Saturday, December 8, 2012

"Death Signs His Name" by Ellen Lynn

Jack "Duke" Raymond was handsome, tough and smart. He was a fast man with a gun and afraid of no one. "Don't worry about me," he would say, "they will never get me, I'm too smart."

But I heard lots of stories about him and a few years later I knew—really knew—the whole truth about him. He became quite close to me—told me I was the only real friend he had. He said he knew I disapproved of him, but that I'd never betray him. And I never did. Even when my conscience and my best judgment tempted me to turn him in.

Duke Raymond was proudest when he became one of the Riley Gang. He had always admired Trigger Riley—the way he dressed, his snappy car, his retinue of followers. In fact, as the gang pulled one successful trick after another, The Duke began to imitate his chief, even using his tailor — though he had six suits to Trigger's fifty. While Duke was smart, Trigger was tough. Trigger was bugs on one thing, however. He always insisted, "If they ever get me I want a fine funeral."

Then an amazing thing happened: one of the "jobs" turned out a fluke and Trigger was sent to the pen. After five years of riding high Trigger was in prison—and The Duke took over the gang!

Jack Raymond—The Duke—stepped quickly and expertly into Trigger's shoes. The jobs the gang pulled were fabulous—and successful. The Duke was "in" with the right people. Glamorous girls, night-clubs, wild parties were the order of the day—and night. Then he fell in love with Ginny Del Mar, the night-club queen, and they became engaged. He wanted to get married right away, but she played hard to get. But years pass quickly.

One night, they were at his club—The Race Horse. It was a lucky night for the house and at last Ginny seemed inclined to listen to reason—to drive down to Maryland and get married. Then the Duke glanced up at the door and his watcher, Skinny Morel, gave him the sign: in walked the forgotten Trigger and his retinue. It started quietly, weapons clenched in pockets made it orderly and speedy. Then Trigger's new strong-arm men went to work on The Duke and his followers.

Months later The Duke got out of the hospital—wobbly and a deep scar on his right temple. He had some trouble rounding up his old henchmen—most of them had gone back to Trigger Riley. But he found Skinny Morel, Ace Timken and Georgia Franco. They had all been laid up and all of them, like The Duke, nursed their plans for revenge as well as their wounds. They agreed that there was no use in playing see-saw with Trigger any more. This was the end of the road and this time The Duke and his crowed would stay there.

The plans were all worked out. Two of the boys got hold of Ginger Del Mar; Trigger had even taken her for himself. At the point of a gun she phoned Trigger and told him she'd be in her car in front of the Club; they'd go to her place together. When he came down, there she was sitting at the wheel; The Duke and the three boys, Skinny, Ace and Georgia were crouched in the rear. Trigger sat in the front seat and found guns sticking into his ribs. They all drove out of town—for hours. The Duke dumped Ginger out while the car hit 80. Trigger gasped, then, faced with death, cowered in terror. He sobbed, begged, offered to give up everything to The Duke. He reminded him that he, Trigger, had given him his first chance in a gang. Then, the Duke, who was driving, brought the car to a sudden stop. They were on a pitch black country road, not a building in sight for miles. "Go to it, boys," he ordered. And the revengeful gang slugged and beat Trigger till the Duke said, "He's finished, dead. Let's go." With a heave, they all threw him over the embankment at the side of the road and as the boys played the flashlight on the body, The Duke laughingly said, "He always wanted a fine funeral." He plucked a dandelion at his feet, dropped it on Trigger's form and intoned: "Rest in peace." In the quiet of the lonely night Ace, Skinny and Georgia burst out laughing and each in turn picked a dandelion, dropped it on the body and repeated, "Rest in peace." The flashlight rested a moment on the dead man with four dandelions sprinkled on his face. "Let's get out of here," the Duke suddenly said. And they all clambered into the car and sped away.

Once again the Duke and his gang were the kingpins of the underworld. The old Trigger Riley gang were deep in hiding. The newspapers were no longer splashed with the gory doings of a gang war: The Duke felt safe. Trigger was dead.

Winter came. It was nine o'clock, Friday night. Skinny and the Duke were waiting for Ace and Georgia—their regular weekly conference. They were half an hour late. The Duke did not like to be kept waiting ... he was getting impatient—when Gerogia came rushing into the room. "Duke—he's dead—Ace's dead!" he cried. "I went to his room to pick him up—and—and—he was sitting at the table. He was playing solitaire—only—only—he was dead."

"How did it happen?" demanded the Duke. "Was it a murder?"

"He—he—looked frightened. And on the table—in front of him ... was a ... a ... dandelion!"

"There ain't no dandelions in winter," Duke said.

They all laughed—all except Georgia who saw it. Then they fell silent and the Duke motioned them to come with him to see for themselves.

The police called it suicide and eventually the gangsters forgot about the dandelion.

The Duke soon had another female interest, Diane Bliss, the fabulous trapeze artist, of the Sherwin Star Circus. He was in her dressing room after her last performance and they were having a drink before going out to supper. Suddenly a shriek broke through the night. Everyone ran out of tents and wagons. Duke and Diane followed the crowd and there, his arm caught in the cage of the snakes, hung the body of Georgia, blood streaming from his arm where a snake had bitten him. In his hand the Duke saw a—dandelion.

Somehow things were changed after the accident to Georgia. The Duke was still top man in gangland and safe from the law. In fact the Club was going so well he was dropping the "jobs" they used to pull. Skinny was still his right-hand man but he didn't take on any replacements for Ace and Georgia. Only once they mentioned the subject of the dandelions. Skinny asked, "What d'ya think, Duke, about those dandelions? Remember—how we dropped them on Trigger? How come there was one each time one of da boys passed away?"

"Just coincidence," said the Duke. "Lots a people pick dandelions, specially round circuses. They just happened to drop 'em and we noticed 'em 'cause of our little joke with Trigger."

But the Duke was becoming edgy. And then it happened again. He got a phone call one night from Skinny. "Duke — come — help — me. Something's choking me—I—can't breathe ..." The Duke was in his pajamas. He grabbed his robe and drove fast to Skinny's place. He banged on the door and finally had to get someone to open it with a passkey. They found Skinny dead on the floor—a dandelion on his chest.

The Duke went straight home, packed a small bag and left the house. He was scared now and had a plan. He would change his identity. Go far away. He went to a gangland doctor—a plastic surgeon. He always was a goodlooking guy, but he had his nose changed. He stayed at the doctor's place two weeks and grew a mustache. He got hold of some old seaman's clothes and went down to the wharves. The captain of a tramp steamer gave him a job and he set to work for the first time in his life. Exhausted at night he'd flop on his bunk only to dream of his three henchmen and the three dandelions found by each of their bodies. Sometimes he'd wake up screaming and when his shipmates tried to help him he'd thrust them off. He wouldn't talk to anyone. No one must have the slightest clue as to who he was.

The life of a seaman on a tramp steamer was far different than his former life of luxury but he was beginning to feel safe after six months of voyaging. Even in foreign ports he kept mum about himself. No one could possibly recognize him—of that he was sure. He still was not used to the reflection of his face in the mirror; the new nose, the mustache. And now, too, he was weatherbeaten and his rugged clothes were as unlike his well-tailored clothes as a tramp steamer is to the Queen Mary.

One time in London he was tempted to reveal himself. He had gone to the circus—it was the Sherwin Star Circus—and he saw Diane Bliss performing. After the show he watched her walking alone to her dressing-room. As he stood near her entrance she looked up at him—directly into his eyes—and walked on. She didn't recognize him. He had to control himself from crying out and telling her who he was. Instead he went straight back to the boat and drank until they had to put him to bed. He was scared of the dandelions.

One night, I,—his only friend—since boyhood ... received a call. Wondering, I went down to the wharves. The captain of a tramp steamer, who had phoned me—took me into a bunk room—and said, "One hot night in India, at the furthest point in our voyage I was called here. I found The Duke—dead. But, strangely, there was a dandelion on his chest."

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