The Best That Ever Did It
This page formatted 2004 Blackmask Online.
PREFACECHAPTER 1CHAPTER 2CHAPTER 3CHAPTER 4CHAPTER 5CHAPTER 6CHAPTER 7
IT WAS just another ordinary and dreary bar on Amsterdam Avenue in that part of New York City called Washington Heights. Why it was named The Grand Cafe nobody seems to know. It had neither gaudy neon lights nor air conditioning, and the small screen TV perched in one corner was the same set it had had when TV was a novelty.
It was like an old-fashioned saloon, although it only dated back to 1923. (During Prohibition it was called the Grand Cafe Ice Cream Parlour and openly sold needle beer and very little ice cream.) It was called a bar, rarely a cafe, a joint, a gin-mill, a dive, and a dump. Strangely enough nobody ever called the place what it really was... home.
Certainly not the best of homes, but after a long day at a dull job a man could skip returning to his lonely dingy room and drop into the Grand—which became his living room—for a beer and see the regulars nod at him, hear Jimmy-the bartender-mutter “Hello...” which may have been the only friendly word the man heard all day.
A man could escape—temporarily—the bitterness of tenement poverty that drained his wife's youth and made his children merely pests... by dropping into the bar, which became his den, and watching the ball game or the fights on TV, join in the brassy and meaningless small talk.
In the afternoons a few housewives would come in for a fast beer, to gossip and find out what number was leading. Or just to get a snack, for any time during the day or night you could get a thick hamburger, and it was assumed you wanted a heavy slice of onion and a pickle on it.
In short: in the Grand Cafe a human could still find a small measure of warmth and dignity in the company of other humans.
On this particular evening, when the men were murdered, the bar was crowded and full of cheer because Lady Luck had gently tickled one of the regulars. His name was Franklin (“But call me Frank") Andersun and he was a thin young man in his late twenties with the kind of face women didn't look at twice, or even once. As befitting the night's celebrity, Andersun was standing at the center of the bar and the others were buying him beers—and he had been trying to make the men's room for the last half hour.
“Tell me, Frankie boy,” a newcomer said, shaking his hand and anchoring him to the bar, “how did you work it? I'm reading the paper in the subway and I see your name. Gave me a bang. They really give you a thousand bucks for writing them few words? What was they again?”
“'I eat Nutsy Pudding because I know what I like and I like Nutsy,'“ an elderly man repeated, shaking his large head as he talked. “What a way to make a thousand!”
Jimmy the bartender was short and fat, with liver spots on his hands and freckles on his wrinkled face, and all his skin had a preserved, wax-like look to it. Pouring a beer he said, “And that's the trouble with the world, everybody thinks something is easy, after they see it done.”
“It was easy, it was the truth,” Andersun said. “I'm a fussy eater but I go for that pudding. Eat it like a pig.”
“And you're heading for Europe?” the newcomer asked.
“Yeah. But I got to go to the John now or my kidneys will float out of my mouth,” Frank said, finally breaking away from the men around him.
“Jimmy, what's he want to go to Europe for?” the newcomer asked the barkeep.
“He just wants to, I guess.”
At the end of the bar nearest the door a place was reserved by custom for Danny Macci, whose tremendous shoulders made him look short, although he was well over six feet tall. He had bushy strong hair that was all gray, an ugly face, and a large square chin. Danny had been a professional wrestler back in a TV-less era when wrestling wasn't such a busy profession, and along with a pair of ears thickened like stuffed prunes, Macci had also contracted an eye disease that left him blind. He lived on a monthly relief check and had little trouble cadging beers from the regulars, and even from Jimmy. At the drop of a beer cap Danny would lecture about “Them lousy clowns they call wrestlers today,” or show off his muscles. Now he put down his glass of beer, asked, “Why shouldn't the lad go to Europe? Be nice to hear strange sights and people. Wish I was going.”
“Had your eyes, you'd be wrestling all over the world today,” Jimmy said.
“That's the truth. I'm near sixty but I'm still a wrestler, not an acrobat. Still got my strength.” He held up a thick, gnarled hand. “Anybody want to see me crush a beer can?”
“Now, Danny, ain't necessary to do that,” Jimmy said. “You got two beers coming up.”
Another regular said, “If I was a young man like Frank, I'd open a store with the money.”
“Does surprise me,” Jimmy said, moving down the bar with three beers (except for strangers, beer was the week-night drink, with a whiskey or two thrown in on Saturday nights), “because Frank used to talk so much about the money to be made if a fellow got a start.”
“What's a grand for a business?” somebody chimed in. “Start on a shoestring and you end up hanging yourself with it.”
Andersun returned to the bar and thanked another newcomer who had a beer ready for him. The newcomer asked, “Wasn't you in Europe when you were a pilot?”
“I was a waist gunner, not a pilot,” Frank told him. “We got to England just when the war was over in Germany and we flew our B-17's back to the States, started training for the Pacific. Never got there either. In flying, you're always looking down at things. Now I want to see what's going on down there.”
“Quitting your job?”
Frank nodded. “Sure. I'll be a stock clerk someplace else after I see what makes Paris tick.” He finished his beer. “Near eleven. Guess I'll float on home. See you, Jimmy.”
“When you leaving?”
“Not for several weeks. Haven't seen about my passport or boat tickets yet. They only told me I won last night.”
“And the reporters came right up to see you,” Danny added.
“Not a reporter, the company's public-relations man phoned. He planted the story. See you tomorrow.”
As Andersun left, the regular who wanted to open a business said, “Soldier is always a soldier, hey, Jimmy? Remember the way we spent our bonus money back in... When was that, '29, '32, '34, or when?”
“I forget the year but it was the only time I was loaded,” Jimmy said. “Tell you, soldiers in the second war are different, more serious, like Frank. They were in longer, saw more action.”
“But they never faced no gas like we did. I remember the time...”
“Soldiers, soldiers, big bullying heroes!” Danny cut in loudly. In 1917 he only had partial sight and was rejected.
“That's no way to talk.”
Danny turned to face the man. “I talk any damn way I want —unless you think you can stop me!”
Even when he was staggering drunk no one ever tangled with Danny, and it wasn't because he was blind—those thick arms could squeeze a man to death.
“Danny, take it slow,” Jimmy said softly. “And finish your beer.”
The bar quieted down. A woman put a nickel in the ancient juke box and there was the usual small talk. Outside, two brief, sharp clear sounds were made and Danny looked up from his beer, said, “Hear that? They were shots.”
“Aw Danny, slow down. A car backfiring,” Jimmy said.
“That's right, we heard enough shots in the woods at Verdun to recognize guns, didn't we, Jimmy? I'll never forget...”
A young man came rushing into the bar, full of breathless self-importance at the news he carried. He yelled, “Two guys was shot dead outside! One of them is Frank Andersun!”
Some twenty feet from the corner, where the light from Amsterdam Avenue started to fade into the dimness of the block, a crowd made a rough circle around the bodies. A radio car was parked in the middle of the street and a cop kept growling, “Stand back. Come on, stand back.”
Franklin Andersun was lying on his side—and what was left of his face—arms and legs flung out at grotesque angles. Further down the block, next to an automobile, was the body of a man about the same age as Andersun but better dressed. He had been shot cleanly in the back and except for his open glassy eyes, lay on the sidewalk as though he was sleeping.
The crowd, growing every second, was quiet—even people leaning out of the surrounding apartment house windows were still. It had taken Danny longer to reach the scene than the others and now he tapped his dirty white cane as he said, “Killed? Told you big soldier heroes they were shots!” There was a high note of almost savage triumph in his ragged voice.
One of the cops said, “Shut up.”
“Make me! I'll...!” The words were cut off as Jimmy covered Danny's mouth, whispered, “Cops.”
Radio and squad cars converged on the circle of people and a score of detectives went to work. Suddenly one of the detectives bending over the second body called out, “This one, he's got a badge on him!”
The crowd stared at the man shot in the back and an uneasy murmur swelled and burst when somebody shrilled, “Jeez, a cop was knocked off!”
There was surprise, alarm, and a slight trace of enjoyment in the voice, and in the general murmur of the crowd. Then everybody began to talk in whispers.
SOME JERK kept driving his fancy Italian-made sport roadster after a piston ring broke, and of course the motor overheated and got on fire. I was rewiring it, and these low underslung jobs are tough for a guy my size. But it was an interesting car, everything designed for speed, including the high compression cylinders, so narrow I couldn't get my hand into them. As I was wondering why a person would spend so much dough to import a sweet job like this and then not take care of it, Joe—the garage manager—yelled out from the phone booth, “Barney— for you.”
It was Cy O'Hara, the real-estate man who shared my midget office. Cy said, “There's a Mrs. Turner to see you. How soon will you be back, Mr. Harris?” Naturally the “Mr.” was for the client's benefit.
“I'm busy on this job. I don't know any Mrs. Turner. She say an insurance company sent her? Does she look like money —or is she selling something?”
Cy said, “Why no, Mr. Harris, the insurance company didn't call. As to the other matter you asked me to look into—a rather attractive piece of property and I think the finances are sound. Oh, what about Mrs. Turner?”
“Okay, you corny double-talker. Thanks for calling me. I'll be up in ten minutes,” I told Cy, hanging up.
As I was taking off my coveralls, Joe came over and asked, “Got a case, Barney?” He was a big brown heavy-set man bigger than me, with a busted nose: he once tried to be a heavyweight boxer. He also had bad teeth that didn't show up against the deep brown of his face. “Another stolen car?”
“Don't know yet. Any rush on this foreign heap, Joe?”
“Naw. How's it coming?”
“Tricky job, but neat. Need another four or five hours on it,” I said.
When I entered the office, Cy went through the sudden-appointment routine, gave me a number where he could be reached—which was the coffeepot downstairs. We had a rule that whenever one of us was busy, the other would take a walk. If we were both busy at the same time, that would be quite a problem, but business had never been that good.
I sat down at my desk and the woman sitting opposite me was about twenty-three, twenty-four, very correctly and expensively dressed in black. She was solidly built, the kind of strong figure the street-corner whistlers call “Built up from the ground.” She either had good breasts or a smart bra, and when you got to the face—it didn't belong to either the figure or the clothes; it was a teen-ager's face, very solemn and big-eyed, her dark hair even-cut in bangs. If she wasn't pretty, she was a bit on the cute side.
She asked, “Are you Barney Harris, the private detective?” Her voice was a nervous squeak and I enjoyed that “the private detective.”
I nodded at my license hanging on the wall. “That says I'm a private detective.”
“I'm Mrs. Betsy Turner.”
The “Betsy” went with the schoolgirl face and thin voice. I made one of my deductions—she wanted her playboy husband tailed. As usual, as a private eye, I was still a good mechanic, for she said, “My husband is Edward Turner, the detective who was killed in the double shooting up on Amsterdam Avenue ten days ago. You've been recommended to me. What are your rates, Mr. Harris?”
“Thirty dollars a day, plus expenses.”
“I'd like to hire you.”
“To do what?” I asked politely, trying to comb my wild hair with my left hand.
“To find my husband's killer.”
If my mouth wasn't open, it should have been, I was that astonished. “You want to hire me...? Mrs. Turner, I read about the murders, but... a cop has been killed. The police will find the killer.”
“The police department isn't acting fast enough for me.” Her voice was so frail, almost helpless, it was interesting.
“Mrs. Turner, when one of their own is killed, the police pull out all the stops—they have to for self-protection. Also, despite the 'private eyes' you've seen on TV and in the movies, I've never had a criminal case in my life, never slugged anybody since I was ten, never carried a gun. I don't even do guard work. Mostly cars, skip-tracing, and following two-timing husbands and wives around. What I'm trying to tell you is: I'm just me, and the police are a thousand men with an army of stoolies and equipment. What makes you think I could move faster than they can?”
“You can help.”
I tried to keep my laugh down in my belly. “I'd probably be a stumbling block. My advice is let the police...”
“Lieutenant Swan, who was Ed's boss, recommended you.”
I sighed—that explained everything. “Mrs. Turner, that... eh... clown is some kind of brother-in-law of mine. Let the police do the job; they can do it much better than any private investigator, believe me.”
Those big eyes studied me for a long moment, ran over my bulky body, my cheap suit and worn shirt. Then she said, “I'm impressed with your honesty and frankness, Mr. Harris. I'll hire you.”
“It's a waste of money to...”
“Are you working for me?”
“A murder case can run into a lot of days and...”
“Mr. Harris, I want to hire you.” A note of firmness crept into her voice.
“Okay, long as you know what you're buying.” I'd made my pitch and I certainly could use the money. “Only I'm telling you in front, I don't go in for shootings, or any rough stuff, all that movie slop.”
“Mr. Harris, this isn't a movie—it's very real to me. I have a special something I want you to look into, something the police refuse to pay any attention to.”
“Like what?” A job like this had to last at least ten days— three hundred bucks would knock off a lot of bills.
“Like—suicide,” she said in a whisper, her eyes on the verge of tears.
I must have registered astonishment for the second time. “Something was troubling your husband?” I asked like a real moron.
“I don't know. Edward and I were happy, very much in love,” she said quickly. “Ed was courageous and brave. He was cited twice by the department. He was an... well, an aggressive man. Certainly a man like that isn't shot in the back without—they say he never even went for his gun.”
“Maybe he never had a chance to get it out?”
“No, they say this other man, this Frank Andersun, was shot first, so Ed must have had a few seconds to get his gun. But somehow, I feel Ed didn't want to fight back, that he wanted to die. That's the only explanation for his being shot in the back. And that's why it's so important for me to learn if he was a suicide, and the only way to do that is to find the person who killed him.”
“As his wife, you'd certainly know any reason he had for killing himself, so...”
“I don't know of any reason. I suspect suicide because Ed wasn't the type to be caught with his gun bolstered.” Her voice was almost curt.
“The police, what do they think of the suicide theory?”
“They don't think anything of it. That's why I'm hiring you.”
I shook my head. “I don't know if I can deliver. All I can promise is to give it a try. Murder is over my head.”
“That's all I expect, an honest effort.” She stood up, taking a checkbook out of a dainty black leather bag. “I'll give you a retainer of $200.” She bent over the desk to write and I had a whiff of her perfume; it may not have been exactly subtle, but she smelled fine. “I live on Riverside Drive, and my address is on the check. I'll expect you at my apartment every night at eight.”
“At your apartment? Every night? Why?”
“To report what you have found out during the day. It will be more convenient than my coming here.”
“Want to be sure you get your money's worth every day.”
“Yes, I do,” she said quietly. “Anything wrong with that?”
“Mrs. Turner, I don't work from nine to five. I may be busy on the case in the evening. Also, as you probably know from your husband, detective work is mostly waiting around, plodding through a million blind alleys till you stumble—and I mean stumble—upon a lead, a stray clue, that untangles the whole puzzle. Why, I may work for days without coming up with a thing.”
“Long as you're working, that's all I ask. It isn't that I don't trust you, Mr. Harris, I can't stand the waiting. I want to feel that something—anything—is being done.”
“Suppose I report whenever I've some news?”
“I'm sorry, but for my own peace of mind, it must be every night, starting this evening. Is that understood?”
“It's your money.”
“I know. I'll see you at eight, tonight. Good day, Mr. Harris.” I stood up and she wasn't as short as she seemed—I'm six four and she came up to my shoulders. I walked her to the door, then lit a cigarette and came back to my desk, stared at the check. It was ten minutes to two, plenty of time to make the bank. I looked through the second mail—two ads and a phone bill. No answer from a character who had moved—with a TV set he still owed nine installments on. I looked up his last known address and phone number—he'd been sharing a room with another guy who was very close-mouthed. Locking my phone and desk, I went downstairs and into the coffeepot on the corner. Cy was plying his hobby, trying to make time with Alma the waitress. I told him, “Leaving for the day now. Be able to give you the rent tomorrow.”
“Any calls for me?”
I shook my head and Cy made some corny crack to Alma and took off. The place was empty, except for the cook. I laid a dollar on the counter, asked Alma, “Want to make one of those calls for me?”
“Easiest bucks I've ever made,” she said, a smile cracking her hard face. I wrote the name and number on the back of an envelope, gave her the pencil and a dime. “Same old routine.”
“I know. How's your kid?”
“When you going to invite me over to make supper for her? I love kids.”
“One of these days, soon,” I lied.
We went over to the wall phone and she dialed, asked in a sexy voice, “Bobby in? This is a friend of his. Had a date with him a couple weeks ago, but I got sick. Oh you, no cracks... all right... all right, you guessed it. Thought I might keep the date tonight. I sound like what? (She winked at me and sneered at the phone.) Sound pretty hot yourself. Sure, I wouldn't mind going out with you, but I got to ask Bobby-boy if it's okay first. What? Oh, met him at a dance hall. Now don't give me a line, honey. How do I know he'll say it's okay? I never two-time my boy friends. A new Ford? That's real gone, honey. Sure I'm free this Saturday, free the whole week end, but got to ask Bobby first. Wouldn't want me to pull that on you, would you? No, no, never mind my number, I have yours and I'm mad about new Fords. Tell you, after I keep my date with Bobby, I'll give you a ring. Not stringing you... don't know what I'd do for a new car. What? (A real giggle.) Fresh thing! Hanging up this minute unless you let me speak to Bobby. What—where did he move to? Honest?”
She wrote a Long Island address on the envelope, handed it to me. There was some more corny talk, then her dime was up and she hung up, said, “What a creep.”
I phoned the TV company, told them the new address, added, “Nope, send your own men or the cops. I don't do strong-arm work. Never mind that I'm-built-for-it chatter. Put a ten-dollar check in the mail, please.”
As I turned away from the phone, Alma grabbed my arm, said, “Make a muscle for me, Barney.”
“Some other time, honey, have to make the bank now. Thanks.”
I went over to the garage and got my car. It was a prewar Buick roadmaster and looked shot, but the motor was spotless with a supercharger of my own design, an adult hot rod that would carry me 110 miles an hour any time I wanted. In the summer I took the kid out to Bridgehampton to watch the auto races; sometimes I thought about entering them.
From the bank I drove up St. Nicholas Avenue and parked directly in front of the police precinct, which was built in 1889, according to the date on the cornerstone of the ugly building, and looked every minute of it. I asked the balding desk sergeant if Lieutenant Swan was in, and he nodded. Al's office was painted a bile green and had a minimum of furniture—an old desk and two chairs.
In sharp contrast to his office, Al looked modern and sharp. He was built like a strong middleweight and wore a girdle to keep his stomach flat. His clothes were the kind that said they were expensive, without shouting it, and Al took up a lot of time with his “grooming.” He was the lieutenant in charge of the precinct detective squad, and he moved carefully behind his desk, as if afraid he might soil his manicured hands. But there wasn't anything foppish about Al; his fat face had the sullen cast of a fighter and he could be a mean bastard. I got my wide bottom down into the other chair, said, “See you're doing me favors again.”
He put down the report he was reading, sat back in his chair —first adjusting the shoulder holster that looked clean and neat against his white-on-white shirt. Al slipped me a tight smile. “Hello, you big slob, expecting you.” He had a rasping croak for a voice, claimed he had once stopped a baseball with his Adam's apple when he was a young cop trying to break up a street game. He asked, “Want a drink of ginger beer?”
I hesitated, not sure I wanted a shot so early in the day, or at all. My brother-in-law wasn't a man of imagination and had one practical joke he played over and over—for some reason he got a bang out of spiking everything from milk to water. When you asked for water in his house you usually got straight gin. Maybe it had something to do with the fact he never touched the stuff, not even beer, himself. Although practical jokers ran in his family, Violet would always tell anyone going to the bathroom in our place, “Just mention my name and you'll get a good seat,” then get hysterical with laughter, no matter how many times she said it. Bathroom jokes were her specialty, including such corn as toilet paper with gags on it, but otherwise Violet was a most intelligent woman.
“Got sodas in tin cans now,” Al said, taking one from a small picnic cooler he kept under his desk. Tossing the can at me, he pointed to an opener on his cluttered desk. I casually glanced at the cap—it didn't seem to have been tampered with.
“Fine.” I opened the ginger beer, took a cautious sip. It was half rum but I drank it without showing any reaction and Al looked disappointed. I thought of the time the jerk had put in —carefully opening the can, spiking it, then recapping it with the skill of a precision mechanic.
“When you bringing her out to the house? May and the boy always asking for her. Ought to see my rumpus room now— over a thousand feet of electric track and...”
“We'll be out one of these days. What did you send this Turner woman to me for?” I finished the drink, bent the bottle cap between my thumb and forefinger. Al tried hard not to watch, but could not take his eyes away. I threw the bent cap on his desk.
“She wanted a private dick. You're one, so ...”
Al picked up the cap gently, looked at it, tried to straighten it, then tossed it into the wastebasket. He grinned at me, showing his neat even teeth. “What's the beef, Barney, throwing away business?”
“You know I don't go in for crime stuff, but...”
“But you took the case?” Al cut in.
I nodded. “But I don't feel right about it.”
“Barney, stop knocking yourself out. This Turner broad is a little buggy about her husband's death. She's got his funeral money from the city, some insurance green, and was hell bent on hiring herself a private dick. Honest, I told her she was throwing the dough away, but she insisted—kept getting in our hair—so I figured you'd be the cheapest tin badge she could get. And might as well be you picking up the easy coin.”
“Not a damn thing you can do on this case except stop looking like a bum. Why the hell can't you press that suit, comb your hair?”
“Forget my hair. Al, I'm going to give her an honest day's work every...”
Al waved a manicured hand—his right—the one with the broken knuckle. “Don't. Don't do a thing but sit back and wait for us to crack it. And keep her off our necks. The entire police force is running into stone walls all over this mess, so what can a private jerk do? That's what I kept telling her but she became a pest... and I knew you wouldn't rook her too much on the expense account. Also Mrs. Turner is a sweet-looking number and you need a wife to look after Ruthie— Who knows what will happen?”
I stared at him for a quick moment. Al had this habit of laughing at you with his eyes, mocking you, while the rest of his mug was deadpan. Vi did that too, one of the few things about her that used to annoy me. “Since when did you join the Cupid Union? Trade in your rod for a bow and arrow? Forget my love life. Mrs. Turner thinks it's suicide.”
Al laughed loudly—a tearing sandpaper sound. “She gave me a headache with that phonograph record. Look, Ed Turner wasn't the lad to knock himself off. While he was still a probationary cop, a rookie, he made a good pinch—a lucky one— nabbed some clown the Feds wanted. He was made a third-grade detective and after that—gangway for eager-beaver Ed. He was one of these rough young studs who hadn't learned to quiet down—a punk with a badge. Always using his hands instead of his head.”
“That include holding his mitts out for dough?”
Al nodded. “Off the record, yes, and clumsy at it too. Transferred once because of his itchy palms. I had to talk to him—get rough a couple of times, before he smartened up. Hell, a little cushion money—that's expected, but this fool tried jazzing the numbers syndicate.”
“Maybe they paid him off with lead?”
Al snorted. “Don't be corny. Told you I wised the boy up, told him not to cut in on the big brass's gravy. This case is a weirdie; not an angle makes sense. Got the slug from Andersun —and that's spelled s-u-n. Shot by a Luger .38. Turner's went through his body and we can't find it.”
“Suppose you searched the streets?”
“'Suppose you searched the streets?' ” Al mimicked me. “What the hell you think we did, played games on the block! Damn slug probably stuck in a tire, or some other part of a car, was driven away and lost. All we know is Turner had his car, an old Chevvy, parked and he must have stepped out of the car when he saw Andersun get it. Stopped one himself.”
“Without reaching for his gun?”
Al waved his hand. “Yes, and that doesn't add up either. Told you, Turner was one of these ambitious shoot-first lads.”
“What about Andersun—with a u?”
“Nothing. Local boy, stock clerk, absolutely no record. Just won a slogan contest that day, won himself a grand, celebrating at the bar. Going to take a trip to Europe—it was in all the papers—a publicity plant about his winning. Didn't have the money on him, hadn't even got the check yet. Anyway, this wasn't a robbery. Turner had over a hundred in his wallet. Andersun kid is clean, a hard-working slob, not even a lover boy. Lot of people heard the shots, but nobody saw a damn thing.”
I thought for a moment. “Who got second prize in this contest?”
“Barney, take it easy. A sixty-three-year-old grandmother who lives in some hick town in Michigan came in second— never left town in her life,” Al said wearily. “Any more questions, Mr. Holmes?”
I took a cigarette from his pack on the desk, lit it. “What was Turner doing there in his car?”
“Now you're getting warm. That can be the jackpot question. He wasn't on duty and that street isn't even in our precinct. His wife has no idea why he was there; people in the street think they have seen him around the block before, but they're not sure. No rackets working in that street, either. By the way, the precinct handling the case is the one below us, and a Lieutenant Franzino is in charge of the detective squad. Told him about you and he isn't too happy about having a private snooper around, but I said you'd stay out of his hair.”
“Got anything going yourself—off the record?”
Al smiled with his eyes again. “Got an idea but so far it stinks. But it's the only thing makes sense. Turner and the killer were knocking off Andersun—for some reason—then the killer crossed Turner. That would account for Ed not having his gun out.”
“What about this lucky pinch Turner made?”
“Barney, stop making like a detective. We've run through that—guy was a minor dope runner doing five to ten in Lewis-burg right now. No gang tie-up. Wasn't an important pinch, but we showed up the FBI, and downtown loves that.”
“Wife said he was cited twice?”
Al groaned. “Turner came upon a guy tear-assing out of an apartment house in the early hours of the morning. Said he told the guy to stop, then shot him dead. Seems the guy was merely beating up his gal, but fortunately for Turner they found a gun on the guy—although his gal swore he never had a gun in his life. Could be Ed was smart, in a stupid way; maybe carried an extra gun. Anything else, Mr. Bogart?”
“About your theory—why should Turner be in on killing Andersun?”
Al gave me a belly laugh, then cut it off abruptly. “If we knew that, you'd be out of a job. Look, besides men from both precincts, there's a batch of Homicide guys from downtown working on this, plus men from the detective district. Had a half a dozen men checking on Andersun and his family—drew a zero. The kid worked for a tool company, thirty-eight dollars and fourteen cents take-home pay, lived at home, had a girl friend he wasn't banging, and his big moment was having beers at the corner ginmill. Kid didn't even play cards, or the horses or the numbers.”
I stood up—the rum was making me sweat. “How about Turner being shot first and Andersun merely walking into it?”
Al shook his head. He was getting gray above the ears, or maybe he dyed it gray. “Tried that one for size too. Doc got there fast, is positive Andersun died first. And of course this has been through the labs and they come up with same answer.”
I said, “The one thing out of the ordinary in Andersun's life was his winning the dough, going to Europe.”
Al leaned back in his chair—he never stood up beside me. “That's a terrific deduction—they kill people for talking about taking a trip to Paris these days?”
“Well, I'll look around. Give the family a hello for me.”
“Sure, and bring Ruthie out. Barney, remember downtown is running this show—don't get in their way.”
I stopped at the door to ask, “Ed Turner—a lover?”
“Not as far as we know, too ambitious to get mixed up with dames. And with a wife stacked like his, what would be the point? When you come out to the house, like you to check my new Caddy.”
Guess my face showed things, for Al said, “Don't give me that look. I made some dough in the stock market, show you the brokers' statements that...”
“Who said you didn't make it? I'll keep you informed if I luck up on anything.”
“Well, now, thanks, Perry Mason. Don't trip over any bar bells.”
I couldn't think of a snappy comeback, so I went out. The rum made me hungry. I looked around for a hamburger joint, had a better idea. I drove down to the Grand Cafe, and the guy who named it had a sense of humor.
The bartender was a short, egg-shaped old guy, and there was a couple sipping beer in a booth and playing the juke box, and a blind man at the bar. The blind guy had the shoulders and ears of a wrestler. I ordered a hamburger and the barkeep grumbled about cooking so early in the day. The blind man turned his face toward me, said, “Big guy, ain't you?”
“Two hundred and forty-eight pounds.”
“Can sort of feel a guy's size. Can't I, Jimmy?” he asked the bartender. He had the cracked voice some men get when they start to grow old.
Jimmy muttered, “Yeah.”
I asked, “This the place where they had the two killings?”
“Not in here!” This, Jimmy growled at me. “Never had no trouble in here. Cop, ain'tcha?”
“Private.” I flashed my identification card.
“What they need a private goof on a case like this for?” the blind man wanted to know.
“I'm not just sticking my snoot in for kicks, somebody hired me,” I said as the bartender put a thick hamburger in front of me, asked, “Beer?”
I nodded. It was a hell of a good burger, old-fashioned one, and when I told Jimmy this, he just scowled, asked, “What did you expect, horse meat? Place may not look like much, but we give you honest value. And you're wasting your time, place has been full of all kinds of cops and dicks. Makes the customers nervous.”
“Only doing my job,” I said. The bartender kept on, scowling. Usually you can ease things by saying it's a job, or my duty, or my business—as if that meant a damn thing.
There was a lot of silence and the music of the juke box till the blind man asked, “Like to see me crush a can of beer with my hands?”
“Sure would.” I was getting no place fast.
Jimmy said, “Now, Danny, what you starting so early for?”
“You heard the man, he's buying me a can of foam,” Danny said. He quickly drank the beer, put the empty can in his left hand—which was big as a ham—and crushed it. That was a good stunt for a guy his age. I picked up the beer cap and bent it in half between my fingers, forgetting he couldn't see. I handed it to him and he felt it, asked excitedly, “Jimmy, you see him bend this with his fingers?”
“Didn't press it against the bar or nothing?”
“No, Danny, just his fingers. A strong ox.”
Danny turned and ran his hands over me. “Weightlifter?”
“Not for the last year or so.”
“What kind of cop are you, no gun?”
I laughed; Danny was sharper than a man with eyes. “Guess I'm not a gunman.”
I made a big impression on Danny. We started talking about strong men and Jimmy joined in. They kept bulling about the old-timers: Sandow, Hackenschmidt, Goerner. They had never even heard of John Davis, or Doug Hepburn, Grimek, or Kono. Then Danny started on wrestlers and was breezing about Grotch, Poddoubny, the time he wrestled one of the Zbyszko brothers, and how he had almost pinned Strangler Lewis. Finally, I asked, “This Franklin Andersun, was he a muscleman?”
Danny laughed, filling the air with the smell of beer. “Couldn't lift a toothpick. Boys today got it too soft, cars to take them here and there, elevators and stuff. Everything is done for them, they don't develop no muscles.”
“What do you fellows think about the killing? You knew the kid.”
The bartender said, “I think it was all a mistake, somebody thought Frank was another guy. He wasn't the kind to be in any trouble.”
“That's the truth. If you was picking a guy to be in a mess, Frankie'd be the last guy you'd pick,” Danny said, as I glanced at his sightless eyes, caused by trachoma and dirty ring canvas.
“How about Turner, the detective? Ever see him before?”
The blind man said, “I never heard him,” and Jimmy added, “That's all the cops been asking me. I keep telling 'em, I only seen him once—out there on the sidewalk, dead.”
“Any strangers in here the night of the shootings?”
“You kidding?” Jimmy said, rinsing out a rag, running it over the top of the bar. “Always a few strangers in a bar. But that night, had mostly neighborhood regulars, to hear about Frank winning the dough.”
“Brown was in,” Danny said suddenly.
“He was?” Jimmy said, rinsing the rag again. “Don't recall seeing him.”
“He was in,” Danny said. “I remember his voice—never forget his voice.”
I motioned for another round of beers, asked, “Who's Brown?”
“Some know-it-all jerk,” Jimmy said. “I been living and rooming around this block for the last... well... forty-five years at least.”
“Me too, even longer,” Danny said.
“Look down the block and you'll see an empty lot across the street. Still got some wide stone steps at the front of it. Used to be a church at one time. That was about 1915, wasn't it, Danny?”
“Well, just before the war, around 1917, old Rev. Atkins died in an auto accident and the church sort of went out of business, if you can say that about a church. Then some German society took it over, put in a lot of dough making it into a gym. Along comes the war and the place is shut down, then it burns, just part of the foundation and steps left. Lot of people think the fire wasn't no accident, you know how feelings ran high during the war. I never thought so, but...”
“What's this got to do with this Brown?” I asked.
“He was coming to that,” Danny cut in. “One night this Brown comes in here and gets to talking to one of the boys— Frankie, come to think of it.”
“Yeah, was him and Frankie arguing,” Jimmy said.
“About what?” I put in.
“Nothing, really. Brown says he was born around here and remembered Frankie's father and mother, that he and Andersun was born a few days apart. Just bar talk, except he said he remembered when the church burned, only it wasn't a church then, and anyway it was before his time.”
“And nobody ever remembered seeing him around,” Danny added. “Why should a guy bull about junk like that? What got me, was his voice, had a kind of twang to it, funny way of saying 'r.' Nobody born here talk that way.”
“Don't remember nothing odd about his voice,” Jimmy said.
The blind man finished his beer. “But I did. I used to wrestle a lot upstate, around Elmira and Ithaca. People talk with that kind of a twang up there.”
“That was the argument—about whether this Brown had been born around here?” I asked.
Jimmy nodded, as he washed and dried his hands. “That's all. Just remembered it because of his lying about the church burning.”
“What did he look like? Recall his first name?”
The bartender examined a spot on his white apron for a moment. “Think he had some ordinary name like Jack, or Joe. As for looks—this was months ago—didn't make any special impression on me. I'd say he was around thirty, stocky, I think, and short.”
“Hell, I don't remember.”
“Color of his hair?”
“Yeah, yeah, I remember that—red!” Jimmy said happily. “Yes sir, real red hair. I remember because not only was it awful red, but he was arguing a lot and I was thinking what they say about redheads being scrappers.”
“He was a mean one, I could tell by his voice,” Danny said. “I think he had a friend, another guy, with him.”
Jimmy shrugged. “I don't remember nobody with him.”
“Let's get back to the night of the killings—did Brown leave before Andersun?” I asked.
Jimmy laughed, showing a mossy set of uppers. “Jeez, mac, I didn't say he was in that night.”
“But he was,” the blind man said. “I been trying to remember where I'd heard his voice before and just now, when you was asking about strangers, it came to me.”
“You only heard the voice twice, with a three-month time lapse between, and you're still sure it's the same voice?” I asked.
“Sure, it's been hanging around the back of my mind ever since the shootings. Like when something is on the tip of your tongue and you can't remember it. I don't mistake a voice. It was him all right.”
“Danny, did you tell this to the cops?”
He shook his big blind head. “Telling you, I just thought of it.”
I turned to the barkeep. “Did you tell the police about this Brown?”
“Of course not. I only saw him once before and as for his being here on the night of the murders, can't prove it by me,” Jimmy said.
The clock up near the TV set said it was ten to four. I gave Jimmy one of my cards, said I'd see him again. I shook hands with Danny and neither of us tried the grip-of-iron shake, and I took off. There wasn't time to drive to the police station so I dropped into a drugstore, phoned Lieutenant Franzino. A gruff, impatient voice asked, “Yeah? Lieutenant Franzino speaking.”
“I'm Barney Harris—the private detective Lieutenant Swan spoke to you about.”
“Aha. What's on your mind, Mr. Harris?” To my surprise his voice became mild and polite.
“Maybe nothing, but I've been talking to the bartender and a big blind man in the Grand Cafe. They told me there was a fellow named Brown, first name something ordinary like Joe, Jack, or John. He's about thirty years old, bright red hair, stocky build, and has a slight twang to his voice. He was in the Grand several months ago, claimed he was born in the neighborhood, that he knew Franklin Andersun. But nobody remembered him, including Andersun. Also, from a mistake he made in talking about a church that burned, the barkeep knew he was lying about being born in the block. The...”
“What's this add up to, Harris?”
“Maybe just a lot of bar talk. The blind man claims he was in the Grand again on the night of the killings, before the shooting. The bartender doesn't remember him being there that night, but the blind guy is positive, says he's good on remembering voices. I figure it's too much coincidence.”
“Yeah. Sure a better lead than we have now. A Tom, Dick, or Harry Brown with red hair. Be tough to locate, but we'll give it a look. Thanks, Mr. Harris.”
“Danny, the blind man, said the twang in Brown's voice reminded him of the way people speak upstate, around Ithaca or Elmira.”
“Good. We'll look into it. Guess Swan checked you out on what we know. Stay in touch, Mr. Harris. I realize you have to show some... uh... work, so I don't mind you looking about, only kind of keep out of my way. I don't like tripping over private dicks. Get me, Mr. Harris?”
“Sure. Don't worry, I never overwork myself.”
I drove uptown and over to Audubon Avenue and parked outside the private school that was keeping me broke, but with the overcrowding in the public schools it was worth the strain. It wasn't four-thirty yet and I lit a cigarette, thought about the case, about the blind muscleman, and mostly about Betsy Turner. There was something phony about her, something I couldn't quite put my finger on.
Finally the kids came out and Ruthie came skipping over to me, looking good in the dress I'd bought last month. She was all long legs and arms as I opened the door and she climbed in, kissed me twice, said between kisses, “Hello, Daddy.” Then she drew back and rubbed her lips. “You smell of beer.”
“That a way to talk to the poppa?” I said, starting the car.
“How many beers did you have?”
“A million, Miss Nosey.”
“Are we going to take a ride?”
“Maybe a very short one. Want chopped meat for supper?”
“Why aren't we going for a ride?”
“I have to go out this evening.”
“Daddy, I don't like it when you go out. Where you going?”
“Have to work. Get May Weiss to stay with you.”
“I don't like May, she's stuck-up. Always doing her homework, never wants to play. Why can't you stay home and read to me, or I'll watch you exercise?”
“Told you why, have to work,” I said, running my right hand over her silky brown pigtail. Her hair was due for a washing.
“Not sneaking off to a movie, Daddy?”
“No, honey, you're the only girl I take to the movies. And what I'm working on sounds crazier than any movie.”
We drove up to Yonkers and back, cutting over to Broadway to escape the toll bridge. Ruthie talked all the time as usual. She said she'd seen my cousin Jake Winston, the mailman, on the street. He'd stopped at the school to tell her he wanted us to come out to his place in Ridgewood on Sunday. Way all my relations kept after me, got me a little sore—I could take care of the kid okay.
I stopped at a super market and Ruthie went in with me, asked, “Can we make a Jello pie tonight?”
“Guess we have time for that. But I have to feed you, start your bath, take a shower and shave myself, and be out of the house by seven-thirty.”
“Maybe you really aren't going to the movies... taking a shave at night. Here's the chopped meat.”
“We'll get a thick steak. We're eating high on the hog tonight.”
She looked up at me with big questioning eyes. “What does that mean, Daddy?”
“Means a person is eating real meat, instead of the pig's feet, the insides, or the tail.”
Ruthie screwed up her pug nose. “But why do people eat the feet of pigs and the insides, Daddy?”
“Usually because they're too poor to buy the other parts,” I said, knowing I'd started something.
THE MORNING of April eleventh was the start of a pleasantly cool spring day, but the man rushing into a fourth-rate hotel off lower Eighth Avenue was sweating. His name was Martin Pearson and he was thirty-two years old, stocky, and of average height. He had a very ordinary face, except for his thick bushy hair, which at the moment was dyed a sandy blond. His worn tweed suit had been purchased in a Times Square store some six years before, the clean white shirt came from Amsterdam, the brown knit tie had been bought on the Rue de la Paix, and the shoes in Genoa. The old leather camera-gadget case hanging from his left shoulder had been ordered from a Sears Roebuck catalog many years ago.
Pearson was rushing and sweating because some twenty minutes before, while sipping his morning coffee and reading a paper in a Seventy-third Street cafeteria, he had decided to murder a man.
Nodding at the desk clerk who was still half asleep, Pearson ran up the single flight of wooden steps, turned into a dim hallway, knocked sharply on a door with a dirty metal eight nailed to it. There wasn't any answer and he knocked again, harder. After a moment a man's voice cautiously asked, “Yes? Who is it?”
“Me. Got to see you in a hurry, Harold.” Martin was talking to his partner, Sam Lund, who was registered at the hotel under the name of Harold Bender.
“What's the rush, Marty? I'm... uh... busy.”
“Damn it, open the door!”
Lund stalled some more because he had a girl in his room. Pearson kept pounding on the door and finally Sam climbed out of bed, after telling the girl not to worry, and partly opened the door, to explain the situation. But Pearson pushed the door open as the girl sat up in bed and tried to cover her meaty breasts with her hands.
For a second the room looked like a blackout tableau in a burlesque show: the dingy room, the nude girl on the bed, Pearson staring at her like an angry husband, and Sam Lund-wearing shorts—calmly walking over to the dresser and lighting a cigarette. Lund was a large man in his early thirties and if his body was flabby it still showed signs of having been muscular at one time. His thin-featured face was overhand-some, but except for a fringe of hair above his ears, he was completely bald. His head had that hard polished look as though hair had never grown there.
The girl, in a statement she made at police headquarters several weeks later, said, “They both had the manners of a couple of bums, not even the decency to turn their backs while I dressed.”
Q: You met Lund in a bar near the hotel the night before and agreed to spend the night with him for fifteen dollars. Is that correct?
A: Yes, sir. And I was surprised at the way Harold—that's the name he gave me—acted, because he seemed like a smart guy, a good talker. I loved the way he talked, his voice was so clear and smooth, like a ...
Q: Let's get on with this—what happened after Pearson came into the room?
A: I admit I'm a hustler, but I still ask for some respect as a lady. I bawled them out and finally the smaller one, Pearson you say he is, turned his back and told me, “Look, sister, get dressed and take a walk. We have things to do.”
I remember, I told him I sure was glad I wasn't his sister. He was getting steamed and then Harold said to me, “Sorry to rush you, honey, but we're salesmen and Marty is anxious to hit the road with our new line.” I got my bra and stuff and...
Q: When you met Lund the night before, did he say what he did for a living?
A: No, sir. I never got around to asking. But I figured he was a salesman—had the voice to sell and liked to gab. And he didn't have much dough, I could tell. Yes sir, I remember, I thought he was a small-time salesman.
Q: Did you see any guns in Lund's room?
A: No, sir. And if I had I would have called the cops at once. I know better than to fool with hoods. Although I sure would never have suspected Harold—or the other one—for any rough stuff. No, sir.
When the girl had gone and Lund had locked the door, Pearson cursed him, asking, “Are you crazy? This is the one thing that can foul us up! Bet you were drunk, too.”
“Relax, I wasn't drunk, merely in the mood for a girl,” Lund said, yawning. “Anyway I'm checking out of this dump today. 'Mr. Bender' got his registered letter yesterday. Why all the ...?”
“You dummy, she heard you call me Marty!”
“So what? That was a slip on my part but you got me rattled, barging in like... Cool off, Marty, our luck's been riding high all these months and...”
“Has it? Remember this one?” Pearson took a neatly folded but hastily torn part of a newspaper out of his pocket, flung it on the bed. Lund walked over and raised the shade, read the paper, while Pearson saw a heel of a whiskey pint on the dresser, finished it with a single gulp. Sam sat on the bed, his face going pale, as he looked up from the short news item and said softly, “Damn! Damn! Of all the miserable breaks! How could we possibly foresee a thing like this, the dumb jerk winning the money?”
“We couldn't,” Martin said. “One of those things, a break we have to meet.”
“Throw me that pack of butts on the dresser. What do we do now, chuck the whole deal?”
Pearson, who had been studying the empty pint bottle, put it down and threw the cigarettes at his partner, watched as Lund lit one and began puffing on it nervously. After an awkward silence Lund asked again, “Now what—we chuck the deal?”
“We can't chuck it. Once they start investigating, in time everything will point to us. And I don't see why we should give up anything. There's another out, if we act quickly. Before this guy gets his passport application in.”
“I don't get it.”
“Yes you do, you know exactly what I'm talking about, Sam.”
Lund jumped off the bed and said fiercely, “If you're talking about what I think you are—forget it. For Christsakes, that's murder!”
Pearson nodded. “Yes, that's what it will most certainly be.
I've tried to rationalize it, call it other names. It's plain murder.”
“Marty, talk sense! We've pulled a lot of... of... angles, but I never thought of myself, of us, as real criminals. My God, Marty, we can't murder a man!”
“Don't talk so loudly. I don't see what choice we have. These things build up, grow. A petty crime, then a bigger one, and finally the big leagues—the biggest of them all. We have a ...”
“No! I don't even want to discuss that!”
“Sam, you've had a big night, you don't understand our situation. We never thought of ourselves as criminals because a criminal is one who gets caught, just as a murderer is one convicted of killing. We've been very good, the perfect... criminals, and we still will be the...”
“Damn it, Marty, stop talking! I won't go for murder and that's final!”
“Cut the acting and keep your voice down. And listen to me. Sam, besides our boat tickets we have a little over two hundred bucks left. If we try to ditch the whole business, we're flat broke. Also, as I tried to tell you, if we let him go through with his trip, our game is exposed whether we chuck it or not, and we'll never know when they'll catch up with us—even in Europe. Once he makes out that application, we're finished. I don't have to remind you that we've broken several Federal laws, that the least we'll get is five to ten years. Is that what you want, to be broke and running the rest of our lives? To finally end up in the pen?”
Sam stood up, staring at the wall and seemingly so deep in thought he didn't answer.
Martin pointed to a lipstick smear on the pillow. “You want to be sleeping with cheap whores in a stinking room or sunning yourself at Juan-les-Pins with Gabby? Would you rather be hustling for small change here as a handy man/ or a famous actor with your own motion-picture company?”
“Don't paint no pictures for me—you know damn well what I want. But murder—no!”
“These aren't pictures, Sam, these are facts.” Martin pointed around the room. “It's a fact that a flea bag like this, or worse, will be your home from now on—if you can afford a room. It's also a fact we can still wake up at ten and have a swim and a big breakfast and before it gets too hot, ride over to Nice or Cape Ferrat or San Remo. You always liked San Remo the best. Sam, the main fact is this: we have over forty thousand dollars waiting for us if we continue to use our heads.”
“Think we'll be the richest jokers to ever sit in the electric chair!”
Martin smiled bitterly. “Your stupid jokes. Sam, killing was never a part of our plans, and we're not a couple of goons, we won't be caught.”
Sam crushed his cigarette against the wall. “We have been smart, the best ever. But using a gun is where we start being dumb.”
“Killing is a last resort, but can you think of any other way? We could try robbing him of the money, but that might not work, and it's too risky.”
“And murder isn't?” Sam snapped.
“Look, Sam, the police are efficient because most killings fit one of several patterns. But this—be no motive anybody but us could possibly know about and... Look, I once read where some police authority said the perfect murder would have to be an insane act where a man suddenly shoots a total stranger on the street—no motive, no connection, no possible clues. That's the first thing came to me when I read the paper—we're shooting a stranger.”
“He saw us—you—before,” Sam said, lighting another cigarette. “Marty, there's things a man can do and can't do. I can't go through with a murder. That's all!”
“Merely saying 'That's all' doesn't solve anything for us. I'll do the actual trigger pulling, if that will make you feel any better. Yes, he saw us. He spoke to me once, a casual conversation in a bar some three months ago—and I was using a phony name. Who can remember that except him, and he'll be dead? For all practical purposes we're walking up to a total stranger and shooting him without rhyme or reason. Unless we're nabbed at the scene of the killing—and that we'll work out carefully, of course—the police will have to be lucky, downright stupid fumbling lucky, to even get on our trail.”
“Murder is out.”
Pearson walked over and shook his partner. “Stop talking like a goddamn parrot! If we get rid of him we're safe, have money, the good life. I'm back with Therese, you're a big actor. If he lives we're bums the rest of our lives and end up serving a lot of time. Killing is our only out. As you said, we couldn't foresee this, but we're in it and getting in deeper is our only escape.”
“But... Marty, you talk so calmly about... murder!” Sam said, pushing the smaller man away.
“I'm not calm. I'm scared crazy, but not that frightened I've stopped thinking, can't realize what has to be done. Be simple, we come upon him alone in the street today—it has to be today —best tonight. One quick shot and we're gone before anybody finds the body. Then we keep on with the cases we have cooking. Another month or two, we leave the country.”
“Why not leave at once after, I mean... if... we do it?”
“Because we haven't got enough and what difference will it make? If they're on to us, they can extradite us from Europe. No, we keep on going as usual, like nothing happened. Sam, I've thought this out, racked my head till it hurts. How can they ever connect us with it? How can the police possibly stumble upon us? What can go wrong?”
Sam looked for an ashtray, finally thumbed his cigarette out the one window. “Marty, up to now it's been like a game— the whole works: outsmarting the army, the French cops, the stuff we've been doing here. It worked smooth because we never hurt nobody, worked our own angles... but now, a deliberate cold-blooded murder, I can't go that, I just can't!”
Pearson said coldly, “And I can't think of living without Therese. We've put in over five months on this, we already have about twenty-five grand set for sure, another fifteen thousand in the works. I'm not throwing all that over because this kid gets lucky. Get this through your dumb head—there's little risk—he himself won't have the slightest idea why we're killing him.”
“As you said, the cops can be lucky.”
“Luck has been riding with us, all down the line.” Pearson opened his camera bag and dropped two Lugers on the bed. “Look how lucky it was I never sold these, held on to them.”
Sam stared at the guns, his thin lips moving. Finally he pulled himself together, asked quietly, “Threatening me, Marty?”
“Killing you would be a wrong move, leave too many trails. But I want Therese so badly I considered it. Think it over, Sam. It's rough but we've been living on cream so far, can't complain. Get dressed, take a shower, take a walk and get the air... start thinking. Have a good breakfast. Think, then tell me what else we can do but kill him. Show me any other out, even a cockeyed one, and I'll be the first to take it. But you know killing is the only way. Think about it, Sam, think real hard... we have a couple of hours.”
SHE HAD four very large rooms in one of these old, high-ceilinged apartment houses that never look like much on the outside. It was a front apartment overlooking the Hudson River, and full of severe modern furniture that looked uncomfortable —or maybe it was the violent colors. Everything was a patch-quilt of brash red and blinding yellows and mysterious purples. And somehow the effect didn't quite come off—it was as if she'd copied a room and overdone it. One wall was lined with books—in colorful jackets too—but they all looked too new, as if she joined every book club out and stacked the books away as they came.
Betsy Turner was wearing a Chinese-like outfit—tight red pants and a loose yellow house coat that should have given her an exotic look, but her kid's face was an almost comical contrast. Her face reminded me of the Kewpie dolls that used to be so popular—her nose and eyes and lips took up all her face, almost seemed to be overcrowding it.
Frankly I didn't get the play—the carefully made-up face, those tight pants showing off her strong legs, the teasing outline of firm breasts whenever the coat touched them. Either Mrs. Turner was expecting somebody after I left, or she wanted other kinds of work for her thirty a day.
To keep my eyes off her, I said “Hello” and glanced around at the several amateurish oils on the wall—like those pre-sketched canvas deals where you fill in the colors by number. In one corner of the living room there was an easel with a half-finished painting of a river scene—and without numbers. Near it was a large TV set, and near that one of these expensive record players. I said, “Nice place here. You paint much?”
“I play at it. I also decorated this apartment. Do you like it?”
From the tone of her voice it seemed important to her that I liked it. “Rather unusual. Yeah, I like it,” I said. And the canvases, the books, the stacks of records—they could mean a lot of things, including loneliness. But hell, the fine ebony wood cabinet of the TV was easily a cop's salary for a month, or two, and the high-fidelity record player wasn't anything you found in a box of Cracker Jacks.... No wonder Ed Turner walked around with his hand out. And considering the short time he'd been on the force, he was a joker with a talent for letting people see his palms.
“I made this Chinese house coat too,” she said, turning like a model for me to see it—and her. She sure packed a healthy figure. Only she still gave me this Kewpie-doll feeling—an expensive one.
“Looks wonderful. Very becoming.”
She smiled faintly, like a kid with a good report card. “Please sit down over there, Mr. Harris.” She pointed to a veneer bucket chair with dainty wrought-iron legs.
I sat down on a pigskin hassock, said, “Doubt if the chair is guaranteed to hold 248 pounds.”
She sat down on a banana-yellow contour couch.
There was a moment of silence and I studied her legs, which were worth studying. She motioned toward a bottle and several glasses on a marble table with driftwood legs. “Noilly Prat, Mr. Harris?”
“No thanks, Mrs. Turner. And what is it?” We sounded like a soap opera.
She smiled and her lips were thick and red and girlish, and my temperature shot up. “Vermouth—French. I'm not much of a drinker, but this place has been giving me the jitters ever since Ed... died. It's a jinx apartment, and it caused our first real fight.”
“That so?” I said politely. People who always brag how little they drink are usually in the lush class.
“Yes, I never really enjoyed this place,” she went on. “After Ed passed the police exam, but before he was called, he was head of the shipping department and I was a steno in the front office—that's how we met. After we married we couldn't find an apartment and lived in a room for several months. Then Ed found this apartment and insisted we take it, even though the rent was more than our combined weekly salaries. I didn't mind scrimping because I wanted a place of our own, and this even had furniture—not this stuff—and we didn't have to pay anything under the table. Then I found out why it was vacant —a man had hung himself with a tie from the bathroom door.”
Following her over-red fingernail I saw a white door off the cocoa-colored foyer. “Must have been a small man to do it with a tie,” I said brightly.
She hesitated, not sure if I was kidding her, then decided I wasn't, said, “I didn't want the place then, it gave me the creeps. And using his furniture too. But Ed insisted. I didn't know till then how unhappy he'd been in our room, making coffee on a hot plate, using the window sill for an icebox. Oh, Ed always liked to live so big. He even hinted we'd part if I didn't take the apartment. I nearly had a fit when we moved in. Ed had to stay with me while I took a bath or I'd get to staring at the door till I saw a body swinging there. Ed said I was a baby but I couldn't help it.”
“Able to go to the bathroom alone now?” She sat up, face flushed. “Mr. Harris! Don't get fresh!” I almost slipped off the hassock—Mrs. Turner was out of this planet—I hadn't been called “fresh” since I was in knickers. “It may look... odd, asking you to my apartment, but don't get any ideas, Mr. Harris. Nor do I like you making fun of me.”
“Merely asked a question, Mrs. Turner,” I said, afraid I'd smile myself out of a job. “Only wondering if the place still spooks you.”
She sort of pulled herself together, leaned back on the couch. “It was bad till... One morning several weeks after we moved in I was feeling... uh... unwell... had to stay home. Ed couldn't be with me, we'd have both lost our jobs. I was going crazy, imagining all sorts of things when a woman came to the door, said she had worked as a maid for the suicide and did I want to hire her? Of course we couldn't afford that but I was so happy to see anyone I asked her in for coffee and we talked about the dead man. When she told me he'd been a pansy, I don't know why, I was no longer afraid. Till now. With Ed a suicide everything scares me. But that's enough about me. What have you been doing, Mr. Harris?”
“Checked with Lieutenant Swan on the details of the case. By the way, Mr. Turner ever mention a man named Brown?”
“No. And we haven't any friends by that name, or...”
“Have many friends?”
She popped her eyes open like I'd jabbed her in the belly. “Why do you ask that? As a matter of fact, we didn't. I'm not the outgoing type and Ed—he liked to roam around alone, always looking for what he called suspects. As for his friends on the force, frankly I hated his being a policeman. It changed Ed. When a man makes his work hunting down other men, that's not good.”
“I suppose cops are necessary.”
“Mr. Harris, doctors are necessary too, but suppose a doctor limited himself to handling cancer cases all day, day after day— in time he'd probably become infected himself. A cop, always working with criminals, I think he becomes infected too. After a time the cop and the criminal blend, the hunter and the hunted become one.” Her voice, which had been full and strong, went small again as she slipped me a smile, added, “No offense, Mr. Harris. Oh, I can't keep calling you Mister Harris. I'll call you Barney and you may call me Betsy.”
“You call me what you wish, I'll keep using Mrs. Turner,” I said, annoyed at her ”... you may call me ...” I was really annoyed because whatever there was about her that troubled me... still troubled me.
She shrugged—a very sexy movement. “As you like. But I didn't mean to be personal when I said police work was a dirty profession.”
“Can't offend me. I only stumbled into the... eh... profession myself. I'm an auto mechanic. My wife was in the insurance business and she got me a job checking on stolen cars for insurance companies. Usually the engine numbers are filed, other changes made to disguise the heap. It was my job to identify the cars, also check into phony auto accidents, and the title of private detective went with the job. I did that for five or six years and when my wife died I went into the private-eye business because of the irregular hours—gives me a chance to call for my daughter in school, be around the neighborhood.”
“I'm sorry to hear about your wife,” she said, in the proper sad tone. “Did you raise the girl by yourself?”
“Yes, and quite well, too.”
“How old is she?”
“Ruthie will be six in two months from the twenty-fifth.”
“Barney, I don't mean to be personal, but did your wife die in childbirth?”
“No, we adopted Ruthie. My wife was too old to have kids.” I saw the puzzled look come into her eyes and wondered if she'd come out and ask me. She did.
“But you don't look more than thirty-four.”
“I'm thirty-seven, Mrs. Turner. I was thirty-two when I married my wife and she was forty-one. I was her second husband, and I was infatuated with her beauty. You see she never tried to look younger than she was, rather she was always a beautiful forty-one-year-old woman. Maybe that's a beauty secret. Now let's get back to Ed.”
Betsy nodded. “I'm crazy about children. Ed was too, till he became a cop... then he always wanted to wait.”
“How long have you been married?”
“About four years,” she said, pouring herself a taste of vermouth, sipping it as though it was hard stuff. “I'm from a small town way out on Long Island. I had always looked forward to New York City, but I found it such a lonely place. I met Ed on the job, my first real beau, and after a month we were married. It was like a dream, we were so happy, so much in love. Ed was tender and considerate, full of laughs. But he changed from the moment he entered the Police Academy. He became ambitious.”
“Most wives like that. My wife tried to inject some ambition into me, but it didn't take,” I said, wondering why her words sounded false although she said them straight, as if she meant them.
“Ambition made Ed tough and cruel. A few days after he was appointed to the force, we were in the subway, going to a movie downtown. Ed kept staring at a man across the aisle, told me, 'He looks like a guy I saw on a Fed-wanted flier. Dope case. Except his hair is black and this fellow was a blond.'
“I told him to forget it but Ed was always talking about making a 'good' pinch, jumping to a detective. All he did at night was to read those wanted circulars. Well, he kept studying this man, going over his face feature by feature, the way he'd been trained. Finally he said, 'That's him!' and went over and showed his badge—made a scene. The man denied he was the criminal but Ed yanked out a fistful of his hair, waved the bloody hair at me and shouted, 'The roots are blond!' Then he punched the man in the face and he was all blood.”
“Was the man the one wanted?”
She nodded. “But how I hated that badge, the gun, the handcuffs, the blackjack!”
“Mrs. Turner, a rough world makes for rough people. The worst cop hater squeals the loudest for the police when he's in a jam. True, there are incompetent cops, nightstick happy. Also, in this corrupt world, if crime doesn't pay—being a cop doesn't pay much either. Now that I've finished my sermon for the day, let's get down to cases—this case. You have any boy friends, past or present?”
She jumped to her feet with cat speed. “How dare you say that?” Her big soft eyes were big and mad now.
“Take it slow, Mrs. Turner,” I said calmly. “I'm working for you, remember? I have to sift through everything. A jealous boy friend could cause murder, or suicide.”
“How dare you... I never looked at another man! I never... what sort of a mind have you?”
“A detective's mind—maybe. Look, stop the how-dare-you line. Mrs. Turner, you asked me up here. I don't mind a lot of social chatter, but at the moment I feel ill at ease, a bit like the rear end of a horse. I don't mean to be crude, or maybe I do, but the point is, I have to ask questions and I'd like some answers—without frills, if possible.”
“You're crude, rude, and... and...!”
“Let's start over again,” I cut in. “How about Ed, any other woman on his mind?”
“No! No!” Her face got so red I thought she was going to scream.
“Mrs. Turner, being a busybody is my job. You said in my office that you and Ed were very happy, yet all you've done tonight is carp about his job, his...”
“We were very much in love and happy! Get that through your thick head, you lummox!” she shouted in my face. Then she caught herself, sat down on the couch again, said in a normal voice, “I didn't like what his job was doing to him, but that doesn't make us unhappy.”
“Have a job, Mrs. Turner?”
“This apartment, the furniture, your clothes—a detective's salary wouldn't make it. You knew your husband was keeping his hand out, but...”
“Ed wasn't dishonest!” she snapped.
“What did he do, win a lot of prize money like the Andersun kid? This case is tough enough, has the cops on the ropes—if you really want results, don't hold out on me.”
“I told you, I never knew much about his job—never wanted to hear about it. He gave me money for the house. I never asked questions. Ed didn't like to be questioned about money matters. My God, you must think I'm some cheap, little ugly tramp that...”
“Don't know enough about you to say if you're cheap or not, or a tramp. But you're not little, or ugly. Now let's put the gloves away and get down to...”
Her eyes became soft again—that kid look—as she said, “Thanks. I do want to find out if... Ed was a suicide. It's so terribly important to me. I'm sorry I blew up, but you are a bit abrupt... and crude.”
I wondered what the “thanks” meant. “One more crude question, Mrs. Turner. Why do you keep harping on this suicide kick? You say Ed was happy, and ambitious, hard—that's not the picture of a suicide.”
“But if he was shot in the back without...?”
“Suicides are upset, depressed. You keep raising the suicide angle.... What was Ed upset about?”
She stared at the floor, finally whispered, “We had a fight that night. Something very personal.”
She raised her head and glared at me, said, “None of your business! I said it was personal!”
“But you hired me to find out the most personal thing a person can do—kill himself. What did you fight about?”
She sighed, leaned back against the couch, said in her small voice, “We were... incompatible. For months Ed hadn't slept with me.”
I didn't say a word, didn't know what to say. “I think he... he got some sort of... thrill... out of beating men. He once told me that. Maybe that was why he stopped... having relations with... me. On the night he was killed we... had a scene and I accused him of n-not being a man. He got so angry I thought he was going to hit me. He ran out of here. Less than two hours later he was dead.” The words were forced out, dull little sounds. She added, “This has to be confidential. Don't even tell the police, please.” I stood up.
“Now you see why I must know—for my own peace of mind. I feel as though I killed him.”
“If that's all you have to go on, Mrs. Turner, I still think you ought to save your money. Let the police handle this.”
“I'll be the judge of that,” she said, and her kid's voice was cold and snooty. “What do you plan to do tomorrow?”
“If you're going to tell me how to operate, then you don't need me.”
“I'm not telling you your business, but I am interested, of course.”
For a moment I wanted to walk out on the case—but only for a moment. Then I said calmly, “This Brown lead might be something, although it's a long shot and doesn't make much sense. Takes me months to check on all the Browns in the city, but the police will do it quicker, so I'll leave it alone. I expect to talk to members of the Andersun family. I'm sure his slaying will explain everything. Sound like a good day's work?”
I walked to the door and she followed, without speaking. At the door I turned to see her looking at herself in a wall mirror, moistening her lips, straightening her bangs. “You'll be here tomorrow at eight?” she asked.
I nodded and opened the door.
“Barney, have you a picture of your daughter?”
Taking out my wallet, I showed her Ruthie's laughing face. She said, “What an adorable child.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Turner.”
“I wish you'd call me Betsy. Mrs. Turner sounds so... jarring.”
“Best we keep it jarring, for the time being. Good night, Mrs. Turner.”
“Good night, Barney.”
In the lobby downstairs I asked the hall man if there was a public phone and he showed me one back of a door that led to the service entrance. I kept the door open as I dialed, had a clear view of the lobby. I told my baby sitter, “This is Barney Harris. Looks like I'm stuck for a brace of hours. May, can you do me a favor and sleep over on the couch? Sure, ask your folks if it's okay. How's Ruthie doing? Oh, I'll probably be home around... three or four in the morning. You bet, overtime is double pay. Look, you go downstairs and ask your folks and I'll call back in about five minutes.”
I hung up and lit a cigarette, wondered if it would be smart to chat with the hall man. But he wouldn't tell me anything about Mrs. Turner. Probably the first thing the cops checked was what she was doing on the night of the murder.
An old couple came in and talked to the hall man as they waited for the elevator. I finished my butt and called back and May said her folks didn't like her staying out all night. I told her I'd phone them. Instead I phoned Cy O'Hara, asked him if he could baby-sit. He told me, “Look, Barney, it's near nine now and I'm to hell and gone across the Bronx. Besides, I'd have to wait till the wife came home from the movies. Probably wouldn't get there before 3 a.m. myself.”
“I just thought maybe you could leave now. See you at the office.”
“Forget it. I'll get somebody. See you tomorrow, Cy.” I couldn't blame anybody for turning me down—being single I could never return the baby-sitting favor. I got the Weiss number from information and spent ten minutes convincing May's mother that this was an emergency and after all, the kid was in the same apartment house and what could happen to her? She finally said all right, but just this once. Said she'd go up and see that May was comfortable.
I went out and sat in my car, got some jazz on the radio. It wasn't hard to spot the Turner windows—not with all those slashing colors. Waiting is the thing a detective does the most of and I killed time by going through the papers in my pockets, tearing up the ads, the old bills, a letter asking if I was interested in a “Perfect Man” and weight-lifting contest at a Brooklyn YMCA; I was way out of shape for contest lifting, and maybe getting too old.
Mostly couples went into the apartment house, and a few men who somehow didn't look like “lovers.” At ten-thirty the lights in her living room went out, then I saw her pulling down the blinds of her bedroom, and soon that light went out.
At 3:20 a.m. I drove home. Betsy Turner hadn't gone out, nor had the lights been turned on again. She hadn't been waiting for a man. That meant she'd dolled up in that sexy outfit for me.
And like the rest of the case, that didn't make any sense.
THE ARMY didn't make Martin Pearson a hustler—the war did. In an interview in the Syracuse Tribune, Pearson's mother, Mrs. Francine Pearson, blamed the army:
I'll never believe Martin is a murderer. Our family has lived here since the days of 1776 and not a single Pearson has ever been in trouble with the law—for any reason whatsoever. My Martin was raised as a sober, hard-working boy, but after those three-and-a-half years he spent in the army, he came home different. He was still a fine boy but it seemed to me his eyes were restless, always searching for something. He never seemed to look a person in the eyes any more.
But the army only taught a comparative few how to work an angle, while war made scrounging the main occupation of most of the world's population—scrounging for food, the fast buck, the fast lira or franc: hustling for life itself.
Pearson was born on a small farm some twenty-four miles from Syracuse, New York on August 25, 1920. The farm was four miles from the “town” of Bay Corners, which consisted of a feed store, a garage, and a general store run by one Andrew Marsh. The rear of this store was also the movie house with several rows of wooden benches. Twice a week (and every night during July and August) Mr. Marsh squeezed his barrel body into his homemade projection booth and ran his old 16mm projector. Farmers supported Bay Corners the year around, but in the summer passing motorists and the campers at a near-by lake gave Marsh a boom business.
Martin was the fourth child and received little attention from the rest of the family. As soon as he was big enough, he did his share of the farm work. When he was twelve years old a small incident changed his entire life. Mary Marsh—the plump ten-year-old daughter of the general-store owner—sported a new bike, the result of selling twenty-five subscriptions to a farm magazine.
Martin also wanted a bike and knowing she had covered all the people in Bay Corners (fifty-seven according to the last census) he spent the snow-free days of the winter tramping from farm to farm. By spring he had twenty-five subs and sent away for the bike. Two weeks later the rural mailman handed Martin a large package, although obviously much too small for a bicycle. An enclosed letter stated that there had been a misunderstanding on Martin's part—the bicycle was given for a hundred and twenty-five subscriptions. For his twenty-five subs they were sending him a box camera, three rolls of film, and a developing kit. The magazine sincerely hoped this would be satisfactory-
It wasn't. In a rage Martin accused Mary Marsh of lying. She said, “Honest, I thought it was twenty-five subs. Poppa sold them for me at the counter and I never did know how many he got. Gee, Marty, nobody here ever had a camera, except the summer people.”
Martin was still angry but he took pictures of his father and mother on a sunny day, developed them in the barn at night— carefully following the instruction booklet—and his folks and brothers stared at the hazy snapshots with awe. Martin realized the camera made him a person of importance, began spending his extra dimes for photo supplies and booklets.
By the time he graduated from high school at eighteen, Martin had a second-hand press camera and was making a few dollars a week cycling from farm to farm, doing “portraits” of the farm families. Mary Marsh was about to enter Teachers Normal College at Oswego, and had grown to be a squat young woman whose only beauty was her “clear skin.” There weren't many young people in Bay Corners and it was understood Mary and Martin were “going steady,” mainly because Martin hung around Poppa Marsh's theater, seeing each movie over and over, trying to understand the technique of motion pictures. Martin suggested she ask her father if he could set up a “portrait studio” in the store during the summer months, use the theater for a dark room during the day. For rent Martin offered 30 per cent of the take. Mr. Marsh settled for 50 per cent and Martin was in business with some badly lettered signs in the store window.
Martin would hang around the summer campers, quietly taking candid shots of them swimming and horsing around, return the next day with enlargements in cardboard frames. The happy campers gave him from three to five dollars a picture and during the summer he made almost four hundred dollars. Mr. Marsh hinted Martin would be welcome as a son-in-law and it was decided they would be married as soon as Mary finished college.
Martin bought a second-hand roadster (In his confession Martin Pearson stated: “Until I was in the army I never had a brand-new thing in my life. All my clothing, shoes, and toys were hand-me-downs from my brothers.”) and the photography business went into a slump; all the local people had photos and in the winter there weren't any tourists. Martin took pictures of a forest fire and sold them to a Syracuse paper, soon became a free-lance photographer for several small country papers. He would ride around the countryside, snapping weddings, accidents, church bazaars; returning to sell pictures to the people in the photos, to the local papers, and sometimes to papers in Syracuse, Ithaca, and Buffalo. Although he worked hard, had a good summer trade, Martin never averaged more than thirty dollars a week for a year.
When he was twenty-two, Mary graduated from college and was immediately hired to teach at the Bay Corners school. She and Martin were married and he moved into the Marsh apartment over the store. By local standards they had a decent income and Martin wasn't unhappy—he was bored. Nine months after they were married he received his draft notice and according to his own statement: “If I felt anything it was relief.”
Martin landed in an infantry basic training camp in the South. Every Friday afternoon the soldiers were reviewed by the elderly colonel in command. One Friday, while he was barracks orderly, Martin took his miniature camera and photographed the parade grounds. Using the camera as an en-larger, he ran off a few prints, found the soldiers eager to get copies—they offered him as much as five dollars per copy. Martin immediately wired Mary to send him supplies and was soon doing a flourishing business. A camp newspaper was being set up and Martin was made a Pfc., kept on permanent cadre, and assigned to the paper.
A large and steady stream of new men went through the camp, each new G.I. wanting a picture to send home. Martin had a stock shot in which he lay behind a small hill and snapped the new soldier jumping over the top, rifle and bayonet in hand, a scowl on his face. This was the five-dollar special and every payday Martin's hands were full of money, and it was all profit as he was now using army film and paper. Mary wrote dutiful letters, sent him homemade cookies and asked when he was coming home on leave, but business was too good for Martin to take time off. The editor of the camp newspaper was an earnest young man who was transferred in 1943 to Yank magazine. He wrote Martin the magazine might be interested in him too, but Sergeant Pearson wasn't the least interested in leaving his cozy deal.
In 1944 the camp cadre was suddenly shipped to Camp Kilmer, broken up for overseas shipment. Martin spent a fast week-end with Mary in New York City and in a fit of tender love-making gave her eighteen hundred dollars he had saved up, told her he'd won it in a crap game.
Three weeks later Martin was hanging around a huge repple-depple outside Naples, seemed to be taking his basic over again. One day Pearson read an article in Yank by his former camp editor and wrote to him, asking if it was still possible to be assigned to the magazine. The Yank man was stationed in Rome and to Martin's astonishment he spoke to somebody on Stars and Stripes and Martin was soon sent to Rome as a photographer on the army newspaper.
Pearson learned a great deal about photography here, for the other cameramen had all been professional newspaper and magazine photographers. Martin covered the front lines, flew a bombing mission, and rode a PT boat to Yugoslavia. Life was exciting but he missed the money he'd made back in the States and Pearson was constantly searching for an angle. Black-market cigarettes were small time; a bigger deal was selling G.I. photographic paper to Italian studios, but that was risky.
Almost any sort of camera sold for several hundred dollars, while a good camera would bring a thousand or more from the G.I.'s. A Yank photographer had a map of Germany with the towns with camera factories circled and he often talked of coming into one of these towns with the troops and “grabbing off a Rolleiflex or a Leica for myself.”
Martin saw bigger possibilities, copied the map when he was sent into France after D-day. Months later Martin was with an infantry company when they stormed a German city noted for its expensive reflex cameras. While the soldiers were mopping up snipers, Martin drove a jeep directly to the factory, walked in holding a carbine to find Polish slave laborers still at work.
They stared at him without much emotion, only a kind of patient beaten weariness, and stood at their benches as Martin carried twenty-seven cameras (each in a neat wooden box) out to his jeep. The Nazi factory manager, finally convinced Martin was alone, at last came out of his office, demanded to know what the hell Pearson was doing.
Martin answered by busting his head open with the carbine, then shouted at the Poles, “You're free! Understand—free! Take what you want and scram!” He waved his hands at the open doors, but they still didn't move. Martin had taken all the rations out of his jeep, to make room for the cameras, and he handed these out. When he left he saw the Poles gulping the rations, then trooping out with whatever instruments they could carry, and soon the factory went up in flames.
After giving cameras to the motor pool sergeant, the PRO captain, and several others, Martin still had sixteen cameras and within the following month he was able to sell these for an average of $800 each, giving him nearly $13,000.
When the war in Europe was over Martin was stationed in Frankfurt, then in Paris, and in both cities he lived well, for he was an American sergeant with money and a PX card that meant cigarettes, candy, and soap. He got into some big crap games, and at one time his $13,000 went to $21,000 and once it shrunk to $4,500. He had $11,000 in Allied currency when he was awaiting shipment back to the States. He managed to change this into $8,500 in American money and money orders.
In January, 1946, Pearson was discharged and returned to Bay Corners. Mary Pearson had carefully banked all his allotment checks, already picked out a house they would buy, with a garage that could be made into a studio. He never told her about his money. In his confession Pearson stated:
I really don't know why I kept the money a secret from my wife. But I did. It wasn't the money, rather it was something I knew I could never explain to her. She would think it wrong and well... to me it wasn't a matter of right or wrong. I'd merely been lucky.
When they were married Mary, as the college graduate, had been the brains and Martin a simple farm boy. But the Martin Pearson who returned to Bay Corners knew all the angles, spoke French, Italian, and German, had slept with many women, seen bombed cities and dead men and women, sunned himself on Capri, the Venice Lido, the beach at Cannes. He looked at the plain, plump, country-school teacher who was his wife and told her he couldn't take Bay Corners any longer. He didn't love Mary, but she was his wife and ho wanted to make a try at living with her.
Martin said he didn't know exactly what he wanted to do, but he wanted to live in New York City. Of course Mary Pearson thought this foolish: she had her teacher's job in Bay Corners, their families lived there, and ”... I hear some Syracuse people plan to build motels out by the lake. Means plenty of picture work for you. I figure you should make fifty dollars a week at least.”
She talked Martin into staying in Bay Corners and he remained there—for three months. The day they were to buy a house, he took a bus to New York City. Mary Pearson never knew what happened to him till seven years later when reporters swooped down on her with Martin's picture on the front page.
Pearson spent a restless year in New York, working in a photography studio. New York wasn't what he was looking for. He decided to study color photography under the G.I. Bill and while looking into the various schools, he overheard some ex-G.I.'s talking about Paris schools.
In June, 1947, he got passage on a clean little freighter and sweated out a hot summer in Paris, living frugally and taking it easy as he brushed up on his French, hunted for an apartment. In September he enrolled in a photography school, but there wasn't much they could teach him. When he said he was interested in motion-picture work, his teacher introduced him to Theresa Veyron, a film editor.
No man had ever called Therese pretty. She was tall and slim, flat-chested, and had heavy ankles. Her long, lean face contained sad eyes, an overlarge mouth, and was set off by carefully brushed brown hair that hung to thin shoulders. The only child of a middle-class family, when she was twenty-two —and with the help of a dowry—Theresa married a fifty-two-year-old man who managed a movie theater on l'avenue des Ternes. He openly spent her dowry on his mistress, made a point of remarking about every large-breasted woman they saw on the streets. They politely hated each other and for lack of something to do, Theresa took a job as a secretary with a concern that made short advertising movies. At the start of the war Theresa was a film cutter.
Therese never considered leaving her husband but the war broke the pattern of most lives: for her it killed her husband, wiped out her family and home during an air raid, and left her mildly active working on underground movies that were never made, and lonely. With the war over she returned to the film business. There were plenty of jobs but no money, and although she worked hard she was always hungry and seedy looking.
Therese resigned herself to the fact that she was unattractive, that romance was out. Americans annoyed her and she only agreed to go out with Martin because it meant a good supper. He took her to a modest restaurant and she stuffed herself as he talked about photography. Over coffee and hot rums he carefully listened to her ideas about movies. And when he walked Therese to her three-room flat, he politely asked if he could sleep with her. She wasn't certain whether she was angry, amused, flattered, or astonished.
They turned out to be ideal lovers; each not only aroused a sincere passion in the other, but each of them was fanatically interested in the same subject—motion pictures. As soon as Therese could evict a girl roomer, Martin moved in. He made no secret of his money and they decided he would continue with school—to get the subsistence money—and in time they would open a small studio, produce the clever two-minute commercial used in French theaters between the showings of the regular feature.
Pearson had about seven thousand dollars left and they carefully hoarded this, living with moderate ease on his G.I. school money. They moved on the fringe of the movie crowd at Joinville, spent their spare time hunting for a studio, looking at equipment—and buying nothing but a cheap 16mm movie camera Martin used for practice.
Life was leisurely; they were sure of each other and their future: they were very happy. Pearson was one of the few Fortunate Americans who wasn't searching for the Left Bank of the 1920's in post-World War II Paris. Martin loved the Paris he found. It made no difference to him if he ate in a swank tourist restaurant or had supper in one of the student places for eighty francs. He wanted nothing more out of life than to sip coffee and eat croissants in a cafe each morning, racing through the Paris Herald in a few seconds, then slowly stumbling through a French morning paper over his second cup. He would play the pinball machine and finally go to school. In the afternoons he roamed the city, taking pictures of the people, the wonderful old dirty buildings. He was amused by the tourists and never lonely for the States. In fact during the five years he spent in Paris he claims he only went to the American Express once. At five in the afternoon he would sit at a sidewalk cafe and exchange small talk with the waiters as he waited for Therese to have an aperitif with him. He enjoyed watching her in the crowds, the eager impatient way she walked, as if there was absolutely nothing in the world as important as rushing to meet and kiss Martin Pearson.
One October evening in 1951, as they were having a late snack of mussels and snails in a cheap restaurant on rue Clichy, Therese asked/'You remember Gabby, the little one who thinks she is an actress because she has a bosom like a cow?”
“She is now living with one of your compatriots, a smug, stupid man who claims he was an actor in Hollywood and on Broadway. He is as bald as an egg, and I think you should see him.”
“Why? I can't grow hair!”
“My darling, always you must joke! He has just come from your army in Germany. He has a car and spends his money like a fool. But Gabby swears she has seen three reels of Nazi newsreels he has managed to steal, films never seen before. She says there are pictures of Hitler, Eva Braun, and others, including a parade of nude girls on floats, and horror shots of the beasts looting a Polish village. This... actor has ideas of making a full-length picture around these reels. It can be done, so I have arranged for Gabby to introduce you to this Monsieur Sam Lund.”
AT SEVEN-THIRTY Ruthie got me half awake by the usual method of tickling my toes, then banging me on the head, which always brought me completely around. At first I'd thought this was cute, now I couldn't break her of the habit. I went to the bathroom, wearing only a pair of shorts. There was a short scream—I'd forgotten about the baby sitter. May was a skinny fifteen and wearing an old robe of her mother's that went around her several times. Her pimply face was a furious blushing red. I said, “What you screaming about? Haven't you ever been to the beach, seen men in trunks? Want the bathroom first?”
“I have already completed my toilet,” she announced, so I went in and left her to her blushing.
After breakfast I drove Ruthie to the nursery school. I only had a few hours' sleep and maybe some private eyes can bat along on no shut-eye, but not me. I needed sleep to sharpen my alleged mind, so I went home and crawled back between the sheets, after setting the alarm for noon. Exactly twenty-three minutes later the phone rang, jarring me awake.
Jake Winston said, “Hello, cousin.”
“Hello, Jake,” I said, trying not to sound angry.
“Waited till you were awake to call you,” he said pleasantly. “I saw Ruthie yesterday.”
“She told me.”
“Why didn't you call me last night? You know Grace, always fussing with her cooking. Wants to know if you're coming out Sunday?”
“Well... eh ...”
“Been months since we've seen you. The boys want to see Ruthie and Grace will make some fancy dishes I can't even pronounce.”
Grace was Syrian and could cook Oriental dishes that made you stuff yourself like a pig. “Don't have to sell me, Jake. Thing is I'm on a case and not sure I'll be free Sunday.”
“Let's settle it that you're coming out. If you get stuck, I'll drive in and pick up Ruthie. A deal, chum?”
“I'm buying. How's the mail?”
“Heavy, lot of damn magazines today. See you, Barney.”
I drove over to the office to pick up my mail—a waste of time, stopped at the coffeepot for a second breakfast and a couple of Alma's old dirty jokes, then headed down to the Andersun home. All the time I felt in a daze, my brain still working on Betsy Turner. There was something sad about her. All that stuff about her late husband getting his kicks out of beating men—I didn't believe it, but I guess anything is possible when a joker goes in for thrills.
I only expected to find Mrs. Andersun home, but the father was there too. Their apartment was much like mine, a four-room walk-up in a house that was on the verge of becoming a tenement. The Andersuns were ordinary-looking people, both in their fifties—Mrs. Andersun a very pale and delicate-looking woman. Her husband wore a torn undershirt, old pants, slippers, and a hearing aid. He was stooped and thin, a plump face held up by a scrawny neck, his skin an unhealthy pale-white.
When I told them what I wanted, he told me in a tired voice, “We have been through this so many times, so many questions.”
I gave him the old reliable, “Only doing my job, Mr. Andersun. And you want us to find your son's killer, don't you?”
He shrugged bony shoulders. “Yes, I suppose I do want the killer captured. But that won't bring Franklin back to us. When he came out of the war alive, I was so happy, and now...”
“The war did it,” Mrs. Andersun said as I parked my king-size backside in a worn chair. “Took a quiet boy like my Franklin, had him ride the sky at three hundred miles an hour. He'd be in Topeka one morning, maybe here in New York the next, or in California for breakfast and going to a show in New Orleans that evening. Then they expect him to return to a normal, slow life.”
“Frank wasn't... eh... nervous or anything, was he?”
“No, sir, he was a bright boy, a student,” the mother said. “Took three years of college under the G.I. Bill. Studied business. Always said how with the right methods and a little cash, a person could make a fortune these days. Had so many schemes—all legitimate, of course.”
“What sort of schemes?”
“No sense going into that,” Mr. Andersun said. “Other detectives asked us the same thing. Franklin never got started, you need capital and we're poor people. He managed to save a few hundred dollars and played the market with that. At first he made a small profit, then he tried some wild stocks and lost it all. He went to the big concerns with some of his merchandising ideas, but they wouldn't even see him. Then he got a couple of jobs, thought he could work his way up. They beat him down, broke his spirit.”
“Nonsense, Franklin would have been a rich man some day. He had the spunk,” mama said.
Mr. Andersun shook his head. “No, he lost his drive. That's why he was going to take a trip with this money, instead of investing it.”
“Where was he going?”
“No place special, maybe Paris, he just wanted to travel.”
“Were you in favor of the trip?” I asked.
Mr. Andersun turned so that the hearing device hooked to his belt faced me. “Was I in favor of it? Oh, travel is a form of education. We hardly had any time to discuss it. Juanita, that's our daughter, she thought Franklin should spend it on new furniture. But far as Mom and I were concerned, the final decision would have been up to the boy.”
There wasn't anything at the Andersun home, and the cops had already questioned them for several days. The old man had worked for the gas company most of his life, was taking time off now to pull himself together. They had never heard of any Brown, never heard or saw Turner before, hadn't a single idea why their son was shot. Juanita worked as a telephone operator and would be home late in the afternoon. She had a steady boy friend named Irving Spear, who was a hackie. Mom Andersun said, “A very good boy, going to evening college. Of course there's a difference in religion, but they will work that out. Franklin wasn't engaged, but he saw a lot of Cissy Lewis— lives in the house next door.”
When I left them, I dropped in to see if Cissy was home. She was a silly-looking girl of about twenty-four, with curlers in her blond hair, and quite upset because I found her in a dirty housedress, cleaning up her folk's apartment. She talked in a shrill voice, said her folks ran a local vegetable store and made a point of telling me, “I never work there, of course. Wish I'd have known you was coming; I'd have got dressed. Lots of cops and men have questioned me. Gee, you sure look like a detective —so big and hard-boiled looking.”
When I managed to get a word in, she said, “I was engaged to Frank and my heart is broken. As I told the reporters, I was so shocked at the news of his death, I fainted. I really did.” She had one of these straight-up-and-down figures except for fleshy, quivering hips, and as she talked she walked around the living room, putting quite a movement into her hips.
“Frankie know any Brown?”
“You mean a colored man?”
“No, a red-haired man named Brown?”
“Not that I know of and I knew all his friends. We were going to get married soon as he got a better job. I'm a secretary— out of work, at the moment. I told Frank I was willing to work for a while, so we could get married now, but he wouldn't hear of it.”
“What about the trip he was going to take?”
The-heel-and-toe strut stopped. “That was the dumbest idea I ever heard of!” Cissy shrilled. “When I read about it in the papers, I couldn't wait to give him a piece of my mind. Of course I never did. Poppa belongs to a checker club and I had to close up the store that night. Are you going to ask me where I was at the time of the killing, like the other dicks did?”
“No.” I stood up. “Could have used that thousand dollars to get married,” I said for no reason, except to watch her get steamed.
“Exactly what I was going to tell him. After all, I'm twenty-three, sure time I got married. One thing, I'm glad I never gave in to Frank. You know.” This was followed by a giggle and a modest blush.
I thanked her and made for the door. She looked up at me, said, “My, you're a big big man. Married?”
“Six wives, honey. Good-by.”
I drove over to the taxi-garage Irving Spear hacked out of, waited around—dozing in my car—till three when he drove in. He was leanly built, about twenty-seven, and had a pigeon-toed walk. His face was small and heavy shell glasses made it look smaller, and his noggin was on the bald side. From the way he moved and acted, he was a tough joker who could handle himself. I asked him if he'd have a beer. We got a booth in a crummy ginmill and he looked at my card, said, “Even private operators getting into the act. I can't understand the murder, Frank didn't have an enemy in the world. He was the mousy type.”
“His folks said he was a pusher, business-tycoon type.”
Irv laughed. “Frank wanted that but didn't have the guts. Actually he was a moody kid, like an artist or a poet. And he wasn't too smart. Surprised he had guts enough to even talk about taking off for Europe. Trip like that might have made him.”
“Cissy Lewis, his girl, didn't go for the idea.”
“That dumb tomato—she wasn't his girl. The way it was, Frank started taking her out a few times because she was always around. Bet in time she would have hooked him, too, even though he wasn't serious about her. Just a kid we grew up with.”
“Frank ever know a girl named Betsy?” I asked, starting to describe Mrs. Turner, surprised at all the details I could recall.
“You're off base,” Irv said, cutting in. “Frank wasn't a guy that chased. He didn't even have the nerve to talk Cissy into the sheets. Frank still had to pay for it.”
He shook his head. “Now look, this gal is okay, I don't want to make no trouble for her. I never even told the real cops about her.”
“Why should I make trouble? All I'll do is ask her a few questions. This is a rugged case, never know what will help.”
“Okay, but I don't believe in knifing anybody. I'm strictly a live-and-let-live joker. Her name is Louise, you'll find her in the basement of a private house down the block—515.”
“Did you know this man named Brown?”
“Guy with red hair who was in the Grand Cafe several months ago, said he knew Andersun, they were kids together— Brown said he remembered the church burning down.”
Irv grinned. “Yeah, I remember that liar now. Never could figure what his angle was in bulling Frank. Had a guy with him who was giving me the bull treatment too. Handsome guy with wavy hair. Said his name was Smith, or Jones, something like that. He kept asking if I was related to a Spear he knew. Odd part was—and why I remember him—he said this Spear was an accountant; that's what I'm studying.”
“What else did he ask?”
“Buddy, this was months ago and only beer talk then. He just asked about my folks being related to this other Spear, where I was born. That's all. I never saw him again. In fact I'm not swearing he was with Brown. But it was the same night.”
“Did you see Brown in the bar the night of the murder?”
“Was he there? Like I told the other cops, I was in school that night. They checked. You people think Brown is the killer?”
“I don't think anything. Brown is merely a name that's come up twice. Going home? I'll drive you there. I want to see Juanita.”
Juanita Andersun was alone. Her folks had gone for a walk, or in her own words, “Told them to get the hell out and air off.” She was a wiry, sharp-faced young woman of about twenty-one, rather pretty, with clean thin features and eyes like twin judges. She dressed simply and smartly and looked like a pert college kid—till she opened her mouth, breathed acid. Looking me over, she said, “So you're the man-mountain the folks said was here. Come on in, if you can get through the door. Just crawled home from the job myself. Work is a bitch.”
I sat in the living room as she went into the bathroom and said through the wide open door, “Be with you in a moment, got to exercise my bladder.” When she came back she stood in the doorway, stripped to her bra and panties, watching my reaction as she showed one of those hard slender figures that never change much between the ages of fourteen and forty-four. She threw on a beach robe, pasted a cigarette to her lower lip, then kind of flung herself in a chair as she asked, “What's with your great big birdbrain, shamus?”
The “shamus” made me grin; the sale of detective stories must be sensational, and meeting Juanita was sure an experience —a lousy one. “Like to get your ideas on the killings, ask some questions. Ever see Turner, the detective, before?”
She gave me a shake of her poodle hair-do.
We split a moment of silence, then I asked, “What do you think of the killings?”
“What's there to think? Either the work of a maniac, or Frank walked into a fight. As I told the other dicks, my brother was not involved in anything—he didn't have the guts.”
“In basic English it means he's the one that went to college. Me, I had to work after two years of high school—Frankie was a boy and in this family a boy is a Golden Boy. When Frankie came out of the army he was full of ginger, the old pep. Said any person with a little sense and willing to gamble, could make a pile—only suckers stayed poor. I thought maybe it was a break for us that he did go to college. He'd come home, tell me about the business methods he was studying—all the learned and fancy names for the old con racket. Frank and I would split a bottle of beer and he'd tell me how this and that guy started on the road to folding dough by putting a few bucks on some stock, parlaying the deal. Give you an example—Frank told me about some Englishman who heard about surplus U.S. Army supplies on an island in the West Indies—Trinidad, I think. So this guy bought all the stuff from Uncle Sam by cable, then sold them to the government of the island—by another cable. Made himself three hundred thousand bucks in less than a day, and all at the cost of two cables. That's operating. Sort of deal Frankie was looking for. On a smaller scale, of course.”
“Was this Paris trip part of a would-be deal?”
Juanita gave me a full-lip sneer. “What deal? Frankie was all talk. If bull was electricity Frankie would have been a dynamo. Soon as he left school he dropped a few hundred in the stock market and that kayoed his spirit too. Part of the loss was my dough, but I didn't kick. Can't expect to win every bet. All his education, his books and big talk—Frankie ended up a stock clerk, another one of the beer hounds at the corner dump. Although I have to admit the kid finally came through, made good.” She smiled at the blank look on my face. “We're collecting his ten grand G.I. insurance policy. You watch Irv and me hustle my share of that into some real salting money!”
“Ever hear of a man named Brown? Brother ever mention him?”
“Never heard of him. Should I have?”
“Guess not. What about Cissy Lewis?”
The lippy sneer again. “That drip. Frankie sure was lucky escaping her. Jeez, you don't suspect her, do you?”
“Just asking questions. Any other girls in Franklin's life?”
“Franklin—what a handle! No other dames—Cissy was for dancing and holding hands in the movies. There's a pro down the street who was hauling Frankie's ashes.”
“Tell that to the cops?”
“They never asked me. All they wanted to know was what 7 was doing at the time of the shootings. In case you're thinking of asking me, I'll tell you... I was waiting right here, with the folks, to talk Frankie out of the trip junk when he came in. Any more questions?”
“Not for now,” I said, heading for the door.
Without getting up she ran her eyes over me, asked, “How did you escape being a TV wrestler—big as you are? Well, I trust I've been of some help.”
“You're a regular real live doll,” I said, walking out.
I had over a half hour before I was due to call for Ruthie. I walked down the street to 515. This was a three-story brownstone; only now rooming-house fire escapes spoiled whatever beauty it once had. I walked down two steps to the basement, pressed the bell button next to the iron-gate door. After a minute, a man opened the inner door, asked, “Yeah?”
He was wearing sharply pressed slacks, a white wool shirt, and an expensive nylon sport jacket. He was tall and slim, long black hair carefully combed away from a face that was handsome in a kind of sensitive way, or maybe it was all the almost feminine mouth. One thing for sure—he spent a lot of time in front of a mirror. “Louise in?”
“Louise who? Whatcha want?” There was an uneasy whine to his voice.
“You a dick?”
I nodded and he opened the gate and I followed him into what had formerly been a dining room but was now a one-room apartment with a kitchenette behind a cheap screen. It was furnished in standard installment-plan furniture, including a new model TV set and a square Hollywood bed with a fancy red throw over it.
Louise stepped out of the bathroom, wearing a white robe, lot of lace on it. She was a chunky girl with solid breasts. She could have been in her late twenties, maybe older. Jet black hair flowed to her shoulders and framed her face. The face was exciting and would have looked even prettier without the heavy blackened eyelashes. She had a heavy lush mouth, painted a deep red. She looked sexy—a man would stare at her on the street, without knowing why he looked—at first. She glanced at greasy-hair, asked, “Cop?”
He nodded and I sat down without being asked. I didn't have to ask if she knew Turner—his picture was on her dresser in a cheap gold frame!
She asked weakly, “Pinch or shake-down?”
“Neither. I'm a private dick.”
A big change came over pretty-boy. He put his hand on his back pocket, actually snarled, “Get out!”
The pocket seemed too flat for a gun. A knife. I said, “Take it easy, I'm not here for money or trouble. Only doing my job to...”
“A cop has been killed, the police are looking for a fall guy. You'd rather talk to the police, all right with me.”
“Ain't going to tell you again to scram!” the man said, advancing toward me. He took a switch blade out of his pocket, a knife carefully wrapped in a white silk handkerchief.
My insides got awfully chilly as I tried to say in a steady voice, “Use your head, the police get rough when one of their own is killed.”
“Cliff, put that cheese sticker away,” Louise said. “Put it back in your pocket.” She had a nice voice, soothing. “What you want, mister?”
“Ask some questions about him.” I motioned at Turner's picture with my hand. I didn't take my eyes off Cliff, who mumbled something about, “Comes barging in, like he was taking over.” But he pocketed the knife, backed to the wall and watched me.
“Private badge—how are you in on all this?”
“I'm working for Turner's wife.”
The tense lines in her face softened as she said, “What do you want to know?”
“Why didn't you go to the police when Turner was killed?”
“I have an alibi!” Cliff sort of screamed. “I can prove I...”
Louise said gently, “Baby, shut up.” Then she smiled at me, that wonderful sensuous big mouth. “Why should I go to the police? I don't like cops, and I didn't do anything wrong. Sure I knew Ed Turner. He was a pest.”
“He was an unbathed louse,” Cliff put in.
Louise asked me, “What's your name?”
I gave her and greasy-hair one of my cards, said, “Let me get a few things straight. Turner was in here just before he was killed. That's why he was parked in his car down the street.”
Louise nodded, looked around for a cigarette. I threw her my pack. She lit one and tossed the pack back to me, said over a cloud of smoke, “Here's the whole story: Cliff had me working a hotel, and Ed Turner was in on a raid. Whole thing was hushed up, a payoff. My Cliff has connections. But Turner got my address and the next thing we knew he was hanging around here, for free. He was a little nuts, I think.”
“He was a miserable bastard!” the pimp said.
“Cliff, let me do the talking. I never had no trouble with cops, Mr. Harris. The hotel had its own protection and around here I just have a few local regulars. I play it smart, never let business get so big I attract attention. With Turner, at first all he wanted was to be on the free list. All that man had on his mind was bed, like a vitamin rabbit. It went on like that for a couple of months. That's all. As you say, I suppose he was leaving here when the fireworks started in the street. I don't know a thing about that.”
“And Franklin Andersun?”
She chuckled. “A once-a-month customer, afraid to even nod to me on the street.” She made a face and crushed the cigarette. “Cliff, cigarette me.”
“Told you I was out.”
“Go around the corner and get me a pack.” She turned to me. “I can't smoke anything but mentholated ones.” She turned back to her pimp, said slowly, “Gowan, Cliff. It's okay.”
To my surprise Cliff slipped on a pork-pie hat and went out. When he was gone and we heard his steps on the sidewalk, Louise pulled a chair over beside mine, and she had an odd perfume or smell to her that my nose liked. She looked at my card, said, “I'm going to tell you all I know, so help me. But don't get Cliff in no trouble. In this racket a girl needs a man behind her and Cliff is tough, yet he's like a kid that needs a mother.”
“A kid with a big switch blade.”
“Sure, he's a mean kid at times. Know what we do? Sometimes when I knock off work, in the middle of the night, Cliff and I get into his MG and we race out to Long Island, or up through the mountains, going nowhere, but it feels fine to be tearing through the night knowing you're as good as anybody else, feeling like a big apple. Pretty hard in this world to feel like you're somebody. Anyway, Cliff is my personal business and I don't want to see him hurt. I used to hate Ed Turner's guts for his petty graft—a lousy free lay—but after a time I felt sorry for him. He needed mothering too. Trouble was, he fell in love with me. That was big trouble.”
She lit one of my cigarettes. I didn't know what to say, so I said, “I'm listening.”
“That's the truth. He drove me crazy. He loved me the way Cliff does. He wasn't jealous of any of my customers, they didn't count, but he didn't want Cliff around. Once he pulled a gun on Cliff and the poor guy had a nervous stomach for days. Believe me, it wasn't for me. Ed would have killed Cliff. I kept telling him I needed Cliff—hotel work is my main income—but Ed said he'd get me a better pad. But I didn't care for Ed like I do for Cliff, and anyway, his being a cop made me nervous—never know when a cop will throw you to the wolves. Ed began hanging around in his car outside this house, watching for Cliff. Got so I was afraid to go to the hotel some days, afraid he'd arrest Cliff, kill him. And in this business you can't hang up no days. They want you there when you're supposed to be there. That's the way it was on the night of the killings.”
“Ed was in his car outside, mad as a boil, waiting to see if Cliff came in. Tell you, Mr. Harris, I know lots about men, and with whores they love 'em so much they hate 'em. For a time Ed used to get a bang out of slapping me around, playing tough. Then he started taking my money—got a joy out of leaving me just enough to eat. And that got Cliff so mad he wanted to take a knife to Ed. But after a day or two, Ed would show up with a gift worth twice the dough he took. A diamond ring once, then a watch. I still have the watch, but the ring is in hock. I'll show you the pawn ticket if you want.”
“Not necessary. Tell me more about Turner.”
“Not much to tell. Sometimes he'd be here every day, then I might not see him for weeks.”
“When did you first meet him?”
“This has been going on for about... nine or ten months. He was so funny. Sometimes we'd go to bed and he wouldn't touch me. And at times he'd wake up in the middle of the night and start bawling, mostly about the deal he was giving his wife. Some guys enjoy two-timing their wife; with others, it tears them up. One afternoon he took sixty-two bucks I had and tore out of here to buy a modernistic lamp for his wife—brought it back to show me, as though I cared. It was some crappy palm-tree idea with an ebony trunk and lights where the coconuts should be, only it was all zigzag angles and funny looking. See, he thought he was hurting me, bringing the lamp back to show me, but I couldn't care less—except for the dough. Two nights later he was back with the diamond ring as a gift. Expensive, I got almost a hundred on it in hock.”
She stopped talking and I sat there, trying to think, knowing I had something, but not sure what it was. “What's Cliffs alibi?”
Louise put a hand on my knee, said firmly, “Don't start talking or thinking that. I'm leveling with you, Mr. Harris, and you promised me no trouble. You got an honest face, level with me. Don't tell the cops about Cliff.”
“You can't expect me to keep a thing like this quiet. Hell, Cliff has a motive, a ...”
“No, no, Mr. Harris. Believe me, Cliff didn't do it. He talks tough, but the sight of blood makes him sick. And he has a real alibi. Cliff is smart. Most pimps get sent away because they don't have no visible means of support. Cliff works as a waiter, from eight to midnight, in a downtown night club. He was working that night, honest he was, I checked myself. You can check too. You know what will happen, the cops will find his alibi holds, but in the meantime they'll work him over. And I'll be in a jam. I don't hurt nobody. I'm not a nuisance. I've never been sick. Only got in this racket because I was hungry. Now it's all I can do. If you...”
“But Cliff hated Turner, that's the missing motive. Probably shot Andersun by mistake, or maybe he was trying to talk Cliff out of killing.”
“No, no, don't think that. Not so,” she said in that low steady voice, her eyes on mine. “I trust you. I didn't have to tell you a thing. Cliff is a bunch of bluff, never cut or hurt anybody. Take him to a shooting gallery. I saw it out at Coney Island— being around guns makes him sick. The smell or something makes him vomit. Check his alibi. There was a wedding party that night and all the waiters were working. Believe me, if Cliff was the killer I'd be the first to blow the whistle on him, I'd run a million miles from here. If Cliff did it they'd throw the book at me for nothing. Cliff didn't do it, he couldn't have. I tell you because you look like a man who doesn't think I'm dirt, a freak, because I'm whoring. I can trust you.”
Her dark eyes kept staring into mine until I looked away, felt uncomfortable. “Okay. I believe you, but I can't promise I won't have to tell the cops.”
“If they would only check his alibi and leave us alone, I'd have gone to them myself, but you know what they'll do. Why must you tell them? Sure, Ed was here that night. He was here plenty of nights. But we have nothing to do with what he does, what happens, when he leaves.”
I was still looking away from her eyes. There was no doubt what the cops would do to Cliff—hell, he was the only one who even knew both victims. They'd have to sweat him. I looked into her warm, intensely sincere eyes and asked, “Where were you at the time of the shootings?”
She sat up straight as though I'd turned into a rattlesnake. “Me? Why, you lousy... Don't try to pin it on me!”
“I'm not pinning anything on you. Look, as far as we know Turner and Andersun were complete strangers. Now we have two people who knew them both—two links—maybe the only two we'll have. You claim Cliff has an alibi. What's yours?”
“I was right here. Why else would Ed be parked outside?”
“Louise, right outside of here is where the murders took place. Puts you at the scene of the crime, as they say. Unless you have a ...”
“I had a girl friend with me. Ed'd come busting in that night, fighting mad. He'd had some kind of scrap with his wife and was all set for trouble. Said if he ever saw Cliff again he'd pistol-whip him. I wasn't feeling too well that night anyway— as though I didn't have enough troubles, that was starting. So when Ed left, I got the jitters, called this girl and she kept me company till one, when Cliff came in.”
“What's her name and address?”
“Comes to an arrest, I'll give it, but she's in the business too and I don't want to bring the cops down on her. Mr. Harris, please swear you won't do anything to get Cliff hurt. This is a lonely racket. Every man you meet can't wait to leave you. When a Cliff comes along, even though I'm his meal ticket, or when an Ed comes by, despite all their nasty tricks, you want them around because they're about the only people stay around you. Promise me...”
“I can't promise anything. Ever know a red-haired joker named Brown? He's been in the Grand Cafe a couple of times, talked to Andersun once.”
“Never heard of him. I'm no two-bit hustler working a dump like the Grand. Please, Mr. Harris, with Cliff...”
I stood up. “Honey, I don't hurt people, if I can help it. Not even a Cliff. I have to beat it.”
“I like you, Mr. Harris, and that's no sales talk,” Louise said, walking me to the door.
“You're an exciting woman—in a lot of ways. I like talking to you.”
She gave me that big hot smile. “You're an all-right guy.”
“What's the name of the place where Cliff works? And what's his last name?”
The smile fled.
“You told me to check his alibi, didn't you?”
“The Pigalle on West Forty-third Street. Cliff Parker. Don't make me any trouble. Please!”
“One more thing—take Ed's picture out of here. Been in the papers and somebody might recognize it, get curious. And if it isn't violating any ethical rules—how was Ed Turner in bed?”
“Lousy—kid stuff. What makes you ask?”
“Never know what makes for a clue,” I said, as if I knew what I was talking about. “Maybe see you again, Louise.”
When I drove up to the school Ruthie was waiting, with another kid and her Mama, and the mother gave me that you-poor-noble-bastard smile as she said, “I thought I'd stay around with Ruth till you came. I know how hard it must be for you to come here from business.” This was followed by another sickly grin. I said thanks and Ruthie thanked her and rushed into the car and kissed me, whispered, “I didn't ask her to stay with me. I'm not afraid.”
“Of course not. Only a few minutes late,” I said, driving away.
“Where are we going for a ride—Yonkers or over in New Jersey, Daddy?”
“Downtown. Maybe we'll eat out. Like that?”
“I like that. You going to train tonight?”
“No, darling, have to go out.”
“Oh, Daddy, not May Weiss again?”
“Guess so. Daddy is on some case.”
I drove down to the Times Building but had to park seven blocks away. However Ruthie got a bang out of walking through the Times Square rush hour. We went downstairs to a back-issue newsstand and I bought a copy of the April eleventh paper. We drove up to One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street and Broadway to a small Chinese restaurant that astonishes people by serving real Chinese food. First Ruthie messed up the table trying to use chopsticks. Then she had learned a story about a family of bunnies in school, and kept telling it to me till bunnies, Cliff, Louise, and Ed Turner's gold-framed picture kept blurring my mind like a runaway movie film.
May Weiss's father had to give me a lot of talk, wanted to know if this was going to be another all-night job, because if it was... I assured him I'd be home before eleven. Then Ruthie got sore because it was Friday night and she usually stayed up and I read to her. It was seven o'clock as I walked to a drugstore, wondering how come the movie dicks never are troubled with reading to their kids at night, making supper... or even having kids.
Over some orange juice I read the back issue of the Times— the little publicity plant about Andersun winning the thousand dollars—an item a person would miss unless they read the paper thoroughly. Turning to the marriage announcements, I got a break—there were only seven of them. I got some change and worked the phone book. I squeezed into a booth and called the first one—said I was the manager of the Pigalle and a green fedora hat had been left and I wondered if it belonged to anybody in their wedding party on the night of April eleventh. It was crude but on the third call a Mr. Worth assured me nobody at his party lost a hat, certainly not a green fedora, and if anyone had, he would have gladly sued the Pigalle since we were thieves and had grossly overcharged him. He almost busted my eardrum when he hung up.
I dialed the manager of the Pigalle, told him, “I'm Paul Worth, uncle of the Worth boy. Remember me, I was the one at the wedding party who had quite a toot on, did all the singing?”
“I remember you, Mr. Worth,” the voice at the other end of the wire said, lying cautiously. “What can I do for you, sir?”
“Have a silly favor to ask. I have some pictures of the affair and I was just pasting them in our family album.”
“Well, in one picture there's a waiter in the background. In years to come I want to tell the children—and I hope they'll have a flock of little ones—exactly who was at the wedding. I have the names of each person printed under the photo. The waiter is tall, might say handsome, mouth like a girl, and shiny dark hair that...”
“Name is Cliff Parker, Mr. Worth.”
“I'm very exact about these things. Spell that p-a-r-k-e-r?”
“And you're sure that's the man, that he was waiting on us that night?”
“Yes sir, those lips belong to Cliff. And he's the only waiter we got with a full head of hair.”
I thanked him and hung up. It wasn't airtight, but it was better than coming out and asking the manager—in case Cliff had told him what to say. Of course I was certain Cliff hadn't done it—if he had Louise would never have had Ed's picture around, or talked. If she hadn't told me, there wasn't a thing to connect her with Turner.
Still, the smart and safe thing to do was tell the police. They could put enough men on Cliff to tail every person he saw, know every time he breathed... could be some of Cliff's pals had done it. Maybe Turner was shaking down other pimps? After all, my thinking Cliff wasn't guilty didn't mean a thing.
But telling the cops would mean giving Louise a hard time and... The case was making less and less sense—now I was shielding a pimp!
I got to Mrs. Turner's house at exactly eight o'clock, but I waited around for ten minutes—didn't want her to think I was running around like her office boy—then went up.
She was dressed up again, a blue semi-evening gown that showed off her strong shoulders, the rise of her breast. The vermouth bottle was still on the table, but her breath said she'd been sipping stronger stuff. But she wasn't crocked.
“Good evening, Barney. You're late.”
“That's right, Mrs. Turner.”
I sat down on the hassock and glanced around the room. The coconut tree lamp wasn't much—a long ebony stem that made an uneven curve up to thin gold leaves, and the tiny bulbs arranged to give indirect lighting—if the whole mess gave off any light.
She took her seat on the couch, lit a cigarette, pushed the cigarette box toward me, gave me the half-closed-eyes look, as she asked, “Any luck today?”
“Glad you said luck—that's what we'll need in this case, all the luck we can stumble upon, the...”
“Find out anything?”
I nodded. “But I'm not any closer to the big answers. Talked to the Andersun family—nothing there to go on. But I did come across something... a little something.”
She blew a good smoke ring which we both watched till it faded. As I lit a cigarette, she said, “Is this some sort of a game? What did you find out?”
“That maybe it is a game. Somebody has been holding out on me.”
“You, Mrs. Turner.”
Her cheeks turned a becoming pink, like a spreading drop of water color. “What am I supposed to say to that?”
“Anything you want,” I said. “You came to me and you weren't too much concerned about your husband's being dead, but only if it was suicide. Then you've been giving me a series of small lies. Like you only drink wine now and then, only you stink of whiskey at the moment. That you were so very very happy with your husband, that you two were so happy in the hay. Then last night you casually mentioned that you and Mr. Turner had a little spat, in fact, you two were not doing so well in bed, but you had this pip of an idea that it was all because he got his kicks out of third-degreeing people. These were small lies, didn't detour me much, but I want to know why you've been stringing me. Hell, I work for you.”
“Are you quite finished?” Her voice was pure ice and if her eyes were any sharper I would have been bleeding.
“I don't know. Am I, Mrs. Turner? You're paying me good money to find out the facts related to your husband's death. Yet, you've been giving me a bunko story from the start.”
“If this is some kind of a riddle, I wish you'd come to the point. I said Ed and I were very happy when we married, that being on the force changed him some, but we were still happy.”
I shrugged. “Okay, that's what you told me. I stumbled on something that will hurt, so if you want to skip it, go on playing...”
“What is it?”
“Mr. Turner has for many months been seeing a lady named Louise, a prostitute. The reason Mr. Turner was parked near the Grand Cafe on the night of the killings—he was jealous of one Cliff Parker, a pimp. This too seems to be a feud of several months' standing. Louise claims Mr. Turner was in her bed so often, he was something of a pest. End of report, Mrs. Turner.”
She sat up, as though pulled by her head. Her eyes got very large and bright and she gasped, “I see, I see... Ed with a... a ...” Then the tears came, a flood of them. She bawled hysterically, her whole body shaking.
I waited for a long second—I can't stand seeing people cry. I went over and sat beside her, tried to dry her face with my torn handkerchief. She fell against me, sobbing on my shirt. I held her and liked the solid feel of her, the softness of her hair against my chin. “Easy, Mrs. Turner, easy. It's over and crying won't help. From what Louise says, Ed was a little... nuts about sex. If you didn't make a go of it, it wasn't your fault. Sorry this is a shock, but I had to tell you, know if ...”
She looked up at me, a face full of fat tears. “Barney, you think it wasn't my fault.”
“'Fault' is probably the wrong word to use about something like this, but for whatever it's worth,” I said, “I'm sure it wasn't your fault.” In fact I was having a hard time holding my arms around her—in a casual manner. But I kept telling myself that would be the dumbest move I ever made.
She said through the tears, “Oh God, I was so happy when we were married. An end to the loneliness, the feeling of not being wanted. Marriage was so wonderful—at first—and then so awfully empty; and that hurt worse than being lonely.”
“Perhaps you expected too much from marriage. It's a relationship, not a snake oil,” I said, sounding like Dorothy Dix with whiskers.
“I only wanted a small share of happiness, but as time went on... you don't know what it was like, this always feeling guilty, that it must be my fault and going crazy wondering how and why. You've had a happy marriage, love...”
“Love is another magic word, a movie word.”
“Didn't you love your wife?”
“We never tried to label it, that's why we got along. You've seen Lieutenant Swan, always bucking his way through life. Vi—my wife—had a lot of that too. Big career woman. She and Al, scrambling and pushing to 'get someplace'—more would-be magic words. They looked down their noses at me for being a schnook. Me, I believe in taking it easy; you only live to die, so make it an interesting ride. When Vi and I understood what the other was like, we didn't try changing each other; we got along fine. Maybe that's love—getting along.”
“You never had any arguments?”
“Sure we did. Sometimes Vi would nag me and I suppose I wasn't any dilly to live with either. She'd call me lazy and I'd sneer at her stumbling over the fast buck. I even gave in and let Vi get me a job as a car dick with an insurance company. But the main thing was, we never tried to push each other around. When she called me a bum and I said she was a hustler, and when we could both laugh at that, we got married.”
She stopped crying, was quiet. I began to feel a bit stupid, just sitting there, holding her on my lap as if she was Ruthie getting over a nightmare. “Mrs. Turner, why don't you forget all this? You were married and it didn't jell. That's a common sickness—90 per cent of marriages are two people with hot pants who suddenly find themselves married, and don't know how to get along. Why don't you go home to your folks, for a while?”
“Home?” She seemed to spit out the word and I could feel her body become heavy and tense. “I never had a home. My father is a carpenter, a good one, like his father had been. But he had to be a 'professional' man, didn't have enough money for med school, ended up as a pharmacist. Mama's older sister inherited the one drugstore in this small town when her husband was killed in the First World War. So we moved into her house. Pop has been a clerk ever since and we've been 'guests.' Everything I did always brought a reminder from Mama, 'Now, Betsy, remember we're guests in Aunt Emma's house.' Only time I was ever spanked—and I've never forgotten it—was when Aunt Emma caught me digging in her rubber plants, told my mother I should be punished, and right in front of her, Mama spanked me.”
“But that's over too. You're not a kid any longer.”
“It isn't over. They still are 'guests' in Aunt Emma's house and Pop is still her underpaid clerk. My poor father could have made a good living as a carpenter, but he goes through life as a scrimping clerk. Whenever I needed a winter coat, Pop would do some carpentry on the side, make more in a few nights than he did all week in the drugstore.”
“Well, maybe he was happier as a drug clerk than as a carpenter,” I said, to say something.
“He was miserable. Nobody is happy in that house. Aunt Emma is one of those horrible women, gets a kick out of bossing us all. After a time nobody spoke to the other. Poppa, Emma, and Mom had a fight and for years everything was said to our cat. 'Pussy, tell Mama to kindly pass the butter.' 'Pussy dear, please tell Father to bring home some mineral oil tonight.' Or, 'Pussy, inform Emma the vitamin company insists upon payment of that old bill, and she'd best send them a check.' I couldn't wait to get away from them. Only... living alone, marriage to Ed, didn't turn out much better.”
“Guess you can't go home. Got any friends?”
She tried to shake her head. “No. Not that I see now. And Ed didn't have time for friends; he had to be on the prowl twenty-four hours a day. Once I even took a course in art for a while and met a kid, boy of about nineteen. Sometimes we went around to the museums together. Ed knew about it. It was nothing. But when he saw us on the street, he got insanely jealous and beat the kid up. No, I haven't any friends.”
Her face was near mine and as she talked her hair moved against my chin. I felt so damn sorry for her I almost kissed her, only I didn't want this to end up with my being paid off in kisses. I needed the thirty bucks per day. And at the same time I almost felt as if I was explaining things to Ruthie. I had a pretty clear picture of Betsy, or rather two of them. She was either a slick killer, which I didn't believe, but neither did I completely rule it out—or she was terribly naive.
Everything went by rule with her: you had a neurotic home so you ran away and the first man you saw was Prince Charming and marriage had to be the solution to everything. And you faithfully copied the clothes in Harper's Bazaar and the furniture in Home Beautiful and you tried to take an interest in art, and if your husband's business had a sordid side to it, you simply forgot about that. And when things went wrong, your husband started two-timing you, why it was SOP to try to hit the bottle, be the sophisticated lady lush, the silent drinker. And of course it was also SOP to try your charms on the first guy that came along—me.
Under her smart clothes and beneath the skillful make-up Betsy was just a big Ruthie. Well, maybe not quite, but... She was sure the wrong type for a brash punk like Ed Turner to marry, or had he been a trifle backward under his toughness? I told Betsy, “You're young, attractive. In time you'll find...”
“Do you really consider me attractive, Barney?” The dull tone vanished from her voice.
“Yes, Mrs. Turner.”
“Can't you call me Betsy?”
“Look, Mrs. Turner, most of the time you treat me like a servant or a...”
“I never meant to. It's just my way. I told you I can't make friends easily and of course since Ed's death... I've been so upset, unsure of myself.”
“For now let's keep it Mrs. Turner. Perhaps when the case is over, when I'm not working for you, we'll be friends.”
“What do you mean by friends? That you'll make love to me?” Her body stiffened again and there was a sort of horror in her voice that got me sore.
“Maybe. I might ask you to go to bed with me—sure.” She actually leaped out of my arms and off my lap; stood in front of me and shouted, “Now that I'm a widow I'm supposed to be a pushover!”
“You're a healthy-looking and pretty young woman, Mrs. Turner, and I'd be lying if I said you didn't attract me,” I said patiently, picking my words carefully so I wouldn't talk myself out of the job.
“If you think just because you come here every night that...!”
“I don't think anything. When the case is over, if we want to be friends, then we'll both see how it shapes up—then.”
“I thought you were warm and understanding.... You're just a man.”
“I hope so,” I said like a jerk, not sure what she was saying.
There was a moment of awkward silence, then she asked, “Want a drink?”
“No.” She was back to her play-acting once more.
“You have the manners of a boor, Mr. Harris.” She sat on the other end of the couch and reached down, came up with a pint of Canadian whiskey. She poured herself a small shot, tried to take the warm stuff down without coughing. Her eyes watered, but she lit a cigarette, like a hammy actress, asked in a cold new voice, “You're certain Ed was seeing this dirty whore?”
“I'm not certain she's dirty. She's merely selling what she can.”
“I suppose you got this information as one of her customers!”
“I could easily be one of her customers, Mrs. Turner. You probably can't believe it, but Louise has a great deal of charm. But don't let it worry you, I wouldn't put that on the expense account.”
She got to her feet. “I've had about enough of you, Mr. Harris.”
“Okay. I'll send you the balance of your retainer on Monday.”
“No, I didn't mean that. I want you to continue on the case. Only don't ever bring me any such gossip... this miserable woman with her false stories, her ravings about my...”
“It isn't exactly gossip. She had Mr. Turner's picture in her room—the same photo you have over there on the wall. She also told me about that coconut-tree lamp. Seems Mr. Turner took her money one day to buy the lamp for you—in a fit of remorse, I imagine.”
“Did you find out if she killed Ed, or didn't you have time for that?”
“I don't think she killed Ed. Look, I only told you all this because if you still think Ed was a suicide, then I have to know exactly how things were between you two. There's not even a slight motive that we—the police—can find for either of these murders, but there has to be a motive for suicide.”
“I've told you the truth—except that Ed and I didn't hit it off. It wasn't that we were unhappy, we just weren't happy. Can you understand that?”
“Maybe, after I think about it.” I got up and walked toward the door. “Shall I report tomorrow night? It's Saturday.”
“You work union hours?” she asked harshly. “Another thing, I demand some respect—comb your hair when you come to see me.”
“Don't think I will, Mrs. Turner. That's my hair, and I don't consider combing or not combing my hair having anything to do with respect.”
Her face turned pink with anger and as I opened the door I said, “Sorry I upset you, Mrs. Turner. Only did it as part of my job.” I don't know why I had to say that, almost made me gag.
Out in the hall, as I was waiting for the automatic elevator and feeling lousy, I heard a small crash in her apartment. It hadn't been much of a lamp anyway.
SAM LUND was a hustler long before he enlisted. Orphaned when he was six, Sam was raised by an aunt and uncle who had a small hardware store in Boston. They were childless and adored Sam, but when he was thirteen his aunt had a change-of-life baby and after that Sam was merely somebody around the house.
He grew up tall and strong, an all-around athlete with the grace of a dancer. When he was sixteen he hitched a ride to New York City and landed a job as a chorus boy in a Broadway musical that staggered along for five weeks. After that Sam worked at whatever odd jobs would pay for dancing and dramatic lessons and in his off hours made the rounds of casting agents, lived in Times Square drugstores.
By the time he was nineteen he had danced in several shows, had bit parts in off-Broadway little theaters, and was trying to break into radio. Sam was crazy about the “theater,” but it kept him broke. He was lucky to work two or three weeks a year as an actor or chorus boy and his other odd jobs never lasted, for as soon as he heard a show was casting, Sam would drop his bus-boy or stock-clerk job, to try his luck.
One afternoon he was in a dingy rehearsal studio on West Forty-sixth Street reading for a play due to open in the fall— if seventy-five thousand dollars could be raised. The producer was a middle-aged dapper ex-actor whose bleached-blonde wife took an interest in Sam. A day later she offered to set him up in a small Village apartment. Being supported by women wasn't anything new to Sam, but the lady was in her fifties, strapped her flabby body in a strait-jacket corset so she could wear a twelve dress, liked flashy jewels, and when she got drunk she thought it was tremendously funny to suddenly push her upper plate half out of her mouth and yell, “What's cooking, doc?”
Although Sam turned her down he let her buy him supper several times a week. She'd been around the theater all her life and she told Sam to really get among the people, study and understand them, instead of hanging around drugstores... if he was serious about becoming an actor.
He took a summer job as a barker for a sightseeing bus and a week later nearly died from scarlet fever. The fever left him completely bald. At first his bald dome was a great joke, but he soon found bald-headed young men were not considered for juvenile or lead roles, and that a decent toupee cost hundreds of dollars. He decided to take the apartment in the Village—till the play opened.
Sam admits the elderly blonde did a great deal for him. He told a reporter:
She really wasn't a bad sort, when sober. She bought me a remarkable toupee, a really terrific piece of hair, she had a custom tailor outfit me, sent me to a fine dramatic coach. But she would bust into the apartment in the middle of the night, drunk as a goose, then prance around in the nude under the illusion she was still a gay young thing.
Lund couldn't take this, but there was another reading of the play in a ritzy Park Avenue apartment and he was assured of a feature role. By October the show was still thirty-two thousand dollars short and the opening postponed till January. Sam was angry. While he had clothes, hair, and a charge at the corner grocer, he had no money. In November the producer signed to make a quickie picture in Hollywood and the play was postponed again, but Sam didn't mind, for the blonde went to the Coast with her husband and Sam had some peace and sleep. But she sent him a plane ticket, suggested he try the movies, and before Christmas Sam was rooming in a run-down house in Laurel Canyon. There was a vivacious nineteen-year-old red-headed singer also rooming there and Sam began sharing her room.
Aside from working in two mob scenes, nothing happened in Hollywood and Sam didn't care much for the place. He was glad to follow the producer and his wife back to New York in February, where he lucked up on a steady part in a daily radio soap opera. The play seemed almost certain to start rehearsals any day and things were breaking for Sam—especially when the redhead came East for night-club work.
But there was trouble finding a theater and in April the main backer switched his money to another play; the producer lost his option and announced the whole deal was off. The redhead was going to a Baltimore night spot and asked Sam to come along. The radio soap opera having folded weeks before, he was flat broke. When she was drunk the old blonde was careless with her jewelry, would often phone Sam the next day and ask him to look for a ring or pin she'd left in his place. So Sam hocked her earrings for two hundred and sixty dollars and went to Baltimore, where two detectives picked him up the following day.
Sam wasn't too alarmed. He begged the wife not to press charges, then threatened her with publicity about their affair. The lady merely stuck her false teeth out at him, said her analyst had told her that sort of publicity bolstered her ego. There was a line about the robbery in one of the columns, and Sam's picture made the tenth page of a tabloid when a judge gave Sam two to five years.
In the beginning prison drove Sam crazy, but for the first time in his life he read a lot, studied the men around him, and knew he'd really be an actor when he was released. Sam was finishing his twenty-second month in prison when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Several months later, when he came up for parole, he was told he would be set free if he enlisted.
After prison life the army was a snap for Lund, although the army didn't know exactly what to do with an actor. He was sent to a motion unit at Wright Field which was soon disbanded. Then Lund was assigned to special services and spent several months taking tickets at a Topeka air base theater. From there he was sent to England where he did guard duty, permanent K.P., and drove a truck. Lund spent some time with a touring G.I. show, asked to be made an aerial gunner and was turned down for some unknown reason.
Toward the end of the war Sam was working behind a PX counter at a bomber base in France. It was easy to smuggle out a few cartons of cigarettes now and then and he began doing some minor black-marketing. However, when the war in Europe was over and the bomber outfits were being rushed back to the States, on their way to the Pacific, the bookkeeping was snafued in the general confusion and Lund sold cigarette cartons by the case. At his trial Lund admitted once selling an entire truckload of supplies, working with the driver and another soldier. Lund was fast becoming an “operator.”
There wasn't anything waiting for him in the States, so Sam signed up for the army of occupation, went to Germany. Here he put on camp shows and engaged in various “deals.”
The new soldiers arriving in Germany were mostly kids, [Lund stated], all of them eighteen or nineteen years old. They thought it was a big deal to sleep with a Fraulein for a pack of butts. Me, I was now an “old army man.” I didn't bother much with those kids. I put on a lot of corny shows—any blue line or raw joke had them in the aisles with laughter. I had plenty of time to look around. There were plenty of things worth looking into in Germany then, the black market was amazing, wide open, everybody was hustling. It was sensational.
He worked his angles carefully and when he suspected things were getting too warm, Staff Sergeant Sam Lund took his discharge in 1950 and headed for Paris. He had a new Dodge car, five thousand dollars in cash, and some jewelry said to be worth fifteen thousand dollars and which he was only able to sell for nineteen hundred dollars. Sam also had three cans of film he had stumbled upon in a bombed film office in Bavaria. He had vague plans about using the reels as the core of a full-length adventure picture about an OSS man parachuted into Germany during the war—the main role to be played by Sam Lund, of course. He felt this would not only make money but establish him as an international actor.
During his first week in Paris Sam stopped at the George V Hotel, went to Maxim's, the Lido, and Monseigneur nightly-only to find at the end of the week that he had spent eight hundred dollars. He quietly moved to a small hotel in the Pigalle section, where he met Gabby.
Gabby was twenty-two, small and trim, with a cute face and a jutting bosom. She was a movie actress, but her only roles were those of an artist's model, a native girl, or any brief part featuring nude breasts. She thought Sam the greatest man in the world: he was handsome and tall, considerate of her, and he had money and an American car. Sam liked her because she worshiped him and because she was a part of the French movie crowd. Only, as he soon found out, acting jobs were few and the unions strong, and it was impossible for him to get a work card—a role—although as a result of living with Gabby he soon spoke French like a native.
One evening, after he had been in Paris four months, Gabby introduced to him another American, a quiet-spoken fellow named Martin Pearson, and his horse-faced girl, Therese. Sam was suspicious of Martin, couldn't see the percentage in letting anybody else in on the picture deal. But Martin was helpful. When Sam told him, “My ninety-day tourist stay is running out and I'm having trouble getting a carte d'identite. How have you worked it all these years?”
Martin told him, “Go to a school, under the G.I. Bill, then you'll get a student identity card. Be careful with this identity-card business. You may think the French police are slow, but they're good and they're sharp.”
Lund became a student and in time became rather friendly with Pearson, although he still wouldn't let him in on his picture idea. Sam became a student in more ways than one—he learned there are angle men in every country and it's difficult for a foreigner to outsmart the native talent.
He lost five hundred dollars as the “manager” of a French boxer. After Sam had purchased a complete gym outfit for the pug, fed and housed him while the fighter got back into shape, he learned that a manager had to be a member of the French Federation of Boxers—which didn't admit foreigners. Then he paid six hundred and fifty American dollars under the table for the rent of a large house on the outskirts of Paris, only to find when he tried to move in that he hadn't paid the money to the owner; no one seemed to know exactly who Sam had dealt with.
He was swindled out of a thousand dollars in a black-market money deal—they slipped him counterfeit francs, and another American touted him out of several hundred dollars at the race track. But Paris was Paris and Sam was enjoying himself. In the summer of '52 he and Gabby, with Martin and Therese, drove down to Nice for an August vacation.
The main thing Sam disliked about Martin was the man's tightness with a franc—Pearson always let somebody else pick up the tab. In Nice when Sam wanted to play big shot and stop at the swank Negresco Hotel, Martin and Therese found a cheap pension in the center of town. At the casino Sam dropped a hundred and fifty dollars while Martin never gambled a franc.
One day as they were sunning themselves on the beach, the girls wanted ice cream. Martin didn't reach for his wallet. Sam gave Gabby a five hundred franc note and when the girls left, he asked, “The francs glued to your mitt, Marty? You never even offer to share the gas for my car.”
“How much of your original bundle have you left, Sam?”
“What the hell business is that of yours?”
“Stop acting, Sam, how much?”
“About three grand. I hear you have something in your mattress, too.”
“I have over six thousand,” Martin said softly. “Sam, before you throw away the rest of your money, let's make that picture. We've already wasted two years. I'm off the G.I. Bill, need a source of income if I want to get my identity card, stay here. Therese and I have formed a picture company—in her name. I can trust her.”
“And where do I come in?”
“You invest your three thousand and those reels of Nazi film. I'll put up six grand. I figure we can shoot most of the picture outdoors, around here, within the next two months. I've talked to a Paris writer who is willing to do the story and screenplay for a percentage. I'll help with the camera, Therese will cut and edit, you and Gabby will be the main actors. We won't have to hire too many people.”
“About got everything figured, haven't you?”
“I think I have. Sam, I know you can sell the reels to one of the picture companies for about a thousand dollars, although Hitler is kind of old hat now. But you'll spend that and in a few years from now where will you be? Either back in the States grubbing for a job, or just another broke American in Paris. If you're serious about living here, about being an actor, let's get started.”
“I'll think about it.”
“Think all you want, Sam. Only remember the war is over— and so is the gravy train.”
The next morning they all sat down in Sam's room and formed a partnership—in Therese's name with Gabby as treasurer, and Sam and Martin owning one-tenth of the company, as allowed by French law. They called in a lawyer to draw up the papers and Sam sent for champagne, but Martin said vin ordinaire would do. Sam got a little high on wine and decided it was time to try his luck at the casino. Martin told him to save his money.
“Let's get one thing straight. I don't like being ordered around,” Sam said. “It's my money.”
“No, it's the firm's money now,” Martin said softly, and when Sam laughed and headed for the door, Pearson belted him in the stomach, stood over him and said, “I'm not playing rough, or telling you what to do, but it's time you wised up, Sam. Cut the overgrown-boy act.”
At the trial Sam said he was afraid of Pearson. The transcript reads:
Q: You claim you didn't want to go through with the killing? Why did you? You're bigger than Pearson, knew he wouldn't shoot you?
Lund: I was afraid of Martin. I'm not trying to shift the blame on him. We're both in this. But I was afraid of him. Don't know exactly why, I'm not a coward, but there was something about the cold way he did things that scared me.
Q: You mean you were physically afraid of Pearson?
Lund: Yes sir, that's what I mean.
Within a day the four of them moved to a small hotel in Juan-les-Pins, between Nice and Cannes, and went to work. They had stationery printed with the company's name, and Therese started writing and calling directors, while Martin wired the Paris writer to go ahead. When they drove back to Paris in September, they had a shooting script of a story they all liked, but the minimum cost of the picture would be fifteen thousand dollars and they felt they should have at least another five thousand dollars on hand to cover extra expenses. They were eleven thousand dollars short and didn't know a soul in the world with that kind of money.
One evening Sam brought a beefy American with a plump baby face to Therese's flat, explained, “This is Eddie. He was a warrant officer in Italy, ran a PX there. He was in Germany for a while, too. Eddie is pulling a deal that can be the answer to our problem.”
Eddie's plan was simple. He was driving his car into Germany with three thousand dollars' worth of penicillin and other drugs. He had the necessary contacts and expected to return with ten thousand dollars within a week. He'd made such a trip months before, shortly after he was discharged.
Sam told them, “Eddie is willing to cut us in—our nine grand will return about thirty thousand dollars. He takes ten grand for the risk; we get the rest. It's a cinch. He knows where to buy the stuff here, and the people big enough to swing a deal like this in Germany. We can't lose. Still be able to start the picture before winter hits the Riviera.”
Martin chiseled Eddie's cut down to seven thousand dollars, then he and Sam and the girls talked it over through the night. The main factor was: could Eddie be trusted? In the morning Theresa checked, found Eddie was interested in opening a cafe with his French girl friend and her father— Evidently Eddie expected to settle down in Paris.
With the trunk of his Austin packed with two spare tires, which in turn were stuffed with drugs, they saw Eddie off on a Wednesday morning. He was to return by Monday at the latest. They spent a nervous, impatient week end and on Monday Eddie didn't show up. His girl was hysterical, said she had a feeling something was wrong. On Tuesday Sam phoned an army buddy stationed near the town Eddie had headed for. Eddie was in jail. He had overlooked one minor detail. He was still using old army plates on his car, forgot they were outdated. He had been stopped by German police one hundred and sixty miles inside the border.
Eddie returned ten days later—all charges against him had been dropped, but the German police had taken the drugs, probably to sell themselves. Even Martin was convinced Eddie hadn't double-crossed them.
Martin, Sam, and the girls got drunk that night in Therese's flat. She and Gabby passed out on the first bottle of cognac. Although he rarely drank, Martin managed to keep up with Sam. Martin said, to no one in particular, “Damn the way things work out. If I wasn't married, I could marry Therese and stay here, or take her back to the States. Now—nothing. No Therese, no Paris, no future.”
“We can always sell our passports, five grand each, keep us eating here for another few years,” Sam said, listening to himself, watching a mirror and thinking Orson Wells couldn't have said the line better. Sam always acted when he was drunk, and now he swayed in the center of the room and did a part he'd had in a little theater production years ago.
“You and your jerky hustling ideas,” Martin mumbled, staring at Sam. Then Pearson staggered across the room to the couch on which Therese was sleeping. He said thickly, “You know... what you just said... rings lot of bells in my head. Gives me an idea, an out for us. Yeah. Listen. Sam, you goddamn ham, will you stop talking and listen? I have it... all so simple... and clear. Your car.”
“What's the big idea, genius? And what about my car?” Sam added quickly.
“It's so simple,” Martin said, as he tried to sit on the couch, rolled off to the floor, and passed out.
SATURDAY started off badly.
I spent a restless night and when it seemed I was just about to knock off some real sleep, Ruthie woke up crying. It was a little after seven and she had wet her bed—first time in months —and by the time I'd convinced her it wasn't any great tragedy, it was half-past seven and I'd lost any desire for sleep. I just felt lousy.
I worked out with weights before breakfast, while Ruthie listened to radio music and watched. I took it easy, starting out with seventy-five pounds, and after doing a lot of curls and squats, I ended up pressing one hundred and fifty pounds, did some stomach work, and Ruthie was waiting for me to be flat on my back. She scrambled all over me and we “wrestled” and then took a shower together, which always gave her a big kick.
As I toweled myself I felt pretty sad. Even when I was in serious training I never had much hard muscular definition, like the musclemen you see posing for pictures. Now that I had cut down on my workouts, I was getting to look more and more like a tub of lard.
There wasn't much in the house for breakfast, so after toast and orange juice, we went down to the super market, and the place was jammed. I stocked up on eggs and bacon, bananas, bread and milk, along with some canned staples, then we got in line.
Waiting in line got me on edge. It seemed as if all I'd been doing the last few days was waiting, wasting time, or going around in circles. When we finally reached the cashier, he overcharged me two cents on an item. Although checking up on super-market cashiers is one of my hobbies, I didn't want to hold up the long line. Unfortunately the item happened to be Ruthie's cereal, and as the guy was putting our stuff in a bag, she said loudly, “Daddy, he charged you twenty-one cents for Shredded Wheat and it's only nineteen cents!”
“It's okay, forget it.”
“But you always say these cashiers can't add—on purpose,” she said in her shrill voice that cut through all the other noises of the store.
There were plenty of snickers behind me and the cashier gave me a pained look, started taking the things out of the bag. Somebody behind me in the line said, “Aw, for Christsakes, I'll give you the lousy two pennies!”
“Forget it,” I told the clerk, putting a ten-dollar bill on the counter. He said, “Hold your money. If I made an error, I must correct it. Customer is always right—it says.”
It took him about five minutes to check the items against the register receipt, and finally he found the error, then spent another few minutes making out a slip to put in the register with my money, and I finally walked out without daring to look at the impatient line behind me.
For a second I nearly bawled Ruthie out, before I told myself it wasn't her fault. She was highly satisfied with things. When we got back to the apartment and finished breakfast, she asked what we were going to do now, and I said we might as well do the laundry. I got her dresses and underwear, together with my things, and the towels. We had one piece of luck—one of the two machines in the basement was empty. While we were waiting for the clothes to wash, a couple of housewives came down and made the usual comments about how nice Ruthie looked, etc. All in this patronizing tone of, “You poor, poor bastard, so brave to raise a child all alone,” which always got my water on.
We took the clothes up to the roof and hung them up. Ruthie suggested we go to Coney Island, but I wasn't up to that, and Betsy Turner was paying me thirty dollars to do some work during the day. We went down and changed the bed linen, swept and dusted, cleaned up the apartment, and by then the clothes were dry.
I usually spent the week end with Ruthie, so I took her to the office. There were two skip-tracing jobs in the mail and a request from an insurance company that I go out to Hempstead to identify the remains of a car wrapped around a lamppost. The wreck was now in a garage, so that could wait a few days. I sent out my usual first form letter to the guy who had moved with his unpaid TV set, and the family that took a deep freeze with them. It was Ruthie's day to investigate O'Hara's desk, and I yelled at her a couple of times, which didn't put either of us in a good mood. There was a phone message from the garage, reminding me to finish the wiring job on the foreign heap. I put that in my pocket and locked up.
There were too many cars on the roads for a ride, so we came back to the flat for lunch. The phone rang. My cousin Jake said he was working and Grace thought it would be an idea if he picked up Ruthie, took her back with him. “She can play with the boys, spend the night, and you'll be here on Sunday.”
Ruthie was against the idea—violently against it. “I want to be with you, Daddy. I didn't see you much this week.”
“But I told you I have to work.”
I nodded. “Tell you what, you go with Uncle Jake and I'll pick you up after supper, take you home. Then we'll both drive out tomorrow.”
“Well... all right, but you're trying to get rid of me.”
“Stop that kind of talk. You know I'm on a big case, have to work.”
Over the phone, Jake shouted, “Give it to her, Dick Tracy. I'll be off in an hour. Want me to pick her up, or will you be at the P.O.?”
“We'll be outside the post office.”
I made French toast with chocolate syrup for lunch and Ruthie felt better. Jake was sitting in his old Dodge when we drove up. As Ruthie got into the front seat beside him and said, “Don't forget to come for me after supper,” Jake asked, “How come you're so busy-busy these days?”
“I'm on a m-u-r-d-e-r case.”
“Well now,” Jake said, impressed. “Who is it?”
“Gee, Daddy, you never told me you were working on a killing,” Ruthie said, as I silently cursed TV and comic books.
“Nobody important,” I said quickly as Jake winked and stepped on the starter, asked, “What time will you be over?”
“Eight o'clock,” Ruthie said, and I nodded. “And I want to know all about the murder....”
As they drove off and I climbed back into my car, I remembered I was supposed to be at the Turner apartment at eight. I would have to phone Jake later and tell Ruthie to stay over, and she'd raise hell.
I sat in the car, wondering what to do, where to begin the day's “work.” I needed to do a lot of straight thinking and I can think best when I'm working with my hands. Reaching for a cigarette, I came up with the message from the garage.
Joe, the garage manager, was glad and surprised to see me. I got into my coveralls, went to work on this low-slung job. I worked steadily for the rest of the afternoon and of course I knew what was wrong with me—I'd acted like a goon last night, slipping the dope on her husband like I was slugging Betsy. All things considered, she'd taken it pretty well, but I'd been too rough on her.
The truth was, I was giving her an all-around rooking. I couldn't solve the murders, was in way over my head. As Al Swan had said, there wasn't much any private agency could do here, but that wasn't any excuse for taking her dough.
Granted I wasn't much of a detective, but what little work I was doing was sloppy as hell. But what else could I do? It would take me months to check all the Browns in New York City, and that was probably a blind alley.
I could tail Cliff Parker, but I was convinced he and Louise were in the clear. That was sloppy—my being convinced didn't mean a thing. The Andersun family—all blanks. Betsy—? I didn't think she did it, but I couldn't rule her out. A man or woman feeling she was unsatisfactory in bed could snap her cap enough to murder. And hiring me could be a corny cover-up. Should check what the police had on her.
The police—I was playing the game wrong with them, holding out about Cliff. All told I was doing a good job of snafuing the works. It would be more honest to take Betsy's money by snatching her pocketbook.
I kept going over the possible angles, wishing I could come up with a motive—any motive. All I came up with was a headache. By four I'd finished and rechecked the car, drove it around the garage, and picked up twenty-five dollars. Joe tried it himself, and he was almost as big as I was and laughed as he squeezed into the small front seat. As I was washing up, I noticed him making out the bill. All told I'd put in nine hours and he wrote down, “Labor—two days.” I didn't ask what he was charging the car owner.
He gave me the usual, “Barney, any time you want a steady job...”
“Yeah and thanks. Call me again, Joe, whenever you have something special.”
I stood outside the garage for a moment, still restless, and finally I drove down to the police station, asked for Lieutenant Franzino, almost hoping he'd be out. I had to wait a few minutes, then I went into his office, which was as dingy as Al's.
Franzino was a surprise... a small man, shabbily dressed, with his suit wrinkled and a button missing. He had a thin face with a banana nose that had been busted a long time ago. An old hat was pushed back on his head, covering most of the iron-gray hair, and he looked serious, humorless, and very capable.
His voice was low and polite as he lit a fancy-looking pipe, sent out a cloud of aromatic smoke, asked, “What's on your mind, Mr. Harris?”
“Not a thing. Put a dozen men on the Brown angle—no dice, so far. Running down one or two other things, but to date not a sniff of anything promising.”
We were silent for a moment, and of course he didn't bother to ask if I'd found anything. “About Turner's wife, what's her alibi?”
“Says she was home alone. The super of the house was installing a lobby light between ten and midnight—he didn't see her leave. Got anything on her?”
There was another dull silence, then he asked in a mild voice, “What made you think your client might have done it?”
“Told you, nothing. Merely checking on all alibis.”
He smiled and his teeth were a tobacco yellow. “You can be sure we've worked over every alibi. How's it feel to be in on a murder case? Swan told me this is your first criminal case.”
His voice reminded me of the patronizing housewives at the washing machine. I lit a cigarette, let him have it gently. “By the bye, I found out what Turner was doing on the block, the night he was killed.”
Franzino straightened up, like I'd stuck a pin in him.
“He was playing around with a woman named Louise who lives in the basement of 515. She's selling it and seems Turner was competing with her pimp, guy named Cliff Parker, a waiter. Ed Turner was a little sex-screwy and was waiting in his car, playing the jealous lover—or jealous pimp. Parker has a good alibi that checks, working a wedding at the Pigalle that night. Louise says she had a girl friend with her at the time of the bang-bang stuff.”
“When did you find this out?” The voice was like a whip now.”
“Yesterday. I was checking on Franklin Andersun—he was one of her customers—and she had Turner's picture in her room. Talked freely about...”
“Andersun too! Damn!” Franzino got to his feet and it was like pulling him out of a hole—he was over six feet tall, but all legs. “Why the hell didn't you tell me this yesterday?” he shouted as he strode to the door, yelled at the desk sergeant to bring in Louise and Cliff.
I reached over and grabbed his arm. “Now wait up....”
“Get your goddamn hands off me!” he actually growled, his eyes narrowing.
I let go of him and he went back to his desk, sat down and somehow got his long legs under the desk. He said calmly, “One thing I can't stand, anybody holding me. What's the idea keeping important info to yourself?”
“Maybe because I knew you'd act just as you did. Sure, they're a whore and a pimp, but they're still people, and you can't ride roughshod over...”
“Harris, this is a hell of a case. Everything ends up against a blank wall. Two people have been murdered, one of them a cop. In these tough cases, these impossible deals, one small break usually knocks everything wide open. We have the first and only link between Andersun and Detective Turner, and you sit there like a goddamn stuffed dressmaker's dummy, handing me some crap about a whore and a pimp! What's with you, sentimental over mudkickers? And what the hell do you think I'm going to do to 'em... cook 'em and serve 'em with apples in their mouths?”
“I think you'll beat the slop out of Cliff, make life miserable for the girl. I don't make any pretense of being a good detective, but I know this—if either of them had been guilty, or implicated in any way, they wouldn't have talked, or had Turner's photo around. I don't want you to push them about—I sort of promised her they wouldn't be in a jam for talking, and that Cliff wouldn't be made the fall guy for...”
“You made them a promise!” Franzino cut in, and for a thin guy he sure got a lot of power into his voice. “Who the hell are you to make promises? What makes you think we'd frame this pimp? Harris, what the hell do you know about the Police Department?”
“Not much, but everybody knows...”
“Everybody—everybody isn't a cop! Harris, that badge you carry is one degree above the kind they give out with box tops to kids.” He yanked open his drawer, came out with a blue cardboard box which held a gold medal about the size of a half dollar. “I've been a cop all my life, even before I came to New York City. It's my profession and I'm pretty good at it, and proud of it. This medal was given to me by the Lieutenants Association for my general skill as a policeman. No matter what the hell you think or read, I don't go about beating people with rubber hoses, or busting their heads with a blackjack. We'll bring in this Louise and Cliff, question them. Maybe they won't like it, but I don't care about that. If they give me straight answers, and we don't have to hold them as witnesses, they can go. As for her hustling, that has to stop—in my precinct. Let her set up shop someplace else.”
I shrugged. “That's a fair shake. I'll hold you to it.”
He gave me an evil grin. “That's swell of you, Harris. And what else can you do about it?”
“Not much I can do,” I said carefully. “Except this case has been good headline bait. When it breaks, everybody concerned will be interviewed. If Louise and the pimp are innocent, as I believe, and you give them a hard time... well, papers are always interested in police brutality—when they can tie in a sex angle.”
“Son of a bitch—and you call yourself a detective!”
“Mainly I call myself a human being. I didn't have to tell you about Louise nor did she have to spill to me. Well, she did, and co-operation is a two-way affair.”
He studied me for a moment and I could almost feel his eyes on my face. “Won't be any trouble for me to revoke your license.”
“Don't threaten me. If you're so good at your job, then you don't have to resort to threats. Just be a cop—don't be a judge and jury too.”
“That's all I ever try to be—a cop. An underpaid and overworked cop.” He did that jack-in-the-box stunt again as he stood up. Walking to the door he said, “Wait here, I'm going to take a leak.”
I picked up the medal—it was real gold. I was thoroughly steamed—but mostly at myself. I was doing things cockeyed and here I was sore at Franzino for playing it right. Only I wished he hadn't sent out the order to pick up Louise and Cliff. All they had to do was try to take a powder now and they'd be practically convicted.
Franzino returned and lit his pipe again as he sat down. “Sorry I blew up,” he said quietly. “You're right. Under the law everybody is equal, even a pimp who operates on the wrong side of the law. Look, Harris, only a fool tries to give people a hard time. Sure, I'll admit I'm rushed and under pressure and there's a million laws we can't enforce and these petty lawbreakers in time make for the big crimes. Guy gets away with spitting on the sidewalk, he begins to feel a little above the law. We're living in a goddamn jungle and as long as it stays a jungle...”
“You have to use a whip?” I asked.
“I don't know. Mr. Harris, this morning a wino and his girl were in the grass on the Drive, juiced up. For no reason he suddenly stabbed her. She's in the hospital now. Two people saw him do it. Seems simple—a man has done an act of violence, he'll be punished, and the law is being upheld. But when they brought this drunken bastard in here, he suddenly says he didn't do it, starts screaming for a lawyer. Should I have argued with him politely for hours that I can't spare? Or do you blame me for belting him in the guts and telling him to shut up?”
“Lieutenant Franzino, you just said little crimes are the start of bigger ones. Same goes for a 'little' violence—like being a 'little' pregnant—ain't no such thing.”
“Guess there's a lot to be said on both sides. If we had more men and the jungle didn't make winos, well... hell with all this. Swan tells me you're a crackerjack mechanic. Interested in motors and cars myself. Got a shack out on Long Island and an old Bugatti racer I picked up for a few hundred.”
“Does she run?”
“You bet. Sometimes I take her out late at night—so not to attract attention. Clip off sixty or seventy miles an hour. You been out to the auto museum near Southampton?”
We sat around and bulled about cars for a while and it got to be five o'clock and we were arguing about the advantages of front-wheel drive when his phone rang, and he grunted into the receiver, “I'll be right out.”
He stood up. “Excuse me, Harris, I'm wanted at the desk. Be back soon.” He went out and I wondered if they had picked up Louise so soon. The door opened and Al Swan walked in, dressed all in blue. Dark blue serge suit, gray-blue shirt, deep blue tie, and a baby-blue fedora. I didn't dare look at his socks. He said, “Hello, brother-in-law.”
“Hello, Al. When did they send for you?”
“Happened to drop in and Franzino just told me you've come up with something big. You astonish me, Barney. Could be you're a detective after all.”
“Save that bull for the cold weather.”
Al brushed off a corner of the desk with a blotter, then carefully sat down and looked at his nails, as if not sure they were all there. Then he said, “Barney, I put you onto this case because I knew it was easy dough. We got the police force of New York, Elmira, and Syracuse working on this, and all by your lonesome you've turned up the best lead we've had so far. Now maybe you're sleeping with this whore and...”
“Stop it, Al. All I'm asking is that she and this Cliff get a fair shake.”
“Jesus—hell! A cop has been killed!” Al rasped.
“So what? He had a badge, not a halo. And this particular cop was part pimp. Also, there's a very ordinary young fellow named Andersun was killed, too. I want to find the killer as much as you do, only it won't be solved by the brass quieting the papers by playing tag with two innocent lives, making them 'it.'”
He shook his head. “We don't frame people, not even a whore and a pimp.”
“Fine, then there's no argument. No reason to send for you.”
He sighed. “Don't get you, Barney. If this turns out to be the break in the case, the publicity will make you a big-time agency. Instead of helping us, you start slopping over a pimp, talk like a cop fighter that...”
“Al, don't sell me, or put words in my mouth. You know I'm not a cop hater, and as for this pimp, I haven't any use for him, but that doesn't make him a murderer. Your side is raising the fuss, not me.”
“You don't understand,” Al said, trying to smooth his sandpaper voice. “The big boys downtown hear of your attitude, they can put you out of business. Barney, this can make or break you. Why, withholding evidence is damn serious, but you seem to think...”
“I'm not withholding a thing—came here under my own power,” I said, and looking at Al trying to sell me this bum bill of goods, I thought of what Betsy Turner had said and how right she was—after a while the hunter and the hunted become one. “Al, these people have volunteered information—don't punish them for it.”
“Don't worry, Franzino is a good man.”
“I know, he's got a medal.” I pointed to the box.
Al picked up the medal, said, “Never saw one of these before. —they don't come easy. What's this stuff about Turner being a pimp?”
I told him and he put the medal down and shook his head. “And the way his wife is stacked. Hard to figure these young guys today. Take Turner, breaking his back to get to be a plain-clothes man. Big deal—why, a cop's best protection is his uniform. Not one in a thousand will shoot a cop, but by the time a dick gets his badge out—he'd better get his gun out first and... Hell with talking about Turner. I have to be moving. Say hello to Ruthie. She need anything?”
“Not unless you want to give her your new Caddy.” Al laughed too long. “Barney, you're not only getting good, but funny, too. Just remember, we're all on the same team. Franzino is a good cop. Take my word for it. When you coming out to the house?”
“One of these days. Visiting my cousin Jake tomorrow. Give my regards to everybody at home.”
“Sure thing, strong man.” Al slapped me on the shoulder on his way out.
Like in a one-set play, Franzino came in soon as Al left. He sat down at his desk, propped the chair against the wall. He didn't say anything, and after a moment I told him, “I have an uncle out in Philly. Want to send for him too?”
He smiled. “Not treating you like a kid, Mr. Harris. Called Swan because... I'm not used to arguing with people, especially people I don't have to argue with. Your opinion isn't worth a snowball in hell around here, but at the same time, no point in fighting you. Thought maybe Swan could tell you that better than I.”
I glanced at my watch, stood up. It was six o'clock. A cop stuck his head in the doorway. “Got 'em, Lieutenant.”
“Bring 'em in here—before you take 'em upstairs.”
Three cops walked Louise and Cliff in. Her face was red and puffed—from crying—and she looked older than I'd thought. The lapel of Cliff's fancy sport jacket was torn and his glossy hair mussed. When she saw me, Louise sent me a look of hatred and contempt that turned my stomach. I was about to tell her she'd be okay, when one of the cops tossed a switch blade on the table, said, “He was packing this.”
Cliff asked in a shrill voice, “Where's your warrant? I demand you release...!”
Franzino reached over and slapped him hard across the mouth. “That's my warrant! Take these punks upstairs.”
Cliff's lips were bleeding a little as the cops walked him, and Louise, out of the office.
I picked up the medal, put it between my thumb and forefinger—it bent easily. Tossing it back on the desk, I said, “The gold's real—at least,” and walked out.
There was a candy store across the street and I went in, started to dial New Jersey, tell Ruthie I wouldn't be out— when I got a better idea. I called Mrs. Turner, told her, “This is Barney Harris. Would you do me a favor, Mrs. Turner? I have to call for my kid over in New Jersey at eight. I thought we might have supper together, now, instead of my going to your apartment.”
“I suppose this goes on the expense account?”
“I hadn't thought of that,” I said, just as sarcastically. “Maybe it will, and maybe it will be on me. But if you'll have supper with me, I'd appreciate it.”
“Call for me in twenty minutes.”
She didn't dress up and the effect was good—she looked exactly like what she was, a rather simple and pretty kid of twenty-three. Her hair was in a horse's tail, drawn sharply back from her face. She had on flat ballerina shoes, a purple, pleated, swirling skirt, and one of these white elastic shoulderless things that look like an inverted girdle. It showed off her fine shoulders, the bold outline of her breasts. She had a purple knit stole over one arm, and as we rang for the elevator, she glared at me as if ready to bite my head off. I looked her over, said, “If I was younger, I'd sure whistle.”
She suddenly grinned, the big red mouth splitting her face. “I can't stay angry at you, Barney.”
“Glad of that, Mrs. Turner. I acted like a rough loon last night.”
“Mrs. Turner, Mrs. Turner,” she mocked me. “Going through that again? I could have killed you last night but now...”
“Easy on that kind of talk,” I cut in, only half joking.
“... I realize you were right. I wasn't telling you everything and... What do you mean, easy on that kind of talk?”
“Anybody even vaguely connected with two unsolved murders might be... misunderstood.”
There were other people in the elevator. We walked through the lobby and she nodded at the doorman and when we were in my car, she said, “That was a terrible thing to say. I'm getting mad at you again.”
“Told you that for your own protection. What do you want to eat?”
“I don't care. Anything you want.”
“I want Italian food drowned in melted cheese.”
I drove over to the East Side and down to Twelfth Street, to a place called John's. Mrs. Turner was like me—a good eater— and we put away one of those satisfying heavy meals, from clams Casino to whipped-cream Italian pastry. I told her about Louise and Cliff, Franzino, ended up with, “Maybe Franzino and Al were right. I sure haven't come up with clue one. Only, Louise trusted me and I ...”
“You didn't ask them to.”
“But still, I threw them to the lions. God knows what Cliff is going through right this minute.”
“He's being beaten?”
“Maybe. And maybe I've just got the jitters.”
“Ed once told me how they picked up a Puerto Rican boy for a knifing and they tied him to a chair. When they changed tours, every man entering and leaving, punched him. It was after that I told him to stop telling me about his... job. But you shouldn't feel bad, you're only doing your duty.”
I laughed. “Hey, that's my pitch, don't give it back to me.”
She gave me a hot smile. “I like you, Barney. I liked you from the moment you tried to argue me out of hiring you.”
“Like can mean anything, or nothing. I like this pastry. I like most people.”
“Thanks,” she said stiffly.
“Look, this case is complicated enough and... I couldn't be just a friend to you, corny as that may sound.”
“I suppose you feel sorry for me.”
“Yeah. I feel sorry and sort of tenderly curious about you, Mrs. Turner.”
“Call me Mrs. Turner again and I'll scream!”
I nodded to the waiter for the tab. “A real scream would rip through that veneer you sport. Let's leave it at this. When the case is over, I'll drop around and we'll scream at each other.”
“That will be so big of you,” she said coldly. “You see, I don't know all the answers—like you do.”
“I try to know them. It's a rough world if you don't know what you want.”
“Barney, you're always so smug, so righteous. I... hate you!”
“Mrs. Turner, for now, whether you hate me or like me, that's not what we're here for. That's what I've been trying to tell you. First things first, and all that stuff.”
She sighed. “Then let's get back to business—what do you plan to do next?”
“Wait around, see what the police come up with. I don't know what else to do. Seems to me either Andersun or Turner were killed accidentally. In other words, one of the killings was planned, the other was something one of them walked into. Since Andersun was killed first, would seem Mr. Turner walked into it. But that doesn't figure. I mean, there's more chance Ed was mixed up in a shake-down, like these vice raids he cut himself in on. Only thing Andersun ever chiseled was a cigarette. Still, the cops would, or should know all about Mr. Turner's deals. Perhaps I'll try going over Andersun's background again, must be something there we've skipped. About time for me to call for my kid. Shall I take you home?”
“Can I come along—for the ride?”
I paid the check and we drove over to the Westside Highway and up to the George Washington Bridge. Some fancy joker in a Packard roadster gave me the horn and passed me. I winked at Betsy and gave my Buick the gas and we whizzed by him, like he was standing still. I turned to her, asked, “How did you like that? This load can step.”
She looked a little nervous, but she was thinking about something else. She said, “Barney, does your daughter—does Ruth—know she's adopted?”
“Why did you tell her?”
“Why not? She'd find it out sooner or later. We simply explained that anybody can be stuck with having a child, but to choose one, well, that's greater love. That was Vi's idea.”
“Vi—she sounds like a nice woman.”
I was amused at how everything was “nice,” or Betsy “liked”... things. I knew what was coming next. It came.
“And I think you're very brave to raise Ruth yourself.”
“What should I have done—tossed her back into an orphan home? For Christsakes, she's my kid. I'm attached to her— perhaps even more than Vi was.”
“I didn't mean...” She stopped and didn't say a word till we turned into the bridge and she said, “This is a beautiful sight: the water, the lights of the bridge against the dark of the sky.”
“Looks better when you're coming toward New York—more lights.”
“Barney, you mean your wife didn't want the girl?”
“She wanted Ruthie, but it was like a fad, a hobby, to her. Vi had to work hard at everything. Reason she got along with a turtle like me was, she'd just recovered from a nervous breakdown when I met her. Realized she had to slow down, stop pushing so hard. Used me like a brake. She did slow down, gave up most of her insurance agency, but Ruthie took its place. Vi tried too hard with the girl.”
“Do you mind if I ask what she died from?”
“You've already asked. Cancer.”
She said she was very sorry—all in the proper sorrow-tone of voice. We drove the rest of the way in silence and when I walked her into Jake's place, Betsy was not only a surprise, but a sensation.
Jake has a one-family house, everything about it old and mostly homemade, because he's a handy oscar with wood. But it has the warm feeling of a house lived in by people who enjoy living. They were all grouped around the TV set—Jake and Grace, Ruthie and the two boys, one a string bean of ten and the other real big for his twelve years. The youngest, “the surprise baby,” as Jake called her, a two-and-a-half-year-old girl, was sprawled half asleep in a big chair.
Soon as we entered, Betsy replaced the TV screen as the target of all eyes. Grace fussed with her apron, her hair, said, “Barney, you should have told me you were bringing a guest.”
“This is my employer, Mrs. Turner,” I said very formally, so they wouldn't get the wrong idea. I introduced Betsy around and when I came to Ruthie, Betsy bent over and said in that silly cooing voice adults seem to think kids want, “What a lovely big girl. Barney has been telling me so much about you, Ruth.”
Ruthie gave her a polite smile, then asked loudly, “You the lady my Daddy has been spending all these nights with?”
Heavy silence hung in the room like a fog till Jake's oldest boy broke it with a snicker and I said lamely, “I'm on a case for Mrs. Turner and the only time she can see me is in the evening.”
Grace said, “Of course,” and glared at the oldest boy when he giggled again. There was more of the embarrassing silence till the little girl suddenly woke up, stared at me, then wailed, “Uncle Barney.... Present? Present?”
I tried to lift her up, but she pulled away and bawled. I told her, “I really didn't forget, Gloria, just left your present in my office. Next time I come I'll bring two presents.”
That didn't silence her and finally Jake told her, “Go to sleep, Gloria. People don't have to bring you gifts all the time. I'll drive back with Uncle Barney and get the present. You'll find it here in the morning.”
Grace said, “It's way past her bedtime, that's why she's so cranky,” and took the wailing kid upstairs, while Jake made us some weak drinks and the boys asked if I cared to tear a phone book in half. I told them I was too full for stunts, and Ruthie immediately wanted to know if I'd eaten out and where. Betsy, who was sitting next to Ruthie, said we'd had a snack on the way out. Then Ruthie decided she must see the pleats in Betsy's skirt that made the swirling effect, pulled up the skirt and the solid thighs weren't missed by any male in the room, including the ten-year-old one. Betsy examined Ruthie's dress, and they started to talk about clothes, just as if they were two grown women. The rest of us watched some cowboy drama on the TV.
Grace came down—she'd changed into another dress. When she got herself together Grace was a pretty woman—only most times she dressed as if she'd just jumped out of bed. She said, “Turn off that darn set so we can talk. TV is making everybody antisocial. Jake, where's my drink? All right, sit down, I'll get it.” She grinned at Betsy. “Jake's a postman so I try to save him steps.” She headed for the kitchen, called, “Barney, see who needs a refill and help me.”
Of course nobody needed a refill except Betsy, and the boys wanted some more root beer. Soon as I got into the kitchen Grace sprang on me and gave me a tight hug as she whispered, “Oh, Barney, she's lovely. And notice how she and Ruthie hit it off? I'm so happy for you.”
“Aw Grace, stop it. I'm working for her—that's all.”
“That's work? Even if you're only bedding together, good for you. But I think she's sweet and so young and...”
“Jeez, no wonder your kids are so sexy-minded. Look, it's only a job with me. Her husband was murdered a couple weeks ago.”
That stopped her—for a moment. She made the drinks, including a double shot for herself, and as we headed back to the living room Grace whispered, “Well, she'll want a husband soon and no woman could do better than getting you.”
“Now you know I've been waiting for Jake to fall into a mailbox so we two can get together.”
“Barney, I'm serious. She looks like a fine, young...”
“You don't know how young, how much of a kid she is. I'm serious too—Grace honey, take the shotgun out of my back.”
When I sat down again, Ruthie told me, “Daddy, Betsy has a sewing machine and knows all about making dresses. She's going to make me a peppermint-stick skirt, and let me run the machine!”
“Now, Ruthie, don't bother Mrs. Turner,” I said, trying to give the kid the eye to shut up.
“It's no bother, really, I love to sew,” Betsy said, and Ruthie gave me a I-told-you-so look.
The boys had turned on the set again and we sat around and tried to talk and watch the screen, and Grace brought out some sort of pastry that tasted like Shredded Wheat filled with nuts and dipped in honey, and after a while I said we'd better go and Ruthie said it was Saturday night and I said, “Come on, it's nearly ten, and take us time to get home.”
I stood up and Grace told Betsy she must come out again, in the afternoon, to see her flowers, openly hinting I should bring her out. The boys came over and asked if I'd seen some 3-D private-eye movie, sort of recommending it to me as an instruction book—I think.
Jake said, “I'll drive to the drugstore, buy something for the baby. That kid, what a memory—Grace must have been frightened by an elephant.”
“Oh, stop bragging,” Grace said.
Ruthie and Mrs. Turner got into my car and we followed Jake to a drugstore. I got out and said I'd get the kid something and Jake said nonsense, it was his idea, and we got into one of those silly arguments. As I held Jake's money hand and bought a glass plane filled with candy, Betsy joined us, asked, “Is it all right if I buy Ruthie an ice-cream cone? I suggested it and she wants one.”
While we waited for her, Jake said, “So you're on a murder job.”
“Two of them.”
“A double header,” Jake said, awe in his voice.
“Fellow named Franklin Andersun and Mr. Turner were ...”
“Remember reading about that. I was interested. Turner was a cop, a ...” He turned and blinked at Betsy. “Gee, excuse me, Mrs. Turner. It was stupid not to realize you were... I'm sorry.”
Betsy half smiled to show him it was okay. Jake added, “Reason I read about it, was this Andersun. Had a fellow on my route with the same name. Franklin Andersun, even spelled it with a «. But it wasn't him, of course.”
I stared at Jake's moonface. “There was a Franklin Andersun on your mail route?” I repeated, that odd tingling feeling you get when you've finally found the break in a case welling up inside me.
“I even bought two morning papers to see the guy's picture. Didn't look anything like the one on my route. My Andersun had bright red hair. Odd way he spelled his name, maybe a relation to the dead one. See, when I was making out a registered receipt for him, I made a point of asking if the spelling was right. Nasty guy, too. Thought the mails ran just for him.”
“A registered letter?”
“Passport, they always come registered. So damn impatient to get it. Kept asking, in this twangy voice of his, if the letter had come. I'd tell him...”
Grabbing his shoulders, I lifted him onto a fountain stool, said in a choked voice, “Sit down, Jake. Let's you and me chatter.”
MARTIN SAT up in bed, drinking his third cup of black coffee. Lund was sitting at a table, holding his head and nibbling on a thin loaf of bread. He asked, “Okay, so I can probably sell my car—so what?”
“Sam, it was your crack about selling our passports that gave me the idea—came to me clear and cold through my drunken haze. Your car brings fifteen hundred dollars. Between Therese's savings and my cameras I can come up with a thousand,” Martin said, talking fast, the hang-over punishing his head. “We return to the States, hang around for six months— maybe less if we play our angles right. Hardly any calculated risk, the way I see it.”
Lund gave him a bloodshot stare. “Marty, one thing at a time. About selling our passports, I don't like...”
“We're not selling ours. Too risky. Only mean ten thousand and we'd probably be thrown out of France anyway. Might get more if we sold them in Germany, but then we'd be stuck in Germany or sent straight back to the States. No, Sam, we're going to return here with a dozen other passports and sell them for sixty thousand bucks!”
“Aw Marty, we both have big heads this morning, or is it afternoon? How are we going to steal all those passports?”
“Steal? No, we'll get them all kind of legal-by applying for them! That's the idea that hit me. What do you do when you want a passport in the States?”
“How much do you want me to bet on this question?”
“Stop clowning, Sam. Know how one goes about getting a passport? You either write or visit an office of the State Department, with your birth certificate, two crummy pictures, a friend who will sign that he has known you to be a good citizen for several years—and ten dollars. In a few weeks your passport arrives by registered mail. Now, how do you get a birth certificate in a big town, like New York City?”
“Beats the slop out of me,” Sam said brightly. “Wonder if quiz shows would go over big on the Paris radio?”
“Hard for me to talk with this head, so damnit, quit clowning! About a birth certificate—in New York City all you do is write to the Board of Health, give 'em the date of your birth, address where born, name of your parents and mother's maiden name. For a dollar you receive a birth certificate by return mail. Like the idea?”
“Marty, what the hell are you gassing about?”
“About the perfect swindle,” Martin said, finishing his coffee, “except we're not hurting anybody, so there won't be any complaints.” He got out of bed, wearing only shorts and socks, and his body was lean and hard as he sat down beside Sam, broke off a piece of bread. “Hope Therese comes back with the charcuterie, I'm starved. And stop giving me that blank look— Sam, the best rackets are always the simple ones.
Listen: you and me—under false names—go into any bar or poolroom in a poor section of New York, Chicago, Boston—any large city. We each pick out a guy. Take a few beers, maybe a night or two, to make small talk about the neighborhood, pretend we're boyhood chums with the guy. Point is, we each learn where our guy was born, when, and the name of his folks. That doesn't sound difficult, does it?”
“Sounds stupid. What do we do with all this great info?”
“Sam, you're really in a fog. Suppose the fellow you talk to is named Mark James and my guy is Edward Spero.... You rent a room in another part of the city as Mark James and I rent one under the name of Edward Spero—then we send away for their birth certificates. We take passport pictures of each other, hop down to the nearest passport office and make applications, as James and Spero, each being a witness for the other. In a few weeks we receive 'our' passports, as James and ' Spero, and move on. No possible traces left. Like it?”
“Think it will work?”
“Why won't it? Then we find a bar in another part of the town, say Brooklyn, start over again, only this time we go to a different passport office with our applications. Be easy to touch up the pictures and change our features with make-up. We work New York, Newark, Hartford, then go to Chicago, maybe even out to L.A. Within a few months, six at the most, we have a dozen passports, return to Paris on our own passports, sell the others. Show me a flaw?”
Sam stared at Pearson with open admiration, said, “Good God!”
“Dreamed about it in my sleep last night. Show me one thing that can throw us? All we need is time and living money and we have both. Still have to work out some details, be careful with the pictures and make-up, and most important of all, pick on the names of poor slobs like ourselves. Hell, nobody in my family, except me, ever applied for a passport. And be careful with Gabby, just tell her you're returning to the States to get your G.I. schooling straightened out. I'll have Theresa keep an eye on her.”
“Don't worry about her. She'll be faithful to me.”
Martin stared at him for a long moment, then laughed. “I don't care about her sex life, I don't want her to talk. That goes double for you too. No more drinking, chewing the fat with strangers. Talk is the one thing that can jinx us.”
“Marty, you know me. I ...”
“I know your big mouth very well, that's why I'm telling you. Sam, this means fifty or sixty thousand dollars. We make our picture, we're set for life.”
“And in a couple of years, if there's still a demand for passports, we can work the deal again, or...”
“No, just this one time. We're going to be smart operators. Most jokers get caught because they work a good thing thin.”
Sam jumped up, knocking his chair over. “Where's the paper? See when the Liberte is sailing.”
“Easy, Sam, my head won't stand one of your bursts of energy. And we'll go by a Dutch ship—they're cheaper. First thing you have to do is start parking your car around the PX, and at SHAEF headquarters out at Fontainebleau. Pass the word that you're selling the car. Only forget you're an actor, don't talk too damn much.”
“WHAT'S THIS all about, I say something bright?” Jake asked.
“Tell me more about Andersun.”
“Not much to tell. I remember him because I get along good with all the people on my route. They're my friends. Andersun was living in a rooming house near Broadway and of course I don't get to know roomers much, but for a few days he was always waiting for me, asking if I didn't have a registered letter for him. When it finally came—I could tell it was a passport— I asked for identification and he said I knew him, but I said I needed identification and finally he came up with his birth certificate.”
“When was all this?”
Jake rubbed his nose. “Oh... at least three, four months ago.”
“Four months ago?” I repeated. Betsy said, “If it's that long ago, it would hardly have any connection with this...”
“It has to hook up.”
The cone dripped on her hand, onto Gloria's toy and for some reason as I brushed the toy off I wondered if Louise had toys and attention when she was a kid. And what did that prove and why was I even thinking about it now?
Betsy said, “I'd best go out and give this to Ruth.”
I asked Jake, “Where's this rooming house? Andersun still there?”
“Crummy joint on One Hundred and Second Street. I don't think he's there. Never get any more mail for him. Although he never put in a change of address card either. They come and go in these houses.”
“Can you remember any other letters you had for him?”
“Nope. Only would recall something special—like a reg.”
“Tell me again what he looked like.”
“Can't exactly say, except his hair seemed too red. And his voice.”
I wrote down the address of the rooming house, thanked Jake, and went back into the drugstore and phoned O'Hara, asked if he could baby-sit for me. Cy said, “Damn, you sure pick odd hours to ask! You know what time it is? Anyway, we got a bridge game going. Look, if you want, bring Ruthie here and she can sleep on the couch.”
“No, that wouldn't work,” I said. I didn't want her shoved around like a piece of baggage.
“I'm sorry, Barney, but if you'd only let me know sooner.”
“It's okay. See you, Cy.”
I went out and stepped into the car. As we drove off, Betsy asked, “What's all this mean, Barney?”
“What happened, Daddy?” Ruthie asked over her ice-cream cone.
“Look, honey, Daddy will probably be gone all night. Guess I can get May to stay with you—I hope.”
“Oh, her. I heard her say she was going to see her uncle in New Haven for Saturday and Sunday. Said he was a rich uncle —always showing off.”
I swore under my breath, tried to think of anybody else I could get to baby-sit on a Saturday night. “Ruth, would you like to sleep at my house?” Betsy asked. “In the morning we can start making some dresses.”
I was about to tell Betsy to take it slow, but where else could I find a baby sitter? Ruthie asked, “May I, Daddy?”
Betsy smiled at Ruthie and said “That's lovely,” then asked me, “Barney, because a man with the same name as Andersun gets a passport—months ago—what does that mean for us?”
“The red hair, the twang in his voice—that's Brown, the joker who was in the bar the night of the shootings. Still haven't any motive, but he's our boy. I'm going to see Franzino, go down to that rooming house tonight. After all this waiting around, I think we're finally moving in high gear.”
I dropped Ruthie and Betsy off at her place, then drove up to the precinct house. It suddenly came to me that Brown's rooming house was just a few blocks from the Turner apartment and I wished I had some place else to leave Ruthie. The duty sergeant must have thought I was a salesman; he tried to brush me off for a while before he got Franzino on the phone. Within a half hour Franzino was at the station house, and a few minutes later Al Swan joined us, a bigwig from Homicide with him.
We raced down Broadway, the siren going most of the time, and it gave me a kick. Although when the siren was off, the engine made quite a racket—needed a valve clearance check. The rooming house was an ancient three-story affair and we promptly scared the night lights out of the old couple who ran it and most of their roomers, who were just coming in from their Saturday night elbow-bending.
The couple vaguely remembered Andersun—he'd lived there for about a month, paid promptly. They said he was a quiet fellow, didn't drink or raise any hell. No, he didn't seem to work, but he wasn't worrying about money either. Sometimes he carried a camera around. No, they couldn't recall any visitors he had except a tall handsome man who had also roomed there for a week. His name was Smith—they thought. He and Andersun were friends, moved in at the same time, but Smith only stayed a few days, although sometimes he came around to see Andersun. The couple kept sloppy records, didn't even have a record of when Andersun and Smith roomed there, the exact date, or Smith's first name. Andersun had moved months ago, left no forwarding address, and they'd never seen him since.
The letdown was pretty bad. We took them and some of the steady roomers back to the station. We also picked up Jimmy, the bartender, and Franzino got Louise out of the cooler. I had a chance to tell her how sorry I was, and what she told me I can't print. They all spent the rest of the night beefing about losing sleep and looking at pictures sent up from the rogues' gallery downtown. But we came up with a blank.
At four in the morning, over containers of bad coffee, Franzino asked me, “Got any more ideas, bright boy?”
“Why the sarcasm, Barney's been batting 1000 per cent,” Al said.
“Who said I was being sarcastic?”
I asked, “Can we get the State Department in Washington to send us the passport application?”
“Already wired them. FBI is in the case now. They'll be here in the morning. We'll have to shake down the Andersun family again—why the hell should this Brown get a passport as Andersun? Maybe he's a relative, or ...?”
“At least we know why the real Andersun was killed,” I said.
“Do we?” Al asked.
“Look, for some reason Brown gets a passport under Andersun's name. Then Brown reads in the papers about the kid winning the cash, heading for Paris. Meaning the real Andersun would need a passport, find out about Brown getting one in his name—so Andersun is knocked off.”
“Too simple. For all we know there can still be two Andersuns, or maybe Brown and this other Andersun are the same guy, or again, Brown and our Andersun may have been working together,” Al said, and in the early morning his voice was so hoarse it was a continuous whisper. “Still a lot of ifs we know strictly from nothing about. Like we haven't any idea how Turner fits into this.”
Franzino yawned. “First thing we do is grab some shut-eye, see what those FBI glamour boys come up with in the morning. We might as well use the cots upstairs.”
We finished our coffee and trooped upstairs and stretched out on some cots. The coffee, or the excitement, kept me awake. When I heard Al move, I asked, “Got any sodas in your car?”
“Yeah, got some cans of grape.”
“With gin or rum? I need a shot.” I sat up and put on my shoes.”
“Certainly never appreciated your talents, Barney. A comedian, too. Find the cans in the trunk—here's the keys.”
Dawn was starting to lighten the sky as I drank two warm grape sodas spiked with gin. I went back upstairs, hit the cot, and the next thing I knew it was bright sunlight, and I was alone.
I checked my wallet, found the can and washed my mouth out, ran cold water over my face. It was ten o'clock and Al and Franzino were downstairs, belching from a heavy breakfast. Nobody from Washington had shown up. I went out and ate, called Ruthie, who was bubbling over, having a big time. I told her I'd call back in a few hours and Betsy got on the phone and asked what Ruthie ate, and I heard the kid say, “I told you, Betsy, anything you eat. My goodness, what do you think, I still go for those sloppy baby foods?”
I was a little worried—Betsy was bubbling too.
A guy from the Passport Division of the State Department and two FBI men finally arrived, all of them dressed in natty banker's gray suits, white shirts and dark ties—like it was a uniform. They had the passport application, the duplicate picture.
According to the application, Andersun was five feet, six inches, had red hair and brown eyes. There weren't any “distinguishing marks or features,” and the purpose of his trip was “Travel.” One Irving Spear of a Bronx address had sworn on the application that he had known Franklin Andersun for ten years. Franzino had the address checked—it turned out to be another rooming house and “Irving Spear” had lived there months ago. Nobody knew anything about him except he was tall and “well spoken,” and now and then drank in his room.
We all stared at the picture of Andersun—or Brown—the usual startled-looking passport photo of a young man with thick hair, quiet eyes, and a wide nose. The State Department said the passport had never been used, which meant Brown was still in the U.S.A.
The application was too old and smudged for fingerprints. All we really had was a sample of Brown's handwriting, and his picture. It was something, but it still added up to zero.
The State Department and the FBI said they thought it had the looks of a passport ring, and when Franzino asked what that meant, the State Department man said, “There are criminals here—but mostly of the international variety—who are stateless and want to travel. Other criminals, experts, can alter a passport once they have the seal, the actual paper. Depending upon the person who needs a passport, an altered one can bring as high as twenty thousand dollars. They probably were paying Andersun for the use of his name, but why this—uh— Mr. Brown's picture was used... well, I don't get the connection.”
Al asked questions about passports, whether Turner ever had taken one out, and the Washington man said he would check.
A simple idea began to take shape in my simple noggin. The word “simple” was the key to everything... the names Brown, Smith, and the bartender said Brown's first name had been something like Tom or Dick or Harry. It wasn't any accident that Brown hung around an ordinary two-bit bar like the Grand Cafe, got into conversation with fellows who had simple lives, like Andersun, Irving Spear.
I asked the State Department man, “While you're checking on Turner, see if a passport has been issued to an Irving Spear and to a man named Smith—his picture will look like Spear's.”
“Spear—that's Andersun's sister's boy friend,” Franzino put in.
“I can check by phone,” the State Department man said. “What's the angle?”
“Let's check first—I'm not sure it is an angle—yet.”
“I don't like playing quiz games on a Sunday,” the State Department man said. “What's on your mind?”
“If this is a passport ring, then there should be one in the name of Spear, because a fellow named Smith talked to him once in the bar. You see, this Brown got into a beer argument with Andersun about the block, the old neighborhood. Claimed he'd been born there. That's the can opener for us.”
I collected an assortment of blank looks. Al Swan smiled at everybody, said, “Slow, Barney boy. Explain it to us again—in small words.”
“Way I see it,” I said, wondering if I was making a fool of myself, “is Brown learned from all this small talk where and when Franklin Andersun was born, name of his folks. Brown then gets a birth certificate as Franklin Andersun; do that by mail once he has the information, then rents a room under the name of Andersun. His buddy, Smith, is doing the same thing with the info he picked up in the bar from Irving Spear. With a birth certificate, a couple of lousy pictures—his nose, for example, looks out of shape, probably stuffed with cotton, and everybody said his hair was too red, so that was a dye job. Okay, with the birth certificate, the pictures, and Smith as a friend and witness under the name of Spear, Brown plunks down ten bucks, makes out a passport application, and in due time gets the passport, via registered mail, at his room. At a different address, with Brown as his witness, Smith gets a passport in the name of Irving Spear. The lads then chuck their rooms, dye their hair another shade, find a new bar, and start all over again.” I smiled at one and all, as if I'd explained everything.
Franzino broke the silence with, “Wouldn't they be recognized when applying for a passport the second time?”
The State Department man shook his well-brushed head.
“We have two offices in New York City, others in Washington, Philadelphia, all over the country. Be simple and comparatively safe for them to try this five or six times, meaning they end up with a dozen passports, besides their own. Let me call Washington, check on Turner, Smith, and Spear.”
We were sitting around the office of the detective squad, and the State Department man left to make the call as Al said, “Racket sounds too simple.”
Franzino ran a finger along the beard stubble on his lean jaw. “Simple rackets are always the ones that work.”
“If Andersun was in on a big deal like this, we'd have found some trace of it,” Al said.
One of the FBI's asked, “And if this Brown has the passport, why should he kill Andersun months later?”
Before I could answer, Franzino said, “The thing is, Andersun wasn't in on any deal. The lead we've overlooked was the story in the papers about Andersun planning to use the prize money for a trip to Paris, which meant...”
“Why Brown and Smith operated in bars like the Grand Cafe,” I cut in, determined to at least explain my own idea, “was because there was little chance of any of the boys in the bar ever taking a trip out of the country. Once Andersun applied for a passport, the State Department would investigate, and the whole deal would be cooked. They had to stop the real Andersun, and they did it with a bullet.”
The State Department man returned. There was a passport issued to an Irving Spear, none to Turner, and they were checking all the Smiths and Browns. A photostat of Spear's application was being flown in, and handwriting and photo experts were checking Brown's face and writing against other recent passports.
There wasn't anything to do for a couple of hours, and I had some coffee with Al. Then we drove over to the Turner apartment. Betsy and the kid were mixed up in cloth and patterns, and we were in the way. The last thing Ruthie wanted was to leave, so I said I'd phone later, maybe take them both out to supper, and after that—no matter what—Ruthie was going home.
As we left, Al gave me an evil grin, croaked, “What a domestic scene—mamma, poppa, and baby,” and started to whistle “My Blue Heaven,” and I told him to shut his corny trap. We went for a ride and I put on some speed—with Al's badge beside me I didn't have to worry about a ticket. Al insisted his Caddy could outrun my car, but backed down when I offered to bet him ten bucks. I drove back to the station house and we waited around some more, before the Spear application came in.
Brown's buddy, Smith, was six feet tall, weighed 196 pounds, had a mole on the right cheek. From the picture he looked like a handsome, distinguished young man, but his bald dome made him look older than thirty-four. One of the FBI lads said the mole was probably make-up and his head had been shaved for the picture. Franklin Andersun had signed as his witness, and Franzino said, “These jokers thought of everything—there's some attempt to disguise his handwriting here. Tomorrow I'll have my men check every passport photo shop in the city with these copies. See what we come up with. Of course we'll have every dock and airfield watched, in case they try to leave the country.”
“A passport is good for two years,” one of the FBI men said. “They can lay low till the summer, when the travel rush is on.”
“Another possibility—they could have skipped,” the State Department man said. “They could have gone to Canada, Mexico, some of the West Indies—without passports—then use them shipping out down there.”
Franzino sighed. “Or they could have taken a plane out the same night of the murder, for all we know. Hope this isn't another blank wall.”
Al shook his head. “I got a hunch they're still here, playing it too cool. Also got a hunch this is it. Like shaking out a tangled fishing line—once you get the right line, it all straightens out.”
There wasn't a thing to do but wait till Monday morning, while Washington checked, so we all knocked off for the day. I watched the cops line up before the desk as they were turning out a platoon, then I stopped into Franzino's office, asked, “How about releasing Louise now?”
“What did that whore do for you?” he growled, but had them both in his office within a few minutes. She looked bad, her face puffy and strained from worry and lack of sleep. Cliff looked okay, hair as slickly combed as ever. Franzino told them, “I'm letting you go as a favor to this big cluck. There's two conditions—break either of them and I'll toss you back in the can, lose the key. Don't move or become hard to find, in case I want to get in touch with you. And no hustling. Soon as this case is over, both of you get the hell out of my precinct.”
Louise and Cliff hurried out and as I started after them to explain, Franzino called me back. He pulled his bent medal out of the drawer. “I'm afraid to hammer this—might crack. Think you can straighten it out again, muscle head?”
I got it fairly straight.
WHEN IT looked like we were really closing in, we fell flat on our collective faces. Not a thing happened Monday or Tuesday, except New York had one of those unexpected muggy heat spells. The air seemed to vibrate with heat waves, and as usual, the heat knocked me out. The passport photo places had never seen either Brown or Smith, and the State Department was “reasonably” sure nobody looking like either of them had used a passport since the murder.
On Wednesday Al Swan called for me and we went down to an office in the Federal Building on Foley Square. Franzino was there, along with two big apples from the Police Department, and an assortment of Feds. Except for me and Franzino, everybody was dressed like he'd been torn out of the men's fashion page of Esquire.
I was in fast company and I sat and listened. A State Department man made a short speech that added up to one thing —we were still no place. They'd found two other false passports, one issued to a light tan Negro named Alvin Hunt of Patterson, New Jersey, and one to a Richard Cohen of Brooklyn. Neither of these men had ever made an application for a passport; both vaguely recalled bar conversations some months ago about where they were born. In the passport pictures, Brown looked swarthy, his hair dark and close-cut, and he did something to his cheeks to make him look full-faced. Smith was sporting a heavy head of blond hair and didn't have a mole. A check on the rooming houses used by “Hunt” and “Cohen” gave us nothing—the guys had lived there for a few weeks, moved as soon as they got their passports. The talk ended with, “We have no way of knowing how many false passports these men planned to secure. But it is our theory that the killings will frighten them off the whole idea.”
“Meaning the case is closed?” Franzino growled. “Why, damnit, a policeman has been murdered and we're going to find the murderer whether you guys play ball or not!”
One of the police brass curtly told him to shut up, asked, “You mean they'll stop trying for any more passports?”
“Of course we're as anxious to find these men as you are, but it is our theory they will destroy the passports, drop the whole scheme.”
“Leaving us with Turner's death unsolved!” Franzino snapped.
The Federal man said, “These men are clever, and a clever man knows when he's had it. If they stop now, they're comparatively safe. Since their own passports may have been issued any time within the last four years—if they renewed them— it's almost impossible to check the thousands of passports issued during those years, so we can't find their real identities.”
There was a moment of silence and I sat there, sweating gently and feeling sticky and uncomfortable. I asked, “What happens if a person abroad sells his own passport?”
“Usually they report it as lost or stolen, and unless we can prove otherwise, we issue them a special travel permit, good only for returning to the States.”
“In other words, if they did get to Europe, they could sell their own passports and continue to live there, long as they didn't travel?” I asked.
“Yes. It's also possible for a man to travel about without a passport, once he reaches foreign shores. There are still soldiers who deserted during the last war, who are hiding out in France, Algiers, London. If a man tries to rent a hotel room, get a job, or leave a country, he has to show his passport or identity card. But if a deserter was living with a girl in her room, didn't work or travel, small chance of the local police catching up with them. And of course, there are such things as forged identity cards, too. Why do you ask?”
Before I could answer, one of the Police Department brass asked in a stage whisper, “Who the hell is that big guy?” and hit the ceiling soon as he heard I was a private badge. When Al and Franzino did a lot of whispering into his big ears, and this little storm died down, I cleared my throat, said, “Seems to me we still have a chance to take them. For one thing, they don't know we're on to their passport racket. And if they were going to chuck the whole deal, they wouldn't have shot Andersun, risked a murder rap.”
The Fed said, “If you think they'll try for more passports, why of course we plan to keep a running check on that.”
“What I think is this,” I said slowly, trying to keep my voice from dancing. “They have four phony passports we know of. That means a big hunk of money if they can sell them—and don't sell their own. You say they're clever. Okay, they've put in a lot of time and patient work on this deal, and I can't see them tossing away all that dough. My idea is—why don't we try and decoy them?”
Another silence greeted me. I kept sweating like a pig, wondered if I was making an ass of myself. The thing seemed so simple to me; somebody else had to think of it too!
But they all sat there without saying a damn word. After a long moment I went on. “We plant two phony stories in the papers, give them a big play. First, that the police have the killer—this is all off-the-top-of-my-noggin thinking—but something about a guy who was brooding about Turner slapping him around months ago—thought Andersun was a buddy of his— killed them both. Whatever the story, has to look good.”
The silence was still upon me like a hot blanket. The Fed asked softly, “And where does all this take us?” Maybe there was sarcasm in his voice—maybe it was my imagination.
“It makes Brown and Smith feel safe, that they can go after the jackpot. Now at the same time we plant another story. Hunt or Cohen... no, best we make it Spear... Irving Spear is picked up in a big crap game and makes the papers on some legal point about the police have no right to the pot. That stinks. I don't know what the gimmick will be exactly, but Spear comes into a hunk of change, maybe because of Andersun's death, and announces he's going to Europe. As I said, have to be a gimmick that would make the papers. Believing they're safe, Brown and Smith will try to knock off Spear, only we'll have him staked out. That puts it up to them—either they have to dump the idea, or knock off Spear and take off for Europe, or wherever they plan to sell the passports.... It will make them move, jump.”
You could still cut the silence with a blunt knife. I wiped my sweaty forehead with the back of my hand. The Fed man looked at the cops and the Fed said, “Granted it's a hell of a long shot, but since we don't have anything better, why not try it?”
“And if it doesn't work, we make the Police Department look like damn fools!” the police brass shouted.
“Who will ever know it didn't come off?” I asked. “The dummy we use will never come up for trial. Case will be forgotten—unless the Andersun family or Mrs. Turner make a stink, and I think we can talk them into co-operating with us.”
Federal shook his head. “We can't have too many people in on this, too much chance of a leak. For all we know Brown and Smith are in touch with the family—I mean see them on a social basis, under other names. As for the reputation of the Police Department, no trouble there. If nothing comes of this, the D.A. will dismiss the case for lack of evidence, or an alibi comes up. All done quietly. More I think of it, better I like our chances.”
“My client, Mrs. Turner, has to be in on it.”
A Fed who hadn't spoken till now asked, “Afraid you'll lose out on a day's pay?”
“That's an idea,” I said, fighting to sound calm. “I don't want Mrs. Turner to think I've solved the case when I haven't. Her interest—and mine—in all this is solely why and how Ed Turner was killed, and we're still a long ways from bringing that under the wire. Also, in my opinion—for what it's worth— you can foul things up easier by trying to hush this than by letting the people concerned know the score. That's why I've ruled out Hunt and Cohen. No point in starting with a new set of people. As for Spear, he's going with Andersun's sister, so he'll tell her. Our best bet is explain it to them and...”
“We'll work out the details,” a police bigwig said curtly. There was a little more chatter, and the conference was over. All the way uptown Al Swan kept telling me how, ”.... Can't get over you, Barney boy. Just keep surprising the crap out of me. You been hiding a brain under that bushel of wild hair.”
I felt uneasy, and when I left Al I went to the office, looked through the ads I called mail. I began to feel even more jittery. I kept telling myself it was the muggy heat, but that wasn't entirely it. I drove around to look up the last known addresses of a couple of deadbeats, then I went home to take a shower. I gave myself a stiff workout with the weights, ended in a river of sweat, and still restless. I finally got in the tub and cooled off, and of course started sweating again as I dried myself. I kept telling myself they had taken my ideas, yet I felt odd, on edge. I drove over to the school and when Ruthie climbed in beside me and I asked what she wanted for supper, she said, “Betsy said we can eat at her house.”
“We're not eating at Mrs. Turner's house. And don't call her Betsy.”
“Call her Mrs. Turner. That's good manners.”
“Daddy, when you know somebody good, like I know Betsy, then you call them by their first name.”
“Not little girls and big people.”
“Well, why can't we have supper with her? She bakes swell and I want to see my new dresses.”
“You'll see them some other time,” I said, driving toward the super market. “We're eating home. Maybe a salad and...”
“But why, Daddy?”
“Because I say so!” I snapped and immediately wished I'd bitten my tongue.
Saying that made me jump back twenty-five years. The only real fight I ever had with my old man was once when I was eleven years old and he told me that, instead of giving me a reason. The old guy had raced with Oldfield—that's why he named me Barney—and as far back as I can remember he was always working on a garage on Sixty-fourth Street—a stoop-shouldered man, dirty with grease, an old skull cap pushed back on his big head. I was so mad I burst into tears and that got him; he made me explain what I was boiling about. Then he said, “Fair enough, a kid is entitled to a reason for everything— if I can give you one. Tell you what, next time I ever slip you that 'Because I say so,' you belt me.” And I'd said, “But, Pop, I can't reach your jaw.” And he'd laughed as he told me, “Don't worry, Barney, you're tall enough to belt me where it would hurt worse than on the kisser.”
There was a group of chauffeurs hanging around—I always disliked them for being snotty know-it-alls. My old man's crack made them hysterical and when I asked Pop why, he said, “That's a reason I can't give you—yet. See, it's kind of a joke. Has to do with sex—something I'll explain when you're older.”
About a year later, Mom overheard me arguing with a friend about Jean Harlow's breasts, whether they were “big” or not, and that night she told Pop it was time to “talk to him.” Being a slum kid, I had a very clear idea of how sex worked, but I went for a walk with the old man, listened to him stammer it out. I remember he started with, “Barney, time you learned other people besides pimps and gangsters drive Cadillacs...”
Now I glanced at Ruthie as I parked the car; she was looking away from me, her little lips a tight line. I told her, “Honey, I didn't mean to jump you. I'm nervous today—maybe because of the heat. And—I'm working for Mrs. Turner, and we can't mix business and pleasure.”
“Why not, Daddy?”
“I don't know, exactly. Unless because in business everybody is rooking the other fellow.”
“What's rooking mean?”
“Why, Daddy, Betsy—Mrs. Turner—would never cheat you.”
“Maybe I'm cheating her.”
I pinched her nose, said, “How would you like to buy cans of noodles and bean sprouts and water chestnuts, make our own chow mein?”
She got excited about that, but all during supper she kept asking me why? why? about everything, and when May Weiss came in at seven-thirty and I wouldn't take Ruthie with me to see Betsy, the kid started to whine and bawl, and I kind of lost my head and slapped her. I spent a hard ten minutes apologizing, and by the time I reached the Turner apartment I was hot and nervous and blue.
Betsy was wearing dungarees spotted with oil paints and a T-shirt, both of which she filled out nicely. She asked if I wanted a highball and I said no and sat like a lump for a couple of minutes, staring at the painting she'd been working on, but not seeing a damn thing. Finally she asked, “What are you thinking about, Barney?”
“Being a kid ought to be a wonderful deal; everything is done for you; no worries about food or rent or war. Yet it's probably the most frustrating time of our lives because adults act like adults instead of human beings.”
She smiled. “Sounds like a profound statement—I guess.”
“Maybe it is, Mrs. Turner.”
“Will you please, please, call me Betsy?”
“Don't start that, I'm feeling nervous enough as it is. Here's my report for the day.” I told her about the talk fest at the Federal Building and when I finished she actually clapped her hands, said, “You're a terrific detective, Barney! This is real news. Of course, so far it doesn't hook up to Ed, but I feel just as you do. When you find Andersun's murderer, you'll have Ed's.”
“I'm the whizbang dick, the mighty private eye—who's smart enough to have a cousin Jake who was smart enough to be an observant mailman!”
“But you said—you've always said most cases are solved by luck.”
“I know, but somehow all this makes me feel... a bit preposterous. Like I was being kidded. A mechanic like me telling the New York City Police Department, the FBI, how to solve a case! Doesn't make sense.”
“To quote Mr. Barney Harris again—nothing about this case makes sense.”
“Yeah, but somehow I feel this is all going to blow up in my face. Well, we'll see.” I stood up. “See you again tomorrow night. Meantime, it's important you don't talk to anybody— including yourself—about this decoy idea.”
“I won't talk. Would you like to take a ride, to cool off? I've been in the house all day.”
“Well, I... eh ...” I didn't feel up to a lot of light gab.
“You don't have to!”
“I know that. I also know the cops still have Ed's car tied up. If there's any place special you want me to drive you to...”
“Yes, to the nearest movie, and I'll walk!”
The phone rang and she answered it, waved the receiver at me. “For you.”
I was certain it was Ruthie and bad news, but it was Al Swan's hoarse voice. I asked, “How did you know I was here?” It was a dumb question and of course Al couldn't drop the ball. He said, “Why, I'm not only a detective in my own right, but my brother-in-law is a regular Sherlock Holmes. Some of the magic goofer-dust from his badge rubbed off on mine. I made a simple deduction, as we dicks say, after I phoned Ruthie. Say, the kid answers the phone like a grown-up young lady. 'No, Mr. Harris isn't at home. Can I take a message ...?'”
“What's on your mind, Al?”
“Having a little trouble with your decoy idea. This Irving Spear flatly refuses to be a sitting duck. And his girl friend, the Andersun tomato, she hit the ceiling too.”
“Tell him to make out his insurance to her, then she'll go for the deal.”
“Franzino is going to talk to him again tomorrow, maybe threaten to take his hack license away. Thought I'd tell you before you gave Mrs. Turner the big story about what a big hero you are. You having fun, chum?” There was an asinine chuckle and Al hung up.
I ran my sleeve over my sweaty face, lied to Betsy, “I have to go over to the station house, but I'll drive you to...”
“Oh, shut up!”
“See you tomorrow night, Mrs. Turner,” I said, heading for the door.
“Mr. Harris, I imagine my retainer has been used up. If you'll tell me how much...”
I cut her off with, “Send you a bill when the case is over, Mrs. Turner.” I walked out, wanting to make a crack about us sounding like Gallagher and Shean, except she was too young to have heard of them.
I took off my coat and my shirt was wet. I drove around, letting the car eat up the road, the wind drying my shirt off. But the car didn't give me a kick and I went home and told May to take off. I poured myself a good hooker and waited for the rye to loosen me up. All that happened was that I started sweating again.
I ran a bath and sat in the tub for a long time, chain-smoking cigarettes, thinking of Brown and Smith and their foolproof plan. All the time and patient work they put into it. Then one of those things happen—Andersun has to win a prize and decide to go to Europe. I could almost feel the way they must have felt, suddenly finding their perfect crime going up in the air, maybe the Feds on their tails, and murder the only out. Like a guy highballing along the highway, weaving in and out of the stream of cars—maybe just to show off for his girl. Then there's a car speeding the other way and showing off—a gag that in a matter of seconds becomes life or death.
And then, of course, the fantastic piece of luck—my cousin being Brown's mailman, and by another hunk of luck—telling me about it.
I took a shower and toweled myself, knew I wouldn't sleep much. I decided I'd have some talk with Irv Spear in the morning. I had another slug of rye and went to bed, feeling the tears of sweat rolling down my body as I waited for sleep to come.
It came fast—next thing I knew Ruthie was waking me and it was a bright clean morning, and cool. I felt pretty good and spent ten minutes swinging her in the air as she shrieked with delight.
I drove her to the nursery, headed for the office. As I got out of my car, a taxi gave me the horn and Irv Spear stuck his balding dome out of his cab, said, “Been waiting for you, Harris.”
“Come on up to the office,” I told him.
Cy O'Hara was busy reading the morning paper, but soon as he saw me usher Irv in, Cy said, “Going down for coffee,” and went out after locking his phone.
Irv took a seat, cleaned his thick-shelled glasses and looked the office over. “So this is a detective's office? You're small time, but always smart business to keep your overhead down.” He suddenly leaned forward as I was glancing at my mail, pulled out the bottom drawer of my desk, saying, “In the movies the private eye always has a bottle in the bottom drawer.”
It was embarrassing; I had an unopened pint there. Irv looked startled. I asked if he wanted a drink and he said no, then studied my face with his solemn eyes for a second, said, “Hear this deal is your bright idea.”
“And I hear you don't think much of it. Don't you want us to take Frank's killers?”
“Harris, let's you and me get straight. Don't throw me no curves or sales talks. Sure, I'd like to see the guy that plugged Frankie get his. And if it would bring the kid back to life, I might take the risk. But Frankie is dead and buried and I fail to see any point in becoming corpse three just to take the heat off the cops. I don't believe in making the headlines—feet first.”
“Relax,” I said, trying to make my voice sound light and easy. “Nobody is asking you to be a dead hero. Where's the risk? These guys have probably jumped the country already, so...”
“Crap. If you cops thought they had skipped, you wouldn't be pulling this stunt. Harris, I read someplace about a honest man being one who has a choice. I'm leveling with you—what's it going to get me to risk stopping a couple of slugs?”
“You'll be better protected than Fort Knox. There'll be...”
“Harris, don't crap me. You guys don't know for sure what these two killers look like. They aren't going to come up and make small talk—first thing that speaks will be the guns in their hands. I'm willing to gamble, but not when the stakes is me!”
“But you'll be surrounded by cops, FBI guys.”
Irv slipped me a hard quick smile. “Frankie had a cop with him—they died together. Know what the cops want me to do? I'm supposed to go about as usual, hacking, school, see Juanita, and all the time they claim there will be cops 'someplace' around me. Sure, maybe the cops will nail the guys, but after I'm dead. This isn't a chance they're asking me to take, but sure death. Would you do it, Harris?”
“I don't know, Irv. But then Franklin Andersun wasn't my buddy, nor am I going with his sister.”
“Juanita is against it—she knows this hero stuff is all for the birds.”
“Sure it is, but we're not asking you to be a clay pigeon,” I said, but I knew I didn't sound convincing. “After all, we have pictures of them and...”
“Sure, disguised pictures!”
There were a few seconds of silence, and an idea tickled my noggin. Irv fidgeted in his chair, said, “Funny, I feel like a louse. When they first came to me, I said, okay, I'd hang around the house for a few days, with some cops. But they said no, that would be a tip-off it was all a plant. I'm supposed to go about my daily routine—won't even let me have a gun. That might be a tip-off too. Hell, Harris, that's asking too much. These killers are sharp on this make-up stuff. I understand they even posed as a colored fellow once. How are the cops going to recognize them—in time?”
“I know somebody who'd recognize Brown, could act as a bodyguard for you.”
“But he's blind!”
“That's why he'd know Brown's voice at once—swears he'd remember that twang any place. Look, with Danny beside you all the time—and he'd never be mistaken for a cop—he could shout a warning to the police the second Brown opens his mouth.”
“What makes you so sure these clowns are going to talk first? Hell, they don't want to chitchat with me. Might be only two sounds—the bang-bang of a gun and the plop of my dead body hitting the street.”
I shrugged. “I'm not selling you anything, Irv. Sure, that's a possibility. But this is the only way we can ever get these guys— if they are still in the country. But with Danny with you and a flock of cops ready to close in and shoot at a split second's notice, I think you're reasonably safe. Also, we'll give you a bulletproof vest...”
“Got any bulletproof heads!”
I tried to give it a long laugh. “Irv, would you take me for a cop?”
“Well—no. Something about you, you're too big—look too tacky, down at the heels.”
“Okay, you're a cabbie and I'm really a mechanic, and Danny, if they remember, is one of the boys at the bar. Suppose I tail along with you, and Danny—as our bloodhound? Buy that?”
He fooled with the few hairs on his head. “You guys are just trying to get me killed! All right, if I can have you and Danny with me, I'm in. At least I'll be surrounded by muscle.”
“I'll talk to Danny right now,” I said, getting up.
When we reached the street, Irv glanced around like a ham actor, muttered, “Haven't even started and I'm scared.”
He took a deep breath. “That's the trouble—I might relax permanently.”
“Long as you can joke about it, you'll be okay. Where can I find you in an hour or so?”
“I'll be at the garage by noon. Not in the mood to push a hack today. Boy, this is how a bull's-eye must feel.”
“Stop it. Tell you a trade secret. A guy has to be damn good to hit anybody with a pistol, unless they're right on top of 'em.”
“Harris, you're the one making with the jokes. These guys have proved how damn good they are!”
“But they took Frank and Turner by surprise. This time they'll be the surprised ones,” I said, and the words suddenly hit my brain like a hammer. “I'll see you at the garage at noon. And whether you believe it or not, the cops really don't want you killed. The... eh... publicity would be bad for them.”
“That's a real comforting thought!” he said, getting into his cab. “Save those words for my tombstone!” He waved as he drove off. I stepped into the coffeepot, told Cy the office was his.
He made some corny crack, as usual, to Alma, and left. Alma gave me her best hard smile, as I asked for change of two bits, and asked where I'd been. “Busy, busy,” I said, stepping into the phone booth.
When I got Franzino, I told him, “Got an idea. The...”
“I wish I could say to hell with your ideas, but so far yours have been better than mine. Hear about this jerk, Spear?”
“Just left him. I think he'll play ball with us.” I told him about Danny and myself guarding Irv, and Franzino said, “I don't know about you—some guys assume any big slob must be a cop. But the blind man is a sweet touch. What kind of gun do you carry?”
“Gun? I don't have one.”
“Sure be some guard. If I get you one, know how to use it?”
“Was checked out on .45 automatic in the army.”
“Better learn—fast. Never know which way these guys will pump lead.”
“Hadn't considered that,” I said, wondering what I'd got myself into. “But this is the idea I called about. How does this sound for Turner's death? There were two guns involved in this. Turner was taken by surprise.”
There was a moment of silence over the phone. The booth was hot and I kept opening and closing the door, trying to make the air move. Franzino said, “Okay, quiz kid, what's the answer? I'm not sharp this morning—what the hell you talking about?”
“Turner, the ambitious cop, was shot in the back—never even went for his gun. Up to now we've been figuring on one guy, and the same gun, killing both men. We know Turner was in his car, watching Louise's room. Now suppose he sees Brown shoot Andersun, steps out of his car—but Smith might have been standing a dozen feet behind Turner. Probably as Turner went for his gun, Smith shot him in the back.”
“Well... Yeah, we might try that for size,” Franzino said, his voice polite. “Because the slug that took Turner was missing we have assumed there was only one guy, one gun—although I don't know why. Harris, you're going to force me to go to the movies again—you private eyes aren't as stupid as you look. But that's as good a theory as any we've dreamed up. But see this blind man. We need action now, not theories.”
“Thanks, I'll let you write a commendation for me to my correspondence course,” I said, as we both hung up. I kidded with Alma for a moment, and she asked when I'd have some more calls for her “sexy voice.” As I left she called out, “Be careful, Barney—I may try it out on you some day.”
At five minutes after eleven I parked in front of the Grand Cafe. Jimmy, the bartender, wrinkled his nose as I entered, as though he smelled something bad. Danny Macci had a can of beer before him, while at the other end of the bar, a hungover joker was trying to taper off with an early morning shot and talking to himself in a low, soothing voice.
Slapping Danny on the back, I said, “Howya, Danny? This is Barney Harris. Remember me, the...”
Wailing “You miserable bastard!” Danny showed me his beer-can-bending stunt again, only this time he bent the can over my head!
I vaguely knew I sat down on the floor, that blood was running all over my head and down my face—cool blood. My head was throbbing like a jet plane trying to take off.
From a million miles away I heard Jimmy shout, “Danny! Want me to lose my license? Leave him alone.... Danny! you already hurt the louse...”
My head finally worked itself loose and took off from my shoulders as I blacked out.
I CAME TO, still sprawled out on the dirty floor, although I don't know where else I expected to be. I touched my wet face, got my hands into focus. I wasn't bleeding—Danny had clouted me with an almost full can of beer and the stuff was all over my head and shoulders. I had an acute headache and even my wild hair couldn't hide the not-so-graceful, and throbbing, lump on the right side of my noggin.
I thought about getting up, glanced around. A few morning street-corner characters were staring in from the doorway, amused. Danny Macci was sitting in a booth, waving his white cane like a baseball bat, as he cursed. Jimmy, who was standing over me, said, “Warning ya, Danny, one more rhubarb like this and I'll banish your ass from here—for good!”
“That what this was, a rhubarb?” I asked, getting to my feet. To my surprise I made it. I guess I can't take it—this one belt on the head had me weak as a sick cat, made my stomach do push-ups. “What's the matter with Danny?”
“He don't like you,” Jimmy said.
“You're kidding.” I walked over, stopped beyond the reach of his cane. “What's the beef, Danny?”
“You unwashed skunk, I'll break every bone in your thick head!”
Eyes are important in registering anger. A blind man can never look real steamed because his eyes are blanks. I said, “Guess you might bust my conk—in fact, you probably have. But why?”
Danny made some observations on the sex habits of my ancestors as he took a terrific swipe at me with his cane, almost busting it on the next booth. Jimmy came forward carefully, said, “Now Danny, goddamnit Danny, cut it out!” He turned to me. “Why don't you take a walk?”
“I'm only doing my job,” I said, starting the old oil. “Doing...”
“Do it someplace else,” the barkeep snapped.
“You must be tired of looking at your license. Remember, a cop has been killed.”
“You threatening me?”
Danny shrilled, “Let me get my mitts on him, Jimmy. I'll tear his heart out!”
He swung again with his cane and I stepped in, grabbed the back of his wrist. He was strong, but I had the grip, and when he started to move his left hand, I grabbed his shoulder muscles with my left and squeezed. “Danny, you damn near busted my head—at least tell me what the beef is about?”
I squeezed harder.
“I'm a... The one woman who would let a blind old man sleep with her, sometimes for free, you got to make trouble for. Now she's moving, won't open her door to nobody!”
“She was good to Danny,” Jimmy said solemnly.
“I didn't do a thing to Louise. Honest, Danny, it was the cops.”
“It was you, you lying bastard!” Danny yelled, straining to get out of my hands. “She told me.”
“I know how she feels, but she told you wrong. Danny, you and me, we're different from other guys. We're too strong to have to lie and cheat. I'm not bulling you. It wasn't me. It was the cops. And I can prove it.”
Danny turned his sightless face up at me. “How can you prove it?”
“Come up to the police station, I'll let you talk to the guy who put her away. Only don't swing on him. He'll even tell you I got Louise out of the can.”
“Bastard, you running me in?” Danny asked.
“Danny, musclemen are on the level. All I want to do is prove to you I didn't do her dirt. I've got to prove it because I have a job for you.”
“Louise claims... A job?”
“What kind of a job?” Jimmy asked suspiciously.
“A job requiring muscle, so that lets you out,” I told the bartender, and let go of Danny and stepped back. But the old man didn't try to cane me.
Danny stood up. “I'll go see this copper, just to find out if you're telling me the truth.”
“Fine. Then we'll talk about the job.”
Danny headed for the door, his cane out like a feeler. I followed and he asked, “What kind of work can I do?”
“Tell you later. Be a day or two's work. Ten bucks a day.”
“Ten dollars? Who am I working for?”
On the sidewalk, I took his hand but he said, “Keep your mitts off me. Keep talking, I'll follow you.”
“My car is over by the curb. We'll drive up to the station, then over lunch we'll talk about the job.”
“Why can't we talk about it now?”
“Because I have to be absolutely sure we trust each other,” I said, holding the door open. He got in and I shut the door, went around to the wheel side.
As I drove, Danny said, “If this is a trap, if you're jailing me, I'll break your neck.” Then he added in a sort of childish voice, “I haven't worked for... lot of years. Never begged though, either. When I first lost my sight, I traveled for a time with a crummy carnival, doing a lifting act. But they was always playing jokes on me, robbing me, so I quit. Ten bucks a day, you said?”
I nodded, then remembered he was blind, said, “Yeah.” The nodding didn't do the pain in my head any good. I parked in front of the police station, got out and opened the door for Danny, told him, “Let me take your hand, lot of steps here.”
Lieutenant Franzino wasn't in the best of moods. When I introduced Danny, and said he was considering working for us, Franzino said to the old man, “I've seen you around.”
“Whatcha doing, spying on me?”
“This is my precinct. It's my business to know the characters in it.”
I said quickly, “Mr. Macci wanted one thing straightened out. I was explaining to him that you decided to close up Louise.”
“That's right. I'm running her hips out of here,” Franzino said.
“Why?” Danny almost shouted. “She ain't hurting nobody.”
“Because she's a whore and whoring is against the law. Maybe it shouldn't be, but I don't make the laws—just enforce as many as I can. And I intend to run every whore I know of out of my district.”
“Wasn't you getting your lousy two-bit cut? I got a good mind to wring your goddamn neck,” Danny said, flexing his powerful arms. “And I can do it, too.”
Franzino leaned back in his chair, said coldly, “No you can't, because I have a badge that gives me the legal right to use a gun or blackjack. You create a disturbance here and I won't hesitate a second to split your hard head open, or shoot you. Do I make myself clear?”
Danny muttered, “Man gets little enough enjoyment out of life without some snooper...”
“Stop slobbering all over my office,” Franzino said, as if enjoying his own toughness. “If she gave you a dose you'd be the first one trying to kill her. As it is, she may be the cause of two murders.”
“Louise is a clean woman, a law-abiding good woman!” Danny snapped.
“You law-abiding citizens give me a pain in the ass,” Franzino told him. “You're always trying to see how many little laws you can break. Like smoking in the subways or littering the streets. When we come to you for help, you act like we were the crooks. Two of your fellow citizens have been murdered, and when we ask your help, you start sniveling about a whore. You and that other noble citizen, Irving Spear, make me want to puke. Crime isn't only our task—it's everybody's job. You don't want to help us, then stop wasting my time. Get the hell out of here!”
Before I could put in a word, Danny said, “You hide a big mouth behind that badge. Who doesn't want to help? What you talking about?”
“I haven't had time to tell Mr. Macci about our plan,” I said.
“You—you got time to listen to this slop about a hustler, and guzzle beer. Smell like a gutter, Harris.”
“Mr. Macci had to be convinced about certain things before he would discuss anything else. As it happens I haven't been drinking beer—I've been bathing in it.”
“What's all this jabber-jabber about?” Danny asked. “If you and this snotty-voiced cop want something of me, ask for it like men.”
So like men we told him what we wanted. Did he still feel positive he could recognize Brown's voice? Was he willing to take the chance, and the rest of it? He listened, his rough face even listening. Then he turned to me, “This the ten-bucks-a-day deal?”
“What ten bucks a day?” Franzino asked.
“Why... eh... I offered to pay Mr. Macci for his services. Come off my expense account,” I began. “Thought it would be best that way.”
Danny drew up his massive body as straight as he could, said with real dignity, “Frankie was a friend of mine. So is Irv. You don't have to pay me to protect a friend or find his murderer. Hell, ain't as if I'm losing time from a job, or something.”
“Fine,” Franzino said, his voice suddenly soft and polite. “I'll have Spear brought in and we'll get started. Lot of wheels to get in motion; maybe be able to plant the stories in the evening papers. Danny, you have to keep quiet about this. One leak and we could have a couple more stiffs on our hands—including you.”
“You can't even tell Jimmy,” I added.
“How will I explain to him about the job—my being away from the bar for a day or two?”
“The job fell through, and you got a sudden pain in your stomach, have to go to a hospital for observation,” Franzino said. “Something like that. Only don't make it too complicated. Barney will think up something bright—he always does.”
We were to report back later in the afternoon for further details, and as I drove Danny to a cafeteria for lunch, the old man said, “That cop sure had me scared for a time. I stole a traffic stanchion about a week ago—you know, one of them big ones with a concrete base—and I was sure he was wise to me.”
“What did you steal that for?”
“To work out with—can't afford no bar bells,” Danny said, as though I'd asked a stupid question.
They rigged out an elaborate setup to protect Irv—even he was satisfied. On the theory that the killers didn't know the cab company he worked for, the cops and the Feds took over a small garage on One Hundred and Fifty-fourth Street, overlooking the Harlem River, and across the street from a post office—-which gave them a legitimate place to hang out, watch the garage. There were a couple of independent cabbies operating from the garage, but they were out all day and most of the night. Instead of having me ride around with Irv, I was to be the mechanic inside the garage, while Danny and an assortment of dicks would be Irv's passengers.
It was a dingy little garage, with a ramp leading down from the sidewalk, and an overhead door with a smaller door cut into it. During the baseball season they made some dough parking cars, and I figured the garage held about thirty-five autos when packed to capacity. Irv was given an old cab, but it had a small sending set under the dashboard which was in contact with police cars, and supposedly would pick up even a pin-dropping sound. I had a tow jeep and I was to drive Irv home at six, with Danny beside me. A couple of young cops were assigned to his classes in college, and two more were stationed around the clock in his mother's apartment where he lived. Three buttons had been installed in the garage—one push— and they'd bring the boys across the street on the run. They gave me a .38 police special to wear under my coveralls, but I wasn't sure I knew what to do with it.
The stories broke in the evening papers—broke in big headlines. A Tommy Wills had admitted shooting both Andersun and Turner, said he'd been drunk at the time and sore at Turner for roughing him up on a previous drunk-disorderly-conduct arrest. They had a picture of a ragged-looking guy, shielding his face from the cameras, and a lot of blah about the police commissioner being “highly gratified” at the excellent and relentless work of the Homicide Squad. At the end of the piece, there was a statement from the pudding company that they had given Franklin's one thousand dollars to his sister, who was going to use the money for a honeymoon trip to Europe with her fiance, Irving Spear. There was a picture of Irv and Juanita kissing. It made good reading—two killings solved, and a honeymoon coming like a happy ending.
I immediately phoned Betsy and warned her that if any reporters called her, to say she was glad the case was finally solved and nothing more.
I still felt uneasy about things and when I called for Ruthie, she jumped up on my lap and gave me a great big hug and one of her little hands hit the bump nestled in my hair, and I screamed and saw stars—technicolor ones. Ruthie asked a million questions and insisted upon kissing it—which hurt like hell.
Then when I talked to May Weiss about picking Ruthie up at school for the next day or so, staying with her at night... May said she was behind in her homework and her folks gave me a speech about not sacrificing their daughter's future for a few bucks. I didn't get the connection, but the answer was a large no. Of course Ruthie immediately suggested Betsy and there wasn't anything else left to do but phone her. She not only agreed but said it would be easier if Ruthie lived at her house. For a while. I didn't bother to ask Ruthie if she was in favor of the idea.
Jake called as soon as I hung up, said he'd read in the papers about the case being solved and was glad, although it didn't seem as if his tip had helped much. He sounded disappointed.
Ruthie and I packed a bag, and I drove to the Turner apartment. Betsy looked properly domestic in slacks, a flannel shirt, and an apron. She had cake and milk ready for Ruthie, and yards of cloth all set beside the sewing machine. I started to tell her about not keeping Ruthie up late, what time she had to be at school, and Betsy cut me off with, “Oh, go look at TV or something, and leave us women alone.”
Ruthie giggled at this coy corn and I told Betsy, “Going in a few minutes. I have to...”
“I really didn't mean you had to leave, Barney.”
“Look at Daddy's lump,” Ruthie said. “He got hit on the head.”
Before I could stop her, Betsy gasped and stood on tiptoe and cached for my noggin. I saw the usual galaxy of stars as my dome seemed to crack. “What happened, Barney?”
“Nothing. Guy offered me a can of beer. Look, I have to go home because I got an early and long day ahead of me tomorrow.” I gave Betsy the eye to walk me to the door. Then I kissed Ruthie, told her to be good, and I'd call her tomorrow night.
She planted a hard chocolate kiss on my mouth. The cake tasted pretty good, so I took a big mouthful of the piece she was holding, which didn't please Ruthie—I really have a big mouth.
At the door, Betsy stepped out into the hall with me and I told her, “If reporters call, play it straight. I don't know how long I'll have to stay with our pigeon. But I'll keep in touch with you by phone. Don't let Ruthie be a pest.”
“She'll be all right.”
“Look, I think I know what happened to Ed. We—the police —assumed it was the same gun that killed both men. Now that we know we're dealing with two men, seems logical to believe Ed was sitting in his car, waiting...”
“In front of that woman's place!” she cut in bitterly.
“Yeah. The killers didn't know he was there. One of them steps out of the shadows and plugs Andersun. Ed probably jumped out of his car, only he didn't know the other killer was behind him. He probably shot Ed in the back as Ed was going for his gun. More in keeping with Mr. Turner's... eh... ambitious character. Definitely rules out suicide. Might say Ed was just a cop trying to do his duty, lost his life at it.”
She bit her upper lip, sucked on it for a long second. “Thanks. That makes me feel better.”
“Now that you've found out what you wanted, about winds up the case—for you. From here on in I'm not charging you, but I want you to still retain me—gives me a right to stay on the case.”
“I hired you to find Ed's murderer—you're still working for me. Only that will close the case for me. And be careful, Barney.”
I said okay and nodded—and wondered why I still wanted to be on the case, for nothing started my bump acting like a midget buzzer.
When I got home the apartment was too quiet. I made myself a big bowl of Shredded Wheat and chocolate syrup and tried to listen to the radio. But when I finished eating, I set the alarm for 5 a.m. and went to bed.
A few days ago I'd thought of Betsy as the possible killer. Now I was letting Ruthie stay with her.... I thought about Betsy, the way she'd been throwing herself at me, and whether I was a dummy or not for turning her down. After what she'd been through with Turner, she felt she had to prove herself, and I was the first pair of pants that had come along. No, that was too simple, although she sure looked like mighty pretty proving grounds. But I was a little too old and set in my ways to bother with a young girl's complexes.
I began worrying about tomorrow—that .38 they gave me. Irv sure had a couple of swell protectors—a blind old man and a would-be detective!
I fell asleep on that one, and the next thing I knew the alarm was ringing, each ring like a needle in my sore head. It was a cold, dark morning, and if there's one thing I hate, it's getting up early. I took a quick shower, got into a pair of coveralls, and drove to the garage. I got out the jeep—and it needed a ring job—picked up Danny in front of the precinct house. We had breakfast of wheat cakes and coffee—I quit when he started on his fourth stack—with Danny bulling me about the time he wrestled Strangler Lewis back in 1916.
When we picked up Irv, he was pretty gay. He said, “This is as exciting as my first mission in a B-24. Let's get moving— adventure calls.”
“You crocked?” Danny asked.
“You've heard of punch-drunk slobs—well, I'm scared-drunk. Let's go before it all ends in one big scream.”
We reached the garage at six-thirty and Irv took off in his cab, with Danny as a passenger. Across the street, in front of the loading platform of the post office, a couple of “mailmen” stood around and talked, while near the garage entrance, a small mail truck was parked. It would be monotonous for the two guys cooped up in there all day.
I had the garage to myself and I couldn't get the gun comfortable, kept switching the holster around under my coveralls. I decided I might as well really look the part of a mechanic, do some work. They had a '48 Oldsmobile on jacks and I took the motor apart, worked all morning on it. Except for a call from Franzino, to see if I was on the job, not a damn thing happened.
At noon Danny came in—in a cab driven by a city detective. The old man had coffee and sandwiches for me, and as we ate he said things were quiet. Nobody had tailed Irv's cab, although he had driven all over the city. At Times Square there had been a show for the TV camera—man-on-the-street interview—in which Juanita had kissed Irv, told the world how glad she was that the case was over, that she and Irv were applying for passports right away, and were going to be married at sea to save time. There were also pictures and stories in all the afternoon papers, or so Danny had been told, playing up the “romance.” Brown and Smith should go into action—if they were still around.
I said, “Surprised Juanita is so co-operative.”
Danny laughed. “Got me, too. She has her angles—figures all the hero publicity will help Irv when he gets out of college. She's probably trying to put her hooks into the pudding company to do something for Irv, too. Think this sort of publicity sells pudding? Heard their publicity men are working overtime with the cops.”
“Maybe—the idea of publicity is to bring the name of the product before the people,” I said, going back to work on the Olds. Danny wandered around the garage, tapping with his cane. After about an hour, he was able to walk around without touching the cane to the floor. When asked how he did it, he said, “I can get the layout of a place down fast. All blind people can. In my room I walk around like I had eyes, but I had to keep telling my landlady never to move any furniture—that fouls me up. This is a snap, unless you should move one of these cars, or that jack over at that side.”
At two, a cab with Al Swan as a passenger picked Danny up. I finished timing the Olds motor, found a battery, put some gas in the carburetor, and gave her a test run. I hadn't cleaned the oil pan and it must have been lousy with carbon specks; she stuttered and backfired till the gas gave out. I went out on the sidewalk for a moment, to get some fresh air, lit a cigarette. One of the “mailmen” came over, asked if I had a spare cigarette, then whispered, “Hear anything?”
“No. Didn't you guys hear the racket I just made with a car?”
“Not a sound. Old garage—walls are pretty thick.”
“That makes things real ducky.”
I went back inside the garage, gave the Olds a grease job, then washed up and read an old paper lying around. Being below the street level, the garage got dark by four and I turned on the lights. Danny returned a few minutes later, and the dick who drove him went back downtown. Danny had nothing to report except that there had been another TV interview, in which Irv told a group of “cabbies” he was applying for a passport in the morning, and the “cabbies” were talking about giving him a send-off in the garage.
At five I called Betsy and Ruthie was okay. As I hung up, a cab turned into the top of the ramp and stopped. Two men got out of the front seat and started down the ramp. They were both roughly dressed, hard looking. One was short and bandy-legged; the other was tall and heavy. Danny muttered, “Two guys coming.”
I said “Yeah!” and my insides started turning over. They didn't look like what I imagined Brown and Smith would be— they were older—but still...
I called out, “What's on your mind?” and started up the ramp.
They stopped, not far from the door, and the small one asked, “This where they going to have the party for Irv?”
The bigger one looked around, said, “I don't get it. How come Irv switched companies all of a sudden? Yesterday he was working for...”
“Friends of Irv Spear?” I asked, thinking what a damn fool target I made.
“We know the kid,” the short one said and for a moment I thought there was a twang in his voice. “Hear on the TV in a bar about the party, so we thought...”
At that moment half a dozen “mailmen” suddenly came running down the ramp, all of them with guns drawn. One of them snapped, “Keep your hands in sight, or we'll drill you!”
The little cabbie went pale, asked, “What the hell is this?”
They were quickly frisked and didn't have any guns. Danny came tapping up the ramp, said, “Neither of them is Brown.”
The cabbies were explaining how and why they'd come, and the dicks herded them out, removed their cab. The last I saw of them, they were being hustled into the post office across the street.
One of the “mailmen” returned, said, “Don't be such a hero, Harris. This was a false alarm, but next time have your gun handy.”
“You bet,” I said, feeling for the holster. When the guy left I closed the overhead door, ran over to the Olds and picked up the holster and the .38 from the front seat.
I walked over to Danny and I was still sweating as I said, “That was almost it.”
He started to laugh, deep belly laughter. “Jeez, them two hackies must think the world has gone nuts! Mail carriers pulling guns on 'em! What they going to do with them now?”
“I don't know. Have to hold them, or the word will get out that the whole deal is a setup. Damn, my heart is still beating wildly.”
“I knew it wasn't them soon as I heard 'em,” Danny said. “Hey, got any beer hidden around here?”
I said no and he asked for a cigarette, and we smoked in silence for a few minutes. The phone rang. An FBI guy with a crisp voice told me Irv would drive into the garage at six-thirty. Two cars would escort me as I drove Irv home in the jeep. I told him to honk twice, and I'd open the overhead door for Irv. When I hung up, I got into the jeep, had just about turned it around when there were two cough-like sounds, and then the light tinkle of glass as the garage lights went out.
For a moment I didn't realize what had happened, that the lights had been shot out with silencers. I switched on the jeep lights and for a split second saw the two men on the ramp, then the orange flame flashes, and the sound of the headlights breaking as they went out. Another flash and the windshield splintered, and I dived out of the jeep and nearly kayoed myself on the cement floor. It took me a long second to come to, get my wind back. I tugged at the .38, finally got it out. The garage was pitch black and tense with silence. I heard the small noise of somebody crawling toward me, and a terrible chill filled my guts till Danny's big hand squeezed mine.
Now I heard steps slowly coming down the ramp as Danny put his lips in my ear, whispered, “Stay put, I'll get 'em.”
“The alarm buttons,” I started to say, but his thick fingers closed my mouth and I could taste the tobacco stains on his hand. He crawled away and I swear I thought he was chuckling.
My head hurt; I was bruised all over—maybe that's why it took me a moment to get things straight. In the darkness we were all “blind”—all except Danny. His ears could “see.” But even if he got his mitts on one of them, the other would be sure to plug him.
I tried thinking hard and fast, but for the life of me (and that wasn't any damn pun!) I couldn't remember in the darkness where the hell the posts were with the alarm buttons.
I hugged the floor as if I was trying to make a dent in the cement and waited. Then I told myself I had to help Danny— he sure couldn't take the two of them, and there was no point in my lying there like a dead duck. I got up on my knees—behind the jeep—found a wrench in my pocket that had cut my thigh when I dived on the floor. Gripping the gun, I threw the wrench with my left toward the far corner of the garage. When it hit I saw a spurt of orange over to my left and I fired at it and there was a shrill cry of pain and the sound of a body falling!
Two more angry flashes of flame split the darkness as the slugs struck the jeep, like two hammer blows. I hit the cement again, so surprised at my luck in hitting one of them I didn't know what to do. The last shots had come from a spot more to my right, but I wasn't certain exactly where and couldn't chance any wild shots. I might hit Danny. I could hear steps coming toward the jeep—the guy was off the ramp—slow careful steps. I got to my knees, got up in a half crouch, and waited.
The sound of the steps was slight but very clear in the heavy silence. The only relief from the blackness was the vague and dim squares that were the garage windows. The steps came nearer; the guy was walking very carefully and deliberately in the darkness. I raised the gun, pointed it in the direction of the steps... and then there was this terrible scream of agony that split the silence like painful thunder and Danny's yell, “Got the bastard!”
I stood up and fired three times at the garage windows—to call for help—and missed. The lights on the Olds should work —the new battery was still in—and I ran in that direction and fell flat on my face over something. I sat up, knew my arm and the side of my face were bleeding. My head felt as if somebody had sat on it. I yelled, “Looking for lights, Danny!” and climbed to my feet and limped forward. I walked right smack into the goddam Olds, cutting my right shin and knocking the wind out of my guts, but I got the door open, felt along the dashboard. Then the lights flooded the garage, washing out the darkness.
At the foot of the ramp a man was sitting up, a bald-headed man with blood running out of his right side, while a few feet from the jeep Danny had those tremendous arms wrapped around a little guy, who had the whitest face I ever want to see. I limped over, my gun covering him, told Danny to let go. The guy fell to the floor like he was dead.
Picking up his gun, I went over to the other guy, who was moaning softly, his legs kicking in pain. I got his gun. I fired at one of the garage windows again, my gun making a hell of a racket—although I hadn't heard it before—and missed. I felt awful dizzy, looked around wildly for the alarm buttons. Then Danny walked over to the ramp, and slowly started foot-tapping his way toward the overhead door. When he reached it, he jerked it up so hard he busted the door. He shouted once and a moment later “mailmen” with guns came running in. That was it.
I'd winged “Smith” with a lucky shot while Danny had jumped “Brown.” Of the two, it turned out Brown was hurt the worst—Danny had crushed five of his ribs in that bear hug. The rest I guess you read about—it was splattered over enough papers. Their real names were Martin Pearson and Sam Lund, a couple of ex-G.I.'s who tried to make it the easy way, only it turned out they spelled easy h-a-r-d. These two had met in Paris, worked out this passport scheme. They had picked up ten birth certificates, three in Boston, two in Newark, one in Chicago, and four in New York City, and already had eight passports ready for sale. They confessed—there wasn't much else for them to do. Andersun's luck turned their scheme from a quiet swindle into murder. Turner had walked into it; they didn't even know he was a cop when he stepped out of the dark of his car.
I guess you've seen Danny's ugly face on TV. He was picked to be on a TV show the night the case broke and he stole the show with a couple of corny strongman acts—breaking chains and all that. He was on various TV shows for quite a while, and, all told, picked up several grand.
As for me, Al Swan figured he could retire from the force and we'd open a big-time agency on the strength of all the publicity I got. He slipped me the pitch the day after the case was over, when for the first time in my life I was cut and badly bruised, felt sort of beaten up. So I told him I was sticking to fixing cars and skip-tracing and if he ever pushed another criminal case my way, I'd break his neck, or maybe hurt him worse by ripping one of his fancy suits to pieces. The hell with this rough stuff.
“Will we get married? I don't know. I don't think so. Now wait, don't stiffen up like that. Honey, you've lived too much by the so-called rules of life—but the phony rules, not the real ones. I mean, are you even sure you really want to marry me? Don't give me a quick answer—remember what you've been through. You got married; therefore according to the rules of soap operas, books, TV, and the movies, all your troubles were over, because people who get married are supposed to live happily ever after.
“Now that you're single again, the idea is to get married as quickly as possible, for deep down you still believe marriage must mean happiness. And I'm the first guy that came along, and also you feel sorry for me because I seem to be such a noble creature raising my little girl all by myself.
“No, Betsy, don't get me wrong. I'm trying to tell you this as calmly and clearly as I can, and that isn't easy. I don't want us to make a mistake, because the way I see it, a wrong marriage is about the biggest mistake two people can make. I know, I'm not an old man, but I am settled and not ready to go through growing up all over again. Baby, you're young and full of a lot of corny, and even younger ideas. Well—I can be dead wrong about all this, and I'd be eager to get a license tomorrow if I was sure it would bring us happiness. But this is marriage you want, not my bringing up another kid.
“Wait up, honey, let me finish. Maybe in time we'll know we're really meant for each other, trite as that sounds. Understand, I'm not running you down. I admire your courage in going through with this, insisting upon learning if Ed was a suicide and if you were responsible. In a way that was another of your phony rules, but most people would have taken the easy out, kept quiet, forced the suicide angle from their minds. Took guts to do what you did. No, 'guts' is one of the phony words. It took sincere courage and honesty to do what you did, and I admire that.
“And that's what I'm trying to do, be honest with you—and myself. As of now, I like you and you like me. Only 'like' isn't love. I don't even want to use the word love, because I don't exactly know what that is—maybe another of the phony labels we use. But at least you know—we know—that something was twisted in Ed's mind. That's another of your rules that don't work—a man and a woman don't hit it off just because they are a man and a woman. A ...”
Betsy was listening with her eyes closed and now sat up in bed and said almost sharply, “All right, Barney, but please, let's not argue about that now. May Weiss will be furious if you're not home by midnight.”