Authors: Peter Rabe
Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General
A Shroud For Jesso
a division of F+W Crime
The Constellation swung close to the ramp, coughed a few times, and stopped. There was a second or so of silence, then the clatter of the wheeled ramp, the door swinging open in the flank of the plane, the passengers making noises of hello and good-by. They filed out in a fast line that seemed to knot for a moment when it hit the cluster of reporters at the bottom of the stairs. Then the line pushed through and left the reporters in a happy circle around the blonde with the baby face. She slung back her mink to show more of the real thing and the flash bulbs started to wink. The baby face smiled, fresh and pretty, and the girl looked for all the world as if she’d just had a nice hot bath.
Jack Jesso pushed by the crowd that stood around the girl. He gave her a short look, remembering the back of her head. He’d been looking at it ever since LA. He looked at the rest of her now, but all he could think of was a hot bath.
When he got to the baggage counter, nobody was there but the attendants and a stewardess holding a clip board. Then the rest of the passengers came through. It got really hectic when the girl with the open mink came by, but Jack Jesso wasn’t paying any attention. He rubbed the black stubble on his face and kept looking at the door that led to the taxi stands. After a while he was alone again. He looked at the clock over the reservation desk, picked up his brief case, and went to the phone booth. By the time he got his party there was a mean squint around his eyes and his voice sounded clipped.
“This is Jesso. That you, Murph?”
“Hi, Jackie. I’m sorry about—”
“Why aren’t you over here?”
“Jackie, I’m sorry I couldn’t—”
“I sent you a telegram two days ago. That’s enough time for anybody to get off their can and do a simple trick like showing up at the airport. I’m taking the bus in. Meet me at the First Avenue station.”
“Listen, Jackie, I was gonna come out, honest, but—”
“First Avenue in an hour. Be there.”
“But Gluck didn’t—”
“Sure, Jackie, I’m trying to tell you. He said no.”
There was a pause. Jesso looked at the clock again, then turned to the phone. “First Avenue at eight,” he said. It sounded straight and normal, but he smashed the receiver on the hook as if he were hitting at a face. The receiver missed the cradle and clattered down as far as the cord would let it. Jesso walked out of the booth. The phone dangling in mid-air like the arm on a slow clock.
By the glass door that led to the outside he almost ran into her. She was holding both doors by the handles, holding them together so the doors wouldn’t swing, and she looked at him through the glass.
“Smile, Jackie, or I won’t let you out.”
Jesso stopped close to the door and looked at her through the glass. “Open up, Lynn.”
She looked into his face. She might have kissed him if the glass hadn’t been there. “Smile or I won’t let you out, Jackie.”
He felt irritable. He wished Lynn weren’t there. “Open up, Lynn. I’m in a hurry.”
He hadn’t smiled once, but she opened the door. Lynn looked like the blonde from the plane, except that her face wasn’t babyish. Even with the glass door gone now they stood apart; Jesso because he wanted it that way, Lynn because she couldn’t help it. She looked at Jesso a while longer, but when he started to go she grabbed him by the arms and kissed his chin.
“You’re back,” she said. She tried to smile.
“So what?” He took her wrists and pushed her hands down. “Lynn, once and for all, go away.” He tried to make it sound even. “I’m in a hurry, Lynn. The bus.”
Then she started to talk fast. “But I brought the car, Jackie. I called you and called you and then I got Murph, and he told me you’d been away. So I came out to pick you up, Jackie.” She laughed. “I always seem to be trying to pick you up.”
He didn’t make a joke of it. “There’s nothing to pick up, Lynn.”
She suddenly turned. “Look, Jackie, the bus is leaving.” She watched him. He looked angry. “I’ll give you a lift. I brought the car to give you a lift. Murph said—“
“All right. Come on. I’m in a hurry.”
They found her car and she drove.
“Why such a hurry, Jackie?” She kept her eyes on the road.
Jesso lit a cigarette and didn’t answer. At least he was getting a lift.
“Jackie, why always a hurry when I see you? … Jackie? Don’t you remember the way it was?”
He threw the cigarette out of the window and turned to the girl. He looked tired. “Look, Lynn, once more. I remember how it was and it’s not that way any more. And there’s your answer.” He leaned back in the seat, rubbed his hands over his face to make the stiffness go away. “So get off my back, Lynn.” He talked through his hands. “Stop acting as if I was the only man in the world.”
“You were the first,” she said.
He groaned, turned to the window.
They drove without talking for a while and then Lynn got busy with the traffic and that killed some more time without talking. Jesso looked at her from the side. A beautiful profile. A beautiful profile all the way down. Even sitting in the soft seat of the car she looked poised, distant. That’s how she’d looked the first time. She’d been that way. She sounded finishing school and looked North Shore and touching her was like a brash, strong move against the thousand things she had and he had not. That’s how it felt, at first, and then she gave. Even that was good for a while, but then it all turned into putty. There wasn’t a thing that she could give him any more. She came to his side of the tracks, she started clinging, and Lynn was through.
He looked ahead and folded his arms.
“Why didn’t you let me know you’d gone to the Coast?”
“Business. Wouldn’t interest you.”
“What’s the difference?”
“We met in Vegas. You were there on business that time, Jackie, and then Tahoe. You took me to Lake Tahoe.”
He sat up. His voice was controlled. “Lynn, listen. I got nothing against you. And I got nothing for you. Learn that, willya?”
The way she took it, without ever showing a dent, made him feel as if he wanted to break something. He took a deep breath and kept staring ahead. It would go away in a minute. It would go away, get indifferent, just the way it always had with Lynn, and with who knows what their names were.
“I can wait, Jackie,” she said, but he wasn’t paying attention any more.
She pulled up to the bus terminal and Murph was standing there. He kept hitching his pants over his belly, and now and then he wiped a handkerchief over his bald head. When Lynn’s car rolled up and Jesso got out, Murph ran up to carry the brief case.
“Thanks for the lift,” Jesso said, “and good-by.”
“Not good-by, Jackie.”
“Good-by” He straightened up and had his back turned when the car took off. Murph reached for the brief case.
“Hi, Jackie.” Murph grinned. “That little Lynn girl—”
“Where’s the car?”
“You know, she’s been calling ever since—”
“Come on, Murph, where’s the car?”
Murph started moving, but it didn’t stop his train of thought.
“You know, Jack, I always say once you get one of them—”
Jesso held the man by one sleeve. “Keep it clean, Murphy.”
“Jeese,” Murph said, and then they got to the car. They didn’t say another word until Murph swung the car into traffic on Fifth Avenue.
“Turn off and take the parkway I’m not going to Gluck’s.”
Jesso lit a cigarette and offered the pack to Murph. Murph didn’t want one.
“I oughta tell you, Jackie. Gluck wants to see you right off.”
“Take the parkway”
“Jeese, Jackie. Gluck’s the boss!”
“You know what he can do?”
“Heh. Just this morning he said the same about you.”
Jesso leaned back and tried laughing, but he didn’t really feel it. Gluck wasn’t going to be laughed off. Gluck was still the boss.
“So let’s have it, Murph. What’s his beef this time?”
“His beef? Nothing. Just you. Like always.”
Jesso curled his mouth under, as if he wanted to give his face a stretch. “Like always, like always. How long’s that bastard been in? A month, two months? That’s always? You know how long I been here, Murph?”
“Sure. You been—”
“From the beginning! And no trouble all along the line. A neat little setup, right here, and nobody big enough to buck it.”
“It sure was neat, Jackie. Remember when Delancy tried to muscle in, and—“
“Delancy was small time. We were big enough for the syndicate to want a piece.” Jesso sat chewing his lip, thinking about the time the syndicate wanted a piece. They could use a man with his local connections, they said, a man as big as he was and all on his own. They gave him a wire service and they asked him how to handle local problems. Sometimes he told them. Most of the time he just got things done the way he knew how, fast, no fuss, no ass-kissing, and nobody left to ask any questions. They liked that and Jesso went his own way. And then one day he saw how big the organization had got, bigger than one man, bigger than Jesso. They were sweet as pudding when he found that out. They were so sweet they sent him a man to help with the details, because big time needs big-time organization, they said. It needs the individual touch—and that was Jack Jesso. It needs a smooth-looking front—and that was Gluck. And when they trimmed up the whole big beautiful setup, with wire service, numbers, and a piece of the water front all tucked in neat little pigeonholes, with dummy companies and tie-ups to the Coast and hell knows where else making a net like a spider, then Gluck was in and Jesso was out. “We need you,” Gluck said, “but now do it my way.” He didn’t say “or else.” He was too oily for that.
“Jackie,” Murph swung to the right lane of the parkway, “I can still cut off and get to Gluck’s place without—“
Jesso gave Murph a look as if he were going to spit. “The bastard can wait. I set up the Vegas deal a week faster than he could have done it.”
“That’s what he’s beefing about, Jackie. That’s just what—”
“How can a pig beef?” Jesso pulled the hat over his eyes and tried to sleep.
So Murph just drove. He turned off the parkway before they got to the George Washington Bridge and wound up the hillside to the apartment houses. When he stopped the car he tried once more.
Jesso got out of the car. It was ten in the morning and the white sunlight on his face made him look all used up.
“Take the brief case and give it to Gluck. I’m going to bed. Be back here at seven and tell Gluck I’ll see him after nine tonight.”
He walked around the car and into the apartment building.
There was a barbershop off the foyer. Jesso saw that the place was empty and walked in. The barber jumped up from behind his paper and beamed. “Why, Mr. Jesso! I’m glad to see you back from the Coast. Shave today? Haircut?”
“Shave is all.”
Jesso sat down in one of the chairs and stretched out. He liked sitting in a barber’s chair. The barber started to lather up. “You don’t have a tan, Mr. Jesso. I thought when people went to the Coast—“
He stretched his head back and closed his eyes. The pose made his face change expressions; it was a blanker, smoother face now. The barber finished and jacked up the backrest. “How about a trim, Mr. Jesso? Just the edges?”
The barber flicked his scissors around. He flourished his hands like a conductor. “A remarkable head of hair, Mr. Jesso.”
He was right. The hair was thick and black, cut short so it stood up like the nap of an expensive rug. When the light hit the hair just right it looked like velvet on top.
“Massage, Mr. Jesso? To relax—”
“I’m relaxed.” He got up and paid.
“Manicure, Mr. Jesso?”
The girl had wheeled her tray in, nudging it with one thigh. Jesso watched her do it, then looked at her face.
“Give me fifteen minutes,” he said. “You know the suite number.” He walked to the elevator.
After his shower he put on a bathrobe and fixed himself a drink. He felt tired, but it was pleasant now. It was the kind of tiredness that feels good.
There was a knock on the door. Jesso put his drink down and turned.
“The door’s open,” he called.
The girl from the barbershop came in, pushing her cart with the manicure stuff. She was smiling the way she’d done before. She closed the door and came across the room. She left the cart where it stood, because Jack Jesso never took a manicure in his life.
Boss Gluck had a tower place in the Wells Arms and it wasn’t easy to get there. First there was the doorman and then there was the desk in the foyer. After the ride in the elevator came the tower foyer and another desk. Behind the suite door marked B-2 was a room with couches and a kid who kept his hat on all the time. He had a phone with buttons. Then there was a big guy dressed like a butler, and he took you through the doors into a neat little place that didn’t have anything but a chair and an ash tray. After that came Boss Gluck. If it was important, Boss Gluck got up from behind his desk in the room with the terrace, took the visitor through a door with a drape, and sat down in the little cubicle where the filing cabinets stood.