Story by Christopher L. Malone
Illustration by Sheik
“I thought I told you not to come round here no more.”
The bouncer’s a big man, one of those burly types Diamond Jim likes to hire; tends to wear tight black t-shirts to show off muscular arms. The problem with this guy, though, is that for all the muscle his t-shirt’s hugging, it’s also hugging his big, well-fed belly. That’s not fooling me tonight, though. Maybe last week it did, but then I got thrown out on my keister. This time, I know better, and I keep my hands in my jacket pockets, clutching my old-man’s set of brass knuckles.
“Lookit, pal,” I says to him. “I’m not here to make any trouble. I learned my lesson last time. I was remiss, and I should’ve never said nothing about your mother…”
The big man gets off his stool and stares me down. He’s about a foot taller than me, and he’s standing pretty close. I know I’ve got a short reach, and distance isn’t a friend of mine in a scrape. Let me inside, though, and I can tenderize a man’s ribs pretty quick. That said, I’m not interested in a fight tonight. Tonight’s got to be clean. I’ve got a job interview in the morning, and playing Brother’s Keeper isn’t doing me any favors. If I can just get past the big boy, I know I can skirt my way into the back room where the cards are dealt.
“It was a very unlady-like thing to say,” the bouncer says, “Considering my mother recently passed away.”
“Don’t I know it,” I tell him. “I shouldn’t have said it in the first place, but had I known that, I definitely wouldn’t have made that accusation.”
“She was a good woman,” he says, and his eyes drift a little to the left, probably thinking about her now.
“The best,” I reply, and I gently nudge him with my shoulder, making sure to keep my hands in my pockets, just in case. “Now, what do you say? Let a gal buy you a drink and we’ll say all is forgiven?”
He looks me over one more time, and I see he’s eyeing me up in a different way. Whatever it takes to get inside works for me, so I flash a grin and tilt my head a bit lower, so I can look up at him and bat my eyes a little. He cracks a smile.
“I get off at midnight,” he says, stepping aside. “Maybe we can share a drink then, okay? And no funny stuff either, please.”
“Things get funny when you give a lady a strong drink, and last week I wasn’t in the mood to be cat-called or manhandled,” I tell him, rather innocently. “This time, I’ll ask them to water down my whiskey so I can behave myself.”
Now the big guy’s got a toothy smile. “Ain’t nothing wrong with a little misbehavin’,” he says. “Just not too much…”
“Scout’s honor!” I reply, and I wriggle my left hand free from the knuckles in my coat pocket to hold two fingers up. It’s enough for him, and he sits back down on his stool to clear the way.
Diamond Jim’s place sounds like a pretty swanky scene, but it’s just the opposite. It’s a dive, where degenerate gamblers like to get together and bet on the ponies, sports, or throw in at a rinky-dink card table in the back. The place is always filthy, like Diamond Jim had kept all of the dirt he’d ever collected playing on ball fields. He wasn’t much at baseball, but played long enough to retire and open his own place. The bar is equally mediocre, but it’s the only game in town, and so it stays afloat.
Real business-like, I set myself directly to the bar top and give the counter three hard knocks to get the bartender’s attention. Denny Callahan, a squirrelly looking guy polishing glasses with his back to me, turns around and gives a start when he sees who’s doing the knocking.
“How’d you get in here, Maud?” Denny asks, and his voice squeaks when he says this.
“I walked in through the front door,” I tell him. “So what’s the score? Are you gonna tell me where Connor is, or do I have to grab a seat and order a drink first?”
“What’s the point of having a bouncer at the door,” he mutters, then pleads, “I haven’t seen him. Please go home.”
“But what if I’m feeling thirsty?” I ask him, and my hand moves toward a stool to take a seat.
“Don’t touch that stool,” he says, still jumpy. “I can pour you a cup of water, and you can take it with you, no charge.”
“No can do,” I tell him, and now my hand rests on top of the stool, my fingers gripping the edge of the seat. “I only came here to get my brother, and anyway, even if I did wanna stay, I couldn’t. I have a job interview tomorrow I gotta get up early for. The thing about last weekend was I was blowing off a little steam, and things got out of hand…”
“You broke a chair over Barry Simms shoulder!” Denny blurts out. “You call that blowing off steam? Now I gotta tend the bar! I hate tending bar!”
“Well, why don’t you just quit then?” I ask him.
He looks around to check if anyone’s listening, even though no one else is inside save an old guy in the corner who looks like he’s more than three sheets to the wind, and he leans in close to whisper, “You know damn well that I got into it with Diamond Jim, and now I owe. It’s either take the job and work for cheap, or he takes a finger. I happen to like my fingers.”
“Who wouldn’t?” I tell him, “Dainty little things that they are.”
Denny pulls his hands back and pockets them, suddenly self-conscious. “Go home,” he says. “Connor isn’t here.”
“But I just want to check,” I tell him, “and if you’d just slip one of those little fingers out of your pocket and press the button underneath the counter…
“How do you know about the button?” he asks.
“I saw it last weekend in the scuffle when I wound up behind the bar for a red-hot minute. Like I was saying, you press the button, I can be in and out of the backroom quicker than you can say, Maud, you promised!” I pause, and watch his face go pale, like he’s really weighing his options. “Now what’s it gonna be, Denny? Are you gonna let me in, or?”
“Or what?” he asks, hesitant.
“Or do you need to find out what it feels like to have a stool thrown across your face?”
Denny glares at me for a second, and then his right hand slips out of a pocket and disappears underneath the countertop. I hear a loud buzz sound, and right beside the bar top, a piece of the wall pops open. As I start to walk over, Denny’s hand grabs me by the wrist. Instinctively, my left hand falls on his, while my right hand grips his forearm. I thrust downward, and a slight pop is heard from one of his joints. He let’s go and cradles his sprained wrist to his chest.
“Ow, geez,” he moans, “I was just going to ask you not to make a scene, please!”
“You oughta know better than to grab a lady,” I tell him. “It’s not very gentlemanly. Anyway, I won’t make a scene.”
I walk through the hidden door in the wall, into what looks like a large storage room that’s been converted into a gaming area. In one corner, a few guys are crowded around a large radio, listening intently while they clutch money in their hands. On the other side of the room are a small group of elderly men shooting dice. In the center of the room is a card table, and seated at it are three big lugs, a little skinny guy with a surly look, and my older brother, who looks like he’s just found Heaven.
“Connor!” I call out, and he looks up at me as he’s raking a pile of money toward his lap. He’s all smiles, but the little guy’s frowning when I approach the table.
“When you find time to order a dame, O’Malley?” he asks my brother, and my hands instinctively slip back into my pockets to grip the brass knuckles like a pair of lucky charms.
“That’s no dame, pal,” Connor says. “That’s my sister, and she’s definitely not on call, unless your idea of a good time is losing a few teeth.”
“The jig is up, pal,” I tell my brother. When he pushes away from the table with the bundle of cash in his arms, I can see the little guy start to turn a shade too red for good health, and I tell him, “It’s not his fault. Ma’s got a stew on, and she hates it when her precious lamb isn’t at the table to enjoy it.”
“Luck of the Irish!” Connor says to the table. “Maybe if you’re lucky, I’ll come back next week and take some more of your money.”
“First of all, O’Malley,” the little man tells him, “You ain’t as lucky as you think,” and he places a snub-nose revolver next to his folded hand of cards. “Secondly, the only way you’re making it back to your mama’s house is in a coffin, if you think for one second I’m letting you walk away with my cash. So you got two options, kid. You sit down, play your hand the way it’s supposed to be played, and that way we can all walk away to our mothers’ homes in one piece to enjoy our stew. Then there’s the second option, and… well, you won’t like it, although it’s easier for me, if not a bit noisy.”
“How about option three?” Connor asks.
“There ain’t no option three, kid,” the little man says.
“Oh really?” Connor says, like he’s surprised, “What do you think about that Maud?”
All this time the little man has been threatening my brother, I’ve been walking around the table, until I was squarely behind him. When my brother throws the question to me, I tell everyone, “There’s always an option three, boys, and here it is!” I take my brass knuckled fist out of my pocket, raise it high in the air, and drop it hard, hammer-like, on the back of the little man’s skull. He falls out of his chair, knocked out immediately, and Connor kicks the table over, still clutching the money. The gun hits the ground, goes off, and one of the guys in the corner of the room listening to the radio collapses to the ground, holding his shin and screaming bloody murder. Now all hell’s broke loose.
“Let’s heel it,” Connor says, and we break for the door. A mob closes in around us just as we make our way out. One guy tries to grab Connor’s cash, and Connor throws his head into the bridge of the guy’s nose.
“Just drop the money and let’s bolt,” I tell him, but before I can make another move, someone’s hand comes flying across my face and strikes me in the left eye. I’m ready to retaliate in kind when I hear a low tremulous voice call out from the doorway.
“Now what you gotta go and hit a lady for?”
It’s the big bouncer that let me in, and his thick body is filling the entire doorway. Immediately, the action stops, and everyone takes a step back. The guy who struck me is white with fear.
“Hey now,” he says with a shaky voice, “Accidents happen.”
“Don’t they, though?” the bouncer says, and he immediately falls onto the guy with a series of sharp blows to the face while the poor guy cries out to everyone else for help. No one moves, though, and we’re all caught up watching this guy take a beating.
“That is so sweet,” I say, looking at the guy the bouncer’s beating up on my behalf. “Maybe I will join the big lug for a drink next time I see him.”
“Come on, lover girl,” my brother says, nudging me with his shoulder since his hands are still full of cash.
As we leave, I grab a five spot and hand it to Denny, who looks absolutely bewildered standing behind the bar, still cradling his wrist.
“Sorry about the mess,” I tell him, and Denny looks at the bill before looking up at me in horror.
— ♦♦♦ —
“I’m sorry, Mrs. O’Malley…”
“It’s Miss O’Malley,” I say, cutting him off mid-sentence. “Mrs. O’Malley is my mother, and she’s back at home.”
“Quite right,” the man says. He looks like a real pencil-neck, choking on the starched collar of his fancy dress shirt. I don’t like the way he’s looking down at me, with his eyes hiding behind a glossy set of spectacles sliding down the bridge of his greasy nose. I can just tell he’s not giving me any position in an office.
“As I was saying,” he continues, “I don’t know that we have a position for you at this time.”
“But you’ve had a secretary position posted in the classifieds for three weeks now,” I tell him.
“Yes, that’s true,” he replies, hesitantly.
“And didn’t I do well enough with the short hand and typing tests?”
He looks down at a sheet of paper in front of him and begrudgingly admits, “Well, yes. You do have very remarkable scores…”
“Then what’s the problem?” I ask him.
“Look, Mrs. O’Malley…”
“…We have a reputation to maintain at Edwards, Scarborough, and Day Law Firm. We cannot have our clients greeted by a secretary with a black eye and bruised knuckles…”
“But I’m wearing make-up!” I protest.
“Yes, and poorly applied,” he replies curtly.
“But just think about it, sir. I’m quick with a typewriter just having banged up hands. Imagine what I can do healthy!”
He stares at me, disapprovingly.
“I could save you money providing security,” I tell him, my voice a little smaller. “Two for the price of one?”
He clears his throat and says, “Good day, Mrs. O’Malley,” before raising a hand to direct me toward the door.
“Fair enough,” I tell him. No point in bothering with a third correction if I’m not getting the gig; just another wasted trip to the big city from my podunk little burg. I get up, leave the office tucked inside the high rise building with as much dignity as I can, and make my way to the lobby floor where I can hail a taxi after a quick smoke. When I get there, seated on a bench by the glass revolving doors is an old guy who looks oddly familiar. He’s puffing a cigarette, and giving me a queer look.
“There a problem, pal?” I ask, looking around the lobby to see if he’s staring at me.
“No problem, Miss,” he says, and he smiles at me knowingly. “I’m just here to offer a lady a light, amongst other things.”
“Amongst other things?” I echo, a little venomously.
“Nothing tawdry or out of line,” he replies, calmly, “At least not for a rugged gal like yourself.”
“Do I know you?” I ask him, and he pulls out a silver cigarette case and his light, tossing them both to me.
“The name’s J.M. Dawes,” he answers, and the name matches the one engraved on his case. I unclasp it, take a cigarette for myself, and toss it back to him. “I believe we both frequent Diamond Jim’s.”
“So we do,” I say, recognizing him now, and I take a seat next to him on the bench, torching my cigarette before handing his lighter back to him. “You’re the drunk that was sitting in the corner of the room when I walked in last night.”
“Hardly a drunk,” he scoffs, “Not when I’m on the job, anyhow.”
“Yes. My mark was Johnny Decker, the man you incapacitated quite handily during the card game last night. My drunken stupor was a ruse. I was going to wait for him to leave and catch him off guard. He’s wanted on racketeering and running an illegal gambling ring in New Jersey, and a nice little bounty has been placed on him.”
“Dead or alive?” I ask him, “Like the Wild West?”
“Dead?” he laughs again, “Wouldn’t be much use to the authorities if he’s dead. Information is what makes him valuable. There are bigger fish in the waters, so to speak. Alive is the way they like them, and that’s why I like you.”
“I’m not sure I’m following you, pal,” I tell him, taking a long drag on the smoke. It tastes foreign like it’s been laced with some exotic spice. “This a Turkish cigarette or something?”
“You have excellent taste, Miss O’Malley,” he answers, and he must notice my reaction to his knowing my name. “Oh yes,” he says, “I know all about you, Maud O’Malley. When I heard you put that poor man, Barnabas Simms, in the hospital by using a bar stool, I merely treated it as a humorous anecdote involving one of the common miscreants at Diamond Jim’s…”
“A what’s a what?” I ask him, but he ignores the question and continues on.
“Then when I saw the result of your brass knuckled assault on Mr. Decker, I was intrigued. However, it’s what you didn’t do that makes you special.”
“Okay, you got me,” I tell him. “What didn’t I do?”
“You avoided firearms, Miss O’Malley. Johnny Decker’s gun was on the table, and after you incapacitated him, you left his gun alone.”
“Yeah, well, Connor kicked the card table over and the gun fell on the floor…”
“Yes, and went off, injuring one of the other patrons of the bar.” He pulls out a little book from his vest pocket and flips it open, reading from the page. “One Mister Reginald Wilson. The bullet only grazed his leg, fortunately, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the way he carried on over a trifling little scrape.” The way he says this last bit makes me smile, and he catches my look and smiles in return.
“The point remains the same, Miss O’Malley,” the man, J.M. Dawes, continues. “You never tried to pick up the gun after that. Some call that stupid. I call it prudent. You simply found your mark, in this instance, your brother, and you extracted him from the locale, and with minimum damage. Masterful work, really.”
“Sure. That and a dime will get you a bag of peanuts,” I tell him.
“You’re being humorous,” he says, “but you are getting right to the heart of the matter, aren’t you? You are looking for work, are you not, Miss O’Malley?”
“I could be,” I say, apprehensively. I didn’t know a job offer was coming my way, but now it all makes sense.
“And you are clearly handy in a scrape,” Dawes continues. “Plus, the use of your feminine wiles on the unassuming body guard was a delight to behold. If you don’t mind the danger, I’d like to offer you a job. Call it a trial employment.”
“Okay,” I tell him, “I’m listening. What’s the gig, and how much does it pay?”
“Ah yes,” he says, “Brass tacks and brass knuckles. I like your style, Miss O’Malley. Your task is a simple one; keep an eye on Johnny Decker until the New Jersey authorities come and extradite him from The Hotel Deville; a day’s work, and you can earn fifty dollars. Twenty-five up front; and twenty-five when he is handed over to the officers.”
“You mean to tell me you’re just going to give me twenty-five up front? That’s a lot of scratch!”
“And more should you prove to be as resourceful as I think.”
“What’s the catch?” I ask him. “Why aren’t you on babysitting duty?”
“Babysitting?” he scoffs again, “I quite like that, actually! Yes, babysitting… At any rate, I received a wire last night indicating a lucrative bounty, and I must admit I’m short staffed.”
“Why not just drive the guy to Jersey yourself?”
“Alas, Johnny Decker is a capable one. He has men that would have no problem attacking my vehicle, should they somehow discern that I was his mode of transport. They seem to be a bit more judicious when it comes to railroading an officer of the law, considering the legal ramifications of failure.”
“I think I understood half of that,” I tell him.
“And I assume it was the half that you needed to understand,” he replies. “The offer is on the table, Miss O’Malley.”
“When do I begin?”
“That depends,” Dawes says. “Have you those brass knuckles handy?”
“I have them in my purse,” I tell him, and I indicate my hand bag.
“Excellent,” he replies. “Then you begin immediately.” He takes a pocket watch out of his vest and examines the time. “Judging by the hour, the sedative I used on Johnny should be wearing off. He’s tied up in the bathtub of my hotel room, and I really must be on my way. There are people to apprehend, Miss O’Malley, and time is always our most precious commodity.”
— ♦♦♦ —
The Hotel Deville is a ritzy establishment, the kind that makes me want to powder my nose and check my eye as soon as I walk in for fear of people giving me sideways looks. Dawes doesn’t seem bothered by my company at all though, and escorts me to the front desk.
A hotel flunkey greets him from behind the counter. “Welcome back, sir! Did you enjoy your lunch?”
“Lovely, indeed,” Dawes says. “Any messages while I was gone?”
“Yes sir,” the flunkey says, and he disappears into a back room before returning with a typed note. Now he notices me and gives me a funny look.
“I didn’t realize you had company with you,” he says, eying me.
“Yes, well,” Dawes replies, “when in the city, one does seek companionship. I’m assured you run a discreet establishment, and that I shan’t be bothered?”
“Sir,” the flunkey answers, “The D in Deville stands for Discreet.”
“I thought as much,” Dawes says, and he slips a bill across the desk that the flunkey slyly pockets, before escorting me away from the desk.
“What gives, pal?” I tell him as we round the cover. “If you think for one second you’re taking me up to your room to put the moves on me, I’ve got two fists that say otherwise.”
“Relax, Miss O’Malley,” Dawes says. “It’s called a cover. If the gentleman running the counter believes us to be intimate lovers, then he shall provide us the necessary privacy. Lesson one if you are going to find success in this business is to embrace improvisation. Lesson two is to tip your service people well, as they will become your closest allies.”
He’s straight-faced when he says this. It’s even kind of funny in its own way. Dawes doesn’t seem that bad of a guy, and for someone I just met, it’s odd how quick a certain style will lend itself to trust.
The elevator boy takes us up to the third floor, and he’s sitting on his little stool by the door, reading a newspaper with the bold headline splashed across the front page:
WAR DECLARED ON US BY GERMANY AND ITALY
3 JAP WARSHIPS SUNK BY OUR ARMY AND NAVY
“I guess the war’s really on now,” I say to the elevator boy. It’s quiet otherwise, and he’s startled by the sound of my voice.
“Looks like it,” he says, then announces, “Third floor!” and the elevator comes to a complete stop. Dawes hands him a dollar when he opens the gate, and the elevator boy quips, “Say! Thanks, Mac!”
As we walk down the hallway, I tell Dawes, somewhat awed, “You weren’t kidding about those tips! You must be pretty well-off.”
“They’re not tips, Miss O’Malley,” he replies. “They’re business expenses. Keep record of them. Should you find yourself in a position to do some discretionary spending of your own, I will do my best to reimburse you, within reason.”
We stop in front of the room at the very end of the hall and enter. Inside, it’s the nicest place I’ve even been in. The bed’s done up real nice with clean sheets and pillows, and there’s a packed suitcase sitting on top of it with a train ticket. On a night stand by the bed is a phone and a wad of bills.
“I hope you don’t mind small bills,” he says, and then motions to a closed door opposite the bed. “In there you’ll find Johnny Decker. It’s best that you don’t go in, as he may recognize you. I do believe he is still a bit unnerved at how last evening concluded for him.”
He walks over to the bed, grabs the suitcase and train ticket, and then begins to head out.
“So wait a minute,” I say, and he stops at the door. “Are you telling me I’m just supposed to sit here and wait for this guy to get picked up by the fuzz?”
“Yes,” Dawes says, “As a matter of fact, the message I received was a wire from the New Jersey authorities, confirming they got my correspondence about a young female being present to allow officers into the hotel room where Decker is to be found.”
“And what if I had said no to the job?” I ask him.
“Do you want the truth?” he replies.
“Yeah, sure,” I say, hesitant to know.
“Then I would’ve genuinely solicited a prostitute for the drop off.”
My jaw drops. This guy has a lot of nerve.
“It wouldn’t be the first time that I have resorted to such means, Miss O’Malley,” Dawes continues, “and it certainly isn’t the most ideal of situations. I took a chance assuming you’d accept my offer, and I’m glad that you did. I’m much more confident in your ability to handle unforeseen situations, though I’m sure a lady of the night is also practiced in expecting the unexpected.”
“Thanks, I guess?”
“Never mention it,” he replies earnestly. “The authorities should present themselves within the hour. Keep an eye out the window for their vehicle to pull up. I chose this room expressly for its vantage point.”
He puts his hand on the door knob and begins to turn when I blurt out, “But how am I supposed to find you when the job is done.”
He keeps his back turned to me, but says loud and clear, “The train runs on a schedule, Miss O’Malley. I’m a man of my word. Twenty-five after for a job well done. I’ll find you.”
Before I can hem and haw anymore, the door opens and he’s gone, leaving me in a fancy hotel room with a crook in a bathtub waiting to be picked up by the cops. Ain’t life a funny thing?
The time ticks by and I take a seat on the bed, put my feet up, and rest my head against the wall. Forty minutes into the wait, I hear a moaning from the bathroom.
“When I find out who did this to me,” I hear from behind the door, “I’m gonna turn you into mincemeat, d’ya hear me?”
I’ve had a pretty colorful life, and I’m not bothered too much by the tough talk.
“You hear me talking to you?” he continues. “You have any idea who I am? Nobody slips James Thomas Decker a mickey and lives to tell the tale! You have no clue as to how deep you’re in it right now.”
“Aw, shut yer yap,” I tell him through the door. It gets boring listening to a guy after a while.
He gets real quiet for a second. Then, I start to hear a laugh come through, like a low, snarling chuckle. “Oh,” Decker says, “So it’s a dame that’s on the other side of this wall, huh? And by the sound of it, a dame that sounds awfully familiar…”
“Quiet you,” I shout, a little antsy now. “You don’t know me from Adam.”
“You sure about that, toots?” he asks me. “It’s a funny thing, what a guy remembers right before the lights go out. I come to, tied up in a bathtub, and all I can think about is that pesky option three…”
“Yeah, well, you won’t even have two options when Jersey’s finest show up for you. You’ll have just one, pal! Jail.”
“Tough talk for a potato-eater that likes to blindside a man when he’s unawares,” Decker replies. “Your brother Connor give you those brass knuckles?”
I hop off the bed and look out the window, hoping to see a car pulling in front of the hotel. As luck would have it, an automobile looks like it just parked, and three men in dark suits are getting out. “I wouldn’t worry about my brass knuckles when you’ve got iron bars in your future,” I tell him. “It looks like the cops are here to pick you up now!”
Decker laughs that same menacing laugh again. “Oh you think so? Let me ask you this, sweetheart. Is that a lime green convertible that just pulled up?”
I look back down the window and my heart sinks a little. “How’d you know that?” “Those aren’t G-Men, toots. Those are my men. You think I don’t have moles that know enough to keep an eye out should anything happen to me? You’re a sitting duck now and a dead duck soon.”
I’ve been in a jam before, but this one feels like a real pickle. Dawes said there could be unforeseen situations, and now I know what he means. I can’t go to war with three armed goons. It would be suicide. Then I think about what Dawes told me back in the lobby.
“Lesson two…” I mutter to myself, and I eye the cash he’s left sitting out by the phone. “Discretionary spending…”
I pick up the hotel phone and get connected to the front desk.
“How may I assist you?” a voice says over the line.
“Could you be a darling,” I say in my sweetest voice, “And have the elevator boy bring up the drink cart to Mr. Dawes room?”
“Certainly!” the voice says.
I hang up the phone, dig into my handbag, and grab my knuckles. When I open the bathroom door, I can see Johnny Decker lying in the tub. At first he gives me this cocky look, but when he sees the brass, his eyes grow wide.
“Say,” he says, “What’s the big idea?”
“You remember option three, don’t you?” I ask him, and I throw my hand against his defenseless jaw. Guys like him have probably been on top for so long they forgot how to take a hit, and he’s out like a light with just one swipe of my right. I pick him up by the shoulders, and thankfully he’s just small enough that he’s not too terrible to pick up on my own. Just as I get him situated, I hear a loud knock. I grab a terrycloth bathrobe hanging up next to the tub and make my way to the door, hoping it’s not Decker’s men.
“Who is it?” I ask in that same sweet voice I used on the phone.
“Drinks cart, Madame,” the voice on the other side announces. I open the door, and sure enough, there’s the elevator boy with the cart, which luckily for me, is pretty sizeable. I look the boy over, and we’re roughly the same height.
“Say kid,” I tell him, “How’d you like to make a quick fifteen bucks?”
“Sure!” he says.
“Great,” I tell him, and I throw him the bathrobe. “No questions asked. Put this on and leave your uniform and the drink cart here. Sound good?”
He hesitates for a second, then sees me fan the cash out in front of him for good measure. In less than five minutes, he’s in the bathrobe and I’m in the elevator boy uniform, with my hair tucked under the bellboy hat. I grab a washcloth and wipe the makeup off my face and with the shiner on my eye showing, I look less than feminine. In no time at all, the kid helps hide Johnny Decker underneath the drink cart.
As I leave, I tell him, “Don’t open the door for anybody. If this goes well, you’ll have your uniform back in an hour.”
I make my way down the hall, and as I approach the elevator, the gate opens and three men get off, muttering about the lack of an elevator boy.
“Sorry we’re a little short staffed,” I call out to them, coolly. Then, without thinking about it, I say, “Seamus, our usual boy, took sick. I would’ve brought you gentlemen up, but I had to fix beverages. Care for a drink? It’s on the house, for your troubles.”
One of the three starts to put in a request for a whiskey sour, but he gets slugged in the arm by the goon standing next to him.
“Not while we’re on the job,” he says to him, and then he looks at me. “Say, you seen any funny stuff on this floor? Old fella escorting a, um, uh…” he stumbles for an appropriate word.
“A lady?” I ask him.
“No!” he says. “A little guy. I mean a short guy! Not little.” He’s red in the face, like he just committed a cardinal sin.
“Can’t say that I have on this floor,” I tell him, “But if you take the stairs, you can get to the fourth floor quicker than I’d get you there on the elevator with this heavy drink cart.”
They look at each other for a moment, and then rush into the stairwell to hustle up to the fourth floor. When I get on the elevator and shut the gate, I hear a little moan from under the cart, and I gently kick the back of it. “Shut yer yap,” I tell him. “You’ll be in a paddy wagon soon enough.”
When I get to the lobby, I can see the Jersey officers just pulling up, and I wheel the drink cart right to them. “Special delivery!” I tell them and boy are they surprised to see what I’m hauling. Then when I take off the elevator boy’s cap to reveal my long hair, their jaws drop.
“You the dame that Dawes was talking about?” they ask me.
“That’s right,” I tell them. “Babysitter for hire. If you’re quick, you can also catch three of Tommy Decker’s goons on the fourth floor, packing heat and looking for their boss.” One of the cops smiles at me and rushes into the hotel lobby to call for backup. When I tell them about having to use the disguise, the other officers get a good chuckle.
“You’re mad!” one laughs.
“You might just be one of the most interesting bounty hunters we’ve ever worked with,” says another, loading Decker into the back of the squad car. The thought makes me smile.
“Mad Maud O’Malley, the bounty hunter,” I say. “I like the sound of that.”
I want to celebrate. With the money I just made, having a drink with the big lug from Diamond Jim’s sounds like the proper way to do it. And who knows? Maybe Dawes will be there waiting for me, with another mark lined up, ready to go.
— ♦♦♦ —
This is our first western pulp story and its terrific! It’s a fast-paced story of murder, deceit, revenge, and greed…old frontier style. Rhonda’s father maintained his innocence but a jury convicted him and sentenced him to be hanged. Before her death, Rhonda’s mother always told her he had been framed. Rhonda’s brother suddenly breezes into town, but for what purpose? What are he and his “wife” hiding? Some skeletons belong in the closet…