The National Evil, in association with Radio Pictures, proudly presents a thrilling, serial detective drama featuring the world’s most famous, most favorite, most fearsome ape:
starring as himself in—
Chapter One: The Big Ape and the Blonde
She was a knockout, I’ll give her that. But they always are. Since that business back in ’33 at the Empire State Building, every beautiful blonde in a hairy situation thinks the big ape’ll roll over and beg for scraps if she drops in and bats her eyelashes.
When I gently inform them that no, they won’t be buying my services at a discount, even if they do have the greatest gams in the world—well, they bat those eyelashes, push their perfect crimson lips into petulant rosebuds, and pay in full. I might have a reputation for being soft when it comes to the ladies, see, but I have a bigger one for solving problems. So they pay, they pout, and I pound the pavement. I pound it hard enough to leave cracks in the asphalt.
Tonight’s client rapped delicately on my office door. I barked a gruff, “Come,” and waited for the inevitable.
She slipped in, half her face lost in shadow, the other half sculpted by an artist who knew how to chisel beauty and wasn’t afraid of overdoing it. She blinked at the desk and the empty chair behind it. Her eyes trailed over the back of the chair, to the window offering a view of nothing much to see, and—
There it was: the scream. Happens every time.
Give this doll points for poise: she slapped a hand over her mouth before that scream reached someone call the coppers pitch. She gulped it down, recalling where she was, why she was here, whom she’d come calling after.
That would be me—peering in through that third-floor window into his own office. I tipped my size-80 hat and growled, “Evening, Miss. Please—come in.”
She inched forward, her heels scraping wakes of fear along the floor. I poked a finger through the window and pointed at two chairs opposite the desk. “Have a seat.” She eyed them with the faintest hint of distaste, then glanced up at me, terrified I’d take offense. I tried my best reassuring smile—no teeth. There was probably a quarter-inch skim of dust on each seat. But what could I do about that? They don’t make feather dusters to fit my hand. And I have a hell of a time keeping a cleaning lady.
Women don’t want much to do with me, see—until they need something from me. Then they knock on my door with a problem, a plea, and that pout. It’s not very good for the old self-esteem. Hell, it’s not even that good for the wallet. But it’s a living, about the best a big ape can do in this rat’s nest of speakeasies, flophouses, and back alleys yokels call the Big Apple.
The name’s Kong. I’m a private detective.
The blonde settled into the chair to my left, perching on the edge like some exotic bird. She clutched a purse on her knees. It matched her dress, which matched her lips, which matched blood just old enough to tell you the guilty party has long since skipped town. Her hair fell in undulating waves about her face, framing smoldering blue eyes that would knock a guy out of a room. If he wasn’t already.
Her nose quivered and she blinked—pleasantly surprised at the smell, or lack of. I know the quiver-and-blink. They all do it: walk into my office, dreading the kind of large-animal musk that wallops you at the Belmont Stakes. Never crosses their minds that I’ve never actually been in my office.
“Now,” I said, waiting for her flinch at my breath washing over her. Nothing I can do about that. “What can I do for you, Miss—?”
“Baines,” she lied around that flinch. “My name is Mallory Baines.” Her mouth had rehearsed that name too many times; it rolled off the assembly line of her tongue with exaggerated care and a dusting of New York accent acquired from the talkies. What true accent lay behind it I couldn’t quite place, but it was precise, severe—her lips wanted more consonants, her mouth more guttural utterances, than “Mallory Baines” provided.
“All right, Miss Baines. What seems to be the trouble?”
“It’s my husband,” she said, and she might not have been lying about that. She thrust herself forward until I feared she’d spill out of her seat.
I furrowed my brow in a show of concern. “Yes.”
“I’m afraid something—” She caught herself, lay a hand over her breast.
“—Has happened to him.”
“When did you last see him?”
“Two nights ago. He went out to meet—” She fished into her purse, extracted a yellowed clipping from the World. “This man.”
I reached into the room. To her credit, she didn’t seize up as I offered a finger. She placed the clipping on the tip and I brought it—slowly—up to my eye. I’ve gotten good at this by now; you should see me stick a stamp on a letter.
I recognized the mug’s mug: one “Wormsy” Scarpini, heavy hitter for Cesar Lucero. Wormsy had the type of belligerently stupid, buttery face that looks like it would melt under direct sunlight. Never one for the clean stroke, he preferred to spray bullets like the indignant spittle spewed by all the reformers who’d sworn to put him in jail—or under it—for years. The caption beneath his portrait read: Rumored hit-man for Lucero mob acquitted after star witness found dead under mysterious circumstances.
Unless Mallory Baines’s husband chewed up coffin nails and spat out bullets, I could see how him disappearing after going to meet Wormsy would discomfit her.
“Does your husband usually keep company with thugs like Scarpini?”
She pushed out a scandalized gasp. “Oh, no.” I gave her a few more points for showing offense, though she winced when it occurred to her she probably shouldn’t bait a “savage” beast such as myself.
That much works in my favor, at least: the presence of an eight thousand pound gorilla is always the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room.
“My husband,” she said, her voice quivering with insistence and dread, “is an educated man.”
I still wasn’t buying the ‘Mallory Baines’ bit, but her concern struck me as genuine, if not exactly warm.
“But not streetwise, apparently, to be skipping off for a moonlit rendezvous with Wormsy.”
A tooth worried her lip. “No—I suppose not.”
“And what kind of an educated man would Mr. Baines be? Not a lawyer, hopefully—Wormsy isn’t fond of those.” I grimaced as I said that—something about this dame struck me as skewed, but on the off chance she was on the level, why torment her?
“Not a lawyer,” she answered stiffly. “He’s a scientist. A world-renowned scientist.”
Aren’t they all. “I see.” Though I didn’t—what would a scientist and Wormsy have to talk about? Other than the vig, women, or hooch, of course. “Well, so far as I know, Wormsy’s got no beef with science. Do you know why your husband was supposed to meet Scarpini?”
“No. Herbert is . . . secretive isn’t the proper word. But he keeps his research close to his vest, and I suppose that carried over to our wedded life. Not that we aren’t close,” she hastened to add, pushing herself further toward the chair’s edge. “But I respect his space.” I wondered how well Herbert Baines reciprocated; his wife was the type of woman who’d tempt any man with blood in his veins to disrespect hers. “Is something funny about that?” she inquired, and I flattened my grinning lips.
“No, Mrs. Baines. Now—you’ve no idea why your husband would have been meeting Wormsy Scarpini, but he told you he was going to?”
Her fingers fidgeted with her purse. “Not exactly. I-I listened in on the phone in the bedroom. Herbert was downstairs in his study when Worm—Mr. Scarpini rang. I know that doesn’t sound like respect, Mr. Kong, but I’ve never eavesdropped on my husband before. I only picked up because I heard his voice from upstairs. He sounded—strained. As if something had gone terribly wrong, and the person on the other end of the line was convinced it was Herbert’s fault.”
“And what was said after you picked up the phone?”
“I only caught the last bit. Herbert said, ‘Now listen here, Scarpini, I don’t know who you think you’re’—and then another voice, a—a dull voice, it frightened me!—cut him off.”
“Dull and frightening fit Wormsy to a T. What did he say?”
“Only: ‘Midnight, Doctor. Be there, or this will be the last night you spend with your wife.” She shuddered. “And then—then I heard Herbert dash out the door. He didn’t even close it after him. I ran downstairs but he was already gone.”
“And that’s the last you heard from your husband.”
A sniffle. “Yes.”
“What kind of scientist is he?”
“He’s—” A flush crept up from her neck, enjoying every inch of ivory flesh it conquered. “He’s a primatologist.”
I supposed that would explain her presence in my office—or would it? Did she think I would feel obligated to hunt down her husband out of some sense of duty to my species? I grunted softly, noncommittally. When I failed to register chagrin at her confession, she cleared her throat. “He specialized in the great apes.”
“A lot of people have called Wormsy an ape, though not to his face. All right, Mrs. Baines. Your husband, for reasons unknown, left home two nights ago to meet Scarpini. You’ve no idea where or why. You want me to find him.” She nodded me along. “That’ll run you fifty dollars a day, plus expenses. And a hundred up front.”
She reached into her purse and peeled five twenties onto my desk, then a photograph. “You’ll want this.” We reenacted our first handoff, and I beheld the face of Dr. Herbert Baines. A bushy mustache that went out of fashion with the Kaisers, a shock of pale hair clinging to a scalp ridged with anxiety. His eyes seemed focused on something behind the photographer—something vaguely threatening, though not so much that Baines felt the need to give warning. He might not have been twice her age, but I wouldn’t have bet even one of those twenties on that.
“Where will you start?” Mrs. Baines asked.
“With Wormsy. He’s not hard to find. I’ll ring you when I have news.”
“Thank you.” She gave me a number belonging to one of the more elegant streets in Manhattan, stood, smoothed her skirts, and turned for the door. She paused, tossed her hair over a shoulder, and aimed one smoldering eye at me. “I knew I came to the right . . . man.”
With that she flushed again and ducked out the door.
Chapter Two: An Interrupted House-call
After the tat-tat-tat of Mallory Baines’s heels faded down the hallway, I knuckled my spine and suppressed a groan. Wedging oneself in an alleyway between buildings does wonders for a bad mood, but nothing for a bad back. I have that courtesy of the U.S. Army Air Service, and like I tell everyone who asks: it’s not the bullets, it’s the fall. You land on your back after toppling from the tallest building in the world, tell me how you feel.
The newshounds called me kaput, pointed their cameras at me and filled the front pages with obits for the big ape. If they’d hung around until the vets arrived, they wouldn’t have missed the real scoop: the King wasn’t dead after all, but in a coma. He’d wake up eventually with one hell of a backache and a rod in there the size of an I-beam, but by then he’d been secreted to a warehouse across the Hudson, away from prying cameras and typewriters.
Ah, ancient history. Why, that was ’33, with the nation enduring the death-throes of Prohibition. Though the average American still doesn’t have a pot to piss in, five years on . . .
A throat cleared behind me. I leaned forward, looked over my shoulder, and found Mrs. Kryzceski glaring at me over her ironing board. I tipped my hat and grumbled the usual apology for blocking her view of the moon. Said it reminded her of the old country. She sniffed and pulled the curtains.
I edged along the wall of her apartment building to the end of the alley. A limp form drooped against the diner across the street. I hooted at a register so low it could only be heard by another three-story-tall gorilla—or a soul desperate for loose change. The lump detached from its wall and shuffled across the street, resolving into a hophead in a dingy coat and newsboy cap. He looked as though he’d crawled out of a smokestack that morning and spent the rest of the day dodging a bath.
Scraps McGee’s mother probably gave him a better name. She probably also gave that up not too long after. Scraps was Scraps, which is to say he was what he was looking for, which was Scraps. Of cash, of hop, of shady information that would earn him the first two.
I didn’t need headlines from him tonight, though. I needed his none-too-steady feet.
I growled the customary greeting: “You don’t look so good, Scraps.”
“Bet I don’t look half as bad as you smell, K,” he slurred, aiming for swagger and missing it by a mile.
I flicked his cap off his head. He leapt back, shrieked, danced about fluttering his hands. “One of these days you’re going to flick me with that great paw of yours and knock off my whole head by accident.”
“It won’t be by accident. Now pipe down.” I dragged him into the shadows and peeked around the corner as Mallory Baines exited my building. Scraps whistled appreciatively. “You’re in luck, Scraps. You’re going to tail that skirt tonight. See where she flops. What name she flops under. Get back to me in the morning.”
Reluctantly he swung his gaze from Mrs. Baines’s receding form. He aimed a sneer up at me. “Oh yeah? And what do I get out of it? Tailing a broad all night? In this cold?”
I slipped a five from my trenchcoat and pushed it at him. “Where she flops. What name she flops under. And maybe Lincoln’ll have a twin in the morning.”
I pushed him off and turned up the street in the opposite direction Mallory Baines went. Time to call on Wormsy.
* * *
When he wasn’t out terrorizing the good people of the Five Burroughs—and plenty of the not-so-good people—Wormsy Scarpini could be found swilling rye at the 21 Club off Broadway. He and the rest of the Lucero boys occupied a few rooms on the third floor. On the infrequent occasions when the coppers worked up the nerve to raid the joint—usually when the bribes hadn’t been paid in a timely manner—the boys would simply climb out the fire escape and hop over into the next building. By the time the law’d busted down the doors, they’d peeled off.
Flopping upstairs doesn’t make much difference, though, if you happen to be three stories tall. I’d spent many a night crammed into the alley behind the 21 Club, my ear to the window, listening to Wormsy and company rattle off details of enough sordid affairs to send them permanently up the river—the one that empties into the Lake of Fire. This being the stinking peak of a New York summer, they’d even have the windows open. Considerate lads, this lot, so long as they didn’t know they were doing you a favor.
I had to back in, then around the fire escapes lining the alley if I didn’t want to rattle the neighborhood awake. I’d just begun that process—picture a middle-aged ex-captain trying to squeeze into the uniform pants he wore on the Western Front—when gunshots exploded from the other end. I recognized the patter of Wormsy’s tommy gun. Anyone who’d spent time on the seedy side of New York would. But I’d never heard it spraying death with such desperate abandon.
At least I could force my way into the alley without worrying over the noise. I wrenched myself around, taking down a stairwell.
A shadow detached from the far end of the alley. It stopped me in my tracks. Even under the fattest of full moons, Wormsy wouldn’t throw a shadow that far. The asphalt beneath me shook—a novelty, as I hadn’t taken a step and the subway didn’t run under this alley. And then that shadow wisped around the corner.
I twisted through the alley in pursuit, passing the 21 Club. Its third-floor windows had been emphatically shut and curtained once the shooting began. At the far end of the alley something else stopped me in my tracks.
It was a body. If you could call it that. Suffice it to say, where there had once stood a man now lay the shredded remnants thereof. His face and torso looked as if they had been run over the world’s biggest cheese grater.
It’s hard enough for me to frisk a human who hasn’t been opened up and had his insides minced. I didn’t even try to get at this mug’s wallet. However, the big ape detective does have a few advantages over a man-sized gumshoe—one of them being a big nose. Wafting from him was a scent only a few people in New York—in America—would recognize. And I doubted a human nose would be able to discern its subtleties amid the effluvia of gunpowder, blood, and viscera.
Under all that, this corpse gave off the cloying stench of jungle flowers. And not just any jungle’s flowers.
This body stank of Skull Island.
Before I’d gotten my head around the implications of what my nose was telling me, light dribbled into the alley up to my knees. “What the—?” barked a familiar voice. I stepped over the body and turned as a flashlight’s beam rose to look me in the eye. “Oh, it’s you, Kong.”
“Want to get that out of my face, McNeely?” The beam dropped, hovered at my stomach. Detective McNeely entered the alley behind a stout number wearing a frown that could wring a confession from the steeliest perp. “Lieutenant.”
The Lieutenant snorted. “Should’ve expected to find you here, Kong. Seems every time someone drops a body in this town, you turn up.”
“You know I hate to miss a show.”
“Watch it, then.” He spat in the general direction of my feet. The Lieutenant’d loathed me since I stepped on his brother in ’33. “One day I’m going to catch you putting on the show. Then you’re finished.”
I spat in the same area—nowhere near him—but the big ape’s saliva splashed over the tips of his shoes. “Catch me if you can.”
“Come on, Kong,” McNeely entreated wearily. “Play nice.”
“Sure I will. Soon as your boss here quits making idle threats. In the meantime, take a gander at . . .” I stepped back, over the body.
The Lieutenant sucked breath through his clenched teeth. McNeely whispered a prayer. They fixed their flashlights on the mess of a man. “He’s been . . . butchered.” The Lieutenant’s beam found my face again. “What do you know about this?”
“I came here to have a listen at the window.” I nodded toward the 21 Club’s third floor. “Heard shots before I reached the alley. Found this.”
“We heard Wormsy’s tommy gun,” McNeely offered.
“Came here why?” the Lieutenant demanded. I blinked and said nothing. “Come on—out with it. Even you wouldn’t hang out in a reeking alley like this for kicks.”
“Business,” I said.
I simply showed him a row of grinning teeth. Then I turned my attention to McNeely. “I heard Wormsy’s piece spouting off, too. But I didn’t see him hightailing it out of here.”
“Are you suggesting Wormsy didn’t off this mug?” the Lieutenant snapped.
“I’m not suggesting anything. You’re the police.”
“Then I’m suggesting you tell me whose business sent you here to spy on Wormsy and company.”
Again I ignored that challenge. To McNeely I said: “So we all heard Wormsy shooting, and here we are behind his joint, and there’s a body. I’ll admit it doesn’t look good for Wormsy—but that doesn’t cinch it that he offed this sap.”
“Jeez—look at him,” McNeely stammered. “What else but Wormsy’s tommy gun could’ve shredded him like that?”
The Lieutenant voiced it: “Almost looks like a big dog snatched him up and shook his insides to pieces.”
He was half right. For city cops, there was nothing to explain a murder except guns and knives. But they weren’t bullet holes—even hundreds of them. I’d seen those kinds of wounds before. On Skull Island.
That, wedded to the floral scent, gave me plenty to ponder. Nothing I cared to share with the law just yet, though. I tipped my hat at them and edged back into the street as an ambulance wailed its approach. “I’ll be getting out of your way now, gentlemen.”
The Lieutenant fairly snarled at me, but he knows the drill: unless you’ve got a warrant for my arrest or a tank, you’re not holding me. “We’ll be stopping by your office, Kong. See that you have better answers to my questions then than you do now.”
I had a question for him, but I kept it to myself: how did the Lieutenant know someone had dropped a body in the alley before I’d stepped back to show it to him?
Chapter Three: Greetings From Skull Island
Wormsy’s tommy gun hadn’t stopped spitting in the alleyway. Empty shells dribbled down the sidewalk like breadcrumbs luring the unwary toward Broadway. Half a block later the trail of shells parted ways with that Skull Island floral scent. The coppers could follow the shells; I took the scent.
It led me to Central Park, plunging into the shadowed recesses thrown by a full moon. You might think a giant ape in the urban jungle would like the Park. You’d be right. I’d spent many a late night like this one plodding through its wooded areas, scratching my back on tree trunks, picking my teeth with the stray branch. At this hour I only risked being spotted by the occasional young lovers out later than they should be, strolling arm-in-arm and whispering none-two-sweet nothings at each other.
The scent led me into the trees around the Pond, growing more pungent even as another overwhelmed it—the stench of extracted viscera. Of still-warm human blood.
I stopped. Sniffed. Tensed.
The leaf cover exploded to my left, expunging a freight train of shadow bearing down on me. Steak knives clamped around my forearm. I knew that feeling almost as well as I did the perfume of Skull Island flowers. Ludicrous, tiny arms scratched at my chest.
Time was, I would have ripped a tree up by the roots and pummeled my assailant. But my misadventures at the Empire State Building, followed by six months of learning to knuckle-walk all over again, had taught me a thing or two about discretion. I rained blows on a toothy head with my right arm. No good—these things were stubborn, and no more likely to release their prey than a mousetrap sprung on fresh meat. I stopped thinking like an ape and started thinking like a sleuth.
Letting it dig into my left arm, I shook my right arm out of its sleeve. Easier said than done with that damned rod in my back, but I managed it. Right arm free, I reached over my shoulder and took hold of my trench coat, slinging it over my assailant’s head.
There isn’t a dumb animal in the world likes to have its head shrouded. The death-grip on my arm slackened enough for me to yank it free, taking a tooth as souvenir. Then I clenched my hands together and pounded that skull until it issued a squeal, turned tail and tramped into the trees, my trench coat trailing behind it like a cape.
The old Kong—that is, the young one—would have dashed off after it. Grabbed it by the tail and pummeled the life from it. But this big ape’d had enough for one night. I staggered back toward the Park entrance, nursing my bloody arm, knuckling my aching back.
A gasp stopped me in my tracks.
There they were, that young couple. And there I stood—one big ape, bloodied and naked but for his fedora.
“Park’s closed, kids,” I growled good-naturedly, and trudged past them. The girl’s eyes bugged out. I covered myself with a hand, tipped my hat. Her beau was bound to disappoint after this night.
I found a shadow big enough to hunker in and watched to make sure the lovers left the park. I didn’t worry about raising an alarm over my sparring partner, not just yet. Anyone out and about at this hour, these young lovers excepted, had whatever they found coming to them. Humankind hadn’t treated me so well that I’d weep over the loss of a hophead or hustler. Sure, I could’ve at least mentioned the five-ton lizard lurking in the brush to the young lovers—but if the sight of a bloody, naked ape wasn’t enough to send them to an all-night diner for a stiff one, I’d lost my touch.
Turned out it was plenty. They emerged and crossed the street, heads darting about nervously until the lad hailed a cab and fairly threw his beloved in the back seat. I admit it: I grinned.
I kept to the shadows, the garbage-strewn alleys, my hat tangling in clotheslines. New York by night knew the sight of me well enough, but a bloody arm didn’t put me in a mood for stares. I stopped at a hospital and extracted some clean bedsheets from third-floor rooms. Bandages. Then I climbed atop said hospital and made my way toward the Hudson by rooftop, rattling awake not a few squawking coopfuls of pigeons.
You must have been wondering: given the fact that I couldn’t fit in my own office, where did the big ape sleep? Answer: a condemned warehouse on the Upper West Side in spitting distance—my spitting distance, at least—of the river. Though not so close its smells overwhelmed my big ape’s nostrils. Other than shooing away the occasional wino—thus giving the squatter the sobering-up event of his life—its apparent dilapidation grants me a measure of privacy. Over the years I’d swiped the stray I-beam from a construction site to bolster the superstructure. By now the old heap could take the charge from a herd of stampeding elephants.
Ducking through the loading doors, I sprawled on my bed of hay. That’s right: hay. Hard enough getting trench coats and fedoras made to size; I wasn’t about to waste the effort hunting after a Kong size mattress. Maybe hay lacks dignity, but so in my experience did most of the humanity snoozing away in their canopy beds or what have you.
Unwrapping my arm, I tapped a cask of liquor and cleaned my wounds. (Seemed this heap had been a storehouse for illegal hooch before a certain primate convinced certain would-be gangsters to skip town.) After applying new bandages, I lifted my prize into a shaft of moonlight:
One tooth, six inches long, stained with my blood. What a Tyrannosaurus Rex was doing in Manhattan, I couldn’t guess, but I knew T-Rexes, like giant apes, only called one speck of earth home on his ugly planet. And I only knew one other living soul who knew how to find that speck of earth.
The man who’d snatched yours truly from Skull Island. The man who’d been uncordially invited by the mayor of New York never to set foot in the city again. One Carl Denham.
A feral growl rose in my throat. Denham. If I had one regret in life—don’t worry; I’m no saint, I’ve plenty of regrets—it’s that, by the time I awoke from my coma, Denham had long since dusted. Settled back in Hollywood, where he now worked exclusively on soundstages—no more exotic jaunts for Carl Denham. He’d never returned to the Eastern seaboard. I would know if he did. I had half the stoolies from Baltimore to Boston turned on to his scent.
Why didn’t I just stow aboard a freighter bound for California and pay him a visit? That was part of my deal with the city police and the Army: no intercontinental jaunts for the big ape. I was to stay put, where they could find me, and in return they left me more or less alone. To make a living, to make my way as best I could in a jungle at once nothing like Skull Island but really not so different.
Especially with a T-Rex stalking the city.
The first gray, stuporous hints of dawn had begun smearing the sky when I gave up on catching a few winks. I leaned over one more concession mankind had made to my existence here in the city: a telephone rigged to my size. The Army had built it with the idea of keeping track of me, but it dialed out just as well as it did in. I hailed the operator and tried the number of the address Mallory Baines had given me. A sleepy maid answered and didn’t surprise me when she said Mrs. Baines wasn’t in. I asked where Mrs. Baines might be and when one could expect her to return. The maid declined to speculate on Mrs. Baines’s whereabouts or estimated time of arrival. I apologized for waking her and asked her to tell Mrs. Baines Mr. Kong had called. She promised she would around a yawn.
Shrugging into my spare trench coat, I took the rooftops back to my office. Scraps McGee slumped in the same spot across the street. I growled him into my alley.
“Jeez, didn’t think you was ever coming back,” he whined. “I been waiting five, six hours now!”
“You didn’t stay with the bird?”
“You didn’t say nothing about nesting, K—just find out where she flopped, what name she flopped under.”
True enough—I cursed myself for not telling Scraps to hover ‘till morning, then took a good look at him. Black circles ringed his eyes, and his hands shook as he adjusted his cap. The chances he would’ve made it that long were somewhere between nil and none. “All right. Where and what name?”
Scraps whistled. “She’s cooped up at the Waldorf, room 212. And you’re lucky I even know that much! Soon as you set me off she rounded a corner and hopped in a limo. I had to run behind and hail a cab–which I’ll be counting as ‘plus expenses’, if you follow me.”
“A limo. Get a look at the driver?”
“I got a look at a face full of exhaust, is what.”
“And the name?”
“She’s registered as . . . what was it . . . that’s right: ‘Bahnhof.’”
“Bahnhof.” Well, that placed the accent playing under her faux-New York affectation. “Anything else?”
“Where and what name, that’s all you asked.”
“All right, Scraps. You’re relieved. Get yourself a snort or some shut-eye. I’ll take your ‘plus expenses’ under consideration.” I turned into the alley. Scraps squawked.
“No fair, K! You said Lincoln’d have a twin!”
“Suppose I did.” I reached into my pocket, winced—my money was currently in Central Park, probably being chewed up by that T-Rex. “Have to take a rain check on that, Scraps. I’ll get you tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? Tomorrow? What kind of people you used to dealing with, talking about tomorrow?”
I flipped his cap off his head. It caught a breeze and sailed into the street. He squealed and ran off after it. Something I’d learned from humankind: when you don’t have much to lose, anything you lose is too much.
Chapter Four: Meet Me At the Waldorf . . .
Once Scraps had flitted off after his cap, I raised my office window, opened the desk drawer, and withdrew one of Mallory née Baines’s twenties, plus her photo of Herbert née Baines. I generally didn’t worry over locking my windows and doors; the hoods in the neighborhood knew who occupied (in a very loose manner of speaking) this office and left it be. But you never knew what would get into the head of a desperate, strung-out hophead like Scraps. He might get his second five-spot, but he’d never so much as lay eyes on these twenties.
Rearmed with a little loose cash, I loped off toward Park Avenue. Stopped. Sighed. Sure, I said I wouldn’t lose sleep over a few low-lifes running into toothy trouble in the Park—but I’d tangled with enough T-Rexes to give me an even bigger aversion to them than I felt toward humankind. For all I knew, Scraps was even now curling up on a bench, unknowingly spreading himself out for a meal. And I couldn’t have that. I needed all the hopped-up errand boys I could find.
Cursing myself for a soft number, I veered west, back to my warehouse, back to my phone. I called police headquarters and aped the night caretaker at the Central Park Zoo. One of the gorillas had escaped and run rampant, I bawled; the Park had to be sealed off until the beast could be found and subdued; send as many coppers as you can, this gorilla is no monkey business. I added the coup de grâce of some very convincing silverback calls, followed by a few incoherent screams from the “night caretaker.” That would keep the coppers occupied; no one knew better than me how enthusiastically they went after a rampaging ape.
My conscious clear—clearer, at least—I returned to the task at hand.
The staff at the Waldorf doesn’t like me loitering around the front; spooks the starched-collar-and-diamond-broach crowd, it seems. Some of those same fat cats sat in the audience five years ago to stare at Carl Denham’s “Eighth Wonder of the World”, chained up onstage for their amusement. Maybe I should have directed them into Central Park.
I squeezed behind the hotel to the service entrance, startling a few busboys having a drag. They recognized me, and I them—if not by name, then by the scent wafting from their smokes. They were usually hard to startle. Very cool customers, these two. I sent one of them after Sims, the Waldorf’s house dick.
Sims waddled out, a stout, roly-poly number in a natty suit. “It’s late, Kong. Or should I say early. How you doing, big fella?”
“Been better. Been worse.”
“Ain’t we all.” Sims—and by extension, the Waldorf—was friendly to me. Every once in a while, Mrs. Diamond Broach would catch her robber baron husband with a sweet young maid, start screaming bloody murder and make for the windows. Classy hotels don’t need jumpers, and they don’t need the police, either. Who better to call than the big ape to catch or, if necessary, forcibly extract these shrieking ladies from their rooms, depositing them safely on the street? “What brings you here?”
“I’ve got a line on a guest of yours.”
He frowned. “Trouble?”
“Not the kind that’ll bother you. Bahnhof. 212. She in?”
“I’ll check.” He nodded toward the busboys and winked. “Careful you don’t get hopped up on the fumes ‘fore I get back.”
Sims returned inside ten minutes. “You’re in luck. Or not, maybe—she ain’t in. Don’t know what a dame’d be thinking to do this, but here’s your low down: checked in this morning, lit out, came back late this evening. Then one of the night custodians sees her run out right around midnight. Alone the whole time. Hasn’t been back.” He lit a cigarette, blew a puff of smoke to obscure his head as he tilted it, cocked an eyebrow at me. “This bird of yours keeps odd hours, Kong.”
I knew what he was thinking: the big ape gets tangled up with another hot blonde number. But he didn’t razz me, so I let it pass. “Take a look in her room?”
“Sure. ‘Round to your right, third window. I’ll meet you on the other side.”
I squeezed around the building. Sims entered 212, opened the window. “Seems kind of . . . flustered in here,” he said as he stepped aside.
‘Flustered’ was the word, all right: a suitcase had erupted on the bed, spewing rivulets of stockings, scarves and slips. Stylish dresses drooped over the edges of the bed like murdered debutantes. The room stank of too much makeup and perfume too hastily applied—that, and a dozen cigarettes sucked down in a frenzy of panic breaths. Looked as though Mallory Baines—or Bahnhof—had lit in here, worried her lungs, and threw on some glad rags after a savage attack on her wardrobe.
Sims opened the dresser drawers, shook his head. “Nothing here. Your dame packs light.”
“Any signs of male habitation I can’t see?”
“Not a one. You expected otherwise?”
“No reason to. Just curious.”
I plucked up the wastebasket and emptied it on the floor. Sims separated the few items with his foot: an empty cigarette pack, a number of makeup-smeared kerchiefs, and yesterday’s paper. Sims picked up the paper and grunted. “Your dame make her mint in the shipping industry?” He turned the paper to show me the day’s arrivals and departures—one of them circled. “Lorelei. German freighter. Hailed out of Singapore. Mean anything to you?”
More than anything—two things. One, it fairly well sealed the deal on the Teutonic timbre I’d caught but couldn’t place behind her false New York accent. Two, it reminded me that Carl Denham wasn’t the only man alive who’d seen Skull Island. There was another such mug out there—we’d fought over a hot blonde number, he and I. Something to check into.
“Nothing I can make anything out of.”
“This hasn’t turned out to be the kind of clam-bake I expect from you, Kong,” Sims said as he ambled to the closet door. “Can’t remember the last time you came calling when there wasn’t a body invol—”
He jumped back with a yelp, his cigarette falling to the floor. That leap didn’t leave him clear; he had his arms full of sagging body. He shook himself, looked my way, and sighed. “You coulda warned me.”
He let the body drop, rolled it over with a foot. A bald head lolled to its side, facing me. I didn’t need Mrs. Baines-or-Bahnhof’s photo to recognize it as her husband’s.
“No obvious cause of death,” Sims mused, eyeing Herbert Bahnhof’s body. That familiar cloying scent hung over it. The T-Rex certainly hadn’t gotten to him, but something else perfumed with Skull Island had paid a visit to Bahnhof.
Sims sighed, rolled a cigarette. “‘S’pose I asked for that. Recognize this meat?” I grunted noncommittally. He frowned. “Come on, Kong. You said you had a line on this bird, nothing serious, then we come in here and out jumps a body? At least give me some quid pro quo.”
“You mean aside from playing the catcher’s mitt for every hysterical heiress tries to fling herself to the sidewalk?”
“Don’t be that way, Kong. Come on, play square.”
“How about this: you let me creep out of here, don’t mention me to the coppers, and I’ll give you the goods.”
Sims coughed. “Awfully hard to hide your comings and goings. And what am I supposed to tell them about how I found this mug? Just snooping into ladies’ closets?”
“You’ll come up with something. Look, Sims, I’m supposed to be working for this Bahnhof lady—that’s the honest goods.”
“And you don’t figure she offed him?” Sims nodded at the body.
“That doesn’t play right. She came to me to find him. Why hire a four-ton ape to comb the city when you’ve got your target stashed with the coats?”
“Maybe she stumbled into luck after she hired you. Found him, offed him, and don’t need your services no more.”
“I don’t think so. She didn’t strike me as the killing type.”
“No?” Sims tilted his head. “This dame—she blonde?”
He hid his face behind a peal of smoke. “No reason. What’s the connection between her and him?” I said nothing. “I know, I know—don’t crowd you, right? But look here: you want me to forget you came, forget you asked to peek in here—me not knowing whether you expected to find this or not—and do a song and dance for the bulls on your behalf?”
“I’ll give you this much—the line I had wasn’t on the bird. It was this mug that worried me. How he wound up in here, I don’t know. But I need a little head start on the coppers to figure things out. Maybe save my client a world of hurt—and if turns out she did do the deed here, maybe I can haul her in without bringing the Waldorf into it. How’s that play?”
He didn’t like that—but he liked the vision of headlines screaming MURDER AT THE WALDORF even less. “Well . . . I’ll have to give her up to the police so far as her having checked in. But I can tell them she ain’t been here to have hauled a body to the room. We’ll see how I can work it from there. But I ain’t making any promises—‘specially if she waltzes right into the lobby.”
“Fair enough. The bulls wouldn’t keep this quiet if they knew I was here, anyway. Leaving me out saves us both a world of hurt.”
Sims’s shoulders slumped. “That’s fine. Only the boys out back saw you, and they won’t remember their names in an hour. Scoot, Kong. You owe me one.”