Authors: Day Keene
I repeated what Corson had said, “Maybe LaFanti killed Stein and Mona is covering for him.”
The reporter shook his head. “Uh uh. No babe is going to waggle her hips down that last mile when she could put ’em back on a stool in the Palmer House Bar just by saying a name. No guy is that good. And I mean no guy.”
We were standing under the canvas marquee waiting for Captain Corson to finish placing his men. First Assistant State’s Attorney Olson agreed with the reporter. “No. That doesn’t make sense. In the first place LaFanti had an unbreakable alibi. I should know. My office was holding him that night for questioning on that armored-truck deal he wriggled out of. Besides, no twenty-dollar call girl is going to set her living in the hot seat for the love of any man. And Mona hates LaFanti’s guts. She told me in so many words.”
It made me kind of queasy again to hear him call Mona what he had, to think of her selling her body. But it was down in the record. She’d stayed with Stein one time for twenty dollars, then sold him as much as he could use for another fifty.
I almost wished I hadn’t come to Chicago, that I hadn’t promised Johnny to look up his wife and kid. I hoped he hadn’t known just how sour his marriage had gone. Forever and ever, she’d promised Johnny, until death do us part, then laid it on anyone’s bed while he’d been dying in the mud — any male who had twenty dollars and a yen for quail.
Still, even LaFanti had admitted it was Johnny’s kid. When I’d asked him if it was Johnny’s kid, he’d said,
Mona says. You red-haired guys. Mona was all chumped off over your kid brother. She was all for going straight and keeping the home fires burning for him until he got back from Korea. Until I talked some sense into her.”
When he was saying it he flexed his big hands, like he’d beat her back into line. Him six feet two, she barely pushing five feet; a girl, with one hundred pounds between them. How low could a guy get?
Captain Corson came back from spotting his men and led the way into the building. The pimply-faced kid was still running the one elevator cage in operation. He looked at me, then away, like he was scared.
“Anyone go up or out since I left?” I asked him.
As uniformed cops and plainclothes men continued to crowd into the cage, the kid’s knees began to shake. “Up where?”
I got a little sore. “Up to Joe LaFanti’s apartment.”
The kid looked down at his control. “This is a big building, soldier. We got eighteen floors. I can’t keep track of where everyone goes.” He pleaded with the cops still crowding into the cage. “That’s all, fellows. Please.”
He worked the grill door shut.
Olson studied the back of his head. “How about Mr. LaFanti? Is Mr. LaFanti in his apartment?”
The kid bore down on his control. “Yeah. Yeah, I think he is. At least, I didn’t see him go out.”
We were crowded in the cage like K rations. One of the reporters asked Olson if he thought he could make his charges stick.
Olson held up crossed fingers. “We’re going to try. If Sergeant Duval’s story is true, and I see no reason why he should lie, we should have Joe this time.”
The apartment door was closed. Corson banged it with the butt of his gun. There was no answer and he banged again. After what seemed like a long time, LaFanti opened it on the chain. He’d changed into a dressing gown and slippers since I’d seen him last.
“Remember me?” I asked him through the crack.
He ignored me to ask Corson, “What’s the big idea, copper?
Corson pushed at the door. “Open up. We’re coming in, LaFanti.”
LaFanti shook his head. “Uh uh. Not in here. Not you or any other cop. Not without that paper.”
“We have it,” Olson said. “In fact, we have quite a few papers.” He read LaFanti the warrants he had insisted on having sworn out.
When he’d finished LaFanti said, “Well, in that case, I guess I’m stuck.” He closed the door and opened it free of the chain, but he still blocked the way with his body. “Okay. Let’s talk right here.”
Corson pushed him aside. “To hell with that pigeon stuff. We’ve got you this time, Joe. We’ve got you tight.”
The guy was a good actor. He looked sincerely puzzled. “I don’t get it, copper. Believe me.” He asked one of the reporters, “What am I supposed to have done? What are they charging me with?”
A half-dozen flash bulbs flared as the reporter said, “Kidnapping and attempted murder.”
LaFanti grinned. “Now I know it’s a gag.”
I walked over in front of him. “You never saw me before, I suppose?”
“No,” LaFanti said it flatly. He stared at my feet and raised his eyes until they were looking into mine. “No. I never saw you before. Who are you and what’s your gripe, soldier?”
“I’ll gripe you!” and swung a hard right to his jaw.
LaFanti let the blow slide off his forearm and asked Olson, “What’s eating on the guy? What’s the matter? Is he crazy?”
As he blocked the blow the belt of his, robe came untied. All he had on under it was skin. LaFanti retied the belt. I said, “You never saw me before?”
“You and Tommy and Hymie didn’t force me into your car on the corner of State and Van Buren?”
“You didn’t bring me up here? You didn’t offer to set me up in whatever kind of business I was in before I went into the army if I’d keep my mouth shut about what Mona told me this morning?”
“You didn’t insist that she’d told me where she stashed the diamonds she clipped off Stein?”
LaFanti shook his head. “You’re not making sense, soldier. I never saw you before in my life and I don’t give a damn what happens to Mona.”
I tried a last time. “You and Norm and Hymie and Tommy and Gordon didn’t beat me unconscious? You weren’t planning to dump me in the lake and make it look like accidental drowning?”
LaFanti fished in the pocket of his robe and came up with a loose cigarette and a lighter. “No,” he said, through the flame of the lighter. “In fact, I haven’t been out of the apartment all afternoon, and I can prove it.”
It was quiet in the apartment when he stopped speaking. I realized everyone was looking at me. There was a worried frown on Olson’s face. I stood looking around me, feeling like a damn fool. There wasn’t a sign of any damage or any blood on the floor. The floor didn’t even look damp. There certainly was no body. The framed picture of Mona was back on the end table.
“Where is Tommy?” Captain Corson asked LaFanti.
LaFanti sucked on his cigarette. “Down at the place in the Dunes.” He showed his white teeth in a smile. “I had a little private business to take care of this afternoon, so I gave the boys the day off.”
“He isn’t dead?”
LaFanti’s grin widened. “Probably dead drunk. That swish can drink more liquor.” He looked back at me. “But now let me get this straight. Just who is this soldier?”
Olson’s worried frown deepened. He said, “Sergeant Mike Duval, Johnny Duval’s brother.”
“Oh, yes,” LaFanti said. “That young soldier that Mona married. She should have stuck to the guy and stayed home taking care of her kid instead of hanging around bars and picking up guys like Stein. Then she wouldn’t be in the mess she’s in.”
I knocked him off his feet. “You son-of-a-bitch, stop stalling. What did you do with Tommy’s body? What did you do with Gordon?”
He shook his head while still on the floor. “Believe me, I don’t know what you’re talking about. So Mona went sour on your brother. Why take it out on me?”
I tried to kick him and Nagle stopped me. “Easy makes it, Sergeant,” he said.
Captain Corson was prowling the room, paying special attention to the floor. He asked, “What part of the room were you in when you shot Tommy Lewis?”
I pointed to the chair he had been sitting in. “Right there. I dropped him on that throw rug.”
Corson got to his knees and looked at the rug, then under it. “Not on this rug!”
I insisted, “But I did. Then I broke a whiskey bottle on Gordon’s head and ground the jagged butt into his face. He was screaming like mad when I left him.”
Corson ran the tips of his fingers across the parquet flooring. “It beats me,” he said finally. “You’re sure this is the apartment they brought you to?”
Corson’s eyes were disappointed. Still squatting on his haunches, he looked at LaFanti. “You said before that you could prove you hadn’t left the apartment all afternoon. How?”
LaFanti smirked, “By two witnesses. One of them the elevator boy.”
Corson got to his feet and ordered Nagle to get the elevator boy. The kid was even younger than I had judged him to be and scared. When Captain Corson asked him his name he had to wet his lips with his tongue before he could answer.
“Manny,” he said finally. “Manny Kelly.”
“What time did you come on duty?”
“And you’re still working?”
“This is my long day. Tomorrow I work a short one.”
“I see,” Captain Corson said. He showed the kid his buzzer. “Know what this is, Manny?”
The kid swallowed the lump in his throat. “Yes, sir. It’s a captain’s badge.”
Corson dropped it back in his pocket. “And I’m a captain, a captain of homicide. Keep that in mind.”
“How many times did Mr. LaFanti go out today?”
The elevator boy shook his head. “He didn’t go out at all. Anyway, I didn’t see him.”
“You’re positive of that?”
“He stayed in his apartment all day?”
“Unless he went out before noon.” The kid gained a little more self-confidence. “All I know is what happened since I came on duty.”
Corson pointed at me. “How about this sergeant?”
“What about him?” the kid asked.
“You brought him up this evening, say between seven and seven-thirty?”
“No, sir,” the kid lied.
“But you have seen him before?”
Kelly shook his head. “No, sir. Not until all of you barged into the cage just now and he asked me if anyone had gone in or out since he’d left. I thought at the time it was funny.”
I looked at LaFanti. He looked back, amused. “The kid is lying,” I said. “LaFanti has paid him to lie.”
“How about that, son?” Olson asked.
Kelly raised one palm shoulder high. “So help me. I wouldn’t lie for no one.” He made it sound good. “Usually there are a lot of guys coming and going to this floor. But today since I came on duty at noon I had only one passenger for fourteen.”
“Who was he?” Olson asked.
Kelly grinned. “It wasn’t a him. It was a her.”
LaFanti’s smirk grew even wider. “I told you.”
With Corson at my heels I crossed the big living room to the hall and tried the knob of the door. I was sure it led to the room in which a girl had been crying. The door was unlocked and swung in.
The little blonde who had gotten out of the cab I’d taken down to Central Bureau was sitting on the bed. All she had on was lipstick and that was smeared, but not from crying.
She eeked and did a poor job of covering herself with the top sheet. Tart or not, she was cute.
“What are you doing here?” Captain Corson asked her.
Her grin was gamin. “Do you really want me to tell you?”
Corson got red back of the ears. “Let’s put it this way, then. How long have you been here?”
“Three or four hours,” she lied. “Since around four o’clock.”
“I told you,” LaFanti repeated.
Unless I’d blown my top, both the blonde and the elevator boy were lying. They had to be.
“What’s the matter?” the blonde asked LaFanti. “Are we raided?”
“So it would seem,” he said.
One of the camera men tried to get a picture of the blonde. Still red behind the ears, Captain Corson closed the door and led the way back to the living room. “I will be damned,” he said, “if I know what to think.”
LaFanti’s voice was patronizing. “You sure now, soldier, that you haven’t gotten your apartments mixed?”
I tried to think of something to say and couldn’t. I couldn’t prove a damn thing, at least not immediately. It was the time element that had thrown me. I’d figured to be back in ten minutes. Instead, it had been over an hour, giving him plenty of time to clean up the apartment, buy off the elevator boy and substitute the naked little blonde for the girl I’d heard crying.
One of the reporters laughed. “It sort of looks like this has turned out to be a wild goose chase.” He looked back at the door of the room. “Or should I say wild tomato? Isn’t that the little stripper who takes off her clothes to music at The Furnace, Joe?”
“That’s right,” LaFanti admitted. “So help me, the guy must be crazy.” He glanced at the door of the bedroom. “Why would I want to pound on him when —” He left it there.
Several reporters laughed. I said, “You’re lying and you know you are. You had some other dame in here while you were pounding on me. The little babe in the bedroom was downstairs when I left. With all her clothes on, I know. She got out of the cab I took to Central Bureau.”
“So you say,” LaFanti said. He looked at my campaign ribbons and medal bars and asked, “I wonder if I could speak to you privately, Mr. State’s Attorney.”
Olson said, “You can say whatever you want to say right here.”
LaFanti said it. “I think the soldier is nuts. Look at the fruit salad on the guy.”
“What about it?” I asked.
LaFanti’s smile was smooth. “They’re a credit to you, soldier. I wish I could wear them.” He sounded like a con man selling a bill of goods to a bunch of rubes on a carnival midway. “All I’m thinking is maybe you’ve been through too much. Making all these wild accusations that you have doesn’t make good sense. In my book you got —” he couldn’t think of the word he wanted. “Not battle fatigue. What’s that other thing?”
“War neurosis?” one of the reporters suggested.
LaFanti showed his white teeth in a smile. “Yeah. That’s it. Like hallucinations.” He ignored me to talk directly to the reporters. “The sergeant’s a good Joe, see? He comes back here to look up his brother’s wife and what does he find? He finds Mona just about to take the big step for scragging a guy she’d been cheating on his brother with. The sergeant is hurt. He’s sore. He wants to beat on someone to get even for what Mona done to his brother. So he dreams up this stuff about me, subconsciously, see? Just because at one time Mona was my girl.”