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THIS WEEK ON MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION-
THE CLAWS OF THE CAT
BY RON FORTIER
featured in DOMINO LADY: SEX AS A WEAPON
from Moonstone Books
Cautiously she made her way across the grounds. When she passed the first massive structure, she identified it as a sawmill. Coming around this building she spotted the kidnappers’ Buick parked in front of another warehouse-like building. The main door was pulled back and a small ray of light spilled free. To the left of this were windows. As she approached she could make out offices inside. The night air was cool on her skin as she edged closer to the open door.
Moving along the wall, she listened carefully. Someone was talking inside. Slowly she peeked into the massive, cavernous interior. She saw rows of equipment and tools lining the walls and hanging from chains. This was some kind of maintenance supply building. She stepped in and began moving behind the shelves where the deepest shadows lay. Somewhere at the far end of the building the voice was still talking. She zeroed in on it, her gun raised and ready.
“Naw, I’m telling yah, Boss, it wasn’t the Miller dame,” the voice belonged to the one called Eddie. “I know, I know! But what were we supposed to do? This other broad showed up with the loot.”
The Domino Lady came around a shelf filled with bins of various pins and screws to where she could see Eddie leaning against a long wooden table covered with blueprints. One single light bulb was centered over the table as he spoke into a telephone. Behind him was a desk and filing cabinets. The bruiser called Jack was seated behind the desk with his feet on it crossed at the ankles, smoking a cigarette. On the desk by his feet was an open bottle of whiskey. Both men held glasses filled with the dark amber liquid.
As she carefully studied them and their surroundings, Domino Lady spotted the bank’s money pouch next to the telephone cradle behind Eddie.
“Alright,” Eddie was saying, holding the receiver away from his ear because of the shouting on the other end of the line. “Right, Boss. That won’t happen with Hanna. I promise.”
The Domino Lady stepped out in front of them and Jack gulped, swung his feet off the desktop, and tried to reach for the gun in his shoulder rig.
“Don’t!” the masked blond snapped, aiming her pistol at him. “You can’t outrace a bullet.”
Jack sat up straight and moved his hand away from his jacket. She turned her gun on Eddie and motioned for him to move away from the table.
“Drop the phone and step back.”
“Sheesh, lady, who the hell do you think you are?” Eddie cursed as he complied with her order. Meanwhile the voice on the line was screaming questions she could just make out. It wanted to know what was happening? Who was there with them?
“I know who she is,” Jack said from the desk. “I’ve heard stories. They call her the Domino Lady. Right sister? That’s who you are.”
“Smart boy,” she nodded with a cold smile on her face. She again used the gun to indicate direction and told Eddie, “Get over there by your pal. Both of you keep your hands where I can see them.”
At the table, she picked up the telephone and brought it to her ear. “Hello.”
The ranting voice stopped and then there was silence.
“This is the Domino Lady. I’m about to be put a crimp in your plans.”
“What? The Domino Lady? Is this some kind of joke?”
“If it is, your boys aren’t laughing. I don’t think they see the humor in the situation, Mr. Carson.”
“How the hell do you know my name?”
“Oh, please. Your two goons kidnap Constance Miller’s cat, then take the ransom money and come directly to this lumberyard and make a call to their employer. I don’t need a genius I.Q. to put two and two together.”
Eddie and Jack gave each other nervous glances as they listened to the saucy avenger talk to their boss. If she didn’t kill them, there was a good bet he would for screwing up like this.
“Alright,” the voice said. “So what do you want? You don’t have enough evidence to prove squat and the boys won’t rat me out. They know better than that.”
Ellen hadn’t expected to discover the crook’s identity so easily. Now that she had, she really had no plan for what to do next. Eyeing the money satchel, she decided to end things quickly and rethink her strategy later.
“For now, only to take back what doesn’t belong to you. But don’t press your luck with me, Carson or you’ll regret it.”
“You don’t scare me, Domino Lady. I don’t bluff that easily.”
“You’ve been warned.” She dropped the phone on its cradle and reached for the moneybag.
Suddenly Jack lurched forward, grabbed the whiskey bottle and threw it at her. Domino Lady jumped aside and fired. The spinning bottle, its contents spilling out, missed her left arm by inches. At the same time her bullet ripped the fedora off Jack’s head. He froze, his eyes wide at the realization of how close he’d come to dying.
“Try that again,” she said, “and I put the next one right between your eyes. Now both of you reach into your jackets with your left hands and take out your guns!”
Angrily the two hoods did as they were told, all the while the Domino Lady stood with her silver automatic pointed steady, a look of hard resolve on her beautiful mouth. With her first shot she had demonstrated what she could do with that pistol. Neither man wanted to tempt Fate any further.
“Good,” she continued. “Now throw them both on the floor beneath the table here. Carefully!”
The steel handguns made a scrapping noise as they skidded under the table and stopped inches from her feet. She quickly picked them up and tossed them out the open window to her left. All was set for her getaway. Using the hand with the moneybag, Domino Lady lifted the lightweight table and upended it. Then she turned around, grabbed hold of one of the big bins filled with ball bearings and emptied it with a quick pull. Thousands of steel balls rained down on the cement floor as she disappeared behind the shelf running for all she was worth.
“Get her!” Eddie yelled, as he scampered around the over turned table only to step on several of the round marble-like bearings and go crashing onto his backside. Seeing Eddie go down, Jack wisely slid his own feet along the floor as he moved forward. It was slow going, but it was better than falling unceremoniously on one’s derriere.
Outside, the Domino Lady was laughing merrily as she jogged along.
Coming to the gray Buick, she stopped, pointed her pistol and fired into the right front tire, which deflated with a loud bang. She laughed again as she continued on her way to her own automobile. She hadn’t had this much fun in ages. Sliding behind the wheel of the Auburn, she saw that Snowflake was awake. Ellen set the moneybag next to the cage and put her mask and pistol back in the glove box.
“About time you woke up, sleepyhead,” she said as she started the engine. “First thing tomorrow morning I’m going to bring you home to mama.”
The little sport Cabriolet rolled out of the lumber yard and disappeared into the starry night beyond.
True to her word, Ellen Patrick did return Snowflake to her mistress the next morning, but not before putting in a call to Maxwell Campion at the Sentinel.
“My God, I don’t believe it,” the journalist replied when she identified herself. “I thought your pretty little feet never left their bed until at least after ten a.m.”
“Ha, ha, very funny. Listen, I’ve got a scoop for you on the cat thefts, if you’re still interested.”
“You bet! What have you got?”
“Not over the phone. Meet me at the Brown Derby for brunch at say, eleven and I’ll fill you in.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line and Ellen grinned. “It’s on me, dummy. I’m feeling magnanimous today.”
“Well, in that case, see you at eleven.”
Whistling a happy melody, Ellen finished her shower, dressed herself in a red dress with tiny white polka-dots, small white belt and matching high heels, and a big floppy white chapeau with a huge yellow ostrich feather rising from the red satin hat band. Thus she was ready to tackle Los Angeles and a new day. She was always this energized after a night of action as the mysterious Domino Lady. There was a lot to be said for crime fighting to boost a girl’s spirits.
The reunion between Constance Miller and her precious Snowflake proved to be as melodramatic as Ellen has imagined. The woman wouldn’t stop dancing around her apartment, all the while hugging the furry creature to her abundant bosom. For a second Ellen was afraid her friend might accidentally smother the poor animal. When Ellen dropped the moneybag on the coffee table, Mrs. Miller was completely overwhelmed and proceeded to shove a thousand dollars worth of hundreds into her hands. Ellen protested, but in the end folded the bills into her purse, gave the joyful woman a hug and kiss on the cheek and departed.
Coming out of the elevator in the lobby, she ran into Detective Barney Bishop looking none too happy. At the sight of her, he brightened and stopped to bid her a good day. Ellen really didn’t want to tarry long with the tall, likeable officer, as she didn’t want to miss her appointment with Campion. She also knew Bishop was about to get the shock of his life when he got to Miller’s apartment and found the missing cat and ransom money all accounted for. She thought it best not to mention it to him now.
“So how is Mrs. Miller holding up today?” he asked concerned.
“Oh, she’s doing much better,” Ellen answered, doing her best to keep a straight face.
“It’s strange, you know.”
“Well, we waited around all day into the early evening and she never received a ransom call.”
“Yes, I suppose that is strange.”
Bishop was chewing his ever-present wad of pink gum, his cheeks moving like a chipmunk’s. Ellen still thought he was cute.
“Well, Detective, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a luncheon date awaiting me.”
“Oh, sorry, ma’am. Didn’t mean to hold you up. Have a good day.”
Ellen walked out the door stifling giggles that threatened to burst from her mouth. He really was a dear man. As she strolled to her parked car she made a silent promise that whatever came next, she would manipulate things so that Barney Bishop would appear the hero. It was the least she could do for him.
The famous eatery was just filling up when the maitre d’ escorted Ellen Patrick to the booth where Max Campion was waiting for her. Along the way she waved to several celebrities she recognized. The Brown Derby was a magnet for both Hollywood celebrities and the press that adored them. They were passing a table where three gorgeous young ladies where listening in rapt attention to a boisterous, black haired, hawk-nosed man in a gaudy cowboy shirt.
“Why, howdy Miss Patrick,” Tom Mix called out, a big smile on his sunburned face. “Care to join us?”
“No thanks, Tom,” Ellen laughed. “You seem to have your hands full already.”
“Ah, there’s always room for more,” the silent screen hero winked. At that all three ingÈnues giggled mischievously while he set about filling their glasses with more champagne.
Ellen shook her head and continued after the maitre d’. When Campion saw them approaching, he got to his feet. Maxwell Campion hadn’t lost any of his athletic good looks. He was a short man with a very hard body and was dressed in brown shoes, tan slacks, light green shirt, and a sleeveless brown cardigan with a bright yellow bowtie.
“Hi, sweetie.” They hugged and she kissed his cheek.
“It’s good to see you too, darling.” As she sat across from him, a waiter appeared ready to take their drink order. “I’ll have a glass of Chablis while I study the menu.”
Campion ordered a beer and clasped his hands together and brought them under his chin. “Okay, give. You sounded very mysterious on the phone.” On the table before him was a notebook and pencil. Beside them was an open pack of Chesterfields.
“If you’ll give me a cigarette and a light, I think I can guarantee a story that will make you quite popular around the city desk.”
With anxious hands, the handsome journalist offered her a cigarette and then struck a match from a book bearing the restaurant’s logo. As Ellen took a puff, she peeled off her gloves, removed her colorful chapeau and made herself comfortable.
“So, tell me. What do you know about someone named Carson who owns a lumber yard on the outskirts of Beverly Hills?’
Campion torched his own fag, blew out smoke and raised his eyebrows. “Topper Carson. He’s into construction throughout most of Southern California. It’s no secret his silent partner is Wallace Gardini.”
“The one who owns those casino boats that operate off-shore?”
“One and the same. Gardini and Carson are trying to gobble up thousands of acres throughout the area and then develop it through the construction arm of their partnership. But so far they’ve been stymied by the board of selectmen. A lot of the folks out there want to keep the land as is and free of development.”
“Interesting. Well, here’s your scoop, Maxie. Carson is the man responsible for the cat-nappings.”
“And just how would you know this?”
“The Domino Lady told me.” Ellen’s smiling expression remained steady as she made her announcement.
“The Domino Lady!” Campion was instantly all business. “How the blazes do you know her and how reliable is this information?”
“My dear, Maxie, you know fully well I move in the most sophisticated social circles our City of Angels fosters. The masked damsel and I have a passing acquaintanceship that has proved to be beneficial to both of us.” Ellen felt like a heel lying to Max but it couldn’t be helped. There was no other way to obtain the information she needed to fill in the missing pieces to her puzzle.
“What’s she like, Ellen?” The man’s enthusiasm was uncontrollable and for a second she thought he might even wet his lips in anticipatory glee. “Is there any chance you can arrange an interview with her? That would be incredible! What a scoop that would…”
Snap! Ellen snapped her fingers in front of Campion’s face. “Down, Tiger. Focus here. I did not come here to discuss the Domino Lady, but to get to the bottom of the cat-nappings.”
“Oh, alright.” The reporter was clearly let down, but did a game job of getting back to the matter at hand. “But how exactly does she figure into all this? You can at least tell me that.”
“Certainly. It was she who was responsible for obtaining the release of Constance Miller’s cat from the two gorillas who snatched her.”
“And where does Carson’s lumber mill figure into all this?”
“That’s where the Domino Lady rescued the little kitty. But not before overhearing one of the big lugs talking to Carson on the telephone.”
“Ah,” Max began scribbling in his notebook. “And she provided you with that information?”
“What about the two men themselves. Did she describe them or give you their names?”
Ellen proceeded to describe the goons she had confronted with detailed accuracy and offered up their Christian names.
Campion scribbled a few more lines then put the pencil tip to his chin. “Hmmm, sounds like Fast Eddie Geller and Jack Ochra. Which lends weight to your claim as they are both two of Topper Carson’s… ah… associates. Both have rap sheets as long as your legs.” Campion winked.
“Let’s keep to the business at hand, lover boy.” It was easy to fall back into the rhythm of their old flirtatious ways. Ellen remembered many a beautiful night snuggled in Max Campion’s rugged embrace. Maybe after this affair was over, they might rekindle those old memories and add a few new ones. It was a delicious fantasy to be entertained at a later date.
“Whatever you say, doll. So, Domino Lady has it out with these two muscle-boys, manages to retrieve the pussycat, and brings it back to you for delivery to the Miller dame.”
“That’s pretty much it.”
“Was there anything else at all from her that might provide some explanation to why a shifty, up-and-coming fellow like Topper Carson is suddenly interested in stealing cats?”
“Actually there was. She overheard the one called Fast Eddie talking with Carson on the phone and he mentioned someone named Hanna. Does that mean anything to you?”
“Hanna!” Campion’s face suddenly took on the rosy complexion of a baked apple pie coming out of the oven. “Oh, yeah! Somehow this has got to be connected to Carson’s land proposition.”
“Remember I said there are selectmen opposed to the deal?” Ellen nodded, as she crushed out her cigarette in the silver ashtray. “Well the head of the opposition is a fellow named Reginald Hanna.”
“You see, the first time the proposition came up for a vote, Hanna argued soundly against it and the resulting vote was six to four against. Carson was very upset.”
“I can imagine. He sounds like a man used to getting his own way.”
“Exactly. But the story doesn’t end there. You see, according to city regulations, if a proposition is defeated the first time it comes before the board, the sponsors are allowed a second vote within ninety days of the first one. Ever since Carson lost the first vote, he’s been trying to butter up the six men who voted against him.”
Ellen raised an attractive eyebrow. “You mean he’s bribing them.”
“That’s politics, sweetheart. But here’s the rub. From what my sources tell me, he’s only been able to sway one of his targets.”
“So another vote would result in a tie.”
“Exactly. And that means failure for Carson. Unless he gets a clear majority, the proposition is tabled for another full year!”
“I see. Costing him…?
“My real estate contacts say the deal could be worth millions of dollars.”
The picture was still vague, but Campion’s data was certainly bringing it into much sharper focus for the inquisitive socialite. “I take it Hanna is not the selectmen Mr. Carson won over with his bribes.”
“Never happen. He’s a straight arrow, Ellen, and very determined to see this measure defeated when it comes up for a second vote Friday night.”
“Friday. That’s tomorrow night.”
“Right. Why? What exactly did Domino Lady hear in relationship to Hanna? Is he in any kind of danger, do you think?”
Ellen Patrick nibbled her lower lip, her mind spinning. She blinked, looked at her handsome companion and smiled mischievously. “No, but his cat is.”
THE END OF PART TWO OF THE CLAWS OF THE CAT!!
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And tune in next week for Part Three of this tale from MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION!
The Claws of the Cat
by Ron Fortier