Authors: James Hadley Chase
MISS SHUMWAY WAVES A WAND
“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.
, 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
, 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.
Doc Ansell and Bogle were in Lorencillo’s café. Have you ever been there? It’s a little place hidden behind immensely thick stone walls. The patio is a fine example of the old Mexican régime, so the guide bock tells me. If that means nothing to you, it also means nothing to me, so what the hell?
In the centre of the patio is a carved stone fountain around which stand iron tables and benches. Overhead a canopy of leaves from the ancient cypresses and banana trees blot out the sky. You can imagine that it’s a pretty nice spot. There are a number of wooden cages along the verandah which house various coloured parkeets who squawk and whistle at you and if you’re new to the country you get a great kick out of the typical Mexican atmosphere.
Well, these two guys, Doc Ansell and Bogle, were sitting at a table drinking tepid beer when Bogle glanced up and spotted an egg-yolk blonde who had suddenly appeared from behind a bunch of Indian peddlers. He had one quick gander before she disappeared in the crowd again.
“Sam!” Doc Ansell said sharply. “Do I have to keep telling you women are poison!”
“Was that a mirage?” Bogle asked scrambling to his feet and gazing anxiously into the dimly lit shadows. “Did I see what I thought I saw?”
Doc Ansell laid down his knife and fork. He was a wizened little man with a shock of untidy white hair. “You’ve got to watch your glands, Bogle,” he cautioned. “There’s a time and place for everything.”
“You’re always shooting your mouth of about a time and place for everything. What time do I get? And when in hell do we stay in one place long enough to do anything?” Bogle returned, sitting down again.
“The trouble with you—” Ansell began, but Bogle raised his hand.
“You don’t have to tell me,” he said, pushing his plate away in sudden disgust. “I know. It’s getting so I’m imagining things. How much longer are we stickin’ in this country? I’m sick of it. What’s the matter with grabbing a train and getting the hell out of here? Couldn’t you do with the smell of Chicago for a change?”
“It’s a little too soon yet for you to go home,” Ansell reminded him gently.
Bogle frowned. He was a big, powerful man and his dirty drill suit fitted him badly. In the past, he had been a gunman, working for Little Bernie during the prohibition period. After repeal, he went to Chicago and tried to pick up a living as a heistman, but he was not smart enough to organize anything big enough to pay dividends. Then one night, he was involved in a gun battle with the police. Two of the police officers were hurt and Bogle did a lam act. He did not stop running until he reached Mexico. There, he felt comparatively safe. For the past six months he had been working with Doc Ansell, selling patent medicines to the Maya Indians.
Ansell and Bogle made an incongruous couple. They lived in different worlds. Bogle was always yearning for the fleshpots of life. He found Mexico insufferably dull after Chicago. He hated the food, the dust and the heat. The native women appalled him. Both socially and financially the small colony of American and English women were out of his reach. Even the whisky was bad. He hated Mexico nearly as much as he hated the police.
On the other hand, Ansell was happy in any country. So long as he was able to sell his various remedies to the gullible he did not mind where he lived.
Before Bogle became his partner, Ansell often had trouble with his patients. Sometimes, he even found it dangerous to return to the same town. But with Bogle at his side, he had no qualms in facing irate patients or going to the lowest native quarters in the various towns he visited. Bogle was an excellent bodyguard, as Little Bernie had discovered.
One look at his massive fists and hard little eyes was enough to cool any hasty temper. So it was then, that Ansell and Bogle had worked together for six months. They drifted from place to place, spending their morning dispensing coloured water in mysterious looking green bottles and, in the afternoons, selling them by quickfire sales talk to anyone foolish enough to listen.
Ansell represented the brains of the concern and Bogle the brawn. It was Bogle who set up the small tent and the collapsible platform. It was Bogle who set out the green bottles in neat rows and beat a small drum to attract attention.
The drum was Bogle’s own idea and in some districts it produced considerable dividends. Ansell would sit inside the tent, smoking a battered pipe, until Bogle’s hoarse whisper: “A big bunch of suckers waitin’” brought him to his feet. Then he would sweep majestically from the tent, his eyes blazing with fanatical enthusiasm and, cast spells over the bewildered audience.
Bogle would display his gigantic muscles, built entirely by Doctor Ansell’s Virile Tablets (a box of fifty for three dollars). Pictures of a drearily scraggy woman would be passed round the crowd with a comparison picture of the same woman equipped with a figure that made the natives’ eyes grow round. Doctor Ansell’s Bust Developer (a box of twenty- five pills for two dollars fifty) was responsible for this attractive transformation.
Ansell and Bogle preferred Lorencillo’s café to any other eating place. Few Americans came to the café and after the noise and bustle of the City, it was somewhere to pass a peaceful evening.
Bogle swished the last two inches of beer round in his glass. “The cops’ll have forgotten me by now,” he said. “It’s nearly a year ago. That’s a long time. Besides, you never saw those two guys. I was doing the State a service.”
“Talk sense,” Ansell returned. “How do you think we’d live? Can you imagine anyone buying my Virile pills in Chicago?”
Bogle was no longer listening. He was stating with eyes like organ-stops at the egg-yolk blonde who had come out of the café and was standing on the steps looking round the crowded
“Well, I’ll be damned!” he said, clutching at the table. “Take a look at that!”
Ansell sighed, “She’s certainly nice to look at, but she’d begin by stroking your hair and wind up with your scalp. You’re moving out of your class, Bogle.”
Bogle paid no attention. “Holy Moses!” he exploded suddenly. “She’s on her own, Doc. Get her over here before some greaseball snaps her up.”
Ansell regarded the girl doubtfully. She was slight. Her hard little face was full of character. Her eyes and mouth were large and her nose, Ansell decided, was her best feature. Her silky blonde hair fell to her shoulders and gleamed like burnished copper in the hard light of the acetylene flares. She was dressed in a neat white tailored suit over a dark red shirt.
Bogle was whispering with hoarse urgency in Ansell’s ear, “Get after her, Doc. Didja ever see such an outline? It’s like a blue print for Coney Island’s roller coaster!”
Two well-dressed Spaniards, sitting near them, were also showing interest in the girl. They had been muttering to each other the moment they had seen her and
one of them pushed back his chair and stood up.
Bogle whipped round, “Don’t get yourself in an uproar, pal,” he snarled. “Repark your fanny! I gotta date with that dame… so lay off!”
The Spaniard stared at him blankly, hesitated, then sat down again.
Ansell, anxious that there should be no trouble, rose to his feet.
“Watch your blood pressure,” he said sharply.
“To hell with my blood pressure. Get after that dame before I wreck this joint.” Ansell approached the girl rather self-consciously. Everyone in the patio watched him.
The girl leaned against the verandah rail and watched him come. Her eyes were watchful, but friendly. As he came up to her, she suddenly smiled. The large crimson mouth showed white teeth.
“Are they?” Ansell said, a little bewildered himself.
“I think so.” She met Bogle’s unwavering stare coolly. “Have you a tendency to hernia?” she asked him abruptly.
Bogle screwed up his face. “What’s she talking about?” he asked feebly.
“Maybe I’m being too personal,” she said. “Let me put it this way. During an arboreal existence in the Miocene epoch of the Tertiary era, man, or I should say, pre-historic man lost his tail. He acquired an upright gait and a tendency to hernia. I just wanted to see how far you’d got. Think nothing of it. It’s only idle curiosity.”
Bogle’s face went a dull red and his eyes flashed viciously. “So you’re a smart dame, eh?” he snarled. “We had a flock of ‘em in Chicago. But, get ‘em in a corner and they yell murder.”
“I’m fussy who I take in corners,” the girl replied briskly. Then she smiled at him. “Don’t get mad. I was just fooling. What’s your name?”
Bogle looked at her suspiciously, but her frank smile disarmed him. “Sam Bogle,” he said.
“And listen, sister …”
“That’s a lovely name,” she broke in. “Was your mother Mrs. Bogle?”
Bogle blinked. “Yeah,” he said. “What of it? Who else do you think she’d be?”
“I just wanted to make sure. Some of the funniest things do happen.”
“Well, nothing funny happened to me,” Bogle said angrily. “So don’t go putting ideas into people’s heads.”
She laughed, raising her shoulders and glanced over at Ansell, “Never mind,” she said.
“You mustn’t take me seriously. And who are you?” she went on to Ansell.
He introduced himself.
“A real doctor?” she-seemed quite impressed. “Well, I’m Myra Shumway. How do you do, Mr. Bogle? How do you do, Doctor Ansell?”
Bogle sat back heavily. “I don’t get this,” he sdid. “She must be crazy.”
“Don’t be a churl, Bogle,” she said sharply. “Just because you don’t understand my appeal, you don’t have to be rude. Who’s going to buy me a drink?”
“What would you like?” Ansell asked, slightly dazed.
“I think a Scotch might be nice.”
Ansell signalled a waiter. “Now, we’ve got to know each other,” he said, “suppose you tell me what you are doing here?”
The waiter came and took the order for drinks. He seemed to know Myra Shumway. They smiled and nodded to each other.
When he had gone, Myra opened her handbag and took out a silver cigarette case. She lit the cigarette, and leaned back, looking at them thoughtfully. “Would it interest you?” she said. “I wonder. Still, I am accepting your hospitality. I’ve no secrets. Until yesterday, I was foreign correspondent to the Chicago News. I’ve been cast aside like a worn-out glove.” She turned on Bogle. “Do I look like a worn out glove?”
“Not a glove,” Bogle said heavily.
Myra absorbed this. “I think I asked for that,” she said to Ansell, “I led with my chin.” Bogle was pleased with himself. “I can be funny too, sister,” he said.
She nodded, “You can, but
don’t have to try.”
“All right, all right,” Bogle said hastily, “we won’t fight. I know something about newspaper guys. They’re poison if you cross ‘em. I recollect once I didn’t fix one of ‘em with a case of Scotch. Did that guy turn sour? He smeared my mug right across the front page. Got me into a helluva jam.” Bogle scratched his head mournfully, “Mind you, that’s some time ago, but these guys don’t change.”
“It could be that,” she returned. “My boss kept silk-worms. You wouldn’t believe the number of girls he interested. I guess they thought the silk-worms were going to give them silk stockings, but it turned out to be a modem version of the Etching gag.”
The waiter came with the drinks.
“He lost interest in me when I told him I was allergic to silk-worms. Maybe, that’s why I’ve been tossed out.” She picked up her drink, “Here’s gold in your bridge work!” she said and drank.
The others drank too.
“Well, you can’t be interested in me,” she went on. “What do you do for a living?”
Ansell fiddled thoughtfully with his glass. I’m a healer,” he said simply. “I’ve studied the secrets of herbal medicine for years and I have perfected several remarkable remedies. Bogle is my assistant.”
She looked at him admiringly, “Isn’t that cute,” she said. “And what are these remedies?” Ansell had an uneasy suspicion that she was laughing at them. He looked at her sharply, but her admiration seemed genuine enough.
“Take my Virile tablets for instance,” he said. “If you’d seen Bogle before he had taken a course of these pills you wouldn’t have believed that he’d been alive to-day. He was thin, weak and depressed…”
She turned and regarded Bogle with interest. Bogle smirked. “Well, he certainly looks like he takes his daily dozen with a knife and fork now,” she said. “He’s a credit to you.”
Ansell pulled his nose thoughtfully. “Then there’s my bust developer,” he said and exchanged a quick glance with Bogle. “That in itself’s a remarkable invention. It’s brought happiness to hundreds of women.”
Myra looked at him in astonishment, “Psychologically, I suppose?”
“What’s she say, Doc?” Bogle asked, looking blank.
“In a way,” Ansell returned, ignoring Bogle. “But a good figure’s an asset to a woman in any country. I’ve some remarkable testimonials.”
Bogle leaned forward, “You ought to try a box, sister,” he said hoarsely. “Two bucks fifty. It’s dynamite!”
Ansell broke in hastily, “Now come, Bogle, that’s not complimentary. I’m sure Miss—er— Shumway’s a very nice figure.”