In the 1930s, when pulp magazines like Black Mask reigned and noir fiction was in its heyday, mystery author Raoul Whitfield ranked with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler as one of the genre’s heavy hitters. Widely acknowledged by those in the know as a pioneer of hard-boiled detective fiction, Whitfield wrote action-packed tales of murder and mayhem that noir aficionados adored. His debut novel, Green Ice, is considered by many to be his masterpiece.
Mal Ourney has spent the last two years in Sing Sing for a crime he didn’t commit, taking the rap for a lady friend whose carelessness behind the wheel resulted in someone else’s death. Always a champion of the underdog, Mal has done his time quietly and without complaint while lending a sympathetic ear to the small timers who were unwittingly led into a life of crime by big-time, low-life gangsters. Now that he’s a free man, Mal’s got a plan to make the big guys pay. But he’s barely stepped through the prison gates when people in his life start dying, beginning with his ex-girlfriend. It seems someone is determined to frame Mal Ourney, and it has to do with a missing cache of priceless emeralds. Now the innocent ex-con will have to do some fancy footwork if he hopes to sidestep the electric chair.
This ebook includes an introduction by Boris Dralyuk.
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By Raoul Whitfield
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1930 Raoul Whitfield
All rights reserved.
It wasn't the rain that bothered me. I'd felt rain striking against my face often enough, in the prison yard, during the last two years. It was being outside that worried. Sound that was different, traffic, so much movement. So many things going on at once. Confidence was something that a stretch in stir could nibble away at, destroy day by day and night by night. This wasn't routine, this freedom.
I leaned up against the wet brick of a two-story building, perhaps a dozen squares from the prison gate, let the rain drip off the brim of my new, soft hat—and stalled for time. A square to the northward traffic was heavy. Offices were closing up for the day; at intervals I caught the shrill sound of a traffic cop's whistle. I started northward, swore at myself a few times, stopped. It was no good acting this way. There was nothing to be gained in trying to beat something that couldn't be beaten this way.
I could get across down there, easily enough, and it wasn't the thought of the cop's uniform that stopped me from moving on. I didn't want to wet-nurse myself, that was all.
Trucks and machines were moving fast. It had been raining all day—and there was a lot of mud around. I moved away from the brick of the building and headed for the curb. A cab came around the corner—there was a squeal of brakes. The front wheels spurted water over the cuffs of my trousers—a door shot open.
"Mal!" The voice kicked my nerves around a little—I hadn't been expecting it. "Why didn't you wait? Didn't the warden—"
She was leaning out in the rain—and she looked like the devil. Too much art work around the eyes, and too many little lines around the lips. She went right on with a lot of talk, and after a while just got out of breath.
"Decent of you to come up, Dot," I said. "You look great."
The driver had a flat face out in the wet—he pulled it back under cover.
"Get in, Mal!" she urged. "I've got so much—to tell you—"
I shook my head. "Sorry—but you haven't got anything to tell me, Dot. It wasn't sensible— your coming up here. Grange said you were coming—I wanted to walk around. How'd you find me?"
She was staring at me with wide eyes. Rain was making little sounds as it hit her close-fitting, beige hat.
"There was a man in uniform—at the gate," she said. "He said you were walking around through the town, he guessed. He said a lot of—them do, after they come out."
I nodded. The flat-faced cab driver had his head out in the rain again; he had a half grin showing.
"Please get in, Mal!" she murmured. "It's been a long time—"
I smiled. But I hadn't the slightest intention of getting inside the cab with Dot Ellis. It had been a long time, but not for her. And why she had come up to the prison town from New York was something I couldn't figure—not right away. It didn't interest me much. I'd got over a lot of things living behind the walls—Dot was just one of them.
"Nice of you to come up," I said foolishly, "but silly, too. That's all finished, Dot."
She looked sort of frightened. The driver jerked his head out of the rain. Dot started to whine, but I cut in.
"It's all right, Dot. It wasn't so bad—in there. I may call you up some time. Got to look around a little—"
"Mal!" Her head was out in the rain again, her dark eyes looked like those of a scolded kid. She wailed: "Mal—you wouldn't just let me go back without—"
"I would—just," I cut in cheerfully. "Pick up some fresh juniper juice on the way home—and mix as usual. You always could forget easily, Dot—and the gin'll help. I'll call you up—"
I was sick of hearing that syllable already. The cab driver's flat face was out in the rain again. He was grinning. I started to shove the door shut, and Dot started to act up.
"You goddam highbrow!" she flared. "You always did think you were too good for me! You can't hand me that line, Mal Ourney! Jeez, Mal—"
I turned my back and walked away. Dot kept right on yelling. She was using up a lot of her old words, and she contradicted herself twice in every sentence. It sounded to me like a lot of after-the-gin raving. I got self-sympathetic.
"She's only the gal I did the two-spot for," I muttered. "She's been partying for my coming-out, and I turn her down cold. Poor little gal!"
The cab door slammed. Her final words were to the point, but they weren't true. Jane Ourney had been a lot of grief to Sam Ourney, but I was their honest-to-God brat.
When I turned around, the cab was a half block away. I guessed that Dot Ellis was still raving. She'd lost most of her looks since I'd taken the rap for her little man-slaughter act. Maybe she figured that was why I turned her down. She was all wrong there. When Dot drove the roadster up on the safety aisle, two years and a month or so ago, she was twenty minutes ahead of me. In just that length of time we'd have been out near Van Cortlandt Park. And I'd have told her that it was all off.
But I couldn't tell her while they were dragging the two bodies out from under the car—and while I was sliding back of the wheel and shoving her into the seat beside me. She'd have been sober by the time we reached the park, maybe. After the accident—she'd been hysterical. Trial by jury—two years in the Big House. She'd come up to meet me. She'd been late. I'd told her something that wouldn't have made much difference two years ago, and didn't make any now.
I was getting too wet for comfort. A cruising cab came along, and I got inside. I wouldn't cross the street, after all.
"Railroad station," I told the driver. "Don't hurry—I want to look around."
This one had a mustache and glasses. His cab was warm and clean. There were a lot of signs in it, most of them silly. He drove slowly, but that didn't seem to stop the skidding. He was an artist at it.
It was five-twenty when the cab pulled up in front of the railroad station. I got out and paid. Another cab pulled up. I looked at the flat-faced driver of it and swore. He was scowling as he twisted around and jerked open the door. I turned my back—and then the driver yelped.
He put a lot of feeling in the proper noun. I swung around, and he headed toward a figure standing out in the rain. A slicker—covered figure—a cop. I didn't want to look in the cab, but I looked.
Dot Ellis was slumped down in the seat—her head twisted to one side. She looked bad. One bullet had caught her in the throat, another had dug in about an inch above the bridge of her nose. I took a quick look around. There was nothing in her hands, and I didn't see a gun in the car. The flat-faced driver was yelling at the traffic cop.
I walked into the station, trying not to talk to myself. That was a Big House night habit. I grabbed a pill, lighted it. My fingers were steady enough. Dot Ellis was dead—murdered. Murdered a half hour or so after I'd been turned loose from doing a two-year stretch that had belonged to her.
There was some thinking to be done, and I wasn't in the humor for it. I could figure that the cab driver would tell the traffic cop what I looked like, and what Dot had called me. I couldn't figure much beyond that. A record was shooting words through a loudspeaker. I made out a few of them, but not enough. A porter passed me, and I asked him what it was all about.
"Local for New York—two minutes," he stated in a weary voice.
I wasted thirty seconds figuring what I'd better do—and a minute in buying the ticket. That left me thirty seconds to get aboard. When I dropped into a seat in the smoker a head pivoted around on a neck—the other end of the man's spine was on the seat ahead of mine.
"Hello, Ourney!" The man had a thin voice. "Got aboard, eh?"
I smiled. "Not quite," I stated. "The train was pulling out—so I went down by boat."
Steiner smiled, too. The train started to jerk. Steiner let his thin words just reach me.
"Yeah?" he said. "Better than going by taxi, eh?"
I closed my eyes a little, and decided that the fence who had been released from Sing Sing two days ago knew something. He had the face and voice of a girl, the courage of a rat—and the brains of a fence. I'd learned that over the two-year stretch.
"I don't like cabs," I stated lazily.
When I opened my eyes Steiner was still smiling. He looked more like a woman when he didn't.
"They're bad for frails," he said almost gently. "I remember one who went to sleep in a cab—and never woke up."
I looked out of the window. There was a lot of water on the glass—the train had come along from Albany.
"No?" I murmured. "You've been around. Heart disease, was it?"
Steiner chuckled. When he did that he stopped being like a woman.
"Lead poisoning." he explained. "Too bad, eh?"
I got up and headed for the coach up front. Steiner was still smiling.
"Terrible," I agreed. "It frightens me."
It didn't exactly frighten me, but it worried me. My grapevine line on Herb Steiner was pretty complete. He rated a minor part in the historical treatise I'd prepared—and which was never to go down on paper. Steiner was a minor crime-breeder. But I couldn't figure him in this. He was a killer. The law had never caught up with him. Maybe he was a better killer than he was a fence.
The big kick was that either he'd done for Dot Ellis, or he knew more about it than I did. Perhaps a bigger kick was that he had wised me up—in so-so fashion. The reason for that was too stiff. I went ahead a little, mentally.
Dot Ellis was dead, murdered. It was generally known that I'd stood her rap. It wouldn't take long for the quiet-clothes boys to put two and two together—and get five. When the cab driver spilled the works about what Dot had called me, I'd be wanted for conversation. But I couldn't see much beyond that. I could find the driver who wasn't flat-faced—the one with the mustache and goggles. And that wouldn't leave more than a couple of minutes during which I was alone, after the flat-faced driver had taken Dot away.
That was the trouble—the boys would get five—when they needed four. My best bet was to slide off the train at the next stop—and go back up the river. Get it over with in a hurry.
Somehow, the more I thought about it the more I disliked the idea. It was sensible enough. It clicked along nicely. But there was Herb Steiner back in the smoker. Steiner knew more than I did—and he wasn't going back. I hadn't turned loose a small caliber gun on Dot Ellis. I hadn't seen her, until twenty minutes or so ago, for two years. And you never could tell about bulls or cab drivers. I talked to myself a little.
"Dot's out of it—Herb Steiner's in it. He's part of my show. How does he figure? Why does he figure? I'll stay along—and if they want me they'll find me."
I talked to myself at intervals until the train reached One Hundred and Twenty-Fifth Street, when I strolled back and watched Steiner drop to the platform. He didn't look around. I got off, too.
There were some men waiting on the platform—but not for Steiner. Nor for me. The fence bought a late addition of a tabloid, down on the street. He didn't read it—just glanced at the headlines, stuck it in his pocket. He hailed a cab, and even when he got inside he didn't look back.
I smiled grimly. There wasn't much use in tailing a crook who wanted to be tailed. There was a lot of sense in not tagging along. So I worked it that way. Inside a cigar store I called the number Donner had given me three months ago. First the line was busy, then there wasn't any such number—and then I got a wrong number. I went out of the booth and bought some pills. The rain had stopped. I went back into the booth and tried again. Right off the bat I got my number. I asked for Joe Ross, and heard Donner saying that Ross was talking. He used that name.
"This is Ourney," I told him. "Where do I come—in about two hours, say? I want to pick up some clothes and get a wash. It'll take that long."
Donner gave me an address and told me it was just west of Sixth Avenue on Fifty-sixth Street. He asked me what was new and I told him nothing was new. He said he'd be waiting up—but that if I wanted rye I'd have to bring it along. He had Scotch and gin. I told him Scotch and gin would be all right, and hung up. I went out and looked for a clothing store.
I felt a little tired, but already the fear of crowds and traffic was beginning to leave me. I thought of Dot Ellis, slumped down in the cab, up the river, and I thought of Herb Steiner. I felt as though I needed to talk—and Wirt Donner would be all right for that purpose. Just so long as I talked the right way.
There was a gray suit I liked—and I went into the store. The clerk was called to the phone while he was hanging it on me. The connection was bad, and he kept yelling the name of the gal to whom he was talking—it was Dot. It began to get on my nerves, but finally he hung up.
He was pretty sore when he reached my side again.
"Someday I'll murder that woman!" he muttered.
I told him the pants were too long, and he said that was easy.CHAPTER 2
I read a paper on my way down to Fifty-sixth Street. Dot Ellis got more space than most of the other humans. But there was one human that grabbed the headlines. His name was Harry Cherulli—there was an "Angel" between the first and last names. He was a nightclub owner and gambler, and he'd gone to the same place as Dot, only about an hour later. That is, I guessed he'd gone to the same place. I read the details on Dot first. After all, two years were two years, even though I couldn't feel heroic about serving it for her. She'd been drinking my liquor before the accident.
The flat-faced cab driver had done most of the guessing. He'd had his hands full driving the cab. There was more traffic than usual in the prison town. He'd had a narrow escape from a smashup with a truck. He and the truck driver had talked it out, and it seemed the flat-faced driver was an ex-pug. Anyway, he'd climbed down from the cab and had invited the truck driver to do the same thing. The truck driver hadn't. Instead he'd almost run the flat-faced one down. All this happened two squares from the station. The flat-faced one guessed that this was when Dot had been murdered. He hadn't looked back at her until he'd reached the station. He was too sore.
It sounded fishy. But a lot of things sound fishy that aren't. The bullets had been of twenty-two caliber—and in traffic they wouldn't make so much noise. The police were working on fingerprints in the interior of the cab, and they expected to make an arrest shortly. That sounded like the bunk. There was a brief sketch about Dot Ellis—there was nothing about me. I guessed that there hadn't been time. I'd come in for my share of publicity in the morning.
"Angel" Cherulli had been found in an alley behind his club, with a flock of thirty-eights in his stomach and chest. There wasn't a clue. He had many enemies. The rest of the story was just writing. I stuck the paper in my pocket and decided that there might be some connection between the two murders. I also decided that there might not be any. I remembered, however, that two years and a few months ago Cherulli had fallen pretty hard for Dot Ellis. It seemed sort of queer that they should both drop out of worldly affairs at about the same time. Cherulli I remembered as a short, thickset Italian with a cherub-like face. I'd played around his club, contributing some of the hundred grand a damn fool uncle had left to me because his only niece had married a Swede with big feet.
The cab was rolling around Columbus Circle. I stopped thinking about Dot Ellis and Cherulli. I was out of the Big House—my bankers had better than seventy-five thousand dollars in safe spots, and I had a job to do. Wirt Donner could help me—he knew some of the little crooks that had been squeezed. I was after the breeders of crime, and they weren't the little ones. There would be action; my mind and body needed it.
The cab stopped in front of the number Donner had given me. It looked something like a theatrical boardinghouse, only it wasn't in the right neighborhood. Or maybe things had moved uptown since I'd started to serve the stretch. I paid up, got out.
The door beyond the steps that led to the vestibule opened as I started to climb. Donner came out. He was bent over; he had both hands pressing against his stomach. Funny, thick noises came from between his lips. His head was twisted to one side.
"What's wrong?" I snapped, from a spot halfway up the stone steps.
Donner was swaying from side to side, hunched forward. His face was all twisted, and there was red on his lips. He tried to scream, but it was only a cough—a choking cough—when it came out.
Excerpted from Green Ice by Raoul Whitfield. Copyright © 1930 Raoul Whitfield. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
3 Good Guy,
5 Miss McMurphy,
6 Mill Town,
8 Green Ice,
10 North Side,
11 Oval Face,
12 Fourteen for One,
14 Bedroom Story,