Authors: Day Keene
“Yeah. Something like that,” I lied.
“She lives high,” he admitted. “Out all night and sleeping all day and raising hell if I happen to rattle a garbage can.”
“But she does live alone?”
He had his money. He’d lost interest in me. “I’d say most of the time. But as long as the tenants pay their rent the real estate firm that handles the building don’t give a damn what the tenants do in their apartments.”
He went into the basement after another can of ashes. I walked up the back stairs on the right hand side of the building. The near-noon sun was hot. Both the door and the window leading to the third floor porch were open but the screen door was hooked.
I looked in through the screen. The back room was a kitchen. There was a coffee pot on the stove and a washed cup and saucer on the sink. I couldn’t hear or see anyone. The window was old-fashioned, double hung. I tried the screen. It slid up in its groove.
I slipped the gun from my belt and slid up the screen and stepped into the kitchen. It was hot and still in the apartment. I wondered if, high as she was, Gloria May had passed out. Then I heard her in one of the front rooms singing slightly off key.
A long hall ran the length of the flat. One of the doors was open. I looked in. In the center of the room the little blonde was standing on one leg, trying to step into a pair of the new panties she’d bought and having trouble finding the opening.
When she saw me, she stopped trying. “You got nerve,” she began. Then she saw who I was and hiccuped. “Well if it isn’t the big red-haired soldier who’s got the great Joe LaFanti runnin’ aroun’ in circles.” The fact seemed to amuse her.
I leaned against the door jamb and lit a cigarette. “You don’t seem very afraid of me.”
She looked at the gun in my hand and held the panties in front of her. “Why? Should I be?”
My throat felt tight. It was an effort for me to speak. She had a beautiful body. Young as she was, there couldn’t be too many miles on it. “No,” I managed to say. “Not if you’re a good girl.”
She threw back her head and laughed.
I asked, “What’s so funny?”
She stopped laughing and wet her lips with the tip of her tongue. “You.”
“What’s funny about me?”
“You want me to be a good girl. Most men want me to be bad.”
It was what she said and the way she said it. I wished she would put on a robe. Tart or not, she was cute. I started to sweat again and it had nothing to do with fear.
Little bitch that she was, she knew what she was doing to me. It gave her a sense of power. She rubbed it in. “It’s too bad.”
“What’s too bad?”
She wet her lips again. “That you feel the way you do.”
“Why is it too bad?”
“Because I could go for you.”
“Even after last night?”
“Even after last night.”
“I don’t think LaFanti would like that.”
“Who cares what Joe LaFanti likes?”
“You lied for him. You made a fool out of me.”
She wove two steps closer to me. “I had to lie. You know that.”
My mouth felt as dry as my throat was tight. I asked, “You know Mona Ambler?”
Gloria smiled. “Of course. She was Joe LaFanti’s girl before I was.” She wove the rest of the way to the door and put her arms around my neck. Her breath smelled sweet, of rum, as she pressed her lips to mine and talked into my mouth. “What you wanna know about her, soldier?”
to push her away. It was a mistake. Her flesh held my hands like a magnet. She wiped the perspiration from my face with the sheer panties she was still holding in one hand.
“Do we have to talk, soldier?”
I forced myself to concentrate. “Yeah.”
“And then —?”
“And then we’ll see.”
“What do you want to know about Mona?”
“Did she kill Stein?”
“I don’t know. The jury said she did.”
“Then why is LaFanti so afraid she’ll talk?”
She shook her hair in my face. “I don’t know that, either.” She was drunkenly amused. She laughed again. “But you sure have the great big bad man going around in circles. His boys are combing Chicago for you.”
“I imagined that.”
She wiped my face with the sheer silk. It was like being kissed by a butterfly. “He even sent me to the lawyer who defended Mona to warn him not to have anything to do with you.
She used her lips instead of the silk. “Uh huh.”
“What did the lawyer say?”
“He said he’d call Joe if you tried to contact him.”
“But you don’t know why LaFanti is frightened?”
“Would you tell me if you did?”
“Why? You don’t know me.”
“I know you’re a man.”
“So is LaFanti.”
She shrugged her bare shoulders. “Okay. Maybe I’m tired of hoods. Maybe I want out of the rat race I’m in. Maybe someone told me that Mona was very happy with your brother until Joe made her go back to work for him.”
“Who told you that?”
“One of the kids who strip at The Furnace. A kid named Maggie. She and Mona were friends.” The little blonde repeated what LaFanti had told me. “The way I get it, Mona got out of the rackets for good when she met your kid brother. She was all set to make it the hard way when Joe looked her up again and cuffed her back into the business.”
“That’s the way it happened?”
“So I hear.”
I kissed her for the first time. Her lips tasted good but suddenly she wasn’t amorous any more. “Let’s have a drink first,” she suggested. “Talking always makes me dry.”
She got a sheer robe from the closet and led the way down the hall to the living room, still barefooted. The robe floated out behind her wobble like a veil. The living room was the best room in the flat. A series of tall French windows overlooked the street. The loop pile rugs were white. The furniture was chrome and yellow plastic, built low to the floor. It was the sort of room that a girl who stripped for a living at The Furnace would think was the last word in class.
Gloria sat on a low couch and patted at the plastic for me to sit down beside her. “Besides, it’s cooler in here.” She glanced at a bulky air-conditioner almost filling one of the windows. “I got gypped when I bought the damn thing. Five hundred and eighty bucks and all it cools is this room.”
I realized I was still holding the gun. “Does LaFanti ever come here?”
I put the gun in the pocket of my coat and hung the coat over a chair.
“That’s better,” Gloria smiled. “Do you still want me to be good?”
I sat down beside her. “No.”
She kissed me, then pushed me away. “I’m glad,” she said, thickly. “But first, let’s have a big drink.”
There was a low coffee table in front of the couch with half a dozen good-brand bottles and a tray of clean glasses on it.
“How about rum?”
I said, “Rum will be fine.”
She filled two high ball glasses half full of Ronrico, then swore softly under her breath.
“Now what?” I asked.
She stood up. “No ice.”
I watched her walk down the hall to the kitchen. It was a funny feeling, like I was moving in a dream, like neither she nor I were real. I wondered how far I could trust her and decided not very far.
The little blonde floated back with a bowl full of ice. I wished she would either tie the belt of her robe or take it off. When she’d wanted to, I hadn’t. Now I did and all she wanted was a drink.
She set the bowl on the table and dropped two cubes in each glass. “To us.”
I said, “To us.”
She smiled over the rim of her glass. “What’s your name, your first name?”
“You’re Irish, huh?”
“My mother was.” I sipped my drink, then set it back on the table to let the ice work on the rum.
She continued to smile. “That’s why you stood up to Joe the way you did. That’s why you’re not afraid of him.” She laughed. “I never saw him so mad.”
I picked up my glass again. “What was going on upstairs when you first went up last night? I mean after I met you in front of the building?”
She was even more amused. “Joe and Hymie and Norm were cleaning up like mad.”
“What did they do with Tommy and Gordon?”
“They took them out somewhere.”
“You don’t know where?”
“Then what happened?”
She finished her drink and poured another. “Joe told me to take off my clothes and get into bed. He said you’d be back with the cops any minute and if I didn’t swear we’d spent all afternoon together he’d have me beaten up so bad no man would ever look at me again.”
I tried my drink. The ice had cooled the rum. It tasted mellow, good. “What did they do with the girl?”
Gloria seemed sincerely puzzled. “What girl?”
“The girl who was there when I left. The girl I heard crying in one of the bedrooms.”
She shook her head. “I didn’t hear or see any girl. There was just Tommy, dead, and Gordon crying that he was going to be blind for life.”
“There wasn’t any girl in the apartment?”
I let it pass for the time being.
Gloria fluffed up two big pillows and lay back on the couch. “Did you have a good visit with Mona?”
I shook my head. “No. We didn’t say a half-dozen words.”
“I’ll bet she’s scared, huh?”
“Who wouldn’t be?”
“You think she killed Stein?”
Gloria played with the fingers of my free hand, as she repeated what she’d said before. “A jury convicted her.” She licked at her lips with her tongue. “She should have told where she hid the diamonds. Then maybe the jury would have let her off with life. Maybe even now, if she told, the governor would commute her sentence.”
I looked at her over the glass, wondering if she was trying to pump me about the diamonds, thinking maybe I knew where they were, thinking maybe Mona had told me. She didn’t seem to be.
I set my glass on the table and kissed her.
“Well?” she said. “Well?”
“You wanted a drink.”
“We’ve had one.”
“You’re positive LaFanti won’t come here?”
Her voice was thick. “I’m positive.”
I leaned on my free hand, looking down at her. “You want to know something?”
“Why don’t you prove you think so?”
She released my hand and laced her fingers in back of my head. “You know how I mean.”
“Yeah. I know how you mean.”
Her lips tasted good. I mashed my face against hers, then rolled over on one elbow, sweat blinding me, as a male voice said, “Very pretty.”
I wiped the sweat from my eyes. LaFanti was standing in the hallway with Hymie and Norm behind him. All of them had guns in their hands.
“You bitch. You little bitch,” I named the blonde.
Her eyes hot and slitted, still having trouble with her breathing, she wriggled off the couch, and made herself as decent as she could. “Ya ya ya,” she jeered, shrilly. “You shoulda when you had the chance. It woulda been an experience. I never stayed with a Medal of Honor man. And Joe said I could go all the way if I had to to hold you until he got here.”
I looked at her flushed face, comparing her to the kid in the death house. She didn’t even look cute anymore. All she was was female. All she had was a body. God knew how many men had had her. I was almost glad LaFanti had come in when he had.
Her voice was still shrill as she asked, “How did I do, Joe?”
Without taking his eyes away from me, LaFanti said, “You did okay. Now we’ll take care of this slob the way we should have last night.”
I wanted to be sick and couldn’t. I swung my feet to the floor. “You planted her on me.”
LaFanti’s smile was thin. “That’s right.”
“You knew I’d go to Emerson’s office. You knew I’d follow her.”
“Let’s say we were reasonably certain.”
Hymie grinned. “We had a lot of ground to cover and at least it was worth a try. You’re driving the cops nuts, fellow. They can’t figure out where you’ve gone.”
LaFanti looked at Gloria. “Where’s the gun he took off Tommy?”
She giggled, “In the pocket of his coat. And you wouldn’t believe the trouble I had to get him to take it off. I was beginning to think the guy was a virgin or something.”
LaFanti stepped aside to allow Norm to pass him. “Get the gun.”
I had nothing to lose. LaFanti was on record. He couldn’t afford to let me live. I came off the couch — fast.
Norm tried to strong-arm me away from the chair. “Lie down, you crazy bastard. You don’t seem to know it, but you’re dead.”
I snatched the coat from the back of the chair before he could get it and whirled it around my head. The gun sagging the pocket hit him under the chin and knocked him over the couch and into the air-conditioner.
“The guy is good,” Hymie grinned.
LaFanti came into the room, moving sideways a few feet, so he could shoot without hitting the blonde.
She stopped giggling and screamed, “No, Joe. Not in here. You promised you wouldn’t do it in here. I don’t want to go back to Dwight.”
I tried to get the gun out of the pocket. My hand was slimy with sweat. The front sight caught on the lining. I gave up trying to get the gun out and threw myself sideways, rolling, as LaFanti shot.
Bullets punched holes in the floor a half inch from my ear, following me to the wall. I hit the wall near the door with a thud and scrambled to my feet, twisting at the door knob. The door opened in under my hand, blocking me off from LaFanti.
He swore at Hymie, “Well, don’t just stand there, shoot him.”
Hymie worked at the slide of his pistol. “I can’t. The damn things jammed.”
LaFanti moved out to clear the door. As he shot for the fourth time, Gloria caught at his arm. “You promised,” she yelled, then stopped yelling abruptly, as his spoiled shot ricocheted off the chrome leg of a chair and screamed around the room to thud into soft white flesh and form a third pink nipple under her sheer robe.
Her voice sounded faint and far away. “You promised,” she repeated.
LaFanti caught her as she swayed. Then I was out in the hall with my back to a wooden railing and Hymie, no longer grinning, was beating at my head with his jammed gun.