THEY had told me that Paradise Palms was a pretty nice spot, but when I saw it, I was knocked for a loop. It was so good I stopped the Buick to gape at it.
The town was built along the semi-circular bay with its miles of golden sand, palm trees and green ocean. The buildings were compact, red roofed with white walls. Tree-lined avenues led into the town from four directions. Flower-beds decorated the sidewalks. Every tropical flower, tree and plant grew in the streets, and the effect was like a dream in Technicolor. The colours hurt my eyes.
After I'd stared at the flowers, I concentrated on the women, driving in big luxury cars or walking along the sidewalks, or even riding bicycles. It was as good as an Earl Carrol show. There wasn't a woman who hadn't stripped down to the bare essentials. My eyes hadn't overeaten themselves like this in years.
As a curtain-raiser for a vacation, it couldn't have been better. And that's what I was on: a vacation. Four months of working the gambling joints in New York had been a pretty hard grind. When I had acquired a roll of not less than twenty grand I had promised myself a real vacation with all the trimmings. By the time I'd saved fifteen, I nearly threw it up, but, somehow, I kept on, in spite of the bags under my eyes, a couple of bullet wounds and a flock of opposition. You don't win twenty grand without making enemies. I made plenty. It got so bad that I was driving around in an armoured car, putting newspapers on the floor around my bed so no one could get at me without waking me, and toting a gun, even in my bath.
I got my roll and I got a reputation. They said I was the fastest gun-thrower in the country. Maybe I was, but I didn't tell anyone that I practised two hours a day, wet or shine. I killed guys, but it wasn't murder. Even the cops said so, and they should know. Every time I killed a guy I made sure he had the drop on me first, and I had witnesses to prove it. I'd worked it so I could pull a gun and shoot before the other guy could squeeze his trigger. That wanted a lot of doing; it meant hard work, but I stuck at it, and it paid dividends. I was never even arrested.
I had acquired my roll, bought the Buick, and here I was, ready for a vacation in Paradise Palms.
While I was gaping at the women, a traffic cop came over. He actually saluted me.
"You can't park here, sir," he said, resting his foot on my running board.
Imagine: a cop calling me "sir".
"I've just blown in," I said, starting my engine. "It's taken my breath away. Boy! This certainly looks good."
The cop grinned. "It gets you, don't it?" he said. "I gaped plenty when I first arrived."
"It sure does," I said. "Look at those dames. They make me feel I have X-ray eyes, and that's something I've always wanted. I'm scared to look away in case I miss something."
"You should see 'em on the beach," the cop said wistfully. "They're no more self-conscious than a tree."
'That's the way I like my women."
"So do I," the cop said, shaking his head, "but it doesn't add up to anything here, except a strained eyesight' and a stiff neck."
"You mean they're hard to make?"
He whistled. "Takes a piano mover to throw 'em over."
"I'm good at moving pianos," I said, and asked him where I could find Palm Beach Hotel.
"Some joint," he said, sighing. "You'll like it there; even the food's good," and he gave me directions.
I reached the hotel in two or three minutes, and the reception I got would have satisfied Rockefeller himself. A flock of bellhops grabbed my luggage, somebody drove the Buick to the hotel garage, and a couple of pixies, dolled up in blue and gold fancy dress, would have carried me up the steps if I'd let them, and if they'd had the strength.
The reception clerk did everything except go down on his hands and knees and knock his head on the floor.
"We're delighted to have you here, Mr. Cain," he said, handing me the register and a pen. "Your rooms are ready, and if you're not satisfied with the view you have only to let me know."
I wasn't used to this line of treacle, but I made out that I was. I told him I was pretty fussy about views, and the one he'd arranged for me had better be good.
It was good. I had a private balcony, a sitting-room and a bedroom with a bathroom attached that only Cecil B. de Mille could have designed.
I went out on the balcony and looked across the beach, the palms and the ocean. It was terrific. To my left, I could look into some of the other rooms of the hotel. The first one I looked into was as good as a peep-show you sometimes find in a back street in New York; only it had more class. The dame was an eye-stopper. She was wearing a couple of dumb-bells in either hand. Maybe she called it exercising in the nude. I caught her eye. Before she ducked out of sight, her smile said: "We could have fun together, big boy."
I told the reception clerk who'd come up with me that the view was swell.
When he had gone, I went back onto the balcony, hoping to see some more of the dumb-bells, but I'd seen all there was to see.
I hadn't been out on the balcony more than three minutes before the telephone rang. I answered it, thinking maybe it was a wrong number.
I said as far as I knew it was.
"Welcome to Paradise Palms," went on the voice: a rich, fruity baritone with a dago accent. "This is Speratza talking. I manage the Casino Club. I hope you'll come over. We've heard about you."
"You have?" I said, pleased. "That's swell. Sure, I'd like to come over. I'm on vacation, but I still gamble."
"We have a line place here, Mr. Cain," he said, goodwill oozing from every pore. "You'll like it. How about tonight? Can you make it?"
"Sure. I'll be over."
"Ask for me: Don Speratza. I'll see you're fixed good. You got a girl?"
"Not right now, but there seem to be plenty kicking around." "But not all of them are obliging, Mr. Cain," he said, laughing. "I'll fix you with one who knows her way around. We want you to have a good time while you're with us. We don't often have such a celebrity. You leave the girl to me. You won't be disappointed."
I said it was pretty nice of him and hung up.
About ten minutes later the telephone rang again. This time it was a bass voice that said it belonged to Ed. Killeano. I didn't know any Ed. Killeano, but I said I was glad he had called.
"I heard you were in town, Cain," the voice said. "I want you to know we're glad to have you here. Anything I can do to make your stay a pleasant one be sure to let me know. The hotel will tell you where you can find me. Have a good time," and before I could think of anything to say he rang off.
I was human enough to call the desk and ask who Ed. Killeano was. They told me in a hushed voice that he was the City Administrator. They made it sound like he was Joe Stalin.
I thanked them and went back to the balcony.
The sun shone on the golden beach, the ocean sparkled, and the palms nodded their heads in the lazy breeze. Paradise Palms still looked wonderful, but I was beginning to wonder if it was too good to be true.
I had a hunch that something was cooking.2
I drove down Ocean Drive. The traffic was heavy, and I moved slowly, the damp, salt smell of the sea in my nose, the pounding of the surf in my ears.
It was the kind of night you read about in books. The stars looked like diamond dust on blue velvet.
Two blocks further up I came upon a lighted drive that led to a big building with one of those fancy fronts made of marble or glass or porcelain or something—a kind of powder blue with "Casino" in sizable letters on a ledge at the top of the first floor. The whole building was lit by indirect lighting, and the over-all effect was pretty nice.
The Negro doorman's brass buttons gleamed in the light. He pulled open the door of the Buick, and another Negro stepped forward to drive the car to the garage.
I walked in under the blue canopy and found myself in a corridor fined on both sides with discreet private dining-rooms with numbers on the doors. At the other end of the corridor was an arch and beside it was the booth occupied by a blonde hat-check girl.
"Check, Mister?" she asked nasally.
I wolfed her over. She was wearing a tight little bodice in sky blue satin, open all the way down the front and laced together loosely by black silk cords. Apparently she had nothing on under the bodice. It was one of those outfits that keeps everyone warm except the wearer.
I gave her my hat and a friendly leer.
"That's a nice view you have there," I said courteously.
"The night some guy doesn't make that crack I'll drop down dead," she returned, sighing. "It's part of my job to have a nice view."
I paused to light a cigarette. "A view to what?" I asked.
"No dice. That gag's transparent with age."
"Sorry," I said. "I don't often come to a joint like this. I'm a home lover, and one gets kind of old-fashioned in fife's little backstreams."
She looked me over and decided I was harmless. "That's all right by me," she said, smiling. "I like variety. The trouble here is that all men seem cast in the same mould."
"But surely some are more mouldy than others?" I said.
She giggled. Three men came up to check their hats, so I drifted on through the arch into as sweet a night club layout as you would wish to see, done in pastel shades with indirect lighting and with a beautiful crescent-shaped bar on one side. It was a terrific room with a place for an orchestra and small dance floor made of some composition that looked like black glass. Out of the floor, out of blue and chromium boxes, grew banana trees with broad green leaves and clusters of green bananas. Vines clung to the trunks of the trees, bearing fragile blossoms; pink, orange, bronze and henna. Half the room had no roof and overhead were stars.
A fat bird came up to me and gave me the teeth, which was supposed to mean he was glad to see me. He wore patent-leather shoes, dark trousers, a Dubonnet-red cummerbund and a white drill coat tailored like a mess jacket.
"Give me Speratza," I said.
He gave me the rest of the teeth, including a couple of gold inlays.
"I am the manager, please," he said. "Is there something I can do?"
'Yeah," I said. "Drum up Speratza. Tell him Chester Cain has blown in."
If I'd said I was King George VIth I couldn't have got a faster double-take.
"A thousand apologies for not recognizing you, Mr. Cain," he said, bowing in half. "Senor Speratza will be enchanted. I will have him informed you have arrived." He swung round and signalled frantically to a dressed-up dummy who was posed by the bar. The dummy shot away like he had a rocket in his pants. It was a pre-arranged, regal routine, and it impressed me as it was meant to impress me.
"Nice place you have here," I said for something to say. I was only giving him half my attention. The other half was reeling under the impact of the women in the joint. They were something to see. Even a horse would look over his shoulder at them. A dark woman in a red dress drifted past as I was about to compliment him further. She stopped me in mid-stride. She had the most provocative walk I had ever seen. Her hips were sheathed in this red silk, pulled so taut that light rippled over the fabric as she moved. They flowed under the dress like heavy and seductive liquid, like molten metal.
"We hope you'll like it here, Mr. Cain," he was saying, as if he'd rushed around and built the place as soon as he'd heard I was coming. "May I introduce myself? Guillermo at your service. Would you care for a drink?"
I tore my eyes away from the woman's hips and said I was glad to know him and a drink would be swell.
We went over to the bar and put our feet on the elegant brass rail. The bar was glistening and spotless but the barman hustled up and wiped it mechanically, his eyes on Guillermo.
'What'll it be?" said Guillermo.
"A little bourbon, I guess," I said.
The barman gave me three inches of the finest bourbon I'd ever encountered. I said as much.
At this moment a tall man with a terrific torso appeared at my side.
"Senor Speratza," Guillermo said, and faded out of the picture.
I turned and looked the newcomer over. He had everything in the way of good looks a man could want. He was as big as a house, his eyes were black and the whites of them like porcelain. His hair was rather long and curled a little over his temples. His skin was cream-rose. He was really handsome in a Latin way.