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Adventure! RPG - The Mystery of the Heiress’ Money

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Scott William Derringer

Private Investigator

In:

The Mystery of the Heiress' Money

As told to:

Christopher Chase

Sometimes, all you need is one lucky break.

I kind of figured that I'd used up all my lucky breaks during the war, taking that trench, coming back in one piece, knowing my own name, not like some others. I see them on the street, old before their time, wearing eye patches and scarves to cover up what pieces they'd left behind. Some of them try for some sort of dignity, the sleeves and pantlegs of old uniforms folded and pinned where arms and legs ended.

Others didn't care about dignity. They had left that behind, and now all they have are those desperate hours between dawn and dusk, trying to remember who they are, and when they are. If they're lucky, they get enough for some bathtub gin, bought from a guy who looks for people like them. Then they drink themselves dead drunk, or just dead, depending on how clean the radiator was that was used for a still, all so they don't dream, going back to the mud and the blood, the noise and the cold, cold silence.

There are still times I feel the same. Sometimes, I sleep with a light on just so I know that I'm home, not in a dark trench somewhere.

Thankfully, those times are getting farther and farther apart.

***

I'd been reading the paper, seeing that the Yankees had yet again lost me five bucks, when a picture on the front page caught my eye. Forgetting what I wanted to do to the New York Coach, I stared at the picture, not knowing whether to feel angry or not.

There she was, Mary Elisabeth Endicott-Maverly, 'Ellie' to her friends, ducking into the family car, which was big enough to hold a family of ten. She had looked into the camera for this picture, and I could see something there, something only someone who knew her would see…

Everything faded for a second, and suddenly, I was a poor boy of fourteen again, and she was a girl of sixteen, from the right side of the tracks, money and wealth at her beck and call.

Spoiled but tough, because that's the way her father had raised her, she enjoyed pushing everyone around, acting as if her victims were her personal slaves, especially the people around the stables…especially a poor, fourteen year old boy…

I shook my head, came back to the present

I looked at the story, not really much of one, just good scandal sheet stuff, of how she was spotted leaving the police station, and a rumored suitcase full of money.

Right at that moment, my door opened up, and in walked the only real friend I had left from my childhood. "How are you this morning, Sergeant McMurphy?"

"Ah, it's me joints again. Too much walking, too little sittin'."

We go through this dance every couple of days. In the end, I give him a little 'medicine', kept in the drawer of my desk, courtesy of 'Dr.' Gleason, former Canadian soldier, now owner of Carl's, distributor of whiskey and other joint medicines.

He's about the only one who'll talk to me now who knew me as a kid. Not that I was bad, of course. But some of the people I knew back then are respectable now, and don't want to be seen talking to me, a gumshoe, a window peeper. Once I even heard keyhole copper.

The rest of the people, well…I'm no crystal ball reader, and since I don't believe in disturbing the dead…

And my father, so happy I came back from the war alive, proud when I joined the police, was now so angry at me for quitting the force to become some 'dimestore novel detective', that he wouldn't even speak to me.

And I can't even tell him why I quit, the corruption I saw, the darkness behind the shields, because then, I'd be waiting for something heavy to fall on him from a tenth story window.

That was the deal I made with certain people when I left.

So, McMurphy and I would do the dance, and after, when he'd finished his 'medicine', I'd ask about my father, and he'd say: "Ask him yourself."

But today, I changed the steps of the dance, and started my own.

I showed him the paper, pointed out the picture, and asked him about her. He knew her for what she was. She liked to pick on police too, not just kids with a shaky past.

"She had a flat tire," he said. "She was alone, and she wasn't able to change the tire by herself."

Likely afraid she'd break a nail.

"The car that found her was looking out for some smugglers in the area, so they searched the car all the while they were helping her."

Humph. Probably one helped, while the other went around the other side of the car to take a piss.

"Then he looked in, and saw the case…"

"One hundred thousand in that case, Boyo. Enough fer just about anything. So, a'fore she could say anything, Bingo!, an' sure she's at the station, ringing up Daddy."

I wonder what the two flatfoots who caught her are doing now. Likely patrolling the docks, where idiots who arrest the rich go.

So much smuggling goes on there, that no one will allow the police to interfere with it. They either look the other way, or they get swept away.

That, or they ended up shoveling after the horses on parade.

"She wouldn't say what the money was for I'm told, but after her lawyer came in, curse the parasite, she and the money took the high road out."

I wonder what the money was for.

People like her don't pay for things, they get them given to them, or they're paid to take them, just so someone could say that what they had or made or sold went to rich, influential people.

Kiss-ups.

"One hundred grand," I said, rolling the sound around. Made me completely forget the Yankees. "Buy a lotta bootleg with that."

McMurphy agreed. But we both knew that couldn't be it. The Endicotts likely had enough booze in their cellars to float away half the town.

The Sarge said that he'd heard the scores, and I handed over his five bucks. I now had six dollars and change to my name. Lucky thing I always paid the rent first.

But then, something'll turn up. It always does.

***

Now, an hour later and a dollar shorter, I was at Maudie's, the only restaurant in town that makes an apple pie I can stomach. Washing it down with coffee thick and strong enough to re-sole my shoes, I asked Maudie what the good word was.

"Rich," she said, polishing the counter. She always said that, like it was the key to happiness.

Well, I suppose that if you had enough money, you could at least rent it.

And, of course, it brought me back to Miss Endicott. Why had she been out there? What was she doing with enough money to buy…anything?

It was an itch I just had to scratch.

***

Now, shorter two dollars and three hours of daylight, I stood outside the old stables, where once upon a time I'd worked, where once upon a time a girl with too much money and too much free time had tormented me, and where now something sharp was digging into my back

The voice behind me was thick with a Cockney accent. I knew who this was. Old Ralfie Hornquist, an Irishman raised in London. He'd been my friend until I'd left, me being the only one who'd listen to his old Irish folktales.

I also knew that Ralfie didn't carry a gun, having been shot by an Englishman trying to run his family off their ancestral lands, sixty-five years ago. Likely, he was digging the old shovel he carried around into my back. But since I didn't want to get whacked over the head, my hands went up.

It took me fifteen minutes to convince the old coot who I was.

,,

***

"…Can't get why," he was telling me. "She never carried too much money with her. Always had her husband carry it. And, I hear, he didn't mind it too much, if'n you know what I mean."

"Not have his own?"

"Not so's you'd notice. Word is, his family, name'a Maverly, descendents of a Duke or some such, lost most of it and married into the Endicotts to save the family name. She got an influential name, and status with Old Families. And the Endicotts used that status to get richer."

"Kids?"

"One. A boy name'a Michael. Looks like his mother, but he don't act like her, thank goodness. Though, she's calmed down some, with a child and all."

He continued: "Husband though…he's likely the reason his family near lost everything a few years back."

"Bad business?"

"Betting. The worst gambler you've ever seen, next to you and the Yankees, I hear."

Cute. "He in debt?"

"With Endicott money? Not likely"

Unless he was so deep he couldn't tell. Or maybe Daddy Endicott found out, and cut him off. Hell, maybe Mrs. Endicott-Maverly cut him off. But if he was in deep to the wrong people…

"Anything else?"

"Nah, she ain't been here for a while. She used to ride here every day or so. Bring the lad along. Ain't seen neither of 'em."

She's been seen, I thought. Driving alone in the dark with a case of mon…

Oh, no.

Maybe she wasn't smuggling, or buying bootleg. Maybe she had been trying to deliver a ransom. Trying to buy back her kid!

Even as I thought that, a twist in my gut told me that I was right.

Easy enough to find out.

Using one of the greatest creations of science, the telephone, I called the boy's school. All the rich kids who didn't have private tutors went to a school named Collinsworth, so finding it wasn't a problem. With a cloth over the mouthpiece, I demanded to speak to the Head, then demanded to know if anyone had been told of the kidnapping, impersonating the gruff, shout coarsened voice of the great man himself, Mr. Endicott. The man at the other end stuttered and whined, but at the end assured me that no one knew of my grandson's disappearance.

I hung up.

I looked at my watch. It'd be dark soon. I could probably just make it to the Endicott Estate before they tried another ransom run.

And they would. No one walks away from a hundred grand.

No one.

***

So now, here I was, at the only turn-off within sight of the Endicott Estate. Hah, estate. It was so big it should have it's own seat in that League of Nations everyone's talking about.

Well, good luck, Mercer. You'll need it.

The walls were just as high as I remembered them, bigger than some of the older buildings in the old city, with more predators walking around inside than a lions, tigers and bears only circus. Of course, there was another way in, discovered in my misspent youth, an old steam pipe that had been cut off from the main line when the Endicott's went for a bigger one.

Handy thing to know, if I ever needed to get inside without an invitation.

***

I had just finished the last of my cigarettes, when the gates opened up, and a Ford Roadster rolled out. It drove along, as if everything was completely normal. I watched it go past, with me hidden behind some brush, then I started my own car, a Studebaker Light Six, (bought for a song from the police impound) and drove along without any headlights. It was a full moon tonight, so it wasn't too hard.

The car turned a corner, and I hit the lights, following the little automobile through the city, until it left the outskirts, and followed a well-worn path, no road, just ruts in the dirt.

Now I knew where the car was going.

The only place around here for something like this was Dusty's, a seedy little joint in the middle of nowhere, named, I think, for the layers of it on the furniture. I hoped she, if it was Ellie in the car, didn't go in there. That place had a tendency to eat people up and spit out bones.

Was she going there to deliver the ransom? Check and see if anybody had left further instructions?

,,,,

I topped a hill, and saw Dusty's, all lit up like it was Fifth Avenue, plain as day.

Made me wonder why people paid the police, with the crooks giving them a better paycheck.

A covered truck was parked out front, and five guys built like walls were unloading Canadian whiskey from the back.

Just to the side of the truck was the car, well away from the other cars in the graveled lot, the headlights just winking out. I pulled into a spot where I could see the whole area in front of me, and I could watch the deal going down.

Then, as my door was yanked open and the second before a sap pounded my head, I found myself wishing I'd checked the scenery behind.

***

,,,,

The first thing I thought, as I came to, was that I was back in the trenches. The ground shook under the shelling, others whistled overhead, and all I could smell was dirt, straw and manure

Straw and manure?

My eyes, often getting me into trouble with a wandering gaze popped open. Then, after coaxing what was left of my dinner back down, I opened them slower.

The rumbling and shaking had become rhythmic, the sound of iron wheels clacking against a track, in time with the hammer inside my skull. The smell of straw and manure, strong to a city boy like me became the dirt covering the floor of a boxcar.

The screaming shells became the sound of a train whistle.

Surprise! I was tied up and gagged. The bad news is that I wasn't blindfolded, meaning they didn't care if I saw them.

Speaking of…sitting on a chair that looked small, like a kid's, was the biggest thug I'd ever seen. His back was to me, but I could see how the jacket he wore was stretching over his shoulders. His arms looked to be the same size as my legs, and his legs looked to be the size of cut-down trees. He was cracking the knuckles on the construction tools he called hands, and spitting black tobacco juice into a growing pool on the floor.

Then I heard him, crying in the corner, opposite me. He had a blanket, ratty and full of holes wrapped around him, but with his school uniform, shorts and a thin shirt, it wasn't doing him much good. He was shivering, shaking like a leaf. I could see his breath frosting the air slightly.

Didn't seem that cold to me, but then, I was dressed a little heavier.

My gun was gone, and so was my wallet, no surprise there. They'd tied my hands behind me, but they'd left my feet loose.

Strange, but maybe luck was finally turning my way.

The kid's teeth began chattering, and I could hear it even over the sound of the train. He was obviously suffering, but the human tower didn't seem to care, another bad thing to add to the fact neither the kid nor I were blindfolded.

My gut twisted, and told me that we were going to get off the train, but with a lump of lead in our skulls.

A lurch, and the train's motion slowed. I could feel the train beginning to angle up, as it began to climb.

Our chances of escape wouldn't be getting much better.

Of course, being tied up complicated things.

As I was thinking I should've stayed at the office and enjoyed losing the rest of my money to McMurphy, I heard a voice.

It was tinny, like I was hearing it from a radio. I knew it wasn't from the man mountain, because it sounded like it had brains behind it. Following the voice, I saw the box, with wires leading out.

The box began giving orders, and I didn't like them one bit.

""I know that the wait has been hard for you, Clarence…" (Clarence?) "But I've gotten the money. I'm sure this man watching Mary was doing so without her, or her father's knowledge. But he will make an excellent Judas when the boy is found. A man, down on his luck, steals the grandchild of a rich man to make some money. A mishap, and both die in the wilderness, (Don't like the sound of that) falling from the train they were riding to escape the city that the Grandfather and his daughter have swarming with Pinkertons."

"Finish it now, Clarence. The sooner the brat is gone and the family in shambles, the sooner I can proceed with my plans."

Damn! Shovel-hands didn't waste any time, because as soon as the voice was done, he stood up and pulled out what looked to be my gun. Lana looked like a toy in his big mitt, but like most ladies I know, small or not she was no less deadly.

Seeing me as the immediate threat, Clarence the kidnapping oak tree turned to wards me, the hammer pulling back and the cylinder turning, putting a round under the pin.

Damn! Damn!! Lana's .45 caliber eye gave me a cold, black stare.

The train whistle blew, and we began picking up speed again as the train leveled off.

Big boy turned his eyes toward the sound as the whistle sounded again.

Not believing how my luck was turning out, I kicked him in the knee as hard as I could. My angle was awkward, but I still managed to stumble him, his shoulder hitting the wall, and Lana fell, hiding in the straw.

I looked at him, and saw the ugliest face I'd ever seen.

Someone had taken a knife to his face, jigsaw puzzled his looks. His teeth were revealed in a permanent snarl, scar tissue pulling the lips apart. Eyes the bright brown of new pennies looked at me, then a boot the size of Rhode Island lashed out, and caught me in the ribs.

I was surprised my ribs didn't shatter.

And I thought it would hurt more.

Apparently, Scar thought it should've too, so he did it again, flipping me over this time. Then he picked me up by the scruff of the neck, like picking a kitten out of a litter, and slammed me several times, face first into the wall, letting me slide down with stars swirling in my vision for company.

My head spun, and I could taste blood. But I knew, somehow, that I wasn't hurt very badly, and even as I thought about it, the weakness of being manhandled like that began to fade.

A hamhock landed on my shoulder, and suddenly the corner of the car was rushing at my face, and I slid down the wall again, everything a blur.

And to top it off, something was poking into my arm.

I shook my head, clearing it quickly. Strange, you'd think Jojo the scar-faced boy could do more damage than that, but I wasn't counting on that good luck holding out for much longer.

And what the hell was digging into my arm? I felt around, and immediately felt the nail sticking out from the wall. Now if I could lift my arms a little bit more…

The nail caught the rope, and I began working it, feeling the strands break.

Tall, dark and ugly was looking for Lana, but bless her little steel heart, she stayed hidden. Giving up after a minute, he pulled out a knife. Why he didn't pay attention to me I don't know, likely thought I was down for the count. Why I wasn't, I don't know, but I wasn't going to waste this chance.

The rope broke as he started towards the boy, who starting screaming as he caught sight of the blade.

I was up and running, plowing into the goon's lower back, lifting him off his feet a lot easier than I should have, and drove him into the wall.

I wanted to yell: How's that taste?, but I gave him a couple of shots to the kidneys instead.

I reached up, and grabbed a hand full of grey, slicked back hair, and slammed his face into the wood a couple of times. I swear I heard something crack.

An elbow caught me in the side of the head, knocking me down into the straw, but I rolled with it, and was on my feet in time for the man-mountain to come at me, arms wide, his face pulled back and bloody.

Ducking under his arms, I got around behind, then jumped on his back, my arms going around his thick neck.

He clawed at me, having dropped the knife, catching and ripping off pieces of my shirt. He stood at his full height, my feet left the floor, and he ran at the nearest wall, whipping around so I'd hit, with his full weight crushing me to paste. The wall cracked, but I only grunted, so he slammed me back into the wall again.

He began driving his elbows into my ribs, even as he slammed me into the wall again. He kept this up for what felt like a few months, bouncing me off walls he took running starts at, with me flopping around like a rag doll.

The smokestack began to gag, clawing for my eyes now, trying to grab me and pull me off.

Then he went to one knee.

Then the other. His arms flapped around, and I could feel his throat working beneath my arm, straining to pull in air.

He sagged, but I held on, and after I was sure he wasn't faking, I let him fall.

Dead or not, I didn't care, just as long as he stayed down.

My foot banged against something, and looking down, I saw Lana waiting patiently for me to hold her, which I did. She felt good, like a shot of extra aged scotch, smooth like a favorite brand of cigarette.

I retrieved my holster from the ruins (funny, I don't remember hitting it) of the sleeping giants chair, put it on and slid Lana inside, where she nestled comfortably.

,,,,,,

There was a choking sound, and I remembered why this had all happened in the first place. Scooting over to him, I put a hand on his shoulder. He tried to pull away, not surprising really, considering what he's been through.

"Michael?" I asked. He tried to huddle deeper into the blanket, hoping everything would go away, and that he'd wake up at home. All safe and sound, monster hidden away in the closet. Problem was, the boogeyman of this nightmare is lying in a mound of straw, and is seven feet of muscle and whalebone. I didn't want to be here if or when he woke up. "C'mon, kid. We gotta go. Your mom's waiting for you."

"Mommy?" His head poked out. Christ, the kid was barely eight years old, for crying out loud. I wanted to go back over and kick Big and Gruesome a few times, but it'd have to wait.

"Yeah, kid. I'll take you to her. But first we gotta get off the train."

Suddenly the radio crackled to life again. Most of it was muffled as I hauled back on the loading door, revealing the world as it whipped by at sixty miles an hour, but I could make out the voice asking if 'it' was done, meaning were we dead.

Watching the treed landscape rush by, I was at a loss. We'd likely break something if we jumped here, and it would look like the accident the Voice wanted.

Speaking of which, the radio crackled again, demanding Clarence answer him.

Nuts.

At no time did I think Clarence was the only one of the Voice's thugs on the train. If he got antsy enough…

My eyes settled on a coil of rope hanging on the wall, about thirty feet's worth, probably what they used to tie me up. Not much good now, nothing to tie it to, and nowhere to go.

And outside, the trees whipped past, just like our chances of escaping.

The speaker went dead with a snap!, and my gut told me the jig was nearly up.

Likely sending some of his goons over right now.

No choice. "C'mon, Mike." I hauled him up, grabbed the coil of rope with my other hand, and hoped that I could think of something before the Voice's goons got here. We went over to the door, and I tied one end of the rope around my waist, then tied part around his.

Looking out the door, I saw a bridge coming up fast, bracing girders stretching up, and over the rails. I couldn't see from where I was, but it looked like it was a ways down.

And to top it all off, I could hear footsteps, clumping along the roof, heading for the top hatch.

The bridge was about thirty seconds away, the sides rising up like a cradle. The river it bridged was about seventy feet down.

No way out.

Unless…

I grabbed the big guy in a fit of inspiration/desperation, and hauled him over to the door, the kid looking at me like I'd lost my marbles. If only he knew what I was thinking…

Grabbing the guy's knife as we went by, I made a couple of cuts on the rope, then tied one end to Clarence's ankle, and made a loop in the other, and slid my hand in.

I gotta be crazy.

The hatch opened, and some five o'clock shadow face shoved through, turning until the beady eyes that came with it locked on to us.

He opened his mouth to shout, so I did the only thing it could do, and threw Ugly's knife at him.

Whether it hit or not, I didn't know, or care.

Grabbing Michael, I jumped out the door, the kid in one hand, the rope in the other.

We were in midair just before the first brace of the bridge, and we skinned by it, like a football between the posts, and momentum kept us going both out and forward, where the rope hit the next brace, drawing us up, and the force yanking the body of Tall and Ugly out of the car.

Michael and I dropped like a stone, but stopped as Clarence jammed against the brace that the rope was sliding across. Forty feet above the river, Michael was yelling his head off and so was I, him from being scared, and me from nearly having my arm ripped from the socket.

Then the pressure lessened, and we fell the last forty feet into the water, which was thankfully deep enough to keep us from becoming human pancakes. I twisted, and took most of the impact myself.

We were swept along, the water fast for a few, chaotic minutes, until we rounded a bend, and found a clearer, gentler patch. We took the chance offered, and climbed out.

I flopped on the bank, and slipped the rope off, the marks on my wrist so bad that I thought maybe it was broken, but my fingers worked, everything bent only so far then stopped, just like it was supposed to.

I turned my head. Michael was curled up on the ground, groaning. If I'd thought he was cold before, he was turning blue now. He wasn't even bothering to shiver.

I'd seen this in the trenches, when men froze to death. They just began to go to sleep, and they didn't wake up.

I had to get a fire going, before the cold started to settle into the both of us, so I reached for my jacket pocket, where I kept a steel tube, waterproofed to hold emergency matches. I'd had it since the war. I reached for it, only to find it gone like my jacket, stripped off when the Voice's goons first caught me.

What the hell was I supposed to do now? Rub sticks together? I was no Indian!

But I had to do something!

Preoccupied, my back to the water, I didn't hear the splashing until it was too late.

A hand latched onto my ankle, pulling me off my feet. I twisted and saw Clarence, waterlogged and no prettier from his dip, one leg obviously broken, his face mashed up worse than before, wheezing as he crawled up the bank towards us.

I could see trailing beyond him the rope, still tied to the now broken leg, swaying gently in the current.

His teeth, what remained of them, were gritted, coming closer like a gap toothed car grill, bearing slowly down on me.

Not bothering to fight the grip on my ankle, I pulled Lana out and let her speak her mind. Unfortunately, he didn't listen the first two times, started to at the third, paid complete attention at the fourth and finally got the message on the fifth try.

Lana always liked talking to strangers, and she always smoked when she was done.

I kicked myself free of Clarence's bear trap of a hand, and against my better judgment, got closer to search him. Maybe he had some matches or a lighter that might still work.

I couldn't help but smile as I took from his pocket my wallet, and a steel cylinder of matches.

***

,,

I had a fire going now, an hour after we crawled up the bank, warming us both. It was strange, but though I felt the heat, it didn't seem to affect me much, just like the cold air and water.

I had set Ugly drifting down the river, the rocks I shoved into his pockets will eventually weigh him down.

I'm sure the fish'll appreciate it.

Michael and I were in our underwear, our clothes drying on sticks I'd propped up by the fire. My shirt was in tatters, barely enough to cover my back, but my undershirt had come through all right.

We were hungry, but at least we were warm.

The kid and I both had bruises ringing our waists where the rope had bitten in. The abraded ring around my wrist had turned the color of raw steak, and my shoulder was sore, but it still worked.

My shirt, or what was left of it was dry now, so I handed it over to Michael, who draped it over his shoulders and leaned back against a moss-covered stone. And finally safe and free from his kidnappers, he was soon asleep.

I threw some more wood on the fire, and watched the kid for a bit, closing my eyes for only a second, then opening them to find that it was daylight.

Mike was still asleep.

***

Four days later, broke and tired of eating nearly ripe apples, raspberries off the bush and drinking from hand pumps from the farms we passed, the two of us walked up to the front gate of the Endicott estate.

***

Micheal was taking a long, hot bath, ordered by his mother as soon as she finished hugging the life from him, the woman no longer the sadistic bitch she had been, while I ate like a pig in the servant's kitchen. They were still looking at me like I should be in cuffs, but Michael's story left them with no doubt that I was the hero in this particular chapter of his life.

I ate the steaming…whatever they'd put down in front of me, barely tasting it. I'd been hungry enough to eat the kid, but then, there wouldn't have been any point to all this.

I'd also been given clean clothes by the staff, on order of the Big Man himself, which I appreciated, tucking Lana into my waistband because the leather straps of my shoulder holster needed to be oiled, and a place to throw some water and soap together. I hadn't shaved yet, but I was feeling a lot better.

But, something strange had happened out there.

Happened to me.

I barely felt the cold anymore, the hot water felt lukewarm, even though it steamed. My old clothes looked like they'd been through a cheese grater, but I barely had a mark on me.

And the biggest surprise came when I'd looked in the mirror after washing my face.

I'd always looked strong, my hard working days 'carving', as my mother said, a good set of muscle.

But what I looked like now was crazy, my muscles were harder, like wire under the skin, and my veins stood out like cords. I looked like some of those bodybuilders from out of California.

I hadn't ever looked like this before, not even when I was younger.

***

,,

The Great Man himself, Carl Richard Endicott, Michael's grandfather and Ellie's father finished shaking my hand.

A big man, he'd made his money in the railroad, his fortune rising with oil in Texas and rubies from Africa, along with rubber from the Congo and silks from the Orient.

He'd worked for all his money, a fact he proudly held up to the bluebloods he kept company with, scarring his hands from labor and fighting, and his eyes held that look that saw strengths he could use and weaknesses he could exploit.

Endicott was self-made, and was refusing to let himself go soft.

He sat me down, and we talked, drinking his scotch, and I found we were both Yankees fans.

Ha. Common ground.

But soon, we talked about the boy, and what had happened.

He'd been grabbed from the only spot at the school not visible to supervisors, a corner now bricked and mortared over. The spot had a swinging board, hung on a single nail, that some of the more adventurous boys would use to go truant.

I asked him why he'd put his grandson there, and he told me he wanted Michael to see some of the real world, not be locked up with some stuck-up tutor.

"Something's going to happen someday," he told me. "And only the people who know the outside world, the real world, will be strong enough to keep what's theirs. Everyone else will lose…everything."

Humph. So he's only there to be tough.

Well, let's find out how tough the old man is when I change subjects.

"How deep in debt is your son-in-law?" I asked him suddenly. His eyes widened only slightly. "I imagine that covering his losses is getting to be quite steep."

His eyes narrowed slightly.

I continued: "I have it on good authority that he's the worst gambler that most people have ever seen. Matter of fact, I'd bet that he wagered you'd cover his markers and lost."

"He's cut off," said another voice, a familiar woman's voice. "He's got a monthly living allowance that most families could live off for most of a year."

I had to admit, as she walked into the room towards us, that she had matured beautifully. I started at the top, and worked my way down.

Her hair was that rich brown that was almost red, and was pulled back into a simple, long pony tail, not the elaborate styles she used to wear. Her face, heart shaped and pretty, was pale from sleeplessness, and the rings under her eyes stood out starkly. Her neck was long, disappearing into a high collared blouse and tailored skirt that covered a tall, voluptuous body that was out of fashion at the moment, hinting at a strength and passion that would likely draw or intimidate men.

"Michael's asleep. Finally," she said, sitting down and pouring herself a glass of what smelled like sherry. Not wanting her to drink alone, I 'settled' for some more whiskey.

Then, with her head bowed slightly, she looked at me.

She knew who I was.

How did she see me now, I wondered. Did she see me as the man who'd saved her child? Or would she see me as the kid from the wrong side of the tracks?

She flushed slightly, and looked away, ashamed.

"It's all right," I told her. She'd told me enough just by looking away. "It's over."

The Old Man thought I was talking about Michael's ordeal, but Ellie knew what I meant.

"Is it?" he asked. "You told us yourself that the man who was killed was a flunkie. There was some one else…"

"I heard his voice," I told him. "So did Michael. If we ever hear him again…we'll know."

Mr. Endicott looked like he wanted to say something, but he seemed reluctant.

I asked him something I'd thought of while Michael and I were walking back to the city, dodging cars and hiding from strangers, not knowing friend from foe.

Who, I asked him, would inherit if Michael had died? Who would gain from the death of one, or all of the Endicotts? Who would call her Mary, and not Ellie, which I knew for a fact she preferred.

The Old man gave me the answer I was expecting.

But so, at that moment, did the object of our concerns.

Charles Maverly stepped into the room, a smile on his once handsome face, rounded by too many years of good living, a tailored suit that didn't hide the paunch and a Tommy gun in his hands, aimed at us.

"The one hundred thousand was more than enough to cover my debts. But I've discovered a thirst for more than mere money. So, I'm afraid that the police will come, and find all of you dead, shot by the kidnappers who took my son. They will leave me alive to deliver the ransom, but my poor, poor son will never be seen again."

He smiled wider. "Then, I'll use my new empire to expand my interests. Smuggling to start, but that is only the tip of the iceberg, my friends. New machines are being built everyday, like portable two-way radios that can be held by one person."

Yep, I guessed right. Sounds a little different here in the flesh, but Chuck is the Voice.

"Yes, machines that will reshape the world as we know it! Weapons of such power, the world will tremble at the thought of their use! Machines of such intelligence and power that they will hold an entire library's worth of books for those who have the power to use them!

"Technology, weapons, drugs from exotic lands, slaves for those who wish them, transport for small armies and criminals who can pay the price. All this and more!"

"My empire will spread it's wings and soar!" He looked down at the gun in his hands, as if he'd forgotten he was holding it.

Then he looked back up, and the grin was replaced by a snarl. "But first…"

Ellie winced at the scream following the gunshot, and looked in wonder at her father, herself and then me, unharmed and alive.

Charles, on the other hand squalled as blood gushed from his leg. He was rapidly turning pale as he clutched at the wound.

The artery hit had been lucky.

I pulled Lana out from under the table, her smoking showing that she was pleased with herself.

I walked over to Maverly, and looked down. "Should've told us to put our hands up," I told him, watching the fear in his eyes and remembering the terror on the face of an eight-year-old boy.

His hands relaxed, as the blood flow slowed, then trickled…and stopped.

***

It's been a week and a day now.

The elder Endicott was so grateful, he rewarded me with a new wardrobe, had my car retrieved and tuned up and paid me enough to keep the Landlord off my back for a few months.

I haven't seen Ellie since that day. She'd taken her son and grabbed a ship to Paris. They should be there soon.

Hope the lad likes it. He'd been pretty upset when his mother told him afterward that it had been his own father that had him kidnapped, but I think he was even more upset when he came downstairs after hearing that gunshot, and found me standing over him with Lana still showing her pleasure.

He would've come after me with that fireplace poker he'd grabbed if Ellie hadn't grabbed him right then. Her telling him what happened didn't calm him down, but me telling him that it had been his father's voice on that radio drove the point home, and he fell into his mother's arms crying like, well like someone who'd just lost their father.

He'd been about to empty that Gat at us, but listening to the kid, I was the one that felt like a heel.

None of this reached the scandal sheets, of course. Endicott had a reputation for evening scores.

So now, eight days later I was leaning back in my chair, feet up on my desk. I opened my morning paper, ignoring the headlines of 'Where is Maxwell Mercer?' and 'Hammersmith Explosion Still Being Investigated'

I know that I missed the damn thing, being unconscious at the time and all, but it was a week ago!

Let it go and get back to the really important stuff that everyday schmoes like me need to know.

I opened it to the sports page, saw the headline and the story beneath:

,,

'NY Yankees Losing Streak Broken.

Management Lauds New Player As Savior Of The Team, and Welcomes 'Babe' Ruth to New York City.

,,

Nuts. Of course, just when I bet against them…

I heard the door open and a thick Irish brogue called out: "Seen the scores yet, me boyo?"

finis

Written by

Christopher 'Quest' Chase

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