For several minutes now Detective-Lieutenant Steve Lambert had sat quite motionless on the side of the bed, his heavily-muscled shoulders slumped a little, staring through the window at the Riverton skyline forty blocks away. Behind him, on the same damp sheet, he could hear the soft sleep-rhythm of the girl’s breathing. But she was only pretending, he knew. When she really was asleep, she made no sound at all.
To hell with her, he thought. To hell with her and to hell with all the rest of them.
He put his hand up to the back of his neck and kneaded the damp flesh viciously, wincing from the hangover pain which had begun to localize itself just behind his eyes. It was going to be another rugged day, he knew; one of the real bruisers.
In the apartment next door, where the radio always went on at exactly six o’clock every morning and stayed on until wed past midnight, an announcer interrupted the dance music to say the time was seven-ten.
Steve sighed and reached down between his bare feet for the bottle. Seven-ten. Twenty minutes until time to meet Dave Kimberly. Twenty minutes until the rat race started all over again.
He closed his eyes and lifted the nearly empty bottle to his lips, shuddering a little even before the whiskey touched his throat.
Behind him the girl said, “I’ll never understand how you can do that.”
He took two deep swallows of the whiskey, set the bottle down very carefully on the floor again, and turned slowly to look at her.
She lay on her back, hands and wrists hidden by the loose dark waves of her hair, smiling at him through the black-lace curtains of her lashes.
“There’s a lot of things you’ll never understand,” he said softly. “A hell of a lot of them.”
Her smile widened. “You think so?”
“It’s just possible. Like you’ll never understand how a guy can get sick of looking at nothing but skin all the time.”
She laughed and drew one knee up slowly. “Don’t look, then.”
“It’s getting so you even sit down on the table and eat that way. Like last night.”
“You didn’t seem to mind—last night.”
“Why don’t you pull the sheet up?”
“It’s too hot.”
He studied her a moment, wondering if now might be as good a time as any to tell her. No, he decided. Eighteen-year-old girls as pretty as Jean weren’t easy to come by. And anyhow, kicking one girl out before you had a replacement for her was just plain stupid.
Her eyes flicked down to her pink-white body, as if to reassure herself, and then she turned over on her side and reached for the cigarettes on the bed table.
“You did it again last night, Steve,” she said, striking a match. “You went to sleep with that bottle cradled up against your chest, just like a baby. You can’t imagine what you look like when you do that. I lay here for half an hour, waiting for you to break into a lullaby.”
“Go to hell,” Steve said. He got up and walked around the foot of the bed and into the kitchen. The next thing Jean Would have brought up, he knew, was that he’d been impotent again, the way he always was when he drank more than a fifth.
He took a can of beer from the refrigerator and punched it open and stood leaning against the refrigerator’s curved cool top while he drank. He felt better now. The whiskey had taken hold almost immediately. The pain behind his eyes was already fading to a dull ache, and his hand, when he held the splayed fingers level with his eyes, trembled only slightly.
He finished the beer, dropped the empty can into the garbage pail beneath the sink, and walked out to the bathroom for aspirin and a cold shower.
As he was closing the door behind him he heard the creak of springs from the bedroom. Jean would be going out to the kitchen to start breakfast now, he knew. Jesus, she had a constitution like a horse. She’d drunk as much as he had last night, lying there on the bed passing the bottle back and forth, and yet this morning her eyes were as clear as they’d ever been and she’d probably eat enough breakfast for two people. He wouldn’t be surprised if she’d never had a hangover in her life.
He pushed Jean’s nylons down to one end of the shower rod and turned the cold water on full force.
He stepped into the shower, turning his face up to the water, fists clenched hard against the icy pound of it.
It’s funny, he thought, how they get to figuring they own you. It always starts out the same way. The girl looks like she’s been around a little, and she says, sure, she knows it’s just for laughs and maybe it’ll last one night or a hundred but not for keeps. And then all at once you know it’s over, because the girl starts forgetting she’s a mistress and starts making with the mother act. She starts dropping little hints, like how nice it would be if you and she had a house instead of an apartment, and how wonderful her sister’s kids are, and all the time she’s trying to make you over into something you aren’t and never want to be.
And suddenly you know you have to get rid of her, because you’ve lost your mistress and you sure as hell don’t want a wife.
Still, Jean was going to be a tough kid to kick out. She’d come a lot closer to getting to him than any of the others had.
He turned his head aside long enough to take a deep breath, then tilted his face up again to the needle-whip of the shower.
It might be a little rough on her, he reflected, what with her being just the right age for a hard fall and all, but that was the way the ball bounced. She’d walked into this with both eyes open, and she could walk out the same way, only maybe with them open a little wider. A real beauty like Jean, a kid just eighteen with an old man out East somewhere to foot her bills and send her money every month—hell, she’d be better off without him, anyhow.
Over the drone of the water he heard the sudden, insistent ringing of the phone in the foyer off the living room. He turned the shower down to a thin spray, listening to see whether Jean was going to answer it. In a moment her high heels clicked past in the corridor outside the bathroom and then faded as they crossed the parquet of the living room.
He stood there, frowning, wondering what new trouble was in wait for Wm. It had to be either the station house or central homicide, of course, but calls from either place at this time of morning were rare.
Jean’s heels came back across the parquet and stopped in front of the bathroom.
He waited a moment. “All right,” he said impatiently. “Who was it?”
“Didn’t give his name,” Jean said. “I told him you were in the shower and that you’d call him back. But he wouldn’t leave his number. Said he’d call again in a few minutes.”
Steve swore softly and turned the shower back on to its full force.
Another damned crackpot, he thought. It isn’t bad enough that they pester hell out of you at the station house. Oh, no. Now they start calling you up at home… Jesus, you’d think they’d wear themselves out after a while. They never did, though. Some of the guys on the switchboard at the station house said they averaged between a hundred crackpot calls a week, and a lot more whenever the papers were playing up anything juicy.
Then he suddenly remembered he had agreed to meet Dave Kimberly half an hour earlier than usual this morning, at seven-thirty, and he turned the shower off and reached angrily for a towel.
There’s another foul ball, that Kimberly, he thought. He’s a homicide sergeant eight months and already he’s bucking for lieutenant.
God, the world was full of them.
Ten minutes later he had finished dressing, except for his suit jacket, and was standing at the bedroom window, idly spinning the cylinder of his short-barreled .38 and watching the morning sun stripping away the last of the fog from the tops of the downtown skyscrapers.
“Breakfast, Steve,” Jean called from the kitchen.
He spun the .38’s cylinder again, listening carefully to the soft oily purr of it. There were two other hand guns in his dresser drawer—another .38 with a regulation barrel and a .357 Magnum—but the snub-nosed belly-gun was his favorite. He pressed it, a little reluctantly, into the clip under his left shoulder and walked to the closet to get his jacket. It had been a long time since he’d had a chance to use the stubby Colt, he reflected. Too long.
He slipped into his jacket and went out to the kitchen for another can of beer.
Jean was sitting at the white enamel table, sipping a cup of coffee. She was wearing shoes and a pink-lace petticoat, and nothing else.
“You didn’t shave,” she said.
He ignored her, keeping his back to her while he took the beer from the refrigerator and punched holes in top of the can. As he drank, he glanced at the wall clock over, the stove. The time was seven-twenty-five.
“Aren’t you going to have breakfast?” Jean asked.
He took another long swallow of the beer.
“Steve, what’s wrong with you, anyhow? You’ve been acting like a spoiled little brat lately.”
He lowered the can a moment, swirled the beer around in it, sighed, then took another long swallow.
“Knock off with that routine,” he said mildly. “You want to talk about something, give me a run-down on why you’d make out like you’re asleep when you aren’t, the way you were doing a little while ago. What’s it get you to he there and watch me like that?”
Maybe he ought to give Jean the go-by right now, after all, he thought. Why not? Today, tomorrow, next week —what was the difference?
But he knew the difference. The difference was that Jean, now that the worst of his hangover was gone, had suddenly started looking very good to him again.
She was silent a long moment. Then, “All right, Steve —who is she?”
“What do you mean, who is she?” He turned to face her now, assuming a burlesqued expression of innocence. “Good gosh, Jean—do you mean you think I’d cheat on you?” He shook his head sadly. “Lord, that I should ever live to see this day!”
She stared at him coldly. “I didn’t ask whether you would. I know damn well you would. I asked who she was.”
He smiled at her. For the first time since he had awakened, he was beginning to enjoy himself. Jean had surprised him. Now that he thought of it, he couldn’t remember a single previous instance when she had displayed the slightest indication of jealousy. It amused him, and he found himself debating the best way to make the most of it.
She got to her feet and walked toward him, the petticoat swirling around her hips and legs like a pink mist.
When she was directly in front of him, she put her hands on her hips and tilted her dark head back to look up into his face.
“Well?” she said lightly.
He shrugged. “Hell, Jean, I never remember names. You know that.”
“That’s why you couldn’t do anything last night. Or night before last, either.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “Might have had a lot to do with it. Now that you mention it, I can see where—”
“Damn you! Tell me who she is!”
He rubbed his chin, frowning as if in concentration. “Funny thing… I just can’t seem to remember. But I know I’ll come up with it. Just give me a minute and—”
She slapped him.
He stood there, grinning at her, while she drew back her hand and slapped him again. There were cold fires behind the dark eyes now, he saw, and the full lips that seldom needed rouge were very pale.
“Please don’t hit me, Jean,” he said. “It isn’t the slaps that hurt—it’s the idea that you’d want to.” Then he brought his right hand up quickly, caught a firm, bare breast in it, and squeezed with all the strength of his broad, spatulate fingers.
Jean’s mouth opened to scream. But there was no scream; there was only a choked sob, and for an instant Steve thought she was going to faint.
She shuddered, staring down at herself with sick, frightened eyes, and then she walked unsteadily to the table and half fell into her chair. She sat staring at the livid imprint of Steve’s fingers, eyes a wet blur now, shoulders trembling.
The phone in the foyer began to ring again.
Steve turned and walked along the corridor to the living room, a dark, brooding expression on his face. As he walked he brought his hands up and massaged both temples with the tips of his fingers. Jean’s slaps had jarred him just enough to revive his headache.
As he crossed the foyer and jerked open the front door, he glared at the ringing phone.
“And to hell with you, too,” he said, and slammed the door behind him.
Steve glanced at his wrist watch as Dave Kimberly’s ancient Ford drew up at the curb in front of the apartment house. It was exactly seven-thirty. His headache was fading again, but there was still enough of it left to be bothersome.
Dave’s pleasant young face was shaved so closely it was pink. He nodded to Steve and got the Ford under way again, threading it skillfully into the heavy downtown traffic.
“Looks like another scorcher today, Lieutenant,” he said. “You can tell already. Worst hot spell the Midwest has had in twelve years, the paper said.” He grinned. “A man could melt right down to the floor in weather, like this.”
“So it’s hot,” Steve mumbled. “So what?”
Dave shrugged. “So nothing.” He looked along his eyes at Steve, grinning a little less confidently now. “I appreciate your going in early with me this way,” he said. “I’m sorry I got those reports fouled up, but—”
“Forget it,” Steve said sourly. “The sooner we get them straightened out, the sooner the whole squad stops wasting time on account of them, that’s all. Hell, I’m not helping you out just to do you a favor.”
“Just the same, I appreciate—”
“I said forget it.”
For a full minute Dave drove without speaking, a wiry, blond young man who would have been handsome except for the slight tilt of a broken nose and the faint tracery of scar tissue around each eyebrow, mementos of his years on the department’s boxing team.
Finally he said, “You mentioned something about turning Tommy Nolan over to me today, Lieutenant.”
“Yeah,” Steve said. “Well, you’ve got to start earning your pay sooner or later.”
Dave smiled. “How’d you make out with him last night?”
“No good. I knocked off about eight, and he hadn’t so much as opened his yap. You’d think the guy had lockjaw.”
“He must be a pretty tough boy.”
“Tough, hell. I could find out in about five minutes whether or not he killed that Bruce Wingate. Five minutes, that’s all. Tough? You take a wet towel and slap a man across the belly with it hard enough and long enough,, and he’d tell you everything you want to know. And there won’t be a mark on him, either. I’d have done it last night, if it hadn’t been for the Old Man screaming like hell.”
Dave moistened his lips, stared straight ahead.
“The Old Man’s gone soft now,” Steve went on. “But there was a time when he was a pretty good cop. He had a habit of making an arrest and then kicking the guy in the leg so he couldn’t run very fast if he tried to make a break while the Old Man was calling the wagon.”
Dave shook his head, frowning.
Steve stripped the cellophane from a cigar, bit the end off it, and worried it around in his mouth without lighting it, smiling now, knowing that Dave despised police brutality above all else.
“You figure Nolan’s holding back?” Dave asked.
“Sure. But, so far, all we’ve got is circumstantial crap. Without the murder gun and a confession, the D.A.’s up the creek. And then there’s the little item of finding the woman that was seen running away from there.” He spit out the window. “The whole thing would be simple, if they’d leave me alone with Nolan a little while. And maybe they will. The D.A. wants all the indictments he can get. If he puts enough heat on the Old Man, the Old Man’ll maybe have to look the other way and let me use that sock, after all.”
“Jesus,” Dave said softly.
Steve studied him. “You aren’t just a little too squeamish for a cop, are you, Dave? Listen. Either Tom Nolan botched a heist and killed a florist, or he didn’t. Either the D.A. gets an indictment and fries Nolan, or he doesn’t. What the hell—it’s no skin off yours or mine, either way.”
Dave pulled up for a red light. “You know how I feel about some of the methods you use, Lieutenant.”
“Yeah, I know. Just make sure you don’t bleed all over your own car.”
“It’s just that I can’t figure Tommy Nolan in a deal like this. Here’s a guy with no record, and a wife and kid, and—wed, I’ve got a hunch that—”
“Hunch, hell,” Steve said flatly. “After all these years you still think there are some guys who just couldn’t knock anybody off; right? Sure you do. You haven’t learned a damn thing.”
Dave shrugged. “Maybe.”
Steve grunted, studying the faces of men and women along the sidewalk, matching them against the thousands of stored-up mugg photographs in his memory. He had done this so often over the years that he did it almost unconsciously. And yet, in the last year alone, he had spotted nearly a dozen wanted men in this way.
He let his eyes rove over the crowds and thought about Tommy Nolan. A tough kid, all right. Tough and young and just full enough of sand to make it hard on himself. Ad the police had, actually, was the fact that Tommy had been found in a drunken stupor at the scene of a murder. They hadn’t found the gun which had killed the florist in his apartment over his shop, and they had found no trace of the woman who had been seen running away from the budding shortly after the sound of the shot.
“You were supposed to check Nolan’s wife again,” Steve said, “How about it?”
“I did it last night,” Dave said. “She was pretty near hysterical.”
“Come up with anything?”
“They tell me she’s a real beautiful piece of stuff.”
“She’s very pretty. And the kid—”
“Sure. The kid’s cute as hell, too.” He laughed. “She lives on Beckman Street, I think.”
Dave nodded. “One-sixty-seven.”
“All right. Let’s drop by there.”
Dave glanced at him sharply. “What about the reports?”
“It’ll only take a minute. And if it doesn’t, then we’ll get at the reports tomorrow. One more day won’t kill anybody.”
“But, Lieutenant, I—”
“Quit sweating. Beckman’s right on our way.”
Two blocks farther on, Dave turned the Ford into a wide residential street They rode in silence until Dave slowed and braked the Ford in front of a small, freshly painted bungalow.
“This is it,” he said. “Think you’ll be long?”
“Maybe, maybe not,” Steve said. He opened the door and got out. “It all depends.” He let the door swing shut behind him and walked up the flagstones to the porch.
The girl who opened the screen door to Steve’s sharp knock was even younger than he had expected her to be. Not more than twenty, he guessed, and maybe not even that. And as he stared at her he realized with a kind of awed surprise that he had never seen anyone so beautiful.
God, he thought, how’d a homely zero like Nolan ever get himself a kid like this?
Her blue eyes were questioning him.
He waited. Beautiful or not, it’d do her good to sweat a little.
She pushed a loose strand of hair back from her forehead, her eyes not quite meeting his.
“You Mrs. Thomas Nolan?”
“Police, Mrs. Nolan.”
She drew her thin cotton housecoat more tightly about her and looked past him at the battered Ford parked at the curb.
Steve took out his wallet and showed her his gold detective’s shield. “All right, Mrs. Nolan. Do I get asked inside, or do we invite the neighbors in on this?”
She hesitated a moment more, then opened the screen for him. He pushed past her into the living room, brushing her body deliberately with the sleeve of his jacket.
It was a small room with bright, inexpensive-looking furniture and color reproductions on the painted walls. A baby’s crib stood near the front window, just out of the sun.
Steve took the most comfortable looking of the two easy chairs and gestured toward the sofa.
“Sit down, Mrs. Nolan,” he said. “We’re going to talk a little.” He kept his eyes on the jutting swell of her breasts until she colored and looked away from him.
“Sit down,” he said again.
She moistened her lips, staring at him, and then sank down on the sofa.
“What about Tommy?” she asked. “What about him?”
“You know he didn’t have anything to do with that— that robbery.”
He smiled at her. “I’m a homicide cop, Mrs. Nolan. It’s murder we’re talking about, not robbery.”
She shook her head slowly. “Tommy couldn’t have done it. He couldn’t have. Those other detectives kept asking me the same questions over and over again, and I—”
“Sure, sure,” Steve said. “You kept telling them Tommy couldn’t have done it.”
“But he didn’t!”
Steve took the unlit cigar from his mouth and slipped it into his breast pocket. He let his eyes rove down the girl’s body until they came to rest on her ankles.
“Stop it,” she said tightly. “Stop staring at me like that.”
He kept his eyes where they were. “Let’s face some hard facts,” he said. “Your husband’s headed straight for the chair, Mrs. Nolan. I’m in charge of the case and—”
There was a sudden sound of movement from the crib and a baby began to whimper softly. The girl looked toward the crib, then started to rise.
“Stay where you are,” Steve said.
“Forget it. You can listen to that brat any tune.
“For heaven’s sake, can’t I even—”
“Just listen,” he said. “That’s all you have to worry about right now. Understand?”
“Really now, Mr…. Mr….?”
“Lambert,” Steve said. “And I was doing the talking— remember? I was telling you I was in charge of this murder case. Your husband’s had it, Mrs. Nolan. I’m going to put him in the hot squat just as sure as hell.”
Her hands came up to her throat. “No… God, no…”
“Yeah,” he said. “The old fry-stool.” He watched her carefully. “All the D.A. needs is a confession, and then Tommy gets his head shaved.” He crossed his legs and leaned back in the chair. “And you know something, Mrs. Nolan? I’m the guy that’s going to get that confession. Nobody else. Just me, personally.”
“But Tommy didn’t do it!”
“You know he didn’t!”
“Me? I don’t know a damn thing—except that I’m going to get me a paper from that boy.” He pushed himself up from the chair and walked slowly to the window, pulling back the drape to look out at Dave Kimberly’s Ford.
“I tell you Tommy didn’t do it!” the girl said.
“Maybe he didn’t,” he said softly, “but I know ways to make him say he did.”
Behind him, he heard her quick intake of breath.
“Yeah,” he said, “there are ways, Mrs. Nolan. They aren’t very pretty, of course, but they work. Every time.”
“You—you’d actually do that?” Her voice was scarcely more than a whisper.
Steve folded his arms behind his back and watched a woman watering flowers in the yard across the street. A moving van lumbered by, swerved out wide around the Ford, and turned the corner. He glanced down at the whimpering baby in the crib, and then looked back at the street again.
“It could happen,” he told her. “It’s happened before— why not this time?”
“It sure is,” he said. “It’s downright mean.” He shrugged. “Of course, it doesn’t have to happen, Mrs. Nolan….” He turned and stared at her steadily. “What’s one more confession to me? My pay stays the same, either way.”
She moistened her lips, looking at him without blinking, slender fingers toying nervously with the neckline of her housecoat.
He walked slowly toward her, holding her eyes with his own until she looked away.
“I got nothing to gain by helping the D.A. fry your husband, Mrs. Nolan. Nothing at all. But look at it another way. Suppose I didn’t even try to get a confession? Suppose I just told my boss and the D.A. that it was no use? Let’s say I recommended that they let him go.”
She looked up at him with eyes that had grown so dark they were almost black.
He could smell her now. But it was no perfume, he knew; it was the natural feminine aroma of her young body. He moved a lithe closer.
“Suppose I work it so Tommy gets off?” he said. “What then, Mrs. Nolan?”
Her lips spread back from small white teeth and her voice was thick with revulsion. “You bastard,” she whispered. “You horrible, filthy bastard.”
Steve rubbed his sweating palms along the sides of his trousers. He unbuttoned his jacket and loosened his tie and ran a thick finger around the inside of his shirt collar.
“Hot, isn’t it?” he said, as if he had just become aware of it. “Just about the hottest day I can remember.”
Her lips moved, but there was no sound.
“Try to think of it from my viewpoint,” Steve said. “There are some things a man has to have. Say I found it right here. Why, then, I’d be grateful. I’d go on downtown and tell the D.A. and the chief to call it quits. Tommy’d be home in a couple hours, and he’d never have to know the difference.”
He ran a thumbnail along the edge of his square jaw and dropped his eyes to her tiny belted waist. “But the cost of living is pretty high these days, Mrs. Nolan. Just finding something I needed over here one time wouldn’t be quite enough to keep Tommy out of the chair. Naturally, if I got to needing things again, you might see me around here again now and then. Not often, mind you— but now and then.”
He brought his gaze up to her face again, watching her eyes. This was the big moment. This was the point at which they always made up their minds. He flexed his fingers at his sides, and smiled at her, and waited.
Jesus, he thought, if this works out it’s going to be one hell of a score.
A full minute went by, and then another, and still she sat and stared up at him. Occasionally her lips trembled, but there was no other movement. Somewhere nearby a lawn mower whirred to life, and a moment later some children went past the house on roller skates.
Steve sighed. “I haven’t got all day, Mrs. Nolan. It’s simple as hell. Either you want Tommy fried in the electric chair, or you don’t.”
She got to her feet slowly, as if she were weak from some protracted Illness, and moved past him toward the rear of the house. He followed her through the dining room, watching the lithe swing of her rounded hips beneath the thin fabric of the housecoat.
She paused at a half-opened door leading into a bedroom and turned to face him. Her lips were pale now and she spoke as if she had scarcely enough strength to articulate the words.
“How do I know you aren’t lying?” she asked. “How do I know you won’t just… just…”
He smiled at her. “You don’t,” he said. “It’s a gamble, like everything else in this world.” He let the smile grow wider. “But you’re going to be reasonable, Mrs. Nolan. You’ll damn well have to. You’re smart enough to know it’s the only hope Tommy’s got.”
She hesitated a moment more then turned slowly in the direction of the bed.
“Let’s get it over with,” she said.
The special detention cell on the top floor of the Eighteenth Precinct station house was small and hot and airless. There was no window, and the faded green paint of the four walls was broken only by the darker green rectangles of the sheet-iron door and the ventilator grill high up on the wall opposite the cot. The cot itself was bolted to the floor, a tubular steel framework supporting a naked sheet of steel-mesh six feet long and three feet wide. In a shallow recess of the back wall stood a toilet and a small lavatory.
Tommy Nolan stopped pacing the cement floor and sank down heavily on the cot. His long, heavy-featured face was sheened with sweat and his short-sleeved sport shirt hung damply from his sloping shoulders. He mopped thinning brown hair back off his forehead, staring at the green wall without seeing it, trying for the thousandth time to remember exactly what he had done from the moment he left the Ledo Bar. He’d probably never be able to do it, he knew, but it was the only way he could keep even a small part of his mind away from Carol and the baby. Each time they intruded into his thoughts, the intrusion was more painful than the time before, the panic nearer.
But when he tried to concentrate on what he had done after he left the Ledo, he got only to the point at which he had been helped to the door by someone… someone… and then there was nothing. He could remember, vaguely, what had gone before. The argument with the bartender who wouldn’t sell him a final drink. The way he had almost fallen while trying to get off his stool and the way the bartender had laughed at him. But he couldn’t remember the face of the man sitting beside him, or standing beside him, or behind him, who had kept him from falling and helped him to the door. But he could remember the man’s hands. He could remember the way they’d held him upright and turned him around in the direction of the door. And he could remember the final blurred image of the bartender’s shirt and apron.
Between the moment when he had seen the door being opened for him and felt himself lurching toward the sidewalk outside, and the moment when he had awakened to police and noise and flashbulbs, there was nothing at all.
It had not been his first blackout from whiskey, but it had been the first he’d had since he married Carol. In the old days, before he met her, there’d been hundreds of blackouts, sometimes as many as three or four in the same week.
He closed his eyes a moment, trying not to think of those lonely lost years, those bleak, directionless, senseless years.
You’ve got to concentrate, he told himself. You’ve got to remember what happened after you left the Ledo.
He heard footsteps outside the sheet-iron door, and voices, and then the door swung open and Dave Kimberly came in. Kimberly nodded to him, waiting while someone in the corridor closed the door behind him, and then crossed to the cot and sat down beside Tommy. He dropped a package of cigarettes and a folder of matches into his lap and grinned.
“I thought you might be running low, Tommy,” he said.
Tommy ripped open the package, lighted a cigarette, and blew smoke toward the floor, trying to keep his hands from trembling. “Where’s your friend?” he asked. “The guy with the muscles.”
“Yeah, Lieutenant Lambert. The big guy.”
“He’s downstairs. You want to see him?”
“Hell no, I don’t want to see him. I was just hoping maybe he’d dropped dead.”
Kimberly laughed. “He said something about turning this one over to me, Tommy. He hasn’t got an okay from the Old Man yet, but—”
“Listen,” Tommy said. “When do I get to talk to a lawyer? You’ve had me in this sweatbox ever since night before last, without even so much as letting me get near a phone. I know damned well I got some rights!”
“You’ll get your rights, Tommy,” Kimberly said. “But the thing is, we haven’t put you on the book yet. We haven’t charged you with anything. That’s why you’re in this material witness room, instead of in a regular cell.”
“So that’s what you call it. A material witness room. That makes a lot of difference, doesn’t it? Just because there’s no bars, it’s supposed—”
“This is a homicide case, Tommy. By law, we can hold you seventy-two hours. That’s to give us time to get all the facts we can. After seventy-two hours, we either have to charge you or turn you loose.”
“Don’t make me laugh. Why don’t you just go ahead and charge me, for God’s sake? What’s the sense in—”
“Take it easy, Tommy. Charging you wouldn’t make it any easier on you. There isn’t any bail for murder. You know that.”
“But once you do charge me, then I get a lawyer. Right?”
“If we charge you.”
Tommy studied Kimberly’s face a moment. “If?”
Tommy stared down at his cigarette. “And so what happens to my wife and kid all this time?”
“I talked to Mrs. Nolan last night. She’s holding up fine, Tommy. They’re both fine, she and the baby.” He took a small notebook from his inside jacket pocket and thumbed through the pages. “You been able to remember anything more than you told us yesterday?”
Tommy dropped his cigarette to the floor and ground it out with his heel. “Not a thing.”
“Have you tried?”
“Sure I’ve tried! What do you think? I haven’t done anything but try.”
“You remember nothing after you left that saloon, eh?”
“I only wish I did.”
Kimberly glanced at a page in his notebook. “Well, Tommy, maybe you’d better give me the whole thing again. From the beginning.”
Tommy laughed bitterly. “My God, I’ve already told you guys a hundred times. I know what you’re getting at. You think if you make me tell it often enough I’d finally slip up somewhere and prove I’m lying. But you’re wrong, see? I’m telling you the truth.”
“From the beginning, Tommy,” Kimberly said mildly.
Tommy glared at Kimberly a moment, then shrugged in resignation. “Like I said before, I’d been working late at the shop. I—”
“Why were you working late?”
“Because the boss took on a rush job just before closing time. Some guy brought a motor in, and by the time I found out what the trouble was, and got it going again, it was almost midnight.”
“Does it usually take you that long to fix a refrigerator motor?”
“Sometimes. It all depends on the make, and whether it’s just burned out or somebody has damaged it. This one had been damaged.”
“All right. Go on.”
“You can check the work order.”
“Go on, Tommy.”
“Well, the boss always kept a few bottles of beer in one of the big display refrigerators—for customers, you know. Once in a while he’d help himself to a bottle. He’d always offer me one, too, but I never took any.”
“You know why. Because I used to be an alcoholic, that’s why. I quit cold when I met Carol, but before that I used to hit it pretty hard. Then I met Carol, and I knew I had to stop. I started going to the AA, and from then on I didn’t touch a drop. The first thing they teach you is that you can’t ever drink again. Never. Not even a beer. They show you that you can lay off the stuff for ten years, and then take a drink, and be right back where you started. So I quit cold.”
Kimberly riffled the pages of his notebook softly. “Until night before last, that is?”
“Yeah. Until then. After I got through working on the motor, I started thinking about the cold beer in that box, and all, and how the boss was always asking me to help myself. I figured one bottle couldn’t hurt, if I went straight home afterward, and so I had one.”
“That’s all. But then, when I got outside in that damned heat, I got to feeling sort of low down. You know. I thought, hell, I could handle just one more bottle. So I went to this place, this Ledo Bar, and—” he spread his hands ”—that’s the way it started.”
“You talk to anybody there?”
“Sure. Couple guys at the bar I never saw before. And the bartender. And there was some guy helped me to the door. I talked to him a little. But I don’t know him from Adam. I can’t even remember what he looked like.”
“How come you fell off the wagon, Tommy? I mean, why this particular night, after you’d been off the stuff so long?”
“I’m damned if I know. I just felt sort of low down, and—well, hell, I don’t know.”
“Any special worries? Anything out of the ordinary?”
Tommy shook his head. “No more’n I always have. I don’t make a hell of a lot on the job, you know, and now that we’ve got a baby…” His voice trailed off.
It’s funny, Tommy thought, how you can let a thing get you. How you can let it blur the whole picture for you. Like having a beautiful wife with a stronger sexual appetite than you have—though God knows you’d always thought of yourself as being pretty rutty. As rutty as most guys, anyhow. You do your damnedest, but the woman never wears down. They just get worse. And after a while, it begins to get you. You start worrying about ever being able to take care of her the way she expects you to. And the more you fret about it, the less you can do. It’s a damned vicious circle, and you get to brooding about it so much that one night you can’t take it any more. You think you’ve got to have a few minutes’ rest from all the brooding, and somehow you get the idea you can find it in a bar. Ad you need, you think, is a breather, a few minutes standing up at the bar like in the old days, having a harmless bottle of beer. Only the bottle of beer isn’t harmless; it’s a trigger. It sets off that crazy thing in your mind that made you a dipso in the first place…
“… done a lot of checking, and—” Kimberley’s voice broke in.
“What?” Tommy said.
“I said we’ve done a lot of checking,” Kimberly told him. “It seems you’ve got quite a reputation for being a jealous husband.” He looked at Tommy sharply. “Any reason for it?”
“Carol hasn’t got anything to do this,” Tommy said angrily. “Why bring her into it?”
“Routine, Tommy. That’s all.” He paused. “Well?”
“No,” Tommy said. “There’s never been any reason. Nothing she ever did, anyhow. A lot of guys have made passes at her, and a couple of times I’ve had to slug a guy, but…” He shook his head slowly. “No, there wasn’t ever anything Carol did. Nothing she could help.”
“She didn’t know the murdered man?”
“Hell yes. How’d she know him? I’d only seen Bruce Wingate a couple times myself. The first time when I went over to his florist shop to fix a box for him. And the second time when I woke up on the floor beside him.”
“All right, Go on.”
“There isn’t any place to go. I was sitting in this bar, and feeling sorry for myself, or something, and all at once I started drinking straight shots instead of beer. And the next thing I knew, I was on my way out.”
“You remember going through the door, but nothing after that, eh? You don’t even remember being outside on the sidewalk?”
“You blacked out, is that it?”
“That’s right. All the way. I remember going through the door, and the next thing I remember is waking up with a cop yelling in my ear, asking me what I’d done with the gun.”
“You weren’t actually unconscious, though, Tommy. The report says you were found in what looked like a drunken stupor.”
“All I know is I blacked out.”
Kimberly tapped his notebook on his knee and sighed. “Holding back information will only hurt you in the long run, Tommy.”
“I’m not holding anything back, for God’s sake! I tell you I don’t know what I did after I left the Ledo.”
“That was a pretty convenient time for you to black out, wasn’t it?”
Tommy said nothing. He hadn’t been able to eat the food they’d given him, and the cigarette was beginning to nauseate him. He dropped it to the floor and rubbed it out beside the butt of the first.
“We’ll get the facts sooner or later, Tommy,” Kimberly said. “Protecting anybody else is just plain stupid. I mean it.”
“Who would I be protecting?”
Kimberly closed his notebook slowly and returned it to his pocket. “You know who I mean. The woman who was seen leaving Wingate’s building a couple of minutes after the shot.”
“I told you I don’t know anything about any woman. What do you want me to say?”
Kimberly stood up, frowning, his eyes searching Tommy’s face. “It’s up to you,” he said. “Don’t make it any tougher on yourself.”
“I can’t tell you a damn thing more’n I have already,” Tommy said. The image of Carol and the baby came to him with such suddenness and intensity that it was almost like a physical blow. “God,” he said. “God…”
Kimberly crossed to the metal door and rapped on it sharply with his knuckles. “Keep working on it, Tommy,” he said gently. “I’d see that you get every break in the book, if you’ll only cooperate.”
“Sure,” Tommy said bitterly. “Ad I got to do is cooperate. What you mean is, all I got to do is confess to a murder I didn’t do. Break, hell! I know what kind of a break I’d get. You must have forgot what your buddy said. That muscle guy. Lambert. He said he’d make me wish to hell I was dead before he got through with me.” A sour fluid welled up in his throat, and he could say no more.
He heard footsteps in the corridor outside, and the sound of the door being unlocked, but he didn’t look at Dave Kimberly.
As soon as the door closed behind Kimberly, Tommy lurched to the toilet and was sick at his stomach.
Steve Lambert finished initialing the sheaf of reports on his desk and crossed the long, narrow room to the water cooler. He filled a paper cup and stood sipping at it slowly, thinking about Carol Nolan. In the room around him, other detectives frowned over paper work or talked to prisoners and witnesses. On a bench at the end of the room farthest from the door, two men sat, handcuffed together, their faces pale and sullen. In a straight chair, a lithe apart from the men, a young blonde girl sat with her face in her hands, one slim ankle handcuffed to a rung of the chair.
Steve filled the cup again, then changed his mind, dropped cup and water into the waste basket beside the cooler, and went back to his desk.
He sat down, lifted a thin clip of F.B.I. circulars and began studying them, committing to memory every detail of facial structure, every statistic given below the photographs of the wanted men. From a speaker on the wall directly behind his desk the dispatcher’s voice droned almost incessantly, and from the street below came the thousand sounds of a big city’s mid-morning traffic.
He kept at it steadily for ten minutes, and then he dropped the circulars in one of the wire baskets on his desk and leaned far back in his chair. It was no use. He couldn’t get his mind off the way it had been with Carol Nolan.
Jesus, he thought, a woman like that could get to be worse than dope.
The few minutes he had spent with Tommy Nolan’s wife had been like nothing he had ever experienced before. It hadn’t been just another time, with another woman; it had been a whole new thing, and the realization angered him. After a lifetime of chasing it, it didn’t seem right that a man should suddenly discover he’d never really had it before.
And it had all been so easy. So damned easy. Hell, all he’d had to do was suggest it, and she’d flopped right on the bed. Well, that’s the way it went sometimes. Once you got a woman emotionally disorganized, she was liable to do anything. He ran a thumbnail slowly along the line of his jaw and grinned. God, what a hunk of stuff. One in a million, that girl. A man could kill himself just trying to get enough of it.
He moved his tongue across his lower lip, thinking about her, remembering…
The phone on his desk rang. He glared at it a long moment, then swore softly and jerked it from its cradle. “Lieutenant Lambert.”
“Lieutenant Lambert?” A man’s voice, hesitant.
“I just said so, for Christ’s sake.”
“I tried to get you earlier this morning, Lieutenant. At your home.”
“There’s something I’d like to talk over with you, Lieutenant. If—”
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Edmonds.”
“What’s on your mind, Edmonds?”
“I’d rather see you personally, Lieutenant. This is extremely important, and—”
“Listen, Edmonds—you know where the Eighteenth Precinct station house is?”
“Ad right. Come on down here. Ted the sergeant on the desk downstairs that you want to come up to the second floor to see me. Tell him I said it was okay. Got it?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Lieutenant. If I could meet you somewhere in private.” He paused. “I assure you it will be to your own personal advantage…”
Steve could sense the other man’s earnestness, the almost desperate anxiousness. Edmonds’ voice fed into none of the categories of crackpot voices that Steve had learned through the years to identify. It was a middle-aged voice, emotionally taut, apparently on the thin edge of panic. Steve glanced at his watch. Ten-forty-five. What the hell—he could use a fast drink and a couple of laughs. And maybe more than laughs. It happened. Once every so often you hit a jackpot. Some panicky bastard like this would turn out to be the McCoy. Sometimes they could bust a case for you that you’d knocked yourself out on for weeks. They always had an axe to grind, but that didn’t keep you from getting another citation for good police work. Maybe they helped you because they wanted revenge on someone, or out of pure spite, or because they were scared as hell of the guy they blew the whistle on. It didn’t matter. It was like the Old Man always said— without informants, the cops would be up Crap Creek nine-tenths of the time.
The man spoke again, his voice strained almost to the point of being ragged. “You still there, Lieutenant?”
“No,” Steve said. “I’m off somewhere tracing this call. Listen, Edmonds, I’ll give you a couple minutes. And God help you if you’re dragging me out of here for nothing.”
“I assure you—”
“All right. I’ll see you at the Beetle Club in fifteen minutes. That’s on the corner of Seventh and Brand Street. Got it?”
“Uh… do we have to… I mean, can’t we meet some place that isn’t quite so public, Lieutenant?”
“You want to talk to me, or don’t you?”
“Of course. But—”
“Then be there. Fifteen minutes.” He hung up, lifted his hat from the top of a filing cabinet, and started for the door.
Dave Kimberly was walking toward him. Dave’s walk irritated Steve. It always reminded him of the way Dave had of leaving his ring corner at the inter-precinct boxing matches, not so much a walk as it was a kind of prowl.
“You got a minute?” Dave asked.
Steve paused, scowling at him. “You made lieutenant yet, Kimberly?”
Kimberly shook his head and smiled. “Not yet.”
“Too bad,” Steve said. “What’d you want?”
“You mentioned switching the Wingate case over to me today. I was wondering if you’d—”
“I haven’t quite made up my mind on that,” Steve said slowly. He thought of how it had been with Carol Nolan, and how awkward it would be to keep seeing her if he gave the case to Kimberly. “I’ll have to think about it a little.”
Kimberly nodded, plainly disappointed, “Well…”
“What’s the matter?” Steve asked. “You running out of work?”
“No. But I just finished talking with Tommy Nolan again. Lieutenant, I’m convinced that he really did black out after he left that bar. There are some men who just can’t lie, and I think Tommy’s one of them.”
“Bull,” Steve said. “Don’t start that routine again.” He grinned at Kimberly. “And speaking of routine—how about those reports you fouled up? Seeing as you’re so anxious to get to work, and ah, maybe now’d be a good time to start straightening them out, eh?”
Kimberly’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Whatever you say, Lieutenant.”
“That’s what I say,” Steve told him. “See what you can do with those reports.”
“I’d be back in about an hour. Anybody wants me, tell them I’m out talking to a new stoolie. And don’t go making lieutenant before I get back, you hear?” He turned his back on Kimberly and walked toward the door.
The Beetle Club was dim and cool and intimate, and except for the barmaid in a T-shirt and velvet slacks and two young girls in flat heels and mannish suits at the far end of the bar, Steve had the place to himself. He’d had two fast shots of bourbon when he first came in, and now he sipped slowly at a third, waiting for Edmonds.
He studied the reflections of the two girls in the bar mirror. They sat with shoulders and thighs touching, lost in each other’s eyes, their lips only inches apart.
He heard the street door open, and turned toward it. The man who stood there, smiling uncertainly at Steve, was short and bald and could have been anywhere between forty and fifty. He was dressed in a wrinkled seersucker suit, a sweat-darkened blue shirt and tiny pointed black shoes that looked small enough for a ten-year-old boy. His pale brows and eyelashes had been bleached by the sun to a shade no darker than his face, so that at first his face appeared entirely hairless. He walked to the bar with quick, mincing steps, and sat down beside Steve.
“You Edmonds?” Steve asked.
“Yes. Can’t we sit in a booth?”
“Why not?” Steve said. “What’re you drinking? We can get it here and take it over.”
Steve shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He lifted his bottle and glass and led the way to a booth.
The short fat man looked about him nervously. “I still don’t care for the idea of talking in a place like this.”
“Forget it. This is a lesbian hangout. Nobody’ll bother you.”
“Let’s get to the point. What’d you want to see me about?” He watched a new layer of sweat seep out on the other’s round face, staring at him unblinkingly, storing the face away forever along with thousands of others.
“First of all,” Edmonds said, “I want you to know that I realize what a chance I’m taking. I—I hope you’ll hear me out before you jump to any conclusions.” He moistened his lips, looking at Steve pleadingly.
“Let’s have it,” Steve said. “Don’t bother priming me. Just talk.”
“Well, this has to do with a case I believe you’re working on.” He glanced quickly at the barmaid, then at the two girls at the end of the bar, and then hunched closer to Steve and lowered his voice. “The Wingate murder, Lieutenant.”
“What about it?”
“You are handling it, aren’t you? I mean, you’re in complete charge of the investigation?”
“And nobody else will be working on it, except under your direction?” Steve nodded.
“You have a suspect now, I think. A man named Nolan…”
“Listen,” Steve said softly. “Cut the crap and get with it. Okay?”
Edmonds moistened his lips again. “It’s rather difficult, I—well, I’ve heard that someone saw a girl leaving the building.” He looked at Steve questioningly. Steve sipped at his whiskey, said nothing.
“Anyhow,” Edmonds went on, “I have a friend who is quite concerned about it. About the girl, I mean.”
Steve refilled his glass, his face expressionless. That a girl had been seen leaving the building was not general knowledge. The fact had not been released to the paper. “Go on,” he said.
“My friend wonders if it’s absolutely vital to you to— well, to keep the girl in the case.”
Steve twisted the glass around slowly in his fingers. “You mean your friend would like to see us forget all about the girl—is that what you’re driving at, Edmonds?”
Edmonds tried a smile. “Something like that, Lieutenant.”
“Uh-huh. And your friend sent you along to sound me out on the idea, eh?”
Edmonds nodded rapidly. “I hope you’d appreciate my position, Lieutenant. I’m only trying to do a favor.”
“Just a go-between,” Steve said mildly.
“Yes, that’s right.”
The two girls got off their bar stools and walked, arm in arm, to the juke box in the rear of the room. Steve followed them with his eyes, watching them as they put coins in the slot and pushed the selector buttons. “I’m waiting, Edmonds,” he said.
“For the price.”
Edmonds ran his hand across his glistening skull, exactly as if he were smoothing hair into place. He was frightened, Steve knew; he could almost smell the fear.
“Start talking,” Steve said. He watched the two lesbians saunter back to the bar and take their stools, and then he turned his eyes on Edmonds. “How much did your friend think this might be worth?”
“Would… would a thousand be about right?”
“A grand, eh? And just what would your friend expect for that kind of dough, Edmonds?”
Edmonds fidgeted, unable to meet Steve’s eyes. “Well, that you forget about the girl, of course, and… well, that your suspect, this man Nolan, should… should…”
“Should take the jolt all by himself?”
“Yes. Something like that, anyhow.”
“Stop shaking so hard,” Steve said. “You’d better take a drink.”
“I think I will,” Edmonds said, and reached trembling fingers toward the bottle. “Mind if I use your glass?”
Steve shook his head, watching the other man carefully as he poured and drank, then poured and drank again.
“Let’s see if I’ve got this straight,” Steve said thoughtfully. “You want me to forget all about the girl. You want me to fix a witness, maybe, or something. Anyhow, you want her out of the picture. And you want Nolan pinned with the murder, and pinned so good that everybody’ll forget there even was a girl.”
“I guess that’s about the size of it, Lieutenant,” Edmonds said. He seemed a little calmer now, a little more sure of himself. “You know, I—”
“And your friend wants all that for just a lousy grand,” Steve said, smiling.
Edmonds’ eyes grew round. “Lieutenant, I—”
“Shut up a minute,” Steve said. “I want to tell you something, fella. I want to tell you what a stupid bastard you are. And just as soon as I finish, I’m going to kick your ass up over your ears.”
Edmonds’ face blanched and he cringed as far back in the booth as he could get.
“You think something like this is just as simple as bribing a traffic cop, eh?” Steve said. “God, but you’re a stupid bastard.”
“You got any idea what I could do to you for pulling a thing like this? You know how much time you could do? You know what the other cops would do to you if I threw you in a back cell someplace and told them what kind of a jerk you are? And it isn’t only the bribe—it’s that you’ve got something we need. You’ve got the identity of the girl who was seen leaving the building right after the florist got it.” He shook his head slowly. “Man, I’ve seen them dumb, but you’re it. You honest to Christ are.”
Edmonds’ eyes were sick. “I was forced into this, Lieutenant It isn’t my idea. My God, I’d rather—”
“Shut up,” Steve said.
“Shut up, damn you!”
The trousered barmaid came hurrying up the bar. “Let’s have it a little quieter over there, boys,” she said.
Steve stared at her, almost smiling. “Up yours, sister,” he said softly. The two girls at the far end of the bar gasped, and Steve turned his gaze toward them. “Yours, too,” he said. “You lizzies yip just once and I’ll bust your heads together.” He nodded to Edmonds. “Ad right, fats. On your feet.” He reached down, caught his hand in the other man’s lapel, jerked him to his feet and pushed him toward the door.
As he followed Edmonds through the door, Steve turned slightly to smile over his shoulder at the barmaid. “Thanks for the drinks,” he said. “You run a nice place here. I’ll tell my friends about it.”
“You goddamned cops,” the barmaid said. “You think you own the world.”
Steve laughed and closed the door behind him.
As they came out on the sidewalk, Steve reached up beneath the skirt of Edmonds’ coat and grasped his belt He jerked it hard enough to make Edmonds gasp, and then double-timed him toward the black and white police cruiser a quarter of a block down the street.
Edmonds was whimpering, trying to drag his feet. “Where you taking me?”
“Where’d you think, you bastard?”
“Listen, Lieutenant, I—I—”
Steve jerked the cruiser’s door open and pushed Edmonds inside. He slammed the door, threw the trick lock on the door handle that prevented it being opened from the inside, and walked around at the driver’s side. He got in and started the motor and grinned at Edmonds. “A lousy grand,” he said. “Jesus, I ought to bust you up, just for laughs.”
Edmonds made a retching sound, as if he were going to be sick.
Steve reached down and turned the ignition off and slumped back in the seat, knowing he had Edmonds exactly where he wanted him. Jesus, he thought, if I scare this joker any worse he’ll dirty up the car.
“A lousy grand,” Steve said. “One stinking, lousy grand. And for that I’m supposed to frame a guy into the chair just so somebody’s girl friend gets off for free. For a thousand bucks I’m supposed to take a chance on my job. I’m supposed to take a chance on going to jail myself. Jesus!” He turned suddenly and slapped Edmonds hard across the mouth with the flat of his hand. “All right, you bastard! I know damn well you’d have gone higher than any stinking grand. Just how high could you go?”
Edmonds put his fingertips to his lips, wiping away the blood that had formed there. He tried to speak, but there was no sound.
“Fi—five thousand dol—dollars.”
“You got it with you?”
Edmonds nodded, his breath coming in ragged gasps. “In what kind of bills?”
Edmonds’ lips worked a moment. Then he said, almost in a whisper, “Fif—fifties and hundreds.”
“And marked, too, isn’t it, you bastard? Every bill marked. Because this is a trap, isn’t it? You’re helping somebody frame me, Edmonds. I got enemies in the department, and maybe a few in politics, and some of them got the bright idea that they could sucker me into taking a bribe and bust me off the force. Is that it, Edmonds?”
Edmonds shook his head violently. “No! I swear it! It’s —it’s just like I said. I swear to God.”
Steve watched Edmonds’ terrified face, the sick, crawling thing in his eyes. He was telling the truth, Steve knew; a man as scared as Edmonds couldn’t fake it.
“I swear!” Edmonds said, and spat blood out the car window.
“Let’s see the money,” Steve said.
Edmonds’ sick eyes jerked toward him. “You mean you’ll…?”
“I don’t mean a damn thing. Let’s see the money.”
Edmonds reached into his pocket and handed Steve an envelope. Steve ripped it open, holding it down between his knees where passersby couldn’t see it. He thumbed through the bills carefully. There was an even five thousand dollars. He pushed the money back into the envelope and left it lying on the seat.
He thought it over calmly, staring past Edmonds’ sweating face at the people passing by on the sidewalk, one forefinger moving slowly back and forth along an edge of the envelope.
This could turn into a very good thing, he knew. The main thing was not to rush it, not get too greedy. Just a slow, hard drag, and always keep an ace in the hole. Play it cool, and you couldn’t lose. There was a hell of a long way between finding a drunk at the scene of a murder and getting that same drunk in the electric chair. They hadn’t even found the gun, and it would be tough to prove premeditation. And even easing the girl out of the picture would take the same doing. But what the hell— supposing he wasn’t able to do a thing for Edmonds? Supposing he simply kept the money? Why not? There was nothing Edmonds could do about it. And disposing of the money was no problem. He knew where he could exchange it for three-fourths of its face value in cool money.
He took a cigar from his pocket, removed the wrapping, and rolled it around in his fingers, glancing at Edmonds. When a man turned over five thousand dollars as quickly as Edmonds had, it meant there was a lot more where that five thousand came from. It meant a man would be a damned fool to take five grand and stop there. It didn’t matter whether Edmonds was talking for himself, or whether there really was a “friend” to foot the bill. The point was that Edmonds was so terrified that he’d taken a chance on making a bribe that could have put him behind bars for years.
Yes, Steve decided, there was a lot of money waiting for him, if he played it right He could take this five grand now, get more as he went along, and then, no matter what the final outcome of the case, he could get Edmonds in a vise and squeeze the truth out of him. Once he’d milked all he could out of the Wingate kill, he could start shaking down Edmonds, or his friend, if there was one, or both of them.
Then, suddenly, he found himself thinking of Carol Nolan. The hotter he made it for her husband, the more time there’d be with her in that small back bedroom, he knew. He stirred a little on the seat, surprised at the intensity of his abrupt physical need for her. Like dope, he thought again. Just like dope…
He made up his mind. There was nothing to lose, no reason he shouldn’t play one end against the other. So far as Edmonds had to know, Steve was working for him, pushing the girl out of the case and hammering a frame around Tommy Nolan. And so far as Tommy’s wife had to know, Steve would be doing everything he could to get Tommy off the hook. And, meanwhile, both of them would be paying Steve in their own way.
Just now, with the insistent yearning for Carol in his loins, he couldn’t decide which of the two kinds of payment he wanted most.
He lifted the envelope from the seat and put it in his pocket. “We’ll consider this five grand a token of good faith, Edmonds,” he said. “Sort of like a down payment. Got it?”
“God, Lieutenant,” Edmonds said weakly. “You don’t know how—”
“Shut up,” Steve said. “Just listen. And listen hard, because I’m only going to tell you once. I want the murder gun, Edmonds, and I want it fast…We didn’t find it, and the reason we didn’t is because this girl of yours carried it off with her.” He pushed his face close to Edmonds’. “You got that, fella? I mean fast.”
Edmonds took a sodden handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it against his bleeding lips, nodding slowly, his eyes fixed on the knot in Steve’s tie.
“And another thing,” Steve said. “I don’t want you to get the idea you can stiff me. You can’t. You pull one wrong move and you’ll be the sorriest son of a bitch that ever lived. I mean it, Edmonds…. I’ll bust you wide open.”
Edmonds was still nodding.
Steve returned the unlighted cigar to his pocket. “All right, you’ve got yourself a deal. But it’s going to be tough, fella. Everything about it is going to be tough. Getting that girl off and nailing this kid Nolan on the door is going to take every trick in the book. And don’t think you’re going to buy that kind of package for any five grand. You’re messing around with people’s fives, don’t forget, and that can get expensive.” He paused. “But a little thing like dough shouldn’t sweat you, Edmonds. Hell, you shelled out five grand without batting an eye.”
“God, Lieutenant… I…” Edmonds broke off, staring now at the red stains on his handkerchief.
“You better get used to the idea that this is going to cost somebody, Edmonds, and cost plenty. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it didn’t hit twenty grand before we’re through. So don’t start yelping when I put the bite on you for more dough—because that’s just exactly what I’ll be doing, fella, and I could get real irritated if you started whining too loud.” He reached across Edmonds’ legs and opened the door. “Where can I get hold of you?”
“The Ches—” Edmonds turned his head to spit ”— Chesterfield Hotel.”
“All right. Just make sure you stick close to your room. When I want you, it’s liable to be in a hurry.” He gestured toward the sidewalk. “Now get your lard out of here.”
Edmonds got out and pushed the door shut very gently.
Steve turned the ignition on again, grinning at the short bald sweating man on the curb. “You’re a real gutty boy, Edmonds,” he said. “Don’t ever let anybody tell you different.” He put the cruiser into gear, made a wide U-turn, and gunned the motor to catch the light at the intersection of Seventh and Brand streets.
From now on, he reflected, this was going to be pretty much like a poker game. If you were smart, you stayed as long as you were winning, and you got out the moment you saw your luck was turning. The trick now was to keep Edmonds in the game, and to keep him building up the pot. And the best way to keep him in the game was to let him go about this in his own way. If you trailed him, or tried to beat any information out of him, you’d have a little fun, maybe, but you’d be cutting your own throat. A panicky guy like Edmonds might flip and spoil the game before it had really got started. You had to ease a guy like Edmonds along gently, if you wanted the final pot to be worth taking chances for.
So tailing Edmonds was out—at least right now. There were other ways. Better ways. The main thing was that Edmonds hadn’t been baiting him into a trap. That was the one sure thing in this setup. The kind of fear that was riding Edmonds was the kind that could react on a man so strongly that he was incapable of deception. There was nothing unique about it. When you’d seen that same fear a thousand times in the back rooms of station houses, on lonely country roads where you’d taken balky suspects for private questioning, you had no trouble recognizing it. Not when you’d even learned to smell it. Not when you’d come to depend on it as one of the best friends a cop could have. Not when its symptoms had become as familiar and obvious to you as the blood on a man’s mouth after you’d hit him.
No—this was no frame-up, no trap set by an enemy. It was what Edmonds had made it out to be. A business proposition in which, for a price, you used your authority and police know-how to take the heat off an unknown girl while at the same time you booted Tommy Nolan along the road to the electric chair. A calculated risk. A tightrope to be walked with the certain knowledge that the smallest misstep could mean disaster.
He turned right at the next intersection, letting the car drift more slowly now, already pushing Edmonds to a back part of his mind.
He was pleasantly aware of the bulky envelope in his pocket. There was no point in doing anything complicated about the money, he reflected, no reason to exchange it at a loss. He was certain that, if the money was marked or the serial numbers recorded, Edmonds wasn’t aware of it. But he’d check both possibilities, nevertheless. Through some freak chance, Edmonds might have come into some bad money. But there was no rush. The important tiling now was to put the money where no one else could get his hands on it.
And hiding it was, of course, no problem at all. The safest place was also the handiest. The station house itself. There were at least a dozen places around the budding where a small package—one the size of a pocket tobacco tin, say—could be hidden, and remain hidden for years. Convenient places where a man could, as Edmonds came across again and again, add new money to old by simply getting up from his desk and taking a five-minute walk.
He thought about Tommy Nolan. He’d have to work like hell from now on. There was a lot to do, and not too much time to do it If only it weren’t for that stupid seventy-two-hour detention law… They’d put Nolan in the material witness cell night before last, about midnight which meant they’d have to release him—or charge him— by midnight tomorrow, at the latest. With the stink there’d been in the papers lately about the police holding prisoners beyond the seventy-two-hour limit, there’d be no chance of keeping Nolan on ice any longer than that. Even without the papers ready to stir up the stench again, there’d be no hope for an extension. Not with the Old Man getting more squeamish every day. Not with the DA. a fanatical stickler for the letter of the law.
He frowned to himself. It was either free Nolan or charge him—and do it before tomorrow at midnight.
That damned Edmonds, Steve thought. Why couldn’t the sweaty little bastard have made his pitch yesterday?
But it could be done, he knew. It had to be done. One way or another he was going to nail Tommy Nolan’s hide on that door, and he was going to do it in such a way that nobody would give a hoot in hell about the girl.
Nobody but himself, that is. He had to know about her, and the sooner he found out about her the better. It was simply a matter of self-protection, of reducing your vulnerability to a minimum. You had to find out the girl’s identity, because, until you did, you were in one hell of a dangerous position. You could never tell about a woman, especially if she happened to be involved in a murder. And if this one was anywhere near as panicky as Edmonds, she might upset the apple cart before he could even get it rolling.
But before he did anything else, he had to get rid of the money. The sooner he cached it in a safe place, the sooner he would remove one more element of risk—in case either the girl or Edmonds flipped and set off the fireworks. Five thousand dollars in large bills could be a little tough to explain. A little tougher than was pleasant to think about.
He stopped at a drug store and bought a pocket tin of pipe tobacco. Back in the cruiser, he removed the cellophane bag of tobacco from the can, inserted the money, and threw the tobacco out the window. Then he started the motor, touched the siren button briefly to clear the heavy traffic ahead of him, and pushed the cruiser hard for the nine long blocks back to the station house.
It was a quarter past twelve when Steve climbed the stairs to the second floor of the station house and entered the long room that housed the detective squad. And the instant he walked through the door he knew something was wrong. He read it in the quickly averted eyes of the detective nearest the door, in the abrupt halt In the conversation of three other detectives at the water cooler, in the general feel of the emotional climate about him. He knew it was his intuitive sensitiveness to hostility, and there could be no doubt, no doubt at all.
He forced himself to walk casually to the cooler, while—inside him his heart hammered at his rib case and sweat across his shoulders grew chill.
Christ, he thought, they’ve done it… they’ve suckered me, after all….
The weight of the tobacco tin in his jacket pocket was suddenly almost insupportable.
Very slowly he drew a paper cup and filled it, acutely conscious of the unnatural hush of the big room, of the watchful silence of the three detectives standing near him.
In the few moments it took to fill the cup and raise it to his lips he had achieved two things. He had forced the unfamiliar emotion of fear from his mind, and he had replaced the fear with a concentrated alertness that left room for nothing else.
As he drank, he let his eyes drift from the face of one detective to another, deliberately, mockingly, challenging them.
One of the detectives cleared his throat, glanced at the other two, and then back at Steve.
“The Old Man wants to see you, Steve.”
Steve took a final sip of the water. “Thanks, Barney.”
“He said to tell you as soon as you came in.”
Steve nodded, staring at Barney unblinkingly while he crumpled the empty cup slowly into a small hard ball. He rolled the ball between the wide palms of his hands a moment, then dropped it into the waste basket, turned, and walked toward the opaque glass door with the lettering: Lieut. Chas. L. Tyner.
The office of the squad’s commander was small and cluttered, the green metal furniture old and scarred. There was scarcely room between two opposing rows of sagging file cabinets for the small desk and the half-dozen folding chairs scattered in a loose semi-circle in front of it. On the faded gray wall behind the desk there was a large map of Riverton, another of the Eighteenth Precinct, a crowded bulletin board, and, above the single window, a square wooden speaker.
As Steve entered, the two men standing at the window turned to face him. Lieutenant Charles Tyner and District Attorney George Manning. Tyner was tall and emaciated and hawk-faced, with gray-white skin that sagged beneath the eyes and at the jowls. There was a network of deep furrows at the outer corners of the deep-set eyes, and tired lines at the corners of the thin pale lips.
Manning was the same height as Tyner, but the district attorney was heavy-set, an immaculately dressed man with a fleshy, even-featured face, hooded dark eyes, and thick black hair grown gray at the temples.
Steve nodded to Tyner, then to Manning, closed the door behind him, and waited.
“You know one another, I think,” Tyner said, glancing from Steve to Manning and back again.
“Yes, we’ve met,” Manning said crisply. “How are you, Lieutenant?”
“I’m fine,” Steve said easily. “And you?”
“Very well, thanks.”
Steve pushed his hat back and grinned at Tyner. If they wanted to play this sweet and cool, he told himself, then he was just the boy to oblige them.
“Sit down, Steve,” Tyner said. Steve shrugged, walked to one of the folding chairs, and sat down. He crossed his legs, took a cigar from his pocket, and began rolling the cigar around in his fingers.
“I suppose you’ve heard?” Tyner said.
Steve studied the cigar. “Heard what, Charlie?”
Tyner inclined his head in the direction of the door. “They didn’t tell you out there?”
“Nobody told me anything, except that you wanted to see me.”
“Well… it looks as if you’ll be leaving us, Steve.”
“The district attorney here thinks you’re the man to head up his squad. It’ll be a nice step up for you, Steve.”
Steve felt the cigar snap between his fingers. He took a deep breath, held it a moment, then let it out very slowly.
“Of course, it’s up to you,” Tyner said. “Personally, I hope you’ll turn it down. I don’t mind admitting that this’ll be a tough shop to run without you. You’re the best I’ve got, Steve.”
Steve waited until he was sure of his voice, and then he said, “Thanks, Charlie. I had a damned good cop to teach me.”
“Like I told you,” Tyner said, “it’s all up to you. You’re in line for my job, and maybe you’d just as soon…”
George Manning smiled and put his hand on Tyner’s shoulder. “None of that, Charlie,” he said. “It isn’t really a matter of choice at ah, you know…. I’ve already settled it with the commissioner and the chief.” He winked at Steve and his smile widened. “You wouldn’t want to stand in a good man’s way, would you?”
“You know better than that,” Tyner said, “and so does Steve. It’s just that… ah, hell, forget it.”
Steve thought of the way it had been when he first walked into the big room outside, of the hostile reception, the looks, the subtle differences in voices, enjoying in retrospect the reaction he had caused. There was a sort of wonderful irony about the whole situation. It amused him to think of the way the soreheads in the other room were taking the news. There would be a lot of sick cops in Riverton tonight, he reflected, a lot of sad, jealous zeros. It was really funny as hell. Here he sat, chinning with the Old Man and the D.A. about one of the most coveted jobs in police work, listening to them spread the oil, while in his jacket pocket the sharp outline of the tobacco tin pressed against his chest, heavy and solid the first installment on what was, by God, going to end up at least a lush twenty grand. At least.
He leaned forward and dropped the broken cigar into a tray on Tyner’s desk.
“Well, Steve?” Tyner asked.
Steve frowned thoughtfully. “I want you to know I appreciate the opportunity,” he said slowly. “I know it’s a wonderful compliment to me as a police officer.” He paused, looking gratefully at Tyner, and then, with a little more deference, at the district attorney. “And… well, knowing what you think of me means a lot to me, because… well, because being a cop is my whole life.”
“Good,” Manning said. “In that case I’ll just—”
“But,” Steve said regretfully, “I’m afraid I’ll have to turn it down.”
Manning’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly. “Turn it down? Are you serious?”
Steve nodded. “It’d lead to a lot of hard feelings, sir. It’s a terrific break for me, of course, out I’m at the bottom of the list, so far as seniority in grade goes. There are a lot of men with eight and ten years on me, and any one of them would give his right arm for a chance like this.” He paused a moment. “I know, because that’s just how I feel about it myself.”
What would a politician like George Manning know about how it really was to be a cop? Steve wondered. If you told him cops did a thankless, dangerous job, and did it every hour they were on duty, he’d tell you that that was only what they were paid to do. If you told him promotions and citations were mostly a matter of luck, because a certain cop happened to be at a certain place at a certain time and got a chance to do something that grabbed newspaper space, he’d remind you that heroes deserved to be rewarded. If you told him most cops risked their lives continually, and that those risks added up through the years, so that a career cop deserved the same recognition as the cops who’d been lucky enough to be around when something spectacular happened— Manning would smile and shake his head, as if he thought you were trying to play down your own newspaper space and citations. The way Manning probably figured it, the average cop was lucky to have a job at all.
The district attorney was frowning a little now.
“I suppose there will be some slight reaction,” he said. “But nothing that won’t blow over in time. Certainly nothing that should affect your decision, Lieutenant.” A subtle change came into his voice. “Actually, of course, the decision is mine…”
“Steve’s the youngest lieutenant in the entire detective division,” Tyner put in quickly. “Naturally, he feels—”
“Nonsense,” Manning said. “Lieutenant Lambert has earned every promotion he’s had. I went over his folder carefully before I made my decision. He’s scored very high on his Civil Service exams, and, with the single exception of yourself, Charlie, he has more citations than any other man on the force. But the most important thing —the thing that counts the most with me—is that when Lambert builds up a case against someone, that case sticks. The number of indictments and convictions my office has been able to get—I’m talking about the ones due to Lambert’s spadework, mind you—is almost incredible. How can the other men resent it when an obviously better man is transferred to a slot where he can do the most good?”
Tyner shook his head, said nothing.
“And besides,” Manning went on, “this isn’t actually a promotion, so far as grade and pay are concerned. It’s simply a case of filling the job with the best man available, like I said. Tony Licardi’s done a fine job with my squad, and I hate like the devil to let him go, just the way you dislike losing Steve, but Tony’s up for Captain of the Tenth and I’m certainly not going to stand in his way.”
“I don’t know, George,” Tyner said. “Maybe—”
“You don’t know what?” Manning asked. “Listen, Charlie, if the other men resent the rapid way Lambert’s gone up in this outfit, then they’ll certainly resent it when he takes your place, won’t they? If that sort of feeling is inevitable anyhow, then what’s the difference?”
Tyner grinned wryly. “All right,” he said. “So I’m a selfish bastard, and I hate to lose a good boy. I admit it.” His voice sounded very tired. “Well, Steve… congratulations.”
“I think I’m the one who should be congratulated,” Manning said. He turned to Steve. “How soon do you think you can tie up all the loose ends here? I’d like to have you take over in about a week, if that’s all right with you. With your kind of work, I realize it’s hard to just move out of one job into another, but possibly you can continue to work on some of the more important cases yourself, if that’s necessary, and give the less important ones to someone else. I’ll see to it that you get a chance to complete any unfinished business here, of course, even if it should drag along for some time. But I’d like you to sandwich it in between the things you’ll be doing as head of my squad.”
“I’d appreciate that, sir,” Steve said. “There are a couple of things I’d like to handle all the way through. It’s much better all around if the same detective stays on a case from start to finish.”
“That’s true. Yes, that’s very true, Lieutenant—Steve. Have you had lunch yet?”
“Not yet, sir.”
“Good. Then maybe you’ll have lunch with my family and me. It’ll give us a chance to get better acquainted.” Without waiting for Steve’s answer, he turned back to Tyner. “Okay if I shanghai Steve for a lithe while, Charlie?”
“Okay with me,” Tyner said. “If he wants to have lunch with a pirate like you, that’s his business.”
Manning laughed and started for the door. “Ready, Steve?”
Steve nodded and got to his feet. There was no logical way out of this, he reflected, and no way to stall Manning off long enough to hide the money. Even if he said he wanted to wash up first, Manning would probably decide his own hands needed washing and tag right along. Well, to hell with it; he could stash the money as soon as he got back to the station house. And that wouldn’t be very long from now, he told himself. With a twenty-grand jackpot waiting for him, the sooner he got to work on Tommy Nolan the better.
The Manning apartment, which consisted of the entire ninth floor of Riverton’s most exclusive apartment-hotel was an even more luxurious show place than Steve had expected it to be. His job had taken him to many such places, and always he had the feeling of moving abruptly from one world into another. It was not an experience he enjoyed, for some vague reason he had never been able to explain to himself, and he avoided these small worlds of the very rich as often as he could.
Today, he felt more uncomfortable than ever before. He sat on a white leather hassock, a highball in his hand, facing an out-size sofa on which sat George Manning, his wife, and their son, Paul. Manning was talking, as he had done all during lunch, and from time to time Steve remembered to nod in agreement, or shake his head, if that seemed to be called for.
Lunch itself had gone badly. Mrs. Manning, a small, softly beautiful woman of about forty, had scarcely taken her eyes away from Steve since the moment her husband had introduced them. It was not at all the kind of attention Steve was accustomed to receiving from women. He knew instinctively that her interest was not physical, and he was at a loss to explain it. He had found her intense occupation with him at first puzzling, and then increasingly irritating.
But the irritation he felt because of Mrs. Manning’s strange reaction to him was not as strong as the profound dislike he had developed for Paul. The Mannings’ son was about seventeen, Steve guessed, a good-looking boy, though small for his age. He had looked Steve over disdainfully when they met, and, except for an occasional glance in his direction, had ignored him completely. There was something about the boy’s arrogance that ploughed deep into Steve’s nerves. Rich men’s brats were all the same, he had reflected: they figured they were too God-damned good to sit down at the same table with a common cop. The only difference was that some of them made a try at hiding it and some of them didn’t.
Now, Steve’s irritation had reached the stage where he feared it might erupt. Controlling himself took such a determined effort that the fingers around the highball glass began to ache.
And still George Manning’s inane monologue went on and on.
The rumors he had heard about the district attorney’s premature senility, Steve realized now, were quite true.
His one previous contact with Manning had been too brief for him to be certain, but, after this last hour, there could be no doubt.
The last hour had been informative in other ways. He had learned that Manning was as sincere as he was naive, a man born into one fortune and married into another, with absolutely no conception of what it was like down on froggy bottom. With Manning, Steve had discovered, there were only two kinds of people: criminals and law-abiding citizens. He had told Steve frankly that he was interested in cleaning up crime in Riverton, not only to further his career, but because he considered human foul-ups as deserving of whatever happened to them. Criminals, Manning said—any criminals—had forfeited all right to be treated as human beings. He had learned, too, that Manning prided himself on his reputation as a relentless prosecutor; and Manning had pointed out that he knew the right judges before whom to bring different kinds of cases. This, he assured Steve, was necessary because certain judges couldn’t be counted on to see that a convicted criminal got the stiffest sentence possible. And convictions, he had told Steve repeatedly, were vital to him just now because he hoped to be the next state’s attorney general.
The son of a bitch is enough to make you sick, Steve thought—him and that wacky wife and that God-damned snotty brat.
But he kept his emotions from reflecting in his face. Next to being commander of detectives at a precinct, heading up the D.A.’s personal detective squad was just about the choicest assignment a man could have. With the D.A. behind him, his power would be almost unlimited. As head of the D.A.’s special squad, he’d be able to lead Tommy Nolan by the hand practically all the way to the chair. It was beautiful, the way things were working out. Tommy Nolan was a gone duck. The D.A. would throw all his weight behind a Murder One—and that would be all for Nolan. That was the wonderful thing about working for a stupid bastard like George Manning: actually, if you played it right, they worked for you.
“You talk too much, Father,” Paul Manning said suddenly. “You talk too much and you say far too little.”
“Paul!” his mother said, not unkindly. “Really, now!” But Steve got the impression that Mrs. Manning was in some way pleased, or at least amused, and that except for his presence she would have said nothing.
“But it’s true, Mother,” Paul said. “And it isn’t fair to our guest. I’m sure Lieutenant Lambert would like to have the stage, for a few minutes at least.”
“Paul…” Mrs. Manning said. The district attorney stared at his son, frowning a little, but he said nothing.
The whole family is off, Steve told himself. They’ve lost their agates, sure as hell.
“How about it, Lieutenant?” Paul asked. “Don’t you want to tell us some of your experiences? After all, it isn’t every day we have a real detective over for lunch.”
Steve moistened his lips. There was a limit to what a man could take from a fresh kid like this, damn it—no matter who his father was. He forced himself to grin, but he knew better than to trust himself to speak.
The phone on the table at Mrs. Manning’s end of the sofa rang. She lifted it and answered, listened a moment, and then said, “Yes…. I’ll call you later…. Yes, within the hour.” She stood up, made a vague gesture to indicate that the men needn’t bother to rise, and smiled fondly at Paul.
“Who was that?” George Manning asked.
She ignored him. “Come with me a minute, dear,” she said to Paul, and walked past Steve without looking at him.
When they had left the room, Manning leaned forward confidentially. “Sorry about my boy’s behavior, Steve…”
“That’s all right,” Steve said. “All kids go through a stage like that.”
“Yes, of course—but normally Paul is quite another person. I should have spoken to him, but his mother hasn’t been feeling at all well lately… correcting Paul would have upset her, I’m sure. I’m really quite concerned about her. I thought it best…”
“I understand, sir,” Steve said. “Mothers are all pretty much the same, I guess.”
Manning smiled. “Yes, they are. And with Elaine… well, I shouldn’t be surprised if she were entering an inevitable time for a woman her age. A few years sooner than I’d expected, perhaps, but then that’s life.” He sighed philosophically. “Yes, that’s life.”
Steve lifted his glass and drank steadily until it was empty.
My God, he thought, this is the joker that’s highballing for the state’s attorney general’s job, and maybe governor. He glanced at his watch, and then stood up.
“Well,” he said, “I think I’d better get back, sir. I—”
“I’d prefer that you call me George,” Manning said.
“Thank you,” Steve said. “I think I’ll have to run along, George. I’ve got a lot of work to clean up between now and the time I take over on the new job.”
Manning rose and walked with Steve to the door. “I suppose, so,” he said. “Yes, I suppose you would have.” He opened the door and then paused, hand on the knob, to look at Steve with an expression of such extreme seriousness that Steve had difficulty in repressing a smile. “I’ll be entirely honest with you, Steve,” he said. “I’m expecting great things from you. Great things. You know your job, and I know mine, and together, we’re going to make a great team.”
“I certainly hope so, sir.”
“George,” Manning corrected.
“Yes,” Manning said, “it’s up to us to rid this city of criminals as never before. I happened to be talking to some of my boys the other night, Steve, and I think I stated my position rather well. I told them that, to me, criminals are excrement. That’s exactly the word that comes first to my mind when I think of them. Excrement. I told them it was up to the department of sanitation to clear out streets of one kind of excrement and that it was no less our job—ours and the police department’s—- to clear them of another.”
Excrement, Steve thought, Jesus.
“Criminals are sometimes thought of as decent people who have gone mad,” Manning went on. “That’s a very dangerous illusion. Criminals are what they are because they are born that way. I can tell you right now that I have no patience at all with the deluded do-gooders and bleeding hearts who would have the public believe otherwise.” He nodded solemnly. “Yes, Steve, criminals are excrement which must be scraped from the sole of humanity.”
Steve felt a choking sensation, and for a long moment his pent-up anger gave way to an almost irresistible urge to laugh in Manning’s handsome, serious face.
There was an undertone of pride in the district attorney’s voice. “That capsules the situation rather well, don’t you think?”
Steve nodded. “Yes, it certainly does. I have to hand it to you, George.”
Later, on his way down in the elevator. Steve leaned back against the side of the car and laughed so hard the aged operator turned around to stare at him.
“Kind of twist your puss back the way it belongs,” Steve told him softly. “I’ve got a weak stomach, and I just had lunch.”
For a long time after Steve left the apartment, Jean Denton had sat very still beside the kitchen table, trying to understand this incredible thing that had happened to her. The pain in her breast had gradually subsided until it was no more than a dully throbbing memory, but the marks of Steve’s fingers were still there, and they were rapidly getting darker. Once she had caught herself cupping the firm flesh to examine the bruises and she had jerked her hand away quickly, knowing it was urgent she think beyond her body, beyond the here and now and the ugly marks of Steve’s fingers: what Steve had done was only part of a pattern, and it was the pattern itself which she must come to understand.
But objective thinking, she’d found, was impossible. There had been too much emotion, too many competing memories. Finally she had gone into the bathroom and turned on the cold spray and stood beneath it until she felt her thighs begin to cramp. Then she had brushed the shimmering ebony waves of her hair long enough to bring up the blue highlights, dressed very carefully in the new silk jersey she had bought because Steve liked the way jersey clung to her, and left the apartment.
On the sidewalk she had turned automatically toward the neighborhood garage where she kept her Buick convertible. She had driven over thirty miles along the straight wide whiteness of the state highway before the feeling of the big car’s power at her fingertips began to have its usual quieting effect on her. But the effect had not been quite enough, and she had turned off the highway and followed narrow country roads for another two hours, until at last she had begun to tire a little and to feel the need of a drink. She had found her way back to the highway and stopped at the first roadhouse she came to, a huge, shabby place called The Taboo.
Now, four drinks later, she still sat in the booth, staring at the tiny mound of cigarette stubs in the coffee can lid that served as an ash tray. The juke box at the far end of the bar filled the hot, sour air with the harsh twang of hillbilly music and the line of beer-drinkers at the bar gaped at her in the back-bar mirror. The roadhouse was mostly dance floor, but the floor had been roped off and the only part of the place in use was the bar and the row of rickety booths that partitioned it from the rest of the big room. She was the only girl in the place.
The bartender came around the end of the bar, put a fresh bourbon and water on the booth table, picked up Jean’s empty glass and the two quarters she had placed beside it, shook his head reprovingly, and hitched up his apron.
“That’s five, miss,” he said.
“I can count,” Jean said.
“In the middle of the day, too.”
“I know what time it is.”
“Maybe so, but this is the last. I ain’t even supposed to sell to kids your age. A kid comes in and gets stoned, then I got the sheriff on my neck.”
“I know,” Jean said. “We lose more good bartenders that way.”
He shrugged. “Better drink up.” He walked back behind the bar.
One of the men at the bar, younger than the others, but dressed in the same faded overall pants and work-shirt, picked up his beer and ambled over to her booth His face was lined beyond his years and the sun had streaked his hair and burned his skin to the color of corroded copper.
“I heard him,” he said. “There’s another place down the slab where you can drink all you’ve a mind to.” He grinned with the whitest, strongest-looking teeth she had; ever seen. “Just say the word.”
“The word is no,” Jean told him. “Shove off.”
The grin went away. The man stared at her darkly a moment, then turned and went back to his place at the bar. The man next to him snickered softly. “You’re a killer, Ed,” he said. “A real killer.”
Jean took a swallow of her drink, lighted another cigarette, and let her thoughts drift back to Steve.
It’s over, she thought. It’s like it never happened. I’ll get my things packed and get out of the apartment before he comes home, and that’ll be that. Only of course it wouldn’t; it would be over in the physical sense, yes, but the other part, the part that really counted, would go on and on. It would go on, and it would become just the last part of the crazy pattern she was following.
The damned pattern. The searching and experimenting, always looking for something without ever knowing what that something was. They put you together, but while they were doing it they left something out. Sometimes you thought of it as The Answer, and sometimes as The Vacuum, and sometimes you even thought of it as a tiny wheel in your head that should be there but wasn’t. But no matter how you thought of it, you knew there was something left out of you; you weren’t complete, and you kept up the crazy, relentless searching, knowing there’d never be any rest until you found it.
The pattern. That summer two years ago when you were sixteen and graduated from high school with the highest scholastic honors any of the faculty could remember and everyone said it wasn’t fair for that little Denton girl to be so smart and so pretty. That’s when you first began to realize that you weren’t complete. That’s when you started the thrill-hunt. That’s when The Vacuum began to hurt and you knew you had to find The Answer.
The crazy pattern. The moonlight swimming parties in the nude, the assignations you’d had with men three times your age, the trips to the marijuana pads and the time you’d done a total strip at Jackie Olson’s party and your father had heard about it and taken you into the library for a talk that had lasted almost three hours.
She remembered the way her father’s face had looked. Not angry or outraged. He had looked only hurt, and he hadn’t been able to meet her eyes. She had tried to tell him how it was, how she hadn’t actually wanted to do any of those things, but there was this insistence inside her that made her want to twist and stretch and wrench her emotions until she knew exactly what she was and why she could have everything and still have nothing.
But her father hadn’t understood. He could only shake his head when she tried to tell him about The Vacuum, and when she had persisted in her attempts to explain, she had seen the incipient alarm in his eyes. The world was a certain way, he’d said, and young people had to learn that and resign themselves to it. Anything else was just asking to be hurt; the world wouldn’t change. And the people in it couldn’t change. Not in her lifetime.
She tried again, trying to formulate her thoughts as much for herself as for him, and her father had asked if she’d mind talking to a friend of his, a psychiatrist. He’d done it gently, and with an unfamiliar sheen to his eyes, but it had breached the dam of her emotions and she had cried in his arms as she had when she was a child.
The pattern. She thought of the long trip to Europe and the even longer one to South America. The men. The ten thousand drinks in basement bars and penthouses. The four times she had smoked opium and the half dozen times she had skin-popped with heroin. The incredible number of experiences she had forced herself to find and live through and analyze. And forget. Because none of it had done any good. No good at all. The Vacuum was always there and The Answer was always just beyond her fingertips.
No, breaking with Steve Lambert wouldn’t change the pattern. It was just one more experience, one more try. But there had been something about Steve she knew she might never find again. There was an intense maleness. Being in bed with him was like giving yourself to all the men who ever lived. He had known how to treat her as no other man had ever treated her, and when he had finished with her there had never been room in her mind for the other thing, The Vacuum. Not for a little while. The afterglow of the times with Steve had been the only moments of respite she had known in over two years.
And it was over.
She glanced through the grimy window at the gravel parking area, glaring white in the sun. The Buick convertible sat long and sleek and crimson as new blood.
A remittance girl, she thought. That’s what I am. I’m such a hellion that my father has to buy me a new car every year and keep me in money just so I won’t go back home to disgrace him again. Just so I won’t take off all my clothes at another party. He loves me, but he doesn’t understand. A doctor has to be careful. He can’t have his patients talking about his daughter. He has to do the way they did in the old days when this part of the country was the frontier and people back east sent the black sheep off to it to save the family name.
She raised her glass and drank half of it.
Funny, she thought, how you build up a tolerance for the stuff. Just the way Steve’s built up a tolerance for women. She remembered the night she had met him. It had been a rainy night, that first night she saw Riverton and Steve Lambert. She had been driving through the city on her way to California, but the rain had clogged the traffic so much that she had parked the Buick outside a cocktail lounge, thinking to drink away an hour or so until the streets had cleared a bit.
The cocktail lounge had been crowded, and the hostess had seated her with three other girls. The other girls had reacted like three deer who suddenly found a panther in their midst, and, apart from an occasional envious glance, they had paid no attention to her at all. She hadn’t minded. She was used to such feminine reaction, just as she was used to evoking a fatuous stammering on the part of men when she was first introduced to them.
The fight had started within a few minutes after she had sat down. One instant there had been two men and a woman talking seriously at one of the small tables, and the next instant the two men were fighting on the floor and the woman had come to her feet and was screaming a long, breathless scream that rose higher and higher, stopped abruptly, and then started again.
One of the men had freed himself from the other and kicked the other man in the face. Then the man who had been kicked thrust his hand into his pocket and brought out a switch-blade knife. She remembered the tiny sharp sound it made as he snapped the blade open and the moment of frozen silence before the other screams started and everyone had begun to run for the door. She had not run. She had watched the knife go up and back and then blur toward the first man’s face. She had seen the dark wound appear across the whiteness of the man’s face, and the blood that bubbled from it almost instantly.
And then a third man had pushed himself between the fighters. A smiling, powerfully-built man in a wrinkled gray business suit. He had caught the knifer’s wrist in one big hand and twisted, and the knifer had cried out and dropped the knife. Then, still smiling, the man in the gray suit had moved with incredible speed, placing himself behind the knifer and jerking his arm up behind his back.
In that moment, the man in the gray suit had glanced quickly about the room. His eyes had brushed past Jean, but they had come back to her, and paused, and his smile had widened a bit as he had pushed the knifer’s arm up, very slowly, toward the back of his neck. The knifer had made a soft, keening sound of pain, but the man in the gray suit had continued to force the arm upward until Jean heard the bone break. The knifer had let out his breath in a long sigh and fallen to the floor unconscious.
Then the other fighter, the man with the gaping slash across his cheek, had pushed himself up to a sitting position, sobbing, splayed red-wet fingers trying to hold his cheek together.
The man in the gray suit had laughed and walked to the phone at the end of the bar.
Jean had watched him, and somehow she had sensed that here was a man like no other she had ever known. There had been something primal about him, about the graceful, muscular body and the look in his eyes as he talked to someone on the phone. He had repelled her— and yet at the same time she had known intuitively that here were depths below the depths. She had begun to feel the first stirrings of emotions she had never suspected she possessed.
He’d put the phone down, leaned lightly against the bar a moment while he studied her, and then walked leisurely to her table.
“We’ll have to wait for the wagon,” he had said. “And the doc.”
She hadn’t been able to say anything.
He’d nodded toward the two men on the floor. “I’ll have to go along with them. But I’ll be back…. Say about an hour, okay?”
She’d found her voice. “You’re a policeman?”
“Yeah. Homicide cop. Off duty.” He’d studied her lazily, insolently. “So I can turn these jokers over to the guys who should have had the job in the first place.” His eyes had dropped to her bosom and stayed there. “And then I’ll be back.”
And she had waited, and that had been the beginning.
She raised her glass again and finished her drink.
There was no use brooding, she told herself. No use thinking at all. And when you had to start forgetting someone, the best way to do it was with someone else. It didn’t matter who, so long as he was big and young and durable. Not that it would do any good. Not just one man. But a lot of them would—and you had to start somewhere.
It’s crazy, she thought, crazy all the way. You go to men to forget The Vacuum… and then you have to forget the men, so you go to still other men. The crazy, crazy pattern.
She stood up and walked to the bar and put her hand on the shoulder of the man with the sun-streaked hair and the face like dull copper. The heavy muscles beneath the work shirt tensed as he turned to face her.
She smiled at him, and let her fingertips trail slowly down the hard broad curve of his back.
“I’m ready now,” she said.
When Steve Lambert stepped out of the elevator on the ground floor of the district attorney’s apartment house, he walked directly to the pay phone in the lobby and looked up the number of the Chesterfield Hotel. Edmonds should have had time to get his hands on the murder gun by now, he reflected. And if he hadn’t, then it wasn’t going to hurt to goose him a lithe.
He dialed the number and asked for room 903, smiling to himself as he remembered how the sweating little go-between had been so sick with fear that his fat body had reeked with the odor of it.
There was no answer. He had the switchboard operator try again.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the operator said, “but 903 still doesn’t answer.”
“Thanks for nothing,” Steve said, and hung up.
The bastard, he thought, the sweaty little bastard.
He went outside, hailed the first cab that passed him, and told the driver to take him to the station house.
“You a cop?” the driver asked.
“Yeah. What about it?”
“Then this trip’s for free, I guess?”
“You guess right. Now shut your yap.”
“Just my damn luck. You know how much you freeloaders cost me every week?”
“I know how you can get a fat lip. It’s easy. Just keep talking.”
When they reached the station house, Steve got out and walked around the building to the side entrance. He followed a long dim hallway to the stairs that led down to the basement. He crossed the boiler room and two store rooms and let himself into a much smaller room where the Eighteenth stored its old records. Here there were row upon row of rusting metal file cabinets, stacked-double, so that the tops of the upper cabinets were only an inch or so from the ceiling. Once every year the file cabinets throughout the station house were inventoried, and as many dead papers as possible were brought down here and buried. All the drawers in the upper cabinets had long since been stuffed to capacity, and Steve could not remember a single instance when anyone had found cause to look in one of them.
He found the stepladder he had never yet seen anyone use and moved it around to the tier of cabinets which contained the oldest records. When he had climbed to the top, he took the tobacco tin from his pocket, wiped his prints from it with his handkerchief, and then, using the handkerchief to keep fresh prints off the tin, pushed it far back into the dark space between the top of a cabinet and the ceiling. When he had finished he climbed down and replaced the ladder in the position in which he had found it. There was no chance of anyone accidentally stumbling onto the money, he knew. In the first place, no one would ever be fooling around in the space above the cabinets. And in the second place they’d never see the can back there unless they put a flashlight on it.
He dusted off his coat, straightened his hat, and left the room.
Back at his desk on the second floor, he found the climate of hostility had lessened. The change amused him.
They’re just now starting to get over the, shock, he thought. They’re beginning to wise up a little. From here on in I’ll be in a spot to give them a bad time, if I feel like it, and they know it. A couple of days from now these same jokers will be sucking up to me every chance they get, trying to get me to put the weight in for them where it counts.
Dave Kimberly came over, smiling broadly, his hand extended.
“Congratulations, Lieutenant,” he said. “I just heard the good news.”
Steve shook hands with him, maintaining the contact for the shortest time he could. “Thanks,” he said. “I’ll see what I can do for you.”
Kimberly flushed. “I didn’t mean that.”
“Oh? Well, then, thanks all the more.”
“When do you take over?”
“Anything I can do to help?”
Steve shrugged. “Nothing I can think of right now.”
“How about the Wingate case?”
“What about it?”
“I thought you might have decided to turn it over to me after all, what with this new job coming up and—”
“I’ll handle it,” Steve said. “What’s the matter? You been talking to Tom Nolan again?”
“No. But I still think he’s leveling.”
“You do, eh? Then you think a damn sight more than I do. Listen, Kimberly—forget about it, will you? I told you I’m handling it, and I will. There’s too much to do around here for you to be sweating over Nolan. Leave that to me.”
Kimberly was silent a long moment. Then he said, “Well, if I can give you a hand before you leave, let me know.”
“Yeah,” Steve said. “I’ll do that.”
Kimberly turned and walked toward the water cooler.
Steve looked at his watch. It was three-thirty. He frowned. Time had a way of telescoping just when you needed it most. He turned to the file cabinet behind his desk, took out the folder on the Wingate murder, and began to read. There was nothing new, nothing he had missed before. He scanned the sheets rapidly, committing names and addresses and phone numbers to memory without conscious effort, and then replaced the folder in the cabinet and reached for his hat. There was a hell of a lot to do, he reflected. Almost too much. And not one bit of it could be done sitting on your can behind a desk. All phone calls went through the precinct switchboard downstairs, so he couldn’t even call Edmonds again.
He left the station house, walked to the Hi-Lo Tavern across the street, and stepped into the phone booth. This time he asked the operator at the Chesterfield for Edmonds by name, rather than merely asking for his room.
Yes, the operator told him, the Chesterfield did have a Mr. Edmonds registered there, and yes, his room number was 903, but Mr. Edmonds did not answer his telephone.
Steve stepped out of the booth and walked toward the bar. What he needed, he decided, was a good fast double; the liquor he’d had at Manning’s apartment was wearing off.
A girl sat at the bar, a girl with exquisite legs and a skirt that had pulled away from them just enough to show Steve the taut dark bands of her garters and the white sheen of the thighs just above them. The girl smiled at him as he approached the bar, but he did not look at her again, and he took a seat four places away from her.
But it had been enough. It had started him thinking of Carol Nolan again. He had been able to keep his mind on other things, these past few hours, but the unexpected view of the girl’s legs had tripped something in his mind, and now his desire for Tommy Nolan’s wife was as intense as it was sudden. By the time he had ordered a double shot and finished it off, his need for Carol had become so urgent that it was almost a physical pain.
Why not? he thought. It’s not as if it’s a waste of time, for Christ’s sake. I’ve got some questions I have to ask her, anyway, and what the hell’s the difference whether I do it now or later?
He put a dollar on the bar and walked back to the phone booth.
When Carol answered, he said, “This is Lambert, Mrs. Nolan. I’m on my way over. If there’s anyone there with you, get rid of them.” He heard the quick soft sound as she caught her breath, and he added, “Don’t get impatient, now. This’ll be fast and sweet, and private.” He hung up and started for the door..
The girl at the bar smiled at him again as he passed. There were tiny rhinestones sparkling on her garters, Steve noted. He wondered vaguely how Carol’s legs would look in something like that. It was a nice touch. Maybe he ought to buy a pair and make her wear them a couple of times for him. Just for the pure hell of it. Just to make a good thing even better.
But there would be plenty of time for that kind of thing later, he reflected. Hell, he could keep the kid jumping for him right up to the time they fried her husband.
He walked rapidly back to the station house to check out a prowl car.
Carol Nolan had changed to high heels and a pale yellow dress that somehow made her skin seem almost golden. She was wearing make-up now, and her thick hair was caught in a pony tail at the nape of her neck.
Steve let the screen door slam shut behind him and grinned at her appreciatively.
“I see you got dressed up for me,” he said. “I kind of figured you would.”
There was sick revulsion in her blue eyes. “So you’ve come back….”
“Naturally. What’d you expect?”
“I guess I should have known better than to expect anything.”
He pushed his hat back and sat down on the sofa and patted the cushion beside him. “Sit down.” She shook her head.
“Okay,” he said. “The view’s better from here, anyhow.”
He laughed. “Who was Tommy running around with, Mrs. Nolan?”
“Running around with?”
“That’s what I said. He had a girl on the string. Who was it?”
She sank down suddenly on the arm of a chair, staring at him. “Tommy never even looked at another woman!”
“The hell he didn’t. You mean to sit there and tell me you didn’t know that?” He made a clucking sound. “You ought to pull your head out of the sand once in a while and take a look around.”
“I tell you he never—”
“Come off it, for God’s sake. I went through the folder on this case today, and the first thing I noticed was that Sergeant Kimberly and the other guys that talked to you missed a good bet. They just asked you if Tommy had any girl friends, and you said no, and the damn fools let it go at that!”
“Why shouldn’t they? Tommy never—”
“Sure, sure. Tommy never, did this and he never did that. He never looked at another woman and he never got drunk and he never killed any stupid florist. He never did a wrong thing in his life. All he did was work and sleep and eat and hand you his pay check every Friday.
She moistened her lips, said nothing.
“You’re maybe forgetting something,” he said. “When I told you I’d try to get Tommy off the hook, I meant just what I said. I never make a bargain unless I mean to keep it and this time’s no exception. The reason I’ve got to know who the girl is, Mrs. Nolan, is that I have to find her before I can start to take the pressure off Tommy. And I haven’t got much time.”
Her eyes grew puzzled. “I—”
“Just listen,” he told her. “There was a girl in the florist’s apartment at the time he got himself murdered, see? We got a witness who heard the gun and saw her hightailing it out of there a couple minutes afterward.” He paused. “So maybe it was the girl that knocked him off, and maybe it wasn’t. But either way, I’ve got to find her. Once I do, I can twist the case around any way I like. If you want to help Tommy you’d better start cooperating.”
The blue eyes seemed close to tears. “There wasn’t any other girl. I—I just know it.”
He shrugged. “Have it your own way,” he said. “But I can tell you one thing. The sooner I find that woman the sooner Tommy gets off the fire.” He studied her face carefully, feeling the disappointment seeping into him. Tommy probably hadn’t ever fooled around, he knew, and yet bracing Carol on it had been worth the chance. He had to shoot every angle in the book to find the girl; it was the one thing he had to do above all else. Maybe he’d played it dumb by not tailing Edmonds after all. But maybe not. It wouldn’t take much to scare Edmonds right out of the picture. And the jackpot right along with him. Maybe it’d be better to play it the way he’d planned, and save Edmonds for a last resort. The other cops hadn’t gotten a thing by checking from Wingate’s end. They’d found out that Wingate had been divorced not too long ago and had been doing pretty much without women ever since. Not that that meant too much. Kimberly and the other guys who’d worked on this case wouldn’t know a lead if it walked up and kicked them in the ass.
Carol was looking down at her hands. “Do—do you think there’s a chance you can…” She looked up at him pleadingly. “I mean, you are trying to—to—”
“Get him off the fire? Hell, yes, I’m trying. Why do you figure I’m so hot on finding that girl? Sure, I’m trying.”
She pushed up from the arm of the chair and walked slowly to the crib and lifted the baby into her arms.
The baby was about a year old, Steve guessed. It was awake, but it made no sound at all as its mother smoothed down its hair and murmured something against its cheek. It saw Steve, and laughed, and kept its round eyes fixed on him, twisting his head around to watch him as his mother carried him back to her chair.
A nice play, Steve thought sourly. She knows what’s coming next, so she grabs the kid for protection.
“How old?” he asked.
She was smiling at the baby now. “Ten months.”
She nodded and touched her lips to the baby’s cheek. Jesus, Steve thought, what they won’t do to keep from putting out.
He looked away from the baby. There was something about the smile and the round eyes that bothered him a little. Life was a dirty game, and you played it dirty. You had to. But when kids were involved, it seemed different somehow. You learned early that people were bastards. All of them. The minute you trusted one, the least you could expect was a bust in the mouth. You learned that fact the hard way, and from then on you never forgot it. You never had to waste time wondering about people; and when you didn’t wonder about people you didn’t get hurt. That was the trouble with people like Carol and Tommy—and Jean Denton, and damn near everybody else. They knew they were bastards, but they thought it didn’t show, they thought they had a big secret.
But with babies…. Jesus, they weren’t even in the game at all. But they got hurt just the same. This one, for instance. Lying there and smiling at you and watching you with those God-damned big eyes—and all the time you’re working like hell to put his father in the electric chair.
He caught himself. That’s the way you set yourself up for trouble, he reflected. You start in by feeling sorry for kids and cripples and guys born behind the eight ball, and the first thing you knew you started feeling sorry for the people around them. For everybody. God, you kept it up long enough and you even started feeling sorry for yourself. And that didn’t pay off. Never. All it did was make you drop your guard long enough for some bastard to run up and jam a knife in your back.
He got to his feet. “Put the kid down, Mrs. Nolan,” he said.
She held the baby closer to her, not looking at him. “Why?”
But it was just a word, he knew. She knew damn well why. “Put it down,” he said again.
She shook her head, looking at him defiantly now. “I won’t!”
“The hell you won’t. That gag isn’t working, Mrs. Nolan. The kid doesn’t faze me one bit.”
“Why can’t you leave me alone?”
“Because that wasn’t in the bargain.”
“You aren’t even human!”
“You’re wrong. I’m too human. That’s my big trouble. I’m just human as all hell.”
The baby laughed and began to make bubbling sounds.
“And I’ll tell you something,” Steve said. “You’re probably thinking that you’ll get back at me somehow. You think you can report me to somebody and that I’ll get my tail chopped, right? Well, you’re wrong about that too. Cops stick together, Mrs. Nolan. They have to. If they didn’t, they’d be at the mercy of every citizen that made a gripe. You know what’d happen if you made a complaint against me? I’ll tell you. The cop you made it to would tell you he’d look into it. Then he’d come to me and he’d say, ‘Hey, what the hell?’ And I’d say it was a crock of crap. Then he’d go back to you and read you off for trying to get a cop in trouble. What’s it matter to the department how I do my job, as long as I do it? And besides, what proof would you have? What—”
“Oh, shut up!”
“Shucks, I thought I was educating you.”
“Killing’s too good for the likes of you, you filthy—”
“Maybe it is. But you aren’t. Put the kid back in the crib.”
“Some day I’ll—”
“No you won’t. You won’t do anything. Now put the kid back and quit stalling.”
There were angry sparks in her eyes, but she stood up and walked to the crib and lowered the baby gently into it. Then she turned to face him, hands on her hips, her shoulders thrown back.
“You never in your life gave anyone a break, did you? You don’t even know what it is to have one decent, human thought. You’re not a man. You’re a—a—”
“Yes! An animal!”
He laughed. “You know something, Mrs. Nolan? You’re getting a real charge out of this. This is probably the first time in your life anything really interesting ever happened to you. Here you’ve been putting out since you were fourteen, probably, and all at once it’s a big deal. You got to make a big production out of it.”
“Yeah. You’re enjoying this so much you can hardly stand it. Boy, this is better than any movie you ever saw. This is really it. And don’t tell me it isn’t. Every time a woman gets in a jam like this, she starts milking it for all it’s worth. Like that club. That bunch of women who get together once a month over at the Old Man’s house. They’re all mothers or wives or sisters of guys who were killed in line of police duty. They get together and talk up a damn storm. They talk about the dead guys and cry on each other’s shoulder, and they have more fun than anybody. You couldn’t make them stay away from a meeting if you tied them to a ring in the floor. They’ve got to go over there and bawl all over the place. Because they’re having fun, see? They amount to something. But do they ever stay home and think about the poor guy that stopped a couple slugs in an alley one night? Oh, no. That wouldn’t be any fun. They’ve got to go to the meetings so they can milk it out.”
She took a slow step toward rum, her face almost as pale as the small teeth between her parted lips. Her breath was coming in short, ragged gasps.
“That’s the way it is with you,” he said. “You’re having the time of your life, and you don’t even know it.”
He smiled at her, and then turned slightly and gestured in the direction of the back bedroom. “After you, Mrs. Nolan,” he said pleasantly.
Dave Kimberly dropped his reports into the wire basket on Lieutenant Tyner’s desk, glanced at the docket just to see what cases were scheduled for court in the morning, and then reached for Tyner’s desk pen to sign out on the duty roster.
Tyner looked at his watch. “It’s almost seven o’clock, Dave. You’ve been putting in a lot of extra hours lately.”
Kimberly smiled. “I fouled up some reports, sir. My own fault. I was straightening them out.”
“Uh-huh. But just the same you ought to take it a little easier. You’ve got over a hundred and fifty hours compensatory time coming. Maybe we’d get caught up around here pretty soon so you can use a little of it.”
“I don’t mind the extra time, Lieutenant.”
“I know that. You’re just like Steve. Any cop worth his salt likes to work…. And that reminds me. Steve’ll have his hands full for the next couple days. Do what you can to help him, eh?”
Dave nodded and replaced the desk pen in its holder.
Tyner leaned back in his chair and pursed his thin lips thoughtfully. “How you boys making out with that guy upstairs? Nolan.”
“Nothing new, sir.”
“Still hanging on to that blackout story, eh?”
“Any line on the girl?”
Tyner frowned. “Well, tomorrow night’s the deadline. If we haven’t got a case by then, we can kiss Nolan goodbye. Any kid just out of law school can spring him, once that seventy-two hours is up. And once he’s out we’ll play hell ever getting him back.” His sunken eyes narrowed a little. “It’s a funny thing, Dave. There’s less corruption in this police department than there is in any other one of its size in the country. I’m convinced of it. And the citizens know it, too. But the newspapers have to feed them something, and so they raise a stink about our holding a few suspects a couple hours longer than the law allows. Now, everybody’s up in arms, and all at once it’s like we’re playing a game of some kind. We got to do something in seventy-two hours, or we get spanked. Hell, we aren’t playing baseball around here.” His tired voice grew bitter. “Seventy-two hours! And over half of it gone already, for God’s sake. How the hell do they expect us to solve murders with a law like that hanging over us?”
Dave looked at the red glare of the dying sun on the window behind Tyner’s chair. “Lieutenant Lambert seems pretty confident, though, sir.”
“Yeah. Well, if anybody can come through, it’s Steve.” He sighed and leaned forward to lift Dave’s reports from the basket. “Run along, Dave. And try to get your mind off the job for one night. Get drunk, or find yourself a shack job, or something.” He gestured toward the door. “Beat it.”
Dave grinned, muttered a good night, and left the office. As he went down the steps to the street he thought darkly of the long evening ahead. He was both tired and restless, and the way Lambert was handling the Wingate case was beginning to bother him more and more. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but there was something wrong, something out of place.
He climbed into his battered Ford and started the motor, and then sat drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, watching the cars streaming past him. The stored heat of the Ford brought the perspiration to his face. It was too hot to do any of the things with which he usually filled his free evenings, he reflected. Too hot to work out at the “Y,” and too hot to bowl, and the swimming pools at the hotels would be so crowded you couldn’t swim at all.
And then it struck him. It wasn’t the heat that kept him from wanting to do any of those things, he realized. It was because he wanted to do something else more. He wanted to work on the Wingate case.
He lighted a cigarette and leaned back and thought about it. He’d be taking a chance with Lambert, he knew. Steve was probably the best cop on the force, so far as knowing his job went. But he was moody and unpredictable. And he had told Dave to lay off Tommy Nolan. Not that that necessarily meant he wanted Dave to stay out of the case entirely. Hadn’t he given him the job of questioning Mrs. Nolan, for instance?
Damn it, he thought, there I go again. Rationalizing. Making up phony reasons for things. The real reason I want to work on this is because there’s something fishy about the way Lambert’s handling it. And the real reason I’m hesitating at all is because of Lambert himself. Let’s face it, boy.
He’d often mulled over the way he felt toward Lambert. He envied the bigger man’s incredible memory and his ability to work around the clock without tiring, and he respected a man who had stood his ground more than once when other cops had turned yellow. Physical courage was one thing you had to respect, and Lambert had more of it than anyone he had ever known. But on the other hand, Lambert could be completely ruthless when it came to questioning prisoners. He seldom manhandled a suspect unless it was absolutely necessary—he was too much of a cop to take the easy way, even though he often threatened it. But Lambert’s method, the subtle, merciless baiting, the tireless mental torture, was somehow even worse.
It wasn’t that he was afraid of Lambert, Dave knew. Not in any physical sense. It was just that if you ever rubbed him the wrong way, he’d never let you up. He forgot nothing and he forgave nothing, and if you rubbed him hard enough, he’d never rest until he got you off the force. That was where the fear lay—in knowing you might suddenly find yourself on the outside.
He took a final drag on his cigarette and tossed it out the window. He’d just have to take his chances, he knew. Somebody had to see that Tommy Nolan got a fair shake —and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be Steve Lambert.
Twenty minutes later Dave parked the Ford in front of a two-story brick building on Franklin Street and peered out at the wilting floral pieces in the window of Bruce Wingate’s flower shop. The blue-tinted window bore the single word Wingate’s in flowing golden script. In the gloomy interior beyond the window the white maws of the wall refrigerators yawned incongruously behind the vines and blossoms of Wingate’s forgotten garden.
Dave got out of the car and glanced up at the curtained windows of Wingate’s apartment. There would be a stake-out up there, he knew. Some lonely rookie waiting for the phone to ring, someone to knock.
He waited for a break in the traffic, then quickly crossed the street to the shabby brownstone directly opposite the flower shop. He stepped into the sour, dank rooming-house smell, climbed two flights of sagging stairs, walked along the creaking naked boards of the narrow corridor, and rapped on the door of the third-floor front.
The man who opened the door was big. So big that, even in his stockinged feet, he towered almost a head taller than Dave. He was in his early thirties, a blondish, flat-featured, hulk-shouldered man who had needed a shave for days and a haircut for weeks. He smelled of sweat and whiskey and bad cigars.
“Yeah?” he said.
“Your name William Strober?”
“Police officer, Mr. Strober,” Dave said, and showed him his badge.
The blond man nodded and stood back to let Dave pass inside.
“You boys still at it, eh?”
“Still at it,” Dave said. “Sorry we have to bother you again.”
“Yeah. Well, sit down. Better sit on the bed. It’s more comfortable.” He closed the door with his heel and nodded toward a fifth of whiskey on the scarred dresser. “Drink?”
“No, thanks,” Dave said. He sat down on the side of the bed, watching Strober as the big man tilted the bottle up and drank thirstily. Strober put the bottle down, wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his dingy white shirt, and then sat down on a straight chair near the bed. He crossed his legs, swung one stockinged foot lazily, and bobbed his head.
“Sergeant,” Dave grinned.
“Okay, Sergeant. Fire away.”
Dave reached up and loosened his collar. “Well,” he said, “I’ve read the statement you gave the other officers, of course, but I thought you might have remembered something else since then. No detail’s too little to mean something, you know.”
Strober shook his head. “Nope. Not another damn thing. I wish I could. I want to help you boys every bit I can.”
“You just heard the shot, and then saw a woman run out the door that leads up to Wingate’s apartment, and that’s it, eh?”
“Yeah. I heard the shot and I knew it came from somewhere real close, but I couldn’t tell just where. I went over to the window and looked down in the street, and in about a minute here comes this gal. She came out of that door like a shot out of a gun. She had one of those long skirts on, and she yanked it up and took off like a striped-assed ape. You never saw anything like it.”
Dave nodded. “Your statement says she ran south, toward the avenue.”
“That’s right. She made the corner in about five seconds.”
“And you didn’t see any car parked near there? I mean one she might’ve gotten into?”
“Nope. She cut right around the corner.”
“About how old was she, would you say?”
“Well, like I told the other cops, it’s kind of hard to tell. These streets out here are pretty dark at night. Not so dark I couldn’t see her, but dark enough so that you couldn’t tell too much about her face. But from the way she was running, and the general build and ah, I’d say she was pretty young.”
“When you say ‘young,’ Mr. Strober, do you mean about twenty, maybe?”
“Hell, I got the impression she was even younger than that. It’s just a guess, of course. She was kind of little, too, and pretty thin.”
“No shoes at all, it didn’t look like. She didn’t make a sound—just came shooting out of that door and went up the street like a streak. But like it says in the statement, she had something in her hand. I just got a glimpse of it, you know, but it didn’t look much like a purse. Looked more like a small package of some kind. Might have been her shoes, though.” He paused. “She was holding up her skirt with the hand nearest me, and holding this package, or her shoes, or whatever, in the other hand. Her body was in the way, so I couldn’t see it too good.”
Dave took out his note book and turned the pages until he found the one he wanted. “You said she was wearing some kind of a long, flowered dress with no top, and that she had a scarf or a big kerchief tied over her head.”
“That’s right. Couldn’t tell you whether she was blonde, brunette, or middlin’.”
Dave nodded slowly. “According to your statement, you watched her run around the corner and then you started down the stairs to call the police on the pay phone in the hall. But just as you started to dial you heard a siren approaching. You realized someone else had called us, so you went on out in the street and waited for them. That right?”
Strober crossed his legs the other way and scratched the sole of his foot. “That’s right.”
“Well, so much for that. Now let’s go back before the murder. Do you know of any girl friends Wingate might have had? Anyone in the neighborhood, maybe?”
“If he had a girl, I sure didn’t know it. Of course, I didn’t keep tabs on him twenty-four hours a day.”
Dave motioned toward the open window. “This looks straight down into Wingate’s apartment, Mr. Strober.” He grinned. “And while I’m not suggesting you make a practice of—”
Strober laughed. “Hell, I ain’t that thin-skinned. No, I never saw a thing. I never looked over there often, and when I did, the shades were always down.”
“You talk to Wingate often?”
“Yeah. All the time. I do odd jobs around the neighborhood, you know, and lots of time people would send me over there to pick up some flowers. A damn nice guy. I needed twenty bucks pretty bad once, and he loaned it to me without batting an eye. Never even asked me when I’d pay it back.” Strober got up and went to the dresser for another drink. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve again, leaned a hip against the edge of the dresser top, and scratched thoughtfully at the beard stubble along the ridge of his jaw.
“It’s kind of odd, when you stop to think about it,” he said. “This Wingate was a real handsome guy, and he made good dough out of that flower shop. And with a nice apartment, and all—well, it’s a wonder, he didn’t have to beat the women off with a club.”
Dave stood up and buttoned his collar. “Maybe he did,” he said absently. “Hard to tell. Anyhow, we haven’t found—”
“But you couldn’t much blame him if he was soured on women,” Strober said. “That ex-wife of his must have been a heller.”
Dave glanced at him sharply. “You knew her?”
“Not personally, no. But I heard her giving him hell one night. That was enough for me. I ain’t exactly delicate, but that woman was using words I’d never heard before. She’d been away on a trip somewhere and this was the first night she was back. It was about three in the morning, and I was just getting home from a card game. Wingate and his old lady were standing on the sidewalk in front of the shop over there. I—”
“When was this?” Dave asked.
“Oh, six or seven months ago. Just before she got the divorce. Anyhow, I was saying that I was coming down the street and saw them there, and I was going to say hello and maybe shoot the breeze a minute. But when I got close to them I could tell she was really giving him hell. She wasn’t yelling, you understand. She wasn’t even talking loud. She was just standing there and spitting out cuss words, the way a woman does when she’s so mad she can hardly talk. Just like she was spitting pieces of something dirty out of her mouth. You know. Well, I’ve been around a bit, and I’ve heard some cussing in my time, but Wingate’s old lady…” He shook his head. “Man, it was enough to make you cold in the guts.”
Dave nodded. “Go on, Mr. Strober.”
“Damnedest thing I ever saw. And old Wingate, why, he just stands there, making these little whimpering sounds, like he’s ready to bust out bawling.”
“What was it about? Do you know?”
“Nope. There was just this stream of cussing. I kept right on going. I crossed on over and came up to my room. But I can tell you one thing for sure. If that was any sample of what Wingate put up with all the time, you couldn’t blame him for not being anxious to take up with somebody else. Like I said, the way that woman talked was enough to make you cold in the guts.”
Dave looked at him a long moment. “Why didn’t you tell us about this before, Mr. Strober?” he asked softly.
Strober’s eyes showed surprise. “Why, because nobody asked me. I never even thought of it, until just now. Hell, that was months ago. It’s just something that came to me when I started, thinking about Wingate and women and all. Listen, Sergeant, if I’d thought—”
“It’s all right,” Dave told him. “But if you can remember anything else like that, no matter how unimportant it may seem, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know about it right away.”
Strober thought a moment, frowning. “No,” he said at last. “No, that’s all, Sergeant.”
Dave took the two steps to the door and paused with his hand on the knob. “Well, if you do happen to recall anything, you know how to reach me.”
“Sure,” Strober said quickly. “If I’d had any idea…”
“It’s all right. And thanks very much, Mr. Strober. We won’t bother you any more than we have to.”
“Any time at all, Sergeant. Like I said, I want to help you boys every bit I can.”
Dave nodded. “See you,” he said and stepped into the corridor.
Back in the Ford, he started the motor and then glanced quickly up at Strober’s third-floor window. Strober’s big body almost filled it. He bobbed his head when he saw Dave looking at him, turned slowly, and moved back out of sight.
A funny duck, Dave thought as he let out the clutch. A guy as young and strong and intelligent as he is could do a lot better for himself. A guy like Strober making his living as the neighborhood handy man just doesn’t figure.
A lot of things didn’t figure, he reflected. That’s why police work was nine-tenths routine. You had to take a lot of things that didn’t figure and add them up anyhow.
The blue dusk was heavy in the streets now, and he flicked on his headlights. He was beginning to feel a lithe hungry. Maybe after he talked to the ex-Mrs. Wingate he’d drive out to one of the barbecue stands on the highway and have some ribs. It would be a little cooler out there—and when you were a few miles away from the city you could think more clearly about the things that were going on inside it.
Steve Lambert stood in the phone booth at the rear of the drug store, watching the covey of high-school girls at the soda fountain and listening to the phone ring in Edmonds’ hotel room.
He’d better be there this time, he thought. He’s had time to pick up a hundred guns by now, the bastard.
There was the sharp click of the phone being taken off the book. “Hello?”
“Don’t mention any names,” Steve said. “Where’ve you been? I’ve been trying to get you all afternoon.”
“All right. Maybe you don’t know it, but you need some exercise. Take a walk for yourself. Just go downstairs and start walking north on Blanchard. Get it?”
“North on Blanchard. Yes, I’ve got it.”
“Good. Get going.” He hung up and walked toward the door. As he passed the soda fountain one of the girls gave a soft wolf-whistle, and the other girls giggled. He glared at them, and the giggling stopped abruptly.
On his way over to Blanchard Street, he made a mental note to get a larger can for the bribe money. The five thousand had almost filled it.
He drove slowly giving Edmonds time to get downstairs and start his walk. He caught sight of him just beyond the intersection at Center Street. He smiled to himself. Even from half a block away it was obvious that Edmonds was frightened.
He cruised slowly, trailing Edmonds for another block, and then he speeded up and drew up to the curb and tapped the horn ring sharply. Edmonds started. For a moment he stood quite still, as if building up his courage to face what was coming, and then he turned slowly and walked to the car.
“Get in,” Steve said.
“I’d—I’d rather not.”
“Get in, Goddamn you!”
Edmonds hesitated, then opened the door and got in. “Close the door, stupid,” Steve said. Edmonds closed the door, and Steve put the car in gear again and drove slowly toward the corner. “Put it on the seat, Edmonds.”
Edmonds reached inside his seersucker jacket, took out a small blue-steel automatic, and lowered it gingerly to the seat.
Steve glanced at it contemptuously. “A twenty-two, for Christ’s sake. A damned toy.”
“I—I don’t know much about guns,” Edmonds said.
“But you do know a lot about money,” Steve said. “You know you’re going to get some more for me in a hurry, don’t you?”
Edmonds moistened his lips, said nothing.
“Yeah,” Steve said. “By tomorrow afternoon.” He looked at Edmonds along his eyes. “You’re going to come up with fifteen grand, boy.”
“Fifteen thousand?” Edmonds whispered incredulously. “Why—”
“Don’t bother trying to horse me, fella,” Steve said. “That’s the price. You’re getting off cheap. You aren’t buying a house, you bastard. You’re buying somebody’s life.”
“But fifteen thousand!”
“That’s right. Fifteen. Twenty, altogether.” He waited. “Well?”
Edmonds took out his handkerchief and mopped at his round face. “I—I don’t know. I’ll have to—to talk to someone.”
“You do that, Edmonds. And you talk plain. It’s fifteen grand by tomorrow afternoon, or I’ll keep the five grand I’ve already got and you can go to hell.”
Steve laughed softly. “What’s the matter, fats? I didn’t upset you, did I?”
“I thought—I thought our understanding was that the rest of the money would be paid later.” He made a vague gesture of helplessness. “This way, we can’t be sure that—”
“No, you can’t,” Steve said. “You can’t be sure of one little thing in this world, Edmonds. But one of us has to take a chance, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be me. This isn’t going to be a C.O.D. deal, boy. It’s strictly cash in advance, or it’s no deal at all.” He swerved the prowl car around a crawling oil truck, then slowed down again. “I’ve got to swing this before tomorrow night, or I won’t be able to do it at all.”
“Why is that? I thought—”
“Because we’ve got a stupid law that I can’t get around, that’s why. But that isn’t your worry, Edmonds. Your worry is getting up the money. And it has to be before I swing this, not after.” He grinned at Edmonds. “Now there’s nothing too hard about that, is there? Nothing too complicated for you to understand?”
“But there’s so little time! And that’s a great deal of money. I don’t know whether…” He broke off, staring dully at the instrument board.
“And nothing bigger than a hundred, don’t forget,” Steve said. “That makes it even more interesting.” He laughed shortly. “It’ll be a good-sized package. You think you can carry that much money?”
He turned the prowl car into an alley, drove to the far end of it, and stopped.
“Here’s where you get out, Edmonds,” he said. “And cheer up, fella. You can do anything in the world, if you set your mind to it. If you want to buy somebody’s life, you can even come up with fifteen grand. Just get in there and pitch, kid, that’s all. And the time to start making a success of yourself is right now. Get out.”
Edmonds opened the door, got out slowly, and walked away from the car with stiff, uncertain steps, almost as if he were drunk.
Steve watched him a moment, then laughed and turned the prowl car in the direction of the station house. He was anxious to talk to Tommy Nolan. It was time to get Tommy’s fingerprints on the gun. But the gun was not the only surprise he had for him. There was something else. Something he had a hunch would soften Tommy up considerably. In Carol Nolan’s back bedroom, a little earlier, he had learned an extremely interesting fact. And in the same moment he had learned it, he had known exactly the way in which he was going to use it.
Steve waited until the rookie cop had closed and locked the steel door behind him, and then he leaned his shoulders against the wall and smiled at Tommy Nolan.
“Wed, Tommy,” he said pleasantly, “they tell me you’re still being stubborn.”
Tommy’s deep-set eyes were not quite able to hide their fear. His heavy-featured face glistened damply in the harsh glare of the overhead light.
“So it’s your turn again,” he said bitterly. “The brainy boys gave up, so now we’ve got you back again.”
“Yeah,” Steve said, “I can see you’re still set on being stubborn.”
Tommy’s voice was ragged with fatigue. “What do you want me to do? You want me to say I killed a man, and all the time you know Goddamned well I didn’t!”
Steve pushed away from the wall and walked to the toilet and flushed it.
“You ought to take better care of this place, Tommy,” he said. He leaned against the wall again, took a cigar from his pocket, bit the end off carefully, and put it in his mouth.
“Well, why don’t you get started?” Tommy asked. “Why don’t you ask me the same dumb questions you guys have asked me a hundred times already?”
“Now don’t get excited. I just dropped in to tell you your wife sends her regards. She says she’s having a wonderful time and wishes you were there.”
“Real pretty girl you got there, Tommy. Real pretty.”
“Leave her out of this, for God’s sake!”
“I spent a little time with her this morning, and again this afternoon. Couple hours, altogether.” He paused. “Didn’t seem like that long, though. Time went pretty fast.”
“I don’t have to take this, Lambert!”
Steve shook his head reflectively. “Must be pretty tough on her, Tommy…. I mean, a woman has to keep on living, you know. Sleep, and eat… and so on. Of course, when her husband’s in a cell, he isn’t a heck of a lot of good to her. But the old appetites keep going on just the same.” *
Tommy started to rise, his hands balled into fists.
“Stay where you are,” Steve said, pushing him back down. “Too hot to move around any more than you have to. I hear the heat set a record today. Good day to go swimming. You ever take Carol swimming, Tommy?”
Tommy’s lips moved in a silent curse.
Steve shrugged and put the cigar back in his pocket. “I guess you’re pretty proud of her when you take her swimming, eh, Tommy?”
“You bastard,” Tommy said. Jesus, if I ever get out of here, I’ll—”
“Take it easy, fella,” Steve said. “Don’t make me lose my train of thought.” He hummed softly to himself a moment, smiling at Nolan.
“You bastard,” Tommy said again.
“I know what’s bothering you,” Steve said. “You’re remembering all the things you’ve heard about the way cops take advantage of a situation like this. I mean, suppose a cop’s talking to a prisoner’s wife, just asking her a few questions maybe, and all at once he sees that those old appetites are working on her something awful. Of course, the wife maybe hates herself for feeling that way, and all, and she’s sorry as hell for her husband off there in a cell, but that old appetite won’t let her alone. And if this cop happens to be the kind of guy women go for anyway—” he shrugged, “—well, I guess it’s just that the cop’s there and her husband isn’t. It’s only natural. After all, she had those appetites a long time before she had a husband.”
Tommy Nolan’s lips moved, but there were no words.
“Uh-huh,” Steve said. “I think that’s what’s eating on you, Tommy. You think I’m like those cops you heard about. You think I haven’t got any scruples.” He laughed softly. “But you’re wrong, Tommy. Hell, I wouldn’t ever take advantage of a guy, just because his wife happened to be a little hungry…. Not that I can blame you too much for thinking so. A man with a hot-natured wife, and especially one as young as Carol is and with a beautiful body like she’s got—well, naturally a man who’s been around any at all would sort of begin to sweat a little.” He paused, scruffing at the hair just above his right temple. “Or maybe I’m wrong, Tommy. Maybe you’re so sure of her that you never gave it a thought. Lots of young married guys are like that. They don’t believe anything they don’t want to—and the one thing they don’t want to is that their wives could get hungry when they aren’t around to take care of them.
He watched the things that crawled in Tommy’s eyes, and braced himself. When Tommy came at him, he was ready. He caught Tommy’s driving fist in the palm of his hand and stabbed the straight, rigid fingers of the other hand deep into the soft hollow just beneath Tommy’s breastbone.
Tommy went down in a whimpering, gagging heap— and only then did Steve realize that Tommy had spat in his face.” He took out his handkerchief, scrubbed at his cheek, and threw the balled handkerchief in the direction of the toilet.
He watched Tommy trying to be sick on the floor. It was easy to overplay a situation like this one, he reflected. The temptation to tell a guy you’d taken his wife to bed was almost too much to resist. But that was the wrong way. It was clumsy.
There was a much better way to handle it. If you were smart, you just planted a good healthy doubt in the guy’s mind and let his imagination do the rest. He’d drive himself half crazy in no time at all. He’d ripen himself up for you. And after he was ripe enough, you could do anything with him you wanted to, and he’d be too sick to even care.
Steve walked to the steel door and listened until he was certain there was no one in the corridor. Then, moving very quickly, he dropped down on one knee behind Tommy and wrapped his left arm around his body, pinioning his arms. Next, he caught Tommy’s neck in the crook of his right elbow and jerked his head back. Tommy threshed feebly with his legs, but he was helpless against Steve’s strength and experience.
Steve increased the vice-like pressure of his arm against Tommy’s throat, judging the exact position he wanted by the sound of Tommy’s choked breathing. When he had cut off Tommy’s breath entirely, he held his forearm rigid against Tommy’s throat until he felt Tommy’s body go limp. Then he eased Tommy’s head and shoulders to the floor, watching carefully to see that the rough cement did not scratch the skin. There must be no evidence that he had used violence.
He listened again at the door. Then he took the murder gun from his hip pocket, wiped the gun and its clip thoroughly with the show handkerchief from the breast pocket of his jacket, and stooped down to lift Tommy’s right hand.
It took him only a few seconds to get Tommy’s prints on the gun, with a good thumb- and fingerprint on either side of the clip. Then he replaced the clip in the handle, put the gun back in his pocket, and lifted Tommy to the steel-mesh cot. When Tommy recovered, Steve knew, he’d remember the quick stab to his solar plexus and nothing else. And if he yelped about it, who was there to condemn a cop for protecting himself from a prisoner who jumped him?
Steve smiled to himself as he watched Tommy begin to stir. The retching sounds were starting again.
He waited until Tommy’s eyes opened; then he stepped to the door and rapped on it sharply with his handcuffs. Footsteps came down the corridor, the door opened, and the rookie cop stood back to let Steve pass outside.
The rookie’s eyes shuttled from Steve to Tommy and back again.
“What happened?” he asked.
Steve laughed. “Damn fool made a dive for me. Must be flipping, I guess. I had to give him a few fingers in the belly. Damned if I know what got into him.”
The rookie’s eyes narrowed. There was something in them Steve did not like, something very close to contempt.
“I’ll bet,” the rookie said.
Here’s another one, Steve thought. Another squeamish cop. Another Dave Kimberly. A jerk with a lot of crap in his head about the way prisoners should be treated. Jesus, it’s getting so you can’t make a move without somebody giving you a hard eye and yelping about brutality.
“That’s a pretty good trick,” Steve said. “That fingers-in-the-belly thing.” He took a short step toward the rookie. “Maybe you’d like for me to teach it to you, eh?” The rookie stepped back.
“You’re kind of a fresh bastard, aren’t you?” Steve asked.
The rookie’s eyes wavered. He seemed a little less certain of himself now.
Steve moved closer. “How long’s it been since you had your ass kicked, fella?”
The rookie glanced furtively at Steve’s big hands. He moistened his lips. “I didn’t mean anything, Lieutenant.”
Steve studied his face thoughtfully. “Something must be bothering you. You look just a little sick around the mouth.”
“It’d show more respect if you said, ‘sir.’”
Steve nodded, turned his back to the rookie, and walked quickly along the corridor to the stairway.
When he reached his desk in the squad room he glanced at the contents of his In basket, decided there was nothing there that he couldn’t let go until later, and went to the file cabinet for the Wingate folder.
Nothing new had been added in his absence, he saw. It wasn’t necessary to check the serial number of the murder gun against the file notation he’d made earlier, the one pertaining to the gun permit issued to Bruce Wingate. The act of writing the notation had at the same time committed the number to Steve’s memory. The gun identified in Wingate’s permit and the automatic in Steve’s pocket were the same weapon. He replaced the folder in the cabinet and left the squad room.
As he came out on the dark street and walked toward the prowl car, he thought with pleasure of the way he had handled Tommy Nolan. It had come off beautifully, he reflected. Even better than he’d hoped. He was glad now he’d had enough will-power not to tell Tommy he’d taken Carol to bed. Planting the doubt, instead, had been a nice touch. By now, Tommy was probably well on his way. In a few hours from now, he’d be ripe.
You’ve had it, Tommy, he thought. You don’t know it, but you’re as good as dead.
It was a neighborhood of decaying frame houses, broken sidewalks, very little grass, and many children.
Dave Kimberly said, “Mrs. Hammond?”
The woman who had answered his knock at the door was tall and blonde and very pretty. “Yes, I’m Mrs. Hammond,” she said in a tired, low voice. “What is it?”
“Police officer, Mrs. Hammond.”
He smiled. “I’m afraid so. May I come in?”
She hesitated a moment, then unhooked the screen and stood aside.
Dave stepped into the small living room, took off his hat, and nodded to the scowling, dark-haired, heavily-built man who rose from an easy chair and took two slow steps toward him.
“Cops again, eh?” the man said bitterly. “Don’t you guys ever give people any rest?”
“Sorry,” Dave said, keeping it friendly. “This shouldn’t take long.”
“That’s a crock,” the man said.
“Please, Mark,” the woman said. “There isn’t anything we can do about it.” She looked at Kimberly. “How much longer is this going on? There was a detective over here yesterday morning, and two more of them last night. Certainly you should know by now that neither Mark nor I had anything to do with what happened to Bruce.”
“We have to touch all the bases,” Dave said. “The case is still very much open, Mrs. Hammond. And inasmuch as you’re Wingate’s former wife, there are certain questions we’ll have to ask you from time to time. We don’t like to bother you, but—”
“That’s a crock,” Mark said again. “You guys have to do something to make it look good, and so you come out here and bother Kathy and me.”
“Sorry, Hammond,” Dave said, still keeping it friendly, “but that’s the way it has to be.”
“All right,” the blonde woman said tonelessly. “What is it this time?” She motioned toward the studio couch. “You might as well sit down, I guess.”
Dave sat down and rested his hat on his knee. Mark went back to his easy chair, muttering darkly to himself. Kathy folded her arms and leaned up against the wall.
“According to what you told the other detectives, Mrs. Hammond,” Dave said, “you and Bruce Wingate had never had a fight. Not even an argument. You said you decided to divorce him because you wanted children, and he didn’t. Of course, the divorce action reads a bit differently, but then the grounds given in divorce actions seldom mean anything at all.” He paused. “It would seem that you and Bruce were intelligent people who decided to call it quits, and that you got a divorce without any bitterness whatever.”
Kathy nodded. “That’s true. We never had words. I didn’t know Brace’s attitude toward children until after we were married. It was foolish of me not to find out before, I know—but, anyhow, that’s the way it was.”
Dave studied her face carefully. The irritation there had given way to something else now, he saw. The surface emotion now was a mild embarrassment; but there was a much stronger emotion just beneath it, something he sensed rather than saw. But it was there in her voice, too, though controlled.
“Still,” Dave said, “most married people have words now and then. Nothing serious, maybe. Just a little flare-up once in a while.”
“What the hell, copper?” Mark said lightly. “You heard her say they got along. What the hell are you trying to prove?”
“I may have a few questions for you later on, Mr. Hammond,” Dave said evenly. “Until I do, I’d appreciate your letting your wife do the talking.”
“Yes, Mark,” Kathy said. “I’d like to get this over with as quickly as I can.”
“The odds against a married couple never having words are pretty big, Mrs. Hammond,” Dave said. “You’re quite sure that you and Wingate—”
“I’ve already told you no,” she said. “And the other detectives before you.” She frowned thoughtfully. “I—I suppose it is unusual. But when Bruce and I reached the point where most people would have argued—or at least have had words—we simply stopped speaking to each other for a while. There was nothing childish about it, either. It was simply the way we did, as opposed to the way most people do.”
“And there was never an exception?”
“For heaven’s sake!” Kathy said. “Really, Mr….?”
“Kimberly. Sergeant Kimberly.”
“Really, Mr. Kimberly—I’m beginning to find this pretty tiresome.”
“You’re damn right!” Mark said, starting to rise. “We don’t have to put up with—”
“Sit down, Hammond,” Dave said. He looked at Kathy. “Then you wouldn’t remember the dressing-down you gave Wingate one morning on the sidewalk in front of the flower shop? It was about three a.m., I think.”
Kathy stared at him, her lips parted slightly. She swallowed twice in quick succession.
“This was just before you got the divorce,” Dave said softly. “Do you remember, now?” He paused. “Someone else does, Mrs. Hammond.”
She stared at him another long moment; then she looked wildly at Mark, gave a soft, choked gasp, and rushed from the room.
“You satisfied now?” Mark asked angrily. “You happy, copper?”
“I’m doing a job,” Dave said. “If your wife gave Wingate the cussing-out I was told she did, then I mean to find out why. If it was just an ordinary cussing-out, I wouldn’t even be interested. But this was one for the book.”
“So maybe she did get the guy read off. So what? That doesn’t mean anything.”
“It might. If it was because she’d caught Wingate fooling around with another woman, it might mean quite a lot. There’s a woman involved somehow in this murder, Hammond, and there’s a chance it might be the same one—if that’s what your wife got so heated up about.”
“You’re a pretty bright boy, aren’t you?”
“There’s nothing personal in this, Hammond.”
“But you’re on the wrong track,” Hammond said. “Way off.”
“Maybe. Better let me decide that.”
“I’ll save you the trouble. Maybe Kathy did give Wingate pure hell that night. I wouldn’t be surprised. Christ knows, she had plenty of cause.” He glared at Kimberly and shook his head slowly. “But it wasn’t because of any other woman, copper. She was never jealous of Wingate a damn minute. I guess she thought she loved him when she married him, but she found out fast enough that she was wrong.”
“Nevertheless, hell! When are you cruds going to start leaving her alone? Just because the kid was unlucky enough to have been married to Wingate doesn’t give you the right to persecute her.”
“I can understand how you and Mrs. Hammond feel,” Dave said. “It isn’t much more pleasant for me than it is for, you. But just the same, I’ll have to talk to her again.”
“Now? I’ll be damned if you will!”
“No, not now. Not until she’s a little more collected. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. Maybe by then she’ll feel—”
“You—you won’t have to come back,” Kathy said from the doorway. She touched a handkerchief to her eyes obviously trying to keep her voice from breaking. “What you say is true. Bruce and I did have a quarrel that night, and I—well, I suppose I was pretty bitter about things. But it had nothing to do with any other woman. I—I swear it.”
“I see,” Dave said. “Just the same old thing, Mrs. Hammond? Wingate’s attitude toward children, I mean?”
She hesitated a moment. “Yes.”
Dave nodded, watching her closely. She went to sit on the arm of Mark’s chair. “There must be a limit to how much detectives can bully people,” she said. “There must be!”
“No one’s bullying you, Mrs. Hammond,” Dave said wearily. He got to his feet and moved toward the door. He could talk to the Hammonds again later, he reflected. Right now, there didn’t seem to be much point to it. He had the feeling he’d gotten as much here as he was going to get.
Mark got up and crossed the room to open the screen for him. He followed Dave out onto the porch.
“Give her a break, copper,” he said. “You got no idea how hard this is on the kid.”
“I’ll go as easy as I can,” Dave said. He stood watching the quick-moving shadows of children playing in the street, and then stepped down off the porch and walked slowly to the Ford.
It looked like a long night.
Thirty-four miles away, lying naked on the lumpy bed in the tourist cabin, Jean Denton stared up at the insects swirling about the overhead bulb and wondered whether she should get up and leave now, or, wait until she felt a little more like driving. The young farmer she’d picked up in the road house had done nothing for her, nothing to help her forget The Vacuum, but he had tried often enough and long enough to leave her almost exhausted.
She turned her head slightly to look at him. He slept on his back, snoring gently, smiling a little, the edges of his teeth glistening whitely against the deep-tanned skin. The pattern of the tan had amused her at first. It stopped abruptly at his collar line, and except for the heavy hands and forearms, the rest of his body was a sickly white.
Like a fish’s belly, she thought, and wondered again why he had insisted on keeping his high-topped work shoes on. A naked man looked so ridiculous with just his shoes on. Had he actually thought she meant to roll him? Did he really have a few sweaty bills tucked down in the toe of one of those clodhoppers, and did he think that she…
She swung her legs over the side of the bed reached for her shoes. The flat pint bottle of corn whiskey he had bought to bring to the cabin with them lay on its side on the chair near the bed. It was almost empty. She looked at it and grimaced, remembering the heavy oily taste of it, and the tiny floating particles of charcoal that had brushed against her teeth as she drank.
She put on her dress and combed out the dark waves of her had and glanced at herself in the yellowed mirror over the dresser.
How can you get to be such a bum in only eighteen years? she wondered.
She went back to the chair, uncorked the bottle, and, holding her nose tightly between thumb and forefinger, drank the rest of the corn whiskey. She shuddered a little as the liquor spread out through her, put the pointed tip of a pink tongue to her lips and spit out a bit of the charcoal, and then dropped the empty bottle on the bed.
She looked at her watch. It was ten minutes till eleven. She wondered what Steve had thought when he came home and found her gone…. If he’d come home.
She glanced down at the young farmer again, remembering the way his eyes had looked when he saw the bruises on her breast, remembering the questions he’d asked.
“You’re a phony, boy,” she said. “You don’t know enough about girls to tell them from men.”
He hadn’t been any good for her, she knew, for the same reason nothing was any good. Not for her. Nothing but Steve Lambert—and Steve was good in only one way. The hell of it was, Steve was good in the only way that mattered any more.
She leaned over the bed and pulled the sheet up over the man’s body and then walked quickly to the door and across the grass to the Buick.
She hoped Steve wouldn’t be too drunk when she got there. When he was too drunk… She pushed the thought from her mind.
I’m hooked, she thought. I’m hooked, and there isn’t a thing in the world I can do about it.
She sent the big car plunging up the bumpy ground to the highway.
At eleven o’clock Steve Lambert recapped his fountain pen, pushed his chair back from the kitchen table, folded the nine sheets of yellow paper on which he had written the confession he would later dictate to Tommy Nolan, and walked to the refrigerator for another can of beer. As he stuffed the confession into his inside jacket pocket he wondered vaguely if it was worth the trouble to fry a few hamburgers.
He decided it was not. All he really needed right now was the beer. There’d be plenty of time later to eat, if the urge grew stronger.
He opened the beer and drank from the can, while he thought about the confession. It had taken much longer than he had wanted to spend on it, and yet it was time that had to be spent. The confession had to be sufficiently detailed, but at the same time it had to be shaped in such a way that he could modify it up to the last moment. He had worked rapidly, glancing often at his watch, remembering the other things that must be done, and still the hours had passed. Three of them.
But he had had no choice. The all-important thing was to have the confession as fool-proof as he could make it, and by ghosting it now he could determine just what facts he might have to work around and what holes he must plug. It was simply a matter of making the crime fit the confession, and past experience had taught him the wisdom of taking infinite pains.
He finished the beer, put the empty can on top of the refrigerator, and walked along the corridor to the living room. It seemed strange to be alone in the apartment. He wondered vaguely when Jean would come back to get her clothes. Maybe he’d been a little rough with her, he reflected. It might have been better just to tell her to get out. That way she’d still be on tap if he wanted her. It’d be handy, in case he got a sudden yen for a girl some night and didn’t feel like going out to scare one up. A guy could beat a lot of bushes before he flushed anything half as good. Nothing like Carol Nolan, of course—but then, who was?
The phone rang. He stepped into the foyer and lifted it. “Yeah?”
“This is Schick, Lieutenant. Sergeant Cole wants to know how long you’ll be using that car you checked out. He says—”
“Is he sweating about it?” Steve asked. “Is he hurting all over because I’m trying to do a little extra work?”
“No, sir. It’s just that he has to know before the next shift comes on. We’ve got a couple cars laid up in the garage, and so he—”
“Tell him to forget it,” Steve said. “I’ll probably be using it the rest of the night. And listen, Schick, you can tell Cole something else. Tell him that if he’d done a lithe work in his time, he’d have a better job now than wet-nursing a bunch of prowl cars, for Christ’s sake.”
Steve slammed down the receiver, stood glaring at it a moment, and then crossed to the door.
Twenty-five minutes later he stepped into Bruce Wingate’s apartment over the flower shop and nodded to the uniformed policeman who had opened the door for him.
“Still on the job, eh, Walt?”
Walt grinned and shut the door. He was a tall, prematurely bald young man with bright dark eyes that were never still.
“Anything new on the case, Lieutenant?” he asked.
Steve pushed his hat back and shook his head. “Not a thing. I thought maybe I’d come back and take another look.”
“Sure. Is there anything I can do, sir?”
“Yeah. There is.” He smiled. “You can take a break for yourself. You could probably use a cup of coffee about now, eh?”
Walt’s grin widened. “I sure could—if it’s all right with you, sir.”
Steve laughed. “I suggested it, didn’t I? And don’t bother to hurry back, Walt. I’ll probably be around here for quite a while.”
Walt lifted his cap from the studio couch. “Thanks, Lieutenant.”
“I used to pull a lot of stake-out duty myself,” Steve said. “It wears you down.”
“Yes, sir, it does, sort of. Well, I won’t be gone long.”
When Walt had closed the door behind him, Steve waited a moment, then locked the door and walked to the bedroom. The room was dark, and he switched on the table lamp beside the bed.
The light fixture on the ceiling was exactly as he remembered it, a long green oval of some opaque material, designed to illuminate the room indirectly by throwing light against the pale green ceiling. There were no bulbs inside the fixture, Steve knew. He had gone over this entire room himself in his first search for the murder gun.
And, he remembered distinctly, there had been no one else in the room with him at the time he had looked in the ceiling fixture. Later, he had put down his report that the room was clean, and that had been the end of it.
Earlier tonight, while writing the confession for Tommy Nolan, he had recalled a certain quality of the ceiling fixture, and he had sensed how it might be used.
He placed a straight chair beneath the fixture, stood on it, and, using his handkerchief, dropped the automatic into the shallow depression in the center of the fixture. When he stepped off the chair and looked at the bottom of the fixture from his normal eye level, he saw that there was no shadow there to indicate anything was inside.
He turned on one of the wall lights. There was still no shadow. He turned on the other wall light. And now he could see it. The shadow was dim and undefined, but it was there, and that was all that mattered.
Steve turned off both wall lights, walked back to the living room, unlocked the front door, and sat down to wait for Walt.
He waited less than five minutes.
“Feel better?” Steve asked.
“Sure do, Lieutenant. Nothing like a cup of coffee to set a man up.”
“It helps, all right,” Steve said. “Keeps you alert. If I’d had some the other night, before I searched this place the first time, I might have kept from messing up.”
Walt grinned broadly. “Messing up. You, Lieutenant?”
Steve returned the grin and stood up. “It’s possible, Walt.”
“Not from what I hear, sir,” Walt laughed. “They say that you—”
“Yeah,” Steve said. “Well, this time I messed up. Come here a minute, Walt.” He led the way to the bedroom. When they were directly beneath the ceiling fixture, he said, “Here’s what I mean. Take a look at that fixture up there.”
Walt looked up. “What is it? Glass?”
“No Some kind of plastic. You can almost see through it, right?”
The other man nodded.
“Uh-huh,” Steve said. “And if there was anything in it, you could tell from here. You wouldn’t have to climb up and look inside the damned thing to know.”
“Why, no. There’d be a shadow.”
“All right. Now watch.” Steve crossed the room and turned on one of the wall lights. “See anything yet?”
“No.” Walt looked at Steve, his smile a bit puzzled. “There’s nothing in it, Lieutenant.”
Steve walked to the other wall fixture and turned it on. “Take another look, Walt.”
Walt whistled softly. “I’ll be damned.”
“Yeah,” Steve said. “Me, too.” He sank down on the foot of the bed and motioned toward the straight chair. “It’s the gun all right. I’ve already looked. I put it back to show you how I happened to miss it the first time. Get it down again, will you, Walt?”
Walt climbed up on the chair.
“Use your handkerchief,” Steve said sharply.
Walt unfolded his handkerchief, lifted out the gun, and stepped down. He extended it to Steve. Steve folded his own handkerchief around it and slipped it into the side pocket of his jacket. He got to his feet.
“That’s just a little lesson in how to mess up on a search, Walt. When I went over this room, I had the table lamp on and one of the wall lights on. That was all I needed, but it wasn’t quite enough to make a shadow on the bottom of that ceiling fixture. I looked right at it, and I would have sworn there was nothing in it. You’d think you were looking right through it.”
“I’ll be damned,” Walt said again.
“Yeah. With both wall lights on, and the table lamp, it’s a different story. With all three of them on, there’s just enough light reflected from the ceiling into the fixture to show you there’s something there.”
Walt glanced at the fixture again, shaking his head.
“It would have fooled anybody, sir.”
“It sure as hell fooled me,” Steve said. He walked toward the doorway, then stopped suddenly and turned to face Walt again. “You’re bucking pretty hard to make detective, aren’t you, Walt?”
Walt smiled thinly. “Well, I’m studying pretty hard, sir. Naturally, I’d like to make it. I guess anybody would.”
“Uh-huh. Well, every little bit helps, Walt. The Old Man doesn’t miss a thing. It’s a lot in the breaks you get, of course, but the little things count up, too.” He winked. “Like making the most of this stake-out duty, for instance. After all, there isn’t any reason why a guy should just sit on his can and wait for the phone to ring, is there? I mean, if he was really on the ball he’d sort of give the place an extra going over, just to see what he could turn up. What the hell, Walt—you don’t learn how to be a detective from reading some God-damned book. It’s one job you have to learn by doing, right?”
Walt nodded, smiling a little uncertainly.
“Sure,” Steve said. “And if you’d been on the ball, if you’d sort of prowled around a bit, you might have come up with the gun yourself. And then the Old Man could have chalked up a good piece of work to you. He’d have said to himself, ‘Here’s a guy to watch. Here’s a guy can think.’ And if you stayed on the ball, and if somebody who likes you—me, for instance—should give you a boost now and then, why one of these days soon you’d have that gold badge.”
Walt bit at his lip. “I guess I should have looked around, Lieutenant. But when I heard that you had already gone over the place I just took it for granted that—”
“That’s the one thing you never want to do,” Steve said. “And that’s why you didn’t do it this time, Walt. That’s why you were on the ball, the way you should have been —and that’s why you came up with the gun.”
Walt stared at him blankly.
“Yeah,” Steve said. “You found it, Walt. I’m already a detective, but you aren’t—so you found it.” It would look a little better this way, Steve knew. Moreover, letting Walt find the gun would make him a friend for life. This would prove to Walt that he was for him and that he expected to help push him up the ladder. And Walt was the kind who’d be loyal; he was just dumb and dedicated enough to twist this out of all proportion and convince himself his whole career depended on Steve’s help and influence. From now on, Steve knew, Walt would be his man.
He patted the bulge in his pocket and shook his head ruefully. “Of course, I’ll have to take a little guff from the Old Man, for not having found it myself… But what the hell?”
Walt took a slow step forward. “That’s mighty fine of you, sir.” He moistened his lips, his eyes fixed on the bulge of the gun. “But I—I couldn’t let you do a thing like that.”
“No,” Steve said, grinning. “You couldn’t—but you will. Because it’s like I said, Walt. Every little thing helps. And as for me—well, I don’t have to tell you I’ve sort of been keeping an eye on you. I’ve got so I can pretty well tell when a guy’s worth giving a boost now and then, just like I can tell the phony bastards as soon as they open their yap—the guys who might let another man stick his neck out for them like this, for instance, and then blab, about it later.”
Walt’s voice was almost grim. “That’d never happen with me, sir.”
“I know it,” Steve said. “That’s why I’m giving you a hand. Maybe it isn’t so much, right now, but it all helps, Wait And later on—well, I’ll see to it that some of the breaks just happen to come your way, if you know what I mean…”
Walt glanced up at the ceiling fixture again, and suddenly his face broke into a wide grin. “I just don’t know how to thank you, Lieutenant. I—”
“Forget it,” Steve said. “I just happen to think you’ve got the makings of one hell of a good cop. And besides, it’d be a lousy damn world if people didn’t help each other out now and then.” He turned and walked through the living room to the front door. As he opened it he paused to look back at Walt. “Oh, yeah, Walt… I want to keep this quiet a couple hours. I’ve got a hot angle working for me, and if it got out that you’d found the gun the angle might cool off a little. Okay?”
“Yes, sir,” Walt said quickly.
“Good. I’ll see you, Walt.” He closed the door behind him and went down the steps to the street, humming softly to himself. He didn’t have to worry about Walt spilling anything, he knew; Walt was too eager. Hell, probably Walt was already standing in front of a mirror back there, imagining how he’d look in plain clothes with a gold badge pinned in his wallet.
He crossed the street to the shabby brownstone house where he knew William Strober lived, and walked along the halfway until he found a door with a dirty white card tacked to it that read Super.
The super was an old man with sparse white had, watery blue eyes, and lips that folded inward over toothless gums.
“Bill Strober ain’t here, mister,” he said.
“So where is he?” Steve asked.
The old man studied him. “You look like a cop.”
“I am a cop. Where’s Strober?”
“I don’t know as Bill would appreciate it much if I—” Steve reached out and grasped the old man’s shirt-front.
“I asked you a question,” he said softly. The super’s rheumy eyes grew round. “He—he’s down at the tavern. Franklin Bar and Grill.”
“Just—just down to the corner.”
Steve released the shirtfront, went out to the street again, and walked toward the only beer sign in sight.
At the tavern he leaned across the bar and crooked his finger at the bartender.
“I’m looking for Bill Strober,” he said. “Point him out to me.”
“The guy in the last booth,” the bartender told him. “The big blond guy.”
Steve nodded and pushed his way through the semi-darkness to the back booth. The place stank of sweat and soured beer, and the air was so filled with smoke that he was abreast of the booth before he got a really good look at Strober’s face. When he did, he felt the instant familiar tug at his memory that always came at moments like this. It was the first time he had seen Strober in person, but it was not the first time he had seen his face. He laughed aloud.
Strober looked up from his glass of beer, frowning.
Steve sat down across from him and grinned. “You Bill Strober?”
“Yeah. I’m Strober. What the hell were you laughing at?”
“I got lousy manners,” Steve said. He took out his wallet and showed the blond man his badge. “I’m Lieutenant Lambert, Strober. I’m in charge of the Wingate case. I’ve been meaning to talk to you before this.”
“Yeah, I know. I sent the other boys around to get your statement, but I was sort of hung up on another angle. The trouble is, Strober, I don’t think the boys got it right.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t think they heard you right.”
“They couldn’t have heard you right, because your statement reads that you saw this girl run out of Wingate’s street door and take off up the street.”
“I did. I—”
“No,” Steve said softly. “You didn’t see her run out of his door, Strober. You saw her run past his door.”
“You’re crazy! You got rocks in your head!”
“Don’t raise your voice to me, Strober. You’re just the size of man I like to work out on. You get lippy, and I’ll drag you out of here and wipe up the alley with you. You got that?”
Strober was silent a long moment. Then, “What the hell is this, anyway?”
“I’m just trying to help you get things straight in your own mind. After we get you straightened out, then we can straighten out your statement. The mistake you made has cost us a lot of headaches, boy. You should be ashamed.”
“Damned if I—”
“Let me talk, Strober. When you try it you get things screwed up. Like this business of thinking you saw a girl run out of Wingate’s door. You didn’t. This girl was running down the street, and when you looked out of your window you just happened to see her as she passed Wingate’s door. Naturally, being excited because you’d just heard a shot, and ah, you thought you saw her come out of the door. Your mind played a trick on you, see? You thought there had to be some connection between the shot and the girl, and so your mind invented, one for you.”
Strober started to say something, then apparently changed his mind.
“It happens all the time,” Steve said. “You’d never believe if I told you the trouble we have with witnesses. No two of them ever see quite the same thing. Now, the way I figure what happened, Strober, is that this girl was having trouble with some guy. Maybe they were in a parked car up the street, or maybe they were in this room. The guy keeps giving the girl a bad time, see, so she jumps out of the car, or she runs out of his room, and takes off. It doesn’t make any difference why she was running. All that matters is that she was running when you saw her—and she wasn’t running out of Wingate’s building. She was running past it.”
Strober shook his head slowly, his eyes swollen. “I don’t know what you’re driving at,” he said without conviction. “I sure don’t.”
“It’s like I said,” Steve told him. “You caused us a lot of trouble with that damn fool story of yours. You caused us a lot of extra work, and you got us off on the wrong track. It’s too late to cry about that now—but it isn’t too late for you to correct your statement. All you have to do is change that one little thing.”
Strober moved his beer glass back and forth in a wide wet arc. “And if I don’t?”
“Why would I?”
“Funny thing,” Steve said. “You asked me what I was laughing at a minute ago. Well, it was because I thought for a second that you were somebody else.”
Strober’s face was completely without expression. “Who?”
“A guy named George Martin,” Steve said. “He was doing a twenty-year stretch in California, but he must have got tired of his cell or something. Anyhow, he busted out with a couple of other cons. The guards caught up with them just as they were starting to row a boat across a river. They must have got excited when the guards started shooting at them, because the first thing you know they’d overturned the boat. They fished two of the cons’ bodies out of the water the next day, but the third guy—this George Martin—he’s still on the bottom somewhere.”
Beneath its beard stubble Strober’s face had grown pale. He started to lift his glass, but the beer spilled, and he put the glass down again.
“I read the report on it about a week after it happened,” Steve went on. “We had a lot of things like that coming through from other cities in those days, Strober —not so much any more.” He paused. “Let’s see. That was nine years ago. There were some mugg shots, of course…”
The beer, glass broke in Strober’s big hand. He spread his fingers, staring at the blood that welled from cuts on two of the fingers and from another cut at the heel of his palm. His eyes were dull, his lips compressed.
“You can see now why I was laughing,” Steve said. “I just got to thinking how funny it would be if George Martin’s body wasn’t down on the bottom of that river after all.”
Strober took out his handkerchief and wrapped it around his hand.
Steve drummed the tips of his fingers silently on the table top. “Maybe after we ride over to the station house in the squad car and get your statement straightened out, you’d like to take a vacation. Some place a long way from here. A permanent one.” He laughed softly. “But there’s one thing you’d have to watch, Strober. If you ever went fishing, you’d want to make sure it wasn’t in a rowboat.”
Long seconds passed while Strober stared at the blood seeping through the handkerchief; then he moved to the edge of the seat and got to his feet.
“You’re kind of anxious to take that little ride over to the station house, eh, Strober?” Steve asked.
The blond man nodded almost imperceptibly.
Steve got up and followed him to the door, keeping a half step behind him. When they came out on the sidewalk he pointed up the street toward the prowl car parked in front of Bruce Wingate’s flower shop.
Strober turned toward the prowl car and said nothing at all.
At two-thirty a.m. Dave Kimberly finished his second inch-by-inch search of the Wingate apartment and sat down on the studio couch to have a cigarette and think. He was bone-tired how, and the strange way Walt had been acting was beginning to annoy him. He had always gotten along well with Walt before, and the stake-out’s sudden smugness puzzled him.
“No dice, eh, Sergeant?” Walt said.
“No dice, Walt.”
Walt shook his head sympathetically. “Too bad.” He picked up a magazine and slouched down on the other end of the studio couch.
Dave smoked in silence for a few minutes, studying the other man’s face from the corner of his eye, wondering about the change that had come over him. It was ridiculous to be even mildly concerned about such a small thing, he knew, but still he sensed that Walt was secretly laughing at him, and he had not been unaware of the amused way in which Walt had watched the progress of his search.
He rubbed out his cigarette in a tray on the cocktail table and got to his feet.
“I think I’ll have a look around the flower shop, Walt,” he said. “You got the key?”
Walt turned a page of his magazine and gestured lazily toward the desk beside the front door. “Over there. On the desk.’”
Dave crossed to the desk, picked up the key, and went down the stairs to the street. He let himself into the shop, turned on the overhead lights, and went directly to the small white desk in the alcove at the rear of the room. The air felt damp, thick with the sickening odor of decaying flowers.
He snapped on the desk lamp and sat down. The chance of his finding anything here was small, he knew; the desk and the two-drawer file cabinet beside it had been searched before.
He spent half an hour with the contents of the desk drawers, then turned to the cabinet.
It was in the fourth file folder. A small billhead on heavy buff paper. At the top, in raised block letters, was the heading: ALBERT DESSINGER, and, below and to the right: Custom Bootmaker. The entry was for a pad of shoes, identified only by a seven-place code number, and priced at eighty-five dollars. The billhead was dated less than a month ago.
Dave sat looking at the billhead a long moment, dunking how easy it had been for the others to miss its significance. To them it had been just another bid among many, and if they’d paid more than passing attention to it, it was only because of the price. There might have been a caustic comment by some underpaid detective to the effect that eighty-five dollars was a hell of a price to pay for one pad of shoes, handmade or not, and that would have been the end of it.
But Albert Dessinger, Dave knew, made only ladies’ shoes.
He looked at his watch. Ten minutes past three. A bad time to get a man out of bed. He lighted another cigarette and reached for the telephone directory.
He dialed Dessinger’s home telephone number, waited for what seemed a small eternity, and then leaned forward as he heard the receiver being lifted.
It was a woman’s voice, middle-aged and thick with sleep.
“Yes. Yes this is Mrs. Dessinger.” Her voice took on a sharper tone. “Who is this—at this hour?”
“Police, Mrs. Dessinger. I’m sorry to bother you, but I’ll have to speak to your husband.”
“Albert is asleep… The police, you say? What— what has happened?”
“There’s no cause for alarm, Mrs. Dessinger. I hate to trouble you like this, but I’m afraid I’ll have to speak to your husband. I’d like some information about one of his customers. Will you call him to the phone, please?”
In a few moments a man’s voice came over the phone, gruff, with the faintest suggestion of an accent. “This is Mr. Dessinger.”
“Police, Mr. Dessinger,” Dave said. “I have one of your bids here, but it’s addressed to a man, and of course that doesn’t tell me for whom the shoes were made. I wonder if you’d help me.”
“Certainly. What is the customer’s name, please?”
“Bruce Wingate.” He gave his address on Franklin Street.
“Ah, yes—Mr. Wingate. Poor man. I read about it in the papers.”
“What can you tell me about the lady for whom you made the shoes, Mr. Dessinger?”
“Almost nothing, I’m afraid. You see, I never had the pleasure of meeting her.”
“You never met her? Then how were you able to make a pad of shoes for her?”
“It is something I seldom do. Mr. Wingate brought to me a pad, of shoes and asked that I make a new pad with the same measurements. But I am a master bootmaker, not a mechanic, and at first I refused. These other shoes, the ones he brought with him, were of such inferior workmanship that it annoyed me to have them in my shop— to say nothing of using them to guide my own work.”
“Were the shoes delivered to Mr. Wingate or to the lady?”
“To the lady. Mr. Wingate said that I might throw away the pad he had brought with him, after I had made the new ones—and I was most happy to do so, I assure you.”
“Do you remember the lady’s name and address?”
There was a long pause. “No, I’m afraid not. I made a note of it, of course, and I addressed the package—I employ the mails, rather than a delivery boy, you see. But I paid little attention, because it was incidental. It was to Mr. Wingate I looked for payment, not the lady.”
“Then you’ll have a record of it at your shop?”
“I hate to do this,” Dave said, “but I’ll have to ask you to go down there, Mr. Dessinger.”
“Go there now, you mean? Can’t it be delayed until morning? I open very early, you know, and—”
“I’m sorry,” Dave said. “I have to have the information right away.”
“Yes. Well, if I must I must. Will you meet me there?”
Dave thought a moment. “No. As soon as you find the name and address, call me here.” He gave Dessinger the phone number. “I’ll wait here until you call. I’d appreciate it if you hurried as much as possible.”
“I quite understand,” Dessinger said. “It should not take me long.”
“I’m the only one here,” Dave said. “So I’ll be the only one to answer the phone.”
“Yes. Well, you should hear from me in about an hour.”
“Sooner, if you can,” Dave said. “And thanks very much, Mr. Dessinger.”
“Not at all. Good-bye.”
Dave lighted a fresh cigarette from the butt of the old one and went to work again.
When the phone rang, forty minutes later, he had searched through the rest of the file holders in the top drawer of the cabinet and through most of those in the bottom one. He had found nothing else.
He lifted the phone and said hello.
“This is Mr. Dessinger. I have that information for you.”
“That’s fine,” Dave said. He reached for his pencil. “What is it?”
But he wrote down nothing. There was no need to.
He sat staring at the billhead for fully half a minute after Dessinger had finished talking; then he suddenly remembered the bootmaker was still on the line, and he said, “Thanks, Mr. Dessinger. Thanks very much.”
“Not at all. Good-bye.”
Dave folded the billhead carefully, slipped it into his pocket, and got slowly to his feet. “Jesus,” he said softly.
At four o’clock in the morning the street in front of the station house was hot and dark and still. There was no movement anywhere.
Steve Lambert followed Bill Strober down the steps to the sidewalk.
“You can get a cab up at the next corner,” Steve said. “I’d give you a lift home myself, but I’m sort of jammed up right now.” He took a cigar from his pocket, unwrapped it, and put it in the corner of his mouth. “Don’t smoke,” he said pleasantly. “Haven’t for years. Just like to chew on them now and then. Odd habit, eh?”
“I’ll send you a box for Christmas.”
“Do that. And make sure you’re one hell of a long way off when you mail them.”
“I mean to be.”
“Maybe you ought to get started right now.”
“I will. But there’s just one thing bothering me, Lieutenant?”
“Yeah? What’s that? You’re in the clear. Nobody gives a damn about you any more, now that you’ve changed your statement. You’ve been lucky, boy.”
“I know how lucky I’ve been.” The blond man met Steve’s eyes a moment, held them, then looked away. “But this one thing…. I been wondering how you know I didn’t kill Wingate. I don’t have an alibi that’ll stand up. Hell, I would have lammed the minute I knew Wingate got it, but I knew you guys would find out about it. You’d catch up with me sooner or later, and it wouldn’t be long before you found out about that thing in California. So I sweat it out. I figured if I leaned over backwards to cooperate, I had a better chance of not being made.”
“You played it cool, all right,” Steve said. “I’ll have to hand you that.”
“But how do you know I didn’t do it?”
“You still sweating?”
“No. But I’m damned curious.”
Steve smiled around his cigar. “Maybe I don’t know.” He turned toward the steps. “Get going, Strober.”
When he reached his desk in the squad room, he leaned back in his chair, put his feet on the edge of his desk, and reviewed everything that had happened since he received the phone call from Edmonds and met him at the Beetle Club.
He was less concerned about finding the girl now. All she had to fear was fear itself, and there’d be no reason for that once Tommy Nolan was really nailed. He’d have to find her, of course, but he felt none of the urgency he’d felt when he first decided to frame Tommy. Unless she was completely crazy, she’d realize there was nothing she could ever do to him without doing just as much to herself. After he found her was time enough to worry about what he was going to do about her, and to decide whether it would be safe to blackmail her. And if not the girl herself, then whoever was behind her, whoever was putting up the money to get her off the hook.
He pushed his hat down over his eyes and thought about Edmonds. He’d long ago decided that if there was a weak link in this, it was Edmonds. He was the one who could foul you up.
But there were ways, Steve reflected. If he decided, later, that the girl or Edmonds was a danger—then the girl or Edmonds would have to be taken care of. Maybe it would be necessary to take care of both of them. It wouldn’t be too difficult. Not for a cop.
He glanced at the clock oh the wall. It was four-fifteen. He would have to turn the murder gun over to the lab in a few hours, and that meant he had to get started on Tommy Nolan now. It was too bad he couldn’t have given it to the lab right away, so that he could show Tommy a flimsy copy of their report. It would have helped the cause. But as soon as everyone else knew Tommy’s prints were on the gun, they’d be hovering around that detention room like flies. And that was no good. When he went to work on Tommy, he wanted him all to himself.
He sighed and stood up. The sooner he got started the sooner he could turn the gun over to the lab.
Steve stood just inside the steel door of the detention room, listening to the footsteps of the guard receding down the corridor. Tommy Nolan lay on the cot, frowning in his sleep.
Steve shook him roughly. “Wake up, you bastard.”
Tommy stirred, opened his eyes slowly, and then sat up. “Not again,” he said thickly. “Can’t you ever let a guy—”
“Shut up,” Steve said. “You’re a cooked goose, Nolan. While you were getting your beauty sleep, I’ve been working. I’ve busted this case wide open. All I want from you is a confession.”
“You’re crazy if you think I’ll confess something I didn’t do.”
“Nobody cares what you didn’t do. So I damn well care what you did do. You killed Wingate, Nolan.”
“The hell I did!”
“You killed him, and then you hid the gun in that fight fixture in the bedroom. Christ only knows why you hid it. Maybe you came to your senses just about the time the prowl car got there. All you could do was hide it, and then make out you were so liquored-up you could hardly move. You didn’t have time to do anything else. You heard* the siren, or maybe you heard the police coming up the stairs, and the only place you could think of in a hurry was that fixture. But you were lucky, for a while, because that fixture is the one place nobody looked. Unless all the lights in the room are on, you’d think you could see right through it. Just dumb luck, Nolan, that’s all. Not that it’s doing you any good now.”
Tommy stared at him incredulously, his heavy-featured face breaking out with new sweat.
“Yeah,” Steve said. “You said you blacked out. You said you didn’t remember a thing after you walked through the door of that saloon.” He paused. “And you know something, Tommy? I damn near believe you. You admitted you used to be a dipso. You used to have blackouts all the time, you said. It happens. I’ve had them myself a couple times. Everybody does, if they drink hard enough and long enough. Anyhow, it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of difference, does it?”
“If there was a gun in the chandelier, then I didn’t put it there. I haven’t had a gun in my hand since I was in the Army. I—”
“How do you know?” Steve asked. “If you were blacked out, then how do you know what you did?”
“I know enough to know I didn’t kill Wingate!”
Steve shook his head. “That’s just it, Tommy. You just don’t remember. You did kill him, and then you heard the cops coming and you got rattled. You knew you had to hide the gun, but you were too drunk and rattled to realize we’d find it, no matter where you hid it. You were so rattled you even forgot to wipe your prints off the damn thing.”
“How could it have my prints on it, when I never even—”
“Knock off, Tommy. They’ve had that gun in the lab for two hours. They matched a test bullet from it with the slug that killed Wingate. It’s the same gun. That isn’t surprising, of course—what is surprising is that your prints were still on it. You’d think that’s the one tiling a guy would think to do—wipe off his prints.”
“Only you did,” Steve said. “We’ve got a couple witnesses who saw you walking along the street with Wingate, on the way to his building. They say you and Wingate were arguing about something and that you were threatening him. They say that just before you got to the building, you stopped and almost took a swing at him.”
Steve shrugged. “Why would they he? And how would you know what happened, seeing as how you were blotto?”
“What about the girl?”
“The one you guys keep asking me about. The one somebody saw running away from there. What about her?”
“Oh, that one. You can relax, Tommy. There wasn’t any girl.”
“That’s right. The witness only thought he saw that. Later, when he got to thinking about it, he remembered he saw her run past the building—not out of it. His mind just played a trick on him, that’s all.” He took a signed copy of William Strober’s statement from his pocket, unfolded it, and handed it to Tommy. “Here. Read the guy’s statement yourself.”
Tommy’s hands shook so much he had difficulty holding the paper stiff long enough to read it. When he finished, he thrust the statement back at Steve, his face noticeably more pale.
“So you can quit trying to stall me,” Steve said. “You killed Wingate, and you did it by yourself. There was nobody else around to share the credit, Nolan. You’re on the spike for this kill, and you know it.”
Tommy moistened his lips. “If you’re sure I killed him, then why don’t you go ahead and charge me with murder? What’s holding you back?” He glared at Steve. “You’re afraid because you know I could have a lawyer, then, that’s why?”
Steve smiled. “I see you haven’t heard the news. I see nobody’s bothered to tell you we got an extension. If you’re thinking about that seventy-two-hour business, forget it. The D.A. leaned his weight in the right direction, and we got an okay to make an exception in your case. We’re going to hang on to you as long as we want to. Hell, man, we can hold you for weeks. We can take you out of this room, haul you over to another precinct, and throw you in under another name.”
“But Kimberly said—”
“I don’t give a damn what Kimberly said. I’m in charge of this case, and I’m giving you the straight facts. If you think you’re going to get a lawyer anywhere soon, you’re even more stupid than you look.”
“You can’t do this! Nobody can treat a human being that way!”
“No? Why not?”
“You’re bluffing, anyhow. If you had enough to charge me with murder, you’d go ahead and, do it. You wouldn’t have to have a confession, just to charge me. I know that much.”
“Don’t try to tell me my trade,” Steve said. “I want the confession for the good reason that I’ve got a reputation for always getting one. It’s a matter of pride with me. When I put a case together, Nolan, that case is put together right. You understand? It’s complete. And I don’t consider a case is complete unless there’s a confession.”
“God,” Tommy said.
“You might as well face up to it,” Steve said. “Like I said, I almost believe you when you say you did everything in a blackout. I’m even a little sorry for you. But you can quit kidding yourself. You killed Wingate, and we can prove it. It’s open and shut. But you’d better get over the idea that there’s any question about it and start thinking about how you can make it easier on yourself.”
“Easier on myself? My God!”
“Look at it this way. I’m going to get a confession out of you. One way or another. Once I do, then I’m going to charge you on a Murder One.” He paused. “But I’m not going to charge you until I do get that confession, and that means you aren’t going to get any lawyer until then.”
Tommy stared at him. “I don’t care what you do to me, Lambert. I’m not going to confess something I didn’t—”
“We’ve been all through that, for Christ’s sake.” He lowered his voice slightly. “Listen, Nolan. You just think you’ve been through a lot. You haven’t seen anything yet. Not a thing. I’ve gotten confessions out of some of the toughest hoods that ever lived. I can sure as hell get one out of you. You know what I do sometimes? I take an Irish potato, see, and put it down in the end of a sock. A good solid Irish potato about as big as my fist. I’ll tell you a secret, Nolan. You can take that potato in the sock like that and beat a man on the head with it for a month, and it will never leave a mark. Not a one. Of course the guy would be punchy for life. He’d go around dragging one leg and slobbering down the front of his shirt, but there wouldn’t be a mark on him.”
“Uh-huh. Well, if you don’t like that idea, there’s others. I really wouldn’t have to have anything real complicated like that, you know. I could just take off my undershirt and soak it good with water from that bowl over there. Then I could wring it out and slap you just as silly as I could with the other gimmick.” He pursed his lips thoughtfully. “And if I got in a hurry, if I got tired of fooling with you, I could maybe show you a few things I learned along the way. I could put just the right kind of pressure in just the right spots on your body, Nolan, and you’d be willing to die before you let me do it again.”
“They’d get you for that. Not all cops are like you are. They’d find out what you’d done and—”
“They’d know what I’d done, all right, Nolan—but could they prove it? No. You’re damned right they couldn’t. They wouldn’t be able to do anything. All they’d have is your word for it—if you could still make sense by then—and that wouldn’t be enough. Prisoners always say they’ve been roughed up, anyhow, even if nobody’s laid a finger on them.”
“No, by God! I won’t do it!”
“Of course it wouldn’t be that simple. Naturally I’d have to give you a little something to think about while I worked you over. Just something to sort of help you take your mind off your troubles, Tommy. Something like Carol, say.”
“I’m not going to—Carol?”
“What’ve you done to her?” Tommy started to rise.
“Stay where you are,” Steve said tightly. “I don’t like this habit you’ve got of always making a dive for me every time I say anything. I thought I taught you better last time.”
“What’d you mean by that, damn you?”
“Well, I just sort of figured that she was in on this right along with you. She hasn’t got enough alibi to spit on. She says she was home with the baby while you were giving it to Wingate. But all we’ve got is her word for it. What’s that mean? Nothing. And this witness that saw the girl running past Wingate’s place—he’s so confused he has trouble remembering his own name. I haven’t satisfied myself completely that he knows just what the hell he did see. Let’s say I talked to him again. Maybe he’d change his story again. Maybe he’d decide he saw that girl come out of Wingate’s place, after all.”
“What are you driving at?”
“I thought maybe you’d guess. If there was a girl, then why couldn’t it have been Carol?”
“You’re out of your mind!”
“Sure. And if Carol hasn’t any alibi—which she hasn’t —and I should pick her up and throw her in a cell just like this one… Well, what do you think, Tommy? You’ve been through it, and you know what it’s like. You think she’d enjoy herself? I mean, be honest now. Do you think she’d like it?”
“I told you once, Lambert,” Tommy said hoarsely. “I’ll tell you again…. If I ever get out of here, I’m going to—”
“I wouldn’t worry so much about getting out,” Steve said. “What I’d worry about is Carol getting in. You’ve had it good, compared to what she’d go through. You ever get a look—at our police matrons, Tommy? No? You should. You should see those bruisers go to work on a girl —especially somebody as pretty as Carol. Pretty girls burn them up, see? You think I got talent when it comes to the rough stuff? Listen. Those matrons can think of more things to do to a woman in five minutes than I could think up in the next fifty years.” He paused. “Of course there are more possibilities with a woman, naturally…”
“God…” Tommy Nolan’s shoulders shook, and suddenly he was sobbing.
“And don’t tell me I wouldn’t do it,” Steve said. “You know damn well I would. You’d better cooperate, boy, because otherwise I’m going to work on you right now, and then I’m going to slap your wife’s can in a cell and let the matrons go to work on her. Then, when I start on you again, maybe we’ll get somewhere.”
“You leave her alone!” Tommy cried.
“There isn’t much to the confession,” Steve said. “Matter of fact, you don’t even have to think about it. I’ve already done that for you. I worked up one that’ll stand in anybody’s court, and at the same time it’s very simple. You wouldn’t believe how hard I worked getting it fixed up for you, Tommy.” He reached into his inside jacket pocket and took out the folded sheets of yellow paper, a dozen sheets of clean white paper he had taken from his desk, and his fountain pen.
Tommy brushed at his eyes with the back of his wrist, but he seemed unable to curb his sobbing.
Steve dropped the white paper and the fountain pen on the cot near Tommy’s hand.
“You really don’t have much of a choice,” he said. “You write down what I tell you, and sign it, and you’ll have a lawyer here in less than an hour. And you can stop worrying about Carol. If you don’t cooperate, I’ll beat you punchy, and I’ll see that Carol gets even worse. You know I’ll do it, too, Nolan. You damn well know it. I’ll make you and Carol the sorriest two people that ever lived, so help me Christ!”
Tommy looked at him with sick wet eyes. For a long time neither he nor Steve moved nor spoke. The sound of his choked sobbing was the only sound in the room.
Then, very slowly, Tommy reached for the pen and paper.
For Jean Denton, waiting in Steve’s apartment, the night had been one of the longest she could remember. Now, at seven a.m., she sat cross-legged in the middle of the living room floor, listening to dance music on the radio and sipping slowly from a tall glass of whiskey and plain water. She had reached the apartment shortly before midnight, and since that time she had drunk almost a fifth of whiskey. But she was not drunk. She knew she was not, because only a few minutes ago she had remembered what Steve had said yesterday morning about her spending too much time in the nude, and she had gone into the bedroom and put on her dress and shoes again, even though it was really too hot to be wearing anything.
If I were really drunk, I’d never remember a thing like that, she—told herself. Why, if I were really drunk, I’d pitch right over on my face, as tired as I am and all.
She looked at her watch, frowned, held it closer to her eyes. Finally she made out the position of the tiny hands.
He’ll be home, she told herself. He’ll be home to take a shower and change his clothes before he goes to work today. He always does that. Every time he stays out all night, he always comes home to clean up before he goes to work again.
With great effort she got to her feet, teetered unsteadily on her high heels a moment, and then walked jerkily toward the kitchen, holding one hand over her drink to keep it from sloshing out.
So I’m a little unsteady, she thought. So what? It doesn’t mean I’m tight. It just means I’m tired. I’ve got a right to be tired, and I am tired, and that’s all there is to it.
She poured an inch of whiskey into her glass, dropped an ice cube in after it, and filled the glass to the top with water from the sink. Then she went back to the living room and sat down on the floor again.
She heard the sound of a key being fitted into the lock and she turned her head toward the door, smiling a lithe uncertainly, wondering just what expression it would be best to have on her face when Steve came in. It was something she should have decided before, of course, and the realization that she hadn’t thought of it annoyed her.
Steve opened the door, glanced at her sourly, and started back along the corridor.
“Turn that damned radio down a little,” he said over his shoulder. “You can hear it all over the neighborhood.”
She reached over, snapped off the radio, and stood up to follow him into the kitchen.
Steve was holding the nearly empty whiskey bottle up against the light. “You drink all this by yourself, or did you have company?”
“I drank it,” she said. “And if you hadn’t got here when you did, I’ve have drunk another just like it…. Maybe two of them.”
“You’re stoned,” he said. “My God, but you’re stoned to the eyes.”
“I’m not. I’m tired, that’s all. I haven’t even been to bed.”
“All right. So why don’t you go to bed now, before you fall down?”
She wasn’t going to let him provoke her into another fight, she decided. That’s where she’d made her mistake yesterday morning, letting him provoke her. You were supposed to learn from your mistakes, weren’t you?
“Where were you all night?” she asked.
He tilted the bottle, drank what was left of it in two huge swallows, and put the bottle back down on the table.
“I’m a cop, remember?” he said. “A cop works hellish hours. Ask any of them. That’s where I was all night— working.”
She’d said the wrong thing again, she knew. That was the trouble with having even enough liquor to relax you, the way she had—you were apt to say what was on your mind, instead of saying what you should say.
“Let’s don’t feud any more, Steve,” she said. “I hate it when we’re feuding.”
“Then shut your yap, for once.”
She stepped close to him, smiling, reaching up to put her arms around his neck. He pushed her away from him.
But not before she knew. Not before she had been close enough to smell the mingled cluster of scents she knew a man could get from a woman only by sleeping with her.
She felt a sudden tightness of breath, and heard her own soft gasp.
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” Steve asked. “You’d better hit the sack, kid. Next thing you know, you’ll be kissing the linoleum.”
She felt a tremor begin in the pit of her stomach and spread down through her thighs, and she put out one hand to the table to steady herself.
Steve laughed at her.
She had to watch herself, she knew. This was crazy, this rush of jealousy. Only stupid, childish people were jealous. For an instant her mind whipped back to the man she’d picked up and slept with at the tourist cabin; and she thought, I did the same thing myself. It’s crazy to be furious because Steve’s been with somebody else.
She felt the irony of it briefly, and bitterly, and then the memory of the other man blurred and she knew it didn’t make any difference what she’d done—it was what Steve had done that mattered. And not so much what he’d done as why he’d done it.
She smoothed back a strand of hair from her forehead and forced herself to smile at him.
I’ll find out who she is, she promised herself. I’ll find out, if it’s the last thing I ever do in this world.
Steve took off his jacket, draped it over the back of a chair, looped his gun rig over it, and took a tentative step toward the corridor. Then he paused, glanced at her strangely, lifted his jacket from the chair, and left the kitchen.
She stood there, swaying a little, listening to the bathroom door slam, and then to the sound of water in the shower.
He’s so shrewd, she thought. He almost left that jacket in here. Almost. But he remembered there was something in it he didn’t want me to see…. Something connected with that girl, of course. He thought that just because there was no perfume on him, I wouldn’t know about her. It never even entered his mind that I could smell her anyhow! No. Not Steve. He’s too shrewd.
She slipped off her shoes and walked as carefully as she could to the bathroom door. She could hear him making the sounds he always made when he was in the shower. She tried the door. It moved inward soundlessly. She stepped inside, glanced cautiously at the shower stall to make certain Steve had drawn the curtain all the way, then lifted Steve’s jacket from the hook beside the towel rack and stepped back into the corridor.
Then, leaning against the wall to keep her balance, she started going through Steve’s pockets. It took her less than a minute to find it. She unfolded the small sheet of scratch paper, squinted at the loose scrawl of the note on it, and knew intuitively that she had what she wanted. It had to be…. The odds against it were too small even to think about.
The note read:
Woman phoned in a complaint at 2035. Gave name as Mrs. Thomas Nolan, 167 Beckman Street, and said you were “treating her terribly,” but she wouldn’t say how. It always happens, eh, Steve? We ask them a few questions, and they think they’re being persecuted. Well, anyhow, the beef came to me through the desk, so there’ll be a record of it and I can’t just forget it, the way I’d like to do. I’ll have to give the beef and a report of my action on it to Lt. Tyner—so, when you come in again, will you give me a couple lines in writing? Just so I can have something to show Tyner. A damn nuisance—but you know how it is.
Jerry Loper, Jean knew, was personnel officer. She put the note back in Steve’s pocket, replaced the jacket on the hook, closed the door, and walked to the bedroom. She lay down across the bed and closed her eyes. A few minutes later she heard Steve come into the room, humming softly to himself as he took a shirt and fresh underwear from the dresser. She lay quite still until he left the room. When she heard the front door slam behind him, she got up, changed her dress, spent a few seconds before the mirror combing her hair, and went down to the street.
Just before she stepped from the building, she looked both ways to make sure Steve was out of sight, and then walked to the garage for her Buick. Now that she was out in the bright glare of the sun, she realized she was much drunker than she had known.
But I’m not too drunk, she thought. I’m not too drunk to go over there and see what’s so wonderful about that little bitch Steve’s been sleeping with. No, damn it, I’m not too drunk for that.
Carol Nolan was wearing a white housecoat, tightly belted at the waist. In the sunlight slanting through the screen, her hair was like gold.
Jean looked at her, and for a moment she wished she hadn’t come. She had expected Carol to be pretty, or otherwise Steve wouldn’t have bothered with her. But she hadn’t expected her to be this pretty, and somehow she hadn’t expected her to be this young.
She said, “Are you Mrs. Nolan?” and suddenly was aware of the thickness of her speech. I’m drunk, she thought. I’m drunk, and I’m doing a darn fool thing.
“Yes, I’m Mrs. Nolan. What—what is it, please?”
Jean hesitated a moment, then she felt anger stirring in her again and she said, “Let me in. I want to talk to you.”
“Are you a reporter?”
“No, I’m not a reporter! I happen to be Steve Lambert’s fiancee, and I’d like to know just what you think you’re—”
Carol opened the screen door quickly. “Please keep your voice down,” she said. “The neighbors—”
Jean stepped into the living room. “To hell with your neighbors!”
Carol drew back from her. “What’s this all about?”
“You know very well what it’s all about. Steve was over here last night. He was here all night! I know what he is, and I can tell what you are just by looking at you. All I’ve got to say to you is that you’d better watch your step!”
“So you’re his girl friend,” Carol said. “I don’t see how any girl could…”
“You don’t see what?”
“Listen, miss—whoever you are. I don’t know what this is all about. If he told you he was here last night, he’s lying. He has been here, yes—but not last night. And if you think I ever wanted him here, you’re insane. He’s a monster, a—a…”
“Don’t give me that. Maybe you think you’re talking to a schoolgirl, Mrs. Nolan, but you’re not. Steve came in this morning with the stink of you all over him!”
Carol’s eyes clouded. She moistened her lips. “If you’ll only listen a moment…”
“I didn’t come here to listen. I came here to tell you to stay away from him. You hear?”
“I wish I could,” Carol said. “I wish to God I’d never seen him.”
“Sure,” Jean said bitterly. “That’s why you let him in the house, isn’t it?”
“He comes here because—because of my husband.”
“You crazy or something?”
“No. You don’t understand. My—my husband’s in jail. The police think he—killed a man.”
Jean bit back the words she had been about to say. She looked deep into the other woman’s eyes and saw the pain and fear and sickness there.
She heard a baby begin to cry, and she glanced at the crib near the window.
“And you a mother, too!” she said mockingly. “You’ve got a husband in jail, and a baby, and still you can—”
“For heaven’s sake!” Carol said.
“Sure,” Jean said. “For heaven’s sake!”
Carol went to the crib and lifted the baby into her arms. There were tears in her eyes. “Get out of here! I’ve had all I can stand. Do you hear? I—I just can’t stand any more…” She broke off and turned her face away from Jean.
The whiskey fog in Jean’s brain cleared a moment, and she sensed how it could be. She remembered how Steve had once told her about a situation like this. He’d told her about a cop who had put a woman’s husband in jail and then slept with the woman every night until the husband got out, because the woman thought the cop was trying to make it easier for the husband in some way. Steve had told the story with obvious pleasure, and though he’d been quite drunk at the time, he had been careful not to mention any names. But it hadn’t been another cop, she knew now, it had been Steve himself.
She chewed at her lip uncertainly, wishing, more than she’d ever wished anything, that she had never come here.
Carol was crying openly now, and from the sound of it Jean knew the other woman was on the thin edge of hysteria. She took a step toward her and put her hand gently on her shoulder.
“Mrs. Nolan,” she began, “I—”
“Stay away from me!” Carol screamed. She glared through her tears at Jean, and then, abruptly, began to laugh. She stood on legs that were beginning to bend at the knees, head thrown back, rocking the baby against her breast, laughing the horrible laughter of hysteria.
Jean stared at her a long moment, while a cold wind seemed to blow against her and her whiskey-dulled brain cleared even more and she realized what she had done.
She took another step forward and caught the baby, just as Carol Nolan’s laughter broke off as suddenly as it had begun and she started to fall. Jean held the baby in the circle of her right arm, got her other arm around Carol’s waist and eased her to the floor. Almost completely sober now, she put the baby in its crib and ran to the rear of the house in search of the bathroom. In a moment she was back with a small bottle of ammonia. She wasn’t sure ammonia would help, but it wouldn’t hurt to try. If it didn’t work, she could call the doctor.
She uncapped the bottle and held it near Carol’s nose. Carol’s eyelashes quivered, and her blue eyes looked up into Jean’s.
“Just take it easy, honey,” Jean said. “Everything’s going to be all right. I know what the score is now, and— well, everything’s going to be all right.”
Carol closed her eyes again. “The b-baby?”
“He’s in the crib,” Jean said gently. “You just take it easy. Do you want me to get a doctor?”
Carol shook her head. “I guess I just—”
“Shhh,” Jean said. “Let’s get you over on the sofa.”
When she had helped Carol to the sofa and put a pillow beneath her head, she turned back to the crib. The baby was crying lustily now, kicking his feet against the bottom of his crib.
She lifted him and sat down in a chair with him, and vaguely it came to her that this was the first time since childhood that she had held a baby in her arms.
He reached up and caught her hair and tagged with a strength that surprised her. She put her hand on his wrist to break his hold, but she found that that wasn’t what she wanted to do at all.
How long she sat there, while first realization and then a kind of awed wonder came to her, she would never be able to remember. She knew only that it was the turning point—that in all the years to come everything would arrange itself in her mind as happening before or after this one dividing moment of self-knowledge.
And with this new knowledge came a clear, cold hatred of Steve Lambert, instant and intense. Hatred, and contempt for what he had done to this baby and its mother. The thought of Steve brought a bitter fluid choking up into her throat.
She would never see him again, she knew. She wouldn’t even chance it by going back to his apartment for the things she had there. She’d buy a new wardrobe as soon as the shops opened, and then she’d start back east to her father’s home.
And then, after a time, there’d be someone as different from Steve Lambert as she could find.
She moved to the crib, put him down and walked to the door. She paused, looking back at Carol. But there was nothing to say. She walked slowly down the flagstones to her car.
She wasn’t going to stay in Riverton until the shops opened, she knew. She could buy what she needed in the next city to the east.
She slid beneath the wheel of the big car, glanced back once at the house she had just left, and drove off toward the east-west highway.
Dave Kimberly walked along the fourth floor corridor of the midtown apartment house and pushed the buzzer beside the door of 416. It was eight-twenty a.m.
When the door opened Dave nodded to the young boy who stood there and said, “Good morning, Paul.”
Paul Manning had been smiling when he opened the door, but the smile had faded instantly. “Who are you?”
“We can talk better inside,” Dave said. He moved into the apartment, closed the door behind him, and showed Paul his badge.
“All right,” Paul Manning said, “so you’re a cop. So what?”
“We’ll get around to that,” Dave said. “You were expecting someone else when you opened the door. Who was it?”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business. What do you want?”
“A few answers, Paul, and a little less lip. I was on a case near here not long ago, and you and your mother were pointed out to me once when you were coming out of this building. So I know who you are, and I know your father’s the D.A. I thought I’d tell you, just in case you thought your father’s position might give you the right to act a little highhanded. It doesn’t, and now’s a good time to get it through your head.”
“What is it you want?”
Dave glanced about the apartment. “Did you know a Bruce Wingate, Paul?”
“He was murdered the other night.”
“Strange you didn’t know him. That makes it hard for me to understand why he’d have a bootmaker make an expensive pair of shoes and deliver them to you here at this apartment.”
Paul shook his head slowly, a thin smile on his lips. “You must be crazy. I—”
“Come off it,” Dave said. “I got to going through Wingate’s records earlier this morning. I came across a bin for a pair of shoes, and when I checked I found they were delivered to a P. Manning, at this address. You’re the only Manning in the building, Paul.”
Paul’s smile went away. For a long moment his face was almost expressionless. Then he said, “Supposing I did know Bruce. Supposing he did send a pair of shoes here. What’s that got to do with what happened?”
“Mind if I look around a little?”
“Of course I mind.”
“I’m sorry,” Dave said. “I’ll have to do it anyway.” He nodded toward a half-open door through which the corner of a bed was visible. “We’ll start in there, Paul.”
“Go ahead, if you have to.”
“I’d like you to be along.”
Paul hesitated a moment, then shrugged and walked into the bedroom.
Dave went to the closet and opened it. There were several men’s suits and an equal number of women’s dresses. In a shoe rack on the floor there were half a dozen pairs of men’s shoes and one pair of lady’s shoes, black pumps with extremely high heels.
Dave lifted the pumps and glanced at Paul. “You’re pretty young to have this kind of roommate, aren’t you, Paul?”
“If I am, then it’s no affair of yours.”
Dave reached in his pocket for the billhead he had found at Bruce Wingate’s flower shop and compared the code number with the number inked inside one of the shoes. It was the same.
“She had nothing to do with it,” Paul said suddenly. “I won’t have you dragging her into this. When my father hears about—”
The door buzzer sounded.
“Maybe that’s who you were expecting in the first place,” Dave said. “Let’s see who it is.” He put down the shoes, walked rapidly to the living room, half a step ahead of Paul, and opened the door.
Mrs. Manning was intent on a large hatbox in her arms, so that she was through the door before she glanced up and saw that it was Dave who had admitted her.
“How are you, Mrs. Manning?” Dave said.
Paul’s mother gasped, and for an instant the hatbox almost slipped from her grasp. “Who—” Her eyes jerked toward Paul. “Paul, who is this?”
“My name’s Kimberly,” Dave said. “I’m a detective.”
The hatbox, Dave noticed, seemed heavier than any hatbox should be. He reached out as if to help Mrs. Manning with it, but she shook her head quickly and tightened her arms about it.
“What—what are you doing here?” Mrs. Manning asked. Without waiting for him to answer, she turned to Paul. “Does this person know who you are, Paul? Does he realize—”
Paul laughed bitterly. “I’m afraid he isn’t much impressed, Mother.”
“You seem quite upset, Mrs. Manning,” Dave said gently. “Mind telling me why?” He paused. “Does the word ‘detective’ always get such a reaction from you?”
Mrs. Manning caught her breath. “I can assure you of one thing,” she said. “When my husband hears of this, he’ll—”
“Paul was right,” Dave said. “I’m really not too much impressed, Mrs. Manning.” He gestured toward a sofa. “Perhaps you’d like to sit down. That hatbox seems very heavy.”
“You might as well, Mother,” Paul said. “Let me handle this.”
“Sit down, Mother,” Paul said harshly.
Mrs. Manning’s eyes wavered a moment between her son and Kimberly; then she moved slowly to the sofa and sat down. She held the hatbox on her knees, glaring at Kimberly.
“Well, Paul?” Dave said.
“We can talk here, or I can take you downtown with me. Which will it be?”
The door buzzer sounded again.
Paul looked quickly at his mother and then at Dave. “I’ll get it,” he said, moving toward the door.
“Stay where you are,” Dave said. He stepped to the door and opened it.
The man who stood there was small and bald and very fat. He wore a sodden seersucker suit and a pale blue shirt with a sweat-darkened collar. He looked up at Dave, his eyes widened, and he started to step back.
“Come in,” Dave said.
The bald man shook his head rapidly. “I can come back later. I didn’t realize Paul had company. I—”
“Come in,” Dave said again.
The other man seemed unable to take his eyes off Dave’s face. He stepped into the room. Dave closed the door. “I’m Sergeant Kimberly,” he said. “Eighteenth Precinct.”
The bald man’s sweat-sheened face grew pale. “God,” he whispered. “Oh, God…”
“I’ll have to ask who you are and what you’re doing here,” Dave told him.
The man looked at Mrs. Manning with sick, scared eyes, but said nothing.
“Let me see your wallet,” Dave said.
The other man moistened his lips. “My name’s Campbell,” he said. “Edward Campbell.”
“And what’s your business here, Mr. Campbell?”
“I—I’m Paul’s uncle. I just dropped by to—to visit with him a while.”
“Edward is my brother,” Mrs. Manning said from the sofa, “and I won’t have you intimidating him, any more than I’ll permit you to intimidate Paul. I—”
“Keep quiet, Mother,” Paul said.
Dave studied Campbell’s face carefully, wondering if now might not be the time to try the experiment he had been thinking about. He decided that it was.
“Something seems to be bothering you, Mr. Campbell,” he said. “What is it?”
Campbell looked down at the tips of his small, black shoes. He didn’t say anything.
“We were just talking about the Bruce Wingate murder,” Dave said. “You probably read about it in the papers, didn’t you, Mr. Campbell?”
Campbell’s eyes jerked up to Dave’s face again. He nodded slowly.
Dave turned to Paul. “I talked to Wingate’s ex-wife last night, Paul. She acted very strangely. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time, but later it came to me. I got to adding things up, and I realized that the reason she acted strangely was because she was ashamed of having been married to Wingate. Of course, that didn’t mean very much, until later—until I found out about the shoes.”
“Why tell us all this?” Paul asked.
“Well, as I was saying,” Dave told him, “I got to adding things up, the things I’d learned about Wingate, and the general impression I had of you. I couldn’t have been sure of any of this, of course, if it hadn’t been for the shoes. But, Paul—when one man buys another man a pair of girl’s high-heeled pumps, like those out in the bedroom, the only answer is that both men are homosexuals.”
Mrs. Manning gasped. “This is outrageous! Why, if it’s the last thing I ever do, I’ll—”
“Please, Mrs. Manning,” Dave said. “I’ll be through in a moment.”
“You’re through now, as a policeman,” Paul said. “Only you don’t know it.”
“Perhaps,” Dave said. “But first let’s carry this a lithe further. You see, we have a witness who saw a girl running away from Wingate’s building right after the murder. Now I don’t know exactly what percentage of male homosexuals are also transvestites—that is, dress up as women sometimes—but it certainly isn’t uncommon.” He paused. “And so here’s the thing, Paul. Supposing our witness didn’t see a girl running away from Wingate’s place. Supposing the person he thought was a girl was actually a male, dressed as a girl…”
Paul Manning’s shoulders slumped and his lips grew pale.
“I told you!” Edward Campbell suddenly whimpered. “I told you we were insane to try this! They know everything! Everything—do you hear?”
“Shut up, Uncle Ed!” Paul said.
“That Lambert has double-crossed us!” Campbell cried. “I knew he would! I knew we couldn’t trust him!”
“Shut up!” Paul said again, and made a sudden movement toward the older man.
Dave stepped between them. “None of that, Paul,” he said shortly. Then, to Campbell, “What was that about Lambert?”
Campbell looked at him, his round face twisted with fear. “He—he didn’t tell you?”
“Lambert told me nothing,” Dave said. “What’s he got to do with this?”
“Oh, God!” Campbell said. “It’s all over. I know it. We’re all going to the electric chair. I—”
“Get hold of yourself,” Dave said.
“But not me!” Campbell said. “I’m not going to the chair.” He pointed a trembling finger at Mrs. Manning. “She’s the one behind all this. She made me do what I did. She made me!”
“She made you do what?” Dave asked.
“Bribe Lieutenant Lambert,” Campbell said. “She was behind the whole thing.” He caught his breath, reaching out to grasp Dave’s arm. “If I turn state’s evidence, will they go easier with me? If I’m the first to tell you everything, will you see that they don’t put me in the—the electric chair? God, I—”
“I’ll do what I can,” Dave told him. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll see that you get whatever consideration’s coming to you.”
“You’ve got to swear you’ll help me!”
“I’ll do what I can,” Dave said again.
“Edward!” Mrs. Manning cried. “Edward!”
Campbell ignored her. “I’m not going to the electric chair just because they do—I won’t!”
“All right, Mr. Campbell,” Dave said. “What is it you want to tell me?”
“She made me do it,” Campbell said. “She came over to the hotel where I live and told me Paul was in trouble. She knew he was a homo, and she knew I knew it. She said he had been seen leaving a building where a man had been murdered and that if the police found out about it, it would ruin all of them. She said the police thought it was a girl, but that they’d find out sooner or later it was Paul, and then—”
“Wait a second,” Dave said. “How’d she know he had been seen leaving the building? That wasn’t in the papers.”
“Mr. Manning told her.”
“Is he mixed up in this?”
“No. But it was his job to know things like that, and he mentioned it at the house. He doesn’t have a thing to do with this. He never even knew that Paul was a homo.”
“All right. Go on.”
“My sister gave me five thousand dollars and told me that she knew Lieutenant Lambert was in charge of the case and that I might be able to bribe him. I was to see if I could get him to overlook Paul’s part, to sort of ease him out of the picture somehow. My sister said the police were holding a suspect, a man named Nolan, and that I was to see if Lambert could arrange things so that all the blame fell on this other man. I met Lambert in a bar and—”
“Hold on,” Dave said. “You said a minute ago that your sister made you do what you did. How’d she make you?”
“She said she’d never give me another dime if I didn’t,” Campbell said. “I have a nervous affliction, and I can’t work. Our parents left me nothing in their wills, and if it hadn’t been for the money my sister gave me every month I’d have had to beg in the streets. I knew she meant it, about cutting me off, and I knew I’d never see another penny as long as I lived.”
Dave looked at Mrs. Manning. She seemed on the verge of collapsing, as if she were having great difficulty in getting her breath. Paul Manning stood quite motionless, hands thrust deep in his trouser pockets, watching Campbell with cold, narrowed eyes, his lips compressed in a contemptuous smirk.
“Ad right,” Dave said. “You met Lambert—then what happened?”
“He agreed to go along, but then he called later and told me he wanted the gun, the murder gun, and when I met him again and gave it to him he said he wanted another fifteen thousand dollars. My sister got the bank where she has her account to keep two clerks working all night to get it together in the size bills Lambert wanted.”
“Is that what Mrs. Manning has in her hatbox?”
“Yes. She was to meet me here this morning, and then I was to take the money to Lambert.”
“Did Lambert know who you were?”
“No. I used the name Edmonds.” Campbell took out his handkerchief and mopped at the sweat on his forehead. “You’ve got to protect me from Lambert,” he said. “When he finds out what I’ve told you, he’ll try to kill me.”
“You won’t have to worry about Lambert,” Dave said. “That’s one thing I can promise you.” He turned to Paul. “Well, Paul?”
Paul laughed softly, bitterly. “What’s the use? This farce has gone on long enough. Nothing could stop you now—nothing.”- He drew his right hand slowly from his pocket. Between thumb and forefinger there was a small capsule filled with white powder. He glanced at it, shrugged, and then looked at Dave. “I never really thought we’d put it over,” he said. “That’s why I bought this. It’s potassium cyanide. Very powerful, you know, and very fast. Takes only a few seconds, they tell me. I bought it the day after I killed Bruce. I didn’t think I’d have to use it quite so soon—” he shrugged again ”—but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
“Drop that,” Dave said softly. “Don’t be a damn fool, Paul.”
Mrs. Manning screamed, tried to get to her feet, and then slumped back against the cushions. The hatbox rolled from her lap and halfway across the floor.
Paul glanced at her. “Maybe it’s best that mother fainted,” he said. “I wouldn’t want her to see this.”
“Listen, Paul,” Dave said, “you—”
“It’s no use,” Paul said. “I know I’m too young to go to the chair, but neither do I intend to spend the rest of my life where they’d send me. I couldn’t stand that. I’d die a thousand times there before I got another chance to do what I’m going to do now.”
“Paul, listen to me!”
Paul smiled thinly. “Haven’t the time. I’ve just time to tell you that you were right about what happened. I went over to Bruce’s apartment that night, dressed in drag, wearing the shoes Bruce had given me and a dress I’d bought that same day. Bruce and I had an understanding that neither of us would have anything to do with any other man. But when I got to his apartment, Bruce was drunk and he had this man, this Tommy Nolan, there. Nolan was passed out on the studio couch. Bruce was just tight enough to be bitchy, and he kept baiting me. He knew how jealous I was of him. He said he’d picked Tommy up, and he hinted at things, and all at once I got so furious that I ran to the desk where I knew Bruce kept a gun. I jerked the gun out of the drawer and shot him.” He shuddered. “It was horrible. I was terrified. I knew I had to get out of there. That’s all I could think about—getting away. I took off my high heels and ran down the stairs and up the street.
“When I got around the corner, I realized I still had the gun with me. I’d been carrying it in the same hand with my shoes. I guess I sort of came to my senses then, and I put my shoes back on and caught a cross-town bus. I rode all the way across the city, and then I got out and caught a cab and came back here to my apartment.” He glanced toward Mrs. Manning and then back at Dave. “The next morning I went to my mother and told her what I’d done. I wanted her to tell my father and get him to help me. You see, even then I realized I’d be caught…. But mother… Well, she thought there might be a chance this other way, and she talked me into letting her try it.” He shook his head. “We were fools—ah of us.”
Dave took a step forward. “Give me that capsule. Paul.”
Paul raised the capsule toward his lips. “Sorry, but I’d rather die quickly, like this, than slowly in the place you’d send—”
Dave darted in and jabbed a straight left to the point of Paul Manning’s jaw. Paul sighed softly and sank to the floor. The white capsule dribbled from his fingers and rolled to a stop against Mrs. Manning’s hatbox. Dave stared down at Paul a moment, and then he walked to the phone to call the station house.
Two hours later Dave Kimberly sat in Lieutenant Tyner’s cramped little office, watching the squad commander adjusting the tape on the recorder.
“I’m sorry about Steve, sir,” he said. “I know how you felt about him.”
Tyner threw a toggle switch on the front of the recorder and extended the hand microphone to Dave. “What are you sorry about? You acted like a cop, and that’s all I ever asked of anybody. Just go ahead and make your report, that’s all.”
But Dave had watched the hawk-faced man age visibly in the last two hours, and he knew how it was with him.
“This is going to turn this town upside down,” Tyner said. “Not just the department, Dave.”
“I know that, sir. I’m sorry that—”
“Will you for God’s sake stop being sorry! It’s happened, that’s all. Now, all we can do is try to convince this town that Steve Lambert was the one sour apple in the barrel. I don’t give a good Goddamn what happens to the Mannings or Campbell, and I especially don’t give a Goddamn what happens to Steve. But what I do care about is all the cops that’ll get a bust in the mouth out of this…. All the guys who do their job the best they can— all the good cops who’d break your arm if you even mentioned a bribe to them. And it won’t be only here in Riverton that cops’ll suffer for what Steve did, either. All over the country people are going to read about this—and there goes another black eye for all cops everywhere; from town constables to chiefs of police.
“I know, sir,” Dave said. “I—”
“You say you’re sorry one more time, and I’ll kick you right out of this office,” Tyner said. He paused, then rubbed splayed fingers across his face as if to erase some of the tiredness there. “I didn’t mean that, Dave. This thing has got me half nuts, I guess. All I know for sure is that I want to get my hands on Steve Lambert.”
“It’s odd, how he did,” Dave said. “You say he just signed in this morning, and then turned right around and left again?”
“Yeah. The bastard came in with Wingate’s gun, and Tom Nolan’s confession, and another statement from William Strober. He said Walt found the gun in a chandelier over at Wingate’s apartment and that the prints checked out to Nolan. I asked him what about the statement, and he said he’d seen Strober again and that Strober had wanted to change it.”
Tyner shook his head slowly. “And to think I fell for all that! The only good break we’ve had so far is picking up Strober at the airport. And we wouldn’t even have done that, if the stake-out we had at Wingate’s place after Walt got off duty hadn’t seen Strober jump in a cab with his suitcases. And speaking of Walt—there’s a thing for you. I had to threaten him with everything in the book before he’d admit that Steve had found the gun in that chandelier and had wanted to give Walt the credit. Well, we damn well know why he wanted to—and Nolan says Steve knocked him out in his cell, so that must be when Steve got Nolan’s prints on the gun.”
“We’d get Lambert all right, sir,” Dave said.
“You’re damn right we’ll get him! And when we do, I’m going to turn that son of a bitch every way but loose. When he gets out of the pen he’ll be so damn old he’ll have to ask a cop to help him across the street.”
Dave stared at the hand mike thoughtfully a moment, then he depressed the Talk button and began his report.
When Steve Lambert had left Tyner’s office that morning, he had felt in a better mood than he had known for weeks. The pressure of framing Tommy Nolan was off him, the prospect of many more times in Carol Nolan’s back bedroom was pleasant to anticipate, and the twenty thousand dollars he would soon have hidden away in the basement at the station house gave him a feeling of security he had never felt before.
Normally, he would rather have worked than done anything else, but this morning was different. The thought of asking Tyner for a few hours off had come while he was talking to him, and he had asked without actually considering it.
Now, as he sat in the cool dark bar and sipped at his drink, he was glad the whim had come to him. The days when everything was very nearly perfect were all too few, and a cool dark bar was exactly the place to enjoy them. Especially if you’d worked hard all night and your eyes were a little tired.
He swirled the ice cube around in his glass and thought about Carol Nolan. He had begun to feel the need of her about an hour ago, and the need had been building steadily and pleasurably ever since. It was nice to sit here and know that she’d be waiting when you wanted her—to savor the anticipation of how it would be with her. With Carol, each time was like the first time such a thing had happened since the world began, and each time was better than the last.
He looked at his watch, frowning a little, surprised that it was already five minutes past twelve. He shrugged and lifted his drink again. There was no hurry. No hurry at all.
By the time he had finished the drink, he was ready for Carol. The gradual building of desire had changed subtly to the demanding urgency he had experienced before.
He paid his bar tab and went out into the white glare of the sunlight to find a cab.
Fifteen minutes later he stepped into Carol Nolan’s living room, and then stopped short to stare at her. She was wearing four-inch heels and a green silk jersey dress that clung to the swelling curves of her young body so snugly that he could see the outlines of her lingerie. He had never seen her blue eyes quite so bright.
“I was sort of expecting you again,” she said tonelessly. “But not so soon.”
He let his eyes rove the length of her body and back again. “Jesus,” he said softly.
“What do you want this time?” she asked.
He smiled at her. “You kidding somebody?”
She looked at him fixedly. “I was just going out,” she said. “I have business downtown.”
“You’ve got business right here,” he said. “Right here, and right now.” He smiled. “It was nice of you to turn in a complaint against me. The personnel officer left me a note about it, but it got shoved under my desk blotter and I didn’t find it until early this morning.”
“It was a waste of time, I suppose.”
“Sure was—except that maybe it did your conscience a little good.”
“Uh-huh. Now the way I see it, Mrs. Nolan, is that you liked it in the hay with me. But of course you couldn’t admit that, even to yourself, you having a husband in jail and a baby and all, and so you made the complaint. But you knew all along it wouldn’t do any good. You just did it because then you could tell yourself that you’d tried to do right but nobody would let you. Trouble is, Tommy probably worshipped you, and guys like that aren’t worth a damn in the hay. I’ll bet the first time with me was the first time you ever knew how good it could get.”
She moistened her lips. There was something strange about her eyes now, Steve saw, something he could not quite define. He reached behind him, hooked the screen door, and nodded toward the rear of the house.
“I shouldn’t always be the one who has to suggest what we do next,” he said.
She flushed, and then, not looking at him, moved past him toward the bedroom.
Steve heeled the door shut behind him. He slipped off his jacket, hung it over the back of a chair, and then unbuckled his shoulder harness with the short-barreled gun. He draped the harness and gun over the jacket and moved toward Carol.
She looked at him, and he could see the tiny fires deep in the blue eyes. There was no fear there, no revulsion, and as he studied the expression in her eyes understanding came to him and he realized that the things he had said to her were true. There could be no mistake. He had seen that hungry look in women’s eyes far too often for that. He had been trying to bait her, but in the baiting he had struck the truth.
She closed her eyes and raised her arms to him, breathing rapidly now, her lower lip trembling.
She had liked it with him, he knew. She had wanted it as much as he had. And she wanted it now.
And with this new knowledge came a sudden warmth, a flow of feeling that first seemed no different from passion, no different from the lust that had crawled so many times through his body. But it was different. There was none of the urgency about it that he had come to associate with the call of flesh. There was none of the furious fervor, the senseless demanding drive that could be whetted in only one way.
This was just as warm, just as full-blooded. The difference was the way it relaxed him.
He took her into his arms, feeling the demanding pressure of her breasts against his chest.
“Poor Tommy,” he said, and laughed softly. “Jesus, if he could only see us now….”
He felt her body go rigid. Her eyes came wide open.-And now the revulsion was there again, and it was intense.
“God,” she gasped. “I—I must have been insane!” She put her hands flat against his chest and pushed herself away from him. There was a tone of self-loathing in her voice. “To think I actually wanted to—to…” Suddenly her mouth twisted, and then, moving so quickly her body seemed to Steve almost a green blur, she ducked beneath his arm and behind him.
He whirled around toward her, but he was too late. He stared straight into the short, ugly snout of his own revolver.
“You bastard!” Carol choked. “You God-damned filthy bastard!”
“Carol!” Steve said. “Don’t! For God’s sake, don’t!”
Her eyes were steady now, round and hard and almost black. She held the gun with one hand, and with the other she reached up and ripped the green dress all the way down to her belt. She grasped one of the short, puff sleeves and ripped it loose, and then she tore the narrow belt from her waist.
She drew her lips back from her teeth and stared at him, and the laugh that came from her throat was like no laugh Steve had ever heard before.
“They called me,” she said. “The police called me. Not fifteen minutes ago. They said they knew who killed that florist, and that it wasn’t Tommy at all. Tommy didn’t have anything to do with it!”
“God,” Steve whispered.
She moved a step nearer to him. “They’re letting Tommy go. Do you hear that, you bastard? I was on my way to rum when you came. If you’d come a minute later, I wouldn’t have been here at all.”
She took another step toward him, laughing at him while she hooked her fingers in the frothy white material of her brassiere and ripped it apart.
“You know what’s going to happen?” she asked. “People are going to think you tried to rape me. They’ll see me like this, and you with your face clawed, and they’re going to believe everything I tell them. I’m going to scream, so that people will come running—but you’ll never see them. Before anyone can get here, you’re going to be dead.”
Steve shook his head slowly, his eyes pleading with her. “For God’s sake,” he gasped, “don’t—”
“I’ll scratch your face plenty,” she said. “I’ll make it look good. I’ll scratch your eyes out, you son of a bitch! Nobody will ever doubt me when they see the way we look.” Her voice was rising now. “You’re never going to do anybody else the way you did Tommy and me! Never!”
Steve went down to his knees before her. He tried to speak, but his lips and throat were numb, and the words would not come.
He was still trying to speak when Carol Nolan screamed and pulled the trigger.