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An envelope full of money and a request to join his client at a tough nightclub downtown brings Race Williams face to face with many of the swarthy faces of crime. The shaded, dirty lights of the “Egyptian Lure” allows the Confidential Agent to slink his way through the club, assessing every hardened jaw and rosy-cheeked dame for his potential client. Suddenly, a young dancer is taken unwillingly in a dark corner of the club by a gang of narrow-eyed thugs, but Race Williams is a paid man, and uneasy about abandoning his client. Just then, another dancer informs him: the girl was his bankroll, and now she’s been kidnapped. But the dancer, a good girl named Bernie, paid Williams for action, and that’s what she was gonna get. Story #18 in the Race Williams series.Carroll John Daly (1889–1958) was the creator of the first hard-boiled private eye story, predating Dashiell Hammett's first Continental Op story by several months. Daly's classic character, Race Williams, was one of the most popular fiction characters of the pulps, and the direct inspiration for Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer.
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Carroll John Daly
© 2017 Steeger Properties, LLC. Published by arrangement with Steeger Properties, LLC, agent for the Estate of Carroll John Daly.
“The Egyptian Lure” originally appeared in the March 1928 issue of Black Mask magazine.
No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the publisher.
“Race Williams” is a trademark of the Estate of Carroll John Daly. “Black Mask” is a trademark of Steeger Properties, LLC, and registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The zero night blasted a biting wind through the narrow streets of the lower city. But no dust or dirt, or the smells of the filthy streets came with it, they were imbedded in the thick black ice that filled the gutters. Clear, crisp and biting—like the country air—the breath-taking wind cut into my face. An occasional scuttling, scurrying figure hustled from one doorway to another, or beat its way uncertainly along the pavement.
Once, beneath a dull light, a harness bull eyed me through watery lids. Half stepping out to block my passage, he thought better of it and waving his arms across his chest hurried along his beat. I knew the thought that ran through his mind—if he could drag in a drunk he could get warm while he was booking him. And I didn’t blame him much. Still, that was the difference between him and me. I had business to attend to, or thought I had, and the old mercury could slip right out the bottom of the thermometer before I’d duck out on a job. The name of Race Williams stands for service.
Less than an hour ago, a boy had brought me an envelope full of money and there was a note requesting that I show up at a tough night-club as soon as possible. It spoke of trouble, and that I was taking my life in my hands, and had all the earmarks of an obituary column—without the place of my interment. It was just typewritten, and no name signed to it. But money talks, and here I was slipping along through the night to the “Egyptian Lure.”
Now, I’m not exactly a child in arms, and I know there’s a few hundred loose-thinking gunmen who’d be glad to try a pot shot at me. So the idea of a trap was not entirely from my mind. But I wouldn’t disappoint the boys anyway. If they’re willing to pay for a shot at me, why discourage the practice? Besides, there isn’t any way to judge beforehand what’s good business and what’s bad. People that hunt me out aren’t apt to be giving references. They’re in trouble when they think of Race Williams. I’m a court of last appeal. Not exactly a private detective, though my license so labels me. But the gilt letters on my office door spell—confidential agent.
But—back to the street and the winter night and the temperature that was out to break all records. I found the “Egyptian Lure.” It wasn’t hard for me to locate the little door. I know the underworld well, and all its dives, and this place a blind man could find. Some place below the street level, the tin pan notes of an over ripe piano were clanging feebly against the insistence of a trap drum.
My eyes are accustomed to take in a picture quickly, and I got one that made my right hand slip to my overcoat pocket as I reached the dark, ill-smelling hallway which gave entrance to the so-called “night-club.” For a figure had slipped back into the adjoining doorway, and two others had disappeared in the alleyway across the street.
Maybe there was nothing alarming in that, and maybe there was. It might be simply the big-hearted boyishness that makes one gangster wait to playfully knock over another, or it might be a reception committee for me. But if they intended to plug me from the darkness, they lost their chance almost the very second they had it. I’d swung through the outer door and was in the blackness of the hallway of the “Egyptian Lure.” The next moment I was doing my stuff on the inner door—four, three and one—which was the regular knock of the preferred sucker list. If you didn’t know the rap, a little shutter went open while you were looked over. They hated to lose a dollar in that joint. It was easy to get in if you had any money—harder to get out if you had any left. If you wanted a card of introduction, most any taxi-cab driver could furnish it.
The door opened slightly and I shot my foot within. I was fortunate as I stood in the dim light. The old bird on the door was a stranger to me.
“Just one—just one,” he muttered, as I slipped a bill into his hand. “You’re joining a party?” And he tried to stare into my face that was hidden by the slouch hat and turned up collar.
“Just one.” I nodded at him. “But I’ll make a party of it before I leave.” And while he was thinking that one out I swung into the cloak-room, jerked the gun from my overcoat pocket to my hip, and parked my coat with the attendant. Then I turned, shot back my shoulders and stepped down the three steps into the dance hall.
The proprietor, a big oily Greek, labeled Nick, recognized me almost at once. His cheeks puffed, his eyes bulged and after rolling them around a bit he tried to smile as he finally led me to a little table in a dark corner of the room.
The whole room was a dismal affair, for that matter. Shaded, dirty lights, which were meant to give the effects of the soft Egyptian night, might have registered with that gang. But to me it looked more like the dingy, dirty cellar of old Madison Square Garden when the circus was in town. The paintings on the walls were a scream. Emaciated little camels rubbed noses with mangy lions and a dark-skinned warrior in gayly colored robes overshadowed the pyramids, while a Pekingese dog in the background turned out on closer inspection to be the Sphinx. The atmosphere and the odors didn’t have a whole lot on the Zoo, but it suited the crowd. Perhaps, after all, I don’t know my geography and the smells of Egypt.
The proprietor bent over me.
“On pleasure, Mr. Williams?” He tried to make his voice simply solicitous, but an anxious, alarmed note crept into his simple question. “If you’re not,” he added significantly, “I’ll have to speak to Joe.” And he jerked a thick thumb toward the huge bulk of the bouncer, who lounged behind the orchestra.
I laughed up at him—I couldn’t help it. If I said I was there on business, he’d quit. This bird had seen me in action once before, when he was a waiter over on the Avenue. He knew if Joe tried to put me out of a dump like that, he’d put me out in a cloud of smoke. It may be pride on my part. But to be chucked out of there wouldn’t help my business any nor my reputation. I’m not a mussy guy, you understand—but I don’t lay down to have my face trampled all over either. Just one rule for the lad who starts a row with me. He must be prepared to finish it. I don’t go in for horse play.
But there stood the owner, Nick, ready to take my order—and when I gave it to him his face fell until his chin hung down on his chest.
“Bring me a split of White Rock,” I told him. “And be sure the cap’s tightly on. I carry my own opener.”
The hurt expression of his fat face when he thought I’d questioned the honest intention of the house, lifted when I slipped him a five-case note—which was good pay for the water, but not too much if the cap was securely fastened. No—I didn’t suspect the joint, but I hate to put anyone in the way of temptation.
“Now—beat it. You’re blocking the show, and I’m all for a light fantastic evening.” I waved him aside.
And the show was on—such as it was. Five or six girls were shaking themselves loose from their clothes upon a small platform. There was the leading lady, who had seen her best days before McKinley was shot. But she had an arm on her like the sturdy oak and, so, could swing a mean chair if trouble started. Also her capacity for bum liquor could probably be rated in tank car lots. And that was a big asset. I daresay, through eyes of gin, her calcimined face looked like the Madonna’s.
The younger ones were hand-picked and awkward. But the faces and figures stood out even through White Rock. Hard, speculative little faces, maybe, but pretty—that is, with a sinister sort of beauty. And I saw the one on the end.
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