get clear of this mess.” I said it like I knew what I was talking about, but at the back of my mind I wasn’t so sure. My taste for revenge had got me more than a mouthful. Maybe I’d bit off more than I could chew. I was looking into the eyes of a dame who was an illegal refugee and I guess you could say, a jewel thief and tough cookie all around, whose pop was a bomb builder and possibly operating for Uncle Joe in a secret war against some mob I’d never heard of before but also some of the same guys who wanted to fit me with a pair of cement galoshes. And that was only part of the fix I was in.

She had lifted her head to look back up at me, a bemused expression haloing her bright cheeks. “Why, Lack, why did you not want to make more affection to me after we have return here and we are alone? Do you not like me? Is there something I have wrong? You have fire in your eyes when you look at me. I have seen before this in other men. But they do not have respect for me. You are different. Why?”

It was a good question and as usual I didn’t have an answer. I was never all that good in the brains department. I didn’t think. I just did. Sometimes I landed in hot water. Other times, I was riding the caboose on the gravy train. Right now I felt like I was about to board the good ship Lollipop. I looked into her bright eyes and spoke what was on the tip of my tongue. I told her that I didn’t want to take the chance of getting any man oil in her baby machine.

Her laugh was like a string of pearls catching light. “You say such funny things! In my country you would be a poet!”

“No thanks, I’ve got enough going against me as it is.”

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She brought her lips up to mine and I tasted their delicate sweetness. It was almost as thrilling as a first kiss. Not bad for a guy who was used mostly to broads who wore cheap perfume and did their eyes up like Nefertiti. She pushed her body up against mine and I got that old familiar feeling. Her arms around my neck, she worked the tongue action like a real adult, and briefly, very briefly, I had to wonder where she learned how to do that.

I leaned her against the cutting table bringing my nose to nuzzle her neck and sweeping my hands over her body to make sure everything was in the right place. I wasn’t disappointed. He scent was intoxicating and I was drunk with urges. My clumsy fingers worked at the buttons of her blouse as I kissed her delicate skin down over the collar bone to the edge of lace.

She pulled at me urgently, uttering little breaths of encouragement. Her hands tugged at my waist and fumbled with the buttons of my fly. She scooted herself up onto the edge of the table wrapping a leg around the small of my back. She hissed with a desperate passion. It had the desired effect.

sex-inMy headache had gone away and was replaced by the pounding of my heart with special emphasis on the timpani of my ears. She moaned as my lips touched the inside of her thigh, grabbing my hair in her fists and arching her back. My hand reached under her skirt and found the top of her silkies. I pulled them down from her hips to be met with the moist miasmic vapors of the hairy grail. Now she had me thinking like a poet, but the Billy club in my pants was draining all the blood from my brain. And besides, it was no time to be thinking.

She helped me get the bloomers down to below her knees and quickly undid my suspenders, my pants dropping around my ankles. She had her hand in my briefs and delivered another deep felt smooch.

I had to use all my concentration to keep my mind off the intense pressure of pleasure promised at letting go. And it wasn’t any easier once she freed me. Like a bat, I wanted to head straight for the cave.

She had other things in mind. One of them was to drive me crazy. I glared at the ceiling cross eyed. Then she pulled me in toward her. I was tense with expectation, trying to distract myself by not looking down and get caught up in her roiling ecstasy just yet. I focused my gaze at the part in the curtain that faced the front of the shop where constellations of dust motes floated in a shaft of morning light slanting in through the wide display window. The same light was also reflected as a flash off the windshield of a big sedan that had screeched to a stop at the curb.


Next Time: “Cripes! It’s the Cops!

Better Than Dead—12

by Colin Deerwood

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I like my coffee hot and black. I was drinking a strong tea that had been poured over half a dozen sugar cubes. The daily blatt’s morning edition headlines screamed MASSACRE IN THE HEIGHTS and took up almost all of the space above the fold to make up for the fact that they didn’t have any information except that the cops had found what appeared to be a shootout in an attempt at robbery. Even though I had the inside track of what really happened, I paid attention to what the news hacks had come up with. That the police were baffled came as no surprise. G-men were being brought in to help with the investigation. That was funnier than Dagwood.

Soloman, I kinda figured, was a respected businessman with international connections. He had ties to refugee organizations who were helping displaced people who were fleeing the krauts and the nasties in the Balkans around where I was guessing Rebecca was from. Rabbi Joe, Joseph Frank, they called him, also well respected and a community leader, resided at that address but was unharmed. According to unofficial reports, two of the stiffs were also residents of that suite of apartments, a third, thought to be one of the robbers, was Asiatic which was another way of saying Chinese or Japanese. Half a dozen people had been taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds. A few residents were also not accounted for. There was an ill lit photo of a large room with a long table I took to be the dining room. A trio of men in fedoras with their hands in the pockets of their overcoats very much out of place, Police were questioning neighbors and were asking witnesses with information to please step forward.

I looked up at one of the unaccounted for residents and a witness and got a frown. I’d been getting them since I woke up. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate all she’d done for me. I didn’t expected her to wash my trousers and iron them dry and thought I’d thanked her by saying “you didn’t have to do that.” And she’d grabbed a morning paper as soon as the bundles hits the bricks at the newsstand down the block. She’d obviously read the reported account of what she’d been in the middle of and that giving a cause for worry. But that wasn’t it, exactly.

I had to ask, “Where’s the library?” I got a crossword puzzled look. “The terlit, the commode?” and I was hoping that it wasn’t a bucket behind a curtain.

The confidence that had been a part of her upbeat personality seemed shaken and I suppose it coulda been my fault. I had the choice between being a good guy by being a bad guy or a bad guy by being a good guy. I never thought of myself as a good guy. On the streets, do-gooding tends to get kicked to the gutter. I don’t even know why I chose pain over pleasure or maybe the pain was the pleasure of being perverse. So I said, “No.” And when I saw her look, I said, “Not now.” I wise up at the worst times, and when it happens, I don’t know why it doesn’t happen more often. As a result, I got some much need shut eye while I suppose she stewed over why I didn’t give her a tumble. I had to work out my next step but she had her own ideas.

“I cannot go back to them, Lack, you must understand. They are bad men, dishonorable men. Even my Zayde is foolish and old fashioned and believes the lies they tell him. He was my last hope to make them let you go. You are not at fault. You are good man, Lack, I can see that now.”

My ears heated up and I was hoping I wasn’t running a fever. “You have to find your father and tell him you are all right. To find out if he’s alright. Do you have a phone number you can call in case of an emergency, somewhere you can go to be safe.

“I am safe here, Lack. This is the only place I know other than the room behind the kitchen in the apartments.”

“But what about your things? Your clothes?” I had a pain behind my eyes that wasn’t going away and I wanted to blame Max’s hooch. Besides I wasn’t having any luck convincing her that the worst for her was probably over. “Once this gets calmed down, you can go to your father and tell him you’re safe. Who knows, he might even show up here looking for you.”

“No if he is not here by now, he has either been detained or he is not coming back.”

“You don’t know that he’s dead.”

She shook her head as if to rid herself of a sad expression. “No, I don’t think he is dead because now I understand what has happened.” Now she gave a sardonic little twist to her mouth. “You came to the apartments at a fortunate time, Lackland Ask. Did you not notice the large gathering of men? You came at the end of a long day of discussion and planning by the men of I don’t know what but I can assume it was to do about the refugees who are being detained in Albania. It is a very complicated situation my father has told me.” She shook her head, “He treats me like a child.” Her blue eyes blazed with hurt. “I know what he does for them. He is a proud man and a believer in the cause. It is why he does what he does and wants to keep the truth from me.”

“Well slap me silly and call me Einstein. You’re a Red!”

She must have noticed my surprised look. “What do you know about me, Lackland Ask?” She gave a fierce smile. “You know where I am from, I am a refugee from Salonika, I have no papers, and I cannot go to the authorities. When I was young I play the piano at five years old. I was reading the classics by ten. Then I was sent to special school in Zurich where I belong to a group young-pioneersof comrades, we called ourselves the “red kerchief” because that was our uniform, a red kerchief around our necks. When the war came I return to Salonika. My mother was a school teacher and belong to a political party prohibited by the metaxfascist government. The secret police arrest everyone in connection and steal their property. The Black Hand gangsters firebomb our place of worship and kidnap those of our faith for ransom. My mother was torture until death. My father escape to Istanbul on a Black Sea freighter and with help of compatriots come to America. I stay behind to be with my mother and help hide refugees until she is arrested and I hear she is dead. I have to flee because the secret police wishes to arrest me, too. I catch fishing boat across to island of Lesbos, and then to Anatolya where I ride many bus lorry wagon for many days to reach Beirut where after a long wait I am able to catch ship to come to this city and find my father who has joined with Herr Doktor Soloman and his refugee organization and where I can get new papers to say who I am and why we must fight for the revolution and overthrow the oligarchy!”

That made my ears perk up. And the more she talked the more I was beginning to get the picture. She went to a fancy school where they filled her head with a lot of baloney about truth and justice and capitalism and oppressed masses and fired her up with a fever to change the world to be a better place for people and puppy dogs. What she didn’t realize  that if it we’re for dog food, the dogs would be eating each other and even bit the hand that might pet them. All this high toned coffeehouse jabber disappears as soon as you step out on to the street where you have to look three way, right, left and right again if you didn’t want to get upended by some bat out of hell, I wanted to tell her. Someone was always on the grift and they didn’t really need to have a fine opinion or reason to take you to the cleaners. You’re just another pebble in the path leading to the top trod on by an endless stream of crooks and cons with table manners and nice suits with their hand in your pocket and who would think nothing of snuffing you as if you were a bug, maybe even less because at least they have to admit the bug’s existence. I was trying to tell her all that and if the people at the top of the heap ain’t buying it, it ain’t getting sold, but she was all pink in the face, eye bugging with intensity, declaiming that the workers of the world had to unite and overthrow the ruling class. I knew they only way that got done was through strong arm robbery, what some might want to call revolution. I had to laugh. “Well slap me silly and call me Einstein. You’re a Red!”

It was probably the wrong thing to say. I got the frown again and the glare that went with it. “I am not a color! I am a human being who wishes for equal rights for all mankind!”

I didn’t want to tell her she was in the minority so I concentrated on the matter at hand. I didn’t doubt that her people even her father and maybe even the cops would show up at the shop. I needed to make myself scarce and even though the kid had got her hooks into me, I was going to have to slip free if I was going to get back what was mine, with interest. I had a diamond in me and I had to get it out. A good strong cup of Java would have done the trick without thinking. The tea, strong and sugary as it was, was making me think about what I had to do and I was wondering if I was up to the intellectual effort. One of the things I learned from my old man was to make sure you were in the proper circumstances and that was by sitting in the library as it was often called. And if I went to library I would need reading material. I noticed that she had been filling in the squares on the crossword puzzle so that ruled that section out. She’d explained when I noticed her scanning the columns of clues, “This is how I am learning vocabulary for to better my English.” She’d said it with a beam of pride. The screaming front page headline seemed untouchable so I opted for the for the funny page.

I had to ask, “Where’s the library?” I got a crossword puzzled look. “The terlit, the commode?” and I was hoping that it wasn’t a bucket behind a curtain.

She gave me a look of pleasant surprise. “So it is called that also, the library! Of course!” She had a key and pointed me to the water closet down the hallway past the broom closet that led down to the furnace room. “Be careful the super does not see you.” It was a tiny spot crowded with a corroded gravity flush commode, a scummy washbasin, a battered plumber’s helper and a stinking soaked mop.

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Staring at the blue and red can of Drano on the shelf under the sink wasn’t helping, but then neither had Maggie and Jiggs, Orphan Annie, Gasoline Alley, Mickey Finn, or Terry and the Pirates. My brain was sending commands down to the engine room but nothing was turning or churning. Popeye , The Katzenjammer Kids, Mutt or Jeff couldn’t take my mind off what I had to do. I was about to give in and pull my pants up from around my ankles when I felt the tremor, faintly, but I knew my gut had finally made up its mind and was sending signals to set off a chain of events. I quickly freed a double page of newspaper and slid it under the seat and then sat back down to let nature take its course. I was hoping that what I was expecting was at the head of the line and that I wouldn’t have to wait for the next installment.

katzenI stink, I’ve been told that many times, mainly by dames, and for entirely different reasons. This time I was looking at the evidence that I did and trying not to add to it with something coming up my throat. I set the package on the washbasin and slowly ran water over the sticky stinking muck. They were two well-formed specimens. I began separating them with a pencil tip. Most of it washed away as a disgusting brown slurry and I almost lost it down the drain and had to stop up the hole with my thumb while my other hand carefully separated the tiny chunk of gravel to one side of the basin and onto a dry section of the newspaper. I held the pebble under the faucet and let the slow stream wash the dirt away. It still looked a bit of grit but now that I knew what it was it was more than that. Slipping it into my vest pocket, I ran water over my hands washing off the crap and scrubbing my fingers with the bar of lye soap on the shelf next to the can of Drano. No matter how many times I put my nose to them, the stink lingered around my sparkling cuticles. I dumped the newspaper and the remains into the commode and after slipping into my suspenders, strode out into the hallway and back into the tailor’s shop.

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“You seemed pleased with yourself.”

“I’m happy to report that everything came out ok.”

“It was then a good ending?”

“Yeah, very satisfactory.”

“Did you bring some of it with you. I detect. . .something. In the air?”

“Maybe we should find some fresh air. Things are looking up and there’s a chop suey joint down the street in need of my business.”

“Do you think it is safe to be in the public? The police?”

DiamondFI“I plan get as far away as possible from the cops and this little beauty is my ticket out of here. I just got a little bit of unfinished business to take care of and I’m gone.”

“Oh, that is the diamond. Have you had on you all this time? I did not find it when I was washing your clothes.”

“I had it in me.”

“Oh. . .ooh, that explains the odor.”

Yeah, well I didn’t have much choice. I had to do what I had to do do.”

“That is joke, yes?”

“Yeah , you catch on fast.”

“And where is this place you will be gone now that you have a diamond.”

“Any place but here. But I hear South America is nice. Rio, Buenos Aires, maybe even Santiago in Chile. I hear the weather is like California, and it’s not as expensive. A cheap place to lie low while I’m on the lam.”

“Now you are just making up words. I have never seen this word in my cross puzzles.”

“What’s a three letter word meaning ’23 skidoo’?”

“You are making fun of me but you also make me laugh, Lack.”

“Yeah I’m just a barrel of laughs once you get to know me. I kill ya with my jokes cause ya die laughing.”

“Now you speak of murder? Why is this funny?”

“Forget it. It’s just an expression.”

“Lack, I have something else to tell you.”

“You’re full of surprises.”

“Herr Doktor cheat you from the diamonds like I told you. They have the real book that you have sold them for the diamonds. They trick you with a false book soaked to look like it has fallen in the commode. I hear them laughing about this and I think they are cruel and dishonorable men. And I think that they must be not succeeding in this cheating.”

“I appreciate the thought, but a diamond in the hand is worth six in the safe.”

“That is just it, Lack, there are none in the safe!”

“Whaddayamean?”

“When they have their meeting in Zayde’s apartment I go into Herr Doktor’s office and take the diamonds from the safe.”

“You did what? How did you know the combination?”

“It is my birthday.”

“So you have the diamonds?”


Next Time: Diamonds And Coal Dust

Better Than Dead—11

by Colin Deerwood

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I’m not a big believer in coincidence but Becky’s description of the shooting in Soloman’s flat was going to win me over. She kept it to herself as we made our way through the traffic and gathering crowds drawn by the police action and blocking the once deserted upscale neighborhood street, me still struggling to maintain my stooped over squat pose—there’s no doubt my knees took a beating that night. I finally got to stand tall a couple of blocks later once I was stepping down the tiled stairs to the turnstile and through to the subway platform. Becky kept her grip under my arm, propping me up,  even though she didn’t have to at this point.

“Ok,” I said, “tell it to me from the beginning” at the same time realizing that the pain in my head was like a spike being driven through my eye socket and that I had a thirst that would drain a lake.

The platform was empty and silent, no air stirring tunnel roar signaling the approach, trains less frequent in the graveyard hours. From the vantage of the dim lit far end I could keep an eye on the entrance to the platform while staying in the shadows. Becky too kept a focused vigilance. Unless anyone looked close, our disguises held true.

Despite being manhandled by Soloman’s thugs, the adrenaline was keeping me cocked, and my brain clocking a thousand miles an hour though there was no telling how much longer until I sprung a spring. I had to think that I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time or it had something to do with me. Kovic had picked up my trail and that led him to Rabbi Joe and his minions. But if they were after me, why go to all the trouble of shooting up the place. Becky’s description of the gunmen made me think that they might be a gang of professional robbers. There’d been a rash of penthouse robberies in the ritzy neighborhoods around the first of the year. The Anti-Claus Gang, one rag dubbed them as they were after expensive holiday purchases of jewels, gold, and art. Their masked getup was in favor of that conclusion. They might have started up again. And in the report of the previous strong armed heists, there had never been any shootings, just very effective threats. But the one thing that Becky said had me leaning to not a coincidence at all.

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substation1Men in suits suddenly appeared on the platform with the frantic looks of having just missed the train. From the window I watched them scamper to the brink of the tracks as it accelerated out of the station. The car was empty except for a blind man slumped forward, propped up by his white cane, at the other end by the door leading to the next car. I sat facing Becky on the seat across from me, keeping an eye on the door leading into the rest of the train. It was the downtown local because that was the direction of the one room apartment I hadn’t been back to for over a week. It seemed like the obvious place to head. Except. What if Kovic’s goons or the goons in blue had my place staked out? The Y happened to be downtown, too, and the thought crossed my mind that for two bits a night I could hole up there for a while. But then Rebecca’s old man had his used clothing store practically across the street.

She must have read my mind. “Lack, we can hide in my father’s shop, no one will think to look for us there. Today is the Sabbath and he will not. . . Oh!” She caught her breath.

“Was your father’s at Soloman’s when. . . ?

She nodded. “I know he was there but he was not with the others. He has a room behind the kitchen where he can stay when he does not stay at the shop. It is next to my room.” She made a face. “Maybe I should call it a cell where I live and work with the women. But my father is not one of them, the top echelon, Professor Soloman’s council. He has high intelligence but for our cause he is better used analyze strategy to defeat the enemy he told me. But I have never seen him with gun. And guns I saw and guns I heard.” She put her hands to her cheeks in horror. “I could only think, they are ruining the furniture!”

The train pulled into another stations. No one entered the car and the blind man bobbed with the jolt of the train lurching back up to speed.

“Ok,” I said, “tell it to me from the beginning” at the same time realizing that the pain in my head was like a spike being driven through my eye socket and that I had a thirst that would drain a lake.

“It is all so what you say swiftly passing by my eyes, flashing, so fast. One of the maids was look for me and call my name. I should be in my room but she call up the stairwell because she know I have to get away sometime to myself. When I come down, she say I have package, but who would deliver package at that time at night, and before she say any more, loud noise come from front door near where we are stand and men with guns in long coats and hats pulled down over eyes, red kerchiefs over faces, some with racing goggles, rush in

“There were three, maybe five, into parlor when from Herr Doktor’s library’s Isaac the door open to step out with his gun shooting. Then all they started shooting. Isaac fall in the doorway and I see Golie and Herr Doktor and some of other men come with guns shooting. Guns fire from everywhere. The maid, Anya, who had come get me, hit on cheek by splinter of doorway explode from bullet. From my room for my coat I go by back stairs. I was in panic not to go down where there might be others to do me harm. Up is only other way.”

What she described had all the makings of a heist I was convinced. I had a question but a shadow filling the door at the far end of the car distracted me.

She was saying, “But Lack, there is something else I must tell you,” when the door opened and in walked trouble.

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One of them was dressed like a typical college kid, tweed suit coat, vee neck sweater, bowtie, and a crushed fedora on the back of a mop of black hair. The other two looked like they were still waiting for the right haberdasher. The tall skinny loose limbed one wore a shirt whose sleeves only reached to his elbows, a pair of baggy pants held up by a belt knotted at the waist, and a baseball cap with the bill tipped up. He was a blinker and about as bright as a dead bulb. The short guy in a beanie with a smudge of moustache looked like he might be the ring leader. They were loud and maybe a little drunk. The blind man drew their immediate attention as the object of their rambunctious baiting, laughing and pointing, waving their hands in front of his eyes giving him the how many fingers test.

The one with the bowtie must have caught sight of me, and of Rebecca who had turned to glance over her shoulder at the ruckus, and now he was poking beanie in the arm with his elbow and nodding in our direction and saying something under his breath that made beanie’s eyes get that special sparkle.

subway1With barely a hint of nonchalance they sauntered down the aisle to where we were sitting. Beanie, flanked by string bean and bowtie, took the toothpick out of his mouth and pointed it at me. “Well if it ain’t grandma and little red riding hood. You’ll never guess who we are.”

“Yeah,” the string bean drawled, “we’re the big bad wolves.” There was no mistaking the waterfront twang of their accent. Bowtie gave a crocodile grin leering at Rebecca.

None of them were being subtle and there was no reason why I should be. With as much soprano as I could manage, I piped, “You look more like the three little pigs.”

Beanie’s eyes darted to me. “What a really big yap you got, grandma.” Bowtie was giving me a suspicious scowl as string bean leaned over beanie’s shoulder to look down on me to say “Yeah, and what really big feet you got, too, grandma.” Everyone stared down at my Thom MaCans.

My forehead smacked beanie between the eyes after I’d grabbed him by the shirt front. His eyes rolled back like he couldn’t believe it and he folded like a pair of trousers around his ankles. I had more headache to pass around and went for string bean but his hands were high above his head and gawking at Rebecca. She had a little pistol pointed at him. Bowtie scrambled stumbling back down the aisle toward the next car tripping as he ran past the blind man, sprawling head first into the edge of a seat.

Was I dragging the kid along, too, or was she part of the deal? She was cool, smart, and she had a gun. That was in her favor.

I stood my full height and stepped on beanie’s hand. The train was slowing on the approach to the next station. I could tell by the squeal of the brakes and that of beanie’ pain.

“You messed with the wrong grandma.” I grabbed bean stalk by the arm and twisted it. I pulled beanie to his feet by his collar and dragged them both to the doors as the train entered the station. “You don’t want to miss your stop.”

Bowtie was holding his head sitting up. He immediately got what the motion of Becky’s pistol meant and as soon as the doors parted he dashed out onto the platform with his pals.

I looked around. There was no one else in the place but me, Rebecca, and the blind man. He held up his hand. “I didn’t see anything.”

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The tailor shop was a solid brick block from the subway exit. I had shed the scarf and stood at the curb looking up at the building. All the windows were dark. In the distance the silhouettes of the midtown skyscrapers were lightening around the edges. Soon people would be heading off to work or looking for work.

storefront1Rebecca didn’t have a key. She was going to have to wake up the super. She had me wait in a dark doorway of a shop further down where had anyone seen me in my overcoat and bare legs would have called the cops to report a flasher. When the light inside the shop blink on and off I would know to come to the door and she would let me in.

I was dying for a smoke but I knew better than to light up. The headache was a dull throb now and had moved to behind my right ear. My tongue felt like sandpaper. I could feel another prune forming above my left eyebrow. I was in the middle of something that was spinning out of control, sucking me in. Was I dragging the kid along, too, or was she part of the deal? She was cool, smart, and she had a gun. That was in her favor.

I knew I had to get the stink that was Kovic off me. He tried to have me iced after I rescued his hophead daughter from the sour mash South. He put a couple of slugs in Ralphie, my lawyer, an old pal from the neighborhood who had steered me to the blood hound job in the first place. Times were tough and any cabbie or street corner mug mighta made me. Dropping a dime was not gonna be any sweat of their noses.

Running into the tailor and his daughter was pure luck. Whether it was good luck or bad luck was another matter I still couldn’t figure. Who had been chasing me when I chanced onto them? I didn’t feature that it was any of Kovic’s mob. Someone was tailing me, that was for sure. The mess in my room had been tossed by someone who claimed to be my sister, according to Curtis, the super’s pervert son. His description made me think Al’s sister. I had something that belonged to her, the pink postal package slip I’d lifted from her mailbox. A fair exchange for setting me up. Was she just the tip of the iceberg and was I a titanic dope for not seeing it coming? She had to have some reach. As soon as I come up with her ex-boyfriend’s whereabouts, he ends up dead. Now there were more bodies. The robbers used the package delivery ruse, but at that time of night what express service would be delivering? Unless someone was expecting a delivery. But Rebecca had said that the package was for her.

It was like I had come in to the middle of a movie and wasn’t making heads or tails of the plot. Her beautiful face close up filled the entire screen of my vision. For a kid she was quite a dame.

As if I didn’t have enough worries, I had pricey rock floating around in my gut with no idea on how I was going to work that out. I’d asked the kid to tell me again the part about when the gangsters busted in, what were they yelling? “Where are the diamonds?” she’d repeated and then something she couldn’t make out. “It sound like name, Worsey. Wharzee? I do not know.” I repeated the name to myself again in the darkened doorway. Worsey, Wharzee, Wharz-ee, Where-zee. Where is he?

A light blinked or it coulda been me dropping off, asleep on my feet.

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There was a cot behind the curtain separating the display room from the back workshop of sewing machines, ironing boards, and a narrow cutting table. I stumbled toward it as if I was being drawn by an irresistible urge to fall face first on it. I was beat, not to mention bounced around, kicked, and hammered. Too long without anything to eat, too much to drink, or no time for sleep made me want to throw in the towel, wake me when it’s over. I drank water from a glass in big gulps. My head was swimming. I held it in my hands sitting on the edge of the cot knowing I’d drift off as soon as I was horizontal.

Rebecca fussed unpacking the bags and taking my pants to the large tub sink against the back wall.

“Lack, there is something you should know.” Now she was looking at me with those pale blue eyes and it seemed like that was all I needed to know. She sat on the cot next to me and looked down at her hands. “Those men, Doktor Soloman and the others, they cheat you out of the diamonds of your agreement. Your address book was not destroy. I hear them talking.

“When I was brought back, Herr Doktor tell me go to my room and stay until he call. When I go through kitchen before my room, the cook is shaking head because she is not understanding why she must boil a book of empty paper for Isaac who she does not like but because zayde say so.”

It was like I had come in to the middle of a movie and wasn’t making heads or tails of the plot. Her beautiful face close up filled the entire screen of my vision. For a kid she was quite a dame.

“They discover your notebook in water closet. Drop in commode when one of the men went to use. He give it to Herr Doktor who has an idea to keep your valuable information, and diamonds, too. I hear them talking before they bring you up back stairs. They are laugh. They think they are very clever about how they cheat you.”

She was looking at me now and I felt her soft breath soothe my battered cheek. I leaned toward her blinking to keep my eyes open. My lips brushed hers. I didn’t blame her for putting her hand on my chest and pushing me away. It didn’t take much. I’m a pushover for dames like her. And I kept falling, onto the rumpled blanket that smelled of cabbage and old sweat, hearing her say, “There is something else you should know,” and me replying, “You say the nicest things,” before her lips pressed hard against mine and I realized that some part of me was still very much awake.


Next Time: Diamond In The Rough

Better Than Dead—10

by Colin Deerwood

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“Becky? Becky!” but with the gag covering my mouth I could have just as well been saying “cookie.” I clattered around in my severe confinement and yelled, “Becky! Get me out of here!” I had managed to slip the gag off to one side of my chin. “Becky! Hurry!”

“I can’t, Lack. They would know it was me and I would be in much more trouble. I am confined to my room and was only able to sneak out because, as your native Americans say, they were having a big powwow.” She sounded sorry sad and I might have sympathized except that I had a pressing need.

“Becky, listen to me!” I strained to make my voice heard, the gag now around my chin. “You don’t understand! This is very serious!”

“Lack, I know,” she spoke quietly, “I have overheard them talking. It is serious.”

“Then get me out of here!”

“I can’t, I’m sorry.”

I figured I’d let her in on the emergency. “How can I put this delicately, uh, I have to whiz so bad my back teeth are floating!”

“Whiz? What is this whiz? Oh, perhaps it is the new all color film from Hollywood? But teeth, I’m not certain. . . .”

“Becky!” I yelled, “Listen to me! If I don’t get out of here I’m going to wet my pants! Just let me out of this box so I can find a corner to do my business and I promise I’ll get right back in and no one will ever know. I’ll even let you tie me up.” I was desperate. I would have crossed my legs if they hadn’t been tied at the ankles.

Silence. Then, “The teeth that float. . . .”

“Becky! I’m begging you! Let me out of here!”

“Shush!” she hissed. “I think I hear them calling for me.” I heard movement away from the box. “I’ll return if I can.”

That decided that. It didn’t matter  that I wet my pants because worse was yet to come and once I was ripe enough, the mugs would sort through what’s left of me and get their diamond. I would have to come to terms with that, but incrementally.

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Wet wool is itchy. Maybe that would make a good epitaph for my tombstone not that I could be guaranteed anything more than cement socks at the graveyard bottom of the East River. The happy thoughts just weren’t coming as I tried to distract myself.

I’d managed to get the gag off my face and somehow loosened the rope binding my hands only to have them explode into a swarm of pins and needles. Problem was, I was breathing my own air and it was making me drowsy.

I could hear workmen nearby hammering. Someone raised a shout. And the sporadic hammering resumed. I was surprised by the sound of running and suddenly my confinement was given more light as well as a large displacement of air. I was crushed by a heavy weight consisting of knees, elbows, and full torso with a voice shushing in my ear. The lid to the box snapped down and I was in the dark again. It was Becky. And it was the last straw that emptied my suffering bladder.

I grabbed her by the elbow and brought my face close to hers. “What I heard wasn’t hammering, they were gunshots. Who was doing the shooting?”

She was breathing hard in my ear, her chest heaving. I started to say something but she shushed me again. “Stay quiet they won’t find us.” She whispered and I realized I could get used to those whispers in my ear. I tried to relax but trussed up the way I was and with her knees in my kidney and her elbow in my neck, I just couldn’t get comfortable. She wasn’t tied up so she could shift her weight and her hip pressed down on my ribs causing me to gasp for breath. I grunted. She whispered “Sorry,” and that made it all better. We stayed quiet listening to each other’s breathing and for any sounds outside our confinement. My stomach rumbled or maybe it was hers. The minutes seemed like hours.

I heard a hinge creak and a shaft of light pierced the dark interior. Now both her knees were gouging into my arm and my thigh. There was enough light for me to catch her profile as she peaked outside the box which I realized was a large trunk with a domed top. Then she sat back down on me and let the lid drop and we were in the dark again.

“It was awful, Lack, they burst in shooting everyone.” She started to blubber.

“What? Who? Becky, untie me and get me out of this box so I can understand what you’re babbling g about.”

The trunk lid was pushed open and I was bathed in a dim grey light.

“These knots are impossible! And they’re wet!”

“I have a penknife in my vest pocket, use that!”

I felt her frisking me but maybe she was unfamiliar with men’s vests?

“Oops, sorry.”

“Yeah, not that pocket.”

Finally she found it after fumbling under my coat and began sawing at the rope tying my hands to my feet. The ropes came loose and I was able to free one hand and pull myself upright. She stood on the outside of the trunk helping me stand up. I took the knife from her and freed my feet. I pulled myself over the edge of the large trunk and fell to the floor. It hurt and felt good at the same time.

I didn’t waste a minute getting rid of the ropes, rubbing the circulation back into my wrists. I grabbed her by the elbow and brought my face close to hers. “What I heard wasn’t hammering, they were gunshots. Who was doing the shooting?”

“I don’t know,” her eyes wide with fright, “Their faces were covered by kerchiefs and they wore auto racing goggles. I heard one of them shouting ‘Where are the diamonds?!’ Issac and Golie and the others were shooting too, and Herr Doktor I think was. . . .”

We were in some kind of storage loft. A dull light seeped through the dusty windows along one wall, packing crates, more large trunks, odds and ends of bulky furnishings made indistinct shadows and shapes. The windows were closed but I could still hear the sirens getting closer. “We have to get out of here.!”

Rebecca pointed to the door set into the far wall and I followed, limping the cramps out of my legs. I was reminded once again that I’d been left to my own devices and that certain things can’t be put off forever.

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The door led to a dimly lit hallway at the head of a flight of stairs leading down. At the opposite end a window allowed access to a fire escape. I could hear the shouts and clomping of flatfeet spreading out over the crime scene several floors below. From the vantage of the window onto the fire escape, the alley was swarming with the flashing lights of patrol cars.

fire escape2“What floor are we on?”

“We are at the very top, seven.”

“I shook my head. “Too much can go wrong on a fire escape seven stories up. What’s on the roof?”

“A little garden where the women of the building grow edibles for their kitchen. Oh, and Golie’s pigeon coop. He is so gentle with them, you wouldn’t think that he was the same fearful enforcer.”

“How close are the nearby buildings?” I was thinking if worse comes to worse.

She shook her head. “No, they are either too distant or many stories shorter.”

“Well, that’s it. We’re cornered. The cops are after me in connection with my lawyer Ralphie Silver’s murder I heard through the grapevine. They found my prints at the scene. Kovic’s mob is after me for dumping him in the drink and icing his muscle. That I should have figured, but Max confirmed it. Somebody else is after me for something I don’t even know about. And my ex is after me for alimony payments. The cops are gonna turn this place upside down looking for witnesses, victims, or gunsels and I’m a hot property.”

She looked at me perplexed. “I am not certain I understood everything you were saying except that maybe you are in a lot of trouble if the police find you. I too must avoid contact with the police because if they ask for my papers, they will learn that I am in this country illegally.”

“Rats, just as I get out of one pickle I end up in another!”

“Lack, this is no time to think about food. I have an idea. Come.”

She hurried back into the storage loft and I followed on her heels as she rushed over to a bank of shelves and started pulling down bags and suitcases. She rooted through some large boxes, yanking out articles of clothing, handing me a dress. “Here, try this on.”

It was too tight around the shoulders and the neckline was too revealing. I saw what she was up to and I liked what she had in mind but I didn’t think it was going to work. Not many dames of the six foot square shouldered variety.

She must have realized that too. She pulled out a large man’s overcoat that likely belonged to somebody who was wider than they were tall. The bottom hem came to my knees. She fit a big ugly green scarf over my head and tied it under my chin.

“Take off your pants.”

I wasn’t sure I heard right. “What?”

“And your suit jacket. Put them in this bag”

She had me step into a large skirt with lace around the hem and then fit an apron over that, cinching it at the waist. My hairy ankles and clodhoppers were still in plain view.

She frowned. “Stoop down. Yes, bend your knees. Good, that hides most of your ankles and your socks and garters. Here, keep this bag with your clothes in front of you so that they cannot see your big man’s shoes.”

She hurriedly slipped into a large gray overcoat and slung a leather purse over one arm. She wrapped a multicolored scarf over her head and tied it under her chin. Then she fussed with my scarf, closing it around my face so that nothing but the tip of my nose and my eyes were showing. She stepped back to admire her handiwork and gave a big smile. “If we had a mirror we could see that we look like a couple of old babushkas on the way to market!”

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The first cops, a couple of plainclothes mugs running up the stairs with their guns drawn like Saturday matinee cowboys didn’t expect to see us. We were on the back stairs that existed for services not the front where the lobby, elevator, mezzanine, and carpeting were for looks. The young one with the slicked back hair and the twenty five dollar suit stared at us and then spoke to Rebecca. “You ladies live around her?”

I looked him over. I could take him and his cheap suit but what about his partner, a downtown cop I’d seen in the company of Hogan before looking back wondering why the kid was bothering?

It was the two cops guarding the other side of the door  on the steps leading to the alley that wanted to make a deal of it..

Rebecca, shoulders hunched timidly, pointed a finger up the stairwell and said “mop,” miming the action, and then mimed passing an iron over a board.

“Ok, yer the housekeepers for the apartment upstairs? You seen any guys with guns running around?”

I had a hard time keeping from bursting out laughing and covered with a sneeze. Rebecca’s shock and disbelief looked real.

“C’mon,” the older cop called, continuing up, “they don’t understand a word you’re saying.”

The second set of cops were mostly uniforms clustered around the exit door to the alley and looked mean the way street cops do, having seen it all, and too worldly wise to be taken by some cheap disguise, parted like the Red Sea as Rebecca held me under the arm and I shuffled along as best I could to the exit door, head bowed down, not one of them thinking what are these two old broads doing at the scene of  a crime?

It was the two cops guarding the other side of the door on the steps leading to the alley that wanted to make a deal of it.

“Hold up, ladies, and where do we think we’re going now?” He was a tall skinny redhead with his cap sitting on the back of his head. His partner was a beefy bloke with a cauliflower for a face. He said, “What you two’s doin here?”

Rebecca put her fists to her hips and got close, frowning into his grainy mug. “Ve are to verk how ve cannot eat not verk?”

“Now, ma’am,, he just wants to know the reason why you’re being at a crime scene seeing as how it being off limits to all but the police and all.”

“I vant complain!” she shouted, “but no is listen! Mrs. Krawitch old lady!” she said tugging me down the steps, “cannot sleep all that bang bang bang. I call police can’t sleep! Tell them must verk Vest Side, mop, mop, mop, clean, clean, clean!”

“But lady, we are the cops!” pasty face offered.

copsShe pointed a finger at his puffed out chest. “Then something do it about!” she said with all the authority of a shrew. “I have verk go now. Come, Mrs. Krawitch.” Hooking an arm around my stooped shoulders, she carefully steered my shuffling progress through the maze of idling squad cars, occasionally glaring back accusingly at the two perplexed coppers.

I had to admit that she had talent and I could just imagine what those dumb flatfoots were saying behind our backs.

“That’s the trouble with them foreign broads, they’s ugly as sin. Ya seen the mug on that old hag. I swear she was growing a moustache. Smelled like an outhouse.”

“Yeah, but the young one’s a looker.” 

“Problem is they all end up looking like they got crippling arthritis,  five o’clock shadow, and permanent shiners.”


Next Time: The Subway To Bliss

Better Than Dead, A Detective Story—9

by Colin Deerwood

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The rain had stopped but there were puddles among the piles of trash in the alleyway. I steered her away from a big one by stepping in it for her.

“You’re so gallant,” she said.

She had looped her arm through mine and leaned on me for support. I leaned on her because it felt good. She was smiling and humming to herself and I kinda knew what that felt like just then.

“Mind if I call you Becky?”

She looked shockingly pleased. “Becky, a name like in your American writer, Shemuel Klemins’ book, who is the sweetheart of a Tom Sawyer, yes, Becky. We read his stories when I was in school in Zurich.” Her tone turned confidential and intimate. “He is quite famous with his American tall tales translated into many languages. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was my very favorite. How I longed to sail on the mighty Mississippi!” she added with a sigh.

toms1Max’s hi-test fruit juice had really made her loopy and I didn’t want to pop her bubble to correct her because she was pretty happy thinking she knew what she was talking about, but everybody knows that Tom Sawyer was written by Mark Twain and even though I never read the book I did see Jackie Coogan in the movie version and that whole fence routine was a pretty funny scam. I’ve known guys who operate just the same way, although they weren’t all that nice or clever in getting you to do their work for them, and then taking all the credit. As for that whole bit with Becky, it just proved that dames are dames even at a young age waiting for some charming prince to ride up on a white pony and rescue them.

We were under the streetlight by then. I looked down into her glimmering eyes and said, “You can call me Tom.”

Her laughter echoed down the deserted rain wet street. It was a pleasant laugh, full of promise.

“Golie? Golie is here, too?” Now she was frightened and that was exactly what she wanted me to be as Hairy the Hat had her by the arm and was hustling her toward the Packard.

Then Herr Hat had to spoil it. He came running out from the shadows. “Rebecca, Rebecca! Where have you been? You took so long! We were going to come looking for you!”

“Oh, David!” she said as he approached, obviously ready for any and more attention, “Were you really worried about me?”

By then he’d got close enough to get a whiff of her breath as she smiled up at him. “Are you drunk?” I got the benefit of an angry glare.

“Don’t be silly!” She slapped him playfully on the lapel. “I am perfectly slobber, I mean, sober!” And then broke out in a fit of giggling.

The Hat was making moves like he might want to take a poke at me. I wasn’t too worried about him, he was just a kid. It was the other guy behind him, a guy I hadn’t seen before, with slick backed pomaded hair, a razor sharp nose, pencil thin moustache, and a mean sadistic gleam in his bug eyes.

The dame saw him, too. “Isaac? Why is Isaac?” she addressed the kid in the hat, and then stared at me, instantly sober.

I was keeping my eye on the Isaac guy when  I thought I saw the big pole in front of the barbershop step forward. I wasn’t feeling any pain but I wasn’t that far gone. Then I remembered that there wasn’t a barbershop on this block and that wasn’t a barber pole. The guy was seven foot if he was an inch and a head on him like a cornerstone.

“Golie? Golie is here, too?” Now she was frightened and that was exactly what she wanted me to be as Hairy the Hat had her by the arm and was hustling her toward the Packard.

“Hey!” I shouted, about to say, “you can’t do that!” when I got a set of knuckles in the kidney from razor face. I folded like a day old racing form.

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If it ever crossed my mind I might have considered what a ragdoll felt like being tossed into the back of the rattletrap pulled up at the curb. It was an old bazou from the previous decade, as they say up north of Maine, and if it ever had a cushioned bench seat it wasn’t obvious. It didn’t matter anyway as I was dumped on the floorboards and the big mug kept his foot on my back while hatchet face took the wheel. The jalopy was lacking in springs as well and every bump and pothole was telegraphed like a smack to my face. It seemed like the driver was going out of his way to find something to bump over or bang against. And of course when he took a corner on two wheels, my head slammed on the door post. Good thing I was wearing my hat. By the time the ride was over I’d been pummeled and no one had laid a hand on me. Unless you count the bruiser’s foot, and the brass knucks to the kidney that was the admission price for this carnival ride.

The gorilla pulled me to my feet and pushed me against the gray granite of a swank building. And it had started to rain again. I had a sense that I was back where I started from but in the alley by the servant’s entrance. I was still feeling weak in the knees when Mutt woke me up by slamming my head against the bricks. Neither of them had said a word the whole time I was taken for the ride. Now the skinny guy said, “Less go” while the lummox picked me up and tossed me into the open doorway.

There were a couple of tough nuts waiting for me, each one there to greet me with a fist to the solar plexus or the side of the head. At least I was out of the rain. I tried to look at the bright side but now all I was seeing were stars. Then everything went black because they knocked my hat off and pulled a hood over my head. I was more in the dark than I wanted to be. One of their punches had affected my hearing and all that was coming through was the dull roar of voices as they dragged me up a couple flights of stairs. I wasn’t resisting but they were moving faster than my legs would allow and they didn’t care that my shins were banging against the risers. Then they half dragged me a long stretch through another door by the sound of it slamming open.

A gruff voice gave an order that sounded like “put him there” or “in the chair” and next thing I knew I was thrown roughly into the sitting position and the hood was yanked off my head. I blinked in the bright light. A couple of big body shapes came into focus. The Mutt and Jeff of the strong arm crew first, hovering, waiting for me to make a wrong move, any move, in fact. Among them standing well back by his desk, Herr Doktor and his pointy goatee looking more than agitated, the bookshelves and the maps looming behind him and I knew I was back to where I’d started from, but obviously things had changed.

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“Do you takes us for fools?!” It wasn’t a question Professor Soloman was expecting me to answer.

“We have made inquiries about you, Mr. Ask. We have friends in high places. According to them you have an unsavory criminal record, receiving stolen property, public nuisance, drunk and disorderly, impersonation a police officer, soliciting prostitutes, nonpayment of alimony, vagrancy, assault and battery, unlicensed possession of a firearm, discharge of a weapon in a public place, murder, attempted murder, trespassing, invasion of privacy, stalking and spying with lewd intent. To say nothing of the fact that you have a price on your head placed there by the notorious Balkan gangster, Jan Kovic, a mortal enemy to our cause and my people, a tentacle of the Black Hand in this country!”

By the time Soloman got all that out off his chest I had a chance to get a sense of the mess I was in. There were a couple of other palookas besides the viper named Isaac and the gorilla they called Golie standing around the den with broad shoulders and mean eyes mostly pointed at me. They had me surrounded. The next thing I know I might be dead.

I pointed to the pocket of my suit coat. “Mind if I smoke?” I was playing for time and they probably knew it. The viper hissed and made like he was going to smack me one. He hadn’t hit me in the last five minutes and maybe he needed to go another round.

Soloman waved him away. “No, no, let him have his cigarette.” He said it like he was letting me have my last smoke.

I shook out one of the few left in the pack of Lucky’s and fit the smiz to my lip, the one that was starting to swell when the snake had smashed my face against the wall. I searched out a blue tip from my vest pocket and snapped the flame to life with a thumbnail. After I caught a lungful I blew it out slow and easy like I didn’t have a care in the world. I felt a little tickle below my throbbing nose where my moustache used to be and put a finger up to it. It felt sticky and when I looked at the tip I saw that it was blood. I leaned back and crossed one leg over the other.

“You might have missed a couple, Doc, but seeing as how they were minor offenses, I’ll let it pass.” I picked a fleck of tobacco off the tip of my tongue. “Sounds like someone let you take a peek at my rap sheet. Each one of those so-called charges are not at all what they seem.” I brushed some floorboard dirt off my pantleg “Take for instance the drunk and disorderly. I’m no stranger to drink but when you find out your wife has been carrying on with your best pal, well, it does something to you so I got drunk and angry. You can’t blame me. And besides the mug threw the first punch and I was in no mood for that and laid him out with a right to the jaw. But he wouldn’t stay down so I had to kick him in the head a couple of times till he got the idea, and then the bartender and some of his friends came after me and I had to pull my rod to let them know I meant business and put a round over their heads. When the cops arrived I told them I was one of them and showed them my private investigator tin. They said that it wasn’t a real badge and that I was under arrest.

“But it was just that one time.” I waved away the smoke. “And just to set things straight, I never murdered anyone. The rest of that is just part of the job or misunderstandings, personal and financial. Besides you don’t need a pedigree to do what I do in a world of cheats, chiselers and double crossers. You gotta know the game, Doc, And that’s something I know. So you think you can just toss me around and step on me? Something’s up and it smells fishy.” I blew out another mouthful of smoke like I meant it.

“Fishy? There is this!” He shoved a wet towel in my direction and I saw what looked like a soggy pile of paper the size of an address book resting on its soaked black leather covers. It looked very familiar.

“This mushy matzos is what was discovered in the water closet after you left.” He positioned himself to give me the broadside. “But not before the contents had been irreparably damaged!”

I’d seen Oliver Hardy give a more convincing chin nod. He had malarky written all over his mug.

“This item you had to sell to us is useless, worthless. We could not consider the remuneration we had agreed on and must withdraw our offer.”

I got up to take a closer look but the big brute slammed me back in the chair with one hand on my shoulder like he was merely closing a window. I stared at the pile of paper pulp. How could four dozen pages get so soggy in that short of a time? I hadn’t stuck Yamatski’s address book in the toilet tank, but in the space behind it and the wall, and if the address book had survived a swim in the East River fairly intact, especially zippered shut, why was it now just a sopping stack of curled pages?

Then I remember that I’d seen such a mess before. In the kitchen of Pat Fitzpatrick’s apartment, a freelance reporter I used to know who went off to cover the war in Spain and hasn’t been heard from since. His wife at the time, Flossie the floosy, had washed a pair of his trousers but forgot to check the pockets and didn’t find his notebook till she was putting it through the ringer. Pat was in a rage when I just happened to drop by and I might have saved Floss another knuckle mouse to her powdered cheek. But Floss wasn’t one easy to phase. She heated up her iron and one by one steam pressed each of the pages and laid them out to dry. Pat’s pencil and the ink scribbles were still readable if not a little scorched. She’d even stitched it together when it was dry and handed it back to him saying that maybe it wouldn’t have happened if he washed his own clothes.

I eyed what had been my ticket out of the dumps. If the information in that address book was that valuable, why weren’t they trying to save it? I would have. I didn’t doubt that it had occurred to them so why the con?

“Keep your shirt on, big boy,” I said as I fished the pebble out and held it between my thumb and forefinger. “This what you’re looking for?”

I drew on the fag and considered my options. I didn’t have many. I never expected a jackpot from the contents of the address book just more opportunities to get my revenge on Kovic and his mob, and I’d already harvested the cash so I was back to Go and waiting for my turn on the dice. I let out a breath of smoke. “Well, easy come, easy go. Too bad about the soaking of the goods, Doc, and that we won’t be doing business. I can’t expect you to accept damaged goods.”

“Garbage!” the old guy insisted, “You offer me garbage!” He pointed his cigar at me accusingly. “And to think I allowed young Rebecca to accompany you to meet with that degenerate, Max Feathers, a traitor to his people!”

I could tell he was warming up to launch a tirade and I didn’t want to hear it. “Listen, Doc. . . .”

“No, you will listen, Mr. Ask. I will not deal with criminals like you and Feathers. Again my suspicion is aroused. Perhaps you are an agent of the Black Hand after all, sent to reconnoiter the scope of our operation. I was right to be suspect you of trying to trick us with this worthless material! This garbage.”

“I get the drift, Doc, it’s garbage, but it’s my garbage so I’ll just take it back and be on my way.”

“Don’t bother yourself with it, we will dispose of it for you.” He called over one of his goons, “Maurice, see that this muck is thrown out with the kitchen refuse,” and handed him the pile of wet paper.

I had to object. “Hey, wait, that’s my mine, I don’t care if it’s wet!”

Soloman waved away my objection. “It is unusable rubbish. You have no use for it.”

“It is still my property.”

“It is something that belonged to someone else of which you were in possession, hardly your property. You are a thief and consort of thieves. Young Rebecca tells me that you, not she, are in possession of the uncut diamond, something else that does not belong to you. You will surrender it.” He held out his hand.

I admit that it stung my pride that she’d finked on me because I thought that there just for a moment maybe we had seen eye to eye and she had felt about me the way I felt about her but it was probably just Max’s bug juice that was making me addlepated. A dame is always going to be looking out for her own best interest and the kid was a dame, she couldn’t help it.

“Ok. Ok, let me stand up. I have to reach in my trouser pocket.”

I was hemmed in on all sides. Once I gave them what they wanted what’s to say they wouldn’t drop me off a roof or in the drink with bricks tied to my ankles. I was getting the bum’s rush that was plain to see, and this skit with the useless notebook was doing serious damage to their high and mighty cause.

I stuck my hand in my pocket and felt for the little white box the diamond was in. I could tell that it had popped open, likely during my manhandling on the way over, and that now the rock was somewhere in the corner of my pocket consorting with the local lint. I pulled out the open box to give my finger more maneuvering room and tossed it on Soloman’s desk.

He was alarmed to see it empty and Isaac stepped toward me impatiently like I was trying to pull a fast one.

“Keep your shirt on, big boy,” I said as I fished the pebble out and held it between my thumb and forefinger. “This what you’re looking for?”

I laughed at Soloman’s anticipation as I tossed the rock in my mouth and did a quick swallow just before Isaac’s fist hit me right on the button and the lights went out.

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I felt trapped like a rat, encased on all sides by something that wouldn’t give. I was blind as a mole but I could still picture what that was like. I couldn’t feel my hands and my shoulders ached from being pulled behind my back. My knees ached for the same reason. I was struggling to breathe. I’d been falling and tried to catch my breath. That’s what brought me back. I had a clanging headache as well. If it was a bad dream I was dying to wake up. The combination of the workover I got and the gut full of Max’s plum potion treating me to the stamping feet of pink elephants convinced me that the pain was too real to be all in my head even though that’s where all the hurt was congregating.

crateHow long had I been out? My jaw still throbbed so maybe not that much time had passed. I was thirsty and at the same time had the urge to relieve myself. I was lying on my left side, not my preferred side for unconsciousness. I didn’t have much choice the way I was trussed up. The gag was constricting my breathing and I started to panic. I could still move my head and tried to rub my cheek against the surface I lay on. I didn’t have much leeway. I felt as if I’d been stuffed in a crate that was too small for me.

Finally the edge of the gag pulled away enough to let in a little unobstructed air. It was a relief but my bladder may have got the wrong message. Next to being dead, the last thing I wanted was a spill in my BVDs.

I was boxed in, no mystery there, and how to get out was a question for Professor Quiz as I had let my subscription to Houdini Magazine lapse and missed the issue where they had tips on how to escape from a fix just like this one.

At the same time I managed to reposition the blindfold up over my cheekbone that allowed for an unimpeded view of more dark. There was a distinct smell of damp mustiness that reminded me of mothballs and dusty attics.

It was a familiar smell. I’d spent a lot of time in my granny’s attic above the old mercantile store upstate. It was a kingdom of dust and cobwebs and I would root around in the old crates and barrels and cedar chests and play with old wooden toys that belonged to my dad and my grandad before him. Tattered leather bound books piled on the floor and the shelves behind them, and bundles of piano sheet music for the piano no one played anymore, itself gathering its own dust in the parlor below. There were mice and spiders in the rafters, threads of gossamer trailing from the clay thimbles around which the wires for the “electric”, as granny called it, were wound to power the light in the parlor and in the kitchen and one in the bathroom.

I’d lived at granny’s off and on when I was growing up, mostly when the old man was at sea and the old lady was off doing something that didn’t involve anything that had to do with me. They fought a lot and drank a lot when they were together, and I kinda fell into that pattern too, and soon I was a candidate for reform school which had nothing to do with reform and everything to do with keeping me locked up. How I ended up being a private peeper is another story for another time.

I tried to unbend my knees but that only pulled on my arms and wrenched my shoulders but in doing so I managed to dislodge more of my gag. Big gulps of air almost made me forget the headache and my throbbing chin. I was still under pressure from my bladder. I did a little more squirming and all it did was make me feel helpless.

Angry, I jerked  whole body no matter how much it hurt. It had the effect of bunching up the top of the blindfold so that my left eye could peek over the edge and make out more darkness. I kicked the only way I could and my feet hit a wall behind me with a solid thud. I could feel with the top of my head that it was lodged in a corner of the crate. My knees with a little movement bumped another solid surface.

I was boxed in, no mystery there, and how to get out was a question for Professor Quiz as I had let my subscription to Houdini Magazine lapse and missed the issue where they had tips on how to escape from a fix just like this one.

Beside the sounds of my struggle and grunts there wasn’t much to hear. I felt like I was drowning in a big bowl of silence. Silence, with an occasional creak and groan of the architecture and maybe the occasional soft tread, titter, and squeak of rats, the occasional slammed door, a distant car horn, the rumble of an elevator, those are the sounds of silence in the big city. And the occasional sound of feet walking discretely on toe tips, the sharp tapping of fingertips on the outside of the crate, and of a soft voice asking softly, “Lack, are you all right?”


Next Time: Massacre In The Heights