Saturday, December 8, 2012

"The Striped Noose" by Ellen Lynn

The Striped Noose
Ellen Lynn

Shorty Ferris and his three henchmen made quite a sight as they strutted around town, like some foreign prince with his three attentive slaves.

As his nickname described, Shorty was a little guy in stature, but his dreams were big, his aims were wide. And he surrounded himself with husky men whom he controlled as a puppeteer manipulates his dolls on strings. Fatso, Muscles and Twister were the descriptive names of his bodyguards and his cockiness borrowed strength from their loyal devotion. They bowed to his superior brains, because they recognized that their newly acquired prosperity was due to the schemes and well-planned capers that Shorty devised.

The citizens of Harmon City squirmed when they saw the long cream-colored convertible filled with this odd-looking group go rolling down their streets. Usually Shorty's girl, red-haired Terry O'Day, would be sitting at the wheel, while Shorty sank back in the seat beside her puffing at a cigar, conscious of the impression he was making with this gorgeous girl driving him around and his three aides lolling in the rear seat ready at all times to obey his least order.

The law had not caught up with Shorty and his crowd and the kingpin racketeer had a nice secure feeling that it never would. He had everything taken care of nicely, nothing could possibly go wrong. And it wouldn't be long before he could carry out Terry's single stubborn dream: to give up the rackets and live somewhere quietly in a beautiful big house far away—and maybe raise a family. Short was raking in the dough so fast it might take only a couple of more years before he'd be able to retire and get married just like Terry wanted. He enjoyed running his rackets, but he had to admit it was nerve-wracking.

It was just after their most recent caper, and Shorty had handed each of the boys a share of the loot. His nerves were particularly on edge. They had a narrow escape, due to a blunder of Fatso's, Terry had a mad on and wouldn't see him for the past three nights (she was pressing him on this marriage business and getting out of the rackets—"We have plenty of money, now," she had said), and Fatso was still sulking over his share—he wanted more.

Shorty's eyes narrowed, as they did whenever he was struck with one of his inspirations. Suddenly he gave an order—"Fatsy, run out and get me a pack of cigarettes. No, I don't want one of yours—I want a fresh pack—you know I must have my own pack. Hurry back."

When the fleshy man had waddled out of the room, Shorty turned a steely gaze on the other two‐Muscles and Twister. "Boys," he said, "Fatso's getting in our way. He's getting too big for his britches (Ha, ha, that's good, ain't it?). And he wants to cut into your shares. What d'ya say to that?"

"Hell—no!" blurted out Twister.

"I'll murder 'im," exclaimed Muscles.

"Well—let's not commit murder, boys. Hahaha! Why don't we arrange a little suicide?" Shorty, as usual, had an inspiration. "It'll be easy. We'll get him back to his room, bring along a rope—it'll have to be heavy for our Fatso—and we'll fix up a nice hanging. When his body's found, it'll be called suicide. How about it?"

Twister and Muscles squirmed in their chairs.

"Well—if you'd rather give up part of your shares of the money to Fatso—that's all right with me..." Shorty shrugged.

"No, no—we'll do it!" came the answer in unison from the two huskies.

The "suicide" was carried out with surprising ease. The lumbering Fatso was as slow-witted as he was slow-moving. It was even funny how they tricked him into getting up on the chair close to the high closet door. Not until they kicked away the chair—in the split-instant before his neck broke—did it dawn on him what his buddies were up to. The surprise in his face amused Shorty. For one moment the remaining three men feared the noose wouldn't hold the mountainous body, but the green-and-red striped cord of the electrical wire they had used had remarkable tensile strength. There was a loud crack and the dead weight hung heavily dangling, the stunned look of the eyes fixed into eternity.

As usual, Shorty was right. When the body was found the police called it suicide. Everything was going fine: Terry had made up and Shorty promised her it wouldn't be long now before he'd go into retirement. In fact, he was getting most of Fatso's share now—a nice increase. The other boys were grumbling, but, come to think of it, why couldn't he mete out some treatment to one of the others and still further the odd to his take? Now a little arranged accident for Muscles shouldn't be too difficult.

Shorty was on his way to Muscle's room. He had in mind a little automobile ride to the outskirts of town where the roadside was a sheer drop of jagged rock. A pre-arranged flat, the two of them getting out to replace the tire, a slip of the foot, and over the side—that was the accident Shorty had in mind. But where had Muscles been all day? Well, once in a while he went on a binge and didn't show up. He was probably sleeping it off in his room.

A pass-key let Shorty in. Sure enough, there was Muscles sprawled out on the bed. Boy, he was knocked out cold! Cold? Why, the guy was dead! Shorty's sense of humor never failed him. Hahahaha! Here was a job he didn't have to pull. As he turned to call the landlady, Shorty stumbled on something hard on the floor. He bent down—it was a piece of cord—green-and-red striped! Part of the electrical cord they had used on Fatso! How did it get there?

No doubt Muscles must have had a piece of the cord in his pocket and it fell out. Ridiculous to imagine anything else! And his death was officially called a heart attack.

A few days later Shorty was in his room brooding about the death of Muscles and the piece of cord found by his body.

The phone rang. "An accident—Terry!—drowned in her pool?" Shorty couldn't believe what he heard. But there beside her pool was the dead body of his gorgeous Terry. But how did Twister get there so soon? What was he doing there? What was that in Twister's fingers? My God, a piece of green-and-red striped electrical cord!

Abject terror assailed Shorty. Two of his strong men and his sweetheart, his beautiful Terry, were gone. It was Twister who got rid of Muscles and Terry, Shorty was convinced. He had left the striped cord to frighten him, make him run away. Well, he'd get to Twister first, put him out of the way before Twister got at him with his macabre trick of leaving a piece of the striped cord with each murdered body.

But Shorty must have been born under a lucky star. For him, everything worked itself out. He stayed pretty close to his apartment after Terry died; he didn't want to give Twister a chance till he, Shorty, had worked out a plan for getting Twister first. And then he saw it in the newspapers: Twister had been hit by a truck and killed instantly.

This was a matter for celebration. Shorty dolled up in his snappiest outfit and went out to do the town. At three in the morning, feeling in wonderful spirits, he tore through the streets of the town with his horn blaring. Even when the cop threw him in jail for drunken driving, Shorty could afford to laugh. His only enemy was now out of the way.

Even when the judge gave him a stiff sentence—90 days—Shorty was content. He asked for newspapers. Look, there was more on Twister's accident!

"...and tight around the neck of the body was a piece of green-and-red striped electrical cord. The gangster, Twister, was killed by the truck—but no one could explain the mystery of the strange piece of cord."

Shorty wilted. So it wasn't Twister who killed Terry and Muscles! Fatso? But he was dead—and buried!

The guard escorted Shorty into the workroom to which he was assigned. In a daze, Shorty looked around. He jerked his arm away from the loose grip of the guard and made a dash toward the door. This was the rope-making factory! Rope! Rope! Would it haunt him forever?

Well, not for long! That night the body of Shorty was found dangling in his cell. And no one knew where he had gotten the rope. It was a piece of striped electrical cord—green-and-red.

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