Harold R Daniels
Mollison turned his heavy car from the traffic-burdened main street into the comparative solitude of a backwash of asphalt alley that split two buildings built of old pink brick. Even in the way he drove his car, Lou Morgan thought, Mollison had a flamboyance, a dash. He was not certain that he liked it in Mollison, but he envied Mollison’s ability to change his mannerisms as he would have changed a suit. Mollison followed the asphalt between the two walls of brick that shut out the June sunlight until, where still another brick building dammed it, it widened into a long pool of parking space. Here Mollison stopped the car and pointed.
“There,” he said. “You couldn’t find a more perfect place. In a hundred years they wouldn’t look for the kid there.” He sat back with the air of having achieved a minor triumph. Morgan glanced unwillingly in the direction of Mollison’s gesture. Until now, Mollison’s plan had been some thing they just talked about; something they might someday do. They had the place now, and there remained only the time to be set. The plan was taking on a sickening reality.
Mollison had pointed in the direction of a tiny abutment to the main building; a low shed of brick from which sprouted a tremendous chimney, round at the base and tapering at the top like some mighty cannon aimed at the sky.
Mollison talked on. “I’ve got a key,” he said. “I kept it when I was with Decker, Real Estate.” He added with a touch of scornful condescension, “I told him he’d never make a dime from the account.”
And Decker and Son are worth three quarters of a million dollars, Morgan thought sourly. What was Mollison worth? A hundred dollars? Two hundred maybe?
The two men got out of the car and walked toward the small building at the base of the chimney. Once away from the alley that led into this brick cul-de-sac, they were surrounded by towering pink walls. The old Maynard Mills they were called; a complex of weave sheds and spinning rooms that spread over many acres. The textile machinery was gone, sold for scrap metal long years ago, but the old brick buildings still stood. Too expensive to maintain—too hard to pull down.
There was a scattering of cars in the open court between the buildings. Morgan hesitated. “Won’t they notice us going into the building?” he asked.
Mollison waved his hand. “These people? Don’t worry about it. Somebody gets hold of a few dollars and starts a business in this old rats’ nest because Decker lets them have floor space for nothing. Next month he’s broke and somebody else comes in. Don’t worry about it,” he repeated.
They reached the low building and Mollison unlocked the door and pushed it in. ‘The old boiler room,” he said proudly. “This is the place. It’s perfect.”
Morgan, glancing about, saw a maze of piping festooning the room. The boiler itself, its great doors open, took up one wall. Against the opposite wall stood an army cot with a filthy blanket for a cover. Against the third wall a pile of coal was heaped. Mollison kicked at a chunk that had rolled from the pile. “They haven’t used it in ten years,” he said. “Decker put in a little oil-fired boiler for a heating plant in the mill itself. This coal used to be piled up in the yard outside but Decker was afraid some of the poor bastards that live around here would steal it so he had it thrown in here.” He paused. “What about it, Lou?”
Morgan hesitated, not wanting to confirm his participation in Mollison’s plan. He was afraid of Mollison and of the act that Mollison wanted him to commit, but at the same time he did not want to give this thing up entirely. It had sounded, in earnest discussion on a score of occasions, so simple; so easy. And he wanted the money. He needed the money. He said doubtfully, “I guess it’s all right.”
Mollison nodded. “It won’t be for long, anyway. A day or two and then we’ll have the money and it will all be over.” He kicked at another lump of coal. It bounced halfway up the pile and a miniature avalanche came tumbling down. Mollison watched it absently and turned to face Morgan.
“You can’t change your mind now anyway,” he said quietly. “I’m going through with it and you know all about it. Maybe Patsy and me could do it without you—but not if you know about it. You’re in it as much as we are.”
“I’m in it,” Morgan said.
Mollison turned away. “Good,” he said. “You ought to be glad to break it off on Anacosta anyway. How long has he had you on the hook?”
Morgan said, “Three years.” He did not hate the moneylender, Anacosta, as bitterly as Mollison did. He could remain impersonal about it; doing what they planned to do, not for revenge, in any sense, but for money—out of his need for money. “I’ve been thinking about that,” he said. “Before they do anything else the police are going to investigate Anacosta’s—” he searched for a word and found it—“clients.”
Mollison shook his head. “He won’t call the police in if we handle things right. But all right, suppose he does? How many suckers do you think Anacosta has? Fifty? A hundred?” Mollison snorted scornfully. “Better than five hundred would be nearer right and most of them—a lot of them, anyway—are businessmen who get caught short.” He smiled. “They’d think you were a solid citizen if they came across your name. If they do check up on you what will they find? You’ll be at your job. You won’t have any open connection with this thing. Patsy will have the kid right here in this room.”
Morgan brought up the matter that he had skirted carefully up to this time, not wanting to face it in its brutal reality. “How are you going to let him go?” he asked. “He’ll be able to remember the place—and Patsy and you, for that matter.”
Mollison lit a cigarette and flicked the burned match toward the coal pile. “You don’t know Anacosta,” he said.
“He’s like all those Dagos. Works the hell out of his own kids but when they have kids of their own—well, he’s the kid’s grandpa; he’d do anything in the world for him. We’ll tell him that if he lets the kid open his mouth after we turn him loose, we’ll get the kid, one way or another. Or if he goes to the police after he has him back.” Mollison kept his voice casual, dismissing the subject by the very lightness with which he considered it.
Morgan was only partly reassured. “How long will we have to keep him here, do you think?” he asked.
“A day or so,” Mollison answered him. “Just until we get the money. That’s the weak spot—arranging to get the ransom. That’s right where most kidnappings break down. We’ve got to think of a way that’s safe and sure and foolproof.” He shrugged. “You’ve seen the place. Let’s get out of here.”
The two men left the boiler room, Mollison locking the door behind them, and walked back to the car. When they were headed back toward the downtown section Mollison turned and glanced at Morgan.
“You know,” he said, “I never figured out how you got on the hook with Anacosta in the first place. You’re not a gambler. I don’t know what you make in the bank but you must be good for a pretty good week’s pay. What did you do—get caught short taking money out of the till and have to see Anacosta and the mustache boys?”
Morgan asked stupidly, “The mustache boys?”
“The muscle men; Anacosta’s collectors,” Mollison said impatiently. “You didn’t think Anacosta was operating by himself, did you? How much do you owe?”
“Three hundred dollars,” Morgan said.
“Did he make you write him some predated checks?”
Morgan, wishing that Mollison would stop his infernal questioning—it was actually none of his business anyway—said, “Yes.”
Mollison snickered. “You wouldn’t want them to clear at the bank so I suppose you go out to his place and buy them back yourself as they come due. I’ll tell you what, Lou—you just miss picking one up for one week. One week, that’s all. And you’ll find out who the mustache boys are.” They were out of the business district now and rolling through a back street lined with great clumsy hulks of mansions. In front of one that had been converted into a rooming house Mollison pulled the car over to the curb. He turned the ignition switch and sat drumming lightly on the steering wheel with the palms of his hands. So calm, Morgan thought. He had to give him that. Mollison had nerve. “What about tonight?” Mollison asked. “You coming out to the club?”
Morgan nodded. “I guess so. What about Patsy—do you think we ought to talk to him tonight?”
Mollison shook his head.- “Not yet. Not until we’re absolutely ready to move. Patsy won’t talk if I tell him not to, but there isn’t any point in telling him about it just yet.”
Morgan opened the door on his side but he did not immediately get out. “Suppose he doesn’t want to go in with us?” he asked.
Mollison laughed in genuine amusement. “Patsy thinks I’m the next thing to God Almighty,” he said. “He’ll do anything in the world for me. Didn’t you ever see the way he looks at me? Like a hound dog. And I’ll cook up some story for him. Patsy will believe anything I tell him.”
Morgan had had no real doubt that Mollison could enlist Patsy. Poor, half-witted Patsy. A laugh; a real laugh when they got going on him at the club. And yet he had an almost tangible air of viciousness about him. Not everyone could recognize it, Morgan supposed. Maybe just those who saw Patsy through the dark glass of their own self-awareness.
Mollison said again, “I’ll see you tonight then?”
Morgan nodded, and Mollison waved casually and drove away. Morgan watched the car disappear around a corner before he turned and walked up the cracked cement path to the house. He moved slowly, not wanting to be alone with the thought that the last bridge had now been crossed. He was committed beyond all turning back to Mollison’s conspiracy to kidnap the eight-year-old grandson of Anacosta, the moneylender. A month ago it had been a matter for casual discussion, brought about by the coincidence of the widely publicized kidnapping of a banker’s son and the careless opinion—whose?—that Carmen Anacosta could put his hands on more money than even a banker could. Half a dozen men at the bar of Morgan’s club had been involved in the discussion, Morgan and Mollison among them. The remaining four men had forgotten the discussion as easily as they had entered it. Not Mollison. On the following evening, Morgan now remembered, he had brought up the subject of kidnapping again, this time for Morgan’s sole benefit and again as if casually.
“There hasn’t been any word on the Glennon kid,” he had said. “They’ll never find him.” He shook his head in doubtful admiration. “Fifty thousand dollars in small bills. How would you like to have half of fifty thousand dollars, Lou?”
There had been in the very wording of the question the suggestion of a partnership, Morgan now remembered. Half of fifty thousand. Half of an amount of money.
“I could use it,” he had admitted. Had it been such a terrible admission? Anybody could use half of fifty thousand dollars. Suppose he had added, “But I don’t need it bad enough to get it that way,” would Mollison have dropped the whole thing right then? Probably not. Mollison had seen something, some defect in Morgan’s character, and he had worked away at it, gnawing like a dog at a bone.
A night or so later he had nodded to Morgan at the bar of the seedy little club that they both belonged to merely because it gave them the privilege of drinking after hours. “Well,” he had said, “they got away with the money,” making it sound as if he had told Morgan that his favorite baseball team had won a crucial game….
Morgan walked through the first floor hallway to his room and entered it, locking the door behind him. Mollison had been very clever about the whole thing. He had never proposed; he had only suggested. “You know,” he had said once, “it wouldn’t be hard to kidnap someone if you planned it all out in advance.” And again, “I don’t see why they make such a big thing of it. It isn’t any worse than half a dozen other crimes.” And Morgan had agreed—in theory, at least—with this bit and that until Mollison decided it was safe to go further with him. Little by little Mollison had become more specific, pointing out that the Anacosta kid would be a natural, if anyone were to seek a logical victim. And one night he had sat in a booth at the club with Morgan and said, “Lou, I’m in a bad jam. I’ve got to have some money and I know how to get it—a lot of it. You’ve got plenty of larceny in you—don’t get sore; you’ve already admitted it lots of times. Between the two of us we can get enough to keep us both happy.”
Morgan had not been particularly shocked, now that he thought about it. Only afraid, and Mollison plausibly tried to quiet his fears. “This Anacosta is a moneylender; a thief. He won’t go to the police because there are too many things he doesn’t want them to know about—or the income tax people either. You ought to know.”
Morgan had, by that time, told Mollison of his own involvement with Anacosta. Later, thinking about it, he wondered if Mollison hadn’t known about it all along….
So it had started as a casual conversation about a kidnapping, and it had led to this. Here he was, safe in his room. Tomorrow or next week he would be party to a kidnapping….
Once he had agreed, Mollison had kept after him and after him, never letting up for a minute.
“The thing is to have a foolproof way of getting the money. That’s half the battle. We’ve got to work that out, Lou.”
And later: “You work in the Drover’s National—Anacosta has an account there. I’ve seen his checks in the car agency office. You see how it will work out, Lou? You’ll know right away if he makes a withdrawal to cover the ransom—and you’ll know if anyone makes a record of the serial numbers on the bills. If we hit him hard enough and fast enough there won’t be time for that—but one way or another, if we know about it in advance, we’ll know how to handle the money. How can we miss?”
And Morgan had made his own contribution to the plan. Between checking and savings accounts Anacosta, kept a balance of nearly fifty thousand dollars. When he told Mollison this—privileged information and thus his first criminal participation in the plan—Mollison had scoffed.
“You think that’s all? That’s just what he pays taxes on. Look, Lou. He’s got to have a safe deposit box. That’s how the discount boys do business. You watch him when he comes in the bank. Could you make an excuse to go in the vault if he goes there?”
Morgan could and he did, and he had just a brief glimpse of a great deal of money in thick, opulent sheaves. This had pleased Mollison. “All right,” he said. “We’ll tell him seventy-five thousand dollars.”
Morgan threw himself down on the bed. Would he back out now even if he could? Mollison’s plan seemed to be foolproof. And he could use half of seventy-five thousand dollars. Ah, God—just once not to be poor. Just once to be free—off the hook with Anacosta and back in a secure position of decent respectability with the bank.
All of his life Louis Morgan had been poor. Not the unashamed, patched pants poverty of the West Side but genteel poor, which was infinitely worse. If you lived, as the Morgans did, on Argonne Street, you would literally starve before you would accept relief. He had heard his mother say a hundred times that she would do just that. He remembered her now as he lay on his bed and tried to get Mollison and his plan out of his mind. She was a gaunt woman who hugged to her breast the fact that she had married a Morgan. Not the main branch of the family but nevertheless a Morgan. Louis was thereby also a Morgan and subject to all of the obligations of family with none of the advantages. His father had been a common drunkard with no redeeming or endearing characteristics; a little wretch of a man bullied by a world he could never quite cope with. The house on Argonne Street had been an inheritance. Louis’s father would have sold it a dozen times over if his wife had let him. It was a monstrous ark of a place; impossible to heat even if there had been money for coal and for insulating the roof. There never was. She made him keep the house and be damned to the cold. It was a symbol to her. An Argonne Street address.
Morgan thought for years after her death that he had inherited her personality, and it was only after his father’s death, much later, that he realized with something approaching horror that he “took after” his father almost completely. Such of his mother’s character as he could find in himself, he discovered, had been bludgeoned into him by the sheer mass of her will.
More than once she had spent the money that was needed for food to buy him shoes or a new coat. “You’re a Morgan,” she would say fiercely. “You can’t go to school looking like some ragamuffin from the West Side.”
When he had a chance to take over a paper route that would bring in a few badly needed dollars each week, she made him refuse it. “You’re a Morgan,” she said. “You don’t have to peddle papers like some immigrant’s son.” This at a time when they had lived on corn-meal mush for three consecutive days.
He remembered his father having a succession of jobs ranging from night clerk in a hotel to sales clerk in a hardware store. None of the jobs lasted for any long period of time and after a while there was not even the optimistic pretense that they would. The name Morgan—even a minor branch—had a certain value and it led to an occasional decent job for his father; the length of time he held it being determined by the date of his next drunken payday. When Louis was eleven his father was given such a job. He was hired as assistant manager of a travel agency; the thought of his employer being that he might attract other and richer Morgans. He was given access to substantial amounts of cash, and the temptation was far beyond his control. He took what he could put his hands on, abandoning his wife, his son and the house on Argonne Street. He was gone for a week, and at the end of that time he returned, white and shaken. Louis happened to be in the kitchen; he had just come home from school when his father came in at the back door. His mother was also in the kitchen. His father closed the door behind him and asked nervously, “Are they looking for me?”
His mother said furiously, “Of course they are. Get out. Get out. Don’t let them arrest you here. Why did you come back anyway?”
His father shrugged his thin shoulders. “I’m broke,” he said. “I got drunk, I guess, and somebody rolled me. I’m hungry, Clara.”
She hissed at him. “So are we.” Her voice rose. “Get out, now. Go on away from here. I don’t want you to get caught where people know us.” She put both hands on his shoulders and thrust him toward the door. Louis, frightened, began to cry.
Someone had seen his father sneak in at the back door and reported it to the police—or perhaps they were watching the house all along. At the moment that she pushed him toward the door, it opened and two uniformed policemen shouldered their way inside. “All right, Morgan,” one of them said, “you’re under arrest.”
Louis retained a vivid memory of the neighbors out on their front porches, watching as they pushed his father—he seemed so weak and so small beside the two policemen—into a patrol car and drove away, with a screaming of the siren. His mother stayed inside, weeping with humiliation. Louis Morgan continued to cry, and he did not know then whether it was out of pity for his father or out of that same humiliation that agonized his mother.
His mother died when he was just out of high school, and the house went for taxes in that same year. He would have liked to have kept it but he did not fight for it with his mother’s passion. He found that he was quite as comfortable in a rooming house.
He had been unpopular in high school and in his years at the Drover’s Bank. He had fallen into the face-saving device of reciprocity—if they didn’t like him, he didn’t like them. He told himself that it was because he was a Morgan. A poor one but a Morgan nevertheless and consequently a little above the average run.
When he had been at the Drover’s Bank for five years he received a letter from the warden at the State Penitentiary. His father, it informed him, had died—of natural causes—and did he wish to claim the body?
Morgan had not thought of his father in years. There had been a rather pitiful letter of sympathy when his mother had died, but he had never accepted the overture by answering it. In his room he read the letter informing him of his father’s death, and when he had finished it he felt an aching pity for the dead man. Poor old man. Dying alone in a prison without a friend in the world. Out of his remorse, Morgan traced bonds between himself and his father, and it was then that he decided he was not his mother’s son at all. He was his father’s image. He too was alone and friendless. He too was mediocre and overburdened with living up to a family name that had done nothing for him. And having risked this moment of honest insight, he immediately felt a compulsion to disprove it.
He joined the club where he was later to meet Howard Morrison, not so much because it permitted him to buy liquor after hours but because he could refer, in wash-room conversations with the other employees of the bank, to “my club.” The implication was that it was a country club or a downtown fraternal club. Actually it was a seedy little bottle club of no standing.
He began to attend bazaars and balls where socialites mingled with the common people in the name of charity. He scrimped and saved to buy fairly decent clothes, and he took great pleasure in standing on the side lines as if he were merely lending his presence. It was this pattern of behavior that finally got him into trouble, entangled him with Carmen Anacosta, and made him a conspirator with Howard Morrison.
He danced, at one such affair, With a dowager, and when they introduced each other, she repeated, “Morgan? Louis Morgan?”
He said casually, “Yes, I’m with the Drover’s Bank.”
“I don’t know why I haven’t met you before, Mr. Morgan. I know some of your family, don’t I?”
“I’m sure you do. I don’t get out very often myself. The bank, you know.”
He let it be known that he had lived on Argonne Street and that he had sold the house. Too big, you know, and the taxes were fantastic. The upshot of the conversation with the dowager was that he was asked to visit her on her estate for the week end.
It was a year—and a group—in which there were more women than men. Morgan, had he been possessed of a little more money or a great deal more charm, could have fitted in with the group he met on that first week end. He did fit in, for a time. He began to go to expensive night clubs with the younger crowd. He went at first with some embarrassment; he had no idea what it might cost him and he was relieved when someone else picked up the check. Someone always seemed to pick up the check,-and he had no idea that the men of the group he was traveling with kept a rough sort of accounting of who paid and when. Morgan never volunteered to pay. There came a night when, after dinners and drinks, one of the men took him aside and asked coldly, “Isn’t it about your time to pick up the tab, Morgan?”
He had perhaps ten dollars in his pocket, and the check would amount to something over a hundred. Morgan made some foolish, fumbling excuse. Forgot his billfold. The man said, “I thought so,” and turned away.
He had to redeem his standing; had to. There was a theater party scheduled for the next evening. There would be dinner afterward. In his cage at the bank Morgan estimated what the entire affair would cost. Something like three hundred dollars. He had nothing like three hundred dollars and he couldn’t arrange a loan in so brief a time. There was money available.” Right in front of him, neatly packaged. The tellers didn’t check their money each night with the cashier. They merely locked it in their cash boxes. Morgan took three hundred dollars, reassuring himself that it was only because there was no time to arrange a formal loan.
He paid for the theater tickets and the dinners. He was not flamboyant about it, but there was a slightly hysterical quality about the way he demanded the check, and he was too elaborately casual when he glanced at the check and put money on the waiter’s tray. They could tell, he knew later. They could tell. The invitations stopped coming. There was the matter of the three hundred dollars. In the cold light of the next day he became aware of his position. He could not borrow from the loan department of his own bank. The cashier might—just might—want to check his cash box without waiting until Friday. He could hardly go to another bank and give his own bank as a reference. There remained Carmen Anacosta, the moneylender.
He borrowed three hundred dollars from Anacosta. He was to pay back four hundred. To secure the loan he gave the money lender ten forty-dollar checks, predated a week apart. The system was simple and sure. If he failed either to pick up the checks as they came due or to deposit enough money to cover them he became guilty of issuing fraudulent checks and the law would then work for Anacosta. Because of his position in the bank, Morgan preferred to pick up the checks from Anacosta for cash as they became due. After he had paid off the three hundred dollars—plus interest—Morgan was free for a time. Then he borrowed again when he was invited to the Adirondacks by a hostess who had been abroad and who had not received the word that Morgan was—he faced it—a phony. He was never again quite out of debt to Anacosta….
He lay on the bed in the rooming house and convinced himself that Mollison was right. Anacosta was a Dago Shylock. He was fair game for anyone with the nerve to take him. Only, he wished that he could be sure that it was going to be as simple and as harmless as Mollison claimed.
After dropping Morgan at his rooming house, Mollison turned the car back downtown and stopped in front of a bar. He wanted a drink—needed a drink—badly. Morgan was showing a bad yellow streak and it had taken all his salesman’s persuasion to keep him in line when every nerve in his own big body was stretched and raw with strain. He could hate Morgan for demanding persuasion and assurance when he had need of every last power of thought to save himself. So many things to remember, to keep straight, dates and names in a book, each of them a hangman’s trap to be tripped by a moment’s carelessness. The Anacosta business would have to be taken care of soon.
There were two or three men at the bar when Mollison entered. He put a bill down and said, “Scotch.” Then, unable to resist making the gesture, he added, “Give these fellows whatever they’re having.” They would look his way now and murmur their thanks, nod their approval. They would envy him for a big, breezy, well-dressed man with the money to buy drinks for whomever he wished, and this, to Mollison, was of the greatest importance. If enough people thought you were a somebody, you could almost convince yourself that you were what they thought you were, instead of what you knew you were in the thin hours of the morning. When the bartender brought his change he pointedly did not glance at it. Instead, he looked at his own reflection in the mirror. His face was, like his body, big—but with its hard lines blurring like the sharp edges of an ice cube in a highball and becoming rounder, softer just as the big body was changing. All right—at forty a man had to lose some of his edge of condition. Mollison sipped at his drink, keeping his eyes averted from those of the other men at the bar and simulating a preoccupation with weighty matters to discourage any overtures. Mollison needed their approval and he blossomed under their admiration, but he had learned that their conversation was apt to be either dull or maudlin.
He glanced at the clock behind the bar. Ten minutes past five. Bar clocks were set ten minutes ahead; that made it just five and if he hurried he could get back to the office before Lillian left for the day. She would be looking for him and she would be sullen and sarcastic if he didn’t show up. The hell with her. He would stall her as he had a score of times before with some story about a prospect. Right now, with all the things he had on his mind, he couldn’t face the thought of seeing Lillian.
He ordered another drink. The other men at the bar, he was aware, had been waiting for this moment. Would he buy another round? Big, well-dressed guy like that, he just might. When the bartender brought his drink he did not this time nod in their direction, and they turned resignedly away. In another mood Mollison might have bought the second round, but the thought of Lillian irritated him, made him perverse. Damn Lillian. Damn her money, too, which she never let a man forget. Never let a man forget that she signed the paychecks either. In a way you could say that she had gotten him into this mess, but who would have figured her to be the way she was? And she liked to whittle away at his confidence too and what was a salesman without confidence?
He had had it once; really had it. Way back in high school—even then he could sell anything, promote anything. Advertisements for the class book. Punch board chances on radios—you name it, he could sell it. Mollison smiled at the recollection. A lot of the people he’d solicited for the class book gave him money and then told him that they’d prefer to remain anonymous. He had kept the bulk of the anonymous donations since there was no way in which he could be checked. The punch boards had had rigged winners or no winners at all.
Mollison ordered another drink and looked again at the clock. Too early to eat and too late to go on back to the office. He started reminiscing again, enjoying it, using it as an excuse to avoid thinking of the Anacosta business.
Those had been good years and there had been better ones to follow. College; two years of it and even as a sophomore he had been a big man. A big man physically, too; looking older than his classmates. There had been a fad for panty raids even then and he had gotten into the room of a sexy looking sorority pledge. The bitch, he thought. She had given him every possible come on and then had hollered rape when they got caught. So that had been the end of college. They called it assault and got her to drop the charges and told him to be on the next train out of town. So what? By that time he had known the score. Enough so that he decided never to work for a living. Not a big, bluff, hearty looking guy like himself. But that sorority bitch. She’d had it coming. Mollison wished he could run into something like that instead of what he had—Lillian.
There was the Army. Two years of it and it hadn’t been so bad.
Knowing the score as he did, he had put in for the Quartermaster Corps and assignment to the European Theater and he hadn’t missed a bet after he got over there. There was a clique; a loose sort of club in the services. Its members were the men who were out for what they could get and no bones about it. The top echelons were the pilots who had regular runs back to the United Kingdom where pounds were pegged at half and even a third of what they would bring on the continent. The low ranks bullied German housewives into surrendering Leica cameras and Zeiss binoculars for chits presumably authorized by various town majors.
Mollison’s own particular racket had been sugar with an occasional melon of penicillin from Medical Corps supplies. Two years of it and Mollison rotated back to the United States and a discharge with close to ten thousand dollars in cash. He had never heard a shot fired in anger, but would become theatrically sullen when asked about his service overseas. “I’d rather not talk about it,” he would say, hoping that this would create the impression that he had seen things too grim to remember, which was effective with a certain type of woman. Or again he would loudly explain how he despised men who bragged about their combat records when most of them had never been overseas. Thereafter he would tell some rather colorful and completely fictitious adventures of his own.
The ten thousand dollars lasted only a few months. Mollison spent it in Miami and in Las Vegas, and when it was gone he became a salesman and it made no difference what he sold. Bonds—real estate—it didn’t matter. For a big, hearty guy like himself there were always selling jobs. He smiled at another recollection. It was a good thing there were a lot of jobs because he had gone through them fast enough. Drinking and high living but mostly women—young, expensive women.
He ordered another drink. All that money, he thought. Now he was jammed up over a few thousand dollars—really jammed up to the point where this Anacosta thing was the only way he could get enough quick money to square himself. Once he had made thirty thousand dollars in one year. That was real estate—the real estate market right after the war when the Veteran’s Administration was approving anything with a coat of paint on it and the banks were standing in line to put up the money.
Mollison sipped at his drink, knowing from experience the way it would take hold, lifting him up and letting him forget about the jam and about Lillian. He chuckled again at the thought of the real estate deal he had had. What a pitch it had been. “Here you are folks. This is what you call solid construction. Take a look at that kitchen, lady. Every modern convenience. Look at all the outlets. (But don’t plug in more than one appliance on that number fourteen wire or you’ll blow a fuse.) What’s that? Plaster walls? Nobody uses plaster any more, mister. You want a damp house? That’s what plaster does for you. Dry wall, that’s what you want. (Only don’t let Junior hit it with his tricycle or he’ll go right through it.) That’s inlaid linoleum there. You like the pattern? Tell you what—we got another house going up down the street. You buy it and I’ll let you have your choice of patterns. (Just don’t come early and see the junk wood we’re hiding with the linoleum, lady.) Sewer? You want to pay sewer taxes? What’s wrong with a septic tank? You can’t beat a septic tank. (Just so you don’t have an automatic washing machine or like to take a bath every day.) I tell you folks, this is a house. Did you notice that every one in the development is different? This is going to be a wonderful community in another year.”
Wonder what the houses looked like now, Mollison mused. He hadn’t stayed around a year to see if the development really became a wonderful community. There had been some trouble about down-payment money—he had clipped the contractor for a bundle with that dodge—and after that it didn’t make sense to hang around. Not when there were other cities and other real estate developments. And when the VA tightened up so you couldn’t make a hard sell of a cracker-box house on filled land any more, somebody came along with the aluminum combination-window deal.
“Lady, I’m glad you mentioned that. Some of our competitors say they have genuine self-storing windows. Maybe they have—but they can’t sell them at a price to match ours. (These store all right. But wait till you try to un-store the screens next fall.) You don’t want to go on heating all outdoors all winter do you? Of course you don’t. These windows and doors will pay for themselves in two years time in fuel bills alone. You don’t have to pay for them now. Just make a deposit and we’ll deliver and install your windows in two weeks.”
There wasn’t as much money in the windows as there had been in the houses, but there was enough and there was the advantage that sometimes—not often but just once in a while—you bumped into a bored young housewife who acted as if she might like to play games. Easy enough to find out. You made an off-color remark. Not really smutty but enough so that she got the idea. If she took that and laughed you made a pass. If she went for that you were in—and if she changed her mind afterward, that was her tough luck. What could she do? Holler rape and then have to live down the talk?
So aluminum windows for a couple of years until the Better Business Bureau and a lot of government snoopers killed that turkey; and then back to real estate, here in this town. Not new houses, this time. Regular real estate for Decker and Son and strictly no pressuring. And by God he’d showed them that he was a salesman. He’d done as well as anyone else; moved some tough property. Then Decker had accused him of misrepresenting some property—not that he minded misrepresentation, the dried-up old bastard, but in this case it had cost him some money so he fired Mollison. After that, for the first time—in how many years?—it had been a little harder to get a job. He had had to take a job—straight commission, no salary—with a cemetery promoter, working from a telephone in a boiler room filled with other telephones and other bluff, hearty men. “This is Howard Mollison, Mrs. Smith. I represent the Green Lawns Association. You’re familiar with the name, I’m sure.” Making it fast, keeping the voice low pitched to catch the interest of the housewife on the other end of the wire before she realized that it was a pitch and hung up. Swapping dirty jokes and pictures between times with the other men. Working his tail off while the closers made the real money. He had stood a month of it before he met Lillian Kramer in a downtown cocktail lounge. And hadn’t that been something!
Mollison’s memory of the meeting with Lillian was acute, sharpened by the abrasiveness of his present hatred for her. She was forty-two years old—she said—on the night that he first saw her, which was over a year ago; a stocky woman with a sallow complexion and brassy yellow hair. She was girdled so tightly that her figure, from the front, was as parallel as a post, and her bust billowed from the pressure. Mollison, looking at her in amused contempt over the rim of his glass, had said to the bartender, “Hey, Jerry—what in hell is that?”
Jerry had glanced in her direction. “That’s a quarter of a million dollars,” he had said matter-of-factly. “Her name is Kramer. She owns an automobile agency.” Seeing Mollison’s expression he had cautioned, “If you want to move in there, watch it. She didn’t come here to get picked up.”
Taking the warning for what it was worth, Mollison moved slowly; he had no particular plan in mind, but Jerry’s remark was a challenge. And you never knew what you could do if you got close enough to that kind of money. Rather than try to catch her eye or send a drink to her table or any of the obvious overtures, he had waited until there was a particularly noisy outburst from a group farther down the bar. Then he had turned and caught her eye and managed to get into his own expression a sort of weary resignation to such poor manners; a sort of “isn’t it too bad we have to put up with this kind of people” look which automatically established his own status as that of a gentleman. She had responded with half a smile; but he had turned away from her, taking it easy. He didn’t actually speak to her until several evenings later.
Once he had eased into the habit of talking with her he found her only a little more difficult to handle than a hundred other women he had known. The fact that she came to the same cocktail lounge night after night showed that she was interested. Knowing that he would probably be there she could have gone somewhere else if she wasn’t interested. After a time he suggested that they visit another place he knew of. From there it was only a series of familiar steps. Dinner. A nightcap in her apartment…
Mollison made his discoveries. She did have an automobile agency, left to her by a dead husband; and she ran it with an iron grip and total efficiency. She did have a quarter of a million dollars and she intended to hang on to every cent of it. He discovered later still that she was two women—the executive, wearing expensive dresses and a cold front over the grasping cunning of her French peasant breeding; and a mixture of wanton and harridan when away from her office in the agency. And she never mixed her characters. Mollison, after he was fairly well entrenched as her companion and lover, asked her for a job.
He got it but on a strictly business basis. And up until three weeks ago he hadn’t made a nickel from it that he hadn’t earned. Three weeks ago.
Mollison finished his drink and ordered another. He had been drinking too much lately, but what could a man do? He had been living in a sick fright for the last three weeks; jumping whenever the telephone rang, the mailman came, another salesman took a contract to the bank. The Anacosta thing had to go through. He could square Lillian if he had enough money. He couldn’t just pack up and get out of town the way he used to do. This time they would have him on a felony and he had no doubt whatever that Lillian would swear out a fugitive warrant for him within ten minutes after she found out. And they would find him, sure as God made little apples. If he wanted proof he had only to remember—as if he could forget—that day three weeks ago when the whole thing had started.
He had been on the used-car lot on his regular turn when the grimy little man came up to him and said, “Your name is Mollison, isn’t it?”
Big smile—he’d had nothing to worry about then. “Sure, Jack. Somebody tell you to look me up? You’ve got the right idea. I’ll give you as good a deal as I gave them. Now what did you have in mind? I’ve got a Chevy over here, clean as the day it left the showroom. Three years old and I’ll give you a real buy—you got a trade-in?”
The grimy little man smiled and Mollison could see two gold teeth. “No trade-in,” he said. “I’m not interested in a car just now. I’m interested in you, Mr. Mollison.”
Mollison thought frantically. There was nothing against him in this town; he hadn’t a thing to worry about, so he said angrily, “If you don’t want to buy a car, Jack, I’ve got other things to do.”
The little man kept smiling. “Just the same, I think you ought to talk to me. You want to talk right here, it’s all right with me. I just wanted to give you a break.”
The perpetual smile shook Mollison. “What did you want to see me about?” he said.
The grimy man—Mollison had only an impression of griminess; the little man wore a clean shirt and a well-pressed cheap suit—said, “I don’t work in this town, Mr. Mollison. I work out of Des Moines., You were in Des Moines once.”
Mollison remembered Des Moines as he remembered more than a dozen cities where he had worked. He could not make an immediate connection between the name of the city and anything he might have done there. Phony Canadian stocks? Real estate? He had sold something; probably taken somebody, but for how much and how criminal it was he could not recall. Stalling for time, he said, “I might have been. What about it? Who are you anyway? I don’t know you.”
The little man scuffed one foot absently against the blacktop of the used-car lot. “My name is Griffin,” he said. “Ed Griffin. Thing about me, Mr. Mollison, is I got a camera eye.” Mollison could sense a diffident pride in the way Griffin made the comment. Griffin hurried on to explain. “What I mean is, anything I see I can remember. Like if I read a book I can recite it back to you almost word for word. I bet I could make a lot of money if I could get on one of those television quiz games. Anyway, I remember you, Mr. Mollison. From Des Moines, I mean. They got a picture of you at city hall.”
Mollison, forcing himself to remember, had it at last. It had been, for him, an off-beat graft; something a little different that he had gotten into three, maybe four years ago. Some newspaper or other had been backing a charity drive. March of Dimes? Easter Seals? He had been hired on a salary basis to do the promotional work. He had done a competent job of it—he had collected something in the neighborhood of eight hundred dollars in a few days but he hadn’t turned it in. He had taken a train East instead. Now he said, “You didn’t come five hundred miles to find me by accident. Who blew the whistle on me?” His own immediate reaction had been that Lillian had written to Des Moines. Almost immediately he rejected the thought. She didn’t know about Des Moines. Maybe she had been nosing around about him, but the trail back to Des Moines was winding and hidden. And why would she have done that? She seemed pretty happy with the situation the way it was.
Griffin looked puzzled. “Nobody blew the whistle on you, Mr. Morrison.”
Morrison said wearily, “Knock it off. What are you, anyway? Cops or district attorney?”
“I’m not either, Mr. Morrison. I work for a finance company, chasing dead beats. There are these two brothers, Cahoon, their name is. They owe us fifteen-hundred dollars on two notes. We got word they were here so the company sent me out to see if I could scare them into getting something up. I just happened to see you, Mr. Morrison, but like I said, I got this camera eye. Whenever I go out on a job I always go downtown, last thing before I leave, and look over the wanteds. They got a couple of hundred of them, anybody wants to look at them. When I get where I’m going I walk around town instead of riding in cabs, and I keep my eyes open. I spotted you in a diner yesterday, drinking coffee. Wasn’t looking for you but there you were.”
Morrison felt relief briefly. “Then you haven’t got a warrant. Hell, you can’t do anything to me.”
Griffin shook his head. “Grand larceny, Mr. Morrison. The morning paper was backing that drive. They’ll prosecute, and grand larceny is extraditable.”
I could run, Morrison thought. I could move on again. But moving on, starting again—the old drive wasn’t there. And he had this good thing going for him with Lillian.
Griffin stared at his shoes. “I don’t have to turn you in, Mr. Morrison. I mean, I didn’t come out here looking for you. I just happened to see you.”
Morrison said bitterly, “That’s my tough luck. How much?”
Griffin lifted his eyes as far as Mollison’s belt. “I figure a thousand dollars.”
“You blackmailing bastard.”
Griffin shrugged. “I’ve been called names before,” he said. He lifted his eyes briefly to look directly at Morrison.
Mollison saw naked scorn before Griffin dropped his gaze again.
“I can’t raise a thousand dollars,” he said.
“I’m a blackmailing bastard,” Griffin said quietly. “You said so yourself. That’s my price. Only, I’ll tell you, Mr. Mollison. I don’t think I’m quite as bad as you. Stealing money from crippled kids stacks up worse than taking it from a fat thief like you.” He straightened his thin shoulders. “If the Des Moines cops ever get you down in the basement at the hall maybe you’ll get the idea. You going to pay?”
Mollison nodded his head. He had to swallow several times before he could speak. “All right,” he said. “It will take me a little while to raise a; thousand dollars.”
Griffin turned away, then paused. “That’s all right, Mr. Mollison. I’ll come by Friday for the money.” He took a step toward the street and paused again, turning to face Mollison. “I make a living tracing dead-beats,” he said. “You wouldn’t be any trouble at all. Between now and Friday I’ll know where you are every minute.” He turned again toward the street, and this time he walked on while Mollison stared after him. He had about thirty dollars in his pocket. On Friday he would get his check, good for another hundred dollars or so but he needed that money to keep himself going; buy his meals; pay for the small apartment he kept but seldom used since taking up with Lillian Kramer. At the thought of Lillian he felt a sense of relief. She would lend him the money. If she wanted to be hard-boiled about it he could pay her back in weekly installments out of his pay. Mollison did not think again of running, of getting out of town. For an insignificant little man Griffin had been very convincing. What had he said? “I’ll know where you are every minute.” Mollison didn’t doubt it.
That night he took Lillian to a night club and was very attentive, but he did not bring up the subject of borrowing money. It did not occur to him that she would refuse, but it would do no harm to soften her up. On the following evening he stopped, by prearrangement, at the modernistic ranch house that her husband had built for her. She had just showered when she came to the door, dumpy in a quilted dressing gown, to let him in. She had hairpins in her mouth and she said through them, “Hello, Howie. Come on in while I finish dressing.”
He followed her to her bedroom and stood leaning against the door jamb, watching her put her make-up on. Dowdy old bag, he thought. The least she could do was keep out of sight when she wasn’t fixed up. He made small talk for a few minutes and then said, as casually as he could, “By the way, Lil, I’ve got a little matter I’ve got to clear up and I’m short. Let me have a thousand for a few weeks, will you?”
Without looking up she said matter-of-factly, “No.”
Mollison was bewildered, as much by the flatness of the refusal as at the refusal itself. “I really need the money, Lil,” he said plaintively. “I was counting on you to lend it to me.”
She turned to face him. “You didn’t have any right to count on me for anything, Howie. You’re good company. We have a lot of fun but you could do better than me and I’ve been waiting for something like this. I’m not sore at you for trying, but I wouldn’t let you borrow a nickel. You’re about the worst credit risk I could imagine.”
Mollison had raged, cajoled and finally begged, in that order, but he could not move her. Finally she said, “Oh, get out, Howie.”
He had left her house, furious, and slammed into his car. There was another car parked a short distance up the street. He convinced himself that Griffin was in the other car, watching his every move, and his fury turned into fear. He had to get the money for Griffin, and in his desperation he had thought of Anacosta, not as a kidnapping victim at that time but as a usurer….
Mollison finished his drink on the memory of the first night he had thought of Anacosta, and started to leave the bar. It was the if, the maddening, frustrating if that had brought him to this terrible point of no return. If Lillian had let him take the money he needed to pay Griffin off. If Griffin, the dirty little blackmailer, hadn’t happened to see him in the diner. If Griffin hadn’t happened to have a photographic memory… Mollison had convinced himself thoroughly that he was being persecuted by the fates. All the if’s. It did not occur to him that he had been lucky, that he had grifted and cheated and lied throughout his adult life and never, until now, been cornered. He walked to the curb and got into his car. It was almost time to meet Morgan at the club. And maybe tonight would be the tin(e to tell Patsy. Anacosta… the Dago bastard. If he had let him take some money this wouldn’t have happened. He wouldn’t have to be plotting to kidnap the moneylender’s grandson. Served him right, the Dago bastard.
Mollison drove carefully toward the club. He had had perhaps one too many drinks; they were bitter and brassy in his throat and he knew he must smell of whisky. He could not afford to be stopped for a traffic violation now. Just one day away from the auto agency; just half a day to appear in traffic court and the world could blow up in his face. He couldn’t get Anacosta off his mind, and he returned again and again to thinking about the moneylender,, as a man will touch a sore tooth with his tongue knowing that it will pain him.
The funny-dirty part of it was that he had first thought of Anacosta with a tremendous sensation of relief. That had been on the night he had stormed out of Lillian’s house. Anacosta, of course, would lend him the money to pay Griffin off. It would cost him; no doubt it would cost him plenty but he would have paid any price just then to get Griffin off his back. After leaving Lillian’s place, Mollison drove to the Italian section of the city where Anacosta lived. Anacosta’s house was an ancient three-decker with ornate railings about the wide piazzas that projected from each floor.
Mollison, up on the porch, rang the bell and waited, seeing the hall light flick on.
Anacosta himself came to the door, shuffling in worn carpet slippers. He was a stocky man in his sixties with a great shock of yellowish white hair. He needed a shave; the dirty gray stubble on his jowls was matched in color by the matted hair that showed through the gaps in the heavy underwear that he wore in spite of the, spring warmth. He wore an old pair of serge pants with the suspenders loosened and trailing behind him nearly to the floor. He asked suspiciously, “What do you want?”
Mollison said, “J need a small loan for a little while, Mr. Anacosta.”
Anacosta stared at him coldly. “Who told you who I am? Why do you think you can borrow money here?”
Mollison felt a murderous rage begin to churn in the pit of his stomach. That he should have to “mister” this old Dago and make explanations to him! With a salesman’s easy facility he smiled to conceal the anger, and said, “I work for the Kramer agency, Mr. Anacosta. My name is Mollison. A lot of my customers do business with you.” Was he going to keep him standing out here for the whole world to see?
Anacosta thought for a moment and then said, “Come in,” his voice surly. He led the way through a musty-smelling hall to a small room that was crowded with old-fashioned furniture. There was a roll-top desk in one corner. Anacosta seated himself at the desk so that his back was to Mollison. “I don’t say that I lend money,” he said. “I don’t say nothing. You tell me how much you want and why you want it and we see.”
Mollison said, “A thousand dollars.”
Anacosta shook his head. “Fifty or a hundred, maybe I let you have. A thousand? How do I know you? How I know you pay me back?”
Mollison said, “I make a hundred a week and better. I’ll pay you back.”
Anacosta stood up. “You come back tomorrow,” he said. “Maybe we do business. You write out your name on a piece of paper and say where you work, where you live.”
Mollison lived through the following day and returned in the evening. Anacosta was sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch, watching a small boy playing on the meager lawn. As Mollison stepped up on the porch Anacosta shook his head. “You don’t get no money, Mollison. I look you up. You got no credit, no friends. Nobody knows where you come from. I got nothing for you.””
Mollison protested. “You loan money to strangers all the time. Guys come in to buy a car, never had a regular job in their life. I send them here and you give them the money. Why can’t you do business with me?”
Anacosta shrugged. “I’ll tell you,” he said. “You come to my door and you tell me you want a small loan. A thousand dollars, you tell me. A thousand dollars is a small loan? How much money you got, mister big operator? Five bucks in your pocket?” He leaned forward and Mollison could hear him breathing heavily through his nose. “You know what you are? You are a phony. Ten cents I would not lend you.” His voice rose. “Get out. Get out, you phony!”
Mollison, caught by a raging frustration, took a step toward the old man. Barely in time he remembered the things he had heard about Anacosta; about the people who borrowed and didn’t pay up. “All right,” he muttered. “I’m going.”
He returned a day later to plead with the moneylender, to offer him any terms. He was refused again but on that third visit he saw Louis Morgan come furtively from the house and hurry up the street. He knew Morgan slightly; they belonged to the same club and even in his agitation he stored up the knowledge that Morgan had business with Anacosta. Morgan—he worked in a bank, didn’t he? It was interesting that he had business with a moneylender.
After his final refusal by Anacosta, Mollison tossed and turned in his bed throughout most of the night, alternating between an almost manic anger at Anacosta and a devouring fear of Griffin. Just when he had decided to pack and run for it and take the chance that Griffin would lose his trail, the idea came to him. It was so beautifully simple, so easy, that he turned it over in his mind for several minutes, looking suspiciously for the gimmick, the catch. He could find none. It had risk, of course, and he would have to be very careful, but it would at least give him a few days of blessed respite—and he could always pay the money back in such a way as to get himself out from under.
He got up early on the following morning and dressed with more than usual care, feeling the need of the confidence that a good appearance gave him. Lillian was in her office when he arrived at the agency. He put his head in at the door and smiled.
“You’re not sore about last night are you?” he asked. “I was in a little jam. It’s all right now.”
She looked up arid returned the smile. “Why should I be sore? It didn’t cost me anything.”
He thought, it will, you bitch, but he said, “Well, I’m sorry anyway. See you tonight?”
She said, “Why not?” and bent her head to some paper work on her desk.
Mollison walked through the showroom and out to the side of the building where the used cars were ranked in a long and gleaming line. He half expected Griffin to approach him but he no longer feared the little man. He was going to get his money for him—today. If he had to wait around for a little while he wouldn’t mind.
A mechanic was working his way down the line of cars, warming the motors. (Step in and see how she starts up, mister. Been sitting there a week but I’ll bet you she’ll start on the first kick.) Mollison waited until he got out of a car and then said, “Eddie, how’s about that ’54 Hudson in the back row?”
Eddie spat. “That’s a real dog, Howie. I told Mrs. Kramer she ought to wholesale it off and take her loss on it. It ain’t got no more compression than a flit gun without I rebore it and it ain’t worth it. Car’s been abused too much.”
Mollison shook his head in tacit disapproval of those people who abused cars like the Hudson. “You don’t think we can move it then? I mean, even if you hoke it up?”
Eddie rubbed his fingers on a piece of waste before he shook a cigarette out of a crumpled packet. “Not a chance,” he said after he had accepted a light from Mollison. “It’s two hundred dollars under the Red Book right now but nobody in his right mind would touch it with a ten-foot pole. I tell you, Howie, that there is a real dog. Can’t keep the crankcase oil off the plugs.”
Mollison said, “Thanks, Eddie. I thought I had a bite but if it’s as bad as you say I won’t waste my time.” He watched the mechanic move slowly down the line. A yellow tag was tied to the windshield wiper of the Hudson. Mollison took a notebook and a pencil from his breast pocket and began copying down the motor number, body number and other details written on the tag. When he had the information he wanted, he strolled, as casually as he could, back to the small office that was set aside for the salesmen. There was a wooden desk equipped with a typewriter in the center of the room. He sat down at the desk and took a long white sheet of paper from the top drawer; this he fed into the platen of the typewriter. The first blank line appeared beneath the title in boldface, Conditional Sales Contract.
Mollison had prepared himself carefully once the idea had come to him in the early hours of the morning. The name that he filled in on the first blank line, the place of employment, the wages received, the ostensible down payment—he was careful to choose a figure that represented almost a third of the value of the green Hudson—were fictitious. The address that he supplied for the imaginary buyer of the car was not fictitious. It was the address of his own apartment. When he had finished filling in the blanks in infinite detail—credit references, next of kin, insurance—he had a piece of paper that was very nearly as negotiable as currency. He knew. He had made out hundreds of similar contracts—not with imaginary buyers but otherwise identical to the one he had prepared. The banks never bothered to check up. Why should they? They retained title to the car until the last note was paid and they left it to the auto dealers to protect them by getting enough of a down payment so that the balance was always less than the wholesale price of the car.
When he had finished with the contract Mollison read it through carefully. He had expected to be nervous now that it was done, but he found that he was not. He felt a curious sense of triumph instead. He had felt it when he sold jerry-built houses, inferior aluminum windows, building lots lost in the middle of a swamp. Screw them all. Screw Lillian. He would have to meet the payments when they came due, but in the meantime he would have the use of some of her money, or the bank’s. He finished the job by making out in duplicate a blue slip, a transfer of title for the Motor Vehicle Department.
The Kramer Agency did business with three banks. Customer’s choice, if he wanted a choice. As an ostensible customer Mollison chose the Industrial National. Half an hour after the bank opened he walked in and confidently approached the mortgage department. To the vice-president who greeted him he said, “Good morning, Paul. Want to okay this? Guy wants the car for his vacation.”
Paul smiled. “Sure, Howie. What’s the balance?”
“Eleven hundred. He put up five hundred in cash.”
“How is the book value on the car? Right up there?” .
“Job all right?”
“He’s a machinist. Worked in the same place for six years.” Mollison handed the time contract and the blue transfer of title to the banker. “Take a look.”
Paul took the papers and glanced at them casually. “I guess it’s all right, Howie. We haven’t had any bad paper from the Kramer agency since I’ve been here. What do you want me to do—have a check made out for the agency account?”
This was the critical moment; the burning of the bridges. Mollison said indifferently, “Mrs. Kramer is sending me out to the wholesale auction to pick up a few bombers for the high school trade. Better give me cash. We make a private deal sometimes and cash helps the price.” Now it was done. If the banker had the slightest suspicion and called the agency; if just this one time he decided to check the place of employment of the fictitious buyer of the green Hudson… If, if, if.
Paul said, “Sure’, Howie. Wait a minute and I’ll make a slip out and you can pick up the cash at the paying teller’s cage.”
As simply as that it was done. Mollison walked out of the bank with eleven hundred dollars in cash—and saw Griffin waiting for him.
He paid off Griffin—he had no choice—with a thousand dollars of the money. The extra hundred he considered a bonus for his cleverness. That evening it amused him to be entertaining Lillian Kramer with her own money. It was really the bank’s money, he supposed, but if anything went wrong the agency would be responsible because, as was customary with salesmen, he had been made an officer of the company in order to approve installment applications.
On the Tuesday following the transaction with the bank, Mollison was due for his normal turn in the used-car department. He preferred selling on the new-car floor; there was more money to be made there, but all of the salesmen had to take their regular turn in used cars. He dawdled over his breakfast and showed up late at the lot. The mechanic, Eddie, was changing a tire on a tired-looking sedan when Mollison sauntered from the office, and paused to watch him.
Eddie looked up. “Hello, Howie,” he said. “Light me a cigarette, will you? My hands are all grease.”
Mollison lit a cigarette and stuck it in the mechanic’s mouth. He made the traditional joke about the tire. “What are you changing it for? It’s only flat on one side.”
Eddie grinned. “Yeah, but it had to be the bottom side.” He stood up and pulled the jack from under the sedan. “See anything different?” he asked.
“About what?” Mollison asked.
“The car lot. See anything missing?”
“I’ll bite. What’s missing?”
Eddie laughed, his teeth white against his grimy face. “That dog,” he said. “The ’54 Hudson.”
Mollison turned to stare at the rear row of cars. The green Hudson was gone. He started to say, “Oh, hell,” but held it back.
Eddie, the moron, kept nodding and grinning. ‘There’s this guy I met,” he said, “with a ’54 just like it except that the body is shot. Good motor in it, though. He offered five hundred cash for the one on the lot if I’d help him swap motors. I told Mrs. Kramer she ought to take him up on it and she said all right. She gave me twenty bucks for the sale.”
Like a dog, Mollison thought. Wagging his tail and waiting to be praised. And all he had done was ruin Mollison. The bank he could deal with. Make the payments on the false account and take his chances. With the green Hudson sold he was in desperate trouble, not with the bank but with the Motor Vehicle Department because a transfer of title on the Hudson had already passed through the bank. When the legitimate buyer put through his own transfer, Mollison was going to be all done. There was the faintest possibility that the clerk who processed the transfer wouldn’t catch the duplication of motor and serial numbers. Too faint. How many green ’54 Hudsons were bought and sold in a week? Maybe they cross-filed by motor number anyway, in which case the false sale would be as obvious as a bloody nose.
Mollison hurried to the office, making some vague sort of excuse to Eddie. One of the other salesmen was at the desk. Mollison said, “Let me at that a minute, will you, Sam?”
Sam said curiously, “Sure, Howie. What’s the rush?” and pulled back.
Mollison riffled through the transfer duplicates in the desk, hoping that the papers hadn’t been taken into Lillian Kramer’s office. He found the transfer on the Hudson almost at once. He didn’t want to arouse Sam’s interest any more than necessary, so he memorized the name and address: Joseph P. Hunt, 3211 Spring Street.
Sam was mumbling about the inequity of letting mechanics knock off commissions that salesmen should be getting. Mollison said brusquely, “I got to make a call, Sam. Hold things down, will you?”
The green Hudson was parked in the yard of 3211 Spring Street when Mollison drove up. The hood was raised and a man in a T-shirt and dirty slacks was bent over the motor. Mollison got out of his own car and asked, “Mr. Hunt?”
The man in the T-shirt straightened up. He appeared to be in his middle thirties. There was a smudge of grease on his cheek and his eyes were hidden behind thick glasses. He said, “I’m Hunt.”
Mollison had had little time to plan an approach. He had to be careful, he knew, but beyond that he had to get the Hudson back at any cost. “I’m from the Kramer Agency,” he said. “I’m sorry this happened, Mr. Hunt, but I already had an order on that car when you bought it. They shouldn’t have sold it to you.”
Hunt shrugged. “That’s tough,” he said. “I already bought it as far as I’m concerned. For cash.”
Fighting his own scraped nerves, Mollison said genially, “We want to pay you for your time and trouble, Mr. Hunt. You paid five hundred for the car. We’ll give you five fifty. You make fifty dollars on the deal and I keep my customer happy.”
Hunt said doubtfully, “I was going to take the motor out of it and put my own in. Cost me seven fifty for body work on my own car.”
“Make it five seventy-five,” Mollison said, not as genially. “No red tape, no nothing. We’ll just tear up the transfer on the Hudson and I’ll get you your money.”
Hunt grinned. “Tear up the transfer? What’s the matter—is this iron hot or something?” He paused, and the grin left his face while his expression became shrewd. “What did you say your name was?”
Mollison was becoming increasingly impatient. What did the bastard want? A seventy-five-dollar profit on the deal should be enough. “Mollison,” he said. “I told you I’m from the Kramer Agency. Well, what do you say, Mr. Hunt?”
Hunt shook his head. “I’ll tell you what I say. I say I think I’ll call up the agency and find out what your racket is. You come in here and want to buy this dog for seventy-five dollars more than I paid for it. Then you want me to tear up the transfer on it. I’ve bought a lot of cars in my life and I never yet heard of a salesman making a deal like that.” He turned and started toward the house.
“Wait a minute,” Mollison said.
Hunt turned back as if he had been expecting Mollison to call after him. “I got a minute,” he said.
Mollison pleaded in desperation. “I’ve got to have that car,” knowing as he did so that he was laying himself wide open, putting himself completely at Hunt’s disposal.
Hunt nodded. “It’s for sale,” he said. “I figure it’s worth a thousand dollars. That’s without I call the agency.”
Mollison said, “I’ll get the money,” knowing that the only way he could raise it would be to repeat the time contract swindle he had used to get the money for Griffin.
He forged another contract that morning, going to a different bank but using the same methods and the same lies. He stored the Hudson—useless to him—in a rented garage. On the following day Eddie, the Kramer mechanic, approached him on the lot.
“Hello, Howie,” he greeted him. “Say—I hear you bought back that green Hudson.”
Mollison lied halfheartedly. “I meant to tell you I sort of promised that car to a customer.”
Eddie nodded. “Sure,” he said. “Say, Howie, I’m a little short this week. Could you let me take fifty for a few days?”
Mollison loaned him the money, knowing that he would never get it back and that from now on there would be other loans. He raged inwardly at the crookedness of Hunt and Eddie, and never saw the irony in the situation.
On that same day the story of the kidnapping of the Glennon boy broke in the Eastern newspapers. Mollison heard it and ordered a drink at the club bar; it was the subject of all the conversation there and up until that moment it was interesting only as a news item about a monstrous crime. He was full of his own troubles; the fear that Lillian would catch up with him at any minute or that Eddie would squeal or that Griffin would come back for more money had him in a constant sweat. Someone mentioned that Anacosta, the moneylender, had more ready cash than any banker; the words were spoken half in jest. At that moment Louis Morgan ordered a drink from the bartender and Mollison remembered that he had seen Morgan at Anacosta’s house.
And also at that moment Patsy Galuk, the handyman at the club, brought in a mop and pail to clean up a puddle of spilled liquor. Mollison put them all together: the kidnapping; Louis Morgan—who worked in Anacosta’s bank; Anacosta himself and the fact that he had a grandson—he had seen the kid, hadn’t he?; the availability of the loyal Patsy Galuk; all his troubles. And out of it all was born his plan.
Now, three weeks later, he had Louis Morgan in his pocket as an accomplice, he had found a hide-out, he had completed almost all of the detail work. Entering the club, he looked around, hoping that Morgan was already here. Maybe tonight they would tell Patsy after all. In any event he would have to be brought into the plan sooner or later. Patsy was going to be indispensable as a watchdog over the kid when they took him to the boiler room. Something more. Mollison had a part for Patsy in the plan that Morgan didn’t know about and wouldn’t know about until it was too late for him to back out. The thought brushed the corner of his mind that Patsy might even be made the fall guy. He sniggered as he thought of the lie he had devised to tell Patsy. “There are these Dagos that owed me some money, Patsy,” he would tell him. Calling them Dagos was a good touch since it implied that he and Patsy belonged to a better, superior group themselves. “One of them is separated from his wife. He has a kid. What we’re going to do is get the kid and hide him away until he pays me what he owes me. If he doesn’t pay, I’m going to turn the kid over to its mother and he’ll never get him back.”
Patsy, out of his fanatic loyalty and need to belong with somebody, would believe it. Patsy would be the watchdog. And—although he couldn’t tell Morgan about this yet—Mollison thought that Patsy might also be used as an executioner, or at least an undertaker. Because he had no intention of letting the boy go free when they had the money.
There are small villages with white church steeples and green lawns, scrupulously neat, and these are New England. There are noisy, incredibly busy cities sitting astride the major highways, each with its approaches lined with gasoline stations and roadside restaurants and these too are New England. But not its bone and its cell structure. Neither the bigger cities nor the villages could have produced a Patsy Galuk. Sea captains and mortgage-foreclosing squires and horse traders built the villages, and their day had been past for a century and New England did not die with their passing. And the really big cities are barely staving off oblivion by fostering natural-gas lines and insurance companies, naval air stations and machine-tool factories, so that although they are a part of New England they are not its essence. That essence lies between the cities and the villages.—in the mill towns. Howard Mollison could have been born in any one of a hundred cities. Louis Morgan could have been reared in Waukegan or Cedar Rapids or Seattle. Patsy Galuk could only have been produced by a mill town.
A New England mill town can only be found on a river. It was built there perhaps a hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago; located there so that the river could carry away its waste. You will know it, if you look, by its rows and rows of identical houses. And you will know it when you see the particular mill for which the particular town was named. The mill will be made of pink brick and it will be enormous, sprawling over literally acres of ground. It will be three stories high and it will have a saw-toothed roof, built that way to let light in. The mill will be very nearly empty; the looms gone, the dye vats sold for zinc, the warpers and cards for scrap metal. There is no more money to be made in textiles; not in Fall River or Lawrence, nor in Pawtucket or Lynn. Here and there a few feet of floor space are taken up by a plastic molder or a shoe shop or a mill outlet but, for the most part, the mills stand idle. If you drove toward such a mill from the west toward evening you would see the glass of the saw-toothed roof catch fire from the reflected light of the sun so that the whole valley in which the mill stood seemed to be filled with wine—or blood. Go soon, if you would see it, because the mills are vanishing. One burns to the ground every so often—they make a spectacular blaze because the wooden floors have been drying out for… how many years?
The Galuks are not vanishing. Galuk’s great-grandfather came from Poland to work in the mills at four dollars a week. There was a block of company houses where the Poles were given quarters. There was a block for the British—they ran the looms—and one for the Germans, who did the bleaching and dyeing. The Poles were laborers. Other mills brought in French Canadians and Alsatians; and Irish—the lace and linen mills—and Portuguese.
The Germans mistrusted the British. The British, who were, after all, craftsmen, despised the Germans and were contemptuous of the Poles. The Poles, in frustration, hated both the Germans and the British. To show this hate they built and patronized a Polish store and attended only Polish dances. (The Germans and the British and the French and the Irish likewise banded together.) The Poles married only Poles just as the British married only British and the Germans only German. After a generation or two the mills stopped importing workers—wages were up to six dollars a week by then—and there were, suddenly, no new Poles, no new Germans and no new British families. The Poles began marrying cousins as did the other groups. After a few more generations there were small sections in each town where each family was interrelated, and in some cases the blood was unhealthy. By the time that Patsy Galuk was born—in 1922—the percentage of imbeciles and cretins per thousand births was alarmingly high. Not that Galuk was really an imbecile or even a moron. Muddily, thickly, he could think. You could call it thinking, just barely.
Patsy worked as a handyman-court jester in the club to which Howard Mollison and Louis Morgan belonged. He had a stocky frame by birth; by his way of life it had become padded with soft and pallid fat. His face was quite wide—wider, it appeared, than it was long, so that he had a squashed down look. His head was large and his brownish hair usually long and unkempt; his lips were thick and rubbery. When he opened his mouth, which was often, he showed no teeth at all in his upper jaw between his two canines while the teeth in his lower jaw were broken and blackened. The club kept Patsy because he worked for almost no money and because he was amusing to a certain percentage of the membership. Patsy was a buff and a butt. Butt for anyone’s practical joke and buff for whatever struck his fancy. When an electrician was called in to replace some faulty wiring, Patsy was told to help. For days * thereafter he paraded about the club with all manner of pliers and screw drivers sticking from his belt. He would look wisely at every light fixture, every electrical outlet. He was, in his own mind, an electrician. The members would tell him of some fictitious electrical problem and Patsy would listen, set his jaw grimly and squint his eyes—and offer to come over and fix it someday. A week later he helped a painter, and he traded the screw drivers and pliers for a hip pocket full of brushes and scrapers and a giveaway white cap with a cardboard bill. So easily he changed his trade: But he had two loyalties that never changed, and these were to the police and to Howard Mollison.
Somewhere he had found a police badge. It was long obsolete but it was made of nickel and it held a high polish. Some member had convinced him that possession of the badge conferred authority, and it became Galuk’s obsession to direct traffic whenever sirens wailed near the club. Whenever a siren was heard, someone would call, “Patsy! Where is Patsy? Get him out there before the whole street gets snarled up!” Others would join in. “Hurry up, Pat. Don’t forget your badge.”
Patsy would hurry grimly to the street where he would impartially stop all traffic as long as he could hear the sirens. Then he would come back into the club with an air of weary resignation. ‘The bastards,” he would mutter. “Some of them wise bastards are looking for a ticket.”
And they would congratulate him on a job well done.
He was not always funny. Once a new club manager fired him. Galuk refused to believe that he could be fired and he stood in the lounge of the club screaming the foulest obscenities at the manager for half an hour. Patsy was a formidable fighter; the manager was afraid to try to put him out and he finally called the police. Even then Patsy put up a violent struggle. For the next week he waited outside the o-club to waylay the members individually and beg to be taken back. Out of pity, or because they missed him in some perverse way, enough of them were persuaded so that he was taken back, apparently penitent.
Louis Morgan had watched many of Galuk’s antics but he had never found them amusing. Patsy would laugh with the members—at himself, more often than not—and he had a very loud, harsh laugh. Morgan, watching him one evening, realized that there was something wrong with Qaluk’s laughter. After a time he decided that it was because there was no humor in it at all. It seemed the laughter of an idiot; pure sound effect signifying nothing. Galuk frightened Morgan.
Galuk idolized Howard Mollison, partly because he was big and well dressed and good looking; everything that Patsy was not. He had additional cause for worship. Mollison, tongue in cheek, treated him as a friend and an equal. He would come into the club and put his arm across Galuk’s shoulder. “What d’you say, Patsy, everything going all right?”
“Sure,” Patsy would answer him, enraptured at the companionship. “Sure, Howie.”
Mollison would nod. “That’s good. You keep an eye on things, Patsy. We can trust you.” He would wink at the other members. “You getting your share, Patsy?”
Patsy would flatten his thick lips in a secretive grin. “I do all right.”
Mollison would nod again, his expression serious. “I’ll bet you do.”
The audience would laugh while Patsy, misunderstanding, would nod his head. “Sure, Howie.” He would glance darkly at the other members. “Wise bastards around here. I bet I get more than they get.”
Mollison was certain that Patsy would do anything for him and that he would keep his mouth shut if he were told to do so. Patsy had a childish reverence for secrets and promises.
On the evening of the day in which they had visited the mill and inspected the boiler room, Morgan and Mollison sat in the club and discussed Patsy.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” Morgan said, “and I can’t see why we have to bring Patsy into it. You said yourself that nobody goes near that end of the mill. When we get the boy, why couldn’t we just tie him up and leave him?”
Mollison had his own reasons for wanting Patsy to be a party to the kidnapping. He couldn’t tell all of these reasons to Morgan, who had already shown himself to be pretty chicken, so he lied.
“It will be safer to have Patsy watching him,” Mollison said. “I’ve got to show myself around; you’ll have your end of things to take care of. We’d have to sweat it out wondering if he was getting loose if we left him alone. It’s damn hard to tie somebody up so they can’t get loose if you give them enough time—even a kid. And besides, there are the rats.” The thought of the rats was sheer inspiration.
Mollison nodded. “That old mill is full of them. Some of them as big as cats. We couldn’t leave the kid tied up in there all by himself.”
Morgan said, “I guess you’re right.” He almost felt a little better about Mollison. Too hard; too cruel. A little too quick and easy about how they’d return the boy after they got the money. But at least he was showing some concern for the boy now. “Yes, I suppose we do need Patsy,” he agreed.
Mollison smiled. ‘The best part of it is that he won’t know what’s going on. I’ve figured out a story to tell him that will cover it. He’ll believe anything I tell him.” And, hoping Morgan would do the same, Mollison quickly told him the story he’d concocted for Patsy Galuk.
A day later Mollison said, “We’ve gone over it a hundred times, Lou. Getting the kid will be easy—right?”
Morgan said doubtfully, “I guess so.”
Mollison became a little impatient. It showed in the rising inflection of his voice and in the quick little pushing motion he made with his hand. “He walks home from school every afternoon. Goddammit, I’ve watched him, I know what I’m talking about. I’ll take a car from the lot and stick on a set of plates somebody left on a turn-in a couple months ago. After I drop him off at the old mill I’ll put the car back on the lot and take the plates off and throw them away. If somebody does get the license number and they trace it as far as the agency we’ll just say we don’t know anything about it. People are always leaving plates on cars when they sell them.” His expression became faintly injured. “I’m taking all the chances, Lou. All you have to do is drive Patsy out there to watch the kid.”
The two men were sitting in the back room of the club; a place seldom used except for occasional poker games. Mollison had a whisky and water in front of him; Morgan, a bottle of ale. Morgan asked, “Have you told Patsy yet?”
Mollison shook his head. “Not yet, I’ve been waiting until we could think out some way of getting the money—some way that would be foolproof. There’s got to be a way, Lou. But I can’t wait much longer.” He held the thin edge of his palm against the front of his neck. “I’m in a bind right up to here.”
Morgan picked at the wet label of the ale bottle with his fingernail. What he had to say now he didn’t want to say. It was his idea, his original contribution; and he would not be able to put it off on Mollison once said. He said deliberately, “I think I know a way it can be done.”
Mollison leaned forward, breathing audibly through his nose, “Well, for God’s sake,” he said, “how?”
“After we—after you have the boy,” Morgan said, “we’re going to call Anacosta. You’d better do the talking. Anacosta just might recognize my voice.”
Mollison frowned. “We already agreed on that,” he said. “I’ll call him and tell him that we have the boy and that we want seventy-five thousand dollars in cash if he wants him back. So what then? How does he get the money to us?”
Morgan drew his hand away from the bottle, aware that it betrayed his nervousness. “If he goes to the police, we’ll know,” he said. “The first thing they will want us to do is record the serial numbers of the bills at the bank and if that happens, I’ve got to know about it. Any of us at the bank will know about it.”
Mollison swallowed some of his drink. “All right, Lou,” he said. “All right. We know that. And I already told you that he won’t go to the police. He can’t afford to. He’s still got the mustache boys.”
Morgan nodded. “I know,” he said. “So we just can’t give him a chance to get organized.” He glanced at Mollison, and for the first time in the three weeks since Mollison had outlined his plan Morgan, felt a glow of superiority. He, Morgan, was taking charge; planning things that Mollison, for all his big talk, was incompetent to plan. He leaned back in his chair. “Why don’t we get the boy in the morning?” he asked.
Mollison, puzzled, said, “I don’t see where that makes any difference.”
“It makes a big difference. If we get”—Morgan could not bring himself to use the word kidnap—“the boy in the afternoon, the way you planned, Anacosta will have all night to think things out. He can arrange to have men following him every step he takes regardless of whether he calls in the police. If we take him in the morning and call Anacosta right away, make him go to the bank for the money immediately, what chance will he have to arrange a trap?”
Mollison slapped the table top with his open palm. “No chance,” he said. “No chance.”
Morgan nodded. “That’s what I mean. If you call him at, say, ten o’clock, and he gets to the bank within a few minutes after you call, we could feel pretty certain that he hadn’t had the chance to get help. The problem will be to convince him that we have the boy and that we mean business. The kind of business Anacosta is in, I imagine he’s been threatened before. That’s another thing. The boy is his grandson. Won’t he think that it should be up to the boy’s father to handle the negotiations?”
Mollison laughed shortly. “Anacosta’s son—the kid’s father—doesn’t have a nickel. The old man gave them the house they live in, the car they drive and the clothes on their backs. He worships the grandson. Don’t worry, Lou—he’ll pay.”
“You mean, he’ll pay if he thinks we have the boy,” Morgan corrected. “How can we convince him?” He was seeing the affair now as an academic problem; a matter of strategy and logistics.
Mollison said thoughtfully, “It will have to be good. I might get him to a telephone and have him call the old man. That would be pretty risky. I’d have to handle the kid and try to call at the same time. If he put up a struggle it would attract attention and that would be it. Don’t forget, it will be broad daylight.”
Morgan said quietly, “The stadium.”
“The stadium?” Mollison repeated in puzzlement.
“The municipal stadium. There’s one of those glassed-in telephone booths at the end of the parking lot. I guess they put it there for people who want to call cabs. Nobody could get within a hundred yards of it without you knowing it. Couldn’t you take him there and let him talk to his grandfather?”
Mollison said, “That’s it. That’s it, Lou. I can drive up and take him into the booth with me. If he makes a fuss, who’s to know it? It won’t take more than a couple of minutes.”
Morgan, feeling the intoxication of command, smiled faintly. “It will be worth a dozen ransom notes,” he said.
“But that doesn’t get us the money,” Mollison hedged. “What happens after the old man leaves the bank with the money? What do I tell him to do?”
Morgan poured the remainder of his bottle of ale into his glass, but he did not immediately drink it. After a moment he said, “We’ll do it like this.” And he began to explain to Mollison just how they would get delivery of the money….
From his parked car Mollison could see the boy coming down the street, walking aimlessly, a painted lunch box in one hand and a schoolbook in the other. Mollison had watched him half a dozen times and he had always come alone. There had been the bare chance that he would pick up a companion on this morning but he hadn’t. The boy was eight years old and his name was Carmen—named for his grandfather as an investment, Mollison supposed. He was walking toward Mollison’s car with a small boy’s disregard of time—or pure enjoyment of it. Mollison glanced at his watch. Fifteen minutes before nine and so far right on schedule. Morgan should, by this time, have left Patsy at the mill.
Now the boy was almost abreast of the car; a fat kid with a pasty white face. Too much spaghetti and ravioli. Fat little Dago kid. Mollison got out of the car and walked around to the back, pretending to put something in the trunk and turning when the boy was exactly opposite. Try it the easy way first. “Hey, there,” he said in mock surprise. “Aren’t you Carmen Anacosta’s grandson?”
The boy stopped. Almost daily he was warned against talking to strangers or taking candy from them or riding with them but this was a big, well-dressed man; not like the scary ones on TV—and he knew Grandpa Anacosta. “Yes sir,” he said, running the words together.
Mollison smiled. “I thought so,” he said. “Your grandpa is a good friend of mine.” He turned and started toward the driver’s side and then paused. “Hop in,” he said as if it were an afterthought. “I’ll drop you off at the school. It’s right on my way.” As he spoke Mollison opened the door on the passenger side and held it wide. There was no one in sight toward the rear of the car; if the kid didn’t get in and he had to grab him, the door would partially screen him from anyone coming from the other direction. One way or another the kid was getting in the car and once in he wasn’t going to get out. Mollison had gone to the used-car lot early to pick up the particular car he was using. He had carefully removed, the window and door handles from the inside on the passenger side and he had mounted a discarded set of license plates.
The boy hesitated and then said, “Thanks, mister,” and got in. Mollison slammed the door after him and went around to the driver’s side.
So far so good. The whole thing hadn’t taken over a minute or so, and the first of the four major risks that he and Morgan had decided were the minimum they would encounter was successfully passed. They had no control over the second risk. Mollison was to call Anacosta at eleven o’clock. Not five minutes before and not five minutes after. When the kid didn’t show up at school would the teacher call his parents? As far as he and Morgan had been able to find out, it wasn’t routine for the teacher to check—Mollison had found this out by slyly bringing up the subject of juvenile delinquency and hooky playing at the club bar. Morgan hadn’t thought of that. That had been his own idea.
Mollison headed the car downtown for only a short distance before he turned off into a side street. The boy said immediately, “The school isn’t this way, mister.”
Mollison said, “This is a short cut,” and drove a little faster. When the boy protested he told him to shut his mouth, his raw nerves overcoming his judgment.
The boy was more angry than frightened. In his home he was seldom even scolded. Sometimes his father or his mother in quick Latin anger would slap him, but they were always abject immediately afterward. They had never, in his life, told him to shut up. He said quite loudly, “You let me out or I’ll tell the police on you.”
Mollison kept his head straight ahead. The boy could think of no greater threat than to call the cops as he beat frantically against the glass with the palms of his hands. Mollison, still not looking around, slapped him hard against the side of his head so that he sprawled half on the seat, half on the floor of the car. He began to cry helplessly.
Mollison glanced again at his watch. Not quite nine. He drove toward the Maynard Mill, but instead of parking where he and Lou Morgan had parked when he had first shown Morgan the mill, he drove the length of the parking lot and pulled the borrowed car in tight against the low boiler room annex. To the boy he said, “Stay where you are,” and got out of the car. He pushed the door of the boiler room open. Patsy Galuk came to the door to meet him, a grimly important expression on his face.
“Lou brought me,” he said. “Lou brought me out here. I was ready this morning when he came after me. What you want me to do now, Howie?”
Mollison waved him back. Moving swiftly he opened the car door and dragged the boy from the car into the boiler room, clamping one hand over the small face so that the boy had no chance to cry out. Once inside the door, Mollison shoved him forward so that he had to take little tripping steps to keep his balance. He slammed against the far wall of the room and turned like an animal at bay to face his tormentors. “You dirty stinkers,” he said. “My father will fix you.”
Patsy moved forward to stand facing the boy, his hands on his hips, his expression deliberately ugly. “Dago bastard,” he said ferociously. “Little Dago bastard.”
Mollison pushed him back. “Let him be, Patsy, as long as he doesn’t give you any trouble.” To the boy he said, “Get up on that cot and sit there and don’t make a sound. If you so much as move do you know what this man will do to you?”
The boy could make no sound. He shook his head. His face was grimy where he had knuckled his eyes, and tears of fright made tunnels in the dirt.
“He’ll cut you up in pieces,” Mollison said. He turned to face Patsy. “I’ll be back in an hour and a half. Don’t make any noise. Don’t let him make any noise and don’t even put your head out the door. All right?”
Patsy, without taking his eyes from the boy, said, “Sure, Howie. Don’t you worry about this Dago bastard making any noise.” He had taken up a position facing the boy, with his arms akimbo.
Mollison turned toward the door and hesitated. “Patsy,” he said, “I think I’ll lock you in» That way there won’t be any chance of anyone sneaking around.”
Patsy, who had not moved, said, “Sure, Howie.”
Mollison left, locking the door behind him. Leaving the boy with Patsy was another risk; Morgan had wanted to leave him bound and gagged. Mollison, thinking ahead, had won the argument.
He drove to the Kramer Agency with deliberate care, not wanting a traffic summons at this stage. He left the car a block from the used-car lot to avoid the risk of having Eddie, the mechanic, or one of the salesmen notice that he didn’t have the conventional dealer’s plates on the car.
He usually avoided Eddie,, who was becoming openly demanding these days. On this day he sought him out deliberately, wanting to be noticed. He was aware now that he was slightly elated, almost as if he had had several drinks. The plan was going smoothly. He was keyed up but not at all frightened.
“Eddie,” he said, “I’ve got that blue Ford out. The battery was down. I had to leave it for a quick charge.” That explained the absence of the car.
Eddie said—he seemed sincere enough—“I’m sorry as hell, Howie. I’ll stick another one in it when you bring it in.”
So much for Eddie. Mollison moved around talking to Lillian, kidding with the other salesmen. When it was ten-thirty he mentioned casually that he had a call to make. He then eased out of the lot, walked to the car in which he had picked up Anacosta’s grandson, and drove to the mill.
Patsy Galuk was still standing in the same spot when Mollison again opened the door of the boiler room. He glanced around to see who it was, but he immediately turned back to face the boy with the same animal stare. “He ain’t moved, Howie,” he said. “I didn’t let him make any noise either.”
/Mollison said, “That’s great, Patsy. You did a good job. I’m going to take him with me now to call his old man about the money he owes me. You’re going to wait right here, right?”
Patsy nodded grimly. “Right here, Howie.”
Mollison took the boy’s arm. “You come with me,” he said.
The boy came almost eagerly. This man had hit him and hurt him when he had pounded on the window of the car, but he was not as frightening as the man he called Patsy. Mollison pushed in beside him and drove out of the mill yard.
The municipal stadium was located on a patch of reclaimed swamp land two miles more or less from the downtown area. One city administration had built the stadium proper; a subsequent group had had to make the best of paving the approaches to the place. There were acres of black-top parking area. Mollison, looking about him as he drove in, could see two cars wheeling in aimless circles. Student drivers, learning to drive where there was small risk of accident—no hazard, since neither of the cars were close to the minaret of the telephone booth which Morgan had described. He parked the blue Ford as close to the booth as he could get and pulled at the boy’s arm. “Come on,” he said. “We’re going to call your grandfather.”
The boy had stopped his sniveling. Mollison opened the door to the booth and shoved him in, pushing in after him himself and turning so that the boy was trapped between his knees. He had memorized the telephone number of the boy’s grandfather and he had a coin already in his hand when he entered the booth. He reached up and dialed expertly.
Twice he heard the distant buzz of the completed circuit before he heard the click of a receiver being lifted and a heavy voice with a marked accent saying, “Yes? What is it?”
He had talked to Anacosta very briefly a few times after the night that Griffin had first approached him and demanded money. There was only the remotest possibility that Anacosta might remember his voice, but why take unnecessary chances? Mollison affected a false baritone as he countered Anacosta’s question with one of his own. “Is this Anacosta?” he asked.
“This is Anacosta. Who is this? What do you want?” The expression was thickly arrogant.
He would not be arrogant much longer, Mollison thought. Before he could answer, the boy, recognizing Anacosta’s voice, cried, “Gran’pa! Gran’pa—a man has got me—”
Mollison, before he could realize that the outburst was favorable to his plan, acted in sudden and angry reflex, cuffing the boy on the back of his head as hard as he could in the cramped space. The boy’s mouth was driven against the hard mouthpiece of the telephone, breaking one of his teeth and bringing blood and saliva in a pink gush. The boy cried out in pain and shock, and Mollison clamped his forearm across his face, muffling the sound. He could hear Anacosta, as frantic as the boy, calling, “Carmen! Carmen!”
Mollison, still holding his forearm against the boy’s face, said, “Shut up and listen.” He waited for a moment. Anacosta stopped calling the boy’s name and only the sound of his heavy breathing pulsed in the receiver. Let him sweat. Let him know that this wasn’t some poor devil wanting to borrow a few bucks. Mollison said, “You heard the boy.”
Anacosta said, “I heard. Look you. I give you what you want but don’t you hurt him any more. Please don’t hurt him any more. I find you and I cut your heart out if you hurt him.”
“You won’t cut anybody’s heart out. Say it.”
Anacosta’s voice was inexpressibly weary. “All right. I won’t cut anybody’s heart out. What do you want so I get him back?”
“Seventy-five thousand dollars. In cash. This morning.” When Anacosta did not immediately answer, Mollison had an idea. He released the pressure against the boy’s face just enough so that his crying became audible, then tightened his grip again. “Did you hear me?” he demanded.
“I heard you. All right. I’ll get you the money. What do you want me to do?”
This was easy. The old man had folded up just the way he had told Morgan he would. Mollison said, almost contemptuously, “Listen, then. You leave the house right now and go down and get the money out of the bank. Don’t take your car, walk. Get it any way they give it to you but get it.
“Take a paper bag, a brown paper bag, with you. The biggest one you’ve got in the house. You put the money in the bag. Go out of the bank and walk down Elm Street to the Greyhound bus station. There are some pay lockers in the west entrance. The numbers start with two hundred. You put a dime in the slot of the first empty locker you come to after two hundred; it doesn’t matter what number it is.” Mollison paused. Time to give the old Shylock another dose. He released his pressure on the boy’s face, but he had stopped crying. Mollison said, “Say hello to your grandfather, kid.” When the boy, too frightened to speak, said nothing, Mollison slapped him lightly across the face. “Say hello,” he ordered again.
The boy managed to say, “Gran’pa—” but he could get no further words out and subsided into spasmodic weeping.
The weeping was as good as words anyway. Mollison let Anacosta listen for a few seconds before he continued. “Put the money in the locker and take the key with you. Leave the terminal by the south entrance and walk across Pleasant Street to the common in front of the railroad station. You know where I mean?”
Anacosta said, “I know. I know. Let me talk to the boy again for a minute. Please.”
Mollison said, “Later,” feeling a sensation of power at having made Anacosta crawl. “You’d better keep listening,” he continued. “There’s a drinking fountain on the common. There is only one so you can’t make any mistake. You stop and get a drink of water. Listen, Anacosta—there’s a pedal on that fountain. You step on it to make the water come. Put the key under the pedal and move on—and don’t look back.”
“I won’t look,” Anacosta promised eagerly. “I don’t want the money, mister. You can have it—just so you don’t hurt the boy. I give it to you. You will let him go when you get the money?”
“If you don’t try to trap us we will. We’re watching your house right now. We’ll watch you when you leave and all the rest of the time. If you so much as talk to anyone, you’re cutting the kid’s throat. Do you understand that?”
Mollison brought his wrist up with difficulty and glanced at his watch. Eleven-eight. So far the timing was accurate almost to the second. He said, “Get your hat and coat and leave right now—and remember that we’ll be watching you.”
“Let me say one word to the boy,” Anacosta pleaded.
Mollison released his grip slightly. “Go ahead,” he said. “Make it fast.”
Anacosta said, “Carmen?”
The boy gasped, “I’m here, Gran’pa.”
Anacosta hurried his words. “You do what the man says, now. You do whatever he says and everything will be all right. You hear what I said?”
Mollison interrupted. “He heard you. Now move.” He hung up the receiver and waited a moment before he put another coin in and dialed Anacosta’s number again. That was another of the risks they had accepted. If the number was busy it would mean that Anacosta was calling for help; the police or the mustache boys. It was not busy. He heard Anacosta’s voice anxiously saying, “Yes? Yes? I am just leaving.” Mollison set the receiver down gently; not on its hook but on the small shelf that the telephone company provided beneath the instrument. They had tried this, he and Morgan. Anacosta’s line was now out of action. If Anacosta tried to call out he would get only a busy signal. After three minutes the operator would put a howler on the pay station booth, but there would be no one to hear it. After a time she would call the service department and a road man would come out to check the telephone, but in the meantime Anacosta’s line was useless to him. Mollison left the booth and got into the car, pushing the boy ahead of him.
The biggest risk of all was Anacosta himself. They had no one watching him. Mollison had to make the call, Patsy had to serve as warden in the boiler room, and Morgan had to be at the bank. They could only wait, and see if the combination of Mollison’s threats and the near-frantic devotion of the old man to his grandson were an effective enough combination to keep him from running up to the first policeman he saw or stopping at the first drugstore with a pay station in it. Mollison felt the first light film of perspiration on his forehead and the palms of his hands, but he was not aware of being afraid, except in one sense: he was afraid that something might happen to prevent him from getting his share of the money, now that they were so close to it. He drove back to the boiler room and left the boy. He paused long enough to replace the door and window handles on the car and then drove downtown and parked as near to the bus station as he could. He did not enter the terminal. Instead he bought a newspaper and found a vacant bench a hundred feet from the drinking fountain on the common that fronted the railroad station. He settled down to wait.
At approximately the time that Howard Mollison waited for the Anacosta boy to come by on his way to school, Louis Morgan was admitted to the Drover’s National Bank through a side door by a uniformed watchman who gave him the greeting appropriate to a teller with ten years’ seniority. Whereas Mollison waited for their victim more in a perverted form of excitement than in fear, Morgan, this early, was close to panic. Only the force of routine had gotten him through the morning so far. You arose and you washed; you brushed your teeth and dressed and shaved and then took a downtown bus, getting off and stopping at a coffee shop for toast and coffee. You did these things, after so many years, out of habit; and if these things were the same it almost seemed as if everything else were the same too. Except that it wasn’t. At this moment, if Mollison had carried out his part of the plan, he was an accessory to a kidnapping. Even while he walked into the vault and took out the locked cash box that he had checked in the previous day, he was a party to the most heinous crime of them all.:
He was aware that his hands were trembling as he took the box from the vault and hurried quickly to his own cage, where he pretended to be busy sorting the money that it contained; this occupied his hands and had the further effect of discouraging conversation by the other tellers.
The doors opened, and there was a quick little clot of early customers. This too was routine; a cherished routine, it seemed now, not dull and pointless as before. People came in and handed you chits and you gave them money. Or you gave them chits and they gave you money. It had seemed futile to the point of absurdity but Morgan would have made almost any sacrifice to have nothing else to look forward to for the rest of his life. Mollison must have the boy by now. Had he been seen? Had someone called the police that a man was abducting a child? Had they caught him already—and had he confessed and involved Morgan? Morgan’s hands trembled and the woman who was making a savings deposit at his window looked at him intently.
“You look white as a sheet,” she said. “Are you all right?”
Good God, he couldn’t afford to have people notice him. He had never before appreciated that it could be a blessing not to be noticed, to be obscure, neuter… He said lamely, “I have quite a headache.” He even managed a smile that felt as artificial as it was. “I saw a technicolor movie last night. It always seems to bother my eyes the following day.”
The woman glanced at the pass book. “I’ve heard people say that,” she said agreeably. “Still, you ought to see your eye man.”
She turned away. So much for her—but she had noticed his pallor and she was a stranger. It followed that the people in the bank would also notice it. When there was a lull in the morning’s activity, Morgan left his own cubicle and walked into the adjacent one. The teller turned to meet him.
Morgan said, “You’ve got the early lunch period, haven’t you, Vega?”
Vega nodded. “I go off at eleven-thirty. Why? You want me to bring you in something?”
Morgan shook his head, hating to ask a favor of the other teller. The bank personnel thought he was a snob, that he considered himself something better than they were; and he was aware of the way they felt. He had no alternative. He had to be free at eleven-thirty and he had to explain the pallor that he could not possibly hide, so that if they talked about the kidnapping in the washroom on the next day or the next, no one would think it strange that Louis Morgan had been very upset when Anacosta came to the bank to pick up the ransom money. He said, “I’m supposed to go out at one. Would you mind trading with me—if you haven’t any special plans, I mean.” He added quickly, wanting to establish the good-fellow relationship that the other bank employees seemed to value, “I’ve got a block-buster of a head—went to a stag dinner last night. I thought if I got some coffee and some fresh air I might live.”
Vega smiled sympathetically, thinking that perhaps Morgan wasn’t quite such a stuffed shirt after all. “Sure, Lou,” he said. “You look pretty rocky.”
Morgan thanked him and hurried back to his own cage; he had arranged to be off at eleven-thirty without having to go to the assistant manager and plead a headache.
He glanced at the lobby clock. Ten-thirty. Morrison was to call Anacosta at eleven—at exactly eleven. The call would take six or seven minutes—perhaps as much as ten. It would take Anacosta—allowing for his age—anywhere from twelve to fifteen minutes to walk to the Drover’s Bank—so that he should walk in the door between twenty minutes and half past eleven. If he did not, Morgan would know why. It would mean that he was calling the police—and how soon after that would they be coming for him? He had an almost pathological fear of the police. Not because they represented punishment but because of the humiliation they could subject him to—as they had once before when he was eleven years old, when they had come to arrest his father.
Morgan glanced at the clock and was astonished to see that it was ten minutes past eleven. He had been lost in a dangerous reverie which had, however, almost gotten him through the terrible waiting time. There were only some twenty minutes left now until Anacosta would come walking in the door to get the money for himself and Morrison. Or until the police would come. Morrison had claimed that he could tie up Anacosta’s telephone so that he couldn’t call out. He was supposed to have convinced the old man that he was being watched so that he wouldn’t stop off at a drugstore or a gas station and use a public telephone to tip off the police—but had he been that convincing?
Customers came to his wicket, and he waited on them with numb efficiency while he planned his actions when Anacosta came in. Should he wait on him himself or pass him along to Vega? He could work it either way by merely speeding or delaying the customers at his own wicket so that the line in front of it would be short or long. He decided that he could not face Anacosta directly himself. If he worked it so that he would go to Vega’s cage, he could still see everything that went on. Safer that way. He began to slow down his own paper work so that a line formed almost immediately.
Twenty minutes past eleven. Twenty-five. Unbelievably Morgan now felt almost calm, but it was a fatalistic calm. Either Anacosta or the police were going to come in the door. Nothing he could do about it. He slowed his line down a shade, wanting to have enough people waiting in front of his wicket to justify delaying the lunch period he had traded with Vega until, one way or another, it was over. At eleven-thirty, Anacosta walked in—alone. Morgan watched him cross the lobby, walking with the erratic shuffle of an old man trying to hurry. The old man’s face was gray, his eyes staring. Morgan had seen him a hundred times; at his home when he went there weekly to redeem his predated checks and, occasionally, in the bank when Anacosta came there on business. He seemed to have aged, to have lost the usual brutal, surly confidence. Morgan momentarily felt pity for him until he remembered that he was, after all, a usurer and worse, according to Mollison.
It could still be a trap. Maybe the police were following. Maybe they had picked up Mollison and were looking for reactions; maybe that’s why they were having the old man pick up the money as if nothing had happened. But would he look so stricken? He could not affect the shocked expression on his face, Morgan decided. Still he could not face the man. He bent over a sheaf of deposit slips, watching Anacosta covertly. He was walking toward the enclosure that held the safety deposit boxes, pausing only to identify himself to the guard before he passed from Morgan’s sight.
Morgan felt a nervous elation. It was working. It was working. He jumped, startled, at the sound of a voice calling him. It was Vega in the next cage.
“Lou,” he called. “Hey, Lou—you want to send those people over to my cage while you go and get that coffee?”
Morgan glanced up. “No thanks,” he said. “I can finish with these two.” He pulled the triangular block of wood with the word Closed on it over in front of his cage and smiled at the two men who were still in line. “I’ll take care of you gentlemen before I go,” he said, amazed that the smile had come easily.
There was a nicety of timing needed now. He wanted time for Anacosta to reappear from the safety deposit vault, and yet he wanted to be on his way to the door at that exact moment so that he would not appear to be following the old man. There was another factor involved—would he be going to one of the tellers to make a withdrawal now, or could it be possible that he had seventy-five thousand dollars in the safety deposit box? Morrison had thought that he probably kept that much in nonrecorded funds, and Morgan remembered the size of the sheaves of bills that he had seen on the day he had followed him into the vault. It was possible. If it were in hundreds that would mean that there would be only seven hundred and fifty bills; a huge sheaf but one that could easily be concealed in a paper bag.
Morgan finished with the two men, walked back to the employees’ lockers for his hat, and returned to the lobby, dawdling as much as he dared without being conspicuous. Anacosta had not appeared by the time he had stalled as much as he could, and he walked out the door with a nod for the guard.
Anacosta would be walking down Elm—if he were actually going to follow Mollison’s instructions. Morgan walked half a block down Elm and stopped at a newsstand-lunchroom that had four stools posted in front of a marble counter gritty with spilled sugar where it was not gummy with slopped milk. Out of natural fastidiousness he usually avoided the place—Vega claimed that the coffee was the best—but this was no usual day and the lunchroom was a perfect observation post. He would have liked a cup of coffee but decided against it. It might be served too hot to drink, and if Anacosta went by he would have to leave it and that might stick in the counterman’s memory.
“A glass of milk,” he said. He put a dime on the counter, buying with it the right to get up and leave whenever he wished without having to fool with a check. He had half finished the milk when Anacosta walked by. He had to force himself to wait while he finished the milk and let the old man get a half block ahead. He was carrying a large paper bag.
All he could do now was follow Anacosta to the bus terminal; he could not follow him inside—the risk would be too great—but he could watch from across the street and see how long he remained inside. If he didn’t come out in five minutes, they could assume that he was contacting the police. In all their planning, he and Mollison had never really decided what they would do if he delayed longer than the allotted five minutes. “Pick up the key, perhaps, and hire some kid to go get the bag from the locker? If they had had another confederate now, he could have watched Anacosta during the two most dangerous gaps—when he left his house to walk to the bank, although he was supposed to think that he was being watched, which should have the same effect, and in the bus terminal. Morgan, watching from across the street, saw Anacosta emerge from the terminal and cross Pleasant Street. He no longer * had the bag with him.
They were so close now. A few minutes to wait to be sure that the old man didn’t look back or change his mind, and then he would be picking up the key and going back to the terminal for the paper bag full of money. Seventy-five thousand dollars. Half of that was thirty-seven thousand,-five hundred. Morgan wondered what Mollison was going to do with his share. He was in some sort of a jam; no doubt about that. As for his own share, Morgan was first going to pay off Anacosta. He thought it almost hysterically amusing. Anacosta’s own money. How would he do it? Change the money into small bills—twos and fives—and pay off the two hundred dollars all at once? No. No, damn it. The worst thing you could do was show money after a kidnapping. No, he would go on paying him off a few dollars each week. Mollison claimed that Anacosta wouldn’t go to the police, but Morgan was sure that the minute he had the boy back safe he would get the FBI, the police and the Army and Navy if he could work it.
It was time. Morgan crossed the street, taking the same route that Anacosta had taken. The old man was not in sight. Mollison was sitting on a bench in front of the common reading a newspaper. As Morgan approached, he lowered the newspaper and nodded faintly. Without making any sign of recognition, Morgan walked deliberately to the drinking fountain and bent over as if to tie his shoelace. The key was in the little niche behind the foot pedal; flat and brass and gleaming. Morgan picked it up, then bent to take a drink of water. He could not swallow it even though his throat was dry. Suddenly he was afraid again. So far, barring the apprehension of Mollison by the police, he had been fairly safe—almost an innocent bystander. He had not talked to Anacosta—he had never even seen the boy. Now he was to pick up the money, and he approached it with the same fear with which he would have approached a live bomb. He had argued about this phase of the plan with Mollison, wanting Mollison to take the key and get the money.
“The hell with that,” Mollison had said. “You want me to do everything; snatch the kid and arrange for the ransom and pick it up, too. What are you supposed to do to earn your half? Let’s face it, Lou. You could go into a bus station and nobody would see you if they were looking right at you. You look as if you might even live there. I couldn’t do that. I’d stand out. People could remember me.”
Morgan had admitted there was a certain amount of truth in Mollison’s argument. Now he walked back toward the station. Look at the key and get the number so you won’t have to search around when you get into the terminal, he told himself. Two hundred and six. All right. You know where the two hundred series lockers are. Walk toward them. There was a crowd in the terminal. People waiting for buses, waiting for friends. Waiting for him? He couldn’t turn around and walk out now. If some of the waiting people were the police, that would be as suspicious as going to the locker. He moved toward the green cabinets, feeling a warm trickle of perspiration slide from his armpit and down the length of his ribs. Two hundred and two—two hundred and four. Two hundred and six. It was the bottom tier. He bent and fumbled with the key with numb fingers. It hung and then slid into place. The tumblers fell into line and the door swung open. The paper sack was there. He picked it up, aware of a fleeting surprise that it was so heavy. Don’t hang around and get your face remembered. He walked out into the stream of pedestrian traffic on Elm Street and headed downtown, feeling that his face was burning. After two blocks a car pulled up beside him. He was afraid to look around until he heard Mollison’s heavy Voice.
“Get in,” he said. “Is it there?”
He had not dared to look in the bag. He hurried around the front of Mollison’s car and slid into the seat. Only when Mollison had let in the clutch and sent them rolling away did he uncurl the top of the bag and look in to see the solid looking edge of a sheaf—it looked like the edge of a mail order catalogue—of bills. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Morgan had the double standard common to bank employees and pari-mutuel clerks. Money, during business hours, was a commodity, something to be handled and distributed and counted but not of any obvious value. Money only took on meaning outside of the bank or the pay window at the track. This money, this common brown paper bag full of money, had meaning. It was his—his and Mollison’s.
They would both keep their jobs—for a time, at least—even if there were no furor in the newspapers about the kidnapping. Maybe Anacosta would go to the police and maybe not; but if he did go it might be kept out of the papers, for a time, anyway, and they would never be able to be quite sure that an investigation wasn’t being conducted. They had decided that much when they first planned the kidnapping.
Mollison asked, “Do you want to eat? This is your lunch hour, isn’t it?”
Morgan shook his head. He could not even remember what it felt like to be hungry. “No,” he said. “You can drive around for a little while and then drop me off at the bank.”
Mollison nodded. “Just as if nothing had happened. You’ve got to remember that, Lou. We both do. Remember what I said—it’s the ones who go crazy with the money that get caught. How much did you say Anacosta had you on the hook for?”
“Two hundred dollars.”
“Well, don’t do anything foolish like paying him off right away.”
Morgan wished that Mollison would stop treating him like a child. The exhilaration that had come from actual contact with the money had faded swiftly; now there was only the dull lethargy that came from sustaining a high emotional key for too long a time.
Mollison suddenly laughed aloud and slapped Morgan’s thigh. “What are we worrying about?” he demanded. “We made it, Lou.”
“We made it,” Morgan agreed. “What about the boy? When are we going to let him go?”
Mollison fumbled for a cigarette. ‘There isn’t any rush,” he said. “You don’t expect to turn him loose in broad daylight, do you?”
“No, I guess not. Couldn’t you just leave the door unlocked and let him get out by himself? We didn’t figure this end of it out the way we should have.”
Mollison said impatiently, “There isn’t anything to figure about it. Let me worry about it, Lou. We can’t do anything until after dark anyway. He’s safe with Patsy. Now what about the money? Do you want to hold onto it until tonight?”
He was trying to show how much he trusted him, Morgan thought. Offering to let him hold the money when he knew damn well he couldn’t carry it back to the bank with him. A cheap, show-off gesture. “No,” he said. “You keep it. I’ll come up to your place tonight after work. You’d better drop me off at the bank now. I don’t want to be late.” He was annoyed with Mollison and himself. They had planned for every possible circumstance in the actual kidnapping, but they hadn’t taken the time to figure how to clean up the mess they had made, how to return the boy. And now that he thought about it, Mollison had been evasive all along whenever they had discussed what they would do once they had the money. He didn’t like it.
The bank was almost empty when Morgan re-entered the lobby. Vega smiled and shoved the Closed sign in front of his own wicket. “How’s the head?” he asked slyly.
Morgan frowned. “A little better,” he said. Vega was acting normally. Anacosta had been able to get all of the ransom money from the safety deposit box without going to Vega to make a withdrawal; Morgan was sure of this because of the short lapse of time between his own departure for lunch and Anacosta’s reappearance as he passed the lunchroom down the street. He was doubly sure now. If Anacosta had made a major withdrawal from his account, Vega would be gossiping about it as he locked his cash box and prepared to leave. Vega seemed, like the rest of the bank personnel, to like to talk about other people’s money—probably because he didn’t have any of his own, Morgan thought dourly. He opened his cash box, and had a sudden thought. What assurance did he have that Mollison wouldn’t take all the money and leave town? He would be safe enough, God knew. What could Morgan do—swear out a warrant? Hire detectives? By the end of the day the thought was a constant torment, and he had convinced himself that when he got to the apartment Mollison would be gone. There was one glimmering of relief in the thought. If Mollison had gone, perhaps it was because he had already turned the boy loose and was afraid that he might be identified.
Mollison’s apartment was a tiny two-room affair in a brick cliff on the west side of town. Morgan hurried up the hall and pushed the bell beside the living-room door. As if he had been waiting with his hand on the knob, Mollison opened the door. He had a drink in his hand. “Come in, Lou, and quit worrying. The money is here.”
He led the way into the apartment. A table radio blared from one corner of the room. Mollison gestured toward it. “I just listened to the five-thirty news. Not a thing about it. Not a damn thing. What would you like to drink?”
Morgan sat down. “Whisky and water,” he said.
Mollison left the room and returned after a moment. He had a highball glass in one hand and a large-sized manila envelope in the other. The envelope bulged, so that the flap gaped like a mouth. Mollison bounced it in his hand, nearly dropping it. “Thirty-seven thousand five hundred. Do you want to count it?”
Morgan shook his head, thinking, did the damned fool have to act so coy.
“What about Patsy?” he asked.
Mollison tossed the envelope to Morgan. It was surprisingly heavy, and he clutched it between his knees to keep it from falling to the floor. “What would Patsy do with money?” he asked. “If he showed up at the club with more than ten dollars they’d want to know where he got it. I’ll give him a few bucks and he’ll be just as happy.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Morgan agreed. “What about the club—won’t they be wondering where he is?”
“Who’s to wonder? I’ll say I gave him a chance to earn a few bucks washing cars over at the lot. I’m going over in a little while and bring him a couple of sandwiches to hold him until dark. How about coming along with me?”
“All right,” Morgan said. He hesitated. “We’ll have to bring something for the boy to eat too. I don’t want to get out of the car, though. There’s no need of him seeing me.” He had a curious compulsion to see the boy even though it was dangerous to take the chance of being seen by him.
Mollison’s voice had a cynical edge. “Sure,” he said. “Play it safe, Lou. When you stop and think about it you’ve been pretty safe all along.”
Morgan said angrily, “That’s the way we planned it, Mollison. You did your share and I did mine. And if it comes to it, we’re equally guilty.”
Mollison stood up. “All right—all right. Let’s get on over there. Do you want to leave that here?”
“I’ll take it with me. After we leave there you can drop me off near my place. I want to pick up my own car.”
They drove toward the old Maynard Mill almost in silence. A tension had sprung lip between them; Morgan could feel it growing like some monstrous black cloud, but he could think of nothing to say that would dispell it. They stopped at a diner, and Mollison waited while Morgan got out and bought hamburgers and coffee and milk.
There were only two cars in the parking area behind the mill. Neither of them was within a hundred yards of the boiler room. Mollison pulled in beside the low building and got out.
“You can’t see through the windows,” he said. “He’s probably lying on the cot. Stand beside the door and you may be able to see him.” He fumbled with a key in the lock.
Morgan got out of the car. “You’ve got Patsy locked in?” he asked, incredulous.
Mollison half turned, one hand still on the doorknob. “I told him it was for his own protection,” he said. “Did you want him wandering around the mill?- Don’t be stupid, Lou—and let me handle Patsy my own way.” He swung the door open. Morgan dodged to one side, but Patsy came halfway out the door and saw him.
“Hello, Howie,” he said. Less eagerly he added, “Hello, Lou. Did you get the money?”
Not knowing the fairy tale that Morrison had told to explain holding the child, Morgan asked in shocked fear, “What money? What are you talking about?”
Patsy said disgustedly, “The money them Dago bastards owe Howie.”
Morrison held out the paper sack of sandwiches. “Here’s some sandwiches for you and the kid, Patsy. We got the money.”
Patsy nodded his head in righteous approval. “Good thing they paid you, them bastards,” he said. “Damn good thing.”
Morrison moved toward the door. “Did you have any trouble with the kid?” he asked.
Patsy backed into the room to make way for Morrison. “I didn’t have no trouble,” he said proudly. He glanced toward Morgan to see if he was coming in. When Morgan did not move toward the door he continued, “You want me to stay here some more, Howie?”
“For a little while. I’ll be back bye and bye. You eat your sandwiches and give some to the kid if he wants any.”
Morgan moved toward the side of the door. Looking in at a long angle he could just make out a huddled form on the cot. The face was hidden as if the boy were sleeping, face down. Until he actually saw the boy he had considered him a chattel; something impersonal that he and Morrison had taken in order to extract money, and not as a someone that would feel pain and hurt and misery. He hurried back to the car, unable to cope with the helpless sympathy he felt for the boy. There was a bright side. Pretty soon it would be dark. They could drop him somewhere he knew and he could find his way home.
Morrison came out to the car after a few minutes. He got in, glancing at his watch as he slid behind the wheel. “Almost seven,” he said. “It will be dark by eight.” He nosed the car out of the parking area and into the heavy stream, of traffic on the boulevard before he spoke again. “Look, Lou. There isn’t any need for you to come back when I turn the kid loose. If you were with me he’d have to see you when he got in the car and there isn’t any real need for you to take the risk. I’ll come back and pick him up and dump him off downtown some place. Right after dark.”
Morgan’s immediate sensation was relief. He had no desire to see again the living evidence of what he and Mollison had done. And Mollison was right; there was no need for him to take the chance that the boy might some day see him again. He agreed quickly before Mollison might change his mind, but he could not convince himself that he fully believed Mollison, nor that he could wash his hands of the boy now and make them clean. Mollison became expansive. “The kid might go into the bank with his grandfather some day. If he saw you tonight he might recognize you. There’s no chance that he’ll see me. Anacosta doesn’t buy used cars, and if he did he wouldn’t be apt to bring the kid with him.”
Mollison had let Morgan out at the garage that he rented near his rooming house. It was a one-stall compartment in a line of similar compartments, and only a chicken-wire partition separated it from the neighboring stalls. Though Morgan had missed tools and petty items from his dashboard compartment on other occasions—he suspected that the owner of the garages had his own key and padded his rentals by pilfering—he had little choice of hiding places. He didn’t dare take the money to his room and leave it, knowing, as he did, that his landlady made periodic shakedowns of her roomers’ belongings.
The floor of the garage was hard-packed cinders. He opened the trunk of his cheap sedan and took out a screw driver and the round iron extension handle of a jack. When he was certain that there was no one else in the building, he began to hack a hole in the floor. If he pulled the car as far ahead as possible, the hole would be underneath it. There was a plastic-covered pillow in the front seat. He ripped the plastic along one seam and pulled out the foam rubber insert. He took fifty dollars from the envelope that Mollison had given him. The remainder he wrapped in the plastic and buried in the hole which he then covered up as neatly as he could. It was not a good hiding place but it would do. In the next day or so he would find a better one.
His hands were grimy from the work and he fretted about them as he put the tools away. He did this, he knew, to distract himself, to keep from thinking about the boy, thinking about Mollison. But he could not maintain the deception because he was thinking about Mollison. Mollison saying, “I’ll turn the kid loose. There isn’t any need for you to come with me, Lou.” Or, “I’ve got some sandwiches for Patsy.” Not for the boy.
Morgan, dropping pretense, faced reality. The boy had been with Patsy and Mollison—Mollison, for God’s sake, had even used names. Lou. Patsy. And Patsy had called him Howie. Would Mollison let the boy go to tell the police that three men named Lou and Howie and Patsy had kidnapped him and kept him in a room with a big furnace in it? Mollison had said it himself—“You could walk in the bus station and nobody would know you were there, Lou. I stand out. People remember me.” And they did remember him. Even an eight-year-old boy would remember him and be able to describe him with some accuracy. He remembered Mollison assuring him that they would so frighten Anacosta that he would somehow keep the boy quiet when he had him back. And Morgan had believed him because he wanted to believe him.
But now, standing in the garage, Morgan let the blind scales drop from his eyes and faced the truth as he had not dared to face it before. Mollison did not intend to let the boy live. He had never, from that first conversation in the club, intended to let him go after the money was paid. Morgan could not let it happen. Embezzler he was, and hypocrite. Phony, and kidnaper. Not a murderer. Morgan tried frantically to remember the scene an hour ago; to remember if the little form on the filthy cot had moved during the time he watched—or had he been looking at a corpse. Morgan faced reality and could not bear it. He made one inarticulate sound, half cry, half groan, and got into the car, remembering just in time that he had closed the garage doors before he started digging his cache. He got out and opened them and jumped into the driver’s seat again, scraping his shin raw against the bottom of the door and not even feeling it. On the way back to the mill he tried to convince himself that the boy had moved and that he would be in time to stop Mollison from what he knew Mollison planned.
After he let Morgan off, Mollison stopped at a bar and had three, drinks, one after the other in rapid succession. He needed them. What he was going to do now was not going to be easy. It had to be done, though. It just had to be done in spite of the bull he had fed Morgan about letting the kid go as soon as it was dark and safe. He was waiting for the secrecy of the night all right, but it wasn’t so he could take the kid downtown. What a soft, pansy type that Morgan was. If he had told him in the beginning that they would have to get rid of the kid he would have backed out. What a damn fool, too, to think that they could let him go. He ordered still another drink. He could feel no slightest effect from the ones he had had. Morgan was a pansy, all right. It was unfair that he should get half the money for what he had done. What had he done? Found out how much money Anacosta had. And he had picked it up at the bus terminal, but what risk had there been in that? Practically none, and the way they had pulled it off proved it.
He debated having another drink and decided against it. But he stopped at a liquor store a block from the bar and bought a fifth of whisky. Later he would need it. He was sure of that. Getting back into his car he drove slowly toward the mill.
Patsy was still on guard when Mollison unlocked the door to the boiler room. He was sitting on a broken crate, with the residue of the sandwiches he had eaten strewn around him. The little carton of milk that Morgan had bought for the kid stood on the floor, unopened. Patsy wiped his mouth and said, “He didn’t want to eat, Howie, so I ate his sandwich. That was all right, wasn’t it?”
Mollison glanced at the cot. The boy had turned on his back now. He lay perfectly still, staring at Mollison. Mollison looked away and said absently, “That’s all right, Patsy.” He walked across the room, past the great iron maw of the boiler, looking at the gauges and valves. An old destroyer boiler, bought cheap after the First World War. Somewhere along the twisted road of his life he had picked up a little knowledge of steam equipment. Not that he needed much here. The water level cut off; the relief valve—none of those things cut in until you had a few pounds’ pressure. There was a chain hanging from the stack itself behind the boiler. That’s all you needed. Open it a crack and the damper leading to the firebox would lift and you had a draft. Open it more than a crack and the draft would suck the hat off your head from across the room. There was the broken crate that Patsy was sitting on, and there were some short lengths of two-by-four shoring in back of the building. With those you could start a coal fire—and there was plenty of coal because old man Decker had locked it in here to keep the poor bastards that lived near the mill from stealing it. Mollison could feel the whisky now. It felt as if it had lodged in his throat and was burning a hole there.
“Patsy,” he said, “you remember what I told you? About those Dagos that owed me money.”
Patsy shook his head vehemently to show just how well he remembered. “Sure, Howie. Them Dago bastards owed you some money for a long time and they wouldn’t pay you.”
“That’s right, Patsy. They didn’t exactly pay me back yet but they’re coming here tonight to get the kid and to give me the money they owe me. Remember what I told you? One of them left his wife and took the kid with him?”
Patsy nodded violently. “Sure. And if they don’t pay you back you’ll turn the kid over to his mother and they’ll never get him back. I know that, Howie. Cripes sakes, you told me that.” His expression was injured. “You told me lots of times.”
Mollison said apologetically, “Well, look, Patsy—they don’t want anyone to know about it. They don’t want anyone here except me when they come to bring the money. You know how it is, don’t you?”
Patsy had looked forward all day to riding back to the club in the car with Mollison; driving up to the curb and getting out, the two of them, laughing and talking the way the members did. He asked wistfully, “You mean you want me to go?” He brightened. “I could wait for you somewheres and we could go back to the club in your car.”
Mollison pretended to think for a moment. Then he said, “I’ve got a better idea, Patsy. You go on out and get a cup of coffee or a beer or something. Take your time about it and come back in an hour. Don’t come back before that because they might still be here.” He took out a bill and handed it to Patsy.
Patsy brightened up. “Sure,” he said. “And then we can drive to the club in your car, right, Howie?”
Mollison repeated, “Sure.”
Standing in the doorway, Mollison watched Patsy shamble off into the thickening darkness. He debated getting the fifth of whisky from the car and decided that he would. There were a few minutes yet until full dark and he could use another drink. He opened the door on the driver’s side and reached in, not turning his head away from the door to the boiler room in case the kid should make a bolt. In a way it would be easier if he did because now—since he didn’t try to get away—he had to go in there and stand over him and do what he had to do. And what had to be done after that was going to be worse. Back in the boiler room, he tilted the bottle to his lips and drank three or four times. It burned and it gagged him and it still did not make it any easier to think about the next hour’s work. The boiler room was completely dark now; he could literally not see his hand in front of his face. There was a naked electric light bulb hanging in front of the water gauge on the boiler. The current was probably turned off in this end of the building but it was worth a try. He lit a match. The flare seemed garish in contrast to the darkness of the room. He strained to reach the pull chain on the light socket and pulled it. Too much light. He hastily turned it off again while he groped for one of the blankets on the cot. At his touch the boy made a frightened, animal sound and squeezed himself against the wall. Ignoring him, Mollison stretched the blanket across the windows. They were already opaque with dirt and whitewash, but it didn’t hurt to be sure that light didn’t get through a crack somewhere. When he was finished he turned on the light again and inspected the job he had done in the dark. It would do. He sat down on the crate that Patsy had occupied earlier and looked at the boy. He was still squeezed up against the wall. All right then. Get it over. He stood up and took a step toward the cot, and decided that he would have another drink first…. This was what he had been afraid of all along; that he wouldn’t have the nerve to go through with it when the time came. Find the nerve, then. Find it in the bottle of whisky. Find it in the thought of what would happen if he didn’t kill the kid and they were found out. Find it in the picture of what the cops would do if they caught them. There were those pictures in the paper whenever the police caught a kidnaper. They always looked as if they’d been run over by a truck. Cops did that. Down in the basement rooms of their police stations. Cops—and everyone else—hated kidnapers so there couldn’t be any question of turning the kid loose. What was he, anyway? Just a Dago kid. But knowing all along that he might lose his nerve, he had included Patsy in his plan. Crazy Patsy who would do anything Mr. Mollison told him. He knew he couldn’t make himself do the boiler part of it. What was it he would tell him? “Look, Patsy—something happened to the kid. He must have smothered in his blankets. Patsy, we’ve got to get rid of his body. Patsy—” And then he would tell him something to explain. That the Dagos had come and paid him the money? No. Better to say that they just hadn’t showed up. Patsy would forget after a while probably. He forgot most things. And Lou Morgan; he was going to be sore about it but what could he do? Morgan had half the money, and none of the dirty work. Mollison took another drink from the bottle. Now, no more stalling.
There was the sound of a motor, of tires grating against tar. There was the sound of a door slamming and pounding of feet and the hammer of fists at the door. Mollison actually felt the blood drain from his face. The police? Or was it Anacosta and his mob, which was much worse. Who had told? Morgan. It had to be Morgan, damn him and his yellow streak. He looked around. There was no way out. There was a door but it led into the mill, not to the outside. While he tried to think, to pull himself together, he heard his name called. “Mollison,” the voice said. “Let me in. It’s me, Lou.”
For a moment relief weakened Mollison’s knees so that he stumbled as he went to the door. He opened it and Morgan pushed in. Mollison, still reacting from panic, said, “You son of a bitch. What are you doing here?”
All the way across town, from the garage where he had hidden his share of the ransom to the old Maynard Mill, Morgan tried to think of what he would do, what he would say, when he confronted Mollison. He drove more recklessly than he had driven in all his life, driving the car as he tried to drive his brain, desperate to be there in time. He felt as if he had been drugged, half conscious during the time they had planned the crime, and was only now waking up. It had been there to see all the time. Mollison had intended to kill the boy right along—and was that why he had dragged Patsy into it? Patsy. He would be there too—not that it mattered. If it became a matter of violence he was no match for Mollison alone, let alone Patsy, and he knew it. When he slammed the car to a stop in front of the mill and battered his hands against the door, Morgan had no idea how he could stop Mollison—if Mollison hadn’t already killed the Anacosta child.
When Mollison opened the door and demanded to know what Morgan was doing there, Morgan felt a violence of his own rising to match Mollison’s, but he controlled it. “Close the door,” he said sharply. The thing to do now was to take the initiative. “Where’s Patsy?”
Mollison said, “He’s gone out. He’ll be back. Lou, for God’s sake, you know how risky it is for us to be coming and going here.”
Morgan had hurried over to the cot where the boy lay face down. He pulled the dirty blanket back. He could not see the boy’s face but he could feel the small body shudder at his touch. He was alive. There was that much to be thankful for”. He was thinking more clearly now than he could ever remember thinking. He took in the bottle of whisky that Mollison had put down, judged Mollison’s own condition from the amount that was gone from the bottle. If he could get Mollison a little drunker it might help. He said, “I wanted to see if you’d let him go yet. I’ve been thinking about it, Howie. Maybe it wouldn’t be safe to let him go just yet.” Time to be careful now. Be sly about it. He walked over and picked up the bottle. “I could use a drink,” he said. He pretended to drink deeply but actually he merely tasted the whisky before he passed the bottle to Mollison. “Have one?” he asked.
Mollison took a large drink. His eyes were just the slightest touch bloodshot; his speech just the slightest bit slurred. “I thought you were pretty damn anxious to let him go as soon as it got dark,” he said. “What made you change your mind?”
Morgan tried to use the logic that would appeal to Mollison. “I’ve got the money,” he said. “I’ve got it and I like it and I don’t want to take any chance on anything happening that will keep me from spending it. Even if—” He hesitated, giving Mollison an opening.
Mollison said, “Even if what?” He thought for a moment and said, “You came right in. You came right in where he could get a good look at you.”
Morgan nodded. “You see what I mean?”
Mollison asked stupidly, “What?”
“I mean, it doesn’t make any difference whether he sees me or not, Howie. I don’t think we can afford to let him go. Not now. Maybe not ever.”
Mollison stared at him intently for a long moment. Then he began to laugh softly. “I’ll be a son of a bitch,” he said. “The money really opened your eyes, didn’t it?”
Morgan pretended a nervous impatience that he did not actually feel. His nerves were cold, frozen, as he drove his thinking. Convince Mollison that he had changed his mind and wanted now to kill the boy. Convince Mollison and buy time with that conviction. Time? Time to think. Morgan’s conscience drove him far enough to make him try to prevent the murder of the boy, but beyond that he had as yet no plan. But get the time.
“Let me have another drink,” he said. He drank again from the bottle and passed it back to Mollison, hoping that he would also drink out of habit, or reflex. Mollison did, deeply again. Morgan said defensively, “You must have thought about it too or you would have let him go by now.”
“I’m way ahead of you,” Mollison said. His expression was sly. “You don’t think I ever really meant to let him go, do you? Use your head, Lou. Half an hour after we let him go the cops would have our names and addresses. Let’s face it. If I hadn’t told you we’d let him go you’d have been too chicken to go through with it, wouldn’t you? You’re yellow, Lou. At least you were until you got your hands on that money.”
Mollison was beginning to feel the whisky more strongly now. He was becoming patronizing, arrogant. The drunken superiority of a big man over a littler man. Morgan said, “That doesn’t matter now. What do you plan to do with him? And take it easy on that whisky.” The nagging remark about the whisky was a calculated goad. Mollison responded by taking another drink.
“I can handle it,” he said in surly defiance. His eyes narrowed. “You want to know what I plan to do with him? Why me? You’re the brain. What would you do?”
Morgan, afraid that he had pushed the bigger man too far, tried to appease him. “All right, Howie,” he said. “Don’t get sore. I just thought that you must have something worked out, that’s all.”
Mollison said secretively, “Sure I have.” Abruptly his mood changed. “You’re all right, Lou,” he announced. “Just don’t tell me what to do.” He continued with a touch of smugness, “You know what this building is, don’t you?”
Morgan nodded. “A boiler room, you said.”
“Sure. A boiler room.” Mollison jerked his head toward the maw of the boiler. “That’s the boiler. Know what would happen if we had a fire in there—what we could put in there? There wouldn’t be nothing left.” His voice was thickening. He added in maudlin confidence, “I don’t think I could do it, Lou. I could do the other part, but sticking him in there afterward…” He shook his head. “That’s one reason I got Patsy. He’ll do it if I tell him. I can scare him into it. Tell him the cops will get us if he don’t. Or the Dagos.” He outlined for Morgan the story he had made up for Patsy to explain holding the boy.
Morgan was sickened as Mollison told him his plan for the disposal of the body. He took a small drink from the bottle—it was nearly empty now—and passed it to Mollison. “That was pretty clever thinking,” he praised Mollison, overcoming his revulsion.
Mollison said expansively, “I had another idea about Patsy,” he said. “Everybody knows he’s a screwball. If they ever started getting close, Anacosta or the cops, I mean, we could frame the whole thing on Patsy some way. I got a couple of ideas, but they need a lot of work.”
Morgan drove his mind back to something from his boyhood; when it was fall, when the first cold nights frosted the lawn with silvery hour, when there was a little coal in the basement of the house on Argonne Street. He said anxiously, “It’s a great idea, Howie, but it’s too risky. About the boiler, I mean.”
Mollison demanded arrogantly, “What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s like a furnace in a house,” Morgan said. “A coal furnace, I mean. The dust and stuff that settles on the bricks on the inside of the chimney goes up like a bomb the first time you start a fire in the winter. Sparks fly all over the place. A chimney that’s stood for years without a fire in it like this one will look like a blowtorch when it’s lit. Somebody will be sure to see it and report ft.” He applied the spur again. “You’ll have to do it some other way.” Morgan felt as if a part of him were separated from his body and was watching the way he was handling Mollison—watching with a surprised admiration. A touch of the spur, a slackening of the rein, thinking in the same groove as a half-drunken brute. But it was dangerous. Dangerous. And Patsy might come along at any moment.
Mollison was turning sullen again—as Morgan had anticipated. “Oh sure,” he grumbled. “I’ll have to do it some other way. You make it easy for yourself, don’t you, Lou. You’ve got your share of the money and now you want me to take care of everything.”
It came to Morgan that he had not thought of the money, the money that had once seemed so important, since he „ buried it under the garage floor. The money, the kidnapping, all that had happened in the last few weeks seemed unreal, as unreal as it was to be sitting in an abandoned boiler room talking about the murder of a child. Unreal. Unbelievable. Good God, how could he have done it? How could he have conspired with this drunken animal just for money?
Morgan glanced in the direction of the cot and wondered if the boy was awake, listening to them talk about what they were going to do to him. He must be nearly out of his mind with terror by this time. He waited impatiently, almost frantically, for Mollison’s slow brain to follow the channel he had dug for it with his every remark, his every attitude since coming into the boiler room.
Mollison reached for the bottle again, his motions fumbling and misdirected as the whisky took a firmer hold. Morgan, watching him intently, could tell the precise instant when the pattern of Mollison’s thinking fell into its predicted design. It was as if a switch had been thrown. The bloodshot eyes narrowed in drunken cunning. The reaching hand became still. The heavy head aimed at him like a gun.
“Well—you,” Mollison said. “You do it.”
Morgan felt his nerves relax. He had made Mollison suggest it. The danger now would be in pushing it. Mollison had the wary suspicion of a drunk. Protest a little. “Not me, Howie,” Morgan said. “You said yourself that you’d do it. You’re the one that planned it.” Close now. Close to the time when he would let Mollison make him take the boy out of this place.
Mollison felt relief of his own through the blur of alcohol. He had never wanted to kill the boy, to make himself do it. It was just something that had to be done. Hell with it Let Morgan do it. He had done his share. “You said my plan wasn’t any good,” he jeered. “That lets me off the hook. Now you think of something. I’m out of it.”
Morgan said slowly, almost as if he were thinking out loud, “It would have to be somewhere else since we can’t use the boiler.”
Mollison at once became suspicious. “Why not right here? There has to be another way to get rid of him afterward.” He jerked his head toward the door that led to the main part of the mill. “We could hide him in there if we wanted to.”
Morgan shook his head. “That wouldn’t be very smart, Howie. Someday he would be found. Then the police would want to know why this place was used and they’d start asking who had keys. They’d go to Decker right away. Do you think that Decker would forget that you worked there once?”
Mollison shook his head. He reached for the bottle and put it down again when he found that he had emptied it. “I need a drink,” he said. His voice was almost petulant. “All right. If it isn’t here, where will it be? It’s your baby now.”
Morgan considered protesting further and decided against it as being risky and pointless. “I know a place,” he said. “It’s about ten miles from here; an old farm with a caved-in well in the back yard. I could dig it out a little and put him there. They’d never find him, and if they did they couldn’t connect him up with either of us.”
Mollison grinned. “I want to see you do it, Lou. What are you going to do—strangle him?” He pointed toward a corner of the room. ‘There’s a piece of two by four there you could use for a club.”
For a moment Morgan was frightened, thinking that Mollison was baiting him; that he had known that he didn’t intend to kill the boy. Then he realized that Mollison’s desire to see him kill the boy was an expression of the man’s cruelty. He must know, must sense that it would be torment for Morgan to do it. “You said it was my problem,” Morgan said. “I’m not going to do it here.” He sought for a quick lie. “Killing him is bad enough. I’m not going to drive around with a body in the car. I’ll do it when I get there.”
Mollison seemed to sober momentarily. “Lou,” he said, “you can’t make any mistakes. You can’t turn yellow again.”
Morgan, who had moved toward the cot, laughed shortly. “What did you think I was going to do?” he asked. ‘Turn him loose?”
“I guess not. You know what I mean, Lou—and don’t get sore. You just made your mind up after you got your share of the money. To get rid of him, I mean. You know it’s got to be done, that’s all.”
“I know it. You don’t have to tell me. Do you want to come along while I do it?” Morgan took a calculated risk in the sarcastic question, hoping that he had judged Mollison’s condition accurately.
Mollison seemed to have dropped again into a semi-drunken daze. “It’s all right,” he said, waving his hand limply. “Go ahead and take him. It’s your neck as much as mine if you don’t go through with it.”
Morgan picked the boy up in his arms. The small body tensed. He was awake, then. He made no sound. “What are you going to do?” Morgan asked.
“I’ll wait here for Patsy,” Mollison answered. “Are you going to come to the club after you’ve done it?”
“I don’t know. I doubt it.”
Mollison shrugged. “Suit yourself,” he said.
Only after he had put the boy in the back seat of his two-door car did the reaction from the strain of the last fifteen minutes hit Morgan. When it did it doubled him over the steering wheel and he had to fight his way erect to start the car. He headed out of town. He had a little time to think now. Just a little because he had the boy in the back seat to consider. Until this moment his every resource in thought and action had been consumed in getting the boy out of the boiler room. He had no idea what he was going to do with him now. Except that he couldn’t turn him loose because to turn him loose was to die and Morgan was not prepared to die.
He drove out of town cautiously. There was no sound, no movement from the boy in the back seat.” When the stretches of dark road between diners and filling stations and drive-ins began to get longer and to occur more frequently, he glanced at his watch and saw that it was almost ten o’clock. He reached and turned on the radio and fiddled with the tuning knob until he located a local station broadcasting a news program; when he had it tuned in he listened impatiently while the commentator waded through a mass of detail concerning politics, labor scandals and baseball scores. Nothing at all about a kidnapping. Mollison was probably right. Anacosta had not gone to the police. Unless he had gone and they were sitting on it. They did that sometimes.
He was becoming gradually aware of the magnitude of the problem he had on his hands now that he had the boy safely away from Mollison and Patsy. Turn him loose to go home? Impossible. Not when he knew names and faces. Morgan shuddered. Supposing he turned him loose and he did go home and tell his grandfather. He might not go to the police. He might take matters into his own hands and that was something more to be feared than the police. No, he couldn’t let him go. But what, for God’s sake, could he do with him? He toyed with some bizarre notions and rejected them as fast as he conceived them. Put him on a freight train and then go home and get out of town. Morgan admitted to himself that he hardly knew where the freight yards were, let alone how to find an empty car and open the door. Or rent a room in some near-by city and fill the boy with narcotics; just enough to keep him unconscious while he, Morgan, went back to his place and got his share of the ransom money and fled. Fled where? And what did he know about narcotics, where did you get them, how did you use them? The very fact that the solutions he arrived at were so completely ridiculous impressed Morgan with the impossibility of the situation he was in. He was startled when the boy called to him from the back seat. He could not make out the words and he reached down and snapped off the radio and said, “What?”
The boy said, “I want to go home. I want my father and mother.”
Morgan felt an unreasonable rage at the boy, the cause of his trouble of the moment. “Shut up,” he said. “Shut up and lie down on the seat.” He turned to see if the boy was following his order. He was. He subsided back on the seat in the mute apathy of fear gone beyond fear.
Morgan had a sudden thought. If he were kind to the boy, if he brought him back to Anacosta and admitted his part in the kidnapping but pointed out the extenuating fact that he had saved the boy’s life, maybe they wouldn’t kill him. He could tell them about Mollison and where to find him and depend on their mercy. Then he remembered that Anacosta was reputed to have no mercy and, believing this, he rejected the thought and was left with no idea at all. A little tag end of pity was aroused in him by the memory of the boy’s white face and terrified obedience to his command, and he half turned to glance at him again. “Look,” he began, “I’m not going to kill you, if that’s what you’re afraid of. I won’t kill you if you do exactly as I tell you.” More to himself than to the boy he said, “I don’t know what I am going to do with you but I don’t want to kill you.”
The boy in the back did not answer, and Morgan turned his eyes front again and glanced at the instrument panel. The old car burned almost as much oil as gasoline, and he continually watched the oil pressure gauge out of long habit. The pressure was at twenty, high enough for the weary old motor, but he saw with a sickening sense of disaster that the fuel gauge needle was already against the stop below the empty mark. He looked ahead to see if he could find the glow in the night sky that would mean a filling station, and for a moment he was relieved when he saw not only the glow but the station itself a half mile ahead. The relief died with the realization that he would have Jo drive in with the means of his own destruction in the back seat. He regretted now that he had told the boy that he was not going to kill him. If the boy was not afraid that he would be killed he would cry out, would try to break away from the car, would try to get the gas station attendant to notice him. Yet he had to get gas. Morgan slowed almost to a stop and spoke to the boy again.
“Listen to me,” he said, trying to make his voice sound full of deadly purpose, “I’m going to stop in a minute to get gas. I want you to lie down on the floor and not make a sound.” He thought about that and changed his mind. A boy asleep on the seat he could explain. A boy lying on the floor of the car, if the attendant happened to see him, could not be easily explained and would be remembered. “No,” he said. “You stay right on the seat where you are and put the blanket over you and pretend you’re asleep. Do you understand me?”
The boy mumbled something—Morgan could not quite make out the words—but he took them for assent.
“If you don’t,” Morgan added, “I’ll kill you. Or I’ll take you back to the other men and let them do it.” He turned in the seat and glanced again at the boy. He had not moved, apparently, since the last time Morgan had looked at him. He lay on his side, his fists doubled and tight against his chest.
He was almost abreast of the filling station. Morgan turned in and stopped beside the glistening red pumps. He waited for the attendant with a sort of fatalistic calm. If the boy screamed or attracted attention now, it was the end.
The attendant approached the car in a careless saunter, whistling softly between his teeth. He walked toward the front of the car, not passing the back. Good, for the moment, but when he pumped the gas into the tank he could hardly help looking into the rear seat. Morgan leaned out and said, “Ten gallons, please.”
“Sure, mister. Regular or high test?”
The attendant said, “Regular. Right,” and moved to the rear of the car. Morgan heard him fumble with the gas tank cover and then the humming of the pump. He turned his head and watched the boy and saw the boy staring back at him. He did not move. Morgan said between his teeth, “Close your eyes and make believe you’re asleep,” and the stare was gone.
An hour or a day and he heard the clatter of the hose being put back into its rack; heard the footsteps of the attendant; heard him say, “Ten right. Check your oil and water?”
Morgan handed money to the man. “No thanks,” he said. He had a few cents change coming. “That’s all right,” he said, and started the motor. The man hadn’t seen the boy. Or, if he had seen him, he had thought nothing of it. And why should he?
He began to drive aimlessly back toward the city, trying again to solve the problem of the boy, but this time armed with a new weapon. The boy was so frightened that he would do what he was told. Knowing that, perhaps he could find a way.
Morgan drove aimlessly for another hour. He was afraid to stay on the road much longer; the suspicion attached to a man driving an old car with a boy in the back seat would increase in geometric progression with the lateness of the hour. He listened to another news broadcast, and again there was no mention of a missing or kidnapped child. The boy in the back seat was, by this time, asleep or pretending to be.
He needed a plan, but it could wait. More immediately he needed a place to take the boy, and it came to him with startling clarity that he knew of such a place. It had to be isolated. It had to be such a place that his coming and going could either be concealed or would attract no attention. It had to be a place where the boy, if he made noise or tried to make some sort of signal to passers-by, would not be seen. It must be fairly close because he had to leave the boy and go to the club to meet Mollison. It had to be the old Maynard Mill. It had all the qualifications—hadn’t it been hand-picked by Mollison? He started toward the mill, trying to think of what he would need. A flashlight. A heavy screw driver to pry open the door of the boiler room if Mollison had been sober enough to remember to lock it when he left. Some cord or heavy twine. A blanket. He had a blanket in the back seat, and the flattened end of the lug wrench in the back of the car would do for a screw driver or pry bar. He had a flashlight in the dashboard. It needed batteries but that was no great problem since he was no longer afraid to stop at a service station. He did stop at the first station he came to and he bought another five gallons of gas to camouflage the purchase of the batteries. There was twine in the car; he remembered out of a corner of his mind having seen it a hundred times, and he was finally able to focus that memory and recollect that it was the heavy draw string used in the cheap seat covers of the car.
He was convinced by this time that he could hide the boy in the mill until he could think of a way out of the dreadful predicament he found himself in. It was big enough; Lord, there must be acres of it. There must be rooms or old offices or supply closets; some sort of place. There was the door leading into the main building from the boiler room for access. Locked or not, he could manage to get it open; must manage to get it open. Something that Mollison had said bothered him, kept returning to irritate him because he could not quite remember what it was. Then it came to him. Rats. Mollison had said that the building was infested with them. Rats? In an old textile mill? Another of Mollison’s lies, made up to justify bringing Patsy Galuk into the plan. What would the rats find to eat? Well, he couldn’t do everything for the boy. He would have to take the chance that Mollison had been lying.
There were no lights at all burning in the occupied section of the mill when Morgan drove, as quietly as he could, through the parking lot and up to the now familiar spot beside the boiler room. The gigantic old building loomed against the faintly reflected nimbus of the city’s lights like a mighty cliff of brick and mortar, staring at him from a thousand blind eyes. He eased the car door open, not wanting to waken the boy, and got out. He thought of something and he got back in and drove close to the side of the building so that the door could not be opened on the passenger side. He got out again and closed the door on his own side. Now the boy could not get out without having to pass him. He felt for the knob of the boiler-room door. It turned with the pressure of his hand, and the door swung free. Something jangled in the lock. The keys. Mollison had been drunk enough to forget them. He masked the flashlight that he had taken from the dashboard compartment with his free hand and pressed the switch with the other. The keys were caught up on a piece of fine chain that was riveted to a block of wood. There were more than a dozen of them. Morgan stuck them in his pocket and went back to the car. He leaned in awkwardly over the folding seat and shook the boy. He awoke immediately with a small cry.
Morgan said, “Come on with me and for God’s sake, don’t make any noise.”
The boy said sleepily, “Are we home?” doubtless remembering some late family expedition, and then he must have suddenly remembered what had happened and began to whimper. “I don’t want to go in there,” he said. “You’re going to hurt me.”
Morgan said in an urgent whisper, “I’m not going to hurt you. Listen to me. Those other men want to hurt you. They want to kill you, do you understand? I’m trying to help you but you’ve got to do just what I tell you. Now come on.”
The boy crawled into the front seat and clambered to the ground, nearly falling. Morgan clutched at him with one hand and reached into the back seat for the blanket with the other. He half led, half pulled the boy into the boiler room. He then pulled the door closed and turned on the flashlight long enough to find the string that turned on the bulb that hung from the ceiling. The boy stood perfectly still, blinking in the harsh light. Morgan said, “I’ve got to go out to the car and get something. You sit on the cot there and wait for me. Listen, boy—do you understand that I’m trying to help you?”
The boy nodded, staring at him, but he did not speak.
“You’ve got to realize it,” Morgan insisted. “You’ve got to help me, help me or they’ll get you.” He added ruefully, “And me too.”
The boy spoke. “I’ll mind,” he said. “If you won’t hurt me.”
Morgan said, “Then sit on the cot and wait. I won’t be long.”
He went out, closing the door swiftly against the betraying light within, and went to the car again. The feeble batteries in the flashlight gave only a hint of light. He unscrewed the base and shook the old batteries out onto the ground and replaced them with the ones he had bought at the filling station. When he pressed the switch the light came on with a blinding glare. He hastily switched the light off. He thought for a moment and then bent and picked up the useless batteries and hurled them far into the darkness. There must be no indication that he had returned to this place.
He moved as swiftly as he could. If Mollison sobered enough to remember that he had left the keys he might come after them—he certainly would come after them, knowing the danger of leaving them in sight. If Anacosta went to the police, any single event out of the ordinary presented a risk and Mollison, sober, would realize it. Morgan opened the door of the car and found the bow at the end of the drawstring. He ripped at it. It came free in his hand, and he pulled the full length of the string from the seat cover like a night crawler from its hole when he had been a small boy.
He did not open the back to get the lug wrench. The door to the boiler room was open. As for the door to the main building, one of Mollison’s keys would probably fit it.
When he slipped into the boiler room again, the boy was sitting on the edge of the cot just as he had left him.
Morgan went directly to the small door that led into the main part of the mill. It was not locked but it was stuck to its frame with the warpage of long disuse. He had to tug at it with the most of his strength before it grated open, and when it did it released a heavy smell of old machine oil and cotton lint, of dry-wooden flooring and ancient dust. He flashed the light ahead of him, and it was swallowed by the cavernous depths of the vast room. Hastily he turned the light toward the floor so that no passer-by might catch its gleam through the windows. He backed into the boiler room and said to the boy, “Come on. We’ve got to find a place for you to hide.” It did not strike him as ironic that he was allying himself with the very person against whom he had committed the most criminal of acts.
The boy got up. He seemed to be sleep walking. Morgan stood aside to let the boy precede him into the mill. He hung back at the impact of the vast emptiness, and Morgan urged him on. Morgan was becoming increasingly afraid that Mollison might return for the keys, and his impatience with the boy increased with this fear. And yet he felt a great sense of pity for the youngster; when they had passed into the blackness of the main room he took the boy’s hand and felt it clutch his own. Together they moved forward, following the yellow glow of the flashlight. The floor was pitted with jagged holes, the wounds left by the removal of the looms that had once stood here, rank on rank upon rank, and the boy stumbled several times. Once Morgan could not hold him up and he fell on his hands and knees, but he did not cry out, although he limped heavily thereafter.
Morgan was searching for an office, a storeroom or any other separate space where he could leave the boy, but there seemed to be none. After a time they came to a stairway opening off the great room and, thinking that perhaps the offices had been in the upper part of the building, Morgan started to climb the stairs, helping the boy as much as he could. At the head of the stairs he found a door. It was locked and he took out Mollison’s keys and stabbed at the lock with one key after another until he found one that fitted. He opened the door and flashed the light inside and saw that there were two rooms, with a door, standing open now, between them. The first room had apparently been a reception room. It had no windows. Morgan said, “Wait here,” to the boy and stepped into the front room. He glanced around it hastily but his haste was not the result of any fear that the boy would try to escape. It would be almost impossible even for a grown man to find his way down the stairs and through the big loom room in the evil-smelling darkness. He shut the door leading to the front office and locked it with the key that still transfixed the lock plate. The key he fit into his pocket before he turned to look around the reception room. There was a second door in the room. Morgan opened it and saw what had been a washroom. There was a toilet bowl without a cover, the tank drunkenly awry on its base. There was a wash bowl, and he opened one of its taps, not really believing that there would be water in the rusty pipes. There was none. The pipes must long since have frozen and thawed, frozen and thawed so that they were hopelessly split.
Morgan remembered the rats and directed the light around the baseboard. There was no opening large enough even for a mouse, except in one corner where a floor board had been ripped up. There was a crooked legged table in the center of the room. He turned it over so that it covered the hole in the floor. The boy followed him with his eyes. Morgan had done all he could now, he felt. He put the light on the floor and called to the boy, “Come over here.”
The boy came over, still staring at Morgan, and Morgan wondered if perhaps the boy had not been driven insane by fear. He said, “Look—I’ve got to leave you alone here.”
The boy began to cry immediately. “I don’t want to stay here,” he said. “I want to go home….My knee hurts me and I want to go home.”
Morgan glanced at the boy’s leg. The trousers were ripped at the knee from the fall, and the edges of the cloth were dark with blood. He said, “Let me look at it,” and pushed the trouser leg up while he shone the light on the wound. It was a bad scrape, nothing more. Morgan said, “It will be all right,” and cursed himself for having shown his compassion for the boy. It would have been better to keep him terrorized. Mollison would have known that. Too late now for that. The boy had already detected the softness in him.
“You’ll be all right here,” he said. “There isn’t anything here that can hurt you. I’ll go back down and get you the blanket from the car and later I’ll come back and bring you something to eat. Those other men are kidnapers. You know what kidnapers are?”
The boy had stopped crying. “Sure I know,” he said. “And you’re one of them. I heard you talking with them.”
Morgan said, “All right. Then you know what I was supposed to do, don’t you? I was supposed to kill you. If they know you’re here, they’ll do it themselves. Listen—it’s just for a day or two until I can work out a way to get you home. I’m trying to help you. Do you believe me?”
The boy said doubtfully, “I guess so. You don’t sound like the other men. But do I have to stay here? I’m scared.”
Morgan said, “There isn’t any other way. You remember now—if you make any noise or try to get out of here, the only ones that will hear you will be the men that want to kill you, You lie down on the floor now and go to sleep.”
The boy obediently lay down and stared up at Morgan with wide eyes. “Will you leave the light with me?” he asked.
Morgan said, “I can’t,” and started for the door. At once the boy was on his feet, running to Morgan, clutching him around the legs. “I’m too scared,” he cried. “I’m too scared.”
With a viciousness born of his own panic, Morgan pushed the boy away. “Damn it,” he said, “you stay there like I fold you.” He closed the door behind him and locked it, trying not to listen to the muffled sounds of wild sobbing in the locked room. He started down the stairs. When he was halfway down he stopped to listen. The sounds that the boy was making did not reach even this far. He hurried back through the empty reaches of the big room and out into the boiler room, where he picked up the blanket he had taken from the car and forgotten to take with him into the mill. He glanced at the cot where there was still another blanket and wished that he could take it, but decided not to. Mollison, if and when he returned for his keys, might miss it and wonder why it had been taken. He could take no smallest chance with Mollison now.
He hurried back through the mill and up the stairs again. He could not hear the boy crying. When he opened the door and shone the light inside he was sitting in the farthest corner of the room, his legs drawn up, hugging his knees. Morgan said, “Here’s the blanket,” and started to close the door again. Something held him. After a moment he said, “Oh, for God’s sake, here,” and rolled the flashlight toward the boy. He locked the door again and started to feel his way dangerously down the stairs and back to the boiler room.
The light from the boiler room made a feeble glow that penetrated weakly into the big room, so that when he had covered half of its length he could see enough to move with some speed. He glanced around the boiler room to see if he had left any trace that would give his return away; he saw nothing and started for the door leading to the clear night. Halfway to the door he paused to look at the bunch of keys that Mollison had left. There were, as he had hoped, duplicates to the boiler-room door and the door leading into the main part of the mill. There was even a duplicate key to the door of the room in which he had locked the boy. He twisted this key and one of the boiler-room keys from the chain that held them and put them into his pocket. His last action before turning out the bulb was to glance at his watch. It was nearly midnight. Mollison had asked him if he planned to meet him later at the club and he had been vague in his answer, but Morgan was certain that Mollison, when the liquor died out in him, would feel a driving need to see him, and to hear that he had killed the boy. He would go to the club.
After Lou Morgan left the boiler room, taking the Anacosta boy with him, Mollison waited impatiently for Patsy Galuk to return. Morgan had given him a bad scare when he had driven up and slammed on his brakes outside the boiler room, but it had worked out all right. Morgan was going to take care of the kid and now he wouldn’t have to make up another story for Patsy. He would merely tell him that the Dagos had come and taken the boy and that would be an end to it. Then they would go out to the club. Soon. Mollison ached for Patsy to come back. He wanted another drink; he knew that when the liquor wore off he would have to think, and right now he didn’t want to think unless it was about the money that he had hidden in his dingy little apartment. Too much thinking; that had been his trouble these last weeks. About Lillian and about the pyramiding danger from the car notes he had falsified. Now he could fix all that; get square again. He reached for the bottle again and swore when he remembered that it was empty. He was oppressed by the boiler room. He turned out the light and went out to wait in the car.
Patsy came ten minutes after Morgan left with the boy. He came up to the car stealthily when Mollison called to him—now why did the crazy bastard do that—and whispered, “Did they come yet, Howie?”
They? The Dagos. “Yes, Patsy,” Mollison said. “They took the kid.”
“Did they pay up?” Patsy asked.
“Sure they did.” Mollison felt a lift in his mood. What was to worry? In fifteen minutes he would be sitting in the club with a big drink in front of him. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get out of here.”
He reached for the ignition switch and started the motor, forgetting the keys dangling in the lock of the boiler-room door.
Patsy sat up straight beside him as Mollison drove expertly through the after-movie traffic out to the club, proud to be in the same car with him, practically an equal with Mollison. Patsy hoped that some of the club members would be lounging near the door; that they would see him get out of the car and see Mollison come around from the driver’s side; that they would watch him enviously as he walked into the club side by side with Mollison. Only, he wished that the big man would talk with him, joke with him the way he did in the club.
Patsy made his voice grim, ominous. “A good thing those bastards paid you back,” he said. Anxious to please Mollison, he added, “You’d have fixed them good if they didn’t, Howie. And I watched the kid good too, didn’t I?”
Mollison was startled and then angry. “Patsy, I told you it was a secret about the kid.’ Something you weren’t supposed to talk about or you’ll get me in trouble. You want to get me in trouble?”
Patsy said penitently, “Hell no, Howie. You know I wouldn’t do that. Only I thought, just you and me—-”
Mollison turned to face him for a moment as he paused at a traffic light. “Not even between you and me.” The terrible danger of any loose talk from Patsy penetrated his drunken haze. “What are you going to tell them about this afternoon and tonight? What did I tell you to tell them if they asked?”
Patsy answered dutifully, “I’ll tell them I washed cars for you at the garage,” he said. “And I went to a movie tonight and you picked me up on the way back to the club. Isn’t that right, Howie?” he asked anxiously.
Mollison, relieved, said, “That’s right, Patsy. Don’t forget it.” He had earlier rehearsed Patsy in his lines. They were good lines. Patsy often did earn a few dollars washing cars at the lot and he was a fanatic about movies. After a few days Patsy’s feeble brain would forget the truth and come to believe the story he had parroted. Mollison reached in his pocket and took out a few bills. He handed them to Patsy.
There were only a few members at the bar when Mollison and Patsy walked into the club. Mollison had temporarily sobered when it had become necessary to warn Patsy to keep his mouth closed, but he had had to fight to keep his thinking straight. He was ready to surrender to the blurred drunkenness that his brain cried out for. He said, “See you, Patsy,” and answered the too-loud, insincere welcomes of the other men. He bought a round and a round was bought for him in return. He joked and listened to jokes but he never once completely rid himself of the nagging thought of Lou Morgan and the boy. Had Morgan done what he was supposed to do—or had he been caught doing it? It had been foolish to turn the kid over to Morgan, hadn’t it? Was Morgan so yellow that he couldn’t make himself do it? After several more drinks, the non-reality did come to him so that he forgot Morgan for the moment, but he paid a price. He began to feel sick. There was a small table near the bar with several chairs placed around it, and he walked unsteadily over and sat down. Immediately he had a new problem to face. Patsy Galuk came from the back room, washed and hair combed, and sat down across the table from him. Patsy had two highballs in his hands. He put them on the table and said, “Here you are, Howie. Have one on me.”
This was something new and dangerous. Patsy had a peculiar sort of liberty to talk and act pretty freely at the club. He was tolerated as a sort of mascot by the members but never as an equal. He might sit at a table with a member, but it was always with a defensive attitude of “I’m as good as you are. I can sit here if I want to.” When he sat down with Mollison there was no such pushy belligerence. He sat down as an equal, as a friend, as the sharer of a secret. His bringing the drinks was a symbol of his self-awarded status. Patsy was never allowed to buy drinks. He never, as far as Mollison knew, had ever drunk anything heavier than beer, usually donated by the members.
Mollison was immediately aware that the men at the bar were staring curiously at him and at Patsy, and he flogged his weary brain for a solution. Carry it off as a gag. They expected gags of Mollison, didn’t they? And they knew, the way Patsy sucked around him. He reached out for the drink that Patsy had brought him and lifted it in a mock salute. Ironically he had to imitate a drunken slur in his voice. ‘Thanks, partner,” he said. He winked at the men at the bar in such a manner that Patsy could not see. “Patsy and me are partners,” he explained. “We’re going to open up a—” He explained in obscene detail what he and Patsy were going to open up, and the men at the bar laughed dutifully. Just Howie Mollison piffling some gag on crazy Patsy. Looked kind of funny there for a minute. But that’s all it was. Just a gag.
When the men at the bar had laughed and turned away, Mollison finished the drink almost in a single swallow. He smiled at Patsy and put a bill on the table. “Get us another one, Patsy,” he said, trying to re-establish the dog-master relationship. Had to be careful, though. Damn careful. He knew that with only the slightest provocation Patsy could turn against him with an idiot’s frenzy.
Mollison sat across from Patsy for half an hour, keeping up the pretense while his head ached and his » stomach churned. Finally the club steward called Patsy to do some chore, and Mollison was alone. He had, by this time, reached a peculiar state of drunkenness. His system was saturated; his bloodstream could absorb no more alcohol. He could become no drunker and so he became less drunk, more perceptive; and with every moment his awareness of the danger of his situation became clearer. By this time he intensely regretted letting Lou Morgan take the Anacosta kid. He was yellow—my God, he was yellow. Yellow enough to panic after he killed the kid, so that he would leave the body wherever he killed him without taking time to conceal it or to cover traces that could lead back. Tire tracks, maybe. Or something with fingerprints on it—bank workers were always fingerprinted weren’t they? Or a jack handle or some other tool from his car that they could trace. Something. His own idea, the boiler, had been better. What had Morgan said? It would make a lot of sparks? What did Morgan know about boilers? If only he didn’t have to think. But he did. There was the business of the forged car notes. He had to get them all paid off—there were four of them now—and in such a way as not to attract attention. But he was tired of thinking, tired of worrying. He got up from the table and walked to the bar despite the headache and the sick rolling of his stomach. Talk and laugh with the boys at the bar so that you couldn’t think, couldn’t worry yourself crazy. And sweat out Morgan….
Morgan came into the club an hour after Mollison returned to the bar. When Mollison looked up and saw him coming in alone—no police, no mustache boys with him—he felt a relief so great that he had to hold on to the bar. He called loudly, across the babble of conversation, “What’s new, Lou?” He had to stay in character as the hail-fellow of the club to justify his leaving the group he was with to join Morgan.
Morgan had come directly to the bar, taking a position a few feet away from the nearest patron. Mollison, approaching him, came up on the far side so that their comparative isolation was preserved. He called loudly, “Bring us a couple of Scotches, Gene,” to the bartender, keeping up the smokescreen of joviality. “We’ll be in a booth.” When they were out of earshot of the bar, he demanded, “Did you do it? Is everything taken care of?”
Morgan hesitated before answering. He had to imagine the attitude of a man who had just murdered a child. Dejected? Numb with horror? Stupid with fright? He had to be convincing. Numb, then.
“I did it,” he said, and decided to let a little hysteria creep into his inflection—or did it creep in involuntarily? He wasn’t quite sure. “I did it,” he repeated. “I told you I’d do it, didn’t I? I did it.”
The bartender brought their drinks and left them alone. Mollison said, “Drink this. You need it,” and pushed a glass toward Morgan. When Morgan had finished the drink he pushed the second one toward him. He now felt a morbid interest in Morgan’s crime. “How did you do it?” he asked.
Morgan pretended to shudder. “I choked him. It was terrible, Howie.” He reached for the second drink and finished half of it.
Mollison thumped Morgan’s thin shoulders. “You did fine,” he said. “I was afraid you wouldn’t have the guts.” He was feeling some of the old exuberance now. “You did fine, Lou.”
Morgan searched for detail, wanting to convince Mollison here and now, while he was drunk and consequently less critical, against the time which must certainly come when he would have doubts. “He fell asleep in the car,” he said. “I stopped at the place I told you about and went in the back seat after him. He woke up just when I reached for him.” He added thinly, “It took a long time, Howie. Longer than you’d think.” He finished the remainder of the drink and signaled for more. “Was there anything on the late news about it?”
Mollison said, “I didn’t hear anything. I told you Anacosta wouldn’t blow the whistle. Not for a while, anyway.”
“I hope you’re right.”
Mollison said, “Sure I’m right.” He hesitated briefly and then asked, “What did you do with him then?”
The drinks came and this time Mollison kept one for himself.
Morgan sipped at his more slowly, wanting to keep his head clear. Mollison was lucky. He only had to worry about Anacosta and the police. He, Morgan, had to contend with the police and Anacosta and Mollison. “I told you about the well,” he said. “I shoved him down in it and then I shoveled dirt in to cover him up. Nobody will ever find him.” In the same breath he could have bitten his tongue off. Shoveled dirt in. With what shovel? Did he carry a shovel in the car? Did he find one lying around out there in the dark? He would say that it was a figure of speech, that he had actually used an old board or something. He waited for Mollison to seize on the slip, but Mollison overlooked it. Overlooked it now, while he was drunk. He would think of it later, Morgan was sure. Just as he would think of the keys that he had left in the boiler-room door. He wanted to remind Mollison of the keys in some way so that he would go and get them or, perhaps, ask Morgan to recover them. As long as the keys remained where Mollison had forgotten them, Morgan could never return to the mill with any confidence that Mollison would not show up unexpectedly to get the keys. Morgan could think of no way in which he could explain his presence at the mill if Mollison found him there, and yet he would have to return again and again until he had thought of a way to release the boy without risk to himself. He would, have to bring food and water and the reassurance that he was not abandoned. As casually as he could, Morgan asked, “Did you turn out the light when you locked up? Somebody might wonder if they saw a light burning.”
Mollison nodded. *’It wouldn’t make any difference anyway,” he said. “I covered the window up.” He paused and seemed to be thinking while he felt in the pocket of his jacket with one hand, working his clumsy fingers like a mouse in a sack. “Damn it all,” he said. “I left the keys in the door.”
Morgan wanted to volunteer to get them but he decided that it would be too out of character. As a presumed murderer with the blood fresh on his hands, volunteering to go back to the mill would be the last thing he’d do.
Mollison said, “I’ll have to go get them in the morning. It’d be too risky to drive in there now. There might be a prowl car nosing around.”
Morgan moved back from the table. “You’d better do it early,” he said. “I’m going to have one more drink and go home.” He did not really want the drink. It was part of the character he was creating.
Mollison said, “I’m going to stay a little while longer.” When Morgan left the club, Mollison had returned to the bar. He had a drink in his hand but he seemed to be more interested in studying the glass than in drinking its contents. Morgan met Patsy Galuk in the entryway; Patsy was carrying a paper bag showing the hard outlines of coffee containers. Patsy said, “Hello, Lou,” and seemed to want to stop and talk. Morgan nodded and brushed past him and out of the door.
After leaving Mollison at the club, Morgan drove his car into its rented garage. He left the headlights on while he got out to open the doors. As far as he could see, under the strong light, the money hole that he had carefully covered had not been disturbed. He locked the garage and went to his room, certain that he would not be able to sleep. Oddly he did sleep, almost at once, so that it was like a surrender. He awoke after an hour or so to go to the bathroom, and when he returned to his bed he tried to stay awake to plan a way out of the impossible situation he had—created for himself.
He lay back with his arms folded under his head, listening to the quiet little sounds of an old house at rest, wondering if there were mysterious noises in the old mill and, if there were, would they frighten the Anacosta boy more than he was already frightened—or was that possible? He eased his conscience slightly by remembering that he had, after all, left the flashlight so that the boy wasn’t in total darkness. Far off a bell struck twice, the sound rolling sweetly through the night quiet. Two o’clock. Friday already. It would be a busy day at the bank and he didn’t know whether to be glad or sorry. The time would pass more swiftly—but at the same time he would find it less convenient to get away long enough to visit the boy in the mill. And that he had to do. He had to bring him something to eat in the morning—as soon as he could be sure that Mollison had been there, picked up the keys, and left.
He forced himself to think about the two binding limits of his dilemma. He could not kill the boy himself, nor could he let Mollison do it and deny, to himself, the responsibility for the murder. He could not sacrifice himself for the boy by risking the certain capture that his release would entail. Certain capture if he was where he could be captured. He began to work out a cautious timetable. Friday. No chance today. There were some few things that he had to do before he could leave. Monday was the day for the tellers’ audit at the bank. He had to be there for that. Not that he was short, but to be absent would point suspicion at him at once. Call up and make some excuse maybe? Nobody excused themselves from an audit. And if Anacosta went to the police over the week end, wouldn’t the police as a matter of routine come to the bank from which he had taken the money—and wouldn’t Morgan’s absence be grounds for quick suspicion? Farfetched? Not when his own life was in the scales. So, not Monday. But he could ask for three days beginning Wednesday. The audit would be over, and he had the time coming to him. Then—take the money and get on a plane for New York. From there a fast train to Chicago. From Chicago he could telephone the police and tell them to look in the mill for the boy. And, immediately, another plane. New Orleans or the West Coast. They would get to the boy and he would tell them that three men named Lou and Patsy and Howie had kidnapped him. They would work it out from the names, but by that time he would have a clear start. What did Mollison say? “You could walk through a waiting room and nobody would even see you, Lou.” All right. Change a name and put on new style glasses. Get a job as a bookkeeper or something. Something where they didn’t take fingerprints.
Morgan fell asleep on the plan. He thought about it anxiously when he awoke in the daylight. So often the things you planned at night looked differently in the morning. He could find no flaw except one that occurred when he was brushing his teeth. What about his Social Security number? He couldn’t use his own. The government claimed that the files of Social Security numbers were inviolate, but Morgan didn’t believe it. Could they be faked? He would have to find out before he tried for a job on the West Coast or in New Orleans. Meantime, he wouldn’t starve. Not on Anacosta’s money.
While he was dressing, he heard the insistent beeping of an automobile horn in the street outside. In irritation he raised the shade and drew the curtain aside to look out. Howard Mollison stood on the sidewalk gazing up at the house. Even as Morgan watched, he bent to lean in and push the horn button again. Morgan opened the window and waved and pointed to indicate that he would be right down. He then turned away from the window and finished dressing in full panic, trying to speculate through his fright what Mollison might have learned, how he had found out that the boy was alive.
Mollison had left the club a few minutes after Morgan. He was not anxious to be alone; he would have preferred to stay at the bar for another hour or two but Patsy Galuk approached him, all too obviously eager to demonstrate how friendly he was with Mollison, and Mollison had neither will nor wit to continue the pretense that it was an elaborate joke he was playing on Patsy. He went home and to bed but, unlike Louis Morgan, he could not fall asleep at once. His head ached abominably from the tension that had twisted him, strained at him, throughout the day. He lay in the dark and tried to anticipate anything that might go wrong now and trip him. He would have to be careful about redeeming the forged notes, but even if he made a mistake he could buy his way out. Lillian Kramer, the iron woman, would want money more than revenge. She would let him pay the notes off and get out of town, if anything went wrong—but only if the kidnapping was still a secret. Otherwise there would be a connection between the payment of a heavy ransom arid the fact that he had money to pay off notes with. He would deal with it. He could handle it. But what about Lou Morgan and Patsy Galuk? Patsy, hanging around on a man’s back forever. And did the guys at the club believe it was a gag or did they wonder why suddenly Patsy was acting like he owned Mollison? Lou Morgan. Yellow as butter; if there were ever any pressure on him, he’d open up like a baked potato. So yellow that it was hard to believe, sober, that he had really agreed to murder the kid. Hard to believe—but what else? If he hadn’t, the police would have all three of them down in some basement right this minute. So he hadn’t let the kid go and if he hadn’t let him go, he must have killed him and thrown the body in the old well the way he said he had, and shoveled the dirt in to cover him up. Mollison, his fat body perspiring in the lumpy bed, felt a need to see the place where Morgan had hidden the body; a need to be sure. He got up as soon as it was full daylight, with his head aching and the inside of his mouth tasting foul. When he bent to tie his shoes he felt as if his skull were splitting across the temples. He drove toward Morgan’s place, stopping at a diner for a cup of coffee which he could not finish.
Morgan’s most frightening thought as he hurried down the stairs to meet Mollison, was that Anacosta had gone to the police and that, in some way, they had made a connection and were already in pursuit. Hardly less frightening was the thought that Mollison had in some manner discovered that he had not killed the boy.
As he came up to Mollison, he said, “What’s wrong? What’s the matter?” Even as he asked the question he was aware of a strange feeling about Mollison. He did not like the man. In retrospect he was certain that he never had liked him. Yet he had a bond with Mollison; no matter what happened, or where they went, for the rest of his life the bond would exist. Something more than mutual dependence. In a way he would be closer to the fat man than anyone else could ever quite be and the same, of course, applied to Mollison. Strange wedding.
Mollison stepped away from the car. His face was a sick white, almost the color of lard. “Nothing’s wrong,” he said. “I just wanted to check with you about last night. Look, Lou—you’re sure that you—did what you said you did? You’re sure that you covered up afterward? I mean, everything went just the way we planned it so far. The only thing we’ve got to worry about is if somebody finds the kid.”
Morgan pretended an irritated indignation. “I told you last night,” he said. “I don’t want to go to the electric chair any more than you do. I didn’t leave a trace.”
Mollison persisted. “Don’t get sore, Lou,” he said defensively. “Don’t forget, it was dark. You might have overlooked something or left something behind. It isn’t that I don’t trust you but I’d like to go out there with you and check. All right?” ‘
Morgan thought, he doesn’t believe I killed the boy. He doesn’t believe it. He said to Mollison in an imitation of controlled fury, “You must be out of your mind. You want to go out to that old abandoned house and prowl around in broad daylight? What do you want to do—commit suicide?”
“I guess you’re right,” Mollison said. His attitude was something close to humble.
Morgan pressed him, sensing that Mollison responded to bluster. “Talking about covering up, what about those keys? Did you get them yet?”
Mollison shook his head. “Not yet. I didn’t feel so good this morning. Not like driving out there so early.”
“You’d better get them now,” Morgan said contemptuously.
Mollison nodded. “I guess you’re right,” he agreed. He moved toward the car and paused. “You’re not sore, are you?”
“I’m not sore,” Morgan said, “but don’t ever call me yellow again. You’d better have a drink or something to straighten yourself out. You can’t go to work looking like that.”
Mollison got in the car and started it. Morgan watched him drive away with a faint sensation of pride. He had driven Mollison, pushed him, taken the offensive. So far it had worked. So far. He started for the garage and his own car.
Mollison drove toward the old mill, barely conscious of the early morning traffic. He felt a great wonder that he had so underestimated Lou Morgan, and with the wonder a great relief. He no longer thought that Morgan lacked the courage to murder or that he would be so frightened by the act that he would lose his head and fail to conceal all evidence of the crime. There was iron in Morgan. If he had known that, he thought, if he had known that he wouldn’t have had to recruit Patsy Galuk for the kidnapping. They could have worked it out between the two of them. Patsy—there was another worry. He had to discourage the damned idiot without provoking him. Maybe Lou could think of something. Mollison allowed himself the luxury of thinking about the money for a few moments. There had been no time for thinking of the money since Anacosta had left it in the locker. Something else Morgan had said—what was it—you can’t go to work looking like that? Mollison stopped at a dingy bar room and had two fast drinks. He felt better immediately and lingered for another before he drove on out to the mill. The keys were still hanging on the door. He put them in his pocket and got back into the car.
Morgan drove toward the mill after Mollison had disappeared in the traffic, but he took a street that paralleled the one Mollison was traveling. He tuned in on an early morning news broadcast; when he made a stop at an early opening neighborhood grocery store, the news-cast was not complete and he sat in the car and listened while the announcer finished the national news and ran through the local round up. There was no mention of a kidnapping. In the store he bought two quarts of milk, a loaf of bread and some cold cuts of meat. As an afterthought he bought a package of paper cups. Maybe it would have been better to buy sandwiches at a diner. Still, if he couldn’t get out to the mill again until after dark, the milk and the cold meat would make a lunch for the boy. And the milk would substitute for water. Maybe later he could pick up a Thermos picnic jug and fill it with cold water. And a toothbrush and maybe some clean clothes for the boy. Let’s see—Friday until Wednesday. Six days, nearly. Seven, actually, because he wouldn’t call the police about the boy until he was in Chicago.
He spent twenty minutes in a diner over two cups of coffee, killing time until he could be certain that Mollison had been to the mill and left. Only then did he drive up to the boiler room and let himself in with the duplicate key he had stolen from Mollison’s bunch. He glanced around as he hurried through the room. One blanket was still hung over the window. Mollison should have taken it down. He would have liked to take it down himself—it would look a little odd from the outside—but he decided against it out of fear that Mollison might at some time, for some reason, come back and notice that it had been moved. Better leave it alone.
Even by daylight the mill was dark. Years of dirt and soot had collected on the windows, so that what light came in was watered and weak. Morgan hurried toward the stairway. It was almost eight o’clock and he had to be at the bank at nine. Hurrying, he stumbled over something that tipped over with a metallic clatter, which made him wince and look down. He had knocked over a box of card spindles; long, wicked-looking skewers of steel, rusted, now, that rolled under his feet. There were dozens and dozens of boxes of the spindles and he must have been lucky, he decided, to have passed through here last night in the pitch dark without knocking some of them over.
He fumbled noisily with the lock on the door of the room in which the boy was imprisoned, not wanting to startle him too much when he opened it. Dark as the mill had been, this room, having no windows, was darker yet, so that he had to blink and wait for his pupils to dilate before he could see the boy, even though he left the door open. While he waited he called, “Are you awake? I brought you something to eat.”
The boy, as he could now see, was huddled in the corner where he had left him, the filthy blanket drawn about him. The flashlight, the batteries long since burned out, lay beside him. As Morgan watched, the boy sat up slowly, clutching the blanket around him. “My leg hurts,” he whimpered. “My leg hurts. I want to go home.”
Morgan said, “Pretty soon now. Here. Drink some milk.”
Morgan filled one of the paper cups and handed it to the boy. He drank thirstily, but when Morgan offered to make him a meat sandwich he refused it.
“I’ll leave it here,” Morgan said. He bent to look at the boy’s knee. It looked, in the half light, worse than it had the night before when the boy had fallen. The edges of the scraped skin were puckered and stiff with dried blood, and the area around the wound seemed to be somewhat swollen. Morgan wished that he had brought water so that he could bathe the cut. He wondered if it would help to wash it with some of the milk but decided not to. Weren’t there bacteria in milk? He said sympathetically, “I know it hurts. When I come back I’ll bring some stuff to put on it that will make it better.”
The boy had lain down again after finishing the cup of milk. As Morgan spoke he struggled up again. “Can’t you stay with me?” he asked. “I’m scared by myself.”
Morgan patted his shoulder awkwardly. “I’ll come back pretty soon,” he said. “And as soon as I can I’ll fix it to send you home. You’ve got, to remember to be quiet though. You know what I told you about those other men.”
When he left the room, the boy was still sitting up, watching him out of wide and frightened eyes. Taking it pretty well, Morgan thought, for a little boy. He fixed in his mind the list of things he must remember to bring with him when he returned. Something for the boy’s knee. It struck him as mildly sardonic that he should be worrying about the boy’s knee when his own neck was at stake. But he did worry about it as he drove to the bank.
Mollison had made false notes in four names in three different banks and he felt a great need to clear them up. It was possible that he could send in the monthly payments on each note as they became due, but that was risky. On three of the notes he had used his own address. On the fourth, since it was with a bank already holding a note with his apartment address, he had used the address of his club. The receipt from the bank would be mailed there. He had carefully kept the duplicate copies of the transfer papers for the cars on which the money was theoretically loaned. That fourth note—what was the name he had used? Swanson? The club manager would get the letter from the bank. He had to think of some lie to tell the manager to explain the letter and to assure the man that it should be delivered to him, Mollison. Another lie. He was sick to death of lying, sick of the need to keep track of the lies he told so that they wouldn’t boomerang on him. He owed eleven hundred dollars to the Industrial National—plus interest—for the note on the green Hudson that he had forged to raise money to pay off the little blackmailer Griffin.
On his way to the Kramer Agency and the day’s work he stopped off at his apartment. For lack of a better hiding place he had put his share of the ransom money in a sealed glass jar, and this he had placed in the toilet tank. He took twelve hundred and fifty dollars in fifties from the jar and replaced it in its hiding place. From his desk he took the contract presumably made out by the man who had borrowed the money on the Hudson. Half an hour later, with the money and the contract in his pocket, he walked into the Industrial National and spoke to the same vice-president with whom he had originally negotiated the note.
Mollison said, “Hello, Paul. How’s business?” Not too eager. Not too anxious. Be smooth.
Paul said, “So, so. What can I do for you, Howie?”
Mollison said casually, “Guy bought a car from us a couple of weeks ago. Name was Swanson.” No, damn it, no! Swanson was the one whose receipts would be sent to the club. That first time, on the Hudson—what was the name? Right there on the contract in his pocket but he couldn’t pull it out and look at it, not with the vice-president looking at him curiously. He tried desperately to remember the name. Carr? Carter? Carling. “I was thinking about another account,” he continued. “It wasn’t Swanson it was Carling. Peter Carling.”
Paul showed interest. “One of our accounts? What’s the matter? Did you find out he misrepresented his salary or something like that?”
Mollison laughed shortly. “Nothing like that. He’s a machinist. Nice guy. He came in yesterday to have us check the transmission on the car he bought. He just got a big check from the company he works for—seems he made some suggestion to save labor. He wanted to pay off the car to save the interest. I told him I’d be down near the bank today and I’d drop in and take care of it.”
Paul immediately lost interest. “Well, sure, Howie,” he said. “Any one of the credit department clerks will take care of it for you.” He turned to stroll across the bank lobby. Mollison went to a credit window and paid off the Carling note. He walked out of the bank feeling some relief but also a sour bitterness. He had borrowed eleven hundred on the car originally. Griffin had gotten the major share of that. Now he had paid back almost twelve hundred dollars to the bank and he had paid a thousand dollars to the man—what was his name—Hunt?—who had legitimately bought the green Hudson off the lot. And fifty dollars loaned to Eddie, the mechanic. To show for it, he had the green Hudson, useless to him, and he even had to pay garage rent to keep it out of sight. And he still had to pay off three more notes on cars that were sitting on Lillian Kramer’s used-car line. That Swanson thing had been a near miss. He couldn’t afford to fumble his lines like that. He decided that he would pay off the Swanson note on the following Monday.
He also decided, on the way out to the agency, to stop for another drink. And wasn’t he drinking too much lately? Maybe. After he had the notes all paid off and he didn’t have to worry so damn much he would cut down. He parked his car near a dingy tap room and went in. The place seemed familiar; after a time it came to him that he had been in here before. When was it? A couple, maybe three weeks ago, when he had first taken Lou Morgan out to show him the boiler room where they would hold the Anacosta kid. He had stopped in here on his way back from leaving Morgan off, wanting a drink because of the strain of trying to keep Morgan’s nerve up. What a joke that was. Morgan had more nerve than he had. Sometimes those quiet little guys were like that, he guessed. He ordered a Scotch and drank it and then ordered another one, not wanting to leave and go out to the agency. Lillian. He didn’t want to look at her. Now that he had Anacosta’s money maybe he wouldn’t have to. Maybe he could line something up that wasn’t so old and that didn’t have to strap itself in with girdles. No rush, though. Just knowing that he could do it made it easier to think of going on with Lillian.
The bartender had a small radio playing on the shelf behind the bar. Mollison was barely aware that it was turned on; hardly conscious of the inane chatter of an early morning disc jockey. He heard the words, “And now the news,” and out of reflex he gave the radio part of his attention; just enough so that he would be aware of any item that he wanted to hear.
The announcer said, “Word of the kidnapping of a local child has just been received. The child, son of Mr. and Mrs. Louis Anacosta of Grave Street in this city, is eight-year-old Carmen Anacosta. First reports indicate that the child was kidnapped en route to school yesterday morning and that a ransom was apparently paid by the child’s grandfather, Carmen Anacosta, who is well known in local real estate and financial circles. The kidnapping was made known when the boy’s mother appealed to the police shortly after nine o’clock this morning. For further details keep tuned to this station.”
Mollison’s first reaction to the broadcast was a thick anger. Anacosta hadn’t been able to keep the boy’s mother from blowing the whistle. All right, then. All right. He’d had his warning. Mollison remembered tardily that the boy was already dead and then rationalized that the old man hadn’t known that; never would know it and he’d have to live with the fact that if he had stopped the kid’s mother from going to the police, maybe the boy would still be alive. He ordered another drink. By the time it came the second reaction had set in. The police. And with the police the FBI. Mollison chewed at his lip, remembering the stories he had seen on television about the FBI and the things they could do. That time in New York. What had they done—looked at the handwriting on a million license applications or something like that? But even the FBI had to have something to go on and there was nothing. No handwriting. No letters. The boy had been picked up in a nondescript car with license plates that were untraceable even if someone, by some miracle, had noticed them. And Morgan had hidden the body where it would never be found. Where was the weak spot? Patsy Galuk wouldn’t connect the kid they had held in the boiler room with the kidnapping. That was the trouble with Patsy—he couldn’t connect things. But he was loyal to Mollison.
Mollison finished his drink and hesitated. After a minute he walked over to the wall telephone and dialed the number of the Kramer Agency. When a girl in the office answered, he said, “This is Howie Mollison, Betty. Look, tell Lillian I probably won’t be in today, will you? Tell her I got a couple of, prospects I want to see across the city.” He hung up and walked back to the bar. He would have one more here and then he would take a ride out to the club. He had too much on his mind to hold his end up at the agency right now.
It was from Vega, the teller in the neighboring cage, that Lou Morgan first learned that the Anacosta boy’s mother had gone to the police. Before he heard it from Vega he was aware of an increase in the tempo of behind-the-wicket gossip, but his preoccupation with his own crisis prevented him from making any inquiry. Vega finally came to his cage and borrowed several packets of hundred-dollar bills. While he signed a receipt for them he asked, “Did you hear about it? My God, he was in here getting the money yesterday.”
Morgan almost immediately realized what Vega was referring to—what else could it be? He was not greatly surprised. He had never had Mollison’s faith that the kidnapping would be kept from the police. He was surprised by his own reaction. He had so much confidence in his own plan for escaping the city with the boy unharmed that he was not even greatly frightened by the thought of the police and the FBI. He asked Vega querulously, “Hear about what?” wanting to get as much detail as he could from Vega’s gossiping.
Vega said excitedly, “The kidnapping. Somebody kidnapped old Anacosta’s grandson and collected almost a hundred thousand dollars ransom. He was in here yesterday, Lou. You saw him.”
Morgan said, “I guess I did at that. Just before lunch, wasn’t it?” To have denied seeing Anacosta might have been dangerous. Since he was admitting having seen him he might as well put a little frosting on the cake.
Vega became ponderously grave. “That’s right. It’s a terrible thing, Lou. A terrible thing.”
Morgan nodded. “Have they got any idea who did it?”
Vega shook his head. “The police say they think it was an out of town gang. They’d say that anyway just to have something to tell the reporters. He got the money from his safety deposit box—he must have because he didn’t make any withdrawals from any of his accounts.” He added maliciously, “The internal revenue will want to know why he had that kind of money in a safe deposit box, I’ll bet.”
Morgan said dryly, “I’ll bet.”
After Vega had bustled back to his own cage, Morgan fell into the automatic motions of a Friday at the Drover’s. He made entries, handed out and received money, and cashed checks without having to think about it. He used most of his faculties to polish his plan. He debated going to the vice-president in charge of personnel and asking for the three days, starting on the following Wednesday, that he would need to implement the plan. He decided against it. The FBI and the police, if they were as clever as he had heard they were, would be visiting the bank soon. If they started asking questions about personnel, he didn’t want it fresh in the vice-president’s mind that Louis Morgan had just asked for some time off. Monday would be time enough. And in the back of his mind remained a persistent, fretful concern for the boy who was right now lying in a dark room in the deserted Maynard Mill. He wished that he had been able to bring him some water. And maybe some medicine for his scraped knee.
Patsy Galuk heard about the kidnapping while he was cleaning out the beer cooler behind the bar at the club. It was close to noon and there were several men at the bar at the time. He had his arms in the slimy water up to his elbows and he was going about the job with a great splashing as if to call attention to the fact that Patsy Galuk was cleaning the beer cooler. He did everything with that same unbalanced flamboyance. If he was cleaning out the basement of the club, he got dirtier than necessary and then made a point of letting the members see him. If he was merely mopping the floor, he paddled in the soapy water, wetting his shoes and the cuffs of his pants. He worked, when he worked, like a motor without a governor. He had an intense interest in any conversation of which he was not a part although, more frequently than otherwise, he could only understand a small part of what was being said. He heard one man say, “Anything new on the kidnapping?”
Another member asked, “What kidnapping? I haven’t seen a paper yet this morning.”
“Some Dago kid. What was his name, Jerry?”
“Anacosta. Old Carmen Anacosta’s grandson.”
“Yeah, that was it. They kidnapped him yesterday morning. The old man paid them off.”
“How much did they get?”
“I’ve heard everything from a hundred grand to half a million.”
“Did they return the kid?”
“Hell, no. They’re not going to either. You take it from me, he’s dead right now.”
“Yeah, I guess. Tough. A hundred grand or better you say?”
“That’s what I heard on the radio. You know, that’s a funny thing. Remember a few weeks ago they kidnapped that kid in New York—what was his name? Glennon? That was it—Glennon. Well, right after that we were talking about it right here at this very bar and we got to talking about how much money Anacosta had. You were here, weren’t you, Jerry? Sure you were. And Howie Mollison. Mollison was the one that did most of the talking. And Al was here and I think Lou Morgan. We were only just talking about it, like I said, and damn if someone didn’t figure it out the same way we did.”
They began a discussion of the baseness of kidnapers, each pointing out in more gruesome detail what should be done with them when they were caught. Patsy Galuk lifted his dripping arms from the beer cooler, disregarding the water that trickled into his sleeves, disregarding the conversation. His expression became fixed, wooden, as he walked from behind the bar and shambled into the little room where brooms and mops were kept. He was trying, deliberately trying, to think. What was it the man had said? A Dago kid was kidnapped? A Dago kid. A Dago kid. What else had he said? Howie Mollison and Lou Morgan had talked about kidnapping the Anacosta kid weeks ago. For one of the few times in his life, Patsy reasoned; knew the emotional satisfaction of putting two facts together so that they made still another fact. It was a Dago kid they had held in the boiler room, wasn’t it? That was a fact. Mollison had talked about how much money Anacosta—a Dago—had. That was a fact. The third fact—Mollison and Morgan had kidnapped the Anacosta kid.
Patsy walked the floor and wrung his big hands as conviction grew within him. Kidnapers were terrible men; everybody said that. They should be tortured and hung, especially the ones that kidnapped little kids. But what could he do, what could he do, knowing that Mollison and Morgan were kidnapers? Mollison—he thought primarily of Mollison rather than of Morgan—Mollison was his friend. He had another thought. If he told On Mollison and they caught him, somebody else would take the credit. Into his mind crept a small picture. Patsy Galuk, rescuing the Anacosta kid from the boiler room and triumphantly bringing him home to his parents while people clapped him on the back and said what a hero he was. Then he remembered that the kid hadn’t been there when he and Mollison left the place the last time. What had Mollison said? The Dagos came and got him? What a liar that Mollison was. Liar, liar, liar. Liar kidnaper. Patsy began to grow furious with Mollison. But, oh, how nice it would be if he could find the kid and rescue him. Nobody could take the credit from him if he did that. Nobody. Oh, Mollison was a liar. Maybe he had-‘ lied when he had said that the Dagos had come and got the boy. Maybe he had double lied and nobody had come to take him at all. If they hadn’t, then he was still in the boiler room. Simple. Patsy would go and rescue him. Only where was the boiler room? Some, big factory, like, and it was across town. He knew that much. And it had a big chimney on it. He could take a cross-town bus and then he could look for the place until he found it.
He came out of the storeroom and sought out the steward. “I got to go out for a while,” he said importantly. “I got to check up on something.”
The steward grunted and turned away, and Patsy started for the door. He was a step away when Howard Mollison walked in. Both men pulled back; Mollison because he didn’t want to become involved with Patsy at the moment and Patsy because he was not sure how he should act. He could call the cops right now, if he wanted, but they might just laugh at him like the times when members sent him in to fix traffic tickets; and then what would Mollison do to him? And if he called the cops, even if they did arrest Mollison and find the kid, they would take all the credit. Patsy put on what he thought was an innocent expression and sidled past Mollison.
“Hello, Howie,” he said. “I was just going out.”
Mollison was at first relieved, but the naked transparency of Patsy’s forced, and furtive, manner struck him almost immediately. The fact that Patsy didn’t stop to talk was, in itself, unheard of. He said with a joviality that was false as Patsy’s innocence, “What’s the rush, Patsy? I thought you and I were partners. Come out to the bar and I’ll buy you a beer.” He wanted no part of Patsy but he had to test him.
Patsy edged toward the door. Mollison watched him almost break into a run when he reached the street, and felt a thread of fear tug at his raw nerves. He sought out the manager and bought him a drink, trying not to worry about Patsy until he had cleared up the matter that had brought him to the club this early.
After they had finished the drinks and ordered another round, Mollison said, “By the way, Fred, I’ve got a little deal cooking you can help me out on.”
The manager, sensing a possible touch, displayed no great enthusiasm. Mollison continued, “I’m on salary and commission with the Kramer Agency, you know. I had a chance a little while back to sell a couple of late models for another outfit. I’ve got a little graft going if you can help me out.”
The manager, realizing that it was not a touch after all, nodded. “Well sure, Howie,” he said. “Anything at all.”
Mollison continued. “It isn’t much,” he said. “Just some papers that will be sent to me here at the club. I can’t use my own name or the agency will find out about it. These papers will be addressed to Mr. Swanson. Hold them for me, will you, Fred?”
“Sure, Howie. How about a drink on the club?”
Mollison shook his head. “Not right now, Fred.” He hesitated. “I was going to get Patsy to put in a couple of hours washing cars this afternoon. Did you send him out somewhere?”
The manager looked bored. “I didn’t. He came to me a little while ago and said he had some important business to check up on. I don’t know what he was talking about.”
Mollison said, “Thanks, Fred. See you,” and hurried to the door. The thought of Patsy with important business to look after was terrifying. He had badly overestimated Patsy’s devotion. He felt an irrational anger. It was as if a pet dog had suddenly turned on him. A most dangerous dog. He felt an enormous relief when he saw Patsy two blocks away, standing at a bus stop. Mollison’s first impulse was to drive alongside and invite Patsy into the car. He decided against it. If Patsy had guessed that he had been made a party to a kidnapping he might become violently angry—and Patsy, with his crude strength, could be a terrible opponent. It would be better to wait and see where he headed. At the last moment he could always take the chance of accosting Patsy. Mollison got into his car and idled the motor, waiting, like Patsy, for the bus. When it came, it was a cross-town bus. That fact had significance. If it were a downtown bus, Patsy might be going directly to police headquarters—or to the FBI office in the Post Office. A cross-town bus? Across town was the old Maynard Mill, of course, but what would Patsy want there? Patsy got on the bus with a grotesque swaying of his backside. Mollison eased the car after the bus, staying close as it made its ponderous way through the noon traffic.
Patsy got off five blocks away from the Maynard Mills, and Mollison immediately pulled his car in to the curb. He watched curiously as Patsy looked about him, with his head tipped back as if he were looking for something well above street level. What was he looking for, the crazy bastard? Like a dog that has found the scent, Patsy suddenly lowered his eyes and began to walk purposefully ahead. He turned right at the first cross street; a cross street that would take him directly to the mill.
Patsy Galuk walked in his rolling shamble down the side street toward the Maynard Mill. He had had no great difficulty in finding the place; he had known it was across town and a bar—the bar to which Mollison had sent him for a beer on the previous night—identified the general locale. The sight of the chimney pinpointed the mill. He made these decisions through the thick and muddy morass of his thinking. His mind worked as a Maine pond is said to work in springtime, sending up fragments of ancient debris. Images of the public notice he would receive when he rescued the Anacosta child came bubbling upward like clear globules of air. He had convinced himself, more by the power of his wishing than by any logic, that Mollison had lied when he said that the Dagos had come and gotten the boy. He would find the boy in the boiler room and he would take him out and bring him to his parents. It did not occur to Patsy that he had no idea of where the boy lived.
Mollison, in growing panic, started the car again and followed Patsy. He was no longer in any doubt about the idiot’s destination—he was puzzled only about the motivation. What did he want to go there for, for God’s sake? Unless he thought that the boy was there. Mollison was certain by this time that Patsy knew of the kidnapping and that he had guessed that the child he had guarded was the victim. His purpose, then, was to release the boy. It must be. And after that to accuse him, Mollison, for whatever glory it would bring him. But the boy wasn’t there. Lou Morgan had killed him and hidden the body, so there was nothing for Patsy to find. Mollison decided he could not let Patsy go prowling around the boiler room. He himself could drive up in his car and stop and nothing would be thought of it. If anyone noticed him they would think he was an owner’s representative or an insurance inspector or the like. With the whole city alerted to a kidnapping, Patsy, with his apish appearance—he could serve as a model for a depraved kidnaper—would certainly draw attention to the boiler room. And to himself. He would be picked up on sight, just for his looks. Worse than that, he was a police buff. He would probably go to the police voluntarily. / know who kidnapped the Anacosta kid.
If Mollison could talk to him for just a minute he was certain that he could get him into the car. If he could have that minute without any frenzied denunciation in the middle of the street that would bring the police. What then, with Patsy in the car? Mollison faced the problem and made his decision without evasion. Patsy would have to die and Howard Mollison would have to kill him. Not tomorrow or an hour later or some other time but now.
He fed gas to the car and drove up beside Patsy, who by now was directly opposite the driveway leading into the mill yard. Because everything depended on the show he put on, Mollison called jovially, “Hey, Patsy, what are you doing in this part of town? Get in and I’ll give you a lift wherever you’re going.”
Patsy held back, not out of fear. Mollison was the kidnaper. Mollison was the liar. He was the one to be afraid. He held back because he wanted no delay between now and the glory he’d have as soon as he rescued the Anacosta kid. He said evasively, “I’m just taking a walk, Howie. I don’t want to ride. You go along.”
Mollison said plaintively, “I thought we were buddies, Patsy. Are you sore or something?”
It was the best approach he could have used. Nobody had ever cared if Patsy were sore or not, and he responded in spite of his anxiety to be rid of Mollison. “I ain’t sore, Howie,” he said. A terrible doubt came to Patsy. Supposing Howie wasn’t a kidnaper? Suppose he hadn’t been lying—he didn’t act like a kidnaper right now. Then he would have lost his best friend. His only friend. The only one who ever took the trouble to ask if he was sore. “I ain’t sore,” he repeated. All right. He would get in the car with Howie and then get away from him after he’d ridden with him a little way to show that he really wasn’t sore. He could always come back to get the kid—if he was there. He opened the door and got in, still suspicious of Mollison but protecting himself if it turned out that he was wrong.
Mollison drove in toward the boiler room. “I just thought I’d come back and check up to see if I locked the door,” he said.
Patsy twisted his hands nervously. He must have been wrong about Howie. But he had been so sure. He had wanted so much to be the one who brought the Anacosta kid home. If he could see inside the boiler room, now. If he could think of something to tell Howie why he had to look inside, then he could see if the kid was there.
Mollison made it easy for him. He said, as he pulled up beside the boiler room and stopped the car, “I think I left a little whisky in the bottle I had in there, Patsy. Let’s go inside and see if we can squeeze out a drink.” If he had not had so much on his mind now, he would have taken time for some self-congratulation on the way he had handled Patsy. He wondered briefly if he had convinced Patsy enough; if he could convince himself enough when Patsy saw that the room was empty that it would not be necessary to kill him. No. Patsy obviously had had the idea in his head and he would never quite lose it. Sooner or later he would say something; remember something, talk too much.
Mollison unlocked the door of the boiler room and stood aside as Patsy eagerly brushed by him, blinking his small eyes in the dim light and glancing from side to side. The room was obviously empty. Mollison bent and picked up the whisky bottle he had emptied the night before. “Too bad,” he said. “It’s empty. Well, I guess we might as well get out of here, Patsy. We can stop somewhere and get a drink.”
Patsy was baffled. He sensed that Mollison knew of his suspicions but for some reason he wasn’t going to hold it against him that he had thought—what he had thought. Or maybe he had tricked him in some way. He said, “Sure, Howie,” and started past Mollison.
Mollison had picked up the whisky bottle but he hadn’t put it down. As Patsy stepped past him, he brought it crashing down on the back of his skull. The bottle made a sodden chunk, like a maul driving a stake, and Patsy lurched to his knees. Strangely, the bottle did not break. Patsy half turned to face Mollison as he struggled to get to his feet. The blood welled up in a frightening tide to mat his coarse hair. He said, “Howie—Howie—” and Mollison, in panic, swung the bottle again, sideways so that it thudded against Patsy’s temple. This time he went full length on his belly. Unbelievably, he struggled again to get his feet under him. He did not speak but made a gasping, choking sound in his throat. Mollison threw the bottle aside. He had to fight the urge to run away from this monster who would not die. Beside the furnace, there was an iron bar used to break up clinkers in the cheap, soft coal. Mollison picked it up and swung it, again and again in revulsion and terror. Patsy no longer moved. Mollison sat down on the edge of the cot and put his head in his hands while great drops of sweat formed on his forehead and trickled down his cheeks. His legs were trembling; he could not rise again until they steadied. He looked once, and once again, at the body of Patsy sprawled on the dirty cement floor. Each time he looked away hastily, knowing that he would shortly have to do more than look. He could not leave Patsy lying there, although he thought briefly about doing just that. Some day—in a week or a month or two—an agency man would be showing a client the mill. That’s all that would be needed. Patsy would be identified and connected with the club and from the club to Mollison. Mollison shivered. He wondered if Lou Morgan had felt like this after he killed the Anacosta kid. Lou Morgan, of course. There was the answer to his problem. If Morgan had hidden one body where it could never be found, he could hide another. But should he tell Morgan? How was the law on that? Morgan was a party to the kidnapping—he had murdered the kid. Now Patsy was dead, and that was a product of the kidnapping; so wasn’t Morgan guilty of Patsy’s murder too? Mollison tittered. Morgan was going to be surprised to learn what he had become a party to. What would he do—call him up and say, “Lou, I’ve got another one for you?”. He sat on the cot, in near hysteria, for another five minutes; a fat man rapidly falling apart. Then he pulled himself together enough to make some sort of plan. He would call Morgan at the bank and tell him that he had to see him—in the boiler room would be as good a place as any. And after dark so that they could take the body away from this place and get rid of it.
After a day or so, when Patsy, didn’t show up, the club manager might or might not report to the police that he was missing. Nobody else would care enough to bother. There was the slight danger that the police might possibly connect Patsy’s disappearance—if it was reported—-with the kidnapping, but so what? They might guess at a connection; but they could do nothing with it, could they? Nothing.
Mollison got up finally, and dragged the sprawled body toward the coal pile. The heavy, dead weight seemed to resist his tugging out of some malevolent obstinacy, but he managed. Now the body was out of the way but that was not enough. He mopped his streaming forehead and glanced about the room. No shovel, although you would expect to find a shovel in a boiler room, wouldn’t you? Stolen by some resentful boilerman when the mill closed down probably. There was a wide board in the pile of wood he had gathered earlier when he had planned to start a fire in the boiler. Mollison picked it up and began to sweep coal from the pile until he had nearly covered Patsy’s body, covered it enough so that it no longer accused him. Then he scraped some of the fine, powdery coal from the edges of the heap and scuffed it across the heavier blood splotches in the center of the room, smearing them and darkening them so that they became less obviously what they were. When he was finished he left the boiler room, locking the door behind him and emerging into the shock of bright daylight. He could see himself now, streaked and smeared with coal dust and sweat. On the cuffs of his trousers were some dark specks that must be blood, although he could not remember that it had spattered enough to reach him. He had to clean up somewhere before he did anything else. He got into the car and drove away, stopping at the first filling station he came to. Without waiting for the attendant to come up he hurried toward the side of the building where a sign said Men, calling over his shoulder, “Fill her up.”
He washed his face and hands vigorously, then took a paper towel, soaked it in water after he had wadded it into a ball, and dabbed at the spots on his trouser cuffs. The paper came away with a pinkish tinge, but the spots darkened with the water and he could only hope that they would disappear when the cloth dried. He thought carefully about what he was doing in order to avoid thinking about Patsy and what he had done to him. Not that he felt remorse. What was Patsy? A moron. Of no use to anyone. Now there was only one person who could betray him and that was Morgan—but Morgan was so hopelessly involved himself that he could never go to the police. Mollison began to feel quite a bit better about the whole thing. It had worked out, hadn’t it? Now that he knew how much nerve Morgan had—and hadn’t he been tough this morning? What was it he had said? “You must be out of your mind? Don’t ever call me yellow again.” Morgan was one of those cold, icy ones, all right. Nothing to worry about from Morgan. All they had to do now was hide Patsy’s body and be careful about how they spent the ransom money—for a while, anyway—and everything was going to be all right.
Mollison walked back into the sunlight and paid the attendant, giving him a tip out of his growing sense of safety. All he had to do now was call Morgan at the bank. And have a couple of drinks as a reward for the way he had handled Patsy.
He parked in front of a bar and went in, wondering pleasantly whether he should have a drink before or after he called Lou. Before—why not? He had earned it. With the drink in hand, he looked about him while he sipped it. A nice bar. Nice looking bunch of guys playing pitch down at the angle of the bar where the bartender could play and still tend to the drinks. He moved toward them, taking his drink with him. He felt none of his habitual superiority. He wanted the sense of being like these men, like any man who had not committed murder. He nodded to one of the players and the man nodded back. Pleasantly. Nice guys. “Let’s have a round here,” he said.
This time they all smiled and nodded. One or more of them said, ”—luck, Mac.” Mollison didn’t want them to think he was a big shot because he had bought a round of drinks. He wanted them to think that he was a nice guy, too.
The telephone call. He had to call Morgan. He said, “Excuse me,” and walked over to the telephone booth that stood beside the front door. There was a directory hanging from a chain and he looked up the number of the Drover’s Bank and dialed it.
“I’d like to talk with Mr. Morgan,” he said, when he had a connection. “Mr. Louis Morgan. He’s a teller.”
The voice on the other end was cool and feminine and the expression managed to convey the impression that it was not bank policy for employees to receive telephone calls on bank time. Not employees of Morgan’s level. The voice said, “One moment, please.” There was a pause and it came back again, faintly gratified. “Mr. Morgan is at lunch,” it said. Bank policy had been vindicated. “Is there any message?”
Mollison said, “No. No thanks. It wasn’t important,” and hung up. He felt better after the call. There was no hurry. They couldn’t do anything about Patsy until after dark anyway, and there had seemed something so pleasantly normal in the message that Morgan was out to lunch.
He drifted back to the card game and the bartender said, “Why don’t you sit in, Mac? I’ve got some cleaning up to do in back.”
Mollison said, “I’d like to,” and pulled out a chair. He felt something of the nervously guilty elation of a working man stealing time in a bar when he should be working or going home with the paycheck. He said, “My name is Mollison. Call me Howie.”
The other players introduced themselves. Shack. George—Mollison’s partner—and Red. Mollison acknowledged the introductions and ordered another round of drinks. Red stopped him and bought the round himself, and Mollison felt himself going out to these men. Needing the companionship of men as a bulwark against his awareness of Patsy lying dead in the coal pile, he stripped himself of the conceit and the sham with which he had faced the world for almost all his years. He exposed himself, for the first time in twenty-five years, without any pretense at all; wanting only acceptance on their own terms. He even regretted that he was better dressed than these men. After twenty-five years the relief from the burden of hypocrisy and bluster was almost too great. He felt light, naked, as if he had stripped off great layers of fat. In all those years he had doubted Howard Mollison’s ability to make a living, even to survive as Howard Mollison. He had been X different men to make a living at X different jobs. Now he played cards and he drank and he bought when it was his turn; all this with no lies, no reserve, no, ego. He loved these men and he could have wept that he had not discovered years ago the elation of being just himself.
Red: “What do you do for a living, Howie?”
Mollison: “I sell cars. New ones, used ones. The Kramer Agency on Elmwood Avenue.” No implication that he was a vice-president in the company and could arrange a hell of a break on a deal. No cryptic suggestion that he was something more than a used-car salesman…
Shack: “I never saw you around here before, Howie. Where do you live?”
Mollison: “I live in a dump on the other side of town.” No claim to anything else. No insinuation that he lived in a first-rate apartment and was just slumming. No lie. No mention of his club as if it were some exclusive fraternity for rich men only. No lie. No bluff.
The afternoon wore on with all four men becoming a little drunk. Mollison won a few dollars and lost a few and couldn’t have cared less. Several times he thought of calling Lou Morgan again but each time he put it off. It was much easier to play cards and drink and pretend that nothing had happened. He procrastinated to avoid the devilish reality that he had kidnapped a child and murdered a man and that he could never really walk with men again. What the hell—he was walking with men, wasn’t he? These men, Red and Shack and George, actually liked him. So what he had done didn’t show. It couldn’t show. When—and it happened less often through the afternoon—he thought of Patsy lying in the coal pile and remembered that he had to get Lou to help him get rid of the body, a sick gray despair closed in around him. Whisky dissipated the gray cloud like a breeze whipping away morning mist. Hie had to do something about that. Drinking too much, lately. Do it tomorrow. But ah, God—if he were only a plain working man like these others. The kind he had sold the swampy lots and the cheap aluminum windows and the crackerbox houses to. If he were only not a kidnaper, not a murderer, but just a mark working in a factory.
Red said, throwing down his hand, “It’s almost seven o’clock. We’ve killed the afternoon—let’s go get something to eat. How about you, Howie?”
Mollison thought once more of Patsy and decided that it could do no harm to wait a while. No telling where he could reach Lou Morgan now, anyway. “Sure,” he said.
They got up from the table in a noisy group and went out the door. On the street a uniformed policeman waited. He said, not unkindly, “Hello, Shack. You, George, and Red. The lieutenant wants to talk to you down at the precinct.”
Shack said impatiently, “Oh for God’s sake, what’s he want now?”
The policeman shrugged. ‘The heat’s on about a kidnapping. He probably just wants to talk to you boys. Probably won’t hold you too long. He’s having all the ex-cons brought in, not just you guys.”
Mollison fought back the impulse to sidle away from the group and run, fast and far. But that would be the worst thing he could do.
The policeman glanced at him curiously. “What’s your name, Mac?”
Mollison wondered if he should give a false name. It was just possible that Anacosta had given the police a list of names of men he had turned down on loan requests and who might have kidnapped his grandson out of revenge. Would he remember Mollison? Yet, if he gave a false name, the policeman might ask for identification. The risk was too great. “Mollison,” he said. “Howard Mollison. I don’t know these men. I just happened to get into a card game with them.”
The policeman frowned. “Mollison,” he said. “Mollison. You got a record, Mollison—like your buddies here?”
If he’d had the nerve left, Mollison would have assumed a righteous indignation; but he merely said, “No.”
The policeman turned to Shack. “What about it, Shack? You know this Mollison?”
Shack shook his head. “Like he said, he just got into a card game with us. Look, Eddie—we didn’t eat yet. How about you let us stop at the diner before we see the lieutenant?”
“I guess so.” The policeman turned back to Mollison. “You can go, Mollison.”
Mollison turned away and then half turned back. He said tentatively, “I’ll see you fellows sometime.”
Not one of them answered him.
Mollison, knowing what he had yet to do, could not do it. Instead he picked up a bottle of whisky and drove to his apartment. He took off his shoes and lay down in the dark, fully dressed, weak and sick. When the bottle was half finished he fell asleep.
Louis Morgan left the bank at five. He had been increasingly aware of concern for the Anacosta boy; and this irritated him. He was doing all he could, wasn’t he? He had actually saved the boy’s life, hadn’t he? In spite of the irritation, he decided not to wait until dark to return to the mill. There was little more risk in going there by daylight than at night, he told himself.
He picked up his car at a parking lot and started toward the outskirts of the city. In less than an hour he made four separate stops. The first was at an auto supply store, where he bought a gallon size Thermos jug and half a dozen flashlight batteries. He had paid for them and was on his way out of the store when he saw a display of foam rubber automobile pillows. He turned back and bought one, telling the clerk a foolish and unnecessary little lie about wanting to sit up higher in the driver’s seat of his car.
He found a small dry goods and notions store for his second stop. He bought towels and soap, a tooth brush and paste and a small basin. He glanced at some boy’s underclothing on a counter and wanted to buy some, but this he could not make himself do. Too risky, with everybody in the city conscious that a small boy had been kidnapped.
His third stop was at a neighborhood grocery store, where he bought more cold meats, a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread. He added several cans of tomato and pineapple juice. While he was paying his bill at the cash register he picked up several bars of candy from a display counter.
He stopped, for the last time, at a drugstore and took the Thermos jug inside with him. Stopping at the soda fountain he asked to have it filled with water. “I just bought it,” he explained. “I want to see how long it keeps stuff cold.”
While the clerk was filling it, he wandered to the back of the store and bought gauze bandages and iodine and adhesive tape. If the boy’s knee was really infected, iodine might not be enough.
“I’d like to get some penicillin,” he told the clerk.
The clerk stared at him. “You mean straight penicillin? You can’t buy it without a doctor’s prescription. You’re not supposed to inject it yourself either.”
He couldn’t of course, get a prescription. “The iodine will do,” he said. He hoped it really would do.
When he left the drugstore he turned on the car radio for the six o’clock news broadcast. The kidnapping was the lead story on the news program. It consisted of one fact—the kidnapped boy was still missing and no further word had been received from the kidnapers—the rest of the commentary was police conjectures and promises. Morgan drove into the now-familiar spot behind the boiler room as the news program ended. He turned off the radio and got out of the, car with the Thermos jug dragging at one arm and the remaining packages encircled by the other. He had to put them down outside while he unlocked the door and then again on the inside while he relocked the door. When he picked them up again they were heavy and awkward so he clasped both hands around them like a pregnant woman holding her stomach to climb a flight of stairs. He could just see over the packages; he couldn’t look down at all, and therefore didn’t notice the blood smears that Mollison had tried to cover with coal dust after he dragged Patsy’s body across the floor. He had to put the packages down again to drag open the door leading into the main section of the mill, and he swore petulantly. When he did pass through into the main room, he stumbled over a box of the card spindles and nearly fell. Somehow he blamed the Anacosta boy for this; he was making him go to a great deal of trouble. Angry at the boy, angry with himself, he finally reached the landing and the door leading to the room where the boy was a prisoner.
He could see fairly well by the light from the landing door, once he had opened it; enough to make out the huddled form of the boy, apparently asleep, in the same corner of the room where he had left him. Morgan felt a brief flicker of dismay when there was no stirring under the dirty blanket. If he were dead? Impossible. Nothing could hurt him here. He said too loudly in the quiet of the dingy room, “I’m back. I’ve brought you some stuff.”
There was movement under the blanket at the sound of his voice, and Morgan felt some relief as he put down the clumsy packages, and fumbled for the burned-out flashlight. He unscrewed the base, shook the dead batteries into his hand and inserted new ones. The boy, who had sat up, seemed to recoil from the sudden light, blinking his eyes like an animal caught in the glare of headlights. He asked, “Are you going to take me home now?”
Morgan said, “Not yet.” He felt the distaste of a literate man at the use of the word, “kid,” so he repeated, feeling an old sense of bondage with the boy merely from the use of his name, “Not yet, Carmen. Pretty soon now.”
He had expected the boy to wail, to cry, to beg. Instead he sank back on his blanket rather listlessly, as if he had known and been resigned to the answer in advance. “My knee hurts worse,” was his only complaint.
Morgan puttered with his packages. “We’ll fix it,” he promised.
He glanced about for the package of paper cups he had brought in the morning. They were where he had left them. The cold meat and the remainder of the milk were untouched. “I’ll get you something to eat,” he said, “then we’ll fix your knee. What about a sandwich?”
The boy said indifferently, “I don’t feel like one. I want a drink.”
“Sure,” Morgan said, almost jovially. “Sure. What will it be—milk? Water? How about some tomato juice or some pineapple juice?” He listed the supplies as if proud of their profusion, feeling almost happy that he could offer some relief to this miserable child.
The boy said, “Pineapple juice, I guess.”
Morgan reached for the can and remembered that he had not brought an opener. He was tempted to tell the boy to drink milk but almost immediately he remembered the boxes of steel card spindles that were stacked on the floor below. They looked like stilettos. They were sharp; they would most certainly puncture the thin shell of the tin can of fruit juice. “I’ll be right back,” he promised, and hurried down the stairs to get a spindle.
Back in the room again, he made two small punctures in the can and handed it to the boy. He drank half of it, and Morgan said, “Now let me make you a sandwich.”
“I’m not hungry,” the boy repeated.
It would be better if the boy would eat. Nothing at all since morning? Weren’t boys supposed to be always hungry? Uneasily Morgan said, “You ought to have something.” An idea came to him. “I’ll tell you what, I’ve got some water and soap here. You let me get it ready for you and you wash up and brush your teeth and it will make you feel better. Then we’ll look at your knee.” A clean-up would have made him feel better if he were dirty and miserable—why not the boy?
The boy sat up. “I’ve got to go to the bathroom,” he said.
Morgan said, “Sure. I’ll help you. It’s right over there.”
“I had to go once today already but I couldn’t see when I got there,” the boy said. “I only made water though. I had to do it on the floor.”
“That’s all right,” Morgan reassured him. He helped the boy to his feet and led him toward the filthy bathroom that opened off the room. He held the light for the boy and then helped him back toward the blanket when he was through, noticing now that the boy was limping badly. He splashed water from the Thermos jug into the basin and helped the boy wash, delaying as long as he could his examination of the scraped knee. When he did finally roll the boy’s trouser leg back to look at the knee he was shocked to see that it was swollen almost half again its normal thickness. A heavy scab had formed over the injury but there was a hard and granular red margin about the scab. What germs were there in this ancient mill? What filth, what bacteria, what microbe had gotten into the wound? Morgan imagined for a moment that there was an evil odor to the wound. He said in a falsely cheerful voice, “It will be all right. You’ll see.” He fumbled out the bottle of iodine and tried to paint it on the wound with the glass stylus that was attached to the rubber cork. It kept scraping against the scab, letting the yellow-brown iodine trickle uselessly down the healthy skin surrounding the injury. Morgan finally wet a tiny corner of the towel directly from the bottle and swabbed the wound with it. The boy did not flinch—and wasn’t that a bad sign? Wasn’t iodine supposed to sting? Maybe they had fixed it somehow so it wouldn’t, he told himself. He wrapped gauze around the knee and pulled the trouser leg down again. ‘There,” he told the boy. “That didn’t hurt, did it?”
“I guess not.”
The boy still did not want to eat. Looking at him Morgan could see a certain grayish pallor in his face. The boy’s forehead was dry and warm to the touch. It was only natural, wasn’t it, that he would have a little fever—with a knee like that and the shock of being taken away and hidden in this little room, half scared to death?
Morgan gathered up the bread and the meat and the milk that he had brought in the morning, leaving only the fresh food. The room smelled bad enough without adding the odor of spoiled food. He said, “I’ve got to go now, Carmen. I’ll be back in the morning and pretty soon it will be safe to take you home.”
The boy stirred. “Will you leave the flashlight again?” he asked, with the first sign of interest he had shown.
“Sure I will,” Morgan promised, arid was immediately caught up by a new idea. There was a light in the boiler room, wasn’t there? Then there must be current in some of the lines in the old mill—maybe in this very room. He shone the light toward the door land saw the expected switch. Swinging the light in a vertical angle he saw a dusty fixture overhead. He stared toward the switch and hesitated. Would a light be seen from outside? No. There were no windows in this room. He had checked that before he used the flashlight on the night he had brought the boy here. The door to the inner room was locked and tight. What little light might escape under the door would never find its way into the night. He flicked the switch with his forefinger. There was the customary click but the room remained dark. He felt a bitter disappointment. And then he remembered a metal fusebox set into the wall on the landing; something he had half seen, half noted. He went out to the landing and pulled the cover on the box. There were half a dozen circuit-breaker switches in the box, neatly labeled, Hall, Outer Office, Inner Office, and so on. Inner office? Would that be the room where the boy was—or would that be the outer office? He glanced again at the switches and saw that they were neatly ranked in the position marked Off. Hurrying back into the room he searched for and found the key to the adjoining office. He opened the door and made sure that the light switch was off, masking the flashlight with his cupped hand because this office had windows. He closed the door but did not lock it and went back to the landing. He threw the switch marked Outer Office and immediately there was the warm glow of light streaming out onto the landing. Morgan hurried back to the closed door of what he had proved to be the inner office. He glanced inside just to be certain that no light had come on, and then he closed and locked the door again. He felt a tremendous exultation. He had provided light. Faraday and Edison and a forgotten electrician had helped Lou Morgan to mitigate his sins.
When he had made his way back to his car, locking all the doors of his passage, he felt suddenly drained, unable to summon the will to get away from the place. That poor scared kid up there alone in the old factory, waiting for Morgan to set him free. And for what, for what, had Morgan done this to him? For the ransom? For money to cover his thefts from the bank and free him of Anacosta? For money that would let him pretend to a social and economic position that were beyond him? Money was not enough, would never be enough, just as Argonne Street, by itself hadn’t been enough. You were something or you were nothing. Or you were a kidnaper. And if you were a kidnaper, you couldn’t atone enough. Still, he was doing the best he could to save the boy, wasn’t he? If Mollison had had his way, the boy would be dead by this time. He started up the car and drove toward his rooming house. On the way he stopped and threw out the stale food he had taken from the mill. Friday. There would be five more days of this.
At three o’clock in the morning, Patsy Galuk came to sit on the foot of Howard Mollison’s bed and gibber at him. Mollison awoke with a soundless gasping scream, and Patsy vanished. Mollison had been sleeping fitfully; now he woke fully to find his clothing soaked with sweat. He could smell on his own body, the odor of fear. He sat up, his mouth open and working as he sought for breath. The thought of the bottle that stood on the bedside table was immediately reassuring, as though a promise of salvation. He reached for it and drank greedily, scarcely tasting the liquor. After a time he closed his eyes, but he opened them again immediately. In his half-conscious state he was afraid that Patsy might come back again to sit on the foot of the bed. He waited for his head to clear, for the alcohol to take hold and give him back his reason.
There had been a recurrent dream since he had thrown himself on the bed hours earlier. He had been walking in a strange place, holding his hands before him to protect his face against something. Vines? Spider webs? Something. And those hands had swollen to monstrous size; had become great, pulpy balls of flesh with sausage fingers. Alternately they had shrunk, dwindling to nothing at all while he screamed and wept. And Patsy Galuk had been in the dream, so that Mollison had awakened to see him sitting on the foot of the bed, and he had looked to see if the grotesque head were really beaten into a red paste. Somehow it hadn’t been, although he remembered how Patsy had looked when he had hidden him in the coal pile. Patsy had looked almost as normal—and as real—as ever.
Several minutes passed before Mollison was able to distinguish between what he had seen and what he had dreamed and to come to the sheepish conclusion that he had been through a nightmare. He glanced at the clock on the bureau. Three o’clock. Ten minutes past three, exactly. He measured the whisky remaining in the bottle. There were four hours stretching in front of him before he could get up and go down into the daylight. Four hours. He would have to ration the liquor carefully, try to reach a stage that would leave him alert enough to keep Patsy away but would not betray him into full sleep where the nightmare could get at him.
He tried to think what he would do now. They—he and Morgan—would have to get rid of Patsy’s body as soon as possible. Tomorrow—today, really, at the latest. He gave up thinking, content to leave it to the mind and iron nerve of Lou Morgan. He would tell Lou first thing in the morning and let him plan what they should do. He had done his share. He had silenced Patsy, hadn’t he?
Mollison never questioned in his own mind his abrupt change in attitude toward Lou Morgan. He had, before the kidnapping, considered him prissy, almost effeminate. He’d had doubts about Morgan’s courage in carrying out his assignment in the crime. Now, because Morgan had volunteered to kill the Anacosta kid and hide his body—because Morgan had coldly and scornfully warned Mollison to brace up—Mollison had surrendered his leadership. He had surrendered it willingly, gladly. It was easy to let go, to let Morgan be responsible for whatever thinking had to be done. It did not occur to him that in so doing he was also trying to give Morgan the responsibility for the crime itself. Because Mollison, to this hour, had felt not the slightest remorse for what had been done. And if he wished Morgan to have the responsibility for the kidnapping and the murder, he told himself, it was only because of his sensible desire to escape a terrible punishment if they were caught.
Shortly after seven o’clock—it was now Saturday—-Mollison got up from the bed. He could no longer endure the knowledge of Patsy Galuk buried in a coal pile with his head battered in. He had to share it.
He drove through the empty streets toward the rooming house where Morgan stayed. The front door was unlocked; he walked in to a hall that held half a dozen urns filled with Boston ferns and elephant plants. There was a wide staircase, and he climbed it to another hall, this one running the width of the building. He could almost guess which door led to Lou Morgan’s room, having seen Morgan leaning out the window when he had come here earlier—Lord, was it only yesterday? He called softly, “Morgan, hey—Lou.”
Morgan was already awake and half dressed. He opened his door and saw Mollison standing in the hall, and his first sensation was one of shock. Mollison’s face was a yellowish-white, with the bristles of his beard showing as black specks, almost like the pinfeathers on a plucked chicken.
His hair was uncombed and his clothes rumpled. He looked fifteen years older than the dapper salesman who used to chatter with Morgan at the club. Morgan said, “Good God, what are you doing here? Come in before somebody sees you.”
Mollison walked into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. Morgan shut the door and turned to face him, aware that he could actually smell Mollison, who gave off an odor of alcohol and perspiration. Morgan remembered the way Mollison had responded to his earlier bullying. He made his expression coldly scornful. “You look like a wino from skid row,” he said bitingly. “You need a bath.”
Mollison said humbly, “I know, Lou. I had a hell of a night.” He didn’t mind that Morgan was sneering at him, contemptuous of him. He accepted this as further evidence of Morgan’s cold nerve, Morgan’s taking charge. “Lou,” he continued, “Patsy’s dead.” It sounded better that way, better than “I killed Patsy.”
Morgan had been putting on a clean shirt. He stopped with his arms halfway through the sleeves and demanded, “What did you say?”
Mollison repeated, “Patsy’s dead. I had to kill him.”
When Morgan said nothing for a moment Mollison rushed on. “I had to stop him,” he said. “I went out to the club yesterday noon and he knew all about it, Lou. I could tell just from the way he looked at me. Cripes, you could read his face like a book.”
Morgan had been briefly stunned. Now he began to realize that, whatever Mollison had done, the police didn’t know about it yet or Mollison wouldn’t be sitting here explaining. He said, “Go on.”
“I didn’t think he’d figure it out,” Mollison said. “You know the fairy tale I told him about some guys owing me money, to explain about us having the kid. Anyway, right after I got there he sneaked out of the club. I followed him and he headed right for the mill.”
Morgan began to button his shirt slowly. “And you killed him for that?”
Mollison’s voice took on a whining note. “I told you, Lou, he knew all about it.” He went on, a little resentfully, “I never thought Patsy would turn against me even if he did know. He knew and he was going right to the mill to see if the kid was still there. He probably wanted to be a big hero. I got him in the car and took him to the mill, told him I wanted to go back and check to see if everything was locked up.”
Morgan felt a real pity for Patsy. But then he reminded himself that he had been going to betray Patsy and Mollison to the police on Wednesday, anyway—telling them where the boy was equaled betrayal. And once the boy talked…
Mollison went on. “Don’t forget, Lou,” he said, “you’re in this as much as me.”
“Don’t be an ass,” Morgan told him. “It isn’t a question of who did it. Where did you kill him? In the boiler room?”
“How did you do it?”
“I hit him on the head with a bottle.” Mollison shuddered. “He wouldn’t stay down, Lou. He kept trying to get up and I thought he’d kill me. I took an iron bar from the furnace and I kept hitting him.”
“Did you leave him there?”
“I couldn’t move him by myself. I dragged him over and pushed coal down on top of him. Nobody can see him unless they know he’s there and look for him. Can’t we take him and put him in the same place as the kid?”
Morgan said scathingly, “You’re not very bright, Howie. Suppose they found the two bodies together, how long do you think it would take for them to trace Patsy back to the club?” He had to be convincing. Mollison had already asked to see the place where he’d said he’d buried the boy’s body. A persistent evasion might make him suspicious again if no valid reason went with it. “And if they traced, him back to the club, it wouldn’t take them five minutes more to start thinking about you. Everybody would tell them that Patsy always hung around you. We’ll get rid of him somewhere else. Have you been out to the club since then?”
Mollison shook his head.
“Why did you wait until now to tell me about this?”
“I tried to call you, Lou. I called the bank but you were out to lunch. Sol had a drink to try and settle my nerves and then I guess I had quite a few.”
“I guess you did. You’re a foul sight right now. You can’t go to work looking like that. Did you show up at all yesterday?”
“No, but I called in to say I wouldn’t be there.”
“You’d better show up today. Not like that. You’ll have to go home and take a shower and clean up. You’ve got to get hold of yourself. If you start walking around looking like a tramp, people will start wondering about you. We can’t afford to have people wondering about you.”
“I know, Lou. I’ll go home and clean up. It was just that I kept thinking about Patsy and I had to tell you about it.” He felt better., Lou had taken command and everything would be all right now.
Morgan, fighting for time to think, said, “You haven’t been out to the club since Patsy left there, so you’d better show up there, too. I’ll go myself about noon. Try to get there a little after that. And listen—when you get there look around the place and ask, ‘Where’s Patsy?’ Don’t wait for somebody to ask you. You ask first. You’d better get moving now. You should get to the agency on time—and try not to attract any attention.”
After Mollison left, Morgan went to the window and watched him emerge from the door and walk to his car, foreshortened from this angle. Morgan, looking down into the sunny street, felt something of the same sense of isolation from humanity that had driven Mollison into the saloon after he had killed Patsy. Turning from the window he picked up his car keys. He wanted to go quickly to the boy in the mill. He had been shocked by Mollison’s report of murder, but he was a party to that murder—and to an even more loathsome crime. He supposed Patsy would be missed for a while at the club but he doubted if there would be a serious attempt made to locate him. The greatest danger in Patsy’s death was in its effect on Mollison, who was obviously cracking up. He would have to help him pull himself together for just a few days longer and then it wouldn’t matter. As for Patsy’s body, it could stay where it was, in the mill. He would have to work something out to tell Mollison—tell him that he’d taken care of the body himself, for some reason or other—and then he would drag it back into the main part of the mill in case Mollison wanted to see for himself that Patsy had been taken care of. Sometime between now and noon he would think of something to tell Mollison.
Mollison walked into the auto agency office only a few minutes late. On the way in he had met Eddie, the mechanic who had guessed at his manipulation of the green Hudson, and Eddie had said nothing, just grinned at him. Grinned strangely, Mollison thought. As if he knew something. Mollison walked past the girl at the file desk and said, “Hello, Betty. Can I sell you a good used car?” He tried hard to affect the old confidence and swagger, but he missed the mark and he knew it.
Betty looked at him doubtfully. “Lillian wants to see you,” she said. “She tried to get you yesterday after you called.”
“Didn’t you give her my message?” Mollison asked.
“I told her,” Betty said. “It was after that that she tried to reach you. She’s sore about something.”
There had been a time when Mollison would have said—and meant—“She can go to hell.” Now he felt only a sick worry. The bank. It must have been the bank. Somebody had caught up with the winding trail of paper transactions he had made. He asked anxiously, “What’s it about, Betty? You got any idea?” He wanted to ask her if Lillian Kramer had had a call from the bank before she started looking for him, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it.
Betty shook her head. “I don’t know, Howie,” she told him.
“Is she in?”
“I’ll be out on the lot,” he told her. “Call me on the PA speaker when she comes in.”
Lillian Kramer came half an hour later. When Mollison heard Betty paging him on the PA system, he excused himself from a customer with a muttered, “I’ll be back,” and hurried into the office, wanting to get it over with. He had no strength in him, no spirit. Nothing to fight with, to lie with, to hedge or bluff with.
Lillian was seated at her desk in her private office. She looked up as he came in and said, “You, Howie. Sit down. I’ll be with you in a minute.” After the minute—Mollison spent it trying to light a cigarette that he didn’t want—she looked up again. “I think you’ve been stealing money from me, Howie. The banks are closed today so I can’t do much about it. I’m going to find out Monday morning—unless you want to tell me about it now.”
Mollison started to protest and she interrupted him. “Don’t waste my time lying, Howie. I had a call from the bank at two o’clock yesterday afternoon. They said that they had some of our paper on a man named Swanson and that the residence and place of employment he gave are phony. I looked at our sales records. We don’t have any Swansons. The address this Swanson gave is a private club. They know you there, Howie. I called. So don’t lie. Just let me know how much you’ve gotten into me for. After that I don’t want to hear anything. I don’t want to know anything. Just tell me how much and how soon you’re going to get the money back to me.”
Ah well, Mollison thought, there had always been the chance that the bank would check. Now that he was caught he accepted it fatalistically enough. Because there was no other way out, he began to tell her about the phony sales. When he was half finished Lillian reached for the telephone. Mollison said, “Wait, Lil.”
“Don’t call me Lil, you crooked bastard.”
How he hated her, the fat, self-satisfied bitch, sitting there with his very life in her hands, but he crawled. “Wait, Mrs. Kramer,” he pleaded. “You’re not calling the police, are you?”
“Why not? You stole my money. I’ve got to make good at the bank.”
“If you do that,” he said, “they’ll tie up whatever money I’ve got. Look—I can pay you back now.” He tried to regain a little of his dignity. “I only borrowed the money for a little while, Lil—Mrs. Kramer. I made a deal and I got it back. I can give you every cent of it. I can pay up every note and you’ll still have the cars. You haven’t got anything to lose.”
She showed the interest that he had expected when he mentioned paying the money back. “How soon can you pay it back?” she demanded. “I won’t go for any salary deduction pitch.”
He said hastily, “Today. Today, Mrs. Kramer. I’ll have it for you in an hour. It comes to just over five thousand. If you pay the notes off with it right away you’ll save almost six hundred dollars in interest over the face value of the notes.”
“Where are you going to get that kind of money in cash on a Saturday?”
He was aware of the desperate risk in admitting possession of so much when the whole city knew that a ransom had been paid within the last two days, but he had no choice. Money—immediately available—was all that was going to keep her from putting him in jail. His mind flickered to a sudden thought. Suppose he let her put him in jail; let her charge him with embezzlement. Would they look for a kidnaper in the city jail? He rejected the thought with regret. He knew that he could not stand to be locked away, with no knowledge of what Morgan might be doing or how the police were progressing. Not without losing his mind. He reached for a lie. “I only used a little of the money I got from the bank,” he said. “I thought I was going to need more than I did. I’ve still got most of what I got from them. The rest I made on a little deal.” He could only hope that she would not press him for details about the deal. His brain was incapable of making any further effort.
She stood up. “I’ll go with you,” she said.
“That’s all right That’s all right, Mrs. Kramer,” he assured her. “I don’t blame you.” He hesitated. “After you get the money, are you going to prosecute me?”
She looked at him coldly. “I don’t know what I ever saw in you, Howie,” she said. “I’ll hold off until Monday. If it turns out that you don’t owe more than you’ve told me about, I might Jet it drop. Or I might not.”
An hour later she stood on the sidewalk in front of Mollison’s apartment house. She had accompanied him to the door of his rooms; she even checked to see that there was no fire escape before she agreed to wait in the hall while he got the money.
“I’ll take the car,” she said. “If you use a Kramer car again it will be because you bought it. And don’t forget to come in Monday morning while we go over your crooked paper.”
He said, “Yes, Mrs. Kramer.”
“And don’t try to leave town. If you do I’ll have a fugitive warrant sworn out so fast it will make your nose bleed.”
She drove off noisily. Mollison watched her go, and while he watched he shivered with inarticulate rage. He felt as though she had emasculated him, outraged him. He would have given a great share of the remaining ransom money to drive his fist into her face, over and over again….
Louis Morgan left his rooming house a half hour after Mollison. He walked to the garage and backed his car out, and it was only after he had gotten out and closed and locked the door that it occurred to him that he had not even bothered to look and see that the hiding place where he had placed his share of Anacosta’s money had not been disturbed. He drove toward the Maynard Mill through the bright morning, stopping only for a cup of coffee for himself and a cup of tea in a paper carton for the boy. He had a vague recollection of his mother serving tea instead of coffee to him on cold mornings, and of her explanation that coffee was somehow bad for children’s nerves. Not that this was a cold morning, but a hot drink might just make the boy feel better. As an afterthought, he ordered two fried egg sandwiches to be wrapped to go. The thought of fried egg sandwiches at this hour of the day was nauseous, but eggs were symbolic of a good breakfast and there was no other way he could carry them.
He drove into the alley and across the paved parking strip to the boiler room. Getting out of the car, he remembered the clumsy routine of last night; the putting down and picking up of his packages while he struggled with the doors. He would, he decided, leave the paper bag full of food in the car while he unlocked the outer door and pushed back the inside one. He was halfway to the door when he heard the sputter of wheels and the dying sound of a switched-off engine. Key in hand, he turned. A black sedan with a white police shield painted on its side had nosed in behind his own car, effectively blocking it. A uniformed policeman got out of the car and walked ponderously toward him.
Morgan’s immediate thought was that Mollison had finally cracked up—certainly he had been on the edge of it when he left Morgan’s house—and had been picked up. No, there hadn’t been time for that. Or Patsy—oh, God, Patsy was twenty feet away on the floor of the boiler room. But they couldn’t have found him or this policeman wouldn’t be walking toward him now with his hand nowhere near his gun. He could do nothing now except be grateful that he had left the food container in the car.
The policeman glanced from side to side as he came up. Sizing up the car, the registration plates, and Lou Morgan. He asked mildly, “Have you got business around here, mister?” If his suit had been rumpled, the shirt dirty, the face unshaved, the manner would have been vastly different, Morgan supposed. Now he had to act unruffled, businesslike; had to conform to his own appearance.
Morgan said firmly, “I certainly have, officer.” He volunteered no further information. He hoped that he had already disarmed the policeman some by his dress and manner. Policemen had to be careful, he supposed, when it came to dealing with the neat and the clean. Now let him make the next move, reveal what his purpose was, what he knew or guessed.
The policeman said—uneasily?—“I was talking with the night boss in the little plastic shop over there.” He gestured toward the bulk of the mill where the little fly-by-night concerns rented space. “He said he’d seen cars stopping up this way. Thought they might be stripping the piping out of the mill.”
Morgan frowned. “Piping?”
“They do that,” the policeman explained. “Go into these old mills and take the piping right out. Lot of it is lead. They sell it to the junk dealers.” His tone indicated that he knew very well that a man of Morgan’s appearance would not be stealing scrap metal, but he did not move on. His attitude indicated that he would wait as patiently as necessary for Morgan’s explanation.
Morgan said, “Oh yes. I’ve heard of that happening. Well, that’s not what I’m doing here.” Small joke. Small joke while he thought.
“I’m with the Drummond Company,” he lied boldy. “You’ve heard of them. Industrial Architects. Our offices are out of town, in the state capital. We’re making a survey to see how much it would cost to modernize this old ark.” There was no Drummond Company and Morgan decided to flavor the lie with a little half truth. “The agency that handles the building has been having trouble trying to get rid of it.”
The policeman nodded affably. “I hear that Decker was trying to unload,” he said. He gave no sign that he intended to leave, and Morgan knew that the next move was up to him. He could not just stand here, talking to the policeman. What had Mollison said? “I pushed coal down on top of him.” Morgan had to move—and he could only hope that Mollison had pushed enough coal; that he had sufficiently covered Patsy Galuk’s body so that it would escape a casual glance.
He fumbled with the key in the lock of the door, making it obvious that he had a key for whatever substance it would lend to his story of surveying the mill. The policeman waited patiently. When Morgan swung the door open he followed him in, glancing about with some interest. Morgan stared at the coal pile; he could not help himself. It seemed prosaic enough. No outstretched hand. No outline suggesting a human figure. Oh God. There was a black shoe sticking out of the bottom of the pile. He walked toward the pile, partially cutting off the policeman’s vision.
“Dirty old place,” the policeman said. He gazed at the window where Mollison had hung the blanket. “Wonder what that’s there for?”
Morgan saw the empty whisky bottle that Mollison had flung aside after clubbing Patsy with it. “I imagine the night fireman used to have some parties in here,” he said.
“There’s one of his bottles on the floor.” God—was that a trace of blood on the bottle? Would the cop notice it?
The policeman nodded. “That’s probably it,” he agreed. “Or maybe some of the winos from over on the avenue have been getting in and using the place for a flop.” He turned toward the door. “I hope Decker decides to modernize the place and get some tenants in here. This end of the city has been dead for too long as it is. Well—I’ll see you.”
Morgan nodded his head—he could not bring himself to try and speak—and the policeman left. Morgan heard the growl of the starter and the crunching of the wheels as the police car backed and turned. When he was sure that the cruiser was gone, he went to his own car and got the packages containing the sandwiches and tea. He had been lucky, unbelievably lucky. Apparently the policeman had never connected the kidnapping with the presence of strangers in the mill. If he had, if he had even remotely considered that there might be a connection, he would not have been satisfied with a mere glance at the boiler room. He hadn’t even asked Morgan’s name. He’d had the preconceived idea that someone might be stealing pipe from the mill. Since Morgan was obviously not a vandal or a thief, he had been satisfied. If the policeman had had the slightest bit of imagination—but he hadn’t. Morgan had no guarantee that the next one would be as dull.
He locked the door behind him and made his way along the now familiar route to the room where the boy was imprisoned. The light was still burning and he left it on while he hurried toward the boy. He was asleep. His breathing was shallow and very fast and his forehead, when Morgan touched it, felt very warm. He awoke at Morgan’s touch but he did not try to sit up; instead he lay quite still, staring up at Morgan.
Morgan said, “I brought you some eggs and some tea.”
The boy answered listlessly, “I don’t want any. I don’t feel like eating.”
Looking at him Morgan could see his lips were cracked—and dry. “How about some juice?” he asked. “There’s still some tomato juice left.” The boy had not asked,- this time, when he was going to be taken home, and this worried Morgan as much as the boy’s obvious fever. He couldn’t just give up. It was only until Wednesday. Morgan reached for the Thermos jug. There was still water in it. He wet the end of the towel he had brought earlier and bathed the boy’s forehead. “How about drinking some of that juice now?” he repeated.
The boy said disinterestedly, “All right.”
Morgan searched around for the card spindle he had used to puncture the pineapple juice can. He jabbed two holes in the tomato juice can and held it to the boy’s lips. He drank several swallows and then pushed it away. “I don’t want any more,” he said.
Morgan watched helplessly as the boy’s eyes closed again and he drifted into an apparent light sleep. He told himself that that was best, that sleep was the great healer; but he made a poor argument of it. He felt an odd mixture of deep pity for the boy and an angry frustration that he had had to add to Morgan’s problems by becoming sick. After a moment he pushed the blanket away and, as gently as he could, shoved the boy’s trouser leg up. The flesh around the bandaged knee was swollen hard and tight and the reddened area around the wound had spread upward and downward. He pulled the trouser leg down again and said softly, “Carmen?”
The boy made no answer. Morgan said, “I’ll leave the tea and sandwiches. And I’ll come back to see you this afternoon. All right? Do you want me to bring you anything?” Morgan asked hopefully.
The boy did not open his eyes. “Some comic books, I guess,” he said.
Morgan said, “I’ll bring you a whole lot of them.”
The boy was sleeping when Morgan left the room and locked the door behind him. He made his way back through the mill toward the boiler room, getting away from the boy but not getting away from reality. The boy needed medical care and he needed it soon. Without it he might not survive until Wednesday. Morgan paused to consider this. All of his planning had been based on keeping the boy upstairs until he himself could leave the city without arousing interest. The teller’s audit was to be held on Monday and he had not considered leaving before then. He asked himself why and decided that it was habit. His books and cash were in immaculate order. What if he left now—this afternoon—and called the police from—say—New York? By the time they talked to the boy and learned that men named Patsy and Lou and Howie had kidnapped him and went on from there to find out who Patsy and Howie and Lou were, he could be on a train for still another city. He had been concerned with the reaction of the people at the bank. But sooner or later, whether or not he waited until Wednesday, they would learn that Morgan was a kidnaper and a party to a murder. He wondered if he had been making excuses to himself to avoid tearing up whatever roots held him to this place. No matter. He would go this afternoon.
He stopped in the boiler room and looked at the coal pile. After a brief consideration he walked toward it with coal dust gritting under his feet. He found a board and scraped more coal down from the pile so that Patsy’s foot was covered. Then he left.
The change in his plans meant he would have to move quickly. There were clothes at the cleaners and laundry to be picked up. He thought about this and then mocked his own frugality. The clothes could not be worth over fifty dollars or so. He had, under the floor of the garage, almost forty thousand dollars of Anacosta’s money. What else? The car? He would leave it in a garage somewhere and take an airline limousine to the airport. It came to him that there was no one to say good-by to, nothing in this city that he loved or would miss. So easy it was to leave. So quick.
He stopped at a drugstore and went in to call the airport. There was a flight to New York leaving at two in the afternoon and, yes, he could have a reservation. The name, please?
Morgan hesitated while he considered using a false name. It wouldn’t make much difference, he decided. Once the word went out to look for Louis Morgan—age such and such, height, weight—a false name would only delay the police briefly. And if it were detected now, it could endanger his escape before he even started. He gave his correct name.
Actually, now that he had only three hours left to make his farewell to a city where he had spent his entire life, he had time, to spare. There would be time to pick up the dry cleaning, if he wanted. Time to pack—and there was something to do. Buy a decent suitcase. He had never owned a real leather bag. He would stop at a luggage store and get one. Then he would get his money from under the garage floor and go home to pack. Suddenly he was very anxious to be gone. He got back into his old car and drove toward the better shopping district.
Mollison went back to his apartment after Lillian Kramer drove away. He paced the floor, thumping one big meaty fist into the open palm of his other hand in futile rage. He was completely humiliated. Somewhere, he remembered, he had lost his control over Louis Morgan. Since then he had become the whipping boy for everybody. Lillian Kramer, damn her. And Patsy, who had started out to betray him. Well, he had taken care of Patsy and some day, if things worked out, he would take care of Lillian Kramer. And Lou Morgan. Oh, Morgan was all right. He had disposed of the kid and he had been cool enough when he had learned of Patsy’s murder. Except that he was acting a little too snotty.
Well, all right, then. He had had to pay Lillian off. He had come out of it pretty well after all. He still had more than thirty thousand dollars left. And he had been fired before. From better jobs than the one with Lillian, by God—and he wouldn’t have to pay any more blackmail to that little rat of a mechanic, Eddie. All in all, forgetting the lousy way Lillian had treated him, it hadn’t turned out so bad. He decided that he would drift over to the club and have a drink. He was out on the street before he remembered that Lillian Kramer had taken the car away. Swearing violently, he walked a few blocks to a bus stop.
He got to the club at eleven o’clock. It was noisy with the Saturday morning crowd and just hearing the greetings and the laughter, the bustle and confusion of the group at the bar, made him feel better. What had Morgan said? Ask for Patsy. Don’t wait for them to ask you. He said hello to half a dozen men on his way to the bar. Fred, the manager, was filling in and Mollison said, “Hello, Fred. Let me have a Scotch and water.” He paused just long enough to put a puzzled look on his face and continued, “Where’s Patsy?”
Fred splashed water into a highball glass and pushed it toward Mollison. “I don’t know,” he said angrily. “He didn’t show up last night either. The crazy bastard is never around when you need him.”
Mollison said in a soothing voice, “Take it easy, Fred. Have one with me. Patsy probably got shacked up with something and decided to make a week end of it.”
Fred mixed a drink for himself and held it up in brief salutation. “I suppose so,” he agreed. “Or maybe he took a fit and got run over by a car or something.”
“What do you mean, ‘took a fit’?” Mollison asked. He had heard many things about Patsy—never that he was subject to fits.
Fred shrugged. “He’s epileptic or something. Four or five years ago he threw one in a five and dime store downtown. I always said if he threw one in here I’d run him off the place.” He started to move toward a more congested section of the bar. “Thanks for the drink, Howie,” he said.
Mollison nodded. This new bit of information about Patsy could be important. He would be sure to remember to tell Lou Morgan about it. Maybe they could make something of it. Dump Patsy somewhere and let it look as if he got nit by a car or something. The fact that Patsy was an epileptic would make it seem logical that it could happen to him.
He had several more drinks, refused as many invitations to sit in on a gin rummy game. He wanted to see Morgan and he found himself, by noon, watching the clock over the bar. When the hands diverged to indicate half past twelve and Morgan had not appeared, he called to Fred.
“I’ve got to take a little ride,” he said. “I’ve got a real bomber off the car lot. How’s for letting me take your car for an hour or so?”
Fred said, “Sure, Howie,” and tossed him the keys.
Morgan paid forty dollars for a pigskin bag and bought a few other items of comparable quality. But he did not particularly enjoy the purchases. The clerk who waited on him gave him the impression that he was fully aware that Morgan was not used to—probably didn’t deserve—such fine things. He drove by his garage and took out the money that he had hidden there before he parked in front of the rooming house and went in to pack his clothes. He took his time—he had more than he needed of that—but even so, when he had folded the last necktie, when he had cleaned his personal toilet articles from the bathroom, it was only a few minutes after twelve-thirty. He had given some thought to Howard Mollison. He had agreed to meet him at the club about noon. Since he had decided to leave town immediately, there was no point in seeing Mollison. If he was going to crack up—and if he got drinking with the bunch at the club he probably would—let him. An hour after Morgan’s plane landed in New York he intended to call the police and tell them where the Anacosta boy was. After that it wouldn’t make much difference whether Mollison fell apart or not. They would be after him in a matter of hours, or maybe less.
He picked up the good pigskin bag and his older, cheaper one and glanced about the room. There was nothing of importance left. A newspaper. A pair of shoes that weren’t worth packing. That was about it. He still had more than an hour to kill, and had a sudden impulse to see the Anacosta boy again. He couldn’t help him—but he could tell him that he would be taken to his mother and father very soon now, and that would certainly make him feel better. What was it he had wanted? Comic books? He would stop and get a stack of them.
Mollison was a block away from Morgan’s rooming house when he saw Morgan walk down the front walk to his car and put two suitcases in the back seat. He had halted at a stop sign, and for a moment, as he watched Morgan, he was too shocked to react. And then a violent, unthinking anger took hold of him. Morgan the cold, Morgan the iron-nerved, Morgan who had contemptuously told Mollison to straighten himself out, was running out. Mollison stabbed at the gas pedal intending to run Morgan off the road, to stop him any way he could. He was unfamiliar with the borrowed car. The carburetor was flooded with gasoline it could not vaporize, and the motor stalled. Mollison foolishly ground at the starter and pumped gas at the same time. The motor bucked and would not start. When he recovered enough of his composure to let the motor rest for a few moments, Morgan’s car was far down the street. When Mollison did get the motor started, Morgan’s car was no longer in sight. He followed in the direction Morgan had gone, knowing that Morgan might have turned off at any of a dozen intersections but unwilling to give up the chase while there was the slightest chance he might find him.
After the first violence of his anger had receded, he began to think of what he might do if he caught Morgan. If he had not stalled the car he would have intercepted him near the rooming house and, in his fury, he would have beaten Morgan, half killed him. Now he knew that to have done so would probably have been to expose and destroy them both. What he had to do now—if he caught up with Morgan—was to threaten him; make him help with Patsy’s body. He had a weapon—Morgan had been the one who had actually killed the boy. No matter what the law said about both of them being guilty, Morgan had murdered the kid. Driving more evenly, Mollison thumped his fist against the wheel. What had Morgan said—act normal? Show up at your job? Don’t call attention to yourself? So now the great Morgan was running away, leaving him to take the rap.
He saw Morgan’s car again just before he reached the most heavily congested downtown area. The car was parked at a drugstore, and Morgan was not in sight. Mollison looked for a parking place. There was none. He pulled to his right and started to double park but immediately the cars behind him began to pile up. Some of the drivers honked their horns in outrage and a beat cop started a tentative step toward Mollison’s car. He slipped it into gear again and pulled ahead. He was lucky. Four blocks farther on he found space to park. He shut off the motor and started to get out of the car, intending to walk back toward the drugstore. What would he do then? Walk with Morgan to his car; not let him get out of his reach. At that instant he saw Morgan, carrying a package of some sort, come out of the drugstore and walk quickly toward his own car. Mollison got back into the driver’s seat. Morgan was almost sure to come this way; the intervening streets were hardly more than alleys. Maybe it would be better this way. He could intercept Morgan where there weren’t so many people around. Then, if he had to use force, he might be able to do it without witnesses.
He let Morgan’s car and several more go by before he slid the borrowed car out into the traffic. Morgan probably wouldn’t recognize Fred’s car, but it wouldn’t hurt to be careful.
He followed steadily, curious at first about Morgan’s route. This was not the way to any of the major highways leading out of the city. This was the way to—no. What would Morgan want to be going there for? After a time he had to believe it. Morgan was heading for the Maynard Mill.
When Morgan drove into the parking area behind the mill, Mollison stopped his car for a few moments. Morgan could not get away. There was no other way out of the place, and so he could give him time to get out of the car and give himself time to speculate on why Morgan had come back to this place. To see if Patsy’s body was still there, perhaps? But why would he want to do that? How did he expect to get into the boiler room—unless he had a key—and hadn’t it seemed to him that there weren’t as many keys on the bunch that time he had gone back to get them? Mollison started the car again and drove around to the boiler room, stopping with a vicious stab at the brake just inches short of Morgan’s car. Morgan was standing at the door with a key in one hand, a package in the other; he turned quickly as Mollison stopped and got out of the car. “Mollison!” He said it as if he didn’t believe what he was seeing.
Mollison walked toward him, noticing that Morgan’s face had gone a sick white. Scared blind. He had reason to be. He said, “Hello, Lou.” Not angrily. Just fencing right now. There was time—plenty of time.
Morgan, not knowing how much Mollison knew or had guessed, said, “I wanted to see if everything was all right. I mean about Patsy. We’ve got to get him out of there, Howie.”
Mollison said, “I know. Where did you get the key, Lou?”
Morgan could think of no quick lie. He was actually sick now with physical fear. He was no match for Mollison, fat and clumsy as Mollison was.
“Get inside, you bastard,” Mollison said and crowded behind Morgan, pushing against him. When they were inside he said, “Turn on the light.” As Morgan reached for the light Mollison slapped his face. “Tell me about the key, Lou,” he said. ‘Tell me about the suitcases you’ve got in the car.” He slapped Morgan again, and Morgan went to his knees with tears of pain coming to his eyes.
“Cut it out, Howie,” Morgan said, knowing that he had lost any control over the bigger man. Mollison wasn’t going to cut it out.
Mollison felt his manhood returning to him. Lillian had made him crawl. Eddie the mechanic had squeezed him for money—and the little man, Griffin. And this miserable wreck had sneered at him, told him what he should do. Now look at him. On his knees, crying like a baby or the neighborhood sissy when the local bully belts him one and knocks his bag of groceries out of his hand. The package—Morgan had dropped it when he went to his knees. Now he was trying to pick it up. Mollison kicked it out of his hand. It tore open and a rainbow of bright pictures cascaded out of it. Comic books. Comic books, for God’s sake. Comic books?
“You bastard,” Mollison said. “Where have you got him, Lou?” He glanced around the room. “Not here. Where is he, Lou?” He moved toward Morgan, his mouth working.
Morgan scrambled to his feet. There was a piece of board on the floor. He snatched it up and swung it at Mollison’s face, hitting him on the forehead. The skin split and a red mask of blood formed immediately, blinding Mollison.
Morgan started for the door but Mollison backed toward it, blocking it so that Morgan could only run into the main section of the mill. He slammed the door behind him, hoping to gain a little time if it stuck; it did. He was halfway down the vast room when he heard Mollison roaring after him. “I’ll get you. I’m going to kill you, Lou!”
He raced toward the stairs leading to the room where the boy was. Behind him he heard Mollison, bellowing like something out of a nightmare. He fumbled with the key and got the door open just as Mollison reached the stairs. He was just able to get inside and lock the door again before Mollison hurled himself against it so that it shuddered on its hinges. He leaned against it, feeling the vibration as Mollison pounded on it with his fists. Mollison was berserk, shouting incoherent threats. In the corner on his blanket, the Anacosta boy stirred but did not sit up. He lay with his eyes open, watching Morgan.
The door was strong. Apparently it would stand up against Mollison’s fists for a time. Morgan tried to think, to clear his head. He could not reason with Mollison—that was obvious. There was no way out of the room except the door leading, to the stairs—and Mollison waited there. Quiet, now. Planning? Plotting? Morgan thought that he could hear the bigger man’s harsh breathing. There was the door to the inner office, of course, but it offered no means of escape.
From outside the door Mollison called, almost gently, “Lou? Lou, listen—you’ve got to let me in there. We can figure a way out. Lou? Lou?”
Morgan would sooner have let a tiger in the room. He made no answer and Mollison began to shout again, working himself into a frenzy that lasted for almost a minute. Then he was quiet again. Listening intently Morgan heard his footsteps receding down the stairs. He was crazy if he thought that would tempt him into coming out. After a few moments he heard the footsteps again and Mollison’s voice. “All right then, damn you,” he said through the door. “I gave you your chance.”
There was a wide crack at the jamb of the warped door.
As Morgan watched, the thin edge of a sliver of steel probed through the crack. A screw driver? Some tool from the car? Morgan rushed toward the door; but even as he made the move, Morrison put his weight against the other end of the wedge and the door sprung far enough away for the lock to clear its socket. Mollison flung the door open and stood framed there, the blood blackening on his face.
He stepped into the room and stared toward the boy on the blanket. “I’m going to kill him, Lou,” he said softly. “I’m going to kill him just the way we planned. You’ll have the pleasure of watching. Then I’m going to kill you.” He closed the door behind him and locked it.
Morgan backed toward the boy, shielding him. Mollison lashed out at him with his heavy fist. The blow caught Morgan on the bridge of the nose and he felt something break while a shockingly intense pain blinded him. He went down, grabbing at Mollison’s legs. Mollison kicked at his face and walked past him.
Morgan, lying on the floor, rolled to his side and tried to get up. He ignored the pain, forgot his terror. He could not let Mollison kill the boy. The steel spindle that he had used to open the fruit juice cans was within reach. It was pointed at both ends so that it made an awkward stabbing instrument. He wadded a handkerchief In his palm and picked up the ugly piece of metal and crawled to where Mollison, his back turned, knelt beside the boy. He got to his knees and thrust the spindle as hard as he could into Mollison’s wide back. It was surprisingly-difficult to puncture the flesh deeply. The pointed steel cut through the web of his own thumb, but he hardly felt it. Mollison screamed in pain and tried to turn around, and Morgan withdrew the spindle and struck again with all of his strength. This time the steel went in very deep. Mollison shuddered and coughed and pitched forward over, the boy’s body. Morgan got to his feet and shoved Mollison’s body aside. The boy’s eyes were closed, and Morgan, in swift panic bent over him. No, he was breathing. Probably fainted from shock and fright—but he was burning with fever.
He felt nauseated now. Patsy lying dead under the coal pile downstairs. Mollison—probably dead—lying here. Nauseated and bone-deep weary. But he was free now. He could go downstairs and get one of his bags and take some clean clothes from it. There was a little water left in the Thermos jug. He could wash most of the blood from his broken face and he could get in the car and go out to the airport. He could, except that he was too tired, and suddenly there seemed no point in running.
The boy would describe him, probably would even remember his name. And even if he didn’t, they’d begin to connect him with Mollison—from the club, from remembered bits of conversation at the bar. They’d find both he and Mollison owed money. And his sudden disappearance from town—who ever heard of good old, steady Lou Morgan suddenly taking off on a trip? Where would he go. Why? They’d put it all together and they’d come after him. So why bother? Why run from the inevitable? Why run from something that he had coming to him—that was really what it was all about, wasn’t it? Lou Morgan—he had to smile at his own dramatics—was going to have to pay. And suddenly he felt almost relieved. Because suddenly, for one of the few times in his life, he also felt like a man….
Morgan bent down and picked up the limp body of the Anacosta boy who stirred and mumbled but did not awaken fully. Down the stairs and out to the car. Mollison’s borrowed car because his strength was melting from him and he couldn’t be bothered backing it out of the way so that he could use his own car.
Drive through the streets, catching a glimpse of a startled expression here and again when people saw his bloody face. Seeing the familiar buildings but seeing them somehow through the eyes of a stranger.
The familiar buildings. The post office. After a while, the hospital. He drove following the pointed arrows that said Emergency Room, because this was certainly an emergency. The pain was building up again, making things blur. He parked the car helter-skelter, blocking the driveway and paying no attention when someone shouted, “Hey!” at him. He picked the boy up again and walked into the smell of disinfectants. There was a nurse at a desk and he ignored her, strode on into a room where there was an operating table with a white sheet on it and a young-looking intern who came toward him saying, “Who clobbered you?” even as he took the boy from him and put him on the table.
Morgan said, “I’m all right. I think the boy has an infection.”
And then there were nurses and other doctors. They were grouped around the boy, and they were washing Morgan’s face, and he tried to wave them away from him because if they knew what he had done they wouldn’t want to help him. So he told them. After a little while there were policemen in the room in addition to the doctors and the nurses but the doctors kept on doing painful things to his nose and his punctured hand.
Before they took him away he asked the young intern, “Is he going to be all right?”
One of the policemen said, “What do you care, you son of a bitch?”
The intern said, “Take it easy. And we’ll finish fixing him up before you take him out.” To Morgan he said, “He’s got a strep infection, maybe from that cut on his knee, and he’s got a high fever to go with it. He’s in rough shape from neglect and shock. He’ll probably be all right, though.”
Morgan said, “Thank you.” He waited patiently for the doctors to finish with him so that he could tell the police about Patsy Galuk and Howard Mollison. Andnhen maybe he could begin to tell Lou Morgan about himself.