Chapter ONE

I HADN’T been in Manolo’s Bar five minutes, when Paul Juden, head of Central News Agency, blew in.

“Well, I’ll be damned!” I thought and tried to duck out of sight, but he was too quick for me. He came towards me like a herd of buffalo on the last lap home.

“Why, hul-lo, P.J.,” I said, like I was glad to see him, “How are you? Sit down and rest your brains. You look as if I needed another drink.”

“Never mind the funny stuff, Millan,” he said, waving to the waiter. “I’ve been hunting all over the place for you. Where the hell have you been? I’ve got something for you.”

He didn’t have to tell me. When the boss of C.N.A. runs across a bar room floor, looking like he’d swallowed the overalls in Mrs. Murphy’s chowder, it doesn’t mean he’s glad to see me, it means he wants me to work.

“You’ve got something for me?” I repeated bitterly. “That’s what they say to a dog. Then they feed him poison.”

The waiter came up and Juden ordered two large whisky sours.

“Now, listen, P.J.,” I said, when the waiter had gone away, “I want a little peace. I’ve stuck around the Mexican desert for six months with a string of vultures waiting to pick my bones. I’ve had more cactus needles sticking in me than a porcupine has quills. Every time I blow my nose, sand flies out of my ears. Okay, I’m not squawking, but I want a little relaxation and, brother, am I going to have a little relaxation.”

Juden wasn’t even listening. He had taken out his wallet and was fiddling with a bunch of cables. “Maddox’s has a job lined up for you, Millan,” he said. “I had a cable this morning. It looks like a copy of ‘Gone with the Wind.’”

“Maddox?” I sank further into my chair. “You don’t have to worry about him. He’s just a fallen arch in the march of time. Tell him I’m sick Tell him you can’t contact me. Tell him anything, but give me a break, will you?”

Juden sorted out a bunch of flimsies as the waiter brought the drinks.

“Well, here’s a clot in your bloodstream,” I said and lowered twp-thirds of the whisky sour.

“Here we are,” Juden said, waving the flimsies at me. “It certainly looks like a swell assignment to me.”

I waved them right back at him. “I don’t want ’em,” I said. “I want a little relaxation. I’m catching a train for New Orleans to-morrow. I’ve had enough of Mexico to last me a lifetime. Tell Maddox to send some other stooge out here.”

“Not a chance,” Juden said. “This is a rush job. Now, don’t waste time, Millan. You know you’ve got to do it, so why make things difficult?”

Of course, he was right. Was I getting tired of this newspaper game, or was I? I’d been chasing bandit stories for six broiling months and in this country, bandits were a dime a dozen. Ever since Zapata had started the fashion, every damn Indian who could grow a six-inch moustache had turned bandit. It had taken all my time to coach them how to do the job so that I could give the great American public a story worth reading. Well, I had had enough of it. Besides, one of these amateur Dillingers had tried to shoot me. It got so I began to think some other punk would get the same idea.

But Maddox was my bread and butter. If I turned him down, he’d become a piece of toast. You couldn’t argue with Maddox. He had the kind of nature that made snakes cross the street when they saw him coming.

“What’s the story?” I said. “Don’t ask me to read those cables. I want the news broken gently.”

Juden dug into his whisky sour. Now, there’s a guy who’d landed a sweet job. All he had to do was to open envelopes and pass the baby to someone else.

“Okay, here it is,” he said. “The story is entitled ‘A Blonde Among Bandits,’ or ‘Get Up Them Stairs.’”

I finished my drink. “You don’t have to be funny,” I said, firmly. “All I want is the unvarnished truth. When I want to laugh, I’ll tune into the Bob Hope programme.”

“A fella named Hamish Shumway called in to see Maddox a couple of days ago,” Juden went on. “He’s lost his daughter, last heard of in Mexico City. She’s vanished into thin air. Shumway thinks she’s been kidnapped by bandits. Maddox wants you to find her.”

“Well, go on,” I said. “What does he want me to do?”

“He wants you to find her,” Juden repeated patiently.

“Well, all right, it’s a good gag. Remind me to laugh next time we meet. But, what’s the assignment?”

“Don’t start that stuff, Millan,” Juden said, looking like a hunk of chilled beef. “I’m telling you. He wants you to find this girl.”

“You mean he wants me to search the whole of Mexico for one particular girl who’s stupid enough to lose herself?” I said slowly, hardly believing my ear.

“Something like that. I don’t care how you do it so long as you find her.”

“You don’t care?”

“No… I don’t care a damn.”

“Oh, well,” I stared at him thoughtfully. “You wouldn’t like to cut my throat and save a lot of time, I suppose?”

“Now, wait a minute. It’s not as bad as that. Let me explain,” Juden said hurriedly. “The stuff you’ve been turning in recently is enough to make a dog vomit.”

“Can I help it if your dog’s got a weak stomach?”

“Never mind about the dog. Maddox wants to cover your expenses, so he’s thought up this stunt. It’ll be a great newspaper story. Look at it this way. A poor old guy without a dime comes to the New York Reporter and asks their help. His daughter’s missing. He wants to know if they’ll find her for him. What does the Reporter do?”

“Kick the old guy’s teeth out and toss him down the elevator shaft after taking his socks off to make mittens for Maddox,” I replied promptly.

“The New York Reporter says, “All right, brother, we’ll find her,” Juden went on, frowning at me. “They put the story on the front page with a photo of the girl. They print a photo of the old man as well, just to show there’s no catch in it: ‘Blonde Kidnapped by Mexican Bandits. 25,000 Dollars Reward. Father of Missing Girl Grief Stricken. New York Reporter Begins Nation-wide Search.’ Get the idea? Then you find the girl, write the story and bring the girl back to New York. Maddox has the father waiting at a civic reception and you hand the girl over to the father. The Reporter gets the credit. It’s a swell idea.”

“So poor old Maddox’s gone nuts at last,” I said, shaking my head sadly. “Well, it doesn’t surprise me. I always thought his rivets would shake loose in time. How’s Mrs. Maddox reacting? It must be a big shock for her. And his daughter. The nice looking one with the squint and pimples. That reminds me, has one of her best friends had a little chat with her yet?”

Juden finished his drink and lit a cigar. “Well, Millan, that’s the job. You can be as funny as you like, but there’re no two ways about it. Maddox says if you don’t find her within a week you’ll be working for someone else or not working at all.”

“He said that, did he, the puff adder,” I returned, sitting up. “Well, you can tell him what he can do with this job. If he thinks he can threaten me, he’s mistaken! Why, I could get any of the plum jobs in this game just by asking. I wouldn’t even have to ask. I only have to pass a newspaper office and the publishers come running after me. Maddox! Everyone knows the kind of rat he is. Telling me that I can quit! That’s a laugh! Where would he get another guy with my brains— well, how the hell do I find this girl, anyway?”

“It shouldn’t be difficult,” Juden said, grinning. “I’ve got a picture of her, she owns a big, dark green Cadillac, she is a magician by profession and swell looking. Her name is Myra Shumway and she was last heard of right here in this town.”

“Now look, P.J.,” I said earnestly. “There must be hundreds of girls in New York who’ve got themselves mislaid, why not let’s find one of them? I want to get back to Broadway.”

“Sorry, Millan,” he returned. “You’d better make up your mind about it. The story hit the front page this morning.”

I took out my notebook wearily. “Okay,” I said. “Let’s have it. Name, Myra Shumway. What did you say she did?”

“Magician,” Juden returned with a broad grin. “That’s unusual, isn’t it? She worked the Vaudeville circuit with her father until they quarrelled. Then she went off on her own. Now, she works night clubs so I understand. Her pa says she’s pretty good at the job.”

“I never believe what parents say about their children,” I returned coldly. I made a few more notes and then put my notebook away. “What makes Maddox think bandits have got hold of her?”

Juden shrugged. “That’s his story. You’ve got to play this properly, Millan, if they haven’t got hold of her, it’s up to you to see that they do. Haven’t you any tame bandit who’d do the job for a few bucks?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, stating at him.

“Well, she may be enjoying herself some place and forgotten to send her old man a line. We can’t afford to let this flop, you know. If she isn’t kidnapped, you’ve got to get her kidnapped. I don’t have to draw you a map, do I?”

This began to worry me. “If I thought you were serious, P. J.,” I said, “I’d have someone examine your head.”

“There’s nothing the matter with my head,” Juden said shortly. “But there’ll be a lot wrong with your job, if you don’t get some action and get it soon.”

“Do you honestly mean that if this girl’s just having a good time, I’ve got to fix some greaser to kidnap her?”

“Yep, that’s the way it is. It shouldn’t be difficult. We’ll cover the expenses.”

“You’ll do more than that,” I said. “You’ll send me a signed statement. If I get picked up there’s a bell of a rap tied to kidnapping.”

“You won’t get a statement, but someone’s got to win the 25,000 dollars reward.”

“You mean I stand to pick that up?” I asked, interested for the first time.

Juden closed one eye. “It depends if you claim it,” he said. “Maddox doesn’t expect you to, of course, but if you jumped him at the civic reception, I guess he couldn’t very well back out of it.”

And I was thinking Juden was a two-faced grafter and he turns out to be a real pal.

“I’ll remember that,” I said “Have another drink?” He shook his head, “I’m off home. It’s the children’s night out and I’ve got their nurse to look after.”

I laughed. It didn’t cost me anything and if the guy thought he was funny, who was I to discourage him?”

“Okay,” I said, “I’ll get after Myra Shumway. What kind of a name’s that, anyway? And, where’s her picture?”

He took a print from his briefcase and tossed it on the table. “If there was a fire in that dame’s bedroom,” he said, “We’d take a firemam five hours to put it out and five strong men to put the fireman out.”

I picked up the print. By the time I’d got my breath back, he’d gone.

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