To Kiss, or Kill
You never can tell what a big, tough Polish boy will do when he finds a nude blonde in his bathroom. Especially if he is a heavyweight fighter who was born back of the yards, is married to a million dollars, and has a psychiatric record.
He might do a number of things. He might tell her to get out. He might yell for his wife. He might blow what’s left of his top. He might even do what Barney Mandell did, come to his addled senses.
It really happened, in Chicago. It happened to Barney Mandell on the afternoon of the day he was released from the asylum as cured, because he hadn’t wrung a parrot’s neck in two years.
Oh, yes. The nude blonde was dead.
* * * *
Barney held down a bar stool that afternoon. It was fall. It was cold. At five o’clock it began to rain. Outside the bar, the street lights and the neon signs came on.
At five minutes after five, Barney pushed his glass across the bar for the sixteenth time. “Let’s try another.”
The barman filled his glass. “Where do you put it, Barney?”
“In my left leg,” Mandell confided.
He sipped the whisky, wondering why it didn’t warm him. He still felt cold, as cold as the rain streaking the window. He was sad. Maybe he’d never feel warm again. A big, blond youth, with the flattened nose of his trade, his spatulate fingers dwarfing the shot glass, he considered running an ad in the “Personals” column of the Chicago Tribune. He could word it: “Come home, Gale. Please come home, baby. I need you.”
But where was home? Where was Gale? Where did society go, when it was too cold for Pinehurst and too early for Palm Beach?
A brunette wearing an imitation Persian-lamb coat came into the bar, brushing raindrops from her hair. Lighting a cigarette, she sat a few stools down the bar from Mandell and bought her own first drink as an investment.
Mandell stopped looking at his glass and looked at her. She wasn’t bad. A little young but willing. If he bought her a drink, she’d let him take her to dinner. She’d laugh with him and act the fool. She’d let him buy her a lot of drinks. She’d come to his hotel room. As long as his money held out, she wouldn’t look at his heels. She wouldn’t care if he was fresh out of a snake pit.
The brunette saw him looking at her and smiled over the rim of her glass.
Mandell tried to smile back and couldn’t. The cold crept up to his lips. He doubted that waltzing the brunette out of the bar would be any more profitable than leaving with the little blonde had been. Before they reached his room, he’d change his mind. He didn’t want a woman. He wanted Gale.
Mandell rapped his glass on the wood again. “Go again.”
The barman shook his head. “Not in here.”
“Because you’ve had plenty.”
“Who says so?”
“I do,” the barman said.
Mandell’s shoulders bunched under his coat. He started to argue and changed his mind. It could be the barman was right. The chances were that the barman had never been in an asylum.
“Just as you say,” he said.
“No hard feelings?”
Mandell shook his head. “No hard feelings.” He picked his change from the bar, stuffed it into his pocket, and walked, slightly unsteadily, over to where his two-hundred-dollar, three-year-old topcoat was hanging against the wall. As he put it on, he heard the brunette ask the barman:
“Who’s the good-looking wolf with the load?”
“Barney Mandell,” he told her. “The guy Ezzard Charles should have fought instead of Wolcott. Only Barney couldn’t make it. On account of he’s been in a fish bowl for two years. They just left him out this morning.”
“Oh,” the brunette ohed. She looked at Mandell with new respect. “So he’s the guy who married the Ebbling money.”
Outside, in the rain, Mandell stood in front of the bar looking at the marquees of the movie houses on Randolph Street. He could see Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward in “Rawhide.” Or Bud Abbott and Lou Costello in “Meet the Invisible Man.” Or “The Thing.” He could grab a cab and go out and see Ma. He could go to another bar. He could go to his hotel.
He decided to go to his hotel on the chance that Gale had phoned or written. He walked west on Randolph Street, enjoying the rain on his face. On the corner of Dearborn Street, he paused to look furtively in the plate-glass window of a restaurant. He hoped the psychiatrist was right. He didn’t look crazy. He never had. Still, they said a man couldn’t tell when he was walking on his heels.
There was a crowd under the metal marquee of his hotel, waiting for the rain to stop; an even larger crowd in the lobby. A fight promoter he knew stopped him on his way to the desk and insisted on shaking hands.
“Hi, there, Barney. It’s good to see you, fellow.”
Mandell said, “It’s good to see you,” and walked on.
The room clerk gave him a phone slip with his key. For a moment he thought it must be from Gale. It wasn’t. A Mr. John Curtis had called and would call again, but he hadn’t left his phone number. Mandell rode up in the elevator trying to place the name.
He unlocked the door of the room and walked in. “It’s about time, Mandell,” the man sitting on the bed in the unlighted room said.
Mandell closed the door and leaned against it. His heart pounded. He was frightened, not physically, but mentally. He wished he knew if the man were real. He had to know if the man were real. He reached for the light switch by the door and the man stood up.
“Hold it right there, Mandell.”
Mandell lowered his hand. Relief drenched his body with sweat. The man was real. He wasn’t hearing or seeing things again. He asked, “What’s the big idea?”
The man said, “Empty your pockets on the bed.”
“Why should I?”
The man took a step in the dark. “Come on, now. Don’t give me no trouble, punchy.”
“Don’t call me that,” Mandell said.
The man took another step and swung the gun in his hand. Mandell ducked. But sixteen straight ryes and two years of inactivity slowed him. The other man was both fast and sober. There was a burst of pain as the gun struck his head. Then all was dark and silent.
When Mandell came to, he was lying on the floor, between the door and the bed. He sat up and felt for his wallet. It was gone, and with it the last of his money except for the bills and change in his pants pocket.
He got to his feet and, turning on the ceiling lights, looked at his reflection in the dresser mirror. The man with the gun knew his business. He’d made a lump the size of a walnut, but he hadn’t broken the skin.
Breathing through his mouth, Mandell looked from the lump on his temple to his bloodshot eyes. He didn’t look much like the leading heavyweight contender. A few more days of this horsing around and they’d put him back in the fish bowl, for the long count this time. So Gale had walked out on him? So she hadn’t kept her promise? What could he expect after the dirty things he’d thought about her?
He slipped out of his rain-sodden topcoat and jacket and threw them over a chair. Then, still looking at his reflection, he opened the top drawer of the dresser and drained what the maid had left of a partly filled pint of whisky.
He was acting like a heel. He knew it. He hadn’t even called Ma or Rosemary. Whatever happened to him he deserved. But he had to square away with Gale before he could make any plans.
He started for the bathroom to wash his hands and picked the phone from its cradle instead.
“Switchboard,” a girl’s voice trilled.
At the sound of her voice, Mandell changed his mind about reporting that he’d been robbed. The house detective would call the police. The police would come to the hotel. Reporters would come with the police. And they would ask questions he couldn’t answer. He could hear the conversation now:
“How does it feel to be out of the fish bowl, Barney?”
“It feels fine.”
“When is Mrs. Mandell going to join you?”
“I wish I knew.”
“Are you going to try to get back in condition and have a shot at Wolcott, or is Attorney Ebbling going to set you up in business of some kind?”
“That’s something you have to ask Mr. Ebbling.”
The switchboard operator said impatiently, “Yes? May I help you?”
Mandell counted the crumpled bills in his pants pocket. “Send up a boy with a pint of rye. Old Overholt.”
He cradled the phone and sat on the bed. Then he lay back on it, thinking that if his brief set-to with the hood was a sample of what he had left, he was washed up as a fighter. He was just another meatball.
The radiator under the window thumped with an annoying persistence. It was hot in the room. His tie was tight. He loosened it, then took it off and dropped it on the floor. He hoped the boy would hurry with the pint. He wished he’d laid in a good stock of whisky before he’d been robbed. He wished he had five hundred of the thousands of dollars he’d thrown and given away when he’d been up there with the white lights beating down on him and the shouting of the fight mob in his ears:
“Kill him, Barney! … Knock him out of the ring! … That’s it…. Oh, you great big beautiful Polack!”
His mouth was dry. He wanted a drink of water, but was suddenly too tired to walk into the bathroom and get one. He kicked off his shoes and curled his toes in his wet socks.
It had been two years since he had had a woman. He wanted Gale so badly he could smell the perfume she used. But that was over, too. Mandell loosened his belt a notch. Gale had only pretended to be in love with him. She’d always had everything she’d wanted. Since she’d been a little girl. And Gale had wanted him, before he’d blown his top and started walking on his heels.
It hadn’t been important that he had been born back of the Yards. Not with the sports pages whooping it up for him. Not while he’d had an unbroken string of forty-two knockouts and had been breathing down Ezzard Charles’s ebony neck. He’d been sex in purple boxing trunks and a pair of six-ounce gloves. Sir Barney of the squared ring. A punk from the wrong side of the tracks made boudoir-presentable by limelight.
He began to sweat again. He sat up and took off his shirt. Where was the boy with the whisky? How much did they think a man could take?
He sat on the edge of the bed and held his face in his hands, thinking of what the psychiatrist had said when they had discharged him this morning.
“You’ve been sick, Barney. You’ve been a very sick man. Well men don’t see or hear the things you’ve seen and heard. Well men don’t do the things you’ve done. You’ve lived too fast, too intensely. You’ve burned too many candles. You’ve taken too many punches. Now we’re dismissing you as cured. But no more fights. No more excitement. No more late hours. The next time you come back here, you’ll stay.”
He got up and paced the floor, wiping the sweat from the hair on his chest with his palms. Then he thought of taking a shower. He took off his pants and shorts and socks and padded barefooted into the bathroom.
He was reaching for the shower faucet when he saw her. His mouth gaped open. His eyes bugged slightly. The doctors were wrong in assuming he was cured. The hallucinations were beginning again. He could swear there was a nude girl in his bathroom. She was lying on her back on the tile, one leg straight, one white knee raised, her pink-tipped breasts pointing upward. More, she was the little blond with whom he’d walked out of Johnny’s Bar that afternoon.
And she was dead.
Mandell backed as far from her as he could. His chest hurt as he tried to breathe. She couldn’t be dead in his bathroom. He’d changed his mind, once they were outside the bar. They hadn’t come to his room. Or had they? Sweat blinded him. He grabbed a towel from the rack and wiped his eyes. Then he forced himself to kneel on the tile beside the girl. He thrust a shaking hand forward and his hand slapped down and froze on the girl’s cold breast, as someone rapped sharply on the hall door of his room.
Mandell got to his feet and wrapped a bath towel around his loins. “Just a minute.”
The towel slipped and fell on top of the girl. He snatched another towel from the rack and padded across the room. Almost to the door he looked back. He’d left the bathroom door open and the dead girl’s bare foot and leg showed plainly.
He walked back and closed the bathroom door. He had to have time to think. Had he come to the room with the girl, or hadn’t he? And after that, what had happened?
The room-service waiter was a middle-aged man with tired eyes. He was carrying the pint of whisky on a silver tray, with two glasses and a silver pitcher of cracked ice.
“Just put it on the dresser,” Mandell said.
Mandell extracted the bills from his pocket and laid a five and a one, all he had left except some silver, on the tray. “That cover it?”
The waiter loosened the cap on the pint and set it and the glasses on the dresser. “That’s fine, Mr. Mandell. Thank you. Thank you a lot.” He permitted himself a smile. “You’re pitching a little one, eh?”
Mandell said, breathless, “Yeah. Yeah. Kinda.”
The waiter sighed. “Like I tell the wife when she beefs. It does a man good once in a while. It kind of relaxes him, like.”
He picked up the silver pitcher and started for the bathroom.
Mandell stopped him. “No. No water. I—I never use it. That’s fine, just as it is.”
The waiter emptied the silver pitcher of cracked ice into the glass pitcher on the dresser. “Whatever you say, Mr. Mandell. Some men use a chaser, some don’t.”
“I don’t,” Mandell said.
He realized the bellboy was looking at him in the mirror. He looked over the man’s shoulder and saw himself from the waist up. His face was flushed. There were dark shadows under his eyes. His eyes were as wild as his hair. His bare shoulders and chest and torso were beaded with sweat. He was breathing as hard as if he’d gone a fast five rounds. His heels were beginning to show in his face.
The waiter saw him looking and turned. “Will there be anything else, Mr. Mandell?”
“No,” Mandell said. “Nothing.”
The waiter put the pitcher on the tray. “Well, thanks a lot.”
The towel was slipping again. Mandell tightened it around his waist and tucked one corner under. “Thank you.”
The waiter walked to the door, carrying the tray and pitcher. Then, with his hand on the knob, he turned and looked pointedly at the closed door of the bathroom.
“Look. It’s none of my business, Mr. Mandell. But I wouldn’t want to see you get into trouble. Raise all the hell you want to. Have fun. But be quiet about it, see?” He made a deprecatory gesture. “The new house dick is a son-of-a-bitch.”
Alone, Mandell locked the door and leaned against it.
The rain had stopped. Down on the street, the night noises of the Loop grew in tempo and intensity.
“Have fun,” the room waiter had said.
Mandell uncapped the pint and let whisky trickle down his throat to nerve himself to look at the girl again. She was still there. Her left knee was still raised. Her nipples were still pointing to the ceiling. Her white flesh was unblemished. There were no marks of violence on her body except for a faint purple bruise on her jaw.
He covered her body again and sat on the edge of the bathtub, looking at the girl’s face. There was no doubt about it. She was the same blonde he’d talked to in Johnny’s Bar. He remembered the mole on her cheek. He remembered handing her a line about how pretty her earrings were. She was still wearing the earrings.
He wondered where her clothes were and realized he was sitting on them. There were scanties, a bra, stockings, a garter belt, a slip, and a green dress. A natural-colored camel’s-hair coat was wadded into a ball in the corner with one green open-toed shoe perched jauntily on top of it.
It was close in the bathroom and hot. The dead girl used the same perfume Gale did. She had used the same perfume.
Mandell walked into the other room, picked up the phone, and asked for an outside wire. The day barman in Johnny’s had gone off duty, but he was still in the place.
“Did I walk out of there with a blonde?” Mandell asked him.
“Yes, you did, Barney,” the barman said.
“What time was that?”
“I’d say it was around one o’clock this afternoon. Maybe a little later.”
“How long was I gone?”
The barman chuckled. “Long enough. How was she?” Mandell gripped the phone so hard his hand hurt. “Did I say anything when I came back?”
“No, you didn’t,” the barman said. “And I didn’t ask. I figured it was none of my business. But why all the questions, Barney? She trying to put the bite on you?”
Mandell cradled the phone and walked back into the bathroom. He was breathing hard again. His chest muscles hurt. His head ached.
He ran cold water in the bowl and, filling his hands with it, ran them over his face and hair, allowing the water to trickle down his cheek. It felt good. He did it again, remembering some of their conversation.
He hadn’t propositioned her; she’d propositioned him.
She’d said, “So you’re Barney Mandell,” pressing her thigh against his. “Know something, mister?”
He had pressed back and asked, “What?”
Then the little blonde had sucked in her breath and said, “I’ve always wanted to go to bed with a prize fighter. Why don’t we go up to your room?”
Cold turkey. Just like that.
He splashed more water on his face and chest. Then what had happened? They had walked out of the bar together. He remembered that. Then, to the best of his recollection, he had changed his mind and had told her so. On the corner of Dearborn Street. And the little blonde had cursed him. She’d called him everything in the book, including a big, dumb Polack.
He dried his face and hair with a towel and combed his hair. And realized his hands were trembling. One thing was certain. He wasn’t going back to the asylum. He’d had enough of that.
He picked a sheer nylon stocking from the small pile of clothing on the tub and, lifting the towel from the girl, knelt on the tile beside her. Raising her right leg, he tried to put the stocking on it. Her flesh was cold. The leg was stiff. He got her toes in the foot of the stocking, then the whole foot. He started to pull it up and the sheer material parted in a long run, with an audible plop. Mandell gritted his teeth to keep from screaming. His hands were so slippery with sweat that the leg slipped out of them and the girl’s heel thudded against the tile.
He swung around to the stool and lifted the lid just in time. Dressing the girl was out. He couldn’t do it. Besides, hiding the body wouldn’t do him any good. Once she was found, someone would remember seeing her enter the hotel. Thinking he could leave her in the hall or put her in another room was just more crazy thinking. Even the room waiter had known there was someone in his bathroom.
Mandell washed his face and hands again, with hot water and soap this time. Then he went out in the other room and picked his shorts and pants from the floor and put them on. The room had been cleaned. The maid wouldn’t come in again until tomorrow morning. By that time, he could be in San Francisco. He could take a boat from there to Hawaii, or maybe the Philippines.
He found his shirt and put it on and buttoned it wrong the first time and had to unbutton and button it again. The knot in his tie refused to give. He worked on it until he was as wet with sweat as he had been in the bathroom and finally slipped it over his head and let it hang at a crazy angle, hoping his coat would cover it.
His suit coat was dry but his topcoat was still sodden with rain. He put them on, picked up his hat from the floor, where it had lain since the hood had slugged him, and started out the door before he realized that he was barefoot.
He found his socks and shoes and put them on. They were still wet. Out in the hall, he closed his door and leaned against it, trying to breathe normally, looking at the elevator bank. A man and a woman in evening clothes were waiting for an elevator. Mandell wanted to wait until they’d gone up or down and couldn’t. He had to get out of the hotel.
The woman arched an eyebrow at the man as he joined them. Mandell pretended not to see it. So the woman knew he was drunk. So what? She should see what was in his bathroom. In the elevator, he took up as little space as he could and was careful to remove his hat.
The crowd in the lobby had thinned with the break in the weather. He stepped aside to allow the woman and her escort to precede him; then he stood by the sand urn a moment, almost afraid to walk through the lobby to the street.
The elevator girl was colored and pretty. She touched his arm and said, “Mr. Mandell.”
His muscles tensed to the point of bursting, Mandell turned his head and looked at the girl over his shoulder. “Yeah?”
She smiled and held out a small black book. “My husband’s a great admirer of yours. He’s seen every one of your fights in Chicago. And when I told him you were checked in at the hotel, he asked me to ask you if you would please sign his autograph book. Would you, please, Mr. Mandell?”
Mandell reached automatically for his pen. “Yeah. Sure. I’ll be glad to.”
He scribbled his name in the book, over a scrawled “Best wishes.”
“Thank you so much,” the girl said.
Nodding, Mandell shaped his wet hat to his head and walked toward the revolving doors, his knees giving slightly with every step, each step a mile long.
The steps grew even longer when he realized that a thin-faced man leaning on the glass cigar counter was watching his progress with interest. A lump formed in Mandell’s throat and he had trouble swallowing it. No one needed to tell him. He knew. The thin-faced man was the son-of-a-bitch of a new house detective. He fought an impulse to run the rest of the way to the door. It would only attract more attention to him. Besides, he doubted that he could run. He felt as if he were walking up a steep incline through a nightmare. And if the incline grew much steeper, he’d fall flat on his face.
Then he was out on Randolph Street, sucking in lungsful of cold air. The hotel night doorman, a former fighter, recognized him and insisted on shaking hands.
“Well, I’ll be damned. This is swell. I’m glad to see you, Barney. They told me you were stopping with us.” His concern was genuine. “How’s it going, fellow?”
“Fine,” Mandell lied. “Just fine.”
He shook hands as automatically as he had reached for his pen, trying to remember the doorman’s name. Then a couple wanting a cab emerged from the revolving door and the doorman slapped Mandell’s back.
“I’ll see you again,” he said, and walked out into the street tooting his whistle.
A group of high-school girls walked by and Mandell fell into their wake. At least he was out of the room. He was out of the hotel.
Then he remembered he’d given the waiter the last of his money for the pint. All he had left was some silver. He angled out of the crowd and leaned against the window of a florist’s shop. Just how crazy could a man get?
He wasn’t going anywhere. He couldn’t even afford to take a cab out to the old neighborhood to see if Joe or John or Pat would lend him a few hundred dollars.
He suddenly didn’t want to run. He’d never run from anything in his life. If he’d killed the little blonde, he’d have to face it.
He fumbled through his pockets, found a crumpled package of cigarettes, and lighted one. It was going to be tough on Gale. It was going to be tough on Ma. But at least neither of them would suffer financially. Gale had plenty of money. And he’d put away enough for Ma to last her the rest of her life.
The cigarette dangled from his lips as he straightened the knot of his tie so that it fitted squarely between the tabs of his collar. Then, jingling the change in his pocket, he entered the florist’s shop and bought a dark red carnation with his last seventy-five cents.
As the girl pinned it to the lapel of his topcoat, she smiled. “You’re Barney Mandell, the fighter, aren’t you?”
“That’s right,” Mandell said.
The girl was pleased. “Of course. You used to come in here all the time.”
There was a glass door from the shop that opened into a long concourse leading from La Salle Street to the lobby of the hotel. Mandell walked down the concourse slowly. The thin-faced man was still leaning on the cigar counter.
Mandell smelled the flower in his lapel. Then he crossed the lobby to the counter and tapped the man on the shoulder. “I beg your pardon. Are you the house detective?”
The man said, “I am.” Seen close up, he didn’t look like a son-of-a-bitch. At least when he smiled. “Graziano is the name. No relation to Tony. What can I do for you, Mr. Mandell?”
Mandell smoked his cigarette until it burned his fingers. Then, dropping it into a sand urn, he said, “I think you’d better call the police.”
Graziano stopped smiling. “Why?”
Mandell told him. “I think I’ve killed a girl. At least, there’s a dead girl in my bathroom.”
A gaunt man in his middle fifties, partial to English tweeds and thirty-dollar Borsalino fawn-colored hats, Inspector Carlton of Homicide warmed his cold hands at the thumping radiator in front of the window. He was a transplanted Virginian, transplanted for thirty years and on the Chicago police force for twenty-five. But he still claimed to be a rebel. He considered Chicago’s fall and winter a personal affront. He despised only one thing more. That was a punk who allowed a little money and publicity to go to his head instead of to his heart. He’d seen them come. He’d seen them go.
Without turning around, he said, “All right, Barney. Let’s have it. You brought the girl up to your room for a party. She peeled off her clothes in the bathroom. Then she changed her mind at the last minute and you lost your head and popped her. That the way it happened?”
“No, sir,” Mandell replied.
Carlton turned around and spread the tails of his topcoat to allow the radiator to warm his thin buttocks. “How did it happen?”
“I don’t know.”
“You mean you were so drunk you don’t remember?”
“What do you mean?”
Mandell shifted his weight on the chair. “I mean I don’t know how it happened. I went into the bathroom to take a shower and there she was.”
“Oh, Jesus,” Carlton said.
Joe Mercer of the Sun-Times backed out of the bathroom. “You still can pick ’em, Barney. I’ll give you credit for that much.”
Carlton looked at Lieutenant Rose. “What did you tell me he said her name was?”
“He claims he doesn’t know her name.”
“My cold ass,” Carlton said. He spread his coattails farther apart. “What’s her name, Barney?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t give me that.”
Mandell fought the hysteria rising within him. “I mean it. I don’t know her name.” He fumbled in his pockets for his cigarettes and Graziano gave him the one he was smoking.
As fat a man as Inspector Carlton was thin, with a deceptive Buddha-like smile, Lieutenant Rose looked up from the personal trivia he had found in a green cord purse under the camel’s-hair coat. “Her name is Marvin, first name Cherry. She was a part-time model. And she lived at the Tansfield Arms Hotel.”
“Nothing but the best, eh, Barney?” Mercer needled.
The assistant coroner came out of the bathroom wiping his hands on a towel. “That must have been in her prepuberty days. I mean when they named her. She hasn’t been Cherry for some time.”
“He do it to her?” Carlton asked.
“Let’s say she had relations with some man.”
“How about the time of death?”
“Offhand, four or five hours ago.” The coroner’s man dropped the towel on the dresser and put on his hat and coat. “Well, enjoy her. She’s your baby.”
“Where did you meet her, Barney?” Inspector Carlton asked.
“In Johnny’s Bar,” admitted Mandell.
“I thought you were married to Gale Ebbling.”
“Then how come you picked up this girl?”
Mandell started to explain. He couldn’t. How can you explain hurt? How can you explain how you feel when, after you’ve been away from her for two years, your wife promises to be waiting in a certain hotel—and isn’t?
“Well?” Carlton asked.
Mandell looked at his hands. They were shaking so badly he could hardly hold the cigarette Graziano had given him. He got to his feet. “For God’s sake, get this over. Take me down and lock me up. So I killed her. I don’t remember it. I don’t remember having anything to do with her.”
Joe Mercer grinned nastily. “I’ll bet.”
Mandell looked at him, hurt. “And you lay off me, Joe. I mean it. I walked out of Johnny’s Bar with her, yes. But, as I remember it, I told her nothing doing on the corner of Dearborn Street.”
No one laughed. No one even smiled.
Inspector Carlton dropped his coattails. “How long have you been drinking, Barney?”
“Since the bars opened this morning.”
“Because my wife wasn’t here to meet me like she promised she would be.”
“Just got out of the sanitarium, didn’t you, Barney?”
“Yes, sir. This morning.”
“What did they put you away for?”
“They didn’t. I had myself committed.”
“Because I was hearing and seeing things.”
“Hearing and seeing what sort of things?”
Mandell considered the question. He hadn’t told anyone that except the psychiatrist that Gale’s father had recommended and the doctors at the hospital. “I’d rather not say,” he said.
Inspector Carlton was a patient man. He let it go for the time being and looked at Graziano. “You see him come in with the girl, Jim?”
Graziano said, “No. Mandell was alone every time I saw him. That doesn’t mean anything, though. They seldom come in together. The usual gimmick is for a guest to give a dame his room number. And I can’t spend all my time in the lobby seeing tramps.”
Lieutenant Rose pushed Barney back in the chair. “Sit down. Relax, son. It will be some time before we start for the Bureau.”
He padded across the room and conferred with Inspector Carlton. While they were talking Joe Mercer squatted beside Mandell. “What’s the low-down, Barney? How come the Ebbling dame wasn’t here to meet you? Your rich wife run out on you?”
Mandell just looked at the tip of his cigarette.
Mercer continued to needle him. “It isn’t a nice feeling, is it, when someone you think a lot of walks out on you cold? I’m glad you’re getting your lumps, you bastard.”
Mandell hit him so hard the reporter went end over end and bowled over a uniformed policeman. Scrambling to his feet like a cat, Mercer picked up a chair and swung it over his head. “I’ll kill you for that.”
The patrolman and two detectives wrestled the reporter to the far side of the room.
“Cut it out, Joe,” Inspector Carlton said sharply. “What’s the idea?”
Still breathing hard, Mercer straightened his coat and picked up his hat from the floor. “I don’t like Barney Mandell any more. And if you let him cop an insanity plea, you’re crazy. He may be walking on his heels, but he knows right from wrong. And he liked to be wrong.”
Mandell sat rubbing his knuckles. He wished he were a dame. A dame could cry. He felt almost as bad about Joe as he did about the blonde. He and Joe were friends. They’d been friends since they were kids. They’d been raised in the same block. If you licked one of them, you had to lick the other. Once he and Joe and Pat and John had stood off the whole neighborhood for a month. Now Joe called him a bad name, for no reason. He hadn’t done anything to Joe.
Graziano squeezed his shoulder. “Easy makes it, fellow.”
Graziano’s voice made Mandell sick. The house detective talked exactly like the attendants in the asylum.
Finished conferring with Lieutenant Rose, Inspector Carlton said, “Now let’s get back to another angle, Barney. This man you say was waiting when you came into your room this evening. Can you describe him?”
“No, I can’t. It was dark.”
“What did he say to you?”
“He told me to empty my pockets on the bed. I said why should I? Then he called me punchy and knocked me out with the barrel of his gun.”
“And when you came to, your wallet was gone?”
“With how much in it?”
“I don’t remember exactly. Around six hundred dollars.”
Mercer said, “Six hundred dollars. He doesn’t remember six hundred dollars.”
Inspector Carlton backed to the radiator and spread the tails of his topcoat again. “You called the desk and reported you’d been held up?”
“You didn’t bother to report you’d been robbed of six hundred dollars?”
Mandell repeated, “No.”
He wished he had another cigarette. If he was going to be crazy, he wished he’d be like some of the lads he’d seen who’d got Section Eight. He wished he’d blow his top completely. It was perfectly clear what Inspector Carlton was getting at. A girl was dead in his bathroom. She’d been to bed with a man before she’d been killed. And Carlton thought he was inventing the hood to take the onus off himself.
“I see,” Carlton said. “You’re lucky, Barney. The average man can’t get clipped for six hundred dollars and not bother to report it. I know I’d raise hell. Now, about this similarity in perfume. Before I got here, you told Lieutenant Rose that the dead girl used the same perfume as your wife.”
“Yes, sir. She did.”
“That was what attracted you to her in the first place?”
Mandell corrected him. “No. She was attracted to me. We just got to talking in the bar like a guy and a doll will, and when she found out I was Barney Mandell, she said she’d always wanted to go to bed with a prize fighter and why didn’t we come up to my room?”
“So you did. You came up to the room and had some. Then you got into a drunken quarrel about something, and before you thought, you popped her so hard you broke her neck.”
Mandell began to sweat again. “I don’t remember.” Inspector Carlton lost his temper. He strode across the room and slapped Mandell’s face. “Goddamn it, stop lying to me. And stay on one side of the fence or the other. Did you or didn’t you kill her?”
Mandell’s collar was too tight. He inserted a finger between it and his neck and popped the button. “I don’t know. I don’t think I did. No matter how drunk or crazy a man is, he’d remember a thing like that.” He wiped the sweat from his flushed face with his sleeve. “And I don’t remember even seeing her, after I patted her fanny on the corner of Dearborn and Randolph and told her it was no dice.”
Joe Mercer said, “This is where I came in,” and left to write his story, leaving another Sun-Times man to get the follow-up.
Lieutenant Rose and Inspector Carlton conferred again. Then Rose sat on the bed and laid a fatherly hand on Mandell’s knee.
“Why did you put the girl’s stocking on her foot, Barney?”
“I was going to dress her and hide the body.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“I realized that was crazy thinking.”
“And you aren’t crazy?”
Graziano said hotly, “Cut it out, Rose. What are you trying to do, send the kid to the chair?”
The room phone rang. Still smiling, Rose lifted it from the cradle. Then he looked at Inspector Carlton. “Long-distance. Eagle River calling Mandell. That’s where the Ebbling summer lodge is, isn’t it?”
Carlton moved closer to the chair in which Mandell was sitting. “Let him take it.”
Lieutenant Rose handed Mandell the phone. He spoke into the transmitter. “Barney Mandell speaking.”
“Barney, my boy.” Attorney Ebbling’s Harvard drawl sounded thin and far away, as if he had a bad connection. “I’ve been trying to get you for hours. And I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear your voice.”
“It’s nice to hear you,” Mandell said.
Attorney Ebbling chuckled. “As you know by now, the good news that you were being released found Gale in Bermuda. But she got there as fast as she could. Now let me talk to Gale a moment, will you, Barney?”
“Gale isn’t here,” Mandell said.
“Not there?” Attorney Ebbling sounded puzzled. “Oh, I say, now. That’s odd. Gale cabled me that all flights out of Bermuda were filled until this morning, but she intended to charter a private plane in Miami, if she had to, and should have reached Chicago this afternoon.”
Mandell’s shoulders sagged, then his whole body. He tried to speak and couldn’t. Gale loved him. Gale was flying to be with him. And he’d let her down a second time. He’d allowed this thing to happen. The receiver dropped from his hand. Lieutenant Rose caught it as it fell.
Attorney Ebbling’s Harvard drawl crawled out of the receiver again, crisper this time. “What’s the matter, Barney? Why don’t you speak up? Is something wrong?”
Mandell buried his face in his hands. A man couldn’t cry, but he could laugh. He started to laugh and couldn’t stop. His laughter filled the room and then the hall. He was still laughing when Inspector Carlton and Lieutenant Rose, in deference to Graziano’s request, walked him out through the service door of the hotel and put him in a squad car.
Was something wrong!
Mandell felt emotionally drained. It was as if Attorney Ebbling’s phone call and the knowledge that Gale was flying to meet him, was probably in Chicago right now, had pulled the stopper in the cask of muscular flesh that was his body. He felt as if his insides were gone and all that was left was the shell.
His cell in the detention block of detective headquarters was small; smaller than the cell he’d had at the asylum, before the doctors had decided he was harmless. It was late night or early morning. He couldn’t tell which. After the desk sergeant had signed him in, Lieutenant Rose had taken his watch, his belt, his tie, and his shoelaces. For his own protection.
He sat with his back against the screen mesh that formed the headboard of his bunk and read Joe Mercer’s story in a five-star-final edition. The headline read:
FIGHTER HELD IN MURDER OF MODEL AFTER DRUNKEN HOTEL-ROOM SPREE
The story was as bad. In the reporter’s opinion, he was a loud-mouthed, know-it-all wise guy, who had allowed his ring ability and a fortunate marriage to a wealthy girl to go to his head. He was an ingrate with a swollen ego, who thought he was above the law.
“What’s an ingrate?” Mandell asked a turnkey.
The turnkey said, “I wouldn’t know. Maybe it’s something like an in-law.”
Mandell walked to the bars and asked him for a cigarette. The turnkey put one between his lips and lighted it. Mandell made sure it was lighted, then sat back on his bunk and picked up the paper again.
For some reason, Joe had a knife in him. More, he was twisting it. If there was any justice in the world, Joe Mercer hoped he wouldn’t be allowed to plead an insanity defense because of his two-year incarceration in a mental hospital. He might be punchy. He might be walking on his heels. But he knew right from wrong. It was the reporter’s opinion, under Joe’s by-line, that he had been legally sane when he had invited Cherry Marvin to his hotel for a party and killed her with a blow of the fist that had compiled forty-two consecutive knockouts.
Mandell asked the turnkey what he thought of the story.
“Well, I’ll tell you,” the turnkey said. He scratched the fold of belly hanging over his belt. “I think Joe Mercer spread it on a little thick.” He confided, “I know how it is with dames. I’ve had it happen to me. They tongue you to death in the cab. Then when they get up to the room and peel, they change their minds at the last minute. They want to go home to Mamma.” A sheen of sweat glistened on his fat face as he pressed it against the bars. “So you forced her, Barney?”
The thought made Mandell sick.
The turnkey’s voice crawled up his leg like a lustful cockroach. “You can tell me, Barney. How was she? Good?”
“I don’t know,” Mandell said.
He lay back on the bunk and put the newspaper over his eyes. He wished he’d been born with less muscle and more brains. Then high heels clicked on cement and the turnkey said, “A dame to see you, Barney.”
Mandell got to his feet. He hoped it was Gale. It wasn’t. It was Rosemary.
She gave the suit box she was carrying to the turnkey. “Some clean clothes for Barney. With Inspector Carlton’s permission.” Then she squeezed both hands in between the bars. “Hello, Barney.”
Mandell held her hands, thinking how pretty she was in her nurse’s white uniform and red-lined blue cape. And she was still the same good sport, still just the girl next door. No beef. No tears. No “Why did you do it?” She hadn’t even needed to say she was glad to see him. It showed in her eyes.
“How’s Ma?” he asked her.
“Fine,” Rosemary said. “Just fine. But you should have gone to see her, Barney. As soon as you got out of the hospital.”
“Yeah,” Mandell said. “I—meant to. Then all this came up. But ‘hospital’ is a ten-dollar word for where they had me, kid. You and I both know what the joint was. I was as balmy as Old Man Giovanni used to get when he was looped. I guess I still am.”
“I don’t believe it,” Rosemary said. “I don’t believe you killed that girl. I don’t believe you’re crazy. That’s one of the reasons I’m here. Why did you ever let them commit you, Barney?”
Mandell attempted to explain. “Because I took one punch too many, see? And it did something to my marbles. I was acting crazy and seeing and hearing things that didn’t exist except in my mind.”
Rosemary gave him a cigarette and lighted it. “How, acting crazy?”
Mandell sucked smoke into his lungs and exhaled slowly. “Hearing voices and bells in the middle of the night. Imagining hot water was running out of cold-water taps.” He laughed, self-conscious. “Thinking my razor was an ice cube and putting it in a tray in the refrigerator instead of the medicine cabinet. Then there was the parrot.”
Rosemary pressed her slim body against the bars. “What’s this about a parrot?”
Mandell explained, “That’s when I knew I was turning dangerous. When I twisted the parrot’s neck because I was sore at Gale.”
“And why were you sore at Gale?”
Mandell debated telling her. Rosemary would understand. She was more than the girl next door. She was a registered nurse. She knew how sick minds could get. He said quietly, “Because, crazy as I was, I thought Gale was two-timing me. I imagined I caught her in bed naked with another guy. I imagined I slapped hell out of both of them. And it was all in my mind, see? Gale swore it even while I was slapping her around that night; swore there’d been no other man, that it had only been the parrot I’d heard.
“Then, when I woke up the next morning and found out that sometime during the night I’d twisted the parrot’s neck, I knew it was time to do something about me. So I talked it over with Gale and her father and a high-priced brain doctor that Mr. Ebbling suggested. And the four of us decided that I needed treatment.”
“What was this psychiatrist’s name?”
“Do you remember the names of any of the doctors at the asylum?”
Mandell remembered three names. Rosemary wrote them down. While she was writing the last one, he asked her the time.
She put her memo book back in her purse. “Four-thirty. I came off a case at eleven. And I’ve been five hours banging on doors.”
“How come they let you in to see me?”
Rosemary’s grin was elfin. “With the name Doyle? With an inspector for an uncle and three cousins and two brothers on the force?” She laughed into the crisply, starched cuff of her uniform. “Ha! That for the brass.”
Mandell squeezed one of the small hands gripping the bars that separated them. “You’re a nice kid, Rosemary.”
She touched his face with the tips of the fingers of her other hand. First the scar tissue over his eyes, then his flattened nose, then his lips. “You’re nice, too, Barney.” She pressed her breast against the back of the hand holding hers. “I don’t care what John and Pat say. I don’t care what Joe Mercer thinks. You’re good. You’re fine. You’re sweet. But you’re the dumbest man in Chicago.”
When she was gone, the turnkey opened the cell and gave Mandell the suit box. It contained a change of underwear and socks, a clean shirt, and one of the expensive suits he’d left hanging in a closet of his mother’s South Side cottage.
“Put ’em on,” the turnkey said. “They want you downstairs again.”
Mandell dressed, wondering why, as pretty and smart as she was, Rosemary had taken up nursing instead of getting married.
Inspector Carlton’s face was as cold as his buttocks. With the exception of State’s Attorney Gilmore, Mandell didn’t recognize any of the other men in the office.
A soft-spoken man, with hair the color of rusty iron, seemed to be in charge. He indicated a chair. “Sit down, Mandell.”
Mandell sat in the chair. All the men in the office looked tired. Inspector Carlton and the state’s attorney looked angry. No one spoke for a moment. Then a white-haired man, with a nose like the beak of an eagle on a twenty-five-cent piece, laid down the cigar he was smoking and stood in front of Mandell.
“How do you intend to plead, Mandell? Guilty or not guilty?”
“This is a court?” Mandell asked. “I’m being tried at five o’clock in the morning?”
The red-haired man said, “Let’s call it an informal hearing, Barney. And don’t worry about your rights. They’re being well protected.”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Curtis.”
“The man who called my hotel and left word that he’d call back?”
His hands still clasped behind his back, Appellate Court Judge Hiram Clay rocked heel and toe. “Let’s put it this way, Mandell. If this were a criminal court and I were the presiding judge, how would you plead? Did you or didn’t you kill Cherry Marvin?”
The turnkey had ordered Mandell to take his hat and topcoat with him. He was sitting with his topcoat folded in his lap. He looked down at the wilted red carnation still pinned to the lapel, then back at the white-haired man. “How many times do I have to tell you gentlemen? I don’t know.”
“How about the man you claim was waiting in your room when you got back to your hotel last evening?”
“What do you mean, how about him?”
“Was there actually such a man?”
Mandell bobbed his head. “Yeah. He stuck me up for six hundred bucks. And the reason I didn’t report it was because I didn’t want any reporters coming to the hotel before I found out how I stood with my wife.”
“Attorney John Ebbling’s daughter?”
Mandell watched the white-haired man walk back to the desk and pick up his cigar.
“Well?” Curtis asked.
Judge Clay relighted his cigar. “I am inclined,” he said between puffs, “to believe Mandell is telling the truth, in so far as he knows it. How about you, Joe?”
The state’s attorney said dubiously, “It could be.” He frowned at Curtis. “But with all the weight that’s being thrown around, we don’t seem to have much choice.” He looked at Carlton. “Did you get a statement from the day barman at Johnny’s Bar?”
Inspector Carlton said sourly, “The same one we had when we started. Rose and I have worked on him all night, in shifts, but he still sticks to his story. He says Mandell was back in the bar by two o’clock, two-thirty at the latest, and didn’t move off the stool again, even to go to the john, until he refused to serve him along around five-fifteen.”
“Giving Mandell an hour and a half leeway on both sides of four o’clock.”
Carlton said, “That’s the way it stands as of now. But I’ll still give six to two that Mandell stayed with the kate, then killed her.”
State’s Attorney Gilmore sucked at the limp ends of his usually well-waxed mustache. “It’s a problem, gentlemen.” He looked at Curtis. “I suppose we’ll have to go along. But the newspapers are going to eat off our tails for admitting an alleged insane killer to bail.”
Mandell sat very still in the oppressive silence that followed. He wished he knew what it was all about. There was too much brass in the room to suit him. He felt suddenly very small and very futile. As if he were fighting out of his class. As if he were Rinty Monaghan thrown into the ring with Sugar Ray Robinson. Then he thought of something and grinned.
“What are you grinning about?” Inspector Carlton asked.
Mandell said, “You guys calling me crazy. If I had the stuff Lieutenant Rose took off me when I was booked, I could show you something no other guy in this room has.”
Judge Clay took his cigar from between his lips. “What?”
“Proof I’m sane,” Mandell told him. “They gave me a paper saying so, before they released me from the asylum.”
In front of the Detective Bureau, Curtis led the way to a gray Ford. “Get in,” he said, and walked around to the other door.
Mandell got into the car. “Who hired you to spring me? Mr. Ebbling?”
Curtis pushed the starter button. “No.”
The Loop was gray and hushed with dawn. There were few cars on the street. Most of the moving vehicles were Sanitary Department trucks loading refuse piled along the curbs and emptying the green “Help Keep the City Clean” boxes.
Mandell rode, working on the knot of his tie. He was glad Rosemary had brought him clean linen and a clean suit. Gale was undoubtedly at the hotel by now. He hoped his talk with Mr. Curtis wouldn’t take too long.
Curtis drove north to Madison Street, then west on Madison toward the river. The prolonged silence made him uneasy. He attempted to make conversation. “It was nice of you to get me out.”
Curtis smiled. From the corner of his mouth. “Perhaps I had an ulterior motive.”
Mandell wished he knew what ulterior meant. He offered, “My father-in-law is an attorney, too. He’s a patent lawyer.”
“Yes,” Curtis said. “I know.”
Turning north again, he parked the Ford in front of a building on Wells Street and got out. Mandell followed him into the building. There was a bank of elevators but no night operator. After the cold morning air, the lobby was hot and stuffy. Curtis pushed open a fire door and began to climb the stairs. They climbed to the fifth floor. Then Curtis pushed the heavy fire door open and walked down a hall, still wet from the buckets and brushes of the scrub women, and unlocked a front office door with no legend on the glass.
The office was small but clean. The only furnishings were a desk, two chairs, and a big steel filing cabinet.
Curtis closed the door. Then, without taking off his hat or topcoat, he opened one of the file drawers and set a bottle of whisky and two glasses on the desk. “Help yourself.”
Mandell shook his head. “If it’s all the same to you, I’ll pass.” He sat on the edge of one of the chairs. “I had mine yesterday.”
“So it would seem,” Curtis said. He poured himself a drink and sipped it as if it tasted good. “You know, I ought to get more money. I had a hell of a time springing out.” He had a nice grin. Mandell liked it. “Kind of wondering what it’s all about, eh, Barney?”
“That’s for sure,” Mandell admitted. “How much was my bail?”
Curtis returned the bottle and the glasses to the file. “It was plenty.”
“Who put up the money? Gale?”
Curtis sat in the chair behind the desk and put his heels up on the wood. “You aren’t even warm.”
“For the time being, let’s just say it was someone who is rather interested in you. Someone with a lot of weight.”
Mandell half rose from his chair. “Not the guy who killed the blonde?”
Curtis lighted a cigarette and tossed the package across the desk. “No. That’s still Inspector Carlton’s baby.”
Mandell sat back in his chair. “Know something?”
“I don’t think I killed her.”
Curtis blew out the match with which he had lighted the cigarette. “I’m inclined to doubt it, myself. Very much. And in setting the time of death at four o’clock, the coroner’s office eased the pressure on both of us considerably.” He changed the subject abruptly. “What was your father’s name before he Anglicized it, Barney?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Your family name wasn’t always Mandell, was it?”
“No. The old man changed it.”
“When he first came to this country. Long before I was born.”
“What was the family name in Poland?”
Mandell grinned. “You couldn’t even pronounce it. It was Mancztochski. But the old man simplified it. See? Like we say Poland instead of Rzeczpospolita Polska.”
“But it used to be Mancztochski. I know. I’ve seen it on letters from Pa’s brother.”
“A brother named Vladimir?”
Curtis consulted a mental file. “Born in Gdansk in 1897 and married to Sofie Bjela, a Czech, in 1922.” He blew smoke at the ceiling. “One-time professor of advanced physics at the University of Poland. Later taught at the Sorbonne. Emigrated to Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1943, where he opened his own consulting laboratory. Deceased as of September 14, 1947, a widower without issue.”
Mandell was apologetic. “I didn’t even know he was dead. We kind of lost track of him during the war.” He leaned forward in his chair. “But how come you know so much about my uncle Vladimir? What’s he got to do with springing me?”
Curtis snuffed his cigarette. “We’ll come to that.”
There was something vaguely familiar about the other man’s voice. Then Mandell realized what it was. A weight. He’d felt the same weight before. Many times. Mostly, he’d felt it at night, lying sleepless long after Lights Out had sounded, or crouched alongside a half-track, listening to the heavy stuff in the distance, knowing that whatever happened to Barney Mandell was up to the eagle perched on his chest.
“You’re a fed,” he accused.
Curtis smiled. “That’s right.”
“No. Treasury Department.”
“What’s the government want of me? I paid my tax.”
Curtis nodded. “A lot of tax, Barney. But this isn’t exactly a tax matter.”
“Then what is it?”
Curtis lighted a cigarette from the butt of the one he was smoking. “Right now, let’s say we’ve been trying to contact you for some time.”
“I haven’t been hiding.”
“No,” Curtis agreed, “you haven’t.” He was amused. “Well, I’ll be damned.”
“We’ve known where you were all the time. But owing to some rather clever razzle-dazzle, we didn’t realize who you were.” Curtis shrugged. “There are, after all, some three million people of Polish extraction in this country, and it seems that your father didn’t bother to legalize his change of name.”
“No. I don’t think he did,” Mandell said.
It was hot in the small office. He wished Curtis would make his point and let him go to Gale. None of this seemed to have anything to do with the dead blonde.
Curtis opened the drawer of his desk and took out a Polish-language paper printed in Chicago. “Ever read this, Barney?”
Mandell shook his head. “Naw. I can’t. I can talk it a little, but that’s all.”
“I see,” Curtis said. He put the paper back in the drawer. “How do you feel about this country, Barney?”
Mandell smelled the wilted carnation on his lapel. It was still faintly fragrant. “How do you mean, how do I feel about this country? It’s my country. I like it.”
Curtis nodded. “Yes. I think that can be assumed. Up until this late unpleasantness concerning Cherry Marvin, you’ve been a good citizen. You have an excellent war record. You never made better than PFC, but you earned an infantryman’s combat badge, a bronze and silver star, three battle stars, and a purple heart. That right?”
Mandell took a cigarette from the package on the desk, but instead of lighting it he shredded it between his fingers. “That’s right.”
“On your separation from the service, you resumed your ring career and did well. You fought all the men of your weight and compiled an impressive list of knockouts.”
“Not all the men of my weight,” Mandell corrected him.
“No,” Curtis agreed. “You were angling for a go at the title when you had yourself committed to a mental institution. Mind telling me why, Barney?”
“I’d rather not,” Mandell said. His feeling of uneasiness returned. He realized he was breathing through his mouth. Beads of perspiration formed on the hairs on the back of his hands. He wiped his hands on his trousers. “Look. How come you guys know so much about me? How come you bail me out? What’s the gizmo? What’s this all about?”
Curtis pushed back his chair and stood up. He walked to the dawn-dulled window. An el train was passing. He watched it into the next station before he spoke. “About a lot of money, Barney.”
“That’s for me,” Mandell said.
Turning, Curtis sat on the sill and looked at Mandell thoughtfully. “And about something even more important than money.”
Mandell wasn’t impressed. “Don’t give me that crap. There’s nothing more important than money. I know. I was born back of the yards. My old man didn’t make much. After he died, it got worse. I went hungry when I was a kid. I saw my mother go hungry. I saw her go without a warm coat all one winter. Go without a lot of things. That’s why I got into the fight game. So I got my brains beat in. So what? It’s the only quick-money business open to a guy who’s none too bright to begin with. But is bright enough to want to say on the right side of the law. Naw. Don’t give me that. There’s nothing more important than money.”
Curtis laid the cigarette on the sill and stood up. “I hope—”
He spoke the two words and stopped. Mandell heard the door behind him open. He had a blurred impression of Mr. Curtis’ right hand disappearing under his coat lapel. Then the ceiling light went out and Curtis was shouting:
“Down! Hit the floor, Barney!”
Mandell flung himself forward. The floor was wood and oiled. There was a familiar whine over his head and a splinter pierced his cheek as he tried to make himself small. Another bullet slapped into the desk. Still another thudded into flesh. Four more shots followed in quick succession, bracketing Mandell’s head.
He mashed his head into the wood, helpless.
Then the man in the doorway was gone. There was a sound of running feet in the hall. The heavy door into the fire well slammed.
Mandell got to his feet, snorting to clear his nose. In throwing himself forward, he’d scraped his leg on the desk. He limped to the door and looked out. Where the man had stood there was a bright spot of blood on the freshly washed tile, and another spot farther down the hall.
“You hit him,” he told Curtis. “I thought I heard him grunt.”
He switched on the ceiling light. Then he turned to see how it was with Curtis. The federal man was sitting on the floor with his back against the filing case. Both hands were laced over his chest. His agonized eyes were fastened on Mandell’s face. When he saw Mandell looking at him, his lips moved with great deliberation, as if he were imparting something very important, but only a faint hissing sound came out. As Mandell watched, his hands dropped away from his stomach and he fell on his side and lay still.
Mandell knelt beside Curtis to see if he could do anything for him. He couldn’t. The federal man was dead. Rising, Mandell stood with his back to the wall, breathing through his mouth, his palms pressed flat against the plaster, looking at the man on the floor.
He was sorry Mr. Curtis was dead. He wished he could tell him how sorry. Mr. Curtis had been decent to him. Mr. Curtis didn’t think he had killed the blonde. Mandell wished he could tell how sorry he was he’d wised off. He wished he could tell him what was more important than money. What was more important than money? The answer to that one was easy; still being able to breathe.
A plume of smoke attracted his attention. The cigarette Curtis had laid on the sill was still burning. Mandell tried to pick it up and put it in the tray on the desk. All that was left was ashes and coal. They crumbled in his fingers.
The crumbling of the cigarette unnerved him. He gasped, “Huhh,” more an expulsion of air than a word, and stood rubbing his burned fingers together, his whole body trembling, knowing he should call the police. Afraid.
He should call the police. He should tell them what had happened. But would the police believe him?
He would say, “Mr. Curtis and I were talking. Then a man opened the door, turned out the light, and shot him.”
The police would say, “Is that so? Who was the man? What did he look like? Why did he shoot Mr. Curtis?”
He’d have to say, “I don’t know. My back was to the door. I didn’t see the guy.”
Then they would look at him as though he were crazy. They would revoke his bail and hold him as a material witness, without even giving him time to see Gale.
Mandell began to sweat again. The police might even think he had killed Curtis. Inspector Carlton thought he was a killer. The last thing Carlton had said was: “I still give six to one that Mandell stayed with the kate, then killed her.”
Morning began to brighten the window. The periods of silence between the rumblings of the el trains lessened as the schedule of the day was speeded up to serve the early-morning rush. There was a whirring sound somewhere in the building. Out in the hall, metal doors opened and closed as the bang of elevators went into operation.
It wasn’t fair. Mandell wiped sweat from his cheeks with the back of his hand. Unearned sweat was a sign of weakness. Mandell clung to the thought. That was it. He wasn’t sick any more. He was just weak. The doctors had given him a paper that said he was cured.
His fingers still shaking, he picked Curtis’ package of cigarettes from the desk, lighted one, and laid the package back. The smoke tasted hot and raw. So Mr. Curtis was dead; he was sorry. But no matter who was dead, a man had a right to see his wife. Especially when he hadn’t seen her in two years and she had flown all the way from Bermuda to be with him.
There was a phone book on the file case. He looked up the number of his hotel and called it.
“I beg your pardon,” he said, when the girl at the hotel switchboard answered, “but could you tell me if a Mrs. Barney Mandell is registered?”
“Just a moment, sir.”
As Mandell waited, a drop of sweat dripped from his forehead onto the mouthpiece of the phone. He wiped it off on his coat, gripping the phone so hard his hand ached.
The girl at the hotel switchboard came back on the wire. “Yes, she is, sir. Do you wish me to ring Mrs. Mandell’s suite?”
Mandell thought a moment. “No,” he said, and hung up.
His grin was so tight it hurt his lips. “Do you wish me to ring Mrs. Mandell’s suite?” A room wasn’t big enough for Gale. Gale had taken a suite. That was Gale. Thinking of her was a physical pain. Gale was at the hotel. Gale was waiting for him. His hat had fallen from his head when he had flung himself on the floor. He picked it up and put it on. Let the police find Mr. Curtis. He compromised. He would call and report the shooting. From the hotel. After he’d seen Gale.
His head turned to avoid seeing Curtis, he opened the hall door with breathless urgency. The spot of blood in front of the door was turning brown. There was no one in the hall. He closed the door securely behind him, stepped over the spot on the tile, and walked toward the elevator bank. Halfway to it, he realized he was walking on his toes and forced himself to walk normally.
He had nothing to fear. Nothing at all, Mandell assured himself. He hadn’t killed Mr. Curtis. The police couldn’t prove he had. The worst they could do would be to bawl him out for failing to report the shooting. His tight grin faded slowly. Bawl him out and revoke his bail. The bail Mr. Curtis had posted. But not before he saw Gale. Nothing could stop him from seeing Gale.
He reached for the bell and drew back his arm as he saw his sleeve. It should be tan. It wasn’t. It was red. He brushed it with his other hand, got blood on his fingers, and wiped them on the skirt of his topcoat. Inspector Carlton’s imagined voice filled the hall:
“How did you get the blood on your sleeve, Barney?”
“I tried to help Mr. Curtis.”
“I felt his heart to see if it was still beating.”
“My ass. Don’t give me that. You wanted to make sure he was dead. Why? Why did you kill him, Barney?”
“I didn’t kill him.”
“No? Then why didn’t you report the shooting?”
Mandell leaned against the wall opposite the elevators, panting. Well, why hadn’t he? Because he was afraid. Because he wanted to see Gale. Because he wanted her so bad that he’d blow his top if he didn’t have her. For the long count this time. But a man didn’t tell the police a thing like that about his wife. It wasn’t nice.
Mandell walked back to the door with no legend on the glass. Now he was uncertain again. This was what he got for running. The police knew he had left with Mr. Curtis. They would find his fingerprints in the office. On the desk, the chair, the file case, the phone, the pack of cigarettes, the matches. On Mr. Curtis.
He turned the knob of the door. It was locked. When he had closed it, the spring lock had latched. Then how had the killer opened it? That was one of the first questions Inspector Carlton would ask.
Breathing through his mouth again, Mandell took off his topcoat and tried to fold it so the blood wouldn’t show. He was only partly successful. If he folded it so the sleeve was hidden, the stain where he’d wiped his hand showed. He solved his problem by folding the coat inside out. Then he didn’t know what to do with his hand. There was still some blood on his fingers. And nothing on which to wipe them.
He jammed his hand into his suit-coat pocket, as one of the metal doors in the bank of elevators opened and an older man limped down the hall. His nose and cheeks were red with cold. As he reached Mandell, he drew off one of his gloves and inserted a key in the lock of the door across from Mr. Curtis’ office. He turned and nodded pleasantly.
“Cold this morning, eh?”
Mandell forced himself to speak. “Yeah. It sure is. Cold.”
The office door closed behind the man. Mandell stood where he was a moment longer, then walked down the hall to the steel door opening on the fire well. He was in too deep now to turn back. When Mr. Curtis’ body was found, the police would question the tenants in the neighboring offices and the man across the hall would say:
“Why, yes. I saw a man standing in front of the door. A big blond man with a slightly flattened nose. He was standing with his hand in his right coat pocket. Yes. He could have been holding a gun.”
On the fourth-floor landing, Mandell paused, remembering that the killer had fled down the fire well. He walked on more slowly. He had nothing to fear from the killer. Or had he? He looked at the expensive watch he’d bought after his fight with Gus Lesnevich. The man had been gone for ten minutes.
He opened the fire door into the foyer. A uniformed starter was changing a name in the directory on the wall. He nodded when he saw Mandell.
“Good morning,” Mandell answered. He started to take his hand out of his pocket and remembered just in time. “Say, I wonder if you’d tell me something.”
“What?” the starter asked.
“Did a guy come out of the fire door a few minutes ago?”
The starter continued to insert white letters in the black directory. “How many minutes ago?”
The starter shook his head. “I wouldn’t know, mister. I just this minute came on duty.” He really looked at Mandell for the first time. “You a tenant of this building?”
Mandell shook his head. “No.” He was sorry he’d stopped to talk to the starter. Now he’d aroused the man’s suspicions. The man was looking at him, puzzled.
“Say, just a minute, fellow,” he said.
Mandell didn’t want a scene. He didn’t want to be stopped. He wouldn’t be stopped. Not before he’d seen Gale. He backed away from the man, then walked rapidly to the door.
The starter walked down the foyer after him. “Say, you.”
Mandell tugged the glass door open and walked rapidly north on Wells Street. A quarter block from the doorway, he looked back. The starter was standing on the walk, looking after him.
Mandell walked on, even faster. It might be fifteen minutes before Mr. Curtis was found. It might be an hour. It might be five hours. When he was found, the police would pick him up again, but until then he would be with Gale.
He turned east on Randolph Street and a blast of cold wind off the lake almost swept him from his feet. As he passed the Bismarck Hotel, he was acutely conscious of how silly he must look, carrying his topcoat on his arm. Everyone else was bundled up against the cold. He fought on against the wind. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered but being with Gale.
He passed the Palace Theatre and waited for the light to change on the corner of La Salle Street. When the light turned green, he walked on with the crowd, and a sudden gust of wind tugged his expensive, two-year-old hat from his head. Mandell grabbed for it and missed. His hat swirled past a pretty girl’s bobbing hips, then skittered along the street. A man walking west tried to stop it. The man behind him caught it and picked it up.
A stolid, unsmiling man, he automatically brushed it with his sleeve. Then, as if suddenly frightened, he pushed the fawn-colored hat into Mandell’s extended hand and hurried on, alternately looking back over his shoulder and down at the sticky substance on his fingers.
Mandell stood rooted to the pavement, looking at his hat, ignoring the jostling crowd around him. Part of the hat’s underbrim was as smeared with blood as the sleeve of his topcoat.
But it hadn’t been blood that had puzzled the starter. It hadn’t been blood that had frightened the man who picked up his hat. There were two neat round holes punched in the crown. Bullet holes.
The light changed from green to red. Car horns blasting in his ears, Mandell walked on to the curb.
The blood was easily explained. The blood belonged to Mr. Curtis. But how explain the two bullet holes? A new fear nagged at Mandell’s tired mind. Had the killer been shooting at him or at Mr. Curtis? Which one of them had the man in the doorway meant to kill?
Mandell could feel his knees giving. He felt the way he had in the hotel room when he had tried to dress Cherry.
Death was so cold. So personal. So final. One minute you were capable of love, of hunger, of thirst. The next, you were so much flesh. He forced his way out of the crowd of early office-bound workers and leaned against the icy gray marble of the City Hall.
At whom had the man been shooting?
Outside of Mr. Curtis’ shouting, “Down! Hit the floor, Barney!” no words had been spoken. There had been only the click of the light switch and the burst of shots.
But the two shots that had punched holes through the crown of his hat hadn’t been fired at Mr. Curtis. Mr. Curtis had been standing in front of the window, near the file case, on the far side of the room.
Mandell looked across the street at the windows of his hotel, the hotel where Gale was waiting, back of one of the closed windows. Probably in bed, stretching like a sleepy kitten. Or bathing after her trip. Powdering her white body. Perfuming the pits of her arms. Making herself even more desirable—for him. He felt suddenly drained and cheated. He couldn’t go to Gale. When Gale saw the blood on his topcoat and the bullet in his hat, she would ask more questions than the police.
He closed his eyes and tried to see all of her, and couldn’t. All he could see were her lips. Moving red lips, asking questions.
“But who was the man, Barney? Why should he shoot at you? What had you done to him?”
Mandell pressed his back against the cold marble for support. His closed eyes felt hot and gritty. His lips twisted as if he were about to cry. When he couldn’t answer Gale’s questions, he would be in wrong again with her. The same worried look would come into her eyes. She wouldn’t let him take her in his arms. She wouldn’t let him kiss her. She wouldn’t go to bed with him. She’d be afraid to. Gale would think the old trouble had returned. She’d think he was still walking on his heels.
Mandell beat back with his clenched fists against the marble. It wasn’t fair. Such things shouldn’t happen to a man.
The morning grew older and colder. A passing good Samaritan stopped in front of Mandell. “What’s the matter, fellow? Sick?”
Mandell opened his eyes and looked at him. “No. I’m O.K. But thanks.”
He returned his hat to his head, then pushed himself away from the wall and walked on slowly, without direction. He wished he could talk to Joe Mercer. Joe had always been the brains of the crowd. Joe could tell him what to do. But for some reason, Joe hated his guts. Joe had called him a bastard. Joe was glad he was getting his lumps.
The light at Clark Street was red. Rather than wait for it to change, Mandell crossed with the green light and walked north on Clark Street to the river. The river was filled with chunks of floating ice. The wind was even stronger on the bridge than it had been in the Loop. Mandell’s lips and hands were blue with cold. He wanted to wear his topcoat and was afraid. His topcoat had blood on it. The first cop to spot it would stop him.
“How did you get that blood on your coat, fellow?”
Mandell walked on, faster. The warehouse district gave way to a series of shabby bars, cheap restaurants, and even cheaper hotels and night clubs. The windows of the night clubs were plastered with pictures of pretty girls, most of them nearly naked. One of the clubs advertised “Fifty Beautiful Hostesses.” Mandell averted his eyes. North Clark Street hadn’t changed. A man could still buy anything he wanted, in the way he wanted it. The street’s motto remained the same: “If you have the money to buy what you want, we sell it.”
He felt in his pocket for a cigarette and found he had none. He had no cigarettes and no money. After all the thousands of dollars he’d made, he couldn’t even buy a package of cigarettes, a cup of coffee.
He walked on, scanning the store fronts. A few doors south of Chicago Avenue he found a pawnshop open. The rush of warm air felt good. A swart younger man, with black hair, looked up from unlocking his safe and then walked to the counter.
“Yes, sir. What can ‘I do for you?”
Mandell slipped his watch from his wrist and laid it on a purple velvet pad on the counter. “I’d like five hundred on the watch.”
“That’s a lot of money,” the pawnbroker said. He screwed a jeweler’s glass in his eye and pried off the back of the watch.
The pawnshop was warm and smelled like a pawnshop. Mandell shifted his topcoat to his other arm. “I paid two thousand dollars for it. There are six diamonds in the dial.”
The pawnbroker reversed the watch and looked at the diamonds through his glass. Then he took the glass out of his eye, pressed the back on the watch, and laid it on the pad. “I can’t go for five hundred, mister. But I can let you have three hundred.”
“I’ll take it,” Mandell said.
The pawnbroker filled out a ticket and gave Mandell a card to sign while he got the money from the safe. Out on Clark Street again, Mandell bought a package of cigarettes in a drugstore, then stood on the corner of Chicago Avenue, debating what to do.
He could eat breakfast. He could get drunk. He could check into a hotel and have the bellboy get him a woman. He could do all three. The more he tried not to think about it, the more Mandell wanted a woman. Desire tied hard knots in his groin. It ached worse than it had the time that punk in the armory had fouled him.
But getting drunk would get him nowhere. It wouldn’t bring Cherry Marvin or Mr. Curtis back to life. And he didn’t want just any woman. He wanted his wife. He wanted Gale. If he’d wanted any woman, he could have had Cherry Marvin. It might have been better if he had taken her. The little blonde might still be alive. It all went to prove something. Mandell wished he were bright enough to know what.
Flipping his cigarette into the street, he thrust two fingers into his mouth and whistled down a cruising cab.
“Wentworth and Thirty-eighth,” he told the driver. “I’ll tell you where from there.” As he settled his bulk against the leather upholstery, he added, “And somewhere along the line, I want to buy a box of candy and some flowers.”
“Right,” the driver said. He knew his celebrities. “Say, you’re Barney Mandell, aren’t you?”
Mandell rode holding his topcoat on his lap. “That’s right.”
“They let you out of jail, huh?”
“So it would seem.”
* * * *
A cold wind, with a feeling of rain or sleet in it, turned the corner with the cab. Nothing had changed. The old one-story frame and red-brick houses looked a little shabbier, that was all. Kelly’s Bar was still on the corner. Old Man Feinstein’s tailor shop was still crowded in between the poolroom and Giovanni’s ice-cream parlor. Heppelmeyer’s grocery was still across the street from his mother’s house. You could still smell the yards without having to strain your lungs.
Mandell’s dull eyes brightened slightly. It was always good to come home. Perhaps Ma was right. After his first big fight, with thirty-five thousand dollars burning holes in his pockets, he’d wanted Ma to move into an apartment hotel on Lake Shore Drive. But the old lady had been adamant in her refusal to leave the old neighborhood that she loved.
“All my life I’ve lived here, Barney,” she told him. “Your two brothers who died were born here. Pa passed away in the front room. Why should I move from where I’ve lived all my life? Who would I talk to? What would I talk about? Here I know Clara Kelly and Rose Feinstein and Bessie Heppelmeyer and Rosemary. Good times we’ve had together. Bad times, we shared what we had.” The old lady had settled the question of moving once and for all. “Besides, up on Lake Shore Drive, how should I know even who’s having a baby?”
Mandell picked up the box of candy and the roses from the seat beside him.
All Ma had let him do was to have the old house painted, buy her a new washing machine, and stuff the parlor with a radio-phonograph and a television set, both expensive.
“A fight boxer my Barney is,” Ma told everyone who would listen. “So strong he doesn’t know his own strength. Champion of the world yet is my Barney going to be.”
Well, that was one dream that was over.
The driver parked in front of the house. “That will be three-sixty-five.”
Mandell gave him a five-dollar bill and climbed the sagging stairs. Before he could use his key, Rosemary opened the door.
“I hoped you’d come, Barney.” She smiled. “Ma read the morning paper. She knows you’ve been released on bail. And every time a produce truck stops in front of Fleppelmeyer’s, she runs to the window to look, certain it’s you.”
Mandell stood dwarfing the small hall, his topcoat draped over one arm, holding the flowers and candy he’d bought. “Where is Ma?”
Rosemary said, “In the kitchen. Getting you a big breakfast. She was so certain you would come.” Rosemary laid her hand on Mandell’s arm, the smile fading from her lips. “But for God’s sake don’t go next door. Pat swears he’ll beat your brains in.”
The sick feeling returned to Mandell’s stomach. The brief glow he’d experienced faded. “Why? Why should Pat want to beat my brains in?”
“You don’t know?”
A small woman with bird-bright eyes hurried down the hall. Ma Mandell had heard their voices. She was wiping her floured hands on her apron. “Barney, my boy!” She looked at Rosemary reproachfully. “And you said I shouldn’t feel bad if Barney couldn’t come home this morning.” She hugged her big son around the waist and tried to lift him off his feet. “But I knew Barney would come to see his ma. And look. He brought me roses and candy.”
The old lady was pathetically pleased. Rosemary looked out the window. Mandell felt like a heel. It took so little to please his mother.
She dabbed her eyes with a corner of her clean white apron, laughing and crying at the same time. “But here I am, making like an old fool. And you must be hungry, Barney. Such a big man to feed!” Clutching the roses and the five-pound box of candy to her shriveled bosom, Ma Mandell hurried back down the hall toward the kitchen. “Breakfast is almost ready, Barney. Come. By the table sit. It will be just like old times.”
It was hot in the small hall. The old house creaked in the wind. Rosemary said, “She had breakfast ready for you yesterday morning, too.”
Mandell walked into the shabby parlor off the hall and laid his topcoat and hat on the sofa. “All right. All right. Take it out. So I should have come to see the old lady yesterday. How much of a heel can a guy feel and still go on breathing?”
Rosemary followed him into the parlor and sat on the arm of a chair, swinging one nylon-sheathed leg. “You ought to know. Who put up your bail?”
Mandell lighted a cigarette and blew smoke at the teardropped crystal chandelier. “A guy named Curtis.”
Mandell tried to tell her. He tried to tell her what had happened in the office and couldn’t. Instead he ran his hands over his face and just stood looking at her. The two years had been good to Rosemary. Most of her freckles were gone. The few that were left looked good on her. She had nice breasts, nice legs. Her stomach was concave. The freckle-faced little kid next door had moved into the big time as far as looks were concerned. She looked like a Powers model more than she did like a nurse.
Rosemary was amused. “Think you’ll know me when you see me again?”
“I think so,” Mandell said. He tilted her chin with a crooked forefinger. “Now you look at me. Do I look crazy to you, kid?”
Rosemary said, “I answered that down at the station.”
“Anyway, I was.”
“Who said so?”
“Dr. Orin Harris.”
“That egocentric quack.” Rosemary laid her hand on his arm again. “Look, Barney. What did the doctors at the asylum say?”
“They were puzzled:”
“Yeah. They went over me with everything they had and couldn’t find a sign of a brain injury. But my record was against me.”
“You mean the hallucinations you told me about this morning? Finding your razor in the ice-cube tray? Hearing bells and voices that didn’t exist? Wringing a parrot’s neck? Imagining you caught your wife in bed with another man?”
“What—” Rosemary thought better of the question she had been about to ask and rephrased it. “With whom did you think you caught your wife? Who was the man?”
Mandell ran his fingers through his hair. “I never saw the guy before or since. I couldn’t. He didn’t exist. See? It was all in my mind on account of me having taken too many punches.”
“Gale explained it to you?”
“But why stay in the asylum for two years?”
“Because Dr. Harris thought it was best. He said the punishment I’d absorbed in the ring gave me pronounced manic-depressive tendencies. Those were the words he used. He made up a case history on me, and the brain doctors out at the asylum read it and said he was right.”
Rosemary ran her hands over her breasts as if they hurt her. “Stuff. Look, Barney.”
“If you were a flat-footed puncher who took three to land one, it would be a different matter. But you aren’t.
You never have been. You’ve always been a boxer. Since you won your first Golden Glove tournament, you haven’t taken enough punishment to break an egg, let alone scramble the few brains in that thick Polack head of yours. You’re no crazier than I am, Barney. You never have been.”
“Then why did I hear and see and imagine the things I did? And why did they go away as soon as I stopped fighting?”
Rosemary’s smile was wry. “Believe me, that’s something I’d like to know.”
Mandell got a little hot. “I suppose you and Pat and John and Joe think I should have gone on scrambling for a fast buck until I blew my top and maybe murdered Gale?”
Rosemary stood up and put both hands on his arms. “No, Barney. Believe me. All I want, all I’ve ever wanted, is what is best for you.”
Mandell tilted her chin and kissed her. “Thanks.”
Rosemary surprised him by returning his kiss. For a moment her body was soft against his. Then her clawing fingers dug into his back. Her lips were feverishly insistent. A low moan welled up in her throat. She thrust forward. Her eager tongue was a flame. Mandell pulled her to him fiercely. Rosemary responded as fiercely, and they rocked back and forth in perfect rhythm, time losing all meaning, until, on the urgent verge of ecstasy, Rosemary twisted free of his hands and began to cry.
His chest laboring, Mandell cautioned, “Easy, kid. I’m sorry. Don’t get sore. I didn’t mean anything.”
“Yes,” Rosemary panted. “I know. That’s the hell of it.” She wiped away tears with the back of one hand. “If it meant anything to you, I’d take off my dress and you could have me. On the floor. You could have me on the corner of Thirty-eighth and Wentworth. Or State and Madison, for that matter.” Her breathing became a torment of choked sobs. “But it wouldn’t mean a thing. I’d just be one more girl in the life of the famous Barney Mandell.”
Mandell was shocked. “Rosemary!”
Sobbing even louder, she continued, “You’d still be in love with that society bitch you married.”
Rosemary slapped his face, hard.
“Goddamn you, Barney Mandell!”
She groped her way to the front door and slammed it behind her. Mandell stood looking at the closed door, patting his cheek with his handkerchief.
Life was too complicated.
The kitchen was small and overhot. The smell of the rich food gagged Mandell. He forced himself to eat to please his mother, wondering if he would ever stop sweating again.
He couldn’t stay where he was much longer. Mr. Curtis’ body would have been found by now. The cats were wailing in the Loop, looking for Barney Mandell. He choked on a piece of Polish sausage. And somewhere in Chicago was a man who had tried to kill him. Mr. Curtis had been killed by mistake. The shots had been meant for him.
“Eat, eat,” his mother insisted. She patted his broad back. “Is everything all right now.”
It was a statement, not a question. Mandell wished the old lady was right. But until the matter of his sanity was settled, nothing would ever be right for him.
He regretted the scene with Rosemary. He should have kept his hands off the kid. Looking back, he could see why she had acted as she had. Rosemary had always considered herself his girl. Even if he hadn’t taken her anywhere, except maybe to White City once or twice and to a few neighborhood parties. Maybe that was why Joe was sore at him. Maybe Joe thought he should have married Rosemary. But hell. He’d never even thought of Rosemary that way. She was just the kid next door.
He should have told her about Mr. Curtis, about the holes in his hat. Rosemary didn’t think he was crazy. She’d said so.
His tie was too tight. Mandell loosened it. Rosemary was a nurse. She ought to know. But then, why had he imagined the things he had, done the crazy things he’d done? Loosening his tie didn’t help. His throat still felt constricted.
Bustling between the stove and the table, her movements as birdlike as her eyes, his mother distributed the accumulated neighborhood information. “And a detective now, Pat is. Working nights by the state’s attorney. And instead of wearing his uniform, he goes to work in his best suit. At even more money, yet.”
“That’s swell,” Mandell said. “Just swell.” He forced more food down his throat. “Look, Ma. Do you remember Uncle Vladimir?”
“Why not? He was Pa’s brother.”
“Did he have any money?”
Ma Mandell hooted. “Whoever heard of a college professor with money?” She said, earnestly, “Better he should work with his hands and get a union scale. When Pa was alive and working in the Yards, four dollars regular every week he used to send to the old country so Vladimir and Sofie could eat. By brains there is no money, Barney.”
“When did you last hear from him?”
The old lady considered the question. “Is fourteen, fifteen years. Since just before Pa died. But why should you ask such a question?”
Mandell forked the last piece of sausage on his plate and forced it down. “Forget it. Maybe I’m still crazy.”
His mother was indignant as she filled his coffee cup. “Get drunk? Yes. Fight? Yes. Go to jail? Yes. But no Mancztochski was ever crazy. By the end of the Irving Park streetcar is never a Mancztochski. Out of their minds they were, whoever put you in such a place.” She sat in the chair across from him. “Look, Barney. Tell an old lady something.”
“I brought you up good, didn’t I? I tried to teach you good from bad, what was right from wrong? When you were a bad boy, I licked you with a stick?”
Mandell reached across the table and patted her small hand. “You beat hell out of me, Ma.”
His mother fondled the big spatulate fingers on her hand. “For your own good. Now about this bad thing in the paper, Barney. About what they say you did to that girl. It isn’t so, is it, Barney? You weren’t bad with her, were you? You didn’t hit her?”
Mandell said soberly, “I’m positive I didn’t, Ma. I was drunk, but not that drunk. Besides, drunk or sober, I wouldn’t ever hit a girl.”
His mother patted his hand. “See? Just like I told Bessie Heppelmeyer. I believe you, Barney.” She released his hand. “Now better you should go to your wife. It was nice of you to come to see me. But your wife will be waiting, too.”
Mandell lighted a cigarette. “Yeah. Of course. Sure, Ma.” He got to his feet. He couldn’t go to Gale, but he could go next door and try to make his peace with Rosemary. He could talk to Pat. Perhaps Pat would advise him what to do, even if Rosemary had sworn that Pat had threatened to beat in his brains. His brains. That was a laugh.
His mother followed him down the hall and watched him fold his topcoat over his arm. “Thanks for the flowers and the candy. And come again, Barney. Soon, please.”
“Yeah. Sure,” Mandell promised. “And next time I’ll bring Gale with me.”
“That will be nice,” his mother said.
Mandell knew he was lying. So did she. His mother and Gale had never met. He doubted that they ever would. Gale and his mother had nothing in common but their sex. To bring Gale here back of the yards would only embarrass them both.
The wind seemed colder. Mandell stood on the porch a moment, then walked down the narrow areaway between his mother’s cottage and the next house. A big, red-faced, black-haired Irishman, stripped to blue serge trousers and a heavy gray wool undershirt, answered his knock on the Doyles’ back door.
“Oh, it’s you,” Pat Doyle said. “What do you want?”
“In,” Mandell said. He pushed past Doyle into the kitchen. It was as warm as his mother’s kitchen and smelled of recently fried steak.
Doyle closed the door and leaned against it. “You’re a nervy bastard, Barney. I’ll say that for you.”
“Please, Pat,” Rosemary said, at the stove. “For my sake.” She looked frightened.
Doyle made a noise in his throat. “O.K. For your sake.” He resumed his chair at the kitchen table.
Mandell looked at his friend, hurt. “What’s the idea?”
“You wouldn’t know?”
“No.” Mandell draped his topcoat over the back of a kitchen chair and laid his blood-smeared hat on the seat. “Rosemary says you’re going to beat in my brains. Why?” Doyle indicated a chair. “Sit down and I’ll tell you.” He pushed the whisky bottle at his elbow across the white oilcloth. “But go ahead. Have a shot. I’d give a dog a drink on a day like this.”
Mandell sat on the edge of a chair. “No, thanks. I had mine yesterday.”
Doyle cut a piece off the steak in front of him and put it in his mouth. “Yeah. So the Department knows. But then again, maybe you’re too ritzy to drink with a guy in his undershirt.”
Mandell poured a drink he didn’t want and gulped it.
Doyle sucked at a piece of steak caught on one of his back teeth. “Could be I’m mistaken. But even before you had yourself put away, it seems to me you were flying pretty high, weren’t you, Barney? Not much time for old friends, eh?”
Mandell defended himself hotly. “O.K. So maybe I got a little big-headed. I wonder why. Maybe because, until I started cutting in on those big purses, the most money I ever had in my life was the dough I got in the Army.”
Doyle wasn’t impressed. “You and a lot of other guys.” He retrieved the whisky bottle and poured himself a drink. “Look. For old times’ sake, here’s a tip, Barney. Take some of that dough you got put away and get yourself a good lawyer. Get a goddamn good lawyer. The Department let that guy Curtis get away with springing you. But under protest. And Carlton and Rose have come up with some new stuff. So don’t be surprised if your bail is revoked any minute and you’re yanked back to the Bureau and booked for first degree.”
Rosemary began to cry.
“But I didn’t kill the blonde, Pat,” Mandell said. The old fear came back. He hedged. “At least, I don’t think I did.”
Doyle cut another bite of steak. “Yeah. Sure, I know. I read your statement. You claim you patted her good-by on the corner of Randolph and Dearborn. But I also saw a picture of the broad stripped naked on the floor of your bathroom.”
Mandell realized he was sweating again. It was the sweat of fear. He could smell himself. He poured himself another drink, and didn’t drink it. His body was a balloon, being slowly inflated by the most convenient valve. He felt as if the pressure steadily building inside him would momentarily explode and splatter him all over the kitchen.
He had to tell someone that Mr. Curtis was dead. He had to tell someone about the shots that had been fired at him.
“Look, Pat—” he began.
Doyle continued coldly, “Why try to lie out of it, Barney? They tell me Inspector Carlton’s new evidence does everything but pull the switch. So if your nose isn’t as clean as you’ve made it out to be, if you diddled the little blonde, then hit her too hard by mistake—”
Mandell got to his feet. “I didn’t.”
“All right. So someone did. I didn’t.” Mandell’s eyes felt hot and gritty again. He’d taken all he could. He was tired of being treated like a moron. He hadn’t bedded Cherry Marvin. He hadn’t killed her. Drunk or crazy, a man remembered such things. He picked his topcoat from the chair. “I’m sorry I came in. I wish I hadn’t. I thought you and I were friends. What’s eating on you, Pat? You jealous? You sore because a guy from the neighborhood got a few good breaks and married a girl whose old man happens to have a little money?”
Doyle’s face got even redder.
Mandell shaped his hat to his head. “To hell with all of you, excepting Ma and Rosemary. You all make me sick. Including Joe Mercer. I didn’t do a thing to you guys, but you treat me like I was dirt. You call me names. I’m a loud mouth. I’m a wise guy. I’m a know-it-all from back of the yards, who let a little ring ability and a fortunate marriage go to my head and not to my heart. That’s a lot of crap. You know it.
“Why shouldn’t I have a good opinion of myself? I’m right up there with the top guys in my line. I’ve made a lot of dough with my fists. This topcoat cost two hundred bucks. This suit cost me a hundred and fifty. I pay thirty bucks for my shoes.”
Doyle gripped his whisky glass so hard his knuckles turned white. “That’s right. Also, once upon a time, a long, long time ago, you gave your ma a nine-hundred-dollar radio-phonograph combination and a sixteen-hundred-dollar television set. But for the last two years your old lady has been living on home relief and what us neighbors have chipped in.”
“I beg your pardon?” Mandell said.
Doyle stood up and faced him. “You heard me. For the last two years your old lady has been living on home relief and what us neighbors could make her take. And why? Because you’re yellow, Barney. Because when the first really big problem in your life came along, you turned chicken.”
“How do you mean?” Mandell panted.
Doyle told him. “As I get it from Rosemary, you caught your wife dead to rights. But you didn’t have the guts to admit to yourself that your wife was two-timing you. So you pretended to swallow her story. You pretended you were crazy and had yourself tucked away until she got a yen for you again. And then you couldn’t wait. You had to pick up a Randolph Street harlot to prove to yourself that you were still a man.”
“That’s a lie. A dirty lie,” Mandell said. He swung a halfhearted right at Doyle’s head.
Doyle let it slide over his shoulder and sank a right and a left into Mandell’s stomach that sent him reeling back, gasping for breath. Doyle followed him, flat-footed, landing blows almost at will. “Don’t come that stuff on me, Barney. I handle a lot tougher guys than you every day of the year.”
His back to the wall, Mandell cocked the lethal left that had won most of his fights, then held it. He didn’t want to hurt Pat. He didn’t want to knock him out. All he wanted to do was go somewhere by himself and bawl.
He wiped his nose on the back of his hand. It was all he could do not to bawl in front of Pat and Rosemary. No wonder Joe Mercer had called him a bastard. No wonder Joe hoped he’d get his lumps. No wonder Pat despised him.
Back of the yards, there was only one yardstick of conduct. A man took care of his own. He could get drunk seven nights a week. He could bet on the horses or shoot craps or play poker. He could raise hell and fight and get his face beat in. He could lie with a woman or in the drunk tank all day Sunday at the precinct station. His appetites and morals were his own business. But he showed up for work Monday morning, if he had to show up on crutches. He could earn it, or beg it, or steal it, but he saw to it that there was food on the table. And he didn’t blow his pay check until the rent and gas bill were paid.
Doyle cuffed him lightly. “Now get out of here, Barney. And don’t ever come back. We aren’t friends any more.” Pat looked across the kitchen at his sister. “And that goes for you, too, Rosemary. If I catch you walking the floor nights or bawling about Barney any more, I’ll smack you, too.”
“O.K.,” Mandell said. “I’ll go.” He turned down the brim of his hat so the bloodstain wouldn’t show. Then, taking the money he’d got for his watch from his pocket, he peeled off a twenty-dollar bill and pressed the rest of the roll into Rosemary’s hand.
It was a difficult apology to frame. “Look, kid,” Mandell said finally. “About what happened before. Let’s just say it could mean something. It could mean a lot. A lot more than I’ll ever have coming. Because you’re good and you’re nice. You’re the swellest kid I’ve ever known.”
Doyle pushed closer to them, suspicious. “What the hell is he talking about?”
Rosemary looked at her brother, then back at Mandell. The corners of her mouth turned down. “What’s the money for, Barney?”
Mandell closed her fingers around the bills. “Please, Rosemary. For old times’ sake.” His smile was too quick and tight and twisted. It gave him the appearance of crying. “Give it to Ma, will you, kid? Tell her I forgot to drop it off. And thank everybody for me, for being so good to her, while I—well—kind of forgot.”
Pat looked at him thoughtfully.
Rosemary caught at his arm as he started for the door. “No, Barney. Wait.” Her lower lip quivered. “There’s something very wrong here.”
Mandell used his middle finger to flick a tear away from under one of her eyes. “Uh-uh. Careful. Or Pat will smack you, too. Remember?”
Then he was out in the cold again, alone, leaning against the wind, walking aimlessly through the streets of the old neighborhood.
Mandell hoped he wouldn’t meet anyone he knew. He’d never felt so ashamed. He must be out of his mind. He must be crazy. He couldn’t treat Ma like that. He couldn’t shame her so. To the best of his recollection, he hadn’t.
He tried to think back two years. As he remembered, on the day before he had committed himself he had made certain that Ma would be well taken care of. He had drawn his money from the bank, some thirty-eight thousand dollars. He had taken a thousand for his own use. He’d given the rest to Gale to put into her checking account, with instructions to mail his mother a check for seventy-five dollars a week until he was well again. Gale had kissed him and promised she would.
Then where had the money gone?
Before he had gone three blocks the cold grew so intense that Mandell was forced to put on his topcoat. He tried to hide the blood on his sleeve by closing his fingers on the cuff and thrusting his clenched hand as deeply as it would go into the big slash pocket. It hid most of the blood on the sleeve, but he couldn’t hide the smear on the skirt where he had wiped his hand.
He gave up trying to wipe off either stain and walked south on Wentworth, studying the faces of the people whom he passed.
He tried to be afraid and couldn’t. He forced himself to be honest with Barney Mandell. He was running again. So he couldn’t prove he hadn’t killed Mr. Curtis. The police couldn’t prove he had. Nor was it likely that the killer would make a second attempt on his life on a crowded business street.
What really mattered was Pat’s opinion of Gale and the fact that his mother had been living on charity for two years. Mandell realized that, despite the cold, he was panting. Pat’s cruel words put springs in his heels. And they were all lies. Pat had no right to say things like that about Gale. That was a back-of-the-yards cop talking about a girl he’d never met. A girl who lived in a stratum of society about which he knew nothing. There were good girls back of the yards. There were good girls in Evanston and Lake Forest. But to the guys who hung out at Kelly’s all society girls were animated mattresses eager to be pounded, while their own wives two-timed them right and left. And up and down. They shot off their mouths and said what was the country coming to, because some debutante had her picture in the paper wearing a low-cut evening gown that showed the round of her breasts, while at home their own wives took off their forty-nine-cent pants from Grant’s or Kress’ and paid the milkman and the iceman and the landlord, so they could save enough from their meager household allowance for a new permanent wave or a dress-shopping orgy at Klein’s or Goldblatt’s.
Gale was good. He knew. He’d wanted her plenty bad on their first date. He’d tried to make her. Gale had wanted him. It had been like that with them from the start. But while Gale had let him play around and kiss her, she was a good girl. She hadn’t let him do it until after they were married. Mandell wiped his cheeks with his sleeve. Then they had done plenty.
He tried not to breathe so hard. It was attracting attention to him. It could be that Gale had forgotten the purpose for which he had entrusted the money to her. Money meant little to her. She’d always had plenty of it. She didn’t know what it meant to go hungry. She didn’t know what a tremendous accomplishment just paying rent and the gas bill could be. Gale had never picked up coal along the belt-line tracks, or gone junking for movie money.
The cold made his sinus ache. Mandell pressed his broken nose with the back of one hand and tried to clear it. “Hahh.” Then, it could be he hadn’t given Gale any money; that he only imagined he had drawn it from the bank. Just like he’d imagined he’d caught Gale with another man.
There was a saloon on the next corner. Mandell went in. The thing to do was get this mental business settled. If he had given Gale money for his mother, he was sane. If he only imagined he had, he was crazy, still sweating out a Section Eight.
The bar was warm and dim. It smelled familiar, of stale beer, cheap whisky, and good food. The owner, a fat man with a fringe of gray hair around a baby-pink scalp, laid down his Racing Form. “Yes, sir?”
Mandell ordered a shot of rye to break the twenty, then used the phone booth to call Gale before he lost his nerve.
Her phone rang for a long while. When she answered, her voice was small, like that of a little girl awakened from a sound sleep. “Yes? Mrs. Mandell speaking.”
“This is Barney, sweetheart,” Mandell said.
He could hear her suck in her breath in the once familiar gasp, as if his voice was a sudden and very personal caress. “Oh, Barney! Honey! Where are you?”
“I’m out on the South Side,” Mandell told her. “But I’ll grab a cab and come right down.”
Mandell took a deep breath. “And about that business in the paper, sweetheart. About that girl—”
“I don’t believe a word of it,” Gale interrupted. “Please come to me, Barney. I’ve been waiting for you all night.”
Mandell kissed the mouthpiece of the phone. “Until I can do it in person.”
“Until you can do it in person,” Gale breathed.
The holes in the dial were smaller than they had been. Mandell had trouble inserting a finger to call a cab. He had to dial twice. Then he didn’t know where to tell them to send the cab and had to open the door of the phone booth to ask the fat man the street number on Wentworth. His hands were still shaking as he walked back to the bar and picked his drink from the wood.
“She was home, eh?” the barman asked.
“Yeah.” Mandell grinned. “She was home. Buy yourself a drink.”
“Thanks,” the barman said. He picked a dime from Mandell’s change and drew himself a short beer.
Mandell scooped his change from the bar and walked outside to wait for the cab. He no longer felt the cold. Everything was going to be all right. Gale would make it right. Gale still loved him. Gale had been waiting for him all night. He would be with her in ten minutes.
A tardy schoolboy passed the saloon. He glanced idly at Mandell, did a double take, and turned back. “Hey. You’re Barney Mandell, ain’t you, mister?”
“That’s right.” Mandell grinned.
“Gee,” the boy said. “Gee,” he repeated, and walked on, looking back over his shoulder, as pleased by his brief contact with a neighborhood celebrity as if the sister who taught long division was going to give him an A instead of the D he knew he had earned.
Mandell smiled after the boy’s back, expansively. He felt fine. He’d never felt better. He felt the way he had the night he’d won his first Golden Gloves. Gale would explain things to him. Everything would be all right.
He saw the bright yellow of the cab three blocks away and walked out and stood on the curb. Gale wouldn’t mind that he wasn’t shaved. Gale wanted him as badly as he wanted her. He could tell from her voice.
The palms of his hands began to sweat. Anticipation was a roaring in his ears. He wiped his hands on the skirt of his coat and looked up, incuriously, as the wheels of a black Ford squealed in a tight U turn and pulled in to the curb just in front of the cab he’d called.
Then he saw it was a police car.
Both doors of the car opened. Two uniformed men got out. The officer on the curb had his gun in his hand. His words accompanied by little puffs of vapor, he said. “Say. You’re Barney Mandell, aren’t you, fellow?”
“No,” Mandell lied. “I’m not.” He wouldn’t be delayed in going to Gale. He couldn’t be delayed. Gale was waiting for him. He glanced back over his shoulder, seeking an avenue of escape. “My name is Majcinek. Frank Majcinek.”
The other officer came around the front of the car. “Don’t try to come that on us. You’re Mandell, all right. I seen you fight Gus Lesnevich.” He pushed his cap to the back of his head. “Jesus. Every cop in Chicago is looking for you. And here you are, standing just as cool as can be on the curb, waiting for a cab.” He looked at the driver of the Yellow. “Don’t pull your flag, hacker. You’re on a milk run.”
His partner opened the door of the prowl car. “Come on. Get in, Barney.”
“No,” Mandell said. “I can’t.”
“My wife is waiting for me.”
“His wife is waiting for him,” the officer holding the door informed his partner.
As big a man as Mandell, the other officer wet his lips nervously. “Look. Be a good fellow. Don’t give us no trouble now, Barney. Go on. Get into the car.”
Mandell backed a step. He didn’t want to be a good fellow. He felt cheated. “No.”
The officer drew a sap from his pocket, but stood, hesitant to use it. It was bad enough to arrest any Polack, let alone a crazy heavyweight prize fighter. A man never could tell what a big dumb Polack would do. One thing was for sure: They could take a lot of pounding. And do a lot of damage while they were being pounded. He repeated, “Get into that car.”
Mandell shook his head. “No.” He glanced over his shoulder again. The corners of his mouth turned down. He couldn’t even run for it. A curious crowd had gathered, hemming him in.
As he looked, a fat housewife, clutching a limp string shopping bag, asked the woman next to her, “Who is he?”
“Barney Mandell,” the woman told her. “You know. The one in the morning paper who did it to that girl in the hotel, then killed her.”
The first woman was shocked. “And such a nice-looking boy.”
The officer with the sap drew a big breath. “O.K. You’re asking for it, Barney.” He took a quick step forward and his shoulder muscles rippled as he swung the sap.
Mandell rolled without moving his feet and took the blow on his upper arm. Before the officer could recover his balance, he twisted the sap from his fingers and tossed it over the prowl car. The officer used his fist as a club and did better. Mandell knocked him back with a short right. Then he cocked his left hand and froze in pain approximating ecstasy as the officer standing behind him chopped at the back of his head with the barrel of his gun.
“Son-of-a-bitch,” the officer panted. He set himself, fiat-footed, and chopped with the barrel of the gun again. “Goddamn Polack son-of-a-bitch.”
Mandell saw the sidewalk rushing up to meet him. He tried to break his fall. He couldn’t. He felt an impact, knew fresh pain. Then a light bulb exploded in his face, and he was panting, naked, down a long, dark, cold hall lined with closed doors, behind one of which Gale was calling, “Please come to me, Barney. I’ve been waiting for you all night.”
Desperate in his need, Mandell opened the next door he came to and cold water rushed out, engulfing and relieving him. He felt himself sinking down and down and down, Gale’s voice growing fainter and fainter until it died away completely and all was cold and wet and silent.
The officer with the gun nudged the man on the walk with his foot, to make certain Mandell was unconscious and not faking.
“Boy. Did you see me slug the big Polack?”
His partner looked sick. “Yeah. I seen you,” he said.
There was the same sour smell of caged men; men accused of sodomy, arson, theft, con men, boosters, perverts, pimps, and procurers, adulterers, hijackers, blackmailers, old men convicted of incest, young men convicted of murder, box men, gong beaters, punks, kokomos, peddlers, main-liners. There was the same blue haze of cigar smoke, the same stench of disinfectant. With the exception of Mr. Ebbling, even the faces had been the same. It had been like sitting through a movie he had seen before.
Mandell stood very still and meek in front of the elevator bank on the top floor of the Detective Bureau, waiting for his father-in-law to finish his personal conversation with Judge Clay and State’s Attorney Gilmore.
He was glad Mr. Ebbling had flown down from Eagle River. Mr. Ebbling was Class with a capital C. Tall, slim, white-haired, custom-tailored in imported tweeds, Mr. Ebbling was as familiar with criminal law as he was with the branch that had made him a millionaire. More, he knew the right people.
Finished with the conversation, Ebbling shook hands with Judge Clay. “Nice to have seen you again, Hiram.”
“It was nice to have seen you, John,” Judge Clay said.
Ebbling slapped State’s Attorney Gilmore’s back. “And why don’t you give me a ring someday, Bill? Call the club and we’ll have lunch together.”
Gilmore was pleased. “I’ll do that, John.”
Joe Mercer rode down in the elevator with them. There were just the three of them, Ebbling, Mandell, and Mercer, the reporter shaking hands with himself enthusiastically. “Nice to have seen you again, Joe, old boy. How’s for dropping over to Quincy Number Five and having a little snort with me? Thanks. I don’t mind if I do.”
Attorney Ebbling ignored him.
Mandell put his hand on Mercer’s arm. “Look. You got me all wrong, Joe. I—”
Mercer brushed his hand away. “Stop bothering me. I don’t know you.”
The sun was brighter now, but it gave no heat. Mandell was cold without his hat or topcoat. He felt embarrassed to go to Gale without either a coat or hat and with a bandage on his head. But at least he wouldn’t have to explain the bloodstains or the bullet holes.
Attorney Ebbling’s car, with a uniformed chauffeur behind the wheel, was parked in a no-parking zone in front of the Bureau. The chauffeur got out and opened the door as Ebbling crossed the walk.
Ebbling motioned Mandell to precede him into the car. “Just drive for a few minutes, André. Then we’ll drop Mr. Mandell at his hotel and you can take me to the club.”
The chauffeur touched the brim of his cap. “Yes, sir.”
Mandell rode, sitting on the edge of his seat with his big hands between his knees. He always felt slightly uncomfortable in the presence of his distinguished father-in-law. He felt as though he should stand with his hat in his hand or touch his forelock or something. He was always conscious of his size and lack of formal education. With Gale it was different. Gale was a woman. He was a man. They had their love. But whenever he was with Gale’s father, he didn’t quite know what to do with his hands or what to talk about.
“Relax,” Ebbling said. “Sit back. Everything is going to be all right, Bernard.”
Mandell sat back on the seat, remembering he hadn’t thanked Mr. Ebbling. “Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. And thanks a lot for flying down from Eagle River.”
Ebbling smiled thinly. “You’re perfectly welcome, Bernard. Bad as the long-distance connection was, I knew as soon as I heard your voice that something was radically wrong.”
“Yes, sir.” Mandell rubbed the knuckles of one hand with the palm of the other. “I guess I’d have been in a hell of a mess if you hadn’t been waiting at the Bureau when those two prowl cops brought me in.”
Attorney Ebbling mouthed his dead cigar. Now that he’d turned off his charm, he looked white and tired and older than Mandell remembered him. “You’re still in a mess, an ungodly one.”
“Yes, sir,” Mandell said meekly.
Ebbling dropped his dead cigar in the ash tray attached to the rear of the front seat and put a fresh one in his mouth. “As you know, Inspector Carlton was insistent that you be held on the basis of the new evidence he and Lieutenant Rose have uncovered in the Marvin matter. Judge Clay refrained from revoking your bail as a personal favor to me.” Ebbling lighted his fresh cigar, wincing as the car jolted over a hole in the pavement. “But just how long your liberty will last is something I can’t guarantee. So don’t feel too badly if you’re picked up again as soon as the Department hears from Washington.”
Attorney Ebbling leaned back against the upholstery. “Now, just between the two of us, your statement is the truth? You aren’t withholding guilty knowledge of either business?” He laid his hand on Mandell’s knee. “And I’m speaking as your lawyer now, Bernard, not as your father-in-law.”
“Yes, sir,” Mandell said. “I understand. And as far as I know, I’ve told the truth.”
“You had nothing to do with Cherry Marvin?”
“I talked to her in Johnny’s Bar.”
“But you didn’t take her to your hotel room and have sexual intercourse with her?”
“You’re telling me the truth, now, Bernard?”
“She was both nude and dead when you found her?”
Attorney Ebbling closed his eyes and blew smoke at the ceiling of the car. “I saw the pictures of her. Not a very pretty sight.”
Mandell realized he was cracking his knuckles and folded his hands in his lap. “No, sir. Finding her naked like that in my bathroom scared me half to death.”
Ebbling opened his eyes. “Why should it?”
Mandell said earnestly, “Because I thought maybe I was still walking on my heels, see? I thought maybe I’d done it to her, then hit her, like Inspector Carlton said, and I didn’t remember it, because I was still crazy.”
Ebbling nodded in understanding. “I see. That was a natural reaction for a man who had just spent two years in an asylum. And there was a man in your room? A man did hold you up?”
“Then how about your wallet with the six hundred dollars intact that Lieutenant Rose found in between the mattress and the spring of your bed?”
Mandell wiped his cheeks with the back of his hand. “I don’t know, sir.”
“You didn’t put it there?”
“No, sir.” Mandell thrust out his arm and showed Mr. Ebbling the bare spot that the extension bracelet of his wrist watch had worn in the hair on his left wrist. “That I know. I had to hock my watch to buy a pack of cigarettes.”
“I see,” Ebbling said. “Now, about this other matter, Bernard. About the man who you claim opened the door, turned out the light, and shot at you and killed Mr. Curtis.”
“What did he look like?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“You don’t know?”
“No, sir. Like I told Mr. Gilmore, it came so all of a sudden. And he was through the fire door and gone by the time I got out in the hall.”
“You didn’t see him, then? You can’t identify him?”
Ebbling rolled his cigar between his lips. “With what branch of the federal service was this Mr. Curtis connected? The FBI?”
“No, sir. He said the Treasury Department.”
“Why was he so anxious to have you released?”
“He wanted to talk to me about my uncle Vladimir.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Mandell studied the hair on the back of his hands. Gale’s people, on both sides, had been in the United States since Patrick Henry. Maybe before that. He felt a little ashamed to have Mr. Ebbling know his family name had originally been Mancztochski. Still, the United States had built a statue to a Polish patriot named Tadeusz Kosciusko. Mandell knew. He’d seen it. In Humboldt Park.
“Well?” Mr. Ebbling asked.
Mandell told him the truth. “It didn’t make sense while he was talking. It still doesn’t, sir. But Mr. Curtis knew all about my uncle Vladimir. And he was very pleased when I told him that my father had changed our name from Mancztochski to Mandell. He said they’d been trying to contact me for some time; that they’d known where I was all the time, but there was some mix-up and they hadn’t realized who I was. Then he came right out and said it was about a lot of money and about something even more important.”
“Did he say what this something was?”
“Is your uncle wealthy?”
“No, sir. He’s dead.”
Ebbling was a bit impatient with him. “Was he wealthy?”
Mandell shook his head. “I doubt it. I doubt it very much, sir. Because I asked my mother about him and she said my father used to send him four dollars every week so he and his wife could eat.”
Attorney Ebbling passed the fingertips of a well-cared-for hand over his eyes. “It would seem that patent law has its points.” He sighed. “Now, just two more questions, Bernard. Then I’ll let you go to Gale. Did this Mr. Curtis tell you anything that, in your opinion, might cause someone to want to shoot him or you?”
“Did he tell you anything that we might tell the police that would help them apprehend the man who killed him?”
Attorney Ebbling spoke into the speaking tube. “You may drive to Mr. Mandell’s hotel now, André.”
André nodded. “Yes, sir.”
Ebbling looked at the tip of his cigar as though it tasted slightly acrid. “About this mental business, Bernard.”
“That’s all cleared away?”
Mandell hesitated. He wanted to be perfectly truthful with Mr. Ebbling. “I—think so, sir. There have been times in the last twenty-four hours when I doubted it. But—” He had to take a stand. He took it. “No. It’s cleared away.”
“Fine,” Mr. Ebbling said softly. “Fine.” He patted Mandell’s knee. “But no more fights, now, Bernard.”
“No, sir,” Mandell promised. “No more fights.”
“Not even if some smart promoter should try to match you with Louis or Charles as a build-up to a fight with Wolcott.”
Ebbling continued earnestly, “I want you and Gale to be happy. I want my son-in-law to have all his—” The attorney hesitated. “What’s the idiom—?”
“All his marbles?” Mandell suggested.
Attorney Ebbling laughed. “That’s it. That’s the exact vernacular phrase of which I was thinking.”
Mandell realized the car had stopped. They were at the hotel. The doorman was opening the door for him.
Ebbling continued, “And don’t worry about the money angle, Bernard.”
“I’ve plenty for all of us until you find yourself in some other field of endeavor.”
“And you will. You’re young. You’re smart. Gale loves you.”
“Yes, sir.” Mandell stepped out on the walk.
In parting, Ebbling added, “Tell Gale we’ll probably hold a family conference later in the day. Most likely in Lake Forest.”
“Yes, sir,” Mandell said. He closed the door.
He watched the big car purr from the curb and slip into the stream of traffic pouring west on Randolph Street. Mr. Ebbling meant well. Mandell tried to feel pleased. He couldn’t. What other field of endeavor? All he knew how to do was fight. He felt cheated. He hadn’t fought on street corners and swallowed leather in cheap fight clubs all over Chicago and East Chicago and South Chicago and Gary to wind up working for less a week than his wife spent on gloves.
He was glad Mr. Ebbling hadn’t suggested going up to Gale’s suite with him.
Subconsciously, Mandell spat on the walk.
So he was a big dumb Polack. If he had to say, “Yes, sir,” just once more, he felt that it would gag him.
A group of departing guests, waiting with their luggage under the marquee, looked at him curiously. Mandell took a deep breath and walked into the hotel, acutely conscious that he had no hat or topcoat. He hoped Inspector Carlton enjoyed whatever Carlton intended to do with them.
He’d washed up as best he could at the Bureau, but he was embarrassed to be going to Gale with a bloodstained bandage around his head and blood splattered on the suit and on the collar of the shirt that Rosemary had brought him. Plus a few bumps and bruises, and a twenty-four-hour beard.
Mandell fingered the stubble on his jaw, then touched the back of his head. His head was sensitive to his touch. The little prowl-car cop had really leaned on the steel. He’d swung like a belt-line gandy dancer trying to sink a spike.
Mandell’s face felt hot as he thought of what had happened. Anyway, his sense of urgency was gone. Maybe, along with the rest of his grief, he was turning into one of those guys he’d heard about; guys who were queer for pain. Mandell hoped not. It would be a hell of a weakness for a fighter. He made a mental correction. A former fighter.
He was washed up as of his last fight. The psychiatrists had warned him. Mr. Ebbling had laid down the law. He was now strictly a meatball. A meatball who had to find himself in some other field of endeavor. With less than twenty dollars in his pocket.
Graziano was leaning on the cigar counter, next to a stack of noon editions of the Daily News. As Mandell stopped at the counter, Graziano took his cigar from his lips.
“I see they let you out, Barney.”
Mandell read the headline. “Yeah.”
He was already out of the headlines. The one he was reading concerned a plane crash. He was down to a sixteen-point boldface toward the bottom of the front page. The paragraph was subheaded:
FIGHTER RELEASED IN $20,000 BAIL
The paragraph gave Cherry Marvin’s name and address and the fact that he had been arrested in a Loop hotel by Inspector Carlton of the Homicide Detail on suspicion of homicide. For further details, the reader was asked to turn to “Fighter” on page three.
Mandell gave the girl behind the counter a half dollar for the paper and a package of cigarettes. Then, peeling the cellophane from the cigarettes, he lighted one and asked the hotel detective the room number of Gale’s suite. Graziano said, “Five-o-one A. Right down the hall from your room.”
“Thanks,” Mandell said. “Thanks a lot. But I’ll want to go to my own room first.”
The hotel detective shook his head. “You’re out of luck, Mandell. Carlton’s got a seal on the door.”
“How about if I want to shave or change my clothes?”
“You should have thought of that before you got into this mess.” Graziano removed his cigar from his lips again, as if he were about to add something, then, changing his mind, he shrugged and walked away.
Mandell stared after his back. The bellboy had been right. Graziano was a son-of-a-bitch. All cops were sons-of-bitches. Mandell began to breathe heavily again. Always something. Gale had never seen him except when he was at his best. All the way from the Bureau, listening to Mr. Ebbling, he’d had it in the back of his mind to change and shave. Now he had to go to Gale looking like a pig-sticker.
Mandell’s right hand was resting on the stack of papers. Something touched it. Something soft. He started and almost dropped the cigarette he was sucking.
The brittle-looking blonde back of the counter said, “I’m sorry.”
Mandell looked at the fingers resting on his hand and tried to smile. “No. It’s me. My nerves.”
The girl smiled. “I know. I was just going to offer a suggestion.”
“There’s a men’s shop opening off the lobby. Why don’t you buy a shirt, Mr. Mandell, then go downstairs to the barbershop and be shaved?”
Mandell returned her smile. “Thanks. I should have thought of that myself.”
He bought a white shirt for five dollars and walked down the marble stairs on the Clark Street side of the lobby to the hotel barbershop. The barber was dubious but agreed to try to wash the clotted blood from his hair and replace the stained bandage with gauze and a piece of adhesive tape, after he had shaved him.
Shaved, Mandell read the paper while the barber removed the bandage and gingerly rubbed liquid soap into his hair. Mandell could feel the barber’s flexing fingers all the way to the soles of his feet, but he was relieved to find his sex life didn’t seem to have any special affinity for pain.
The story in the Daily News was a rehash of Joe Mercer’s yarn in the morning paper, but without any of its vitriol. All it stated were the facts. It also mentioned that the police were looking for an older man known as Mr. Burton, who was believed to have paid the rent on the girl’s luxurious apartment at the Tansfield Arms.
As he sat with his head over the basin, the warm spray feeling good on his scalp, Mandell decided one thing was for sure: The dead blonde had been several cuts above the average Randolph Street bar girl. It was understandable why she should want to sleep with a prize fighter. A lot of women wanted to do that. But after he’d turned her down, why had she picked his bathroom to get killed in?
There’d been no mention of Mr. Curtis in the paper. Either the paper had hit the street too early for the further involvement, or the police had requested the newsmen to keep the shooting under cover, at least for now.
Finished rinsing his hair, the barber guided Mandell back to the chair and dried his hair with a blower. “I hurt you much?”
“Not much,” Mandell lied.
The barber applied fresh gauze and tape to the bare spot the police surgeon had shaved on the back of Mandell’s head. Then, parting the fighter’s hair carefully on the left side, he held a mirror in front of Mandell’s face for approval.
The new bandage barely showed.
“Fine,” Mandell said. “That’s swell.”
He gave the barber his last ten dollars, knotted his tie between the collar tabs of his new shirt, then climbed the marble stairs to the lobby with fresh urgency.
The pretty colored girl who had asked for his autograph was on duty in one of the waiting cages. Her smile was friendly and sincere. As Mandell stepped into her cage she said quietly, “I’m glad it’s clearing up, Mr. Mandell. I knew you didn’t kill that girl. Like Mack said last night when I got home, any man who fights as clean as you do wouldn’t have any truck with any cheap trash like that.”
Mandell squeezed her arm as she opened the grilled door on the fifth floor. “Tell Mack thanks. Thanks a lot from me.” Mandell forced a laugh. “It—it’s all right now, I guess. But they had me wondering for a while.”
He walked east in the floor foyer, then down the corridor toward the front of the building, whistling with a confidence he didn’t feel. He was still boxing shadows. Nothing had been settled. The man who had killed Mr. Curtis and shot at him was still at liberty. Inspector Carlton still thought he’d killed the Marvin girl. Mr. Ebbling had warned him against overconfidence. His bail might be revoked any minute.
There was a mirror on the wall at the junction of the corridors. Mandell glanced in the mirror as he passed. The barber had done a good job. He didn’t look bad. He didn’t look bad at all. In fact, he looked pretty sharp. He looked like Barney Mandell. The old Barney Mandell.
Mandell’s shoulders squared as he swaggered down the hall. There was a bounce in his step. And the bounce was in his toes.
Suite 501 A was at the far end of the hall. Mandell lifted his knuckles to run them across the room door and squeezed a fist full of air instead as a voice on the other side of the wood said:
“Forget him. You’re beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. And you’re mine. All mine.”
The voice was male. With a deep whisky husk. Vaguely familiar. Mandell’s lifted hand fell to his side. The light went out of his eyes. His broken nose made breathing difficult. He tapped it with a crooked forefinger, feeling the old sickness and uncertainty fill his head again. It was as if the voice had turned on a faucet and filth was gushing out.
Gale was with some other man. The big veins in Mandell’s temples began to pound. His throat constricted to the point of pain.
“Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful,” the voice on the far side of the door repeated.
Mandell began to sweat in the long silence that followed, his fevered imagination aided by the faint squeaking of a spring. Gale was in bed. With a man.
I’ll kill him, Mandell thought. I’ll kill them both.
He waited for Gale to answer her lover. When she didn’t, he tried the knob of the door. The door was unlocked. Mandell opened it and walked in. And found himself in the sitting room of the suite. Bright sunlight was pouring in the window. Dresses and skirts and blouses and sweaters and lingerie spilled in colorful confusion from half a dozen open suitcases on the floor, the chairs, the sofa; the way they always did whenever Gale traveled without a maid and decided on sudden impulse that she wanted one certain garment.
The only occupant of the room was a green-and-yellow parrot swinging saucily on a wooden perch in a gilt cage hung from a stand by a spring. As far as Mandell could tell, the parrot was an exact duplicate of the one whose neck he’d wrung.
When the parrot saw Mandell, it cocked its green head and squawked: “Awk! Don’t give your right names, boys. Awk! Here comes the law.”
Mandell closed the hall door and leaned against it. He was glad Gale wasn’t in the room. Gale loved him. Gale had flown from Bermuda to be with him. She’d waited for him all night. And here, after two years, his mind was back in the same old dirty gutter. He was as bad as Pat Doyle. Worse. He knew better. Mandell closed his eyes and waited for his heart to stop pounding, for his tensed muscles to relax.
Accepting him, the parrot went into its routine again. “Forget him. You’re beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. And you’re mine.”
Mandell opened his eyes and looked at the bird. It just went to show a man how his mind could trick him. When he was in the same room with the bird, seeing the source of the voice, the bird didn’t sound like a man. It sounded like a parrot.
“You—bird, you.” Mandell smiled weakly.
Wiping his cheeks and forehead with his handkerchief, he opened the bedroom door.
The shades of the room were drawn, but enough light leaked under them for him to see Gale. She was sleeping. Mandell tiptoed into the bedroom and closed the door behind him gently.
The room was comfortably warm. Gale was sleeping on her back, covered only by a sheet. The sheet was drawn tightly across her body. Like a sheath. It outlined the full firmness of her breasts, her concave stomach, the round wonder of her legs. Mandell stooped to kiss her and changed his mind. He’d forgotten Gale was so lovely. He was content for the time being to look.
His heart pounded in rhythm to the rise and fall of the sheet. Gale’s soft brown hair formed a pillow for the pale oval of her face. Her lips were parted in a smile, as if she were dreaming of something pleasant, but even in the half-light Mandell could see that her cheeks were stained with tears. The chances were that Gale had cried herself to sleep.
Two years was a long time. A grin split Mandell’s face. “Hi, honey, wake up,” he said soundlessly.
Wanting her, needing her, he felt no impelling urgency. Mandell tried to analyze his feelings. He couldn’t. How could you analyze love? Gale was more than a woman. She was his wife. She was Gale. She was the end of the rainbow. She was an acre of sweet-smelling carnations. She was the bluebird that he and Rosemary had read about in eighth grade. She was the something beautiful in life he’d always known existed but had never dreamed would happen to him.
Mandell took off his coat and loosened the knot in his tie. Then, easing his bulk down, he sat on the edge of the bed. His need began to grow. The white flesh of her bare shoulders was hot and sweet in his mouth, blotting out the sour stench of the shower rooms and the rancid sweat of all the second-rate fight clubs he had known. One of Gale’s little fingers was worth all the leather he’d swallowed.
Still, there was the matter of Gale not sending the money to his mother as she had promised she would. She’d had his letter in plenty of time to meet him. She might have come to see him, at least once.
“Why didn’t you, baby?” Mandell asked. Not blaming her. Just asking.
Gale stirred like a sleepy kitten. The sheet was too warm. Without opening her eyes, she pushed it down to her waist, making small, sleepy animal noises in her throat. Then, wriggling out from under the sheet entirely, she lay nude.
Mandell touched her. “Gale, darling. Baby.” She sat up, gasping. “Barney!”
Gale strained her body against his, then pushed him away from her.
“No what, baby?” Mandell asked.
Gale’s pink-tipped breasts thrust forward as her hands met at the back of her head, pressing her hair together, lifting it away from the back of her neck, then releasing it. Her eyes were sullen. Her lower lip thrust out. She looked like a spoiled little girl wearing her mother’s body. “Where have you been? You called two hours ago and said you were coming right down.”
“Sure,” Mandell said soothingly. “But—”
Gale squeezed her hair again. “I waited and waited and waited.”
Mandell protested. “But darling, if you’ll only let me explain.”
He took her in his arms again. Gale beat at him with her small fists. Flouncing across the bed, she sat with her back to the wall, her legs extended, her hands folded in her lap.
“No. Don’t touch me. I don’t want you to.”
“I don’t love you any more.” Gale’s lower lip quivered. She began to cry. “I fly all the way from Bermuda to be with you. And what happens?” She was shouting at him now. “First you get in a nasty mess with some woman. Then you lie to me. And leave me alone. For hours.”
Mandell tried to explain. “But sweetheart—”
Her bare feet were inches from his hand. He tried to pat one of them and Gale kicked his hand away.
“No. Don’t touch me. I don’t want you ever to touch me again.”
Mandell caught both her ankles in one hand and dragged her across the bed to him. “Goddamn. You listen to me.”
Gale tried to squirm back to the wall. “I won’t.”
Mandell slapped a bare buttock. “You will.”
“You hit me!”
“I’ll hit you harder.”
“I’ll scream if you do.”
Instead of screaming, Gale tried to squirm back to the wall and Mandell laid his weight on top of her, pressing her into the bed.
“Gale, baby, please,” he pleaded. “Don’t do this to me. Please let’s not fight.”
Gale blew up at a lock of hair that had fallen over one of her eyes. “Then why didn’t you come to me when you said you would? I’d been waiting all night as it was.”
“I meant to.”
“You meant to!”
“That’s right. I called a cab right after I talked to you.”
“Then what happened?”
“I got arrested again.”
“Because Mr. Curtis was dead and the state’s attorney and Inspector Carlton wanted to talk to me.”
Some of the spoiled-little-girl look left Gale’s eyes. Her tensed body relaxed. “You were arrested again?”
“Yeah.” Mandell lifted the misplaced lock of hair from Gale’s eye and tucked it back of a small ear. “And if it wasn’t for your father, I’d still be clown at the Bureau. In a cell.”
“Who’s Mr. Curtis?”
“The federal man who bailed me out.”
Gale grimaced in pain. “Oh, Barney. Please.”
“You’re hurting my breasts.”
Mandell shifted most of his weight to his forearms and her thighs. “How’s that?”
“You want me to get up?”
“No. It wasn’t your weight. It was a button on your shirt.” Gale adjusted herself. “There.”
“Now it’s all right?”
Gale was frank. “It feels good and normal and sweet.” She fondled his face with her fingers. “I don’t want to fight with you, Barney.”
Mandell kissed her. “I don’t want to fight with you.”
Gale began to cry again. “And I didn’t mean what I said. That was just little Miss Rich Bitch talking. I love you, Barney. Honest I do.”
Mandell kissed her again. Gale’s lips were as sweet as he remembered them. “I love you, baby.”
“You can hit me if you want to.”
“I don’t want to hit you.”
“It’s just that everything’s been so confused. First, your letter was delayed. Then I was so keyed up all the way from Bermuda and when I got here everything was such a mess—”
Mandell kissed her wet eyelids, then her cheeks. “Yeah. I know what you mean.”
Gale cupped his face in her hands. “You didn’t kill that girl, did you, Barney?”
“You didn’t go to bed with her?”
“You didn’t have anything to do with her?”
Mandell bent his right hand at the wrist. “I swear.” Gale searched his eyes. “And—the other trouble?”
“It’s all gone? It won’t ever come back?”
“The doctors gave me a paper saying I was cured.”
“But you might have come to see me, baby.”
Gale pressed her lips to his. “I wanted to. You don’t know how badly I wanted to. But Dr. Harris said it wouldn’t be wise. He said sex played a large part in your trouble, and that seeing me and not being able to have me would only upset you and prolong the treatment.”
Mandell buried his face in the fragrance of Gale’s hair. He’d known all the time that if he could get to Gale, she could explain everything. His letter saying he was being released had been delayed. That was why Gale hadn’t been waiting. And Gale had wanted to come to see him.
He started to ask her about the money he’d given her for his mother. Before he could, Gale lifted his face and looked into his eyes again.
“You’re telling me the truth now, Barney?”
“You know. The trouble. I’ve a good reason for wanting to know. It won’t come back?”
“The doctors say not. Not if I stop fighting.”
“Then you’re going to stop fighting. You know why?”
“You don’t want me sent away again.”
“Partly that. Partly something else.”
Gale’s upper lip curled away from her teeth. Her body pressed upward against Mandell’s weight. Her breathing became labored. “I want a baby, Barney. I want you to give me a baby. Please give me a baby, Barney.”
Mandell rolled over on his side and looked at her. “You mean that?”
“I wouldn’t have said it if I hadn’t.”
Mandell started to roll back. Gale stopped him. “No. Not with your clothes on, Barney.”
Mandell’s thick fingers fumbled with the buttons on his shirt. Gale sat up and pushed his hands away, pushed him over on his back.
“No. Let me, Barney. Please.”
She loosened his tie and dropped it on the floor. Her fingers felt like little white mice with hot feet racing across his chest.
“I’m a bad girl, aren’t I?” Gale panted.
“You’re my wife,” Mandell said thickly.
He heard his shoes drop on the floor. Then he was as naked as Gale. And Gale was sitting beside him, leaning over him, her long brown hair forming a curtain for their love.
There was a great roaring in Mandell’s ears. His head felt light. The smell of Gale’s perfume gagged him. It made him think of the dead little blonde. It made him think of Mr. Curtis sitting with his back to the filing cabinet, holding his life in his chest with his hands, dying without saying a word, thinking he was shouting. Then from a great distance away Pat sneered:
“Because you were chicken, because you didn’t have the guts to admit your wife was two-timing you.”
“No,” Mandell panted. “That isn’t so.”
He realized he was standing beside the bed, with Gale supporting him, blood trickling between her breasts, blood smearing the two of them. Gale was shouting, “What’s the matter, Barney? You’re bleeding! The back of your head’s all bloody. Oh, Barney, darling! What is it?”
Mandell caught at the low headboard of the bed to steady himself. Most of the vertigo had passed, but his knees still felt as if they were hinged with foam rubber. “A cop hit me,” he said thickly. “He slugged me with the barrel of his gun. I’ll be all right in just a minute.”
“You can stand?”
“I think so.”
Gale went into the sitting room, pawed through three of the bags, and returned with a silver flask. Unscrewing the cap, she held it to Mandell’s lips. “You want me to phone the desk and have them send up a doctor, Barney?”
Mandell shook his head. “No. Please. I’ll be all right.” He tilted the flask. It was rum, extra proof. He could taste it all the way down, sweet and burning, spreading a glow through his body.
Gale smiled up at him anxiously. “Feel better?”
The rum made Mandell’s eyes water but cleared his head. He squeezed Gale’s upper arm. “I’m sorry, kid. I dream of this for two years, then I make an ass of myself.”
“You couldn’t help the trouble.”
“No. I couldn’t help the trouble.”
Gale put her arm around his waist. “Now come on into the bathroom and let me look at your head.”
Mandell walked to the bathroom with her, still carrying the flask. “I even got blood on you,” he said contritely.
“It will wash off,” Gale said. She lowered the lid of the stool. “Sit there.”
Mandell sat on the stool. Gale ran warm water in the bowl. Then, wetting a clean washcloth, she wiped off the surface blood.
“How does it look?” Mandell asked.
Gale laughed. “Like you’ve been slugged. But it isn’t bad. Really, Barney. You just got too excited, I guess.”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
Gale patted his cheek. “You leave it to Mamma. I’ll fix.” She disappeared into the sitting room again and returned tearing two-inch strips off the bottom of a white cotton slip.
Gale’s breasts brushed his arm, his back, from time to time as she worked. Mandell was conscious of her nearness. It was all he could do to keep from taking her in his arms.
Gale washed the wound again. Then, laying a sterile absorbent pad over the break in the skin, she wound the strips of white cotton around it. “No argument now, mister. This one’s going right around your head. Whoever put that other fool thing on?”
Mandell grinned sheepishly. “A barber.”
“You wanted to be pretty for me?”
Gale sniffed. “I thought so. Well, this will hold for now. But on our way to Lake Forest we’re going to stop at a doctor’s and have the job done right”
“You’re the doctor.”
Finished, Gale fastened the strips of cotton with two gold safety pins and stepped back to admire her work. “There now. You look like a Hindu.”
“A Polack Hindu.” Mandell grinned. He took another drink and felt fine. “It was just my not having any sleep and being keyed up and you being so sweet, I guess.”
“Ha.” turned on the water in the shower and adjusted the hot and cold flow to suit her. “A fine father I picked for my baby. The baby I almost had.”
Mandell screwed the cap back on the flask. “There’s always a next time.”
“So they say,” Gale said. She stepped under the shower. Mandell watched her wet body with growing interest. “Did I ever tell you, you have a pretty body?”
Gale soaped her chest. “Anyway, not for two years.”
Mandell got up from the stool and leaned against the edge of the shower stall. “Well, you have.”
Gale made a curtsy. “Thank you.”
“I mean it.”
“I see you do.” Gale handed him the soap. “Here. Soap my back, will you, Barney?”
She turned her back to him.
Mandell soaped her back all the way down.
“I said my back.”
“It’s the part of your back you sit on.” Mandell got into the shower with her.
Gale turned to face him. “Don’t get your head wet, Barney.”
“I won’t.” Mandell tilted her chin and kissed her. “God, I love you, honey. You’re the swellest wife any guy ever had.”
“Even if I’m spoiled?”
“Who said you were spoiled?”
“Dr. Orin Harris.”
Mandell continued to soap her. “This is a fine time to think of him.” He kissed her wet lips. “If you knew how I’ve wanted you, baby.”
“How I’ve wanted you.”
Mandell was pleased. “You have?”
“I didn’t fly from Bermuda for the ride.” Gale blocked his hand. “Here. Give me that soap.”
“You know why. Let’s get washed and out of here. If we don’t, the first thing we know—” Gale sucked in her breath. Her upper lip curled away from her teeth, exposing her gum. “Here. Let me wash you.” She soaped Mandell’s chest, then his sides and stomach. Her eyes, overbright, searched his. “You—you’re all right now, Barney?”
“Yeah. Yeah. I’m all right.”
“Your head doesn’t hurt?”
“Not a bit.”
Gale’s hand continued to move between them, soaping industriously. Then, her voice a low moan in her throat, she dropped the soap. “Please, Barney.”
“I’m all over soap.”
“So am I.”
His wet body plastered to hers, Mandell lifted Gale from the shower, took a step toward the bedroom, and stepped on the bar of soap she’d dropped. His foot slipped from under him. He fell, cradling Gale in his arms, first to one knee, then on his side, their bodies sprawled on the white bath mat in the narrow space between the washbasin and the tub.
He started to get up from the floor when Gale’s hand on his chest stopped him.
“Darling, please!” she said. “Let’s stay where we are.”
They stayed where they were.
The weather continued cold. From time to time bundled-up passers-by paused to look, amused, at the little group under the hotel marquee.
Mandell felt like a fool without either a topcoat or a hat, with a petticoat bandage around his head, holding a bird cage in one hand, as he held the door of the car for Gale while André superintended the loading of her luggage.
“Awk!” the parrot squawked. “Don’t give your right name, boys. Awk! Here comes the law.”
Smart to the point of lacquered brittleness in natural mink, a silk velvet crescent perched on the back of her head, Gale paused, half in, half out of the car, to ask André, “Just what did Father say?”
The chauffeur touched the brim of his cap. “I’m to come back for him, Mrs. Mandell. As soon as I drive you and Mr. Mandell to Lake Forest.”
“I see,” Gale said. She got into the car.
Mandell handed in the cage. “How come you bought another parrot?”
“I like parrots.”
“So I see.”
Mandell started to follow Gale into the car and noticed that Graziano was watching them from the warm side of the plate-glass doors. He made a gesture of mock respect.
“And to hell with you, too.”
“What did you say?” Gale asked.
“I wasn’t talking to you,” Mandell said. He got into the car and slammed the door.
He felt as if he’d been run through a pink-velvet-lined sausage grinder. To a point almost beyond endurance. Gale was like that. Everything went, with Gale, and Gale went for everything. When he finished a session with Gale, he felt completely drained, emotionally and physically. Still, she left him aching, vaguely unsatisfied, wanting.
Gale’s voice was small. “You don’t need to be so cross with me.”
Mandell patted her fur-covered knees. “I didn’t mean to be cross with you, honey. I’m just nervous. Jumpy.”
God Almighty! Why? That was a hell of a question to ask.
Mandell passed his hand over his mouth. “Just because,” he said, and let it go at that.
It was warm in the car. It smelled good. It smelled of money. It smelled of Gale wrapped in mink. There was a lingering fragrance of Mr. Ebbling’s dollar cigars. As André turned north on the Outer Drive, Mandell tried to relax. He couldn’t.
He’d thought it would be different, once he had got to Gale. It wasn’t. Nothing had changed. There was still a lump in his throat. He was back riding the same pink horse on the same dreary carrousel. Going round and round. A blonde girl named Cherry Marvin was dead. So was a federal man named Mr. Curtis. Someone had tried to kill him. Someone had fired two shots through his hat. And while he’d been making love to Gale, the wheels of the law ground on. The wheels of the law were still grinding.
Policemen were knocking on doors, asking questions, analyzing the contents of test tubes, making long-distance calls, talking to doctors in the asylum, talking to barmen and doormen and starters and bellboys, trying to pin Cherry Marvin and possibly Mr. Curtis on the blood-splattered lapel of the loud-mouthed punk from back of the yards, who had let a little ring ability and a fortunate marriage go to his head instead of to his heart.
Mandell rode, cracking his knuckles. The rats. That’s what they were, all of them. With the exception of Rosemary and Ma and Gale and Mr. Ebbling.
Gale slid over on the seat. “You’re worried. Aren’t you, Barney?”
Mandell nodded. “Yeah.”
“About that girl?”
Gale sat even closer. “Don’t be.” There was a faintly hypnotic quality to her voice. She was like a mother soothing a frightened child. “Everything is going to be all right.”
Mandell played with her fingers. “How do you know?”
“I know. How’s your head, Barney?”
“It doesn’t hurt?”
“Not a bit.”
“You want to stop and see a doctor?”
“That won’t be necessary.”
Gale opened her coat. “You’re tired. Put your arms around me, Barney. Put your head on my shoulder.”
Mandell grinned at her and leaned toward her.
Gale raised a pink palm in mock anger. “I said on my shoulder. Do you want to shock André?”
Mandell put his head on Gale’s shoulder and looked through the glass partition at the chauffeur’s broad back and corded neck muscles. “André looks like he might be hard to shock.”
Gale nibbled at her lower lip, as she looked through the glass. “He might, at that,” she admitted.
Gale’s waist, under her coat, was small. Her breasts were soft and covered with silk. They smelled sweet. It was nice to be back in her arms with her fingers caressing his cheek. Mandell hadn’t slept for hours. Not since his last night at the asylum. He hadn’t slept much that night, waiting for morning to come. He’d been drunk and in jail. He’d been through an emotional wringer. He’d been accused of murder and shot at. He’d been slugged and he’d been loved. Well loved. There was something he should ask Gale. He should ask her what had happened to the money, the thirty-seven thousand dollars that he had given her to dole out to his mother.
He opened his mouth to speak and changed his mind, reluctant to disturb the balance of the moment. There was no hurry. Gale would have a good excuse. She’d probably forgotten. To girls in her income bracket, girls who wore ten-thousand-dollar mink coats, seventy-five dollars a week was cocktail money. Gale would be contrite. Gale would cry. Mandell didn’t want her to cry. The money was a minor matter. There would be plenty of time to iron it out.
Gale continued to stroke his cheek. “Love me, honey?” she whispered.
“So much,” Mandell said.
Most of his jumpiness left him. It was nice to be loved. Loved like he loved Gale. Loved like Gale loved him. Mandell buried his face deeper in Gale’s soft, silk-covered flesh and closed his eyes. For just a moment. Then he slept soundly.
When he awakened, the car was speeding through Highland Park on Green Bay Road. Great naked oak and maple trees, and occasionally a green uniformed spruce or pine, stood guard along the winding highway. Highwood would be next. Then Fort Sheridan. Then Lake Forest. The parrot was awking:
“Forget him. You’re beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.” Mandell sat up and gave the bird a sour look.
Gale was contrite. “I tried to keep him quiet, Barney. Honestly.”
Mandell lighted a cigarette and gave it to Gale, then lighted one for himself. “Am I blaming you?”
“No.” Gale snuggled her fingers into his hand. “Feel better?”
“A lot. I must have slept almost an hour.”
Mandell took the cigarette from Gale’s lips and kissed her. “Thanks.” He put the cigarette back where he’d taken it from.
Gale laughed. The cigarette bobbled, flaking ashes on the taut bodice of her dress. “Just like that.”
“Just like that.”
“Awk,” the parrot squawked. “Don’t give your right name, boys.”
“How do you feel?” Mandell asked.
She rubbed the leg nearest him. “I think my leg’s asleep.”
Mandell slipped his hand under her skirt and kneaded the muscles of her thigh.
Gale sucked in her breath. “Careful, mister.”
Mandell took his hand away. “Yeah. That’s what I was thinking.”
The Ebbling house was of gray stone, set back from the highway in the middle of a landscaped acre. It must be nice, Mandell thought, to have money. The kind of money Mr. Ebbling had. Solid money. Money that built every year, piling income on top of interest.
André parked in front of the stone porte-cochere and got out and opened the door of the car. It had snowed here, some. Mandell helped Gale from the car. Then he reluctantly reached for the bird cage.
The parrot cocked its head at him and awked. “Awk right back at you,” Mandell said.
Leaving André to get Gale’s luggage, he followed her up the stone steps and waited while she unlocked the door.
The house was warm, but had an unlived-in feeling to it. Gale ran her hand across a silver salver on a table near the door, then showed her smudged fingers to Mandell.
“That’s what happens when I go away. Father’s been dividing his time between Eagle River and the club. No system. No staff. We’ll probably have to get along with just a cook and a maid until I get things organized.”
“Tough,” Mandell sympathized.
He turned at a sound behind him. André was standing in the door, one of Gale’s bags in each hand and another under each arm.
“If you’ll pardon me, sir,” André said.
Mandell stepped aside to permit him to pass. “Sure. Go right ahead.”
André kicked the door shut behind him and walked up the broad stairs to the second floor.
Mandell set the bird cage on the table and watched Gale finger through a thick stack of unopened envelopes. Most of them appeared to be bills. He could read the names on some of the envelopes. Marshall Field, Peck and Peck, Sally Greenebaum, Lenore’s, Peacock’s, I. Miller, Estelle’s. Mandell felt a flush of pride. Gale was really big-time. A girl who dressed as Gale dressed must spend a lot of money on clothes in a month.
Gale restacked the mail. “Nothing but a lot of bills. Glad to be home, Barney?”
“What do you think?”
Gale pressed herself against him. “I think—”
She stepped back as André reappeared at the head of the stairs. The chauffeur descended the stairs with his cap in his hand. “Your luggage is in your rooms, Mrs. Mandell.”
“Thank you, André,” Gale answered.
André continued to the front door and turned. “I will return before five with Mr. Ebbling. He said for me to tell you he is bringing a cook and a maid with him, but until that time, you and Mr. Mandell will be without attendants. Is there anything I can do before I go?”
Gale shook her head. “Nothing, André, thank you.”
She slipped out of her coat and tossed it and her hat carelessly on a chair. “How about a drink, Barney?”
“That I could go for,” Mandell said.
Gale disappeared into Ebbling’s study in search of a decanter. As he waited, some of Mandell’s uneasiness returned. The Lake Forest house, as always, awed him. It made him feel illiterate, inarticulate, and uncouth. It made him feel like a big Polack prize fighter.
Mandell lighted a cigarette from the stub of the one he was smoking and sucked it to a red glow. What if Gale did have a baby? How could he support it? How was he going to support her?
The doctors had warned him to stop fighting. He’d promised Gale and Mr. Ebbling he would. Mr. Ebbling had told him not to worry. “And don’t worry about the money angle, Bernard. I’ve plenty for all of us until you find yourself in some other field of endeavor,” he had said this afternoon.
O.K. He’d bite. What other field of endeavor? Mandell fingered the change in his pocket. He had enough money to last him the rest of his life. If he died in the next five minutes.
Gale returned with two highball glasses quarter-filled with rye. “Why so sober, honey?”
Mandell took one of the glasses. “Just thinking.”
Gale sipped her drink. “To us.”
Mandell drained his glass and set it on the silver tray. “Look, baby. Remember the day before I had myself committed?”
Gale pouted, “You didn’t say, ‘To us.’”
“To us,” Mandell said.
Gale pressed herself against him. “Know something, sweetheart?”
“This drink is making me feel funny.”
“You know how.” Gale set her glass on the tray and loosened his tie. “You know how I mean.”
“Again? So soon?”
“I know. But darling. Just a minute first. Think back.”
Gale cupped his face in her hands and ran her tongue experimentally along Mandell’s upper lip. She whispered, “Carry me upstairs, Barney. Please. And you undress me this time.”
Mandell picked her up and cradled her against his chest. “You ought to be spanked.”
“You can do that, too.”
“Maybe I will.”
Gale unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt and started on the third. “But you love me?”
“You know I do.”
“And you’re happy we’re together again?”
Mandell kissed her hair. “I’m fighting Wolcott for sixty per cent of the gate. Oh, yeah. And I’ve just knocked out Charles and Louis.”
Gale began to work on still another button. “Silly. Your fighting days are over.”
Mandell carried her across the hall and started up the stairs. “So what do I do now?”
Gale thought a moment. “Love me.”
“That’s the best offer I’ve had. But we can’t do that all the time.”
“We can try. Remember, I haven’t seen you in two years.”
“That’s right.” Mandell tightened his arms around her. “But about that other, baby. What I started to talk to you about before.”
Gale finished unbuttoning his shirt. “What other?”
“The money I drew out of the bank. The thirty-seven grand I gave you and asked you to mail my mother seventy-five a week. And you said—”
Gale ran a hot little palm over his bare chest. “I’m glad you don’t wear undershirts, Barney. You’re so solid and hairy and he-manish.”
Mandell felt as if he were shouting. “Will you listen to me?”
It was an effort to talk. “And you said—you promised—”
Mandell stopped talking and looked down at the back of Gale’s head, feeling her soft lips moving on his chest. Gale wasn’t paying the least attention to what he was saying.
She looked up at him. “Do you like it when I do that, Barney?”
Mandell’s broken nose gave him trouble. “Yeah. Sure. But—”
Gale’s voice had the same hypnotic quality that had filled it in the car. “Let me down, please.”
Mandell opened his arms and Gale sprawled on the top stair, leaning on her elbows, the disordered hem of her skirt halfway up her white thighs, her upper lip curled away from her teeth.
Mandell stood with his back to the wall, his perspiring palms pressed flat against the expensive wood paneling. “You mean right here on the stairs?”
“Why not? We’re alone. We’re married.”
“I know. But—”
Gale’s voice reached out and caressed him. “Don’t you want me? Don’t you love me?”
“For God’s sake, baby—” Mandell protested.
Then the pound of his heart filled his ears, Gale’s arms were about him and her mouth was pressed to his, and together they bumped down the padded stairs; conscious effort and natural momentum became one with an ecstasy almost too intense to endure.
Mandell thought, When we reach the bottom stair, I’ll die.
And it was something like death, only different in that in dying he died to live again, to want, to satisfy, and to be satisfied.
Her head on the bottom step, Gale drained the last moment of ecstasy in a lingering kiss. “I’m a b-a-a-a-d girl, aren’t I, Barney?”
Mandell grinned down at her. “We’re married.”
Gale slapped him lightly. “You. That’s right. Make fun of me.” She justified herself. “It’s been two years.”
“Since we left the hotel?”
Gale stroked his face. “Stop teasing me, Barney. Please.”
Mandell kissed her. “O.K.”
“And get up. You’re hurting me.”
“I didn’t hear you complain coming down the stairs.”
Gale pushed up at his chest. “Please, Barney.”
Mandell knelt on the floor and froze in a position of listening as the door chimes tinkled musically. “Now, who can that be?”
Gale scrambled to her feet, pawing at her dress. “Let me get upstairs.”
Mandell watched her go up the stairs. Then, buttoning his shirt, he walked to the door and opened it. There was a Chicago squad car in the drive. With the collars of their coats turned up against the icy wind blowing off the lake, Inspector Carlton and Lieutenant Rose were waiting under the porte-cochere.
“Mind if we come in?” Rose asked.
“Of course he doesn’t,” Carlton said. He brushed past Mandell and stood admiring the beamed entrance hall. “Quite a house you married, Barney.”
The parrot in the cage on the table cocked its head. “Awk! Don’t give your right name, boys. Awk! Here comes the law.”
Lieutenant Rose’s smile was as bland and Buddha-like as Mandell remembered it. “That’s right.” He closed the door behind him. “We didn’t interrupt anything, I trust?”
Mandell was indignant. “Of course not.”
Inspector Carlton said, “Then wipe the lipstick off your chin and pull your tie out from under your ear. The peasants might get the wrong idea.” He walked into the big living room opening off the hall and unerringly to a concealed radiator. “Ah.” Turning his back to the radiator, Carlton spread the tails of his topcoat. “Yeah. Quite a house.”
Mandell followed Carlton into the living room. “What do you guys want?”
“Now, there’s a fair question,” Rose said.
“How would you like to come back to Chicago with us, Barney?” Carlton asked.
“You got a warrant for me?”
Carlton sighed. “No,” he admitted. “It wouldn’t be any good out here if we did. We couldn’t serve it.”
Lieutenant Rose reproached him. “Why tell him that, Inspector? It’s part of standard police procedure to ignore such trifles as jurisdiction. I know. I watch all the crime programs on television.”
Mandell said, “O.K. Have fun. I’m laughing. Has my bail been revoked?”
Carlton spread the tails of his topcoat still farther apart. “I’m sorry to say, no.”
“Then get out.”
Lieutenant Rose sat on the arm of an easy chair. “Is that being hospitable, Barney?”
“I don’t feel hospitable.”
“After we drive all the way out here to see you? Through the cold?” Rose took a package of cigarettes from his pocket and offered the package to Mandell. “Cigarette?”
“Thanks. I’ll smoke my own, if you don’t mind.”
Rose put a cigarette to his lips and the package in his pocket. “No. Of course not. Why should I mind?” His voice sounded as if he kept it soaked in olive oil, whenever it wasn’t in use. He used the expensive lighter on the table beside the chair to light his cigarette. “Yes. As Inspector Carlton said, very nice.” Rose blew smoke at the lighter. “You married quite a house, Barney. And into quite a family.” Rose returned the lighter to the table. “You’d be surprised if you knew how much drag your father-in-law has. He knows everybody in Chicago.”
Mandell refused to be baited. “What do you fellows want?”
Inspector Carlton took a familiar-looking wallet from his pocket. “This is your wallet, isn’t it, Barney?”
“You know it is.”
“You identify it?”
“I did that down at the station.”
Carlton thumbed through the thick sheaf of bills in the wallet. “Six hundred dollars. That’s a lot of money, Barney. A man could go a long way on six hundred dollars. He could also buy a lot of quail. At five dollars a jump, he could get over the hump a hundred and twenty times.” Carlton returned the wallet to his pocket. “But of course that wouldn’t interest a man who likes his wrapped in mink. Tell me, Barney, is there a difference?”
“You foul-minded bastard!”
Mandell threw a roundhouse right at Carlton’s jaw. The Inspector ducked and, coming up, applied the palm of his hand to Mandell’s elbow. Impelled by his own momentum, Mandell turned completely around and crashed into a knee-high coffee table.
Rose shook his head sadly. “Your timing is all off, Mandell. It’s a good thing you married money. Otherwise, you might get into the ring again. And some cream puff would hurt you.”
Mandell stood panting, having trouble with his nose. Carlton lighted a cigar. “Now about this lad who stuck you up.”
“What about him?”
“What did he look like?”
“I’ve told you I don’t know.”
“You must have been pretty close to him.”
“I was. But it was dark in the room. I’d just come in out of the light.”
“Was he a big man or a little man?”
“I’d say he was about my size.”
“A big man, then.”
“What did he say to you?”
“We’ve been through that.”
“Let’s go through it again.”
“He said it was about time I showed up.”
“He called you by name?”
“Then what happened?”
“Then he told me to empty my pockets on the bed, and when I said, ‘Why should I?’ he said, ‘Don’t give me no trouble, punchy.’ And I said, ‘Don’t call me that.’ And then I made a pass at him and he slugged me.”
Lieutenant Rose snuffed his cigarette. “You remember that quite well, don’t you, Barney?”
“I was there.”
“But you haven’t any idea why, after sticking you up, he should hide your wallet between the box spring and the mattress of your bed?”
Carlton blew smoke at the ceiling. “That’s what I like about this business. A man runs into the goddamnedest things. Now, about Cherry Marvin, Barney. How many times you do it to her?”
“I didn’t do it to her. I didn’t do anything to her.”
“You didn’t go to bed with her and you didn’t hit her?”
“How come you’re so positive now and yesterday evening you weren’t so sure? I quote you: ‘For God’s sake, take me down and get this over. So I killed her. I don’t remember it. I don’t remember having anything to do with her.’ End of quote.”
Lieutenant Rose picked up the lighter, flicked it, and looked through the flame at Mandell. “That’s what you said. How come you were so uncertain then and now you’re so positive you didn’t have anything to do with her?”
Mandell fumbled his cigarettes from his pocket and lighted one. “I was drunk. For another thing, I thought maybe I was still a little off the beam. That maybe I had killed her.”
“But you know better now.”
“You aren’t drunk.”
“You know you’re sane.”
“I just know.”
“And it was the girl who propositioned you?”
“What did she say?”
“She said she always had wanted to go to bed with a prize fighter and why didn’t we go up to my room?”
The ash fell from Carlton’s cigar. He rubbed it thoughtfully into his coat. “Who introduced you to the girl, Barney?”
“No one. We just got to talking, like you will in a bar.”
“Now, about this matter of her perfume.”
Inspector Carlton stopped talking and took off his hat. Lieutenant Rose got up from the arm of the chair on which he was sitting. Mandell turned and saw Gale. She’d changed into a pale green silk form-fitting hostess coat with a high Chinese collar and a sweeping skirt.
“Who are these gentlemen?” Gale asked.
Mandell introduced them. “Inspector Carlton and Lieutenant Rose—Mrs. Mandell. My wife.”
“How do you do,” Gale said.
“I’m pleased to meet you,” Inspector Carlton said. Lieutenant Rose merely inclined his head.
Her full breasts thrust forward, Gale sat primly on the edge of a love seat upholstered in gold brocade. “A cigarette, please, Barney.”
Mandell lighted a cigarette and gave it to her.
Gale took a short, nervous puff, then looked up at him. “Why are they here, Barney?”
“They’re still pounding on that dame in my bathroom.”
“Oh,” Gale said. “I see.”
A moment of uneasy silence followed. Then Inspector Carlton resumed where he’d left off. “Now, about this matter of the perfume the dead girl was using, Barney. We found a small vial of it in her purse and the lab boys tell me it’s rather unusual. You say it’s the same scent Mrs. Mandell uses?”
Gale sat even straighter in her seat. “But that’s impossible.”
“Why?” Lieutenant Rose asked her.
“Because I have my perfume made up especially for me in a little shop in Paris. And it’s very unlikely this person who was found in Barney’s room would be using the same scent. It’s probably some similar but more inexpensive scent.”
Inspector Carlton shook his head. “Not according to the technicians. And believe me, Mrs. Mandell, those boys know their business.”
“I was probably mistaken,” Mandell said. “You know how those things are. I was drunk. I was thinking of Gale. That’s why I thought Miss Marvin’s perfume was similar. It was just an impression.” Mandell tapped his nose. “Besides, with this battered bugle of mine, I’m not exactly a—what’s the word?—a connoisseur of smells.”
“That probably explains it,” Gale said.
Lieutenant Rose smiled blandly. “Undoubtedly. But I wonder if you’d do something for us, Mrs. Mandell. A big favor. I know you understand. There are so many factors involved in a murder case that we must dispose of everything irrelevant that might impede our investigation. So, I wonder—”
Gale snuffed her cigarette. “You wonder what?”
“If you would give us a very small quantity of your perfume. An infinitesimal amount. Merely for comparison purposes.”
“Look,” Mandell said. “Don’t try to involve Gale in this.”
“They can’t,” Gale said coldly, using a broad A. Her smile was as cold as her voice. “At the time this disgusting thing happened, according to the accounts I’ve read in the paper, I was on a plane between here and Miami.”
Rose’s smile continued bland. “Yes. Of course. I know.”
“How do you know?” Gale asked him.
“I checked,” Lieutenant Rose told her. He held the ball of his thumb and the flat of his second finger an eighth of an inch apart. “Just a small amount?”
Gale ran the tip of her tongue along the under surface Of her upper lip. “I don’t see why not,” she said finally. “It seems very silly to me, but I’m willing to do anything I can to help Barney untangle himself from this mess.”
“Of course,” Rose agreed with her. Still smiling.
Mandell watched Gale leave the room. He fought down a feeling of panic. He could sense wheels turning within wheels, the swift meshing cogs of the law whirring and clicking, spitting out broken lives and shattered dreams like so many Army qualification cards fed into a coldly mechanical tabulating machine. Carlton and Rose weren’t kidding him. They hadn’t driven thirty-four miles for a sample of Gale’s perfume.
“What are you guys up to?” he asked them.
Inspector Canton spread the tails of his topcoat for a last surreptitious warming of his transplanted buttocks. “Well, I’ll tell you.”
“We’re trying to solve a murder. In fact, two murders. You see, it’s our job. Lieutenant Rose and myself are paid a small salary by the city of Chicago to maintain a certain population norm. When heavy-hung punks like you get tangled up with a bottle and a dame, it causes a variance in the graph, and—”
“Shut up,” Mandell said. He felt an impelling urge to be vulgar. He wanted to yell and shout and kick things. He was tired of listening to people talk. He was tired of talking. He wanted to set himself flat-footed and uncork the old Sunday punch. The punch that always brought the fight fans to their feet, shrieking.
Mandell tapped his nose with his finger. “I’m beginning to think you guys couldn’t find where the water goes when you pull the chain.”
“I’m not certain,” Lieutenant Rose said, “but I think it goes down the drain.” Rose sounded a little sad. “You’d be surprised how many things go down the drain in this business, Barney.”
Inspector Carlton dropped his coattails as Gale reentered the room. She handed a small bottle to Lieutenant Rose. “I put some in an empty cuticle-remover bottle. Will that be all right, Lieutenant?”
“That’s fine. Just fine,” Rose assured her. “Now we’ll be running along.” Rose looked at Mandell. “There’s just one more thing.”
“What?” Mandell asked him.
“The shooting in Curtis’ office.”
“I made a statement on that.”
“I know you did. You and Mr. Curtis were talking. Someone—name, sex, description unknown—opened the door, switched off the ceiling light, and fired a total of six shots from what our ballistics expert believes to have been a seven-point-six-five-millimeter automatic pistol. One of the shots killed Curtis. But from the pictures we’ve taken and the diagrams we’ve drawn of your respective positions, five of those shots were fired at you, two of them piercing the crown of your hat.” Rose stopped smiling. “Who doesn’t like you, Mandell?”
Gale put her arm around Mandell’s protectively. “Now I know you’re being silly. Everyone likes Barney.”
“Someone doesn’t,” Carlton said.
Mandell patted Gale’s hand. “You guys believe me, then? You know I wasn’t making it up, that someone did shoot at me?”
“So it would seem,” Carlton said. “Why don’t you come back to town with us, Barney, and let us hold you in protective custody until we can get to the bottom of this?”
“It was just a suggestion.” Carlton shaped his hat to his head. “We’ll probably be back.”
Gale’s lips compressed. She tapped a small foot on the parquet flooring. “Might I ask you a question, Inspector?”
Carlton said, “You may.”
“Have you gentlemen any authority or official standing in Lake Forest?”
“None at all.”
The corners of Gale’s mouth turned down. The spoiled-little-girl look filled her eyes. She squeezed her hair with both hands, lifted it way from the back of her neck, and released it. “Then get out of here. And don’t come back. And stop persecuting Barney. If you don’t, I’m going to drive into Chicago in the morning and see the Police Commissioner and demand that you be discharged.”
Inspector Carlton was tired. He’d worked a double shift. He wanted to take off his shoes. He wanted a cup of coffee. He was infinitely patient with her. “O.K. You do that, Mrs. Mandell.”
Gale’s fingers flexed on Mandell’s arm like well-clipped kitten’s claws, as Inspector Carlton and Lieutenant Rose walked into the hall and out the door and down the stairs, leaving the door open behind them.
Mandell watched them get into their car, acutely conscious of Gale’s physical presence; of the nearness and wonder of her body, of the fingers flexing on his arm. It was an odd sensation. He almost wished he were going with Carlton and Rose.
For some reason, he felt trapped.
It reminded Mandell of meals he and his mother had eaten. On the grass out at St. Boniface. The first year after his father had died. When they hadn’t quite got used to their loss. When they’d still wanted to be near Pa but hadn’t been able to talk about much of anything.
The grass had been long that year. So was the grass under him now. Only this grass was wool and Oriental. Mandell could feel the deep pile around his ankles, tickling them through his black silk socks.
“Salt?” Gale asked him.
“Thank you,” Mandell said. He used it and offered it to Mr. Ebbling.
He shook his head. “Thank you. No, Bernard.”
The dining room was long and beamed and paneled, filled with slinking shadows trying to escape the red and yellow fingers of flame reaching out from the log-burning fireplace. The only other light was the yellow glow of the candles reflecting off the silver table service.
Mr. Ebbling’s voice droned on. About nothing. To be polite, Mandell tried to listen. He heard, instead, the creak of a distant door and the thump of his heart. Outside the drawn drapes on the tall windows, the wind whistled in off the lake, to fondle the blue spruce and arborvitae and rasp against the bare-limbed oak and maple standing naked in the cold.
“You follow me, Bernard?” Mr. Ebbling asked.
“Yes, sir,” Mandell lied.
Mandell sipped at his glass of wine and forced himself to listen as the attorney came out of his corner for another slow round with a flaw he had found in the basic patent of some snap fastener. A discovery, it seemed, that had enabled a client of Mr. Ebbling’s to save hundreds of thousands of dollars. And, incidentally, earned a nice fee for Mr. Ebbling.
Gale blew up at a lock of hair that persisted in tumbling over one eye. “Who cares?”
Gale was frank about it. Sex made her hungry. She ate as if she was starved. She had a right to eat.
Back-of-the-yards was very far away. It was nice to be wearing a dinner jacket again. It was nice to watch an open fire. It was nice to drink good wine. It was nice to look at Gale. Remembering.
Mandell studied her over the rim of his glass. Gale was wearing a backless, strapless evening gown of pastel yellow satin. With her hair piled on top of her head in a saucy topknot, deep purple shadows under her eyes, and her bare shoulders warm and creamy in the candlelight, she looked like a very lovely, if slightly dissolute, angel. But Gale, too, was feeling the strain. It showed in the quickness of her movements, her occasional forced laughter. She was drinking too much wine. From time to time she glanced at Mandell with a quick intake of breath, as if to say, “Wait till I get you alone.”
Mandell’s flesh crawled at the thought. But pleasantly.
He toyed with his pointes d’asperges and filet de boeuf champenois, wishing he had a Coney Island hot dog and a bowl of chili-mac. He forced himself to eat, trying not to think that undoubtedly there had been plenty of times his mother had gone hungry while he had been away. Gale could explain. Gale would explain. Whenever he could get her to listen to him.
Gale saw him frowning and laid her hand on his. “What’s the matter, darling?”
Mandell forced himself to return her smile. “Nothing. I was just thinking.”
André, doubling as butler, refilled his glass.
“It’s been a strain on all of us,” Mr. Ebbling said. The charm was gone from his voice. It was the voice of an old man, drained of all illusions. An old man who’d gone to Harvard and won a Phi Beta Kappa key. A long time ago. In a thin voice that quavered slightly he said, “And it’s not over yet.”
Gale returned her attention to her plate. “Well, don’t cry about it. Do something.”
“I—hope to,” Ebbling said, thin-lipped.
Mandell looked from father to daughter. He wished he knew what Gale and her father had fought about on Mr. Ebbling’s return from town. They’d had one hell of a go-round in his study. More like Thirty-eighth and Wentworth than Lake Forest. Gale had blistered the old man on both sides, without using one bad word.
Mandell realized that his wineglass was empty and André was about to fill it again. Mandell put his hand over the glass. “Thank you. No more for me.”
“As you say, sir,” André said.
Gale asked, “How were the meals at the asylum, Barney?”
The word brought a small lump to Mandell’s throat. He swallowed it. “I could eat them.”
He sat watching the fire. Thinking. Thinking of a lot of things, but mainly of his mother’s indignation. He could still hear her shrill, indignant voice, competing with the whistling of the wind.
“Get drunk? Yes. Fight? Yes. Go to jail? Yes. But no Mancztochski was ever crazy. By the end of the Irving Park street car is never a Mancztochski.”
Well, one of them had been there. At least, in a similar institution.
The dreary meal dragged to a close. Mandell was glad when it ended.
“Suppose,” Mr. Ebbling suggested, “we have our coffee and liqueur in the music room.”
“For heaven’s sake, yes,” Gale said. “Or swing from the front-room chandelier, or something. Nothing could be duller than this.”
Mandell felt slightly lightheaded as he stood to pull back her chair. He had difficulty making his eyes focus. “Maybe I’d better skip the liqueur. That wine was stronger than I thought. I seem to have the start of a pretty good package.”
Gale touched the scar tissue over his eye. “Don’t be silly. I like you a little drunk. And stop talking like a prize fighter.” She took the sting out of the words by wrinkling her nose at him.
Mandell grinned down at her. “Then I guess I’ll have to stop talking.”
“You do very well, Bernard,” Mr. Ebbling complimented. “How far did you get in school?”
Mandell told him. “I got in a couple of years in high school. Up to where that fellow Caesar had the gall to divide some country in three parts. Then I had to go to work and I never did find out what country he split up.”
Gale squeezed his arm. “You.”
The music room was small. Small, compared to the living room. It was at the back of the house, facing the lake. just large enough to hold a concert grand piano, a combination phonograph-radio, a large cabinet television set, and assorted easy chairs and sofas and love seats with considerable space between.
Gale put half a dozen records on the player. “Or would you rather watch some program, Barney?”
Mandell shook his head. “Makes no difference to me, baby. I can take TV or leave it alone.”
“I prefer to leave it alone,” Ebbling said. He eased himself into a chair. “Did they have TV sets at the asylum, Bernard?”
Mandell’s mouth felt hot. His head ached dully. He wished Gale and her father would forget the asylum. That was in the past. That was in the record book. He wanted to forget it if he could. “Yes, sir. They did, sir. Quite good ones.”
He sat in a low easy chair and Gale promptly sat in his lap. “Anisette for us, André. And don’t forget Mr. Mandell likes strong coffee.”
“No, Mrs. Mandell,” André said.
Mandell watched André fill two liqueur glasses and put them on the end table. Then André served a stiff Scotch to Ebbling. Mandell decided that André made a better chauffeur than butler. As large a man as himself, André looked muscle-bound in his modified tails.
Ebbling nodded his head, as if in time to music. “I’ve always liked Tchaikovsky. Especially his Fourth, Fifth and Pathetique Symphonies. Was he Russian or Polish, Gale?”
“Russian, I think,” Gale said.
His muscles tensed to the point of strain, Mandell sat trying to hear the music. And he couldn’t hear a thing. Ebbling lighted a cigar and offered his case to him. “Cigar, Bernard?”
Mandell forced a smile. “No, thanks. I’ll stick to Camels.” He took his package from his pocket and offered one to Gale.
Gale shook her head. “Not right now, honey.” Then as André entered the room with a silver carafe of coffee, she ordered, “Turn that darn thing up, will you, André? Father is nodding away like a fool, but I have it turned so low that I can’t even hear it.”
“Yes, Mrs. Mandell,” André said.
André turned up the record player. A blare of sound came out. Mandell’s tensed body relaxed.
Gale turned in his lap and looked at him. “What’s the matter, darling?”
Mandell sucked his cigarette, then laid it on the tray beside the cup André was filling with coffee. He was ashamed to tell her. “Nothing. Nothing at all, sweetheart.”
Gale ran her fingers through his hair. “Know something?”
Gale sucked in her breath and moved just enough to make him acutely conscious of her. “I’ve always wanted to be married to a natural blond.”
Mandell spatted her lightly. “You.”
He drank his anisette and wished he hadn’t. It was stronger than any he’d ever tasted. It made his head feel like a piece of bubble gum.
Gale continued to move in his lap. Squirm was a better word. Mandell looked at Mr. Ebbling. Ebbling wasn’t looking at them. He was still nodding to the music. Mandell felt sorry for the old man. Mr. Ebbling didn’t look well. His eyes were too bright. He looked feverish. From time to time he compressed his lips, as if he were in pain.
Ebbling saw Mandell looking at him and said, “Gale tells me that Inspector Carlton and Lieutenant Rose were here this afternoon, Bernard.”
“That’s right, sir.”
It was one of the few times Mandell had ever heard his father-in-law swear. “I had one hell of a time this afternoon, keeping your bail from being revoked. Everyone from the mayor down was after me. Are you certain you didn’t kill that girl, Bernard?”
Gale said, “Father!” sharply.
“I’m positive,” Mandell said. He reached for the cigarette he’d lighted. And suddenly he wasn’t positive of anything. The whole black mental morass was back again.
Mr. Ebbling had offered him a cigar. Mandell remembered distinctly, or thought he remembered, refusing it. He’d said he’d stick to Camels. Yet the cigarette he thought he’d been smoking had turned into a lighted cigar. Mandell picked up the cigar gingerly and looked at it.
Ebbling’s flat old voice droned on. “I don’t mean to doubt Bernard, Gale.”
“You’d better not,” Gale said fiercely.
“Don”t talk to me in that tone of voice.”
“I’ll talk to you any way I want.”
Mandell felt sick. They fought about me, he thought.
Ebbling continued doggedly, “It’s just that there are so many angles. Take the matter of your perfume.”
“What about it?”
“It wasn’t similar. It was identical with the perfume the dead girl had in a vial in her purse. Inspector Carlton phoned the office just before I left and said he had the laboratory report on his desk. Now the question is, how did she get it? Unless Bernard gave it to her.”
Gale swiveled in his lap. “You didn’t, did you, Barney?”
“No,” Mandell panted. “Of course not.”
“Don’t mind what that old fool says. Just because Father is a lawyer, he thinks everyone is guilty.”
Ebbling raised his voice. “I don’t think Bernard is guilty.”
“You do so,” Gale shouted. “You just said Barney gave that awful girl my perfume. For going to bed with him.”
“I did not say that.”
“That’s what you meant.”
Mandell choked back a wave of nausea. He didn’t want Gale and Mr. Ebbling to quarrel over him. He felt crushed between them.
“All I’m trying to point out,” Ebbling said, “is that Bernard is still in a precarious spot. Carlton means to charge him with both murders.”
“How do you know?”
“He said so.”
“But the shots were fired at Barney.”
Ebbling gestured with his cigar. “I don’t know how Carlton explains that away. He didn’t tell me his case over the phone.” Ebbling got back on the horse he had ridden that morning. “Are you certain, Bernard, that Mr. Curtis didn’t might help us to identify the man who did shoot him and fire those five shots at you?”
The music was so loud now that it almost drowned out Mr. Ebbling’s voice. It sounded as if Mr. Ebbling had just said, “Are you certain, Bernard, that Mr. Curtis didn’t might help us identify the man who did shoot him and fire those five shots at you?” Something was awfully scrambled. Mandell continued to look at the cigar.
“Something wrong with it, Bernard?” Mr. Ebbling asked. “Not quite up to snuff?”
“No,” Mandell lied. “It’s fine.” He put the cigar in his mouth.
Gale beamed her approval. “I like you in a cigar, honey. You look so masculine.”
“Now what was I saying?” Ebbling asked.
Gale began to move again. “I wouldn’t know. Something about was Barney certain of something. It sounded like a lot of gibberish to me.” She appealed to Mandell. “Didn’t it to you, darling?”
Mandell looked at her gratefully. “Well, I didn’t quite get it.” He sipped his coffee and it set up a distant ringing in his ears, a strident bell superimposed on the music that drowned out all attempts to think.
Gale wiped at his face with her handkerchief. “Darling. It must be too hot in here. You’re perspiring all over your face. Open a window, will you, Father?”
“Open one yourself,” Ebbling said.
“Do I hear a bell?” Mandell asked.
Gale smiled. “Of course. The front doorbell.”
“Oh,” Mandell said. “I see.”
The bell continued to ring for a few more minutes, then stopped.
Gale cupped Mandell’s face in her hands. Her eyes were worried. “You’re acting awfully funny, Barney.”
“I feel funny,” Mandell admitted.
André entered the room and addressed Mr. Ebbling. “An Inspector Carlton and a Lieutenant Rose are at the door, sir. They wish to speak to either you or Mr. Mandell.”
“Turn that goddamn music down,” Mr. Ebbling said.
“Yes, sir,” André said.
He turned off the record player. In the intense silence that followed, Mandell could hear the pounding of his heart, the rasp of Gale’s breathing against his chest.
Ebbling got heavily to his feet. “You wait here, Bernard. Don’t leave the room.” The attorney looked at André. “Did you tell them Mr. Mandell was here?”
“No, sir,” André said. “I merely said I would see if you would see them.”
“Good. If they should question you, you haven’t seen Mr. Mandell. Understand, André? He and Mrs. Mandell have left for an unknown destination on a second honeymoon.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Ebbling,” André said.
Ebbling looked at Mandell. “You and Gale wait here, Bernard. Don’t either of you leave the room. Leave this to me.”
“Yes, sir,” Mandell gasped.
Ebbling left the room with André, closing the door securely behind them.
Gale buried her face on Mandell’s chest. “Oh, Barney. I love you so much. Why did this have to happen to us? We could have been so happy.”
Could have been so happy. Could. The past tense of the auxiliary verb can. Mandell had gone to school long enough to remember that. Mandell tightened his arms around Gale.
“You’ve been lying to me, haven’t you? You think I killed that girl.”
“I don’t know, Barney,” Gale sobbed. “I don’t know what to think.”
They sat, clinging together, without speaking, until Ebbling returned. The attorney’s face was as white as his shirt front. Closing the door of the music room, he leaned against it, looking at Mandell.
“I’ve just done something,” Ebbling said, “that I’ve never done in my life. I’ve filthied my standing as an officer of the court. Carlton was looking for you, Bernard. Your bail has been revoked. You’re now charged with murder in the first degree, which, as you may or may not know, is inadmissible to bail.” Ebbling’s face twisted in pain. “And I told Carlton you weren’t here, that I would try to contact you and surrender you in the morning.”
Gale asked, “He believed you?”
“I think so,” Ebbling said. “Yes. I’m certain he did.”
“Why?” Mandell said. “Why did you lie for me?”
Ebbling mouthed his dead cigar. “Because I like you, Bernard. Because I think you’re getting a raw deal. Because I know you didn’t kill that girl.”
“How do you know?”
“Because despite your recent mental trouble and Dr. Harris’ prognosis as to homicidal tendencies, an act of violence isn’t consistent with your record.”
“No,” Mandell said. “No. Except for the time I wrung the parrot’s neck.”
“Yes. There was the parrot,” Ebbling said. “I—I’d forgotten about that.”
Mandell straightened in the chair, trying to see past Ebbling to the far side of the door. “Now, who’s that ringing the bell?”
“What bell, darling?” Gale said.
Their suite of rooms was the same as it had been before Mandell had gone away. There was a big bedroom, dressing room, and a bath. With the oversized bed, the silk hangings on the wall, and the green and yellow parrot in an ornate cage, it looked like a movie set.
Mandell sat on the edge of the bed smoking the cigar he had thought was a cigarette, wondering; he wondered if a man’s mind could slip a cog once in a while, like a broken tooth in a differential, without the whole thing being ruined.
“Forget him,” the parrot awked. “You’re beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. And you’re mine. All mine.”
“I can do without that bird,” he told Gale.
Gale covered the cage with a black cloth. “I’m sorry, Barney.” She was contrite and eager to please him. “I—I shouldn’t have bought another bird after—well, after what happened.”
“Go ahead. Say it,” Mandell said. “After I wrang one parrot’s neck.”
“Wrung, darling,” Gale corrected him. She added hastily, “Not that it makes any difference.”
“No,” Mandell agreed with her. “Not that it makes any difference.”
He watched Gale slip out of her evening dress, letting it lie where it fell. That was like Gale. Gale was like that. It made a difference when you had money.
“Get undressed. Please, Barney,” Gale begged him. “You know what Father said. You’ve got to get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a long day.”
“Yes,” Mandell agreed. “A long day.” He got up from the bed and hung his dinner jacket in the closet. “Was your father able to get Dr. Harris?”
“Not yet.” Gale took the pins out of her hair and began to brush it. “But he’s going to keep on trying until he does. He wants Dr. Harris to be with us when we go down to the Bureau.”
“So he told me,” Mandell said. He hung his pants neatly on a hanger and, opening a chest of drawers, took out a pair of heavy silk pajamas. He’d paid fifty dollars for them. To be pretty for Gale. How many years ago? Mandell tried to remember. He couldn’t. His head felt as if it would split at any moment. “But it won’t do any good. If Carlton’s made up his mind to lock me up, I’m cooked.”
Gale stopped brushing her hair. “You mustn’t talk like that, Barney.”
Mandell unlaced his shoes and took off his shirt. “How am I supposed to talk? What am I supposed to do? Yell, ‘Hooray’? I just get out of the fish bowl. Then all this happens and they throw me in a cell.”
“Could be.” Mandell sat back in the chair and massaged his bare chest.
Gale pleaded with him. “But you mustn’t be bitter, Barney. If you didn’t kill that girl, you haven’t a thing to worry about.”
“That’s right.” Mandell snuffed the cigar and lighted a cigarette, wondering just how a man told his wife he thought he was still crazy.
Gale continued. “Father’s an excellent lawyer. And you know the influence he has. Please, now, Barney. Don’t worry.”
“I’ll try not to.”
Gale lifted her lips to be kissed. “Promise?”
Mandell kissed her. “I promise.”
Gale smiled. “O.K. Just because you’re so nice and because this is your first night home, I’ll make a big concession. You can have the first shower.” Gale resumed brushing her hair. “But don’t be long about it.”
Mandell hadn’t figured on taking a shower. It was a good idea. Cold water might help his head, might help him get to sleep. He stripped off his socks and shorts and padded into the bathroom. The shower was in a separate stall. With a frosted glass with tall pussy willows and a long-necked bird etched in the glass. He turned on the cold-water faucet and started to step in, just as Gale called something that he couldn’t hear because of the rush of water.
Mandell walked back to the door of the bathroom. “I didn’t catch that, honey.”
Gale wrinkled her nose at him. “Go take your shower. I merely said, ‘I love you.’”
“I love you, too,” Mandell told her. He walked back to the shower and stepped in. He almost scalded himself. The tap he’d turned on read “cold,” but the water was coming out steaming.
Mandell turned it off. The old familiar lump of ice began to form in his stomach. Thinking hot water was cold and cold water was hot had been one of his former hallucinations. Mandell stood regarding the shower for a long moment. This was as good a way as any of proving if the doctors at the asylum had been wrong in discharging him.
He dried what little water he had got on him and was pretending to wash his teeth when Gale padded into the bathroom and turned on the water in the shower.
“No monkey business, now,” she said.
“No. No monkey business,” Mandell agreed.
He stood by, ready to warn her. It wasn’t necessary. Gale turned on the cold-water tap, and it apparently emitted cold water for her. Gale saw him looking at her and splashed a handful at him. It was cold.
Mandell walked back into the bedroom and sat on the bed, gritting his teeth to keep them from chattering. He had to face the fact. Dr. Orin Harris was right. Rosemary was wrong. His brains were scrambled. Still scrambled. He’d taken one punch too many. He was back hearing bells, having things happen to him. He didn’t have enough marbles to distinguish hot from cold.
It opened a new and frightening field of thought. Possibly Inspector Carlton was right. Maybe he’d killed the little blonde. Insane men didn’t know what they’d done. Mandell sat boxing his nerves. And he lost as the parrot opened up on him.
“Awk! Don’t give your right names, boys. Awk! Here comes the law.”
Mandell looked up at the bird. The cover was off the cage. And he’d seen Gale cover the bird. It was more than he could take. Getting to his feet, Mandell batted the cage with a hard right that snapped the spring and sent the cage spinning out of the stand.
The parrot awking and squawking, the cage caromed off the bedroom wall and banked into Gale’s dressing table, scattering her perfume bottles and cosmetics with a great shattering of glass.
Leaving wet imprints with her bare feet, water glistening on her body, Gale ran in from the bathroom, shouting, “Barney!” into the back of her hand pressed to her lips. “Barney!” she screamed. “What’s wrong?”
His chest heaving, his muscles corded, Mandell looked at her. “Didn’t I see you cover this goddamn bird?”
Gale began to cry. “I don’t remember, Barney. Please don’t get so excited.” She ran around, eager to please him, picking up the cage, hanging it back in the stand. “I’ll cover it right now.” She found the black cover and hung it over the cage, crying so hard she could hardly talk. “I—I knew I shouldn’t have that bird in here. It made you think of that other awful time. I’m sorry, Barney.”
The parrot awked a few times and was still.
Mandell sat back on the bed, holding his head in his hands. Gale took a decanter of whisky from a table and poured a stiff drink in a water glass.
“Here. Please drink this, Barney.”
Mandell drank it to please her.
Gale put the decanter and glass on the table, then sat down on the bed beside him, looking very small and frightened. “You’re all right now, Barney?”
Mandell shook his head. “No. I don’t think so, kid. I’m afraid I’m plenty sick.” He wanted to clinch it once and for all. “Look. Remember when I went away before, Gale? The day before I had myself committed?”
Gale said, “Yes?” with a catch in her voice..
“How much did I give you to dole out to my mother once a week?”
Gale looked at him, puzzled. “I—I don’t understand what you mean, Barney.” Her eyes filled with tears. “I asked you at the time if you wanted me to send your mother a weekly check. But you said it wasn’t necessary, as you had provided for her.”
“I told you that?”
“I didn’t give you thirty-seven grand and ask you to send Ma seventy-five dollars a week while I was tucked away?”
Mandell fought the whisky roaring in his head. “O.K. That tears it.”
“Everything. I’m crazy as hell. I have been for two years. The doctors were wrong in discharging me. I belong in a padded cell.” Mandell rubbed rather than patted her cheeks. “And you’d better grab a plane in the morning and get back to Bermuda. Anywhere away from me.”
“But why, Barney?”
“Because I’m poison. Both you and your father have been swell to me. And I don’t want you to get in any deeper.”
“Deeper in what?”
“This mess I’m in. Your father shouldn’t have lied to Inspector Carlton. He should have let Carlton take me. So I’m crazy, they won’t burn me. All they’ll do is lock me up in some other asylum. One with good strong bars.”
“No,” Gale sobbed. “No. I’d rather see you dead than locked up in such a place. You hear me? I’d rather see you dead.”
“Yeah. I hear you,” Mandell said.
“Did you kill that girl?”
“I don’t know.” Mandell lighted another cigarette and sucked at it fiercely. “I’m beginning to wonder. In the light of what’s happened this evening, it’s very possible I did.”
Gale caught his arm. “What are you doing, Barney? Where do you think you’re going?”
Mandell told her. “Down to give myself up.”
He reached for his shorts and Gale tore them out of his hands. “No.” Gale wadded the shorts into a ball and tossed them back of the bed. “You’re not going anywhere in this condition, Barney. We’ve got to talk this out.”
“What’s there to talk out? I won’t be any saner in the morning.”
“You don’t know you’re insane now.”
“I’ll pass for a reasonable facsimile.”
Gale snuggled a wet cheek into the mat of hair on his chest. “Please, Barney. For my sake.”
Mandell wrapped his arms around her and his overwrought nerves gave way. He began to cry. Deep-rooted sobs torn out of his belly. Sobs with the living, quivering nerves still clinging to them. Sobs that shook his whole body. “Oh, baby. I didn’t mean for it to be this way.”
“I know you didn’t, Barney.”
Mandell continued to sob. “Sure. So I’ve made mistakes. I’ve always tried to do what was right.”
“I know you have,” Gale soothed him.
“I tried to fight clean. I broke when the referee told me. I minded my own business. I took care of Ma.”
Gale’s fingers caressed his wet cheek. “I know. I know.”
Mandell had trouble with his broken nose. He tapped it. “I wanted that dame in the bar. The little blonde they say I killed. I wanted her something awful. But I told her no. Because it wasn’t the right thing to do. Because I didn’t want any woman but you.”
Gale pushed him back on the bed. “Lie back. Rest, Barney. We’ll work this out some way.”
“I don’t know.” Gale poured another stiff drink and held it to his lips. “Drink this. And try to relax. I’m going to turn out the light. Then I’m going to lie down beside you and just hold you.” Gale took the flame-seared cigarette from his fingers. “You want another cigarette, Barney?”
Gale lighted a cigarette and put it between his lips. Then she turned out the light and lay down on the bed beside him, soft and small and warm in the crook of his arm, stroking his cheek with her fingers, running them through his hair.
“Feel better, Barney?”
“Yeah. A little,” Mandell said.
He lay on his back in the dark, blowing smoke at the ceiling. It had been a nice dream while it lasted. Back-of-the-yards boy makes good. Barney Mandell, son of Berny and Marta Mandell, nephew of Vladimir Mancztochski, fights his way to the top of the heap and marries a society heiress, who is as pretty as she is rich. And they lived happily ever after.
That was a laugh. If he wasn’t convicted of murder and sentenced to be executed, the law would tuck him away for life. In an asylum. He had it coming.
He’d let Gale and her father down. He’d allowed his mother to go hungry. He’d been a bad friend to Rosemary and Pat and John. He was all that Joe Mercer had called him. He’d acted like a heel to everyone who had been decent to him.
Gale’s fingers left his face and caressed the hair on his chest. Her voice was small in the dark. “Why don’t you take me, Barney? Maybe it would help you.”
“No,” Mandell said. “Please.”
He didn’t want Gale. He didn’t want anything. All he wanted to do was die.
Beating a rapid tattoo on Jersey Joe’s face with his left glove, Mandell sank a punishing right to Wolcott’s ribs, then danced back out of the way of the other man’s experienced fists and began to box again.
I’m going pretty good, he thought.
He cleared his nose and bored in again, carrying the fight to Wolcott.
Then he realized he was dreaming, and even as dreams go, it was screwball. Mandell tried to rouse himself and couldn’t. Despite the fact that there were six inches of snow in the ring and that more snow was sizzling and melting as it drifted down on the big white lights, he was fighting for the title in an open-air bout at Comiskey Park. With Inspector Carlton acting as timekeeper and Lieutenant Rose as one of the judges.
“How am I doing?” he asked Rose.
Rose shook his head. “I’m not supposed to tell you.” Mandell threw his left and missed. Then, his face filled with leather as Jersey Joe took the lead in the in-fighting, he clinched and looked out at the crowd.
Ma, Rosemary, Pat, John, Mr. and Mrs. Heppelmeyer, Mr. and Mrs. Feinstein, all the gang from Kelley’s Bar, all the old neighbors, even Joe Mercer, were sitting in ringside seats, yelling:
“That’s it! … Kill him, Barney! … Knock him out of the ring! … Oh, you great big beautiful Polack!”
Mandell was proud. And Joe was yelling the loudest. After all the bad things Joe had written about him.
It made Mandell feel fine. He pushed Wolcott away, bounced him back off the ropes, and came in throwing leather, only to have the referee interpose her nude body between them and whisper:
“I’ve always wanted to go to bed with a prize fighter. Why don’t we go up to your room?”
As she opened her mouth, a bluebottle fly flew out. Mandell turned away, gagging. It was almost impossible to breathe. His mouthpiece was choking him. He tried to pry it out of his mouth and knew fresh pain, as he slapped his face with metal.
He rolled on his side, gasping, and the parrot began to peck at his consciousness.
“Awk! Don’t give your right names, boys. Awk! Here comes the law.”
Mandell opened his eyes. He was lying on the floor of the bedroom. The metal he’d slapped his face with was a pistol. He was fully dressed; his coat was even buttoned. He sat up and called, “Gale.”
Then Mandell saw Mr. Ebbling. Gale’s father was lying on the floor a few feet from the bedroom door. One black sleeve and white hand were outstretched, pointing ahead of him. As if Mr. Ebbling had been reaching for the knob of the door when he had fallen.
Mandell got to his feet. Then, carrying his head very carefully, he walked into the bathroom, where he was violently sick for a long time.
When he could, he walked back and looked at Mr. Ebbling. Ebbling’s shirt was sodden with clotted blood. He’d been dead at least an hour. They were alone in the room. He’d come to with the gun in his hand. It seemed obvious that he had killed him. Why, Mandell didn’t know. He’d liked Mr. Ebbling. Gale’s father had been good to him.
Mandell picked the gun from the floor and slipped the clip. There were still two shells in the clip and probably one in the chamber. The gun was a 7.65-millimeter Luger. It looked like the souvenir pistol he’d brought back from Bastogne.
Mandell sat on the edge of the bed and tried to think. The last he remembered, he was lying on the bed. Smoking a cigarette. With Gale lying beside him, crying softly. Sobbing that she would rather see him dead than locked up in an asylum.
Mandell’s mind felt clearer then it had in two years. There was no argument there. He’d had all he wanted of snake pits. He slipped the clip back in the pistol and put the barrel of the gun in his mouth.
Here goes nothing, he thought.
Pulling the trigger was another matter. His brain gave the message, but his finger refused to contract. He wasn’t afraid to die. It was the way he was intending to go. A wave of shame drenched him with sweat. Here he was at it again. He was walking out without paying the tab. He was spending the last big pay check before he’d settled the grocery bill. As few brains as he had, and those few scrambled, he could write the lead on Joe Mercer’s story:
Early this morning in the palatial Ebbling home in Lake Forest, showing the broad yellow stripe down his back, Barney Mandell, alleged heavyweight contender, climaxed his two-day blood bath by murdering the man who had attempted to befriend him. Then, putting the barrel of the murder gun in his mouth…
Mandell took the barrel of the pistol out of his mouth and dropped the gun in his pocket. It left a metallic taste in his mouth. Like the taste of tears.
He was damned if he’d kill himself. He had been called all kinds of things. But no one, with the exception of Pat, had ever called him yellow. He’d taken them as they came. He could take this one, too. If the law wanted a pound of flesh, it could have it.
He felt better after that. He started to get up to look for Gale. Then, thinking of something, he sat back. He’d come to with the gun in his right hand. He was naturally left-handed. Where had he got the gun in the first place? Mr. Ebbling certainly hadn’t handed it to him, saying:
“Here. Shoot me, Bernard.”
It was hot in the room. He was hot. Mandell tried to unbutton his double-breasted dinner jacket and his big fingers slid over the broadcloth. His coat wasn’t buttoned from left to right. It was buttoned from right to left. The way a woman buttoned her clothes. The way Gale might have buttoned his coat. For him. But where had he been going? Why was he dressed again? He hadn’t said so in as many words, but he had agreed to wait until morning before he gave himself up. Then why was he dressed? What was his black dress overcoat and Homburg doing on the chair by the door?
Mandell tried to remember dressing. He couldn’t.
He found cigarettes and lighted one. He sucked smoke into his lungs, then laid the cigarette in a tray and looked away, deliberately. For a long time. When he looked back, the cigarette was turned to ash a quarter of its length. But it was still a cigarette:
“Funny,” Mandell said. “Funny.”
He rubbed the stubble of beard on his jowls. A lot of things were suddenly funny to him. Not in the humorous sense of the word. Strange. Queer. Odd.
He got up and looked in the bathroom, then in the clothes closet and under the bed. Where was Gale? Where had she been when he had killed her father? Why didn’t he remember her screams? Mandell ran his fingers through his hair, looking at himself in the mirror of Gale’s dressing table.
Why was it he could remember all the silly little things that happened? A cigarette that became a cigar? Hearing bells no one else could hear? A parrot that was covered, then wasn’t. Hot water running out of a cold-water tap? But when it came to the big stuff, he couldn’t remember a thing. How come?
How come he knew he was Barney Mandell? When a guy was crazy, he usually thought he was Napoleon. Or someone else. Anyway, not himself.
Mandell sat on Gale’s dressing bench, still looking at himself in the mirror. How did a man look when he was crazy? He didn’t look any different than he ever did.
A frown divided Mandell’s forehead in three parts. He began to breathe through his mouth. How come he could remember all those silly little things and he couldn’t remember taking Cherry Marvin to his room? He couldn’t. He couldn’t remember killing her. He certainly hadn’t killed Mr. Curtis. He suddenly doubted he had killed Mr. Ebbling. If he had, certainly some vague memory of it would have remained in his mind.
Mandell swung around on the bench and looked at the bed. When he came to think of it, he couldn’t even remember snuffing out the cigarette he’d been smoking.
One minute Gale had been soft and warm in his arms, sobbing, “I mean it, Barney. I’d rather see you dead than locked up in an asylum.”
“You’ve got something there,” he’d told her.
That Mandell remembered.
Then what had happened?
Mandell cornered that thought and boxed it. Only two things could have happened. He had passed out. He had blacked out. Which?
He got up and walked to the bedroom door. It was locked. From the outside. He stood turning the knob a moment. Then he walked back and knelt beside Mr. Ebbling. The attorney’s face told him nothing. It was relaxed and expressionless in death.
Mandell pulled the attorney’s shirt from under his cummerbund and trousers and examined the source of the blood.
There were two bullet holes in Mr. Ebbling’s abdomen. One was an inch to the left and on a line with his navel; the other was a little below it. The lower wound was red and angry-looking, the source of the blood on his shirt. The other was just a hole. The type of hole a bullet fired into putty might leave. The type of hole a bullet left in inanimate flesh.
Mandell squatted on his haunches, looking at them, blowing smoke across the body. This he knew. One of the wounds had been made after Mr. Ebbling was dead. He was well acquainted with bullet holes. He hadn’t picked up his three battle stars and a purple heart sitting on his can in a bistro reading the Stars and Stripes.
“Forget him,” the parrot awked. “You’re beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. And you’re mine. All mine.”
Mandell looked up at the bird. “G’wan. I bet you tell that to all the boys, huh?”
The bird ruffled its feathers and awked.
Mandell sat a moment longer in indecision. He didn’t like what he was thinking. Then, getting to his feet, he walked slowly into the bathroom and stood looking at the etched glass shower door. He almost hoped he was wrong.
Then, reaching out, he turned on the tap marked “Cold.” Cold water sprayed out of the shower. He tested it on his hand, rubbed some of it on his face. It was cold water. He turned it off and tried it again. The water still came out cold.
Blood rushed to his face, as much in relief as anger. The hell he was crazy! Someone was doing it to him, but why?
He washed his hands and face in the basin. He combed his hair and straightened his bow tie.
“Hi, fellow,” he told his reflection. “Long time no see. You been away?
“Yeah. I been in a fish bowl,” he answered his reflection. “Why don’t you ask Pat Doyle about it? Pat can tell you. I turned chicken. I caught my wife dead to rights. But I didn’t have the guts to admit to myself that I’d married a hot little baggage who cheated on me. So I pretended to swallow her story. I pretended I hadn’t caught her with no guy.” Mandell brushed hot tears from his cheeks with the back of his hand. “I pretended I was crazy and had myself tucked away until she got a yen for me again. And what a yen she got!”
A plume of smoke attracted his attention. His cigarette was burning into the paper top of a cardboard box of bath powder. Then he walked into the other room, slipped into the black dress overcoat, and shaped the Homburg to his head.
Pat had known. Joe had known. All the fellows in the old neighborhood had known; known that Gale hadn’t been heading for a shower every time she took her clothes off. Everyone had known but him. He had been blinded by a dream.
Mandell adjusted the crisp white handkerchief in the breast pocket of the coat. Looking back, he could see. In Gale’s eyes he was just a big palooka. He had believed everything she’d told him without question. Even to her explanation of the thirty-seven grand.
Mandell looked at Mr. Ebbling. But there was more to it than that. There had to be.
Gale expected him to shoot himself.
“I’d rather see you dead than locked in an asylum.”
Lying soft and warm beside him. Lying. She’d planted the thought in his mind and left him both a means and a reason. Mandell didn’t know why. But he meant to find out.
He gripped the knob of the door and strained against it with a steady pull. His shoulder muscles bunched. The cords in his neck grew taut. The veins in his temples turned purple. The pit of his arm felt wet. A drop of sweat slid down his side. Metal strained against wood. The insert locker pulled out of the jamb. The door opened in, silently.
Mandell stood a moment, listening. It was as if the house had died with Mr. Ebbling. There was no sound but the wind and the whipping of a branch against the window at the far end of the hall. The upper hall was dark. So were the stairs. The light he could see was a blade of yellow knifing into the lower hall from between the cracked doors of the living room. Mandell padded noiselessly down the stairs and looked in through the crack.
André was sitting on the arm of the chair in which Lieutenant Rose had sat. In his shirt sleeves. With a highball glass in his hand. At home. Relaxed.
Gale was pacing the floor in bare midriff pajamas and a pair of white marabou scuffs. As she passed André he patted her behind.
“Don’t,” Gale said. But she wasn’t angry. Only preoccupied. From time to time she paused in her pacing to look up at the ceiling.
André sipped his drink. “Maybe we’re being too clever.”
“That could be,” she admitted.
Mandell opened the doors and stood with the dark hall at his back. “Pardon me,” he said. “But are you bastards waiting for something?”
André set down his glass. So hard the bottom broke and its contents spilled over his hand. Gale gave the impression of running, standing still. Frenzied, frantic, running. Her back was arched. Her face was contorted. Her mouth was open as wide as she could open it. She reminded Mandell of Mr. Curtis. Gale thought that she was screaming. But only a wheeze was coming out.
André got to his feet, wiping his hand on the side of his trousers.
“Now, see here,” he said uncertainly. “See here.”
Mandell stood looking at him. He wondered if André was the man with whom he had caught Gale two years before. It was difficult to tell. All naked men looked alike in the dark.
Gale closed her mouth. “We—we were just—” she began. Then she didn’t know how to go on.
Mandell transferred his attention to her. On Gale it didn’t show. Gale was like that. Now she’d recovered her composure, her face was smooth and unlined. Her eyes were clear and blue. She looked fresh and virginal.
The silence rooted and grew. Somewhere in the room, a watch or small clock ticked noisily. Then the outside night imposed itself on the silence. A gust of wind rattled the windows. There was a distant sighing.
André’s breathing became labored. His hand was dry but he continued to wipe it. “Well. Don’t just stand there, you. Say something.”
Mandell felt in his overcoat pockets for cigarettes. He didn’t have any. He hadn’t worn the coat in two years. “What would you suggest I say?” he asked André.
Gale wet her lips with the tip of her tongue, and took a few uncertain steps toward Mandell.
“Careful,” André warned her. He caught at her arm. “Watch him.”
Gale brushed André’s hand aside. Her eyes searched Mandell’s face. “What are you doing downstairs, Barney?” She paused, then added, “Darling. I thought you were upstairs. Asleep.”
Mandell played out the string, to see how far she would go. “I was.”
Gale shook her head. Her eyes filled with tears. Her voice was small. “You don’t remember. Do you, Barney?”
Gale moved still closer to him. Her fingers stroked his arm. Her voice held the same hypnotic quality that had filled it in the car.
“Do you remember quarreling with Father?”
“But you saw him upstairs?”
“Father is dead, Barney.”
“Yeah. I know.”
Gale’s fingers continued to flex on Mandell’s arm. She was standing so close he could smell the perfume of her body. “You’ve been sick, Barney,” Gale continued. “Very sick. You’re sick now. In your mind. That’s why André and I are down here. Waiting for the doctor.”
“Remember lying on the bed with me?”
“Well, right after that, you and Father had an awful quarrel.”
“Me.” Gale’s small body quivered. She tugged the neck of her pajama blouse apart, as if the room were suddenly too warm. Her breasts rose and fell with her emotion. Mandell stared at the cleft between them, fascinated. Gale continued, “You tried to kill me, Barney.”
“You said you wouldn’t be sent away from me again. I had to call for help. And when Father came to help me—” Gale sobbed, unable to continue.
“I killed him?”
Gale looked at him through tears. “That’s right.”
“I shot him?”
“Where did I get the gun?”
Gale formed the letters with her lips, distinctly, as if she were speaking to a backward child. “Out of the top drawer of the dresser. Where it has been ever since you went away.”
“The gun I brought back from the Army, huh?”
“Yes. I tried to take it away from you. But I couldn’t. I wasn’t strong enough. How did you get out of the room?”
“I pulled the lock out of the wood.”
“And where is the gun now, Barney?”
“In my pocket.”
Gale held out her hand. “Give it to me.”
Mandell reached in his pocket and handed her the gun. “Then I got dressed, huh?”
“Then you got dressed,” Gale said. She reversed the gun and, holding it by the grip, let it hang by her side.
“I got all dolled up, huh? I put on my dinner jacket.”
Mandell opened his overcoat. “And I was so crazy, so out of my mind from kicking parrots around, having cigarettes change into cigars, hot water come out of Coldwater taps, shooting holes in dead men, and bumping up and down stairs with you, that I buttoned my jacket from right to left. Like a woman. Look.”
Gale continued to look at his eyes.
Mandell released his overcoat. “You made a mistake there, baby. You should have let your friend here button it. Sometime when he wasn’t feeling your fanny.”
André began to breathe hard. “I knew it. He’s stringing you, Gale. Watch the big Polack. He’s wise.”
Gale continued to smile through wet eyes. “But, darling—”
Mandell slapped her, turning her head from side to side. First with his palm. Then with the back of his hand. His fingers left vivid red marks. “All right. Let’s have it. What’s this all about?”
Gale stared at him sullenly. “You hit me.”
“That’s right.” Mandell found cigarettes on an end table and lighted one. “Talk before I hit you again.”
“I told you,” André said. “You’re going to have to do it.”
“Yes,” Gale said. “I know.”
“Well. Don’t just stand there.”
Gale ran the tip of her tongue along her lips. Her eyes were bright with interest and at the same time suddenly heavy-lidded; the eyes of an amorous virgin about to experience love for the first time, both dreading and anticipating the adventure. Calculating the amount of thrill against the possible pain and consequence.
“What are you going to do?” Mandell asked.
“I’m going to kill you,” Gale breathed.
“That’s what I thought,” Mandell said.
Gale sucked in her breath and held it. Then, raising the gun, she pointed it at Mandell’s chest and pulled the trigger.
There was a sharp click of metal on metal. Gale pulled the trigger again. The same sound was repeated. Gale’s smile faded. She exhaled slowly. Most of the brightness left her eyes, leaving them sunken in appearance. Her lips curled away from her teeth. But not in passion. She looked as if she were going to cry. As if she had been cheated. She pulled the trigger again, then let her hand fall to her side.
The hidden clock ticked industriously. Outside the mullioned windows the wind, cheerful now, whistled at a naked elm, then chased a tumbleweed across the yard.
Mandell looked at Gale through the smoke of his cigarette. “Now, aren’t you glad I wasn’t crazy enough to leave it loaded? What if you have a baby? Who would be the father of your child?”
Gale’s lips quivered. She threw the gun at him.
Mandell slapped her again. Without heat. “I’ll get to you in just a minute. Right now I want to talk to your boy friend.”
The gun had landed in a chair. André snatched it from the cushion and, taking a quick step forward, tried to use it as a club. Mandell caught the blow on his right upper arm. He smashed his left fist into André’s face, punching the other man into and over the arm of the chair. André scrambled to his feet and backed warily as Mandell stalked him.
Mandell followed him, catlike, feeling the spring come to his legs again. He felt good. He felt fine. He wasn’t walking on his heels. He hadn’t killed anyone. “You’ll have to do better than that,” he told André. “Remember, this is my business, fellow. And I used to be considered pretty good at it.”
Gale cursed. “You bastard. You big Polack bastard.”
“Now it comes out,” Mandell said.
He pawed at André with his right hand, trying to feint him into position so he could land a left to his jaw. Hurt him. Cut him to ribbons. Hurt him as he had been hurt.
Now that he’d recovered his composure, André was fighting back. He was big. He was strong. At some time in his life, he had learned how to box. In college, Mandell imagined. André fought like a college man. A little too cautious. A little too Fancy Dan. In spurts. A flurry of blows. Then always the slow retreat. Afraid he might get his classical features scrambled.
Gale squeezed her hair with both hands and held it. Her face was a series of flat white planes, like a cubistic painting of terror. She wasn’t pretty any more. “Kill him!” she screamed. “Kill him, André!”
Mandell glanced at her over his shoulder. “Give the guy credit, baby. He’s doing the best he knows how.”
André took advantage of the glance to set himself and land a flurry of blows that rocked Mandell back on his heels. He gave a little ground, then bored in again, fighting easily, bobbing and ducking and weaving, not even breathing hard.
“What do you want?” André panted.
Mandell tapped his nose. “Hah. A little conversation. But I want you in the right mood for it, fellow.”
Sweat formed a green sheen on André’s face. He continued to back, his right hand raised to guard his face, his left hand, when he could spare it, groping behind him for a weapon.
“Back to the fireplace,” Gale screamed. “Use the poker on him. Behind you and to your right.”
André’s groping hand closed on the poker. He swung it up and down in a vicious blow that scraped Mandell’s left side. Before André could swing the poker again, Mandell tore it out of his hand and threw it across the room. It smashed against one of the windows. There was a tinkle of glass, then a thud as the poker fell to the floor.
“Oh,” Mandell said quietly. “I see. You want to fight that way, huh? Back of the yards. Go for broke. O.K., fellow. Let’s go.”
Gale continued to scream. “Break away from him, André!”
André tried to.
Mandell shot out an arm and hauled him back. The fireplace was modern, without a mantel. Mandell slapped André against it. Then he dribbled André’s head against the expensive wood paneling with a flurry of hard rights and lefts to the face, as if he were punching a bag, but twisting his fists as they landed. Cutting André’s flesh to ribbons.
Blood trickling from both corners of his mouth, André mewed in pain and dropped his hands. “No. Please. Don’t hit me any more, Mandell.”
Mandell stepped back. “All right. Start talking. What’s the gizmo? What you folks want of me?”
André cupped his face in his hands, as if the pain were too great to bear. Then, bending forward, he snatched the heavy brass fire tongs and swung them in a murderous arc.
Mandell stepped in under the blow and brought up his left fist, with all his contempt behind it.
The fire tongs thudded to the floor. André stood a moment, weaving. Then, his knees giving way, he sat back against the fireplace and slid down the brick to the floor.
“You’ve killed him,” Gale whimpered. “You’ve killed him.”
Mandell turned and looked at her. “All right, you. You talk. Let’s start with the thirty-seven grand I gave you for my mother. What did you do with it? How come a rich girl like you would steal from an old lady?”
Gale backed away from him. “You didn’t give me any money.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not lying.”
Mandell continued to stalk her. “You are.”
Gale put a sofa between them. “You don’t know what you’re doing, Barney. You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“I know what I’m saying.”
“You don’t. You’re still sick. In your mind.”
“Don’t give me that.”
Gale continued to circle the sofa. “I’m trying to tell you the truth.”
“I’m trying to save you from yourself.”
“I suppose I killed Cherry Marvin.”
“You must have.”
“And Mr. Curtis?”
“I don’t know.” Gale had trouble with her breathing. There was a lump in her throat. She swallowed it. “I do know you killed Father.”
Mandell grabbed at her and missed. “How long ago was this?” He stopped, ready to move either way.
Gale reversed her circle. “Almost an hour.”
“Then how come one of those bullet holes is at least twelve hours old? And the other one was made after the old man died?”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t tell me. I’ve seen lots of bullet holes.”
Gale reversed her circle again, panting now. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You just think you do. Believe me, Barney. Can’t you understand? You’re not in your right mind.”
“There’s another thing,” Mandell said.
“What other thing?”
“How did you get Dr. Orin Harris to certify me? To write up that phony case history? You go to bed with him, too?”
“Now you’re being insulting.”
Gale tried to smile. “All I’m doing is trying to make it as easy for you as I can, Barney.”
“That why you tried to shoot me?”
“I—I was just protecting myself. I knew what you were thinking. About André and me. You have a nasty, low-class mind.”
“Now you tell me.” Mandell reached for her again.
Stepping back, Gale slipped on a throw rug. She fell, screaming. Before Mandell could reach her, she scrambled to her feet and behind a long console table, with a massive pottery lamp at each end. As she fell, one of her breasts bobbed out of her pajama blouse. Gale wet her lips with her tongue as she stared across the table at Mandell. A thoughtful look came into her eyes. She made no move to cover her breast.
“Put it away,” Mandell told her. A little sadly. “The boat’s sailed, Gale.” He began to circle the table.
Gale kept a side and an end of the table between them. “You used to love me, Barney.”
“I probably always will.”
“Then why do you want to hurt me?”
“How do you know I do?”
“I can see it in your eyes.” Gale pleaded with him. “I’ll go away with you, Barney.”
“Anywhere you want to go.”
“On what? The thirty-seven grand I gave you to send to my mother?”
“You didn’t give me any money.”
“That’s your story. I know better.”
André moaned and sat up.
“Help me. Please, André,” Gale pleaded. “Barney’s going to kill me.”
Mandell stood at one end of the polished table, with both hands on the polished wood. “No.” He pushed the lamp to one side in order to see Gale better. He pushed too hard. Top-heavy, the lamp fell to the floor and shattered, like a broken dream.
Mandell looked from the lamp to Gale. “No,” he repeated. “All I have in mind is to hurt you. Like I’ve been hurt. Why are you so afraid of me, Gale? What have you done to me, baby?” He began to circle the table again. Gale screamed, “André!”
André got to his feet holding the fire tongs.
Mandell walked over to the fireplace and took the tongs out of his hands. “Stay out of this, fellow. You and I can go around again later. Right now, this is between me and the wife.”
Still only half unconscious, André reached for the fire tongs again.
Mandell slapped him off his feet. “Be a good fellow. Don’t give me any trouble. Lay down.” He remembered his English, pulled André to his feet and slapped him down again. “Pardon me, lie down.”
He turned back to the table. The doors into the hall were open wide. Gale was gone. Mandell walked into the hall. The lights in the music room were on. As Mandell watched, the heavy door slammed shut.
He walked down the hall and pounded on the door. It was one piece of solid wood with a drinking scene hand-carved on it. The bas-relief hurt his hand. Mandell rubbed his bruised fist with the palm of his other hand. “Don’t make me break it down, Gale. I’m not going to hurt you. All I want is to talk to you.”
Gale didn’t answer.
Mandell backed a step and tensed his shoulder muscles. Then he stepped forward again and listened as the dial of a telephone whirred and clicked rapidly on the far side of the room. Gale was phoning someone. His ear pressed to the wood, Mandell listened.
“This is Mrs. Mandell,” Gale was saying into the phone. “You know, Gale Ebbling.” She sounded as if she were crying. “Yes. That’s right, Sergeant. John Ebbling’s daughter. The big house on Greenbrier Drive. I want to report a homicide. And I need help. Badly. My husband’s gone raving mad. He’s killed my father. And now he’s trying to kill me. Yes. I’m locked in the music room.” Gale’s voice rose hysterically. “He’s pounding on the door now. No. I’ve no one here to help me. The chauffeur tried to defend me and my husband beat him unconscious. Yes. You know. Barney Mandell. The prize fighter. The one who’s in all the evening papers. The one who killed some girl in Chicago. Yes. That’s right, Sergeant. He was in an institution for the insane for two years. They just released him the day before yesterday. Thank you, Sergeant. I’ll be waiting. And praying. Hurry. Please.”
The phone clicked in the cradle as Gale hung up. The bitch, Mandell thought. The lying little bitch. It was his word against Gale’s. He was a big Polack from back of the yards with a psychiatric record. Gale was one of the Ebblings.
“That’s right, Sergeant. John Ebbling’s daughter. The big house on Greenbrier Drive.”
The late John Ebbling’s daughter.
Mandell looked at the locked door a last time as he put the black Homburg on his head.
“Good-by, baby,” he whispered.
Then, buttoning his overcoat, from left to right, he walked out the back of the house and down the snow-drifted drive to the garage.
It had snowed in Chicago, too. The big rotary brushes were busy on the Outer Drive, on the boulevards, and along the streetcar lines, piling up great white windrows of snow that would be soot-covered slush piles by nightfall.
Mandell parked Ebbling’s car two blocks from his mother’s house. Early as it was, there were tracks in the snow on the sidewalks. Small groups of men stood huddled in doorways out of the wind, still bleary-eyed with sleep. Waiting for streetcars. On their way to earn food for their tables, pay the rent and the gas bill, buy shoes and warm dresses and gloves.
Mandell walked slowly through the cold. There were lights in most of the kitchen windows. Even more lights winked on as he walked. The cold was spiced with the smell of crisp fried bacon and onions and freshly made coffee. It smelled good.
Some of the neighborhood kids had built a snowman in the small square of yard in front of his mother’s house. The fashion of snowmen hadn’t changed. They still wore battered derbies. They still smoked burned-out corncob pipes and had lumps of coal for eyes.
Mandell flicked his cigarette at the snowman. Then he walked through the unbroken snow down the narrow areaway between his mother’s house and the house next door. There were footprints in the snow on the back walk. Leading out to the alley. Coming and going. Left by the milkman. A thick white neck of frozen milk topped by a crimped paper cap extended an inch above the top of both the milk and the cream bottles. Mandell picked up the bottles and, climbing the stairs, rapped lightly on the Doyles’ back door.
He rapped again, then tried the door. It opened into the warm, dark kitchen. Nothing had changed here, either. Rosemary seldom bothered to lock the door except when she was alone. Not with two policemen for brothers.
The small cottage was sodden with sleep. Mandell closed the door with his foot. He set the bottles of frozen milk on the white oilcloth-covered table. Then he stood peering into the dark, trying to remember if Pat and John slept in the front or back bedroom.
Mandell wanted to talk to Pat. But John would do. He had run as far as he could, as far as he intended to run, whatever the consequences. When he left here, he was going to the Bureau and turn himself in to Inspector Carlton. But before he turned himself in, Mandell wanted to go on record. He wanted a friend in court. He wanted someone to know his side of the story.
His bulk dominating the small kitchen, Mandell stood in the dark, trying to breathe normally. The state would charge him with two murders, possibly three. With his psychiatric record, with Gale lying as she had lied to the Lake Forest police, he undoubtedly would be convicted of at least one of the murders. He might be executed. He might be sent to an asylum for life. Either way, Mandell wanted Pat and John and Joe Mercer and Rosemary and his mother to know he wasn’t entirely a heel.
He opened the back bedroom door and a wave of cold air rushed out. “Pat,” Mandell called softly. “John.”
Rosemary sat up in bed. “Oh. It’s you. I heard someone in the kitchen but I thought it was one of the boys.” As she spoke, an alarm clock rang. Rosemary pushed back the covers and stood up. She padded barefoot across the room and closed the window. She shut off the alarm. Then, snapping on the ceiling light, she stood hugging herself in the cold, looking at Mandell. “What are you doing here, Barney? At six o’clock in the morning?”
Mandell remembered he was wearing his hat. He took it off. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I—opened the wrong door.”
“I asked you a question, Barney.”
“I came to tell Pat something.”
Rosemary picked a green chenille house coat from the chair at the foot of the bed and slipped it on over her nightdress. “What?”
Mandell told her. With his hat in his hand. “I’m not crazy. I never have been. And I’m married to a tramp.”
Rosemary brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes. “And when did you find out all this?”
“So now you come crying.”
“At six o’clock in the morning.” Rosemary zipped her house coat. Then, sitting on the edge of the bed, she found and put on one of her slippers. “You’d better get out of here, Barney. Pat didn’t work last night. And if lie or John wakes up and finds you in my bedroom—”
Mandell was past caring for the amenities. “I think I can explain.”
From the dark kitchen behind him, John Doyle said, “Start right in talking, fellow. Fast.”
“Hello, John,” Mandell said, without turning.
A big hand gripped his shoulder. “You heard what I said. Start talking. You’re asking for it, Barney. And brother, you’re going to get it. What are you doing here?”
Rosemary found her other slipper. “It seems Barney has decided he isn’t crazy. Also his wife is a tramp.”
“So he tries to crawl in bed with you, huh?”
“No,” Mandell protested. “Believe me, John.”
“But of course,” Rosemary said, “I always entertain my gentlemen callers in their overcoats.”
“You might, at that, for Barney. Always bawling about him.”
“Don’t be silly, John,” Rosemary said. She stood up, running her hands over her breasts and down to her hips. “You sober, Barney?”
Mandell nodded. “Yeah. Cold sober.”
“Something else has happened, hasn’t it?”
“Mr. Ebbling is dead.”
“Who killed him?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“No. But they’re going to say I did.”
Heavy feet thudded across the kitchen floor. The kitchen light came on.
“What the hell?” Pat said.
“Look what I found in Rosemary’s bedroom,” John said.
Rosemary corrected him. “In the doorway of my bedroom. That much of Barney’s story is true. He wanted to see one of you boys. Unless my name has changed to Pat or John.”
Pat Doyle finished buttoning his shirt. Then, brushing his brother aside, he spun Mandell away from the bedroom door and into a kitchen chair. “It can be I’m wrong,” Pat said. “Maybe you are crazy, Barney. The whole force is beating the city for you, and you show up here fresh as a daisy. Wearing a headwaiter’s suit.”
Mandell sat with his hands between his knees, dangling the Homburg on one finger. “No. I’m not crazy, Pat. I never have been.”
“I knew it.”
“You were right. I never have been. I just thought I was, see? But either way now, I’m hooked. If I say I’m not crazy, I burn. If I go along with the gag, I spend the rest of my life in an asylum.”
“Did I hear you say Mr. Ebbling was dead?”
“Shot twice through the belly.”
“Who did it?”
“Gale’s going to say I did. She’s already told the Lake Forest cops I killed him. I beat it before they could get there. In the old man’s Lincoln. When I leave here, I’m going down to the Bureau and turn myself in to Carlton. Or one of you guys can take me down and get yourself a citation. But before they lock me up and throw away the key, I want to go on record. I want someone who knows me to hear my side of the story.”
John Doyle straddled a chair. “Go ahead, Barney. We’re listening.”
Mandell dropped his hat on the floor and cracked his knuckles. “Like I say, they’re going to pin Ebbling on me. Along with Cherry Marvin. And maybe Mr. Curtis.”
“Who are ‘they’?” Pat asked.
Mandell considered the question. “My wife,” he said finally. “And I think the chauffeur. A big guy whose first name is André. He could be the guy who stuck me up in my hotel room. He could be the lad I caught Gale with two years ago. I’m inclined to believe he is.” Mandell shrugged. “Anyway, the thing that happened this morning didn’t quite go as they planned it. That’s how come I’m here. I was supposed to black out, see? I did. From too much of a lot of things. And maybe a spot of chloral in the whisky.”
Rosemary said shrewdly, “After another series of incidents like the ones you told me about?”
Mandell nodded. “That’s right.” He grimaced, disgusted with himself. “After me yapping all over the place I didn’t want to be crazy. Why did this have to happen to me? Bawling, even. Anyway, I came to, lying on the bedroom floor with a gun in my hand. Mr. Ebbling was there on the floor too, shot to death. And all I could think of was the last thing Gale had said to me—’I’d rather see you dead than locked in an asylum.’ That I was willing to buy. So I was crazy. So I’d killed Mr. Ebbling.” Mandell wiped his cheeks and forehead with his pocket handkerchief. “I put the gun in my mouth. Then I couldn’t pull the trigger.”
John asked, “Why not?”
Mandell returned the handkerchief to his pocket. “How long you know me, John?”
“As long as I know anyone. Since we were kids.”
Mandell nodded. “That’s right. For a long time.” His smile was tight and slightly crooked. “So I’m a loud mouth, so I got big-headed and kind of forgot my old friends. So I let making a little money go to my head. Even so. Did you ever know me to take a dive or walk out on a tab?”
John Doyle thought a moment. “No.”
“That’s why I couldn’t pull the trigger.”
Pat leaned against the kitchen table. “Don’t give us that crap, Barney. What would you call letting your old lady live on relief?”
Mandell looked at him. “I didn’t know she was. You see, the day before I had myself committed, I turned over thirty-seven thousand dollars to Gale. For Ma. With instructions to mail Ma seventy-five dollars a week.”
“I knew it,” Rosemary said. “I knew it.” She began to cry. She knelt on the floor beside Mandell. “Oh, Barney, what have they done to you?”
Pat raised his hand to backhand her, and changed his mind. “Now, wait a minute. Let’s not get all excited. All we have is Barney’s word.”
“O.K.,” Mandell said. “I ask you the same question I asked John. How long you know me, Pat?”
Pat rubbed at the blue-black bristle on his chin. “Even longer than John. Us being a few years older. But—”
“I ever tell you a lie?”
Mandell leaned forward in his chair. His face filmed with perspiration in his earnestness. “Did you ever know me to tell a lie?”
Pat slapped the table so hard the lid jumped off the sugar bowl. “By God, no!”
Rosemary stiffened. “Now who’s getting excited? Watch your language, Pat.”
Her brother ignored her. “Not even to the sister the time we give old Father Halloran the hotfoot. ‘I done it,’ you told her, and took your lumps. And I had to take ’em right along with you. Whyn’t you tell me this about the money yesterday morning?”
Mandell said, “I still thought Gale was leveling. I thought maybe she’d forgotten it.”
“Forgot thirty-seven thousand dollars?”
“To a dame in her brackets, that’s peanuts. But every time I mentioned the money,” Mandell looked at Rosemary, then away, “Gale changed the subject. I know why, now.”
“Why?” John asked.
Mandell told him. “The whole thing about me being crazy was a frame. I did hear bells. There were bells. I did catch her with a guy. The gag with the cold and hot water was merely a matter of getting some plumber to cut in a diverter and a shutoff on the regular pipe. So she could make it come out hot for me and cold for her. Out of the same tap. I bet I never even killed the parrot.”
“But why, Barney?” Rosemary asked.
Mandell ran his fingers through his hair. “There you have me.”
Pat walked into the bedroom and came back with a package of cigarettes. “Cigarette, Barney?”
Pat lit both cigarettes. “What did that guy Curtis want with you, Barney?”
“He didn’t get to tell me. It was something about my uncle Vladimir.”
Pat blew smoke at the ceiling. “As I recall your statement on Calton’s clip board, you said it was ‘something about a lot of money and something a lot more important.’”
Mandell bobbed his head. “Yeah. That’s right. That’s what Mr. Curtis said.”
“This uncle of yours have money?”
“Ma says no.”
John Doyle rocked forward and back in his chair. “You say when you came to, on the floor of the Lake Forest place, Barney, you had a gun in your hand. What kind of gun is this?”
“A seven-point-six-five-millimeter Luger.”
“Hey,” Pat said. “Just a minute. According to the breakdown the state’s attorney’s office got from Ballistics, that’s the same type and caliber automatic pistol this guy Curtis was shot with. Who does the gun belong to?”
“Me. It’s the one I brought back from Germany.”
“When you see it last?”
“Two years ago.”
“You left it at Lake Forest?”
“In my top dresser drawer.”
“Where anyone could get at it?”
“Yeah. I guess so.”
Pat snuffed his cigarette. “What kind of guy was this Ebbling?”
“A good joe. For a rich guy.”
“Did he play around any?”
“How do you mean?”
“Did he like the women? Could he have gone for a quail like this Cherry Marvin?”
Mandell defended Mr. Ebbling. “They didn’t speak the same language.”
Pat shook his head. “In bed you don’t have to speak. You’d be surprised the number of complaints we get about rich old bucks panting after kids like this Marvin dame. Could Ebbling have shot himself?”
Mandell shook his head. Emphatically. “No.”
“On account of one of the wounds was at least twelve hours old. And the other shot was fired into his body after he was dead.”
“You’re positive of that?”
Doyle lighted another cigarette. “That puts it back to about when you were released yesterday morning. How about Ebbling being the guy who killed Curtis and tried to kill you?”
“That’s silly,” Mandell said.
“Why? In your statement to Carlton you said you thought Curtis hit the guy.”
“I think he did. I know he did.”
Mandell protested, “But that doesn’t make sense, Pat, Why should Mr. Ebbling want me dead? He liked me, He got me out of jail. He tried to keep me out of jail. Even last night, when Carlton and Rose came to the house to pick me up, Mr. Ebbling told them I wasn’t there, that Gale and I had gone away on a second honeymoon.”
“Honeymoon,” Rosemary sniffed. “Some honeymoon.”
“Yeah. Yeah. That’s what I mean,” Pat said.
The snow in the alley was deep. The car almost stalled twice. After they reached the streetcar tracks it was better. The snow plows had been there.
Mandell rode in the back seat, between his mother and Rosemary. He felt embarrassed. Much more embarrassed than frightened. He felt the way he had the time Ma had insisted on going downtown with him to help him buy his first suit with long trousers. He hadn’t meant this to happen. All he had wanted to do was tell his side of the story. He was big enough and old enough to walk alone. Walk right into the Bureau, take a deep breath, and say: “Well, here I am. So, do me.”
It was cold in the car. As cold as it was outside. John rolled up the window he had rolled down. “I thought you were going to get the heater fixed.”
“I forgot,” Pat Doyle admitted.
He switched on the car radio as he slowed for the light on Wentworth, then turned south, driving between the cleared streetcar tracks and the snow piled up by the rotary plow.
Mandell turned up the collar of his coat against the cold and tugged his hat over his eyes against premature recognition. “You know where Joe lives?” he asked Pat. Pat nodded. “Yeah. The Ansonia Hotel.”
“Stop by for him, will you, Pat? I’d like Joe in on this.”
Pat shrugged. “You’re the doctor, Barney.”
A radio car headed north on Wentworth passed them. Traveling too fast for the condition of the street. Skidding a little whenever one of its tires touched the icy streetcar tracks. The driver knew Pat and waved.
Pat looked in the rear-vision mirror. “That was Lieutenant Kozak riding in the back seat. What’s he doing in a prowl car?”
John fiddled with the radio. “One thing is for sure. You’re hot as a pistol, Barney. They sure want you bad.” The radio squawked. Mandell winced.
“What’s the matter?” Rosemary asked him.
Mandell forced himself to breathe through his nose. “It sounded like that damn parrot.”
Ma patted one of his hands. “Is everything going to be all right, Barney.”
“Yeah. Sure, Ma,” Mandell said.
The radio squawked again as the PDC announcer came on the air:
“Car Forty-two … Car Forty-two … Join Car Twenty-eight at Thirty-sixth and Wentworth. A black Lincoln is parked at the curb. It is believed to be the Ebbling car. Lieutenant Kozak will give you your instructions.”
“You park it there?” John asked.
Mandell nodded. “Yeah.”
“We just got off the street in time,” Pat said. “Kozak’s probably going to put a stake-out on the house.”
“Look,” Mandell said. “Maybe you guys better let me go on from here alone. You may get in trouble siding me. You may even lose your badges.”
Pat swung wide to avoid a parked truck. “We’ll chance that. I know how you feel, kid. But don’t sell Inspector Carlton short. Carlton’s a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s square. And he ain’t afraid of no one. If he thought the guy had scragged someone, he’d pinch J. Edgar Hoover as quick as he would a wino.”
Ma patted Mandell’s hand again. “Is everything going to be all right. Has something to do with Uncle Vladimir. A smart man he was, Pa said.”
John turned around in the front seat. “He have any money, Ma?”
Ma shook her head. “How could he have any money? He was a teacher. In the old country yet. Since when do teachers have money?”
“Teachers and cops,” Pat said. He parked the car at the curb across the street from the Ansonia Hotel. “Stay put,” he said. Then, getting out of the car, he walked across the street and into the lobby of the hotel.
Rosemary asked, “How did you meet Gale, Barney?”
Mandell sat, remembering. Remembering Gale as she’d looked that first night. Like something dropped out of another world. A bright feather fluttered from heaven. The corners of his mouth turned down. Gale hadn’t loved him, even then. All it had been was an act. He said:
“At a milk-fund fight. She was one of the Junior Leaguers in charge of something.”
“I see,” Rosemary said. “You made the advances, Barney?”
Mandell shook his head. “No. Looking back, I can see she practically threw herself at me.”
John grinned sourly from the front seat. “Of course, you ducked?”
“No,” Mandell admitted. “I didn’t.”
Ma patted his hand again. “Why should he? How should he know she was bad? Barney is a fight boxer. About women he knows from nothing.”
“That,” Rosemary said, “I’ll buy.”
Pat Doyle came out the door of the hotel’s bar accompanied by Joe Mercer. The reporter shrugged into his overcoat as they crossed the street. His breath smelled strongly of gin as he opened the door of the car and looked in at Mandell.
“Running true to form, eh, Barney?” he asked. “When the going got really tough, you came running home to Mamma.”
Mandell looked at his fingernails.
“Is all a mistake, Joe,” Ma told Mercer earnestly. “Friends with Barney again you must be. Just like the old times.” The old lady tried hard not to cry and only partially succeeded. “Barney needs his friends.”
Mercer spat at the snow. “I’d as soon be friends with a skunk.”
Ma pleaded with him. “But is all a mistake, Joe. Before Barney is going to that place, he is giving his wife money, a lot of money, and telling her so much a week she should send to me.”
Mercer’s eyes brightened with interest. He pushed his hat on the back of his head. “You can prove that, Barney?”
Mandell shook his head. “No. I can’t prove I gave any money to Gale. But the bank records will show I drew thirty-eight grand the day before I had myself committed. And the records at the fish bowl should show I turned up there with one.”
“And the thirty-seven grand?”
“I gave it to Gale. With instructions to mail Ma seventy-five a week.”
“You call her on it?”
“What did she say?”
“She said I was nuts, that I never gave her any money.”
Mercer was still suspicious. “Why should a dame like her, with all the Ebbling money behind her, chisel a guy like you for thirty-seven grand?”
“There you have me.”
Pat stamped the snow from his feet and got back of the wheel again. “Guys get slugged and get their throats cut for a lot less than that. Every night of the week. You know it, Joe. Maybe the Ebblings didn’t have as much dough as they let on.”
“That’s an idea,” Mercer admitted. He looked back at Mandell. “How about that mess out there last night? You shoot the old man, Barney?”
Mandell’s head ached. He was tired. The breakfast that Rosemary had insisted he eat was heavy in his stomach. He was almost sorry he hadn’t gone directly to the Bureau. He was tired of answering questions. Of having his word doubted. And after he got to the Bureau, it was all to be gone through again.
“How about it, Barney?” Mercer asked.
Mandell kept his temper with an effort. “No.”
“Can you prove it?”
“No. I can’t prove anything. Gale’s going to say I killed the old man. She’s already said it. But I didn’t. I haven’t killed anyone. And I haven’t ever been crazy.”
Mercer glanced with regret at the curtained window of the warm bar he had just left. Then he opened the front door of the car and got in beside John. “O.K. Let’s roll. It looks like I done you wrong, Barney. Either I’ve got a hell of a story here or I should be in a snake pit.”
Pat pulled away from the curb and pointed the hood of the small car toward the Bureau. As he did, the radio awked:
“All cars, attention. Attention all cars assigned to find Barney Mandell. Remember the code on Mandell is one-o-one.”
Joe Mercer whistled softly.
Mandell cupped his hands to light a cigarette and a drop of sweat left the pit of his arm. It slid halfway down his side and stopped, then slid on again. His voice a pain in his throat, he asked, “What’s this new one-o-one business? That the code for shoot first and ask your questions afterward?”
Pat slowed the car and looked at him over his shoulder. Thoughtfully. “Hell, no. That’s code for ‘Fragile. Handle carefully. Bring the guy in wrapped in cotton.’ Maybe I should ought to get in back and hold you in my lap.”
The foyer was too warm. It smelled of good cigars and cheap ones; of Turkish tobacco and Bull Durham; of bonded bourbon and canned heat; of well-fed politicians and West Madison Street bums. The speckled terrazzo floor was wet with snow churned to slush. From time to time, a bored porter mopped halfheartedly at the area in front of the doors.
It seemed to Mandell that he had been walking in and out of Central Bureau for years. It was almost as if he worked here. Only, this time, he probably wouldn’t walk out. No matter what Pat or John or Joe said, it boiled down to one thing. It was his word against Gale’s. Gale would say, “He did it. I saw Barney shoot my father.”
Gale was lovely. The state’s attorney would believe her. Inspector Carlton would believe her. A judge and jury would believe her. And that would be the end of Barney Mandell.
Mandell was determined on one thing. He wasn’t going back to an asylum. It felt too good being sane.
As they crossed the foyer, a half-dozen uniformed police and plain-clothes men nodded or spoke to Pat and John and Joe Mercer. Then they hurried out into the cold, paying no attention to him. They were too busy looking for Barney Mandell.
“Seen Carlton lately?” Pat asked the elevator operator.
“That I have, Pat,” the old man said. “Him and Lieutenant Rose and Appellate Court Judge Clay and State’s Attorney Gilmore and half the brass in town are holding a private line-up. That Mandell affair, I believe.”
“We’ll take the same,” Mercer said.
Pat led the way into the line-up room and found seats in the rear. The room was dark except for the lighted stage. Looking older and grayer, his face more lined than usual, Inspector Carlton was standing on the stage talking to a slim, well-dressed man who reminded Mandell of someone he’d known.
“Who’s the man with Carlton?” Mandell whispered. “I don’t know him,” Pat said.
Lieutenant Rose, his Buddha-like smile on the smug side, padded out on the stage and whispered something to Inspector Carlton. Carlton nodded. “Right away.” He glanced at his wrist watch. “We’ll take the clerk from the Tansfield Arms first, and work right down the line. By then, one of the cars may have picked up Mandell.” He looked out into the dark. “That all right with you, Mr. State’s Attorney?”
“Perfectly all right,” State’s Attorney Gilmore said. Mandell started to get to his feet. Ma pulled him back.
“Wait yet,” she said tersely. “First we see what is.”
A man in his middle twenties walked out on the stage and stood blinking in the light.
Carlton looked at the papers in his hand. “Charles Mason,” he announced. “No charge. In fact, Mr. Mason is to be complimented for having been so co-operative.”
Mason grinned, embarrassed.
“You’re the clerk at the hotel where Cherry Marvin lived. That right?” Carlton asked him. “That correct?”
“You know she was killed—in fact, murdered—in the hotel room of one Barney Mandell?”
“Yes, sir. That is, I read it in the papers.”
“Who paid her rent at the Tansfield Arms?”
“Well, the name we knew him by was Mr. Burton.”
“Was that his right name?”
“I don’t believe so, sir.”
“What makes you think that?”
“Well, at Lieutenant Rose’s request, I accompanied him to the morgue. He showed me a body there. It was the man we knew as Mr. Burton. that wasn’t the name that Lieutenant Rose called him.”
“What did Lieutenant Rose call him?”
“Mr. Ebbling, sir.”
Carlton smiled at him. “Thanks. We’ll want you again, later on. But that’s all for now, Mason.”
“Thank you, sir,” Mason said, and left the stage. Carlton put the papers he was holding in his pocket and looked off the stage. “Now, if you’ll step out here, Mrs. Mandell.”
Gale walked slowly into the light, wearing her mink coat. Her cheeks were stained with tears. She looked small, heartbroken, lovely.
Rosemary pressed Mandell’s hand. “Steady.”
“I’m all right,” Mandell told her. “In fact, I’m fine.”
Carlton snapped his fingers. “A chair for Mrs. Mandell, Lieutenant.”
Rose hurried on stage, carrying a straight-back chair. “Thank you.” Gale smiled at him.
Rose wriggled, embarrassed. “That’s quite all right, Mrs. Mandell.”
Ma admitted, “She is pretty.”
“Shh,” someone in the dark room said.
As Gale sat in the chair, her coat gaped slightly, and before she drew it together, Mandell saw that she was still wearing the bare-midriff pajamas. The back of his neck felt hot.
“I want a baby, Barney. Please give me a baby.”
Lies. All of it an act. She’d been so anxious to nail him in the chair, she hadn’t even bothered to dress.
“I think it’s unnecessary,” Inspector Carlton said, “for me to introduce Mrs. Mandell. And as Mrs. Mandell has been under a considerable strain, we don’t want to keep her any longer than need be.”
Gale’s voice was small. “Thank you, Inspector.”
“Suppose,” Inspector Carlton said, “we start with this Cherry Marvin matter, if you don’t mind, Mrs. Mandell. Did you know your father was having a romance with this girl?”
“No. Of course not,” Gale said.
“You didn’t know she was the last of a series of such girls on which your father had spent most of his reputed fortune?”
“No, sir. I did not.”
“What was your reaction when the state’s attorney informed you of it this morning?”
“I was shocked.”
“I can imagine,” Carlton said. “It’s not very nice to think you’re sitting on top of several million dollars and then find out you don’t know where your next mink coat is coming from.”
Gale looked up at him and wet her lips with the tip of her tongue. “Please come to the point, Inspector.”
“I will. Do you think your father could have killed this Cherry Marvin and attempted to place the blame on your husband?”
“Don’t be absurd.”
“Why am I being absurd?”
“Father wasn’t even in town. He was in Eagle River.”
Carlton shook his head. “Oh, no. He only said he was in Eagle River. Lieutenant Rose and I checked with the phone company. No such long-distance call was placed.”
“Oh.” Gale buttoned and unbuttoned her coat.
“Your father disliked your husband?”
“On the contrary. Father was very fond of Barney.”
“I see. That’s why he tried to protect him by telling us you had left on a second honeymoon when Lieutenant Rose and I called at your home last night to inform Mandell that his bail had been revoked.”
“Yes. That’s right. Father was trying to figure some legal defense.”
“Then, still later in the evening, Mandell repaid your father’s generosity by blowing his top completely, trying to kill you, and succeeding in killing your father, when he attempted to defend you.”
“Yes, sir.” Gale began to cry. “It was horrible.”
“You’d swear to this in court? Mandell killed your father? He shot him twice?”
Gale bobbed her head. “Yes, sir. He did it. I saw Barney shoot my father.”
Inspector Carlton lighted a cigarette and walked to the far side of the lighted stage and back. “Your husband had just been released from a mental institution, had he not, Mrs. Mandell?”
“He had. Several mornings before the tragedy.”
“What did you quarrel about? I mean, when Mandell attempted to kill you.”
Gale wiped her eyes on a small square of linen. “It was senseless. Mad. Barney said he didn’t want to be crazy, that he wasn’t going to be separated from me again.”
Carlton looked off stage. “Is Dr. Harris out there?”
A heavy-set man in his forties walked into the light, polishing a pair of rimless glasses hanging from a black ribbon. “Yes. I’m Dr. Harris, Inspector.”
Carlton turned his head so as not to blow smoke in the doctor’s eyes. “You are a practicing psychiatrist?”
“That’s the common nomenclature.”
“You originally certified Mandell as insane?”
“At whose request?”
“No one’s request. Unless it was Mandell’s. He and Mrs. Mandell and Mr. Ebbling came to me some two years ago for an examination. And my examination convinced me he was suffering from decided homicidal tendencies caused by lesions in his brain due to his profession, which I was given to understand was prize fighting.”
“So you advised him to commit himself to an asylum?”
“Wasn’t that a rather serious step, Doctor? Without calling in a consultant?”
Dr. Orin Harris finished polishing his glasses. He put them on his nose and glowered through them at Carlton. “I consider myself sufficiently versed in my profession to feel no need of a consultant.”
Carlton looked off stage. “Is Dr. Carson out there?” A younger man, with a harassed look, walked out on the stage. “I’m Dr. Carson.”
“The physician in charge of the institution where one Barney Mandell was confined?”
“That is correct, sir.”
“Would you state your opinion of Mandell’s mental condition?”
“I’d say he’s perfectly sane.”
“He isn’t punch-drunk?”
“No more than I am.”
“Then why was he confined in your institution for two years?”
Dr. Carson explained, “We’re forced to accept any patient legally committed. And we accepted Mandell on Dr. Harris’ prognosis and the proper commitment papers. But when we ran our own tests on Mandell we couldn’t find a thing to back either the prognosis or the commitment. We found Mandell to be average for his age and educational background. In fact, he was quite a bit superior to other men of his environment. And being as crowded as we are with patients who really need treatment, we tried for two years to have the commitment revoked, but ran into a political stone wall.”
“Set up by Mr. Ebbling and Dr. Harris?”
“So we were given to understand.”
“You would be willing to testify to that in court, Doctor?”
“I would be glad to.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” Inspector Carlton said. “That will be all for now.” He turned back to Dr. Orin Harris. “How about that, Dr. Harris?”
Harris shrugged. “A difference of professional opinion.”
“How large a fee did Ebbling pay you to certify Mandell as insane?”
Harris removed his glasses. “I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it would violate my constitutional rights.”
Inspector Carlton nodded. “That’s your privilege.” He motioned to someone off stage. “Step out here a minute, will you, Pete?”
A plain-clothes man walked on stage.
Carlton nodded at Harris. “Take the doctor upstairs to the constitutional cell, will you, Pete? And let him look at his constitutional rights through bars for a few hours. I’ve heard it has a tendency to make even the biggest stuffed shirts quite co-operative.”
“Yes, sir,” the plain-clothes man said. “This way, Doctor.”
Gale nibbled at her lower lip as the plain-clothes man led Harris away.
Carlton turned back to her. “Now, back to this tragic affair of your father, Mrs. Mandell. Did anyone witness the shooting but yourself?”
Gale stopped nibbling her lips and wet them. “I—I believe André was in the hall.”
“Oh, yes. The chauffeur,” Carlton said. “Send André out here, Lieutenant.”
André walked on stage as if he were walking on eggs. “What’s your last name, fellow?” Carlton asked.
“Alvaras Cabrai, sir.”
“No, sir. Portuguese. Rather, Brazilian of Portuguese ancestry.”
“I see,” Carlton said. “Did you have any trouble with Mandell?”
“Oh, yes, sir,” André said. He shifted his uniform cap to his left hand and showed his right hand to Carlton. “You can see how my hand is swollen, sir. I had to defend both myself and Mrs. Mandell against him. He was a raving maniac after he murdered Mr. Ebbling. In fact, he beat me unconscious and Mrs. Mandell was forced to lock herself in the music room until the arrival of the Lake Forest police.”
“Quite a vicious character, huh?”
“Mrs. Mandell says you witnessed the killing of her father. Is that correct?”
“Yes, sir. It is. I was standing in the hall.”
“How many times did Mandell shoot Ebbling?”
“With the same gun?”
Inspector Carlton walked across the stage and back. He opened his mouth to speak. He couldn’t. Instead, he took his hat from his head and threw it on the floor of the stage. He peeled off his topcoat and threw it after his hat. The physical action brought release to his tongue.
“Good God Almighty! Just how dumb do you folks think we are? You say Ebbling was shot last night. One wound, the one he died of, was over twelve hours old. The other was made after he was dead. We recovered two slugs from the body. One was a seven-point-six-five-millimeter slug. The other was a standard forty-five fired from Treasury Agent John Curtis’ gun.”
Gale got to her feet, panting. “That can’t be so. It can’t be. Barney killed Father. I saw him.” Her voice rose hysterically. “I tell you I saw him kill my father!”
Mandell walked down the aisle and stood with his hands on the stage. “Why don’t you take off your coat, baby, and show them some flesh and convince them?” he asked thickly. “Convince them like you convinced me. Look. How come you’re so anxious for me to die?”
Gale kicked at his face. “Why don’t you die, you big Polack bastard? Why don’t you die?”
Here there were lights, but the only sound was Gale’s muffled sobbing and the sighing of the wind as it tried the double-hung windows of Inspector Carlton’s office.
Carlton stood, happy again, his coattails spread, his thin buttocks backed to a pounding radiator. Cigarette smoke curled up between his sleepy eyes like incense.
“You gave us a bad time, Barney,” Inspector Carlton said finally. “First I’m sure you do it to the Marvin dame and kill her. And I’m out to cook your goose. But the deeper in we get, the more sleep we lose, the more questions we ask, the surer we are that you’re being diddled.” Carlton looked at Ma Mandell. “I beg your pardon,” he added.
Ma sniffed. “I been married.”
“That’s more than I can say,” Rosemary said.
Mandell patted her knee. “Give me time.”
Carlton continued, “That’s why we tried to get you to come in with us yesterday afternoon. We were pretty certain of our ground by then. We’d identified Ebbling as the man who was keeping the Marvin girl. We’d placed both Ebbling and André in the vicinity of your hotel at the approximate time of Cherry’s death. Why Ebbling chose her as your supposed victim is something that will have to come out at the trial. But men who have sunk as low as Ebbling had don’t need reasons. They act on impulse. To cover up the last dirty mess they’ve made. We also knew by then it must have been Ebbling who followed you and Curtis to the Wells Street office. Who got Curtis and had four tries for you.” Carlton rolled his cigar between his lips and spread his coattails still farther. “But when you’re dealing with men like Ebbling, who call the state’s attorney and men like Judge Clay by their first names, you’re walking a high tightwire. And you have to be damn sure before you make your pinch or you wind up out in some precinct station listening to who stole Mrs. Murphy’s wash, or covering some crummy courtroom until it’s time to collect your pension. You have to have proof. And even last night, after your bail was revoked, we didn’t have it. Ebbling was carrying it in his body, dying by inches, losing a little more ground every time his watch ticked. I haven’t the least idea just what they’d planned for you by stirring up that mental business again. But when the old man died of the slug Curtis put in his guts, they popped him another for good luck and left you with the gun in your hand, expecting you to do a Dutch. I’m surprised you didn’t.”
“That’s a long story,” Mandell said.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Carlton said. “Right now all I want is some sleep. I’ve smoked so much and talked so much and drunk so much coffee I feel like the Noble Street A.C. washed out their boxing trunks in my mouth.”
Mandell laughed politely.
“There are a lot of things still to be settled. Why Ebbling gave the dame some of his daughter’s perfume. Why André stuck you up, then left your wallet behind, although I imagine the stick-up was to keep you from getting out of town, and he ditched the leather where he did for fear he might be picked up and it would be found on him. That’s the only thing that lets a guy stay in this racket without really blowing his top. Most crooks and killers are so dumb.” Carlton looked at Alvaras Cabrai. “That the way it happened, André?”
André said sullenly, “I am not talking.”
Lieutenant Rose took the cigarette from his lips and folded his hands across his stomach. “You will,” he said quietly. “You will.” He shrugged. “Or maybe not. It’s really quite immaterial.”
Ma asked the question in Mandell’s mind. “But why should they want to make my Barney think he is not right in his head? Why should they want him to die? What had he done to them?”
The slim, well-dressed man who reminded Mandell of someone he’d known said, “That comes in my department, Mrs. Mandell.” And Mandell knew of whom he reminded him. Of Mr. Curtis. There was the same timbre to his voice. The eagle flapped his wings on every word.
“And it concerns one Vladimir Mancztochski, your brother-in-law and Barney’s uncle.”
“See?” Ma Mandell beamed. “Who told you? Has to do with Uncle Vladimir. A smart man he was, Pa said. A professor in a college.”
“That’s right,” the man said. “By the way, my name is Harper. Treasury Department.” He went on, “Vladimir Mancztochski was a university professor for quite a number of years. Until he moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where, as one of the world’s leading physicists, he opened his own consulting laboratory, amassed a considerable fortune in the field of commercial application of atomic energy, and, at the time of his death, was negotiating with the United States government for the sale of several of his patents and processes, which the government considered particularly applicable to the current war effort.”
Ma hadn’t the least idea what he was talking about. She beamed. “See?”
Harper continued, “Shortly before his death, knowing Ebbling only as a wealthy and reputable patent lawyer, and having a great respect for this country, Mancztochski paid Ebbling’s expenses to Brazil to commission him to do two things: one, to handle his patents and processes; two, to act as his executor and in the event of his death to make certain said patents and processes and accumulated sums of money would be turned over to his designated heir, one Bernard Mancztochski, son of his brother Berny Mancztochski, now living in the United States but whose address he had lost during his escape from the Nazis and, later, from behind the iron curtain. What Mancztochski didn’t know was that Ebbling was no longer either reputable nor wealthy. He was broke. Dead broke.”
“Broke?” Mandell gasped.
Gale looked across the room at Mandell. “That’s right, sucker. Dead broke.”
Harper said, “He hasn’t had a dime of his own for years. He owed everyone in town. Until he began spending your money. According to our reports, he was as much a satyr as his daughter is a nymph.”
Gale gave Harper a dirty look.
Harper continued, “Ebbling’s money dribbled away in large chunks on a long series of girls like Cherry Marvin. Mancztochski’s commission and subsequent death were godsends to him. And that’s where we came in. Your inheritance was taxable, of course. We were interested in that angle. But what we were primarily interested in were the negotiations in progress at the time of Mancztochski’s death. Nothing could be done until the proper heir had been found and the estate had been settled. Ebbling, as we now know, located you almost immediately, and his daughter laid the groundwork for the steal he planned by marrying you and, ostensibly, becoming your legal heir.”
“Why ostensibly?” Rosemary asked.
Harper said, “She’d already secretly married Mancztochski’s assistant, a brilliant young Brazilian physicist by the name of André Alvaras Cabrai. A very proud young man who showed great promise in his field. It must have been quite a comedown for him to have to pose as a chauffeur and share his wife with a lover.”
André cursed Harper in Portuguese.
Lieutenant Rose was shocked. “In the presence of two ladies!”
Harper lighted a cigarette. “It took us much longer to find you. We hadn’t the least idea in which section of the country you lived. Nor did we know that your father had Americanized his name without bothering to legalize it. We thought your marriage to Miss Ebbling—or I should say Senhora Alvaras Cabrai—was just one of those things. Although we did send a man out to check on your name, and whoever spoke to him, your mother probably, said your name had always been Mandell.”
Ma Mandell was indignant. “I should have people think I’m a foreigner?”
Mandell patted her hand. “How could they, Ma?”
Harper opened his brief case and took out a crisp copy of the Dziennik Chicagoski. “You ever read this, Mandell?”
Mandell grinned. “I can talk it a little. But like I told Mr. Curtis, I can’t read or write a word of it.”
Ma Mandell looked at the Polish-language paper and handed it back to Mr. Harper. “Is for greenhorns and Polacks,” she sniffed. “I always read the Chicago Tribune.”
“What about it?” Mandell asked.
Harper pointed out a boxed item on one of the pages. “We’ve had an ad like that running in Polish-language papers all over the country for two years.” Harper read it in English. “’If Bernard Mancztochski, nephew of Vladimir Mancztochski, born in Gdansk, Poland, on June 24, 1897, will communicate with such-and-such a box number, he will learn something greatly to his advantage.’ Ebbling ran one very similar in almost as many papers. That’s what threw us. We thought he was still looking for you. Up to a few days ago. Then Curtis had the bright idea of fishing through a stack of old Polish steamship records and found a Bernard Mancztochski who had purchased transportation from Danzig all the way to Chicago. More legwork established the fact that this Mancztochski had worked as a butcher in the yards, but had subsequently changed his name to Mandell and requested it be entered as such on the pay book. And there Curtis was. He had it all worked out and you were in a cell tagged with suspicion of murder. Immediately suspicious of Ebbling, he bailed you out. You know the rest. Five thousand dollars to his widow and we’ll all remember his kid’s birthdays.”
Joe Mercer got up from the window sill. “This can be printed?”
Harper shrugged. “Why not?”
Mercer stopped on his way to the door and rested his hand on Mandell’s shoulder. “I’ll be over for supper, kid. Make goulash with noodles, Ma. I’ll bring two quarts with me.” Mercer left to write his story.
“Will be like old times.” Ma beamed.
Harper cleared his throat. “Now about those patents and processes, Mandell.”
Mandell asked, “They’re good?”
“The country can use them?”
“Then why drag out the conversation? Take them. With love. They’re yours. And mail me a dollar sometime. Just to make it legal.”
Harper restrapped his brief case. “We’ll do better than that, Barney. A lot better.” took his coat from the hat-rack. “There’s only one thing about this affair that still puzzles me.”
“What’s that?” Inspector Carlton asked.
“I can see how, with Mandell dead and Gale as his supposed legal heir, they could get away with the money of his they’d stolen. But why not kill him outright?”
“Too risky,” Carlton said. “Ebbling was too smart for that.”
“But why convince him he’s crazy and tuck him away for two years?”
“There,” Inspector Carlton admitted, “you have me. That’s stuck me from the start.”
Standing up, Rosemary walked over to the chair in which Gale was sitting and stood looking down at the other girl. “I think I can answer that. Barney’s the dumbest man in Chicago. When it comes to women. But even he can count up to nine.” Rosemary tried to open Gale’s mink coat. “Let me see your belly, you bitch.”
Gale slapped her hands away. “Don’t you call me that.”
“What else would I call you?”
Gale tried to rake her nails down Rosemary’s cheek.
Rosemary caught her fingers in Gale’s hair and pulled her head back over the sharp edge of the chair while her other hand opened the mink coat, then tugged the belt of her pajama pants down until her entire abdomen was bare. “Don’t you give me any trouble,” Rosemary said hotly. “I’ve put up with enough from you.”
Rosemary stooped and examined the exposed white flesh. “Um-hmm. Just as I thought. Gale was already married and pregnant when she married Barney. Probably too far pregnant to abort. So they schemed up those various things he heard and saw and thought he did to convince him he was crazy and allow them to persuade him to commit himself to an asylum so they wouldn’t lose their golden goose while Mrs. Barney Mandell, otherwise known as Senhora Alvaras Cabrai, went into seclusion and had André’s child. If those aren’t stria, I’ll turn in my cap and pin.”
“Stria?” Inspector Carlton puzzled.
Rosemary explained, “Minute grooves or channels in the flesh of the abdomen, usually a series of parallel lines quite frequently left by the distortion of the abdomen while a woman is big with child.” Rosemary released Gale’s hair and stepped back, brushing the palms of her hands together.
Gale sat up in the chair wiping angry tears from her cheeks with the back of one hand while she made herself decent with the other. “If the free show is over. Yes. I had André’s child. I damn near died. And I took good care that nothing like that would ever happen again. And there were complications. That’s what took so long.”
One corner of her mouth turned down in derision as she looked at Mandell. “I want a baby, Barney. I want you to give me a baby. Please give me a baby, Barney.” Gale snugged her pajama belt in place, her breasts rising and falling with her rapid breathing. “Believe me, you big Polack, if such a thing had been possible, you’d never have got your hand on it.”
Gale tossed her hair. She wrapped her coat around her with a regal gesture. And suddenly she was beautiful again; appealing, dewy-eyed, virginal. “Well.” She smiled sweetly at Inspector Carlton. “Let’s get on with it. Lock me up so my lawyer can start getting me out. I don’t know what the charge against me is going to be. But up to and including conspiracy to murder, and that’s the most you can charge me with, I’ll bet a hundred to one I beat it.”
Inspector Carlton was frank with her. “I wouldn’t take that bet for fear of losing my dollar. Lock her up, will you, Rose?”
Lieutenant Rose got up from the desk on which she was sitting. “I think I can control my libido that long.” He opened the door into the corridor. “O.K. Let’s go, you two.”
André walked into the corridor meekly.
Gale stopped in the doorway and turned and looked at Mandell. Her hands rose to her hair and squeezed it in the old familiar gesture. Her mink coat fell open, revealing the perfection of her body under its thin film of silk. Her voice reached out and caressed him in a mocking whisper.
She released her hair. Her coat closed. She was gone.
Mandell stood looking at the empty doorway, trying not to show the feelings churning inside him. Rosemary was sweet. Rosemary was the girl next door. Rosemary was the bluebird. He would be good to Rosemary. Rosemary would be good to him. But Rosemary would never be Gale.
Gale was bad. She was evil. She was a part of his blood. She was a dream that would never quite die, a dream of remembering and wondering, of forgetting the bad and building the good into a shrine of what might have been. He would never quite be whole again. Part of him had died. Part of him had walked out of the door with Gale. Part of him still reached after her, and always would. The voice was still, and deep inside him.