Chapter FIFTEEN

PAPPI’S butler showed no surprise when he opened the front door and found me on the doorstep.

“Come in, sir,” he said, stepping to one side.

“Peppi in?” I asked, tossing my hat on the large mahogany table that stood in the hall.

“Mr. Kruger’s in, sir,” he corrected me. “He’s expecting you.

“Swell,” I said, fingering my tie.

He closed the front door, “I trust Miss Brandt is in the best of health, sir?” he said quietly.

I eyed him, but his face was Inscrutable. “So far as I know,” I returned. “But, the modern woman varies from hour to hour. Shall we say, she was all right when last I saw her?”

Just for a second, he looked as if he wanted to slug me and then the poker face came back again. “Miss Brandt has been very kind to me in the past,” he said, as if to explain his curiosity.

“I’m glad,” I said. “One of these days you must tell me all about your love life. It should be very, very interesting.”

“Yes, sir,” he said, and I could see that he was hating my guts. “Will you come this way, please?”

I followed him up the stairs and into the library.

“Mr. Kruger won’t keep you long,” he said.

“Tell him not to stop to brush his teeth. I ain’t particular,” I said.

“Very good, sir,” the butler returned, and went out, closing the door behind him.

Peppi came in a moment later.

He stood looking at me and I could see he liked me a lot less than when we had met previously.

“There you are,” I said, admiring his suit “What a well-turned-out guy you’ve turned out to be.”

“Where is she?” he said.

That’s one thing I liked about Peppi. He didn’t waste time getting to the point.

“That’s the question I was going to ask you,” I said, looking up at him from my chair.

It was certainly a smart idea when I grabbed Lydia. I had no idea that both the butler and Peppi would start running round in circles.

Peppi drew a hissing breath through his teeth and controlled himself with an effort. “I’m talking about Miss Brandt,” he said, his small hands clenched at his sides. “Where is she?”

“And I am talking about Miss Shumway. Be your age, Peppi, this won’t get us anywhere. Turn Myra over to me and you can have Lydia. I’m just trying to even the odds.”

“I see,” he said, and suddenly smiled. “Very clever of you, Millan, very clever.” He drew up a chair and sat down. “You are taking a chance on getting me mad, but I think we can come to an agreement.”

“I hope so,” I returned, watching him carefully. The change round was a little too sudden.

“You haven’t hurt her?” There was an anxious note in his voice.

“I tell you what I haven’t done,” I said, looking at him coldly, “I haven’t framed her for murder. So you’re still one up on me.”

He examined his finger nails, “No one’s been framed for murder,” he said. “You still haven’t answered my question.”

“We’re wasting time,” I said. “I want Myra and you want Lydia. That’s all there’s to it. Do we make a deal?”

“If I had Miss Shumway, then, of course, we’d make a deal,” he said smoothly. “But she got away.”

“Then maybe Lydia will get away, but I doubt it,” I said, not believing him.

“I could call the police,” he said, moving restlessly.

That was a joke. Peppi going to the police was like a snake dropping in to see a mongoose.

“You could do that,” I said, lighting a cigarette. “They might be glad to see you.”

“If you found Miss Shumway,” he said, “what would you do with her? She’s wanted by the police.”

“I’ll look after that when you turn her over,” I said, “and look, Peppi, I’m getting impatient.”

Then the door opened and Lydia Brandt walked in.

It was a shock, but I managed to smile at her. It looked like the breaks were not in my favour in this game.

“There you are, Peacherine,” I said, “we were just talking about you.”

I was almost sorry to see she had a small black bruise each side of her jaw where I had tried to stop her talking in the cab. There was also a graze on her chin where I had hit her. And, what was worse, she looked as mad as a hornet in a paper bag.

Peppi was as startled as I was. He took her arm and stared at her as if he couldn’t believe his eyes.

“What happened?” he demanded.

She pushed him aside and came over to me. If there’s one thing that makes me nervous it’s a dame in a temper. You never know what they’re going to do. They might stab you with a hat pin or scratch your eyes out. They might try and make you bald. They might kick you. You just don’t know which way it’s coming.

I held up my hand, “Now, don’t bust your brassiere,” I said, hastily. “Remember your upbringing and act like a lady.”

She caught me a sizzler on the shin with her pointed shoe. “You heel!” she said, “I’ll kill you for what you did to me!” and back went her leg to post me another bone-crusher.

I caught her foot as it shot towards me and lifted it sharply. She sat down with a thud and I guess the jar cooled her fever. Anyway, she just sat there, her eyes snapping and her mouth twisted with pain.

As I got to my feet, someone grabbed me by my shoulder spun me round and I ran into a punch that sent me crashing into the table. I tried to get my balance, but couldn’t quite make it. The table and I went over on the floor.

I touched my chin with a grimace and looked at the guy who had hit me. He was one hundred per cent. muscle and brawn, with a face moulded on Epstein’s lines and a pair of shoulders as wide as a barn door.

“It’s a funny thing,” I said, “but no one seems to like me.”

Lydia, seeing me close, lashed out again and caught me on the knee. I hurriedly got to my feet. “Will you quit kicking me around?” I said, stepping away from her.

The guy who had hit me was bearing down on me again, but Peppi stopped him. “Wait,” he said, “don’t hit him again. I want to talk to him.”

He then turned and helped Lydia to her feet. She looked as if she were going to make another rush at me, but he jerked her round, “Cut it out!” he said. “What happened?”

It came out like a bursting dam. She told how I had got the gun, taken her into my apartment and knocked her cold; how I had taped her up and taken her to the top floor of an empty warehouse by the river and left her there, and how some bum had found her and released her.

All the time she was talking she was glaring at me, and when she was through she made a sudden dive in my direction, but Peppi grabbed her arm and shoved her back. “Get out,” he said, in his little hissing voice, “you’re not hurt and you’ve had a lucky break. I want to talk to this guy. Maybe I’ll let you at him later.”

She gave a look that’d stop a runaway horse and then she went out, leaving me alone with Peppi and the muscle man.

“Okay, Lew,” Peppi said, “just watch him. If he acts dumb, you can have him.”

I sat down again. “Go on,” I said bitterly, “don’t mind me. Put me up for auction.”

Peppi came over and helped himself to a cigar from a box on the table. “You don’t seem to be so clever after all,” he said.

“Can I help making mistakes?” I said, shrugging. “I’m just good at ’em, that’s all.”

“Well, this makes a big difference,” he went on, blowing a cloud of smoke into my face,

“we can talk now.” He began wandering about the room. “I’ve got this Shumway girl. You were right.”

I looked at him in disgust “You always were a liar,” I said, “you got the other too?”

Peppi smiled, “Arym, do you mean?”

“Is that her name?”

“Why not? She’s just the opposite to Myra. I think its a good name, don’t you?”

“Myra backwards?”

“Yeah, Myra backwards in every way. Your girl’s a good girl.”

“Where do you get that my girl stuff?” I asked, trying to look bewildered.

“I know,” Peppi smiled, “otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered. Now there’s no chance of you getting away until I say so, you may be interested in some details. Then we can talk business.”

“Go ahead,” I said airily, “I’ve got nothing to lose.”

For all that, I was interested. There was a lot to clear up and if Peppi wanted to talk I wouldn’t stop him.

“Ansell was right. There were two girls,” Peppi said, flicking ash into the empty fireplace.

“It wanted believing, but it didn’t take me long to see how it all added up.”

“I bet it didn’t,” I said bitterly, “you were always a smart guy. Didn’t some columnist say you had more brains in your little finger than you had in your head?”

“Shall I hit him?” Lew asked casually, puffing a short rubber club from his hip pocket. Peppi shook his head, “Not yet,” he said, “there’s time for that.” He turned back to me,

“You remember this guy Kelly?”

“Sure,” I said, “you’d never heard of him when I was here the other day.”

Peppi smiled, “I wasn’t ready to talk then,” he explained. “Kelly told me about the Shumway girl. She interested me. She gypped Kelly and he wanted me to get the 25 grand out of her. I didn’t help him. It wasn’t my line, but I wanted to see the girl I quite liked her.” Peppi flicked more ash, “She’s quite a dish. So, I got rid of Kelly and kept her here for a while. Her father got in the way, too. But, I gave him a little money and got rid of him. Then she told me about you, and what happened in Mexico.” He moved over to the window, glanced out and then wandered back to the middle of the room. “I didn’t believe it at first, but she convinced me. She’s a restless dame.” He shook his head. “I don’t know where she gets to. Now, there’s this trouble about your pal Ansell. She shouldn’t have rubbed him out, but, in a way, it suits me.”

“Let’s have it,” I said, interested, “I feel this is where I get dragged in.”

Peppi nodded, “I’d fixed a substitute Arym for your girl because she said she could persuade you to work for Andasca. I wanted that. It was easy after you told me you were taking Myra to Manetta’s. All I had to do was to send Lew along and snatch Myra while Arym took her place.” He shrugged “Then she loses her head when this Ansell guy gets nosey and kills him. Well, it’s still all right with me. If you don’t play along, I’ll turn Myra over to the cops.”

“Don’t talk in riddles,” I said, “what do you mean?”

“I’ve got a job for you. Now, listen, Maddox wants you back.”

“Maddox? Did he say so?”

“Sure, he wants you back. And I want you to go back because Maddox has a set of photos I want. You see, I’m being frank with you.” He smiled, and when Peppi smiled it was the most unbeautiful thing in the world. “I want you to get those photos. It shouldn’t be hard. Andasca got tight some months ago and got himself in a jam. Some guy photographed him. He was talking to me. I didn’t want him to talk to me, but he was tight. If those pictures get in the press Andasca’s finished. If anyone knows I’m behind him he might just as well throw in his hand. Maddox’s going to print those photos the day before the election. You’ve got to get ’em before then, or I’ll turn Myra over to the cops.”

There wasn’t much to say to that. It was a straightforward proposition.

“I want more than that,” I said, “I want both the girls. If I’m to get Myra out of a jam, the other one’s got to be given to the cops.”

Peppi shrugged, “That’s okay with me,” he said. “She’s no use now. All I want is the photos. You can have ’em both.”

“That’s on,” I said, standing up, “I’ll see Maddox right away.”

Peppi stubbed out his cigar, “You’ve got three days before the election,” he said, tapping the calendar. “It’s no use talking to Maddox. I’ve offered him fifty grand for those photos. He ain’t selling. You’ve got to find where he keeps them and lift ’em, do you get it?”

I could see myself stealing anything from Maddox. He’d have all the law in the country after my hide quicker than a flea’s hop.

“That’s okay by me,” I said. “I owe him something and this’ll about even things up.”

Peppi jerked his head to Lew. “Okay,” he said, “don’t try and be smart. Crossing me won’t get you any place.”

I smiled at him, “You wouldn’t let me have a word with Myra?”

He shook his head.

It was no good arguing with him. So I walked out into the hall where the butler opened the front door.

“So long,” I said, “be careful of that brunette. She ain’t always kind.”

He said something under his breath, but I didn’t catch it. Then he closed the door sharply behind me.

Within fifteen minutes I was in Maddoxs office.

Now Maddox wasn’t the kind of guy you invited to your home. He looked the kind of guy who was put in a home. Maybe his blood pressure bothered him. I don’t know, but he looked like he had swallowed a volcano and was uncertain of future events.

With him was his personal secretary, who most of the boys knew as ‘Whalebone Harriet.’ That dame was so straight laced her figure suffered from arrested development. But in spite of this she was smart and she’d always been a good friend of mine.

Right now, she was trying to calm Maddox down while I stood by the door waiting to see how safe it was to advance further.

Maddox left off scrumpling up his blotting pad and breaking his pens and pencils, so I guessed that the first spasm was over. I advanced cautiously across the wide expanse of carpet until I was within six feet of his desk. “Hello there, Mr. Maddox,” I said, smiling.

Maddox half rose from his chair, but Harriet pushed him back firmly, so he had to be satisfied with a lot of lip twisting stuff.

“So you’ve come back, you incompetent, useless, pin-headed baboon,” he exploded, with a roar that rattled the windows. “Call yourself a newspaper man? Call yourself a special correspondent? Call yourself a…!”

“Mr. Maddox, please,” Harriet broke in, “you promised you’d behave! You can’t expect Mr. Millan to help you if you begin by calling him names.”

“Help me?” Maddox repeated, wrenching at his collar, “do you honestly think this brainless ink-slinger can help me? He’s cost the paper twenty-five thousand dollars! Twenty-five thousand dollars!! And look at him! It means nothing to him!”

“That wasn’t my fault,” I said, edging back a couple of feet. “You ask Juden. He’ll tell you what happened. You were double-crossed, Mr. Maddox. You’ve got Shumway to blame for that.”

Maddox began to swell, “I was double-crossed all right,” he said, leaning over his desk, while Harriet hung on to his coat, “you fell down on the job, you hollow-headed monkey! I know all about it… if you think I believe that stuff you told Summers you’re crazier than I thought. Floating women! Talking dogs!! Man into sausage!!! Bah!”

“Never mind about that,” I said, “I want to talk to you about Andasca.”

“Andasca?” He stopped tying his face in knots and stared at me. “What do you mean? What do you know about Andasca?”

“I know what you’ve got on him” I said, cautiously, “and I know Kruger wants you to lay off.”

He sat down abruptly, “How do you know?”

“Kruger told me. Now listen, Mr. Maddox, forget the twenty-five grand. Alter all this paper can afford to lose twenty-five grand once in a while…”

I thought that would start him all over again, but Harriet anchored him to his chair.

“Kruger’s framed Shumway’s daughter with murder. Unless he gets those photos he’s going to give her to the cops. He wants me to get those prints from you and in return he’ll turn the girl loose,” I went on. “He’s got enough on the girl to send her to the chair.”

Maddox drew in a long, deep breath. “So you want those photos, do you?” he repeated, struggling to get the words out. “You want to give them to Kruger, do you? Well, you’re not having them! I don’t care if he’s got enough to send every man, woman and child in this country to the chair! Do you understand that?”

I didn’t expect anything else. “Now, look, Mr. Maddox,” I said, “can I give you the whole story? Will you listen?”

“Will I listen?” he snarled, “why do you think I sent for you? Do you think I wanted to look on your cretinish face?”

“Okay,” I said, drawing up a chair, “it’ll take a little time, but at least you’ll know where you are.”

“At least I’ll know where I am,” he repeated, “and by the time you’ve finished, you’ll know where you are!”

I didn’t let him rattle me, but went straight into the story and told him everything from the meeting with Myra to the meeting with Kruger.

He sat drumming on the desk, looking as if be could eat me, while Harriet took the story down. When I was through, he just sat looking at me. There was a long painful silence. Even Harriet looked doubtful.

“What a dream!” he exploded at last. “That settles it. Young man, you’re a menace to the citizens of this country. Do you know what I’m going to do to you? I’m going to have you sent to a nut house. If I spend my last dime, I’ll have you put away before the end of the week.”

I got hastily to my feet. “Hey,” I said, “you can’t do a thing like that!”

“I can’t, huh?” Maddox snarled. “Well, you wait and see. This time next week you’ll be in a strait jacket!”

A knock sounded on the door.

“Come in,” Harriet called.

Murphy, the doorman, walked in. I’ve never seen a guy look so altered. His face was pale and lined and he carried himself as if he’d got a ton weight on his back.

“What do you want?” Maddox snapped, “get out, I’m busy.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Maddox, sir,” Murphy said in a low voice, “but, I’m leaving. I’ve just come to say good-bye.”

“What do you mean… you’re leaving? You’ve been with me twenty years,” Maddox said, startled.

“I know that, sir,” Murphy replied, shaking his bead sadly, “it’ll be a blow to the wife when she hears about it, but I’ve got to go. I’m conscientious, sir, and I don’t think I’m fit any more for the job.”

Maddox got to his feet. “What are you drivelling about?” he roared. “What is this? I warn you, Murphy, if this is a gag, I’ll make you sorry. I won’t have people wasting my time. Now, go downstairs and look after the doors. If you’ve been drinking, sleep it off. You’re an old trusted servant and I’ll overlook this, if you’ll get out.”

Murphy approached him. “It’s not that, sir,” he said mournfully, “my brain’s given way.” Maddox took a hasty step back, “Your brain?” he repeated uneasily.

Murphy nodded. “Yes, sir,” he said, “it was all right this morning, but it’s gone now. I’ve got to go. I might do something I’d be sorry for.”

“How do you know your brain’s given way?” Maddox asked, behind his desk by now.

“I’m hearing things, sir,” Murphy said. “Voices in my head.”

Maddox appealed to Harriet. “Do people hear voices in their heads when their brains give way?”

Harriet lifted her square shoulders. “It’s not an encouraging sign, Mr. Maddox,” she said softly.

Maddox wiped his face with his handkerchief. “I suppose not,” he said. “But what kind of voices?”

Murphy shivered. “There’s a big dog downstairs,” he said. “I thought he spoke to me. That’s why I say I’m heating voices.’

“Spoke to you… a dog? What did he say?” Maddox demanded.

“He wanted to know if I changed socks every day.”

I jumped to my feet, “What?” I shouted, “a dog?”

Murphy shrank back, “Yes, Mr. Millan, a big dog I shouldn’t ought to bother you with this…”

“Where is he?” I shouted. “It’s Whisky” I turned on Maddox. “Now, I’ll show you something. Get that dog up here! Where did you leave him?”

“I don’t want him up here,” Murphy wailed. “I couldn’t bear to have him up here.”

I rushed to the door and jerked it open. Half the office staff, who had been listening at the keyhole, fell into the room, but I didn’t stop. I trod over them, shoving the others out of the way and rushed for the elevator.

Downstairs, I found a group of people standing round the door, but there was no sign of Whisky.

“Anyone seen a dog around here?” I demanded.

“Sure,” a big guy said, pushing his way towards me, “a big wolfhound. He came in here a few minutes ago and then Murphy suddenly seemed to go crazy and ran for the elevator. The dog went off like he was offended.”

“Which way did he go?”

“To the right. What’s it all about?”

I didn’t wait, but bolted out into the street.

There was no sign of Whisky anywhere. That didn’t worry me a great deal. There was only one place where he’d go and that would be home.

I signalled a passing taxi and gave him my address. “Keep near the sidewalk,” I said, “I’m looking for a pal of mine.”

The driver, a wizen little punk with suspicious rat-like eyes, touched his cap. “I’m ready to stop when you are,” he said, and drove along the street, hugging the curb.

I was nearly home, when I spotted Whisky trotting along. He looked in better shape. Someone must have cleaned him up, but he still had a nasty wound on his head.

“Stop!” I bawled to the taxi driver and bundled out of the cab. “Whisky, old boy!” I called, running towards him, “Gee! Whisky, it’s nice to see you.”

Whisky turned quickly, “Well,” he said, “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“Come back in the cab, Whisky,” I said, patting him gently. “We’ve got a lot to talk about.” We crowded back into the cab. “Just drive around, will you?” I said to the driver. “I’ve got a lot to say to my dog.”

The driver eyed Whisky. “He’s a nice dog, ain’t he?” he said, “you ain’t been beating that dog, have you, mister?”

“Now listen,” I said, pushing Whisky in a corner so I had room to sit down, “I just want to talk to my dog. I don’t want to get tied up in a conversation with you. I haven’t got the time for it.”

“I don’t like guys who beat dogs,” the taxi driver said, turning in his seat. “I got plenty tough with the last guy I saw beating his dog.”

“Yeah?” Whisky said, pushing his face into the taxi driver’s, “then he must have been a midget.”

“Well, he was, but that don’t change the idea of the thing,” returned the driver and started up his engine.

Whisky and I settled back and we regarded each other affectionately. “Well, pal,” I said, “you’ve certainly had a bad time. What did they do to you?”

Before he could reply, we were both thrown in a heap on the floor as the driver trod on his brakes.

“What’s the idea?” I said, angrily. “What do you think you’re doing?”

The driver turned in his seat. His face was the colour of a fish’s underbelly. “Hey!” he said in a trembling voice, “didn’t that dog speak?”

“What are you talking about?” I said. “Get on with your driving, can’t you?”

“Now, wait a minute,” the rat-like eyes glared at me. “I’ve got to get this straight. Did that dog speak to me?”

“Well, what if he did? That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. But dogs don’t talk. They bark, see?”

“Oh, I get it. Well, there’s nothing to worry about. He’s just that kind of a dog.”

“Well, if that’s all it is,” the driver said, relieved, and be began driving again.

“I thought you’d lost your voice,” I said to Whisky.

“So I did,” he growled, “and damned inconvenient it was too. I hope I never go back to barking again; you just don’t get anywhere like that. But, we’re wasting time, I know where Myra is.”

“So do I,” I said gloomily, “with Peppi.”

Whisky shook his head. “She’s in a top front room in Waxey’s dive,” he said.

I stared at him. “She’s with Peppi,” I said, “let me get you up to date,” and I told him about Ansell and Peppi and the whole set-up.

He sat looking at me with alert eyes and when I’d finished, he said, “Don’t bother about those photos. I tell you she’s at Waxey’s dive. We can get her out of there and then turn Peppi over to the cops. Tell the driver to turn around.”

“You’re sure?” I said, half convinced. “What has Waxey to do with Peppi?”

“Will you stop yapping,” Whisky said fiercely, “and tell the driver.”

“Okay,” I said, and leaning forward I said, “take us to Mulberry Park, will you?”

“Sure,” the driver said, “and listen, I’ve been thinking. I don’t believe that dog talked, see? And nothing you say’ll convince me,” and he swung the cab off the main street.

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