Sunday, January 18, 2015

"Chew-Chew, Baby" by Anonymous/Unknown

Chew-Chew, Baby
Anonymous/Unknown

If Fats Press looked like a squash, and he did, then Art Stretch was a stringbean from the same garden. To see them sitting at the little round table in the Violet Hour Club, you might have guessed that they were a comedy team instead of the Daily Boom's ace photographer and reporter. Fats spread out over two-thirds of the table area instead of his fair share, while Art took up little or no room except in a straight line between the floor and the ceiling. But appearance was not the only difference between them.

"Chewing-gum!" Art said in tones of disgust, watching Fats shift a wad from one cheek to the other. "And look at that suit — anybody could read your dinner menu for the last week from the spots. It's a wonder they ever let you in a fancy dive like this."

"Musta been because I was with you," Fats grinned. "'Cause boy, you're sharp as a tack."

"Okay," Art spluttered. "Okay, make fun of me — you wolf in cheap clothing!"

Fats continued to smile and to chew his ubiquitous gum. The thing that really burned Art was, a guy just couldn't get a rise out of Fats. Insult him up and down and the guy went right on smiling. And worry? It would take an instrument sensitive as a geiger-counter to register a rise in Fats' blood pressure, no matter what was at stake; whereas Art gnawed his fingernails to the elbow over every little thing.

Now Art was drumming his fingers on the table and sitting on the edge of his chair as he stared at the merrymakers. "Suppose she doesn't show?" he worried. "No story ... no picture ... and you can bet Barnes' won't stand for this on the expense account if we've nothing to show for it."

"Relax, boy," Fats soothed him. "She'll come. Matter of fact here she is now, dripping her jewels behind her."

A buzz of voices announced that something special was happening, and Art's head was not the only one to swing around. Joane LeMoane, latest and most mysterious of foreign film stars to make a transfer to Hollywood, was entering the Violet Hour in a blaze of golden hair, white satin, and rubies. The LeMoane legend, a fire fanned by the strenuous exertions of her press agent, had flamed over the country: "Miss LeMoane never appears in public ... Miss LeMoane permits photographs of herself to appear in print ... Miss LeMoane's beauty so dazzled the Tscha of Irabo that he presented her with the most valuable rubies in the world, just for the privilege of looking at her."

It was a good build-up. It had captured the imagination of the public but now the time was ripe for splashing Joane LeMoane's features and rubies across the country's frontpages. That's why Fats and Art had received a tip to visit the Violet Hour tonight. And somehow Fats felt certain that after he'd made a sufficient number of shots of Joane's pretty face, she wasn't going to insist that the films be destroyed.

Fats reached under the table for his camera — then looked up in surprise as he felt the iron grip of Art's fingers on his arm. A woman screamed hysterically, the band broke off its music with a harsh squawk from a trumpet, and the normal sounds of mid-evening in a night spot faded into silence. Five men with guns had appeared from nowhere to cover the crowd, just like a movie — only there was something cold about the eyes of these men that made a person realize this wasn't make-believe.

"Okay," one of them said, moving forward. "Just act like you had a little sense and nobody'll get hurt. Start moving around, and somebody's trigger finger might slip." Walking silently, he threaded his way between the tables. He ignored the women shrinking away on each side and made straight for the spot where Joane LeMoane's rubies gleamed. Evidently these gangsters didn't intend to bother with minor stuff. Well, why should they? The LeMoane rubies were worth enough to keep five men like kings for years to come.

"What a story!" Art side-lipped to Fats, his eyes on the bandit. "This is my lucky night. Too bad you can't carry pictures in your head." Then, at the sound of a click, he jerked his head around. There was Fats, his candid camera lifted, calmly snapping shots of the lifting of the LeMoane rubies.

"Fats!" he gasped. "Are you crazy? Get that thing outa sight! Do you wanta get shot?"

"Huh-uh," replied Fats. He set his camera down long enough to cram two more sticks of gum into his mouth; then picked it up and clamly aimed it at the four bandits who were standing guard.

Art shuddered. "You'll get us both shot — but it'd be the sensation of the year if you could get the negatives out of here."

"I've got fifty bucks says I will," Fats answered.

"Sold!" Art whispered. "It'll be the easiest fifty I ever made." Then he shook his head. "You're making me as crazy as you are, you dope! This is no time to be making bets!"

It wasn't. Joan LeMoane, was living up to her name, leaning white-faced on a table with tears rolling down her cheeks and nothing but space where the rubies had gleamed. The bandit, jewels stowed in his pocket, was covering space toward the table where Fats and Art sat.

"All right, wise guy," he said, pointing the gun at Fats. "Let's have those films."

Fats looked blank for a minute. Then his hands came out from under the table holding his camera. "Anything you say, Mister."

Under the gunman's direction Fats opened the camera, took out the film, and ruined the roll. But that didn't satisfy the robber. He called one of his pals over, and Fats and Art were thoroughly searched. So was the floor around them, until the men had assured themselves that Fats hadn't pulled a sleight-of-hand with another roll.

Art shook his head. He was really sorry. It would have been worth fifty dollars to see Fats get away with it, but the guy'd never had a chance. Art looked at him and blinked. Fats' jaws weren't moving. For goshsakes, the poor guy must have been so disappointed he'd swallowed his chewing gum!

The bandits had planned this affair carefully. They had herded all the employees into the main room and locked all the exits. It wasn't until some late customers arrived that the alarm could be given and the police called. The robbers had plenty of time to get out of town.

"No wonder those thugs didn't bother to wear masks," the police captain in charge said angrily as he took down descriptions from the patrons. "Medium height, medium weight, medium coloring ... they could be anybody!"

"Would some pictures help?"

The captain spun around to stare at Fats, still sitting at his table. Art stared too. But Fats just grinned calmly and reached under the table. "Sorta messy," he apologized. He pulled out a carefully wrapped roll of film, covered with a mass of chewing gum. "Gum's pretty useful stuff," he explained. "That was a blank roll they made me take out of the camera. I stuck the exposed one underneath the table with chewing gum."

The captain grabbed the film and began shouting directions. Art's jaw dropped until it nearly dislocated itself.

"Sharp as a tack, aren't you, boy?" Fats said with a wink. "... and thanks for the fifty bucks — that'll buy a lot of chewing gum!"

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