LADIES OF THE MOB
by Ernest Booth
The American Mercury, Volume XII, No. 48, December 1927
The American Mercury, Volume XII, No. 48, December 1927
ONCE when I was very young I saw a newspaper picture of a lady. “Beautiful Accomplice”, it wasÂ captioned. My interest was aroused. In various books I had met beautiful heroines, but that was my first knowledge that a woman who associated herself with a thief could beâ€”and authentically wasâ€”beautiful! Clipping the picture, I sought for a secure place to hide and preserve it. Opening the large dusty family Bible, I inserted it between two pages containing the Canticles! But my sudden and intense interest in Biblical lore provoked anÂ investigation. The picture was discovered, I was told I had committed fifty-seven varieties of desecration, and, after being paddled, was consigned to punishment in a clothes-closet.
I carried the memory of that picture with me through all the years I was stealÂing for a living. An accomplice, beautiful, fascinating, and loyal ! For a decade it was the paramount desire of my life to find her. During my quest I met many ladies of the mob who actually seemed to possess some of her high qualities. Beautyâ€”often! Fascinationâ€”until I knew them! Loyalty â€”Ah, yes! But there were others, alas, vastly different. They were the girls who made their livelihoods “off” thieves: never definitely entering into crime, but helping to spend a major portion of the money stolen. Their usual prey was the more egotistical sort of thief; with a skill rivaling Lorelei Lee’s they devoured him. Others stole from thieves. Yet others pracÂticed a polite form of blackmail: they would possess themselves of all possible information concerning the activities of a thief, and draw dividends from it in the form of clothes and jewelry. Theirs were not crude, open threats, but veiled insinuaÂtions. How often have I heard the comÂplaint, “Sure, I’d like to ditch herâ€”but what the hell can I do? She knows everyÂthing!
One girl that I recall was typical of this class. Not beautiful, she yet possessed a fascination which brought her the plunder of several thieves. One after another they were drawn to her, abode their destined hours, and then vanished into prisons, to live for years in memory of the time when Florence was their divinity. The daughter of a small Pacific Coast town, she had been adopted in infancy by a Baptist preacher. Some indefinable, inherent quality had enabled her to weather his imprecations, and she emerged with a personality all the finer for the heat of the flames that had tested it. Although I knew her when she lived with one thief or another, at different times, she ever preserved her separate entity. She was only with themâ€”not of them.
Our acquaintance began when she was about twenty years old; we intuitively sensed sympathetic traits in each other. There was a brief period of antagonistic probing, and then a truce was agreed upon, and we respected it for ten years. Thus, after ceasing to be “possibilitiesâ€” to each other, we became fast friends.
During a lull in the trial of her latest devotee, we were in her apartment one evening. Although she had by then passed the Rubicon beyond which women no longer count birthdays, she still preserved the air and appearance of unconquerable
youth. Reclining upon a sofa, her slender body relaxed in a careless and ingratiating attitude of repose, she was floating tiny wreaths of cigarette smoke to the ceiling. The impression she would have made upon fresh eyes was that of an ingenuous creaÂture who must be protected against the devastating assaults of reality. Her short, attractively-bobbed hair showed faint glints of red-gold. She released each word slowly, hesitantly, as though it were too fragile, too precious to send unprotected into the air.
“I hope,” she said, and her eyes avoided mine. “I hope Johnnie gets another disÂagreement from that jury. . . .” Her voice trailed off.
I glanced meaningly at the vanity-case atop a nearby stand. The key to a safe-deposit compartment lay concealed within that case. A fair portion of the unset gems from Johnnie’s last raid upon a jewelry store was cached in the vault.
“Yes,” she continued, “I hope he is freed.” Our eyes met, “Oh! but I’ve given over half of them to the attorneys. I can’t do moreâ€”what would happen to me if he goes to prison?”
After Johnnie was convicted, Florence introduced me to another chap who was guarding her from the cruel world. She assured me that she had done rightly by her own interests when Johnnie went to jail.
Anotherâ€”Marieâ€”was the antithesis of Florence. Action was the word emblazoned upon her face. Marie possessed vast agÂgressiveness. Her presence in a groupâ€”at an apartment, a “scatter,” or a roadhouse â€”set up a liveliness which even the varÂnish-removing beverages could not rival. She was ambitious to engineer a bank raid. She spent several weeks “casing,” that is, becoming familiar with the habits and locations of the employes, the hours that money arrived, and so on. Then she atÂtempted to enlist three experienced men to
rob the bank with her. We enjoyed Marie, she was so refreshing, and we respected her ability to keep her mouth closed, should she be arrested, but we laughed at her efforts to blossom out as a leader of bandits. Exasperated, she sought out some foppish drugstore cow-boys, drove them to the bank, and filled them with the noÂtion that they could rob it. She almost had to shout to get them through the doorÂway. Then the force of her dynamic perÂsonality died, and they bungled the affair disgustingly. Two of them were killed; the third, wounded, gained the machine. Marie pulled him across the side door, and held him there with one hand as she piloted the car through the traffic. She ministered to him, and borrowed money from us to pay the doctor. Later he recovered, and, visiting his old haunts, was arrested.
Marie reaped her reward for stepping out of her class by being brought to trial with him on the stand against her, as a State’s witness. It came near breaking the rest of the outfit, “squaring her” out of that “rap.” Now she is content to help her man count his money after he returns from “working.”
Another, Madge, was young, pretty, and of Iowa stock. She caught Red’s fancy when he and I arrived in Los Angeles after a forced trip from Denver. She was a waitress, and covered a dearth of brains with a recently-acquired line of snappy chatter and a white uniform pleasantly charm-revealing.
Red’s regular lady, the volatile Vera, was spending a month at Hot Springs. In the role of a wealthy oil-land owner, he soon convinced Madge that as a profesÂsion, “dealing ’em off the arm” was not so much. Two weeks later, when I called at their bungalow, she naÃ¯vely informed me that they were married. I extended hearty congratulations.
Red was rough, abrupt, and reputed to be vicious. That reputation was merited
when he was “working.” Madge, believÂing implicitly his tale of oily wealth, never questioned the truth of his explanaÂtions for his absences. I think it was that blind, trustful belief in him which divested Red of his usual hard exterior.
“My God! I’m hooked for that little broad,” he confided to me one day. “But what the hell am I going to do when Vera shows up? She’s due any day next week.”
“Can’t you give Madge carfare back to Iowa?”
“Sure,” and Red offered a curiously sheepish grin. “Sure I could, but I don’t want to. I’m telling you she’s the kind of broad every thief ought to have. She likes to cook, and she’s crazy about that flop of oursâ€”even had a guy come out and make pictures of it, garden, car, everything. Wanted to send ’em to her folks. Say! I’m going to root for some real big doughâ€”marry herâ€”and get off this racket!”
“Steady! steady!” I cautioned. “You’ve been drunk beforeâ€”and got sober.” I had visions of an efficient partner gone to seed.
Madge was crying next afternoon when she admitted me. She was crying as a child criesâ€”from its heart.
“S-s-some policeman took Reddy away.”
Snatching up a coat, I wrapped it about her, and quickly bundled her into the car. Red’s arrest might be only a routine one, and it might beâ€”any one of several unÂpleasantly definite things. There was no time for consolation when policemen were about.
She accompanied me without question as we drove to a beach town. She sobbed less frequently as the rush of air struck her face. Gone was all her snappy chatter: she was an eighteen-year-old baby knowing great grief for the first time.
Salvation Nell Murray’s home was a four-roomed apartment on the second floor of a building she owned. She had beÂfriended thieves and their girls for a score of years. Her place was an exchange for news and messages. A large, overripe woman, with a sparkle in her eye and a rough and ready humor, she had simpliâ€‘
fled the problems of life into eating, drinkÂing and loving.
“This is Madge,” I told her. “Her husÂband has had some difficulty. You know how these officers are.” Nell nodded. “I don’t want to see Madge arrested. Can she stay with you for a few days?”
Nell opened her arms to the girl and enÂfolded her to an ample breast. I watched the scene with pleasure, for in her moveÂment was the gesture of one who welcomes with the soul. It was like the embrace of some great divinity. She could welcome and embrace Madge in particular, and yet seem to include scores of others at the same time.
Vera read of Red’s arrest, and the news of his “wife.” She rushed to Los Angeles, visited him at the jail, and then, unable to get a satisfactory explanation, she sought me. Of course I knew of no girl in connection with Red! Vera was unconÂvinced. Information she held, if revealed to the police, would have resulted in sendÂing Red to prison for a longer time than he could hope to live. She never once intiÂmated that she contemplated such a course â€”she knew of other girls’ “suicides,” and so I did not believe she entertained the idea.
But Red was held for investigation. The police, aware of his prison record, believed that he had been at work in the State, and continued to show him up to bank emÂployes, messengers, and payroll carriers in the hope that one would recognize him. Before I could return to tell Madge that she had best remain quietly with Nell, she had returned to the bungalow, and there Vera met her.
The indignant Vera disillusioned her quickly concerning Red. The discussion brought on a fight, and Vera lost. She rushed to Nell’s to get a gun. There I enÂcountered her. Madge was packing when we returned. A newspaper, folded open at the want-ad column, lay atop her wardÂrobe trunk.
“I don’t care,” she said with some reÂturn of her former bantering attitude. “Redheads was always fickle.”
There comes now the memory of Dale’s girl, Yvonne. She was French and she had come to this country as the wife of a patriot who had fought to make the world safe for democracy. Shortly afterward, he relinquished the charms of Yvonne for the more substantial ones of a Kansas corn-fed.
Though unable to speak American as it is gargled in a Kansas City dance-hall, Yvonne was yet able to get a job as a hostess. I danced with her one night, waiting to meet Dale. When he came in they danced. After that she danced no more with me, or anyone elseâ€”except Dale. From that moment there ceased to be a Dale or an Yvonne; they were insepaÂrable and almost indivisible.
An attractive pair. Wrapped in their peculiar interests, they would be absent from the city for days, and offer no excuse to anyone when they returned. Dale was teaching her English, and acquiring some French for himself. Their jumbled converÂsations, particularly during dinner at some restaurant with the rest of us, were filled with a happy carelessness. Yvonne laughed often, but she had eyes for none but Dale. So evident was her devotion that when he suggested bringing her with us when we “went went against” a large down-town bank there was but a momentary dissension. She could already handle a shotgun or a pistol with a skill bespeaking volumes for his training.
I was the last man out of the bank. The others were in the car. Yvonne, behind the wheel, snatched us away from the curb with a rush almost breath-taking. I caught a glimpse of her eyes in the rear-view-mirror, and they were dark and intent. There was nothing of fear or terror in them. Rather they held calm determinaÂtion and cold resolve. The infrequent seconds during which she was not busy with the car were used to snatch melting glances at Dale by her side.
That night the house was surrounded by police and sheriffs. We had remained too long in one neighborhood. The officer on the beat had developed certain susÂpicions, and having unusual intelligence for a cop, had kept his ideas to himself inÂstead of coming to the house to make inÂquiries. Finally, calling in help, he sent a street urchin to the door with a note telling us we were under arrest. Their message named several thieves whom the cops believed were with us in the house. Anticipating a battle, they had warned us with the note, and when we did not reply they opened fire. Yvonne displayed the same countenance she had worn during the afternoon’s drive.
“This is itâ€”of which you told me?” she whispered to Dale as he and I stood irresolute.
“Yes,” he replied. “It’s a case of sell outâ€”we can’t surrender.”
“Sell out?” Yvonne wrinkled her brow. “How is that?”
“You wouldn’t understand.” Dale jerked out. Already the police had fired a few shots into the house.
“I do!” she exclaimed, quickly taking a place behind a trunk, and preparing to reload guns for us.
“I can send you out. They won’t shoot a girlâ€”I don’t believe they will shoot a girl,’ he amended.
“Give her a white handkerchief to wave and let her go before they start pouring slugs into the house,” I suggested.
“White kerchiefâ€”waveâ€”out?” She looked quickly from Dale to me, her eyes wide and accusing. ‘Leave you ?’9
“Better if you stay you’ll get killed andâ€””
“No!” She stood erect, and swept past me as though I had ceased to exist. “Mon chÃ©rie! My little cabbage!” and a lot more. Dale gathered her to him. The pose might have been directed by a movie director, but it was really instinctive, unaffected. Faced with the fear of separation, they clung tenaciously to each other. I had the impression of two people trying to foreÂstall the inevitable by the strength of their arms.
But it was not a moment for drawing fanciful conjectures. We needed an “out” and needed it immediately. The firing was desultoryâ€”only the pistols and rifles had been used. The machine guns and tear-gas bombs were held in reserve. Leaving Dale and Yvonne for a moment, I scanned the shrubs alongside the house. AutoÂmobile lights and a couple of searchlights were being employed to illuminate the premises, but there was a dark strip where two lights failed to overlap. Returning to the kids, I brought them to the window and showed them the only possible chance of escape. In a few minutes it would be covered. But at the moment the siege had not been thoroughly organized.
Yvonne wore a light dress, and Dale forced her into a drab duster. He contented himself with turning up his coat-collar to conceal the white of his shirt. Swiftly he dropped to the grass. I lowered Yvonne. They crouched and scampered through the shrubbery. I saw them emerge at the farthÂest end. A man accosted them. In the bright light there I discerned them, withÂout coats or hats : they had discarded them to attempt a desperate ruse. They clung to each other as though frightened. Yvonne was speaking to the man, who, incidentÂally, held a rifle in one hand. I crawled up on the grass close enough to hear the conÂversation. She pleaded that they be alÂlowed to go home. They had been for a walk, she said, and they lived but a few blocks further. The officer accepted their explanation, because he could not reconcile the two apparently scared youngsters with the bad men he had been sent to apprehend. He ordered that the lights be thrown on the garden. In the confusion of the adjustÂment I gained the sidewalk and a moment later mingled with the crowd.
Yvonne and Dale left the city that night. The house was riddled, two officers were killed in the cross-fire, and when it was found empty about noon the next day, the police were baffled to explain the escape of six bandits! But from the laundry marks on napkins in the house, the police estab lished past residence and soon had our pictures identified. Yvonne was linked to Dale by some of the loose-mouthed gentry of the dance-hall. Her picture was unÂearthed in some manner, and with its pubÂlication, Dale and Yvonne were unable to remain in the State. They headed toward the Pacific Coast. At Colorado Springs they were stopped for questioning. An officer attempted to arrest them. Yvonne shot him through the head.
Westward they drove until they reached. Glendale, a suburb of Los Angelesâ€”TrisÂtram and Isolde seeking a haven of safety for their love. Faced with the ocean, they drove back a few miles and rented a furÂnished home. From there they seldom ventured. Dale had a great sum of money from the Kansas City robbery, and there was no reason for further stealing just then.
There were frequent rumors that they were in Southern California, but the police could get no definite report. Eager to reÂjoin some of the outfit, Dale risked a visit to Salvation Nell’s. He had no other means of establishing communication, and he wanted someone to go with him on a reckÂless robbery that would result in making him independently rich, and enable him to return to France with Yvonne. This much he told Nell before a chance visit from a detective forced him to leave. In the exÂchange of shots Dale was struck in the arm. With his identity established, and his presence positively located in that part of the State, the police posted bills like circus plasters for his arrest. It was impossible for him to undertake a lengthy drive in his condition, but Yvonne insisted that she could hold the wheel for the five hunÂdred miles necessary to bring them into San Francisco. First they alternated in making trips from the house to different gasoline stations. At each they would fill the car tank and a five-gallon can with gasoline. With thirty gallons in reserve they could make the dash without stopÂping. They were set to go one evening about dark, and in an expensive, closed car they drove to the outskirts of Glendale. Stopping long enough to fill the tank again was a fatal mistake.
Dale had been at that station two days before. The clerk had recognized him and reported to the police. Four detectives were waiting, concealed in the shadows. Into the light Dale drove. While he was instructing the attendant an officer stepped into view, and, leveling a gun at him, he called for surrender. Dale leaped from the car and shot the man. Another opened fire from one side. Yvonne shot at him as he pumped the contents of an automatic into Dale. In the light, Dale whirled about, fired at the officer, and then collapsed. Yvonne lifted a rifle and fired at the third officer again. The fourth raised a shotgun and blasted away half her head.
Mae had married Art within a week after he had got seventeen thousand dollars for his end of a robbery. She was past forty, and had served several terms in the county jails, yet she had preserved some of the charm that gave Ninon de Lenclos the power to attract homage until the day of her death. Mae had a passion for marrying young thieves. Art was aware that she had not been divorced from the others, who were all in prison; one of them he knew. But when she insisted that he observe the legal rituals before being granted her debatable favors, he acquiesced.
Mae had a code, and followed it. She handled Art as a veteran trainer handles a fighter. She instructed him in what parts of town to avoid. She labeled for him the questionable characters among the thieves in her extensive acquaintance. And when he was arrested she used her peculiar knowledge to get him a disagreement in the first two juries. At the third trial she bribed the bailiff and secured an acquittal. Together they _knew a few hysterically happy weeks. Art swore that she was the finest and most loyal of all women. What was a. difference of twenty years in age?
When he was again arrested following a robbery in a different part of the State, Mae arranged a quick straw-bond for him. The investigation that followed his failure to appear for trial caused the State to beÂcome too small to contain him. So he went into an adjoining State and “worked” with a group on a night raid. He was arrested on a chance recognition, and Mae arranged a fight against extradition for him. When that seemed likely to fail, she climbed to the top of the jail, sawed several bars from a skylight and lowered hacksaws into the corridor. After Art had sawed his way out of his cell, she lowered a rope and he climbed safely up beside her.
When they had escaped to another part of the country, Mae drove a car while Art held up and secured from two employes a large payroll. When he was subsequently arrested for that robbery, and Mae was held as a suspect-accomplice, Art confessed and exonerated her.
“No, I never visit Art,” she told me. “It would be cruel. I can’t help him now. But you can’t hold that against meâ€”I stuck to him as longâ€”and did as much for himâ€”as anyone could.”
She had a codeâ€”and she followed it.
But to return to Veraâ€”Red’s girlâ€”Vera the curious mixture.
We were casing a large bank, and needed a house to work from. Red was well known to the police of that city, so the prelimÂinary work devolved upon me. Certain exÂperiences of the past had instilled in me a distrust of women as partners. If I could get a girl like Vera fine! But I preferred at that time to have only the passing conÂtacts with women that I had known before serving my first prison term. Vera was against this.
“What you need,” she said, “is a square girl. I think I know one for you. You don’t have to get married. Not right at firstâ€”but you will after a while. It’s the only right way to live. I’ve been a thousand times happier since Red and I were married.”
We were seated about the dinner table, and she leaned over to touch Red’s freckled. hand. He grinned. I mused on the inconÂgruity of her logic. Happier since they had yielded to a legal requirement? Happier in his profession of robber because he had stood before a justice of the peace and mumbled a formula? .. .
Vera was against Red’s continued stealÂing. She wanted him to make enough money in one raid to buy an apartment-house and then live within the law. She had found the germ of that idea, perhaps, in her belated observance of the marriage vows. Red was not exactly against the idea, but he had a great many friends who were constantly needing help. Frequently he had to pay attorney’s fees for thieves who had been caught broke. Once he had posted fifteen thousand dollars for an appeal bond. When the case was decided adversely by the Appellate Court he urged the chap to run away, and forfeited the bond with a smile. But Vera became inÂsistent that his constant risks were too great. He treated her pleas lightly, and it was that fact which first gave her the idea that she was not completely understood by her husband.
Thus Vera grew in the belief that Red did not appreciate her. She nagged him constantly. She wanted him to quit, and leave the city with her. Her intuition told her there was something wrong. . . . I was in the house often in the days that folÂlowed. Vera threatened to kill herself if Red did not leave with her. He offered to send her halfway across the continent to visit some friends while he and I comÂpleted our business. But she insisted that she would remain rather than go away and be prey to her imagination. She wanted to know precisely what chances he was taking. She had to have something to worry aboutâ€”and Red supplied it.
She and I were waiting for Red. It was about eight o’clock and he had not yet come home for dinner. She became as nearly hysterical as a woman can go withÂout screaming. She pulled at a pillow on the lounge until she tore it to shreds. Then, in odd contrast to her appearance, she spoke quietly. “He just has to come before another hour or I’ll go crazyâ€”I can’t stand this!” There was nothing dramatic in her voice. She made the statement so calmly and judiciously that the words seemed to send a chill about the room. There was an ominous note of finality in them. She had mounted to the heights of anxiety and there concluded that she must have relief from the constant strain. Though she had stolen often herself, and taken her chances many times with Red, she yet retained some saving quality which would not allow her to enter completely into the life. Whether the marriage cereÂmony had released that quality, I can only guess; but I know that after it she more than ever desired to have her man with herâ€”that she was made frantic by the fear of receiving a ‘phone call from an attorney, to tell her that Red was in jail. I thought her rather selfish at that moment. As I saw it, Red was taking chances for her daily. He was risking long years in prison to gain for her the home she had so often pictured to him.
Again she grew restless. Her calm deÂtermination now deserted her. She plucked the shredded pillow case with increasing nervousness. As her eyes encountered mine I saw they were wide, and she blinked rapidly. Ever acutely conscious of others’ moods, I tried to calm her, despite the fact that I was fighting a battle to retain my own composure. I succeeded only in addÂing fuel to the flame rising within her.
“It’s not worth it!” she exclaimed. -All the money in the world isn’t worth this worry.
“It’ll be all right,” I offered. “He’ll be home soon. Probably he’s only busy, andâ€””
“Oh! you don’t understand!” She stood erect and crossed to the window. “It isn’t only nowâ€”it’s always! Can you imagine what it means to have the one you love
better than life constantly away from your side?” I thought I could, and again I assured her that he would come soon.
“Yes,” she said with an odd catch of her breath, “yes, I believe he will. But in the morning he’ll be gone againâ€”for the whole day, maybe half the night. And then this awful worry! When he’s here, everything is all rightâ€”but when I’m aloneâ€”oh, I can’t explain it ! Please, please! Make him stop! won’t you, please? Ask him to stop and let’s all go away! You don’t know how much it would mean to me, away from here. Please make him stop, won’t you?”
She was rapidly losing every vestige of control.
“Of course I will,” I assured her. “There’s no reason why you and he can’t take a train out tonight. I’ll talk with him, Veraâ€”but sit down and don’t be worrying so. It’ll be all right.”
“If it only would be all right.” She returned to the lounge, and grabbing the torn pillow she shook it as though to reÂlieve her excitement in physical exertion. “I’ve heard that so often: ‘It’ll be all right.’ It’s a thieves’ phrase that gets on my nerves. I can’t stand it! I can’t stand thisâ€”I’ve got to do something!” At the ringing of the telephone she uttered a sharp cry. “Oh, what has happened? I know that’s him.”
Racing into another room I answered the call. It was Red. He told me to take a certain suitcase containing a new ThompÂson automatic from the closet, and put it in a “plant” in the cellar. He believed that he was being followed and had decided not to chance a raid if he could not shake off ”the tail.”
Hastily I hid the suitcase.
Returning to the room, I told Vera that Red was all right. I found her lying with her face buried in a pillow, her toes beatÂing a tattoo on the end of the lounge. Her body quivered as though in the toils of some tremendous convulsion. I touched her shoulder and she turned a face so disÂtorted with weeping that I was startled.
“I can’t s-s-stand this any longer,” she sobbed. “You don’t know! Oh, he doesn’t love me or he wouldn’t treat me this way!”
Again she pounded the pillow. I tried to reason with her. She repulsed me. “Oh, leave me alo-o-oneâ€”” and she was hysÂterical again.
She had extinguished the light in the room. A shaft from the adjacent hallway cut sharply into the darkness and illumiÂnated her form. I stood so that the glare of it would not strike her eyes as she twisted and wiggled about. An anguish so deep, so profound, seemed to possess her that she ceased to be herself. She became the symbol of all thieves’ girlsâ€”of all the women who have lived, loved, and worried with thieves. Always theirs has been the role of sustaining a silent grief transcending in its horrors the most ignominious horror ever suffered by the martyrs.
A Eurydice in Hell, awaiting the music of her Orpheus. Yesâ€”a thousand EuryÂdices! And in a Hell such as Dante never imagined.
Her frantic struggling mounted until it approached the point where it must break â€”either in great comedy or great tragedy. I was holding her in a futile attempt to inÂduce a return of sanity. Then Red entered. He had opened the door so quietly that I was unaware of his presence until his form shut out a portion of the hall light.
“What the hell’s the matter?” He apÂproached and I caught the odor of whiskey.
“She’s worried,” I explained. “She wants you to quit the racket andâ€””
Vera sat erect. Red dropped down beÂside her. They faced the light. Her lips were distorted and her hair hung before her eyes. Encircling her with one arm, Red brushed back the locks from her forehead.
“What’s it you want?” he asked, thickly.
“O-o-o-o!” She tried to free herself from him. Together they stood up. Red’s eyes were hostile, uncomprehending.
Disengaging herself she faced him. “I can’t stand this! I can’t stand this ! Â I can’t stand this! You’ve got to quit nowâ€”orâ€”” she strove desperately for some control of her mounting voice and failedâ€””or I’ll kill myself!”
“Say!” Red spoke sharply. “Cut that out! What do you think this is? Think I’m going to duck because you have a fit?”
“Don’t! don’t!” She shrank from him as though he had struck her. “Don’t talk like that, Red. You don’t love meâ€”oh! I’m better dead!”
“Aw, Veraâ€”you know I can’t quit now. C’m onâ€”be a regular fellow. Have a drink and you’ll feel better.” Red was less angry then, but his irritation was evident. He bent over her and attempted to kiss her. She interposed her hand so suddenly it seemed like a slap on his face.
“Oh, I’m better dead! I can’t go on!” She almost shouted it.
Stung by the unexpected slap, Red jerked himself from her “Stop talking like that! Stop saying you’re better dead. What in the name of God is the matter with you? Ain’t I giving you all I can?”
“Ple-e-ease promise me you’ll stop stealing.”
“Sureâ€”when there ain’t anything more to steal,” Red snorted.
“Oh-h-h, if I had a gun I’d kill myself!”
Angrily, Red snatched a revolver from his pocket, and held it before her.
“Here’s a rod. Blow your brains out if you want toâ€”or else shut up and have a drink.”
With a movement so quick I could scarce believe it had occurred, she caught the revolver from his hand, put the muzzle into her mouth and pulled the trigger. Glass from a shattered picture on the wall behind her tinkled on to the floor as she collapsed on the lounge.
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