Gaita’s brief description of the establishment was much too modest.
From selected apertures at strategic locations, I was able to see the plush bar and tap room, a polished mahogany restoration of the gilt-edged 1900s. There was a casino adjoining with a Vegas-like array of gaming and a small stage at one end, and buffet tables against two walls, prime rib and cracked crab and all sorts of goodies for patrons who had worked up an appetite, presumably having sated other appetites they’d brought with them.
The dark-haired Cuban cutie pointed out tactfully concealed entrances to the upstairs rooms where customers could discreetly avail themselves of certain services. And everything was modernized now—no such thing as cash anymore, this was strictly a credit card business with coded statements at addresses or post office boxes of the client’s choice. Those enjoying the facilities were carefully screened before admittance, vouched for and vetted and to date there had been no police intervention at all.
It took longer than it should have, but finally it hit me.
I was inside the notorious Mandor Club, that ultra-select bordello whose existence was whispered about in elite circles and known to but a few.
I had stumbled across the name ten years earlier, in Rio, when a lovely-but-been-around redhead had invited me out on a cruise on her yacht, which she hadn’t obtained by selling Girl Scout Cookies door-to-door. She’d been great company and a memorable lay, but had become a little maudlin halfway through a magnum of champagne and damn near told me the story of her life, whether I wanted to hear it or not.
Four years as a Mandor Club hostess had set the redhead up in luxury for life, but the stipulation was that she retire outside the United States, a requirement for all of the club’s retirees. Giddy or not, she realized fairly deep in her tale that she’d spilled too much, got a little pale, spilled some more over the rail of the boat, then said no more on the subject of one of the world’s greatest whorehouses.
"Well laid-out," I told Gaita, "if you’ll pardon the expression."
A smile twitched the lush lips. "A grand old dream of a grand old man...long dead." She gestured like a guide on a palace tour. "The building itself was once a mansion, surrounded by others of its kind, but over the years people of wealth moved to other places, and many of the structures were brought down. This fine old place, sitting back on generous grounds, was in a good position for new owners to...conduct business."
"You’re not talking about last week."
"No. More like...last century."
I gazed down at the floor again where several beautiful women in tasteful if low-cut evening dress had gathered, preparing for a cheerful night’s debauch. They were Latin, they were Asian, they were black, they were white. I might have to revise my opinion of the United Nations.
I asked, "Who runs the joint this century, querida?"
"You are about to meet her." Gaita took my arm. "This way please, señor."
A door activated by a buzzer from the interior opened onto a room as functionally modern as an insurance company office. Business machines were beside the two empty desks, filing cabinets lined the walls, a new, formidable-looking vault dominated the rear, and the only decorative concessions to the nature of this business were two oil-painting nudes by a world-famous pin-up artist in elaborate gilt frames, and a leather couch beside a paisley wall hanging.
Beneath the paintings, at a gray, glass-topped steel desk, sat a woman of almost timeless beauty, fingering the neckline of a sleek black dress, then idly running her fingers through piled-high blonde hair with weird purple highlights. This stunning, mature beauty was slowly scanning the pages of a ledger.
Her birth name had been Louise Cader Gibbs. Her husband had died in a Federal prison ten years ago, early in a term resulting from a stock market scandal that had turned Wall Street upside down and sideways. She hadn’t looked up yet, so she didn’t see me grinning.
I said, "Hell, Bunny, you do bounce back, don’t you?"
Then her eyes rose to mine, and hit with the force of a punch. Her face went through a strange transformation as a montage of reminiscences played in her brain and reflected out her eyes.
Finally she chuckled deep in her throat. "Damn," she said. "Morgan the Raider. The only son of a bitch who ever managed to take that old fox I married for a hunk of his ill-acquired fortune."
"It’s what I do," I said with a shrug. "Or anyway, what I used to do."
Gaita was looking quizzically at us both. "Madam...I am not surprised you know of Morgan...but you know Morgan?"
Bunny sat back and relished the moment, then rose and walked over to me with her hand outstretched. "Know him? Honey, I once paid out a contract to have him killed." Her hand was strong and warm in mine. "Remember that, Morgan?"
"Rings a bell."
"But..." Gaita smiled. "...he does not seem to be dead, Madam."
Bunny laughed that deep laugh again and shook her head. "No, but two times, guys supposed to do the job were found completely dead. And seemed nobody wanted to pick up my contract after that."
"Can I help it," I said, "that you hired accident-prone types?"
"Anybody who takes you on, Morgan, is an accident waiting to happen."
"Hell no, Morgan! A major rule of business is knowing when not to throw good money after bad....I wrote it off as a loss. Even found a way to deduct it off my taxes that year."
"Must have been interesting wording on that tax form."
She gestured to a chair and I sat, while she perched nearby on the edge of her desk. A lot of leg showed, thanks to a slit in the black dress—nicely rounded gams, more substantial than the Twiggy types, and fine by me.
"Sure burned my husband’s heinie, though," she said with a chuckle. "He bitched about not getting even with you till the day he died—indignant to the end...and with all the people he screwed over, who never got even with him!"
"We all see the world through our end of the telescope, Bunny."
She shook her head. Great smile on the gal, lots of white teeth that were maybe even hers. "What did you ever do with that dough? Better than half a million you nipped us for. And that was back when half a mil was money."
"Well, I saw some of the world I hadn’t seen so far. You know me and boats." I leaned back and gave her the once-over. "You look pretty damn good, Bunny. Don’t you know madams aren’t supposed to look better than their girls? Crazy hair, though."
She touched a purple streak. "Sets me off from those girls. Like the man says, a madam has to look like a madam, otherwise she’d disappoint the customers." She paused and laughed again. "Anyway, I’m not fool enough to believe I can compete with my girls." She touched her generous bosom. "This chick has got some miles on her...but at least I found my level."
"What happened to high society?"
She snorted a laugh. "The grande dames booted me out ...and now I socialize more with their husbands than I ever did with them. As a matter of fact, I’ve begun to think I’ve found the profession I was truly cut out for. The old fox knew what he was doing when he bought this place back when he had the bread...this was the only investment we hung onto! So don’t feel sorry for me."
"Never that, Bunny."
She stared at me, as if through new eyes. "So you’re the one that got the mission," she mused. "I didn’t know who it would be."
"You’re playing kind of funny games, aren’t you, Bunny? Traveling in strange circles?"
Her smile turned sideways. "That makes two of us, doesn’t it?"
"I could expect it of me."
"But not of me, eh? Well, my old friend, don’t fool yourself. Times have changed, people change with them. I’m here, where I am accepted, instead of castigated, and I have good friends in strange places. Anyway, the old fox and I had investments in Cuba that we lost when that bearded bum took over."
I grinned big. "Ah. So there lies the source of your Cuban exile sympathies."
"They’re nice people, and I don’t like to see nice people get hurt." She reached out and squeezed my arm. "I’m glad it’s you, Morgan. It’ll take a man like you to take Jamie Halaquez down. I’m going to follow this with pleasure." She tossed a thumb at Gaita, who had melted back into the periphery. "They’ve assigned you a good one." Then to Gaita, "Do you have everything ready?"
"For this evening, madam? Yes."
"Good. Then take Morgan back to your room and keep him out of sight until it’s time. He’ll need a lot of filling in."
I sat forward. "This little kitten’s already done a good share of filling me in. But you could do some more."
Bunny’s eyebrows rose. "Oh?"
"What can you tell me about Halaquez?"
The madam was frowning. "What has Gaita told you?"
"That he was a patron here. That he’s a ruthless killer with sadistic tastes that bleed over into his sexual kinks."
Her laugh held a hollow ring. "Well, Morg, you seem to know the score already."
I shook my head. "I need to really know this bastard if I’m going to track him. Get specific, doll."
She frowned. Mentally, she sorted through file cards, selecting just the right facts, just the right words. "He’s an odd one, even for a customer into bondage and discipline. He wants the shame of it, even to torture. His needs extend well beyond what we provide here at Mandor."
My jaw damn near dropped. "He wants to be whipped?"
"Yes. But that is not why we came to forbid him from our doors."
"You banned his ass?"
She nodded. "The game of submission is such that there are guidelines—lines that don’t get crossed, code words agreed upon to stop the game. But he would push the women hired to dominate him—beg them for more."
"More pain. Yes."
I thought about it. "Okay. So the idiot wants his ass whipped. Whip it, and take his credit card number. Why not?"
"If only it were that simple." Bunny glanced at Gaita, whose head was lowered. "When the game was over, when the girl had done whatever he asked...he would pay, as required, he would even provide a handsome tip. But on occasion...not every time, perhaps once every three visits, then later on, after every other visit...he would punish the girl."
Frowning, I said, "I thought these freaks liked being dominated."
"Oh, they do. But when the game is over, some feel shame, and a sado-masochistic bastard like Halaquez will suddenly take it out on the very person he hired to humiliate him."
I shook my head; my belly was tight with disgust. "Getting even for indignities he’d paid to have done to him. Man. This is one sick puppy."
"Yes," Bunny said. "Someone should put him out of his misery."
"But this is great," I said, beaming at her.
"Now we have a lead. Now we know how he gets his jollies, and it’s from a menu served up at a limited number of venues. You must know other houses or girls working solo, doing the S & M thing. It’s a way to find him."
Bunny’s eyes were tight. "I think you will find Mr. Halaquez is banned from all such establishments, and the word’s gotten around among the women who work the bondage trade out of their apartments, as well. But I will give you a list, if you think that may help."
"Sure. It’s a start."
"The only other thing, Morgan...but it’s a long shot."
"Hell. Guys get rich playing long shots. Go."
Again she chose her words carefully. "There is a rumor...and for now it’s just a rumor...that the Consummata is setting up shop in Miami."
I blinked. "Who or what is the ‘Consummata’?"
"A very famous dominatrix, at least famous in certain circles."
"From nowhere. From everywhere. Sometimes she works alone, by appointment through intermediaries. Other times she has set up a location with other young women trained in the arts of sado-masochism. And, again, clients are by referral only. She has turned up in every major city in America and not a few in Europe. Her clients, they say, are among the most rich and powerful men in business and government. If she exists."
"You don’t even know if she exists?"
"She is a rumor. A wisp of smoke. A legend. A dream. Lovely, a vision in black leather, they say..and, brother, would I hire her for the Mandor in a heartbeat."
"How do I find her?"
Her laugh was inaudible. "I don’t think you can. But I can put the word out. If Jamie Halaquez hears that the Consummata has graced Miami with her presence, he will certainly try to make an appointment with her. Any concerns for his safety, anything smacking of common sense, will fly from his evil mind."
"Consummata," I said, tasting the word. "What is that? Spanish? Italian?"
"Latin," Gaita chimed in from the sidelines. "It has several meanings. One is...crowning touch. The other you might guess."
"Sexual consummation," I said.
"Got it in one," Bunny said, cheerfully, slipping off her desk onto her feet.
I got up and faced her. "You’ve been a big help, kiddo."
"Oh, you’ll be seeing more of me, Morgan."
"You sure you really want that?"
She laughed. "Not sure at all. You might get ideas about raiding me. I wouldn’t put it past you...though why, with forty million bucks stashed away, you’d want to bother with small change like little ol’ me, I’d never know."
"Don’t believe everything you read in the papers, Bunny."
"About you, Morgan?" She slipped an arm in mine, walking me to the door. "I’d believe anything."
Jamie Halaquez had gone on the run with a purpose in mind.
He had tested the defenses and offensive capabilities of the opposition, and found them lacking in strength. His first kill had been made in a small motel outside of St. Louis, a young Cuban who’d been smart enough to find Halaquez but not skilled enough to survive. The next contact had been made north of Little Rock, and a third near Meridian, Mississippi, both resulting in dead emissaries from Miami’s Cuban community.
Traced on a map, Halaquez’s path took him away from the Miami area, then swung him back toward it again. These movements had nothing to do with reaching his final destination.
But wherever he was now, he was in position to make that final move.
The only thing that had me wondering was the relatively small amount of money involved. To some people—like those he’d taken it from—seventy-five thousand bucks was a lot of loot. If Halaquez made it to Cuba, and the dough had been converted properly, it could mean a lot more. Still, the Cuban exiles were, in their way, a national political group, and taking them on for this kind of cash was asking for trouble. Almost stupidly so.
And even if Halaquez did make it to Cuba, with the cash converted to a friendly-to-Cuba country’s currency, there would still be anti-Castro sympathizers ready to cut him down the first chance they got, and seventy-five grand wasn’t about to buy him perpetual protection.
A funny little hunch was scratching at me again. From one angle, this seemed all cut-and-dry, but from another it was sticky and wet. This was feeling like much more than just a small-time heist of $75,000 made worse by the betrayal it represented; to the Cubans of Little Havana, this seemed like a very big deal, but the reality was, the Halaquez score was small change.
So why did it feel like the big time?
Something seemed to be missing from the equation, and the longer I thought about it, the more that seemed to be the case. Offhand, it might look like a quick grab for seventy-five thousand bucks, and that could be enough of an incentive for anybody, even an amateur.
But then amateurs would hesitate at pulling off three kills, any one of which might get botched, risking Jamie getting his ass slammed in some local jail. Halaquez could have disappeared into the vastness of America and somehow made it to Canada or Mexico, and become just another Latin louse with a grubstake. Instead, he’d hop-scotched his way back to the Miami area....
Jamie Halaquez had stolen money and left the state, and committed a trio of murders along the way, making this now an interstate affair, which meant the Feds were onboard. The FBI would have its ears to the ground and its own contacts within the Cuban freedom organization, so they’d know, at least basically, what was going on.
Whatever Halaquez was up to, it had all the earmarks of big professionalism, and the big pros don’t make a Federal case out of seventy-five thousand bucks.
I sat there in a Mandor suite decorated with an oriental motif, feeling ill at ease and even silly in a business suit padded out to make me look like a pudgy city councilman, hair powdered gray, and in pinched shoes that made my steps mince because I couldn’t help it.
The only thing that lent any comfort was the weight of the .45 in my belt and the three spare clips in my pocket.
Tami, a lush blonde who could have stepped out of the centerfold of the highest-end man’s magazine, kept looking at me through heavily made-up eyes that she kept half-lowered in deliberate fashion.
"Tell me, Morgan, if this were real life...would a girl like me really be attracted enough to a man like you to make her want to marry him?"
By "a man like you," she meant the pudgy councilman I was pretending to be.
"If I were rich enough," I said.
"Is that the only reason?"
I squirmed under the dark suit jacket. "Could be gratitude by way of blackmail. A guy like &8216;me’ could have kept your sweet behind out of a jail cell."
Long eyelashes, not real but pretty enough, fluttered. "What would it take for a man like the real you to be attracted to a girl like me?"
"Not much. You have it all going for you, sugar. But you need to know something..."
"You don’t pay."
The living wet dream squirmed, looking at Gaita. "The man has confidence," she remarked casually.
"Didn’t mean to hit a nerve," I said.
"Oh, you didn’t."
Gaita snapped her fingers abruptly at both of us. "Please! Now is not the time for such nonsense." To the blonde, she asked, "You are sure about what you must do?"
Tami nodded. "Mr. Boyer is drunk again, and I’m little Tessie, come to drag him out of the house of ill repute."
"Always liked that phrase," I said with a half a smile.
The lovely whore, dressed to pass as a rich man’s wife, continued: "The chauffeur downstairs will see it all, discreetly turn away, and have something to talk about at the next card game among Mr. Boyer’s male staff."
Gaita, doggedly serious, said to the girl, "And then?"
"And then delivery to the Amherst Hotel, where our friend gives Mr. Boyer’s clothes back to me, while I return to home base in time to get the real Boyer back into his clothes, and smuggle the old boy out...and hope nobody notices the time discrepancy."
I said, "Suppose we get stopped along the way?"
"Our tough luck," Tami told me. "You’ll have to deal with it."
"I will," I said.
Gaita checked her watch. "It is eleven o’clock. You leave now."
Time had worked in my favor.
The local police had long since vanished back to their regular assignments, and Walter Crowley’s men had thinned down to a few spot checkers who were still working areas they thought I might be hiding.
I grinned to myself when I thought of Crowley sitting someplace, fuming. He’d have that receipt for my body, dead or alive, tucked away in his wallet, and every minute I was on the loose increased my chances of being taken back dead. Much as he might relish delivering me without a pulse, he would surely much prefer to deliver me breathing, and with the possibility of finding that forty mil.
Hell, if I had any sense of humor at all, I would send Crowley a letter telling him just where that pile of dough was, or anyway where the guy who put it there said it was. According to the raider who had framed this Morgan, the forty mil was right where my namesake, Sir Henry Morgan the Pirate, put his treasure.
Well, buddy, I told Crowley in my head, lots of luck—just try and find it.
Everybody else had, and failed. Old Morgan operated out of Cuban waters with a preference for the island of Santa Catalina, and all the reference works were easily accessible in the public library, or in certain archives for more rarified researchers, with plenty of folklore and rumors to keep treasure hunters hopping every year.
But on the Nuevo Cadiz mission, Morgan the Raider had been raided. One of the five men who had made up my crew in the war—when we took down those two armored cars and created the template for the money-truck heist—had been "vacationing" on that island, trying to make a deal with the government for laundering the loot. And I had turned up unexpectedly in his midst.
He was dead now, my old friend, his head blasted apart like a melon by my .45 slug, and any further details about exactly where the forty mil was stashed had gone away in a spray of gore.
Maybe my old friend had found one of Morgan’s places of safekeeping. One thing, that hiding place—whether in a cave or some old building or the remnants thereof—had most certainly been found after all these years, considering how many treasure hunters had gone looking. Surely it had been empty when my pal found it. Somebody would have been there long before him....
And once my pal stowed the forty mil there, anybody searching for the first Morgan’s treasure might have already have stumbled onto Morgan the Raider’s treasure—the treasure that could clear my name.
Meaning that place of safekeeping might be empty again. People just don’t pass up forty million in beautiful U.S. currency.
At least my pal would never spend another dime of it. My old buddy was good and goddamn dead, but if he only knew what was going down now for his old buddy, he’d be laughing his balls off, because my army buddy had wanted me dead in the worst way. He tried to make it happen several times...only I got him first.
How’d you work it, Old Buddy? Like Hitler? Ol’ Shicklgruber had his submarines booby-trapped, so that no matter how many years after they were sunk, nobody dared touch them, because they’d blow up in their faces. They were still at the bottom, prizes of war, their locations marked SECRET and left alone for the sea to swallow in due course of time, maybe with a minor upheaval and some surface turbulence when one blew; but with nobody around to get hurt, at least. You do it that way, pal? When I finally find the loot, will it blow up in my puss? Did you...?
"Morgan!" Gaita’s voice had a sharp ring to it, cutting through my thoughts. "We are ready."
I stood, uncomfortable in my clothes. "Sorry, kid. Just reflecting."
"At the wrong time, such reflection, it can get you killed."
"So can not reflecting at all," I advised her.
The briefing they had given me on the real Boyer covered him being a professional politician from an upstate county, a pol known for his indiscretions and peccadillos, but with enough votes in his pocket to keep him affluent. His sexual preference was young, dark-skinned girls, preferably of Latin ancestry, and he frequently visited Miami to patronize establishments that catered to his special tastes...and his former showgirl wife was known to just as frequently have to haul his drunken tail out of said establishments.
The real Mrs. Boyer was more than a little protective of her current position in life, afraid that she might lose that position to some enterprising sexpot who could cut the pudgy pol loose from any family ties the way the current Mrs. Boyer had the former Mrs. Boyer.
Apparently the woman had gone to certain lengths to avoid anybody recognizing her on these missions of wifely mercy, staying swathed in veils and always coming in a taxi; but her blonde hair and stripper’s body had always given her away. Not much of a disguise was required for Tami to fit the part.
The taxi was supplied by a friendly Cuban exile driver. I played my part with my head down, doing a stumbling drunk act, careful to keep my face averted to avoid more than a casual scrutiny. Tami did the rest, and nobody paid any attention to us.
Luck was on my side again: we made our exit on a night when the Mandor had a particularly high-profile clientele in the house. If the cops had elected to pull a raid, they would have had one hell of a time in court, trying hard to find a judge who wouldn’t have to disqualify himself as a friend and associate of any of these potential defendants.
Already the thing was almost put over. The taxi cut through the streets, heading toward the western section of town, and for some reason I got that funny feeling again. A long time ago I learned not to ignore it—a tightness at the back of my neck, and a clammy feeling there, my jaws clamped so tight, any more pressure would chip my teeth.
It wasn’t intuition. Not exactly. And it wasn’t fear or nervousness. It was just this thing that had become my best friend.
Call it instinct, or maybe luck again, whispering in my ear like a tender lover.
I said, "Pull over at the corner."
The driver nodded and began slowing down, edging toward the curb.
Tami looked at me curiously and said, "But we’re not near the Amherst Hotel yet."
"I know. But I get out here."
"That is not the plan."
"I know, kid. But I get out here—okay?"
She swallowed. Nodded. "What about the clothes?"
Even while she was saying it, I was busy shucking off the coat and pants that had been liberated off the doped-up politician. I got into the stuff Gaita had bought for me, the same gray jacket, black sportshirt and gray slacks, and I made sure the .45 was in place in my waistband.
Then I then told the driver to take Tami and his heap back to where he had picked us up.
The hooker’s face in the rear window was tense with worry, her fingers splayed against the glass. I blew her a kiss that got a tiny smile out of her.
Then I walked the other eight blocks.
As I came around the corner, I got a great view of a pyrotechnics display that must have rivaled anything Miami pulled off on July Fourth.
I flinched, but that was all, as I watched the nearest side of the Hotel Amherst blow apart in a shower of brick and glass that decorated a huge orange ball of flame and billows of charcoal smoke.
Cars screeched to a stop, some pedestrians froze and screamed and others ran and yelled, and I moved through them toward the hotel like a sleepwalker, stepping over burning rubble. Sirens were just kicking in as I entered the building.
Not much later, I learned that four people had died in the explosion, and that room 409—where I had reservations under the name of R. Sinclair—had disintegrated.
What the hell. I decided to check in, anyway.
Surely they had other rooms available.
Copyright © 2011 by Mickey Spillane Publishing LLC.