Towards evening Fenner returned to the bungalow; He found Bugsey sitting on the porch steps, making patterns on the gravel path with a piece of wood. He said, as he went past, “Did she bite?”
Bugsey started, but before he could say anything, Fenner had passed into the bungalow. He went straight to Glorie’s room.
Glorie was sitting on the window-seat, dressed in a pale green wrap. She was looking out of the window, and she turned quickly as Fenner walked in. “Beat it,” she said harshly.
Fenner shut the door. “I’ve got a little story to tell you. The Federal Bureau has been digging up the past, and I’ve been looking the dope over. Some quite interesting stuff.”
Glorie sat very still. “What do you mean?” she said.
Fenner sat on the bed. “I’ll tell you,” he said evenly. “Some of it’s just guess work, some of it’s facts, but it makes a nice little story. It starts off in a hick town in Illinois. The guy who runs this town gets himself a young wife. That’s all right, but the young wife has got big ideas. She begins to spend more money than her hubby can make. The name of this guy is Leadler, and he’s a politician of sorts. You married him because you thought you could get out of the cheap song-and-dance show you were touring in. Well, you did. Leadler, to keep you in silk pants, helps himself to a lot of dough that belongs to the town. You both take a powder to Florida.”
Glorie folded her hands in her lap. “You can’t do anything to me,” she said.
Fenner shook his head. “Hell! That’s not the idea,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to do anything to you. Let me go on. You and Leadler part. I don’t know why, but as Thayler now appears on the scene, I take it you prefer a younger and richer man. Okay, you lose sight of Leadler, and you go for a cruise with Thayler. Now Thayler turns out to be one of those guys who like heating people. He’s perverted that way. You’re not exactly an angel, and you let him handle you the way he likes. Before you turn up, he was married to Curly Robbins, who wouldn’t stand for his idea of love. Thayler absorbs the Chinks Carlos smuggles into the country. He pays Carlos so much a head, and sells the Chinks to sweat shops up the coast. Curly knew all about that, so it was dangerous to let her float around without being watched. Thayler gets her a job with Nightingale, who does odd jobs for Carlos. She gets good money, doesn’t have to do much, and Nightingale can look after her. You want to divorce Leadler so you can marry Thayler. Thayler never told you he was married and you can’t find Leadler. Then one day your boat comes in to Key West and you go along for an evening’s fun to the local Casino. You recognize Noolen as your long lost husband. That’s a surprise, isn’t it?”
Glorie chewed her underlip. “You think you’re smart, don’t you?” she said, stormily.
“Noolen, or Leadler if you like, isn’t doin’ so well with his Casino, so he’s willing to give you a divorce if you pay him for it. You want the dough to give to him, but Thayler won’t part. It’s stalemate for a moment. You don’t care a lot for Thayler, it’s his dough you want. That guy certainly rolls in dough. You want to be always sure you’re going to get it, and the only way you can be sure is to marry him. The cops have turned up some dirt that proves that, while you were living with Thayler, you also had a Chinese running around with you. You two kept under cover, but not well enough. This Chink used to work for Carlos. He disappeared about a couple of months ago. Maybe Thayler found out and tipped Carlos. I don’t know, but he disappeared. What happened to him, baby?”
Glorie began to cry.
Fenner went on, “Never mind. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Now your mysterious sister turns up. She comes to see me. It’s a funny thing, but the cops can’t give me a lead on that dame. They can’t dig further into your past than your song-and-dance days. This looks like your sister was a better girl than you, and she kept out of trouble. Why she came to me, and why she knew about the Chinamen, Noolen, and Carlos. I can’t explain yet. I’ll get round to it some day, but right now it’s got me beat. As far as I’m concerned, it’s your sister who gets me to come down here. I find the situation lined up like this:
“Noolen’s frightened of Thayler and Carlos. I can understand that now. He doesn’t want anyone to know he’s Leadler, and I bet you’ve told Thayler that, or if you haven’t he thinks you have. You and Thayler are not getting on too well. You’re quarrelling. Then, maybe, you learn that he’s married, and you shoot him. You get scared and run to me. You like the look of me and you’re looking round for someone to hook up with again, so after you’ve shot Thayler you come along to my hotel. Now you haven’t killed Thayler. He’s waitin’ in his car parked by the boat. He nearly kills me and later, he tries to shoot you. Now, why does he do that? Because he knows you’ve taken somethin’ from the boat, after you shot him. Isn’t that right?”
Glorie stopped crying. “Is that all you know?” she said.
Fenner shrugged. “It helps, doesn’t it?”
Glorie didn’t say anything.
“Thayler’s washed up as far as you’re concerned. You and I can go after him. I’m going to smash Carlos and his racket, and Thayler may as well go with him. What do you think?”
Glorie said, “I must think. Go away now. I want to get things straight.”
Fenner got to his feet. “I’ll be waiting in the other room. Make it snappy,” he said. He went to the door and then paused. “What was your sister to you?” he said abruptly.
Glorie shifted her eyes. “Nothing,” she said. “I hated her. She was mean, narrow minded and a mischief-maker.”
Fenner raised his eyebrows. “I don’t believe a lot you say,” he said, “but maybe that’s true. You’re not sorrowing for her, are you?”
“Why should I?” she said fiercely. “She got what was coming to her.”
Fenner stood by the door. Then he said slowly, “That gives me an idea. You and Thayler were in New York at the time of her death. You two girls were almost twins. Suppose Thayler fell for her. Suppose he got her to that house and tried his tricks. Someone had beaten her raw when I saw her. Suppose you came in and found them, got jealous and killed her. Suppose Thayler got those two Cubans to carve her up and get rid of her. Were those two guys workin’ for him?”
Glorie said, “Oh, run away. You’ll be thinking I’m worse than I am.”
Fenner was quite startled at this new idea. He came back into the room again. “Was that the way it went?” he said. “Come on, did you kill Marian Daley?”
Glorie laughed in his face. “You’re nuts,” she said. “Of course I didn’t.”
Fenner scratched his head. He said, “No, I don’t think that’s quite the way it went. It won’t explain the guy who said she was screwy, an’ it won’t explain the Chink in my office. Still, it’s an idea.”
He stood looking at her for several moments, then walked out of the room, leaving her polishing her nails on her silken thigh.
Outside, Fenner went into the sitting room. A vague feeling of excitement stirred him, a feeling that he was approaching a solution of the mystery of this business. He went over to the sideboard and helped himself to a drink.
Bugsey wandered in. “Got one for me?” he said hopefully.
Fenner jerked his head. “Help yourself,” he said, sitting down on the divan.
Bugsey poured a long drink and stood blinking at the glass. He took a long pull and smacked his lips.
Fenner glanced at him, but said nothing.
Bugsey fidgeted with his eyes, then said cautiously, “She ain’t nice, is she?”
“Who isn’t?” Fenner was thinking about other things.
“Her—in there.” Bugsey jerked his head. “There’s somethin’ the matter with her, or somethin’, ain’t there?’
“What is all this?” Fenner wished he’d go.
Bugsey said, “Oh, nothing,” and finished his drink. He looked at Fenner furtively, then helped himself to another. “Next time you go out, you might take me with you,” Bugsey said. “Somehow I don’t feel too safe alone with her.”
Fenner stared at him. “Why, I thought you wanted that dame,” he said, surprised.
Bugsey’s gooseberry eyes opened wide. “That was the idea,” he said; “but I don’t like the way she goes on.”
Fenner scowled at him. “Listen, pal,” he said. “Would you take a little walk? I’ve got a lot on my mind, and the ups and downs of your love life confuse me.”
Bugsey finished his drink. “Sure, sure,” he said apologetically. “I guess I’ll take a little nap. That dame kind of exhausted me.” He shuffled off.
Fenner lay on the divan, holding the glass of Scotch, and staring out of the window. He stayed that way for a long time. Hosskiss, the Federal man, had been very helpful. He had turned all his information over to Fenner, and promised to try to dig up some more during the next few days. He was even hopeful of finding a line on Marian Daley, although up to now he couldn’t dig up anything. Noolen, so long as he kept to Florida, was safe. He couldn’t be prosecuted. Fenner wondered how smart Noolen was, and if he could be bluffed. He thought he might try and see how he got on.
He was still there when Glorie came in at sundown. She sat by his side.
Fenner said, “Well, you thought it over?”
She said, “Yes.”
There was a long pause. Fenner said, “You’re wondering what’s goin’ to happen to you, aren’t you? You think if Thayler goes, you’ve got to start hunting around for some other man to keep you.”
Glorie’s eyes hardened. “You think of everything, don’t you?” she said.
“Don’t get high hat. I’ve thought about you, too. It’s going to be tough, but there’s no other way out. Thayler’s on the skids, and the sooner you cut away from him the safer it’s going to be for you. You don’t need to worry. Take a look at a mirror. A dame like you won’t starve.”
Glorie giggled. “You’re cute,” she said. “I want to hate you, but you’re too cute. Don’t you ever make love to a girl?”
Fenner said, “Let’s keep to business. Never mind what I do. I’m working now, and I never play when I work.”
Glorie sighed. “I guess that’s all hooey.”
Fenner nodded. This was boring him. “Now what about Thayler? Did you take anything from him?”
Glorie pouted. “Why do you think I did?”
“It’s a guess. Why did he want to shoot you? Revenge? Too risky. He knew you were with me. To stop you talking? Yes, that adds up.”
Glorie went over to the sideboard and opened a wooden biscuit chest. She came back with a small leather wallet. She threw it into his lap. “I took that,” she said defiantly.
Fenner found a number of papers in the wallet. He lit a cigarette and went through them carefully. Glorie at first sat close to him, watching, then, when she saw how absorbed he was, she got up and went out on the piazza. She fidgeted around for nearly ten minutes, then she came back again. Fenner said, without looking up from his reading, “Get a meal together, baby; I’m going to have a late night.”
She went out and left him. Later, when she came back, he was sitting where she had left him, smoking. The wallet and the papers weren’t any longer in sight.
“Well?” she said.
Fenner looked at her. His eyes were hard. “Any of those guys know you’ve got this place?”
She shook her head. “No one.”
Fenner frowned. “You don’t tell me that you put this joint together all on your own.”
He wasn’t sure whether her face had gone pale or whether it was a trick of the light. She said evenly, “I wanted somewhere to go when I was sick of all this. So I saved, bought the place, and no one knows about it.”
Fenner grunted. “You know what’s in that wallet?”
“Well, I looked at it. It didn’t mean anything to me.”
“No? Well, it means a hell of a lot to Thayler. There are four receipts of money paid by Carlos to him. Two IOU’s from Noolen for large sums, and particulars of five places where they land the Chinks.”
Glorie shrugged. “I can’t cash that at the bank,” she said indifferently.
Fenner grinned. “Well, I can,” he said, getting to his feet. “Give me a big envelope, will you, baby?”
She pointed to a little desk in the window recess. “Help yourself.”
He went over and put the contents of the wallet in the envelope, scrawled a note and addressed the envelope to Miss Paula Dolan, Room 1156, Roosevelt Building, New York City.
Glorie, who had been reading over his shoulder, said, “Who’s the girl?” suspiciously.
Fenner tapped the envelope with a long finger. “She’s the dame who runs my office.
“Why send it to her?”
“Listen, baby, I’m playing this my way. If I liked I could turn this over to Hosskiss, the Federal man, and get him to crack down on those two guys. It would be enough for him to start an investigation. But Carlos has been tough with me, so I’m goin’ to be tough with him. Maybe he’ll get me before I get him, in that case the stuff gets turned over to the cops after all. Get it?”
Glorie shrugged. “Men are either chasing women or getting themselves into a jam because of their pride,” she said. “I love a guy who takes on a mob single-handed to even things up. It’s like the movies.”
Fenner stood up. “Yeah?” he said. “Who said single-handed?” He went out on to the piazza. “I’m going to put this in the mail. I’ll be right back, and then we can feed.”
On his way back from mailing the letter he passed a telegraph office. He paused, thought, and then went in. He wrote a message out and took it to the desk.
The clerk checked the message and looked at Fenner hard. The message ran:
Dolan. Room 1156 Roosevelt Building, New York City.
Report progress by Grossett of Daley murder. Rush. D.F.
Fenner paid, nodded and went out again. He walked fast back to the bungalow. Glorie was waiting for him with cocktails.
Fenner said, “I’m in a hurry. Let’s eat and drink at the same time.” Glorie rang the bell.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
Fenner smiled. “I’m going to see your husband,” he said gently. “It’s time he forgot his shyness and started to play ball.”
Glorie shrugged. “A guy like that won’t help you much,” she said.
While they ate, Fenner kept silent. After the meal he stood up. “Listen, baby, this is serious. Until these guys have been washed up you’ve got to stay here. On no account must you leave this joint. You know too much and you’ve put Thayler in a spot. Any one of the mob would slit your throat if they saw you. So stay put.”
Glorie was inclined to argue, but Fenner stopped her. “Be your age,” he said patiently. “It won’t take long, and it’ll save you for some other poor sap.”
Glorie said, “Oh, well,” and went over to the divan. Fenner walked out into the kitchen.
Bugsey had just finished supper and was making eyes at the Spanish woman, who ignored him. Fenner said, “I’m going out. Maybe I’ll be back tonight, maybe I won’t.”
Bugsey lumbered to his feet. “Shall I bring a rod?” he said.
Fenner shook his head. “You stay here,” he said. “Your job is to protect Miss Leadler. You keep awake and watch out. Someone might try and rub her out.”
Bugsey said, “Aw, boss, for God’s sake—”
Fenner said impatiently, “You stay here.”
Bugsey shuffled his feet. “That dame don’t want protectin’. I’m the guy who wants protectin’.”
“What are you yapping about? You always wanted a flock of dames. She’s as good as twenty dames, isn’t she?” Fenner asked him, and before he could reply he left.
Noolen said, “I thought I told you to keep outta here.”
Fenner threw two pieces of paper on the desk. “Take a look at that,” he said.
Noolen picked up the papers, glanced at them, then stiffened. He looked sharply at Fenner, then back to the papers again.
“You’d better burn ’em,” Fenner said.
Noolen was already reaching for a match. They stood in silence until the charred ash drifted on to the floor.
Fenner said, “That’s saved you a little, hasn’t it, Leadler?”
Noolen went very pale. He said hoarsely, “Don’t call me that, damn you!”
Fenner said, “Why did Thayler lend you ten grand?”
“How did you get those?”
“Oh, I found them. I thought maybe you’d feel more disposed to play ball if you were out of Thayler’s debt.”
Noolen fidgeted with his eyes. “Glorie’s been talking,” he said. There was a vicious, gritty quality in his voice.
Fenner shook his head. “I got it from the cops. Listen, buddy, you might as well make up your mind. If you don’t play ball with me, I’ll take back to Illinois. I guess they’d be glad to see you.”
Noolen sat down.
“Sure,” he said. “Suppose you start from the beginning.”
Fenner studied his finger-nails. “I want a little war to start,” he said. “First of all I want Carlos’s mob jumped. I want his boats put out of action and I want Carlos on a plate. Then we can start on Thayler.”
Noolen brooded. “That mob’s tough,” he said. “It ain’t goin’ to be easy.”
Fenner grinned coldly. “Shock tactics, buddy,” he said. “We’ll have them running in circles. Who can you get to tackle Carlos? Got any muscle men?”
Noolen nodded. “I know a little gang who’d do it for a consideration.”
“Okay, then it’s up to you to give them what they want. I’ve saved you ten grand, so that’s something you can spend. Why did Thayler lend you that dough?”
Noolen shifted his eyes. Fenner leant forward. “Listen, you rat, if you don’t come clean with me I’ll throw you to the wolves. Hell! You’re so yellow you’d want a pair of water-wings in your bath. Spill it, canary.”
Noolen pushed back his chair. “Thayler didn’t want me to divorce Glorie,” he said sullenly, “so he lent me the dough. Lately he’s been yellin’ for it.”
Fenner sneered. “You’re a nice lot,” he said, getting up. “Show me your hoods.”
Noolen said, “I didn’t say I’d do it.”
“I’m goin’ to smack you in a minute if you go on like this,” Fenner said. “Forget I’m anything to do with the cops. This burg doesn’t mean anything to me. I want Carlos and his mob kicked out of here, an’ I’m having the fun of seein’ it done. After that I’m clearing out. It’s up to you to horn in and make yourself the King Pin when they’ve gone.”
Noolen got up. “I think the outfit’s too big, but if that’s the way you put it, I’ll see how it goes.”
They went out together. A four-minute drive brought them to a pool room on Duval Street. Noolen walked in, followed by Fenner. The barman nodded to Noolen, who went on through the back.
In a large room with one billiard table and two green-shaded lamps, five men stood around making the atmosphere thick with tobacco smoke.
They all looked up quickly as Noolen and Fenner walked in. One of them put his cue in the rack and slouched out of the room.
Noolen said, “I wantta talk to you boys.”
They came drifting up through the smoke, their faces expressionless and their cold eyes restless. Noolen jerked his thumb at Fenner. “This guy’s Fenner. He’s been gettin’ ideas about Carlos’s mob. Think it’s time we rode them outta town.”
They all looked at Fenner. Then a tall thin man, with a cut-away chin and watery, vicious eyes said, “Yeah? Well, that’s a swell idea. That’ll get us all a bang-up funeral, sure thing.”
Fenner said quietly, “Let me know these guys.”
Noolen said, “That’s Schaife,” indicating the man who had just spoken. “Scalfoni in the green shirt, Kemerinski holdin’ the cue, and Mick Alex the guy with the squint.”
Fenner thought they were a fine collection of rats. He nodded. “Let’s get together,” he said, wandering over to the long padded seats, raised to overlook the billiard-table. “How about some drinks?”
Schaife said to Noolen, “Who’s the guy, boss?”
Noolen smiled sourly, “He’s the original white-headed boy,” he said. “You won’t go wrong with him.”
They all sat down on the bench and fidgeted until the barman brought drinks. Fenner said, “This is my party. Noolen’s the guy who’ll pay for it.”
Scalfoni, a little dried-up Italian, said, “I gotta date with a dame in a little while. Suppose we get down to things.”
The others grunted.
Fenner said, “Carlos has been the big shot in this town too long. We’re going to make things so hot for him he’s going to take a powder. I want you boys to get together on this. This ain’t a picnic, it’s war.”
“What’s it worth?” Schaife said.
Fenner glanced at Noolen. “That’s your side of it.”
Noolen thought, then he said, “Two grand each and a safe job when I’m in the saddle.”
Kemerinski picked his nose thoughtfully. “You goin’ to run Carlos’s racket?” he said to Noolen.
Noolen shook his head. “I’ve got a racket that’s a lot better than that. You leave all that to me.”
Kemerinski looked at Schaife. “Two grand ain’t an awful lot, but I’d like to smack that mob if I could get away with it.”
Schaife said, “Make it three.”
Noolen shook his head. “Can’t do,” he said briefly. “Two’s ample.”
There was a moment’s silence, then the squint-eyed Alex said, “That’s okay with me.” The others hesitated, then agreed. Fenner blew out his cheeks. “So far so good,” he thought.
“We shall want a boat,” he said. “Any of you guys got a motor-boat?”
Kemerinski said he had.
Fenner nodded. “There’s a spot just north of Key Largo, called Black Caesar’s Rock. That’s where Carlos keeps his boats. That’s where Thayler makes the exchange and takes the Chinks for the rest of the ride. I guess we might go out an’ look that burg over.”
Scalfoni swung his short legs. “I got just the thing for those guys,” he said, with a cold grin. “How would you like to take a load of bombs with you?”
Fenner looked vaguely round the room. “Bombs?” he said. “Sure, bring bombs.” A fixed ice-cold look crept into his eyes. “Sure,” he repeated, “that’s quite an idea.”
Noolen said uneasily, “The cops’ll make a hell of a row about bombs.”
Fenner shook his head. “The cops won’t worry about Carlos. They’ll hang out bunting when that guy croaks.”
Scalfoni got up. “When do we go?” he said. There was a tight eagerness in his voice.
“We’ll go now. We’ll go just as soon as the boat’s ready an’ you boys have collected some artillery.”
Scalfoni hesitated, then shrugged. “I gotta date, but I guess she’ll have to wait. This sounds like it’s goin’ to be quite a party.”
Fenner said, “Where’s your boat?”—to Kemerinski.
“It’s in the harbor opposite the San Francisco Hotel.”
“Okay. Suppose you boys meet me in an hour’s time on the boat?”
They all said they’d do that, and Fenner went out with Noolen. He said gently, as they got into the street, “If I were you, I’d go along to the cops and get protection. If Carlos thinks you’re in this he might get tough with the Casino. You keep out of sight until it’s over. Tell the cops you want some officers over at your place; that you’re expecting trouble.”
Noolen looked uneasy, and said he’d do that, and went off into the darkness.
Keeping to the back streets, Fenner headed for the waterfront. He walked fast, his hat pulled well down over his face, and his eyes searching the black shadows as he went along. He had no intention of running into any of Carlos’s mob just at present. He knew Carlos must be looking for him. Fenner told himself the next twenty-four hours ought to be a lot more interesting than the last twenty-four hours.
As he approached the waterfront through Negro Beach he saw ahead of him a car drawn up under a lamp standard, with parkers on. He looked hard at the car and came on, slowing his pace and not quite knowing why he did so. Somehow, in the almost deserted dark street that car looked too isolated, too obviously loitering. He suddenly ducked into a doorway because he noticed the curtain of the rear window had shifted. There was no wind, and he had an uncomfortable feeling that someone had been watching him come down the street.
The sound of an engine starting came to Him in the silence, and gears grated, then the car began to move forward slowly. Fenner stood in the doorway until the red tail light disappeared round the bend in the road. He rubbed his chin thoughtfully, then stepped out on to the pavement again.
He didn’t go forward, but stood very still, listening. Faintly he could hear the whine of a car, and a cold little smile hit his mouth. The car had gone forward only to turn. It was coming back.
He ran across the road fast and stepped into another doorway in the dark shadows. Squeezing himself against the brickwork, he felt for his gun and jerked it from his shoulder holster. He thumbed back the safety catch and held the gun, with its blunt nose to the star-filled sky.
The car swung round the bend. It was gathering speed. Its only lights were its parkers, and as it swept past, a blaze of gun-fire spurted from the side window.
Fenner could hear the patter of bullets thudding against the wall on the opposite side of the road, where he had been. Someone was grinding a Thompson, and Fenner couldn’t help being thankful that he had crossed the road. He fired three times at the car as it went past him. He heard the crash of the glass as the windshield went, and the car lurched across the road and thudded up the curb, then smashed into a shop window.
Running from his doorway, Fenner went a little way up the street, passing the car, and ducked down a dark alley. He went down on one knee and peered round, watching.
Three men darted out of the car. One, he thought, was Reiger. They ran for cover. Fenner got the middle man in his gun-sight and squeezed the trigger. The man staggered, tried to keep his balance, then fell on his face in the road. By that time the other two had darted into doorways. They began firing at the mouth of the alley, one with an automatic and the other with a Thompson. Fenner didn’t bother about the man with the automatic, but the Thompson bothered him a lot. The bullets chipped away the brickwork of the wall, and he had to crawl away from the opening as splinters of concrete made things dangerous.
Remembering the night on the boat, Fenner crawled further away. He wasn’t risking having a bomb tossed at him.
Someone called, “You better duck in here.”
He saw a door on his left open and a figure standing in the doorway. “Shut that door and get under cover,” he shouted. “Look lively.”
It was a woman who spoke. She said unemotionally, “Shall I ring for the cops?”
Fenner slid over to her. “Beat it, sister,” he said. “This is a private row. You stay indoors; you’re likely to get hurt standing there.” Just as he finished speaking a blinding flash and a violent explosion came in the mouth of the alley. A sudden rush of wind flung Fenner forward and he and the woman went over with a crash into the narrow passage of the house.
Fenner rolled over and kicked the front door shut. He said, “Wow! These guys’ve got bombs.”
The woman said with a quaver in her voice, “This joint won’t stand another like that. It’ll fall down.”
Fenner got unsteadily to his feet. “Let me into a front room,” he said quickly. He moved in the darkness where he thought a room ought to be, and stumbled over the woman, who was still sitting on the floor. She wound her arms round his legs and held him.
“Forget it,” she said shortly. “You start firing from my window and they’ll throw another bomb at you.”
Fenner said, “Then let me out of here”—savagely.
Faintly the sound of a siren coming fast reached his ears.
The woman said, “The cops!” She let go of Fenner and got to her feet. “Got a match?”
Fenner made a light and she took the spluttering flame from his fingers. She went over to a naked gas burner and lit it with a plop. She was a short, fat middle-aged woman with a square chin and determined eyes.
Fenner said, “I guess you did me a good turn. If I’d been outside when that pineapple went off, I should have been sticking to the wall. Now, I guess I better beat it before the cops start having a look round.”
The siren came up with a scream and died away in a flurry as brakes made tires bite into the road. She said, “You better stay here. It’s too late to go out now.”
Fenner hesitated, checked his watch, found he had still some forty minutes before meeting the mob, and nodded. “Somehow,” he said, “you remind me of my best girl. She was always getting me out of a jam.”
The woman shook her head. A little gleam of humor showed in her eyes. “Yeah?” she said. “You remind me of my old man when he was around your age. He was quick and strong and tough. He was a good man.”
Fenner made noises.
She went on. “Go down the passage and sit in the kitchen. The cops’ll come in a minute. I know the cops around here. I’ll fix ’em.”
Fenner said, “Okay,” and he went into the kitchen and lit the big paraffin lamp. He shut the door and sat in a rocking-chair. The room was poor, but it was clean. The mat on the floor was thin and threadbare. There were three religious prints on the wall and two big turtle shells each side of the fireplace. He heard a lot of talking going on, but he didn’t hear what was being said. To hear, he would have to open the door, and he thought they might see the light. So he just rocked himself gently and thought about Reiger. That mob was tough all right. His head still swam with the force of the explosion.
Then he felt inside his coat, took out his wallet and peeled off five ten-dollar bills. He got up and put the bills under a plate on the dresser. Somehow he thought the woman wouldn’t like to take money from him, and from the look of the room she needed it.
After a few minutes she came in. She nodded to him. “They’ve gone,” she said.
Fenner got out of the chair. “That’s mighty nice of you. Now I guess I’ll run away.”
She said, “Wait a minute, stranger. Was that Carlos’s mob?”
Fenner looked at her thoughtfully. “What do you know about that mob?” he asked.
Her eyes grew hard. “Plenty. If it weren’t for those bastards, my Tim would be here now.”
Fenner said, “Yeah, it was them all right. What happened to Tim?”
She stood still, a massive figure of granite solidness. “Tim was a good guy,” she said, looking straight at Fenner. “He wasn’t rich, but he got by. He had a boat and he took parties out in the gulf fishin’. Then this Carlos wanted him to take Chinks in the boat. He offered to pay, but Tim wasn’t playing. He was like that. He was strong and tough, and he told Carlos no.
“Carlos couldn’t get his own way, so he kills my man. Well, it ain’t what happens to the one who gets killed. It’s what happens to the one who gets left. Tim died quick; went out like a light. But I don’t forget quick. I guess in time I’ll go dead inside and I’ll find things working out easier than they are now, but right now I’d like to do things to that Carlos.”
Fenner got to his feet. He said gently, “Take it easy. Carlos’ll pay for that all right. It wouldn’t get you anywhere if you did kill him. Leave Carlos to me. I gotta date with him.”
The woman said nothing. She suddenly stuffed her apron in her mouth and her face crumpled. She waved Fenner to the door wildly, and as he went out, she sank on her knees by the rocking-chair.
When Fenner got down to the harbor, Schaife was waiting for him outside the San Francisco Hotel. They went in and had two quick drinks and then Fenner followed him down to the waterfront.
Schaife said, “I’ve got two Thompsons and a lotta shells. Scalfoni’s brought a bag of bombs. God knows if those bombs are any use. He makes ’em himself. That guy’s been itchin’ to throw them at someone ever since he got the idea.”
Fenner said, “He’ll get his chance tonight.”
Kemerinski’s boat was of a good size. Alex and Scalfoni were smoking, waiting. Fenner stepped aboard as Kemerinski appeared from the engine cockpit. He grinned at Fenner. “Everything okay,” he said. “We can go when you say so.”
Fenner said, “Sure. We’ve got nothing to wait for. Let her go.”
The other three got on board, and Kemerinski went below and started the engine. The boat began to throb and Schaife shoved her nose off from the harbor wall.
Fenner said, “We’ll land on the village side and walk over. Maybe we’ll have to leave in a hurry.”
Kemerinski grunted. “This old tub ain’t too fast,” he said, nosing the boat carefully through the lights towards the open gulf.
Scalfoni came up and climbed into the cockpit. His greasy skin shone in the dim light. “I got the bombs,” he said. “Gee! I’m sure goin’ to get a kick when they go bang.”
Fenner took off his hat and scratched his head. “These other guys’ve got bombs too,” he said. “They threw one at me about an hour ago.”
Scalfoni’s jaw dropped. “Did it go off?” he asked.
Fenner looked at him and nodded. “Sure, it wrecked a house. I’m hoping you’ve made a good job with your home-made bangs. We might need them.”
Scalfoni said, “Jeeze!” and went away to have another look at his bag.
It didn’t take much longer than fifteen minutes before Fenner spotted distant lights. He pointed them out to Kemerinski, who nodded and said, “Black Caesar.”
Fenner stretched and climbed out of the cockpit. He walked over to the other three who were sitting on the foredeck, watching the lights. “Let’s get this right,” he said. “We’ve come here to put Carlos’s boats out of action. We’ve got to do this quick and with the least trouble. Scalfoni, you carry the bombs. Schaife and me will have the Thompsons, and Alex will cover us with his rod. Kemerinski will stay with the boat. Okay?”
As the boat ran into the small natural harbor, Schaife unslung the two Thompsons and passed one to Fenner. Scalfoni came up from the cabin, a black bag in his hand. “Don’t you guys crowd me,” he said. “These pineapples are touchy things.”
They all laughed.
Alex said, “Some guy’ll put a slug in that bag, sure thing. It’ll save you a burial, anyway.”
The boat swept in a half-circle, and came up to the side of the harbor wall as Kemerinski reached forward and cut the switch. The engine died with a little flurry.
Schaife, standing in the stern, jumped on to the wall and Alex tossed him the bowline. He held the boat steady until the others landed. Kemerinski handed up the bag of bombs tenderly to Scalfoni.
Fenner said, “Watch out. Soon as you hear the bombs, get the engine started. We might have to leave in a hurry.”
Kemerinski said, “Sure, that’ll be okay. Watch yourselves, you guys.”
They moved towards the village. The road leading from the harbor was rough and narrow. Big stones lay about and once Scalfoni tripped. The others swore at him uneasily.
“Careful, you punk,” Alex said; “watch how you walk.”
Scalfoni said, “I’m watchin’ okay. The way you’re goin’ on, you’d think these pills were dangerous. Maybe they won’t go off at all.”
Fenner said, “We’ll take the back streets. Two of you go first, and Scalfoni and I’ll follow you. We don’t want to attract attention.”
It was a hot night with a bright moon. Both Fenner and Schaife carried the Thompsons wrapped in a piece of sacking. They skirted the village and crossed the island through a series of small squares and dark alleys. The few fishermen they did meet glanced at them curiously, but could make out nothing except shadowy outlines.
After a steep climb they suddenly came to the sea again—sparkling several hundred feet below them.
Fenner said, “I guess this is it.”
Down the steep incline they could see a large wooden cabin, a long concrete jetty and six big motor-boats moored to rings set in the reinforced wall. Two lights gleamed through two windows of the cabin, and the door stood half open, sending a strip of light on the oily water.
They stood silently looking down. Fenner said, “Get the bombs out. Each of you take a couple. Scalfoni has the rest. We’ll attack the cabin first. When it looks safe enough tackle the boats. They’re all to be sunk.” .
Scalfoni opened the bag and took out two bombs. He handed them to Fenner. The bombs, were made of short sections of two-inch pipe. Fenner stood waiting until Scalfoni had given each man a couple of the stuffed pipes, then he said, “Schaife and I will look after the cabin. You, Scalfoni, get down to the boats. Alex, stay here and come down if we get into trouble.”
Scalfoni opened his shirt and piled bombs inside.
“You have a fall now, an’ you’ll certainly be in a mess,” Fenner said with a little grin.
Scalfoni nodded, “Yeah,” he said, “it makes me nervous to breathe.”
Fenner held the two bombs in his left hand and the Thompson in his right. “Okay,” he said, “let’s go.”
Moving slowly, Schaife and Fenner began to slide down the incline. Fenner said, “You go to the right and I’ll take the left. I don’t want any shootin’ unless it’s necessary.”
Schaife’s thin face sneered. “It’ll be necessary all right,” he said.
Halfway down, they both paused. A man had come out of the cabin and he walked along the wall.
Fenner said, “That complicates things.”
The man stood on the wall, looking out to sea. Fenner began sliding down again. “Stay where you are for a bit,” he said softly to Schaife. “He might hear two of us.”
Down Fenner went silently. The man stood, his back turned, motionless. Fenner reached the waterfront and stood up. He put the two bombs inside his shirt. He was so conscious of the man that he didn’t shrink at the coldness of the metal against his skin. Holding the Thompson at the ready, he walked softly down the wall. When he was thirty feet from the man, his foot touched a small stone which rolled into the water, making a loud splash. Fenner froze. Standing quite still, his finger curled round the trigger.
The man glanced over his shoulder, saw Fenner and jerked round. Fenner said, “Hold the pose,” jerking up the Thompson.
In the moonlight, Fenner could see that the man was a Cuban. He could see the whites of his eyes as they bolted out of his head. The Cuban shivered a little with shock, then he dropped on his knees, his hand going inside his coat. Fenner swore at him softly and squeezed on the trigger. He gave him a very short burst from the gun. The Cuban fell back, his hands clutching at his chest; then he rolled over into the water.
Fenner moved fast. Two big drums of petrol stood close by and he ducked behind them. He got there a split second before a machine gun opened up from the cabin. He heard the slugs rattle on the drum, and a strong smell of petrol told him the drum was pierced.
The machine gun kept grinding and there was such a hail of bullets that Fenner had to lie flat, his face pressed into the sand, expecting any second to feel the ripping slugs tear into his body. He put his hand in his pocket and took out the two bombs. He balanced one of them in his hand, then tossed it over the drum in the direction of the cabin. He heard it strike something and then drop to the ground.
He thought, “So much for Scalfoni’s home brew.”
The machine-gun had stopped and the silence that followed its vicious clatter was almost painful. He edged his way to the side of the drum and peered round cautiously. The lights of the cabin had been put out and the door had been shut. He groped for the other bomb, found it and threw it at the door. Even as his hand came up the machine-gun spluttered into life, and he ducked back just in time.
The bomb hit the door and a sheet of flame lit up the darkness, followed by a deafening noise. Brick splinters and wood whizzed overhead, and the force of the concussion made Fenner’s head reel. He revised his opinion of Scalfoni’s bombs after that. The machine-gun stopped. Again looking around the drum, Fenner saw that the door had been ripped so that it hung on one hinge. The woodwork and paint was smoke-blackened, and splintered. Even as he looked, two more violent explosions occurred front the back of the cabin. He guessed Schaife was doing his stuff.
Resting the Thompson on the top of the drum, he fired a long burst into the cabin and ducked down again. Someone replied from the wrecked cabin with a straggly burst from the machine gun and then Fenner gave him half the drum. After that there was a long lull.
Glancing up, Fenner could just make out Scalfoni crawling down the slope, clutching his chest with one hand. He looked very much exposed as he moved on down, but Fenner could imagine his triumphant grin. He must have been spotted coming down, because someone started firing at him with an automatic rifle. Scalfoni didn’t lose his head. He put his hand inside his shirt, pulled out a bomb and heaved it at the cabin. Fenner followed the bomb in flight, then flattened himself in the sand. He had a horrible feeling that the bomb would fall on his head.
The bomb struck the cabin and exploded with a tearing, ripping noise. A long flash lit up the sky and then the roof of the cabin caught on fire. Scalfoni came down fast without drawing any more shooting. Bent double, he ran past the cabin and joined Fenner behind the drum.
“Jeeze!” he said excitedly. “They work! What a night! I wouldn’t’ve missed this for all the janes in the world.”
Fenner said, “Watch out! They’ll be coming out.”
Scalfoni said, “Lemme give ’em just one more. Just one more to make up their mind for them.”
Fenner said, “Sure, enjoy yourself.”
Scalfoni slung the bomb into the open doorway. The explosion that followed was so violent that although they were crouching down behind the drum, they both suffered a little from the concussion.
A moment later someone screamed, “I’m done. I’m comin’ out. Don’t do any more—don’t do any more.”
Fenner didn’t move. “Come on out, with your mitts high.”
A man came staggering out of the blazing cabin. His face and hands were cut with flying glass, and his clothes were almost all torn off. He stood swaying in the flickering light of the flames, and Fenner saw that it was Miller. He came out from behind the drum, his lips just off his teeth.
Schaife came running up, his thin face alight with excitement. “Any more of them?” he asked.
Miller said, “The others are dead—don’t touch me, mister.”
Fenner reached out and grabbed him by his tattered shirt. “I thought I settled your little hash a while back,” he said unpleasantly.
Miller gave at the knees when he recognized Fenner. “For God’s sake, don’t start on me!” he blubbered.
Fenner curled him with his free hand. “Who else’s in there?” he said. “Come on, canary, sing!”
Miller stood trembling and shuddering. “There ain’t any more,” he whined. “They’re all dead.”
Alex came running up. Fenner said to him, “Take care of this guy. Treat him nicely. He’s had a nasty shock.”
Alex said, “Yeah?” swung his fist and knocked Miller down, then he booted him hard.
Fenner said, “Hey! Don’t get too tough. I want to talk with that punk.”
Alex said, “That’s all right. I’ll have him in the right frame of mind.” He went on booting Miller.
Fenner left them and went down the wall towards the boats. Scalfoni was waiting for orders.
Fenner said, “Scuttle ’em. Keep one. We’ll go round the island an’ pick Kemerinski up. It’ll save walkin’.”
He went back to Miller, who had dragged himself off the ground and was imploring Alex to let him alone. Fenner told Alex to go and help Scalfoni. Fenner said to Miller, “I told your little louse what would happen. This is only the start of it. Where’s Thayler?”
Miller didn’t say anything. His head was sunk on his great chest and he made a strangled sobbing noise. Fenner rammed the Thompson into his ribs. “Where’s Thayler?” he repeated. “Talk, you punk, or I’ll spread your insides.”
Miller said, “He don’t come here. Honest to God, I don’t know where he is.”
Fenner showed his teeth. “We’ll see about that,” he said.
Scalfoni came running up. “They’re fillin’,” he said. “Suppose I toss in a few bombs to make sure.”
Fenner said, “Why not?”
A few minutes later the shattering roar of the bombs exploding filled the silent harbor, and clouds of dense black smoke drifted from the boats.
Fenner said to Miller, “Come on, punk, you’re going for a ride.” He had to shove Miller in front of him at the end of the Thompson. Miller was so terrified that he could hardly walk. He kept on mumbling, “Don’t give it to me. I want to live, mister, I want to live.”
The others were already in the boat waiting for them.
When they got on board, Schaife started the engine. “Gee!” he said. This is the grandest night’s work I’ve ever done. I never thought we’d get away with it.”
Fenner groped for a cigarette and lit it. “The fun’ll start as soon as Carlos hears about it,” he remarked. “I said shock tactics would succeed and they have. Now Carlos knows what he’s up against, the rest isn’t going to be so easy.”
They ran the boat round the island and signaled to Kemerinski, who started up his boat and joined them outside the harbor. They all got into Kemerinski’s boat, Alex dragging Miller along with him. Scalfoni was the last to leave and, before he did so, he opened the cocks and scuttled the boat.
As he climbed on board Kemerinski’s boat he said, “I guess it’s tough sinkin’ these boats. I could have done with one of them myself.”
Fenner said, “I thought of that, but Carlos still has a fair size gang, an’ he’d have got them back. This is the only way.”
As Kemerinski headed the boat out to sea he wanted to know what had happened. “I heard the uproar,” he said excitedly. “It certainly got the village steamed up. They guessed what was goin’ on, and no one had the guts to go an’ watch the fun.”
Fenner said to Alex, “Bring the punk into the cabin. I want to talk to him.”
Alex said, “Sure,” and brought Miller down into the small brightly lit cabin.
Miller stood shivering, staring at Fenner with bloodshot eyes.
Fenner said, “Here’s your chance, canary. You talk and you’ll survive. Where can I find Thayler?”
Miller shook his head. “I don’t know,” he mumbled. “I swear I don’t know.”
Fenner looked at Alex. “He don’t know,” he said.
Alex swung his fist hard into Miller’s face. There was the faint sound of his arm in flight, then a thud as his fist crushed Miller’s face.
Miller reeled back against the cabin wall, putting his hands to his face.
“I swear I don’t know. If I knew I’d tell you. Honest to God, I don’t know. . . .”
Alex went over to him and pulled his hands away from his face. Blood ran down from his nose and his top lip was split, showing a long yellow tooth. Alex hit him again. He hit him very hard, so that he grunted as he drove the punch home.
Miller’s knees went and he slid down the wall and sat on the floor.
Fenner repeated coldly, “Where’s Thayler?”
Miller sobbed, and mumbled something. Fenner said, “Okay, leave him to me.” He reached inside his coat and pulled out his gun. He walked over to Miller and bent over him. “Get up,” he said harshly. “I’m not making a mess inside here. Come on up on deck.”
Miller looked into the gun barrel, his eyes bulging, then he said in a low, even voice, exhausted with terror, “He’s over at the Leadler dame’s joint.”
Fenner remained squatting. He was very still. “How did he know about it?” he said at last.
Miller leaned his head against the wall. Blood continued to drip from nose and his eyes never left the gun. “Bugsey phoned him,” he whispered.
Fenner drew a deep breath. “How do you know this?”
With Miller, fear had worn itself out, leaving him with the calmness of death. He said as if he was very tired, “I was just goin’ over when you arrived. Thayler phoned me. He said Bugsey had got him on the phone and told him where the Leadler dame was hiding. Thayler said for me to come and he was gettin’ Nightingale too.”
Fenner straightened and ran to the cabin door. He shouted to Kemerinski, “Push your tub. We’ve got to get back fast.”
Kemerinski said, “She can’t do any more. She’ll bust.
“Then bust her,” Fenner said. “I want more speed.”
When the boat slid into Key West harbor Fenner said, “Alex, you take this Miller to Noolen. Tell him to hide him until I give the word, then I’ll hand him over to the cops.” Alex said, “Hell! Suppose we bump him an’ shove him into the drink?” Fenner’s eyes snapped. “Do what I say.”
Schaife was already making the boat fast. They all crowded off the boat. Then Fenner saw the sedan parked in the shadow. He yelled, “Get down— look out!” and flung himself flat.
Out of the side window of the car came gunfire. Fenner had his gun out and fired three times. The others had fallen flat except Miller, who was apparently too dazed to do anything. A stream of bullets from the sedan cut across his chest and he crumpled up soundlessly.
Scalfoni suddenly got to his feet, ran a little way towards the car and tossed his last bomb. Even as the bomb left his hand, he clawed at his throat and went over solidly. The bomb, falling short, exploded violently and rocked the car over on its side.
Fenner scrambled to his feet yelling like a madman and rushed across the street firing from his hip. Three men crawled out of the car. One of them fumbled with a Thompson. They all seemed dazed with the concussion. Fenner fired at the man with the Thompson, who pitched forward on his face. Schaife came blundering up, charged one of the remaining men and went over with him, hammering at his head with his gun butt.
The remaining man twisted aside and fired point blank at Fenner, who hardly noticed the streak of blood that appeared suddenly in the middle of his right cheek. He kicked the man’s legs from under him, stamped on his wrist so that his gun fell from his hand, and then leaned over him, clubbing him senseless with his gun butt. As he straightened up another car came round the corner and charged down. Out of it, gunfire.
Fenner thought, “This is the bunk.” He zig-zagged behind the overturned sedan. Bullets chipped the street at his feet. Schaife, trying to get under cover, gave a croaking yell and began to walk in circles. More gunfire from the car, and down he went.
From behind the sedan Fenner fired four shots at the other car, then he glanced round to see who was left. Alex and Kemerinski had got back to the boat. Even as he looked, Kemerinski opened up with the Thompson. The night was suddenly alive with gun flashes and noise.
Fenner thought that it was time he got moving. Alex and Kemerinski in their position could take care of any number of hoods. He wanted to get to the bungalow. He waited his opportunity, then, keeping the overturned car between him and the line of fire, he backed away quickly and ducked down the nearest alley. ,
In the distance he could hear the sound of police whistles and he dodged down another alley away from the approaching sound. He was too busy to risk getting hauled in by the cops.
A taxi crawled past the alleyway as he emerged into the main street. Running forward, Fenner signaled the driver, who crowded on brakes. Fenner jerked open the door, giving the driver the bungalow address. “Make it fast, buddy,” he said. “I mean fast.”
The driver engaged his gears and the taxi shot away. “What’s breaking around here?” he asked, keeping his eyes on the road. “Sounds like a battle going on.”
“Sure,” Fenner said, leaning back, “battle’s the right word.”
The driver leaned his head out of the cab and spat. “I’m glad I’m going the other way. It sounds kind of dangerous around here.”
Fenner didn’t let the driver take him right to the bungalow. He got him to stop at the corner of the road; then he ran fast down towards the bungalow. Lights were showing in the front rooms, and as he walked up the short circular drive he saw someone come away from the front door. He put his, hand inside his coat and loosened his gun from its shoulder holster.
A boy with a peaked cap paused at the sound of Fenner’s approach, and then came towards him. He was a messenger. He said, “You ain’t Mr. D. Fenner?”
Fenner said, “Sure. Got a telegram for me?”
The boy gave him an envelope and his book. While Fenner scratched his initials, the boy said, “Been ringin’ for quite a while. The lights are on, but no one’s at home.”
Fenner gave him a quarter. “That’s how we fool burglars, son, he said, and went on up to the house. He shoved the telegram into his pocket and tried the front door, opened it and stepped inside.
In the front sitting-room Bugsey lay on the carpet, a small pool of blackish blood making a circle round his head. His gooseberry eyes were half shut and stared sightlessly at Fenner. His mouth puckered, showing his yellow teeth in a frightened, whimpering snarl.
Fenner stood looking. He could do nothing. Bugsey was dead all right. Fenner pulled his gun out and walked slowly into the hall. He stood listening then he went into the bedroom. Thayler sat in the small tub chair, a look of startled surprise on his face. A little congealed blood traced its way from his mouth to his shirt front. His eyes were blank and fixed.
Fenner said aloud, “Well, well,” and then he looked round the room. It was easy to see what had happened. Thayler had been sitting facing the door. Possibly he’d been talking to Glorie. Then someone Thayler knew walked in. Thayler must have looked up, seen who it was, not taken fright, and then that someone had shot him through his chest.
Fenner went over to him and touched his hand. It was growing cold, but there was still a little warmth in it.
A chair grated as if someone had eased it back. The sound came from the kitchen. Fenner stood very still, listening. The chair grated again. Fenner stepped to the door and peered out. Then, moving very silently, he entered the kitchen, holding his gun forward.
Nightingale stood holding on to the back of a kitchen chair. He held a blunt nose automatic in his hand, but when he recognized Fenner his hand dropped limply to his side.
Fenner said, “Hurt?” There was something about the way Nightingale was holding himself that made him ask the question.
“I got ’em all in my belly,” Nightingale said slowly. He began to work his way round the chair, and when Fenner came over to help him, he said a little feverishly, “Don’t touch me.” Fenner stood back and watched him maneuver himself down into the chair. When he finally sat, sweat ran down his face.
Fenner said, “Take it easy. I’ll get a croaker.”
Nightingale shook his head. “I got to talk,” he said hurriedly. “No croaker can give me a new belly.” He bent forward slowly, pressing his forearms against his lower body.
“I shot Thayler, and that rat Bugsey got me. I thought I could trust him. He put five slugs into me before I could shoot him. Then I fixed him all right.”
Fenner said, “Why kill Thayler?”
Nightingale stared dully at the floor. When he spoke again, his voice was very thick. “They killed Curly. That settled it. I wanted to get Carlos, too, but I guess I shan’t now.”
“They killed her because you and she got me out of the fix.”
“Yeah, but Thayler always wanted her out of the way. She knew too much. She and me, we knew too much. We knew about you.” A little red puddle began to form under his chair. Fenner could see the blood drop very slowly and steadily like a leaky tap. “That bitch Glorie was at the bottom of everything. She and her Chinaman.”
“What Chinaman?” Fenner asked softly.
“Chang. The guy they planted in your office.”
“You knew about that?”
Nightingale shut his eyes. He pressed his arms against his belly much harder. It was only by doing that, and by bending well forward, that he kept himself from falling apart. He said at last, in a faint, strangled voice, “Yeah, I knew about it. Carlos found out about the Chink. Glorie was cheating with him. When Thayler took her to New York for a trip, Chang went along too. That Chink did jobs for Carlos. Carlos thought he was fooling around with Glorie, so he sent a couple of guys to watch. They found out and they killed him. It was Thayler who had him moved to your office.”
Fenner stood very still, thinking, “Why? Why to me, for God’s sake?”
Nightingale suddenly saw the growing puddle at his feet. “That me?” he whispered. “Didn’t think I had so much blood.”
Fenner said urgently, “Why? What was his idea?”
Nightingale shook his head. “I don’t know. He’d got some deep game.” He spoke slower, taking more pains to utter each word clearly. “Something phoney happened on that New York trip. Something that started all this.”
“Chang? Was Glorie fond of him?” Fenner thought he was seeing an end to this business.
Nightingale shivered a little, but he wouldn’t give up. Pain was eating into him and he was dying fast, but he pretended that he wasn’t suffering. He wanted to show Fenner that he could take anything that was handed out without a squawk.
Nightingale said, “She was crazy about him. He was the only man she’d ever met who could give her what she wanted. He was no use to her otherwise, she wanted that Oriental and she wanted dough. So she cheated. . . .” He began to sway a little in the chair.
“Where is she now?”
“She took it on the lam when the shooting started. Anyway, Thayler would have given her the heat if I hadn’t broken in. I wish now . . . that ... I’d’ve waited . .. . before I shot him.”
Fenner was too late to catch him. He rolled off the chair on to the floor.
Fenner knelt down and lifted his head. “Crotti’s a good guy,” Nightingale said faintly. “You tell him I stood by you. That’ll make things . . . even.” He peered up at Fenner through his thick lenses, tried to say something and couldn’t quite make it.
Fenner said, “I’ll tell him. You’ve been a good guy to me.”
Nightingale whispered, “Get after . . . Carlos. He’s got a dive . . . back of Whiskey Joe’s. ...”
He grinned at Fenner, then his face tightened and he died.
Fenner laid his head gently on the floor and stood up. He wiped off his hands with his handkerchief, staring blankly at the opposite wall. Just Carlos now he told himself, then maybe he’d get through with this business. As he put his handkerchief away, he found the telegram. He pulled it out of his pocket and ripped the envelope. It ran:
Dead woman you thought Marian proved by finger prints to be kidnapped daughter of Andrew Lindsay. Suggest Marian not all she seems. Paula.
Fenner crumpled the cable slowly in his hand. “So that’s that,” he said. “Now I guess I can finish this.”
He took one more look at Nightingale, then softly walked out of the bungalow.
Where was Glorie? Now that Thayler was dead she was footloose again. Fenner thought he might find her with Noolen. She might, of course, have gone anywhere, but Noolen was worth trying. When a dame sees three men shot to death, and misses the same death by such a close margin, she’s not likely to make smart plans. She had the skids under her and she’d go to the one person left whom she knew well. She ought to know Noolen all right, Fenner argued. He was her husband, wasn’t he?”
He got back on the main street, hired himself a taxi and went over to the Casino. Two patrolmen stood near the entrance and they both gave him a hard look as he ran up the steps. Fenner grinned as he saw this evidence of Noolen’s caution. He went through the big hall that was just closing down. Only one light burned, and apart from two Cubans in shirt-sleeves, covering the tables with dust sheets, the hall was empty. They glanced up when Fenner came in.
“Noolen in still?” Fenner asked, heading for the office.
“He’s busy right now,” one of the Cubans said, trying to intercept him. Fenner beat him to the door, pushed it open and went in.
Noolen, Kemerinski and Alex sat round the desk. A black unlabelled bottle and glasses stood before them, and they all were smoking. They all looked up, their faces startled, then, seeing Fenner, they relaxed. Noolen scowled at him. “What do you call this?” he said bitterly. “Schaife and Scalfoni dead, and these two guys nearly shot to hell. This your idea of smashing Carlos?”
Fenner wasn’t in the mood to play around with Noolen. He put his hands flat on the desk and looked Noolen in the face. “Pipe down, jughead. What’ve you got a bellyache about? Schaife and Scalfoni dead? So what? Think you can fight a war without any casualties? What about the other side? We’ve wiped out all their boats. We’ve burnt their base. Thayler’s dead, Nightingale’s dead, Miller’s dead, Bugsey’s dead, and six or seven others of the mob. Ain’t that giving value for money?”
Noolen sat staring at him. “Thayler?” His voice hardly reached above a whisper.
Fenner nodded. “That leaves Carlos and Reiger, I particularly want those two guys myself. Then the gang’s washed up.”
Kemerinski said, “This guy knows what he’s talkin’ about. I’ll play along with him still.”
Alex nodded and grunted.
Fenner said, “Okay. What are we waitin’ for? Where’s Whiskey Joe’s?”
“It’s a joint near Nigger Beach.”
Fenner turned to Noolen. “I’m goin’ after Carlos. When I get back, I’ve got something to say to you. Stick around. This is the finish of this business.”
He turned to the other two: “Get a couple of Thompsons. We’re goin’ to Whiskey Joe’s. Carlos’s over there.”
Alex went away. Kemerinski said, “Just we three?” He sounded a little uneasy-
Fenner shook his head. “I’m going. You two come in later and clear up the mess.”
Fenner went out with Kemerinski. Alex was waiting in the car, nursing two Thompsons. As Kemerinski drove off, Fenner said, “You two take the guns. You wait outside until you hear shooting, then come in and blast everything you see. Don’t stop shooting until there’s nothin’ to shoot at— get it?”
Alex said, “This has been a swell night.”
The big car went down Duval Street fast. Duval Street stretched right across the whole length of the island. It was late, and they met no cars. Kemerinski drove very fast. He cut speed as he reached South Street and swung the car to the right. At the bottom of South Street he drew to the curb and killed the engine. “Whiskey’s over on the corner at Nigger Beach.”
Fenner got out of the car and began walking down the street. The other two followed him, holding the Thompsons under their coats. Fenner said, “He’s got a place at the back. Would you know it?”
Alex said, “There’s a warehouse round the back, maybe that’s it.”
“We’ll go and look at it..”
Whiskey Joe’s bar had closed for the night. It was just a small pile of black woodwork in the darkness. Alex said, “Down this alley,” softly.
Fenner said, “Stick around while I have a look. I’ll be back.”
He went down the alley, which was very dark and smelt of decay and dark-alley smells. He walked carefully, not sneaking, but making no noise. At the end of the alley was a small square. Turning right and coming up behind Whiskey Joe’s, he could make out a big square building with a flat roof. That, too, was a black silhouette against the star-filled sky. He got closer found a door, tried it cautiously. It was locked. He moved along looking for a window, turned the corner and worked his way along the south side. Still no windows. Round the next corner an iron ladder set close to the wall led upwards into the darkness. Fenner guessed it would take him on to the roof.
He went back fast and noiselessly to the other two waiting at the mouth of the alley. “I think I’ve found the dump,” he said. “There’s only one door. All you two’ve got to do is to lie out there and start with the meat-grinder soon as they come out. Don’t show yourselves, just lie flat and grind away.”
He could see Kemerinski’s teeth as he grinned. “I’ll go up on the roof and send ’em out to you. Don’t make mistakes, an’ when you’ve done the job, beat it. I’ll look after myself.”
The two grunted to show they understood, and then Fenner retraced his steps to the building. He climbed up the iron ladder, testing each rung before he put his weight on it. He counted forty rungs before he reached the top. As his head came over the balustrade he saw in the centre of the roof a square skylight, through which a light was shining.
Fenner knew that he’d have to be mighty careful how he crossed over. The slightest sound he made would be heard by anyone underneath. Before getting on to the roof he walked along the balustrade and looked over. He spotted Alex and Kemerinski hiding in a long ditch that was exactly opposite the door of the warehouse. They saw him and waved. He raised his hand, and then lowered himself from the balustrade to the roof.
Holding his gun in his right hand, he inched his way across the space that divided him from the skylight. It took him quite a time, but he did it without a sound. Pushing his hat to the back of his head, he looked down into the room. Carlos was there. Reiger was there and another man he didn’t know. They were within six feet of Fenner. The room was very low, like a loft, and Fenner was so startled that he hurriedly jerked back.
Carlos was smoking on the bed. Reiger lolled, his head against the wall, in a chair; he was asleep. The other man dozed on the floor.
Fenner looked at the cross-pieces between the panes of the skylight; he felt their thickness gently with his thumb. There was no substance in them. Then he straightened and, reaching out with his right foot, he placed it gently in the exact centre of the cross-pieces. He took a deep breath and pushed down with all his weight.
The cross-pieces gave with a splintering noise and he and the glass crashed down into the room. He landed on his feet, staggered and jerked up his gun.
Carlos lay very still on the bed, his cigarette jerking up and down in his mouth. The man on the floor went for his gun unconsciously. He was so dazed that his instinct took him to death. If he hadn’t been dozing nothing on this earth would have made him go for the gun. Fenner shot him between the eyes.
Reiger and Carlos were like frozen statues. They just stared at Fenner with fixed glassy eyes.
Fenner said, “I want you,” to Carlos.
The ash from Carlos’ cigarette fell on his chest. He looked wildly at Reiger and then back to Fenner. “Gimme a break,” he said hoarsely.
Fenner said, “Shut up. I’ve been layin’ for you two. Now you’re going to get what’s coming to you. I’m not going to do it. You two guys can do it to yourselves. You can fight it out. The one who wins goes out of this joint. I won’t touch him. Maybe you’ve heard I keep my word. Either that, or I’ll knock the two of you off.”
Reiger relaxed suddenly. He said, “I kill him and you don’t touch me?” he sounded incredulous.
Carlos crouched further against the wall. “Reiger!” he screamed. “Don’t do it!” I’m your boss, do you hear? You’re not to do it.”
Reiger got slowly out of his chair, he had a fixed grin on his face.
Fenner said, “Wait. Put your mitts up and face the wall.”
Reiger scowled at him, but Fenner rammed his gun hard into his side. He put his hands up and turned round. Fenner took a gun out of his hip pocket and stepped back. “Stay there an’ don’t move.” He went over to Carlos, grabbed him by his shirt front and dragged him off the bed. A quick frisk told him Carlos hadn’t a gun.
Fenner walked to the corner of the room near the door and leaned against the wall. “What you waiting, for? Don’t one of you want to go home?”
Carlos began to scream at Reiger, but the look on Reiger’s face told him he’d have to fight. Reiger, his hand held low, a set animal expression on his face, began to stalk after Carlos who circled the room swearing in a soft continuous flow. The room was too small to keep that up long. Reiger suddenly rushed in blindly, grabbing Carlos round the waist. Carlos screamed with terror, beat Reiger about his head with his clenched fists and tried to get away. Reiger began to hit Carlos in the ribs, driving in punches that sounded hollow. They swayed round the room, punching and mauling each other, then Carlos’ heel caught in the mat and he went over with Reiger on top of him. Reiger grabbed him by his ears and hammered his head on the boards.
He turned his head and grinned at Fenner. “I’ve got the louse now,” he panted. “By God, I’ve got him now!”
Carlos reached up with his hands and drove two hooked fingers into Reiger’s eyes, then he ripped down. Dug in again and scratched and ripped once more. A horrible sound issued from Reiger’s chest and burst from his mouth in a sobbing croak. He fell away from Carlos. Holding one hand to his eyes and beating the air with the other, he began to blunder round the room. Carlos crawled to his feet, shook his head and waited for Reiger to go past him again. As he did so, he shot out a foot and brought Reiger down. Reiger fell on his face and lay there, moaning and kicking with his feet.
Carlos had forgotten that Fenner was in the room. He saw only Reiger. Dropping on Reiger’s back, he pinned him with his knees and fastened his red fingers round Reiger’s throat. Then, with his knee planted in the middle of Reiger’s back, he began to drag Reiger slowly backwards.
Reiger beat on the floor with his hands, his eyes bolting out of his head. Carlos said, “Here it comes,” savagely, and flung all his weight into a vicious pull. Reiger gurgled, groped feebly for Carlos’-hands and then went limp. A faint snapping sound came and blood ran out of Reiger’s mouth. Carlos threw him away and stood up trembling.
Fenner leaned against the wall, covering Carlos with his gun. “You’re lucky,” he said. “Beat it before I change my mind. Go on—dust, you—”
Carlos took two staggering steps to the door and flung it open. Fenner heard him blundering downstairs and he heard him fumbling at the lock. He stood, his head on one side, listening. Then out of the night came a sound of two Thompsons firing. Both gave a long burst, then there was silence.
Fenner put his gun away slowly and groped for a cigarette. “I guess I’ve had about enough of this burg. I’ll go home and take Paula out for a change,” he said to himself. He climbed out of the skylight and let himself down the iron ladder. As he did so he heard the sound of a car starting. It was Alex and Kemerinski calling it a day.
He went round and looked at Carlos. He had a tidy mind. He had had no doubt that those two would do a good job, but he liked to be sure. He need not have bothered. They’d done a good job. He brushed down his clothes with his hand, thinking busily, then he turned and walked back towards Noolen’s place.
Noolen started out of his chair when Fenner came in. He said, “What happened?”
Fenner looked at him. “What do you think? They’re horse flesh—both of them. Where’s Glorie?”
Noolen wiped his face with his handkerchief. “Dead? Both of them?” He couldn’t believe it.
Fenner repeated impatiently, “Where’s Glorie?”
Noolen put two trembling hands on the desk. “Why?”
“Where is she, damn you!” Fenner’s eyes were intent and ice-cold.
Noolen pointed. “She’s upstairs. You can leave her out of this, Fenner. I’m goin’ to look after her now.”
Fenner sneered. “What’s the idea? You’re not falling for any line of repentance she’s likely to hand out, are you?”
Noolen’s face went a faint red. “I don’t want any cheap cracks from you,” he said. “After all, she’s my wife.”
Fenner pushed back his chair. “For God’s sake,” he said, getting to his feet, “there’s no fool like an old fool! okay, if that’s the way it stands.” He shrugged. “Quite a dame, this Glorie. Off with the dead money bags and on with the new.”
Noolen sat there, his hooded eyes fixed, and his mouth a little twisted. He said, “Cut out your cracks, Fenner; I don’t like them.”
Fenner turned to the door. “I’m going to see that dame,” he said. “Where shall I find her?”
Noolen shook his head. “You ain’t,” he said, “Start somethin’ here and you’ll get a heap of grief.”
“So? Okay, then I don’t see her; but I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll be back in an hour’s time with the cops and a warrant for her arrest.”
Noolen sneered. “You got nothing on that dame,” he said.
“Sure, I haven’t. Only a murder rap. Still, what’s a murder rap? Small change in your circle.”
Noolen’s fat hands twitched, and his puffy face took on a greenish tinge. “What are you talkin’ about?” he said, with stiff lips.
Fenner moved to the door. “You’ll know. I haven’t time to play around with you. I either see her now, or see her in jail. I don’t give a damn which way it is.”
Noolen’s face glistened in the light of the desk lamp. He said, “Top door on the right upstairs.”
Fenner said, “I won’t be long, and you stay right where you are.” He went out and shut the door behind him.
When he got to the door en the right at the head of the stairs, he turned the handle and walked in. Glorie started up from a chair, her face white, and her mouth making a big O in her face.
Fenner shut the door and leaned against it. “Keep your stockings up,” he said slowly. “You and me are just going to have a little talk, that’s all.” She dropped back in the chair.
“Not now,” she said, her voice tight. “It’s late—I want to go to sleep ... I’m tired ... I told him downstairs not to let anyone up.”
Fenner selected a chair opposite her and sat down. He pushed his hat to the back of his head and dug in his vest-pocket for a packet of cigarettes. He shook two loose and offered them.
She said, “Get out of here! Get out of here! I don’t want—”
Fenner took one of the cigarettes and put the packet back in his pocket. He said, “Shut up!” Then he lit the cigarette and blew a thin cloud of smoke up to the ceiling. “You an’ me are going to have a little talk. I’m talking first, then you are.”
She got out of the chair and started for the door, but Fenner reached out, caught her wrist and pulled her round. She swung blindly for his face with hooked finger-nails. He caught her hand, imprisoned her two wrists in one hand and smacked her face with his other hand. Four red bars appeared on the side of her face, and she said, “Oh!”
He let go of her hands and pushed her away roughly. “Sit down and shut up!”
She sat down, her hand touching her cheek gently. She said, “You’re going to be sorry for that.”
Fenner eased himself in the chair so that it creaked. “That’s what you think,” he said, yawning. “Let me tell you another little story. It’s a story about a nasty little girl and a Chinaman. It’ll slaughter you.”
She clenched her fists and pounded them on her knees. “Stop! I know what you’re going to say. I don’t want to hear!”—
Fenner said, “For you, there has never been anyone but Chang. He was everything t© you. When Carlos killed him, your life stopped. Nothing mattered to you. All you had to live for was to get even with Carlos for taking away the one thing that made your horrible life worth while. That’s right, isn’t it?”
She put her hands over her face and shivered, then she said, “Yes.”
“Thayler and you went to New York for a short trip. You couldn’t even be parted from Chang for a few days, so he came up and you saw him, when Thayler was busy elsewhere. Carlos sent two of his Cubans and they found Chang and killed him. That’s right, too, isn’t it?”
“They came in the night when I was with him,” she said. Her voice was expressionless. “One of them held me while the other cut his throat. I was there when they did it. They said they’d kill me if he resisted, so he just lay on the bed and let that awful Cuban cut his throat. Somehow, he managed to smile at me when he was doing it. Oh, God, if you could have been there! If you could have seen him lying there with the Cuban bending over him. The sudden look of terror and pain in his eyes as he died! I could do nothing, but I swore that I’d get Carlos, I would smash everything he had built up.
Fenner yawned again. He was feeling tired. “You’re not very nice,” he said. “I can’t feel any pity for you, because you always thought of yourself first. If you were really fine you would have had your revenge, even if it brought you down too, but you hadn’t the guts to lose what you already had, so you had to plot and plan to keep Thayler and get Carlos thrown to the wolves.”
Glorie began to cry.
Fenner went on, “While this was going on, Thayler had found himself a new toy. Thayler was a nasty bit of work too. There was a girl called Lindsay. Maybe he met her at a party. He liked her and somehow he got her to go to his house. He knew you weren’t about and he persuaded her to drop in. I can guess what happened but you can tell me. He attacked her, didn’t he? His usual stuff with a whip?”
Glorie went on crying.
“Well, he overdid it, didn’t he? She died. When you got home, after Chang had been killed, you found Thayler running in circles with a corpse on his hands. That’s the way it went, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” She put her handkerchief to her eyes and began to rock herself backwards and forwards.
“You found the Lindsay dame dead, and her body badly cut by Thayler’s whipping. Now, baby, it’s your turn. Shoot! What did you do?”
Glorie said, “You know all about it. Why ask me?”
“But why did you come to me?”
“I heard about you. I thought I saw my chance of saving Harry and starting trouble for Carlos. I heard you were tough and wouldn’t stop at anything. I got a black wig, and wore simple clothes and came to you. I thought if—”
“You came to me as Marian Daley. You said your sister was missing. You thought if I took up the case I’d start eventually on Carlos. You gave me the hint. You said twelve Chinamen, because they always ship Chinamen over in dozens from Cuba, and I’d be smart enough to see that that was Carlos’s racket. You planned with Thayler to have the Lindsay dame’s body, without arms or legs or head, planted somewhere where I could find it, and I’d think that it was the body of Marian Daley. Since Marian never existed, Thayler couldn’t be tried for killing a non-existent person. So you tried to establish an identity between Marian and the body. To do this you got Thayler to fake up marks on your back, and when you came to see me, he telephoned to give you an excuse for undressing. I saw the marks, and naturally enough they impressed me. It was a rotten plan, and it could never have held water court of law, but you might have confused the issue if you’d have played cards right. But Thayler made mistakes.
“He wanted to get the body cut up and taken away from his house. He wanted to get your identity established with me as quickly as possible, otherwise the fact that the body, when found, could have proved that it couldn’t have been yours from a doctor’s evidence of time of death. First, you had to see me, then I was to be held up for a day or so, to give him time to set the stage the way he wanted. To hold me up, he planted Chang on me. You didn’t know this. He got his Cubans to take Chang along and put him in my office, hoping that the cops would come up and hold me for questioning. I beat him to it. Found out where the Cubans came from, got there, killed them before they could get rid of one of the hands and arms of the Lindsay dame. By slipping up like that, he made a complete mess of things. That’s the way it went, isn’t it?”
Glorie sat limply in the chair. She said, “Yes, that’s right. It was a mad idea, but Harry was so scared he’d have done anything I told him to. I hadn’t much time to make plans, but I thought it was an opportunity to get Carlos. I shook Harry down for ten grand. I gave you six, because I knew then that you’d follow up the case. I forged the letter giving you the necessary clues and then, when your secretary took me to the hotel, I waited my opportunity and ran away. That was the end of Marian Daley. I went back to Key West with Harry, and waited for you to come. Thayler had told the Cubans to leave the body and the clothes at the Grand Central in a trunk. We were going to give you a tip so that you could have found them. I left that to Harry, but he messed it.”
Fenner lay back in his chair and stared at the ceiling. “It was cock-eyed,” he said. “If you’d’ve come to see me and told me about Carlos, I’d have gone for him just the same. A guy who handles people the way he did deserves all he gets.” Glorie sat up very straight.
“You talk as if he’s dead,” she said. Fenner looked at her.
“He’s dead all right. You’re lucky. Seems like you’ve always managed to find a sucker to do your dirty work. Anyway, it was nice to see him go.”
Glorie drew in a long shuddering breath. She started to say something, but Fenner interrupted. “The guy who killed Lindsay’s daughter is dead. You’re still my client. The Lindsay business is for the cops to work out. Maybe they’ll find out about Thayler. Maybe they’ll even get a line on you, but I’m not helping them. As far as I’m concerned, I’m through. You can link up with Noolen and go with him as fast as you like. I don’t like you, baby, an’ I don’t like Noolen. I’ll be glad to get back home. Whatever happens to you means nothing to me. You can be sure something will happen to you. A jane with your outlook can’t last long. I’ll leave it like that.”
He got up and wandered to the door, then, without looking back, he went out of the room.
Noolen was standing in the hall, staring up, as he walked down the stairs. He didn’t even bother to look at him. Out in the street he took a deep breath, pulled at his nose thoughtfully, then set off at a fast pace in the direction of the Airport.