Murder Me for Nickels
Walter Lippit makes music all over town. For a thirty-mile radius every jukebox makes music because Walter Lippit has put it there. He sets it up, rents it out, keeps it primed, and makes music. Money music. I help to keep up the beat because Lippit’s a friend of mine and because Lippit pays me.
It’s a fast-stepping job, since Walter Lippit doesn’t like too many helpers, but it isn’t often a rat-race kind of day because the outfit has grown up to run sweet and smooth. Though once in a while, by making everyone run around hard, Lippit makes it clear how a big, well-running outfit like his got that way. He pays me, so I run.
When we met he was reworking the juke market for himself. I was doing nothing. I was an agent I had been handling singers, doing publicity for a record hop, all of which sounds fairly busy considering the turnover in that entertainment branch, but it isn’t always so. I had just lost my star client and made a fair pot of money on her switch to a New York-sized agency, which-at the time-left me only odds and ends and boredom. The odds-and-ends clients were a no-talent vocal, for one, and then a combo which was much too demanding for the jukes. You had to listen to it I had respect for their work and soon sent them to somebody else, but I was still pushing the no-talent vocal when I ran into Lippit.
Now, the way you push a no-talent vocal, one way which might make you apt to run into Lippit at the same time, is to try and get discs of your vocal on all the juke machines you can find. I had the ins for it, at the time. I could go to half a dozen of the juke-machine operators and with just a little bit of this and that, they’d place my discs in their machines and you had to listen to my no-talent vocal. And then the d.j.’s would take it up, and that’s how I was an agent.
Except, all of a sudden, there were no longer a half-dozen operators. There was only Lippit.
He didn’t play ball. Why should he? Who was Jack St. Louis? I tried to convince him that Jack St. Louis was an old hand at the record game and that Lippit, the truck driver, should please play ball. Then he threw me out.
So I went to the jobber who supplied the town and the territory with all the discs at that time. I went to him with this and that and a drink for old times sake, and for the next week, suddenly Lippit had no new discs for his machines.
I explained to Lippit how this had come about, how Jack St. Louis would much rather be friends, and Lippit-needing all the help he could get at the time-said, all right, friends, shmends, and paid for his drink and mine.
I dropped the no-talent vocal just about that time, and stayed with Lippit.
I had no special love for my no-talent vocal. But I did have a feeling for Lippit. For the way he said no, for the way he paid for his own drinks, even then, and for the tiger-cat way he had of taking over his jungle. I liked him then and I like him now.
I think my first stop on that morning was the jobber, to remind him he should keep strictly on time with the disc deliveries. (The jobber was always on time.) Next stop was the electric supply place which sold us little wires and solenoids, when Lippit’s machines needed wires and solenoids. I checked in to see if they were keeping their stock up to date should we suddenly need these important etceteras. (They were up to date and we did not need any.) Also that day, I saw a few downtown customers and asked how the service was and if there were any complaints (no complaints); the accountants, to ask how we were doing (fine); two of the banks (also fine). Then back home in the afternoon to change into the tux I had rented because the way this day was going I would not have the time later on, before Walter Lippit’s little party. His parties were no more high class than his work, but he would just say sometimes, “What a fine change in pace going formal some evening,” though this did not change the pace any but just added to it. He would say “tux” as if he had invented the outfit, which was very funny, considering who Lippit was.
I don’t know all about him since pedigrees in an operation like Lippit’s did not very much matter, but once, quite a while back, I think he drove semis. He still says every so often, “There’s just two things makes me sick. The smell of diesels and the smell of greasy spoon diners.”
With that kind of an attitude he didn’t push trucks very long. Though he stayed in the union. He must have picked a good one, and at the right time, because he never pushed trucks any more but told others to do it. That was on the east coast, Boston-New York, though he never mentions much more than to say it was east. “I used to be active out east,” was his phrase. And I think he knew a hood or two and I know he learned a trick or two because when he showed up here he had money to start with and an eye for organization.
I don’t think he was ever a hood-which is almost being a company man-and I never saw him act as if he could be hired.
He showed up here and felt pained, was his phrase, at the state of the union. The truckers on city deliveries were holding their own, especially with the ten or twelve men who owned or ran all the jukes in the area. Those jukes need a lot of delivering, what with new sets of discs every week. “This gave me a pain,” he had said, “which is why I took an interest.”
It was organizational interest (his phrase again), and as a fact, it fit. All those juke owners, for example, in a while just disappeared. With Lippit telling the truckers how to truck, all those juke owners-their deliveries faulty-reaped only the spottiest income. What it came down to was that Lippit sort of gathered all of them up, beat them down, mashed them all into one, and what he ended up with was his. Thirty square miles of nickels were his, and they have been having babies ever since.
All this to make clear then, that Walter Lippit could well afford a tuxedo and parties like that, though I don’t think there was anyone who really spoke proper English at his little parties, except maybe his lawyer. And for that matter, Lippit had never worn anything tux-like before, or at least not until this Patricia came along. Otherwise, very nice though, this Pat.
So I put on the tux, for the change in pace which made Lippit so happy, and got back on the rounds which hadn’t been finished. Morry’s 9-Alley Emporium was next, and did he have any complaints. He always did, but I went there anyway.
The big place smelled of wax and of bowling shoes, and there were just two or three very slow customers. Even though it was getting dark Morry had not yet turned on all the lights. When it came to money and overhead, Morry had always been constipated.
He was on the other side of the snack-bar counter measuring water into the coffee urn. He had a coffee formula which would not rob you of sleep. I sat down on a stool and said, “Hi, Morry.”
He looked around; his face stayed sour. He turned back to the urn and finished his mixture. After that he came to the counter and looked at me.
“Funeral?” he said.
“No. I just naturally always wear a tux when I go to a bowling alley.”
This showed how constipated he was when it came to humor and jokes. He said nothing else. No complaints, nothing. Morry always had complaints which was one of the reasons I dropped in there so often. But he turned away and watched the coffee-urn gauge and the urn as it filled up with a very light-colored liquid.
He said, “You wanna cup of coffee?”
“Are you mad?”
He shrugged and said nothing else. Maybe, I thought, there was no complaint this time, about records coming in late, wrong records coming in all the time, about coins jamming and lights blinking and using up too much electricity. It was time, maybe, to bring up the other reason why I dropped in on Morry more often than not Morry had only one of our machines in his place. It was the razzmatazz kind, blinking red, white and blue, and stood next to the lunch counter. Further on, through a glass door, Morry had a bar and grill attached to his alley, but he had no jukebox in there.
I got off my stool, walked to the jukebox, and spent a coin on the blinking monster. It thumped four bars of intro and then played a sweet, friendly ballad. I thought this might help.
“Morry,” I said, “I’ll take a cup of your coffee.”
He folded his arms, leaned back against the cooler, and said:
“No? Now what?’”
“I don’t want another jukebox in here.”
“Morry, all I was about…”
“I know what was coming. No.”
Walter Lippit would now have been proud of me. Because I smiled and laughed a little bit and made out as if I didn’t mind Morry at all.
“Look,” I said, “what’s it cost you? Nothing. We put in the machine; we service the gadget, and you keep thirty-three and one third of the take. Which isn’t counting…”
“The bond I pay, the service charge when the buttons don’t button, the aggravation when your monkeys don’t show up to fix what needs fixing.”
“Morry,” I said. “Any complaints you got, tell me about them. Though I notice,” and I looked at the machine next to the counter, “that the music comes sweet and perfect.”
“Sure. I had it fixed. I wait two days for your monkeys to show and to fix the buttons, and nothing. So I had it fixed.”
Walter Lippit writes a contract with the places that use his machines, which says nobody fixes the gadgets except us; nobody monkeys with the wires, or else. The “or else” wasn’t any too clear in the contract, or clear in my mind, because we had no competition and there had never been any call for “or elses.” I stayed friendly.
“If you knew what this gadget costs,” I told Morry, “and what a specialty job it is to figure those wires…”
“It works, don’t it?”
“Who fixed it?”
“Electrician. A good man who shows when he’s called and don’t hang around using my alley afterwards, all for nothing, and bouncing balls down the parquette because he thinks he’s a wheel working for that Lippit’s racket.”
Morry, I thought, had rarely been this mean. Perhaps he had in mind what was in the contract. I let that hang for a while.
“What electrician?” And then I said, for a guess, “Somebody called Benotti?”
“Yeah,” said Morry, “Benotti.”
I sat down on a different stool and asked for a cup of coffee again, and this time he gave it to me and I drank it. I had not meant to stay all this time, Morry being a routine problem only, but perhaps it was different now Benotti?
I didn’t know this Benotti. He was new in town, or maybe only his business was new, because he had rented space for an electrical repair shop and he had two or three men and a truck, I think, to go around and fix TV’s and short circuits. None of which was enough reason for me to know this Benotti, except for two things. It was the third time that Benotti had been around fixing one of our machines. A real hustler. All right, let him be. Though it was not good for morale and precedent, seeing how Morry acted.
The other reason I knew of Benotti was that one of his men had done work for me. Electrical work, something special, though none of this had to do with the Lippit business.
I said, “Morry. But we have a contract.”
He looked at my stud button in front and then he looked away to make it clear he had no time for stud buttons and foolishness.
“Where it says,” he told me, “that you got to repair and service within a reasonable time. Not two days of nothing.”
He had even taken the trouble to read up on the contract. He was so edgy and clever about all this, Morry was annoying me. And his coffee had been lousy. I got up, smiled the warmth-and-tolerance smile, and sighed.
“I’ll fix it so it doesn’t happen again,” I said. “No more repair men bouncing balls down your alley, no more two-day delays. All right?”
He shrugged and watched the jukebox stack the ballad disc into the rack.
“And you, Morry, you fix it at your end, like no more outside electricians.”
“You threatening me?”
“You ever meet anybody nicer than me, Morry?” And I put a dime on the counter for the cup of near-coffee.
Morry’s face stayed sour, like the coffee he made, and his hand picked up the dime as if he himself knew nothing about it. I left, feeling none too badly about any of this, because the customer’s feelings were mostly what counted. And Morry, without question, felt good all over. He had made money on the dime I had dropped into the machine (one-third dime was his), and money on the dime I had spent on his coffee (four-fifth dime, my estimate), and on the jukebox repair by that fly-by-night outfit. Not that it would pay Morry in the long run. We were set up to make sure of that. It was strange, though, for Morry to ignore this, what with the feeling he had for all problems of loss and profit.
I drove off fast, being late for the last stop that day, and mostly concerned about red lights all the way crosstown. The last stop that day was really Lippit’s job, with me around just for trappings. Lippit always broke a new man in himself.
The place turned out to be a bar in a shopping center, with a big New Management sign in the window and the blue tile facade not all finished. This being supper time there was all kinds of parking space by the curb, and the bar inside looked big with no customers. Of course Lippit was there. He was leaning on the bar.
I don’t think he had been there very long because the barkeep didn’t know Lippit’s brand. Lippit pointed up at the shelves with the bottles, and then the barkeep took down the bottle Lippit wanted. The barkeep poured out a double, a Chivas Regal double, which went in one toss. Lippit held the glass out and watched as it was refilled. The barkeep smiled, half like a strong man and half like a very weak one, because he was also the owner. Chivas Regal, it said on the little list on the wall, came at one buck a shot.
Lippit paid attention to none of that, nipped down half his double, and watched me come the length of the bar.
“Jack,” he said, “you don’t have to put on the dog for Mister Stonewall here,” and looked at my tux. Then he said to the barkeep, “Mister Stonewall, meet our man Jack St. Louis.”
Stonewall and I mumbled and smiled and had a firm handshake.
“You want a drink, Jack?” said Lippit. Stonewall’s hand became weak and fluttery.
I said, no, I didn’t want a drink, and that I was sorry to be late, and what a nice, new place Mister Stonewall had here. Stonewall smiled, but said nothing, because he was watching Lippit finish the rest of the drink. He held that smile when Lippit set the glass down on the bar and still didn’t relax when he saw clearly what Lippit did next. Lippit pulled a handful of bills out of his pocket, pulled four ones off, and fanned them out on the bar. “I never tip the owner,” he said, pushing the price of the scotch at Mister Stonewall.
Now Lippit was ready for business, and so was Stonewall. He was ready, it looked like, to allow Lippit free reign on installing a jukebox at every barstool in the place.
“With the decor like it is,” said Lippit, “elegant like it is, what we should put in here is the new one hundred we just got.”
Stonewall nodded and said, “Oh? Ah, yes-” and kept nodding his large head with no hair on it.
Stonewall, I thought, was about the same age as Lippit, just a little past fifty, but Stonewall had hardly any hair and Lippit had all of his. Stonewall was short and had a small chest and Lippit was tall and had a large chest. And his shoulders were large, and his hands and his belly.
I have found that a big man like that is either especially shy or especially confident. Lippit was neither. He was just sure. Like when he paid for his liquor, and when he told Stonewall about the most expensive model we carried.
“It plays one hundred discs, makes no mechanical sounds, and it’s got a soft light inside, like a fancy cocktail lounge.”
“Like Mister Stonewall’s,” I said, because Lippit paid me.
“What else,” said Lippit “The rest is glass and black wood. And we stock this model,” he went on, “with cocktail music and wee-hours-type music. I mean class.”
I had not heard of wee-hours-type music before and neither had Stonewall. But he nodded, shy and impressed.
“What you get special on this machine,” Lippit told him, “is a counter which tells us which record pulls and which doesn’t. And our statistical branch figures out how long to keep the hot ones before they get tiresome and how soon to toss the slow ones, before we lose money. Before you and me lose money, huh, Stonewall?”
I had not heard of our statistical branch before, even though I had been around for a while and was usually present when Lippit made a pitch for a new place. But he talked different every time. He was very inventive. He let each occasion inspire him afresh.
I felt what Stonewall offered as inspiration was nothing. He nodded and smiled and waited for more. This bored Lippit, I could tell, because he stopped inventing a pitch and turned to the figures. He did not enjoy conning a mouse.
“The machine costs as much as a good car. You couldn’t afford it. The machine is ours, we insure it, and you use it All you pay, Stonewall, is the juice to run it, which is less than your cooler back there, but with the following profit. Twenty per cent base cut on this model. The more nickels it makes, the higher your cut. Up to forty per cent, like it shows here on this contract. Now, let’s say something gets stuck. You call us. Except for willful damage, we pay all the expenses, except for repairs over fifty per month, where we cut your percentage to help with the cost. That’s still no money out of your pocket. That’s all, Stonewall, except for these figures I brought you,” and Lippit handed over a printed page.
We had that page made up to show how profit rose in various places after a jukebox was put in. We had some wonderful statistics there, with real names and real dates and most of the rest was basically true also.
And that was all the pitch Lippit gave the man, because what else was needed? Lippit could afford to be a pig without acting like one, since there was no competition. And he could leave a few things unsaid. Like the down payment, for security, part of which was not returnable. Like what was willful damage? And like when is a repair more than fifty a month? And what do you think happens when you say no to all this, Mister Stonewall?
Probably nothing, as a matter of fact, since Lippit had not acted the pig in a very long time.
“So you read this thing over,” said Lippit, “and you look at the contract, Mister Stonewall, and I’ll send a crew over tomorrow so you can look at the machine.”
“You mean you’re going to put your machine…”
“You want to try it out, don’t you?” said Lippit. “And if there’s something you don’t understand, Jack St Louis here will be over tomorrow and explain away what is troubling you.”
Which was all the pressure Lippit ever needed these days, my going around and explaining things. It was not the same as in the beginning, but at this point it made quite enough money. It was faintly boring for Lippit and me, but we never talked about that, just about money. Not that he and I had been broke that time we joined up, but there had been more action.
I want three things from my work. It’s got to move, it’s got to make money, and I’ve got to like whom I deal with. All this was true with the Lippit deal, was still almost true, except that it had lost a great deal of motion. As with Mister Stonewall’s bar. Mister Stonewall, now with contract and statistics in hand, had not even opened his mouth through all of Lippit’s spiel. And tomorrow, Mister Stonewall would have one of the new machines. Then Mister Stonewall did open his mouth.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t think I want one.”
Lippit had already started to go. He smiled, as if he hadn’t heard right, and put his big hands on the bar, gently.
“What?” he said. “You said what, Mister Stonewall?”
“I-uh, don’t find the deal very attractive.”
Lippit looked at me, as if to apologize for his friend, Mister Stonewall. Then he looked at Stonewall.
“I didn’t make clear that this costs you nothing? What I mean is,” said Lippit, “ if you take my machine, then it costs you nothing?”
I think Stonewall got the tone all right, but Lippit was still quietly smiling, which was no theatrical trick with him but real amusement at how stupid Mister Stonewall was acting. However, Stonewall must have thought it meant Lippit was deaf. He said the same thing again. He said:
“I don’t find the deal very attractive.”
Lippit sighed, being bored, and I was bored. Lippit said, “You got a better deal?”
“There was a-there is this Mister Benotti who was here.”
All of a sudden the boredom was gone.
But Lippit looked at his watch and then pushed away from the bar.
“Just look over the contract,” he said, “and then we’ll talk more tomorrow.”
He smiled, waved, and walked out. I had never seen him smile that much, leave that abruptly, or delay things for later.
I nodded at Stonewall and walked after Lippit. At the last moment, I thought, Stonewall looked as if he wanted to talk some more, which was no wonder, seeing how he had been left up in the air. I could appreciate that, because I felt the same way.
He was waiting for me by his car which was built so long and low that when he leaned up against it he practically sat on the roof. He leaned like that and was clicking one thumbnail against his front teeth.
“That was the real touch of class,” he said, “you walking in there with that monkey suit on.”
“I notice how it helped.”
“Maybe blue jeans tomorrow,” he said, which was the sort of no-account comment he sometimes made, making you wonder about his humor and his intelligence.
“Ever hear of him before?” was the next thing he said.
I had, of course, heard of Benotti before, the four times he had done outside repairs and that other time, which had nothing to do with Lippit.
“Yes,” I said. “Four jobs,” and told him about Morry having called for this outside repair man.
“He still sound like a repair man to you?”
“Mostly. Plus trying to place some machines of his own.”
“I’m sure he’s new in town,” said Lippit, “though that don’t mean he hasn’t heard about me.”
“Maybe Benotti’s just stupid.”
“Yes,” said Lippit. “That would be nice.”
Then he got into his long, low car, which put his head at about the level of my knees, and when he had the motor going he looked up at me and said, “Before the party, Jack, run on over to Louie’s.”
“Delicatessen. He was due for a new stack today and for a collection. And our man couldn’t get in.” He drove off and left me standing there in my workday tuxedo.
Louie’s restaurant was way off on the East Side, and the errand could as easily have waited till morning. Except Lippit, not having talked much at all after Stonewall, must have been preoccupied with that repair man’s dumb stunt, or with his party that evening, or maybe with his girl, Pat. That would have been my reason, though the thought was useless. I got into my car and drove over to Louie’s, where he sold matzo balls, pizza, Danish pastry, and klops. I think Louie, in that way, took care of all the minorities on that side of town.
The restaurant was dark and two couples stood in front of the door, complaining and arguing. I couldn’t make out the language. I left the car and walked past these people when one of them looked at me and said, “Gangster-”. That lousy tux again. I had no time and went up the back stairs.
Louie had three rooms on top where he lived alone. At first he wouldn’t open.
“It’s Jack,” I said through the door. “Honest, Louie.”
“How do I know?”
“Come on, Louie. I’m in a hurry.”
“That’s Jack,” and he opened the door.
I didn’t recognize Louie. One ear was big and purple, one cheek was big and purple, and one eye was all gone where the purple cheek had blown up all over it. I said, “Jeesis Christ,” and closed the door.
Louie just nodded and sat down in the plush easy chair he had in the room. There was a lot of furniture that color. Like his cheek.
“Benotti?” I said.
“He was all right the first time,” Louie said.
“When you told him no.”
“And the second time he said he was sorry I don’t understand the polite-type English he talks.”
“And then he talked that kind,” I said, and nodded at Louie’s face.
Louie sighed for an answer. He raised his hand to his face because he had a gesture of stroking his nose, but halfway up he decided against it.
“This can’t go on,” he said. “All this for who’s gonna put a jukebox in my place, I ask you?”
I walked back and forth in the room a few times, around all the furniture, because I certainly didn’t know what to say to Louie.
When it came to a thing like Benotti, the fact was, we were hardly set up for a thing like that any more. The man had blossomed out on us just a little too fast. He’s a backlot electrician; he’s a hustler who wants to put a jukebox into a bar; then suddenly he turns into a hood who strongarms one of my customers. And all this time, neither Lippit nor I knew who Benotti was.
“Jack,” said Louie. “I’m real sorry, but this can’t go on.”
I nodded but his good eye wasn’t turned my way and he just heard the silence and thought I was thinking.
“So you got something figured?” he asked me.
I didn’t have anything figured. I said, “Have you seen a doctor, Louie?” but that wasn’t the right reply for what he wanted to know, namely what would Lippit and I do about this and how would we help Louie.
He asked all that, a small old man with his face beaten up, sitting there in his old furniture and me shiny and bright with a tuxedo and no answers.
“Not to speak of,” he said, “what this kind of thing’s gonna do to your organization.”
I stopped pacing and feeling like hell. “You didn’t have to say that, Louie. A lousy thing like that.”
I felt angry now, which was better than feeling like hell, because mostly it makes me active. There was a phone in the room and I called up a doctor. I gave him Louie’s address and told him to hurry it up. Then I put the phone down and sat down opposite Louie.
“Now from the beginning,” I said. “This Benotti comes in, gets a no answer, then beats you.”
“Not that fast. First he told the others they should mess up my place.”
“Three others. They and Benotti come in at the slack time, which is ten in the morning. They lock the door and pull the blind down that says Closed, and then like I said.”
I thought about the three others and wondered whether that would change the picture again.
“These three,” I said to Louie. “Did you know any of them?”
“I have never, and I hope I will never…”
“All right.” Then I wondered how to put it. “Did they-I mean speaking off-hand-did they look like, let’s say, electricians?”
Louie’s good eye looked at me for a moment and then closed. “I don’t know what electricians look like, Jack, but these didn’t look like no electricians.”
“Like what, then?”
“One stunk from liquor,” said Louie, “one stunk from horses…”
“Horses. And the other-you should pardon the expression-to me he just stunk.”
They had broken some glass in the counter, twisted legs off the tables, had stolen a salami each. And the one who “just stunk” had mixed all the herring salad together with antipasto and two jars of British preserves.
“How would you know what a horse smells like?” I asked Louie.
“Because I was born in Russia. And at the time I was born in Russia…”
“All right, Louie,” and I kept wondering what there was in all this that could add to the picture. Benotti himself, was all I could think. I’d have to go see him.
“Benotti beat you, Louie?”
“Yes. Slow. He wasn’t mad.”
“And the others, wrecking the place?”
“They weren’t mad either.”
“Maybe I should look at the place downstairs. Maybe they dropped something.”
“No. I looked. Just the newspaper.”
“One had the Herald in his pocket. There was something, at first, about the newspaper. Should they use the newspaper, one of them said, and kept rolling it up, if you get the picture…”
“But Benotti said nix, after thinking about it, and he said to let it show because it makes a better example.”
Then the doctor came. He took one look at Louie and told me to boil water. I put the water on, in the nook where Louie did his cooking, and I got the picture much more clearly now, of Benotti and his three men. Not a bum among them, because they were much too well-trained. They wrecked the place with method, and they knew about the trick with the rolled paper, how you can beat up a man with the paper so it hurts like hell but no marks left to show for it. Just the pain. Who they were I did not know, but I knew what they were. They knew their way and they were hoods.
Louie was making small sounds while the doctor fingered him, and I left. It was time for Benotti.
Benotti’s place of work had a listed number but nothing was listed for his home. I knew where he rented space for his shop-in the building of Hough amp; Daly, Electric Supply. That outfit was big, and we dealt with them, and I even knew the night watchman. I drove down to Hough amp; Daly, all shut down for the day. Benotti’s place, a big room off the loading ramp, was also shut tight. I had a two-minute chat about nothing with the old man who watched the plant and the offices, then I left with Benotti’s address.
I went back to the east side. I had to slow down when I got to the neighborhood because it was a warm night and there were great bundles of children all over the street I gave up and parked halfway down the block and walked the rest of it.
All the frame houses were alike. Two stories, porch in front, lawn in front of that, sprinkler going. Or a man in shirt sleeves doing the watering. The house I wanted had nobody in front but I could see the light on the back porch and went there.
They were all in the kitchen, four kids, a fat wife, and Benotti in his undershirt The shirt looked like a joke. The serious part was all the muscle. He had no neck because of the muscles, and his arms showed no bones on account of the muscles. In a suit he might have looked short and fat, but this way I knew better. Nevertheless, I knocked on the screen door.
Benotti got up from the table and came over to see who it was. He peered through the screen like something at the zoo.
“Mister Benotti?” I said. “I’m Jack St. Louis.”
We had never met but he knew who I was. I don’t know how much he knew, but I did not approve of his reaction because he looked at me through the screen and started to laugh. Hahaha, he went and came out on the porch.
“Good evening,” I said.
Benotti turned back to the door and told his kids to stay at the table and to his wife he said that he’d be right back in. No. She needn’t put the food back in the oven.
“Wellsir,” he said to me. “Jack St. Louis,” and looked me all up and down. “You all dressed for the funeral?”
I had thought, on the way over and while cooling off from that last sight of Louie, maybe I’ll just talk to the man, clever extraction of news, background, information. Talk to him and-who knows-maybe we’ll get along. But with his looks and his attitude, I had a hard time with that plan. I waited till he was done laughing again and then I said, “No. I came to talk to you in polite English.”
“He talks fancy, like an actor. May I have your autograph?”
It is a matter of chemistry in the nerves that the other guy can never react fast enough to get out of the way, if you don’t telegraph. I never do. So I gave him my autograph willynilly, very anxious for speed, because I wanted to get two in while the getting was good.
He went ratatat on the clapboard behind him with the back of his head and then he said, fairly loud, “Eat your supper in there! I’ll be right in.”
He was just warning those kids in the kitchen to mind their old man. To me he said, “All right, you.”
I got while the getting was good. I got right back to the porch railing because I don’t like to give a man an advantage, especially if I just hit a man and nothing happens. I got out of the way of his short swing for fear it might break something inside of me, and the next move, if he wanted me, would have to be his.
He came as expected and this time I let him do all the work. He ran into my fist. I thought my wrist would snap. I jumped over the railing. He jumped over the railing.
I was getting worried by now and feeling doubtful, which is the worst state of all. None of the clean tricks had worked, and next he would ruin me.
When he came down I fixed it so he would land on one foot. While he was busy with balance I tried for his face again but with the edge of the hand this time and none of those Queensberry locations. When he ducked away from that he ducked into my knee with a sound like a watermelon. This snapped him back up and when that angle was right I whipped across with one elbow. Benotti said, “Gaa,” or something.
We were both breathing hard but Benotti was down. We had pretty well torn up the flowerbed. He was down and I was up but I couldn’t think of a single damn thing which would sound significant. “Stay away from Louie,” I said, and walked off.
The kids and the mamma were in the kitchen. They were eating, like the old man had told them.
I was over an hour late when I got to Lippit’s apartment and not much to show for it. I had managed to learn nothing new since being with Louie, except how Benotti looked through a screen door and then how he looked on the flowerbed. And that he and I were not apt to be friends. Also, I had lost a button on the front of my jacket.
I rang the bell and hoped that the party was fine, busy and not too attentive. Pat opened the door and I could hear this was a very quiet party. The first thing everybody would notice, I had lost a button.
“Hi, Jack,” she said. “You’re late.”
“Yes. Is everybody…”
“You lost a button.”
“Aren’t you coming in?”
She left the door open for me and walked through the little anteroom holding one arm bent on her back and her hand to the top of her zipper. The zipper ran up her midline but not very high up so as to show more of the girl. Similarly, in front. It wasn’t a formal, because her pretty legs showed, but it was one of those five to ten numbers, to cover cocktails, dinner and whatever you do at ten in the evening.
“You’ve got to help me with my zipper,” she said and walked on ahead into the front room.
“What kind of a party-” but she didn’t hear me, having passed through the door.
It was a very quiet party. When I was through the door I saw that there wasn’t any party. Just Patty and me.
“Aren’t you coming in?” she said again.
“Am I early or late?”
“You’ve got to help me with my zipper.”
“In other words, I’m that early.”
“Late. They’re gone.”
“What kind of a-”
“Jack. For heaven’s sake, I can’t stand here and hold this thing forever.”
I closed the door, leaned up against it for an effective moment, and smiled at Pat She didn’t smile back but she looked good just the same. She was holding the dress front and rear but that didn’t matter too much because Pat had a figure you look at, and you try to discount what she’s wearing.
“For heaven’s sake, Jack.”
“Patty, let me help you with that zipper.”
We had that kind of a relationship. It always came out no.
“Walter Lippit trusts me,” I said, “my friends trust me, even I myself…”
“All right,” she said. “Just remember it goes up, not down.”
The thing was, this dress had no straps. She sat down on the big couch, her back turned to me, and I sat down behind her. Pat had brown hair with a lot of lights in it and cut short all around. This left me a fine view of her neck, shoulders, back and the whole thing looked very prettily naked.
“How come the party’s over?”
“Are you getting that zipper fixed?”
“If you’ll get your hand out of the way here, maybe…”
“All right. But I’m holding on in front, Jack St. Louis, so no shenanigans are going to do you any good anyway.”
“I look upon this the way a mechanic would.”
“A mechanic who loves his work.”
“Okay. You just-Jack!”
I gave her a slow kiss on the curve of her neck and she didn’t dare move because of the zipper. I was holding on to it and when she moved it went down.
“Jack, please! This just makes me shiver.”
“That’s very small potatoes compared to what it does to me.”
“Then why don’t you stop it!”
“I adore you.”
“I know what you adore.”
“That’s what I said, Patty.”
I worked on the zipper. The problem was that it wouldn’t lock but kept sliding each time she took a breath.
“What are you doing back there, Jack?”
“I was very honestly studying the problem of this zipper, right this moment.”
“Well, hurry up. We’re late.”
“The party’s over.”
“They all went to the club,” she said. “When Carey came he started talking business with Walter and they all got upset. Walter said-Jack!”
“Was that cold?”
“I’m getting mad, Jack.”
“Why did they go to the club?”
“Because Walter wanted those labor people to come, too. And he didn’t want that to be here.”
“You know what would be best, Patty? You should just take this dress off and then maybe I could do a regular job on this.”
“I know what kind of a regular job.”
“And the zipper too. Honest, Patty.”
I put my hands on her bare shoulders and she couldn’t do very much about that because she was holding the dress up in front.
“It just makes you shiver. I know.”
“Jack, please. You’re supposed to-”
“You’re supposed to go too. They’re waiting for you.”
“I mean now. Right now.”
I pulled her around a little and turned her face and held it that way for an earnest kiss.
“No,” she said.
I went back to the kiss. Then she said, “Jack, it’s all the way down. The zipper…”
I switched her around and put my hands on her back where the zipper used to be and to hell with the mechanical interest.
Her hands were still in the way. She was still holding the dress in front and I could feel her knuckles where she should be soft.
“Jack, if you don’t stop that,” she said, and later, with a little less breath, “Please, Jack. Walter wouldn’t like it.”
“He’d be mad.”
“I know That’s what I meant.”
“We won’t tell him.”
“You’re hurting my hands.”
I gave her a kiss and leaned her back on the couch. As soon as she noticed that maneuver she put back her hands, to keep herself up, but that left the dress mostly to its own devices. When she tried to take care of that error she had to move her hands and I got her down on the couch. And she couldn’t get her hands back in front because I was too close.
“Don’t get mad,” I said. “Because if you wriggle too much-”
She held still.
“Gimme a kiss.”
She moved her head to one side and I got her ear.
I moved my hands away from her back so she would lie more comfortably. “-no.”
With that “no” I felt much less uncertain and I leaned up on my elbows and smiled down at her.
“Patty, if you’ll let me have that dress, like I said, I’ll be able to do…”
“I know what you want to do.”
“You sensed that, Patty. You just sensed that without my having to tell you a thing.”
“Don’t! Don’t move away, I’m all bare in front!”
“I sensed that.”
I stayed close to her because why move and because she was holding me that way. Then we didn’t talk for a while, but when I gave her a chance she said:
“I told you, Jack. You’re supposed to be there.”
“I’ll be late.”
“They’re going to wonder. And Walter, he’s going to wonder!”
“I’ll explain to him. I’ll explain why.”
“Don’t you dare!”
“Don’t you dare!”
“You think I’m crazy?”
“I wouldn’t spoil that for you. Walter Lippit’s all right.”
“Don’t tell me about Walter!”
“You don’t think he’s all right?”
“Of course he’s all right!” she said. “I like Walter.”
“Don’t yell in my ear.”
“Better than you, I like him.”
“That’s only because you have never given yourself, and, of course, me, the most elementary chance which both you and I…”
“I don’t mean that, Jack St. Louis. Let me up. No! — I was talking about how he helps me.”
“Your career. Ah yes. Your career.”
“You know I’m a good singer.”
“You’re much better, given half a chance, in more elemental…”
“Stop using those words!”
“You’re much better, I meant, in…”
“I know what you mean.”
“And all good singers are fat.”
“That’s not true. I don’t have to be fat.”
“Not at all. This was my point.”
“Walter doesn’t talk that way about me.”
“He helps your career.”
“So could I, Patty. Seriously.”
She didn’t answer right away. I could tell by her face that I had made the mistake of getting her onto the one cold and serious subject of her life. She lay still.
“You’re kidding me,” she said.
“Ever hear of Blue Beat Records?”
I could tell she had. It wasn’t a big label, but a nice, little thing for the aficionados.
“You mean you could get me on that label?”
“I could get you a trial, maybe.”
Which had been the wrong answer. If I had said yes, she would have thought I was handing a line. When instead I had said the other, she pricked up her ears, because she had caught something serious. Which is what I mean when I say that I had made a mistake.
“Listen, Jack. I want to talk to you.” She rewound her arms on my neck and looked up at my face.
“I don’t want to talk to you, Patty, honest,” and I tried to get back to the lost subject.
She didn’t say “no” this time. She didn’t say anything for a while, and I didn’t, and it felt as if we were done talking. My collar felt tight and out of place and she must have felt the same way when it came to that dress with the busted zipper because she stretched and twisted up closer and to hell with the front of that dress.
Then it struck me what a mercenary minx she was.
“I got nothing to do with the record business.”
“I said, I got no ins with the record business.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“I mean it.”
“Your stud button is digging into me.”
“I, uh, I’m sorry.”
“Take it off.”
It was hard to take it off and it was harder to talk any more and I hardly cared any more what kind of a minx she was. I heard her kick off first one shoe, then the other.
“I meant that, what I said.”
“So let me up.”
“I’m half naked.”
“What I mean is…”
“Yes, Jack. Yes, Jack.”
“I don’t give one damn, Jack!”
Before driving all the way down to the club I felt I should have a little bit more to show than the fine feeling I had about the brief bout with Benotti and the longer one with Pat. I stopped at the next open drugstore and went to the phone booth in back. I had part of a cigarette there and thought once more about the men who had shambled up Louie’s place.
One of them had smelled like a horse.
In this town there was only one tie-in with the rackets, and that was at the tracks. I’m not counting Lippit’s organization. I’m a member of that. I’m a businessman-a flexible businessman-but no racketeer. I am, granted, very flexible sometimes, which is the kick I am after and the reason Lippit pleases me, but I wouldn’t push someone like Louie. I’ll push a Benotti, be it business or no, but I’m no racketeer.
So one of them had smelled like a horse. I picked up the phone and dialed a man I knew, a good craftsman with a quarter-mile horse, with whom I had beer sometimes while we worked over a scratch sheet He was a trainer, local, and spent most of his working time out at the track.
I don’t know why they start exercising horses at four in the morning and the first explanation I would discount is what a trainer would say about that. It meant, in any case, that my man was already in bed. He groaned into the phone, that I should call back at four-thirty in the morning when he would be more himself, but I wasn’t a horse, I told him, and this would just take a minute.
“There is nothing good in any of the starts tomorrow,” he said.
“I’m not calling for that, Dinkham. I’m calling about the outfit that’s stringing the bets and the races.”
“That’s run from Chicago,” he said. “I got nothing to do with them.”
“But they got men out at the track, don’t they?”
“Nothing big,” said Dinkham. “Just handlers who bring in the ponies sometimes. The ponies that surprise everybody by winning. And bums.”
“Bums. They give stable jobs to their bums what’s on the lam from someplace or what’s too wore out for the jobs they used to do.”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m talking about them. I’m calling to ask if any new ones have come in, bums like that.”
“No. Listen, Jack, I got to get up at…”
“Wait, Dinkham. One more thing.”
I didn’t know of one more thing to ask him, being much disappointed with what he had said. It was a sad longshot to think that I could tie Benotti in with the syndicate, which worked out of Chicago, because one of his hoods had smelled like a horse. But Benotti, even with electrical shop, frame house, wife and kids, did not strike me like a lone electrician gone hog wild. The electrical shop showed that he was starting out with a long plan, and the rest showed that he was aiming to stay. And his bums showed-must show-that he might be well-connected.
“I’ll let you know if some new ones come in,” said Dinkham. “Okay, Jack? Some should, any day now.”
“What did you say?”
“We lost a bunch of them. We’re short of help, because a bunch of them been taking off and we’re short handed. Not that they knew anything about horses.”
“How many left, Dinkham? And why?”
“I don’t know Four, five, maybe. And they left because they got pulled out.”
“And you don’t know where they went?”
“I think they’re still in town. At least one of them is still in town because I seen him, drinking beer.”
“And smelling like a horse.”
“What was that, Jack?”
There was a note of injury in Dinkham’s tone and I did not want to insult him. I also did not think there was any more he could tell me so I said, “Nothing, Dinkham, nothing. Please go back to sleep so that you can get up with the chickens.” He was saying, “Not chickens. Horses!” when I hung up the phone. Then I drove to the club.
Actually, the place wasn’t a club, except that Pat liked the word better and so Lippit had started calling it that. This club was a cross between YMCA and community center where a member could dance, sit, swim, box, get instructions in drama, or get a good massage. Lippit, who could not do without sweaty exercise, played handball there, went to the steambath, and got himself rubbed. In addition, he paid rent on a room with chairs and a long table. He had meetings there because he did not like an office address.
And I didn’t like going there. First of all, I didn’t like Lippit’s meetings. He wasn’t running a democracy, so why have meetings? He listened to what there was and then said what he wanted done. He could have done the same thing by phone. To keep you guys on your toes, he’d say. But it just bored me.
Second of all, I didn’t like the place because it reminded me of all the right-minded foolishness which used to bother me a number of years ago. I didn’t have a very rich upbringing, just a varied one, and this cold shower health kick of fun without girls used to be a sad bother to me. It ruined sports for me and it never made me want a woman any less.
So there were the thin-legged kids wearing gym shoes as if they had Frankenstein feet, then the real addicts, all balled up with muscle, and the ones who must have started too late because the sweatshirt just brought out their stomachs. I had to walk past all that wearing this crazy tuxedo, and I went to the top floor as fast as I could.
That was another thing I didn’t like. That room. It was space left over because the architect had made a mistake in arithmetic. There were windows to the street way up in the wall, but they only made sense from the outside where they had something to do with the Greek facade. The opposite wall, where there was no street, had a row of windows too. They were long and very low to the floor and if you lay down on your stomach you could look down into the swimming pool. Or you could just sit at the big table in the middle of the room and listen to the hollow racket come out of those windows.
There was a lot of smoke hanging over the table. There were eight or ten men but Lippit wasn’t there. They all stopped talking when I came in and waited till I came up to the table. Then Lippit’s lawyer said:
“You lost a button, Jack.”
“Which is why I’m late. I hunted and hunted…”
But they weren’t really listening. They were all in a lousy mood.
“Where’s Lippit?” I asked.
“He wants you to join him,” said the lawyer. “Seeing you weren’t here when expected and no telling when you’d show up, he took off while he was still in a fairly clean mood and said you should join him. If that would be all right with you.” And he handed me a slip of paper with an address written on it.
I held it in my hand and looked at everybody at the table. “That’s why everybody sits here in a stinking mood? To tell me Lippit left?”
There was the lawyer, Lippit’s accountant, and a manager from Lippit’s shop where they fixed jukeboxes. Those three wore tuxedos same as I, because they were the only ones Lippit had invited for the little party at his place. The rest were in daytime clothes. I didn’t know all of them, but the ones I recognized were from Lippit’s own union. Which is only a manner of speaking, because Lippit did not own a union. He ran a local, however-electrical services-and the men in it handled Lippit’s equipment There was also a union which he did own, in much more than a manner of speaking, which covered the drivers who did his deliveries. The man who ran things for Lippit inside these two unions was a thin person named Folsom. He liked black leather jackets, as if he were a punk or a motorcycle cop.
“I called this meeting,” Folsom said.
“Is that why Lippit’s not here?”
I didn’t like Folsom. I thought he was more like a strike breaker than a union man. He did mostly what Lippit told him to do, which amounted to keeping the wages steady and keeping free-lance labor away from Lippit’s territorial interest, but I got the feeling that Folsom might like more. Such as not being a salary man. Such as getting cuts out of union dues or a slice out of juke machine operators. In a way Folsom might well be what Lippit had been, let’s say ten, fifteen years ago, though there was a point where Lippit had stopped. I did not think Folsom would stop.
He said, “I don’t know about you, Mister St. Louis, but Mister Lippit thought that what I have to say was important. Important enough for him to show up and take action. I knew, of course, that he was having this little party of his, some private party, as I understood, however I felt…”
“All right, all right,” I said, since he had made his point; that he was on the ball twenty-four hours, no matter how much anyone else might be goofing-including the boss. And that he knew he had not been invited, though this did not impair his high feelings of duty and loyalty. Correct, nice, and spiteful, that Folsom.
“What is your bad news, Folsom, that you should get such a charge out of it?” I asked him.
“Well, Mister St. Louis, I don’t know how you look upon it, but my boys, they don’t like it one bit. Not one bit, Mister St. Louis. And Mister Lippit agreed with me. He doesn’t like it one bit.”
“Look at Kramer, please.”
I looked at the one he called Kramer and the man had a black eye. He was big and hefty but he had a black eye.
“And Balowski here, they broke the windows in his truck. And Epsen, they threw his tools all over the street and kicked him right there. Show him, Epsen.” But Epsen didn’t want to get up.
I said, “When did all this happen?”
“Today. And my boys and me, we don’t like it.”
I didn’t like it either. I looked at the lawyer and he nodded. “Benotti started this all at once, looks like. First I heard of it, anyway.”
I had thought that Benotti had just been scaring the jukebox operators, an easy mark like Morry perhaps, and a little guy like Louie.
“In other words,” said the lawyer, “there’s more organization behind this than we thought till now.”
“Or maybe Benotti is stupid,” I said.
“No. More like, he’s bigger than we thought.”
“And Mister Lippit,” said Folsom, “is of that same opinion, once I talked to him.”
I just nodded. The picture was getting worrisome.
“And I just hope,” said Folsom, “Mister Lippit is doing the right thing. I know he’s going to take care of this thing but I hope he’s doing it right.”
“What he means,” said the lawyer, “we had this argument here. Folsom…”
“Fight fire with fire,” said Folsom, as if he had a big audience.
“Yeah,” said the lawyer. “Anyway, Lippit wants to first try it nice. Talk things over.”
“Where is he?”
“I just gave you the address. You should join him.”
I looked at the slip and saw that Lippit had gone to Benotti’s. To try it nice and talk things over.
“Christawmighty,” I said, and then I left right away.
There weren’t so many children out on Benotti’s street any more and the lawn sprinkling was over, but there were people sitting on most of the porches. They sat and smoked or they talked in the dark. There was nobody on Benotti’s porch.
I didn’t see Lippit’s car and had the quick, useless thought that maybe he hadn’t come after all. Then I parked a little ways down, walked back, and went up Benotti’s drive. Maybe they would all be sitting in the kitchen again.
The kitchen was lit but empty. Then I heard the heavy thunks in the back of the house, which had to be Lippit walking. He had a very hard footfall when in a certain mood. He came down the hall, then into the kitchen, and when he walked through there he knocked into the table. He kept right on walking and left the table standing at an off-angle. Lippit was that big and that mad. He kicked the screen door open and so he would know I was out there before the door came flying shut with a racket I said, “Hello, Walter.”
He stopped, caught the door and closed it very gently.
I said, “You-uh, spoke to Benotti?”
Lippit didn’t answer. He just took a deep breath.
“I’m sorry I’m late, Walter.”
“ Late? ”
“Yes. I was…”
“You got here before me, didn’t you?”
Then he opened the screen door again and then slammed it shut.
Lippit, when his mood demanded, would bellow his words for a while and then would be done with his rage. That, and slamming that door, did it for him and he felt visibly better.
“Yessir,” he said. “I came for a calm, friendly talk. Yessir.”
“Didn’t work, huh?”
He looked me up and down, but didn’t bother to answer.
“I talked to Folsom,” I said. “The way he acted, I am glad to see that you aren’t taking all this with the same…”
He bent to the floor and picked something up.
“You’re missing a button,” he said. “This the one?” And he gave it to me.
The gesture raised hell with the argument for a cool, peaceful procedure I was going to offer. Not that I was the reasonable one and Lippit the oaf needing special guidance. Except, the case was special for me. I just wished Lippit wouldn’t start going too fast.
“How’s Benotti?” I said. “Is he in bed?”
Lippit went down the porch steps and said, “Yeah. He’s in bed.”
“That’s a help, isn’t it? Now he’ll be out of touch for a while and…”
“Yeah,” said Lippit, and then he turned and went back into the house. The screen door slammed shut, his steps clunked down the hall, but then he was back almost immediately. He came out on the porch, took my arm, and walked me around to the street.
“What was that just now, Walter?”
“You got your car here?”
“Yes. But what did…”
“Meet me at my place. But soon, Jack. I mean tonight, soon.”
“Sure. What was that at Benotti’s just now, one more good-bye?”
“No. I tore out his phone.”
Walter Lippit, I knew, was not a phone-out-of-the-wall tearer, or door kicker, or anything like that. If he should kick a door it was because the door didn’t open and he wanted in. If he tore a phone out of the wall, it meant he didn’t want anyone to use it.
So while Benotti would be pretty much out of touch, Lippit meant to hustle.
I took him so seriously, I got to his apartment before he did. Because when I rang the bell Pat opened the door and when she saw me she slammed the door shut again.
“Pat, listen. You listening, Pat?”
“Walter is going to be home any minute,” she said through the door, “so you better beat it, Jack.”
“I know he’ll be home any minute. That’s why I want…”
“I know what you want and you must think you’re pretty good.”
I know that she wanted to slam the door right then except it was closed already. I heard her walk away and knew just when she’d get to the living-room door, to slam that one, but nothing happened. I knocked again and said, “Pat?” when she suddenly opened up.
“What changed your mind?” I asked her. “I mean, aside from the fact that you just can’t help yourself.”
I walked in but she didn’t answer. On the way to the living room I looked at her once but she just smiled back.
I mean, I was used to No’s from this girl. Not counting an overwhelming gambit like that zipper deal, this girl was Lippit’s, she could say no in her sleep, and our boss was due any minute. In addition, of course, Pat was a great calculator. She had on a nightgown and a robe over that. She held it tight where it mattered and left it loose where it mattered and without make-up on she looked soft and sleepy. It made me think of a warm bed.
“Sit down, Jack, won’t you?”
She took an attitude on the couch and patted the place next to her. I said, “Thank you,” and sat down on an easy chair.
“I’m glad you’re back,” she said. “Everything go all right?”
“Yes. So far.”
She pulled her shoulders up for a moment, slid her hands up her sleeves, then let her shoulders relax again, soft and casual. I liked that sight so much, I was now very suspicious.
“When’s Walter coming, Jack?”
None of this made very much sense, unless she wanted Lippit to catch me in flagrante delieto so to speak. Not that I knew what the term really meant, except that it was something no good, and Pat, with her hands up her sleeves, wasn’t up to any good either.
“You look extremely sleepy, dear Pat. Really. You should go right back to bed.”
What a compliant girl, I thought, and so suddenly. Except that I didn’t know what she was compliant about. Lippit, I hoped, would be here any minute.
She leaned forward and got a cigarette out of the crystal thing on the table and then she closed her robe again. “Was nice before, wasn’t it?” she said.
“Oh yes. You want a light?”
I had to come around the coffee table and unless I wanted to stand there like a jackknife and look down where her robe didn’t make it and she was holding it closed just under the breasts so that they curved in the damnedest half-naked way-I sat down on the couch and held the lit match up between us.
She made no fuss about lighting up and got it on the first drag. I think she wanted to talk.
“I want you to know that I had a very good time on this couch here,” she said, “and I want you to know that doesn’t mean a damn thing for the future, Jack.”
It was a fine time to make this point, the way she was sitting there.
“Really, Pat,” I said. “I wouldn’t presume.”
“When you get formal like that,” she said, “I know you’re lying.”
“I’m under a strain, is all.”
She liked that and shifted a little, just to show how live everything was and how real. Then she laughed.
“I love seeing you strained like that. It shows how you’re loyal to Walter, how you’re devoted to me…”
“That’s not the word, Patty. Devoted isn’t the word.”
“… and how you’re not at all flip and distracted.”
“You want a drink? I’m going to get me a drink.”
“No. I’m going to bed soon, Jack.”
“That’s right. Yes.”
“And with all those qualities,” she went right on, “I understand how you and Walter are making out so well.”
“And have a lot in common.”
I almost said, “Like whom?” but I said, “Like what?”
“Business. Because you’re in business together.”
“Of course we’re in business together.”
“Really, Jack,” she said, “don’t be so nervous,” and she folded her robe across in front and held it that way.
Then she put her cigarette out and kept holding the robe while she leaned over the table. She looked serious and off-handed all at the same time.
“I just thought about it,” she said, “because of what you mentioned.”
I had no idea what I had mentioned and was getting nervous about it. When she explained herself, it didn’t make me feel any better.
“I’ll just have to ask him about it,” she said, “Walter, I mean. Because he never said anything about Blue Beat before.” She looked at me with no guile whatsoever, or with none of it showing. “Because he does talk to me about things which have to do with his business.”
I sighed and said, “Yes. With me too,” and wished he was here to talk business. About mayhem, extortion, gang war, and beatings. Anything like that.
“And of course he knows about my singing career, it goes without saying, and what it needs to get helped along. So it’s strange he never said anything about Blue Beat, don’t you think?” Then she looked at me and said it again. “Don’t you think, Jack?”
“Ah-no.” I got up and stood in the room, looking at her, at the furniture, all for the touch which showed how little this bothered me. “Not strange at all,” I said, “because he and I don’t have anything to do with that outfit.”
“Then why did you mention it?”
“The better to get you with, little Red Riding Pat,” and then I laughed to keep her from answering and then she laughed too, light and merry, because the door in the hall opened right then and next Lippit was there.
“What are you doing up?” he said to Pat.
“I had to open the door for Jack. He was early.”
“Yeah. He keeps doing that today.”
“We were talking,” she said.
“And laughing. Go to bed, huh, Patty?”
“Jack was telling me something about little Red Riding Hood. And the wolf. Remember that story, Walter?”
“Yeah, sort of.”
“The wolf got clobbered,” she said and went off to bed.
Lippit made two drinks and I sat on the couch now, relaxing a little. He came over and sat down too and when he gave me my drink he said, “Let’s talk business,” and I said, “Christ, yes.”
He sipped on his drink and I took one gulp of mine and let the rest of it warm while I told him how all of it looked to me. That Benotti was no smalltime repair man, and also not somebody crazy who thought he could buck Lippit’s set-up. But that he was somebody smart, with backing, who thought he could buck Lippit’s set-up. I told him that the tie-in might be Chicago, and that Lippit, with his background, should be able to check it from there. He said yes, he would, though for the moment it made little difference to the way he would handle this thing.
“We’re going to do this up brown,” he said. “We’ll clobber him.”
It wasn’t Lippit’s kind of word, but like a lot of things, Pat had just put it into his head. I myself wished he hadn’t used it.
I said, “You know how big Benotti is?”
“He lives in a frame house with used furniture.”
“So is your furniture.”
“But I don’t live on the East Side.”
“He’s been living on the East Side I don’t know how long and has been running a repair shop all that time, and we haven’t paid any attention to him for just that reason. That’s why he’s been running it that way.”
“Likely,” said Lippit, and looked at the ceiling. “And I just told you, Jack, that his size makes no difference right now, the way we’re going to clobber.”
“His size would make a difference in how hard we have to-er, clobber.”
“Not for long,” he said and took a nip from his glass. “What we’ll do is this.”
Lippit often said “we” when he didn’t mean it. I put my drink down, put my cigarette out, and sat back. What came next would be mostly instructions.
“He’s big enough,” said Lippit, “or thinks that he’s big enough, to buck our servicing. With Stonewall he’s also tried putting a machine in the place, which may be a sign of what he plans for the future. But right now what he’s setting up for is to buck our servicing. Then he’ll take over.”
“Just listen. Therefore, first off we fix it so he doesn’t have anything to service with.”
“Tit for tat?”
“Right, but don’t talk like a baby. Here’s how, Jack. We hit the workers; we hit his goons, and we hit the supplies. One, two, three, get it? One, two, three days, and no more Benotti.”
I just nodded, because I didn’t like it.
“Here’s one at a time,” he kept on. “I was late because I arranged about the workers already. I called Folsom. He’s getting a team set up to sit at the phones. They’re gonna call up Benotti’s service men-we know some of them-and give them a hard time with those telephone calls.”
“At three in the morning.”
“Sure at three in the morning. Don’t you know it’s much scarier at three in the morning? Imagine you’re asleep in bed and the phone rings. There’s this voice, like from a beast, and it says…”
“I know. I know.”
“And Benotti’s got all non-union labor. I checked this out through Folsom between the time at the club and now. He’s got six men, it looks like, and they all do moonlighting on the side. So we tighten up on the closed shop arrangements. They either get fired right off, or Folsom pulls a strike or a slowdown on the shop and they get fired then. Unless, we explain to them, they quit Benotti’s shop. And that takes care of the servicing he’s planning to do on our busted machines.”
I lit a cigarette and waited for the other two arrangements he had in mind. Because one of them worried me.
“Second, the goons. We got our machines all over, but Benotti’s been concentrating on the West Side. The operators are closer together, they’re little guys, maybe scare easier. What we do, Jack, we get a gang in that bar at Liberty and Alder Road, another bunch in Morry’s bowling alley, and a third in that place with the malteds and ice cream concoctions, Third and Liberty, isn’t it?”
“And we got the area triangled off. An operator has troubles with Benotti’s bums anywhere, he calls one of the three places, and a flying squad of our very own bums comes barreling down for a free-for-all. Nice?”
“Whadda ya mean, ak? ”
But he was in no mood to listen, because he had one point to go.
“Third, we maul their supply.”
He was starting to sound like a general and I was getting more nervous.
“Hough and Daly,” he said. “Suppliers of electric and electronic equipment.”
I knew damn well who Hough and Daly were.
“Didn’t you know Benotti’s got space rented there? His five trucks use the same ramp; his equipment shop is right next to Hough’s storage rooms, not to speak of the fact that he buys his supplies from them.”
“So do we, Walter. In case you’re thinking of messing up Hough and Daly.”
Lippit folded his hands in his lap, which looks weird and dainty because of his size, and then he cocked his head at me and talked very patiently.
“Jacky,” he said, “sometimes you talk like an idiot, you know that, Jacky?” and then just with a little bit of a change in his voice, “Or like a stockholder in Hough and Daly, perhaps, do you know that?”
I wasn’t a stockholder in Hough and Daly, and it was nothing that simple.
“No workers,” said Lippit, “no equipment, no more operators all scared by his goons. Good?”
“I thought for a minute you were going to say, no more operators.”
He slapped his thighs, got up, and let out a big sigh.
“St. Louis,” he said, “something is bugging you, St. Louis.” He went to the liquor cabinet and brought back the bottle. He sat down with it and kept it in his hands. “What, Jack? What is it?”
For a fact, Walter Lippit wasn’t running a democracy or anything like that, but he and I, some of the time, split the jobs, talked this and that over, gave each other a hand. I liked Walter Lippit Rolling his girl on the couch had nothing to do with that. I liked Pat, too.
“Something’s no good, Jack?”
“Yes,” I said. “All of it.”
He looked at me and then down at the bottle. “Just a minute,” he said, and poured himself some. I held out my glass and he gave me some too.
Then I said, “Your beating up Benotti isn’t…”
“I didn’t beat up Benotti, Jack.”
“All right, all right.” I took a swallow and started over. “Your pushing his men around and he pushing ours around sounds too much like a brawl to me.”
“You don’t like brawls?”
“Lay off for a minute, will you please, Walter? I’m talking about business and you’re talking like a delinquent. Which is no good, just as a matter of principle.”
“What kind of business, just as a matter of principle, do you think I’m running? What they do polite-like in the cosmetics business, let’s say, we do the same, except not so polite. Now, you got more sudden principles?”
“And in this brawling around,” I said, trying to ignore the rest he had been saying, “there’s one guy gets caught in the middle, which is the operator, the guy who’s using our machine.”
“In the cosmetics business, maybe, the customer doesn’t get caught in the middle?”
“Gimme another drink,” I said.
He gave me another drink and felt so good about his argument he decided to humor me.
“All right, I grant you. I run a little joint with a jukebox in it and there’s labor trouble in front of the door, with fisticuffs and so on. That’s no good, I grant you.”
“Fisticuffs,” I said and took a swallow. “I like that, fisticuffs.”
“All right. You know what I mean. What you don’t know, what you don’t think of, I mean, is that all this is going to last maybe two, three days. Like I said in the beginning. Now here’s how. You…”
“Just a minute.”
First of all, I thought that his whole plan stunk and secondly, I didn’t like it. It stunk because it was just a move on the surface. I didn’t like it-I was hoping that part wouldn’t come up, between Lippit and me.
“You got a goon’s point of view,” I said to Lippit. “A guy leans on you and you lean back.”
“Yuh. Goon’s point of view. What I think about all this I’ve explained to you. That I’m sure Benotti’s got money behind him, that he’s well-connected. He’s no independent He’s been sent in to take over where the syndicate missed a trick.”
“All right, there’s money. And if he’s so well connected, how come they sent a jerk like Benotti?”
“Because they think you’re a jerk.”
“They must. You been running this racket pretty nice and friendly.”
“I know,” he said. “I know. Like a jerk.”
“And now more so. Any muscle you’ll show, Benotti will show.”
Lippit just laughed. It had been the wrong argument and Lippit just laughed and wouldn’t even discuss it I waited till he was done and then I tried to make a little more sense.
“You got this slap-dash plan now, Walter, and I grant you that it’s pretty hefty slap-dash and proves how mad you are and what you can do about it. But aside from the way you feel about Benotti and his mosquito tactics…”
“Mosquito? You mean to just brush…”
“Yes, mosquito. You said yourself you’re going to take care of it in maybe two, three days. So how big is it?”
“Listen, St. Louis…”
“Let me finish, Walter. I’m now talking long range.”
“To hell with that long-winded talk.”
“I’m talking to save you grief.”
“Any kind of grief they care to throw…”
“I’m talking money.”
“All right,” he said. “Talk.”
“You got this set-up. You rent out and service machines. I grant you, it’s pretty well sewed up and with your mosquito…”
“Stop using that word, Jack.”
“And with your bomber tactics you’ll even get that set-up down pat for a long time.”
“Walter. Take a drink and let me finish, will you?”
He took a drink and I tried again.
“So you got a franchise on putting all the little wires back in order when a music box stops making music, and meanwhile you collect all the quarters and dimes-which comes to a heap-as long as your servicing includes putting the discs in the machines, taking out the old ones, putting the new hits in, and so on and so on.”
“As long as? What’s this about as long as?”
“The records go this way: manufacturer, jobber, jukebox operator. You got the operators sewed up. They use your machines and they buy your service. You get the discs from the jobber, and the jobber gets his from the factory.”
“And you got this sly proposition,” he said, “I should buy the manufacturer and skip the jobber, huh?” He leaned over the table and said, “Go to sleep, Jack. It’s your bedtime, Jack.”
“I will.” I got up, for the effect of it, and then I said, “But I’m not so asleep, Lippit, that I’d dream up a dumb deal like you just mentioned.”
“Now, wait a minute. I wasn’t serious.”
“But I was.”
“What did you say, boy wonder?”
“You grab the jobber. You buy in, you buy him out, you maybe think of a better trick. You can’t horse with the manufacturer because he’s too big and he isn’t in town, but you grab the jobber and you got two links of the chain, to put yourself solid, and to tie up Benotti.”
He said, “Hmm,” or something like that, and then he poured down the rest of his drink.
“Meanwhile,” he said, “we got this other thing to do.”
“Walter. Listen to me.”
“But did you hear what I said?”
“Yeah. Not bad. Now let’s get back. Tomorrow, first thing, you set up the goon squads the way I was telling you. The thing over at Hough and Daly, I’ll give that to Folsom. He can…”
“Walter, I been trying to tell you…”
“Sit down,” he said. “Just sit and now you listen.”
I tried once more, though I didn’t promise myself very much. Lippit didn’t like stalling and that’s all I was doing now.
“You hit a place like Hough and Daly, Walter, you know what kind of stink that can make? You know how many guys depend on that outfit? Do you know that every radio, TV, electronics, recording outfit in town…”
“You sound like you own a piece in all of them, Jack, instead of working for me. You working for me, Jack, or you just drinking my liquor and sitting there bending my ear as if you knew what you were doing?”
“All right,” I said. “Forget it,” and I hoped he would. It would make my problem simpler and it would mean less to him when I tried for the little bit, for the one little thing where he might give in without giving me trouble.
“Let Folsom do the goon job,” I said. “He should like that.”
“And you do the raid on Hough and Daly?”
“Why do you keep saying Hough and Daly? You mean Benotti’s equipment place, don’t you?”
“You kept saying Hough and Daly, Jack, and I don’t care which you call it as long as you know the job. I want Benotti’s operation to end up like a cripple, understand? If that means going next door and hitting Hough and Daly too, then hit ‘em. Main thing I’m after…”
“Sure, I know.”
He looked at me, wondering about my irritation, but then he just shrugged.
“Your bedtime,” he said. “Beat it.”
I did. Walter Lippit was not running a democracy.
I drove home-an upstairs apartment with large windows-sat down on the bed and looked at the telephone.
Much too late to do any calling. But much to do. And getting that wrecking job away from Folsom, getting to do that delicate thing by myself, was just part of the problem. What the problem came down to, if Benotti’s repair place got wrecked proper, I would lose money.
I have a rule about money, which goes: make it, spend it. It’s the nearest thing to a rule which fits the way I’ve been living through one job or another, until I put in with Lippit. After a while with Lippit, and what with the business we built, there was money left over. What I mean is, I wasn’t used to spending that much and I didn’t have the time, anyway.
That’s how I got to own Blue Beat.
This studio taped only the rare jazz for the aficionados. Naturally, the place was going broke. I had bought the place for what always comes out as a mixture of reasons: I had the dough; I saw a bargain; I like jazz; I know some of the rare musicians, whether they’re known or not. Sew it all up and call it a gamble, and maybe I got Blue Beat because of that. The Lippit operation by then was getting boring, and smooth.
Then Blue Beat made money. We only taped what we liked, but this time it paid. Next for the action, I bought up what was left of a pressing plant on the ground floor where we started pressing our own records and also did jobs for the rest of the studios in the area. Nothing big, but it didn’t lose money. The whole works was Loujack, Inc., Jack St. Louis on the top of the stock pile, but silently.
I’d rather not mix friends and business, and as for Loujack I wanted Walter Lippit to be just a friend. He knew that the outfit was there, the way you know there’s a lamp post down the street, but so what. He didn’t know-there were few who did-that Loujack was me. That would have been different. That would have been less like a lamp post down the street and more like uncle Walter Lippit observing the doings of his favorite nephew. Next, kindly interest. Next, this being all in the family, he might have dreamt dreams about mergers and empires and since Lippit was not much of a dreamer, next thing, he would grab. I’m not against Lippit-friend of mine-but I myself don’t like to be grabbed.
I sat on the bed and looked at the telephone. It was three A.M., but I picked up the phone and called Herbie who did the errands at Blue Beat.
It rang a long time and then I got disturbed. “Yessir?”
“Herbie, this is Jack. I’m sorry to be…”
“ What? ”
Then there was sudden, dead calm in the earpiece which meant Herbie had his hand over the phone. When he came back on he did with a fierce whisper.
“Jack? It’s three o’clock!”
“I know I’m…”
“I’m not a, l, o, n, e.”
“What’s the matter, she doesn’t know how to spell?”
“I don’t know.”
I took a deep breath and started all over.
“I’ve got to know, Herbie, if you went over to Hough and Daly yesterday.”
“Yesterday? I didn’t do any pick-ups or deliveries yesterday. Today I did, though.”
“It’s after twelve, Herbie. That’s why I asked…”
“Oh. Yesterday. Yes. I took the recording equipment to the Rushmore Hotel, for that session with…”
“Did you go to Hough and Daly, Herbie?”
“Oh. Yes. But I didn’t pick up the mixer. Just the spools Conrad ordered and the new cable. Did you know about the new cable?”
I didn’t know about the new cable and I didn’t care about the new cable. I only cared about the mixer, and that hadn’t been picked up.
Herbie said, “Yes, honey,” again.
“I didn’t say anything,” I told him.
“I didn’t mean-what I was saying-”
“Tomorrow,” I told him. “Spell it for me tomorrow,” and I hung up.
I sat on the bed and worried about the mixer. This is a machine about the size of a portable bar and a good recording studio can’t do without it The one we used at Blue Beat cost twenty G’s plus. The wires come in from the pickups where the session goes on, the wires go out to the tape where everything is recorded. In between is the mixer, and it mixes. With a good operator listening in and working the dials a bull moose can come out like a choir of angels. Without the mixer a violin can drown out a drum.
Our machine was in the Hough and Daly building because it was getting repairs. A little job costing nine-o-five seventy. But the price wasn’t worrying me, only that the machine wasn’t back at the studio. It was after three A.M., and I looked at the phone and said, “Conrad, I’m sorry, and I hope you are only asleep.” Then I rang him up.
He answered very quickly.
“Conrad, I’m sorry…”
“Godammit, Jack, go to hell,” and he hung up on me.
I looked at the dead phone and thought Conrad should have been asleep. He wasn’t a kid like Herbie and working ten, twelve hours a day running Blue Beat Recording should have put Conrad to sleep long ago.
I called him up again.
“Conrad, don’t hang up again,” I said first thing.
He said, “Yes, honey,” rather softly, and then directly into my ear, “Jack, dammit, I thought I made clear that I wasn’t a, l, o, n, e.”
“Yours can’t spell either?”
“Never mind. Listen, Conrad, it’ll only take a minute.”
“All right,” he said. “What the hell. But don’t ever do this again.”
“I won’t. I just talked to Herbie and…”
“He wasn’t asleep either. Nor a, 1, o, n, e.”
“Gee,” said Conrad, “I didn’t know he was married.”
“He said he didn’t pick up the mixer yesterday.”
“I know. It cuts our schedule to pieces but it wasn’t really promised for yesterday. More like today. Noon, maybe.”
“That’s too late, Conrad. You got to get it out of there before then.”
Conrad mumbled something and then he said, “You sound very anxious. Something wrong?”
“I warned you,” he said. “Don’t tell me the details, but I warned you.”
Conrad, who ran Blue Beat for me, was the only one who knew that I owned the recording studio and the pressing plant on the first floor. I was in and out of the studio, but the rest of the crew, like Herbie the driver, only knew that I sometimes brought talent over. It explained why I showed up in the place, why I was interested in getting the mixer back, because without that machine there could be no sessions.
Conrad, of course, knew much more. I said, “I want you to call that guy for me, Conrad. The one who’s working on the mixer. And tell him to get it in shape extra early. If he can’t finish it, he should at least tie up the guts, get the thing out of that shop before regular starting time in the morning.”
“Morning? You mean this morning?”
“They open at eight,” I said. “This morning.”
“Jack. Think of the time we lose if he does that. He won’t be finished.”
“Don’t ask why, Conrad, just get it out.”
He didn’t ask why and just said, “Oh.” Conrad, who knew of my double life, did not approve of me with Lippit But he would get the machine out, he said.
The mixer was in the Hough and Daly building. In Benotti’s shop.
Not everybody can repair something complex like a mixer. The man whom we had to pick for the job was very good but he was also working on repairs for Benotti. It had not been important at the time, but it was now.
The sure thing was, I didn’t want the machine wrecked in the morning. The long shot was, that it might somehow leak out how a Benotti man worked on a thing which belonged to St. Louis who worked for Walter Lippit.
“I’ll call him,” said Conrad, “and tell him he might as well stay up and get dressed.”
“And have the thing out of there before eight. Stress that, Conrad.”
“Maybe I should tell him he’d better stay away from the place himself, come that hour?”
“Please, Conrad, I don’t want to mix jobs,” I complained. “Okay?”
“Okay.” He coughed and said, “Maybe it’s time you got out of one business and go full time into the other?”
“All you know, Conrad,” I told him, “is that your machine’s got to be out of there, come eight in the morning. Just arrange that, nothing else.”
“You going to be there yourself?”
“Might be awkward if I send down anyone working for the studio and there you are, dressed up like a hood.”
He was much older than I and so took liberties now and then. All I said was, “I’m going to be there at eight in the morning. Come eight in the morning, I don’t want to see that thing sitting there. Aside from that, just leave me a, l, o, n, e.”
By seven I had lined up five bozos for a quick job on Benotti’s depot One was a Lippit trucker, large of muscle and small of head, two were from the local gym, long in training and short of cash, one was just somebody I knew, and the fifth was the same. And also large of muscle and small of head.
At seven thirty I walked down Marsh Avenue, and a quarter to eight I got to the Hough and Daly building. It was very large and used up half a block.
The first thing I came to was the loading ramp, set back from the street for about the depth of a truck. It put the ramp inside the building.
On the ramp was my mixer.
This wasn’t just twenty-five grand sitting there. This was a high-priced complication looking at me.
The big gadget, because of its weight, was built on rollers, and Benotti’s man, because of the phone call, had pushed the thing out on the ramp and had left it there. As a matter of fact, he had pushed it a little over to one side, where the Hough and Daly door was. Nice of him. Twenty-five grand of high-priced complication pushed over to one side a little.
Three of Benotti’s delivery trucks were parked side by side. I walked past them and up the steps to the ramp. At one end was a double door with glass panels halfway up where it said Benotti’s Service. I looked through the glass and saw nobody. The shop was empty.
It was ten to eight and they opened on the hour. Or they did all the other days. I had ten minutes to get the machine out of the way because at eight sharp my army of five was due.
There was a little more life on the Hough and Daly side of the building. The big double door to the ramp was still closed but the square window next to the door showed the inside of an office and a girl taking the cover off an adding machine. The girl was a little one, all made-up and pretty, as if she might enjoy working back here near the loading ramp. I myself thought I might enjoy working back near the loading ramp. I knocked at her window.
She nodded, barely looking up, and called, “Just a minute.” I could hear that through the window. Then she walked out of the office and came around to the double door. She clanked it and rattled it from the other side and then had it open.
“I was wondering when you’d… Oh,” she said.
“Good morning. I’m a little bit in a hurry, but if…”
“I thought you were one of the fellows next door. From next door, I mean. With the coffee.”
“No. As a matter of fact, there’s nobody next door, which is the…”
“They always make the coffee over there,” she said again. She looked very disappointed.
“There’s a little mix-up this morning. Nobody showed up yet and I need a little favor.”
She tilted her head and looked suspicious. “Like what?”
“This thing here,” I said, and nodded at the mixer on the platform. “I’d like it moved.”
“You want me for that? ”
It was five to eight.
“It looks bigger than both of us,” she said.
“What I mean is, you just open this door some more and I move it myself. In there, where you are.”
She didn’t open the door any further. I wasn’t the man with the coffee; I wasn’t anyone she knew. I heard a car at the end of the block, motor whining fast. I now talked at the same rate.
“Look, the thing, the machine, it actually…”
“It’s a mixer,” she said.
“Yes, and it actually belongs next door, the Benotti place, but nobody is there and by some mistake or other the thing-mixer, got left …”
“Yes. Please, don’t interrupt What I’m trying to mix you-eh, tell you…”
“Who are you?”
“I’m the man who’s supposed to, who’s trying to just try and get that machine over there to over here, there, where you stand, and if you’ll just…”
“You sound like that car out there.”
The car was still whining in low and now that it was very much closer it slowed. I looked out to the street and wiped my hand across my face, but I wasn’t sweating. I never sweat. I just start shaking.
There was a woman behind the wheel and when she had passed the loading entrance I could hear her turn the corner. It was about three minutes to eight.
“Women drivers,” I said.
“Makes you nervous?”
“I could have sworn you were nervous,” she said.
“Look, honey,” I said.
“Do we know each other?”
“No, but I feel that…”
“Then don’t call me honey.”
I took a deep breath, coughed slowly, and then smiled at her again. This was a simple smile, just harmless warmth.
“That mixer belongs to Blue Beat Studios. I…”
“I’m connected with Blue Beat because I hustle talent for them.”
“Aha,” she said, and nodded her head.
“And I’ve got a session arranged, you know what a session is-?”
“You’re a talent scout and I’m just the thing you’ve been looking for, and if I’d let you handle me…”
“I don’t want to handle you!”
“Sweetsufferingsuffering, all I want is just for you to open up there, open up that gate wide so I can move, push I mean, that mixer…”
“Well,” she said. “What now?”
There was this panel truck. It went by the entrance, it stopped with the tailgate still showing, it went in reverse and backed around into the loading space and up to the ramp.
“Eight o’clock,” she said. “We’ve got nothing to go out at eight this morning.”
The canvas flaps opened in back and one, two, three, lump-muscled apes jumped out. Then two more from the cab, all lump-muscled and goonish.
My own army counted five, but this wasn’t it. This was the enemy.
“Good morning,” said the girl from Hough and Daly. “I was just saying, we have nothing for you this morning.”
“It isn’t feeding time yet,” would have made much more sense. The three who had come over the tail gate went straight for the door where the girl was standing, but the bald ape who had come out of the cab yelled at them that they had the wrong door. “This way, idiots,” he yelled. “This way.”
They all ran to the Benotti door and found that it was closed.
“Nuts,” said one of them. “They been and gone.”
“Idiot,” said the bald ape, “would they lock the door after theirselves?”
This had all taken a minute or two and I kept looking out to the street where my own natives were supposed to show up. They were supposed to show up there and wait for my signal.
Right then they might have showed up and I would never have known it. All the five apes, confused and left high and dry by the puzzle of that locked door, turned my way and brightened. This would be much simpler. This is one and we are five; something like that showed on their faces.
I had an impulse to jump past the girl and slam the door shut behind me, but then they might bust down the door, and then I would have to explain to the girl and how would it look to her-any number of giddy reasons came to me and while none of them were any good I did the right thing, or the thing I had come for. I walked up to the mixer, leaned my hand on the top, and I even drummed up and down with one finger. That was as brave as I could get for the moment, that thing with the finger.
“Get your hands offn that!” said the bald ape.
“Yeah!” said one of the others.
“Watch it,” I told them. “This thing stays intact.”
“What he say?”
“Idiot. He means it don’t get destructed.” They all stopped except for the bald ape. He came up to me, looked at the mixer, at my hand, at my face. “We got instructions,” he said. “Get your hands offn that because nothing around here gets destructed. We’re here to see to that.”
I took my hand off and held it out to him. “Man,” I told him. “Am I glad you came.”
He said, “Huh?” and didn’t take my hand, which was just as well, and then he didn’t know what else to say.
It must have been about five after eight. I was now worried my army would show.
“They’ve come and gone,” I said, “and am I glad you showed.”
“Come and gone?”
“Those goons. You know. They wanted to destructed everything here.”
“Destroyed, you mean.” Then he folded his arms and looked me up and down. “Who are you?”
“Benotti sent me. It almost didn’t work, because here they were and you weren’t here, and the reason he sent me was to let you know that this thing here, this mixer, this thing in particular should come to no harm.”
“Oh yeah?” said one of them.
The bald ape turned a little and said, “Quiet, idiot.” Then he turned back to me. “How come they come and went and nothing’s busted?”
That’s when I saw one of my own stick his head around the brick wall and look into the loading space, at the ramp, and at me. Then he ducked away.
He was waiting behind the wall, on the street, for the signal I was supposed to whistle; he was waiting for the rest of them to come up close and then they would rush us; he was talking it over with them, how best to save me. I myself was going out of my mind.
“Nothing’s busted,” I started without knowing how to finish the sentence, “because I’m a Lippit man. What I mean…”
“It’s like this,” I said slowly, as much to make him understand as to understand it myself. “Before you came, the Lippit goons came. And I saw this. I was here. So I fooled them into beating it out of here, the new word from Lippit, I told them, was to save their strength. I said this to them, and they thought I’d come straight from Lippit.”
“I don’t get it. I don’t get it why Lippit should switch that way.”
“Because the place was deserted when they came and that wasn’t part of the plan. The Lippit plan, you know, was blood, broken bones, fisticuffs.”
“Quiet, idiot.” Then he looked at me again. “Why should I believe you?”
“What, you need proof?”
“Yeah. That. Because I don’t see nothing touched here or anything like that. Like nobody been here.”
“ That’s the proof, friend,” and to flatten his reasoning completely, I called the girl over and said, “Tell him. There hasn’t been any trouble here, has there?”
“Trouble?” she said.
“There you are!” and I smiled at the bald one.
I took a deep breath, finally, because progress had not been bad. The bald one thought I was a messenger from Benotti, the girl thought I was somebody with Blue Beat, and I thought that if my own animals would stay out of the way another few minutes, I could swing the rest. Namely, first get the mixer out, and the Benotti men, and then let my apes do the job they had come for.
“Now the thing about this mixer,” I started, when the girl said, “This is the strangest thing,” and she looked past all of us.
We all reacted to the unknown in different ways. I giggled, the bald ape did nothing, and the girl kept looking out to the street.
“Somebody keeps looking around the corner,” she said. We all looked out to the street Nobody showed there for the moment but I was going further out of my mind.
“Beany,” said the bald one. “Go out there and see who it is.”
Beany went out there and we did not see him any more.
But the bald one had meanwhile had time to think.
“So you ain’t a Lippit man,” he said, “and you ain’t no Benotti man, either. Because there’s that few of us, and I should know you.”
“Of course not,” said the girl. “He’s from Blue Beat.”
“Blue which?” he said, as if three factors in all this were too much for his comprehension.
They were just about that for me, more so every minute, and I talked fast.
“This machine goes to Blue Beat. It’s got repairs done to it in Benotti’s shop and now it’s been pushed out here so it won’t come to any harm should the Lippit goons come. Because the first order on Benotti’s list is always, let the customer come to no harm. Right? And that is why…”
“Where’s Beany?” somebody asked.
“Never mind that idiot,” said the bald one.
“Yes,” said the girl. “Here’s the tag,” and she looked at the tag which hung on the mixer. “Blue Beat is written on it.”
The bald one unfolded his arms, linked his fingers, and cracked them. The sound was terrible. He looked at me all the time.
“What we better do,” he said, “I think I know what we better do.”
Meanwhile one of my crew was also looking around the corner.
“What we better do is take this machine straight down to that whats-thename.”
“Blue Beat Recording thirty-four ten Duncan Avenue and you take the freight elevator in back gently all the way and don’t bump it!”
I got that out very fast and afterwards I didn’t dare say another word for fear I might wake up and find it was yesterday, for example, and I would have to go through all this again.
When my army showed there were only three. The other two, and the enemy who was called Beany, were at that point tactically useless. But the three who were left did a nice and strategic job on the Benotti supply dump. There was hardly any noise and there was minimal interference. The girl from next door came around once, wondering if Franky had showed with the coffee, but I intercepted her at the door and walked her back to her own end of the line. I did this by promising her a fine cup of coffee. In that way she took her coffee break pretty early but then, she said, she had never been with a real talent promoter before.
“Is it difficult work?” she asked.
“Oh no. Easy.”
“And you like it.”
“Oh yes. Very.”
“I sing, you know.”
“And I look good, don’t you think? I mean, that’s important.”
“Yes. But I don’t handle that kind of talent What I mean is, a voice on a record…”
I didn’t get any further because she whammed me across the left cheek; it was, in a manner of speaking, the only stinging defeat of the morning’s action.
When we were done I retired my army, disbursed mustering-out pay plus bonus of one bottle of beer, and called up Walter Lippit. Pat answered and the first thing she said was, “No.”
“I haven’t even asked…”
“You were going to ask if Walter is here and the answer is no.”
“Maybe I was going to ask…”
“Anything else, the answer is no, too,” and she hung up.
I called up the club where he had that room and somebody answered to tell me Mister Lippit was in the steam room. That’s when I felt that the rest of the operations must be going all right.
It was a nice forenoon with bright sun and a breeze to keep the heat down, at least till noontime. I put the top down on the car and drove to the club.
There were athletes even at that hour. I could hear them make sports noises in the gym and that health odor of theirs came as far as the lobby.
“Where is Mister Lippit at the moment?” I asked at the desk.
“He maintains a room on…”
I nodded and went up there but Lippit wasn’t in the room. There was a kid at the table, by the name of Davy, and he was supposed to hold down the phone. There hadn’t been any phoning he said, and Lippit was still in the steam room, or at the next stage, he said, which he thought might be the masseur.
“You mean nobody’s checked in from the West Side or anything?”
“There haven’t been any calls,” said Davy. “But I’ve called the West Side every hour, the way Mister Lippit said.”
“Nothing.” The kid smiled politely but he was clearly impatient. He was rolling and unrolling a magazine about how to do it yourself-I couldn’t tell what-and I was interrupting him.
“Did you reach Folsom?”
“No. He’s not at the number I got. He’s out running things.”
Good commander, that Folsom.
“And he hasn’t called in either?”
“No, Mister St. Louis.”
Requiring no supervision, that Commander Folsom.
I went downstairs and checked around for Lippit, but he was still sweating himself in the steam room. So I left.
Perhaps it was the clear, pretty morning, but there seemed to be real peace on the West Side. Not that I had expected a war, but some war nerves, maybe. At least that. But Morry, in the bowling alley, was toting up last night’s receipts, and he was happy. Louie, who had a very clean looking patch on one side of his nose, was also happy, because he felt secure and protected. Then I went to a couple of bars, but bars always look peaceful in the forenoon. There were just the few who drink before ten in the morning, but they never talk and are silent types. There was peace. Dead, maybe, but peace.
I went to the bar on Liberty and Alder where Folsom had one of the goon squads waiting. I didn’t see them at first because the place was so dark. There was the long bar, with one morning drinker and the bartender was doing a crossword puzzle. And there was a gray cat. She sat on top of the jukebox and her eyes were closed. Suddenly she gave a screech like a woman and flew off the machine. Somebody laughed. They were sitting behind the jukebox, at a round table, playing cards. But without much interest. One of them was laughing.
The bartender came over with the cat on his arm. The cat was clawed into his shoulder as if she were afraid of the height.
“Listen,” said the bartender. “Who done that?”
The cat smelled a little bit of burnt fur and the bartender knew very well who had done that But he was short and thin and the one who was laughing was big and fat.
“Phew,” he said, “what a stinker,” and threw his cigarette on the floor.
It hit me on the shoe and I stepped back a little. Then I stepped on the cigarette and rubbed it out.
“They been bothering you?” I said to the bartender.
He knew me and didn’t know what to say. He knew that those punks and I worked for the same outfit, but he felt different about them and me.
“It’s just the cat here, Mister St. Louis. They keep bothering the cat.”
“We’re here to see nothing happens to jukeboxes,” said the big one, “and cats sitting on top of jukeboxes is not allowed. Right, fellers?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” they said, or something like that.
“She just sits there,” said the bartender. “The light from underneath keeps her warm and she likes that.”
“Not allowed,” said the big one.
“Put the cat back up there,” I told the bartender.
He did it and nobody said anything while this went on. There wasn’t any noise at all except for the slow scrape of the chair when the big one got up. He leaned one arm on the jukebox and looked at me.
“So you’re that feller with the name,” he said. “New Orleans, wasn’t it?”
I didn’t have to answer because he filled the space right after that crack with a long, phlegmy laugh. After a while it even sounded stupid to him and he let it die down. Then he talked as if he had never laughed before in his life.
“Folsom’s been telling me about you, New Orleans.”
“St Louis. And now I’m going to tell you about me.” I came just a little closer to make it more personal. “Folsom is running you and the rest of the apes, but the orders come from me. You sit down and hold still. You wait till you hear from Folsom before practicing your art and in the meantime no extracurricular activities. And leave that cat alone.”
He looked at me and then at his buddies and I think he didn’t answer anything right away because he wasn’t sure of all the words I had used.
Then he said, “You come all the way down here to tell me about that cat?”
He hit the ridiculous part of the conversation right on the head and I didn’t feel very impressive. Which was no trick anyway. I’m just built average but he wasn’t. I felt I should talk about something else.
“You don’t look,” I said to the men at the table, “as if you’ve been doing any work today.”
“I might any minute though,” said the big one at the jukebox.
“I’m asking because we haven’t heard from Folsom. There’s been nothing today?”
“Just the cat,” said somebody at the table.
“And you,” said the big one.
I was getting that feeling in my hands and along both shoulders, that fine little tickle and tension I always get before I just have to take a sharp swing. I would have enjoyed that Only it wouldn’t have been part of the business. Besides, I felt he was too big for me.
“I’m leaving,” I said. “So don’t worry.”
“I’m worried? I’m not leaving. I’m not worried.”
“When Folsom comes, ask him to call, will you?”
“St Louis,” said the big one. “Are you trying to change the subject?”
“Yes,” I said. “Frankly, yes.”
It was now a good time to leave because what I had said made him open his mouth in sheer wonderment I nodded and turned but then he thought of a way to revive his spirits.
“You gonna go like that and no instructions about this cat?”
I turned to look back and he was just pointing his finger at the cat The cat sat, hunched, and its eyes gleamed as it watched the finger.
I was wishing he wouldn’t think of anything else to do. I don’t really like cats and I didn’t feel then, or any other time, like Saint Francis or Sir Francis, or whatever his name was, who loved all those creatures-and why in hell couldn’t that cat sit someplace else, like on the roof.
“Now you leave her alone,” said the bartender. “Tell him, Mister St. Louis.”
“Nice gray cat,” said the big one, and all his brother apes were watching. “Nice and gray, this one. Not yellow at all.”
I don’t take that kind of thing up. It doesn’t make me feel self-conscious and besides, why should I be at the beck and call of every punk who gets his kicks that way. But this time I had to take it up somehow.
“Leave her alone,” I said, “before she eats you up.”
“To save you the trouble?” and he poked his finger at the cat.
This cat had been made very nervous by now. She whipped at the finger and dug in fast, so when the big one yanked back he did most of the work himself. He let out a terrible yowl and his finger had two smart, red lines in it, deep and straight, with a lot of blood.
The cat jumped off the jukebox, made way station on top of the guy’s head, catapulted across to the bar from there, and disappeared. It was very funny.
“Yes sir,” I said, “You got to watch those gray ones,” and on that note I was meaning to leave.
When the big one jumped me.
He tried to, at any rate. But if nothing else, I am fast, and-of no less importance-the bartender tripped him. The big one clattered all over the floor and while I stepped back some three pack members jumped up from the table.
I was badly worried, wishing quickly that I were the cat, until I got the picture. The other three piled all over the big one, yanked him up, bundled his arms, sweated and strained, and then when the big one relaxed a little the one on the right said, “You better get out, St. Louis. While the gettin’ is good.”
The big one looked choked and much more dangerous now than before.
“You don’t know Paul when he gets this way,” said the one on the right. “Walk, while the walking’s good.”
I walked. I knew it did not make a good impression but neither did anything else. The whole West Side set-up stunk and I had to find Folsom.
I never did. He had been and gone in a couple of places, checking, they told me, and making everyone nervous. Nothing else had been happening. I went back to the club to see how the headman would feel about this.
Upstairs, in the room, there was just the kid with his do-it-yourself book and the telephone next to him. There had been no calls and I was interrupting him. Lippit, he said, was getting a work-out.
I went downstairs and looked for Lippit. Why should he have to pay for his work-out when he could get it for free, just running his business this particular morning?
I got routing instructions at the desk and went on my way.
The first door said “Physical Culture.” There was a long guy ahead of me, with the big feet of the thin type and the loose sweatshirt to round out the bony structure. He went in before I got there and when I got there a transformed type came out. This one was tall, too, but he groaned with muscle. I felt that my jacket was much too loose.
“That was fast,” I said to him. “This is a miraculous place.”
He didn’t understand a word of what I said and just grunted. The next door said “Members Only.”
It had a pneumatic gadget on top which made the door very hard to open. The door jumped out of my hand and another muscle man came out. My jacket felt like a tent.
“How long have you been a member?” I asked.
“I just joined, sir.”
He didn’t understand a word of what I said, either.
The next door said “Shoes Off,” so I took my shoes off. I figured, what the hell, it might have said “Heads Off.”
An athlete walked by, springy as a cat, and he looked me up and down.
“What’s the matter,” he said. “You ashamed of your toes?”
“I certainly am not ashamed of my toes, and why…”
“Take your socks off. Around here, we all take our socks off.”
I took my socks off and wondered how many more doors there would be and what I would do with an armful of clothes once I went through the last one.
Then it said “Massage.”
I figured, what the hell, I’ll first try it with clothes on. There was a bald Finn with large, hairless arms, and now he looked me up and down.
“What are you trying to do, sir,” he said. “Are you trying to give somebody athlete’s foot?”
I explained I was trying to find Mister Lippit, nothing else.
“Around here you will please wear clomps,” he said. “We all do.”
He gave me a pair of clomps which was a wooden shoe-type effect which went “clomp” when you tried to walk.
I figured, what the hell, this one at least didn’t ask me to take off anything.
“And Mister Lippit,” he said, “is in the swimming pool.”
So, the next door said “Swimming Pool.”
I walked in and an Australian with glistening skin and a whistle around his neck came over and looked me up and down.
“What are you trying to do, crush somebody’s toes?” he said.
“I’m looking for Mister Lippit. All I…”
“Please take off those watchamercallems.”
I now carried two socks, four shoes, and felt unsteady on the wet tiles. There had been entirely too much talk about feet I was getting self-conscious, as if I were bare-toed in a bowling alley.
“Mister Lippit,” said the lifeguard, “is working out in Lane Five.”
My toes curled temporarily and then I went to the other side of the pool. Lippit was swimming along the edge.
He had a breast stroke which kept his head above water and which pushed him along at a go-stop-go clip. I waited for him at the end of the pool. He saw me stand there and touched the rim.
“Hi. Okay?” Swish.
He made a very smart turn, a big wave, and I saw the back of his head taking off in the other direction.
It was now a matter of walking along the side of the pool, timing the conversation to his go-stop-go cycle, and to keep holding on to all the socks and shoes I was carrying. My fingers felt twisted.
“Walter. You can hear me?”
“Yes. It went okay. Equipment is all shot to hell.”
“My turn is what I meant. Was okay?”
“Very smart. Walter?”
“I can hear you. Don’t yell.”
“You haven’t heard from Folsom.”
“I know that.”
“What I mean is, why haven’t you heard from Folsom?”
“He hasn’t called.”
It was time for the turn which was just as well because I felt like starting the conversation over. The first one hadn’t been any good.
There were two swimmers standing at the edge of the pool and they were watching. They weren’t watching Lippit and his smart turn, but me.
“You’re going to crush one of those toes any minute,” said one of them. “You got a clomp slipping.”
At this point I had more slipping than a clomp. I nodded at them, rearranged my fingers, and went after Lippit again.
“I can hear you. Wasn’t so good, was it?”
“Very smart. Listen, Walter. I don’t like what goes on the West Side.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen Folsom. Just some of his friends.”
“I haven’t seen him either. I just told you.”
Somebody walking by knocked into me at that point, so Lippit thought all the cursing was about that. He tried to look up at me but it was the wrong angle. He kept swimming as before.
“Jack?” he said.
“I hear you.”
“You got crazy looking toes, did you know that?”
“No. I didn’t. I really didn’t, Walter.”
“What I mean is, from this angle. They’re probably all right, any other angle.”
“I mean, don’t get me wrong.”
“God forbid. When are you coming out, Walter?”
“Two more laps. Watch this turn, will you please?” and he touched, swiveled, ducked under, pushed off.
“Very smart. Listen. I want you to come out and talk this thing over. I don’t like what goes on.”
“You said nothing is going on. What’s the matter with you today, Jack?”
“I don’t like those men Folsom’s got working for him.”
“I’m getting all out of breath talking to you, Jack.”
“I’m sorry. How about coming out now, Walter.”
“Can’t do that.”
“Listen. You’re just as winded now as you expect to be after all those licks…”
“All right All right!”
Then came the turn again. The two swimmers were still standing at that end of the pool and they were watching me. One of them held a sock.
“You’re pacing him too fast,” said one of them. “That’s not good for him, his age.”
“You dropped this,” said the other one. He draped the sock over one of my fingers somewhere and then it was Lippit’s turn again.
“What those guys say, something about my turns?”
“They think you should stop swimming. They think you’re pacing me too fast.”
“Very smart. But I can’t laugh now. I’ll swallow water.”
I quickly tried to think of a joke, a real killer of a joke, but nothing came to me. And my fingers felt as if they had been doing all the walking.
“You swim, Jack?”
“Some. Mostly summers.”
“That’s not enough, Jack. You need exercise.”
“I get that. I really do, Walter.”
There was more health talk from him and then no talk at all, this being the last lap. He had to concentrate and I tried not to concentrate on anything at all, hoping for sheer blankness to relax me. This time there was no smart turn at the end of the lap, but a wild thrashing for ultimate speed and then a great slap of the hands on the tiles. Lippit stood up in the water and breathed like a pump going. The two swimmers were still standing there.
“You made it,” said one of them.
“Made it? What in hell do you mean, made it?” said Lippit.
“We mean him there,” said one of the swimmers and he nodded at me. “We had this bet on he’d let go the clomp.”
But Lippit was still offended. He climbed out of the pool and huffed and puffed a few times. Then he and I walked to the door.
“Who’s he think he’s kidding with that accent,” said Lippit. “Like he was some kind of a lord or something?” He snorted water. “What were you clamping, anyway?”
“I was clamping clomps.”
Lippit just gave me a look and then one of the swimmers caught up with us. He was holding a sock. I said, “Thank you,” and, “just hang it on the same place,” and then we went into the locker room. While Lippit took a shower I sat on a bench and unbent my fingers. When he came back and got dressed I was well enough to dry my feet.
“Your toes look all right now,” he said.
“Yes. I was going to ask you about that.”
“But what’s the matter with your fingers?”
I said, “Walter. I wouldn’t worry about that. It’s probably just the angle, you know? I mean it isn’t like having the wrong toes or too many feet or something like that, right?”
“Christ. You are huffy today.”
“I just don’t want any more talk about it. Like I’m a freak.”
I bent down for my things and it now turned out I had two shoes, one clomp, and three socks.
Lippit saw this but said nothing. He turned away and coughed into his towel the way anyone might who’d been swimming more than was good for his age.
We sat in that room over the swimming pool and sent the kid out to bring us some lunch. There had been one call from Folsom. He had called to say he was checking around and that he had everything under control. And there had been no action. Lippit and I sat at the table and I smoked a cigarette. He was tapping his pencil.
“By the clock,” he said, “there should have been something by now.”
“It’s maybe because Folsom scared everyone off. Or because you ripped Benotti’s phone out of his wall.”
Lippit didn’t appreciate that humor and just gave me a look.
“Did you check Chicago?” I said.
“Yes. I checked Chicago. They want my racket and sent Benotti.”
“You still think he’s an idiot?”
“No. He’s not an idiot, but this is not Chicago. I got the organization here and the bums I’m using for strong arm have union zeal. Benotti’s bums are just bums off the street.”
“That’s not likely.”
“He brought along four or five, to draw less attention, and the rest he picked out of the local gutter. That can’t match us, you know, Benotti or no Benotti.”
“And he’s who?”
“Out of retirement, so they’d have somebody down here I wouldn’t know. As if I knew gangsters or something,” he said.
“It sounds lame, Walter, to think they sent him down so you wouldn’t recognize him. Who was he?”
“I never knew him,” said Lippit. “And he was in slot machines someplace, a place I don’t even know.”
“You know how he set that up, before he retired?”
“I should give a damn,” he said.
“Maybe we should give a damn. Maybe he came down here while you didn’t know him and then when we got on to him, like now, it’s already too late. He’s already made his set-up and doesn’t care any more.”
“Like what? Pushing my drivers around?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. And I do think that just muscle isn’t enough whether you use it or he. And that maybe Benotti is no idiot and has more plans than that.”
The kid came back with a tray of coffee, ham on rye, and pickles to go with it. Lippit started eating and never took up what I had been saying. After years of a free ride with this business, maybe he was too confident and worse than retired. When we talked again he was only interested in what went on today.
“How did yours go this morning. Smooth?”
“Yes,” I said. “Very.”
“Anybody get hurt?”
“One of theirs, two of ours, but just minor.”
“And the rest?”
“What do you mean the rest? Like are they dead?”
“You didn’t have much sleep last night, I bet. How much sleep did you have, Jack?”
I ate and he ate and then he said, “Of course they told Benotti afterwards, about what had happened, and that explains it.”
“Wouldn’t you think Benotti would hit right back when he heard about his stuff getting all busted?”
“Anyway, he didn’t,” said Lippit. “So much the better.”
I drank coffee and had another cigarette.
“Did you hear anything I said at the pool?”
“I think you said ‘very smart’ most of the time.”
“And I mentioned about Folsom’s crew, you remember?”
“You don’t like Folsom, do you.”
“He’s got a bunch of gorillas sitting around there, pining to do damage, and nothing’s happening. I’m worried about them, not Benotti.”
“I don’t like Folsom either,” said Lippit, “but this type of job is fine for him.”
“I don’t care if it’s fine for him. What I’m worried about, is he doing it right.”
“That’s what I meant. Now stop fidgeting.”
Then he said what I needed was some sleep and I should go home and get some and not get on his nerves. He’d stay at the phone in the meantime because he had some other work to do anyway, and he got his briefcase off the floor and took stuff out. Papers, folders, that kind of thing. I sat a while longer, smoking, and when he started to make business calls I suggested, just reasonably suggested, he should stay off that phone and give the incoming calls a chance at a time like this. Then he blew his stack. Lippit does that without transition. I was too jumpy to listen, so I went home.
I undressed, went to sleep immediately, woke up immediately. The phone.
“This is Davy, Mister St Louis.”
“Mister Lippit said for me to tell you he’s down at the place on Liberty and Alder, straightening out some trouble, and you should come, too.”
“Beatings. That kind of thing.”
“Nobody showed, which is why the fight, Mister Lippit said.”
I said okay and hung up. I had told this to Lippit, how the natives were restless, but horsing around in the swimming pool had been more important, so now Sahib Lippit had to look into the unrest himself. I got dressed fast to see how he was doing.
It looked much the same in the bar at Alder and Liberty. The cat was on the jukebox. Actually, that’s as far as it went with the similarity.
None of the apes was trying to play cards. They were standing around. There wasn’t even one drinker at the bar and all the barstools were turned over. A lot of the bottles in back of the bar had rolled over and broken their little necks. The bartender had a mouse under one eye but nobody paid any attention to him.
The big one stood at the jukebox, like before, and Lippit stood in the same place where I had been standing for the earlier argument. This argument though, was different. “Yes, sir,” said the big one to Lippit.
“And I don’t give one damn,” Lippit was yelling, “what you think is a good reason to blow your stack.”
“Yessir, Mister Lippit. Only this one here,” and he looked at the bartender, “says not to hang around any more and to get out. And that’s not what Folsom explained to us.”
“He explain to you what you got hired for? And don’t yessir me again.”
“He did, sir.”
“You’re to beat up the opposition, not the customers!”
“Folsom was here and I explained to him how things were going. About this one here saying we should get out.”
“So he said to break up the joint?”
“He said, keep him in line. Didn’t he say keep him in line?” and the big one looked at his pack mates.
They all said, yessir, he said keep him in line.
“You mean to tell me, you son of a bitch,” Lippit was yelling, “you just did your duty?”
“You had too goddamn much fun to be doing your duty!”
“I don’t like you to be calling me no son of a bitch, Mister Lippit,” said the big one.
He wasn’t using the same tone of voice he had been using with me. So it wasn’t that. But Lippit has a completely different boiling point than mine, and even an alien chemistry in the brain. Everything he did made sure sense to him, and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it.
“When I’m done,” he roared, “I want everybody to get out of here quiet as a mouse!”
“And I want you mice to take that mouse here with you, when I’m done!”
He then proceeded to get done.
The ape was bigger but Lippit was better. He swung at the other one’s head but didn’t bother to connect. He did make a connection with the solar plexus. The ape said, “Whoof.”
But the whoof seemed to be the only damage because the big one hauled out immediately and got into a crouch. Maybe he had been a boxer some time ago. He took that kind of stance. Except his swing spoiled it. The swing opened him up again and Lippit didn’t seem to care whether or not he got hit. He walked in there and flicked at an eye. This put him too close for any real damage.
The swing curled up around the back of his head, and the only problem for Lippit was to get his distance again.
This was a problem because the ape held on.
Hit the ribs? Muscle. Hit the kidneys? Muscle. Hit the head? Break your knuckles.
Lippit solved this by ducking his head. He ducked it right into the big one’s nose. But before the other one thought of letting go, Lippit had to do this thing several times. It went wham, wham, wham, and then squish.
The big one let go just enough for another type grip-maybe he had also been a groaner at some time-but that was enough for Lippit. Lippit liked distance for his style. He got his distance by slamming his hands on the ears of the other one. Open hands. They make a tremendous racket inside the head, and if it does not break the eardrum, it at least feels like it.
To the ape it suddenly felt as if there was a great space inside his head after all, hollow maybe, but a space with room for the racket to roll around.
While this went on inside, Lippit commenced work on the outside.
He kept worrying the other one’s eye. He himself caught a rocker high on the arm-I thought for a while he’d go lame there for the rest of the fight-and he caught a very solid jolt square in the chest. This winded him.
But he didn’t need much wind for the jabs he was placing. I had seen Lippit fight once before, but he didn’t place a thing on that occasion, only plowed each time. That was how he preferred it. This time he didn’t plow, he just jabbed. The ape’s eye closed and his nose bled and the way he didn’t worry about his guard any more, his face must have been getting anesthetized. He still had plenty of wind but he couldn’t see so well. He hit the top of Lippit’s head, the side of his shoulder and his forearm a few times. He threw several roundhouses, but they just whistled.
There were three of those. Each time Lippit let it go by, and answered with one of his jabs. The way he kept worrying the big one, he interfered with his breathing. Each time the ape tried to take a big breath, Lippit jabbed him.
This happened three times. At the end of the third time the big one was rasping for breath, blind with blood and his strangled rage, and careless.
He stumbled back and Lippit finished him. He just plowed into his head, then close under the other’s basket, on the head again, and then on the tip of the chin.
The last made a crash when it connected; it made a crash when the ape fell.
He was a great mess and spread out on the floor.
“All right,” said Lippit He was plenty winded but still plenty loud. “Like I said. You mice, you take this mouse, and you scoot outa here, willynilly.”
They did and Lippit leaned on the bar. He was breathing hard.
“It was that last lap in the pool,” I said to him.
“Shut up, will you?” he spat on the floor. “Gimme a drink,” he said to the bartender.
“Don’t you start that now!”
Then he flipped down that drink and right away had another.
“Lousy mess,” he said. “And it wasn’t even Benotti.”
“Yessir,” I said.
Lippit almost choked but then he just spat on the floor again.
“Got to keep order,” he said. “Can’t have some animal taking over.”
Then he had a big glass of water.
“I better find Folsom,” I said.
Lippit slammed down the glass, wiped his mouth, hitched his pants around.
“You take the section north of Liberty, and I’ll look south.”
“What’ll I do with him, if I find him?”
“Tell him I want to see him. Tell him what just happened here to his zoo. And if he’s got any back talk in mind, just use your own judgment.”
“May I use your example?”
“Don’t overreach yourself, Jack.”
“I’ll take it easy. What with the walking I did, back and forth alongside that pool…”
“Don’t drop any third socks,” he said. I left.
While I was looking for Folsom I found something else. Two bars were closed and three ice cream places. The machines make a lot of coin in the ice cream places. They were all closed because of the rumble in the neighborhood. Lippit would be wild about this piece of information. Or maybe he knew about it already. South of Liberty isn’t much different from north of Liberty.
I’m a conservative driver. That is, I like to drive fast but I rarely do where there’s law around. So it was a shock when I got stopped by a cruiser which rolled up next to me after a perfectly legal turn. Pull over, stop, look out of the window, surprised and eager. That’s the formula. Next, weary cop, hitching pants, pulling pencil, face cool and legal.
I did my part but the cop didn’t do his. First of all, he wasn’t a patrolman. He was a captain. Secondly, he didn’t hitch pants, look weary, act legal, or any of that He looked annoyed.
“You’re St. Louis, aren’t you?”
I nodded and got out my driver’s license.
“Never mind that. Mazullo here says you’re St. Louis.”
He nodded at the patrolman who sat in the car.
“I know him from around the neighborhood,” I said.
“He says you should know.”
“Know what, Captain?”
“What goes on! What goes on here, for chrissakes?”
I looked around, as if confused, which was the wrong thing to do. He wanted to know what the rumble was and I wasn’t being intelligent about it.
“What’s this jukebox crap around here, St. Louis? And don’t act more stupid than you are.”
“The reason I’m here,” I said, “is to find out. Really.”
He thought that was reasonable. He pecked away a little while longer with this question and that-he knew Benotti’s name, Lippit’s, a little about the competition-and then he became reasonable, too.
“This is nothing official, just a straight piece of cooperation. Either you or that Lippit,” he said, “come down to the station. Come down today, anytime before five, and we’ll talk like normal people. Main station.”
I said, “Yes, Captain,” and let him drive away first.
Lippit was going to be wild about this one. Now the cops were interested, before anything had even happened. Once the pay-off play came, they would be watching from the grandstand. The Lippit Plan, the One-Two Plan, was going one-two all the time, but with a sound like a limp.
I found Folsom about ten minutes later. At first, making the rounds, I found nothing. Then I found a small crowd in front of a candy store. We had a jukebox in there because in back of the candy store were a few chairs and tables where the kids would sit and have pop or sodas.
I walked into the candy store, which was long and narrow so that I did not get the whole scene all at once. It turned out very ugly. I saw the cop first, with his back turned to me, and angry He was the same captain who had stopped me a short while ago. Then there was Folsom with his scary leather jacket and with a look on his face as if he knew only innocence. His three goons stood behind him. Behind the candy counter was the young man who owned the store, and he was holding a baby on his arm. He had one hand on the baby’s back and gave it a small stroke every so often. He kept his face blank as he looked at the captain.
“And if it weren’t for that baby there,” the captain was shouting, “I’d haul you in right this second and explain later!”
“Yessir,” said the young man.
He stroked the baby’s back and I could see that he wished the captain would go. But the captain was not through being angry. He may well have been angry with himself for shouting like this, angry about cruising the neighborhood and learning nothing, because his loudness now was that much out of proportion.
“When you call us in for help, we expect to come in for help, not a runaround!”
“Yessir,” said the proprietor.
“You don’t call the police and, when they show up, you grin like an idiot and tell them it was all a mistake!”
“But it was,” said Folsom. “Just the way we explained it. We come in to buy candy, the guy doesn’t show…”
“I was diapering,” said the young man with the baby.
“… so Gus goes behind the counter to pick out what we want. You know. Just pick it out and leave the change.”
“That’s right,” said the young man with the baby. “And when I came into the store and saw that man there, this side of the counter, I saw that and just lost my head. Really. I’m sorry.”
The captain just breathed, because every time he wanted to say something he changed his mind and swallowed it. Everybody looked so innocent and everything felt so wrong.
“You just have to say the word,” he said quietly, “and I haul them in.”
“No, sir,” said the young man. “I’m sorry.”
The captain turned and saw me. He stopped, looked surprised, and then mean.
“You come in here for some candy, too?”
“That’s one of your machines, isn’t it?”
“It might be. I’d have to look it up on the roster. I don’t…”
“And you don’t happen to know those three animals there and their keeper.”
He nodded and bit his lip. He was feeling like hell in his uniform. Right that moment, I was sure, he would have liked to have been just a plain, irresponsible civilian.
“Did I say five o’clock, St. Louis?”
“That you did, Captain.”
“Make that three o’clock, St Louis. And at one minute past I write out a warrant, get me?”
“I’ll be there.”
He left. When he left, the knot of kids in front of the store left too.
It was quiet in the store, but not peaceful. The three men with Folsom didn’t say anything. They were waiting to be told. Folsom hitched his jacket around, as if it was too tight in the shoulders. He wasn’t quite sure about what I might be thinking. The young man with the baby thought I was a bastard. And the baby looked at me.
I myself was in very keen shape. No sleep, no Benotti, our own apes out of hand. Not to mention the cops. I looked at all the pretty candy and wondered how I could ever have liked the stuff.
“Haha,” went Folsom.
It was strictly a stage laugh, but it fit. We were all lying.
“Saved yourself a lot of grief there,” he said to the young man.
The young man looked at me and it showed how disgusted he was.
“And now to what we were talking about,” said Folsom.
“What was it?” I asked the young man.
He started rocking the baby up and down and wouldn’t answer.
“He,” said Folsom, “is one of the creeps around here what’s worried about us and Benotti. So I was trying to clarify him. Explain, is what I mean, whom to worry about.”
“You mean you.”
“I want out,” said the young man. “I don’t need that jukebox so much I’m going to get caught in the middle of something, something between one greedy gang and another.”
For a moment he had gotten his spunk back, but then, with all of us standing there, he stopped himself and got sullen again.
“I didn’t used to think that way, about you, Mister St. Louis. You know that.”
Old Home Week, and how we used to feel about each other. I felt edgy and nervous and wished the baby would look someplace else. Folsom laughed his laugh again. Then he stopped and said, “You gonna take that, St. Louis?”
As far as Folsom was concerned, this cleared the air. He grinned at me, he grinned at his men. Then he leaned his arms on the counter and watched the one he had called Gus walk behind the counter. Gus went there quite slowly, punched a button on the cash register. The drawer jumped open and Gus took out a quarter. He went back around and put the quarter into the jukebox. He punched three songs.
“Now,” said Folsom. “I’m going to ask you once more, feller.”
“Wait just a minute.” I nodded at Folsom and waited till he came up close. I put my hand on his shoulder and got my head close to his, so that we talked secrets the way they do at the football game.
“The cop,” I said. “He the first one you ran into?”
He liked the whispering. It made him feel like we were two heads of state.
“He’s the second one I’ve seen. They were cruising near Baker Avenue too.”
“Bastards.” He said it as if he were thinking about it.
“What do you think we should do?” I asked him.
“Do?” Then he caught himself. After all, this was the role like in a big dream. “We stay right where we are!”
“Or else jerks like this one,” and he looked toward the counter, “are gonna lose all respect. What I’ve been doing all morning, as long as nothing showed from Benotti, what I’ve been doing is going around, place to place…”
“And made them show respect.”
“Fine, Folsom. But I wouldn’t want the cops interfering with that.”
“You’re damn right we don’t want…”
“Only thing is, with all these goons of yours all over the neighborhood, they’re going to keep hanging around. Like that captain.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah.”
“And for the job you’re doing, Folsom, like the thing here, for that you don’t need the cops hanging around and you certainly don’t need an army of goons. Just you walking in like this, that’s all what’s needed. That’s what I think.”
“You put some respect into these jerks, Folsom, not because you got the goons, but because it’s you walking in, right?”
He took a slow breath, turned his head slowly to look at the young man with the baby. Then Folsom let out his breath, slowly again, as if he were spreading a large cloud of disdain. He turned back to me and mumbled close to my ear.
“I guess you’re right. Damn right.”
“So what do you think we should do?”
“About the cops getting baited in here, and maybe queering your work.”
“Yeah. Send ‘em home. Send all those idle goons home, is what I say.”
I clapped him on the shoulder and nodded. It was a nod of respect and a nod which conveyed acceptance of wisdom.
“I’ll phone,” he said.
“No. You’ve got to send a man. Much more important that way. Much more the right style.”
“Gus!” he said and turned around. “Put that candy back in there.”
Gus put the candy back into the jar. He put it into the wrong jar, mixing the red ones with the yellow ones.
“Come here,” said Folsom.
Gus came over and I said, “May I tell him?”
“Go ahead,” said Folsom.
“Gus,” I said, “go over to Morry’s place where the guys are waiting and tell them to blow.”
“Today’s deal is off. Folsom here is going to handle it differently.”
“He is?” said Gus.
“You heard him,” said Folsom.
“You mean we go home?”
“Get the hell out of here and tell the rest the same thing.”
Gus left, which was one down, two to go.
“Call that one,” I said.
The next one we sent to a place two blocks away. Two down, one to go.
“Go to that bar on Liberty and Alder,” said Folsom but I interrupted him.
“That won’t be necessary. They’re gone already.”
“Gone already? I didn’t give no orders for them guys to…”
“I was there,” I explained. “And the big one who was there-you know whom I mean?”
“I know that son of a bitch.”
“He got bored sitting around and he and his buddies went home. I was there when it happened.”
“Why in hell didn’t you stop them?” Folsom wanted to know.
“They were your men, Folsom.”
“Not any more they ain’t! They’re fired!”
I nodded, to show how I bowed to his verdict.
“You run down to the union hall,” Folsom yelled at his last lieutenant, “and if any of those creeps should show up there, you tell them what I said.”
“What,” said the man. “You said what?”
“They’re through! The whole pack of ‘em!”
He left, which was three down and none to go, when it came to the goons, but one to go when it came to trouble.
The jukebox played the last of the quarter, a little tune of goop and sentiment.
I walked up to the counter and Folsom did, too. He felt fine. He still had an audience.
“I think what I’ll do,” he said, “I’ll make this sucker here sign up for two machines.”
The young man looked from Folsom to me and then back again. Then he looked away. There was sweat on his forehead. I could see that he wished he did not have the baby right then. He stroked the baby’s back and didn’t say anything.
“Before Folsom here,” I said to the young man, “comes up with more, I want you to know, Herbie, that he’s strictly on his own.”
“That’s right,” said Folsom. “I’m handling this.”
“And if you want me to hold that baby a minute,” I said to the young man, “that would be fine, too.”
“Hold the baby?” said Herb.
“You mean you want him to sign something right away?” said Folsom.
“If he wants.”
Herbie had stopped patting the baby and his mouth was a little bit open.
“Like, maybe he doesn’t like your nose,” I said to Folsom, “and that would be a fine place for a signature. Or the rear end, something in big block letters printed there, maybe he’d like to leave his print there. Huh, Herbie?”
Herbie got it by now. He was grinning and rocking the baby again. Folsom, however, did not want to believe what he heard.
“Just a minute, just a minute,” he said.
“No,” Herbie told him. “Get out. And now.”
“Who’s running this!” Folsom yelled.
I said, “Not you, Folsom.”
“You realize what you’re doing?” he said with a last snatch at the powerful dream he’d been having. “You’re not backing me up!”
“Turn around and I will, Folsom.”
He stepped back and looked mean as hell in his leather jacket.
“You been wanting to do this a while now, haven’t you, St. Louis?”
“You can’t stand me, can you?”
“Not since I first laid eyes on you, Folsom.”
“It was fate.”
“I’m getting too big for you, huh?”
“No. I dislike you for no reason at all.”
Which was almost true. I like my dislikes and I don’t fool with them by asking where they might have come from.
“You know what I’m going to do?” said Folsom. “I’m going to let you just talk, St. Louis. Just talk, because that’s all it is.”
“I’m going to walk out of here and keep handling this my way.”
“I’m going to take that leather jacket away from you, Folsom, and then nobody’s going to recognize you.”
“You’re asking for trouble!”
“You sent them away, don’t you remember? The whole zoo.”
He remembered. He worked his face and then he meant to walk out.
“I’m seeing Lippit,” he said.
“That’s what happened to the big one,” I said, “the one you just fired. He talked to Lippit Ask him about it.”
“City dog pound,” I said. “Try there. They’re using what’s left for the evening feeding.”
Folsom made for the door as if he meant to pay that visit.
“Just a minute.”
I walked after him and he stopped. He was boiling and not really worried about me, because all I did was talk. And I had my hands in my pockets. The juke box sighed the end of that thing it had been playing. It clicked a little and racked the record away.
“Folsom,” I said, “you didn’t pay for the background music.”
“Four bits, Folsom. In the kitty.”
For no answer, after maybe a second, he started to turn for the door. Then he jerked and stopped. I had my heel on his foot.
“Four bits, Folsom.”
I’m sure he wanted to hit me. At least he was thinking about it. I didn’t move my heel but hefted some weight on top of it and what that does to the nervous system is like an electric blue charge going all up and down.
“And all this suffering for a quarter,” I said to him. I also took my hands out of my pockets.
He took out a quarter. I took my heel off his foot and let him put the coin on the counter.
When he limped out he didn’t say a word. End of the Folsom service. But if there is anything that makes me uneasy, it’s a coward who doesn’t talk.
I swarmed after that, all over the neighborhood, trying to spread trust and cheer. Folsom was gone, Benotti didn’t show, and the fever, so to speak, was going out of the thing. I ran into Lippit after a while who was in a high fine humor, and even the cop appointment for the afternoon didn’t worry him. He was, after all, running a legitimate business, and if the police wished to keep an eye on the neighborhood, that was so much for the better. Benotti would be the troublemaker, not he, and as for the Folsom menace, good riddance.
“I am happy,” he said, “about everything.”
“And that little eight o’clock raid in the morning,” he said, “masterful.”
I had mixed feelings about that in particular and felt that the whole thing had been much too frantic to be called masterful.
“Like a well-planted leak,” said Lippit. “Made Benotti pull back all over.”
“I would like to go home and get some sleep, Walter.”
“Calls for a party,” he said. “Last one was a dud anyway.”
Then he said I looked like hell and why didn’t I go home and get some sleep.
“You’ll see the captain in the afternoon?”
“I’ll speak to the captain,” he said.
“You’ll keep an eye out for Folsom, next twenty-four hours?”
“Don’t worry. It’s my union.”
“You’ll keep checking Benotti doesn’t wake up all of a sudden?”
“Christ, you’re nervous,” and he told me to beat it “But show at ten this evening,” he said. “Little party.”
“I’m not wearing a tux again.”
“Beat it,” and I did.
What kept me from feeling as untroubled as Lippit was the fact that I knew more than Lippit.
Or course there had been a leak. Except there had been a leak before the little eight-in-the-morning affair.
I drove a ways toward home, then stopped at a drug store. I phoned Blue Beat Recording and asked for Conrad. He took a while and I wondered why I hadn’t called from home, from my bed. At least I could have been lying down.
“Blue Beat Recording,” he said.
“I know. This is Jack.”
“You got the mixer, Conrad?”
“Yes. This morning. But who were those guys. Jeeze, what guys!”
“Reason I’m calling, Conrad, to let you know there wasn’t a soul at that Benotti place this morning. Not a soul, you understand.”
“I thought you would. What all did you tell Frank, when you called him?”
“I just tried to tell him to get our mixer out of there, but you know how it is, he wanted to know why, and how come this call at four in the morning and…”
“You mean he wasn’t a, l, o, n, e, either?”
“What was that?”
“Never mind. What did you tell him?”
“Well, you know. Just a hint, and that I couldn’t tell him more.”
“Must have been a fat hint. Obese, even.”
“Anyway, we got the machine. What else is there?”
“Nothing, I hope. Like, for instance, in that hintful conversation you had, you didn’t just happen to drop my name, did you?”
“Of course not, Jack. You sound tired, Jack, you know that?”
“Yes. I know that. I just called to be sure I can sleep well.”
I said good-bye and was about to hang up when he said to hold on a minute, one more thing.
“Speaking of names, there was somebody wanted to know your name.”
“What’s this, what’s this?”
“You sound tired, Jack. All I…”
“I know I’m tired but I don’t know what you’re talking about. What was all this?”
“I said: Speaking of names-like when you asked me did I tell him your name-”
“The point, Conrad. Please.”
“Somebody called up to ask what your name was. This girl.”
“ What girl?”
“There’s this girl works at Hough and Daly, this little one-I mean not so little, if you know what I mean, but short-anyway, you know whom I mean?”
“Yes, Conrad, I know whom you mean. This girl works at Hough and Daly, this little one. What else?”
“She said, what about this guy who came in the morning to pick up that mixer, this guy-and she kind of described you-very friendly description…”
“I want to go to bed, Conrad.”
“And she says this guy says he’s an agent and talent promoter and if it was true.”
“And then you said, Conrad? What did you say, Conrad?”
‘“No,’ I said. ‘No.’”
“That’s all there was to the conversation?”
“Then she said, ‘Well, of all the-.’Just like that. Well, of all the, and then she hung up.”
I exhaled a long malediction and then hung up, too. Now she figured I had been lying. Now she might wonder who I was. She might wonder enough to ask Franky, maybe, the guy who had worked on the mixer, or just enough to talk about it in general: the queer thing that had happened to her in the morning when this guy came over and pretended he was somebody else, and how come at the same time the Benotti shop got messed up while this no-good pretender took her out for coffee.
By far the neatest thing would be if she thought that I was a talent promoter. I would have liked that best. I know she would have.
The Hough and Daly ramp was busy this time of the afternoon. I pulled my car up to the platform, got an argument from a foreman, said something to him which I don’t remember, because the foremost thing in my mind was get in and get out and get a few hours’ sleep.
I looked through the window into the office and she was there doing work on an adding machine. She had a piece of a doughnut in her mouth and a coffee cup in one hand. With the other one she was working the machine. Very busy. She never looked up. There was a fan over her desk which made her short hair jump and flutter and which flattened her blouse up against her front. But flat isn’t really the word.
She looked up, saw me, and bit into her doughnut. Then she got up and came to the window.
“Well, of all the!” she said.
I said, “Hello, honey,” and smiled a warm, tired smile, only half of which was a fake.
“Don’t you honey me, you-you promoter.”
“But I don’t know your name. I came back because I didn’t have a chance to ask you this morning.”
“A lot of strange things going on here this morning,” she said.
“And when you called the office you didn’t leave your name, either.”
That, of course, gave her pause. She said, “Now I don’t know how much fake you are and how much promoter. If there is a difference.”
“There’s this fool working at the office, at the recording place, and when you called up…”
“I’m just wondering who’s the fool around here.”
“Not you, honey.”
“Not you, Doris.”
“Then why am I talking to you?”
“To get the true slant on everything, Doris.”
“And you have that.”
“As I will show you.”
“And what’s in it for you, promoter?”
“Your talent. And call me Jack.”
“I knew it would be. Or John. Something like that.”
“So I’d like to look into this, Doris. For instance, this evening.”
“Just to talk about talent.”
“You mean singing.”
“That’s right. Everything like that.”
“No. Not everything.”
“All right You want to limit yourself, all right.”
“My god. You’re compliant.”
“Do you often get tired like this, Jack?”
“Just afternoons. Then, comes evening time, and I’m a new man, mostly.”
“All right,” she said. “We’ll see. We’ll see what we’ll talk about.”
I said, “All right, we’ll see what we’ll talk about.” And for a fact I couldn’t think of something more definite. I was that tired.
I met her at nine that evening in a downtown bar and how tired I must have been to have left the topic so all up in the air. She had a dress on which did nothing to interfere with the girl underneath, and the girl underneath knew all this very well. When she saw me she smiled and the message was, maybe we’ll share the knowledge. I got up on the stool next to her and she said, “Hi, promoter.”
Her tone was an arm’s length tone of voice. Business was on.
I gave her hand a squeeze, sniffed at the glass she was holding. That was all business, too. Scotch and ice.
“Let’s sit in a booth,” I said.
“You can let go of my hand. No.”
“Scotch and ice,” I told the bartender.
She swiveled around a little, so we would face each other, and we composed smiles for each to see. What they looked like, I think, was friendly joy. What it covered in her case I wasn’t sure. I think it meant, caution, speed traps.
“You have the first requisite,” I told her. “The first requisite for a performer. You arouse interest, Doris.”
“You too, Jack.”
“Why, how nice. You want to sit in a booth?”
“No. For instance, what was going on this morning, at the Benotti place?”
“Benotti place? Oh, that. Haha. Nothing.”
She went haha too and nibbled at her drink. She finished and said, “What kind of a promoter are you, Jack?”
“I can demonstrate that better than I can explain it. For example, here you are, untrained talent. Now, what I do with a singer like that-Are you listening, girl?”
She was looking into her glass, the length of the bar, anything but listening to me.
“You said you can show me better than you can explain, and then you started to show me how you promote.”
I finished my drink and said, “Doris, don’t you want to be a singer?”
Now this, I felt, would bring her around to the subject This should keep her on anxious thoughts about her career and the standard reply should be, ‘Why, I’d do anything to get up there-’”
“I’d hate to get promoted into the wrong thing,” she said. “I can’t just entrust myself, my career is what I mean, to somebody I don’t know.”
“They told me at Blue Beat,” I said, “that you called.”
For just a moment that gave her pause. The fact that I knew about her call to Conrad gave me some kind of legitimacy. But then she passed right over that.
“Did you know somebody broke all those electrical things at Benotti’s while you took me out to coffee?”
I could see that it might take more than a drink or two before she was willing to change the subject. It might take all evening, which would he a shame.
“Dear Doris,” I said. “I am here to investigate you. I think you have potential. I think…”
“I know you think I have potential, Jack.”
“Yes. And all these little side issues you keep bringing up…”
“Like, who are you?”
I finished the rest of my drink and said, “May all my affairs go better than this one. All my business affairs.”
She didn’t drink to that but folded her arms on the bar and watched me try to get her off the Benotti tack.
“All right,” I said. “This morning. I was there to help out the recording place, to get their machine off that ramp.”
“You promoted that all right.”
“The rest, I wasn’t there.”
“And how did you know enough to worry about that mixer?”
“Rumor. Rumble. You know? You hear things. Besides, everybody knows Benotti is a gangster.”
I ordered another drink.
“I know nothing about any of that.”
“Then why are we talking here?” she asked me, and all that female suspicion was smiling at me.
My drink came and I picked it up.
“May all my affairs go better than this one.”
“You left out the part about business.”
“I wish I could.”
“But don’t worry about it,” she said. “I’ll keep reminding you.”
“I’m beginning to dread the rest of the evening,” I told her. “Don’t you?”
“I’m having a nice time,” she said. “You’re such a bad promoter, I don’t dread you at all.”
The compliment was so doublejointed I let it lie. I took it for its best possible meaning, said thank you, and tried again to talk about singing careers.
“When I handle talent,” I said, “first thing is, we show mutual trust. First thing is…”
“All I know is, your name is Jack.”
That’s when Lippit’s lawyer walked in. He came up to the bar, asked for a shot, poured it down, put his change on the counter.
“What if your name is really John?” she was saying. “What if you’re John the Ripper instead of Jack and here…”
“One moment. Just one moment.”
The lawyer was turning to leave when he spotted me. He barely nodded, being either discreet or distracted, but when I waved at him to come over he came. He said, “Hi, Jack.”
I looked at the girl to make sure she had heard that. “So you’re Jack the Ripper,” she said.
“You tell my friend Doris,” I said to the lawyer, “that I’m actually in the music business. Tell her.”
“Hehe,” he went. Just like that. “Yeah,” he said, and “hehehe.”
He was either completely distracted or had some ridiculous notion that he should be discreet Either way, the next thing was, Doris did the same thing. “Hehe,” she went, and, “What nice friends you have.”
The lawyer gave a small bow, as if he had just heard a compliment. He was distracted all right. Then he looked at me and said, “You’re coming, aren’t you?”
“I am neither coming nor going. It’s been like that for a while now.”
“The party,” he said. “I’m just going up now.”
“No,” I said. “You go. I’m not.”
He nodded and left, discreet and distracted.
“What kind of a party is that?” asked the girl.
“We’re not going.”
“What I mean is, here he has to come in for a quick shot before going there.”
“It’s a lousy party and we don’t need it.”
I didn’t need it The first thing she would learn, I wasn’t a talent promoter. The next thing Lippit would learn, I had private business connections. And the least thing the girl would find out, St. Louis was a very poor liar. To hell with Lippit’s party.
“There’s a band in the next room,” Doris was saying. “You hear it?”
“Nice beat,” I said, “I know the drummer.”
“My kind of music,” she said.
Then it hit me I had made another mistake. I had the wild fear that she wanted to sing with that band, that I should go ask the boys if they’d let her sing just one number, her favorite number, for me-big promoter. It was true I knew the drummer, but what price friendship?
“And I love dancing,” she said.
We went into the next room and danced. It was very good. She held on well, she felt good, she moved very nicely and stayed as close as was needed. I forgot about all my bad times after a while and my plans for the evening took a happier turn.
Then they changed again.
“I’m sorry,” said Doris, “but there’s no cutting in here, you know.”
She said this past my ear and across my shoulder, so I turned around to see who was doing this flattering thing.
There was Pat, Lippit’s Pat, but the way she was smiling and being polite it would have been gauche to say anything but Patricia to her.
“Why, dear,” she said. “Dear Jacky. And here I had thought, the way that lawyer was talking, that you must be involved in some miserable kind of business. But you aren’t, are you?”
“This is Doris,” I said, “who was a friend of mine, and this is Pat. Likewise.”
They smiled at each other like two Cheshire cats. I was the mouse.
It took a little arguing-not too much-and Pat took us along to the party. We walked the two blocks to Lippit’s apartment and there was conversation all the time. I don’t remember just what. It was that polite.
Lippit’s party, any other time, might have been a very nice thing. Lippit was loud and cheerful, liquor and things were spread three rows deep, the foreman was there and some other people, and there were even two girls whom I didn’t know. As it stood, I had enough with the two I did know.
First thing, Pat introduced Lippit.
“This is Mister Lippit,” said Pat to Doris, “your host and Jack’s boss.”
Doris was sweet. She hung on my arm, staying close, and said, “You must be the Lippit who doesn’t like Benotti. Jack here was telling me about that.”
“He was?” said Lippit.
“Well, what I mean is, not in so many words. But I could tell by the way he acted. Like this morning, you know. I work right next to Benotti’s place.”
Lippit laughed very loud. He went hawk, hawk, hawk, and wasn’t that something. Then Pat took Doris to the liquor table.
“Tell me something,” said Lippit “Maybe I should have invited that cop captain from this morning, too?”
Of course, he wasn’t laughing any more when he said that.
Then Doris came back, and Pat, and Lippit went away. On the way he went hawk, hawk, again and gave Doris a fatherly wink.
“Doris tells me,” said Pat, “that you’re a promoter.”
“What she means…”
“That you’re trying to help her with her singing career.”
I said, “Why didn’t you bring a drink for me?”
“We forgot,” said Doris. “We were talking.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“And I was telling Doris,” said Pat, “what a sweet dress she is wearing. Did you notice, Jack, that it doesn’t have any zipper?”
“I’m going to get me that drink.”
I had to wait at the liquor table because a fellow named Dick was ahead of me, and two girls with him. There was a blonde and a redhead and one was in front of the other. The one who stood in back was fiddling with the dress of the other.
“You got some material jammed into it,” she said to the blonde, “and I can’t get it to move up or down.”
Then she looked at me. I turned around and left without a drink.
Lippit was at the piano and Pat and Doris were, too. I could see Lippit sit down on the bench and I could see Pat talking to Doris. Then, as might happen when the party is informal and friendly, Lippit worked the piano and Doris started to sing. The girl sounded good.
Pat put her drink down on the piano because I was sure she meant to clap any moment.
Doris did not have a sweet voice. She was a belter. I should have known. But she was good.
Pat, who was smiling like never before, came over and leaned by the wall next to me.
“You like her?” she asked.
“Her singing, Jack.”
“I can’t tell. There is so much talking.”
“Just shop talk,” she said. “Like between you and her.”
“She and I were dancing. She and I were just dancing.”
But Pat had her topic.
“What label is she going to sing on, promoter?”
“How do I know? All I ever said…”
“I think she said Blue Beat. Could that possibly be, Jack?”
“No. That could not be, Pat.”
“I didn’t think so either, Jack. I mean, she would almost have to know somebody there, don’t you think?”
“Yes. Such a voice.”
Doris finished and Pat clapped very hard. She was the hostess. She went to the piano, took Doris by the arm, and brought her over to me.
“Jack thinks,” Pat was saying, “that something can really be done with your talent. Isn’t that so, Jack?”
I didn’t have to answer. They both took care of the talking. They twittered back and forth for a while and before Pat went someplace else in the room, being hostess, she asked Doris to be sure and tell her everything I might explain, about how it’s done, making a singing career.
“You start with a good promoter,” said Doris.
“Yes. Of course. That’s the problem,” and then Pat went away.
I took my other nemesis out to the balcony because I felt like breathing a lot of air. We stood at the railing, six stories up, and I looked at the dark sky and Doris looked down at the lights of the city.
“What did she mean, Jack, about my dress not having any zipper?”
I said, “Just a minute,” and went inside to the table with liquor where I got a drink same as at the bar. Only much bigger. I took it back out to the balcony but had some of it on the way.
“Because actually it does have a zipper. Only hidden,” said Doris.
I had more of the scotch, getting down to the halfway mark, and paid attention to the stuff spreading inside like summer sunshine.
“Aren’t you going to answer?”
“To hell with that,” I said. “From now on, little sweets, I set the topic.”
Almost all of the evening had gone to pot. Pat catching on to my record connection, Doris catching on to my Lippit connection, and the only one missing all the connections, Jack St. Mouse. I put my drink on the railing, my hand on the girl’s back, and gave her a smart turn in my direction. When the angle was right I nipped down and hung on for a right, regular kiss.
It caught her on the point of wanting to say something or other but she gave that up. She met the change in demand and hung on, too. After a while we let go, but not too far apart. Though we had nothing to say to each other. So she moved in again, with a lot of purpose, and we did it again, like before, only feeling much more familiar.
I held the back of her neck, where the skin was lovely, I held her arm, where the skin was lovely, and I felt her cheek from close, also lovely. The summer night and the city below and the party hum must have all been romantic, though the thought is an afterthought because I paid no attention. And the girl didn’t either, I think, because she said nothing about it. When we did talk it was just to check plans.
“Like the party?” she asked.
“I think so, too.”
“But you sang nice.”
“Don’t talk business now.”
“I’m done promoting.”
“I was noticing,” she turned a little, to look into the room. “And something else.”
“Your friend, Pat.”
“Coming this way and smiling like a Cheshire cat.”
“Except,” Doris said, “this one will not disappear.”
“Lousy party,” I said, and we let go enough to be able to walk. We walked back into the apartment, to the kitchen where Lippit was getting ice. We said good-bye to him first.
“Doris has got to go to bed.”
Then we walked out of the kitchen and almost into Pat who had been following not too far behind.
“Doris has got to go to bed.”
In the elevator we had six floors to keep checking plans.
“You’re not tired, are you?”
“No,” she said. “Do I act tired?”
“No. But you’re going to bed.”
That doesn’t seem like much conversation for six floors of a city apartment, and it isn’t Then we drove to my place, she over there, me over here and both hands on the wheel. I never drive fast one-handed. I live five floors up but this time we didn’t talk at all.
Doris was wearing a little jacket and while I got the key into the door she took it off. The simple gesture, because of the state I was in, made me very tense. When the phone rang in my apartment, I almost broke off the key in the lock.
We looked at each other. Doris still had one arm in her jacket and didn’t take it out.
“I bet that phone’s right next to your bed,” she said.
“I don’t know. I think it jumped off the night table and is coming this way.”
“You’re not going to look?”
“I’m afraid to look. It might be smiling, like a Cheshire Cat.”
“It heard you,” said Doris, because right then the phone stopped ringing.
We went inside, into the bedroom, and I turned on the light. Doris still had one arm in her jacket. I went over and tore the phone out of the wall and Doris dropped the jacket on the ground.
Like I said once, her dress didn’t interfere much with the girl underneath, and in a short while it didn’t at all. Then nothing did. She sat down on the bed and waited.
“Leave the light on,” she said.
I did. I just turned the phone around because I didn’t like the look on the dial face.
“May all my affairs end like this one.”
Murder Me for Nickels
I had a time waking her in the morning but she had to be at work. When she was good and awake I had a notion she should stay in bed a little bit longer, but she said I should take her home or she would never come back. The thought was new to me but it was a good one.
I took her home first, to change, and then to her office. The Benotti place, I could see from across the street, showed some activity. There was somebody with a broom and somebody else with a clip board and pencil and what they were working on must have been inventory.
Then I drove off, top down, for some morning air and deep breathing, a refreshing way of starting the day and more harmless, it is my feeling, when done in a convertible, than in the fanatic’s manner, such as calisthenics or hikes.
At eight-thirty I had ham and eggs, at nine o’clock it was still too early for anything. Lippit, after all, had been having a party. I spent twenty minutes or so calling a few of our places and the word was peace in each case and we’re glad it’s over. I had chitchat with a few of them-what is called customer relations work-and it was, “Why don’t you drop in sometime,” and, “Sure, Jack, the machines are fine.” In two places our service hop with the change of records was late but that happened sometimes and was not a real complaint.
At ten o’clock I rang the bell of Lippit’s apartment.
“The door’s open!”
The morning paper was in front of the door and I brought that with me.
But they didn’t pay any attention to me. I stood there with the paper in my hand and watched Lippit try to get into his jacket. He was so mad it took him twice as long as it would have taken a child.
“And if I want back talk,” he was yelling, “I’ll ask for it. And if you can’t handle a sane conversation, then don’t talk to me!”
Pat was on the couch, holding a coffee cup, but then she put it down to be less encumbered.
“And if you don’t like me to talk to your help then don’t invite them up here for a party!”
“You telling me who to invite and who not?”
“I’m going nuts!”
“Good morning,” I said.
“You go to hell, too!” said Lippit.
I went back to the door and said, “All right. I’ll see you, maybe?” but then he called after me I should wait, he’d come along right away.
I stood around while he finished with his jacket and while Pat sipped her coffee as if it was poison but she liked drinking poison. Once she kicked at a glass on the floor.
The whole place was a mess. It was the standard post-party formula of cigarette butts, dead soldiers, brown dregs in the bottoms of glasses with lipstick stains on the rim. Sometimes there was a switch on the order of things and there was liquor in an ashtray and butts in a liquor glass.
I said, “How was last night?”
“I was just going to ask you the same thing,” said Pat.
“Don’t answer her.” Lippit had his jacket on but had forgotten to put on a tie. “Or you’ll end up like this room.”
I shrugged and went to the couch, meaning to sit there and wait for Lippit.
“Better not,” said Pat, “or Walter will worry that I’ll make a pass at you.”
“After last night,” he said without turning, “I wouldn’t wonder.”
They spat at each other a little while longer and I went away from that couch and sat on the window sill. In a way it was just a post-party haggle about who made a pass at whom. Not my worry. Their worry. Except, I had a notion why Pat had behaved that way.
And I don’t mean she was jealous in the antique sense of the word. Pat was modern. She and I on that couch-was it two nights ago? — that was fairly modern. Cerebral, is what I mean, and reminding of business. And then Doris had to stand by the piano and sing that song. And the chitchat about me promoting her talent. And Pat’s ambitions…
Lippit might think this was a post-party skirmish. I didn’t Maybe Pat didn’t.
I said, “You call me last night, Walter?”
“No,” said Pat. “I did.”
“Whatever for?” Lippit wanted to know.
“Just for kicks,” said Pat “That’s all.”
“Brother,” said Lippit. “Bu-rother.”
It showed how mean Pat had felt and how much Lippit was out of it.
“That all you going to say?” Pat asked him. She put her coffee cup down and got ready for him.
Lippit had his tie on, his jacket, and now he grabbed his hat.
“I’m getting out of here,” he said, and we started walking.
“Jeez, you’d think she and me here was married.”
When we closed the door Pat said, “Bu-rother.”
That’s all she did. So far.
We drove down to the service depot where Lippit had his trucks, storage, and a shop for repairs. It was just normally busy there and, with the coffee break on, even homey. We went past the work benches and the half dozen jukeboxes on dollies and on to the back where the foreman had a cubicle to himself. Lippit sat down at the desk and I stood around next to it.
“Bu-rother,” Lippit said. “You’d think home might at least be as peaceful as work.”
I lit a cigarette and said, “Don’t get married.”
“That’s right. That’s why I don’t.”
We dropped that nonsense when the foreman came in. He nodded and made a comment about the nice party from the night before.
“Drop that subject,” I told him.
Then he went to the urn in the shop and brought us some coffee. We sipped and Lippit said, “Anything?”
“No,” said the foreman. “Just the usual.”
“Like those machines from the Markus Company. We got a breakdown someplace. It’s one of those Markus machines.”
“Junk,” said Lippit. “Bargains. I hate bargains.”
“You got eight more on order,” said the foreman.
“That’s been canceled,” I said. “A week ago, Walter?”
“Yeah. I canceled a week ago.”
“Nothing else much,” said the foreman. “Just Jimmy and Don are late.”
“How long has that been going on?”
“Well, not Don. He’s regular. Just Jimmy off and on.”
“He’s no bargain, you know,” Lippit said into his coffee. “He just drives deliveries and could be replaced.”
“He’s all right,” said the foreman. “Not what I’d call trouble.”
Electrical repairs don’t make much of a racket and the sounds from the shop weren’t anything much. There was nothing to listen to and the three of us by the desk didn’t have much to say.
“Late on what?” I asked the foreman. “What are the two drivers late on?”
“Pickups,” said the foreman. “Today is change day.”
“You mean it’s past ten in the morning,” Lippit wanted to know, “and nobody’s been out putting in the new records?”
“Like I said, Don and Jimmy ain’t back yet from the jobber.”
Lippit picked up the phone and called up our jobber. He asked for shipping and receiving and had an argument with the guy who handled our weekly order.
“All fouled up,” said Lippit when he hung up the phone. “Lots of apologies but plenty fouled up.”
“Don and Jimmy’s okay,” said the foreman. “Like I told you.”
Nothing else went on that day, except routine which was handled by the shop. And some to-do about Lippit’s union. Nothing special, just what had to be done since Folsom was fired.
But the next day I was busy, starting early in the morning. It was public relations work of a hopeless kind. Maybe two hours of that, and then I went to see Lippit.
He was in that room he had in the club. He had been talking shipping rates with a trucking man and when I came in they were on the small talk. I took maybe five minutes of that and then I fiddled the radio. When I had it good and loud Lippit looked up, from the middle of a sentence about pennant prospects.
“You’re bothering me, Jack.”
“This is nothing,” I said. “Nothing yet.”
“Send him out.”
Lippit sent the trucker out, after offering a guest dip in the pool, or a steam bath if the trucker preferred, but the trucker preferred to stay as he was. He left and Lippit said, “Turn down that damn radio.”
“You like this kind of music?” I didn’t turn it off, just down.
“That’s egghair music,” he said.
“You make it sound terrible, Walter. Either say egghead, or longhair, but not the other.”
“Whichever. I don’t get it.”
“In that case, Walter, here is what I suggest you might do. Go to Casey’s Tap Room, on Adler, and listen to an Etude by Chopin with your beer. Or sit down in Morry’s Bowling Emporium and take in those wild licks by a cat called Handel. Or if your taste…”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute.”
“You prefer Vivaldi?”
“Happy’s Icecream Parlor.”
“Turn off that damn radio!”
“That was Wagner’s Valkyrie. Moishe’s Delicatessen.”
He said something but I didn’t catch it all because of the speed of his delivery. When he was done he got up and started to pace.
“How’d all those crazy records get on those jukes?”
“It’s what Don and Jimmy brought over.”
“Don’t they look at the crap they pick up?”
“You know damn well they don’t. We get the jobber’s list unless we ask for specials.”
Lippit paced and mumbled.
“It’s every place like that?” he asked.
“Armenian folk music at the rec hall of Irish Patriots, Tosca at the Teens Tavern, which goes well with the malteds, and…”
He grabbed up the phone and called up the jobber but before he got really wild he banged down the receiver. It was cramping his style. He went down there in person and I was along. A fine performance, and he meant every word of it. And it worked. He got the jobber to pick up all the wrong records and it wouldn’t cost Lippit a cent.
This was done. This was fine.
But the next day it was still as far as it had gone. We now didn’t have a box with a full quota of records and most of them were without current hits.
I went down to the jobber.
The place was big and dark. It was in one end of a warehouse in a street full of truck terminals. The disc jobber, who supplied a territory including three towns, used space which was higher than wide, a long hall with racks which did not reach the ceiling, because the ceiling was two stories up. You can’t pile records very high. The weight adds up and the bottom ones break. The racks were all over the place, making long, criss-cross alleys. The office part was on the second floor of the attaching warehouse and I got up there by a metal staircase which wound up to the door which had been put through the wall.
This place was all utility, too. Just a big room with factory windows, the walls green-painted cinderblock, a girl typing, a man with a desk full of ledgers, a wall of files, a half-glass partition. Bascot, the jobber, had his desk at that end.
I walked in, and when the iron door clanked shut the girl looked up from her machine and stopped typing. She had the stoop, dry hair and glasses of the girl who would have her kind of job forever.
I knew her and she knew me, but she didn’t say hello. She tried to smile but she only nodded, and because her machine had made the only sound in the office it was now very quiet.
“Bascot in, girl Friday?”
“Yes. Bascot. I don’t know about the Mister yet. I’ll first talk to him.”
Then I heard the little sound a door makes when you try not to make any sound at all, the door on the other side of the partition, and I went in unannounced. He knew I was there, anyway.
The door was just hissing shut on the pneumatic gadget and I walked past Bascot’s empty desk, empty chair, and out of his empty office.
He was just partway down the stairs. They led out to the street or you could take a door which went back to the storage space.
“Bascot,” I said. “I’m happy to find you in.”
I could just see the top of his head and that he was trying to get out to the street.
“Wait up. I’ll walk with you.”
He didn’t want that. He turned to the door which went to the warehouse and there he went through this little act of just having heard me. Puzzled stop, look around at the air, distracted recognition.
“Oh. St. Louis,” he said.
I caught up with him and tried to ease everything with a smile of gladness.
“I almost missed you.”
Maybe I should have first practiced the smile with a mirror, because by the looks of Bascot it had not come off. He seemed to think I was glad that I could now take a bite out of him.
“I’m in a hurry, St. Louis. How about tomorrow?”
Bascot, it was true, was always in a hurry. He had a big forehead with permanent wrinkles, worry wrinkles about having to hurry, and he had a nervous pout which he did with his mouth, very quickly and about every two minutes. It was meant to resettle his plate. And his clothes showed hurry. Tie half down, collar curled under, vest buttoned wrong. If there were such a thing as a set of two left-footed shoes, Bascot would wear them.
“Today,” I said. “Because I’m in a hurry.”
“All right Come in here.”
Nasty, too. He went into the warehouse but didn’t open the door enough for me to get through. I had to open it again myself and when I was through he was standing there by a rack.
In spite of the summer outside, the warehouse seemed chilly. That was because of the two-story ceiling. Or maybe it was Bascot’s manner.
“You been giving me a lot of trouble,” he said. “That whole outfit of yours.”
Clever too. He had taken the words right out of my mouth.
I let the door slam shut first, left a pause, then stepped closer. That’s theatrics. It works with the nervous kind, such as Bascot.
“You’re stalling Lippit,” I said. “Thirty per cent of your business, Bascot, is Lippit.”
And a hundred per cent of Lippit’s coin depended on Bascot, so I shouldn’t have opened this way, maybe.
“And a hundred per cent of…”
I shouldn’t have opened this way. I told Bascot to shut up and not start out with this desperate talk because what I had come over for was strictly business and not his and my friendship.
“I’m not trying to be personal,” he said. “I got nothing against you.”
The dislike stuck out of him like his big, bony nose.
“Why this crap?” I asked him. “Why this stall with the records and then nothing at all?”
He stepped back into an alley of racks and picked at one of the marker cards on a shelf.
“You don’t like the way I been giving service, St. Louis, then why in hell you been letting me service your outfit for all this time? And the first complaint you ever had, don’t come in here and act like a-act the way-” He gave up, all choked with nerves and bad temper.
I put one arm on a shelf, which looks casual. “Please, Bascot. I just got this one question.”
“What? What question?”
“But I first want to apologize. I’m sorry, Bascot, for the way I sounded.”
This embarrassed him and he frowned like a prune.
“Okay, Bascot? I’m sorry.”
“Okay, okay. Forget it.”
“And the question is, why the runaround?”
He blew his stack. He said he didn’t know about any runaround and hadn’t he paid for picking up all those wrong records and what in hell more did we want.
“Service, Bascot That’s all.”
“Service, service, service! You think all I got to do is supply your jukes?”
As far as I was concerned, all he had to do was give me one straight answer. But he was much too uncomfortable for that.
“I know,” I told him. “I know you’re under a lot of pressure.”
“Who’s doing it, Bascot?”
“What? What in hell you talking about?”
“Or, how is he doing it?”
For a minute I thought he might open up, he looked that uncomfortable, but then he had a lot of habit to save him. He got nasty again.
“Don’t come in here on no big horse, St Louis. I don’t owe you nothing and I don’t even know you. Lippit Enterprises is what I deal with and I deal with that outfit like with any other. Now why don’t you just get out of here and wait your turn.”
“When what? What, more questions?”
“When will that turn be, Bascot?”
“You’ll be taken care of. Don’t worry.”
“But I do, Bascot I’m worried about when it’s our turn to get the records we got on permanent order.”
“You’ll get taken care of.”
“I don’t mean it that way. I’m asking about the records.”
“Soon as I get straightened out, that’s when. That soon.”
He was getting very irritated and I myself didn’t find much humor left in the situation. Only he was more honest about it. He looked mean and ratty.
“So you go on and get out of here, St. Louis, and tell Lippit to wait his turn.”
“Doomsday, for all I know!” he said, in just short of a squeaky scream.
“That’s too long, Bascot.”
It looked as if he were afraid of his own excitement, because instead of saying anything else, screaming maybe, he started to turn.
I reached out and held him by the lapels.
“Bascot. Listen to me, businessman. You make one fourth of the price of a record and you sell us a hell of a lot of them, every month. You drop us, Bascot, and who’s going to take up the slack?”
He wouldn’t answer and strained at his clothes, but I yanked him up short.
“Why don’t you answer, Bascot?”
Bascot did not answer but somebody else did.
“Because he only works here.”
I looked over Bascot’s shoulder. Where the long warehouse got dim in the back, there was Benotti. He looked squat, even small, because he stood at the end of an alley made by rows of tall racks.
They were like tool-crib racks, thin two-by-four skeletons with a lot of tiers which reached up higher than the head of a man. The warehouse had line after line of these racks and on the shelves were black stacks of records.
I let go of Bascot. Benotti, at the end of the alley, started to walk. Once he stopped and laughed at me. He favored one foot, because of the jump off his porch, and when he stopped he held on to a rack for a moment, making the thin structure sway. It swayed with a small creak, which was the only sound in the warehouse for that moment, and then Benotti laughed again. He walked my way, feeling good. He had a wicked cut down one side of his nose-not as raw as when I had put it there-but he still looked chipper, or eager. Too eager.
I forgot about Bascot and took a few steps toward Benotti, he walking from one end of the alley, me from the other.
“He’s working for you?” I asked him.
“Lock, stock and barrel.”
No strong-arm in this maneuver. Just brains. Benotti had sewed up our source of records.
Then I saw him move toward me, like before, and it was strong-arm again. I didn’t feel like coming any closer. I stopped and looked back, where I had left Bascot. He was no longer there and did not count. What counted were the two at the end of the alley, one man long and ugly and the other one short and ugly. Or maybe they only looked ugly to me because that was how my mood was turning.
“Just crowd him,” said Benotti behind me. “He’s mine.”
I stood still, not knowing what to do for the moment, and worried about feeling no spunk but instead clearly scared.
“You wouldn’t consider,” I said, “talking this over?”
I said it for a joke, to change from scared to a joke, but Benotti’s answer was as expected.
“You stupid son of a bitch,” he said to me.
“No?” I said.
I said, “Tsk,” hoping it would sound like bravado and, “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.”
Then I tried it like a monkey’s uncle. Up the side of the rack, to the top tier, while the thin, wooden structure gave a horrible creak. The damn thing swayed and I crunched some records. I could see Bascot again, far away, and of course all the others.
Bascot didn’t say a thing. He just worked here. But Benotti cursed good and loud and the tall pug he had brought along tried it the way I had done it. The rack swayed and creaked. The short pug was running around the far end, waiting for me on the other side.
“Just crowd him!” yelled Benotti. “Just do that and bring him to me.”
The tall pug had big-knuckled hands and they came up on the top rim of the rack. I stepped on them.
The man screamed but he didn’t let go. Good for him. I skittered to the other side of the rack, bent a little, and jumped over the alley.
The rack behind me made a sound like a crate, then like a crate coming open, then like the same thing spilling its guts. Two-by-fours flying, records flying, maledictions flying, and the tall one underneath. At least I figured he was, while I was running.
I ran the length of tiers, jumped from one to the other, with things creaking, crunching, swaying, and mostly falling down.
It reminded me of a railroad yard, with sidings here, spurs there, and the whole thing in mid-air like a nightmare landscape.
If I could make it to the far row of racks where the sliding door to the loading ramp showed-halfway open and the bright sunshine outside…
But that was the rack which started swaying all by itself. The short pug showed on the top and somebody underneath was helping him up.
I could run around a little bit longer, jump back and forth a little bit longer. No. I couldn’t.
My rack swayed like crazy and I could see Benotti below. Like a Samson. He was rocking the thing and maybe two, three heaves more and I’d be the bottom man. The way he didn’t give a damn about stock falling to pieces, he really wanted me.
So I jumped at the last minute and the short pug and I were on the same rack.
We both had the same problem, keeping our balance. We moved as if there were a great deal of time.
And Benotti walked up very slowly, watching which way the thing was going to fall. The tall pug was there, too. He was holding his wrist and it must have been hurting. We were all very quiet.
“St. Louis?” said Benotti.
“St Louis. You’ll get it one way or the other. You know that, St. Louis?”
“It’s what keeps me busy.”
“Come on down, and maybe I’ll tell Lee not to break your back first.”
Lee looked like he could. At the moment he seemed to be walking on all fours.
“Deal, St. Louis?” Benotti was saying.
“Too many jokers, Benotti. Three is too many jokers,” and that was the end of the play.
He jumped. Or he flew, maybe. He did a thing like a football tackle and the best I could do was to let him have one leg instead of both.
I fell back and he fell forward and he was holding my leg before breaking it off. I stomped on him with my free foot I kicked him on the head and the bastard took it. I kicked him on the head and he snagged my other leg.
The rack was pretty steady now, because we were lying down. There was little movement, because Lee just moved in small ways, here and there, to get the right grip before he started to twist.
I held still and felt the pain.
I just thrashed with one arm. It did not help me turn out of his grip but it broke the record I had in my hand. A broken record can be a lot like a knife.
And when I felt the sharp pain in one foot and it shot up my leg I doubled over. It was partly reflex, and then I sliced off Lee’s left ear.
I don’t think he felt it at first. He held on worse than before and I’m sure I made a weird sound, which made him look up. This caused the ear to flop down the side of his face and some blood too, which got into his mouth. Suddenly Lee screamed and screamed.
I got one leg out and kicked the scream back down his throat.
When I got free I couldn’t stand. I got to the edge of the rack and saw Benotti down there and the tall pug next to him. They stepped back. Because of the screaming I could not hear what was said. Benotti said something and then the tall one reached into his pocket. He came up with a gun.
I was winded and hurting and would have liked to pass out. It felt like the right solution, to pass out.
“You got him?” I heard Benotti.
“Any time you say,” said the tall one.
The passing out hadn’t worked, nothing funny was left in any of this. Then I felt the rage balling up inside me, which is always the last thing that happens to me. I had to hold it, keep it balled, because what could I do with it up here besides breaking more records.
“Benotti,” I said.
He looked up and grinned. My voice must have sounded strange and he was grinning about that.
“It talks,” he said. “What?”
“Benotti. I can’t match that.”
“Lemme come down, Benotti.”
“I wish you would.”
“I’m beat, Benotti.”
“That will be. By and by.”
I looked at his face and it got more and more ugly. It was ugly and mean and if I had nothing else but my teeth I would want to chew it down to a pulp.
“Please, Benotti. My foot’s busted,” I said.
“What’s in it for you now, Benotti? I can’t do a thing.”
“Come down and I’ll show you.”
“Benotti,” I said. “Honest to God. I’m afraid.”
This startled him, but then it only made him meaner.
“Don’t be,” he said. “I’ll let you come all the way down, and no interruptions.”
My bad foot tingled, which was fine, but when I moved I made out it was crippled. I came down the side of the rack, slow as a sloth. It gave me time. It showed me how Benotti and his man with the gun meant to play it.
What Benotti saw was a scared man with a bad foot. It would give him time, which was what he wanted. He would play it his way, slow and with pleasure, and that’s how they placed themselves. Benotti stood back, and the tall one stood ahead with the gun. When I let myself down to the floor I slid all the way to my back.
“Naw, naw, naw,” said Benotti. “Up. For this you stand up.”
“He said stand up,” said the tall one.
“Help me,” and I held out one hand.
It guided the tall one and he came close enough.
A man on the ground can be worse than any other way. All you have to do is think of all of you, and not just your two fists.
When he bent to grab hold of my hand he never straightened up again. I kicked up as if the target was the moon and the tall one wasn’t going to be good for much that really mattered, for I don’t care how long a time. He didn’t even make a sound, just air. And I was done lying down.
I got my leg out of his crotch, snapped at the gun which he meant to drop anyway, and before the tall one was down I was up. Benotti didn’t have all of it straight yet, but I meant for him not to wait too much longer.
“Hey!” he said, “hey!” when I jumped up with the gun.
I have never shot anyone, and I don’t think shooting’s easy. It isn’t like throwing a stone, or a punch, or anything like it. You press the trigger, and the thing is out of hand. It’s out of your hand; something else does your hating, and you either fear the damage you’ll do or you know ahead of time that you’ll be left as before; same hate, same rage, just a bullet gone. And someone dead whom you did not even touch.
Benotti rushed me. While I stood around he made his rush. He cracked me across the side of the face and before the pain even came I felt like going to pieces. I had held back too long. I rocked across the aisle, hit a rack, and cracked open. That ball inside, is what I’m talking about Then I was almost done and so was Benotti. My reach is better and I had the pistol.
I pistol whipped him, and I hit and hit, not a watermelon, or a sack, but always Benotti.
He was just short of raw meat when I left him and was done.
I got out of there with a limp in my leg and a crick in my neck and what my face looked like I didn’t find out until later. But nobody bothered me on the way out The three who counted weren’t bothering anybody.
I got in the car and put up the top. Privacy mattered right then. I jockeyed the car out of there, around all the trucks which seemed to be jackknifed all over the place, and bouncing the brakes every time some kid from an office ran across the street, with coffee or a folder of papers. My timing wasn’t very good. I had thought I was done when I left that warehouse, but I was still jerking as if somebody was jabbing at me.
Two blocks away I stopped by a telephone booth. First I called Davy, the kid who read do-it-yourself things and held down a phone for Lippit. Lippit wasn’t there, he said, but that wasn’t why I had called.
“You got a car over where you are, Davy?”
“Yes, Mister St Louis.”
“Jump in and drive over to the jobber’s warehouse, Davy, moving as if you were background only, and check out Benotti for me.”
“You want me to tangle…”
“I don’t mean that Just see where he goes. Like, an ambulance might pick him up and you follow along to see where it’s going.”
“Yes. And wherever he goes, try and get a line on how he feels. Try…”
“I mean, Mister St. Louis, if an ambulance is gonna cart him away, I figure he can only feel one way, which is not very good.”
“I want to know how much no good.”
“All right Wait!”
“I never seen that Benotti. How will I know…”
“The one you can’t recognize,” I said, and let him work out the rest for himself. After all, do-it-yourself…
Then I called Lippit. He was at the union hall, talking rates and kickbacks most likely, and when the girl at the telephone said she’d send somebody up and get Lippit I told her never mind, she should have him come over and join me at this and that address. I didn’t feel like standing around in the telephone booth.
I called Spire after that, Doctor Spire, who was a legitimate doctor but with a practice so small, it assured a patient of immediate service. He was in, reading something on sleeping sickness, but if I came right over, he said, he would see me forthwith.
“And why the hurry,” he wanted to know. “Are you bleeding to death?”
That profession makes a man callous. I said no, but wanted to be damn sure he was still awake when I got there.
“You bringing a girl,” he said, “or what?”
Callous profession. I hung up.
Last call was to Hough and Daly, and I would like to speak to the girl in shipping-receiving.
“Shipping-receiving,” she said.
“That depends on who you are.”
“Your friend, Jack.”
“Ah! The Ripper.”
“The Ripped. Which is why I’m calling, little sweets, to beg off this evening.”
“Jeez, you sound matter-of-fact.”
“Why, Baaibee,” she said, “you thickumth? That better?”
“Now I am sick.”
She didn’t want to let go our evening appointment and more talk like that, but I didn’t feel in any shape for the next twenty-four hours. Her boss walked in and she had to hang up. Then I drove down to Doctor Spire’s place.
He had a two-room place over a grocery store. His office was there and his living quarters. There would not have been enough space if he had put the one in the first room and the other into the second, so instead his rooms overlapped in function. The waiting room was also the living room or the library, there being chairs, bookshelves, medical journals all over a table. This was, I think, the only waiting room where the patient could read up on the competence of his physician. The other room was more versatile even, or more cluttered. Examination table, fish tank, instrument closet, pots and pans, autoclave, hot plate, bed, with more journals on it.
When I rang, he opened the door and said, “Yes?”
“St Louis,” I said. “You don’t remember?”
“Jack?” and then, “God!”
“Just Jack is fine. Let me in.”
He let me in and told me to sit on the table in the second room. I sat carefully, not being alone on this table. The fish tank was there, murky and mysterious, and instruments under glass, some kelp under glass, and something else under glass which I was afraid to ask about.
Spire was short and bald, a tired egg. Before he came over for a close look he put his white coat on.
“Don’t want to get all spotted up,” he said, and then stood close up to my face.
“What do you see?”
“Tissue. Red and blue.”
Callous as hell. He put a thermometer in my mouth, wet cotton on various parts of my face.
“Soak things down to bedrock,” he said. “So I know what’s what.”
“Bedrock? You drilling for oil?”
“All right. Bone then. Down to the bone.”
Then the bell rang and he let me sit there like that.
It was Lippit. He came in and up to the table and stopped there, by the sound of it.
“What is this?” he said to Spire. “You preparing a mummy?”
Spire laughed. It sounded like Dracula.
“Did you, ah, achieve something?” Lippit asked.
Spire took off the cotton and dabbed here and there.
“No,” I said. “But Benotti did. He owns Bascot’s.”
Lippit swore. He kept this up for a while and the doctor daubed here and there. Each little dab with a tuft of cotton felt very much worse than Benotti slamming me.
“Does Bascot look the same as you?” Lippit asked me.
“No. But Benotti does.”
“Hold still,” said Spire. “I’m anointing.”
He did that and something else with a piece of tape, so that a cut on the cheekbone would heal shut straight.
“I think I’ll go over there,” said Lippit, “and have a talk with that man. Can’t have him jumping all over my help.”
I answered something which caused the doctor to tell me to shut up or I’d end up with my tongue sewed to my nose, and Lippit should also stop talking for a moment. “It’s not good for the patient,” said Spire. We had silence for a while.
“What’s in here?” Lippit asked.
“Don’t you put your finger in it,” said Spire.
Lippit took his finger out of the tank.
“I can’t see anything in there,” he said. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been meaning to change the water.”
Then he packed gauze to one side of my face and explained about cleanliness; to keep my hands off that thing and to come back two days later for another grease job and a check.
“You can get off the table. And take your pants down.”
He was a doctor so I didn’t question it. He prepared a shot-the ampule was next to the mayonnaise in the refrigerator, the syringe was where the dishes were, and the needle-he couldn’t find the needle for a while.
“Explain to me about Benotti,” said Lippit.
I explained about Benotti and about how all the stock got broken.
“Maybe we can sway Bascot back our way,” Lippit said.
“Bascot is nothing. The way I see it, he sold out.”
“There’s a few stop-gap things we can do,” Lippit said. “I’ll try having records shipped from Chicago.”
“That’s all Benotti needs for a helping hand. He’ll deliver faster and cheaper.”
Lippit knew that. He said nothing and thought.
“I got to think of something,” he said. “Skip the jobber, maybe.”
“I don’t think the manufacturers will sell to you. Bascot’s got the franchise.”
“Skip the manufacturer maybe. Make my own.”
It was harebrained and he didn’t expect me to answer. I was just as glad.
“You got the needle yet?” I asked the doctor.
“Keep your pants on,” said Lippit.
“Maybe in the fish tank,” I said. “You thought of that yet, Doctor?”
“Yes,” said Spire.
While Spire kept looking, Lippit kept thinking.
“We can buy through stores for a short while,” he said. “I’ll make up a data sheet with volume that’ll rock their inventory.”
“And your till.”
“I know, I know. Just to keep Benotti from getting that first foothold. Then we think of something else.”
“I know. Manufacturing.”
Spire found the needle. I don’t know where he found it and didn’t ask, but he had it on the syringe and told me to turn around.
“He can kill us in no more than a month,” Lippit said.
He talked very quietly, and as if he were thinking. This is how he talked when he was worried and when everything he thought of was very serious.
“I’m going to look into this manufacturing thing, dumb as it sounds. On a special deal, maybe I can rent masters from the big companies.”
A master is the means by which the manufacturer makes the gold. It’s the original print that makes all the records, and to lend that thing out is like agreeing to go out of business.
I didn’t answer Lippit on that, but thought I might cheer him with something else.
“Call your secret room at the club,” I told him, “and find out if Davy is back. Maybe he’s got something.”
“Do-it-yourself? How to sing your own records?”
“Yaee!” I said.
“You can put your pants back on,” said Doctor Spire.
I did and went to the waiting room, or the other room Doctor Spire had, where Lippit was sitting in an easy chair facing the window. The phone was on the window sill and the instrument next to his ear.
“You got Davy?”
He nodded and waved me off. He was listening. If his face told what he felt, he was feeling confusion.
“Just a minute,” he said into the phone. He covered the mouthpiece and looked at me. “Where did you send that boy, the insane asylum?”
“Why do you ask?”
“He says he got there and one guy was sitting on the loading ramp with his legs pulled up and every time a female walked by he would moan like a hound dog. And…”
“That wasn’t Benotti.”
“And another one was sitting on top of a rack, like a monkey, and everybody should walk around the rack in a big circle so they wouldn’t step on his ears.”
“Oh. That’s all right then. For a minute there, I thought somebody was nuts.”
“That wasn’t Benotti, either. Let me have the phone.”
“Of course not. Benotti’s in that fish tank over there, is what I think.” Then he gave me the phone.
“Yes, Mister St Louis.”
“There were just those two?”
“And then they got picked up by a car.”
“You didn’t see Benotti then.”
“He was the one I guess they took off in the ambulance. That was before I got there.”
“You know where they took him?”
“Go over there, Davy, and try to find out how he is.”
“How am I going to do that? I mean…”
“Tell ‘em you’re his son, or a friend, anything like that. Find out how he is, when he’s getting out, that kind of thing. You know, do-it-yourself.”
“Yessir,” and he hung up.
I put down the phone and Lippit said, “I know. You hit him so hard he fell apart and one of him is on top of that rack and the other half of him is out there on that ramp.”
I took a cigarette out and smoked with one side of my face.
“He’s at Mercy. And please don’t say, at whose mercy.”
“And Davy will check back in at the club, to tell how the patient is doing. I myself,” I said, “want to go home.”
Lippit nodded. He got up but kept looking out of the window.
“If he’s out of commission,” he said, “we might swing it yet.”
“He’s more than one man.”
“His outfit is punks,” said Lippit. “I checked enough to know that. He’s the head and punks don’t have a head.”
My face hurt and I didn’t say anything.
“I’ll take you home,” he said. “Pat’s bringing the car.”
“Thank you. I got my own.”
“Maybe you didn’t notice,” he said, “but one eye is closing.”
Spire came into the room with a small box of pills.
“For the pain,” he said. “I just found them.”
I swallowed one of them and put the rest into my pocket. Pat drove up outside.
I felt I would rather drive with one eye or one arm than go with Pat right now, so when Lippit and I got out to the street I could take only about five minutes of Pat.
“Bu-ruther,” she said, and, “You know something, feller? You remind me of somebody I know, you poor thing.”
I took another one of those pain-killer pills and swallowed it.
“Where’s the car?” said Lippit.
She pointed across the street and started walking, but when I didn’t come Lippit stopped and she did, too.
“You with him or with me?” she asked him.
But Lippit was in no mood for banter. I don’t think he and she were over the chore I had witnessed that morning.
“Save it,” he said. “I’ve got enough troubles.”
“By the looks of it,” she said, “Jack is the one with the troubles. What was it, a sausage machine or Benotti?”
“A sausage machine,” I said. “Which looked like him.”
“You coming or aren’t you?” Lippit asked me. I told him I’d drive myself and, if possible, I just wanted to be left alone till next morning. Lippit said okay and all he would do before then is let me know what Davy had to say. Lippit looked serious when he said this, and sounded that way, so that Pat caught it.
“Things are bad?” she asked.
“They got the jump on me,” he told her. “Benotti sewed up our source of discs.”
She nodded and said, “Maybe you should have listened to Jack. The time he was arguing with you to plan all this long range.”
That night, in his apartment, she had been in the next room. He had told her to go to bed and she must have heard everything while we had been talking. It showed real interest on her part.
“Maybe there’s a way to reorganize all of this, and you can beat the freeze you got from the jobber.”
It showed real interest and that she was not only pretty.
Lippit nodded and did not seem to be listening, but when he took her across to the car he was holding her arm and they looked real close again.
I had just a few more troubles before getting home, such as not being used to driving with one eye puffing shut and such as the color of red over what little I could see. This included the green lights. I went stop and go by the yelling behind me. Then I went go when I should have gone stop because a street repair gadget was going yak-yak-yak down the street. It was breaking up the pavement, and then I broke up the traffic.
When the cop seemed distant and a little bit funny I realized that the pills were working. I was feeling no pain but the cop smelled no liquor so when I promised to park the car and walk home on foot he let it go at that and disappeared from view.
I wasn’t sure where I left the car, which meant I also wasn’t sure where I lived. I got there when the sun was going down, banged the door shut, got undressed, laid down on the bed. I was very thirsty but too lazy to get up. When the phone rang I reached over and put it on my stomach. I must also have put the receiver to my ear because then I heard Davy’s voice.
“Did I get you out of the bathroom or something?” he said. “I was just going to hang up.”
“No. Don’t. Where was I?”
“Where were you, I mean.”
“Well, he’s at Mercy, all right.”
“Does he need it?”
“Mister St. Louis?”
“Just let me talk. Okay, Mister St. Louis? I’ll tell you everything.”
“All right, Davy.”
“So he’s there in the hospital, and I told them I was his nephew…”
“Why nephew, David?”
“Because I wasn’t allowed to go into his room on account his family was there already. Family. See?”
“Yes, Davy. Please go on.”
“I’m trying. So I said we were plenty worried about this, on account of the family business, and how was he.”
“How was he?”
“Please, Mister St Louis. The family business, said the doctor, would have to be run by the family for a while, or by itself, he said, because Mister Benotti was in no shape for anything. Just for lying still on his back.”
“Go on, Davy.”
“On account of his concussion in the head and the jaw being wired.”
I had an image of wiring for concussion or detonation or spark plugs, but said nothing about it.
“When is he going to be all tuned up again?”
“Not sure, Mister St, Louis, but not before two weeks.”
“Did you tell Mister Lippit?”
“Yes, sir. He was pleased.”
I relaxed on the bed, my martyrdom vindicated, because two weeks of an inactive opposition might well be all Lippit needed to get his business all squared away again. Somewhere along there Davy hung up. I felt pretty good on the bed, feeling no pain. It even seemed as if I could see out of both eyes again. I thought about this and that and it was a lot like a conversation. About spark plugs, plugged nickels, coin slots, slugged pickles, gauze tickles, red gore, locked door.
“If you locked the door, then how did I get in?”
“Through the keyhole.”
“No. I’m little, but not small.”
This struck me as nonsense, but when I opened my eyes she was there, real enough. I said, “Hello, Doris.”
“Hello, slugged pickle.”
“We talked about that, too?”
“I could not begin to tell you just what we did talk about.”
“You were here. I wasn’t.”
“I was never sure I was getting all of the conversation.”
She sat on the bed, hands in her lap, but then she reached over and took the phone away from my ear.
“Why, it’s dead,” she said. “You always sleep like that?”
Then she cradled it. The instrument was still on my stomach. I sat up and it wasn’t too bad.
“Am I looking at you with both eyes?”
I saw that it was dark outside of the window and asked her how long she had been here.
“Half an hour, maybe.”
“Dear Doris,” I said. “My only desire is for something to drink. You have come at the wrong time.”
“I just came to see how you were. And I tried to put your pajamas on but you wouldn’t let me move the phone.”
Yessir, there were the pajamas all right, lying next to me on the bed. I sent her to the kitchen, to bring me a drink, and put my pajamas on. When she brought me a drink it was a tall glass, and cool, filled with water. I sent her back with different instructions and told her where the bourbon was. She came back with two glasses this time, though mine was darker, and we sat on the bed for a while.
“Least you can do,” I said, “is take your shoes off.”
She took her shoes off and we talked some more. I said something nice about her singing and she said I must mean it, because there was nothing else to promote at the moment. This caused me to make a pass at her and she said, if you do that again, I’ll slap your face. That, under the circumstances, put me in a sweat and I told her to get off my bed and fetch over another drink.
It was a nice change from the rest of the day. We talked about singing a little bit more and I said I would like to give her a trial, and we had sandwiches and some more from the bottle. I held her hand and then her arm, and so on.
“You must be feverish,” she said.
“Yes. Somebody better stay for the night.”
She said she didn’t want to sit up all night and I said, of course not, but before she lay down she got up to do something about her clothes getting wrinkled. She got undressed and put on a pair of my pajamas which didn’t fit, of course, and gave her a misleading shape. Then she lay down next to me and turned off the light because the glare was giving me a headache. She held my head and said, “Boy, what a fever,” and put it down on herself, like on a pillow. That was all right, but then I wasn’t sleepy. I said, “Listen. The pajamas make me self-conscious. I don’t like to make love to my own pajamas.”
Her skin felt cool, as if I did have a fever, and she got tense and then stretched.
“Come on,” she said. “I’ve caught your fever.”
She had, and it got higher before it was done.
She had to go to work in the morning and, as a matter of fact, was gone when I woke. The pajamas had disappeared and the dishes and bottle, but there was a note on the night table which said that the pajamas were no good anyway and had been put in the laundry, the dishes were where they belonged and the bottle she had hidden. “To promote early recovery from all kinds of damages. Too bad,” said the postscript, “and today is my day off. Doris.”
She didn’t have a phone, according to the book, and when I called her office, they said, yes, this was her day off.
Maybe she would come back in the evening, I thought, and went to the bathroom.
The damage looked more confirmed today, one side of my face looking more filled out than the other, but my color was almost normal. There was the patch, with the cut under it-itching-and one eye slitty.
I showered, keeping my head out of the water, and I shaved, one side more than the other. Then I dressed for a slow day at home, and had ham and eggs in the kitchen and coffee, which I took with me to the phone. I called the club.
Lippit wanted to know how I was and then he said he was fine, too. He was off for a talk with Bascot and in the meantime had ordered filler discs and selected hits from out of town, just in case. Stop gap, for the time being. It looked like we would ride this thing out The jukebox operators had not been approached by the Benotti crowd. All was peaceful.
Like once before, I thought. When the hoods didn’t show, but the jobber got snagged.
“And a guy by the name of Conrad called,” Lippit said. “He was trying to reach you.”
“ What? ”
“Conrad. I don’t know the guy, but he said he knew you.”
I sighed, part relief and part worry, and then I said, yes, I knew who that was, and it wasn’t important.
“He didn’t say it was important. He just said he was trying to reach you.”
Maybe he had called while I had been in the shower. Or while the phone had been off the hook.
Lippit said I should rest for the day and I said thank you and he should stay in touch. Then I called Blue Beat.
I didn’t get Conrad. Herbie answered the phone and said Conrad was taping background for yesterday’s vocal, one of those teen-age turmoil groups who were doing well around town. This was not for the Blue Beat label. This was paid for by their agent.
“Conrad tried to reach me,” I said. “That’s why I’m calling back.”
“Oh! About the girl. Oo-man! Nice.”
“I don’t care. Oo-man!”
“What did she want?”
“She said she knew you and this was a surprise for you. Oo-man would I like to be…”
“Shut up, Herbie, will you please?”
“What I mean is, any time she…”
“I got that. What’s her name?”
“I don’t know.”
“Little? Certainly not, Mister St. Louis.”
“What I mean is…”
“I know what you mean. And she said she’d be back, say at two.”
“To see me, or Conrad?”
“To surprise you. She wants to cut a tape.”
I hung up on the next oo-man bit and had some of my coffee.
I don’t like surprises. I especially didn’t like any surprises at that time, under those circumstances, and with me trying to take a rest for the day. I knew I had told Doris I’d give her a try some time, but that needed preparing, in more than one way. So I checked the time-noon almost, checked my patch-tickling on the inside, and got dressed for the street. I remembered I didn’t have my car and walked.
The inside of the building on Duncan is quiet. The entrance is dark, cool and quiet, the elevator is slow like an old man, and the tenant list tells you very little. It says things like B. B. Recording, Duncan Service, Inc., Lieb Associates, Modern Times Co., that kind of thing. I have no idea what any of those offices did.
B. B. Recording, of course, was my place. You go from the big, quiet, cool corridor, into the small, noisy, hot studio. First thing is a desk and a cable snaking across the floor. There is a phone on the desk, but the cable is for something else. Conrad explained it to me once, but I forget what. There are signed photos on the wall-I know one of them; it’s of Conrad-and posters of high school hops. The agents like the place looking that way. It impresses the talent. Next comes a room which is hard to describe, containing, as it does, tape and record racks, coffee urn, coats and hats, chairs piled with sheet music, disc cutter, tape splicer, sink and towel. There is that cable across the floor and another one hanging in midair and a window which shows the big room for the sessions. The cables in that room defy count, but you can see mikes standing all over, piano, bandstand stuff, and the soloist’s booth. Draped like shrouds across parts of the ceiling is fiberglass batting, to catch dust and kill echoes. One of the things hangs down vertically and Conrad does not permit tacking it up. It fell down that way while they were taping a mountain-type ballad and the record sold two hundred thousand.
Conrad himself was in the holy of holiest, a closet with fan, light, chair, and the mixer. There was a mike on top of the mixer and another window showed the recording room. Conrad, who had curly hair, gray and blonde, was pushing the headphone back down over his ears. The claim goes that his hair is so wiry, it not only pushes the headphone up and away from his ears, but causes special static. He tapped the mike and said, “Sorry, sorry, sorry!”
The combo in the recording room stopped one after the other.
“Milton,” he said, “I get a nice ping on your pickup but your bass washes out. Move your mike down.”
The pianist did.
“And Skinny is early all the time. You’re early on the bridge and on the break. You got to follow the fiddle.”
Skinny was on the horn and there was an argument. I could see through the window but I couldn’t hear it.
“I got the earphones turned off,” Conrad said into the mike, “so don’t waste your breath.” Then he smoothed them down and said, “I just want you to be better than that West Coast clan. You’re good as them, but I want you better.”
Talk rough and carry a lollypop, is the way you do it with musicians, was Conrad’s opinion.
“All right, this is live,” he said. “You take two, you four, and Skinny builds it for eight. After that, just get back together.”
I sat around in the room with the sink and waited for Conrad to finish. But he jockeyed the combo till they looked ready to drop. “It’s got to sound tired,” I could hear him say. He was working them up to it.
Once I talked to an agent who dropped in for coffee and once I got a word with Conrad, but not enough to make sense.
“What’s the name?” I asked him when he stopped the music again.
“‘I got nothin’ but want a little more.’”
“I don’t mean the piece. The girl.”
“Nice. But I meant to talk to you about that.”
“That’s why I’m here. I want to…”
He put the headpieces down over his ears and talked to the mike again.
I had coffee, I watched the clock, I told Herbie to be sure and let me know soon as she showed. He said, “Why? Are you worried?” and I said, “Yeah. I’m worried.” He liked that and patted his hair and I went down to the restaurant, nervous.
I used the phone there and called Lippit but he wasn’t around. The foreman told me one of the drivers had spotted a Benotti man on the South Side run, and Davy said Lippit was at the jobbers. I called his apartment on an off-chance but Pat didn’t know anything and was in a hurry to hang up on me. I took a short walk and before two o’clock went back to the studio.
Herbie was grinning and grimacing. “Oo-man,” he said.
“Is Conrad done?”
“Bring her out here,” I said. “She and me are leaving.”
“Sorehead,” he said, and went to get Doris.
I sat on the desk and when Herbie opened the door again I got up and got ready with a busy smile. I should have been readier than that. Pat walked in.
I asked her to come down to the restaurant with me and she said no. I asked her to step out into the corridor with me and she said no. I suggested that she wouldn’t get anyplace here, if I walked out and left word to ignore her, and she said, “I had a notion you might be pretty important in this place.”
“Yes mam,” said Herbie, the idiot. “Mister Conrad listens to him.”
She came with me, as far as the restaurant downstairs, after I left word for Conrad to come down when he was done taping.
Pat looked gorgeous and sharp. She looked gorgeous because she couldn’t help it and she looked sharp because she was. We sat in the booth and had iced tea and neither of us bothered to play dumb any more.
“How much of the place do you own?” she asked.
“Some of it.”
“Enough to cut me a very good disc?”
“I’ve been. The time on the couch, the time at the party, just now in the office, and one other thing. I walked into the wrong place at first. Downstairs here, where they boil all that black stuff and press the records. They said, no, Mister St. Louis rarely comes down here. But try Blue Beat, upstairs.”
“You could have walked into the restaurant here and they might have told you the same thing.”
“You own the restaurant, too?”
She was guessing. I told her that and sipped iced tea.
“Of course,” she said. “Would you like me to ask Walter to come help me guess? The way business is going, he might just be interested enough. The downstairs and the upstairs might just tickle his fancy.”
“I don’t see why.”
“I don’t either, Jack. Maybe a pressing plant and a recording plant can’t do him any good whatsoever. But it’s worth the question, don’t you think?”
I couldn’t think of a single glib thing to say and she had me. She had me because she was sharp. She had me because it was clear I didn’t want Lippit to know about any of this.
“So, the reason I’m here,” she said, “is to get a big, healthy boost and get a start as a singer.”
“You’re making ready to sing pretty good without anyone’s help.”
“I’d rather sing pretty. Not nasty.”
I looked at my iced tea-I didn’t like iced tea-and thought, why not let her sing. The only reason I had tried to keep her away wasn’t a good one any more. She just about knew what I owned in this building. And if I didn’t let her sing pretty, she’d do it nasty and Lippit would know what I owned.
At first, I had just kept it from him as a matter of principle, because Lippit would have wanted in. Next stage, I kept it from him because I had kept it from him, which would have made him sore. And he would want in. Last stage, he would want in for sure. I had a notion how it could save his skin with the Benotti trouble.
I said, “All right, Patty. You called it.”
“You’ll make me sound pretty?”
“So you won’t talk to Lippit nasty.”
She was a charmer. She had one sweet smile and a frank little squeeze of my hand, reaching over the table, and what did she want, after all, but to be a singer. When over a barrel, I got this rule: Trust ‘em. It’s simpler, for the time being.
I checked the time and thought Conrad ought to show pretty soon. I told Pat not to drink any more tea for the moment, because it would make her throat too insensitive. She liked hearing that, since it showed my solicitude and because it sounded like professionals’ lore. We felt almost friendly.
“Jacky,” she said, “I don’t want you to think that time on the couch-you remember that time-I don’t want you to think that was all for just this.”
“Just to prove it to you, Jacky, we can do it again sometime.”
The logic stunned me and I almost said, oh no, again. Instead I said nothing. I sat and felt nervous with the unreal sense of peace and accord. Conrad should show about now. There would be trouble with Conrad and that would take care of the unreal feeling. Or I could call up Lippit. He should be done at the jobbers. Call Lippit and let him take care of the sense of peace. It would either turn out a joke, or who knows, maybe he had been solving things, while I hadn’t.
I went out to the lobby and called upstairs. Conrad was still in his fiberglass sanctum but would wrap things up in a minute or so.
I called the club and got Davy on the phone. No, Lippit hadn’t finished, but had called about something. He had wanted somebody to bring down the folder on last month’s deliveries.
He was still talking to Bascot He hadn’t been thrown out, driven off to the hospital, or anything like that. He was still talking and maybe it looked good.
I saw Conrad come down the lobby and I hung up the phone. Maybe he wouldn’t argue too much. Maybe that, and Pat, would turn out good, too.
He looked sweaty and rumpled and when he saw me he also looked annoyed.
“So. What is this?”
“Conrad,” I said, “due to several reasons which are none of your business…”
“What is this? You running this outfit to procure females or something?”
“I don’t know what you mean by ‘or something’, but I…”
“All right Females. I’ve seen her.”
“It isn’t that simple, Conrad.”
“You’re damn right it won’t be that simple, Jack-boy, because if you think I’m going to twiddle those dials for any non-musical purpose…”
“Of course not, Conrad. I wouldn’t dream…”
“Not dream, maybe, but you’d do it.”
I made a pause to break his rhythm, and then I said, “She’s going to record and you’ve got to make her sound good.”
“You’ve got it that bad?”
“No, damn it.”
“You mean she’s that bad?”
“I don’t know. All I know is, she’s got to sound good on the first try.”
“Don’t threaten me.”
“I’m not. I was going…”
“And you can’t bribe me, if that’s next.”
“You artists,” I said.
“Take her someplace else.”
“If she doesn’t sound good,” I said, “and to make a long story short, we lose B. B. and the works.”
He looked out to the street, mean and rumpled. “All right,” he said. “I’ll do it.”
“You artists,” and I took his arm to lead him to the restaurant.
“For the challenge,” he said. “I’ll do it for that.”
“Okay. You’re a craftsman. Not an artist.”
We went to the booth where Pat was waiting and on the way I told Conrad to be polite. “I’m not a sore loser,” he said and when we got to Pat he said, “Hello.” I bumped him and he said, “Hello, and how do you do?”
Pat did it much better, playing it with charm and a pretty shyness and I had to explain to her about Conrad’s manner.
“An artist all the time,” I told her, “and no room left for anything else.”
“Oh?” she said.
“He’s studying your voice and projection and so on right now. All the time like that.”
“I haven’t said anything.”
“You said ‘oh’ and before that it was the carriage of your head, the size of your neck, that kind of thing.”
She smiled as before, though less shy this time.
“Did you explain to him that this has got to sound good, first try, Jacky?”
“Sure he did,” said Conrad. “What can you sing?”
Everybody was more realistic than me. We went upstairs and that artist and that woman got along fine.
Conrad took her to the piano and ran her through a couple of numbers. First thing that showed, she was working the lyrics but not the melody. Her voice wasn’t bad, but it was far from singing.
“This thing you’re doing,” he told her, “is lousy poetry The guy who wrote it knows it, I know it, but you don’t. The guy who did the notes knew it so well he knocked himself out to doll the whole thing up with music. You respect that fact, lady, and you’re on your way to singing.”
She worked on that. She took that insult and others and worked like a horse. Just like a singer.
I called Lippit again while that was going on, but he wasn’t back. Good sign, this. Maybe Pat would turn from a good horse into a good singer and Lippit would swing something with Bascot that day, and when all that would be done, I’d deserve a vacation.
There was a rumble on the South Side, I learned from the foreman. Two of the drivers had seen some Benotti bums drift around. Maybe they live there, the foreman said.
I went back into the studio and this time Conrad was in his sanctum. Pat was in the soloist’s booth and Conrad was talking to her with the mike.
“Just go along with it, for the timing,” he said.
He was playing an instrumental for her which would be her background.
“Hear that?” he said to me.
Her voice and the orchestra disc were coming in on the wall speaker.
“She’s a marvel,” he said. “She does all that with her mouth and no breathing. She thinks breathing is for getting oxygen into the blood.”
“When you tape it, add echo,” I said.
“I got the mike on in the back room right now.”
Behind the recording room was an empty room and with the door open and a mike in there to pick up the sound from a distance, Conrad got a nice volume effect. But it wasn’t enough, this time.
“Three months of work and she could be pleasant enough. Nice beat. She knows when to come in.”
But she had to come in with more, and not three months from now.
“Maybe if you told her this was for real, maybe she’d put out more.”
“She gets loud and thin. I told you about her theory of breathing. Like a doctor.”
“I just heard her go flat,” I said.
“I can tape that so she won’t know it. You will, but she won’t.”
When Pat and the record were done I was sweating. She had, you might call it, a voice three months later.
“Walk around a little,” he said into the mike. “Then we start taking.”
She nodded through the window and walked. I think she looked pleased.
“You out of your mind?” I asked Conrad.
“Well, no. You brought her up.”
“How you going to do this, for godsake, the way she sounds?”
“I’ll have her go with the background on headphones. I’ll tape her alone and put the rest of it on the tape later. I can lay around more, that way.”
“You put the background volume down for her, so she shows, and you come up with a whispering take.”
“I’ll cut her at seventy-eight instead of thirty-three. I can pump more volume into seventy-eight.”
Then he said all right into the mike, and told her to get ready. He said he’d start the background when he went so with his finger and she should come in on the third. She said she didn’t know what he meant by the third and he said he’d go so with his finger. Then he turned on the tape, then her background record, then put both hands on the mixer panel. I said, “Bless all the little wires,” and got out of there. I had headache.
Murder Me for Nickels
C onrad, I found out the next day, had worked very hard with the girl, making something like fifteen takes, getting her tired, the way he liked his performers, sending her home late, staying himself until after midnight. There had been two more sessions, there was the background he had to put under her solo, and there was the dub he had to cut, so she could listen to a finished record next morning. Conrad himself did not seem to get tired.
Nothing else sprung in the rest of the business, such as the rumble the foreman had mentioned, or such as Lippit’s talk with the jobber that day. Last time I called he hadn’t been back, and after that Doris showed up, and I had just one phone call, Pat, sounding sweet and tired. But it was the wrong time-like I said, Doris was there-and what Pat said on the phone, I had to let pass. I disconnected the phone after that call-there was a gadget to do this at this point-so I didn’t hear from Lippit till the next day. Doris was better news anyway. Much better.
We met at the studio the next morning. Everybody looked fine. Pat, brilliant and smiling, as the occasion demanded. It was a premiere. Lippit, keen and interested, as Pat demanded. Conrad, bushed.
Conrad was setting it up for playing the record and Pat hung around with him, watching every move. Lippit sat down on the piano stool and I went over to have a quick talk. I lit a cigarette and said, “So?”
“We’ll see, I guess.” He was rubbing his face. “Pat tells me you know these people and you were helping out to set her up the right way.”
“What I meant…”
“Damn nice of you,” he said. “Would be nice not to get bugged with that topic any more.”
I, too, thought that would be damn nice.
“About yesterday,” he said. “I couldn’t reach you by phone.”
Lippit seemed tired. He had been up most of the night, he explained, trying to set something up.
“Because Bascot didn’t come through.”
He went plink, plink on the piano and I looked at my cigarette ashes.
“You made it look good for him, if he keeps delivering?”
“So good I was losing money just talking about it.”
“Nothing. What took the time, he got his lawyer to come over. He would have liked to keep our account, is the point, but the business sold to Benotti, lock stock and barrel, didn’t give him the free hand. That’s what the lawyer came over for, to see if Bascot, he’s just manager now, could make a deal.”
“No. Breach of contract, for one, and Benotti’s more personal methods for another.”
“I know about those.”
“But he’s still out at Mercy.”
“That’s right. Recuperating while I go under.”
“Anything to the rumble at the South end?”
“Nothing. Just some of his bums with nothing to do.”
“You going to buy records through dealers?”
“If I want to go broke, yes,” he said. He rubbed his face again and watched Conrad and Pat come through the door with the record.
“What I need is,” he said, “some way to get discs at a jobber’s price.”
“There’s nobody close enough for you to buy into.”
“There’s got to be some other way. Some other way, Jack. We’ll have to talk about that.”
He stopped and smiled. Now came the premiere.
“Have you two been talking?” said Pat, and she smiled, too.
“Just a little,” I said. “We’re all anxious to hear.”
“I bet you are,” she said, but never stopped smiling.
And if nothing else works, I was thinking, before Lippit goes under, I’ll try this one other way. As I said once, I liked him. And the money. I thought about this and related things while Conrad put the disc on the turntable. Pat’s record didn’t interest me any more. Conrad knew his magic.
The song was a ballad which sounded best with a tender lilt. The orchestra worked it that way, and Pat’s little voice, the way Conrad had cut it, would come out that way, too. A voice with no depth and volume can be made to sound sweet. Children sing that way. Taping at thirty-three and cutting at seventy-eight would help with the depth.
Conrad put the tone arm down.
“There’s a lot of hard work in this,” he said.
He meant that every which way and we took it according to taste and inclination.
First thing, a drum came on, going ratatat, and then a belter who shattered the glasswool off the ceiling.
Conrad took the record off and said, “Sorry. That was the wrong one, of course.”
“Of course,” said Pat.
Lippit smiled like a father and I fingered my patch. Very hot under that patch there.
Conrad came back with another disc. “I had to cut a few others things late at night,” he was saying. “That’s why this happened. The lady’s song,” he said to Lippit, “is a tender thing. There’s beat, I grant you, but mostly from the lilt.”
Smiles. Tone arm down.
Three beats by the instrumental, nice and normal. Then the vocal cut in.
We all waited around for a while, to get this thing straight, but nothing changed to make it any clearer.
This did not lilt. It loped. Nothing ugly. Friendly, actually. Like a friendly bear loping. I don’t have any exceptional ear for tone but my guess was, Pat was singing about one and a half registers lower. She mewed like something asleep and she buzzed like a bee and she growled like a bear.
Conrad told me later that she was about two registers lower than normal.
“What’s that strange instrument?” Lippit asked.
“Just a minute, just a minute,” said Conrad, and flipped the switch for a different speed. Pat sounded like Pat now.
When you could hear her. It was hard to hear her because the orchestra was going just a little bit crazy. There was the part which you might call “Revolt of the Mosquitoes,” and then the part which you might call “Tarantella of the Hornets.” But all more than life-size. It made Pat sound like the one who was abnormal.
“Ah,” said Lippit. “Eh-One of those modern things. Very.”
“Conrad,” I said, “better turn…” but he was doing just that at the moment, turning it off, and it stopped the music and all of us into one large silence. I don’t think any of us wanted to talk after that.
Conrad took the record off and looked at it as if he had never seen one before. Lippit touched his tie, waiting for everyone else to talk. We were the experts. I looked at Pat and it didn’t look good.
She didn’t look hurt, puzzled, upset, anything. She sat still and smiled. It might even have looked like a mysterious smile, though it didn’t to me. She looked at her hands in her lap, checking the polish on her nails. I think she was checking the nails, plain and simple, to see if they were sharp enough.
“You understand what happened,” said Conrad. “I got screwed up with the speeds.”
“He was doing ten jobs at the same time, yesterday,” I explained. “He worked till after one in the morning.”
“Oh,” said Lippit. He seemed glad there was this explanation. Or that it was over.
“What must have happened,” Conrad was saying, “when I taped the background for the Chuck Morty record and then afterwards I took it off and…”
“All we’ve got to do,” I said, “is do the thing over. That’s all. Okay, Patty?”
“I knew,” she said, “I knew there was some explanation.”
“Sure, Patty. And a simple one, too.”
“Well,” said Conrad, “I wouldn’t just say simple, you know, because if it had been that simple I would have caught it and this wouldn’t have happened. What must have happened…”
“Of course not,” said Pat. “How could it be a simple explanation. But I knew there would be some explanation.”
She was smiling all that time. Every so often she looked down at her hands, the way I’ve described it, but everything must have seemed good and sharp to her because she looked up and pushed her chair away.
“What we’ll do,” I said, “we’ll tape it right over. All right, Conrad? Set it up and…”
“No,” said Pat. “That’s awfully sweet of you but Walter here doesn’t have the time. Walter has to get back and attend to things and before that, I told him he might like to look at the plant.”
“Plant?” I said.
“He’s never seen a place like this,” said Pat. “Upstairs or downstairs.”
She didn’t object to any of Conrad’s explanations and she didn’t even protest when they were getting too technical. Conrad’s pride was getting involved. She soothed him with a smile but the smile didn’t do the same thing for me. Lippit, in the meantime, had gotten up from the piano stool and was looking around the place. His interest, he must have felt, would help to get rid of the awkwardness. “And what’s this for?” he asked Conrad, and Conrad showed him what this was for and what that was for.
I took Pat’s arm and we stood fairly close.
“Patty,” I said, “stop looking so benign.”
“What’s the difference. You know how I feel.”
“Honey, believe me I’m sorry.”
“But I believe you, Jacky. I do believe you.”
“About the record, you can believe that, too.”
“About what I said yesterday, Jacky, you can believe that, too.”
“You don’t mean about the couch, do you?”
“Sure,” she said. “That, too.”
She smiled and gave the good side of my face a small pat and so help me, the girl had a lot of appeal.
“I’ve get nothing against you,” she said. “Just like you’ve got nothing against me.”
“I don’t, you know.”
“I do know. You’re a bastard, Jacky, but you did have a lot of fun on that couch, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know what that’s got to do with anything and besides, you didn’t seem to be suffering any yourself.”
“I wasn’t, and that’s what it’s got to do with,” she said. “And now, off to the wars.”
She took her arm out of my hand, blew me a kiss, and walked out to the room where Lippit and Conrad were.
When I got there Lippit must have seen everything, or maybe Conrad, in his technical pride, was getting to be too much to take, because Lippit was saying, “And what about the downstairs part, Mister Conrad?”
“Downstairs? This is all there is.”
“Maybe this is all he knows,” said Pat, which was when I came up, with thoughts of saving the situation.
“But Jack knows,” said Pat. “You do know what’s next, don’t you, Jacky?”
“Yeah,” I said. “What’s next is very important, Lippit. I’ve been thinking about it while we were sitting there, with that music.”
“It inspired you, didn’t it, Jacky?” she said.
“Quiet a moment. Walter, I’d like to see you alone. This is business.”
“I was going to tell him about this business,” said Pat “Are you trying to steal my thunder?”
I sure as hell was trying to steal her thunder and tell Lippit that I had this idea, about how to get records, without middleman profits even, and all because I would try very hard, my very damnedest as a matter of fact, to get my influence to bear on the management of this studio-this management whose members I had gotten to know personally-and what with the friendship I had with them, there wouldn’t be anything they wouldn’t do for me. Such as the following, very clever arrangement.
I didn’t make it that far, because Lippit didn’t like to be puzzled and soon Pat took it from there.
“Thunder,” he said. “What are you two talking about?” And none too friendly about it.
“It’s about records,” said Pat.
And what wasn’t, at this point?
“I’ve thought it over, about the records,” she said, “and I think there was something in what Jacky was saying.”
What had I said now?
“You mean about making that record over?” Lippit asked her.
I glowed with hope.
“Yes. I’m going to do something about that.”
She took my arm and squeezed it. She took Lippit’s arm, too, and perhaps squeezed it, but she was mostly smiling at me, and I thought why was such a beautiful creature such a conniving one at the same time.
Or maybe not any more. With her hand through my arm, leaning up a little, reminding me of the more beautiful things which she was capable of-why should I spill even as much to Lippit as that I was thick with the management?
If Pat would say nothing, I would say nothing, and about Lippit’s record troubles, I’d handle that in some other way. I’d get the records for him, the way I had been thinking, but he wouldn’t have to know how. I liked Lippit. His business was my business and I wouldn’t want him to go under. But Loujack, Inc., was mine and not his.
“Listen,” said Lippit. “You go into that singing business some other time, okay Pat?”
“I’ll go into that singing business some other time,” she said, and so I wouldn’t miss the double meaning she said it straight at me.
Hope aflame now.
“Because I got to get back,” said Lippit. “And so does Jack.”
“Yessir, that’s right,” I said, and led them to the door.
“And on the way down,” said Lippit, “we can look at the downstairs part of the business.”
“I wouldn’t, Walter. I…”
“I would,” said Pat.
We went to the downstairs part of the business.
We looked at all the downstairs part of the business. The foreman down there was an old man with the black dust from the record processing in all his deep wrinkles and he answered the questions for Lippit It could have been a sightseeing tour. If Pat hadn’t been along. If her Cheshire-cat smile hadn’t been along.
We looked at the blanks, at the presses, the cooling racks, at the labeling machine, and the packing table. The place smelled like hot plastic and a machine made a hiss now and then. Nice and peaceful. Then there was nothing else to see.
“Very interesting,” said Lippit.
“Yes,” said Pat. “Are we ready to go?”
I felt like falling flat on my back, like a puppy maybe, overcome with relief. Or did she mean she’d keep me dangling that much longer before singing her song to Lippit. I still felt like falling flat on my back, to beg for the coup de grace, this time.
“Listen,” said Lippit, “you think I could ask the old man for a cup of coffee? I see they got this urn back there. No breakfast yet, this morning…”
Naturally, on account of my influence, we got a cup of coffee each, a sweet roll each, and sat on the loading ramp in back.
I figured three minutes for the sweet roll, four minutes for the coffee, and since the two would overlap, I figured five minutes, perhaps, before Pat would leave one way and Lippit and I the other.
“Ah,” said Lippit. “That hits the right spot,” and he drank coffee.
“Yes,” I said.
After a moment he said, “Interesting place, this here.”
“Yes,” said Pat. “Very.”
“I don’t think it’s interesting,” I said, “and we’re wasting time with the business that really matters. Tell me about the South Side, Walter.”
“Yeah,” he said, and drank coffee.
Three more minutes, I figured. Three more and the coffee break would be over.
“I’m not too worried about that,” he said. “I got guys hanging around just in case. It’s the price of the records worries me.”
“Let’s go back to the club,” I said and put my cup down. “I got a notion about that. How to beat that angle.”
“I know,” he said. “Get out of the business, for instance.”
He put his cup down and Pat put hers down and then she said, “You think, Jacky, with the pull you have in this company, we could all get another cup of coffee?”
I did not think I could go through another five, or let’s say, three and a half minutes like this, even without sweet roll time. So I said no, I didn’t want to take advantage. “What we need,” said Lippit, “with Bascot out of the question, is a fake jobber. We set up a fake territory, excluding this one, and then ship to here. Something on that order.”
“If you can’t even get a cup of coffee,” Pat was saying, “how did you ever manage the recording session for me, Jacky?”
“It was hard,” I told her, and to Lippit I said, “You have a wonderful idea there, Walter. Let’s leave and talk about this.”
“It would even be better,” said Pat, “if you could work in the name of an outfit that’s already established. Wouldn’t that help, darling?” and she said it to Lippit.
He looked at her and then at me and said, “You know, she’s smart. You know that?”
“I know that,” I said and got up.
“Of course, it would have to be a real friend,” said Pat. “So it wouldn’t cost you so much, buying into it.”
“Yeah,” said Lippit, and he got up too. “Comes a point, you need a friend.”
“It would have to be another jobber,” I said, “and there aren’t any.”
“Like hell it would have to be another jobber,” said Lippit. “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” And he laughed.
He started down the steps of the loading ramp and I helped Pat down the steps because they were steep and she was wearing heels.
“You’re not looking well,” she said close to my ear. “Like a skinned cat, sweetie.”
Lippit stopped, halfway down.
“I just had an idea,” he said.
“Ohsaintcheshire smile upon me,” I said with the bad side of my face.
“How well,” Lippit said and looked at me, “how well do you know this outfit?”
“If you mean about the coffee and could…”
“Don’t be stupid.”
“Yes. Don’t be stupid,” said Pat.
“Gallows humor,” I said and did a laugh with that one. “As a matter of fact, Lippit-keep walking, won’t you? — I was saying before, I wanted to talk to you about the delivery problem. A little wrinkle I thought up while lying in bed yesterday and maybe the very thing…”
“Don’t be so secretive, Jack. Don’t you think he’s being secretive, Walter?” said Pat.
“What did he say?”
“He’s got this wonderful surprise for you, Walter. I think that’s what he’s trying to say.”
“You know about it, too?” he asked her.
“He confided in me,” she told him, “at one time when he and I discussed singing. You remember the time we discussed singing, Jacky?”
“Watch your step there,” I said and looked down. “The last one is a bad one.”
I watched her pretty leg reach out and make it easy.
“As a matter of fact,” she was saying, “I was so surprised at the time, it put me flat on my back.”
She was twisting me proper, just as she had promised. She was getting her own back, but only up to a point. There she stopped.
The thing was, she was letting me tell it to Lippit, myself Which, at this point of no good coming my way from any where, made me cherish the girl out of all proportion to her misdeeds.
“Well?” said Lippit. “Well?”
“Yes,” I said. “I know this outfit well.”
“Come on man, tell me. Are they big? Are they easy? I mean suckers?”
“Easier than that, Walter. There’s only one. One big sucker.”
“Good!” He looked rapacious. “Let’s go down to the club. We got to work this thing over.”
“He’s been worked over.”
I didn’t pay too much attention to Pat then, but she seemed content with her morning and left us to go to the club together. Lippit was frowning some-nothing definite yet, since he clearly had to catch up with a great deal. We were walking down the parking lot in back of the building when a window opened up on the fourth floor.
“Jack? Hey, Jack!”
Conrad was leaning out. I could tell by the hair.
“Can you hear me?” he yelled.
“If it’s important.”
“There’s this girl on the phone, Jack. You remember this girl, works for Hough and Daly? She says you promised her…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Tape her. Right across the mouth, tape her,” which shows what a state I was in.
Lippit and I drove without talking, most of the way. There was just a little conversation, designed to show me the new lay of the land.
“Pretty nice for us, huh, Walter? This new development.”
“Yeah. Quite a surprise.”
He didn’t explain that any further. I drove and he sat. I said a few more things, like, “How about breakfast, Walt? I don’t think that coffee was enough,” and he’d say, “No, I think I’ve had enough. I think I’ve had all I wanted.” Or, one other time, I tried comments on Benotti developments, and what did he think of those South Side goings on, and he said there were no goings on. The Benotti business, that business at any rate, was all pretty much in the open at this point.
So he kept digesting away in allegorical fashion and by the time he and I got to this club of his, the business between him and me was pretty much in the open. At the entrance I held the door for him and he said, “You go in first, you son of a bitch. I don’t want to get stabbed in the back.”
Whereupon I told him, “Crisis brings the cleverness out in you, doesn’t it. And who’s ever heard of stabbing an ox?”
We walked across the lobby when he said, “I don’t know who. But there’s always the idiot who’ll try anything no sane person would do.”
And we walked up the stairs to the tune of, “I can see you building up to a shining example of that, buddy Lippit.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere beyond a punch in the nose.”
“Is that the motto of the physical culture department?”
“Don’t let your brains interfere with your good sense, boy.”
“Spoken like a biceps!”
He opened the door at the top of the stairs and we went into his long, misplanned room. First he yelled at Davy to get the hell out of there, and then he yelled at Davy to stick around outside somewhere, within calling distance. Anywhere within a two-block radius, I was going to add, but I didn’t want the wrong kind of levity now.
We sat down at the table, he on one side, I on the other, and the only good thing was all the feelings showed plainly.
“So what was your plan, right-hand man?” said Lippit.
“The plan was,” I said, “to help you keep playing your jukeboxes.”
“Was that the reason you snuck around behind my back and set yourself up in a legitimate business?”
He used the expression like a dirty word and I felt I should make one thing clear right away.
“Just remember it’s mine, Lippit. Not yours.”
“Sure. And you just remember that I got the union that can rock your boat.”
“How’s that going to help you?”
“It would make me feel just fine. The way I feel, it would make me feel just fine.”
“You gonna run this talk on spite or on what?”
All this helped a lot with the pressure and after a while we got down to the business again.
“You were saying, close friend of mine. You were explaining how all this was helping the partnership.”
I said, “All right. This is the notion. As long as Bascot is too scared to go against his agreement with Benotti, for that length of time, you don’t have a jobber.”
“Are you building up to the news, or is this it?”
“And no jobber, no jukebox music.”
“And you don’t draw your pay.”
He still had to talk that way, but he sounded much calmer. I, myself, had to think hard, because the thoughts were still new to me.
“The wrinkle is,” I said, “maybe we won’t need the jobber.”
“At least you said we. At least that, St Louis.”
And at least, he was using my name and no adjectives.
“Now,” I said, “we talk about my business.”
I wanted that reminder in there, knowing Lippit’s type of co-operative thinking, so he had to say again that I should not forget about his union while I was talking like a capitalist. Having balanced the big-power talks, he let me go on.
“It goes so. The record goes from manufacturer, to jobber, to us. We don’t have a jobber and we don’t have a franchise. And we haven’t got time to ask a manufacturer for a franchise. Instead this: We press our own records, and use what we press.”
“Something stinks,” he said. “You know something stinks?”
“I know. We can’t press records except from a master. We are a manufacturer without the big masters.”
“But you’re going to keep us going in spite?”
“You’re going to squeeze discs for me?”
“I can’t. I don’t have the masters.”
“And I don’t have a jobber. And I can’t buy from the manufacturer who’s got the masters, which make the discs, which built the house that Jack built.”
“And now that we’ve heard from wee little Walter with the nursery rhymes, comes more business.”
“All right,” he said. “Second verse.”
“What sometimes happens in the business,” I told him, “is that one manufacturer rents a master to another manufacturer.”
“To lose money, of course. The one with the gold mine master wants to lose money.”
“Make money. All it means to the owner is to get more records pressed than his own plant is putting out.”
“Your pressing plant rents a master and pays the owner as much as a jobber would for each record sold?”
“For every record I press off a master I pay the owner the price per record he would get from the jobber.”
“And that’s the reason, I suppose, why everybody does it that way, huh, boy wonder?”
“No. Not everybody is doing it, because everybody else is not a friend of yours. That’s how my outfit is going to do it.”
“Break it down,” he said. “So I can hear the money.”
“The outfit who owns the master gets two cents a side, regular records.”
“All right Let’s say four cents the record.”
“The artist gets three cents, musicians’ union gets two cents, pressing in ten thousand lots costs fifteen, and the jobber gets thirty-one.”
“Bascot got less.”
“I know. That’s because you’re special.”
“And I don’t buy in ten thousand lots.”
“I’m breaking it down standard-like, Walter, and will you now shut up?”
“Okay. The record cost me fifty-five cents now.”
“And the owner of the master got his four cents. I, Loujack, Inc., paying the manufacturer his cut, can also press and sell you for the same price you used to pay Bascot.”
This was the point for him to be impressed. He was, because he didn’t talk right away. He was thinking about running the works like before, minus jobber troubles, with Benotti out.
Then he said, “And I pay you that price, Jack, you make dough off the pressing, and you make dough off the stake you got in the jukebox business. Is that how the coin falls, right-hand man?”
We had to talk that back and forth for a while. I had to show him again that I wouldn’t make a cent, that I would have to pay the owner as if he were pressing his own discs, or else I would never be able to swing this kind of deal.
“And who pays you? I just want to be sure, trusted friend, that nobody pays you.”
“I’m going to pay the cost of pressing out of my cut from the jukes, damn your little pointed head, Lippit! I’m doing it for the love of you, for the jukebox coin, and to give ourselves time till Bascot comes around!”
“And when you go broke?” He had to be nasty about it.
“Then you go broke.”
That was clear and simple. He saw it and nodded, and the fact put us on the same side again. Maybe two weeks before Benotti got back on his feet, which was two weeks for me to arrange use of the masters. Then some months, more or less, while I ran Loujack at a loss, and while Lippit and I had to knock out Benotti for good. By then we had to have a jobber. Or by then we’d go broke.
He looked up from the table and grinned.
“Too bad. Would be nice, if I could arrange it for you to go broke and not me. Shake?”
Then he hustled me out as if we had two minutes instead of two weeks, which was more like the old teamwork relationship between him and me. I set it up to fly to Chicago and he went to keep the local pot from developing steam. And he paid for my ticket, just to show no hard feelings.
He didn’t give me what a hood might call ice. I was a businessman and called it grease. I took what I would need and did, as a matter of fact, smear my way into a number of places. There was the lunch where you didn’t taste the food and only the right-hand margin of the menu was of any importance. There were drinks where the number of rounds counted most of all, and there was even the elderly VIP who liked special services which not just any professional woman could render. All kinds of business is still business.
Anyway, I got the masters.
I got some on a press-number basis, and some on a time-rental basis, and I paid a jobber’s price every time. It was slippery going, what with all that grease, but when I left I was clean.
On the plane I looked at the big, blue nothing outside, and on the way down the ramp I said thank you to the stewardess and that it had been truly a wonderful trip. Back in town I didn’t go straight to Lippit. I went home, took a shower, changed clothes. I sat on the bed a minute and looked at the phone, and for a minute had a notion to call somebody whom I didn’t know.
Then I went to Lippit’s.
He wasn’t home. I called the club and the desk voice said there was nobody in the room upstairs. And, further, that Mister Lippit was not in the building.
There had been changes while I was gone. Including Davy not holding down the phone.
I called the shop and the foreman answered. “Fine,” he said. “Everything’s fine.”
But he always said that.
“Is there anything that could be finer?” I asked him.
“Well, Jimmy didn’t come in today. Claims he’s got a cold.”
“And Mister Lippit. Has he come in today?”
“Because everything’s fine, I guess.”
I had enough of that and hung up.
I went to the building on Duncan and what with the shift in importance that had taken place recently I didn’t go upstairs but stayed on the ground floor.
That pressing plant was humming. The first half-dozen masters had gotten there a few days before and there was a full crew tending all the machines and a double crew at the tables in back. They weren’t even putting labels on both sides of the discs. Just on one side, and not always the same one. Mostly, they were packing. And that with more speed than care, seeing the stuff didn’t go very far.
“Keeping full time?” I asked the old man.
“Never been like this, far as I recollect.”
“Miracles don’t come that often. You still on the Ted Curdy series?”
“We squeeze that in, nighttimes.”
“And the Shayne Combo, same thing,” said the old man.
“You finished the run of Mitch Pockard?”
“We didn’t have room. We let him go for a while.”
Those last three were Blue Beat business. The place had never worked so hard or lost so much money.
I went into the office and checked that end of it Busy, busy, busy.
“Been keeping up?” I asked the bookkeeper there.
“Reorganized it a little, the way Mister Lippit suggested.”
He had a big pile of stuff on his desk.
“You need help, looks like.”
“I got help, but he’s out to lunch.”
“But a good worker,” said my bookkeeper man. “A real flash with the Payables.”
“All your stuff here, that’s Receivables?”
“Payables, same as his.”
I didn’t say ‘oh’ again and I didn’t ask any more, because it would all come out the same. The place had never worked so hard catching up with the Payables.
For old times’ sake I took the elevator to the fourth floor and there was one familiar sight, anyway. Herbie at the desk, and what he said was familiar, too.
“Oo-man!” he said.
“No. This one’s different. But oo-man!”
“Can she sing?”
I went through to the messy room with the racks and the cables and one of the agents was there, talking to Conrad. They both looked at me and Conrad said, “You did it this time, Jack!” And the agent said, “But too bad you didn’t have her signed.”
On the other side of the window, doing phrasing with an arranger, was Hough and Daly’s own Doris, who could also sing.
“She come looking for you,” said Conrad. “First few times.”
“But you didn’t show,” said the agent.
“So you showed her.”
“But you didn’t have her signed, Jack.”
“That’s right. Just personal.”
“That’s what she said.”
I looked at her through the window but I couldn’t hear a thing.
“Is she good?” I asked Conrad.
“Would I take her?” said the agent.
“For three-dozen reasons.”
“No,” said Conrad. “She’s good.”
I looked at her through the window but she didn’t see me. She was singing, and why shouldn’t she be good. Then I left.
I passed the restaurant downstairs and felt a little bit hungry, but that was just a reflex and it didn’t last. I got the car out of the lot and drove back to Lippit’s. I remember lighting a cigarette when I got into the car, same with another one when I stopped for a light, and then again in the apartment-house lobby. I went up six flights, rang the right bell, and heard somebody coming. Pat opened the door.
“Jack,” she said.
“Hi. Jack what?”
“Your cigarette’s out,” she said. Then she went ahead of me.
When I came into the living room Lippit came in from the other end. He looked across and nodded. “Jack,” he said.
“Hi. Jack what?”
“Jack-of-all-trades, maybe,” and he came toward me. Then he said, “Your cigarette’s out.”
“So give me a light.”
“I will give you better,” he said, “you son of a bitch,” and he hauled it up from somewhere, fast and hard. I jackknifed to the floor before it started to hurt.
It hurt plenty then, all the way from the chin to the top of the head, whether I held still where I was or whether I moved, just ever so slightly.
His feet were still close to me but then they walked away.
“You can get up,” he said. “Get up if you want.”
I didn’t want to get up and I didn’t want to stay down and what if I had stopped in the restaurant, wouldn’t that have made a difference? Crazy, I thought, and when I looked up I saw Lippit standing there and-he’s crazy, not me. One crazy bastard…
He must have seen my face as I thought that one over because just when I was ready to jump he was ahead of me, and his foot hit me in the ribs.
That was a much more sudden pain. It crashed open. It didn’t stay where it started but was worst in that spot. I fell over and stayed that way for a while.
Lippit stood there just like before with his face the same as when he had said, “Jack,” and the rest, afterwards.
Pat was by a wall and had her lip in her teeth. She had one fist in front of her face and I saw mostly her eyes.
Pat didn’t move, nor Lippit, but there was the sound.
The door to the back opened and when he came through he left it open. And he had on a new leather jacket. Otherwise Folsom hadn’t changed.
“Don’t you think, Mister Lippit,” he said, “that we should ask the lady…”
“All right, beat it,” said Lippit. “Don’t you have any sense?”
Pat left, walking quickly, and she still had her fist near her face. I could see that and her short hair dipping up and down when she walked. When she went into the room in back she squeezed to one side in the door. The other one came out, the big one, the one Lippit had beaten up the other time.
But this was a new time. This was very different I even learned the big one’s name. It was Franklin.
“Franklin,” said Lippit, “you can stay over there. No. By the chair. Sit.”
“But if he gets up…”
“He doesn’t want to get up,” said Lippit.
“I think he’s ashamed,” said Folsom.
I almost threw up.
“Stop talking crap,” said Lippit, and then, “you hear me, St. Louis?”
“I hear you.”
“So why don’t you look up?”
“I think he’s…”
“Folsom,” said Lippit. “Just shut up.”
They had a fine slave-and-master relationship. Which was normal. Nothing else was, though.
“So why don’t you look up?” Lippit said again.
“I’m waiting for you to put your foot in my neck and then stand there like that to make a proclamation.”
“You want me to make…”
Something crashed against the wall next to Franklin where Lippit had missed with the cocktail glass. I straightened up with some effort-what was keeping me down was some muscle midway down which I had not even known existed before this-and I gave the scene a look. It was painful, all around. There was big Franklin, smart Folsom, and Walter Lippit. The new working relationship. It worked in a disgusting way.
“I need a drink,” I said.
Nobody moved. Franklin looked at the broken glass next to his chair and Folsom looked up at the ceiling. Folsom was lighting himself a cigarette.
“If nobody will take offense,” I said, “I’ll try and get it myself.”
It was unpleasant going but then I had to get it myself. Nobody moved and nobody answered. I got up, got to the liquor chest, got a bottle. I was now more mad than puzzled.
“Mud in your faces,” I said. “And with glass in it.” Then I had a pull at the bottle.
“Take it away from him,” said Lippit.
Franklin came over, all muscled eagerness. I held the bottle out to him and let it drop on his foot.
“Never mind,” yelled Lippit. “Get back to your chair.” Franklin limped back and I reached down for a fresh bottle.
“Leave it,” said Lippit. “Leave it sit, St. Louis.”
I kept it in my hand but didn’t open the bottle. “I won’t throw it,” I said. “I just need a drink.”
“You’ve thrown all you’re going to throw, you bastard.”
“I wish I were saying that, Lippit. So help me, I wish that very much.”
“Mister Lippit,” Folsom started, but Lippit didn’t want to hear from him. I kept going.
“I don’t get very much of this, Lippit, but I get the part that stinks the most. I turn my back, and in slides that crapper over there.” Folsom got red, but nothing else. “I turn my back,” I went on, “and the only straight-running business I’ve ever been in runs into the red so fast, it’s going to drown you just as fast as me. I come back here, to this idiot’s haven, and…”
“I’ve had it,” said Lippit. He was hoarse. “I’ve had it from you, brother, and the only reason you’re still standing up on two feet is because I was hoping to see how you’d slime your way out of this.”
We were really hating each other straight across that room. He held still and I held still but there was a big swatch of hate across which you could have walked as if it was a road.
“I’m a little older than you,” he said, with that scratch in his voice, “so I’ve known more double-crossers than you, come to think of it.”
“Which accounts for the way you’ve made your way up?”
“Yeah,” he said. “You’re my crowning achievement. You’re so high up there, St. Louis, I’m too dizzy to look.”
“That you are, Lippit. Much too dizzy.”
“In a little while from now, we’ll see who’s off balance.” He threw his cigarette into a tray and then he practically spat.
“I used to think this one here, I mean Folsom, was the rat of the pack. He switched over to Benotti, you recall that?”
“Stands to reason,” I said.
“He switched to Benotti because you ran him off.”
“The way it really was,” said Folsom, talking edgy like glass, “the way I explained it to you, Mister Lippit…”
“Well, he’s back,” said Lippit. He didn’t look at Folsom, which cut the man off worse than anything. “He’s back, doing a job both ways while being at it.”
“He would. True to type.”
“He left Benotti because the crap there was worse than here, when you used to be in the picture.”
“Or because he came to think that Benotti might not be the winning side?”
Folsom was dying to say something then, but Lippit was still going.
“Well, he came back with the goods that really opened the door. He came up and he showed that he’s no rat, compared to you.”
“Mister Lippit I don’t…”
“What? You don’t like me to call you a rat? There’s nothing but rats, Folsom, nothing but! You think there’s such a thing like doing business with angels? There’s no such thing!”
“They play harps,” I said. “Not jukeboxes.”
“Idiots play jukeboxes,” he said, which showed what he thought of his customers. “But you really got to be the worst kind of idiot to start playing around with me! Tell him, Folsom.”
His chance, and he was too stirred up by the emotion of it He let out a sound like a crow, smiled at Lippit, then got cut off again.
“First thing he learns at Benotti’s,” said Lippit, “was that queer thing about the day when we all thought there was going to be a rumble.”
“The day he made his own, including enemies?”
“You got your last little laughs now, St. Louis, so I won’t interfere. I’m talking of the time when Benotti held still. When he pulled all his brain busters off the street.”
“Maybe he was afraid of Folsom.”
“When I tell you to run down and get me some cigarettes, do you run down because you’re afraid?”
“Because I love you, Lippit.”
“Because I pay you! Because I’m the head man!”
“That compares to Benotti?”
“He pulled his hoods back because he was told! The head man says pull, and he does it.”
“I just bet! Because you tipped him to lay low!”
“I’m mystified,” I said again, to cover the blank astonishment. “Your stupidity mystifies me.”
“That’s what I found out,” said Folsom. “That you tipped it that day, and Benotti should lay low.”
“That’s right. Benotti and me have been ever so close, to the tune of a gash here, an X-ray there, and I pay his hospital bills.”
“Then how come,” Lippit asked me, “you had such a sweet, easy time breaking down Benotti’s supply place?”
“On your orders.”
“I’m laughing. Now you laugh this off, St. Louis. Who carted your high-priced recording machine back to that record place where you make funny records?”
I didn’t need to answer. Those had been Benotti men, and Lippit seemed to know that, too.
“Would you say they’d just up and say yessir to a Lippit man when he asks them to lay down on their job and instead do him a personal favor of cartage?”
It looked bad. I took the cap off the bottle I was holding in my hand and took a long swallow. Then I said, “So help me, they were stupid and it just worked out that way.”
“A dumb answer doesn’t make you look any more honest, St. Louis.”
“I didn’t say I was honest. I say I didn’t double-cross you.”
“Is that why I didn’t know until now how you tied up all kinds of helpful little businesses?”
I wanted to say that it had never hurt him, that it had nothing to do with him, and that it was now going to pot so we could handle Benotti. But he had it down, ironclad, his way. I took another drink.
And I made up a few nasty sayings in my head, of which the most innocent went something like, a friend in business is no friendly business is no friendly business is, and so on in three-quarter time.
“What’s next with him?” Folsom was saying.
“I haven’t got the time,” said Lippit.
“If you want…”
“Like I said,” Lippit told him, and then he got up.
He went into the back room and when he came back he was tying his tie.
“You still here?”
“I didn’t think we were through.”
“Walter. Listen to me-”
“Beat it, before I spit and hit the rug by mistake.”
By dint of too much at one time and the liquor on top of it I went fairly dead inside and so managed to just turn and go. I left.
I went downstairs and if nothing else was going to stay whole I’d do just the little bit I could do for sanity and get down to the Duncan building. Stop those lousy runs of pressings, stop that lousy run on my pocket, send the masters back, close the shop, take a break, let the time move over a little. I walked all the way down, for the exercise, and made up a song which had a rhyme and didn’t need reason. It went: The reason I’m partial to strippers, is because they look dressed in slippers. There was more, but it didn’t rhyme.
I went to the parking lot, found my car, got my keys out of my pocket.
“And now give it to me.”
He was polite enough, so I gave them to Folsom. Also Franklin was standing behind me, big enough. Then we all drove off in my car, Folsom the chauffeur, and I sat in the back and had another drink.
Walter Lippit had a pretty place out in the country. We have country with hills, with woods, with fields, and with lakes. Lippit, because of enough money, had all of this. The house wasn’t big but sat pretty. All the landscapes came together where he had built it and the lake came even close enough to make shiny patterns on the living room ceiling.
I sat with the view of the lake and a hill. I might have had the view with the fields or the woods, except Folsom and Franklin had decided it this way. No difference to me. I sat in the room with the chintz and the pine paneling, and my closest friend was the bottle I held.
The light patterns on the ceiling were getting independent. Folsom and Franklin were in the same room, but I didn’t want anything from them. I just sat.
“Watch him,” said Folsom.
“He’s drunk,” said Franklin.
Folsom came around to the front of the chair and stood looking at me. Then he slapped my face.
“Yeah. He’s drunk.”
I kept sitting.
Franklin went to look out of the big window and looked bloated against all that light. And peaceful, I should think. He was feeling all right.
Folsom went into the next room-woods view from that one-and maybe was reading the paperbacks. Lippit had a library there. Nothing but paperbacks, in case it rained over the weekend.
The patterns on the ceiling were like cold water all over.
He wasn’t reading in there. He was on the phone. He was muttering and cackling at the country exchange but they only listen in on connections which have been completed. Before that happened, it took a while. Leisure. All is slow leisure and country-type pleasure, and the reason I would marry a stripper, she’d look good in even one slipper-
Now the ceiling moved, and not the patterns.
I looked away from there and listened. I even put the bottle down. Spill on the rug, if you want, but not on my pants.
“Yeah. No. I’m not in town. No.”
That was clear enough, and true to boot.
“It comes off like we said. Yessir, like we said.”
Maybe he meant my head? Where would I then have the hangover? In thin air?
“Yessir. You said it.”
Talking to Lippit? What a yes-man, that Folsom.
“Like I said, you stupid jerk, and no other way!”
He was not talking to Lippit. Stupid? Not Lippit A jerk, yes, but not stupid. Folsom was talking to one of his men.
“Nine o’clock,” Folsom was saying, “and that puts it right after the time when they close the building. Yes, that’s when I want it, or else that shop is lousy with people.”
Back on the candy shop beat?
“I don’t care about the help. I want the machines busted, the merchandise, and those masters. I said masters.”
I heard you the first time, Folsom, and if you’re following orders, boy, then boss Lippit is more than clean out of his head. He is clean out of every thing, including the more powerful instincts, such as the one about making money.
Ask again, Folsom. I didn’t get it either.
“Franklin,” he yelled, and Franklin said, “Yeah.”
“We gonna be done here before maybe an hour?”
A very intelligent beast, this Franklin. A four letter word, twice repeated, and making it sound the same way each time.
I could hear Folsom hang up and then I saw him come back.
“He hasn’t got any schedule,” Folsom told Franklin. “He’s just drifting around, here and there, like he does. Except for his two o’clock swim at that club.”
“That’ll be fine,” said Franklin. “Fine.”
“We gonna be done?”
“Why not be done? He’s yours, anyway.”
A lot of “he’s” in that conversation, except with the last “he” they were looking at me.
The other “he” was Lippit.
It closed out the inventory. Item: Break up my pressing plant, though that was nothing personal. Because, Item: Ruin the masters so that Lippit’s disc supply would again be cut off. Item: Get Lippit himself. That was business, and personal, because Franklin would be doing that job. Item: Very personal. Folsom to be done with me within the hour.
Now Folsom had me and then he would get Lippit. But first, me. He came at me, hoping I could take it for an hour.
I whipped the bottle at him so he stunk from liquor. I kicked out my foot and missed. I swung out with the glass club and missed. I stepped out of the way and missed.
When you’re drunk everything is sure and nothing works. Then I felt sober but still nothing would work and the main thing was still sure. It was their turn.
And there was no point in talking because everyone knew what would happen next.
Franklin held my arms from behind and breathed quietly into my ear. Folsom stood in front, also quiet, because he was feeling around in his pockets. The leather jacket had six outside pockets and he went through all of them. It made a slippery sound every time he put his hands in and out. He found his gloves. He put them on and smiled at his hands while he did this.
I felt I was the noisiest one, breathing. My breath rustled in and out, in and out, and I could do nothing about it. It went all by itself, the way everything else did. For a moment it seemed as if I might decide whether to be drunk or sober, but that wasn’t up to me, either. Everything felt swimmy one moment and very clear the next. I would see the ceiling and then I wouldn’t. I could see the lake, and then not. Only the light stayed the same, bright and painful, outside the window, on the rug, on the wall. Some of it shimmered around on the ceiling.
Folsom looked black in the light, like a very big menace. He had his gloves on and stepped closer, and there was nothing for me to do. When it seemed to Franklin as if I meant to move, my arms hurt. I meant to do nothing. I wished I were more drunk.
Folsom stroked the gloves down his fingers and looked at my face.
“I hear Benotti did that,” he said, and he touched the patch.
“Trouble with Benotti,” he kept talking, “he’s always too sure.”
He stroked the gloves and then, with one finger, he stroked the patch. It itched.
“Can’t be just luck, you getting him twice. Don’t you think so, St. Louis?”
I had a horrible feeling inside, as if everything was melting together.
“Of course, the third time, when he’s out of the hospital, that will be different.”
“Listen,” said Franklin. “I can’t hold him like this so easy very long. He’s taller than me.”
“What’s the matter, he’s too strong for you?”
“He ain’t too strong for me. He ain’t doing nothing. It’s the angle.”
“Try and hold out a little longer, huh, Franklin?”
Franklin said, “Go to hell,” into my ear, but I think he meant it for Folsom.
“Let’s see how that cut is healing, huh? Before we change all that again.” And he ripped off the patch.
I don’t know what he saw. I could only see his face. Close and pale, with hard lines.
The lines seemed to get soggy and his skin changed a queer yellow, and liquor had never affected me like this. But it wasn’t the liquor.
“Whassamatter?” said Franklin.
“You gonna be sick or something, Folsom?”
“Just shut up-”
He stepped away and looked somewhere else. He was breathing deeply to get himself back in hand.
“I mean, you don’t look right,” said Franklin.
“Goddammit, you never heard of nobody can’t stand the sight of blood? Some people just can’t stand the sight of blood and it’s got nothing to do with anything!” His voice wasn’t strong, but high and insistent. “Some’s born that way and it don’t mean nothing at all! You understand that, Franklin?”
“Whadda ya mean, no!”
Franklin bent around to look at the side of my face and then he straightened up again.
“I don’t see no blood. Mostly healed there, anyways.”
“But it’s gonna bust open!”
This was almost a scream, as if about some great injustice. And then he screamed more, loud and obscene, and he started hitting my middle.
Wild, though. It must have been wild because he let it go almost anywhere. Cursing and screaming all the time, at the big man, too.
“Hold him, damn you, hold him! You made me hurt my wrist!”
“To hell with-” or something like that from Franklin, and I felt him let go of me.
For the rest of it, I seemed to fly all over the room. Drunks land easily. I wasn’t that drunk, but I played it up. It helped with his wild swings, with the sound when I hit the wall, with the business of spending his rage.
How it really happened, I don’t know.
There was much less light in the room, but more heat. The sun was lower. I couldn’t see if the patterns were still on the ceiling because I was lying down on the rug. There was chintz next to my face, from an easy chair, and I didn’t move my head because it felt fairly comfortable. I could see less that way, but he couldn’t see me too well from that angle, either.
The sky was reddish outside, over the lake, and Folsom, in a chair by the window, looked hunched and dark.
I lay still because it felt pretty good that way. It felt like after a sleep, nothing worse, and if I had fainted before it had not been for very long. I had come out of the faint and then had gone back to sleep. This hurt and that hurt, but the rest wasn’t bad.
And Folsom was so sure, he sat reading at the other side of the room. Or maybe I was too sure about being all in one piece.
When I moved I found out about our arrangement. For lack of a weightier word, it was ridiculous.
When I moved, my leg went just so far and then jerked. And Folsom jerked because his chair jerked. Which was because of this line. He had it tied to my ankle and to the leg of his chair.
“If you got any funny ideas because Frank isn’t here, then I’ll…” And blah, blah, blah, more of the same.
He gave an experimental yank to the line, he held on to his chair, he straightened up to get the gloves off the window sill.
I went gaw, or gawk, or something stagey like that, and it meant that I had passed out again. He thought that was best and believed it. He sat down again, and I was glad for the time. I had no idea when the big guy would come back, but before then I wanted to think this through in peace. Think, while the big one was down at the club. Beating Lippit? Killing him?
I hadn’t thought about Lippit at all. I had thought about getting drunk, passing out, rolling away from the punches, all that. Busy with details. No time for any grand concept of Lippit. About how much of a bastard he was, or a fool. Was this thing his idea, was it Folsom’s-
He was getting his at the club. I didn’t mind the thought.
Then I had busy thoughts about the rope, Folsom and me. I was getting stiff. I had a buzzing in my ear, the smell of dust in my nose. The buzz was something else. I knew that when it stopped. When it slammed the door, when the feet were coming.
If you want to get killed, St. Louis, then move now.
“Franklin? That you, Franklin?”
“Yeah, it’s me,” said Franklin.
He came into the room and when he passed me he must have looked down.
It sounded as if he thought I might answer. Then he kicked my foot.
“He’s fainted again. How was yours?” said Folsom.
“That’s a shame. That’s a damn shame,” said Franklin. He sounded much meaner than when he had left.
“I had to beat him down again,” said Folsom. “How was yours?”
He said it so hard, each letter came out all by itself. Then he went to the couch and sat down.
“He been out long?”
“What’s the matter with you?” Folsom asked him. He sounded mean too, like a rat without teeth.
I could have told him what was the matter with Franklin. He had missed feeding time. Lippit hadn’t been there. Like a baby dracula running short on gore he felt edgy and uncomfortable and would get worse in time.
“He wasn’t there, huh?” said Folsom.
Franklin was cracking his knuckles.
“What a lousy place, anyways. Was I supposed to get something done there?”
“What’s the matter? All the athletes make you feel like a twirp?”
Folsom shouldn’t have asked that. Not that he would get it in the neck for that crack, but I would, in a while. The big one was cracking his knuckles.
“Don’t you got to go?” he asked Folsom.
“Yeah. Soon. Soon’s I finish this cigarette.”
I was hoping it was king-size.
“You don’t know where he is?” Folsom asked.
“They didn’t know at the club?”
“How would they know.” He spat on the floor, worked his foot over it “You know what they know?”
“You know what clomps is?”
Franklin, I saw, was looking out of the window, and Folsom was smoking.
“Didn’t you talk to anybody?” he asked a while later.
“Yeah. One guy says to me, ‘You wanna give somebody athlete’s foot?’ and the…”
“Athlete’s foot! Don’t you know from athlete’s foot?”
“You mean you got that?”
“Go to hell, will ya?”
There was smoking and the knuckles cracked once.
“You were saying,” said Folsom.
“That’s all there was. Then the other one, he wants to know do I want to crush somebody’s toes.”
“What kind of a way is that to talk?”
“Bunch of creeps down there, is what I say.”
“He said that and that’s all? You let that go by like that?”
“What else? He was some kind of a guard.”
Folsom put his cigarette out. I could hear it. Franklin got up and took a deep breath.
“How long you gonna be?”
“I don’t know. Till I’m done. And you stay here, understand that?”
“Yeah. I’m staying here.”
“And take it easy, hear? This ain’t your home.”
“I’ll take it easy.”
Then Folsom left. Folsom with the mean heart, the black gloves, the sick instincts. I would rather have had Folsom.
The big one sat down in the chair for a while. It was fairly dark in the room now, and the remaining light outside was bluish.
Once in a while he looked my way and said something. Once he called me a name and gave a jerk on the rope. Mostly he waited. So did
He was heavy. He held the chair down like a stone. Perhaps he would get up. When he was halfway up, maybe…
He kept sitting. The car was gone outside and I could hear the water make sounds under the dock.
If a motor boat came, I might even scream. They wouldn’t hear it. If a car stopped-then I felt myself tremble. It hummed like before and I heard the car. Folsom. He forgot something. Maybe one of his gloves.
The steps were so soft I had to think of a cat.
“Are you alone?”
“Huh?” said Franklin.
But he didn’t get out of the chair. He looked at Pat coming in and watched how she walked.
Smooth and leisurely. She had soft shoes on, with no heels at all, and a summer dress which was like a bathing suit at the top. She stopped and put one hand on her hip.
“Something wrong with him?” and she must have been looking at me.
“Naw,” said Franklin. “Just passed out.”
I could hear her walking away and I opened my eyes again.
“You alone?” she said.
“Sure. Why you ask?”
“Call me Pat.”
“Sure. Why you ask?”
I could see her against the window. She shrugged. She rested against the window sill, next to the chair, and her shoulders had a sheen from the light by the window when she leaned back on her arms.
“Just so,” she said. “You know.”
She had smooth, bare arms. She folded them so that the line between her breasts became deep and high.
Franklin looked at her and knew what he wanted, but he wasn’t sure what she was after.
“You come out here often?”
“No,” she said. “Usually there’s nobody here.”
“Yes. I know. I heard you talking to Walter.”
“Oh. You know where he is?” The question brought back the big one’s interest.
“No. Do you care?”
He shifted in his chair but didn’t get up.
“Well, one way only,” he said. “Just so he don’t show up here.” Then he laughed.
She laughed too. “Would I come?” she said.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Lemme try it out.”
But he didn’t get up for it. He pulled her over by one arm and gave it a twist so she would sit on his lap. I could see only that they were close together.
“You’ll fill the bill,” he said.
She didn’t say anything. I heard a sound of material. Then he said, “What’s wrong with Lippit?”
“Wrong? Nothing wrong.”
“Then why this?”
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s right.”
They were close together and I couldn’t see much else. I saw her bare arm on his shoulder and I saw her move her head once.
Pick the winner, I thought. First rule to success, male or female, pick the winner. Pat had been with Lippit for quite a time.
“No,” she said. “Not here.”
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t like him there,” she said.
“I don’t care. I’ve never done it this way.”
“Listen,” he said, and laughed. “All you got to worry about…”
“Please, Franklin. No.”
They didn’t talk for a while and then he said, “You’ll come around.”
“I know,” she said. “Let me show you,” and she got up.
I don’t know if he let her or if she just caught the right moment, but when she got up she did so all the way, smiled at him, and went to the door to the lake.
I could see her good there, in the light. Everything else being normal, I would have gone after her, too.
Franklin got out of the chair and she went out of the door. He went that far, this side of the frame, before he stopped and turned around fast.
At first he just watched the chair, because it was moving and chairs shouldn’t move. This one flew.
I was up, hauling the line, trying to get the chair to me before he did.
He was fast like a rhino. He got ahead of the chair, heading my way, because the chair meant nothing to him, but I did.
He got ahead of the chair and then the chair caught up. It caught him in the back of the legs, and there was just a small stumble, a one moment chance and then it would be gone.
I missed the chance. I was afraid to take it. He kept thrashing his arms and I was afraid to get close. Then he flailed into the rope. That was his chance, and he muffed it. He tried to get free and threw the rope over his shoulder. I jumped away and the chair climbed on his back.
He stopped thrashing-I didn’t have to worry about that now-doubled forward to heave the chair off his back, and then I took the chance.
Nothing would come of wasting time on the knot at my ankle. I was close now and the rope was lax. I threw a loop and it fell as it should. Then I kicked. Not at him, but back. He gagged as the rope dug into his neck.
It got complicated after that. I don’t know how it all went. But once Pat was there, back in the door frame, standing there with a big stare on her face. When she saw me looking she turned and ran.
I didn’t have time for her. This was a weird dance.
I got him on the shin once, and once he dragged me over the floor. Then his gagging stopped him again. He tried to swing the chair off his back, the wrong way, with the loop going double. In the end I just stayed on the floor, throwing my leg up and away from the man. His ears went dark red but that could have been rage. There was the point where we both hit the floor and I had my foot on his head, not for kicking him but for leverage. To pull the rope up but not the man.
He was confused by then. He must have been because he had his hands on my foot and was keeping it settled on top of his head.
I wasn’t all clear, either. When he was lying still and I tried to get up I saw where he had torn my pants leg to shreds. There was blood on my leg, and I didn’t know whose.
But he lay still. I didn’t care enough then to see if he was breathing, but I worried the knot on my ankle as if that was all there was.
When I had it off I sat and just breathed.
That’s when she came back. I hadn’t heard anything. Like a cat She came into the room from the lakeside. It made things hard to tell. She was close before I made out the face and the right hand up, holding the revolver.
“Is he dead?”
“I don’t think so. His skull hasn’t stopped bleeding.”
“Oh,” she said. “Then you don’t need it.”
She dropped the revolver, as if it was too heavy, and then she stood, as if wondering whether she should fall.
She didn’t She was-in a figurative way-plenty tough. I took the revolver and then I took her arm.
“Can you walk?”
“Sure. Can you?”
We walked out. I said thank you to her at one point. “It was horrible,” I told her, “but I thank you.”
“I wanted to get him to the car,” she said. “I had the gun there and wanted him in the car.”
Then we drove back to town. Before driving, she said, “Will you zip me?”
“Of course, I’ll zip you.”
I did, and I drove her back to town.
I could tell the Duncan street building from the end of the block. I could tell all about it, even though it was dark, or because it was dark and the ground floor, in the rear, was on fire.
There were fire engines and people but nobody I knew. The sight made me sick and I left.
I wanted Lippit. Him or Folsom, I didn’t care which, but really I mostly wanted Lippit.
He wasn’t home, because Pat was there and nobody else. I went to the club and it would have been a laugh if he had been there, swimming maybe or getting a sweat in the courts. He wasn’t there. They were holding a dance and everything else was closed by that time.
His shop was closed, which I knew when nobody answered the telephone, but I went there to see for myself. No Lippit.
I drove around. It was a warm night, like all nights that time of the year, but it didn’t mean anything. A drive on a warm night was just something in the head. I remembered how it’s a pleasure sometimes, but it wasn’t then.
They hadn’t seen him, the bars, candy shops, bowling alleys, so forth. Not since noon, anyway. He had been in and out.
And they asked if I knew when the new sets and the new music would come in.
I don’t think anyone really cared very much, except sticklers like Morry in his nine-alley emporium, because they all played the same tunes in most of the places, dancing to it at the bars, foot stomping it at the ice-cream tables, or listening to it where it hummed out to the street.
“Tomorrow,” I said. “You’ll get the new one tomorrow.”
“It’ll be dead by then, maybe.”
When I found him the night was almost done. They had Folsom in police jail for arson, they had Lippit there for assault.
“You wanna bail?” asked the sergeant.
“Sure. I’ll bail.”
“Not the arson guy. He’s in the hospital.”
“I’ll take the other one.”
“Two hundred even.”
I had to go home and get the money and when I got back to the precinct it was getting light.
“He says he doesn’t want to get bailed,” said the sergeant.
“Ask him again. Tell him it’s St. Louis.”
“Tell him I’m waiting. One way or the other.”
Lippit came out then. We said hello and we walked out together. He needed a shave, which made him look rugged, and his clothes were wrinkled, which made him look poor. He said he wanted a beer. He wasn’t a beer drinker but lying in that cell, he explained, he suddenly wanted a beer. We went to an open place which served the hangover crowd and sat by the window, drinking beer.
“Did you beat him up?” I asked him.
“You caught on to him.”
“No. I was in the plant, in the pressing place office, after nine, I think, looking at the stuff that was ready. I caught him that way.”
“But too late, by the looks of it.”
“Yuh. Most everything ruined.”
I drank beer, feeling cold from it.
“You insured?” he asked me.
“Anybody think of saving the masters?”
“The safe wasn’t touched, far as I know.”
“That’s good,” I said.
He looked out of the window, at the white light in the sky. “Know what else?” he said.
“The normal way. His suppliers been on his neck, for stalling down on the orders, and he’s got a duress thing up in court, pushing Benotti back down to the bottom.”
“Yeah. That’s nice, huh?”
I said yes again and put out my cigarette. He said, “You done with your beer?”
“Yuh. I’m done.”
We got up.
We walked out to the street and there we stopped and he held out his hand.
“Well, it’s over,” he said. It was for me. I took his hand. “Good luck.”
“Same to you, Jack,” and we went down the street. He one way, I the other.
Pat, of course, didn’t become a singer, like Doris did. Doris became the biggest thing on Blue Beat labels. She had played her cards right, but that was all there was to it now, and Pat was almost happy for me. I asked Pat if she wanted to sing and she shook her head.
“No, Jack,” she said.
“And no more ‘No-Jacks’ after this?”