Hang By Your Neck
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by Henry Kane
Description: Peter Chambers is a private richard who has a real affinity for trouble. He hasn't any notion at all who polished off the nasty blonde with the round hole between her eyes--or the little man swinging by the neck from a bedroom window. Peter has strong incentives for finding out the answers--partly because the only thing he can do is break the case wide open before the going gets too rough; but mainly because his fee is Miami Moonbeam, six feet of ravishing, red-haired woman.
eBook Publisher: Wonder Audiobooks, LLC/Wonder eBooks, 1949
eBookwise Release Date: August 2009
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [284 KB]
Reading time: 177-248 min.
I was lolling in the bathtub wherein tepid there is no more lovely place to loll, and I was dreaming, half-eyed, over a newspaper which was sopping wet by osmosis out of the lower left-hand corner, when the door opened, the bathroom door. I scrambled with more splash than an intemperate high-dive. "What," I ventured at the figure limned in the doorway, "are you doing here, and how in all hell did you get in?"
"Picked my way in."
"Picked your way in?"
"Picked my way in."
"For shame," I said, remembering. "Forsooth."
"Well, forsooth, you have sort to got to keep your hand in, and how's it better, forsooth, keeping your hand in, than with a friend? If you get what I mean. Forsooth."
"I get," I said, "and you get. Out."
His smile dissolved to a twitch of lip, serious. "It's business, Pete. It's important."
Ah, business, and ah, forsooth, and here it was eleven o'clock at night after a bitter day at the office hoping for a phone to ring and mulling over the sad lack of need for a private richard in all of our fair city, with time out for coffee and a cruller and an afternoon movie, and now I get Johnny the Mick, who wasn't an Irishman but a Ukrainian, crowding the doorway, and me behind a newspaper which is sopping wet by osmosis, or is it saturation?
"You sober?" I said.
"No, sir. I'm not sober."
"Then take your fashionable figure out of here and into the living-room. I'll be right out." I threw the newspaper away. "Osmosis," I grumbled.
"What'd you call me?"
"Ooscray, for crying out murder. Will you kindly invade the living-room?"
"Invade," he said. "Osmosis. Oh, this Petie with all the words. All right, I'll invade, but do it quick, will you?"
I got out of the tub and I closed the door and I locked it (for all the good that would do if he wanted to come back in again for small talk). I rubbed down.
* * * *
Johnny the Mick.
Johnny was a big shot now, and Johnny wasn't rousing Peter Chambers from a tepid bath at the dawn of a New York evening to discuss the newest in G strings along the Boulevard Fifty-Two. Not Johnny.
Johnny the Mick, who wasn't an Irishman but a Ukrainian, was a fabulous figure in our big town--mark that with a large fabulous and a frenetic F. Johnny had begun in a hamlet in the Ukraine, the breadbasket of Russia, and first jump out of the breadbasket was the home of the free and the land of the brave, more particularly, two rooms on Rivington Street, one flight above Alta's Old Rumanian Rathskeller, where he marked time pending the march toward citizenship.
His name was Johnny Mikvah, and he was a skinny young gent with talent, diversified talent.
He obtained a job as waiter in Alta's Old Rumanian, and there he displayed enormous talent dispensing the mushk steaks with pickles and sauerkraut on the side and seltzer in a blue bottle. Everybody liked him and his tables were sought after, and he made enough money to obtain the services of a private tutor to teach him English, but this private tutor was a son of the Ould Sod, and pretty soon Johnny Mikvah out of the breadbasket of Russia ripened into English with an accent out of County Cork, and quickly enough, what with Mikvah for a tag, and the accent, he was Johnny the Mick, and that lasted.
But Johnny had another talent which was a talent that verged on genius. In between serving the mushk steaks by day, and learning, begorra, English at night, Johnny found time to augment his income by fribbling in a field known to the trade as breaking and entering. Only Johnny entered, but he did not break, because the lad was a genius with locks. He ran into a few tiny episodes with the law (which was when I met him), but an untoward event prevented him from developing into the number one burglar of our age and ending up, citizenship papers and all, contemplating the locks and hoping for a hairpin on a tiny atoll known as Alcatraz, where locks, I am told, are as profuse as caraway seeds on a sour rye bread.
The untoward event occurred when a bank president, in zealous activity, locked himself within a vault, and employees ran hither and yon, in a yapping chorus of ineptitude, until a young guard, himself a denizen of New York's lower East Side, bethought himself of Johnny, busy amongst the mushk steaks and the seltzer bottles. On his own, he put through a call to Johnny, and Johnny came apace, and, walled within a thronged semicircle of popeyed bursary employees, he labored upon the intricate mechanisms of the vault and brought forth a perspiring bank president.
As a reward, the bank president coughed up with a pittance (pittance, that is, for a bank president) and the newspapers gave Johnny a human-interest story in a spacious box on page one, and before you can say Jablonowski is not a Scot, Johnny was ensconced in a business of his own, entitled:
J. MIKVAH, LOCKS OF ALL KINDS,
WE REPAIR KEYS OF ALL TYPES AND DESCRIPTION
and he became a busy businessman on the good side of the law, opening catch locks with the baby squalling inside because Mamma forgot the key when she slipped out for a spot of pinochle.
Johnny prospered, with lots of time off, as happens when the boss is yourself, and the day came when Johnny rolled eleven successive numbers in Meadster's Sporting Tavern in New Jersey, doubling all the way, and he journeyed home with eighty-five thousand cash bucks, and two bodyguards. Thereafter Johnny was open to proposition, which arrived in the form of Sweetheart Vaydelle, who, at that time, was impresario and sole boss of an up-and-coming boxing arena on Thirty-Fourth Street, with an additional small but unproductive investment in a lush cavern of hot music in Harlem. And that, good friends and fellow-tipplers, is the where and the how of Johnny the Mick, the well-advertised Boniface, the present man-about-Broadway-and-Hollywood, half-owner with Sweetheart of the most unique club in all of New York, the incredible El Courvocco.
* * * *
I came out of the bathroom, wrapped in terry cloth with a wide hunk of belt, and I watched him striding the carpet, dapper in blue, dark blue. His shoes were shiny with shoeshine, and his blue pants were valet-creased where they showed beneath the draped topcoat, blue too, and his Homburg was of matching color, arched, on each side, like a haughty eyebrow. He was small and slit-eyed and slender, devouring a cigarette, puff on puff and inhale on top of inhale, suction hollows in his cheeks and his nostrils trailing smoke like a constant banner. He was jumpy as a steeplechase at Aqueduct, and I worked on that, complaining, "In his own apartment, a guy can't even loll--"
"So all right. Loll. So between lolls, like they say in the night clubs, how would you like to pick up a fast five hundred?"
I knew Johnny the Mick. I said, "Make that a thousand."
"You invaded my privacy. I was lolling--"
"Just a minute. Don't start with the lolling. You talked me into it. You got a thousand. Let's begin again. How would you like to pick up a fast thousand?"
Dignified I said, "I have never refused a fast thousand, not since I've been knuckle high to a brass rail. What strums?"
"Knuckle high to a brass rail. Strums." He glared at me, shaking his head, cigarette smoke making circles around his nose. "It strums like this. I want you to go over to my place and pick up a bag."
"Bag?" I said. "Bag?"
"What's the matter with you?"
"Always a bag. Excuse me. I once had a case gave me satchels in the brain. You ever read Armchair in Hell?"
"Armchair," he said, "in hell. All I want you to do is pick up a bag."
"It's all packed. Pick it up, and bring it here. It's a house with ninety apartments. Nobody'll know where you're going or where you came from."
"For that I get a thousand bucks?"
"It was supposed to be five hundred."
"For that I get a thousand bucks?"
"On the line."
"What's the catch?"
"Look," I said. "Take off your hat and coat, anyway. Make yourself comfortable."
He put his hat over a bronze Lincoln and he removed his coat and folded it over a wing chair. He undid his shoes and he kicked out of them. He lay on the couch, small and intense, his head on the arm rest. He lit a new cigarette. "I'll wait here. It shouldn't take you long."
"No, sir. I want more."
"More dough? Now, look, brother--"
"You're not paying a thousand bucks for a feller to run an errand. That's what for."
"No," he said, "I'm not."
"That's what I mean."
"It's business. I got a deal with a guy. No. No deal. Yet. I made a guy a proposition. He's thinking it over. I hope."
"What's that got to do with me?"
He puffed and puffed again and his cheeks sagged and the fire leaped along the cigarette and it was half finished. "Last night I make a guy a proposition. That's last night. After we talk, I go home. Home, I begin thinking about it. Guys are funny. It's a big money deal. The guy might get hot, while he's thinking it over. Hot ain't good for me. He might come calling on me while he's hot, before I know he's hot, you know what I mean. So I pack a bag with what I need most, and important. Then I light for a hotel, without the bag, because I got things to do, and the inside of that bag is far too valuable to go carting around with. Today, I make arrangements for a powder. I go to the bank and draw some. I spend most of the day nibbling in Third Avenue bars. Now I'm here. But the bag is still at my apartment."
"What kind of deal?"
"Where's your Scotch?"
The bottle had a few licks for the cat. I went to the kitchen and brought a new one. I brought a pitcher of water and ice cubes and two glasses. He had a lot of Scotch and a little water and an ice cube. I had Scotch without frills in a small glass.
"Well," I said, "what kind of deal?"
"Don't step out of line, kid."
"Look. I tried to explain. The guy could be laying for me. If I show up for the bag, maybe it gets unpleasant. So this way, I don't show. You show. It's a big house. They wouldn't know where you're going, or where you're coming from, or whose bag."
The cigarette was finished. He flattened it in an ash tray. He flattened the Scotch in the glass and poured more. "You see, at the beginning of a deal a guy can get hot and act rash. But you give him time, and he thinks it over. Pretty soon, he's cooled out, and it begins to look good to him. Might take a week, might take a month. Maybe more. I got contacts here. They'll work on him, and I'll know how he feels. If worst comes to worst, then I get hot. Then maybe he starts worrying. Then either somebody gets killed, or it gets settled. Does it clear?"
"Clear enough, I suppose."
"That's why it's worth a G. You can do me a favor, and you know how to keep your nose clean. Nose clean, especially. It was worth five hundred. All right, it's worth a G. But remember about the nose clean."
He reached in and brought out a sheaf of green that was thicker than the bottom of a bar glass in a Sixth Avenue saloon. He sat up and blew on it and picked one off. It was a new bill with an old President and three circles. "Fold it up," he said, "like a nice boy. Go get my bag. The Scotch you're throwing in for a backward bonus."
I took his money. I folded it, like a nice boy.
He unhooked a key from a ring and he threw it at me. Then he lay back. "You know the address. It's apartment 16H. The key opens downstairs and upstairs. I'll be waiting for you. Then I'll be lamming around till I pick up my plane in the morning, early. Now, go on, get dressed."
* * * *
Dressed, I stood in front of an apartment house that reared up for eighteen chromium-striped stories on East End Avenue, and I said, "How do," to a doorman with epaulets like a Turkish general, and the doorman said, "How do." He opened the door for me, but then there was another door which needed the key, and then I was in a lobby that looked like a section of a museum of art what with frescoes and statues and a fountain gushing water around goldfish. Three identical shiny brass elevator doors gave me back my reflection, and I played eeny miney mo and pushed one button. The three doors opened, automatic. Svelte.
Upstairs, I unlocked 16H, and what with the immense rooms, and my travels in finding the bedroom and looking for lights and clicking them, and the torpor after a tepid bath, and the relief at finding the bag, and then the puzzlement at seeing it flung-back open--what with all of that I almost missed the blonde.
I mean, I saw her, off to a side of the room, casually, out of the corner of my eye, like when you're concentrating upon the dazzling striperoo, center stage, and the comic is hovering in the wings--and I was concentrating on an open suitcase that should have been closed.
But then, with a swivel-headed double take that would have done credit to a ventriloquist's dummy--I saw her.
This was no ordinary blonde.
This was a blonde with class.
This was not the sort of blonde I expected to find seated in a chair by the window of Johnny the Mick's bedroom--not that I expected to find any blonde.
This was a blonde with class, and it wasn't the three-thousand-dollar mink jacket or the alligator shoes or the saffron suntan. It wasn't the four-carat job that jabbed at you from off her finger or the intricate pale-gold hair, soft yellow like the top flame of candle. More, it was the cool, delicate hands and the way the ears sat beneath the upsweep and the shape of the bones of her face and the minute flare of the slender nostrils, and the rigid poise.
It could have been a happy surprise.
It wasn't, mostly because of the hole in the bridge of her nose, and the thick automatic black by her foot.