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Authors: James Hadley Chase

12 Chinks and A Woman

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TWELVE CHINAMEN 
AND A WOMAN
JAMES HADLEY CHASE

    

     Only one man could satisfy Glorie Leadler's craving for love and affection. And though this golden-haired bit of feminine dynamite could have had a dozen men at her feet for the asking, it was a solitary Oriental who made her heart beat fast. When jealous rivals tore that midnight love from Glorie's arms, her over-heated emotions burst forth in a volcano of love-stricken vengeance that rocked Florida and left a mark on many men's souls.

      The characters of this novel are entirely fictional and any resemblance to actual persons or situations is accidental.

 

I

     
     
     FENNER opened one eye as Paula Dolan put some elegant curves and her fluffy head round his office door. He regarded her vaguely, and then settled himself more comfortably. His large feet rested on the snowy blotting-pad, and the swiveled desk chair inclined perilously at an angle of 45°. He said sleepily, “Run away, Dizzy, I'll play with you later. Right now I'm thinking.”
     Some more curves filtered through the half-open door, and Paula came to the desk. “Wake up, Morpheus,” she said; “you got a client.”
     Fenner groaned. “Tell him to go away. Tell him we've gone outta business. I gotta catch up some sleep sometimes, haven't I?”
     “What's your bed for?” Paula said impatiently.
     “Don't ask questions like that,” Fenner mumbled, settling himself further down in the chair.
     “Snap out of it, Dave,” Paula pleaded; “there's a passion flower waiting outside, and she looks as if she's got a load of grief to share with you.”
     Fenner opened an eye again. “What's she like?” he asked. “Maybe she's collecting for some charity.”
     Paula sat on the edge of the desk. “Sometimes I wonder why you keep that plate on your door. Don't you want to do business?”
     Fenner shook his head. “Not if I can help it,” he said. “We're in the dough, ain't we? Let's take it easy.”
     “You're passing up something pretty good. Still, if that's the way you feel . . .” Paula slid off the desk.
     “Hey, wait a minute.” Fenner sat up and pushed his hat off his eyes. “Is she really a passion flower?”
     Paula nodded. “I guess she's in trouble, Dave.”
     “Okay, okay, send her in, send her in.”
     Paula opened the door. She said, “Will you come in?”
     A voice said, “Thank you,” and a young woman came in. She walked slowly past Paula, looking at Fenner with large, smoky-blue eyes.
     She was a shade taller than average, and pliantly slender. Her legs were long, her hands and feet narrow, and her body was very erect. Her hair, curling under her prim little hat, was raven black. She wore a severe two-piece costume, and she looked very young and very scared.
     Paula gave her an encouraging smile and went out, shutting the door quietly behind her.
     Fenner took his feet off the desk and stood up. “Sit down ” he said, “and tell me what I can do for you.” He indicated the arm-chair by his desk.
     She shook her head. “I'd rather stand,” she said breathlessly. “I may not be here very long.”
     Fenner sat down again. “You can do just what you like here,” he said soothingly. “This places is anyone's home.”
     They remained looking at each other for a long minute. Then Fenner said, “You know you'd better sit down. You've got a lot to tell me an' you look tired.”
     He could see she wasn't scared of him, she was scared of something that he didn't know anything about. Her eyes were uneasy, and she held her high-breasted body as though she was ready to jump for the door.
     Again she shook her head. “I want you to find my sister,” she said breathlessly. “I'm so worried about my sister. What will it cost? I mean, what are your fees?”
     Fenner squinted at the inkwell by his hand. “Suppose you don't worry your head about the cost. Just relax an' tell me all about it,” he said. “Tell me who you are for a start.”
     The telephone jangled at his elbow. The effect on the girl was startling. She took two quick graceful steps away from the phone, and her eyes went cloudy and big.
     Fenner grinned at her. “I guess I get the same way,” he said quietly, pulling the receiver towards him. “When I fall asleep an' the bell goes off, I guess it scares the shirt right off my back.”
     She stood very tense by the door, watching him.
     Fenner said, “Excuse me a moment,” as he took off the receiver. “Yeah?” he said.
     There was a lot of crackling on the line. Then a man said with a very liquid accent: “Fenner?”
     “Yeah.”
     “Any moment now, Fenner, a girl is going to call in and see you. I want you to hold her until I get round to your office. I'm on my way now. Do you understand?”
     Fenner let his eyes fall on the girl, and he smiled at her reassuringly. “I don't get it,” he said to the telephone.
     “Well, listen, only get this right. A girl will come and see you about a story of her missing sister. Well, hold her for me. She's suffering from delusions. She got away from an asylum yesterday, and I know she's heading for your office. Just hold her for me.”
     Fenner pushed his hat on to the bridge of his nose. “Who in hell are you?” he said.
     There was more crackling on the wire. “I'll explain when I get around. I'm coming right away. Your fee will be paid on a generous scale if you do this.”
     Fenner said, “Okay, you come on up.”
     The girl said, “Did he say I was crazy?” The hand that wasn't holding her bag fluttered up and down the seam of her skirt.
     Fenner put the receiver on its prong. He nodded shortly.
     She shut her eyes for a second, then her lids rolled back like a doll's that has been sat up suddenly. She said desperately, “It's so difficult not to believe him.” Then she put her bag on the desk, stripped off her gloves and hastily pulled off her coat. Fenner sat quite still, his hand on the telephone, watching her. She gave a little sob and then, with trembling fingers, she began to undo her shirt blouse.
     Fenner shifted. “You don't have to do this,” he said uneasily. “I'm interested in your case without any act.”
     Once again she caught her breath in a sob and turned her back on him. She pulled the blouse off. Fenner's hand strayed to the bell. Maybe this dame was nutty, and was going to hold him up for assault. Then he stiffened and took his hand away. Her back was covered with weals. The thin red streaks that crisscrossed on the white flesh made a strange and terrifying pattern. She pulled on the blouse again, fastened the buttons, and then put on her coat. Then she turned round and looked at Fenner with her eyes bigger than ever.
     “Now do you believe I'm in trouble?” she said.
     Fenner shook his head. “You didn't have to do that,” he said. “You came to me for help. Okay, why look further? You don't have to be scared.”
     She stood there, torturing her lower lip with her glistening teeth. Then she opened her bag and took out a roll of notes. She put them on the desk. “Will that do as a retainer?” she said.
     Fenner touched the roll with a thick finger. Without actually counting the money he couldn't be sure, but he was willing to bet that there was at least six grand in that roll. He got up swiftly, picked up the roll, and stepped to the door. “Stay here,” he said, and went outside into the outer office.
     Paula was sitting at the typewriter, her hands in her lap and her eyes expectant.
     Fenner said, “Grab your hat quick, an' take this baby to the Baltimore Hotel. Get her a room there and tell her to lock herself in. Take this roll and when you've fixed her, sock it in the bank. Find out all you can about her. Tell her I'll look after her. Give her the you're-in-good-hands dope: Feed her a good line of syrup. She's got the jitters; she's in trouble and she's still young enough to need a mother.”
     He went back to the office. “What's your name?” he said.
     The girl beat her hands together. “Do get me away from here,” she said.
     Fenner put his hand on her arm. “I'm sending you out with my secretary. She'll look after you. There's a guy on his way up who's interested in you. I'll take care of him. What's your name?”
     “Marian Daley,” she said. Then she swallowed and went on hurriedly: “Where shall I go?”
     Paula came in, pulling on her gloves. Fenner nodded. “Go with Miss Dolan,” he said. “Go down the back way. You'll be okay now. Don't get scared any more.”
     Marian Daley gave him a timid little smile. “I'm glad I came to you,” she said. “You see, I'm in a lot of trouble. It's my sister as well. What can she want with twelve Chinamen?”
     Fenner blew out his cheeks. “Search me,” he said, leading her to the door. Maybe she likes Chinamen. Some people do, you know. Just take it easy until I see you tonight.”
     He stepped into the passage and watched them walk to the elevator. When the cage shot out of sight he wandered back into the office. He shut the door softly behind him and went over to his desk. He opened the top drawer and took out a .38 police special. He was playing hunches. He put the gun inside his coat and sat down behind the desk. He put his feet up again and shut his eyes.
     He sat like that for ten minutes or so, his mind busy with theories. Three things intrigued him. The six thousand dollars, the weals on the girl's back and the twelve Chinamen. Why all that dough as a retainer? Why didn't she just tell him that someone had beaten her up instead of stripping? Why tell him
twelve
Chinamen? Why not just say, 'What did she want with Chinamen'? Why twelve? He shifted in his seat. Then there was the guy on the phone. Was she fresh from a nut farm after all? He doubted it; She had been badly scared, but she was normal enough. He opened his eyes and glanced at the small chromium clock on his desk. She had been gone twelve minutes. How long would this guy take to come up?
     As he was thinking, he became aware that he was not concentrating as he should. Half his mind was listening to someone whistling outside in the corridor. He moved irritably and brought his mind back to the immediate problem. Who was Marian Daley? Obviously she was a rich girl of the upper crust. Her clothes must have cost a nice pile of dough. He wished the guy outside would stop whistling. What was the tune, anyway? He listened. Then very softly he began to hum the mournful strains of
Chloe
with the whistler.
     The haunting tune held him, and he stopped humming and listened to the fluting sound, beating out the time with his index finger on the back of his hand. Then he suddenly felt a little chilled. Whoever was whistling was not moving. The low penetrating sound kept at the same degree of loudness, as if the whistler was standing outside his door, whistling to him.
     Fenner took his feet off his desk very softly and eased the chair away gently. The mournful tune continued. He put his hand inside his coat and felt the butt of the .38. Although there was only one entrance to his office, and that was through the outer office, he had an exit in his own office, which he kept locked. This door led to the back entrance of the block. It was from outside this exit that the whistling was coming.
     He walked to the door and softly turned the key in the lock, carefully keeping his shadow from falling on the frosted panel. As he eased the door handle and gently began to open the door, the whistling stopped abruptly. He stepped out into the corridor and looked up and down. There was no one about. Moving fast, he went to the head of the staircase and looked down into the well. The place was deserted. Turning, he walked the length of the corridor and looked down the well of the other flight of stairs. Still nothing to see.
     Pushing his hat on to the bridge of his nose, he stood listening. Faintly, he could hear the roar of the traffic floating up from the street, the whine of the elevators as they raced between floors, and the persistent ticking of the big clock above his head. He walked slowly back to his office and stood in the open doorway, his nerves a little tense. As he went in and shut the door, the whistling started again.
     His eyes went very bleak and he walked into the outer office, the .38 in his hand. He stopped just in the doorway and grunted. A small man in a black shabby suit sat hunched up in one of the big padded chairs reserved for visitors. His hat was pulled so far down that Fenner could not see his face. Fenner knew by just looking at him that he was dead. He put the gun into his hip pocket and moved nearer. He looked at the small yellow bony hands that rested limply in the man's lap. Then he leant forward and pulled the hat off the man's head.
     He was not a pleasant sight. He was a Chinaman all right. Someone had cut his throat, starting just under his right ear and going in a neat half-circle to his left ear. The wound had been stitched up neatly, but just the same, the Chinaman was quite a nightmare to see.
     Fenner blotted his face with his handkerchief. “Quite a day,” he said softly.
     As he stood, wondering what the hell to do next, the telephone began to ring. He went over to the extension, shoved the plug in and picked up the receiver.
     Paula sounded excited. “She's gone, Dave,” she said. “We got as far as the
Baltimore
and then she vanished.”
     Fenner blew out his cheeks. “You mean someone snatched her?”
     “No. She just took a runout on me. I was fixing up her room at the desk, turned my head, saw her beating it for the exit, and by the time I got into the street she'd gone.”
     “What about the dough?” Fenner said. “That gone too?” “That's safe enough. But what am I going to do? Shall I come on back?” Fenner looked at the Chinaman. “Hang around the
Baltimore
and buy yourself a lunch. I'll come on out when I'm through. Right now I've got a client.”
     “But, Dave, what about the girl? Hadn't you better come now?” Fenner was inclined to be impatient. “I'm runnin' this office,” he said shortly. “Every minute I keep this guy waitin' he gets colder and colder, an' believe me, it ain't with rage.” He dropped the receiver into its cradle and straightened ,up. He looked at the Chinaman unemotionally. “Well, come on, Percy,” he said. “You an' I gotta take a walk.”
      
     Paula sat in the
Baltimore
lounge until after three o'clock. She had worked herself up to a severe tension when, at quarter past three, Fenner came across the lounge fast, his eyebrows meeting in a heavy frown of concentration and his eyes hard and frosty. He said, pausing just long enough to pick up her coat lying on a vacant chair beside her, “Come on, baby, I wanta talk to you.”
     Paula followed him into the cocktail lounge, which was almost empty. Fenner led her to a table at the far end of the room, opposite the entrance. He took some care to pull the table away from the wall, so that he could sit facing the swing-doors.
     “Are you usin' booze as perfume these days,” he said, sitting down, “or do you think we can get some hard liquor in this joint?”
     “That's a nice crack,” Paula said: “what else can a girl do in a place like this? I've only had three pink ladies. What's the idea? I've been sitting on my fanny for three hours now.”

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