Fenner’s first reaction was to the naked light, hanging in a wire basket from the ceiling. Then he noticed that the room had no windows. After that he shut his eyes again and drifted to the steady throb inside his skull. The light burned through his eyelids, and he tried to roll over away from it. When he found he couldn’t move, he raised his head and looked. The movement exploded something behind his eyes, and he had to lie still again. Then, after a while, the throb went away, and he tried again.
He found he was lying on an old mattress, and his hands were tied to the ironwork of the rusty bedstead. The room was completely bare except for the bed. The floor-boards were littered with cigarette butts and tobacco ash. The dust was thick. Several pages of a scattered newspaper lay about, and the fireplace contained a pile of black ashes, as if someone had recently been burning a lot of papers. It was a nasty room, full of the smell of decay, damp and stale sweat.
Fenner rested. He made no effort to free his hands. He lay quietly, his eyes screwed up a little to avoid the rays of the light, and he breathed gently. He listened with an intentness that caught at every whispered sound. By lying like that and by listening hard, he heard sounds which at first meant nothing to him, but which he later distinguished as footsteps, the murmur of voices and the distant breaking of the rollers on the shore.
He went to sleep finally because he knew that sleep was the only thing for him at the moment. He was in no shape to try to escape. He had lost all sense of time, so when he woke he knew only that the sleep had been a good one, because he felt well again. His head ached only dully, and his brain no longer rolled around inside his skull. He woke because someone was coming down the passage outside his door. He could hear the heavy footfalls on the bare boards. A key rattled in the lock and the door was kicked open. He closed his eyes. He thought it was too early to take an interest in visitors.
Someone walked over to him, and the light in his eyes went away as that someone got between him and the light. There was a long silence, then a grunt and the light began to irritate him once more. Footsteps walked to the door. Fenner opened his eyes and looked. The small squat back and short legs of the man going out of the door told him nothing, but the thick oily black hair and the coffee skin made it a good guess that he was a Cuban. He went out and locked the door again.
Fenner drew a deep breath and began to work his hands. The cords holding him were tight, but not impossibly tight. He strained and pulled, chewing on his underlip as he did so. The effort made the light go black and he had to stop. He lay still, panting a little. The only ventilation came from the transom over the door. The room was very hot and close. Fenner could feel the sweat gumming his shirt to his back. He gently wiggled his wrists. He thought, “I’ve shifted them. Yes, I’ve done something. If I could only stop this damn headache, maybe I’d get somewhere. Now, once more.” He pulled and twisted again. His right hand, made slippery with sweat, gradually slid through the circle of cord, but he couldn’t do anything about his left hand. He was caught there all right.
Slowly he sat up and felt his head with his fingers very gently. The back of his skull was tender, but there was no lump or bruise. He smiled bleakly. Then he twisted round and examined the knot that was holding his left hand. It was knotted under the bed in such a way that he could only feel it, but he couldn’t see it. The knot defied all the effort he made to loosen it, and he lay back on the bed, swearing softly.
He thought, “Only one up. I wonder who smacked me.” Carlos? He could have gone out, watched through the door and come back quietly when Nightingale was getting tough. Or was it someone else? Where was he? More important, what was going to happen to him?
He sat up on the bed again and swung his feet to the floor. Then he stood up shakily, his left hand preventing him from standing entirely upright. His head ached a lot when he stood up, but it began to pass as he moved to the door, dragging the bed with him. He satisfied himself that the door was locked, and then, pushing the bed back to the wall, he sat down again.
He’d got to get his hand free somehow, he told himself. He lay down and began to tear at the knot feverishly. His damp fingers slid off the cord, making no impression.
The sound of footfalls made him pause, and he hastily rolled on his back and slipped his wrist through the circle of cord. He’d barely done so when the door opened and Carlos came in. Reiger and Miller stood just inside the door. Carlos came over and stood by Fenner’s bed. Fenner looked up and their eyes met.
Carlos said, “Well, the punk’s awake.”
Reiger and Miller came further into the room, and Reiger shut the door. They came around the bed. Fenner looked at each man slowly. He said casually, “What’s the idea?”
Carlos was shivering a little. He was doped to his ears. Fenner could see the pin-point pupils. Carlos said, “We’re goin’ to have a little talk.’ He drew back his fist and hit Fenner with his small bony knuckles just below his nose. Fenner had his head moving when he saw the blow coming, but it only took a little of the steam out of the punch. He felt his teeth creak as the blow thudded home.
Carlos said, “I owe you that one, don’t I?”
Fenner said nothing. He hated Carlos with his eyes, but he knew that with his left hand pinned, he wouldn’t stand much chance with three of them.
Carlos said, “So you’re a private dick.” He took from his pocket Fenner’s papers and scattered them over the bed. “You certainly pulled a fast one that time.”
There was a moment’s silence. Carlos sat on the bed. Fenner knew that he could nail him now. If the other two cleared off, he could grab Carlos by his neck and settle with him. Maybe the other two would clear off. He’d have to wait.
Carlos leaned forward and slapped Fenner across his face. He slapped him very hard, twice. Fenner blinked his eyes, but he didn’t move or say anything. Carlos sat back again. His shivering made, the bed rattle against the wall. He looked a little insane. He said, “Why have you come down here? What are you trying to find out?”
Fenner said with stiff lips: “I told you not to try anything. Now, by God, I’m goin’ to start after you. I ain’t lettin’ up until I’ve broken your lousy little back.”
Miller exploded in a high-pitched laugh. “He’s nuts,” he said, “he’s stark raving nuts.’
Carlos had to put his hands in his pockets because they trembled so much. He said, “Listen, we’re goin’ to work on you. I want to know what you’re doing here. Tell me quick, or I’ll start on you.”
Fenner sneered. He began to pull his hand out of the cord. He did it very slowly so that they didn’t notice. He said, “Take my tip an’ let me outta there.”
Carlos stood up. He motioned to Reiger. “Work on him,” he said.
Reiger got to the bed at the same time as Fenner slipped the cord. Fenner swung his leg round in a long lightning arc. He kicked Reiger just under the knee-cap. Reiger fell down, holding his knee with both hands. His eyes opened very wide with the pain and he began to curse. Fenner sat upon the bed as Miller rushed in. Miller’s hands caught his hair and jerked him over, but he swung a punch into Miller rather low down. He put a lot of steam in that punch.
Miller flopped on the floor, holding his big belly in both hands. His face glistened as he began to roll, trying to get his breath.
Carlos backed away quickly. He was scared all right. Fenner got to his feet and started after him, dragging the bed with him. Reiger caught hold of the leg of the bed and hung on. Fenner pulled, striving to get at Carlos, who in his panic had circled away from the door. The bed moved a little Fenner’s way, then jerked back, as Reiger hauled on it.
Carlos said in a squeaky voice, “Get up an’ fix him. Don’t lie there, damn you!” He pulled a gun and pointed it at Fenner. “Stay where you are,” he said. “I’ll blast you if you move.”
Fenner took another step forward, dragging the bed and Reiger with him. “Go ahead,” he said. “It’s the only thing that’ll save you.”
Miller climbed to his knees and came at Fenner with a rush. His great fat body knocked Fenner on to the bed. Fenner fell with his right arm under him, and for a second or so Miller could hit him as he liked. He smashed in a couple of punches that didn’t do Fenner any good, then Fenner got one of his legs up and kicked him off the bed. Miller got to his feet again and Reiger came up behind Fenner and grabbed him round his throat. Miller stepped in then and slammed in three or four punches to Fenner’s body. Miller was flabby, but he made his punches felt. Fenner knew he wasn’t the one to get worried about, Reiger was the boy. Reiger was hugging his throat with an arm like an iron band and Fenner felt his head begin to swim. Getting his feet firmly on the floor, he stiffened his body and heaved backwards. He, the bed and Reiger all went over with a crash. Reiger let go and tried to wriggle clear.
Fenner was in a bad position. He was kneeling with his left hand twisted behind him and the bed resting on his back. The only way he could get out of the position was to heave the bed over again. As he straightened up, carrying the bed on his back, Reiger kicked out at him. Reiger’s foot caught him behind his knee and he went over. The muscles of his imprisoned arm seemed to catch fire, and, half crazy with the pain, Fenner slammed the bed over on top of Reiger. The iron headpiece caught Reiger under the chin and Fenner heaved on the bed with all his weight. Reiger’s eyes started out of his head and he began to wave his arms violently. Fenner went on shoving.
Miller dropped on him and started beating him about the head, but Fenner didn’t take off the pressure. He knew he’d got Reiger, and if he could stop him, he’d stand a chance with the other two. Reiger was going a blackish purple, his arms only waved feebly. Carlos ran round and jerked the bed away. Reiger flopped on his hands and knees, making a honking sound like a dog being sick.
Miller had opened a cut just above Fenner’s eyes and the steady stream of blood bothered him. He groped round with his free hand and found Miller’s body. He dug his fingers into Miller’s belly, got a grip and twisted. Miller gave a high whinny sound and tried to get away, but Fenner hung on. Still holding a fistful of Miller’s flesh, he heaved again, bringing the bed crashing down on both of them.
Carlos stood peering down at them through the bed springs, but he couldn’t get at them. He tried to pull the bed away, but Fenner held it with his arm. He kept the paralyzing grip on Miller, who began to scream and thrash with his legs. He tried beating Fenner’s face with his fists, but Fenner just twisted some more, kept his head on his chest and hung on.
Carlos ran out, and Fenner could hear him shouting violently in Spanish. Miller gave a sudden heave and Fenner felt something tear. He opened his grip hurriedly. He knew he’d ripped Miller pretty badly. Miller went a whitish green and flopped limply. He just lay there, staring at Fenner with frightened eyes. “You’ve finished me,” he said, little bubbles of saliva forming at his mouth.
Fenner tried to smile, but couldn’t make it. He kicked Miller away and turned the bed over slowly. He got his arm into a more natural angle. Then working feverishly, he got the iron post out of the sockets of the bed and stood up. Even then, with his arm tied to the iron post, he was in a bad position, but not so bad as he had been. He started for the door. As he passed Reiger, who was kneeling with his back to the wall, his hand to his throat, Fenner gave him a swipe with the iron post. Reiger fell over on his side, covering his head with his arms.
Fenner took more steps and got outside the room. He felt as if he was walking through glue. His steps got slower as he reached the passage, and he suddenly fell on his hands and knees. He kept having to wipe the blood out of his eyes to see where he was going. He felt very light-headed and his chest began to hurt. He stayed on his hands and knees, wanting very badly to lie down, but he knew he had to go on. He put a hand on the wall and levered himself up again. He left a long smear of blood on the dirty yellow paper. He thought: “Hell, I ain’t goin’ to make it!” and he fell down again.
There came a lot of shouting downstairs and he tried to get back in the room again. He heard men coming up the stairs fast. He thought, “God blast this post!” and tried once more to free his hand. It seemed welded to the thing. He struggled up as two excited little Cubans came rushing at him. They all went down in a heap together. One of them grabbed him at the throat and the other tangled his legs up. These little punks were strong.
He banged the Cuban who had him by the throat with the post and shook him off, then he sat up and dizzily hit the other one with his clenched fist. He felt the blow connect, but the Cuban didn’t flinch. Fenner suddenly felt very tired. It was no use, he’d lost his guts. He tried to punch again, heard Carlos’ voice shout, “Not too hard!” then something crashed on his head and he fell forward. Out of the blackness his hand encountered a face and he punched again feebly, then a bright light burst before his eyes and suffocating blackness blotted out everything.
Fenner thought, “I must have taken a beating. They think I can’t start any more trouble.” He said that because he found they hadn’t bothered to tie rum this time. They had taken the bed away and left him in the empty room on the floor. He gave himself a little while, but when he tried to move he found he could just twitch his body.
He thought, “What the devil’s the matter with, me?” He knew he wasn’t tied, because he couldn’t feel any cord on him, but he couldn’t move. Then he became aware that the light was still on, but his eyes were so swollen that he could only see a fuzzy blur. When he shifted his head pain like sheet lightning travelled all over him and he lay still again. Then he went to sleep.
He woke because someone was kicking him in the ribs. Not hard kicks, just heavy thumps, but the whole of his body raved at the pain.
“Wake up, punk!” Reiger said, kicking continuously. “Not feelin’ so tough now, huh?”
Fenner screwed up everything he’d got in him, rolled towards the sound of the voice, and groped with his arms. He found Reiger’s legs, hugged them and pulled. Reiger gave a strangled grunt, tried to save himself, and went over backwards. He landed with a crash that shook the room. Fenner crawled towards him grimly, but Reiger kicked him away and scrambled to his feet. His face was twisted with cold rage. He leaned over Fenner, beat away the upraised arms and grabbed him by his shirt front. He pulled him off the floor and slammed him down hard. Fenner tried to hit him, but Reiger had got him off the floor again and slammed him down once more. He did that four times. Then Fenner went limp. Reiger stood away, breathing hard.
Carlos came in and paused. “You doin’ that for fun?” he asked. There was a faint rasp in his voice.
Reiger turned. “Listen, Pio,” he said through his teeth. “This guy’s tough, see? I’m just softening him up.”
Carlos went over and looked down at Fenner. He stirred him with his foot. Then he looked over at Reiger. “I don’t want this guy to croak. I want to find out things about him. I want to know why he came all the way from New York and got in with our mob. There’s somethin’ phony about this and I don’t like it.”
Reiger said, “Sure. Suppose we make this guy talk?”
Carlos looked down at Fenner. “He ain’t in shape to be roughed around just yet. We’ll try him in a little while.”
They went out.
Fenner came round again a little later. There seemed to be an iron clapper banging inside his skull. When he opened his eyes, the walls of the room converged in on him. Terrified, he shut his eyes, holding on to his reason.
He stayed that way for a while, then he opened his eyes again. This time the walls moved slowly and he was no longer scared. He crawled on his hands and knees across the room and tried the door handle. The door was locked. He had only one obsession now. He wasn’t going to tell them anything. They had beaten him over the head so much that he had lost much of his reason, and he was no longer aware of the pain that tortured his body.
He thought, I’ve gotta get out of this. They’ll go on until they kill me. Then he remembered what they had done to the Chinaman and he went a little cold. I couldn’t take that, he thought. No, I guess if they try that thumb-screw I’m going to turn yellow. A cunning gleam came into his eyes and he put his hand on the buckle of his belt. He undid the belt and pulled it through the loops of his trousers. Then he climbed unsteadily to his feet. He had to put one hand against the wall to support himself.
With exaggerated care he threaded the long strip of leather through the buckle. Then he passed the loop over his head, drew the belt tight round his neck.
He said, “I gotta find a nail or a hook or something. I gotta fix the other end somewhere.” He wandered round the room, searching the bare walls. He made a complete circle of the room and stopped by the door again.
He said, “What am I going to do now?”
He stood there, his head hanging on his chest, and the belt swinging from his neck. He went round the room again more carefully, but the walls were naked. There was no window, no hooks, only the electric light bulb high up out of his reach.
He wondered if by putting his foot through the loop made at the other end of the belt, he could strangle himself. He decided he couldn’t. He sat on the floor again and tried to think. The clapper went on banging inside his skull, and he held his head in his hands, swaying to the beat.
Then he saw how he could do it. He said, “I guess I’m not as smart as I used to be.” He crawled over to the door on his hands and knees and fastened the belt round the door handle. By lying face downwards he could hang himself all right. It’d take time, but he guessed if he stuck it, he’d croak.
He spent quite a time fastening the belt securely to the handle. He made it short so that his neck was only a few clear inches from the brass handle, then he slid his feet away slowly until he was stretched out, his weight supported by his hands.
He had no thoughts about his finish. He could only think that he was cheating Carlos. He remained still for a few seconds, then he took his hands away, allowing his whole weight to descend on the belt. The buckle bit into his neck sharply and the leather sank into his flesh.
He thought triumphantly, It’s going to work! The blood began to pound in his head. The agony in his lungs nearly forced him to put his hands to the ground, but he didn’t. He swayed on the belt, a blackness before his eyes. Then the handle of the door snapped off and he fell to the boards with a crash. . .
A shadowy figure materialized out of the bright mist. Fenner looked and wondered vaguely if it were God. It wasn’t, it was Curly. She bent over him and said something he couldn’t hear, and he mumbled, “Hello, baby,” softly.
The room was building up into shape and the bright mist was going away. Behind Curly stood a little man with a face like a goat. Faintly, as if he were a long way off, Fenner heard him say, “He’ll be all right now. Just make him lie there. If you want me, I’ll come round.”
Fenner said, “Give me a drink of water,” and fell asleep.
When he woke again, he felt better. The clapper in his head had stopped banging and the room stayed still. Curly was sitting on a chair near him, her eyes very heavy, as if she wanted sleep.
Fenner said, “For’s God’s sake—” but Curly got up hastily and arranged the sheet. “Don’t talk yet,” she said; “you’re all right. Just go to sleep.”
Fenner shut his eyes and tried to think. It wasn’t any use. The bed felt fine and the pain had gone away from his body. He opened his eyes again.
Curly brought him some water. He said, “Don’t I get anything stronger’n that?”
Curly said, “Listen, Jughead, you’re sick. You’re slug-nutty. So take what’s given you.”
After a little while, Fenner said, “Where am I, anyway?”
“You’re in my room off White Street.”
“Please, baby, would you mind skipping the mystery an’ letting me know how I got here?”
Curly said, “It’s late. You must go to sleep. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.”
Fenner raised himself on his elbows. He was ready to wince, but he didn’t feel any pain. He was weak, but that was all. He said, “I’ve been sleeping too long. I want to know now.”
Curly sighed. “Okay, okay. You tough guys give me a pain.”
Fenner didn’t say anything. He lay back and waited.
Curly wrinkled her forehead. “Nightingale was mad with you. What did you do?”
Fenner looked at her, then said, “I forget.”
Curly sniffed. “He told me that Pio had bounced you, and taken you to his waterfront place. I wanted to know what was happening to you. Nightingale got restless when he cooled off. He reckoned he was letting Crotti down if he didn’t look after you. It didn’t need much persuasion from me to get him to go and find out. He comes back with you looking as if someone had been working over you. He says for me to get a croaker and to look after you.
Fenner didn’t believe it. “That little guy took me out of Carlos’s place? Didn’t Carlos say anythin’?”
Curly yawned. “He wasn’t there. They were all over at the hotel.”
Fenner said, “I see.” He lay still, thinking, then he said, “What’s the date?” When she told him, he said, “It’s still May?” She nodded. He reckoned painfully. He’d been away from Glorie for four days. It seemed a lot longer than that. Then he said, “Carlos missed me yet?”
Curly yawned again. “Uh-huh, but he ain’t linked me or Nightingale up with it. Maybe he’ll get round to it. He thinks of everything.”
Fenner shifted. He passed his fingers through his hair gently. His skull was very tender. “That guy won’t like you too much if he finds out.”
Curly shrugged. “You’re right,” she said, and yawned again. “There’s a lot of room in your bed. Would it embarrass you a lot if I got some sleep?”
Fenner smiled. “You come on in.”
Curly sighed and went out of the room. She came back in a little while in a pink woolly dressing-gown. Fenner said, “Well, that’s homey isn’t it?”
She came round and sat on the far end of the bed. “Maybe, but it’s safe,” she said. She kicked off her slippers and took off the dressing-gown. “You wouldn’t think it, but I’m always cold in bed,” she said. She was wearing a pair of light wool pajamas.
He watched her climb in beside him. “That sleepin’ suit looks kind of unromantic, too, doesn’t it?” he said.
She lay her blonde head on the pillow. “What of it? Anyway, wool won’t give you ideas.” She yawned and blinked her eyes. “I’m tired,” she said. “Looking after a guy like you is hard work.”
Fenner said gently. “Sure. You sleep. Maybe you’d like me to sing to you?”
Curly said “Nuts,” drowsily, and fell asleep.
Fenner lay still in the darkness, listening to her deep breathing, and tried to think. He still felt dazed and his mind kept wandering. After a while he, too, went to sleep.
The morning light woke him. He opened his eyes and looked round the room, conscious that his head was clear and his body no longer ached. Although he was a little stiff as he moved in the bed, he felt quite well.
Curly sat up slowly in bed and blinked round. She said, “Hello, how you makin’ out?”
Fenner grinned at her. It was a twisted grin, but it reached his eyes all right. He put out an arm and touched her. “You’ve been a good pal to me,” he said. “What made you do it, baby?”
She turned on her side. “Don’t worry your brains about that,” she said. “I told you first time I met you, I thought you were nice.”
Fenner put his arm round her waist. She closed her eyes and lifted her face. Fenner kissed her.
Fenner said, “I guess I’m not quite normal. I oughtn’t to be doing this.”
“Do you? Well, I’m not running away.”
She was very tender with him. After a while Fenner said drowsily, “What are you thinking?”
She put her hand up to his face gently. She said, “I was just thinkin’ how tough it is to run across a guy like you when it’s too late.”
Fenner moved slowly away from her. “You mustn’t look at it like that,” he said seriously.
She suddenly laughed, but her eyes were serious. “I’ll get you some breakfast. You’ll find a razor in the bathroom.”
By the time he’d shaved his beard off, breakfast was on the table. He came and sat down. “Swell,” he said, looking at the food.
The dressing-gown he’d found in the cupboard must have belonged to Nightingale. It reached to his knees and pinched him across his shoulders.
Curly giggled at him. “You do look a scream.”
Fenner made short work of the food, and Curly had to go outside and fry him some more eggs. She said, “I guess you’re mending fast.”
Fenner nodded. “I’m great. Tell me, baby, does Nightingale mean anything to you?”
She poured him out some more coffee. “He’s a habit. I’ve been with him for a couple of years. He’s kind to me and I guess he’s crazy about me.” She shrugged. “You know how it is. I don’t know anyone I like better, so I feel I may as well make him happy.”
Fenner nodded, sat back and lit a cigarette. “What’s Thayler mean to you?”
Curly’s face froze. The laughter went out of her eyes. “Once a dick, always a dick,” she said bitterly, getting to her feet. “I ain’t talking shop with you, copper.”
“So you know that?”
Curly began to stack the plates. “We all know it.”
“But Nightingale pulled me out of that jam.”
“He owes Crotti something.” Curly took the plates away.
Fenner sat thinking. When she came back, he said, “Don’t get that way, baby. You an’ I could get places.”
Curly leaned over the table. Her face was hard and suspicious. “You’re not getting anywhere with me on that line,” she said, “so forget it.”
Fenner said, “Sure, we’ll forget it all.”
When she had shut herself in the bathroom, Nightingale came in. He stood looking at Fenner with a hard eye.
Fenner said, “Thanks, pal. I guess you got me out of a nasty jam.”
Nightingale didn’t move. He said, “Now you’re okay, you better dust. This burg’s too small for you and Carlos.”
Fenner said, “You bet it is.”
“What sort of pull you got with Crotti, policeman?” Nightingale asked. “What’s the idea?”
“Crotti has no use for Carlos. I’m gunning for that guy. This is the way Crotti wants it to go.”
Nightingale came further into the room. “You’ve gotta get out of town quick,” he said. “If Carlos knows that I’ve helped you, what do you think he’ll do to me?”
Fenner’s eyes were very intent as they watched Nightingale. I’m starting for Carlos. You better get yourself on the winning side.”
“Yeah. I’m on it already. You get outta here, or I’ll help to run you out.” Nightingale was very serious and quiet.
Fenner knew it was no use talking to him. “Have it your own way,” he said.
Nightingale hesitated, took a .38 special from his pocket and put it on the table. “That’s to see you out of town safe. Crotti did a lot for me. If you’re still around by tonight, you better start shootin’ when you see me—get the idea?”
He went out, closing the door gently behind him.
Fenner picked up the gun and held it loosely in his hand. “Well, well,” he said.
Curly came out of the bathroom. She saw the gun. “Nightingale been in?”
Fenner nodded absently.
“About the same as you.”
Curly grunted. “You ready to leave? I’m getting my car. I’ll drop you anywhere.”
Fenner said, “Sure.” He was thinking. Then he looked at her. “Carlos is goin’ to be washed up. You might like to talk now.”
Curly pursed her mouth. “Nuts,” she said. “Your clothes are in the cupboard. They’ll do to get you to your hotel.” She went to the door. “I’ll get the bus.”
Fenner dressed as quickly as he could. His clothes looked as though they’d been mixed up in a road smash. He didn’t care. When he’d finished dressing, he went to the door and stepped into the passage. His intention was to meet Curly downstairs. He walked slowly to the head of the stairs. He found that he wasn’t as tough as he thought. It was an effort to move, but he kept on. At the head of the stairs he paused. Curly was lying on the landing below.
Fenner stood very still, and stared. Then he pulled the gun from his hip pocket and went down the stairs cautiously. There was no one about. When he came nearer he could see the handle of a knife sticking out of her back. He stooped and turned her. Her head fell back, but she was still breathing.
It took a great effort for him to get her upstairs. She was heavy, and he was trembling by the time he got her on the bed. He put her down gently, then snatched up the telephone. Nightingale’s number was on the address pad. He dialed, standing with his eyes on Curly.
Nightingale said primly, “This is the Funeral Parlor.”
Fenner said, “Come over here quick. They’ve got Curly.” He hung up and went over to the bed.
Curly opened her eyes. When she saw Fenner she held one of her hands out to him. “Serves me right for helping a dick,” she said faintly.
Fenner didn’t dare pull the knife out. He held her so that she didn’t have any weight on the handle. He said, “You take it easy, baby; I’m gettin’ help.”
Curly twisted. “It’s going to come a lot too late,” she said, then her face crumpled and she began to cry.
Fenner said, “Was it Carlos?”
Curly didn’t say anything. Blood stained her chin.
Fenner said, “Give me a lead. Don’t be a mug and let him get away with it. He’ll only think you’re a sucker.”
Curly said, “It was one of his Cubans. He jumped me before I could scream.”
Fenner saw she was going very white. He said quickly: “Why does Thayler carry your photo around with him? What’s he to you?”
Curly whispered faintly, “He’s my husband.” Then she began to bleed from her mouth. Fenner saw she was going fast. He put his hand round her back and pulled the knife out. Her eyelids fell back and she gave a little cry. Then she said, “That’s a lot better.”
He laid her down on the bed. “I’ll even this up for you. Carlos’ll pay for this,” he said.
She sneered. “Okay, brave little man,” she whispered. “Fix Carlos if you like, but it won’t do me any good.”
Fenner remembered seeing some Scotch, and he went over to the wall cupboard and poured out two fingers. He made her swallow it.
She gasped. “That’s right. Keep me alive until I’ve told you all you want to know”—bitterly.
Fenner took her hands. “You can put a lot straight. Is Thayler in with Carlos?”
She hesitated, then moved her head a little. “He’s in it all right,” she said faintly. “He’s been a bad guy, and I don’t owe him anything.”
“What’s his angle?”
“Runs the labor syndicate.” She shut her eyes. Then she said, “Don’t ask me anything else, will you? I’m frightened.”
Fenner felt completely helpless. Her skin now looked like waxed paper. Only a red bubble at her lips showed that she still lived. She opened her eyes once again and said with an effort, “God, that was the best thing that’s happened to me in years. With you, I mean.” Then she shut her eyes.
Someone came blundering up the stairs. Fenner ran to the door. Nightingale came in. His face was glistening. He pushed past Fenner and ran across to the bed. He was too late. Curly had died just before he came in.
Fenner stepped outside the room and pulled the door to. As he walked quickly down the passage a low wail came from behind the door. It was Nightingale.
The manager of the Haworth Hotel came round the desk quickly when he saw Fenner. “What is all this?” he spluttered, his voice trembling with indignation. “What do you think this joint is?”
“Don’t ask me,” Fenner said, pushing past him. “If it’s a joint, where are the girls?”
The manager ran to keep up with him. “Mr. Ross, I insist! I cannot have these disturbances!”
Fenner paused. “What are you yapping about?”
“My people are afraid to go up on floor three. There’s a rough hoodlum sitting up there, not letting anyone pass. I’ve threatened him with the police, but he says you told him td stick around. What does it mean?”
Fenner said, “Get my check ready. I’m moving out.” He went upstairs quickly, leaving the manager protesting. There was no sign of Bugsey when he reached his room, and he kicked open the door and went in.
Glorie was sitting up in bed and Bugsey was sitting close to her. They were playing cards. Bugsey wore a pair of white shorts and his hat. Sweat was running down his fat back.
Fenner stood still. “What’s goin’ on here?”
Glorie threw down her cards. “Where have you been?” she said. “What’s happened to you?”
Fenner came in and shut the door. “Plenty,” he said. Then, turning to Bugsey, “What you think you’re doing—a strip tease?”
Glorie said, “He was playing for my nightie, but I beat him to it.”
Bugsey grabbed his trousers. “You sure came in at the right moment,” he said feverishly. “That dame’s a mean card player.”
Fenner wasn’t in the mood for laughter. He said, “Get out quick and get a closed car. Park it at the rear of the building in a quarter of an hour.”
Bugsey struggled into his clothes. “Looks like someone’s been pushin’ you around.”
“Never mind about me,” Fenner said coldly; “this is urgent.”
Bugsey went out, pulling his coat on. Fenner said, “Can you get up, do you think?”
Glorie threw the sheet off and slid to the floor. “I only stayed in bed because it upset poor little Bugsey,” she said. “What’s been happening?”
Fenner dug himself out a new suit and changed. “Don’t stand there gaping,” he snapped. “Get dressed. We’re moving out of this joint fast.”
When she got as far as her step-ins and brassiere she said, “Can’t you tell me where you’ve been?”
Fenner was busy emptying the drawers into two grips. “I was taken for a ride by a gang of toughs. Just shaken ’em off.”
“Where are we going?”
Fenner said evenly, “We’re goin’ to stay with Noolen.”
Glorie shook her head. “I’m not,” she said.
Fenner finished strapping the grips and stood up. He took two quick steps across the room and put his hand on her wrist. “You’re doing what I tell you,” he said.
“That’s what I said. I’m not standing for any comeback from you. You can walk, or I’ll carry you.”
He went to the house phone and rang for his check. While waiting, he paced the room restlessly. Glorie sat on the bed, watching him with uneasy eyes. She said, “What are you starting?”
Fenner looked up. “Plenty,” he said. “This mob started on me, and now I’m finishing it. I’m not stopping until I’ve bust the mystery right outta this business and got that little punk Carlos so short he’ll scream murder.”
The bell-hop brought in the check and Fenner settled. Then he picked up his grips in one hand and took Glorie by her elbow with the other. “Let’s go,” he said, and together they went downstairs.
They found Bugsey sitting at the wheel of a big car. Bugsey was looking a little dazed, but he didn’t say anything. Fenner climbed in behind Glorie. “Noolen’s. Fast,” he said.
Bugsey twisted round in his seat. “Noolen’s?” he said. “Why Noolen’s? Listen, you don’t want to go to that guy. He’s the south end of a horse.”
Fenner leaned forward. “Noolen’s,” he repeated, looking at Bugsey intently. “If you don’t like it, get out an’ I’ll drive.”
Bugsey gaped from Fenner to Glorie. She said, “Go ahead, brave heart, this fella’s making his orders stick.”
Bugsey said, “Oh, well,” and drove off.
Glorie sat in the corner of the car, a sulky expression on her face. Fenner stared over Bugsey’s broad shoulders at the road ahead. They drove all the way to Noolen’s in silence. When they swept up the short circular drive Glorie said, “I don’t want to go in there.” She said it more in protest than in any hope of Fenner’s agreeing. He swung open the door and got out.
“Come on, both of you,” he said impatiently.
It was half-past eleven o’clock as they walked into the deserted lobby of the Casino. In the main hall they found a Cuban in shirt-sleeves aimlessly pushing an electric cleaner about the floor. He looked up as they crossed towards him, and his mouth went a little slack. His eyes fastened on Glorie, who scowled at him.
“Noolen around?” Fenner said.
The Cuban pressed the thumb-switch on the cleaner and laid it down almost tenderly. “I’ll see,” he said.
Fenner made a negative sign with his head. “You stay put,” he said shortly.
He cut across the hall in the direction of Noolen’s office. The Cuban said, “Hey!” feebly, but he stayed where he was.
Glorie and Bugsey lagged along in the rear. Fenner pushed open the door of the office and stood looking in. Noolen was sitting at his desk. He was counting a large pile of greenbacks. When he saw Fenner his face went blotchy and he swept the greenbacks into a drawer.
Fenner walked in. “This is no hold-up,” he said shortly; “it’s a council of war.”
He turned his head and said to Glorie and Bugsey, who hung about outside, “Come in, you two, and shut the door.”
Noolen sat very still behind his desk. When Glorie came in, he put his fingers to his collar and eased it from his neck. Glorie didn’t look at him. She went over to a chair at the far end of the room and sat down. Bugsey shut the door and leaned against it. He, too, didn’t look at Noolen. There was a strained tension in the room.
Noolen managed to say: “What the hell’s this?”
Fenner took one of Noolen’s green dapple cigars from the desk box, clamped his teeth on it and struck a match with his thumb-nail. He spent a long minute lighting the cigar evenly, then he tossed the match away and sat on the edge of the desk.
Noolen said, “You’ve got a lot of crust, Ross. I told you I wasn’t interested in anything you’ve got to peddle. It still stands.”
Glorie said in a flat voice: “He isn’t Ross. His name is Fenner and he’s a private investigator, holding a license.”
Fenner turned his head and looked at her, but she was adjusting her skirt, a sulky, indifferent expression on her face.
Bugsey sucked in his breath. His gooseberry eyes popped. Noolen, who was reaching for a cigar when Glorie spoke, paused. His fat white hand hovered over the box like a seagull in flight, then he sat back, folding his hands on the blotter.
Fenner said, “If you were half alive, the news would have got round to you before.”
Noolen fidgeted with his hands. “Get out of here, he said thickly. “Private dicks are poison to me.”
“You and me’ve got a job to do,” Fenner said, looking at the fat man with intent eyes. “The law doesn’t come into this.”
Noolen said viciously, “Get out!”
Without any effort, Fenner hit him on the side of his jaw. Noolen jerked back; his fat thighs, pinned under the desk, saved him from going over. Fenner slid off the desk, took four quick steps away and turned a little so that he could see the three of them.
Bugsey’s hand was groping in his back pocket. His face showed the indecision that was bewildering him.
Fenner said, “Hold it. If you start somethin’, I’ll smack your ears for you.”
Bugsey took his hand away and transferred it to his head. He scratched his square dome violently. “I guess I’ll scram,” he said.
“You’ll stay if you’re wise,” Fenner said evenly. “Carlos might be interested to know what you’ve been doing playin’ around with a dick.”
Bugsey went a little green. “I didn’t know you were a dick,” he said sullenly.
Fenner sneered. “Tell it to Carlos. You don’t have to tell it to me.”
Bugsey hesitated, then he slumped against the wall.
Fenner glanced at Noolen, who sat in a heap, rubbing his jaw. All the fight had gone out of him. “Okay,” he said. “Now maybe I can get down to things. You and me are goin’ to run Carlos and his mob out of town. Bugsey here can either come in on our side, or go back to Carlos. I don’t care a lot what he does. If he goes back he’ll have a lot of explaining. If he sticks, he’ll pick up five hundred bucks a week until the job’s cleaned up.”
Bugsey’s eyes brightened. “I’ll stick for that amount,” he said.
Fenner felt in his wallet, took out a sheaf of notes, crumpled them into a ball and tossed them at Bugsey. “That’s something to go on with,” he said.
Noolen watched all this in silence. Fenner came across and sat on the desk again. “How would you like to be the king-pin in this burg?” he said. “That’s what you can be if you work with me.”
“How?” Noolen’s voice was very husky.
“We’ll get your little mob and me and Bugsey and we’ll make the town very hot for Carlos. We’ll hi-jack his boats, we’ll sabotage his organization and we’ll go gunning for him.”
Noolen shook his head. “No, we won’t,” he said.
Fenner said evenly, “You yellow big shot! Still scared?”
“I’ve never worked with the cops an’ I never will.”
“You don’t understand. Four days ago, Carlos had me in his waterfront place. He made things pretty tough, but I got away. I’m making this a personal business. I’m not inviting the law to come along.”
Noolen shook his head. “I ain’t playin’.”
Fenner laughed. “Okay, we’ll make you play.”
He stood up. “You in this?” he said to Bugsey.
Bugsey nodded. “I’ll hang around,” he said.
Fenner nodded to Glorie. “Come on, baby,” he said. “You, me an’ Bugsey’ll look after this until this punk decides to fight.”
Glorie got up. “I don’t want to play either.”
Fenner showed his teeth. “What a shame,” he said, walking over to her and taking her arm. “But you’re not Noolen; you’ll do as you’re told.”
Noolen said, “Leave her alone.”
Fenner took no notice. “Let’s go,” he said, and they went out of the room, Glorie walking stiffly beside him.
Out in the street, Fenner paused. He said to Glorie, “We’ll stay at your place.”
Glorie shook her head. “I told you I haven’t got a place.”
Fenner smiled. “We’ll go where you keep your clothes. That evening dress looks sort of out of place at this time.”
Glorie hesitated, then she said, “Listen, I honestly don’t want to be mixed up with Carlos. Will you please excuse me?”
Fenner pushed her into the car. “It’s too late, baby,” he said unpleasantly. “I can’t have anyone shootin’ you up whenever they want to. You’ve got to stick by me for a while.”
She heaved a sigh. “Okay. I’ve got a little place off Sponge Pier.”
Fenner nodded to Bugsey. “Sponge Pier, fast,” he said.
Bugsey climbed into the car and Fenner followed him. He sat close to Glorie, keeping his grips upright between his legs. “There’s goin’ to be an awful lot of fun in this joint pretty soon,” he said. “Maybe I’ll get somewhere or maybe I won’t, but whatever happens to me, Carlos’ll go first.”
Glorie said, “You quite hate that guy, don’t you?”
Fenner looked ahead. His eyes were very cold. “You bet,” he said curtly.
About a half mile past Sponge Pier, hidden by a thick cluster of palm trees, was a small bungalow. Bugsey ran the car through the small landscape garden and parked it outside the door. A wide piazza screened by green sun-blinds encircled the house, and every window had green wooden sun-shutters.
Fenner got out of the car and Glorie followed him. She said to Bugsey, “The garage is at the back.”
Fenner said, “You got a car?”
“Yes. Do you mind?”
Fenner looked at Bugsey. “Take that rented car back. We’ll use this baby’s. We can’t afford to be extravagant.”
Glorie said, “Don’t mind me.”
“Got a staff here?” Fenner asked, looking the house over.
“I’ve got a woman who runs the place.”
“That’s fine. Bugsey can help her.” Once more Fenner turned to Bugsey. “Take the car back, then come on here. Miss Leadler will tell her woman you’re coming. Then you make yourself useful until I want you. Get it?”
Bugsey said, “You’re payin’ the bill,” and he drove the car away.
Fenner followed Glorie into the bungalow. It was a nice place. A small Spanish woman appeared from nowhere, and Glorie waved her hand. “This is Mr. Fenner. He’ll be staying a little while. Will you fix lunch?”
The woman gave Fenner a quick look. He didn’t quite like the smirk in her eyes, and she went away again.
Glorie opened a door on the left of the lobby. “Go in there and rest yourself. I want to change.”
Fenner said, “Sure,” and wandered into the room. It was comfortable: cushions, divans and more cushions. The open windows led out to the piazza, and the room was dim with subdued sunlight.
The Spanish woman came in and laid a table for lunch on the piazza. Fenner sat on one of the divans and smoked. He said, “When you’re through, you might get me a drink.” She took no notice of him, and he didn’t bother to speak again. He sat quite still.
Glorie came in after a while. She wore a black silk dress, ankle length, and red doeskin sandals. Her beautiful golden hair cascaded down around her shoulders. Her mouth was very red, and the sparkling light in her eyes was complemented by the translucent glow of numerous strings of pearls which wound around her neck and fell across the low cut bosom of her gown.
She said, “Like me?” and pivoted slowly.
“Yeah,” he said, getting up. “You’re all right.”
She made a little grimace at him and went over to fix drinks. The dress clung to her body.
Fenner’s mouth twisted. He told himself she was going to put on an act pretty soon.
The ice-cold cocktails had a bite. When they sat down to the meal, Fenner felt fine. They got through the meal without saying much. Fenner was conscious of Glorie’s eyes. She kept looking at him and then, when he glanced she’d look hurriedly away. They talked about the bungalow and the Spanish woman and things that didn’t matter.
After the woman had cleared away, Fenner lounged on the divan. Glorie moved restlessly about the room. Fenner followed her with his eyes because she was beautiful to watch. She said suddenly, “Don’t sit there doing nothing.”
“What do you want me to do?
She went over to the window and looked out. The subdued light silhouetted her long legs through the white dress. Fenner watched her with interest.
She said, “Come on, I’ll show you my place.”
“Bedroom first stop?” Fenner leaned on his elbow, his eyes half closed.
She went to the door. “Come on.” There was a note of urgency in her voice.
Fenner got off the divan and followed her across the lobby and into another large room. It was very bare. Polished boards, rugs and a large divan bed, that was all. A small dressing-room and a bathroom led off to the right. She stood aside to let Fenner pass and then shut the door behind her. Fenner heard her gently turn the key in the lock.
He looked into the dressing-room and then into the bathroom, while she waited. “Very nice,” he said.
He could hear the sound of her breathing from where he stood. He didn’t look at her. He kept moving about the room while she waited. Then he said suddenly, “Let’s talk.”
She sat limply on the bed and stretched out flat on her back. She put her laced fingers behind her head. Fenner looked down, at her. His face was expressionless.
“Thayler is the guy who runs Carlos’ labor syndicate. He was married to Curly Robbins, Nightingale’s assistant. Carlos has just killed her. You ran with Thayler. Did you know what his racket was?”
She said, “Sit down here, and I’ll talk to you.”
He sat down close to her. “Well?”
“Give me your hand.”
He put his hand in hers. “Did you know?” he repeated.
She gripped it hard. “Yes, I knew,” she said.
Fenner sat very still. He could feel the warmth of her body against his hand. “Did you know he was married to Curly?”
She lay with her eyes closed, her teeth biting her underlip. “No.”
“You knew all about Carlos as well?”
“Yes, I knew all about him.” She shifted his hand, and he took it away. She sat up. He saw how wild her eyes were. She wound her arms around his neck, pulling his head down to her. Before her lips could reach his mouth he shoved her away. “Cut it out,” he said harshly, getting to his feet. “You don’t get anywhere with me.”
He went out of the room, unlocking the door and leaving it open. He passed Bugsey wandering in from outside. He didn’t say anything, but went on into the garden.
Bugsey looked after him, a bewildered expression on his face. He went into the lobby and glanced into Glorie’s room. Bugsey paused, staring. Glorie was lying on her side. The white dress was rumpled, and he could see white flesh where her stocking ended. He rubbed his chin. He blinked at her, hardly believing his eyes when she began to take off her dress. He shut the door.