Authors: Day Keene
I said, “That’s a lot of crap.”
“Could be,” LaFanti admitted. “But you’ve made a lot of charges, fellow. You’ve caused me embarrassment. Now I’m going to make one request, for your own good, because I think when you’re normal, you’re probably a pretty good guy.”
“What sort of a request?” Olson asked.
LaFanti said, “I want the guy run through the psycho ward.”
Coming from him it was funny but Olson didn’t seem to think so. I could feel my throat contract, as I looked from him to Captain Corson. He was still prowling the living room, touching this, handling that, listening with one ear. As I watched, he picked something small and white from one of the twists of a loop throw rug. He looked at it thoughtfully a moment, then dropped it in his vest pocket.
For a moment no one spoke. Olson broke the silence. His voice was thin and hurt like he’d been put upon. “Well, there certainly are no bodies and no disorder here. And after the wild and unsubstantial charges that the sergeant has made, he can’t be completely normal.”
I said, “Heifer dust to that,” and started for the hall door. The framed picture of Mona stopped me. There was something wrong about it. Then I thought I knew what it was.
Olson asked, “You’re willing to swear that the sergeant has never been in this apartment before?”
“I swear,” LaFanti swore. “You heard the elevator boy. You heard what Gloria said.”
“And Tommy and Gordon —?”
“Are down at my place in the Dunes.” LaFanti nodded at the bedroom door. “After all, when a man has company —”
Captain Corson figured my move just as I reached for the knob of the hall door. “Hold it, fellow,” he said.
I slipped the gun I’d taken away from Tommy out from under my coat. “In an old-fashioned campaign hat,” I told him. “I’m not nuts and no one is going to make me play with blocks and try to put square pegs in round holes. All I want from you is the answer to one question.”
Corson asked flatly, “What?”
“If a lad is committed to the psycho ward in this man’s town, how long does it take to put him through the mill?”
“Four or five days.”
“And there you have it,” I told him. “By the time the sicky-ackys give me a clean bill of health, the little doll in the death house will be dead.”
None of the men in the room moved, with the exception of one of the camera men. He took a flash of me holding the gun on Corson.
I opened the door and slammed it behind me. I’d reached the elevator by the time LaFanti tugged it open. He shouted, “Stop him. The man is crazy.”
I shot off the lobe of his left ear and he closed the door a lot faster than he’d opened it.
The elevator punk was afraid I was going to kill him. “So help me, Sergeant —” he whimpered.
I pushed the gun in his ribs. “All the way down — fast.” Passing the fourth floor I asked him, “How much did LaFanti pay you to cover for him?”
He was afraid of me, but more afraid of LaFanti. Sweat beaded on his cheeks and dripped from the bulb of his nose. “I — I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I didn’t have time to argue with him. I walked past the cordon of detectives and uniformed cops that Captain Corson had posted and whistled down a Loop-bound cab.
“Where to?” the driver asked.
“Just drive,” I told him. “I don’t know just where I want to go.”
I didn’t. I had a lot to do and not much time in which to do it. From now on, both LaFanti and his boys would be looking for me. After pulling a gun the way I had and shooting off part of Joe LaFanti’s ear, even Captain Corson would think I was crazy.
exception of the night clubs and bars and hotels, and here and there a hock shop, most of the store fronts along North Clark Street were dark.
I got out of the cab at Chicago Avenue and walked south slowly, through a blare of slip-horns and saxophones and the tinkle of pianos. Sin, it would seem, was popular in Chicago. North Clark Street was lined with bars and night clubs, most of them featuring strippers, all of them doing business.
I stopped and looked in the window of a lighted hock shop with the name North Star Loan on the window. Up near the door there was a showcase filled with shirts and three revolving racks of ties. Back of the show case I could see a display of straw hats. I wanted to contact Mona’s lawyer, but the first thing I had to do was get out of uniform. Within the next ten minutes evey prowl and radio car cop in Chicago would be looking for a big red-haired tech sergeant with a chestful of assorted fruit salad.
I walked in the open door. It smelled like all hock shops, of moth balls and old leather. A good-looking lad, swart-faced, laid down the Racing Form he was reading and asked what he could do for me.
I said, “I’d like to buy a suit of civvies, that is, if you handle clothes.”
“Sure thing, Sergeant,” he grinned. He led me to a rack of suits in a built-in glass showcase, then looked at the width of my shoulders. “Let’s see. I’d say a forty, long.”
“Right on the nose,” I told him.
He slid open the rack and took out a fashionable double-breasted silk gabardine I couldn’t tell from new. “How does this one hit you, Sergeant?” He looked at the code mark on the tag. “A one hundred and fifty buck hand-tailored suit I took in from a lad on the street who thought a gray horse could win the Derby. If it fits, you can have it for fifty.”
I tried on the coat and held the pants to my waist. The coat fit fine. The pants were about the right length. “Okay,” I told him. “I’ll take it. Now how about some shirts and a hat?”
He showed me his teeth. “Those I got new.”
I picked out three size sixteen white broadcloth shirts, a plain blue tie and a natural colored Leghorn straw hat with a loud band.
The lad was pleased by the late sale. “You just get that paper, Sergeant?”
“No, I’m still in,” I told him. I added a little white lie. “It’s just that I’ve got a date with a girl who wants to see me in civvies.”
“Dames,” he admitted, “are funny.”
The only shoes he handled were various colored sneakers with thick crepe rubber soles. I picked a blue pair to go with the tie I’d bought. They made me feel like I was walking on a mattress but they were better than the tight shoes that were blistering my heels.
I bought a small suitcase to carry my uniform and changed my clothes in a little curtained-off room. It was surprising the difference the duds made. The suit made me look like a small hot-shot, like I belonged on North Clark Street.
I transferred my papers and the gun, folded my uniform into the suit case and walked out to the counter where the dark lad was totalling my bill. With everything, it came to eighty-nine dollars minus ten percent. “Why the ten percent off?” I asked him.
“That’s for your Medal of Honor bar,” he said, soberly. “No dog-face ever found one in a box of rations. I know. I was one of the poor bastards at Bastogne.”
I hadn’t even noticed he’d seen it. It was a little thing that gave me a big glow. It was the first nice thing that had happened to me since I’d hit Chicago.
I smoothed the lapel of the gray suit. “Thanks. Thanks a lot, fellow.”
He said, “Wear it in health.” Then he added, grinning, as I went out the door, “Ten years ago, if anyone had told me I’d ever give a sergeant a break —” he left it there.
I gave him a wave of the hand and walked on down the street. There was a cigar store on the next corner. I used the books in the booth to look up Mona’s lawyer. There was a Quentin E. Emerson listed under lawyers in the classified directory, but I couldn’t find any home address for him. The chances were he lived in one of the dozens of small towns within commuting distance of the Loop.
Mona’s lawyer would have to wait until morning —if I lasted that long.
Back on Clark Street again, I stood undecided, wondering just what to do, what I could do. According to what Olson had read to me from her case file, Mona had picked up Stein at a clip-joint called The Furnace. I could see its flashing red neon sign across and down the street a block away. It was as good a starting point as any. I doubted if even Joe LaFanti would give me credit for guts enough to show in one of the places he owned.
I crossed the street, my palms sweating a little, and turned in at The Furnace. It was a big barn of a place on a corner. There were dimly lighted booths against three walls and a raised runway bisecting a horse-shoe shaped bar in the center of the floor. The joint was packed with free spenders. A B-girl or a hustler was sitting on her living in every second booth and bar stool. The joint smelled like what it was.
I tried to find a stool at the bar but had to settle for one of the few unoccupied booths. A hatchet-faced waiter took my order. Beer was a dollar a bottle. An ounce of cut bar rye brought the tab to two dollars and a quarter.
I sat sipping my drink. A hot four-piece combo was playing It Must Be Love on a small raised platform at the wide end of the runway but no one was paying any attention to them.
The turn-over of girls on the stools was terrific. They came and went like busy little ants. It was the closest thing I’d seen to a wide-open parlor house since I’d been stationed in El Paso and spent most of my pay in Ciudad Juarez. I tried to visualize the little kid in the death house working in such a joint and couldn’t. She might stay with a guy she liked. She probably would and had. But I couldn’t see her putting it out for money, no matter how many confessions she’d signed, no matter what the State of Illinois had proved.
The framed picture of Mona in LaFanti’s apartment haunted me. I wished I knew more about women’s jewelry than I did. If I was right, something was awful screwball. Perhaps Mona’s attorney could tell me. Anyway, he could find out.
Someone blocked off the light in the booth and a not bad-looking little brunette in a tight black skirt and a crisp white shirtwaist sat down across from me.
“How are the chances of you buying a little girl a big drink, mister?” she asked.
I said the chances were good and told the waiter to bring her whatever she wanted. She ordered a double rye high. “Stranger in town, mister?” she asked.
I pointed to my suitcase. “Just got into town.”
“And out for a big time, huh?”
I lied, “That’s right.”
She raised her glass when our drinks came. “What’s your name?”
“Cole. Jim Cole,” I lied.
She wrinkled her nose at me and leaned forward a little, just enough so I could see she wasn’t wearing a bra. “I’m Maggie. My right name is Marguerite but everyone calls me Maggie.”
Her smile was as nice as her body. I touched my glass to hers. “Maggie sounds good to me.”
She felt her way. “First time you’ve ever been in here?”
I nodded. “Yeah. That’s right.” I lit cigarettes for both of us. “You work here long?”
Her smile turned wry. “Two years. I did a strip act up to a month ago. Then the guy who owns the joint went overboard for a little bleached blonde and I got the boot.”
“You like the work?”
She shrugged. “Anyway, it’s a living. What do you do?”
I said I was a construction man.
The waiter brought us fresh drinks without waiting for me to order and the size of the roll I was carrying seemed to impress the little brunette. She moved around and sat on the same side of the booth.
“You look like you’re flush, honey.”
“Yeah. It so happens,” I said.
I had an idea what her next move would be. I waited, wanting it to come from her. She wet her lips with the tip of her tongue. “You just out to drink or are you looking for a good time, honey?”
I played dumb. “What kind of a good time?”
She pressed her thigh against mine. “You know what I mean.”
It was an idea. If she had worked at The Furnace for two years, the chances were she had known Mona. In a hotel room, just the two of us, it might be she could give me a new slant on the case.
Maggie persisted, “I’ll show you a good time, honey. Honest. I’ve always been crazy about big red-haired guys.”
She picked up my hand and slid it under the table. Her thighs were soft and cool. There was nothing under her skirt but her. “You’ll see.” She sucked in her breath in simulated passion. “Come on. Be a sport. Let’s both have a good time, big boy.”
It was a funny sensation. Instead of exciting me, the feel of her disgusted me. Possibly it was because, at least so the State of Illinois claimed, the little doll in the death house had made the same pitch to a jewelry salesman named Stein.
She slumped lower in the booth. “Come on. Be a sport,” she repeated.
The smoke, the cheap whiskey and the blare of the four-piece combo were making my head ache. I started to ask how much she figured her company was worth. I froze with my left hand trapped and my right hand on the butt of the gun in my coat pocket. Hymie and Norm had walked in the door of The Furnace. They began to talk to a lad in a white dinner jacket who looked like he might be the manager.
The lad in the white dinner jacket looked around the club, then came directly to the booth in which we were sitting.
Maggie released my left hand and sat up. “Now what?”
“Gloria’s drunk,” he told her, “too drunk to work the ten o’clock show. Norm and Hymie just came from Mr. LaFanti’s apartment.”
The lad paid no attention to me. To him I was just another free-spending chump. “So you’ll have to take over her spot,” he told her.
Maggie patted my cheek, then stood up and smoothed her rumpled skirt. “You wait, honey,” she insisted. “Mamma will be right back. Just as soon as she takes off her clothes for the cheap Johns at the bar.”
She and the manager left. I sat watching Hymie and Norm. What had happened was obvious. To celebrate making a fool out of me, LaFanti and the little blonde who had replaced the girl I’d heard crying had taken a few too many drinks. Hymie and Norm seemed amused. They had a drink at the bar, laughing with one of the barmen. Then they turned and walked out again.
To look for me?
I leaned against the back of the booth. It was an effort for me to breathe. My whole body was slimy with sweat. “What time does the show go on?” I asked the waiter, as he replaced my empty glass and set down a fresh bottle of beer.