Ella and I went to bed at two-thirty. We turned off the light, reached for each other, and the doorbell rang.
I swore, and Ella’s hand tightened on my shoulder. "Maybe they’ll go away," she whispered.
The answer was another nervous jabbing at the bell. Whoever was outside was in a hurry. I sat up, switched on the table lamp beside the bed, and Ella and I squinted at one another. She was a good-looking woman, a damn good-looking woman. Black hair falling soft to her shoulders, lips full and red and bruised-looking, eyes half-closed and waiting. She was sitting up, leaning toward me, and the sheet had fallen away from her breasts. I didn’t want to leave her, not now, not for anything. I didn’t care who it was out there, Ed Ganolese or anybody.
The bell jangled again, and Ella smiled at me, to let me know she knew what I was thinking, and that she had the same thoughts. "Hurry back," she whispered.
"Two seconds," I told her. I pushed the sheet out of the way and climbed to my feet. While I was yanking on some clothes, the bell sounded again. I stomped through the apartment to the living room, ready to punch a face in.
Usually, when the bell rings, I check through the peephole before opening the door, but this time I was too annoyed to be cautious. I pulled the door open and glared.
It was Billy-Billy Cantell, jittering like a Model T. I didn’t say a word for a minute, I just stared at him. Of all the people I know, Billy-Billy Cantell is one of the last I’d think of as a possible two A.M. visitor. He’s a scrawny, scraggy, scrubby little bum who might be thirty or forty or fifty, you can’t tell from looking at him. He’s one of the poor clowns for whom life is spelled with a capital H, and I do mean heroin. He does everything it is possible to do with narcotics. He buys it, sells it, transports it, and takes it. He’s a retailer on the Lower East Side, and I hadn’t seen him for six months or more. The last time we’d talked, it was because he owed Ed Ganolese some money and I’d asked Ed not to send one of the regular collectors. I talked to him about it myself, being careful not to break any bones, and he paid up a couple days later.
The point of all this is that Billy-Billy Cantell and I do not normally move in the same circles, and I wasn’t used to the idea of him dragging me out of the sack at two-thirty in the morning. So I asked him what the hell he thought he was doing, and he blubbered at me. "Cuh-Clay," he started, "you guh-got to help me. I’m in a juh-juh-jam." See where he gets the name Billy-Billy?
"What’s that to me?" I asked him. I wasn’t worried about this little snowbird and his little problems. I was thinking about Ella, waiting for me three rooms away.
Billy-Billy was chattering and flinching, and his hands were jerking around, and he kept glancing in terror down toward the elevators. "Luh-let me in, Clay," he begged me. "Plea-please."
"You got law on your tail?"
"Nuh-no, Clay. I duh-don’t think so."
He kept shaking like an IBM machine gone crazy. He looked as though he’d fall apart any second now, and there’d be pieces of him rolling all over the hall. I shrugged and stepped aside and said, "Come on in, then. But this better not take very long."
"It wuh-won’t, Clay," he promised me. He scampered inside, and I shut the door after him. Even inside the apartment, he kept looking around and shaking, and I wondered whether I should offer him something to drink. I finally decided it wasn’t worth it. Besides, alcohol isn’t his vice.
I pointed at a chair. "Sit down," I told him. "And quit shaking. You’re making me nervous just looking at you."
When we were both seated, I said, "All right. What is it?"
"I been pat-puh-patsied, Clay. S-s-s-somebody s-s-s-set me up for a bad-buh-bad rap."
"How’d they do this? From the beginning, Billy-Billy, and take it easy."
"I’ll tuh-try, Clay," he said. And he really did try. You could see him struggling to get himself all into one piece. He almost made it. "I guh-got a little high this after-afternoon," he jabbered. "I muh-made s-s-s-some guh-good s-s-s-sales and give myself-myself a guh-good jolt. I wuh-went to s-s-s-sleep and woke up in this apart-apart-apartment. And there was this buh-broad there. S-s-s-somebody knifed her."
"You," I said.
He looked more terrified than ever. "Nuh-no, Clay. Honest. I duh-don’t carry no blade. I ain’t the ty-type."
"How do you know what you did while you were high?"
"All I duh-do is fuh-fall asleep. You can ask any-anybody."
"So this time you did something different."
"I duh-don’t even know-know this buh-broad," he stammered. "I wouldn’t kill-kill nobody, Clay."
I sighed. Ella was still waiting for me, and this... There was a pack of cigarettes on the end table near me. I shook one out, lit it, and said, "Okay. You didn’t kill her."
"I knuh-know I didn’t, Clay."
"Where was this place?"
"I duh-don’t know. I just-just got out of there, as fuh-fast as I could."
"Anybody see you leave?"
"I duh-don’t think so. Wuh-when I got duh-down to the corner, I s-s-s-saw a puh-prowl car puh-pull up in front of the puh-place. The guy who s-s-s-set me up musta-musta tipped them."
"You clean your fingerprints off the doorknob and everything before you left?"
"I wuh-was too shuh-shook, Clay. I even luh-left my huh-hat."
"Your hat?" I remembered that hat of his. It was a little plaid cap, like the one Humphrey Pennyworth wears in the Sunday funnies. But Humphrey’s cap is too small for him, and Billy-Billy’s is too big. It’s a plaid, mainly red, and it droops down over his ears, and Billy-Billy, afraid maybe that he’d lose it while his head was still in it, has written his name and address inside, in indelible pencil.
"I’m in a juh-jam, Clay," he said.
"You’re damn right you are. How’d you get into this place to begin with?"
"I duh-don’t know. I juh-just fell asleep."
"Downtown s-s-s-somewhere. This place was uptown, nuh-near the puh-park. I couldn’t of made-muh-made it all the wuh-way up there."
"No? You did make it all the way up there."
"Cuh-Clay, you got to huh-help me."
"Like what? What am I supposed to be able to do?"
"Cuh-call Ed Ganolese."
That one set me back. "You’re nuts," I told him. "You’re out of your head. You must still be high. It’s almost three o’clock in the morning."
"Puh-please, Clay. He-he’d wuh-want you to cuh-call him."
"What do you expect Ed to do for you? If you really did leave your hat there, and fingerprints all over the place, you are now hot. Too hot for Ed or anybody else to touch. Ed can’t get you out of this like it was a user rap."
"Puh-please, Clay. Just call him."
"Why not go see him yourself?"
"He tuh-told me not to cuh-come around. He duh-don’t want his wuh-wife or kids to s-s-s-see me. That buh-bodyguard of his wuh-would throw me out. Buh-but you could cuh-call him and tuh-tell him what hap-happened."
"Why should I?"
"Juh-just s-s-s-see what he’s guh-got to s-s-s-say, Clay, please."
I had a feeling I knew what Ed would have to say. If somebody had set Billy-Billy up to take a bum rap, he had done a fine job of it. A murder charge isn’t all that easy to fix. And with somebody like Billy-Billy Cantell, it just isn’t worth the effort.
Which doesn’t mean that Ed would tell me to leave Billy-Billy for the cops. Far from it. Billy-Billy was, after all, a junkie, and he was also a member of the organization. He knew too much about the narcotics business, sources of supply, delivery points, names of retailers. Put him in a cell for twenty-four hours, and he would say anything about anybody. All the cops would have to do is promise him a needle.
So I had a feeling I knew what Ed would have to say when I filled him in on Billy-Billy’s problem. It was standard operating procedure. I give Billy-Billy a fatal accident, and leave the remains for the cops. Then John Law is happy, because a case has been closed. And the organization is happy, because things are calm and peaceful again. And I’m happy, because I can go back to Ella. Everybody’s happy but Billy-Billy, and he isn’t worried about anything any more. So maybe he’s happy, too.
That was standard operating procedure. But I didn’t think I should go ahead with it on my own authority. Billy-Billy had been talking as though there was something between him and Ed Ganolese that I didn’t know about. Maybe it was nothing, probably it was nothing—what could Ed Ganolese and Billy-Billy Cantell have in common?—but there was no sense taking an unnecessary chance.
I got to my feet. "Okay," I said. "I’ll call him. But he won’t be happy about it."
"Thu-thanks, Clay," he said, and that scrubby little face broke out in a great big smile. "I rea-ruh-really appreci-a-a-appreciate this."
"You wait here," I told him. "I’ll call from the bedroom. If you pick up the extension in here and try to listen in, I’ll hear you. And I’ll come in and take you apart."
"I wuh-wouldn’t do that, Clay. Honest. You know-know me buh-better than that."
I walked back to the bedroom and grimaced at Ella. "Problems," I said.
"Very long?" she asked me.
She was sitting up in bed, a pillow fluffed up against the headboard behind her. She had the kind of face which is most beautiful with no make-up on at all. She had no make-up on now, and her lips were full and pale red, her eyes large and deep and hazel-colored, her skin warm-looking and tanned. Her face was framed by that soft black hair, deep as night in the glow from the table lamp. Her body, outlined beneath the sheet, was full and firm and curving, and I didn’t want to call Ed Ganolese or worry about Billy-Billy Cantell, all I wanted to do was crawl under that sheet beside that warm soft body— I looked away from her and sat down on the edge of the bed. "A couple minutes more," I said. "I’ve got to call Ed."
"Do you want me to wait in the kitchen?" Ella was a smart woman, and a good woman to have around. I don’t think she ever really approved of Ed Ganolese and my job, but she never said anything about it. She just ignored it, didn’t want me to talk to her about anything I did, didn’t want to hear anything about it at all. And she assumed that I wouldn’t want her to know very much about my work, so she moved out of hearing range whenever I had to talk business with anyone.
But this time it didn’t really matter. Billy-Billy had arrived, I would call Ed, he would tell me to do what I already knew I had to do, and that would be all there was to it. So I said, "It isn’t important. You don’t have to get up."
"Hurry," she said.
I was afraid to look at her. "I will," I said, and reached for the phone on the bedside table. I dialed Ed’s home number, and waited for eight rings. Then Tony Chin, Ed’s bodyguard, answered, and I told him who I was and that I wanted to talk to Ed. He grunted, and clanked the phone down on a table or something. I’ve never heard Tony Chin do anything else but grunt. If he knows how to talk, you can’t prove it by me.
I waited a few minutes, and finally Ed came on the line. "It’s after three in the morning, Clay," he said. "This better be important."
"I’m not sure it is," I admitted. Then I filled him in, telling him what Billy-Billy had told me, and wound up by saying that Billy-Billy had begged me to call him.
"That’s no good," he said thoughtfully. "You did right, calling me."
"Want me to give him an accident, Ed?"
I heard Ella make a quick sound behind me, and for a second I wished I’d told her to go to the kitchen after all. In the two weeks Ella’d been living with me, the fact that I was occasionally called on to give people accidents had been carefully ignored by both of us. I wasn’t sure what her reaction would be.
But my worrying about Ella lasted only a second. Then Ed answered my question, with a loud and surprisingly vehement "No!" and I spent a couple of blank seconds trying to figure out what that meant.
Ed went on, "Get him out of the city. Right away. Take him up to Grandma’s. When you get back, call me."
"Now, Ed?" I threw Ella a helpless look.
"Of course, now. You want to wait till the law shows up?"
"Ed," I said, "I’ve got something on the fire here."
"Turn the fire off, put a cover on the pot, and get going. Call me when you get back to town."
"I don’t get it, Ed. Billy-Billy isn’t anybody. He isn’t worth fifteen cents for parts."
"I’ll give it to you in words of one syllable," he said. "Billy-Billy has friends across the big water. Somebody he met over there during the war, somebody big. He knows better than to try to use the in for anything, because it isn’t that strong. But it’s strong enough to make us help him out of this. The guy wouldn’t like it if he found out we’d thrown Billy-Billy to the wolves."
"We won’t tell him," I suggested.
"Fine idea. Only trouble is, Joe Pistol’s here."
"Who? I don’t think I know the name."
"He just got off the boat, bringing greetings from all our friends overseas. He hopes the New York branch is doing well. He’s what you might call an inspector."
"Oh," I said. Then I knew what Ed meant. Practically every ounce of narcotics in the country is imported, because it’s a little too dangerous to try growing your own in this country. That means that Ed has a close tie-in with a couple of boys in Europe. He’s the distributor for them just the way Billy-Billy is a distributor for Ed. Every once in a while, a representative from one of these European boys comes over and looks around a little, not saying much of anything, just to see how things are doing. If he should happen to decide that things aren’t doing as well as they might, there would very likely be a shuffling of authority, and Ed would no longer be my boss. And, since a new broom sweeps clean, Ed and I would probably go together.
And into all this comes Billy-Billy, who did something non-dangerous behind the lines during World War Two and who probably worked black market a bit. He wasn’t a snowbird then. He met somebody, did the guy a favor or two, and it turns out that that somebody became very big after the war, and still remembered Billy-Billy. Which complicates things when standard operating procedure calls for Billy-Billy to have an accident.
"Get going, Clay," Ed told me. "Call me when you come back, and we’ll figure out what to do next."
"Yeah, Ed," I said. "Sure."
He hung up, and I sat there holding the phone for a minute. "I’ll be double-damned," I said.
"What’s the matter?" Ella asked me.
I looked at her, then at the silent phone, and then back at her again. I put the phone back in its cradle, and said, "I’ve got to go to New Goddam England."
"I’ll be a royal son of a bitch," I said.
"He’s got friends. That two-bit, unwashed, flea-ridden, dime-a-dozen punk has friends." I got to my feet and glared at the phone. "Why?" I wanted to know. "Why should a lousy punk like that have friends? Why should I have to go all the way up to New England because that good-for-nothing bum has friends?"
I might have kept on that way for quite a while, but the doorbell rang again, cutting me off. "Oh, for Christ’s sake," I said. "Another one."
I stormed on through the apartment, and met Billy-Billy coming the other way. We met in the hall between the dining room and the bedroom. He looked more terrified than ever. "Cops!" he whispered. "It muh-must be cops! Wuh-where can I hide?"
"You stay the hell out of the bedroom," I told him. I looked around. The bathroom was to the left, the combination den and hi-fi room to the right. "Go on in there," I told him, motioning at the den. "Come on, hurry."
He hurried, and I followed him in. Along one wall I have a waist-high bench, where the turntable, tape recorder, pre-amp and amplifier are all lined up. I use the space beneath this bench for storage, and I have sliding doors across in front of the storage space. I shoved one of the doors aside now, and prodded some junk back into a corner. "Crawl in there," I told him. "And stay there until I come looking for you."
"Thu-thanks, Clay," he said, and crawled into the space I’d made for him. He went head-first, and I had to work hard to resist the impulse to boot that bony butt of his a good one. But I was afraid I might drop-kick him into some expensive equipment, so I just waited until he was all the way inside, and then I slid the door shut in front of him.
My second visitor, whoever he was, was a lot more patient than Billy-Billy. He didn’t ring for the second time until I was on my way out of the den. I called out, "Hold it a second!" and hurried through to the living room.
This time, I was more careful. I looked through the peephole to see who it was outside there, and I saw Billy-Billy had been right. There were three cops out there, one of whom I knew, a plainclothesman named Grimes, who worked out of a precinct on the Upper East Side. The other two, both of them strangers to me, were also in plainclothes, and they looked a lot like Grimes. Heavy, dour, stern faces. Baggy plain-pipe-rack suits. Broad shoulders and no waists. All of them in their late thirties or early forties, but already well into middle-aged spread.
I opened the door, opening it wide to keep from looking suspicious. "Mr. Grimes," I said. "Social call?"
"Not so’s you’d notice," he told me. He pushed me away from the door and came into the apartment. I only had the one lamp on, over by the chair Billy-Billy had been sitting in, and Grimes glared around the semidark room for a minute until his sidekicks were inside and the door was closed, and then he turned to me. "Do you know a punk named Billy-Billy Cantell?"
"Sure. A junkie. Hangs out on the Lower East Side."
"When’d you see him last?"
That surprised them. They hadn’t expected me to admit that he’d been around. They’d been hoping to get me off-balance, in the cute manner of cops everywhere, but I’d been lucky enough to get them off-balance first.
They looked at one another and back at me, and one of the strangers asked me, "Where was this you saw Cantell?"
"Right out in the hall, there," I said, nodding my head at the door. "About an hour ago. He came in with some wild H-dream about waking up in a high-class apartment with a murdered woman, and I told him to go get lost for himself."
"It wasn’t an H-dream," said Grimes.
I moved my face around to register surprise. "It wasn’t?"
"He killed a woman," said one of the strangers.
"Billy-Billy Cantell?" I laughed at him, just as though it had really been funny. "Billy-Billy doesn’t have the strength to kill time," I told him.
"He didn’t use his hands," said the cop. "He used a knife."
I shook my head, being serious now, wanting to help these poor guys. "Wrong boy," I said. "Billy-Billy doesn’t carry a knife. He’s always getting picked up on one bum rap or another, and he knows if the law found a knife on him, it would be a nice cheap conviction."
"He carried one tonight," said Grimes. "And he used it."
"Listen," I said, still being the helpful citizen trying to set the cops straight. "I thought Billy-Billy was just talking through his hypodermic needle, if you know what I mean, but maybe he was telling the truth. He told me somebody set him up to play patsy. Killed the woman, dumped Billy-Billy in the apartment, and took off. Billy-Billy was high on heroin and didn’t even know he was being moved."
"Is that his story?" asked Grimes.
"As much as I heard of it," I said. "I got rid of him as fast as I could. It’s pretty late at night to listen to some junkie’s dreams."
"It’s a cute story," said Grimes. "I’ll get a real kick out of it when he tells it down at the station."
"Who knows?" I said. "Maybe it’s the truth."
"Sure," said Grimes. He started looking around the living room again, as though he’d just lost a cigarette lighter or something. "We don’t have a warrant," he told me, "but we’d like to take a look around your apartment. You got any complaints?"
"One," I said. "She’s in the bedroom."
"We’ll try not to disturb her," he said. He nodded to the other two, and they crossed the living room toward the hall leading to the rest of the apartment.
"Hold on," I said. "We didn’t get that complaint of mine straightened out yet."
They stopped and looked at Grimes. He shrugged. "Check under the bed," he said. "That’s probably where you’ll find him."
"All right," I said. "I’ll conduct the tour myself, personally."
"You’ll wait right here," Grimes told me. "They can find their way around without any help from you."
"I don’t want them going into the bedroom," I said.
"That’s too bad, Clay."
"Listen, Grimes, you can give me a bad time the day you’ve got a charge against me. Until then, I’m a citizen just like anybody else. If those two clowns of yours go barging into that bedroom, you’re going to regret it. I promise you."
Grimes is not a cop you threaten, and I know that as well as anybody, but this time I was sore. And he surprised me. He studied me for a minute, and then he said, "This one something special, Clay?"
"Very special," I told him.
"Any fire escape outside the bedroom window?"
"Where is the fire escape?"
"Off the den. And you can’t get directly to the den from the bedroom. You have to go through the hall."
"Okay." He turned to the other two cops. "Knock on the bedroom door before you go in," he said. "Give her a chance to get dressed." He looked back at me. "Good enough?"
"All right," I said. "It’ll have to do."
"It will that."
The other two cops left the room. I wondered if they’d look under the hi-fi set. If they did, Billy-Billy and I would be going down to the station together. I did my best to be nonchalant. "Do you want to sit down?" I asked Grimes. "Or don’t you do that on duty."
"You sit down," he said.
So I sat down, in the chair by the phone. He sat across from me, leaning forward, his forearms resting on his knees, heavy hands dangling, his eyes glowering at me with dislike and distaste.
There are four kinds of cops, none of which I like. The first kind is the fanatic, the second kind is the honest-but-reasonable, the third kind is the bought, and the fourth kind is the rented. The fanatic is out to get you no matter what. The honest-but-reasonable is out to get you, but he’ll listen if you’ve got something to say. The bought can be very useful, but I hate to have to rely on him, because I never know but what he’ll turn out to be only rented. The rented cop is a bought cop who doesn’t stay bought, and he’s probably the most dangerous kind of all.
Grimes was a cop of the honest-but-reasonable variety. He knew a lot about me, but he couldn’t prove any of it, and he was willing to be quiet until he got some proof. He didn’t know it, but a big chunk of proof was quivering away under the hi-fi set right now. I hoped he’d never find out. A fanatic can be dodged, because he doesn’t think. An honest-but-reasonable is rugged, once he’s got something on you.
We sat there, staring at each other, neither of us very happy about the other, and in our silence I could hear the two cops moving around in the back part of the apartment. After a while, I heard one of them knocking on the bedroom door, and then I heard him muttering something. I waited a couple more minutes, and then Ella came in, dressed in a terry-cloth robe, holding the lapels closed at her throat. She blinked at me, doing a good imitation of somebody just roused from sleep, and said, "What’s wrong, Clay? What’s going on?"
"They’re just looking for a friend of theirs," I said. "Nothing to worry about, ma’am, just routine, ma’am. Ask Mr. Grimes there, he’ll tell you. Oh, by the way, Ella, this is Mr. Grimes. He’s a policeman. Mr. Grimes, this is Ella. She’s a dancer."
Grimes acknowledged the introduction with a self-conscious grunt. Grimes, I have the feeling, is not only honest, he’s highly moral. I think he was embarrassed at this indication that Ella and I were sharing bed and board without benefit of clergy. He would rather know I was out killing somebody than that I was sleeping with a woman not my wife. Ella embarrassed him, and he didn’t know what to say or where to look. He carefully kept from looking at her, though she was completely covered by the robe.
"I’m afraid I don’t know Mr. Grimes’ first name or rank, honey," I said, enjoying the opportunity to put the bum on the spot. "Maybe he’ll tell you himself."
"Mr. Grimes will do," he mumbled.
"How do you do, Mr. Grimes?" said Ella politely. "What’s wrong here?"
"It’s just routine," he said, and then he flushed, obviously remembering I’d just used that line.
"They’re looking for a guy named Cantell," I said to Ella. I looked back at Grimes. "Though he really isn’t here. You guys are wasting a lot of time. You could be looking other places."
"We’re not the only ones looking," he said.
"What are you looking for him for?" Ella asked him.
"They think he killed somebody," I told her.
Then the other two cops came back into the room and shook their heads at Grimes. Cops never talk to one another. They just nod or shake their heads or wave their arms or blow whistles. This chunk of sign language now, the shaking of heads, meant that neither one of them had thought to look into the storage space under the hi-fi set, and I wasn’t yet on my way to jail. As soon as the law cleared away, I was on the road to New England, which was at least better than jail.
Grimes, with this diversion relieving him of his embarrassment, lumbered to his feet and glowered at me. "I wish you’d believed him," he said. "I wish you’d hidden him in here, so I could take the two of you downtown."
"Mr. Grimes," I said, as I stood up, "if I had known Billy-Billy was telling the truth, about being set up and a killing and all, I would have called the police right away. There’s a dangerous killer running around loose."
"Right," said Grimes. "And his name is Cantell. If he comes back, maybe you ought to call me."
"You going to put a stake-out on the front door?" I asked him.
"What about the alley in back?"
"If he comes back," I said virtuously, "I’ll call you right away. I’m an honest citizen."
"You’re a citizen," he agreed sourly. "That’s what makes it rough. We can’t deport you anywhere."
I grinned. "You’re a real joker, Mr. Grimes," I said.
"So are you." He jammed his hat on his head and turned to the door. The other two cops went with him, and I trailed along behind. I said ta-ta to the bulls, Grimes rumbled something I didn’t quite catch, and I closed the door after them.
Ella had lit two cigarettes, and now she handed me one. "What happens now, Clay?" she asked me.
"Now I go to New England," I told her.
"Do you have to?"
"No choice, honey. I wish I didn’t."
"Clay, did he kill somebody, really?"
"I doubt it. More likely, he was set up to take the rap."
She went over and sat down on the sofa, curling her legs under her. She looked troubled. "Clay," she said, her eyes serious on me, "you’ve killed people, haven’t you?"
"Given them accidents, like you said on the phone."
"Honey, I don’t have time—"
"You would have given this—whatever his name is—you would have given him an accident, if that boss of yours had said to. Wouldn’t you?"
"Honey, we can talk about this when I get back," I said. "I don’t have time now." That was the truth, but it was also an excuse. I didn’t like the way she was looking at me, or the questions she was asking me. I didn’t want to lose Ella. She was the first woman I’d had in nine years that I didn’t want to lose. I cursed Billy-Billy for bringing my job into my home.
"I’ve got to get going," I said. "We can talk when I get back. Okay?"
"All right, Clay," she said.
I wanted to say more, but there just wasn’t time. I left her sitting there, and ran into the den to get Billy-Billy. I knew just how to get him out of the building. Up the fire escape and across a few roofs, down another fire escape, through a window, and we’d be on the third floor of the parking garage where I keep my Mercedes. It’s a route I’ve taken once or twice before, when people I didn’t want to see were waiting outside my door.
I went into the den and shoved the sliding door out of the way. I stared at empty space. Billy-Billy wasn’t there. I looked around the room, in a daze, trying to figure out where the hell he could have gone to, and I noticed the window leading out to the fire escape. It was closed. I’d left the thing open a couple of inches. Billy-Billy must have heard us talking in the living room, knew the cops were going to search, and made it out the fire escape. He’d closed the window behind him, to discourage any cops from glancing outside.
I went over to the window, opened it all the way, and stuck my head out. The apartment is air-conditioned, but outside there was an August heat wave going on, and it was like sticking my head into a bale of warm cotton. I looked up, then down, then to both sides, but I didn’t see Billy-Billy. The little punk must have been scared out of his wits. He had taken off completely, and where he was by now was anybody’s guess.
My nice, quiet, relaxing night had been shot to hell. I cursed when I slammed the window again, and I cursed all the way into the bedroom. Ella was there, back in bed again, sitting up the way she’d been before. "What’s the matter now?" she asked me.
"He’s gone," I said. "I’ve got to call Ed again."
I did, and Tony Chin answered, and we grunted at each other. Then Ed came on the line, and I told him what had happened. "Fine," he said. "You go get him. Find him and hide him somewhere. Meeting of the board at nine o’clock, in Clancy Marshall’s office. You find Billy-Billy, stash him somewhere, and be at Clancy’s office at nine. After the meeting, you can take him up to Grandma’s."
"He’s running scared, Ed," I told him. "God knows where he’ll go next."
"He’s got to go somewhere. You know him, you know the people he knows. He’ll go to somebody. Get him. And be at Clancy’s at nine."
"Okay, Ed," I said. I hung up and grimaced at Ella. "I’ve got to go look for the punk," I told her. "You might as well go to sleep. This just isn’t our night."
"Do you have to go right away?" she asked me. "Couldn’t you stay here for a few minutes?" The troubled expression was gone from her face now, and she was smiling at me, letting me know everything was all right again.
"I guess I don’t have to leave right this minute," I said.
Copyright © 1960 by Donald E. Westlake. Originally published as The Mercenaries.