Authors: Day Keene
“Ya bastid. Ya hard-to-kill bastid,” he panted.
The hall gave under our weight. I fell backwards into space, taking Hymie with me, trying to turn in the air, with LaFanti, handicapped by Gloria, shooting at us both.
We hit the landing with a
with Hymie on the bottom. He stopped beating at me and lay still. I half ran, half rolled, down the rest of the stairs to the closed glass door.
I opened it and ran out on the street. A thin-faced middle-aged lady, carrying a shopping bag filled with groceries, was standing on the walk in front of the building. She was looking up at the third floor windows. She turned her attention to me and blushed.
“For shame,” she said, “you might at least tuck in your shirt and take care of your trousers, young man.”
“Yeah. Sure,” I told her. “Of course.”
I realized I was still holding the gray coat by the collar.
Wear it in health,
the guy had told me. I put it on and ran west up the street.
No one called out of the third floor windows. LaFanti didn’t shoot after me. At the time I wondered why.
I was to find out later.
was uptown. That was its name — the Uptown. The movie was three dimensional and lousy. I’d seen it once in Tokyo and once in the rest camp at Taegu. I saw it again three times, changing my seat twice, just before the house lights came up for the stage show.
It was hard for me to sit still. I still was sweating faster than the air-conditioning could cool me. Even sitting still I had a feeling of motion. It was as if I was running as hard as I could and yet never could get off one spot.
I wished I knew how badly Gloria had been wounded. I wished I had a hat. I wished it would get dark. I wished I hadn’t come to Chicago. Still, I had promised.
Dying, Johnny had asked me,
“Take care of Mona and the kid, will you, Mike?”
I was trying.
My head ached. I was hungry. I was sore all over my body from the beatings I’d taken. From where I sat, it didn’t look too good. LaFanti had tried to kill me twice. He still meant to, if he could. If I was smart I’d get out of Chicago, get far away, instead of stalling around until it was time for me to go see Emerson and, maybe, run into another booby trap.
I realized I was panting.
I was smart — but I wasn’t. Johnny had been the bright one in the family. I was only a dumb tech sergeant. All I could think of was the little doll in the death house and how Johnny’s kid had red hair, and how it wasn’t fair for him to have to grow up without a mother on account of a pea-eye like LaFanti.
Even Gloria had admitted that Mona had tried to level. And LaFanti had cuffed her back into the rackets. Mona had tried — like I was trying. Only I had an idea. Mona’s lawyer had gone to find out about it. Emerson would tell me the truth. As soon as I saw Emerson, everything would be all right. I clung to the idea. If I was right, Emerson would arrange a meeting with Corson and Captain Corson would take over. Corson was an honest cop and he wasn’t afraid of LaFanti. But the big break in the case, if there was one, would have to come from Corson. If I gave myself up and said what was on my mind, they would laugh me into the psycho ward and throw away the key.
I shifted my position again and the hard-faced dame sitting next to me said, “For God’s sake, mister, sit still. You got ants in your pants or something?”
“You might be surprised,” I told her.
She gave me a dirty look. I walked up the side aisle and looked out a fire door an usher had just opened. It still wasn’t as dark as I would have liked it to be but I had a belly full of three dimensions and dancing girls.
The show was about to break. I walked out into the areaway and lit a cigarette. It was cooler than it had been. Night wasn’t far away. The wide walk in front of the brightly lighted theatre was crowded with middle-aged women and men and pretty girls in light summer dresses and young guys in their shirt sleeves. All of them had nothing on their minds but how to pay the rent, whether to say yes or no, how to support the doll if she did give in and give her all on the back seat of a car or maybe in the porch swing.
I walked south across a wide intersection. There was a newsstand on the far corner. I noticed in passing that my picture in uniform was still on the front page. I didn’t bother to buy a paper. I knew what I looked like.
There was a chain hat store in the middle of the block with both its windows filled with brightly banded straws. I bought the first seven and a quarter that a bored clerk showed. It was a sailor and stiff.
The thought amused me:
As stiff as a sailor.
It made me feel a little better. As long as I could still laugh I was safe from blowing my top. Or maybe my war neuroses had caught up with me. Maybe I was being hysterical. As I left the store, I thought of what the little blonde could do in the leghorn I’d left in her flat. And I hoped it leaked through onto one of her white rugs.
I compared her to the kid in the death house.
The big-eyed little doll with the old-fashioned gold loop earrings maybe could kill a man, but she couldn’t be cheap for any amount of money, or diamonds, for that matter. Not cheap like the blonde had been.
Outside of being hungry I felt pretty good. I felt fine. When Gloria finished with my leghorn hat, she could start on my war neuroses.
There was a big El terminal a little farther down the street. On the off chance that the bored clerk in the hat store might have recognized me, I turned in and asked the lady in the change booth how I got to Evanston. It turned out to be simple. She pointed to the stairs and told me, “Take an Evanston Express.”
The train was as crowded as the walk had been. It was a funny feeling, standing holding onto a strap with everyone around me looking at pictures of me. All any of them had to do was look up — and there I was.
I didn’t know anything about Evanston. One street was as good as another. I got off at a street named Howard and walked down the stairs and on down a business street until I came to a restaurant with some chickens and slabs of barbecued ribs turning on spits in the window.
The food smelled good and I turned in and sat in one of the booths. When I ordered a double order of ribs with both milk and coffee, the waitress was amused.
“You must be hungry.”
“Yeah. I am,” I admitted.
I liked the feel of the place. It was cool and quiet. There wasn’t any juke box or piped in music. Some of the strain left me.
A young couple came in and sat in the next booth. The girl was cuter than the waitress. He had a folded newspaper under his arm. I couldn’t see them after they sat down but I could hear them talking.
For some reason I felt smug. Picking one guy out of five million people wasn’t as easy as it sounded. My picture was on the front page of the paper the lad in the next booth was carrying. He’d glanced at me as he passed. But with a thousand more just like him, my face hadn’t registered.
“He’s crazy, all right,” the man said. “No one but a crazy man would do a thing like that.”
The girl wasn’t listening too well. Her voice sounded as if she wasn’t interested. She was picking her way through the menu. “Who has to be crazy?”
He was impatient with her. “Duval.”
“You know. We read about him this morning.”
“Oh, that soldier who shot at some man.”
“At Joe LaFanti.”
“What about him?”
She was impatient with him. “The soldier who shot LaFanti. What did he do now?”
“First raped, then shot LaFanti’s fiancee.”
I sat straighter in the booth. The sick feeling returned to my stomach. The girl in the next booth said, “Well, you don’t need to be so graphic. You know how I hate vulgarity.”
“Well, that’s what it says here in the paper. She claimed he raped her twice. Then when she got to a gun that LaFanti had given her, Duval took the gun away from her and shot her through the chest in an attempt to keep her from identifying him.”
My sick feeling increased.
“What happened then?” the girl asked.
“How horrible. Is her picture in the paper?”
“Yes. Right here.”
I heard the paper rustle as he passed it across the table.
“I don’t like her face,” the girl said. “She looks cheap to me.”
“That doesn’t excuse him.”
“No,” the girl admitted. “It doesn’t. The poor kid. What will they do when they catch him?”
The newspaper passed hands again. “Probably lock him up in some asylum. That is, if he’s really crazy. Otherwise, he’ll be tried for rape and attempted murder. And as I recall, rape is a capital offence.”
“Do you have to use that word?”
“What should I say?”
“I don’t care. Let’s not discuss it at all. I’m hungry and you know I don’t like to be upset before I eat.”
I used the napkin to wipe my face. She was hungry. She didn’t like to be upset.
I realized I was breathing through my mouth. The feeling of motion returned. I knew now why LaFanti hadn’t shot at me. This way it was better. The cops would do the shooting for him. He’d proved his point. I was a mad dog. Anything I attempted to say in my own defense would be discredited by Gloria’s testimony.
The girl in the next booth asked, “Is the girl going to die?”
“I thought you weren’t interested.”
“I’m not. I just asked a simple question.”
“They don’t know,” her boy friend said. “It says here she was wounded by a bullet that ricocheted off a chair leg and struck her in the right breast.”
The waitress brought my ribs. They were browned the way I liked them. They looked good. My throat was so tight I could barely squeeze coffee through it, but I forced myself to eat.
Everything depended on Emerson now. If I was wrong about Mona, I was sunk. As casually as I could, I asked the waitress if there was a spare evening paper around. She smiled and said yes and laid one beside my plate.
I read it as I forced myself to eat. I was hooked but good. The janitor swore I was the man he’d seen go up the back stairs but he hadn’t recognized me at the time and besides, I had told him I was a bill collector. There was even a picture of the drab woman I’d met on the front walk.
“That’s the man,” she’d told the cops. “I’d just come back from doing my morning shopping. I heard the shots and I was standing on the sidewalk looking up at the window of Mrs. Duane’s apartment when he came running out of the front door with a crazy wild look in his eyes and his clothes all disheveled like he —” She was modest. “Well, like he’d been doing what he did to the poor girl.”
It said, in the story, that all the other tenants of the building had been working. There was no mention made of LaFanti or Hymie or Norm. If the janitor had seen me, he must have seen them. However, the chances were that money had changed hands and tonight the thin-faced man in the dirty undershirt was eating high on the hog.
I couldn’t finish the ribs. I paid my check and went out on the street. It was deep night now but still an hour from the time Emerson had set. The gray suit was no longer a disguise. The janitor and the drab had described it. I angled off onto a dark side street.
Now the cops wanted me as badly as LaFanti did. It was no longer a case of wanting to run me through the psycho ward. I’d proven that I was crazy. I
to be tucked away. I’d raped, then shot a girl.
I stopped a kid on a bike and showed him the address that Emerson had given me. “Could you tell me where this street is, son?”
He looked at me like I was dumb. “Sure. It’s two blocks this side of the lake. It runs north and south. About eighteen blocks from here.”
I gave him a dime and walked on. If the little blonde could make love like she could lie I’d missed out on something. I stopped under the next street lamp and re-read her statement.
“I’d just stepped out of my bath when Sergeant Duval came into the room. He acted like a mad man. Before I could even scream he grabbed me in his arms and threw me down on the bed. I cried and begged him not to. But he did. Once in the bedoom and once on the couch in the living room.”
She’d begged me not to.
She continued: “After the second time, I tricked him into letting me get up to get a cigarette. Instead, I got a gun that Joe had given me and shot at him four times. Before I could shoot again he struggled with me for the gun and it went off and the bullet ricocheted off the metal leg of a chair and struck me in the right breast.”
I checked the shots I remembered. They tallied with Gloria’s statement. Only five shots had been fired. When ballistics examined the slug the doctors had taken out of her it would check with the other four shots. She was a pretty girl. I was a kill-crazy veteran with a skin full of war neuroses.
The street that Emerson lived on was lined with trees. I walked past the apartment building on the far side of the street. There was a dozen cars parked at the curb. I wished I could see into them. LaFanti had booby-trapped me once. He and some of his boys could be in one of the cars. So could the police.
When I reached the corner I struck a match and looked at the card again. Under his address the cocky little lawyer had written: Second floor, rear apartment.
I had no way of knowing whether he was married or single, or, for that matter, if he was still on my side. According to the little blonde, he had promised to call LaFanti if I attempted to contact him.
I walked completely around the block and cut through a landscaped yard to come at the building from the rear. I saw no one.
Halfway across the areaway, the gray suit blending into the cement, I lay still and looked up. Both the first and the second-floor apartments were lighted but the only voices I could hear came from the first floor windows. A woman asked a man what sort of day he’d had.
“So, so,” he told her. “So so.”
I wriggled on and pressed my body flat to the ornamental brick. For decorative purposes, they were laid in uneven tiers. I pulled myself up and inched past the lighted first floor windows. I was so close I could have reached in and touched a man sitting in an easy chair. As I climbed on, the woman who had spoken before said: