Chapter THREE

BEFORE I tell you how I came to meet Myra Shumway, I’d better give you her background, then we can go straight ahead without interruption.

Myra Shumway had not been telling the truth when she described herself to Doc Ansell as a newspaper correspondent For the past five years she had been a “dip.” If you don’t know what that means, just stand on any street corner and flash a fat bank-roll. Before long some dame will take it off you and you’ll know nothing about it until hours later. That dame was a dip.

Myra’s father was a magician who worked small-time vaudeville without much profit. Myra trailed along with him. When she reached the age of fifteen, her father decided that she should be his assistant. That was all right with Myra and she really worked at the job. By the end of the year there was no one on the Coast to touch her for speed, style and smoothness of execution. She could palm six cards with the speed of light. She could take a man’s vest off his back without him knowing it. That went for his suspenders too. In other words, she was good.

One evening something happened which was to change her immediate future. As she was preparing to leave the theatre her father came with a young fellow who wanted to meet her.

He was a travelling salesman who had looked in on the town with the hope of drumming up some new business. In the evening he went to the theatre. He saw Myra, was dazzled by her looks and came round the back intending to dazzle her with his money.

Hamish Shumway was agreeable that this young man should take Myra out to dinner. He knew that she had her head screwed on the right way and that if there was to be any funny business she could take care of herself.

The young man’s name was Joe Krurmm and he seemed a pleasant enough young fellow. Myra went with him to a restaurant and had an expensive dinner. During the dinner, Krumm did a fatal thing. He showed her the size of his bankroll. It measured an inch and a half round its waist. Myra had never seen so much money in her life. He bragged about it. He told her that he had stacks of dough in the bank. So Myra thought she’d give him a scare and she lifted his roll. It was the easiest job she had ever done. When the time came for him to pay the check, he found his roll had vanished. He nearly had a hemorrhage.

The manager of the restaurant and a couple of waiters stood around watching. They could see the price of an expensive dinner dissolving into smoke.

Myra got scared. People were staring at them. Krumm was nearly crazy and the manager was muttering about the police. She couldn’t work up enough courage to produce the roll and tell everyone that it was a gag.

She sat there, her face the colour of a beet, praying that the ground would open and swallow her.

It never crossed Krumm’s mind that he’d been whizzed. No one except the waiter had been near him. Myra’s acute embarrassment established her alibi. He was too excited to reason that a magician would be just the person to lift his roll. Besides, a nice looking kid like Myra just wouldn’t do such a thing.

Then an elderly man who was dining across the room got to his feet and came over. He had his eye on Myra the moment she had come into the restaurant. Egg-yolk blondes were his weakness and he couldn’t let such an opportunity pass him by.

He had a few scathing words to say about young puppies who shook restaurant managers down for the price of a meal. He expressed his sorrow that the young lady should be subjected to such an embarrassing situation. Then he produced a bulky wallet and paid the check.

“My car’s outside,” he said to Myra. “Let me run you home. This young fella’s no fit companion for a little girl like you.”

Myra never knew to this day how she got out of the restaurant. It was only when the fresh night air was beating on her face as the big car swept her through the dark streets that she began to get over her scare.

The elderly guy introduced himself as Daniel Webster. He asked her who she was. Although Myra was only sixteen, she had kicked around. You don’t work vaudeville for a year without learning that A.B.C. is invariably followed by D. She knew that she was going to have a little trouble with Daniel Webster. He hadn’t parted with seven dollars just to make the restaurant happy. So she told him her name was Rose Carraway and that she was staying at the Denville Hotel Both statements were essentially untrue.

Since the Denville Hotel lay in the opposite direction to the one they were going she thought this would be an indication of Webster’s intentions. If he stopped the car and turned around, then she was misjudging him. If he carried straight on, then she would know he was on the make. He carried straight on.

When Hamish Shumway realised he was going to have a very attractive daughter on his hands he decided to equip her with means for self-defence. He knew that in his profession attractive young girls wouldn’t remain attractive for long unless they went around with their eyes wide open. At an early age Myra was told the facts of life and taught a trick or two. She was perfectly confident, as she sat by Webster’s side, that she could handle anything that might come her way.

Daniel Webster saw no reason why he shouldn’t extract payment for the restaurant bill at the earliest convenient moment. Once clear of the town, he ran the car on to the grass shoulder and stopped the engine.

Myra was in no way flustered. In fact, she was most anxious to find out whether the advice bet father had drummed into her for the past four years really worked. As Webster eased himself away from the wheel and made a grab at her, she swung her arm and hit him squarely under his nose with the side of her hand. She had been advised by her father never to pull a punch. The chopping blow she handed out to Webster had all her young strength and vigour behind it.

The side of her hand landed accurately. The blow broke Webster’s bridge-work, made his eyes water and sent a thousand red-hot needles into his brain. He slumped back in his seat like an inflated balloon.

Myra opened the door of the car, stepped on to the grass shoulder and ran, without panic, into the darkness. It was only after several minutes, when she paused to look back, that she realized she was holding Webster’s wallet tightly in her hand. She had no idea that she had taken it. It was obviously unwise to go back and return it, as Webster might not take kindly to such a gesture. So she added the contents of the wallet to Krumm’s roll and began her long walk back to the town.

In the secrecy of her bedroom she went through Webster’s wallet. She found that the evening’s entertainment and car ride had netted her four hundred and seventy dollars.

She didn’t sleep at all that night. There was much to think about. She made her plans before the cold dawn light filtered round the window blind.

Fortunately, they were to move on to another town that day so there was little chance either of Krumm or Webster ever seeing her again. She hid her first earnings as a dip in her suspender belt, assisted her parents to pack and caught an early train to Springville which was their next port of call.

For two more years she worked with her father. Then without any warning she packed her bag and left. She had no misgivings and no regrets. Myra Shumway was ready to carve her initials on opportunity’s door.

During those two years she had not ceased to pilfer. She had been cautious but consistent. It had been ridiculously easy. That was the trouble. To acquire money so easily was too great a temptation.

She had made all the necessary plans. Her first move was to buy a second-hand Cadillac. She had fourteen hundred dollars in hand and the Cadillac didn’t even dent the roll.

She left a note for her father. It was curt and to the point. She told him that she was tired of living the hard way and he wasn’t to worry about her. She didn’t think he would, but he’d worry plenty about himself.

She put her bag in the back of the car and headed south. She wanted to get as far away as she could from the dreary little towns they had been touring. She had seen pictures of Florida and she wanted to go there. Now, there was nothing to slop her.

For the next two years, she stood on her own feet. She travelled in the Cadillac. Sometimes she worked in night clubs, but most times she just travelled. Her bank was the wallets of chance acquaintanceships. When she ran out of money, she found a sucker and picked his pocket. She was always carefull. Her swift fingers were never detected. She could take a wallet, remove a few hundred dollars and put the wallet back without the owner noticing. More often than not the money was never missed.

She came to Mexico because she wanted a complete change of scenery. She liked variety. Mexico seemed to be the right place for her present mood. She had no roots. Her parents and her past were forgotten. The big Cadillac was her home.

When she left Lorencillo’s caf?, she decided to head for Vera Cruz. She slipped out the backway where the Cadillac was parked and drove rapidly towards the centre of the town. When she felt that she had put enough space between herself and the caf? she drew up in a quiet side street, stopped the car and glanced in the mirror above her head.

Satisfied that no one was following her, she opened her bag and felt for a cigarette. When she had lit it, she leaned forward so that the light from the dashboard fell directly on her hands and bag. She took from the bag a small roll of money and counted it carefully. She had a hundred and twelve dollars.

“Not bad,” she said, under her breath.

She separated the notes into two even packets. One packet she put back in her bag, the other she folded neatly and slid down the top of her stocking. Then she took a large scale road map from the dashboard locker and spread it on her knees.

And that was how I found her.

I left Manolo’s a few minutes after Juden had gone with the idea of talking to the police. If they hadn’t a record which way this Myra Shumway had headed, then I was going to have a tough job finding her.

I spotted a big Cadillac standing in the shadow of a building and noticed that it was painted dark green. All right, I admit that I jumped a hail a foot. It seemed almost like black magic. I crossed the street and approached the car quietly.

There she was, with her blonde hair hiding her face, staring at a road map. One look at that hair told me all I wanted to know. I didn’t have to look any further for Myra Shumway. She was right here in front of me.

I didn’t rush up and grab her like an amateur sleuth. I stood back and gave the problem a little thought. Here she was as free as a bird, not a bandit in sight, and ready to take a powder at any moment. She was no good to me unless she was kidnapped. I toyed with the idea of talking things over with her and getting things fixed the easy way. Then I thought if she heard about the reward, I should have to split it with her and 25,000 dollars doesn’t look half as nice cut in half. Besides, maybe she was tired of her old man’s face and wouldn’t go back to New York anyway. No, there was only one way to play this. She had to be foxed.

I wandered up to the car and putting my arms on the door I leaned in. “Do you favour straw hats for race horses?” I said. “Or do you think they’d eat them?”

She looked up calmly, stared at me with big eyes and then returned to her map. “Go jump down a well,” she said. “If there isn’t one handy, anyone will help you dig it if you tell ’em what it’s for.”

That set me back a trifle. I was never much good with a smooth wisecracker. Myra Shumway was that and then some.

I tried again, “I’m just trying to break the ice,” I said. “Seeing the car and the map I figured I could hitch a ride.”

She looked up again, “This isn’t a bus, brother,” she said. “I don’t take passengers.”

“You mean you don’t take strangers,” I corrected her. “Let me introduce myself. I’m Ross Millan.”

“You may be a power-house to your mother,” she said carefully, “but to me, you’re a blownout fuse. Good night,” and she turned back to her map.

I let my blood pressure settle down, then I wandered around to the other side of the car, opened the door and climbed in. “It’s a grand feeling to get the weight off one’s puppies, ain’t it?” I said.

She stiffened. “I hope for your sake that I’m not going to have any trouble from you,” she said, putting the map away with quiet determination.

“None at all,” I assured her. “All I need is a lift to wherever you’re going. I’m tired of Mexico City and I want a change of air. I always hitch hike because I’m mean about money.”

“Your repressions fascinate me,” she returned. I may be wrong but I fancied she sounded annoyed. “But if you don’t get out of this car, I’m going to surprise you.”

I made myself comfortable, but I kept an eye on her. I’ve been mixed up with a few tough babies in my time and I wasn’t taking any chances. “Before I came to Mexico,” I said, “I was a professional strong man. One of my favourite acts was carrying a dame across the stage in my teeth. That’s how tough I am.”

“Oh?” She seemed startled. “And you gave that up?”

“It gave me up,” I said sadly. “The dame was the trouble. You see she was just a dumb kid with a temper like a dentist’s drill. She got on my nerves. You know, I kept having to fight a temptation not to bite her. You can see how easy it’d have been. Well, one night I couldn’t stand her any longer.” I shrugged. “I only meant to nip her, but I guess I got carried away.”

Well, that held her for a moment. I could see she didn’t know what to make of me. Finally she decided to try a new line.

“I think you’d better go,” she said, at last. “Or else I’ll scream.”

“I wish you would,” I returned, twisting round so that I faced her. “It’d give me a chance to smack you. I’ve always wanted to smack a beautiful blonde, but I’ve never found an excuse for it.”

She suddenly leaned forward and jabbed the self-starter savagely. “I hope you’ll end up in jail,” she said and engaged the gear.

“Don’t get agitated,” I said. “It’s bad for the complexion. Where are you going… Vera Cruz?”

“I suppose so,” she returned, pushing the car down the dark, dusty road. “That is, if it suits you, of course.”

“Anywhere suits me just so long as it’s away from this dump,” I returned. “Just relax, sister. You don’t have to be scared of me. I wouldn’t do this only I want to get out of town and it’s nice to travel free. When we get to Vera Cruz I’ll leave you and you’ll just have your dreams to remember me by.”

“I’ll say you’ll leave me,” Myra returned. “What do you expect me to do? Marry you?”

“That depends on how old fashioned you are,” I said. “Me… I don’t make social gestures. Tell me, peach blossom, what did you say your name was again?”

“If you don’t remember what I told you, I can’t be bothered to tell you again.”

“So what do I call you?” I said. “Hi you or Hey, sister?”

“I wouldn’t lose weight if you didn’t call me anything,” she replied indifferently. “Just give your larynx a vacation and I’ll pretend you’re not here.”

I glanced at the clock on the dashboard. It showed 11.15.

“Before I accept those terms,” I said coldly, “tell me one thing. You’re not going to tackle the whole trip to Vera Cruz to-night, are you?”

“Chalco’s a few miles on,” she returned, “I’ll stop there, hand you over to the police and then find myself a hotel.”

“On the other hand, if we take turns driving,” I said carefully, “we could reach Orizaba first thing in the morning. I know a swell hotel in Orizaba where you’ll have every luxury in the world—if the world goes no further than Mexico.”

She thought about this. “Well,” she said at last, “I wouldn’t like to sleep in this car and let you drive. You might get ideas.”

“Well, of course, if you’re scared of me,” I said, shrugging.

“Who said I was scared of you?” That seemed to annoy her, “I haven’t met anything on two legs that could scare me.”

“That sounds like famous last words. But, if that’s how you feel, Apple pie, give me the wheel and take a nap,” I said grinning at her.

She hesitated for a second, then stopped the car. She looked at me hard and then a smile came into her eyes. This dame was certainly something to see. Apart from the fact that she represented 25,000 dollars to me, she looked good. When I say good I mean there wasn’t another woman in the country who could get within a mile of her. I like blondes. They may be a little dizzy, but they rest my eyes. That’s my only form of recreation.

“Listen, brother,” she said. “If there’s anything coming from you that’s not strictly off the top deck, I’ll cut your lights out.”

“Would you let me see them before I die?” I asked anxiously. “I’ve always wanted to make Ripley.”

“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” she returned and got out of the car.

I slid over and took the wheel.

“There’s more room in the back for sleeping,” she said, getting in and leaving me by myself. “Besides, I’ve got a tyre lever here and I’ll bounce it on your head if you get off the main road. And I won’t send you a telegram before I do it.”

“To hear you talk,” I said, starting the car, “no one would know you had a sentimental streak. “But, seriously, Angel skin, you could trust me with your life.”

“If I did that,” she said, “I’d swap my girdle for a straight jacket.”

After a while, I guess she must have gone to sleep. I sent the Cadillac tearing into the night. It was certainly’ a fine bus and the miles kept clicking up on the dashboard. I expected her to wake up after an hour or so and take over, but she kept on sleeping. I guess the kid was tired. She didn’t wake up until I was bumping over the cobbles that led to the outskirts of Orizaba. Then I heard a little gasp and she said, “Why it’s daylight. Have I been sleeping all this time?”

“Well, someone’s been snoring in my ear,” I returned, as I swung the Cadillac into the main street. “If it wasn’t you, we’ve got a stranger on board.”

“I don’t snore,” she said coldly and I could hear her hunting in her bag for the inevitable powder and puff.

“Think nothing of it,” I said. “You don’t have to be shy with me.” I pulled up outside a small hotel in pink stone.

“I liked the sound. It made me homesick.”

“Homesick?” she asked as I twisted round to look at her.

“Sure,” I said. “At one time I used to live on a farm.” Then I got out of the car hurriedly.

“Just wait here and I’ll fix things. Do you want a room or just a bath and coffee?”

“No room,” she said firmly.

It only crossed my mind after I had dug out the hotel manager and had introduced myself, that I was crazy to leave her out there in the car. But I need not have worked myself into a lather, because she was still there when I came out.

“I’ve got it all fixed,” I said, opening the car door. “Bath first and breakfast on the verandah. Eggs, fruit and coffee. That suit?”

She got out of the car with a small grip in her hand. “It certainly does,” she said, and for the first time she gave me a friendly smile.

I felt I might be getting somewhere with this dame. “Join me for breakfast down here in about half an hour,” I said.

“Then we’ll both let our hair down and confide in each other.”

She shook her head. “I enjoy my own company,” she returned. “I’ve given you a lift as we agreed, now I think I’ll say goodbye.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said, taking her firmly by the arm and leading her towards the hotel. “Who’s going to pay for my breakfast, if you run out on me?”

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