Authors: Day Keene
“Whatever you say,” I said.
We walked into the hall, leaving her bawling in the matron’s arms.
Out in the yard Kane saw I wasn’t feeling so hot. “Don’t let her get you, Duval,” he said. “She’s no good. The State proved it at her trial.”
The former colonel of M.P.’s, Conroy, added, “All she wanted from your brother was a dependency allotment. It was a side line with her.”
He named names and facts in connection with the state’s case against her. Only one name stuck, that of Joe LaFanti. I’d read about him in the paper in connection with some racket or another.
He was still talking when we got back to the warden’s office. “Okay. So she’s a tramp,” I stopped him. “She stayed with, then killed and robbed a jeweler. You’re going to burn her. Let it go at that.”
I shook hands with the warden but not with Conroy. Kane walked me to the front door to pass me by the guard; then I was on the far side of the wall climbing into the taxi I’d asked to wait for me.
The square-jawed lad in the Leghorn stopped talking to the guard and pretended he was interested in something that was happening in one of the guard towers.
“Hey. You,” I called to him. “If you’re going to tail me back to Chicago, you might as well climb in the cab and we’ll split the meter to the station.”
He pretended he didn’t hear me. It made me a little sore. I almost got out and busted him one.
was crowded. I was lucky to get a seat in the smoker. I rode looking out at the farm land, admiring a farm here and there. I thought some about Johnny and how we had lived on a farm until our mother had died when he had been seven and I had been fourteen. Then the old man had sold the farm and gotten a job in a meat-packing plant in Omaha because the packing plant had been handier to the saloons that sold the stuff he lived on.
But mostly I thought about Mona. I kept seeing her in the smoke, seeing her blue eyes and black hair, feeling again how small and soft her hand had been, thinking how white and frightened she’d looked.
Just think of me once in a while,
No matter what she’d done, she was paying. The kid was going through hell. There was something somehow indecent about the thought of knowing when you were going to die, down to the day, the hour, the minute. I wished I could stop thinking about her.
There was a milk bar in the station concourse. I bought a chocolate malt and two squares of cheese crackers and drank the malt and ate the crackers wondering if it was too late to go see Mona’s lawyer. The big clock in the station said five minutes after five. The guy was probably gone for the day. I’d have to contact him in the morning.
I walked out onto the street wondering how to kill time. I didn’t know anyone in Chicago. Now the old man and Johnny were gone, I was the last of the family. Me and Johnny’s kid. The thought depressed me. I wished I’d remembered to ask Mona what she had named the boy.
Early evening was as warm as day had been. I wandered on into the Loop, gawking in the windows of the stores, looking at the girls, wishing I knew a girl, a girl like Mona. Now I had seen her I couldn’t blame Johnny for chumping off. He’d have been a chump if he hadn’t. In her own clothes, or without any clothes, and unafraid, she must have been a little honey.
Just thinking about her that way excited me. I bought a beer to wash down the malt and crackers, then bought a hot dog to take the taste of the beer out of my mouth. For some reason I didn’t feel so good.
Just think of me once in a while.
I was standing on Randolph Street. The street was beginning to get dark. I looked at the lighted marquees of the movie houses and tried to decide whether to see a show or pick out a quiet bar and tie one on. That was when the square-jawed lad in the Leghorn closed in on me.
“Okay,” he said. “I’ve wasted all the time I can afford to waste on you. Let’s go.”
I looked at the hand on my arm. “Take it off.”
“A tough guy, eh?”
“I get by.”
He showed me a silver shield. “The name is Corson. Captain Corson of Homicide.”
The name meant nothing to me. I hadn’t killed anyone. I asked, “What am I supposed to do now? Break out in a rash of hallelujahs, or turn to the east and bow three times?”
He was as big as I was, six feet two or better, in his late forties or early fifties, with a fringe of iron gray hair showing under his straw hat. He drew back his arm like he was going to hit me. Before he could, two other men, who could only be plainclothes detectives, walked up to where we were standing.
“What gives, Jack?” one of them asked.
Corson said, “A new angle on the Stein case, I think. I picked up this musical-comedy soldier in front of Mona’s old apartment this morning and since then he and I have been down to Joliet and back.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You’ve been tailing me all day. What’s the big idea?”
“You wouldn’t know?”
One of the plainclothes men said, “Why don’t we all go down to the Bureau and talk this over?”
I debated telling him where to put his suggestion and decided his idea was as good a way as any to kill a few hours. “Yeah,” I agreed with him. “Why don’t we?”
The squad room was on an upper floor. Through the open windows I could see the lights of the Outer Drive, the Link Bridge, the lighted Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building. But the room smelled like all squad and ready rooms, of tobacco and men and sweat. Four plainclothes detectives in their shirt sleeves were playing pinochle at a battered table. When we walked in they stopped playing and stood up.
“What now?” one of them asked.
One of the men with me said, “A new angle on the Stein case, Jack thinks.”
Captain Corson took off his coat and hung it carefully over the back of a chair. “Those diamonds have to be someplace. It could be we can find out where.”
He was beating his gums with no sound coming out as far as I was concerned. I brushed back the pinochle cards and sat with one hip on the table. “You’re way over my head, fly-boy. Come in for a landing.”
He took off his hat and laid it on the seat of the chair, treating it as carefully as he had his coat. Then he walked over to where I was sitting and ran a finger across my bank of campaign ribbons and medal bars. “Stop acting, fellow. Your phony fruit salad isn’t impressing anyone. You can buy those things in any South State Street hock shop. Now start talking. Why did LaFanti send you down to talk to Mona?”
I lit a cigarette. “You’re way off the beam, fellow. No one sent me to see Mona.”
“Don’t give me that.”
“It’s the truth.” I started to crack wise again and thought better of it. He was a cop. He was only doing his job. “You see, she had a kid by my brother. He got his two months ago and before Johnny died I promised him that as soon as I got States-side I’d make arrangements to take care of her and the kid.”
“You expect me to believe that?”
“It’s the truth.”
“You mean it’s the story you told to get in to see Mona.”
I hadn’t liked Corson when I’d first seen him. He wasn’t growing on me. I shrugged. “Okay. Have it your own way. It’s the story I told to get in to see her.”
One of the detectives asked, “Mona had a kid?”
Captain Corson nodded. “It isn’t generally known, but she did. It’s in a nursing home out on the south side.” He looked back at me. “But considering the number of men she played house with before she took up with LaFanti and killed Stein, I don’t see how she can pin the kid on any particular man.”
I tasted the hot dog I’d bought to take away the taste of the beer. Mona hadn’t looked like that kind of a girl.
The same detective asked, “How does the birth certificate read?”
“As I recall, John Duval,” Corson told him. “As far as I can tell it’s the only decent thing Mona ever did. I mean have her lawyer make a deal with the state’s attorney’s office to keep the kid out of the trial.” He turned back to me. “All right. Come on. Let’s start waltzing. How does LaFanti hope to spring Mona, and where did she plant the rocks?”
I told the truth. “I don’t even know LaFanti.”
They all laughed at that.
It made me sore. I said, “That’s the truth.”
I saw Corson’t fist too late. The blow caught me full in the mouth, knocking me back over the table into one of the chairs. The chair smashed under my weight and spilled me on the floor. I got to my feet spitting blood. “You son-of-a-bitch. I’ll kill you for that.”
“You and how many other punks?” Corson asked.
Before I could get set he followed up his first punch and fought me back against the wall. “Talk, you phony bastard. Why did LaFanti send you to see Mona?”
I fought back as best I could, giving as good as I was taking. “I told you I don’t know the guy.” I got in a left to Corson’s stomach that doubled him up. Before I could finish him off the two plainclothes men grabbed my arms.
One of them said, “The captain asked you a question.”
“Water on the captain,” I told him. “You know what kind of water.”
While they held me Corson hit me in the face again. “Talk, you phony bastard. Why did LaFanti send you to see Mona?”
He started to slug me again and one of the plainclothes men said, “Oh, oh. Olson just walked in.”
He and his partner let go of my arms.
I looked at the door of the squad room. A slightly built middle-aged blond man was standing in the doorway. “What’s going on in here?” he asked.
No one answered him. The four detectives who had been playing pinochle dragged up unbroken chairs and went back to their card game. The guys who had been holding me looked like they didn’t know what to do with their hands.
The blond man came over to where we were standing. “What’s going on?” he repeated.
Without turning his head, Corson said, “Look. You run your office, Olson, I’ll run mine. LaFanti’s up to something. I spotted it this morning when this Abbott and Costello soldier showed up at Mona’s old address asking where she was and how he could get in touch with her. He laid it on too thick, see? As if everyone doesn’t know where she is. Hell. She’s been front page for the last six months.”
“That right, soldier?” the blond man asked me.
I asked him who he was.
He said, “My name is Olson. I’m First Assistant State’s Attorney.”
I spat out a mouthful of blood. “Then either call this mad man off or give me a chance to take him. I’m minding my own business, standing on Randolph Street, when Corson and these other two guys waltz me up here. They said to talk things over.”
“But you did go to see Mona Ambler?”
I picked my cap from the floor and put it back on my head. “To make arrangements to take care of my brother’s baby.”
“Then your name must be Duval.”
“Technical Sergeant Duval,” I corrected him.
Corson didn’t seem as certain of himself as he had.
“Did you go through him, Captain?” Olson asked.
“No,” Corson admitted. “I didn’t.”
Olson held out his hand. “Could I see your travel orders, Sergeant Duval?”
I gave him my envelope. As with the prissy lad in Warden Kane’s office, Olsen knew what he was looking at.
“Hmm. A medal of Honor man, eh?” he said. “A career soldier with twelve years in and just signed up for another hitch.”
One of the two plainclothes men who had held me took off his hat and ran his handkerchief around the sweat band. The slap of the playing cards was plainly audible in the silence that followed Olson’s statement. Corson looked like he’d eaten something that hadn’t agreed with him. Like my hot dog, maybe.
Olson handed back my papers. “I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am this happened, Sergeant Duval.” He looked at Corson. “And as far as you are concerned, Captain Corson, if the sergeant is inclined to prefer charges, I wouldn’t be surprised if this means your shield. You and your office have been warned time and again against unnecessary brutality. And it just so happens that Sergeant Duval’s campaign ribbons and medal bars aren’t phony, that he isn’t an Abbott and Costello.”
Corson’s face was as gray as his hair. I knew he was thinking of his pension. “How was I to know the guy just got back from Korea? I never saw a G.I. with so many ribbons before, outside of General MacArthur.”
“You have now,” Olson said.
I could tell by the way Corson was looking at me that he wanted to say he was sorry, but was too stiffnecked to apologize. “You going to prefer charges?” he asked.
I let him sweat a little. “I haven’t made up my mind.”
was on the floor below. He let me use his private lavatory to wash up and brush my uniform. Outside of a cut on the inside of my mouth and a few loose teeth, I hadn’t come out too badly. When I looked halfway G.I. again I walked out into his office and sat in the big leather chair in front of his desk.
He’d come up with a bottle of rye, some ice and two glasses. As I sat down he started to pour. “Say when, Sergeant.”
I let him half fill the highball glass before I said, “That will do fine.” My stomach was still queasy. I hoped the whiskey would settle it.
Olson lifted his glass. “To the infantry.”
“You were in it?” I asked him.
“Thank God, no,” he smiled. He put on the same record he’d played up in the squad room. “I can’t begin to tell you, Sergeant, how sorry I am that —”
I said, “Skip it. Corson thought he was doing his job.”
“You’re charitable,” Olson said. “And realistic.”
I sipped my drink. “What you can do is brief me on the case. If the girl has been tried and convicted and the date of her execution set why has Corson still got ants in his pants and where does this LaFanti come in?”
Olson offered me a cigar. I shook my head at him. He slit the end of the cigar with a small gold pen knife and put the cigar in his own mouth. “It’s quite a story. We’ve had Mona listed as one of LaFanti’s girls for some time now. But outside of paying her lawyer, so far as we can tell, he hasn’t lifted a finger to get her a new trial or try for a commutation of sentence.” He laughed. “That’s what bothers Corson.”