Double Trouble – How well do you know your fictional detective names?

1. Control called on these intelligence officers when K.A.O.S. reigned. What the the code names of their two star agents?

2. Created in 1927 by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, who are the two teen Bayport sleuths who managed to solve 58 crimes in 52 years without aging a day?

3. In Tony Hillerman’s novels, these members of the Navajo Tribal Police patrol the Southwest’s Four Corners area. The methodical Lieutenant is assisted by an impetuous medicne man in training. Name the duo.

4. This former Navy Seal turned P.I. and his British sidekick live at a posh estate, “Robin’s Nest,” in Hawaii. Who are they?

5. What husband – and – wife team have fun teasing the prime suspects, even if they’re thin on clues or suffering from a hangover?

6. Englishman Captain Hastings likes to follow the rules to solve a crime, but assists what French-speaking egghead (known to lie, cheat, and steal to get his “little grey cells working”)?

7. Elizabeth George paired D.S. Havers, a working class detective with what suave aristocrat who was the Eight Earl of Asherton?

8. No criminal can out-fox this eccentric, homebound orchid grower (who weighs a “seventh of a ton”) and his milk-drinking legman.

9. When this humble, aphorism-spouting detective teams up with eldest son, the two chase down cases in  one exotic locale after another, but rarely in Honolulu, their home town. Who are they?

Continue reading “Double Trouble – How well do you know your fictional detective names?”

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Chapter 1

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

He didn’t say any more, but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence, I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought — frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon; for the intimate revelations of young men, or at least the terms in which they express them, are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.

And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes, but after a certain point I don’t care what it’s founded on. When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction — Gatsby, who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the “creative temperament.”— it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No — Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.

My family have been prominent, well-to-do people in this Middle Western city for three generations. The Carraways are something of a clan, and we have a tradition that we’re descended from the Dukes of Buccleuch, but the actual founder of my line was my grandfather’s brother, who came here in fifty-one, sent a substitute to the Civil War, and started the wholesale hardware business that my father carries on to-day.

I never saw this great-uncle, but I’m supposed to look like him — with special reference to the rather hard-boiled painting that hangs in father’s office I graduated from New Haven in 1915, just a quarter of a century after my father, and a little later I participated in that delayed Teutonic migration known as the Great War. I enjoyed the counter-raid so thoroughly that I came back restless. Instead of being the warm centre of the world, the Middle West now seemed like the ragged edge of the universe — so I decided to go East and learn the bond business. Everybody I knew was in the bond business, so I supposed it could support one more single man. All my aunts and uncles talked it over as if they were choosing a prep school for me, and finally said, “Why — ye — es,” with very grave, hesitant faces. Father agreed to finance me for a year, and after various delays I came East, permanently, I thought, in the spring of twenty-two.

The practical thing was to find rooms in the city, but it was a warm season, and I had just left a country of wide lawns and friendly trees, so when a young man at the office suggested that we take a house together in a commuting town, it sounded like a great idea. He found the house, a weather-beaten cardboard bungalow at eighty a month, but at the last minute the firm ordered him to Washington, and I went out to the country alone. I had a dog — at least I had him for a few days until he ran away — and an old Dodge and a Finnish woman, who made my bed and cooked breakfast and muttered Finnish wisdom to herself over the electric stove.

It was lonely for a day or so until one morning some man, more recently arrived than I, stopped me on the road.

“How do you get to West Egg village?” he asked helplessly.

I told him. And as I walked on I was lonely no longer. I was a guide, a pathfinder, an original settler. He had casually conferred on me the freedom of the neighborhood.

And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.

There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much fine health to be pulled down out of the young breath-giving air. I bought a dozen volumes on banking and credit and investment securities, and they stood on my shelf in red and gold like new money from the mint, promising to unfold the shining secrets that only Midas and Morgan and Maecenas knew. And I had the high intention of reading many other books besides. I was rather literary in college — one year I wrote a series of very solemn and obvious editorials for the “Yale News.”— and now I was going to bring back all such things into my life and become again that most limited of all specialists, the “well-rounded man.” This isn’t just an epigram — life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all.

It was a matter of chance that I should have rented a house in one of the strangest communities in North America. It was on that slender riotous island which extends itself due east of New York — and where there are, among other natural curiosities, two unusual formations of land. Twenty miles from the city a pair of enormous eggs, identical in contour and separated only by a courtesy bay, jut out into the most domesticated body of salt water in the Western hemisphere, the great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound. They are not perfect ovals — like the egg in the Columbus story, they are both crushed flat at the contact end — but their physical resemblance must be a source of perpetual confusion to the gulls that fly overhead. To the wingless a more arresting phenomenon is their dissimilarity in every particular except shape and size.

I lived at West Egg, the — well, the less fashionable of the two, though this is a most superficial tag to express the bizarre and not a little sinister contrast between them. My house was at the very tip of the egg, only fifty yards from the Sound, and squeezed between two huge places that rented for twelve or fifteen thousand a season. The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard — it was a factual imitation of some Hotel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden. It was Gatsby’s mansion. Or, rather, as I didn’t know Mr. Gatsby, it was a mansion inhabited by a gentleman of that name. My own house was an eyesore, but it was a small eyesore, and it had been overlooked, so I had a view of the water, a partial view of my neighbor’s lawn, and the consoling proximity of millionaires — all for eighty dollars a month.

Across the courtesy bay the white palaces of fashionable East Egg glittered along the water, and the history of the summer really begins on the evening I drove over there to have dinner with the Tom Buchanans. Daisy was my second cousin once removed, and I’d known Tom in college. And just after the war I spent two days with them in Chicago.

Her husband, among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven — a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax. His family were enormously wealthy — even in college his freedom with money was a matter for reproach — but now he’d left Chicago and come East in a fashion that rather took your breath away: for instance, he’d brought down a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest. It was hard to realize that a man in my own generation was wealthy enough to do that.

Why they came East I don’t know. They had spent a year in France for no particular reason, and then drifted here and there unrestfully wherever people played polo and were rich together. This was a permanent move, said Daisy over the telephone, but I didn’t believe it — I had no sight into Daisy’s heart, but I felt that Tom would drift on forever seeking, a little wistfully, for the dramatic turbulence of some irrecoverable football game.

And so it happened that on a warm windy evening I drove over to East Egg to see two old friends whom I scarcely knew at all. Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay. The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens — finally when it reached the house drifting up the side in bright vines as though from the momentum of its run. The front was broken by a line of French windows, glowing now with reflected gold and wide open to the warm windy afternoon, and Tom Buchanan in riding clothes was standing with his legs apart on the front porch.

He had changed since his New Haven years. Now he was a sturdy straw-haired man of thirty with a rather hard mouth and a supercilious manner. Two shining arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body — he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage — a cruel body.

His speaking voice, a gruff husky tenor, added to the impression of fractiousness he conveyed. There was a touch of paternal contempt in it, even toward people he liked — and there were men at New Haven who had hated his guts.

“Now, don’t think my opinion on these matters is final,” he seemed to say, “just because I’m stronger and more of a man than you are.” We were in the same senior society, and while we were never intimate I always had the impression that he approved of me and wanted me to like him with some harsh, defiant wistfulness of his own.

We talked for a few minutes on the sunny porch.

“I’ve got a nice place here,” he said, his eyes flashing about restlessly.

Turning me around by one arm, he moved a broad flat hand along the front vista, including in its sweep a sunken Italian garden, a half acre of deep, pungent roses, and a snub-nosed motor-boat that bumped the tide offshore.

“It belonged to Demaine, the oil man.” He turned me around again, politely and abruptly. “We’ll go inside.”

We walked through a high hallway into a bright rosy-colored space, fragilely bound into the house by French windows at either end. The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-colored rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.

The only completely stationary object in the room was an enormous couch on which two young women were buoyed up as though upon an anchored balloon. They were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering as if they had just been blown back in after a short flight around the house. I must have stood for a few moments listening to the whip and snap of the curtains and the groan of a picture on the wall. Then there was a boom as Tom Buchanan shut the rear windows and the caught wind died out about the room, and the curtains and the rugs and the two young women ballooned slowly to the floor.

The younger of the two was a stranger to me. She was extended full length at her end of the divan, completely motionless, and with her chin raised a little, as if she were balancing something on it which was quite likely to fall. If she saw me out of the corner of her eyes she gave no hint of it — indeed, I was almost surprised into murmuring an apology for having disturbed her by coming in.

The other girl, Daisy, made an attempt to rise — she leaned slightly forward with a conscientious expression — then she laughed, an absurd, charming little laugh, and I laughed too and came forward into the room.

“I’m p-paralyzed with happiness.” She laughed again, as if she said something very witty, and held my hand for a moment, looking up into my face, promising that there was no one in the world she so much wanted to see. That was a way she had. She hinted in a murmur that the surname of the balancing girl was Baker. (I’ve heard it said that Daisy’s murmur was only to make people lean toward her; an irrelevant criticism that made it no less charming.)

At any rate, Miss Baker’s lips fluttered, she nodded at me almost imperceptibly, and then quickly tipped her head back again — the object she was balancing had obviously tottered a little and given her something of a fright. Again a sort of apology arose to my lips. Almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me.

I looked back at my cousin, who began to ask me questions in her low, thrilling voice. It was the kind of voice that the ear follows up and down, as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again. Her face was sad and lovely with bright things in it, bright eyes and a bright passionate mouth, but there was an excitement in her voice that men who had cared for her found difficult to forget: a singing compulsion, a whispered “Listen,” a promise that she had done gay, exciting things just a while since and that there were gay, exciting things hovering in the next hour.

I told her how I had stopped off in Chicago for a day on my way East, and how a dozen people had sent their love through me.

“Do they miss me?” she cried ecstatically.

“The whole town is desolate. All the cars have the left rear wheel painted black as a mourning wreath, and there’s a persistent wail all night along the north shore.”

“How gorgeous! Let’s go back, Tom. To-morrow!” Then she added irrelevantly: “You ought to see the baby.”

“I’d like to.”

“She’s asleep. She’s three years old. Haven’t you ever seen her?”

“Never.”

“Well, you ought to see her. She’s ——”

Tom Buchanan, who had been hovering restlessly about the room, stopped and rested his hand on my shoulder.

“What you doing, Nick?”

“I’m a bond man.”

“Who with?”

I told him.

“Never heard of them,” he remarked decisively.

This annoyed me.

“You will,” I answered shortly. “You will if you stay in the East.”

“Oh, I’ll stay in the East, don’t you worry,” he said, glancing at Daisy and then back at me, as if he were alert for something more. “I’d be a God damned fool to live anywhere else.”

At this point Miss Baker said: “Absolutely!” with such suddenness that I started — it was the first word she uttered since I came into the room. Evidently it surprised her as much as it did me, for she yawned and with a series of rapid, deft movements stood up into the room.

“I’m stiff,” she complained, “I’ve been lying on that sofa for as long as I can remember.”

“Don’t look at me,” Daisy retorted, “I’ve been trying to get you to New York all afternoon.”

“No, thanks,” said Miss Baker to the four cocktails just in from the pantry, “I’m absolutely in training.”

Her host looked at her incredulously.

“You are!” He took down his drink as if it were a drop in the bottom of a glass. “How you ever get anything done is beyond me.”

I looked at Miss Baker, wondering what it was she “got done.” I enjoyed looking at her. She was a slender, small-breasted girl, with an erect carriage, which she accentuated by throwing her body backward at the shoulders like a young cadet. Her gray sun-strained eyes looked back at me with polite reciprocal curiosity out of a wan, charming, discontented face. It occurred to me now that I had seen her, or a picture of her, somewhere before.

“You live in West Egg,” she remarked contemptuously. “I know somebody there.”

“I don’t know a single ——”

“You must know Gatsby.”

“Gatsby?” demanded Daisy. “What Gatsby?”

Before I could reply that he was my neighbor dinner was announced; wedging his tense arm imperatively under mine, Tom Buchanan compelled me from the room as though he were moving a checker to another square.

Slenderly, languidly, their hands set lightly on their hips, the two young women preceded us out onto a rosy-colored porch, open toward the sunset, where four candles flickered on the table in the diminished wind.

“Why candles?” objected Daisy, frowning. She snapped them out with her fingers. “In two weeks it’ll be the longest day in the year.” She looked at us all radiantly. “Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.”

“We ought to plan something,” yawned Miss Baker, sitting down at the table as if she were getting into bed.

“All right,” said Daisy. “What’ll we plan?” She turned to me helplessly: “What do people plan?”

Before I could answer her eyes fastened with an awed expression on her little finger.

“Look!” she complained; “I hurt it.”

We all looked — the knuckle was black and blue.

“You did it, Tom,” she said accusingly. “I know you didn’t mean to, but you did do it. That’s what I get for marrying a brute of a man, a great, big, hulking physical specimen of a ——”

“I hate that word hulking,” objected Tom crossly, “even in kidding.”

“Hulking,” insisted Daisy.

Sometimes she and Miss Baker talked at once, unobtrusively and with a bantering inconsequence that was never quite chatter, that was as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire. They were here, and they accepted Tom and me, making only a polite pleasant effort to entertain or to be entertained. They knew that presently dinner would be over and a little later the evening too would be over and casually put away. It was sharply different from the West, where an evening was hurried from phase to phase toward its close, in a continually disappointed anticipation or else in sheer nervous dread of the moment itself.

“You make me feel uncivilized, Daisy,” I confessed on my second glass of corky but rather impressive claret. “Can’t you talk about crops or something?”

I meant nothing in particular by this remark, but it was taken up in an unexpected way.

“Civilization’s going to pieces,” broke out Tom violently. “I’ve gotten to be a terrible pessimist about things. Have you read ‘The Rise of the Colored Empires’ by this man Goddard?”

“Why, no,” I answered, rather surprised by his tone.

“Well, it’s a fine book, and everybody ought to read it. The idea is if we don’t look out the white race will be — will be utterly submerged. It’s all scientific stuff; it’s been proved.”

“Tom’s getting very profound,” said Daisy, with an expression of unthoughtful sadness. “He reads deep books with long words in them. What was that word we ——”

“Well, these books are all scientific,” insisted Tom, glancing at her impatiently. “This fellow has worked out the whole thing. It’s up to us, who are the dominant race, to watch out or these other races will have control of things.”

“We’ve got to beat them down,” whispered Daisy, winking ferociously toward the fervent sun.

“You ought to live in California —” began Miss Baker, but Tom interrupted her by shifting heavily in his chair.

“This idea is that we’re Nordics. I am, and you are, and you are, and ——” After an infinitesimal hesitation he included Daisy with a slight nod, and she winked at me again. “— And we’ve produced all the things that go to make civilization — oh, science and art, and all that. Do you see?”

There was something pathetic in his concentration, as if his complacency, more acute than of old, was not enough to him any more. When, almost immediately, the telephone rang inside and the butler left the porch Daisy seized upon the momentary interruption and leaned toward me.

“I’ll tell you a family secret,” she whispered enthusiastically. “It’s about the butler’s nose. Do you want to hear about the butler’s nose?”

“That’s why I came over to-night.”

“Well, he wasn’t always a butler; he used to be the silver polisher for some people in New York that had a silver service for two hundred people. He had to polish it from morning till night, until finally it began to affect his nose ——”

“Things went from bad to worse,” suggested Miss Baker.

“Yes. Things went from bad to worse, until finally he had to give up his position.”

For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection upon her glowing face; her voice compelled me forward breathlessly as I listened — then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk.

The butler came back and murmured something close to Tom’s ear, whereupon Tom frowned, pushed back his chair, and without a word went inside. As if his absence quickened something within her, Daisy leaned forward again, her voice glowing and singing.

“I love to see you at my table, Nick. You remind me of a — of a rose, an absolute rose. Doesn’t he?” She turned to Miss Baker for confirmation: “An absolute rose?”

This was untrue. I am not even faintly like a rose. She was only extemporizing, but a stirring warmth flowed from her, as if her heart was trying to come out to you concealed in one of those breathless, thrilling words. Then suddenly she threw her napkin on the table and excused herself and went into the house.

Miss Baker and I exchanged a short glance consciously devoid of meaning. I was about to speak when she sat up alertly and said “Sh!” in a warning voice. A subdued impassioned murmur was audible in the room beyond, and Miss Baker leaned forward unashamed, trying to hear. The murmur trembled on the verge of coherence, sank down, mounted excitedly, and then ceased altogether.

“This Mr. Gatsby you spoke of is my neighbor ——” I said.

“Don’t talk. I want to hear what happens.”

“Is something happening?” I inquired innocently.

“You mean to say you don’t know?” said Miss Baker, honestly surprised. “I thought everybody knew.”

“I don’t.”

“Why ——” she said hesitantly, “Tom’s got some woman in New York.”

“Got some woman?” I repeated blankly.

Miss Baker nodded.

“She might have the decency not to telephone him at dinner time. Don’t you think?”

Almost before I had grasped her meaning there was the flutter of a dress and the crunch of leather boots, and Tom and Daisy were back at the table.

“It couldn’t be helped!” cried Daisy with tense gaiety.

She sat down, glanced searchingly at Miss Baker and then at me, and continued: “I looked outdoors for a minute, and it’s very romantic outdoors. There’s a bird on the lawn that I think must be a nightingale come over on the Cunard or White Star Line. He’s singing away ——” Her voice sang: “It’s romantic, isn’t it, Tom?”

“Very romantic,” he said, and then miserably to me: “If it’s light enough after dinner, I want to take you down to the stables.”

The telephone rang inside, startlingly, and as Daisy shook her head decisively at Tom the subject of the stables, in fact all subjects, vanished into air. Among the broken fragments of the last five minutes at table I remember the candles being lit again, pointlessly, and I was conscious of wanting to look squarely at every one, and yet to avoid all eyes. I couldn’t guess what Daisy and Tom were thinking, but I doubt if even Miss Baker, who seemed to have mastered a certain hardy scepticism, was able utterly to put this fifth guest’s shrill metallic urgency out of mind. To a certain temperament the situation might have seemed intriguing — my own instinct was to telephone immediately for the police.

The horses, needless to say, were not mentioned again. Tom and Miss Baker, with several feet of twilight between them, strolled back into the library, as if to a vigil beside a perfectly tangible body, while, trying to look pleasantly interested and a little deaf, I followed Daisy around a chain of connecting verandas to the porch in front. In its deep gloom we sat down side by side on a wicker settee.

Daisy took her face in her hands as if feeling its lovely shape, and her eyes moved gradually out into the velvet dusk. I saw that turbulent emotions possessed her, so I asked what I thought would be some sedative questions about her little girl.

“We don’t know each other very well, Nick,” she said suddenly. “Even if we are cousins. You didn’t come to my wedding.”

“I wasn’t back from the war.”

“That’s true.” She hesitated. “Well, I’ve had a very bad time, Nick, and I’m pretty cynical about everything.”

Evidently she had reason to be. I waited but she didn’t say any more, and after a moment I returned rather feebly to the subject of her daughter.

“I suppose she talks, and — eats, and everything.”

“Oh, yes.” She looked at me absently. “Listen, Nick; let me tell you what I said when she was born. Would you like to hear?”

“Very much.”

“It’ll show you how I’ve gotten to feel about — things. Well, she was less than an hour old and Tom was God knows where. I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl. She told me it was a girl, and so I turned my head away and wept. ‘all right,’ I said, ‘I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

“You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow,” she went on in a convinced way. “Everybody thinks so — the most advanced people. And I know. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything.” Her eyes flashed around her in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s, and she laughed with thrilling scorn. “Sophisticated — God, I’m sophisticated!”

The instant her voice broke off, ceasing to compel my attention, my belief, I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said. It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick of some sort to exact a contributory emotion from me. I waited, and sure enough, in a moment she looked at me with an absolute smirk on her lovely face, as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society to which she and Tom belonged.

Inside, the crimson room bloomed with light.

Tom and Miss Baker sat at either end of the long couch and she read aloud to him from the Saturday Evening Post. — the words, murmurous and uninflected, running together in a soothing tune. The lamp-light, bright on his boots and dull on the autumn-leaf yellow of her hair, glinted along the paper as she turned a page with a flutter of slender muscles in her arms.

When we came in she held us silent for a moment with a lifted hand.

“To be continued,” she said, tossing the magazine on the table, “in our very next issue.”

Her body asserted itself with a restless movement of her knee, and she stood up.

“Ten o’clock,” she remarked, apparently finding the time on the ceiling. “Time for this good girl to go to bed.”

“Jordan’s going to play in the tournament to-morrow,” explained Daisy, “over at Westchester.”

“Oh — you’re Jordan Baker.”

I knew now why her face was familiar — its pleasing contemptuous expression had looked out at me from many rotogravure pictures of the sporting life at Asheville and Hot Springs and Palm Beach. I had heard some story of her too, a critical, unpleasant story, but what it was I had forgotten long ago.

“Good night,” she said softly. “Wake me at eight, won’t you.”

“If you’ll get up.”

“I will. Good night, Mr. Carraway. See you anon.”

“Of course you will,” confirmed Daisy. “In fact I think I’ll arrange a marriage. Come over often, Nick, and I’ll sort of — oh — fling you together. You know — lock you up accidentally in linen closets and push you out to sea in a boat, and all that sort of thing ——”

“Good night,” called Miss Baker from the stairs. “I haven’t heard a word.”

“She’s a nice girl,” said Tom after a moment. “They oughtn’t to let her run around the country this way.”

“Who oughtn’t to?” inquired Daisy coldly.

“Her family.”

“Her family is one aunt about a thousand years old. Besides, Nick’s going to look after her, aren’t you, Nick? She’s going to spend lots of week-ends out here this summer. I think the home influence will be very good for her.”

Daisy and Tom looked at each other for a moment in silence.

“Is she from New York?” I asked quickly.

“From Louisville. Our white girlhood was passed together there. Our beautiful white ——”

“Did you give Nick a little heart to heart talk on the veranda?” demanded Tom suddenly.

“Did I?” She looked at me.

“I can’t seem to remember, but I think we talked about the Nordic race. Yes, I’m sure we did. It sort of crept up on us and first thing you know ——”

“Don’t believe everything you hear, Nick,” he advised me.

I said lightly that I had heard nothing at all, and a few minutes later I got up to go home. They came to the door with me and stood side by side in a cheerful square of light. As I started my motor Daisy peremptorily called: “Wait!”

“I forgot to ask you something, and it’s important. We heard you were engaged to a girl out West.”

“That’s right,” corroborated Tom kindly. “We heard that you were engaged.”

“It’s libel. I’m too poor.”

“But we heard it,” insisted Daisy, surprising me by opening up again in a flower-like way. “We heard it from three people, so it must be true.”

Of course I knew what they were referring to, but I wasn’t even vaguely engaged. The fact that gossip had published the banns was one of the reasons I had come East. You can’t stop going with an old friend on account of rumors, and on the other hand I had no intention of being rumored into marriage.

Their interest rather touched me and made them less remotely rich — nevertheless, I was confused and a little disgusted as I drove away. It seemed to me that the thing for Daisy to do was to rush out of the house, child in arms — but apparently there were no such intentions in her head. As for Tom, the fact that he “had some woman in New York.” was really less surprising than that he had been depressed by a book. Something was making him nibble at the edge of stale ideas as if his sturdy physical egotism no longer nourished his peremptory heart.

Already it was deep summer on roadhouse roofs and in front of wayside garages, where new red gas-pumps sat out in pools of light, and when I reached my estate at West Egg I ran the car under its shed and sat for a while on an abandoned grass roller in the yard. The wind had blown off, leaving a loud, bright night, with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life. The silhouette of a moving cat wavered across the moonlight, and turning my head to watch it, I saw that I was not alone — fifty feet away a figure had emerged from the shadow of my neighbor’s mansion and was standing with his hands in his pockets regarding the silver pepper of the stars. Something in his leisurely movements and the secure position of his feet upon the lawn suggested that it was Mr. Gatsby himself, come out to determine what share was his of our local heavens.

I decided to call to him. Miss Baker had mentioned him at dinner, and that would do for an introduction. But I didn’t call to him, for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone — he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and, far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward — and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.

Chapter 2

About half way between West Egg and New York the motor road hastily joins the railroad and runs beside it for a quarter of a mile, so as to shrink away from a certain desolate area of land. This is a valley of ashes — a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the forms of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of men who move dimly and already crumbling through the powdery air. Occasionally a line of gray cars crawls along an invisible track, gives out a ghastly creak, and comes to rest, and immediately the ash-gray men swarm up with leaden spades and stir up an impenetrable cloud, which screens their obscure operations from your sight. But above the gray land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic — their irises are one yard high. They look out of no face, but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles which pass over a nonexistent nose. Evidently some wild wag of an oculist set them there to fatten his practice in the borough of Queens, and then sank down himself into eternal blindness, or forgot them and moved away. But his eyes, dimmed a little by many paintless days, under sun and rain, brood on over the solemn dumping ground.

The valley of ashes is bounded on one side by a small foul river, and, when the drawbridge is up to let barges through, the passengers on waiting trains can stare at the dismal scene for as long as half an hour. There is always a halt there of at least a minute, and it was because of this that I first met Tom Buchanan’s mistress.

The fact that he had one was insisted upon wherever he was known. His acquaintances resented the fact that he turned up in popular restaurants with her and, leaving her at a table, sauntered about, chatting with whomsoever he knew. Though I was curious to see her, I had no desire to meet her — but I did. I went up to New York with Tom on the train one afternoon, and when we stopped by the ashheaps he jumped to his feet and, taking hold of my elbow, literally forced me from the car.

“We’re getting off,” he insisted. “I want you to meet my girl.”

I think he’d tanked up a good deal at luncheon, and his determination to have my company bordered on violence. The supercilious assumption was that on Sunday afternoon I had nothing better to do.

I followed him over a low whitewashed railroad fence, and we walked back a hundred yards along the road under Doctor Eckleburg’s persistent stare. The only building in sight was a small block of yellow brick sitting on the edge of the waste land, a sort of compact Main Street ministering to it, and contiguous to absolutely nothing. One of the three shops it contained was for rent and another was an all-night restaurant, approached by a trail of ashes; the third was a garage — Repairs. George B. Wilson. Cars bought and sold. — and I followed Tom inside.

The interior was unprosperous and bare; the only car visible was the dust-covered wreck of a Ford which crouched in a dim corner. It had occurred to me that this shadow of a garage must be a blind, and that sumptuous and romantic apartments were concealed overhead, when the proprietor himself appeared in the door of an office, wiping his hands on a piece of waste. He was a blond, spiritless man, anaemic, and faintly handsome. When he saw us a damp gleam of hope sprang into his light blue eyes.

“Hello, Wilson, old man,” said Tom, slapping him jovially on the shoulder. “How’s business?”

“I can’t complain,” answered Wilson unconvincingly. “When are you going to sell me that car?”

“Next week; I’ve got my man working on it now.”

“Works pretty slow, don’t he?”

“No, he doesn’t,” said Tom coldly. “And if you feel that way about it, maybe I’d better sell it somewhere else after all.”

“I don’t mean that,” explained Wilson quickly. “I just meant ——”

His voice faded off and Tom glanced impatiently around the garage. Then I heard footsteps on a stairs, and in a moment the thickish figure of a woman blocked out the light from the office door. She was in the middle thirties, and faintly stout, but she carried her surplus flesh sensuously as some women can. Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crepe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty, but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering. She smiled slowly and, walking through her husband as if he were a ghost, shook hands with Tom, looking him flush in the eye. Then she wet her lips, and without turning around spoke to her husband in a soft, coarse voice:

“Get some chairs, why don’t you, so somebody can sit down.”

“Oh, sure,” agreed Wilson hurriedly, and went toward the little office, mingling immediately with the cement color of the walls. A white ashen dust veiled his dark suit and his pale hair as it veiled everything in the vicinity — except his wife, who moved close to Tom.

“I want to see you,” said Tom intently. “Get on the next train.”

“All right.”

“I’ll meet you by the news-stand on the lower level.” She nodded and moved away from him just as George Wilson emerged with two chairs from his office door.

We waited for her down the road and out of sight. It was a few days before the Fourth of July, and a gray, scrawny Italian child was setting torpedoes in a row along the railroad track.

“Terrible place, isn’t it,” said Tom, exchanging a frown with Doctor Eckleburg.

“Awful.”

“It does her good to get away.”

“Doesn’t her husband object?”

“Wilson? He thinks she goes to see her sister in New York. He’s so dumb he doesn’t know he’s alive.”

So Tom Buchanan and his girl and I went up together to New York — or not quite together, for Mrs. Wilson sat discreetly in another car. Tom deferred that much to the sensibilities of those East Eggers who might be on the train.

She had changed her dress to a brown figured muslin, which stretched tight over her rather wide hips as Tom helped her to the platform in New York. At the news-stand she bought a copy of Town Tattle and a moving-picture magazine, and in the station drug-store some cold cream and a small flask of perfume. Up-stairs, in the solemn echoing drive she let four taxicabs drive away before she selected a new one, lavender-colored with gray upholstery, and in this we slid out from the mass of the station into the glowing sunshine. But immediately she turned sharply from the window and, leaning forward, tapped on the front glass.

“I want to get one of those dogs,” she said earnestly. “I want to get one for the apartment. They’re nice to have — a dog.”

We backed up to a gray old man who bore an absurd resemblance to John D. Rockefeller. In a basket swung from his neck cowered a dozen very recent puppies of an indeterminate breed.

“What kind are they?” asked Mrs. Wilson eagerly, as he came to the taxi-window.

“All kinds. What kind do you want, lady?”

“I’d like to get one of those police dogs; I don’t suppose you got that kind?”

The man peered doubtfully into the basket, plunged in his hand and drew one up, wriggling, by the back of the neck.

“That’s no police dog,” said Tom.

“No, it’s not exactly a polICE dog,” said the man with disappointment in his voice. “It’s more of an Airedale.” He passed his hand over the brown wash-rag of a back. “Look at that coat. Some coat. That’s a dog that’ll never bother you with catching cold.”

“I think it’s cute,” said Mrs. Wilson enthusiastically. “How much is it?”

“That dog?” He looked at it admiringly. “That dog will cost you ten dollars.”

The Airedale — undoubtedly there was an Airedale concerned in it somewhere, though its feet were startlingly white — changed hands and settled down into Mrs. Wilson’s lap, where she fondled the weather-proof coat with rapture.

“Is it a boy or a girl?” she asked delicately.

“That dog? That dog’s a boy.”

“It’s a bitch,” said Tom decisively. “Here’s your money. Go and buy ten more dogs with it.”

We drove over to Fifth Avenue, so warm and soft, almost pastoral, on the summer Sunday afternoon that I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a great flock of white sheep turn the corner.

“Hold on,” I said, “I have to leave you here.”

“No, you don’t,” interposed Tom quickly.

“Myrtle’ll be hurt if you don’t come up to the apartment. Won’t you, Myrtle?”

“Come on,” she urged. “I’ll telephone my sister Catherine. She’s said to be very beautiful by people who ought to know.”

“Well, I’d like to, but ——”

We went on, cutting back again over the Park toward the West Hundreds. At 158th Street the cab stopped at one slice in a long white cake of apartment-houses. Throwing a regal homecoming glance around the neighborhood, Mrs. Wilson gathered up her dog and her other purchases, and went haughtily in.

“I’m going to have the McKees come up,” she announced as we rose in the elevator. “And, of course, I got to call up my sister, too.”

The apartment was on the top floor — a small living-room, a small dining-room, a small bedroom, and a bath. The living-room was crowded to the doors with a set of tapestried furniture entirely too large for it, so that to move about was to stumble continually over scenes of ladies swinging in the gardens of Versailles. The only picture was an over-enlarged photograph, apparently a hen sitting on a blurred rock. Looked at from a distance, however, the hen resolved itself into a bonnet, and the countenance of a stout old lady beamed down into the room. Several old copies of Town Tattle lay on the table together with a copy of Simon Called Peter, and some of the small scandal magazines of Broadway. Mrs. Wilson was first concerned with the dog. A reluctant elevator-boy went for a box full of straw and some milk, to which he added on his own initiative a tin of large, hard dog-biscuits — one of which decomposed apathetically in the saucer of milk all afternoon. Meanwhile Tom brought out a bottle of whiskey from a locked bureau door.

I have been drunk just twice in my life, and the second time was that afternoon; so everything that happened has a dim, hazy cast over it, although until after eight o’clock the apartment was full of cheerful sun. Sitting on Tom’s lap Mrs. Wilson called up several people on the telephone; then there were no cigarettes, and I went out to buy some at the drugstore on the corner. When I came back they had disappeared, so I sat down discreetly in the living-room and read a chapter of Simon Called Peter — either it was terrible stuff or the whiskey distorted things, because it didn’t make any sense to me.

Just as Tom and Myrtle (after the first drink Mrs. Wilson and I called each other by our first names) reappeared, company commenced to arrive at the apartment-door.

The sister, Catherine, was a slender, worldly girl of about thirty, with a solid, sticky bob of red hair, and a complexion powdered milky white. Her eye-brows had been plucked and then drawn on again at a more rakish angle, but the efforts of nature toward the restoration of the old alignment gave a blurred air to her face. When she moved about there was an incessant clicking as innumerable pottery bracelets jingled up and down upon her arms. She came in with such a proprietary haste, and looked around so possessively at the furniture that I wondered if she lived here. But when I asked her she laughed immoderately, repeated my question aloud, and told me she lived with a girl friend at a hotel.

Mr. McKee was a pale, feminine man from the flat below. He had just shaved, for there was a white spot of lather on his cheekbone, and he was most respectful in his greeting to every one in the room. He informed me that he was in the “artistic game,” and I gathered later that he was a photographer and had made the dim enlargement of Mrs. Wilson’s mother which hovered like an ectoplasm on the wall. His wife was shrill, languid, handsome, and horrible. She told me with pride that her husband had photographed her a hundred and twenty-seven times since they had been married.

Mrs. Wilson had changed her costume some time before, and was now attired in an elaborate afternoon dress of cream-colored chiffon, which gave out a continual rustle as she swept about the room. With the influence of the dress her personality had also undergone a change. The intense vitality that had been so remarkable in the garage was converted into impressive hauteur. Her laughter, her gestures, her assertions became more violently affected moment by moment, and as she expanded the room grew smaller around her, until she seemed to be revolving on a noisy, creaking pivot through the smoky air.

“My dear,” she told her sister in a high, mincing shout, “most of these fellas will cheat you every time. All they think of is money. I had a woman up here last week to look at my feet, and when she gave me the bill you’d of thought she had my appendicitis out.”

“What was the name of the woman?” asked Mrs. McKee.

“Mrs. Eberhardt. She goes around looking at people’s feet in their own homes.”

“I like your dress,” remarked Mrs. McKee, “I think it’s adorable.”

Mrs. Wilson rejected the compliment by raising her eyebrow in disdain.

“It’s just a crazy old thing,” she said. “I just slip it on sometimes when I don’t care what I look like.”

“But it looks wonderful on you, if you know what I mean,” pursued Mrs. McKee. “If Chester could only get you in that pose I think he could make something of it.”

We all looked in silence at Mrs. Wilson, who removed a strand of hair from over her eyes and looked back at us with a brilliant smile. Mr. McKee regarded her intently with his head on one side, and then moved his hand back and forth slowly in front of his face.

“I should change the light,” he said after a moment. “I’d like to bring out the modelling of the features. And I’d try to get hold of all the back hair.”

“I wouldn’t think of changing the light,” cried Mrs. McKee. “I think it’s ——”

Her husband said “sh!” and we all looked at the subject again, whereupon Tom Buchanan yawned audibly and got to his feet.

“You McKees have something to drink,” he said. “Get some more ice and mineral water, Myrtle, before everybody goes to sleep.”

“I told that boy about the ice.” Myrtle raised her eyebrows in despair at the shiftlessness of the lower orders. “These people! You have to keep after them all the time.”

She looked at me and laughed pointlessly. Then she flounced over to the dog, kissed it with ecstasy, and swept into the kitchen, implying that a dozen chefs awaited her orders there.

“I’ve done some nice things out on Long Island,” asserted Mr. McKee.

Tom looked at him blankly.

“Two of them we have framed down-stairs.”

“Two what?” demanded Tom.

“Two studies. One of them I call Montauk PointThe Gulls, and the other I call Montauk PointThe Sea.”

The sister Catherine sat down beside me on the couch.

“Do you live down on Long Island, too?” she inquired.

“I live at West Egg.”

“Really? I was down there at a party about a month ago. At a man named Gatsby’s. Do you know him?”

“I live next door to him.”

“Well, they say he’s a nephew or a cousin of Kaiser Wilhelm’s. That’s where all his money comes from.”

“Really?”

She nodded.

“I’m scared of him. I’d hate to have him get anything on me.”

This absorbing information about my neighbor was interrupted by Mrs. McKee’s pointing suddenly at Catherine:

“Chester, I think you could do something with her,” she broke out, but Mr. McKee only nodded in a bored way, and turned his attention to Tom.

“I’d like to do more work on Long Island, if I could get the entry. All I ask is that they should give me a start.”

“Ask Myrtle,” said Tom, breaking into a short shout of laughter as Mrs. Wilson entered with a tray. “She’ll give you a letter of introduction, won’t you Myrtle?”

“Do what?” she asked, startled.

“You’ll give McKee a letter of introduction to your husband, so he can do some studies of him.” His lips moved silently for a moment as he invented. “George B. Wilson at the Gasoline Pump, or something like that.”

Catherine leaned close to me and whispered in my ear: “Neither of them can stand the person they’re married to.”

“Can’t they?”

“Can’t stand them.” She looked at Myrtle and then at Tom. “What I say is, why go on living with them if they can’t stand them? If I was them I’d get a divorce and get married to each other right away.”

“Doesn’t she like Wilson either?”

The answer to this was unexpected. It came from Myrtle, who had overheard the question, and it was violent and obscene.

“You see,” cried Catherine triumphantly. She lowered her voice again. “It’s really his wife that’s keeping them apart. She’s a Catholic, and they don’t believe in divorce.”

Daisy was not a Catholic, and I was a little shocked at the elaborateness of the lie.

“When they do get married,” continued Catherine, “they’re going West to live for a while until it blows over.”

“It’d be more discreet to go to Europe.”

“Oh, do you like Europe?” she exclaimed surprisingly. “I just got back from Monte Carlo.”

“Really.”

“Just last year. I went over there with another girl.” “Stay long?”

“No, we just went to Monte Carlo and back. We went by way of Marseilles. We had over twelve hundred dollars when we started, but we got gypped out of it all in two days in the private rooms. We had an awful time getting back, I can tell you. God, how I hated that town!”

The late afternoon sky bloomed in the window for a moment like the blue honey of the Mediterranean — then the shrill voice of Mrs. McKee called me back into the room.

“I almost made a mistake, too,” she declared vigorously. “I almost married a little kyke who’d been after me for years. I knew he was below me. Everybody kept saying to me: ‘Lucille, that man’s ‘way below you!’ But if I hadn’t met Chester, he’d of got me sure.”

“Yes, but listen,” said Myrtle Wilson, nodding her head up and down, “at least you didn’t marry him.”

“I know I didn’t.”

“Well, I married him,” said Myrtle, ambiguously. “And that’s the difference between your case and mine.”

“Why did you, Myrtle?” demanded Catherine. “Nobody forced you to.”

Myrtle considered.

“I married him because I thought he was a gentleman,” she said finally. “I thought he knew something about breeding, but he wasn’t fit to lick my shoe.”

“You were crazy about him for a while,” said Catherine.

“Crazy about him!” cried Myrtle incredulously. “Who said I was crazy about him? I never was any more crazy about him than I was about that man there.”

She pointed suddenly at me, and every one looked at me accusingly. I tried to show by my expression that I had played no part in her past.

“The only crazy I was was when I married him. I knew right away I made a mistake. He borrowed somebody’s best suit to get married in, and never even told me about it, and the man came after it one day when he was out. ‘oh, is that your suit?’ I said. ‘this is the first I ever heard about it.’ But I gave it to him and then I lay down and cried to beat the band all afternoon.”

“She really ought to get away from him,” resumed Catherine to me. “They’ve been living over that garage for eleven years. And tom’s the first sweetie she ever had.”

The bottle of whiskey — a second one — was now in constant demand by all present, excepting Catherine, who “felt just as good on nothing at all.” Tom rang for the janitor and sent him for some celebrated sandwiches, which were a complete supper in themselves. I wanted to get out and walk southward toward the park through the soft twilight, but each time I tried to go I became entangled in some wild, strident argument which pulled me back, as if with ropes, into my chair. Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

Myrtle pulled her chair close to mine, and suddenly her warm breath poured over me the story of her first meeting with Tom.

“It was on the two little seats facing each other that are always the last ones left on the train. I was going up to New York to see my sister and spend the night. He had on a dress suit and patent leather shoes, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, but every time he looked at me I had to pretend to be looking at the advertisement over his head. When we came into the station he was next to me, and his white shirt-front pressed against my arm, and so I told him I’d have to call a policeman, but he knew I lied. I was so excited that when I got into a taxi with him I didn’t hardly know I wasn’t getting into a subway train. All I kept thinking about, over and over, was ‘You can’t live forever; you can’t live forever.’”

She turned to Mrs. McKee and the room rang full of her artificial laughter.

“My dear,” she cried, “I’m going to give you this dress as soon as I’m through with it. I’ve got to get another one to-morrow. I’m going to make a list of all the things I’ve got to get. A massage and a wave, and a collar for the dog, and one of those cute little ash-trays where you touch a spring, and a wreath with a black silk bow for mother’s grave that’ll last all summer. I got to write down a list so I won’t forget all the things I got to do.”

It was nine o’clock — almost immediately afterward I looked at my watch and found it was ten. Mr. McKee was asleep on a chair with his fists clenched in his lap, like a photograph of a man of action. Taking out my handkerchief I wiped from his cheek the remains of the spot of dried lather that had worried me all the afternoon.

The little dog was sitting on the table looking with blind eyes through the smoke, and from time to time groaning faintly. People disappeared, reappeared, made plans to go somewhere, and then lost each other, searched for each other, found each other a few feet away. Some time toward midnight Tom Buchanan and Mrs. Wilson stood face to face discussing, in impassioned voices, whether Mrs. Wilson had any right to mention Daisy’s name.

“Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!” shouted Mrs. Wilson. “I’ll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai ——”

Making a short deft movement, Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.

Then there were bloody towels upon the bath-room floor, and women’s voices scolding, and high over the confusion a long broken wail of pain. Mr. McKee awoke from his doze and started in a daze toward the door. When he had gone half way he turned around and stared at the scene — his wife and Catherine scolding and consoling as they stumbled here and there among the crowded furniture with articles of aid, and the despairing figure on the couch, bleeding fluently, and trying to spread a copy of Town Tattle over the tapestry scenes of Versailles. Then Mr. McKee turned and continued on out the door. Taking my hat from the chandelier, I followed.

“Come to lunch some day,” he suggested, as we groaned down in the elevator.

“Where?”

“Anywhere.”

“Keep your hands off the lever,” snapped the elevator boy.

“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. McKee with dignity, “I didn’t know I was touching it.”

“All right,” I agreed, “I’ll be glad to.”

… I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands.

“Beauty and the Beast… Loneliness… Old Grocery Horse… Brook’n Bridge….”

Then I was lying half asleep in the cold lower level of the Pennsylvania Station, staring at the morning Tribune, and waiting for the four o’clock train.

Chapter 3

There was music from my neighbor’s house through the summer nights. In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars. At high tide in the afternoon I watched his guests diving from the tower of his raft, or taking the sun on the hot sand of his beach while his two motor-boats slit the waters of the Sound, drawing aquaplanes over cataracts of foam. On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains. And on Mondays eight servants, including an extra gardener, toiled all day with mops and scrubbing-brushes and hammers and garden-shears, repairing the ravages of the night before.

Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York — every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler’s thumb.

At least once a fortnight a corps of caterers came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough colored lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby’s enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors-d’oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another.

By seven o’clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five-piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the beach now and are dressing up-stairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colors, and hair shorn in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introductions forgotten on the spot, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other’s names.

The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Laughter is easier minute by minute, spilled with prodigality, tipped out at a cheerful word. The groups change more swiftly, swell with new arrivals, dissolve and form in the same breath; already there are wanderers, confident girls who weave here and there among the stouter and more stable, become for a sharp, joyous moment the centre of a group, and then, excited with triumph, glide on through the sea-change of faces and voices and color under the constantly changing light.

Suddenly one of the gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and, moving her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the orchestra leader varies his rhythm obligingly for her, and there is a burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that she is Gilda Gray’s understudy from the Follies. The party has begun.

I believe that on the first night I went to Gatsby’s house I was one of the few guests who had actually been invited. People were not invited — they went there. They got into automobiles which bore them out to Long Island, and somehow they ended up at Gatsby’s door. Once there they were introduced by somebody who knew Gatsby, and after that they conducted themselves according to the rules of behavior associated with amusement parks. Sometimes they came and went without having met Gatsby at all, came for the party with a simplicity of heart that was its own ticket of admission.

I had been actually invited. A chauffeur in a uniform of robin’s-egg blue crossed my lawn early that Saturday morning with a surprisingly formal note from his employer: the honor would be entirely Gatsby’s, it said, if I would attend his “little party” that night. He had seen me several times, and had intended to call on me long before, but a peculiar combination of circumstances had prevented it — signed Jay Gatsby, in a majestic hand.

Dressed up in white flannels I went over to his lawn a little after seven, and wandered around rather ill at ease among swirls and eddies of people I didn’t know — though here and there was a face I had noticed on the commuting train. I was immediately struck by the number of young Englishmen dotted about; all well dressed, all looking a little hungry, and all talking in low, earnest voices to solid and prosperous Americans. I was sure that they were selling something: bonds or insurance or automobiles. They were at least agonizingly aware of the easy money in the vicinity and convinced that it was theirs for a few words in the right key.

As soon as I arrived I made an attempt to find my host, but the two or three people of whom I asked his whereabouts stared at me in such an amazed way, and denied so vehemently any knowledge of his movements, that I slunk off in the direction of the cocktail table — the only place in the garden where a single man could linger without looking purposeless and alone.

I was on my way to get roaring drunk from sheer embarrassment when Jordan Baker came out of the house and stood at the head of the marble steps, leaning a little backward and looking with contemptuous interest down into the garden.

Welcome or not, I found it necessary to attach myself to some one before I should begin to address cordial remarks to the passers-by.

“Hello!” I roared, advancing toward her. My voice seemed unnaturally loud across the garden.

“I thought you might be here,” she responded absently as I came up. “I remembered you lived next door to ——” She held my hand impersonally, as a promise that she’d take care of me in a minute, and gave ear to two girls in twin yellow dresses, who stopped at the foot of the steps.

“Hello!” they cried together. “Sorry you didn’t win.”

That was for the golf tournament. She had lost in the finals the week before.

“You don’t know who we are,” said one of the girls in yellow, “but we met you here about a month ago.”

“You’ve dyed your hair since then,” remarked Jordan, and I started, but the girls had moved casually on and her remark was addressed to the premature moon, produced like the supper, no doubt, out of a caterer’s basket. With Jordan’s slender golden arm resting in mine, we descended the steps and sauntered about the garden. A tray of cocktails floated at us through the twilight, and we sat down at a table with the two girls in yellow and three men, each one introduced to us as Mr. Mumble.

“Do you come to these parties often?” inquired Jordan of the girl beside her.

“The last one was the one I met you at,” answered the girl, in an alert confident voice. She turned to her companion: “Wasn’t it for you, Lucille?”

It was for Lucille, too.

“I like to come,” Lucille said. “I never care what I do, so I always have a good time. When I was here last I tore my gown on a chair, and he asked me my name and address — inside of a week I got a package from Croirier’s with a new evening gown in it.”

“Did you keep it?” asked Jordan.

“Sure I did. I was going to wear it to-night, but it was too big in the bust and had to be altered. It was gas blue with lavender beads. Two hundred and sixty-five dollars.”

“There’s something funny about a fellow that’ll do a thing like that,” said the other girl eagerly. “He doesn’t want any trouble with ANYbody.”

“Who doesn’t?” I inquired.

“Gatsby. Somebody told me ——”

The two girls and Jordan leaned together confidentially.

“Somebody told me they thought he killed a man once.”

A thrill passed over all of us. The three Mr. Mumbles bent forward and listened eagerly.

“I don’t think it’s so much that,” argued Lucille sceptically; “it’s more that he was a German spy during the war.”

One of the men nodded in confirmation.

“I heard that from a man who knew all about him, grew up with him in Germany,” he assured us positively.

“Oh, no,” said the first girl, “it couldn’t be that, because he was in the American army during the war.” As our credulity switched back to her she leaned forward with enthusiasm. “You look at him sometimes when he thinks nobody’s looking at him. I’ll bet he killed a man.”

She narrowed her eyes and shivered. Lucille shivered. We all turned and looked around for Gatsby. It was testimony to the romantic speculation he inspired that there were whispers about him from those who found little that it was necessary to whisper about in this world.

The first supper — there would be another one after midnight — was now being served, and Jordan invited me to join her own party, who were spread around a table on the other side of the garden. There were three married couples and Jordan’s escort, a persistent undergraduate given to violent innuendo, and obviously under the impression that sooner or later Jordan was going to yield him up her person to a greater or lesser degree. Instead of rambling, this party had preserved a dignified homogeneity, and assumed to itself the function of representing the staid nobility of the country-side — East Egg condescending to West Egg, and carefully on guard against its spectroscopic gayety.

“Let’s get out,” whispered Jordan, after a somehow wasteful and inappropriate half-hour. “This is much too polite for me.”

We got up, and she explained that we were going to find the host: I had never met him, she said, and it was making me uneasy. The undergraduate nodded in a cynical, melancholy way.

The bar, where we glanced first, was crowded, but Gatsby was not there. She couldn’t find him from the top of the steps, and he wasn’t on the veranda. On a chance we tried an important-looking door, and walked into a high Gothic library, panelled with carved English oak, and probably transported complete from some ruin overseas.

A stout, middle-aged man, with enormous owl-eyed spectacles, was sitting somewhat drunk on the edge of a great table, staring with unsteady concentration at the shelves of books. As we entered he wheeled excitedly around and examined Jordan from head to foot.

“What do you think?” he demanded impetuously.

“About what?” He waved his hand toward the book-shelves.

“About that. As a matter of fact you needn’t bother to ascertain. I ascertained. They’re real.”

“The books?”

He nodded.

“Absolutely real — have pages and everything. I thought they’d be a nice durable cardboard. Matter of fact, they’re absolutely real. Pages and — Here! Lemme show you.”

Taking our scepticism for granted, he rushed to the bookcases and returned with Volume One of the “Stoddard Lectures.”

“See!” he cried triumphantly. “It’s a bona-fide piece of printed matter. It fooled me. This fella’s a regular Belasco. It’s a triumph. What thoroughness! What realism! Knew when to stop, too — didn’t cut the pages. But what do you want? What do you expect?”

He snatched the book from me and replaced it hastily on its shelf, muttering that if one brick was removed the whole library was liable to collapse.

“Who brought you?” he demanded. “Or did you just come? I was brought. Most people were brought.”

Jordan looked at him alertly, cheerfully, without answering.

“I was brought by a woman named Roosevelt,” he continued. “Mrs. Claud Roosevelt. Do you know her? I met her somewhere last night. I’ve been drunk for about a week now, and I thought it might sober me up to sit in a library.”

“Has it?”

“A little bit, I think. I can’t tell yet. I’ve only been here an hour. Did I tell you about the books? They’re real. They’re ——”

“You told us.” We shook hands with him gravely and went back outdoors.

There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden; old men pushing young girls backward in eternal graceless circles, superior couples holding each other tortuously, fashionably, and keeping in the corners — and a great number of single girls dancing individualistically or relieving the orchestra for a moment of the burden of the banjo or the traps. By midnight the hilarity had increased. A celebrated tenor had sung in Italian, and a notorious contralto had sung in jazz, and between the numbers people were doing “stunts” all over the garden, while happy, vacuous bursts of laughter rose toward the summer sky. A pair of stage twins, who turned out to be the girls in yellow, did a baby act in costume, and champagne was served in glasses bigger than finger-bowls. The moon had risen higher, and floating in the Sound was a triangle of silver scales, trembling a little to the stiff, tinny drip of the banjoes on the lawn.

I was still with Jordan Baker. We were sitting at a table with a man of about my age and a rowdy little girl, who gave way upon the slightest provocation to uncontrollable laughter. I was enjoying myself now. I had taken two finger-bowls of champagne, and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound.

At a lull in the entertainment the man looked at me and smiled.

“Your face is familiar,” he said, politely. “Weren’t you in the Third Division during the war?”

“Why, yes. I was in the Ninth Machine-gun Battalion.”

“I was in the Seventh Infantry until June nineteen-eighteen. I knew I’d seen you somewhere before.”

We talked for a moment about some wet, gray little villages in France. Evidently he lived in this vicinity, for he told me that he had just bought a hydroplane, and was going to try it out in the morning.

“Want to go with me, old sport? Just near the shore along the Sound.”

“What time?”

“Any time that suits you best.”

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask his name when Jordan looked around and smiled.

“Having a gay time now?” she inquired.

“Much better.” I turned again to my new acquaintance. “This is an unusual party for me. I haven’t even seen the host. I live over there ——” I waved my hand at the invisible hedge in the distance, “and this man Gatsby sent over his chauffeur with an invitation.” For a moment he looked at me as if he failed to understand.

“I’m Gatsby,” he said suddenly.

“What!” I exclaimed. “Oh, I beg your pardon.”

“I thought you knew, old sport. I’m afraid I’m not a very good host.”

He smiled understandingly — much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished — and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.

Almost at the moment when Mr. Gatsby identified himself, a butler hurried toward him with the information that Chicago was calling him on the wire. He excused himself with a small bow that included each of us in turn.

“If you want anything just ask for it, old sport,” he urged me. “Excuse me. I will rejoin you later.”

When he was gone I turned immediately to Jordan — constrained to assure her of my surprise. I had expected that Mr. Gatsby would be a florid and corpulent person in his middle years.

“Who is he?” I demanded.

“Do you know?”

“He’s just a man named Gatsby.”

“Where is he from, I mean? And what does he do?”

“Now you’re started on the subject,” she answered with a wan smile. “Well, he told me once he was an Oxford man.” A dim background started to take shape behind him, but at her next remark it faded away.

“However, I don’t believe it.”

“Why not?” “I don’t know,” she insisted, “I just don’t think he went there.”

Something in her tone reminded me of the other girl’s “I think he killed a man,” and had the effect of stimulating my curiosity. I would have accepted without question the information that Gatsby sprang from the swamps of Louisiana or from the lower East Side of New York. That was comprehensible. But young men didn’t — at least in my provincial inexperience I believed they didn’t — drift coolly out of nowhere and buy a palace on Long Island Sound.

“Anyhow, he gives large parties,” said Jordan, changing the subject with an urbane distaste for the concrete. “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”

There was the boom of a bass drum, and the voice of the orchestra leader rang out suddenly above the echolalia of the garden.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he cried. “At the request of Mr. Gatsby we are going to play for you Mr. Vladimir Tostoff’s latest work, which attracted so much attention at Carnegie Hall last May. If you read the papers, you know there was a big sensation.” He smiled with jovial condescension, and added: “Some sensation!” Whereupon everybody laughed.

“The piece is known,” he concluded lustily, “as Vladimir Tostoff’s Jazz History of the World.”

The nature of Mr. Tostoff’s composition eluded me, because just as it began my eyes fell on Gatsby, standing alone on the marble steps and looking from one group to another with approving eyes. His tanned skin was drawn attractively tight on his face and his short hair looked as though it were trimmed every day. I could see nothing sinister about him. I wondered if the fact that he was not drinking helped to set him off from his guests, for it seemed to me that he grew more correct as the fraternal hilarity increased. When the Jazz History of the World was over, girls were putting their heads on men’s shoulders in a puppyish, convivial way, girls were swooning backward playfully into men’s arms, even into groups, knowing that some one would arrest their falls — but no one swooned backward on Gatsby, and no French bob touched Gatsby’s shoulder, and no singing quartets were formed with Gatsby’s head for one link.

“I beg your pardon.”

Gatsby’s butler was suddenly standing beside us.

“Miss Baker?” he inquired. “I beg your pardon, but Mr. Gatsby would like to speak to you alone.”

“With me?” she exclaimed in surprise.

“Yes, madame.”

She got up slowly, raising her eyebrows at me in astonishment, and followed the butler toward the house. I noticed that she wore her evening-dress, all her dresses, like sports clothes — there was a jauntiness about her movements as if she had first learned to walk upon golf courses on clean, crisp mornings.

I was alone and it was almost two. For some time confused and intriguing sounds had issued from a long, many-windowed room which overhung the terrace. Eluding Jordan’s undergraduate, who was now engaged in an obstetrical conversation with two chorus girls, and who implored me to join him, I went inside.

The large room was full of people. One of the girls in yellow was playing the piano, and beside her stood a tall, red-haired young lady from a famous chorus, engaged in song. She had drunk a quantity of champagne, and during the course of her song she had decided, ineptly, that everything was very, very sad — she was not only singing, she was weeping too. Whenever there was a pause in the song she filled it with gasping, broken sobs, and then took up the lyric again in a quavering soprano. The tears coursed down her cheeks — not freely, however, for when they came into contact with her heavily beaded eyelashes they assumed an inky color, and pursued the rest of their way in slow black rivulets. A humorous suggestion was made that she sing the notes on her face, whereupon she threw up her hands, sank into a chair, and went off into a deep vinous sleep.

“She had a fight with a man who says he’s her husband,” explained a girl at my elbow.

I looked around. Most of the remaining women were now having fights with men said to be their husbands. Even Jordan’s party, the quartet from East Egg, were rent asunder by dissension. One of the men was talking with curious intensity to a young actress, and his wife, after attempting to laugh at the situation in a dignified and indifferent way, broke down entirely and resorted to flank attacks — at intervals she appeared suddenly at his side like an angry diamond, and hissed: “You promised!” into his ear.

The reluctance to go home was not confined to wayward men. The hall was at present occupied by two deplorably sober men and their highly indignant wives. The wives were sympathizing with each other in slightly raised voices.

“Whenever he sees I’m having a good time he wants to go home.”

“Never heard anything so selfish in my life.”

“We’re always the first ones to leave.”

“So are we.”

“Well, we’re almost the last to-night,” said one of the men sheepishly. “The orchestra left half an hour ago.”

In spite of the wives’ agreement that such malevolence was beyond credibility, the dispute ended in a short struggle, and both wives were lifted, kicking, into the night.

As I waited for my hat in the hall the door of the library opened and Jordan Baker and Gatsby came out together. He was saying some last word to her, but the eagerness in his manner tightened abruptly into formality as several people approached him to say good-bye.

Jordan’s party were calling impatiently to her from the porch, but she lingered for a moment to shake hands.

“I’ve just heard the most amazing thing,” she whispered. “How long were we in there?”

“Why, about an hour.” “It was — simply amazing,” she repeated abstractedly. “But I swore I wouldn’t tell it and here I am tantalizing you.” She yawned gracefully in my face: “Please come and see me…. Phone book… Under the name of Mrs. Sigourney Howard… My aunt…” She was hurrying off as she talked — her brown hand waved a jaunty salute as she melted into her party at the door.

Rather ashamed that on my first appearance I had stayed so late, I joined the last of Gatsby’s guests, who were clustered around him. I wanted to explain that I’d hunted for him early in the evening and to apologize for not having known him in the garden.

“Don’t mention it,” he enjoined me eagerly. “Don’t give it another thought, old sport.” The familiar expression held no more familiarity than the hand which reassuringly brushed my shoulder. “And don’t forget we’re going up in the hydroplane to-morrow morning, at nine o’clock.”

Then the butler, behind his shoulder: “Philadelphia wants you on the ‘phone, sir.”

“All right, in a minute. Tell them I’ll be right there…. good night.”

“Good night.”

“Good night.” He smiled — and suddenly there seemed to be a pleasant significance in having been among the last to go, as if he had desired it all the time. “Good night, old sport…. good night.”

But as I walked down the steps I saw that the evening was not quite over. Fifty feet from the door a dozen headlights illuminated a bizarre and tumultuous scene. In the ditch beside the road, right side up, but violently shorn of one wheel, rested a new coupe which had left Gatsby’s drive not two minutes before. The sharp jut of a wall accounted for the detachment of the wheel, which was now getting considerable attention from half a dozen curious chauffeurs. However, as they had left their cars blocking the road, a harsh, discordant din from those in the rear had been audible for some time, and added to the already violent confusion of the scene.

A man in a long duster had dismounted from the wreck and now stood in the middle of the road, looking from the car to the tire and from the tire to the observers in a pleasant, puzzled way.

“See!” he explained. “It went in the ditch.”

The fact was infinitely astonishing to him, and I recognized first the unusual quality of wonder, and then the man — it was the late patron of Gatsby’s library.

“How’d it happen?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

“I know nothing whatever about mechanics,” he said decisively.

“But how did it happen? Did you run into the wall?” “Don’t ask me,” said Owl Eyes, washing his hands of the whole matter. “I know very little about driving — next to nothing. It happened, and that’s all I know.”

“Well, if you’re a poor driver you oughtn’t to try driving at night.”

“But I wasn’t even trying,” he explained indignantly, “I wasn’t even trying.”

An awed hush fell upon the bystanders.

“Do you want to commit suicide?”

“You’re lucky it was just a wheel! A bad driver and not even TRYing!”

“You don’t understand,” explained the criminal. “I wasn’t driving. There’s another man in the car.”

The shock that followed this declaration found voice in a sustained “Ah-h-h!” as the door of the coupe swung slowly open. The crowd — it was now a crowd — stepped back involuntarily, and when the door had opened wide there was a ghostly pause. Then, very gradually, part by part, a pale, dangling individual stepped out of the wreck, pawing tentatively at the ground with a large uncertain dancing shoe.

Blinded by the glare of the headlights and confused by the incessant groaning of the horns, the apparition stood swaying for a moment before he perceived the man in the duster.

“Wha’s matter?” he inquired calmly. “Did we run outa gas?”

“Look!”

Half a dozen fingers pointed at the amputated wheel — he stared at it for a moment, and then looked upward as though he suspected that it had dropped from the sky.

“It came off,” some one explained.

He nodded.

“At first I din’ notice we’d stopped.”

A pause. Then, taking a long breath and straightening his shoulders, he remarked in a determined voice:

“Wonder’ff tell me where there’s a gas’line station?”

At least a dozen men, some of them little better off than he was, explained to him that wheel and car were no longer joined by any physical bond.

“Back out,” he suggested after a moment. “Put her in reverse.”

“But the wheel’s off!”

He hesitated.

“No harm in trying,” he said.

The caterwauling horns had reached a crescendo and I turned away and cut across the lawn toward home. I glanced back once. A wafer of a moon was shining over Gatsby’s house, making the night fine as before, and surviving the laughter and the sound of his still glowing garden. A sudden emptiness seemed to flow now from the windows and the great doors, endowing with complete isolation the figure of the host, who stood on the porch, his hand up in a formal gesture of farewell.

Reading over what I have written so far, I see I have given the impression that the events of three nights several weeks apart were all that absorbed me. On the contrary, they were merely casual events in a crowded summer, and, until much later, they absorbed me infinitely less than my personal affairs.

Most of the time I worked. In the early morning the sun threw my shadow westward as I hurried down the white chasms of lower New York to the Probity Trust. I knew the other clerks and young bond-salesmen by their first names, and lunched with them in dark, crowded restaurants on little pig sausages and mashed potatoes and coffee. I even had a short affair with a girl who lived in Jersey City and worked in the accounting department, but her brother began throwing mean looks in my direction, so when she went on her vacation in July I let it blow quietly away.

I took dinner usually at the Yale Club — for some reason it was the gloomiest event of my day — and then I went up-stairs to the library and studied investments and securities for a conscientious hour. There were generally a few rioters around, but they never came into the library, so it was a good place to work. After that, if the night was mellow, I strolled down Madison Avenue past the old Murray Hill Hotel, and over 33rd Street to the Pennsylvania Station.

I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night, and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter into their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others — poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for a solitary restaurant dinner — young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.

Again at eight o’clock, when the dark lanes of the Forties were five deep with throbbing taxi-cabs, bound for the theatre district, I felt a sinking in my heart. Forms leaned together in the taxis as they waited, and voices sang, and there was laughter from unheard jokes, and lighted cigarettes outlined unintelligible 70 gestures inside. Imagining that I, too, was hurrying toward gayety and sharing their intimate excitement, I wished them well.

For a while I lost sight of Jordan Baker, and then in midsummer I found her again. At first I was flattered to go places with her, because she was a golf champion, and every one knew her name. Then it was something more. I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity. The bored haughty face that she turned to the world concealed something — most affectations conceal something eventually, even though they don’t in the beginning — and one day I found what it was. When we were on a house-party together up in Warwick, she left a borrowed car out in the rain with the top down, and then lied about it — and suddenly I remembered the story about her that had eluded me that night at Daisy’s. At her first big golf tournament there was a row that nearly reached the newspapers — a suggestion that she had moved her ball from a bad lie in the semi-final round. The thing approached the proportions of a scandal — then died away. A caddy retracted his statement, and the only other witness admitted that he might have been mistaken. The incident and the name had remained together in my mind.

Jordan Baker instinctively avoided clever, shrewd men, and now I saw that this was because she felt safer on a plane where any divergence from a code would be thought impossible. She was incurably dishonest. She wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage and, given this unwillingness, I suppose she had begun dealing in subterfuges when she was very young in order to keep that cool, insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard, jaunty body.

It made no difference to me. Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply — I was casually sorry, and then I forgot. It was on that same house party that we had a curious conversation about driving a car. It started because she passed so close to some workmen that our fender flicked a button on one man’s coat.

“You’re a rotten driver,” I protested. “Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn’t to drive at all.”

“I am careful.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Well, other people are,” she said lightly.

“What’s that got to do with it?”

“They’ll keep out of my way,” she insisted. “It takes two to make an accident.”

“Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself.”

“I hope I never will,” she answered. “I hate careless people. That’s why I like you.”

Her gray, sun-strained eyes stared straight ahead, but she had deliberately shifted our relations, and for a moment I thought I loved her. But I am slow-thinking and full of interior rules that act as brakes on my desires, and I knew that first I had to get myself definitely out of that tangle back home. I’d been writing letters once a week and signing them: “Love, Nick,” and all I could think of was how, when that certain girl played tennis, a faint mustache of perspiration appeared on her upper lip. Nevertheless there was a vague understanding that had to be tactfully broken off before I was free.

Every one suspects himself of at least one of the cardinal virtues, and this is mine: I am one of the few honest people that I have ever known.

Chapter 4

On Sunday morning while church bells rang in the villages alongshore, the world and its mistress returned to Gatsby’s house and twinkled hilariously on his lawn.

“He’s a bootlegger,” said the young ladies, moving somewhere between his cocktails and his flowers. “One time he killed a man who had found out that he was nephew to Von Hindenburg and second cousin to the devil. Reach me a rose, honey, and pour me a last drop into that there crystal glass.”

Once I wrote down on the empty spaces of a time-table the names of those who came to Gatsby’s house that summer. It is an old time-table now, disintegrating at its folds, and headed “This schedule in effect July 5th, 1922.” But I can still read the gray names, and they will give you a better impression than my generalities of those who accepted Gatsby’s hospitality and paid him the subtle tribute of knowing nothing whatever about him.

From East Egg, then, came the Chester Beckers and the Leeches, and a man named Bunsen, whom I knew at Yale, and Doctor Webster Civet, who was drowned last summer up in Maine. And the Hornbeams and the Willie Voltaires, and a whole clan named Blackbuck, who always gathered in a corner and flipped up their noses like goats at whosoever came near. And the Ismays and the Chrysties (or rather Hubert Auerbach and Mr. Chrystie’s wife), and Edgar Beaver, whose hair, they say, turned cotton-white one winter afternoon for no good reason at all.

Clarence Endive was from East Egg, as I remember. He came only once, in white knickerbockers, and had a fight with a bum named Etty in the garden. From farther out on the Island came the Cheadles and the O. R. P. Schraeders, and the Stonewall Jackson Abrams of Georgia, and the Fishguards and the Ripley Snells. Snell was there three days before he went to the penitentiary, so drunk out on the gravel drive that Mrs. Ulysses Swett’s automobile ran over his right hand. The Dancies came, too, and S. B. Whitebait, who was well over sixty, and Maurice A. Flink, and the Hammerheads, and Beluga the tobacco importer, and Beluga’s girls.

From West Egg came the Poles and the Mulreadys and Cecil Roebuck and Cecil Schoen and Gulick the state senator and Newton Orchid, who controlled Films Par Excellence, and Eckhaust and Clyde Cohen and Don S. Schwartze (the son) and Arthur McCarty, all connected with the movies in one way or another. And the Catlips and the Bembergs and G. Earl Muldoon, brother to that Muldoon who afterward strangled his wife. Da Fontano the promoter came there, and Ed Legros and James B. (“Rot-Gut.”) Ferret and the De Jongs and Ernest Lilly — they came to gamble, and when Ferret wandered into the garden it meant he was cleaned out and Associated Traction would have to fluctuate profitably next day.

A man named Klipspringer was there so often and so long that he became known as “the boarder.”— I doubt if he had any other home. Of theatrical people there were Gus Waize and Horace O’donavan and Lester Meyer and George Duckweed and Francis Bull. Also from New York were the Chromes and the Backhyssons and the Dennickers and Russel Betty and the Corrigans and the Kellehers and the Dewars and the Scullys and S. W. Belcher and the Smirkes and the young Quinns, divorced now, and Henry L. Palmetto, who killed himself by jumping in front of a subway train in Times Square.

Benny McClenahan arrived always with four girls. They were never quite the same ones in physical person, but they were so identical one with another that it inevitably seemed they had been there before. I have forgotten their names — Jaqueline, I think, or else Consuela, or Gloria or Judy or June, and their last names were either the melodious names of flowers and months or the sterner ones of the great American capitalists whose cousins, if pressed, they would confess themselves to be.

In addition to all these I can remember that Faustina O’brien came there at least once and the Baedeker girls and young Brewer, who had his nose shot off in the war, and Mr. Albrucksburger and Miss Haag, his fiancee, and Ardita Fitz-Peters and Mr. P. Jewett, once head of the American Legion, and Miss Claudia Hip, with a man reputed to be her chauffeur, and a prince of something, whom we called Duke, and whose name, if I ever knew it, I have forgotten.

All these people came to Gatsby’s house in the summer.

At nine o’clock, one morning late in July, Gatsby’s gorgeous car lurched up the rocky drive to my door and gave out a burst of melody from its three-noted horn. It was the first time he had called on me, though I had gone to two of his parties, mounted in his hydroplane, and, at his urgent invitation, made frequent use of his beach.

“Good morning, old sport. You’re having lunch with me to-day and I thought we’d ride up together.”

He was balancing himself on the dashboard of his car with that resourcefulness of movement that is so peculiarly American — that comes, I suppose, with the absence of lifting work or rigid sitting in youth and, even more, with the formless grace of our nervous, sporadic games. This quality was continually breaking through his punctilious manner in the shape of restlessness. He was never quite still; there was always a tapping foot somewhere or the impatient opening and closing of a hand.

He saw me looking with admiration at his car.

“It’s pretty, isn’t it, old sport?” He jumped off to give me a better view. “Haven’t you ever seen it before?”

I’d seen it. Everybody had seen it. It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns. Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green leather conservatory, we started to town.

I had talked with him perhaps half a dozen times in the past month and found, to my disappointment, that he had little to say: So my first impression, that he was a person of some undefined consequence, had gradually faded and he had become simply the proprietor of an elaborate road-house next door.

And then came that disconcerting ride. We hadn’t reached West Egg village before Gatsby began leaving his elegant sentences unfinished and slapping himself indecisively on the knee of his caramel-colored suit.

“Look here, old sport,” he broke out surprisingly. “What’s your opinion of me, anyhow?” A little overwhelmed, I began the generalized evasions which that question deserves.

“Well, I’m going to tell you something about my life,” he interrupted. “I don’t want you to get a wrong idea of me from all these stories you hear.”

So he was aware of the bizarre accusations that flavored conversation in his halls.

“I’ll tell you God’s truth.” His right hand suddenly ordered divine retribution to stand by. “I am the son of some wealthy people in the Middle West — all dead now. I was brought up in America but educated at Oxford, because all my ancestors have been educated there for many years. It is a family tradition.”

He looked at me sideways — and I knew why Jordan Baker had believed he was lying. He hurried the phrase “educated at Oxford,” or swallowed it, or choked on it, as though it had bothered him before. And with this doubt, his whole statement fell to pieces, and I wondered if there wasn’t something a little sinister about him, after all.

“What part of the Middle West?” I inquired casually.

“San Francisco.”

“I see.”

“My family all died and I came into a good deal of money.”

His voice was solemn, as if the memory of that sudden extinction of a clan still haunted him. For a moment I suspected that he was pulling my leg, but a glance at him convinced me otherwise.

“After that I lived like a young rajah in all the capitals of Europe — Paris, Venice, Rome — collecting jewels, chiefly rubies, hunting big game, painting a little, things for myself only, and trying to forget something very sad that had happened to me long ago.”

With an effort I managed to restrain my incredulous laughter. The very phrases were worn so threadbare that they evoked no image except that of a turbaned “character” leaking sawdust at every pore as he pursued a tiger through the Bois de Boulogne.

“Then came the war, old sport. It was a great relief, and I tried very hard to die, but I seemed to bear an enchanted life. I accepted a commission as first lieutenant when it began. In the Argonne Forest I took two machine-gun detachments so far forward that there was a half mile gap on either side of us where the infantry couldn’t advance. We stayed there two days and two nights, a hundred and thirty men with sixteen Lewis guns, and when the infantry came up at last they found the insignia of three German divisions among the piles of dead. I was promoted to be a major, and every Allied government gave me a decoration — even Montenegro, little Montenegro down on the Adriatic Sea!”

Little Montenegro! He lifted up the words and nodded at them — with his smile. The smile comprehended Montenegro’s troubled history and sympathized with the brave struggles of the Montenegrin people. It appreciated fully the chain of national circumstances which had elicited this tribute from Montenegro’s warm little heart. My incredulity was submerged in fascination now; it was like skimming hastily through a dozen magazines.

He reached in his pocket, and a piece of metal, slung on a ribbon, fell into my palm.

“That’s the one from Montenegro.”

To my astonishment, the thing had an authentic look.

“Orderi di Danilo,” ran the circular legend, “Montenegro, Nicolas Rex.”

“Turn it.”

“Major Jay Gatsby,” I read, “For Valour Extraordinary.”

“Here’s another thing I always carry. A souvenir of Oxford days. It was taken in Trinity Quad — the man on my left is now the Earl of Dorcaster.”

It was a photograph of half a dozen young men in blazers loafing in an archway through which were visible a host of spires. There was Gatsby, looking a little, not much, younger — with a cricket bat in his hand.

Then it was all true. I saw the skins of tigers flaming in his palace on the Grand Canal; I saw him opening a chest of rubies to ease, with their crimson-lighted depths, the gnawings of his broken heart.

“I’m going to make a big request of you to-day,” he said, pocketing his souvenirs with satisfaction, “so I thought you ought to know something about me. I didn’t want you to think I was just some nobody. You see, I usually find myself among strangers because I drift here and there trying to forget the sad thing that happened to me.” He hesitated. “You’ll hear about it this afternoon.”

“At lunch?”

“No, this afternoon. I happened to find out that you’re taking Miss Baker to tea.”

“Do you mean you’re in love with Miss Baker?”

“No, old sport, I’m not. But Miss Baker has kindly consented to speak to you about this matter.”

I hadn’t the faintest idea what “this matter” was, but I was more annoyed than interested. I hadn’t asked Jordan to tea in order to discuss Mr. Jay Gatsby. I was sure the request would be something utterly fantastic, and for a moment I was sorry I’d ever set foot upon his overpopulated lawn.

He wouldn’t say another word. His correctness grew on him as we neared the city. We passed Port Roosevelt, where there was a glimpse of red-belted ocean-going ships, and sped along a cobbled slum lined with the dark, undeserted saloons of the faded-gilt nineteen-hundreds. Then the valley of ashes opened out on both sides of us, and I had a glimpse of Mrs. Wilson straining at the garage pump with panting vitality as we went by.

With fenders spread like wings we scattered light through half Long Island City — only half, for as we twisted among the pillars of the elevated I heard the familiar “jug — jug — spat!” of a motorcycle, and a frantic policeman rode alongside.

“All right, old sport,” called Gatsby. We slowed down. Taking a white card from his wallet, he waved it before the man’s eyes.

“Right you are,” agreed the policeman, tipping his cap. “Know you next time, Mr. Gatsby. Excuse me!”

“What was that?” I inquired.

“The picture of Oxford?”

“I was able to do the commissioner a favor once, and he sends me a Christmas card every year.”

Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.

A dead man passed us in a hearse heaped with blooms, followed by two carriages with drawn blinds, and by more cheerful carriages for friends. The friends looked out at us with the tragic eyes and short upper lips of southeastern Europe, and I was glad that the sight of Gatsby’s splendid car was included in their sombre holiday. As we crossed Blackwell’s Island a limousine passed us, driven by a white chauffeur, in which sat three modish negroes, two bucks and a girl. I laughed aloud as the yolks of their eyeballs rolled toward us in haughty rivalry.

“Anything can happen now that we’ve slid over this bridge,” I thought; “anything at all….”

Even Gatsby could happen, without any particular wonder.

Roaring noon. In a well-fanned Forty-second Street cellar I met Gatsby for lunch. Blinking away the brightness of the street outside, my eyes picked him out obscurely in the anteroom, talking to another man.

“Mr. Carraway, this is my friend Mr. Wolfsheim.”

A small, flat-nosed Jew raised his large head and regarded me with two fine growths of hair which luxuriated in either nostril. After a moment I discovered his tiny eyes in the half-darkness.

“— So I took one look at him,” said Mr. Wolfsheim, shaking my hand earnestly, “and what do you think I did?”

“What?” I inquired politely.

But evidently he was not addressing me, for he dropped my hand and covered Gatsby with his expressive nose.

“I handed the money to Katspaugh and I said: ‘all right, Katspaugh, don’t pay him a penny till he shuts his mouth.’ He shut it then and there.”

Gatsby took an arm of each of us and moved forward into the restaurant, whereupon Mr. Wolfsheim swallowed a new sentence he was starting and lapsed into a somnambulatory abstraction.

“Highballs?” asked the head waiter.

“This is a nice restaurant here,” said Mr. Wolfsheim, looking at the Presbyterian nymphs on the ceiling. “But I like across the street better!”

“Yes, highballs,” agreed Gatsby, and then to Mr. Wolfsheim: “It’s too hot over there.”

“Hot and small — yes,” said Mr. Wolfsheim, “but full of memories.”

“What place is that?” I asked.

“The old Metropole.

“The old Metropole,” brooded Mr. Wolfsheim gloomily. “Filled with faces dead and gone. Filled with friends gone now forever. I can’t forget so long as I live the night they shot Rosy Rosenthal there. It was six of us at the table, and Rosy had eat and drunk a lot all evening. When it was almost morning the waiter came up to him with a funny look and says somebody wants to speak to him outside. ‘All right,’ says Rosy, and begins to get up, and I pulled him down in his chair.

“‘Let the bastards come in here if they want you, Rosy, but don’t you, so help me, move outside this room.’

“It was four o’clock in the morning then, and if we’d of raised the blinds we’d of seen daylight.”

“Did he go?” I asked innocently.

“Sure he went.” Mr. Wolfsheim’s nose flashed at me indignantly. “He turned around in the door and says: ‘Don’t let that waiter take away my coffee!’ Then he went out on the sidewalk, and they shot him three times in his full belly and drove away.”

“Four of them were electrocuted,” I said, remembering.

“Five, with Becker.” His nostrils turned to me in an interested way. “I understand you’re looking for a business gonnegtion.”

The juxtaposition of these two remarks was startling. Gatsby answered for me:

“Oh, no,” he exclaimed, “this isn’t the man.”

“No?” Mr. Wolfsheim seemed disappointed.

“This is just a friend. I told you we’d talk about that some other time.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Mr. Wolfsheim, “I had a wrong man.”

A succulent hash arrived, and Mr. Wolfsheim, forgetting the more sentimental atmosphere of the old Metropole, began to eat with ferocious delicacy. His eyes, meanwhile, roved very slowly all around the room — he completed the arc by turning to inspect the people directly behind. I think that, except for my presence, he would have taken one short glance beneath our own table.

“Look here, old sport,” said Gatsby, leaning toward me, “I’m afraid I made you a little angry this morning in the car.”

There was the smile again, but this time I held out against it.

“I don’t like mysteries,” I answered. “And I don’t understand why you won’t come out frankly and tell me what you want. Why has it all got to come through Miss Baker?”

“Oh, it’s nothing underhand,” he assured me. “Miss Baker’s a great sportswoman, you know, and she’d never do anything that wasn’t all right.”

Suddenly he looked at his watch, jumped up, and hurried from the room, leaving me with Mr. Wolfsheim at the table.

“He has to telephone,” said Mr. Wolfsheim, following him with his eyes. “Fine fellow, isn’t he? Handsome to look at and a perfect gentleman.”

“Yes.”

“He’s an Oggsford man.”

“Oh!”

“He went to Oggsford College in England. You know Oggsford College?”

“I’ve heard of it.”

“It’s one of the most famous colleges in the world.”

“Have you known Gatsby for a long time?” I inquired.

“Several years,” he answered in a gratified way. “I made the pleasure of his acquaintance just after the war. But I knew I had discovered a man of fine breeding after I talked with him an hour. I said to myself: ‘There’s the kind of man you’d like to take home and introduce to your mother and sister.’.” He paused. “I see you’re looking at my cuff buttons.” I hadn’t been looking at them, but I did now.

They were composed of oddly familiar pieces of ivory.

“Finest specimens of human molars,” he informed me.

“Well!” I inspected them. “That’s a very interesting idea.”

“Yeah.” He flipped his sleeves up under his coat. “Yeah, Gatsby’s very careful about women. He would never so much as look at a friend’s wife.”

When the subject of this instinctive trust returned to the table and sat down Mr. Wolfsheim drank his coffee with a jerk and got to his feet.

“I have enjoyed my lunch,” he said, “and I’m going to run off from you two young men before I outstay my welcome.”

“Don’t hurry, Meyer,” said Gatsby, without enthusiasm. Mr. Wolfsheim raised his hand in a sort of benediction.

“You’re very polite, but I belong to another generation,” he announced solemnly. “You sit here and discuss your sports and your young ladies and your ——” He supplied an imaginary noun with another wave of his hand. “As for me, I am fifty years old, and I won’t impose myself on you any longer.”

As he shook hands and turned away his tragic nose was trembling. I wondered if I had said anything to offend him.

“He becomes very sentimental sometimes,” explained Gatsby. “This is one of his sentimental days. He’s quite a character around New York — a denizen of Broadway.”

“Who is he, anyhow, an actor?”

“No.”

“A dentist?”

“Meyer Wolfsheim? No, he’s a gambler.” Gatsby hesitated, then added coolly: “He’s the man who fixed the World’s Series back in 1919.”

“Fixed the World’s Series?” I repeated.

The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World’s Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as a thing that merely happened, the end of some inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people — with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe.

“How did he happen to do that?” I asked after a minute.

“He just saw the opportunity.”

“Why isn’t he in jail?”

“They can’t get him, old sport. He’s a smart man.”

I insisted on paying the check. As the waiter brought my change I caught sight of Tom Buchanan across the crowded room.

“Come along with me for a minute,” I said; “I’ve got to say hello to some one.” When he saw us Tom jumped up and took half a dozen steps in our direction.

“Where’ve you been?” he demamded eagerly. “Daisy’s furious because you haven’t called up.”

“This is Mr. Gatsby, Mr. Buchanan.”

They shook hands briefly, and a strained, unfamiliar look of embarrassment came over Gatsby’s face.

“How’ve you been, anyhow?” demanded Tom of me. “How’d you happen to come up this far to eat?”

“I’ve been having lunch with Mr. Gatsby.”

I turned toward Mr. Gatsby, but he was no longer there.

One October day in nineteen-seventeen ——

(said Jordan Baker that afternoon, sitting up very straight on a straight chair in the tea-garden at the Plaza Hotel)

— I was walking along from one place to another, half on the sidewalks and half on the lawns. I was happier on the lawns because I had on shoes from England with rubber nobs on the soles that bit into the soft ground. I had on a new plaid skirt also that blew a little in the wind, and whenever this happened the red, white, and blue banners in front of all the houses stretched out stiff and said tut-TUT-TUT-TUT, in a disapproving way.

The largest of the banners and the largest of the lawns belonged to Daisy Fay’s house. She was just eighteen, two years older than me, and by far the most popular of all the young girls in Louisville. She dressed in white, and had a little white roadster, and all day long the telephone rang in her house and excited young officers from Camp Taylor demanded the privilege of monopolizing her that night. “Anyways, for an hour!”

When I came opposite her house that morning her white roadster was beside the curb, and she was sitting in it with a lieutenant I had never seen before. They were so engrossed in each other that she didn’t see me until I was five feet away.

“Hello, Jordan,” she called unexpectedly. “Please come here.”

I was flattered that she wanted to speak to me, because of all the older girls I admired her most. She asked me if I was going to the Red Cross and make bandages. I was. Well, then, would I tell them that she couldn’t come that day? The officer looked at Daisy while she was speaking, in a way that every young girl wants to be looked at sometime, and because it seemed romantic to me I have remembered the incident ever since. His name was Jay Gatsby, and I didn’t lay eyes on him again for over four years — even after I’d met him on Long Island I didn’t realize it was the same man.

That was nineteen-seventeen. By the next year I had a few beaux myself, and I began to play in tournaments, so I didn’t see Daisy very often. She went with a slightly older crowd — when she went with anyone at all. Wild rumors were circulating about her — how her mother had found her packing her bag one winter night to go to New York and say good-by to a soldier who was going overseas. She was effectually prevented, but she wasn’t on speaking terms with her family for several weeks. After that she didn’t play around with the soldiers any more, but only with a few flat-footed, short-sighted young men in town, who couldn’t get into the army at all.

By the next autumn she was gay again, gay as ever. She had a debut after the Armistice, and in February she was presumably engaged to a man from New Orleans. In June she married Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before. He came down with a hundred people in four private cars, and hired a whole floor of the Seelbach Hotel, and the day before the wedding he gave her a string of pearls valued at three hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

I was bridesmaid. I came into her room half an hour before the bridal dinner, and found her lying on her bed as lovely as the June night in her flowered dress — and as drunk as a monkey. She had a bottle of Sauterne in one hand and a letter in the other.

“’Gratulate me,” she muttered. “Never had a drink before, but oh how I do enjoy it.”

“What’s the matter, Daisy?”

I was scared, I can tell you; I’d never seen a girl like that before.

“Here, deares’.” She groped around in a waste-basket she had with her on the bed and pulled out the string of pearls. “Take ’em down-stairs and give ’em back to whoever they belong to. Tell ’em all Daisy’s change’ her mine. Say: ‘Daisy’s change’ her mine!’.”

She began to cry — she cried and cried. I rushed out and found her mother’s maid, and we locked the door and got her into a cold bath. She wouldn’t let go of the letter. She took it into the tub with her and squeezed it up into a wet ball, and only let me leave it in the soap-dish when she saw that it was coming to pieces like snow.

But she didn’t say another word. We gave her spirits of ammonia and put ice on her forehead and hooked her back into her dress, and half an hour later, when we walked out of the room, the pearls were around her neck and the incident was over. Next day at five o’clock she married Tom Buchanan without so much as a shiver, and started off on a three months’ trip to the South Seas.

I saw them in Santa Barbara when they came back, and I thought I’d never seen a girl so mad about her husband. If he left the room for a minute she’d look around uneasily, and say: “Where’s Tom gone?” and wear the most abstracted expression until she saw him coming in the door. She used to sit on the sand with his head in her lap by the hour, rubbing her fingers over his eyes and looking at him with unfathomable delight. It was touching to see them together — it made you laugh in a hushed, fascinated way. That was in August. A week after I left Santa Barbara Tom ran into a wagon on the Ventura road one night, and ripped a front wheel off his car. The girl who was with him got into the papers, too, because her arm was broken — she was one of the chambermaids in the Santa Barbara Hotel.

The next April Daisy had her little girl, and they went to France for a year. I saw them one spring in Cannes, and later in Deauville, and then they came back to Chicago to settle down. Daisy was popular in Chicago, as you know. They moved with a fast crowd, all of them young and rich and wild, but she came out with an absolutely perfect reputation. Perhaps because she doesn’t drink. It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard-drinking people. You can hold your tongue, and, moreover, you can time any little irregularity of your own so that everybody else is so blind that they don’t see or care. Perhaps Daisy never went in for amour at all — and yet there’s something in that voice of hers….

Well, about six weeks ago, she heard the name Gatsby for the first time in years. It was when I asked you — do you remember? — if you knew Gatsby in West Egg. After you had gone home she came into my room and woke me up, and said: “What Gatsby?” and when I described him — I was half asleep — she said in the strangest voice that it must be the man she used to know. It wasn’t until then that I connected this Gatsby with the officer in her white car.

When Jordan Baker had finished telling all this we had left the Plaza for half an hour and were driving in a victoria through Central Park. The sun had gone down behind the tall apartments of the movie stars in the West Fifties, and the clear voices of girls, already gathered like crickets on the grass, rose through the hot twilight:

“I’m the Sheik of Araby.
Your love belongs to me.
At night when you’re are asleep
Into your tent I’ll creep ——”

“It was a strange coincidence,” I said.

“But it wasn’t a coincidence at all.”

“Why not?”

“Gatsby bought that house so that Daisy would be just across the bay.”

Then it had not been merely the stars to which he had aspired on that June night. He came alive to me, delivered suddenly from the womb of his purposeless splendor.

“He wants to know,” continued Jordan, “if you’ll invite Daisy to your house some afternoon and then let him come over.”

The modesty of the demand shook me. He had waited five years and bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths — so that he could “come over” some afternoon to a stranger’s garden.

“Did I have to know all this before he could ask such a little thing?”

“He’s afraid, he’s waited so long. He thought you might be offended. You see, he’s a regular tough underneath it all.”

Something worried me.

“Why didn’t he ask you to arrange a meeting?”

“He wants her to see his house,” she explained. “And your house is right next door.”

“Oh!”

“I think he half expected her to wander into one of his parties, some night,” went on Jordan, “but she never did. Then he began asking people casually if they knew her, and I was the first one he found. It was that night he sent for me at his dance, and you should have heard the elaborate way he worked up to it. Of course, I immediately suggested a luncheon in New York — and I thought he’d go mad:

“‘I don’t want to do anything out of the way!’ he kept saying. ‘I want to see her right next door.’

“When I said you were a particular friend of Tom’s, he started to abandon the whole idea. He doesn’t know very much about Tom, though he says he’s read a Chicago paper for years just on the chance of catching a glimpse of Daisy’s name.”

It was dark now, and as we dipped under a little bridge I put my arm around Jordan’s golden shoulder and drew her toward me and asked her to dinner. Suddenly I wasn’t thinking of Daisy and Gatsby any more, but of this clean, hard, limited person, who dealt in universal scepticism, and who leaned back jauntily just within the circle of my arm. A phrase began to beat in my ears with a sort of heady excitement: “There are only the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.”

“And Daisy ought to have something in her life,” murmured Jordan to me.

“Does she want to see Gatsby?”

“She’s not to know about it. Gatsby doesn’t want her to know. You’re just supposed to invite her to tea.”

We passed a barrier of dark trees, and then the facade of Fifty-ninth Street, a block of delicate pale light, beamed down into the park. Unlike Gatsby and Tom Buchanan, I had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices and blinding signs, and so I drew up the girl beside me, tightening my arms. Her wan, scornful mouth smiled, and so I drew her up again closer, this time to my face.

Chapter 5

When I came home to West Egg that night I was afraid for a moment that my house was on fire. Two o’clock and the whole corner of the peninsula was blazing with light, which fell unreal on the shrubbery and made thin elongating glints upon the roadside wires. Turning a corner, I saw that it was Gatsby’s house, lit from tower to cellar.

At first I thought it was another party, a wild rout that had resolved itself into “hide-and-go-seek” or “sardines-in-the-box” with all the house thrown open to the game. But there wasn’t a sound. Only wind in the trees, which blew the wires and made the lights go off and on again as if the house had winked into the darkness. As my taxi groaned away I saw Gatsby walking toward me across his lawn.

“Your place looks like the World’s Fair,” I said.

“Does it?” He turned his eyes toward it absently. “I have been glancing into some of the rooms. Let’s go to Coney Island, old sport. In my car.”

“It’s too late.”

“Well, suppose we take a plunge in the swimming-pool? I haven’t made use of it all summer.”

“I’ve got to go to bed.”

“All right.”

He waited, looking at me with suppressed eagerness.

“I talked with Miss Baker,” I said after a moment. “I’m going to call up Daisy to-morrow and invite her over here to tea.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” he said carelessly. “I don’t want to put you to any trouble.”

“What day would suit you?”

“What day would suit you?” he corrected me quickly. “I don’t want to put you to any trouble, you see.”

“How about the day after to-morrow?” He considered for a moment. Then, with reluctance:

“I want to get the grass cut,” he said.

We both looked at the grass — there was a sharp line where my ragged lawn ended and the darker, well-kept expanse of his began. I suspected that he meant my grass.

“There’s another little thing,” he said uncertainly, and hesitated.

“Would you rather put it off for a few days?” I asked.

“Oh, it isn’t about that. At least ——” He fumbled with a series of beginnings. “Why, I thought — why, look here, old sport, you don’t make much money, do you?”

“Not very much.”

This seemed to reassure him and he continued more confidently.

“I thought you didn’t, if you’ll pardon my — You see, I carry on a little business on the side, a sort of side line, you understand. And I thought that if you don’t make very much — You’re selling bonds, aren’t you, old sport?”

“Trying to.”

“Well, this would interest you. It wouldn’t take up much of your time and you might pick up a nice bit of money. It happens to be a rather confidential sort of thing.”

I realize now that under different circumstances that conversation might have been one of the crises of my life. But, because the offer was obviously and tactlessly for a service to be rendered, I had no choice except to cut him off there.

“I’ve got my hands full,” I said. “I’m much obliged but I couldn’t take on any more work.”

“You wouldn’t have to do any business with Wolfsheim.” Evidently he thought that I was shying away from the “gonnegtion” mentioned at lunch, but I assured him he was wrong. He waited a moment longer, hoping I’d begin a conversation, but I was too absorbed to be responsive, so he went unwillingly home.

The evening had made me light-headed and happy; I think I walked into a deep sleep as I entered my front door. So I didn’t know whether or not Gatsby went to Coney Island, or for how many hours he “glanced into rooms” while his house blazed gaudily on. I called up Daisy from the office next morning, and invited her to come to tea.

“Don’t bring Tom,” I warned her.

“What?”

“Don’t bring Tom.”

“Who is ‘Tom’?” she asked innocently.

The day agreed upon was pouring rain. At eleven o’clock a man in a raincoat, dragging a lawn-mower, tapped at my front door and said that Mr. Gatsby had sent him over to cut my grass. This reminded me that I had forgotten to tell my Finn to come back, so I drove into West Egg Village to search for her among soggy, whitewashed alleys and to buy some cups and lemons and flowers.

The flowers were unnecessary, for at two o’clock a greenhouse arrived from Gatsby’s, with innumerable receptacles to contain it. An hour later the front door opened nervously, and Gatsby, in a white flannel suit, silver shirt, and gold-colored tie, hurried in. He was pale, and there were dark signs of sleeplessness beneath his eyes.

“Is everything all right?” he asked immediately.

“The grass looks fine, if that’s what you mean.”

“What grass?” he inquired blankly. “Oh, the grass in the yard.” He looked out the window at it, but, judging from his expression, I don’t believe he saw a thing.

“Looks very good,” he remarked vaguely. “One of the papers said they thought the rain would stop about four. I think it was the Journal. Have you got everything you need in the shape of — of tea?”

I took him into the pantry, where he looked a little reproachfully at the Finn. Together we scrutinized the twelve lemon cakes from the delicatessen shop.

“Will they do?” I asked.

“Of course, of course! They’re fine!” and he added hollowly, “…old sport.”

The rain cooled about half-past three to a damp mist, through which occasional thin drops swam like dew. Gatsby looked with vacant eyes through a copy of Clay’s Economics, starting at the Finnish tread that shook the kitchen floor, and peering toward the bleared windows from time to time as if a series of invisible but alarming happenings were taking place outside. Finally he got up and informed me, in an uncertain voice, that he was going home.

“Why’s that?”

“Nobody’s coming to tea. It’s too late!” He looked at his watch as if there was some pressing demand on his time elsewhere. “I can’t wait all day.”

“Don’t be silly; it’s just two minutes to four.”

He sat down miserably, as if I had pushed him, and simultaneously there was the sound of a motor turning into my lane. We both jumped up, and, a little harrowed myself, I went out into the yard.

Under the dripping bare lilac-trees a large open car was coming up the drive. It stopped. Daisy’s face, tipped sideways beneath a three-cornered lavender hat, looked out at me with a bright ecstatic smile.

“Is this absolutely where you live, my dearest one?”

The exhilarating ripple of her voice was a wild tonic in the rain. I had to follow the sound of it for a moment, up and down, with my ear alone, before any words came through. A damp streak of hair lay like a dash of blue paint across her cheek, and her hand was wet with glistening drops as I took it to help her from the car.

“Are you in love with me,” she said low in my ear, “or why did I have to come alone?”

“That’s the secret of Castle Rackrent. Tell your chauffeur to go far away and spend an hour.”

“Come back in an hour, Ferdie.” Then in a grave murmur: “His name is Ferdie.”

“Does the gasoline affect his nose?”

“I don’t think so,” she said innocently. “Why?”

We went in. To my overwhelming surprise the living-room was deserted.

“Well, that’s funny,” I exclaimed.

“What’s funny?”

She turned her head as there was a light dignified knocking at the front door. I went out and opened it. Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes.

With his hands still in his coat pockets he stalked by me into the hall, turned sharply as if he were on a wire, and disappeared into the living-room. It wasn’t a bit funny. Aware of the loud beating of my own heart I pulled the door to against the increasing rain.

For half a minute there wasn’t a sound. Then from the living-room I heard a sort of choking murmur and part of a laugh, followed by Daisy’s voice on a clear artificial note: “I certainly am awfully glad to see you again.”

A pause; it endured horribly. I had nothing to do in the hall, so I went into the room.

Gatsby, his hands still in his pockets, was reclining against the mantelpiece in a strained counterfeit of perfect ease, even of boredom. His head leaned back so far that it rested against the face of a defunct mantelpiece clock, and from this position his distraught eyes stared down at Daisy, who was sitting, frightened but graceful, on the edge of a stiff chair.

“We’ve met before,” muttered Gatsby. His eyes glanced momentarily at me, and his lips parted with an abortive attempt at a laugh. Luckily the clock took this moment to tilt dangerously at the pressure of his head, whereupon he turned and caught it with trembling fingers, and set it back in place. Then he sat down, rigidly, his elbow on the arm of the sofa and his chin in his hand.

“I’m sorry about the clock,” he said.

My own face had now assumed a deep tropical burn. I couldn’t muster up a single commonplace out of the thousand in my head.

“It’s an old clock,” I told them idiotically.

I think we all believed for a moment that it had smashed in pieces on the floor.

“We haven’t met for many years,” said Daisy, her voice as matter-of-fact as it could ever be.

“Five years next November.”

The automatic quality of Gatsby’s answer set us all back at least another minute. I had them both on their feet with the desperate suggestion that they help me make tea in the kitchen when the demoniac Finn brought it in on a tray.

Amid the welcome confusion of cups and cakes a certain physical decency established itself. Gatsby got himself into a shadow and, while Daisy and I talked, looked conscientiously from one to the other of us with tense, unhappy eyes. However, as calmness wasn’t an end in itself, I made an excuse at the first possible moment, and got to my feet.

“Where are you going?” demanded Gatsby in immediate alarm.

“I’ll be back.”

“I’ve got to speak to you about something before you go.”

He followed me wildly into the kitchen, closed the door, and whispered:

“Oh, God!” in a miserable way.

“What’s the matter?”

“This is a terrible mistake,” he said, shaking his head from side to side, “a terrible, terrible mistake.”

“You’re just embarrassed, that’s all,” and luckily I added: “Daisy’s embarrassed too.”

“She’s embarrassed?” he repeated incredulously.

“Just as much as you are.”

“Don’t talk so loud.”

“You’re acting like a little boy,” I broke out impatiently. “Not only that, but you’re rude. Daisy’s sitting in there all alone.”

He raised his hand to stop my words, looked at me with unforgettable reproach, and, opening the door cautiously, went back into the other room.

I walked out the back way — just as Gatsby had when he had made his nervous circuit of the house half an hour before — and ran for a huge black knotted tree, whose massed leaves made a fabric against the rain. Once more it was pouring, and my irregular lawn, well-shaved by Gatsby’s gardener, abounded in small, muddy swamps and prehistoric marshes. There was nothing to look at from under the tree except Gatsby’s enormous house, so I stared at it, like Kant at his church steeple, for half an hour. A brewer had built it early in the “period” craze, a decade before, and there was a story that he’d agreed to pay five years’ taxes on all the neighboring cottages if the owners would have their roofs thatched with straw. Perhaps their refusal took the heart out of his plan to Found a Family — he went into an immediate decline. His children sold his house with the black wreath still on the door. Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry.

After half an hour, the sun shone again, and the grocer’s automobile rounded Gatsby’s drive with the raw material for his servants’ dinner — I felt sure he wouldn’t eat a spoonful. A maid began opening the upper windows of his house, appeared momentarily in each, and, leaning from a large central bay, spat meditatively into the garden. It was time I went back. While the rain continued it had seemed like the murmur of their voices, rising and swelling a little now and then with gusts of emotion. But in the new silence I felt that silence had fallen within the house too.

I went in — after making every possible noise in the kitchen, short of pushing over the stove — but I don’t believe they heard a sound. They were sitting at either end of the couch, looking at each other as if some question had been asked, or was in the air, and every vestige of embarrassment was gone. Daisy’s face was smeared with tears, and when I came in she jumped up and began wiping at it with her handkerchief before a mirror. But there was a change in Gatsby that was simply confounding. He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture of exultation a new well-being radiated from him and filled the little room.

“Oh, hello, old sport,” he said, as if he hadn’t seen me for years. I thought for a moment he was going to shake hands.

“It’s stopped raining.”

“Has it?” When he realized what I was talking about, that there were twinkle-bells of sunshine in the room, he smiled like a weather man, like an ecstatic patron of recurrent light, and repeated the news to Daisy. “What do you think of that? It’s stopped raining.”

“I’m glad, Jay.” Her throat, full of aching, grieving beauty, told only of her unexpected joy.

“I want you and Daisy to come over to my house,” he said, “I’d like to show her around.”

“You’re sure you want me to come?”

“Absolutely, old sport.”

Daisy went up-stairs to wash her face — too late I thought with humiliation of my towels — while Gatsby and I waited on the lawn.

“My house looks well, doesn’t it?” he demanded. “See how the whole front of it catches the light.”

I agreed that it was splendid.

“Yes.” His eyes went over it, every arched door and square tower. “It took me just three years to earn the money that bought it.”

“I thought you inherited your money.”

“I did, old sport,” he said automatically, “but I lost most of it in the big panic — the panic of the war.”

I think he hardly knew what he was saying, for when I asked him what business he was in he answered, “That’s my affair,” before he realized that it wasn’t the appropriate reply.

“Oh, I’ve been in several things,” he corrected himself. “I was in the drug business and then I was in the oil business. But I’m not in either one now.” He looked at me with more attention. “Do you mean you’ve been thinking over what I proposed the other night?”

Before I could answer, Daisy came out of the house and two rows of brass buttons on her dress gleamed in the sunlight.

“That huge place there?” she cried pointing.

“Do you like it?”

“I love it, but I don’t see how you live there all alone.”

“I keep it always full of interesting people, night and day. People who do interesting things. Celebrated people.”

Instead of taking the short cut along the Sound we went down the road and entered by the big postern. With enchanting murmurs Daisy admired this aspect or that of the feudal silhouette against the sky, admired the gardens, the sparkling odor of jonquils and the frothy odor of hawthorn and plum blossoms and the pale gold odor of kiss-me-at-the-gate. It was strange to reach the marble steps and find no stir of bright dresses in and out the door, and hear no sound but bird voices in the trees.

And inside, as we wandered through Marie Antoinette music-rooms and Restoration salons, I felt that there were guests concealed behind every couch and table, under orders to be breathlessly silent until we had passed through. As Gatsby closed the door of “the Merton College Library.” I could have sworn I heard the owl-eyed man break into ghostly laughter.

We went up-stairs, through period bedrooms swathed in rose and lavender silk and vivid with new flowers, through dressing-rooms and poolrooms, and bathrooms with sunken baths — intruding into one chamber where a dishevelled man in pajamas was doing liver exercises on the floor. It was Mr. Klipspringer, the “boarder.” I had seen him wandering hungrily about the beach that morning. Finally we came to Gatsby’s own apartment, a bedroom and a bath, and an Adam study, where we sat down and drank a glass of some Chartreuse he took from a cupboard in the wall.

He hadn’t once ceased looking at Daisy, and I think he revalued everything in his house according to the measure of response it drew from her well-loved eyes. Sometimes, too, he stared around at his possessions in a dazed way, as though in her actual and astounding presence none of it was any longer real. Once he nearly toppled down a flight of stairs.

His bedroom was the simplest room of all — except where the dresser was garnished with a toilet set of pure dull gold. Daisy took the brush with delight, and smoothed her hair, whereupon Gatsby sat down and shaded his eyes and began to laugh.

“It’s the funniest thing, old sport,” he said hilariously. “I can’t — When I try to ——”

He had passed visibly through two states and was entering upon a third. After his embarrassment and his unreasoning joy he was consumed with wonder at her presence. He had been full of the idea so long, dreamed it right through to the end, waited with his teeth set, so to speak, at an inconceivable pitch of intensity. Now, in the reaction, he was running down like an overwound clock.

Recovering himself in a minute he opened for us two hulking patent cabinets which held his massed suits and dressing-gowns and ties, and his shirts, piled like bricks in stacks a dozen high.

“I’ve got a man in England who buys me clothes. He sends over a selection of things at the beginning of each season, spring and fall.”

He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher — shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, and monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.

“They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such — such beautiful shirts before.”

After the house, we were to see the grounds and the swimming-pool, and the hydroplane and the mid-summer flowers — but outside Gatsby’s window it began to rain again, so we stood in a row looking at the corrugated surface of the Sound.

“If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,” said Gatsby. “You always have a green light that burns all night at the end of your dock.”

Daisy put her arm through his abruptly, but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.

I began to walk about the room, examining various indefinite objects in the half darkness. A large photograph of an elderly man in yachting costume attracted me, hung on the wall over his desk.

“Who’s this?”

“That? That’s Mr. Dan Cody, old sport.”

The name sounded faintly familiar.

“He’s dead now. He used to be my best friend years ago.”

There was a small picture of Gatsby, also in yachting costume, on the bureau — Gatsby with his head thrown back defiantly — taken apparently when he was about eighteen.

“I adore it,” exclaimed Daisy. “The pompadour! You never told me you had a pompadour — or a yacht.”

“Look at this,” said Gatsby quickly. “Here’s a lot of clippings — about you.”

They stood side by side examining it. I was going to ask to see the rubies when the phone rang, and Gatsby took up the receiver.

“Yes…. well, I can’t talk now…. I can’t talk now, old sport…. I said a small town…. he must know what a small town is…. well, he’s no use to us if Detroit is his idea of a small town….”

He rang off.

“Come here quick!” cried Daisy at the window.

The rain was still falling, but the darkness had parted in the west, and there was a pink and golden billow of foamy clouds above the sea.

“Look at that,” she whispered, and then after a moment: “I’d like to just get one of those pink clouds and put you in it and push you around.”

I tried to go then, but they wouldn’t hear of it; perhaps my presence made them feel more satisfactorily alone.

“I know what we’ll do,” said Gatsby, “we’ll have Klipspringer play the piano.”

He went out of the room calling “Ewing!” and returned in a few minutes accompanied by an embarrassed, slightly worn young man, with shell-rimmed glasses and scanty blond hair. He was now decently clothed in a “sport shirt,” open at the neck, sneakers, and duck trousers of a nebulous hue.

“Did we interrupt your exercises?” inquired Daisy politely.

“I was asleep,” cried Mr. Klipspringer, in a spasm of embarrassment. “That is, I’d been asleep. Then I got up.. ..”

“Klipspringer plays the piano,” said Gatsby, cutting him off. “Don’t you, Ewing, old sport?”

“I don’t play well. I don’t — I hardly play at all. I’m all out of prac ——”

“We’ll go down-stairs,” interrupted Gatsby. He flipped a switch. The gray windows disappeared as the house glowed full of light.

In the music-room Gatsby turned on a solitary lamp beside the piano. He lit Daisy’s cigarette from a trembling match, and sat down with her on a couch far across the room, where there was no light save what the gleaming floor bounced in from the hall.

When Klipspringer had played The Love Nest, he turned around on the bench and searched unhappily for Gatsby in the gloom.

“I’m all out of practice, you see. I told you I couldn’t play. I’m all out of prac ——”

“Don’t talk so much, old sport,” commanded Gatsby. “Play!”

In the morning,
In the evening,
Ain’t we got fun——”

Outside the wind was loud and there was a faint flow of thunder along the Sound. All the lights were going on in West Egg now; the electric trains, men-carrying, were plunging home through the rain from New York. It was the hour of a profound human change, and excitement was generating on the air.

One thing’s sure and nothing’s surer
The rich get richer and the poor getchildren.
In the meantime,
In between time——”

As I went over to say good-by I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby’s face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.

As I watched him he adjusted himself a little, visibly. His hand took hold of hers, and as she said something low in his ear he turned toward her with a rush of emotion. I think that voice held him most, with its fluctuating, feverish warmth, because it couldn’t be over-dreamed — that voice was a deathless song.

They had forgotten me, but Daisy glanced up and held out her hand; Gatsby didn’t know me now at all. I looked once more at them and they looked back at me, remotely, possessed by intense life. Then I went out of the room and down the marble steps into the rain, leaving them there together.

Chapter 6

About this time an ambitious young reporter from New York arrived one morning at Gatsby’s door and asked him if he had anything to say.

“Anything to say about what?” inquired Gatsby politely.

“Why — any statement to give out.”

It transpired after a confused five minutes that the man had heard Gatsby’s name around his office in a connection which he either wouldn’t reveal or didn’t fully understand. This was his day off and with laudable initiative he had hurried out “to see.”

It was a random shot, and yet the reporter’s instinct was right. Gatsby’s notoriety, spread about by the hundreds who had accepted his hospitality and so become authorities on his past, had increased all summer until he fell just short of being news. Contemporary legends such as the “underground pipe-line to Canada” attached themselves to him, and there was one persistent story that he didn’t live in a house at all, but in a boat that looked like a house and was moved secretly up and down the Long Island shore. Just why these inventions were a source of satisfaction to James Gatz of North Dakota, isn’t easy to say.

James Gatz — that was really, or at least legally, his name. He had changed it at the age of seventeen and at the specific moment that witnessed the beginning of his career — when he saw Dan Cody’s yacht drop anchor over the most insidious flat on Lake Superior. It was James Gatz who had been loafing along the beach that afternoon in a torn green jersey and a pair of canvas pants, but it was already Jay Gatsby who borrowed a rowboat, pulled out to the Tuolomee, and informed Cody that a wind might catch him and break him up in half an hour.

I suppose he’d had the name ready for a long time, even then. His parents were shiftless and unsuccessful farm people — his imagination had never really accepted them as his parents at all. The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself. He was a son of God — a phrase which, if it means anything, means just that — and he must be about His Father’s business, the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty. So he invented just the sort of Jay Gatsby that a seventeen-year-old boy would be likely to invent, and to this conception he was faithful to the end.

For over a year he had been beating his way along the south shore of Lake Superior as a clam-digger and a salmon-fisher or in any other capacity that brought him food and bed. His brown, hardening body lived naturally through the half-fierce, half-lazy work of the bracing days. He knew women early, and since they spoiled him he became contemptuous of them, of young virgins because they were ignorant, of the others because they were hysterical about things which in his overwhelming self-absorbtion he took for granted.

But his heart was in a constant, turbulent riot. The most grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted him in his bed at night. A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in his brain while the clock ticked on the wash-stand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor. Each night he added to the pattern of his fancies until drowsiness closed down upon some vivid scene with an oblivious embrace. For a while these reveries provided an outlet for his imagination; they were a satisfactory hint of the unreality of reality, a promise that the rock of the world was founded securely on a fairy’s wing.

An instinct toward his future glory had led him, some months before, to the small Lutheran college of St. Olaf in southern Minnesota. He stayed there two weeks, dismayed at its ferocious indifference to the drums of his destiny, to destiny itself, and despising the janitor’s work with which he was to pay his way through. Then he drifted back to Lake Superior, and he was still searching for something to do on the day that Dan Cody’s yacht dropped anchor in the shallows alongshore.

Cody was fifty years old then, a product of the Nevada silver fields, of the Yukon, of every rush for metal since seventy-five. The transactions in Montana copper that made him many times a millionaire found him physically robust but on the verge of soft-mindedness, and, suspecting this, an infinite number of women tried to separate him from his money. The none too savory ramifications by which Ella Kaye, the newspaper woman, played Madame de Maintenon to his weakness and sent him to sea in a yacht, were common knowledge to the turgid sub-journalism of 1902. He had been coasting along all too hospitable shores for five years when he turned up as James Gatz’s destiny at Little Girls Point.

To the young Gatz, resting on his oars and looking up at the railed deck, the yacht represented all the beauty and glamour in the world. I suppose he smiled at Cody — he had probably discovered that people liked him when he smiled. At any rate Cody asked him a few questions (one of them elicited the brand new name) and found that he was quick and extravagantly ambitious. A few days later he took him to Duluth and bought him a blue coat, six pair of white duck trousers, and a yachting cap. And when the Tuolomee left for the West Indies and the Barbary Coast Gatsby left too.

He was employed in a vague personal capacity — while he remained with Cody he was in turn steward, mate, skipper, secretary, and even jailor, for Dan Cody sober knew what lavish doings Dan Cody drunk might soon be about, and he provided for such contingencies by reposing more and more trust in Gatsby. The arrangement lasted five years, during which the boat went three times around the Continent. It might have lasted indefinitely except for the fact that Ella Kaye came on board one night in Boston and a week later Dan Cody inhospitably died.

I remember the portrait of him up in Gatsby’s bedroom, a gray, florid man with a hard, empty face — the pioneer debauchee, who during one phase of American life brought back to the Eastern seaboard the savage violence of the frontier brothel and saloon. It was indirectly due to Cody that Gatsby drank so little. Sometimes in the course of gay parties women used to rub champagne into his hair; for himself he formed the habit of letting liquor alone.

And it was from Cody that he inherited money — a legacy of twenty-five thousand dollars. He didn’t get it. He never understood the legal device that was used against him, but what remained of the millions went intact to Ella Kaye. He was left with his singularly appropriate education; the vague contour of Jay Gatsby had filled out to the substantiality of a man.

He told me all this very much later, but I’ve put it down here with the idea of exploding those first wild rumors about his antecedents, which weren’t even faintly true. Moreover he told it to me at a time of confusion, when I had reached the point of believing everything and nothing about him. So I take advantage of this short halt, while Gatsby, so to speak, caught his breath, to clear this set of misconceptions away.

It was a halt, too, in my association with his affairs. For several weeks I didn’t see him or hear his voice on the phone — mostly I was in New York, trotting around with Jordan and trying to ingratiate myself with her senile aunt — but finally I went over to his house one Sunday afternoon. I hadn’t been there two minutes when somebody brought Tom Buchanan in for a drink. I was startled, naturally, but the really surprising thing was that it hadn’t happened before.

They were a party of three on horseback — Tom and a man named Sloane and a pretty woman in a brown riding-habit, who had been there previously.

“I’m delighted to see you,” said Gatsby, standing on his porch. “I’m delighted that you dropped in.”

As though they cared!

“Sit right down. Have a cigarette or a cigar.” He walked around the room quickly, ringing bells. “I’ll have something to drink for you in just a minute.”

He was profoundly affected by the fact that Tom was there. But he would be uneasy anyhow until he had given them something, realizing in a vague way that that was all they came for. Mr. Sloane wanted nothing. A lemonade? No, thanks. A little champagne? Nothing at all, thanks…. I’m sorry ——

“Did you have a nice ride?”

“Very good roads around here.”

“I suppose the automobiles ——”

“Yeah.”

Moved by an irresistible impulse, Gatsby turned to Tom, who had accepted the introduction as a stranger.

“I believe we’ve met somewhere before, Mr. Buchanan.”

“Oh, yes,” said Tom, gruffly polite, but obviously not remembering. “So we did. I remember very well.”

“About two weeks ago.”

“That’s right. You were with Nick here.”

“I know your wife,” continued Gatsby, almost aggressively.

“That so?”

Tom turned to me.

“You live near here, Nick?”

“Next door.”

“That so?”

Mr. Sloane didn’t enter into the conversation, but lounged back haughtily in his chair; the woman said nothing either — until unexpectedly, after two highballs, she became cordial.

“We’ll all come over to your next party, Mr. Gatsby,” she suggested. “What do you say?”

“Certainly; I’d be delighted to have you.”

“Be ver’ nice,” said Mr. Sloane, without gratitude. “Well — think ought to be starting home.”

“Please don’t hurry,” Gatsby urged them. He had control of himself now, and he wanted to see more of Tom. “Why don’t you — why don’t you stay for supper? I wouldn’t be surprised if some other people dropped in from New York.”

“You come to supper with me,” said the lady enthusiastically. “Both of you.”

This included me. Mr. Sloane got to his feet.

“Come along,” he said — but to her only.

“I mean it,” she insisted. “I’d love to have you. Lots of room.”

Gatsby looked at me questioningly. He wanted to go, and he didn’t see that Mr. Sloane had determined he shouldn’t.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to,” I said.

“Well, you come,” she urged, concentrating on Gatsby.

Mr. Sloane murmured something close to her ear.

“We won’t be late if we start now,” she insisted aloud.

“I haven’t got a horse,” said Gatsby. “I used to ride in the army, but I’ve never bought a horse. I’ll have to follow you in my car. Excuse me for just a minute.”

The rest of us walked out on the porch, where Sloane and the lady began an impassioned conversation aside.

“My God, I believe the man’s coming,” said Tom. “Doesn’t he know she doesn’t want him?”

“She says she does want him.”

“She has a big dinner party and he won’t know a soul there.” He frowned. “I wonder where in the devil he met Daisy. By God, I may be old-fashioned in my ideas, but women run around too much these days to suit me. They meet all kinds of crazy fish.”

Suddenly Mr. Sloane and the lady walked down the steps and mounted their horses.

“Come on,” said Mr. Sloane to Tom, “we’re late. We’ve got to go.” And then to me: “Tell him we couldn’t wait, will you?”

Tom and I shook hands, the rest of us exchanged a cool nod, and they trotted quickly down the drive, disappearing under the August foliage just as Gatsby, with hat and light overcoat in hand, came out the front door.

Tom was evidently perturbed at Daisy’s running around alone, for on the following Saturday night he came with her to Gatsby’s party. Perhaps his presence gave the evening its peculiar quality of oppressiveness — it stands out in my memory from Gatsby’s other parties that summer. There were the same people, or at least the same sort of people, the same profusion of champagne, the same many-colored, many-keyed commotion, but I felt an unpleasantness in the air, a pervading harshness that hadn’t been there before. Or perhaps I had merely grown used to it, grown to accept West Egg as a world complete in itself, with its own standards and its own great figures, second to nothing because it had no consciousness of being so, and now I was looking at it again, through Daisy’s eyes. It is invariably saddening to look through new eyes at things upon which you have expended your own powers of adjustment.

They arrived at twilight, and, as we strolled out among the sparkling hundreds, Daisy’s voice was playing murmurous tricks in her throat.

“These things excite me so,” she whispered.

“If you want to kiss me any time during the evening, Nick, just let me know and I’ll be glad to arrange it for you. Just mention my name. Or present a green card. I’m giving out green ——”

“Look around,” suggested Gatsby.

“I’m looking around. I’m having a marvelous ——”

“You must see the faces of many people you’ve heard about.”

Tom’s arrogant eyes roamed the crowd.

“We don’t go around very much,” he said. “In fact, I was just thinking I don’t know a soul here.”

“Perhaps you know that lady.” Gatsby indicated a gorgeous, scarcely human orchid of a woman who sat in state under a white plum tree. Tom and Daisy stared, with that peculiarly unreal feeling that accompanies the recognition of a hitherto ghostly celebrity of the movies.

“She’s lovely,” said Daisy.

“The man bending over her is her director.”

He took them ceremoniously from group to group:

“Mrs. Buchanan… and Mr. Buchanan ——” After an instant’s hesitation he added: “the polo player.”

“Oh no,” objected Tom quickly, “not me.”

But evidently the sound of it pleased Gatsby, for Tom remained “the polo player” for the rest of the evening.

“I’ve never met so many celebrities!” Daisy exclaimed. “I liked that man — what was his name? — with the sort of blue nose.”

Gatsby identified him, adding that he was a small producer.

“Well, I liked him anyhow.”

“I’d a little rather not be the polo player,” said Tom pleasantly, “I’d rather look at all these famous people in — in oblivion.”

Daisy and Gatsby danced. I remember being surprised by his graceful, conservative fox-trot — I had never seen him dance before. Then they sauntered over to my house and sat on the steps for half an hour, while at her request I remained watchfully in the garden. “In case there’s a fire or a flood,” she explained, “or any act of God.”

Tom appeared from his oblivion as we were sitting down to supper together. “Do you mind if I eat with some people over here?” he said. “A fellow’s getting off some funny stuff.”

“Go ahead,” answered Daisy genially, “and if you want to take down any addresses here’s my little gold pencil.”… she looked around after a moment and told me the girl was “common but pretty,” and I knew that except for the half-hour she’d been alone with Gatsby she wasn’t having a good time.

We were at a particularly tipsy table. That was my fault — Gatsby had been called to the phone, and I’d enjoyed these same people only two weeks before. But what had amused me then turned septic on the air now.

“How do you feel, Miss Baedeker?”

The girl addressed was trying, unsuccessfully, to slump against my shoulder. At this inquiry she sat up and opened her eyes.

“Wha’?”

A massive and lethargic woman, who had been urging Daisy to play golf with her at the local club to-morrow, spoke in Miss Baedeker’s defence:

“Oh, she’s all right now. When she’s had five or six cocktails she always starts screaming like that. I tell her she ought to leave it alone.”

“I do leave it alone,” affirmed the accused hollowly.

“We heard you yelling, so I said to Doc Civet here: ‘There’s somebody that needs your help, Doc.’”

“She’s much obliged, I’m sure,” said another friend, without gratitude. “But you got her dress all wet when you stuck her head in the pool.”

“Anything I hate is to get my head stuck in a pool,” mumbled Miss Baedeker. “They almost drowned me once over in New Jersey.”

“Then you ought to leave it alone,” countered Doctor Civet.

“Speak for yourself!” cried Miss Baedeker violently. “Your hand shakes. I wouldn’t let you operate on me!”

It was like that. Almost the last thing I remember was standing with Daisy and watching the moving-picture director and his Star. They were still under the white plum tree and their faces were touching except for a pale, thin ray of moonlight between. It occurred to me that he had been very slowly bending toward her all evening to attain this proximity, and even while I watched I saw him stoop one ultimate degree and kiss at her cheek.

“I like her,” said Daisy, “I think she’s lovely.”

But the rest offended her — and inarguably, because it wasn’t a gesture but an emotion. She was appalled by West Egg, this unprecedented “place” that Broadway had begotten upon a Long Island fishing village — appalled by its raw vigor that chafed under the old euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short-cut from nothing to nothing. She saw something awful in the very simplicity she failed to understand.

I sat on the front steps with them while they waited for their car. It was dark here in front; only the bright door sent ten square feet of light volleying out into the soft black morning. Sometimes a shadow moved against a dressing-room blind above, gave way to another shadow, an indefinite procession of shadows, who rouged and powdered in an invisible glass.

“Who is this Gatsby anyhow?” demanded Tom suddenly. “Some big bootlegger?”

“Where’d you hear that?” I inquired.

“I didn’t hear it. I imagined it. A lot of these newly rich people are just big bootleggers, you know.”

“Not Gatsby,” I said shortly.

He was silent for a moment. The pebbles of the drive crunched under his feet.

“Well, he certainly must have strained himself to get this menagerie together.”

A breeze stirred the gray haze of Daisy’s fur collar.

“At least they’re more interesting than the people we know,” she said with an effort.

“You didn’t look so interested.”

“Well, I was.”

Tom laughed and turned to me.

“Did you notice Daisy’s face when that girl asked her to put her under a cold shower?”

Daisy began to sing with the music in a husky, rhythmic whisper, bringing out a meaning in each word that it had never had before and would never have again. When the melody rose, her voice broke up sweetly, following it, in a way contralto voices have, and each change tipped out a little of her warm human magic upon the air.

“Lots of people come who haven’t been invited,” she said suddenly. “That girl hadn’t been invited. They simply force their way in and he’s too polite to object.”

“I’d like to know who he is and what he does,” insisted Tom. “And I think I’ll make a point of finding out.”

“I can tell you right now,” she answered. “He owned some drug-stores, a lot of drug-stores. He built them up himself.”

The dilatory limousine came rolling up the drive.

“Good night, Nick,” said Daisy.

Her glance left me and sought the lighted top of the steps, where Three O’clock in the Morning, a neat, sad little waltz of that year, was drifting out the open door. After all, in the very casualness of Gatsby’s party there were romantic possibilities totally absent from her world. What was it up there in the song that seemed to be calling her back inside? What would happen now in the dim, incalculable hours? Perhaps some unbelievable guest would arrive, a person infinitely rare and to be marvelled at, some authentically radiant young girl who with one fresh glance at Gatsby, one moment of magical encounter, would blot out those five years of unwavering devotion.

I stayed late that night, Gatsby asked me to wait until he was free, and I lingered in the garden until the inevitable swimming party had run up, chilled and exalted, from the black beach, until the lights were extinguished in the guest-rooms overhead. When he came down the steps at last the tanned skin was drawn unusually tight on his face, and his eyes were bright and tired.

“She didn’t like it,” he said immediately.

“Of course she did.”

“She didn’t like it,” he insisted. “She didn’t have a good time.”

He was silent, and I guessed at his unutterable depression.

“I feel far away from her,” he said. “It’s hard to make her understand.”

“You mean about the dance?”

“The dance?” He dismissed all the dances he had given with a snap of his fingers. “Old sport, the dance is unimportant.”

He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: “I never loved you.” After she had obliterated four years with that sentence they could decide upon the more practical measures to be taken. One of them was that, after she was free, they were to go back to Louisville and be married from her house — just as if it were five years ago.

“And she doesn’t understand,” he said. “She used to be able to understand. We’d sit for hours ——”

He broke off and began to walk up and down a desolate path of fruit rinds and discarded favors and crushed flowers.

“I wouldn’t ask too much of her,” I ventured. “You can’t repeat the past.”

“Can’t repeat the past?” he cried incredulously. “Why of course you can!”

He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking here in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.

“I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before,” he said, nodding determinedly. “She’ll see.”

He talked a lot about the past, and I gathered that he wanted to recover something, some idea of himself perhaps, that had gone into loving Daisy. His life had been confused and disordered since then, but if he could once return to a certain starting place and go over it all slowly, he could find out what that thing was….

… One autumn night, five years before, they had been walking down the street when the leaves were falling, and they came to a place where there were no trees and the sidewalk was white with moonlight. They stopped here and turned toward each other. Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it which comes at the two changes of the year. The quiet lights in the houses were humming out into the darkness and there was a stir and bustle among the stars. Out of the corner of his eye Gatsby saw that the blocks of the sidewalks really formed a ladder and mounted to a secret place above the trees — he could climb to it, if he climbed alone, and once there he could suck on the pap of life, gulp down the incomparable milk of wonder.

His heart beat faster and faster as Daisy’s white face came up to his own. He knew that when he kissed this girl, and forever wed his unutterable visions to her perishable breath, his mind would never romp again like the mind of God. So he waited, listening for a moment longer to the tuning-fork that had been struck upon a star. Then he kissed her. At his lips’ touch she blossomed for him like a flower and the incarnation was complete.

Through all he said, even through his appalling sentimentality, I was reminded of something — an elusive rhythm, a fragment of lost words, that I had heard somewhere a long time ago. For a moment a phrase tried to take shape in my mouth and my lips parted like a dumb man’s, as though there was more struggling upon them than a wisp of startled air. But they made no sound, and what I had almost remembered was uncommunicable forever.

Chapter 7

It was when curiosity about Gatsby was at its highest that the lights in his house failed to go on one Saturday night — and, as obscurely as it had begun, his career as Trimalchio was over. Only gradually did I become aware that the automobiles which turned expectantly into his drive stayed for just a minute and then drove sulkily away. Wondering if he were sick I went over to find out — an unfamiliar butler with a villainous face squinted at me suspiciously from the door.

“Is Mr. Gatsby sick?”

“Nope.” After a pause he added “sir” in a dilatory, grudging way.

“I hadn’t seen him around, and I was rather worried. Tell him Mr. Carraway came over.”

“Who?” he demanded rudely.

“Carraway.”

“Carraway. All right, I’ll tell him.” Abruptly he slammed the door.

My Finn informed me that Gatsby had dismissed every servant in his house a week ago and replaced them with half a dozen others, who never went into West Egg Village to be bribed by the tradesmen, but ordered moderate supplies over the telephone. The grocery boy reported that the kitchen looked like a pigsty, and the general opinion in the village was that the new people weren’t servants at all.

Next day Gatsby called me on the phone.

“Going away?” I inquired.

“No, old sport.”

“I hear you fired all your servants.”

“I wanted somebody who wouldn’t gossip. Daisy comes over quite often — in the afternoons.”

So the whole caravansary had fallen in like a card house at the disapproval in her eyes.

“They’re some people Wolfsheim wanted to do something for. They’re all brothers and sisters. They used to run a small hotel.”

“I see.”

He was calling up at Daisy’s request — would I come to lunch at her house to-morrow? Miss Baker would be there. Half an hour later Daisy herself telephoned and seemed relieved to find that I was coming. Something was up. And yet I couldn’t believe that they would choose this occasion for a scene — especially for the rather harrowing scene that Gatsby had outlined in the garden.

The next day was broiling, almost the last, certainly the warmest, of the summer. As my train emerged from the tunnel into sunlight, only the hot whistles of the National Biscuit Company broke the simmering hush at noon. The straw seats of the car hovered on the edge of combustion; the woman next to me perspired delicately for a while into her white shirtwaist, and then, as her newspaper dampened under her fingers, lapsed despairingly into deep heat with a desolate cry. Her pocket-book slapped to the floor.

“Oh, my!” she gasped.

I picked it up with a weary bend and handed it back to her, holding it at arm’s length and by the extreme tip of the corners to indicate that I had no designs upon it — but every one near by, including the woman, suspected me just the same.

“Hot!” said the conductor to familiar faces. “Some weather! hot! hot! hot! Is it hot enough for you? Is it hot? Is it.. .?”

My commutation ticket came back to me with a dark stain from his hand. That any one should care in this heat whose flushed lips he kissed, whose head made damp the pajama pocket over his heart!

… Through the hall of the Buchanans’ house blew a faint wind, carrying the sound of the telephone bell out to Gatsby and me as we waited at the door.

“The master’s body!” roared the butler into the mouthpiece. “I’m sorry, madame, but we can’t furnish it — it’s far too hot to touch this noon!”

What he really said was: “Yes… yes… I’ll see.”

He set down the receiver and came toward us, glistening slightly, to take our stiff straw hats.

“Madame expects you in the salon!” he cried, needlessly indicating the direction. In this heat every extra gesture was an affront to the common store of life.

The room, shadowed well with awnings, was dark and cool. Daisy and Jordan lay upon an enormous couch, like silver idols weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans.

“We can’t move,” they said together.

Jordan’s fingers, powdered white over their tan, rested for a moment in mine.

“And Mr. Thomas Buchanan, the athlete?” I inquired.

Simultaneously I heard his voice, gruff, muffled, husky, at the hall telephone.

Gatsby stood in the centre of the crimson carpet and gazed around with fascinated eyes. Daisy watched him and laughed, her sweet, exciting laugh; a tiny gust of powder rose from her bosom into the air.

“The rumor is,” whispered Jordan, “that that’s Tom’s girl on the telephone.”

We were silent. The voice in the hall rose high with annoyance: “Very well, then, I won’t sell you the car at all…. I’m under no obligations to you at all… and as for your bothering me about it at lunch time, I won’t stand that at all!”

“Holding down the receiver,” said Daisy cynically.

“No, he’s not,” I assured her. “It’s a bona-fide deal. I happen to know about it.”

Tom flung open the door, blocked out its space for a moment with his thick body, and hurried into the room.

“Mr. Gatsby!” He put out his broad, flat hand with well-concealed dislike. “I’m glad to see you, sir…. Nick… .”

“Make us a cold drink,” cried Daisy.

As he left the room again she got up and went over to Gatsby and pulled his face down, kissing him on the mouth.

“You know I love you,” she murmured.

“You forget there’s a lady present,” said Jordan.

Daisy looked around doubtfully.

“You kiss Nick too.”

“What a low, vulgar girl!”

“I don’t care!” cried Daisy, and began to clog on the brick fireplace. Then she remembered the heat and sat down guiltily on the couch just as a freshly laundered nurse leading a little girl came into the room.

“Bles-sed pre-cious,” she crooned, holding out her arms. “Come to your own mother that loves you.”

The child, relinquished by the nurse, rushed across the room and rooted shyly into her mother’s dress.

“The bles-sed pre-cious! Did mother get powder on your old yellowy hair? Stand up now, and say — How-de-do.”

Gatsby and I in turn leaned down and took the small, reluctant hand. Afterward he kept looking at the child with surprise. I don’t think he had ever really believed in its existence before.

“I got dressed before luncheon,” said the child, turning eagerly to Daisy.

“That’s because your mother wanted to show you off.” Her face bent into the single wrinkle of the small, white neck. “You dream, you. You absolute little dream.”

“Yes,” admitted the child calmly. “Aunt Jordan’s got on a white dress too.”

“How do you like mother’s friends?” Daisy turned her around so that she faced Gatsby. “Do you think they’re pretty?”

“Where’s Daddy?”

“She doesn’t look like her father,” explained Daisy. “She looks like me. She’s got my hair and shape of the face.”

Daisy sat back upon the couch. The nurse took a step forward and held out her hand.

“Come, Pammy.”

“Good-by, sweetheart!”

With a reluctant backward glance the well-disciplined child held to her nurse’s hand and was pulled out the door, just as Tom came back, preceding four gin rickeys that clicked full of ice.

Gatsby took up his drink.

“They certainly look cool,” he said, with visible tension.

We drank in long, greedy swallows.

“I read somewhere that the sun’s getting hotter every year,” said Tom genially. “It seems that pretty soon the earth’s going to fall into the sun — or wait a minute — it’s just the opposite — the sun’s getting colder every year.

“Come outside,” he suggested to Gatsby, “I’d like you to have a look at the place.”

I went with them out to the veranda. On the green Sound, stagnant in the heat, one small sail crawled slowly toward the fresher sea. Gatsby’s eyes followed it momentarily; he raised his hand and pointed across the bay.

“I’m right across from you.”

“So you are.”

Our eyes lifted over the rose-beds and the hot lawn and the weedy refuse of the dog-days along-shore. Slowly the white wings of the boat moved against the blue cool limit of the sky. Ahead lay the scalloped ocean and the abounding blessed isles.

“There’s sport for you,” said Tom, nodding. “I’d like to be out there with him for about an hour.”

We had luncheon in the dining-room, darkened too against the heat, and drank down nervous gayety with the cold ale.

“What’ll we do with ourselves this afternoon?” cried Daisy, “and the day after that, and the next thirty years?”

“Don’t be morbid,” Jordan said. “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

“But it’s so hot,” insisted Daisy, on the verge of tears, “and everything’s so confused. Let’s all go to town!”

Her voice struggled on through the heat, beating against it, molding its senselessness into forms.

“I’ve heard of making a garage out of a stable,” Tom was saying to Gatsby, “but I’m the first man who ever made a stable out of a garage.”

“Who wants to go to town?” demanded Daisy insistently. Gatsby’s eyes floated toward her. “Ah,” she cried, “you look so cool.”

Their eyes met, and they stared together at each other, alone in space. With an effort she glanced down at the table.

“You always look so cool,” she repeated.

She had told him that she loved him, and Tom Buchanan saw. He was astounded. His mouth opened a little, and he looked at Gatsby, and then back at Daisy as if he had just recognized her as some one he knew a long time ago.

“You resemble the advertisement of the man,” she went on innocently. “You know the advertisement of the man ——”

“All right,” broke in Tom quickly, “I’m perfectly willing to go to town. Come on — we’re all going to town.”

He got up, his eyes still flashing between Gatsby and his wife. No one moved.

“Come on!” His temper cracked a little. “What’s the matter, anyhow? If we’re going to town, let’s start.”

His hand, trembling with his effort at self-control, bore to his lips the last of his glass of ale. Daisy’s voice got us to our feet and out on to the blazing gravel drive.

“Are we just going to go?” she objected. “Like this? Aren’t we going to let any one smoke a cigarette first?”

“Everybody smoked all through lunch.”

“Oh, let’s have fun,” she begged him. “It’s too hot to fuss.” He didn’t answer.

“Have it your own way,” she said. “Come on, Jordan.”

They went up-stairs to get ready while we three men stood there shuffling the hot pebbles with our feet. A silver curve of the moon hovered already in the western sky. Gatsby started to speak, changed his mind, but not before Tom wheeled and faced him expectantly.

“Have you got your stables here?” asked Gatsby with an effort.

“About a quarter of a mile down the road.”

“Oh.”

A pause.

“I don’t see the idea of going to town,” broke out Tom savagely. “Women get these notions in their heads ——”

“Shall we take anything to drink?” called Daisy from an upper window.

“I’ll get some whiskey,” answered Tom. He went inside.

Gatsby turned to me rigidly:

“I can’t say anything in his house, old sport.”

“She’s got an indiscreet voice,” I remarked. “It’s full of ——” I hesitated.

“Her voice is full of money,” he said suddenly.

That was it. I’d never understood before. It was full of money — that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals’ song of it…. high in a white palace the king’s daughter, the golden girl….

Tom came out of the house wrapping a quart bottle in a towel, followed by Daisy and Jordan wearing small tight hats of metallic cloth and carrying light capes over their arms.

“Shall we all go in my car?” suggested Gatsby. He felt the hot, green leather of the seat. “I ought to have left it in the shade.”

“Is it standard shift?” demanded Tom.

“Yes.”

“Well, you take my coupe and let me drive your car to town.”

The suggestion was distasteful to Gatsby.

“I don’t think there’s much gas,” he objected.

“Plenty of gas,” said Tom boisterously. He looked at the gauge. “And if it runs out I can stop at a drug-store. You can buy anything at a drug-store nowadays.”

A pause followed this apparently pointless remark. Daisy looked at Tom frowning, and an indefinable expression, at once definitely unfamiliar and vaguely recognizable, as if I had only heard it described in words, passed over Gatsby’s face.

“Come on, Daisy,” said Tom, pressing her with his hand toward Gatsby’s car. “I’ll take you in this circus wagon.”

He opened the door, but she moved out from the circle of his arm.

“You take Nick and Jordan. We’ll follow you in the coupe.”

She walked close to Gatsby, touching his coat with her hand. Jordan and Tom and I got into the front seat of Gatsby’s car, Tom pushed the unfamiliar gears tentatively, and we shot off into the oppressive heat, leaving them out of sight behind.

“Did you see that?” demanded Tom.

“See what?”

He looked at me keenly, realizing that Jordan and I must have known all along.

“You think I’m pretty dumb, don’t you?” he suggested. “Perhaps I am, but I have a — almost a second sight, sometimes, that tells me what to do. Maybe you don’t believe that, but science ——”

He paused. The immediate contingency overtook him, pulled him back from the edge of the theoretical abyss.

“I’ve made a small investigation of this fellow,” he continued. “I could have gone deeper if I’d known ——”

“Do you mean you’ve been to a medium?” inquired Jordan humorously.

“What?” Confused, he stared at us as we laughed. “A medium?”

“About Gatsby.”

“About Gatsby! No, I haven’t. I said I’d been making a small investigation of his past.”

“And you found he was an Oxford man,” said Jordan helpfully.

“An Oxford man!” He was incredulous. “Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit.”

“Nevertheless he’s an Oxford man.”

“Oxford, New Mexico,” snorted Tom contemptuously, “or something like that.”

“Listen, Tom. If you’re such a snob, why did you invite him to lunch?” demanded Jordan crossly.

“Daisy invited him; she knew him before we were married — God knows where!”

We were all irritable now with the fading ale, and aware of it we drove for a while in silence. Then as Doctor T. J. Eckleburg’s faded eyes came into sight down the road, I remembered Gatsby’s caution about gasoline.

“We’ve got enough to get us to town,” said Tom.

“But there’s a garage right here,” objected Jordan. “I don’t want to get stalled in this baking heat.” Tom threw on both brakes impatiently, and we slid to an abrupt dusty stop under Wilson’s sign. After a moment the proprietor emerged from the interior of his establishment and gazed hollow-eyed at the car.

“Let’s have some gas!” cried Tom roughly. “What do you think we stopped for — to admire the view?”

“I’m sick,” said Wilson without moving. “Been sick all day.”

“What’s the matter?”

“I’m all run down.”

“Well, shall I help myself?” Tom demanded. “You sounded well enough on the phone.”

With an effort Wilson left the shade and support of the doorway and, breathing hard, unscrewed the cap of the tank. In the sunlight his face was green.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt your lunch,” he said. “But I need money pretty bad, and I was wondering what you were going to do with your old car.”

“How do you like this one?” inquired Tom. “I bought it last week.”

“It’s a nice yellow one,” said Wilson, as he strained at the handle.

“Like to buy it?”

“Big chance,” Wilson smiled faintly. “No, but I could make some money on the other.”

“What do you want money for, all of a sudden?”

“I’ve been here too long. I want to get away. My wife and I want to go West.”

“Your wife does,” exclaimed Tom, startled.

“She’s been talking about it for ten years.” He rested for a moment against the pump, shading his eyes. “And now she’s going whether she wants to or not. I’m going to get her away.”

The coupe flashed by us with a flurry of dust and the flash of a waving hand.

“What do I owe you?” demanded Tom harshly.

“I just got wised up to something funny the last two days,” remarked Wilson. “That’s why I want to get away. That’s why I been bothering you about the car.”

“What do I owe you?”

“Dollar twenty.”

The relentless beating heat was beginning to confuse me and I had a bad moment there before I realized that so far his suspicions hadn’t alighted on Tom. He had discovered that Myrtle had some sort of life apart from him in another world, and the shock had made him physically sick. I stared at him and then at Tom, who had made a parallel discovery less than an hour before — and it occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well. Wilson was so sick that he looked guilty, unforgivably guilty — as if he had just got some poor girl with child.

“I’ll let you have that car,” said Tom. “I’ll send it over to-morrow afternoon.”

That locality was always vaguely disquieting, even in the broad glare of afternoon, and now I turned my head as though I had been warned of something behind. Over the ashheaps the giant eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg kept their vigil, but I perceived, after a moment, that other eyes were regarding us with peculiar intensity from less than twenty feet away.

In one of the windows over the garage the curtains had been moved aside a little, and Myrtle Wilson was peering down at the car. So engrossed was she that she had no consciousness of being observed, and one emotion after another crept into her face like objects into a slowly developing picture. Her expression was curiously familiar — it was an expression I had often seen on women’s faces, but on Myrtle Wilson’s face it seemed purposeless and inexplicable until I realized that her eyes, wide with jealous terror, were fixed not on Tom, but on Jordan Baker, whom she took to be his wife.

There is no confusion like the confusion of a simple mind, and as we drove away Tom was feeling the hot whips of panic. His wife and his mistress, until an hour ago secure and inviolate, were slipping precipitately from his control. Instinct made him step on the accelerator with the double purpose of overtaking Daisy and leaving Wilson behind, and we sped along toward Astoria at fifty miles an hour, until, among the spidery girders of the elevated, we came in sight of the easy-going blue coupe.

“Those big movies around Fiftieth Street are cool,” suggested Jordan. “I love New York on summer afternoons when every one’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it — overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands.”

The word “sensuous” had the effect of further disquieting Tom, but before he could invent a protest the coupe came to a stop, and Daisy signaled us to draw up alongside.

“Where are we going?” she cried.

“How about the movies?”

“It’s so hot,” she complained. “You go. We’ll ride around and meet you after.” With an effort her wit rose faintly, “We’ll meet you on some corner. I’ll be the man smoking two cigarettes.”

“We can’t argue about it here,” Tom said impatiently, as a truck gave out a cursing whistle behind us. “You follow me to the south side of Central Park, in front of the Plaza.”

Several times he turned his head and looked back for their car, and if the traffic delayed them he slowed up until they came into sight. I think he was afraid they would dart down a side street and out of his life forever.

But they didn’t. And we all took the less explicable step of engaging the parlor of a suite in the Plaza Hotel.

The prolonged and tumultuous argument that ended by herding us into that room eludes me, though I have a sharp physical memory that, in the course of it, my underwear kept climbing like a damp snake around my legs and intermittent beads of sweat raced cool across my back. The notion originated with Daisy’s suggestion that we hire five bath-rooms and take cold baths, and then assumed more tangible form as “a place to have a mint julep.” Each of us said over and over that it was a “crazy idea.”— we all talked at once to a baffled clerk and thought, or pretended to think, that we were being very funny.. ..

The room was large and stifling, and, though it was already four o’clock, opening the windows admitted Only a gust of hot shrubbery from the Park. Daisy went to the mirror and stood with her back to us, fixing her hair.

“It’s a swell suite,” whispered Jordan respectfully, and every one laughed.

“Open another window,” commanded Daisy, without turning around.

“There aren’t any more.”

“Well, we’d better telephone for an axe ——”

“The thing to do is to forget about the heat,” said Tom impatiently. “You make it ten times worse by crabbing about it.”

He unrolled the bottle of whiskey from the towel and put it on the table.

“Why not let her alone, old sport?” remarked Gatsby. “You’re the one that wanted to come to town.”

There was a moment of silence. The telephone book slipped from its nail and splashed to the floor, whereupon Jordan whispered, “Excuse me.”— but this time no one laughed.

“I’ll pick it up,” I offered.

“I’ve got it.” Gatsby examined the parted string, muttered “Hum!” in an interested way, and tossed the book on a chair.

“That’s a great expression of yours, isn’t it?” said Tom sharply.

“What is?”

“All this ‘old sport’ business. Where’d you pick that up?”

“Now see here, Tom,” said Daisy, turning around from the mirror, “if you’re going to make personal remarks I won’t stay here a minute. Call up and order some ice for the mint julep.”

As Tom took up the receiver the compressed heat exploded into sound and we were listening to the portentous chords of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March from the ballroom below.

“Imagine marrying anybody in this heat!” cried Jordan dismally.

“Still — I was married in the middle of June,” Daisy remembered, “Louisville in June! Somebody fainted. Who was it fainted, Tom?”

“Biloxi,” he answered shortly.

“A man named Biloxi. ‘blocks’ Biloxi, and he made boxes — that’s a fact — and he was from Biloxi, Tennessee.”

“They carried him into my house,” appended Jordan, “because we lived just two doors from the church. And he stayed three weeks, until Daddy told him he had to get out. The day after he left Daddy died.” After a moment she added as if she might have sounded irreverent, “There wasn’t any connection.”

“I used to know a Bill Biloxi from Memphis,” I remarked.

“That was his cousin. I knew his whole family history before he left. He gave me an aluminum putter that I use to-day.”

The music had died down as the ceremony began and now a long cheer floated in at the window, followed by intermittent cries of “Yea-ea-ea!” and finally by a burst of jazz as the dancing began.

“We’re getting old,” said Daisy. “If we were young we’d rise and dance.”

“Remember Biloxi,” Jordan warned her. “Where’d you know him, Tom?”

“Biloxi?” He concentrated with an effort. “I didn’t know him. He was a friend of Daisy’s.”

“He was not,” she denied. “I’d never seen him before. He came down in the private car.”

“Well, he said he knew you. He said he was raised in Louisville. Asa Bird brought him around at the last minute and asked if we had room for him.”

Jordan smiled.

“He was probably bumming his way home. He told me he was president of your class at Yale.”

Tom and I looked at each other blankly.

“Biloxi?”

“First place, we didn’t have any president ——”

Gatsby’s foot beat a short, restless tattoo and Tom eyed him suddenly.

“By the way, Mr. Gatsby, I understand you’re an Oxford man.”

“Not exactly.”

“Oh, yes, I understand you went to Oxford.”

“Yes — I went there.”

A pause. Then Tom’s voice, incredulous and insulting: “You must have gone there about the time Biloxi went to New Haven.”

Another pause. A waiter knocked and came in with crushed mint and ice but, the silence was unbroken by his “thank you” and the soft closing of the door. This tremendous detail was to be cleared up at last.

“I told you I went there,” said Gatsby.

“I heard you, but I’d like to know when.”

“It was in nineteen-nineteen, I only stayed five months. That’s why I can’t really call myself an Oxford man.”

Tom glanced around to see if we mirrored his unbelief. But we were all looking at Gatsby.

“It was an opportunity they gave to some of the officers after the Armistice,” he continued. “We could go to any of the universities in England or France.”

I wanted to get up and slap him on the back. I had one of those renewals of complete faith in him that I’d experienced before.

Daisy rose, smiling faintly, and went to the table.

“Open the whiskey, Tom,” she ordered, “and I’ll make you a mint julep. Then you won’t seem so stupid to yourself…. Look at the mint!”

“Wait a minute,” snapped Tom, “I want to ask Mr. Gatsby one more question.”

“Go on,” Gatsby said politely.

“What kind of a row are you trying to cause in my house anyhow?”

They were out in the open at last and Gatsby was content.

“He isn’t causing a row.” Daisy looked desperately from one to the other. “You’re causing a row. Please have a little self-control.”

“Self-control!” Repeated Tom incredulously. “I suppose the latest thing is to sit back and let Mr. Nobody from Nowhere make love to your wife. Well, if that’s the idea you can count me out…. Nowadays people begin by sneering at family life and family institutions, and next they’ll throw everything overboard and have intermarriage between black and white.”

Flushed with his impassioned gibberish, he saw himself standing alone on the last barrier of civilization.

“We’re all white here,” murmured Jordan.

“I know I’m not very popular. I don’t give big parties. I suppose you’ve got to make your house into a pigsty in order to have any friends — in the modern world.”

Angry as I was, as we all were, I was tempted to laugh whenever he opened his mouth. The transition from libertine to prig was so complete.

“I’ve got something to tell you, old sport ——” began Gatsby. But Daisy guessed at his intention.

“Please don’t!” she interrupted helplessly. “Please let’s all go home. Why don’t we all go home?”

“That’s a good idea.” I got up. “Come on, Tom. Nobody wants a drink.”

“I want to know what Mr. Gatsby has to tell me.”

“Your wife doesn’t love you,” said Gatsby. “She’s never loved you. She loves me.”

“You must be crazy!” exclaimed Tom automatically.

Gatsby sprang to his feet, vivid with excitement.

“She never loved you, do you hear?” he cried. “She only married you because I was poor and she was tired of waiting for me. It was a terrible mistake, but in her heart she never loved any one except me!”

At this point Jordan and I tried to go, but Tom and Gatsby insisted with competitive firmness that we remain — as though neither of them had anything to conceal and it would be a privilege to partake vicariously of their emotions.

“Sit down, Daisy,” Tom’s voice groped unsuccessfully for the paternal note. “What’s been going on? I want to hear all about it.”

“I told you what’s been going on,” said Gatsby. “Going on for five years — and you didn’t know.”

Tom turned to Daisy sharply.

“You’ve been seeing this fellow for five years?”

“Not seeing,” said Gatsby. “No, we couldn’t meet. But both of us loved each other all that time, old sport, and you didn’t know. I used to laugh sometimes.”— but there was no laughter in his eyes ——” to think that you didn’t know.”

“Oh — that’s all.” Tom tapped his thick fingers together like a clergyman and leaned back in his chair.

“You’re crazy!” he exploded. “I can’t speak about what happened five years ago, because I didn’t know Daisy then — and I’ll be damned if I see how you got within a mile of her unless you brought the groceries to the back door. But all the rest of that’s a God damned lie. Daisy loved me when she married me and she loves me now.”

“No,” said Gatsby, shaking his head.

“She does, though. The trouble is that sometimes she gets foolish ideas in her head and doesn’t know what she’s doing.” He nodded sagely. “And what’s more, I love Daisy too. Once in a while I go off on a spree and make a fool of myself, but I always come back, and in my heart I love her all the time.”

“You’re revolting,” said Daisy. She turned to me, and her voice, dropping an octave lower, filled the room with thrilling scorn: “Do you know why we left Chicago? I’m surprised that they didn’t treat you to the story of that little spree.”

Gatsby walked over and stood beside her.

“Daisy, that’s all over now,” he said earnestly. “It doesn’t matter any more. Just tell him the truth — that you never loved him — and it’s all wiped out forever.”

She looked at him blindly. “Why — how could I love him — possibly?”

“You never loved him.”

She hesitated. Her eyes fell on Jordan and me with a sort of appeal, as though she realized at last what she was doing — and as though she had never, all along, intended doing anything at all. But it was done now. It was too late.

“I never loved him,” she said, with perceptible reluctance.

“Not at Kapiolani?” demanded Tom suddenly.

“No.”

From the ballroom beneath, muffled and suffocating chords were drifting up on hot waves of air.

“Not that day I carried you down from the Punch Bowl to keep your shoes dry?” There was a husky tenderness in his tone.. .. “Daisy?”

“Please don’t.” Her voice was cold, but the rancor was gone from it. She looked at Gatsby. “There, Jay,” she said — but her hand as she tried to light a cigarette was trembling. Suddenly she threw the cigarette and the burning match on the carpet.

“Oh, you want too much!” she cried to Gatsby. “I love you now — isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.” She began to sob helplessly. “I did love him once — but I loved you too.”

Gatsby’s eyes opened and closed.

“You loved me too?” he repeated.

“Even that’s a lie,” said Tom savagely. “She didn’t know you were alive. Why — there’re things between Daisy and me that you’ll never know, things that neither of us can ever forget.”

The words seemed to bite physically into Gatsby.

“I want to speak to Daisy alone,” he insisted. “She’s all excited now ——”

“Even alone I can’t say I never loved Tom,” she admitted in a pitiful voice. “It wouldn’t be true.”

“Of course it wouldn’t,” agreed Tom.

She turned to her husband.

“As if it mattered to you,” she said.

“Of course it matters. I’m going to take better care of you from now on.”

“You don’t understand,” said Gatsby, with a touch of panic. “You’re not going to take care of her any more.”

“I’m not?” Tom opened his eyes wide and laughed. He could afford to control himself now. “Why’s that?”

“Daisy’s leaving you.”

“Nonsense.”

“I am, though,” she said with a visible effort.

“She’s not leaving me!” Tom’s words suddenly leaned down over Gatsby. “Certainly not for a common swindler who’d have to steal the ring he put on her finger.”

“I won’t stand this!” cried Daisy. “Oh, please let’s get out.”

“Who are you, anyhow?” broke out Tom. “You’re one of that bunch that hangs around with Meyer Wolfsheim — that much I happen to know. I’ve made a little investigation into your affairs — and I’ll carry it further to-morrow.”

“You can suit yourself about that, old sport,” said Gatsby steadily.

“I found out what your ‘drug-stores’ were.” He turned to us and spoke rapidly. “He and this Wolfsheim bought up a lot of side-street drug-stores here and in Chicago and sold grain alcohol over the counter. That’s one of his little stunts. I picked him for a bootlegger the first time I saw him, and I wasn’t far wrong.”

“What about it?” said Gatsby politely. “I guess your friend Walter Chase wasn’t too proud to come in on it.”

“And you left him in the lurch, didn’t you? You let him go to jail for a month over in New Jersey. God! You ought to hear Walter on the subject of you.”

“He came to us dead broke. He was very glad to pick up some money, old sport.”

“Don’t you call me ‘old sport’!” cried Tom. Gatsby said nothing. “Walter could have you up on the betting laws too, but Wolfsheim scared him into shutting his mouth.”

That unfamiliar yet recognizable look was back again in Gatsby’s face.

“That drug-store business was just small change,” continued Tom slowly, “but you’ve got something on now that Walter’s afraid to tell me about.”

I glanced at Daisy, who was staring terrified between Gatsby and her husband, and at Jordan, who had begun to balance an invisible but absorbing object on the tip of her chin. Then I turned back to Gatsby — and was startled at his expression. He looked — and this is said in all contempt for the babbled slander of his garden — as if he had “killed a man.” For a moment the set of his face could be described in just that fantastic way.

It passed, and he began to talk excitedly to Daisy, denying everything, defending his name against accusations that had not been made. But with every word she was drawing further and further into herself, so he gave that up, and only the dead dream fought on as the afternoon slipped away, trying to touch what was no longer tangible, struggling unhappily, undespairingly, toward that lost voice across the room.

The voice begged again to go.

please, Tom! I can’t stand this any more.”

Her frightened eyes told that whatever intentions, whatever courage, she had had, were definitely gone.

“You two start on home, Daisy,” said Tom. “In Mr. Gatsby’s car.”

She looked at Tom, alarmed now, but he insisted with magnanimous scorn.

“Go on. He won’t annoy you. I think he realizes that his presumptuous little flirtation is over.”

They were gone, without a word, snapped out, made accidental, isolated, like ghosts, even from our pity.

After a moment Tom got up and began wrapping the unopened bottle of whiskey in the towel.

“Want any of this stuff? Jordan?… Nick?”

I didn’t answer.

“Nick?” He asked again.

“What?”

“Want any?”

“No… I just remembered that to-day’s my birthday.”

I was thirty. Before me stretched the portentous, menacing road of a new decade.

It was seven o’clock when we got into the coupe with him and started for Long Island. Tom talked incessantly, exulting and laughing, but his voice was as remote from Jordan and me as the foreign clamor on the sidewalk or the tumult of the elevated overhead. Human sympathy has its limits, and we were content to let all their tragic arguments fade with the city lights behind. Thirty — the promise of a decade of loneliness, a thinning list of single men to know, a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair. But there was Jordan beside me, who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age. As we passed over the dark bridge her wan face fell lazily against my coat’s shoulder and the formidable stroke of thirty died away with the reassuring pressure of her hand.

So we drove on toward death through the cooling twilight.

The young Greek, Michaelis, who ran the coffee joint beside the ashheaps was the principal witness at the inquest. He had slept through the heat until after five, when he strolled over to the garage, and found George Wilson sick in his office — really sick, pale as his own pale hair and shaking all over. Michaelis advised him to go to bed, but Wilson refused, saying that he’d miss a lot of business if he did. While his neighbor was trying to persuade him a violent racket broke out overhead.

“I’ve got my wife locked in up there,” explained Wilson calmly. “She’s going to stay there till the day after to-morrow, and then we’re going to move away.”

Michaelis was astonished; they had been neighbors for four years, and Wilson had never seemed faintly capable of such a statement. Generally he was one of these worn-out men: when he wasn’t working, he sat on a chair in the doorway and stared at the people and the cars that passed along the road. When any one spoke to him he invariably laughed in an agreeable, colorless way. He was his wife’s man and not his own.

So naturally Michaelis tried to find out what had happened, but Wilson wouldn’t say a word — instead he began to throw curious, suspicious glances at his visitor and ask him what he’d been doing at certain times on certain days. Just as the latter was getting uneasy, some workmen came past the door bound for his restaurant, and Michaelis took the opportunity to get away, intending to come back later. But he didn’t. He supposed he forgot to, that’s all. When he came outside again, a little after seven, he was reminded of the conversation because he heard Mrs. Wilson’s voice, loud and scolding, down-stairs in the garage.

“Beat me!” he heard her cry. “Throw me down and beat me, you dirty little coward!”

A moment later she rushed out into the dusk, waving her hands and shouting — before he could move from his door the business was over.

The “death car,” as the newspapers called it, didn’t stop; it came out of the gathering darkness, wavered tragically for a moment, and then disappeared around the next bend. Michaelis wasn’t even sure of its color — he told the first policeman that it was light green. The other car, the one going toward New York, came to rest a hundred yards beyond, and its driver hurried back to where Myrtle Wilson, her life violently extinguished, knelt in the road and mingled her thick dark blood with the dust.

Michaelis and this man reached her first, but when they had torn open her shirtwaist, still damp with perspiration, they saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap, and there was no need to listen for the heart beneath. The mouth was wide open and ripped at the corners, as though she had choked a little in giving up the tremendous vitality she had stored so long.

We saw the three or four automobiles and the crowd when we were still some distance away.

“Wreck!” said Tom. “That’s good. Wilson’ll have a little business at last.”

He slowed down, but still without any intention of stopping, until, as we came nearer, the hushed, intent faces of the people at the garage door made him automatically put on the brakes.

“We’ll take a look,” he said doubtfully, “just a look.”

I became aware now of a hollow, wailing sound which issued incessantly from the garage, a sound which as we got out of the coupe and walked toward the door resolved itself into the words “Oh, my God!” uttered over and over in a gasping moan.

“There’s some bad trouble here,” said Tom excitedly.

He reached up on tiptoes and peered over a circle of heads into the garage, which was lit only by a yellow light in a swinging wire basket overhead. Then he made a harsh sound in his throat, and with a violent thrusting movement of his powerful arms pushed his way through.

The circle closed up again with a running murmur of expostulation; it was a minute before I could see anything at all. Then new arrivals deranged the line, and Jordan and I were pushed suddenly inside.

Myrtle Wilson’s body, wrapped in a blanket, and then in another blanket, as though she suffered from a chill in the hot night, lay on a work-table by the wall, and Tom, with his back to us, was bending over it, motionless. Next to him stood a motorcycle policeman taking down names with much sweat and correction in a little book. At first I couldn’t find the source of the high, groaning words that echoed clamorously through the bare garage — then I saw Wilson standing on the raised threshold of his office, swaying back and forth and holding to the doorposts with both hands. Some man was talking to him in a low voice and attempting, from time to time, to lay a hand on his shoulder, but Wilson neither heard nor saw. His eyes would drop slowly from the swinging light to the laden table by the wall, and then jerk back to the light again, and he gave out incessantly his high, horrible call:

“Oh, my Ga-od! Oh, my Ga-od! oh, Ga-od! oh, my Ga-od!”

Presently Tom lifted his head with a jerk and, after staring around the garage with glazed eyes, addressed a mumbled incoherent remark to the policeman.

“M-a-y-,” the policeman was saying, “-o ——”

“No, r-,” corrected the man, “M-a-v-r-o ——”

“Listen to me!” muttered Tom fiercely.

“r” said the policeman, “o ——”

“g ——”

“g ——” He looked up as Tom’s broad hand fell sharply on his shoulder. “What you want, fella?”

“What happened? — that’s what I want to know.”

“Auto hit her. Ins’antly killed.”

“Instantly killed,” repeated Tom, staring.

“She ran out ina road. Son-of-a-bitch didn’t even stopus car.”

“There was two cars,” said Michaelis, “one comin’, one goin’, see?”

“Going where?” asked the policeman keenly.

“One goin’ each way. Well, she.”— his hand rose toward the blankets but stopped half way and fell to his side ——” she ran out there an’ the one comin’ from N’york knock right into her, goin’ thirty or forty miles an hour.”

“What’s the name of this place here?” demanded the officer.

“Hasn’t got any name.”

A pale well-dressed negro stepped near.

“It was a yellow car,” he said, “big yellow car. New.”

“See the accident?” asked the policeman.

“No, but the car passed me down the road, going faster’n forty. Going fifty, sixty.”

“Come here and let’s have your name. Look out now. I want to get his name.”

Some words of this conversation must have reached Wilson, swaying in the office door, for suddenly a new theme found voice among his gasping cries:

“You don’t have to tell me what kind of car it was! I know what kind of car it was!”

Watching Tom, I saw the wad of muscle back of his shoulder tighten under his coat. He walked quickly over to Wilson and, standing in front of him, seized him firmly by the upper arms.

“You’ve got to pull yourself together,” he said with soothing gruffness.

Wilson’s eyes fell upon Tom; he started up on his tiptoes and then would have collapsed to his knees had not Tom held him upright.

“Listen,” said Tom, shaking him a little. “I just got here a minute ago, from New York. I was bringing you that coupe we’ve been talking about. That yellow car I was driving this afternoon wasn’t mine — do you hear? I haven’t seen it all afternoon.”

Only the negro and I were near enough to hear what he said, but the policeman caught something in the tone and looked over with truculent eyes.

“What’s all that?” he demanded.

“I’m a friend of his.” Tom turned his head but kept his hands firm on Wilson’s body. “He says he knows the car that did it… it was a yellow car.”

Some dim impulse moved the policeman to look suspiciously at Tom.

“And what color’s your car?”

“It’s a blue car, a coupe.”

“We’ve come straight from New York,” I said.

Some one who had been driving a little behind us confirmed this, and the policeman turned away.

“Now, if you’ll let me have that name again correct ——” Picking up Wilson like a doll, Tom carried him into the office, set him down in a chair, and came back.

“If somebody’ll come here and sit with him,” he snapped authoritatively. He watched while the two men standing closest glanced at each other and went unwillingly into the room. Then Tom shut the door on them and came down the single step, his eyes avoiding the table. As he passed close to me he whispered: “Let’s get out.”

Self-consciously, with his authoritative arms breaking the way, we pushed through the still gathering crowd, passing a hurried doctor, case in hand, who had been sent for in wild hope half an hour ago.

Tom drove slowly until we were beyond the bend — then his foot came down hard, and the coupe raced along through the night. In a little while I heard a low husky sob, and saw that the tears were overflowing down his face.

“The God damned coward!” he whimpered. “He didn’t even stop his car.”

The Buchanans’ house floated suddenly toward us through the dark rustling trees. Tom stopped beside the porch and looked up at the second floor, where two windows bloomed with light among the vines.

“Daisy’s home,” he said. As we got out of the car he glanced at me and frowned slightly.

“I ought to have dropped you in West Egg, Nick. There’s nothing we can do to-night.”

A change had come over him, and he spoke gravely, and with decision. As we walked across the moonlight gravel to the porch he disposed of the situation in a few brisk phrases.

“I’ll telephone for a taxi to take you home, and while you’re waiting you and Jordan better go in the kitchen and have them get you some supper — if you want any.” He opened the door. “Come in.”

“No, thanks. But I’d be glad if you’d order me the taxi. I’ll wait outside.”

Jordan put her hand on my arm.

“Won’t you come in, Nick?”

“No, thanks.”

I was feeling a little sick and I wanted to be alone. But Jordan lingered for a moment more.

“It’s only half-past nine,” she said.

I’d be damned if I’d go in; I’d had enough of all of them for one day, and suddenly that included Jordan too. She must have seen something of this in my expression, for she turned abruptly away and ran up the porch steps into the house. I sat down for a few minutes with my head in my hands, until I heard the phone taken up inside and the butler’s voice calling a taxi. Then I walked slowly down the drive away from the house, intending to wait by the gate.

I hadn’t gone twenty yards when I heard my name and Gatsby stepped from between two bushes into the path. I must have felt pretty weird by that time, because I could think of nothing except the luminosity of his pink suit under the moon.

“What are you doing?” I inquired.

“Just standing here, old sport.”

Somehow, that seemed a despicable occupation. For all I knew he was going to rob the house in a moment; I wouldn’t have been surprised to see sinister faces, the faces of ‘Wolfsheim’s people,’ behind him in the dark shrubbery.

“Did you see any trouble on the road?” he asked after a minute.

“Yes.”

He hesitated.

“Was she killed?”

“Yes.”

“I thought so; I told Daisy I thought so. It’s better that the shock should all come at once. She stood it pretty well.”

He spoke as if Daisy’s reaction was the only thing that mattered.

“I got to West Egg by a side road,” he went on, “and left the car in my garage. I don’t think anybody saw us, but of course I can’t be sure.”

I disliked him so much by this time that I didn’t find it necessary to tell him he was wrong.

“Who was the woman?” he inquired.

“Her name was Wilson. Her husband owns the garage. How the devil did it happen?”

“Well, I tried to swing the wheel ——” He broke off, and suddenly I guessed at the truth.

“Was Daisy driving?”

“Yes,” he said after a moment, “but of course I’ll say I was. You see, when we left New York she was very nervous and she thought it would steady her to drive — and this woman rushed out at us just as we were passing a car coming the other way. It all happened in a minute, but it seemed to me that she wanted to speak to us, thought we were somebody she knew. Well, first Daisy turned away from the woman toward the other car, and then she lost her nerve and turned back. The second my hand reached the wheel I felt the shock — it must have killed her instantly.”

“It ripped her open ——”

“Don’t tell me, old sport.” He winced. “Anyhow — Daisy stepped on it. I tried to make her stop, but she couldn’t, so I pulled on the emergency brake. Then she fell over into my lap and I drove on.

“She’ll be all right to-morrow,” he said presently. “I’m just going to wait here and see if he tries to bother her about that unpleasantness this afternoon. She’s locked herself into her room, and if he tries any brutality she’s going to turn the light out and on again.”

“He won’t touch her,’ I said. “He’s not thinking about her.”

“I don’t trust him, old sport.”

“How long are you going to wait?”

“All night, if necessary. Anyhow, till they all go to bed.”

A new point of view occurred to me. Suppose Tom found out that Daisy had been driving. He might think he saw a connection in it — he might think anything. I looked at the house; there were two or three bright windows down-stairs and the pink glow from Daisy’s room on the second floor.

“You wait here,” I said. “I’ll see if there’s any sign of a commotion.”

I walked back along the border of the lawn, traversed the gravel softly, and tiptoed up the veranda steps. The drawing-room curtains were open, and I saw that the room was empty. Crossing the porch where we had dined that June night three months before, I came to a small rectangle of light which I guessed was the pantry window. The blind was drawn, but I found a rift at the sill.

Daisy and Tom were sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table, with a plate of cold fried chicken between them, and two bottles of ale. He was talking intently across the table at her, and in his earnestness his hand had fallen upon and covered her own. Once in a while she looked up at him and nodded in agreement.

They weren’t happy, and neither of them had touched the chicken or the ale — and yet they weren’t unhappy either. There was an unmistakable air of natural intimacy about the picture, and anybody would have said that they were conspiring together.

As I tiptoed from the porch I heard my taxi feeling its way along the dark road toward the house. Gatsby was waiting where I had left him in the drive.

“Is it all quiet up there?” he asked anxiously.

“Yes, it’s all quiet.” I hesitated. “You’d better come home and get some sleep.”

He shook his head.

“I want to wait here till Daisy goes to bed. Good night, old sport.”

He put his hands in his coat pockets and turned back eagerly to his scrutiny of the house, as though my presence marred the sacredness of the vigil. So I walked away and left him standing there in the moonlight — watching over nothing.

Chapter 8

I couldn’t sleep all night; a fog-horn was groaning incessantly on the Sound, and I tossed half-sick between grotesque reality and savage, frightening dreams. Toward dawn I heard a taxi go up Gatsby’s drive, and immediately I jumped out of bed and began to dress — I felt that I had something to tell him, something to warn him about, and morning would be too late.

Crossing his lawn, I saw that his front door was still open and he was leaning against a table in the hall, heavy with dejection or sleep.

“Nothing happened,” he said wanly. “I waited, and about four o’clock she came to the window and stood there for a minute and then turned out the light.”

His house had never seemed so enormous to me as it did that night when we hunted through the great rooms for cigarettes. We pushed aside curtains that were like pavilions, and felt over innumerable feet of dark wall for electric light switches — once I tumbled with a sort of splash upon the keys of a ghostly piano. There was an inexplicable amount of dust everywhere, and the rooms were musty, as though they hadn’t been aired for many days. I found the humidor on an unfamiliar table, with two stale, dry cigarettes inside. Throwing open the French windows of the drawing-room, we sat smoking out into the darkness.

“You ought to go away,” I said. “It’s pretty certain they’ll trace your car.”

“Go away now, old sport?”

“Go to Atlantic City for a week, or up to Montreal.”

He wouldn’t consider it. He couldn’t possibly leave Daisy until he knew what she was going to do. He was clutching at some last hope and I couldn’t bear to shake him free.

It was this night that he told me the strange story of his youth with Dan Cody — told it to me because “Jay Gatsby.” had broken up like glass against Tom’s hard malice, and the long secret extravaganza was played out. I think that he would have acknowledged anything now, without reserve, but he wanted to talk about Daisy.

She was the first “nice” girl he had ever known. In various unrevealed capacities he had come in contact with such people, but always with indiscernible barbed wire between. He found her excitingly desirable. He went to her house, at first with other officers from Camp Taylor, then alone. It amazed him — he had never been in such a beautiful house before, but what gave it an air of breathless intensity, was that Daisy lived there — it was as casual a thing to her as his tent out at camp was to him. There was a ripe mystery about it, a hint of bedrooms up-stairs more beautiful and cool than other bedrooms, of gay and radiant activities taking place through its corridors, and of romances that were not musty and laid away already in lavender but fresh and breathing and redolent of this year’s shining motor-cars and of dances whose flowers were scarcely withered. It excited him, too, that many men had already loved Daisy — it increased her value in his eyes. He felt their presence all about the house, pervading the air with the shades and echoes of still vibrant emotions.

But he knew that he was in Daisy’s house by a colossal accident. However glorious might be his future as Jay Gatsby, he was at present a penniless young man without a past, and at any moment the invisible cloak of his uniform might slip from his shoulders. So he made the most of his time. He took what he could get, ravenously and unscrupulously — eventually he took Daisy one still October night, took her because he had no real right to touch her hand.

He might have despised himself, for he had certainly taken her under false pretenses. I don’t mean that he had traded on his phantom millions, but he had deliberately given Daisy a sense of security; he let her believe that he was a person from much the same stratum as herself — that he was fully able to take care of her. As a matter of fact, he had no such facilities — he had no comfortable family standing behind him, and he was liable at the whim of an impersonal government to be blown anywhere about the world.

But he didn’t despise himself and it didn’t turn out as he had imagined. He had intended, probably, to take what he could and go — but now he found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail. He knew that Daisy was extraordinary, but he didn’t realize just how extraordinary a “nice” girl could be. She vanished into her rich house, into her rich, full life, leaving Gatsby — nothing. He felt married to her, that was all.

When they met again, two days later, it was Gatsby who was breathless, who was, somehow, betrayed. Her porch was bright with the bought luxury of star-shine; the wicker of the settee squeaked fashionably as she turned toward him and he kissed her curious and lovely mouth. She had caught a cold, and it made her voice huskier and more charming than ever, and Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.

“I can’t describe to you how surprised I was to find out I loved her, old sport. I even hoped for a while that she’d throw me over, but she didn’t, because she was in love with me too. She thought I knew a lot because I knew different things from her…. Well, there I was, ‘way off my ambitions, getting deeper in love every minute, and all of a sudden I didn’t care. What was the use of doing great things if I could have a better time telling her what I was going to do?” On the last afternoon before he went abroad, he sat with Daisy in his arms for a long, silent time. It was a cold fall day, with fire in the room and her cheeks flushed. Now and then she moved and he changed his arm a little, and once he kissed her dark shining hair. The afternoon had made them tranquil for a while, as if to give them a deep memory for the long parting the next day promised. They had never been closer in their month of love, nor communicated more profoundly one with another, than when she brushed silent lips against his coat’s shoulder or when he touched the end of her fingers, gently, as though she were asleep.

He did extraordinarily well in the war. He was a captain before he went to the front, and following the Argonne battles he got his majority and the command of the divisional machine-guns. After the Armistice he tried frantically to get home, but some complication or misunderstanding sent him to Oxford instead. He was worried now — there was a quality of nervous despair in Daisy’s letters. She didn’t see why he couldn’t come. She was feeling the pressure of the world outside, and she wanted to see him and feel his presence beside her and be reassured that she was doing the right thing after all.

For Daisy was young and her artificial world was redolent of orchids and pleasant, cheerful snobbery and orchestras which set the rhythm of the year, summing up the sadness and suggestiveness of life in new tunes. All night the saxophones wailed the hopeless comment of the Beale Street Blues while a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust. At the gray tea hour there were always rooms that throbbed incessantly with this low, sweet fever, while fresh faces drifted here and there like rose petals blown by the sad horns around the floor.

Through this twilight universe Daisy began to move again with the season; suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates a day with half a dozen men, and drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads and chiffon of an evening dress tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed. And all the time something within her was crying for a decision. She wanted her life shaped now, immediately — and the decision must be made by some force — of love, of money, of unquestionable practicality — that was close at hand.

That force took shape in the middle of spring with the arrival of Tom Buchanan. There was a wholesome bulkiness about his person and his position, and Daisy was flattered. Doubtless there was a certain struggle and a certain relief. The letter reached Gatsby while he was still at Oxford.

It was dawn now on Long Island and we went about opening the rest of the windows down-stairs, filling the house with gray-turning, gold-turning light. The shadow of a tree fell abruptly across the dew and ghostly birds began to sing among the blue leaves. There was a slow, pleasant movement in the air, scarcely a wind, promising a cool, lovely day.

“I don’t think she ever loved him.” Gatsby turned around from a window and looked at me challengingly. “You must remember, old sport, she was very excited this afternoon. He told her those things in a way that frightened her — that made it look as if I was some kind of cheap sharper. And the result was she hardly knew what she was saying.”

He sat down gloomily.

“Of course she might have loved him just for a minute, when they were first married — and loved me more even then, do you see?”

Suddenly he came out with a curious remark.

“In any case,” he said, “it was just personal.”

What could you make of that, except to suspect some intensity in his conception of the affair that couldn’t be measured?

He came back from France when Tom and Daisy were still on their wedding trip, and made a miserable but irresistible journey to Louisville on the last of his army pay. He stayed there a week, walking the streets where their footsteps had clicked together through the November night and revisiting the out-of-the-way places to which they had driven in her white car. Just as Daisy’s house had always seemed to him more mysterious and gay than other houses, so his idea of the city itself, even though she was gone from it, was pervaded with a melancholy beauty.

He left feeling that if he had searched harder, he might have found her — that he was leaving her behind. The day-coach — he was penniless now — was hot. He went out to the open vestibule and sat down on a folding-chair, and the station slid away and the backs of unfamiliar buildings moved by. Then out into the spring fields, where a yellow trolley raced them for a minute with people in it who might once have seen the pale magic of her face along the casual street.

The track curved and now it was going away from the sun, which as it sank lower, seemed to spread itself in benediction over the vanishing city where she had drawn her breath. He stretched out his hand desperately as if to snatch only a wisp of air, to save a fragment of the spot that she had made lovely for him. But it was all going by too fast now for his blurred eyes and he knew that he had lost that part of it, the freshest and the best, forever.

It was nine o’clock when we finished breakfast and went out on the porch. The night had made a sharp difference in the weather and there was an autumn flavor in the air. The gardener, the last one of Gatsby’s former servants, came to the foot of the steps.

“I’m going to drain the pool to-day, Mr. Gatsby. Leaves’ll start falling pretty soon, and then there’s always trouble with the pipes.”

“Don’t do it to-day,” Gatsby answered. He turned to me apologetically. “You know, old sport, I’ve never used that pool all summer?”

I looked at my watch and stood up.

“Twelve minutes to my train.”

I didn’t want to go to the city. I wasn’t worth a decent stroke of work, but it was more than that — I didn’t want to leave Gatsby. I missed that train, and then another, before I could get myself away.

“I’ll call you up,” I said finally.

“Do, old sport.”

“I’ll call you about noon.”

We walked slowly down the steps.

“I suppose Daisy’ll call too.” He looked at me anxiously, as if he hoped I’d corroborate this.

“I suppose so.”

“Well, good-by.”

We shook hands and I started away. Just before I reached the hedge I remembered something and turned around.

“They’re a rotten crowd,” I shouted across the lawn. “You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end. First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time. His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps, and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before. The lawn and drive had been crowded with the faces of those who guessed at his corruption — and he had stood on those steps, concealing his incorruptible dream, as he waved them good-by.

I thanked him for his hospitality. We were always thanking him for that — I and the others.

“Good-by,” I called. “I enjoyed breakfast, Gatsby.”

Up in the city, I tried for a while to list the quotations on an interminable amount of stock, then I fell asleep in my swivel-chair. Just before noon the phone woke me, and I started up with sweat breaking out on my forehead. It was Jordan Baker; she often called me up at this hour because the uncertainty of her own movements between hotels and clubs and private houses made her hard to find in any other way. Usually her voice came over the wire as something fresh and cool, as if a divot from a green golf-links had come sailing in at the office window, but this morning it seemed harsh and dry.

“I’ve left Daisy’s house,” she said. “I’m at Hempstead, and I’m going down to Southampton this afternoon.”

Probably it had been tactful to leave Daisy’s house, but the act annoyed me, and her next remark made me rigid.

“You weren’t so nice to me last night.”

“How could it have mattered then?”

Silence for a moment. Then:

“However — I want to see you.”

“I want to see you, too.”

“Suppose I don’t go to Southampton, and come into town this afternoon?”

“No — I don’t think this afternoon.”

“Very well.”

“It’s impossible this afternoon. Various ——”

We talked like that for a while, and then abruptly we weren’t talking any longer. I don’t know which of us hung up with a sharp click, but I know I didn’t care. I couldn’t have talked to her across a tea-table that day if I never talked to her again in this world.

I called Gatsby’s house a few minutes later, but the line was busy. I tried four times; finally an exasperated central told me the wire was being kept open for long distance from Detroit. Taking out my time-table, I drew a small circle around the three-fifty train. Then I leaned back in my chair and tried to think. It was just noon.

When I passed the ashheaps on the train that morning I had crossed deliberately to the other side of the car. I suppose there’d be a curious crowd around there all day with little boys searching for dark spots in the dust, and some garrulous man telling over and over what had happened, until it became less and less real even to him and he could tell it no longer, and Myrtle Wilson’s tragic achievement was forgotten. Now I want to go back a little and tell what happened at the garage after we left there the night before.

They had difficulty in locating the sister, Catherine. She must have broken her rule against drinking that night, for when she arrived she was stupid with liquor and unable to understand that the ambulance had already gone to Flushing. When they convinced her of this, she immediately fainted, as if that was the intolerable part of the affair. Some one, kind or curious, took her in his car and drove her in the wake of her sister’s body.

Until long after midnight a changing crowd lapped up against the front of the garage, while George Wilson rocked himself back and forth on the couch inside. For a while the door of the office was open, and every one who came into the garage glanced irresistibly through it. Finally someone said it was a shame, and closed the door. Michaelis and several other men were with him; first, four or five men, later two or three men. Still later Michaelis had to ask the last stranger to wait there fifteen minutes longer, while he went back to his own place and made a pot of coffee. After that, he stayed there alone with Wilson until dawn.

About three o’clock the quality of Wilson’s incoherent muttering changed — he grew quieter and began to talk about the yellow car. He announced that he had a way of finding out whom the yellow car belonged to, and then he blurted out that a couple of months ago his wife had come from the city with her face bruised and her nose swollen.

But when he heard himself say this, he flinched and began to cry “Oh, my God!” again in his groaning voice. Michaelis made a clumsy attempt to distract him.

“How long have you been married, George? Come on there, try and sit still a minute and answer my question. How long have you been married?”

“Twelve years.”

“Ever had any children? Come on, George, sit still — I asked you a question. Did you ever have any children?”

The hard brown beetles kept thudding against the dull light, and whenever Michaelis heard a car go tearing along the road outside it sounded to him like the car that hadn’t stopped a few hours before. He didn’t like to go into the garage, because the work bench was stained where the body had been lying, so he moved uncomfortably around the office — he knew every object in it before morning — and from time to time sat down beside Wilson trying to keep him more quiet.

“Have you got a church you go to sometimes, George? Maybe even if you haven’t been there for a long time? Maybe I could call up the church and get a priest to come over and he could talk to you, see?”

“Don’t belong to any.”

“You ought to have a church, George, for times like this. You must have gone to church once. Didn’t you get married in a church? Listen, George, listen to me. Didn’t you get married in a church?”

“That was a long time ago.”

The effort of answering broke the rhythm of his rocking — for a moment he was silent. Then the same half-knowing, half-bewildered look came back into his faded eyes.

“Look in the drawer there,” he said, pointing at the desk.

“Which drawer?”

“That drawer — that one.”

Michaelis opened the drawer nearest his hand. There was nothing in it but a small, expensive dog-leash, made of leather and braided silver. It was apparently new.

“This?” he inquired, holding it up.

Wilson stared and nodded.

“I found it yesterday afternoon. She tried to tell me about it, but I knew it was something funny.”

“You mean your wife bought it?”

“She had it wrapped in tissue paper on her bureau.”

Michaelis didn’t see anything odd in that, and he gave Wilson a dozen reasons why his wife might have bought the dog-leash. But conceivably Wilson had heard some of these same explanations before, from Myrtle, because he began saying “Oh, my God!” again in a whisper — his comforter left several explanations in the air.

“Then he killed her,” said Wilson. His mouth dropped open suddenly.

“Who did?”

“I have a way of finding out.”

“You’re morbid, George,” said his friend. “This has been a strain to you and you don’t know what you’re saying. You’d better try and sit quiet till morning.”

“He murdered her.”

“It was an accident, George.”

Wilson shook his head. His eyes narrowed and his mouth widened slightly with the ghost of a superior “Hm!”

“I know,” he said definitely, “I’m one of these trusting fellas and I don’t think any harm to nobody, but when I get to know a thing I know it. It was the man in that car. She ran out to speak to him and he wouldn’t stop.”

Michaelis had seen this too, but it hadn’t occurred to him that there was any special significance in it. He believed that Mrs. Wilson had been running away from her husband, rather than trying to stop any particular car.

“How could she of been like that?”

“She’s a deep one,” said Wilson, as if that answered the question. “Ah-h-h ——”

He began to rock again, and Michaelis stood twisting the leash in his hand.

“Maybe you got some friend that I could telephone for, George?”

This was a forlorn hope — he was almost sure that Wilson had no friend: there was not enough of him for his wife. He was glad a little later when he noticed a change in the room, a blue quickening by the window, and realized that dawn wasn’t far off. About five o’clock it was blue enough outside to snap off the light.

Wilson’s glazed eyes turned out to the ashheaps, where small gray clouds took on fantastic shape and scurried here and there in the faint dawn wind.

“I spoke to her,” he muttered, after a long silence. “I told her she might fool me but she couldn’t fool God. I took her to the window.”— with an effort he got up and walked to the rear window and leaned with his face pressed against it ——” and I said ‘God knows what you’ve been doing, everything you’ve been doing. You may fool me, but you can’t fool God!’”

Standing behind him, Michaelis saw with a shock that he was looking at the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg, which had just emerged, pale and enormous, from the dissolving night.

“God sees everything,” repeated Wilson.

“That’s an advertisement,” Michaelis assured him. Something made him turn away from the window and look back into the room. But Wilson stood there a long time, his face close to the window pane, nodding into the twilight.

By six o’clock Michaelis was worn out, and grateful for the sound of a car stopping outside. It was one of the watchers of the night before who had promised to come back, so he cooked breakfast for three, which he and the other man ate together. Wilson was quieter now, and Michaelis went home to sleep; when he awoke four hours later and hurried back to the garage, Wilson was gone.

His movements — he was on foot all the time — were afterward traced to Port Roosevelt and then to Gad’s Hill, where he bought a sandwich that he didn’t eat, and a cup of coffee. He must have been tired and walking slowly, for he didn’t reach Gad’s Hill until noon. Thus far there was no difficulty in accounting for his time — there were boys who had seen a man “acting sort of crazy,” and motorists at whom he stared oddly from the side of the road. Then for three hours he disappeared from view. The police, on the strength of what he said to Michaelis, that he “had a way of finding out,” supposed that he spent that time going from garage to garage thereabout, inquiring for a yellow car. On the other hand, no garage man who had seen him ever came forward, and perhaps he had an easier, surer way of finding out what he wanted to know. By half-past two he was in West Egg, where he asked someone the way to Gatsby’s house. So by that time he knew Gatsby’s name.

At two o’clock Gatsby put on his bathing-suit and left word with the butler that if any one phoned word was to be brought to him at the pool. He stopped at the garage for a pneumatic mattress that had amused his guests during the summer, and the chauffeur helped him pump it up. Then he gave instructions that the open car wasn’t to be taken out under any circumstances — and this was strange, because the front right fender needed repair.

Gatsby shouldered the mattress and started for the pool. Once he stopped and shifted it a little, and the chauffeur asked him if he needed help, but he shook his head and in a moment disappeared among the yellowing trees.

No telephone message arrived, but the butler went without his sleep and waited for it until four o’clock — until long after there was any one to give it to if it came. I have an idea that Gatsby himself didn’t believe it would come, and perhaps he no longer cared. If that was true he must have felt that he had lost the old warm world, paid a high price for living too long with a single dream. He must have looked up at an unfamiliar sky through frightening leaves and shivered as he found what a grotesque thing a rose is and how raw the sunlight was upon the scarcely created grass. A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about… like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.

The chauffeur — he was one of Wolfsheim’s proteges — heard the shots — afterward he could only say that he hadn’t thought anything much about them. I drove from the station directly to Gatsby’s house and my rushing anxiously up the front steps was the first thing that alarmed any one. But they knew then, I firmly believe. With scarcely a word said, four of us, the chauffeur, butler, gardener, and I, hurried down to the pool.

There was a faint, barely perceptible movement of the water as the fresh flow from one end urged its way toward the drain at the other with little ripples that were hardly the shadows of waves, the laden mattress moved irregularly down the pool. A small gust of wind that scarcely corrugated the surface was enough to disturb its accidental course with its accidental burden. The touch of a cluster of leaves revolved it slowly, tracing, like the leg of compass, a thin red circle in the water.

It was after we started with Gatsby toward the house that the gardener saw Wilson’s body a little way off in the grass, and the holocaust was complete.

Chapter 9

After two years I remember the rest of that day, and that night and the next day, only as an endless drill of police and photographers and newspaper men in and out of Gatsby’s front door. A rope stretched across the main gate and a policeman by it kept out the curious, but little boys soon discovered that they could enter through my yard, and there were always a few of them clustered open-mouthed about the pool. Someone with a positive manner, perhaps a detective, used the expression “madman” as he bent over Wilson’s body that afternoon, and the adventitious authority of his voice set the key for the newspaper reports next morning.

Most of those reports were a nightmare — grotesque, circumstantial, eager, and untrue. When Michaelis’s testimony at the inquest brought to light Wilson’s suspicions of his wife I thought the whole tale would shortly be served up in racy pasquinade — but Catherine, who might have said anything, didn’t say a word. She showed a surprising amount of character about it too — looked at the coroner with determined eyes under that corrected brow of hers, and swore that her sister had never seen Gatsby, that her sister was completely happy with her husband, that her sister had been into no mischief whatever. She convinced herself of it, and cried into her handkerchief, as if the very suggestion was more than she could endure. S. Wilson was reduced to a man “deranged by grief” in order that the case might remain in its simplist form. And it rested there.

But all this part of it seemed remote and unessential. I found myself on Gatsby’s side, and alone. From the moment I telephoned news of the catastrophe to West Egg village, every surmise about him, and every practical question, was referred to me. At first I was surprised and confused; then, as he lay in his house and didn’t move or breathe or speak, hour upon hour, it grew upon me that I was responsible, because no one else was interested — interested, I mean, with that intense personal interest to which every one has some vague right at the end.

I called up Daisy half an hour after we found him, called her instinctively and without hesitation. But she and Tom had gone away early that afternoon, and taken baggage with them.

“Left no address?”

“No.”

“Say when they’d be back?”

“No.”

“Any idea where they are? How I could reach them?”

“I don’t know. Can’t say.”

I wanted to get somebody for him. I wanted to go into the room where he lay and reassure him: “I’ll get somebody for you, Gatsby. Don’t worry. Just trust me and I’ll get somebody for you ——”

Meyer Wolfsheim’s name wasn’t in the phone book. The butler gave me his office address on Broadway, and I called Information, but by the time I had the number it was long after five, and no one answered the phone.

“Will you ring again?”

“I’ve rung them three times.”

“It’s very important.”

“Sorry. I’m afraid no one’s there.”

I went back to the drawing-room and thought for an instant that they were chance visitors, all these official people who suddenly filled it. But, as they drew back the sheet and looked at Gatsby with unmoved eyes, his protest continued in my brain:

“Look here, old sport, you’ve got to get somebody for me. You’ve got to try hard. I can’t go through this alone.”

Some one started to ask me questions, but I broke away and going up-stairs looked hastily through the unlocked parts of his desk — he’d never told me definitely that his parents were dead. But there was nothing — only the picture of Dan Cody, a token of forgotten violence, staring down from the wall.

Next morning I sent the butler to New York with a letter to Wolfsheim, which asked for information and urged him to come out on the next train. That request seemed superfluous when I wrote it. I was sure he’d start when he saw the newspapers, just as I was sure there’d be a wire from Daisy before noon — but neither a wire nor Mr. Wolfsheim arrived; no one arrived except more police and photographers and newspaper men. When the butler brought back Wolfsheim’s answer I began to have a feeling of defiance, of scornful solidarity between Gatsby and me against them all.

Dear Mr. Carraway. This has been one of the most terrible shocks of my life to me I hardly can believe it that it is true at all. Such a mad act as that man did should make us all think. I cannot come down now as I am tied up in some very important business and cannot get mixed up in this thing now. If there is anything I can do a little later let me know in a letter by Edgar. I hardly know where I am when I hear about a thing like this and am completely knocked down and out.

Yours truly Meyer Wolfshiem

and then hasty addenda beneath:

Let me know about the funeral etc. Do not know his family at all.

When the phone rang that afternoon and Long Distance said Chicago was calling I thought this would be Daisy at last. But the connection came through as a man’s voice, very thin and far away.

“This is Slagle speaking…”

“Yes?” The name was unfamiliar.

“Hell of a note, isn’t it? Get my wire?”

“There haven’t been any wires.”

“Young Parke’s in trouble,” he said rapidly. “They picked him up when he handed the bonds over the counter. They got a circular from New York giving ’em the numbers just five minutes before. What d’you know about that, hey? You never can tell in these hick towns ——”

“Hello!” I interrupted breathlessly. “Look here — this isn’t Mr. Gatsby. Mr. Gatsby’s dead.”

There was a long silence on the other end of the wire, followed by an exclamation… then a quick squawk as the connection was broken.

I think it was on the third day that a telegram signed Henry C. Gatz arrived from a town in Minnesota. It said only that the sender was leaving immediately and to postpone the funeral until he came.

It was Gatsby’s father, a solemn old man, very helpless and dismayed, bundled up in a long cheap ulster against the warm September day. His eyes leaked continuously with excitement, and when I took the bag and umbrella from his hands he began to pull so incessantly at his sparse gray beard that I had difficulty in getting off his coat. He was on the point of collapse, so I took him into the music room and made him sit down while I sent for something to eat. But he wouldn’t eat, and the glass of milk spilled from his trembling hand.

“I saw it in the Chicago newspaper,” he said. “It was all in the Chicago newspaper. I started right away.”

“I didn’t know how to reach you.” His eyes, seeing nothing, moved ceaselessly about the room.

“It was a madman,” he said. “He must have been mad.”

“Wouldn’t you like some coffee?” I urged him.

“I don’t want anything. I’m all right now, Mr. ——”

“Carraway.”

“Well, I’m all right now. Where have they got Jimmy?” I took him into the drawing-room, where his son lay, and left him there. Some little boys had come up on the steps and were looking into the hall; when I told them who had arrived, they went reluctantly away.

After a little while Mr. Gatz opened the door and came out, his mouth ajar, his face flushed slightly, his eyes leaking isolated and unpunctual tears. He had reached an age where death no longer has the quality of ghastly surprise, and when he looked around him now for the first time and saw the height and splendor of the hall and the great rooms opening out from it into other rooms, his grief began to be mixed with an awed pride. I helped him to a bedroom up-stairs; while he took off his coat and vest I told him that all arrangements had been deferred until he came.

“I didn’t know what you’d want, Mr. Gatsby ——”

“Gatz is my name.”

“— Mr. Gatz. I thought you might want to take the body West.”

He shook his head.

“Jimmy always liked it better down East. He rose up to his position in the East. Were you a friend of my boy’s, Mr. —?”

“We were close friends.”

“He had a big future before him, you know. He was only a young man, but he had a lot of brain power here.”

He touched his head impressively, and I nodded.

“If he’d of lived, he’d of been a great man. A man like James J. Hill. He’d of helped build up the country.”

“That’s true,” I said, uncomfortably.

He fumbled at the embroidered coverlet, trying to take it from the bed, and lay down stiffly — was instantly asleep.

That night an obviously frightened person called up, and demanded to know who I was before he would give his name.

“This is Mr. Carraway,” I said.

“Oh!” He sounded relieved. “This is Klipspringer.” I was relieved too, for that seemed to promise another friend at Gatsby’s grave. I didn’t want it to be in the papers and draw a sightseeing crowd, so I’d been calling up a few people myself. They were hard to find.

“The funeral’s to-morrow,” I said. “Three o’clock, here at the house. I wish you’d tell anybody who’d be interested.”

“Oh, I will,” he broke out hastily. “Of course I’m not likely to see anybody, but if I do.”

His tone made me suspicious.

“Of course you’ll be there yourself.”

“Well, I’ll certainly try. What I called up about is ——”

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “How about saying you’ll come?”

“Well, the fact is — the truth of the matter is that I’m staying with some people up here in Greenwich, and they rather expect me to be with them to-morrow. In fact, there’s a sort of picnic or something. Of course I’ll do my very best to get away.”

I ejaculated an unrestrained “Huh!” and he must have heard me, for he went on nervously:

“What I called up about was a pair of shoes I left there. I wonder if it’d be too much trouble to have the butler send them on. You see, they’re tennis shoes, and I’m sort of helpless without them. My address is care of B. F. ——”

I didn’t hear the rest of the name, because I hung up the receiver.

After that I felt a certain shame for Gatsby — one gentleman to whom I telephoned implied that he had got what he deserved. However, that was my fault, for he was one of those who used to sneer most bitterly at Gatsby on the courage of Gatsby’s liquor, and I should have known better than to call him.

The morning of the funeral I went up to New York to see Meyer Wolfsheim; I couldn’t seem to reach him any other way. The door that I pushed open, on the advice of an elevator boy, was marked “The Swastika Holding Company,” and at first there didn’t seem to be any one inside. But when I’d shouted “hello” several times in vain, an argument broke out behind a partition, and presently a lovely Jewess appeared at an interior door and scrutinized me with black hostile eyes.

“Nobody’s in,” she said. “Mr. Wolfsheim’s gone to Chicago.”

The first part of this was obviously untrue, for someone had begun to whistle “The Rosary,” tunelessly, inside.

“Please say that Mr. Carraway wants to see him.”

“I can’t get him back from Chicago, can I?”

At this moment a voice, unmistakably Wolfsheim’s, called “Stella!” from the other side of the door.

“Leave your name on the desk,” she said quickly. “I’ll give it to him when he gets back.”

“But I know he’s there.”

She took a step toward me and began to slide her hands indignantly up and down her hips.

“You young men think you can force your way in here any time,” she scolded. “We’re getting sickantired of it. When I say he’s in Chicago, he’s in Chicago.”

I mentioned Gatsby.

“Oh — h!” She looked at me over again. “Will you just — What was your name?”

She vanished. In a moment Meyer Wolfsheim stood solemnly in the doorway, holding out both hands. He drew me into his office, remarking in a reverent voice that it was a sad time for all of us, and offered me a cigar.

“My memory goes back to when I first met him,” he said. “A young major just out of the army and covered over with medals he got in the war. He was so hard up he had to keep on wearing his uniform because he couldn’t buy some regular clothes. First time I saw him was when he come into Winebrenner’s poolroom at Forty-third Street and asked for a job. He hadn’t eat anything for a couple of days. ‘come on have some lunch with me,’ I sid. He ate more than four dollars’ worth of food in half an hour.”

“Did you start him in business?” I inquired.

“Start him! I made him.”

“Oh.”

“I raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter. I saw right away he was a fine-appearing, gentlemanly young man, and when he told me he was at Oggsford I knew I could use him good. I got him to join up in the American Legion and he used to stand high there. Right off he did some work for a client of mine up to Albany. We were so thick like that in everything.”— he held up two bulbous fingers ——” always together.”

I wondered if this partnership had included the World’s Series transaction in 1919.

“Now he’s dead,” I said after a moment. “You were his closest friend, so I know you’ll want to come to his funeral this afternoon.”

“I’d like to come.”

“Well, come then.”

The hair in his nostrils quivered slightly, and as he shook his head his eyes filled with tears.

“I can’t do it — I can’t get mixed up in it,” he said.

“There’s nothing to get mixed up in. It’s all over now.”

“When a man gets killed I never like to get mixed up in it in any way. I keep out. When I was a young man it was different — if a friend of mine died, no matter how, I stuck with them to the end. You may think that’s sentimental, but I mean it — to the bitter end.”

I saw that for some reason of his own he was determined not to come, so I stood up.

“Are you a college man?” he inquired suddenly.

For a moment I thought he was going to suggest a “gonnegtion,” but he only nodded and shook my hand.

“Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead,” he suggested. “After that my own rule is to let everything alone.”

When I left his office the sky had turned dark and I got back to West Egg in a drizzle. After changing my clothes I went next door and found Mr. Gatz walking up and down excitedly in the hall. His pride in his son and in his son’s possessions was continually increasing and now he had something to show me.

“Jimmy sent me this picture.” He took out his wallet with trembling fingers. “Look there.”

It was a photograph of the house, cracked in the corners and dirty with many hands. He pointed out every detail to me eagerly. “Look there!” and then sought admiration from my eyes. He had shown it so often that I think it was more real to him now than the house itself.

“Jimmy sent it to me. I think it’s a very pretty picture. It shows up well.”

“Very well. Had you seen him lately?”

“He come out to see me two years ago and bought me the house I live in now. Of course we was broke up when he run off from home, but I see now there was a reason for it. He knew he had a big future in front of him. And ever since he made a success he was very generous with me.” He seemed reluctant to put away the picture, held it for another minute, lingeringly, before my eyes. Then he returned the wallet and pulled from his pocket a ragged old copy of a book called Hopalong Cassidy.

“Look here, this is a book he had when he was a boy. It just shows you.”

He opened it at the back cover and turned it around for me to see. On the last fly-leaf was printed the word Schedule, and the date September 12, 1906, and underneath:

Rise from bed……………. 6.00 a.m.
Dumbbell exercise and wall-scaling…… 6.15-6.30 ”
Study electricity, etc………… 7.15-8.15 ”
Work………………… 8.30-4.30 p.m.
Baseball and sports…………. 4.30-5.00 ”
Practice elocution, poise and how to attain it 5.00-6.00 ”
Study needed inventions……….. 7.00-9.00 ”

General Resolves No wasting time at Shafters or [a name, indecipherable] No more smokeing or chewing Bath every other day Read one improving book or magazine per week Save $5.00 {crossed out} $3.00 per week Be better to parents

“I come across this book by accident,” said the old man. “It just shows you, don’t it?”

“It just shows you.”

“Jimmy was bound to get ahead. He always had some resolves like this or something. Do you notice what he’s got about improving his mind? He was always great for that. He told me I et like a hog once, and I beat him for it.”

He was reluctant to close the book, reading each item aloud and then looking eagerly at me. I think he rather expected me to copy down the list for my own use.

A little before three the Lutheran minister arrived from Flushing, and I began to look involuntarily out the windows for other cars. So did Gatsby’s father. And as the time passed and the servants came in and stood waiting in the hall, his eyes began to blink anxiously, and he spoke of the rain in a worried, uncertain way. The minister glanced several times at his watch, so I took him aside and asked him to wait for half an hour. But it wasn’t any use. Nobody came.

About five o’clock our procession of three cars reached the cemetery and stopped in a thick drizzle beside the gate — first a motor hearse, horribly black and wet, then Mr. Gatz and the minister and I in the limousine, and a little later four or five servants and the postman from West Egg in Gatsby’s station wagon, all wet to the skin. As we started through the gate into the cemetery I heard a car stop and then the sound of someone splashing after us over the soggy ground. I looked around. It was the man with owl-eyed glasses whom I had found marvelling over Gatsby’s books in the library one night three months before.

I’d never seen him since then. I don’t know how he knew about the funeral, or even his name. The rain poured down his thick glasses, and he took them off and wiped them to see the protecting canvas unrolled from Gatsby’s grave.

I tried to think about Gatsby then for a moment, but he was already too far away, and I could only remember, without resentment, that Daisy hadn’t sent a message or a flower. Dimly I heard someone murmur, “Blessed are the dead that the rain falls on,” and then the owl-eyed man said “Amen to that,” in a brave voice.

We straggled down quickly through the rain to the cars. Owl-eyes spoke to me by the gate.

“I couldn’t get to the house,” he remarked.

“Neither could anybody else.”

“Go on!” He started. “Why, my God! they used to go there by the hundreds.” He took off his glasses and wiped them again, outside and in.

“The poor son-of-a-bitch,” he said.

One of my most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. Those who went farther than Chicago would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o’clock of a December evening, with a few Chicago friends, already caught up into their own holiday gayeties, to bid them a hasty good-by. I remember the fur coats of the girls returning from Miss This-or-that’s and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances, and the matchings of invitations: “Are you going to the Ordways’? the Herseys’? the Schultzes’?” and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands. And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate.

When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again.

That’s my Middle West — not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family’s name. I see now that this has been a story of the West, after all — Tom and Gatsby, Daisy and Jordan and I, were all Westerners, and perhaps we possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.

Even when the East excited me most, even when I was most keenly aware of its superiority to the bored, sprawling, swollen towns beyond the Ohio, with their interminable inquisitions which spared only the children and the very old — even then it had always for me a quality of distortion. West Egg, especially, still figures in my more fantastic dreams. I see it as a night scene by El Greco: a hundred houses, at once conventional and grotesque, crouching under a sullen, overhanging sky and a lustreless moon. In the foreground four solemn men in dress suits are walking along the sidewalk with a stretcher on which lies a drunken woman in a white evening dress. Her hand, which dangles over the side, sparkles cold with jewels. Gravely the men turn in at a house — the wrong house. But no one knows the woman’s name, and no one cares.

After Gatsby’s death the East was haunted for me like that, distorted beyond my eyes’ power of correction. So when the blue smoke of brittle leaves was in the air and the wind blew the wet laundry stiff on the line I decided to come back home.

There was one thing to be done before I left, an awkward, unpleasant thing that perhaps had better have been let alone. But I wanted to leave things in order and not just trust that obliging and indifferent sea to sweep my refuse away. I saw Jordan Baker and talked over and around what had happened to us together, and what had happened afterward to me, and she lay perfectly still, listening, in a big chair.

She was dressed to play golf, and I remember thinking she looked like a good illustration, her chin raised a little jauntily, her hair the color of an autumn leaf, her face the same brown tint as the fingerless glove on her knee. When I had finished she told me without comment that she was engaged to another man. I doubted that, though there were several she could have married at a nod of her head, but I pretended to be surprised. For just a minute I wondered if I wasn’t making a mistake, then I thought it all over again quickly and got up to say good-bye.

“Nevertheless you did throw me over,” said Jordan suddenly. “You threw me over on the telephone. I don’t give a damn about you now, but it was a new experience for me, and I felt a little dizzy for a while.”

We shook hands.

“Oh, and do you remember.”— she added ——” a conversation we had once about driving a car?”

“Why — not exactly.”

“You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? Well, I met another bad driver, didn’t I? I mean it was careless of me to make such a wrong guess. I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person. I thought it was your secret pride.”

“I’m thirty,” I said. “I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call it honor.”

She didn’t answer. Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.

One afternoon late in October I saw Tom Buchanan. He was walking ahead of me along Fifth Avenue in his alert, aggressive way, his hands out a little from his body as if to fight off interference, his head moving sharply here and there, adapting itself to his restless eyes. Just as I slowed up to avoid overtaking him he stopped and began frowning into the windows of a jewelry store. Suddenly he saw me and walked back, holding out his hand.

“What’s the matter, Nick? Do you object to shaking hands with me?”

“Yes. You know what I think of you.”

“You’re crazy, Nick,” he said quickly. “Crazy as hell. I don’t know what’s the matter with you.”

“Tom,” I inquired, “what did you say to Wilson that afternoon?” He stared at me without a word, and I knew I had guessed right about those missing hours. I started to turn away, but he took a step after me and grabbed my arm.

“I told him the truth,” he said. “He came to the door while we were getting ready to leave, and when I sent down word that we weren’t in he tried to force his way up-stairs. He was crazy enough to kill me if I hadn’t told him who owned the car. His hand was on a revolver in his pocket every minute he was in the house ——” He broke off defiantly. “What if I did tell him? That fellow had it coming to him. He threw dust into your eyes just like he did in Daisy’s, but he was a tough one. He ran over Myrtle like you’d run over a dog and never even stopped his car.”

There was nothing I could say, except the one unutterable fact that it wasn’t true.

“And if you think I didn’t have my share of suffering — look here, when I went to give up that flat and saw that damn box of dog biscuits sitting there on the sideboard, I sat down and cried like a baby. By God it was awful ——”

I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made….

I shook hands with him; it seemed silly not to, for I felt suddenly as though I were talking to a child. Then he went into the jewelry store to buy a pearl necklace — or perhaps only a pair of cuff buttons — rid of my provincial squeamishness forever.

Gatsby’s house was still empty when I left — the grass on his lawn had grown as long as mine. One of the taxi drivers in the village never took a fare past the entrance gate without stopping for a minute and pointing inside; perhaps it was he who drove Daisy and Gatsby over to East Egg the night of the accident, and perhaps he had made a story about it all his own. I didn’t want to hear it and I avoided him when I got off the train.

I spent my Saturday nights in New York because those gleaming, dazzling parties of his were with me so vividly that I could still hear the music and the laughter, faint and incessant, from his garden, and the cars going up and down his drive. One night I did hear a material car there, and saw its lights stop at his front steps. But I didn’t investigate. Probably it was some final guest who had been away at the ends of the earth and didn’t know that the party was over.

On the last night, with my trunk packed and my car sold to the grocer, I went over and looked at that huge incoherent failure of a house once more. On the white steps an obscene word, scrawled by some boy with a piece of brick, stood out clearly in the moonlight, and I erased it, drawing my shoe raspingly along the stone. Then I wandered down to the beach and sprawled out on the sand.

Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes — a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning ——

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Currently Reading “Killing Lincoln”

I am currently reading Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. It’s an easy read. Each chapter is about 4 or 5 pages long and it is written on about an eighth grade reading level. I got the book for my birthday. I’m almost finished with it.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter Forth-Five

Working quickly, Leale straddles Lincoln’s chest and begins resuscitating the president, hoping to improve the flow of oxygen to the brain. He shoves two fingers down Lincoln’s throat and presses down on the back of the tongue, just in case food or drink is clogged in the esophagus. As he does so, two other doctors who were in the audience arrive on the scene. Though far more experienced, army surgeon Dr. Charles Sabin Taft and Dr. Albert King defer to Dr. Leale. When he asks them to stimulate the blood flow by manipulating Lincoln’s arms in an up-and-down manner, they instantly kneel down and each take an arm. Leale, meanwhile, presses hard on Lincoln’s torso, trying to stimulate his heart.

Then, as Leale will one day tell an audience celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, he performs an act of great and urgent intimacy: “I leaned forcibly forward directly over his body, thorax to thorax, face to face, and several times drew in a long breath, then forcibly breathed directly into his mouth and nostrils, which expanded the lungs and improved his respirations.”

Dr. Leale lies atop Lincoln, his lips locked with Lincoln’s, offering what looks to be a lover’s kiss. The theater below is a madhouse. Men in the box around him look on, recognizing that Leale is perfoming a medical prodecure, but struck by the awkward pose nonetheless.

Dr. Leale doesn’t care. Every bit of his energy is poured into accomplishing the impossible task of saving Lincoln. Finally, he knows in his heart that the procedure has worked. He will later recall, “After waiting a moment, I placed my ear over his thorax and found the action of the heart improving. I arose to the erect kneeling posture, then watched for a short time and saw that the president could continue independent breathing and that instant death would not occur. I then announced my diagnosis and prognosis.”

But, Dr. Leale does not utter the hopeful words the onlookers wish to hear. They have seen the president breathe on his own. They know that the heart is functioning. Clearly, they think the president might survive.

Only Dr. Leale has seen the dull look in Lincoln’s pupils, a sure sign that his brain is no longer functioning. “His wound is mortal,” Leale announces softly. “it is impossible for him to recover.”

The book is divided into 3 sections. The first section is about the end of the Civil War. The second part is about the conspiracy with Booth and the actual assassination. The third section is about the manhunt for Booth. There are a lot of eyewitness accounts and testimony, which makes it interesting.

Happy Birthday Erle Stanley Gardner

Happy Birthday Erle Stanley Gardner

Erle Stanley Gardner (July 17, 1889 – March 11, 1970) was an American lawyer and author of detective stories. Best known for the Perry Mason series, he also published under the pseudonyms A.A. Fair, Kyle Corning, Charles M. Green, Carleton Kendrake, Charles J. Kenny, Les Tillray and Robert Parr.

Click here to listen to Perry Mason Radio Shows

Perry Mason was a 15-minute show (including commercials, etc.) that aired five times a week. It ran from October 1943 to December 1955. Several actors played Mason over the years, including Bartlett Robinson, Santos Ortega, Donald Biggs, and John Larkin. Perry’s secretary, Della Street, was played by Gertrude Warner (later, Jan Miner and Joan Alexander)

It’s just another deadly Monday

 

 

Publicity For The Corpse

C.S. Montanye

Johnny Castle, sports writer, seeks an interview with a South American Lightweight wonder—and finds a murder mystery that all but knocks him out for the count before the final solution bell rings!

A Complete Crime Mystery Novelete

Thrilling Detective, December, 1944

CHAPTER I. KID FROM RIO

THE Brazilian flag was full of flutters, the waiting room jammed, when we reached the La Guardia Airport that morning. Cameramen, newshawks, the socially prominent, the socially deficient, and a flock of the morbidly curious, who had read some of “Tip” McCabe’s advance hype, were on hand to get a flash of Alfredo Sanchez and party. The folks from Rio were flying in from California and due at any minute.

Somebody in authority took a peek at my press card and nodded. So I started shoving Ellie Horton through the jam, angling for the front row and the big doors leading to the ramp and the cement walk outside. Ellie, a sob sister on the Orbit—the same sheet that paid me off for the sports page stuff I dreamed up—didn’t seem to mind being pushed around. In fact, Ellie was slightly excited.

“Looks like we’ve made it in time, Johnny.”

“See if you can locate McCabe,” I suggested.

But there wasn’t a sign of the big shot Garden matchmaker and pugilistic power anywhere.

Tip McCabe had spread the word around that “Young Juan” Rico, a lightweight sensation in the Good Neighbor country to the South, was the hardest hitting, fastest piece of boxing machinery that he had ever rolled a bloodshot optic at.

For months Tip had been trying to get the kid from Rio to come North so he could match him with the present champ of the lightweight division and have ’em hanging from the Garden rafters. It seemed that Rico cuddled comfortably under the wing of Alfredo Sanchez, millionaire coffee planter and amateur sportsman. Sanchez finally had succumbed to McCabe’s wires and letters and was bringing the little leather-pusher to Manhattan—via Hollywood.

However, Rico was not the main draw at the airport. A babe tagged Bonita Lores happened to be the flypaper. She, the Betty Grable of the banana districts, had already been photographically publicized through the country.

In her daguerreotypes, dark-eyed, glamorous and somewhat scantily attired, the tropic tomato had been a photogenic sensation.

But there was a drawback. Bonita had been spoken for and from all present accounts happened to be the none-other fiancée of the rich mocha-and java king Mr. Sanchez himself!

I KNEW the stop-over in California had been a brief pause in which the gal had been screen-tested for New Era Pictures. Tested and not found wanting. She had signed for a couple of films a year and, it appeared, all the Hollywoodenheads had gone in the tank for her with the greatest of ease and pleasure.

Ellie, leaning against me, had come down to write a piece about Senorita Pulchritude. My assignment was to get a slant at Rico and give my public a general impression of a first-hand gander.

A loudspeaker began to blare and at the same moment I spotted a couple of familiar-looking guys in the mob. One was Dewey Lorch, the other, a Lou Candell. Added together they didn’t spell mother!

These two boys, I happened to know, were notorious grifters, clippers and common felons who had been mixed in various rackets and were more than well-acquainted with the interior of some of our biggest and best jail-houses. A couple of tough hoodlums who wouldn’t stop at anything short of murder and, in fact, wouldn’t pause there if there was plenty of dough on the line.

Finding them in the airport crowd was the same as discovering a pair of roaches in a bowl of consommé!

Just to make sure I passed out a second glance. No mistake. I couldn’t miss Lorch’s strange, parchment-wrinkled pan, his deep-set, lazy eyes or prominent, bony jaw. Or the well-groomed Lou Candell whose round, flat face was a study in vapid stupidity. It was a coin’s spin as to which of the two was the worse. And no matter whether it came up heads or tails you were bound to lose!

“Johnny!” Ellie poked me in the ribs, “The plane—it’s coasting in!”

Outside, the queen of the air circled gracefully over the field. In the summer sun it looked like a huge gray gull. It swooped lower, circled again, then set its landing gear gently down and taxied in toward the ramp.

The crowd began to mill. The next instant a little fellow with a dime’s worth of cigar in his puss elbowed up and gave me a nudge. It was McCabe, in the flesh.

“Hello, Castle,” Tip said. “What are you waiting for? Follow me, pal!” Doing a Notre Dame plunge for goal, he yelped, “One side! Leave us through!”

Outside, passengers were already alighting from the big ship. McCabe, bright-eyed and Irish, stood poised and waiting. I could hear Ellie breathing faster, her breath coming in little gulps. More passengers, and then the people responsible for the Brazilian flag and the excitement.

Alfredo Sanchez got out first. The coffee magnate was as wide as he was tall. A light tan edition of Mr. Five-by-Five. His chins were so popular they had gone into a second edition. He wore a wrinkled white suit, a Panama dicer, and a diamond ring on one pudgy finger sparkled like a quart of grape when he stretched out the fin to shake hands with McCabe.

“Well, how do you like this?” Tip gurgled a minute late. “The bloke don’t speak no English!”

Next to alight was a smug-faced man, with a typical May-I-have-your-hat-sir air to him. He was Harry Babbitt, Sanchez’ valet. I didn’t like his looks. Too sleek and obsequious, for entire comfort.

Following the valet, the lightweight sensation of the monkey country slid into view.

I STABBED a glance at Juan Rico and wondered what door be had run into. The kid from Rio sported a black eye, a cut mouth and a large blue bruise on his right cheek. He was slim, wiry, midnight dark as to hair and eyes, and dead-panned. He stood slightly behind Senor Sanchez while all eyes focused on the plane’s door.

All Bonita Lores needed was a fanfare as she climbed languorously down to the ground.

One look was enough to notify anyone that photos and descriptive matter hadn’t been exaggerated. Sanchez’s fiancée was distinctly a dish.

She featured the unusual combination of raven-black hair and gray eyes. Funny eyes for a South American gal. Her skin was as flawless as her figure, and that was more exciting than anything that had ever walked down a Winter Garden runway.

“Only one drool to a customer,” Ellie whispered maliciously. “Push your eyes back in place, Johnny, and let me pass.”

She clucked for Jake, the lens-and shutter expert we had brought along with us. I edged over to Tip McCord to get a line on what he was talking to Sanchez about.

Babbitt, the super-smooth valet, was doing a good job as interpreter, but there were too many people around. Tip felt crowded and said so.

“Look, Castle,” he said to me. “This here is no place for interviews. These folks are staying at the Wilshire. Grab a cab and follow us up. I’ll tell the rest of the newspaper boys.”

Thirty minutes later I was in Sanchez’s suite. It was on the fourth floor of the glittering Hotel Wilshire on Central Park South. I found out that the caffeine producer, Harry Babbitt, and Rico occupied the rooms. Bonita Lores had an apartment of her own farther down the hall.

Sanchez, via Tip, was doing it in style. One entire side of the living room consisted of bottled goods and glasses. There was more Scotch there than I’d seen around for months. The newspaper bunch started in and went to work on it. I got Young Rico aside and put on my quiz show.

He spoke pretty fair English. I asked him about the black eye and the taped mouth.

“I fall downstairs—in the dark,” he said, and smiled.

I pumped him for an article and wandered back to Ellie. She had finished her routine with the charming Bonita and was standing in line.

“Coming back to the office, Johnny?” she said.

I looked thoughtfully across at the Lores number. She was planted near a bay window, with Sanchez beside her. The sun gave her hair a polished sheen. Her softly-curved lips looked like a couple of scarlet flowers. “I’ll stick around for a while,” I said.

“But she’s engaged,” Elite cautioned. “And you know the Latin temperament. When they make a cutting remark the knife goes with it!”

A little while later McCabe threw a speech. It was a build-up for Rico. Tip reeled off the kid’s record south of the Equator. It was impressive, even if it didn’t mean much in Manhattan. While it was going on Rico ducked behind a set of curtains closing the living room off from an alcove.

“Gents,” McCabe wound up, “I’ve arranged for you to get a look at Young Rico in fighting form. Camera guys, come up closer. All right, draw them curtains.”

The portieres whisked back. Rico, in purple trunks and ring shoes, stood in front of a portable punching bag. He got Tip’s nod and went to work on the bouncing leather.

Rico did look good. Lean and hard, he was not too muscled up. He was fast with his hands and feet. The bag workout was routine, but it was the way he did it that impressed. Cameras snapped nil over the place. Flash bulbs exploded.

There didn’t seem much of a chance to cut in on the glamorous Bonita. She was still staked out beside the fat boy with the wrinkled white suit and the duplicate chins. So I hoisted one more and decided to trek back to the office and write my piece.

I shook hands with Sanchez. His mitt in mine felt like a damp sponge in a warm bathtub. He didn’t know what I said, but he smiled. I smiled and turned to the senorita.

But the beautiful Bonita wasn’t there.

She didn’t seem to be anywhere in the room. I wove a way to the door, went through the foyer and out to the corridor. When I reached it, I was in time to see Miss Lores heading for her own suite. But before she made it there was an interruption.

One of the elevators had come up and stopped.

Out of it emerged the two guys from the waiting room at the airport—Lorch and Candell. Both glommed the pretty senorita and put on the stop.

“Just a minute!” Dewey Lorch ordered her. “Not so fast. We want to talk to you!”

CHAPTER II. SUCKER

BONITA LORES froze. I could hear her smothered exclamation.

She looked from one to the other. When she spoke her voice was unsteady and the delightful slur she gave the American language was conspicuous by its absence.

“What is it?” she asked sibilantly. Candell spotted me the next second and pitched a signal to his partner. Both pulled books out of their pockets.

“What goes on?” I asked.

With a sharp little breath Bonita wheeled around to me.

“These men, senor! I do not know them and—”

“All we want is her autograph.” Lorch said belligerently. “Any poison in that?”

“Yeah, just her autograph,” Lou Candell chimed in.

I looked from Lorch’s strange, crinkled face to Candell’s moon-shaped pan. Then I caught the appeal in the gray eyes of the girl and decided to make their business my business.

“Go on—scram!” I ordered. “Beat it before I call the house dick!”

“You keep your big nose out of this!” Lorch said, “I know you, Castle!”

“By the same token, I’m acquainted with you.” I pressed the bell for an elevator, “Air!” I said to Lorch and Candell briefly, when the lift arrived. “Make it rapid!”

They didn’t argue. They put their little books away and filed into the cage. The corridor was a better place when they had gone.

“Thank you, senor.” The slur was back again, flavoring each word, but I saw she was still a trifle shaken, frightened. “You were nice to make them go away.”

“It’s okay, honey. Think nothing of it. You don’t know ’em or,” I added, “do you?”

She shook her ebon head. “I never saw them before in my whole life!”

It sounded truthful. I wondered what Lorch and Candell had in mind. One thing was sure. They hadn’t gone to the airport as part of any welcoming committee. Likewise, they hadn’t come up to the Wilshire for an autograph.

They were definitely on the earn. But how? In what way? Bonita said she didn’t know them. They knew her. They had wanted to lean on her ear. What for?

I let it go and saw Bonita as far as her door. “Just in case they decide to stop around again,” I said, feeling for a card and a pencil, “you’d better have a copy of my phone number.”

I scratched off both phones, office and apartment. She put the card in her bag. The gray eyes came up level with mine. A pair of swell orbs, deep and dreamy, with more appeal and urge than the business end of a tommy-gun.

“Thank you again, senor.”

Back at my desk, it took three typewritten pages on Young Juan Rico and a half a dozen nips from a bottom drawer flask before I could untangle myself from the eyes and lips of the South American Bonfire . . . .

Tip McCabe didn’t waste any time. He matched Rico for a slap at the prevailing lightweight champ. That was a smart little guy named Artie Borden. Artie had won himself the crown the hard way. A veteran, who knew the book. I figured the fifteen round bout was a natural for a capacity house.

A couple of days passed.

Then Beth Wheaton, one of the switchboard operators, saw me when I was heading for my desk and waved a red flag. Beth shoved a memo in my face. It was from Bonita Lores. It said I was to call her up at the Wilshire.

“Lores?” Beth sniffed. “The dame who’s been getting all the free photography?”

“Pick up the chips,” I said. “You win.” She sniffed again. “Flying kind of high, ain’t you? I mean, I read how this doll’s movie-contracted and matrimonially inclined. Where do you fit in?”

“Ask Phil Baker,” I said. “Maybe you’ll get sixty-four bucks back.”

“It don’t sound regular to me, brother.” Beth remarked.

“Jingle the Wilshire for me. I’ll take it on the desk phone. And don’t bother to listen in. This will be strictly in Spanish.”

A couple of minutes later Bonita’s tantalizing tone drifted over the wire.

“Mr. Castle? I wonder if you will do me a favor.”

“Name it!”

“Would you take me to dinner tonight?”

SHE had to repeat it before I was sure it wasn’t a gag. I told her I’d be only too happy. She said seven-thirty in the lobby of the hotel, and rang off.

“Lucky stiff!” Beth’s voice intruded. I hung up. Somehow Beth’s last word echoed unpleasantly in memory. “Stiff!” It didn’t sound good. Besides, stiffs were never lucky.

Bonita was waiting in one of the cozy, dimly-lighted little rooms off the Wilshire’s lobby. It was exactly seven-thirty. She wore a cool, summery something that didn’t hide any of the curves or contours. It made a perfect foil for the inky-black hair and the kindergarten complexion.

Instead of nylon she wore liquid stockings. But how she ever got her shapely stems in the bottle I couldn’t figure. The same deep, dreamy look was in her gray eyes when she slipped her slender, lacquer-tipped fingers into mine.

“Where’s Alf?” was my first, and most natural query.

“Senor Sanchez?” She laughed softly. “He and Juan are at a dinner. Senor McCabe is giving it.”

I remembered. Tip was throwing a meal at the Uptown A. C. for the trade. I’d had an invitation, but had passed it principally because it was too hot to sit in a boiled shirt and listen to a lot of windy, ungrammatical speeches.

I was glad now I hadn’t gone. “Ready?” I asked Bonnie.

I took her up to the Ardmore Roof. Class and quality, quiet and refinement. None of the Broadway tribe to cut in. The setting was a sort of open-air garden, the sky was the roof, and the stars were out in quantity.

Bonita took a look around and nodded approval.

“I like it here, senor.”

“Look, pet,” I said. “Drop the ‘senor.’ I’m Johnny to you and you’re Bonnie to me from now on. Right?”

“Of course.”

She took a sherry to match my Martini. I didn’t hurry her. Whatever she had on her mind had to break without pressure. I asked a few questions about Rio. She told me about her home town and nothing much happened until the jellied soup came in.

“Those two men,” she said then, and her voice went down a pitch. “The ones who were in the hall the other day. Remember?”

“Sure. What about them?”

“The thin one—the one with the funny face—he has telephoned me twice. He says he wants to see me.”

She meant Lorch. “Did he say about what?” I asked.

“No. But he said it was important. That I would be in lots of trouble if I didn’t talk to him.”

“What kind of trouble?”

That was no good. She didn’t know. Apparently, Dewey had buzzed her and laid on the threat. Bonita explained that Lorch knew about the Uptown Club’s dinner, and that Bonita would have the evening to herself.

“He said,” she went on, “I was to come to an address tonight at half-past ten. That if I didn’t come I would be sorry tomorrow.”

I thought that one over.

“You’ve got the address?” I asked. She nodded and I thought some more.

“Okay,” I said. “If he wants to see you, maybe you’d better go. Find out what the angle is.

I’ll go along, too—just to keep it regular and in order.”

Bonita flashed me a look of gratitude. Her eyes widened.

“That is what I was going to ask if you would do for me, senor Johnny! You must be a mind-reader.”

At my suggestion she passed me the instructions she had received over the phone. Ten-thirty at a number in the Seventies, West Side. I put the paper in my pocket and got the conversation around to another topic.

I was just as curious as she was. Lorch and Candell must have an in somewhere. But what was it7 What did they want, and on what basis did they throw out the threats?

Halfpast ten on the nose our taxi docked before an ordinary six-story apartment house on a semi-respectable side-street. Once the neighborhood had been fairly aristocratic. Lately, the old-fashioned brownstone houses had gone the way of .that type of real estate and become boarding establishments.

I knew that a lot of chiselers and strongarm gentry were making that part of town their headquarters. For a minute I wished I had a gun in my pocket.

BUT it was too late to go back to my place for the artillery. So I guided Bonnie through a vestibule and into the main ball of the building. There was a list of the tenants on a chart wired to the self-service elevator’s grille. I checked and found “D. Lorch” was “Apt. 511.”

The elevator, as if it had eyes, stopped at Floor Number Five. I rolled the door open and hunted for 5B. It wasn’t hard to find. Around a bend in the corridor on the south side of the place. A pencil of light lay along the crack of the door. I pushed the bell and breathed in the fragrance of Bonita’s uncovered head.

“Yeah?”

The door jerked open. Lorch, in his shirt-sleeves, looked out. A cigarette dangled from one corner of his mouth. The wrinkled face went as black as Bonnie’s tresses when he saw me.

“What do you want, Castle?” he demanded.

“Nothing. I brought Miss Lores up as per directions. Being a stranger in town you couldn’t expect her to come alone.”

His lazy eyes flickered from me to the girl. I thought he was about to slam the door in our faces. Instead, with a change of expression, he pulled it wider.

“Come in.”

The room we were ushered into was a typically furnished apartment. Grand Rapids with a vengeance. Dime store objets d’art. Dusty curtains at the windows where the shades were drawn. Musty, cigarette-tainted air.

And Dewey Lorch, leering at us!

Bonita seemed to step closer to me instinctively. I watched Lorch as he sidled around to shut the door. There was a dark mouth of a hall beside me. I looked at that, too.

“I came here,” Bonita said, and her voice trembled a little. “I want to know what you wish. Why have you telephoned me? Why have you threatened me?”

Lorch kept eyeing me without replying. Finally, he seemed to listen to what the girl said to him.

“Just a minute,” he said then. “One thing at a time, babe. I didn’t expect you would be bringing company with you. I don’t like company—this kind. I don’t want him listening in and—”

“Get ’em up!” Candell ordered, from the rear. He added the jam of steel to a point between my shoulders as a special persuader. “Up—high!”

Bonita gasped. I followed instructions quickly. Candell’s left hand patted over me in a deft frisk.

“No cannon, Dewey,” he said.

“Take him in the other room.” Lorch spoke out the corner of his mouth. “Shut the door and keep him there until I finish with the dame!”

“Come on; sucker. Step!” The rod pressed in a bit harder.

“Sucker” was right. I’d asked for it, walked into it with open eyes. That didn’t make me feel any better. Being ordered around like some darb without the ordinary quantity of gray matter! Being shown up in front of Bonita Lores’ agitated gaze as a moron!

They were toughies. I knew their record. I knew how far they would go, but I didn’t think about that then. A white-hot flare of anger blazed up like tinder catching a spark. Instead of going forward I used a heel in a quick, savage backward lunge.

I felt a crack as it collided with bone. Candell let out a yelp of pain. The gun shifted, dropped away from my shoulders. Before he could get it in firing position again I spun around with the speed of a crazy top and used both hands.

One grabbed Candell’s throat. The other prisoned his pistol wrist.

My right hand felt out a length of windpipe. I closed it off. My left hand twisted Candell’s arm over and back. Lesson One in Jap bone-breaking methods. He screamed like a hurt pup. The .38 he had been hanging onto slammed to the floor.

That was what I wanted.

I put a knee in the pit of Lou’s stomach and threw him off. Then I went after the gun. Everything so far had worked for me. The only trouble was I had temporarily forgotten Lorch.

I heard Bonita’s warning cry. It came a split second before I scooped up Candell’s derringer.

Lorch had picked up an imitation handpainted vase. Before I could get the gun pointed I saw him lift the vase with both hands and take aim.

Bonita tried to grab Lorch, from the rear, but wasn’t quick enough, She didn’t even spoil his shot.

Lorch heaved. I saw the vase coming, tried to duck, but didn’t quite make it.

The big missile caught me between the left temple and shoulder. If he had thrown a truck at me it couldn’t have been more effective.

I quit cold, as a lot of deep, rushing blackness closed in on me!

CHAPTER III. CRIMSON SPLASHED

A HAND kept shaking me. Not a friendly, gentle hand, either, but a rough, compelling grip on my shoulder that had no consideration for the lovely dream I had been dreaming.

Simultaneously, a voice began to penetrate the fog.

“Come on now, wake up!” it said. “You’re all right! Just a thump on the head. Come on, open them eyes!”

I did and looked hazily into the weatherbeaten countenance of one of Commissioner Valentine’s employees.

The big cop grinned. “That’s better. Here, take a drink of this.”

It was ordinary water in an ordinary glass. Not too cool, but wet enough I sloshed some around in my mouth, emptied it in a convenient flower pot and sat up straighter.

Pieces of the vase Lorch had mowed me down with were all over the floor. The impact had laid me across the threshold of the dark hall, face down on a couple of yards of mangy carpet. There was a buzzing in my ear, a sort of pseudo-paralysis on the left side of my neck.

I got up groggily, bobbed into the living room and flopped down on a sofa. Except for the bluecoat and me the apartment was apparently empty. I glanced up at him. What was he doing there? How had he got in?

“I’m Hagen,” he explained, reading my mind. “We were up Riverside Drive when I got this call in the prowl car. We came right down. What’s it all about?”

Call? I gazed at him stupidly, my mind beginning to click again. If anyone had phoned Headquarters it must have been Bonita. I thought that over massaging my stiff neck.

Bonnie! Oddly, I felt a little relieved. If she had been able to put a message through to the police it meant she must be all right.

“It’s nothing, Hagen.” I tried to make it sound pleasant. “Just a friendly argument—with a dame. She played rough and . . . No complaint.”

He cocked an eye at me. “Who are you?”

“Castle, the Orbit.” I showed him my identification card. “Nice of you to drop around. I guess Helen got worried and thought maybe she’d hurt me.” I flexed my arms and tried to smile. “I’m okay. All in one piece.”

“Helen who?”

“The gal friend—Lorch, Helen Lorch,” I told him as glibly as possible. “Have a drink on me, Officer.” I fished five bucks from my leather and passed it over. “Have two drinks.”

Hagen rubbed his chin. Being a good policeman he wanted to get his teeth in something—all four of them. But the finif and the casual way I tried to make the situation appear, was plenty of herring. Red, good. Hagen shook his head and sighed.

“Okay, if that’s the way you want it, mister. Leaving or staying?”

“Sticking around. Maybe she’ll come back and apologize. Good-night, Officer. Thanks. Next time I see the commissioner I’ll speak a word for you.”

“Hmmm!” Hagen grunted, stopping to make a notation in his official book and then flat-footing out.

I went in the bathroom and ran cold water in the basin. I sopped a towel in it, wrung it out and made a cold compress. That helped. In the kitchen I found a can of beer in the refrigerator. That didn’t do any harm, either. Then I got a cigarette going and went back to the couch.

The problem was fairly easy. When Lorch had knocked me out he had got scared. Scared enough to gather Candell and Bonita and duck in a hurry. The call to Headquarters indicated that Bonita had left them, or that they had let her go. I felt better every minute.

There wasn’t a telephone in the apartment. But there was a cheap, flat-top desk. I sat down in front of it and thumbed through the contents of the drawers. A couple of letters looked fairly interesting, so I stuck them in my pocket. Then, after a glance at the bedroom, I turned off the lights and left.

A telephone booth in a corner drug store was ready and waiting when I went in. I dialed the Wilshire. The operator on duty listened to what I had to say, rang the Lores suite and reported there was no answer.

“Connect me with senor Sanchez,” I said next.

Harry Babbitt answered. The valet’s smug voice came over the wire.

“This is Castle,” I explained. “I’m trying to get in touch with Senorita Lores. Her rooms don’t answer. Do you know anything about her?”

“No, sir, I don’t.”

I dropped it there and went hack to my own place.

TRYING again at nine the next morning chalked up a better result. Bonnie answered as soon as her phone tinkled.

“Johnny,” I said. I hoped she got the happy note in my voice. “I’ve been worried. Are you all right?”

“I am all right, senor.”

The way she said it, her tear, and the “senor” business, were like a clout on the chin. I could feel the freeze over the wire.

“I want to see you, honey,” I said. “How about lunch?”

“I am sorry, senor. I shall be busy today.”

“Wait a minute. What’s wrong?” The brush-off didn’t set well. Something was as phony as the system I talked over. “You stay where you are. I’ll be over in a few minutes.”

That did it.

“Senor! I told you I am busy. I cannot see you! You will waste your time coming here. I mean that!”

She hung up before I could add anything further. I laid the telephone back on its cradle and went out to breakfast.

So Dewey Lorch had put a muzzle on her, had he? The switch made it figure that way. Fair weather last night, snow and sleet this morning.

What did Lorch have on the gal? Something important, if he could shut her up. And he had shut her up. I cast around for a reason, for some hint of an answer, but couldn’t guess. Finally, I decided to let it go.

After all, it wasn’t any of my affair. I had wanted to help, had got conked for my trouble, and sidetracked by the babe in the bargain . . . .

Two days passed.

The Young Rico-Artie Borden fracas papers had been drawn up and signed. The fisticuffs were set for Labor Day at one of the ball parks. Already the advance ticket sale promised to break records. Rico had gone up to Jack Gavitty’s camp near White Plains, to get an edge. Nothing further concerning the glamorous exile from Rio had developed and, at the Orbit, Beth Wheaton had laid off the puns.

A couple of times I had considered going tip to Apt. 5B and kicking Dewey Lorch’s teeth in. Just as an even-up. But each time I shrugged the notion aside. Why tangle with a dead issue?

Only it wasn’t defunct.

It must have been around two o’clock that Wednesday A.M. when Don Ameche’s invention disturbed my heavy slumbers. The telephone in the front room of my suite kept ringing and ringing. It was one of those hot, humid nights.

Airless and airtight.

I finally stumbled in and stopped the jangle. “Hello? What the—”

“Johnny!” Bonnie’s voice, terse and vibrant, was more of a wake-up than a pail of cold water. “Johnny! Can you come over to the hotel— quick!”

“What is it? What’s happened?”

“Alfredo! I can’t talk more! I think something’s happened to him! Oh, hurry~ please!”

The Wilshire was quiet and deserted when a night-hawking clock-ark dropped me at its marquee. A sleepy-eyed elevator runner took me to the proper floor. I went past the spot where the Lorch-Candell combination had put the stop on the senorita that other morning. I went on to Bonnie’s front door, tapped and got immediate service.

“Come in, Johnny!”

She wore lounging pajamas with a sort of bolero coat. They were a vivid green silk. The big gray eyes were wide and frightened. The red lips trembled. So did the hand that reached out and seized my arm. I forgot all about the brush-off!

“What about Sanchez?” I asked quickly. “I think something’s happened to him! Harry telephoned me a minute before I called you. Harry—Babbitt. He says he heard a noise in Alfredo’s rooms. He says it sounded like someone was fighting. Then he heard a thud. He—Harry says he was afraid to go in. He wanted to know what to do!”

“Come on!” I said.

I LED the way straight to the Sanchez suite. The door was unlocked, a light on in the foyer. I almost fell over Babbitt when I went in. The super-smooth valet wore a dressing gown, pajamas and a complexion a shade whiter than skimmed milk.

“He’s in there!” Babbitt said in a husky voice, when we were in the living room. He pointed a shaky finger in the general direction of a small hall that led away from the alcove where Rico had gone through his bag-punching routine for the press. “In there!”

“Stay here while I look,” I directed Bonita. The little hall ended at the door of the senor’s bedroom. It was half open. No light came out except the shine of the stars at the three raised windows. I fumbled around until I located the wall switch. I clicked that on and immediately was affected with abrupt and sudden mal de mer.

Gazing at the victims of foul play was no novelty to me. Neither was murder. I had run into it several times in the past. But to find the fat, rich Senor Sanchez with the entire back of his head cared in, and the bed on which he lay a welter of crimson, was somewhat nauseating.

I left the light and backed out in a hurry, shutting the door after me.

In the living room, Babbitt licked his lips like a thirsty dog that had just been watered. Bonnie, stiff and tense, watched me come in, the gray eyes full of questions.

“Johnny! Is he—”

I nodded and went on to the telephone. No use wasting time answering questions. I knew the Wilshire outfit wouldn’t like it—calling the cops before they were notified—but that wasn’t any brake.

“Police Headquarters—hurry it up,” I said to the drowsy plug-swinger downstairs. Then, a minute or two later, “Headquarters? Connect me with Homicide!”

CHAPTER IV. MULLIN CALLS

MY OLD arch-friend, Captain Fred Mullin, Homicide’s head man, together with Detectives Larry Hartley and Ed Wheeler, put in an appearance while I was still trying to calm the excited Bonita.

Mullin, who had gained prominence by a strong-arm, slug-’em-first and question-them-later system, didn’t seem happy because of my call. Mullin had no sense of humor, nothing except a head resting between a pair of ears, two colorless eyes, a set of hand-sewn features and a stocky figure that would have made a swell model for an October ale keg.

Followed by his two straight men, Mullin, after locking the door of the suite, hotfooted it to the Sanchez bedroom.

He came back, his jaws set. His dislike for me stuck out like a flag at an auction. The feeling was mutual. Once, I had got in a jam with the captain because I’d printed a piece about him in the Orbit which wasn’t entirely flattering. It was when Mullin had been cracking down on back-alley dice games and letting the big gamboliers continue to ride, unquestioned, in their coach-and-fours.

I had given it a humorous slant and the laugh had been on Freddie for ten days thereafter. Mullin had never forgiven me. “Who found the body?” he barked.

“I did.” I smiled, adding, “Another one, Captain. Amazing the business I dig up for you.”

Hartley came back and used the telephone. Meanwhile, the hotel clerk had got wind of the Law’s arrival and the house detective and manager were at the locked door, working out their knuckles.

Hartley took care of them while Mullin went to work on Bonita Lores and Babbitt. The medical examiner yawned a way in sometime later and, after I had been given permission to contact the Orbit’s city desk, Mullin said I could go home.

“But no further, Castle!” he warned. “I don’t like the way you’re continually turning up murders. Sooner or later I’m going to tie one on you—for keeps.”

“I’ll bet you tell that to all the ghouls!” I drawled.

He threw me a sneer and Wheeler unlocked the door for me.

I went down the corridor and parked in Bonita’s rooms. I was worried about the dark-haired, gray-eyed tidbit from the coffee country. Worried that she might spill about Lurch and Candell and tie me into the Sanchez bump.

All Mullin had to do was consult Department records and find out that I had handed my right name to Patrolman Hagen several nights previous. And in Lorch’s apartment!

I lit a cigarette and did a lot of thinking. Mullin couldn’t hold Bonita as anything except a witness. It didn’t argue that she had dealt Alfredo’s death card. From what I had seen it had taken more power than the little lovely possessed to crack Sanchez’s skull.

Who? Maybe Babbitt. Or Rico? I threw that one away. Rico was up at Jack Gavitty’s and that let him out. Maybe Dewey Lorch? Lurch had heaved a vase at me, almost making a tunnel of my head. The Sanchez thing was about the same caliber. It could, I decided, very easily be Lorch.

Motive? That stuck me. I was still trying to figure it out when I heard Larry Hartley at the corridor door.

“No trouble at all, Senorita,” the big ape was saying. “A pleasure. Now don’t you worry about anything. It’s going Io be all right. You get a good sleep and forget it.”

“Sleep!” Bonnie said under her breath. I stepped out of eye-range when the door opened. I didn’t want Hartley to see me there. Bonnie shut the door, turned the key, and let her lips part when I stepped back into view.

I put a warning finger over my mouth. I listened at the door until Larry’s Number Twelve footfalls faded out down the corridor,

“Poor Alfredo!” Tears brimmed in Bonita’s gray eyes.

“Who did it?” I said.

She sank down on a chair, shaking her head. “I don’t know, Johnny. That man—the captain—he told Harry he was arresting him! He has arrested Harry for Alfredo’s murder! Why should he do that? Why should Harry have killed Alfredo?”

“I don’t know. Did he?”

SHE drew a breath. An uneven, rasping little breath.

“Alfredo was his friend. Harry liked him. Harry would do anything for Senor Sanchez.”

I shrugged. “Maybe he did! Let it go.” I got up and went around to her chair. “What I want to know is what happened the other morning when I called you. When you ‘senored’ me and hung up?”

“I couldn’t help it. He—they—”

“Told you to give me the chill? Don’t you think it’s the proper spot to do a little talking? I took a nasty bang on the head for you. Remember?”

She stretched out a hand and touched my arm. Her eyes were still tragic. Perhaps it wasn’t the right moment to use the spurs. But I wanted to know. I had to know.

“What have they got on you?” I persisted. “They know—something. A secret!”

“And you can’t tell me?”

“Not now! Johnny, I can’t—really!”

“It must be important.” I reached for a cigarette. “A real clam if you’re afraid to spill to a friend. Maybe I have a slight idea of the picture.” When she looked at me inquiringly, I said, “You’re not a real Brazilian.”

I heard her smothered exclamation.

“I figured it the first day,” I said. “That delightful accent of yours. It slipped slightly, when you met Lorch and Candell. When you got scared. It’s done the same thing several times since.” I laughed. “The real article doesn’t do that.”

“I’m half Brazilian,” she said defensively. “My mother was born in Brazil.”

“And you hail from Brooklyn?”

She shook her dark head. “From this city. I went to Rio two years ago. To visit some relatives. I got a job there. I stayed. Then I met Alfredo.”

“What’s your right name?”

“Bonita Lawson.”

“And all this hooks up with Lorch’s threat?” I said slowly.

She nodded. “Yes.”

“You can’t—and won’t—tell me how?”

“No.”

“But you can tell me this.” I mashed the cigarette out. “’The other night, when we went up to cull on your vase-hurling friends, you phoned the police after they left the apartment?”

The gray eyes looked into mine. “The first chance I had, Johnny! I was so worried about you! It was all my fault. I had to.”

“Thanks,” I said, and got up.

There wasn’t anything else to gab about. So I said good night and ducked out without letting the cop Mullin had stationed at the doorway of the suite occupied by the late Mr. Sanchez, notice me.

The Bonita angle was a little clearer. I wondered what the good-looking senorita’s secret was. I made up my mind to find out in the not too distant future. I was still mulling it over when I hit the pad, in my own bedroom, and grabbed four hours of oblivion.

Next morning I took all the metropolitan newspapers into my favorite cafeteria. The Orbit, with the story I had phoned in from the Wilshire, was the only one that mentioned me as finding the murdered South American, Not a line, not a credit in any of the other sheets.

Captain Mullin had studiously avoided using my name when he had given the story to the press.

It was a little after ten o’clock then. I left the papers for the next customer, paid my coffee-and-cake fee and headed down to the office.

Wheaton flagged me as I went in. Beth looked excited.

“You’ve got company!” Her voice was full of caution. “He’s been waiting ten minutes.”

“Don’t tell me. Let me guess.”

She didn’t. “It’s Captain Mullin from Headquarters!” she said. “He looks sore enough to snap on the cuffs, Johnny. Don’t forget to do something for me before you go. Tell me what prison so I can send my tear-stained notes to you.”

THE captain occupied a chair beside my desk. He didn’t seem particularly happy. He champed on three-quarters of a cigar, looking at the confusion around him with faint interest. His expression changed when I barged up.

“Good morning, Captain,” I said brightly.

“What’s good about it?” Mullin’s colorless eyes roamed over me. “What are you so cheerful about?”

“The fact you very carefully kept me out of the Sanchez items. Thoughtful of you, Mullin. So you’ve got the valet under lock and key? That’s a mistake. Babbitt didn’t do it.”

“Yeah? How do you know?”

I shrugged. “Intuition, probably. That sensitive sixth sense you wouldn’t know anything about. What’s on your mind?”

I sat down and waited. Mullin cleared his throat. He dropped his cold weed in a cuspidor and rubbed his lantern jaw.

“You’re right, Castle.” His tone changed. “Mebbe it’s the valet, mebbe not. Anyway, I haven’t got enough on Babbitt to make it stick. The first good lip he gets will throw it out the window. No motive—no prints—nothing.”

“Only suspicion because he happened to be in the suite. No good.”

“That’s what I’m telling you.” He looked hurt. “And you want some advice? You want to know if I’ve dug anything? You’re willing to bury the hatchet—not in me—and come around to see what I’ve got up my sleeve besides the two freckles near my elbow. Fair enough. I don’t know anything.”

Mullin blinked. “You’ve been seeing a lot of that dame Sanchez was engaged to. You’ve been around there plenty. You’ve got an idea. You must have.”

It was a spot for a secret gloat. Captain Fred Mullin, frankly stumped, calling on me for assistance. I began to love every minute of it. He knew it, too.

“Look, Castle,” he said. “I’ll tell you something I turned up. It’s confidential. You know Benny Radmann?”

“The bookie?”

“That’s right. Well, day before yesterday this Harry Babbitt laid six grand at three-to-one on Rico to win the Borden mill. The dough’s in Radmann’s safe right now.”

Tch, tch! Gambling! Captain, I’m surprised.”

“Where does the Lores gal fit?” he growled.

“I haven’t the faintest idea. This is one time I can’t offer you a clue. I don’t know who smeared the senor. To be candid, I don’t care—too much. It’s your own private little headache so make the best of it.”

“Punk!” Mullin grated, “Wait’ll you ask me a favor. See how much cooperation you get!”

“Hmm!” I leaned back in my chair and grinned amiably. “You’d give your right eye, and throw in a leg to make it even, to find me mixed in this thing. Mixed enough so you could slap me into the clink like you did Babbitt.”

He got up.

“You don’t know anything?”

“From nothing, Captain dear. Sorry. Be seeing you around town.”

He waddled away without further comment. A second later the telephone on my desk rang.

“What did you do to him, Johnny?” Beth cooed. “He came in like a lion and he went out like a lamb, six red points a pound! Ain’t you ashamed—kicking the law around?”

CHAPTER V. GREEN MOUSE

WHAT Mullin had divulged concerning the six-thousand-dollar bet Harry Babbitt had placed on Young Juan Rico didn’t seem unduly significant. It might have been Sanchez’s dough. I toyed with the information for a minute or two, then shrugged it off.

What I had said to the captain about not being too interested in the identity of the party who had cracked the coffee planter’s skull was more or less true. What I wanted to find out was the hold Dewey Lorch had on Bonita Lores-Lawson.

I wanted to learn that for two good reasons. One, because of the bump on the head Lorch had presented me with. Two, for the reason that I had been in on the thing from the day Bonnie had flown in from California. I wanted to follow through. I didn’t like leaving loose ends around, untied, unexplained.

But how?

How, with Bonita muzzled? How, with not a thing in the world to hang on either Lorch or Candell? And how, without any definite lead, anything to go on?

The making of a great metropolitan newspaper revolved about me. The presses rumbled. War news poured in from every capital in the world. All was activity, hustle and speed. And I sat there like a bum on a log, thinking about a girl with gray eyes, a punk with a funny, crinkle-skinned pan and another slug with a round, moony mush.

I had a little work to do. A squib about Artie Borden, down in Asbury Park, running off his roadwork on the beach. I reached in an inner pocket for a pencil and pulled out some other stuff with it.

Two letters. Not addressed to me, but to Dewey Lorch! The correspondence I had lifted from the desk in Apt. 5B because it was faintly interesting at the time. I’d forgotten about them.

The first letter was from the Peerless Dry Cleaners on Amsterdam Avenue—“Your Suit Will Suit If We Clean It.” The note was a dun for six bucks Lorch had owed for three months. Would he please pay, and so forth?

I threw that in the trash and took the enclosure out of the second envelope.

This was better. It said:

 

Dear Dew:

I was talking to Patsy Kline yesterday. He says he’s interested. He’s got a building in back of the Green Mouse that’s a natural for your purpose. Make a swell card and dice room. Private entrance, etc. Used to be a stable, but now a garage.

Why don’t you stop in and see Patsy? Let me know how you make out.

Yours truly, Ray Gordon

P.S. I’m writing on account of never being able to get you on the telephone.

I read it over. Patsy Kline. Green Mouse. That wasn’t as tough as it sounded on the surface.

A telephone directory turned up both.

Patrick Kline was listed at an address off Greenwich Street, on the fringe of the village. The Green Mouse, an eatery, was under the G’s at the same phone number, the same address. . . .

It was after eight that evening when I got out of the subway at Sheridan Square and walked south. Carmody Street, a sliver between two avenues, ran crookedly east and west. It was a typical Greenwich Village alley old as time and just as drab and dusty.

The war had brought popularity flock to the Village haunts, the cafes and creeps, the better places. They were all making coin as was any place on the thirteen-mile island that had a liquor license and served food that tasted like food.

The Green Mouse, in a two-story ancient brick edifice, slouched at the end of the alley. It boasted a doorman. His job seemed to be to tell the patrons there was a thirty-five cent parking lot two streets away. He didn’t have to tell me so I went on in, left my headgear in the charge of a peroxide-tinted little chick who gave me a soiled cardboard number and a toothpaste smile.

“New around here, aren’t you?” she inquired. “The paint’s still wet, honey.”

I put the hat check in my pocket and passed into the bar.

It was jammed. The military, the boys who sailed the Seven Seas, civilians, weary war workers trying to snatch an hour’s fun out of a day that had kept them at high tension and top speed.

My secret mission to the Green Mouse was to get a gander at the building in the rear, the one Lorch’s correspondent had mentioned in the purloined note. The letter was postmarked ten days previous. By this time Dewey Lorch and Lou Candell might be in business there.

I HAD a wine-cooler. I sipped it slowly, keeping a weather eye for anyone I might know. They were all unfamiliar faces around me.

Time passed.

Back in the restaurant part of the Mouse I ordered a large cannibal sandwich—raw chopped beef, raw chopped onion. An hour dragged by. I had about decided it was time to slip out and take a peek at the place that was once a stable, but which at present kept all horsepower under hoods, when I saw Dewey Lorch come in.

He wore a light blue Palm Beach suit, no hat and white buck sports shoes. He strolled into the bar and bought himself a beer. I noticed him give the clock over the pyramid of glasses frequent glances. Just to make sure he wouldn’t lamp me through the open doorway of the restaurant section, I hid my features behind a much thumbed menu.

Lorch finished his beer and walked past the main chow division. Over the top of the menu I saw him open a door in the rear, pass through and close it after him.

“Anything else, sir?”

“My check,” I told the waiter. I waited for change, left a tip on his brass dish, got my hat from Blondie and slipped her fifteen cents.

“Stop in again sometime,” she suggested. “I’ll do that.”

She smiled. I smiled. Then I tried to give a passable imitation of a gent who knew where he was going, opened the door Leech had opened, stepped out and into a cobbled court and clicked the door shut behind me.

It took a minute or more for my eyes to get accustomed to the gloom.

Then I saw the ex-stable directly across the courtyard, toward the rear. A high board fence enclosed the yard. Garbage cans stood in a tier to the left. A sleek gray cat, with a strong stomach, was making its selection. It flattened its ears as I went by, and spat at me.

No lights were visible in the garage. It was designed for four cars. Each had an individual overhead steel door. An outside flight of stairs on the east side led up to the floor above. Over that I noticed another series of dark windows.

The end overhead door was halfway up, with an empty space for a car beyond. I walked in on the cement floor, breathed faint gas and oil fumes, and discovered a door at the end of a work bench. It was unlocked. I eased the china knob over, pushed the door open a little and saw a second flight of stairs.

I listened.

It was hard to hear anything. Echoes from the other building made a noisy monotone. Grumble of voices, clatter of dishes in the kitchen, the metallic grind of some electrically propelled machine—a dishwasher possibly, or a ventilator— made a constant rumble.

I felt to make sure the automatic I had brought along was still with me. It was. So I went up the stairs warily, taking time and wondering if this was as screwy as crashing Lorch’s apartment had been that other night.

A narrow hall led away from the top of the staircase.

No lights visible from outside, but a glow over the transoms of three doors along the aisle. I listened again, catching some conversation that came from the first lighted transom, sharply to my right.

“There’s not much business until the theaters empty out,” one voice said. “You drop in from eleven-thirty on and you get plenty of action.”

“It’s a gold-mine,” another voice said. “The cops leave you alone and Patsy’s particular about who he sends over.”

“I’ll stick around and see what the play is tonight,” a third voice said. “If it looks good I’ll wire my partner to come on.”

That wasn’t getting me anything.

None of the voices had belonged to Lorch. I walked on down the hall. I hadn’t any set plan in mind. I had just an idea I wanted to meet Dewey Lorch and make him talk. An automatic made a swell vocal stimulant. I was determined to get to the bottom of the shut-up he and Lou Candell had put on Bonita.

There were two doors, facing each other, at the end of the narrow corridor. Two doors and two dark rooms. I was turning to wander back, when I stopped moving.

SOME people were coming up the outside stairs. I could hear them talking. Simultaneously, the door of one of the lighted rooms across from me began to open. Someone was about to come out in the hall.

I faded back into the murk of the shadowy room whose open door I stood beside. With my foot I eased the door gently shut. Starlight came in through a high window. It showed me a table and chairs, a buffet, a horsehair couch, a connecting serving room and, to the right, the slinky drape of a cretonne curtain.

I pushed that aside. Behind it was a cubicle used for storing empty bottles, trays. The next minute I heard Dewey Lorch, not a half a dozen feet away, speaking.

“I’m in here, Abe. You wait around downstairs. He ought to be back any time.”

“I hear a car now,” someone answered him from further down the hall.

“See if it’s Lou. See if he needs any help.” The door I had shut creaked open. A click turned on wall lights. It came half a second after I had shoved the cretonne curtain aside and stepped in behind it.

Through a hole in the drape I had a moth’s eye view of Lorch. He took his Palm Beach suit over to the buffet. There were a lot of bottles and glasses there. Lorch looked the assortment over and poured himself a drink.

After that he opened a drawer, took out a gun and sat down with it at the end of the table.

Two minutes at least ticked away before I knew what it was all about. Footsteps came down the hall. The swish of clothing rubbing against a wall outside. Then I heard Lou Candell’s flat, uninteresting voice, saying:

“Inside, folks. Make yourself to home.” I moved my eye from Lorch to the door. Through it came three people. Young Juan Rico, natty and sullen-faced, black eyes dangerous and his lips curved in a sneer. Lou Candell was behind him, and beside Bonita Lores. Candell in slacks and a hound’s tooth sports jacket that made no impression on me.

I looked hard and long at the pretty Bonita. Fear was in her face again, etched there indelibly and accented by the terror in her wide-eyed gaze. Her coral lips were parted and the slim hand belonging to the arm Candell gripped, shook like dancing leaves on a breeze-stirred tree.

“Any trouble?” Lorch asked.

“Nope.” There was a modest note in Candell’s admission. “They were both right where you said they’d be—at that funeral parlor. I had to wait a half hour for them to come out. Ray was a big help. He eased them over to the car. He sat in the back with them while I drove ’em down. Not a hitch anywhere.”

Lorch grinned. “Shut the door. I crave conversation with the little guy!”

CHAPTER VI. SKELETONS RATTLE

RICO’S burning gaze shifted from Dewey Lorch’s taunting grin to the rod on the table before the man. Bonita sank down in a chair. Candell took up a position a foot or so away, his hand deep in his sports coat pocket.

“What do you want?” Rico snapped. Anger didn’t make his English too understandable.

“You!” Lorch laughed. “Smart little operator, aren’t you? Running around, fracturing skulls and thinking you can get away with it!”

I felt my ears go up. That was news! Rico didn’t give me much time to analyze it. He ripped out a string of Spanish curses.

“Don’t blow yourself out,” Lorch advised, lazily. “I’ll do the talking—you listen. You killed Sanchez. Your gal friend over there said she saw you last night at the hotel—saw you in Sanchez’s rooms! But she didn’t tell the cops that, and I think I know why.”

Rico swung around to Bonita. The girl had covered her face with her hands. He gnarled something at her in his mother tongue and the hands came away from the beautiful face.

“They made me tell them, Juan!” She was crying. “They know everything!”

Lou Candell chuckled. “You bet we know everything. Tell them about Gavitty, Dew.”

“I phoned Jack,” Lorch continued. “Just to make sure. Gavitty said you copped a sneak out last night at ten-thirty. Okay. You rubbed Sanchez because you’re in love with this dame, because the fat gay was getting wise to it and had knocked you around plenty. Remember the day you blew in at the airport? With the shiner and the cut lip? That wasn’t done with mirrors—it was Sanchez’s big fists!”

Some of Rico’s rage melted. I saw him move his shoulders, as if what Lorch was saying was too much to buck.

“What do you want?” he asked, throatily.

“Now you’re being sensible, bud. Sit down.”

“I’ll stand.”

“Anyway you like. But pay attention. We’re not coppers, so we don’t care who you kill after hours. That’s no gravy off our vests. But you’ve got to be taught a lesson. You’ve got to be taught that it costs money to be a murderer and walk around free.”

“I haven’t got money,” Rico answered. “Don’t hand me that line, monkey! You gave Sanchez’s valet a wad to bet on you. You promised him half the profits if he kept his trap shut about seeing you last night. He’s out, by the way. The cops unlocked him a couple of hours ago”

“How do you know?”

“We’ve got a private wire to headquarters,” Lorch said, with another short laugh. “Didn’t Lou tell you we know everything?”

“How much?” the fighter said shortly. I waited with Rico for the amount. Dewey Lorch’s parchmentlike face wrinkled until it looked like a local road map. He pulled down the lobe of his left ear and pulled air through his teeth.

“Ten G’s for a starter,” he said. “Your end of the first purse, win, lose or draw, will leave you plenty even after Morgenthau gets his cut. It’s cheap, kid. Much better than sizzling on sparks. What do you say?”

Rico’s answer was surprising to say the least. He put it into action rather than words. With one sinuous, forward lunge he grabbed the gun from the end of the table, snaring it before Lorch could get his chair back on an even keel!

Rico ripped out another oath and slapped a left hook to the Lorch button. Dewey’s chair tipped over backward and Lorch rolled out on the floor.

Rico aimed a kick at the man’s head, an instant before Candell began to move. Lou’s gun slid into his hand. But before he could use it Rico winged him in the shoulder with as nice a piece of shooting as I had seen outside a Coney Island gallery.

The little lightweight angled the shot from the vicinity of his knee and Candell thumped against the wall, grabbing for his holed shoulder.

Bonita screamed, jumped up and ran toward the drape of the cretonne curtain behind which I stood, my own gat in firing position.

CANDELL’S wound was in his left shoulder. It didn’t affect his right hand noticeably. That came up, his rod leveling ominously. Before Rico could shoot again Candell started squeezing the trigger.

One—two—three—four shots, so fast they sounded almost like one! At pointblank range he couldn’t miss—and didn’t. Rico’s slender figure twitched as each slug ripped into him. For sixty seconds he stood with his hands up and out, as if he were in the ring looking for an opening.

Then, as if his legs had been disconnected at the knees, he folded and pitched face-down, caroming off the edge of the table like a bag of damp sawdust.

Lorch got up. He remembered to brush himself off.

“Get the dame!” he yelped. “We’re getting out of here!”

Candell, blood coming out from under his cuff and trickling down the back of his left hand, made a bee-line for Bonita. I swept the length of cretonne aside and put in an Act Three climax appearance.

“All right, boys! Stand where you are and don’t make a move!”

“Johnny!” Bonita gasped.

Her own symmetrical gams partially gave way, and incautiously, I caught my foot in the edge of the rug. It threw me slightly off balance and gave the eagle-eyed Candell his opportunity. I struck the framework of the door as Candell’s heater barked venomously. Lead whined past my face, so close I could almost feel the heat of it.

My shot got him in the leg. He chucked the gun at me. I ducked that better than I had the vase. But there was still Lorch—Dewey Lorch coming head-on in my direction.

The gun jammed, as guns sometimes do in the movies at critical moments. I didn’t even have time to reverse it and use the butt before he leaped at me.

We went down, wrapped around and around in the cretonne curtain like a pair of mummies. Only not so still. Lorch’s frantic hands clawed at my throat. There was plenty of power in his fingers. Steel-like, pistonlike fingers, searching and grabbing for vulnerable spots.

Hazily I saw his dried-out pan, criss-crossed with the non-effaceable wrinkles, swimming before me. I felt his breath—hot, fetid. I tried to roll him, but he was too smart for that old stevedore trick. He spread his legs wider, making them a vise over me and began hammering my head up and down on the floor.

That was fun.

With every bump more colored lights than shone on Broadway made a rainbow around me. The pain was agonizing. I wondered how many cracks it would take before my head split in half.

Then a shadow came between the wall lights and Lorch’s contorted face. Bonnie. Bonita, with one of the loose guns in the room, bludgeoning Lorch! It was a welcome intervention, doubly so because he stopped banging my skull and grabbed one of her trim, liquid-stockinged ankles. He jerked at it as I squirmed partially out from under, got an arm around his neck and a thumb at the corner of his most convenient eyeball.

I squeezed, and that did it!

Lorch let go of Bonita. He let go of me. He reached up to push his eye back in place and the blaze from Rio shoved me the gun. I jammed it over Lorch’s palpitating heart, shook my head to clear it and got up, dragging him with me by the lapels of the pretty blue Palm Beach jacket.

“Hey! What goes on? What is all this?” The door had opened and through the knot of interested spectators in the hall a large patrolman had elbowed his way in. Not my old friend Hagen, but a bird of the same plumage. Just to make it even for the vase he had laid me low with, I hit Lorch with the butt of the gun—an accurate, spiteful smack an inch above his left ear. That made me feel a lot better.

I dropped the gun to the table and turned to the bluecoat. He was busy counting corpses, one, anyway.

“Look, friend,” I managed to say. “You don’t understand all this, but Fred Mullin, down at your recreation center, will. Be a pal and give him a buzz. Tell him Johnny Castle’s up here with the solution to his most recent murder mystery. If he says how come, tell him it’s the salmon in me— struggling to get upstream!”

I WENT uptown in a taxi with Bonita Lawson alias Lores.

“All this for nothing,” she said. “It will come out in the papers anyway.”

“The power of the press, babe. The moral is don’t hide skeletons in your closets. Give them to the bone drive.”

She shivered, looking at the sailing summer moon. I waited until we crossed Twenty-Third Street, still going north.

“My picture career, my contract—everything ruined now!” she cried softly.

“Not necessarily. Pistol packin’ mamas are having a vogue at the moment. While we’re talking about the cinema, you can answer a question or two. Information, please. I have a faint idea that what Lorch had on you blends in with the fillum industry. Or doesn’t it?”

“Yes.”

“Give, honey. What was the threat?”

“To tell everybody—New Era Pictures, principally—not only that I was a phony Brazilian, but that my dad, Marty Lawson, is doing a twenty-year stretch for forgery in one of the prisons where Lorch spent some time!”

So that was it!

I patted her softly rounded arm. “Cheer up. Even that isn’t going to stop you.

Don’t you know Hollywood lives and breathes on picture stars’ private scandals? You’ll go on to be a big sensation, no matter if you hail from Rio or East Fracture, Dakota, either one. This publicity will be a shot in the arm. Wait and see. And when your old man gets out of stir you can be smart and write all the checks for him.”

Four more streets and I saw a familiar corner. I told the driver to slow, and reached for the door.

“Johnny! When—”

She got out in front of the Wilshire. In the chine of the street lamps she looked like an angel. A little worn around the wings, but pulse-quickening, anyway.

“Be hungry around one tomorrow,” I told her, “and I’ll take you out to lunch!”

Satan Drives the Bus

Satan Drives the Bus

By Wyatt Blassingame

Ace Detective Magazine
October 1936

Death collects the fares when—
Satan Drives the Bus

 ALLEN SARGENT was grateful for the girl across the aisle. He didn’t like to ride buses and with the storm blowing so that headlights seemed beaten back upon themselves this trip from Minneapolis to Duluth gave promise of being particularly unpleasant. The girl across the aisle had chestnut-colored hair that curled close to a well-shaped head, wide intelligent eyes and a mouth that was made for smiling. With her to look at the trip might not be so bad.

The rest of the passengers didn’t offer much. Sargent looked them over, making a game of guessing their professions. All the lights were out in the bus except the dim overhead one, but somehow the shadows seemed to sharply outline the characters behind them.

In the front seat on the left was a short, bald- headed man who chewed an unlighted cigar and beamed pleasantly at nothing. “A salesman,” Sargent thought. “Probably deals in flour or linoleum.”

Behind the salesman sat a faded, middle-aged, poorly dressed woman who stared vacantly ahead. A country woman who started working in the fields when she was six and has been tending babies since she was sixteen, was his guess.

Behind her sat a blonde, hard-faced woman. Sargent had smelled liquor when she got on the bus, and when she spoke to the driver, calling him “Baby,” her voice had been too loud.

In the next seat was a big, hardboiled looking man who had a scar across the right cheek from ear to mouth. “He’s tough enough to be a gangster,” Sargent thought. “And still—” There was something furtive, something gruesome about the way the man’s eyes shifted, peering at the persons around him, then out into the storm. “He’s frightened,” Sargent told himself, “but he doesn’t look like a man who would know the meaning of physical terror.”

On the back seat a Negro sat alone.

Behind the priest was the oddest looking individual on the bus. Sargent could only see the back of the man’s head now, but he remembered the face. It wasn’t an easy one to forget. Framed in wild shaggy hair that fell almost to the graying and mangy beard, was a thin, wrinkled face with a beak of a nose below insane eyes. There was a vacant seat behind him and then the one in which Sargent sat. No one else was aboard except the driver.

As Sargent started to turn to the girl again, the lean, bearded man jumped into the aisle, twisting in an effort to face everybody. His voice was thin and terrible, the voice of a man insane. “It’s death! Death and sin! They are riding with us, and they shall strike; they shall kill us all because someone here has sinned against God and man!”

Everyone looked toward the man in the aisle, stunned by his sudden outburst, and for a moment there was no sound except the wind and the rain against the windows, the hum of the tires and motor. The driver glanced at the rearview mirror but the lurching of the bus made him center his attention on the road.

“It’s death! Death and sin!” the man screamed again. His eyes were hot flames. Saliva drooled from one corner of his mouth. “They are riding this bus with us and they shall kill us all. Someone here has sinned against God!”

“Well, who the hell hasn’t?” inquired the blonde. The man behind her had crouched deep into his seat and despite the shadows Sargent could see the curious way in which the scar twitched on his cheek. Once more he had the impression that this man, despite his bulk and toughness, was afraid.

THE bus began to slow down. The driver turned slightly and said, “Sit down, old man. What’s biting you?”

“Fiends!” the man screamed. “You laugh at me. You call me an old man. And you!” he leaned suddenly toward the blonde and she jerked back in her seat. “You daughter of shame, you shall know the fires of hell soon. You brag that we have all sinned. Yes, but death and sin ride incarnate here. You shall die with them. We shall all die with them because someone has sinned more than you are capable of.”

“Sit down, old man, you’re drunk,” the driver said. The bus had almost stopped now.

The salesman said: “Keep driving. I’ll take care of him all right.”

The driver hesitated. He was already late. “Okay,” he said. The bus began to pick up speed again.

The priest was smiling, a little self-conscious as most persons are when someone else begins to carry their own professions to an extreme. “How do you know that sin and death are on this bus?” he asked.

The man turned to him, eyes wild. “Know!” he cried. “I know because God has told me. I know in the same way that I know we shall all die unless we escape from the sinner.”

“Why can’t this sinner guy confess to the father and let him make it all right with God?” the blonde said. “There ain’t no need of troublin’ us all with it.”

“Confession will save his soul,” the bearded man said. “But not his life. Nor yours! Nor anyone’s!” He screamed the words, flinging his arms wide so that the gesture included the whole group.

The Negro on the back seat said, “Lawd Gawd. Lawd Gawd, lemme out dis bus. My feets too good not to use ’em now.” The salesman laughed; the girl across the aisle from Sargent smiled slightly, but her eyes were on the madman. The fellow in front of her shrank deeper into the shadows; the scar on his face was livid now and fear showed in his eyes.

“We will all die because someone—” The madman’s voice broke suddenly. He lunged toward the girl across from Sargent, stuck his face close to hers. “Are you guilty?” he screamed. “Are you—?”

Allen Sargent was already on his feet. He caught the gaunt man’s shoulder, jerked him around. “Listen,” he said quietly, “you can get off this bus if you want, or you can ride and keep quiet.” And almost gently he tossed the maniac back into his seat where he slunk, gazing with red, insane eyes at the man above him.

“Thanks,” the driver said. The bus began to move more rapidly. The sound of the storm beating against it grew louder.

Sargent stepped back and sat down beside the girl. He had been wanting to talk to her and here was a chance. “I’d better sit with you,” he said. “That nut seems to have you picked out as the friend of sin and death.”

“Thank you for taking him away.” When she smiled Sargent knew that he liked this girl a hell of a lot. “I’m really not as bad a woman as he seems to think.”

They talked for five minutes. In that time Sargent learned that her name was Jane Brownfield and she was a librarian in Duluth, and that her eyes, when looked at closely, were the prettiest he had ever seen although in the shadows he couldn’t make out their color. “I’m going to be in Duluth for some time,” he said. “I hadn’t planned on it, but now it seems necessary, and if—”

The crazy man was suddenly in the aisle again, shouting: “Death and sin. Death and sin!” His voice boomed through the bus, drowning out the sound of the wind and the rain.

“We shall all die!”

And death struck while he stood there, long arms raised, beard jerking.

The salesman was on his feet, leaning backward as though his spine were being snapped. Both hands tore at his throat and from his wide-open mouth vomited a scream of agony and terror. His wide eyes were bulging, his whole face contorted, the pink cheeks gone purple. He reeled two steps down the aisle, striking seats and bouncing off.

The scream went high and thin until, like a too tight wire, it snapped. The man went backward and lay still, his horrible face staring up into that of Allen Sargent.

THERE was a motionless, frozen chaos in the bus. The driver had stopped and stood at the head of the aisle as though unable to move. The passengers were motionless in their seats, looking down at the man whom they all knew, instinctively, to be dead. Even the madman was sitting down, quiet. And because of the silence within the bus the sounds of the storm came louder. Sargent could hear the rain slashing against the windows and on the roof, could feel the giant shoulder of the wind shaking the bus.

The driver came down the aisle, stiff-kneed. His face gray, he leaned over the salesman, put his hand on the man’s heart. Slowly he stood up. “He’s dead!”

Abruptly the Negro in the back began to moan. “Oh Gawd, oh Gawd! Hit’ll kill us all lak the gentman said. Hit’ll kill us all.”

Jane Brownfield’s hands caught Sargent by the wrist and held on tight, but she did not speak.

The maniac stood up violently. “Death and sin!” he screamed. “I told you they were here with us because someone has sinned unspeakably!”

“Lawd Gawd,” the Negro moaned. “Don’t strike dis pore nigger down. I’se stold and I’se lied and I’se sorry and I don’t wanta die.” His voice rose in a wail.

Allen Sargent said: “Shut up. Somebody in this bus is probably going to die all right.” He made a short gesture toward the man on the floor. “Somebody in this bus killed him and the police shouldn’t have much trouble finding out who.”

The drab-faced country woman spoke for the first time. “It won’t be me, but—”

“Let’s get started,” the driver said. “We’ll stop at Perry Corners and telephone Minneapolis. The police can get here in an hour.”

“Sin and death! We shall all die!” the maniac screamed. The rain hammered insanely against the windows.

“You mean us all gotta wait for de poolice?” the Negro asked. “I ain’t killed nobody. All you gentemans know dat. I gotta—”

“You got to see the cops with the rest of us,” the driver said. He turned toward the wheel.

The Negro said: “I’ll be damned if I’m going to wait for the cops.” Everyone looked at him because of the sudden change in his voice. He was standing erect at the rear of the bus, a blue steel automatic in his hand. “When you get me to Duluth the rest of you can see all the cops in town. But we’re not stopping before then.”

The driver said: “Why you damned—” and stopped. “Hell,” he finished softly, “you’re no nigger.”

“Right. I’m Pete Meadows. They’re looking for me in Minneapolis because of a couple of bank robberies. I don’t know who killed that man in the aisle. I didn’t, but I’m not waiting for any cops. Now get started driving.”

“A-all right.” His face pale with fear, the driver went back to the wheel. The bus began to move through the night again. Pete Meadows stood in the rear. The gun was in his coat pocket, but the outline of it was plainly visible.

The scar-faced man turned in his seat. His square, hard mouth was contemptuous as he looked at the gunman. “So you’re Pete Meadows,” he said, and snorted. But as he faced front again he noticed the dead man on the floor. Abruptly the scar was livid along his cheek and twitching with terror.

“Sin and death!” the madman screamed. “We shall all die because of the sin that rides this bus. And you!”—he stabbed a lean finger toward the gunman—“you shall die with the others and your soul shall burn in hell!”

“Sit down,” Meadows said. “Sit down and shut up.”

The countrywoman got on her knees in the seat, leaning over the back of it towards Meadows. “Mister, can’t I get off down here ’bout five mile? My old man’ll be drunk, and the kids—”

“You can ride back from Duluth,” Meadows said. “Sit down.”

“But I—” She stopped. In the pale glow of the overhead bulb her face was a gruesome white. Her mouth was wide-open though she made no sound. Her hands came up slowly toward her throat.

“Sin and death!” the madman chanted. “We shall all die!”

THE countrywoman stepped into the aisle. Slowly she began to arch backward. Her face was turning purple now, the eyes rolling up. And all at once she began to scream and her hands ripped at her throat until the wrinkled skin tore and blood ran down in streams. She staggered down the aisle, shrieking. The bus lurched and raced on through the night, flinging the woman from side to side. Then her foot struck that of the dead man in the aisle and she fell headlong. The scream snapped off.

“It’s another one,” the scar-faced man said huskily. “That’s two that have died without any reason and—”

“They die because someone here has sinned irredeemably,” the madman cried. “We shall all die.”

The blonde got on her knees in the seat. Beneath its thick coat of paint her face was yellow with fright. “It’s comin’ right down the aisle toward me,” she said frantically. “I don’t know what the crazy man is talkin’ about, but if somebody here’s done somethin’ I—I wish they’d tell that priest. I don’t wanta die! I don’t wanta die!”

“Confess and save your souls,” the madman shrieked. “It is too late to save the body.”

The priest was pale, but there was courage in his round face. “I shall be glad to hear confession if anyone wishes to make it.”

Jane Brownfield was clutching Sargent’s hand. “What’s happening?” she whispered. “What is it? I can’t understand.”

Sargent said: “I don’t know. But it won’t happen to you.” He turned to face Meadows who stood motionless at the rear of the bus, hand on his gun.

“Listen, we’ve got to find out what’s happening here before it kills us all. Why don’t you skip the bus, let the rest of us stop at the first telephone and call the police?”

The gunman shook his head. “I’d be in a hell of a fix, out here in the woods. I’ve got things arranged in Duluth and I’m going there.”

“It’s coming down the aisle toward me!” the blonde shouted. “It’ll kill me next. I’m gonna get off!”

“You’re going to sit where you are,” Meadows said.

The bus hustled on through the night, and the storm beat black and furious at the windows. It was as though the bus were part of another world, part of the storm itself howling through the darkness.

Sargent turned in his seat, his hands tight clenched on the arm as he judged the distance to the gunman. A full two yards and he would have to move sideways into the aisle first. There wasn’t a chance of making it.

Jane Brownfield caught his arm and pulled him close to her. “You can’t,” she whispered. “He’d kill you.”

“I’ll wait for a chance. Don’t worry, I’ll get him.” He tried to make his voice natural but there was a queer tightness to the muscles of his throat.

“That’s not the man I’m afraid of,” she whispered. “It’s the way those others have died, the way they scream and their faces turn purple. It’s that crazy man shouting about sin and death as though they were persons here with us. How did he know that man and woman were going to die?”

“Perhaps he knew because he was going to kill them.”

“But why? How?”

“He’s insane. Maybe that’s reason enough.”

“But how did he do it?” Her voice was getting thin, fearful. “We were all looking at him. He couldn’t have done it. He couldn’t! And yet—”

“Steady,” Sargent said. “Steady.” But inside his own body he could feel the cold fingers of terror. His eyes kept coming back to the pair of corpses that bounced and jiggled horribly with the swaying of the bus. Both lay, their backs arched, faces turned up so that the purple bloated skin showed plainly. The mouths were still open, twisted by agony and fear.

WHAT had killed this man and woman? And why? There had been no connection between them. They had never seen one another before tonight. Why did this madman chant about sin and death? And where would death strike next?

Sargent’s jaw set until muscle bulged the tan skin. His gray eyes slitted. Suppose something happened to the girl beside him. Suppose she suddenly began to scream and stood up, ripping the blood from her throat while the skin turned purple? Suppose it happened to her—or to him—as it had to the others, without warning?

The blonde was sobbing now. “It’s coming down the aisle toward me. I’ll be next. I’ll be next.” She rocked back and forth in her seat. Across from her the maniac sat with his feet in the aisle. The priest also was turned to face the other passengers. His face was pale, but courageous. The man with the scar was huddled deep in the shadows but Sargent could see his eyes constantly turning to the bodies in the aisle. “It’s odd he should be so afraid of them,” Sargent thought, “and so contemptuous of that murderer and bank robber behind us.”

Pete Meadows said suddenly: “Driver, what’ll happen if we pass this next station without stopping?”

“I—I don’t know. They’ll probably telephone ahead to find out what’s the trouble.”

The gunman hesitated, then his charcoaled lips pulled tight. “All right,” he said. “You’ll stop and get off and stretch like you generally do. I’ve ridden this bus before. But you won’t go in the station and nobody else is getting off.”

No one answered except the black fury of the wind and the rain. The bus roared on steadily. The maniac began to mumble to himself. Saliva drooled across his lips to mingle with his beard. Five minutes passed before the bus swung to one side of the road and stopped near a small store and filling station.

The driver stood up and faced Meadows. “What—what do you want me to do now?”

“Step out and stretch,” Meadows said. “I saw you do it in the rain once before and you’ll do it again tonight. But keep close to the bus like you did the time before so you won’t get wet. Then after a minute or so climb back in and let’s get started.”

“Yes, sir.” The driver’s hand shook on the door handle as he turned it, then stepped out.

The maniac jumped to his feet, screaming, eyes aflame. “I will ride this bus no longer with death and sin! I leave you all to destruction!”

“Sit down before I shoot you.”

“Shoot, Child of the Devil! Shoot! But I shall not stay to be destroyed as Sodom was destroyed; to be cut down by the plagues of Egypt. Shoot!” His voice was a shrill scream, his arms wide flung.

THE gunman tensed forward, automatic outlining his coat pocket. Sargent knew the things that were in his mind then. If the crazy man kept shouting he would attract the attention of the persons inside the store; if he were shot there would be the sound of the pistol.

“Listen,” Meadows said, “if I let you off this bus will you give me your word of honor”—his face twitched as he added—“as a man of God, not to mention what is happening here?”

The man’s face contorted. “Why should I tell? God will strike you down. I shall keep silent.”

“Well, get the hell out of here!”

The big scar-faced man and the blonde were standing up now, talking at once, terror in their eyes. “It’s coming down the aisle. It’ll get me next,” the blonde kept saying. The big man was pleading to be allowed to go.

Meadows said: “Shut up, both of you. That guy was nuts and I let him off because he was too crazy to keep in here. But if either of you get off, it’ll be with a bullet in your back.”

The priest said quietly: “There is some strange death riding with us. You understand that by keeping these persons here you may be responsible for their murders.”

“That’ll be just too bad, but I can’t help it. If they get off they’ll be responsible for my murder.”

Sargent was tense against the seat’s edge, his narrowed eyes watching the gunman. If he would come one step closer—

The driver climbed aboard and got in his seat. The bus lurched forward. “Sit down, all of you,” Meadows said. He stepped farther back and Sargent knew there was no chance to get to him without being killed.

Sargent turned to look at the girl beside him. Her face was drawn, but when she met his eyes, she smiled. He said, “Good girl. I don’t think Meadows wants to harm any of us and we’ll ride on safely.”

“It’s not Pete Meadows I’m afraid of. It’s that other thing—the thing that kills without any reason or warning. It’s what that crazy man said about us all dying. And somehow I feel—”

Sargent caught her hands. “Let’s not talk about it. You’ll only get more frightened than ever.”

“But I want to talk about it. I have to! I’m not going to get hysterical, but I can’t sit here waiting for that death to come to me, and not even think about it. Isn’t there something we can do?”

“It’s not going to hurt you,” Sargent said. His muscles were drawn so hard they ached, his eyes narrowed, fierce. “If I only knew who, or what—”

“Perhaps it was the crazy man and now that he’s gone nobody else will be killed. But somehow I feel that—that it’s going to come to all of us. I keep remembering what he said, that we are all going to die.”

It was then Sargent noticed for the first time the speed with which the bus was moving. The rain was as thick across the windows as ever but the sound of it was drowned by the roar of the motor and the whine of the tires. Abruptly the machine lurched to one side and began to bounce violently.

Pete Meadows yelled: “Damn it! Where are you going? Are you mad? Slow down! You’re off the highway!”

And in answer the driver began to laugh, a loud, rolling, furious laughter. Sargent jerked forward, feeling the hairs lift along the back of his neck. The girl clutched at his hand.

For the laughter ahead was that of a madman! It was worse. It was laughter from hell.

“Slow down, before—” And then it happened.

The bus stopped as though a giant hand had caught and twisted it sideways. Sargent was flung hard against the seat ahead of him, smashed down to the floor. He saw Pete Meadows plunge headlong in the aisle, the gun bouncing from his hand. He heard the jagged scream of the blonde and the guttural shout of the scar-faced man.

Then the hellish laughter flooded through the bus again and for a moment there was no sound except it and the beat of the wind and the rain.

THE second that followed seemed ages long to Sargent, the things that happened simultaneously seemed each separate and distinct like white-hot irons burning their pictures into his brain.

He saw the man whom he had thought was the driver standing at the front of the bus facing them—and that man was hell itself! His face was triangular like that of the devil, his eyebrows V- shaped and red, his ears pointed. And from his mouth rolled the laughter that was like that of devils rejoicing over tortured souls.

In that same instant Pete Meadows came to his knees in the aisle, saw the man at the front of the bus, cursed, and dived for his gun. The man did not stop laughing. The blonde was screaming insanely, the scar-faced man gibbering thick, terrified nonsense. The priest had been knocked to his knees in the aisle and crouched there. Jane Brownfield was half on the seat, half off, both hands holding to Sargent’s arm.

Meadows got his fingers on the gun and started straightening. The man with the face of hell kept laughing, his head thrown back, eyes flaming.

Meadows’ gun came up, stopped, wavered. The muscles around his mouth began to quiver. His eyes opened so wide in his blackened face that only the whites were showing. Then the gun clattered in the aisle and he had both hands at his throat, tearing it, ripping the flesh away in long gouges. His back began to arch and he was screaming. The cry had no beginning but was born full-throated and horrible, drowning out the laughter, the wind and rain, driving every sound out of existence except its own terror and agony.

Then the man fell backward among the other bodies and the scream was gone. Through the bus rolled again the sound of devil laughter, the hiss and mutter of the storm.

Sargent got slowly to his feet, pushed the girl behind him and held her there. The blonde’s cries had become a low, choked sobbing as she stared at the man in the front of the bus. The scar-faced fellow was panting heavily, crouched in his seat, his eyes wide with an unholy fear. Even in that brief glance Sargent knew that it was not death this man feared; it was something beyond and more horrible than death.

The hellish laughter drooled to an end. The flame-colored eyes swept over them. The man chanted: “You shall all die. All of you. Are you prepared?” His gaze fastened on the blonde.

“No!” she screamed. “I don’t wanta die. I don’t—”

“You’re going to die,” the creature said. “Is there anything you want to say first?”

It was Sargent who answered. Horror was like raw steel in his chest. His brain felt crushed and he had to force it to action. Twice he had made abortive movements toward the thing at the front of the bus, and twice he had stopped. If It could kill Pete Meadows as It had done, without even ceasing to laugh, without moving its hands, there was certainly no chance of reaching It in a wild rush down the aisle. “It’s a man. Deformed, hideous, but It’s a man,” Sargent had kept telling himself.

So now he spoke to It, hardly recognizing his own voice. “Why do you have to kill us? Why do you have to kill this girl first?”

The man laughed again, low and terribly. “I am Death,” he said. “I have come for all of you because one of you is most guilty.”

“You’re crazy.”

The man paid no attention but looked at the blonde again. “Is there anything you want to say before you die, anything that will make death easier?”

“Yes.” She was barely able to speak. “I—I want to confess to that priest. I ain’t never been religious, but if I’m—” she choked.

“You have two minutes,” the man said. “You may save your soul, but not your body.”

She stood up, staggered, but caught at the seat top. Somehow she crossed the aisle to the priest and kneeled in front of him. Under the beat of the wind and the rain Sargent could hear the low mutter of her voice as she spoke.

JANE BROWNFIELD was not crying, but her labored breathing, the way in which she fought back hysteria was audible. Sargent put his left hand on hers, squeezed it. Then he leaned forward in his seat, tense. If the devil-faced man would take his eyes off them for one second, would glance at the girl kneeling close in front of him, then would come his chance.

But the man didn’t. He stood there, laughing softly, never looking at the girl but always watching the passengers with eyes like red flame. Outside, the demons of rain and wind beat against the bus, shaking it with their fury.

Abruptly the man said: “Your two minutes are up. You die.”

Sargent tensed forward for the moment when he would look down to kill the blonde. That would be his chance to rush. Not much of one, but the best he could hope for.

And then terror beyond bearing struck him. It was as if fear were some material object which had suddenly been crammed into him until his entire body was splitting from the pressure. He tried to cry out, but his throat was clogged with fear, and fear had crushed his lungs against one another with awful pain.

For the man had never glanced toward the blonde, had never taken his eyes from the other passengers and had made no movement. But with the words “You die,” the girl screamed and lunged to her feet. Her face was already turning purple, her back curved like a drawn bow as she clawed at her throat and staggered into the aisle. Her shriek ripped through the bus, banged against the windows—and cut short as she fell.

Jane Brownfield made a short, moaning cry. “How—? He can’t— He’s not human!”

Sargent was too sick and hopeless to answer. He had been so certain that the devil-faced man would bend over the girl to kill her, that he would have a chance to attack. But the man had not even glanced at her. It was impossible for him to have killed her. And yet—she had died horribly as the others had.

“It’s your turn, Scarface,” the man said. “If you want to confess for the sake of your soul, do it. You have two minutes.”

The big man stood up, the scar livid and twitching along his cheek. Even now he did not seem afraid of death but of the weird manner in which it was coming and of something beyond death. “Yes, I want to confess.” He went and knelt before the priest.

Once more that long and awful period of waiting began. The sound of the man’s voice, low and mumbling, the beat of the storm, the sound of his own heart and husky breathing.

Jane Brownfield took Sargent’s hand, pulled him around to face her. There were tears in her eyes but her voice was almost steady. “He’ll kill one of us next. We’ve only two minutes.”

Sargent did not answer. He leaned and kissed her. Then abruptly he was sitting straight, his hands fierce around hers. “You’re not going to die!” he whispered. “I’ll get you out of this. I’ll get us both out. I’ve got to, now.”

“Your time’s up. You die,” the man said in the front of the bus. And in the same moment the scar- faced fellow began to scream.

JANE put her face hard against Sargent’s chest. He kept his arms around her, and though neither of them looked, they could hear the big man’s feet staggering blindly, hear the tremendous agony of his shriek, and they could vision the purpling face, the gory throat as he ripped at it. There came the thud of the body and the scream cut short.

“All right, mister. It’s your turn.”

Sargent pushed the girl away and stood up quickly. “I want to confess before I die.”

The devil-faced man said: “To hell with this confession business. I’m getting tired of it.” His eyes were on the girl now, hot and lustful.

“A man’s last wish,” Sargent said huskily. “You’ve got to let me.” He stepped quickly down the aisle.

“Let him have his way,” the priest said.

The man hesitated, said: “Get it over with.” He was watching the girl and the red flame of his eyes burned brighter.

Sargent went down on one knee in the aisle. The priest said: “Both of your knees, my son.”

“Like this?” Sargent’s movement was almost too swift for the eye to follow. His right fist came up from the floor as he straightened. With one hundred and seventy pounds behind them the knuckles landed on the priest’s jaw, raising him completely out of his seat and snapping him backward. And in the same motion Sargent turned and dived for the devil-faced man.

It wasn’t much of a fight, but as Sargent got up from the unconscious body Jane began to jerk at his arm. “Why did you hit the priest?” she cried. “And look at him—his face is purple! He’s dead!”

“Of course he’s dead. He had the blow gun in his mouth and when I cracked his chin he got one of his own darts in him. At least I’d be willing to bet that’s what happened. It had to be either the make-believe priest or the devil-faced man killing these folks and it wasn’t the devil-faced fellow. We both watched and made sure of that. Now that I’ve got through beating his makeup off, you can see he’s the lunatic death-and-sin guy who got off the bus when it stopped. He probably knocked the driver on the head, put on his coat and hat and climbed in when nobody was looking.”

“But why did the priest—? Why would he kill anybody?”

“I don’t know who that fellow is—or was. But it’s a cinch he was no priest. And what the reason behind the whole thing is I can’t exactly say, but when the police find out who everybody is, they’ll figure out the motive without much trouble. They’ll probably persuade this devil-faced-lunatic to tell them, after we drive the bus on to the next town.”

A blinding glare of light at police headquarters and the threat of a rubber hose that was never used

made the man who had disguised himself first as a lunatic, then as the devil, talk readily enough. Standing back in the shadowed darkness of the room, Sargent listened. He could scarcely see the police standing around him, but he was aware of them.

“I didn’t kill anybody,” the man said. “All of you must remember that. It was Pete, the fellow dressed like a priest, who killed them.”

“Why did he kill them?” the police lieutenant asked. “Start at the first.”

“All right,” the man said. “I’ll tell. But I didn’t kill them. Pete killed them. It was because he had to get O’Neil—the one with the scar.”

“Start at the first,” the lieutenant said again.

The man took a deep breath. “It was started in South America eight years ago,” he said. “Pete and O’Neil and I were back in the Chaco together. We found some ruins there. And in one of them was a ruby, the size of an egg. It was enough to make us all rich. But O’Neil double-crossed us. He stole the ruby and the boat, leaving us in a swamp. We would have died—we almost did—but some Indians found us. It took five years to get away from them and make the coast. It took three more years to find O’Neil. We learned he still had the ruby, but he was a killer and we were afraid of him. It was Pete’s idea to frighten him into telling us where the ruby was. Pete knew how superstitious he was. He was worse than a nigger. So we set out to scare him. We pulled spiritualist tricks on him. We hounded him. He thought us both dead and he started seeing ghosts. He heard moans at night and all that sort of thing. He tried to run away, but we followed him. He was still running when we pulled this last trick on him on the bus.”

“And did he tell where the ruby was when he confessed?” It was the lieutenant’s voice out of the dark.

“Yeah. I know he did because Pete wouldn’ta killed him if he hadn’t. But Pete didn’t tell me— and Pete—”

“Pete,” the lieutenant said, “is in the same shape you’ll be in after the executioner finishes with you.”

Later Sargent repeated the story to the girl. “All very simple,” he said, leaning down and kissing her. “But I don’t think we’ll ride a bus on our honeymoon.”

Never Say No to a Killer by Clifton Adams

Never Say No to a Killer

Clifton Adams

CHAPTER ONE

THE ROCK WAS about the size of a man’s head. A beautiful rock, about twenty pounds of it, and somehow I had to get over to it. The minute I saw it I knew that rock was just the thing I needed. This is going to take some doing, I thought, but I have to get my hands on that rock.

Gorgan yelled, “Get the lead out, Surratt! This ain’t no goddamn picnic!”

Gorgan was one of the prison guards, a red-faced, hairy-armed anthropoid, sadist by instinct, moron by breeding. His lips curled in a grin and he lifted his Winchester 30-30 and pointed it straight at my chest. There was nothing in the world he would like better than an excuse to kill me. He had had his eye on me for a long time.

You sonofabitch, I thought, if you knew what was good for you, you would pull that trigger right now, because five minutes from now it’s going to be too late!

But not now. Right now I was going to be the model prisoner, I was going to dig into that stinking, smoking asphalt and I was going to let Gorgan enjoy himself. In the meantime I had to get to that rock.

There were fourteen of us out there, twelve prisoners and two guards. We were right out in the middle of God’s nowhere. Somebody had got the bright idea that the prison needed an air strip, a place where the State dignitaries could set their planes down. So that’s what we were doing out there, building the air strip.

We were about three miles from the prison, four miles from the main highway, and about six miles from the prison town of Beaker. Hard against the prison, to the south, there was a big oil refinery, so we had to get on the other side of the refinery to build the air strip. The only reason we were left out there with just two guards was we were trustees. Pounding scorching asphalt ten hours a day, under a hundred degree sun, was supposed to be a privilege.

Well, I was going to kick their privilege right in the face!

But first I had to get to that rock. It was about twenty feet from us, over by the edge of the asphalt strip, so I began working my big wooden smoother over in that direction. Gorgan, feeling that he had got a hook in me, was reluctant to let it go. He moved over to the edge of the strip, that 30-30 still aimed at my heart.

“Get the lead out, Surratt! This ain’t no goddamn picnic!”

One dump truck had emptied its load near the end of the strip and was now headed back toward Beaker. Another truck was just beginning to tilt its bed. This would be the last truck we’d see for at least an hour—which was fine, just the way I wanted it. But I had to work fast now. I had to get things started before that truck driver finished unloading.

I lifted my head for just an instant, just long enough to get the complete picture in my mind. The other prisoners were slightly ahead of me, with their heavy smoothers, tampers, rakes, wading ankle deep in that steaming black slush. The other guard, a kid of about twenty-three, was over by the water keg having himself a smoke. I heard the dump truck’s winch growl, the bed tilted sharply and the black mass poured into a smoking pile on the ground.

The time had come.

I looked at that rock; I looked at it harder than I ever looked at anything in my life. I could almost feel that 30-30 of Gorgan’s and knew that he still had it pointed at me. There was absolutely no telling what an idiot like Gorgan would do at a time like this. This was the most dangerous moment. The rest of it was planned—right at this moment, John Venci was waiting for me in Beaker. Five years I had worked on this, and it was perfect—all but this particular instant. I had to drop my smoother; I had to bend down and pick up that rock; and I had to do it while looking right into the muzzle of that Winchester.

I prayed that Gorgan’s neolithic brain was working. If his brain worked, I was all right. If he simply reacted, like an animal, then I was sunk. That trigger finger would twitch and I would never know what hit me.

It was a calculated risk. I had to take it.

I kept staring at that rock. I had to slip the clutch before I started. I had to somehow make contact with that apelike mentality of Gorgan’s, and the best way to do it was through curiosity. I stared at that rock as though it were the great-grandfather of all the rocks in the world. I grunted, as though in amazement. Then I dropped the smoother. I bent down and took the rocks in my hands.

“Surratt! Goddamn you, I told you once… 1”

I held the rock tenderly. I held it as though it were pure gold. I had gotten away with it! I had aroused the ape’s curiosity!

“Mr. Gorgan,” I said, never taking my eyes off that rock, “this is the damnedest thing I ever saw!”

“You bastard!” he snarled, “put that thing down and pick up that smoother! Or maybe you want to know what a 30-30 slug in the guts feels like!”

I had him hooked. I could feel it. He was looking at that rock and not paying so much attention to his rifle.

“Look at this, Mr. Gorgan!” I said. “What do you make of this?”

He was hooked, all right! He forgot for a moment that he hated me. The ape thought he had found something. Something valuable, maybe, or anyway something very curious. He moved toward me, his flat, red face jutting forward.

His forehead wrinkled perplexedly, almost as though he were in pain. “What the hell! It’s just a rock!”

“But look at this, Mr. Gorgan!” I pointed to a place on the rock—a place where there was nothing. Gorgan came closer. He saw nothing.

At that instant I think Gorgan knew he was as good as dead. I could see it in those animal-like little eyes.

That was when I brought the rock up with all the strength I had in my two arms. It cracked the point of Gorgan’s chin and I heard his jawbone snap under the impact.

He didn’t make a sound. He dropped his rifle and started to fall.

It was very fast and clean. I felt the strength of ten men as I watched him sprawl out with his face in the hot asphalt. “Good-by, Gorgan,” I thought. Then I picked up his rifle and shot him.

The other guard, the twenty-three-year-old kid, was still over by the water keg. He looked as though the sky had fallen. I started to yell and tell him to leave his rifle alone and he wouldn’t get hurt, but I saw in an instant that it would only be a waste of breath.

He was a born hero, that kid. You could read it in every outraged line of his face. He made a dive for his rifle which was leaning against the water keg, but by that time I had made up my mind about heroes. He fired a quick one, a wild one, the slug missing me by a full fifty feet, and then I got the center of his chest in my sights and pulled the trigger. He jerked back, as though he had been hit in the gut with a hammer, and then he fell sprawling, a dead hero.

The truck driver was next. He was a smart boy and he certainly was no hero. I yelled for him to get out of the cab and he got out, fast, his hands in the air.

“Just stay there, just the way you are,” I said, and he nodded eagerly.

The other prisoners hadn’t done a thing. They stood there like dumb cattle, too exhausted to make a move or a sound. The hell with them, I thought, and jogged over to the water keg and picked up the dead hero’s rifle.

I called to the truck driver: “Start getting out of your clothes, and be quick about it!”

I skinned out of my dungaree prison jacket and trousers and got into the truck driver’s blue work shirt and khaki pants. I felt like a new man.

“Do you have a watch?” I said.

He held out his arm, offering me his wrist watch.

“Mister,” he said tightly, “you want the watch, take it.”

I laughed at him. “That’s considerate of you, but all I want is the time.”

It was eleven-fifty, which was just about perfect. Noon is the dullest time of day—comes twelve o’clock and everybody knocks off for lunch, even cops. Even prison officials and truck drivers. That was how I knew that no more trucks would be coming to the air strip until the noon hour was over. If anybody wanted to spread the alarm, they would have to walk clear to the refinery, or to the highway which would give me plenty of time to make my contact with John Venci in Beaker.

“Don’t get any cute ideas,” I said, “about slamming this truck into gear and getting away from me.”

His face was very pale. “Mister, do I look like a fool?” I laughed. “No, you don’t. I’d say you’re a very wise man.”

CHAPTER TWO

IT WENT LIKE clockwork. It couldn’t have been more than twelve-fifteen when I parked the truck in an alley, behind a Beaker lumber yard.

I had been in the town before, but towns change over a period of five years, and it took a few minutes to get my bearings. To me the town was as exciting as Manhattan. Five years! I got out of the truck and stood there breathing in the air, smelling the smells. Who would ever believe that a man could gorge himself on thin, pure air!

I could do it. I drank it in like some fabulous gourmet tasting a really great wine for the first time, better than anything I had ever tasted before. It was freedom.

I was almost drunk with the realization that I was actually free. I walked away from the truck, and the dirty sidewalks of that dirty little town couldn’t have felt better if they had been strewn with Persian carpets.

I noticed a clock in a jewelry store window, and that brought me back to the business at hand. I had almost finished with my part in the escape, and now it was up to John Venci. I didn’t let myself consider the possibility that Venci wouldn’t hold up his end of the bargain. He just had to be there, that’s all there was to it. If he wasn’t, then it was the end of Roy Surratt, and that was one thing I didn’t let myself think about.

I quickened my pace and reached the end of Main Street where there was a service station—that was the first check point. Up ahead was a car. It was a new one and it was in the right place. I felt like laughing when I saw that car. It was all I could do to keep from running.

Then the roof fell in. I got even with the car and saw that it wasn’t Venci at all, it was a woman. She just sat there, looking straight ahead. I felt as though somebody had opened my veins and drained out all my strength.

Where the hell was Venci! This was the place. I knew it was. But where the hell was he! I walked past the car and the woman didn’t make a move. I could feel panic’s cold hand on the back of my neck.

I walked to the end of the block and looked back. The car and the woman were still there, and there was still no sign of John Venci.

Get a good hold, Surratt, I told myself, because it’s a long way down if you fall! I might as well face it; Venci wasn’t there, and he wasn’t going to come. Maybe something had gone wrong at his end, or maybe he had simply decided that the risk was too great and had forgotten it. From now on I was on my own, and the odds were a million to one that I would never get out of Beaker alive.

Venci I would take care of later, if I lived that long. Right now there was no time for anger. There was no time for anything except trying to think of a way to get out of this death trap before the alarm sounded. I thought of the freight yards, hitch hiking, stealing a car, and gave them all up immediately. Then I turned and headed back toward town, and I looked at that parked car again.

I knew what I was going to do.

I was going to take that car, woman and all. If the going got rough, she would be my hostage.

I walked around to the driver’s side of the car, jerked the door open and said, “Lady, if you enjoy living, just don’t make a sound.”

I ducked my head inside. She looked at me for just a moment, then said, “You must be Roy Surratt.”

I stared at her. “What?”

“I said you must be Roy Surratt. I’m Dorris.”

I just looked at her.

“Dorris Venci,” she said shortly. “John Venci is my husband. Now will you please get in the back seat; there are some clothes back there for you.”

She was no raving beauty, but there was something about her that got you. I said, “Mrs. Venci, you just about gave me heart failure. What happened to John?”

She frowned impatiently. “Later. Do you want to get in the back seat or don’t you?”

I opened the door and got in the back seat. Laid out beside me was a complete set of street clothes. “Change as quickly as possible,” she said. “I’ll let you know if anyone comes.”

I started peeling down without a second invitation. “While I’m doing this,” I said, “will you tell me what this is all about?”

“John is sick,” she said flatly, “so I came in his place.”

“What’s wrong with him?”

She said nothing.

“All right, I was just asking,” I said. “Where do we go from here?”

“That depends on what we hear on the radio. If it seems safe we’ll go all the way to the city where—where we have made plans for you. If anything comes up I’ll have to drop you off with some people I know.”

I looked out the back window; the street was deserted. I said, “I’m a little out of practice with ties. Have you got a mirror?”

She got one out of her bag and held it up. What I saw was a sun-browned man of thirty-four, dark hair, regular features. He was no matinee idol, but he wasn’t bad looking, either.

“Do you want me to drive?” I asked.

“Yes, that might be better.”

I got out of the back seat and into the front, under the wheel. She said, “Was there much trouble?”

“No trouble at all,” I said. “It went like clockwork. But we’d better get out of here pretty quick because in about thirty minutes hell’s going to break loose.”

Dorris Venci said, “It doesn’t seem possible that an escape could be brought off with no trouble at all.”

“Well, there were two guards. I had to kill them.”

She looked at me. “That’s nice,” she said. “I’m glad there wasn’t any trouble.”

“I tell you it’s all right, Mrs. Venci. It will be at least thirty minutes before anybody finds out about it. There’s nobody out there but a few prisoners and a truck driver. By the time the news gets out, we’ll be a long way from Beaker. Everything was planned and everything went just the way I wanted it.”

She said, “Do you know how to find State Highway 61?”

“Sure.”

“All right, if you are through congratulating yourself, perhaps we can get started.”

I laughed. “Whatever you say, Mrs. Venci.”

We got out of town and on the highway with no trouble at all. I kept looking at myself in the rear view mirror; I couldn’t get enough of looking at myself in a tie and clean white shirt. I had killed Gorgan; I had made my escape; and now I was behind the wheel of a sleek new automobile.

I didn’t know the radio was on until it suddenly blared out: “GREENLEAF CALLING CAR 2021”

That is all there was to it.

“What was that?” I said.

“The radio is tuned to the State Highway Patrol frequency,” Dorris Venci said. “Car 202 is beyond our range; that’s why we couldn’t hear the reply.”

“But we can hear the Patrol headquarters. Is that right?”

“Yes. When news of your escape reaches the prison officials they will notify the Patrol.”

“And the Patrol will notify us.”

“If we are still within range.”

That short wave radio made a great impression on me. Why, with a thing like this working for him, a man could get away with murder! They’d never catch him. Then I thought: What are you thinking about, Surratt? You are getting away with murder, right this minute!

I looked at Dorris Venci, really looked at her, for the first time. Until now I had been much too busy with myself to pay attention to anything else, but now that it looked like clear sailing I turned my attention to John Venci’s wife.

My first impression of her had been pretty accurate. She was good looking, but certainly no raving beauty. She was a pretty good sized girl, maybe five-six, with a rather prominent bone structure. She had a good figure, too—maybe not one to stop traffic, but plenty good enough. All a man could reasonably ask for in a woman.

Her eyes were what stopped you. I decided. They were large and dark and very clear. Looking into her eyes was like looking into a pair of beautifully polished Zeiss lenses; they gave you a feeling of great depth and emptiness.

She could have been thirty five or twenty-five—sometimes it is hard to tell about big girls. The longer I looked at her the more beautiful she seemed to get, but I put that down to my being locked away from women for five years.

I hadn’t even known that Venci had a wife, but there were a lot of things about Venci that I didn’t know. Our acquaintance, although it had been very satisfactory, had been a brief one. An obscure gambling law had landed him in the State penitentiary for a short stretch, and for a few days we had been cell mates. We hadn’t dwelt on personalities at all—only ideas; so it wasn’t surprising that he had failed to mention Dorris.

“What time is it?” I asked.

She looked at her watch. “A quarter of one.”

“It won’t be long now. I’d like to see that warden’s face when he gets the news. What did I tell you? Nobody but a handful of convicts know I’ve escaped.”

The radio made a liar out of me. We were moving out of line-of-sight broadcast range, but not so far out that we couldn’t hear Patrol headquarters when the news broke. Both of us listened intently for several minutes as my description was given: a description of the truck driver’s clothes that I was supposed to be wearing, a description of the truck I was supposed to be driving.

I laughed. “What a shock they would get if they could see their escaped convict now, decked out in an oxford gray suit, driving a new Lincoln, a beautiful woman beside him.”

“That’s enough of that,” she said. “We have a long way to go before you are safe.”

“All right, but could you tell me just where we are going?”

“To Lake City, if there are no complications. You will be safe there for a while.”

“Lake City suits me fine. By the way, it occurs to me that I haven’t thanked you for everything you’ve done.”

“Don’t bother,” she said, looking straight ahead. “This isn’t a free ride. You’ll be expected to earn your passage when we get to Lake City.”

I would earn my passage, all right. I had known that from the first; it didn’t bother me—John Venci’s work was my kind of work, and we’d get along.

That started me thinking about Venci, and the way we had arranged this escape almost a year ago. It had been a beautiful set-up, as absolutely perfect as a circle. We had started with a basic truth which held that the actual prison break was the least important detail of a successful escape. With a little care, any moron could crash out of prison—he could stay on his good behavior, become a trustee and simply walk away, if that’s all there was to it.

But there was a lot more to it than that. Those first few hours, those first two or three hours after the initial crash-out—they were the hours that killed you. You had to have help, that was the main thing, and without it you were beat before you started. “The initial break,” Venci had told me, “will be up to you. Nine months and I’ll be out of this place; I’ll be in a position to help you, but I’m not going to try anything as crude as smuggling you a gun, is that clear?”

“Perfectly.”

“Nine months you’ll have to think about it, make it good.”

“I could do it tomorrow. I could crash out of this rock pile and make it as far as Beaker before they knew what hit them.”

“Nevertheless, you will wait the nine months if you really mean business, if you have the brains I think you have.”

He was completely humorless, John Venci—or I had thought so at the time. He was small, lean, extremely intense, and he had a brain that was as immaculate and keen as a scalpel. When John Venci took a liking to a man it made all the difference in the world; you were suddenly somebody to be reckoned with, you amounted to something. No con dared cross you after the word got around that John Venci had taken a liking to you—it was the best thing that could happen, and it had happened to me. On the other hand, the worst thing that could happen to a man was to get Venci down on you, and the cons knew that too.

Almost from the first we had hit it off, which may sound strange. John Venci was old enough to be my father. He was the master of his calling, which was crime. His organization had a thousand brains and two thousand arms—arms that could reach anywhere, grab anything. “I don’t get it,” I had said once, “a man like you, a gambling rap’s nothing. Why did you stand still for it? Why did you allow yourself to be put away for a stretch, even a short one?”

Paper-thin lids had dropped over his intense eyes, and he had smiled with no more expression than a razor gash in a piece of leather. “Suppose,” he said, “that a very religious man feels the overpowering need for meditation, for reconsecration of his flagging spirit, where does he go?” I said, “A monastery, I suppose.”

“Exactly,” he had answered. “Well, I came to prison.”

That was John Venci. A purist, a theorist, a perfectionist in crime. John Venci had intelligence and imagination—and I think he was slightly mad.

I wanted to talk about escape, and Venci would deliver a lecture on abstract theories of vengeance. I had believed in them. Our personal philosophies gave us common ground from the very beginning. No longer was I a nobody. No longer was I just another punk who had blundered on his first bank job.

“This is amazing!” Venci had said.

I said, “I fail to see anything amazing in the fact that I have teamed to read and am capable of thought.”

“Nevertheless, it is amazing! Materialism makes an intriguing theory, but how many people have the guts to believe it, actually believe in it, right to the bottoms of their bleak little souls? How many have you known?”

“Not many, I guess.”

“Do you know why? It knocks their crutches from under them, that’s why. They simply don’t have what it takes to purge themselves of their fantastic little guilts….”

Then he had stopped, his eyes alive, and he had interrupted himself calmly: “I have in mind a certain… project. A rather audacious project, I might say, even for me. It will take a good deal of thought… as well as action. Strange, until now I had not envisioned another actor in this—particular little drama x)f mine…” He had studied me bleakly, in sober concentration. “Yes,” he had said finally, “I think I could use you, Roy Surratt.”

“I can’t do you much good if I stay in this cell the rest of my life.”

“No…. Do you have a specific plan in mind?”

“Yes. You’ll be out of here in nine months. In nine months I’ll be ready. I’ll be the best prisoner they ever saw; I’ll be the darling of every screw in the yard; I’ll endear myself to every goddamn contract guard that comes within ass-kissing distance of me. I’ll make myself Warden’s pet even if it makes me vomit. In short, ill be a trustee, and the initial crash will be a cinch. After the break I’ll make it into Beaker under my own steam, and I’ll somehow arrange it so that the alarm doesn’t get out immediately. Forty-five minutes or an hour, I’ll need that much start at least, and I’ll get it.”

He said nothing, so I went on. “All right, we assume, then, that I can make the break and reach Beaker before a general alarm goes out. The town of Beaker, that’s where I must have help. I must have a getaway car, and not a hot one, either. I must have a complete outfit of clothes, some money, some escape routes planned in case the unforeseeable should happen. That’s the way it has to be if I’m to get out of that town alive.”

“Yes…. It can be arranged.”

“Fine. Now for the details for your end of it. First, a contact point. And a time for the contact. Noon is the best time, so we’ll make it between twelve noon and one o’clock. Now the place. I used to know the town pretty well—let’s see, at the north end of Main Street there is a big service station, just before you get to the railroad tracks. That’s a good place, easy to spot. Now west of that service station there is a quiet residential street, as I remember, which should be all right. The second block to the right of that station, midway in the second block, between twelve noon arid one o’clock, is that all right for the time and place of contact?”

“You make it sound pretty simple.”

“It will be simple. I’ll keep it as simple as it humanly possible. After I work on this thing for nine months it will be perfect—all I want to know is do you go for it?”

Only a moment’s hesitation, then positively: “I go for it. I’ll see to it myself, but only for one day a week, over a three month span from the day they release me.”

“That’s fair enough, make it Friday. Friday’s the best day, it’s always the most hectic, and if there is a shortage of guards it will be on Friday, just before the week end.”

For one long moment he had said nothing. At last he murmured, “Yes… Yes, it sounds all right.” Then, with no warning at all, he stepped forward and hit me in the mouth with his fist.

The suddeness of the attack stunned me. I reeled back and crashed against the bars of the cell. “Goddamnit,” John Venci hissed under his breath, “fight!”

Then I got it. In case of an assisted escape, the cops always suspected the escapee’s friends, and John Venci was merely striking off such a possibility. The entire cell block seemed to know the instant the first blow was struck. At the top of his lungs, John Venci yelled, “You sonofabitch!” Then he grabbed up a stook and hurled it at me, and the place burst into bedlam as every con in the block began rattling bars and yelling. All right! I thought. All right, there’s no sense doing a thing half way! We might as well make it look good!

My mouth was pouring blood, and I’d caught one of Venci’s shoe heels under my left eye. He kept digging in as though his very life was at stake, cursing and yelling like a crazy man, as savage as a lion. But it was no match. He was tough, all right, and vicious, but I had weight and youth on my side, and every time I knocked him crashing against the bars I thought: Jesus, I hope those goddamn guards break it up before I kill him!

So that was John Venci, as I knew him. He played it to the hilt, and by his rules only the winner ever walked away. After the brawl, after the guards finally got tired clubbing us, after their legs wearied from kicking us, they finally dragged us off to the hole.

I don’t know what John Venci thought about during his stay in solitary, probably it didn’t bother him at all.

What I thought about was that escape. I nursed my two splintered ribs and tried to breathe as lightly as possible, and thought of that dazzling day nine months in the future when I would crash out of this hell hole for good. And when I did, somebody was going to pay for those two splintered ribs.

Still, the thing that fascinated me most through those endless days of darkness was the fact that I never doubted John Venci. When the time came, he would be there, and I never doubted it for a second. I understood that it was not going to be a free ride, and that I would have to “earn” my passage, as Dorris Venci had put it.

That was fine with me; I had never cared for free rides anyway.

CHAPTER THREE

WE HIT TOWN about nine o’clock that night, Dorris Venci and I, and quite a town it was, too. It was like a fairyland, all that color, the dancing lights, garish show windows, the buildings.

I was completely delighted. “This is the most wonderful thing I ever saw,” I said.

Dorris Venci said, “Turn left at the next corner. I’ll tell you where to go from there.”

I was afraid she was going to take me away from the lights. I felt like a child who had been allowed to watch a carousel for a moment and then jerked away. “Where are we going?” I said.

“Stop here,” Dorris said.

“Here on the corner?”

“Yes. The Tower Hotel is just across the street. Go to the desk and tell the clerk you are William O’Connor from Dallas; he has your reservation.”

“This is going to be a little rich for me at first, but I hope to get used to it. What do you do while William O’Connor checks in?”

“Take the car around to the hotel garage. Stay in your apartment; I’ll want to talk to you later.”

“All right, but shouldn’t I have some luggage or something. It’s going to look pretty fishy walking into a hotel like that without any luggage.”

“That’s been taken care of,” she said. “The luggage is already in your apartment.”

She thought of everything. Well, almost everything. I got out of the car, and then turned back again. “I hate to bring this up,” I said, “but could you let me have a dollar?”

She frowned. “Why?”

“Unless hotels have changed a lot in five years, the boy who shows me to my room is going to expect more than handshakes and fond wishes.”

It wasn’t good for a laugh, or even a smile. She got a five dollar bill out of her bag and handed it to me. I hadn’t thought much about it until now, but she was in a pretty sour mood and had been ever since I had known her. I headed for the lobby.

“Mr. O’Connor…” The desk clerk frowned, thumbing through his reservation file. “Oh yes, Mr. O’Connor, here we are.” He smiled, suddenly glad to see me. He motioned to a bellhop and said, “821 for Mr. O’Connor. Your luggage is already in your apartment, sir; hope you enjoy your stay.”

“I’m sure I will.” I smiled and tried to keep my dirty hands and grimy fingernails hidden in my pockets.

The so-called apartment was nothing special, but it was certainly better than a prison cell. I gave the bellhop the five and he took it as though it were a debt long overdue.

“Would there be anything else, sir?”

“No, thank you; that’s all I can afford.”

I got the fish eye for an instant, just before he slipped out the door. Well, I thought, it has been a busy day. It has been the most wonderful day of my life. I owed John Venci plenty, for what he had done for me this day, and I didn’t mean to forget it. He could have anything he wanted out of Roy Surratt, all he had to do was ask.

I opened the bedroom closet and there were two leather suitcases with the initials W. O. C. stamped in gold letters near the handles. I opened them up and there was more haberdashery.

I was standing at the window looking out at the city and all those exciting, dazzling lights, when there was a knock at the door. It was Dorris Venci.

“I was just looking at the city,” I said. “You have no idea how beautiful it is to me. Look at the way those lights shimmer, they never stand still. A painter would have a hell of a time getting a thing like that on canvas.”

Dorris Venci frowned. “What are you talking about?”

I laughed. “Nothing, I guess. It’s just that there are a lot of sights and smells and sounds and experiences that I haven’t been exposed to for a long time. I’ll get over it.”

“I hope it’s soon. Is the apartment all right?”

“The apartment is fine, but I’m not sure I understand all you’re doing for me. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate all this and expect to pay for it, but it seems like a lot of trouble to go to when all I expected was a lift out of Beaker.” Dorris looked at me, then moved across the room and sat on the edge of an uncomfortable sofa. “By the way,” I said, “when do I get to see your husband? He’s not too sick to talk, is he?”

Without a flick of an eyelash, she said, “My husband is dead.”

I wasn’t sure that I had heard her correctly. “What did you say?”

“My husband is dead. He was murdered a week ago.”

This news stunned me. After all that had happened, after all that he had done for me, I simply couldn’t believe that John Venci was dead. But it was no joke—a person didn’t joke while looking at you the way Dorris Venci was looking at me. John Venci was dead. It was a fact that I had to get used to.

“I think I’ll sit down,” I said. Now I knew why she had that soured-on-the-world look.

I took a chair on the other side of the small coffee table and looked at Dorris Venci. “Your husband was quite a man, Mrs. Venci,” I said. “I didn’t know him long enough to know whether I liked him or not, but I did admire him. There are very few people in this world who share that particular distinction.”

“Just how well did you know my husband, Mr. Surratt?”

“Not very well, as I told you. He was in my cell three days and then they separated us. Oh, I knew who he was, all right. He was the boss of Lake City.”

She smiled, completely without humor. “Would you tell me what you and my husband talked about in prison?”

“A lot of things: both of us had a great admiration for realists, the only real philosophers of modern times. Do you think philosophy a strange subject for a prison discussion? Well, it isn’t. A man has to think in prison—work and think—that’s about all he has time for. The bad thing about it is that there are so very few people in prisons who are capable of thinking. We spoke about the freedom of the individual.”

“I see. The freedom of the individual to do as he pleases.”

“The freedom of the individual to do as he pleases, providing he has the necessary strength.”

“Yes, there is a difference, isn’t there. Tell me, Mr. Surratt, if you had all the money you could ever want, how would you live out your later years?”

“Probably I would retire and concentrate on killing all the people I didn’t like.”

“That,” she said, “is what my husband did.”

I sat there for a full thirty seconds without making a move.

She was completely serious. Her face was set and her eyes were as cold as gunsteel. This, I thought, is the wildest thing I ever heard of in my life… but I believed it. So now I knew why John Venci had bothered to spring me—he had foreseen the possibility of his own murder and had wanted a man on his side that he could trust.

But I was too late. Venci was dead.

After a moment she said, “Mr. Surratt, did it ever occur to you, while you were in prison, that my husband might not keep his part of the escape bargain?”

“Never. After that fight of ours I never saw him again, but I never stopped believing. You know why? Because your husband needed me as much as I needed him. For what reason, I didn’t know at the time; I just knew we needed each other. He wanted a man he could trust right up to the brink of death, and that was me, because we had the same kind of brains.

“I understand some things now. You just said that your husband had set out to dispose of his enemies—that can be dangerous business, very dangerous, with the kind of enemies John Venci had. He was afraid his enemies would try to kill him before he killed them, and he wanted me around to see that it didn’t happen.”

Mrs. Venci said, “You are wrong again, Mr. Surratt. John Venci was afraid of no one or no thing.” She stood up, suddenly. “I’m not sure that I need your help, after all, Mr. Surratt.”

I believe she would have walked out of the room if I hadn’t crossed in front of her. “All right,” I said, “I’m wrong. But how about setting me right?”

“I’m not sure I can trust you.”

“If you can’t trust me, whom can you trust?”

Yes, who could she trust? Not many people would be capable or willing to pick up John Venci’s fight, against John Venci’s enemies. “Very well,” she said, after a moment’s hesitation. “I’ll think about it. I’ll contact you tomorrow.”

“Just a minute,” I said. “Do you happen to know a beauty operator you can trust?” Her eyebrows came up just a little. “I want my hairline changed,” I said, “and my hair bleached. I also want a pair of horn-rimmed glasses with plain lenses.”

“That can be arranged,” she said, “if it proves necessary.” She went out.

We hadn’t mentioned money, but I was thinking money all the time. I was thinking of all that money John Venci had made. It was Dorris’s money now. And she wasn’t a bad looking woman, either. Oh, no, I thought, she’s not going to get rid of me now!

CHAPTER FOUR

THE FIRST THING I did the next morning was take a shower. A shower six times a day, I thought, every damn day until I get the stench of that prison out of my body and soul.

At last I got out of the shower and walked naked and dripping into the sitting room and called room service. “I’d like to order breakfast,” I said. “A large pot of coffee and a New York cut steak, sauted in butter.”

There was one thing that Dorris Venci had forgotten when she outfitted me and that was a razor. I called the bell captain and told him to hustle me a razor, and then I went back to the bathroom and showered all over again.

In the light of this new day, I could accept the death of my benefactor with calmness. John Venci was dead and there was nothing I could do about it, so I accepted it. The situation wasn’t exactly as I had planned it, but I had to make the best of it. And that was exactly what I intended to do.

I had finished the steak and eggs and was working on the orange juice and coffee when the telephone rang. It was Dorris.

“You’re moving,” she said.

“Is that so?”

“This is the address. 2209 North Hampton. Come to apartment 7.”

“Is that all I need to know?”

“Yes.” She hung up.

It was about ten o’clock when I got to the North Hampton address. It was a run-of-the-mill apartment building and not very fancy, certainly not as fancy as the Tower Hotel. I found apartment 7 on the first floor and knocked. There was no answer. I tried the door and it was unlocked, so I walked in.

It was a dark, dank-smelling place; sitting room, bedroom and bath—the same setup I’d had at the hotel. I raised the shades to let in some light, then took an armchair to wait. Maybe five minutes went by, then the door opened and Dorris came in.

“You’re prompt,” she said. “That’s something.”

“What’s the idea of moving me to a place like this? It smells of mice and empty bean cans.”

“Is it worse than the place you had yesterday?”

It was almost impossible to believe that I had been a convict only yesterday, that I had been wading ankle-deep in stinking asphalt, taking all kinds of crap from sadistic idiots like the late Mr. Gorgan. This place wasn’t so bad after all.

Dorris had a large bundle in one arm and a newspaper under the other. She handed me the newspaper and went into the kitchen with the other stuff.

“You made the front page,” she said.

“So I see.”

“You’re on the radio, too.”

“I’ll bet you anything in the world they’re already calling me the Mad Dog killer. And Gorgan will be made out a hero. But he’ll be a dead one; you can bet your sweet life on that!”

Dorris stepped into the kitchen doorway. “You say that as though you enjoyed killing him.”

“I enjoyed killing Gorgan. It was about the most exhilarating experience of my life just watching the sonofabitch die.”

She stood there for a minute, then went back in the kitchen. She was busy doing something, but I was too satisfied and full of good food to get up and see what it was. I read part of the escape story, but it was the usual crap.

Dorris said, “Remember what I told you when I brought you to Lake City, that you would have to earn your passage?”

“I remember.”

She came into the room this time and stood there in front of me, looking at me. “The time has come,” she said. “I want you to kill a man.”

I wasn’t in the least surprised. I had known all along that the man who pulled the trigger on John Venci was going to get killed, and probably by me. It was in Dorris Venci’s eyes every time she mentioned her husband’s name.

“I’m in debt to you,” I said. “I was in debt to your husband, too. A lot of things have been said about Roy Surratt, but nobody ever accused him of welshing on a debt. Whom do you want killed?”

She stared at me for a full half minute. “Until I let you in my car yesterday,” she said quietly, “My husband was the only completely evil man I ever knew. But you’re just like him; you’re enough like him to be the son he never had.”

This jarred me a bit, since I had been going under the assumption that Dorris Venci had loved her husband. But I was beginning to learn that she was the kind of woman who said and did some pretty erratic things, things that you had to take in stride.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” I said. “By my rules it would be a great honor being John Venci’s son. But let’s get something straight, just for the record. This person you want killed, he’s the one who murdered your husband, or had it done, isn’t he? That being the case, you must have loved your husband very much, in spite of this thing that obsessed him, this thing you call ‘evil’. Or maybe because of it. You don’t have to answer, because it is written all over you; you loved him. What I want to know is why do you look down your nose at me if I’m so much like the husband you loved?”

She just stared at me with those Zeiss lens eyes of hers. I didn’t like being stared at like that; it was about time to take Dorris Venci down a peg or two.

“You know,” I said, “I’ve got a funny feeling about you, Mrs. Venci. You brought up the subject of evil just a minute ago, and still you were in love with a man like John Venci. Now a situation like that makes for some interesting theorizing. Apparently you have a perfectly normal and conventional loathing for evil, but a look at the record will show that you are obviously attracted by it, too. Wouldn’t you say this is an interesting contradiction?”

I smiled, enjoying myself. She wasn’t so damn snooty now, and there was a difference in the way she stared at me.

“Interesting,” I said, “still these contradictions are encountered every day. Sane-mad, pro-anti, they’re all separated by the thinnest thread. One kind of fanaticism can be exchanged for another.”

She stood there rigid and icy. “Roy Surratt!” she sneered. “Murderer, thief, blasphemer. You’re a fine one to talk about fanaticism.”

“Tell me something, just one more thing. I’d like to know why a woman who loathes evil would marry a man like John Venci.”

I stared into the empty depth of those empty eyes and knew that she was frightened. She almost frightened me, the way she looked.

I had started the thing as a gag because she had made me sore. There I was offering to kill a man, just for her, because she wanted him killed. I was going to do it, and what did she do? She had stood there looking down her nose at me, looking at me as though I’d been something the dog had dragged in on her clean carpet, and that made me burn!

That was when I had started probing. We’ll see about this superior business, I thought. I’ll stick pins in her, and keep sticking pins in her until I hit a nerve, and then we’ll just open her up and see what makes this bitch tick. I was getting pretty tired of people looking down their noses at me.

Now she just stood there, staring.

What the hell have I got on my hands? I thought. Christ, she gave me the willies, standing there like a piece of ice statuary, those eyes of hers fixed on me.

You’d better figure it out, I thought, and pretty fast too, because she looks like she’s about ready to blow up in your face. Oh, she looked cool enough, she looked icy, but a bomb looks cool too until you move up closer and hear the timing mechanism ticking away the seconds, and then you know you’d better find the fuse and disarm it, and not take all day about it, either.

I took a step toward her and she backed away, like a shadow backing away, and those eyes never looked at anything but my eyes. By God, I thought, I’m going to stop sticking pins in people, especially broads.

And that was when I pegged her.

Suddenly all the pieces fell into place, and I grinned. I had Dorris Venci pegged now, sure as hell!

I said, “What’s wrong with you, Mrs. Venci?”

She didn’t make a sound.

I took a step forward and she moved back until her back was against the wall. You could almost hear the scream in her eyes. I knew her little secret now, and it had been the simplest thing in the world, once I got the scent of it.

All I had to do was ask myself what kind of woman was it that would go for John Venci, really go for him, not love him, necessarily? That was where I had been thrown off—confusing love with something else. Once I got back on the right track, the answer was simple. John Venci had been a tough boy; he had had a good, hard tough brain. Tough! So any woman who went for John Venci had to be a glutton for punishment. And that was the answer.

There was nothing new or unique about it; masochism is as old as Adam.

I said, “You look upset, Mrs. Venci. Why don’t you sit down and take it easy for a minute.”

She said, “Don’t touch me! Don’t touch me!”

“Gods don’t die, Mrs. Venci,” I said, “really they don’t.”

She made a small, thin sound—thinner than a spider’s thread, harder than iron, and I grabbed her. I grabbed one shoulder and jerked her around, then I caught her wrist, twisting it behind her, and threw a hammer-lock on her. Her mouth snapped open and that thin little sound came out again as I put my back into it. I applied the pressure. I jerked up on her arm and jammed her clinched fist against the base of her skull.

She was very strong for a woman, and it was no easy matter keeping the hammer-lock on her. She fought like a tigeress, hissing, cursing, clawing, and then she tramped down on my instep with the point of her French heel and I damn near tore her arm off at the shoulder.

“Don’t!” she said, her voice sounding like it was being squeezed through a sieve. “Don’t! Don’t! Don’t!…” Then it trailed off and she began shuddering.

I had her hard against the wall now and she suddenly turned to jelly in my hands. She had no more strength or resistance than a pile of quivering flesh. I was completely fascinated with this transformation. Of course, I had heard about masochism, but this was the first time I ever walked up to it and looked it in the face.

When I put my back into that hammer-lock it was just like throwing a switch that set off a blast furnace. I could feel lust surge through her like a thousand volt shock. She gasped and closed her eyes and mashed herself against me, making little whimpering sounds, sounds like a whipped dog makes, a dog that is so completely broken that it is afraid to yelp.

I could have had her. There is absolutely no doubt about that; I could have had her but the phenomenon itself so completely fascinated me that I almost forgot for a while what it meant. But it crossed my mind, all right, you can bet your life on it. It wasn’t because I didn’t think of it that nothing happened.

It simply wouldn’t be the smart thing to do—it would indicate that I needed her more than she needed me, and that would not do. I let her go.

She couldn’t believe it. She stared at me, waiting, her breathing very shallow and rapid, and at last she realized that I was not following through. There was horror in her eyes. She leaned against the wall, she pressed her face to the wall, biting her lower lip as great tears spilled down her cheeks.

I said, “We learn something every day, don’t we Mrs. Venci? Today we learned who’s boss, isn’t that right?”

I took her arm again. “Isn’t that right?”

She nodded. Quickly, eagerly, the instant I touched her.

“All right,” I said. “You’d better relax; we’ve still got some business to talk over, remember?”

I went to the kitchen and had a glass of water. I thought: I hope she never finds out what that cost me!

I began to calm down, slowly. I rested against the kitchen sink and had another glass of water and after a while I felt pretty good, pretty proud of myself.

Yes sir, I thought, things are looking up. They certainly are! I had possessed her as completely as if I had laid her; I was boss now!

CHAPTER FIVE

I CAME INTO THE sitting room and she was on the sofa, crumpled on the sofa like a discarded plaster manikin. “How about a glass of water?” I said.

She made no sound. The best thing to do, I decided, was let her alone until she pulled herself together. You think your nerves and glands took a beating, Surratt, I thought. Think what it must have done to hers! So I took a chair in the corner of the room and waited. I was in no hurry.

It gave me time to think, and I needed some time to think. Things were happening fast. It was about time to look a-round and see just where I was.

I had an angle now. I had a woman who was scared to death of her own abnormalities, who tried to cover them up, hide them, call them by strange names. A woman like that added up to an angle that a man could really get his fingers into. That was quite a beginning, considering that this was only my second day out of prison.

But it was only the beginning. An idea had been nibbling at the edge of my brain. Dorris had mentioned that her husband had set out to dispose of his enemies…. Now there was an angle to my liking, because John Venci had been much too polished to try anything as crude as murder. There was not much satisfaction in murder, it was too sudden—no, it would have been something else, it would have been something long-drawn-out and filled with anguish, the most exquisite anguish, I was sure, that it was possible to devise.

And that, of course, would be mental anguish.

Long-drawn-out and filled with anguish, that much fit perfectly, but how would the end eventually be achieved?

Then I had it. Venci had been nothing if not logical-self-destruction would have been his aim! Suicide!

I was on the right track now, I could feel it. Great mental anguish culminated by suicide—that would have appealed to John Venci. So the only thing left was the method with which he would achieve this end. One word came to my mind automatically—Blackmail.

That was it! Venci had set out to blackmail his enemies, and that meant that he must have gone to fantastic lengths to gather evidence against them.

I grinned, feeling like a million dollars. All I had to do was get my hands on that evidence, and I had just the key to turn the lock! I had Dorris Venci! When I get through with this town, I thought, they’ll think they’ve been hit by a hurricane!

I went over to the sofa and shook Dorris. “Okay,” I said, “you ready to talk?”

She shuddered.

“Look,” I said, “I’m not sure how we got off on this tangent, but I know one thing, it’s time to get back on schedule. Go in the bathroom and wash your face or something.”

When I was a kid I used to go out on the golf course and find golf balls. Just for the hell of it I would cut the golf balls open, cut deep into them, and the tightly-wound little bands of rubber would snap and writhe like something going crazy. The golf ball would go all to pieces right there in your hand. That’s what Dorris reminded me of: she looked like she would go all to pieces any minute.

But she got up and went to the bathroom. After a while she came back and I was surprised to see that she was almost normal.

I said, “You were saying something about my killing somebody…”

She glanced at me, her old icy self again. “I—I’m afraid I have changed my mind. I don’t believe I need you, after all, Mr. Surratt.”

“Like hell you don’t need me,” I said. “What do I have to do to convince you? You don’t want to go through that act again, do you?”

That did it. She closed her eyes for a moment, her hands clenched hard, then she sank to the sofa.

“That’s better,” I said. “We understand each other, Dorris; I think we understand each other perfectly. We could make a hell of a pair, you and me, but it’s going to take some cooperation from both of us.”

“What is it you want?” she said tightly.

“Right now I want to get back where we left off.”

“It isn’t important now.”

“It was important a few minutes ago, so it still is. You wanted somebody killed. I want to know who and I want to know why.”

She knew I wasn’t kidding. She glanced at roe, then away. She put her hands in her lap and stared at them. “His name,” she said at last, “is Alex Burton.”

I whistled in surprise. “Alex Burton, the ex-governor of the state?”

She nodded, and I said, “Well, this is very interesting. Suppose you begin at the beginning.” Then, before she could speak, I said, “Wait just a minute. I’ve been working on a hypothesis, and I want you to tell me if it’s right.”

So I told her my idea, the way I had it figured out. Her eyes widened when I began describing the scheme of blackmail and suicide.

“How did you know that!”

“It was just a guess,” I said, “but a pretty sure one. Anyway, we can skip that part of it since I’m already familiar with it. Let’s get down to the reasons for killing an ex-governor. Is he the one who killed your husband?”

She wanted to just sit there and say nothing, but she knew better than that. “… No,” she said finally. “That is, I don’t know, I’m not sure.”

“Then why?”

“… Alex Burton wants to kill me.”

I thought that one over,, letting the picture take shape. “Uh-huh,” I said, “that could make sense. Your husband was turning the screw on Burton. What he wanted was the dossier that Venci had gathered on him, some irrefutable evidence that would ruin Burton for good, especially in politics. So now Burton is trying to kill you, which means that he didn’t get that dossier after all, which means that you have a pretty good idea where it is, or what’s in it. Is that the way it is?”

She nodded, heavily.

“Where do you live?”

Only a moment’s hesitation this time. She was beginning to come around, she was beginning to realize that I meant business. “208 Hunters Drive,” she said flatly.

I gave the cab dispatcher the address and hung up. “Mrs. Venci,” I said, “you can stop worrying about Alex Burton; I know how to take care of bastards like him. But I think we ought to have an understanding—there’s going to be a fee.”

She had recovered from her attack of female pride. Given time to think it over, even Dorris Venci could see that her chances of living were practically nil if Alex Burton wanted her dead—that is, unless I took care of Burton first. She said, “AH right… I’m willing to pay.”

“You don’t understand me,” I said. “I want money, but not your money, not John Venci’s money. I want that dossier that your husband collected on his enemies.”

She stared hard at her hands. “And what… do I get in return?”

“I told you, Mrs. Venci. I’ll kill Burton before he kills you. You know you’ll never be safe as long as you have those documents in your possession; actually, I’m doing you a favor by taking them.”

Then she looked at me, and smiled the smallest, bitterest smile I ever saw. “I thought it would be so simple,” she said, “when I helped you escape from prison. You would kill Alex Burton; I would give you a certain amount of money; and then you would leave the city and I would never see you again—that’s the way I had planned it.”

“Things are never as simple as they seem at first glance, Mrs. Venci. We’d better go now, the taxi’s waiting.”

“Wait a minute,” she said, in a way that made me turn and look at her. “I agree to your… proposition, but under two conditions. The first is that I am never to see you again, after you come into possession of the documents.”

“That’s fair enough. What’s the second condition?”

“You don’t get the documents until after the… transaction has been completed.”

I laughed. “Mrs. Venci, I was not born yesterday, not even the day before yesterday. This is strictly a pay-in-advance job we’re talking about. Now, before we go,” I said, “I want the answer to one question: Why did you take me out of the hotel and put me in this crummy apartment?”

She stood up, taking her lump gracefully enough about the advance payment. She said quietly, “Patricia Kelso lives just across the hall from you; she is Alex Burton’s secretary.”

“Is that supposed to help get me within killing distance of the ex-governor?”

“Where his secretary is, Alex Burton is not far behind.”

I grinned. “Mrs. Venci,” I said, “you have simplified things considerably. I apologize for some of the things I’ve been thinking about you.”

CHAPTER SIX

“ELLEN,” DORRIS Venci said, “show Mr. O’Connor to the library, will you, please?” Then, to me, “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

“Sure,” I said, watching her walk stiffly to a large spiral stairway, then up the stairway, then out of sight.

Ellen, a grim, long-faced woman of about forty-five, said, “This way, Mr. O’Connor,” and I followed her over the wide expanse of reddish carpeting, down a few steps, around some corners, and finally she opened a heavy mahogany door and stepped to one side. “Thank you,” I said, walking into the library. The maid closed the door and vanished like yesterday’s dreams.

It was a hell of a place, this place where the maestro had lived. Note it carefully, I thought, because this is the way you are going to live, Surratt. The king is dead—long live the king!

I stood there and tried to soak it up, the luxury of that room. The floor was of old oak, and a huge, thick carpet.

But there were other things on the wall, things to make a man’s head swim, if he could even vaguely estimate their worth. For one thing there was a fantastically delicate Chinese tapestry, and there were paintings that I absolutely could not believe, would not believe to be originals, until I had inspected them closely. There was a large boating scene that I recognized as a Turner. On another wall there was an El Greco—an EL Greco, mind you!

That paintings so floored me that I forgot for a moment how fantastic it was finding them here in John Venci’s library. But, when I did think about it, the answer was obvious. Paintings like that simply weren’t for sale, not at any price. Possibly the Turner could have been bought—but not that El Greco, not in a hundred years! Those things were museum pieces, strictly!

The obvious implication just about bowled me over, By God, I thought, he stole those things! John Vend stole them! The pure audacity of the thing struck me as being hilariously funny. I sank into a chair and felt the laughter coming up from my bowels! I lay back and howled.

The door opened, Dorris came into the room carrying a small steel strongbox, and I was still laughing. “What’s so funny?”

“Those pictures,” I said, trying to choke it down. “Pictures?” She glanced at the paintings. “They never struck me as amusing.”

I was off again. “How… How long,” I said, “have those paintings been here?”

“Why, for years.”

“Did your husband keep this room locked? He didn’t receive visitors in here, did he?”

“Of course he did; this was his favorite room. Now will you tell me why you’re laughing?”

I said, “No. It would be a shame to spoil a joke as priceless as this one.” In my mind I could see John Venci receiving governors, senators, bigshot politicians, all of them here in this room. I could see the cigar-chewing apes gaping about the room, seeing but uncomprehending, their brains as solid as concrete. I could appreciate the razor-sharp humor, the subtle, bitter hilarity that John Venci must have experienced as he watched their stupid faces. It was more than a wonderful, fantastic joke, it had been a source of fuel for the ego; it had been a day-by-day replenishment of confidence, for every time an oaf stared dumbly at those paintings, Venci’s superiority was made brazenly obvious.

I stopped laughing and took the strongbox from Dorris. I could feel the transfer of power, John Venci’s power becoming mine. It’s more than a strongbox, I thought, it’s the world, and I’ve got it right in my hands. It is power over others and strength for myself, and, I’ve got it right in my hands!

“Is everything here?” I said.

“Yes.”

“Then you won’t mind if I look for myself; will you?”

She handed me the key and I opened the box. I was disappointed at first; there didn’t seem to be much to it. The strongbox was arranged like a miniature filing cabinet and everything was very neat and orderly. The name on the first index card was Allen, George W.

I looked at Dorris. “Do you know a George W. Allen?”

“He is an insurance broker.”

I skipped the material on Mr. Allen and turned up the next index card. “Karl Johnson Applewhite,” I said.

“President of the First National Bank.”

That was more like it!

The next name was Alex Burton, and the next one was somebody named Colter, who Dorris said was merely a superintendent of one of the city schools. There were twenty index cards and I went through them quickly, having Dorris give me a quick rundown on each name. Some of the names I didn’t have to ask about, they were known all over the state and even the nation. Some of the names meant absolutely nothing to me. A United States Senator or a down-at-the-heels school teacher, it had made no difference to John Venci. An enemy was an enemy, an old wound never healed. He had gone after the little ones just as relentlessly as he had the big ones.

And he had hooked them all. I didn’t realize how completely he had hooked them until I started going through the material on a man named Kelton.

Kelton had been a pretty important boy. He had been a district attorney with one foot practically in the Governor’s Mansion before John Venci had cut him down. It seems that the DA. had somehow failed to summon an important witness in an important murder trial. The day after the trial the D.A. made a deposit of five thousand dollars and traded his Chevrolet in on a new Cadillac. Mr. Kelton had lost a murder trial, but obviously he had gained in other ways, and the proof was in the strongbox. A signed affidavit by the spurned witness, cancelled checks, bills of sale, plus a detailed account of Kelton’s financial condition ten years back from the trial. As if that wasn’t enough, there was also an affair with a certain young lady of doubtful reputation, to say the least, and this was backed up with photostats of hotel registers, actual photographs, bills of sale from various jewelry stores, clothing emporiums and even a liquor store. All this together with another signed affidavit from the young lady herself. Every bit of evidence was strong almost to the point of ridiculousness, and any one bit would have brought him crashing from his political heights, and many of them would have landed him long prison terms.

Mr. Kelton was cooked. He had known that he was cooked. First his wife had divorced him, then there were rumors of grand jury investigations. The rest of it was spelled out in a newspaper clipping, also included in the material on Kelton. The headline was: D.A. KILLED IN FREAK AUTOMOBILE ACCIDENT.

It didn’t come right out and say that it had been suicide, but that wasn’t important: John Venci had known.

All in all there were four names that I couldn’t use at all because Venci had already finished them off. One was killed in another “freak” automobile accident, another took too many sleeping pills, and the third, who didn’t have the guts to kill himself, was suddenly discovered to have played a leading role in a seven-year-old murder and drew life in the State penitentiary.

Quickly, I ran down some of the other material, especially the material that John Venci had gathered on Alex Burton. Most of the stuff on the ex-governor was in photostatic form, photostats of bills of sale, cancelled checks, deposit slips, and even photostats of Burton’s income tax forms for five years back. The upshot of the evidence was that Burton had made himself a killing running well into six figures the four year stretch he had put in at the State Capitol. It was rock-hard, iron-bound evidence that could put Burton so far back in prison that they’d have to pump air to him.

It was incredible, it was almost more than I could believe, but it was there, it sure was!

Dorris Venci said, “Are you satisfied?”

“Perfectly. It’s pretty hard to swallow all at once, it’s something I’ll have to chew on for a while before I can digest it. But I’m satisfied, all right, in spades.”

“… And Alex Burton,” she asked flatly.

It was almost a shame to kill a man like that when I had all that evidence on him—still, he had proved that he was dangerous. He sure had proved it to John Venci. Yes, I thought, the only smart way to handle it is to kill Burton. There were still plenty of fish left, and I had plenty of bait.

I said, “You can stop worrying about Burton, Mrs. Venci.”

“I hope you realize it won’t be easy.”

“Please relax,” I said. “Just keep out of sight for a day or two; I won’t let him kill you.”

But she wasn’t so sure about that.

I said, “Look, Mrs. Venci, I’m no amateur, this is no punk kid trying to work up his guts to stick up an oil station, this is a professional, a well trained professional playing for big stakes. I’m not underrating Burton—a man with his record has to be pretty smart, but I’ve handled smart boys before, and I can do it again. So take it easy.”

I was half afraid that she would let her natural female instability lead her into some unpredictable action that would ruin everything. I was sorry now that I had got rough with her. She still knew things, she was still Mrs. John Venci, and I could use her on my side.

“Good by,” she said.

“Oh… Yes, I guess I’ve been here long enough. But before I go, is there anything you want to tell me, about Burton, I mean?”

“… No. You said you could handle it.”

“So I did. Well, I’ll be going.”

She rang for the maid. We stood there looking at each other, and after a moment she said, “I really mean good-by. Don’t ever try to see me again, ever.”

Not until I got back to my apartment did I remember Dorris had brought a package with her that morning. The package was still in the kitchen where she had left it, partly unwrapped. I opened it up and the first thing I saw was a nicely blued, but not new, “police special” .38 caliber revolver. There was also a box of ammunition. But the thing that caught my eye was the money. There was a package of fives, a package of tens and a package of twenties, every bill brand new and crisp and green.

I counted it out and it came to five hundred on the nose.

Well, I thought, this is very nice. This is very nice of you, Mrs. Venci. You may be a little mixed up sexually, but what’s an aberration or so among friends—you’ve got your nice side, too. Yes sir, you sure have!

I pocketed the money and went out to find the biggest goddamn steak in Lake City.

CHAPTER SEVEN

I WAS AT THE mail box in the hallway next morning when she came out of her apartment. She was just about the handsomest girl I ever saw, this Pat Kelso, this secretary of Alex Burton’s that Dorris Venci had hinted was something more than a secretary. She walked like Royalty: chin up, erect, every step sure and solid.

“Good morning,” I said.

She smiled faintly. “Good morning.”

“Pardon me, but could you tell me what time the postman comes around? I’m new to this neighborhood.” Then I added, “I just moved in yesterday, down the hall. Apartment seven.”

I thought maybe she would say something about our being neighbors, but she didn’t. “I believe the postman comes later,” she said, “around ten.” Then she nodded pleasantly, smiled that faint smile again, and walked out of the building.

I went to the door and watched her walk to the curb where a taxi was waiting. Pat Kelso. The name stuck with me, and the vision stuck with me. This girl is class, I told myself. How did she ever get mixed up with a bastard like Burton?

Then I remembered that most people didn’t know Burton as I now knew him. After all, he was a very wealthy and powerful and respected man in the state. He was a bigshot; he was an ex-governor. Maybe that’s the kind of guy girls with class went for. I watched her as she got into the cab. Pat Kelso, I thought, I think we ought to get better acquainted.

The telephone was ringing when I got back to the apartment. Words jumped out at me when I picked up the receiver, frightened words coming fast and making no sense at all. It was Dorris Venci and she was scared.

“Hold it, Mrs. Venci,” I said. “Now what’s the trouble.”

“A man tried to kill me!”

“Who? When?”

“I don’t know who, just a man, one of Alex Burton’s men, it could have been anybody. But he isn’t important, Alex Burton is the important one. Have… have you done…”

“Not yet,” I said. “After all it’s only been a few hours; I’ve got to have a little time to figure something out.”

“Something’s got to be done!”

“It sure has,” I said. “You’ve got to get hold of yourself. Now calm down and tell me what happened.”

“I told you, a man tried to kill me! It was last night, this morning, rather, about two o’clock. I woke up and there he was in my room; he had a gun!”

“Hold on. How did he get in your room. You had the house locked, didn’t you?”

“Yes, the house was locked, but there’s latticework and vines on the north side, and he must have used that to climb up to the second floor. He broke a window—rather cut the window, a small hole near the lock—that was how he got in.”

“I see. Then what happened.”

“I woke up and there he was. He had a gun pointed right at me!”

I said, “I don’t get it. If he went to that trouble and had a gun pointed at you, why didn’t he kill you?”

“He tried, that’s what I’m trying to tell you. He fired once but I had thrown myself off the bed. Luckily, before he could find me in the dark, Ellen began knocking on my door, making an awful noise, and I guess that’s what frightened him away.”

“You mean he just knocked off the job and left? I’d hate to hire a man like that.”

“I told you that Ellen was making a lot of noise, and, besides, she had a gun. She finally got the door open and fired once. Of course the killer couldn’t see who it was; he fired once more in the darkness and left.”

“How did he get out of the house?”

“He jumped from my window, my bedroom window.”

“Then there’s one hell of a sore hoodlum somewhere in Lake City this morning, taking a drop like that. But it’s over now. The main thing is for you to calm down and be quiet, and keep Ellen quiet too. I’ll think of something.”

“Soon!”

“All right, soon.”

“Today! Tonight at the latest!”

“All right, I said I would take care of it. Calm down.”

“There’s one more thing,” she said. “My safe was open, the wall safe upstairs where the strongbox was kept.”

I whistled. “That was close; I got that stuff just in time. And you are right about Burton, the bastard is entirely too persistent. Well, he won’t be so persistent this time tomorrow. Just think about that and try to get some sleep.”

I hung up.

That goddamn Burton, I thought, he’s going to ruin things good if I don’t stop him. When a politician gets in so deep that he starts playing with murder, that was the time to do one of two things: either back off fast and get out of the blast area when the explosion comes, or close in fast and try to get at the fuse.

There was one thing I was sure of—I wasn’t backing away. I had my hands on a million dollars worth of blackmail material. So Burton had to go, and fast. Soon as he found out that Dorris no longer had the evidence, he’d come after me. Somehow he would find out about me. That’s the only trouble with blackmailing—sooner or later you run into a guy like Burton, a guy who won’t give.

So, right on the spot, I made up my mind about Burton. I was going to kill him today, or tonight—anyway, within the next twelve hours—if it was humanly possible. But it wasn’t going to be easy. I didn’t know a thing about his personal habits, except he was somehow tied up with his secretary, Pat Kelso. That was the angle I would have to use, it was the only angle I had.

The only thing to do was begin at the beginning and try to find out something about Pat Kelso. I had a look at the door across the hall, the door to Pat Kelso’s apartment, hoping that it would be unlocked, but of course it wasn’t. That didn’t stop me for long.

I went back and looked at my own door and smiled a little when I saw that it was equipped with an ordinary spring-operated night latch. In my kitchen I found a cheap paring knife, a flexible, stainless steel affair that was practically made to order.

I made sure that the hallway was empty, then went to work on Miss Kelso’s night latch. The blade went in easily. I bent the knife toward the door and forced the point down the sloping shoulder of the spring bolt. When the point of the knife reached the leading edge of the bolt, I bent the blade the other way and the stronger tension of the steel blade snapped the spring-actuated bolt back into the latch body and the door was open. I stepped inside and closed the door behind me.

The apartment was much like mine but neater. It was almost mannish in its neatness and simplicity.

I walked into the bedroom and this too was neat and simple: tweed at the windows, fruitwood furniture which was not expensive but too expensive to belong to the apartment. I started going through a chest of drawers and found nothing but lingerie, but there was a silver-framed photograph on top of the chest that interested me. It was a man of about fifty-five or so, a square-jawed, blunt-featured man with bristling gray hair, and a rather grim mouth that was bent determinedly up at the corners in something that might pass as a smile. Just for the hell of it I took the picture out of the frame, and there on the back scrawled in bold, blunt letters, was: “For Pat, with all my love, Alex.”

It was strange, the way that picture affected me. Until that moment Alex Burton had been an abstraction, an inanimate obstacle that had been placed in my path and which had to be removed. Now it was different. The longer I looked at that picture, the more I hated the man it represented, and I didn’t know exactly why, except that I resented the presence of that picture and its implications. I simply couldn’t see a girl like Pat Kelso with a man like Burton. I thought of the girl I had seen at the mail box, then I looked at the picture, and I looked at the bed in Pat Kelso’s room, and the three of them came together in my mind.

With that picture in my hand, I thought: You sonofabitch, you lousy sonofabitch! without even knowing what I was angry about.

At last I put the picture back in the frame. I made myself settle down. I got out of that bedroom.

Stop it, Surratt! What kind of insanity is this, anyway, getting yourself steamed up just because another secretary decides it’s more convenient to sleep with the boss than look for another job? She’s just another broad, Surratt, and a broad you hardly even know, at that. So forget her. Think about the job at hand—that ought to keep you busy.

It was good advice. And I took it. When a man starts thinking with his glands instead of his brain he’s sunk, and I realized that I had been doing exactly that. I had been too damn long without a woman. After all, I was human, I was a man. Any other man would react the same way, I thought, after five years of celibacy.

I was convinced.

“It is perfectly normal and completely glandular,” I said aloud.

I went back to the sitting room and got into action with the telephone directory. In the white pages I found Burton, and then I moved down to Burton Finance and Loans, and dialed the number. After a moment a blatantly nasal voice bleated: “Burtonfinanceandloans!”

“I want to talk to Miss Kelso. Pat Kelso.”

“Sorrynooneherebythatname!”

I hung up and moved down to Burton Manufacturing and Construction Company. This time the voice was pleasant and professionally precise.

I said, “I want to talk to Miss Kelso.”

“Miss Kelso is on the other line, sir. Would you like to…”

I hung up.

Now I had a starting place.

CHAPTER EIGHT

THE FIRST THING I did was rent a black Chevrolet sedan from a U-drive-it place which I found in the telephone directory. Then I started looking for the Burton Manufacturing and Construction Company.

It turned out to be a sprawling brick building, and several smaller buildings, south of the city in the factory district. I circled the place slowly, looking it over, and finally found a parking place in front of the main building where the office workers would come out. Then I settled down to wait.

This was the tedious way of getting at Burton, but it was the only way. One thing I was sure of, I wasn’t going to stalk the lion in his lair, I wasn’t going to elbow my way through hired bodyguards, hoodlums and flunkies to get at him—I was going to let Alex Burton come to me. I hoped he would come to me today, but if he didn’t, I could wait. I was going to sit here and wait for Pat Kelso to come out of that building, and then I was going to follow her to the end of the line.

Sooner or later it would lead me to Burton. More than that, it would lead me to Burton when he was most vulnerable. I knew these men like Alex Burton, these bigshots who like to throw their weight around but deep inside are scared in their guts. Because they are scared they hire themselves a pair of hotshots from Chicago, or Detroit, or some place, and they place armed guards and electric fences around their homes, and they tell themselves they are safe. No matter how many enemies they make, they are safe. Or so they think.

But they are vulnerable. There are situations in which they have to stand on their own feet, naked and alone.

With women, they are vulnerable. I never heard of one, no matter how great a coward he was, who prepared himself for a lady’s bedroom by flanking himself with bodyguards.

Oh, yes, they were vulnerable, all right, if you only waited.

I waited.

Noon came and only a scattering of people came out of the building. I went on waiting. The afternoon crawled by and my stomach growled for food and my throat was dry, but I didn’t dare leave that car. There was always a chance that Pat would leave for some reason, or that Burton would pick her up, and I wanted to be on hand if anything like that happened.

But nothing happened. There was a big parking area behind the main building and I watched the single exit like a hawk… still, nothing happened. Then, around four o’clock a squadron of taxi cabs began lining up in front of the building and I knew the time of waiting was about over. Soon I would know if today would be the day, or if I would have to do it again.

Another fifteen minutes passed. A ridiculously long, black limousine slipped into the street and moved like a huge shadow between the files of parked traffic. The back seat was empty. As the limousine slid past me and turned into the entrance gate of the company parking lot I studied the driver. He was in full livery, a beefy, flat-faced kid of about twenty-three or four with punk written all over him. He yelled something to one of the parking attendants, then drove on around to the back of the building and out of sight. I turned my attention back to the main entrance of the building, where the office workers would soon be coming out.

I almost missed that limousine as it slipped out of the parking lot and headed up the street in the opposite direction. If it hadn’t been so big and black I would have missed it altogether—but it was pretty hard to miss a thing that big. I turned my head just in time to see that there was somebody in the back seat this time. All I could see was the passenger’s head, but that was enough. The passenger was Pat Kelso.

v Well, I thought, slamming the Chevy into gear, Miss Kelso believes in traveling first class, I’ll say that for her. I pulled out in the middle of the street and finally got the Chevy headed in the direction the limousine was going.

The limousine headed right toward the heart of town, me in the Chevy about a block behind. No use sticking too close, there wasn’t much chance losing an automobile as big as that one. We hit a four lane expressway and everything was clear sailing—I breathed a little faster when we crossed North Hampton and kept on going. It meant Pat Kelso wasn’t going home; that meant that Burton had sent his limousine to pick her up and now she was going to meet him. Surratt, I thought, this is your lucky day.

The University Club was right in the middle of town, a red brick and white limestone monstrosity. Just beyond the main entrance to the club there was a drive-in entrance with a sign over it: UNIVERSITY CLUB GARAGE. MEMBERS ONLY. Directly in front of the main entrance there were two sidewalk signs which read: NO PARKING. NO STANDING. The curb between the two signs was painted red and there was white stenciled lettering standing boldly against that red background. NO PARKING AT ANY TIME. The punk chauffeur blandly ignored the garage, the sidewalk no-parking signs, the red curb and white lettering, and parked the limousine against the curb.

A uniformed doorman burst out of the University Club and had the limousine door open almost immediately. He showed his teeth, he grinned, he bowed, he helped Pat Kelso out of the limousine as though he were assisting a very aged and crippled queen, and finally, after he had done his job to perfection, he stood, head bowed, looking heart-broken because there was no other way he could help her.

It was really quite a show. I only glimpsed it as I eased the Chevrolet up the street, but I got the idea.

I circled the block two times and finally found an open space and slipped the Chevy in next to a parking meter. Five o’clock.

I got out of the Chevy and strolled down to a cigar store next to the University Club garage. That limousine was still there in the no parking zone. The punk was out stretching his legs. He took a swipe or two at the gleaming hood with a dust cloth, then went over to one of the sidewalk signs and leaned on it insolently, dragging on a cigarette.

He was some boy, that chauffeur, cocky as a Marine. A cop strolled by, making a great business of not seeing the limousine in the no parking zone, which was no easy feat. The punk grinned. He looked as though he had just pulled the Brink’s robbery single handed.

I strolled back up the street to a bootblack stand that I had noticed.

“Shine ’em up, mister?”

“Sure.”

From my perch on the shine bench I could still see the limousine and the chauffeur. The boy went to work on my shoes, and I scanned the front page of the paper for something on the prison escape story, but nothing was there. On page eight there was a quarter column quoting the warden as saying I didn’t have a chance. They knew all my old contacts, all my friends, and it was just a matter of time before I would have to get in touch with them. The police had several leads that were too hot for publication—which is what they always said when they knew absolutely nothing.

I read the escape story through and felt fine. My old contacts were a thousand miles from Lake City. As for friends, I hadn’t any. Roy Surratt against the world, I liked it that way. Not even John Venci had been a friend. I had admired his brain. He had dazzled me with criminal theory and his tremendous knowledge of criminal philosophy. I had been greatly impressed with his logical approach to crime, for, until I met John Venci, I had believed that I was the only modern criminal in existence who had actually developed a workable, livable criminal philosophy based entirely on logic.

I had been wrong. John Venci had worked it out before me.

“There you are, sir!” the shine boy said.

I gave him a dollar and said, “Keep the change.”

“Yes sir! Thank you, sir!” He grinned, pocketed the money, gave my shoes a couple of extra licks just to show he was doing a good job.

I went out on the sidewalk, glanced toward the limousine. The punk had shifted over to the other no-parking sign and was busy leering at the white-collar girls waiting at the corner bus stop. I walked over to him and said, “Say, that’s quite an automobile you’ve got here. I was just noticing it.”

“Look, bo,” the amateur Bogart said from the corner of his mouth, “I got no time to stand here an’ chew the rag with every farmer come by. You better move on.”

“I just want to…”

“I ain’t interested,” he said, “Now move on before I get annoyed.”

Why, you simian sonofabitch, I thought, you make one move in my direction, just one single move, and you’ll be till sundown gathering your teeth off the sidewalk. I stood there for a full thirty seconds, almost hoping that he would start something.

All he did was sweat. He didn’t know what to do. The comic books don’t tell you what to do in a case like that. I flicked a small ash from his whipcord jacket, then he blinked as I jabbed my forefinger into his solar plexus and fanned my thumb like a Hollywood gunfighter. “I enjoyed the chat, Humphrey. Maybe I’ll run into you again, sometime.”

I walked to the cigar store and looked back. The punk seemed a bit disturbed. He tried leaning on the no-parking sign, but it wasn’t the same as it had been before. Finally he gave it up and got back in the limousine.

I moved up the street, pausing at store windows, killing all the time I could. How long was Burton and his secretary going to stay in that club, anyway? Were they just having cocktails, or were they staying for dinner, or what? I sure couldn’t wait for them on the sidewalk and burn Burton down when they came out, although the pure audacity of that fleeting thought did appeal to my sense of the bizarre. No, I thought, this has got to be fast and it has got to be bold, but not that bold!

Finally, I saw them cross the sidewalk. Alex Burton, a little heavier than I would have guessed from that photograph, a little softer looking. Pat Kelso had one arm in Burton’s and she was smiling at whatever Burton was saying. She was absolutely the most beautiful woman I ever saw. And it wasn’t only because I had been five years without a woman!

CHAPTER NINE

I WAS IN THE Chevy and had the motor going by the time Burton and his secretary got themselves settled in the limousine. I slipped in behind them, about three cars back, when they came past me. The punk tooled the black job through the heavy traffic as though he were behind the controls of a Patton tank, stopping for red lights only when it pleased him, and I had a hell of a time keeping him in sight until finally he slipped back on the expressway. Then I closed the gap.

I had no idea where we were going, except that we were headed away from the city, going north. Maybe, I thought, Burton has a house out here somewhere. If that’s the case, I’m sunk. I sure wasn’t going to have any luck getting close to Burton on his home field.

Then my heart swelled just a little as the limousine turned off the expressway. I hung back as far as possible, thinking, now we’ll find out. The limousine turned again, off a paved street onto a graveled road. When I reached the corner in the Chevy, I grinned. This was more like it. The cards were falling in my direction.

There was a brick pillar on the turn-off. On the pillar there was a bronze plaque with raised lettering: CREST-VIEW CLUB. MEMBERS ONLY.

A formal stand of cypress shielded the Crestview Club from the paved street, and a stone wall jealously guarded it on the side of the graveled road. I cruised by at a normal speed after the limousine had turned in, and right away I realized that this place was out of the question. There were two uniformed attendants at the big wrought iron entrance gate, and farther down, at the end of the stone wall, there was another attendant, or guard. This goddamn place, I thought, is only slightly less guarded than Fort Knox! Which could mean just one thing—there was gambling going on inside, big-money gambling, and the management was taking no chances on a heist.

It looked like a fine place, just the kind of club Alex Burton would belong to, and a hell of a place to crash. I had seen enough to know that it couldn’t be crashed, not by one man, anyway, so I drove on until I came to a dirt section line road, then circled the entire section and came back on the paved street to the brick pillar.

The club was out.

As long as Burton stayed in that place I couldn’t reach him with a .37 millimeter cannon. But the night wasn’t over yet.

I nosed the Chevy off the pavement onto the club crossroad, but in the opposite direction. This end of the road was not graveled, since it apparently led to nowhere. I traveled for maybe a quarter mile between heavy stands of trees, then turned the car around and headed toward the pavement, facing the paved street and the club. About a hundred yards from the street I pulled the Chevy on a rutted shoulder, in the long shadows, and stopped.

I would wait. I would wait and watch that road, and when the limousine came out I would follow it right to the end of the line. There was no sense beating my brains out on something I couldn’t whip, it was much easier to wait. Sooner or later I would find an opening. Sooner or later Burton would relax.

I checked the .38 that Dorris Venci had left for me. I checked the double action mechanism, the cylinder rotating mechanism, and the firing pin. I took five cartridges from the sealed box, wiped the cartridges carefully with my handkerchief and slipped them into the cylinder. I rotated the cylinder until the one empty chamber was in firing position and I eased the hammer down on it. The extra cartridges I dropped into my coat pocket; the .38 went into my waistband where it was convenient and stood little chance of becoming fouled with lint.

I waited.

Dusk became darkness, and I could see the misty lights of the club.

Seven, eight, nine o’clock.

I waited.

Nine, ten, ten-thirty. I had no watch but I could hear those out-of-tune electronic chimes banging out each quarter hour, so I knew what time it was, although I tried not to listen.

Eleven o’clock, eleven-fifteen.

I checked the .38 again just to give my hands something to do. Eleven-thirty. I saw the limousine turn off the graveled road and onto the highway. If my chance was coming tonight, it would be soon. I waited until the limousine had passed, then switched my lights on and followed.

After all the tailing and waiting and hoping, it seemed anti-climatic that the actual business of killing Burton should be so easy. Once more we took the expressway to town, and then the limousine turned west on North Hampton Street and I thought: By God, I’ve been doing all this tail chasing for nothing! We were headed right back where I started from. The apartment building.

I switched off my lights and coasted to the curb about a block behind the limousine. I saw Burton and Pat Kelso get out of the car, and I saw the chauffeur standing there holding the door open for them. Burton and his secretary started up to walk to the front entrance. I headed for the limousine.

I stuck my head in the door and said, “Whataya know, Humphrey? I had a feeling we might meet again sometime.”

At first he just looked surprised. Then he recognized me and began to get mad. I guess he had been thinking about our chat in front of the University Club. He had it all planned out in his mind just how he was going to tell me off if he ever saw me again, but before he could say anything I stuck the .38 in his face. I put it right under his nose where he could smell the gun oil and steel.

“What the hell is this!”

“Nothing yet,” I said, getting into the back seat. “Just stay where you are. Don’t move or make a sound.”

“By God, if you think…!”

I jammed the muzzle into his throat and he almost fainted. “Listen to me, punk, and listen good! I want you to sit there like a goddamn statue. You move one muscle and I’ll blow the roof of your mouth through your skull!”

He could be a very smart boy when it suited him. He didn’t move a muscle. He sat just like a statue. I leaned over the back of the seat, moving the muzzle of the .38 until it was pressing against the base of his skull, then I patted him down. He wore a .38 automatic in a shoulder holster, just like in the movies. His only trouble was that automatic might as well have been a chocolate bar, for all the good it had done him. He hadn’t even made a move in its direction.

I never cared for automatics. There are too many things to go wrong with them. I shoved it in my coat pocket, then reached back with one hand and pulled down the folding jump seat by the door.

“If it’s money,” he said tightly, “I ain’t got any.”

“It isn’t money,” I said.

“What is it, then? For God’s sake, what is it?”

“All right, Humphrey,” I said, “I’ll tell you what it is. I’m going to kill your boss. When he come out of that apartment building, you’re going to just sit there behind the wheel and say nothing and do nothing. Is that clear?”

“Kill Mr. Burton? Why?”

“I’ve got my reasons, Humphrey.”

“For Christ’s sake, Mr. Burton’s the finest guy in the world! Why in the world would you want to kill him?”

“He’s so goddamn nice, why does he dress his chauffeur in a .38?”

“Jeez, for protection!”

I laughed. “A fine lot of protection he’s going to get out of you, Humphrey. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you didn’t lose your job over this.”

He was sweating plenty. I kept grinding the muzzle of my revolver into the back of his neck and I could see the nervous sweat oozing out on his face.

“Jeez, won’t you take that thing out of my neck!”

“Sorry, Humphrey, it’s necessary. It’s a reminder of what will happen to you if you should feel any hero impulse coming on.”

He sat very still and quiet for several minutes, and so did I. After a while I heard a soft hiss, a bare whisper of a hiss, and then I recognized it as the vacuum stop on the apartment building’s front door. Then a figure grew out of the darkness, heading toward the limousine.

“Remember, Humphrey.”

He whimpered a little. A very small whimper.

Then suddenly the night was alive with noise. The twin air horns on that limousine exploded a steady stream of sound into the darkness. I jerked my pistol out of Humphrey’s neck and clubbed him with the barrel. I hit him again and again, and finally the noise of the horns stopped as abruptly as it had begun. I jumped out of the car and almost ran over Burton.

“Listen,” I said, jamming the revolver hard into his gut, “you make one sound and you’re dead! You understand that?”

“What… What’s going on here! Where’s Robert!”

“If Robert’s your chauffeur he’s nursing a fractured skull. Now get in under the wheel and do it quick!”

“No!” His eyes were wild. He was completely panic stricken. He tried to shove himself away from me, and I knew immediately that it would have to be done here and now.

To muffle the sound I jammed the muzzle hard into his soft stomach—still the noise sounded like a TNT plant going up when I pulled the trigger. Burton’s mouth flew open. He started clawing at his middle, but that action was pure reflex. Alex Burton had died almost instantly.

His body was a hell of a thing to handle. He had weighed almost two hundred pounds and there didn’t seem to be any place to grab hold. However, I did manage to get him in the back seat and close the door. Then I got under the wheel of the limousine, after shoving Humphrey down to the floorboards, and got away from there. It seemed incredible to me that the street wasn’t filled with people—horns blasting, guns exploding!

The noise, I guess, hadn’t been nearly as loud as it had seemed to me, but it had been plenty loud enough.

For a moment all I could think of was getting away from that neighborhood as fast as possible, but soon I began to settle down. The excitement and wildness, the exhilaration born of sudden violence, began to cool in my brain and I thought: Hold it, Surratt! This is no time to risk a reckless driving charge, not with a dead man in the car, an ex-governor at that! Maybe a dead ex-governor and a dead chauffeur as well.

Traffic was pretty thin on the side streets at that time of night, and I kept going south and east, not knowing where I was going, but knowing that I had to get that limousine and the bodies as far away from the apartment as possible. Pretty soon we were, in the factory district again, not far from Burton’s own plant, and I decided that this would be as good a place as any. This part of town was drab, dead and lifeless at this time of night; the buildings standing gaunt and empty-eyed. I turned into a narrow brick paved street, a private one-way street that would be jammed in the daytime with trucks loading and unloading at one of the factories, but now it was empty.

I stopped the limousine and listened. There was no sound at all in the immediate neighborhood. Only then did I examine the chauffeur. He was dead.

With my handkerchief I wiped the steering wheel, the dash, the doors, the windows, everything I might have touched. Then I wiped Humphrey’s automatic and left it on the front seat—I had no use for automatics, and it wouldn’t have been smart to keep it if I had.

I had one good look at Burton before I left. He didn’t look like much. His mouth was open, as though he were trying to yell, and his eyes were open, very wide. He looked like the most surprised bastard in the world.

I felt pretty good.

It had come off very nicely. The one man in Lake City who had had the power and brains to buck John Venci was dead. It was clear sailing now; the single danger had been eliminated. I said aloud, “Sweet dreams, boys,” and walked away.

I turned west and saw a bar at the end of the block. Up ahead, in the middle of the next block there was an all night eating place—I went in and ordered a glass of milk and a piece of pie. Later I called a taxi, and when he arrived I gave the driver an address down town. Downtown I took another cab and went to an address south-east, and from there I took still another cab to within a couple of blocks of my apartment. It took some time, but it would be worth it when the cops went to work.

It was about one o’clock when I finally walked into my apartment. I had company. It was Dorris Venci.

I said, “Well, for a woman who never wanted to see me again, you pop up in some pretty strange places.”

“I had to know!” she said quickly. “Did you…?”

“I did.”

“… Oh.”

I closed the door, walked into the room and dropped into a chair. She sat on the sofa with her hands clasped in her lap, every muscle in her body as rigid as steel. “Are… Are you sure?” she said nervously.

“I give you my personal guarantee; you can stop worrying about Burton’s hoodlums coming in your windows and you can stop worrying about being killed.

“Relax, now. You’re going to fly all to pieces one of these days if you don’t learn how to relax.” I was tired. It had been a very successful day, but it had also been a wearing one. “Why don’t you go home,” I said, “and try to get some sleep?”

She stared at her hands. “Yes… I suppose I should.”

But she didn’t move.

“Well,” I said, “you might as well come out with it.”

“What?”

“You didn’t come here just to find out about Burton. All you had to do was lift the phone; I would have told you. No, you came here because you’ve got something on your mind, so what is it?”

She looked at me. “Don’t you know?”

Suddenly I wasn’t as tired as I thought I was. Still, there was caution in the back of my brain and it kept nudging me.

“Yes,” she said flatly, “You know. And John. The only two people in the world who knew, or guessed, or could… satisfy… this awful sickness in my soul.”

“It’s not as monstrous as you think,” I said. “Matter of fact, it is fairly common.”

More than anything in the world she wanted to run. She wanted to run from the apartment, from me, from herself most of all, but she couldn’t move.

I knew what the end of this was going to be. I didn’t know if it was smart, and at that moment I didn’t care, but the longer I looked at Dorris Venci the more desirable she became. She was really a hell of a woman, especially at a time like this.

I stared at her and could think of nothing else. The vision of Pat Kelso was swept from my brain completely and a bright blue flame took its place. I grabbed her arm, just below the wrist joint, and began to squeeze. I dug my fingers in the most sensitive area, between the two flexon tendons, and applied sharp pressure to the median nerve.

Her reaction was instant and violent. The shock went through her, shook her. She came off the couch and threw herself at me. “Now! Now!”

CHAPTER TEN

THE NEWSPAPERS made a hell of a racket about the Burton killing. I had expected headlines, and maybe even a front page editorial, but I hadn’t expected anything like what really happened. For a whole week there was nothing but Alex Burton.

According to newspaper editorialists and radio commentators, St. Francis of Assisi had been an outright scoundrel, compared to Alex Burton. A feature story on Burton’s life ran to twelve installments. Preachers made him a martyr, used him as a subject for a number of sermons. A song writer composed something called Alex Burton, Friend Of The Common Man. A citizens’ committee was formed and issued an ultimatum to the police department: get Alex Burton’s murderer, or else!

The craziest thing about the whole affair, though, was that every man, woman and child in Lake City believed every word they read or heard concerning the late Alex Burton. They thought of him as a kindly man who loved children, headed charity organizations, gave Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets to the needy; they thought of him as a tower of righteousness and strength. They thought of him as being on just one small step below God Himself!

Not only after his death, which might be explained as emotional hysteria, but they had believed it while he was alive! They had begged him to run for a second term as Governor—this thieving, knavish, pompous bastard who had robbed them blind during his political lifetime, had bled the State white, had committed every crime in the book, including murder, and I had the evidence to prove it! It was incredible that a man could have duped so many people so thoroughly, but Alex Burton had managed it.

All in all, it rather amused me. This hullabaloo was the most damaging comment imaginable on the intellect of the common herd. John Venci, too, would have appreciated a joke like this.

From John Venci’s strongbox I selected the name of Parker King, a wealthy state senator, to go to work on. Politicians are easier to convince than most men; they have more to be afraid of. So Senator King seemed an excellent prospect. At the same time, as I looked into King’s background, there was Dorris Venci who had to reckoned with. The task was not unpleasant, not in the least, so long as we kept it purely biological. And, too, there was Pat Kelso.

For me, Pat completed the circle. King promised the prospect of violence that I had to have to feel alive. Dorris offered biological satisfaction which I needed to keep my brain honed to the necessary sharpness. Pat Kelso… she was everything else.

I went after her.

“Why, hello there!”

I had tried several things since Burton’s funeral: A few words at the mailbox, brief, senseless conversations in the hallway of our apartment building. Those tactics hadn’t got me anywhere, so I had come right out to the Burton factory where she still worked.

It was quitting time and she had come out with all the other office workers this time. No chauffeur to pick her up in a limousine and whisk her off to the University Club. Burton’s death had brought Pat Kelso down in the world somewhat, but it hadn’t brought her off her queenly bearing.

I said, “Remember me? I’m your neighbor. William O’Connor from across the hall.”

“… Oh, yes,” smiling faintly. “I didn’t know you worked here, Mr. O’Connor.”

I laughed. “I don’t work here, I just came out to see a friend who does. Charlie Burkett, in Advertising. Maybe you know him.”

“No, I’m afraid I don’t.” We were standing on the sidewalk in front of the building, the white-collar parade going past on either side.

“Miss Kelso,” I said, and she paused for a moment, half turning. “I was just thinking, Miss Kelso, I’m going back to the apartment myself.”

No smile this time. “I’m sorry, Mr. O’Connor, I’d rather….”

She left it hanging, nodded, then walked on by herself. Well, by God, I thought, this kind of thing has got to stop! I’m getting pretty goddamn tired of women looking at me like I was something pickled in formaldehyde. I followed her.

I said, “All right, I didn’t come out here to see a friend, and I never knew a Charlie Burkett.”

Anyway, it stopped her, it surprised her. “I beg your pardon?”

“Miss Kelso,” I said, “don’t you think it’s about time you joined the Living?”

She frowned, “Really, Mr. O’Connor, I don’t know…”

“Yes, you do,” I said. “I’ve tried just about everything in the book to get to know you better, and finally I tried this; you know it.”

People were staring at us, and that bothered her. I took her arm and helped her into a waiting taxi, then got in beside her. I said to the driver, “The Lake Hotel,” then settled back and looked at her.

She was not afraid, merely curious. “You are very persuasive person, Mr. O’Connor,” she said dryly.

“Yes, I can be persuasive if the occasion calls for it.”

Unsmiling, she looked at me, strangely, as though she was seeing me for the first time. She said, “What did you mean when you said it was time I joined the Living?”

“It’s pretty obvious to an interested observer. You haven’t been anywhere, seen anybody, you haven’t even smiled since Alex Burton was killed.”

She looked as though I had slapped her. “Relax,” I said. It seemed that I was always telling women to relax. “It’s not exactly a secret, is it, that Alex Burton and his secretary were…”

“I’ll thank you,” she hissed, “to keep out of my life, Mr. O’Connor!”

I shrugged.

“And I’m not going to the Lake Hotel with you, or anywhere else! I’m going home!”

“I had hoped I wouldn’t have to bring this up,” I said, “but you leave me no alternative. It’s a little awkward for me; for a while I thought about telling it to the police, but then I thought what the hell, there’s no use spoiling a nice girl’s life.” I grinned. “You are a nice girl, aren’t you, Miss Kelso?”

She didn’t know what I was getting at, but she was doing some pretty fast guessing, and she didn’t like it. I said, “It was pure accident, understand, that I happened to see Burton entering your apartment just about the time he was killed, according to the police coroner. After all, we are neighbors, and a person does get curious about his neighbors sometimes. Of course, at the time, I thought you would tell the police yourself—but I understand now that it would have placed you in an—unfavorable light, so I really don’t blame you. Still, it is information that the police might…”

“What do you want!” she said hoarsely.

“Want?” Lord, she was beautiful! Her eyes blazed with anger and every inch of her was alive.

“My wants are very simple,” I said. “I’m a lonely guy in a strange town. I want a bottle of good wine, a good meal, and a beautiful girl to keep me company—the most natural desires in the world.”

She said one word, under her breath, and not a very nice word at that.

I laughed. “You won’t believe this, but I almost never make a good impression on people. That has always seemed unfair, because I’m a lovable guy when you get to know me.”

“I’ll bet!”

I liked this. I had a feeling that under that mask of hers was something very exciting. Then the cab stopped and I was surprised to see that we were already in the heart of town, at the Lake Hotel.

“Fine!” I paid the driver, assisted her from the cab.

Pat seemed to know her way around so I said, “The choice is up to you. There must be a good saloon somewhere in this place.” The decor in the African Room was extremely modern and angular and not much to my taste, but it was better than anything I had seen for five years so I didn’t complain.

I looked at Pat when the waiter arrived and she said, “Martini, five-to-one.”

I looked at the waiter and he nodded that he had the order. I said, “Bourbon on the rocks,” and he went away.

We said nothing until the drinks arrived and the waiter went away again. Then she looked at me, angrily. “Now I want to know the reason for all this!”

“I told you, I was lonely.”

“I don’t feel like jokes. What is it you want?”

“I told you what I wanted. Maybe it’s strange, but it’s the truth.”

“Understand one thing,” she said tightly. “I don’t have to stand for this… this caveman performance of yours. I have friends…”

“Have you?” I said. “Alex Burton had people in debt to him and might have called them friends, but they don’t count now.”

Color crept high in her face. “I must have been insane,” she said, “when I allowed you to drag me into that taxi. I thought… I don’t know what I thought. But I know one thing, I’ve had enough.” She stood up.

I said, “Sit down!”

She didn’t move.

I came half out of my chair. “Listen to me!” I said. “You try to leave this room and I’ll cause the goddamnedest scene you ever saw! I’ll tie you up with the Burton murder and get your name in headlines if I have to print the papers myself! Now sit down!”

She dropped as though she had been shot.

“That’s better. Now drink your Martini and calm down a little.”

She glared at me, then downed the drink angrily. The well-trained waiter was right at my elbow, ready to pick up the empty glass. “Another of the same,” I said, “for the lady.”

We sat in absolute silence until the drink arrived. I hadn’t meant for it to be like this at all, I had meant for it to be a nice, smooth operation carried off in a civilized manner. But, goddamnit, people simply would not allow me to be civilized.

Jesus, I thought, I don’t enjoy this sort of thing; I’m no goddamn sadist. A certain amount of violence, sure; like a good fighter, I needed a certain amount of violence to keep my reflexes in condition.

The waiter came and went away again, and still we sat there in silence. But she didn’t look quite as angry now. I could almost see her taking control of her emotions, and some of the fire went out of her eyes, and she sat there for a long while, studying me coldly, calmly.

“Well,” I said at last, “what do you see?”

“… I’m not sure.”

“Believe me,” I said, “I didn’t enjoy that little scene. I hadn’t meant for it to be that way at all. Now, have you calmed down a little?”

“… Yes.”

“Fine. Finish your martini, then if you still want to walk out, I won’t try to stop you. Is that fair enough?”

“Mr. O’Connor,” she said coldly, “I want to ask you once more. What do you want from me?”

I sighed. “I don’t know what’s wrong here, I honestly don’t. We speak the same language, don’t we, the American language? I’ve told you three times, it’s a universal plot: boy meets girl, the oldest plot in the world. My methods were unorthodox, I admit it, and perhaps they were all wrong, I admit that too, but believe me, that’s all there is to it. To put it bluntly, I saw you, I wanted you, I went after you. Do I make myself clear?”

“Things you want… Do you always go after them like this?”

“That depends on the situation and the value of the object desired.”

“I see.” Her hand was perfectly steady as she lifted the martini to her Ups. “Do your methods work?” she asked, her gaze lowered.

“Yes,” I said, “my methods usually work. Not always, of course; nothing is perfect. But ninety per cent of the time, yes, they work.”

“See something you want, take it,” she said.

“You amaze me,” I said. “Yes, that sums up my philosophy pretty well. It is simple, direct, completely honest.”

She lifted her gaze to stare at me. “Honest?”

She was interested now; at least, she was curious, and this pleased me. I said, “Of course. The strong take from the weak. They always have and always shall. That is the first law of Nature, and what could be more honest than Nature?

“That sounds pretty pat for a philosophy.”

“Of course it’s pat, because it is simple, and honesty is a straight line between the question and the answer.”

“It sounds like a negative philosophy, at the very least.”

“Negative? That depends on one’s definition of good and evil. But first philosophy itself must be defined. ‘Philosophy,’ said a certain Frenchman, ‘is the pursuit of pleasure.’ What could be more sensible? Now, how do you achieve this philosophic pleasure? Pleasure is brought about through the fulfillment of personal ambition, the acquisition of wealth or power, or the titillation of our senses and appetites.”

She sat there for a moment, still staring very soberly at my face. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t mean to bore you.”

“… I’m not exactly bored,” she said, after a moment. “I have a question.”

“Shoot.”

“Who is the Frenchman you admire so much and love to quote?”

I laughed. “I was afraid you would ask that—please don’t allow his reputation to obscure his logic. His name was the Marquis de Sade.”

“Where did he die, this hero of yours, this Marquis de Sade?”

“… In a madhouse, I believe.”

She smiled thinly. “That’s some philosophy you’ve adopted, Mr. O’Connor!”

I could have carried my argument forward and perhaps made a point or two, but I was no longer interested in abstract criminal theory. It had served its purpose for the present, it had got Pat Kelso curious as to just what the hell kind of guy I was, anyway.

Then she jarred me. “I met a man once,” she said, “who had ideas much the same as yours. His name was Venci. John Venci, I believe.”

“Venci?”

How much did she know? How much was she guessing?

I said, “I don’t believe I know the name. Who is he?”

“He is dead,” she said flatly. “He was a gangster and very powerful, but now he is dead.”

“… I see.” Then I said, “I find this interesting—you and a gangster, I mean. You don’t seem to go together. How did you meet?”

“Through a… friend.”

“Alex Burton?”

That was the sensitive nerve. Something happened to her, especially to her eyes, when his name was mentioned. I said, “All right, it isn’t important, we’ll forget it.” I noticed that her glass was empty again, and I remembered that I had made a promise and would have to keep it. Pat Kelso was no person to be held by chains alone; there had to be something stronger than that: curiosity, hate, fear. But some attraction had to be there, and it had to be a good deal stronger than mere intimidation. There came a time, after the first show of force, when a trainer had to take a dog off a leash and see if he would heel of his own accord.

The waiter was there again, ready to pick up the glass. I said, “It’s up to you. Do you still want to go home?”

For a moment I thought she was going to say yes. She glanced at me, surprised at first, then suddenly she amazed me by laughing. “I don’t think I ever saw a man so sure of himself!”

“Does that mean you’ll have dinner with me?”

“… Yes. I believe it does.”

I felt like a million dollars. I was beginning to live, actually beginning to enjoy myself for the first time since I crashed off that prison work gang. We left the Lake Hotel and went to a place called Moranis, an old Colonial mansion—rather, what looked like an old Colonial mansion. The owner himself hustled forward when he saw who we were, looking mildly shocked and grieved, and I guessed that this was one of the places that Burton and Pat had favored while Burton had still been alive. This suited me fine; it amused me to walk in and take over where the late ex-governor had left off, right down to his girl and favorite restaurant.

“Miss Kelso,” the owner said gravely, “I can not tell you how very pleased to…”

“To see me back again?” Pat laughed and patted his hand. “Angelo, you know I could not live in Lake City and not visit the famous Morani! Angelo, this is Mr. O’Connor, an old friend, and we are starved. Do be a dear, will you, and tell Mario we are here.”

Angelo Morani shook my hand, but his heart wasn’t in it. After we were seated I said, “Who’s Mario?”

“The chef, of course.”

“Oh, I see. The minute we come in the chef drops everything and takes our order personally. Who are we supposed to be, anyway, visiting royalty?”

She smiled. “They remember me as Alex Burton’s… friend. I’m not kidding myself; the reflected glory won’t last long, but as long as it does last I can’t see why I shouldn’t take advantage of it, do you?”

For just a moment I reached across the table and took her hand. “You’re quite a riddle,” I said. “A few minutes ago you turned pale every time I mentioned Burton, now you’re taking it in stride.”

“Maybe I’ve come, at last, to join the Living, as you advised.”

“You won’t be sorry. Burton had his day in this town, but, believe me, I’ll have mine too. And soon. Pat I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I’m going to turn this town upside down and shake it till its teeth rattle—so help me, within a few months nobody’ll remember Alex Burton ever lived!”

She looked at me, steadily. “When you say it like that, I can almost believe you will do it.”

“I’ll do it, all right. I’ll…”

I looked up and the chef, a great, red-faced man with bristling mustaches and lively eyes, stood beaming down on Pat.

“Miss Kelso!”

“Mario, it’s wonderful to see you again!”

“Thank you!” he said, obviously not annoyed at being called from his kitchen. “Now!” he beamed. “For dinner, what shall it be? But wait, let Mario do it! A great surprise, what do you say to that?”

“I think it’s wonderful. You do that, Mario, a surprise for two.”

I said, “Tell me something.” And she looked straight through me, waiting. “Tell me,” I said, “why you decided not to walk out on me.”

“Credit it to momentary insanity.”

I laughed. “All right, now tell me something else, about you, Pat Kelso.”

A full minute went by before she said a thing. Then, at last, when she did speak, her voice was surprisingly calm and pleasant. “There isn’t much to tell; my family was poor but proud, as they say. My father sent me to the best schools, although it plunged him into bankruptcy, and I failed to live up to his expectations by marrying well-to-do, so… I began looking for a job.”

“That’s how you met Burton?”

“… Yes.”

“One thing I would like to know. Were you in love with him?”

I thought she wasn’t going to answer at all this time. But finally she looked at me with a forthrightness that was stunning. “I’ll say this one time, just one time, and then well never speak of Alex Burton again.”

“That’s fair enough.”

“No, I don’t think I loved him,” she said flatly. “But I adored him. He was the kindest, gentlest, most generous man I have ever known. When I was with him he made me feel that I belonged to another world. The world my family had once belonged to, long ago.”

That stopped me for a moment. I had only to look in her eyes to know that she actually believed it, what she had said about Burton.

Great God! I thought, what a politician he must have been! That thieving bastard, that robber of the poor, that murderer who could look a girl like Pat in the eye and convince her that he was kind, gentle, generous—a saint, practically! I felt the laughter bubbling in my throat but didn’t dare let it come out. What a joke this was!

But she would never know. Not from me. I had the good sense to see that nothing I could say would change it—it would only make her hate me—so I said nothing. I accepted it.

After all, what difference did it make now? Alex Burton was dead.

Then I began getting a hunch about Pat Kelso. I began to wonder if it had been Burton’s gentleness, kindness, that had really drawn her to him. I wondered if it couldn’t have been his “generosity” that had really hooked her…

I saw the wine waiter headed in our direction and I said quickly, “I told you once I was going to shake this town till its teeth rattled. And I will. A lot of loose change is going to fall from a lot of pockets—how’d you like to be standing in just the right place to catch some of it?”

She smiled, mostly with her eyes.

“You amaze me, Mr. O’Connor. I’d like very much to be standing there when the money starts to fall.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN

IT WAS CALLED the Marlow Building, a relatively new and modern building in downtown Lake City. I walked in and studied the building directory for a moment, then headed for the elevator. The elevator starter, a uniformed girl of about twenty-four, held the car when she saw me coming.

“Going up, sir?”

“I sure am!”

Yes sir, there was no doubt about it. I was on my way and the sky was the limit. The elevator doors came together with a whisper, shutting out the marble-floored lobby, the small exclusive shops. It’s quite a building, all right, I thought, and it must cost Parker King a pretty penny to keep a suite of office in it. A man with a very tall stack of blue chips. That was Mr. King, Senator Parker Everest King.

I felt nine feet tall when I stepped out of the elevator on the fourteenth floor. This was one of those buildings that had no thirteenth floor—ten, eleven, twelve, fourteen. But it was still the thirteenth floor, no matter what they called it, and Parker King was going to find it plenty unlucky; you could bet your life on that.

I walked left from the elevator and there were eight doors, all in a line, all with frosted glass panels, all with the lettering on them: THE P. E. KING COMPANY CONTRACTORS. I opened the first door and went in.

The receptionist, an attractive, businesslike woman of about forty-two or three, said, “May I help you, sir?”

“Yes, I’d like to see Mr. King.”

“I see. Mr. King has a very full morning, sir, I’m afraid I couldn’t possibly disturb him just now. May I have your name, sir, and the nature of your business?”

“William O’Connor, which won’t mean anything to him. The business is… confidential.”

“I see,” she said, writing it down: William O’Connor, no appointment, confidential business. She took the note and went into another office.

She returned. “I’m sorry, Mr. O’Connor, but Mr. King’s morning schedule is completely filled. Perhaps if you could come again tomorrow, or call…”

“I’m afraid that will be impossible,” I said.

I took an envelope from my inside coat pocket, selected one of several photostats that had been in it, and put the other photostats back in my pocket. I borrowed the receptionist’s fountain pen and wrote across the face of the photostat: This will give you an idea how confidential my business is. O’Connor.

I said, “Will you please give this to Mr. King?”

She didn’t like the, idea of disturbing the Great Man again, but that hocus-pocus with the photostat had looked pretty important and she didn’t want to miss any bets. The receptionist gave the envelope to the other girl, and the girl took it into the other office, and after a moment she came back, spoke to the receptionist, both of them looking at me.

“Mr. King will see you, Mr. O’Connor,” the receptionist said.

“Thank you.”

“This way, sir,” the other girl, the secretary, said.

I followed her out of the front office, through the other office, and through the doors of the sanctum sanctorum itself.

Parker King was waiting, and he was angry. He stuck the opened envelope under my nose and said, “What the hell’s the meaning of this!”

“I thought it was perfectly obvious.” I said. “It’s blackmail.”

That stopped him. He was a good looking guy about forty, well tanned, well dressed, well fed, and no doubt well satisfied, until I had stepped in with that photostat and knocked the wind out of him. There is some sort of perversity in most humans that makes it impossible for them to call a spade a spade, no matter how obvious it is.

“Blackmail,” I said. “There’s no use chasing out tails and wasting time. You have in your hand a photostatic copy of some very important and confidential documents, made from originals which are in my possession, though not on my person, naturally. To get down to cases, you will notice that there is a cancelled check, made out to cash and signed by you, in the amount of thirty-five hundred dollars. And here is a photostat of the county commissioner’s bank statement —please note the deposit date of May Third, the day after you wrote the check; the entry is a deposit of thirty-five hundred dollars. Strangely enough, here is a photostat from the commissioner’s office records which shows that your firm was awarded a large turnpike construction contract on the very day the check was written, despite the fact that there were seven bids lower than the one your firm submitted.

“How am I doing, Mr. King? Is the picture beginning to form? Well, I’m not through yet, there’s still the clincher, there’s the photostat of a memo you made dated May First —can you read it, Mr. King? You’re damn right you can. It says, ‘See Anderson 11 A.M. 5-3 re turnpike deal’. It’s a note made in your own hand, on the memo pad that’s on your desk right now. Well, King, how does it look? Have I got you or haven’t I?”

He looked gutshot and sick, but there was still some fight in him. “You punk,” he said hoarsely, “Do you know who you’re talking to! Do you know what the penalty for blackmail is in this state!”

I knew who I was talking to, all right. I took a step forward and pushed him against his desk. “Do I know who I’m talking to?” I said. “Now there’s an idiotic question— I know more about you than your own mother could ever guess. I know you for the thieving sonofabitch you really are, King, and that’s not just guessing; I’ve got the proof. Sure, you’re a state senator, which bothers me not at all. You’re a state senator who has a pretty good chance of becoming Governor someday, if you keep your nose clean, and that’s exactly the reason you’re going to do as I say, because you want to be Governor, and because you haven’t got the guts to do anything else. Oh, I know who I’m talking to, all right. You think I’d be damn fool enough to approach someone with a deal like this unless I knew him?”

I let him go and he almost fell.

“What… what do you want!”

“Money, of course.”

“And what… do I get for it?”

“I am not an unreasonable man, Mr. King. Get in and get out, that’s my motto. I’m here to sell you the originals of those photostatic copies you have in your hand—my price is twenty thousand dollars.”

“What!”

“Twenty thousand dollars,” I said. “Think of it, that’s not so expensive for complete protection. You’ll be buying the original documents, remember that, not the copies. You won’t have to worry about my milking you year after year. One price buys everything, a clean bill of health. Anyway, what are you hollering about? You made more than twenty thousand out of that contract deal with Commissioner Anderson.”

His face was gray. “I won’t pay it!”

This was just reflex. His morale had taken a beating and he had to make a show of resistance for his own benefit.

“All right,” I said.

That surprised him.

“What?”

“I said all right, I can’t force you to buy something you don’t want. All I can do is take the documents to the proper authorities and see that they get the proper publicity. You know, maybe I had you figured wrong, King. I figured your political life was worth at least twenty thousand; I had it figured all along that you would consider it a bargain at that price. Well, I guess I was wrong.”

He looked a hundred years old. “… Ten thousand,” he said finally.

I hooked a chair with my foot, pulled it up and sat down. “I have nothing important to do,” I said. “I can wait. If you want to play it cute, it’s all right with me.”

He put his hands to his face and for one horrible moment I was afraid he was going to cry. But he got hold of himself. He wiped his forehead with a crisp white linen handkerchief, then tucked the handkerchief back into his chest pocket, very neatly.

It didn’t take long. “… All right. Twenty thousand. Now where are the originals.”

This was more like it. “I told you I didn’t have them on me. But I’ll have them this afternoon, say one o’clock.”

He nodded heavily.

“At the Central Bus Station,” I said. “I’ll have the papers and you have the money, in small bills, nothing over a twenty. One o’clock will give you plenty of time to arrange it at the bank.”

I stood up, smiled. “Mr. King, it’s been a great pleasure to do business with a man of your intelligence.”

The girl in the second office, the secretary, smiled as I came out of King’s office. “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it, sir?” she said.

“It sure is that! It’s a beautiful day!”

But it was only the beginning. Let’s see now, I thought, floating down the corridor toward the elevators. Let’s see, King buys one bill of goods for twenty thousand, and there must be at least enough material in his files for four more sales. Four times twenty thousand… five times twenty thousand, counting the present deal, came to an even hundred thousand. One hundred thousand beautiful dollars, that’s what Parker King was worth to me if I handled it right! If I didn’t push him too hard or too fast. One hundred thousand dollars!

Still, that was only the beginning!

In John Venci’s strongbox there were at least fifteen names that should be worth plenty. Conservatively, there were at least ten names that should be worth as much as King. But let’s be super-conservative, let’s say they’re worth only half as much as King… let’s see, that would be five times one hundred thousand dollars, that was what John Venci’s strongbox was worth to me!

And this was the land of money that John Venci had passed up for the sake of revenge! With Venci it figured. He’d had all the money he could use; he could afford to be a theorist. A man like that could afford to kick a million bucks in the face if he felt like it, but not me.

Not Roy Surratt.

No sir, there was a time to be practical, and this was it. After I had milked this thing for all it was worth, maybe I too could afford to retire to a private monastery and contemplate the philosophic truths of crime. But not now. By God, I was just beginning to live, and I was going to enjoy it!

CHAPTER TWELVE

AT EXACTLY ONE o’clock Parker King walked into the Central Bus Station. His face was mask-like, his eyes tired and expressionless. He carried a thick leather briefcase and looked more like a European diplomat headed for the United Nations Assembly than a state senator on his way to pay twenty thousand dollars worth of blackmail.

I was at the lunch counter having a sandwich when he came in.

He looked like he needed a sandwich. And plenty of milk and sun and lots of rest. Parker King looked like a man who was very close to a nervous breakdown.

“The papers,” he said huskily. “For God’s sake, if anyone should see me here, that alone would be enough to make them suspect something. A bus station!”

I took the papers from my inside coat pocket and gave them to him. Nervously, he glanced at them, then sagged with relief when he saw that everything was there. “There’s just one thing,” he said. “I don’t want to see you again, ever, understand?”

“I understand.”

He sat the briefcase down and started to go, and I said, “Just a minute, I’ll go outside with you and carry the briefcase. You had it in your hand when you came in. We don’t want somebody to think you forgot your briefcase and I was trying to get away with it, do you?”

“I… hadn’t thought of that.”

“You should set aside an hour every day,” I said, “just for thinking. You’d be surprised how much trouble you can avoid through a little thinking. Well, I’m ready.”

I picked up the briefcase and we went out together, as though we were buddies, or anyway business acquaintances. When we got to the sidewalk I said, “I don’t suppose I need to ask what’s in this briefcase.”

He looked at me, hard, then turned and motioned to a taxi starter. I grinned. Yes sir, this had been a hell of a day!

At five o’clock that afternoon I was back in front of the Burton Manufacturing and Construction Company watching the flow of white-collar workers as they crowded out of the building. I called out when I saw Pat.

Her eyes widened when she saw the car. It was a Lincoln, just like the one Dorris Venci had, only this one was black and brand new. She crossed through a line of waiting taxis to where I was parked.

“Where on earth did you get that?”

“Just drove it off the show room floor. Get in.”

“Well….” She shook her head, surprise still in her eyes. I got out then, went around the car and opened the door for her. She turned and stepped inside. After I went around and got under the wheel again, she said, “Are you sure you just drove this off the floor?”

“Look at the indicated mileage; exactly twenty-seven miles. What do you think I did, steal it?”

“I must admit the possibility crossed my mind.”

“I can afford an automobile like this. Remember what I said last night about turning this town upside down and shaking it?”

“… Yes.”

“And you said you’d like to be standing in the right place when the money started to fall?”

“I… might have said something to that effect; I can’t be sure.”

“You can be sure about one thing,” I said. “Look in the back seat.”

She turned her head and made a small sound when she saw the package. It was a hell of a fancy package, a big flat box wrapped in black and silver striped paper, tied with a black and silver ribbon.

“What is it?”

“It’s for you,” I said. “This is the day money started to fall, and you were standing in the right place.”

She didn’t touch the package; she was still a little stunned, and that amused me. “I think I called you a peasant last night,” she said after a moment. “It looks as though I’ll have to take back those words.”

I grinned. “You want to open it now, or wait?”

“Where are we going?”

“To my apartment,” I said. “This is a day worth remembering, this is a day to celebrate. I bought some wine, and had a caterer get the place in shape and prepare some snacks. How does it sound?”

“… Interesting. Unusual, I must say, but interesting.”

“We’ll wait, then, with the package. All right?” She nodded, and I switched on the Lincoln and moved it through the crowded traffic. We had traveled six or seven blocks and she hadn’t said a word.

Then: “I don’t suppose you want to tell me where your sudden riches came from… I know it’s none of my business.”

“It’s simple. I had something to sell and found a man who wanted to buy; the very soul of commerce, the life blood of capitalism, the age-old law of supply and demand. Look,” I said, “I got off on the wrong foot with you; I admit it. I got a little rough, but actually I’m not a rough guy at all. Believe me, everything is fine.”

“Forget it.”

I parked the Lincoln in one of the garages behind the apartment building and Pat and I used the rear entrance to get to my place. I had the package under my arm, anxious to see her face when she opened it. This will thaw her out, I thought. If she doesn’t react positively to the stimulus of this package, then I’ve wasted a hell of a lot of time studying the science of human motivation!

“Here we are,” I said, putting the key in the lock. I had opened the door, just a little, just a crack, when I saw Dorris Venci there in my apartment! I had just started to shove the door all the way open and step inside for Pat to enter, when I saw her sitting there, motionless, those Zeiss-lens eyes focused emptily on my face. I closed the door, fast.

“Look,” I said, “I just happened to think of something. Something I forgot to do. Will you do me a favor, will you go in your own apartment for a few minutes, powder your nose or something, until I get everything just right? I don’t know about you, but this is a big day for me, and I want to be absolutely sure that everything is right. Will you humor me?”

An eyebrow lifted the slightest bit, that was all. “Of course,” she said.

She gave me her key and I opened the door to her own apartment. “Just a few minutes,” I said heartily, “this isn’t going to take long.”

Alone, I stood there in the hallway thinking: Christ, I hope she didn’t see Dorris in there! She would recognize her sure as hell and pretty soon she would start putting things together. Pat Kelso was no dummy. She wasn’t just another piece of gorgeous sex machinery; she had a brain.

I took a deep breath, feeling the anger flow over me, feeling it in my guts, in my muscles, in my brain. I gave myself a few seconds to calm down, then shoved the door open and went in.

I had forgotten about the caterer. She was a short, fat German woman of about fifty, very neat and businesslike in a starched white dress, gleaming white shoes, a small heart-shaped light blue apron. She looked perfectly antiseptic and sterile and happy.

“Oh, Mr. O’Connor,” she beamed, “I believe everything is in order. Everything, just as you ordered it. Smoked turkey, baked ham, a shrimp bowl, mushroom salad. The sweetbreads are in the chafing dish, sir, over the warmer, and the wine is in the refrigerator ready to be iced.”

“Thank you,” I said, “everything looks fine.” Dorris Venci sat as though she were hypnotized, saying nothing. I paid the woman from the caterer’s, made a deposit on the dishes and told her she could go.

I turned to Dorris and said, “I’m getting pretty goddamn tired of your walking into my place like this. To be perfectly honest, I’m getting tired of you. Can’t you see I had something of my own arranged here?”

She turned those eyes on me, and only then did I see how washed out she looked. Her face had aged ten years in the past two weeks.

“You… haven’t called,” she said flatly. “I… haven’t heard from you in several days.”

“Listen to me,” I said, “we’d better get something straight, and right now. You have no hold on me at all; the minute you turned over your husband’s strongbox, it was over. You didn’t buy a damn thing. Is that clear?”

Suddenly she put her hands to her face, covering her face.

“Now what’s wrong with you?”

“I wish I were dead!” Her voice came muffled through her hands. “I wish I had the courage to end it!”

“Great God!” I groaned, “don’t go into that act. I couldn’t stomach it. Look here, you’re a good looking woman, there are plenty of men who would go for you in a big way. Stop seeing yourself as so damned abnormal. You know what’s really wrong with you? Not your abnormality, but your fear of it. You’re a starving woman, surrounded with food, and you haven’t got the guts to admit you’re hungry. You can’t go on pretending that your husband took advantage of you, or that I did. You wanted it, and you know you did, desperately.”

“No!” It was almost like a small scream.

“Then why did you come here?”

“I… I love you….”

I laughed. “That’s what I thought you would say. You don’t love me, but you do need me. Or think you do. Just the way you needed John Venci. He was the only man in the world for you, almost a god, simply because he knew about you, and you didn’t have to tell him. As long as you didn’t have to admit it to yourself, you could go on pretending that you were normal, whatever that means.

“Well,” I said, “I’m going to tell you one more thing. You’re going to wind up in a nuthouse, and soon, if you don’t snap out of it. You don’t have your husband now. And you don’t have me, either, because I’m tired of you. What you ought to do is go down to the docks and pick up a gorilla that would really know how to treat you.”

“No!”

“All right. If you’d rather have the nuthouse.”

She took her hands from her face and sat there shuddering. She was looking into the future and seeing nothing but darkness. “Well,” I said, “I tried to tell you, but you won’t listen. Now you’ve got to get out of here.”

“… Roy.” It was barely a whisper. “Please… don’t send me away!”

“I told you I’m through with you. I told you what’s wrong with you and what you need to set you right. That’s all I can do.”

I took her arm and pulled her out of the chair. I guided her to the door, made sure that the hallway was clear and shoved her out.

I was through with Dorris Venci.

I’ve made that clear, I thought, even to her. I’m through with her. If she wants to kill herself, that’s fine with me. If she winds up in a nuthouse, that’s fine too, I just don’t give a damn what happens to her. But she had better keep away from me!

I got myself calmed down, finally. I went to the bathroom and rinsed my face with cold water and felt a little better. Crazy damn woman!

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

“HOW DO YOU like it?”

“It’s beautiful! It’s positively beautiful!”

“Come on in the bedroom and look at yourself in the mirror.”

“Really, you shouldn’t have done this! It’s much too expensive!”

“That’s nonsense. All good things come expensive, I learned that long ago, while dishwashing my way through college.”

It really was a hell of a coat. To be perfectly truthful, it was much more coat than I had figured on at first, but the minute I saw ft I knew that nothing else would do. It was a French import, a Balmain, with an exterior of oyster white nylon velvet which is absolutely the most decadent material ever created by the hand of man, and it was completely lined with natural wild mink. The fantastic extravagance of lining a coat with wild mink had completely fascinated the more bizarre aspect of my nature. When they first showed it to me I had burst into laughter. How many Frenchmen would go without shoes this winter, how many Parisian bellies would be empty—and who gave a damn? “That coat,”” I had told the sales girl, “is absolutely the god-damnedest, most decadent example of a completely lost civilization that I have ever seen—and I’ll take it!”

Pat hugged the coat around her and studied herself from all angles in the bedroom mirror. She had the kind of poise that could not be taught, it was the result of a long purebred bloodline and nothing else. She was class, every inch of her, and that coat was just for her.

“It comes off pretty well,” I said. “If there are any changes you want on it, the shop it came from will take care of it.”

“I wouldn’t have it touched!” she said. “Not for anything in the world! It’s just perfect… but it frightens me when I think what it must have cost!”

It had cost damn near as much as the Lincoln, but it was worth it, every penny. I said, “From now on we don’t consider price tags, we don’t even look at them. Now how about some wine?”

“… All right.”

She kept posing, turning, staring at herself in the mirror. Strangely, she hadn’t smiled, not once. From the time she opened the package she had registered a good many emotions, but she hadn’t smiled. She had wrapped the coat around her, tightly, hugged herself in it, almost as though she were trying to lose herself in the sheer luxury of it. There was a bright ecstasy in her eyes as she burrowed deeper and deeper into the incredible softness of the fur, and for a moment I imagined that she was trying to hide, that she was receding into the soft, secure folds of fur.

I had learned some things about Pat Kelso, and I understood a little of what she must have felt at that moment. At one time the Kelsos had had everything. They were an old family, and very proud, but unfortunately the ability to make money had not grown with their great pride. Pat’s father had been forced into bankruptcy, and later, suicide. It must have been quite a comedown for this girl of beauty and breeding. And I could appreciate how she must have felt, smothering herself in a four thousand dollar Paris coat, returning to the past for a moment, in that symbol of lost glory.

I understood. I was pleased.

I had found her Achilles heel, as I had found Dorris Venci’s. Now I knew to what frequency Pat Kelso vibrated, and I could control her as surely as an audio oscillator could control the wave form in an amplifier.

Yes sir, I thought, in this world a man must be audacious. With audacity and brains, there’s nothing a man can not do.

Nothing!

“This is absolutely the most beautiful coat I ever saw!” she said.

“If you can tear yourself away from that mirror for a minute we’ll get on with the serious business of tasting the wine.”

“What wine can possibly be as important as this beautiful coat!”

“This wine. I went to a lot of trouble finding it, and there are damn few bottles left in the world.”

She glanced around as I broke the wires on the neck and very gently began nudging the cork back and forth to loosen it. When it came out with the familiar pop, she said, “Oh. Champagne.”

“My dear lady, it’s more than Champagne, much more than that. It’s a life blood, it’s the very last of the truly great Ambonnay’s.”

Age had robbed the wine of nothing, which is more of a rarity than the casual wine sipper might think. It hit the bottom of the glass with plenty of life, it’s wonderful bouquet as delicate as moonlight. I handed a half filled tulip glass to Pat and she sipped, still trying to sneak glances at the mirror.

“Ummm. Good.”

“Good!” I was actually becoming impatient with her. “If you were anybody else,” I said, “anybody else in the world, and I had just handed you a glass of this nectar and you had taken a distracted sip and mumbled ‘ummm, good’ do you know what I would do?”

“That’s a bit involved, but what would you do?”

“I would throw you the hell out of my apartment.”

“But only if I were anybody else in the world?”

“Yes.”

“Then I needn’t worry.” And she smiled, strangely. But it was the first smile of the day and my impatience dissolved. “Okay,” I grinned, “the wine is ummm, good, and if you’d like to swig it from the neck of the bottle, that’s all right with me. This is no day to get bogged down in a lousy bottle of wine.”

I was in a rosy mood again. There’s nothing like a really significant conquest to put spice and zest in this business of living.

I said, “How about some food? I’ll put a plate together for you and you can get it in front of the mirror.”

She laughed softly. “Thank you just the same. But a girl simply doesn’t fall heir to a coat like this every day of her life. I’m much too excited for food… do you mind?”

“Not at all. This is my day not to mind anything, this is my day to indulge in sweetness and light, even if it chokes me. But I do get hungry once in a while. It’s the peasant in me, no doubt.”

She laughed again, and it was a fine sound. Nodding at the table, she said, “Please don’t let me stop you.”

“From this day forward nothing will ever stop me.”

I helped myself to the iced shrimp and Russian dressing. Then some white meat topped with a thin slice of ham; and finally some hot sweetbreads. Pat simply couldn’t stay away from that mirror.

I laughed and she looked around.

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing. Not a thing in the world!”

“You’re awfully satisfied with yourself today, aren’t you?”

“I sure am,” I said. “It’s been a wonderful day, and it’s only beginning.” When I finished eating I went into the kitchen and iced down another bottle of wine. She had finally torn herself away from the mirror.

“Don’t you want to tell me about it, this wonderful day of yours?”

“Some other time,” I said, “but not today.” I refilled the glasses from the new bottle and she sat beside me on the couch. Every so often when I was near her it would hit me, and it hit me now… I looked at her and felt my insides go to buttermilk. Great God, I thought, she’s beautiful.

She sat there looking at me, very seriously now; then suddenly she surprised me by smiling. “What is it?” I said.

“It just occurred to me that I know absolutely nothing about you. I don’t even know what you are called—is it William, or Will, or Bill….”

“It’s Roy,” I said without thinking, forgetting for a moment that Dorris Venci had changed my name for me. Then I remembered and said, “It’s what my mother used to call me.

“Roy,” she smiled. “Roy, and your name is William O’Connor. Well, I suppose that’s consistent enough, for you.”

“The explanation would bore you,” I said.

“But what about you?” she said, almost absently, as though she wasn’t really interested at all but considered it polite to ask. “You must have a history of some kind, a background, a past. Or would that bore me, too?”

“Probably,” I said. “I started with an empty belly and a high intelligence quotient, and now I don’t have the empty belly.”

She smiled, faintly. “Isn’t that over simplifying it just a bit?”

“This is a pretty simple world when you get right down to it. When I was a kid I learned to grab fast when we were lucky enough to have food on the table. It took me several years to realize that everyone was grabbing for something, always, and the only trick in getting what you wanted was in grabbing just a little faster than the others.”

“And that is the rule you live by?”

“That is my rule.”

I guess she knew it was going to happen, from the way I was staring at her. After all, you don’t give a girl a coat like the one I had given her just because you liked the way she set her hair. I made a grab for her but she already had her guard up and had pushed herself down to the other end of the couch. She tried to get up but I grabbed again and this time I got her.

I was amazed at the strength in those smooth, firm arms of hers. She didn’t make a sound; there was no hint of panic in her eyes, but I had a hell of a time pulling her down with me just the same. But I did it, finally. I got her shoulders pinned against the back of the couch, I threw my weight against her and got both her arms in my hands and she was completely helpless. She knew she was helpless and stopped the fight.

She looked at me with perfect calm. “… Now what?” she said.

“See something you want, grab it. I told you that was my rule.”

“… I see. All right, you’ve grabbed, now where do you go from here? Really, I’m curious about this rule of yours, I want to know if you can really make it work.”

Don’t you worry about that, I thought. I’ll make it work, all right. Then I forced her head back and mashed my mouth to hers.

It was like kissing a statue, a cold, marble statue. That was one thing I hadn’t been prepared for. I’d been prepared for a fight, for a lot of insane gab, for tears, even, but certainly not anything like this. I felt the iciness of that kiss deep in my guts. It made my skin crawl.

I let her go. I couldn’t have released her faster if I had suddenly discovered that I had been kissing a corpse. That is what it had been like, kissing a corpse.

Then she laughed, softly. “You see, Roy, it’s just as I thought. Your rule doesn’t always work, does it? Some things you can grab, but woman—they’re different. You don’t grab women, you draw them to you gently, very gently. And it takes time, too. That’s a rule you should adopt; never rush a lady.”

For one time in my life I didn’t have an answer. I could still taste the iciness of her lips.

She didn’t seem to be angry. She seemed more amused than anything. And then she leaned toward me and pressed her mouth on mine, very lightly, and the coldness was gone. She was warm again, and beautiful, and I wanted her like hell. But this time I didn’t grab.

“That’s better,” she said huskily. “That’s much better.”

I said, “For me this is a new technique. It’s going to take some getting used to.”

And she smiled.

“You know something?” I said.

“What?”

“You are positively the goddamnedest woman I ever saw, bar none. You change colors faster than a chameleon. Put you in fire and you don’t burn.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

I let her enjoy thinking that she was an enigma. But she was no enigma to me I could open her up and watch the wheels go round. I knew what made her tick; I knew to what frequency she was tuned. All I had to do was look at her in that coat and I knew who was the real boss. It was quite possible that deep in her soul she hated my guts—a possibility that bothered me not at all. I could afford a new Lincoln and a Balmain coat, both the same day—that was the important thing. That was the hook I had in her.

Maybe she was right, maybe grabbing wasn’t the best way to get what you wanted every time. Make her come to me, that was the best, the most satisfying answer. And I knew exactly how to go about it. Thanks to my very good friend, Mr. John Venci.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

HIS NAME WAS Stephen S. Calvart. That was about all I knew about him, except that he was a textbook publisher and had made a considerable fortune by bribing a number of small-time school officials. S. S. Calvart, just a name, the fourth name from the last in John Venci’s list of people he didn’t like, to be exact, and I had selected it more or less at random out of all the other names.

The Calvart Publishing Company was located on the east side, the seamy side of the city, and the building was a sprawling, crumbling red brick affair that was even more rundown than the neighboring brick heaps that leaned against it.

I parked the Lincoln in the alley behind the building, learned from the elevator operator that the publisher’s office was on the fourth and top floor; so that is where I went.

Calvart, it turned out, was an easy man to get to, not at all like King. I smiled at the receptionist, told her that my name was O’Connor, and that I represented the fourth school district and that I wanted to talk to Mr. Calvart about a new edition of history texts for the elementary grades.

That was the magic word: “new edition.” In a matter of a few minutes I had progressed all the way to the head man himself. Yes sir, I thought, this is a place that knows how to treat a customer. Walk in and mention a deal and you get the red carpet treatment, no questions asked.

Calvart was on the phone when I came into his office. He waved with a cigar and motioned to a chair. I made myself comfortable and tried to size him up. He was a big man, two hundred pounds at least, and looked more like an ex-hod carrier trying to get used to wearing three hundred dollar suits than a publisher of school textbooks. He didn’t look like a man who got where he was by paying scrupulous attention to the rules of the game.

“Now look, Davis,” he was saying into the phone, “you’ve been using that damn elementary social studies three years now. How do you expect kids to keep up with things in this fast movin’ world if you handicap them three years right at the beginnin’? What the hell, those texts are outdated and you know it. Now look, I don’t want to tell you-how to run your business, but I think we’d be smart….” He listened for a minute, then said, “Yeah, all right, but you work on the school boards down there, and the PTA bunch. Sure, Dave, I’ll take care of you, don’t I always?”

He hung up and turned to me with no change of expression or tone of voice. “O’Connor you say. From the fourth district. I thought Paul Schriver was runnin’ things down there.”

“Maybe he is,” I said. “I don’t even know where the fourth district is.”

He was vaguely surprised but certainly not shocked. He took a few seconds to relight his dead cigar. His eyes were absolutely expressionless and looked hard enough to cut glass. In all that two hundred and more pounds there was not an ounce of imagination. Facts were his stock in trade, not imagination.

After a moment he said, “I see.” And he did see. He had added his facts and knew that I was a man with an angle. “All right, O’Connor, now that you are here, what do you want?”

“Money. Twenty thousand dollars, to be exact, and before you start pushing the button on that intercom box you’d better take a look at what I’m selling.”

I pitched a photostat on his desk and Calvart looked at it quietly, still without expression. It was an affidavit, signed and witnessed, concerning a payoff between Calvart and a member of the state school commission, a man by the name of Longly. There was enough dynamite in that single piece of paper to blow Calvart right out of the publishing business for good, and he knew it.

Its effect on him was exactly the opposite of what I had expected. He actually seemed relieved, now that he had all the facts, now that he knew precisely why I had come and what I wanted. He seemed to relax as he studied the photostat, he even smiled, very faintly.

“Very interesting,” he said, not looking at me. “Very interesting indeed, if you should also have in your possession the original from which this copy was made.”

“I have it, all right, but not in my possession right now.”

“… Your caution is understandable,” he said dryly. He began to look pained as he continued to study the document before him. “Sam Longly,” he said. “Sam has been my friend for a good many years. Why, I was the one who got him a place on the school commission. It is difficult—extremely difficult to believe that Sam would deliberately destroy himself, and me, in such a manner.” Then he looked directly at me. “But the evidence is irrefutable, isn’t it, O’Connor?”

“It sure as hell is. Now let’s stop this horsing around and get down to business. Is the original of that photostat worth twenty thousand to you or isn’t it?”

He closed his eyes for a moment, as though in thought.

“… Yes,” he said. “Yes, I’m afraid it is.”

“You’re sure it is. One book contract can make you another twenty grand and a lot more, but if that paper should get into the wrong hands there would be no more contracts, and you know it.”

“Believe me,” he said quietly, “I am quite aware of this document’s importance to myself, and I have already told you that it is worth twenty thousand dollars to me. However, I do not carry that kind of money with me… certain arrangements must be made.”

This was almost too easy to be real. It was all I could do to keep from grinning—twenty thousand dollars just for the asking! Jesus, I thought, what a hell of a thing this is that John Venci lined up for me!

Now Calvart was studying the tip of his smoldering cigar. “I am not a man to fight the inevitable,” he said.

Calvart opened his eyes and looked at me for one long moment with his old hardness. “The details,” he said flatly. “I suppose you have them planned.”

“Down to the last split second. You’ll have the rest of the day to raise the money. Tonight, at eight o’clock exactly, I’ll meet you in the Central bus station and we’ll make the swap.”

He nodded.

I felt like a million dollars. I was half drunk with the excitement and the knowledge of my power, and it was all I could do to keep from laughing right in Stephen S. Calvart’s fat face. Yes sir, this was one hell of a world!

I started to get up, but Calvart was up before me, surprisingly fast for a man his size. He came around his desk, and then, without a hint of warning, a ham-sized hand snapped out, grabbed the front of my shirt and jerked me half out of the chair.

“You lissen to me!” he rasped. “You lissen to me, you cheap sonofabitch, and you lissen good!”

I was too startled to make a move. I hung there like some ridiculous scarecrow from the end of his huge arm. I felt an angry heat rush to my face, swell my throat, but there wasn’t a thing I could do but hang there. Calvart’s self-control had vanished in an explosion of rage. That smooth, professor-like speech of his had suddenly reverted to character.

“You lousy gutter rat!” he grated. “I ought to kill you right here, right where you’re sittin’, and if you say one word, make one sound, I’ll do it! You just lissen to me and get one thing straight; I’m not goin’ to be your goddamn patsy, O’Connor. You got me by the tenders this time, but don’t think you can keep milkin’ me; don’t think you can gouge me again; I don’t care what you dig up against me. You just keep one thing in mind, O’Connor. You try a thing like this again, and you’re dead. I don’t care if I burn for it, you’re dead!”

Then he let go and I fell back in the chair.

I sat there, every muscle in my body quivering. It had been a long time since a man had talked to Roy Surratt like that—the last one had been Gorgan, the prison guard. And Gorgan was dead. I sat there rigid with anger, feeling rage claw at my guts like a tiger. If I had that .38 I would have killed him on the spot, I would have put three hard ones right in the middle of his fat gut.

But I didn’t have the .38 with me and there was nothing I could do. Not now. He simply was too big to handle without a gun, so I had to take it, anything he wanted to dish out. Like he had said, I had him by the tenders, I had him where it hurt, but he couldn’t afford to get too damn tough about it as long as I held on.

“All right,” he said tightly, in a voice that sounded like it was being squeezed through a needle’s eye. “Get out of here.”

“… The bus station. You aren’t going to forget our date, are you, Mr. Calvart?”

“I won’t forget a thing, not a single, goddamn thing, O’Connor, and that is one thing in this world that you can depend on.” Then he put his foot on the chair, straightened his leg suddenly, with a kick, and the chair shot half across the room with me in it. “Now get out of my sight,” he said hoarsely, “before I really get mad and break your lousy neck!”

I got out. I saw everything through a red haze of rage; my bones felt brittle; my muscles ached; my nerves seemed to lay on the top of my skin. But I got out, somehow. “All right,” I kept thinking, “all right you fat sonofabitch, we’ll see who’s so tough before this day is over!” I walked out of Calvart’s office and through the outer offices and past the pale faces and the curious faces of Calvart’s underlings, and then I rode the crawling elevator down to the Lincoln. I sat there for a long time.

All I could do was sit there and try not to be sick, try to sweat it out until the poison rage had done its work. I tried to think of Gorgan and the way he had looked when I killed him, and that helped a little, but not much.

I don’t know how much time it took, but finally I felt myself begin to relax, my nerves began to settle back beneath the skin, the red rage began to lift.

Maybe another ten minutes passed. I took out my handkerchief, wiped my face, my hands, then I switched on the Lincoln and got out of there.

Stephen S. Calvart’s future was settled.

The first thing I did when I got back to the apartment was get the .38. I cleaned it carefully, checked the firing mechanism, oiled it, took the cartridges and wiped them carefully and replaced them.

Then the phone rang. It was Dorris Venci.

“Look, Dorris,” I said wearily, “I thought we had an understanding. No more phone calls, no more biology lessons. Now what the hell do I have to do to make you realize that we’re through?”

“… Roy!” Her voice had that high pitched twang to it, like a violin string ready to snap. “Roy, I can’t take it! I simply can’t take it any longer!”

“Oh for Christ’s sake!” I groaned.

“Roy, I mean it! I simply can’t take it!”

I had no answer. What could you say to a crazy dame like that?

“… Roy!”

“What is it?”

“… Roy, won’t you… I mean, can’t I see you, talk to you….”

“Absolutely not,” I said, beginning to get mad, beginning to be sorry that our trails had ever crossed. “I told you we were through. I meant it.”

There was ringing silence on the line.

“Dorris.”

“… Yes.”

“Dorris, did you hear me?”

“… Yes, I heard you.”

And then she hung up. I stood there with the receiver to my ear, wondering what could be going on in that twisted brain of hers, and finally I shrugged and put the receiver on the hook. She was nuts, just plain nuts, and if I never heard from her again that was going to be fine with me.

The poison of my anger again spread through me like an overflow of adrenalin into my blood stream. I thought: you better enjoy what’s left of this day, Mr. Cohort. You better grab all the throats you want to grab. You better throw all the weight you want to throw, because your time is running out faster than you think.

But not before I got the twenty thousand.

Pretty soon I’d have the world by the tail; I’d crack it like a muleskinner wielding a snakewhip. I’d wriggle my finger and Pat Kelso would jump through hoops.

That last thought pleased me. She was quite a girl, Pat. She was just the girl for me and no other would do.

She would be mine.

I went back to the front room and sat. I held the .38 in my hand and waited. But pretty soon I’d had all the sitting and waiting I could take. There was nothing to do, nowhere to go. Pat was working, and the only other person I knew was Dorris, and I sure didn’t want to see her.

At last I did what most lonely and lost people in a strange city do, I went to a movie. It was a double feature and I sat there dumbly, feeling the comfort of the .38 in my waistband and thinking with pleasure how Calvart would look when I pulled it on him.

Maybe this isn’t going to be smart, I thought. Maybe I ought to forget my personal feelings and hold the hammer over Calvart for another twenty thousand or so. But the publisher was a tough nut—it would seem that most of Venci’s enemies were tough nuts—and there is only one way to handle a tough nut—crack it.

For a while I thought maybe I’d go out and pick Pat up at the factory, but finally I dropped the idea. Don’t let it get to be routine, Surratt. Don’t let her take you for granted. Let her wonder what’s going on for a while, and then knock her eye out with another brand new bankroll. That will bring her around. Yes sir, if I know the first thing about women, that will bring her around, all right.

I killed an hour after the film walking and thumbing through magazines at a news stand, and another hour over dinner, and by that time it was almost eight o’clock. I headed for the bus station.

Calvart was late. I was at the lunch counter having a cup of coffee and the clock over the ticket windows said five after eight; and still Calvart hadn’t showed. But I wasn’t worried. He would show. As he had said, I had him by the tenders, and he would come around because there was nothing else for him to do.

It was exactly seven minutes past eight when I saw him. He came in with a group of people unloading from a Chicago bus, looking bigger than life-size, and angry and mean. But he had the money—there was a scarred leather briefcase under his arm—and that was the important thing. I stood up and waved. I thought, start walking, you sonofabitch. This is the last leg of your last mile!

He came over and sat on the stool next to me, putting the briefcase in front of him. “Well,” I smiled, “you’re a bit late, Mr. Calvart, but I’ll forgive you this time.”

“It’s the last time, O’Connor. You better remember that,” he growled.

“Of course, of course.”

“Well,” he said sharply, “there is an exchange, I believe. Let’s get it over with.”

“Nothing could be more to my liking, Mr. Calvart.” I handed him an envelope. “Here you are, sir, delivered as promised.”

He ripped the envelope open and made sure that everything was there. He didn’t get up to leave, as I had expected. He sat there glaring at me with those flat, unimaginative eyes. I reached for the briefcase. “It would look better,” I said, “if we walked out together.”

“All right.”

That surprised me too. For a man with his temper, he was taking this mighty coolly. He stood up when I stood up, and we walked away from the counter and through the big waiting room toward the wall of doors. We went through the wall of doors and I imagined that the night air held a smell of electricity, a feel of excitement, but I knew that it was only the excitement and electricity within myself.

This, I thought, is where the fun begins. This is where I show him the gun, this is where I march him across the street to where the Lincoln is parked. Yes sir, I thought, smiling right in his face, this is the beginning of the end, Mr. Calvart!

That was when the man in the bright plaid sports coat stepped up beside me. He was a tall shambling man with a long bony face and a hooked nose. I had never seen him before in my life, but he said, “All right, O’Connor, just take it easy. We’re going to walk across the loading ramps, over to that parking lot in the middle of the block, and we’re going to do it nice and easy and without any noise, understand?”

His right hand was in his coat pocket. He moved it just enough to let me feel the muzzle of an automatic.

I looked at Calvart and he was smiling.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

THERE WERE PEOPLE all around us, redcaps, travelers, soldiers, sailors, all of them harried and peevish as they looked for their luggage or the next bus for Dallas, and not one of them as much as glanced at us. I felt a bloody knife of fear twisting in my groin. In a mob like this a man could be shot dead and these stupid cattle would never realize what happened. The man in the sports coat knew it and smiled thinly.

“March, O’Connor!”

I marched. Calvart, who had moved to the other end of the ramp just in case I forced a shooting play on the spot, now ambled toward us at the end of the ramp.

“Everything all right, Max?”

“Everything’s fine, Mr. Calvart. He come along nice and peaceful, like a baby. See, he ain’t givin’ us no trouble at all.”

“That’s nice,” Calvart smiled. “All right, hold him up just a minute and I’ll get the Buick.”

“What the hell is this?” I said tightly.

“Quiet,” Max crooned softly. “Nice and quiet, O’Connor,” nudging me in the ribs with the automatic.

“You sonofabitch,” I said, “You’ll be eating that .45 before this night is over!”

But he only smiled. I was scared and he knew it.

Max and I stayed right where we were and Calvart went on ahead to the parking lot. After a few seconds he came out in a black Buick sedan and pulled up at the curb. I didn’t have to have the situation drawn out for me, I knew that I was as good as dead if I ever got into that car. Calvart was a tough boy and sometime during the day he had decided that he wasn’t going to pay blackmail, and the only way to stop it was with a bullet.

Good as dead. That dagger of fear kept stabbing in my groin. I had to get to my .38. I somehow had to knock Max’s automatic away for a moment, just a moment, and then I would kill the sonofabitch and take care of Calvart later.

But how? The muzzle of that .45 was in my ribs, hard and cold, and it didn’t waver. I couldn’t very well holler cop, even if there had been a cop handy, and Calvart must have guessed that much.

“Start walking,” Max said.

This, I thought, is the only chance I’ll ever get. I’ve got to take the chance that Max won’t shoot in a situation like this.

But Max was there ahead of me. “Just a minute,” he said. Then, with an expert hand, he snapped my .38 from my waistband and slipped it into his left-hand coat pocket, that .45 of his never moving from its position just below my heart. “Now walk,” he said.

I walked, feeling the sweat popping out of my face, feeling my knees go to mush, feeling the blossom of fear grow as cold as ice in my stomach. Calvart had the back door open when we got to the Buick. Max shoved me inside.

And no one noticed a thing. Out of all those dozens of people milling around the bus station, not a single one of them noticed that a man was being set up for murder right under their noses! Calvart turned around and smiled as Max shoved me over to the far side of the car and then got in beside me. His .45 was out now, in his hand, and it looked ugly and black and as big as a cannon.

“All set, Mr. Calvart. Turn left on Mallart Avenue. Follow it all the way out of town, out by the brick yards. Anywhere out there will do.”

“Whatever you say, Max,” Calvart said, smiling at me. Then he eased the car into gear, slipping into the stream of southbound traffic.

Jump him, I thought, it’s the only chance you have. Somehow you’ve got to get that .45 away from him while Calvart is busy at the wheel!

I couldn’t do it. My guts had gone to buttermilk. I tensed my shoulders, readied for the lunge, but when the time came I simply couldn’t force myself to act. I couldn’t throw myself into the muzzle of that automatic.

Now or later! I told myself savagely. What’s the difference? Calvart’s got it planned, he’s going to kill you. The least you can do is make a fight of it while you can!

But panic had me in a grip of iron, held me immobilized, helpless, and all I could do was sit there and sweat.

About three blocks from the bus station Calvart turned left on what I guessed was Mallart Avenue. It’s a one-way road for me, I thought emptily. I underestimated Calvart… I made the fatal mistake of underestimating an enemy and for that bit of stupidity I’m going to die. They’ll find me tomorrow, or the next day, in some gutter, and the cops will fingerprint the body and identify it as Roy Surratt, and the investigation would stop right there.

That dagger of fear that stabbed in my stomach there began to stir an anger. A great, unreasoning, savage anger, not at Calvart, and certainly not at Max who was just a hired hand brought in for an hour or so to do a job of work. The anger was at myself. You deserve everything you’re going to get! I thought savagely. Roy Surratt, criminal philosopher, realistic genius, perfectionist. Well, you slipped, Surratt, and perfectionists don’t slip, and because of that little piece of idiocy you’re going to get exactly what you deserve; you’re going to get a well placed .45 slug in the back of the head; you’re going to get your brains spattered all over some lousy brick yard just because you failed, this one time, to scrupulously practice what you preach!

The anger helped some, but not much. I was sick with fear, paralyzed with it, and I began to wish that the mild, cool-eyed killer sitting across from me would go ahead with it and pull the trigger. The waiting was the thing that got me. I was afraid I’d go all to pieces if it lasted much longer. Already my hands were shaking. A small muscle in my threat started to quiver, a nervous ripple flowed over my shoulders and down my back, and a great, yawning emptiness opened in my belly. Great God, I thought helplessly, I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die!

And Max, the hired hand, smiled blandly and held his automatic close to my heart. Calvart slipped the big, quiet car through the streets and the brightness and garishness of the city passed behind us.

At last the pavement ended and the city was just a glare against the lowhanging clouds. There were no buildings at all out here, and very few houses, and the land was also empty, nothing but ragged and torn hills of red clay, brick clay, standing gaunt and almost black in the moonlight. When we came onto the end of the road Calvart braked the Buick and eased onto a deep-rutted, sparsely graveled road, and Max said:

“Anywhere along here will do.”

“We’ll go on over the next rise,” Calvart said.

Max shrugged slightly. A job was a job and he didn’t bother himself with the details.

I tried desperately to stop the sickish quivering in my stomach. I tried to pull myself together enough to jump into the muzzle of that .45… but I couldn’t do it. I simply couldn’t force myself to move.

The road was rough and Calvart was taking it easy, crawling along in second gear. Finally we topped a small rise and I could see the squat black forms of the brickyards in the distance.

“Right here,” Max said.

“Just a little farther,” Calvart said. “There’s no use taking chances.”

Just a little farther! I knew just how it would happen… Calvart wouldn’t want his car bloodied up if he could help it; they would stop and shove me out, and they would let me run a step or two and Max would apply the careful, gentle trigger squeeze and the door would slam. That would be the end.

The end. I had the horrible feeling that I was going to cry.

That was when Calvart hit the rock.

It was just over the rise and the headlight beams must have shot over it, and I guess that’s the reason Calvart didn’t see it until it was too late. It was a good sized rock, maybe a foot thick, and maybe it had fallen off a truck or maybe it had just washed loose from the clay embankment and had rolled down onto the road; but where it came from isn’t important. It was there and that is the important thing.

Calvart hit it with his right front wheel and the Buick lurched suddenly. Max had to make a grab for the back of the front seat to keep from falling to the floorboards, and Calvart himself was cursing and trying to get the car straightened out on the road. Just what I did at that instant is not clear in my mind, but I acted on instinct, I’m sure of that, pure animal instinct, there was nothing planned about it.

The instant the Buick lurched to the left, the instant Max made his grab for the front seat I forgot about my sickness and my fear. I was on Max like a tiger. Grabbing at his gunhand, I drove my knee in his crotch and heard the wind go out of him. I slashed the edge of my hand across Max’s wrist and the bone snapped, but a small thing like a broken wrist meant nothing to Max at that moment because he didn’t live long enough to suffer from the pain.

I caught the automatic before it hit the floorboards. I jammed the muzzle into Max’s throat, into the soft part between the breast bone and the adams apple and pulled the trigger.

He never knew what hit him. The slug tore right through his spinal column, almost taking his head off his shoulders.

In the meantime Calvart had to let go of the wheel and had let the Buick go into a ditch and we were stalled, Calvart himself was trying to get over the back of the driver’s seat, trying to grab the gun away from me. He never had a chance. I shoved him back against the steering wheel, then got on my knees and shot him three times right in the middle of his fat stomach. He jerked and quivered like some enormous jellyfish, and his mouth flew open, working soundlessly. That was the way he died.

I heard a voice saying, “You sonofabitch! You lousy sonofabitch!” I knew it was my voice, but it didn’t seem to be coming from my throat, it seemed to be coming from everywhere, and it was high-pitched and taut and almost screaming. At last I jerked the front door open and gave Calvart a shove, and he hit the ground with the mushy sound of an overripe melon.

I was breathing very hard and couldn’t seem to get enough air into my lungs. I concentrated for several minutes on pulling myself together and watching the blood soak into the thick floor mat around Max’s severed head. Then I got out of the car and began to feel better. Calvart was dead. Max was dead. But I was alive!

I said it aloud. “Alive!” I said it several times, and then I walked around the Buick and looked at Calvart. Only then did I fully realize what had happened, and I felt fine! I felt exactly the way I had the day I killed Gorgan, only better. Much better!

Then I remembered the papers that I’d sold him. I got down in the ditch with him and took them out of his pocket. Then I looked through the briefcase in the front seat and there was nothing in it but bundles of newspaper cut to the size of banknotes, but not even that could smother my elation. Money was the easiest thing in the world to come by, but a man had to stay alive to enjoy it.

That’s something you should have thought of, Calvart, before you arranged this little party tonight!

The back seat of the Buick was a mess, and I didn’t make it any better by dragging Max out of it. But I had to use the Buick to get back to Lake City and it wouldn’t be especially smart to have it loaded down with corpses.

I dumped Max in the ditch on top of Calvart. Tomorrow they would find them, maybe, and there would be a hell of a noise, but there was very little they could do about it. Who would ever tie a thing like this to Roy Surratt?

It occurred to me that I might as well give the police a motive for the murders, any kind of motive except blackmail, so I went back to the ditch and began looking for wallets. This last was a profitable decision, as it turned out. Calvart, was carrying almost six hundred, and Max a little over four hundred, probably an advance on the job he was supposed to do. I laughed aloud as I counted it, almost a thousand dollars. Not bad, not bad at all fox a night’s work, even though it was a little out of my line.

I pocketed the money, took Max’s watch and Calvart’s watch and diamond ring. No sir, not a bad night’s work at all, everything considered!

I switched on the Buick, got it turned around, and headed back toward Lake City.

I parked the Buick on the outskirts of the city and caught a bus downtown. From there I drove the Lincoln to the apartment.

I was over the shakes now. I couldn’t imagine how I could have been scared at all. One thing I was sure of—I’d never be scared again. Audacity, Surratt, that’s the tiling to remember. Audacity and brains—they make a combination that can’t be beat!

I felt fight headed, almost drunk. I was a giant among men and the twenty thousand dollars I’d lost didn’t bother me at all. Money, I reminded myself again, is nothing.

While downtown I had picked up a morning paper, but I hadn’t looked at it yet. The Burton killing had slipped out of the headlines, and it was too early for the Calvart murder, so I dropped the folded paper on a table, went to the kitchen and poured myself a glass of milk.

It was still early, no more than ten o’clock. I’d get myself cleaned up. This had been quite a night… it called for a celebration. So I’d just go over to Pat’s apartment….

That was when I saw it. I walked back in the front room and glanced at the paper and there it was—in black headlines just below the fold.

WIFE OF JOHN VENCI FOUND DEAD. CORONER SAYS SUICIDE

So Dorris had done it.

The first thing I felt was a sense of relief. Well, by God, I thought, I’m glad she had the guts to go through with it. I’m glad to have her off my neck!

She had shot herself, using a little .22 automatic, and it had been a neat, workmanlike job, according to the paper. One bullet in the temple. Well, I thought, that’s the end of that. It’s just as well that she had ended it this way, for she would have ended up in a nut ward sooner or later if she hadn’t.

Then I thought of something that shook me. I thought: Wait a minute, Surratt. Dorris was pretty sore at you this morning when you brushed her off. Could that have had anything to do with her suicide? Could she have been sore enough to have left some incriminating evidence behind?

Jesus! I thought, that’s something to think about, all right!

It was possible, I decided, just possible that Dorris had taken this big step because of me. If that was the way it had happened, it meant trouble. It very well could mean the end of Roy Surratt! What if she had left a note behind? What if she had talked to somebody—the district attorney, for instance—before taking the bottomless plunge to oblivion?

It shook me. I devoured every word concerning the suicide, and then I went through it again very carefully to see if I could read anything between the lines.

I could find nothing, feel nothing, sense nothing that might implicate me in the affair. It had happened around four in the afternoon, according to the newspaper. The maid was out of the house at the time. Dorris had simply gone to her room, locked herself in and shot herself with that toy automatic. The reporter quoted the maid as saying that Mrs. Venci had not been herself since her husband was killed, and it was implied that grief had been the driving motive behind the act of self-destruction.

It was perfectly simple. The same story about the grief-stricken widow is printed every day, someplace or other…. It is so simple, I thought, that the whole thing stinks. Dorris Venci had been incapable of doing a thing simple and cleanly—I knew that better than any person alive.

Any person alive…

My experience with Stephen Calvart had made me acutely aware of the importance of staying alive. A man had to use his brain; and that is exactly what I did. If this thing was going to turn out to be more than a simple suicide, I had to know about it, and fast.

The first thing I did was pick up the phone and call Dorris’s number. That maid, that sour faced maid of Dorris’s, she was the one who might be able to straighten me out. Finding the maid at the Venci house tonight was a longshot chance, and this wasn’t the night for longshots to come in. I let the phone ring at least a dozen times and finally hung up.

What had been that maid’s name, anyway. Ethel? Edith? Ellen? That was it, Ellen, but I had no idea what her last name was or where she might be.

But the police would know. The idea of going to the police for information amused me. I grinned, feeling a bit of the old excitement and elation return as I dialed the operator and got the number.

“Hello,” I said soberly, “may I speak to the officer in charge of the Venci case?”

“Who’s callin’, please?”

“My name is Robert Manley. You see, I just got the news not more than two hours, ago, in this evening’s paper, the Lake City Journal-Times, and I came just as fast as I could, but you see there was some sort of mix-up at the bus station, I missed my connection at Midburg, and that’s the reason…”

“Hold on a minute, will you! Now what’s this about the Venci case?”

“That’s what I was telling you, officer. You see my Aunt Ellen has been in Mrs. Venci’s employ all these years and…”

“Will you please try to calm down, sir. Your Aunt Ellen, you said. Do you mean Ellen Foster, the Venci maid?”

“Yes, of course, Aunt Ellen Foster. You see I live in Midburg, and Aunt Ellen is my aunt. My, that is a ridiculous statement, isn’t it, officer, but I’m so upset, really, and Aunt Ellen was so devoted to Mrs. Venci…”

“Please, sir,” the voice said wearily, “just what is it you’re trying to say?”

“Why I want to know where my Aunt Ellen is, of course! I called the Venci residence, but of course she wasn’t there, what with that awful…”

“All right, all right!” he almost growled. “Just hold on a minute.”

I held on, grinning.

“Here it is,” he said after a moment. “The investigating officer lists Mrs. Foster’s present address as 1214 Stanley Road, a boarding house there, I believe.”

“And the phone number, officer. I feel that I simply must call my aunt right away or…”

“Jackson 4-1952.”

“Thank you, officer, thank you very much!”

He groaned and hung up.

Yes sir, if you want information on police matters, then go to the police! Very obliging people, the police. I don’t know what I would do without them! Still grinning, I hung up and after a few seconds dialed Jackson 4-1952.

“Hello…” A toneless voice, peevish and edged with bitterness.

“Mrs. Foster?”

She admitted grudgingly that she was Mrs. Foster and that she had been Mrs. Venci’s maid, then I identified myself as Captain Barlow of the police and that didn’t do anything to sweeten her mood.

“Sir,” she snapped, “I have nothing more to say about that horrible… accident. I told the police all I know, everything.”

“Everything, Mrs. Foster?”

Now her tone was indignant, but she didn’t seem to think it strange that a police officer would do his questioning over a telephone, and at this time of night. “Sir,” she snapped, biting into the word, “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean!”

“No offense at all, Mrs. Foster,” I said soothingly, “and we realize that you have been through a lot, the shock and all. Of course we have your statement in our files, but I would appreciate it very much if you would tell it to me again, in your own words.”

“Is this absolutely necessary, Captain? Really, I was most thorough in my report to the police a mere few hours ago. Couldn’t it wait until tomorrow, at least.”

“I’m afraid not, Mrs. Foster,” I said patiently. “This is an imposition on you, we realize it, and that is exactly the reason we decided not to call in person at this hour. I do hope you understand, Mrs. Foster, that police business must necessarily seem rather unusual at times to the citizen, but I assure you…”

“All right, Captain,” she relented. “I have been aroused and awakened, and now please let us be as brief as possible. Actually, I do not see that I can add to my original statement… however, it was around three this afternoon when Mrs. Venci called me upstairs and asked about the shopping. As it happens, I was just going out to do the day’s shopping, but she asked me to wait. She was writing a letter, she said. She wanted to finish the letter and have me mail it on the way to the market.”

My heart missed a beat. The news story had not mentioned a letter.

“… Mrs. Foster,” I said, “did you mail this letter, as Mrs. Venci asked you to do?”

“Of course. It’s all in my original statement.”

“Yes,” I said, feeling my muscles begin to tighten. “Yes, of course.”

“It’s rather interesting,” she admitted grudgingly, “that you should call at this particular time, Captain. This afternoon your policemen were extremely curious about that letter, although I couldn’t imagine why—and still can’t, for that matter. They seemed anxious to know to whom the letter was addressed. I tried and tried to remember, but the name simply wouldn’t come to me. Then, just as you called, a few moments ago, the strangest thing happened. The name came to me, Captain.”

I heard myself saying, It did, Mrs. Foster?”

“Yes. I remember glancing at the envelope, just to be sure that it was properly addressed for mailing. Keaslo. I feel quite sure that was the name.”

It rang no bell. The name of Keaslo meant absolutely nothing to me. I took a long, deep breath. Maybe I was getting myself worked up over nothing. I said, “How about the first name or the address? Do you remember them.”

“No, I’m afraid not, Captain. After all, it was just a glance, a mere precaution.”

“I understand, Mrs. Foster. But about the address, was it local or out of town delivery? Can you remember that?”

There was a moment of silence. Then, “Why, I believe it was a local address, one here in Lake City. But of course I can’t be certain.”

“… Yes.” I heard a curious pounding, and then realized that it was my heart knocking against my ribs. “Yes, I understand. Well, probably it means nothing at all, Mrs. Foster. Thank you very much for your co-operation.”

“I should have called the police in any event, Captain,” she said. “After my remembering the name, I mean.”

“Oh, you needn’t do that,” I said quickly. “After all, I do have the information now, I mean, and…” I didn’t go on. I could feel her hanging there in a sort of thoughtful vacuum. Mrs. Foster, is something wrong?”

“… No, nothing is wrong, I was just thinking. Captain, I have the feeling that the letter was addressed to a woman. I don’t remember the first name at all, but it is my impression that it was a woman’s name.”

“A woman’s name?”

… And then it hit me!

Keaslo. Kelso. They were similar—too much so to bear the weight of mere coincidence. “Mrs. Foster,” I said quickly, “I want you to give this serious thought. I want you to test your faculties of recall to the utmost. This woman’s name, this name on the letter that you don’t remember, was it Patricia?”

There was only an instant’s hesitation. “Why, Captain, I do believe it was!”

I covered the mouthpiece and whistled softly. “Thank you, Mrs. Foster, thank you very much!”

“Is that all, Captain?” She sounded disappointed now, as though she wanted to keep talking. But that memory of hers was getting a little too good. I wanted it to stop right where it was.

I said, “That is all, Mrs. Foster. Good night.” And I hung up.

So Dorris Venci had written a letter to Pat; and then, being assured that the letter would be mailed, she had put a bullet in her temple. An interesting situation, to say the very least.

I dropped to a chair and sat there thinking about it for minutes. A breath of the breeze drifted into the front room and across my face—the night air seemed to hold an exceptional chill for that time of year.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

THINGS LIKE THIS, I thought, are the things that can kill you. But how could I have predicted the actions of an eccentric mind like Dorris’s? How could anyone have predicted them? Anybody else, acting on the same impulse, would have mailed the incriminating letter to the district attorney, or the police department, or maybe even to a newspaper or a citizens committee. But not Dorris. Oh no, she had to send the evidence directly to Pat, overlooking the scores of simpler and more direct possibilities.

I wondered about that for a long while. What had been her motive? Jealousy? Hatred? Shame? Probably an equal amount of all three. If her aim had been to destroy me completely she needed only to point a finger of accusation in my direction—the cops would have taken care of the rest. They would have identified me and that would have been the end of Roy Surratt.

It was bad enough as it was. If Pat got hold of that letter I was as good as dead. The way she had felt about Alex Burton, maybe she would try to kill me herself…

And then I relaxed. I could even smile. This, I thought, is where brains and audacity pay off, because Pat will never see the letter. She will never know that I stood behind the gun that fired the bullet that killed her Alex, because I am going to intercept that letter.

I was going to be at the mail box the next morning when the postman arrived, and I was going to get that letter, even if I had to kill somebody else; and that would be the last of my troubles from Dorris Venci.

I felt fine once again. After a moment I picked up the phone and called Pat. The receiver came off the hook almost immediately.

“This is your neighbor,” I said.

“Well! I was beginning to wonder if I’d hear from you.”

“I’ve been busy. It’s been quite a day—to tell the truth, I’ll be just as happy if I never have another one like it.”

“It couldn’t have been too bad,” she said. “You sound pretty pleased with yourself.” Then she laughed. “I’ll buy ou a drink—unless you’re still pouting, that is.”

“I never pout,” I said. “It’s stupid. If you don’t get what you want the first time around it simply means your technique is all wrong, so you change techniques.”

She laughed again and hung up.

When I stepped into her apartment a few minutes later, it hit me all over again. By God, I thought, she’s beautiful, truly beautiful!

I hope you like scotch,” she said. “It’s all I have.”

“Scotch will do.”

She was all wrapped up in a pale blue quilted house coat, looking about fifteen years younger than she actually was. She sat on the tweedy couch with her legs folded back, and there was a closed book in her hand and she was smiling.

“Make yourself at home,” she said, and then unfolded slowly, lazily, stood up and walked to the kitchen. There was no doubt about it, she was the most beautiful girl I had ever known or seen.

She came out of the kitchen with two drinks in old fashioned glasses.

She laughed and handed me my drink. The book was put back in its place on the bookshelf, and Pat sat beside me on the couch. We sipped our drinks. I didn’t care for scotch, but I drank it, trying not to stare at her, reminding myself not to grab.

And I didn’t grab. I liked it this way, just the way we were. I liked to hear her talk; I liked just being with her and looking at her. Christ, I thought, I didn’t realize how exhausted I really am! This day had drained me completely, emotionally and physically, and all I wanted to do was sit still and let my muscles sag and look at Pat and think of nothing. Nothing important, anyway—such as that letter, or Calvart lying out there in a ditch on the brickyard road.

Then Pat stopped talking and looked at me. “Is there something wrong?” I said.

“No, I was just wondering about you. When you came in you looked so… vigorous. Now you look a hundred years old.”

“Thank you, ma’am, for those kind words.”

“You know what I mean,” she said. “You look as though you had been fighting the entire world single-handed.”

“Baby, I don’t suppose you’ll ever know just how good a guess you just made. But it’s nothing, really. I’m just beat, that’s all.”

She let it drop. Not one woman in ten million would have let it drop there, but Pat did. She merely shrugged, and then began talking about the scotch that we were drinking and how long she had had it. I lay back on the couch and smiled at her, and I wanted her more than I had ever wanted any woman in my life, but I didn’t touch her, I didn’t as much as lift a finger. When she was ready she would let me know.

I turned my thoughts inward as she talked, and I thought what a hell of a pair we could make, Pat and I. Soon I would move out of the lousy apartment building and take her with me, and I would rent the biggest damn suite in the best hotel in Lake City, and we’d start living the way people like us ought to live.

But first she had to come to me. She had to say, “Please take me with you,” and then I would take her. All I needed was patience.

She was a queer one, though. She didn’t ask questions —not many, anyway. She seemed to have no ambition. She had loved Alex Burton, but she seemed to have forgotten him completely—but, then, it was hard to tell about a woman like her, what she was thinking, what she really wanted. That coat, for instance. She had been as giddy as a bobby-soxer when I had given it to her, but now she seemed to have forgotten that, too.

I don’t know just how long I sat there, thinking of nothing in particular, and of everything in general. I thought of all my yesterdays as they might have been; all my tomorrows as I, with my own two hands, my brain and my guts, would make them. Several minutes must have passed before I realized that I was listening to nothing but silence.

I looked at Pat and she suddenly smiled. “You are tired, aren’t you? I don’t believe you heard a word I’ve been saying.”

“Was it important?”

She laughed softly. “What kind of a question is that? A lady’s words are always important. To herself, at least.” Then she reached out a hand and touched my hair. I liked that very much. “Perhaps,” she said, “you should go to bed and get some sleep.”

“I like it here, just the two of us.”

“All right. But you must promise to keep up your end of the conversation.”

I grinned at her. “That sounds reasonable, shall we discuss religion, politics, or the weather?”

“What’s wrong with O’Connor as a subject of conversation. Do you realize that I know absolutely nothing about you, except that you once worked your way through some college or other?”

It was my turn to laugh. “That’s a sore spot with me. I just don’t like work, I guess.”

“… What do you like, Mr. O’Connor.”

That name kept throwing me. I couldn’t get used to it— and, too, it reminded me of Dorris Venci who had given the name to me, and thinking of Dorris reminded me of that letter that I had to intercept, and it all got to be a vicious circle, or a net that had fallen around me, and I wondered if I would ever truly get completely out of it.

“What do I like?” I said. “Well, I like you, I think.”

“Now there is a left-handed sort of compliment, if I ever heard one!”

“I didn’t mean it to be.”

“Anyway,” she said, “you must like other things. Money, perhaps.”

“Money… of course I like the things that can be done with money, but I don’t have much respect for it as such. Money is the easiest thing in the world to come by, if you know the secret and practice it.”

“Well, I am sure that a great many people would love to have the secret. Would you mind telling me what it is?”

“It’s all right there in that book,” I said, “the one you were reading. Nietzche proved with crushing finality that the only civilization capable of enduring is one in which the strong are not penalized for taking from the weak. This particular civilization in which we are living calls it robbery, extortion, piracy, and a lot of other things.”

She leaned her head to one side, smiling quizzically. “And do you approve of these particular methods of obtaining money?”

“Let us just say that as a philosophy, Nietzsche’s can be a very tough one to logically argue down. However, I wasn’t going to bring up this subject, was I?”

“You didn’t bring it up, I did, and I find it very interesting.” he wasn’t smiling now, she looked extremely sober. Like a little girl who had just been told that some day she must die. Once again she touched my hair, and I felt the soothing effect of her hand. There was a satisfaction and pleasure in having her reach out, of her own accord, and touch me. This is the way it would be when the time came… only more so. “Tell me,” she said, “what else do you believe?”

“What else do I believe? Well, I believe in strength. And I believe that man should believe in himself.”

“You must be terribly bright,” she said, in a lighter vein now, smiling. “You must have read a horrible lot of books in order to have developed so many positive opinions.”

“As a matter of fact,” I said, “you are right. I have read a great many books, during recent years especially. And I have an intelligence quotient of one hundred and forty-nine, which isn’t bad when you consider that one hundred and forty-five is usually considered a genius rating.”

She laughed suddenly, with surprising merriment. “Coming from anyone else,” she said, “such a statement would tag the guy as an insufferable braggart.”

“I wasn’t bragging, I was merely stating a fact.”

“I know,” she said, “and that is one of the things about you that amazes me.”

“However,” I said, “I don’t believe that a man of ability should underrate himself.”

Once again she laughed. “I can believe that! I certainly can!”

We sat there for quite a long time. And at last she said, “I’m going to have to put you out before long; I’m still a working girl, you know.”

I said, “You don’t have to be. All you have to do is say the word and you can have anything you want. Anything.”

“This is rather unlike you, isn’t it? I didn’t think you asked for things. I thought you took what you wanted.”

“This is my new technique, remember?”

This time she didn’t smile. “… Yes. I remember.” Then she said, “You frighten me at times… did you know that?”

“No. I don’t mean to. Why do I frighten you?”

“You’re so sure of yourself. You have such absolute confidence in your own power to get the things you want.”

“That’s the way I am; when I say something, I mean it. Remember what I said that night about turning this town upside down and shaking it, and you said you would like to be around when the money started falling?”

“… I was only joking.”

I wasn’t joking. Before long I’ll hold this town in my own two hands. I’ll make it sit up and talk just the way I want it to talk, like a ventriloquist operating a wooden dummy. Don’t ask me how I’m going to do it, just believe me when I say it’s going to happen.”

She looked at me for one long moment. “Yes… I can believe you.”

“You haven’t asked any questions,” I said, “and I appreciate that.”

“It isn’t because I haven’t wondered. I wouldn’t have been human, not to have wondered.”

“But you didn’t ask, that’s the important thing. That’s the way well keep it.” I took her hand, just her hand and held it. “That coat I gave you,” I said. “That was nothing. You can have a closet full of coats exactly like it, if you want them. That Lincoln that surprised you so… you can have a fleet of them, one for every day in the week, if you feel like it. That is the way I am going to shake this town. That’s the way the money is going to fall when I really start moving.”

She said nothing, but there was a brightness in her eyes, a strangeness, when I glanced at her and she didn’t know that I was looking.

“Think about it,” I said.

“… Yes. I’ll think about it.”

I had her hooked. I could feel it. This was her chance to stop being a working girl and really become somebody. Yes sir, beyond a doubt she was hooked.

Still, it wasn’t the time to start grabbing. Instead I let go of her hand and stood up. “See you tomorrow?”

“Yes,” she said, “tomorrow.”

Let her think it over. Let her dwell on that fleet of Lincolns and that closet full of Balmain coats. I smiled and walked out of the apartment.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

THAT NIGHT I slept like the dead.

I awoke slowly the next morning. I lay in bed and let consciousness creep gently, quietly into my brain, and at last I opened my eyes and saw that the sun was high, I had forgotten to draw the blinds and my drab, cramped bedroom was obscenely bright.

The first thing I thought of was Pat. Maybe I had been dreaming about her, I don’t remember, but the first thing I thought of was the brightness of her eyes and the way she had looked at me the night before, and I thought pleasantly: Sure as hell, I’ve got her hooked.

Then I remembered Calvart.

Ah, yes, Mr. Stephen S. Calvart, and a very tough boy he had been, too. But a dead one now. So I forgot about Calvart.

I padded into the bathroom, brushed my teeth, ran some hot water and began to shave. What I needed was some coffee, but there wasn’t any coffee in the apartment, and if there had been it wouldn’t have done me much good because I made lousy coffee. But all that would be changed before long. Pat would soon be making my coffee in the mornings.

That thought cheered me. I began to whistle as I lathered my face. I had a feeling that this was going to be a fine day, that this was going to be the day the cards started falling on my side of the table. First Burton, and then Calvart, both of them tough boys, but now they were dead and I could forget them. Surely, I told myself, that list of Venci’s doesn’t contain any more names that would prove as tough as Burton and Calvart. Surely my luck is due to change!

Not until that moment did I remember the letter.

Christ, what time was it anyway? I didn’t have a watch, and there wasn’t a clock in the place, but I remembered Pat saying that the postman usually showed up around ten o’clock.

I finished shaving and got out to that mail box as fast as possible. The house porter came around and said it was only after nine and the postman hadn’t been around yet. I breathed easier.

It was almost an hour later that the postman finally showed up. From down the hall I heard the familiar rattle of keys the minute he stepped into the building, and I was there at the mail box almost before he was.

“Good morning,” I said pleasantly.

“Mornin’,” he said, not looking up. He unlocked the boxes, began sorting out a small bundle of letters, dropping the envelopes into the individual slots.

“Name?” he said.

“What?”… not understanding at first what he meant.

“Your name,” he said, still not looking at me, still busy at sorting the envelopes. “You got any mail, you might as well take it now. Before I lock up the boxes.”

“Oh, My name’s O’Connor, but I’m not expecting any mail. Fact is I’m here to pick up Miss Kelso’s mail for her. She asked me to. That’s all right, isn’t it?”

He shrugged. “Sure, it’s all right, I guess, if Miss Kelso had any mail to pick up. But she don’t.”

I felt my insides shrink. “You must be mistaken,” I said, forcing a laugh, forcing myself to remain outwardly calm. “You see Miss Kelso was expecting this letter; she was quite certain that it would be in this morning’s mail, and she wanted me to pick it up for her. Maybe you overlooked it.”

“Didn’t overlook it,” he said, completely uninterested. “Everything for this address was in that bundle. Nothin’ for Miss Kelso.”

My scalp began to prickle. You sonofabitch, I thought savagely, if you’re holding out on me I’ll leave you dead right here in the hallway! So help me I’ll strangle you if you don’t come across with that letter!

He dropped some magazines on the table and began locking the boxes.

I made myself calm down. In spite of his self-assurance he must have overlooked that letter! He must have! Then he shouldered his leather mailbag, nodded and started to go.

“Please!” I said quickly, licking my lips. “I know this might sound crazy to you, but that letter is very important—to Miss Kelso. You see, well, I promised I’d get it for her, and naturally I don’t want to disappoint her. I’d be very grateful if you’d look again, just to be sure. Would you do that, please?”

He said nothing. He went on thumbing through the bundles of envelopes, and I felt a sick emptiness in the pit of my stomach as bundle after bundle was dropped back into the bottom of the bag.

“Isn’t it there?” I asked. “It’s there somewhere, isn’t it? It got misplaced?”

He finished with another bundle, the last one, and once again shouldered the bag. “Nope. Just like I told you the first time, there’s nothin’ here for Miss Kelso.”

That letter simply had to be there! I said: “How about another delivery? Is it possible that the letter would be delivered later in the day?”

“Not unless it’s special delivery.”

By God, I thought, that would really cook me, if that letter turned out to be special delivery. But surely Ellen Foster would have noticed a thing like that—sure she would —so I immediately ruled out the possibility of special delivery.

The postman gave me one look, a sort of fishy look, then turned and went out of the building. It was all I could do to keep from yelling at him and making him go through his bag all over again. That letter just had to be there somewhere!

But it wasn’t. If that letter had fallen into the wrong hands, I was good as dead, and I didn’t want to admit it.

What I had to do was think. This was no time for breastbeating and wailing. I stood there staring at the mail box, that empty mail box, and made myself calm down. There was one thing I had to do; I had to systematically figure out what had happened to that letter.

Now that letter was mailed around four o’clock yesterday afternoon… that’s the starting point. There was just a chance that the letter wasn’t picked up at all yesterday. If that was the case, it wouldn’t be delivered until tomorrow, since there was only one-a-day delivery service at this address. Maybe that’s what happened, I thought. And I began to feel better.

But only for an instant. Oh, no, I thought, that letter was picked up all right. If it hadn’t been, the police would have intercepted it right on the spot.

That left two possibilities, two possible explanations as to why the letter hadn’t arrived here this morning: either it had been lost, or it had been intercepted at the main mail distribution point.

Then I thought: what are the odds on getting a letter lost in the mails? A million to one? Two million to one? The post office is a damned efficient organization; they just don’t lose letters, especially on local delivery, often enough to make it a possibility.

That left only one answer, the answer that I had been trying to dodge, the answer that I was afraid of. The letter had been intercepted by the police. I didn’t know how, but it had happened!

I had promised myself that I would never be afraid again… but I was afraid now.

It was a miracle that I was still alive! The miracle was that this apartment building hadn’t been swarming with cops long before now! By God, I thought, I’ve got to get out of here! I’ve got to move faster than I ever moved in my life!

That was when I started running.

I suppose I was running for my apartment, but I can’t be sure about anything that happened for the next few minutes. Panic had seized me and for that instant had complete control of me, but instinct alone had probably turned me toward my apartment. That’s where my money was. That’s where my gun was—the equipment of survival.

Once I recognized the fact that the letter had been intercepted, I knew instantly just the way it must have happened. It had started with that maid, Ellen Foster, who had suddenly become so proud of her memory. After thinking it over, she must have realized that the name on the letter hadn’t been Keaslo at all, but Kelso, and she had probably called the cops about it.

But it couldn’t have happened last night. It could only have happened this morning, and not early this morning, either, and that was the only thing that saved me this long. That and a legal complication that naturally arises when you fool with the U. S. Mail. The cops, after they had intercepted the letter, probably had gone after Pat’s permission to open it and act on the information in it. That small time lapse had saved me. It had given the postman time to make his regular delivery and arouse my suspicions.

If the cops had just held up that postman I would have been cooked hours ago. Blue suits and badges would have filled my apartment before I’d even got out of bed.

All this went through my mind as I ran down the hallway of that apartment building. In a matter of seconds the whole story was there, full grown, in front of me.

But the situation was bad enough as it was. Sooner or later the cops would be here. In a matter of minutes, probably, or even seconds. Surely, they would know the contents of Dorris Venci’s letter by this time, the news that Roy Surratt, Alex Burton’s murderer, was at large in Lake City. I didn’t dare think of the number of police cars that must be converging on this point at this minute, this second.

Where I was going from the apartment I didn’t know. I just knew instinctively that I had to get there first, I had to get the gun, the money, the keys to the Lincoln. I didn’t have enough of a future to plan on… the future, after I had picked up the essentials, would have to take care of itself.

I was about six or eight quick running steps from the mailbox, right at the rear entrance of the apartment building, when I heard the first siren.

The sound froze me.

I forgot about the apartment. I forgot, gun, money, keys, everything. All I could think about was getting away from there as fast as possible. I hit the rear entrance of the apartment building, with a force that almost took the door off the hinges. I ran past the garage stall where the Lincoln was parked… that sleek, beautiful, powerful Lincoln that I’d never be able to use again, not even if I had remembered the keys. They would be looking for that Lincoln, they would be looking for any kind of car, so I didn’t even give it a second glance.

I ran around the row of brick garage stalls, clawed my way through a hedge fence and broke into the open alley behind the apartment building. I had no time to wonder where I was going from here. The first siren was getting louder now, much louder, and others were beginning to join the screeching chorus. I only knew that I had to keep running until I could no longer hear the sirens, and then maybe I could stop for a moment and think.

I darted across the alley and plowed through another hedge fence, and there on the other side of the fence was another string of second rate apartment buildings, much like the one I had lived in. I ran blindly, headed nowhere in particular, just running in panic. It was like a nightmare, the harder I ran the closer the sirens got. I circled the apartment buildings and crossed the street which placed me a block away from where I had started. A woman coming out of a drugstore stopped to watch, but I ducked behind another building at the end of the block and didn’t see her again.

I began to thing about Dorris Venci as I ran. Goddamn that warped brain of hers!

But it was too late for regrets. Too late for anything but running, so I ran.

I stopped in a doorway and tried to get my breath, but the sound of those sirens wouldn’t let me rest. Every goddamned car on the force must be answering this call! I thought. Well, who could blame them? It’s not every day that you get a chance to pick up Roy Surratt, defenseless and alone, the way he is now!

But I kept telling myself: You’ve got to stop this running! It’s idiotic, all this running when you don’t even know where you’re going! It only attracts attention.

When the prowl car went past, sirens screaming, four or five people came out of a supermarket to see what was going on. I joined them.

“Land sakes!” a woman was saying. “Where are the fire trucks?”

“It’s not a fire,” a young guy in a white apron said. “It’s a police car, I just saw it go by.”

“Well, I never heard the likes! What do you suppose…”

I was afraid they would notice how out of breath I was. I eased to the edge of the group and into another doorway. Now what are you going to do, Surratt? You’re the genius. The perfectionist. The criminal philosopher. You’re the one who talks so much about the use of brains and audacity. Well, let’s see you get out of this one, if you’re so goddamn smart!

That little pep talk did me more good than anything that could possibly have happened; it stilled the panic; it gave me time to think.

All right, I thought savagely, I’ll get out of this yet! How about that little business with Calvart? I’d never be in a spot tighter than that one if I lived to be a thousand!

I felt a little better. I didn’t feel so much like a pile of quivering mush. What I needed right now was a friend. A good, strong friend like John Venci… but Venci was dead. I didn’t have a friend, I didn’t even have an acquaintance that I could go to for help.

It was Roy Surratt against the world.

By now the people who had come out of the supermarket had gone back in, or had drifted away. I stood there in the doorway wondering what the hell I was going to do. I had to get out of this neighborhood somehow, and fast, but I had no idea how I was going to manage it until I saw the young punk, the kid in the white apron, come out of the supermarket loaded down with two paper bags full of groceries. There was a Ford sedan at the curb in front of the supermarket, and that’s where he was heading.

“Just a minute, Joe, I’ll get that door for you.”

I looked around to see where the voice was coming from, and saw the woman coming out of the market carrying another, smaller, bag. She was about forty years old and looked like a typical middleclass housewife. She opened the luggage compartment and the kid dumped the groceries inside.

“Thanks, Mrs. Rider. That canned stuff sure is heavy.”

The woman said something and the kid went back to the supermarket. Mrs. Rider stood there for a minute, frowning and listening to the sirens, then she closed the trunk lid that the punk had forgotten and went around to the driver’s side of the car. I stepped out of the doorway and walked over to the Ford.

“There’s been no accident, Mrs. Rider,” I said.

Startled, she snapped her head around and stared at me. “I beg your pardon?”

“I said there’s been no accident. Those police cars you hear, they’re looking for me, Mrs. Rider.” I didn’t have a gun to freeze her into silence, and I didn’t want her to start screaming… not until I was close enough to choke it off, at least. So I spoke gently, quietly, hoping that she would understand her position and be sensible about it.

I opened the door on the driver’s side and said, “I don’t want to hurt you, Mrs. Rider. That’s the last thing in the world I want….” But it was no use. I could see the scream coming up in her throat.

I had to act fast. I jumped inside and hit her. I knocked the scream out of her before it ever became a sound. Her head snapped back and she fell against the door on the other side of the car. I grabbed her and stuffed her down to the floorboards.

She was out cold.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

IN THE GLOVE compartment I found an eight inch crescent wrench and a state road map. The wrench I slipped into my right hand pocket, the map I spread out on my lap and studied for four or five minutes trying to decide on the best escape route out of Lake City.

There were several ways to get out of the city, but the best and quickest way was a superhighway leading south of the city. Just outside the city limits there was an elaborate traffic circle that would take you off in about any direction you wanted, and I decided this would be my best bet. My big problem was getting to that traffic circle before the cops set up a roadblock.

I stuffed the road map back into the glove compartment and then pulled Mrs. Rider up onto the seat and slapped her a couple of times to bring her out of it. She wasn’t really hurt, although she might have trouble chewing on the left side of her jaw for a few days. She was suffering from shock more than anything. The slapping took care of that.

“… Stop that!”

“That’s more like it,” I grinned. I had slipped over on the passenger’s side of the car and put her under the wheel, and now I had my hand in my coat pocket, holding the crescent wrench like a gun.

“Mrs. Rider,” I said quietly, “I don’t want to be forced to use this gun. Now you’re not going to make me use the gun, are you?”

That scared her plenty, and I knew I had her in the palm of my hand. “Please… please put it away!”

“It’s just a precaution, Mrs. Rider; a man in my position can’t afford to take chances.”

“What… are you going to do!”

“I’ve got to get out of Lake City, and I’ve got to do it fast. You’re going to help me, Mrs. Rider. You are going to drive just where I tell you to drive, and as long as you do that you won’t be hurt.”

“I’m… I’m so nervous… I don’t think I can drive.”

“Sure you can, Mrs. Rider. All you have to do is keep thinking about this gun in my pocket. You keep thinking about this gun, and what will happen to you if anything goes wrong, and I’m sure everything will be fine. Now start the car.”

She was nervous, all right, but she started the car. She was thoroughly convinced that I had a gun on her, and would kill her, and she was more than eager to do anything I said.

I directed her west, through the outskirts of Lake City, and then we hit the four lane highway and headed south and I stopped worrying about Mrs. Rider. But I worried about those cops, plenty.

Those cops with their short wave radios, and their teletype machines, and their identification experts. What I needed was a short wave radio, one like Dorris Venci had had in her Lincoln. If I had a radio like that, I’d know if the cops were already busy setting up roadblocks or if they were still fooling around that apartment house trying to flush me out of some hole.

But I didn’t have a radio and I didn’t know a damn thing. All I could do was hope.

Then I glanced at the Ford’s speedometer and it was nosing up toward 60, and I said sharply, “Watch your speed!”

She winced as though I had slapped her again, but she jumped off that accelerator. “Please!” she said, almost sobbing. “You know how nervous I am!”

“And you know how cops are about speed laws. If we get jumped for speeding, Mrs. Rider, I’ll be forced to conclude that you did it on purpose and act accordingly. That’s something you might think over whenever you see that speedometer indicate more than 45.”

“I just didn’t notice!” she whined. “I had no idea of attracting the police!”

“I assure you,” I told her, “that such an idea would be a most dangerous one.”

Several minutes went by. We said nothing. There wasn’t a cop in sight, anywhere. After a while I got to thinking, maybe it’s going to work! Maybe I got the jump on them enough to make it work!

Then, at that moment when I should have been thinking “cops” and nothing but “cops,” I found myself thinking about Pat.

That’s all over now, I thought. Even before it got started, it’s over. And I felt a kind of emptiness that I had never known before. By now she probably knew all about me. By now she would know that I had killed Alex Burton, and she was probably hating my guts like she had never hated anything before.

Strangely, that was my only regret at that moment. All around me were the cops, I was just a short jump ahead of violent death and I knew it… what’s more, I had just seen my beautiful million dollar blackmail scheme go down the sewer… still, all I could think of was that Pat was hating my guts.

I didn’t know if I loved her… or even if I was capable of love; but all the same the emptiness was there, cold and swollen inside me. Then I caught myself toying with a dangerous idea, much more dangerous than the one I had warned Mrs. Rider about. I caught myself thinking: If I could just see her and talk to her maybe I could get it straightened out. After all, she has nothing to go on but Dorris’s letter; so it’s my word against Dorris’s word. And Dorris Venci, I reminded myself, had never given her a Balmain coat, and I had. That should make a difference about whose word she would take, if I knew anything at all about women.

I had seen Pat’s eyes, that night when she had stood staring at herself in my mirror, all wrapped up in the fantastic luxury of that coat. I remembered that night and seriously doubted that my past, my prison record, would bother her a great deal.

Then Mrs. Rider made a small surprised sound and the car began to slow down.

I snapped out of it. I slammed the door on my subconscious.

“What are you doing!”

“… Up ahead,” she said shakily, licking her lips nervously. “The traffic…”

I saw it then, and my heart hammered against my ribs about three times and then seemed to stop. About three or four hundred yards down the highway traffic was beginning to pile up… and nobody had to tell me what that meant.

The police had got a jump ahead of me. They had already set up a roadblock!

I could feel my world going to pieces right under my feet. Jesus! I thought, what am I going to do now!

But this time I held panic off with both hands. This is only the beginning, I reminded myself. This is a bad spot, but there are going to be plenty of bad spots before you get out of this mess, so you might as well learn to take them.

I grabbed the steering wheel and pulled with everything I had.

Mrs. Rider screamed. I thought the Ford was coming apart as we hit the raised concrete island that divided the four lane highway, but we got across it somehow. I heard tires screech like ripping canvas as the stream of northbound traffic tried to jam into the outside lane to keep from broadsiding us.

I didn’t give a damn about the traffic. I yelled at Mrs. Rider: “Floorboard it!”

Now I was perfectly cool and she was the nervous wreck. But when I made a move toward my right pocket she made a tight, squealing little sound and jammed the accelerator to the floor.

“Goddamnit,” I yelled, “take the steering wheel!”

Half scared to death, she took the wheel from me and the car heeled dangerously as she fought to get it under control. She finally got it straightened out without once taking her foot from the accelerator.

I looked back and saw that all the traffic far behind us was now crowding over to the outside lane. That meant that the cops had seen us trying to escape the roadblock. They had opened up with the sirens and were getting ready to come after us.

Well, let them come! Now that the action had started I was perfectly calm. I glimpsed the flashing red light on top of the police car, but we had a good jump on them. They weren’t nearly close enough to start shooting, and I didn’t intend for them to get that close.

“Faster!” I shouted.

“I… I can’t go any faster! The car won’t go any faster!” Her voice was a high-pitched whine, almost like a siren. This, I thought, will be a day shell never forget! This will be a day she can tell her grandchildren about—if she’s smart and stays alive long enough to have any grandchildren.

I studied the road ahead for a moment, watching the city rushing toward us. I looked back at the cops and saw that they were closing some ground, but not enough to catch us for a while. At last I glanced at Mrs. Rider’s white face.

“How well do you know this town?”

She worked her mouth but the words simply wouldn’t come out.

I said, “I want you to take the next through street to the right, heading right for the heart of town. You understand me?”

She nodded, blinking her eyes rapidly. Goddamn you, I thought, you better not start crying! Not while you’re driving this car! About five or six hundred yards up the highway she braked and bent the Ford hard to the right. She damn near rolled it—there was an eerie, floating sensation as both left wheels went up in the air.

However, this was Mrs. Rider’s lucky day. This was her day to stay alive, in spite of everything. She took that corner like a champ at the Indianapolis races.

My heart was in my throat. “Goddammit!” I started to yell, “this is no race you’re driving!” Then I changed my mind and said nothing. This was her lucky day, let her ride it out.

I looked back and couldn’t see the police car—but this was no permanent arrangement and I knew it. We were now in a part of Lake City that I had never seen before, a warehouse district with several big tractor and trailer jobs parked along the shoulders. I said, “Turn left, that next street up ahead.” I wanted to get off this through street before the cops made their turn from the highway. There was no use wondering where we went from there. The best plan in the world was no good now—I’d just have to make it up as I went along.

Still, I knew something had to be done, and fast. You simply don’t barrel through a place like Lake City at 60 miles an hour, with a cop car on your tail, without attracting some attention. The way things were now going, it was only a matter of time before the end came, and not much time at that.

Well… there was no time like the present.

“This will do,” I said.

She didn’t understand me, or maybe she was concentrating so hard on her driving that she didn’t hear.

“Stop the car!” I said. And this time she understood. She shot a panic stricken glance at me and began breaking to a stop.

“Now get out,” I said, reaching in front of her and opening the door. The car had barely come to a stop when I gave her a shove and that was the last I saw of Mrs. Rider. The longer I kept her with me the higher the odds became that sooner or later she would do something crazy and I would have to kill her. I wondered if Mrs. Rider appreciated the favor I’d done her. Probably she was worrying more about the groceries in the luggage compartment—that’s the way women’s minds seem to work.

I forgot about Mrs. Rider completely. I’d lost the cops for a few minutes, but only for a very few minutes. Already they would have radioed for help and in a very short time this part of Lake City was going to be swarming with police.

Strangely enough, I was perfectly cool now, my mind operating with the clean precision of an electronic calculator. This car, like its owner, had now become more of a liability than an asset—the big problem right now was getting it off my hands. But the cops would find it sure if I just parked it and got out; then they would know that I had to be in the immediate neighborhood.

By now I was about four blocks from where I’d dumped Mrs. Rider, and ahead of me there was a sign:

RED BALL GARAGE

DAY AND NIGHT WRECKER SERVICE WE FIX FLATS.

I turned the Ford into the big open doorway of the garage. When the motor died I could hear the sirens—more than one now. Then I noticed a black bag on the floorboards and picked it up. Inside there was a five dollar bill and some change—not much, but certainly better than nothing. Mrs. Rider, I thought with an almost hysterical gayety, don’t think I don’t appreciate this! I pocketed the money and felt an insane impulse to giggle.

I got out of the Ford and walked over to where a big man in grease stained coveralls had his head under the hood of a new De Soto.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

I SAID, “HOW long will it take to get a valve and ring job on this Ford?”

The mechanic took his head out of the De Soto. “Maybe tomorrow I can get started. Maybe this afternoon.”

“No hurry, no hurry at all,” I said pleasantly. “What I want is a good job. I don’t care how long it takes.”

He shrugged. “All right, tomorrow.” Then he screwed up his face, thoughtfully, listening. “Sounds like a fire out there,” he said, finally getting around to hearing the sirens.

I preferred to ignore the sirens for the present. “It will be all right to leave the Ford here in the garage, won’t it?”

“Sure…. Sure,” he said vaguely, still listening.

There were three or four of them now, and from what I could hear, they were moving toward the north, away from the warehouse district, still looking for that Ford.

Well, that suited me fine. I figured it would take a while before they got around to checking the garages, and by that time I hoped to be far away from this part of town; far away from Lake City. I got the mechanic to make out a ticket on the repairs he thought I wanted on the Ford, valve job, new rings, the works, and then I signed a phony name and got out of there. Yes sir, I thought, it’s going to take them a while to trace that Ford.

I walked out to the sidewalk and stood there listening, and the sound of the sirens was just a whisper now, just a hint of a scream in the distance. I felt secure for the moment, but I knew that wasn’t going to last. The odds against me were growing fast. The impulse to run, run blindly, was almost irresistible, but I put it down. If I had taken time to think at the beginning I would be in a much better position at this moment: I’d have a gun; I’d have a bankroll; I’d be in a position to help myself.

Well, there was no use crying about it now. I had to figure out a way to get out of here, far away, and I could allow nothing else to occupy my mind until that was settled.

I moved down the sidewalk, cautiously, but not too cautiously, not so cautiously as to attract attention. I kept my eyes open; I regarded everything that crossed my line of vision as a possible instrument of escape. Just stay calm, I kept telling myself, and something will show up, something always shows up to those who wait. Then I saw something and thought, this is it!

What I saw was a railroad track—not the main tracks but a spur line that served the warehouse district—and when I reached the end of the block, I saw the lineup of freight cars and flatcars pulled off on the siding, and a small fleet of big tractor-simi jobs loading, unloading, coming, going. It looked like a busy place, and up ahead there was an old fashioned coal burning switch engine, and that started me thinking.

A switch engine…. It must mean that the line of freight cars was being readied to leave Lake City. That’s just what’s going to happen, I thought. Those cars are going to be coupled together, that switch engine would move the whole string out to the main track where it would become a part of the outgoing freight train getting ready to pull out right at this moment.

And that was when I saw the cops. A big job pulled away from the track, and there on the other side of the truck was a black and white sedan, a red warning light on top, a long, waving, short wave antenna at the rear. A squad car, all right. I was old enough to know a squad car when I saw one!

Well, I thought, almost tempted to smile, they are a very efficient crew, these Lake City Police. First roadblocks, now they are searching freight cars, and no doubt they already had men working the bus stations, depots, and even the airfields.

Let them search. Let them get it out of their systems—I was just glad they had decided to do it now instead of a few minutes later, because in a few minutes I intended to be in one of those freight cars. I intended to punch myself a one way ticket to Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, anywhere. I didn’t care where it was, just so the name wasn’t Lake City.

What I needed was breathing space, thinking time—and those cops were fixing it up very nicely. It didn’t occur to me that their searching the train at this particular time was a very close call; what occurred to me was that my luck must be changing. It must be changing! Surely they wouldn’t come back and search that train again, after having done it once….

Yes sir, the cards were beginning to fall!

I waited patiently, watching the activity at the tracks, and after a while I saw the cops, two of them, climb out of a box car and drive away.

As soon as the police car was out of sight I began walking toward the track. Not a detail did I miss, for details were what my future hinged on. Details could mean the difference between living and dying. So I noted carefully that there were eighteen cars, four of them flatcars, two refrigerated cars, and the others were ordinary red-painted box cars.

Those box cars are out, I thought immediately. They load those things and lock them tight before they are coupled with the train… and I sure didn’t want to find myself a prisoner in a box car. The refrigerated cars were out too. They offered the advantage of having ventilating and icing doors at the top, but too many people were apt to get curious about the contents of a refrigerated car, so that left only the flatcars, which didn’t seem very promising at first.

But that changed when I saw the two workmen stretching the big gray tarp over the tractors. They were bright red high-wheeled farm tractors, four of them anchored down with cables and pulleys on one of the flatcars, and now the workmen were stretching the big tarp over them so they would look nice and new when they got to wherever they were going.

It didn’t take the workmen long to get the tarp lashed down to everyone’s satisfaction. They dropped off the flatcar, got in a truck and drove away. Most of the trucks and workmen were gone now… it looked like the cars were loaded and ready to pull out.

Sure enough, the switch engine began backing up, the engineer leaning out the far side of the cab to get his signals from the brakeman.

Now! I thought. It’s now or never if you want to get out of Lake City alive! I broke into a jog, being careful to keep a box car between me and the brakeman. I swung up to the flatcar and squeezed under the edge of the tarp.

This was the dangerous time. This was a time for holding my breath and hoping that brakeman hadn’t seen me.

Apparently he hadn’t. Nobody yelled, nobody stuck his head under the tarp to see what the hell I was doing there, so apparently I had brought it off perfectly and nobody at all had seen me.

I breathed easier… everything was coming out just right. Of course this flatcar couldn’t be called first class travel, but it would do. Up ahead I could hear the cars coming together, coupling, with teeth-jarring rattles. And then the car directly ahead smashed into my flatcar and slammed me back against one of the tractors. One of the big lugs on the tractor’s rear wheel tore my coat as I grabbed for something to hold to—but that didn’t bother me. Nothing could bother me now. I was as good as out of Lake City! In spite of the police, in spite of their elaborate communication system and their road blocks! _.

At last the entire string of cars was coupled together and we began to move forward. We moved forward for maybe ten minutes, then stopped. Then we moved in reverse for a short distance, then forward again. I couldn’t see what was going on, but I knew that a certain amount of switching had to be done to get us on the right track.

I don’t know how many times we went forward, stopped, then went backward and finally forward again. It seemed like a long time, as I crouched there under the tarp in semi-darkness, being slammed against the steel of those tractors every time the engineer changed directions. Finally we stopped and this time we didn’t move again. I heard the switch engine break off and move away by itself. It won’t be long now, I thought. We’re on the right track, now all I have to do is wait.

I waited for what seemed like hours and nothing happened. Nothing at all. Every so often I could hear somebody crunch past on the cinders beside the track, and I died a little every time, and thought: What the hell am I going to do if it’s a railroad inspector and he sticks his head under this tarp, or the cops coming back for a second look! But they always went on, and after a while my heart would start beating normally again.

If only I had a gun, I kept thinking….

But I didn’t have a gun.

And what was holding up this string of cars? Why didn’t a train pick it up and get it moving?

I didn’t know the answer, and I didn’t dare stick my head under that tarp to try to find out. I crouched there, and the long minutes and hours crawled by, and at last I realized that the sun had moved from one side to the other on the tarp and that at least four or five hours must have gone by since I first swung onto this flatcar that I was now beginning to hate.

That was when I finally realized that that string of cars wasn’t going anywhere. Not today, anyway. Maybe not for a week, or even a month!

The realization came slowly, but probably it had been in the back of my mind all along and I had simply refused to look at it. But there was no getting around it now. I was stuck! I was on a train going nowhere!

At that moment I was utterly defeated. All I could think of was—this is the end of the line! The hand had been played out.

For several minutes, maybe longer, I wallowed in the muck and slime of self-pity—but finally I pulled myself out of that. By God, I told myself, I’ve got to get myself out of this!

But one thought kept hammering at me. Jesus, if I only had a gun! I was rapidly becoming a nut on the idea of not having a gun. What I needed right now was a friend like John Venci to give me a gun and a bankroll.

I might as well have wished for a platinum plated key to Fort Knox. No sir, I thought, it’s going to take more than wishing to get out of this, Surratt….

Then one word, one name crossed my mind…. Pat!

I hadn’t dared think of her until now. The minute that letter had been intercepted I made myself stop thinking about her. No matter what I had felt about her, or what she had felt about me, I had to accept the fact that Pat must now hate my guts because she knew that I had killed Alex Burton.

But now I started thinking in a new direction, almost another dimension.

The question I asked myself was: Did Pat actually know that I had killed Burton? All she had was the word of an unbalanced woman, to put it kindly, and was there any particular reason that she should take the word of a gangster’s wife against mine?

Jesus, I thought, the excitement of the idea beginning to grip me, I wonder if I actually could bring her around! I wonder if I could somehow make her believe that I had nothing to do with that Burton killing!

The fact was, I had very little choice in the matter. My position right now was much the same as it had been in prison. Lake City was my prison, all exits were locked to me, and to crash out successfully I simply had to have help… and Pat was the only possible person who might give it.

I could hear my every heartbeat as I crouched there by the tractors. If I bring this off, I thought, it will be the most audacious action of my career.

However, any debate on the matter would be purely academic, for Pat held my life in her hands. Either she would help me, or she wouldn’t. Either I would die, or I wouldn’t. Strangely enough I was perfectly calm as I considered the possibilities. The first thing I’ve got to do is get to a phone, I thought. I’ve got to contact Pat and I’ve got to give the most convincing performance of my life!

Beyond that point there was no sense making plans.

In the distance I could hear those out-of-tune electronic chimes banging out every quarter hour. The distance that those discordant sounds could cover was positively amazing, but at least they were functional. By paying attention to the chimes I now knew that it was five o’clock and that seven full hours had passed since the police cars had first started closing in on my apartment.

Only seven hours? It seemed like a lifetime ago!

Getting started was the tough part. I had begun to associate a feeling of security with this flatcar. I began to hate the thought of leaving it. I began to think what a nice thing it would be if I could curl up into a tight little knot and lie there in the quiet darkness and pretend that everything was going to work out fine, just the way it was, and it really wasn’t necessary to return to that jungle fury that lay on the other side of the tarp.

I lifted the tarp just a little and looked outside. Just as I had figured, the string of cars had been left on a siding. I looked out at an amazing network of steel tracks only slightly less complicated than the human nerve system, and beyond the tracks there were several sprawling redbrick buildings and a high wire fence. I had a look on the other side of the car and decided this would be my best bet. In this direction there were very few tracks. There was a maze of cattle pens and loading chutes. Most of the cattle pens were empty and there was no sign of unusual activity—certainly there were no cops in sight.

Well, I thought, I might as well take the plunge.

CHAPTER TWENTY

THE AFTERNOON papers were in a wire rack in front of a drugstore and I could read the headlines from half a block away.

KILLER LOOSE IN LAKE CITY.

I’d been almost an hour getting completely away from the freight yards, finding my way out of that maze of cattle pens and trying to watch out for cops at the same time. I had finally made it this far, maybe two or three blocks away from the yards, to that crummy, down-at-the-heel section of the city that always seems to thrive close to the tracks. I had made it this far with no trouble. Not a single pair of eyes had given me a second glance, and just as I was feeling that everything was going nicely, that headline hit me.

What really jarred me was the picture. I had never been news like this before—I wasn’t accustomed to seeing a three column cut of myself on the front page just below a black two inch screamer.

Are all these people blind! I thought. How can they look at me and fail to recognize me as the “killer”?

Then I looked at myself in a plate glass window and understood. The man I saw in the glass was not the best looking man in the world, and certainly not the neatest, but he was wearing a good suit, a tie, a shirt with a button-down collar. “Even I had trouble believing that the man who had sat for those prison mug shots in the paper could be the same man looking back at me from the plate glass window. Well, I’ll be damned! I felt an impulse to laugh.

But I put it down immediately.

A trained eye, a cop’s eye, would spot me in an instant… and the cops were the only ones who counted in this game of life and death that I was playing. Don’t forget that, Surratt. Don’t forget it for an instant!

I didn’t forget it, but I did feel a little better until a cop stepped onto the sidewalk about four doors down from where I was standing!

My heart stopped still. He was a big sonofabitch, two hundred at-least; he had just stepped out of a chili joint and still had a toothpick in his mouth. He wiped his mouth, then planted himself solidly in the middle of the sidewalk and glared hard at some point in the distance that seemed to anger him.

You stay just like that, I thought, easing into a doorway. You turn your head, you fix those steelball eyes of yours on my face, copper, and you’ll be the deadest sonofabitch in Lake City!

It was complete nonsense, of course, because I had no gun and I certainly couldn’t have handled a cop his size with my bare hands… but it made me feel a little better just thinking it. As I thought it I eased into the doorway. I reached behind me and opened a door. Make it look natural, I told myself, as I turned and stepped through the doorway into what seemed to be another hash house.

The last I saw of that cop he was still standing there in that same spot, rocking slightly on the balls of his feet, his gaze still fixed angrily on that uncertain point in the distance. Maybe his feet hurt. Maybe he was mad because the captain had passed him over for promotion. You just keep thinking about it, I thought, whatever it is.

I closed the door and began to breathe again.

There was a woman behind the counter who looked at me when I came in but all she saw was just another drifter, in a world of drifters, who might be worth the price of coffee and sinkers, but that was all. There were two customers at the counter having the house special, stew, but they were too busy eating to be curious.

I headed for the phone booth.

I was perfectly calm until I-dropped the coin in the slot and began to dial. That was when my insides began to crawl, that was when I fully realized how important these next few minutes or seconds could be to me. They could mean that I would either live or die—that’s how important they were! All Pat had to say was “no” and I was dead. Just as sure as she could point a pistol at my head and pull the trigger. She could kill me. I absolutely had to have her help or I was cooked, really cooked this time, and nobody was more aware of that fact than I.

Of course that wasn’t all I had to worry about. I had the cops to think of—all those cops with their elaborate organization. How much did they really know or could guess about me and Pat? Were they guessing enough to figure it would be a paying proposition to tap her telephone? If they were, I was still cooked. I might as well go back to the flatcar and wait for the end.

Those were a few of the things that went through my mind at that moment, but I kept dialing. There was nothing else to do.

I listened to the ringing at the other end. Once… twice… three times… I listened so hard that I began to imagine that I could hear someone breathing on the line. But that was not possible. If Pat were playing seriously with the cops, and they had her line tapped, I would know it. They would have an extension connected and would try to lift the receivers at the same exact instant, and a man on the other end could tell when two circuits were opened instead of one, if he only listened hard enough.

I kept telling myself that I could tell the difference, but every time that phone rang at the other end I became less and less sure of myself. Four times it rang… Five times….

Why didn’t she answer? If she was is the apartment, certainly she would have had plenty of time to get to the phone by now! It hadn’t occurred to me that she might not be in the apartment. It simply hadn’t occurred to me that she wouldn’t be there when I needed her!

Six times the phone rang…. Still no answer.

I wanted to hang up and get out of there. Every instinct told me that something was wrong—maybe the cops were holding things up for some reason. Maybe they were putting their tracer to work, or maybe they simply had got their equipment fouled somehow, but with every second that passed I felt it stronger and stronger. Something was wrong.

Then the receiver came off the hook. It was absolutely clean. Click, and it was off, and Pat’s voice was saying:

“… Hello?”

It was a strange thing, the way I felt at that moment. I forgot the cops, I forgot all fear for that instant, as Pat’s voice sounded in the receiver—a quiet voice, somehow soothing the ragged edges of my nerves. For the first time, I guess, I was beginning to realize how much I missed her, how much I needed her. Not just for the present, as a means of escape, but really needed her.

“Pat,” I said quickly, “don’t hang up! Please don’t hang up until I’ve explained something! It’s very important!”

I didn’t know how much the cops had worked on her; I didn’t know how many of the papers she had read or how much she had believed. I was taking no chances. I simply couldn’t let her hang up until I had a chance to convince her that I hadn’t killed Alex Burton.

“Pat, do you hear me!”

For one long moment she said nothing. I was afraid that she was going to hang up. I was afraid that she wasn’t going to give me a chance to talk her around… and there was nothing I could do to stop it. All she had to do was replace the receiver, refuse to talk to me….

At last she said, “The police were just here, they left just a few moments ago.” There was nothing soothing in her voice now. It was tightly drawn and rough with hate. “They’ll find you, and I hope it’s soon. It can’t be too soon to suit me!”

“Listen to me!” I said, the words coming as fast as I could talk. “Pat, you’ve simply got to listen to me! I know what the cops have been telling you, and I know what you’ve been reading in the papers, but those things simply aren’t true, not all of them anyway. You’ll listen to me, won’t you, for old times’ sake if for nothing else?”

She made no sound at all.

“Sure,” I rushed on, “my name is Roy Surratt, and once I killed a lousy sadist, a guard named Gorgan, but even that was in self-defense. I don’t care what the cops told you or what you read in the newspapers. I didn’t have anything to do with that Burton killing!”

This time she did make a small sound, a very small sound that meant absolutely nothing except possibly a kind of bitter interest had been aroused.

But I wasn’t getting anywhere. I could feel it. Maybe I was crazy about, her, but that didn’t mean that she had to feel the same toward me. Oh, no, I was thinking, this is no time to kid yourself about a thing like that, Surratt. The only real tie you ever had to her was money, money that could buy Lincolns and Paris coats. So don’t get the idea that soft soap will bring her around. Money, that’s the thing women understand!

“Now listen to me, please!” I said. “This is very important; my life depends on it. Maybe your future depends on it, too, Pat. I’m going to tell you the truth, the absolute truth, so will you listen?”

She didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no, either. I had the feeling that she was holding her breath… waiting.

“All right,” I went on quickly, “do you remember what I said about giving this town a shaking? Well, that’s just what I did. I had it by the throat, I had the sweetest, most lucrative setup a man can imagine, but… Well, something went wrong. What I’m trying to say is this: I need help, but I’m ready to pay for it. I’m not asking you to take chances for the sake of friendship or anything like that. I’m ready to pay.”

But I was getting the uneasy feeling that she wasn’t even listening. Goddammit, I thought savagely, what have I got to do to make her listen to me! I could almost see her, standing there like a stone cold statue, as unfeeling and deaf as a statue. “Jesus!” I said, “won’t you please listen to me, Pat! Are you still thinking about Burton”; is that what’s bothering you?”

Still she said nothing.

“Look,” I said quickly, changing directions again, “you’re not going to believe anything Dorris Venci said, are you? Let me tell you something about Dorris Venci; she was nuts! Absolutely and completely nuts! Somehow she got the crazy idea that she loved me, and that’s the reason she wrote you the letter. I brushed her off and that burned her up. She wanted to hurt me, so she wrote you that letter full of lies.”

I tried to think of something to add, but I had said just about everything there was to say. I could feel the ground falling out from under me. I understood perfectly well that my story was full of holes, but I could have plugged the holes if only she had given me a chance.

I felt completely helpless. And then, at last, she spoke. Her voice sounded as though it were coming all the way from the moon.

“… What kind of help… do you want?”

I almost collapsed with relief. My heart began to pump again. “A gun,” I said, before she could change her mind. “A revolver if you can find one, but this is not my day to be particular, just so it’s a gun. And some cartridges to fit the gun. And a good road map of the state—a really good one, the kind they sell in drugstores for a dollar or so—and a car. I don’t care what kind of a car, just so it runs and isn’t hot.”

“… Is that all?”

Christ! I thought, what a woman she is! I ask for the sun and the moon and the stars, and she wants to know is that all! “Yes,” I said, “that’s quite all. With a car and a gun and a good map to tell me where they’re likely to throw up their roadblocks, a division of Marines couldn’t stop me!”

“… The map will be simple,” she said flatly. “I have a small automatic myself—.25 caliber, I believe it is—and some cartridges….”

I wasn’t exactly an amateur with a gun; you don’t have to have a cannon to stop a man, if you know how to shoot. “The automatic will do fine. What about the car?”

“I know a used car lot that will still be open. I’ve been shopping there for an inexpensive car for my own use—there shouldn’t be any trouble.”

Yes, I thought, with surprising bitterness, I suppose you will need a car of your own now. “The used car lot sounds right,” I said. “How long do you think it will take?”

“… An hour, perhaps. More important is the expense-it will take a good deal of money, most of my savings….”

I grinned and thought: By God, you were right all along, Surratt! Money’s the thing that brings them around! I tried to think of a figure that would sound impressive but not ridiculous. “Don’t you worry about the expense,” I said. “I told you I was ready to pay. Ten thousand dollars, that’s what it will be worth to you.”

“… Where shall I meet you?”

“Harrison at Fourth Street, down by the tracks.”

“In about an hour?”

“An hour will be perfect.”

Only then did she hang up.

How do you like that! I thought. You’ll never completely understand women, Surratt. You might as well admit it. One minute they’re cold as stone, the next minute they’re laying their necks on the block for you!

But Pat Kelso was quite a woman just the same. She was my kind of woman; she had just proved it. She was beautiful, she had class; and she didn’t let a few personal scruples stand in her Way when she saw a chance to pick up ten grand. But she was going to go right through the ceiling when she found out there was no ten grand!

Well, no matter how fast you try you can take just one step at a time, so I’d worry about that problem when I got to it. Very gently, I hung the receiver back on the hook, smiling.

At the counter I paid the waitress for the sandwich and coffee, had her put the sandwich in a bag and took it with me.

It was beginning to get dark outside—I was glad of that. Not that it made much difference. These people had lost the knack of seeing beyond their own noses, and not one out of ten thousand would have recognized me anyway. Cops —they were the only people to worry about.

So I was careful as I came out of the hash house and was glad to see that my blue suited friend down the block had plodded on his way. I noticed a springiness to my step that hadn’t been there before. It was almost as though a heavy weight had been removed from my shoulders, and the world was once more a tolerable place to live in.

I ate my sandwich in a fifteen cent movie house on Harrison Street. I kept my eyes on a neon lighted clock to one side of the screen and thought: Now Pat has the gun in her bag; now she has the cartridges; now she is putting on her coat—not the Balmain coat, just a plain one—to go to the drugstore; now she’s at the drugstore buying the map; now she’s on her way to the car lot….

It was almost as though I could actually see her. Forty-five minutes to go. Thirty minutes to go. Christ, don’t get into an argument with that car dealer! I thought. This is no time to haggle over prices. Pay the sonofabitch what he wants, but get the car!

Fifteen minutes to go.

I made myself sit there a few minutes longer. I was completely safe as long as I sat here in the darkness, but once I stepped out there on the street there was no way of knowing what would happen. No sense begging for trouble. Sit here and wait it out, that’s the thing.

Ten minutes to go.

Surely, I thought, she has the car by now. The car dealer knows her and there should be a minimum of red tape. An hour she had said. Well, I had waited fifty minutes and couldn’t take it any longer—I got up and walked out.

Outside the movie house there were the usual drifters, down-at-the-heel refugees from limbo, but no cops. Where are the cops, anyway? I thought. With a killer on the loose you’d think they’d have two cops on every corner. There wasn’t a cop anywhere, as far as I could see. Maybe this was the night of the Policemen’s Ball, or maybe they were too busy ogling prostitutes and shaking down bookies to bother with a mere killer. No matter what the reason, there were no cops in sight and that was the important thing. I stepped out onto the sidewalk and walked casually toward Fourth Street.

Fourth was a dark street, an ugly ditch that someone had plowed through a cement city and had forgotten to fill up. It wasn’t much to look at but it suited me fine. I turned the corner at Harrison and strolled about a quarter of the way down Fourth. The sun had died. While I had been in the movie house darkness had come down on the city.

Darkness was a good thing. It was just what I’d ordered. I stood in the doorway of a darkened pawn shop and waited for Pat to come with a new option on my contract with destiny.

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

SHE HIT THE hour-mark right on the nose, as well as I could tell waiting there in the darkness. I saw a tan Ford pull up at the corner of Harrison and Fourth and I knew it was Pat; I could feel it. I could feel the elation bubbling up inside me. It’s all over but the yelling, I thought. Soon I’ll be out of this town for good.

I stepped out of the darkened doorway and waved and she saw me immediately. I felt like a million dollars. I could feel myself grinning. By God, I thought, not one man in ten thousand could bring off an escape-like this—but I will! I can feel it in my bones!

It wasn’t a new Ford, far from it, but it seemed to be running all right and that was the thing that mattered. I didn’t have it in mind to outrun the police—I was going to outsmart them! Pat turned onto Fourth and I was waiting at the curb. I was inside before she had braked to a complete stop.

“I certainly am glad to see you!” I said. “For the first time in my life I was close to admitting defeat.”

She glanced at me but said nothing, which didn’t surprise me. She seemed nervous, but who wouldn’t be nervous, considering the spot she had put herself on? But she was still the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, and I had a crazy impulse to grab her right there, and to hell with everything else.

That was one impulse that I squashed in a hurry. Another day, I thought. Another day when I’ve gone into business somewhere else; and then I’ll really buy her that fleet of Lincolns; then we’ll really begin to live, the two of us.

She put the Ford in gear and said, “Where do you want to go?”

“Someplace where you can get a taxi without too much trouble. You’ve done your share, and a fine job it was too. The rest is up to me.”

“I know a place near Lincoln Avenue… will that be all right?”

“Lincoln Avenue is fine. How about the gun; you brought it, didn’t you?”

“It’s in my pocket. I’ll give it to you in a minute.”

Maybe I should have noticed that everything was not as it should have been. Maybe I should have noticed the flatness of her voice, the coldness of her beautiful face… but the fact is that I didn’t notice; I was too busy congratulating myself. I was too busy devouring the beauty of her face to notice the coldness. And when I finally did notice, it was too late.

I was hardly aware that she had braked the Ford and was pulling up to the curb. Then she looked at me and there was something in her eyes that made me look around.

“Say, I thought Lincoln Avenue was more to the west.”

“… It is,” she said.

Then I saw the gun. But it was much, much too late to do me any good. It was a small gun; it looked almost like a toy, even in her small hand.

It was no toy. A .25 caliber slug can be an awfully big piece of lead if you catch it in the right place. I stared at the gun, and the muzzle was looking me right in the belly, pointed right at the soft midsection just below the center of the rib cage, just about where my liver would be.

“What is this?” I said. Trying not to sweat so much, trying not to see what was perfectly obvious. “If this isn’t Lincoln Avenue, why did you stop?”

“Don’t you know?”

“No, I don’t know. And for Christ’s sake, don’t you know better than to point a gun at a person unless you mean to kill him?”

She almost smiled, but not quite.

Strangely, I was not scared. Certainly I was not so stupid that I did not recognize the situation for what it was. I had not convinced her of anything—that much was clear to me now. I had succeeded only in convincing myself that everything was going to be all right, because that was what I wanted to believe.

But not Pat. I hadn’t fooled her for a minute. She was just as sure as she had ever been that I had killed Alex Burton. When would I ever learn that it didn’t pay to underrate women!

Maybe I would never get a chance to learn—for Pat meant to kill me. There was no doubt about it. She didn’t mean for the electric chair to do it; she was going to do it herself.

Strangely, I was not afraid. I simply did not believe that a girl like Pat had the kind of guts it took to pull the trigger on another human being.

I made myself smile. I made myself think that it was some kind of fantastic joke. I made myself say quite calmly, “All right, you’ve got something on your mind. You might as well tell me about it now.”

For one tense moment I thought she actually was going to shoot. I shifted my glance quickly from the gun to her face and was shocked to see that she was no longer beautiful. The hand of hate had strained and drawn her face almost beyond recognition—oh, there was plenty of hate there, mere than enough to kill. But somehow I had the feeling that she was not going to pull the trigger.

I said, “Why don’t you give me that automatic? You look pretty silly, and you know you’re not going to use it.”

“… You killed him.” A voice without tone. A defeated voice, I thought. “The kindest, gentlest man I ever knew. The only man I ever loved. You killed him.”

“But I explained all that,” I said patiently. “When I talked to you. This crazy woman, this Dorris Venci, she wrote you that letter because she was mad at me. She knew how it was with you and Burton, a lot of people did. She knew that she could make you hate me if she could convince you that I had something to do with the Burton murder. That’s exactly the reason she wrote the letter. You’re much too sensible a girl to swallow a story like that.”

“Mrs. Venci didn’t even mention Alex Burton in her letter,” Pat said flatly.

That stunned me.

“What did you say!”

“Mrs. Venci made no mention of Alex Burton. She identified you as Roy Surratt, an escaped convict, and warned me to have nothing to do with you.”

“That was all she put in that letter!”

“That was all.”

Jesus! I thought, what an idiot I’ve been! “Look… You’ve got this figured all wrong. I can explain it; believe me, I can!”

“Can you, Mr. Surratt?”

No, I couldn’t. There was no way in the world to explain my way around a blunder as momentous as this one.

“Roy Surratt!” she said, staring right through me. “You actually believe, don’t you, that you are some kind of superior being on this earth. You don’t consider it necessary to answer to all us underlings for your actions, no matter what they may be. Roy Surratt! Master criminal! Philosopher!”

She laughed then, and it was not a pretty sound. “The gall of you! The audacity! How dare you behave as though you were the only person on earth possessed of the ability to think, to analyze, to define! Your enormous ego is your greatest weakness; did you know that? How could you have believed that you could kill a man like Alex Burton and get away with it?”

“Take it easy,” I said soothingly, watching that automatic. “Just take it easy, won’t you, and please remember that in this country a person, is innocent until proven guilty.”

“I know you are guilty,” she said tightly. “I think I’ve known it from the first moment I saw you.”

“That doesn’t make much sense, does it? After all, you did go out with me. You did accept that coat, and you did enjoy my company. Does that sound as though you suspected me of killing your friend.”

Suddenly she smiled, and it was like no smile I had ever seen before. “That incredible ego! You believe what you want to believe and nothing else. Couldn’t you see that the very sight of you made me sick!”

Just keep her talking, I thought. Sooner or later she will relax and I’ll grab that gun. Then we’ll see whether my ego’s a weakness! I said, “How about the night I gave you the coat. Are you telling me that was an act too?”

I’d hit her with something that time. The color drained from her face and for an instant I thought she was going to collapse. But she didn’t, and the automatic didn’t waver.

“… Yes,” she said quietly, almost whispered, ”… I wanted that coat. It represented something to me, it brought back memories of elegance, a way of life that I had once known.”

I kept pushing. “And you still maintain that you suspected me all along of killing Burton?”

“… I’m thinking of the first time we met outside the apartment,” she breathed, almost to herself. “In front of the factory office building, you were waiting there.”

“I remember.”

“You mentioned the night that Alex was killed. You noted the fact that Alex and I had been to the University Club and later the Crestview.”

“Is there something wrong with that?”

“It was the first time I had been with Alex to either of those places. We… weren’t together much in public.”

“I’ll bet,” I said, still with a bit of bitterness, remembering a certain chafing dish, a certain bedroom and photograph that I had hated, even before I had known that it was of Alex Burton.

“How did you know,” she asked, “that Alex had taken me to those particular places on that particular night?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I read it in the paper.”

“It wasn’t in the paper. No one knew, just a few club members and the police—not the kind of people you would associate with. You followed us that night, that’s how you knew. You followed us, and after Alex left me at my apartment you killed him.”

She didn’t have to draw it any plainer than that. She had me pegged. She’d had me pegged from the very first. She had stuck to me, played, up to me, waiting for me to make a mistake!

Well, I’d made the mistake.

It was strange—but I didn’t seem to care. I didn’t feel smart any more. I didn’t feel like a Master Criminal. I didn’t feel like a wise guy, either, who knew all the answers. All I felt was the emptiness. ”… All right,” I said finally, “I killed him. Is that what you want to hear? He was a lousy, thieving, no-good bastard, and I killed him.”

That was when she shot me.

It was strange, but I didn’t hear the explosion. That little automatic was no more than a foot away and I didn’t even hear it. It was the shock, I suppose. The bullet went through me like a beam of light opening a path in the darkness. A very small piece of lead, not as large as your little finger. The impact knocked the breath out of me. I couldn’t move my head. The entire lower part of my body was numb. My spinal column must be shattered, I thought. I wonder what’s keeping me alive?

That was the last I remembered for a long, long while. Darkness closed in, and when I opened my eyes again it was in the white glare of a hospital room with cops standing around like angry statues, glaring down at me.

“What do you think?” someone asked.

And another voice said, “We can patch him up well enough to walk to the chair.”

And that was when I stopped worrying about myself; my end was certain. I was aboard a slow freight bound for oblivion, my body half dead, only my brain fully alive. It’s really too bad, I kept thinking. It’s really quite a shame that it has to end this way because we’d have made a hell of a pair, Pat and I.

I didn’t hate her. I no longer had the strength to support an emotion as violent as hate. The only thing left was a feeling of emptiness, a vague sort of incompleteness, a whispered fear that I had missed something somewhere along the line….

But it didn’t matter now.

Kill That Headline

Kill That Headline

Robert Leslie Bellem

From Romantic Detective Magazine

As a newspaperman, he couldn’t decently or ethically do anything about it. But as a man in love with the girl reporter, he had to make his move when she was threatened

DEFTLY-APPLIED rouge couldn’t mask the chalky pallor of her cheeks. Her mouth was a tremulous crimson blossom against deathly whiteness. She walked into the Morning Planet city-room unsteadily, like a person drunk—or drugged.

Ken Fitch, city editor on the night side, happened to glance up from the headline he was readying—a headline that would split the town wide open. Less than two hours ago he’d had a visit from Cokey Joe Breen, who had spilled the facts behind that headline—for a cash consideration. And now, seeing the blond girl approaching, Ken Fitch stiffened with surprise.

“Letha Starke!” he muttered.

She came falteringly toward the raised platform where his desk was situated—the dais from which he could keep a watchful eye on reporters, rewrite men, and copy-desk slaves under his charge. Pendant green-shaded incandescents sent reflected glints of light shining against the oncoming girl’s metallic yellow hair, revealing every perfectly-spaced wave of her artistic coiffure. Her lush curves were stressed by an expensive mink coat drawn tightly about her, so that each step she took revealed the bold, arrogant lines of her slinky figure.

“Ken———!” she whispered as she gained the platform.

He frowned. He didn’t get up from his chair. A swift, roving glance informed him that every masculine eye in the room was appraisingly fastened on his visitor. Her blatant beauty always did that to the men she encountered. Typewriters had ceased clattering; there was only the steady, spaced click of teletype printers to mar the admiring hush that had fallen over the night crew.

Confronting Ken Fitch, the girl’s back was turned to the others. Her pale blue eyes wavered to meet his gaze. “Ken———!” she whispered again, pleadingly.

He flushed, conscious of the knowing grins on the faces of his subordinates. “Well, Letha, what’s on your mind?” His tone pointedly lacked cordiality. He cast a look toward a desk at the far end of the room—Molly Kildare’s desk.

MOLLY KILDARE was petite, red-haired, wholesomely feminine and a crack reporter. Also, she was Ken Fitch’s fiancée; they were to be married next month. He didn’t like the idea of Molly seeing him talking to Letha Starke. Molly knew of his infatuation for Letha five years ago— an infatuation he had long since outgrown. Would Molly misunderstand this present meeting?

But she wasn’t paying any attention. She was pawing through a desk-drawer as if searching for mislaid notes. Apparently she hadn’t even noticed Letha Starke’s entrance into the city room. Ken was relieved.

Again he stared up into the blue eyes of the blonde girl. Irritated, he repeated: “What’s on your mind, Letha?”

“I’m in trouble, Ken. Ghastly trouble. I need you—desperately.”

His lips took on a wry twist. “So you’ve come back to me after five years. After giving me the frigid air. After taking me for my bankroll and then handing me the gate. Now you say you need me. Rather ironic, don’t you think?”

“You don’t understand, Ken. This is different. I’m not asking you to forgive me for what I did to you. That’s buried. I was a fool— and I learned my lesson. Too late. But now I’ve got nobody else to turn to. If you don’t help me, they’ll s-send me to the electric chair!”

He was startled. He crushed out his cigarette. “What do you mean by that?”

“Ken—I just killed a man.” She unfastened the fur coat and permitted it to fall open.

He choked back his sharp exclamation of surprise. She was wearing an evening gown of white satin that adhered like a caress to her lovely body. She was magnificently contoured. Her hips swelled lyrically against the clinging silk, and her snowy bosom was daringly revealed by deep- slashed décolletage. One shoulder-strap dangled, torn as if in some struggle. The front of the gown was splotched and spattered with reddish brown stains. He guessed their meaning before she spoke.

“Blood, Ken,” the yellow-haired girl whispered as she closed the coat about her.

He regained composure. “So you killed a man.”

“Yes. In my apartment. An hour ago.”

“Who was he?”

“I—I don’t know, Ken.”

“You don’t know? Then what the devil was he doing in your apartment?”

She reddened painfully. “I met him on a wild party this evening. He insisted on taking me home. I didn’t think he’d—”

“Wait a minute, Letha. You’re lying. I don’t believe you.”

“Oh, I know.” Her smile was rueful and forced, without mirth. “You don’t believe I’d ever sink low enough to invite a total stranger to my apartment. Well, Ken, you’re quite wrong. I was drunk. And I thought I didn’t care. The steps always lead downward—eventually. To the gutter.”

He scowled thoughtfully. “What about your pal DeWitt Ragan? I thought he was footing your bills?” Asking that, Ken casually covered the headline and the typewritten sheets on his desk— the story he’d been writing when Letha appeared. The story given to him by Cokey Joe Breen.

He didn’t want Letha to see that headline— because, oddly enough, it dealt with this very DeWitt Ragan now under discussion.

The blond girl said: “Ragan? He ditched me more than a month ago—the rat.”

THAT struck Ken as sardonically amusing. It was funny to hear her call anybody a rat for ditching her—considering how she herself had ditched Ken, more years ago than he cared to remember. He said: “So Ragan gave you the bum’s rush. And since then you’ve been entertaining strangers. And tonight you croaked one. Why?”

“He was a b-beast. I discovered I couldn’t bring myself to…let him maul me.”

“Hm-m-m. So what happened?”

“I tried to get him to leave quietly. But he got nasty. There was a struggle. I p-picked up a brass candlestick and hit him over the head….” Her knees seemed to grow wabbly under her. “Ken— Ken—you’ve got to help me get rid of that corpse; I d-don’t want to go to the chair!”

He came to a sudden decision. “Okay. I’ll see what can be done.” He scribbled some instructions to Biff McQuaide, his assistant; called McQuaide to the desk and left him in charge. Ken and the blonde girl walked toward the exit.

They had to pass Molly Kildare’s desk. Ken stopped for a moment while Letha swept onward. He leaned down over the petite red-haired girl.

“Be back in a little while, honeysweet. Wait for me.”

Molly’s eyes were deep violet pools of worry. “You’re going out with that Starke woman?”

He grinned and nodded. “Not jealous, are you?”

“N-no…” Molly’s adorably piquant face wore a troubled expression; her firm little bosom rose and fell swiftly, as if with inner tumult. She laid a hand gently on Ken’s arm. “No. I’m not jealous. But something tells me you’re walking into danger, Ken. Intuition—”

He brushed her lips tenderly with his mouth. “Don’t be foolish, sweetheart. I’ll be okay.” He went out.

Downstairs, Letha Starke had a taxi waiting. In the tonneau’s darkness she sat close to him, so that he could feel the warm, insinuating softness of her, impinging on his own muscular solidarity. There’d been a time, long ago, when his blood would have run faster at her nearness. His arm would have stolen around her waist in a crushing embrace; he would have buried his face in the perfectly-coifed masses of her yellow hair and then searched demandingly with his lips for her waiting, sensuous mouth….

But not now. That was irrevocably ended. He sat quietly, almost serenely. He paid no attention to her coquettish challenge.

She seemed to sense his indifference. “You hate me, don’t you, Ken?”

“No. I passed that stage, years ago.”

“Then why are you so cold to me?”

“Listen, Letha. I happen to be in love with someone else. The real thing this time. A girl named Molly Kildare. I’m going to marry her next month.”

“She’s the one you kissed, back in the office? The red-haired one?”

He smiled. “Yes. So you were watching?”

“I was. I couldn’t h-help it. She’s sweet, lovely. Oh, Ken—if only things had been different! If I hadn’t been such a silly, stupid fool, five years ago…!”

“Forget it,” he told her. “Ken—why are you so willing to help me now, if you don’t care anything about me?”

He shrugged. “Maybe because I’m a sentimentalist. Here we are at your place.” He helped her from the cab and paid the tariff.

THEY went upstairs to the second floor of the building. She unlocked her door and switched on the living-room’s lights.

“The c-corpse is in here….” she whispered. She took his arm and led him into her boudoir, clinging closely to him as they stepped over the threshold. She pointed to her mussed bed.

A man lay there, face upward; his glazed eyes staring blindly at the ceiling. His skull was crushed in. Blood and smeared brains stained the pillows.

Ken Fitch drew a sharp breath. “Good God—!” he rasped. “Cokey Joe Breen!”

And then something smashed down on his head, from behind. Something that thudded viciously against his temple as he wheeled around. Something that sent blasting fires of agony searing into his brain.

He pitched forward. The floor seemed to come up and strike him on the face.

Over the roaring in his ears he heard a man’s voice snarling: “Got the lousy snoop!” Then came Letha Starke’s callous, amused tinkle of laughter.

Ken struggled drunkenly to his knees, felt blood running down his cheek from the cut in his scalp where the blackjack had laid the flesh open. He blinked back his daze as he stared up into a man’s leering features.

“DeWitt Ragan…!” he mumbled thickly. His tuxedoed attacker, president of the Ragan Construction Company, snarled: “Right. And if you start anything, I’ll feed you another dose of the same.”

A surging seethe of fury entered Ken’s soul. He bounced to his feet as anger gave him new strength. He lunged at Ragan; bashed a knotted fist at the contractor’s snarling mouth. The blow connected solidly. Ragan’s gums spouted blood like squeezed sponges, and he spat out broken shards of teeth as he staggered back. Fitch followed him, battered at him—

Blam!

Another man had leaped into the room. He had a reversed automatic in his hand. He thudded it against Ken’s head savagely. And this time the lights went completely out for the newspaperman.

WHEN he opened his eyes, he was trussed to a chair in the living-room. DeWitt Ragan was bloodily grinning at him, his arm encircling Letha Starke’s supple waist. Over on the divan sat the man whose blow had stretched Ken Fitch unconscious. Ken recognized the fellow as Ragan’s chauffeur.

Ragan said: “You lousy sap! So you wanted to help Letha, eh? Too bad, sucker. Because I’m dealing the cards my way from now on.”

“Meaning—?”

“You know damned well what I mean. Cokey Joe Breen spilled his guts to you tonight about my city hall contract for the new bridge across East Bay. You figured to pin back my ears by running a scoop on the graft I’m getting.”

Ken blinked. “So you caught Breen and made him squeal.”

“He squealed, all right. And now he’s dead. Which is what you’ll be—unless you kill that story about me.”

Squirming against his fetters, Ken rasped: “Have another guess, Ragan. That story runs in tomorrow morning’s edition. You can’t stop it.”

“No. But you can. And you will.”

The newspaperman laughed shortly. “Go ahead and do your damnedest, you filthy crook. The minute you turn me loose and send he back to the Planet office, I’ll blast hell out of you. Not only for graft—but for murder.” He glanced significantly toward the boudoir, where Cokey Joe Breen’s body lay.

Ragan approached the chair. He raised his fist, smashed it to Ken’s jaw. He snarled: “Shut up!”

Ken shook his head jerkily to clear away the blur. Then he grinned again, “You think you can scare me by beating me up? Nuts, Ragan! You’re a bigger fool than I thought you were.”

The contractor’s scowl was savage with wrath. “Hero stuff. Maybe you won’t feel so brave when your red-haired girl friend ankles in here.”

Ken stiffened. A sudden icy shock trickled down his spine. “What—!”

“Yeah.” Ragan laughed triumphantly. “I phoned the Planet while you were knocked out. I imitated your voice. I talked to your sweetie. I asked her to come up here right away. She’s on her way now.”

Flooding, impotent rage churned in Ken Fitch’s heart. Molly Kildare—walking straight into a trap! Sweet, unsuspecting Molly—heading innocently into murderous danger! “You wouldn’t dare—!” he shouted.

Ragan’s lips peeled back from his broken teeth. “No? Guess again. I’ll bet that’s her now!” he added as a knock sounded on the door.

Ken twisted ineffectually against the ropes that held him. He raised his voice. “Molly—for God’s sake—run!” he shouted hoarsely.

But Ragan’s ape-like chauffeur had already launched himself at the door, jerked it open. He reached out, made a grab—and dragged Molly into the room.

The red-haired girl went white as she clawed at her captor. She saw Ken Fitch tied to the chair, and her violet eyes widened in terror. “Ken——!”

The chauffeur slapped her viciously across the mouth, his hard palm splatting like the report of a gun. “Button your kisser, babe!” he growled.

She staggered; then she renewed her struggles. She kicked at the thug; tried to pound his face with her tiny fists. He twined his fingers in her auburn hair; jerked her head far back. He struck her again; tried to carry her across the room.

She fought him like a tigress. His hand caught in the neck of her frock, ripping it from one shoulder. She wailed and tried to cover the flesh exposed under the torn material. Her attacker forced her to the divan and bounced her against the cushions. The hem of her skirt flew up past her stocking-tops. There was a flash of smooth, ivory skin.

Beaten, cowed, she crouched shivering on the sofa as the chauffeur pinned her wrists. He grunted: “Be good or I’ll sock you again, sister.”

LETHA STARKE interrupted. “No, you needn’t bother. I want that pleasure for myself. String her up to the chandelier.”

Ken Fitch’s throat went dry. “You damned fiends—you can’t get away with this!”

Ragan snarled: “Shut up, snoop. Don’t make me slug you unconscious. I want you to be awake—so you can see what’s happening.” He helped his chauffeur bind Molly’s wrists with a length of clothesline. Then they lifted her to the center of the room; fastened the rope to the overhead lighting-fixture.

The red-haired girl dangled there, moaning; her little feet barely touching the floor. Ragan took off his leather belt and handed it to Letha Starke. “Okay, kiddo. Have your fun.”

Letha stepped forward, prepared to lash Molly with the strap.

Ken Fitch shouted again. “No—for God’s sake—!”

The yellow-haired woman laughed; brought the leather belt swishing venomously in a circling arc. Splat! The belt stung into Molly’s smooth flesh, left a red weal on white, where its end touched her bare shoulder. Splat! Again the improvised whip licked out. Molly whimpered—

Ken roared: “Quit! Stop it! I’ll kill that damned story! I promise!”

But Molly Kildare’s voice halted his outcries. “No, Ken. Let them go ahead and whip me. If it’s something that should be printed—print it!” Her proud eyes swept the room. She faced Letha Starke. “Go ahead. Help yourself.”

Letha started to strike once more. But Ragan grabbed the strap. “Nix, kiddo. I’ve got a better scheme.”

“What do you mean?”

He untied the red-haired girl; carried her to the divan. Then he winked at his chauffeur. “All right, guy. I’ve been watching you. You’ve had your eye on this dish ever since she ankled in. Well—she’s yours!”

Helpless fury scalded Ken Fitch’s soul. “You rats—you lousy, stinking swine’! You can’t—you wouldn’t—”

Ragan slugged him in the mouth, silenced him. He tasted the salt tang of his own blood from split lips. Raging, struggling vainly against the cords that held him to the heavy chair, he saw the chauffeur go to the divan and lean over Molly’s cringing form….

She whimpered—once. Then the thug had her in his arms; glued his thick lips to her averted mouth.

Wildly Ken shouted: “Stop! I give in! I swear it! I’ll kill the story—I’ll do anything you say!” And this time Molly gave him no contradiction….

Ragan grunted: “Okay. Let up, Terry.” The chauffeur released Molly; growled sullen reluctance as he swung around.

RAGAN was at work on Ken’s bonds. He snarled: “Listen, Mister. I’m giving you this one chance. You’re going back to the Planet office. You’re going to destroy every bit of the stuff Cokey Joe Breen gave you. I’m sending Terry with you—in case you try any funny stuff. He’ll have a roscoe, and he hasn’t got any scruples about using it.”

Ken Fitch was desperately sparring for precious minutes. “Your gorilla won’t have to shoot me, Ragan. I give you my word I’ll destroy that story. Nobody knows about it except me. All I ask is that you let Molly go—”

The contractor said: “Nuts, boyfriend. The jane stays right here—until you come back with proof that you killed that headline. I’m giving you thirty minutes to get the job done. If you aren’t back here by then—well, something damned unpleasant will happen to your girl friend. Gargle that one.”

Ken stole a glance at Ragan’s wrist-watch; saw that he’d been away from his city-desk five minutes less than a full hour. His heart began to hammer against his chest. Five minutes to go…. It
seemed like a bleak eternity stretching out before him. He knew that he didn’t dare leave this apartment until that five minutes had snailed by….

Time! He had to gain it somehow. Ragan had already untied the ropes at his ankles; was now at work on his wrist-bonds. The contractor was working swiftly. Too swiftly.

And then Ken was free. He swayed to his feet. Ragan stood before him. Over by the door was Terry, the chauffeur—with his fist in his coat pocket and an ominous bulge that told of an automatic’s muzzle poking the cloth. Letha Starke hovered near the davenport, keeping guard over Molly….

“Get going!” Ragan rasped.

KEN FITCH took a wild, desperate chance. He tensed his sinews—and went smashing at the contractor like a stone from a catapult.

The move took Ragan by surprise; bowled him backward. Ken’s fist lashed out like pistons; impacted against his enemy’s jaw. He felt the jarring thud all the way to his own shoulders.

Ragan’s head snapped back as if hinged. He went down.

Letha Starke screamed a gutter oath. The chauffeur came slamming across the room, his gun drawn. He yelled: “Stand back, Miss Starke— I’ll plug him!”

Ken dived for the floor. He hit the carpet just beyond where Ragan had fallen. He grabbed for the unconscious contractor; used the man’s limp form for a shield. “Go ahead and shoot!” he panted. “You’ll kill your boss if you do!”

The thug’s finger relaxed its pressure on the trigger of the automatic. He darted sidewise, seeking a clear aim at the newspaperman. Ken rolled, keeping Ragan in front of him—

But he forgot Letha Starke. She darted in, flung herself on Ragan, dragged him aside. Ken was wholly exposed to the chauffeur’s weapon, now. He scrambled to his feet, zigzagging. With a blow of his fist he sent the blond woman sprawling. She went down in a flurry of white satin skirt; her chiffon legs kicked and thrashed as she landed.

The chauffeur jumped as Letha landed at his feet. He swerved around her. That was Ken’s chance. He sailed full at his antagonist before the man could again raise his gun to firing position.

They met with a thumping crash of flesh against flesh, brawn against brawn.

From the divan, Molly Kildare screamed: “Ken—look out! Ragan’s getting up!”

And then Fitch smashed his right fist square into the chauffeur’s mouth. The fellow sagged; went to his knees. The automatic dropped from his hand. Ken lashed out with his foot; kicked the thug brutally. The chauffeur doubled over, retching and holding his middle.

Whirling, Ken saw Ragan coming at him— with a gun.

It was too late to scoop up the chauffeur’s weapon. Too late to do anything—except brace himself for Ragan’s bullet. The contractor’s narrow eyes gleamed with murderous malice. He grated: “You asked for it—now take it!” He squeezed his trigger.

BUT even as his gun vomited flame, the apartment’s door crashed inward. A knot of uniformed men came thundering into the room. Ragan’s shot went wild; a slug screamed past Ken Fitch’s ear. And then the police were grappling with DeWitt Ragan, disarming him, handcuffing him. They jerked the fallen chauffeur to his feet, manacled him to his employer. And they lifted Letha Starke; pinioned her.

Ken Fitch saw his Planet assistant, Biff McQuaide, in the thick of things. He yelled: “Biff—thank God you got here before it was too late!”

McQuaide grinned. “You should have made it thirty minutes instead of an hour, from the looks of things.”

DeWitt Ragan was snarling, fighting his handcuffs. “What the hell—who—how—”

Ken’s eyes gleamed bale fully. “You aren’t quite smart enough, Ragan. In the first place, I knew Letha’s story was a lie. I knew it the minute she walked into the Planet city-room. I realized she was trying to trick me, trap me. That was obvious enough.”

The contractor stared. “You—you knew?”

“Yes. Letha said she’d killed a man, in a struggle. She showed me bloodstains on her dress. Okay. The blood was genuine. But there hadn’t been any struggle. Because her hair wasn’t mussed!”

Ragan stiffened.

Ken went on. “You heard me. Her coiffure was a work of art. Not a single wave was out of place. So I knew her yarn about a struggle was all phony. So was her torn dress. So was everything else she told me.

“I figured she was lying when she claimed you’d thrown her over. If she was so damned hard up that she had to entertain strangers, what was she doing with that expensive mink coat? Nothing added up right. So I guessed that she was trying to lure me into a trap.

“Who’d want to trap me? Nobody but you— on account of the story I was going to run about you. Well, I deliberately walked into your scheme, Ragan. Because I wanted to find out the truth about you. I wanted to make sure Cokey Joe Breen had handed me a right steer when he gave me that information about your grafting.

“I went haywire in just one detail. I didn’t expect you to conk me and lure Molly Kildare up here. You almost won out by doing that.

Almost—but not quite. Because when I left the Planet office I scribbled a note for McQuaide, my assistant. I instructed him to wait an hour—and then, if I hadn’t returned, he was to come to this apartment with a squad of cops.”

RAGAN wilted. “I’ll take a plea. They won’t fry me…” he drooled. “I’ve got influence….”

An officer jerked him toward the door. “Nuts, buddy. Get goin’.”

Slowly the room cleared. One bluecoat was left to stand guard over Cokey Joe Breen’s corpse in the adjoining boudoir. Ken Fitch slipped over to the divan; lifted Molly Kildare in his arms.

She clung to him fiercely. “Oh, Ken….” she whispered.

He kissed her. He said: “Let’s not wait until next month, honey-sweet. What do you say?”

She wrapped her soft arms around his neck and held up her mouth for another kiss. It was all the answer he needed.

Call me up Jack. But with better dialogue

I took hold of his outstretched arm and spun him around.

“What’s the matter, Jack? Don’t they make the aisles wide enough for your personality?”

He shook his arm loose and got tough. “Don’t get fancy, buster. I might loosen your jaw for you.”

“Ha, ha, ” I said. “You might play center field for the Yankees and hit a homerun with a broomstick.

He doubled his meaty fist.

“Darling, think of your manicure,” I told him.

He controlled his emotions. “Nuts to you, wise guy,” he sneered. “Some other time, when I have less on my mind.”

“Could there be less?’

“G’wan, beat it,” he snarled. “One more crack and you’ll need new bridgework.”

I grinned at him. “Call me up, Jack. But with better dialogue.”

The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler