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Badgering Bickford

by Robert Leslie Bellem

HANK BICKFORD had just settled down with a book and a highball when there came a soft knock upon the door of the apartment.

Not having been in Paris very long, Hank wasn't expecting callers. Moreover, the outer night was ugly with rain, not at all the sort of evening for anyone to select to go visiting.

With a frown of wonderment, Hank set down his novel and his glass. He opened the door. Then he blinked as his eyes beheld a double barreled vision of feminine loveliness.

The girl was a stranger to Hank; and his first thought was that he was dreaming. Nobody could possibly be that beautiful, he told himself. Such raven black hair existed only in fiction. Such audaciously curving breasts belonged only to sculptured statues. Such slender hips and modeled thighs couldn't be real. Such kiss-inviting red lips and slumbrous dark eyes had no place in a world of cold reality.

She wore no coat, and her frock, wet by the rain, was plastered revealingly to the sleek contours of her delicious figure. Boldly was her bosom limned by the clinging material. Hank was intrigued, enchanted and temporarily speechless.

"Monsieur Bickford?" she spoke in a delicious contralto.

"Yes—I mean oui" he switched to passable French. "Will you come in, Mademoiselle?"

SHE ENTERED; AND her hips swayed with languorous, captivating grace with every step she took. As he closed the front door, she turned to face him; and he thought he noticed that her sweet young bosom rose and fell as if with a repressed inner excitement. With each breath, those challenging mounds bulged against the damp restraint of her frock, so that their apexes were sharply delineated.

"Is there something I can do for you, Mademoiselle?" Hank asked.

"No," she answered. "It is I who will do something for you, Monsieur Bickford."

He could think of only one thing he'd like her to do for him at that moment; and that was for her to fall into his arms. But from her demeanor, he knew she didn't have such matters on her mind. So he raised a politely interrogative left eyebrow. "You wish to do me a favor?"

"Oui. I have come to warn you."

"Warn me? Of what?" Hank smiled engagingly.

"Am I in grave danger?"

"You are," she answered surprisingly. She met his gaze. "Have you ever heard of the badger game?"

"Why—why, yes," he said. "Of course I have. Am I to be badgered by any chance?"

"Oui. That is it, precisement. Within an hour, a certain young woman is coming here to your apartment. She will disrobe herself; and then she will lure you into a compromising pose with her. Whereupon her confederate will break in and make a flashlight photograph. Then you will be blackmailed."

Hank blinked. "And why have you come here to tell me this? Who are you?"

"It does not matter about my name, Monsieur Bickford," the brunette vision retorted. "But I have my reasons for coming here to help you."

"And how, may I ask, do you intend to help me?"

THE GIRL SMILED grimly. "When your feminine visitor arrives, I shall conceal myself in your bedchamber. Then, at the proper moment, I shall reveal myself. To the blackmailers I shall state, that I have been here with you all the time, and that you are innocent of any wrongdoing." Saying which, she sneezed prettily.

Hank was immediately concerned. "You are wet and cold!" he exclaimed. "Since you have been kind enough to come to my aid, I must make you comfortable. Here—take this drink. It will ward off pneumonia."

She accepted the cognac he poured for her. Daintily she drank it. A blush of color stole into her delicious cheeks. But as she placed her empty goblet on the table, she sneezed again.

"You've got to get rid of that wet frock," Hank said firmly. "You're soaked to the skin!"

Her eyes widened. "Mais—but I could not think of undressing here in your apartment."

As a matter of fact, it wasn't Hank's apartment; it was the establishment of his younger brother, Bill. But he didn't think it necessary to bring such irrelevant matters into the dialogue. Instead, he smiled and said: "Oh, it's quite all right, I assure you. You may go into the next room and slip off your wet clothes. In a closet you'll find a dressing gown. Put it on. Then come back out here and warm yourself by the fire."

The girl hesitated a moment. Then she shrugged. "Why not?" she murmured. And she went into the bedroom.

A LITTLE LATER she returned; and Hank found her more enticing than ever. She was wrapped in the voluminous folds of a masculine bathrobe; but the garment fell open at her throat, revealing her ivory skin and delicately hinting at the rising curves of the upper halves of her luscious breasts. She had also made some repairs on her rain damaged makeup, and combed out her midnight tresses. Hank's heart began to hammer.

He poured her another slug of brandy; joined her with a drink of his own. "To my rescuer," he smiled.

She clinked her glass against his and drained the cognac in one swallow.

Hank feasted his eyes on her piquant features. "Do you know," he said pensively, "you are the most exquisite creature I've met since I hit Paris."

She lowered her long lashes. "Merci, Monsieur."

"I could fall in love with you very easily," he added.

She smiled at him demurely. "You are—how you say it?—most susceptible to the feminine sex, hein?"

"Not ordinarily," he assured her stoutly. "I usually give the girls a wide berth. I'm a confirmed bachelor—or always have been, up to now. I'm beginning to see the error of my ways."

She laughed, revealing even white teeth. "You are a great flatterer, Monsieur. I—I am glad that I came here to warn you of the plot against you."

He frowned at that. "You know, I can't quite understand why anybody should pull the badger game on me," he said. "I hardly know anyone in Paris."

"Mais—you are wealthy, are you not?"

He nodded, "Moderately."

"There is the reason, then."

"Well," he grinned, "thanks to you, I won't have a chunk bitten out of my bankroll after all. Will you have a cigarette?"

SHE ACCEPTED, AND leaned forward when he held out a match. Thus her bathrobe gaped open even more, vouchsafing him a thrilling glimpse at glorious white skin. Impulsively he sat beside her on the divan. "I wonder—" he mused.

"What do you wonder, Monsieur?"

"I wonder what you'd do if I were to turn caveman and grab you in my arms and kiss the daylights out of you!" he said boldly. "I should scream and fight you off, Monsieur."

"Would you, really?"

"Mais oui. Mais—you would not do such an ungentlemanly thing, when I have come here to help you out of a potential difficulty." He frowned. "That's, right. I would be returning evil for good, wouldn't I? Yet I find it very difficult to keep my hands away from you."

"Do you?"


Her eyes were enigmatically challenging. "I might not scream—very loud," she whispered.

His pulse began to race and throb through his veins and arteries. She was deliberately taunting him, teasing him. She was also allowing her bathrobe to fall away from her lilting shoulders in the most provocative fashion.

HER NEARNESS AND her perfume and the intoxicating sight of her creamy flesh were more than Hank could bear. Perhaps it was the spell of Paris; perhaps it was just plain infatuation. Or maybe it was actually love. He didn't know. And suddenly he didn't give a damn. He grabbed her around the waist and pulled her toward him.

She made no struggle, no outcry. Instead, her arms went about his neck, and her lips were raised for his seeking kiss.

The moment their lips met and clung together, Hank lost his head. His hands wandered thrillingly, lovingly over his companion's form. Tingling electricity darted into his veins.

"Baby!" he panted.

"Mon coeur!" she breathed caressingly on his cheek.

Somehow she was out of the bathrobe, and her lovely figure, clad in panties and brassiere was once again in Hank's arms.

His ecstasy soaring to limitless heights, he showered her with ardent kisses. And then—

"Hold it!" a voice commanded from the front doorway.

Hank froze for an instant. That instant was long enough for the newcomer—a man in a slouch hat and black coat—to set off a flashlight and snap the shutter of a candid camera. Then, like a wraith, the photographer turned and sped away.

Hank tried to pursue; but the brunette girl clung to him and hampered his movements until his quarry had made a thorough escape. Whereupon Hank's visitor released him, stepped back and laughed harshly.

HANK STARED AT her. "What in the name of le diable—"

"I told you in advance, Monsieur Bickford," the girl said evenly, "that you were to be badgered and blackmailed. I warned you that a young woman would come here, remove her clothing and lure you into a compromising pose for a flashlight photograph. The only thing I did not tell you was that I was the girl in question. And now, my friend, you are hooked."

A bitterness came to his heart. "So you duped me and tricked me!"


"And your kisses... your ardor... were all feigned!"

"Oui," she repeated. But her tone was not quite as convincing as before.

"You—you got no thrill at all out of my caresses?" he persisted.

"None whatever." She was fibbing, he felt sure.

He gave her a moody stare. "All right. How much do you want for that picture?"

"It is not a matter of money, Monsieur."

"Not a matter of money? Then what are you after?"

She drew the bathrobe about her and took a threatening step toward him. "Monsieur," she ground out, "you are a great cad and a most despicable person. You made love to a young girl named Heloise Garraund; and then you threw her over, breaking her heart. Well, I wish you to know that I am the cousin of this girl; and you are going to marry her! Com-prenez-vous?"

"So that is it!" Hank breathed unevenly.

"Precisement, Monsieur."

"And if I refuse?"

"Listen!" she said sharply. "I happen to know that you are here in Paris to study art at the expense of your brother in New York. He controls the family purse strings; and he also has grown very weary of your Parisian escapades. In fact, he has told you that if you are involved in just one more scandal, he will cut off your allowance. Now, if you refuse to wed Heloise Garraund, I shall send him the photograph which was just made. Then you will be penniless in Paris!"

HANK STARTED TO laugh. "You adorable little angel!"

Her eyes widened. "I see nothing funny in your present predicament, Monsieur."

He sprang toward her and grabbed her. "Listen, exquisite one. Suppose I managed to mend your cousin's broken heart without marrying her. Would you consider me as a suitor?"

"Mais non!" she tried to struggle away. "You are a miserable Don Juan—a contemptible canaille! I—I would have nothing to do with you!"

He kissed her, despite her efforts to avert it. "Now what about it?" he smiled. "Does that change your mind?"


He kissed her again. "Like me better now?" he demanded.

Tears misted her dark eyes. "Monsieur—you are a beast! You are taking advantage."

"Oui. Taking advantage of my love for you and your love for me. I'm crazy over you, Mademoiselle Unknown. And I intend to keep right on kissing you until you admit you care for me. Were it not for this cousin of yours, Heloise Garraund, you would like me, would you not?"

"Non! N-non... well, p-perhaps... oui... " she faltered her capitulation with an expression indicating that she despised herself for the admission.

"That is all I wanted to hear you say," Hank whispered tenderly. "Now, I have something to tell you. It is true that my name is Bickford. But you have mistaken me for my younger brother, Bill. This is his apartment, not mine. I just came to Paris day before yesterday to visit him and see how he was getting along."

THE GIRL'S EYES widened. "Y-you—you are not B- Bill Bickford?"

"No. I'm Hank Bickford, Bill's older brother. I'm the one who's been paying his way through art school here in Paris."

"Then—then where is your brother?"

"That's what I wanted to tell you. He's madly in love with this Heloise Garraund, your cousin. But they had a quarrel. A lover's quarrel. Tonight—apparently unknown to you—they patched up their differences. And now they are married, and on their way to the Cote d'Azur for a honeymoon. Which explains why I'm here alone in Bill's apartment."

Y-you mean... Bill and Heloise are—are really married?"


"Th-then I—I have gone through all this terrible scene for nothing...!"

"Not for nothing, cherie."

"Mais oui! I have shamed myself! I have appeared before you in my underthings! I have... permitted you to kiss me! I have allowed a photograph to be taken of us together, by a friend of mine who was willing to help my plot! Oh... Mon Dieu! Wh-what must you th-think of me...?"

"I think you are the most gorgeous, the most adorable girl in the world and I am in love with you. I want you to become Mrs. Hank Bickford. We can spend our honeymoon with Bill and Heloise on the Cote d'Azur. What do you say?"

"I say... kiss me, mon coeur...!" she whispered.