Authors: James M. Cain
You could tell how pleased the woman was, and I was doubly pleased, from having my worry eased. Then she and her crew left, and Mom kept asking: “Was I all right?” I told her she was and patted her cheek, but right away I wished I hadn't. She grabbed my hand and kissed inside the palm in that sticky way that she had. But the sound truck was hardly gone when a little Chevy showed up with three reporters in itâone from the
, one from a Chicago paper, and one from some news service, maybe the Associated Press. They had cameras with them and took our pictures. Then they began asking questions, one of them with a recorder, so we had to start all over. By now Mom was doing it big and this time gave out with all kinds of stuff about how she'd looked for the money, “and pretty near drowned out there, when that johnboat all but tipped overâbecause I don't swim, not a stroke.” Then they left, and once more I felt relieved, though what about I didn't quite know.
Then some people came in with a ham all cooked up, potato salad, baked beans in a casserole, and a can of shrimpâ“as we know how busy you must be, and some lunch will come in handy.” But what they really meant was they wanted to hear about it. The radio had carried the news, at least that I'd killed Shaw, so the girl was safe. They were from a couple of miles upriver. At that time of year, nobody lived very near us. There were houses on both sides of the river, but of summer people who locked up their places in winter and hauled their boats out on trestles. So I put out some of the ham, beans, and salad, and Mom told it again, this time about finding the chute. But right in the middle of it, around one o'clock I would say, the phone rang. When I answered, it was a lawyer I know whose car I had gassed often and who seemed to like me. Fact of the matter, I thought he was responsible for me being picked to follow Mr. Holt as manager of the station soon as he leaves for California next summer when he retires. Bledsoe was his name. I knew from the tone of his voice he had something on his mind.
“Dave?” he asked very sharp. “Are you alone? Are you free to talk?” I told him: “Not right now, I'm not. Can I call you back?”
“Make it quick, Dave.”
He gave me his home number, and the people who could hear got the point and left. When I called him back, he said: “Dave, I heard something just now that may mean nothing at all, but on the other hand, it may mean plenty. But first, how do things stand with Edgren?”
“Well, he was outâhe and a deputy named Mantle. That's his righthand man, apparently. He told us to stand by, that's all.”
“Yes, but when?”
“Later on todayâfive o'clock he thought. If the girl is able to travel.”
“Yeah, the girl. She's what I'm calling about. Dave, I had a call just now from Rich Duncan, a client whose car was stolen, or so he thought. He'd reported the theft to the sheriff's office. Then when he found his daughter had taken the car for a weekend with the boyfriend at a motel over in McConnelsville, he called me about what to do. So I told him get in there fast, to sign whatever papers they had, so the girl wouldn't get picked up and land in the middle of something. Which he did, so, of course, the sheriff's clerk was on the phone, and Rich suddenly realized what the call was aboutâyou, the dough, and that girl. The clerk kept repeating over and over again, to the prosecutor apparently: âMantle knows her from way back and wouldn't believe anything she said on a whole stack of Bibles.' He kept saying it over and over, and then wound up: âMantle, he can't shake off the idea there's something funny about it.' So, Dave, here's what I'm getting at: I want to be thereâtodayâwhen the questioning resumes. Don't worry; I won't charge you a cent. I owe you something, the whole county does, for what you did today. Besides that, you've been damned nice to me. Soâ?”
I told him, “OK, and thanks,” real quick, to cut it off, because the thing of it was, of course, that who Mantle had known wasn't Jill but Mom. We set it up that he should come around 4:00, “so we can check it over,” as he said, “what we're going to say, so at least we all say the same thing.”
“What was that all about?” Mom asked when I'd put down the phone.
“Lawyer I know named Bledsoe. He offered to come out, and I let him.”
“What do we want with a lawyer?”
“Just to be on the safe side.”
“You're keeping something from me.” In some ways, Mom resembled a bobcat more than a human being, because a bobcat knows just by looking at you what you're thinking.
I said: “I'm not keeping anything from you. He told me: âAfter all, you shot a guy, and you can't be sure what Edgren's going to do.' ”
“I don't like that Edgren, and I don't like that Mantle.”
“I don't like him at all.”
“What happened with him in Fairmont?”
“He was on the case of the guy you bit. What other case was he on? And where did you come in?”
“You want the story of my life?”
I kept at it and pieced it together: in the place where she worked, another girl had accused her of stealing her tips, and the manager had called the police. Mantle at that time was on the Fairmont force. Nothing was done, and she got on the bus for Marietta. This took me an hour to find out and didn't tell me much, but at least it explained Mantle and what he thought about her.
I washed up the dishes after the lunch I'd given our visitors. Mom helped but bumped me quite a lot over and beyond the call of duty. It was nearly 4:00 when a car pulled up outside, a Chevy, but nobody got out. When I went out, Jill was on the front seat, dressed in nurse's clothes, but without a nurse's cap. A nurse was on the back seat and a guy was at the wheel who I'd never seen before. Jill introduced me to the nurse and to the man, Mr. York, who, it turned out, was with the airline Jill worked for. He had been rushed on a plane by the airline president within a half hour of her phone call and had hustled down here with money and whatever else she might needâlike this car he'd rented for her, “as long as I want itâI never felt so important in my life.”
“Baby,” he told her, “you're the heroine of the year. Maybe Mr. Howell saved you, but you saved 28 lives. We don't speak of a multimillion dollar plane. That was due to break apart in the next air pocket unless that door could be closed. You pushed him out, thank God. I hope you feel as important as we think you are.”
“Well, who am I to say no?”
“Anyhow, come in. All of you.”
“David, until the officers get here, I'd rather wait in the car.”
“I have a reason.”
It wasn't hard to guess what the reason was, and I didn't argue much but stood by the side of the car, talking through the window, with the nurse leaning forward to hear and Mr. York speaking up now and then. In a minute or two another car drove up and Mr. Bledsoe got out. I introduced him, and he took off his hat politely and said: “Let's go inside.”
“When the officers come,” said Jill. “If you want to go in Mr. Bledsoe, please do, but we're staying hereâ”
“I said, let's go in,” Bledsoe snapped. “They'll be here any minute, and we have to talkâ
“Well, who are you,” snapped York, “to be telling this girl what she does?”
“James J. Bledsoe, attorney at law, representing Mr. Howell. I suggest that Miss Kreeger accept me as counsel too. She's in trouble and time is running short.”
“Trouble?” said York. “
? Here she's the heroine of the year and you try to say she's in trouble.”
“If Mantle says so, she is.”
Jill drew a blank, looking first at me and then at York. “Who's Mantle?” he asked.
“I think she knows.”
“What's this about?” snapped Jill. “What in the hell's it about? I never heard of Mantle.”
By that time I was nudging Bledsoe who was staring at Jill. I took him aside and whispered: “She's not the one Mantle knows.” Suddenly he backed water, apologizing as hard as he knew how, but insisting all over again that Jill “could be in trouble” and begging her to come in, “so we can get together on what we tell the police when they come.”
Jill looked at me. When I nodded, York saw me do it. He whispered something to her and she said: “OK.” But she flinched when she put her weight on her feet, and once more I carried her. She put her right arm around my neck.
INTRODUCED MOM WHO
took charge. She pointed at the armchair for Jill, the sofa for me and herself, and various chairs for the nurse, York, and Bledsoe. But I set Jill down on the sofa, camped beside her myself, and let everyone else, including Mom, find places where they could. Bledsoe got to the point at once: “Let's get going. What's Mantle suspicious about?”
“What ain't he suspicious about?” asked Mom. “He's a rat. He suspicions everyoneâfor no reason.”
Bledsoe eyed her, comprehending at last what his friend had heard on the phone but hadn't rightly got the point of. But when he looked at me, I sidestepped. “Well, I wouldn't know,” I faltered.
“Dave! You do know. Spit it out!”
“The little he said,” I told him, “he seemed to think it funny I killed Shaw around 5:30 and didn't call in until 6:00. I explained to him the shape Miss Kreeger was in, how I was actually afraid she would dieâ”
“I would have,” she cut in.
“Well, she could have,” said the nurse. “She was in dreadful shape when we got her. She's in pretty bad shape
call, Mrs. Howell?” Bledsoe asked. “Did Mantle go into that?”
“I explained it to him over and over,” Mom answered. “That I was out looking for the money, to find it and claim the reward. I started looking right off, and that's why I didn't call. It wasn't my fault it wasn't there. I found them the parachute, thoughâa lot of thanks I got.”
Bledsoe thought this over and asked: “Is that what you told Mantle?”
“Edgren did the talking.”
“What else was there to tell him?”
He thought some more, then asked me: “So what's Mantle suspicious of? Or Edgren? Or whichever it is?”
“I don't know.”
“Come on, Dave, let's have it.”
“Perhaps I might know,” Jill said. “They think she stole the money while pretending to be looking for it.”
“Were you here, Miss Kreeger?”
“No. They hauled me off in an ambulance before the questioning started. I just think that's what it was. If I can think of it, they can think of it.”
“Well, thanks, Miss Whatever-Your-Name-Is, thanks a lot. Here I save your life and you up and call me a thief.”
“Don't you call me that! Don't you do it!” And with that, Mom jumped up and ran at Jill. Jill rose from the sofa, waited till Mom was close to her, then let go with a slap that banged Mom down on the floor. I was blocked off by the table, but Bledsoe helped her up and led her back to her chair. “You rotten bitch,” snarled Jill. “You tried to get me killed, youâ”
“Will you cool it!” bellowed Bledsoe. “We have just a few minutes. Are you going to use that time to save your necks or to send all three to prison? Don't you realize that that's all it takes? That the three of you start working against each other, to land you all in the soup?”
“Not me, I don't think,” Jill told him, kind of waspish.
“Especially you, beautiful you.”
“Conspiring with Howell and Mrs. Howell to murder that guy for money. If it's ever found, God help youâand especially God help Dave Howell.”
“Why especially Dave Howell?”
“He pulled the trigger on Shaw.”
There was a long, dark silence. Then York strolled over behind the sofa. He leaned over Jill, gave her a pat on the cheek, and said: “Honey, he could be right. Perhapsâit's up to youâbut I was sent here to help however I could, and I feel I should say what I think. Perhaps you should take it easy.”
Her face twisted up and she said nothing. Nobody said anything and a minute or two went by to the sound of Mom's sniffling. Then two more cars pulled up outside, one behind the other.
Edgren and Mantle got out of the first car, and a guy I didn't know, but who looked like a college professor, got out of the second. When I stepped outside and Edgren introduced me, I knew who he was: Mr. Knight, of the state's attorney's office, the one who handled big homicide cases. He was pleasant enough, but it was Edgren who took charge when I brought the three of them in and introduced Knight to Jill, Mom, and the nurse, whose name I don't remember. He knew Bledsoe and spoke to him pleasantly. I got some dining room chairs from Mom's room, then we were ready to begin. Edgren led off with Jill, “Advising you of your rights: You don't have to talk unless you so desire. You're entitled to counsel, who may sit in with us now.”
“Mr. Bledsoe is my counsel.”
“You want to talk or not?”
She turned, before answering that, to Mr. York, who squinched his eyes and said: “Just you don't get excited.”
She looked at him, at Bledsoe, and at Edgren, then said, “OK.”
“So,” Edgren said, “shall we begin at the beginning?”
“The plane, I would say.”
“OK, but I don't like to remember those hours with that idiot waving his gun around and making them take us from Pittsburgh to Chicago and back, all the time explaining he liked me personally but would kill me just the same unless they did what he said, âexactly, exactly, exactly.' He kept saying it over and over, like some kind of football yell. Then, once he strapped on his parachute, after making me stand with my back to him, over the money that they brought in a bag and that he strung over his shoulder by its canvas strap, he yelled into the first-class cabin: âEveryone down! Lean your head on the seat in front!' When everyone did, he made me walk ahead to the passenger exit and made Lefty Johns, who was our copilot that night, open it.