It was raining outside, but then it always seems to be raining outside at the moment. That’s what you get for working out of the Smoke – you get the weather that goes with it in November. I was sitting at my desk, checking the workings of my Walther PPK with a bottle at one side and the Express at the other. Through the window the neon sign in front of the Hearts Club was blinking on and off, throwing dark shadows over what parts of the desk were not illuminated by the bare bulb in the lamp.
My name, if you had the manners to ask, is Dick – Dick Dauntless, although it says Richard Armitage Dauntless on the birth certificate. I’m a shamus, a private eye, an interfering busybody, a thorn in the side, depending on how you talk to and what time of day you talk to them. I used to be a cop, before this six foot maniac with a crowbar took it to the back of my knee – now I make what money I can amongst the waifs and strays of the town, and believe me Soho has more than their fair share of them. I help them out, they help me out, for fifty pound a day plus expenses.
This particular night, I was sitting cleaning my gun. Jack, my assistant, had already left, and I was beginning to contemplate the joys of a late meal and a good night’s sleep when the door opened and she walked in.
I recognised her instantly, despite the trench coat with the collar turned up, the scarf wrapped around her throat and the hat stuck on her head with the brim pulled down. I’d been to enough theatres to know when one of the leading actresses of the time walks in – especially with legs that made Betty Gable look like an anaemic dwarf.
“That’s me – what can I do for you, lady?”
She closed the door behind her and walked in, the hells on her shoes clicking on the wooden floor. It was after dark, but she still had dark glasses on – an attempt at disguise that would fool no-one. She took a seat and looked at me.
“I understand you take on private investigations?”
“If the money is good. You can take your glasses off, Miss Webster – I know who you are.”
She smiled as she reached up and removed her hat and glasses. The shoulder length platinum dark hair that fell down from underneath completed the picture – Jenny Webster, star of stage and one or two c-rated films. “I must look faintly ridiculous,” she said with a weak smile, “but I am in trouble and I need help.”
“I was under the impressions your agents have people who help you out when needed – why is this time different?”
She smiled as she reached into her pocket and pulled out a set of photos. Taking one, she handed it to me to look at it. It was a nice shot – well composed, and you could recognise her lying naked on the bed, trying to twist her wrists free from the rope that encircled them. That wasn’t the first thing that caught my eye, though.
What had was the woman kneeling on the bed beside her, wearing nothing but a pair of stockings, a garter belt and a pair of black lace panties. Her arms were pinned behind her back, and there was some sort of harness on her head holding a large rubber ball in her mouth. The straps of the harness were going over her eyes; while they also left deep trails in her carefully coiffured hair. A leather collar was around her neck, and rope was visible around her elbows.
I put the photograph on the desk and looked at Jenny. “Nice picture – I had no idea she was into this sort of thing.”
“Neither does her husband,” Jenny said. “We meet regularly, to have a drink, and get together. The last time was three weeks ago, at my flat.”
I leaned back in the chair and put my feet up on the desk. “What happened?”
“We were sitting, drinking cocktails and wearing dressing gowns, when two men walked in. They were big, dressed in jumpers, slacks and jackets, and had domino masks over their eyes. The guns in their hands were the only thing they needed to show us to persuade us they meant business.
“They forced us into the bedroom, and made her strip down before they bound her wrists, arms and ankles and stuck that contraption on her head. She was then made to watch as they tied my wrist together behind my back, then my ankles, then my arms against my waist.”
“That must have been fun.” She glared back at me.
“At one point there was a knock on the door. We both looked at the men as they stood there, listening, but whoever it was eventually went away. That was when they put one of those leather things on my head, and quite systematically wrapped more and more rope around my body.
“All the time, it was one of them doing the tying while the other took some pictures of us. The light bulb flashing, the noise of the traffic outside, the record player that they left playing – it frightened both of us. Eventually, they left us both lying on the bed, watching them while they ransacked the room and stole my jewellery and then left us alone.”
She stopped and dabbed her eyes with a lace handkerchief. “Anyway, we eventually got free, and after she left I called the police and reported the robbery. Then, two days ago, I got these photos in the post and a note saying I was to meet them to ‘discuss terms’. If I refused, he said these photos would appear in every sleazy magazine that can be bought. I can’t go to the police, but a friend of mine who knows my – tastes said you might be able to help.”
I nodded. “Who would that friend be?”
“Ah,” I said as I sat up. “You know Becky?” Jenny nodded. “Mister Dauntless, can you help me to get back the negatives or whatever it is they have, without exposing us?”
“My rate is fifty a day plus expenses.”
She nodded as she drew an envelope out of the clutch bag she was holding. “Here is five hundred – you know how to get in touch with me?”
I nodded. “Relax – I think I can get to the bottom of this quickly enough. Tell your friend the Minister will be kept out of it – and so will she. May I keep these?”
Jenny smiled the smile lighting up the room as she put her hat back on. “Thank you, Mister Dauntless,” she said as she walked to the door, opening and closing it behind her. I sat for a moment looking at the photos, and then grabbed my own coat. The first thing I had to do was get a lead on who may have produced those photos, and there was only one man I could trust to point me in the right direction.
Big John made his name and his money by taking photographs of celebrities at nightclubs and other worthy occasions. What some of us also knew is he made a lot more money in the world of “Glamour Photography”. The sort of pictures that that new magazine in the US – Playboy, I think it’s called – likes to insert within the pages. That only tells half the story, however – there is a specialised market for slightly more demanding photos, and Big John is one of the best in the business for that area.
As I walked into the little room in front of his studio, his secretary Helga flashed me a smile. She was a Swedish bombshell, with a jersey at least two sizes too small and, if the rumours are true, an appetite for men at least two sizes too large for me.
“Well, well, Big Dick – what brings you to our little home from home?”
“I need to see John,” I said as I lit up, “Is he in?”
She threw her head in the direction of the door behind her. “In there – but he has a client at the moment.”
“He won’t mind,” I said as I walked through. Big John certainly had a client in – a little brunette sitting on a garden table with nothing except a pair of very small knickers and a tight bra to protect her modesty. Her wrists were manacled behind the umbrella poll, and a wide band of black silk covered her mouth. She was squirming around,. Moaning in an attempt to show she was gagged as Big John was shooting off his camera.
“Lovely, lovely – a little more fear in the eyes – that’s great, keep it up – oh, it’s you.”
“Sorry to interrupt your fun, but I need to talk to you about something,” I said as my eyes were fixed on the broad in the cuffs.
“Eyes front, Tiger,” John said as he put the camera down. “You’ll be all right for a minute or two, won’t you darling?” The girl nodded and flashed her eyes at me in a way that said if I wanted to do this to her, then fine by her. I filed that for later and showed John part of the photos – I’d covered up the faces, but kept the rest visible.
“Hmm – nice rope work,” he said with a little sick laugh, “Where did you get these?”
“That’s the problem,” I said as I pocketed the prints. “I’d like to find the guy who did this, but I don’t know where to look. You’re the man in the know – where would I look?”
He walked over to a table and scribbled an address on a pad. “Talk to Louise,” he said as he handed me the piece of paper. “She knows all the amateurs and pros – and this is not a local pro.”
“Thanks, John,” I said as I watched him climb the ladder and start taking pictures again. At five foot nothing, it was the only way he was going to get those shots.
The address was out near Pinner, so I waited until the morning to go there. The leaves were falling on the street as I walked towards the address I had been given, my collar turned up against the cold. Eventually I opened the gate and walked up the path to a nice looking terraced house, knocking on the wooden front door.
The woman who opened it was your typical housewife for suburbia – tall, thin, shoulder length blonde hair and wearing a cream twin set with a checked skirt. She looked at me and said “Can I help you?”
“If your name is Louise, then yes,” I said as I handed her my card.
“I’m sorry, Mister Dauntless,” she said as she looked at the cardboard, “I don’t quite follow...”
“Big John said you may be able to help.”
I saw her face pale as she looked up and down the street. “Why don’t you come in and have a cup of tea,” she eventually said as she opened the door. I thanked her as I walked into a typical home, followed her into the living room and waited as she fetched the brown brew.
“Mister Dauntless, I don’t know what Jonathon has said, but honestly I am no longer working in his specialised field. Milk?”
”Thank you,” I said as I accepted the cup and looked at her. “Actually, I need your help to identify who may have taken some photographs, and John said you may know. I have to warn you that...”
“Mister Dauntless, if John sent you to me then I think I can anticipate what is on those prints. Let me have a look.”
I handed her the prints and sat back, sipping from the cup as I watched her. I had expected shock, outrage, even possibly professional detachment, but instead I watched as her face went deathly white and her hands shook. Eventually, she set them down and said “Where did you get these?”
“I have been hired to find the people who took them and – well, I would rather not say what I plan to do. Why?”
Louise stood up and walked slowly to a bureau that was at the back of the room. Taking a key from her pocket, she withdrew an envelope and brought it back over, handing it to me as she sat down.
“Have a look, Mister Dauntless,” she said as the cup trembled in her hands, “I think we may have a mutual problem.”
The prints in the envelope were clean and professional –as was Louise, for they were of her sitting on a chair in what must have been her kitchen. She was naked, save for the pair of black panties she was wearing, her stockings and the heels on her feet, and ropes were clearly visible all over her. Her arms had been pinned behind the back of the chair, while her ankles and lower legs were lashed to the front legs of the seat. Her lap and upper body were criss-crossed with ropes that held her tightly to the wood, and one length in particular was tied over her breasts, pressing down on her nipples as the flesh bulged slightly over above and below. Her mouth was covered in black tape, and it was clear from the expression on her face she was not a happy bunny.
“This is why I stopped modelling, Mister Dauntless,” she said as she sipped from her cup. “My husband had no idea as to how I spent my afternoons, and I was happy to pose for such photographs until I agreed to meet these two.”
“So this was not a break in, a robbery?”
“No – they contacted me through a client, and asked if I would agree to pose for them. When I asked in what way, they said they were interested in crime photos, and suggested a cat burglar was going to wake me up and secure me.
“So, when they knocked on the door, I was wearing a dressing gown, which I took off to reveal what I usually wore for such shoots – a black lace teddy with panties, and heels. They set things up, one to take the shots and the other to be the burglar, and that I thought was that.”
“But it wasn’t, was it?” I looked at another photo, of her head to the side and her eyes closed, as she started crying. Eventually, she stopped and continued.
“No – the one who was meant to be the burglar pulled a gun, and told me there had been a change of plan. They forced me to take the nightdress off, marched me into the kitchen and – well, you can see what they did from the photos they later sent me. They then stole my jewellery and left me there to try and get free. My husband came home a few hours later, and we reported it to the police, but I...”
“You had to say it was one man, and you didn’t take a good look at him?” She nodded, and I understood. There was another shot in my hand, of her with her head thrown back and trying to scream out, and I tried not to think of what they did to make her do that so realistically.
“Listen, Louise, I’ve been asked to take these guys down, and I think you can help me. Do you have the name of the person who recommended them to you?”
She looked up at me with eyes wide, like a puppy that has just smelt a new bone, and said “If you do that, will you take them all the way.” I nodded – I have a code about these things, and this crossed the line so far they were almost in Berlin. She smiled and went back to the bureau to pick out a card.
“Here,” she said as she handed me the reference card, “and Mister Dauntless?”
“Kick them in the balls so hard they will be swallowing their own sperm from inside.”
I went back to the office, where Jack was sitting for me at the desk outside. We exchanged pleasantries as I was handed the messages, and went to think over what I had learnt.
Whoever these guys were, they were real pros – they knew how to get in, how to terrorise women, and how to make money from what they did. They probably thought there was no risk to them either – after all, what self respecting woman was going to admit this had been done to her?
At any rate, as I sat looking out of the window, lost in thought, I didn’t hear Jack coming in.
I turned round to look at my assistant. “Yeah?”
“I need to leave early – something has come up at home.”
“All right - I’m going out anyway. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
As Jack walked out of the office, closing the door on the way out, I picked up the phone and called the person who was on the card Louise had given me. I could string this out for a few more days, but this was getting unpleasant, and I like to keep things clean. When I didn’t get an answer, I decided the personal touch might be in order.
This time I had to tread carefully – not just because I had to go south of the river but because I was going into territory that I know may cause problems I didn’t need. So I first went to pay my respects to the boys, and explain what I was doing.
I may seem strange to those who live in more polite society, but when dealing with people like the local crime bosses in London respect is everything, and their moral code was strong, despite what the public may think they are like. In particular, women who were not, shall we say, willing were off limits. So when I explained my problem, and what I intended to do, they even offered to provide “a little extra persuasion” as they put it. I had to say no – at that point – but asked if they would be willing to help if I called.
Having taken care of the niceties, I could get down to the nasty side of things. A little flat in Balham was my destination – one of those split house affairs that are so common down here. Fortunately for me, this was a ground floor flat – so I only had to kick in the front door as I made my way inside.
The girl who looked back at me as I entered the room must have been no older than eighteen. Her body was encased in loop after loop of rope, holding her up to the wooden pole she was standing against, while her wrists were also manacled behind the upright. The front of her bra had been pulled down to expose her breasts, while her matching panties and garter belt covered her slim legs.
She looked at me as if I was a mild nuisance – which was more than her boyfriend did as I grabbed him and threw him against the wall. “I’m told you’re a man in the know,” I said as I pressed my face close up to him, “so spill it.”
“What the hell do you want, man,” he said as I thumped him back up against the wall. “Names – you put a pair of lowlifes in touch with a friend of yours called Louise, and I need to find them.”
“I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about,” he shouted back, but the girl just said “Louise? I thought you told the Holder brothers about her.”
That name rang a bell – the Holder boys had done time for a couple of armed robberies, but had been released early for good behaviour. They had obviously decided a career change would be good for them.
“If I was you,” I said as I let him drop to the floor, “I’d consider a career change as well.” I turned and smiled at the girl. “You may need to consider some new friends,” I said as I walked out, “and a move away.”
As I got back to the office, I had a plan in my head as to how to deal with the Holders, but there was a surprise waiting for me on my desk – a brown envelope. I opened it, looked at the pictures inside, and thought for a moment before I made a couple of phone calls.
The warehouse in the docks was damp, musty, and not the greatest place in the world to be at any time, let alone midnight on a cold November night. As I walked in and made my way to the office on the upstairs gantry, I kept an eye open for any unexpected problems. It looked like the Holders had been true to their word, however – a fact I appreciated as I opened the door.
Don and Dan were sitting at the desk as I walked in. Six foot two each, and bodies that showed they spent time down the boxing gym as well. That wasn’t my first issue though.
“Are you all right, Jack,” I said as I saw my assistant standing in the corner, naked save for the silk blouse that had been pulled down her shoulders. She nodded before closing her eyes, probably in shame. Her wrists had been tied to her legs with ropes that encircled her legs at her crotch, her pussy there for all to see, while the ropes around her arms and chest were biting into her pale flesh. The scarf that had been pulled between her lips also held her long hair tightly against her head.
“Well, Dauntless, I hear you want a word with us,” Dan said as he stood up. “I hope the fact we invited your friend down hasn’t inconvenienced you?”
“Big words from a small man,” I said as I lit a cigarette. “You have to hide behind a girl to get my attention? All you needed to do was drop by when I was in the office.”
“Funny,” Don said as he walked to his brother, bringing a very large looking cudgel round as he did so. “You’ve been poking your nose where it isn’t wanted, and we need to tell you why that is a bad idea.”
“Well,” I said as I drew on the cigarette, “before you do that, I think there is something you need to do.”
“What’s that, little man.”
I threw myself towards Jack, pulling her down to the floor as the windows of the office were blown inwards by a shotgun blast. Lying on top of her, I kept my head down as six armed goons rushed in and grabbed the Holder boys, dragging them outside before they had a chance to react. As I looked up, two pairs of expensive shoes came into view.
“We’ll take it from here, Dick,” I heard one of the local bosses say, “we have no use for scum like them on our streets.”
I waited for them to leave, then took a knife from my pocket and cut Jack free. As she sat up and rubbed her wrists, I took the scarf out from her mouth.
“Dick, I’ve told you about mixing with the gangs from the south,” she said as I took my coat off and put it over her shoulders.
“I know, sis, but they won’t harm you again,” was all I said as I walked her quickly out of the building, to where my car was waiting. I had to take her home, and then call the Webster woman and a few others.
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