Sunday, 29 April 2018

Plunder of Kurdistan

 Plunder of Kurdistan
by E. Hoffmann Price
From Spicy Adventures magazine, April 1935
Digitized for Stillwoods.Blogspot.Ca, April 2018.

Bayonne at sunset. Glamorous, gray walled Bayonne that for twenty centuries has nestled at the foothills of the Pyrenees, guarding the road to Spain. But Tom Garrett, sitting at a marble topped table beneath that striped awning of Cafe du Theatre, had forgotten Vauban’s fortifications and likewise his tall glass of amer picon. Garrett had acquired an aim in life.
And every time the girl at the adjoining table recrossed her lovely legs, the problem became more urgent. He was certain that he could not leave Bayonne without finding out what kind of garters would draw her hosiery so snugly about her dimpled knees. Something had to be done about it.
But it was the girl who took the initiative. Her eyes suddenly shifted from the milling crowd she had anxiously been scrutinizing and nailed Garrett with their dark, long lashed magnificence. She leaned forward just enough to give Garrett a glimpse of breasts like twin magnolia buds and said in a low, agitated voice, “Monsieur, on m’a poursuivi depuis Espagne jusqu’ a
“Followed you from Spain?” echoed Garrett. And without giving her a chance to answer. he added, “No damn wonder! Listen, ma’mselle, I’da followed you from hell just to see if you kicked your covers off in your sleep.”
“Thank God, an American!” she sighed. She was obviously worried to distraction; but a sweetly malicious smile twitched at the corners of her amiable mouth as Garrett turned a rich Venetian red, swallowed, and finally blurted out, “Gee! Do you speak English?”
“I ought to,” she laughed. “I was raised in Kansas.”

Garrett might have known she wasn’t French.
Her features were a shade too finely drawn. Anyway, she hadn’t slapped him or called a gendarme, and an American speaking girl would be a relief after all this ‘voulez vous couches avec moi’ stuff, followed by an itemized bill with luxury tax extra, and a franc for mama.
“Listen, Susie,” he said, “that makes us neighbors. I’m from Broken Axe, Oklahoma.”
“The name,” she corrected, “is Lydia—”
“No, silly! Lydia Inglis, and I’m in a perfectly terrible jam, and you looked so much at home here, and sort of honest—”
“Honest? Right-o, Lydia, and no lady ever yet claimed Tom Garrett went through her bankroll while she slept— but anyway, what’s the trouble?”
Lydia eyed him, and made a job of it. He saw that she was as lovely above the equator as she was below, and that was saying a lot. But despite her relief at having met a fellow American, Lydia was still a bit dubious about something.
“I brought something rather precious from Spain,” she finally began.
“Uhuh. About a million dollar’s worth, I’d say,” interrupted Garrett as his appraising glance shifted from her slender silken legs to the suave curve of her hips.
“Idiot! What I was referring to is in my hatbox.” She indicated the circular container.
“What I had in mind isn’t and couldn’t possibly be,” grinned Garrett. Yet behind his badinage, he was thinking fast. The girl looked absolutely one hundred proof and the pure quill, right out of the wood; but her remarks hinted at smuggling. There was a lot of it going on, along the Spanish Border. And to test his conclusion, Garrett added, “I guess it must be valuable—or you’d not be packing that automatic in a holster at your knee.”
“Oh!” That took Lydia’s breath, and it worried her. “How did you—”
“That green guard stripe sort of caught my eye,” Garrett explained. “You could make a million modeling for Hyacinth Hosiery.”
Lydia’s eyes widened some more. She was wondering if there was anything he hadn’t seen.
“Why—how did—I am wearing Hyacinth—”
“Sure you are. I make ‘em, back in the states. But about that hat box?”
Lydia emerged from her chair like a kitten rising from a cushion; slick and graceful and effortlessly, with a fluent motion that suggested how tightly she could cling—if she felt that way. Garrett reached for the circular hat box. Lydia’s fingers closed on his wrist. The gesture was instinctive. As her grip relaxed, she smiled and said, “I’m developing a bad case of jitters.”
He accompanied her across rue Bernede, and up the Port Neuf arcade to the first cross street. There she paused and said, “I’m staying at the Panier-Fleuri. If you’re not too busy, I wish you’d come up and wait with me until— oh, good Lord! There’s one of them now!”

Garrett whirled just in time to see a lean, swarthy man with black mustaches duck into a doorway. The fellow had obviously been lurking to intercept Lydia on her way to her hotel. But swiftly as he moved, Garrett caught him by the shoulder before he could dive down the passageway that pierced the otherwise blank wall.
“Qu ’est-ce que c’est?" the fellow demanded as Garrett jerked him into the open. His gimlet eyes were defiant, and he had a face that would make any hangman feel the nobility of his calling.
“You know what it’s about!” snapped Garrett. “Steady, there!” His fingers sank into Gimlet Eyes’ shoulder and held him at arm’s length. Then, to Lydia: “Sure this is the guy?”
Lydia nodded. With his free hand Gimlet Eyes reached for his belt. And that was a false move. Before the knife half cleared its sheath, Garrett’s fist popped home. It landed dead center. Gimlet Eyes was out cold before he crashed into a pilaster and then slumped to the paving.
“Nice boy,” said Garrett. “Now I’ll call a gendarme—”
“No—don’t! I don’t want the police mixed up in this.”
“Then come up to my apartment on the Lachepaillet Wall,” suggested Garrett. “You’d be safer up there than in your room.”
“Oh, anywhere at all!” Her fingers closed on his arm. “If I ever get clear of this mess!”
And as they hurried up the shadowy arcade, looped the cathedral, and headed up the broad street that runs along the city wall, Lydia’s low voiced remarks confirmed Garrett’s suspicions. Smuggling and some hijackers trailing her, making a play for the plunder before she could surrender it to a certain Antoine Ducasse. No wonder she could not appeal to the gendarmes or the Service de Surete for protection. Garrett saw himself plunging into a ticklish mess— but he also saw a chance of finding out whether she talked in her sleep.

Once in Garrett’s apartment, Lydia flung her hat in a corner, set her hat box on the bed and lifted the cover. Out of an invitingly scented froth of silk and lace she drew a brazen bird about the size of a quail. It was a peacock with the tail fanned out. It stood on a pedestal engraved with archaic, angular Arabic script. Oh it might be Persian— Garrett didn’t know, and cared less when Lydia hitched up her skirt to reach for the automatic that nestled in the suede holster at her knee.
“Don’t—you’re spoiling the view,” chided Garrett as the skirt dropped into place to caress the softly rounded flesh it concealed.
“Can’t you ever be serious? Listen, Tom, I’m in an awful jam!”
“I’m in a terribly upset state of mind myself,” countered Garrett. To prove it, he caught Lydia in his arms, drew her slim, deliciously curved body closely to him. For an instant she resisted, but he found her lips and smothered her inarticulate protest. And as he felt the firm, half yielding pressure of her breasts, he kissed her again. An ecstatic shudder rippled down her body . . . her lips were now sultry and she was returning his kisses. Then her arms closed about him and her supple curves yielded, clinging and vibrant—
Finally, as she caught her breath, she protested, “Oh . . . don’t . . . I’ll scream. . . .”
“Mustn’t scream,” whispered Garrett. “Someone might hear, and then we’d both be in an awful jam!”
“You’re terrible! . . . and to think I trusted you. . .” She sighed, flung back her sleek permanent, “Well ... do wait just a moment—please—I won’t run away and hide . . . ”
The fire that smouldered in her dark, misty eyes convinced Garrett. And as he released her from his embrace, she wriggled out of her sports ensemble, and flung it over a chair.
But before Garrett’s eager glance could get more than a glimpse of the warm, soft flesh that smiled at him through tea rose step-ins, Lydia snapped the wall switch. And as she sank back among the cushions, her ardent loveliness became a blurred, palpitant whiteness just beyond the moonlight that filtered in through the river mists that surged over the Lachepaillet Wall. . . .
Finally, however, Garrett’s curiosity ranged beyond the seductive mysteries veiled by silk and moon glamour.
“Speaking again of smuggling,” he said. “You know, we might as well speak about something—”
“I’ve been making a Mediterranean Cruise,” Lydia began. “And at Beirut I met an archeologist. Antoine Ducasse. He’s been among the Yezidi devil-worshipers in Kurdistan. That bird is the sacred image of their god. Satan in the form of a peacock. Anyway, he stole it from their temple on Mount Lalesh, and asked me to bring it to France while they were watching him.”
“And that didn’t throw them off the track and the devil worshipers are chasing you now instead of him?”
“No. But there was an awful scandal about it, and the Yezidis are threatening to massacre all the Armenians or Christians, or something of the sort if the British government don’t dig up the sacred bird. You see, it hasn’t any particular value. Just a relic. So I’m not really a smuggler after all. Only—I’ve been followed all the way from Barcelona, and Monsieur Ducasse wasn’t here to meet me, and I’ve been mortally afraid that some one will catch up with me before I can deliver it, and—”
“Nuts!” interrupted Garrett, filling their glasses with Vieux Armagnac that would burn the fear out of a mooncalf. “Mail it to the old coot, and let’s you and I go to Nice for the next month or so.”
“No, I can’t,” she protested. “I’ve got to collect the ten thousand francs and expenses he promised me when I delivered it here in Bayonne.”

But before Garrett could offer to buy the peacock and Monsieur Ducasse as well, Lydia clasped her hands behind her head and leaned back among the cushions. And the whiteness of her shoulders and the way her breasts filled out the tea rose silk that caressed them was enough to dispose of good suggestions, good resolutions, and everything but thoughts of a good armful. . . .
The door was barred, Lydia’s pistol was handy, and be damned to the dark sinister men who were following her. . . and after just so much of such a fascinating companion, the stoutest fellow in the world would sleep soundly . . . so it did not particularly amaze Garrett when he finally awoke and found that the moon glow had shifted, leaving the room in darkness.
Then he missed the warmth of Lydia’s body, and the possessive confinement of her arm. But when after some time he heard no one stirring about the apartment, he began to wonder. Then he snapped on the lights. No Lydia! And her shoes were missing, and so were the Hyacinth hose and everything else she had flung into a corner.
The hatbox, however, was still there, and he caught the brazen gleam of the peacock stolen from Kurdistan. Which was a hell of a note. A brass bird is poor company after what he’d been chasing around forty acres of chaise longue... but at all events, as long as she’d left the devil worshiper’s god with him, she wasn’t in any danger.
“Unless a couple of Kurds drop in with snickersnees to carve me into hunks of kalter abschnitt,” he concluded with a rueful grin. “But if they ask for it, they can have their damn bird, and if Lydia really needs the ten thousand francs that bad, she can stick with me and take it out in trade.”
He sighed deeply and eyed the imprint her shapely body had left among the cushions, and raised the ante to ten million francs. But his speculations were interrupted by an unusual commotion at the door. He jumped to open up. At first he thought it might be Lydia—but it was not. Still, it was something just as good. She was barefooted, and wore a night gown that might have been woven out of moonbeams on a warp of river mist. The only difference between what she wore and wearing nothing at all was that a suggestion of covering made her shapely body ever so much more alluring. Her violet eyes were wide with fright, her copper colored hair trailed over her shoulders, half to her hips. The heavy tresses half veiled quivering breasts with each frantic gasp brought into dazzling relief.
“Life,” observed Garrett, “seems to be a succession of women in distress.”
“Monsieur—il va me tuer—je suis
“I’d kill you myself,” said Garrett, drawing her across the threshold, “if you ran out on me after giving me an eyeful like that. What the hell’s wrong?”
This lady really didn’t speak English. But after inhaling a bit of Vieux Armagnac, she sobbed a heart rending story and saturated the left shoulder of Garrett’s pajamas. Her lover had threatened to kill her, and had kicked her out with nothing but a scrap of a nightgown you could stuff into your vest pocket, and nobody loved her, and—
“Sit down, sweetheart,” suggested Garrett in passable French. “I’m just the guy you’re looking for. I had a woman run out on me, and we’re both feeling revengeful, n’est-ce pas?”

Whoever had woven the cloth for that nightgown must have had a lewd, lecherous mind. The only mystery about Lili was why anyone had kicked her out of bed.
“Tu es tres gentil,” she sighed, smothering Garrett with a simmering kiss and draping her suave curves to the best advantage.
“A lot of the girls claim I’m kinda rough,” said Garrett, who didn’t quite get gentil. But with wondering which of her fascinations most needed caressing, he couldn’t think of his conversation manual. Garrett had come to France in search of culture, but for the life of him he forgot whether it was spelled with a “k” or a “c”—but that made no difference, and Lili didn’t think he was a bit rough.
“J’aime Bayonne beaucoup, ” he said by way of small talk. Then, fingering the hem of that incredible sea green nightgown he added in English, “If this had fur trimming, it’d keep your neck warm. . . .”
Lili didn’t understand the words, but the gesture was plain enough.
“Que tu es charmant,” she sighed, drawing him closer.
But as she disengaged an arm to reach for the wall switch, something prompted Garrett to follow the gesture.
“Well, for Christ’s sake! ” he growled, “What are you doing here? Allez, you hatchet faced son of a—!”
For just an instant Garrett thought that Lili’s lover had followed her, and this was no occasion for spectators.
Then he recognized the swarthy gentleman whose gimlet eyes had given Lydia the jitters, down on rue du Port Neuf. Another was following him from the living room, and things became a blur of motion.
Lili saw that it was too late to snap off the lights. She held Garrett with everything she had, but she had lost a split second too much. He broke clear of her by no means amorous embrace and landed with both feet on the floor as Gimlet Eyes and Monkey Face closed in. A blackjack smacked down on his head. The room exploded in a blaze of colored lights, but Garrett’s fist landed like the head-on collision of locomotives.
Gimlet Eyes pitched end over end and crashed over one of the tripod mounted basins still green in the memory of the A. E. F.
Monkey Face drew a knife as he closed in. The blade raked Garrett’s ribs from collar bone to hip but he snatched the armed wrist, wrenched it, and ploughed his fist wrist deep into a flabby stomach. Monkey Face doubled up as though kicked in the solar plexus, and landed with a crash among the andirons of the fireplace.
Garrett whirled just as Gimlet Eyes untangled himself from the tripod wash basin and jerked a pistol from his hip. Lead fanned Garrett’s ear, and a mirror spattered to shards. He ducked, snatched a chair as another shot crackled. But as he hurled the chair, Lili ploughed home with the boudoir indispensable.
The tinware buckled under the impact. Garrett flattened to the carpet, not quite out, but paralyzed by the crash.
“Lili!” coughed Monkey Face, recovering from the solar plexus explosion, “Prenes l’oiseau! Fiche-toi, sacre imbecile!”
Which was a vulgar way of saying grab the bird and scram. Garrett gritted his teeth, dug his fingers into the carpet, and tried to drag himself toward the pistol under the pillow; but a sizzling blackjack laid him out cold. The room burst into a glare of volcanic fire, and then irised down to Lili’s rear elevation flashing across the threshold. Then blackness. . .

When Garrett’s scrambled wits assembled, he sat up, rubbed his battered head, and cursed red haired women. Then he remembered the brazen peacock and gritted his teeth at the thought of Lydia’s eventual return.
“Damn it! It’s her fault,” he grumbled, “If she’d stayed here like she should have, no red headed flewzie could have stood a look in.”
But the more he thought of it, the more foolish he felt. He dressed, pocketed Lydia’s pistol and a flashlight. Although he had not been out long, he realized the futility of trying to trail the crooks—but there was one saving point: Lili’s arriving barefooted and clothed only in a whiff of mist indicated that she could not have traveled far to get to his front door. Furthermore, he reasoned, she could not have an apartment on rue Lachepaillet, for the simple reason that no one could have anticipated his having the peacock in his possession. Nor had there been any cab from which she could have emerged. The night was too silent for him to have missed the sound of an engine.
And when he reached the street, Garrett saw that Lili’s arrival had indeed been odd. By the beam of his flashlight he saw the prints of tiny bare feet, plain in the dust of rue Lachepaillet. One set led to, and the other from his door; but the trail ran across and not along the street!
She could not have scaled the thirty feet of masonry between the parapet and the bottom of the dry moat— But maybe she could have. Garrett followed the trail. And then he learned things about the fortifications of Bayonne. In an angle of the parapet he saw a low archway which opened into a yawning blackness that indicated a tunnel running into and parallel to the earthwork that crowned the rampart. He flicked his flashlight. The glow revealed a small, rubbish laden chamber that might once have served as a powder magazine or guard room. The further wall was pierced by an archway. And on the jamb Garrett noted a wisp of sea green silk!
He advanced two paces and stood at the head of a steep stairway the width of whose treads were but half the drop of the steps. The stairs led to some subterranean crypt. Garrett snapped off the flash and picked his way down the treacherous descent.
Far below him he heard a murmur of voices: several men and a woman. It was too good to be true—but there was no mistaking Lili’s laugh. Then he caught a glow of light.
“Oh, Pierre, won’t you ever get that fire going! I’m half frozen!”
“Tais-toi,” snapped one of the trio. “Get into your clothes—do you think I’m building this fire for your benefit?”
Evidently something urgent had kept Lili from dressing. Garrett edged down another dozen steps of the neck breaking stairs, and then halted. There was more than he had expected. By the flickering light of a small fire of broken wine cases he saw a trench scooped out of the sandy bottom of the circular, vaulted dungeon. In it lay a well dressed but brutally battered man with a black, spade shaped beard. His shirt was blood drenched, and his dark suit was slashed and gory. A not yet obliterated trail, leading from a low archway which presumably opened out into the moat, showed how the body had been dragged into the dungeon. The vault, as nearly as Garrett could determine, must be the interior of the bastion that supported the Lachepaillet Wall where it made an angle toward the Gate of Spain; but the entire spectacle had much more immediate significance as an example of what his own fate would be if he made a false move.

Manufacturing Hyacinth hose, however, had not taken the iron out of Garrett’s soul. Furthermore, he had Lydia’s pistol, and thus saw no good reason for sneaking away to notify the gendarmes. Instead, he paused to look, listen, and figure it out.
Lili had made a monkey’s uncle of him; but the more he saw of her by the flickering fire light, the less he wondered at that. She had partly camouflaged her fascinations in turquoise scanties and an entirely needless brassiere, but there was something supremely entrancing about the pose she was in as she balanced or one bare foot while getting a stocking started on the other. Garrett cursed her companions, and sighed regretfully as he watched such agility serving such a commonplace purpose.
But Garrett saw more than just ninety-seven per cent of Lili. He realized now that she and her accomplices, fearing to make an open attack on his apartment, had seen Lydia’s departure without the peacock; and with their hideout so near to Garrett’s quarters, the rest had been easy enough to arrange. And with that settled, Garrett wondered what there was about the plunder from Kurdistan that kept the crooks so close to the scene of the crime. Why the fire? And why was Lili so interested as to forget the chill of that underground vault?
Monkey Face was muttering and cursing to himself as the others watched him twist and tap and tinker with the brazen image. Then an exclamation of satisfaction, and he removed the pedestal of Satan’s symbol, having unscrewed or otherwise loosened it. Lili, while watching, had wriggled her silk clad feet into a shoe and was abstractedly trying to work the bare foot into the rest of her hosiery. A bird’s eye view was tantalizing and through Garrett’s mind flashed a line of that old ditty, Oh, I wish I was the diamond ring upon my Lulu’s hand....”
He shifted to get a better view, and was fairly cross eyed from trying to cover all in one look, both Lili and the curious ritual centering about the peacock. Monkey Face was holding the bird by the tail and slowly rotating it over the fire, as though broiling an actual fowl. The two men were tense and eager, and Lili was craning her neck to the danger point.
So was Garrett. So would anyone watching Lili’s hosiery-adjustment gyrations as two murderous crooks baked a brass bird. And that was disastrous. The stair treads were narrow and crumbled and rubbish laden. Garrett slipped, vainly clawed the masonry casing. His flashlight clattered down six steps. Monkey Face cursed, dropped the peacock, and bounded forward. Lili started, lost her balance, and landed in a flurry of legs, arms, and lace. Gimlet Eyes made a dive for his pistol.

And Garrett, rather than lose precious seconds trying to regain his equilibrium, made a headlong dive for the group. Gimlet Eyes jerked three wild shots at the flying target, but Garrett landed, unscratched and in the center of the heap. Then Vauban’s fortifications saw their first real battle. The venerable vault became a howling madhouse. Garrett planted a haymaker that sent Monkey Face kicking backward into the trench to keep the corpse company. He ducked a searing pistol blast, drew his own weapon, but tripped over Lili as she rolled over to struggle to her feet, and pitched headlong to the sand.
“Grab the bird!” yelled Gimlet Eyes. “I’ll tend to this—!”
But as he turned to do so, Garrett hosed the vault with lead. Gimlet Eyes doubled in a heap, dropping his smoking pistol and clutching his stomach. Garrett gained his feet just as Monkey Face recovered his breath and emerged from the open grave, knife in hand. And then it became tough going for Garrett. His automatic was empty. If he turned to block Lili’s dive for the brazen peaock, he would get cold steel to the hilt— and if he took care of Monkey Face, Lili would make a clear getaway. He hurled his useless gun. The enemy dodged and closed in, blade point foremost. Garrett jerked himself aside and missed impalement by a hair.
Monkey Face whirled. The blade in his hand was as venomous as the scowl behind it. A shift—a counter shift— and Garrett was maneuvered with his back toward the stairs. No more footwork to save him. Payday in Bayonne!
All in a split second; but before Monkey Face could gather himself for the final lunge, Lili screamed and dropped the peacock like a red hot rock. Which in a way it was, having lain close to the fire, where it had been dropped at the beginning of the combat. Monkey Face’s attention was distracted for no more than a flickering instant, but that was all that Garrett needed. He charged, brushed the knife aside, and piled Monkey Face crashing against the masonry. He was out for a long count, but Garrett himself was paralyzed by the concussion. He knew that he could not pull himself together in time to block Lili.
She muffled her scorched fingers with her discarded nightgown and bounded toward the fire. But her laugh was cut short. Feet were pounding down the staircase. And someone on his hands and knees was crawling in through the low arch that opened into the moat. Gendarmes! Utterly incredible—but there they were.
It was not until a moment later that Garrett understood how the police could possibly have heard the riot in that underground vault. That was when Lydia appeared at the rear of the procession. Then things began clearing up; and so likewise did Garrett’s battered head.
“Why—oh, good Lord! That’s Monsieur Ducasse!” she exclaimed, catching a glimpse of the bearded man in the shallow trench. “No wonder he didn’t meet me—no wonder I couldn’t get him when I phoned Lyons—”
“Is that why you left?” demanded Garrett.
Lydia nodded. “Yes. And these gendarmes had a tip and were watching me and hunting for him. So when I left the phone station, they followed me back toward your apartment. And we heard that perfectly terrible racket coming up out of the ground, and saw the light of the fire shining out into the moat from that little arch, and two of the gendarmes formed a chain to let the third one drop to the ditch, and—”
“But speaking of rackets,” interrupted Garrett with a perplexed frown, “what’s the idea of roasting a brass bird?”
And then the brigadier took a hand.
“Mais, Monsieur,” he began, “this very thoroughly murdered Monsieur Antoine Ducasse is an international jewel thief. Killed in order to keep him from meeting Mademoiselle In-glees. Look—”
He indicated the peacock. The heat of the fire had melted the substance it contained. Red, sparkling facets were visible.
“Rubies. Stolen in Damascus. Put inside and wax poured over them to keep them from rattling. Devil worship? Quelle blague! No wonder, mademoiselle, he offered you ten thousand francs to bring this charming brazen fowl through the customs, when the duty would be but a trifle!”
Lydia eyed the wrathful red head, the battered Monkey Face, and the late Monsieur Gimlet Eyes. Then her glance shifted to Garrett.
“Oh, I think it was awfully brave of you to follow them—but how did they ever manage to get in the apartment in the first place?” she wondered.
“But yes—do inform us, monsieur,” seconded the brigadier in French. He had none too much confidence in his English. “For the sake of our records— the evidence.”
Garrett shot him a trenchant look and groped for words. This was no place to explain!
Lili caught the situation and with a venomous, mocking smile cut in, “Au secours! Il va me tuer!”
The brigadier eyed Lili’s entrancing display, twisted his moustache, and tried to change the subject. Her words had given him a hint. He saw that Garrett was in a tough spot.
“What did she mean by that?” wondered Lydia as Garrett hurried her up the stairs. “Doesn’t that mean someone was going to kill her?”
“Hell, no!” snapped Garrett as Lili’s laugh followed him from the vault. “It means she wishes she’d stayed for some of what you’re going to get. Now let’s go home and talk about Hyacinth hosiery or something.”

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