Authors: Day Keene
He said, “Right away, mister. There’s the emcee out now.”
I sipped my drink as I watched the show. The acts and the emcee’s gags were as raw as the whiskey. A dame sang some dirty songs. Two tired strippers who were beginning to sag where they shouldn’t and bulge in the wrong places peeled down to their ten o’clock shadow.
Then Maggie came out on the runway, carrying a flowered parasol and wearing a big picture hat and a full-skirted dress with a bustle. At a distance she looked almost virginal. The thought disturbed me. For my own sake. For Johnny’s.
How does a whore look?
The little doll in the death house looked like she wouldn’t say spit, but then so did Maggie. I sat breathing hard, watching her discard first her parasol and next her hat and gloves. Now she was shrugging out of her dress and the crowd in the club whooped as she paraded the runway wearing a pair of long white stiffly starched pantaloons with an old-fashioned camisole to match.
The camisole fluttered to the runway. Still keeping time to the music, she stepped out of the pants. Now all she had on was a net brassiere and a rhinestone bauble that bobbled enticingly, as she did a series of bumps.
The net brassiere followed the camisole to the runway. She had a pretty little body. She’d told me to wait. She was mine if I wanted her. It could be she could tell me something. What was more, if I took off with her, I would be safe from both LaFanti and the police for at least one night.
It was a funny sensation. I wasn’t a male virgin. I had played house with dames of all sizes and shapes and color, from Rabat to Yokohama. Now, all of a sudden, the idea was repugnant to me.
I laid a bill on the table and picked up my suit case. The waiter was concerned. “What’s the idea?” he asked. “I thought you were going to wait for Maggie?”
What could I tell him? The truth? That I didn’t want
woman? That with a world full of women to choose from, I had fallen in love with a big-eyed little doll — one who had been convicted of first staying with, then robbing and killing a wholesale jeweler by the name of Stein?
“Tell her I’ll be back,” I lied.
After the foul air in the club, the street smelled sweet and clean. There was a lighted hotel sign in the next block. I walked back the way I had come. The” light on the corner was against me. I stood waiting for it to change, then felt the short hairs on the back of my neck tingle, as a radio patrol car drove up beside me for the red light.
The squawking two-way on the dash of the car was describing me.
“… Six-feet-two inches tall. Approximately two hundred pounds … Red hair … Blue eyes … Deeply tanned … When last seen Duval was in uniform … He is a technical sergeant in the infantry and is wearing four banks of campaign ribbons and bars … This man is armed and mentally sick … Code 34 …”
I wished I knew what Code 34 meant. The cop sitting nearest me yawned almost in my face. All he saw was the Leghorn hat and the gray gabardine suit. “Poor devil,” he said to his partner. “One of them cases of war neuroses, I betcha. It stands to reason. A guy can only take so much and then he blows his top.”
The cop driving the car was noncommittal. “Could be. On the other hand, I caught more hell at St. Lo than you could jam into Soldier Field. What I mean is they did it to us. And there still ain’t anything so wrong with me that a dame and a bottle can’t cure it.”
The police car drove on as the light changed. I walked on up the street and checked into the hotel, registering as Jim Cole. It wasn’t much of a hotel. The room and bath to which the clerk assigned me was on the second floor in front.
The bell boy raised the window as high as it would go. “Anything I can get you, sir?” he asked. He leaned on the word anything.
“No. Not a thing,” I said.
When he had gone I stripped off my clothes and soaked my feet in the tub. I showered and washed out my shorts and socks and hung them on towel racks to dry. Then without bothering to fold down the spread, I turned out the light and lay down on the bed to wait for morning.
The darkness covered me like a blanket. Through the open window I could hear music, faintly, and now and then the rumble of a streetcar. A couple checked into the room next door, the girl giggling and saying, “Don’t, John,” from time to time.
The night grew older and darker. The girl in the room next door stopped saying
and put an
in front of
I wished the wall was thicker.
I wished I had waited for Maggie.
“Think of me,”
Mona had said.
I wished I could stop thinking of her.
Sometime toward morning I slept.
gray and naked. With the neon signs turned off and the hustlers and B-girls and barmen and suckers still in their sacks, North Clark Street was just another street.
I stood at the window a long time, watching the early morning rush of Loop-bound traffic. It tapered off shortly before nine. I wanted to see Mona’s lawyer as soon as I could but I doubted that he would be in his office much before ten o’clock. To keep from showing my face on the street before I had to, I phoned the desk to send up a bell boy. Then I sent him out for a morning paper, a pint of rye, a quart of coffee and a half-dozen western sandwiches.
The boy was a middle-aged man, a different bell boy from the one who had shown me to my room. As he set the greasy brown paper sacks on the scarred dresser, he grinned knowingly. “Kind of weaning a small drunk, eh, fellow?”
“Yeah, just a small one,” I lied.
I wished he’d get out. He didn’t. He opened the pint of rye and rolled the ten-dollar bill I’d given him around one of his fingers. “Well, if you lose the toss,” he winked, “that is, if you get started again and want some pretty company, let me know.” North Clark Street was still North Clark Street. All that was turned off was the neon. He confided, “We’ve got a couple of hot little numbers living right here in the hotel.”
I said I would keep it in mind and locked the door after him. All I wanted to do was talk to Mona’s lawyer, have him find out one thing for me. It could be I was wrong. If I was, I’d shove on and LaFanti and his boys and the police could find a new yard bird.
Still, if the girl in the death house had killed Stein, why didn’t Captain Corson think she was guilty? Why was he still working on the case? Why had LaFanti been so certain she’d talked to me? About what? And why had LaFanti told Hymie:
“Don’t he a chump. You’re thinking like a square. Of course she talked. And unless we get rid of Duval we won’t he safe until they pull that switch.”
I took a big drink of rye, wishing I was smarter than I was. The rye tasted good. Alternating sips of rye and coffee, I read the morning paper while I ate the sandwiches.
My picture was on the front page. It was the one the camera man had taken in LaFanti’s apartment just before I’d shot off the lobe of LaFanti’s ear. There was a picture of Mona in the next column, a picture I hadn’t seen before. I studied it carefully but it didn’t tell me a thing.
Opinion seemed to be divided as to whether I was actually crazy or just out to raise as much hell as I could with Joe LaFanti. In a statement to the press, State’s Attorney Olson had said:
“Frankly I feel that Sergeant Duval has made a fool of me and the state’s attorney’s office and should be subjected to an exhaustive psychiatric examination. However, when I talked to Duval in my office earlier in the evening and explained the State’s case against Miss Ambler, he seemed perfectly rational and resigned to the guilt of his dead brother’s widow. And I might add that there is no doubt as to Mona Ambler’s guilt.”
LaFanti was even more big hearted. According to the reporter who’d interviewed him, he’d written off the lobe of his ear to profit and loss. His statement read:
“I haven’t got a thing against the guy, see? In my book, guys who have been through the hell that Duval has can be excused for blowing their tops. I don’t see how they stay as sane as they do. It must have been a great shock to Sergeant Duval to find his kid brother’s widow where she is. As I see it, he was hurt and disappointed. He hit back instinctively — and I was handy. Mona had been my girl. She’d done his brother wrong with me. I paid the lawyer who defended her. Duval felt like he wanted to pound on someone, so he picked me.”
I read the statement again. It may have made sense to the reporter. It didn’t make sense to me. When I’d first gotten into the thing, I hadn’t wanted to pound anyone. All I’d wanted to do was to make a few arrangements to take care of Johnny’s kid.
It said: continued on page two. I turned to the second page. The interview with LaFanti continued:
“But as for me kidnapping Sergeant Duval, subjecting him to a beating or holding him a prisoner in my apartment, that’s a lot of nonsense. The sergeant had never been in my apartment until he walked in with State’s Attorney Olson and Captain Corson and I can prove it by Manny Kelly, the elevator boy and Miss Gloria May, the young lady to whom I’m engaged and with whom I spent all of yesterday afternoon.”
I noticed that nowhere in his statement did LaFanti mention either the hood I’d killed or the one whose face I’d massaged with the jagged heel of the shattered rye bottle. He concluded the interview by saying:
“However, I still feel as I did after a thorough search of my apartment disproved Sergeant Duval’s wild sensations. I feel that he ought to be run through the psycho ward — for his own good.”
For my good, or his? It took five days to put a guy through the mill and in five days the kid in the death house would be dead and the murder of a lad named Stein would be transferred from the alive to the closed file.
There was a lot more of this and that, including a picture of Miss Gloria May. There was no doubt about it. She was the same blonde whose taxi fare I’d paid. She
have been in the apartment. It had been another girl whom I’d heard crying.
I read on down the page. There was even a couple of columns by local prominent sicky-ackys attempting to rationalize the wild “accusations” I’d made against Joe LaFanti by explaining the devious ramifications of war neuroses and battle fatigue. Their explanations didn’t make any more sense than LaFanti’s statement. Like the cop in the prowl car had said, even if I was suffering from battle fatigue, which I wasn’t, there wasn’t anything wrong with me that a bottle and the right dame wouldn’t cure.
Out of the whole mess of interviews, I liked Captain Corson’s statement the best. All he had to say was, “No comment.”
At five of ten I tucked the gun I’d taken from Tommy between my belly and my belt, buttoned my coat over it and walked down the stairs to the lobby. There was a new clerk behind the desk. He looked up from the morning paper he had spread on the counter, made a fish mouth at me like he was about to say, “Hey,” or “You there,” then changed his mind and looked back at the paper again.
I walked on out to the street and whistled down a cruising cab.
The driver tipped his flag as he swung in toward the curb and opened the door for me. “Where to, sport?” he asked.
I gave him Mona’s lawyer’s number, “Two twenty-one South La Salle.”
As I closed the door I looked back at the hotel. The day clerk was standing in the doorway, comparing me to the picture on the front page of the paper. When he saw me looking at him, he hot-footed back into the hotel. I wished I knew whom he intended phoning, Captain Corson or Joe LaFanti. Not that it made much difference. Both of them wanted me.
Emerson’s reception room was small but well furnished. The girl behind the desk said, “Yes. Mr. Emerson came in just this moment. Do you have an appointment, Mr. —?”
I gave the same name I’d used at the hotel. “Cole. Jim Cole,” I told her. “And while I don’t have an appointment, it could be a matter of life and death.”
She looked skeptical but said she would see if Mr. Emerson would see me.
I liked the guy on sight. He was small and dark and cocky. More, he knew his way around. He waited until his girl had said the name I’d given her, then came out from behind his desk and leaned against it, looking at me.
“I rather expected you, Duval,” he said, “but being as hot as you are I doubted that you’d make it.”
I asked him how he knew who I was.
He grinned. “That’s simple. I looked at your picture all the way in from Evanston this morning. Besides, your brother’s boy looks just like you, you know.”
It made me feel kind of good. “No, I didn’t know,” I told him.
He offered me a cigarette. He was no longer smiling. “All right. Let’s have it, Sergeant. What’s it all about? You’ve stirred up more hell in one day than I’ve been able to raise in six months.”
I gave it to him straight. I told him why I had come to Chicago and about the promise I’d made Johnny. When I’d finished, he said, “You’re leveling.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. He continued, “I’ll draw up the necessary papers right away.” He made some notes on a pad. “Now as to this business in the morning papers. How much truth is there in the printed account?”
“Not a hell of a lot,” I told him. “LaFanti and two of his hoods did force me into his car, a blue Club DeVille at the point of a gun. They did slug hell out of me in his apartment.”
“Because they thought the kid in the death house had told me something.”
“They didn’t say. But LaFanti did say that with me loose on the street, they wouldn’t be safe until after the law had pulled that switch four days from now.”
Emerson sucked in his breath. “I’ve handled a few lulus, but frankly, this one beats me.”
I asked, “In what way?”
He said, “In every way. That girl in the death house no more killed Stein than I did.” He repeated what the matron had said, only he was more profane about it. “And I don’t give a goddamn how many confessions she signed.”
“You feel that way?”
“I do. I’ve felt that way ever since I accepted the case.”
I asked, “And the best you could do for her is what she got?”