High Red For Dead
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by William L. Rohde
Description: Railroad detective, Mohawk Daniels, knows his way around railroad yards. Fast with the dames and quick to figure out a scam, Daniels is the perfect foil for the corrupt and greedy operators looking to make a quick buck any way they can. The railroads are on the decline; stations are closing and workers are being fired. Crooked railroad operators are out of control, using the system's communication lines for no-good. It's up to Daniels to stop the violence, solve the murders and protect himself and the gorgeous doll he's fallen for!
About Vintage Paperback Pulp Fiction
A new revolution was underway at the start of the 1940s in America--a paperback revolution that would change the way publishers would produce and distribute books and the reading public would consume them. In 1939 a new publishing company--Pocket Books--stormed onto the scene with the publication of its first paperbound book. Unlike hardback books, these pulp paperbacks were available in drugstores, newsstands, bus and train stations, and cigar shops. The American public could not get enough of them. The popular pulp genres reflected the tastes of Americans during World War II--mysteries, "sleaze", thrillers, and "hardboiled detective" stories were all the rage.
In the early 1950s new pulp fiction sub-genres emerged--science fiction, lesbian fiction, juvenile delinquent and "sleaze", for instance--that would tantalize readers with gritty, realistic and lurid stories never seen before. Publishers had come to realize that sex sells. In a competitive frenzy for readers, they tossed away their staid and straightforward cover images for alluring covers that frequently featured a sexy woman in some form of undress, along with a suggestive tag line that promised stories of sex and violence within the covers. Before long, vintage pulps with sensational covers had completely taken over the paperback racks and cash registers. To this day, the pulp cover art of these vintage paperback books are just as sought after as the books themselves were sixty years ago.
We are excited to make these wonderful pulp fiction stories available in ebook format to new generations of readers, as a new revolution--the ebook revolution--is in full swing. We hope you will enjoy this nostalgic look back at a period in American history when dames were dangerous, tough-guys were deadly and dolls were downright delicious.
eBook Publisher: SRS Internet Publishing/Digital Vintage Pulps, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: January 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [270 KB]
Reading time: 170-238 min.
Daniels stood in the shade of the canopy that covered the passenger platform and watched Paul Carding lurch down Onion Street toward the station. It was a controlled stagger, the determined movement of the experienced hard drinker who thinks he has the acting ability to fool the world. Carding's stocky, burly body swayed slowly from side to side, like a new driver who heads first for the ditch and then the middle of the road as he over-controls.
When Carding came around the walk to the platform, Daniels stepped in front of him and said, "Hello, Paul."
The man glared up at him, eyes low-lidded but slyly alert under their webs of red veins. "Hah," he snarled. "The railroad dick. What the hell you want, Mo?"
Daniels eased his big frame backward a step as Carding was about to drool on his new gray sharkskin suit. He said evenly, "You're loaded, Carding. And the big brass is around."
Carding closed his mouth and swallowed, shook his head slightly, and straightened. "When I want your advice," he growled, "I'll ask for it."
Daniels took a cigar from his breast pocket and peeled off the wrapper. "No," he said slowly and clearly. "You won't ask for it. You're too mean to ask and too thick to take it. But if you think you're going to work your third trick at Kent tonight, you'd better get straightened out. I never booked anybody on Rule G for drinking yet, but I'm not going to let you wreck the railroad, either."
Carding moved his right leg back and set his weight. The lids on his eyes were higher, and the scowl on his hard jaw had stiffened. "Turn me in for drinking--why, you two-bit bastard!"
Daniels backed up, his face bland behind the unlit cigar clipped between his strong white teeth. Carding's anger and courage rose as he followed, stepping high in a fighting stance. Daniels noticed the little knot of people that had gathered. They would be the eager folks, the adventurous; the cautious ones always walked around and away from trouble, lest they be entangled in its edges. He saw Patricia Gordon, her bright blonde hair framed by a picture hat, and caught a glimpse of the red-headed girl with her. Nice. He'd have to meet that.
Carding swung a hard right and Daniels stepped back again, rather casually. Somebody snickered, a man's scornful tone. Daniels took time to locate him--a hard-looking customer standing behind the redhead. Well, you couldn't take time to explain that your job was keeping things quiet and safe for the customers, not putting on bouts for their entertainment.
Daniels had reached the narrow alleyway between the passenger station and the express office. Carding was swinging now, heavy blows that would have been dangerous if the man was in command of his strength and reflexes. Daniels caught the punches on his arms and glanced down the space between the buildings.
"There y'are." It was the hard-looking man behind the redhead. "You can duck up there and get away."
"I'd like to take you up there, chum," Daniels muttered, and hoped the heckler heard him.
Carding's right came at him, and Daniels swayed to the left, letting the man lurch forward as he missed. Daniels slammed his right arm around Carding's head and extended shoulder. He locked Carding's left hand on his own right wrist, and dragged the man up the alleyway like a sack of very active grain.
Carding struggled and swore, rich descriptive terms that would have interested the spectators, but they were already out of earshot as Daniels kicked open the door of the express storeroom, hauled his man inside, and released him. Carding staggered, then caught himself against one wall of the windowless room. "The big dick," he snarled. "They pay you and you couldn't catch flies."
"I caught you," Daniels told him.
"Yah--and what about all the other stuff that's been going on?"
"Maybe you could do better?" Daniels asked mildly.
"Yah, I could. There's plenty going on around this outfit that you don't know about."
Carding seemed to come out of his fog. He looked at Daniels with a mixture of hate and caution, closing his mouth with a shrewd grimace. He thrust a hand into his coat pocket and Daniels tensed, then relaxed as the hand came out wearing a set of nickel-plated knuckles.
"You're a helluva train dispatcher," he said as Carding braced himself against the wall. He stepped inside the armored fist that swept toward him, and slammed a right to the man's jaw.
Paul Carding went down on the dusty floor and stayed there. Daniels turned him over on his back, felt the man's jaw to make sure it was not broken, and went through his pockets. In Carding's wallet and a gold money clip he counted a total of almost a thousand dollars.
"Nice spending money," he murmured, "for a bird who makes about eighty bucks a week dispatching trains." He put the money back and went out into the sunlight to look for Patricia Gordon.
Walking toward the faded red sign that read, "Vicksboro," Daniels puffed slowly on his cigar and regarded an 0-6-0 switch engine clanking busily along the passing track. Patricia Gordon and the redhead and the big man with the mocking voice had disappeared into the station or the small throng that was gathering for the arrival of the eastbound Atlantic Arrow. He would see them again; you just needed patience.
A big man, with his weight distributed in such compact chunks on his six-foot frame that he looked blocky around the shoulders and chest, Daniels might have been a small-town businessman waiting for the Arrow. His double-breasted gray sharkskin fitted a bit too well for rural New England, and most local clothing stores would not stock the white shirt with spread collar and plain cuffs, but a quiet maroon tie effectively blotted any sharpness in his dress. Only a very keen observer would note that his lightweight gray Stetson and bench-made brown shoes were rather conservative for the tailoring of the sharkskin.
When the noonday sun splashed on the railroad detective's black eyes and tanned skin, filling in the hollows beneath his cheekbones, it gave him the calm, well-fed look of a fat bank account and Florida vacations. His lips were too thin and sardonic for his blunt, rugged jaw, but the seasoned, tolerant lines converging on his wide-set eyes softened the general effect. He looked like a man you'd like to know if you needed connections, a large loan, or a career lad to marry your daughter.
Daniels was thirty-four. He made $76.40 a week after deductions. He was single. There had been a girl, but she had married someone else when he was twenty-three and making $28.45 as a freight handler.
The switch engine disappeared toward the small Vicksboro Meat Company's siding, nosing behind the buildings after empty refrigerator cars like a ferret collecting victims. Daniels took the cigar out of his mouth and nodded to a husky, open-faced young man who came out of the station.
"The liquor cars went out in BC-three," the newcomer said. "I stayed in the yards until they cleared."
"Thanks, Tug," Daniels answered. "The man from Washington will be on the Arrow. I'm going to Kent with him and back on the paper train. You'll find Paul Carding in the old express office. Take care of him. Put him in the smoker and ride to Kent with him if you have to."
"O.K., Mo. Maybe I better lock your car, then."
"You should have locked it anyway."
Young Tug Jillson was the latest addition to the A. & N. police force. Daniels sighed, remembering when there had been seven men and the chief on the railroad's law team, just before he had gone away to spend three years doing military instead of railroad police work. Now there was the chief--a detective, Daniels--and the force, Tug Jillson. If Mr. Frank W. Triggs didn't bring good news back from Washington and Wall Street, there wouldn't be any force at all before long, because there wouldn't be any railroad. How long did you stay in business after the ICC approved a request for abandonment?
Tug came back and handed Daniels the keys. "I locked her up. Sorry I forgot, Mo."
"Don't worry about it, Tug, but remember. I came back once from cruising a yard and found my car gone. A little Chevvie. I didn't even own yet. It was found at the bottom of a culvert, and the finance company made me pay for it just the same."
Jillson listened like an eager scholar. He stood with his legs wide, his face calm and expressionless, in imitation of Daniels. "I'll remember, Mo."
"Take a look at Carding and get ready to sneak him onto the Arrow."
The young patrolman went along toward the old office and Daniels entered the station. He made his way through the clusters of travelers and found Patricia Gordon at the bar in the cocktail lounge. The redhead and the man who had taunted Daniels were with her.
Patricia Gordon operated the Robin Valley Lodge, a $20-a-day-single resort sixty miles up in the Adirondacks, on Lake Adam. Daniels had dated her a few times, pleased that he had found a self-supporting streamlined blonde who knew when not to talk. She wore a dress of some thin green stuff that looked as if it had been sprayed onto her flanks and breasts, and a picture hat that formed a demure frame for her alert, beautifully molded features. She lifted a precisely plucked eyebrow at Daniels when he approached. "Hi, Mo. Did you put Paul to bed?"
Daniels grinned at her, managing to exclude for an instant the redhead and the older man. "Hello, Pat." Then he widened his glance and the spell was broken. "No. Tug will take him to Kent and fix him up. Are you taking the Arrow?"
"Yes. We left the cars at Sislow Falls." She turned to the redhead. "Lucretia, this is the mighty Mohawk Daniels. I told you we've got the smartest and smoothest detective up here in the mountains. Well, here he is."
Daniels took the redhead's hand, feeling it slide into his and stay there, a soft warm palm pressed against his own, as Pat went on, "Mo, this is Lucretia Polestra. And her father, Charles."
The father could wait. Daniels looked into sea-green eyes. The redhead had sleeker features than Patricia, with a suggestion of the Latin in them. She said something that meant nothing and he realized she was checking him over and weighing him up. A smart dame. Well, you couldn't hold that against her. Not with her frame.
He said, "I'm very pleased. I saw you out on the platform, and wanted to meet you as soon as I took the second look."
"Uh-huh." Lucretia's voice was deep and cynical without seeming to taunt. "A nice comment. Now I see why Patricia said smooth."
Charles Polestra held out his hand. He was older than Daniels had thought at first, but well preserved, brown-faced, and solid. "Give yuh a tip," he said. "Look out for her left."
Daniels gripped a hand almost as big and hard as his own. "Hiyuh. I saw you out on the platform, too."
Lucretia broke the moment of awkward silence with "What'll you have, Mo? Time for one round before the train comes."
"Just order Mo Daniels' usual," he told her. "He'll know."
Patricia explained, "Mo can't drink on duty. There's a rule against it. So he just has a tall Coke with two slugs of rum in it."
Everybody chuckled. Patricia managed to ease Lucretia out of the way and put her hand on Mo's arm. "Are you coming up to the Lodge tomorrow night for the dance? We'll have just as good a time as last week."
The small hand on his arm applied pleasant pressure, unnoticed by the others. Daniels remembered the hours near dawn they had spent in his convertible, parked in the trees near the lake, and answered, "About the only thing that'll keep me away is a train robbery."
The drinks arrived, and Daniels cheerfully let Charles Polestra handle the check. Patricia downed a third of her Gibson and turned back to Daniels. "Mr. Polestra has bought the Robin Valley Lodge from the Cabots. We just came from the lawyer's office. And Lucretia has bought the Daisy."
Daniels let the rum and Coke gurgle down his throat. Pat was tipping him off that here were money and prospects. The swank Robin Valley Lodge and the more freewheeling Daisy Club would represent an investment of over a quarter of a million. He said, "Maybe I can interest you folks in some more land. I've got a few parcels up on the lake. Nice additions to your holdings."
Charley Polestra blinked. "Huh?"
"You heard him correctly," Patricia laughed. "Our railroad detective handles some real estate on the side. I think he's a promoter at heart."
Lucretia turned on the voltage in the expressive green eyes. "Come and see me, Mo. Dad is much tighter than I am." She accented the "me."
Daniels grinned at her. "I'm going to check on that."
The melodious moan of a Diesel's air horn sounded in the distance. The loudspeaker above the bar announced, "Eastbound Atlantic Arrow. On time at eleven-forty-four. Will depart at eleven-fifty."
Charles Polestra finished his drink and shook hands briefly with Daniels. "See you up to the Lodge," he said. "Looks like a big summer, I hope."
He went through the waiting room, followed by the others. A pushing man who didn't believe in waiting for those who didn't want to be out in front. Patricia hung back and whispered to Daniels, "He's big time from Boston. Don't offend him."
"Don't worry. If he can spend the price of the Robin Valley, he's going to be my pal. What line is he in?"
"He owns a lot of property. He cleaned up in the bootlegging days and invested it."
They reached the platform and Daniels excused himself with promises for the future. He was walking alone before Nelson V. Wimberly spotted him and raised an imperious hand.
Wimberly was a short, stout man, with calculating eyes that were constantly roving behind their pince-nez windows. He carried himself too erect, with the uptilted chin of many short men, trying to increase his physical forcefulness. Physically, it didn't work; but economically, Wimberly commanded plenty of power. He was the working trustee at the helm of the Atlantic and Northern Railroad, and most of the staff jumped when he waved a I finger. Daniels respected him because the man had tackled the job of saving the bankrupt railroad by putting his feet on the cinders and hustling, rather than resting his seat in a faraway chair and writing letters to men who didn't want them.
Daniels said, "Hello, Mr. Wimberly."
It was the right expression. What Wimberly wanted to know he very soon would ask. The official turned from the two portly gentlemen he had been shepherding around the property and asked, "Any progress on those missing freight cases, Daniels?"
"No. We're working on it."
"What about the express company's complaints?"
"We're tackling those, too. Nothing yet."
Daniels stood waiting. Give 'em the truth straight. If you tried to dress it up, you only sounded garrulous. It would be easier to give a race-track teller a phony two-dollar bill than hand Wimberly a sob story.
Wimberly shook his head sadly. "Bad luck and losses. We seem to attract them, Daniels. Let's hope Mr. Triggs has better luck to report."
The official turned back to the well-fed gentlemen, and Daniels watched the A. & N. Diesel on the head end of the Arrow come into sight down the right of way. The men with Wimberly looked like bankers. Probably the trustee was trying to work them for a loan. The A. & N. could use it, but he couldn't imagine the banker who would grant it. The railroad had been having one bad break after another, wrecks, losses, traffic diverted because shippers were being told the line was virtually defunct.
Daniels watched the Diesel roar up the single-track main line, slowing as the engineer pinched her down for the station stop. She passed the water tower that fed the steam engines, reached the freight house, and then her bright blue prow seemed to shudder like a ship slammed by a squall.
The big locomotive left the rails, thundered over the uneven ties with a crash of steel on steel as her wheels hit the tracks again, and then plowed into the freight house amid a shower of splintering wood. She seemed to burrow slowly, like an earthworm entering its hole, and before the sounds of smashing wood and racing motors stopped, the locomotive and the combine and first coach were almost out of sight in the wreckage.
The throng of waiting passengers, eyewitnesses to disaster, had been shocked into silence as the drama exploded, almost on top of them. Then like one person, men shouted useless advice and several women screamed.
Daniels heard Wimberly say, "My God! That does it. That does it."
As he ran toward the wreck Daniels saw Tug Jillson come out of the old express building, his face white but his body in motion.
"Go to the phone," Daniels roared. "Call ambulances first. Then the dispatcher for the wrecker."
Tug turned in his tracks and ran into the station. Daniels reached a wall of smashed, brittle wood, where the cab of the Diesel ought to be. He clawed pieces aside, splintering his hands, and saw the broken glass of a headlight.
A baggageman ran up and began helping him. "Go rig a fire hose out here," Daniels shouted. "If this dry stuff catches, they'll fry before we can get to 'em."
The baggageman sped away and Daniels hurled more wood aside, uncovering the cab ladder of the Diesel.
Too damn much, he thought as he sweated with aching arms. Others were helping him now, and the sound of axes mingled with the hiss of escaping steam. Too damn much to just happen.