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Authors: Louis Trimble

Blondes are Skin Deep

BOOK: Blondes are Skin Deep
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Shiv happy and coked-up, that was Peone, A little rat of a man with pinpoints for eyes and a strange fondness for sticking knives in people. When he hated, he went kill-crazy. But always with knives.

And that’s what was so screwy. Considine was found with a little grin on his face and a neat little hole in his forehead through which his brains leaked. It couldn’t have been Peone. He hated guns.

But who else then? Not Kane Hall, doomed to his wheelchair, a couple of hundred miles away. Not Chimp, who could beat a man half to death with his fists, but who seldom even carried a gun. Not Quist, greasy fat, stinking of cheap wine, afraid of that fourth offense.

But Considine was dead, and somebody did it. Did it for money, gobs of it and for an expensive blonde like Edna Loomis, whose flesh could drive any man to kill!

Louis Trimble

a division of F+W Media, Inc.


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Also Available



Oxnan hotel didn’t look like much from the outside nor from the lobby. It was an old, native stone affair with high windows and long gaps between floors. The lobby was reached through two narrow doors that opened onto a side street and it contained only a few leather chairs, a potted palm, and the desk tucked into a dim corner. Poorly lighted stairs and an apparently old-fashioned open grille elevator led to the nine upper floors.

I stepped in from the spring dusk outside and cut briskly over to the desk. I was too familiar with the place to be fooled by the drabness. A lot of upper-bracket incomes had once owned an interest in the Oxnan, but now it was those incomes which hid their bracket that lived in it. And lived very well.

I draped myself over the desk and shook the clerk, who was asleep standing up. “Tell Kane I’m on my way,” I said.

The clerk woke up. It was Quist and he was drunk again. Sometimes I wondered why Kane Hall kept him on, even if he did work for almost nothing.

Quist had the loose flabbiness of the stew-bum and when he talked his breath was sickly sweet with the scent of cheap fortified wine. His body was fat, so that his shiny, gray-green suit was wrapped around him like a sausage casing. He blinked at me, finally coming awake enough to see who it was.

“He’s eating, Nick,” Quist protested in his whining voice. “You know he don’t like to be disturbed when he eats.”

I was ready to argue, if only for the pleasure it would give me, when the phone rang. Quist went to the switchboard, plugged something, and listened. He said, “Yeh, Nick Mercer’s down here.” From his expression I could see that it was Kane Hall, phoning to order Quist to let me come up.

“Guess he’s expecting you,” Quist said and grinned, showing his rotting teeth.

“I should paste you one,” I said. “You know I never come unless he’s expecting me.”

Quist cringed back against the key rack. “He said ‘right away,’ Nick.”

Quist disgusted me. I had pasted him before—but only when he deserved it. I said, “Where’s Chimp?”

“Out on a job,” Quist said vaguely.

The lobby seemed strange at this time of day without Hall’s first-lieutenant-bodyguard combination in sight. It was funny, I thought, that Chimp would be ‘out on a job.’ Hall had Johnny Doane and myself for the outside jobs; Chimp usually stayed close to the hotel.

I stepped into the elevator, shut the grilled doors and pressed the button for the top floor. The ancient machine was surprisingly swift of ascent. It was like a lot of other things about Hall’s hotel; the outside appearances didn’t mean much.

On the top floor it stopped and I stepped from dinginess into luxury. The hall had a pale blue ceiling and walls and there was a pale blue carpet on the floor. It always made me feel like wiping my feet before stepping onto it. The plaster of the wall folded into the one door so that there was no casing at all. Indirect lighting gave a faint radiance to the blue tints, so that I had the sensation of stepping into pure essence of evening light.

The door itself was white. I touched the discreet brass call button. The door opened almost immediately. The girl standing there was Chinese, very slender and fragile. She wore a simple black robe without ornament of any kind. I smiled at her and received a smile in return. It was faint, like the rest of her. She moved with the same fragile gentleness, stepping back to let me into the foyer and holding out a slender hand for my hat.

“No hat,” I said. “It isn’t raining.”

She smiled again and drew aside blue draperies hanging across an archway. “Kane is waiting,” she said. Her voice was soft.

I went on in. Kane Hall used the entire top floor of the hotel. His quarters were of the same strange, pale blue as the hallway—the walls, the ceiling, the rug. I could stand it for just so long; I could stand the presence of Kane Hall for only the same length of time.

Hall was at his desk of blond maple, sitting in his wheelchair with his usual straightness. He was reading a letter and occasionally taking bites of an omelette when I approached. He laid the letter aside, following my progress with his luminous green eyes, and continued to watch as I folded into a convenient chair. I leaned back, crossed my legs, and looked at him.

We sat in silence, staring at each other. It was always like this. We both had tendencies to dominate. But after five years of acquaintance, I had to admit that Hall always won out.

What I could see of him was big. His coat was stretched tightly across his shoulders and chest. His arms were thick and his neatly manicured fingers were broad and blunt. On top of that torso his face was a surprise. He had a small head with delicate, almost cameo-like features. Gray, thick hair lay in loose waves above his high forehead. His lips were thin under a thin nose and his chin was faintly pointed. His eyes were striking and it wasn’t altogether their color. They had a quality that had bothered me since our first meeting. All of Hall’s emotions were there, in his eyes, and seldom elsewhere.

“All right,” I said cheerfully. “You win again.”

Hall laughed. His voice was deep and rich. “I always do, Nick.”

“You sent for me,” I reminded him.

He nodded. Tien came from the kitchen at that moment, wheeling a teacart noiselessly over the carpet. On the cart were cups and a coffee pot. Without asking, she poured coffee for both of us, set the cups conveniently on the desk, and wheeled quietly out again.

Hall said, as though he hadn’t even noticed her, “I sent Chimp down to Portland to collect from Considine. That was over a week ago. He came back with less than twelve thousand. Not much for a quarter’s business.”

“Not very much,” I agreed, and wondered what it would be like to regard twelve thousand as not very much.

“Then I got the tip,” Hall said. His green eyes focused on me. “That’s why I sent Johnny down.”

I tried my coffee. It was too hot and I set down the cup. “I know these things,” I said. I knew, too, that it would always be Hall’s way to brief me carefully each time.

Hall went on, “Johnny’s been gone a week now.” He sounded irritated, as if it were my fault. “So I sent Chimp back last night. He called in today.”

I roused my interest. “Don’t tell me Johnny’s got in trouble,” I said mockingly. Johnny Doane’s impetuosity was always bringing him to the verge of trouble.

Hall ate some more of his omelette. When he was through swallowing he said, “Chimp just said there was something wrong. He can’t find Johnny.’

“Is that all?” I grinned a little and lighted a cigaret. “Johnny’s skirt-chasing again; Chimp should know him well enough to realize that.”

Hall wasn’t amused. His voice was dry and harsh. “I didn’t hire him to play Casanova, Nick. I sent him down for a specific job. I expect it to be done.”

I stirred and uncrossed my legs. “All right,” I said. “I’ll see what can be done.”

As usual. I wondered why I stayed in partnership with Johnny Doane when my own job so consistently became that of trouble-shooting for him. One reason, of course, was a deep affection for the little guy. I always had a kind of mother-hen feeling around Johnny, a hovering protectiveness.

Another reason was one I didn’t care to admit often, even to myself—Johnny’s sister, Nelle. Seeing her was like sticking my fingers into an electric socket while standing in a tub of water. I had never found the nerve to let her know it.

I said, “Johnny always gets the job done in the long run. He’s a smart detective.”

“If that tip I got has anything to do with it,” Hall said, “I can’t wait for the long run. If Considine is taking me for a hundred thousand dollars I want to know it—and do something.”

I leaned forward and tried my coffee again. It was just right, clear and strong and fragrant. “I go to Portland to find Johnny, is that it?”

“Find him on your own time,” Hall said. “I want you to contact Chimp and check on Considine.” He took the time to finish his omelette and half of his coffee. By his tone of voice I knew he wasn’t through giving instructions and so I waited, smoking with an appearance of placidity. Inside, as usual, I was coiled up tight. But I wouldn’t give Hall the satisfaction of seeing it.

When he finished eating he began to brief me again in his unemphatic voice. “Considine usually sends around fifty thousand a quarter from his area. When Chimp came back with only twelve he said Considine complained about business being bad. Before I decided to make a check I got the tip.” He flicked a small sheet of notepaper at me.

I had seen it before but I looked at it again. It was typewritten on the kind of paper supplied by any five and dime. It read: “$150,000 killing made here. Get your cut?”

That was all. I handed the paper back. Hall said, “So I sent Johnny down. If you hadn’t been up north collecting, I would have sent you, too.” He shrugged. “Anyway, the second day Johnny reported that he might have a lead. That’s the last I heard from him.”

“The last I heard, too,” I said.

“What about his sister?”

“I’ll call her,” I said. I didn’t like the idea of dragging Nelle into this, even casually. Johnny and I had always kept her strictly away from our business. “Anything else?”

“Don’t bull your way in, that’s all,” Hall said. “The Portland cops might not take to your methods the way ours do.” His smile was thin. “Our business is supposed to be under wraps.”

I agreed, knowing I would probably forget and throw my weight around at the wrong time, and left. When things took too long to break, that damnable impatience came up and pushed me.

By the time I got my suitcase from my apartment and was started down the highway it was very dark. The evening traffic was slow until I got south of the big army post and then it started to drizzle, slowing me still more.

Crawling like that made me itch inside but it did give me a chance to concentrate on the job ahead. Working for Hall was often little besides routine; he had the ability to organize and to keep running a smooth working outfit. But occasionally jobs such as this one came up and then Johnny and I more than earned our annual retainer. When they were really tough, Hall paid a bonus. It helped, since our contract called for us to work only for him.

On the surface Kane Hall was a stockbroker and he ran his business from the top floor of the Oxnan. He also ran a series of branch offices throughout the larger cities of the northwest. It was a beautifully respectable business. Actually, what little stock trading was done would hardly pay his overhead expenses. Under its cover Hall had established a chain of bookie houses that catered to well heeled bettors. It was lucrative and, partly due to the clientele, safe. Hall was choosey as to whom he let bet—though once a man was accepted Hall would take his money at almost any risk. He never took a man who could not afford the game and he tried to keep out those who might become involved through embezzlement. That way he had the silent consent of the authorities—and, as clients, he had the biggest men of their communities.

Joseph Considine, Jr., was the key man in Oregon. He was highly respected, from an old family, inheritor of a stock brokerage that had worked itself into a hole until he teamed up with Kane Hall. Their relationship called for him to keep a third of the gross, and Hall paid everything but the local office upkeep.

It was a nice deal for a man like Considine, and if he had tried to hold out Hall’s hundred-thousand share of a hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar killing it seemed to me that he was a sucker.

And when Hall was taken for a sucker, things were apt to be unpleasant. Sending Chimp down should have been warning enough. More than one man had found Chimp’s toughness to be all that it looked.

The rain stopped below Olympia and I made better time. I felt relaxed with the wind whooshing past the now opened window and the thin ribbon of road unrolling more swiftly beneath my headlights. I stayed close to the speed limit but just enough above it to make me feel good.

I thought, Johnny Doane had a lead and then Johnny disappeared. It could mean a little or it could mean a lot. I had met Considine and found him a smooth, affable man in his fifties. Typical country clubber, I had heard, fancy home verging on the estate class, respectable circle of friends, finishing-school daughter. Widower.

Despite his outward appearance, I had felt no great sense of trust on meeting Considine. When Kane Hall said something, I knew I could believe it. That feeling hadn’t been there with Considine. He was too smooth.

I wondered if $150,000 was big enough dough for him to try to get rid of Johnny.

BOOK: Blondes are Skin Deep
2.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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