Authors: Frank Kane
Meet Johnny Liddell …
a hard-hitting private detective with a taste for wine, an eye for women, and a talent for trouble. The kind of guy men want to be like and women just want.
Meet Frank Kane …
a mystery writer who rocketed to the top! Here’s what the critics say about him …
“Smooth and fast.”
— The New York Times
— Philadelphia Inquirer
“Tough and twisty.”
— Book Digest
a division of F+W Media, Inc.
HE LONG, SLEEK CONVERTIBLE
felt its way cautiously along the rutted road, stopped about twenty feet from the edge of the high cliff. The man in the driver’s seat turned off his motor and cut his lights. From somewhere far below came the hiss and swirl of surf.
“Shad, what’s been worrying you so all evening?” The girl, in the half-light, was dark, her teeth startlingly white against the full ripeness of her lips.
“I’m in a jam, Terry. A real bad one.” He raked his fingers through his hair, stared out over the black abyss. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” He half turned on the seat and looked down into the girl’s face. “I’m scared. Scared stiff.”
“Nothing will happen to you, Shad,” the girl promised. “We’ll get married and take whatever comes together.” She reached up and took his face between her two hands. “I’m sure nothing will happen.”
“I can’t, Terry. I can’t marry you.” He looked at her miserably as she dropped her hands from his face and squeezed over to the far side of the seat. “You don’t understand, Terry-”
The girl reached into her purse, came up with a cigarette, stuck it between her lips, snapped on her lighter. In the small light her eyes were violet, her hair deep black. “You don’t have to explain, Shad.” She lit the cigarette, took a deep drag on it, and let the smoke dribble from her nostrils. “I thought you wanted to marry me.”
“I do, Terry, but — ”
The blackness of the night was suddenly split by twin beams. A big black sedan crept to a stop behind the convertible.
Two men got out, one on each side, and walked to the open car.
“Outside, pal,” the man on the driver’s side growled throatily. “I got a message for you. Special delivery.”
“No, don’t.” The man in the car tried to squirm out of arm’s reach. “Don’t let them, Terry. Don’t let them.”
“Stay out of this, baby,” the man outside the car advised. He shoved his face into the car, his thick lips grinning in anticipation, his heavy face dominated by a spattered nose. “This is just between Junior and us.” He opened the car door, reached in, caught the man in the car by the arm, and dragged him whimpering into the road.
“Don’t do anything,” the younger man pleaded. “I’ll pay. I’ll get the money someplace. Tell Yale I’ll pay — ”
The man with the spattered nose grinned. “Sure you will. This is just interest.” He lashed out with a big hamlike hand and sank it into the younger man’s midsection. The bigger man caught him before he could fall and straightened him up with another punishing body blow. The boy’s knees folded under him; he hit the ground face first.
“Don’t mark his face up too much, Maxie,” the slugger’s companion ordered. He leaned against the convertible, twirled a .45 by its trigger guard. “But make sure he knows we ain’t kidding.”
Maxie nodded, caught the man on the ground by the collar, dragged him to his feet, propped him against the fender of the convertible. The boy’s head rolled, his knees sagged. Maxie laughed, held him upright, slammed him across the mouth with the flat of his hand. The boy’s head snapped back; blood began to run down his chin.
“He’s too pretty anyway,” the man with the broken nose grunted. He hit him in the mouth again, draped him back over the fender. The boy slid down the fender slowly, rolled over onto the ground on his face.
The little man with the gun walked over to where the boy lay, kicked him in the side. He kept kicking until the boy stirred. “I think just a little more, Maxie. We wouldn’t
want him to think we were fooling.”
The big man grinned. “Okay, Duke.”
The girl in the car shook her head. “No more. You’ll kill him. Don’t!”
The man with the gun walked over to the car, leaned in, slapped the girl across the face. “Shut up.”
She sank her face into her hands, tried to hold her ears to keep out the dull, monotonous rhythm of the blows, the piteous groans of the boy. After what seemed hours, she heard the other car roar into life, saw the headlights split the gloom. The driver threw it into reverse and backed out.
The girl jumped out of the car and cradled the smashed face of the boy in her lap. “Shad, Shad, are you all right?”
Blood bubbled from between his smashed lips. He tried to talk, could only nod his head. “Home,” he mumbled painfully. “Get me home.”
• • •
A few days later, Johnny Liddell sat at the end of the oval bar on the Top of the Mark and stared moodily through the cottony mist below down the bay to the Rock. The Frisco end of the case he’d come out on had petered out faster than a salted gold mine and he was debating whether to go home to New York by way of L.A. He hadn’t seen Muggsy Kiely since the ex-reporter flew out six months before to resume her script-writing chores for Supreme. And the letters, on both sides, had gotten fewer and farther between.
He examined his glass, found with no surprise that it was empty, signaled for a refill. He watched glumly while the bartender made a production of lifting a bottle from the back bar, of tilting it over his glass. The truth of the matter was, he admitted to himself, he couldn’t afford a layover on the Coast without a case.
Liddell scowled at the gathering volume of smoke that swirled lazily toward the ceiling, then stared around. A redhead at the far end of the bar looked interesting. Her thick coppery hair was shoulder length; her gown was sufficiently low cut to obviate the possibility of artificial
bolstering to her shapeliness. Most interesting of all at the moment was the fact that she was alone.
Liddell signaled the bartender. “Ask Miss — ” He raised his eyebrows, indicated the redhead.
“Bradley. Louise Bradley.” The bartender followed the direction of his glance. “She’s vocalist with Benny Lewis’s band. Sings in the Sky Club.”
“Ask Miss Bradley to have a drink.”
The man behind the bar pursed his lips, looked sad. “It’s against the rules, sir.”
Liddell nodded, fished a bill from his pocket, folded it lengthwise, stuck it between his index and middle finger. “Rules were made to be broken.”
The bartender brightened, grinned. “Of course, sir. Then, too, the customer is always right.” He took the bill from between Liddell’s fingers, folded it, stuck it into his own pocket, shuffled down to where the redhead sat.
Liddell took a sip from his glass, watched the bartender lean across the bar, whisper to the redhead. She raised her eyes, looked down the bar at Liddell, seemed satisfied by what she saw, and smiled. Liddell waited until her drink had been poured, then, taking his glass, walked down to where she sat.
“Thanks for the drink.” Her voice was husky in a way that raised goose pimples down his spine. “Won’t you sit down?”
“Thanks.” Liddell hooked a bar stool with his toe, pulled it over.
“Stranger in town?” she asked.
“Not exactly. Used to be stationed out here years ago. But I don’t seem to know many people any more.”
The redhead grinned. “Well, meet me. I’m Louise Bradley.”
“So I heard. I’m Johnny Liddell.” He reached into his pocket, brought up a pack of cigarettes, held it out to the girl. When she’d selected one, he stuck one in his own mouth.
“Where are you located now?” The girl leaned over, verified
his original observation that Nature had needed no assist in the magnificence of her façade, accepted a light.
“No kidding? So am I.” She took a deep drag on the cigarette, blew the smoke dreamily at the ceiling. “What I wouldn’t give to be going back there right now.”
Liddell smiled sympathetically. “Been away long?”
“Three years. But what a three years. One nighters, college proms, living out of a suitcase, and using a bus for a hotel room.” She shook her head. “It might only be three years by the calendar, but baby, it seems like forever to me.
“What’s so bad about this? You’re not hopping around, got a good spot in a good town — ”
The girl snorted. “A good town? Frisco? You kidding?”
Liddell shrugged. “Why not? What’s New York got that Frisco hasn’t?”
“Broadway for one thing.” She closed her eyes. “I keep remembering how the lights always look washed out just around dusk and then really come to life when everything else is dark and — ”
“And the or ange-juice stands and the sucker traps and auctions and the tenth-run movie houses and the sickly sweet smell of doughnuts on Forty-Fifth Street? Baby, you’re just homesick. You wouldn’t be there a day without wishing you were three thousand miles away again.”
The redhead grinned, sipped at her glass. “Maybe. But I miss the subways and the crowds, the fresh kids that dance for pennies at show break — ”
“What’s there to miss about other people standing on your feet and kids who dance for pennies and if you don’t give it to them they follow you to a dark street and take it away from you?”
“This town is better? The men can’t make up their minds if they really are and hang out in Finocchio’s while the women play at being men and hang out across the street at Moana’s. As for the guys in the band — ” She shrugged. “If you ever traveled with a crew like Lew’s
you’d know what I mean.”
“You’ve just been going out with the wrong people. Why don’t you let an old native like me show you the town right? Tonight for example.”
“I’m a working girl,” she reminded him. “I’m due for two shows at the Sky Club. I couldn’t get away before eleven.”
“Good. The evening’s just beginning. We can — ”
The bartender walked over. “You Liddell?”
Liddell looked up, nodded.
“Call for you.”
“I’ll take it here.” He grinned at the redhead while the barman was plugging the phone in. “I don’t want to take any chances on your getting away.”
The redhead let her eyes wander over the heavy-set shoulders, the rugged chin, the crooked grin, and gray-flecked black hair. “I didn’t intend to try.”
The operator put the call through, and in a moment a familiar, half-forgotten voice flowed through the receiver. “That you, Johnny?”
“Who’s this? Muggsy?”
“Who then? You been cheating on me?” the receiver chided. “A fine thing. You come out to the Coast and don’t even let me know.”
“I just got here yesterday. I was finishing up a case. How’d you locate me?”
The receiver sniffed at him. “That Rexall redhead in your office in New York. She didn’t want to tell me, but I told her I’d personally go back there and tear her loose from her Toni unless she told me.” A new serious note crept into her voice. “I need help, Johnny. Bad.”
There was a slight pause, then: “I’ve got a case for you. A very good friend of mine needs a private detective. I told him I’d get you for him.”