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Authors: James Hadley Chase

1953 - The Sucker Punch

BOOK: 1953 - The Sucker Punch
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Table of Contents

introduction

chapter one

chapter two

chapter three

chapter four

chapter five

chapter six

chapter seven

chapter eight

chapter nine

chapter ten

chapter eleven

chapter twelve

chapter thirteen

chapter fourteen

chapter fifteen

chapter sixteen

chapter seventeen

chapter eighteen

chapter nineteen

chapter twenty

The Sucker Punch

James Hadley Chase

1953

 

 

introduction

 

T
hrough the open window of the beach hut, Chad could see the gentle rolling surf and the wide stretch of sand, golden and hot in the sunshine.

He could see the distant hills away to his right, and the white curving road along which Larry would come.

It was hot in the beach hut. The electric fan whirred busily, sending a current of air across Chad's glistening face.

He had taken off his coat and had rolled up his sleeves. His thick muscular arms rested on the table and a cigarette burned unheeded between his strong fingers.

He was big and powerful. Long hours in the summer sun had burned his complexion to the colour of old mahogany. His compact, heavy featured face with its pencil lined black moustache, its jutting, deeply dimpled chin, its strong, hard mouth and the steady sea-green eyes made him more than ordinarily handsome.

He reached for the bottle of Scotch he had set by the tape recorder and poured a stiff shot into the glass.

He drank some of the whisky, rolling it around in his mouth before swallowing it, then he glanced at his wristwatch. The time was twenty minutes to three. He had a clear two and a half hours before Larry came. If he started dictating right away and kept at it, he could get his story on the tape in two hours and have half an hour in hand. Time enough.

He drank a little more of the whisky, then pushed back his chair and stood up, running his fingers through his thick black hair.

Reluctantly he forced himself to look at the divan bed that stood against the far wall.

A brief patch of sunlight fell directly on the dead woman who lay on her back on the bed. Her head and shoulders hung over the foot of the bed, out of his view. He was thankful for that. The swollen, blue-black face with its staring eyes and horribly enlarged tongue curling out of the gaping mouth was something he never wanted to see again.

He forced his eyes from her as he walked over to where he had left the heavy wrench he had taken from the toolbox of the car.

He picked up the wrench and carried it to the table, setting it down within reach of his hand. He sat down again and lit another cigarette.

For some moments he stared at the tape recorder while he made an effort to think what he was going to say. But his mind kept jumping across the room to the woman on the bed, seeing again the look of terror that had come into her eyes as his fingers sank into the soft flesh of her neck.

"Well, come on," he said aloud, his voice harsh and angry. "Get her out of your mind. She's dead. You've got to think of yourself now. You're in a goddam jam, and you've got to get out of it. Come on; get to work."

He reached out and, turned the starting switch of the tape recorder.

The two spools began to revolve, and he leaned forward towards the microphone.

He began to talk quickly, the words spilling out of his mouth while the narrow tape moved unhurriedly from one spool to the other.

"For the personal attention of District Attorney John Harrington," he said into the microphone. "Mr. District Attorney, this is a confession of murder made by me, Chad Winters, of Cliffside, Little Eden, California. The date is 30th September; the time is 2.45 p.m."

He paused to stare out at the golden sands and the blue Pacific as it rolled slowly and gently over the distant rocks. Then hitching his chair closer to the table, he went on, "It would be simple enough to tell you about the killing, how I did it and why Lieutenant Leggit didn't arrest me the moment he knew it was murder, but there is a lot more to it than that. I want you to have a clear and coherent story so you will not only know how this thing began, but why it began, and why it had to end in murder.

"Have a little patience, Mr. District Attorney, and stay with me until you get the facts you are really interested, in. I promise you you won't be bored; just relax and listen…"

 

 

chapter one

 

W
ay back in May of last year, I was sitting at my desk in the main office of the Pacific Banking Corporation, minding my own business and making out I was also minding the bank's business. At that time I was assistant stock and security clerk, and I will put it on record here and now that I was never cut out for a bank clerk. Sitting at a desk all day, looking after other people's money was my idea of hell.

On this particular May morning I had five letters in my billfold that had arrived by the morning's delivery. Four of them were from tradesmen I owed money to, threatening to write to the bank a brut my debts, and the fifth was from a girl, telling me she was pregnant, and what was I going to do about it?

I wasn't worried about the girl. I can always handle women, but the tradesmen were a problem. I had given them the old spiel so often I knew it wouldn't work again. I had to dig up some money from somewhere or I was going to get tossed out of the bank and then the wolves would really move in.

I wanted money badly, and it looked as if I would have to go to the Shylocks for it. I knew once I got into their clutches I was a dead duck, but the problem was urgent and my need was pressing. I was about to reach for the telephone book to hunt up Lowenstein's address when the intercom on my desk buzzed into life.

"Winters," I said, making my voice sound alert and efficient. Even if I didn't do much work around the bank, I took care not to advertise the fact. “Oh, Mr. Winters, would you come to Mr. Sternwood's office, please?"

That invitation meant trouble. Sternwood only saw members of the staff when he wanted to hand them a kick in the pants.

Okay, I admit it. I was in a cold sweat and my heart thumped unevenly. Had one of the sons of bitches I owed money to gone to Sternwood? Had that little tart, Paula, gone to him? Had I slipped up somewhere in my work?

As I walked past the long row of desks towards Sternwood's office, the guys peeped at me. They knew where I was going.

They were a smug, respectable lot. Most of them were married with a string of kids, and those who weren't were the kind who waited until Miss Right came along.

With the possible exception of Tom Leadbeater, none of the others approved of me. They didn't like the cut of my clothes, the way I fooled around with the prettier junior typists nor the amount of work I did.

Their disapproval stuck out like porcupine quills, and they were never friendly. Not that that was any skin off my nose. I had all the friends I wanted, and they weren't stiff-necked, tight-fisted jerks either.

I rapped on the door of Sternwood's office, turned the doorknob and walked in.

Old Sternwood and my father had been lifelong friends. It had been Sternwood's idea that I should become a banker. I hadn't been consulted. My father had jumped at the suggestion, and I have been stuck with it ever since.

I hadn't been in Sternwood's office since the day I had reported back to work after five years in the Army. He had been pretty chummy then. He had given me the returning hero and ‘you'll get every chance to make a big success’ kind of talk.

He didn't look as if he were going to wrap his arms around me this time.

"Come on in, Chad," he said, laying down a fistful of papers, "and sit down."

I sat down, careful not to slouch.

He pushed a gold cigarette box across the desk. We lit up in an impressive silence, then he said, "How old are you, Chad?"

"Thirty-two, sir."

"You've been with us four years since the war?"

"Yes, sir."

"And three years before the war?"

"That is correct, sir."

"Leadbeater has been with us for five years. How is it he is assistant manager while you're still at a desk?"

"I guess he's got more on the ball than I have, sir," I said, because I was pretty sure that was the kind of answer he was wanting.

He shook his head.

"The reason is because he takes a keen interest in his work, and he puts his back into it whereas you do as little as you possibly can."

"That's not quite fair, sir..." I began, but cut it short when I saw the look in his eyes. He could be a tough guy when he felt that way, and he seemed to be feeling that way right now.

"I don't want excuses, Chad. I've seen your monthly reports, and I've been keeping a pretty close check on your work for the past few weeks. You're not working, and you're not interested in your department."

My mouth suddenly turned dry. This was leading up to the gate, and I wasn't kidding myself I could get another bank job again.

"If any other member of my staff acted as you've been acting I should have got rid of him months ago. What's wrong, Chad? Don't you want to stay with us?"

I didn't expect the sudden kindly tone, but I got the answer out quick enough.

"Yes, sir, of course I do. I guess I have been slack, and I'm sorry. If you'll overlook it this time, I'll see it doesn't happen again."

Sternwood got up and began to pace around the room.

"Your father and I were good friends. For his sake I'm going to give you another chance. You're going to have a complete change of work."

I began to breathe again.

'Thank you, sir."

"Don't be in too much of a hurry to thank me," Sternwood said, coming back to his desk and sitting down. "This is a special job, Chad, and unless you keep at it, it will rise up and smother you. It's not a job for idlers. Fall down on it, and you're out. I mean that. This is your last chance. To give you some encouragement I'm raising you a hundred and fifty dollars from today. But make no mistake about it: you'll earn every cent."

I was stiff in my chair by now. There could be only one job that would match up to that description, and that was the last job I wanted: the bank's pain-in-the-neck; Leadbeater's nightmare; the job that had made him bald in six months.

Sternwood suddenly smiled.

"I see you have guessed it, Chad. From this afternoon you are in sole charge of the Shelley account."

You probably know all about Josh Shelley, and how he made his millions out of a four-in-one farm tractor, and then doubled his take by switching his factories to making tanks.

What you probably don't know is that when he died in 1946 he left everything he owned, as well as seventy million bucks, to his only daughter, Vestal.

The management of the estate and all its vast ramifications were entrusted to the Pacific with a proviso in the will that if ever Vestal became dissatisfied with the way the bank handled her affairs, she could take her business elsewhere.

There were plenty of banks and estate management firms that would have given their right eyes to have such an account, and the Pacific soon found that they were going to earn whatever profit they could chisel out of Miss Shelley the hard way.

Make no mistake about it. Vestal Shelley was a bitch of the first water. For years she had lived under old Josh Shelley's domination, and I don't have to remind you what kind of guy he had been. Up to the time of his death, she had had a pretty rotten kind of life. He kept her short of money, bullied her, didn't allow her any men friends, never threw a party for her. For the first twenty years of her life she lived as strictly and as quietly as any nun.

If she had had a nice kind nature one would have been sorry for her, but she hadn't a nice kind nature. She took after her father. She was cruel and mean and grasping. So when the old man finally turned up his toes and dropped seventy million bucks into her lap, she came out of her solitary confinement like an infuriated bull, thirsting for blood.

Over a period of six years no less than fifteen of the Pacific's best-trained clerks had tried to handle the Shelley account. If they didn't throw in their hands from sheer despair, Vestal had them removed for incompetency.

Leadbeater had survived longer than any of the others. He had been Vestal's slave for eight months, and if you had seen him when he took the job over and had seen him when he passed it to me you would realize just how unbelievably tough the consignment was.

Everyone in the bank knew about the Shelley account. They made jokes about it, but believe me, the guy who was stuck with it didn't join in the merry laughter.

I went along and broke the news to Leadbeater.

He got up, and believe it or not, he was actually trembling.

"Do you mean it?"

BOOK: 1953 - The Sucker Punch
6.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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