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FIVE

I took out his rod and cracked him on the skull with it. He went out like a light and sagged to the alley floor. I figured him cold for at least an hour. I ran down the street to a cigar store, stuck a nickel in a telephone and called Dinah Mason.

"Hello?" she said.

"It's Daffy," I said.

"Darling," she said, "what's happened to you? The Old Man got word that you were being held in connection-"

"Listen, my little rattlesnake," I said. "I just put the bite on Rigo. You know Rigo-the Brain's right or left hand. I forget which. Anyway, he opened up and squealed beautifully. Now get this, because I'm on my way. Clare Gordon is being held captive at Mike Cantrey's penthouse apartment at the Ritz Towers. In case they should bury me before you see me again, tell some one else that pertinent information and write the story along with my obit."

"Check," she said. "Be careful, you lunatic. Don't get killed just when I've got you that way about me."

"I'm not going to try," I said, "but you never can tell."

I hung up and hooked a cab for uptown. We made the Ritz Towers in nothing flat. I paid off the driver-four bits it was-and I went in. I found out how the Brain got Clare up there without suspicion. He had a private elevator to his place. I said I wanted to see him. They made a call upstairs.

"The answer," said the desk clerk, "is no. Mr. Cantrey is seeing no one tonight."

"Tell him," I said, "it's about some gambling articles a fellow once wrote."

"He'll see you," the desk clerk said after relaying the kind words. "Take that elevator."

I took it. It was a non-stop at that time of night and we went up so fast I felt as though I'd left my stomach on the first floor. I got out. I didn't have any plan. I was just planning on inspiration. There were only two of them. I knew that. The Brain didn't go in for mobs.

I rang the bell. Luke Terk opened the door.

"Hello, rat," he said.

I went in. He had a gun in his right hand. With the other, as I passed him, he frisked me. He found my Colt and made me take it out. "Drop it on the floor. " I dropped it. I felt sort of empty. I had counted on that gun for a jam. "O. K.," Luke Terk said then. "Go on in. One funny move and I give it to you."

His voice was cold and low. He meant it.

The Brain was sitting in the living room. It was a swanky spot, all furnished modernistic, the way the furniture looks when you wake up with the jitters and a bad hangover. He smiled at me in a self-satisfied way. I had a feeling I was in for it.

"Come to the point," he said. "Never mind the gambling stories stall."

"All right," I said. "You snatched Clare Gordon. The gel's here. I want her."

"You want the moon," said the Brain softly.

"Maybe so," I said. "But I want her."

"She ain't here."

I laughed nervously. "You're stalling now, Cantrey. I hopped Rigo in an alley. He squealed."

"I know," the Brain said. "You cut him with your knife. Sorta nasty trick, wasn't it, Daffy?"

I felt icy. "So he came to and called you?"

"Yeah. He's got a tough skull. Sorta nasty, wasn't it?"

"Not for a rat like Rigo," I said. "He had it coming. I don't like snatchers, Brain."

"My, my!" Luke Terk exclaimed. "He don't like snatchers." His voice went taut. "Well, I don't like guys with knives, Dill!"

"He had it coming."

"And so have you," said the Brain. "Ever had your teeth burned with matches? Ever had needles stuck through your skin? We do that with welchers, Daffy. I think we'll stretch a point. Maybe you ain't a welcher. But you was pretty rough on Rigo. And Rigo is a pal of mine, see?"

"You're running a sandy," I said. "You can't scare me now. Go ahead, torture me. Then bump me off. The Feds are still after Clare Gordon. They don't miss out on their cases, Brain."

"She ain't here."

"Sure," I said, "she's flew away with a little birdie. Don't kid me. She's in the Ritz Towers somewhere. Rigo squealed once. He'll squeal again."

"The Feds don't carve guys' throats," snapped Luke Terk.

"Rigo's O. K.," said the Brain. "But you're not, Daffy. You're washed out. You've poked that big nose of yours into trouble this time."

"Into news," I said. "A nose for news."

"You stuck it into a coffin," said Luke Terk. "Only this time the lid's on it and you can't pull out."

I waited for a second and didn't say anything. They had the drop on me coming and going and there wasn't a thing I could do except bluff and stall a little.

"I want Clare Gordon," I said.

"Nuts," Luke Terk growled. "O. K., chief?"

The Brain nodded. "O. K., Luke. Give it to him. And make it hurt."

Luke Terk jabbed his gun in my ribs. "Get over to that sofa," he said. "And lie down."

I started for the sofa. Simultaneously, there was a hell of a racket in the streets below. We were up some sixteen floors, but we could hear the police sirens as plain as day. They were screaming and I could hear the cars grinding up to the curb.

The gun in my ribs loosened. Luke Terk tensed and turned.

"Chief," he snapped. "Bulls! This lug must've tipped them off!"

"Take it easy," the Brain said. "Maybe they're not for us."

"They're for you," I said. "I tipped them."

Luke Terk cried: "Chief-what'll we do with him?"

"Take him along!" the Brain said. "You take him down where the doll is. I'll stay here and parley with the cops. You-"

Now was the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party. I spun around, swinging with my right. It was a good swing, but I hit without a target, since Luke Terk and his rod were behind me. I heard the Brain yell. I missed Terk's chin and hit him on the left shoulder.


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