By Margie Harris, Mobs magazine 1930
(Courtesy of John L. Locke. His collection of her stories is available from Amazon)
A mystery night club queen, with a look of death in her eyes and a little black book filled with names . . . a steadily shorter list!
Seattle, Queen City of the Northwest, gleaming like a great, white jewel on rising ground overlooking Elliott Bay, is a city beautiful. There roses bloom the year around. There men and women live and love and die, far from the tenements and slums of the great Eastern cities.
But in Seattle lies hidden one canker spot. It is the district below Yesler Way, which is the sole blot on the city’s fair escutcheon. There is to be found the last remaining trace of those other days when lumberjacks from the woods and miners from Alaska came whooping forth with gold-filled hands, demanding of Life those things of which they had been deprived.
“Below Yesler” is evil, and of all the evil things within its purlieus, none is more depraved, more terrible in the minds of the decent and law-abiding than the underworld cabaret and speakeasy operated for nearly two decades by “Scar” Argyle. There gathered waterfront thugs, gangsters, racketeers, gunmen.
Most fearsome of all, to the uninitiated, was its proprietor. His face was thoroughly repulsive. A great red seam led from the stiff hair above his left temple and down across the bridge of his nose. It ended at the right jawbone after creasing the cheek deeply. In healing it had drawn the flesh so that the mouth seemed cast in a permanent sneer. The right eye was so affected that half of the lower eyelid turned down, gleaming redly.
That was Scar’s reminder that he once had double-crossed “Nigger George,” a piano player. True, Scar had seen to it that there was an early funeral in George’s personal social circle, but the razor slash had put a permanent end to whatever was delightful, either in countenance or disposition, of Argyle. Now he was a leering, gross mountain of fat. For hours he would sit, seemingly without movement, his piggish black eyes searching, always searching for new methods of vile profit.
On a bright afternoon in March, Scar sat cursing his luck, his failing patronage and most of all the police of his precinct. Their increasing demands for graft and favors bade fair to turn his once prosperous business into a losing venture.
Only that day he had received a shipment of liquor and had paid his “delivery charge” to the policeman on the beat without demur. Later he had sent to the precinct captain the usual weekly payment for protection. Now, within the last four hours, four sergeants had slipped in to see him.
One had compelled him to buy four tickets for a police ball. The next had asked for two quarts of prime liquor “for the lieutenant.” Number Three asked for a couple of drinks and then borrowed five dollars.
The fourth brought the crowning blow. With him came a stranger—a supposed friend. Scar had been bullied into cashing a twenty dollar check for this man. He tore it up after they left. Too many such had bounced back from his bank. Truly the lot of an underworld cabaret owner was trouble filled.
The side door bell rang as Scar cogitated on his woes, and the doorman turned to say:
“Lady to see youse, Scar. Good looker!”
“Hell, let her in!” Scar almost spat the words. “Probably a hen cop with another touch; they’re all that have overlooked me this week.”
His eyes brightened, however, as a modishly gowned, athletic appearing girl stepped through the door and looked unconcernedly about her. Few such had been there since the days of the gold rush. When her eyes encountered his, Scar beckoned. She walked to the table and took a place opposite him.
“Pat Jennings told me to see you,” she said confidentially. “My name is Kate Dever. I’m on the lam from New York—witness in a gang killing, which means a year in the sticks for me. Jennings says you need a hostess to pep up your game; I need a job. Also I know my stuff, Big Boy, and the jack I can make for you will be nobody’s business. I’ll have to do it in my own way, though; no buttinskys.”
As Argyle stared suspiciously at her, the girl dropped her coat from her shoulders and removed a close-fitting hat. Scar’s eyes lighted as a throat and shoulders a Diana might have envied, were revealed. He grunted in renewed admiration as the dim lights outlined a beautiful, resolute face and a frame of dark-red hair, well kept and bobbed in the latest mode.
“Hell, kid,” Scar burst forth breathlessly. “Sure! You’re fixed fer life.”
The tone, the gleam in his eyes, made his meaning all too clear. Kate Dever did not seek to evade his burning glance.
“Yes?” she queried coldly. “You wouldn’t kid a little girl, would you, Scar? You think you want me? Then come and take me.”
The man lurched to his feet with a speed surprising in one of his bulk and clawed at her in an awkward attempt to draw her into his arms. One hand fixed itself on her shoulder. Before he could do more, she sprang up, thrusting with both hands against his chest.
Scar stumbled backward a step and the girl slipped out from behind the table. In her hand, seemingly juggled out of thin air, was a gleaming Spanish dagger, needle-pointed and with a blade almost paper thin. Scar eyed the knife; noted that it was held in the thrusting position—and that the point was aimed directly at his stomach. His arms dropped to his side in token of surrender.
“What th’ hell do you think—?” he began thickly.
Kate, smiling now, resumed her seat.
“Oh, sit down, stupid,” she said quietly. “Sit down and buy me a drink. You had to learn it some time—and right at first is the best time. Remember this hereafter. I’m no man’s woman. Any man who puts his hands on me gets hurt. I know how to take care of myself morning, noon and night—also vacations. Now how about the job?”
Scar had signaled for a waiter, who brought whiskey. Scar gulped down a huge portion. Kate poured a few drops in a glass with ginger ale and tossed it off.
“My first and last drink in your place,” she said. “If I work here I’m served tea for whiskey, distilled water for gin and sparkling cider instead of what you call champagne. And Lord help the waiter who brings me anything else!”
Here was a new type to Scar. A beautiful woman who dared to come to his own joint and flout him when the odds were all his way, would be an asset. He visioned the returning trade when the word went out through the underworld that the Argyle Club had a new hostess who could not be “made.”
“You’ve got the job,” he said decisively. “Seventy-five a week and a piece of the profits over the first thousand. That’s about what I’m doin’ now.”
“Big-hearted Scar!” Kate mocked him. “Hundred a week, five per cent of the gross—and I start tonight.”
About to protest, Scar thought better of it and extended his hand for the underworld shake of acceptance. Instead, Kate turned sidewise, circled his arm with her left, caught the knuckles of his fist with her right and bent the member downward. Scar grinned. It was the gangster method of making the sucker loosen up from whatever he held.
“Know your grapes, don’t you?” he chuckled. “Well, I’ve loosened for a yard and five per cent a week, so be here at eight. Wanna little advance?”
Kate opened her purse and smiled. A wad of yellow-backed bills had been thrust in there loosely.
“No, thanks,” she replied sweetly. “A nice old gentleman on the train attended to that for you. Somehow he got off at the next station; the conductor put him off. He tried to get into my berth.”
“Onto all the games, hey?” Scar queried. “Now, what’s your deal?”
“What are you using?” she countered, looking about at the small stage and the orchestra stand.
“Pretty fair nigger string band, six dancin’ girls who double as drink grafters and cigarette girls, an’ a good boy hoofer. You sing, kid?”
“Nor dance,” Kate replied. “I work from the floor; out where the money jingles and the saps need encouraging. Leave it to me, Big Fellow, and don’t mind later on if I make some changes.”
Scar nodded perplexedly.
“It’s O.K. by me, girlie,” he replied, “but leave Little Laura on th’ job if you can. She’s a good little guy—kinda fond of me. And by the way, kid, what’s your moniker? Got one?”
Kate looked him squarely in the eye and said:
“They call me ‘Cougar Kitty’—better let that spread around a little.”
“She mountain lion, huh?” Scar mused. “Damn if they ain’t right.”
Midnight in Scar’s cabaret was merely breakfast time in Gangland.
Kate, resplendent in a gold sequin gown which cast forth points of light in every direction as she moved, sat chatting with Scar at a table near the orchestra. With them, snuggled close against the proprietor’s bulk, was the cigarette girl, Little Laura. She was a big-eyed, wistful child woman of the clinging type, but except when she looked at Scar, there was a hard little glitter in her eyes.
Scar had said she was “kinda fond” of him. Strangely enough, Kate reflected, there seemed reason for the statement. Between the big-eyed girl and the gross flesh-mountain of villainy there existed some bond. When he spoke to the girl, Scar’s tone was gentle and as nearly affable as it could be. Laura was serious in her talk with him and actually seemed to enjoy his elephantine pawings.
The grapevine telegraph of the underworld had carried the news of Scar’s new attraction. Already the tables had filled with a swaggering crew of gangsters, sleek haired, gorgeously dressed young gunmen, and here and there older men—cold of eye, and each seemingly determined to sit so as to face the door.
Many brought their molls and, because a thug’s standing is measured by the appearance of his woman, they made a brave showing of costly garments and gleaming jewels. Only those older men, the square jawed poachers in the Land of Rackets, were alone. They hunted among the ranks of the hostesses and entertainers.
Presently Kate caught Scar’s eye and nodded. He had his orders and when he lumbered to his feet and stopped the music, everyone became quiet.
Scar was about to make a speech! Usually he contented himself with howling, profane comments from his chair by the orchestra.
“Listen, guys and molls,” he rumbled. “Seattle ain’t so big as Noo York, but she’s just as lively, and when it comes to givin’ you the best in ent’tainment, Scar Argyle’s the boy to do it. From now on, the Argyle Club’s the live spot here. And I now takes pleasure in int’ducin’ to you Miss Kate Dever—knowed mostly as ‘Cougar Kitty,’ our new hostess.”
Kate, self-possessed as her namesake in the home nest, walked to a place beside him and smiled brightly. Prolonged hand-clapping and a few cheers greeted her.
“I am glad to be here,” she said, “and I want one and all of you for my best pals. Scar Argyle has given me the right to do what I please for your entertainment. The word hereafter is ‘Go as far as you like, as fast as you like, so long as you keep fairly quiet—and so long as you don’t get fresh with the new hostess.’ ”
New applause burst forth and Kate nodded to the orchestra. Instantly a mad, jazzing dance number flared forth. Some derisive laughs had greeted Kate’s reference to herself and some of the bolder of the young cannons left their tables to gather around her.
Scar was watching, fascinated. Kate dismissed the pleas of dance partners one by one, until Speedball Kane, a leader among the gunmen and handsome in a wild, boyish fashion, clasped her about the waist. He fell into a dance step and tugged. The smile never left her face.
Suddenly her hands came up apparently to hold him off, but instead they caught both of his shoulders firmly. At the same moment she stepped forward with the speed of a striking reptile. She thrust her toe back of his left heel, then pushed him backward with all her surprising strength.
Though he was a rough-and-tumble fighter trained on the docks, Speedball had not expected the reverse back-heel from a handsomely gowned night hostess. The backward thrust was too powerful, the fulcrum supplied by her foot too far below his center of balance to be resisted.
The gangster crashed to the floor on his shoulders. A split-second later his head collided with the maple with a resounding thump. A roar of laughter followed. It stilled a few seconds later when the young tough failed to rise. Two of his friends moved toward him.
“Leave him there,” Kate commanded coldly. “I want him to come to there so he’ll realize that he’s to keep his hands off me in future. I’m no better than he is—but I’m as good—and when I want a man’s hands on me, I’ll ask him to put them there.”
Speedball stirred, blinked, dragged himself to his knees. Then his glance swept upward and encountered the gleeful eyes of Cougar Kitty. He shook his head and looked about. On every hand he saw the awe-stricken eyes of his friends. Instantly a dull red suffused his face. He gathered his muscles for a leap at the mocking girl before him.
“Damn you—” he began. Then the words choked in his throat and his eyes went wide with surprise.
Kate’s right hand was extended toward him. A dull ring of blued steel peeped out between her second and third fingers; the whole hand was tightening on something within her palm. Too well Speed knew what that meant.
For Cougar Kitty was holding in her plump, beringed hand one of the dwarfed, vicious little plunger guns of Gangland. It was a mere ring of metal extending out of a firing chamber, back of which was a trip plunger which released the pin against a solitary bullet of heavy caliber.
Speed could be forgiven for pausing. The one-inch barrel was trained directly on his forehead. A child could not miss at that distance. The crook teetered on his feet uncertainly. Then a girl’s voice cut the silence:
“Slap the broad down, Speed,” it said. “Don’t spoil a good notion.”
Kate smiled bleakly and waved Speed back to his place. Then came a muffled roar and gray smoke curled from between her fingers.
She had fired the weapon into the floor as the best means of squaring Speedball against later accusations of cowardice. Everyone leaped up; all had some question to ask.
Kate held the still smoking weapon above her head.
“Sorry, boys and girls,” she said. “I hate to pull off rough stuff on our first evening together—but I had him covered—plenty. I had to let you know I meant it when I said: ‘Don’t get fresh with the new hostess.’ All right? Well, let’s play again.”
She motioned to the goggling bandsmen to continue playing. Then, under cover of the opening notes, she walked straight to where Speedball was struggling into his light overcoat. He felt alone, disgraced in the eyes of the other gangsters and their molls. The red of shame colored his face, but about his mouth was the deadly white line which marks the killing rage in man.
Everyone was watching openly. Kate moved as one who has decided on a definite course. Speed jerked his coat into place and clapped his hat down over his eyes. She was at his side now, hand extended.
“Sit down, Speed,” she said in a tone intended for his ears alone. “If you go out now, you’ll leave these others laughing. Be nice and I’ll make it all jake for us both. Now shake hands like a sport and tell me it’s all right—even if you did start it.”
Speed took her hand, shook it heartily and grinned. Too well he knew it was his only course. Unless there was more to add to the story, Gangland would be yelping taunts at him for months to come. Maybe, he reflected, he could turn the tables on this wise broad from New York if he was crafty.
“I’m game; speak your piece,” he half whispered. “But don’t figure to start nothin’ more.”
“Be your age,” she replied. “Now, listen, Speed, I’m starting a new racket here and I need at least one friend on whom I can depend. You made me tangle with you before your friends, but I didn’t ask you to. Now, we can be the best of friends, and at the same time I’ll show you how to get yourself some good out of it.
“I’ve heard about you. They call you ‘Speedball’ because you drive the stickups and hijackers away so far and so fast, they have to wait ten minutes before they start to make an alibi. What?”
Such tribute to his unerring efficiency at the wheel of a getaway car caused the young gangster to flush happily. Maybe here was a woman worth hanging about after.
“No,” Kate went on as though reading his thoughts, “you don’t mean any more to me than any other man, but if you wish, I’ll let you be my Number One Pal. We’ll play around together and sometimes you can take me home—as far as the door.
“What I want of you is to keep them off my back if things get rough—nothing more. If the others see us palling around together we’ll be accused of having fallen for one another. Now, say it. Want to play, or will you put on the funny hat and coat and go out and get yourself laughed at? First and last chance, boy.”
“Sure, Kitty, I’ll play,” he answered, “just to square myself.”
“Speedball and I are all made up ‘n’ everything,” Kate announced to the watching crowd. “And now I want you all to walk past here in line and shake hands with us both. Then we’ll all be the best kind of pals. Scar will buy a drink for the house, and I’ll show you the latest New York racket.”
She was exerting herself now, putting into her simple little speech and almost childish plan of personal contact with each, all of the hard won personality she possessed. She let her eyes flicker toward Scar. He sat there, a contented mountain of evil, literally drooling over the manner in which she was earning the attention of his patrons.
The idea struck the gangsters and their molls favorably. There was an instant rush to get into line. Speed fell into place beside Kate as the orchestra struck up a slow drag march. The head of the line moved forward. Kate had a bright smile, a word, a nod for each. One plump patron found himself being prodded in the ribs. Another laughed when Kate flicked his tie from under his vest. One pretty girl simpered when Kate whispered: “Gosh, kid! I’m jealous of you—you’re so darn lovely.”
Scar came to his feet as the last of the line passed and bellowed for the drinks. Kate held up her hand for silence.
“Wait, please,” she said. “Will the tall gentleman in dinner clothes, the one at the last table—you, handsome—; the girl with the black hair and the red dress; the man who left his hair at home but wore a horseshoe pin in his tie—and you, Mister Red Necktie—all please come forward?”
The four responded somewhat sheepishly.
“I want you to search my new pal, Speedball,” Kate said smilingly. “I think he’s turned dip. Look in his left, outside pocket.”
Speedball did not wait to be searched. He felt in the pocket himself and gaspingly brought forth a watch, attached to which was a fine chain and gold key; a gold mesh coin purse wrapped in a handkerchief, a diamond stickpin and a thin, but costly, cigarette case.
The crowd roared with laughter at Speed’s consternation. No other group could appreciate better what had happened. None had even a remote suspicion of the youth. He was a known gunman and gangster, and as such, he looked down on the dip as dips in turn look down on doormat thieves.
Kate waited until there was a measure of silence.
“That’s one of the New York night club tricks,” Kate laughed as she restored the property to its owners. They get you all hot and bothered over something that’s happening and then the waiters and house dips put the vacuum to you. One man swore somebody’d stolen his underwear while he waited to kiss a toe dancer whose number he’d drawn in a lottery!”
“What a dame,” someone croaked admiringly. “She’s oke for me,” another chimed in. For minutes the place buzzed with admiration for Kate’s deftness. Scar bought for the house. The two losers of property would not be outdone in generosity and the girl in red, whose coin purse was restored, argued her boy friend into loosening up as well.
It was daylight when the last patron left. That was Speedball, who had waited for Kate. She dismissed him with a shake of her head.
“See you tonight, pal,” she said. “And wear your rod.”
When Scar counted up, he found a take for the night of $900.
Cougar Kitty was an established institution in Seattle’s underworld.
As she walked to the corner of First Avenue to catch a cab, Kate noticed one of the waiters slipping from door to door behind her. As she entered the taxi, she saw him sprint forward and flag down another.
“Drive around for half an hour,” she told the driver. He nodded joyously at such luck at the beginning of his day’s work. Kate, sitting in the center of the rear seat, used her compact mirror to watch the street behind her. She was not mistaken, the other car was dawdling along half a block behind her.
“Keep ahead and when you get a chance pretend to try to lose a cab that’s following us,” Kate told the driver, putting a folded bill into his hand. “Then when you get a chance, make him pass you and cut him off at the curb. I want to talk to his passenger.”
The driver looked at the bill and smiled knowingly. “I’ll have him in two blocks,” he said.
At the next corner he slipped along the right hand curb until traffic changed for east-and-west travel. Then he meshed his gears and swung right up the hill to Second Avenue, going at a furious pace in low gear.
At First Avenue he turned south again and stopped with a shrieking of brakes just past the building line. In a few moments the other cab charged up the hill and turned right also.
“Get him!” Kate commanded. Her driver swung wide from the curb, ran even with the other cab and forced it slowly but surely against the curbing despite the other driver’s shrill curses and the sounds of his horn.
A policeman ran up. “Here!” he demanded. “What’s goin’ on?”
Kate opened the cab door and smiled at the officer.
“The man in the other cab has been following me all over town,” she said, “and I wish to prefer a charge against him, if you please, officer.”
The policeman dragged the luckless waiter from the cab by his collar.
“Tell me about it,” he demanded of Kate.
“He works at Scar Argyle’s,” she replied. “I was there for awhile and when I left this fellow got in another cab and followed me.”
But great was the power of Scar in policedom.
“I wouldn’t do that, lady,” the officer replied. “You go on about your business and I’ll keep this baby here. If you have him pinched, you got to go to court.”
“All right, officer—and thanks,” Kate said as her cab moved off.
It was late afternoon when Kate emerged from her tiny apartment in a huge building on the shores of Lake Union to go abroad again in a taxicab.
Her first stop was at the office of The Hour, greatest of the city’s newspapers. Largess properly distributed to a reception clerk and office boy bought her way into the paper’s morgue of photographs and clippings.
A chubby, partly deaf statistician was in charge. His sole desire seemed to be to prevent any intrusion into his domain. A five dollar bill again wrought wonders and soon Kate was deep in a huge envelope of clippings out of the “H” file.
When she departed, the attendant also dumped out the clippings and studied them.
“Humph!” he grunted. “Now I wonder?”
From the newspaper office she drove to a tall building given over to plastic surgeons, beauticians and hair dressers. One of the latter “touched up” the roots of her dark-red hair. A dermatologist on the floor above injected a white liquid under her skin at the temple, massaged it, and said:
“Lay a good cold-cream base under the powder. When you are ready I will radium-peel your face and we’ll hide that scar entirely.”
“Thanks, doctor,” she replied. “But I’m a busy girl now.”
Dinner at one of the better cafés, a picture show afterward and then Kate took a cab to the Argyle Club where she found a deferential corps of barmen and waiters ready to extend her a grinning welcome. Also she found the place well filled. Her name and fame had spread rapidly among the cannons and molls of South of Yesler.
Scar too waved a warm welcome. She walked to his side in response to a beckoning finger.
“Where you livin’, kid?” he demanded. “It’s a police regulation, you know.” He produced a soiled memorandum book and a stub of pencil expectantly.
“Find out like you tried to this morning,” Kate jeered, but she softened the taunt with an amused smile.
“That’s a bet!” Scar replied. “Think I can’t, huh?” He was in nowise disconcerted.
“Not by using a waiter for a gumshoe, anyway,” Kate replied, seating herself at his table. “What did it cost you to get him loose?”
“Crook of me finger,” Scar jeered in turn. “The bulls don’t want none of my boys.”
“Right, Scar. Now tell me, how did you like my stuff last night? Shall I keep it up?”
“That’s what I hired you for.” Scar was becoming wary now.
“Then we’ll have a novelty night once each week, beginning tonight. You know what I mean? Funny light flashes, contests with everybody doing goofy things like they do at highbrow parties? Get everybody into it and the losers have to buy. Get the idea?”
“The dump’s yours from now to closin’ time. Take it apart if you want to.”
Kate rose, smoothed down her skirt, and said casually.
“By the way, I ordered a regular stage electrician to be here at 11 o’clock to handle the lights. He’s bringing a dimmer; the rest we’ll do with the master switch.”
“Bring two,” said Scar grandly, “or three—if he’s triplets. Keep on getting in the jack and you can hire the devil himself.”
“No need, Scar old thing,” Kate laughed. “He’s here already—and wearing your union suit.”
Scar grunted happily, the nearest to a laugh of which he was capable.
“Wrong,” he said. “Mine’s two-piece.”
Meanwhile Kate was going from table to table, welcoming the friends of the night before and newcomers, attracted by the news of the tiger-girl hostess at the Argyle Club.
The bleak-faced victim of the pocket-picking episode of the previous night was back at his usual table in a corner across from the orchestra and not more than three feet distant from Scar’s customary seat. As Kate stopped before him, he stared at her searchingly.
“Did I ever see you before?” he asked suddenly.
“Surely you did,” she laughed. “I’m King Tut’s daughter. Remember how you used to hold my hand under the purple Egyptian skies—or what have you?”
“Can the jokes,” the man snapped. “I’m serious.”
“Oh-h-h!” Kate said derisively, “so, Mister Kinney, racketeer-in-chief and Big Fixer mustn’t be kidded by a night club hostess.”
“Drop it!” the man snarled. “Forget that name here. It’s ‘Hanson’ now. What the— Say, did you know me in Detroit?” With the question he snatched at her wrist, his fingers pinching deep into her flesh.
The girl did not reply, nor did she wince. Instead she leaned slightly forward, bringing her sneering, ice hard glance on a level with his own.
“All right, Kinney-Hanson,” she said, and there was a deadly chill in her tones. “Don’t move that other hand. I can get you before you ever could touch your gun—and believe me, it’ll be one big pleasure to do it.”
Hanson’s hard eyes searched hers angrily. The smile clung to her lips but he recognized the basilisk expression of the natural killer seeking the slightest excuse to slay. Yet he held to her wrist, trying to probe her mind—to find some reason for such bitter hatred from the mere touch of his hand.
“Let go!” Kate rapped the words out venomously. “I said last night that nobody is permitted to touch me. If I let you get away with it, then I’m sunk here.” Then, in a louder tone for the benefit of those nearby, she said airily:
“Unhand me, vill-yun—and when are you going to buy a drink?”
Hanson’s steely fingers relaxed. He gestured to a seat across the table.
“You’re a nice, pleasant little thing,” he said sarcastically, “but tell me what you want to drink—and all about Detroit.”
“Champagne,” Kate replied with a disarming smile. “Detroit? No, I don’t know much about things there. A girl friend of mine was married to a boy named Wilbur Bealey—‘Wib the Gun,’ they called him. He was mixed up in a booze running gang, and soon after I left there he was killed. Someone said his own gang finished him.”
“Know him pretty well?” Hanson demanded.
“Oh, in a way,” Kate replied nonchalantly. “Daisy, his wife, was an old sidekick of mine, but Wib was away most of the time when I was visiting her.”
“Who else did you know there?” Hanson continued.
“Let me see—why, you were there! I saw you out at a Grosse Pointe roadhouse the night Merrill Orrum, the criminal lawyer, was killed.”
Hanson’s eyes were pinpoint lights of green now, but his poker face did not change. Quietly he produced a cigarette and lighted it. Kate noted that the hand which held the ornate gold lighter did not tremble.
He let a thin cloud of smoke drift from his mouth and Kate felt his eyes studying her critically. Her expression was bored, a trifle uninterested.
“Ah yes, Merrill Orrum,” he said musingly. “I’d forgotten his name. And by the way”—he almost hissed the words—“how does it happen that you, a stranger, remember it? That was a whole year ago.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she shrugged her shoulders as though tired of the subject. “Probably it was because it was an unusual name and the papers said they—the other mobsmen—called him ‘Mary Lorum’ for a nickname, sort of a pun name. Things like that stick in one’s mind, don’t you think so?”
“Not so you’d notice it,” Hanson replied quickly. “You haven’t told me all of it. Damn it, you remind me of someone—”
“Some dizzy blonde from over the river in Windsor probably,” Kate suggested teasingly. Hanson’s eyes narrowed to mere slits.
“Blonde!” he said explosively. “What do you know about a blonde in Detroit?”
Kate laughed merrily.
“Listen, Big Boy,” she replied, “What I know about all Detroit blondes is plenty. Did poor, little Hansy-Hanson get all mixed up with a fuzzy yellow-head?”
Hanson flared up again at the derisive note in her voice.
“Hell with her!” he growled. “I fixed her up good and plenty; don’t worry. But it’s you I’m wondering about. What’re you holding out on me?”
“What would you give to know?”
“Nothing or a lot; I don’t know which. I’ve got a hunch about you, Miss Cougar Kitty whatsyourname, and the first thing you know I’ll be calling the turn on you. Don’t figure me for a dumbbell.”
“Do your prettiest, Big Boy,” she replied as she rose. “And if you guess right—you’ll have something coming to you. I said—‘you’ll have something coming to you’!”
She accented each of the drawled words. Hanson caught a note of menace in her voice; frowned as he watched her retreating form and sought for the answer to the riddle.
He motioned to Scar to come over.
“Where’d you get that damned twist?” he said in a low tone. “She just called the turn on me in Detroit—cracked about ‘Wib the Gun,’ and that lousy mouthpiece, Orrum.”
Scar grinned knowingly.
“She’s a wise head,” he husked. “Doin’ all right here and maybe’ll stand a little watchin’. If she gets flossy she’ll go for a ride—but I ain’t worryin’ none about her. Don’t you, neither.”
Further conversation ended with the entrance of Speedball Kane.
“Whoopee!” Kate sang out. “Solomon in all his glory! Lookit the boy friend!”
Speed was attired in his first dinner clothes. His broad shoulders filled the pinch waisted coat perfectly. He had been shaved, pomaded and massaged into the condition of pink shininess which in Gangland is accepted as perfection.
It is true that he hitched once at the harness of his shoulder holster, but in Argyle Club circles that meant no more than button-fiddling meant in the higher walks of life.
“Everybody give the dressed-up boy friend a hand!” Kate demanded. The guests obliged. “Boy friend and I will buy a drink now.” She continued. There was more applause. Kate drew Speed to a place near the orchestra.
“Speed is to be associate master of ceremonies tonight,” she continued. “So I told him to bring his rod. His job is to see that everybody does just what I tell them to. We’re going to raise hell tonight and put a chunk under it, but we can’t do it unless everybody helps. The first number will be a button busting contest, with Scar Argyle leading off.”
“Huh?” Scar grunted in amazement. “Run your own damn show.”
“Burn him down, Speed, if he don’t mind,” Kate laughed. “Oh come on, chief, it’s easy. Draw a big breath, lean against the inside of the old vest and see what happens. Snap into it, dearie, take a big breath and do your stuff.”
Scar’s mind dealt largely in cash-register terms. Kate had said the loser would buy the drinks. Very well, then, the idea was for him not to lose.
Slowly he inflated his huge chest. His cheeks began to purple as he set his muscles and began to expand. Quickly the vast mountain of fat and muscle pressed outward. An audible “pop” followed and a button tinkled on a glass table top across the room.
“One!” cheered Kate. As she spoke there were three other “pops.” “Two, three, four!” she counted. “Don’t anybody wisecrack. If Scar laughs now he’ll undress himself.” The final button held but tore its way through the buttonhole.
“Fine!” Kate exclaimed. “Four buttons and one buttonhole. Now, who’s next?”
Several of the gunmen patrons went into a huddle. Presently ‘Shanty’ Boles turned and said:
“Us four’s buyin’ for th’ house, Kitty. Name it an’ we pays. Dat’s cheaper’n buyin’ new vests!”
“Lovely!” Kate responded. “Did someone tell me Shanty wasn’t bright?”
As the round of drinks was being served, the electrician touched Kate’s arm and told her the dimmer was connected.
“Don’t test it,” she ordered, “just follow up the orders I gave you. Everybody out now,” she demanded, turning to the patrons. “There’s another surprise for you. We start off with a march around the room. When the lights go out, drop your partner and take the girl ahead of you for a partner. That leaves an extra man and he goes to the end of the line.
“When the orchestra stops playing, everybody buys a drink for the girl with him. Remember now—no cheating or hitting in the clinches.”
The orchestra struck up a jazz march and the patrons, hard-boiled thieves and killers playing a “kid” game for the first time in their lives, began to parade about the room. Kate nodded and the electrician pulled the main switch. Stygian darkness followed.
“One, two, three, four, five, six!” Kate counted slowly. “Lights on!”
As they flared forth everyone went into shrieks of laughter. From a recess back of the stage where Kate had concealed her, an immense negro girl had emerged, taking a place silently beside Scar. She had been well coached for, as the light came on, she leaned confidingly toward the proprietor and snuggled her head against his shoulder.
Scar leaped up, glaring ferociously at Kate while the patrons vented jeers and catcalls. Kate raised her hand and said:
“The house buys on that one, gang—and Scar ought to be thankful that we didn’t see her coming in with him.”
The negress, grinning happily, waddled out. Kate patted Scar’s shoulder and whispered:
“We’ve got to give ‘em stunts, Scar—and we can’t kid the money customers all of the time.”
The evening was off to an auspicious start. Stunt followed stunt in rapid succession. The lights, on dimmers now, went up and down the range of their power; again they flashed like lightning’s play. They would go out and come on again, occasionally disclosing grim gunmen and their molls engaged in the softer process of “necking.” This brought jeers and another round of drinks.
Kate kept it going at fever heat. Between dances she had the girls balancing on beer barrels laid on their sides, or trying to step through the “U” made by their arms and a broom handle. It was a real novelty to the socially starved tough boys and girls and through it all Scar sat and listened happily to the tinkle of the cash registers.
Here and there heads not hard enough to resist the kick of Scar’s raw liquor, had succumbed. Shanty Boles and his moll slept side by side, their heads pillowed on the table before them. Someone had taken a lipstick and painted Shanty’s nose a violent crimson.
Through it all, Hanson sat sipping his liquor, smoking innumerable cigarettes—but always watching Kate narrowly. He seemed to enjoy chatting with one of the chorus girls—Gladys King—whom he had chosen for his companion of the evening.
Once, as the lights came back on, Kate saw him slip a heavy automatic back under his arm. He was taking no chances of an attack in the dark. She slipped to Speed’s side and asked:
“What’s the matter with Hanson? He’s out with the gat every time the lights go down.”
“He’d better,” Speed whispered. “He’s a wholesale junkie. There’s a gang back east gunnin’ for him, and some of the big boys here figure to spot him if they can get him right. He’s nudgin’ in on their racket.”
As they talked, a clock outside chimed the hour of four. Thereafter, Kate kept a close check on the face of her watch.
Fifteen minutes later she snapped into action. First she nodded to the orchestra with a signal for a mad jazz number, calling to the electrician, “Use your own judgment, Johnny.”
With this she stepped over beside Scar and Little Laura. It seemed to Scar that her fingers, pressing on his shoulder, were unduly heavy. Thus she stood while the electrician ran the gamut of his light changes. Scar still could feel the weight of her fingers on his shoulder when the lights went completely out.
There followed a moment of silence, punctuated by minor squeals of fright and laughter. Suddenly someone grunted as though in pain.
A gun roared heavily in the blackness. A girl’s screaming moan sounded as a body struck the floor. The music had been silenced with the sound of the shot.
Out of the babel of sound came Kate’s clear voice: “Lights—quick,” she commanded.
As they came on the horrified merrymakers saw Gladys King squirming on the floor, blood flowing from a wound high up on her right shoulder. Scar leaped up and barked angrily:
“Shut up your damn noise—want the bulls in here?”
Kate knelt beside the injured girl. A cool-headed waiter brought water and Kate began bathing the girl’s forehead.
“What was it, dear?” she asked tenderly. “What happened?”
“He—he—shot me!” Gladys replied. She pointed weakly at Hanson.
From the others there came a growl of anger. Gladys was a favorite. Then followed a concerted rush to the table where Hanson sat, apparently unperturbed. His eyes were half closed. But as the foremost of the gang reached him his body seemed to sag. Then he toppled and his chin struck the table with a thud.
The color had drained from the flesh in his neck. Right at the edge of the hair a single drop of blood stood for a second. It rolled down inside the dead man’s collar and another welled slowly in its place.
Hanson unquestionably was dead. Too many present knew the marks of the coming of the Dread One. An unerring hand had struck once at the base of the brain, severing the spinal cord.
Scar glared around the room ferociously. A mighty anger shook his frame. Hanson, as an individual, meant nothing to him. As a racketeer, head of a junk-running organization of no mean proportions, his murder spelled trouble.
“Who done this?” Scar roared. “Get up on your damned hind legs and have the guts to say so—” A stream of horrible profanity welled and bubbled from his lips.
Kate whispered something to Speed under cover of the noise. The gangster moved quickly to Scar’s side. He talked rapidly in an undertone. At first the proprietor shook his head impatiently. Speed continued talking until silenced with a gesture.
“Listen, guns and molls,” Scar said after a moment of thought. “This here thing ain’t goin’ to do us any good. Now, we’re all-right guys here tonight; there ain’t a rat or snitch in the joint. Hanson’s croaked. Nobody knows who done it, but me and Speedy figgers it will be a good idee for him to be found somewhere else. What say?”
“Take the blankety-blank out and dump him in the bay,” someone growled. “That’s the ticket—out in the streets some’rs,” another said. Scar and Shanty Boles turned to the gruesome task of dressing the corpse in overcoat, gloves and soft gray hat.
“Whose car are you going to use?” Kate asked quietly. Then before anyone answered, she suggested: “Better steal one, Speed, and leave him in it out in the residence district. And while we’re about it, poke a gun in his ribs hard. The blood will settle there and the dicks will think his kidnappers did it.”
“Damn smart,” Scar applauded. “Go ahead, Speed. Find a likely lookin’ bus and shoot her in the alley. I’ll have a lookout waitin’.”
Thus it was arranged. Hanson’s body, with a gangster on each side of it, was loaded into a stolen limousine, Speed at the wheel. Larry Michaels, his buddy, followed in another car. Within thirty minutes all were back at the Argyle Club.
Scar closed soon afterward. Kitty, en route home, made certain she was not being followed. When she had disrobed and made her night toilet, she unfastened a secret compartment in a suitcase and brought to light a small memorandum book.
Then she drew a heavy black line through the first of three names inscribed on its fly-leaf.
The name was “Lester Kinney.”
Seattle morning newspapers had good reason for first-page streamer lines that morning.
Henry Wilson, a milkman, discovered Hanson’s body, rigid behind the steering wheel and with the gloved hands in driving posture. It was in a shining limousine, standing before one of the beautiful homes in the exclusive Queen Anne Hill district.
Wilson notified the police and detectives made several startling discoveries. The first was a footprint in the mud of the gutter where apparently someone had stood beside the car. Plaster casts were made, but later the sleuths were chagrined to find it matched perfectly to the milkman’s brogans.
Next came the news that the limousine had been stolen from a patron of the Elk’s Club. Atop of this came the medical examiner’s announcement that Hanson’s death had been brought about by someone thoroughly skilled in surgery.
Then the discoloration on the side of the body was discovered. As Kate had predicted, the detectives seized on this as proof that someone had jammed a gun against the victim’s side, had kidnapped him and taken him for a ride.
“Gawd, kid!” Scar said to Kate when she entered the club that night, “you sure saved ol’ Scar’s bacon with quick thinkin’ last night. Hereafter they’s another five per cent in the cut fer you.”
“Thanks, Scar,” Kate said listlessly. “Who do you think did it?”
Scar ruminated for a time, then said in a low voice:
“If you hadn’t stood with your hand on my shoulder all the time the lights was out, I’d have said, ‘Mebbe you!’ I seen you and Hanson glarin’ at one another, an’ I copped you two watchin’ each other all evenin’. But I ain’t answerin’ any questions—nor askin’ any. I know where you was every second.”
“Who was against him in the dope game here?” Kate asked after a brief pause, during which she studied Scar’s face attentively.
“Mugs Dietrich,” Scar replied. “He was the big junkie until Hanson showed up nine-ten months ago. Hanson nudged in on the alky racket, but as soon as he’d built up a gang, he hijacked a trunkful of dope, coming from Kansas City to Mugs.
“They was better’n fifty thousand dollars worth in it. Hanson sent for Mugs, covered him with a rod and they talked turkey. When Mugs left, he had half the dope and Hanson had half the town. That’s how Hanson worked. Since then, he’s been edgin’ in on Mugs and four-five boys on both sides has been croaked. Mugs got sore last week and cracked that Hanson better come smokin’ next time they met. That’s why the dicks is figgerin’ last night’s job as a gang-spottin’.”
“Who is Hanson’s Man Friday—his next in command?” Kate asked.
“A guy twicet as hard as Hanson ever wanted to be. They call him Sugarface Mallon. He’s the reason I didn’t want anybody to know Hanson was croaked here. This pritty boy came from the East with Hanson, and after the first week none of our gunnies wanted any of Sugarface’s game. He throws hot lead faster ‘n easier than anybody I ever did see—and some of the best of ‘em has come through that door there.”
Thrill-seeking and curiosity brought back all of the crowd of the night before and yet others who had heard of the live-wire Cougar Kitty. It was by that title she was known in Gangland now; few could have told her last name.
But it was an apathetic crowd. Even Kate’s flaming personality could not evoke a real response, except from the newcomers. The shadow of tragedy still lingered over the place.
The bar patronage was holding up well, however. Some of the patrons seemed anxious to drink themselves insensible in the shortest possible space of time. These were succeeding admirably. Such failed to witness the new situation which unfolded itself suddenly.
During an interval when the orchestra was silent, the doorbell pealed shrilly. When the doorman swung the steel-faced portal open, two well-dressed men stepped into the room. Both stood looking the crowd over coldly.
One, the taller, might have posed for magazine collar advertisements. Nature had given him a trig slenderness, height, a handsome face and a certain air of real gentility. His companion was shorter, dark and glowering, seemingly dissipated and he had a hangdog air. As he turned it was apparent that one of his ears was badly cauliflowered. Both had one thing in common. Their air was purposeful and either could be depended on to do what was needful, no matter what the circumstances.
Scar started to struggle to his feet, but sank back at a signal from Kate. Straight to the pair she went, eyes shining, teeth flashing in a smile of welcome.
“Greetings, Mr. Sugarface Mallon,” she called from the middle of the floor. “Come on in, both of you. The water’s wet—and we haven’t any.”
Mallon eyed her with evident admiration, yet curiously. His companion scowled darkly and whispered something. Sugarface stepped forward and took Kate’s outstretched hand.
“A stranger in town, yet she calls my name,” he said suavely. “Who am I—to be so honored?”
“Tell you later,” Kate said in a low tone. “Play up now.”
Now Scar came lumbering forward. Mallon gave him a cold nod; his companion struck the owner’s outstretched hand aside. Scar turned and waddled back to his chair.
Two of the waiters removed a somnolent drunk from one of the tables, brought a third chair and Kate, Mallon and the other man sat down. Kate and Mallon faced each other across the table; the other’s back was to the dance floor.
“This is Kid Sharkey,” Mallon said, pointing to his companion. “He’s with me always—now that Hanson’s dead.”
“Oh yes,” Kate said nonchalantly, “I read of it in the papers. You were his associate, weren’t you—both here and in the East?”
Mallon’s eyes probed hers ominously, curiously, for a moment.
“See here,” he said as though in sudden decision. “They tell me you’re a wise head; anyway you look it, and I’m going to lay ‘em right out before you. There is a whisper that Hanson was done in right in this room. It is a whisper that hasn’t reached the police, however. One of my boys heard a girl stew talking about it and came to me with the story.
“Now get me right; I’m not caring one half-witted damn about Hanson being rubbed out. Probably it saved me the trouble. He was a bad one and would knock me off in a minute, but he knew I could let him draw and then kill him. For the last six months when we talked he sat with his hands folded over his most recent meal. I’d warned him to.
“But I’m head of the gang now. I’m taking over where he left off. If it was one of Muggsy’s gang that croaked him, then I know where to watch. If it was done here, then there’s a new enemy for me to go gunning after.
“What would you do in my place?”
He fairly hissed the last words.
“I’d buy a drink!” Kate said nonchalantly. “Waiter!”
A red surge of color leaped to Mallon’s pale face.
“Damn it!” he snarled. “Answer me, you rotten—”
Kate’s hand—the right one—slipped over the edge of the table. With the index finger of the left Kate pointed casually toward it. Mallon’s eyes dropped; visioned the deadly steel muzzle of the little plunger-gun between her fingers. Kid Sharkey gasped. For the fraction of a second the weapon turned on him, then flashed back to Sugarface.
“Rotten—what—?” she demanded. “Say anything that’s in your system—and if I don’t like it, then it’s my turn to say or do something—you fool. Say it!” she demanded coldly. Now she was Cougar Kitty indeed.
Speedball Kane, who had lost no item of the byplay from a distance, came slipping to the table. His body was poised on the balls of his feet. The right hand was under his left lapel.
Kate sensed, rather than saw him.
“My affair,” she said over her shoulder. “Don’t interfere unless things get hot—and if they do, then burn Kid Sharkey down and burn him fast.”
“Baby,” Speed said with deep conviction. “He’s afire now.”
“What a broad!” It was Kid Sharkey’s unwilling tribute as he realized just how hot things had become.
Mallon it was who broke the tension.
“Stand off all around,” he said putting his hands before him on the table. “I’m apologizing—not because of the palm-gun, but because they taught me as a kid not to call girls bad names.”
The deadly muzzle slipped out of sight beneath the table. Mallon had a dubious impression that it still covered his stomach.
“Right,” Kate snapped. “Now what do you want to know?”
“Was Hanson fixed up here? That’s all.”
“He was not,” she replied steadily. “He left here about two.”
“Alone. I think he had a telephone call.” Then, before Mallon could stop her, she called over her shoulder, “Oh, Scar!” When he lumbered over, she asked:
“Hanson left last night about two, didn’t he—alone?”
“Uh-huh, about then,” Scar said easily. “I got th’ idee somebody was waitin’ for him—or did he get a ‘phone call?”
“Thanks!” Mallon said carelessly after a moment’s close scrutiny of the scarred, evil countenance before him.
“S’all right,” Scar rumbled. “Let’s us have a drink.”
“Why not?” the younger man replied lightly. “Kid, you go along and see about the trucks. I’ll be at the hangout later.”
Sharkey started to protest, then rose and lurched from the place. His last glance at Kate was one of reverent worship. Kid Sharkey had seen his first real gun-moll.
Mallon rose as Kate did and accompanied her to the table adjoining Scar’s lookout chair, unwittingly dropping into the seat where his chief’s body had been but a few hours before.
Suddenly Kate felt his eyes on her and turned about to surprise the same searching, calculating expression she had encountered in Hanson’s eyes. She smiled, blandly, seated herself across from him and said:
“Want to tell an inquisitive girl something, Mr. Mallon?”
“What?” he demanded. She paused before replying, holding his glance by sheer willpower for a moment.
“How is it that a man of your class, who could be anything he set out to be, is in the booze and dope game?” she said at last.
“Just naturally bad, I guess,” he replied, but Kate saw she had scored her first victory in her fight to draw his interest to her personally.
From then until the moment later when Mallon, now warmed by a number of drinks, began paying her elaborate compliments, Kate used her every art to let glances and half spoken sentences show him that she was not indifferent to him. At last, while the electrician had dimmed the lights to almost out, he leaned across the table and whispered:
“I’m waiting for you tonight, baby—and every other night, if you say so.”
Kate did not answer, contenting herself with letting her hand touch his for a moment in a quick, firm pressure. Then she excused herself and turned to the other patrons. The crowd was thinning out now. Several of the more intoxicated still slumbered in their chairs.
Not more than fifteen couples were on the dance floor when Kate stopped the music with a wave of her hand and said:
“Not enough pep, gang. We’re closing soon now, and let’s make it all hot ‘n everything in the meantime. Make it snappy now, for Speed and I have a surprise for you pretty soon.”
The orchestra swung into a mad jazz number, quickening the cadence until the dancers’ feet literally were flying. Kate called Little Laura to her away from Scar’s side, and whispered something. The girl laughed and took a chair at a vacant table.
Kate caught the electrician’s eye and nodded, holding up a silver chime whistle as a signal. He nodded and began a furious succession of light changes. They flickered up, then dimmed down to mere red-brown shapes within the globes. On again—and the electrician snapped the main switch off and on rapidly, giving the effect of lightning flashes. Once Kate caught Mallon’s eyes and tossed him an airy kiss from her fingertips. Scar, sitting three feet distant from him, scowled wonderingly.
Occasionally couples would barge together on the dance floor, the girls screaming curses or ribald commands. Kate’s eyes narrowed calculatingly watching the unconscious distribution of the couples about the floor.
Suddenly she sounded a musical trill from the whistle. The music rose to a shrill crescendo of noise as the electrician pulled the main switch and threw the entire club into darkness.
But over the music, the shouts of laughter and the scrape of feet, there sounded ten clearly spaced blasts of Kate’s whistle as though she was marking time for the next stunt.
Three sharp blasts followed one another in rapid succession. The lights flared on and the music ceased in the middle of a bar.
For an instant there was a grave-like silence; then gasps of surprise—here and there a nervous titter from one of the molls.
There was reason. Midway down the room, clear of the dancers and at a point where every person in the room was under her eye stood Cougar Kitty, in each hand a thirty-eight automatic. Flanking her, four at each side, stood the club’s eight waiters. Now they were masked with handkerchiefs tied across their noses to conceal mouths and chins. Each carried two snub-nose, small caliber automatics! These were trained on the dancing group and the orchestra.
Kitty’s guns covered Mallon and Scar.
“Up with them,” she demanded dramatically. “Drag me down a star and let me look at it. This is a stick-up and I don’t mean perhaps.”
Mallon and Scar laughed happily, admiringly.
“Some twist, that one,” Scar said out of the corner of his twisted mouth. “Who else’d think of a stunt like that?”
With the words the tension broke. The waiters snapped the handkerchiefs from their faces, broke the seeming automatics and disclosed that they were cigarette guns, made in the shape of pistols. These were distributed to the dancers as they crowded about the smiling hostess.
Kate, meanwhile, stood toying with the weapons hanging loosely at her side. She looked anxiously about for Speedball. He was at one of the tables, retying a shoelace. He looked up at her and grinned.
It was Scar, master of the double-cross and personification of vileness, who was the first to sense the tenseness which had descended on the room.
As he dropped his hands to the chair arms, ready to derrick his great body to a standing position, Kate whirled and leveled both guns.
“Down!” she snapped savagely. “Up with them—both of you—you’re in on this too, Mallon. “Quick—fingers together behind your heads.”
The muzzles of both guns jumped in unison. With the roar came a splintering crash as the missiles flew past the heads of the two men and buried themselves in the wall behind them.
There was no question now of obedience. Mallon, white, silent but watchful as a snake, cradled the back of his head in his hands. Scar was slower and his gross face was splotched and purple as he too withdrew his hands from his holster.
The girl’s tense figure, alone in the center of the floor as she held two redoubtable gunmen helpless, appealed to their sense of the dramatic. They were breathless with suspense when at last she broke silence to say in a lifeless monotone:
“Listen everybody—I’m going to tell you about a couple of damned, lousy skunks—the two sitting there, and another I got last night—Hanson.
“In a little while, I’m going out of here. It is up to you—you boys and girls who, like me, have had to fight for yourselves—it’s up to you whether I go out of here—or whether I don’t! But I’m going to take Skunk Mallon and Skunk Argyle with me! It’ll be the hot seat for them! And I’ve nothing on you!
“I’m a slum kid from Brooklyn. My dad was a drunk; mother was a decent woman. I had two brothers, Wilbur and Merrill. Our family name was Orrum. Merrill, the older brother, was a good kid. He made me go to school just as he did. The other was weak, a sneak thief at twelve and an ex-con at twenty. They called him ‘Wib the Gun.’ ”
Scar’s arms jerked at the words and the girl’s finger tightened for an instant on the trigger of the weapon in her right hand.
“Means something to you, doesn’t it, Skunk Argyle?” she taunted. “Wib was the lad you and Hanson and Mallon, jobbed into killing his own brother that night in Detroit—the lad Mallon and Hanson killed later to stop his mouth.”
Someone in the crowd grated out a curse. She continued her story.
“Merrill had worked his way through law school and had taken up criminal practice. In a few years he was known as the best crook mouthpiece in Detroit. I was his helper—his private investigator.
“But Merrill fell out with Hanson and Mallon, and also with Scar who was the big money back of their booze and dope running. They got poor Wib drunk one night and planted him out to kill a Federal dick near a roadhouse. They decoyed Merrill to the spot and let Wib kill his own brother.
“When he found out what he’d done, he went into hiding. It took me days to find him and when I got there he was croaking. He had just enough strength to tell me the story and to let me know that Mallon had run him down and shot him to silence him.
“I went crazy then. When I found where Hanson was planted out I went there one night and got into the house. I hoped to get him as he slept. But Sugarface Mallon was on the prowl and got me before I could shoot.
“He tied me up. He didn’t call Hanson. He just gagged me—and for that night I was his prisoner. Figure that for yourselves.
“The next morning he threw me down the front steps. He’d finished wrecking the Orrum family. Nice boy—Skunk Mallon—isn’t he?”
“Hanson and Mallon disappeared,” she continued, and now she was tumbling the words forth with machine-gun speed. “But I found they were here, working with Scar Argyle on a new dope underground.
“My hair was gold-yellow. I dyed it red. My figure was slight. I ate sweets, drank heavy cream, stuffed like a Strasbourg goose until I had gained twenty pounds. I went to Chicago and then New York to establish a new identity, but always I kept track of the three skunks.
“You know most of the rest of it. I came here and tricked Scar into giving me work. Last night I stood beside Scar, pressing my fingers into his fat shoulder until the lights went out. Then I got Hanson in the neck with a thin, knife. I was back beside Scar when the lights went on again. He thought he had felt my hand on his shoulder all of the time.”
She paused for a quick glance about the tables, flashed her eyes toward the doorway where waiters and barmen were grouped.
But even that brief second of respite was enough for Sugarface. As she turned back his right hand was flitting under his coat lapel, fingers clawing for the gun butt nestling there.
Cougar Kitty’s left gun jerked twice and a horrible oath spat from Scar’s lips as two black holes appeared, one above the other, in Mallon’s smooth, white forehead. He teetered for a moment in his chair, then fell sideways across Scar’s feet.
The death threat in the girl’s eyes as they flickered to Scar nerved the gross man to action. He threw himself, wedged as he was in his great chair, sideways to the floor. His hand flashed with incredible speed to the butt of his gun.
Cougar Kitty, her eyes pinpoints of blazing hate, waited as the thick fingers grasped the weapon, started to raise it.
Crash! Crash! Crash!
Her gun spoke thrice in rapid succession. A jet of blood leaped from Scar’s lips as the first bullet smashed against his set teeth.
The second smashed through the center of the scar under the victim’s right eye and ploughed into the brain.
The third struck squarely between the eyes—a small, purple edged perforation which wrote the final period on the life-tale of Scar Argyle.
For a moment Cougar Kitty stood silent, staring at the two unmoving bodies on the floor. “Killing was too good for them!”
Then with a gesture of finality she let the guns crash to the floor. Turning, her hands outstretched toward the silent group of grim-faced onlookers, she whispered:
“And now—the verdict. Getaway—or?”
Tense eyes stared back into hers. Still no word was spoken.
Suddenly, as though an invisible wedge was driving into the group, they began to fall back.
White lipped, staring unseeingly before her, Kitty passed the grimly watchful cannons and molls who lined her pathway.