Benny Muscles In
The car leaned hard into the curve and before it had a chance to right itself came to a rocking stop.
Benny Tapkow sat back in his seat “I’m not telling you again,” he said. He had a quiet voice. “Next time like that and you’re through.”
“You said to make time,” the driver said. “All I was trying-”
“Try to shut up. I said drive fast. I didn’t say stop fast.”
The driver didn’t give an answer because he wasn’t expected to have one.
Benny swung the car door open and jumped to the sidewalk. With a careful movement he gave his hat a small adjustment, feeling along the high crown and the wide brim. It was a big hat and he wore it square over his ears and forehead, as if wearing it were a feat of balance.
Then he walked down the street When Benny Tapkow moved, it was like a tight spring moving, as if there were a lot of power that had to be used up.
He walked past a couple of stores and turned into a place that said, “While U Wait.” He walked past the shoeshine boy, the man who blocked hats behind the counter, and then around the steam press in the back. Nobody said anything. They listened to the sharp click of his heels and watched him disappear through the door in the back.
It was a crumby office. The roll-top desk was stuffed with junk and there were blocking forms and bottles of cleaning fluid all over the floor.
“Hi, Louie.” Benny let the door slam shut and stopped by the desk. “You got it?”
“Sure.” Louie gave himself a tired push and got up. He was flabby and short. Benny could look him straight in the face without looking up. He couldn’t do that with many people.
“This way,” Louie said. He led the way through another door and into a room with a safe, two tables, and a dozen telephones. “You’re kinda early.” Louie wheezed and let himself down on one knee in front of the safe. “Paddy never used to get here till late.” Louie dialed the combination.
“Paddy isn’t running this territory any more.” Benny sat down on one of the tables. He lit a cigarette and watched the smoke.
“I know,” Louie said. “I was just saying. Paddy always-”
“Come on, come on. Forget about Paddy and get the dough.”
Louie got the safe open and brought a cashbox to the table. “Kind of in a hurry, huh?”
“Open the box and let’s have the receipt book.”
“Here. Wanna count the cash?”
“You’re damn right I’m going to count the cash.”
Benny opened the small ledger and looked at the week’s entries. Then he got off the table, put his hands in his pockets, and walked up close to Louie. “It says five-ten from numbers and eight hundred from protection.”
Louie took a small step backward, looking confused. “Sure, about the same as always.”
“What did I tell you last week, Louie?”
“You mean about raising the take?”
“About raising the take.”
Louie frowned and ran a hand through his thin hair. His scalp showed white between the black strands. “Christ, Benny, I thought you were kiddin’. How am I gonna double the take? All the time Paddy was here-”
“Forget Paddy! I got the territory now and I set the quota. Why do you think I got the job? Why do you think I run myself ragged doing flunky errands and doing my own collecting? To get you guys on the ball!”
“Shut up. I want a thousand from the numbers and sixteen hundred from the rest.” Louie stepped back.
“I’m waiting, Louie.” Benny’s voice was short and matter-of-fact.
“Look, Benny, let’s be serious. How can I double-”
“Get your runners on the ball. If that doesn’t do it take it out of your percentage. I told you last week and that’s all the telling I’m going to do. Now pay up.”
Louie threw his hands up and rubbed them over his face with an angry gesture. “For chrissakes! You out your mind or something? You think you can walk in here and give me a crazy quota just like that and think everybody’s gonna jump? You think you can-”
“You’re damn right I can.”
Louie gave a little gasp, as if he wasn’t sure he had heard right Then he changed his tack. “Does Pendleton know about this?”
“You’re dealing with me, not Pendleton.”
“I’m asking a question,” Louie screeched. “I wanna know if the boss knows about this deal you’re pulling with me!”
Benny’s hand came out fast and hooked into the shirt under Louie’s neck. “Whom are you calling a crook, you bastard?”
Louie’s face was getting mottled. “You crazy runt,” he said.
Benny pulled the man close with a sudden jerk. “Whom are you calling a runt?” he said, and suddenly there was his other hand. It whipped across Louie’s swollen face, the hard knuckles making a sound like stone where they hit Then he let go of the shirt and Louie stumbled to the floor.
Benny paid no attention. He had turned back to the table and was counting the money in the cashbox. Once he nodded to the man on the floor and told him to get up. “The rest of the cash,” he said. “I’m in a hurry.” Then he finished counting.
When he was through he lit another cigarette and watched Louie rummage in the safe. “Count it out on the table,” he said, and he watched how Louie’s hands were shaking. “Add it in the book.” He put the money into the box, signed the receipt book, and handed it to Louie. “See you next week.” Benny left with the box under his arm.
That night he carried a leather satchel through a door marked “Imports, Inc., Alfred B. Kent, Pres.” and threw the case on a desk where a thin guy in a pin-stripe suit was tapping an adding machine. Then he sat down by the water cooler and waited. Twenty minutes later the thin guy looked up and said, “Hey, Benny.”
“Listen, kid, I went through this twice. Everything comes out double.”
“That’s right. Gimme my receipt.”
The guy looked puzzled. He checked his tape again and turned to Benny. “Listen, kid. It’s double.”
Benny got up and went to the desk. “It’s double because I collected double. I’m reorganizing the territory.”
Benny didn’t answer. He stuck his hand out and waved it impatiently. “Come on, come on. Let’s have that receipt.”
“Now, wait.” The guy looked at the tape again. “Now, wait just a second. You mean this is from Paddy’s old district?”
“Not Paddy’s. Mine. I’m collecting double. You hard of hearing, Jack?”
“Hell, no. When did this come off? Pendleton never said a word about it. He was here around noon, just for a minute or so, but he never-”
“Pendleton doesn’t know yet. This is the first collection under the new rule.”
“New rule? Who’s making this new rule and I don’t know a thing about it?”
“I’m making the rule. Pendleton gave me the territory and I’m making the rule. So let’s have the receipt, huh, Jack?”
Jack leaned back in his swivel chair and looked up at Benny without saying a word. Then he swung forward, picked up the phone, and dialed. “Just wait a sec, will ya? Before I can-Hello? This is Imports. That you, Turk? Listen, lemme talk to Pendleton… Yeah, it’s kinda important. Lemme talk-Well, you know Paddy’s old territory; what was Paddy’s. This kid Tapkow has it and he just checks in with the receipts all double… How the hell do I know? He just made a new rule, he says… Yeah, I’ll hang on.” Jack looked up from the phone and nodded toward a chair by the desk. “Just park it for a sec, will ya, kid? Turk is talking to the boss.”
Benny bit his lip and waited. He wasn’t impatient any more, just nervous. This thing was out of his hands now.
At times like this he didn’t feel right. He needed his hands in things, and he rarely did anything that wasn’t big; big as far as he was concerned. All that concerned him was Benny Tapkow going to the top, no matter what.
He stood by the desk, a nervous tingling in his hands. They were narrow and slim. They didn’t show half their strength. Except for the tendons on the back, like wires.
“Fine,” Jack was saying. “Fine. So long, Turk.”
Jack put the receiver down and started to scribble on a pad. He tore the leaf off and gave it to Benny. “Here’s your receipt, kid. Boss says to give you the receipt.”
Benny took the paper and turned to go. He felt all right again. Why should Pendleton kick? He knew a good man when he saw him, and Benny had made sure that Pendleton noticed. He’d been making sure for years.
“One sec, kid.”
“You can stop calling me kid.”
“Pendleton wants to see you.”
Benny turned. “Pendleton?”
“Did he say-”
“All he said was tonight, kid.”
Benny used to see a lot of Pendleton, but that didn’t mean a thing. The job called for it. It was Mr. Pendleton then and it was Mr. Pendleton now.
He had an apartment on Sutton Place, where he spent most of his time. Benny sat in a gold-and-black anteroom waiting for the butler to come back and show him where to go. Through the archway with the columns he could see another room, a large one with a view. There was more black and gold.
“Mr. Pendleton is ready,” said the butler, and then Benny was in the dark library where Pendleton sat behind a desk.
It had been a while but Pendleton hadn’t changed. His bony face looked white and his mouth was a thin straight line. The close-set eyes were like flint.
“A little closer, Tapkow,” Pendleton said. He moved one narrow shoulder under his suit. He often did that. He did it in a quick, precise movement that was hard to catch.
Benny stood by the desk and waited.
“Did you get your receipt?” The voice was noncommittal. It was always noncommittal.
“Yes, sir. Right here.”
Pendleton looked at it, moving only his eyes.
“Why is it more than usual?”
“I collected it that way.”
“Why, may I ask?”
“Well, you see, Mr. Pendleton, when you gave me the territory I made a study of the place. I studied the way Paddy used to run it and how everything went Then I figured the territory could make more.”
“Yes, sir. I figured it out.”
Benny hesitated for a moment because he didn’t understand. “To improve it,” he said finally. “I figured-”
“Tapkow,” said the voice, “I didn’t tell you to improve it.”
“You didn’t have to, Mr. Pendleton. I could tell-”
“How long have you been with us, Tapkow?”
“Seven years. You see, when I took over-”
“You took over?”
In the silence that followed, Pendleton never moved. Benny could see the space between Pendleton’s back and the chair and there was no movement one way or the other.
“What was your first job, Tapkow? Seven years ago?”
“Uh-messenger. Sort of a messenger.”
“And when you were my chauffeur you quickly adopted a number of additional duties. After that I sent you to Imports, and you were barely able to contain yourself there. Correct?”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“And now you have Paddy’s job, correct?”
Pendleton got up from his chair and looked down at Benny. “What, Tapkow, do you consider the real difference between being a chauffeur and running a territory?… Well, answer me!”
“There’s a hell of a difference. Look Mr. Pendleton, let me tell you what that district-”
“Let me tell you, Tapkow.” The voice was like a knife. “There is no difference, Tapkow. There is absolutely no difference, because I tell you where to go in both cases. I tell you what to do.”
“Now, listen, Mr. Pendleton, just wait a minute.”
There suddenly were two sharp lines running from the sides of Pendleton’s nose to the corners of his thin mouth. “Tapkow,” said the mouth, “you are shouting.”
Benny got confused. Had that old bastard forgotten that he wasn’t the chauffeur any more? Did Pendleton think he was talking to just another punk who ran errands? Or worse, this was the sack! The bastard was playing games and was going to give him the sack.
“And if the matter is quite clear to you, Tapkow, I give you this one opportunity to learn what I thought you knew. As of tonight you have your job back. Turk will show you the chauffeur’s uniform.”
“But-listen, the collections-”
“Tapkow. The jobs are the same. Or do you prefer none?”
This was it; or almost. He needed time to set things straight. Seven years of work…
“Yes-no, sir, Mr. Pendleton.”
Pendleton did the thing with his shoulder again and sat down behind his desk. “Turk will show you the uniform. I need you at nine,” and Benny Tapkow was dismissed.
He did as a chauffeur should and drove in silence. Pendleton sat behind his glass partition in the dark.
They took the Henry Hudson Parkway north, and after the turn into the Cross County Parkway Pendleton used the speaking tube to give directions. When the headlights picked up the massive gate with the big A in the scrollwork, Benny guessed what the place was. He had never been there before and he had never met the man who owned it. But he knew him. Everybody did, one way or the other.
Big Al Alverato.
Nobody ever heard of Pendleton, because that’s the way he handled it. But not Alverato. Since the late twenties, the machine-gun parties, the big war in Chicago, the New York docks, all through until the present time there had been brash and loud Big Al Alverato.
The gate opened mechanically and Benny wound the car down a long drive with black woods on either side. When he swung up to the house and stopped under the pillared porte-cochere he still hadn’t seen a soul. No other cars, nobody. Benny opened the door for Pendleton and started back to his side of the car.
“You are coming along,” Pendleton said.
Benny rang the bell for him and then a light went on in the hall and the tall door opened.
“Hi,” the girl said. She was a redhead with a small pink face and eyes that looked like blue porcelain. She giggled and said, “Did you want to come in?”
“I have an appointment,” Pendleton said. He handed her his card, but she didn’t take it She looked at it, then at Pendleton, and giggled again.
“So come on in. I was just passing through the hall.”
“Will you tell Mr. Alverato that I am here?” Pendleton hadn’t moved.
“Whyn’t you come in? Look. See that door at the end, to the left? He’s in there, I think.” She raised her arm to point and Benny noticed how the dress stretched across her front. Then she turned and walked off with quick little steps. “Slam the door,” she called over her shoulder. “It sticks a little.”
The ugly lines had started to show around Pendleton’s mouth, but the hall was empty again.
“Well, Tapkow? Find someone!”
Benny moved. He knocked on the door in the back, and when it opened there was a small guy with a head like a bird’s. He took a look at the uniform and said, “Pendleton here already? You’re early.”
“Look, buster. Mr. Pendleton-”
“Bring him in. I’ll call Al.”
They waited in the room, Benny standing by the door and Pendleton stiff in a chair by the French doors. The mood in the room was like ice.
Then Alverato came, and they could hear his footsteps when he was still at the end of the hall. He threw the door open and said, “You’re early, Pendy.”
Pendleton’s shoulder twitched, but he didn’t say anything at all.
“Let’s have a drink first. Who’s this, your shofer?” Alverato turned to Benny and looked him up and down. Benny looked back at him. He saw why they called him Big Al. He was big and fleshy with success, and the eyes were deceptively lazy in his red face. Alverato’s bulk was half fat. The other half was muscle.
“Blow, James.” Alverato waved at the door.
“He stays,” Pendleton said.
Alverato, who was reaching for a bottle, stopped his hand in mid-air. “What you say, Pendy?”
“He stays. Whatever you have to say can’t be as important as all that. I assume it’s the Ager business again. Am I correct?”
“Look, Pendleton. Don’t high-hat me. We got business together.” Then he turned to Benny. “All right, James, beat it.”
“He stays. And come to the point, Alverato. My time is limited.”
Alverato stared for a moment but he didn’t say a word. He was still holding a drink in his hand. With a sudden movement he slammed down the glass and took three steps to the door. He yanked open the door and yelled, “Birdie! Get over here! And bring two of the boys.” They could hear footsteps running before Alverato got back to the table.
The little guy with the thin head came chasing into the room and then two others, guns in their hands.
“All right, close the door. Stand over there and make an impression. Pendleton and I are playing games.” They stood as they were told and Alverato sat down. “Over here, Pendleton, and let’s get down to business.”
Pendleton didn’t move. Then Birdie walked over to his chair. Pendleton got up and took a chair by the table.
“All right, Pendleton.” Alverato’s eyes didn’t look lazy any more. “From the beginning.”
He reached for the bottle again and offered to pour a drink for Pendleton. Pendleton shook his head.
“All right, Pendleton. Old Man Ager is dead. Now there’s you and me.”
There was a pause while Pendleton looked bored.
“For Chrissakes, Pendy, we got to settle this thing. Look what I got to offer, the whole organization! I ran it for him. I built it up.”
“What you are trying to say, Alverato, is that I have the contacts and neither you nor your army of hoodlums can do a thing without them.”
“Damn it, I don’t care how you put it. You ran one end of the business and I handled the other. Old Ager is dead and you and I got to get together, don’t you see?”
“I don’t see that at all.”
“Whaddaya mean?” Alverato was starting to shout “For Chrissakes, everything is standing still! Nothing big has moved for months now. You want the whole thing to fold up?”
“Alverato. The organization has always been your concern. Aside from some minor collection activities that I inherited from Ager, my business dealings don’t resemble yours in the least. And as I have told you, I am not interested in helping you along in your affairs.”
Big Al took a deep breath and closed his eyes. When he opened them again they looked small and piggish. “The dough, Pendleton. Think of the dough. Without our partnership-”
“I am not interested in money. That is to say, not the way you make it. My activities as Ager’s assistant had very little resemblance to your outdated methods.”
“Outdated! Listen, you bastard. I was making dough when you were still sitting on your wrinkled ass doing bookkeeping someplace. What I got to offer-”
“I know what you have to offer. An army of hoodlums with guns in their hands. Outdated, as I have said. Guns are noisy and corpses talk, Alverato.”
“Well, you listen to me. It happens I like noise and I got a way with a corpse so he don’t talk!”
“Nevertheless, Alverato, I would always consider you a liability. In fact, it escapes me how you ever got to where you are.”
Pendleton did the trick with his shoulder and continued to look bored. Even when Alverato jumped up from the table, his face livid, Pendleton did not stir.
“Escapes you?” Alverato roared. “Escapes you, you sonafabitch? I’ll show you in a second how I got where I am! Scotty, get over here,” and he waved at one of the hoods. The man stood close to the table while Alverato kept bellowing: “And I’ll show you how I’m going to stay where I am!” Without the slightest sign of preparation Alverato’s massive fist swung out and cracked hard into the gunman’s face. Scotty’s head snapped back and he hit the floor with a dull thud. His gun clattered down next to him. “Did you see that, Pendleton? Did you catch the meaning, Pendleton? Hey, Scotty!” Alverato walked over to the man on the floor and prodded him with his shoe. “Get up, Scotty.”
The man tried his best, but there was blood in his eyes and he started choking on a broken tooth.
“Get up, damn it,” Alverato took him under the arms. When Scotty was up, Alverato leaned down and picked up his gun. He gave it back to the man and nodded toward the wall.
“You got any other questions in your mind, Pendleton? You got any other ideas about what’s outmoded or something?”
Benny looked over at Scotty. The man was standing as before, gun in hand, watching Pendleton the way he had been told. He was breathing open-mouthed because of the blood in his nose. Benny reached in his pocket, pulled out a handkerchief, and started to walk to the other wall when Pendleton pushed himself up from his chair.
“My hat, Tapkow,” he said.
Benny stopped and gave Pendleton a short look. Then he walked over to Scotty and put the handkerchief in his hand.
“My hat, Tapkow.”
Benny walked to the chair by the French windows and picked up the hat.
“What’s this hat business?” Alverato’s voice was still loud. “Sit down, Pendleton, and let’s get down to brass tacks.”
Benny had stopped by the window, waiting for Pendleton to sit down again. But he didn’t. When Pendleton waved, Benny didn’t see it. He wasn’t thinking about hats. He was thinking about the deal that was breaking up, Old Man Ager’s empire halfway on the rocks because that dried-up bastard-
“Look, Mr. Pendleton.” Benny said it fast. “This thing you’re talking about. I got an idea-” and then he saw Pendleton’s face.
There was no point in going on. Benny looked around the room, at Alverato, and at Pendleton’s back by the door. Then he followed his boss to the car and drove him back to Sutton Place.
Pendleton sat behind the glass in the dark and Benny drove back to New York without a word, as a chauffeur should. But he wasn’t through yet. Seven years of saying, “Yes, sir,” seven years of pushing up the hill-that wasn’t going to end with a little slap on the wrist and a “Thank you, sir, for the uniform.” Benny worked his hands on the wheel. He wasn’t through yet; nor was Pendleton.
He let him out at the front of the apartment, parked the car in the basement garage, and took the service elevator to the top floor.
“In the library,” said the butler, and Benny walked into the long room where Pendleton was waiting behind the desk. No part of him moved. When he opened his mouth to speak he looked almost like a puppet.
“Tapkow,” said the voice.
“You were much impressed with my former associate, Tapkow… Well? Answer me.”
“You didn’t ask anything.”
Pendleton twitched his shoulder. He put one white hand on the edge of the desk and began to stroke the smooth wood with the movement of a pendulum. “You seem to favor the point of view that a loud voice denotes authority. Have you ever heard me shout, Tapkow?”
Pendleton’s hand kept moving back and forth. “There are other methods that ensure discipline. I have other methods.” Pendleton parted his lips and moved the tip of his tongue from right to left. “And you, Tapkow-”
“Listen,” Benny said. His voice sounded rough with impatience. “Now listen to me, Mr. Pendleton.”
The white hand stopped moving back and forth.
“The more you say, Tapkow, the worse it gets.” Then he almost smiled. “What do you think is the worst thing I can do to you, Tapkow? Do you remember a few years ago, a man called Murdock? Did you ever wonder what happened to Murdock? He’s still alive, you know.”
Pendleton paused to give things weight, but he hadn’t been watching Benny. He hadn’t seen the stubbornness and the angry impatience.
“The hell with Murdock,” Benny said. His breath sounded tight “The hell with Murdock and all this talk. You haven’t given me a chance to say a word, Mr. Pendleton. So here it is.” His voice suddenly turned quiet. “I’ve worked for you for seven years. I’ve tried to do better than the next guy because I know something they don’t. I am better. You think so, or you wouldn’t have let me stick around. I’ve done your crumby jobs, I’ve done some big ones. And then I’ve done some extra jobs you didn’t ask for, because all I ever wanted was a chance to show I’ve got the stuff. And then you started putting on the brakes. ‘Tapkow, take my pants to the cleaner,’ while I should have been working at Imports. ‘Tapkow, bring my car around,’ when Turk could have done it just as well.” Benny started talking faster now. “Finally I got a territory, a run-down, no-good territory, where Paddy used to rob you blind. I took that and glad for the chance. I start collecting double in my district and handed the stuff in. I needn’t have. So look at it that way for a minute, Mr. Pendleton, and then see if you’re doing right. I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but you’ve got to remember I’m not the chauffeur around here any more. I’ve done better than that.”
He had it all thought out and it came off the way he’d wanted. He meant every word of it. Only Pendleton didn’t know that.
“Are you through?” Pendleton sat as before.
“Sure. That’s all.”
On top of the desk the white hand started to move back and forth again. “Then let me tell you about Murdock.”
Benny sucked his breath in and held it for a moment. When he let it out his voice was still quiet. More quiet than before. “You’re making a mistake.”
Suddenly Pendleton jumped up. He didn’t often look the way he did now. “Are you threatening me, Tapkow?”
“You’re making a mistake, Pendleton.”
There was a little button on the side of Pendleton’s desk and the white hand started to move there.
Then the hand stopped. Pendleton turned his head. There had been the sharp click of a doorknob and a girl came into the room. She didn’t bother to close the door. She said, “I’m happy to see you’re in,” in a metallic voice, clear and hard. “I’m really thrilled and happy to find you in, Daddy.”
There was a mean line between her eyebrows and her light eyes looked flat. “Well, aren’t you going to ask me how I am, Daddy?” When she said Daddy, it sounded like a word from a meaningless language.
Pendleton had a time trying to control himself. His face was working and there was the merest quaver in his voice. “Patricia,” he said.
“Patricia,” she aped. She ran her hand through her cropped hair with a gesture like a man’s. “Your little Patricia. Come to have a word with her daddy.”
She had been ignoring Benny. She hardly gave him a look when she said, “Give me a cigarette, Tapkow.”
“My dear-” Pendleton said.
“I know. You don’t approve. A light, Tapkow.”
Benny lit her cigarette and watched the smooth face over the flame. Only her jaw made a sharp shadow. When she exhaled she didn’t say thanks. She turned back to her father and took another drag on the cigarette. She had an impatient way of smoking, an impatient way of standing with her arm on her hip and tapping one foot. Benny couldn’t see her feet because of the long evening dress she wore, but he could hear the nervous clicking of the shoe.
“Well,” she said, “it happened again. Your little Patricia, because she’s your little Patricia and her last name is Pendleton, walked right into it again. What do you say to that, Daddy?”
“My dear, if you will wait outside for-”
She laughed, a clear and ugly laugh. “Wait outside. That’s just about what happened half an hour ago. Wait outside! Do you know where I was tonight, Daddy?”
“Patricia, please!” Pendleton sounded controlled. “Have the courtesy to wait till-”
“Never mind about Tapkow, Daddy, just mind what I’m telling you.” She pulled on her cigarette once moreand threw it on the floor. “I was at the Wellbeys’ tonight The Wellbeys.’. That wonderful family with a house on Long Island, a cottage in Bar Harbor, and a wee place in Florida. And all told they haven’t got half the money that little Patty’s daddy has. And what do you think happened, Daddy?” She leaned across the desk, hate in her voice. “‘Did you say Pendleton?’ Mr. Wellbey said when Betty introduced me to her father. ‘Did you say Pendleton?’ And then he excused himself, and his wife excused herself, and everybody that came within arm’s reach excused himself except the butler, who came up with my wrap and told me the car was waiting to take me back. What would you and your gangster friends call that, Daddy? The freeze is the word, isn’t it? The freeze!” Her voice rose sharply.
Pendleton turned to Benny and waved at the door. “Wait outside, Tapkow. I’ll be with you in a minute.”
“Leave Tapkow be. There’s nothing I know about my daddy that Tapkow doesn’t know, or the Wellbeys, or the District Attorney, or-”
“Tapkow, leave this room!” Pendleton’s voice had that sharp ring, the way Patricia had sounded.
“Do him a favor, Tapkow, and wait outside.” She sounded offhand, hardly looking at him.
Benny left. He waited in the black-and-gold room, because he and Pendleton weren’t through yet. There were a few more things he wanted to say; perhaps he could even patch things up. It was worth the chance. He could hear Patricia’s voice, clear and angry, and then silence, because Pendleton never raised his voice enough so that he could hear.
Turk was leaning against the hall door with his hands in his pockets. Pendleton wasn’t through yet, either.
When the library door opened and Patricia came out, Benny jumped up. She was walking fast. Her evening dress made a dry sound and she dragged her cape as if it were a towel. “Your turn, Tapkow,” she said.
There was nothing soft about that girl. Her thin body was probably hard as iron and the cold face looked as regular and impersonal as a fashion ad.
When Benny got to the desk in the library, he noticed that Turk was right behind him.
“You don’t need Turk here,” Benny said. “I want to talk business to you.”
Pendleton rubbed his hands together. “Before you opened your mouth, Tapkow, I was going to give you another chance. I was going to-”
But he didn’t get any further. Benny saw the way it was, that Pendleton had made up his mind, that he was through, and that the old bastard was standing there ready for another one of his speeches before hauling out the ax.
“Another chance!” The excitement came through in Benny’s voice now. “Another chance! Like what? Like dusting off the desk for you, maybe? Like drawing the drapes, maybe, so the rug won’t fade?” Benny could feel Turk close behind him now. “You think you’re looking at Tapkow the handy boy? I’m going to show you just how handy-”
Then Pendleton nodded his head.
Turk had been close, too close. Benny made a half turn that ended when his elbow rammed into the stomach of the man behind and then his stiff fingers shot into the neck right under the chin. Turk’s eyes went crazy and the gun he was holding made a thud on the floor. Then Turk fell over.
Before Pendleton had moved, Benny was at the door. He tore it open. That’s when he almost fell. Pat was there, and her cold face looked startled when he put his arm around her waist to steady himself.
That was the second time she’d got in his way, but this time it helped. Pendleton was by the gun on the floor when Benny swung the girl around and Pendleton stopped where he was. His hand hadn’t even touched the gun yet.
“You idiot, you impertinent idiot!” Pat twisted around, stumbling, and her small hard fist caught Benny on the shoulder.
He held on. He dragged her through the black-and-gold room, under the columns, into the entrance hall. “You bastard!” she was yelling.
There was a junction box on the wall, hidden discreetly under the two-legged table with the mirror. The table went, then the box. Another kick and the wires tore. That took care of the phones. While the elevator doors opened, Benny held tight and watched Pendleton, who stood in the library door without moving. Then the elevator doors closed and Benny let go of the girl. He’d been right. She had felt hard and muscled, and when she swung around her balled hand caught him on the side of the head. “You bastard,” she said, but that was all she did. She turned away as if she had lost interest, and Benny couldn’t see her face.
She was wearing different clothes now. Her sweater had pulled up under her small breasts and the jacket she wore had come half off. She straightened her clothes as the elevator went down slowly, as in a bad dream.
They looked at each other and Benny felt uncomfortable under her cold, disinterested stare.
“Didn’t mean to drag you,” he said. “Sorry.”
“That’s what you got clipped for,” she said. She turned to look at the floor numbers blinking slowly over the elevator door.
“Turk got rough,” he added.
She just shrugged. He couldn’t see her face, but he had the feeling she didn’t give a damn for any explanations one way or the other.
Benny stood by the floor buttons and listened to the creeping hum when she talked again. “You needn’t worry,” she said. “I was going out anyway.”
She had meant it. When they got out at the basement garage she walked to one of the cars while Benny was running for the door. He was at the end of the alley when he heard the car squeal into the turn toward the street.
Pat Pendleton took Fifth Avenue south and then cut left into a maze of bleary streets that angled down to the East River. She stopped the car by a row of brownstones and entered one of the houses.
On the first floor a door was open to let the smoke drift out. People were singing Italian songs and a girl in a wedding dress stood in a crowd of people who were clapping their hands while the girl swung a wine bottle over her head. On the second floor the apartment doors were closed. A boy in a leather jacket was saying good night to a short girl in bobby socks and they were leaning against the wall by one of the closed doors. There was nobody on the third floor. Four empty bottles stood by one of the doors, and that’s where Pat stopped.
She knocked and a frowzy woman opened the door. She was wearing an apron, and the warm smell of stew came into the hall as she held the door open.
“Hi,” the woman said, and she stepped aside.
Pat went in and sat down at the kitchen table. “Anybody in?” she asked.
“A few.” The woman stood by the stove, turning the gas down. There was only the sound of the stew bubbling inside the pot.
“Is Harvey in?”
“No. Not for a while now.”
Pat shrugged and pulled her gloves off. They looked expensive and strange lying on the chipped tabletop.
“Coffee?” the woman asked.
The woman brought a cup from the stove and put it in front of Pat. Then she went back to the stove and pulled on a chain that hung down from a high ceiling vent. There were no windows in the kitchen.
“Harvey isn’t here?” Pat said.
“Haven’t seen him for months,” the woman said. She put a cigarette in her mouth and sat down at the table. “What you want him for, anyways?” When she talked she let the cigarette dangle, wobbling up and down.
“I don’t want him,” Pat said. “I was just asking.”
“He was riding the horse bad last I saw him. Out of his head most of the time.” The woman scratched where her corset ended. “They took him in, maybe.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Pat said. She was picking the polish off one fingernail.
They sat without talking for a while and then a record player started in the next room. Somebody scraped a chair, couch springs squeaked briefly.
“Why’d you come back?” the woman asked.
Pat looked up, a sharp line between her eyes. “Just slumming,” she said.
“You come here for a pop?”
Pat laughed, but it was just a sound. “I’m through with that stuff. Look what happened to Harvey.”
“Sure,” said the woman. “Sure.”
The door to the next room opened and a man in shirt sleeves stuck his head in. “Abe wants a small one,” he said. Then he looked at Pat and nodded to her. “Long time no see,” he said, and disappeared again.
He left the door open and a sweet reefer smell drifted into the kitchen. Then the woman went through the door and closed it. She was carrying a spoon, an eye dropper, and a little white capsule.
Pat kept picking at her fingernail. When she got up abruptly she almost upset her empty cup, but she did not reach for it to keep it from falling. She went into the next room, stepped aside to let the woman pass back into the kitchen, and walked over to the table. The two guys sitting there were nodding their heads and tapping their fingers on the tabletop. The phonograph gave out a sharp rhythm. There were two other men in the room and a lot of stuffed furniture. A weak bulb in the ceiling gave the room the tall dimness of a railroad station.
“Sit?” said the man who had looked through the door.
“Sure. How are you, Red?” Pat sat on the arm of his chair and watched him pull the smoke from his reefer. He blew it carefully back into his cupped hands and sucked it right down again. Then he rested back.
“Harvey ain’t here,” he said. He looked up at her and gave a dim smile.
“I know,” Pat said.
He slowly raised his arm, holding the thin cigarette, and when Pat took it he let his arm down, slowly again, and rested his hand on her thigh. Pat smoked the way he had done.
“Who’s on the couch?” she asked.
“Uptown trade,” Red said. “Don’t know him by name.”
Pat shifted her weight and started to play with Red’s fingers that were lying on her thigh. “I’m jumpy tonight, Red.” They passed the cigarette between them. “You alone, Red?”
They didn’t talk while one of the guys at the table changed records.
“Wait a while,” Red said.
Pat unbuttoned her jacket and shook it off her shoulders. When the jacket had fallen to the floor she took the reefer again. Red watched her. She looked good under the sweater.
The man on the couch turned over and sat up. There was a brittle look in his eyes and he was smiling. A little spasm at the corners of his mouth kept turning the smile on and off. He got off the couch and walked through a door to the back. While the door was open they heard movement in the dark room. Then the door closed. When it opened again the man from the couch came out, then another man and a frail-looking girl with frightened eyes. She was holding a coat close around her neck and the man next to her was carrying some things under one arm. A nylon stocking was dangling down.
“Still jumpy?” Red said. The three people had gone out through the kitchen. Pat looked at Red and made a movement with her lips. “I got the cure,” Red said, and they both got up and went into the next room.
The woman in the kitchen was eating stew when the hall door opened. It made a cracking sound as it caught on the latch chain. The woman had started to get up, but now she sat down again.
“Open this goddamn door,” a voice said, and a short gun nozzle appeared through the crack.
The woman didn’t move. “Who is it?” she said.
“It’s Fingers, beautiful.” The gun made a poke.
“You sonofabitch,” said the woman, saying it as if she were alone. When she had the door open the man came in and put the gun in his pocket. His face was pale and he had hardly any lips.
“Greetings,” he said, and smiled. “Is she here?”
“My master’s daughter.”
The woman stepped aside and went back to her stew.
Fingers didn’t find Pat in the first room, so he stepped into the next. They had turned the lights on and Pat was combing her hair.
“Greetings,” Fingers said.
Pat whirled around, but her face stayed even. She arched back and threw the small comb at the man.
He ducked and said, “Your father wants you.”
There was a pause and then Pat yelled, “No!”
Fingers only smiled.
“No!” she said again.
Red got off the bed and came toward Fingers, who took his hands out of his pockets. When Red was close enough, Fingers swung at his face, and Red fell back against the bed. He stayed there, smiling in his dim way.
Pat shrugged and let Fingers take her back to her father’s apartment. It was four in the morning, but Pendleton looked the way he always did. He sat straight in his chair in the library, hands placed on top of the desk.
Pat leaned over the desk and looked him in the face. “Well? I’m back. I was through, anyway.”
Pendleton stiffened, but either he didn’t know what she meant or he tried to ignore it. “Please, Pat, sit down. Please.” He smiled weakly.
She sat on the edge of the desk, dangling one leg. Pendleton got up and started to pace. “Patricia, please understand me. When you are unhappy it makes me unhappy too. And when you left earlier tonight, our misunderstanding-”
“Misunderstanding! My whole rotten life is a misunderstanding! Ever since I can remember-”
“Patty, please! You know I must be both a father and a mother to you. I have always tried my best to give you all that other children have and more. I-”
She laughed. “Children! Who’s the child around here? Who’s ever been a child around here?” Her voice got that high, metallic ring. “I’m over twenty-one, I get thrown out of parties, and I’ve got a father who sends his crooked underlings spying after me.” She jumped off the desk and stood, fists balled. “What is it you want from me? What is it you’re trying to do?” She stopped for breath.
“My dearest,” Pendleton sounded pained. “Only my best-”
“Your best?” It was almost a sob. “You call it your best to give me a name that’s like a stink to people who really count, a name that’s suspected behind every big and rotten thing that’s ever come this way?” She flung her arms in a dramatic gesture. “Oh, sure, among your cronies Pendleton probably means something big and holy, but to me it’s nothing but a mess, a muddle, and a lot of muck on my face.”
“Don’t Patricia me!” she shouted. “And then you even have the gall to send your creeps around to keep me pure and out of trouble. I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say there are certain places your daughter is not to go, and certain people she isn’t to see. Bah! You’re a fine example. My daddy is such a fine-”
“That’s enough, Patricia!”
His tone stopped her for the moment, but it didn’t scare her. “How did you know where I was, Daddy?” She gave him a cold smile.
“I didn’t I simply sent-”
“Do you know where I was, Daddy?”
“No, nor do I care. I suspected, considering your mood, that you ran out to consort with these jazz people you have been seen with. I instructed my man to make inquiries.”
She laughed again, and reached for a cigarette in her pocket. “Your man wasn’t inquiring. He busted in on me.”
“I beg your pardon?”
She lit the cigarette and dropped the match on the floor. “Don’t worry. I was dressed.” She blew smoke.
“Patricia!” There was angry, old-maidish shock in Pendleton’s voice. “Where did he find you?”
“A private club.”
Pendleton drew himself up and walked behind the desk. He sat down. “I am not interested in the details, Patricia, but didn’t you meet a man named Harvey in that-that crowd once?”
“Of course not.” Pendleton sounded now if he were talking on the telephone. “This Harvey, Patricia, is no longer a free man.”
“It may come as a shock to you, but I happen to know he was a dope addict.” Pendleton paused and Pat didn’t answer. “That is the kind of scum I want to protect you from!”
She crushed out her cigarette. When her head came up and she looked at her father there was a small smile on her face. “You sell the stuff, don’t you?”
Pendleton jerked up out of his chair and for a moment he seemed about to strike her. Pat held still. Her face never changed. “Don’t you?” she said.
Then he turned away and he stood almost motionless, except for his breathing. When he turned to face Pat again his face was a hard mask. He rubbed his hands together slowly, producing a sound like that of scales.
“As your father I forbid you to see certain things, say certain things, do certain things. If you wish, you can try to oppose me. It will do no good, Patricia, and will hurt my love for you. I even tell you what I would do. First, I would stop your allowance. Next-”
She threw her head back and laughed. “I can always-”
“I’m not finished. Next I would send you back to the sisters. That school has-”
“You think I’d stay?”
“I have asked you not to interrupt me. However, you tell me that you would not obey.” He came around to stand before her and his voice was ominous, so that she held still while he took her hands. “Patricia, do you remember where your mother died?” He lowered his head to hers. “In a sanatorium, Patricia.”
The girl stared at her father, her light eyes large and anxious.
“And if I cannot guide you, my own daughter-”
He did not have to finish his threat, because Pat crumbled. She leaned across the desk, head down, and pounded her fist on the top with the insistence of an automaton. Her teeth were clenched and she held her breath.
Then Pendleton put his hands on her shoulders and spoke with the gentleness he kept for his daughter. “I’m sorry, my dear. I’m sorry to frighten you. I only want your happiness, your well-being.”
“I understand.” She sounded surprisingly controlled, and there was a weird matter-of-factness in her tone. “May I go now?”
“Please. Let go. Can I have the car to drive back to school?”
“You’ve had no sleep, Patricia.”
“Exam week. I’ve got to get back.”
“I’ll have someone drive you.”
“Good night, my dear.”
“Good night,” she said, and closed the door when she left.
Benny knew the city well and for a while nobody found him. He laid low and didn’t leave the room he had taken except at night. He walked the streets, figuring on his moves and waiting for the time.
The nights were getting warmer. He walked past the little shops with the black windows and the big warehouses near the river, and his steps sounded like the only steps in the world. Then the waiting became like a fever and he walked faster, until the feeling passed and he turned back to his room with the damp spot on the ceiling and the bed with the musty Army blanket.
When he opened the door there was nothing but the black hole of the room. Then the door jumped out of his hand, slammed shut, and the black room was a crowded cage of fear and danger because the gun hit him in the spine. There was a breath on the side of his face, and when the bed creaked a voice said, “Keep still, Tapkow.”
He did. He felt the sweatband of his hat grow tight and itchy, but he kept his hands down as if they were stones.
“Turn around, Tapkow, and out the door.”
The gun behind him nudged him and the creak on the bed got up. Two of them in the room.
“Out the door, Tapkow.”
He found the doorknob and yanked. They followed him closely down the stairs and into the street, where a beat-up Plymouth waited. One drove, the other sat next to Benny. After a while he noticed that he’d been wrong about the car. Beat-up old stock cars don’t shoot off on the pickup and their motors don’t purr like cats.
All the time, from the room to the car, the guy next to him had kept a gun in his side. Benny sat still. He sat and concentrated on the chance, the always final chance, that this was not the end-that it wasn’t over yet.
They drove around for a while and ended up by the river. There was a pier, a motor launch, and then they splashed through the black water with the city blinking in the distance.
Benny didn’t see the yacht till they cut the motor and swung around. One of the goons whistled, somebody answered. They made fast and took him up the side. He almost fell when they led him through the low door of the cabin, and then, in the light, he saw that the room was just like any den, with leather chairs and a library table. They banged the door and Benny sat in a chair. Just like any big den, except that the windows were round. A warm room, but Benny felt cold.
Then the door opened. Benny looked, stood up, and then he did a thing that happened only sometimes. He took off his hat.
Alverato came in slowly, “Drink, Tapkow?”
Benny started to tremble. He couldn’t control it any longer, couldn’t keep it coiled forever, the waiting, the hope for a chance. Now that it was happening, he couldn’t quite believe it.
“Big-Alverato-” he stammered.
“Look, Tapkow. Not Big Alverato. It’s either Big Al or Mr. Alverato. Here’s you’re drink.”
Benny took it.
“Call me Al, Tapkow. Sit down.”
“Yes, Mr.-Yes, Al.”
Alverato watched how Benny tossed his glass. “You scared or something?”
Benny put the glass down but didn’t answer right away. He’d had the shakes. He’d had a lot to lose besides his life, and now that part was over. Now he was going to start again where Pendleton had meant to stop him.
“Hey, Tapkow, are you with me?”
And now all he had to do was sit and wait to see what Alverato wanted.
“How long you been away from Pendleton, Tapkow?”
“A week or so.”
“You been pretty thick with that queer, right?”
Benny didn’t like that. “I never saw him any more. I had my own territory.”
“That’s why you were driving him around in that monkey suit, huh?”
“That’s the night I left.” Benny felt himself get tense again.
Alverato laughed. He gave out big, wet guffaws that made the little curls on his head jump like springs. Then he ignored Benny while he prepared himself a cigar. He chewed one end of it flat and soggy before he started to light up. Benny waited.
“How’d you like to make a grand or so?”
“That depends, Al.”
“On where it’ll get me.”
Alverato thought that over and started again. “Look, I saw you the first time when you and that bookkeeping bastard was at my house. Right then, I figured you for a sharp kid and a right guy. Maybe I can use you.”
Now Benny sat up.
“So I ask you again: you been pretty thick with Pendleton?”
“What do you mean, thick?”
“I mean thick! What in hell’s the matter with you, Tapkow? You don’t know American or something?”
Benny wasn’t sure just how to play it. If he knew the angle, what Alverato wanted, then he could play it right. But Alverato hadn’t said a thing.
“You’re fishing, Alverato. You think you’ll fish around and put me through the hoops, and then maybe you’ll let me have a proposition. I’ve been around a while, Alverato.”
“Shut up already!” Alverato’s face was suddenly thick with blood. He went for another drink. He didn’t offer Benny one this time. “Let’s have some answers, Tapkow. You used to drive for Pendleton?”
“Sure. But I was running my own territory.”
“Jesus, Tapkow, don’t you ever shut up? The hell with your lousy territory. I want to know if you’ve driven for Pendleton!”
“I did jobs.”
“All kinds. Pick up his pants from the cleaners. Bring a message to his firm, carry his goddamn ledgers around.” Benny sounded irritated. “And answered the goddamn telephone. A telephone girl-”
“What kind of calls?”
“Christ, all kinds of calls. What kind of calls you interested in, Alverato?”
“Shut up. I’ll ask the questions.”
Benny shut up. He didn’t want to go too far.
“Let’s see what you know, Tapkow. Who was old Ager’s man in Frisco?”
“How did Ager get his junk into the country?”
“What else, damn it?”
“Pendleton handled that.”
“I asked how.”
“Italy. From Italy.”
“Tapkow, you don’t hear so good. You haven’t told me a thing I didn’t know.”
So that was it. Alverato couldn’t play with Pendleton, so maybe one of the flunkies knew a little something. Just a clue, maybe, a million-dollar clue.
“Well? Maybe you’re thinking?”
The chance, Tapkow, the one-in-a-million chance!
“There were a few phone calls that sounded big. There’s one that came through often. He’d send me out of the room after I took the call. Big stuff, by the way Pendleton acted. The contact was A.A. That’s all I can think of right now. A.A.”
“Big stuff? You said big stuff?” Alverato was up and roaring. “You bet your lousy life that was big stuff. Me, Agrippino Alverato, get it? A.A.! And now get outa here, you broken-down punk. Get outa here before I tear your head off!”
Benny sat paralyzed with fear. Not fear of the big man, like an ox butting the air. But felt himself turn limp with the sight of this thing running through his fingers. And it had been so close, so close…
“Get out!” and he could feel the fine spray of spit, the face was that close.
It woke him up. There was always that last ounce of strength.
Benny went to the table and poured himself a drink. His hand was shaking just a little, but he poured it. He drank the whisky neat, watching Alverato stand by. Perhaps Pendleton had been right about Big Al. A noisy hangover from another time, riding on the coattails of old Ager, a machine gun in each hand.
“I got something to sell.”
“You have-” Alverato wasn’t so fast any more. He was still staring.
“How much are you paying?”
“Listen, punk, I pay what it’s worth. What are you selling?”
“About the Italy contact. How much?”
“Punk, learn something. Big Al never pulled a double-cross. If it’s worth something, I pay plenty. But first I gotta see.”
“A thousand on account, Al. I never double-cross, either.”
Benny stepped closer and talked. “There’s a lodge up in the mountains. Pendleton goes there once, twice a year. Nobody used to go there but him and me driving. He hasn’t been there for a year. I was still driving him, now and then. The old keeper up there knows me, he hasn’t heard the latest.”
“Come on, come on, what’s up there?”
“It’s a safe, Al. I know where it’s hidden. No money in it-just papers and a notebook with a lock. I’ve seen it from the door. I’ve seen him hold the thing when he made his phone calls, some of them abroad, and everybody had to leave the room when he made-”
“All right, all right” Alverato walked to a porthole and looked out Then he turned.
“It’s a deal; you go up there. See me tomorrow at nine. One of the boys will pick you up at the pier.”
They started for the mountains at ten in the morning. Smiley drove and Benny sat in back. He had his arms folded and wasn’t talking.
“Call me Benny.”
“Sure thing, Benny. You got any idea what kind of a safe it is?”
“That’s your department. All I know, it’s in the wall.”
“Sure thing, Benny.”
They drove a while.
“Benny, is it round or square? You remember?”
“Oh. I guess that means-”
“Say, Smiley, how about thinking to yourself? This isn’t the wrong kind of job for you, is it?”
“Oh, no, Benny. I’ve studied with the best.”
“Sure thing, Benny.”
They drove for two hours and turned into the mountains. After that came a gravel road that wound through the woods.
The big gate came without warning. Benny got out, stopped at the left gatepost, and felt the mortared crevices between the big stones. One of them swung out and showed a telephone.
Benny talked, and then the gates swung open. They drove through, up the winding road, and stopped at the porch of the lodge. There was an old man on the steps and he was carrying a shotgun.
“Come on out and show yourselves,” he called.
“Mr. Benny! I sure am glad to see you again. And who might that be by your side?”
“That’s Smiley, Mr. Huston. A new man.”
“Mr. Pendleton never said nothin’ about him comin’ out.”
“That’s why he’s with me. It’s O.K., Huston, you can put that pepper-grinder down.”
“Well, come on up, then, but Mr. Pendleton never said nothin’ about no Smiley comin’ out here. In fact, Mr. Pendleton never said nothin’ about comin’ out this month at all, except maybe.”
Benny walked up to the old man. He sounded casual. “He said maybe, huh? He didn’t say any more than that, did he?”
“He said maybe, young feller. Don’t you know what he’s planning to do? Don’t you-Hey, what’s that Smiley feller fixin’ to do there?”
Huston took a step down from the porch, watching Smiley pull a long black satchel and a small oxygen tank out of the car. “I think I better-” and that’s as far as he got. Benny had stepped behind the old man and with a swift, efficient swing sapped him on the back of the head. Huston sank into himself and rolled down the wooden stairs.
Benny led the way through the big living room, through the kitchen, and into a pantry. He opened two cabinet doors-one on the bottom, one to the left-and then he pushed against the molding of the doorframe.
One of the pantry shelves started to hum and move, and there was the safe; small, round, flush in the wall.
Smiley took one look, dropped his tools, and went to work with his fingers.
First Benny watched. Then he went outside, came back. “You getting anywhere, Smiley?”
“How much longer?”
Benny stood by. He was tapping his foot.
“Benny, for chrissakes, stand someplace else. You’re making me nervous.”
Smiley straightened up and turned. “I don’t know if you know anything about this business, Tapkow, but I need to concentrate. So stop tapping your foot, huh?”
Smiley worked again. Benny was fidgeting his hat around, pushing it deep over his eyes.
“You can stop twitching. Here she comes.” He yanked the safe open.
“O.K. Everything.” Benny’s voice came like a hiss. “Stuff ‘em in your pocket. You dropped some. The notebook-give it to me. O.K., now let’s blow. The hell with the tools. Leave ‘em.”
“I don’t leave my tools, Tapkow.”
“You damn well-” He stopped. First they heard it and then they both saw it. The pantry shelf was sliding, slowly creeping back into place, pushing the open safe door until the lugs hit the steel rim of the safe and everything stopped.
“You brought a helpmate, Tapkow,” said the polite voice.
They turned quickly and saw the gaunt man in the dark suit. He stood by the pantry door, one hand in the pocket of his narrow-shouldered coat, the other on the molding of the door.
“Pendleton!” Benny’s voice was pure hate.
The man’s face started to smile, as if it pained him, but his close-set eyes never changed.
With a sudden movement Benny tossed the satchel at Pendleton and broke into a run. He dashed to the door leading into the kitchen, Smiley following close behind. They circled around the long table, ran through another door, down a hall, and into a study with tall French doors that gave onto the terrace.
Pendleton hadn’t moved. He didn’t have to. Before the two men were halfway across the study, they saw the short guy with the. 45, and it was between them and the terrace outside. When they turned back there was another one. They stopped.
Nobody moved while the slow, precise sound of creaking shoes came down the hall. The door opened and Pendleton came in.
“Tapkow,” he said, “will you step into the hall, please?”
Benny moved when the gun jabbed into his back. The man with the gun followed.
Pendleton stepped aside to let them pass.
“Go halfway down the hall, Tapkow, and there you will find one of the papers. You dropped it in your haste. Pick it up, bring it back, and put it on the piano.”
“Your friend’s name is Smiley, I believe? Smiley, step over to the piano, empty your pockets of everything you stole from the safe, and put it with the paper already there. And you, Tapkow, do the same.”
They did. Again Benny wasn’t afraid of Pendleton, afraid for his life, scared of the crazy vengeance that Pendleton might take, but he could see another chance run out. And that, to Benny, was like death.
Smiley stood close by, fumbling in his pockets. There was sweat on his upper lip, and he licked it.
“Is this it?” he whispered close to Benny’s face.
“You needn’t whisper.” Pendleton’s voice came clear and close. He was standing behind them. “To answer your question, this is not it. Finish what you are doing and I will allow you to return to Alverato. Alive, in case you are worried. You will return to Alverato and tell him that I resent his crude attempts at forcing this issue. You will tell him that I am not interested in the least in any further business dealings with him. And now that you are finished, turn around and head out of that door.”
Pendleton stepped aside and the two men turned. Smiley was still licking the sweat off his lip and Benny’s face was drawn with a stubborn hope. Perhaps-His sleeve caught in the frame of a small picture that stood on the piano. With an irritated gesture he pulled his arm and the thing flew to the floor. In the confusion, his heel came down on the glass, breaking it and grinding the splinters into the portrait.
Pendleton had not said a word.
The gunmen filed after Tapkow and Smiley, and Pendleton followed last, closing the doors as he went. They walked out of the study, through the solarium, into a dining room, then through the big living room and out on the porch.
“Stop.” Pendleton’s voice was precise. “Go to the car, Smiley. Tapkow, you stand where you are.”
When Smiley was in the car, Pendleton waved to one of his men.
“On the floor,” Pendleton said.
The gunman took Benny from behind and broke him to the ground. Then Pendleton stepped up. He looked down. His foot jarred out, making a sickening thump as it dug into Benny’s stomach. Benny convulsed, groaned, and then he passed out with his breath making a gagging sob.
He woke through a red fog of pain. The next thing he noticed was the cold sweat on his face, and then the voices.
“…still think it’s best up here.”
“You couldn’t do much better for privacy.”
Benny hadn’t recognized them, but he knew the next voice. “Except for the caretaker. He is conscious now and I prefer that he not hear any shots.” Then the voice was closer to Benny. “You awoke in time,” said Pendleton, “to witness your exit.”
Benny saw the rafters of the porch, the three faces. There was a hot cramp in his stomach, and he wasn’t aware of much else.
“We’ll do it here,” Pendleton said. He was not looking at Benny any more. “We will stop a little farther down the road, and you, Ludlow, will attend to the matter. Can you manage it without the gun?”
“Sure, Mr. Pendleton.”
“When he’s dead, bring him back to the car. In the trunk, I’d say.”
They all looked at Benny, on the floor, and Ludlow nodded. “In the trunk,” he said.
“Tapkow, can you walk?”
With senseless automatism he started to raise himself on one elbow. He swallowed the gasping pain, got to his knees, rested.
“Come on, Tapkow, you can make it.”
He could. He even walked to the car, where one of the men held the door for him. He almost said thanks when they gave him a hand through the door.
It was nice to sit on the cushiony seat The inside of the car was warm and Benny felt like sleeping a little. Only the motion of the car gave him discomfort.
Then he started, because Pendleton had been speaking.
“Before you are dead, you should know why I punished you before. There is always a reason for my actions. You were guilty of disrespect The picture you broke was of my daughter.”
Benny had never been a man who hated much. But now a concentrated strength seemed to come to him, and that, he knew, was hate.
The car moved down the road, then stopped. Benny was sitting as before. When Ludlow opened the door and waved at him with his gun, Benny got out, reached back for his hat, and walked ahead of Ludlow as he was told. He did not look back at Pendleton, in the car, or at the driver, who was opening the trunk.
“Stop,” Ludlow said, and Benny stopped. He turned around.
Ludlow stood hunched just beyond arm’s reach and he was shifting the heavy gun to hold it by the barrel. Apparently he was to be clubbed to death.
“I didn’t say nothing about turning around.” Ludlow, built like an ape, shifted the gun back into shooting position.
Benny stood and eyed the man.
“I’ll make a hole in ya regardless,” Ludlow said, “so better turn around.”
Benny turned around, listening for the movements behind him. Ludlow hadn’t moved.
“Now take off yer hat.”
“You take it off, monkey boy.”
“Why-” Ludlow controlled himself and shifted the gun again, handle up. Benny heard it.
With a sudden crouch Benny took a step forward and stopped. He had figured it right. Ludlow couldn’t have stopped him with a swing of the gun, and only now was the barrel pointing at him again. But Benny wasn’t moving any more. And three feet ahead of him there was a tree.
“Funny man,” Ludlow was saying, “I almost drilled ya.”
Benny didn’t answer because he was listening. There were the slow steps of Ludlow, who was dragging his feet over the noisy forest floor. The sound stopped, very close behind, and again, Benny heard the slight scrape as Ludlow shifted the gun to make it a club.
“Take off yer hat.”
“Crap,” Benny said.
He heard the angry grunt and, not moving, the heave as Ludlow reared up for the swing. He had been close enough for it until Benny shot forward. He lunged ahead to crash into the tree, where he held himself with both arms, head slightly turned.
It must have looked good to Ludlow. The crazy runt had knocked himself silly and was hanging by the tree.
Benny waited the split second it took for Ludlow to charge, and when the gun came down it just grazed the crown of his hat.
From there on it went the other way. Ludlow’s wrist was in Benny’s hand and then the trick with the levered pull over one bent knee. Ludlow’s arm snapped. Before his scream could tear loose, two steel-trap claws clamped down on his neck, and through the thrashing and rolling they never let go until the blue face was dead. Benny left him there.
He walked through the underbrush with the gun in his hand, and when the tall car appeared through the leaves his teeth were clamped with hate.
He started firing too soon. The magazine was empty when he tossed the gun down, screaming after the car whose open trunk lid was dipping wildly as it lurched down the road.
It had come to him when Pendleton had explained about the kick in the stomach. That was before they took him into the woods to die.
It had meant Ludlow’s death before Benny ever got his hands on that throat, and now it was with him, big and real like a dream come true. It was a clincher, a plan that meant big time.
When Benny got to the place where Alverato kept an apartment, it was seven in the evening. He rang the bell and there was the redhead again. The gown she was wearing was held up by nothing but nature.
“Why, the shofer!” she said, and stepped aside.
When Benny was in, she closed the door. “You wait here,” she said. “I gotta go and finish dressing.”
Benny watched her leave and thought she’d better. He stood in the empty foyer and waited. Then Alverato came.
He was wearing a black tuxedo and the stone in his shirt front made little blue flashes. Alverato stopped and banged the door behind him.
“I thought you was dead.”
It was just a remark. No question, no welcome, just a remark and a cold face.
Benny looked back at the big man and tugged at his hat. “I got something you’ll want to hear.”
“Yeah? About how you got kicked in the stomach?”
“I’m serious, Al.”
“Oh. It’s about how you got away from the big bad wolf or something and then snuck away to tell about it.”
Benny bit his lip and made his voice sound quiet. “This is big, Al. I can get Pendleton over a barrel.”
“I know that. Like the last time. Now blow. It’s after working hours.”
“Al, you’ve got to listen to me. I-”
“Tapkow, you sonofabitch, you goofed!” It was a roar, then another door opened and two goons came in. One of them was Birdie. Alverato nodded at him and left by the door through which the redhead had gone.
Birdie’s. 45 looked at Benny’s stomach. It walked closer. It was as simple as that, and Benny left. They closed the door after him.
At eleven in the evening the street was empty. It had drizzled a little and there were little puddles in the gutter. Benny worked his damp shoulders and looked through the glass door into the empty foyer.
When the elevator door slid open Big Al came down the long carpet with the redhead on his arm and three sour-looking hoods were making a procession of it. A fourth was leading the way, Birdie, wearing his padded suit like a uniform.
When they came out on the street Benny stepped forward, but the small guy was already in front of him, the cannon tucked close under Benny’s ribs. “Crowd this guy,” he said, and three hoods rushed over, pushing Benny flat against the wall. He couldn’t move.
“See if he’s clean.”
“Over to the alley.”
They started to move in a body when Benny caught Alverato’s eye.
“Al, you’ve got to listen. Tell these bird dogs to stop a minute and listen to what I’ve got.”
They kept on moving while Alverato looked at him as if he were a bug. The redhead giggled.
“Al!” It was a yell.
He hung on to his chance like a dog that had to be dead before he’d let go.
They had him almost at the alley now and Benny couldn’t even turn to see where Alverato stood in the doorway.
“Whyn’tcha let him talk?” asked the redhead.
“The car isn’t here yet, baby boy. We’re just standing around doing nothing.”
They were going around the corner of the building.
“Why don’tcha, hon?”
“Bring him back,” Alverato called.
This time they let him walk by himself and Benny ran to the entrance, his face a grimace of intensity.
“Al, listen, I’ll talk fast. This is how you can get Pendleton and get him forever. We can get him in the only place where it hurts. He has-”
“Your car, boss,” and they pushed him aside to file into the big sedan that had pulled to the curb. Alverato and the girl got in first, then the others. Benny kept talking, fast now: “This time it’s foolproof, for chrissakes. Do you hear me? He’s got a daughter, Al, and nothing means more to him than his daughter, believe me, because if anything should happen to her-” they slammed the door-”Pendleton would give his skin to-”
The car started moving and Benny clawed the glass of the window with frantic hands, beside himself now and hoarse: “Al! Hear me! I’ll do it myself, by God! The contact, Al! The contact in Italy-”
The car took off with a roar and Benny staggered into the gutter. He thought he heard a giggle and then he was alone. His hands opened and closed, his breath was like a spasm. A puddle of dirty water was soaking his shoes. He could see the red taillights shine and grow small. Then his head sank down.
When he looked up again he saw the bare street and in the darkness the small red lights were still there, steady now, standing still at the end of the block. It meant nothing to him when the voice caught him: “Tapkow! Can’t you hear? Alverato’s waiting for you!”
Benny didn’t move. He stood in the street looking at the car farther down. One door was open and a man was waving an arm. “Tapkow! On the double!”
Benny took a deep breath, harsh and long. First he wiped his hands on his pants, then he reached up and pulled his hat down firmly until it was square on his head. Then he moved and stood on the curb.
When the car backed up he waited till the rear door was exactly in front of him. They opened the door for him and closed it after he was in. The girl wasn’t giggling any more.
“You’ll need some clothes,” Alverato said.
Benny finished his drink. “Yeah,” he said.
“Here’s two thousand on account. That should hold you till Florida.”
They didn’t say anything for a while. Alverato paced around the office. He was licking his lips. “You sure about the schedule, Tapkow? No slip-ups?”
“I made it up, didn’t I?”
“Anyway, go over it once more. Five days from now-”
“You have your men in St. Petersburg. Corner of Orangewood and Ninth. I don’t know when I’ll get there, so have them stand by all day, starting at nine A.M. I’ll deliver. If anything goes wrong on my end, I’ll call you. Here at the club during the next two days, at the Florida place after that.”
“O.K. I guess that’s it for now. Have a drink for the road?”
Benny had a drink for the road. Then he left. He went to the parking lot of the club and found the gray Cadillac he was going to use for the trip. He gunned the motor a few times and took off.
When he got downtown he stopped the car at a hotel, told the doorman to have it parked, and took a room for the night. It cost twenty-five dollars and he paid in advance. Then he walked into the haberdashery in the lobby, bought two suits, three jackets, four pairs of slacks, and the rest of the stuff from the skin out. Then he went upstairs.
He took a shower and had a drink, and then his clothes came. He put on one of the suits and went down to the dining room. After his meal he had another drink and then he went to bed. He slept till nine in the morning. At eleven he was driving down a highway south of the city.
Vanmeer College lay in the small wooded hills that looked like a picture in a travel folder. Benny stopped in Portville, twenty miles from the college, and walked into a drugstore. He dialed long-distance and got the college.
“This is Mr. Pendleton’s chauffeur,” he said. “We left a message for Miss Patricia Pendleton a few days ago but she hasn’t answered. May I speak to her now?”
“I’m afraid that isn’t possible, sir. She’s attending Spring Convocation and won’t be available until after two. Would you care to call again?”
“No, thank you. Please give her my message, though. Tell her Mr. Pendleton’s chauffeur will be at the college at two-thirty and she should be ready to leave about then. And another thing, miss. You might tell whoever is responsible that Mr. Pendleton is annoyed with this inefficiency of yours. We have called several times and apparently nobody ever told Miss Patricia. See that it doesn’t happen again.”
He hung up and went to the service counter.
“Cup of coffee, black,” he said, and lit a cigarette.
So far, so good. Next he had to pull it off with Pat herself. He didn’t know her too well, but he hoped she’d have enough respect for her old man to follow along with the bogus order. This con job was going to tell the tale. He could end up dead or he could end up with the life that he needed; on top.
Benny jammed his hat down farther and left.
At two-thirty sharp he walked into the Administration Building of Vanmeer and asked for Miss Pendleton. He was wearing a chauffeur’s cap now. They let him wait for a while, phoning and checking, while Benny sat in a straight-backed chair reading a college bulletin. He was dying for a smoke.
“Miss Pendleton says you should pull up to the dorm. It’s McTooley Hall, the one with the spires on the other side of the green.”
Benny drove around the green, his hands slippery on the wheel.
She was standing on the steps of the building, looking for a familiar car and seeing none. Her short blonde hair looked rumpled in the wind, and she was slapping her blowing skirt down with an irritated gesture. Benny saw how brown her legs were.
“Miss Patricia! Over here.”
She waited for him to come out When he stood by the steps below her, she waited for him to speak.
“Did you get our message, Miss Pendleton?”
Her face kept its coldness, like her father’s. “What are you doing here, Tapkow?”
“It’s this way, Miss Patricia. We’ve tried to reach you several times but you never got the message. Mr. Pendleton would like you to join him over the holidays, at the place in Florida. I brought the car to take you down.”
She didn’t answer right away. “I thought you and Turk had a fight.”
“That’s all patched up. Mr. Pendleton was very generous.”
“He would be.” She looked down at him. “Florida? This is awfully short notice.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Pendleton. But your father was very insistent.”
“He would be,” she said again.
They looked at each other for a moment without speaking and then she came down two steps, standing close to him. “You mean you and Turk had a fight with dear Daddy right in the same room and you got away with it?” One side of her mouth flicked upward a little in a half-smile. “How’d you manage that?”
Benny felt tense, but he merely shrugged and smiled. She had come very close and her blowing skirt kept touching his leg.
Then her smile dropped away and she stepped back. “Florida’s fine,” she said. She was talking to the help again. “I’ll call you when the bags are ready.” She went into the building.
Benny took a deep breath and leaned against the car. He took his cap off to wipe the band. Then he jammed it on again. “I’ll call you when the bags are ready-” that high-assed little bitch. To look at, there wasn’t much wrong with her except for those goddamn brassy manners. She didn’t look her twenty-three years.
“Tapkow! You may pick the bags up now.” She was at the window, three flights up. “Ask the girl at the desk for a pass and she’ll show you the way up.”
He got upstairs, his manner as it should be, and gathered up the luggage.
“When you have the bags stowed, wait for me in front of Administration. Some last-minute plans. Well, go on, Tapkow We’re in a hurry, aren’t we?” She ran from the room, leaving him with her bags.
He waited in front of Administration for close to an hour. His hands had started to itch and he rubbed them along the steering wheel with an irritated movement. At first, when he heard the voice, he didn’t move.
“Hi. She’ll be right along.” Somebody opened the rear door of the car.
Benny turned. He felt jumpy.
A youngish woman sat in the back, smoothing her lumpy seersucker suit, which could have fitted any size from bean pole to matron. She had an artless permanent that flattened out her head, rimless glasses, the wrong lipstick. Her legs weren’t bad, not counting those shoes, and even her face wasn’t bad, except that she didn’t know what to do with it.
“You got the wrong car, sister. Beat it.”
She blinked at him, unable to move. “I’m-I’m sorry, but I think-”
“Come on, come on!”
Then she got her strength back and scrambled out of the car. Outside she hesitated, turned, and came to the window in front. “I’m sorry, but isn’t this the Pendleton car?”
“What’s it to you?” Benny was tense, too tense.
“Well-” she tried to smooth things with a queer laugh-”the truth is I was asked. I was invited.”
“Didn’t Pat tell you? She’s taking me along. To Florida. I’m Nancy Driscoll.”
Some last-minute plans, she had said. Some last-minute plans to screw up a million-dollar deal-and then he saw Pat coming.
“Well,” she called, “you got here before I did. Have you two met? Our chauffeur, Benny Tapkow; Miss Driscoll.”
“We met,” Benny said. He got out of the car, picked Miss Driscoll’s bag off the sidewalk, and put it into the trunk. The two women were standing by the car, chatting. Not a word out of the Driscoll dame about what had happened. She was that kind. Much too scared to make a fuss, and much too proper to complain.
“Miss Driscoll works in the Dean’s office,” Pat said. “I’ve been in the Dean’s office so often, we got to know each other quite well, didn’t we, Nancy?” Pat laughed, and Nancy managed a pinched smile.
“It was so good of you to ask me,” she said. “And at the last minute, too. Why, if it had been fifteen minutes later I would have been on my way to Mother’s.”
“You can see her all summer,” Pat said. “Let’s get in.”
“I have to be here for summer school.”
“Come on, Nancy.”
They got into the back and Benny started the car. He took off with a fast burst, careening down the mountain road as if he were driving a getaway car. No such luck, though. What he wanted to get away from was sitting right in the back, one smug bitch who thought she was society and one dumb spinster who thought she was going to have a vacation. They were both going to get the surprise of their lives.
“Your Mr. Tapkow drives just like a gangster,” Miss Driscoll said, and she tried her laugh again.
Pat threw her head back and really laughed. She couldn’t stop for a while and then she leaned forward and tapped Benny on the shoulder. “Hey, Tapkow, did you hear that?” She was laughing again. “God, did you hear that, Tapkow?”
“Have I said something funny?” Miss Driscoll looked expectant.
“Funny?” Pat was overdoing the laughter now. “Funny!” and she started to fumble with her handbag. She pulled a pint out, unscrewed the top, and took a drink. “Nice,” she said, and handed the bottle to Miss Driscoll. “Come on, come on, Nancy, or I won’t tell you the funny story.”
While Benny started to sweat, they argued a while longer about the drink and then Miss Driscoll had one and said she enjoyed it. “And now the funny story, Patty.” She handed the bottle back.
“Did you ever know any gangsters, Nancy?”
“Of course not,” Miss Driscoll said.
Pat sat back in her seat and made her voice confidential. “Darling, don’t breathe a word of this, but you have met one.”
“Tapkow, here. He used to be one.”
Miss Driscoll’s mouth turned into an O and then they both had another drink.
“He claims he never was a gangster himself, but he chauffeured for one. Tapkow, tell Nancy about it.” Pat laughed again.
“You don’t want to ask me those things.” He tried to make it sound offhanded. He wished they’d shut up and let him think. Between now and St. Petersburg he’d better come up with a sharp answer, because when he stopped at Orangewood and Ninth only one dame was going to be in the car, and that was going to be Pat.
“Tapkow, say something. Tell us about that time you worked for the gangster.”
“There’s nothing to tell.” He sounded curt. “I just drove for him. Picked him up at the office and drove him home. That’s all.”
“He’s a little shy about it,” Pat said to Miss Driscoll, “so I’ll tell you. Do you know what he really did, Nancy? He pimped for that man!”
That crazy bitch, what was she up to? And how’d she know about that part?
“You don’t say!” Miss Driscoll sounded breathless. Benny couldn’t tell whether she was shocked or merely interested. “Why, Patty,” she went on, “is your father aware of this-this background? My heavens, this-” and she ended with nothing. They exchanged the bottle.
Pat was liking the game. “You don’t have to worry about him, Nancy. He only does it for pay. What’s the current price, Tapkow? How much would we fetch?” and she gave her cold laugh.
“You shouldn’t talk like that, Miss Patricia.” It came out evenly, not showing the effort it was costing him to hold his temper. One more crack out of her and he’d give her an answer.
“Take Nancy, here,” Pat went on. “Or let’s put it this way: Would you take Nancy, here?”
Nancy answered that one herself. “Patty! I forbid you to talk that way. Why, in all my years-” She hiccuped.
“How old are you, Nancy?”
“Is she too young, Tapkow?”
“Christ, no,” he said, keeping his eyes on the road.
There was only a sound from Miss Driscoll, but Pat took it up. “Too old, then,” and Benny knew there’d be that smirk on her face.
There was a weak “My heavens” from Miss Driscoll and Benny could hear the bottle clink. “She’s not too old,” he said. “The disposition’s what counts, Miss Patricia. The nice disposition.”
There was silence from the back, and before Pat could give an answer Miss Driscoll started to cry.
Pat put her arm around the woman. “Nancy, what’s wrong? Here, Nancy, have another drink.”
But Miss Driscoll just kept sobbing and hiccuping, shaking her head from side to side. Then she leaned back into the cushions of the seat and gave a deep sigh. A minute later she was out cold.
“Stop the car,” Pat said, and she sounded like a child who had just broken her toy. “I’m coming up front.”
She came up front and sat down with her legs tucked under her. Benny saw she wasn’t any too sober herself, but she just sat without talking. The line was between her brows and she stared straight ahead.
“Drive like hell, Tapkow.”
She was holding onto the bottle and the whisky in it kept getting lower.
He drove fast. Every so often he wiped his hands on the scat.
When he heard the clunk he turned his head and saw the bottle on the floor. Pat sat slouched against the door, mouth open. Her eyes were only partly closed but Benny knew she was out.
This was it.
He waited another five minutes and then he came to a gentle stop. Letting the motor idle, he edged carefully out of his seat, out of the car, and then gently tried the handle of the rear door. Both women breathed like sleepers. There were woods on his side of the highway, thick enough to hide a body that wasn’t moving. He’d dump her there and take off. He wouldn’t need much of a head start before she’d wake up wondering what in hell had happened. And if she was under enough, he could take her skirt off or something, and she might wait a while before she dared step out on the highway and flag a ride.
Benny opened the door, put one leg inside, and leaned over Miss Driscoll. She just breathed. He worked his hands under her slowly and started to tug. She didn’t weigh so much, but it was awkward. Leaning closer, with his arms solidly around her now, he could feel her breath on his face. Her eyelids fluttered a little and her mouth seemed to twitch. Suddenly the eyes were open, staring him straight in the face no more than a few inches away. She’ll scream, Benny thought. Then her arms came up, and clutched him by the neck. Her lips came full on his, pushing against him. The eyes were closed now.
With a mighty effort Benny yanked himself free and staggered backward out of the car. Still lurching, he slammed the rear door shut and jumped behind the wheel. The car took off with a jolt and a roar.
“Easy, boy. Easy there.” Pat sat up, looking around wildly. She gave a weak grin and slumped back against the door. From the way she was breathing, Benny knew she was out again.
He drove. He didn’t look in the rear-view mirror. Then came a little pat on his shoulder. “Is she asleep, Mr. Tapkow?”
Silence. Then another tap. “It seems I was asleep, too, Mr. Tapkow. I was dreaming.”
“Yeah. So was I.”
“Yeah,” she said.
He didn’t have a chance from then on. For the rest of the trip-when they stayed overnight, when they stopped to eat, while driving-the two women stuck together like glue. Pat had given up playing games and Miss Driscoll was full of small talk. So no matter how he figured it, there wasn’t a chance to pry the two of them apart. He was on schedule, he was delivering, but it also looked as if he was going to gum the works. It was a good thing they weren’t trying to talk to him. His skin prickled and there was a dry clot in his throat.
He got to St. Petersburg around noon and had to crawl through the downtown traffic.
“You’re dawdling, Tapkow.” He couldn’t see her in the back, but her voice was plain enough. There was that line between her eyes, and he knew her mouth was pulled narrow. The same kind of temper as her father’s; not hot, but cold as ice.
“Tapkow! Turn back and use the cutoff. Why do you drag us through this impossible downtown traffic?”
“Yes, miss,” he said, but he kept going straight ahead. Any minute now he’d be at the intersection, the pickup jumbled by two crazy dames. A thousand miles of watching for a chance and nothing but a blank.
“I thought I told you-”
“The light, miss. I’ll have to cross.”
Those hoods at the corner better know how to improvise. Perhaps there’d be a chance to signal them. He crawled across the intersection. Not too slow, Tapkow.
This is it.
“Miss Patricia, I’m sorry, but I’ve got to stop a minute. The drugstore. It won’t take but a minute.”
He was at the curb, the car in neutral.
“Tapkow, can’t that wait till-” But he was out already.
The convertible across the street stood by the curb as arranged. Two men were crossing over, talking. They nodded at each other, looking thoughtful and absorbed. The bastards were overdoing it. Benny tried to catch their eyes, but they never looked up. Pat’s voice came again from the window, calling his name. Let the little bitch froth at the mouth. Don’t turn, Tapkow, the drugstore now…
“Are you deliberately trying to ignore me?”
The shock kept him from turning.
“Never mind. I’ve come this far, I’ll get it myself.” Pat walked past him to the neat glass door of the drugstore.
He felt the cold sweat crawl over him at the sight of his failure. His breath was a pain, and his teeth clamped down on his lip so he wouldn’t scream. Only a hoarse rasp like the sound of an animal came through, hurting his throat.
It brought him back, but then it was too late anyway. The two men had opened the doors of the Cadillac, one in the front, one in the rear, and Benny heard the roar of the motor as the car shot away from the curb.
He could see Pat by the glass. She had stopped at the sound, annoyance in the fast turn of her head, and her eyes fixed on the car, which had suddenly started to move. “Hey!” She stepped to the street, bewildered. “Hey, there! Stop!”
A man turned to look, and then a woman. A girl with a child stopped near the curb. And then Benny moved.
He was at Pat’s side and his hand clamped on the arm she was raising in an angry gesture. Her mouth had opened but nothing came.
“Shut up!” he said. He said it low, but there was sharpness in his voice and it worked. “Through the door.” She turned with his push.
It wasn’t going to last. In a moment she’d find her breath, and her temper, and then…
“You-you impertinent swine! Have you completely lost your mind? Will you let go of-”
He started out fast, too fast, but then he smoothed it and it sounded like concern. “The confusion, Miss Pat, the people staring-I’m sorry, an impulse. It was a mistake. They must have made a mistake. One Cadillac looks like another, you know. They’ll be back in a minute, Miss Pat. Don’t let this upset you. In the meantime, I’ll phone the police, then your father’s place. You came here to buy something?”
She blinked at him. “Tapkow, what’s going on here?”
“The shock, Miss Patricia. For a moment I thought they were jumping the sidewalk, coming right at you. I apologize, Miss Patricia. What was it you wanted to buy?”
“Oh. Cold cream.”
“The counter is in the back, to the left. In the meantime, I’ll phone.”
He stood in the phone booth and breathed the thick air. Had it worked? She was at the cosmetics counter, buying things. And now with the snatch gone sour, with nothing to repair it… He gave his head a sharp shake. One thing was clear: He had her and he was not going to let her get away. This thing couldn’t end here, not with the girl in his hands in spite of everything.
The cosmetics counter was empty.
But when he had crashed the folding door she was there, coming toward him. “I need money. My purse is in the car.”
He reached into his pocket and gave her a bill.
“Gad, you’re sweating. Have you called?”
“Just the police. Now your father.”
She watched him close the door, then turned.
This time he took the phone off the hook and dropped his coin into the slot. He dialed a number. If only the contact was still by the phone… But it was late, maybe too late. He heard the signal and sweated. The ringing signal was repeated again and again but no one answered. He hung up. Pat was at the counter.
Perhaps the harbormaster. The yacht must still be there. He dialed again.
“Harbormaster’s Office. Rubin speaking.”
“Hello. Is there a way you can get in touch with a yacht in your harbor? Right away?”
“If they got a ship-to-shore phone. Or if they got short wave you can try the Coast Guard. Which ship is it?”
“No short wave. They don’t have short wave.” All he needed was the Coast Guard. “They got a phone setup, I think. Try and get them, will you? There’s a message.”
“The Paloma. Are you trying?”
“Hold on. I’ve got to check.”
“Check what? They’re out there, aren’t they? Ring the damn phone.”
Benny wiped his face and waited.
“I’m sorry, they don’t answer. I can try-Hey! She’s cast off. She’s moving. You still want me to-”
“Yes, for chrissakes, keep it up!”
“Won’t be any good much longer. They’re moving out of range. I’d say your best bet is the Coast Guard. The number is-” Benny slammed the receiver down.
Pat was at the milk bar, waiting for him. He was stuck with her.
Alverato’s men never gave Miss Driscoll a chance to explain their mistake. First she was speechless, then they didn’t listen to her, and finally the one who sat in the back with her clapped his big hand over her mouth because she was starting to get too noisy. At the pier she was first clunked over the head and then led out like a drunken woman. The onlookers only laughed.
Afterward she didn’t remember the motorboat ride too well, for during most of it she was feeling dizzy and sick, but when they started to push her up the companionway of the yacht she suddenly jerked to get free and fell into the water.
It cleared her head. They pulled her out and up the companionway again, and once inside the cabin she was glad to be alone. Perhaps she was dreaming. No. She was awake and wet. She pulled at her seersucker suit, which was clinging in a disturbing way, then she huddled down into the sofa. None of this made sense. A kidnapping? What could they want with her? Not money, because whoever owned this yacht must have plenty of that. But then, no respectable millionaire would have ordered this kind of frightful abduction. Respectable! It must be-”Goodness,” she said aloud. “A gangster! A rich gangster!”
Benny’s talk came back to her in a rush. Not until then had she felt frightened. Miss Driscoll jumped up, fluttering with panic, when the door opened.
The big man walked in alone, his red face the image of a lecher. He took quick, energetic steps and with each one the little curls on his head made springy jumps. He stopped in front of the shivering woman and said, “I’m Alverato,” and he looked her up and down. Then he stepped back, reached for a glass and bottle, and poured himself a drink. “Want one?” He waved the bottle at her.
Miss Driscoll drew back.
He took a long swallow. Then he licked his lips. “You know, kid, I thought you was younger.”
Miss Driscoll shivered.
“Guess you’re cold. I’ll get you something.”
Alverato went to the door and yelled a name.
“Yes, boss?” A short man came running.
“We got any dry clothes for her?”
“I don’t know, boss. I don’t think so.”
“Well, go take a look. Take a look where Phyllis had her stuff.”
“She took all hers.”
“Go take a look, damn it There must be something there.”
“Yes, boss.” The man left.
Alverato came back and looked at Miss Driscoll with a cold eye. She tried to step back again, but she had reached a bulkhead. Her fright showed clearly now.
There was a knock on the door and the short man was back. “All I found was some sun suits or something. And a towel.”
“O.K., let’s have ‘em.” Alverato took the handful of clothes and threw them on the couch. He brought her the towel. “Here, kid, dry yourself. Get in those duds and make yourself presentable. Then we’ll talk.” To her vast surprise, Alverato turned and went to the door. “I’ll be back. Yell when you’re ready.” He slammed the door.
Yell when you’re ready! And what did he want her to do afterward? Smile? Coo? Seem happy? Was this nightmare to go on like clockwork, like a customary thing of daily occurrence? A sudden shiver came over her and she began to rub her hair mechanically. The clothes, dry and gay-colored, lay on the couch. Miss Driscoll stepped to the door, tiptoeing, but there was no sound. She clicked the lock and went back to the couch. With trembling fingers she took off her clammy clothes and rubbed herself with the towel. Then she picked through the things on the couch. The man had been right; nothing but sun suits. She picked one with pedal pushers for pants, but her hips were too wide. The next pair of pants fitted, but were so brief she immediately picked up another pair. These were worse, but there was no time to change again now. For the upper part there was a thing with collar, sleeves, and buttons down the front. When she had it on Miss Driscoll discovered that all the upper buttons were fake. They buttoned nothing. In the end only a halter did a job for her, a disgraceful one, but still functional.
The sight she saw in the mirror over the couch made her gasp. She must wait for her own clothes to dry. Nothing else would do. Then Alverato was at the door.
“You decent?” he called.
Decent! Was this man mad?
“Come on, open that door, kid, or do you want me to get rough?”
He was mad.
Miss Driscoll scooped up the towel and draped it over her shoulders. Clutching it tightly in front, she unlatched the door and jumped back, ready to defend herself.
Alverato came in, looked at her, and said, “Sorry I got nothing better. Sit down.”
Where, how, what next?
Alverato looked at her with a puzzled face; then he reached out and pushed her onto the couch. “I said sit. Now listen.”
“Why?” Miss Driscoll’s voice was a wail.
“Why me? How ever did you come to pick me? This is a terrible nightmare!”
“Huh?” Alverato’s mouth hung open.
“Sir, please,” the wailing continued, “I don’t need the money. I don’t want it, my life and my plans are not-”
“Kid, you nuts or something?” Alverato stepped up to the couch. He peered at Miss Driscoll with a frown.
“Why not some deserving girl, much younger than I, who goes in for that kind of thing?”
Alverato gave a quick shake of his head and then he opened his mouth and yelled. “Will you shut up a minute before I lose my mind?” He picked up a bottle. “First a drink and then you listen to me. I’ll give it to you quick. I’ll-”
“You’ll give it to me quick!” she screamed.
Alverato gave such a start that the bottle fell out of his hands, spilling the liquor all over the front of his pants.
“Damn you! Give me that towel,” and he yanked it off her shoulders. Miss Driscoll leaped from the couch, but Alverato wasn’t noticing. He was busy rubbing his drenched slacks. When he looked up again he started to yell, but she stopped him, just standing there in the middle of the room in the tight yellow briefs and the little red halter.
“Well,” said Alverato. “Well!”
She didn’t move. She stood watching him, seeing how he was watching her, and she didn’t move.
“You look different, kid,” he said. “And not like a kid, either.” He sat down on the couch and swung the towel back and forth. “You may be crazy,” he said, “but you’re a looker. Well,” and he got up again. “I was going to say-”
“Don’t say it.” Miss Driscoll could hardly talk. Her voice was husky.
“Huh?” Alverato got none of this.
“Can’t you-can’t you just forget about it? Can’t you just skip all the-” Miss Driscoll started to sob.
Alverato, puzzled beyond repair, got up from the couch and went up to the crying woman.
“Now, now. Easy there, kid.” Alverato put one arm around her shoulders.
Alverato held her like that and she looked up into his face, leaning against him, her wet eyes big and close. She wasn’t crying any more. Alverato saw all this and he forgot for a moment what he wanted to say. She leaned against him, she looked up even closer, and her lips parted. Alverato tried to shake his head once more, step back maybe, but he couldn’t He said, “Hey,” and then again, “Hey,” when all conversation was over.
“Well? What did you find out?” Pat looked up from her soda.
“Everything’s arranged. Stay put here another fifteen minutes or so and we’ll be on our way.” He needed time to reach New York. Somebody there might have an idea.
“Fifteen minutes! What on earth can one do in a drugstore for fifteen minutes? Whom did you talk to?”
“Now take it easy, Miss Patricia. I talked to your father’s place and they’re sending a car over. Your father himself wasn’t there yet. Some delay in New York. Then I talked to the police again and they said that with the description I gave them it shouldn’t take more than a few hours to straighten this whole thing out. They don’t think it was anything criminal. Perhaps a prank.”
“I don’t care what it was. The whole thing is a nuisance and as far as I’m concerned there’ll be hell to pay before I get through!” She got up, mean and edgy. “I’m calling a cab,” she said. “Pay the man for his lousy soda and then wait here for the car they’re sending. I’m not waiting any longer.” She started to walk off.
“Wait! If you call a cab now, you’ll probably wait longer than it takes for the car to get here. Besides, and I’m sorry about this, Miss Patricia, I don’t think we have enough money for the cab. It’s another fifty-mile drive, you know. The car they’re sending was right here in town, at a garage.”
“You know, Benny, I’d say you’re acting mighty queer about this. Once I get to the house I can pay the cab ten times over, you know, and any more trouble out of you is going to cost you plenty once I tell Father about this.” She fixed him with her gray, unloving eyes, and Benny thought how easily he could reach out and choke that skinny neck of hers.
“Will you wait just one second till I check again? You can wait that long, can’t you, for chrissakes?”
She looked at him with surprise and was hardly able to speak. “Tapkow,” she managed to say, “that’ll mean your job,” and she walked to the telephone booth.
He didn’t stop her. He let her go and went outside. The yellow convertible was across the street, standing there waiting for him, and that was going to be the way out. He looked back into the drugstore. She was still phoning. He was hoping she was phoning a cab company and nothing else. But either way, he was ready.
When she came out he walked up to her. “They brought the car,” he said. “A mechanic brought it over and it’s across the street.”
“Call the cab company and tell them not to come.”
“To hell with the cab company. Let’s get going.” She followed him out of the door and to the car. “When did Daddy get this one?” she asked.
“I don’t know.” Benny started the motor.
“You know something, Tapkow? Those manners of yours aren’t going to interfere with your job much longer. I’ll see to it that this is your last official act with us.”
He didn’t answer. He kept his eyes on the traffic and worked his way to the less crowded side streets.
“Don’t you hear me? I’m talking to you, Tapkow!”
Her voice was nasty.
“Seeing how it is, kid, you can stop calling me Tapkow. It’s either Benny, if you want, or Mr. Tapkow. Take your pick.”
“Why, you insolent bastard! Do you think firing you is all my father can do to you? I’ll make it my personal business-”
“Why don’t you shut up?”
She gasped. Then her face turned a dark red. It made her gray eyes look flat and pale, like a fish’s eyes. “Stop this car, you insolent sonofabitch. Stop this instant or I’ll yell for help!”
He kept driving. The knuckles of his hands stood out white where he clutched the steering wheel.
“I said stop!”
He stopped. He yanked at the emergency brake and left the motor running. Then he took off his chauffeur’s cap, tossed it in the street, and turned to face her. “Now you listen to me.”
Her livid face came close and she screamed, “Get out of this car! Get out or I’ll-”
Benny clapped his hand over her mouth, making her head jolt against the back of the seat. She tried to jump up but he grabbed her bare arm and yanked her over to his side. “Another yelp out of you and you’ll regret it. Listen close now, Pat, because I’ve taken all I’m going to take. You yell, sister, and I break your teeth. The pretty ones in front. And nothing’s going to happen to me afterward, so you might as well sit still, keep your mouth shut, and stay out of my hair. That clear?” He gave her arm a sharp yank that made her gasp.
She didn’t move then. He started driving again and hit the highway south.
After a while he turned to look at her, wondering what next. She wasn’t the kind to huddle back and stay under. Any moment now she was coming up to make like her old man.
“Tell me, Tapkow-I beg your pardon, I mean Mr. Tapkow-do you have a wife?”
He didn’t know what to make of it. Her voice had been normal enough, just a trace of that metallic edge in it.
“No,” he said.
She waited, hoping he’d ask her why she had asked. But he just drove south, toward the Pendleton place, to keep her from suspecting and to give himself time to think. And he needed time for that call to New York. Perhaps they knew how to reach Alverato.
“I asked because in that case I would have been sure you’re a wife beater.”
He ignored her.
“Tell me, Mr. Tapkow, do you always beat your women?” She moved closer, looking at him with a show of interest. “Do you enjoy beating women?”
“No,” he said.”
“Then why do you?”
He turned his head and said, “I didn’t beat you. I told you to shut up. Then you did shut up and that was that.”
“I see. And that was that Aren’t you going to tell me again?” She was needling him now.
“No. Next time I do what I warned you about.”
For a moment she didn’t say a thing. Then she said, “You know, Tapkow-uh, Benny-you turned out to be quite something else than a boot-licker… Well, aren’t you pleased?”
He hadn’t been following her.
“You dislike me a great deal, don’t you?”
This time he turned and looked at her. It hadn’t occurred to him. As a part of his deal she was everything. As a person she had no importance to him.
“You’re talking through your hat,” he said and turned to the road again.
“I have a talent for making people take note of me, Benny. Or wouldn’t you think so?”
“Jump in a lake.”
She had her arm on the back of the seat now and he could feel his sleeve brushing her blouse now and then.
“Insolent bastards like you don’t hold up very long, Benny Because it’s an act. What would you do if I jumped out of the car?”
He tensed, thinking for a moment that she might “I’d stop you,” he said.
“Aren’t you sweet. So you are taking note.”
“Just don’t jump,” he said, and moved to be clear of her.
“What if I told you I’m starving, that I’m starving to death? What would you do then?”
“I’d get you something to eat, for chrissakes. Now shut up, will you?”
She rolled away from him, lying slouched in the seat. There was a smile on her face, one side of her mouth up and crooked.
“Where are you going, Benny? To the place?”
“Yeah, to the place.”
“Did you say Daddy’s there, waiting?”
“I said he wasn’t there yet. He’s still in New York.”
She didn’t talk for a while and Benny forgot her. He was thinking he could miss the cutoff, fake motor trouble.
“Benny, I’m hungry. I’m serious now. Stop at the next place you pass.”
Here was his chance.
“There’s nothing on this road. There’s a place I know, but it’s east. We’ll have to turn off.”
“Go ahead and turn off.”
He turned off on a state road and drove east. Perhaps he’d gain time this way. He didn’t trust her as far as he could spit against the wind, but so far there was nothing she could do.
After a while they came to a roadhouse, a low, sprawling affair with palm trees in the front and a long row of cabins leading back into an artificial grove.
They got out and went to the screened patio with the tables. Benny had the car keys in his pocket.
“Order something while I’m gone. I’ve got to phone again.”
“Phone whom? My father?” She sounded sharp.
“No,” he said. “Not your father.”
She didn’t stop him again and he went inside and asked for a phone.
“Right behind you on the wall, bud.”
Benny pulled out a bill and flicked his finger against it. “I mean someplace private.”
The bartender came out from behind the bar and took the bill. “Follow me, sir.” They walked to the back. There was an office there and the phone was on the desk.
After the door closed behind him Benny picked up the phone. First the St. Petersburg number. He waited a long time, listening to the phone ring. Then he hung up. Next he placed a long-distance call to New York. While the operator made the connections he walked to the door and opened it. Pat was not at the table. He started to dish out when he saw her come back. The door that said “Ladies” was slowly swinging shut.
When he picked up the phone again the operator was already talking. “Ready with your call to New York, sir. Go ahead, please.”
“All right. Hello?”
“Hello, who is it?”
“Tapkow. That you, Wally?”
“Yeah. What’s up, Benny?”
“Wally, listen close. Something went wrong. We made the rendezvous and they picked up the wrong dame. She’s on the boat now. Can you get hold of them?… Waddaya mean no?… Three days? You mean I gotta hold onto this spitfire for three more days?… Yeah, of course I got Pendleton’s daughter. Now listen. I’ll call you again tomorrow and give you a contact where I can be reached. Meanwhile, try like hell to get to Alverato. He may get in touch sooner, because he ought to know by now he’s got the wrong dame… O.K. So long.”
He walked back to the table where Pat was waiting. This time he was going to find out. “Your father,” he said, and watched her face.
“My father?” Her voice sounded less friendly. “What did he-what did you tell him?”
“Nothing. I called the Florida place is all. They said he won’t be down for three days.”
He watched her exhale the smoke from a deep drag and it sounded as if she had been holding her breath. He sat back.
“That gave you a jolt, huh?”
For a second the sharp line showed between her eyes, then she leaned forward on her elbows. The very difference on her face made her look hard. “I get my jolts elsewhere,” she said. “Almost anywhere else.”
She moved closer. He had one hand on the table and she leaned forward on her elbows. One small breast rested on his hand.
He didn’t move it.
“Even with the help?” he said.
Her light eyes never wavered and she stayed where she was.
“Even with the help,” she said.
He hadn’t known just how brassy she could be and it made him angry. He moved the fingers of his hand on the table slightly. She must have felt it but didn’t stir.
“Later,” she said, and they looked at each other like enemies.
It wasn’t going to do to cross her. There were a number of things he would have liked to do to her, but the stakes were too big. So it wasn’t too hard to hold back and forget about her. And besides, she was a stranger to him. He had known women that sold it and others that didn’t. Pat was like neither. Pat was doing the buying.
Sometimes he had felt that there was another kind of woman, a woman to whom buying and selling had nothing to do with it, but he wasn’t thinking of that now. All he knew was that Pat meant business and nothing was going to mess that up. She wasn’t going to pull him aside, get herself frantic, and maybe keep leeching around when everything ought to be over.
“While you’re just sitting there, Tapkow, go get us a cabin.” She leaned back and looked at Benny with her cold eyes. “And don’t tell me this is news to you. You’ve known for the past hour we’d end up in bed.”
She was playing it his way, and he didn’t like it.
“Go on, Benny. Or I’ll do it with the waiter if you won’t.” She didn’t even blink.
He got up and left.
The cabin was way in the back. He stood by the bed, smoking, trying to get his temper under control. If he didn’t need the time, the time for the big chance… The door opened and she walked in. “You could have come back to pick me up,” she said.
“You got here.”
There was silence for a moment and he could hear her breathe. “How do you want it, Benny? With clothes or without?”
He turned as if stung and saw the smirk on her face. “I bet you feel like cast iron,” he said.
“You haven’t even touched me yet.” There was that clear, metallic tone in her voice. “But let’s not ruin my clothes. My luggage is in the other car, you remember.” She unbuttoned her blouse.
“If there’s any chasing to be done around here, it’ll be me who’s doing it.” His breath hissed and for once he felt cornered.
She just laughed. The blouse fell to the floor, and then the skirt. Then she kicked her shoes off. Benny saw the muscles move in her long thigh.
“You take off the rest,” she said. “You do it.”
He sat on the bed and lit a cigarette. “This is your show, kid. You do it.” He blew smoke at her thigh.
She was all over him like a snake. One hand tore at his hair and he felt with surprise how one sharp first smacked into his mouth. Then she caught his nose. He jumped up and she flew against the opposite wall. Then the surprise stayed with him when he saw her come back. The flat of his hand caught her cheek, but her eyes, like a fighter’s, never left his. And then he felt her balled fists stinging his ribs, then his neck and stomach. He reached for her and they fell on the bed, struggling. He could feel the muscles in her twisting back. When her bra ripped she suddenly stopped. Benny saw her small breasts, like hard lemons, and she twisted to meet him. But she stiffened when she saw his eyes. He grabbed her and with a swift pull she was suddenly on her feet. Her arms were pinned back, then her feet thrashed free again, and when she came down she was cramped in the dark as the closet door swung shut and the lock clicked into place.
His cigarette had rolled under the bed. He bent to pick it up, sat in the chair by the window, and smoked. He watched the closet door tremble with her pounding. He sat and smoked another cigarette. After a while there was no more noise. It had got dark outside and the gloom of the cabin just showed the rumpled bed and her clothes on the floor. He pulled the sheets straight, then went to the closet.
She stood flat against the wall. Benny could see her breathe and he saw that her light eyes weren’t cold any more.
“Come out,” he said.
She didn’t move, only her breath came faster.
Benny took her bare arm and led her to the bed. She was different now. Her nakedness was smooth and soft in the dark room.
“Lie down.” He pulled the covers back.
She lay down, waiting. This was as new to her as it was to him. Then he covered her with the blanket. He stepped back and looked down at her. “No dice,” he said.
For a moment she said nothing. “Start all over?”
“We’ll start all over,” he said. “Good night, now.”
Once in the middle of the night she woke up and looked for him. His breathing came from near the door, where he was lying on the floor asleep. You couldn’t have opened the door without waking him.
Before breakfast, before Pat woke up, he made another call. He called New York, he talked fast and urgently, and then he hung up. No word from Alverato.
The bad news made him edgy, but he didn’t find out just how bad it was till he joined Pat at the table. He sat down, they looked at each other, and then he saw it. She wasn’t through with him yet.
He thought he knew why. Of the men she had known, only Tapkow had been a stranger. He hadn’t wanted a thing. He had stood back, holding back, and that alone made him special.
“Let’s go,” he said, and put the change on the table. She followed him to the car without having asked where they were going.
He was sullen behind the wheel, and they took off with a sudden jerk, the wheels spitting gravel. He too didn’t know where he was going.
“Back to Dad’s place?” she said after a while. She had lit a cigarette, dragged on it, and then offered it to him. He took it without thinking. “Well?”
He had heard the question and hoped he wasn’t figuring it wrong. “No,” he said. “Not his place.”
It wasn’t a mistake. She sidled over and leaned against him, one arm along his back. He could feel her through the blouse. “Three days, Benny?” He could tell by her voice she was smiling at him.
“Three days,” he said. “You and me.”
“We’ll have some excitement?”
“Sure.” His short smile was automatic. He was trying to think. She was crazier than he had thought, half stone, half woman, only it had been easier before. He’d get her back on the old tack, the mean bitch who was so cold it would probably need a blast furnace of excitement to make an impression on her. Not like now, when even his shortest smile seemed to please her, but one big, impersonal blast of excitement-and then he remembered about Tober, crazy Tober. He’d been somebody once, before Benny’s time. He’d been with Old Man Ager for a while and he had helped Benny find the spot with Pendleton. Tober had been friendly. Benny was hoping that Tober was still that way. He hadn’t seen him for a while, ever since Tober quit, rich and bored. He’d moved to that place he had on the Gulf and stayed there most of the year. He’d imported his excitement, being rich and bored.
“Where are we going, Benny?” she asked again.
“Down the road a piece.”
“No tea and crumpets,” he said.
“You’ll see. Some party-time people I know.”
They drove for another hour. A private drive took them off the highway through neglected land. Dead swamp grass and crooked trees covered the view on both sides, but suddenly it changed to rich green growth and a tended row of palms. Another bend showed the house, which sprawled in all directions with little pillars, balconies, and a lot of green stucco. There were cars all over the wide yard, but nothing else.
“Where is everybody?” Pat was leaning out and looking.
“You stay here while I go see.”
Benny got out of the car and walked into the house. The big hall looked empty. He walked to the back, where the ocean was, and looked down the veranda.
“Looking for someone?”
The voice was high and fast, almost like the ping from an air rifle. Benny turned. “Tober, you old crook, it’s good to see you!” Benny pumped a limp hand.
Tober burst out in a shrill laugh when he saw who it was, and his hand became strong like a claw. “Benny the Tapkow! How have you been, how have you been? Come sit and have a drink. Christ, wait till the rest of them get a load of you! Say, man, what happened to your hat? No hat, Benny, I see no hat.”
Tober had talked with that rapid excitement in his voice which happened to him three times a day. Three times daily Tober was a pistol, sharp, fast, and full of noise. His shiny eyes glittered back and forth, and his long, stooped body looked tense.
“You high, Tober?” Benny tried to see the man’s pupils.
“Like a rocket, Benny, like a red, white, blue, and purple rocket. But for you slow-witted squares I got tamer stuff. How about some Scotch, how about some hipscotchdipscotch Scotch splashed over rocks, Benny boy?”
“Slow down, Tober. Listen, I got a guest. You mind if I bring a guest?”
“I’ll make two hipscotchdip-”
“Tober, pay attention. This is kind of a special deal. She and I got to stay under wraps for a day or so. I thought-”
“Benny boy, this is the place to stay under a wrap, if that’s the kind of thing you fancy. Where is this delight?”
“Outside. I’ll get her.”
Benny walked to the front door and waved Pat to come in.
“It’s O.K.?” she asked.
“Is it O.K.? Is it O.K.!” Tober rushed out to grab her by the hand. “I’d say, being a judge of such,” and he looked her up and down.
“Tober, you were going to get some drinks.” Benny took the girl by the arm and watched Tober rush into the house.
They went to the back, where a long veranda faced the Gulf, and sat down.
“Who’s Tober?” Pat asked.
“Just somebody I know.” Benny thought for a moment about the Tober he used to know, fifty pounds heavier, a quiet guy.
“Is he a little crazy?”
“Sometimes. He made too much money. Drives him crazy now and then.” He walked back and forth. “Where in hell are those drinks?”
There wasn’t a soul around, but a piano was being played someplace in the house.
“Let’s look for the piano player, seeing that Tober disappeared.” Pat got out of her chair.
They followed the sound of the music, which was alternately plinking and crashing with a fast rhythm, but it wasn’t so easy to find. They walked through one room where a man was sleeping on a couch. He had a three-day growth of beard and his cheeks puffed out like a bellows when he breathed. They saw a blonde who was sunning herself on a sun deck. She was stark naked and waved at them as they passed. When they finally reached the room with the piano, they found Tober, sitting there on a stool and hitting the keyboard as if he were chopping wood. He stopped when he heard them.
“The drinks!” he yelled, and ran out of the room.
“You sit here.” Benny pushed Pat onto the couch. “I better watch him.”
He could feel her following him with her eyes and then he closed the door behind him.
He wanted Tober to stick around, take some of the work off his shoulders and help put this thing on a business basis.
Tober was in the big kitchen, breaking ice cubes out of a tray.
“A delight,” he said without transition. “A lovely sight of delight.”
“Romantic Benny!” Tober said. “Here-warm yourself on an ice cube.”
“Listen, Tober. Anybody here from your old crowd?”
“All dead,” Tober said, “except me. I’m recharged daily.”
“Anybody here knows Pendleton and those people of his?”
Tober looked up and his eyes were almost normal. “I thought I knew her,” he said. “The Pendleton kid!”
“An ill-fated romance, Romeo Tapkow, an ill-”
“Business,” Benny said. “I’m just bringing it up so you can tell me to blow. This is like dynamite.”
“A snatch? An old-fashioned abduction?” Tober started to shake with laughter. It stopped as unaccountably as it had started and then he winked. “And doesn’t she know it?”
“Bring the ice, Benjamin.” Tober picked up the tray with the bottle and glasses. They walked down the long corridor that led to the room where Pat was waiting.
“Tober, listen to me. Don’t tell her. It would foul-”
“Benjamin!” Tober stopped, balancing the tray like a mad juggler. “Dear Benjamin, what do you take me for? A hophead?” and then he started to laugh again.
Back in the room Tober made two highballs on the piano and handed them to Pat and Benny. “To the lovers!” he yelled, and watched them hold their glasses. Then he stepped close to Pat. “Meet anybody else yet?”
“Do I have to?” When she caught Benny’s eye she gave him a short smile.
He turned away.
“Pattypat,” said Tober, “you’re not heisting your highball.”
“Tober doesn’t drink,” Tober said.
“You don’t?” She sounded as if she hadn’t heard right.
“I am beyond drink.” He sounded confidential. “I don’t heist highballs, just heist balls.”
“Heist balls, baby. It’s higher than high ball. It’s the highest ball!” He giggled.
Pat laughed too.
“And I don’t often do this,” Tober was saying, “but for a high-built baby like you I’ll fix one.” He started to drag her out of the room.
“Benny,” she called. “What’s a heist ball, Benny? Tober, let go. Benny, he wants to-”
“Go and find out,” he said.
Pat stood still for a moment and her tongue made a nervous movement along her teeth, but she didn’t say anything. Then she turned abruptly. “Show me the thing you can make, Tober,” and she walked out of the room.
Benny watched them leave and sipped at the drink he’d been holding. Let Tober carry the ball if he wanted to. As long as Pat stayed around-two days at the most; as long as he could finish the deal and deliver the goods in the end, let Tober think he was taking over.
He walked out into the hall and found a phone. It took a while to get New York. He lit a fresh cigarette from his stub and sucked on it as if it were his first one in days. Then he said, “Hello, Wally? Tapkow. Well?”
“Hi, Benny. He sent a cable.” A group of maniacs came charging into the hall. They were all chasing a short, squealy blonde who was wrapped in a wet sheet; apparently the idea was to get the sheet off her. The way they were all yodeling and yelling, she really must have been something under that sheet, but Benny wasn’t thinking of that. He watched the chase, hoping she’d lead them down the hall to hell or someplace. The blonde made it.
“Yes-Wally? I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.”
“He sent a cable, Benny. Two of them.”
“So let’s hear.”
“Well, I didn’t know where you was when the first one came, so I answered it. The first one he asks is everything O.K. so I wire back sure, you got her and everything’s under control. I figured you’d want it that way, and besides, it is, ain’t it?”
“Come on, come on, what else?”
“Nothing else, Benny. And then he sends the second one.”
“He really thinks you’re the nuts, Benny, really proud of you.”
“Christ, get to the point, Wally. When’s he coming back?”
“He says he’s proud of you and have yourself a ball while he’s gone, seeing that you deserve it and he’s doing likewise. You know, he’s got this other dame on board, the one who got switched, and she really musta-”
“When’s he coming back, goddamnit?”
“I can hear ya, I can hear ya. He says a week or so. Keep her under wraps a week or so and that’ll really stew her old man. After a week or so Pendleton’s going to be ripe for anything.”
Benny burned his mouth on the stub he was holding and cursed. He cursed with a hard cramped throat while his hand clenched the phone as if it were the straw that might keep him from drowning.
“What’s his cable address, Wally?”
“He didn’t leave one. He’s cruising around the Caribbean or something.”
A week or so, another week of stalling for time, watching every move she made for fear she’d do the unpredictable. Thousands of minutes while that crazy female turned into a leech boring at him. And Alverato. Big fat Alverato getting soft in the head over a spinster with a home permanent. The dumb bastard was losing his grip. If he didn’t have his reputation to coast on and his army of hoods-But the anger didn’t get Benny anywhere.
He stomped at the butt that was still smoking on the floor and walked back to the room with the piano. The bottle and ice were still sitting there but the room was empty. He wasn’t after a drink. He had to find Pat, stay close by, to watch his property.
He found Tober on the terrace.
“Where’s Pat?” Benny stopped in front of the thin man.
“Asleep, Tapioca. And don’t shout. Things are jangling enough without you stirring the air.”
It was that time of day and Tober was running down.
“In bed, where else?” Tober sounded edgy.
“Come on. Up, Tober. I want to see where she is.”
“Jesus, Benny!” Tober jumped out of his chair, pulling back. “Don’t touch me, whatever you do,” and he stood making nervous gestures with his hands.
“You need a pop, don’t you?” Benny stood watching the man.
“Gad, yes!” Tober turned to go but Benny blocked his way.
“First I want to see Pat.”
They went upstairs together but Tober was distracted and couldn’t find the right room. They walked from one to the other, finding several things, but no Pat.
“Tober, think!” Benny held the thin man by one wrist. “What did you do with her?”
Tober winced, but then he remembered. “I made her a heist ball. That’s all, Benny. I fixed her a little drink and she said, ‘Aah, how nice and bitter,’ and then-”
“Bitter? What do you mean, bitter?” Benny’s voice got hard. “You lousy junkhead, did you give that kid a jolt? Answer me, or I’ll break your wrist!”
Tober almost fainted with confusion, but then he got himself straightened out. “Just a wee pinch, Benny. Such a wee pinch in a big glass of something. Grapefruit juice, I think. No, Martini! Such a Martini, Benny boy!”
“You crazy sonofabitch-” But he didn’t finish the sentence because his breath came in a grunt when his fist swung hard against the side of Tober’s jaw.
Tober collapsed in tears. There was no point in doing any more, so Benny stood and waited. He was breathing hard and his hands were working. She wasn’t crazy enough without being doped up in this nut house.
“Tober, on your feet Where is she?”
They found her in the next room and Tober had been right. She was sleeping. She was lying on Tober’s rumpled bed with her clothes on and her sleep was like a thick unconsciousness.
Benny looked at the still figure and his mouth was mean. “Tober, how much did you give her? If that kid-”
“Jesus, Benny, I swear. Just a pinch.”
Benny grabbed Tober’s arm again. “Bring her around, you bastard.”
“God in heaven, let go my arm. Can’t you see she’s sailing and having the time of her life? Benny, let go. I got to have my jolt. These crazy neckties-” He was tearing at his open collar.
Benny let him go. Tober wasn’t any good this way, without his dose, and Benny watched him rush to the bathroom, where he tore open the door to the medicine chest.
When Tuber came out again he was a different man. His black eyes were glittering and he carried his thin frame like a man of strength.
“All right, Tober, let’s try again.” Benny got up from the bed and stopped in front of the man. “Bring her around.”
Tober glanced at the bed, then smiled at Benny. “No need of that. It wasn’t enough to do any harm. You never know how it hits the first time, but often they go to sleep. She’s all right. She’ll sleep it off like a drunk. Except no hangover, Benny. The beauty of-”
“Yeah, I know. I just saw you in one of those no-hangover states. Does she know she took heroin?”
“Of course not. I was very discreet Please, Benny, I don’t know what came over me.”
“Forget it. Show me an empty room.”
He picked her up carefully and followed Tober across the corridor. He moved his arms once so her head wouldn’t hang. He thought for a moment that he hadn’t known how limp she could be.
He sat by the bed until he fell asleep himself, and when he woke, feeling stiff and sticky, he saw Pat through the dark of the room, on her side now, breathing regularly. It was nighttime and from the drug she had passed into sleep. He took her shoes off and covered her with a blanket.
There was none of the hardness in her face now, just the distance of a sleeping face, small and helpless.
He looked at her and it got to him. At that moment he couldn’t have thought of his deal, of his hates and his determination, even though they were a part of him, up through his whole anxious life. They had helped. They had helped him forget the father he had never known, and his mother, who had done nothing for him except to bear him. The easiest thing had been to run with the gang, the petty, raucous hoodlums whose mean little lives had only one solution, to be big now and to let everyone know it.
He’d done well in that game. He hadn’t been the biggest, but he’d been the sharpest. He hadn’t been the strongest, but he’d been the quickest. And then there was one difference between the rest of them and Benny. He didn’t care to stop at showing big. He had to be big.
Benny got up from his chair and walked past the bed. The girl was still sleeping quietly and not knowing a thing. He turned away and hunted for a cigarette.
She didn’t wake until morning. He had waited for her to wake, wondering how she would be. When she sat up and saw him, the change was sudden. The face he had seen in sleep froze into lines. She was Pendleton’s daughter now.
“Beat it, Peeping Tom.”
He stared at her.
“I want to take a shower.”
He left the room without a word. Perhaps he was imagining things. He hadn’t had much sleep. But then it came back to him why he was here, the real reason, the million-dollar deal that hung by one thin girl with brassy manners and a crazy temper. He went back to the room.
She had found a big white bathrobe and it made her head and hands look small and frail. It made him say it before she changed her face again. “You’ll be all right, Pat. Last night-”
“What do you want?” Her eyes looked flat.
His voice was changed too now and he walked up to her, hands in his pockets. “How do you feel?”
“Fine, Tapkow. Why?”
“You got drunk.”
“Act your age, Tapkow.”
“I just want to warn you about Tober. Stay clear of that guy.”
“Why, Tapkow?” She sat down in a chair by the bed and crossed her legs. “Because he’s a hop-head?”
All he did was bite his lip, but she caught it. “Because of the heist ball concoction?” She smiled, watching him.
He took out a cigarette, started to fumble for a match, forgot about it. “Look, Pat. Let me set something straight. You and me came here together. So I’m watching out that-that nothing should harm you. I’m trying to say-”
“If you’re not going to smoke that cigarette, give it to me.”
He looked at that face with the smile on it and almost lost his temper. Then his voice came very low. “For one minute I want you to shut up and listen.”
“Look, Benny,” she said, and got up to put one hand on his arm. “If you’re worried about that concoction he gave me, just ease your conscience.” The honey in her voice was something new. “It was nothing, Benny. Hardly enough of a pinch to flutter a hair.”
He stepped back and his eyes narrowed. “What are you talking about?”
“Heroin, darling.” Before he recovered she went on. “You shouldn’t be all up in the air about it, Benny. Poor old Tober never breathed a word. He was your trusty old friend through and through.”
“A pinch,” he said finally. “Just a pinch!” His voice got sharper. “Do you know how long you’ve been out?”
“I can guess,” she said. She was still smiling, and she stepped close again. With a slow motion like a caress she pushed back the thick sleeve of the bathrobe. “But don’t blame Tober, darling. I fixed that dream myself.”
And inside the frail-skinned crook of her arm he saw a red dot.
She watched his face, enjoying it.
“You what?” It was hoarse at first, then a roar. “You what? You fixed that jolt yourself? You crazy bitch, you went ahead and shot that filthy junk-”
“I didn’t mean to go to sleep on it, really. But how was I to know how little it was cut.” It was a grin now, not a smile any more.
“Christ in heaven, you stupid dame, don’t you know what this can do? Don’t you see what happened to that blithering Tober, what made him the jackass he is now? A wreck! A cheat! A lying, stupid jackass who-”
“A cheat, a liar, a stupid lying jackass?” Her voice was a sudden scream. “You sanctimonious crook, you call him a liar?” She was crouching now, talking with an angry speed that hit him like a gust of hail. “You ugly runt, you can stand there in the daylight, talking like a judge, talking like a holy saint who’s shocked when somebody goes to pieces, breaks, goes under!” There were tears in her eyes, bright tears she didn’t try to hide. “You stinking swine, you can stand there telling me to be a lady and not mind the filth you brought along? What filth? The filth last night, Saint Benny, the filth the day before, that lying act you worked up in that cabin, that noble deal to make me think Saint Benny is a saint. He doesn’t take advantage of a crazy dame who’s throwing it around because she’s crazy. He wants to make her pure and clean instead, and later maybe have an unspoiled act of love-so pure, so rare, so-” She couldn’t go any further. Her raw voice cracked and she sobbed.
He saw it now. She’d gone to bed that night in the cabin, thinking of him with a kind of love. She’d…
“Don’t bother, Tapkow.” He had started to reach out for her when her voice stopped him. “You’re forgetting yourself. This is Miss Pendleton, the piece of business you got on your hands. Your little Big Deal Pendleton dame all neat and cold and so important.” Her laugh had a nasty ring. “You didn’t tell me, Saint Benny. Tober didn’t mean to tell me, Saint Benny. But learn something, Saint Never trust a hophead.”
After she had slammed out of the room he stood a while. He ran a hand over his tired face and just stood.
A week, maybe, Alverato had said. A week maybe, or perhaps a little more, because Big Wheel Saint Benny had the right dame and everything under control.
Then she came back. She had a pair of shorts in her hand and a halter. “Beat it, Tapkow. I want to dress.” She turned and saw him still standing there. “Don’t worry about me, Tapkow, I’ll be around.”
He stayed there and lit a cigarette. “I just learned something,” he said. “Never trust a hophead.”
She shrugged. Then she let the robe fall to the floor. He saw her pull the shorts over her hips and then fit the halter around her breasts. She patted herself, ran a hand through her hair, and went to the door. “You don’t believe me, Tapkow?” She opened the door. “Then just remember. I don’t like Daddy any better than you do. Less.” She banged the door.
He went downstairs and stood in the hallway. When he saw the short girl from the day before, the one with the wet sheet, he followed her to the terrace, because she was pushing a cart with a coffeepot and other things on it. He had a cup of coffee and let it burn his tongue. It helped.
And what had happened in the room upstairs, that had helped. He was back to the time before, thinking only of the things that mattered and the way he’d made them all come true. The big deal in the palm of his hand and nothing to stop him from keeping it there.
Then he went back to the hall and sat down where he could see the stairs and the cars beyond the open front door. Never trust a hophead, she had said.
When he saw Pat again the shock made him stare. It was the same girl with her long legs tanned and the sun suit and the rumpled hair. Only the hair was rumpled as if it were on fire, her eyes were deep glittering stones, and she was screeching as if the air around her were all spikes and nettles. She came jumping down the stairs and when she came closer Benny saw that she was laughing. She passed him with a wild jump, ran to the door, then back, and stopped before him. Her hand shot out and he felt a sharp pinch on his check while she crinkled her eyes in laughter. Then she was up the stairs and gone.
Before Benny got halfway up she came back. Tober was with her. Somehow his wasted frame managed to look sodden and they both were giggling like maniacs. Benny gave no warning. One hand grabbed the front of the shirt, the other drew back like the kick of a wild horse.
But it never came through. He let go of Tober and lunged for Pat, who was climbing over the railing ready to jump. How she got away he never knew. The next thing was her wail, then the smack of her bare feet on the tile below. Before Benny got down she was racing through the front door and into the yard.
Benny came to a stop at the open door. He saw her in the car, behind the wheel, and she was looking his way. She sounded quiet and hostile. “I’m leaving,” she said. The motor was racing and her hand was on the shift.
He didn’t know how she had got the keys, but that wasn’t important now. Tober had come up to the door and he looked at the car with interest. “I never drive when I’m high,” he was saying. “I’m an old bore and I have a number of cardinal rules.”
“Tober.” Benny talked low, afraid to move. “Make her stop. She mustn’t get away, Tober.” A drop of sweat stung his eye but he didn’t even blink.
“Oh, Patty!” It was a singsong, like the voice of a nurse calling a child. “Before you leave, Patty-”
She was listening.
“Before you leave, Patty-”
Both men advanced slowly. She threw the car into gear with a crash.
“I don’t want that Tapkow pig to come any closer!” She sounded fluttery and shrill. “I don’t want that Tapkow pig. You never give up, Tapkow, do you?”
He didn’t have an idea what she was talking about. He had stopped next to Tober, and he spoke in a hoarse whisper. “Tober, tell her to wait. Tell her to have one farewell drink and spike it hard. Do you hear?”
“But, Benny, all I got is-You didn’t want me to give her-”
“Load her till her top flies off, but stop her!”
The three figures in the hard light of the sun were immobile. The motor was murmuring, then it howled, then it murmured again.
“Oh, Patty…” The singsong again. “One for the road, honey?”
“What?” She blinked at them in the sun.
“Running out is one thing, honey, but running dry is another.”
She sat still, thinking. Only her foot was nervous, making the motor growl.
“Stop that yammer,” Benny whispered. “Tell her again.”
“All right,” she called across the yard, “but that Tapkow swine mustn’t move. I don’t want that Tapkow piggy to come any closer.”
“He won’t, Patty-cake,” Tober called. He went into the house and Benny stayed where he was.
It seemed an eternity in the white sun, each muscle an ache of its own, and the cold sweat a slippery itch on his skin.
“Clink, clink, Patty-cake!” Tober came down the stairs and into the sun with a tray that held a pitcher. The liquid was almost green and it slopped with each step. When Tober got to the car she took her foot off the clutch and the jerk made her head snap back. Then the motor was dead. There was a discussion about it for a while, and then she started the car again. She said, “You didn’t bring a glass.”
Benny watched her hold the tray while Tober bounded back to the house. She stared at him while they waited, staring to see that he didn’t move.
Tober got back then and he poured her a glassful. “Now this’ll jolt you a little, but don’t let it throw you. I’m here to catch you when you land.” He giggled.
Pat lifted the glass and drank.
She didn’t cough or shudder or do any of those things. She drank it and said, “How did you get it so bitter?” and then she finished the rest of the glass.
“Now we need about five minutes of silence while that heavenly stuff starts to pop.”
Was that hophead going to give away the show? Benny started to tremble. He heard Patty say, “I haven’t got five more minutes,” and he couldn’t hold it any longer. He kicked up dust when he started his sprint, dust almost like the cloud that churned up behind the car as the gears crashed again, the car lurched, and Tober weaved to balance the tray. Benny heard the buckling sound of the straining motor, the cough of the exhaust while the car tried to make it in high. Pat’s head was nodding with stubborn jerks, and as the motor died she slumped out of sight. Then Benny was at the car and looking at the blank eves that were not yet quite out. He opened the door, picked her up, carried her into the house. He noticed how limp she was but he hardly gave it a thought.
Benny stayed in her room for a while, watching her. Finally the sight of her drugged sleep made him turn away. He turned his chair to the window and sat in her room.
That’s why he didn’t hear the phone. It rang for a while with nobody around to answer it Then Tober went back into the hall. The phone was in a niche there and the sharp ringing set his teeth on edge. He picked up the receiver and yelled, “Hello, hello, hello! This is Tober speakin’ and squeakin’. Do I know you?… Do I know you, Fingers? Why, Fingers, if anybody in the whole world were to ask me how many fingers I know, do you realize what I’d say? Do you know-Fingers, I’m not finished. The story isn’t finished. Right now I’d say to you, ‘Yes, dear sir, I know eleven, ten of which I have on my two hands and one of which is you!’-Fingers, I don’t hear laughter. I don’t hear laughter. I don’t hear- That’s better, Fingers. Now, what did you say?”
He listened for a while, saying ooh and aah and of course I know Tapkow, and you say she is a sweet young thing? Then he said, “How should I know, dear Fingers?” and hung up the phone. Right then he had it in mind to find Benny, but he got distracted by a bunch of people in bathing suits who came jumping and singing down the hall. A guy called Harry was hoisting a girl on his shoulders and she had only half of her two-piece suit on. But nobody paid any attention to that. Instead they all started a dance, with Tober providing the music and lyrics. It went, “Harry likes to carry little Mary” and on and on, and by the time that game was over Tober had forgotten all about the phone call. And later that night, when he saw Pat, he didn’t think of it either, because she and the rest were doing handstands on the beach and there was much brushing of sand and drinking of beer from cans.
Benny had awakened after she’d left. He had run down as he was, unshaven and hungry, but when he saw where she was, on the beach, he had gone back to the house and taken a shower. Then he shaved, found some food in the kitchen, and sat on the dark veranda watching the beach. Later, when Pat went to bed, he saw to it that it wasn’t with Tober, and for the rest he left her alone.
They took care of two more days like that, until they hit one of those afternoons when nobody was partying. The sun made a thick heat outside, noiseless, and the cool house was like a tomb. He heard her bare feet padding on the tile of the hall and he followed her out to the back. From the veranda he could see the beach chair farther down, and one brown leg stretched out He sat and smoked. He had been wondering how long she could stand it there when her leg moved out of sight and then her face looked at him, around the back of the beach chair. “Seen enough, Tapkow?”
He didn’t answer.
She got up, shrugging the thick bathrobe over her shoulders, and came to the veranda. “I asked you a question,” she said. Her knee showed bare when she sat down on the railing.
“Don’t waste your talents,” he said. “I’m just the chaperone.”
She laughed. “I forgot. I’m business. And Saint Benny doesn’t mix business with pleasure.”
He flipped his cigarette across the railing and watched it hit the sand. “Pleasure!” he said, and started to get up.
It had stung her. She jumped off the railing and stood in front of him. “How would you know, choir boy?”
“I’m not buying.” He pushed her aside and walked into the house. Even when he heard her come after him he didn’t stop, and all the way up to the room, while she talked at him with her voice like steel bars hitting each other, he never turned or opened his mouth. Then she slammed the door and they were alone in the room.
He turned and his face made her stop short. “What do you want?” he said.
She didn’t answer right away.
“What do you expect?” he said.
“From you? Nothing.” She sat down on the bed, not caring about the bathrobe, and lit a cigarette.
“One dull afternoon,” he said. “It’s one dull afternoon, so with nobody else around, why, let’s go pick on Tapkow.” He went to the bureau and pulled out a shirt “Would you believe it, Pat, I’m sorry that this happened.”
“What a stink!” She got it out like a hiss. “What a stink when you open your mouth! You know something, Tapkow? You don’t know your place. You’re a thing in a gutter and don’t know it” She was standing again when he turned around. “And I’m only trying to help, making it easy, so you don’t have to overreach yourself.”
He shook the clean shirt out and gave her a short look. “Don’t bother,” he said. “Just leave the robe the way it is.”
When she jumped forward to claw at his face, his hands came up fast and she couldn’t move. A short push and she fell back on the bed.
“You don’t understand.” He said it before she was up again. “I don’t go to bed with a machine. Like a cash register where you push a button and the drawers fly open.”
He was changing shirts now and couldn’t see her. And there wasn’t a sound from the bed. Then she was still sitting there. her eyes looking almost white in the tanned face, with no expression that he could place. So her voice, low, came as a surprise to him. “And I’ve always been that. It’s either been business or a machine with a button to you.” It sounded like a question.
“No,” he said.
“No? In the cabin?” But when she said it she left herself a safe half-smile, crooked and hard.
He reached for her face, slowly, and stroked his thumb down her cheek. “Don’t laugh,” he said.
And then she wasn’t laughing; she cried. She cried not showing him her face, until he held it in his hands, close now, and after that close had no meaning because there was no distance any more between them.
When she woke it wasn’t all good. The bed was empty and he wasn’t there to hold her and make it real. She got off the bed, still tired, and through the windows, in the yard, she saw him by the car, leaning across the door and straightening up. He looked dark in the setting sun, and the way he walked back across the yard-a meaningless thing-became a terrible casualness in her anxious imagination. Because why was she here? Because he’d lied, pretended, to make good some large, ugly plan in which she was the button that made the thing fly open.
Her eyes narrowed into nervous slits and she started to pace. A shower, maybe. She took a shower, first hot, then cold, and dried herself hard. When she was dressed it wasn’t any better. The tense and anxious fear was there, unnamed, and even Benny, had he been there, couldn’t have made it go.
She left the room and went downstairs. Seeing Benny in the distance, she turned the other way in order to avoid him. Then she found Tober. And a little later, not much, in the soft skin inside her arm, there was another small red dot.
She was peaceful now and went back to her room to sleep on the bed.
Once Benny looked in on her and found her all right He hadn’t come to check, he had just wanted to find her all right. Then he went downstairs.
They were still going strong. They had drinks on the veranda, more on the dark beach, and somebody was making a racket with the piano. Benny stood in the night air outside and then he went to the kitchen. He sat at the long table and drank a cup of coffee. While he sat he watched the tall girl in slacks at the stove, heating some beans from a can, and once she asked him for a cigarette. He watched how she moved and he watched the smoke curl from his cigarette. Then he finished his cup and left the kitchen.
He didn’t go into the room with the racket, but stood near the door. Some had their clothes on, some didn’t. There were beach clothes, swim suits, or improvised things, and then there was one in an overcoat. The man had a hat on his head, and his legs, Benny saw, were in regular trousers. And another man was walking around the piano. He had no overcoat, no hat on his bald skull, but there was a suit and a tie. The bald man was short and beefy, the one in the overcoat tall, with an Adam’s apple bobbing along his neck. Benny saw that they both held drinks, but they weren’t drinking. They were looking.
Benny stepped back from the door.
“Afraid of big crowds?” said Tober, and he made to pass Benny, heading for the door. “Now watch how I do this, Benny boy, fearless, forward, fanatic-”
“Wait a minute, Tober.” Benny caught him by the sleeve. “Look inside. See those two guys?”
“Really, Benjamin. I’d rather look at the dolls. And speaking of Santa Claus-”
“Will you shut up for a minute? Take a look, Tober. Who are they?” Benny pointed.
“Aah!” Tober craned his neck and then said, “Aah!” again. “They are dressed to kill, I would say.”
“Tober, concentrate. Who are they?”
“Vagrants, I think. I can always tell vagrants by the way they are dressed. They look different.”
“Now there’s no sense in those clothes, now is there, Benny? Unless you are dressed to kill-” Tober hesitated and stopped. He took Benny by the arm and started to whisper. “Never trust a junky, Benny, I’m telling you as a friend. Never, not even your own friend. And I’m-”
“Tober, let go.” Benny was tensing with anger.
“And I’m your friend, Benny, from long ago. Please, Benny, listen!” Tober talked fast now, and urgently. “You should listen, Benny, because all I did was forget. I’m a junkhead and you should have reminded me.”
Benny was listening now. The words didn’t make sense, but the voice was almost normal.
“It’s just that I forgot, Benny, I swear it. Do you know Fingers?”
“I know one Fingers.”
“And he’s with Pendleton, right?”
Tober made sense now.
“Go on. What’s on your mind, Tober?”
“He called, only I forgot. He asked about you.”
“And Miss Pendleton.”
Benny glanced into the room where the two men were making the rounds.
Tober went on. “So Fingers calls me, just checking, because he and everybody’s working around the clock on this thing. Pendleton’s out of his mind about his daughter’s not being there and he figures you’re his man.”
“Why they came here I swear I don’t know. I don’t think I tipped-”
“Forget it. Back, quick!”
The two men, the tall one and the short one, had ambled toward the door. Then they turned and went out through the French windows.
“Tober, you with me?” Benny held the man by both arms and shook him once, hard. “Come upstairs.”
They took the steps two at a time and Benny led the way to the room where Pat was sleeping. They stood by the bed looking at her and she woke up.
“Benny,” she said.
“Listen, Pat, we’ve got to leave, this minute. Your father’s men-”
“Men,” she said, and sat up. “Men, men, men.” There was a smile on her face.
“Pat, for chrissakes, pull yourself together.”
She cocked her head, listening to the music from downstairs. Her arms were out toward Benny and she said, “Let’s float, baby. Let’s.”
He thought he saw two dots on the inside of her arm and he stepped back. His face creased hard. “Pat! Get up. Are you with me?”
She wasn’t. She wanted to dance and she didn’t want to go. Then she lay down on the bed again and eyed Benny. He turned away, holding his lip between his teeth. One hand was punching the palm of the other. Once, twice, three times. Pat was humming a melody.
When Benny turned there was sweat on his forehead. “Tober,” he said, “there’s no other way. She needs one more charge.”
The skinny man shrugged and left the room.
“In the vein,” Benny called after him.
When everything was ready, Benny held her arm and Tober came with the needle.
“Why, Benny,” she said.
“But, Benny,” she said, “I don’t want any.” She tried to get up.
He held her down and jerked his head at Tober. Pat lay still. Even when the needle went in she didn’t move. And afterward, lying there, she looked at Benny with wide, blank eyes, looked at him until he thought the blank-ness knew everything. And then she went under. Benny wiped his face.
“How much did you give her, Tober?”
“Enough to keep her under a while. It’s a waste of the stuff, but-”
“You got a gun, Tober?”
“I think so.”
“Get it. I’ll dress her and then we blow.”
The gun was a. 22 target pistol and Benny struggled to get the long thing into his pocket. “Thanks, Tober, thanks for your help.” Benny started to hoist the girl off the bed.
“Benny, wait. Think a second. How do you figure she’s going to act when she comes out?”
Benny let the girl down again.
“I’m sober, Benny. I’m talking sense. How do you figure you’re going to keep her around?”
“Don’t worry about it I got ways.”
“Not with a hophead, you don’t.”
Benny got it then, and downstairs two hoods were prowling the house, maybe upstairs, or near the cars. He bit his lip. “You’ve got to give me enough for another pop, Tober. Enough for a day or so, till I can get out of these parts.”
Tober shook his head; he looked worried. “She hasn’t been eating, you know, and she won’t as long as she’s on the stuff. You trying to starve her to death?”
“I’ll give her less. Just so she stays limp.”
Tober moved his arms in a helpless gesture. “Benny, I’m trying to tell you. That’s not the way it works. You give her less than she’s having and she’ll act just the opposite. She’ll feel like a million and ready to jump from here to the moon and back. You remember, on the stairs. Benny, I mean it, I’m sorry I ever-”
“Come on, Tober. Don’t get weepy. I’ll just have to risk it. I know what she likes, and hopped up she’ll like it even better.”
“You trying to get her hooked, Benny?”
“Hell, no! Just enough for a day or so. By then-How soon is she going to get that way?”
“Depends. Through the vein, maybe two weeks. If she eats it, longer.”
“All right, then, there’s no worry.”
“But don’t forget, it’s faster if you give her enough to knock her out And the waste, Benny, such a waste!”
Benny gave him a mean look and went to the door. He looked down the hall, the stairs, and came back. “Those goons might come around any minute, so let’s get going. Get me just enough for another day or so. You figure it out, Tober. Get going.” He pushed him out of the door.
“The waste!” Tober kept saying. Then Benny waited.
When Tober came back he brought two folded squares of paper. They were no bigger than a match book and had a little bulge in the middle.
“Here’s number one.” Tober handed it over. “Give it to her an hour after she comes around. Longer, if you can. Here’s number two. If you need it, give it to her twenty-four hours later. No sooner! Now remember, this stuff isn’t candy. It’s cut only a little and tastes bitter as hell. Put it in a drink like a Martini, or black coffee with a lot of chicory. If you can find a food that’s bitter, try the stuff on that and maybe she won’t tumble to it. Got that?”
“Sure, Tober, sure. Now what else do I have to know? What’ll she do when it doesn’t knock her out?”
“Whatever she’s been doing, only more so. She’ll be keen like a spring wound tight. If she doesn’t like you, watch out. If she likes you, watch out. Any way you look at it, take it easy with her when she’s charged. If you say boo she won’t turn, she’ll twirl. If you pinch her she won’t slap you, she’ll tear your head off. Anyway, it’s something like that. I kept the dose small, so maybe you’ll be all right. If you keep her swimming your way, you should do all right. Just watch she doesn’t turn the opposite direction. And Benny, if you don’t have to use it-”
“Sure, Tober. I’ll send the stuff back to you.”
Tober shook his head. “I didn’t mean that.” He looked down, rubbing his nose. “Besides, I’m getting off the junk.”
“Sure, Tober.” Benny turned to the bed.
“No, Benny, I mean it. I’m shaking that monkey. When my batch is gone, that’s it No more.”
“Stop clowning, Tober. Nobody takes the cold turkey on his own.”
But Tober wasn’t clowning. He sat down by the door and watched Benny gather up the girl. “I’ve tried everything else, kid.” His voice was a whisper. “There’s a place I’m going to. It’s all arranged.” Benny was coming toward the door. He had the gun in one hand and Pat was hanging over his shoulder.
“Wish me luck, kid?” Tober said.
“Take a look out the door. Careful.”
Tober looked, then nodded.
“Now go down the stairs and look around in the hall. Then come back.”
Tober had barely turned the corner to the staircase when Benny made a dash for the door opposite. Tober’s room.
In spite of the awkward weight he was carrying, Benny moved like a cat. In the bathroom he pulled open the door to the medicine chest, felt around with one hand, and came up with a metal box. There was a syringe in there, extra needles, a spoon, and a tin of canned heat. The rest of the space was filled with the little white envelopes. He grabbed them up in two handfuls and stuffed his pocket He turned, hesitated. His hand went into his pocket once more. He threw half of the little white envelopes back.
Benny was waiting when Tober came back.
They crept down the hall to the rear and took the stairs that went to the kitchen. It was dark.
“Hey, Benny,” Tober whispered. “Wish me luck?”
There was no answer in the dark, only the breathing. Then Benny was in the open. The night air was cool and the palm fronds overhead made a dry sound.
“Shut up. Stay with her and shut up.”
The girl’s form was on the ground now while Benny was circling the yard. There was only a dim light from the main entrance of the house and a small red glow near one of the cars, like a red point where someone stood by the car. Benny crept up quietly, and when he swung at the figure waiting there, there was no sound but a dull thud. A scattering of little red sparks blinked on the gravel.
Benny went back and picked up the girl and ran across the yard. By the time Tober had followed, Benny had backed the convertible out with a sharp squeal.
“Benny, wish me luck?” Tober called into the wind that rushed by.
The car was already dipping around the turn when Benny looked back. “Luck!” he called.
Once during the night he stopped to close the top of the car. He reached back to fold Pat’s arm that had swung over the edge of the seat and he moved her head a little. Then he drove again.
When the morning light was still nowhere and only a gray pallor had come up, she began to stir. Benny pulled the car to the side of the road and watched her wake up. She came up suddenly, with a strong shiver running through her body, her eyes looking wide and confused.
“Benny,” she said, “what are you doing?”
“Did you sleep good?”
She looked at him, her face drawn. “I don’t know,” she mumbled. “I don’t know, Benny,” and she shivered again.
He opened one door and folded the front seat back. “Come on up front, Pat. It’s warmer.”
She came around. She curled on the seat next to him, waiting for the blast from the heater to loosen her stiffness.
Benny drove again. He lit a cigarette for her and watched her smoke. There was no point in waiting any longer. “Pat, are you listening?”
“I’m listening.” She had leaned back, staring at the canvas above.
“Do you remember last night?”
“I remember.” She smoked, looking up.
“Sure. We know each other.”
He wished she’d look at him, show what went on.
“You know me, or else you wouldn’t have done it,” she said. “And I know you, so I’m not surprised you did it.”
“Pat. Understand this. Sometimes there comes a-there is a place you come to and nowhere to turn. A god-awful thing chasing from behind, a black drop in the front. It’s like murder to jump, but you got to. So you go ahead. You do something like murder to get out, and it’s over. Never again. It worked, and it’s done.”
“You’re talking about your business deal, I think?”
“Pat, did you understand what I tried to say?”
“Of course. It’s the same with me.” She paused. “A god-awful thing chasing me and a black pit in front. So I do something like murder. I take dope.”
The answer made him crawl, or perhaps it was the way she had said it. She was still leaning back, and her eyes looked at the canvas roof as if it were a fine long view.
“Pat, listen. How long’s this been going on?”
“I stopped. I never took much and then stopped. That is, till a few days ago.”
He took a deep breath and felt a stiffness in his neck. The stiffness clamped his throat when he tried to talk again. “No more, Pat. I’ll help you.”
“Like last night?” She shifted her eyes for the first time. “Like last night, when you held me down?”
“No! Forget that Christ, they were after us and you were lying there all scrambled and crazy with it. Don’t you see that? And don’t you remember before, you and I-”
She had moved to sit up and then she stopped. Her face came down, pressing into his sleeve. “Benny, I don’t-I feel rotten, Benny, rotten.” He could feel her hands working the cloth of his sleeve.
“You’re all right, kid. You’ll be all right. Lie down, Patty. Sleep some more. It’ll be all right, Patty, from now on.”
After a moment she relaxed. She even smiled at him. “I believe you,” she said, and a little later she went to sleep.
He thought about what he’d said to her, how he’d meant every word of it. He never thought of the little white envelopes that sometimes made a small noise in his pocket. Nor did it occur to him to let go of the girl who was the hub of his deal. It was one hell of a big deal and that point he never questioned.
When they crossed into Louisiana she was still sleeping. On the other side of Haute Platte he cut off the highway and headed toward Malcotte. The land looked flat and dull. Sometimes it was dry and barren, sometimes there were swamps, and Malcotte was in between, simmering in the sultry air that moved up from the Gulf. Now and then cars would come through the town, making the loop that saved them from going through Haute Platte. That’s why Malcotte had a motel. It looked deserted and strictly homemade.
They took the cabin in the rear where the live oaks crowded in. Benny pulled the car under the trees so it couldn’t be seen from the highway. He turned off the key and let his hands drop from the wheel.
“Aren’t you getting out?” She stood by the side of the car, waiting.
“In a minute. Let me be for a minute.” He was half dead from lack of sleep. He saw the dust standing in the low sun where the car had wheeled it off the ground. He heard the slow crackling of the hot metal under the hood. When he shook his head and got out of the car, he saw that Pat had gone inside.
There was a bed, a rocker, and a chipped bureau. Benny let himself fall on the bed. Shower sounds came from the bathroom. Pat’s clothes were all over the floor. She always threw her clothes all over the floor. She took hot showers in the late afternoon. Benny could see the steam seeping in.
She turned the shower off and remembered the other cabin where she and Benny had been. And the room in Tober’s place, and Benny talking to her in the car. When she came back into the room she looked flushed and glistening. She looked beautiful. Then the sharp line showed between her eyes. On the bed she saw Benny, clothes wrinkled, and even his shoes were still on. He also had one hand in the pocket where the car keys were.
When he woke up he thought for a moment that he had just lain down. The sound of the shower came from the bathroom and he could see the steam creep out under the door, but now the low sun came from a different side. He jumped up fast, wondering about the night. There was an ash tray full of butts near the bed and some of them had burned out on the floor.
When the shower stopped he watched the door, but it was several minutes before it opened. Then Pat came in, dressed. She hadn’t left her clothes all over the floor this time.
He looked at her and he saw it wasn’t good.
“Saint Benny,” she said.
He shook his jacket off and took a deep breath. “Look, Pat. I was tired. Why do-”
Then she laughed. “I’m thrilled, Tapkow. That really thrills me. I’m truly stimulated by the thought of a man like you. He goes to bed with me because he’s tired and wants to sleep.” Abruptly she changed her voice. “You don’t kid me any more, lover. With you it’s either business or business.”
She stopped but the line between her eyes got deeper.
“I was tired. I was tired because I had to get away from that place.” He got up and paced from one wall to the next, then stopped in front of her. “You got a talent, kid: you’re getting under my skin. You must have had it for a long time, talent like that, you’re so good at it. But listen to me, Pat.” His voice was sharp now. “Stop pulling these switches. Stop tearing and biting, stop making yourself sick, do you hear?”
Her teeth showed and she tried to step back. “You know what you can-”
“Do you hear? Sick!” His hand held her close.
He saw her blink, the line gone between her eyes, and for a moment a helpless apprehension showed, the kind that doesn’t stay, but turns to fright. She bit her lip and when she put her hand down it might have been because they stood so close, but her face came to his chest and with a sudden thoughtless urge his arms came up, held her around the back. He felt her stiffen, or maybe not, and then she did the same as he, and, once again, there was no space at all between them.
The day is hot early in Louisiana. They moved again, feeling the close murk in the room. Except for moments that were hard to think of then, it hadn’t been all good.
When a man drowns and then finds the hold that saves him, that doesn’t make the drowning any pleasanter. They got up and didn’t talk. They did a little straightening to the room without talking. He held his pack out and she took a cigarette, waiting for the light He gave it to her.
“You need some clothes. You look all wrinkled,” he said.
He watched her fingers plucking the seam that ran down the front of the skirt, and there was a skittering to the movement, an unpleasant off beat in the rhythm of her hand. He looked away.
She got up and opened the window in the back, then slammed it down again.
“That heat,” she said.
“I’ll buy an air conditioner.”
She went to the door. “I want to get out of here,” she said. “I want to get out of here, Benny.”
The way she’d said it, she could have used “Tapkow” instead. Or even “Saint Benny.”
“We got to stay.” It sounded sullen.
“We got to stay,” she aped. “Why?” She turned to the bed where he sat. “Why?”
“You know why?”
“Pat, I’ve asked you-” But when he got up and stepped her way, she turned again to face the wall and hit it with her fist.
“Oh, God,” she groaned. “Oh, God.”
His hands were on her shoulders. They were small and not soft.
“Don’t.” She held still. “Don’t even try,” she said. “I hate this, you hate this, but it comes and don’t even try. I said don’t,” and she whirled around.
“Pat, I know that-”
“You know, you know! You know nothing. Let’s go.”
“We’ll go to town and I’ll buy you some clothes.”
“Away. Don’t you hear me? I want to go away from here. To Tober’s.” Her voice was intense now. “We can go back to Tober’s and fool everybody. It just occurred to me what a neat trick that would be, Benny. We go back to Tober’s and fool everybody because-”
“You don’t fool everybody. Why Tober’s?”
“Just Tober’s place. You know.”
“I know. Perhaps you think you’re fooling me? You got the shakes, Pat”
She laughed again. “Dr. Saint Benny! Get him!”
“Pat. That’s out. Pull yourself together. Pat, I’ll help you. We’ll go to town-”
“To hell with you,” she yelled. “Saint Benny the Bastard to the rescue.” Her voice got low and she looked at Benny with her head to one side. “You want to help me? Nice of you. You want to be of service? I’ll tell you how.” She walked around him and got his jacket. Her hand went into the inside pocket and came out closed. “Lifesaver,” she said, and showed him the little white envelope she was holding.
When he tried to explain, she smiled. When he said no, she spat at him from across the room and her language got filthy. Then he charged across the room while she stepped into the bathroom fast and locked the door. He heard the water running and thought of kicking the door down, but stopped himself from doing it. Saint Benny, he thought. How many more days, Saint Benny? How much longer till Alverato comes through and how much more of this?
And when he put his jacket on to wait for her it never occurred to him to destroy the little white envelopes that were still in the pocket.
They took the highway back to Haute Platte. The top of the car was down because they thought the breeze might help.
“You see, Benny? You needn’t have worried so.” Pat sounded friendly. “It’s not as if I were a user. Wait till we get back to New York, when all this is over. I won’t need any of this any more. Anyway.” She added the word and laughed.
Benny didn’t argue.
They drove to Haute Platte with the sun pouring an early heat over the landscape. The live oaks in the swamps along the road stood limp and immobile. Only the dust moved where the car had passed.
The town was worse than the highway and they drove around looking for a store.
“Once more around,” she said, laughing.
He circled the square again and headed down the main street. “We’ll take this one.” They stopped across from the department store and got out of the car. “Buy something light, Pat. Just a few things for summer. Then, when we get back to New York-”
“You want me to buy something cheap, Benny.” Her eyes had started to look glittery and intense. “I’ll buy something thin and cheap, Benny, something that doesn’t matter much.”
“Something thin and cheap, Benny, that doesn’t matter much and tears easy.” She gave him a new, quick smile and leaned against him. “Wouldn’t you like that, Benny?”
He was puzzled for a moment, thinking that he had missed something. “Wouldn’t I like what?”
“Tear it off, stupid! You would like to tear it off, wouldn’t you?” Her voice was louder now, and insistent.
“Sure, Pat, sure. That’s great. Now come on and let’s get going.”
“Like this, huh, Benny?” She put both hands into the neck of the blouse and started to yank.
He hadn’t meant to shout, but when he said, “Stop,” it came out like a shot. And when he reached for her hands to stop her, Pat jerked back as if stung. “Benny!” There was fright in her voice. “Benny, why did you do that?”
He lowered his hands slowly and stood back. “Easy, baby,” he said. “Take it easy.” For a moment he could see her face working and then suddenly the expression was gone.
“Here’s the store. In you go. Use the elevator?”
“No, over there,” and she dragged him to the place where the escalator climbed diagonally through the ceiling.
She stepped on with a little jump and then skipped on up the moving steps. When Benny got to the next floor she had disappeared. He looked right and left, craning his neck to look over the tops of aisles and clothes racks. Then she laughed. Her laughter caught him from a distance, then it stopped while he tried to find the place from which it came. It came from down below. He saw her bolting up the escalator, coming in long jumps till she stood beside him, breathing hard and laughing. “Surprised, ha? Did you buy me a dress? A cheap one?”
“Slow down, Pat. They’re over here. I haven’t looked at them yet. I was waiting for you.”
She flitted along the racks of clothes, pulling some off the hangers, throwing some of them back. When a saleswoman came Pat had an armful.
“Where can I try these on?” she asked. “It’ll make it so much easier to see just what we want. Benny, doesn’t that make it so much easier?”
“Sure, Pat. Follow the lady.”
When the two women had disappeared, he found a chair where the aisles ended in an oval space and sat down. He took a deep breath and took out his cigarettes, but before he had a chance to light up, Pat came back.
“This?” she said. “Is this the kind you want?”
It fitted her well, a light summer thing with little sleeves and cut deep front and back. He had hardly taken it in when she turned and ran back to the dressing room. “There are more,” she called. “Lots more.”
It didn’t take her long to get back, this time with the same kind of thing, only in a different color. She stood, turned before him, and flounced the skirt Again she was gone before he could give any opinion of it. He had caught on by this time, and when she came back he was ready. He got to his feet and said, “Honey, that’s the one. That one is a real knockout and just exactly what we want!”
Her eyes lit up with an unnatural sparkle, and judging by her face the whole world was a dream, a big beautiful dream. “I knew this was it,” she said. “I knew it! And now we’ll see if it works.” She grabbed the front of the dress and ripped.
It ripped good.
The whole thing came apart in the front and Pat stood in the middle of the oval, laughing.
Benny turned her around by the shoulders and pushed her toward the dressing room. The stunned saleslady revived herself in time to open the door for them, but when they had Pat inside the trouble had only started. Outside the dressing room the saleslady turned, a withering look on her face, but Benny couldn’t hear what she was saying to him because Pat had started to pound on the door. He didn’t have to hear the words; he could tell by the woman’s face, which was getting more and more livid, that things were getting out of hand fast Suddenly the pounding stopped and at the same time the saleslady turned on her heel and hurried down the aisle. At least one of the mad women was out of his hair. When he tried the door to the dressing room he found it was locked. “Pat? Open up, Pat, it’s me.” No answer. “Honey, will you open up, for chrissakes?”
The door opened. She was wearing nothing but bra and panties and there was no mistaking the look she gave him. With a strange smile on her face she reached out and pulled at his lapel. That’s when they heard the feet pounding down the aisle. Pat stepped out of the cubicle and started to jump up and down. “Run, run, run!” she yelled. “Run, run, run!”
It hadn’t taken them very long. One of the cops said, “You’re under arrest,” and the other one grabbed Benny by the arm.
They should have grabbed Pat instead. She crouched like a sprinter and was off among the clothes racks, one of the cops after her.
“Was I exaggerating, Officer?” The saleslady gave the cop who was holding Benny a haughty look. “Was I exaggerating?”
“Whatever she told you, she’s wrong.” Benny started to talk fast “She’s sick, Officer. My wife’s sick. A malaria attack. They come sudden and bad, real bad. She goes out of her head, for a while that is, just for a while.”
“You ain’t kidding.” The cop kept holding onto Benny’s arm.
“Don’t you get it, copper? She’s got to have a doctor and fast. She’s got to be in bed, rest up, and then everything will be O.K. I know how it goes, I’ve had experience, don’t you hear?”
“I saw it” The cop kept his grip on Benny’s arm.
“Look, lady, we got to do something. Wrap me up two of those dresses, like she was wearing. I want to be ready to go when they get back. Wrap up two and have another one ready for her to wear.”
“You realize she tore one of them. You-”
“I’ll pay for it Now get a move on. And wrap up some underthings, too. We got to be ready when-”
“Like she’s wearing. Now move!”
The saleslady blushed, but she didn’t say anything.
When she had left, the cop let go of Benny’s arm. “Might as well sit down. Real problem you got there, ain’tcha?”
They sat down on a frilly-looking love seat and Benny pulled out a smoke. “You said it, Officer. This doesn’t happen often, but seeing how you’ve been co-operating-”
“Real problem, I’d say.” The cop rubbed his hand over the gray stubbles on his chin. His eyes looked sleepy. “I can feel for you, bud. We got one mean judge in this town.”
“Look, Officer, you’ve been co-operating swell-”
“Shame, you know, bud? Real shame to have a little thing like this get blown up all over creation.”
“You said it, Officer. You hit it right on the head.” Benny started to pull some bills out of his pocket. “You’ve been a real square guy about this thing.” Benny pushed a folded wad into the man’s pants pocket.
The cop had been looking the other way, but now he took the bills out of his pocket and counted them. Then he put them back. “Like I was telling you, bud, you never seen such a mean judge like we got in this town.” He yawned, making three fat bulges out of the skin under his jaw. “And what’s worse, bud, the only co-operation that shyster ever gives is to the press. Got a regular pipeline to the press.”
Benny had started to sweat. He rubbed his hands together, trying to kill the itch in his palms, and there was a hard line down one side of his mouth.
“So I guess we might as well get ready,” said the cop. “Might as well make a call to the station and get everything ready.” But he didn’t move. He kept sitting there on the love seat.
Benny went through his act again, and then the cop went through his. When his hand was out of the pocket he got up and looked at Benny. “You know, bud, we’ll just forget this happened. No reason why you shouldn’t get a break once in a while.” He looked around, yawning. “Now, where’s that Paul gone to? Shoulda been back, don’t you figure, bud?”
He should have been. He should have found Pat quite a while ago, and he should have been back. If he hadn’t found her yet, the store would have been in an uproar by now, with a half-naked maniac chasing down the aisles and an armed cop clomping after her. Benny took a drag on his butt and burned his mouth. He dropped the stub and ground it into the carpet with a sharp twist of his foot.
Then he saw them. Pat was wearing an overcoat that had a price tag dangling from a button in front and she was walking with demure little steps, eyes cast down. The young cop behind her looked as if he didn’t know what to do with his hands. He pulled at his tie, yanked his cartridge belt around, and once he stumbled. When Pat walked past him she winked. Then she closed the door of the dressing room behind her, and the two cops wandered off.
When Pat came out of the dressing room, she looked sweet and cool in a new dress. She came and stood by Benny, waiting patiently while he paid the bill. Then they left.
When Benny pulled the car into the traffic, he saw the two cops standing on the sidewalk, looking after them.
After half an hour Malcotte showed behind a bend. At the motor court Benny turned down the gravel lane and pulled up to the cottage. Brakes squealed behind and the two cops were there again. But Benny ignored them. He tried to keep his mind on Pat, who sat pushed back in the seat, her eyes dull, her hands curled in her lap.
“Pat,” he said, “end of the line. Get up, Pat.”
She yawned. He walked to her side of the car, pulled the door open, and almost made her tumble off the seat.
“Pull yourself together, for chrissakes.”
She yawned and got out of the car. He led her into the cabin, turned the bedcovers down, and pulled the new dress over her head. Pat flopped down on her back. She seemed to fall suddenly into a deep sleep and looked as though she’d be out for hours.
Benny went back out to the convertible, picked up the packages, and took them into the cottage. Pat was lying on her back, still sleeping hard. She hadn’t got the dose right. She’d forgotten again about the purity of Tober’s junk. He looked at his watch, at Pat, and then he went out and got into the car and took off.
Benny made the half-hour trip in fifteen minutes, and as he slowed for traffic the thick air started to cling to him like hot glue. The telephone exchange was cool and each booth had a little fan. Benny squeezed into a booth and waited.
“I am ready with your call to New York,” said the mechanical voice. There was a buzz at the other end, then a woman’s voice that said that Mitzi was molting again, then the buzz. “I am ready with your call to New York,” the voice said again.
“Hello, hello! This is Tapkow… Yeah, I know. I got a new address. Haute Platte, Louisiana… No, that’s good enough, because I’ll be calling you… So has Alverato… Whaddaya mean, more than a week! How’s that meathead think I’m going to keep the lid on this thing with no co-operation and Pendleton wise to the whole setup? Listen, for God’s sake, tell him I got to know how much longer. This thing is worth millions and he- Of course I’m running out of money… That’s damn generous of him, but another thousand bucks can’t hide me from Pendleton. That creep might be tapping this call right this minute!”
They talked a while longer but Benny didn’t get anywhere. He should lie low a while longer, just a few days maybe, he should keep in touch, and he could pick up a grand at Western Union in the morning.
He was sweating hard when he came out of the booth and it wasn’t the heat that did it to him. It was all too vague, all too dependent on one fat slob rolling around on his yacht in the Caribbean and making passes at Miss Driscoll. “This’ll make Pendleton stew,” Alverato had said. It was doing worse than that to Benny. Too much had gone wrong, at Tober’s, then the cops now, and that queer and crazy thing with Pat. He’d been wrong about too many things.
Before he left for Malcotte he spent a few bucks on some green whisky and three hundred for an air conditioner. Then he drove back, feeling jumpy and tense. He’d been wrong about too many things.
He didn’t know it, but he’d been right about one thing. Pendleton had been tapping that call.
The air conditioner helped. They sat in the cabin and there was the liquor. He figured the liquor was better than the other stuff and it helped with Pat, it helped so he could handle things. Sometimes when he saw her asleep and how her face was drawn and the bones showing more, he killed the vague feeling that came to him then. That helped too. Later, later for sure, he’d promised himself to do right Later, when the pressure was off and the deal secure… He couldn’t be any good to her until then. Except for the liquor. When he gave her the liquor, that was less bad than the other.
What worried him was New York. There had been no money at Western Union. And nobody answered the phone.
He went twice a day. He sat in the back of the telephone exchange watching the young operator plucking at her switches.
“Nothing yet, sir. It just rings.” She looked over to Benny and gave him an encouraging smile.
One red light kept blinking monotonously. Benny waited. Was that kid giving him the eye? He saw her glance at him, look away, and then do it again. Benny got up and leaned his elbows on the counter. “Nothing yet?” he asked.
She looked up and smiled. “I’m afraid not, sir.”
She didn’t have to be so damn cheerful about it.
A customer stepped up to get some change and she counted it out.
“You’ve been in here pretty regular, haven’t you?” She looked at Benny again. She had dimples whether she smiled or not, and Benny was watching them.
“Yes. Off and on.”
She giggled and looked away. He started to say something else, to take her up on the way she was acting, but then he checked it. He watched the operator’s speaker, the way it moved up and clown with her breathing, and then he looked at her arm. It was pink and plump, with two fat wrinkles where she bent it at the elbow. He pushed himself away from the counter.
“Cancel that call. There’s nobody home.” He went to the door.
He turned to see her smiling again, dimpling. He frowned, reached for the door. It had a pneumatic check on it that didn’t work right and he had to yank.
“Sir?” she called again.
This time he came back.
“What is it?” He sounded in a hurry.
“I was wondering-” and she stopped, trying to make up her mind about something. “I was wondering if I should tell you this or perhaps you aren’t even the one. It’s against regulations, really, but he sounded so-uh-so strange about it, I was wondering if I shouldn’t ask you. I haven’t told anybody because it might be against regulations or it might be nothing at all, so you got to promise you won’t tell anybody I said this, will you?”
“Look, kid, if you’ve got something to say, say it.”
“Well, here’s what happened. I was on till twelve the other night, so about a quarter to twelve or so this New York call came in, asking for anybody at the pay-phone exchange, so I took it because naturally me being the only pay-phone exchange at this-”
Benny groaned. “Get on, willya? What was it?”
“So he said, ‘Quick, lady, take this down because I can’t talk much,’ and while I was trying to get it down fast he kept right on talking and then we were cut off.”
“Well, what did he say? Who was it?”
“We got cut off, or he hung up. I think he hung up.”
Benny wiped his face. “Jessis in heaven,” he said, and looked up at the ceiling.
“Do you think it was for you?” She gave him an innocent look.
“How do I know?” Then he lowered his voice, talking patiently. “Go right ahead, kid, just talk.”
“He didn’t have a chance to really explain, but I thought it might be for you because he said he was the man who’d been getting the calls from here, the calls from somebody called Tallow. Is your name Tallow?”
“Yeah, yeah, Tallow, lard, pig fat, go on, go on!”
“When you came back in I should tell you, he said, because he might not get to the phone any more. He said something like the wise father or something, and then it happened. We got cut off, I mean.”
Benny closed his eyes and let his mouth go lax as if he were asleep. “He said what?” His eyes stayed closed while he waited for an answer.
“He said something about the wise father.”
“Father? Whose father?”
“Oh, her father, he said. I remember now.”
“Fine now let’s try again. Her wise father?”
“Yes, something like that. And he didn’t say father, really, he said old man. That’s what he said.” She looked pleased.
Benny was silent for a moment, staring at the girl without seeing her. “Did he say perhaps that her old man-”
“Of course! He said her old man is wise.”
Benny repeated it, giving the last word a different tone.
“Her old man is wise.”
Benny rushed out of the exchange. He tore the door open with such force that it flew against the wall in spite of the pneumatic door lever. Benny made one stop. He checked at Western Union, but there wasn’t a thing waiting for him. The clerk double-checked, shook his head at Benny, and turned to the next customer. But the next customer said no, he had changed his mind. Tearing his message blank in two, he followed Benny out of the door.
When Benny was chasing down the small highway that led to Malcotte, he figured he had never before been so anxious to see Pat. Perhaps she wasn’t there any more and instead there was a trigger-happy goon sitting on the bed, shotgun across his knees, waiting for the door to open and the fire to open and the gut to spill all over the floor where the shotgun-But that wouldn’t be like Pendleton. Not at all. Perhaps a knife, or a rope, or even just an empty room with a guy sitting on the other side eating a meal, a good one, and Benny starving to death right there, tied to the radiator. That was more like Pendleton. But right then it didn’t mean much to Benny. He had his foot to the floor board and was chasing the short trembling shadow that flitted like a black sheet over the road just ahead of the car.
There wasn’t a soul in the motor court. The early-afternoon sun came down like a hammer, and when Benny killed the motor next to the cabin he could hear the air conditioner hum. Hand in one pocket, he crunched across the gravel, stopped. Just the air conditioner humming in the cabin and the white heat coming down like a hammer. Then he pushed the door open, fast. She didn’t even jump.
“That you, Benny?” Pat looked over her shoulder and said, “Hi.” She stood in front of the cool blast of the window unit, legs wide, arms over head, naked. A back like silk; no, like nylon, he thought. And her belly would be flat, curved in, even, her breasts sharp and impudent. He jumped at a noise.
“Why, baby!” She came over.
“Didn’t you hear-”
“The shower curtain.” She put her slim arms over his shoulders and smiled. “Glad to see you,” and she gave him a small kiss on the mouth. “You glad to see me? Huh?” She stepped back.
“Well? Look! You’re not even looking at me. Never mind.” She came back to him, pressing herself close. Her head was in the curve of his shoulder, rubbing against his neck like a cat’s. “Hi!” Her voice was husky. “Hi, baby.”
He coiled his arms around her back, a wild strong embrace, which he checked before it got done. He must be losing his grip.
“Baby?” she said. “Why, baby…”
He pushed her away. Time was running out. “Listen, Pat-Look, let’s have a drink, huh?” He sounded tense, staccato.
“You want one, baby?”
Time was running out.
“Sure, and you. You want one.” He went to the bathroom, where they kept the glasses and the bottle by the sink. “Stay there,” he called through the door. “Stay there while I’m fixing it.”
He fixed it, because time was running out. He fixed it strong and heavy to make sure she’d pass out, pass out not to be in the way, not to object, not to get hurt, perhaps.
“Here. Mud in your eye.”
She took the glass and winked at him over the rim. “To us?” she said.
He watched her almost with a stare, watched her sniff the glass, tilt it, and the liquid disappearing, slipping away slow and even.
“How was it?”
He turned away. Pat was lying on the bed, the thin sheet spread over her body.
“Sit here?” she asked.
“Sure. Sure, kid.” He started to pace, putting the bottle down, picking it up, not knowing what to do to push time.
“You’re calling me ‘kid’ again,” she said.
Her tone made him wary. He knew that tone. Next she would-Hell, and for a moment he relaxed. Right now, the way she was fixed, it wouldn’t make any difference if she decided to shoot him in the back.
Then he paced again.
“Benny,” she said. She was up on one elbow. “Benny, I’m talking.”
“Sure, talk. I’m listening.”
“Benny, you’re-you’re not sitting on the bed, Benny.”
He watched her closely, not caring how it looked, and then she weaved. Or did she? The other elbow now, to turn and see him better by the window. “You’re so slow, Benny. How come every time I’m fast, you’re slow?”
He licked the sweat off his upper lip and stopped by the bed. “Pat?” he said.
“Yes?” She opened her eyes. She opened them and fell back on the pillow. “Benny, why are you-you never-you never give-” And then she looked sunken and loose, her mouth open with the dull pull of unconsciousness. He looked away.
Benny packed the new suitcase and took it outside. There was no sign of life. The white air felt as if it were going to start hissing with heat and the trees in the glen behind the cottage stood as if they had been poured into a mold. He put the suitcase in the back seat. Then he pressed the button that made the top come up, but nothing happened. It didn’t even hum or click. He ran back inside to get Pat.
When he realized that she was naked, he almost choked with rage. Everything was packed in the trunk. He ran to the car and grabbed the suitcase, but before going back he slid halfway into the front seat and hit the starter. It went plop and that’s all. The sweat that covered his body turned cold and sticky, and for a moment he didn’t move. He tried it again, knowing that it wasn’t going to work.
On the hood, where it humped down in front, he could see shiny finger marks in the gray dust.
If they were watching, he didn’t see them; if they were near, there was no sign of them. With terror creeping over his skin, he got out of the car and moved to the rear. Nerves. Nothing but crazy nerves. If they were here they would have waited for him in the cabin, they would have taken Pat before he came back. But perhaps not. This is the way Pendleton would do it. But he wouldn’t leave his daughter in the middle of it. A drop of sweat ran into the corner of his mouth. Licking at it, he grabbed for the suitcase and went inside. First of all he had to get her dressed. Then the car. Fix the car.
Pat’s skin felt cold and dry. He struggled with the dress, forgetting about the underthings. Then the shoes. Nothing to it. She was ready. He hesitated before picking her up, went outside again. It was true there were finger marks on the hood. So what? He pressed the lever that released the hood, making it dip up with a quick, spring-loaded gape. The battery cable was off. That happened sometimes. He jammed it back on, pulled the hood down, and looked around. Just like before, hot dust, white gravel, nothing moved. A cat scurried across the drive and squeezed under the floor of the next cabin. Benny stood in the bare space like a man in a ghost town; afraid of a quiet noon hour, anxious about the shrunken shadows along the edge of the cabins.
Then the noise. At any other time it would have sounded like the squeak of a bedspring. He sprinted to the cabin in three leaps.
It was dim in there and cool. Pat was lying on the bed just as he had left her. Except that now she was on her stomach.
“She started to snore, so we turned her over.”
They grinned. They came out of the bathroom and first the thin guy with the Adam’s apple grinned and then the stocky one with the bald head grinned too. They looked friendly enough, except for the guns. The thin guy was leveling his and then the bald one did too.
“Don’t bother to run.” The last time Benny had seen them, they had been holding cocktail glasses instead of guns. “We aim to bring you back alive, and running would spoil it.”
Benny knew where they came from. Bring him back alive. That would be Pendleton’s order.
“My name is John Smith,” said the thin one, “and this is my partner, Jack Brown.” The man smiled, lazy and slow. He had round, yellow eyes with sharp black dots to the middle, just like a chicken’s. Then he said, “Jack Brown, frisk the prisoner.”
When Benny took a step back both guns came up. He stopped.
“And now, friend, I know what you’re going to say. You’re going to say. ‘Fellers, you got the wrong guy,’ aren’t you, Tapkow?” Smith grinned. Then he waited but Benny wasn’t saying a thing.
“Jack Brown.” Smith wasn’t smiling any more. “Frisk the prisoner.”
The bald guy stepped up to Benny and took the target pistol out of his pocket The hairless skull was right under Benny’s chin, and he could smell the sour sweat coming from the man.
“What a thing for a hero to be carrying,” Smith said. “Brown, show Tapkow what a hero he is.” Brown slammed his fist into Benny’s midriff without even taking a step back.
Benny doubled over, his tongue swelling against his teeth, a green pain rotating around his stomach.
“Jack Brown is a little primitive,” he heard the thin man’s voice saying, “but then, a hero like you wouldn’t frown at a little horseplay, now would you, Tapkow?”
Smith had stepped up and his hand touched lightly on Benny’s head. There was a small push and Benny fell over.
“Can’t you take it, hero?”
He lay on the floor, blind with pain. He didn’t feel like a hero, but he knew something Smith didn’t know: he could take it One way or another he could take it, and then his turn would come. He was breathing hard now, almost hoping that Smith would do something else. It would add to the fire, to the slow growing explosion that was building up under all that pain.
“Tell me, Tapkow,” the thin one said conversationally, “why is the lady friend sleeping so hard? We tried to make her perk up a little-we tried like all get-out Answer, Tapkow.”
He saw two well-polished shoes, black and pointed, stand next to his eyes. One of them lifted slowly and the tip nudged him under the chin. Do it again, he kept thinking. Do it again, harder.
“Answer, Tapkow:” The shoe clipped him on the cheek.
“Drunk. She’s drunk.”
“What a weird time for it! When will she pull out?”
“I don’t know. She’s drunk.”
“Is that how a hero gets his women, Tapkow? I’m ashamed of you. Brown, help him into the chair.”
While Smith held his gun level, Brown took Benny by the arms and with one easy heave bounced him into the rocker. For a moment Benny thought he was going to throw up.
“Has this been going on for long, Tapkow? Never mind, the lady isn’t here to defend herself, and I guess we’ll have to take her as she is. Jack Brown…”
“Don’t.” It was an effort to talk. “Listen to me, Smith. She’s terrible when she wakes up. You got to know what to do when she’s that way. Let her first-”
“You’ll be along, friend. You’re coming along alive, remember? Jack Brown, bring up the car.”
The bald guy left and Benny listened to his steps get fainter on the gravel. They must have parked on the highway.
“Seeing we’re just sitting around, Tapkow, explain to me what made you do it I’m a real student of human nature, Tapkow, so tell me what made you do it. Why, of all the dames in this world, why Pendleton’s daughter? Explain to me.” Smith’s chicken eyes were blinking with real interest, and then Benny caught on, because Smith was saying, “I once been in love myself, friend, so you can trust me. Tell me, Tapkow, you really gotta be a hero for this kind of a deal, huh?”
They didn’t know. Pendleton didn’t know. They thought he was having an affair, plain and simple.
“Tell me, Tapkow.” The thin neck came forward, eyes hooded. “Is she good?”
“Why you stinking…”
“Tut, tut.” The gun came up, level.
Smith walked around the bed and put his hand on Pat’s shoulder. He shook her, but she didn’t wake up. “I guess you heroes know what you’re doing,” Smith’s eyes had got slitty, “but for me it’s the hefty kind every time.” He turned the inert girl on her back with careless gesture.
“Keep away from her!” Benny almost forgot about the gun.
“Yes, friend, every time. Just look at this, Tapkow.” Smith moved his hand along her shoulder, then down. “There’s nothing but-”
The gun came around, but no shot Just as he had figured. They were going to bring him back alive; they were going to have their fun and bring him back for Pendleton all in one piece.
Smith had stepped clear of the bed and his gun was pointing at Benny’s middle. It jammed him in the belly when his hands clawed around Smith’s throat. He could feel the sharp edge of the Adam’s apple and started to squeeze.
“Friend,” Smith had a hard time saying it, “I won’t kill you, I’ll do you worse.” There wasn’t enough air any more, but Smith kept looking him straight in the eye. Then Benny saw the gun come up and over and then the flat of it slapped down on top of his skull. His legs folded gently under him and he sank to the floor.
Through the dull pain he heard the gravel crunch. He could just dimly see Smith’s pointed shoes, and they seemed to be wavering like boats on a swell.
“Take her.” That was Smith’s voice. Benny tried to force himself up, every muscle a knot of steel, but nothing happened. “When she wakes up, show her Pendleton’s letter. Drop her as arranged and then pick me up.”
The bedsprings moaned, somebody grunted, and then heavy footsteps walked across the boards. Benny hardly heard the car, and he didn’t know how much later it was when he saw Smith’s feet again-clearly now-where they rested side by side and a little under the rocking chair. The rocker was creaking.
“Tapkow, I know you’re awake.” Smith’s voice sounded bored. “Hey, Tapkow!” One of the well-pointed shoes blurred suddenly and a thousand painful colors exploded in Benny’s head. “That wasn’t a hard kick, now was it, friend? Let’s see you get up.”
Benny got up slowly and fought the nausea that welled up in his stomach. After a while he felt better. “Where’s Pat?” He sat on the empty bed, not looking up.
“The lady friend is on her way. Our own Doc Brown is taking care of her, and in no time at all her ever loving Daddy Pendleton is going to hold the poor little girl in his arms. Of course, that ain’t the way he’s waiting for you, friend.”
They sat without talking then. Benny lapsed into a numb stupor and Smith started to rock again. The slow creaking of the chair was like a warm, friendly drug, making Benny forget the terrible weight of his failure, and the horror that waited for him. For a while, that is. The creaking kept on; it got irritating. It started to scrape at his nerves and the sound became like a whiplash.
“Nervous, friend?” Smith was lighting a cigarette.
“Let me have a smoke, willya?”
Smith sucked the smoke in like a man starved for air, held it, and then with a luxurious sigh blew it in Benny’s face. “There you are, friend. Want another?” and he did it again.
The rocker kept up its slow, evil creak, almost like a scream that didn’t quite make it. Benny noticed how Smith’s feet rose off the floor on the backswing. “Smith, I’m not asking much. Just one fag, willya? I’m asking you.”
“On bended knee?”
“Yeah, sure, anything you say.” Benny slipped off the bed, kneeling close to the rocking legs. Smith looked pleased, rocking. Then came the backswing. Smith’s long face froze in surprise and his skull clicked hard against the wall behind. The gun exploded, tearing a fluffed hole in the mattress, and Benny was up, both hands around Smith’s foot and twisting with a vicious concentration. The chair tilted for a moment, then toppled sideways. Benny never let go of the foot. Smith was screeching in a hoarse, strange voice, thrashing on the floor and trying to turn his body with the twist of his foot. The gun was lying someplace, forgotten. Benny was switching his grip for the final, breaking twist when Smith’s other foot caught him in the groin. He stiffened, then slumped sideways. When he heard the snap, feeling the foot give a little, he let go and fell.
They lay on the floor, so close they could have touched each other. There were tears in Smith’s eyes and his thin mouth was stretched back over the gums making his face look like a skull. But Benny couldn’t reach over. The churning pain in his groin grew out like the tendrils of a vine, twisting through every fiber of his body, paralyzing him. His face was sweaty and creased, and all he could do was stare at Smith, stare at his face close by without being able to move. They lay like that, with the murder and hate a solid thing between them.
Then Smith blinked. Another slow blink and Smith’s face turned dark with strain. His hand crept over in a slow, considered way, found Benny’s face, and the nails gouged down slowly with a trembling intensity that pulled the skin down and apart. Benny moved away, rolled over, made it. The terrible effort left him shaky, and then he fell forward, his hands coiling around the thin man’s throat. Benny didn’t even watch; he just pressed. He pressed with the slow, deliberate force of a giant machine that knows nothing, needs to know nothing. He just squeezed till the end of strength. After a while the neck didn’t give any more, and Benny looked down. He saw that he was strangling a corpse.
When it was dark outside, Benny got out of the rocker and walked to the bathroom. He drank from the faucet, splashed a little water on his face. Before he left the tiled cubicle he drew the shower curtain in place, kicking his foot at the thing behind it and making sure nothing showed. Then he sat in the rocker again. He lit another cigarette, turned the chair so it faced the door, and picked up the gun. Then he sat.
When he heard the gravel outside he did not jump. He moved slowly. With one hand he flipped the safety off the slide. Four long steps took him across the cabin and he slid out of the back window. He left it open.
Brown wasn’t very bright. He pushed the door open and stood framed against the thin light of the night sky. “Hey,” he said. “Hey, I’m back.” When he didn’t get any answer, he stepped into the room and fumbled for the light switch. His other hand came up with a gun.
Benny could have potted him right there. He could have drilled him through the belly, or the head, or the chest, or any other place he felt like, while Brown stood in the empty cottage blinking his pig eyes to get used to the light. Benny waited. There was time.
“Hey!” Brown said again. “What the hell!” He sounded belligerent. Then he looked under the bed, in the closet, then in the bathroom. Benny couldn’t see him any more, but he heard the shower curtain being pushed back. After about a second Brown’s voice said, Ohmigosh!” He came stumbling through the door and said, “Ohmigosh!” again. Now Benny rested the barrel of the gun on the window sill.
Brown let it drop.
“Fold ‘em on your head and don’t turn.”
Brown obeyed like a puppet and Benny climbed back through the window. He spiked the gun barrel into the short man’s spine and frisked him. There was a sap, a switch knife, a wad of bills, and a half-empty roll of Lifesavers.
“Lean against that wall, Doc Brown. No, face the wall. Step back a pace. Now lean. On your index finger. You can use both of them, bonehead.”
Brown did. With pointed index fingers pressing against the wall, his weight turned the end joints up, making a crease where the fingers bent.
The man grunted. “No, sir,” he said.
“Fine. Stay that way.”
After a little while beads of sweat grew on the man’s bald head and the ends of his fingers turned purple. A slow drip of saliva started to hit the floor below Brown’s face, but he never made a sound.
“I don’t know, sir.”
Benny kicked him in the ribs, making the man double over. Brown let go of the wall and banged his head against the thin partition. While Benny watched, Brown picked himself up slowly, put his fingers against the wall again, and leaned.
“You’re a game one, aren’t you, Brown? Where’s Pat?”
Brown turned and said, “I don’t know.”
But Benny didn’t hit him again. He frowned, tapping his foot on the floor. “I guess maybe you don’t, Brown.” He hesitated a moment, then said, “You can get off the wall. Sit on the bed there.”
“Thanks.” Brown eased off the wall carefully and went to the bed. Benny watched him sit there, rubbing his fingers.
“No, sir. Can I have a Lifesaver?”
Benny tossed him the roll. Brown peeled one out and sucked on it.
“Now from the beginning. Pendleton hired you?” Brown nodded. “He hired you for the job?”
“He hired Smith. I’m with Smith.”
“Yeah. To pick me up?”
“You got Pendleton’s daughter. He’s sore and wants her back. He don’t want you messing around with his daughter.”
“How were you going to take her back?”
“Put her on a train.”
“No. With another guy.”
“No, sir. She skipped.”
“Halfway back to town she wakes up and feels sick. She says, ‘Where am I?’ I say, ‘You’re going home to your dad,’ and I give her the letter from Pendleton. It explains there about us taking her home.” Brown stopped.
“Go on, what next?”
“We get to town and she says, ‘Stop at the drugstore, I gotta go in there.’ I stop and wait. After a while she don’t come out and I go in. Miss Pendleton is gone.”
“I come back to ask Smith what next, and Smith is dead behind the shower curtain.”
“Yeah. I know that part.” Benny paced back and forth, not knowing what to ask next. There was nothing else to ask.
“O.K., Brown, on your feet.” Brown got up. “Pick up your friend there and put him on the bed.”
Brown struggled with the body in the narrow bathroom. The corpse was stiff already. When he got him out he put Smith on the bed, trying to straighten him, but it didn’t work. Smith was an ugly sight.
“Never mind that. Just leave him.”
Brown stood by the bed, looking down at Smith without moving.
“Brown, can I buy you?” Benny stepped behind the man.
“I pay better.”
“I’m with Smith.”
“O.K., Brown,” and Benny whipped the gun butt down on the bald man’s head. He swung hard, figuring that Brown had a head like a rock. He was right. The butt glanced off and Brown toppled forward.
“Ohmigosh,” Brown started to say. Benny swung again and connected.
He stepped over the limp man on the floor and with his handkerchief he wiped the discolored neck of the corpse. Then he wiped the shoe that stuck out at the wrong angle. After wiping the. 45, he pressed it into the dead man’s hand, but it wouldn’t stay there. He let it drop to the floor. After he turned off the light in the cabin, he left. He could hear the air conditioner humming in the dark, and then his motor kicked over. He hit the highway in a sharp skid and took off toward Haute Platte.
All that night he looked for Pat, not caring about the two men back in the cottage-one dead, one still alive-not caring about the cops or the stares he got because of his swollen, torn check. But he didn’t find Pat anywhere, neither in town nor around it.
At four in the morning they found him sitting behind the wheel of the convertible. There were dark rings under his eyes and the stubble on his jaw made him look pale and drawn.
“Saves us a trip to your cabin,” said the old cop. “Come with us.” Benny followed them, for once without hope.
The cold stew had got stiff in the tin plate, but the cop on duty left it in the cell for the next meal. No use wasting the stuff. Benny turned over on his cot and stared at the other wall. When the keys rattled in the door he didn’t even bother to look.
He did not answer.
“She wants to talk to you, bud.”
Benny turned on his elbow and looked at the old cop in the doorway.
“We got your wife. Got her before we picked you up. Creating a public nuisance.”
Benny was on his feet in one jump. “You got-you got my wife?” He grabbed the cop by the front of the shirt and tugged. “You mean you lousy cops had her in jail all this time?”
“We don’t like no stray women wandering around town in the middle of the night. And we got a law against hitchhiking, if that’s what she was doing out there on the road. Now let go my shirt.”
“Take me to her. You’re going to regret this, copper. If it’s the last thing I do-”
“Let go my shirt. Now you better listen to me, bud. We don’t like you much around here and this time we got you dead to rights. She’s picked up for vagrancy, for making a public nuisance of herself, and you, bud, I bet we can get you on the Mann Act There weren’t no marriage license anywheres in your stuff, and that car plate of yours says Florida. So just learn your manners around here, bud, or else. Now about that woman.” The cop cleared his throat. “I don’t know what she’s got or why she’s screaming for you, but whatever it is, make her pipe down. I don’t want no ruckus in this jailhouse of mine, and if you know what’s good for you, make her shut up. One more thing, bud. Can you raise any bail?”
“Not your kind.”
“Think it over, bud. I’ll give you two days. After that, it’s the judge for you.”
The cop took him down a corridor and into a bare room with a chair, two tables, and a file cabinet.
“Wait.” Benny held the cop by the sleeve when he turned to go. “Lemme shave before I see her. And another thing.” The cop stopped. “You want me to keep her quiet? Then you got to let me have some whisky. It does things for her. Else there’s nothing I can do.”
“That’s against the rules, you know.”
“Suit yourself, copper.”
Benny got his shaving stuff, and in the damp little washroom he took a small folded paper out of the lining of the kit and stuck it in his pocket. Then he shaved. Back in the room, he found a pint bottle on the file cabinet and a water glass. It said “Pebblebrook” on the bottle, and “Guaranteed not older than four months. Flavored and colored in wood chips.” It tasted like turpentine with a handful of glass splinters thrown in.
She came into the room like a wild animal shunted into a cage. Her hair was straggly, there was that mean line down the middle of her forehead, and her eyes were like flint. But when she saw Benny all that changed. At first she couldn’t talk at all, and she just cried on his shoulder. He held her, rocking her. He could feel her ribs through the flimsy dress. She had got very thin.
“Pat, listen to me. Come now, Patty, it’s all right, really.”
“Benny, I don’t know what’s happening to me. Everything seems wrong and crazy. Am I sick, Benny? I passed out again, you know, and then when I woke up and that little bald man was there in the car I got sick, really sick, and ever since I’ve felt like I couldn’t live in my own skin, Benny. I’ve been just that miserable and nervous. Benny, tell me what it is, what’s happening? Benny-”
“You’re all right, Patty, believe me. The heat, and you haven’t eaten. The strain of everything. But I’m going to fix you up again, you’ll see. Sit down, honey. I’ll explain it to you.”
They sat at the table and his quiet voice seemed to soothe her. She was pulling her ear with a nervous gesture, but her eyes were wide and intent, watching him and holding him the way a drowning man clamps onto anything within his reach. He told her how they’d get out in a day or so, how he’d take her to a better place to get well, and how everything was going to change. He said it and tried to believe it himself. Then he went to the file cabinet and poured the whisky, his back turned to the table, where Pat was sitting. “Drink this down, honey, fast.”
“You think I should, Benny? My stomach’s empty. That slop they brought me this morning-”
“I know, Patty. Drink it. You’ll see it’ll be all right.”
He watched her drink it, and it came to him that he wished it had happened differently. After a while he saw her change. Her talk was fast and brittle, but she was cheerful.
“Just another day, Patty, maybe two.”
She went back to the place where they kept her, laughing.
When Benny was back in his cell, the cop leaned his arms through the bars and said, “You been thinking about that bail any?”
“Well, I tell you, bud. If you want to keep this whole thing between us, we’ll make it five hundred for the two of you, on the books.”
“On the books?”
“That’s what I said. Now, for my doing you a good turn, you might send a little contribution to the church I’m with. They do good works around town, you know, and especially here. Paint for the ironwork, cookies for the guests-”
“I haven’t seen any cookies around here.”
“That’s because it isn’t Christmastime, bud. They bake for Christmastime.”
“How much do you think they need, copper?”
“A thousand, I’d say.”
Benny jumped up and grabbed the bars. “Where do you think I’d get a thousand, you rotten dick?”
“Same place you got the five hundred that was in your pocket when we checked you in.”
“Was in my pocket? That five hundred is all I got!”
“You ain’t got. There’s no mention of it on the list we made, bud.”
“Why, you no-good, slimy-”
“Not so loud, not so loud. Now about the thousand. You just put that in an envelope marked ‘Contribution, The Fourth Evangelical Congregation of Christ.’ You seal it and give it to me. I’ll hand it on. About the five hundred for bail on the books, that’s extra, of course.”
“And if I don’t jump bail I get that back?”
“Sure, bud. I’ll mail it to you when I take the charges off the blotter.”
“One thousand for a few days’ work isn’t bad, copper. Don’t you think you’d get in trouble with that much dough floating around? And me out of jail?”
“I’ll tell you what, bud. You just try and come back to this town sometime and see what happens to those charges I took off the blotter.”
But Benny wasn’t listening any more. Let a guy show him his weakness and Benny knew he was back on his feet. Plain and simple, that cop’s weakness was dough.
“Go to Western Union,” he said after a while, “and ask if there’s a money order for me.”
“Just ask. If it’s there, you’ll get yours.”
It wasn’t easy waiting around, and the cop didn’t show till evening. “They didn’t have a thing,” he said. “Maybe you think you’re smart?”
Benny didn’t even get off his cot. “What’s smart about giving you the run-around while I’m stuck in your lousy jug, copper? That dough’s coming and I’m waiting for it. That’s why I hung around this burg in the first place. So we wait another day; me, because I can’t get out; you, because you got that hungry look.” He turned to the wall.
But the cop didn’t leave. “There’s something else, bud.” He was talking in a hoarse whisper. “Lady phoned in from the tourist camp. Said she heard an awful ruckus-then said she saw a man later with a bandaged head helpin’ what looked like a drunk outa your cottage. Now, I’m thinking, might all that have anything to do with you?”
Benny stayed turned to the wall. He didn’t want his face to show.
“I don’t know one way or the other, bud. Maybe you’re in it, maybe you ain’t. It’s worth something, though, not to ask. What do you say, bud?”
He liked that, a greedy cop. He didn’t even bother to turn. “Keep going for that check, copper. That’s where you get yours.”
Benny kept him going for three days. If it had just been him and the cop, Benny would have enjoyed it. But there was so much more. Pat every day and running low on the stuff. No check, which could mean nothing but trouble. And Alverato someplace in the blue Atlantic.
“With special guests like you, bud, we are lenient and easygoing.” The cop sounded nasty. “We give every consideration. Like today, bud. Today we let you send a telegram. Send it to your friend with the bail money and the contribution, and make it good, bud.”
He made it good. He sent the wire to Alverato’s club in New York and told them to forward it to Bermuda or wherever in hell the boss was; that he never got the cash, that he needed it quick or the deal would blow up in everybody’s face; that his wife was getting sicker by the day and needed expert attention. The wire cost over fifty bucks and they wouldn’t send it collect. The cop paid the charge. It was the only thing that Benny didn’t feel anxious about.
He waited twenty-four hours, pacing up and down in his cell. When the cop came to the bars that formed the door, Benny didn’t talk because his breath was coming too hard. He watched the man fumble an envelope from his shirt pocket and hand it through the bars. “You read it,” he said.
Benny read it in one glance because the message was very short. “Re telegram your office no Tapkow known to us. Inform your client.” It was addressed to the office of Western Union in Haute Platte.
When Benny looked up at the cop he didn’t recognize the face at first. The eyes were bulging and the loose flesh on the jowls had turned a mottled red. There was a big vein on the man’s forehead like a knotted rope. “You crazy four-flusher,” he rasped. “You think I’m a dumb country cop, huh? Listening to your gaff, paying for that faked-up telegram-Well, you hear this, bucko. Remember that judge of ours I been telling you about? Well, that judge is a brother of mine, and we put a lot of stock in family feelings!”
The cop stomped out without bothering to feast his eyes on what had happened to Benny’s face.
They locked him in the damp basement, where they handcuffed him to a water pipe. He must have fallen asleep sometime, because when he woke he remembered that he had dreamed and it had been a nightmare. Then it was worse being awake.
It must have been noon when they opened the door, but Benny hardly turned his head. When he did he froze. The cop came in and there was a grin on his face. Then the other man stepped through the door. Big Al himself.
The car ahead threw enough dust to make the road itself invisible. There were a few gray trees along the way, but they only made the cracked landscape more barren. The cars wound through a few more turns and then the plane showed in the field ahead. It said “Maisy” on the nose, somebody Alverato used to know a while back. The big Cessna stood headed into the warm wind and both engines were going.
“Look good to you?” Alverato turned in the front seat and grinned at Benny.
“And the little lady?”
Pat didn’t answer. She looked bad and it was a good thing she was drowsy. Alverato kept grinning at her, his tanned skin shiny over the well-fed cheeks. His black button eyes kept hunting Pat’s face.
Alverato gave up. “Pull up next to him,” he said to the driver. The car had bumped off the road and onto the field where the plane was waiting. “And stop bumping,” Alverato said.
The car ahead stopped with a wild dipping of the long antenna. The cop got out. He waited for the others to pull up, looking sweaty and solicitous. When they stopped, he opened the door for Alverato and stood back as if he were going to salute. “Mr. Alverato,” he said, chomping his plates around.
Big Al helped Pat out of the car and took her over to the plane. The pilot was waiting at the open door. They got her in and then Alverato went back to the cop, who kept wiping his hands on his trousers. “Here’s the other half,” and he handed the cop a roll of bills that started to flutter in the prop wash.
“Mr. Alverato, sir, a gentleman like you happens maybe never in a place like ours, and I want you to know-”
“Can it. You don’t think ten grand grows on trees?”
“Nosiree, and well I know. Now I grant you, Bud over here had me fooled for a while-”
“What did you call me?” Benny stepped up and one hand clamped onto the front of the uniform. A button popped.
“Forget it, Benny.” Alverato jerked his head toward the plane.
Benny let go of the cop and went to the Cessna.
Through the window of the plane he could see Big Al, hands in pockets, chatting with the cop. Birdie was climbing into the police car. When the cop started to turn, Big Al grabbed him by the shoulders and laughed. He was laughing and talking as if something was a big joke. In the police car Birdie was tearing the short-wave box off the wires. Then Big Al shook hands with the cop and came into the plane.
“Al, you’re not going to let that flatfoot-”
“Shut up. Watch.”
Birdie had stepped around the cop, who stuck his hand out to say good-by. Birdie clapped the butt of his gun across the knuckles and then he whipped it over the cop’s face, which just a minute ago had been all grease and smiles. It wasn’t any more. Birdie did a few more things, then he stooped over the huddled figure on the dusty ground, pulled the bills out of the shirt, pulled some more out of the pants pockets, and climbed into the plane. When they started to taxi, the cop struggled up on one elbow for a minute, looking like a sack that was half empty, but that’s as far as he got. The prop wash threw a heavy cloud of dust in his face and he fell on his side.
While the plane climbed, they sat strapped in their seats without talking. At four thousand feet a little light came on over the pilot’s door and Alverato unbuckled his belt. “Feel better?” He beamed at Benny and offered him a cigar.
“No, thanks. Better? Climbing doesn’t scare me.”
“I mean about your friend, fat boy with the badge.”
“Yeah.” Benny thought about what he had seen through the window. “Yeah. Much better.”
“That’s just the start, kid. Here,” and Alverato handed him the fistful of crumpled bills that Birdie had brought back. “Take it. It’s yours.”
Benny took the bills and looked at them.
“Ten thousand, kid. All yours. You did a job and a good one. Now have yourself a time.” Alverato gave a fat, satisfied laugh.
Benny straightened the bills and put them in his pocket. He started to relax a little, for the first time in weeks, and he didn’t know how to say it. “Thanks, Al. That’s-that’s big of you. Thanks.”
“Forget it, kid. You deserve it. And from here on in, the fun really starts. Wait till Pendleton gets a load of the pitch! Wait till old wrinkle-ass finds out why his pet was gone so long!” He kept laughing and rubbing his hands.
“Al, listen.” Benny leaned over to where Alverato sat, across the isle. “There’s something else about this deal that’s come up.” He glanced back at Pat, who was drowsing in her seat.
“I’ll handle everything just so, Benny. I got it all worked out.”
“You don’t get it, Al. There’s a new wrinkle in this. When you didn’t show up and I had to keep stalling her-”
“You made it, didn’t you?” Alverato was hardly listening. “Leave it to me, boy. Your worries are over. You take your ten grand and have yourself a ball someplace. In fact,” Alverato lowered his voice a little, “I guess you know Pendleton’s after your skin. Take my advice, boy, and use that stake you got to keep out of the way for a while. Later, come around some time and maybe I’ll have something else for you. Will you do that, Benny?” Alverato looked almost paternal. Then Benny caught on. His pocket was full with the payoff; he had been up, and he was out Alverato was through with him.
For a second he held his breath as if he were afraid to let go, afraid he’d sink into a small, crumbly ball once he let go.
“I’m through?” he managed to say.
Alverato gave him a look, seeing Benny for the first time.
“You’re sending me packing? You paid me off for a job and that’s it?” Benny’s voice didn’t get louder, but it had turned insistent and hard.
Alverato stopped sucking his smoke. “Something eating you kid? Ten grand isn’t enough, maybe?”
“Sure. It’s bigger than-”
“So what’s your beef?” Alverato wasn’t laughing any more.
Benny clamped his teeth on his lip and kept still. He was out on his ear and there was no bucking Big Al. Not now, anyway. Let the big ape find out for himself. Benny could wait. For once he would wait his turn, because there was one more ace in the hole that nobody knew about but him. And Pat.
“No beef, Al. Just trying to help.”
“When I need help, I’ll let you know, O.K.? When Big Al needs your help-”
“I’ll be around,” Benny said. “I’ll let you know where to find me.” He got up, not waiting for Alverato to answer, and sat in the back with Pat.
For the rest of the trip he didn’t talk. Alverato played cards with Birdie, while Pat lay in a fitful sleep, her thin body curled on the seat. Benny sat watching. She’d lost too much weight, she wasn’t well. He wondered for a moment how she’d come out of it all. She’d served her purpose, or almost, now, and it wouldn’t be long before she’d be out of the picture. For a moment he thought of her as the girl he had never got to know, never bothered to know; then he stopped there. A little later he gave her one more jolt in a glass of the raw whisky he’d bought. He hoped it would make her feel better.
After they landed, she left the field on Alverato’s arm. It was a gray, rainy day and she said she loved a gray day. She was hopped up again and didn’t even miss him.
Benny watched them leave across the flat runway, shiny with rain. Birdie was carrying a suitcase. Then Benny left the plane. Just a while back he had thought it was going to be different. He had thought about leaving the plane and feeling different. Not so tense any longer, not waiting so hard any more.
He turned up his collar and walked away. It hadn’t worked. He was going to wait again.
Pendleton sat in his gold-and-black room with the view of the city. It was mostly gray mist now, but Pendleton had not been watching the city. The large plate glass was dotted with fat little drops and every so often they gathered body and shot down the smooth surface in quick little streams. Pendleton was watching that. He sat in the large gold-and-black room and his hands made a dry sound when he rubbed his palms together.
It was an aimless sitting. Pendleton rarely was aimless. The man Turk opened a door and Pendleton turned with a sharp movement. “What is it this time?”
“The phone again, Mr. Pendleton.”
“No, Mr. Pendleton. It’s Alverato.”
Pendleton got up. Except for the lines down the side of his mouth, he looked as controlled as ever. “Tell him again. I am not interested.”
“Mr. Pendleton, he wants to know if you’re interested in hearing about your daughter.”
Pendleton didn’t turn; only his back stiffened.
He walked to the phone then, making precise little circles around the furniture.
“This is Pendleton,” he said into the phone. “You have my daughter?”
“You want to come over and talk business?”
“Of course, Alverato. When?”
“Two at my place. In the country.” And Alverato hung up.
Pendleton’s car reached the estate at three minutes before two. Turk was driving and Pendleton sat in the back, shades drawn, and his dry hands worked on the head of his cane in small spasms. A hidden device swung the large gates open and the car entered. Then the gate clicked shut again.
The big car had hardly moved around the first bend of the drive when they were stopped again, this time by a wide-shouldered guy who carried a Tommy gun. He stood in the middle of the road and raised his arm. When Pendleton snapped the shades of his windows up, he saw two more men coming out of the woods from the left, two from the right, and one from behind. They all carried Tommy guns.
The car had slowed, but apparently not enough. With an unexpected burst one of the guns ripped loose. The car jerked a few times and came to a bumpy stop with one front wheel ripped into shreds. When they opened the doors they waved at a pale and confused Pendleton, who stumbled from his seat, speechless. He stood in a circle of Tommy guns and then his pallid face turned dark. “The effrontery-” He was hoarse.
“Sorry, Mr. Pendleton. One of the boys got nervous.”
The man who had spoken followed him all the way to the house keeping the Tommy gun trained on his back. At the door, Birdie met them both and took Pendleton straight to Alverato.
The room was long. A narrow carpet led past an empty fireplace, a library table, the kind of urn that usually stands in a garden, and up to a massive desk. Alverato was sitting there and he watched Pendleton come the whole length of the room. There was no second chair by the desk.
“Hi, Pendy. Was that your car had a blowout?”
While Alverato laughed, Pendleton found his voice. It shook at first and sounded cracked, but then it was as cold as ever.
“You called concerning my daughter. I am here now-”
“Fine, Pendy, fine. You want a cigar?”
“Alverato. Will you come to the point of this visit? I have tolerated your idiot’s pranks only-”
“Pranks?” Alverato leaned back with a broad grin. “What pranks, Pendy?”
“That scene from a gangster movie outside.”
Alverato laughed for a minute, but then he leaned forward, his eyes mean. “It wasn’t so funny, was it, Pendleton? It kinda shook you up and brought you in line, didn’t it? Outdated methods, huh? But they work, don’t they, Pendleton?”
Pendleton’s mouth twitched, but then he got it under control. “I am still assuming you have my daughter. Let’s cut the horseplay and talk about that.”
“All right.” Alverato slapped his hand on the desk. “Let’s get to it. I got what you want, you got what I want. We trade.”
“You have what, Alverato?”
Alverato reached into a drawer and drew out some photos. “Your daughter,” he said.
The first one showed Pat at a table, frowning into the camera. Then there was one of Pat in bed, sleeping. The last one had her lying on a couch with a newspaper in her hand.
“Where is she?”
“Don’t be an ass.”
Pendleton stiffened. “This proves nothing. The photos could have been taken months ago.”
“Look, Wrinkles, I’m better than that. Take a look at the newspaper she’s holding and then try arguing with me.” He gave Pendleton a magnifying glass. “Look at it, Pendleton.” The date on the paper was one day ago. “Pendleton, you’re hooked.”
In the silence that followed, neither of them moved. “What do you want, Alverato?”
“Now you’re talking.” Alverato jumped up from the desk and came around to Pendleton’s side. “Seeing how you love your daughter, I want the works. I want the contact in Italy, the delivery route, the works.”
“I refuse.” Pendleton said it blindly.
“You know, Pendy, that kid of yours has a lot of life left in her.”
“You wouldn’t dare!”
“Just try me. Just try me, Wrinkles, and tonight I’ll send her back to you in a sack.”
Pendleton bared his long teeth for a moment and sucked the air into his lungs. When he exhaled he looked shrunken. “Very well. When do I get my daughter?”
“How do you want her?”
“For heaven’s sake, Alverato-”
“You want her alive, she’ll be delivered after we get confirmation of the order we’re going to place.”
Pendleton stared at the wall, his face a mask. “Very well. We can hear from the contact tonight.”
“That’s not all I want, Pendleton. I want the works, how it’s done-”
“One moment.” Pendleton turned his head slowly. “You don’t understand. You cannot do it alone. The contact is in Italy, but the method of entry is arranged here. Even if I told you all the details of the operation, it would do you no good. It is my presence that counts at this end.”
“That’s the way it’s organized. Personal arrangements are delicate things, Alverato, especially when the risk is large. The arrangements-”
“So we rearrange. I’ll put a man on it and you show him the ropes. You show him every step of the way. That’s part of the deal.”
“I agreed to give you the name of the Italian contact, Alverato. There was no mention of anything else.”
“There is now, Pendleton. That understood?”
Pendleton shrugged. His hand was tracing back and forth over the top of the desk, but he didn’t say anything.
“All right, now let’s get the details. How do I order the heroin?”
“May I have a chair?”
Alverato went to the other end of the room, brought back a chair, and they sat down at the desk. Pendleton wrote it down as he talked. “The contact’s name is Lippi. Signor Alfredo Lippi, Box Ninety-four, Positano, Italy. You write to him over the signature of Alfred B. Kent, President, Imports, Inc., New York. Write anything at all, but dealing with your recent visit to Rome and when might he return it. Now, the important thing is to mention a number. For instance, the fifth of June would be fine for a visit, or your daughter has two new teeth, or you realize four thousand miles is a long trip, etc. The first digit of any such number is the amount in kilos of heroin you’re ordering. Make it innocuous.”
“Innocuous. By return mail-or cable, if you have cabled-you will receive a message containing the clue to the time and place of the pickup. If the cable is sent on an odd day, the pickup will be ready two weeks from the day. If it is even, there is a delay until further notice.
“The time of cabling is important. Here is a list of Italian cities, all numbered from one to ten. If the cable is sent at two, either A.M. or P.M., the pickup city is number two-Genoa, as it happens. One more thing. Your cable must always be sent on an even hour in the afternoon. That is the entire procedure.”
At four o’clock that afternoon they sent a cable to Positano, mentioning among other things that the 824 pairs of sandals had arrived intact and that Mr. Alfred B. Kent hoped to be able to place an additional order in the near future.
Then they waited. Pendleton’s face remained blank and he stared out of the window most of the time. Alverato smoked a few cigars, ate a meal, and once he placed a call to an apartment in Queens. The man that answered said the girl was all right now. She had been rough for a while, but then they had called Dr. Welch, who had given her a green capsule. She was asleep.
At eleven that night, Imports, Inc. received a cablegram dated the ninth and stating that Signor Lippi confirmed receipt of cablegram and would be happy to handle any additional orders. Time of message was nine.
Eight kilos of heroin would be ready for pickup in Naples two weeks from the date.
When they got to the apartment in Queens, Pat watched them come in without enthusiasm. She gave her father a dull greeting. Nor was Pendleton demonstrative. He took her home, saw her fall asleep, and locked himself in his study.
He made two phone calls. He called the Medaglia d’Oro and reached Signor Lippi in his room. They arranged that the present order should be honored, but that further orders were to be ignored unless signed by “Alfred” instead of “Alfred B. Kent.” And they changed the numbers of the Italian cities to run from three to twelve in scrambled order. Pendleton wrote out the new list of cities and put the slip of paper in his vest pocket while he said good-by to Signor Lippi.
He had bought a new hat. It lay there on the chair, in the shadow, while he stared at the floor between his feet The rumpled bed made a noise when he moved, but he didn’t move much. He sat quite still and every minute was a long wait.
Sometimes he felt as if none of this were real, as if he were no longer himself, standing still and waiting for the next move to come. It had been different with Pat He had waited, but there was always the effort to make time pass, to make it pay in the end. And then there had been Pendleton back in his mind, but the hate had paid off and was gone. And Pat was gone.
How was Alverato managing? She was sick and nobody knew how to help her.
He didn’t like to think about it. He started to pace. With a sudden gesture he picked up his hat. He put it on his head the way he always did and left the room.
But the walk didn’t help. It came to him that he didn’t like to be alone any more, and he didn’t like loose ends. That Alverato deal was a loose end. Pat was a loose end. Given half a chance with that syndicate business, he could really show Alverato that he was worth his salt Given half a chance with Pat, even less than that…
He walked back to his room, listening to the hard click of his shoes on the dark street Once he took his hat off and creased the crown. He didn’t have it on yet the way he wanted when a voice said:
“You. Benny Tapkow. Hey!” The car had rolled up silently, lights dim. “It’s about the Pendleton dame,” said the voice when Benny made a quick move away from the car.
He came closer, cautiously, and saw that it was Birdie, hunched over the side window, beckoning him to come nearer.
“Tapkow. Alverato wants to see you. All hell’s busted wide. We got a call from Pendleton. Laughing his sides out because now that he’s got his kid back, he’s pulling a double-cross. He’s changed the contact or the code or somethin’ and Big Al is out in the cold again. Alverato like to split a gut!
“Then we get a call from the Rosemanor, the hotel downtown? The manager’s a friend of Big Al and he says there’s a Miss Pendleton checked in tonight and she’s raising the roof. She’s out of her head and yelling at the operator that she wants to call a Mr. Alverato, or else a Mr. Benny Tapkow, and she won’t quiet down. Seems like she ran out on her ever loving daddy.”
Benny felt it coming. It was there again, the big chance. It was there again and it was Pat again. “Where is she now?”
“Big Al’s got her. He sent a couple of the boys. She’s a wacky one, that dame, keeps cussing her old man and calling for Saint Anthony, or somebody. Big Al told me to look for you and see if I could get you to-”
“Let’s get going,” Benny said, and jumped into the car. It was starting again and this time he was going to hang on all the way home.
“Feeling better, Benny?” Alverato slapped him on the back. Benny winced. “Christ, I’m sorry, kid. Have another drink?”
“Here. Well, you ready to see that girl? I’m telling you, the time we had with her, yelling, scratching-”
“Let me sit a minute.”
Alverato stopped trying to make conversation. He sat chewing his cigar. When Benny had finished his drink, he turned in his chair and looked at Alverato.
“How come you got generous all of a sudden, Al?”
“What? How do you mean?”
“Giving me the brush on the plane, now bringing me back here.”
“Like I said, she keeps asking for you. She was real trouble there for a while.”
“Am I back in?”
Alverato frowned, narrowing his eyes. “Do I pay you? Sure, Benny. You keep her steady for me, keep her calm for the time she’s here, and-”
Benny got up. “No deal.”
It took Alverato a second or two and then he got up too. “What do you want, for chrissakes, a pension maybe? Because I got a little problem with Miss Hysteria over there, I gotta take you on and listen to your lip? Look, Tapkow, I don’t put no punks on the payroll just to keep a dame quiet for a while. If you don’t want the favor, I can stand her screaming around here a couple or so days longer.”
Benny was tapping a cigarette on his thumb, watching Alverato perform. Then he lit the cigarette and blew smoke. “Suit yourself. I want on the payroll because I got things to sell. Handling the girl for you is only part of it.”
“You got something to sell? Why, you swell-headed-”
“Why don’t you listen, Al? Take this, for instance: right now you’re not through with Pendleton. He’s a snake in the grass and a problem. I know the bastard. I know how he works. You don’t.”
Alverato threw his cigar in the fireplace and came close. “Tapkow, first of all, I don’t like your manners. You’re getting uppity with me. Second, I don’t worry about Pendleton as long as I got that crazy daughter of his. So blow, before I lose my temper.”
But Benny had it all laid out in his mind. Big Al and his puffy temper didn’t impress him any more and Benny had something to sell.
“Take this, Al: you’re getting your shipment, the first one, and that’s all, right?”
“I-How did you know?”
“Pendleton changed the code, right?”
“So? Now I got his daughter, there’s nothing to keep me from giving him the squeeze, is there?”
“Sure. You just keep squeezing. So you’ll get another shipment. How do you know he won’t cross you again? How long do you think he’s going to feed you info and not raise heaven and hell to get his daughter in the meantime? You got to admit it, Al, you can use a man who knows Pendleton. Sure you can go it alone. You’ve done it before. But this is easier, faster. You can use me.”
Alverato got the point. Benny could tell. Big Al wasn’t so big any more; not so big as he had been twenty years ago, when he got the name.
“About that cable, Al. Do you know what he changed? Did he change the whole code, make it more complicated? I’ll give you my guess, Al. He changed the name, the signature, that’s all. That’s what Pendleton would do, a little thing like that. It hardly shows, but it makes the difference. I know Pendleton, and you don’t.”
“Sounds good, Tapkow, but anybody can guess.”
“Another thing, Al. Pendleton has a whole setup for getting the H into the country. I know that, you know that. So I bet you another thing,” and now Benny was guessing. “He hasn’t given you that setup, has he, Al?”
“I know I’m right.” Benny took a deep breath. “And when he does, you need a man to learn the ropes, to take it over. You need a man who knows that rat well enough to catch him in a double-cross, to figure where he might try to pull it.”
There was a pause.
“Well?” Benny said. He was sure now. His voice was even. “Am I in?”
They had another drink. Then Scotty came and showed the way upstairs, to the room where they kept Pat.
There was no sound behind the door while Benny waited till Scotty was down the stairs. He waited another moment. This wasn’t going to be a thing like handling Alverato. This was going to be more like a handful.
When he opened the door he saw her on the couch, deep in the cushions. Pat didn’t look much like a handful. She sat curled up, plucking her left ear lobe with a short, mechanical movement, and her light eyes were traveling back and forth with an irresolute haste. Then she turned fast. “Benny!” She jumped up and ran across the room. “Benny, where have you been?”
“I’m back,” he said.
“Benny, the time I’ve had! It’s all so crazy and I had to see you, Benny. Fix me a drink, will you?”
“Sure, Pat. Sit down. I’m back.”
“Fix me a drink, will you, Benny? Remember that raw stuff we had down South? Remember in the prison you had-”
“In a second. Pat, listen. How have you been?”
“Rotten, just rotten.” She talked in a fast clipped way. “I even had a doctor. My father had a doctor, two doctors. My God, Benny, they didn’t do a thing. Terrible, Benny.”
“What was wrong?”
“My God, nothing, everything. My head, Benny, and everything makes me so nervous. And sometimes pains in my legs, I don’t know why.”
“What did they say, the doctors?”
“Rest, quiet, nerves. Those jackasses! One of them even asked if I take dope. My God! Of course, it’s been so long ago I didn’t-”
“I heard you, Pat.”
“Will you get me a drink or do I scream? You remember that sharp stuff we had? Do you have any of that sharp stuff?”
“Keep still, Pat. I’ll be back.” He got up.
There was only one envelope left. He had it in his watch pocket, and downstairs, at the bar, he used it as before. He got the youngest whisky on the shelf, and, using half of the little white envelope, he fixed her what she needed.
Upstairs again he watched her take it with a greediness that made her look ugly. Afterward she paced the room, plucking at her ear lobe, and he noticed how she walked around the furniture as if she were afraid it was going to bite.
“Now that you’re back, let’s get out of here,” she said. “There ought to be better places than this.” She swung her arm. “There ought to be places where we can go. You and me. What do you say?” She looked at him, seeing how his face never changed. “What’s the matter with you, Tapkow. You starting to play games again? Hard to get or something?”
“Pat, listen for a minute.” He wasn’t sure that this was the right time, but she’d be under pretty soon and then nothing would make sense to her. “You’re staying here for a while. I’ll stay with you.” He waited. “I’ll stay with you, Pat. You hear me?”
She had closed her eyes and was starting to smile. “Ah,” she said with a deep breath.
“Don’t yell, Benny. I can hear you.” She sat down on the couch and put her hand on his knee. “What is it, Benny?”
That creepy smile with the eyes looking tired had come over her. It had come too fast; she was going off. And he hadn’t explained.
“Don’t feel bad about it, Benny. You’re trying your best.” She smiled at him.
“What are you talking about?”
“The whisky, Benny. That sharp, bitter whisky. I remember now, the way it was in jail. You did the same there, didn’t you, Benny? You spiked it.”
What made the shock worse was the bland smile she kept on her face.
“I understand, Benny. You tried to help, didn’t you, darling?” She gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, darling.”
She was making things worse. She was saying what he’d been telling himself, and the whole rotten lie of it twisted through him like pain.
“Isn’t that true, darling?”
If only it hadn’t been Pat. If only it wouldn’t be Pat, the hub of his plans, both plans, the clean and the rotten.
Her voice, calm and reasonable, gave him another jolt. The longer they stay users, the clearer they stay in the head. For a while. She sounded clear and sane: “-and solve both our problems, Benny. I’ll stay, I won’t cause any trouble. You finish up with Daddy.” She grinned. “And I want you to have all the luck in the world.” She stopped, as if she were thinking about it; then her face became serious again. “And in return, darling, you help with mine. Keep me happy, Benny. O.K.?” She watched his face but didn’t see what went through him when he caught her meaning. “You get the H, just a little bit now and then, and I won’t cause any trouble. O.K.?”
When he found his voice, the struggle left him with nothing but nonsense. “Stop grinning!” he shouted. “Stop that goddamn grinning!”
“Or I’ll make trouble.” She wasn’t grinning or smiling or any of those things. Her face was flat and her voice was like metal. “There are telephones all over the house, and dumb little men with their tongues hanging out to do what I ask them to. There are a thousand little ways-”
He was tired of fighting on a dozen fronts. He’d always got things done by doing one at a time, one after the other. “It’s a deal. And when this is over-”
“Sure, Benny, sure.” She got up and walked to the window. “Sure, sure, sure.” She started to twirl, watching her skirt billow up.
“Pat!” But he was talking to nobody. She was off at the other end of the room banging on the piano. Just the way Tober had done it. The last thing Tober had said, Benny remembered, was “Wish me luck!”
Alverato was first, then Benny, and last came Birdie. Nobody tried to make a procession out of it, but that’s the way it turned out when Big Al went someplace. They walked through the door and stood in the black-and-gold anteroom. Turk showed them to the library, where Pendleton was waiting. He watched Alverato come and they watched Pendleton. He wasn’t alone, either.
“Pendy, sit down,” Alverato said. He said it as if the place were his. He looked at the two torpedoes behind Pendleton’s chair and the other one who stood by the door. “Something new, huh, Pendy? Kind of like old times, it looks like to me. I’m surprised at you, Pendy.” Alverato leaned across the desk, looking confidential. “Kind of outdated methods you’re using, ain’t cha?” and he roared.
They sat down around the desk with the torpedoes making like statues. Benny tried to catch Pendleton’s eye, but no luck. That was another good sign. First the torpedoes, now this. For once he had Pendleton acting human. A little longer, he thought, a little longer like this and then he’d get Pendleton where he would crack.
“O.K., Pendleton, send away your doggies and we talk business.” Alverato lit his cigar.
They moved away, out of earshot.
“Now, I never liked a double-cross, Pendy, and you’re no exception. You’re more like a good example, you bastard, so don’t try any more games.”
“There was no double-cross, Alverato. A precaution, I would call it. A precaution that-”
“Save it. Now let’s set it straight about the cable code. What’s the change you made?”
“Only the signature.”
Alverato looked at Benny, whose mouth gave a short smirk.
“Instead of ‘Alfred B. Kent,’ you sign just Alfred.’”
“I’ll be damned,” Alverato said. Benny kept still. “Any other changes you’d like to tell me about?”
There was the merest pause before Pendleton spoke, and he glanced at Benny for the first time.
“No,” Pendleton said.
Benny kept still.
“If you’re lying, Pendleton,” Big Al waved his cigar, “just remember I got your daughter.”
“You insult my intelligence,” Pendleton said, but nobody paid any attention to the way he said it.
“So let’s have the receiving operation. Lay it out clear, no double talk, and nothing left out. My boy Benny here is going to follow you every step. He’s taking over where you leave off, Pendy.”
Pendleton had nothing to say to that He opened a nautical map on top of the desk. Then he spoke with an effort. “The answering cable from Signor Lippi, as you remember, tells you the time and place of the pickup in Italy. An agent of your choosing-I will give Mr. Tapkow the name of the man we have been using-makes contact with Lippi’s messenger, who carries the heroin. Your agent pays and holds the package until a ship that you designate makes port in the pickup city.
“There are three pursers on three ships of the Greenfell Line who have performed the next step in the transaction. Mr. Tapkow will be introduced to these men as they become available. Only one of them is in port at the moment. We have chosen these three men because together their shipping schedules are the most active. In the present case the purser of the David Letz, a freighter, has been instructed. Upon reaching Naples, your agent will contact him and deliver the package, and then he will return here with a receipt. In the meantime, the purser stows the contents of the package in various places on the freighter. He has one more duty. One day before his ship reaches this point on the return trip-” Pendleton pointed to an area on the map-”he seals the heroin in a tubular container. This is one of them.” Pendleton reached to the floor and set a thing like a thermos bottle on the desk. It had a screw-on cap with a snap lock and the whole thing was made of aluminum. There was a ring on top of the cover and inside the cylinder was a rubber container. “At precisely this location,” and Pendleton’s finger stabbed a spot near the coast of Virginia, “this container is dropped overboard. It is dropped with a simple cork float attached to the ring, which keeps the container at an average depth of twelve feet. The float itself, attached by line, stays suspended below water at about two feet. There’s one further attachment. Wired to the cork-”
“Wait a minute. This looks like a lousy spot to me, Pendleton. That drop point is too far out.”
“It’s the best point. It’s usually invisible from land and it’s just this side of the continental shelf. If the container sinks, there is still some chance of recovery. Another advantage is the absence of any strong currents. The Gulf Stream drift, because of these promontories and the swing of the coastline, is veering much farther out, here. To continue.” Pendleton gave an offended cough. “Attached to the float is a four-inch capsule of yellow dye, which is released and diluted in a carefully controlled manner.”
“Where do you get it?”
“Mr. Tapkow will meet the young man who prepares it. The capsule melts in contact with salt water after one hour’s time, a necessary lapse to allow the ship sufficient progress from this spot. The dye, granting certain weather conditions, spreads on the surface of the water to form a bright yellow spot about fifty feet in diameter. In other words, unless you are looking for the spot, you will hardly discover it. The dye can be seen for the next four hours. After that it disappears. This time span is the most practical compromise in view of the closeness to shore and the necessity of dropping the container right in this shipping lane.”
“What about planes?”
“The spot is clearly visible from above; however, there are no fixed flight routes over this area.”
“So I got four hours.”
“Precisely. After that time you have two days before the container sinks. The attachment between rope and float disintegrates after that length of time. The average drift of the container would have carried it to this area by that time. Beyond here-another day’s drift-a coastal current would deliver the whole assembly to these shores, a risk that must be avoided.”
“Nice. Very nice.” Alverato was sucking on his lower lip. “Very neat. I got four hours, huh? How do I know when the guy on the ship makes his drop?”
“Presumed time of making port for all ships is posted with the harbormaster. Ships on this lane bound for here send periodic short-wave messages of location and progress after they pass this point on the chart That’s well beyond the drop point, you notice.”
“Who makes the pickup?” Benny asked.
“There is a man-”
“Never mind.” Alverato waved his hand. “I do my own picking up. All we do is keep tuned in, huh? Nice, very nice. What do you think, Benny?”
“Sounds O.K. to me. I’ll still be checking with Pendleton, anyway.”
There hadn’t been any “Mister” before the name, but Pendleton couldn’t do a thing about it.
“I believe that’s all,” he said, and got up from his chair. Two of his bruisers came back to stand next to him, but nobody else moved.
“Sit down, Pendy. There’s one more thing.”
Pendleton’s narrow eyes started to glitter but he couldn’t get his mouth open before Alverato went on. “You’re showing my boy Benny the pickup details and taking him around to those guys you mentioned. And it’s going to be gratis. No fifty per cent, Pendleton.”
Pendleton’s hands pressed on the desk. “I could have you thrown out, Alverato. I could have you thrown out, mess up your deal, and-”
“Why don’t you dry up? Why don’t you get wise and remember there’s only one top dog when I’m around, Pendleton, one top dog who don’t like double-crossers, and who’s got your daughter into the bargain?”
“You’re overreaching.” Pendleton’s voice rose. “You think your intimidations are going to work forever? Just how long do you think you’ll keep my daughter? Just how long do you think I will permit it?” He was controlling his rage now so the voice came out a dry rattle. “You’re not going to keep her, you’re not going to harm her, and you’re not-”
“Why not, Pendy?” Alverato looked lazy.
“Why not? You seem to forget that I want her back, that I’m learning fast how to deal with your kind, that my methods are far more versatile than yours. Or are you threatening to take her life, you fat moron? How, then, do you suppose, can you keep your hold over me?”
Alverato’s face seemed to swell and his beefy hands balled into fists. “I’m going to sit here and take your gaff, Wrinkle-ass? I’m going to let you tell me how to run this thing?” He took a deep breath, ready now for the next bellow when Benny said:
“I’ll take it from here, Al.”
His voice had been even and the room was suddenly like the hushed hall in an empty house.
“Pendleton is coming around all right,” he went on. “I’m going to tell him why he’ll toe the line. Why he’ll do it fast.” There was a pause as if Benny didn’t care one way or the other. “His daughter isn’t dead. And she isn’t alive. She’s right in between, and the more Pendleton stalls, the worse it’ll be for her. Pendleton, you’re selling the stuff that’s got her away from you. Your baby is hooked.” He was playing with an unlit cigarette. “And you’re hooked, Pendleton. That hook has magic. The longer it stays in, the bigger it grows. And the hook is in.”
He stopped and put a match to the cigarette. There was an ash tray on a table nearby and he took the match there, dropped it in, and came back to the desk before anybody had made a sound. Even when Pendleton opened his mouth, it was only a thin, cracked breath that came out.
Alverato managed it first. “By God,” he said, and “By God” again.
Pendleton had sunk in his chair, and the fight for control showed on his face. His mouth grew stiff and then lax again and after a while there was no expression.
“By God, Benny, I wouldn’t have thought it.” Alverato sat with mouth open, the surprise showing frank and simple. When he slapped his hand on the desk, his sudden laugh made a noise like that of stones in a bucket “I wouldn’t have thought it Christ, Benny, you’re a genius!”
Benny let him think it and watched Pendleton, but there was no argument from him. He had seen it on Alverato’s face, the stupid surprise that hung there, and Pendleton never doubted that all of it was true.
They left him there, making a procession of it First Alverato, next to him Benny, and Birdie closing the door.
For a long while it looked as if Pendleton were just sitting, as if he were frozen there and nothing went on inside. But that wasn’t so. At one o’clock in the morning he picked up the phone and got a sleepy night girl at the switchboard a few hours to the south of New York. He got a number from her and he called that. He talked and was very convincing; so much so that he got simple answers that sounded more and more frightened. Nancy Driscoll was very frightened when she hung up the phone by her bed and started to dress.
He had never been any bigger, but if Benny ever thought about it at all, he would only have figured it was his due. For the time being it meant three things.
There was the job to learn the receiving end of the imports.
There was Pat.
There was Pendleton.
To learn the new operations wasn’t different from what he’d been doing for years. He had kept his eyes open then, he was keeping them open now, and if there was any detail that Pendleton wasn’t asked to explain, it wasn’t important They met every day. There now were four men following Pendleton and they kept their hands in their pockets. Benny came alone. What he had by way of protection was a thin girl sitting on Alverato’s estate who sometimes played the piano, or slept, or did listless things with her hands.
In a way it was simple now to take care of Pat. He knew how much to give her and when. Doc Welch had taken care of that. Doc Welch made a solution of the stuff and showed Benny how much she needed. He used a clean syringe and a sterile needle. It was that simple. She didn’t know it, but the hook was in deep. She was a main-liner.
Sometimes Benny thought of the hot nights in the cabin where the Louisiana swamp was singing outside the windows, and how she’d wake with sudden shivers and a wild look in her eyes, as if she were being chased. He thought of that and of the girl now, safe in her addiction; then of how much longer it would have to last.
And finally, there was the job of Pendleton. For a while that could wait. Benny even forgot about the thing between him and Pendleton, even when he was with the man, and Pendleton gave no cause to bring out what was in the past. He was a machine, without memory, and nothing showed on the surface.
So Benny was thinking of something else when he came back to the gate of the Westchester place. There was a cab there, all the way from the city. That was rare in itself. That it should try to get into the Alverato place was even more unusual. But when Benny saw the cabbie arguing with the man behind the closed gate, he felt only irritation because the cab was blocking the way. He cooled fast, though. He got out of his car, gave a short look inside the cab, and he cooled fast.
“Let ‘em in,” he called to the man behind the closed gate. “This is special.”
It was special that Nancy Driscoll should be coming this way.
At the house he watched her pay off the cabbie and took her into a small room in the rear. She wasn’t wearing seersucker this time, but a dress with a print that showed squishy red flowers and a small berry here and there. He told her to sit down, watching the way she kept smiling, a smile neither here nor there, but spread over her face as if it were meant to stay.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see you again, Mr. Tapkow.”
“Thank you, but I don’t smoke. My, I am surprised to see you again,” she said. Then she didn’t know what to say next.
He had to help her out He had to give her a little rope so she could lead the way. “Same here, Miss Driscoll. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again, either.” He gave her a smile.
“Why don’t you call me Nancy?” she said. “Somehow I feel we actually know each other well enough, don’t you?” and then came her giggle.
“Sure, Nancy. And you call me Benny. I feel we actually know each other, too.” He looked down and then at her face. “Or we almost did.”
She tried to laugh as if that were funny, just one of those things in the car there on the highway, making a tipsy pass at Tapkow the chauffeur. He kept watching her and the slow blush she couldn’t control.
“How things do work out!” She laughed. “I suppose I should never have met Mr. Alverato if you-if you and I-” She really looked coquettish then, ending it with a blase sigh that came off very well, only the weird thing was that she kept blushing through it all.
Benny was sure that hadn’t been part of the rehearsal. “I guess you didn’t come to see me, then,” he said.
She smiled. “I’m sorry, Benny, but I didn’t.” The look she tried didn’t come off at all, but Benny went right on.
“I guess it’s Al, then. I don’t think he knew you were coming, though.”
“Goodness, no, and it makes it just a wee bit embarrassing. Of course, he and I had made all kinds of plans during the cruise-you know of the cruise, of course-but then with getting back to work so late, and all that dreadful excitement about Pat-you know about Pat, of course. She hasn’t come back to school yet!”
“You still working in the Dean’s office?”
“Oh, yes. They were very considerate.”
“Must be a good job.”
“I like it. Of course, the pay in an academic place-but then, if you love your work-”
He helped her along again. “Al’s going to be pretty excited when he finds you here, Nancy.”
“Do you think so, Benny?” Her eyes got wide with the smile she was putting on. It didn’t look like love to Benny, more like fright.
“Oh, sure. He was just talking about you the other day. He was telling me about another cruise he’s planning to take.”
Miss Driscoll’s smile got fluttery.
“Of course, your not calling him or anything-But then, he didn’t know about the troubles you’ve been having. Poor Pat and everything.”
She felt rescued for a moment and switched away from Alverato. “Yes, isn’t it the strangest thing? I had an idea that you two-I thought at first she’d been with you. But now that you’re back in town, and she hasn’t even called or anything! Is she in this house, by any chance?”
She shouldn’t have thought that Benny figured she shouldn’t even have known enough to make such a guess.
“As a matter of fact, Nancy, she is.”
“But you can’t see her right now. Pat hasn’t been well for a few days, hasn’t been out at all.”
“Dear, dear. It isn’t serious?”
“No, nothing like that She does get out, you know. I don’t know why she hasn’t bothered getting in touch or anything. But then, she and I have spent a lot of time together. You know how it is.”
“Why, of course, Benny.” She looked maternal.
“She’ll be up and around soon, though. Fact is, we’re planning an evening out. Got reservations and everything. Monday night, at the Beau Brummel Club. Do you know it?”
“No, I don’t know it.”
“Would you like to join us?”
“The Beau Brummel Club?”
“Yeah. Monday night.”
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly, Benny. I had a time to get off just for today. Dear, how late it’s getting! I think-”
“But it’s in the evening.”
“I really hadn’t noticed the time. And the train schedules, so long between-”
“Don’t you want to see Al?”
That hunted look showed for a second. “I do, Benny, I really do, but-”
“Fact is, Nancy, he won’t be back till late.”
“Perhaps you’re right, though. Perhaps you better let it go this time and come back later. Call up first. He’ll be anxious to see you.”
She didn’t look hunted any more. She looked relieved.
Now that the worst was over, and she didn’t have to see Alverato to go through with goodness knows what, she wasted no time. Benny took her to the door and told one of the men to drive her back. “When do you have to make that train?” he asked her.
“Seven sharp. If they didn’t come so few and far between-”
“I know how it is. Grand Central?”
“Yes, Grand Central.”
While Miss Driscoll stood on the steps, Benny told the man what car to use. By then he had moved out of earshot. “Take her to Grand Central and watch where she goes. Then call me.”
The man nodded and went for the car. He and Miss Driscoll left in time to make that train at seven sharp. Benny waited till nine before he got his call. “I lost her,” said the man.
“I got to Grand Central a quarter to seven. She goes in and I go after. Left the car right there on Forty-second. I got a ticket for that. Who’s gonna-”
“Never mind that crap, what happened?”
“Nothin! She hangs around the windows, then the clock. Then she goes out again.”
“Waiting for somebody?”
“Naw, just tripping around, sort of. Then she goes out and it’s getting closer to seven all the time, Benny; she goes out and comes back.”
“So go on, for chrissakes!”
“She makes a phone call. I seen her use a dime, I think, just one coin, you know? Then she talks and naturally I don’t hear what she says.”
“Nothin’. She goes out and I lose her. She takes a cab and off she goes.”
“Did you get the number? The cab number?”
“I’m a gumshoe?”
Alverato was watching the fights on the television set. He was lying on the couch with his shoes off and didn’t pay any attention when the door opened.
“Al, you’ll want to hear this.”
“Later, later.” He was watching hard. “There’s some trouble.”
“Cover up, ya bum!” he yelled, and his balled fists jerked in the air.
“Hey, Al. Remember a dame called Driscoll?”
“You still bothering me?” Alverato reared up on one arm.
“She was visiting today. Came to see you.”
Alverato sat up and stared at Benny. “Little Nancy. Here? She was here?”
“This afternoon. She says you and she’ve been trying to get together again.”
“She said that? I never said-”
“It was a con deal of some kind.”
Alverato got up then and turned off the television. He was paying attention. “Driscoll? Con deal? She’s too dumb. Who’s with her.”
“She asked if Pat was here.”
“Pendleton!” Alverato caught it faster than Benny had expected.
“I think so. I pumped her a little, caught her in a few little slips, like having to take the train out of town and making a local call instead.”
“What did she want?”
“First she says she wants to see you. Then I tell her Pat’s here and how I’m going to take her to a night spot next Monday. She loses interest in you and beats it out of here.”
“What night spot? Did you give a name?”
“I said the Beau Brummel. First thing came to my mind.”
Alverato started to pace. He was kneading his big hands together and there was a grin on his face. “That’s using the old noodle, Benny! You really faked a setup for her, and Pendleton’s going to bite. He’s got to. He’ll take the chance. Old Wrinkle-ass is going to try his hand at making a snatch. The old noodle, Benny,” and he slapped him on the back. “I like the way you picked my club for the setup. Boy, that’ll make it just jake.”
“Now wait a minute, Al-”
“Wait nothing, boy. This is one setup from heaven! Pendleton’s gonna get an old-time party, one of those outdated deals he keeps yapping about.”
“Listen, Al. I wouldn’t I just said that to her to see if she’d bite, or if she was on the level maybe.”
“You nuts? This is from heaven, Benny! I’m going to give old Pendy a demonstration in the old manner!”
“Al, you can’t do it. You can’t send Pat out there in the middle of it What if-”
“Keep out of this, Benny. This kind of thing I know how!” And he did. Suddenly he was no longer a slob acting a role from an old melodrama. He was the wheel, as he had been years ago, the boss who understood and enjoyed force well enough to make it a big, brash, and effective tool.
Alverato went to the door and yelled for somebody to bring a road map of the state. Then he went to the desk and sat down, drumming his fingers.
“Call Birdie in here,” he said, and Benny did.
He sat behind the desk with a map and a pencil and told his two lieutenants to listen closely. “Pendleton’s going to have an eye out for her. If Pat doesn’t show, and you, Benny, he’ll smell it’s a setup and the deal is off. You take her there at nine. Sit around till eleven. Don’t leave later or you might hit the homegoing crowd on the highway. Birdie, I want you to sew up the club. Have the guys on the floor, in the balcony, parking lot, the works. I’ll leave it to you. Now, if I know my onions, Pendleton won’t make the snatch in the club. He knows it’s mine. Besides, he doesn’t like a mess. He’s going to make his try on the highway.”
“Look, Al-” Benny started again.
“You keep outa this. I’m running this show. Now bend over here and look at this map.” They all moved up and watched the pencil move. “The club’s here. There’s only two ways out. This road, direct to the highway going to the city, and this road back to the place here. You’ll be taking this road when you go to the club, Benny. At eleven you’ll take it back home. From the club to this crossing is about three miles. Three miles of nothing but pasture. If Pendleton knows anything, he won’t pick that stretch. From the house to the club there’s eight miles of commuter towns and small places along the road. Pendleton’s not the kind to try anything there. He’ll make his move here.”
Alverato stopped and suddenly slapped his hand on the map. “Pay attention, Tapkow. It’s your neck too, you know.” Then he bent over the map again. “Here’s hills, woods, and kind of a ravine. Two miles of it. That’s where he’s going to wait.” He stopped, looking around like a conductor who had just waved his orchestra to a crashing finale.
Benny was looking at the map and thinking that Alverato was probably right. He was really ticking tonight. “I don’t think you’re going to get Pendleton in this, Al. He’s not going to be out there.”
“Don’t. Just watch this thing shape up.” Alverato sounded eager. “I’ll handle this end myself. Just one more thing: Birdie, get that Mercury the Brady boys have been using. I want a souped-up car in this caper. Get Limpy Smith over here with some two-way equipment. I want a speaker in that car to broadcast to the walkie-talkie. We’ll carry three. Now here’s what you do, Benny: When you leave the club, turn on that speaker in the car, and as you drive, call off every half mile, you hear? Every half mile. When you see something start happening, call the mileage and yell out what it is. Clear?”
“I got it. But that speedometer-”
“When you start from the club it’ll be on zero.”
“Now, when they rush you, just stop the car. They won’t harm the girl.”
“No. Not the girl.”
Alverato ignored it “And don’t use that car for a getaway unless there’s an emergency, hear?”
“Yeah. Just what do you call an emergency?”
“That I don’t get there, rockhead! You keep the car doors locked. If I’m not there by the time they break the windows, then step on it and don’t spare the pedal, boy.”
“You can count on it.”
“I’ll be there, though. I wouldn’t miss that for the world!”
“I wouldn’t want you to,” Benny said.
Nor would Pendleton have wanted to miss a trick. So he had placed another phone call, and this one too, he was sure, would be a roaring surprise.
Pat got excited the way he had seen her a few times in the past. The night club would be great, she said, and her eyes were sparkling with a sharp, nervous light. She hadn’t been getting that way much lately. She didn’t really get crazy any more.
Pat had wanted a strapless and a hairdo, so when she was ready she looked different than Benny had ever seen her look before. There was a sudden cold beauty about her that hardly reminded him of all the other times. Only her smile reminded him. In the cabin, in Louisiana, sometimes she had smiled that way.
Until ten it was fine. They drank, they danced. She danced with a lilt in her body that was as old as love, but Benny never let go. It was the hook sunk deep, he was thinking. It was the hook that had magic, worming forward, even reaching for him.
And then he began to get the signs. Calling him Tapkow instead of Benny, drinks tossed down too fast, and a few times that thing she did with her ear lobe.
And it wasn’t eleven yet.
He looked over the crowd again, but Alverato had been right. It didn’t look as though anything would happen here. Bare arms and tuxedos, some of the tuxedos with chesty bulges on one side. Birdie had done a fine job.
“We don’t have much fun any more, do we?” Her voice made him start.
“I’ve always loved you for that keen repartee, dear. Where is that waiter?”
“Look, Pat, you’ve had enough. It’s getting late.”
“You’re just the escort, Tapkow, so be polite.”
“Pat, I’m telling you for your own good. We better go.”
“Is this Saint Benny speaking?” she said, but he ignored the sting in it and got up. He held her wrap for her.
“It’s hot.” Her voice was edgy now.
He must have got the dose wrong. She was running down too soon. Or maybe not. The dose had been right, but all the time she was running down sooner and sooner.
“Outside, Pat. It’s cooler outside.”
She followed him then and he didn’t bother to wonder why she suddenly obeyed.
Past eleven now. They stood under the marquee outside and waited for the car. It wasn’t a warm night and the crickets in the dark sounded slow.
“It’s cold,” she said, but when he tried to lift the wrap over her shoulders she stepped away from him.
The Mercury came up with a quiet hum. The got in and Benny locked the doors.
“I want the windows open,” she said, but he didn’t have to argue with her. She went right on. “What’s that humming noise?”
“The radio. It’s stuck or something.”
“Well, turn it off, Tapkow. Are you trying to drive me insane?”
“It’s stuck, Pat Here, take a cigarette.”
“You know, Tapkow, I don’t like the way you’re changing the subject” She had turned to him, looking pinched and mean. “Drive faster,” she said.
“What did you say?”
“Nothing, Pat. Just reading the mileage.” He drove carefully. There was nothing in the rear-view mirror.
When a raccoon scurried through the headlight beams, Benny almost ran off the road. Pat bounced against her door but she didn’t say a word. She sat up slowly and then she began to scream. “God, my God!”
“Pat, it’s nothing.” He tried to see the road, and the mileage, and the screaming girl. “Pat, enough now.”
He called the mileage again, controlling his voice, then reached over to the girl.
She stopped as suddenly as she had started and her voice was a hard, low sound. “Don’t touch me, Tapkow.”
“We’ll be home soon. Try to relax now.”
“We’ll be home soon; try to relax now,” she mimicked.
“Just stay calm. I’ll take care.”
“Of me, Tapkow?” Her laugh was like a rattle. She had started to pluck at the fur of her wrap. “I can do without you, Tapkow.”
He watched the road. “Sure,” he said.
“I’m through, Tapkow. You can start looking for another-”
He wished she were right He wished she would stop talking, digging.
“I want an answer, do you hear me?”
“Pat, you’re just wrought up. In a short while-”
“In a short while you’ll regret ever having laid eyes on me, Tapkow.”
She was building up to something.
“You don’t mean that. Really, Pat, you’ll be all right.”
“With you around?” That irritating ring had come into her voice. “With you around much longer I think I’ll die, Tapkow.”
It gave him a start and he almost missed calling the mileage. “You don’t want to talk like that, Pat.”
“You’ll make things worse, Pat.”
“You’ll be fine soon. I promise you, Pat” He had meant it.
“The sight of you makes me sick,” she said in a low voice, and then her hand shot out, knocking his hat off. “Sick, Tapkow, sick!”
“Sit in your corner.” He sounded hoarse.
“Sick, Tapkow, sick!”
It was the drug she didn’t have. It was hard to remember sometimes, but it was the drug.
“You’ll see, Pat. I’ll help you.”
“Sick, Tapkow, sick!”
“Stop that, damnit.” He took a deep breath and tried again. “We’ll go away together. And after a little while, Pat-”
“Why try?” It sounded casual at first, but then her tone became strong and sober. “Don’t you know how I hate you, Tapkow?”
It must be the drug.
“I mean this. Such hate, Tapkow!”
For once it was almost more than he could take.
“I hate you, Tapkow. Like this!” and with her scream her fist flung out, jarring his head.
He struck out like a hurt animal. “Sit there and shut up! Shut up!”
Mileage. An empty road.
“That’s all you can do, isn’t it? Hit and run.”
“I never have!” It was almost a scream. “I mean it, Pat, I’ll try all I can to make good what-I’ll help you, I mean it!” He had never felt quite so deeply before, so when she leaned forward and grinned, it hit hard.
“Saint Benny,” she said.
It hit. His eyes seemed to slant with the grimace that tore his face and he came back with a harsh yell. “You crazy fool, can’t you tell when it’s real? Can’t you tell when you need me, you crazy hopped-up fool? You’re hooked and don’t know it, a hophead, a poor crazy junkhead who never knew what it was, when it caught, when it ends. And I’m trying to tell you, for real, Pat, I’m trying to tell you there is a way out.”
She was still grinning; only her eyes had changed. “Hophead,” she said.
He hadn’t been watching then, but when it suddenly happened it was almost a relief. The black shape roared up from the side, veered hard, and for a moment the two cars were edging each other. Benny pushed the accelerator and shot ahead. But that wasn’t on the program, and besides, it wouldn’t have done any good. The other car came out ahead, making a spray of the bushes by the road, and Benny called his mileage. “Five even, it’s now!” and he slowed the car. He wasn’t sure if Pat had noticed. She was sitting still and even the grin was there yet Then he jammed on the brakes just in time not to hit the car in front It was angled across the road, looking shiny and new in the headlights. Just in case, Benny thought, and flipped into reverse. Then he crashed behind. They were all around now, coming through the beams and moving like shadows once they had passed. They tapped on the windows with their guns and motioned to him to come out. One had jumped on the hood. The gun he was holding was big and black and pointed straight at Benny. He raised his hands. The taps on the windows got sharper. Nothing rough yet, just sharper. And no Alverato.
Pat made it easy for them. Her window was down suddenly and she leaned out of the way. “Kill him!” She pointed a finger at him as if she were shooting him. “Kill him!” She called loud and clear without hysteria, just “Kill him!”
Benny lunged over and grabbed her waist. She was safe. He felt her strong movement and saw the door go. They were pulling her to get her into the open. And Pendleton had probably not insisted on bringing him back alive. Benny held on, listening to her voice. “Kill him, kill him!” There was nothing else to do. Alverato had planned it that way, his show, his dumb and useless show of brawn.
Except nothing happened. They were out now, in the headlights, and they didn’t even bother to frisk him because there was nothing but guns standing around, pointing at nothing but Benny.
“Kill him,” she said again, but they pushed her ahead of them.
“Get in the car, Miss Pendleton. You’ll be all right now. Here, we’ll help you.” When somebody said that, she started to break.
It was a thin laugh at first. “That’s what he said,” she laughed, and louder: “That’s what he said,” again, until the laughter got shrill and unhinged so that they didn’t know what to do.
He caught them at the right moment, the old slob with the big bravado in his voice: “Stand where you are!”
It came from somewhere. He had a loud-speaker along.
“This is Big Al, you punks, and I’m all around you.”
At least one of the punks didn’t believe it. His. 45 made a respectable crack in the middle of the night, but that was nothing compared to what came next The machine gun gave a sharp, roaring burst and four men fell on the pavement In the second of silence that followed, the hood of the car in front dipped up, dipping with a lonesome creak of the springs.
“I said this is Big Al! And just to show you-” The machine gun chattered again. This time only one man fell, close to Pat.
“And I don’t give a damn if I hit my own man or the dame. Is that clear?”
It was clear. Nobody moved. Until the motor of the car in back kicked over, raced, and careened backward with a painful whine. That’s when they moved. All at once the wild movement broke in every direction, in heedless panic, and the machine gun spoke again.
Benny made only one leap. He grabbed Pat and stood with her in the strong light from his car. There was nothing to do but stand. This was Alverato’s show and perhaps in the light he wouldn’t just shoot them down, being busy with his chase on the dark road and among the bushes.
It took a while, with the car in the back catching fire, the yelling and stomping, the loud cackle of the machine gun.
“O.K., this way, kids.” Alverato stood in the light, big and sweaty. They ran across the road, through the woods, and stopped on a dirt road.
“Stay here,” Big Al said. “The car will be along in a second. How’s the girl?”
Nobody answered. The two-way speaker that hung by a strap around Alverato’s neck started to rasp, and then, “A.A., this is Zimmer. A.A., this is Zimmer. Over.”
“Yes, damnit, what’s what?” Alverato had snatched the instrument up and was roaring into the microphone.
“A.A., this is Zimmer, this is Zimmer. Who are you? Over.”
“This is Alverato, you jerk. Cut out that bomber-patrol crap and talk!”
“Big Al? I can’t start the car. I thought you’d want to know because-”
“Can it, can it, you sonofabitch! I’m coming over and it better be fixed when I get there. Uh-over!” he yelled, and started to crash off into the black undergrowth. “Benny?” Alverato had stopped. “Stand still and wait, and better take this.” Alverato was back, handing Benny a gun. “And stay put.”
They listened to him get farther away. Pat was shivering. Benny could hear her mumbling and she was plucking the fur of the wrap.
“Soon, now, Patty, soon.” He put his arm over her shoulder, pressing her close, and she let him. “Soon, Patty.” But she didn’t answer. He could hear the mumbling getting clearer, and it was “Kill him! Kill him!”
He tried to pay no attention. Once he let go of her because the gun was between them, in his pocket. He took it out and kept it in one hand.
Then he heard the sound of a car. It came without lights, a long humming shape. It stopped.
First the lights went on, like a white explosion, and then the doors opened. They went thunk, thunk when they closed, and Benny started to push Pat forward.
“Al, cut those beams.”
There was no answer. There was no sound till the lights made a face materialize with hard lines from the nose to the mouth and close-set eyes that had a maniacal glint in the light. “Baby!” said the mouth, and Pendleton raised his arms. “My dearest-”
What stopped him was a scream that arched Pat’s body until she trembled like a spring that had suddenly been released.
She had seen the man she hated. Pendleton knew. There was a gun in his hand now. He came steadily toward his daughter.
“Kill him,” she kept saying. “Kill him.”
Pendleton didn’t stop. He took another step and reached for his daughter. Only when Benny had jerked the girl back did Pendleton seem to wake up. He raised his gun. Benny had never seen Pendleton with a gun before.
“You’ll kill her, Pendleton.”
It stopped him.
They weren’t listening to Pat any more. Their eyes met and the question was who could hold on longer.
“Pendleton,” Benny said, “you’re through.”
Benny had never seen the man stand that still before. Not even his shoulder moved.
“Pendleton, you’ve lost. You lost Pat.”
“Kill him,” she said.
Then Pendleton opened his mouth. “Tapkow, don’t try. I’m going to keep you alive-forever, Tapkow.”
“Kill him,” she said.
There was nothing to answer, no more to say, but first Benny laughed. He laughed straight in the old man’s face and it sounded as hellish as Pat’s scream. Benny could see it hit the man, saw him stir, while Benny tightened his grip on the girl to shift for the kill.
That’s when Pendleton broke. He flung himself forward, with arms flailing, so crazed he never thought of his gun. It came down like a stone, missing everything it was meant to kill, but then it did part of a job. The barrel caught Pat on the skull, glanced sideways, and the only thing that could stop Pendleton happened. Pat slid to the ground. There was blood on her hair.
Benny waited till they were both together, the unconscious girl breathing raggedly and Pendleton sobbing.
The hate made Benny hold it just a little longer, the hate that knew it had found its way. Then it moved Benny’s foot. The foot pushed at the man, pushed him till he was free of his daughter, and looking up with crooked eyes that didn’t see the gun. It spat in his face.
It spat and bucked and then it was empty.
Benny stood in the white light. He bent over Pendleton and found the small paper and saw the numbers on it and the names of the Italian cities. Then he just stood again. He didn’t notice when the gun dropped from his hand. He stood, feeling empty.
When he lifted Pat and carried her, holding her close and tight, the feeling came to him that with her so close the emptiness might not last much longer.
Doc Welch put the blanket back over Pat, keeping her arms outside and making it all look neat. “Nothing to worry about, Benny. She’ll wake up with a headache. Just give her another of these,” and he gave Benny a pill. Doc Welch closed his bag. “Now the other matter. The way you described it, she’s definitely moving on. Let’s have that syringe.” Benny pulled it out of his pocket and handed it over. “You see these graduations? Increase the dose from here to here. Same time interval. You have enough solution left?”
“That doesn’t matter. When it’s gone, it’s gone. She’s through with that stuff.”
Doc Welch just raised his eyebrows, then shrugged. Benny put the syringe back in his pocket. “She’s off it. I’m seeing to that. Things are different now.”
“I gather this is all your idea?”
“If you say so.” Doc Welch reached for his hat. “You know anything about the cure?”
“It’s rough, I know.”
Doc Welch laughed. “It’s useless. No amateur can swing it.” He went to the door.
“Doc. You got a better way?”
“I don’t know, but it’s more scientific.” He laughed again.
“Doc, listen. Can you do it for us? Help her get off the horse?”
“Sure, Benny. The fee’s the same.” Doc Welch closed the door.
Benny went to the kitchen and had a cup of coffee. The house was very quiet, as if exhausted. Benny finished his coffee and went up to bed.
He woke late. The house was quiet again, big and empty, but it wasn’t the quiet of the night before. It was more like a wait, like holding the breath for the next big effort. Only there wasn’t a thing for Benny to do, not a thing but wait.
Alverato was gone, and so was Birdie. The rest of the guys had their stations in town and at points down the coast. This was the day for the pickup.
There was a radio man on Alverato’s yacht who was going to talk to a man on shore, and that man had a phone open to the place in Westchester, where Benny was going to listen to the pickup. That way nothing was out of hand, everything was tied up and prepared for the shipment.
Benny walked through the empty house, from the room with Alverato’s desk and the phones down the hall to the paneled bar. There was a boar’s head hanging on the wall, and two dumb eyes, made of glass, looked across the room to the door.
Benny walked back again.
It was twelve-fifteen. Back to the bar and maybe have a drink. He didn’t. He turned to go upstairs. The glass eyes showed a glint now, because the sun had shifted.
Pat was at the piano, staring across the room without seeing. “Pat,” he said. “How is it?”
Benny went across the room and touched her arm. “One more day, Pat, and we’re free.”
She turned her head to see him. “It’s time,” she said. “It’s past twelve.” She pulled the sleeve of her sweater up, exposing the fine skin on her arm.
“Later, Patty.” He smiled at her and slowly pulled the sleeve back down. “It isn’t bad now, is it?”
“You got that pill, Patty. You’re all right now, aren’t you?”
The light from the window seemed to hurt her eyes. She turned away.
“Lie down a little. I’ll be back later. You don’t need it now, Patty, you’re fine.”
“Fine,” she said.
For the moment he had forgotten about the day and the phones and the waiting, but he saw the clock on the mantel now and went to the door. “You’re fine now, Patty. Wait for me here.”
“Fine,” she said again.
When he closed the door she said something else, but he didn’t hear it.
With a switch of attention that was almost automatic, he was alone again. Time shrank, but not the waiting. The dead pig on the wall looked at him and then past his shoulder. He turned, walked back.
He had left the door to the bar open, so the glass eyes were on him halfway down the hall. That goddamn pig was getting on his nerves, and he veered to walk close to the wall. That goddamn pig didn’t let go till he was halfway into the bar.
Perhaps Pat should have a small one just for safety’s sake; he’d be busy for a while.
Then he saw her through the glass of the front door, on the steps to the driveway.
She turned, watching him come.
“You all right, Pat?”
“I got a headache. Benny, it’s time. Over an hour now.”
“A little later, Pat Go upstairs now.”
“You said you’d help me.”
“Go upstairs. You’re all right now, aren’t you?”
“You won’t let me have it?”
“Pat, listen to me. Later. I’m busy now and you’re fine.”
“Fine,” she said.
“Pat, I gotta run. I-”
“Fine, fine,” she said, and then he turned to go back inside. So he didn’t see her hand come up, plucking her ear lobe with an unconscious gesture.
One-forty. The phones now. No, too early. The bar. The glass eyes and the glass bottles looked dim again because the sun had shifted. Benny wanted a drink. He rarely did, but he wanted one now. Any old bottle, one of the bottles under the dry-looking head of the pig up there. The drink was sharp, feeling hot. He started to pour again but stopped.
The phone rang. He was out of breath, hoarse even, but the other end was talking already. “This is Mick. That you, Benny?”
“Sure, sure, let’s have it. Everything going?”
“Just heard from the radio man and it looks O.K. Hey, you should see the setup, Benny. One ear under the headset and the other one listening to you. I look like a-”
“Never mind that. Where are they?”
“Right on the button, same place like on the map. Christ, you should see the fog out here, Benny. I can’t even-”
“Fog! They got fog yet?”
“That’s right, he never said. Hold on, Benny, I’ll ask. Kip! Hey, Kip! This is Mickey How’s the weather out there?… Huh?”
“Mick, what’s he say?”
“Shut up a minute, Benny. I can’t listen with both ears, for-Huh?”
Benny waited. He shook a cigarette out of his pack and held it.
“Benny? They got beautiful sunshine, he says.”
“Did they find the spot, Mick? Ask him if they found the spot.”
“O.K., hold on… He don’t know, Benny. He just sees water from the radio room. Hold it… You’re what, Kip?… Coming about what?… Oh. Benny, they turned the ship around or something and took it out of gear. I guess they-”
“Don’t guess, you jerk! Ask him what’s going on!”
“Not so loud, Benny. Say that again, Kip… Oh…”
“Mickey, what’s he saying, for Chrissakes?”
“O.K., Kip. Benny? He says they’re looking around. I guess they’re looking for that yellow stain now.”
“O.K., O.K., I know what they’re looking for.”
It was two-fifteen and nothing was happening. Benny held the phone close to his ear and switched hands. His palms were sweating. The noise in the earpiece was a rhythmic crack and crunch. Benny thought he was going to jump out of his skin. “Mickey! Mick, will you stop chewing that goddamn gum?”
Mickey stopped and started to whistle instead. There wasn’t any news from the radio man on the yacht, only that they were looking around.
Benny got up and stretched. Through the window he saw the long garage in the back, all the stalls empty. They had taken all the cars except the Mercury at the end of the oval. Alverato’s Cadillac, Birdie’s Jaguar, the two Dodges. The convertible wasn’t there, either. They hadn’t needed the convertible, but it wasn’t there.
“Mick, listen to me. Sit tight while I put the phone down for a minute. I got to put it down and check.”
“Go ahead, Benny. I ain’t leaving.” Mick started to whistle again.
Pat was nowhere. The man who worked in the kitchen helped look all over the house, and then Benny thought of calling the gate.
“She came through here with that yellow convertible a while back,” the man said.
Benny clicked down the wall phone and ran back to the desk. “Mick, anything new?”
“Hi, Benny. Well, they just heaved again, Kip says. Maybe they seen something.”
“Heaved? What in hell-”
“Heaved the ship around, I guess.”
“O.K. Hold it now, Mick. I gotta make another call.”
He picked up the other phone and dialed. “Scotty? Tapkow. Listen close now. The kid’s gone. Pat. In the yellow convertible. Call the Bradys and get them started in town. She headed for town. Then get the guys at Alverato’s club, they’re just sitting there on their cans, and tell them to fan out over the city. Tell them to hit every parkway, Pendleton’s place on Sutton, and every viper joint. Get going and find that girl. I want her back here, get that?”
When he picked up the other receiver he could hear Mickey saying, “-beeline for it right now.”
“Mick, what, what-”
“You wasn’t listening? Alverato and Birdie took the launch and are going out there. They found the spot. Great news, huh, Benny?”
“Great, great. What now? What are they doing now?”
“Hold on, Benny. Kip? What are they doing now?”
Benny’s eyes kept jumping to the other phone, back and forth. He blinked. A sharp headache had started to spread over the side of his head.
“Benny. They’re simply chugging along there, he says.”
“Mick, can Kip see the spot? Ask him.”
“Kip, can you see the spot?… Yeah? How’s it look?… Yeah? Benny? He can see it It’s yellow, he says. He says he can-”
“Mick, shut up a minute. Fix it so I can hear Kip direct. Put the phone to the speaker or something. I’m going nuts listening to that goddamn gum chewing.”
“I can’t fix it so you can talk to him. I can-”
“Forget that part. I just want to hear him, you jerk!”
Then came a steady humming, a gritty noise that growled behind Kip’s voice: “-into the wind now. Birdie’s got a stick with a hook. The dragnet’s in the stern. They’re going to try the hook first. Alverato must have cut the motor because-”
The other phone rang.
“Scotty here. Tapkow? I did like you said. They’re all out now, but nothing yet.”
“Call back every fifteen minutes, Scotty.” He hung up, unable to wait any longer to pick up the other phone.
“-stopped dipping it in. Alverato is in the back with the net I think-I don’t know, he’s turning the other way, pointing. They’re looking up. There must be-” Kip’s metallic voice was drowned in the strong static.
Benny was frantic. He couldn’t hear, he couldn’t see, he couldn’t talk to Mick, who was holding the phone to the radio speaker. But then Mick came through. He’d heard the static and the voice fading and he was talking to Kip. “Mickey to Kip, Mickey to Kip. Can’t read you, can’t read you.” He took up the phone. “Benny? I’m trying to raise him. There’s interference.”
“Goddamnit, I know there’s interference! What’s interfering? Turn a knob or something.”
“It’s not the set, Benny. Could be a plane, though I wouldn’t know why a plane-He’s coming through again, Benny. Here he is.”
“-hands over their eyes,” Kip’s voice said. “Can’t tell from here what they’re doing. They must be-Wait!” Kip’s mechanical drone picked up speed and sharpened, sounding almost like a human voice. “By God, it’s a helicopter! The damn thing just hangs there. No, it’s starting to sag down to the launch. They-” The other phone rang again.
“Scotty, talk fast. What-wrong car? So keep them looking. I don’t care how long it takes!”
Benny was like a hunted man in a dream, trying to run and crashing from one pitfall into the next It was hard to make out Kip’s voice and Benny strained into the earpiece, his eyes on the other phone, glued there like the glass eyes of the dead pig.
“-scrambling into the front. They’re both watching the thing drop from the helicopter. Looked small, puffing. Christ, a fat cloud in the stern now. Birdie is diving for it, he-yeah, he’s got the bomb, throwing it over the side. Burned his hand, though. Keeps shaking it and dropped his gun. Al must have ducked below. I only see Birdie now. He’s grabbing the stick and swinging at the heli-Christ, that thing is low! Here’s Al coming up with a Tommy gun, and Birdie’s hauling out with that stick again. They’re so close now-My God! He can’t get the stick around. Al’s falling, Al’s got the-The goddamn hook’s into Al and won’t come out! It looks-” Kip stopped. He spoke once more, saying, “Coast Guard launch,” and then the radio went dead.
“Did you hear that, Benny? Hey, Benny! Cheeze, I’m gonna blow,” and then the phone went dead too.
The wait was over. Benny never even thought of the other phone. He could only think of Pendleton then; Pendleton, who was dead, but not without one more double-cross. He had given the tip-off. He was dead and there was nothing to be done about it.
Before he went to the village he called Scotty once more, but he knew it wouldn’t mean a thing. It was nighttime and he drove to the village slowly. He bought the extra in the drugstore and drove back to Alverato’s place.
“Dope Ring Smashed,” it said.
Holding the paper down on the desk as if it were going to blow away, he read every word.
“Acting upon an anonymous tip, the combined striking force of the Coast Guard and F.B.I. pulled one of the most spectacular raids…”
He knew that part of it.
“… resulting in the arrest of the right-hand man to a local underworld czar.”
They got Birdie.
“… virtual hand-to-hand combat for the possession of a watertight container of pure heroin. During the course of the battle the notorious Agrippino Alverato, kingpin of the local syndicate, met a grisly fate at the hands of a fearless Coast Guard commander who-”
“… pronounced dead from spinal injury.” And so that left no one.
“Further important arrests are imminent.”
Benny pushed himself away from the desk and stared at the far wall. There was a picture hanging on it, a picture of something he couldn’t make out He noticed that his hands were shaking again. He balled his fists, slowly at first, thumped them on the desk, both of them, harder, then hard and fast like drumsticks.
It brought him around. It came over him like the cold sting of ice, the sudden change in pace and the determination. He went to the kitchen and drank black coffee. His face didn’t tell a thing now.
“Dope Ring Smashed,” it had said in the paper. He thought about it then and saw that what was smashed was a man named Pendleton, a man named Alverato, and nothing else.
They had the shipment, and that was all. One shipment gone and nobody left to know the story. Birdie knew part of the story, but Birdie never talked. Benny Tapkow knew the whole story; the in, the out, and all the small details. Including those that even Alverato hadn’t known about.
So this was the real beginning, the Big Deal right in his lap. He sat down at the desk again.
The first call was to O’Toole, Levinson, and Levinson. He told them about Birdie, about arranging bail and preparing for Birdie’s defense.
Next he called a professional who lived in Yonkers and gave him the name and address of a purser. The professional was to pick up his advance from the office of Imports, Inc., and do a job with a purser.
A phone call to Alverato’s Construction Enterprises, Inc., got him the telephone number of the accountant for the firm.
“This is Benny Tapkow I’m sending a man from the O’Toole firm over to your place. Get your books from the safe and wait for the man in your car. I’m setting up a place for you so you guys can get to work on those books starting right now and all night. You heard about Alverato?”
The next call was to Squinty Gold, who was head man for the pushers; then to Edna Convair, who handled the houses; a call to Lucky Black to tell him to shut down every game he had floating around town. There were a few others, all with the same kind of message: Pull in all operations and lie low. They said yes, sir, Mr. Tapkow, and some of them called him Benny.
Two hours later he was through. He did just one more thing. He got an ax from a servant and knocked the button off a little safe behind a bookshelf. Benny took out what he found there and the folded list of Italian cities and put everything in other places of his own choosing.
Then he ate in the kitchen, smoked two cigarettes, and called Scotty again. Still nothing on Pat. He went upstairs to bed.
The extra lay in a wastebasket somewhere. “Dope Ring Smashed,” it had said.
They all got another phone call from Benny at eight the next morning. At ten they were in the office of Imports, Inc., where Benny showed them into a room to the rear.
He wasn’t the tallest in the bunch and he didn’t have a big voice, but they sat and listened because he never doubted that they would. Lucky Black was there, and Edna Convair, Squinty Gold, De Marco, and a man who had come in from Saratoga. One of the Levinsons had come too.
“Where’s Hogan?” Benny asked.
They shrugged, not knowing why Hogan hadn’t shown up.
“Everything under control, like I said last night?” Benny looked from one to the other.
“It’s gonna cost a fortune,” Edna said. She recrossed her legs. They were the only things that hadn’t changed on her through the years.
“It’s worth it.” Benny tapped on a newspaper that stuck out of his pocket. “Now they found some dead guys out in the country. Not more than five miles from the Beau Brummel. They’re trying to tie it up with the other thing, so for a while we lie low.”
“Takes me more than a day,” Squinty Gold said. His pushers were all over the area. “Besides losing customers, maybe. Perhaps-”
“Haul them in fast or you’ll lose more than customers, Gold. Whatever you got in storage, keep it there. When I tell you to push it again, the price will be double, and when that H is gone there’ll be a new supply ready. I’m arranging it now.”
“Like the last time. Big Al arranged it the last time and look what happened.”
“Big Al is dead,” Benny said. “And so is the guy who tipped the deal.”
They looked at each other and understood.
“Anybody we know?” Edna asked.
They understood that too, because Benny was telling them and nobody had seen a thing about it in any of the papers.
“What about the bail, Levinson?”
“They haven’t set it yet, but judge Nichols-”
“He’s getting the pressure now. I sent a man over this morning.”
For a while longer he gave them instructions, then he left because he had planned a visit to Hogan.
They stayed after he had gone and Squinty Gold said, “Well?”
“Well what? He’s it.”
“I’ll go along with that,” Lucky Black said. “He’s got the pipeline now and it doesn’t look like he makes mistakes.”
They all thought of Hogan, who hadn’t shown up at the meeting.
“And no more Pendleton,” Edna said.
“I’m nervous,” De Marco said.
The man who had come in from Saratoga cleared his throat and they all looked at him. “You ain’t the only one who’s nervous,” he said, but his own voice was steady. “It’s all the same to me. But they’re nervous out West.”
“They figure all these goings on have left a hole in the syndicate. First Old Man Ager, then Big Al, then Pendleton. They’re nervous.” He crossed his arms.
“But there’s Benny,” somebody said.
“Who’s Benny? They never heard of no Benny.”
“Perhaps we should tell him,” Levinson said. “I have a feeling-”
“You wanna get killed?”
Levinson shrugged. “Tapkow looks good to me,” he said, and then he leaned back, figuring he’d just listen some more.
“Perhaps he looks too good.” Lucky Black looked from one to the other. “Perhaps out West they figure how come there’s suddenly a Benny Tapkow here and just a minute ago there was a big hole?”
“I’m staying out of this,” said the man from Saratoga. “Just thought I’d mention it.” He lit a cigarette and made a noise when he blew out the match. “Just thought I’d mention it because they’re sending somebody over.”
“They’re what? Who’re they sending?”
“The syndicate’s sending them. Just two men from out West.”
“So-is he in or out?”
They didn’t know, one way or the other. And they didn’t feel like deciding, one way or the other.
When Benny had finished with business he had stayed in town till late, but he hadn’t done any better than Scotty. He drove back to Westchester, tired but unable to sleep.
He’d done everything right, done it the way to make it pay off, and in the end there wasn’t a mistake he hadn’t corrected. Except Pat.
He stood by the open window above the black park that had once belonged to Big Al Alverato. Benny looked down to the stone terrace reaching out into the lawn and he thought that some night he’d have to sit down there on the terrace and relax.
The curtains billowed in slow curves but he didn’t notice. And he didn’t hear the door because she had never been in the habit of closing doors. “Lover.” She said it with that metallic ring.
He turned slowly, half wondering if he had heard right, and then the stiffness went out of his face, his shoulders, and his body moved with a deep breath.
“Pat. You’re back.”
Pat looked fine. Nothing wrong with her. She was smiling while she plucked at her ear lobe once and only her eyes looked too alive for her face.
“How are you, chauffeur?” she said. She walked around a chair, around and around, as if she had never seen a chair before. “How are you, chauffeur?”
He had heard her the first time but that type of thing didn’t get to him any more. He wasn’t a chauffeur any more.
“You look ten feet tall,” she said. “Like a freak.”
He saw it was bad, so he went to her with hands out, trying to reach her. “Patty-”
It surprised him when she didn’t step back, just waited. His arms went around her and he looked into her eyes. They were light and shiny. “It’s over, Patty. Now, Patty, now we start,” and he bent his head to her face.
She stood still and waited. He was so close now he couldn’t see her face.
The kiss was like murder. His head jerked back and he saw now how she had pulled back her lips, and where he had tried to kiss her he saw the teeth.
For a moment he didn’t talk. His arms dropped away from her.
“Where’d you get that jolt?”
“Had my head measured.” Her tongue went over her teeth a few times. “Us vipers stick together.”
He ran his hands through his hair with sharp strokes. “Pat. Try to hear me. I know you’re high. I-”
“High! So high you look like a runt!” His face had changed and she took a step back. “You want me to go, Benny?”
He watched her. “Did you come back?”
“Oh, Benny!” she called, and her arms were out. “Oh, Benny!”
He took it the only way he could. He went to her. She sagged in his arms and her mouth wanted that kiss. He could feel it under him, felt it move, and they stayed close. Then he gave her time to breathe, watching her face smile at him. She has a thousand different smiles, he thought, a new smile.
“You can let go now,” she said.
“What did you say?”
“Let go.” She was still smiling that way.
“Pat, come here.”
She moved back with an even step and then the smile said, “Tapkow, to me you are dead.”
For a moment he thought he was going to kill her and his fingers curled involuntarily. She had seen it and started to crouch the way he had done. With a crazy switch in her voice she suddenly talked like a record set at the wrong speed. “Look, Benny Tapkow, look what I got.” She flailed her hands through the air, fingers clawed. “Hooks, Benny Tapkow, look at the hooks!”
Her hands kept clawing.
“Shut up, you crazy bitch, shut up!”
He whirled away from her and ran to the open window. His shoulders moved up and down, and he kept twisting his head as if there were a kink in his neck. And when she saw that she slid down along the wall and sat on the floor. Then she began to cry.
She would have cried like that with or without the dope in her blood, and no dope was big enough to cover the misery she felt.
It lasted just so long, and Benny didn’t come. It lasted just so long and then the fever caught her up again, and that saved her.
Benny was walking toward her. He was too late.
“Chauffeur,” she called. “Help me up from the floor.”
“Chauffeur, take your hands off my arm.”
He let go and watched her rub herself where his hand had been. He figured she was higher than he’d ever seen her before. The flitting hands showed it, her poor face jumping through changes that had no transition at all.
“What do you want, Tapkow” Her voice showed it. “You’re peeping at me.” She put her hands over her breasts.
“I don’t think I want anything any more,” he said.
She misunderstood. The sharp crease down her forehead was like an evil mark and she almost spat. “I was waiting to hear it, you filth. I was waiting to hear the ugly sound of it and now it’s out. You had enough, you had me and now you’re through. You don’t tickle any more when I’m there. I’ve thrown it at you much too easy.”
“Shut up, Saint Benny, and let me tell you. Let me-let me-” She shook her head. The frown on her face showed her confusion. She had forgotten the rest of what she meant to say.
The dope, he thought. It’ll soon blow over. He saw her skip across the room, pick up the lamp on the table, and twirl with it as if dancing. The next time she came around the lamp flew out and caught him on the shoulder. What hurt worse was the laughter. “And next he’ll do like he did it to Daddy. Here comes the runt!” she yelled. “Here comes Saint Benny-O to walk on his Patty-O. No, you don’t.” She stood against the wall where the bookcase was.
“I’m not moving, Pat.”
“No?” She reached for a book end, a little elephant whose trunk was raised. “So I’ll move.”
He watched her come close but didn’t stir. When she swung at him with the book end he stepped aside easily, but right then her foot caught his groin. He doubled over.
It’s the dope, he kept telling himself, it’s the dope. “You can leave now, Tapkow.” She bent to look at his face. “You can leave now.” She spat at him, wet and full.
He held on to the table, wiped his face. “That’s enough,” he said through the pain.
“Far from it.” She spat again. “I’ve done this to all of them who’ve run out.”
“I used to shack with the butler, he got it. The-”
“Pat-” His voice shook with effort.
“Now the chauffeur,” and her arm flung out The book end was still in her hand. The sharp pain on the side of his head was the shock that finally did it. His hand whipped out and knocked the thing from her grasp so that she staggered. When she yelled, “Chauffeur!” again, his hand kept on going, smacking her hard across the mouth. In the moment of silence that followed she opened her lips and said, “You’re enjoying it, Tapkow.”
He struck her again, the right of the face and the left of the face, to wipe away the hate and to clear his head of the pain.
She sat against the wall and just breathed. Benny straightened, then he sat down. But it didn’t help. The pain he felt was not the kind that could be comforted, and it wasn’t his body that ached. He would just sit a while and wait. He would try nothing for a while.
Her breathing was the only sound. He heard it get stronger, then hard, until he realized that she was sobbing. He turned and saw no tears, just the hard sobbing and her face with an agony on it.
“Pat.” She didn’t fight now when he touched her. “I’m here now, Pat.” He held her like that for a while. His hand was under her right breast and he felt her heart.
“Yes, Benny,” she said, and they got up. “Yes, Benny. Yes.”
He carried her out of the room, to the other one where it was dark, and there was nobody else around, so the door stayed open.
When Benny came back, when he stood in the lighted room by the window, he might well have been a different man.
He waited for her and looked at the darkness through the door. The light snapped on then.
“Coming out, Patty?”
“I’m making up.”
He lit a cigarette and waited. “You needn’t,” he called out.
He heard her laugh. He thought that she had a thousand different laughs and he hadn’t heard this one before.
Then she came into the room. She looked calm, she walked quietly, and she sat down on the couch with a soft movement.
She raised her face and laughed. She laughed at the way he was staring, but her face hardly moved.
“Pat, cut it out!”
She had used her lipstick, but only the upper lip was painted.
“My God, what is it now?” He went to sit down next to her.
She moved away just a little and her hand went up to pull at her ear lobe. She looked him straight in the face, her smile fixed as before.
“Tapkow, to me you are dead.”
And so it snapped. He didn’t answer, he hardly seemed to react, but when he got up and went to the window, he walked but he was not there any more. And then he found his hardness again, as if it had never left him, the old Benny Tapkow, standing the way he had stood all the other times he had been alone.
It even came through to Pat. The dope was wearing off fast, dropping off like a shell, leaving the inside naked. It came through to her like the fright of a child in the dark.
“God, Benny!” she screamed. “Benny-” but when she grabbed his arms and he turned, she saw a face that couldn’t possibly care.
“Benny, Benny!” Her fists pounding his chest and all he did was lean back on the window sill to keep clear of her.
When her fists became stronger he still didn’t care, leaning a little, and he only said, “No.” Then the pounding became a painful push, catching him the way he was, not caring, and he said, “No.” It was the last thing Pat could hear, because she was crying after him, watching him toss down into the dark; she cried so hard the sound from below was lost.
The two men from out West found him that night on the terrace. It had been raining in Chicago, and the two men were still wearing their raincoats.
“Dead,” said one of them. He started to feel Benny’s pockets. He almost cut his fingers on the glass, but he got the needle out and what was left of the rest.
“Beat this,” he said. “A hophead.”