Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Shot By a Corpse" by Ellen Lynn

Shot By a Corpse
Ellen Lynn

I am a racketeer's moll. And I am glad of it. When King Farrell picked me up in his long, cream-colored convertible I recognized him at once. His picture is always in the papers in connection with the most spectacular capers, but he always establishes an alibi. I was pretty desperate the day I was walking through the park alone and broke and heartsick when King drove up in his snappy car and offered me a lift. His hard handsome face showed that conceited smile that grinned out of all his pictures. I got in beside him and looked into his eyes.

"Where you goin', beautiful?" he asked.

"I was going or a walk," I answered, "but I was getting tired. You can drop me off at the end of the park."

"How about a drink—or how does the upper crust say it—shall we drop in for cocktails?" He laughed out loud at his own humor.

Well, that's how it all began—and now I'm on the inside of the workings of a powerful gang whose leader, King Farrell, is my man. In a year's time I was known as "the Queen,"—because most of the biggest jobs we pulled were my babies. I conceived big capers that had even our boys gasping.

One day King came to my apartment, where he had set me up in royal style, and he was unusually silent. "What are you staring at me for?" I asked him. "I was thinkin'," he answered, "that you're not only beautiful, you're smart. Fact is, you're almost as much boss of this gang as I am. The boys listen to you—and obey your orders. But... you're goin' too far lately. Too many chances. Now this kidnapping, f'r instance—you've got a wonderful scheme worked out and we stand to get a pile of jack—but ya know for a perfect job we'll have to murder the kid—and ya know how the public feels about kids. Well, it's dynamite and I'm dropping the whole idea..."

"We'll do nothing of the kind," I flared up. "We've pulled riskier jobs than this one and are still sitting pretty. The way I've got the thing figured we'll get rid of the kid after we collect the ransom and they'll still never be able to tag us. We've done it before—and we can do it again."

"You're really marvelous, Queen," he said. "I should knock you down and keep you there—just my moll. A dame shouldn't be giving orders. But I got ya under my skin an' I'm willing to listen to your ideas."

"If I weren't crazy about you, I'd throw you out."

"Then pull of the snatch, honey—just as I outlined it. The Grahams are so nuts about their kid, and have such a heap of dough—they'll pay up in a jiffy. We'll never get caught, you can depend on me," I pressed my advantage.

"Okay—okay," King said. "But for such a gorgeous dame you certainly have tough guts. Even in our business da womin usually likes kids—but not you! No mother-love in ya, is dere?"

King left. And just in time, too. I suddenly felt my knees give way and had to sit down. "No mother-love," he said.

Then I thought of Dickie. He was three when they took him from me. My little boy—my son! All my childhood had been poor, unhappy, wretched. My father was always jobless and drunk. My mother worked for us kids—hard, too. She finally died of TB. When Jack Richter came along and gave me love and kindness (I was fifteen), I turned to him gratefully and came to love him. He told me he'd marry me as soon as he transferred his business affairs to New York and could settle there permanently. Meanwhile he took me to live in a bright, clean apartment. It was a new and happy life for me—the first brightness I had ever known. When I knew a baby was coming I was frightened, at first, but one sight of my little son and all my fears were gone. I felt there was nothing I wouldn't do to bring up my little boy in a clean, happy life.

But my little shiny world collapsed around my head. Jack was married. He never told me. His wife smeared the scandal over all the papers. The stories about me were disgusting, horrible. In the end they took Dickie away from me. I wanted to die. But when my little, three-year-old son, Dickie, died six months later I wanted to live. To live for revenge. I wanted to make others suffer as the world made me suffer.

Suddenly I jumped up from the chair where I was moping over the past. "Such stupidity," I said out loud. "All that's in the past—it was all finished five years ago! No more of this sob-stuff."

I felt strong again and felt sure the boys were pulling off the kidnap job as I had planned. It couldn't go wrong.

Footsteps hurried along the hall, stopping at my door. King and two of the boys came in. Joey was carrying the limp form of a little boy—Bruce Graham.

"How did it go?" I asked eagerly. "Any hitches?"

Joey dropped little Bruce on the sofa. King stared at me. Then he said, "You planned like a general, Queen. It was a cinch."

"I see the kid's still out. Did ya give him the amount of the drug I said?" I asked.

"He'll be all right," King replied. "There, he's startin' to come to."

"Get him outta here," I ordered. "Let Joey take him to his place."

"No—you gotta keep him here," King informed me. "A dame can keep a kid happy. Ya won't have to tie him up—or gag him if you kid him along. It'll be less trouble that way."

"I've got no time for kids—let someone else do it," I argued.

"Only a smart dame can handle a kid. Better let him stay here till we get the ransom dough."

When the boys left me alone with little Bruce I felt angry—but the child began to whimper and I realized I'd better start inventing a story to keep him quiet. It wasn't hard to comort him. He was an affectionate kid and he clung to me and quieted down.

We had given the Grahams forty-eight hours to raise the ransom price of one hundred grand. They agreed, if the kidnappers would give them tangible evidence that little Bruce was reall in their hands. I had the boys send the Grahams the undershirt Bruce was wearing under his pajamas. While we waited I went out to shop for some clothes for the child. There was a moment of weakness when I looked at the small sweaters and suits, the little brown shoes and socks, in the store. I remembered how I loved buying those things for my own Dickie. But Dickie was now being avenged, and another little boy would have to give his life to pay for the life people took from me.

I also brought Bruce some toys to keep him occupied. He was a sweet kid, I have to admit. He played for hours and seemed to be satisfied with me around in place of his mommy.

But the waiting period was getting King nervous. He'd come around a dozen times during the day. Finally he burst out, "We gotta get rid of the kid right away. We can't wait for the dough. We're gettin' too hot with the kid around. Get him ready."

"You're nuts," I sneered. "We may need him alive before we get the money—and the dough's practically in our hands. Just a few more hours!"

We had a hot argument. King was scared and wanted to be rid of Bruce. He accused me of going soft on the kid. "You'll have a long wait before you find me going soft," I retorted. "All I want is to be sure we get all that money. The kid and his mother don't bother me at all."

An hour later King had to admit I was right after all. The Grahams informed us the money was ready and they'd follow instructions, if we could assure them little Bruce was alive. I thought of making a record of Bruce's sounds at play. It came out very clear—Bruce's happy little voice talking to the stuffed dog I bought him, and calling me a few times: "Queenie—Bruce wants cookie." And, "When mommy coming home to Bruce?" The record was sent cleverly to the Grahams.

"That'll do it!" I said elatedly. "One sound of their Bruce's voice and the money will be in our hands the next hour."

"I guess you're right, Queen. You're a smart dame. Now get the kid ready—we gotta do the dirty work right away." King started to put on his coat.

"What's the rush?" I asked. "Let's see this thing through. Let's at least wait for the dough."

"This time you're nuts," King replied. "That Bruce is a smart kid. Well all sizzle if he ever gets back alive to his family. Now hurry, Queen. I want him."

It was then I knew I wouldn't let little Bruce die. No, no, no! That wouldn't bring back my own baby—my Dickie. The mother's suffering wouldn't ease my heart's pain. I couldn't let them murder that sweet, sweet, child. I loved him.

"You can't kill him," I announced firmly to King. "We'll surely fry if we have his murder on our hands. He can go back home and none of us'll be involved—he doesn't know any of our names. Only mine—and 'Queen' doesn't mean anything."

King's eyes narrowed. He saw my determination. I saw his fingers clasp the gun in his pocket. He grabbed Brucie and handed him to Joey who was just outside the door. I heard him snap out orders to take the kid to his apartment till he got there. In a flash I scribbled a message on a sheet of paper and stuck it into my pocket. I took my gun out of my drawer. When King came inside again I leveled it straight at him. "Get that boy back here. I don't want him killed. I'd sooner kill you," I spoke at King between clenched teeth. But King was a fast man with the gun. With lightning quickness he knocked the gun from my hand and pulled the trigger of his own silencer. I blacked out in the midst of excruciating pain in my chest.

When I opened my eyes I knew I was dying. I could see I was sitting in King's car, which he was driving. He stopped and I felt him placing my gun in my fingers. He was trying to make my death look like suicide. When he returned to the wheel I groped in my pocket: my scribbled note was still there, confessing all to the police and telling them where to find Bruce. I felt happy—and I knew the end was upon me.

I am detective Bob Hoyt—the one who broke the notorious kidnapping case, and found little Bruce Graham. I was the one who found the two bodies of the girl leader of the mob; they called her "Queen", and the man at the wheel, King. The dame seemed to have gone soft on the boy and had a confession in her pocket. That's how we returned the child to his parents. But, funny thing, the gun in her fingers went off after she died—rigor mortis caused a jerk of the trigger—and the dead woman shot the driver, King, in the back. He died instantly.

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