Authors: James Hadley Chase
Get a load of this! The hardboiled world of James Hadley Chase, the thriller maestro, is recaptured in this new edition of tough and gritty tales.
An early morning stroll in the park, or a lonely cross-country drive to Florida; evading arrest in war-torn Cuba, or sipping bourbon in the Bronx—it makes no odds, serious trouble lies just around the corner.... The sleazy jungle of lamp-lit streets, faded hotel lobbies and soulless freeways is the setting for a menagerie of typically brash Chase characters: all-metal blondes that weaken your resistance, merciless thugs in uniform and third-rate double-crossers.
Fast-paced and crackling with cynical wit, this classic anthology shows why Chase is the unchallenged British champion of the tough American tradition.
This remarkable collection of short stories was first published in 1942 and is now re-issued for the first time. It is a tribute to the vigour and storytelling ability of James Hadley Chase that after so many years these tales still shock and thrill the reader.
It sometimes happens that you meet a dame who's such a hot number that you want a second look. Maybe you're driving a car at the time of seeing her. Most likely you'll run up on the kerb or have a collision. Then, again, you may be walking along the street, and, turning your head as she passes, you bang into someone who starts bawling you out. Well, Fanquist was one of those take-a-second-look-dames. You know what I mean, don't you? An all-metal blonde with a build-up that does things to you, and a figure that weakens your resistance.
I saw her for the first time when she was working for a guy called Rabener. This guy ran a smart restaurant-floor show on Broadway. I'd known Rabener off and on for several months. He was smart; maybe he was too smart. Anyway, I didn't like him. He was a cold, hard-faced guy, and I guess he had a mean streak somewhere. It always knocked me how the hell he ever made a success of his restaurant; but he did.
Fanquist acted as his secretary. Odd name that, but it came out after that it was just a glamour build-up. I've forgotten her real name, but it was something pretty terrible. Anyway, we don't have to bother with that.
As I was saying, I used to see quite a lot of her when I went to the restaurant. My work as a society columnist took me there most nights. It was as good a joint as any for meeting the sophisticated mob I wrote about. She didn't mix with the customers. I'd see her pass through from time to time on her way up to Rabener's office. Her appearance generally made the men splash soup on their shirt-fronts. She was that kind of a dame.
I played around with the idea of getting to know her, and I guess I wasn't the only one. Rabener wasn't having any. When I suggested that I'd like to meet her, he just looked at me as if I were something that'd crawled out of an exhaust pipe. So I actually never spoke to the broad. And what's more, after what happened, I don't suppose I ever shall.
You see, one evening she killed Rabener. It was quite a spectacular killing. It happened when Rabener was in the restaurant—slam bang in front of everyone.
Rabener had been hunting around for a publicity stunt for some time. He wasn't satisfied with the entertainment he was giving. He thought all the other night-spots were doing the same sort of thing, and of course he was right. He even asked me for a suggestion, but I didn't see why I should help to fill his pockets, so I played dumb. Well, he did hit on an idea. He staged one of those crazy thriller nights on us unexpectedly. You know the kind of thing. We were given a horrific ballet—a faked gun-fight, a guy pretending to be stabbed, someone punching his pal in the eye and other such harmless stuff which went down big with the moronic mob. The evening was nearly over when it happened, and the crowd was well oiled. There had been a great deal of shooting, and believe me it sold a lot of liquor.
Rabener came in and walked around the tables, having a word here and there with the customers. He could never unbend, but we were used to him by now, and we gave him a big hand for the fun and games he'd arranged for us.
I was sitting with a party near the stairs leading to the office. As Rabener was going round, Fanquist suddenly appeared at the head of the stairs. I forgot about Rabener and concentrated on her. Believe me, she certainly was the tops. There was just one little thing that had kept me from insisting on an introduction. She looked tough. When I say tough I mean she didn't look the type who'd give in without a fight. My time's so tied up that unless they give in quick I have to pass them up. It's too bad, but that's the way I live. Anyway, I should worry. There are still a lot of broads even today who do it for the joy of it.
Fanquist came slowly down the stairs. Her large eyes were like ice-blue chunks of sky. She passed close to me. I saw she had a small automatic in her hand, which she held by her side. For a moment I thought she had joined in the fun and games, but something about her made me think otherwise. I suppose I ought to have grabbed the gun, but I didn't. I was curious; I wondered what the hell she was going to do. I thought I was going to get a front-row seat at a first-rate news scoop. I was so sure that I grabbed the telephone that was plugged in at the table. I rang the night editor.
Rabener became aware of her when she was about twenty paces from him. He looked up and met her eye. He reacted like he had trodden on a rattlesnake. I guess that guy saw death staring him right in the face and did he sweat! His face went loose and yellow. His eyes stood out like toadstools.
Everyone sat watching. I don't suppose anyone in the room realized that this wasn't play-acting—but me!
She didn't take her eyes off Rabener. The gun came up slowly, and the little black muzzle stared Rabener right in the face. Just before she shot him, the night editor came through. I gave him a running commentary on the whole set-up. Boy! Was that guy shaken!
The gun made a vicious little crack. It startled us into a half-foot leap. A spot of blood appeared in the middle of Rabener's forehead. He swayed over with his hands pushed out, as if imploring her not to do it. Then he went down on his face.
She turned and walked back to the office without haste and without looking at anyone. It was the coolest killing of the century.
The uproar didn't start until she had disappeared. Then holy hell started popping.
I just sat there, feeding the night editor with the stuff while he slammed it down on paper. It was on the streets within half an hour.
Handling a murder like that gave me a reputation that I've been trying to live down ever since.
There was no bother about arresting the broad. She just sat in the office until the cops came. They didn't like to bust in on her at first. They were scared she'd start some more shooting. One of the braver ones went in at last. He found her smoking a cigarette as calm as a chink in a hop-dream.
When I got home I was as jumpy as a flea; even a couple of double ryes didn't do me any good. I just could not imagine what had made her do it. It wasn't as if it was in a jealous rage. It was all so utterly cold-blooded.
The stink the newspapers raised in the morning would have suffocated a skunk. They played it all over the front page. There were photos of Rabener; there were photos of Fanquist behind the bars. She looked as calm in jail as she did when she shot him. I guess nothing this side of hell would rattle that baby. But she wouldn't talk; she wouldn't say why she had shot Rabener. They worried her for hours in a nice way. That's one thing she had in her favour. She was such a dizzy-looking number that there was no cop strong enough to get tough. A week or so before the trial came on I ran into the local police captain. He was having a snack at Sammy's Bar. I spotted him through the window. I walked right in and parked on the next stool.
He looked at me with a cold eye that the cops reserve for newspaper guys and started bolting his food like he was in a hurry.
“Don't strangle yourself, Cap,” I said, “I've got plenty of time and I won't run away.”
“I know,” he said, sticking a sandwich way down his throat. “But I ain't got nothing for you.”
“Tell me one thing,” I returned, “has she talked?”
“Not a word; not one goddam word.”
“O.K., Cap. I won't worry you again.” I slid off the stool. “That was a nice little red-head you were leading into temptation last night; I admire your taste. Well, Cap, I'll beat it.”
The Captain looked like he was going to have a stroke. His neck expanded and his eyes looked like poached eggs. “Hey!” he said in a strangled voice. “Where do you get that stuff?”
I paused. “I didn't get any stuff, Cap,” I said, “it was you who were doing the trafficking.”
“Now, listen,” he said feverishly, “you've got to keep your trap shut about that. It was business—you understand?”
“You're of interest to the public,” I pointed out; “it's got to go in the column. If your wife gets mad, what the hell do I care?”
He sat like an exploded balloon. “O.K.,” he said bitterly. “What do you want to know?”
I resumed my stool and ordered a club sandwich. “Give me the dope, Cap. You're not telling me that you haven't unearthed a lot of stuff what would interest me. I won't print it until you say so. I've been in on this from the start, and I may as well finish it.”
It took me a little time to handle him, but the red-head threat worked like a charm.
Rabener, he told me, was the brain behind one of the biggest dope-rings in the country. He used the night-club as a front. He had to have some place where pedlars could come with safety each month to collect the dope. What better place than a well-established, busy night-club? Rabener was a killer too. Years ago he'd been a small-time heist man. His ruthlessness as a killer took him slowly to the top of the ladder of gangdom. He was smart. He always kept in the background. Whereas other big-shots were rounded up by the F.B.I., Rabener managed to keep clear. When repeal came in, he decided to go in for dope. So thorough were his preparations that no one had ever suspected the night-club to be the distributing centre of the dope-ring.
Somehow or other Fanquist fitted into this picture. The Captain wasn't quite sure where she did fit in. But they couldn't tie her up with the dope traffic. They could get nothing out of her. The smaller members of the ring had vanished. Fanquist was the only one who could enlighten the police, and she wouldn't talk.
“Maybe she thinks someone will knock her off if she squeals,” I suggested.
“Yeah, it might be that; but why did she kill Rabener?”
“I'd like to know too,” I returned. “Think she'll get off?”
The Captain shrugged. “I don't mind if she does,” he said. “Nice-lookin' dish, ain't she?”
I agreed very heartily.
The trial was fixed at last, and the court-room was packed to the ceiling. Strong men trampled on weak women to get in; strong women gave up in despair. It was a real picnic for the men all right. They'd come to see Fanquist, and nothing on two legs would stop them.
The Judge was a dopey-looking old hound. The D.A. seemed nervous, but the defending counsel was as cocky as hell. There was not one woman on the jury. I thought that it was almost inevitable the Fanquist woman was going to get acquitted.
I had a front seat, a packet of sandwiches, and a flask of rye. No one was going to stampede me. Jackson, the night editor, was with me. We both felt that we had an interest in the case.
Fanquist looked good. She sat by her counsel, quiet, still and restful. Boy; how she could dress! Any young dope wanting to know what the female form looked like had only to step up and get an eyeful of Fanquist. He'd learn more in that glance than all the text-books on anatomy could teach him in a year.
“If I have to watch that dame all day,” the night editor grumbled, “I shall go nuts.”
I understood how he felt even though he was a coarse-minded slob. I knew the court-room was steamed up to hell.
The D.A. got to his feet for his opening speech. It lacked the ginger and hate he usually worked into his openers.
“That guy,” the night editor grumbled, “ain't got his mind on his job. If you ask me, he's worried by his lower nature.”
It didn't matter how much the D.A. played the killing down, the facts were undeniable. Fanquist had shot Rabener in front of a hundred witnesses. Even if the D.A. didn't want to be responsible for burning her nice little tail, he couldn't very well help himself.
The counsel for the defence rose to his feet. “Your honour,” he said with a bland look on his face, “before going further with this trial, I would like to ask the District Attorney a question.”
The Judge told him to go ahead.
The defence turned to where the D.A. was sitting. “Can you assure me,” he asked, “that the bullet found in Rabener's skull could have been fired from my client's automatic?”
You could have hung your hat on the silence that followed.
The D.A. went all colours of the rainbow. He got to his feet with a feeble, “Your honour—I object!”
The Judge, who had been giving himself an eyeful of Fanquist, looked at him coldly. “I think that is perfectly in order. In fact, I will go further and say it is a very proper question.”
The defence smiled. “I take it that you are unable to do so,” he said blandly. “In which case, I must ask for an adjournment while this point is verified.”
The Judge looked at him intently. “Why have you raised this point?” he asked.
“Your honour,” the defence returned, “my client did not kill Rabener. It will be found that the bullet in Rabener's skull could not possibly have been fired from a small automatic. The bullet, I should imagine, came from a Smith-Wesson revolver. Perhaps at this point I should wait until the bullet has been checked.”
So the Judge adjourned the Court for two hours.
It caused a sensation. There wasn't one person who left the building during those two hours' wait; the atmosphere was electric.
When the Court sat again, I think the only person in the room who wasn't worked up was Fanquist.
The Judge looked at the D.A. “Well,” he said, “what are your findings?”
The D.A. looked a sick man. “Your honour,” he returned, “the defence is right. The bullet that killed Rabener was fired from an Army service revolver.”
When the uproar died down, the Judge scowled at the defence. “Why was this case ever brought to trial?” he demanded.
The defence rose to his feet. “I can explain, your honour, and will do so immediately. You will recall that on the night of the killing, Rabener had put on a special form of entertainment. The idea being that his usual floor-show was continually interrupted by faked shootings, thrills and so on. Rabener had arranged with Fanquist that she should participate in this publicity stunt. He thought it would be amusing if she pretended to murder him. She was given a gun loaded with blanks, and she carried out her instructions. She had no more idea that Rabener was killed when she fired than she had that someone, using a gun fitted with a silencer, had fired at the same time as she had at Rabener. She returned to the office. And when she was arrested she instantly thought that by some accident the gun had been loaded with live ammunition instead of blanks. The realization that she had killed a man was such a shock to her that her reactions were slightly abnormal, which was only to be expected. Rabener was killed by a person unknown who used a silencer and an Army service revolver. This is pure supposition on my part, but I did take the trouble to examine the wound, and thought it very unlikely that so small a bullet could have made such a big hole in Rabener's head. The prosecution, having so many witnesses who actually saw my client apparently kill Rabener, did not think of checking the matter, or even of checking Fanquist's gun, which was only loaded with one blank round.”