A Shroud for Jesso
The Constellation swung close to the ramp, coughed a few times, and stopped. There was a second or so of silence, then the clatter of the wheeled ramp, the door swinging open in the flank of the plane, the passengers making noises of hello and good-by. They filed out in a fast line that seemed to knot for a moment when it hit the cluster of reporters at the bottom of the stairs. Then the line pushed through and left the reporters in a happy circle around the blonde with the baby face. She slung back her mink to show more of the real thing and the flash bulbs started to wink. The baby face smiled, fresh and pretty, and the girl looked for all the world as if she’d just had a nice hot bath.
Jack Jesso pushed by the crowd that stood around the girl. He gave her a short look, remembering the back of her head. He’d been looking at it ever since LA. He looked at the rest of her now, but all he could think of was a hot bath.
When he got to the baggage counter, nobody was there but the attendants and a stewardess holding a clip board. Then the rest of the passengers came through. It got really hectic when the girl with the open mink came by, but Jack Jesso wasn’t paying any attention. He rubbed the black stubble on his face and kept looking at the door that led to the taxi stands. After a while he was alone again. He looked at the clock over the reservation desk, picked up his brief case, and went to the phone booth. By the time he got his party there was a mean squint around his eyes and his voice sounded clipped.
“This is Jesso. That you, Murph?”
“Hi, Jackie. I’m sorry about-”
“Why aren’t you over here?”
“Jackie, I’m sorry I couldn’t-”
“I sent you a telegram two days ago. That’s enough time for anybody to get off their can and do a simple trick like showing up at the airport. I’m taking the bus in. Meet me at the First Avenue station.”
“Listen, Jackie, I was gonna come out, honest, but-”
“First Avenue in an hour. Be there.”
“But Gluck didn’t-”
“Sure, Jackie, I’m trying to tell you. He said no.”
There was a pause. Jesso looked at the clock again, then turned to the phone. “First Avenue at eight,” he said. It sounded straight and normal, but he smashed the receiver on the hook as if he were hitting at a face. The receiver missed the cradle and clattered down as far as the cord would let it. Jesso walked out of the booth. The phone dangling in mid-air like the arm on a slow clock.
By the glass door that led to the outside he almost ran into her. She was holding both doors by the handles, holding them together so the doors wouldn’t swing, and she looked at him through the glass.
“Smile, Jackie, or I won’t let you out.”
Jesso stopped close to the door and looked at her through the glass. “Open up, Lynn.”
She looked into his face. She might have kissed him if the glass hadn’t been there. “Smile or I won’t let you out, Jackie.”
He felt irritable. He wished Lynn weren’t there. “Open up, Lynn. I’m in a hurry.”
He hadn’t smiled once, but she opened the door. Lynn looked like the blonde from the plane, except that her face wasn’t babyish. Even with the glass door gone now they stood apart; Jesso because he wanted it that way, Lynn because she couldn’t help it. She looked at Jesso a while longer, but when he started to go she grabbed him by the arms and kissed his chin.
“You’re back,” she said. She tried to smile.
“So what?” He took her wrists and pushed her hands down. “Lynn, once and for all, go away.” He tried to make it sound even. “I’m in a hurry, Lynn. The bus.”
Then she started to talk fast. “But I brought the car, Jackie. I called you and called you and then I got Murph, and he told me you’d been away. So I came out to pick you up, Jackie.” She laughed. “I always seem to be trying to pick you up.”
He didn’t make a joke of it. “There’s nothing to pick up, Lynn.”
She suddenly turned. “Look, Jackie, the bus is leaving.” She watched him. He looked angry. “I’ll give you a lift. I brought the car to give you a lift. Murph said-“
“All right. Come on. I’m in a hurry.”
They found her car and she drove.
“Why such a hurry, Jackie?” She kept her eyes on the road.
Jesso lit a cigarette and didn’t answer. At least he was getting a lift.
“Jackie, why always a hurry when I see you?… Jackie? Don’t you remember the way it was?”
He threw the cigarette out of the window and turned to the girl. He looked tired. “Look, Lynn, once more. I remember how it was and it’s not that way any more. And there’s your answer.” He leaned back in the seat, rubbed his hands over his face to make the stiffness go away. “So get off my back, Lynn.” He talked through his hands. “Stop acting as if I was the only man in the world.”
“You were the first,” she said.
He groaned, turned to the window.
They drove without talking for a while and then Lynn got busy with the traffic and that killed some more time without talking. Jesso looked at her from the side. A beautiful profile. A beautiful profile all the way down. Even sitting in the soft seat of the car she looked poised, distant. That’s how she’d looked the first time. She’d been that way. She sounded finishing school and looked North Shore and touching her was like a brash, strong move against the thousand things she had and he had not. That’s how it felt, at first, and then she gave. Even that was good for a while, but then it all turned into putty. There wasn’t a thing that she could give him any more. She came to his side of the tracks, she started clinging, and Lynn was through.
He looked ahead and folded his arms.
“Why didn’t you let me know you’d gone to the Coast?”
“Business. Wouldn’t interest you.”
“What’s the difference?”
“We met in Vegas. You were there on business that time, Jackie, and then Tahoe. You took me to Lake Tahoe.”
He sat up. His voice was controlled. “Lynn, listen. I got nothing against you. And I got nothing for you. Learn that, willya?”
The way she took it, without ever showing a dent, made him feel as if he wanted to break something. He took a deep breath and kept staring ahead. It would go away in a minute. It would go away, get indifferent, just the way it always had with Lynn, and with who knows what their names were.
“I can wait, Jackie,” she said, but he wasn’t paying attention any more.
She pulled up to the bus terminal and Murph was standing there. He kept hitching his pants over his belly, and now and then he wiped a handkerchief over his bald head. When Lynn’s car rolled up and Jesso got out, Murph ran up to carry the brief case.
“Thanks for the lift,” Jesso said, “and good-by.”
“Not good-by, Jackie.”
“Good-by” He straightened up and had his back turned when the car took off. Murph reached for the brief case.
“Hi, Jackie.” Murph grinned. “That little Lynn girl-”
“Where’s the car?”
“You know, she’s been calling ever since-”
“Come on, Murph, where’s the car?”
Murph started moving, but it didn’t stop his train of thought.
“You know, Jack, I always say once you get one of them-”
Jesso held the man by one sleeve. “Keep it clean, Murphy.”
“Jeese,” Murph said, and then they got to the car. They didn’t say another word until Murph swung the car into traffic on Fifth Avenue.
“Turn off and take the parkway I’m not going to Gluck’s.”
Jesso lit a cigarette and offered the pack to Murph. Murph didn’t want one.
“I oughta tell you, Jackie. Gluck wants to see you right off.”
“Take the parkway”
“Jeese, Jackie. Gluck’s the boss!”
“You know what he can do?”
“Heh. Just this morning he said the same about you.”
Jesso leaned back and tried laughing, but he didn’t really feel it. Gluck wasn’t going to be laughed off. Gluck was still the boss.
“So let’s have it, Murph. What’s his beef this time?”
“His beef? Nothing. Just you. Like always.”
Jesso curled his mouth under, as if he wanted to give his face a stretch. “Like always, like always. How long’s that bastard been in? A month, two months? That’s always? You know how long I been here, Murph?”
“Sure. You been-”
“From the beginning! And no trouble all along the line. A neat little setup, right here, and nobody big enough to buck it.”
“It sure was neat, Jackie. Remember when Delancy tried to muscle in, and-“
“Delancy was small time. We were big enough for the syndicate to want a piece.” Jesso sat chewing his lip, thinking about the time the syndicate wanted a piece. They could use a man with his local connections, they said, a man as big as he was and all on his own. They gave him a wire service and they asked him how to handle local problems. Sometimes he told them. Most of the time he just got things done the way he knew how, fast, no fuss, no ass-kissing, and nobody left to ask any questions. They liked that and Jesso went his own way. And then one day he saw how big the organization had got, bigger than one man, bigger than Jesso. They were sweet as pudding when he found that out. They were so sweet they sent him a man to help with the details, because big time needs big-time organization, they said. It needs the individual touch-and that was Jack Jesso. It needs a smooth-looking front-and that was Gluck. And when they trimmed up the whole big beautiful setup, with wire service, numbers, and a piece of the water front all tucked in neat little pigeonholes, with dummy companies and tie-ups to the Coast and hell knows where else making a net like a spider, then Gluck was in and Jesso was out. “We need you,” Gluck said, “but now do it my way.” He didn’t say “or else.” He was too oily for that.
“Jackie,” Murph swung to the right lane of the parkway, “I can still cut off and get to Gluck’s place without-“
Jesso gave Murph a look as if he were going to spit. “The bastard can wait. I set up the Vegas deal a week faster than he could have done it.”
“That’s what he’s beefing about, Jackie. That’s just what-”
“How can a pig beef?” Jesso pulled the hat over his eyes and tried to sleep.
So Murph just drove. He turned off the parkway before they got to the George Washington Bridge and wound up the hillside to the apartment houses. When he stopped the car he tried once more.
Jesso got out of the car. It was ten in the morning and the white sunlight on his face made him look all used up.
“Take the brief case and give it to Gluck. I’m going to bed. Be back here at seven and tell Gluck I’ll see him after nine tonight.”
He walked around the car and into the apartment building.
There was a barbershop off the foyer. Jesso saw that the place was empty and walked in. The barber jumped up from behind his paper and beamed. “Why, Mr. Jesso! I’m glad to see you back from the Coast. Shave today? Haircut?”
“Shave is all.”
Jesso sat down in one of the chairs and stretched out. He liked sitting in a barber’s chair. The barber started to lather up. “You don’t have a tan, Mr. Jesso. I thought when people went to the Coast-“
He stretched his head back and closed his eyes. The pose made his face change expressions; it was a blanker, smoother face now. The barber finished and jacked up the backrest. “How about a trim, Mr. Jesso? Just the edges?”
The barber flicked his scissors around. He flourished his hands like a conductor. “A remarkable head of hair, Mr. Jesso.”
He was right. The hair was thick and black, cut short so it stood up like the nap of an expensive rug. When the light hit the hair just right it looked like velvet on top.
“Massage, Mr. Jesso? To relax-”
“I’m relaxed.” He got up and paid.
“Manicure, Mr. Jesso?”
The girl had wheeled her tray in, nudging it with one thigh. Jesso watched her do it, then looked at her face.
“Give me fifteen minutes,” he said. “You know the suite number.” He walked to the elevator.
After his shower he put on a bathrobe and fixed himself a drink. He felt tired, but it was pleasant now. It was the kind of tiredness that feels good.
There was a knock on the door. Jesso put his drink down and turned.
“The door’s open,” he called.
The girl from the barbershop came in, pushing her cart with the manicure stuff. She was smiling the way she’d done before. She closed the door and came across the room. She left the cart where it stood, because Jack Jesso never took a manicure in his life.
Boss Gluck had a tower place in the Wells Arms and it wasn’t easy to get there. First there was the doorman and then there was the desk in the foyer. After the ride in the elevator came the tower foyer and another desk. Behind the suite door marked B-2 was a room with couches and a kid who kept his hat on all the time. He had a phone with buttons. Then there was a big guy dressed like a butler, and he took you through the doors into a neat little place that didn’t have anything but a chair and an ash tray. After that came Boss Gluck. If it was important, Boss Gluck got up from behind his desk in the room with the terrace, took the visitor through a door with a drape, and sat down in the little cubicle where the filing cabinets stood.
It took Jesso no time at all to get to the room with the ash tray. He stood by the chair, walked to the window, went back to the chair, and sat down. He was lighting a cigarette when the door opened. Jesso threw the cigarette in the ash tray and got up again. But it hadn’t been the door to Gluck’s office. The butler was back, holding the door wide so the two men could pass. The tall one came first, looking anonymous in a black ulster and a stiff hat. The short one followed in step. He seemed stout but walked with a spring and made sharp little sounds with his heels. He wore black, too, with a Persian-lamb collar folding wide over his shoulders and down the front.
They stopped in the middle of the room and Jesso watched a fast ritual with gloves, hat, scarf, and overcoat. Holding the stuff, the tall one bowed to the chair, and before Jesso had taken all of it in the stout one was sitting down.
“You’re welcome,” Jesso said.
“My chair is your chair,” Jesso said.
The tall one took off his hat and looked around.
“If you will take these,” he said. He held out the clothes over his arm without even looking as if he were waiting.
Jesso took the bundle and watched the man remove his coat. “You’re welcome,” he said.
When the tall one draped his coat over the rest of the stuff on Jesso’s arm, put his hat on top, and turned away, Jesso started to get the picture. He hefted the load and made a laugh.
“Bundles for the Bowery don’t get picked up except Monday and Tuesday. Today is Friday.”
Nobody laughed back. The tall one stood next to the chair like a standard bearer. He ran his hands through his long hair and then folded his arms over his chest.
“What I mean to say is, perhaps it doesn’t show, but I haven’t got my moth bags and clothes hangers along.”
Jesso looked from one to the other, making an expectant face. He still thought it was funny. He stepped close to the squat man in the chair and leaned down confidentially.
“Now, Bean Pole has said his daily words and I’m not going to be unfair to him. How about it, Porker? You haven’t talked yet.”
But Porker looked right through him. His small white hands lay peacefully in his lap, and Jesso was surprised at the hands, because they were so different from the bull neck and the thick face of the man. His skull was shaved to a stubble except for a full-grown patch over the forehead, and that patch was arranged in a fat shiny wave.
“I’m gonna count till three,” Jesso said.
The heavy face turned slightly to the tall man, turning with a muscled twist of the neck as if it were going to creak any minute.
“You may hang up the clothes,” said the tall one. Jesso noticed the precision in the voice.
“One,” he said.
“Your conduct will be reported, at any rate.”
For the first time the squat man’s face showed interest. He had very light eyes and they traveled from Jesso’s feet to his head, as if the man were thinking of buying a side of beef.
“Ready or not,” said Jesso, looking at the light eyes. There was something else about them. The way the man’s nose was tilted, it looked as if his eyes and nostrils were all in one line. The long upper lip and thin mouth finished the picture. Just like a porker.
“Three,” Jesso said, and he dropped the clothes on the floor. The man in the chair didn’t move, but the tall one started to scramble. He was halfway across the room before Jesso knew how he got there, and then the man started to crouch. It wasn’t as if he were preparing to jump. It was more scientific. Jesso saw the shoulders hunch, the long arms held still, one hand held higher than the other. Those hands stayed open, the fingers stiff. Jesso pushed away from the wall and started to lean. The man’s face didn’t tell him a thing, just cold, light eyes and the lips bunched hard over the teeth. Jesso couldn’t figure why the man looked like murder or why dropping his lousy coats should bring on all this seriousness. But he wasn’t going to stop and argue. He got set for the rush, leg ready, because once Bean Pole was close enough he was going to get it where it hurts. When the man started to dip on his feet there was a snap. Somebody had snapped his fingers.
Bean Pole straightened up abruptly, turning to his buddy in the chair, who snapped his fingers once again and pointed to the clothes. Bean Pole was picking up the overcoats while Jesso was still standing there. Then he relaxed.
“Boy,” he said.
“Boy, that’s training,” he said.
Bean Pole was holding the coats neatly and the squat one in the chair looked as if he weren’t even there.
“And no whips, even,” Jesso said. “Just snapping the fingers. Tell me, Porker-” but then the door to Gluck’s office opened.
But it wasn’t Gluck and it wasn’t for Jesso.
“Mr. Johannes Kator,” said the butler, and the man in the chair and the tall one with the overcoats moved as one. The heels made sharp little clicks. Kator went first, then Bean Pole. Jesso and the tall one looked at each other, but it didn’t mean a thing. Jesso was thinking that he didn’t like Johannes Kator at all.
They came out again before ten minutes were up, which was just about as long as Jesso was willing to wait. So when the two men came out, Jesso walked through the open door before he was called. It was the kind of thing Gluck didn’t like.
But Gluck didn’t show it. When the door banged shut and Jesso walked across to the desk, Gluck turned to look and he was ready with his smile.
“Greetings, boy.” He took the dead cigar out of his mouth and tapped it. “Make yourself comfy for a sec, huh?” Gluck carried a folder to the room with the filing cabinets. He had a flat-footed walk, probably because of the weight he carried in his rear, and he made a grunt each time he took a step.
“You shoulda waited outside,” he said when he came back. Then he sat down and the jowls around his face made a quick shimmy.
“I waited. What in hell did you think I was doing out there besides waiting?”
“Now, Jack boy, let’s act like buddies. You and me-”
“Stop licking, willya, Gluck?”
“Jackie boy, what’s eating you?” Gluck put the dead cigar back in his mouth.
Jesso didn’t answer right away. He held it for a minute because it wouldn’t do to buck Gluck all the time. Not when it wasn’t important. Save your strength. Ignore the bastard, just the way Gluck knew how to ignore the things he didn’t like. It wasn’t easy to figure what he liked and what he didn’t like. Most of the time he took just about anything as long as he could call a man his buddy boy And then somewhere along the line buddy boy would get the shaft.
“You know why I’m boss and you aren’t, Jackie boy?”
The cigar came out and there was a friendly smile.
“No,” said Jesso. “You tell me, President.”
“I will,” and the cigar went back. “Because you don’t know people, boy. You never studied how to get along. Take me, for instance.”
“Don’t. Don’t put yourself out, Gluck. Just keep the secret.”
“Like right now, boy. You’re riled because I let you wait.”
Jesso lit a cigarette and tossed the match at the ash tray. He missed. “Now I know why you’re president and I’m the punk around here. You know everything. So now let’s talk about Vegas. You read the stuff and papers I brought back?”
“No.” Gluck smiled. “I didn’t have to. On account I read minds.” He sat back and gave Jesso a wink.
“You’re not doing so hot, Gluck, or else you’d be reading right now you should stop clowning around.” Jesso got up and ground his cigarette out. “Let me know when you’re ready for a cabinet meeting, Gluck, about Vegas and so forth. Or better yet, go out there yourself next time and don’t send a flunky.” He turned to the door and then he heard Gluck’s chair creak.
“I didn’t,” said Gluck.
Jesso stopped. That was another thing about Gluck. He always got the last word or the last lick. And once Jesso turned around there would be jolly old Gluck swishing his cigar around. Jesso turned and went back to the desk. He put his hands flat on the top and leaned.
“How did you mean that, President?” He sounded calm as hell. “You mean you didn’t send a flunky or you didn’t send me?”
“I didn’t send a flunky.” Suddenly Gluck wasn’t smiling any more. “So you shouldn’t have gone there, Jesso.”
Gluck hardly ever insulted a man in a straightforward way. And he hardly ever had a lit cigar in his mouth. Gluck was lighting it now and he never even blinked when the strong smoke crawled up around his face.
“Sit down, boy. I want to talk about Vegas.”
Jesso didn’t sit. He pushed himself away from the desk and thought about walking around to the other side, where Gluck was sitting, and starting out by grabbing lapels.
“This is important. It’s all about you, Jesso.”
“You goofed, Jesso.”
But this time Gluck made no impression. Jesso never goofed unless he knew about it.
“And I’m taking the time to explain it to you because in this new setup, you working for us, you can goof and not know it. You haven’t got the background to know it.”
Jesso kept still because Gluck was making sense.
“Who told you to go to Vegas, Jackie boy?”
“So you goofed.” Gluck sat back and started smiling.
Jesso sat back too. He took his time lighting a smoke, and this time he didn’t toss the match, but placed it in the tray as if he had nothing else on his mind.
“Gluck,” he said, “there’s two things I don’t like. One, I’m not working for you. I didn’t before you came, I’m not doing it now. Two, I don’t goof. We been after a tie-in with those two clubs in Vegas for a long time. Those two were outsiders and we wanted in, right? They been using our bonding company, the money outfit that started right here with dough I put out long before you ever came along. We put up their bond and they never came across with their percentage off the tables. Now, you know I want in, I know you want in. So what did you and your glorified bookie friends do about it? Nothing. So I did. I don’t horse around sending messages on business stationery. I go out there. We’re in for a cut on those clubs right now. What would have taken you another year I did in twenty-four hours. And that was yesterday.”
“Bravo,” said Gluck, but he wasn’t smiling. “And now I tell you why you goofed.” He squeeked his chair around and lit the dying butt again. “Let’s not talk about your taking off without my say-so. With you, I’ll overlook that. Let’s talk about what Limpy told me. Limpy called from Vegas and says you’re there seeing Buchanan and that sidekick of his. You’re seeing them about the percentage from their clubs. Next thing, you’re ready to leave town, the percentage guarantee all settled in your favor-and Buchanan in the hospital.”
Gluck paused, trying to make an impression. Jesso just sat, because it didn’t mean a thing to him.
“You roughed him up!” Gluck yelled, and it came so suddenly that Jesso wasn’t sure he’d heard it right. “You caused a stink, you lousy moron!”
Gluck sat down again, and except for the color of his face he looked as settled as before.
So did Jesso. He crossed his legs and said, “Say that again, President?”
“This is the deal,” Gluck said, and for once he talked straight. “We do things in a new way around here, and that includes you. We don’t rough-house, we don’t attract attention, we don’t act like hoodlums in a gang war. It’s big business all around, which means be nice, do what you’re told, and when you shaft a guy you make him like it. Understand?”
“Sure. But that’s not for me, President.”
Gluck sighed. “You know, you’re asking for it, Jesso.”
“Try it, Gluck,” and Jesso smiled.
“Not me, buddy boy The syndicate.”
Jesso just laughed.
“What if I asked you to fade, Jackie boy? Blow, scram, never come back?”
Jesso shrugged. “I wouldn’t go. I got some interests to protect.”
“That’s what I like to hear, boy.” Gluck looked friendly. “I like to hear you’re interested in your skin and that it’s all tied up with us.”
“So you can stay. Like on probation.”
This time it stung. Jesso got out of his chair like a shot and slammed his hands on the desk.
“Gluck, you sonofabitch, try pushing me! Just try.” Jesso’s voice was like a knife. Then it sounded foolish to him, because it wasn’t really Gluck that mattered. It was the spidery web of one big clique that nobody ever saw, a thing much bigger than one man. He stood still, waiting.
“You listening, Jackie boy?”
“I got a job for you.”
“Thank you. I got one.”
“An easy job, Jackie boy, but it’s like probation.”
“Like what? Apologize to Buchanan?”
Gluck laughed. “We wouldn’t do that to you, boy. This job is easy.”
“I’m farming you out.”
Jesso got tense. He had to hold on, bide his time, stall them long enough to get his things in order. The syndicate might look polite, but in the end they handled things just about the way he did. One fast punch, or push, or shot, and the problem was solved. For good.
Jesso sat down again. “What job, Gluck boy?”
“They want you to find a man. That’s all.”
“Twenty grand. For me, not for you.”
Gluck sat back, obviously hoping that Jesso would bust something. He watched as Jesso’s neck swelled and the eyebrows made a sudden line grow down the middle of the forehead. But Jesso didn’t do anything else.
“I won’t do you the favor, President. I won’t goof,” he said. “I’m a good little boy taking his licking.” He took a breath. “Who’s the outfit?”
“Here’s the card with the address.” Gluck handed it over. “Just an address, Jack boy, and it isn’t an outfit.”
“No name, even?”
“The name’s Kator,” Gluck said.
Jesso got up and went to the door. “I’m going to do you the favor, buddy boy,” he said. “I’m taking that job.”
Kator had a suite in an uptown hotel and Jesso got there at eight in the morning. If Kator wasn’t out of bed yet, that would be fine too.
The tall guy opened the door. He took the card Jesso had brought, and that was all. He hardly nodded when Jesso wished him a good morning.
“Remember me, friend? The clothes tree.”
“This way, please.”
“How’s Porker, friend?”
“Mr. Kator is waiting.”
The next room wasn’t large, but Jesso didn’t see Kator right away. He sat hidden in a high-backed chair, his small hands folded in his lap. The thick neck was wedged into a stiff collar, and Jesso had to walk around the chair before he could see the man’s face. Then Kator was out of his chair with an easy movement.
“You are Mr. Jesso,” he said. He held out his hand. When Jesso took it he was surprised by the strength of the grip. “Now that you will be working for us temporarily, please be seated and listen closely.”
Kator might just as well have left out the “please.” His voice was clear, machine-like. The English was so perfect that Jesso was sure that Kator spoke another language, one that he must like much better.
“Now that you are working for me, I will give you all the necessary leeway to do your job. However, I require a report of every step you take. The nature of your job and my interest in its outcome-“
“What’s the job?”
“Did you understand my instructions?”
“Sure, Kator. Sure. What’s the job?”
Jesso had been talking fast. The way he was starting to feel about Kator, it helped to talk fast.
Kator pulled up his chair and turned his head right, then left. The stiff collar made a scraping sound on his neck.
“A member of my organization has disappeared. You are to find him, Jesso. His name is Joseph Snell. He is, in fact, hiding out from me, apparently under the impression that I wish him ill. I know he is in New York. However, I do not know how long he will stay here. You can see it is imperative that he be found quickly. Those, in brief, are the facts. Find Joseph Snell, inform me of his whereabouts, and your job is completed.” Kator stopped.
“That’s it?” Jesso lit a cigarette.
“Yes. How do you propose to start?”
“I’ll start with you. What’s your business?”
Kator blinked. “I fail to-”
“If I don’t know what your boyfriend Snell’s been doing, how can I look for him in the right places?”
“It will be sufficient for you to know, Jesso, that I am a businessman. A businessman with far-flung obligations, and Joseph Snell is one of my associates.”
“Why do you want him?”
“Mr. Jesso.” Kator turned his head with that slow squeeze of the neck. “I will tell you what you need to know, and I will decide what you need to know I regard any questions as impertinence.”
For a moment Jesso forgot all about Gluck and what might happen. For a moment, he forgot that he was in the middle of a squeeze and that it would take more than a punch or a push or a shot to get it all back to where he wanted it. Then he held still. He leaned back in his chair and blew smoke slowly. He concentrated on just that, and Kator. What got him was the way Kator had said it. He had said it just so; not to be insulting or to act big, but just so. Because Kator felt he was talking to a bug. There probably wasn’t a man on this earth that Kator didn’t think was a bug.
Jesso kept sucking on his cigarette. When he figured his voice was going to be steady, he leaned forward again.
“I’m going to ask what I need to know. I’m not a divining rod, Kator, but I got the job to find your flunky, and as long as I do your gumshoeing for you, you open up and answer. Or get someone else.”
Kator sat still, waiting.
“Who’s Snell?” Jesso asked.
“An associate of mine.”
“Why’s he hiding?”
“I remind you, Jesso-”
“The hell with that!” Jesso was up now. “Let me remind you of something. If Snell’s on the lam because you’re gunning for him, that’s one kind of job. If he’s got something you want, that’s another. I wanna know if he’s laying for me ready to kill, or ready to argue, or just lying there scared stiff.” Jesso took a deep breath. “So let’s have some answers.”
“Joseph Snell is most likely scared stiff, as you call it, and I want him found because I must speak to him.” Kator raised his small hands and put the fingertips together. “Whether he is likely to take a shot at you, that is something you may tell me about after you’ve found him.” Kator shifted in his chair. “Now then, what else do you need to know?”
“Has Snell got any friends in town?”
“Really, Jesso. We’ve explored that angle.”
“No. He has been with me for a number of years. We met in Europe and his ties in the States were severed long ago.”
“The early thirties. In fact, he used to know a man called Bonetti. I mention the name because you and this Bonetti are in a similar-uh-field.”
Jesso started to pace the room. “Hell, Bonetti’s dead. He died-Wait a minute.”
Jesso had forgotten about Kator and Gluck, about the stupid way this punk job had been thrown at him. He wasn’t thinking of any of this because now he had started to work. Jesso went to the phone and dialed long-distance.
“Give me Las Vegas, the Sagebrush. I want to talk to Mr. P. Carter… Yeah, person to person. And call me back.” He gave his number and hung up. Next he called Murph, who was repairing the carburetor on one of Gluck’s cars. Murph got the call in the basement garage.
“Murph? Jack. Listen. Put out the word I want a guy that’s on the lam. He’s from out of town. His name’s Joseph Snell, might be using his own. Now, this guy’s an outsider, and-Kator, what’s Snell look like?”
Kator had been watching without a word. He gave an involuntary start. “Short, thin black hair. His hands tremble, a condition he has. Eyes blue and somewhat protruding. He-“
“That’s good enough. Murph? Listen,” and Jesso repeated the description. “Call the usual places and let me know when you hear something, Murph… To hell with his carburetor. Let him get a mechanic
… No, right now, and get to it.”
Jesso hung up. He stared right through Kator, and there was a concentrated frown on his face.
“Do you propose to conduct your search from my telephone, Jesso?”
“Why, you short of money?”
“I’m trying to appraise your methods.”
Jesso put his hands in his pockets. “Look, Kator, why’d you come to Gluck for this job if you don’t think we can do it?”
“I didn’t. It was Mr. Gluck that suggested the arrangement.”
“You are surprised? My original business with Gluck had to do with other matters. I have a ship in the East River and my business required special docking procedures, and Mr. Gluck’s-uh-unique influence over docking matters-“
“You mean Gluck dreamed up this job in the first place?”
“No. The job was there. I mentioned my efforts to find this associate, and Mr. Gluck suggested that you might help.”
Not until then did it occur to Jesso just how badly Gluck wanted him out. That grinning bastard even went out of his way to hunt up a bum job for Jesso.
The phone rang, but Jesso didn’t move. For a moment he felt pushed into a corner, squeezed from every side by Gluck, the thing he stood for, the big, invisible strength of the syndicate.
“Jesso, the phone is ringing.”
He reached for the receiver and said, “Yes, hello.” It sounded a little sharp.
“I am ready with your call to Las Vegas. Go ahead, please.”
“Hello. That you, Carter?”
“Jackie, how are ya? You’re hardly home and already-”
“Listen close, Paul. I got business. You remember Bonetti?”
“Yeah, yeah, Bonetti. Twenty years ago. You’re old enough to remember.”
“Oh, Bonetti! Sure, I remember him.”
“You knew him pretty good, didn’t you?”
“A little business here and there.”
“So listen. He had a punk in his crowd called Snell. Joseph Snell.”
“Never heard of him.”
“Sort of short, popeyed.”
“Never heard of him, Jackie.”
“All right, all right. Snell was in his crowd, though. Who’s still around that Snell might know?”
There was silence for a moment and then Carter said, “Bonetti’s dead.”
“I didn’t ask that, damn it!”
“There was Pickles, but he’s on the rock.”
“Bonetti had a brother, didn’t he?”
“That’s right. But, Christ, he must be seventy or something. Besides, he never hung around much. Did the fencing, is all.”
“And kept a hideout for the boys, didn’t he?”
“That’s right. But he must be over-”
“Never mind. What happened to him?”
“Christ, Jackie, I wouldn’t know.”
“Who would? Think, Paul.”
“He had a daughter. Cook’s the married name.”
“Here in New York?”
“I think so. At least, five years ago I remember-”
“O.K., Paul, thanks a million.”
Jesso hung up. He turned to Kator, who had lit a cigar and stood by the window watching Jesso.
“I need a phone book, Kator. Manhattan first.”
“To your left, in the drawer.” Kator rolled the cigar between his lips and watched Jesso.
There was a long string of Cooks, and Jesso felt disgusted before he started. Then the phone rang. “This is Murph. May I speak-“
“It’s me, Murph. So?”
“I checked around by phone, Jackie, and so far nothing. Nobody’s seen anything like that Snell guy around. And I meant to tell ya, Jackie, Gluck came down and the car wasn’t ready. So I tried to explain to him how you-“
“To hell with Gluck. What else?”
“I sent a few guys checking the flops and got some names for you. Names of guys what used to keep a hole in the wall for special guests.”
“Let’s have it.”
“Well, there’s that farmer Cook, out near Nyack.”
“You say Cook?”
“Yes, Jackie. He’s in New Orleans right now, due back in a week. Then there’s Murrow, Able-sometimes, anyway-another Cook, Jenowitch-“
“That’s enough. Stay at Gluck’s place and I’ll be right over.”
“O.K., Jackie, but I wanted to tell you, Gluck was sore when his car wasn’t-“
“Forget it. And wait for me.”
Jesso hung up. This job was going to be over so fast that Gluck was going to have sleepless nights thinking of bigger and better ways to get under Jesso’s skin.
“Where are you going?” Kator was still by the window.
“To find your man. I’ll phone you.”
“Just a moment.” Kator was in the middle of the room when Jesso turned. “You will take one of my men with you. As I explained to you earlier-”
Jesso stopped at the door. He made it short. “I work alone. Send one of your monkeys and you won’t find your man for weeks. I’ll see to that.” He slammed the door.
The other Cook lived in Brooklyn. After Jesso had taken Murph’s list, he decided on the Cook in Brooklyn first. Murph had finished with the carburetor in the meantime, so Jesso took Gluck’s car.
The address was a store that said, “Notions.” The dim insides hung full of dusty dresses, and everything looked twice as cheap where a naked bulb made a glitter on the boxes of fancy buttons. When Jesso came in, a fat woman with an apron over her coat was scratching a fingernail over the plastic eye of a button. “No, thanks, dearie, it ain’t what I want,” she said. Her other hand dropped something into her pocket. “No, dearie, this ain’t the right color,” she said, and left through the door.
The other one didn’t look any better. She watched Jesso walk up to the counter. When the glare from the bulb hit his face she said, “What do you want?”
“Buttons,” Jesso said.
She patted her hair. It was a rumpled gray and she kept patting it as if that were going to make a difference.
“The buttons I’m after are blue. Popeye blue, Mrs. Cook.”
She stopped patting. “How’d you know my name?”
“Your father told me.”
She leaned her face closer and Jesso saw wrinkles stretch in her neck.
“You’re lying. He ain’t left the back in years.” She straightened up again and folded her big arms. “What do you want, copper?”
Jesso laughed. Then he stopped and put his hands in his pockets. “Where’s Bonetti?”
She still look rattled. “Who’s that?”
“Your old man, in the back. He ain’t left the back in years, you said.”
She was stupid. “Who’s Bonetti?” she said again.
Jesso shrugged and walked through the curtain in the back. It was even darker there. He stumbled over an empty carton that lay on the floor and hit his leg against a sewing machine. Then he stood still, trying to get his bearings. Tissue paper crackled under his feet and there was a smell of burned coffee.
“He’s a copper,” the woman said from the curtain.
“Oh, no, he ain’t.”
Jesso turned, looking for the cackly voice. Then he saw Bonetti. He sat all sunken in a wheel chair, his old man’s jaws chomping in a constant tic, and there was a big. 45 in his hand. It trembled a little, but the aim was good enough.
“Call the police, Ann,” Bonetti said.
Jesso kept his hands down, turned slowly.
“Go ahead, Ann,” he said. “Gluck’s going to like that. And Snell.”
But Gluck didn’t mean a thing to Bonetti and he ignored the name Snell.
“Go on, Ann,” he said. He kept working his jaws.
Bonetti’s daughter stepped around the sewing machine and grabbed the phone off the hook. “Police,” she said.
When she was connected with the police she gave her name and address, and asked to have a man sent out right away, because her daddy had caught a prowler and was holding a gun on him. She hung up and turned to Jesso. “Smart guy,” she said, and worked her mouth the way her father was doing it.
“That’s right,” Jesso said. He stood still and watched the old man’s gun. The muzzle was making short, trembly arcs, the safety was off, and one bony finger held the trigger the way it ought to be held.
“Lemme reach for a smoke,” Jesso said. He waited for an answer.
“See if he’s clean, Ann.”
“He’s clean,” Jesso said, but the woman started to pat his sides, without ever getting in the way of the gun.
“So smoke,” Bonetti said.
Jesso lit up and let them watch. He could tell they were getting puzzled.
“You know you made a mistake, don’t you, Bonetti?” The old man didn’t answer. His daughter poured a cup of the coffee that Jesso had been smelling and the old man started to slurp.
“This’ll ruin your setup, Bonetti, once the cops have been here.”
Bonetti just slurped.
“You should have asked my name, Bonetti.”
“And get a lie.”
Jesso sighed and took an elaborate puff on his cigarette. “I thought you might feel that way, Bonetti.” Then he leaned against the sewing machine, finished his cigarette, and just waited.
When the cop came charging into the store and through the curtain, nobody turned.
“That’s him,” Bonetti said, pointing with the gun.
The cop stumbled over the paper carton and knocked against Jesso. He grabbed him by the arm and held his. 38 against Jesso’s side. “What’s he done? Who’s preferring charges?”
Before Bonetti got his mouth open, Jesso turned his face to the cop.
“Nobody’s preferring charges,” he said.”
There was quite a pause when he was through.
Then Bonetti flicked the safety and put the gun down in his lap. “I am,” he said. “Breaking and entering.”
“Pops is balmy,” Jesso said. “We’re old pals having a chat. Then his mind starts to wander, you know how it is,” and Jesso moved to shake the cop’s hand off his arm.
But that didn’t come off, either. The young cop was a rookie and he wasn’t getting any of this. He grabbed Jesso’s arm and yanked.
“You resisting arrest, buddy?” His face came close.
“Heavens, I wouldn’t!” Jesso said. He grinned back at the cop.
“So don’t make suspicious movements,” the rookie said, and he waved his gun up and down.
“Before you shoot, Officer, I got a confession to make.” The cop waited. “Ever hear of Jack Jesso?”
The cop had, but he didn’t like being snowed. He turned back to the old man, but he wasn’t any help either. Bonetti had heard of Jack Jesso too. Bonetti sat still, waiting for the rookie to carry the ball.
“So what?” said the rookie. “I also heard of Jack Rabbit. Now move, buster. You, lady,” he nodded at Bonetti’s daughter, “better come along to the station.”
But Jesso didn’t move, and the woman didn’t move. Old Bonetti waved his hand at her and the woman stood still, waiting for somebody to make up his mind.
“I got more to confess, Officer,” Jesso said. “It’ll save you the trouble of facing up to a false-arrest charge.”
“Who’ll charge false arrest?” the rookie yelled.
“I will,” Jesso said. “Me. Jack Jesso.”
The cop stepped back. “Stick out your hands,” he said, and he fumbled for the handcuffs under his coat. He still held the gun in the other hand.
Jesso folded his arms. “I’ll save your job for you,” he said. “One phone call, rookie, and I save you your job.”
“Don’t move,” said the rookie.
“Or I’ll bust you back to civilian.”
“Stick out those wrists.”
“You don’t hear Pops preferring any charges, do you?”
That was true. Bonetti hadn’t said a word. He was chomping his gums and trying to look sly.
“One phone call, rookie, and the whole thing’s forgotten.”
“Don’t move,” said the rookie. He had started to sweat.
“I’m standing still,” Jesso said. “You make the phone call. What’s your precinct?”
The rookie told him.
“Call and ask for Captain Todd. Tell him I want to talk to him.”
Jesso could almost see the wheels going around in the cop’s head. He would be a fool to let this go by. Either way, how could he lose?
The cop made the connection and then Jesso took the phone.
“Ed? Jesso… Fine, fine. Listen, a man of yours asked me to call, for character reference, sort of. Tell him who I am and so forth… No, just a mix-up… No, no. Just a real alert kid. Wanted to make sure there was no mistake. Some loony called the cops thinking I was going to steal his wheel chair… No, honest. Here he is.” Jesso turned to the cop and gave him the phone.
It didn’t take long after that. The rookie hung up, holstered his gun, and put the handcuffs away. He gave Bonetti a dirty look, kicked the paper carton out of the way, and left. When the front door banged shut, Jesso walked over to the wheel chair and took the. 45 out of the old man’s lap.
“Nothing like a cop for a character witness, is there, Bonetti?”
The old man coughed. “How should I know who you was? You shoulda told me who you was.”
“And get told I’m a liar,” Jesso said. He tossed the gun on the sewing machine. “Where’s Joe Snell?”
“Look, Jackie.” Bonetti came wheeling across the room. “I gotta make a living. I never yet crossed a customer.”
“There’s no convincer like an honest cop, Bonetti.”
The old man squirmed in his chair. He rolled the wheels back and forth as if he were trying to twist them off.
“What are you worried about, Bonetti? You know I haven’t got a gun.”
“All right.” The old man sounded peeved. “Take him down.” He nodded at his daughter. “He only paid in advance till tomorrow.”
Bonetti’s daughter led the way through another room, into the kitchen, and stopped by a chipped piece of linoleum on the floor.
“Pick it up,” she said. “I ain’t so young any more.”
Jesso picked it up and then the trap door underneath. The woman climbed down the stairs, grunting each time she took a step. She waited for Jesso in the basement.
It stank. It wasn’t just the mold and the dead air, but other things too. Behind a coal bin, in a thing like a storage closet, there was a cot under a dim window.
The first thing Jesso saw about the man was his eyes. They glittered like the buttons upstairs.
He lay on the cot, face up, and he was mumbling without ever moving his lips.
“He’s sick,” Jesso said. “Has he seen a doctor?”
The old woman made a motion with her mouth, turned, and went back up the stairs.
The man on the cot was lying as before. His bony head looked white and his hair started far back.
“You Joseph Snell?”
His eyes blinked and he started to chatter.
“Look pal. I’m not getting a word of this,” Jesso said.
“They can’t wait,” the man was saying. “Can’t much longer. I told him. Kator knows it.”
“You’re Snell, all right.” Jesso leaned closer. “You wanna glass of water?”
“But you gotta have both. I got it, I got it. Honeywell-You were sixteen, my village queen-” he started to sing.
Jesso picked up the milk bottle at the foot of the bed and sloshed the liquid around. It was water.
“Here, take some.” He held the man up by the neck, forced the bottle through the man’s teeth, and poured. Snell started to drink. His eyes focused suddenly and he sat up. He spat out the water and pushed the bottle away.
“Did you hear?” he said. “A beauty. Man, such a beauty!”
“Yeah, what a kid.”
“What a prom,” said Snell, and he shook his head. Then he slumped back again and stared. “Honeywell,” he said.
“I know. Certainly.” Jesso put the bottle down.
“Honeywell high! Honeywell high!” The man sounded excited.
“Honeywell high, Honeywell high!”
“Sure, what a team. Good old Honeywell High.”
“Good old Honeywell High,” said the man, and his sick eyes weren’t looking at anything.
Jesso tried to get through once more, but he had to give up. He went up the stairs into the kitchen, and left the trap door open. In the room with the sewing machine he found Bonetti and his daughter.
“Take him some coffee,” he said. They stared at him. “Take him some coffee.”
He watched the woman take a cup of the stuff to the kitchen and left. There weren’t any customers in the front; just the buttons with the sick glitter.
He took his time driving back to Manhattan. The job had taken barely half a day. Kator could wait. And Snell, he wasn’t going anywhere with that fever. The noon traffic was heavy across the bridge, but Jesso hardly noticed. He thought of Gluck once, good old anxious Gluck with the convention smile, biting his fingernails, hardly able to wait for Jesso to throw the job and give Gluck his chance to make his move. All by the code, too. “You goofed, Jesso, and out you go. We can’t afford dead wood,” or some fine phrase like that. Gluck had a surprise coming.
But the thought didn’t give Jesso any real kick. He kept crawling with the traffic, not minding it, because right then he didn’t feel like going anywhere fast. Maybe a drink would pick him up. Maybe a short trip South and to hell with Gluck and his schemes. Or a woman, if he had a real woman.
He stopped the car in the Fifties and walked across the street to the bar.
There was a lot of carved oak and antlers and brass-buttoned leather. Aside from that, the place was almost empty. The barkeep was eating a corned-beef sandwich, and when he saw Jesso he took one more bite and reached back for the bottle of Scotch.
“Been out of town?” he said through a mouthful. Then he pushed Jesso’s double across the bar.
Jesso paid and sat down.
“Where’s the cool, beautiful blonde?” said the barkeep.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full.”
“Lynn, wasn’t it?” The barkeep took another bite. “Been here a few times. Nary a drop she had, just looked. You two busted?”
“You will. Any minute now,” Jesso said. He took his glass and went to a table. He sat down and watched the fat shine of the sunlight where it hit one end of the oak bar. At first he thought about Lynn, because the bar-keep had mentioned her and because she used to come here with him. He’d brought her here because he liked the place, not because it was especially good for a twosome. She got to like it too. She started to like everything he did, in the end.
Jesso sipped his double and tried to think of Lynn. But it was just a game, because he was so completely through with her that there was nothing to think about. One of the brass buttons on the leather chair opposite kept shooting a light in his eyes, so Jesso shifted. Another chair with brass buttons. Nothing but buttons all over the place. Like that poor bastard in Bonetti’s basement with two fever buttons for eyes. Jesso wondered what Kator might be after. It couldn’t be friendly. Kator was too big and Snell was too small. Just about the kind of setup Gluck would have liked. Gluck big, Jesso small, and the chase was over. Jesso sipped and felt the Scotch work up behind his eyes. Nothing like Snell was going to happen to him. Not Gluck or Muck or who knows what was big enough to make that happen to Jesso. He took a big breath, as if testing whether there were still enough air around. That felt better. Right then even the thought of Gluck didn’t bother him, because actually Gluck didn’t mean a damn thing to him. Gluck was a small bug in a big web and he thought everybody else must be the same. Jesso blew smoke and watched it drift away That’s what he thought of Gluck and his outfit. All Jesso ever wanted was a free hand and nobody underfoot, and no smoke-blowing bug in a web was going to change that.
That’s all he ever wanted, he was thinking, and then he knew there was something else he wanted. He wanted that, and a special kind…
The door opened and Lynn walked in. A special kind of woman.
“Darling! I found you!” she said.
But Lynn wasn’t it.
“Do you know I was in here just yesterday, Jackie? Do you know I had a feeling you might drop in?”
He got up and moved a chair for her.
“Wanna drink?” he said. He said it nicely, because he had nothing against her. Only she’d probably give it the wrong slant, all loaded with meaning and undercurrents and inevitable love.
“Scotch, darling. But I’ll have mine with water.”
He drank Scotch, she drank Scotch. That was Lynn. The barkeep was eating a pickle, but he stopped long enough to bring the drink.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Jesso said when the barkeep came up. The barkeep closed his mouth, put down the drink, and left.
“Yes. One of yours,” she said.
She blew smoke, being careful to point away from the table. Then she looked at Jesso.
One thing about Lynn, she had a fine touch with feelings. She was blind when it came to loving Jesso. He could have tossed her out of a window and she wouldn’t have believed it, but with everything else she was sensitive.
“What is it, darling?” She put her hand on his.
“Nothing. How’s the drink?”
“Something’s troubling you, Jackie.”
That’s another thing about Lynn, he thought. No privacy. She tries to crawl right inside you.
“Business,” he said, because he knew she wasn’t going to stop till she got an answer. “Just some of the usual.”
“You’ve never talked much about your business, Jackie.”
“That’s because it’s nobody’s business. How are your stocks and bonds?”
“Jackie, don’t you know I wouldn’t mind anything about you? Whatever your business is?”
“Fine. So there’s nothing to talk about.”
“I know a little about you. Some of my friends even use your-your services.”
“Of course. I have friends who gamble.”
She smiled. “You say Oh’ as if I missed something, Jackie.”
“Not a thing. Another drink, Lynn? I got to go.”
She shook her head. “Darling.” She paused to put her cheek in one hand. She kept looking down and talked as if she had it all prepared. “Darling, I know what a strain it must be, even danger. Whatever you do, Jackie, I know you don’t feel right about it.”
Except for the fact that she was all wrong, she had something there.
“If something troubles you, Jackie, and I know something does-”
“Thanks, Lynn. But you’re wrong.”
She looked up. “Can I help?”
He wasn’t even listening. He was thinking that she wasn’t the right kind of woman, and if he kept her sticking around, that would be worse trouble than anything else that might happen to him.
“Jackie, if you need money-”
He made around one hundred grand a year and paid perhaps a thousand in income tax.
“I’ll really help you, Jackie. Listen. Daddy’s in Mexico right now, but when he comes back I’ll speak to him. I can get you a job, darling, whatever you like, a real job where you’ll meet new friends, have a new life, with me. I’m getting the house at Oyster Bay, any time I want it, darling, and we could ask Daddy-“
He found he’d been listening. He found he’d been thinking that there probably were no Glucks and no Kators in the world she could take him to. And for certain there wouldn’t be any Snells with the fever getting too big for the man so that nothing was left but to burn up in the middle of it.
“Did you hear me, Jackie?”
“I heard what you said, Lynn.” He pushed back his chair.
“Don’t go, Jackie.”
“Jackie.” She held his hand.
He pulled his hand away and gave her a smile. ‘“By,” he said, and his hand gave her a small pat. But even Lynn couldn’t read much meaning into it, because then he was gone, closing the door, knowing that Lynn was not his way out of it, that what came next was Kator.
He jockeyed the car through the midtown traffic as if he were beating an obstacle course. He was in a hurry now. It felt good. Jesso kept thinking about it, how Gluck had tried to cramp his style and how Jesso himself had just about let him do it. There wasn’t any point in bucking Gluck the way he had felt like doing. Jesso could waste his temper on Gluck and never make a dent. But when it came to turning a fast job, that was one place where Gluck couldn’t get him. That was one pitch even Gluck’s organization couldn’t match. And there was going to be some fancy pitching from now on. Gluck and his cronies were going to learn something. They were going to learn how Jesso could move like a one-man army.
He got to Kator’s suite in a fine humor, and when he had to wait he didn’t even mind that. Kator had barely nodded at him and then got busy again stuffing papers and folders into a brief case. Kator was cleaning his desk. He looked like a man in a hurry.
“That big important deal of yours, Kator. It’s all wrapped up.”
Kator didn’t answer. He left the room with a full wastebasket in his hand, and when he came back, the wastebasket empty, Jesso tried again.
“If you’re done with the spring cleaning, Kator-”
This time Kator sat down. “Did he shoot at you, Jesso? You remember, you were going to let me know whether Snell was going to shoot at you.”
Jesso couldn’t make it out. He cocked his head and put his hands in his pockets.
“A real clown,” he said. “I get chased out on a life-and-death mission and I come back to get clowned at. What happened, Kator-the spring cleaning shake you all up?”
“It is more important than clowning.” Kator stroked a pale eyebrow. “You will learn that presently.”
“You sound bitter, Kator.”
“Hardly. It is no longer any concern of mine. However, I am bound to tell you that you have failed.”
It didn’t make any sense, but Kator didn’t look as if he were joking. Kator never looked as if he were joking.
“You have ignored my instructions, Jesso. I told you distinctly to take one of my men along.” Kator’s blue eyes were fixed on Jesso in an unpleasant stare, but it didn’t impress him.
“I’m all broke up about that, Kator. So I did the next best thing. I’m back to tell you about it.”
“Before you make light of my instructions, let me explain it to you this way. Did you see Joseph Snell?”
“You were not to see him. Did you spend time with him?”
“We had tea.”
“That too was to be avoided. Did you speak to him? Did he speak to you? Please answer me, Jesso.”
“You did speak to him, contrary to my wishes. So you see, Jesso, when I give instructions, they always have meaning, they have reason, even though you do not-“
“Now shut up a minute!” Jesso leaned close enough for Kator to see the nervous twitching of his eyebrows.
“I don’t go for that Junker stuff, Kator, so save your lessons and get this straight. I don’t give one good goddamn how you like your potatoes served or your lousy reports and errands done. You sent me to find a man and I did. You don’t like the way I’m doing it, so go lump it. The job’s done and for all I care you’ll pay for nothing.”
That’s when Kator started to smile; not big and sunny, but still a smile.
“You are wrong, but that is understandable. You apparently do not know what my arrangements with your Mr. Gluck really are.”
“Go on. What comes next?”
“We arranged, you might say, a package deal. I am paying your Mr. Gluck a lump twenty thousand for two services. For your job and for the docking arrangements. If either service is unsatisfactory, Jesso, I do not have to pay.”
Jesso was getting the drift now. He thought about it while Kator went on.
“I have no reason to believe that Mr. Gluck will fail in his docking arrangements. It is a simple matter. There are persons in my group who cannot leave this country without Mr. Gluck’s special arrangements. That’s why my ship is docked where Mr. Gluck has influence. As to your part of the service, Jesso, I am forced to report that you have failed.” Kator paused. “Mr. Gluck will therefore not collect his fee-because of you. Do you understand now, Jesso?”
Jesso understood so fast it came like a white glare, and he couldn’t see Kator, the pig smile on his face, or the small idle hands on the desk. He understood how they’d worked it and how Gluck had him good, where it hurt. Jesso cost the syndicate a fee, goofed on the simplest possible job. Or that’s the way it would look when Jesso was out of the way and Gluck told the story, with Johannes Kator, the dissatisfied customer, bearing him out. It was so bad that Jesso came close to taking it out on Kator, but he let it go. There still was time and a chance. He hadn’t told where Snell was holed up, and that was all he could think of right then. With Snell wrapped up, Jesso was sure there’d still be a thing or two he could do to make Gluck turn sick.
He stood still for a second, not moving. Kator sat in his chair and folded one leg over the other so that the black silk of one sock showed over his shoe. He started to dip his foot, once, maybe twice, and then Jesso took off. He took off with only one thing on his mind, so he didn’t wonder about it when nobody stopped him and he didn’t see when Kator uncrossed his legs, smoothed the trousers down over the black silk sock, picked up the phone, and dialed Gluck’s number.
Jesso got back to Brooklyn in half the time it had taken before.
Joseph Snell was still there.
“Up, Joe, and make it fast.” Jesso grabbed the man by the arm.
Joseph Snell rolled off the cot and hit the floor flat. He did not move again.
Why he was dead Jesso didn’t know. There wasn’t a mark on the man. And he looked almost exactly as he had looked a few hours ago, except for a thing that Jesso couldn’t place right away. Then he stepped on it. A hairpiece was lying on the floor, a slick patch of dark hair that used to fit over the bald skull in the back, where the natural hair made a ring around it. The skin wasn’t whole there. Somebody had ripped the thing off, and fast.
Jesso picked up the hairpiece. There was a square little patch on the fabric inside, where there hadn’t been any glue.
It made sense now, why Kator hadn’t been interested enough to ask where Joe Snell was holed up. Jesso had led them right to him. They had kept out of the way, watching, and after he’d gone they had walked right in, taken the thing that Snell had hidden inside his toupe, and left. Snell could have died from fright and high fever. His eyes were open, but sightless now.
It made sense. It made even more sense when Jesso got back upstairs. He ran to the back room, where he found the old man in his wheel chair. His daughter was wiping a wet rag over a welt on Bonetti’s cheek, and neither of them bothered to look at him. They must have started to tussle in the store. There were glass beads and fancy buttons all over the floor, some of them broken, others just lying there and staring up from the floor, the way Snell was doing.
The thought didn’t stay long with Jesso because then a hard noise jolted the back of his head and all the bright buttons came rushing up to his face.
When Jesso came around it happened slowly. It was so gradual there was hardly any surprise when he realized how bad it was.
Two men in the front, one in the back right next to him. He didn’t know the kid that was driving. Every so often a light would flash by the car and Jesso could see nothing but the man’s silhouette. The other two had been around since Gluck had started in his job.
Gluck had made it. Jesso was out. He felt so miserable that the thought made hardly any impression; at first, that is.
“Is he still out?” said the front seat.
“Sure. When I clip ‘em-”
“Save it. We’re hitting traffic. Push him on the floor so he won’t sit up sudden-like and make a commotion.”
Jesso heard every word of it and knew what was coming. When the man next to him pushed at his shoulder, Jesso rolled off the seat to the floor like a limp corpse. The jar to his head almost made him scream and his face contorted with pain, but it was dark down there and nobody saw it. The longer they didn’t know he was awake, the better for him. The better the chance-and then he realized there was no chance. There was no chance because he’d never prepared for this, had never thought it would go this far. So at first Gluck had come along to get under his skin. Nothing important. Nothing that ever looked as if life and death were in the scales. What Jesso had forgotten was that life and death didn’t have much weight.
“He still out?”
“Yeah. We almost there?”
“Close your window. I can’t stand the smell of that river.”
“I gotta get my pass ready. Here comes the gate.”
He’d forgotten that a man like Gluck didn’t have to ask whether anybody wanted to claim the body.
The car slowed to a stop and somebody said, “O.K. Keep left till you hit Pier Twenty-eight.” Then the car moved again.
Pier 28. That was part of Gluck’s section. It didn’t make sense; this wasn’t the way they did it. Had Kator mentioned Pier 28? The brakes squealed and then the car doors came open. Jesso could smell the stink from the river, hear it lap. They grabbed him by the arms and started to pull. His knees dragged over the concrete.
Make his move now? What move? Wait. Wait and figure this thing. He stayed limp, eyes closed, head lolling down, and listened for the lap of the river. There were other sounds: other feet walking, the chug of an engine, and a steady splashing of water that poured from someplace into the river. But all that Jesso could see, carefully, was the concrete close underneath and the legs moving on either side. When they stopped they didn’t drop him, but held onto his arms.
“Grab his legs. We’ll carry him up.”
One man let go and Jesso swung down sideways. He caught sight of the trousered legs farther ahead, the crease sharp as a knife. That was Gluck. Jesso got his eyes closed just in time.
“You needn’t bother,” said the voice. “Just drop him.”
When they dragged him up the ramp and Jesso saw the rivet buttons of the steel floor under him, he knew they were aboard a ship, Kator’s ship. After a painful time across the deck, down the companionway, and through the dark guts of the steamer, they tossed him to the floor where the bulkhead curved up with the ship’s contour. They slammed a door and then Jesso was alone.
He had stayed limp, but now he relaxed. It was safe now. He was alone, alive, and there was time to think. The pain in his head had settled down to a busy throb and his scraped shins felt like fire. But he was alive and there was going to be time. There had to be, because Gluck must have farmed out the job. Why else the delay? They could have finished him in Bonetti’s button shop, out in the country, or anywhere else along the way. Not Gluck, though; not when it came to handling someone like Jesso. Jack Jesso was going to fade for good, with no one but the sharks and lobsters wise to the deal. If Gluck said Jesso was dead, the reason would be that Jesso had fouled a deal. If Gluck said that Jesso had just disappeared, the reason would be even better. Jesso took off with Kator and left Gluck behind holding the bag. No one could lose, except Jesso.
The time on his hands had stopped being a blessing. He had done all the thinking there was to be done and now the time just meant a delay, a slow wait till the end.
Jesso got up and started to pace. He didn’t have far to go. It was a small hold, down low, with nothing in it but pipes along the walls and gallon cans of paint stacked in one corner. Where the ship’s side curved out, the cans were stacked with more rows on top than at the bottom.
Jesso paced, and after a while the irritation became like a physical grip. The small space began to squeeze him, the sight of the top-heavy stack of cans got on his nerves, and every time he turned he had to look at them. He started to sweat and itch, with the frustration making a stone-hard thing in his throat. Like a rat, he thought; like a blind rat he was caught. In a way it had all happened so fast and with such oiled and simple ease that he hadn’t really grasped the fact of his sudden fall until now. Just this morning he’d been up there where he belonged, and now-The pressure rose and Jesso felt as though the air were getting thicker. He saw the porthole then, the small, dim circle just big enough to hold a man’s head. At any rate, there was air. Cursing with a rage that made his hands tremble, he twisted on the wing nuts that clamped the porthole shut. There were four of them, four brass wing nuts that seemed to bite back at him when he strained his fingers against them. When he had them loose and had swung the port back, he felt as if he were strangling, and when he saw the concrete pier shutting off view and air and distance, he gripped the rim of the open hole with an irrational fright, reared up ready to scream-and then he held his breath. He held it so long that there was a crackling in his ears.
“A bargain’s a bargain,” said Gluck’s voice. “Besides, there’s always the police.”
By twisting his head and holding very still, Jesso could see them. An overhead light made a glare from somewhere, and the top of the pier showed like a black knife edge from side to side. And on the edge, knee bent as in a lazy pose by a fireplace, was a leg with a black silk stocking showing in front of the glare of the light. That was Kator. Gluck was standing farther from the edge.
“So don’t miss the tide, Kator.” The head was nodding. “You’re out in half an hour or hell breaks loose.”
First the silk wrinkled a little and then the foot began to tap. It had the same precision as Kator’s voice.
“I must delay, Mr. Gluck. I must. Your arrangements for my ship’s departure could be the same tomorrow as they are today.”
“Too risky I can’t buy off twice in a row. You leave now, tonight, or you take your chances with the officials.”
“I’ll pay you, Mr. Gluck.”
“You’ve paid me. You’re dumping Jesso for me. Besides, you’ve found your man. He even kicked off for you from natural causes and you’re covered.”
“That is the point, Mr. Gluck. As it turns out, the information I collected is incomplete. With Joseph Snell dead, I must delay departure in order to complete my mission by consulting other sources. You see, Snell’s death is really a complication, Mr. Gluck.”
“Sorry,” Gluck said. “The ship leaves now.”
“If I could stay behind, Mr. Gluck, our difficulties would not exist, but my presence is required in-in Europe. Without being familiar with the details of my business, Mr. Gluck, you must try to appreciate the importance-“
That was Gluck all over. When it came right down to it, Gluck never budged; he made everything simple that way. What in hell was Kator selling?
“Twenty thousand, Mr. Gluck.”
Gluck barely laughed.
Kator’s foot had stopped tapping.
“Pretty important, huh, Kator?”
“Fifty thousand, Mr. Gluck, for the privilege-”
“Look, you got half an hour. Call up somebody you know, tell them what you need, explain what’s eating you, and don’t waste your time arguing with me.”
This time Kator laughed. “You underestimate the complexity of my business with Joseph Snell.”
“I didn’t ask you to tell me about it.”
What didn’t concern Gluck he didn’t want to know. He was through with Kator and that’s where his interest ended. But Jesso’s interest was just picking up. He wasn’t through with Kator, he was just starting. Nothing was clear to him yet, but what he had heard meant one thing for sure. Jesso’s knuckles ached where he held the rim of the porthole with a hard, still grip, holding on as if the words from the pier were his salvation. One thing was sure: Kator hadn’t got all he wanted. Joe Snell was dead when they got to him and all he could give them was the thing under his toupe. A piece of paper, most likely, a piece of paper with part of a message, and the rest had died with him. Kator was strapped.
Then Jesso’s hands relaxed on the metal rim and he moved his shoulders the way a boxer does, limbering up. Kator was strapped. And nobody had seen Joe Snell before he died-except Jesso.
He wasn’t interested any more in what else went on up on the pier. Kator would jack up his price and Gluck wouldn’t take it. Gluck would have his way, which meant that the ship would go out with the tide. Jesso could hear the rumble of the engines somewhere nearby. He closed the porthole, stretched, and sat down where the bulkhead curved up. A nap might be good now. He leaned back, feeling the small, hard vibrations of the hull as the engines turned faster. The massage gave him a tickle around his nose and he squirmed his face to kill the itch. He smiled and settled against the steel. Once they’d cleared port and the tugs had cast off and the pilot had left, there’d be a clanking of feet and the door opening, because Kator would be ready to finish his business with him.
And that’s when Jesso would be ready to start business with Kator.
They came earlier than he had expected. The door clanked, waking Jesso, and he struggled against his stiffness, trying to get up. Jesso remembered the tall one by the door from the time in Gluck’s office. He stayed by the door, holding a Luger in his hand, while the other one came into the compartment. Before Jesso was up, a heavy boot caught his ribs and he fell hard to the side. He stayed there, fighting for breath, while the tall one stood by with his Luger. The other one closed a solid cover that darkened the porthole. He clicked a lock on it. Then they both left and Jesso was alone in the dark.
When the pain had simmered down, he got off the floor and tapped along the wall, trying to find the porthole. It was locked, all right. There wasn’t even a crack of light. If they had been far out to sea, they wouldn’t have bothered to close it. Instead they would have come for him to finish Kator’s end of the bargain.
The ship rumbled with a rhythmic thump. They cleared the islands, at any rate.
Jesso sat down again and waited. He tried to sleep a few times, but sleep wouldn’t come. His head ached, his legs were sore from the rawness where the skin had been scraped, and with each breath a shooting pain ran up the side of his ribs. After a while he tried to think of other things, how he would handle Kator, if there was time to handle Kator, and if perhaps his whole new hope was just the crazy wish of a man the night before his death.
A thousand times he went over it in his mind. After a while a slow rage started to boil in him, and if someone had opened the door right then Jesso would have jumped up and killed him.
But nobody came. For a long while there was nothing but the steady rumble of the ship, swaying now.
Jesso was crouching by the slanting bulkhead when he heard the steps. He had been crouching for an eternity, not moving, but his breath came fast and hard. And when the door swung open there was an outlined shape standing there, but Jesso was up like a cat, out through the door, and then his balled knuckles made contact until the shape was down and moaning.
Jesso stood blinking in the dim light from the companionway. He felt all right. He rubbed his knuckles, feeling nothing but the pleasant burn where his fists had hit.
The other guy had stood back. He came out of the shadows now, first the Luger, then his long shape.
“Don’t move,” he said, and his voice meant that he wished he would.
Jesso waited. He put his hands in his pockets and stood still. “Bean Pole,” he said. “I want to see your master.”
Bean Pole maneuvered around so he had Jesso against the light. “First you’re going to die,” he said.
Jesso laughed. “Like hell. Show me Kator, Bean Pole. I got something to sell.”
He couldn’t tell whether Bean Pole was taking his word for it, because all he said was, “Up the stairs.”
Before Jesso went, he turned to look at the man on the floor. It was the one that had kicked him in the ribs. Jesso went up the stairs feeling better than ever.
It was blowing strong and steady on deck, but except for the wind-ripped tips of the waves, the water seemed to move slowly; big glassy mountains of water that stood for a moment with foam like marble along their sides, and then slowly sank into themselves, becoming the dark floor of a valley.
After the airless hold, Jesso felt suddenly cold and uncomfortable. When he stopped, the gun spiked him from behind and pushed.
“Turn left,” said Bean Pole, “and walk as far as you can.”
Jesso was out in the wind now. He felt his trouser legs whip back against his shins.
“As far as you can,” Bean Pole had said. Fifty feet ahead was the round stern of the ship, with a low railing that sank below the black line of the horizon with a lazy dip, then climbed up again to stick out into the sky.
Kator was there with two sailors. They looked very solemn at the stern of the ship.
“There’s Mr. Kator,” said Bean Pole, “and just on the other side is where you go. Move.”
Bean Pole needn’t have done that. The jab of his gun almost missed, because Jesso was already leaning against the wind and going toward Kator. When he got there the two men in pea jackets grabbed his arms as if they thought he might jump.
Kator pursed his lips, but otherwise he made no movement. Only his black overcoat flapped at the bottom.
“This is to finish my end of the bargain,” he said, and he nodded to the white water behind the ship.
With the wind tearing at his words, Jesso leaned forward. “I got something for you.”
Kator took an involuntary step backward. The two men held Jesso’s arms more tightly.
“Since there is nothing personal in this, Jesso, you can save your breath. All right,” and he nodded at the two sailors.
It wasn’t much of a heave, and they were several feet from the railing, but Jesso bucked hard.
“Kator,” he yelled, “it’s about Snell.”
But Kator hadn’t understood. They had Jesso off the floor, legs thrashing, and the low railing was almost under him.
With a powerful concentration his leg whipped out and caught one man behind the knee. The guy buckled and fell.
“About Snell!” Jesso roared. “The rest of the stuff, Kator-from Snell!”
This time Kator heard. He moved forward and opened his mouth, but the two sailors didn’t catch his words. With an angry push they flung Jesso forward. He caught himself on the railing with a painful thud and balanced there until one more short push at his leg made him slant forward and down.
Suddenly the wind had stopped. Close behind the stern there was no wind, no rushing noise, just the dull hissing of the foam below, and then Jesso flailed, tossed down, and hit.
The water, cut and churned, dragged at him, twisted him, and not until moments later did he feel the icy wash of the ocean sucking at his body from all sides.
How long it took for him to surface, how hard he screamed, none of this was ever clear to him. At first there was just the great panic when he heard the murderous roar of the big screw close by, and then his head was out of water with foam bursting around him, and the tall shape of the ship sliding away in slow dips made him feel as small as a black speck.
He was fighting the water. Then, when the large swells came and the white water had died away, the ship kept him from thinking. He had to see the ship, draw it back with his last will, hold it there, hold it before the panic came back and everything was over. Then the ship was gone behind the slow mountain of a wave while Jesso seemed suddenly to fall with terrible speed. The water sucked him back and up, higher in a continuous sweep, until the ship was there again, black, and smaller.
Details meant nothing to him then, and when he saw the ship the next time, partly sideways now, it never meant a thing. The next time it was still the same, and he slid down again into the cold valley of the wave.
He started to die then. He was past the panic and ready to die, except that it came to him like a strength instead of like a weakness. He would fight the suck and push of the water until he was dead, which meant that he could fight no longer. He would never be dead until he was empty of that.
So when the boat came alongside and they tried to pull him out, he was kicking and slashing at them so hard that he almost choked in the process. When he started to sink, they heaved him up and over the side of the boat.
Jesso woke with a strong shiver, and when he felt the warmth around him he was surprised. Then there was a cup of coffee. It was black, hot, strong: smelling strong. Right then heaven could have been that cup of coffee. It was a pleasure that gave him time to come alive again. He sipped it slowly, he remembered what he could, and he looked around without talking.
Kator was a patient man. He sat at the other end of the cabin and watched Jesso come alive. Let the man have his coffee. It was small payment for what Kator hoped to gain.
When Jesso put his cup down and sat up on the bunk, he first hit his head on the bunk above and then he saw he was naked. The blankets had fallen back. He got up carefully, cursed with concentration, then sat down again. He stopped cursing suddenly, because now was the time for the pay-off.
“You mentioned Snell,” Kator said. “Did you have something to tell me, or was it all a maneuver?”
Jesso picked up a blanket and made a toga. “I got something.”
“Go ahead, please.”
Kator picked up a cut-glass bottle and poured red liqueur into two pony glasses. He gave one to Jesso.
“How about some clothes?”
“You won’t need any, Jesso. You will tell me what you know and that will be the end of it.”
Except for the queer position of Kator’s eyes, which gave him a fixed stare, he might have looked bored. He sounded bored.
It took a while before Jesso caught it.
“You mean I take another dive?” It came out calmly, because Jesso didn’t believe it. “You mean I tell you what I know and then hop-skip-jump back into the water?”
“Certainly. More liqueur?”
Jesso nodded automatically. His mouth moved but he didn’t quite know what to do with his voice.
“I can make you talk, Jesso. One way or another. And if it doesn’t work the first time-” Kator shrugged. “We have nine days before making port.”
They looked at each other. Kator went on. “I rarely make bargains, Jesso, except in extremities, and I grant you that I am anxious to hear what you have to say. So I will bargain. You give me the information willingly and your death will be simple; unwillingly, Jesso, and it will be complicated. There is your choice.”
The blanket had dropped off his shoulders and Jesso sat bare, but the sweat stood on his skin like hot glue. He stared at the man across the table without seeing him, thinking furiously, weighing his chance. He had only one advantage. Kator wanted something and wanted it bad. A dead man was no use to him, and that’s how Jesso meant to stay alive.
“Kator, I want some clothes.”
It surprised Kator, and he stopped his glass halfway to his mouth.
“Bravado, Jesso, will get you nowhere.” He finished his drink.
Jesso moved suddenly. He slapped Kator’s hand out of the way and for good measure he grabbed the bottle and threw it across the cabin. It crashed against the bulkhead. The sound of glass breaking was just the overture. Jesso’s neck started to swell, and when he talked it wasn’t politely.
“Now you hear this, you bastard. I know what little Joe said and you know nothing. You pitch me in the drink or run a bullet through my head and you know nothing. You rig it up so I get scared maybe and start yelling uncle, there again you don’t know from Adam. I’ve had my scare, Kator, back there in the white water with the screw sucking me down. That was my scare and it cured me. You scare me like that again and you won’t get the time of day from me. Maybe you got some fancy notions on how to make a man remember things, a trick or two you picked up in a concentration camp maybe-“
“You’re right,” said Kator, who had found his voice again.
“Shutup, you sonofabitch, and hear me out!”
Kator blinked, but then he had to strain to hear the rest. Jesso’s voice had dropped to a vicious whisper and he spat out the words as if they tasted too strong.
“Maybe you think you’ll rattle me with little tricks or something, or peel my skin off till I crack wide open. Like hell you will, you pig-eyed bastard, because you know what’ll come out. I’ll even tell you why. What Snell told me takes remembering, and I’m not good at complicated stuff. You just say boo to me and I can’t add two and two. I’m nervous, I get confused. I can’t remember complicated stuff. You don’t believe me? Go ahead and try, Kator. You’re afraid of losing what I know.”
He stopped there and watched Kator’s face working.
“Mr. Jesso,” and suddenly Kator had a heavy accent, “I do believe you’re bluffing.”
It was Kator’s last try and it didn’t work. Jesso just laughed. He said, “How do you suppose I know your information isn’t all complete?”
Kator gave up then. He picked up the speaker of a phone on the wall and said, “Heinz, bring clothes for Jesso.”
He got some underwear and a nice warm sweater. The pants were loose around his waist, so Jesso bunched them up with a belt. He got socks and shoes, and then had a meal. He smoked a cigarette with satisfaction, letting Kator wait, because the next thing was more complicated. Jesso wasn’t worried about his life any longer. The problem now was how to swing a deal. Maybe the biggest deal he’d ever had. Kator was sitting on something hot, and Kator didn’t deal in peanuts. The question was how to pull a bluff with a man as sharp as Kator.
When it came to him he laughed, it was that simple. He’d get what he wanted in the strangest way of all. He’d level with Kator. He’d pump the man and turn him inside out, and then, by God, he’d give that pig a lesson in the fine art of promotion.
Kator had watched the laugh, and turned glum. Jesso’s kind was new to him. The well tried ways of his particular training hadn’t worked. This man was truly from another world, with no conception of his standing, not frightened for his creature comforts, and above all he seemed invulnerable in a strange belief that there was always one more chance. It made Kator wary. While he rarely underestimated an opponent, he found in this case that his estimate needed constant sharpening, changing. This was more painful because Kator felt he knew the kind of man he was dealing with: a standard product of a gutter, born in a standard country. A country that had never learned to breed an elite. What he faced in Jesso was an insult to his background, his career. His Pomeranian family was old, producing without change only the finest and the sternest of Germany’s leaders. Even poverty never changed that. The ancient tract of land where Kator had been born lay large and useless, and in the winter the dank estate house had three rooms with heat, while the rest lay cold and unused. But Kator, like the ordained, followed his mission. His special twist of mind made the Kaiser’s intelligence service his proper place. And then empire and state collapsed, and a different order hardly worth the name took hold.
When Kator’s special twist of mind produced his next profession, he did the same as he’d always done. There was no geographic limit to his territory; his brain was his chief tool, and Kator stayed in the invisible leadership of one of those organizations that ferret, steal, and always find the kind of information that every government conceals and every government will buy. Like Jesso, Kator was on his own. Like Jesso, Kator had no outside loyalties. But unlike Jesso, Kator had a trick of thinking that his work was a service, as if his wealth were only a side issue to his work, as if there were some extra-human dedication to his energies. It gave Kator some imaginary edge, making no one his equal. He never flaunted it, but it was always part of his stance. It always worked, because the mark of the elite was seldom questioned.
“Reach me that coffeepot, Kator, will you?”
He pushed it over.
Jesso poured and said conversationally, “First I’ll tell you what I want, Kator, and then I’ll try to tell you what you want. Fair enough, Baron?”
“Jesso, if you imagine that delaying tactics-”
“You said you had nine days, didn’t you. Tell me, are you a baron?”
“I bet you’re a Nazi, though. You a Nazi, Kator?”
There was no answer.
When Jesso made no sign of interrupting, Kator took the time to answer.
“My business, Jesso, is conducted on a level where temporary political affiliations have no meaning. Not that I expect you to understand, but there are loyalties that transcend-“
“Why, Kator, you’re making a speech!”
It was true. Kator appeared angry and his eyebrows went up. Kator could raise his eyebrows without ever showing the upper lids. The heavy fold of skin over his eyes stayed down, making the face emotionless and calm.
Jesso laughed again. “You’re a Nazi either way, Kator, but like you said, right now we’ll have some bigger kinds of loyalties. Let’s talk about what I want.” Jesso crossed his legs and watched his foot bob up and down. “First of all, I get safe conduct. Where are we landing, Kator?”
“I want off at Hamburg. I want five hundred bucks in one pocket and a passport in the other. And a visa. I think I need a visa. That’s cheap for what you’re getting, isn’t it?”
It was. Kator nodded because it was so cheap. “You can make a passport and so forth?”
“I thought so. Well, sir, you fix me up, Baron, and once I’m safe on land I’ll tell you all. Fair enough, Baron?”
“You’ll tell me what?”
“I’m coming to that. Fair enough, Baron?”
That was that part. And that’s how Jesso meant to play it. His foot stopped bobbing and he watched the tip of his shoe. Then he started to dip it up and down again.
“Now comes what you’ll be getting.”
Kator leaned forward a little while Jesso kept watching his foot.
“Kator,” he said, “I’m going to level with you.” He stopped dipping, uncrossed his legs, and leaned his arms on top of the table. “I don’t know what to tell you.”
The silence came down like a cloud of poisonous gas, invisible, but with a certain deathly presence. Kator’s blue eyes seemed to turn colorless and the shorn part of his skull was mottled red. Then he took a breath that sounded like an animal breaking through underbrush.
Jesso didn’t laugh this time and his voice was curt. “I don’t know what to tell you until I know what you’re after. You get my meaning?”
Kator held still. It was the tone of voice that made him listen, and he sat wary now, his fingertips feeling the tabletop with the stealth of a thief.
“I told you how I am, Kator. I get confused. Complicated stuff makes me confused. When I saw Joseph Snell, he was sick. Crazy with fear and out of his head with fever. He told me a million things that made no sense. Some he said once, and then he’d switch and talk about the moon. Other things he’d keep repeating over and over, and he’d say, ‘You get it now, can you remember-you see now what I meant?’ You’ve got to help me pick the right clue.”
Jesso saw Kator relax. His fingers stopped brushing the tabletop and his shoulders came down slightly. He had him. The story made sense and Kator had to take the chance.
“Well, let us begin.” Kator was sober now, just barely urgent. “Start with the first thing that occurred.”
Jesso almost laughed again. Kator would like that deal. He’d just love to sit there and sift the stuff, never letting on when the give-away came along, and then good-by, Jesso, hello, lobsters. Besides, what could he say? Tell Kator about Joe Snell’s first love with the village queen? About his dear old alma mater, Honeywell High?
“Kator, you’ve got to remember the man was out of his head. He was talking crazy. How could I remember all that? We’ll do it this way, Kator. Give me a picture of what goes on. Tell me your business, tell me what Snell might have wanted to say, and that way we’ll spot the gimmick in the mess. That way we’ll get somewhere.”
This time Kator did the smiling. He leaned back in his chair and pulled a cigar out of a leather case. The cigar was evenly round, without a band, and had a faint green color.
“My dear Jesso.” The cigar waved back and forth gently while Kator sniffed. “You’ve done well so far. You’ve changed within mere hours from a corpse in the Atlantic into a forceful executor of very expensive decisions. You have done all of the talking and now you even presume me stupid. Eh?”
“What in hell you talking about?”
“I should tell you what is so important in my mission? I should hand you information for which nations, continents might wish to go to war? Eh?”
“Eh, yes,” said Jesso. And he left it there.
In a short moment Kator stopped smiling. His face became a mask and the cigar held still, forgotten and pleasureless. It didn’t take Kator long to see he was licked. Without the clues he asked for, Jesso might never give him the vital information. The cigar snapped in half, making a papery sound. It had to be Jesso’s way. For now, at any event. Later, there were other ways; there were certainly other ways.
Kator decided fast, and he played the new role well.
“While I take another cigar, Jesso, you may begin your questions.”
“Who was Snell?”
“You mean, I’m sure, what was he to me?”
“Any way you want to put it, Baron.”
“Snell had worked with me for many years. But he was an American. And like you and all your countrymen, he was an opportunist. He tried to cheat me.”
“Snell was in the States to transmit information. He was my courier. He had picked up the information as arranged and then decided not to deliver. Instead he meant to sell it himself.”
“That’s why he was scared to death?”
Kator shrugged. “He was, like many of his countrymen, a coward. I am not including you, dear Jesso,” and Kator gave a pleasant nod.
“So now we’re buddies.”
They exchanged smiles like two actors on a stage. “What was this hot news, Baron?”
“Jesso, that man Snell had been with me for twenty years. Not even Snell knew the meaning of the message.”
“Good for you.”
“What else would you like to know?”
“What’s your business, Baron?”
“Very simple. I deal in information.”
“This time, Kator?”
“This time, espionage.”
Kator had made a smoke ring, blue and lazy, and they both watched it float. It disappeared after a while.
“Have you found your clue yet, Jesso?”
“I don’t know. I’m getting there, it’s starting to make sense. Snell kept telling me of dates, dates. He meant data. He must have meant that he had data on him.”
“Now don’t get snippish, Baron. I’m trying my best. Now that I know what you’ve told me, data makes sense. And something else makes sense. Dates in the head, he kept saying, dates in the head.” Jesso looked up, making his face intent. “You got there when he was dead?”
“But you got his data-dates in the head. He must have carried something near his head, on his head, so that-I got it! Snell had typed information and carried the paper under a toupe!”
It sounded real hot. Kator looked impressed. But then he tapped ashes into the tray and looked bored again. “Of course, I knew this without your help.”
“Sure. But I didn’t. Not until you went along with me and gave out with information.”
“Go on, Jesso.” Kator was smoking again.
“What was it, the stuff Snell carried?”
“I told you, Jesso, my courier didn’t even know that, my agent for twenty years. And I don’t know you.” Kator hesitated, smiled. “Or rather, I do know you.”
“You’re only stalling yourself, Kator.”
Kator was rolling the cigar in his mouth and his lips looked like an inner tube. “You have convinced me, Jesso.” He sat up with a theatrical sigh. “I’ll say this once, hoping you will forget it quickly. I’ll say it now so that we can come to a conclusion.”
Jesso sat up too. This was the time when Kator would hand out the death certificate with the name of Jackie Jesso. Or, perhaps, the gilt-edged thing that spelled Jack’s billion-dollar jackpot.
Kator got up and smoothed his jacket. His suit was dark and simple, but on Kator it looked like a uniform. He walked to the desk where the bottle had landed against the wall, and brushed some splinters to the floor. There was a locked compartment in the back, and inside it was a small green box, the kind that cashiers use.
When Kator started to unlock it, he did it in a funny way. He lifted the handle up, making it awkward to get the key in right. Then the box sprang open.
Besides the oilskin packet inside, there was a compact battery, a small thing like a stick in brown wrapping paper, and a mess of wire. The wires were attached behind the handle.
“Suspicious, aren’t you?” said Jesso.
Kator flipped a wire off and took the packet out of the box. It seemed thick, but there was nothing in it except a sheet of onionskin. There were two columns of figures on the sheet. An ordinary typewriter had done the printing.
“You don’t seem impressed, Jesso.” Kator turned the sheet so Jesso could see the figures. “Do these mean anything to you?”
Jesso didn’t hesitate. “No, Baron. Do they to you?”
“No.” Kator turned the sheet around again and started to tap on the figures with one small finger. The gesture looked idle and indifferent. “These are production figures, Jesso. They constitute the weekly output of two integral parts belonging to a certain bomb. The bomb is being made in the United States. A most important new bomb.”
“Important to whom?”
“To the highest bidder, Jesso.”
“I thought the figures didn’t mean a thing to you.”
“I haven’t finished. I said two parts are mentioned here. One is the trigger mechanism of the warhead; the other is the warhead housing.”
“You’re over my head, Kator. What about the bomb?”
“Yes. What about the bomb?” Kator poured himself a cup of coffee. It was barely lukewarm. “Let’s say I told you how many warhead housings were being produced, a lot of five hundred, and one bomb requires one such housing. Can you tell me how many bombs are being readied?”
“No, Jesso, because the same housing is being used for a much more ordinary bomb. Five hundred housings could mean five hundred bombs of either kind, or none of one, or none of the other, or half and half. The figures for the housing mean nothing, Jesso. They leave a margin of guessing for which I cannot expect to collect a cent.”
“So it’s the trigger mechanism you got to know about.”
“Precisely. Five hundred trigger mechanisms mean five hundred bombs, plus or minus ten per cent. In other words, dear Jesso, a salable guess with half a dozen eager takers.”
The flimsy piece of onionskin started to look gilt-edged. Jesso chewed his dry lips and waited, but Kator wasn’t saying any more. Perhaps he thought that Jesso knew enough, should know enough to say the next thing, whatever that might be. The onionskin looked just like paper again, and Jesso racked his brain, trying to spot the next right move.
“Shall I go on?” Kator asked.
“With what? If you know all that, Baron, what do you want from me?” It sounded brash, ignorant, and maybe Kator would think that Jesso was just hedging.
Kator started tapping the paper again and didn’t raise his eyes. “One column on production of the housing, one column on production of the trigger part. Which is which, Jesso? Or which parts of the two columns go together?”
This time neither of them spoke for minutes. Only the idle tapping of the finger, a gentle, padded sound. After a while Kator began to crook his finger until he struck the paper with his nail. It sounded hard, nervous.
“Which is which, Jesso?”
“Stop scratching, damn it! I’m trying to think.”
Jesso jumped up and paced the cabin. “He mentioned figures. He kept rattling figures as if they were football scores.” Jesso paced, frowning, making a heavy play for just the right expression. Kator had to think that he was sifting information, that he was hard at work to find the clue in Snell’s jumbled talk. “It thought they were football scores, the way he put it. Rose Bowl, you know, and then he’d jabber on and on about this high-school game.” Jesso stopped, frowning. Better not bring in what Snell really said. He might have been saying a million-dollar word, the key that made the onionskin legal tender.
Kator was watching. Make up something, Jesso, make it busy and fever-crazy “It was just figures over and over. Christ, Kator, gimme a clue. Don’t just sit there.”
“Of course, of course.” Kator sounded soothing. “These places-Rose Bowl and so on. What other places did he mention?”
That high-school place… What was the name? He couldn’t think of it, but that was all right. He wasn’t going to repeat anything Snell had said, anyway
“He mentioned some town, but damned if I can remember the name of it.”
Jesso made his voice enthusiastic.
“Underwood! He mentioned Underwood, Kator. What about Underwood?”
“It’s a town in Arkansas. The factory in that town goes by the same name.”
“And?” Jesso felt tense.
“They make the housing for the warhead there. You see, Jesso, this list gives the production figures from two factories. One for Underwood, the other for the production from a second factory.”
It came to Jesso like a flash. He squinted once and then he said it.
“Honeywell! The other factory is Honeywell.”
Kator was convinced now. Nobody could have told Jesso about Honeywell except the courier, Snell.
“Yes, the other factory is at Honeywell. They make the trigger mechanism there.”
The gamble had paid off and Jesso started to breathe again. So Snell did tell him something.
“Now, Jesso, here lies the riddle. We don’t know whether the Honeywell figures are in the right column or the left. And only the Honeywell figures are important for the moment.” Then Kator leaned across the table. “Now, Jesso, think! Did he say right or left for Honeywell? Did he say right or left for Underwood? Which column, Jesso, which is the column?”
Jesso held still and looked as if he were thinking. Kator didn’t move either, but there was excitement in his breathing.
“Jesso, think. It must be one of these columns. I’ve analyzed, I’ve searched-there is no clue. There is nothing to tell the figures apart. One column adds up higher than the other, but that tells nothing. Jesso, which did he say? Right? Did he say left?”
After a while the stiff muscles around Jesso’s eyes relaxed. His face relaxed and then he smiled, slow and easy. Jesso got up and stretched. When he started to laugh it was like the first laugh he’d ever made.
Snell’s alma mater? Snell never said Honeywell High School! He never even said Honeywell High! What Snell had said was Honeywell high. The high column was Honeywell!
When Jesso had poured himself a cup of the cold coffee, he held it up and looked down on Kator’s head.
“How do you say it, Kator? Is it Prosit?” and then he drank the cupful as if it were the most delicious stuff in all the world.
“He didn’t say right or left, Kator. He had another way of putting it. He said to me, ‘Jackie boy, it’s all in how you figure it, but whichever way, it’s all right there on ye olde onionskin'.” Jesso sat down again and sounded confidential. “And then he said, ‘But don’t tell Kator till you get to Hamburg, because it’ll take you all of nine days to figure out the complicated solution. Jackie,’ he said to me-“
But Kator wasn’t listening any more. He slammed the paper back into the box, put the box under his arm, and marched out of the cabin.
It wasn’t until much later in the day that Kator discovered that his Luger was missing. The Luger and a box of shells weren’t in the desk any more.
They stayed off the port approach for fourteen hours while the fog kept everything blank gray but brought the harbor noises close. When the fog lifted, rain stayed in the air.
Jesso leaned across the railing and watched the harbor drift close. A tug was making a lot of noise hauling the ship through the channel. Jesso watched the white water churning. He felt impatient, edgy. The wet air made his cigarette hard to draw on and he tossed it overboard. Fifteen more minutes and they would dock. He rubbed the back of his neck and stretched the muscles so they wouldn’t ache. Jesso hadn’t had much sleep. A sleeping man wasn’t much good, even with a gun in his hand.
By the time the ship was sidling up to the mooring they were all on deck, ready to leave. There was Kator, his man Bean Pole, and two other guys who stood around in trench coats and berets, like something from the underground. Kator was in black.
“Jesso,” he called.
Jesso came over, buttoning the pea jacket they had given him.
“As we pass through customs, follow with my men. I will handle the formalities.”
“What about that passport and visa you owe me?”
“I have them here.” Kator patted his chest. “So far, Jesso, I owe you nothing.”
Jesso kept still and pushed one hand into his pocket. The Luger was there and he pulled it out. First he yanked the slide to make sure there was a shell in the chamber. There was, and while a new one slid into place the old one flew out in a short flat arc. That was one shell wasted, but Jesso didn’t care. They all watched the shell drop into the water and then they watched Jesso again. He ejected the clip, pushed a new shell into the top, and slapped the clip back into the stock. Now they all knew how many shots he had and he dropped the gun back into his pocket. He kept his hand there too.
Once they were off the ship, the formalities were simple. Kator showed papers, nodded to officials, and exchanged some words. Everybody knew Johannes Kator. Then they stood on the cobbled street that ran past the long dock building. Kator was putting the papers back in his pocket.
“According to these, Jesso, your name is Joseph Snell,” he said. “It makes your papers almost legitimate.”
“I don’t look like Snell. That passport-”
“It got you through, didn’t it?”
Just how Kator had done it wasn’t clear to Jesso, but it showed how well they thought of Kator here. It hadn’t struck Jesso until then. He wasn’t in the States any more. This wasn’t a city where he knew his way around, where even his name alone could-He caught himself up in the lie. Who was he kidding? He had forgotten what he had left behind, what he had lost there. The years of his work were gone, and the big time. Jesso was a cold and tired bum, wearing a borrowed pea jacket and clamping his hand around a stolen gun. Jesso, the bum, standing on a foreign street with three punks around him, three punks posing like trained seals, and Kator there, back in home territory. The bastard was really going to move now He was going to move with all the ease of a general surrounded by a familiar staff. And shivery stumble-bum Jesso, he was going to move along too, down the chute like a bundle of dirty laundry.
He turned his head and looked at Kator; Kator, back in home territory, silent, smug, and ready with his net of plans to catch just what he wanted and to kill what was left and of no use to him. Jesso knew that every move from now on was part of Kator’s calculated trap-or Jesso’s try to beat him to it. He was going to kick some holes in that net.
There had been no sign from Kator, but a big Mercedes Benz rolled up and Kator’s flunkies had the doors open before the car had quite stopped at the curb. They all got in. Jesso had some plans of his own, and there was a short hassle with Bean Pole about the seats, but when the car purred off Jesso was in front with the driver. The chauffeur pulled the big car in a U turn and took off into the traffic toward town.
It looked like every other harbor town. Low dives, some cheap holes, and a dozen showy stores with tinsel gifts and the kind of novelties that sell at the county fair in Iowa as easily as in Singapore.
“Stop the car,” Jesso said.
The chauffeur didn’t even budge. He lifted his eyes to see Kator in the rear-view mirror. Kator barely shook his head and the chauffeur looked at the street again.
“Stop means Halt, Krauthead,” Jesso said, and he made a swift move with his hand.
By the time he had the car keys in his pocket, the big engine had puffed, bucked, and died. Bean Pole tried to reach one arm around Jesso’s neck but only got a nasty cut across his knuckles where Jesso clipped him with the gun sight of the Luger.
“It’s Joseph Snell to you, Kator.” Jesso dropped the gun back in his pocket while the car came to a sudden stop. Then he turned around and leaned his arms over the backrest. Kator was looking at him, and the guns that had come out of the trench coats were looking at him.
“Tell your SS to put the rods away,” Jesso said.
Kator hadn’t figured it out yet. His face stayed blank and waiting.
“In a minute they’ll shoot your million-dollar deal, Kator. Tell them!”
He sounded rough. He didn’t feel like arguing and didn’t give a damn just how he sounded. Kator was meeting a new Jesso; no longer rushed, impatient, as he had been in New York; no longer wary, anxious, as he had been on shipboard. Jesso was starting to tear the net and spreading one of his own.
The guns came down.
“Now I’m going across the street. I want Bean Pole along, to make with the language. Wait here.” He had the door open already. “I’ll only be a minute.”
So they waited, because they had to, and Bean Pole came along, because he had to.
There was a little place across the narrow street that had a pair of glasses hanging over the door. There were also cameras in the window and a sign that said, “5 Minuten.” The sign said more, but that’s all Jesso could read. They went inside and came out five minutes later. Jesso had a little bag that held three passport pictures. Then they drove off again.
“You got a guy that’ll fix that passport for me?” He held the pictures out so Kator could take them.
Kator took them but looked annoyed.
“You didn’t think you were going to palm that Joe Snell thing off on me without my picture in it, did you?”
It wasn’t a question the way Jesso said it.
Kator gave the pictures to Bean Pole and sat back.
“When we get to the hotel, Jesso, Karl will of course rework your papers.”
“Good old Karl,” Jesso said. “How’s he going to do it, with his fingernails?”
“We have the equipment,” Kator said, and his irritation started to show.
The car turned into the Kirchenalle, a stately street with ornate old hotels on either side. Without a word from the back the chauffeur pulled up to the marquee of a place called Kronprinzen and the doorman that shot out from the hotel looked as if he were the crown prince himself. When he had the door open he made a bow as if he wanted to kiss somebody’s foot, and he said, “Herr Kator,” reverently.
They filed into the plush foyer, with Kator nodding at bell captain, room clerk, and elevator man. Like a general surrounded by his well-oiled staff.
“We’ll try the other one,” Jesso said, and without waiting for anybody to get it straight he turned on his heel and left.
The two trench coats kept on either side of Jesso but Kator almost had to run to follow. Jesso stopped a few houses down and walked into the First Bismarck. The hotel was just as plush, but nobody called Kator by name. This time he had to go to the desk and register.
There was a writing room off to the left and Jesso went there. One of the desks had a typewriter where a kid in a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit was pecking x’s and dashes.
“Beat it, kid.” Jesso lifted the boy out of the chair. Then he fixed himself two sheets with carbon. For a moment it looked as if the high-heeled woman with the gold pince-nez was going to do something about her screaming Lord Fauntleroy, but then there was Jesso looking at her, his sailor clothes rumpled and two mean lines running down through the stubble around his mouth. The two trench coats stood by just in case, and they didn’t look friendly either.
When Jesso had typed his piece he sealed it in an envelope and stuck the copy in his pocket. Kator was waiting at the front desk.
“If you are ready,” he said, but Jesso looked right past him.
“I’m not.” He stepped up to the desk. “You understand English?” he asked the clerk.
“Certainly, sir. All our-”
“Very neat. Now listen close. Here’s a letter. Hold it for the next thirty minutes. If I haven’t picked it up by then, open the letter, read it, call the police, and give it to them. Understand?”
Kator had stepped up, clearing his throat, and the clerk looked puzzled.
“If you won’t,” Jesso said, “I’ll call the police right now.”
Jesso hadn’t been wrong. There was nothing the clerk wanted less than having a policeman come across the lobby. Jesso looked at Kator and Kator didn’t like the idea either. The clerk took the letter.
“Let’s go, Kator. You got thirty minutes to get my papers ready.”
They went up in the elevator, looking normal enough, but when they were in the room Kator had rented and the bellhop had bowed himself out of the room the atmosphere changed. One trench coat sat down by the phone, the other stood by the door. He locked it, bolted it, then faced the room. Kator had sat down by the night stand because there was no table in the room. Jesso figured that Kator didn’t mean to stay here very long and there was no reason to waste any money on a proper suite. Good enough to have four bare walls, a washstand, and a bed. Good enough for a short talk and maybe a quick death.
“I thought you’d like to know what’s in that letter,” Jesso said, pulling out the carbon.
Kator took the sheet. It was addressed to the police and asked them to notify the American consul of the violent death of one Jack Jesso, abducted by force by one Johannes Kator, who was described in full and whose activities for the past two weeks were listed in great detail. The whole thing made quite an impression.
Kator’s words were hardly audible. “Would you mind if I burned this?” he asked.
“Go right ahead,” Jesso said, “and you got twenty-three more minutes.”
Kator lit the sheet with his lighter and watched it blacken and curl in the chamber pot he had found in the night stand. He closed his eyes and thought for a moment. When he opened them they looked at the man by the phone. He got up with a rush and Jesso’s arms were pinned back. Then Kator leaned forward, pulled the Luger out of Jesso’s pocket, and tossed it to Karl, the Bean Pole.
Jesso hadn’t tried to move. When the guy behind him let go, Jesso straightened his jacket, folded his arms, and said, “You got eighteen minutes, Kator.” He knew there was a reason for that quick trick, but for the moment it didn’t seem to matter. “So tell Charlie to get busy with my passport.”
“Karl is very adept, you will see. There is plenty of time.” Kator took a leather-bound notebook from his pocket and a small silver pencil. He handed them to Jesso.
“You will write Snell’s instructions down, please. It is best if my associates in this room are not burdened by any unnecessary information.”
Jesso took the notebook and pencil. He flipped the pages but didn’t write.
“You got fourteen minutes.”
“You will write, please!” It was a voice that could have chilled an Army pro.
“Screw yourself,” Jesso said.
Kator looked for one long silent moment as if he were going to burst out of his collar. Then he exhaled. Only his eyes moved when he looked at Karl, but Bean Pole scrambled to his suitcase, opened it up, and sat on the bed with the open case on his knees. Kator handed the passport to Karl, who opened it to the page with the picture.
“Where’s the visa?” Jesso asked.
“Your visa is an entry on a page in your passport, and I am close to the end of my patience. Will you-“
“Why don’t you shut up?”
They looked at each other like stalking cats and then there was no sound except a gentle scraping as Karl removed Snell’s picture from the passport. He had a delicate touch as he worked a small scalpel under the glue of the photo.
Jesso started to write, “The upper half of the left column…”
Karl had the picture off. He picked a stamp from his suitcase, the kind notary publics use, and clamped it over the photo. A round, embossed emblem appeared on the paper.
“… and the lower half of the right column…”
Karl smeared glue on the back of the picture and pressed it to the page. While Jesso watched, Karl wrote “Joseph Snell” across the top of the picture, just the way Snell had done it.
“… combine to give the production figures at…”
There was one more job to be done. Karl had to duplicate the State Department stamp that ran across page and picture, serrating both with tiny holes. He had the stamp. It was a wide steel contraption, built like the jaws of a pair of pliers, and the job was to keep the holes on the page intact while serrating new ones into the photo.
It was a delicate job of positioning and Karl did it by touch.
“You got eight minutes,” Jesso said.
Nobody answered. Karl felt the underside of the page, eyes closed, and Kator had got up to bend over Jesso’s shoulder. He saw the incomplete sentence there. Jesso could hear the breath next to his ear, and he smelled the faint dry-cleaning odor from Kator’s clothes.
“You got five minutes.”
Karl grabbed the handles of the stamp, pressed, and held on. When he let go slowly the serrations across the picture looked neat. It read, as it should, “PHOTOGRAPH ATTACHED DEPARTMENT OF STATE WASHINGTON.” Karl was an expert.
“Continue, Jesso.” Kator’s breath was moist on Jesso’s ear.
He wrote, “Honeywell,” then closed the notebook. “You got four minutes,” he said, and handed the notebook to Kator.
Then they gave him the passport, unlocked the door, and walked to the elevators.
“You got half a minute,” Jesso said when he leaned across the desk in the lobby The room clerk handed the letter across as if it were soiled, and Jesso slipped it into his pocket.
“And now one final word with you, my dear Jesso.” Kator noticed the look on Jesso’s face and smiled. He had a smile like winter coming. “We will stay in the lobby, dear Jesso, in plain sight of everyone.”
They walked to the large windows that looked out to the Kirchenalle and sat down on a wide couch, like travel companions, or like men who had time to kill.
“You realize, Jesso, there are ways of checking the accuracy of your information.”
“Simply this. The risk in accepting your information is mine, and while I have been patient, even docile with you, I warn you that I am a different man when I run a risk. Should the information you gave me prove to be incorrect, should you have lied to me, Jesso, I promise you an unpleasant end. No matter where you may be, Jesso, an unpleasant end.” Kator paused and studied his frail-looking hands. “Would you care to correct the information you gave me?”
“You got the right dope, Kator.”
“I am glad to hear this. And now, the matter of your payment.” Kator gave Jesso an envelope. It wasn’t sealed. When Jesso reached for it, the envelope dropped out of Kator’s hand. So that’s why Jesso doubled over, reaching for the envelope, but then he stayed that way and didn’t come back up. Right in the lobby, on the couch, facing the window.
Kator had been very good. The hard edge of his hand made the slightest arch and then snapped fast against the base of Jesso’s skull. It was the kind of punch that makes the victim feel he knows everything that’s going on. He knows the impact, the fact that he can’t move, but any minute now he will. Except no air. There was no air. But that passed too, because without transition Jesso blacked out.
It went so smoothly after that that Jesso himself would have been proud of it. But Jesso wasn’t doing a thing. Kator was. He asked a bellhop to stand by and wave a handkerchief in the fainted man’s face and then sent Bean Pole to the phone, because an ambulance was just the thing for a case like this. That ambulance took no time at all. It was a miracle the way that ambulance showed up. One trench coat grabbed Jesso by the legs, the bellhop grabbed his arms, and then they hoisted the body into the ambulance, ready and waiting, because the driver had jumped out, white coat and all, and swung the doors wide in the back. Kator had left before the ambulance took off. Once he had given an order, he rarely bothered with details.
The driver drove and the trench coat sat in back, smoking a cigarette. He must have thought he looked sassy as all hell with the wide coat, the beret, and the cigarette hanging down out of one corner of his mouth.
The first thing Jesso knew was smoke. It drifted past his nose and Jesso wanted a cigarette. The thought was strong but it didn’t last. There was the sore neck and a blue pain below his heart. Kator must have operated like a fiend to pull this off.
It took a while of figuring, but then it all came out simple enough. There was Trench Coat, and this was an ambulance and just before that there was an envelope dropping out of Kator’s hand, clumsy as could be, and then the rest not so clumsy. And there wasn’t any five hundred in that envelope and this wasn’t really an ambulance. But Trench Coat, he was real enough. Perhaps he’d heard something, a difference in breathing. Couldn’t be. The ambulance was clattering across a street of cobblestones, and Trench Coat, crawling back where Jesso was, held himself steady with both hands. Then he leaned over Jesso to make sure of the damage. Jesso could smell the smoke again. In nothing flat the damage was one agonizing flood of pain spreading from the groin, a wicked burn where the cigarette had splashed against the nose, and one lip badly cut. Then Jesso made sure. Kator himself would have been proud of the way that hand sliced down. Trench Coat stretched out, trembled, and lay still. The ambulance was bumping badly and the driver drove.
He must have known where he was going. The ride got smooth as they crossed a bridge over the Elbe and then they turned and twisted where steep houses seemed to nod across the narrow streets. After a while the ambulance picked up speed and the tires started to sing. At first Jesso didn’t realize it was a highway. He watched the tree tops shoot away to the rear, where they appeared and disappeared in the small window at the back. After a while, keeping a cautious stoop, he looked and saw the long ribbon on the black-top road. There were apple trees along both sides.
Then it started to bump again and the trees got thicker. When the car slowed down and stopped, Jesso was ready.
The driver wore an orderly’s uniform but he looked more like a butcher. He had the rear door open, and then he almost stumbled, he was that confused.
“Reach,” said Jesso, but the butcher didn’t understand English. Or perhaps he was stupid. One hand came up chest-high, groped for the gun there, so Jesso shot him in the shoulder. The man spun and dropped.
There was a penetrating odor of wet pine in the air and Jesso breathed it in deeply They had parked off the road, where the dark-green trees came together in a thick curtain. The soil looked sandy white, soft underfoot, and not too far away there was an open space where stone and sand made a shallow dip. Jesso noticed that the butcher had brought a shovel along. It was leaning against the side of the ambulance, ready and waiting.
Then Jesso waited. The guy in the car hadn’t come around yet and the butcher was slowly rolling himself over the sandy ground. He had dropped his gun on the way, but only his shoulder interested him. Each time he rolled over he cringed with pain, but he kept rolling back and forth just the same. He was stupid, all right.
It had been close quarters in the bumping ambulance, so Jesso straightened his new shirt, new tie, new suit, and draped the big trench coat so it wouldn’t bunch up in the back. He hadn’t bothered with the beret. Then Jesso lit a cigarette and waited.
After a while the guy with the shot-up shoulder stopped rolling around and sat up. There was a big red stain on his orderly’s uniform and it looked medical as hell. Jesso walked over to him and said, “How’s the arm?” But the guy didn’t understand, so Jesso waited for the other one.
When he came around he sat up with a start, but right away he lay down again. He lay that way for a while. Then Jesso didn’t want to wait any longer.
“Hey, you.” He prodded the man’s foot. “Understand English?”
The man got up and raked his long hair back over his head.
“Come on out.”
He did understand English, because he crawled out of the ambulance. He had also seen a lot of American movies, because he raised his hands over his head and waited to be shot in the belly.
“Put your hands down. Your underwear don’t scare me.”
The man lowered his hands and plucked at his shorts.
“What’s your name?”
“I should have known. And the thinker over there? What’s his name?”
“Of course, what else? Now tell Hans to sit over there by the tree.”
Fritz told Hans and then they waited for Jesso’s next word.
There was a long, webbed strap on the bed in the ambulance. Jesso took it off, threw it at Fritz, and told him to tie up Hans. After that was done he waved for Fritz to come back.
“Now I want some answers. Where is Kator?”
“Ich versteche nicht”
“I understand not.”
“Look Fritz, you’re getting me mad.” He was going to say more when Fritz kicked up his foot and a spray of sand hit Jesso in the face. Fritz didn’t follow it up because Jesso was still holding the gun, but there was no shot. Jesso couldn’t see well enough to put his shot where he wanted. For a man in his underwear, Fritz certainly had guts. He rushed to the side of the ambulance, and while Jesso blinked blindly the shovel came into view and slammed down at Jesso. It missed the head but glanced across Jesso’s hand so that the gun flew down. Fritz stooped to reach for it, which was fine with Jesso. The sand trick could work both ways, and the cloud hit Fritz straight in the face. But Fritz fired just the same. With his eyes burning blind he shot way off the mark, so that nothing happened except that Jesso got mad. A flying tackle took him under the firing line into Fritz’s middle. One hand tore at the gun and then the two men rolled on the ground. There was one more shot, which tore through Fritz’s own foot, and then Jesso let fly. Fritz was never going to look the same. He was screaming and burbling now, and when Jesso jumped up he was out of breath.
“All right, Schmeling. Sit up.”
While Fritz sat up, Jesso found the gun in the sand. He also found the one that Hans had dropped. One was an automatic; the other was a revolver. The sand interfered with the action of both of them, but Jesso was able to work the revolver free. The automatic was useless. He took the clip out, ejected the shell in the chamber, then tossed the gun far into the brush. There were shells for the revolver in the trench-coat pocket and Jesso reloaded.
All this had taken time, and Jesso figured that Fritz was ready now.
“Fritz, can you see me?”
“Can you hear me?”
“Ich verstehe — “ He didn’t get any farther because Jesso’s fist caught him where it hurt. The broken nose started to bleed again.
“He goes home. Home.”
“He lives in Hannover.”
“Fritz boy, this is like pulling teeth. Give me all of it, and all at once.”
“Hannover on the Leine. You drive the same road we came on and go south. Perhaps six hours’ driving. In Hannover he lives in the von Lohe villa. The house is on the Herrenhauser Allee.”
“He lives there, or it’s his place of business?”
“He lives there and also has his business. He has his business all over.”
“Fine. Get up and turn around.”
He did and Jesso stepped close. The gun butt came down hard and Jesso caught the man before he hit the ground. He dragged him to the tree where Hans was, tied him up with the same webbed belt, and went back to the ambulance. After he’d slammed the back doors shut he picked up the shovel and turned to the men.
“While you’re waiting for me to come back, Fritz, dig yourself something,” and he tossed the shovel toward the tree.
It landed close to Hans’s leg and he moved his foot over, dragging the shovel along. Jesso saw it. He was grinning when he walked over to the tree. Hans wasn’t so stupid, after all. The shovel had a sharp edge and with a few gymnastics the blade could be worked against the strap. Jesso picked up the shovel and tossed it far into the brush.
“Dig this,” he said to Hans, but Hans didn’t.
Jesso figured that Hannover was probably a fair-sized town. There were road markers after every little village he passed. Except for the villages, there wasn’t much variety on the drive. The land was flat and wet-looking, with wide potato fields and pastures where fat Holsteins were grazing. And along the road the eternal apple trees. By Jesso’s habits, it was a slow drive. The highway was narrow and there were a lot of potholes. When he met a car or one of the slow teams of horses that dragged heavy wooden wagons, it helped to be driving an ambulance. Jesso cut loose with the siren and the road was his.
Still it was nighttime before he was even close to Hannover. There had been money in Fritz’s pants, so Jesso stopped at a bakery in one of the towns and bought a square loaf of dark bread. He couldn’t find a place that sold milk. He finally bought a bottle of beer where a sign said, “Gasthof,” and took it into the cab. He drove into the country and parked behind a barn in the middle of nowhere. After beer and bread he got into the back, let the ambulance bed down, and went to sleep.
It was maybe nine in the morning when Jesso hit the town. The sun had come up cold and white, never quite making it through the wet haze in the air. He drove through empty streets with bombed-out shells of houses on both sides, neat straight ruins, because the Germans were such tidy people. After a while it got busier. The streets got narrower, traffic was a mess of bicycles and tiny cars, and after several crazy corners and intersections Jesso figured he was in the heart of town. He pulled the ambulance to a curb and left it there. Let Kator worry about the ticket.
Jesso walked around the corner and found a restaurant. He would have liked a place with a counter and grill, but there didn’t seem to be such a thing. The place had tables, waiters, and a sign that said “English Spoken.”
The breakfast was good. There was no orange juice, but the rest was good. He had fried eggs with sausages, some thick, soft bread, a dish of cottage cheese, and coffee afterward. While he had his second cup of coffee he told the waiter to call a taxi. When it came he paid and left.
He told the hackie, “Herrenhauser Allee, von Lohe Villa.” He had to pronounce it several times. Then the cabbie tried different versions. Finally they recognized each other and the taxi took off. The ambulance was right around the corner and Jesso saw there was a ticket on the windshield.
Traffic got less hectic after a while. The Allee was a broad, dark road, an open iron gate at the entrance and the branches of double rows of ancient trees forming a dim green arch over-head. It was a show place, left over from the time when the King’s carriage came this way, traveling the miles to the other end, where his summerhouse was hidden in a walled park.
The taxi swung left, then followed the quiet street that paralleled the boulevard. At intervals there were large villas. They stopped at the largest.
When the taxi had left and Jesso walked through the iron gate, he thought for a moment that nobody was living there. The empty drive curved around a high-grown lawn and the rows of tall windows in the building were heavily draped. The house was as big as it was ugly. Two Atlases grew out of palm fronds to hold the porte-cochere, the house was dripping with stone ornaments.
There was a cool, watery smell in the air. Jesso looked back at the row of trees, then at the villa again. He didn’t often feel like this, but suddenly it was as if he were out of place. Jesso hunched his shoulders. It sure didn’t feel like home territory. Hell, there was no more home territory There was nothing but Jesso with a two-day beard, his stolen clothes, and a half-crazy scheme that hadn’t even begun to take shape. He rubbed his face and then he made a noise as if he meant to laugh but thought better of it. Christ, a real one-man operation. He always wanted a one-man operation, and now he had it; right in the neck he had it. Or it had him. A free hand and nobody underfoot. It had come true so completely that he didn’t know whether to laugh or to swear. And the right kind of woman would be the next thought. At a time like this, for Christ’s sake, he was going to start thinking about women.
Jesso jumped off the drive that swung under the villa’s porte-cochere and stumbled over the low curbing. The long car, built like a ballroom, made just the merest hum and then stopped by the door. A chauffeur jumped out, moving as if he too were powered by a Daimler motor, and then it looked as if he were going to throw himself right up those stairs. Jesso too thought he might want to throw himself right up those stairs.
She wasn’t big or sharp or anything, but she had presence. The heart-shaped face almost spoiled the impression of coolness and grace. The heart-shaped face had a full mouth and wide, light eyes that had a waiting look; and all that with live lights moving on the silk that stretched over her breasts, a blue raw silk, and hips that made a waltz out of the way she walked down those stairs. She stopped halfway down and looked at Jesso. At least, her eyes were turned in his direction. She massaged white gloves over her hands and wrists, and when she was through she got into the car. And that was that.
He stood a while, thinking about it. There are women like that. That was all that came to him. Or, anyway, there is a woman like that.
Jesso walked up the stairs. By the big door he rang a bell and waited. Then he rang it again. An old man came to the door, dressed like a butler. He cocked his head and didn’t say hello.
“I want to see Kator.”
The old guy cocked his head the other way.
“I understood you the first time,” said the butler. His English was precise.
There was another door behind the butler, so Jesso couldn’t see very far. He felt like a Fuller Brush man.
“What is your name, sir?”
“Jack Jesso. Take my word for it.”
“Kator owes me money and I came to collect. Now open that door wide enough-“
“Mr. Kator is not in. If you have a private debt to discuss, his personal accounts are handled by the firm of Bohm and Bohm. You can-“
“This account is handled right here, so open up.”
The door came shut but didn’t quite make the lock. Jesso wasn’t using any salesman’s foot in the door; he hit it hard with the flat of his sole, making the heavy door fly back. It hit the wall and made a crash.
Jesso walked in.
The butler’s face screwed up like a wrinkled prune. He reached for a bell near the doorjamb but thought better of it. Jesso wasn’t looking friendly. “Now open the next door.”
But before the butler could get there the door opened.
What Jesso saw was a sight. The man was slim, with silky hair draped artfully across a balding head. His frail face looked like a baby’s and then again like an old man’s. He put his yellow hands into the pockets of his brocaded robe and looked annoyed.
Jesso didn’t understand a word of what followed. There was a lot of sharp and stilted-sounding talk and every so often “Herr Baron.” That was the butler talking. Jesso started to feel left out.
“All right, enough of the love talk. I’m-”
“I know,” said the Baron. He spoke English with a cultivated British accent. “You are Jesso.” He peered closer. “What is Jesso, may I ask?”
“Let me in or you’ll find out.”
The Baron had a fine, high laugh and it took a while before he whinnied out of breath.
“Jesso, so I remembered, is a paste. Something that sculptors use. It hardens into stone. Am I correct?” He put on a sunny smile.
“Why don’t you try it? Where’s Kator?”
“Ah, yes, dear Kator. Johannes does pick up the strangest people. Hofer, is my breakfast ready?”
The butler said yes and got waved away.
“Johannes isn’t in at the moment. In fact, I understand he went abroad.”
“He’s back. I came back with him.”
“Oh, you did? Then he must have been delayed in Hamburg. I’ll ask Hofer about it. Hofer should know.” He paused for a moment, then said, “Forgive me. I am von Lohe. Hofer failed to introduce me. Helmut von Lohe,” and he bowed from the waist.
“Have you had breakfast, Mr. Jesso?”
Jesso didn’t answer right away because he didn’t know what to call the man. Finally he said, “Look, does Kator live here?”
“Oh, yes. When Johannes is in town he stays with me.” Helmut von Lohe smiled. “Would you care to wait, Mr. Jesso? Join me in breakfast?” The smile changed from vapid to personal.
Von Lohe led the way, weaving across the large hall of the house with a rustling of his robe, then through a silk and petit-point salon and out to the solarium. There was a little fountain there, making a tinkle, and big plants standing still in the overheated air. Something was blooming with a sweet odor.
“Be seated, Mr. Jesso.” Helmut swirled himself into a wicker chair. It creaked like an old gate. “You are an American, Mr. Jesso, am I right?”
“Would you like to know how I know?” Jesso didn’t care, but Helmut told him anyway. “Because you didn’t know how to address me.” He whinnied. Then, with his smile, “Just call me Helmut. You’d like that, as an American, wouldn’t you?”
Jesso was kept from telling him what he’d like when Hofer rolled the breakfast up. There was everything and Baron von Lohe ate like a pig.
That was at eleven. At eleven-thirty Helmut was full. He rang the bell, waved at the mess on the table, and spoke to the butler in English. Von Lohe had manners. Or maybe he wanted Jesso to understand.
“Has the Frau Baronin had breakfast, Hofer?”
“Yes, Herr Baron.”
“You will tell her I am in the solarium,” said Helmut, and he sat back like a king awaiting his retinue. He also gave Jesso a benign look, but that dropped off fast.
“The Frau Baronin has left for the city,” said Hofer, and that answer spoiled the Baron’s fun so much that he got nasty when he told Hofer to leave.
“And send her to me when she returns,” he called after the butler. Then he turned back to Jesso.
“My wife, Mr. Jesso, keeps irregular hours at times. However,” and he patted the yellow hair where it was draped across the skull, “she is not quite used to her new standing.”
“Oh,” said Jesso. “Country girl?”
“You might say so, dear Jack. In many ways, you might say so.”
It sounded mysterious as hell, but Jesso wasn’t much interested.
“When you meet her,” said the Baron, “you will-”
“I’ve seen her,” said Jesso. “When I came in.”
“Well,” said Helmut. He wasn’t all pleased. “It deprives me of the pleasure of introducing her to you.”
“We haven’t met. I just saw her.”
The Baron smiled, leaned forward. “A remarkable woman, wouldn’t you say so?” He looked smug. “In my family we have always favored beautiful women.” He said it as if nobody else ever favored beautiful women. The Baron leaned closer. “Her name is Renette.”
Jesso looked away. Like a lousy pimp, he thought.
“Not much of a country-girl name,” he said, because he didn’t know what else to say. Jesso felt out of place with the Baron, and he started to wonder what had happened to Kator. He pulled a cigarette out of his pocket, twirled it between his fingers, made it snap.
“Ask Hofer when Kator is coming back, will you-uh-Helmut?”
But the Baron didn’t move.
“Is your business with dear Johannes so urgent you cannot enjoy the comfort of my hospitality? How would you like some liqueur?”
Liqueur, probably with a stink like a flower perfume. The close warmth of the solarium bothered him, and the Baron, with his careful hair-do, gave him a pain. And that Renette female. He had come for Kator. He had expected Kator, cold and tricky, the kind of man who made it easy for you to act without scruples and who made it impossible to forget what you came for.
“I said, dear Jack, is your business so important-”
“Yeah. He owes me five hundred bucks.”
This amused the Baron.
“Five hundred dollars!” He whinnied. “You mean you came here from out of town, broke in at an early hour, because he owes you five hundred dollars?”
“My life savings, Helmut.”
He leaned forward and put one hand on Jesso’s knee.
“Johannes can be unreasonable, dear Jack. But let me help you with the money. Really, it means little enough to me, and I’ll speak to Johannes about-“
“I’ll wait. You don’t owe me a thing.” Jesso moved his leg out of the way.
Von Lohe laughed. “Why should you be afraid to be indebted to me? And besides, my influence with Johannes is such-“
“So go influence him.” Jesso got up abruptly. He was losing his patience.
“For example,” said the Baron, and he studied his fingernails, “if you’ve had a quarrel with our Johannes-and how easy it is to quarrel with him-you would find that my efforts in your behalf could work wonders.”
“I’ll do my own promoting, thanks.”
“My position, dear Jack-” Then he stopped. They both heard the front door open.
Old Hofer was scurrying across the hall and two other servants were scrambling into position.
“Send for the Baron,” said a voice. Kator was there.
Helmut lost some of his baronial air, but he rose with a studied grace and walked toward the hall without another word.
“And send for my sister,” said the voice from the hall.
Kator had crossed the hall with that hard click of his shoes. He turned to no one and slowed down just long enough to give old Hofer a chance to swing the library doors wide. Kator went through and the doors clicked shut. When Hofer came back to the hall, von Lohe stood by, watching the servants gather up the luggage. He was fitting a Turkish cigarette into a silver holder.
“Herr Kator wishes to see the Herr Baron.”
Von Lohe placed the holder in his mouth and fished for his lighter.
“That is, immediately, Herr Baron.” Hofer bowed and disappeared into a side hall. The Baron went into the library without having lit his cigarette.
The library was a room like a hall. The floor was covered with two giant rugs and one wall held a fireplace roofed like a house. There were more Atlases. They held the fireplace open. The ceiling and walls were of walnut except where the bookshelves had been replaced by locked cabinets. The cabinets were steel. They looked odd and cold in the ornate room, and the bleak light from the French windows gave them the air of a row of cells. There was a disciplined garden on the other side of the windows, a painstaking affair of different greens and thin little walks. Kator’s desk faced the other way. His chair was empty. Von Lohe walked to the high-backed seat that faced the empty fireplace and said, “Good morning, Johannes.”
Kator’s arm waved him to step closer. “Where is Renette?”
“I don’t know, Johannes. Hofer says-”
“I know what Hofer says. Sit down. When she comes back, send her to me immediately.”
“But I don’t know when she-”
“She’s your wife, isn’t she?” Kator sounded impatient.
“She’s your sister, isn’t she?” said von Lohe, and the spite in his voice was pure.
Kator got out of his chair and walked to the window. His back was turned when he said, “Aren’t you happily married, my dear Helmut?” It sounded so casual that the Baron started to fidget. “Are you not being maintained in a style that you could otherwise no longer afford?”
Von Lohe’s voice was spiteful. “And my title, I suppose, my exclusive contacts have been of no value to you? I remind you, Johannes, that without my social position to cloak your activities-“
“Speaking of bargains,” Kator said, going to his desk, “have you finally managed that matter with Zimmer?”
“It so happens, Johannes, I’m seeing young Zimmer this afternoon, at the club. I think-“
“Don’t think, don’t make excuses, just produce! This matter has been dragging for months!”
“But Johannes, there is just so much I can do. The Zimmer family has been extremely cautious ever since the war. My good name alone cannot-“
“Remind young Zimmer,” Kator said, “that I still possess the copies of patent trades that his father’s company has engineered, and that the Americans have no knowledge of any of this. So far. Tell him so far! If I cannot place my men in Zimmer’s American subsidiaries, I will begin to make things known.”
“But they have been friends of my family for-”
“I am not concerned with your family, only with the effect of your name. Now then, I called you for other reasons. Without going into details, let me impress upon you that my trip to the States has produced complications-possibly minor, possibly dangerous. Look into the garden.” Helmut went to the window and looked. “Do you see anything?”
There was nothing except the garden.
“I have stationed six men there. Several more are in front. They are here to intercept any possible danger.”
“Danger?” Helmut licked his red lips and sat down.
“Yes. And until further notice you will not leave the house except in the company of one of my men.”
“Johannes, please. What are we afraid of? You are making it worse with this secrecy.”
Kator pulled out one of his olive-colored cigars and stroked it. “I had dealings with a man, a foreigner. The fact is, I do not know where he is at the moment. Until he is found, I must remain extremely alert. He and I have a debt of-“
“What is it, Helmut?”
Helmut had started to blink with a nervous speed and he sat upright, as if suspended by the head. He opened his mouth but nothing came out.
“Helmut! Make sense.”
“Is it-is it five hundred dollars? Do you owe-”
“Just this,” said Jesso, and he kicked the door shut with his foot. Hofer was with him, but couldn’t keep up with him. Jesso shot his hands into his pockets and stopped.
“Forget the phone, Baron,” he said, and watched Kator pull back his hand.
Kator sat still like a cat. That’s when von Lohe recovered. He jumped up and started to yell.
“But I swear, Mr. Jesso, I never came near that phone. Johannes, tell Mr. Jesso-“
“Shut up,” said Kator. “He didn’t mean you.”
Everything was still for a moment.
“I meant Superspy, here. You, Kator, you understand, don’t you, Kator?”
“Of course, Jesso.”
“I bet you do. So send everybody out.”
Kator did. He nodded at the butler and at the Baron.
He nodded at both in the same way and then they left. The two men looked at each other. Then they walked to the fireplace and sat down on facing sofas.
“You crapped out yesterday, Kator.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You crapped out. Your two medics weren’t so good.”
“I know. We found them.”
“Were they alive?”
“You know why, Kator?”
“Because I didn’t half try.”
“I had assumed it was sentimentality.”
“Now hear this, Kator. You’re going to crap out once more, and that time I’m going to be trying all the way.”
“You are threatening me?”
“I’m telling you. And I’m telling you more. That message from Snell I gave you is bunk. I’ve got the right one, you don’t. How much are you selling your merchandise for?”
Kator started to smirk, dropped it.
“Hundred grand? Two hundred?”
“That information would hardly be useful to you.”
“Don’t worry about that part, Kator. Just worry about how you’re ever going to know if I gave you the right info. Just worry about losing your price, worry about selling worthless stuff, worry about what’ll happen to your business, to you, if you should pull a boner somebody else has to pay for. Those guys you’re selling to, are they gonna say, ‘Forget it, Kator, dear chum, we all make mistakes'?”
Kator didn’t bother to answer.
“They’re gonna send out a torpedo for you. A German if you’re in Germany, a Turk if you’re in Turkey, and Satan himself if you should be in hell when they find out.”
“I assume you have a proposition,” said Kator, and the formal words came out stiffly.
“No, Kator. You’re almost crapping out again. I’m giving you a chance to come in out of the rain. You show me your buyers, I show them the right dope. It’ll cost you half. Half of whatever you get. That’s the only way the deal is ever going to go straight. You know why, Kator? If I sell them the wrong goods, I’ll be as bad off as you, and that’s never going to happen to me, Kator.”
Kator’s success had come from the man himself; his fast mind, his unmuddled decisiveness, and his ability to dismiss his personal feelings. This made him remarkable, and he showed it now.
“Very well. I will begin my arrangements today. You may stay in this house in the meantime. Hofer will provide for your comfort.”
They looked at each other without even trying to hide their thoughts. One was out for the other, and each understood the game. And for the moment neither had anything to fear from the other.
“It is customary in your country to shake hands on an agreement. But you and I, Jesso, can do without it.”
“Particularly since both of us cannot win, you understand?”
“I told you you’d crap out.”
“You will get your money, I will make my sale. I’m not speaking of that.”
“Just watch it, Kator.” Jesso got up.
“I’ll begin my arrangements today.”
“You can start right now. You owe me five hundred.”
When Hofer had taken Jesso to his room on the second floor of the villa and when he was about to leave, he was given a ten-dollar tip, which Jesso peeled off a roll of five hundred.
Renette von Lohe looked as if she belonged in the place. There were no jewelry counters, just low little tables and wide chairs. The walls were of black glass and the ceiling was held up by bronze columns. The table in front of her was almost bare; just two bracelets lay there.
“Madame has hardly a choice,” said Mr. Totanus of Totanus, Dorn, and Son. “Beauty is its own absolute, madame, and if I may be permitted-“
Renette looked up and shook her head. She smiled as a hostess would smile, with very well-mannered kindness, but Mr. Totanus stopped as if he had been slapped. Renette von Lohe, who was also beautiful in the eyes of old Mr. Totanus, gave the impression that only she might decide what was absolute.
“They sparkle too much,” she said.
Her voice sounded warm, except for the way she ended a sentence. She ended it as if that were the absolute end. That can be a shock to anyone, be it Totanus trying to sell a ten-thousand-mark bracelet or someone who has long given up trying to sell anything.
“You know, Mr. Totanus,” and Renette crossed her legs so that even old Mr. Totanus began to feel excited, “I think I like something warmer. Not diamonds. I like smoke opal.”
The firm had smoke opal. The reason it had smoke opal was that during the war the volume of diamond trading had gone down to near zero and the firm had handled a number of lesser stones, even the semiprecious. But Mr. Totanus didn’t know just where the opals were.
“Madame,” he began, but then Renette put her small feet together and got ready to leave.
“I won’t have to look at them,” she said, “because I know you will pick the most beautiful ones for me. And set them square, as you did in this bracelet. Make the same kind of bracelet.” After dangling the one she meant over one finger, she dropped it back on the velvet pad so that old Mr. Totanus quivered.
Renette smiled and stood up. She did it all in one movement, then stood to pat herself into straight lines while old Mr. Totanus looked away and fussed with the mistreated bracelet. He had started to quiver again.
“Will you send it to me?” she asked, but-it was hardly a question.
Totanus rose, doing it awkwardly, because Renette hadn’t bothered to step back. This was a rotten day. Smoke opals. She could afford both of those bracelets on the table, but she wanted smoke opals.
“Shall I bill the Baron?” said Totanus when he followed Renette to the door.
“No,” she said. “Send the bill to my brother.”
Renette got into the Daimler and told the chauffeur to drive her home. She sat back in the cushions and thought what a beautiful bracelet it was going to be. Perhaps she should have let Helmut pay for it. But that was ridiculous. Then Helmut would have to go to her brother and he would pay anyway. Besides, Johannes never argued about her bills; he only argued with Helmut.
The car circled a square with a cafe on the island in the middle. Renette could see the string orchestra behind the potted trees. A cherry Torte or perhaps some mocha ice would be a wonderful thing now. There was a large clock at one end of the traffic island and it said twelve noon. Johannes must be back. She bit her lip, decided against the cafe. If Johannes was home, she did not want him to wait. No, that’s not the way it was. If Johannes was home, waiting, she would be afraid of offending him.
Now the square was gone. Renette looked into her purse for a cigarette but didn’t find one. She tapped on the glass behind the chauffeur and when he looked she made a sign as if she were smoking. The chauffeur opened the glass, gave her his pack, closed the partition again.
Renette smoked. He has a nice neck, she thought, a nice strong neck coming out of the stiff uniform collar. With a strong neck like that, and the way he sat at the wheel, it was strange how such a man can act like a-She couldn’t think of the word. Act scared, she decided. Or fluttery. It made her think of her husband, which made her laugh.
The car pulled up under the porte-cochere of the villa and Renette hoped that her brother would not be there.
She couldn’t tell by the way Hofer opened the door, but by the time she had asked him Kator came across the hall.
“Where have you been?” he said.
He wouldn’t care where she had been, but she saw he was in a foul mood.
“Are you all right?” he said, and this time she was surprised. It hadn’t been casual and yet it didn’t sound sharp.
“Thank you, Johannes, I’m fine. And how are you?”
He wasn’t listening. He led her into the library, took her gloves, and put them on a small table.
“Sit down, my dear.” He followed her to a couch. They sat, looked at each other, and then Kator smiled.
“In a way, it was good that you weren’t here,” he said. “However, it might have been just the opposite.”
“I haven’t understood a single word you’ve said so far.”
“Yes, of course.” He cleared his throat, changed his tone. “Renette, you are naturally free to come and go as you please. However, you must leave word where you are. In your absence a situation developed that might have been dangerous. A business associate of mine, a highly unpredictable-“
Renette interrupted. “But in the meantime you’ve caught him, haven’t you, Johannes?”
Kator got up and stood by the fireplace. The way she took it for granted, the way she never questioned, but always admired him-it wasn’t too easy to take now.
He looked down at his shoes.
“Actually, Renette, it was the other way around,” and when his head came up he was smiling.
Renette smiled back, because that smile was only for her. And the confession. Only her brother could say this and not lose face.
“And so,” he went on, “nothing is solved.”
Renette turned to the table next to the couch and took a cigarette from a small box. She let Kator light it for her, inhaled deeply, blew out smoke with a long sound. Then she leaned back and looked at her brother.
“Are you worried?”
“No. Not for the moment.”
“You don’t sound sure.”
“Oh, I’m sure, Renette. He’s in this house.”
“Here? Since when?”
“Sometime this morning.”
“I remember now. The beggar. He looked like a beggar.” Kator laughed, but when he sat down next to his sister she saw he was cold again, as he was most of the time. “The way you saw him, Renette, in America they would call him a bum. But in America they would also call him an operator. It means he will use anything in his favor. He has no scruples when it comes to getting what he wants or keeping what he has.” Kator paused. “He has something I want.”
“And why are you telling me, Johannes?”
“For a number of reasons, my dear. To warn you, and perhaps to prepare you.”
“For what, Johannes?”
He got up, turned back to her. “I need your help.”
When she looked back at him, she had the same look as her brother had. But she didn’t talk.
“It may involve your comfort as well as mine,” he said. “Or would you prefer that glorified farm, back to the empty room with a view of weeds through the window?”
“Don’t be dramatic, Johannes.”
“Are you forgetting that your status depends on mine?”
“You mean being the wife of a baron?”
“I don’t notice that his presence is any hardship.”
“Just awkward,” she said. “Just one of those ridiculous situations.”
“I don’t notice-” he began again, but she didn’t let him finish.
“What makes you think your beggar is going to give you whatever you want because I go to bed with him?”
“I’m not interested in your methods, Renette.”
“Of course not,” she said. Of course not. Only results. Then she had to smile. She wasn’t much different from him. When he had sent for her, kept her with him and given her the things her family had long been without, she hadn’t cared what the cost of the luxury was. And she hadn’t cared when Kator found it expedient that she should marry the Baron von Lohe; and she hadn’t cared that she and the Baron were just a showpiece together. There were other men. One would have done, she knew, but she hadn’t found him. So there would be others.
“His name is Jesso,” Kator said. “Jack Jesso.” Then he explained what made Jesso important, that Renette had to get it out of him, whether Jesso was bluffing or whether he really knew what Snell had known.
“When do you want me to start?”
“Shall I tell Helmut?”
“Suit yourself,” Kator said, and left the room.
They sat in the dining room with the high ceiling lost in the dark because there were only the yellow wall lights over the buffet and the two candelabra on the table. They all sat in their seats being formal with knife and fork and a sip of wine now and then. Kator sat looking at von Lohe and Jesso sat looking at Renette. He had a good view
Renette might have been alone at the table or she might have been in the middle of a cluster of men, all looking at her. She sat unconcerned, just there, the way a magnet is unconcerned.
She wore a dress like a second skin, long-sleeved and naked on top. There was a very fine chain around her neck with a pearl that rolled a little each time she breathed. It lay off center on her bare skin and kept rolling there.
Hofer wasn’t serving. Hofer carved and poured wine. Two stripe-vested servants did the work and Hofer just hovered.
They sat around as phony as people in an ad. Like a whisky ad showing how only the very best people drink only the very best whisky. Jesso sipped wine the way they all did and thought of whisky, even the very worst whisky. He wasn’t nervous. He never drank whisky when he was nervous, but a raw drink right then would have helped.
Kator was talking to the Baron. “Any progress this afternoon?”
Von Lohe swallowed and answered as if he had just waked up. “Yes, Johannes. Oh, yes. We must discuss it. After dinner.”
“Not business, Johannes.” Renette gave him a smile with a question in it. “We must think of our guest.” She nodded at Jesso, moving her head at him in a gesture that was beautifully done. Jesso wished she would do it again.
“By all means,” said Kator, and he moved his head too. It was more like a muscled python making another slow loop before the kill. “Even though Mr. Jesso might be too polite to object,” Kator was saying, “we should perhaps discuss business at some other time.”
Nobody waited for Jesso to say anything, because Kator was dabbing at his mouth, which meant he wasn’t through yet.
“On the other hand, as an American, Mr. Jesso might find talk about business a very fitting topic after a meal. In fact,” said Kator, “his business acumen might be-“
“You mean talk about the Zimmer matter?” Von Lohe sounded surprised.
“Of course not,” said Renette. “Johannes was only teasing. And besides, Mr. Jesso hasn’t given his view yet. It should be his decision how we spend the evening.”
She had a thought there. And the way she smiled at him, Jesso had a moment’s crazy thought that she might even listen.
“Of course,” said Kator. “There must be topics just as universal as business. Eh, Jesso?”
Jesso could think of one.
“I can think of one,” said Helmut, and he raised his glass. “To love!” He saluted Renette, drank some wine, and looked pleased with his conversation.
“Of course.” Kator leaned back, dabbing at his mouth.
“I should like to hear Mr. Jesso on the topic of love. Had you thought of the same thing, Mr. Jesso?”
“Love, Mr. Jesso.”
“I was thinking of women,” he said.
Right then Renette became all hostess, telling Hofer to serve the coffee in the music room, and then she got up.
They all sat around her in the music room and Helmut said we must have that piano tuned. Renette nodded, and Jesso drank coffee. Kator didn’t talk for a while, but then he started to toy with an unlit cigar, and when Renette was through with her sentence about Helmut’s Turkish cigarettes he got up and made a small bow.
“Forgive me, Renette, but Helmut and I must discuss a few matters. We may rejoin you later.”
So Jesso and Renette stayed alone. The music room wasn’t large, but the chandelier and the silk on the wall made it all very cold. So did the grand piano. It was large and black and the lid was down.
“Do you play, Mr. Jesso?”
“No. Never did.”
“I don’t either,” she said, and she smiled as if she were relieved. “I don’t like to play the piano and I don’t like to talk business.”
“If you got any other universal subjects-” but she laughed again and he didn’t have to finish.
“No,” she said. “But I’m glad they’re gone.”
The way that room was lit up and all silk, grand piano, and glass-topped tables, there was nothing warm about it. But Jesso didn’t notice it any more. She leaned over to place her cup on a table and Jesso watched the small pearl swing free. Then it lay there again, rolling a little on the curved skin.
“You needn’t look so glum about it,” she said suddenly.
“I’m not glum, Mrs.-Frau-”
“Frau Baronin, if you want to be formal, Mrs. von Lohe if you’re just polite. Are you polite, Mr. Jesso?”
“Like the next fellow.”
“Oh, no. Not like Johannes or my husband. That’s why I’m glad they left.”
They looked at each other. She looked back at Jesso as if she were never afraid.
“Who’s Kator?” he said, because he wanted to know.
“He married us. He is my brother.”
Her brother. She sat still, letting him look at her. He tried to find in her some similarity to Kator. He thought perhaps the eyes, but then that was gone too because all he saw was Renette, breathing there with that goddamn pearl winking at him.
“You don’t like him at all,” she said.
“I do, in a way.”
Jesso sat still. It was like the moment before a jump.
“Why?” he said.
“I don’t want him to get in the way.” After she said “way,” her mouth was still open, just parted, and nothing was in the way when the moment before the jump was gone and Jesso held her as if he had always been holding her.
She had given back the kiss but she hadn’t moved. Jesso sat up again. Her eyes were as they had been before, just looking at him, and then she put her hands where the dress ended on top and pulled it up. She did that while she said, “He didn’t get in the way,” and it sounded wrong. It made the gesture with the dress almost public, and it made Kator more present.
Now he wanted her more. Now he wanted her because she was there and not there, because he had started but had hardly started at all. And Renette looked to him as if she had waited a thousand years and all that kept him back was the puzzle of what waiting meant to her; whether waiting was an indifferent habit or whether it meant that the wait had grown like a fever and was searing her now, close to the end…
He moved again, but she was up.
“Jesso,” she said. “Jesso, wait.”
He stood next to her and held her arm.
“Wait for me, Jesso. In the next room. I’ll come back and we’ll sit in the next room.”
Her arm moved in his hand and she was walking to the door that led into the hall.
“There’s brandy in the cabinet,” she said. “The one by the fireplace.” Then she closed the door.
Jesso balled his hands and stared after her. She’d done it again, that trick of saying the wrong thing, of mixing things that didn’t belong together.
He went to the next room, which was almost dark. The only light came from a lamp with fringes hanging down from the shade, and from the fireplace. The fireplace was busy with red flames and being cozy and intimate, and the whole thing was so completely what might have been expected that he kicked at an overstuffed chair. And brandy yet. Sniff brandy and say things into the fire and she’d probably be wearing a hostess gown. Nothing slinky, of course, because now they knew each other, but probably a heavy brocade or some such lavish thing to make it festive and also lush.
He had the cabinet door open and saw the bottles and started to reach for one, just as he was expected to do. And of course there were the snifters, a row of them with big bellies. He slammed the cabinet shut, hoping to break something, but didn’t bother to check. Then he was on the second floor. There was also a third floor and another wing where the house angled about the garden, but she was probably here on the second floor. Both halls were dark. He went down the hall that angled to the right. At the end of the hallway there was light under a door. He walked in without knocking.
They both turned, the maid holding the house gown for Renette and then Renette, more slowly She finished shrugging it over her shoulders and held the front closed.
“Send her out,” Jesso said.
Renette turned to look at him. Her face was cold, he noticed, and if she had cared a little more it might have been mean. He looked where she held the gown and the damn thing was stiff, rich brocade.
“Get her out,” he said, and this time Renette nodded at the maid, who left obediently. When the door clicked shut, the silence was thick.
It wasn’t a very frilly room, but it was all female. Even the bed looked female.
“I’ll call you Renette,” he said. “Come here.”
She didn’t move.
He had his hands on her arms and ran his palm up and down. The brocade made a scratchy sound, feeling like tiny hooks on his skin.
“Wait, Jesso,” she said.
“Call me Jack.”
“I was coming back,” she said. “I didn’t expect-”
“Call me Jack.” He had her around the back now, the brocade like the tiniest hooks on his skin, millions of them, and then he felt her relax a little. She raised her head to him and she seemed smaller. Her shoes were off. He noticed the wide eyes looking and they were still waiting, but more blank now. Her mouth held a smile that was ready to make allowances.
“I’ll call you Jesso,” she said, and there was nothing friendly about it.
He bent down and kissed the mouth. Then he came up slowly.
“Try again,” he said.
There wasn’t time to answer.
Then he held her away a little and a line grew in the middle of his forehead.
“You don’t fight fair,” he said.
“I don’t fight.”
He laughed and looked at her hands, holding the gown together in front.
“You don’t let go.”
“I’m not holding you, Jesso.”
“You got it wrong.” His hands went over her arms again, scraping. “You’re supposed to give.”
She didn’t get it, and when he pulled her again she leaned away.
“You got it wrong,” he said again, and his hands were at her front, holding the lapels of the gown. When she shrugged and dropped her hands, the gown parted with a rustling like that of the old trees in the Allee.
She was naked, and beautiful. And like white stone.
She couldn’t answer then because his arms pressed the breath out of her, but she started to fight. It was crazy. He got her across the room, feeling the clawing of her nails, seeing her eyes, and he never knew it was fear.
When he woke the lights were still on. He got up, kicked his clothes out of the way, and turned the switch.
She lay still in the dim light from the night sky, eyes closed, but she didn’t seem stone any more. He lay down again, just touching her, hearing her breath. Then she moved.
“Jesso,” she said.
He could feel her heat as she turned.
There was nothing for Jesso to do until ten because nobody had come down yet. He sat in a little room facing the lawn that went down to the wall by the street and waited. Then he heard Kator. He came downstairs and Jesso stopped him in the hall.
“Made your arrangements, Kator?”
“Good morning, Jesso. Yes, I have.”
“So when do we settle?”
Kator raised his eyebrows for a moment, but Jesso didn’t see it.
“I made the arrangements yesterday,” he said, and walked across the hall to the dining room. Jesso followed. “And there should be results today.”
He sat down and watched Hofer dish up the breakfast. Jesso had coffee.
“What arrangements?” Jesso asked.
Kator finished chewing, sipped chocolate.
“The-our buyer has been informed. The next move is his.”
“Jesso, I have not seen anyone, nor has the mail been brought in.”
Jesso had to watch him finish his breakfast. Then Kator rang for the mail. There was quite a pile of it. Kator found the telegram quickly.
“The answer,” he said.
He put it down so Jesso could see it, but except for a date and an address, the text made no sense to Jesso. Kator looked active now He had pulled out a cigar but laid it down by the silver pot containing the chocolate and talked in his hard, even way.
“My request for a meeting has been granted. The only difficulty is the time.”
“The sooner, the better, Kator.”
“Of course. We will be in Munich tomorrow.” Kator paused, picked up his cigar, and rolled it between his fingers. If this guy was nervous, Jesso couldn’t tell.
“It will have to be done in this manner. You take the afternoon train to Munich. It will get you there in the forenoon. I myself have a previous appointment elsewhere, so I won’t go with you. I will fly to Munich early tomorrow and meet you at the hotel. From there we will meet our contact together and begin negotiations sometime that afternoon.”
There was nothing wrong with it. If there was, it could only be a senseless and stupid stall, and Kator wasn’t going to be that stupid.
“I’ll go,” Jesso. Said. He was trying to remember whether he had any ammunition for the revolver in his overcoat upstairs.
“Very good.” Kator gathered his mail and stood up. “It will be the time to tell the truth, Jesso.” He left for his study.
Jesso went upstairs to make sure about that revolver.
It was eleven o’clock then and Renette came out of her shower. She held her hair up with both hands while the maid rubbed her with a large towel. Then the phone rang. It was a short conversation, and after Renette hung up she put on her underthings, slippers, and the heavy brocade. When she walked into Kator’s study she looked awake and clean. She stopped by the desk and nodded.
“Well?” said Kator.
She shrugged and reached for a cigarette on the desk.
“You look awake, Renette, but you don’t act it.”
“I’m fine, Johannes.” She smoked.
He got up and walked to the empty fireplace. The big hood with gargoyles and Atlases made Kator look very squat, like a bulldog.
“You look as beautiful as ever,” he said. There was an edge to his voice. “Only a little wasted.”
She laughed. “Wasted!” she said, and then she laughed again.
“May I point out you haven’t told me a thing?”
Renette inhaled, blew the smoke out slowly. She cocked her head to watch it. “You are too anxious, Johannes.”
“You mean you have learned nothing?”
“Give me time, Johannes.”
“It seems to me-”
“I thought you weren’t interested in my methods.”
“How much time do you need?”
“Don’t be obscene.”
Kator kept still then. She didn’t often use that tone of voice. He took a series of military steps across the room, sat behind his desk, gave his instructions. It was more familiar ground now.
“Jesso will go to Munich this afternoon, by train. Tomorrow I will meet him there. That gives you from now until about three o’clock.”
“You flatter me, Johannes.”
“I know you well, Renette.”
She ignored the remark and looked out to the garden. She knew he was puzzled by her attitude, unable to predict what she would do next. Yesterday he would have known. Until yesterday, she would have said, “Of course, Johannes, if you say so.” She might have said it with a shrug, but she would have done it. Now she said:
“Of course, Johannes, but it wouldn’t be good enough. I’ll go with him. I’ll have from now on, all day, and all night. I’ll get ready.”
She came in without knocking, the way he had done it the night before.
He was cleaning the gun, but after she opened the door the motion became mechanical.
“Good morning, Jesso.”
“Good morning. How’s yours?”
“Fine, Jesso. It’s a good morning.” She sat down next to him on the bed. She didn’t peck a kiss or hold his neck. She just sat and smiled as if she enjoyed it.
“Something on your mind?” He still held the gun but he didn’t know it.
“I’m going with you.”
“Johannes says you’re taking a trip. I don’t care where.”
“That takes all night.”
“Why? You want to get raped?”
“That won’t take all night,” she said, and it struck him how little it sounded like a dirty joke.
“Good,” he said. “I want you to come.”
She got up, ran her hand through his hair with a swift movement, and left the room.
Jesso tried to clean the gun some more but he wasn’t interested in it any longer. The damn gun was clean anyway. He put six cartridges in the cylinder, took them out again, slipped them back one by one. If he had said no, she still would have come. He knew that. Like Lynn? Not like Lynn. Lynn would have tried to come. She would have asked and he would have said no. Renette hadn’t asked, she had told him, and he hadn’t kicked once. It stopped him for a minute, wondering how much he had changed. He had found the woman who wanted the same thing he wanted, in the same way, with the same will. Jesso felt he had found his woman.
At three the big Mercedes pulled up and Hofer carried Renette’s overnight bag downstairs. Jesso had nothing to carry. He’d buy a toothbrush and shaving stuff later. Kator wasn’t around when they left, but Helmut came out to the car. He said he was happy his wife had the chance for that little excursion and said he was looking forward to seeing them in two days or so. He kissed Renette on the temple and waved at the car cheerfully.
Once, on the way to the station, Jesso looked out and laughed. They were passing the intersection where the ambulance was parked near the restaurant. There were two more tickets on the windshield. Renette didn’t ask him why he laughed and he didn’t tell her. They hardly spoke in the car. Their hands lay on the seat between them and sometimes, with a turn of the car, their fingers touched.
They got out of the Mercedes in front of the station. The chauffeur helped with the luggage and they found the train. Kator had done it up brown this time; it wasn’t any tourist- or third-class ticket. They had a compartment, and when the chauffeur was gone they locked the door, pushed the suitcases out of the way, and sat down. When the train was moving they looked out of the window. At first the landscape looked flat, industrial; even the small fields had a square mechanical look. Later the fields rolled and there were more trees. Renette sat close, with her legs tucked under her. She had the rest of her twisted around so that she leaned against him. They smoked and didn’t talk. There was nothing to talk about. They looked almost indifferent, but their indifference was the certainty of knowing what they had.
She had on a wide-necked dress with a large collar. It had been made by a French designer at a time when they thought the female shape was O.K. as it was. She saw him looking at her and blew smoke in his face. He watched the pearl roll there.
“Who gave it to you?”
“The pearl, I mean.”
“No one. I got it myself.”
“I’ll give it to you.”
She gave it to him and he held it in his hand. Then he put it away in his pocket. They kissed as if they had a lot of time.
It turned dusky outside. Renette put her feet to the floor and sat up.
Jesso rang for the porter. A small table came up from under the window and there was soup, something called glazed Wildhuhn, potatoes, and asparagus, and a cold pudding with sour cherries in it. She told him what wine to order and they had that too.
“Helmut really your husband?”
“He know about you?”
“What is there to know?”
He finished his wine and rang for the porter. “Plenty,” he said.
“Not until yesterday,” she said.
They drank coffee and brandy, and then the porter took the things away. They got up. Jesso turned her around in the middle of the small room, because the buttons were in the back. She held her breath so it was hard to get them open, and then she exhaled, laughing, and held still so he could get done. Jesso pulled down the bed and she stood by the wall grille and let the hot air blow up her bare legs. Then the dusk was almost complete and they didn’t notice for a long time that it had turned night again.
She was asleep. The train made the same rhythm, swaying slightly, and Jesso could glimpse the moon now and then. He got up and dressed.
The corridor outside was chilly and a dim light showed the seesaw motion where the corridor met the door of the next car. Jesso walked right and stood on the connecting platform. It was even colder there. Except for a man at the other end of the car, he might have been alone on the dim train. Jesso lit a cigarette and dragged hard. It felt raw and good.
The train started to clatter across rail junctions and then a dark station platform shot by the window. They were going like hell, straight and steady. He’d been going straight and steady. There had been bumps and a couple of falls, but now, Jesso thought, he was going like hell. And it didn’t feel like rushing and panting, not since Renette, but straight and steady with nothing in the way to make any difference. Almost too easy. Tomorrow the Munich deal and then Kator was out. Kator had been almost too easy.
Jesso left the clanking platform and crossed into the next car. This one had a corridor too. They all did. They had a corridor squeezed to one side and glass-doored compartments on the other. Everyone was asleep. When Jesso came to the club car he smelled tobacco smoke but the place was empty. He sat in an easy chair and looked to the other end. The door opened and a man came in. He sat down by the door. Jesso noticed he was smoking a pipe.
“Got a match?”
He jumped around and there was the other one. The cigarette in his mouth was lit.
“I know, I don’t need one. Just wanted you to turn around. And take your hand away from your pocket.”
Then the one with the pipe stood there too.
“Been waiting for you ever since Hannover,” said the pipe. “Been busy, huh, Jesso?”
“Sure,” one of them said.
“But not tourists,” said the other.
“You were hanging around at the other end of my car,” Jesso said.
“Right. And the name’s George.”
“And Ralph,” said the pipe.
They sat down, George opposite and Ralph next to Jesso.
“You’re nervous, Jesso. And you got a lot to be nervous about.”
“Keep talking, Ralph boy.”
“Keep your hand away from that pocket, Jesso. We don’t carry no guns.”
Just for that, Jesso had the revolver out and was up on his feet. The two men just sat. George had his hands between his knees, big hands, and Ralph, who was small and sandy-haired, kept sucking his pipe.
“Now what, Jesso?”
“Now this,” and he waved the gun for them to get up. “You guys know my name, so I guess you know who I am.”
They got up this time and kept their hands where he could see them. He frisked one, then the other. They were clean.
“Park yourselves. And talk.”
“That’s what we’ve been waiting to do, Jesso. Christ, ever since Hannover we’ve-“
“So shut up and talk.” Jesso sat down too and looked at George, the big one.
“We’re in the same game like J. Kator,” said George, “only a different outfit.”
“I knew he’d be suspicious,” Ralph said. “I just knew-”
“We are,” said George. “And we’re buying.”
“Right now you’re just talking.”
“We’re buying. You got the key from Snell and we’re buying.”
“Who told you, Kator?”
“Will you keep your cotton-pickin’ mouth clamped shut on your cotton-pickin’ pipe, if you please?” George sighed and turned back to Jesso. “He’s a pain.”
“Not to me.”
George stuck his long legs across the aisle and put his hands in his pockets. “Look, Jesso, we can’t prove a thing, so we won’t even try. It would take a lot of time, and time we don’t got. We got money, though.”
“So buy yourself something.”
“I’m trying to, Jesso. I’m trying to.”
“What George means,” said Ralph, “is we want the key. Snell’s dying words, if you know what I mean. Now you wonder how do we know so much? Simple. Kator wasn’t the only one after that info. To wit, Snell was going to jump off Kator’s wagon and sell elsewhere.”
“That’s us. Elsewhere,” said George. “But you know what happened. We missed the boat. So right now we’re trying to catch up is all.” George got up. “Wanna come and look at some money, Jesso?”
Jesso kept sitting. “You haven’t said a thing yet.”
“Money talks, Jesso.”
“What good’s it to you? Kator’s got the figures.”
“We don’t need ‘em. We got later ones.”
“Look, Jesso.” Ralph sounded serious now. “Let me tell you the whole thing. We got figures, Kator’s got figures. Together they’d give a much more reliable score for estimating bomb production than either of the lists alone. With your information in our hands, we can argue with Kator. We can get together, make a combine.”
“You’re giving me ideas,” Jesso said.
George made an exasperated swing with one arm, sighed. “Jesso, you talk like an ass. There are some deals too big for one man to handle. You’d be twisted out of shape.”
“I’ve been doing all right.”
“Have you got your dough?”
“So don’t talk.”
Jesso thought about that.
“Jesso, there are details to this deal that you as one man, or me, or Ralph over there, couldn’t handle alone. You didn’t know, for instance, that your info isn’t any good after a couple of months, did you? You didn’t know the plants change models, that they produce in periods instead of at a steady rate-all things that you never heard of, that I only know by name, and that I mention just to impress you. Then there’s the problem of getting bids for the merchandise. You don’t know under what phony company transactions these deals are handled, how the money is moved without attracting attention.”
“I’m impressed. Come to the point.”
“The point is simple. Sell to our combine and your troubles are over.”
“I can’t even hear you.”
“Cash, Jesso. Cash in small bills, right here on the train, and we can make it seventy-five. Whaddaya say?”
“I say crap.”
“I told you,” Ralph said.
George leaned over to Jesso and sounded tired. “Look, Jesso, you know how it is. We’re supposed to argue. We’re just hired to do a job. But we’re authorized to go to one hundred grand. That’s all we got, Jesso, honest.”
“Go back where you came from. Kator pays me more.”
“Have you got it?”
Jesso thought about that.
“You don’t know Kator very well, do you, Jesso?”
They waited while Jesso just sat and they gave him all the time he wanted.
“You got it here?”
“Right on this train.”
Ralph sighed around his pipe and George looked relieved.
“Honest, Jesso, you won’t regret this. Grab your swag and get out of a field you know nothing about.” They walked down the corridor. “We know your rep and everything in New York and so forth, but this is different. Christ, you don’t even know any languages, I bet, except Brooklynese.”
“He don’t sound Brooklynese,” said Ralph.
“Ralph, your mouth. You’re gonna hiccup one day, and fall in. Look, Jesso, I’m just making a figure of speech. I’m trying to show you-“
“You know what you can show me, so stop bending my ear.”
They kept still, both of them, and Jesso followed George down the corridor. Ralph was behind him.
They had a compartment too. It was just like the one where he and Renette were staying, and it made things nice and familiar. Jesso watched George unlock the door and waved Ralph to step through. He himself went in last.
“I’ll lock this door,” he said, and made a noise with the slide. His other hand pressed one of the buttons that kept the bolt from locking.
“I told you he’d be suspicious,” Ralph said, but he was grinning this time. He pulled a suitcase out from under the seat. “Come here and count it.”
“Put it on the seat. I’ll count it from here.”
George spoke up and his voice was apologetic as hell. “Jesso, look. I know how you feel, and you got every right. But let’s play it even. We got all this dough and you got a gun. Your hand’s in your pocket again. So let me get my cannon, see, right here in my coat, and I keep it in my pocket and you keep yours there. You know how it is, Jesso, so don’t misunderstand. If we knew each-“
“I get it.” He made a noise in his pocket.
“So I’ll just get my-”
“Never mind. This is crazy enough as it is. Here, take mine, and keep it till I leave.” He tossed his gun over to George, who caught it, grinned, and dropped it into his pocket.
“No hard feelings, Jesso. You know how it is.”
“So open the suitcase.”
Ralph hefted the two-suiter onto the seat and clicked the locks open. He threw back the cover, lifted the underwear off, and there were the bundles.
They were tens, twenties, and a row of fifties, some dog-eared and held by a rubber band, some stiff and clean, still with the bank wrappers around them. It was a sight.
“Count them out on the seat,” Jesso said.
“In bundles is good enough.”
Ralph did, and there was one hundred thousand. Jesso grinned and shook his head. “I never saw such a bunch,” he said. “Believe me, fellers, I never saw such a bunch.”
They grinned and nodded too. Ralph put the bills back in the suitcase.
“So whaddaya say, Jesso?” George folded his arms over his chest.
“My, my,” said Jesso. “Myomy”
Ralph made a laugh. “Guess I can close it, huh?” He closed it.
“You’ll take it, huh?” George was laughing.
“I guess I will,” laughed Jesso.
“So pick it up,” said Ralph, and they all laughed at each other.
When they stopped, it was almost as if on cue.
Jesso said, “Push it over here,” and his voice was different.
Ralph looked at George. He was refolding his arms, “You forgot to tell us your story, Jesso.”
“So I did.”
“Push it over here.”
“Your story, Jesso.”
There was the silence again, except that they all heard the singing and clacking of the train. It hadn’t occurred to Jesso before, but this train made a constant clack on the tracks. American trains didn’t clack like that. They must join the rails differently.
“The story,” he said. “Do you know the story I told Kator? The wrong one?”
“If I told you the same one, you’d never know.”
“Not until later. We’d find you and you’d end up dead.”
“I can see that.”
They heard the clacking again and the wind rushing by the window.
“The right story, then,” and he told them the one he had fed to Kator. “The upper left half and the lower right half of the two columns of figures give the production of the thing they make at Honeywell.”
And they did nothing. Ralph didn’t kick the suitcase over because he knew Jesso was lying. George kept his arms folded because to shoot Jesso would keep them from ever knowing. They couldn’t have figured any of this, except that Kator had told them.
“I was kidding, fellows.” Jesso looked at his shoe. He lifted his foot and rubbed the shoe against his pants leg. Then he looked at the shine he’d made. “You know how it is, fellows.” He laughed, looked at the shoe again. “If you’ll kick the suitcase over, like security, sort of-”
Ralph pushed it up to Jesso’s feet and George unfolded his arms.
“We understand, Jesso. I’ll even toss your gun over there.” He took it out, threw it on the seat.
“You understand,” said Jesso, and he looked apologetic. He held it on his face for fear he’d break up and laugh. He still looked that way when he told them, “The upper halves of both columns make up the figures you want. Honeywell.”
He bent down then, slowly, and picked up the suitcase. It wasn’t heavy. He still moved slowly when he straightened up and caught Ralph reaching over for the gun. When it came around, pointed, he couldn’t hold it any longer and burst out laughing. Then the gun went click and click and click. Jesso was still laughing when he threw the suitcase at Ralph, and even though it was light there was force behind it and Ralph stumbled back so that George had to catch him. The door was open and they heard Jesso laughing down the corridor.
But he didn’t keep it up. By the time he was racing through the next car there was only the fast clack of the wheels and his own breathing. You don’t know Kator much, George had said. He should know and he had been right. Kator had figured there’d be these two jovial fellows, countrymen, all ready with the pile of real live money. And that’s one thing Americans can’t resist, Kator must have figured. And then when he’d told them the right story they’d shoot. Kator had tried that one before and figured wrong, but he wasn’t going to be wrong about the part with the money.
There’s one thing about those German trains, they all have a catwalk along the side, so when George came clattering through the platform between the cars he didn’t see Jesso because Jesso hung outside the door. Then Ralph came by. They went the way Jesso had gone, down the long end of the train. Jesso got back in and walked to the stateroom where the dough was. He didn’t even run. The suitcase was there, and they had left his gun because without bullets there wasn’t much point to it. Jesso took the bullets out of his pocket and reloaded the cylinder. Before he picked up the suitcase he thought about leaving a note, something like “You know how it is. The right combination is tick-tack-toe diagonally across the list, honest,” but then he let it go because it came to him where they’d be headed first. He went out into the corridor.
He held the revolver in one hand and the valise in the other, and kicked the door to his stateroom open.
“Drop it,” Jesso said, and they did.
“Honest-” George said, but he saw Jesso didn’t look conversational.
“I got a proposition.” Ralph’s voice was squeaky.
“Shut up. You’ll wake up the girl.”
Renette hadn’t even opened an eye. She’d got to be a heavy sleeper. They all turned to look at her in the bed and she looked sexy as hell.
“To the other wall, you bastards.”
They knew what he meant, and they leaned against the wall with their hands out. Jesso kicked the door shut, put the case down, and started to wake Renette. It took a while. She didn’t ask any questions because she was still half asleep, but then her clothes weren’t handy.
“George,” Jesso said.
George started to turn.
“Face front, you sonofabitch, or you’ve taken your last look.”
George looked front.
“Those clothes on the seat under you. Throw ‘em back here.”
George reached down and tossed the dress back. Renette held the dress and looked at Jesso.
“The other stuff first, damn it. What’s the matter with you!”
George threw the other stuff and Renette got dressed. Then she went to the bathroom and combed her hair. She did it as if she had all the time in the world, as if there were nothing on her mind but combing her hair. There wasn’t.
The three men waited. After a while Ralph started to moan because of his arms and George hissed something at him. But Ralph kept moaning.
When Renette came back, Jesso told her to keep out of line of his gun. She turned and went back to the mirror to put on some lipstick. Then she came back.
Ralph didn’t answer, but he stopped making his noise for a moment.
“You can turn around and sit. The lady’s presentable.”
Ralph did and sighed deeply. Then Jesso told George to do the same.
“Ever hop trains, you two?”
They shook their heads.
“God, Jesso, this thing’s going ninety.”
“Next curve you jump.”
They came to the next one and the train never slowed down.
“Open the window.”
They sat with the icy blast coming in and listened to the black roar outside. Then came the grade, with the clacking getting slower all the time.
“Next turn you jump. George, on your feet.”
George stood by the window and waited.
It had got cold in the compartment and Renette shivered. Jesso sent her to the bathroom, where her coat hung on a hook.
George climbed through the window, held on, found the catwalk with his feet.
“You’re next, Ralph.”
When they both were outside, Jesso stood by the window holding the gun on them. At the next curve, on top of the grade, they jumped.
The train took half an hour to the first stop on the run. Jesso carried the suitcases. They got off and headed for the round booth that said “Information” in German, English, and French. It was the middle of the night but somebody was ahead of them. They waited and then Renette looked up at Jesso. She had to blink her eyes in the light.
“Where are the other two?” she said, but Jesso figured he’d explain that one later.
Jesso went to the ticket window and pronounced the name of the town he wanted. The man at the information desk had told them the name; the earliest train went there. Renette stood by the train gate and waited. She was awake now. Jesso had told her what had happened and she had said only, “I’ll go with you.” Even if she had said no she knew he would have taken her.
They took a train with short, high cars, and once they were inside they saw that the whole car was one compartment. They rode and every few miles they stopped. Then a gray light started to come, showing fields outside and long stretches of wood. A conductor came through turning off the gas lights in the ceiling.
After a while a woman came in carrying two crates with live hens. She put them on the floor. A farmer wearing a blue shirt that hung down to his hips sat in the seat next to them. He smelled of animals and held a sack of seed grain between his knees. The train made a slow clatter, stopped for a while, clattered again.
“No joy ride,” Jesso said.
She shrugged. “It won’t last long,” she said. Then she looked at the two women across from them, who kept staring at her, and then she looked someplace else.
The market town was Bad Brunn. They got off and walked to the bus terminal across the square. The sun was up now, and the air was clear, without moisture. Not like Hannover or Hamburg, with the constant dampness blowing in from the North Sea. This was a warmer climate, with country smells; the houses looking small and busy.
They climbed into the yellow bus and waited for it to fill up. The motor started to shake the bus, they took a slow turn around the fountain in the middle of the square, and then came the country road. This time it was cherry trees along both sides, cherry trees and every so often a dead one. It was a very old road. They took twenty miles of it and then they got out; over egg baskets, apple crates, and tools lying in the aisle, they finally got out, they watched the bus hobble off with blue dust behind and stood in the gravel where the two streets of the village crossed.
“This is it,” Jesso said.
Renette looked down both streets. She laughed but didn’t say anything. She smelled a cow odor in the air, and when she looked at the rutted dirt roads again she was reminded of Pomerania. Except that the low houses had slate on the roofs, or wood shingles. In Pomerania they used swamp grass.
“The whitewashed job over there, with the balcony,” Jesso said. “That must be the one that rents rooms.” He picked up the suitcase. “At least, that’s what the information guy said.”
But Renette wasn’t listening. She was still looking at the village street. It had been a bad moment, seeing it. Not that there was swamp grass on the roofs; there wasn’t. But the streets with the spaced, squat houses, with the dirt ruts and a chicken walking across, had suddenly felt like the desolate time, like the dank and poor time before Johannes had helped her and she could leave her home. And all this in spite of the sunshine on the street and the peaceful warm smells in the air. Jesso hadn’t noticed, of course. She saw Jesso crossing the road ahead of her and for a moment she felt like running.
Then she followed him. Suddenly it was easy, because everything was different now, as different as having left the rotten estate and having joined Johannes. Now she could even be through with Johannes and it would not turn bad again. She had lost poverty. First, through Johannes, who had given her the comforts of his money Then she had done with another poverty, now that Jesso had come. It was a freedom.
He was waiting on the other side of the road and they went to the whitewashed house together.
The room had a balcony. Inside was the low ceiling of the peasant house, a tile stove in one corner and a monster closet against one of the walls. The rest of the room was mostly bed, and the bed was mostly feather blanket.
“Let’s lie down,” she said.
Jesso put the suitcase in the closet and stepped to the bed. “Like rolling in dough,” he said.
She stretched herself out and sank into the feathers. “Watch your clothes,” he said. “You haven’t got any others.”
“I’ll take them off,” she said.
She got up and stood with her back to him so he could get at the buttons. He undid them.
“Come,” she said. She lay on the feather bed and he sat down beside her.
“Soft,” he said. “Better than that lousy ride on-”
“Your clothes are still on,” she said.
“Yeah. Sure.” He undressed.
“Jesso,” she said.
The sun was going higher outside and the village street was empty because the men worked in the fields and the women worked in the gardens. None of that meant a damn to Jesso or Renette, and later they went to sleep.
Renette had to borrow a pair of shoes from the landlady because her high heels weren’t any good outside. And Jesso bought a clean shirt from her, a heavy linen thing that smelled of lavender because the landlady had been widowed for almost ten years and since that time there had been no call to take her husband’s things out of the trunk.
They went to the Gasthof, where the bus had stopped. Inside there was a sweet odor of freshly ground flour and the smell of beer. The wet beer stink was strong, but after a while they didn’t notice it. They ate at a long wooden table-boiled potatoes, boiled beef, and boiled cabbage, and then coffee that was gritty on the tongue because it had been boiled too. Only the beer was good. Jesso had some, but Renette just smoked and sat by.
After a while they took a walk past the last houses and through the fields. The evening air was full with hay odors and the spice of herbs. It was very quiet. Only insects were singing in the air. They thought of walking a piece farther, to the bridge over the creek ahead, but the mosquitoes got thicker and they turned back.
It was better on the small balcony. They sat in the dark and smoked.
“Sleepy?” he asked.
“No. I slept during the day.”
She laughed and then her cigarette glowed. When it went down again she leaned close, toward his chair.
“Are your legs on the railing?” she asked.
“I bet nobody has sat here like that for years.”
“Ten years, maybe.”
“Yes,” she said.
Jesso stretched in his chair, recrossed his legs.
“For a while that’s going to be the news around here.”
“For a while?”
“A week. Maybe two weeks.”
“Make it a day. Maybe two days.”
“We don’t show that soon. A couple of weeks is better.”
“I was in Carlsbad once. Why don’t we go to Carlsbad?”
“It’s a resort on the Rhine. It’s full of retired professors and old ladies with rheumatism. I’d like to go there, Jesso. Just for the contrast.”
“Just for the contrast this’ll do the same thing. Better, even.”
“Let’s go to Carlsbad.”
“Listen, Renette. You and me, from now on, we gotta stay out of sight. Then when I see Kator, after that we gotta stay out of sight. You don’t know your brother much, do you?”
“You hate him, Jesso?”
“No. But I want to stay alive.”
“You’re with me now”
“Boy!” he said. “You sure don’t know your brother much.”
“But I do. I’ve known him longer than you have.”
Jesso laughed. “You don’t count. Besides, you like him too much.”
Her cigarette glowed again and she exhaled. “I have great respect for him, Jesso.”
“Me, too,” he said.
His tone of voice wasn’t pleasant and Renette tried to see Jesso’s face in the dark.
“We are not talking about the same kind of respect. Yours is more like dislike.”
Jesso let his feet come off the railing and it made quite a racket. Then he leaned over the arm of his chair. He sounded harsh.
“Now you listen to this love story, Renette. First he hires himself out to do a killing, then he tries putting the screws on a guy already half dead. Next comes a double cross to make a corpse, then another one of the same, and I’m the guy he was doing it to every time. So don’t tell me to love your brother, kid, because he’s the one I’m going after, and when I go out for a hit I don’t do any loving.”
When he was through she could still hear the sharp ring of his voice, and for a moment she sat thinking about it, to get clear what he had said. A while back, just days, there wouldn’t have been any reason to think about it. There had been no Jesso. There had just been Johannes. And now the strength of Jesso was taking the place of her brother’s.
But she said, “I don’t excuse him. He needs no excuse.”
“I didn’t ask for excuses. Just don’t sit there and tell me the sonofabitch is the end. He isn’t. Or else I’d be dead!”
The strength of Jesso… Or else there would be no Jesso, she thought.
“Whose side are you on, anyway?” he said, and he was out of the chair now, standing before her so she could see his black shape against the sky.
She didn’t know what to answer and then he did it for her. “You’re on mine. That’s why you’re here and that’s why I’m keeping you.”
“Jesso,” she said. “Do you know why I’m here?”
He was listening.
“Johannes sent me.”
He still didn’t move.
“To make you talk, maybe to make you weak.”
Then she waited for whatever would come next, but his shape against the sky didn’t move for a long time. At first, the way it started out, she didn’t know what it was, but then it was Jesso laughing. He laughed so hard that when he stopped she didn’t know how he had done it. He moved and sat down again.
“That poor sonofabitch,” he said. “That stupid sonofabitch.” He laughed some more. He lit two cigarettes, gave one to her. “So that’s why you’re here.”
“No. That’s why I came.”
“You stayed because of Kator?”
“Because of you,” she said.
“You know he’s through with you, don’t you?”
And then Renette laughed, because what Jesso had said didn’t mean a thing any more. What meant something was the way she felt, the way she suddenly felt that she was through with Johannes. He was out of her fear, her need, and her hopes.
“Jesso,” she said, “I can forget Johannes.”
“Good for you. But I can’t. He’s crapped out before, but I won’t forget him till he craps out for good.”
“Forget him, Jesso.”
“Why? Because he’s your brother?”
She felt he needn’t have said that. It was nasty, the way Helmut might have done it. But Jesso needn’t have.
“I don’t understand you,” she said, because she didn’t.
“Don’t try. Just watch me forget him once I’m through with him. Pretty soon I’m going to be through with him.”
But she still thought of Johannes the way she had thought of in the past, so she didn’t see what Jesso meant, what he was up against. She herself was through with Johannes, not needing him any more, but not being concerned with him didn’t make him her enemy.
“What you said before, Jesso, about hiding. You mean we run, from now on, we keep running and hiding?”
“That’s a crazy way to put it. And maybe we won’t. Maybe Kator will drop dead.”
She didn’t think he would. She was through with him but he was as strong as ever.
After a while she threw her cigarette over the railing. “Jesso,” she said.
He sat still for a minute. Then he flipped his stub and watched it sail across the road.
“Jesso,” she said again.
He got up, took her arm, and they went inside together. Nothing had changed and she wanted him as before. So far, nothing had changed.
It stayed that way for two days, but after two days the dullness of the place started to get her and something was getting Jesso too. It felt unfinished. If he hadn’t been with Renette, it occurred to him, he might not have thought of waiting. He might have taken the train straight back, hit Kator in the head with his hundred thousand bucks, and asked for the rest of it. But there was Renette and it was just as well to let Kator sweat for a while-but not any more. He had Renette, and now, for the last time, Kator was going to pay.
They caught the once-a-day bus back to Bad Brunn and when they passed the white house with the balcony they laughed at each other because they both, for their reasons, were glad to go.
“And after Hannover, Jesso, let’s go to Carlsbad.”
“How about the Riviera?” he said.
“Or the Riviera.”
“Or we can hit out to Africa. I’ve never been in Africa. Maybe big-game hunting, or whatever you do in Africa.”
“I like the Riviera better,” she said. “I know people there. We can stay there as long as we want, Jesso. I have a small chalet in Menton, from Johannes, and many friends who-“
“They’ll keep. For a while we keep moving.”
“Just move. Out of the way, for a while, until-”
“Jesso,” she said. “I don’t like places out of the way. Did you live out of the way?”
“Now and then.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just that. Now and then. The way I live, I gotta watch where I step, and that’s part of it.”
She smiled at him and for a moment it looked half like a frown, but then she shook her head and said, “It sounds too much like running, Jesso. I don’t run any more. I just look and see what I want.”
“What do you want?”
“You,” she said, and she gave him a kiss so that the peasant woman across the aisle made a movement as if she were thinking of crossing herself.
After the local from Bad Brunn they took the through train back to Hannover. They had a compartment and during the warm afternoon Renette slept. Jesso sat by and smoked. He had started to smoke too much. It had started right after deciding to go back to Kator, not to wait any more, because the longer he waited, the more unfinished the business was. He wished Renette would wake up and talk to him. About Kator, for instance. There were a lot of things he might learn about Kator.
He went to the club car, had a drink, and came back. Renette was awake. Her clothes were all over one seat and Jesso could hear the shower behind the door of the tiny bathroom. Then it stopped.
“Jesso?” she called.
“Dry me, Jesso.”
She came out as she was, holding her hair up.
“The big towel,” she said. “See it?”
He saw it. He got the towel and dried her.
“My back red yet?”
She turned for him and after a while she was dry. She lay down on the wall bed and after she stretched she said, “It feels good.”
“You look good.”
“So do you.”
“That’s because I’m dressed,” he said.
“No. Because I’m undressed,” she said, and when he started to get up and come to the bed she said, “No. Stay there, Jesso. Stay there a while longer.”
He sat down and grinned at her.
“Talk to me,” she said.
He played the game and talked.
“Nice weather,” he said. “Looks good on your thigh, that sun there.”
She moved her leg and smiled.
“Say something else. Just as brilliant.”
“Well, like Helmut would say, how about love?”
“Helmut would,” she said. “He always talks about love, one form or another.”
“How did that creep ever get to you, Renette?”
“He never did. We’re just married.”
“Was that another one of Kator’s plans?”
“Yes,” she said, and there was no feeling in it. “It worked, too.”
“What’s von Lohe got that Kator wants?”
“Position. A special kind of position. I don’t know if you knew it, but Johannes has a title, too. But it’s out of touch. Poor and very secluded. The von Lohes know a different set, the industrialists, the families who got rich under the Nazis.”
She shrugged and stretched her arms over her head.
Jesso had a hard time listening right then.
“Not nice, but Kator needs them. And Helmut can help with the introductions. Like the Zimmer matter.”
“Zimmer. I thought you might know.”
“Oh, an industrial combine. One family runs it. They have holdings or plants all over the world, and that’s what interests Johannes.”
“In America too?”
“There too. Why are you interested?”
He thought he might be, but when she asked him she rolled on her stomach, which was a beautiful movement, and Jesso didn’t feel any interest in plants or Zimmers. He went over to the bed and ran his hand down her spine.
“Now I’m hungry,” she said, and she jumped up from the bed. He let her jump and watched her dress. There was time. She wanted to eat in the diner, and after that they sat in the club car instead of in the compartment, and that wasn’t bad either. Jesso had never seen her except alone or at von Lohe’s place, and she was good to watch anyplace. When they went back to the compartment it was almost dark, which was all right with Jesso, but as soon as he had the door shut the conductor came through the corridor calling something or other. He went by and kept calling.
“What’s he want?”
Renette smiled, sat down by the window, and said, “Hannover Station, fifteen minutes,” and then she cocked her head at Jesso, and he thought that if she had known the expression she would have said, “So do me something; go ahead.”
“So you’re safe,” he said, and they both had a laugh.
It changed by the time they were in the taxi. The thought of Kator had started to irritate him, his beef and the stance like a Buddha and the mind like a machine. When they passed the intersection where he had left the ambulance he saw it was still there, with more parking tickets. But even that didn’t amuse him. For once he wasn’t eager to see Kator or to think out the next step before Kator took it. Jesso leaned back in the seat and put his arm around Renette. She leaned, took his other hand, but he sat up again, watching the traffic.
The row of villas had dots of light all along, but the von Lohe place was lit up as if for a coronation. Jesso paid the cab driver and took Renette up the drive. They carried no suitcases. They passed long cars all the way up and Hofer was at the open door, ready with a guest book.
“Evening, Hofer. Don’t bother. We’re not seeing anybody.”
That shindig wasn’t for him, anyway, so Jesso turned to the stairs. Kator could wait. Renette was ahead of him, but then she stopped on the stairs.
“Up with you,” said Jesso.
“He wants you, I think,” and she nodded toward the hall.
Jesso turned and saw Kator. He hadn’t heard the sharp little steps because of the party noises.
“I’ve been expecting you, Jesso.”
That bastard had gall. Not a hair out of place, soup and fish as if they had been invented for him, and looking cool as ice.
“So you got what you wanted.”
“Hardly,” Kator said. He made a stiff smile.
“And that’s the way it’ll be till you start playing it my way.”
“You’re not complaining, are you, Jesso? It paid well.”
“And I’m keeping it.”
“The wages of war,” Kator said, bowing briefly.
Jesso turned to go but Renette hadn’t moved yet. She started to go when Kator stopped her.
“After you have changed, Renette, please see me in my study.”
“She’s going upstairs,” Jesso said.
“Naturally. And after she has changed-”
Kator seemed to need a moment to collect himself, but then it came out as smoothly as ever.
“I will wait for you in the library, Renette. Afterward, there is the party.”
“But Johannes, I’d rather-”
“She’ll see you in the library,” Jesso said. “Without changing. And no party.”
Kator seemed to swell out. When he didn’t say anything, Jesso told him, “And I’ll wait here. So don’t be long.” Then he stepped aside and waved Renette down the stairs.
“And tomorrow, Kator, you and I talk turkey.”
Kator heard it but turned on his heel, following Renette.
She was waiting for him by the desk. He stopped in front of her, looked her up and down, told her to sit.
“I’ll stand, Johannes.”
“Very well. I suppose you are bursting with information, my dear.”
“You mean about Jesso?”
“I was thinking of Jesso, yes. What have you learned?”
“I’ve learned this, Johannes. He doesn’t talk about business, but after a while he talked about you. He has no illusions about you, Johannes, and it does not frighten him.”
“This much I knew.”
“He is dangerous, Johannes.”
Kator sat down on one of the couches, crossed his legs, and spread his arms along the backrest. The pose made him look more bull-necked than usual.
“You stand there, Renette, and find it necessary to warn me?”
“You are my brother.”
Kator gave one short hard laugh. Then the big nostrils seemed to move up between his eyes.
“And Jesso, what is he to you?”
“You love him?”
It surprised Kator when she just shrugged.
“He means a lot, Johannes.”
“And the wedding, my dear. When will I announce the wedding?”
“I don’t think I’ll marry him.”
“And when will you return to us, my dear, to resume your proper functions?”
“If I leave him it will have nothing to do with you. Not any more.”
Kator stopped playing. He understood how she had changed, and more, he understood something that Renette herself might not yet know; that she would now be capable of leaving Jesso just as she had left her brother. It was a fact that pleased him, a fact that he understood. She had become like himself, in a way. She had gained his kind of freedom to choose and discard. So for the moment he left her alone. He made it light.
“Would you like me to tell Helmut about this?”
“Suit yourself,” she said, and went upstairs.
When Jesso heard Renette pass his door, he gave her a few minutes and then went to her suite, behind the bend of the hallway. Downstairs there was music and polite laughter, but Jesso hardly heard it.
The first thing Jesso saw was the maid leaving, and there was no argument about it this time. She was carrying Renette’s dress and a few other things, and she left the door ajar for him when she saw him coming.
The big light was on in the room, so Jesso turned it off. Just the faint one by the bed was left. Renette was humming behind the door where the dressing room was. Jesso didn’t go in. He went back to his room and got himself pajamas. He hadn’t noticed before, but there was a small crest on one pocket; the von Lohe brand, most likely.
She was waiting for him. He could see her through the milky white thing she was wearing, white where it gathered and live skin tones where the thing stretched.
“Don’t come any closer,” she said. “Your suit scratches.”
Then she turned for him, wanting him to look. “I’ve done all the looking I’m going to,” he said.
“I’ll yell,” she said.
“I know you will.” But he didn’t go any closer. He went to the bathroom and took a shower. When he was through they pulled the quilted seat she had in the bedroom to the window and sat there looking out over the garden. The watery moon sent shafts of light here and there, and glittered on the cut glass of the decanter by the seat. It was a sweet liqueur with a curled gold leaf floating along the bottom, the kind of drink Jesso didn’t even know. He watched how she tasted it, and he had some and thought it was good too. They had more and sat on the seat.
“Turn some,” he said. “You’re poking me.”
“I have big hips.”
“If I turn I’ll just poke you somewhere else.”
She turned and they sat still.
“You know, I’ve never seen that garden at night.”
“I haven’t either.”
“Look at it sometime.”
“I’m not looking now.”
“I know, Jesso.”
“Done with your glass?”
“Put it down for me, please?”
“Just drop it.”
She dropped it and looked where it rolled. “I might step on it in the dark.”
“You won’t. I’ll carry you.”
“Carry me now, Jesso.”
And then the door made an oiled movement, swung wide, and the big light overhead came on like an explosion. Jesso let go and jerked around just as Helmut closed the door. Then Jesso’s voice came like a bellow.
“What in hell do you want?”
It shook the Baron. It was an insult to which there was no answer. A moment later he drew himself up and sounded cultured.
“I’m sorry the light startled you. It must have-”
“It did. So turn it off.”
This made another pause and when the Baron found his voice again it was edged.
“Actually,” and he smiled with his mouth, “I came to see my wife.”
“Renette,” and he looked past Jesso, “I would like you to come now.”
She had turned in the seat and made a face. “But Helmut, I don’t understand your-“
“As your husband I demand-”
“Shut up, Helmut. You interrupted her.”
Renette frowned. “Just what do you mean, Helmut?”
“I know what that sonofabitch means!” Jesso was barking. He jumped up from the seat and watched the Baron take a step back. The Baron fiddled with his cuff links and his voice had a slice to it.
“Do not take my leniency for granted, Jesso.” He started a thin smile. “I will overlook your intrusion. However, at the moment I desire the presence of my wife. I assure you she is well able to forego your-“
“Get out.” It wasn’t very loud.
“Why, Jesso. You have affrontery-”
Then Jesso roared again. “You think you can talk like that just because she’s your wife? Now scram!” Jesso went across the room fast, but by the time he got to the door it had closed again and the Baron was gone. He was bolting down the hallway like a puppet on too many wires, even forgetting about his hair, which had flapped out of place, showing the skull.
Jesso was down at eight and Hofer served his breakfast in the long room next to the solarium. He would eat till eight-fifteen, smoke a cigarette, take a walk in the garden. He would walk in the garden like a gentleman, because Kator never showed till after ten, when he had breakfast and read his mail. He wouldn’t be ready for business till close to eleven. That was two hours anyway, two hours to walk in the garden like a goddamn gentleman and maybe think everything over again.
Hofer came back.
“I don’t want anything and I’m not done, so stop popping in here or whatever you call it.”
“Herr Kator is waiting for you in his study.”
Jesso jumped up and made for the door.
“There is no need to interrupt your-”
“You finish it, Hofer.”
Kator looked cold and impersonal. He got up from his desk. He was ready for business.
“Get your coat, Jesso. We are leaving for Berlin.”
“Another dry run?”
“I am going with you. Please get your coat.”
The airport was far out of the city and the plane was Kator’s. It was a two-engine with a separate pilot’s cabin and the outside was painted gray, a thick gray, as if there used to be some other paint underneath. They climbed aboard and took off almost immediately.
Neither of them talked. Kator read papers that he took out of his brief case and wrote on a pad. Jesso looked out of the window. Once Kator went to the front and handed the pilot a message he wanted radioed, then sat down again as before. Jesso looked out of the window again. There wasn’t much to see. He’d got used to the constant overcast over Hannover and was almost surprised when the plane broke through the layer and there was sun. Underneath there was nothing but clouds.
That changed after a while. Occasionally the sun broke through underneath, and when the plane entered the traffic pattern over the Tempelhof airport the country below had a glassy brilliance.
The car that waited for them was Kator’s and the chauffeur wore the same livery as the one in Hannover.
“The Klausewitz address,” said Kator. “But go down the Charlottenburger Chaussee.”
“It’s out of the way, sir.”
“Just the same.”
When they came out of the Tiergarten the wide street ended on the Potzdammer Platz. Jesso recognized it from newsreels he’d seen.
“Take a slow swing past the gate,” Kator said. He leaned toward his window and looked across to the Russian sector.
“Historical interest, Jesso. Actually nothing has changed.”
“Where was your office, Kator-Unter den Linden? War Department, maybe?”
“No. A much smaller building. Not far from there.”
“And what a beautiful uniform you used to wear.”
Kator turned slightly, looked almost bored. “I never wore a uniform, Jesso.”
“That figures. And if you’re through sight-seeing, I’m dying to meet your friends. We going across?”
“I arranged the meeting in this sector. Your passport is hardly good enough for the East Zone-at this short notice.”
“How about yours?”
“I manage. Erich, the Klausewitz place,” and the big car slid off, back toward the West.
Kator turned in his seat, ready to talk. It turned out to be the briefing voice.
“This will pain you, Jesso, but for both our sakes I advise you to remain-uh-polite. In view of the stakes, you should be able to manage it. The man we shall meet does not have my leniency, nor can he be forced to adopt it. For the sake of our business and your well-being, please be warned.”
“I’ll be like a mouse.”
The Klausewitz address was nothing special, one of a row of clean-looking, modern apartment buildings. The apartment itself was on the top floor. There was no name on the door, just a number. And there was nothing unusual about the inside, just an apartment with several rooms. The only remarkable feature was a compact switchboard in the small entrance hall. The girl who had let them in sat down again and then one of the doors opened.
The man was nothing extra, either. He was small, dressed in gray, and if Jesso had tried to pick him out of a group of ten the next day he wouldn’t have been able to do it. The man bowed and closed the door behind them. He sat down on a metal chair next to a steel desk and waved at the couch by the wall. His desk chair stayed empty.
“Von Kator, I am pleased to see you.”
They bowed to each other. Jesso didn’t think they were friends.
“And Mr. Jesso?”
“Mr. Jesso, Mr. Delf.”
That was all, and then Mr. Delf put out his hand and took the folded sheet of onionskin that Kator held out. While Delf looked at the figures, a pencil in his right hand made monotonous spirals on a pad of paper by the edge of the desk.
“Have you microfilmed this?”
“I admire you, von Kator. If it should be seen by someone else, who would worry about a piece of onionskin with rows of meaningless figures? But you will supply the meaning, yes, Mr. Jesso?” The left hand let the paper slide on the desk and the right hand kept making spirals.
Jesso frowned. “Look, I came to sell, but what are you paying with?”
Delf just kept spiraling.
“Money, of course. In the usual way.”
Kator said, “A detail I have not explained to Mr. Jesso. Mr. Jesso requires a lot of explaining.”
Jesso looked at Kator. With Delf in the room for contrast, Kator suddenly looked colorful and vital.
Kator went on: “You deliver the correct information and Mr. Delf will sign over the agreed amount. That completes the transaction.”
“How much is he paying?”
“I am paying five hundred thousand,” said Delf, “in dollars.”
Nobody batted an eye, so Jesso didn’t either.
“Who decided that?” Jesso sounded gruff.
There was a pause this time while Delf and Kator looked at each other as if they had never met.
Kator was hoarse. “Are you quibbling, Jesso?”
“I’m asking. I want to know how you got that price.”
“It is my price,” said Delf. He had stopped making spirals, and for the first time since he had said anything he had an identity. Jesso kept still for a moment, stuck his hands in his pockets.
“Where’s the money? I don’t see any suitcase of money standing around.”
“I mentioned this earlier, Jesso.” Kator’s voice was getting sharp. “The money will be signed over.”
“I don’t even see any checkbook lying around.”
“Perhaps I might explain it,” Delf said. “You can see, Mr. Jesso, that an amount of this size would attract attention. It would do so if I drew the money in cash and it would do the same if you cashed my check for five hundred thousand. This is to be avoided at all costs.”
“Just a minute. There’s no check for five hundred thousand. There’s one for Kator and one for me and they are both for two hundred and fifty.”
It wasn’t news to Delf, but even if it had been he wouldn’t have acted differently.
“I mentioned that figure as an illustration only. Actually, we proceed in an accustomed manner. There will be some stock transfers, there will be diverse payments for services rendered to a number of companies with which Herr von Kator is affiliated, and your little personal arrangement will be settled between you two.”
“Like hell it will!”
This time even Delf looked human.
“You are new to this,” he said after a while. “My advice-”
“I don’t need it. I’m new to this, but not green.”
“Your idiom is not clear to me.”
“I want cash. Clear enough?”
For a while Delf’s spirals got blacker and tighter. The pencil made a thin sound. When Delf suddenly coiled the spirals the other way, everybody noticed it.
Even Jesso felt relieved when Delf gave a deep sigh and looked at Kator. Then Delf spoke to Kator as if they were alone in the room.
“Have you tried everything, von Kator?”
“It’s no use. He’s in.”
“We used to be very clever with this sort of thing, you remember?”
“I remember. The quick methods are self-defeating in this case. His information seems complicated.”
Jesso got it then. He listened as if they were discussing somebody else’s operation. An operation without ether, maybe.
“And the long methods defeat our time schedule,” said Delf.
“I know Mr. Jesso quite well by now. I suggest you pay me as in the past and make different arrangements for him.”
“What have you tried, von Kator?”
Jesso remembered what he had tried. He had tried frightening him to death, shooting him to death, tempting him to death. The only thing he hadn’t tried was giving in. Even now. And Delf was worse. Delf could sit there and make tired doodles while going over in his mind to break a man’s arm so it took half an hour, how to kill him while keeping him alive.
Jesso’s fingers were painfully clenched and a thick sweat was growing over his skin. Everywhere. Except on his face. He rarely sweated on his face. That was good. His hands were in his pockets, so they couldn’t see that. His face was dry, and nothing showed there. Only his jaw had started to set with a grip like murder and any moment it would show, it would show with a crazy jumping and trembling as if he had some nervous disease.
“Your judgment must do in this case, von Kator. Mr. Jesso?”
He hadn’t heard any of it, but now the tone was different and the room was just a room, with Kator looking correct and Delf making a simple doodle.
“I hear you.”
“While cash is out of the question, Mr. Jesso, I can agree to make deposits in your name in any bank.”
“O.K.,” he said. “O.K., do that. Do it now.”
“What banks, Mr. Jesso?”
“I got an account at Chase. Put it there.”
“Only one bank?”
He was right. One bank was no good. The bulge would show too much. Jesso sat up. He was just getting to be himself again and it made him sit up.
“How do I know you’re depositing? How do I know this finishes it off and-“
“Mr. Jesso. I don’t see Herr von Kator behaving in this stupid, suspicious manner, and I also fail to see why you-“
“That’s because you and Kator are buddies, but Kator and me aren’t such good friends any more. I’m going by that, Delf, because with you I don’t know what to go on. Now, figure me out how to make a deposit and I know about it.”
“What banks, Mr. Jesso?”
“What banks, what banks! I give a damn what banks? The one in Hannover, right after the square where you leave the villa for town.”
“He means the Handelsbank,” said Kator. He had a smile on his face.
Jesso didn’t see it because he was getting impatient. “All right, the Handelsbank near that square. Fifty thousand.”
This time Kator laughed out loud.
“And what are you hee-hawing about?”
“It’s von Kator’s bank,” said Delf.
“So maybe they haven’t got room for another depositor?”
Kator wasn’t laughing any more; just sort of a grin was on his face.
“He owns it,” said Delf.
Jesso was going to yell again when Kator made a wave with his hand.
“It’s a legitimate bank, Jesso, and you are quite safe there. Just the thought struck me as amusing. I pay two per cent.”
“One buck to the Handelsbank,” said Jesso.
“You’re being ridiculous. I told you the bank is legitimate, and when I am legitimate, Jesso, I am completely so.”
Jesso believed that.
“Fifty thousand into Kator’s jug, and let me see how you do it, Delf.”
“I’ll call the bank by phone and-”
“I’ll call the bank by phone.”
“Certainly. And request the confirmation by wire. That is, if the phone isn’t enough for you.”
After ten minutes Jesso was fifty thousand richer. “What other banks, Mr. Jesso?”
“Give me a Berlin directory.”
Delf coughed lightly and shook his head. “Fifty thousand is the total amount I will deposit for you in this country I explained to you that our transaction must appear as unimportant as possible. I would suggest you pick American banks. I can make payment there through local sources that cannot be identified with me at all.”
“I’m here, Delf, not in the States.”
“I have compromised with you; now you compromise with me.”
Jesso thought about it for a moment, then let it go.
Gluck wasn’t going to find him any more easily in the States than in Europe, and this deal was coming to a head. It wasn’t worth the delay.
“Chase National, fifty thousand.”
“Will you speak to them for confirmation or do you require a cable?”
It took half an hour while Jesso listened to the operator on the second phone on the desk. Then Delf started to talk and the man across the ocean answered.
“Is this Mr. Troy? Mr. Troy, this is Delf. Yes, thank you, quite well. You have an account in the name of Jack Jesso. Please deposit fifty thousand dollars to Mr. Jesso’s name and charge it to the Antwerp Gem Importers account… Yes, if you please… Indeed, indeed, she is as well as ever… I will, Mr. Troy, and the same to Mrs. Troy.”
That was that, and Jesso was one hundred thousand richer.
“Manufacturer’s Trust, New York.”
“Very well. However, the further deposits will be more complicated. The Antwerp account is the only one in the States with which my name is associated.”
“Manufacturer’s Trust, twenty thousand.”
Then came three others, ten thousand each, all of them in New York, and Jesso was worth one hundred and fifty thousand. He figured on putting the rest into places on the Coast, but that didn’t make sense. The less time he spent in the States collecting his loot, the better. His plans for the future had nothing to do with that side of the globe. But he had run out of banks, so he put fifty thousand in the Bank of America, Los Angeles, then American Express, New York, twenty thousand, and since he couldn’t think of anything else, another Los Angeles Bank, thirty thousand.
Jesso was worth a quarter of a million. Not counting the hundred thousand that he had stashed at Express in Hannover. Then Delf said, “And now for your part, Mr. Jesso” They looked at each other. “Which of these sets of figures shows production of the trigger?”
It didn’t occur to Jesso to stall. The deal was on, half of it finished, and he was next. Delf must have known that about Jesso. He had paid first. Or he had known that Jesso wouldn’t talk unless he was paid first. In any case, Jesso was next.
“Joe Snell kept saying, ‘Honeywell high.’ The high column of figures shows production of the trigger.”
Delf nodded, stopped making the spirals, and went over the columns. He checked it, folded the paper, and slid it into his pocket. That was all. Then he spiraled again.
But Kator wasn’t so calm. The slow rage grew on his face like an attack of the hives, and when his mouth came open as if it hurt, Jesso thought that the man would scream. Only a croak came out, a breathy, articulate croak.
“'Honeywell high'! That’s all-'Honeywell high'! A complicated bit of remembering, a complex piece of instruction that saved you all this time from-from-” His eyes shone as if he were seeing some swift, sharp torture that would have dragged anything out of him and now it was lost. He sat by when Jesso started to laugh, long and loud, and he sat by while Jesso got it out of his system because he was through with waiting and free to laugh. If Kator hadn’t been convinced before, he knew it now This time Jesso had told the truth. That’s the way that laugh had gone.
From now on it was an easy kind of waiting for Jesso. They sat around to wait for the cables to come, the last formality that would put the touch on the deal. They came one after the other, until four in the morning, and each time Jesso folded one and stuck it away, it was one more step into one great big future.
He didn’t really come back down to earth till they got outside. A blank sun was over the street, and the early morning looked anesthetic. It made Jesso feel dirty. He ached in the back and his shirt felt old. He could feel the socks in his shoes and it made him nervous.
“Where’s that damn car of your’s, Kator?”
They stood at the curb where the sprinkled asphalt started to steam in the sun. They sprinkled the streets. They glazed them early in the morning so that the poor bastard who had come out on the street real early in the morning could feel his eyeballs get sore in the sun.
“Didn’t you hear me?”
Kator had heard. He turned slowly, and when Jesso saw the look on that face he really came to. Kator was just getting ready. Kator wasn’t through by a long shot The hate on Kator’s face was distilled.
So Kator didn’t have to say a word for Jesso to see it all.
“You’re ready to fight?”
Then the car rolled up.
“I shall see you, Jack Jesso.” Kator opened the door.
For the moment it threw him. He had to blink and remember that Kator did things in a different way.
“You see this street, Jesso? It is empty,” Kator said. “Good-by, Jesso, and run as fast as you can.”
But when he got into his car Jesso pushed after him, sat down, slammed the door.
“Sporting chance, huh?” Jesso tried laughing. He gave it up quickly and talked. “I’m sticking close like a Siamese twin. I’m gonna sit on your back or in your pocket and watch you move. And if you move down a dark alley to get me so I can catch a slug, I’ll be so close, Kator, you’ll catch it in the same place I do, only first.”
“Get out of my car.”
Jesso leaned back, crossed his legs. “I left my toothbrush at your house.”
Kator wasn’t ready to laugh, and above all not on Jesso’s terms.
They drove to Tempelhof and they flew to Hannover and each wished the other was dead. They tried it quiet at first, but the tension between them was too close to the surface. It bound them together like steel wires so that Kator’s tight collar became Jesso’s discomfort and Jesso’s throat became Kator’s pain. And the next move perhaps would be big enough, would be enough of a shock to break things wide open. Each was the other’s disease as they sat scratching at time, straining to find the place where the cut could be made.
“You can stop chewing that lip of yours, Kator. You’ll eat yourself up.”
“It annoys you, Jesso? I hope it stays with you each time you face a meal.”
“You know, when I can’t think of a dirty word from now on, I’ll say Kator.”
“It is remarkable. I have never felt like this before, Jesso. The thought of you does not make me hate you. It is more like hate of myself, and that is the worst state of all.”
But it never broke, just got tighter. They probed each other for the clearest pain and each winced when his own strikes struck where he wanted it.
“Your toothbrush, you say. Might that be my sister?”
“They never made a thing that was related to you, Kator.”
“You think she is yours, then?”
“It wouldn’t mean anything to you.”
“You are right, Jesso. It is the other way around.”
“To her you’re just a whoremaster.”
“And she doesn’t mind it, Jesso.”
“That’s good. It’s good she doesn’t really know you, Kator.”
Both of them stopped at the same time. They left the plane and found Kator’s limousine waiting. Kator stopped talking about his sister and Jesso stopped talking about his woman. But he had to think about her. He thought about her as the only sane spot in the strong twist of his hate, the only spot where hate had no meaning, and so he really thought of Renette for the first time. He found it was hard to think of her. He remembered the tone of her voice, the feel of her skin, the way she stood, but all those things were parts only and the whole woman was hard to think about. As if he knew her so well that there was no point in thinking of it. If he were questioning her, any part of her, it would be different. But there was nothing to question, nothing to think, because she was all his and no doubts.
They crossed the square with the Herrenhauser Allee opposite and both of them had the same thought. It was a hope. It was as if the end had to come now, and the tight pull between them soon had to crack.
But when it happened it didn’t crack and there was no drama. Neither wanted to think about it, so it happened as if nothing happened at all. The car slid up and stopped by the door. Hofer was there. They saw Hofer stand there in his striped pants and frock coat, and they didn’t fit, because no clothes are made to fit an old man.
Hofer opened the car door and Kator got out. He said, “How are you, Hofer? It is good to be back.”
Then Jesso got out and said, “Good to see you, Hofer.”
Hofer followed them into the hall, where he took Kator’s coat. Jesso wasn’t wearing any.
“Your mail is in the study,” said Hofer, and Kator went there.
The dim hall was big and clean. Jesso thought of going upstairs, to the end of the corridor maybe, but then he stayed downstairs and went to the kitchen. They gave him a cup of coffee and he had it there leaning against the long pantry shelf. The maid was putting a tea service away.
“How’s Frau von Lohe?” Jesso asked.
“Quite well, sir. She is resting.”
Quite well, sir. Jesso gave up and lit a cigarette. Then he asked for another cup of coffee. He had it finished before he knew how, and he stamped his cigarette out on the saucer. He kept crushing the butt as if he were trying to burn through the porcelain.
What was he waiting for? He pushed himself away from the pantry shelf and made for the door. When he found himself still holding the cup, he almost threw it against the wall. He went back to the pantry, put down the cup, and got out.
She was resting. She was lying on the bed, wearing a house thing that went down to her feet, and when Jesso came in she didn’t turn at first because she was sleeping.
“Renette,” he said, and he stood looking down at her. Then he said her name again, low this time, but his voice was much more urgent because suddenly waiting was almost like pain.
She had a nice way of waking up. She opened her eyes slowly, saw him, and smiled, and then she lay there a while longer.
“Renette, do you hear me? It’s done. We’ve got to move fast.”
“You’re back,” she said. “You didn’t take long.”
“Renette, did you…”
He stopped then because she sat up and yawned. But she had been listening. She sat up and took Jesso’s hands.
“I’m happy for you,” she said. “It’s over now and you have what you wanted.”
“Almost. Listen, Renette. I’ve got to go to the States. They paid off through some banks in the States. So before something goes sour, we got to jump.”
She got up, fully awake now.
“You have to leave, Jesso?”
“I said the money is in the States.”
“You have no money at all? I can-”
“Listen, Renette. Most of it is over there, so here’s what we do.” He sat down on the bed and pulled her down next to him. “I’m going to ask your brother for a passport. The one I got now couldn’t get across the street without his help, and I want him to fix me a good one.”
“He will. He can-”
“He will like hell. Not unless you help me, Renette. You’ve got to pressure him some way so he gets me a passport quick, because the longer I wait from here on in, the more time he has to figure himself an angle.”
“Stay here,” she said. “We’ll go somewhere and you send for the money. You know, Jesso, we can-“
“Damn it, listen to me. We got to get to the States for this thing. There are angles you don’t know a thing about. Tax, immigration, and a dozen others. Your brother can play any one of them if he’s got the time.”
She got up and pushed her hands into the big pockets of her gown. It almost looked to Jesso as if she were suddenly twice as far away.
“Of course I’ll help you. Johannes will give you that passport.” She turned, leaned against the satin couch by the window. “How long will you be gone?”
“Perhaps-” Then he got up too. “What in the hell are you talking about?”
She just looked back at him. Jesso came closer.
“You’re going along, don’t you hear?”
“You don’t really have to go there, do you?”
He got very patient then. “Look, Renette. You’re arguing about something you don’t know a thing about. Pack something, get me that passport. I’ll get the tickets, and in a few days we’ll come back to-to whatever you had in mind. But don’t argue with me about this thing. It’s too big. You hear me?”
“Of course, I see what you mean.” She took her hands out of the pockets and started to hold her arms. There was a rare indecision in her posture. “Perhaps I mean this, Jesso. Over here, Jesso, I know you, I want you, we are what I know now. You and I. But over there you must be somebody else. I’ve never known you over there and your life is perhaps quite different. Perhaps not, Jesso, but I don’t know. I want you now, here, and not later and somewhere else. You must not start to think of me as something you own, keep around wherever you happen to be. It would not be the same. What we have between us is just the opposite of that. It is the very thing you have given me, Jesso, and it is freedom.” She put her hands on his shoulders. “I want you here. So I’ll wait for you here, Jesso.”
“You said a few days only.”
She wasn’t going to budge and he knew it. So just a few days. She’d wait and he had to wait. But it didn’t feel right to him.
“You can’t stay here. Dear Johannes, you know, isn’t going to-”
She just laughed and started to turn. “I’m safe here, Jesso.” She walked to the dressing room.
He followed her and watched while she changed to a dress. He lit a cigarette and watched, leaning against the doorframe.
“Just one thing, Renette.” She looked up. “Stay close to the house, stay away from Helmut, and watch Kator like a hawk. When I get back here I don’t want any damage.”
“Now come along.”
He took her downstairs and Kator was in the library. One of the files was open and Kator was leafing through a folder. He stopped when he saw them and shut the drawer. It clanked like a metal door.
“You are overstaying your welcome, Jesso.”
“Good-by, then.” Kator carried his folder to the desk.
“I got something for you,” Jesso said, and he tossed Snell’s doctored passport on top of Kator’s folder. “And from you I want a going-away present.”
“Johannes, I want you to give Jesso a passport. A good one.”
Kator was leaning back with his hands across his front and there was no way of telling what he thought. For that matter, Jesso couldn’t even figure why Kator hadn’t made his move yet. Or perhaps he had, only the trap hadn’t sprung yet. Or maybe Kator was really through. The deal was closed and paid for and that was it. Kator might be that sort.
“When do you want it?” Kator asked.
If this was bluff, Jesso would play it the same way. “Tomorrow. At eight.”
“Very well,” Kator said. “I still have your pictures.”
Jesso felt flat. Kator had been easy before, but not that easy.
“Provided one thing,” Kator said.
Here it came.
“My sister remains behind.”
If that was his angle, he was welcome to it. Jesso looked at Renette and she looked back. She played it well and made the right kind of face. It had been easy.
“Have the passport ready,” Jesso said. “She’ll stay.” Then he took Renette’s arm and they left the room.
When they got out to the hall they didn’t know where to go. They didn’t know why they felt that way, because everything had gone all right and in only a few days Jesso would be back. They walked into the garden and for a while they leaned over the stone ballustrade of the terrace and looked at the winding walks.
“He didn’t even make a stir,” Jesso said.
“I told you he wouldn’t,” Renette said.
“But he meant to. What if we were going together? That’s how he meant it.”
“I know,” she said. She took some gravel and tossed little stones at a flower bed. “But it doesn’t matter.”
Jesso said nothing and Renette tossed some more stones.
“Renette. It does matter.”
“What he did?”
“No, you. That you won’t come.”
“That doesn’t matter either. Because you agreed.”
“You make it sound easy,” he said, and hearing his own voice, he wondered at the change in it.
“Jesso,” she said. “You sound like good-by.”
But when they stood there longer, not speaking, the damp air, maybe, or the lead in the low sky got to him, and Renette too didn’t feel the ease any more and the sure sense of herself, and when he said, “Come,” she followed him, very eager, and they went upstairs without saying anything and closed the door behind them.
Then they made love as if it were the only time, with no before and no after.
He watched the runway fall away and then the city where it lay flat below with a green park spreading at one end and factory chimneys at the other. It disappeared after a while as they entered the overcast. Jesso pulled out his passport again. The green cover was properly worn and inside there were his name and his picture and his signature, and there was nothing wrong with any of it as far as he could tell. He stuck it back in his pocket with the envelope and the airplane tickets. One of them said Hannover to Frankfurt-am-Main and the other one hadn’t been used yet. It said Frankfurt-am-Main to New York. There was a return ticket too. A week at the most and he’d be back. Everything was running so smoothly that he would be back even sooner.
Jesso sat in his seat and didn’t feel right, even though the feeling made no sense. Renette? How could he feel uneasy about something he wanted so much and had altogether? Helmut? Why waste time thinking about a thing like him? Perhaps Kator. He thought of Kator when the plane went down at Frankfurt, when he got off and went along the airport corridor to the other ramp. His connecting flight was there. Jesso stood in the line that went through customs, and if there was any reason to think of Kator, this was it. Maybe the passport wasn’t as good as it looked. Almost Jesso’s turn in line. Maybe they’d take one look, pull him out, and that was Kator’s play. Jesso could see the two guys in green, customs officers. Two German policemen with those crazy shakos on their heads, like flowerpots. And two M.P.'s. They wore khaki and white for the occasion.
The line moved and Jesso stepped closer. He had a very calm thought and it was that he’d kill somebody if they tried to pull him out. “Pass, bitte,” and Jesso handed it over. Then he got it back and walked through the gate. Then the plane, the stewardess who was a living doll from Cleveland, Ohio, and the seat. The seat. The plane took off and that was that.
He didn’t take a deep breath of relief, because he hadn’t been holding his breath. It was a weird state to know that nothing was right and to find nothing wrong that he could do anything about; and weirder still to know that even inside of him nothing was happening. They shipped eels that way, curled inside a block of ice in suspended animation. The whole trip went by without any real passage of time. He didn’t come out of it until the pilot invited everyone over the loud-speaker to look down below, the United States coast was coming up. Jesso thought it was the weirdest yet to be going in one direction in order to go in the other.
Jesso had only one suitcase and got through customs fast. He took a taxi from Idlewild and they made the Queens Midtown Tunnel in less than an hour. It was five in the morning. He knew a nice family hotel on Forty-fifth Street and he took a room at $7.50 with bath. Then he went to sleep until nine. He woke up the way he rarely did, with a quick, wide-awake jump, but there were just the Chinese mandarins on the wallpaper and the thing with the house rules on the door. He showered and shaved and wanted breakfast. There was a hamburger place across the street and he had an English muffin with jam and drank coffee.
That was at nine-forty-five. He smoked a cigarette in the taxi and from nine-thirty till three in the afternoon he kept the same cab going from one bank to the next. He got some cash and a lot of traveler’s checks. They cost a fortune, but that was the least of his worries. He was stepping out of a bank stuffing an envelope into his brief case when he came awake as he hadn’t been since the trip had started. Manufacturers Trust Company, it said next to him on the brass plate. That time in Delf’s office with nothing on his mind but racking up a list of New York banks, that’s when he had picked Manufacturers Trust. He would; he knew it well enough. He shouldn’t have, because Gluck’s office was in the building right across the street.
Jesso hefted the brief case and made for his taxi at the curb. It was double-parked, so all he saw was the rear fender, and then the fender started moving. Jesso made it to the curb, ran out between the cars that stood there, and yelled, but the hacky either didn’t hear or didn’t want to, because the cab was off, moving with the traffic.
“He stood there twenty minutes, bud. At twenty minutes even I draw the line,” said a cop, coming out from between the cars.
He didn’t look mean, he didn’t look as if he were part of a plot, or maybe planted there, maybe no cop at all. Jesso was wide awake now, so much so that he felt he was going to shake any minute.
“He’ll be back,” said the cop. “Just making a circle around the block.” He turned and walked across the street.
Jesso watched him leave, knowing it was just that, a cop moving a cab that was double-parked too long and nothing more, but Jesso felt the sweat creep out even though it was all over. Till then he hadn’t known just how much asleep he’d been, hiding his fear that something would go wrong under a thick blanket of nothingness. He yanked at his tie, wiped a hand across his face, and looked down the street. He felt like a fool for the way he’d taken that business with the cab. Any more of this and it wouldn’t need any Kator to trip him up. Just keep stumbling along with almost a quarter of a million under his arm, just keep goofing the way he’d picked a bank right across from Gluck’s place, and he wouldn’t have to wait for any monster mind like Kator’s to spring a trap for him.
Jesso didn’t see the cab right then, so he looked elsewhere, alert now. He saw the guy in the Brooks Brothers suit across the street and the way he watched the backside of the girl in front of him. He saw the same cop down by the fire plug, and this time he was pinning a ticket on a car. And when the two-tone Buick pulled out of the basement garage opposite, Jesso saw that too. He saw Murph behind the wheel before Murph saw Jesso, but then he didn’t jump back to the curb behind the cars, because first he took another look down the length of the street. No taxi yet. Jump, Jesso. The subway, two blocks down. That damn taxi…
That’s when he jumped.
The Buick had swung around and Murph slowed down. He blinked at Jesso at the bank, trying to get the door open, but it was past three-thirty so Murph got a good look.
Jesso had seen him too. Gluck sat in back, spread out, and when Murph started his yelling Gluck had looked up, but he was looking at Murph. There are millions of Jacks. Jesso didn’t see him by the bank, turning away from the door, not knowing whether to run or stand right there because his taxi was coming down the street. That taxi was going to pull up right behind Gluck’s Buick. And Murphy, stopping the car to crane his neck-was that idiot ever going to catch on and move? Then Gluck looked up again. He said something and Jesso could imagine what it sounded like. If Gluck looked down again… Gluck lowered his head and Jesso made his sprint. And that’s when Gluck looked up again.
There wasn’t any turning back, and if this was going to be the end, it was going to be full of action. There wasn’t going to be any more waiting around for dreamed-up traps to spring, because there weren’t any. And no more clouts on the head in some Brooklyn button shop, because from now on Jesso had a pair of eyes in the back of his head. He slammed the taxi door shut and yelled, “Drive like hell.” Just for good measure he threw a bill next to the cabbie to make it legal. Forty-five bucks was the fare so far; the rest was tip. The cabbie grabbed the C note and took off. Jesso sat behind him and the cabbie hadn’t missed a thing; how Jesso sat and how he held that gun. The taxi took a wild swing around the Buick to get clear, because one door had opened and Gluck had scrambled out. Through the rear window Jesso saw Gluck taking the wheel. Good old trusty Murph. Gluck didn’t trust him.
They could have made it easy the way the cabbie started to roll except that soon all of Manhattan would have known about it. About one crazy cab, one crazy Buick, and traffic scattering itself into a snarl wherever they went.
“Pull up,” Jesso said, “and then keep going.”
He jumped near the corner and ran. Going down the subway stairs, he caught a glimpse of the Buick roaring by and the taxi up ahead turning into a one-way street.
The subway was good. He could barrel along underground and like a mole come up just about anywhere. He took the first train coming through and then watched for the stations. He could come up anywhere, today, tomorrow-and then he remembered about Gluck. That bastard wasn’t one man, he was a thousand. And any place Jesso would come up there’d be a subway station, and in that station would be one of Gluck’s gorillas. Unless he got out now.
He passed two more stops, just for the distance, and then he got out. It looked good. It wasn’t far from Beekman Place. He was fingering for a dime while he was still running up the stairs, and then he was inside a drugstore, dialing a number.
“Bard residence,” said the maid.
“Get me Miss Bard.”
“Who shall I say-”
“Get Miss Bard!”
It took a while and then her voice said, “Hello?”
“Lynn, listen close and don’t talk.”
He heard her gasp.
“You alone, Lynn?”
“Out of earshot?”
“Yes, Jackie. My God, Jackie, I heard-”
“Shut up. Is your place on Long Island empty?”
“And nobody coming out there?”
“It’s closed. Daddy is in-”
“I’m two blocks away. Get your car out, roll by the drugstore, and I’ll meet you on the curb. And keep the motor going.”
“Right now, Jackie?”
“Who’s in the apartment?”
“Winnie, but you don’t know him. He’s just somebody I know and when I heard about you-“
“Never mind. Can you leave?”
“Of course, Jackie.”
“Ten minutes. And bring the keys for that house.”
He hung up, waited five minutes, and Lynn’s convertible pulled up. She had the top down. She looked anxious and beautiful.
“Lynn. Now don’t talk. Let’s have those house keys and get out of the seat. In two days you can come out to the place and pick up your car. I’ve-“
“I’m coming along,” she said, and she looked at him as if she weren’t ever going to let go again.
He bent over the door, talked fast.
“This is trouble. Lynn. Stay away and I’m sorry I had to call you. Thanks for the car. I’ll-“
He didn’t have to finish. There wasn’t any point to it unless he was going to toss her out of the car and leave her lying in the street. She had moved over, wanting him to drive, but that’s as far as she was going.
Jesso jumped in and slammed the door. They sat like that while he made the top come up, and when he pinched his finger putting the catch on the top he swore as if nobody were listening. Then he drove. Once she tried to ask him questions, but it didn’t work. He took the Queensboro Bridge and headed out Northern Boulevard.
They weren’t far from La Guardia. Why sit around in Oyster Bay when he could take off for California, three thousand miles away from Gluck, pick up the rest of his dough, and then head back for Germany? The only trouble was he didn’t know about the flight, had no reservation. Better yet, forget about that loot in L.A., head back for Europe, leave Gluck and Lynn and all of it behind.
He made a sharp turn south and headed for Idlewild. His ticket back to Frankfurt was good any day, there was a good chance of getting a reservation at short notice, and it was seven-thirty. The Stratoliner was due to leave the same time every day, nine P.M.
“Darling, Oyster Bay is the other way. You shouldn’t have turned off.”
“I changed my mind. We’re going to Idlewild.”
She didn’t answer. She didn’t know where he was going from Idlewild, but she thought she was going along.
“It’s better that way all around. You won’t get involved any more.”
“Give up, Lynn. I’m just using your car.”
Then they both kept still. When he approached the airport he could recognize it by the lights. It was dark by now. The traffic tower glowed with a bluish light and the building below had a long bright line of windows that looked like teeth. Almost by instinct he swung away from the drive leading to the gates and cruised the parking lot first. Take it slow, check how it looks, because maybe Gluck has notions about airports and railway stations and maybe not.
He didn’t see a thing. He cruised the entrance once, didn’t dare try it twice. Park a while, maybe? And let the reservations get used up. Or maybe do some necking in the front seat just so time would pass and he wouldn’t have to risk it out there, risk the trip, the dough, Renette, and his life.
“I’m getting out.” He braked the car past the entrance. He gave it one more look, picked up his brief case from the floor. “Lynn, now hear me good. I’m going out there and maybe nothing happens.” He paused, reached to his belt. “See this?” She saw the gun. “And this?” She watched him cock the hammer. “I’m going out there with this thing in my hand. Here, in my pocket. And maybe you’ll hear about it from where you’re sitting. So sit, don’t move, and if I’m not back ten minutes later, take off and be glad you’re rid of it all. So long.” He got out of the car.
And then he was by the bright entrance. There were cars parked along the curb, one was empty, one had an old couple in it, the other one a G.I. and his mother. Nobody looked like a gorilla or like Gluck.
When Jesso had his hand on the glass door he didn’t freeze, he almost died. The man’s voice said, “Wait, Jackie!”
He snapped around like a spring and would have had the gun out if the couple hadn’t come through the door and bumped his arm.
“Jackie, your left,” and then he saw Murph. He ambled toward the door, past Jesso, and while he passed he said without moving his mouth, “There’s a nest of ‘em inside. Blow fast.”
Jesso was off. He sprinted to the convertible down by the curve. Lynn had the door open and he almost jumped into her lap.
“Hold on,” he said, and the car tore off
He almost went crazy at the Cross Boulevard intersection, but then he was twisting the car through the clover leaf and along the freeway that went across Jamaica Bay.
“Darling, are they chasing us?”
“Shut up a minute.”
He looked back, but all the cars looked alike. He was cursing under his breath till the lit highway stopped swimming and then he felt better. He was at the toll gate before he knew it and Lynn was ready with the money. Good, smart Lynn. And when he twisted down the ramp to Channel Drive, going out the length of Long Island he felt for a second the way he and Lynn had felt a long time ago. But then only Lynn felt that way any more.
“Jackie? Can I talk now?”
“Sorry about this thing, Lynn.”
“I’m glad I helped you, Jackie.”
“Yeah. It’s not over yet.”
“No. Just business.”
She slid closer to him. “It’s the first time you’ve taken me on one of your business trips.”
“Hope it’s the last, kid. Just hope that.”
“But I remember another one,” she went on. “That was business, too, you said. And I waited for you at Lake Tahoe and then you came back from Reno and joined me. Remember, Jackie?”
He sat up and made it hard for her to lean up against him. “I told you to lay off that stuff, Lynn. I told you it’s no good.”
She sat up too. He caught her profile and the line of her suit where the dashlight showed it, and even though she wasn’t like Renette, she reminded him of her. She wasn’t built like Renette, she was slimmer, but there was an expression about her face that reminded him. Lynn, too, used to look much colder.
“You told me,” she said. “You told me, you told me. You think it’s as easy as that?” But she didn’t sound mean about it; her voice was pleading.
He didn’t answer.
“You think you can ever hurt me enough so I’ll let go?”
“I’ve never tried to hurt you.”
“I know,” she said. “Perhaps you should.”
“Perhaps I should,” he said.
They came to Cedarhurst and Jesso slowed down. He pulled the car up, put it in neutral, and turned toward her.
“Listen to me, Lynn. You know what I’ve got to say about you and me, so I won’t say it again. But here’s something new. This time you hang around and I think you might get killed.”
She looked at him, but only her eyes moved.
“So get out.”
She sat still.
“Get out of the car. Give me two days and report it stolen.”
“I won’t,” she said.
“Or I’ll clip you and throw you out.”
“Clip me,” she said, and it sounded funny in her finishing-school diction.
He almost hauled out, but when he saw how she closed her eyes and put up her chin, he couldn’t do it. At first he thought he wanted to laugh, but that wasn’t it. He thought that if she meant something to him she wouldn’t look pitiful sitting there like that.
Her eyes were still closed and she started to tremble.
“For God’s sake, open up and relax,” he yelled at her. He felt like an idiot, but she didn’t seem to notice.
“You could have done it, Jackie.” Jesso put the car into gear, held it.
“If this kills you, Lynn, I won’t give a damn.”
“I won’t either,” she said, and he knew she meant it more than he did. He turned the car toward the North Shore of Long Island and didn’t talk the rest of the way.
They got to the house around two in the morning. A wall and a plot of trees hid the place from the road, but Jesso remembered where to turn. Inside, Lynn switched the lights on and turned up the heat. Then Jesso went to the bedroom. It faced the water and had a plate-glass window for one wall. The whole house was plate glass on the water side.
“Turn the light off,” Jesso said.
Lynn had her jacket off and was sliding the blouse down one arm. Her bra made sharp points.
“I don’t mind, darling. Even if the bay were filled with boats.”
“Turn off that light. You can see it for miles the way this place is lit up.”
She worked the switch and came back to Jesso.
“You can’t see me,” she said. “You won’t have to see me.”
She was so close he thought he could feel the warmth of her naked skin through his clothes.
“Go to bed. I’m sleeping on this-this damn love seat or whatever it is.”
“We have a double bed, Jackie. One side for me, one side for you, if you want.”
They went to bed, he on one side and she on the other.
By morning she had caught on that this was business, and she even remembered the part about getting killed. She made sure that the gate was closed after she came back with the groceries and pulled the car into the bushes by the side of the house. She didn’t make a fire in the round pit under the copper hood so that there wouldn’t be any smoke coming out of the chimney. And when she saw the revolver in Jesso’s belt she didn’t say a word. They ate something and then Jesso looked for the phone.
“You know how to reach Murph?”
“I’ve called him often enough, Jackie.”
“Call him once more. Call him the way you always do, because he doesn’t know where I am and neither do you.”
“What do I say?”
“Ask about me. He’ll do the rest. And get him to tell you what Gluck’s doing.”
She picked up the phone and gave the operator a number. She knew it by heart. She held the phone so Jesso could hear both ends of the conversation.
“Is Murph there?” she said, and then she waited. “Murph, this is-”
“I know, Miss Lynn, but I got no news for you.”
“Murph, he wants to know about Gluck.”
“You know where he is?”
“Fine. Tell him to stay there.”
“You don’t want to see him?”
“Not for a while, Miss Lynn. They got the town staked out, the airports, and all the rat holes I can think of.”
“Oh, dear,” she said. “Oh, dear. He’ll get killed. I know he’ll get killed.”
“Don’t you worry none. Jackie knows what he’s doing. Besides, that ain’t the pitch.”
“What did you say, Murph?”
“That ain’t the pitch.”
“I know. What does it mean?”
“It means, Miss Lynn, they ain’t gunning for him. Gluck wants him alive.”
She gave a real sigh and was ready to hang up. But perhaps Jesso wanted to know more.
“Where did you say they’re looking for him, Murph?”
“Everywhere. Every rat hole-”
“You mean here in New York, in other cities, all over the country?”
“They don’t figure he’s got far. They’re looking just in New York. Everywhere.”
She sounded concerned some more and then she hung up and turned to Jesso.
“Well, it isn’t so bad,” she said. “They don’t want to kill you. They just want to talk, Jackie. Can’t you go and talk it over and get clear of all this? Jackie, you’ve never said much about your work, but there must be a better-“
“I never have, you’re right. So you don’t know what they mean by talk.”
He got up and walked to the window. She followed him. She leaned her back against the big glass, hands behind her, and it almost looked as if she were floating.
“Where will you go from here, Jackie?”
“Why? You want to go along?”
“I didn’t ask,” she said.
“You never ask.”
He hit the glass with the flat of his hand as if he didn’t care whether it broke or not.
“Enough now, Lynn!” Then he paced to the round fireplace and back. “I want you to cut it out. I want you to shut up about that old and gone business but for good. You know why I’m here and it isn’t you. It was but it won’t be again and you never catch on. Did you hear? I want you to lay off!”
“You want, you want,” she said. It was almost a mumble.
Then she said, “All right, Jackie. I will,” and it looked as if he was rid of her.
“Now back to normal. Remember your friend at Tahoe, that-that Jill whatshername-“
“Jill Timerlane, from Pasadena, Jackie.”
“That’s her. You still friends with her?”
“Of course, Jackie. I wrote-”
“Never mind. You got her phone number?”
“Not here. In the apartment.”
“Can you phone there and get it?”
“Of course, Jackie. Right away.”
She called and the maid answered and she gave Lynn the number.
“Now call up that Jill there. Call her long-distance and tell her about this joke you’re having with a buddy of-with a friend of yours, and that she has to send a telegram for you from L.A. to New York. You got it?”
“Now write this down. The telegram says, ‘Dear President.’ Yeah, yeah, it’s President. All right now, ‘Dear President, sorry about mix-up. L.A. rainy and no smog. Sit tight.’ And sign it ‘Jack Jesso.’ Got that?”
She said yes and read it back to him. He told her to send it to C. Gluck and gave her the address.
He smoked two cigarettes and kept pacing around the crazy fireplace in the middle of the room while Lynn got the connection and tried to break through the small talk. Then she explained about this game she was playing and dictated the telegram. There came more chit-chat and then she hung up. She asked Jesso if she’d done it all right and Jesso said yes, that was fine. She went to the bedroom and lay down. When he looked in a little later she was asleep. He went in and put a blanket over her shoulders. She was asleep so she couldn’t make anything of that.
Jesso went back to the room with the round fireplace and stood by the plate glass. Two more days. He’d look at the bay for two more days and then he’d crawl out of his hole forever. He’d make one more dash, run just once more, and that was going to be the last. Then Renette would be there. The thought of her made the two days seem like standing still forever, but then there would be Renette forever. He had never thought that way before, but he was already used to the thought. Anything else hardly mattered-New York, Lynn, Kator-and if they got in the way, they and their lives would matter little enough.
He held on for the two days, talking little and pacing the room. Then came one more call to Murph, who said the heat was off, mostly, and they were looking for him in L.A. And Lynn. Without saying much, just by looking the way she did, she told him to take her, do anything, and if not she’d always be there. He had nothing to say to her and on the second day the big Stratocruiser barreled off the Idlewild runway and Jesso watched Jamaica Bay shoot by underneath.
The room was lit as always, two candelabra and the yellow bulbs over the buffet. It kept the tall ceiling in the dark and made the three figures around the table look like decorations. They ate in silence. In itself, this wasn’t anything unusual, except what they made of it. Kator made a waiting out of it. He’d laid his trap and all he had to do was wait. Jesso would be back, Kator had made sure of that. Jesso would be back because Renette was here and this was Kator’s simple trap. To spring it shut would be even simpler. Kator was on home ground and all he had to do was wait. He chewed his meat, drank his wine. Jesso hadn’t sat at this table more than once, but it almost felt to Kator as if he missed him.
Von Lohe didn’t have a thing to say for once. He sat, not tasting anything and to him the room was like a prison. And Kator had the key. Not Kator, Jesso! If Jesso were here now, then von Lohe would know what to do. Somehow his hate would find direction and all it needed was the moment-and Jesso. It almost felt to von Lohe as if he missed him.
Renette waved at Hofer and had another glass of wine. She tried to pay no attention to the room, the mood, and the two men. It wasn’t really hard. Another fifteen minutes and she would leave. Her plans for the evening had nothing to do with Helmut or with Kator, and both had learned that it didn’t make much difference to her any more what they might say. She still had her old suite behind the bend in the corridor, but that was all. She didn’t live there as von Lohe’s wife and Kator hardly felt that she was still his sister. She looked across the table, past the bouquet, and thought of Jesso, the way he had sat behind the flowers. She thought of him with pleasure; a pleasure without regrets and in the past. She tasted her wine and didn’t miss him.
When von Lohe looked at her she was pulling her napkin through the silver band and placing it next to her plate.
“Johannes,” said von Lohe, “if you are going to follow my suggestion, better speak to her now.”
Kator looked up, trying to understand.
“She’s leaving, I believe.” Von Lohe sounded peevish.
“Oh, yes.” Kator wiped his mouth, looked at Renette. “Before you leave…” and then he waved at Hofer.
Hofer waved at the two servants by the buffet and followed them out of the door.
“Helmut had a suggestion,” Kator said. “A rather good one.”
“Helmut?” She smiled at her husband as if she hadn’t known he was at the table.
“It seems,” Kator said, “that his friend Paul Zimmer is proving difficult. I have not obtained the concessions I want, and Helmut found it hard to apply the pressures on the Zimmer family that are at my disposal. Traditional loyalties, he calls it. But no matter.” Kator sighed. “I’m giving you the assignment, Renette.”
Kator watched her turn her head and for a moment he had the uneasy feeling that she had just noticed him at the table.
“I know nothing about the whole affair,” she said. “Nothing that would help.”
“That’s not the help you are supposed to give,” said von Lohe, and his smile was angelic. His mouth was lewd.
“I see why you didn’t get anyplace,” she said to him.
“Nevertheless, in a way Helmut is correct,” Kator said. He said it without inflection, made it cold and businesslike. Maybe that way he would get Renette back in line. “Zimmer-that is the one we’re after-is only slightly older than you. I’m sure, Renette, there is very little about you that he wouldn’t like.”
“I’m not interested,” she said. “I know him.”
Kator had expected something like that, even though the reason for her refusal confused him. “Nevertheless,” he said, “I am giving the assignment to you.”
Renette wet her lips with her tongue and her wide eyes seemed to go bland.
“Johannes,” she said, “your insults no longer work. I have other plans.”
“She means that-that-Jesso!” Von Lohe waved his arm. He never noticed when he wiped his sleeve through the gravy on his plate.
“Of course, Helmut.” Kator turned back to his sister. “Listen to me, Renette.”
“You’re wrong,” she said.
Nobody believed her.
“Listen to me. I feel I cannot force you, Renette, but as your brother-”
“I know. You’ll try anyway.”
He took it in his stride. His voice got soft, as if he were saying something sad. “Your Jesso, Renette, is like something from another world, a world where your tastes, your kind of life, mean nothing. You understand?”
She did. She knew it.
“To attach yourself to him is like eating the wrong kind of food, Renette. I say this as a warning, as a threat. But not from me. From Jesso.”
She listened because she understood. Her brother hadn’t talked to her, come close, since-It didn’t matter. She understood him and the old attachment was still there. Not like a chain this time, but simply there.
“I’m sure you think he’s done nothing but good where you have been concerned,” he went on. “I’m sure you think that no matter how perverse, how rotten this man is, somehow he had it in him to be for once, with you, only good.” Kator made a tired gesture and smiled as if he weren’t sure. “You know, Renette, I like to think you feel that way about your brother, because I, I truly live two lives, Renette. One for my work, and one for you.” He suddenly frowned and his face turned to stone. “But I was talking about Jesso. With him you are part of his schemes. Tell me,” and Kator suddenly jabbed one finger at Renette, “did he ever ask you about me?”
Jesso had, and Renette knew that Kator knew it. She had told him. But now the question was ominous.
“And has he ever asked about my business? We both know he has and I refrain from guessing at what moments of your intimacy he has asked. Now more. Did he make you promise to help him get a passport? And finally, Renette, did he not leave you behind?”
“I didn’t want to go,” she said.
“I’m proud of you. But you see, my dear, he didn’t try to force you, did he? A man like Jesso, and he did not insist!”
Kator stopped, as if at the end of a triumphal march, and then he summed it up, making it casual. “You see, my dear, from your first meeting to the very last, each thing he did served one purpose only. It served Jesso. Anything else he might have done was nothing but the bait to serve the moment of his advantage. And you, Renette, have been his tool.” There was silence and he was through. He stopped because he knew the spell of his words was there, Renette had heard, and, judging her by himself, he knew he’d given her the clues that she might need to break with Jesso. One thing he didn’t know: that Jesso had not been a man to her, a person, but a force; that she had gained by that force, made it her own.
“And now, Johannes?”
“What do you mean?”
“Before you advised me about Jesso, it was the Zimmer affair you talked about.”
“Oh, yes.” Kator thought the switch was very rapid, but so much the better. “Young Zimmer will be at a party. I’ll give you the details. I want you-“
“Johannes,” she said, “I told you no,” and when nobody answered she got up, excused herself, and left the room.
Kator did not see how he could have failed. Nor did he know that Renette had been impressed with many of the things he’d told her. They meant to her that Kator was a cold and clever man. They also meant that Kator was trying to be kind. They meant that Jesso had set her free from both those things, and even from himself, and that her brother did not see any of it. No one did, only Renette.
Jesso kept watching the torn clouds race by because it made the movement faster. But not until they circled Paris did it all become real to him. A few more hours and Renette. Perhaps Kator was waiting like a cat that knew there was just one way out for the mouse in the corner, but even that worry turned simple. Jesso got out in Paris, let the rest of his flight go chase itself through the wild blue yonder, and changed to an Air France liner that went straight to Berlin. It had one halfway stop, Hannover. That’s how Jesso got to town.
The villa still sat behind the wall like an ornate tomb and the only sound was the constant rustling of the trees in the Allee. The light was failing and pretty soon the damp day would be a damp night. Jesso sent his taxi off and for a moment the sound of the old motor was the worst noise in the world. Then just the villa again and the mumble from the old trees.
He didn’t ring the bell and he didn’t wait for Hofer to do any honors. He walked through the two front doors, and he was halfway across the hall when the library door opened and a shaft of light cut toward him. And there stood Kator.
Each knew the other as if he had expected it this way. The door came shut, the light was gone, and very slowly Kator came across the hall. It took Jesso a while to place the queer thing, but then he realized that Kator walked without the sharp click of his heels.
“The last time, Kator.”
“I know that, Jesso.”
“So move,” but nothing moved.
As once before, after Delf, when they had held each other with a grip that meant one of the two had to break and die, nothing happened. A door opened upstairs and they both turned. Then the door shut again, the moment went. Jesso didn’t know about Kator, but Jesso had to move right then. He turned toward the stairs and took them two at a time. Neither corridor showed a light. He went right, turned the bend, and then he opened the door to Renette’s rooms.
The bed was there, her clothes, and the decanter with the liqueur stood on a little table where the seat faced the window. She hadn’t moved the seat since that time. There wasn’t any noise from the shower, but he went in there just the same. If he hadn’t maybe the noise from the corridor might have reached him.
That same door had clicked again, only this time it flew open, hit the wall, and stayed there. Then Renette came out. She walked so that her hair bounced and dipped over the back of her neck, and there was nothing calm or gracious in her face. The eyes seemed to slant with anger and her parted lips showed her teeth. She headed for the stairs. Helmut von Lohe was close behind her, looking sharp in his riding clothes and making a tinkle with the spurs on his polished boots. His hair was combed over the skull the way he wanted it and his small red mouth had a new sharp cut to it. He followed Renette down the stairs.
So Jesso missed them. He saw that the bath was empty, the bedroom, the sitting room, and nothing in the dressing room. Her clothes were there; he checked her coats and furs, and it looked as if she had to be somewhere in the house. He started for the stairs as if he felt she had been calling.
It turned out there were plenty of rooms he hadn’t seen before. They were furnished for different moods with different doodads, but all Jesso saw was that they were empty. Once he passed Hofer, but Hofer was just a moving doodad, and then another room with furniture, walls, windows, portraits.
He saw them across an angle from one part of the house to another, behind the glass of the solarium, where the fat plants stood in the heat. Jesso couldn’t hear a word where he stood by the window, but the Baron’s face was working and his hands were making quick flutters. Then Jesso saw Kator. He stepped into sight, looked stolid. He reached out with both hands, seemed to talk in the same back-and-forth rhythm with which he pulled and pushed with his arms whatever he held there. That’s when Jesso saw Renette. Because of the plant Jesso never saw all of her, but the plant was shaking.
The only way to the solarium was back through the rooms that made the angle of the house. Jesso was breathing hard when he hit the salon with the silk and needle point, but racing to get there had taken none of the temper out of him. It made it worse, worse than in the plane with Kator, worse than in the hall a while ago. There wasn’t just Kator. There was Helmut, there was Renette, and Jesso slowed down when he got to the silk place because he didn’t know which way to jump first.
“He’s lying!” he heard Renette say. “Johannes, he’s making it up from spite. I said nothing to Jesso to cause this thing. His own failure-“
When Jesso burst through the door, they all turned.
“You all right?” he said without looking at her. He had stopped and was looking at Kator, feeling the same harsh pull come back, and it was only a question of five, six steps along the passage between tall plants and they would lock into each other like traps that couldn’t let go.
“Stay there,” she said. “I’m all right, Jesso.”
He walked around the little fountain and stopped.
“Did you touch her, Kator?”
“Jesso, leave,” she said.
Helmut had swiveled around. “You intrude!” he said, and there was a screech in his voice. “We will deal with you later!”
Jesso watched him flip a riding crop against his boot, and it might have looked funny at any other time. Now Kator folded his hands behind his back, legs wide, and suddenly it was as if they had all waited for him. When he opened his mouth the voice was like that of the commanding officer at a courtmartial.
“He stays. He’s the important one.”
“You’re damn right I’m staying.” He said it to Kator.
Kator didn’t move his head, only his eyes. He looked at Renette and said, “Was it on the train? Did he get it out of you on the train, Renette?”
“I told you!” She said it loudly, stamping her foot. “He knew nothing to cause this thing. Helmut botched it!”
Kator’s words flew into Jesso’s face like slaps. “What did she tell you? What did you make her say?”
“I don’t get it.”
It was so true and so simple that it caught Kator short. Then he bunched up all the poison and spat, “I can only guess how you worked her over so well, on the train to Munich, but you managed to do what my sister has never permitted. She informed on me, on her brother, and once again, Jesso, you have cost me a fortune.”
“Don’t deny it,” screamed Helmut.
“He will,” said Kator. “How did you do it, Jesso? What did you do on that train?”
“What did you do?” said Helmut, and his face was like filth.
Jesso didn’t get any of it, but nothing showed.
“I don’t talk about what I do in a bedroom,” he said, and he watched Helmut jerk back.
“Do you deny it?” Helmut yelled.
“Comb your hair, Helmut. It’s slipping.”
“I will ask you,” Kator said. “How did you ruin the Zimmer affair?”
“What’s a Zimmer affair?”
“Zimmer, you idiot!” and for once Kator was bellowing. “A year of delicate preparation! Thousands in expenditures, and when the time comes for the final closing, you step in, you worm it out of my sister, you give the tip to-to the others, and everything fails.”
Jesso let the sound die down. He looked from Kator to Helmut and said, “Who told you, Kator? That creep?”
“I told him,” said Helmut, “as it was my duty. No one knew of the arrangements with Zimmer except we three, and no one could have told you except poor Renette. Under what fiendish pressures-”
“Stop dreaming, Helmut. There’s spit on your chin.”
“Dreaming! You swine! My wife came back to me after you left, she confided to me as I suspect she was made to confide by you. She-“
“My God,” she said, “he’s out of his mind. Johannes, don’t you see his game? He wants to make you do it for him, set you against me, make you fight with Jesso.”
It made sense. It would be something like that and it would be somebody like Helmut to do it that way.
“I never heard of Zimmer or whatever it is, and Renette never said a word,” Jesso said, but the words were only a sound. They weren’t big enough or soon enough to catch up with the tension. From now on it hardly seemed to matter what was said. The big plants stood motionless and seemed to get darker. And under them, motionless like the plants, the three stood waiting in the half-light, waiting for the spark to blow it up.
“You’re lying, Jesso.” Kator moved his arm. He reached around, found Renette, and jerked her to his side. “And you, Renette, you lie.”
Kator had sounded quite still. His eyes never left Jesso, but suddenly his hand slammed against Renette’s face.
She hadn’t finished staggering when Jesso made his dash. His foot caught in a flagstone, and when he was half up there was Kator behind the gun.
Jesso got up. This was it.
Kator knew this was it, but he wasn’t rushing. “Do you see the fountain, Jesso?”
He didn’t. The fountain was in back of him.
“Turn around and look at it, Jesso. I won’t shoot.”
Jesso knew that. Kator wouldn’t shoot without seeing the face.
“There is a cupid on the fountain, Jesso. Do you see it?”
He saw it. A small copper cupid, looking wet and green, and no larger than a toy dog.
“He is raising one hand, isn’t he, Jesso?”
He was. He was sort of waving one baby hand.
“Now you see it, now you don’t,” Kator said, and behind Jesso’s back the gun went off with a sharp crash and Kator was right. The little hand was gone.
He was good. He had shot right past Jesso’s middle, with maybe inches to spare, and the cupid’s arm had a shiny end where the metal hand had been ripped off.
“And now turn around again.”
Jesso turned around.
“I knew this would impress you,” Kator said. “Helmut, what else did she tell you?”
The Baron straightened himself as if he were going to give a speech at graduation.
“Once Renette began to confide in me, she held back nothing. He wanted to take her away from us-from me-set her against you, dear Johannes, and-“
“Stop him, Johannes!” Renette’s voice was sharp. “Send him away, or you’ll never stop playing it his way. And the gun, Johannes.”
“You are wrong, Renette. This is my way. And Jesso’s way. Isn’t it, Jesso?”
“No, Johannes, don’t! Neither of you will win. Leave each other, let it go!” She reached for Kator’s arm and flinched.
He had snapped up his arm, ready to hit again, but he did not strike. His gun was steady and a slow thing came over his face like an ugly grin. Jesso had moved, Kator saw that. And when Renette had stepped away Jesso relaxed.
“It’s time, Jesso.” Kator’s face did not change. He kept staring at Jesso, daring him, and there was a constant triumph on his face.
“Come here, Renette.” He waved at her without turning. “Jesso,” he said, “for a while I thought you were very much like me. A man without a flaw. Look, Jesso.” Kator reached around, taking Renette by the arm. He pulled her and she winced.
“Look, Jesso,” he said when she stood next to him. “Look!”
Kator’s hand came up in a fist, slowly. He held it in the air, very still, so that Jesso could see the knuckles turn white. One of his tricks, one of his intelligent tricks, to give it a stretch before tearing it. Jesso held still, not believing that Kator would do it when the fist blurred, stopped with a jar that made a sick sound, and Renette stumbled back. And Jesso charged. And the gun exploded.
Kator had played it his way, for the sport. He hadn’t meant to kill, and he hadn’t. And that’s how he played it Jesso’s way.
The gun went off again, but the bullet went wild because first the target was gone and then the target had turned attacker with the gun snapping out of Kator’s hand and a fist exploded in his right eye.
Helmut was gone. Spurs tinkling, he had dashed from the room, and only Renette stood there. Her face was cut but she seemed not to know it. She stood and looked, and when she cried her shoulders did not move.
It was a while before Jesso and Kator stopped rolling like one mass of evil strength while the fat leaves shook, large plants dipped, leaned, and slowly toppled to fall with a sound like a splash-but that wasn’t how it went. It was like an instant spasm with beginning and end all in one while they cut at each other, the cut that was going to kill one or both. That’s how it was to Jesso, and it was the same to Kator. He never knew when he didn’t see any more. He never knew when he changed from a man to a mass and was dead.
Jesso didn’t know either. He might have stopped sooner. As it was, he sat under the broken leaves of the dark-green plant long after it was still.
“You haven’t changed since yesterday. Since then.” Renette looked at his spurs.
“No,” said Helmut. “I’ve been too busy.”
“I know. They came very fast.”
“I was on the phone when it happened, my dear. I was not standing there, being sentimental.”
“No. You were clever, for once.”
“And now you, dear Renette. Now you must be clever. The crime was murder, first degree. Remember, Renette. First degree, and Johannes fired in self-defense.”
“You know that is false.”
“What was it, my dear? A crime passionnel?”
“You know what it was, Helmut.”
“Yes, and what will happen if you say so?”
“Maybe he will go free. Soon.”
“And come back, like a leech and a disease. Is that what you want?”
“You should talk of disease.”
“Ah! So you admire it, all of it.”
“It was useless and ugly. And it killed Johannes.”
“How sentimental of you! Johannes left us everything.”
“Not us, Helmut. Me.”
“And you don’t resent the gift, do you? The wealth, the freedom.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Then be clever, Renette. Cold-blooded murder, you understand? Anything else and it might take years. Years in litigation, from one court to the next-“
“And you couldn’t wait that long, could you, Helmut?”
“So you love him.”
“I do not despise him, as I despise you.”
“Be clever, Renette. I want nothing from you. I don’t interfere with you one way or the other.”
“But I will, if you don’t share with me what he left.”
“Helmut, listen to me-”
“I might even get it all, if you do not act as I say.”
“Listen to me, Helmut. Have you thought of this? You killed Johannes. You attacked him, Johannes fired, and Jesso, trying to pull you apart, got shot.”
“You’re being absurd!”
“Jesso will say the same thing. We had just a moment before they took him. He explained it to me.”
“You must be insane, Renette!”
“So don’t threaten me, Helmut. Nobody threatens me any more.”
“No. Johannes is dead. But Jesso isn’t.”
“He doesn’t threaten me.”
“I forget. You love him. Do you love him enough to go to prison, too? Not in the same one, my dear, not with him, but just a prison?”
“Now you’re absurd.”
“Perhaps, but it’s worth a try. Like your trying to implicate me. I could say you engineered the whole thing, the murder, the passport. Even-“
“None of this would stand up in court. And I would never murder my brother.”
“Of course. But it might take years. We would lose everything in the meantime. My name, which means nothing to you. Your money, which means a great deal to you. And your freedom, Renette. For a long time-your freedom.”
“You are clever, Helmut.”
“But you’re wasting your time.”
“You don’t believe what I said?”
“What I believe I believed before you came.”
“Three o’clock,” said Helmut, and he got out of his chair. “The police Prafekt will be waiting.”
Jesso looked at the bars in the window, and at their shadows, stretching big across the wall. When he stood up they reached across his face. He sat down, facing the wall where the washbasin stood, because that corner looked least like a prison. He wasn’t trying to get used to the bars. There was no point in that. Ten minutes, five minutes, maybe, and she would be here. In five minutes the testimony, and then he would be free. Kator was dead and he was free. Renette was outside and he was free. Five minutes perhaps.
He got up and moved carefully. His arm was in a sling and the wound where the bullet had cut through felt hot. When he got out he would go to a real doctor, he would pay a real doctor and not leave it the way some underpaid prison quack fixed it up, with iodine and some stinking ointment. Jesso could smell the reek of it through the bandage. Or perhaps it was the reek of the prison. The whole place stank, and if he were staying he would go crazy. He’d go out of his mind without trying to stop it. He walked the length of the room a few times, walking as if he were crossing a street. It wasn’t impatience and he didn’t feel he was waiting. He was hardly there any more. Then the door opened.
The guard waved and showed him the way. It was behind the bend in the corridor. The door was paneled wood and inside he saw wallpaper and curtains on the windows. He saw Renette. He saw also the guard, a stenographer, the Prafekt with his gray mustache, and Helmut. Behind the curtains on the windows there were bars. But for Jesso there was only Renette.
“Please be seated,” said the Prafekt.
She didn’t say, “Jesso.” She nodded and they sat down.
“This need not take long,” said the Prafekt, and he swiveled his mustache around. “Baron Helmut von Lohe, you have given your formal statement?”
“Premeditated murder, you stated,” and the Prafekt shuffled papers. “Now then, the corroborating testimony. Frau Baronin?”
Renette was looking at Jesso and once she smiled at him. He needed no more. There would be more, but right now…
She turned toward the old man behind the desk but she looked out the window. Jesso saw how the sun lit her face. She was looking through the bars, past the wall where the head of a green tree was showing. Jesso sat back, crossed his legs. He had forgotten his arm, so when it touched the back of his chair it made him wince. Renette looked back to him.
“Does it hurt?”
But the cigarette had dropped out of his hand and Renette got up, gave it back to him. When she had straightened she put out her hand. Just a short gesture. She ran her hand quickly over his hair, where it looked like velvet.
“Frau Baronin,” said the Prafekt again. “Your testimony.”
“Yes,” she said, and Jesso saw she was not hesitating. She looked at Jesso, and her eyes were clear and almost far away. “He killed my brother,” she said.
The cell was black and the sky was black, so Jesso couldn’t see the bars any more. It was as if there weren’t any. As if it didn’t matter. His good hand felt the pocket and the fine chain with the pearl. He couldn’t see it in his hand and only remembered how it was. Then his fingers clamped and the delicate shell made a sound. The broken pearl cut his finger. He knew it had cut, but there was no pain. Because he felt he was dead already.