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Close Call

Robert Leslie Bellem

THE summer night was warm. Fairmount Park was dark. Bill Clifford's roadster was speedy.

Bill Clifford's fingers were speedy, too. He drove with his left hand. With his right, he fumbled at the low neck of Connie Compton's white silk frock. Connie never wore a brassiere, summer or winter. The firm globes of her breasts were twin unconfined arches of warm flesh ending in tiny, circular pink crests. Bill's free hand pressed daringly against them. First through the silk of Connie's frock. Then against naked flesh.

Connie stood it as long as she could. Then she pushed him away. "No more, Bill. You've gone far enough."

He turned and faced her for a brief instant. "Do you know what you are, Connie? You're a little blonde teaser. You let me do things that drive me nuts. And then you shut down on me as though I were poison." Bitterly he returned his attention to his driving.

Connie stretched out her long, lithe legs under the instrument-panel of the roadster. "I'm still remembering that bet."

Bill Clifford flushed. "You'll never forgive me for that, will you?"

"I might. But not tonight."

"Why not tonight? In what way is tonight different from any other night?

Connie grinned. "Had you forgotten? This is the last night of the bet. When I first came to work as a steno at the Hercules Insurance office, you? along with a lot of other high-powered salesmen there—decided that I was just another dame. Being the office Adonis, you figured that you'd make me without any trouble. I happened to overhear you making a bet with one of the other salesmen. You said you'd have me in your bedroom before thirty days were over. You laid a twenty-dollar wager on it."

Bill Clifford groaned. "But Connie—I've told you I called the whole thing off! Damn it, girl, I've actually fallen in love with you! I want you to marry me. Do you think I'd let a bet like that stand—when it involved the girl I hope will be my wife?"

Connie smiled wickedly. "I'm in love with you, too, Bill Clifford. That's why I've given you a lot of liberties. But I don't trust you. You're a slicker. You might be kidding me along—just to win that bet."

"Connie, I've told you a hundred times—that bet was called off long ago! If only you'd believe me—"

"I'll believe you—after tonight. Tonight ends the thirty-day period covered by your nasty wager. After tonight I might give you... what you want. I might marry you."

"You mean it?" His arm slid about her slender waist, drawing her toward him. "Connie, honey," he whispered, "Will you wear my signet ring until I have time to buy a regular solitaire tomorrow?"

She looked down at the heavy gold, ruby-studded ring on his finger. "Well?" she hesitated.

At which instant a big black sedan whizzed past Bill Clifford's roadster and crowded it toward the edge of the dark road.

Bill grunted and grabbed for his emergency brake. He yanked on it. The roadster squealed to a halt with the sedan blocking its path just ahead. They were in the deepest and darkest part of Fairmount Park, and no other traffic was in sight.

A MAN leaped out of the black sedan and came menacingly toward Bill Clifford. "What's the idea, smashing up my fender that way?" he snarled. He gestured toward a crumpled rear fender on the sedan.

Bill Clifford scowled. "Why—I never even saw you before!" he protested hotly. "How do you get that way?"

"Oh! You deny it, eh? Well—just step out here and we'll settle this thing right now!" the strange man growled.

Bill opened the door of his roadster. He turned to Connie. "Excuse me a minute while I fix this guy's face," he whispered. He squared off with his fists before the larger man.

Connie saw Bill's adversary reach into a pocket; saw the descending blow of a leather- covered blackjack. She screamed and leaped out of the roadster. She didn't see another figure emerge quietly from the black sedan; didn't realize her danger until hard arms encompassed her from behind. Then she tried to scream. A hard hand jammed down over her mouth, smothering her outcry. Hard arms encircled her body, mashed her firm breasts. She felt herself being lifted and carried toward the dark sedan. Felt ropes being bound around her ankles and wrists. Felt a gag stuffed into her mouth and tied there. She was tossed into the sedan's tonneau.

Her captor crawled into the black car's front seat, slid under the steering-wheel. He stepped on the starter. Connie saw another man leap into the sedan—the man who had struck Bill Clifford with a blackjack. The sedan leaped forward. Then Connie fainted.

When she opened her eyes, she was in a dimly-lighted room. Her gag and her fetters had been removed. She was lying on a davenport. A masked man sat on a chair near her. The mask obscured most of his features; but his hair was the color of Bill Clifford's. And he was just about Bill Clifford's size.

Connie studied her guard. She noticed his right hand. He was wearing a ring—a signet ring set with a big ruby. Abruptly she smothered a gasp. It was Bill Clifford! He'd changed his suit—but he'd forgotten about his ring.

Abruptly, Connie felt a pang of disappointment. She saw the whole thing now. Bill Clifford had fooled her with his talk of love, his protestations that he wanted to marry her. All he was interested in was that bet he'd made with a fellow-salesman at the Hercules Insurance office. Tonight was the last night of the period covered by the wager. And since he hadn't been able to storm Connie's barriers in any other way, he'd finally resorted to force!

Danger-signals flashed in Connie's blue eyes. Her red lips curled contemptuously. So that's the kind of worm Bill Clifford was! And to think she'd almost fallen for him...!

Abruptly a plan flashed through her angry mind. If Bill Clifford thought he could fool her—well, two could play at that game! Bill had evidently got a couple of his cronies to stage the fake holdup in Fairmount Park; had pretended to be blackjacked while Connie was being kidnapped.

Connie grinned to herself, mirthlessly. She would do a little pretending on, her own account!

She reviewed the events of the past month. Thought of how she had teased Bill Clifford along—tortured him unmercifully—permitted him every liberty except the ultimate one... then made him stop, left him up in the air, frantic with frustration.

That had been her way of repaying him for the wager he'd made. Of course, during the process, she had incidentally fallen in love with Bill Clifford; but that was all over now. She hated him, But she could still play the teasing game. She could still make him squirm....

SHE sat up on the edge of the davenport. "Well!" she remarked calmly. "Here we are!"

The masked guard stared at her. "Shut up, you!" he grunted.

Connie smiled. "Is that a nice way for a gentleman to talk to a lady?"

"How do you know I'm a gentleman? And for that matter, how do I know you're a lady?" the masked man retorted.

"You might try to find out if I'm a lady," Connie suggested.

"What do you mean, sister?" the man in the mask asked suspiciously.

"What do you think?" Connie challenged him with her blue eyes.

He shrugged. "I don't give a damn what you mean, kiddo. All I know is, you've had the snatch put on you."

Connie laughed. "Maybe you'll let me get away—if I'm nice to you."

"Not on your tintype, sister. The guy I work for don't stand for no double-cross. I'd wind up in a ditch somewhere—with the top of my head blasted off." He turned away from her.

Connie stared at his broad back. Bill Clifford was a better actor than she'd given him credit for being. Even his voice sounded different. Connie grinned and unfastened the top button at the neck of her frock. After a hesitant instant she unfastened the second button as well. Then she leaned forward. "You might at least give me a cigarette," she suggested pertly. He turned toward her, fished in his pocket, withdrew a crumpled pack and handed her a smoke. He lighted a match for her. She could feel his eyes burning through the holes in his mask—drinking in the revealed glories of her breasts as she leaned forward so that the neck of her frock bulged open.

She looked up at him boldly. "Like what you're looking at?"

He grinned in spite of himself. "You'll do," he answered shortly.

She sat back on the davenport, lifted her arms above her head. The movement pulled her breasts taut, so that they thrust forward thrillingly, temptingly, through the thin silk frock. She crossed her knees—making sure that her tight- fitting skirt slipped upward to reveal a flash of cream-white thigh. "Why don't you sit down alongside me and be sociable?" she invited.

"It won't do you no good, sister. I'm vamp- proof."

"Sit down anyhow. I like vamp-proof men." He sat beside her. She drew close to him. "My offer still goes," she whispered.

"What offer?"

"I'll be... nice to you... if you let me escape from this place."

He laughed shortly. "No soap." "Why not? Don't you think I'm... attractive?"

He stared at her. "Yeah. Plenty. In fact, you're drivin' me nutty right now."

"All right. That's what I intended to do." She drew her legs up under her, leaned backward against him. Her arms went up over her head, locked around his neck.

"Damn you?!" he grunted. "Lay off me before I forget myself!"

She grinned up at him. "Go ahead. Forget yourself if you want to." She blew a smoke-ring. "I don't mind."

"You little devil?!" he groaned. Abruptly his hands flashed downward toward her, grabbed at her. He ripped open the remaining buttons of her frock. Her breasts stood forth boldly. He touched her. His lips descended toward Connie's waiting mouth, clamped over it. Her hand slipped inside his coat, caressed the muscles of his shoulders, his broad chest.

He crushed her against him savagely; pawed at her body, her thighs, her legs. "You asked for it...!" he snarled at her hotly. "Now you're gonna get it!"

She laughed in his face. Her fingers darted toward his mask, yanked at it. "All right, Mr. Bill Clifford. You've gone far enough!" she said tauntingly—

And then her features went suddenly pale. The unmasked man was not Bill Clifford! He was a stranger—a man she'd never seen before!

ABRUPTLY her heart leaped into her throat. The enormous danger of her plight smashed into her consciousness. She really had been kidnapped! That hold-up in Fairmount Park had not been a fake!

The unmasked man grinned at her. "Who in hell is Bill Clifford?"

Connie gasped. "He is—I thought you were—" The words strangled in her throat.

"Yeah? Well, whoever he is, I ain't him, baby. And now let's get back to what we were doin'!" He grabbed her again. His lips bruised down against her mouth. He began kissing her shoulders, her arms....

She felt his hot mouth against her, and tried to beat him away. But it was impossible. He was bearing her backward relentlessly, savagely. His hand went to the hem of her skirt.

Suddenly, heavy footsteps pounded in the hallway outside the room. Connie's attacker tensed, leaped to his feet. His hand flashed toward his pocket just as the door smashed in. Uniformed policemen burst into the room, covered the unmasked desperado with service revolvers before he could draw his own weapon.

And then, shoving the bluecoats aside, Bill Clifford plunged into the chamber and leaped to Connie Compton's side. "Connie?!" he gasped. "Did—did they—"

She stared at him; stared at the blue bruise on his temple where he had been blackjacked; stared into the wildness of his eyes. She swayed toward him, fell into his arms. "You—you got here... just in time...." she whispered.

And then they were alone. The police had departed with their prisoner—the man Connie had unmasked. Bill Clifford's arms were about Connie's waist, holding her tightly. "A park cop found me lying in the road," he whispered. "Fortunately, I'd caught the license-number of that black sedan. We traced it to this house." He gritted his teeth. "If we'd been five minutes later?!"

"Thank heavens you weren't five minutes later!" Connie shivered. Then she looked at Bill Clifford's right hand. His signet ring was missing. "Bill—your ring—where is it?"

He grinned wryly. "They stole it from me after they blackjacked me in the park."

"That—that man who was in here with me? he has it! I saw him wearing it!"

Bill Clifford shrugged. "I'll get it back tomorrow." He caressed her shoulders; his hand strayed downward and forward over her throbbing, unclad breasts where her frock had been ripped open. "Connie?" he whispered.


"It's midnight. My thirty-day probation is over."

She looked into his eyes. Then she blushed. "We—we couldn't find anybody to marry us at this hour of the night...."

He lifted her in his arms and carried her toward the door. "What's the difference?" he smiled gently. "Morning will come soon enough. Too soon...."

"Too soon?"

"Yes. Because we're going to wait for it in my apartment."

Connie gasped. A thrill coursed through her body—a thrill of anticipation.... "Y-your apartment?" she whispered.

He nodded. "Sure. My apartment. That's where we're going—right now!"

And that's where they went.