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TWO

The Hot Spot is on West Forty-third, and it is owned by Mike Cantrey, alias the Brain. Cantrey headed just about every racket on the main stem. No murder, beering or bootlegging. Not crude stuff like that. He just took suckers. He ran machines, gambling houses, spots like this one, which were blinds for his crooked wheels in the rear. And it was Cantrey I had written my expose about.

I went in and took a seat by myself in one of the oaken stalls. A waiter came over and looked questioningly at me. I said: "An Old Fashioned, garsong, as ever."

While I was waiting for him I lighted a cigarette. A shadow fell across my table. I looked up. A girl was standing in front of my stall. She had corn-hair, a smooth-looker, and was dressed like the Queen of Sheba.

"I know you," she said, pointing.

She was a little bit tight and she was holding a rye highball. I thought I'd seen her before somewhere, but I played safe. I said: "You've got the better of me, Garbo."

"You're Daffy Dill," she said.

"Right the first time," I said.

"You're a reporter on the «Chronicle."«

"Wrong there," I said sadly. "I was a reporter on the «Chronicle.» I just lost my job. That's why my tears are staining my best shirt. Sit down and put up your hair and have a good cry with me. Who are you?"

"Tough," she said-about the job, and then added: "I'm Clare Gordon. " I didn't look bright. "You know-Pemberton Gordon's daughter. You interviewed him at the house last week on the N. R. A. He's in the cloak and suit end as administrator."

"Hell, yes!" I said, shaking hands with the gel. "But I didn't see you there or I would have stayed longer." I surveyed her. "You make pretty good copy yourself. Been in any more scrapes lately? I haven't seen a yarn about you since you forced down the police plane when it tried to get you for stunting over the city."

She made a face. "That was a jam. They cracked up in landing. I've reformed. Dad played hell with me on that one."

The waiter brought my Old Fashioned.

"Have one?" I asked.

"Sure," she said. "Thanks."

"Another," I told the waiter. He left.

"How'd you lose your job?"

I said: "I happened to have a guy in the office who hates my nerve. He had my job but he couldn't deliver. They promoted me to his forty fish a week and he's been sore at me ever since. He fixed me into a libellous story. Changed one word and got the paper in a jam. It looked as though I'd written it-and so I am fired."

"Tsk, tsk," she said, shaking her head. "Bad, bad. Daffy, am I a pal?"

"My fran," I said, "I have known you for years."

"You help me out," Clare said, "and I'll get you back your job."

"Why not?" I said. "Consider yourself helped."

She handed me a slip of paper. It had a list of figures on it which added up to five grand. "Know what that is?"

"I. O. U.'s, probably," I said. "Been playing the wheel?"

"Not me," she said. "I'm not that dumb. But my brother has and he's in a real spot. Dad's cracked down on him lately. Won't give him money. Dick was playing the wheel here at Cantrey's. He lost. He gave them an I. O. U. each time. Now they want to collect. They're going to go to dad and I know it'll get Dick disowned or something. I told him I'd fix it up. I saw the Brain. He said no."

"Five grand," I mused. "O. K., girlie. You sit here and devour your drink. I'll be right back."

I got up and went to the back door. Rigo, the Brain's right-hand man, peered out at me through the barred door.

"Oh, it's you," he said, and opened up. I went in.

The tables were all getting a good play, even for daytime. Suckers were plunking down the coppers and having them swept away without a bit of return, but they kept right at it. I asked Rigo: "Where's the Brain?"

"In his office," Rigo said. He was a little guy with black hair, black mustachio, and squinty eyes. "Want to see him?"

"Yeah."

He took me in. The Brain was sitting behind his desk, smoking a cigar. Luke Terk was sitting with him. Luke was the Brain's muscle man when customers were broken-armed about paying up. Rigo closed the door behind us.

"Hello, Daffy," said the Brain. "How's tricks?"

"Fair," I said. "I want to ask a favour."

"Anything for a pal," said the Brain, smiling, and I shivered because I knew damn well he would have liked to have had my throat slit. "What is it?"

"There's a guy named Richard Gordon," I said. "A good pal of mine. He owes you five grand."

"That's right."

"Tear up his I. O. U.," I said. "He's a personal friend, you see. He didn't know your wheels were crooked."

Luke Terk jumped around and stared at me. "Listen, birdie, button your lip or-"

"Why, Luke!" the Brain said. "Don't speak like that. Daffy's my best friend, aren't you, Daffy?"

"How about it?" I asked. "Afraid the answer's no," the Brain said. "Five grand is five grand."

"I see," I said. "Mind if I use your phone?"

"Go ahead."

I called the Old Man at the Chronicle. The three buzzards watched me carefully. The Old Man said irascibly: "Yeah."

"Chief," I said, "this is Daffy Dill. I'm at the Hot Spot seeing Mike Cantrey. He just refused to do a favour for me. Don't you think it was about time the «Chronicle» ran that series of articles exposing his crooked gambling joints all over the city?"

"Hell, no!" the Old Man said. "You haven't finished them up yet."

"Fine," I said. "I'll tell him he can read all about it in tomorrow's editions then."

"Wait a second," the Brain said.

"I get you," said the Old Man. "You're baiting him. Keep talking if you want. I'll play along from this end."

"Nice going, chief," I said. "But wait a second." I put my hand over the mouthpiece and asked: "What is it?"

The Brain studied me. "Is that on the level?"

"You bet your sweet life it is!"

"It can't hurt me. I've got the political boys greased."

"Yeah," I said, "but you haven't got the public greased. You take their money and they'll be sore when they read about it. They'll put the blame for any time they've ever been gypped on you. Maybe there'll be a Federal inquiry. And in two months there's an election coming up. The people won't elect your political boys unless they clean you out."

Luke Terk snapped: "This is one guy we oughta cook, Brain."

"Let me do it!" Rigo growled.

"Boys, boys!" I said. "Don't be silly. You don't kill a reporter who has just written an expose of you. That adds murder to the other crimes."

The Brain said: "He's right, you lugs. Call off your dogs, Daffy. It's a deal. I'll give you the I. O. U."

"Chief," I said into the phone, "it's all off. You'll have to hold those articles for another favour. So long."

I hung up. The Brain opened his desk, took out a note, handed it to me.

"I'm on the short end," he said. "You've still got those articles for publication. How much for them?"

"I'm not blackmailing," I said.

"You mean you'll run them sometime anyhow?"

"Yeah," I said. "But you'll have time to get your affairs together and start a new racket, Brain. Gambling's dead from now on."

Luke Terk growled: "Get outta here, you rat, before I forget myself and blast you."

I got out.


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