Art by Mark Fults

It wasn’t exactly the party of the century. Not even the year. But, tonight? It was a pretty good party for this Friday night in 1935.

They came in, the three of them, the man who called himself Ryan Palmer in between, Cathy in dark blue, clinging to his right arm, Nora in silver, confidently standing on the left, looking slinky and self assured with her arm tucked into his. People, not everyone, but a lot of people, stared at them as they came in. It missed being a grand entrance only because the band was on break, out back smoking, and not playing. The people who had bothered to stare quickly got tired of it and turned back to whatever they’d been interrupted doing.

Palmer spotted the bar, issued a sigh and moved in that direction, the girls allowing themselves to be dragged along in his wake. The bartender, a lean man with no hair and a hatchet face, caught Palmer’s sign and poured him a tall one.

“Thanks,” said Palmer. “Girls?”

Cathy ordered something fancy, which caused the bartender to roll his eyes, and Nora asked for a gin and tonic. She got hers first because it was easier to pour, sipped it and turned, scanning the room over the rim of her glass.

“You ready for this?” she asked Palmer.

“Don’t be silly,” he said. “Of course I’m not.”

“Plan B?” said Cathy as the bartender placed her drink on the counter.

Palmer handed over a bill. “And what’s plan B?” he asked.

“Same as plan A,” said Nora, still checking the room out. “Hop to it, boss man.”

He took another drink, put the empty glass down and said, “I was afraid you’d say that.” He moved off.

The musicians straggled back in, four of them. They sat down to their instruments in a far corner and started to play. It was a large room, the furniture pushed back against the wall forming small sitting and conversation areas, mostly ignored, and leaving the middle of the room available for dancing if people felt like dancing. Most of them felt like standing around, drinking and chatting, trying not to look out of their depth.

Palmer crossed the room, heading toward the stairs, though not being obvious about it. Cathy turned back toward the bar, leaning on her elbows. “Do we follow when he goes up?”

Nora sipped at her drink. “Not right away,” she said. “Let’s make sure no one follows him, first.”

She moved away from the bar, went to a nearby sofa and sat down, crossing her long legs, which displayed them nicely because her gown came with a slit up one side of the skirt. She arranged the skirt to provide a more demure display and checked her watch. She was conveniently located to watch the stairs, so Cathy decided to concentrate on the crowd.

Right away she noticed two people who seemed out of place. One of them was a tall woman in a brown business suit of severe cut, with a large matching purse slung by a strap over her shoulder. Considering this was the big social event of the season in Diamondville, the way she was dressed stood out like a sarong at a church social.

The other conspicuous person was a burly man, though not so burly he looked out of place in evening clothes. He could not seem more relaxed, especially considering that he seemed to still be sober. That was what caught her attention. Most of the people here were either already smashed or clearly on the way to being smashed; or else tense and just a bit ill-at-ease. Not this guy. He had his big hand around a comfortable glass that appeared to hold bourbon with no ice and just a little water, and he was relaxed, his homely face creased with a pleasant smile. He seemed to be nursing his drink carefully. If he had not been so relaxed, she might have taken him for a cop or at least a private detective. But the way you spotted the cops and private dicks in this crowd was they were tense and watchful.

This guy didn’t seem tense at all, and while he looked around the room a lot, he made no big deal out of it. Still, she had the feeling he wasn’t missing a whole lot.

So, she wondered. Which one was the one she ought to keep an eye on?

Before she even had time to make the decision, she realized the burly man was casually walking in her direction.

He was clearly approaching her. She smiled at him. He took his drink in his left hand and extended his right to her and said, “Miss Casey, I take it? Cathy Casey?”

His handshake was firm, comfortable, relaxed. Up close she realized his smile was a bit crooked. He had bright blue eyes that actually seemed to twinkle.

“I can see you’re unsure of me,” he said in a low tone. “I’m sorry. I knew which sister you were because you were described to me as a blonde. My name is Manning. You might say I’m a business associate of Mr. Palmer’s.” There was the faintest hint of hesitation on the name.

“He didn’t mention having any business associates.”

“Well, yes, there is that. But looking around I’m beginning to think it might be necessary for us to work together a little more than I thought might be the case. The crowd, you know. But that’s okay. You and your sister have excellent reputations.”

“We do? For what?”

“I spoke about you with Mr. Hayden Stewart in the state attorney general’s office. He speaks very flatteringly of you both, and remembered your father as the best investigator he ever worked with. That was before your father opened the private agency you and your sister inherited from him, of course.”

Just for a moment her demeanor slipped and she let herself scowl at Manning. “Just who are you? For that matter, who is Ryan Palmer?”

“Ah! Good. You caught the significant fact. It’s true, Mr. Palmer is not who you think he is. You see those French doors over there? Could I invite you out on the terrace for a few moments so we can talk in more private circumstances?”

She thought about it a second. He said, “It won’t be so private you have to worry about it, Miss Casey.”

“Okay. You lead the way.”

He offered his left arm. “I prefer arm in arm, my dear. Arm in arm and side by side.”

It was a clear night, and above the trees that clustered around the old mansion where the dance was being held, the sky dazzled with stars. Bennington Manor was located on an elevation that gave a good view of Diamondville, all lights and cheap glitter, far below. There was a couple, clearly very much interested in each other, at one end of the broad terrace, and Manning steered Cathy the other way. “I don’t think they’ll pay us the slightest attention,” he said, quietly. “On the other hand, let’s keep our voices down.”

He leaned against the low stone wall that sided the terrace and said, “Okay. The man you know as Ryan Palmer and I are from New York. We represent, uh, what you might describe as certain philanthropic interests, and on their behalf we’ve come to your fair state – to say nothing of your fair city, looking for a man who’s wanted for questioning in several other states.”

“Philanthropic interests?”

“Our philanthropist is mainly interested in the problem of crime.”

“Oh.”

“I should here inform you that, yes, there is a Ryan Palmer, and, no, neither you or your sister have ever met him. The man you know as Palmer is really an investigator for the group we work for back in New York. He’s quite good. And he bears a certain general resemblance to the real Palmer, a resemblance we’ve enhanced so that our target won’t be able to tell the difference except up close.”

He took a sip from his drink. “Palmer – the real Palmer – is the victim of a blackmail ring, just as you were told, and he’s supposed to be here to meet with one of the blackmailers and buy back some photos. I believe you were told that.”

“You can believe what you want to believe,” she said.

“Ah, discretion. A fine quality in a private eye, especially when combined with a natural caution. Anyway, this group was operating in New York until very recently when they decided it was wiser to relocate. There’s six of them and they’re very slick. We intend to bring them down tonight.”

“Six of them? How many operatives do you have here, anyway?”

“Just Harry – I mean, Mr. Palmer – and me. And, of course, you and your sister. I believe you’re sometimes referred to as the Diamondville Dolls.”

“I’ve never heard us called that.”

“I just thought of the name,” he said. “I hope you like it.”

“Well, if we’re taking on a half dozen of them, I noticed the police chief and three of his men out there.”

“Oh, let’s not bother them. In the first place, only two of the blackmailers are here. The rest of the gang is back at the state capital, getting ready to be nabbed in a few minutes, though they don’t know it yet. We have other operatives on that matter.”

“This must be quite an organization.”

“That philanthropist I was telling you about is an organizational genius, if you want the truth. But time’s running out, so let me finish up. We found out about the real Palmer, went to him with our offer to help – promising to keep his name out of things – and Harry replaced him. Feeling we might need someone who knew the terrain, we had him hire you to come here with him. As I implied, we’d checked you girls out and liked what we heard. So we decided to bring you in as a sort of backup. I was undecided as to whether or not to let you in on what’s really going in until a few minutes ago, but I sometimes make a quick judgment, and when I do, I usually play along with them. Want to go catch a blackmailer, now?”

“Maybe. But first, what do you base most of your judgments on?”

“The only thing you can ever count on, dear. Hunches.”

2

When Nora Casey sat down and made herself comfortable she looked like a beautiful, sophisticated young woman determined to enjoy one drink in preparation for an evening of merriment. Her reddish brown hair was carefully coifed, and her silver gown was tight fitting and fashionable. She’d already scanned the crowd and noted pretty much the same things as her sister had.

After she’d been sitting for about three minutes, two things happened. One was that the burly man who seemed to be so suspiciously relaxed walked over to Cathy and shook her hand. Now, what was that about? The other thing was that Mr. Palmer went upstairs.

That was expected. He was supposed to meet the blackmailer upstairs and pay him off. Buy back all those incriminating photos. But at almost the same time, something else happened. Cathy and the burly man turned and went out on the terrace.

For a moment she was tempted to follow them and make sure everything was all right. But she stayed put. She had a job to do. And Cathy was a big girl, capable of taking care of herself. Or so Nora hoped.

Bennington Manor was a large house that had served for three generations as the home of a wealthy local family of whom only two members – cousins – were presently alive. They had left Diamondville some time ago and as a gesture of civic goodness had donated the old homestead to the town fathers, who maintained it as a sort of country club. The downstairs had been remodeled as a meeting hall and social club. As far as Nora knew the upstairs hadn’t been touched yet. There were two bathrooms and a cloak room downstairs, so not many people had any business on the second floor. Since Nora and Cathy had grown up around here, they knew the grounds and the layout of the house. Upstairs were bedrooms, mostly. There was a back staircase so it was fully possible someone could already be up there waiting for Palmer.

She glanced around for Cathy again, but she was still out there on the terrace. Nora could lean forward a bit and actually see her standing there talking with the strange man.

Okay, she was in no hurry. Their orders were to wait until Palmer gave the word to do otherwise. She leaned back in the chair and continued pretending to be sipping her drink and enjoying watching the few dancers.

Then the woman in the ridiculously inappropriate brown business suit crossed the room and went up the stairs.

If anyone had been watching Nora – and quite a few people, especially men, were – they would have thought she was completely uninterested in the woman going up the staircase. But that was not the case. Palmer had gone to the landing and turned left, down a hallway where it was impossible to watch him from downstairs. Now the woman reached the landing and went left – down the same hallway.

Nora watched her until she disappeared.

She waited a minute, then glanced at the terrace door. She didn’t lean forward this time but she decided Cathy was still out there. She wondered who the man was and what was going on, but if he was up to any funny business the terrace, with both those French doors open was a peculiar place to stage it. The big question was whether or not she should go speak to Cathy before investigating what was going on upstairs.

But the answer to that was simple. There wasn’t any time to speak with Cathy. She put her glass down on the small chairside table, stood up and walked over to the stairs and up them.

At the top she paused, glanced back to see if anyone was watching. Apparently not.

She moved down the hallway to the left.

The hall was only dimly lighted. There were closed doors on either side. But under one of them, about halfway down, she saw light.

She went to the door and pressed her ear against the wood panel. She heard nothing. She stood back and looked both ways down the hall. Under no other door did light stream.

It took her about two seconds to make her decision. Her hand closed on the door knob and turned it. It responded easily, and the door opened.

She moved into the room.

There were two bodies on the floor. One of them was Ryan Palmer. The other was a woman with red hair. She didn’t know the woman’s name, but she recognized her at once. Ryan Palmer had shown her a photograph he said the blackmailers had sent him. That redheaded woman was in the photo.

She bent down to check Palmer’s pulse when she heard a floor board creak, and the door quietly closed behind her. She started to straighten up but before she could quite get back up a hand had grasped her gun hand tightly, preventing her from aiming, or even firing her weapon.

At the same time another hand, the left, slapped over her mouth cutting off her scream. The person who had her was strong and her gun fell from her hand to clatter uselessly on the floor.

The hand over her mouth adjusted so that it covered not only her mouth but her nose as well. With sudden panic, Nora realized she could not get any air. She tried to struggle but that was a mistake. Whoever had her was too strong for her to break free, and trying just used up her air more quickly.

She realized she was starting to pass out.

3

As they came back from the terrace, the first thing Cathy noticed was that Nora was no longer in the chair where she had been. She looked around the room without seeing her. She didn’t see Palmer, whatever his name really was, either.

“Well, we know they didn’t come out on the terrace,” said Manning. “We’d better check upstairs.”

They started across the room.

Someone bumped against Cathy. “Hi,” he said. “Hey, I’ve been looking for you.”

He swayed on his feet and smelled like a distillery. “I need somebody to dance with me.”

“Sorry,” Manning said, taking Cathy’s elbow and pushing past the drunk. “My card’s taken.”

“Hey,” the drunk said. “I didn’t mean you, guy. I meant her.”

He had the sort of looks you might take for those of a college kid until you looked closer and realized he was seven or eight years too old. He was pale, with thinning hair of a bleached-out yellow color. There was a cowlick in back. As they started for the stairs, he came right after.

Manning and Cathy started up the stairs. The bogus college kid started up right after them. “Hey,” he said. “You two can’t be going upstairs to do what I think you’re going up there to do, are you? Heck, lady, he’s old enough to be your father.”

Cathy started to say something but Manning pulled her firmly up the stairs by her elbow, forcing her to move quickly. “Not much time, Sweetie,” he said.

“You guys ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” the college boy said.

Manning stopped at the landing, looked right, then left. “There’s a light down there,” he said. “Come on.”

He started toward the left and Cathy pushed past him.

“Look,” said the pest, “you look like a nice girl. Nice girls don’t let old guys seduce them –”

“Take a look in that first room there,” Manning said. “And tell me if it has a bed.”

Cathy opened the door, flipped on the light and said, “There’s no bed.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Manning said. “He won’t mind the floor.”

He took the aging college boy by the collar and dragged him into the room. With a sudden hard jab to the chin he put the fellow to sleep and let him fall down. “There,” he said.

He flicked off the light, kicked the man’s feet out of the way and closed the door.

“Come on, let’s get a move on,” he said.

He moved rapidly and for a man his size made almost no noise. They reached the door where the light showed and he flattened himself against the wall. She did the same thing behind him. He shoved the door open. From somewhere he had produced a gun. He looked inside, moved quickly through the door.

Cathy moved in more cautiously, a small pistol in her hand, looking around the room for hiding places.

Manning was bent down next to Palmer who was sitting up, rubbing the back of his head and making groaning sounds. “Good thing you got a hard head,” Manning said. “You think you can stand up?”

“Yeah. I was sapped from behind by somebody who knew what he was doing. He didn’t want me out too long or so hurt the cops would buy my story.”

Manning touched the back of his head and Palmer winced. “Yeah,” said Manning. “It barely shows.” He helped Palmer stand up.

“What about her?” Cathy said.

“Nothing we can do there,” Manning said. “The poor girl’s dead. From the look of her throat she was strangled.”

He moved over beside her and gently rolled her over. “Well, what’s this?” he said, picking up a manila envelope that had been hidden under her.

Cathy got a good enough look at her face to recognize her as the girl in the blackmail photo. Nora had taken one look at the black and white photo and pronounced the girl a redhead. Cathy had thought she might be a brunette. Nora, as usual, was right.

Manning opened the envelope and was looking at the photos. “Lookie here, Harry,” he said, showing him the photos. “This is what you were supposed to be buying. By the way, you still got the money?”

“Of course not.”

“Well, then. That ought to tell you how this works.”

“It sure does.”

Cathy said, “Palmer – that is, Harry – was supposed to have come here to get back the photos and killed her. Since he doesn’t have the money on him to pay off blackmail, it’ll argue he came here with murder on his mind.”

“That’s a kewpie doll for you,” Manning said. “Harry, what say you get out of here?”

“I’d kind of like to stay here for the showdown,” Harry said.

“It’s close to midnight and you have a bus to catch if you’re going to get back to New York. Besides, there’s probably a lookout downstairs waiting to see what you do before calling the cops.”

“You want him to see me take a powder?”

“If you don’t mind, too much.”

“I hate running out on you.”

“I know, but remember, the boss only loaned you to me for a limited time. He needs you for that job in New York. I can handle the rest, especially with the help of my two new friends.”

Harry did not seem eager to do it but he did seem resigned. “Okay, but be careful.”

“We will. Thank the boss for me.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that. He’ll think up some way for you to show your gratitude, probably when you get settled and think your life is going to be a bed of roses from here on out.”

“I don’t expect that for a long time,” said Manning.

Harry left.

“Where do you think your sister is?” Manning asked.

“I don’t know. She might have spotted the killer leaving and trailed him.”

“I don’t know if I like that, but I have to admit that from what I know it sounds like her. You too, for that matter. Maybe we ought to go back downstairs and wait for her.”

“Yeah,” Cathy agreed.

Manning turned off the light and said, “On the way back down let’s check in on that poor sap I creamed. Just to make sure I didn’t hurt him too badly.”

They went to the room where they’d left the fellow and there he was, still out on the floor. Manning bent down to examine him.

“Is he all right?”

“Yeah.” Manning was patting him down. Something in the man’s jacket pocket caught his attention. He reached in, pulled out a small compact blackjack. “Well, I’ll be. I think we found our lookout.” He handed the blackjack to Cathy. He reached into his own pocket, took out two sets of handcuffs and fastened the man’s arms behind his back, then snapped the other set on his feet.

While he was rolling the fellow over, Cathy noticed something. She checked his other jacket pocket and pulled something out of it. A small gun. “This was Nora’s,” she said.

Manning looked at it a short moment, then said, “Go see if you can find a bathroom and bring back a glass of water.”

She didn’t even ask. She had the glass of water back to him in less than a minute and a half. Manning had already removed the man’s necktie. It was lying on the floor. She didn’t ask about that, either.

Manning took the glass and hurled the water directly into the man’s face.

The man jumped and sputtered. He shook his head, eyes clinched shut. When he opened them Manning was holding a knife in his hand. He flicked a switch on the handle and a six inch blade snapped out. The man’s eyes grew large.

Manning said, “If I don’t like your answers I start in on your privates, I don’t give a damn how loud you scream. Got me?”

“Yeah,” the man said. He stuttered.

“Good. Tell me where the girl is.”

As soon as the man told him, he handed Cathy the necktie and told her to gag the man.

Just to be on the safe side, as soon as she was done, Manning hit the guy again. They turned off the lights, shut the door and left the guy lying unconscious in the dark.

4

Cathy and Nora had played here when they were children, and Cathy knew the grounds. They left the house by the back door and she moved down a small path that led past an old-fashioned well that predated the house’s modern plumbing, past the old stables, and into a wooded area. There was enough starlight to make out the path, even when the bushes grew close by. Presently a shadowy building, little more than a shed, loomed up ahead of them.

“It was the groundskeeper’s cottage back at the turn of the century,” Cathy said. “It was practically falling in, but they’ve been restoring the property.”

They moved closer. “There aren’t any lights on,” she said.

Manning said, “Don’t start imagining things.”

As they got closer he said, “I wish I’d brought a flashlight.”

“You don’t have one?”

“There’s only so much you can conceal in this monkey suit, Doll.”

“Well, don’t worry about it. The city had to agree to restore and modernize the property as part of the terms of accepting the place. So the cottage will have electricity. If you look over there –” she pointed “—you can make out the wires running to the house. I just hope the place isn’t locked.”

“It won’t be,” he said. “Where would College Boy and his partner get keys?”

Sure enough when they reached the place the lock on the front door had been broken.

Cathy eased it open and peered inside. It was dark but she saw something looming against the darkness across the room. There were sounds, too, of muffled and incoherent attempts at speech.

There was an electric floor lamp by the door. She pulled the chain that turned it on.

The sudden light made Nora blink and scowl for a moment.

She was seated in a chair across the room. Her arms were tied behind the chair. Her skirt had been pulled aside so that her legs could be tied at the ankles and above the knees. Ropes bound her upper body to the chair. She was gagged.

Her eyes were adjusted to the light now and instead of blinking at the glare, her eyes were blazing with fury. She was muttering angrily behind the gag, but it was impossible to tell what she was saying, though not impossible to guess. She didn’t seem to have been hurt, though. Her reddish-brown hair wasn’t even that mussed.

The woman in the severe brown business suit was standing there beside Nora, a gun pointed at Cathy and Manning.

“Sorry, you two,” she said in her harsh voice. “But if you’re planning on a rescue, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.”

She stepped around in front of Nora and added, “In fact, if you’re planning on seeing the sunrise, you’re going to be disappointed.”

Right then, Nora lifted her feet off the floor, drawing her knees up almost to her chin and then driving her bound feet forward like a piston. Her long, sharp heels struck hard against the small of the woman’s back.

The woman flew forward and the gun fired. The shot went wild. Cathy stepped in before Manning could move and with a surprisingly accurate roundhouse, banged her one on the chin. The woman went down like a sack of cement and didn’t move.

Cathy yelped, grabbed her right fist and bent over in pain.

“Hope you didn’t break your hand,” Manning said, bending to see about the fallen crook. He pocketed the gun then pulled off the hat with its ridiculous bird attached to the brim. “Let’s see how much damage you did to him.”

“Him!” Cathy said, clutching her injured hand close to her body.

“Yes, him,” said Manning, pulling away the wig. “Meet Chester Pickering, AKA Chattanooga Chet, one of the most notorious small time heist artists, now turned big time blackmailer.” He stood up. “We’ve been after this bird for some time. Congratulations, Doll. There’s quite a reward out for him. How’s your hand?”

“It’ll be fine in a while,” said Cathy. “But right now I don’t think it’ll work very well for jobs as delicate as untying somebody. You mind helping my sister out there?”

He glanced at Nora and noticed appreciatively how far up her slit skirt was hitched. “My pleasure,” he said.

5

It was a week later when the girls saw Manning again. He wandered into the cheap office they rented downtown on the third floor of the Flatiron building, sat down in the client’s chair and took his hat off.

He wasn’t wearing dinner clothes now, but he had on a dark blue suit with light blue pinstripes, and a red silk tie with little yellow clocks on it. He looked quite dapper, if a bit more like a cop than he had.

For that matter they weren’t wearing evening gowns, either, but ordinary nice looking dresses. They looked like secretaries or school teachers. Nora’s legs weren’t showing and if Manning felt that was a shame he didn’t let on.

He put his hat on the corner of the desk and pulled a cigar out of the pocket inside his suit jacket. “You mind, ladies?”

“No,” said Cathy.

Nora just leaned forward and said, “When is that reward check coming?”

“That will depend on getting a conviction for Chattanooga Chet, but that shouldn’t be a problem,” Manning said, unwrapping the cigar. “I doubt he’ll even go to trial. He’s down at headquarters right now, singing like a choir boy. We had it figured right. The plan was to frame Palmer for murder to give them time to move their operation to another town.”

He pulled a glass ashtray toward him across the desk and crumpled the cellophane into it. The ashtray was otherwise empty.

“That sounds risky,” Nora said.

“Yeah, but these guys are pretty hardboiled. The only reason they didn’t bump you is they figured if two dead women showed up at the same time and place, it would make even hick cops suspicious.”

“Well, under the circumstances, I won’t complain too much about it.”

“They probably planned taking you somewhere else and bumping you off there. But you don’t seem too worse for wear. “

“I still have a rope burn on my wrist,” she said. “But the bruise on my lip is gone.”

“And you, Cathy. I expected to see your hand in a cast.”

She held up her bandaged hand. “Scraped knuckles, that’s all. Almost healed.”

“I’ve had a few of those, and they’re bad enough,” he said.

He lit the cigar and breathed it in. Flicking out the match he dropped it into the ashtray then reached into his jacket pocket again and pulled out an envelope. He handed it to Cathy. “Bet your hand’s in good enough shape to open this,” he said.

He went on while she was testing his theory. “I talked to my employer and suggested he put your agency on special retainer. There’ll be a monthly stipend, not much, but enough to cover a good chunk of the rent here.”

Cathy took a check out of the envelope and looked at it. “Holy smoke,” she said.

“I take it you don’t mean my cigar,” he commented. “As I told you, I work for a gentleman who runs an organization that attempts to deal with the problem of crime in the most direct manner possible. A well-heeled gentleman, I might add. Mainly we’re set up to operate in New York, but our interests take in a good many other cities around the country, such as San Francisco, Miami, etc. While my employer is very involved in the day to day operation, a lot of the work, especially the detail work, is handled by agents. Most of them naturally are in New York.”

“Diamondville is a long way from New York,” Nora remarked.

“Indeed it is, Doll. But it has some of the same problems. Maybe the problems themselves are not on the same scale as they might be in a place like New York or Chicago, but these problems tend to cause just as much pain and anguish to their victims no matter the size of the community. There’s a limit to what we can do directly as an organization, but we can sometimes help out. That’s what I do. I travel around looking into things and setting up assistance when and where I can. We’d heard about you so when the blackmail thing developed in this area, we decided to give you two a test.”

“And we passed?” Nora said. “I got myself kidnapped, as I recall. I can still taste that damned gag.”

Manning smiled. “And despite the fact that the crook though he had you completely helpless, it was you who saved my bacon when the time came.”

“I got my knuckles skinned,” Cathy said, proudly.

“Better than that,” Manning said, getting up. “You managed not to get kidnapped.”

“Hey,” said Nora.

Manning picked up his hat. “Like I said, I travel around to different places, but I’ll be back here occasionally and look in on you. You’ll get your checks monthly by mail. There’s a New York phone number on a card in that envelope you just opened. If you need something, dial that number and leave a message and someone will get back to you. Usually it will be me.”

He started toward the door.

“Hold on,” said Nora. “I’ve got some questions for you.”

“No you don’t,” said Cathy. She handed her the check.

“Holy smoke,” said Nora.

“I’ll bet you still don’t mean my cigar. See you dolls around, then?” Manning said.

“You can count on it,” said Nora.

Manning laughed and closed the door behind him as he left. #####