INTO THE GANGSTER'S LAIR
The pimp was greatly mistaken in thinking that he had so easily beaten George. George had taken martial arts in high school. She knew how to take a punch as well as how to dish one out. Realizing that her opponent was not likely under interrogation to supply them with any information at all, the quick-thinking girl had instantaneously concocted a ruse that might serve them better than the slow-footed method they had been pursuing. She would let the brute think he was stealing Bess away, then follow. The pimp would then unwittingly guide the girls to the slaver gang's secret lair!
It was a risky plan, with greater peril for Bess than for George, and there had been no time to consult with her. After the pimp had turned away George had looked up from the ground and caught Bess's eye. She flashed a brief smile before she was pulled away. George heard the smack that Bess had earned for her trouble in looking back. The athletic young girl instantly vowed to revenge her cousin for that lowdown blow. Then she laid her face back down in the dust in case the fiend looked back.
When she guessed that the pimp and his new prize were out of sight, George sprung silently to her feet. She couldn't see her quarry, but she would be able to locate them by the noise they would inevitably be making. Although Bess was too smart to openly resist she was also clever enough to make enough clumsy noise for George to easily follow an auditory "trail."
As she expected, it only took a few seconds for George to detect and locate a tell-tale sound. About one block to the west there was the sound of the tip of a steel-toed pump hitting a trash can. She silently headed in the direction of the noise. Before long there was another anomalous clattering. George adjusted her path accordingly. There were occasional zigs and zags, but for the most part the assailant and his captive were headed in a consistently straight direction. There was no sign of evasive action. The pimp did not know that he was being followed.
At each stage of her journey George verified that she had interpreted the sounds correctly by locating the object that Bess had jostled or bumped. Once it was a dumpster, another time a tin can. When George located the mailbox that Bess had struck, she was startled to see the scarf that belonged to Bess draped over the top. George pocketed the scarf—Bess would appreciate getting it back later, if there was a later!—and quickly looked around for whatever it was that Bess had wished her to notice. George knew that she had a few extra seconds at her disposal because Bess would be careful to impede her captor's progress a little more than usual the next block or so. Nonetheless George could count on no more than a few precious seconds.
Fortunately the prize was easily spotted: a small package the size of a paperback book sitting directly under the mail receptacle. The pimp must have left the parcel at this "drop" for someone to pick up soon afterward. It certainly could not remain there long, especially after it began to get light in the early dawn. Looking quickly around in case the intended recipient was in the immediate vicinity, George scooped up the package and put it in her left outside jacket pocket. As it was bulky for a pocketed item and ruined the lines of her outfit, she realized that she had not exactly "secreted" it on her person. There was no time to see what it was or to dispose of it more carefully, however; George had to head off immediately and resume the chase.
At first George expected that she would not have to follow Bess and the pimp for more than would take them out of the dockyard district. Much to her surprise, however, the path taken by the pair led her several miles, across the eerily dark and silent downtown shopping and financial quarters, through a large railroad yard, and into a district of vast featureless buildings that filled entire blocks. Warehouses! A perfect place for hiding out and transacting nefarious business! Clearly Nancy's father had been playing his cards close to the vest when he sent them all the way across town to the dockyard bar.
The pimp did not enter the first warehouse but continued his path for nearly three more miles. George had to take care not to be spotted crossing a broad boulevard amply lit by street lamps. But she was anxious not to lose the pimp. Even more, she wanted to be close enough to dash in and reclaim Bess when it became clear which building was the hideout.
But fate was against the dogged pursuer. Just as the pimp moved towards a recessed door, George was prevented from crossing the street by a fleet of container trucks heading in the direction of the interstate highway. She saw Bess desperately trying to slow her abductor's progress. The captive girl merely earned a particularly cruel blow. Bess collapsed in a heap on the pavement. The villain picked up her senseless body and slung her over his shoulder as if she had been a sack. By the time George was able to cross the street and approach the door, the pimp and Bess were gone. The frantic girl pulled at the door, but it was locked!
George paused to catch her breath. She had to think! It was no good panicking or beating her head against the sturdy door. She realized that it would be fruitless to allow herself to dwell on what might be happening to Bess inside while she herself was stuck outdoors. If this door didn't budge, perhaps there were others that would. George began to prowl around the sprawling building testing all the doors.
After fruitlessly trying four doors, George found one that had a small light shining above. This was a signal to the gang members, she supposed. Therefore, this must be the entrance to try. Fearful that this door would be as impenetrable as all the others, George gingerly put her hand on the knob and gently twisted. Sure enough, it opened easily. George took a tentative look inside. The entry room, dully lit with a naked compact fluorescent bulb, was empty. She stepped inside. Opposite her was a half-flight of stairs leading upward to a door that looked like it might be locked.
The only other feature of the room was a large mirror set into the wall beside her. She wondered why a warehouse would have a big mirror, and displayed in such a place. George instinctively looked at herself in reflection and preened just a little bit. She brushed back her disheveled hair. Bedraggled, but a pretty presentable young pimp she opined. She gave herself a cocky smile and a "come up and see me sometime" wink.
Suddenly she heard a clump that seemed to come from behind the mirror. The smile drained from her face. The sinister purpose of the mirror dawned upon her. It was a mirror only one way and in another room some guards had been observing her posturing like a dope through a window! Her embarrassment made a quick segue into alarm. She wondered what kind of signals had been set in train by her oafish entrance into the warehouse lobby!
The upstairs door opened and a middle-aged man in the uniform of a security guard descended to confront George.
"Swordfish?" It was the only thing that George could think of on short notice. It was also clearly not the right answer, since the guard immediately pulled a revolver.
"I'm afraid that you will have to come with me." With a flick of the barrel of the gun he indicated that he wanted George to precede him up the stairs. The intrepid girl was not in the mood to become a captive like her cousin. One person, at least, had to be free to carry on the struggle. It only then occurred to her muddled brain that she should have notified the police while she was still at liberty outside. It was too late to regret past action, however. She marshalled renewed determination to overpower the guard and to escape to the safety of the open air.
The guard's signal with the gun gave George all the opportunity she needed. She leaped directly at his hand and body, stunning him and sending the Smith and Wesson clattering on the floor. But he recovered quickly and stood up facing her with a sap in his hand. George had no wish to grapple with him as he was still armed and was, moreover, nearly twice her weight. Vaulting nimbly around him, she made a leap for the gun, which was lying at the base of the stairs. Just as she grabbed it she saw another guard coming down the stairs, the barrel of his gun pointed directly at her head. She stood up and wheeled with her revolver to face the greater menace.
But in so doing she forgot to cover her backside against the man with the blackjack. Before she could make a move, George heard a footstep approach her from close behind. She felt a sudden pain in her head. Everything went black.
The room to which George awoke was austere and shabby. She lay face up on the thin, bare mattress of a small bed which had no foot or headboards to it. There was no pillow. The only other piece of furniture was a chipped and dented brown metal folding chair pulled close to the side of the bed. An exposed light bulb hung down from the ceiling on a long cord right above her eyes. Its incandescent glow seemed to penetrate her skull right through her eye sockets, and cast the rest of the room into comparative shadow.
George felt nauseous. The room reeked of vomit, so she guessed that she must have been sick already. Leaning over the side of the bed she prepared to empty her stomach again, but little came out. More unpleasant than puking, George reflected, was needing to puke and not being able to do it. She retched impotently, and at the same time semi-convulsed in a dry sob.
This expression of emotion made the discomfort in her head and gut worse. She rolled over on her back and tried to stay as still as possible until the severity of the pain diminished. But as the moments passed, neither the spikes that pressed on her head nor the cramping that afflicted her upper abdominal area abated even one iota. George kept her eyes closed, but the light penetrated pinkly through her eyelids. She couldn't scrunch her eyes tight because that hurt too much. So she flopped her right forearm over her face, being careful to balance it on the bridge of her nose and not to apply any pressure on her eye sockets. But soon her arm wearied and she had to withdraw the protective limb. The burning light mocked her and would not permit her to find the solace of sleep.
She must eventually have nodded off for at least a minute because she realized that there was someone in the room. She hadn't noticed anyone come in. The noise of breathing sounded like wind in a storm. When she opened her eyes to a pain only slightly moderated from before, all she could see was the light bulb in the foreground and a dark, heavy masculine silhouette beyond. She closed her lids again. She was certain that the man now knew her to be conscious, and that he wanted something from her. Very soon, she knew, she would have to endure hearing him speak, and she would be expected to undertake the ordeal of venturing some sort of reply. George inwardly winced in anticipation.
If her father were here, she reflected ruefully, he would tell her that this is what young girls get for gallivanting around dressed like boys. Her mother, on the other hand, would shoot her captors first, then ground her later.
"I know you're awake, buster. Open them pretty eyes." The attendant gunsel was actually moderating his voice—he had been sapped a couple of times already in his short life and knew what the captured intruder was going through. His statement, nevertheless, resonated like thunder in the caverns of George's mind. Curious as she was to actually see her interlocutor, her throbbing brain refused to allow her eyes to reopen.
"Okay, leave them closed," conceded the thug. "Just listen up and tell me what I want to know. That code book what was in your pocket—where did you get it?"
Code book! George regretted that she had had no time to examine what had been her prize for so brief a period. On the other hand, she had not come across any specimens of these criminals' secret messages and, besides, here, deep in the gangster's lair, she had no use for a code book. She now had the information that had been so long sought, more precious than any code book, the location of the slave ring's hideout. And just when she knew this vital thing, as a prisoner the information was no longer of any use to her!
"Where did you get that code book?" The interrogator's tone had gotten deeper and more intense.
George reflected that it was odd that her captors were so interested in a code book, about which now she could care less. It was to her like one of those "MacGuffins" in a Hitchcock film. Something the movie's characters cared about greatly but whose importance the audience had to take on faith. She reflected that we rarely discovered, even at the end of the movie, what it had been all about really.
"Do you want me to shake you up, fella?" the gunsel was saying, with a tinge of desperation lurking in the back of his voice. "You really won't like that."
"Under a mailbox." George decided that the strain of a reply was better than being abruptly moved and, further, that it probably would not hurt her or anyone else to tell the truth.
"Who sent you to pick it up?"
"I just found it. I saw a box with a scarf on top of it, gave a look, and saw a package underneath. Stole it and was going to look at it later. Didn't know what it was."
George had decided to forestall a long, painful interrogation with a barrage of truth. The gunsel would go away, she figured, once he was happy with her story. Besides, she had the "proof" in her pocket. She guessed that any piece of tangible evidence might be quite satisfactory to this gangland underling, probably not one of the century's forensic superstars.
"How do I know you're telling the truth?"
"Outside pocket," George directed in a loud whisper. She didn't want him rummaging around her breast pockets.
The goon quickly examined her two outside pockets and drew out Bess's scarf. He made a satisfied grunt, pocketed the "evidence," gave George another look over, then made his exit, turning out the light as he went. The concussed girl was soon asleep.
George wasn't sure how long she was asleep. There was a dim light coming through a high barred window, so she guess that it had been at least a few hours. She still felt a bit groggy, but the throb in her head was down to low migraine level, and the uncertain condition of her stomach had been downgraded to mildly queasy. She decided to get up and venture a look around her cell. Remembering the feebleness of her interrogation, she hoped that a door might have been carelessly left unlocked or a weapon left lying around. A bit dizzy, she did a circumnavigation of the room by holding onto the wall. The only features revealed by the examination were the window, too high to reach even standing on the bed (which she could not trust herself to do in her condition), the outside door (securely locked), and a clothes closet, entirely empty. She thought of hiding in the closet, but gave up the idea. When they found her missing, her captors would look there first. And she would in the meantime be very uncomfortable standing or squatting in there. She decided that she had better save her energy for some other opportunity.
The best thing for her, George realized, was more rest. She lay back upon the bed and sleep engulfed her again.
She must have been sleeping more lightly than before because when the door next opened George was instantly awake and alert. Her head no longer hurt any worse than a two-aspirin headache. Although it was lighter outside, it was still gloomy in the room. This time two of the gang had come in. The larger one she felt certain was her night inquisitor. The other was smaller and, as George's eyes began to focus, proved to be a young woman. She was elegantly dressed in a two piece red dress with a gold brooch pinned on the front. Her hair was cut like Louise Brooks and her determined features looked familiar, very familiar. She felt that she ought to know who this was, but her mind, so recently dazed, was not up to visual identifications. It couldn't be Louise Brooks, of course, she was long dead and really only a movie star image. The whole experience in the room, ever since she had first awakened, had been like a movie based upon a Raymond Chandler book. If only the moll's dress weren't so red. Otherwise George could imagine everything, including herself, in glorious black and white.
Another actress name came floating to the surface of her consciousness. Bonita Granville. Why her? An obscure actress if there ever was one, and in such terrible old films. Like Hitler's Children. Yet the resemblance was uncanny.
"Get up, fella." Yes it was the voice of last night's gunsel coming from the hulking young man. George got up next to the bed and grabbed the top of the nearby chair to steady herself.
"I recognize him," said a rough-edged female voice. George's acoustic wits were not out wool-gathering along with her optical ones. Instantly she was apprised of the identity of the woman and all the visual clues, previously misinterpreted, snapped into place.
It was Nancy Drew! Nancy was attired and made up to look older and harder than she really was, and looked elegant in a tawdry way. Her clothes were ostentatious, as all the accents even down to her pumps and handbag stridently called attention to themselves.
"This is a police detective from River Heights, named Angus MacKenzie," Nancy continued. "He is a spy, trying to infiltrate us. We cannot let him escape with the information he has on us. No more can we afford to keep him. We must liquidate him right away."
At these terrible words the smile of recognition that had begun to dance on George's lips drained away. What was Nancy saying? Had she abandoned her friends and gone over to the criminal element? Or was she prepared to sacrifice George's life to maintain her cover?
"Come on, shoot him!" Nancy persisted.
A stunned George looked over at the instrument of her execution. The sweating gunsel, however, made no move to pull out his rod.
"I am not paid enough for wet work, Chantelle" he protested.
A sinister smile of triumph flickered across Nancy's lips. She had the measure of her man. She would show the young tough just who was the alpha desperado.
"Give me your piece," she demanded, holding out her hand. "I will do the job myself."
The hood reached inside his jacket and extricated a revolver from its holster. Holding the barrel in his hand he offered the handle to Nancy.
"I'll bet you're not paid enough to watch a killing either. Go away, and bring me back a body bag. You can help me clean up afterwards."
Without further ado the thug turned on his heels and made a grateful exit. Nancy remained confronting George from ten feet away.
George felt great relief at this development. Nancy had cleverly succeeded in getting rid of the real criminal and now she clearly intended to help her friend escape. George meant to rush across the room to give her chum an embrace, but in her first movement she stumbled over the chair. Having managed to steady herself, she had just begun to form the word "Nancy" on her lips when Nancy raised her pistol—and fired! George felt a searing pain at the side of her head and lost consciousness.