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Title: A Bullet for Cinderella
Author: MacDonald, John D.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Bullet for Cinderella" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                        A Bullet for Cinderella

                           JOHN D. MACDONALD

                       A FAWCETT GOLD MEDAL BOOK

             Fawcett Publications, Inc., Greenwich, Conn.
           Member of American Book Publishers Council, Inc.

             All characters in this book are fictional and
               any resemblance to persons living or dead
                        is purely coincidental.

                  Copyright 1955 by John D. MacDonald

         All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce
                    this book or portions thereof.

                Printed in the United States of America

     [Transcriber's Note: Extensive research did not uncover any
     evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was
     renewed.]



CAME THE DARK....

They lay on their sides, facing each other. In the half-light of the
cave he could see the sheen of her eyes, the slow curve of her waist.

"So we wait," she said.

"And we'll have to be very careful," he answered. "He likes the night.
He even likes us right now, waiting for us to come out, to give him the
pleasure of killing us. Killing ... that's really his only pleasure."

She rolled onto her back. Her voice was soft. "We're going to make it,"
she said. "We've got the money, and we'll get the car and then there's
Buenos Aires, Paris and...."

They were quiet for a while until suddenly he heard her breath begin
to quicken. She turned toward him and he pulled her close. There was
time....



ONE


A steady April rain was soaking the earth. It hadn't been bad to drive
through until dusk came. In the half-light it was hard to see the road.
The rain was heavy enough to reflect my headlights back against the
wind-shield. My mileage on the speedometer told me I couldn't be very
far from Hillston.

When I saw the motel sign ahead on the right I slowed down. It looked
fairly new. I turned in. The parking area was paved with those round
brown pebbles that crunch under the tires. I parked as close to the
office as I could get and ran from the car into the office. A woman
with the bright cold eyes and thin sharp movements of a water bird
rented me a room far back from the highway sound. She said the place
was just four miles from the Hillston city limits.

Once I saw the room I decided that it would do. It would be a good
place to stay while I did what had to be done in Hillston. I stretched
out on the bed and wondered if I had been smart to use my right name on
the motel register. But if I could find the money, there would be no
one to say that I was the one who had taken it. And using my right name
wouldn't make any difference at all.

When at last the rain eased up I went and found a small roadside
restaurant. The girl behind the counter told me where I could buy a
bottle of liquor. She seemed open to any invitation to help me drink it
up, but though she was reasonably pretty I was not interested. I had
this other thing on my mind and I wanted to go back alone and have
some drinks and think about it and wonder how I could do it.

Maybe you saw pictures of us, the ones who were really bad off when the
prisoners were exchanged. I was one of the litter cases. My stomach had
stopped digesting the slop they fed us, and I was down to ninety-three
pounds. One more week and I would have been buried up there beyond the
river like so many others were. I was in bad shape. Not only physically
but mentally. I was too sick to be flown back. Memory was all shot. I
went right into hospital and they started feeding me through a tube.

It was during the months in the military hospital back in this country
that I began to sort things out and began to remember more of the
details about Timmy Warden of Hillston. When the intelligence people
had interrogated me I had told them how Timmy died but nothing more
than that. I didn't tell them any of the stuff Timmy had told me.

We were both captured at the same time in that action near the
reservoir. I'd known him casually. He was in a different platoon. We
were together most of the time after we were captured. Enough has
already been written about how it was. It wasn't good.

That prison camp experience can change your attitude toward life and
toward yourself. It did that to Timmy Warden. His one thought was to
survive. It was that way with all of us, but Timmy seemed more of a
fanatic than anybody else. He had to get back.

He told me about it one night. That was after he'd gotten pretty weak.
I was still in fair shape. He told me about it in the dark, whispering
to me. I couldn't see his face.

"Tal, I've got to get back and straighten something out. I've got to.
Every time I think about it I'm ashamed. I thought I was being smart. I
thought I was getting what I wanted. Maybe I've grown up now. I've got
to get it straightened out."

"What was it you wanted?"

"I wanted it and I got it, but I can't use it now. I wanted her too,
and had her, but she's no good to me now."

"I'm not following this so good, Timmy."

He told me the story then. He had been in business with his brother
George Warden. George was older by six years. George took him in as a
partner. George had a flair for salesmanship and promotion. Timmy was
good on the books, as he had a natural knack for figure work. They had
a building supply business, a retail hardware outlet, a lumberyard, and
several concrete trucks.

And George had a lush, petulant, amoral, discontented young wife named
Eloise.

"I didn't make any play for her, Tal. It just seemed to happen. She was
my brother's wife and I knew it was bad, but I couldn't stop. We had to
sneak around behind his back. Hillston isn't a very big city. We had to
be very careful. I guess I knew all the time what she was. But George
thought she was the best thing that ever walked. She was the one who
talked me into running away with her, Tal. She was the one who said
we'd have to have money. So I started to steal."

He told me how he did it. A lot of the gimmicks didn't make much sense
to me. He did all the ordering, handled the bank accounts and deposits.
It was a big and profitable operation. He took a little bit here, a
little bit there, always in cash. All the time he was doing it he was
carrying on the affair with Eloise. He said it took nearly two years to
squirrel away almost sixty thousand dollars. The auditors didn't catch
it.

"I couldn't open a bank account with the money, and I knew better
than to put it in a safety-deposit box. I put the money in those
old-fashioned jars. The kind with the red rubber washer and the wire
that clamps the top on. I'd fill them and bury them. George kept
worrying about why we weren't making more money. I kept lying to him.
Eloise was getting more restless all the time and more careless. I was
afraid George would find out, and I didn't know what he'd do. She had
me sort of hypnotized. We finally set the date when we were going to
run away. Everything was planned. And then they called me up. I was
reserve. There wasn't a damn thing I could do about it. I told Eloise
that when I got out we'd go through with it the way we planned. But now
I'm stuck here. And now I don't want to go through with it. I want to
get back there and give the money back to George and tell him the whole
thing. I've had too much chance to think it over."

"How do you know she hasn't taken the money and left?"

"I didn't tell her where I put it. It's still there. Nobody can find
it."

His story gave me a lot to think about. Timmy Warden sank lower and
lower. By that time those of us who were left alive had become expert
on how long the dying would last. And I knew that Timmy was one of the
dying. I knew he'd never leave there alive. I tried to find out where
the money was buried. But I'd waited a little too long. He was out of
his head. I listened to him rave. I listened to every word he said.

But in his raving he never gave away the hiding place. It was in a
moment of relative lucidity that he told me. It was afternoon and he
caught my wrist with his wasted hand. "I'm not going to make it, Tal."

"You'll make it."

"No. You go back there and straighten it out. You can do that. Tell
George. Give him the money. Tell him everything."

"Sure. Where is the money?"

"Tell him everything."

"Where's the money hidden?"

"Cindy would know," he said, suddenly breathless with weak, crazy
laughter. "Cindy would know." And that's all I could get out of him. I
was still strong enough then to use a shovel. I helped dig the hole for
Timmy Warden that night.

Back in the stateside hospital I thought about that sixty thousand
dollars. I could see those fruit jars with the tight rolls of bills
inside the glass. I would dig them out and rub the dirt off and see the
green gleam of the money. It helped pass the time in the hospital.

Finally they let me out. The thought of the money was no longer on
the surface of my mind. It was hidden down underneath. I would think
about it, but not very often. I went back to my job. It seemed pretty
tasteless to me. I felt restless and out of place. I'd used up a lot of
emotional energy in order to stay alive and come back to this, back to
my job and back to Charlotte, the girl I had planned to marry. Now that
I was back neither job nor girl seemed enough.

Two weeks ago they let me go. I don't blame them. I'd been doing my
job in a listless way. I told Charlotte I was going away for a while.
Her tears left me completely untouched. She was just a girl crying, a
stranger. I told her I didn't know where I was going. But I knew I was
going to Hillston. The money was there. And somebody named Cindy who
would know how to find it.

I had started the long trip with an entirely unrealistic anticipation
of success. Now I was not so confident. It seemed that I was searching
for more than the sixty thousand dollars. It seemed to me that I was
looking for some meaning or significance to my life. I had a thousand
dollars in traveler's checks and everything I owned with me. Everything
I owned filled two suitcases.

Charlotte had wept, and it hadn't touched me. I had accepted being
fired without any special interest. Ever since the repatriation, since
the hospital, I had felt like half a man. It was as though the other
half of me had been buried and I was coming to look for it--here in
Hillston, a small city I had never seen. Somehow I had to begin to live
again. I had stopped living in a prison camp. And never come completely
to life again.

I drank in the motel room until my lips felt numb. There was a pay
phone in the motel office. The bird woman looked at me with obvious
disapproval but condescended to change three ones into change for the
phone.

I had forgotten the time difference. Charlotte was having dinner with
her people. Her mother answered the phone. I heard the coldness in her
mother's voice. She called Charlotte.

"Tal? Tal, where are you?"

"A place called Hillston."

"Are you all right? You sound so strange."

"I'm okay."

"What are you doing? Are you looking for a job?"

"Not yet."

She lowered her voice so I could barely hear her. "Do you want me to
come there? I would, you know, if you want me. And no--no strings, Tal
darling."

"No. I just called so you'd know I'm all right."

"Thank you for calling, darling."

"Well ... good-by."

"Please write to me."

I promised and hung up and went back to my room. I wanted things to
be the way they had once been between us. I did not want to hurt her.
I did not want to hurt myself. But I felt as if a whole area in my
mind was dead and numb. The part where she had once been. She had been
loyal while I had been gone. She was the one who had the faith I would
return. She did not deserve this.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the following morning, Thursday morning, Hillston lay clean and
washed by the night rains, bright and glowing in the April sunshine.
Timmy had often talked about the city.

"It's more town than city. There isn't much of a transient population.
Everybody seems to know everybody. It's a pretty good place, Tal."

It lay amid gentle hills, and the town stretched north-south, following
the line of Harts River. I drove up the main street, Delaware Street.
Traffic had outgrown the narrowness of the street. Standardization had
given most of our small cities the same look. Plastic and glass brick
store fronts. Woolworth's and J. C. Penney and Liggett and Timely and
the chain grocery. The essential character of Hillston had been watered
down by this standardization and yet there was more individuality
left than in many other cities. Here was a flavor of leisure, of mild
manners and quiet pleasures. No major highway touched the city. It was
in an eddy apart from the great current.

Doubtless there were many who complained acidly about the town
being dead on its feet, about the young people leaving for greater
opportunities. But such human irritants did not change the rather smug
complacency of the city. The population was twenty-five thousand and
Timmy had told me that it had not changed very much in the past twenty
years. There was the pipe mill and a small electronics industry and a
plant that made cheap hand tools. But the money in town was the result
of its being a shopping center for all the surrounding farmland.

I had crossed the country as fast as I could, taking it out on the car,
anxious to get to this place. The car kept stalling as I stopped for
the lights on Delaware Street. When I spotted a repair garage I turned
in.

A man came up to me as I got out of the car. "I think I need a tune-up.
It keeps stalling. And a grease job and oil change."

He looked at the wall clock. "About three this afternoon be okay?"

"That'll be all right."

"California plates. On your way through?"

"Just on a vacation. I stopped here because I used to know a fellow
from this town. Timmy Warden."

He was a gaunt man with prematurely white hair and bad teeth. He picked
a cigarette out of the top pocket of his coveralls. "Knew Timmy, did
you? The way you say it, I guess you know he's dead."

"Yes. I was with him when he died."

"There in the camp, eh? Guess it was pretty rough."

"It was rough. He used to talk about this place. And about his brother
George. I thought I'd stop and maybe see his brother and tell him about
how it was with Timmy."

The man spat on the garage floor. "I guess George knows how it was."

"I don't understand."

"There's another man came here from that camp. Matter of fact he's
still here. Came here a year ago. Name of Fitzmartin. Earl Fitzmartin.
He works for George at the lumberyard. Guess you'd know him, wouldn't
you?"

"I know him," I said.

Everybody who survived the camp we were in would know Fitzmartin. He'd
been taken later, had come in a month after we did. He was a lean man
with tremendously powerful hands and arms. He had pale colorless hair,
eyes the elusive shade of wood smoke. He was a Texan and a Marine.

I knew him. One cold night six of us had solemnly pledged that if we
were ever liberated we would one day hunt down Fitzmartin and kill him.
We had believed then that we would. I had forgotten all about it. It
all came back.

Fitz was not a progressive. Yet he was a disrupting influence. In the
camp we felt that if we could maintain a united front it would improve
our chances for survival. We organized ourselves, appointed committees,
assigned responsibilities. There were two retreads who had been in Jap
camps in another war who knew the best organizational procedures.

Fitz, huskier and quicker and craftier than anyone else in camp,
refused to take any part in it. He was a loner. He had an animal
instinct for survival. He kept himself clean and fit. He ate anything
that was organically sound. He prowled by himself and treated us with
icy contempt and amusement. He was no closer to us than to his captors.
He was one of the twelve quartered in the same hut with Timmy and me.

Perhaps that does not seem to constitute enough cause to swear to kill
a man. It wouldn't, in a normal situation. But in captivity minor
resentments become of major importance. Fitz wasn't with us so he was
against us. We needed him and every day he proved he didn't need us.

At the time of the exchange Fitzmartin was perhaps twenty pounds
lighter. But he was in good shape. Many had died but Fitz was in fine
shape. I knew him.

"I'd like to see him," I told the garage man. "Is the lumberyard far
from here?"

It was north of town. I had to take a bus that crossed a bridge at
the north end of town and walk a half mile on the shoulder of the
highway--past junk yards, a cheap drive-in movie, rundown rental
cabins. I kept asking myself why Fitz should have come to Hillston. He
couldn't know about the money. But I could remember the slyness of the
man, his knack of moving without a sound.

The lumberyard was large. There was an office near the road. There was
a long shed open on the front where semi-fabricated pieces were kept
in bins in covered storage. I heard the whine of a saw. Beyond the two
buildings were tall stacks of lumber. A truck was being loaded back
there. In the open shed a clerk was helping a customer select window
frames. An office girl with thin face and dark hair looked up from an
adding machine and told me I could find Fitzmartin out in the back
where they were loading the truck.

I went back and saw him before he saw me. He was heavier but otherwise
unchanged. He stood with another man watching two men loading a stake
truck. He wore khakis and stood with his fists in his hip pockets. The
man said something and Earl Fitzmartin laughed. The sound startled me.
I had never heard him laugh in the camp.

He turned as I approached him. His face changed. The smoke eyes looked
at me, wary, speculative. "I've got the name right, haven't I? Tal
Howard."

"That's right." There was, of course, no move toward shaking hands.

He turned to the other man. "Joe, you go right ahead here. Leave this
slip in the office on your way out."

Fitzmartin started walking back through the lot between the stacked
lumber. I hesitated and followed him. He led the way to a shed on
the back corner of the lot. An elderly Ford coupé was parked by the
shed. He opened the door and gestured and I went into the shed. It was
spotlessly clean. There was a bunk, table, chair, shelf with hot plate
and dishes. He had a supply of canned goods, clean clothes hanging on
hooks, a pile of magazines and paper-bound books near the head of the
bunk. There was a large space heater in the corner, and through an open
door I could see into a small bathroom with unfinished walls.

There was no invitation to sit down. We faced each other.

"Nice to see any old pal from north of the river," he said.

"I heard in town you work here."

"You just happened to be in town and heard I work here."

"That's right."

"Maybe you're going around looking all the boys up. Maybe you're
writing a book."

"It's an idea."

"My experiences as a prisoner of war. Me and Dean."

"I'd put you in the book, Fitz. The big ego. Too damn impressed with
himself to try to help anybody else."

"Help those gutless wonders? You types stone me. You wanted to turn it
into a boys' club. I watched a lot of you die because you didn't have
the guts or will or imagination to survive."

"With your help maybe a couple more would have come back."

"You sound like you think that would be a good thing."

There was an amused sneer in his tone that brought it all vividly back.
That was what we had sensed about him. He hadn't cared if we had all
been buried there, just so Fitzmartin got out of it with a whole skin.
I had thought my anger and outrage had been buried, had thought I was
beyond caring. Perhaps he, too, misjudged the extent of the contempt
that made me careless of his physical power.

I struck blindly, taking him almost completely by surprise, my right
fist hitting his jaw solidly. The impact jarred my arm and shoulder
and back. It knocked him back a full step. I wanted him on the floor.
I swung again and hit a thick, hard arm. He muffled the third blow and
caught my left wrist, then grabbed my right wrist. I tried to snap
my wrists free, but he was far too powerful. I was able to resist
the grinding twisting force for several seconds. His face was quite
impassive. I was slowly forced down onto my knees, tears of anger and
humiliation stinging my eyes.

He released my wrists suddenly and gave me a casual open-handed slap
across the side of my head that knocked me down onto the bare floor. I
scrambled to the chair and tried to pick it up to use it as a weapon.
He twisted it out of my hands, put a foot against my chest and shoved
me back so that I rolled toward the door. He put the chair back in
place, went over and sat on the bunk, and lighted a cigarette. I got up
slowly.

He looked at me calmly. "Out of your system?"

"God damn you!"

He looked bored. "Shut up. Sit down. Don't try to be the boy hero,
Howard. I'll mark you up some if that's what you want."

I sat in the chair. My knees were weak and my wrists hurt. He got up
quickly, went to the door and opened it and looked out, closed it and
went back to the bunk. "We'll talk about Timmy Warden, Howard."

"What about Timmy?"

"It's too damn late for games. Information keeps you alive. I did a
lot of listening in that camp. I made a business of it. I know that
Timmy stole sixty thousand bucks from his brother and stashed it away
in jars. I know Timmy told you that. I heard him tell you. So don't
waste our time trying to play dumb about it. I'm here and you're here,
and that's the only way it adds up. I got here first. I got here while
you were still in the hospital. I haven't got the money. If I had it, I
wouldn't still be here. That's obvious. I figured Timmy might have told
you where he hid it. I've been waiting for you. What kept you?"

"I don't know any more about it than you do. I know he hid it, but I
don't know where."

He was silent as he thought it over. "Maybe I won't buy that. I came
here on a long shot. I didn't have much to go on. I wanted to be here
and all set when you came after it. It was a long shot, but one town
is the same as another to me. I can't see you coming here to find the
money and not knowing any more than I do. You're a more conservative
type, Howard. You know something I want to know."

"That's right," I said. "I know exactly where it is. I can go and dig
it up right now. That's why I waited a year before I came here. And
that's why I came here to see you instead of going and digging it up."

"Why come at all?"

I shrugged. "I lost my job. I remembered the money. I thought I'd come
here and look around."

"I've spent a year looking around. I know a hell of a lot more about
Timmy Warden, the way he lived, the way his mind worked, than you'll
ever know. And I can't find it."

"Then I won't be able to either, will I?"

"Then you better take off, Howard. Go back where you came from."

"I think I'll stay around."

He leaned forward. "Then you do have some little clue that I don't
have. Maybe it isn't a very good one."

"I don't know any more than you do. I just have more confidence in
myself than I have in you."

That made him laugh. The laughter stung my pride. It was a ludicrous
thought to him that I could do anything in the world he couldn't do.

"You've wasted better than a year on it. At least I haven't done that,"
I said hotly.

He shrugged. "I have to be somewhere. It might as well be here. What's
wasted about it? I've got a good job. Let's pool everything we know and
can remember, and if we can locate it I'll give you a third."

"No," I said, too quickly.

He sat very still and watched me. "You have something to work on."

"No. I don't."

"You can end up with nothing instead of a third."

"Or all of it instead of a third."

"Finding it and taking it away from here are two different problems."

"I'll take that chance."

He shrugged. "Well, suit yourself. Go and say hello to George. Give him
my regards."

"And Eloise?"

"You won't be able to do that. She took off while we were still behind
the wire. Took off with a salesman, they say."

"Maybe she took the money with her."

"I don't think so."

"But she knew Timmy was hiding it, had hidden a big amount. From what
he said about her, she wouldn't leave without it."

"She did," he said, smiling. "Take my word. She left without it."



TWO


The lumberyard had looked reasonably prosperous. The retail hardware
store was not what I expected. From talks with Timmy I had expected
a big place with five or six clerks and a stock that ranged from
appliances and cocktail trays to deep-well pumps and pipe wrenches.

It was a narrow, dingy store, poorly lighted. There was an air of dust
and defeat about it. It was on a side street off the less prosperous
looking end of Delaware Street. A clerk in a soiled shirt came to help
me. I said I wanted to see Mr. Warden. The clerk pointed back toward a
small office in the rear where through glass I could see a man hunched
over a desk.

He looked up as I walked back to the office. The door was open. I
could see the resemblance to Timmy. But Timmy just before and for a
short time after we were taken, had a look of bouncing vitality, good
spirits. This man looked far older than the six years difference Timmy
had told me about. He was a big man, as Timmy had been. The wide, high
forehead was the same, and the slightly beaked nose and the strong,
square jaw. But George Warden looked as though he had been sick for a
long time. His color was bad. The stubble on the unshaven jaw was gray.
His eyes were vague and troubled, and there was a raw smell of whisky
in the small office.

"Something I can do for you?"

"My name is Tal Howard, Mr. Warden. I was a friend of Timmy's."

"You were a friend of Timmy's." He repeated it in an odd way. Apathetic
and yet somehow cynical.

"I was with him when he died."

"So was Fitz. Sit down, Mr. Howard. Drink?"

I said I would have a drink. He pushed by my chair and went out to a
sink. I heard him rinsing out a glass. He came back and picked a bottle
off the floor in the corner and put a generous drink in each glass.

"Here's to Timmy," he said.

"To Timmy."

"Fitz got out of it. You got out of it. But Timmy didn't make it."

"I almost didn't make it."

"What did he actually die of? Fitz couldn't say."

I shrugged. "It's hard to tell. We didn't have medical care. He lost a
lot of weight and his resistance was down. He had a bad cold. He ran a
fever and his legs got swollen. He began to have trouble breathing. It
hurt him to breathe. A lot of them went like that. Nothing specific.
Just a lot of things. There wasn't much you could do."

He turned the dirty glass around and around. "He should have come back.
He would have known what to do."

"About what?"

"I guess he told you about how we were doing before he left."

"He said you had a pretty good business."

"This store used to be over on Delaware. We moved about six months ago.
Sold the lease. Sold my house too. Still got the yard and this. The
rest of it is gone."

I felt uncomfortable. "Business is bad, I guess."

"It's pretty good for some people. What business are you in?"

"I'm not working right now."

He smiled at me in a mirthless way. "And I suppose you plan on sticking
around awhile."

"I'd thought of it."

"Did Fitz send for you?"

"I don't know what you mean. I didn't know he was here."

"But you talked to him. He phoned me and said you'd probably be in for
a little chat. And that you're an old friend of Timmy's. He's been
working for me for nearly a year. I don't see how I can give you a job.
There just isn't enough coming in. I couldn't swing it."

"I don't want a job, Mr. Warden."

He kept smiling. His eyes were funny. I had the feeling that he was
either very drunk or out of his head. "Maybe something nice out of the
store? We still have some nice things. I could unlock the gun rack for
you. Need a nice over and under, with gold inlay, French walnut stock?
On the house."

"No thanks. I don't understand, Mr. Warden. I knew Timmy and I thought
maybe it would be the right thing to do to just stop in and chat."

"Sure. But you went out to the yard first."

"Yes. I went out there because I put my car in a garage here and I told
the man I'd known Timmy in prison camp. He said there was another man
here who'd been in the same place. Earl Fitzmartin. So I went out there
and saw him. Then I came here. I could have come here first and then
gone out there. I don't know why you think you have to give me a job or
a gun or anything."

He looked at me and then bent over and picked up the bottle again. He
put some in both glasses. "Okay," he said. "So it's just like that. Pay
no attention to me. Hardly anybody does any more. Except Fitz. He's a
good worker. The yard makes a little money. That's a good thing, isn't
it?"

"Yes, I guess it is."

It wasn't anything like the conversation I had expected. He was a
strange man. He seemed defeated and yet amused, as though amused at his
own defeat.

"Timmy talked a lot about Hillston," I said.

"I guess he did. He lived here most of his life."

Though I didn't feel right about it, I took the plunge. "We had a lot
of time to talk. They made us go to lectures and read propaganda and
write reports on what we read, but the rest of the time we talked. I
feel as though I know Hillston pretty well. Even know the girls he used
to go with. Ruth Stamm. Janice Currier. Cindy somebody."

"Sure," he said softly, half smiling. "Ruthie Stamm. And it was Judith
not Janice Currier. Those were two of them. Nice girls. But the last
couple of years before he went away he stopped running around so much.
Stuck closer to the business. Lots of nights he'd work on the books. He
was getting almost too serious to suit me."

"Wasn't there one named Cindy?"

He frowned and thought and shook his head. "No Cindy I know of. Either
of those other two would have made him a good wife. Ruthie is still
around town, still single. Judy got married and moved away. El Paso, I
think. Either one of them would have made him a better wife than the
one I got stuck with. Eloise. He talk about her?"

"He mentioned her a few times."

"She's gone."

"I know. Fitz told me."

"Lovely little Eloise. Two-faced bitch. While you're around, stop in
again any time. We'll have a nice little chat. I'm usually here. Hell,
I used to have a lot of other things to do. Zoning board. Chamber of
Commerce. Rotary. Always on the run. Always busy. Now I have a lot of
time. All the time in the world."

I was dismissed. I walked back through the narrow store to the street
door. The clerk leaned against one of the counters near the front,
picking his teeth with a match. It felt good to get back out into the
sunlight. The cheap liquor had left a bad taste in my mouth. It was too
early to go after the car. I went into the nearest bar I could find and
ordered an ale. It was a dark place, full of brown and violet shadows,
with deer antlers on the wall and some dusty mounted fish. Two elderly
men played checkers at a corner table. The bartender was a dwarf. The
floor was built up behind the bar to bring him up to the right height.

I sipped the ale and thought about Fitz, about my own unexpectedly
violent reaction that had been made ludicrous by his superior strength.
I had not thought that I cared enough. It was a long time since camp.
But he had brought it all back. The time with him had not been pure
fiasco, however. I sensed that I had won a very small victory in the
talk that had followed the one-sided fight. He was not certain of where
I stood, how much I knew. The talk with George had canceled that small
victory. George puzzled me. There was a curious under-current in his
relationship with Fitz, something I could not understand.

Bartenders are good sources of information. I sensed that the little
man was watching me, trying to figure out who I was. I signaled for a
refill. When he brought my glass back from the beer tap I said, "What
do people do for excitement around this town?"

He had a high, thin voice. "Stranger in town, are you? It's pretty
quiet. Saturday night there's things going on here and there. Not much
on a weekday. There's some that drive all the way to Redding. There's
gambling there, but it's crooked. Then it's easier to meet women there
than here. You a salesman?"

I needed a quick answer and I suddenly remembered something that Fitz
had said to give me my gimmick, ready-made, and reasonably plausible.
"I'm working on a book."

He showed a quick interest. "Writer, are you? What's there here to
write about? Historical stuff?"

"No. It's a different kind of a book. I was taken prisoner in Korea.
Some of the boys died there, boys I knew. This book is a sort of
personal history of those boys. You know, the way they lived, what they
did, what they would have come back to if they'd lived. One of them is
from this town. Timmy Warden."

"Hell, did you know Timmy? My God, that was a shame. There was a good
kid."

"I've been talking to his brother, George, just down the street."

The little man clucked and shook his head. "George has just plain gone
to hell the last year or so. He and Timmy had a pretty good setup
too. Couple of good businesses. But then George's wife left him. Then
he got word Timmy was dead. It took the heart out of him, I guess.
He's got about one tenth the business he used to have, and he won't
have that long if he keeps hitting the bottle. Buck Stamm's girl has
been trying to straighten him out, but she's wasting her time. But
that Ruthie is stubborn. I tell you, if Timmy had made it back and if
he'd waited until now, he'd have a long uphill fight. George has been
selling stuff off and piddling away the money he gets. Lives in a room
at White's Hotel. Gets drunk enough to be picked up every now and then.
For a while there they'd just take him home because he used to be an
important man in this town. Now they let him sober up in the can."

One of the old men playing checkers said, "Stump, you talk too damn
much."

"Watch your game," Stump said. "Get some kings. Let smart people talk
in peace, Willy."

He turned back to me and said, "How do you figure on writing up Timmy?"

"Oh, just the way he lived. Where he was born. Interview his
schoolteachers. Talk to the girls he dated."

Stump glanced at the checker players and then hunched himself over the
bar and spoke in a tone so low they couldn't hear him. Stump wore a sly
smirk as he talked. "Now I wouldn't stand back of this, and it isn't
anything you could put in your book, but I heard it from a pretty good
source that before Timmy took off into the army, he and that Eloise
Warden were a little better than just plain friends. Know what I mean?
She was a good-looking piece, and you can hardly blame the kid, if she
was right there asking for it. She was no good, anyway. She took off
with a salesman and nobody's seen or heard from her since."

He backed away and gave me a conspiratorial smile. "Of course, George
wouldn't know anything about it. Like they say, he'd be the last to
know."

"Are there any other relatives in town, beside George?"

"Not a one. Their daddy died six or seven years ago. George got married
right after that. Then the three of them, George, Timmy, and Eloise
stayed right on in the old Warden place. George sold that this year.
Man named Syler bought it. He chopped it up into apartments, I hear."

I talked with him for another half hour, but he didn't have very much
to add. He asked me to stop around again. I liked the atmosphere of his
bar, but I didn't like him. He was a little too eager to prove he knew
everything, particularly the unsavory details.

When I got back to the garage a little after three my car was ready. I
paid for the work. It ran smoothly on the way back to the motel south
of town. Once I was in my room with the door shut I reviewed everything
that had happened. Though I had told my lie about writing up Timmy on
impulse, I couldn't see how it could hurt anything. In fact it might
make things a good deal easier. I decided that I'd better buy some kind
of pocket notebook and write things down so that my story would stand
up a little better.

There was no reason why Timmy and the others like him shouldn't be
written up. I remembered that a magazine had done the same sort of
thing with the progressives who refused repatriation. So why not the
dead. They would be more interesting than the turncoats, who, almost
without exception, fell into two groups. They were either ignorant
and very nearly feeble-minded, or they were neurotic, out-of-balance,
with a lifelong feeling of having been rejected. The dead were more
interesting.

My one abortive attempt to find Cindy had failed. Using the cover story
of writing up Timmy, I should be able to find her. From what Timmy had
said, she was a girl who would know of a special hiding place. And the
money was there.

Unless Eloise had taken it. I was puzzled by Fitz's insistence that she
hadn't taken it.

When I went back into town for dinner I bought a notebook in a
drugstore. At dinner I filled three pages with notes. I could have
filled more. Timmy had talked a lot. There hadn't been much else to do.
I went to a movie, but I couldn't keep my mind on it. The next person
to talk to was Ruth Stamm. I could see her the next morning.

But back in the motel room I took another look at Ruth Stamm. I took
her picture out of the back of my wallet. Tomorrow, Friday, I would see
her for the first time in the flesh. I had looked at this picture a
thousand times. Timmy had showed it to me in camp. I remembered the day
we sat with our backs against a wall in watery sunshine and he took the
picture out and showed it to me.

"That's the one, Tal. I didn't have sense enough to stay with her.
That's the good one, Tal. Ruthie Stamm."

They had taken my papers away from me, including the shots of
Charlotte. I held the picture of Ruthie Stamm, turning it toward the
pale sunshine. It was cracked but none of the cracks touched her face.
It was in color and the colors had faded and changed. She sat on her
heels and scratched the joyous belly of a blond cocker while she
laughed up into the camera eye. She wore yellow shorts and a halter
top, and her laughter was fresh and good and shared.

In some crazy way it became our picture--Timmy's and mine. I took it
off his body after he died and it became mine. It represented an alien
world of sanity and kindness and strength. I looked at it often.

Now I took it out again and lay on the motel bed and looked at it in
the lamplight. And felt a tingle of anticipation. For the first time I
permitted myself to wonder if this pilgrimage to Hillston was in part
due to the picture of a girl I had never seen. And to wonder if this
picture had something to do with the death of love for Charlotte.

I put the picture away. It took a long time to get to sleep. But the
sleep that came was deep and good.



THREE


On Friday morning it was not until I opened the bureau drawer to take
out a clean shirt that I knew somebody had been in the room. I had
stacked the clean shirts neatly in one corner of the big middle drawer.
They were scattered all over the drawer as if stirred by a hasty hand.
I went over all my things and saw more and more evidence of quick,
careless search. There was nothing for anyone to find. I had written
down nothing about the elusive Cindy.

It did not seem probable that the maid or the woman who had rented me
the room had done this. Nor did it seem probable that it had occurred
on the previous day while I was out. I checked the door. I distinctly
remembered locking it. It was unlocked. That meant someone had come in
while I had slept. Fortunately, from long habit, I had put my wallet
inside the pillowcase. My money was safe. Some cool morning air came
through the door, chilling my face and chest, and I realized I was
sweating lightly. I remembered how Fitz could move so quietly at night.
I did not like the thought of his being in the room, being able to
unlock the door. I did not see how it could have been anyone else. I
wondered how he had found the motel so easily. I had given the address
to no one. Yet it could not have taken too long on the phone. Maybe an
hour or an hour and a half to find where I was registered. It would
take patience. But Fitzmartin had waited over a year.

I had breakfast, looked up an address and drove off to see the girl of
the cracked, treasured picture--the girl who, unknown to herself, had
eased great loneliness, and strengthened frail courage.

Dr. Buck Stamm was a veterinary. His home and place of business was
just east of town, a pleasant old frame house with the animal hospital
close by. Dogs made a vast clamor when I drove up. They were in
individual runways beside the kennels. There were horses in a corral
beyond the house.

Dr. Stamm came out into the waiting-room when the bell on the door
rang. He was an enormous man with bushy red hair that was turning gray.
He had a heavy baritone voice and an impressive frown.

"We're not open around here yet unless it's an emergency, young man."

"No emergency. I wanted to see your daughter for a minute."

"What about?"

"It's a personal matter. I was a friend of Timmy Warden."

He did not look pleased. "I guess I can't stop you from seeing her.
She's at the house, wasting time over coffee. Go on up there. Tell her
Al hasn't showed up yet and I need help with the feeding. Tell her
Butch died in the night and she'll have to phone the Bronsons. Got
that?"

"I can remember it."

"And don't keep her too long. I need help down here. Go around to the
back door. She's in the kitchen."

I went across the lawn to the house and up the back steps. It was a
warm morning and the door was open. The screens weren't on yet. The
girl came to the back door. She was medium tall. Her hair was dark red,
a red like you can see in old furniture made of cherry wood, oiled
and polished so the sun glints fire streaks in it. She wore dungarees
and a pale blue blouse. Her eyes were tilted gray, her mouth a bit
heavy and quite wide. She had good golden skin tones instead of the
blotched pasty white of most redheads. Her figure was lovely. She was
twenty-six, or perhaps twenty-seven.

There are many women in the world as attractive as Ruth Stamm. But
the expression they wear for the world betrays them. Their faces are
arrogant, or petulant, or sensuous. That is all right because their
desirability makes up for it, and you know they will be good for a
little time and when you have grown accustomed to the beauty, there
will be just the arrogance or the petulance left.

But Ruth wore her own face for the world--wore an expression of
strength and humility and goodness. Should you become accustomed to her
loveliness, there would still be all that left. This was a for-keeps
girl. She couldn't be any other way because all the usual poses and
artifices were left out of her. This was a girl you could hurt, a girl
who would demand and deserve utter loyalty.

"I guess I'm staring," I said.

She smiled. "You certainly are." She tried to make smile and words
casual, but in those few moments, as it happens so very rarely, a sharp
awareness had been born, an intense and personal curiosity.

I took the picture out of my pocket and handed it to her. She looked
at it and then looked sharply at me, eyes narrowed. "Where did you get
this?"

"Timmy Warden had it."

"Timmy! I didn't know he had this. Were you at--that place?"

"In the camp with him? Yes. Wait a minute. Your father gave me some
messages for you. He says Al hasn't showed up and he needs help with
the feeding. And you're to phone the Bronsons that Butch died during
the night."

Her face showed immediate concern. "That's too bad."

"Who was Butch?"

"A nice big red setter. Some kid in a jalopy hit him, and didn't even
stop. I should phone right away."

"I would like to talk to you when you have more time. Could I take you
to lunch today?"

"What do you want to talk to me about?"

The lie was useful again. "I'm doing a book on the ones who didn't come
back. I thought you might help fill me in on Timmy. He mentioned you
many times."

"We used to go together. I--yes, I'll help all I can. Can you pick me
up at twelve-fifteen here?"

"I'll be glad to. And--may I have the picture back?"

She hesitated and then handed it to me. "The girl in this picture was
eighteen. That's a long time ago--" She frowned. "You didn't tell me
your name yet."

"Howard. Tal Howard."

Our glances met for a few seconds. Again there was that strong
awareness and interest. I believe it startled her as much as it did me.
The figure in the picture was a girl. This was a woman, a fulfillment
of all the promises in the picture--a mature and lovely woman--and we
were shyly awkward with each other. She said good-by and went into
the house. I drove back into town. For a long time I had carried the
picture in the photograph in my mind. Now reality was superimposed
on that faded picture. I had imagined that I had idealized the photo
image, given it qualities it did not possess. Now at last I knew that
the reality was stronger, more persuasive than the dreaming.

I found the old Warden house and chatted for a time with the amiable
Mr. Syler who had purchased it from George Warden. It was a big,
high-shouldered frame house and he had cut it into four apartments. Mr.
Syler needed no encouragement to talk. In fact, it was difficult to
get away from him. He complained of the condition of the inside of the
house when he took it over. "That George Warden lived here alone for a
while and that man must have lived like a darn bear."

In addition he complained about the yard. "When I took it over I didn't
expect much grass. But the whole darn place had been spaded up like
somebody was going to plant every inch of it and then just left it
alone."

That was a clue to some of Fitzmartin's activities. He was a man who
would do a good job of searching. And the isolation of the house behind
high plantings would give him an uninterrupted opportunity to dig.

I drove back out through April warmth and picked up Ruth Stamm at the
time she suggested. She had changed to a white sweater and a dark green
skirt. She seemed more reserved, as if she had begun to doubt the
wisdom of coming along with me. As we got into the car I said, "How
did the Bronsons take it?"

"Very hard. I thought they would. But I talked them into getting
another dog right away. That's the best way. Not the same breed, but a
new pup, young enough to need and demand attention."

"Where should we have lunch? Where we can talk."

"The coffee shop at the Hillston Inn is nice."

I remembered seeing it. I was able to park almost in front. She led
the way back through a bleak lobby and down a half flight of stairs
to the coffee shop. It had big dark oak booths upholstered in red
quilted plastic. They were doing a good business. The girls were brisk,
starched. There was a good smell of steaks and chops.

She accepted the offer of a drink before lunch, and said she'd like an
old-fashioned, so I ordered two of them. There was an exceptionally
fresh clean look about her. She handled herself casually and well.

"How well did you know Timmy?" she asked me.

"Pretty well. In a deal like that you get to know people well. Whatever
they are, it shows. You knew him well, too, I guess."

"We went steady. It started seven years ago. Somehow it seems like
longer than seven years. We were seniors in high school when it
started. He'd been going with a friend of mine. Judy Currier. They
had a sort of spat and they were mad at each other. I was mad at the
boy I'd been going with. When he wanted to take me out I went. And we
went together from then on. When we graduated we both went up to state
college at Redding. He only went two years and then came back to help
George. When he quit, I quit, too. We came back here and everybody
thought we were going to get married." She smiled a small wry smile. "I
guess I did, too. But then things changed. I guess he lost interest. He
worked very hard. We drifted apart."

"Were you in love with him?"

She gave me a slightly startled glance. "I thought I was, of course.
Otherwise we wouldn't have been as close. But--I don't know as I can
explain it. You see, Timmy was very popular in high school. He was a
good athlete, and everybody liked him. He was president of the senior
class. I was popular, too. I was queen of the senior pageant and all
that sort of thing. We both liked to dance and we were good at it. It
was as if people _expected_ us to go together. It seemed right to other
people. And that sort of infected us, I guess. Maybe we fell in love
with the way we looked together, and felt the responsibility of what
other people wanted us to be. We made a good team. Do you understand
that?"

"Of course."

"When it finally ended it didn't hurt as badly as I would have thought
it would. If it hadn't ended, we would have gone on and gotten married
and--I guess it would have been all right." She looked puzzled.

"What kind of a guy was he, Ruth?"

"I told you. Popular and nice and--"

"Underneath."

"I don't want to feel--disloyal or anything."

"Another drink?"

"No. We better order, thanks." After we had given the order, she
frowned beyond me and said, "There was something weak about Timmy.
Things had come too easily. His mind was good and his body was good
and he made friends without trying. He'd never been--tested. I had
the feeling that he thought that things would always be that easy all
his life. That he could always get whatever he wanted. It worried me
because I'd learned the world isn't like that. It was as though nothing
had ever happened to him to make him grow up. And I used to wonder what
would happen when things started to go wrong. I knew he'd either turn
into a man, or he'd start to whine and complain."

"He turned into a man, Ruth."

There was a sudden look of tears in her eyes. "I'm glad to hear that.
I'm very glad to hear that. I wish he'd come back."

"I think you would have seen that I'm right. After he stopped going
with you, who did he go with before he went into the army?"

Her eyes were evasive. "No one."

I lowered my voice. "He told me about Eloise."

Her face became more pale. "So it was true, then. I couldn't be
completely certain. But I suspected it. It made me sick to think that
could be going on. And it was part of the pattern. Everything came so
easily. I don't think he even realized what he was doing to himself and
to George. She was trash. Everybody was sorry and shocked when George
married her."

"Timmy told me about Eloise and he told me he was sorry about it. He
wanted to come back so he could make things right. I guess he knew he
couldn't turn the clock back and make things like they were before, but
he wanted to be able to make amends of some sort."

"I don't think George has ever suspected. But even if he knew now it
couldn't hurt too much. He knows what she is now."

"What was she like?"

"Quite pretty in a sort of full-blown way. A tawny blonde, with a kind
of gypsy-looking face. I don't know where she got those features.
They're not like the other people in her family. She was a year ahead
of me in school at first, and then in the same year, and then a year
behind me. She never did graduate from high school. She was dumb as a
post as far as schoolwork is concerned. But smart in other ways. Very
smart. She was sloppy. You know, soiled collars, bare dirty ankles. She
always soaked herself in perfume. She had a very sexy walk, full hips
and a tiny waist and nice legs. She had a lot of little provocative
mannerisms. Boys used to follow her around like stupid dogs, their
eyes glazed and their tongues out. We used to make fun of her, but we
hated her, and in some funny way we were jealous of her. She did as she
pleased. She always seemed to be mocking everybody. It was a very good
marriage for her, to marry George. Then the three of them were living
in that house. I guess she got bored. Being right there in the house,
once she got bored Timmy had as much chance as--hamburger in a panther
cage. I guess they were careful, but in a place this size people get to
know things. Quite a few people were talking by the time Timmy went
away. I hadn't had a date with Timmy for over two years when he went
away."

"Then Eloise went off with a salesman."

"That was so stupid of her. She had everything she wanted. George
believed in her. The man's name was Fulton. He was a big red-faced man
who drove a gray Studebaker and came to Hillston about once every six
months. Eloise ran off almost--no, it's over two years ago. George had
to be out of town on business. People saw Eloise and Mr. Fulton right
here in this place having dinner one night, bold as can be. They must
have left that night. When George came back they were gone."

"Did he try to trace her?"

"He didn't want to. He was too badly hurt. She'd packed her prettiest
things, and taken the house money and gone without even leaving a note.
I'll bet that some day she's going to come crawling back here."

"Would George take her back?"

"I don't know. I don't know what he'd do. I've been trying to help
George." She blushed. "Dad always teases me about the way I keep
bringing kittens and homeless dogs back to the place. He says my wards
eat up all the profits. It's sort of the same with George. He hasn't
got anyone now. Not a soul. Not anyone in the world. He's drinking all
the time and he's lost most of his business. I do what little I can.
Cook for him sometimes. Get his room cleaned up. Get his clothes in
shape. But I can't seem to make him wake up. He just keeps going down
and down. It makes me sick."

"I saw him at the store. He wasn't in very good shape. He acted
strange."

"The store is doing almost no business at all."

"The lumberyard looks all right. I was out there to talk to Fitzmartin.
He was in the same camp."

"I know. He told me that. I--is he a good friend of yours?"

"No."

"I don't like him, Tal. He's a strange man. I don't know why George
hired him. It's almost as if he had some hold over George. And I have
the feeling he keeps pushing George downhill. I don't know how, or why
he should. He kept bothering me. He kept coming to see me to talk about
Timmy. It seemed very strange."

"What did he want to talk about?"

"It didn't make much sense. He wanted to know where Timmy and I used
to go on picnics when we were in high school. He wanted to know if we
ever went on hikes together. And he acted so sly about it, so sort of
insinuating that the last time he came it made me mad and I told him I
wouldn't talk to him any more. It seemed like such a queer thing for
him to keep doing. He's creepy, you know. His eyes are so strange and
colorless."

"Has he stayed away?"

"Oh yes. I got very positive about it.... He had such an unhealthy
kind of interest in Timmy I wondered if it was the same sort of thing
with you. But if you're going to write about him I can understand your
wanting to know things."

The honesty in her level eyes made me feel ashamed. There was an
awkward pause in our conversation. She fiddled with her coffee spoon
and then, not looking up, said, "Timmy told you about Eloise. Did he
tell you about me?" She was blushing again.

"He mentioned you. He didn't say much. I could make something up to
make you feel better, but I don't want to do that."

She raised her head to look directly at me, still blushing. "This
isn't anything to go in your book. But it's nothing I'm ashamed of.
And maybe you can understand him better, or me better, if I tell you.
We went steady during our senior year here. A lot of the kids, a lot
of our friends, who went steady, taking it for granted that they were
going to get married as soon as they could, they slept together. It
was almost--taken for granted. But Timmy and I didn't. Then we both
went up to Redding. We were both away from home. We were lonely and
in a new environment. It--just happened. It got pretty intense for a
few months, but we began to realize that it wasn't helping anything.
We stopped. Oh, we had a few lapses, accidents. Times it wasn't meant
to happen. But we stopped, and felt very proud of our character and so
on. You know, I sometimes wonder if that is what spoiled things for us.
It's a pretty Victorian attitude to think that way, but you can't help
wondering sometimes."

I felt ill at ease with her. I had never come across this particular
brand of honesty. She had freely given me an uncomfortable truth about
herself, and I felt bound to reciprocate.

I said, too quickly, "I know what you mean. I know what it is to feel
guilty from the man's point of view. When they tapped my shoulder I
had thirty days grace before I had to report. I had a girl. Charlotte.
And a pretty good job. We wondered if we ought to get married before
I left. We didn't. But I took advantage of all the corny melodrama.
Man going to the wars and so on. I twisted it so she believed it was
actually her duty to take full care of the departing warrior. It was a
pretty frantic thirty days. So off I went. Smug about the whole thing.
What soft words hadn't been able to accomplish, the North Koreans had
done. She's a good kid."

"But you're back and you're not married?"

"No. I came back in pretty bad shape. My digestive system isn't back to
par yet. I spent quite a while in an army hospital. I got out and went
back to my job. I couldn't enjoy it. I used to enjoy it. I couldn't do
well at it. And Charlotte seemed like a stranger. At least I had enough
integrity not to go back to bed with her. She was willing, in the hopes
it would cure the mopes. I was listless and restless. I couldn't figure
out what was wrong with me. Finally they got tired of the way I was
goofing off and fired me. So I left. I started this--project. I feel
guilty as hell about Charlotte. She was loyal all the time I was gone.
She thought marriage would be automatic when I got back. She doesn't
understand all this. And neither do I. I only know that I feel guilty
and I still feel restless."

"What is she like, Tal?"

"Charlotte? She's dark-haired. Quite pretty. Very nice eyes. She's a
tiny girl, just over five feet and maybe a hundred pounds sopping wet.
She'd make a good wife. She's quick and clean and capable. She has
pretty good taste, and her daddy has yea bucks stashed."

"Maybe you shouldn't feel guilty."

I frowned at her. "What do you mean, Ruth?"

"You said she seems like a stranger. Maybe she is a stranger, Tal.
Maybe the _you_ who went away would be a stranger to you, too. You said
Timmy changed. You could have changed, too. You could have grown up
in ways you don't realize. Maybe the Charlotte who was ample for that
other Tal Howard just isn't enough of a challenge to this one."

"So I break her heart."

"Maybe better to break her heart this way than marry her and break it
slowly and more thoroughly. I can explain better by talking about Timmy
and me."

"I don't understand."

"When Timmy lost interest the blow was less than I thought it would
be. I didn't know why. Now after all this time I know why. Timmy was
a less complicated person than I am. His interests were narrower. He
lived more on a physical level than I do. Things stir me. I'm more
imaginative than he was. Just as you are more imaginative than he
was. Suppose I'd married him. It would have been fine for a time. But
inevitably I would have begun to feel stifled. Now don't get the idea
that I'm sort of a female long-hair. But I do like books and I do like
good talk and I do like all manner of things. And Timmy, with his
beer and bowling and sports page attitude, wouldn't have been able to
share. So I would have begun to feel like sticking pins in him. Do you
understand?"

"Maybe not. I'm the beer, bowling, and sports page type myself."

She watched me gravely. "Are you, Tal?"

It was an uncomfortable question. I remembered the first few weeks back
with Charlotte when I tried to fit back into the pattern of the life I
had known before. Our friends had seemed vapid, and their conversation
had bored me. Charlotte, with her endless yak about building lots, and
what color draperies, and television epics, and aren't these darling
shoes for only four ninety-five, and what color do you like me best in,
and yellow kitchens always look so cheerful--Charlotte had bored me,
too.

My Charlotte, curled like a kitten against me in the drive-in movie,
wide-eyed and entranced at the monster images on the screen who traded
platitudes, had bored me.

I began to sense where it had started. It had started in the camp.
Boredom was the enemy. And all my traditional defenses against boredom
had withered too rapidly. The improvised game of checkers was but
another form of boredom. I was used to being with a certain type of
man. He had amused and entertained me and I him. But in the camp he
became empty. He with his talk of sexual exploits, boyhood victories,
and Gargantuan drunks, he had made me weary just to listen.

The flight from boredom had stretched my mind. I spent more and
more time in the company of the off-beat characters, the ones who
before capture would have made me feel queer and uncomfortable, the
ones I would have made fun of behind their backs. There was a frail
headquarters type with a mind stuffed full of things I had never
heard of. They seemed like nonsense at first and soon became magical.
There was a corporal, muscled like a Tarzan, who argued with a mighty
ferocity with a young, intense, mustachioed Marine private about the
philosophy and ethics of art, while I sat and listened and felt unknown
doors open in my mind.

Ruth's quiet question gave me the first valid clue to my own
discontent. Could I shrink myself back to my previous dimensions, I
could once again fit into the world of job and Charlotte and blue
draperies and a yellow kitchen and the Saturday night mixed poker game
with our crowd.

If I could not shrink myself, I would never fit there again. And I did
not wish to shrink. I wished to stay what I had become, because many
odd things had become meaningful to me.

"Are you, Tal?" she asked again.

"Maybe not as much as I thought I was."

"You're hunting for something," she said. The strange truth of that
statement jolted me. "You're trying to do a book. That's just an
indication of restlessness. You're hunting for what you should be,
or for what you really are." She grinned suddenly, a wide grin and I
saw that one white tooth was entrancingly crooked. "Dad says I try to
be a world mother. Pay no attention to me. I'm always diagnosing and
prescribing and meddling." She looked at her watch. "Wow! He'll be
stomping and thundering. I've got to go right now."

I paid the check and we went out to the car. On the way back I steered
the conversation to the point where I could say, "And I remember him
talking about a girl named Cindy. Who was she?"

Ruth frowned. "Cindy? I can remember some--No there wasn't any girl
named Cindy in this town, not that Timmy would go out with. I'm sure he
never knew a pretty one. And for Timmy a girl had to be pretty. Are you
certain that's the right name?"

"I'm positive of it."

"But what did he say about her?"

"He just mentioned her casually a few times, but in a way that sounded
as though he knew her pretty well. I can't remember exactly what he
said, but I got the impression he knew her quite well."

"It defeats me," Ruth said. I turned into the driveway and stopped in
front of the animal hospital and got out as she did. We had been at
ease and now we were awkward again. I wanted to find some way of seeing
her again, and I didn't know exactly how to go about it. I hoped her
air of restraint was because she was hoping I would find a way. There
had been too many little signs and hints of a surprising and unexpected
closeness between us. She could not help but be aware of it.

"I want to thank you, Ruth," I said and put my hand out. She put her
hand in mine, warm and firm, and her eyes met mine and slid away and I
thought she flushed a bit. I could not be certain.

"I'm glad to help you, Tal. You could--let me know if you think of more
questions."

The opening was there, but it was too easy. I felt a compulsion to let
her know how I felt. "I'd like to be with you again even if it's not
about the book."

She pulled her hand away gently and faced me squarely, chin up. "I
think I'd like that, too." She grinned again. "See? A complete lack of
traditional female technique."

"I like that. I like it that way."

"We better not start sounding too intense, Tal."

"Intense? I don't know. I carried your picture a long time. It meant
something. Now there's a transition. You mean something."

"Do you say things like that just so you can listen to yourself saying
them?"

"Not this time."

"Call me," she said. She whirled and was gone. Just before she went in
the door I remembered what I meant to ask her. I called to her and she
stopped and I went up to her.

"Who should I talk to next about Timmy?"

She looked slightly disappointed. "Oh, try Mr. Leach. Head of the math
department at the high school. He took quite an interest in Timmy. And
he's a nice guy. Very sweet."

I drove back into town, full of the look of her, full of the impact
of her. It was an impact that made the day, the trees, the city, all
look more vivid. Her face was special and clear in my mind--the wide
mouth, the one crooked tooth, the gray slant of her eyes. Her figure
was good, shoulders just a bit too wide, hips just a shade too narrow
to be classic. Her legs were long, with clean lines. Her flat back and
the inswept lines of her waist were lovely. Her breasts were high and
wide spaced, with a flavor of impertinence, almost arrogance. It was
the coloring of her though that pleased me most. Dark red of the hair,
gray of the eyes, golden skin tones.

It was nearly three when I left her place. I tried to put her out of
my mind and think of the interview with Leach. Leach might be the link
with Cindy.

I must have been a half mile from the Stamm place when I began to
wonder if the Ford coupé behind me was the one I had seen beside Fitz's
shed. I made two turns at random and it stayed behind me. There was
no attempt at the traditional nuances of shadowing someone. He tagged
along, a hundred feet behind me. I pulled over onto the shoulder and
got out. I saw that it was Fitz in the car. He pulled beyond me and got
out, too.

I marched up to him and said, "What the hell was the idea of going
through my room."

He leaned on his car. "You have a nice gentle snore, Howard. Soothing."

"I could tell the police."

"Sure. Tell them all." He squinted in the afternoon sunlight. He looked
lazy and amused.

"What good does it do you to follow me?"

"I don't know yet. Have a nice lunch with Ruthie? She's a nice little
item. All the proper equipment. She didn't go for me at all. Maybe she
likes the more helpless type. Maybe if you work it right you'll get a
chance to take her to--"

He stopped abruptly, and his face changed. He looked beyond me. I
turned just in time to see a dark blue sedan approaching at a high
rate of speed. It sped by us and I caught a glimpse of a heavy balding
man with a hard face behind the wheel, alone in the car. The car had
out-of-state plates but it was gone before I could read the state.

I turned back to Fitz. "There's no point in following me around. I told
you I don't know any more--" I stopped because there was no point in
going on. He looked as though I had become invisible and inaudible. He
brushed by me and got into his car and drove on. I watched it recede
down the road. I got into my own car. The episode made no sense to me.

I shrugged it off my mind and began to think about Leach again.



FOUR


Though the high-school kids had gone, the doors were unlocked and
a janitor, sweeping green compound down the dark-red tiles of the
corridor, told me I could probably find Mr. Leach in his office on the
ground floor of the old building. The two buildings, new and old, were
connected. Fire doors separated the frame building from the steel and
concrete one. My steps echoed in the empty corridor with a metallic
ring. A demure little girl came out of a classroom and closed the door
behind her. She had a heavy armload of books. She looked as shy and
gentle and timid as a puppy in a strange yard. She looked at me quickly
and hurried on down the corridor ahead of me, moccasin soles slapping,
meager horsetail bobbing, shoulders hunched.

I found the right door and tapped on it. A tired voice told me to come
in. Leach was a smallish man with a harsh face, jet eyebrows, a gray
brushcut. He sat at a table marking papers. His desk, behind him, was
stacked with books and more papers.

"Something I can do for you?"

"My name is Tal Howard. I want to talk to you about a student you used
to have."

He shook hands without enthusiasm. "An ex-student who is in trouble?"

"No. It's--"

"I'm refreshed. Not in trouble? Fancy that. The faculty has many
callers. Federal narcotics people. Parole people. Prison officials.
County police. Lawyers. Sometimes it seems that we turn out nothing but
criminals of all dimensions. I interrupted you."

"I don't want to impose on you. I can see how busy you are. I'm
gathering material about Timmy Warden. Ruth Stamm suggested I talk to
you."

He leaned back and rubbed his eyes. "Timmy Warden. Gathering material.
That has the sound of a book. Was he allowed to live long enough to
give you enough material?"

"Timmy and some others. They all died there in the camp. I was there,
too. I almost died, but not quite."

"Sit down. I'm perfectly willing to talk about him. I take it you're
not a professional."

"No, sir."

"Then this, as a labor of love, should be treated with all respect.
Ruth knows as much about Timmy as any person alive, I should say."

"She told me a lot. And I got a lot from Timmy. But I need more. She
said you were interested in him."

"I was. Mr. Howard, you have probably heard of cretins who can
multiply two five digit numbers mentally and give the answer almost
instantaneously."

"Yes, but--"

"I know. I know. Timmy was no cretin. He was a very normal young man.
Almost abnormally normal if you sense what I mean. Yet he had a spark.
Creative mathematics. He could sense the--the rhythm behind numbers.
He devised unique short cuts in the solution of traditional class
problems. He had that rare talent, the ability to grasp intricate
relationships and see them in pure simple form. But there was no drive,
no dedication. Without dedication, Mr. Howard, such ability is merely
facility, an empty cleverness. I hoped to be a mathematician. I teach
mathematics in a high school. Merely because I did not have enough of
what Timmy Warden was born with. I hoped that one day he would acquire
the dedication. But he never had time."

"I guess he didn't."

"Even if he had the time I doubt if he would have gone any further. He
was a very good, decent young man. Everything was too easy for him."

"It wasn't easy at the end."

"I don't imagine it was. Nor easy for hundreds of millions of his
contemporaries anywhere in the world. This is a bad century, Mr.
Howard. Bad for the young. Bad for most of us."

"What do you think would have become of him if he'd lived, Mr. Leach?"

The man shrugged. "Nothing exceptional. Marriage, work, children. And
death. No contribution. His name gone as if it never existed. One of
the faceless ones. Like us, Mr. Howard." He rubbed his eyes again, then
smiled wanly. "I'm not usually so depressing, Mr. Howard. This has been
a bad week. This is one of the weeks that add to my conviction that
something is eating our young. This week the children have seemed more
sullen, dangerous, dispirited, inane, vicious, foolish, and impossible
than usual. This week a young sophomore in one of my classes went
into the hospital with septicemia as the result of a self-inflicted
abortion. And a rather pleasant boy was slashed. And last Monday two
seniors died in a head-on collision while on their way back from
Redding, full of liquor. The man in the other car is not expected to
recover. When Timmy was here in school I was crying doom. But it was
not like it is now. By comparison, those were the good old days, recent
as they are."

"Was Timmy a disciplinary problem?"

"No. He was lazy. Sometimes he created disturbances. On the whole he
was co-operative. I used to hope Ruth would be the one to wake him up.
She's a solid person. Too good for him, perhaps."

"I guess he was pretty popular with the girls."

"Very. As with nearly everything else, things were too easy for him."

"He mentioned some of them in camp. Judy, Ruth, Cindy."

"I couldn't be expected to identify them. If I remember correctly,
I once had eight Judys in one class. Now that name, thank God, is
beginning to die out a little. There have never been too many Cindys.
Yet there has been a small, constant supply."

"I want to have a chance to talk to the girls he mentioned. I've talked
to Ruth. Judy has moved away. I can't remember Cindy's last name. I
wonder if there is any way I could get a look at the list of students
in hopes of identifying her."

"I guess you could," he said. "The administration office will be empty
by now. You could ask them Monday. Let me see. Timmy graduated in
forty-six. I keep old yearbooks here. They're over there on that bottom
shelf. You could take the ones for that year and the next two years
and look them over, there by the window if you like. I have to get on
with these papers. And I really can't tell you much more about Timmy. I
liked him and had hopes for him. But he lacked motivation. That seems
to be the trouble with too many of the children lately. No motivation.
They see no goal worth working for. They no longer have any dreams.
They are content with the manufactured dreams of N.B.C. and Columbia."

I sat by the windows and went through the yearbooks. There was no Cindy
in the yearbook for '46. There was one in the '47 yearbook. I knew when
I saw her picture that she could not be the one. She was a great fat
girl with small, pinched, discontented features, sullen, rebellious
little eyes. There was a Cindy in the '48 yearbook. She had a narrow
face, protruding teeth, weak eyes behind heavy lenses, an expression
of overwhelming stupidity. Yet I marked down their names. It would be
worth a try, I thought.

I went back to the '46 yearbook and went through page after page of
graduates more thoroughly. I came to a girl named Cynthia Cooper. She
was a reasonably attractive snub-nosed blonde. I wondered if Timmy
could possibly have said Cynthy. It would be an awkward nickname for
Cynthia. And even though his voice by that time had been weak and
blurred, I was certain he had said Cindy. He had repeated the name. But
I wrote her down, too.

Ruth Stamm's yearbook picture was not very good. But the promise of
her, the clear hint of what she would become, was there in her face.
Her activities, listed under the picture, made a long list. It was the
same with Timmy. He grinned into the camera.

Mr. Leach looked up at me when I stood near his table. "Any luck?"

"I took down some names. They might help."

I thanked him for his help. He was bent over his papers again before
I got to the door. Odd little guy, with his own strange brand of
dedication and concern. Pompous little man, but with an under-current
of kindness.

I got to the Hillston Inn at a little after five. I got some dimes from
the cashier and went over to where four phone booths stood flanked
against the lobby wall. I looked up the last name of the fat girl,
Cindy Waskowitz. There were two Waskowitzes in the book. John W. and P.
C. I tried John first. A woman with a nasal voice answered the phone.

"I'm trying to locate a girl named Cindy Waskowitz who graduated from
Hillston High in nineteen forty-seven. Is this her home?"

"Hold it a minute," the woman said. I could hear her talking to someone
else in the room. I couldn't make out what she was saying. She came
back on the line. "You want to know about Cindy."

"That's right. Please."

"This wasn't her home. But I can tell you about her. I'm her aunt. You
want to know about her?"

"Please."

"It was the glands. I couldn't remember the word. My daughter just
told me. The glands. When she got out from high school she weighed
two hundred. From there she went up like balloons. Two hundred, two
fifty, three hundred. When she died in the hospital she was nearly four
hundred. She'd been over four hundred once, just before she went in the
hospital. Glands, it was."

I remembered the rebellious eyes. Girl trapped inside the prison of
white, soft flesh. A dancing girl, a lithe, quick-moving girl forever
lost inside that slow inevitable encroachment. Stilled finally, and
buried inside her suet prison.

"Is your daughter about the same age Cindy would have been?"

"A year older. She's married and three kids already." The woman
chuckled warmly.

"Could I talk to your daughter?"

"Sure. Just a minute."

The daughter's voice was colder, edged with thin suspicion. "What goes
on anyhow? Why do you want to know about Cindy?"

"I was wondering if she was ever friendly in high school with a boy
named Timmy Warden."

"Timmy is dead. It was in the papers."

"I know that. Were they friendly?"

"Timmy and Cindy? Geez, that's a tasty combination. He would have known
who she was on account of her being such a tub. But I don't think he
ever spoke to her. Why should he? He had all the glamour items hanging
around his neck. Why are you asking all this?"

"I was in the camp with him. Before he died he gave me a message to
deliver to a girl named Cindy. I wondered if Cindy was the one."

"Not a chance. Sorry. You just got the wrong one."

"Was there another Cindy in the class?"

"In one of the lower classes. A funny-looking one. That's the only
one I can remember. All teeth. Glasses. A sandy sort of girl. I can't
remember her last name, though."

"Cindy Kirschner?"

"That's the name. Gosh, I don't know where you'd find her. I think I
saw her downtown once a year ago. Maybe it's in the book. But I don't
think she'd fit any better than my cousin. I mean Timmy Warden ran
around with his own group, kind of. Big shots in the school. That
Kirschner wasn't in that class, any more than my cousin. Or me."

The bitterness was implicit in her tone. I thanked her again. She hung
up.

I tried Kirschner. There was only one in the book. Ralph J. A woman
answered the phone.

"I'm trying to locate a Cindy Kirschner who graduated from Hillston
High in nineteen forty-eight."

"That's my daughter. Who is this calling, please?"

"Could you tell me how I could locate her?"

"She married, but she doesn't have a phone. They have to use the one
at the corner store. She doesn't like to have people call her there
because it's a nuisance to the people at the store. And she has small
children she doesn't like to leave to go down there and answer the
phone. If you want to see her, you could go out there. It's sixteen
ten Blackman Street. It's near the corner of Butternut. A little blue
house. Her name is Mrs. Rorick now. Mrs. Pat Rorick. What did you say
your name is?"

I repeated the directions and said, "Thanks very much, Mrs. Kirschner.
I appreciate your help. Good-by."

I hung up. I was tempted to try Cynthia Cooper, but decided I had
better take one at a time, eliminate one before starting the next. I
stepped out of the booth. Earl Fitzmartin stepped out of the adjoining
booth. He smiled at me almost genially.

"So it's got something to do with somebody named Cindy."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"'I was in camp with Timmy. Before he died he gave me a message to
deliver to a girl named Cindy.' So you try two Cindy's in a row. And
you know when they graduated. Busy, aren't you?"

"Go to hell, Fitz."

He stood with his big hard fists on his hips, rocking back and forth
from heel to toe, smiling placidly at me. "You're busy, Tal. Nice
little lunch with Ruth. Trip to the high school. Tracking down Cindy.
Does she know where the loot is?"

He was wearing a dark suit, well cut. It looked expensive. His shoes
were shined, his shirt crisp. I wished I'd been more alert. It's no
great trick to stand in one phone booth and listen to the conversation
in the adjoining one. I hadn't even thought of secrecy, of making
certain I couldn't be overheard. Now he had almost as much as I did.

"How did you get along with George, Howard?"

"I got along fine."

"Strange guy, isn't he?"

"He's a little odd."

"And he's damn near broke. That's a shame, isn't it?"

"It's too bad."

"The Stamm girl comes around and holds his hand. Maybe it makes him
feel better. Poor guy. You know he even had to sell the cabin. Did
Timmy ever talk about the cabin?"

He had talked about it when we were first imprisoned. I'd forgotten
about it until that moment. I remembered Timmy saying that it was on a
small lake, a rustic cabin their father had built. He and George had
gone there to fish, many times.

"He mentioned it," I said.

"I heard about it after I got here. It seemed like a good place. So I
went up there with my little shovel. No dice, Tal. I dug up most of the
lake shore. I dug a hundred holes. See how nice I am to you? That's one
more place where it isn't. Later on George let me use it for a while
before he sold it. It's nice up there. You'd like it. But it's clean."

"Thanks for the information."

"I'm keeping an eye on you, Tal. I'm interested in your progress. I'll
keep in touch."

"You do that."

"Blackman runs east off Delaware. It starts three blocks north of here.
Butternut must be about fourteen blocks over. It's not hard to find."

"Thanks."

I turned on my heel and left him. It was dusk when I headed out
Blackman. I found Butternut without difficulty. I found the blue house
and parked in front.

As I went up the walk toward the front door the first light went on
inside the house. I pushed the bell and she opened the door and looked
out at me, the light behind her, child in her arms.

"Mrs. Rorick?"

"I'm Mrs. Rorick," she said. Her voice was soft and warm and pleasant.

"You were Cindy Kirschner then. I was a friend of Timmy Warden in
prison camp."

She hesitated for a moment and then said, "Won't you come in a minute."

When I was inside and she had turned toward the light I could see her
better. The teeth had been fixed. Her face was fuller. She was still
a colorless woman with heavy glasses, but now there was a pride about
her, a confidence that had been lacking in the picture I had seen.
Another child sat on a small tricycle and gave me a wide-eyed stare.
Both children looked very much like her. Mrs. Rorick did not ask me to
sit down.

"How well did you know Timmy, Mrs. Rorick?"

"I don't think he ever knew I was alive."

"In camp, before he died, he mentioned a Cindy. Could you have been the
one?"

"I certainly doubt that."

It confused me. I said, "When I mentioned him you asked me to come in.
I thought--"

She smiled. "I guess I'll have to tell you. I had the most fantastic
and awful crush on him. For years and years. It was pathetic. Whenever
we were in the same class I used to stare at him all the time. I wrote
letters to him and tore them up. I sent him unsigned cards at Easter
and Valentine Day and Christmas and on his birthday. I knew when his
birthday was because once a girl I knew went to a party at his house.
It was really awful. It gave me a lot of miserable years. Now it seems
funny. But it wasn't funny then. It started in the sixth or seventh
grade. He was two grades ahead. It lasted until he graduated from high
school. He had a red knit cap he wore in winter. I stole it from the
cloakroom. I slept with it under my pillow for months and months. Isn't
that ridiculous?"

She was very pleasant. I smiled back at her. "You got over it."

"Oh, yes. At last. And then I met Pat. I'm sorry about Timmy. That was
a terrible thing. No, if he mentioned any Cindy it wasn't me. Maybe he
would know me by sight. But I don't think he'd know my name."

"Could he have meant some other Cindy?"

"It would have to be some other Cindy. But I can't think who. There
was a girl named Cindy Waskowitz but it couldn't have been her, either.
She's dead now."

"Can you think of who it could be?"

She frowned and shook her head slowly. "N--No, I can't. There's
something in the back of my mind, though. From a long time ago.
Something I heard, or saw. I don't know. I shouldn't even try to guess.
It's so vague. No, I can't help you."

"But the name Cindy means something?"

"For a moment I thought it did. It's gone now. I'm sorry."

"If you remember, could you get in touch with me?"

She smiled broadly. "You haven't told me who you are."

"I'm sorry. My name is Howard. Tal Howard. I'm staying at the Sunset
Motel. You could leave a message there for me."

"Why are you so interested in finding this Cindy?"

I could at least be consistent. "I'm writing a book. I need all the
information about Timmy that I can get."

"Put in the book that he was kind. Put that in."

"In what way, Mrs. Rorick?"

She shifted uneasily. "I used to have dreadful buck teeth. My people
could never afford to have them fixed. One day--that's when I was in
John L. Davis School, that's the grade school where Timmy went, too,
and it was before they built the junior high, I was in the sixth grade
and Timmy was in the eighth. A boy came with some funny teeth that
stuck way out like mine. He put them in his mouth in assembly and he
was making faces at me. I was trying not to cry. A lot of them were
laughing. Timmy took the teeth away from the boy and dropped them on
the floor and smashed them under his heel. I never forgot that. I
started working while I was in high school and saving money. I had
enough after I was out to go to get my teeth straightened. But it was
too late to straighten them then. So I had them taken out. I wanted
marriage and I wanted children, and the way I was no man would even
take me out." She straightened her shoulders a little. "I guess it
worked," she said.

"I guess it did."

"So put that in the book. It belongs in the book."

"I will."

"And if I can remember that other, I'll phone you, Mr. Howard."

I thanked her and left. I drove back toward the center of town. I began
to think of Fitz again. Ruth was right when she used the word creepy.
But it was more than that. You sensed that Fitz was a man who would
not be restrained by the things that restrain the rest of us. He had
proved in the camp that he didn't give a damn what people thought of
him. He depended on himself to an almost psychopathic extent. It made
you feel helpless in trying to deal with him. You could think of no
appeal that would work. He couldn't be scared or reasoned with. He was
as primitive and functional as the design of an ax. He could not even
be anticipated, because his logic was not of normal pattern. And then,
too, there was the startling physical strength.

In camp I had seen several minor exhibitions of that power, but only
one that showed the true extent of it. Those of us who saw it talked
about it a long time. The guards who saw it treated Fitz with uneasy
respect after that. One of the supply trucks became mired inside the
compound, rear duals down to the hubs. They broke a towline trying to
snake it out. Then they rounded up a bunch of us to unload the supply
truck. The cases aboard had obviously been loaded on with a winch. We
got all the stuff off except one big wooden packing case. We never did
learn what was in it. We only knew it was heavy. We were trying to get
a crude dolly under it, but when we tilted it, we couldn't get the
dolly far enough back. Every guard was yelling incomprehensible orders.
I imagine Fitz lost patience. He jumped up into the bed of the truck,
put his back against the case, squatted and got his fingers under
the edge. Then he came up with it, his face a mask of effort, cords
standing out on his throat. He lifted it high enough so the dolly could
be put under it. He lowered it again and jumped down off the truck,
oddly pale and perspiring heavily.

Once it was rolled to the tail gate on the dolly, enough men could
get hold of it to ease it down. When it was on the ground one of the
biggest of the guards swaggered up, grinning at his friends, and tried
to do what Fitz had done. He couldn't budge it. He and one of his
friends got it up a few inches, but not as high as Fitz had. They were
humiliated and they took it out on the rest of us, but not on Fitz. He
was left alone.

Back in town I decided I would have a drink at the Inn and a solitary
meal and try to think of what the next step should be. I was picked up
in front of the Inn, ten steps from my car.



FIVE


There were two of them. One was a thin, sandy man in uniform and the
other was a massive middle-aged man in a gray suit with a pouched,
florid face.

"Your name Howard?"

"Yes, it is."

"Police. Come on along."

"What for?"

"Lieutenant wants to talk to you."

I went along. They put me in a police sedan and drove about eight
blocks and turned into an enclosed courtyard through a gray stone arch.
Other cars were parked there. They took me through a door that was one
of several opening onto the courtyard. We went up wide wooden stairs
that were badly worn to the second floor. It was an old building with
an institutional smell of dust, carbolic, and urine. We went by open
doors. One door opened onto a big file room with fluorescent lights and
gray steel filing cases. Some men played cards in another room. I could
hear the metallic gabbling voice of some sort of communication system.

We turned into a small office where a thin, bald man sat behind a
desk that faced the door. His face was young, with a swarthy Indian
harshness about it, black brows. His hands were large. He looked tall.
A small wooden sign on his desk said _Det. Lt. Stephen D. Prine_. The
office had cracked buff plaster walls. Books and pamphlets were piled
in disorder in a glass-front bookcase. A smallish man with white hair
and a red whisky face sat half behind Lieutenant Prine, on the small
gilded radiator in front of the single window.

One of the men behind me gave me an unnecessary push that made me thump
my knee against the front of the desk and almost lose my balance. Prine
looked at me with complete coldness.

"This is that Howard," one of the men behind me said.

"Okay." The door behind me closed. I glanced back and saw that the
man in uniform had left. The big man in the gray suit leaned against
the closed door. "Empty your pockets onto the desk," Prine said.
"Everything."

"But--"

"Empty your pockets." There was no threat in the words. Cold, bored
command.

I put everything on the desk. Wallet, change, pen and pencil, notebook,
cigarettes, lighter, penknife, folder of traveler's checks. Prine
reached a big hand over and separated the items into two piles,
notebook, wallet, and checks in one pile that he pulled toward him.

"Put the rest of that stuff back in your pockets."

"Could I ask why--"

"Shut up."

I stood in uncomfortable silence while he went through my wallet. He
looked carefully at every card and piece of paper, at the photograph
of Charlotte, at the reduced Photostat of my discharge laminated in
plastic. He went through the notebook and then examined the traveler's
checks.

"Now answer some questions." He opened a desk drawer, flipped a switch,
and said, "April 20, seven-ten p.m., interrogation by Lieutenant Prine
of suspect picked up by Hillis and Brubaker in vicinity of Hillston
Inn. What is your full name?"

"Talbert Owen Howard."

"Speak a little louder. Age and place of birth."

"Twenty-nine. Bakersfield, California."

"Home address."

"None at the present time."

"What was your last address?"

"Eighteen Norwalk Road, San Diego."

"Are you employed?"

"No."

"When were you last employed and by who?"

"Up until two and a half weeks ago. By the Guaranty Federated Insurance
Company. I had a debit. Health and life. I was fired."

"For what reason?"

"I wasn't producing."

"How long did you work for them?"

"Four years all together. Three and a half before the Korean war. The
rest of it since I got back."

"Are you married? Have you ever been married?"

"No."

"Parents living?"

"No."

"Brothers or sisters?"

"One sister. Older than I am. She lives in Perth, Australia. She was a
Wave and she married an Aussie during the war."

"Do you have any criminal record?"

"N--No."

"You don't seem sure."

"I don't know if you'd call it a criminal record. It was when I was in
school. One of those student riots. Disturbing the peace and resisting
an officer."

"Were you booked and mugged and fingerprinted and found guilty?"

"Yes. I paid a fine and spent three days in jail."

"Then you have a criminal record. How long have you been in Hillston?"

"I arrived here--Wednesday night. Two days."

"What is your local address?"

"The Sunset Motel."

"On this vehicle registration, do you own the vehicle free and clear?"

"Yes."

"You have a little over a thousand dollars. Where did you get it?"

"I earned it. I saved it. I'm getting a little sick of all this. It's
beginning to make me sore."

"Why did you come to Hillston?"

"Do I have to have a reason?"

"Yes. You need a reason."

"I knew Timmy Warden in prison camp. And I knew others there that
didn't come back. I'm going to write a book about them. There's my
notes. You have them there."

"Why didn't you tell George Warden that?"

"I didn't know how he'd take it."

"You didn't tell Fitzmartin, either?"

"He has no reason to know my business."

"But you went out there to see him. And you were both in the same camp
with Timmy Warden. It would seem natural to tell him."

"I don't care how it seems. I didn't tell him."

"If a man came to town with a cooked-up story about writing a book, it
would give him a chance to nose around, wouldn't it?"

"I guess it would."

"What else have you written?"

"Nothing else."

"Are you familiar with the state laws and local ordinances covering
private investigators?"

I stared at him blankly. "No."

"Are you licensed in any state?"

"No. I don't know what--"

"If you were licensed, it would be necessary for you to find out
whether this state has any reciprocal agreement. If so, you would
merely have to make a courtesy call and announce your presence in this
county and give the name of your employer."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Do you know a woman named Rose Fulton?"

"No. I've never heard of her."

"Were you employed by Rose Fulton to come to Hillston?"

"No. I told you I never heard of her."

"We were advised a month ago that Rose Fulton had hired an investigator
to come here on an undercover assignment. We've been looking for the
man. He would be the third one she's sent here. The first two made a
botch of their job. There was no job here for them in the first place.
Rose Fulton is a persistent and misguided woman. The case, if there was
any case, was completely investigated by this department. Part of our
job is to keep citizens of Hillston from being annoyed and persecuted
by people who have no business here. Is that clear to you?"

"I don't understand what you're talking about. I really don't."

He looked at me for what seemed a long time. Then he said, "End of
interrogation witnessed by Brubaker and Sparkman. Copies for file.
Prine." He clicked the switch and closed the desk drawer. He leaned
back in his chair and yawned, then pushed my wallet, checks, and
notebook toward me. "It's just this, Howard. We get damned tired of
characters nosing around here. The implication is that we didn't do our
job. The hell we didn't. This Rose Fulton is the wife of the guy who
ran off with George Warden's wife, Eloise."

"That name Fulton sounded familiar, but I didn't know why."

"It happened nearly two years ago. The first inquiry came from the
company Fulton worked for. We did some hard work on it. Fulton was in
town for three days. He was registered at the Hillston Inn. He stayed
there every time he was in town. On the last night he was here, Friday
night, he had dinner at the hotel with Eloise Warden. She waited in
the lobby and he checked out. They got in his car. They drove to the
Warden house. Eloise went in. Fulton waited out in the car. It was the
evening of the eleventh of April. A neighbor saw him waiting and saw
her come out to the car with a big suitcase. They drove off. George
Warden hadn't reported it to us. He knew what the score was when he got
back to town and saw the things she'd taken. It was an open and shut
situation. It happens all the time. But Rose Fulton can't bring herself
to believe that her dear husband would take off with another woman. So
she keeps sicking these investigators on us. You could be the third. I
don't think so. No proof. Just a hunch. She thinks something happened
to him here. We know nothing happened to him here. I've lost patience,
so this time we're making it tough. You can go. If I happen to be
wrong, if you happen to be hired by that crazy dame, you better keep
right on going, friend. We've got a small force here, but we know our
business."

The big middle-aged man moved away from the door to let me out. There
was no offer of a ride back to where they had picked me up. I walked.
The walk wasn't long enough. By the time I got to the Inn I was still
sore at Prine and company. I could grudgingly admit that maybe he
thought he had cause to swing his weight around. But I didn't like
being picked up like that. And it had irritated me to have to tell them
I had no job, no permanent residence. I wasn't certain what legal right
they had to take that sort of a statement from me.

I had a drink at the dark bar at the end of the cocktail lounge at the
Inn. Business was light. I nursed my drink and wondered how they had
picked me up so quickly. I guessed it was from the motel register. I'd
had to write down the make of my car and the license number. They'd
known who I'd talked to and what had been said. It was a small city and
they acted like men who made a business of knowing what was going on.

Just as I ordered the second drink I saw a big man come in and stand at
the other end of the bar. He looked like the man I had seen in the blue
sedan. But I couldn't be certain. I had forgotten him and the effect
he had had on Fitzmartin. He became aware of my interest. He turned
and gave me a long look and turned back to the drink the bartender put
in front of him. He had moved his head slowly when he turned to look
at me. His eyes were in shadow. I had a sudden instinctive premonition
of danger. Fitz was danger, but a known quantity. I did not know this
man or where he fitted in. I did not want to attempt to ask him. He
finished his drink quickly and left. I looked down into my drink and
saw myself lying dead, sprawled, cold. It was a fantasy that had been
with me in the prison camp and later. You think of your own death. You
try to imagine how it will be--to just cease, abruptly, eternally. It
is a chilling thought, and once you have started it, it is difficult to
shake off.

The depression stayed with me the rest of the evening. Thoughts of
Ruth, of the new emphasis she had brought into my life, did little to
relieve the blackness and the hint of fear. My mission in Hillston
seemed pointless. It was part of running away from myself. There was no
chance of finding the money and even if there was and I did find it, I
couldn't imagine it changing anything. Somehow I had become a misfit
in my world, in my time. I had been jolted out of one comfortable rut,
and there seemed to be no other place where I could fit. Other than
Charlotte--and, too optimistically, Ruth--I could think of no one who
gave a special damn whether I lived or died.

After the light was out I lay in darkness and surrendered myself to
the great waves of bathos and self-pity. I wondered what would become
of me. I wondered how soon I would be dead. I wondered how many other
lonely beds there would be, and where they would be. Finally I fell
asleep.



SIX


Saturday morning was dreary, with damp winds, low, scudding clouds,
lights on in the stores. I couldn't get a better line on the Cooper
girl until the administration office at the high school opened on
Monday. The few leads had faded away into nothing. I wondered what I
would do with the day.

After buying some blades and some tooth paste, I drove around for
a while and finally faced the fact that I was trying to think of a
good excuse to see Ruth Stamm. I went without an excuse. She was in
the reception office at the animal hospital. She gave me a quick,
warm smile as I walked in. A woman sat holding a small shivering dog,
waiting her turn. There was a boy with a Siamese cat on a leash. The
cat, dainty and arrogant, purposefully ignored the shivering dog.

Ruth, smiling, asked in a low voice, "More questions?"

"No questions. Just general depression."

"Wrong kind of hospital, Tal."

"But the right kind of personnel."

"Need some kind of therapy?"

"Something like that."

She looked at her watch. "Come back at twelve. We close at noon on
Saturday. I'll feed you and we'll cook up something to do."

The day was not as dreary when I drove away. I returned at twelve.
I went up to the house with her, and the three of us ate in the big
kitchen. Dr. Buck Stamm was a skilled storyteller. Apparently every
misfortune that could happen to a veterinary had happened to him. He
reviled his profession, and his own stupidity in getting into it in the
first place. After a cigar he went off to make farm calls. I helped
Ruth with a few dishes.

"How about a plain old tour of the surrounding country," she suggested.
"There are parts that are very nice."

"Then dinner tonight and a movie or something?"

"Sold. It's Saturday night."

She changed to slacks and a tweed jacket over a yellow sweater and we
took my car. She gave me the directions. We took small back roads. It
was pretty country, with rolling hills and spines of rock that stuck
out of the hills. In the city the day had been gloomy. Out in the
country it was no better, but the breeze seemed moist with spring. The
new leaves were a pale green. She sat slouched in the seat with one
knee up against the glove compartment and pointed out the farms, told
me about the people, told me about the history of the area.

At her suggestion I took a back road that led to a place called
Highland Lake. She told me when to slow down. When we came to a dirt
road we turned right. A mile down the slippery, muddy road was a sign
that said _B. Stamm_. I went cautiously down an overgrown drive through
the woods until we came to a small cabin with a big porch overlooking
a small lake less than a mile long and half as wide. I could see other
cabins in the trees along the lake shore.

We went onto the cabin porch and sat on the railing and smoked and
talked and watched the quick winds furrow the lake surface.

"We don't get up here as much as we used to when Mother was alive. Dad
talks about selling it, but I don't think he will. He hunts up here in
the fall. It's only eighteen miles from town, the shortest way. It's
pretty primitive, but you know, Tal, this would be a good place to
write."

I felt again a quick, sharp pang of guilt.

Her enthusiasm grew. "Nobody is using it. There's no electricity, but
there are oil lamps and a Coleman lantern. There's plenty of wood
in the shed, and one of those little gasoline stoves. The bunks are
comfortable and there's lots of blankets. It would save paying rent. I
know Dad wouldn't mind a bit."

"Thanks, Ruth, but really I couldn't--"

"Why not? It's only a half hour to town."

"I don't think I'll be here long enough to make it worth while moving
in."

"Well, then," she said, "okay." And I thought I detected some
disappointment in her tone. "I'd like you to see it, anyhow." The key
was hidden on one of the roof supports near the door. We went inside.
It was bare, but it looked clean and comfortable. There were fish rods
on a wall rack, and a big stone fireplace.

"It's nice," I said.

"I've always loved it. I'd make a wild row if Dad ever tried to sell
it. The first time I came up here they had to bring play pen and high
chair. I learned to swim here. I broke my collarbone falling out of one
of those top bunks in there."

She smiled at me. We were standing quite close together. There was
something both warm and wistful about her smile. There was a long
silence in the room. I could hear birds and a far-off drone of an
outboard motor. Our eyes locked once more and her smile faded as her
mouth softened. There was a heaviness about her eyes, a look almost of
drowsiness. We took a half step toward each other and she came neatly,
graciously into my arms as though it were an act we had performed many
times. The kiss was gentle at first and then fierce and hungry; as she
strained upward against me my hands felt the long smoothness of her
back, and her arm was crooked hard around my neck.

We wavered in dizzy balance and I side-stepped quickly to catch our
balance and we parted awkwardly, shy as children.

"Tal," she said. "Tal, I--" Her voice was throaty and unfocused.

"I know," I said. "I know."

She turned away abruptly and walked slowly to the window and looked
out across the lake. I followed her and put my hands lightly on her
shoulders. I felt shamed by all this, shamed by my lies, and afraid of
what would happen when she found out about me.

I felt new tension in her body and she leaned closer to the window and
seemed to peer more intently.

"What's the matter?"

"Look. Isn't that some kind of animal over there? Directly across. That
was the Warden camp before George sold it. The one with the green roof.
Now look just to the right of the porch." I looked and saw something
bulky, partially screened by brush. It looked as if it could be a bear.
She brushed by me and came back with a pair of binoculars. She focused
them and said, "It's a man. Here. You look."

I adjusted them to my eyes. The man was getting to his feet. He was a
big man in a brown suit. He was hatless and his hair was thin on top
and he had a wide, hard-looking face. It was the man who had driven by
Fitz and me in the blue sedan, the man who had come into the bar at
the Inn. He brushed the knees of his brown suit and dusted his hands
together. He bent over and picked up what looked to be a long dowel or
a piece of reinforcing rod.

"Let me look," she said and took the binoculars again. "I know the
people who bought the camp from George. That isn't the man."

"Maybe he's a service man of some kind."

"I don't think so. I know most of them. Now he's going up on the porch.
He's trying the door. Hey! He broke a window right next to the door.
Now he's getting it up. Now he's stepping in over the sill." She turned
to me, her eyes wide. "How about that? Tal, he's a thief! We better go
over there."

"Anything you say. But how about the law?"

"Wait a minute." She hurried into the bedroom. She came back with a .22
target pistol and a box of shells. It was a long-barreled automatic.
She thumbed the clip out and loaded it expertly, snapped the clip back
in and handed me the gun. "You'll be more impressive with it than I
would. Come on."

There was no road that led directly around the lake. We had to go about
four miles out of our way to get to the road on the other side of the
lake. A dark blue sedan was parked at the head of the driveway, facing
out. There wasn't room to drive by. I parked and we went down the
trail toward the camp. I turned and motioned her to stay back. I went
ahead but I heard her right behind me. The man came walking around the
corner of the camp, frowning. He stopped short when he saw me, his eyes
flicking toward the gun and then toward Ruth.

"Why did you break into that camp?" Ruth demanded angrily.

"Take it easy, lady. Put the gun away, friend."

"Answer the question," I said, keeping the gun on him.

He acted so unimpressed that I felt ridiculous holding the gun.

"I'm a licensed private investigator, friend. Don't put any hole in me
while I'm getting my wallet. I'll show you."

He took the wallet out. He took out a card encased in plastic and
nipped it toward us. Ruth picked it up. It had his picture and a thumb
print and two official looking countersignatures and it said he was
licensed by the State of Illinois. His name was Milton D. Grassman. The
card said he was forty-one years old, six foot one, and weighed two
hundred and five.

"But what are you investigating?" Ruth asked.

He smiled. "Just investigating. And who are you, lady? Maybe you're
trespassing." His smile was half good humor, half contempt.

"You're working for Rose Fulton, aren't you?" I asked.

The smile was gone instantly. He didn't seem to move or breathe. I had
the impression that a very good mind behind that flat, tough face was
working rapidly.

"I'm afraid I don't know the name," he said. But he had waited too
long. "Who are you, friend?"

"We're going to report this to the police," Ruth said.

"Go ahead, lady. Be a good citizen. Give them the word."

"Come on, Tal," she said. We went back up the trail. When we got into
the car I looked back and saw him standing by his car, watching us.
He didn't take his eyes off us while he lit a cigarette and shook the
match out.

Ruth was oddly silent as I drove back toward the Stamm camp. Finally I
said, "What's the matter?"

"I don't know. At first I thought you lied to me. Then I believed you.
Now I don't know."

"How come?"

"You know what I'm thinking. You asked him about a Rose Fulton. It
shocked him when you asked him that. Anybody could see that. Eloise
Warden ran away with a man named Fulton. What would make you think to
ask that Mr. Grassman that question?" She turned to face me. "What are
you doing in Hillston, Tal? If that's your name."

"I told you what I'm doing."

"Why did you ask that man that question?"

"The police picked me up last night. They had word that Rose Fulton had
hired another man to come here. This will be the third. They thought
I was that man. They interrogated me and then they let me go. So I
guessed that maybe he was the man."

We got out of the car. She was still looking at me oddly. "Tal, if
you're here to write up Timmy, I think you would have told me that
before now. It's a cute and interesting little story if you were
here just to write up Timmy. And I can't believe that you could have
forgotten it."

"I just didn't--think of telling it."

"That's no good, Tal."

"I know it isn't."

"What's wrong? Is it something you can't tell me?"

"Look, Ruth. I--There is another reason why I came. I lied to you. I
don't want to tell you why I came here. I'd rather not."

"But it has something to do with Timmy."

"That's right."

"He is dead, isn't he?"

"He's dead."

"But how can I know when you're lying and when you're not?"

"I guess you can't," I said helplessly.

She locked the camp and, on the way back, told me which turns to take.
She had nothing else to say. I drove into her place. She opened the
door quickly to get out.

"Wait a minute, Ruth."

Her right foot was on the ground. She sat on the corner of the seat and
turned and looked back at me. "Yes?"

"I'm sorry about this."

"You've made me feel like a fool. I talked a lot to you. I believed you
and so I told you things I've never told anybody. Just to help you when
you had no intention of writing up Timmy."

"I tell you, I'm sorry."

"That doesn't do very much good. But I'll give you this much benefit of
the doubt, Tal. Look right at me and tell me that you have no reason to
be ashamed of why you came here."

I looked into the gray eyes and, like Grassman, I hesitated too long.
She slammed the car door and went to the house without looking back.
Saturday night was no longer a nice thing to think about. Somehow,
through impulsiveness and through awkwardness, I had trapped myself. I
felt as if I had lost a great deal more than a Saturday night date. She
was not a girl you could lie to. She was not a girl you would want to
lie to. My little cover story now seemed soiled and dingy. I drove into
town. I started my drinking at the Hillston Inn.

Before I left the Inn I cashed two traveler's checks. I hit a great
many bars. It was Saturday night. The city seemed alive. I can remember
seeing the dwarf bartender. There was a woman I bought drinks for. At
one time I was in a men's room and four of us were singing. The door
was locked and somebody was pounding on it. We were making fine music.
I was sick in a hedge and I couldn't find my car. I wandered a long
time before I found it. I don't know what time it was. It was late.
I had to keep one eye closed as I drove cautiously out to the motel.
Otherwise the center line was double.

I parked the car in front of my motel room and went, unwashed, to bed.
Sunday was a replica, a sodden day in town, a drunken day.

It was eleven when I got up on Monday morning. A half dozen glasses of
water made me feel bloated but didn't quench my thirst. My head pounded
in a dull, ragged rhythm. I shaved slowly, painfully. The shower made
me feel a little better. I decided that it was time to go. Time to
leave this place. I didn't know where I would head for. Any place. Any
kind of a job. Some kind of manual labor. Get too bushed to think.

I packed my two bags. I left them inside the door and went out to
unlock the trunk. All the transient cars were gone. A big dog stood
with his feet against the side of my car, looking in the side window.
The cold, thin, birdlike woman was carrying sheets and towels out of
one of the other rooms and dumping them into a hamper on wheels.

The dog jumped back as I walked out. He stood twenty feet away and
whined in a funny way. I made as though to throw gravel at him and he
went farther back. I didn't know what attracted him to my car.

I happened to glance inside as I was heading to unlock the trunk. I
stopped and looked for a long time. It seemed an effort to take my eyes
away. A big body was on the floor in the back, legs bent, head tilted
sideways. It was Milton Grassman. He still wore the brown suit. The
knees showed traces of pale dried mud. The forehead, in the area where
the thin hairline had started, was broken jelly, an ugly, sickening
depression. No man could have lived more than a moment with a wound
like that.

I realized the woman was calling to me in her thin voice.

I turned and said, "What?"

"I said are you staying another day?"

"Yes. Yes, I'm staying another day."

She went into another room. She was working her way toward mine. I
hurried back in. I put one bag in the closet, opened the other one, put
my toilet articles back in the bathroom. I slammed the door and went
out. The dog was standing by the car again, whining. I got behind the
wheel and drove out of there. I drove away from town. I didn't want to
be stopped by a traffic light where anybody could look down into the
back of the car. I remembered an old tarp in the back. I pulled off
onto the shoulder and got the tarp. I waited while traffic went by and
then spread the tarp over Grassman. I tried not to look at him while I
did it. But I couldn't help seeing his face. The slackness of death had
ironed everything out of it, all expression.

I drove on aimlessly and then stormed again on the shoulder of the
highway. I wanted to be able to think. I could feel the dreadful
presence of the body behind me. My brain felt frozen, numbed, useless.
It did no good to wonder when the body had been put there. I couldn't
even remember the places where I had parked.

Why had it been put in my car? Somebody wanted to get rid of it.
Somebody wanted to divert suspicion from himself. From the look of
the wound, murder had been violent and unplanned. One tremendous,
skull-smashing blow. It was inevitable that I should begin to think
of Fitz. Of the people I knew in Hillston, he was the one capable of
murder, and both quick and brutal enough to have killed a man like
Grassman. From what I had seen of him, Grassman looked tough and
capable.

But why would Fitz want to implicate me? The answer was quick and
chilling. It meant that he had traced the right Cindy, the Cindy who
would know where Timmy had buried the money. He might already have the
money.

The immediate problem was to get rid of the body. It should be a place
where there would be no witness, no one to remember having seen my
car. I couldn't go to the police. "I was here before. Unemployed. No
permanent address. A criminal record, according to your definition. It
so happens I have a body in my car. It got in there somehow last night.
Was I drunk? Brother, you can find a dozen witnesses to how drunk I
was. I was a slobbering mess, the worst I've ever been in my life.
Worse even than the night before."

There would be no glimmer of understanding in the cold official eyes of
Lieutenant Prine.

A state road patrol car passed me, going slowly. The trooper behind the
wheel stared curiously at me as I sat there. He stopped and backed up.
Maybe they were already looking for me.

He leaned across the empty seat and said, "What's the trouble?"

"Nothing. I mean I was overheating. I thought I'd let it cool off. Is
it far to a gas station?"

"Mile or so. It'll cool off quicker if you open the hood."

"Will it? Thanks."

"And get it a little farther off the road, doc."

He went on. I moved the car farther off the road. I opened the hood. I
wondered if he would be bothered by the way I had acted and come back
to check my license and look the car over. I wondered if I should make
a U-turn and get as far away from him as I could. But it made some
sense to risk the outside chance of his coming back and stay right
there until I could plan what to do with the body.

The noon sun was warm. There was a subtle, sour odor in the car that
sickened me. A dark-red tractor moved back and forth across a distant
hillside. Drainage water bubbled in the ditch beside the shoulder. A
truck went by at high speed, the blast of its passage shaking my car.

I found that a two-day drunk gives your mind a flavor of unreliability.
Memory is shaky and dreams become mixed with reality. I began to wonder
if I had imagined the body. When there was no traffic I looked into
the back seat again. The tarp was there. The body was covered. It was
not covered very well. I saw a thick ankle, a dark green sock, a brown
scuffed shoe, cracked across the instep, with laces tied in a double
knot, the way my mother used to tie my shoelaces when I was very small
to keep them from coming untied. It made Grassman more believable as a
person, as the person who had sat on the edge of a bed and tied those
laces and then had gone out and become a body, and the laces would
eventually be untied by somebody else, somebody with a professional
coolness and an unthinking competence. I whirled around when I heard
traffic coming. When the road was clear again I pulled the tarp to
cover the ankle and shoe, but it pulled clear of his head and my
stomach spasmed and I could not look at him.

After a while I fixed the tarp properly. I got out of the car. I did
not want to look in again. But I found myself staring in at the side
window.

I had to get rid of it somewhere. I had to get rid of it soon. The very
nearness of the body kept me from thinking clearly.

The lake? I could find it again. But I could be seen there as readily
as Ruth saw Grassman. I could hunt for obscure roads at random and
dump the body out when I came to what seemed to be a good place. But
the body was going to be found and it was going to be identified and it
was going to be in the paper with the right name. And Ruth was going to
remember the odd question I had asked the man and remember his telltale
response to that question.

The minutes were ticking by and I was getting nowhere. Fitzmartin's
trap was wide and deep, lined with sharp stakes. I wished I could put
the body back on his doorstep. Give it right back to him. Let him sweat.

At first glance the idea seemed absurd. But the more I thought about
it the better it seemed. I would be seen driving into the yard. But if
questioned I could say that I was going to see Fitzmartin. And I would
see Fitzmartin. I would leave the body in the yard somewhere between
the piles of stacked lumber.

No. That would do no good. No man would be so stupid as to kill another
man and leave the body at the place where he worked. Yet if some
attempt was made to conceal the body--Perhaps then they would assume
it was a temporary hiding place until Fitzmartin could think of another.

On the other hand, would any man be so stupid as to kill another man
and then drive the body to the police station in his car and claim
he didn't do it? Maybe that was my best out. Maybe that was the best
innocent reaction.

My hands were icy cold and sweaty. They left wet marks where I touched
the steering wheel. I was trying to think of every alternative, every
possible plan of action. I could go back and check out and head west
and try to leave the body where it would never be found. Buy a shovel.
Dig a desert grave. I could put the body in the seat beside me and run
into something. My ideas were getting worse instead of better. The
very presence of the body made thinking as laborious as trying to run
through waist-deep water. I did not want to panic, but I knew I had to
get rid of it as soon as possible. And I could not see myself going to
Prine for tender mercy. There had been a reason why Grassman had been
killed. Hiding the body would give me a grace period. I would have to
assume it would be traced to me eventually. By the time they caught up
with me, I would have to know why he had been killed. Knowing why would
mean knowing who. I knew it was Fitz. Why did Fitz kill Grassman?

I shut the hood and started the car and drove. I was five miles from
the court and about nine miles from town when I found a promising
looking road that turned left. It was potholed asphalt, ravaged by
winter, torn by tractor lugs. It climbed mild hills and dipped into
forgotten valleys. It came out of a heavy wooded area, and ahead on the
left, set well back from the road, I saw a tall stone chimney where a
house had burned long ago. The weathered gray barn had half collapsed.
It looked like a great gray animal with a broken back, its hind legs
dragging. The road was empty. I turned in where the farm road had once
been. Small trees bent over under my front bumper, dragged along the
underside of the car, and half rose again behind me. I circled the
foundation of the house and parked behind the barn near a wild tangle
of berry bushes. I could not be seen from the road. I had to risk being
seen from distant hillsides. It seemed very quiet with the motor off. A
crow went over, hoarse and derisive.

I opened the rear door of the car. I made myself grasp his heavy
ankles. Rigor had begun to set in. It took all my strength to pull the
bulky body free of the cramped space between the back seat and the back
of the front seat. It came free suddenly, thudding to the ground. I
released the ankles and staggered back. There had been something under
the body. Friction had pulled it toward me. It rested on the car floor,
half in and half out of the car--a short, bright length of galvanized
pipe with a dark brown smear at one end. I left the body there and went
to see where I would put it. There was a great splintered hole in the
back of the barn. I stepped up and through the hole. The floor felt
solid. Daylight came brightly through the holes in the roof.

I went back to the body again. It was not hard to drag it to the hole.
But getting it inside the barn was difficult. I had to lift it about
three feet. I puzzled over how to do it. Finally I turned him around
and propped him up in a sitting position, his back to the hole. I
climbed up over him, then reached down and got his wrists. I pulled him
up over the edge and then dragged him back into the darkness. There was
some hay on the floor, musty and matted. I covered the body with it. I
went out and got the piece of pipe, using a dry leaf to pick it up. I
dropped it into the hay that covered the body. I went back out into the
sunlight.

I wondered about Grassman. I wondered what compulsion had made him
choose his line of work. Dirty, monotonous, and sometimes dangerous
work. From the look of the man as he talked to us up at the lake, I
guessed that he had no idea it would end like this. He had looked
tough and confident. This body under the straw was a far cry from the
fictional private eyes, the smart ones and the suave ones and the gamy
ones. His story had ended. He would not sit up, brush the straw out of
his eyes and reach for either blonde or bottle. Leaving him there had
about it the faint flavor of burial, as though solemn words should be
said.

I inspected the car. The floor rug was stained and spotted in four
places. I couldn't see any on the seat, or on the insides of the doors.
I took the floor rug out and rolled it up. I put it beside me in the
front seat. I sat and listened to the quietness, straining to hear any
sound of car motor laboring on the hills. I heard only the birds and
the sound of wind.

I drove back out and I did not head back the way I had come. A car
seen going and returning was more likely to be remembered on a country
road than a car that went on through. In about three miles I came to a
crossroads. I turned north. I thought the road was paralleling the main
highway, but in five miles it joined the main highway, coming into it
at a shallow angle. I took the next secondary road that turned right.
I was closer to the city. Soon, as I had hoped and expected, I came to
a place where a lot of trash had been dumped. I put the rolled rug in
with the bed springs and broken scooters and kicked some cans over it.

By the time I passed the motel, heading toward the city, I was
surprised to find that it was only quarter after one. I ate at a small
restaurant on Delaware Street. When I left I met Mrs. Pat Rorick on the
sidewalk. She had an armful of bundles. She smiled and said "Hello, Mr.
Howard."

"Did you remember anything, Mrs. Rorick?"

"I don't know if this is any use to you, but I did remember one little
thing. It was a skit the eighth grade did and Timmy was in it. It was
based on Cinderella. I can't remember the girl who played the part,
but I remember how funny it sounded the way it was written, with Timmy
calling the girl Cindy. It probably doesn't mean anything."

"It might. Thanks."

"I'm glad I met you. I was wondering whether to call you about anything
that sounds so stupid. I've got to run. There comes my bus."

"I'll drive you home."

"No. Don't bother."

I convinced her I had nothing to do. We got into the car. She had her
packages piled on her lap. I wondered how she'd feel if she'd known
about my last passenger.

"How should I go about finding out who that girl was?"

"Gee, I don't know. It was a long time ago. I don't know if anybody
would remember. The eighth-grade home-room teacher was Miss Major. I
had her too, later. She was real cute. I think she wrote that skit they
did. I don't know what happened to her. I think she got married and
moved away. They might know at the school. It's John L. Davis School.
On Holly Street, near the bridge."



SEVEN


The John L. Davis School was an ancient red-brick building with an
iron picket fence enclosing the schoolyard. As I went up the steps to
the door, I could hear a class of small voices chanting something in
unison. It was a sleepy, nostalgic, afternoon sound.

In the wide wooden hallway there were drinking fountains which looked
absurdly low. A small boy came down the hall, tapping himself gently
and wistfully on the head with a ruler. He gave me an opaque stare and
continued on his way.

There was a nervous young woman in the outer office of the principal's
office. She was typing and chewing her lip and when she looked up at me
she was obviously irritated by the interruption.

"I'm trying to find a Miss Major who used to teach here. She taught
eighth-grade subjects, I believe."

"We only go through the sixth. Then the children go to the junior high."

"I know that. But you used to have the seventh and eighth here."

"Not for a long time. Not since I've been here."

"Aren't there any records? Isn't there any place you could look?"

"I wouldn't know where to look. I wouldn't know anything like that."

"Are there any teachers here who would have been here when Miss Major
was here?"

"I guess there probably are. I guess there would be some. How long ago
was she here?"

"About twelve years ago."

"Mrs. Stearns has been teaching here twenty-two years. Third grade.
Room sixteen. That's on this floor just around the corner."

"I wouldn't want to interrupt a class."

"Any minute now they'll all be going home. Then you could ask her. I
wouldn't know anything like that. I wouldn't know where to look or
anything."

I waited outside room sixteen. There was a lull and then somebody
started a record player. Sousa filled the halls with brass, at peak
volume. There was a great scurrying in all the rooms. The doors opened.
All the small denizens marched into the hall and stood in impatient
ragged double lines, stomping their feet in time to the music. The
floor shook. Weary teachers kept a cautious eye on the lines. The
upstairs rooms marched down the stairs and out the double doors. Then
the main floor marched out, yelling as soon as they hit the sunlight.
The school was emptied. Sousa blared on for a few moments and died in
the middle of a bar.

"Mrs. Stearns?"

"Yes, I'm Mrs. Stearns." She was a round, pale woman with hair like
steel wool and small, sharp, bright dark eyes.

"My name is Howard, Talbert Howard. Did you know a Miss Major who used
to teach here?"

"Of course. I knew Katherine very well. That reminds me, I should stop
by and see how she's getting along these days."

"She's in town?"

"Oh, yes, the poor thing."

"Is she ill?"

"Oh, I thought you knew. Katherine went blind quite suddenly about ten
years ago. It was a shock to all of us. I feel guilty that I don't call
on her more often. But after a full day of the children, I don't feel
like calling on anyone. I don't seem to have the energy any more."

"Could you tell me where she lives?"

"Not off hand, but it's in the phone book. She's on Finch Avenue, in an
apartment. I know the house but I can't remember the number. She lives
alone. She's very proud, you know. And she really gets along remarkably
well, considering."

It was a small ground-floor apartment in the rear of an old house.
Music was playing loudly in the apartment. It was a symphony I didn't
recognize. The music stopped moments after I knocked at the door.

Miss Major opened the door. She wore a blue dress. Her hair was white
and worn in a long page boy. Her features were strong. She could have
once been a beautiful woman. She was still handsome. When I spoke to
her, she seemed to focus on my face. It was hard to believe those eyes
were sightless.

I told her my name and said I wanted to ask her about a student she had
had in the eighth grade.

"Please come in, Mr. Howard. Sit there in the red chair. I was having
tea. Would you care for some?"

"No, thank you."

"Then one of these cookies. A friend of mine bakes them. They're very
good."

She held the plate in precisely the right spot. I took one and thanked
her. She put the plate back on the table and sat facing me. She found
her teacup and lifted it to her lips.

"Now what student was it?"

"Do you remember Timmy Warden?"

"Of course I remember him! He was a charmer. I was told how he died.
I was dreadfully sorry to hear it. A man came to see me six or seven
months ago. He said he'd been in that prison camp with Timmy. I never
could quite understand why he came to see me. His name was Fitzmartin
and he asked all sorts of odd questions. I couldn't feel at ease with
him. He didn't seem--quite right if you know what I mean. When you lose
one sense you seem to become more aware of nuances."

"I was in that camp too, Miss Major."

"Oh, I'm so sorry. Probably Mr. Fitzmartin is a friend of yours."

"No, he's not."

"That's a relief. Now don't tell me you came here to ask odd questions
too, Mr. Howard."

"Fairly odd, I guess. In camp Timmy spoke about a girl named Cindy.
I've been trying to track her down for--personal reasons. One of your
other students, Cindy Kirschner, told me that you wrote a skit based on
Cinderella for the eighth grade when you had Timmy in the class. Timmy
wasn't--very well when he mentioned this Cindy. I'm wondering if he
could have meant the girl who played the part in the play."

"Whatever has happened to Cindy Kirschner, Mr. Howard? Such a shy,
sweet child. And those dreadful teeth."

"The teeth have been fixed. She's married to a man named Pat Rorick and
she has a couple of kids."

"That's good to hear. The other children used to be horrible to her.
They can be little animals at times."

"Do you remember who played the part of Cindy in the skit?"

"Of course I remember. I remember because it was sort of an experiment.
Her name was Antoinette Rasi. Wait a moment. I'll show you something."
She went into the other room. She was gone nearly five minutes. She
came back with a glossy photograph.

"I had a friend help me sort these out after I learned Braille. I've
marked them all so I know this is the right one. It's a graduation
picture. I've kept the graduation pictures of all my classes, though
what use I have for pictures, I'll never know."

She handed it to me and said, "I believe Antoinette is in the back row
toward the left. Look for a girl with a great mass of black hair and a
pretty, rather sullen face. I don't imagine she was smiling."

"I think I've found her."

"Antoinette was a problem. She was a little older than the others. Half
French and half Italian. She resented discipline. She was a rowdy, a
troublemaker. But I liked the child and I thought I understood her. Her
people were very poor and I don't think she got much attention at home.
She had an older brother who had been in trouble with the police and I
believe an older sister. She came to school inadequately dressed when
the weather was cold. She had a lot of spirit. She was a very alive
person. I think she was sensitive, but she hid it very carefully. I
can't help but wonder sometimes what has happened to the child. The
Rasis lived north of the city where the river widens out. I believe
that Mr. Rasi had a boat and bait business in the summer and did odd
jobs in the wintertime. Their house was a shack. I went out there
once after Antoinette had missed a whole week of school. I found she
hadn't come because she had a black eye. Her brother gave it to her. I
gave her the part of Cinderella in an attempt to get her to take more
interest in class activities. I'm afraid it was a mistake. I believe
she thought it was a reflection on the way she lived."

"Was Timmy friendly with her?"

"Quite friendly. I sometimes wondered if that was a good thing. She
seemed quite--precocious in some departments. And Timmy was a very
sweet boy."

"He could have called her Cindy because of the skit?"

"I imagine so. Children dote on nicknames. I remember one poor little
boy with a sinus condition. The other children made him unhappy by
calling him Rumblehead."

"I want to thank you for your help, Miss Major."

"I hope the information is of some use to you. When you find
Antoinette, tell her I asked about her."

"I'll do that."

She went with me to the door. She said, "They're bringing me a new
Braille student at four. He seems to be a little late. Mr. Howard, are
you in some kind of trouble?"

The abrupt _non sequitur_ startled me. "Trouble? Yes, I'm in trouble.
Bad trouble."

"I won't give you any chin-up lecture, Mr. Howard. I've been given too
much of that myself. I was just checking my own reactions. I sensed
trouble. An aura of worry. As with that Mr. Fitzmartin I detected an
aura of directed evil."

When I got out in front, a woman was helping a young boy out of a car.
The boy wore dark glasses. His mouth had an ill-tempered look, and I
heard the whine in his voice as he complained about something to her.

I felt that I had discovered Cindy. There had been a hint as to what
she was like in the very tone of Timmy's voice. Weak as he was, there
had been a note of fond appreciation--the echo of lust. Cindy would
know. The phrasing was odd. Not _Cindy knows_. _Cindy would know._ It
would be a place known to her.

I sat in my car for a few moments. I did not know how long my period of
grace would last. I did not know whether I should continue in search of
the elusive Cindy or try to make sense of the relationship between Fitz
and Grassman. It came to me that I had been a fool not to search the
body. There might have been notes, papers, letters, reports--something
to indicate why he had been slain. Yet I knew I could not risk going
back there, and it was doubtful that the murderer would have been so
clumsy as to leave anything indirectly incriminating on the body itself.

I did not know where to start. I didn't think anything could be
gained by going to Fitzmartin, facing him. He certainly would answer
no questions. Why had it been necessary to kill Grassman? Either it
was related to Grassman's job, or it was something apart from it.
Grassman's job had apparently been due to Rose Fulton's conviction that
her husband had come to some harm here in Hillston.

Prine's investigation had evidently been thorough. He was satisfied
that Fulton and Eloise Warden had run off together. He had a witness to
the actual departure. Yet Grassman had been poking around the cabin the
Wardens used to own. I could not imagine what he hoped to gain.

I could not help but believe that Grassman's death was in some way
related to the sixty thousand dollars. I wondered if Grassman had
somehow acquired the information that a sizable sum had disappeared
from the Warden business ventures over a period of time, and had added
two and two together. Or if, in looking for Fulton's body, he had
stumbled across the money. Maybe at the same time Fitz was looking for
it. Many murders have been committed for one tenth that amount. There
was only one starting place with Grassman. That was Rose Fulton. Maybe
Grassman had sent her reports. She was probably a resident of Illinois.

I wondered who would know her address. It would have to be someone
whose suspicions would not be aroused. I wondered if there was any way
of finding out without asking anyone. If the police investigation had
been reported in the local paper, Fulton's home town would probably
have been given, but not his street address.

I realized that I did not dare make any effort to get hold of Mrs.
Fulton. It would link me too closely to Grassman.

Antoinette Rasi then. I would look for her.

       *       *       *       *       *

The shack was on the riverbank. It had a sagging porch, auto parts
stamped into the mud of the yard, dingy Monday washing flapping on
a knotted line, a disconsolate tire hanging from a tree limb, and a
shiny new television aerial. A thin, dark boy of about twelve was
carefully painting an overturned boat, doing a good job of it. A little
dark-headed girl was trying to harness a fat, humble dog to a broken
cart. A toddler in diapers watched her. Some chickens were scratching
the loose dirt under the porch.

The children looked at me as I got out of the car. A heavy woman came
to the door. She bulged with pregnancy. Her eyes and expression were
unfriendly. The small girl began to cry. I heard her brother hiss at
her to shut up. The woman in the doorway could have once been quite
pretty. She wasn't any more. It was hard to guess how old she might be.

"Is your name Rasi?" I asked.

"It was once. Now it's Doyle. What do you want?"

"I'm trying to locate Antoinette Rasi."

"For God's sake, shut up sniveling, Jeanie. This man isn't come to take
the teevee." She smiled apologetically at me. "They took it away once,
and to Jeanie any stranger comes after the same thing. Every night the
kids watch it. No homework, no nothing. Just sit and look. It drives me
nuts. What do you want Antoinette for?"

"I've got a message for her. From a friend."

The woman sniffed. "She makes a lot of friends, I guess. She doesn't
hang around here any more. She's up in Redding. I don't hear from her
any more. She never gets down. God knows I never get up there. The old
man is dead and Jack is in the federal can in Atlanta, and Doyle can't
stand the sight of her, so why should she bother coming down here.
Hell, I'm only her only sister. She sends money for the kids, but no
messages. No nothing."

"What does she do?"

She gave me a wise, wet smile. "She goes around making friends, I
guess."

"How do I get in touch with her?"

"Cruise around. Try the Aztec, and the Cub Room. And try the Doubloon,
too. I heard her mention that. You can probably find her."

       *       *       *       *       *

It was sixty miles to Redding, and dark when I got there. It was twice
the size of Hillston. It was a town with a lot of neon. Lime and pink.
Dark, inviting blue. Lots of uniforms on the night streets. Lots of
girls on the dark streets. Lots of cars going nowhere too fast, horns
blowing, Bermuda bells ringing, tires wailing. I asked where the Aztec
and the Cub Room and the Doubloon were. I was directed to a wide
highway on the west edge of town, called, inevitably, the Strip. There
the neon really blossomed. There wasn't as much sidewalk traffic. But
for a Monday night there were enough cars in the lots. Enough rough
music in the air. Enough places to lose your money. Or spend it. Or
have it taken away from you.

I went to the Aztec and I went to the Cub Room and I went to the
Doubloon. In each place I asked a bartender about Antoinette Rasi. On
each occasion I received a blank stare and a shrug and a, "Never heard
of her."

"Dark-haired girl?"

"That's unusual? Sorry, buster."

The cadence of the evening was beginning to quicken. All three places
were glamorous. They were like the lounges of the hotels along Collins
Avenue on Miami Beach. And like the bistros of Beverly Hills. The
lighting was carefully contrived. There was a Las Vegas tension in
those three places, a smell of money. Here the games were hidden. But
not hard to find.

The way Mrs. Doyle had spoken of her sister gave me reason to believe
I could get assistance from the police. They were in a brand new
building. The sergeant looked uncomfortable behind a long curve of
stainless steel.

I told him what Mrs. Doyle had said about how to find her.

"There ought to be something on her. Let me check it out. Wait a couple
minutes."

He got on the phone. He had to wait quite a while. Then he thanked the
man on the other end and hung up. "He knows her. She's been booked a
couple times as Antoinette Rasi. But the name she uses is Toni Raselle.
She calls herself an entertainer. He says he thinks she did sing for
a while at one place. She's a fancy whore. The last address he's got
is the Glendon Arms. That's a high-class apartment hotel on the west
side, not too far from the Strip. Both times she was booked last it was
on a cute variation of the old badger game. So cute they couldn't make
it stick. So watch yourself. She plays with rough people. We got rough
ones here by the dozen."

I thanked him and left. It was nearly ten when I got back to the Strip.
I went into the Aztec first. I went to the same bartender. "Find that
girl yet?" he asked.

"I found she calls herself Toni Raselle."

"Hell, I know her. She comes in every once in a while. She may show
here yet tonight. You an old friend or something?"

"Not exactly."

I tried the other two places. They knew the name there also, but she
hadn't been in. I had a steak sandwich in the Doubloon. A girl alone
at the bar made a determined effort to pick me up. She dug through her
purse looking for matches, unlit cigarette in her mouth. She started a
conversation a shade too loudly with the bartender and tried to drag me
into it. She was a lean brunette with shiny eyes and trembling hands. I
ordered a refill for her and moved onto the bar stool next to her.

We exchanged inanities until she pointed up at the ceiling with her
thumb and said, "Going to try your luck tonight? I'm always lucky. You
know there's some fellas I know they wouldn't dare try the crap table
without they give me some chips to get in the game."

"I don't want to gamble."

"Yeah, sometimes I get tired of it, too. I mean when you just can't
seem to get any action out of your money."

"Do you know a girl around town named Toni Raselle?"

She stopped smiling. "What about her? You looking for her?"

"Somebody mentioned her. I remembered the name. Is she nice?"

"She's damn good looking. But she's crazy. Crazy as hell. She doesn't
grab me a bit."

"How come you think she's crazy, Donna?"

"Well, dig this. There's some important guys around here. Like Eddie
Larch that owns this place. Guys like Eddie. They really got a yen for
her. A deal like that you can fall into. Everything laid on. Apartment,
car, clothes. They'd set you up. You know? Then all you got to do is be
nice and take it easy. Not Toni. She strictly wants something going on
all the time. She wants to lone wolf it. And she keeps getting in jams
that way. My Christ, you'd think she liked people or something. If I
looked like her, I'd parlay that right into stocks and bonds, believe
you me. But that Toni. She does as she damn pleases. She don't like
you, you're dead. So you can have hundred-dollar bills out to here,
you're still dead. She wouldn't spit if your hair was on fire. That's
how she's crazy, man."

"I think I see what you mean."

Donna sensed she'd made some sort of tactical error. She smiled broadly
and said, "Don't take me serious, that about parlaying it into stocks
and bonds. I'm not that type girl. I like a few laughs. I like to get
around. My boy friend is away and I got lonesome tonight so I thought
I'd take a look around, see what's going on. You know how it is.
Lonesome? Sure you wouldn't want to see if you're lucky?"

"I guess not."

She pursed her lips and studied her half-empty glass. She tried the
next gambit. "You know, at a buck a drink, they must make a hell of a
lot out of a bottle. If a person was smart they'd do their drinking at
home. It would be a lot cheaper."

"It certainly would."

"You know, if we could get a bottle, I got glasses and ice at my place.
We could take our hair down and put our feet up and watch the teevee
and have a ball. What do you say?"

"I don't think so."

"My boy friend won't be back in town until next weekend. I got my own
place."

"No thanks, Donna."

"What _do_ you want to do?"

"Nothing in particular."

"Joey," she called to the bartender. "What kind of place you running?
You got a dead customer sitting here. He's giving me the creepers." She
moved over two stools and wouldn't look at me. Within fifteen minutes
two heavy, smiling men came in. Soon she was in conversation with them.
The three of them went upstairs together to try the tables. I hoped her
luck was good.

After she was gone the bartender came over and said in a low voice,
"The boss gives me the word to keep her out of here. She used to be a
lot better looking. Now she gets drunk and nasty. But when he isn't
around, I let her stay. What the hell. It's old times, like they say.
You know how it is."

"Sure."

"She can sure get nasty. And she won't make any time with that pair.
Did you dig those country-style threads? A small beer says they don't
have sixteen bucks between the pair of them. She's losing her touch.
Last year this time she'd have cut off their water before they said
word one. Old Donna's on the skids."

"What will she do?"

He shrugged. "I don't know where they go. She can always sign for a
tour." He winked. "See the world. See all the ports in S.A. I don't
know where they go."

I wandered back to the Aztec. My bartending friend told me that Toni
Raselle was out in the casino in back, escorted by a general. He said
she was wearing a white blouse and dark-red skirt, and had an evening
scarf that matched her skirt.

I tipped him and went out into the casino. I bought chips through
the wicket just inside the door. The large room was crowded. It was
brightly, whitely lighted, like an operating amphitheater. The light
made the faces of the people look sick. The cards, the chips, the dice,
the wheels were all in pitiless illumination. I spotted the uniform
across the room. The general was big-chested. He held his face as
though he thought he resembled MacArthur. He did a little. But not
enough. He had three rows of discreetly faded ribbons.

Antoinette Rasi stood beside him and laughed up at him. It was the
face of the high-school picture, matured, not as sullen. Her tumbled
hair was like raw blue-black silk. She held her folded _rebozo_ over
her arm. Her brown shoulders were bare. She was warm within her skin,
moving like molten honey, teeth white in laughter against her tan face.
Wide across the cheekbones. Eyes deep set. Nose broad at the bridge.
Feral look. Gypsy look. A mature woman so alive she made the others in
the room look two dimensional, as though they had been carefully placed
there to provide their drab contrast to Toni's look of greedy life.

They were at the roulette table. I stood across the table. The general
was solemnly playing the black. When he lost Toni laughed at him. He
didn't particularly like it, but there wasn't much he could do about
it. I had twenty one-dollar chips. I began playing twenty-nine, and
watching her instead of the wheel. I won thirty-six dollars on the
fourth spin. I began to play the red, and kept winning. Toni became
aware of my interest in her. So did the general. He gave me a mental
command to throw myself on my sword. Toni gave me a few irritated
glances.

Finally the general had to go back to the window to buy more chips.
They didn't sell them at the table. As soon as he was gone I said,
"Antoinette?"

She looked at me carefully. "Do I know you?"

"No. I want a chance to talk to you."

"How do you know my name?"

"Antoinette Rasi. Through Timmy Warden. Remember him?"

"Of course. I can't talk now. Phone me tomorrow. At noon. Eight three
eight nine one. Can you remember that?"

"Eight three eight nine one. I'll remember."

The general came back, staring at me with bitter suspicion. I went
away, taking with me the memory of her dark eyes and her low, hoarse,
husky voice.

I drove back through the night to Hillston. It was well after midnight
when I got there. I wondered if they would be waiting for me at the
motel. But the _No Vacancy_ sign was lighted and my room was dark.

I went to bed and went to sleep at once. An hour later I awakened
abruptly from a nightmare. I was drenched with sweat. I had dreamed
that Grassman rode my back, his legs clamped around my waist, his heavy
arms around my throat. I walked down a busy street with him there,
asking, begging for help. But they would scream and cover their eyes
and shrink away from me. And I knew that Grassman's face was more
horrible than I had remembered. No one would help me. Then it was not
Grassman any more. It was Timmy who rode there. I could smell the earth
we had buried him in. I woke up in panic and it took me a long time to
quiet down again.



EIGHT


I called her at noon and she answered on the tenth ring just as I was
about to give up.

Her voice was blurred with sleep. "Whozit?"

"Tal Howard."

"Who?"

"I spoke to you last night at the Aztec. About Timmy Warden. You said
to phone."

I could hear the soft yowl of her complete yawn. "Oh, sure. You go have
some coffee or something and then stop around here. I live at a place
called the Glendon Arms. Give me about forty minutes to wake up."

I wasted a half hour over coffee and a newspaper, and then found the
Glendon Arms without difficulty. It was as pretentious as its name,
with striped canopy, solid glass doors, mosaic tile lobby floor,
desk clerk with dreary sneer. He phoned and told me I could go right
up to Miss Raselle's apartment, third floor, 3A. The elevator was
self-service. The hallway was wide. I pushed the button beside her door.

She opened the door and smiled as she let me in. She wore a white
angora sleeveless blouse, slacks of corduroy in a green plaid. I had
expected her to be puffy, blurred by dissipation, full of a morning
surliness. But she looked fresh, golden, shining and clean. The
great mop of black hair was pulled sleekly back and fastened into an
intricate rosette.

"Hi, Tal Howard. Can you stand more coffee? Come along."

There was a small breakfast terrace with sliding doors that opened onto
it from the bedroom and the kitchen. The sun was warm on the terrace.
We had coffee and rolls and butter on a glass-topped table.

"Last night was a waste," she said. "He was a friend of a friend. A
stuffed uniform until drink number ten. And then what. He goes with his
hands like so. Zoom. Dadadadadada. Gun noises. Fighter planes. I'm too
old for toys."

"He had a lot of ribbons."

"He told me what they were for. Several times. How did you track me
down, Tal Howard?"

"Through your sister."

"Dear God. Anita has turned into a real slob. It's that Doyle. Doyle
allows that the sun rises and sets on Doyle. The kids are nice,
though. I don't know how they made it, but they are. What's with Timmy?
He was my first love. How is that cutie?"

"He's dead, Toni."

Her face lost its life. "You certainly didn't waste any time working up
to that. How?"

"He was taken prisoner by the Chinese in Korea. So was I. We were in
the same hut. He got sick and died there and we buried him there."

"What a stinking way for Timmy to go. He was a nice guy. We got along
fine, right up into the second year of high school, and then he started
considering his social position and brushed me off. I don't blame him.
He was too young to know any better. He left me to take a big hack at
the dancing-school set. My reputation wasn't exactly solid gold." She
grinned. "Nor is it yet."

"He mentioned you while we were in camp."

"Did he?"

"He called you Cindy."

For a long moment she looked puzzled, and then her face cleared. "Oh,
that. You know, I'd just about forgotten that. It was sort of a gag. In
that eighth grade we had a teacher who was all hopped up about class
activities. I was the rebel. She stuck me in a play as Cinderella.
Timmy was the prince. He called me Cindy for quite a while after that.
A year maybe. A pretty good year, too. I was a wild kid. I didn't know
what I wanted. I knew that what I had, I didn't want. But I didn't know
how to make a change. I was too young. Gee, I'm sorry about Timmy.
That's depressing. It makes me feel old, Tal. I don't like to feel old."

"I came back and tried to find a Cindy. I didn't know your right name.
I found a couple. Cindy Waskowitz--"

"A great fat pig. But nothing jolly about her. Brother, she was as
nasty as they come."

"She's dead, too. Glandular trouble of some kind."

"Couldn't you go around wearing a wreath or singing hymns like Crossing
the Bar?"

"I'm sorry. Then there was Cindy Kirschner."

"Kirschner. Wait a minute. A younger kid. Teeth like this?"

"That's right. But she had them fixed. Now she has a husband and a
couple of kids."

"Good for her."

"She was the one who remembered the class play or skit or whatever it
was. And the name of the eighth-grade teacher. Miss Major. She couldn't
remember who played Cinderella. So I found Miss Major. She went blind
quite a while ago and--"

"For God's sake, Tal! I mean really!"

"I'm sorry. Anyway, she identified you. I went out and saw your sister.
I came here hunting for Antoinette Rasi. The way your sister spoke
about you, when I couldn't find you, I tried the police. They told me
the name you use. Then it was easy."

She looked at me coldly and dubiously. "Police, eh? They give you all
the bawdy details?"

"They told me a few things. Not much."

"But enough. Enough so that when you walked in here you had to act like
a little kid inspecting a leper colony. What the hell did you expect to
find? A room all mirrors? A turnstile?"

"Don't get sore."

"You look stuffy to me, Tal Howard. Stuffy people bore me. So what the
hell was this? A sentimental journey all the way from prison camp to
dig up poor little me?"

"Not exactly. And I'm not stuffy. And I don't give a damn what you are
or what you do."

The glare faded. She shrugged and said, "Skip it. I don't know why I
should all of a sudden get sensitive. I'm living the way I want to
live. I guess it's just from talking about Timmy. That was a tender
spot. From thinking about the way I was. At thirteen I wanted to lick
the world with my bare hands. Now I'm twenty-eight. Do I look it?"

"No, you really don't."

She rested her cheek on her fist. She looked thoughtful. "You know,
Tal Howard, another reason why I think I jumped on you. I think I'm
beginning to get bored. I think I'm due for some kind of a change."

"Like what?"

"More than a new town. I don't know. Just restless. Skip that. You said
this wasn't exactly a sentimental journey. What is it?"

"There's something else involved."

"Mystery, hey? What's with you?"

"How do you mean?"

"What do you do? You married?"

"I'm not doing anything right now. I'm not married. I came here from
the west coast. I haven't got any permanent address."

"You're not the type."

"How do you mean that?"

"That information doesn't fit you, somehow. So it's just a temporary
thing with you. You're between lives, aren't you? And maybe as restless
as I am?"

"I could be."

She winked at me. "And I think you've been taking yourself too
seriously lately. Have you noticed that?"

"I guess I have."

"Now what's the mystery?"

"I'm looking for something. Timmy hid something. Before he left. I know
what it is. I don't know where it is. Before he died, not very many
hours before he died, Timmy said, 'Cindy would know.' That's why I'm
here."

"Here from the west coast, looking for Cindy. He hid something nice,
then. Like some nice money?"

"If you can help me, I'll give you some money."

"How much?"

"It depends on how much he hid."

"Maybe you admitted too fast that it was money, Tal. I am noted for my
fondness for money. It pleases me. I like the feel of it and the smell
of it and the look of it. I'm nuts about it. I like all I can get,
maybe because I spent so much time without any of it. A psychiatrist
friend told me it was my basic drive. I can't ever have too much."

"If that was really your basic drive, you wouldn't say it like that, I
don't think. It's just the way you like to think you are."

She was angry again. "Why does every type you meet try to tell you what
you really are?"

"It's a popular hobby."

"So all right. He hid something. Now I've got a big fat disappointment
for you. I wouldn't have any idea where he hid something. I don't know
what he means."

"Are you sure?"

"Don't look at me like that. I know what you're thinking. You're
thinking I _do_ know and I won't tell you because I want it all.
Honestly, Tal, I don't know. I can't think what he could have meant."

I believed her.

"This sun is actually getting too hot. Let's go inside," she said. I
helped carry the things in. She rinsed the dishes. Having seen her the
previous evening I would not have thought she had the sort of figure
to wear slacks successfully. They were beautifully tailored and she
looked well in them. We went into the living-room. It was slightly
overfurnished. The lamps were in bad taste. But it was clean and
comfortable.

She sat on the couch and pulled one leg up and locked her hands around
her knee. "Want to hear about Timmy and me? The sad story? Not sad, I
guess."

"If you want to tell it."

"I've never told anybody. Maybe it's time. I turned fifteen before I
got out of the eighth grade. I was older than the other kids. Timmy was
fourteen. He was the biggest boy in class. We never had anything to do
with each other until that skit. We practiced a couple of times. We
got to be friends. It wasn't a girl-friend-boy-friend thing. More like
a couple of boys. I wasn't the most feminine creature in the world,
believe me. I could run like the wind and I could fight with my fists.

"I didn't want Timmy to come out to the house. I was ashamed of where I
lived. I never wanted any of the kids to see how and where I lived. My
God, we lived like animals. It wasn't so bad until my mother died but
from then on it was pretty bad. You saw the place?"

"I saw it."

"The old man kept pretty well soaked in his _vino_. My brother was
completely no good. My sister slept with anybody who took the trouble
to ask her. We lived in filth. We were on the county relief rolls. The
do-gooders brought us food and clothing at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
I was proud as hell inside. I couldn't see any way out. The best I
could do was try to keep myself clean as a button and not let any of
the kids come out there."

She came over and took one of my cigarettes, bent over for me to light
it. "Timmy came out there. It nearly killed me. Then I saw that it was
all right. He didn't pay any attention to the way things were. I mean
it didn't seem to mean much to him. That's the way they were, so that's
the way they were. He was my friend. After that I was able to talk to
him. He understood. He had his dreams, too. We talked over our dreams.

"When school was out that summer he came out a lot. He used to cut
lawns and make money and we'd go to the movies. We used to swim in the
river. He'd come out on his bike. He got hold of a broken-down boy's
bike for me. He fixed it up and I painted it. Then we could get around
better. The relief people gave the old man a hard ride for buying me a
bike. I had to explain how I got it and prove I didn't steal it. I can
still remember the sneaky eyes on that cop.

"When it happened to us it was sudden. It was in late August. I'd
gotten a job in the dime store by lying about my age and filling out
the forms wrong. I was squirreling the money away. I spent Sundays with
Timmy. His brother and his father didn't like him to see me, but he
managed it.

"He had a basket on the front of his bike and we went off on a Sunday
picnic. We went a long way into the country. Fifteen miles, I guess. We
walked the bikes up a trail. We found a place under trees where it was
like a park. It was far away from anybody. We could have been alone in
the world. Maybe we were. We ate and then we stretched out and talked
about how high school would be when it started in September. It was
hot. We were in the shade. He went to sleep. I watched him while he
was sleeping, the way his eyelashes were, and the way he looked like a
little kid when he slept. I felt a big warmth inside me. It was a new
way to feel toward him. When I couldn't stand it any longer, I slipped
my arm under his neck and half lay across him and kissed him. He woke
up with me kissing him.

"He was funny and kind of half scared and sort of half eager at the
same time. I'd had a pretty liberal education as you can well imagine.
I guess it was pretty sad. Two kids being as awkward and fumbling as
you can possibly imagine, there on that hill in the shade. But awkward
as we were, it happened.

"We hardly talked at all on the way back. I knew enough to be damn
scared. But fortunately nothing happened. From then on we were
different with each other. It got to be something we did whenever we
had a chance. It got better and better for us. But we weren't friends
the way we were before. Sometimes we seemed almost to be enemies. We
tried to hurt each other. It was a strong hunger. We found good places
to go. It lasted for a year and a half. We never talked about marriage
or things like that. We lived for now. There was one place we would go.
We'd take one of the boats and--"

She stopped abruptly. We looked into each other's eyes.

"Now you know where he meant?" I asked her softly.

"I think I do."

"Where?"

"I don't think we can handle it that way, do you?"

"How do you mean?"

"I think we better go there together, don't you?"

"There's nothing to keep you from going there by yourself, Antoinette."

"I know that. What would it mean if I told you I won't?"

"In spite of the money hunger?"

"I would be honest with a thing like this. I would. Believe me. I'd
have known nothing about it. How much is there?"

I waited several moments, measuring her and the situation. I couldn't
get to it without her. "Nearly sixty thousand, he said."

She sat down abruptly, saying a soundless _Oh_. "How--how would Timmy
get hold of money like that?"

"He did all the book work for the four companies he and his brother
owned. He took over two years milking that much in cash out of the four
companies."

"Why would he do that to George? It doesn't sound like Timmy."

"He planned to run off with Eloise."

"That thing George married? That pig. I knew her. Where is she?"

"She went off with another man two years ago."

"Maybe she took the money with her."

"Timmy said she didn't know where he buried it."

"And she'd hardly be able to find it. I can guarantee that. So--this is
George's money then, isn't it?"

I waited a moment. "Yes, it is."

"But it was already stolen."

"That's right."

"And nobody knows about it. George doesn't suspect. Nobody knows about
it but you and me, Tal."

"There's another one who knows about it. A man named Earl Fitzmartin.
He was in the camp, too. He didn't know about the name Cindy. Now he
does. He's smart. He may be able to trace the name to you."

"What's he like?"

"He's smart and he's vicious."

"So are a lot of my friends."

"I don't think they're like Fitz. I don't think you could go with Fitz
and find it and come back from wherever you went to find it, that is if
it was a quiet place and he could put you where he dug up the money."

"Like that?"

"I think so. I think there's something wrong in his head. I don't think
he's very much like other people."

"Can you and I--can we trust each other, Tal?"

"I think we can." We shook hands with formal ceremony.

She looked at me quizzically. "How about you, Tal? Why are you after
the money?"

"Like they say about climbing mountains. Because it's there."

"What will it mean to you?"

"I don't know. I have to find it first."

"And then all of a sudden it's going to be some kind of an answer to
everything?"

"Maybe."

"What fouled you up, Tal? What broke your wagon?"

"I don't know."

"I can place most people. I can't quite place you. You look like one
type. You know. Played ball in school. Sells bonds or something.
Working up to a ranch-type house, a Brooks wardrobe, and some day
winter vacations in Bermuda after the kids are in college. You look
like that all except the eyes. And the eyes don't look like that at
all."

"What do they look like?"

"The eyes on the horse that knows they're going to shoot him because he
was clumsy and busted his leg."

"When do we go after the money?"

She stepped to the kitchen door and looked at the clock. "You'd feel
better if we stayed together until we get it, wouldn't you?"

"I guess I would. But it isn't essential."

"Your faith is touching. Didn't the police give you the word?"

"They said something about a cute variation of the badger game."

"It was very cute. They couldn't convict. And it was very dishonest,
Tal. But it wasn't a case of fleecing the innocent. It was pulled on
some citizens who were trying to make a dishonest buck. Like this. I
tell them my boy friend is on one of the wheels at the Aztec. I tell
the sucker the wheel is gimmicked. My boy friend is sore at the house.
The sucker has to have two or three thousand he wants trebled. I say I
can't go in with him. I give him a password to tell the boy friend. So
they let him win six or seven thousand. He comes here with the money.
The boy friend is to show up later. But when the boy friend shows up
he is with a very evil-looking citizen who holds a gun on him. Gun
has silencer. Evil type shoots boy friend. With a blank. Boy friend
groans and dies. Evil type turns gun on sucker. Takes the house money
back, plus his two or three, and one time twelve, thousand. Sucker begs
for his life. Reluctantly granted. Told to leave town fast. He does.
He doesn't want to be mixed up in any murder. House money goes back
to house. I get a cut of the take. I love acting. You should see me
tremble and faint."

"Suppose he doesn't come back here with the money?"

"They always have. They like to win the money and the girl too. They
think it's like the movies. Now will you trust me out of your sight?"

"I'll have to, won't I?"

"I guess that's it. You'll have to." She smiled lazily.

"I have some errands. You can wait here. I'm going places where you
can't go. You can wait here or you can meet me here. It's going to take
three or four hours. By then it's going to be too late to get to the
money today. We can go after it tomorrow morning."

"How are we going to divide it up?"

"Shouldn't we count it first?"

"But after we count it?"

She came toward me and put her hands on my shoulders. "Maybe we won't
divide it up, Tal. Maybe we won't squirrel it away. It's free money.
Maybe we'll just put it in the pot and spend it as we need it until
it's all gone. Maybe we'll see how far we can distribute it. We could
spread it from Acapulco to Paris. Then maybe we won't be restless any
more. It would buy some drinks to Timmy. In some nice places."

I felt uneasy. I said, "I'm not that attractive to you."

"I know you're not. I like meaner-looking men." She took her hands
away. "Maybe to you I'm like they used to say in the old-fashioned
books. Damaged goods."

"Not visibly."

She shook her head. "You kill me. It was just an idea. You seem nice
and quiet. Not demanding. Let's say restful. You said you don't know
what you'll do with the money."

"I said maybe I'll know when I get it."

"And if you don't?"

"Then we'll talk some more."

"You'll wait here?"

"I'll meet you here."

"At five-thirty."

She said she had to change. I left. I wondered if I was being a fool. I
had lunch. I didn't have much appetite. I went to a movie. I couldn't
follow the movie. I was worrying too much. I began to be convinced I
had been a fool. She wasn't the sort of woman to trust. I wondered by
what magic she had hypnotized me into trusting her. I could imagine
her digging up the money. Once she had it there was nothing I could
do. I wondered if my trust had been based on some inner unwillingness
to actually take the money. Maybe subconsciously I wanted the moral
problem off my hands.

She wasn't back at five-thirty. I waited in the lobby. I was sweating.
She came in at quarter to six. She looked pale and upset. We rode up
in the elevator together. She gave me the key to open her door. Her
fingers were cold. She kept biting her lip. Once we were inside she
began to pace.

"What's the matter?"

"Shut up and let me think. Go make some drinks. That thing there is a
bar. Scotch on the rocks for me."

I made the drinks. After hers was gone she seemed a little quieter,
more thoughtful.

"Sorry for being bitchy, Tal. I'm upset. My errands didn't work out the
way I expected. Some people seem to have the idea that just because
I was in on the festivities, I belong to the house. You don't need
details. I have some funds around here and there. I got to the bank in
time. That was fine. But it wasn't so good on the funds that are in,
shall we say, safekeeping. I got some of them. Not all that's coming
to me. Not by a hell of a lot. I'm not supposed to be able to take
off. I made the mistake of saying I was thinking about it. They gave
me some strong arguments. I made like changing my mind. Still I was
tailed back. How do you like that? The hell with them. They might even
be thinking of a hijack job. Now I know I've got to get out of here. I
think I've got it worked out. Will you help?"

"I guess so."

"I'm leaving for good. I can't make it tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow I can
pick up a little more of what's due me. You drive over here Thursday
morning. There's a back way out of here, through the cellar. I can
grease the superintendent. Park on the parallel street back of here. Be
there at ten sharp, ten in the morning. I'll come out the back way and
away we'll go. But, damn it, I hate to leave so much stuff behind. A
whole wardrobe."

"Is it dangerous?"

"I don't know how rough they might get. I just don't like the sound of
it. I don't like being patted on the shoulder and being given a big
toothy grin and being told 'There, there, little Toni, you don't want
to leave town. We all love you too much.'"

I said, "I could stay until after dark and you could pack things and I
could take them out maybe. A couple of suitcases."

"You sure you want to?"

"I'm willing to. If somebody followed you, they don't know I'm here
now. You could leave before I do. They'd follow you. Then I can take
the stuff out to my car."

"That should work all right. Gosh, it would really help. I've put a lot
of money in clothes. I think it would be better than trying to get the
stuff out in the morning, even with your help. I want it to move fast
and smoothly. Stay away from the windows."

She spent a lot of time packing. It was dark when she finished. She
filled two big suitcases. They bulged and they were heavy.

"Leave them wherever you're staying when you come back for me."

"It's a motel."

"Get me a room, too. Please."

She seemed to relax then. "I think it's going to work out, Tal. They
sort of--scared me. I know a lot. I don't plan to do any talking.
That's what worries them, I think. You don't know how much I appreciate
this. I'll--make it up to you."

She wanted to be kissed and I kissed her. There was an eagerness and
warmth and sensuality about her that made it a shock to touch her and
hold her. We rocked off balance as we kissed, caught ourselves, smiled
a little sheepishly.

"For now," she said.

I took the suitcases into the hall. She went on down. I waited there
for fifteen minutes and then I went down. The clerk was very dubious
about my leaving with suitcases. He seemed about to speak, but didn't
quite know what to say. I was gone before he had phrased the objection.
I put the suitcases in the back seat and drove to Hillston. I ate at
a drive-in on the edge of town. I took the suitcases back to my motel
room. They were an alien presence there, almost as vivid as if she were
there with me. I stowed them in the closet.



NINE


Wednesday was a gray day. I had hidden Grassman's body on Monday. It
seemed longer ago than Monday. The memory was very vivid, but it seemed
to be something that had happened a long time ago. I saw the suitcases
when I opened my closet to get at my own clothes. I was curious about
what she had packed. I felt guilty about opening them. Then I decided
that I had earned the right to look.

I put the larger one on the bed and tried the latches. It wasn't
locked. It popped open. There were furs on top, silky and lustrous. She
had packed neatly. Underneath the furs were suits, dresses, skirts,
blouses. The bottom layer was underclothing, slips, panties with frothy
lace and intricate embroidery in shades from purest white through all
of the spectrum to black.

The other suitcase was much the same. The clothing was fresh and
fragrant with perfume. It was perfume that was not musky. It had a
clean flower scent. I could understand how this was important to her. I
remembered her speaking of the charity gifts of clothing, of the dirt
in which she had grown up. She would want clothing, a great deal of it,
and all fresh and clean. I found the black leather box in the bottom of
the second suitcase. I opened it. Jewelry lay against a black velvet
partition. Bracelets, rings, clips. I could not tell if the white and
green and red stones were real. They were lustrous. They caught fire
in the light. But I could not tell. I lifted the partition. There was
money under it. Money in fifties and twenties and hundreds, a sizable
stack of bills. I counted it. There was six thousand and forty dollars.
When I replaced the partition the stones looked more real.

After the suitcases were back in the closet, I wondered what her
thinking had been when she had packed the money in there. Perhaps she
assumed I wouldn't search the bags. I hadn't intended to. Maybe she
thought that even if I did search them and did find the money it would
be safer with me than it would in the apartment. She could have been
right. It was safe with me. Even had I been the sort of person to take
it and leave, that sort of person would have waited for the chance of
acquiring much more--a chance only Antoinette could provide.

I found the bird woman cleaning one of the rooms. I paid her another
two nights in advance for myself and asked her to save the room next to
mine for a friend who would check in on Thursday. I gave her one night
rental on the second room.

As I drove toward town I found myself wondering if what Antoinette
had proposed might be the best solution for me. It was tempting. I
thought of the ripeness of her, the pungency of her personality, the
very startling impact of her lips. There would be no illusions between
us. She would make it easy to forget a lot of things. We would have
no claims on each other--and would be wedded only by the money, and
divorced when it was gone.

After I ate I went to the hardware store. I parked a half block from
it. I wanted to talk to George again. I wanted to see if I could steer
the conversation toward Eloise and Mr. Fulton. I wanted to see if he
would say anything that would make more sense out of the Grassman
death. Obviously Fitz hadn't contacted Antoinette. And she seemed
confident that no one else could find the money. So it began to appear
less logical that Grassman's death had anything to do with the sixty
thousand. Then why had Grassman been killed? He could have gotten into
some kind of argument with Fitz. We had seen Grassman at the lake on
Saturday. Somehow I had spoiled things with Ruth and so I had gotten
drunk on Saturday and again on Sunday. Fitz could have killed him on
Sunday, not meaning to do so. He could have loaded the body in his car
and gone looking for some place to put it, and spotted my car. The
California plates would be easy to spot. But by putting the body in my
car, he would be eliminating any chance of my leading him to the money
Timmy had buried.

But maybe Fitz was convinced that with the clue in his possession,
with the name Cindy, he could accomplish as much or more than I could.
He was a man of great confidence in himself. And not, I had begun to
believe, entirely sane.

If Grassman had contacted Fitz, perhaps George could provide me with
some meaningful clue as to why.

But there was a sign on the door. The store was closed. The sign gave
no additional information. It was crudely printed on paper Scotch-taped
to the inside of the door: _Closed_. I cupped my hands on the glass and
looked inside. The stock did not seem to be disturbed. It could not
mean closed for good.

It took me several minutes to remember where George lived. I couldn't
remember who had told me. White's Hotel. I found it three blocks away.
It was a frame building. It was seedy looking, depressing. It had once
been painted yellow and white. I went into the lobby. Old men sat in
scuffed leather chairs and smoked and read the papers. Two pimpled
boys stood by the desk making intense work out of selecting the right
holes to punch on a punchboard while the desk man watched them, his
eyes bored, his heavy face slack, smoke curling up from the cigarette
between his lips.

"I want to see George Warden."

"Second floor. The stairs are over there. A girl just went on up to
see him a minute ago." I hesitated and he said "Go ahead on up. Room
two-oh-three. She takes care of him when he gets in rough shape. It's
okay. George got taken drunk the last couple of days. She tried to
phone him and he wouldn't answer the room phone so she came on down.
Just now got here."

I guessed it was Ruth. I wanted to see her. I didn't know how she'd
react to me. I didn't want to talk to George with her there, though. I
went up the stairs slowly.

When my eyes were above the level of the second floor, I saw Ruth
running down the gloomy hall toward me. I reached the top of the stairs
just as she got there. Her eyes were wide and unfocused. Her mouth was
working. Her face was like wet paper.

I called her name and she focused on me, hesitated, and then came into
my arms. She was trembling all over. She ground her forehead against
my chin, rocking her head from side to side, making an odd chattering,
moaning sound. After a few moments she regained enough control to speak.

"It's George. In the room. On the bed."

"Wait right here."

"N--No. I've got to telephone. Police."

Her high heels chattered down the wooden stairs. I went back to room
203. The door was open. George lay across the bed, naked. There was
a rifle on the floor. A towel was loosely wrapped around the muzzle.
It was scorched where the slug had gone through it. I moved uneasily
around to where I could see his head. The back of his head was blown
off. I knew that before I saw his head because I had seen the smeared
wall. In the instant of death all body functions had shared the
smeared explosion. The room stank. His body had a gray, withered look.
I moved backward to the door. I backed through it into the hall. I
mopped my forehead. It was a hell of a thing for Ruth to have walked in
on. They could just as well move the sign to this door, to this life.
Closed. Closed for good.

I stood there in the hall and heard the sirens. The desk clerk came
lumbering down the hall. Old men from the lobby followed him. They
crowded by me and filled the doorway and stared in.

"Good Christ!" the desk clerk said.

"My oh my oh my," said one of the old men.

       *       *       *       *       *

Some of the faces were familiar. I knew Hillis and I knew Brubaker and
I knew Prine. Prine was not on top this time. He was taking orders
from a Captain Marion. Captain Marion was a mild, sandy man who wanted
everything cozy and neighborly. He had a wide face full of smile
wrinkles, and a soft, buzzing voice, and little blue eyes sunk back
beyond the thick crisp blond curl of his eyebrows.

Rather than individual questioning, he made it a seminar. I could tell
from Prine's bleak look that he did not approve at all.

They got us all down into a room in police headquarters. There
was a stenotype operator present. Captain Marion apologized for
inconveniencing anybody. He apologized several times. He shifted papers
and cleared his throat and coughed.

"Well now, as I finish with you people I'll tell you whether you can
take off or not. Nothing particularly official about this. It's a sort
of investigation. Get the facts in front of us. Let's see what we got
here. First let me say a couple of words about George. I knew his daddy
well and I knew George well, and I knew Timmy. George could have been a
big man in this town. He was on his way in that direction, but he lost
his grip. Lots of men never seem to get back on the ball after bad wife
trouble. But I had hopes George would pull out of it. Seems to me like
he didn't. And that's too bad. It's quite a waste. George was a bright
man." I saw Prine shift his weight restlessly.

"I got it right here on this paper that the body was discovered at
twenty minutes after ten this morning by Ruth Stamm. Now Ruthie, what
in the wide world were you doing down there at that White's Hotel?"

"Henr--I mean Captain Marion, George didn't have anybody to look after
him. Every once in a while I'd sort of--help him get straightened out."

"You used to go with Timmy, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did. I was trying to help George."

"Did Buck approve of that?"

"I don't think so. I mean I know he didn't."

"I see. Ruthie, what took you down there this morning?"

"I went by the store yesterday afternoon and there was a closed sign
on it. It worried me. After I got home I phoned White's Hotel. Herman
Watkins was on the desk. He told me George was drinking. This morning
I phoned the store and there was no answer. Then I tried the hotel.
George wouldn't answer the room phone. He does that sometimes. I mean
he used to do that. I have a key. So I drove down and went up to the
room. The door wasn't even locked. I opened it and--I saw him."

"What were you planning to do?"

"Get him some coffee. Get him cleaned up. Give him a good talking to, I
guess. As I've done before."

"Ruthie, you can stay or go, just as you please. Now then, I've got
this other name here. Talbert Howard. You came along right after
Ruthie. What were you doing there?"

I saw Ruth Stamm start to get up and then sit back down. "I wanted
to talk to George. I saw that the store was closed, so I went to the
hotel."

"What did you want to talk about?"

Prine answered for me. "We had this man in last week, Captain. We
thought he was another one of those people Rose Fulton keeps sending
down here. This man claims he's writing a book about men who died in
the prison camp where Timmy Warden died. This man claims he was there,
too. He's never written a book. He's unemployed, has no permanent
address, and has a record of one conviction."

"For what?"

I answered for myself. "For taking part in a student riot when I was
in school. Disturbing the peace and resisting an officer. The officer
broke my collarbone with a nightstick. That was called resisting an
officer."

Captain Marion looked at Prine. "Steve, you make everything sound so
damn serious. Maybe this boy wants to write a book. Maybe he's trying."

"I happen to doubt it, Captain," Prine said.

"What did you want to talk to George about, son?"

"I wanted more information about Timmy." I glanced at Ruth. She was
looking at me with contempt. She looked away.

"What happened when you got there?"

"The desk clerk told me a girl had just gone up. I met Miss Stamm when
I got to the head of the stairs. She was too upset to talk."

"I got a look in that room myself. Hardly blame her. Terrible looking
sight. All right, son. You can go if you want to."

"I'd prefer him to stay, if you don't mind, Captain."

Marion sighed. "All right, Steve. Stick around, Mr. Howard. Now,
Herman, we'll get to you. The doc says he can fix the time of death
about midnight last night. He may be able to get it a little closer but
he says that's a pretty good guess. Did you see George come in?"

"No, sir. I didn't see him. It was a pretty noisy night last night.
There were a lot of people coming and going. I heard George was doing
his drinking at Stump's, until Stump wouldn't serve him any more. He
left there about ten. Frankly, Captain, I was playing a little poker in
the room behind where the desk is. I can't see the desk from there, but
I can hear the bell on the desk and hear the switchboard if any calls
come in. That's why I brought Mr. Caswell along with me."

"I'm Caswell," a little old man said. He had a thin, high voice and an
excited manner. "Bartholomew Boris Caswell, retired eleven years ago. I
was a conductor on the Erie and Western Railroad. I'm not what you call
a drinking man and I see George Warden come in. I was behind him, maybe
half a block. I just happened to look at my watch because I wondered
what time I was getting in. Watch said eleven twenty-seven. Doesn't
lose a minute a month. See it? One of the best ever made. Right now
it's eleven minutes of two and that clock on the wall over your head,
Captain, is running two minutes slow."

"Are you sure it was George?"

"Sure as I know my own name. Man alive, he was drunk. Wagging his arms,
staggering all over. If it wasn't for his friend he'd never have made
it home."

"Who was his friend?"

"Don't know him and didn't get a look at him. Stiff-legged man, though.
Stiff in one leg. Like a limp. He horsepowered George right into the
hotel. Time I came in, they were gone upstairs. The lobby was empty. I
could hear some of the boys hooting and hollering and carrying on up
on the second floor. So I went there. They were back in Lester's room.
He had himself two gallons of red wine. At least he started with two
gallons. I had myself a little out of my own glass that I got from my
room. It didn't set so good on what I had been drinking. Didn't set
good at all. It like to come up on me. So I went on down to bed. Got
into my room at three after midnight. Right then I heard a funny noise.
Just when I was closing my door. It sounded a little like somebody
dropped a book or maybe tipped over in a chair and thumped his head.
I listened and I didn't hear anything else so I went right to bed. It
turns out that must have been when George shot himself."

"That would fit what the doctor says. Herman, could you find anybody
else who heard anything?"

"I couldn't find anybody else at all."

"You don't need anybody else," Caswell said. "I've told you all you've
got to know, haven't I?"

"Thanks, Mr. Caswell. You can go along if you want to."

"I'll stay and see what happens, thank you."

Captain Marion studied the papers in front of him and then muttered to
himself for a while. At last he looked up. "It's not up to me to make
any decision. That'll be up to the inquest. But I think we can figure
that George was pretty beat down. Lost his wife. Lost his brother. Lost
most of his business. Drinking heavy. It certainly looks to me that if
any man had reasons for suicide, George did. Steve, you look uneasy.
What's on your mind?"

"Captain, I don't think it's that easy. I've seen some suicides. I've
read up on them. A towel was used as a crude silencer. I've never heard
of that being used. A suicide doesn't care about the noise. He wants
people to come running. He wants it to be dramatic. The towel-wrapped
muzzle of the gun was in his mouth when it went off. The gun was new.
A three-oh-three bolt-action rifle, right out of stock, with the tag
still wired to the trigger guard. There were nice clean prints on the
side of the action. Too clean. They were George's, of course. There
were no prints on the inside doorknob. It wasn't wiped, but it had been
smeared. That could have been accidental or purposeful. Many suicides
are naked. More than half. That fits. Buttons had been ripped off his
shirt. Maybe he was in a hurry. Maybe somebody undressed him in a
hurry. There was a bottle on the floor, under the bed. Half full of
liquor. George left very clear prints on that. I'm interested in the
stiff-legged man."

"What do you mean, Steve?"

"I think somebody met George after he left Stump's. I talked to Stump.
George was nearly helpless. He carried a key to the store. I think
somebody went to the store with him and took a rifle out of stock.
I think he slid it down his pant leg. That gave him a stiff-legged
walk. He took George up to his room. He fed him more liquor. When he
passed out he undressed him, sat him on the edge of the bed, wrapped
the muzzle, opened his mouth, put it between his teeth, and pulled the
trigger. He put prints on the gun and bottle, smeared the knob, and
left."

"Steve, dammit, you always make things harder."

"Strange things are going on. I got a report from the county sheriff's
office today. A man named Grassman left his stuff in a cabin and
didn't come back for it. That was last Sunday. He'd been staying there
a couple of weeks. Milton Grassman from Chicago. The county police
found stuff in the cabin to indicate he worked for a Chicago firm
of investigators, and was down here on that Fulton thing. He stayed
twenty miles north of town, on the Redding road. Yesterday a car was
towed in. Over-time parking. A routine deal. Blue sedan, late model,
Illinois plates. Just before I came here I found out the registration
on the steering post is to this Grassman. All right now. Grassman has
disappeared, leaving his clothes and his car. George Warden dies all of
a sudden. Grassman was down here looking into the disappearance of a
Mr. Fulton who took off with George Warden's wife. It ties up, somehow.
I want to know how. If we can tie it up, we can find out for sure if it
was suicide or murder. I vote for murder. It was a bold way to do it,
and a dangerous way to do it. The man who did it took chances. But I
think he did it. Was it Grassman? Was it that man over there who claims
to be writing a book? Who was it? And why was it done?"

Marion sighed heavily. "Steve, I could never get it through my head why
you take off so ugly on those men who came down to poke around. That
poor Fulton woman, if she wants to spend her money, why don't you let
her? It's no skin off us."

"I don't want my judgment or the result of any investigation of
mine questioned. We're the law and order here. I don't want amateur
competition."

"Sometimes those fellas can help, Steve."

"I have yet to see the day."

"What did those Chicago people say? Did you get in touch?"

"No."

"Well, you phone them, Steve. Or teletype Chicago and let them handle
it with the agency. Those fellows may want to send somebody else down."

"Why, for God's sake?" demanded Prine, losing control.

"Why, to look for Grassman!" Marion said mildly. "Missing, isn't he?"

       *       *       *       *       *

I managed to walk out beside Ruth. She was cool, almost to the point of
complete indifference. "Ruth, I want to be able to explain some time."

"I don't think it's worth bothering about, really."

The day had begun to clear and we stood in frail sunlight.

"I don't know why I should worry so much about your good opinion," I
said, trying to strike a light note.

"If I were you, I wouldn't even think about it. I'm usually frank with
people. Too frank, as you will remember. I expect others to be the
same. I usually expect too much. I'm usually disappointed. I'm getting
used to it."

I found myself becoming annoyed at her attitude. "It would be nice for
you to get used to it. It would make it easier to be the only perfect
person--surrounded by all the rest of us."

"What do you think you--"

"I think you sounded pretty stuffy. That's all. You make a lot of
virtuous noise. And you condemn me without knowing the score."

"You don't seem exactly eager to tell me the score."

We stood glaring at each other. It suddenly tickled her sense of the
ridiculous. I saw her struggle to keep from smiling. Just then a man
came up to us. He was young, with a thin face and heavy horn-rimmed
glasses.

"Hello, Allan," Ruth said. "Allan, this is Tal Howard, Allan Peary."

We shook hands and he said, "Ruthie, I just heard they're going to
appoint me to straighten out George's estate. What there is left of it.
Do you happen to know what happened to the household effects when he
sold to Syler?"

"He sold everything, Allan."

Allan Peary shook his head. "I don't know where the money went. I've
been in touch with the bank. There's only three accounts open. The
lumberyard and the store and his personal account. And damn little
money in any of them. You're about the only one of his old friends
who saw much of him, Ruth. Where did it all go? He liquidated an awful
lot of stuff in the past year. What the hell was he doing? Playing the
market? Gambling? Women? Drugs?"

"He was drinking it up, I guess."

"Oh, sure," Allan said. "I know what Syler paid for the house. I know
what he got when he sold the lease on Delaware Street. I know what he
got for the cement trucks. If he didn't touch anything but Napoleon
brandy at twenty-five bucks a bottle, he'd have to drink a thousand
bucks a week worth to go through that money."

"Maybe it's in some other account, Allan."

"I doubt it." He looked at me uneasily and said, "I don't want to
talk out of school, but he had a big tab at Stump's. He was behind on
the room at the hotel. And I heard last week that Sid Forrester had a
sixty-day exclusive listing on the lumberyard and had an interested
customer lined up. That was the only thing George had left that was
making any money."

"Maybe when you go over his accounts you can find what he wrote checks
for, Allan."

"That isn't going to work, either. He wrote checks for cash and cashed
them at the bank. Amounts ranging from five hundred to two thousand."

Ruth frowned. "He didn't seem worried about money."

"I've tried to talk to him a few times. He didn't seem worried about
anything. He didn't seem to give a damn about anything. He almost
seemed to be enjoying some big joke--on himself."

And right at that moment something became very clear to me. Something
I should have seen before. I wondered why I had been so dense. Once
you made the proper assumption, a lot of things fell into their proper
place.



TEN


I realized they were still talking, but I was no longer listening to
what they said. Then I realized that Ruth had spoken to me.

"I beg your pardon?"

"I said I have to be running along."

"Wait a minute. Please. Can we talk for a minute? You too, Mr. Peary."
I saw that she was holding her shoulders as if she were chilled. The
sun had gone under again and a raw April wind was blowing. "We could
sit in my car a minute. I want to--make a guess as to what George was
doing with the money."

They looked at me oddly. Peary shrugged and said, "Sure."

We crossed the street and got into my car, Ruth in the middle.

"It's just a guess. You know that Rose Fulton has never been satisfied
with her husband's disappearance. Prine investigated and he's
satisfied. George was out of town when Eloise ran off with Fulton. A
neighbor saw Eloise carry a bag out to the car. Now suppose that Eloise
wasn't running away permanently. Imagine that she was just going to
stay the night with Fulton. She didn't want to stay at the house in
case George should come home. And there were the neighbors to consider.
She wouldn't want to go to a motel or hotel in the area. She was too
well known. So she planned to go up to the lake with Fulton. She took
just the things she'd need for overnight. Was it the time of year when
there wouldn't be people up at the lake?"

"It was this time of year," Ruth said.

"Now suppose George came home and found she wasn't home. He started
hunting for her. And went to the lake. Or imagine that for some reason,
driving back from his trip out of town, he stopped at the lake and
found them there together. What would he have done?"

"I see where this is heading," Ruth said. "It gives me a strange
feeling. George loved Eloise and trusted her. I guess he was the only
one who couldn't see what she was. If George walked in on the two of
them, I think he would have gone temporarily insane. I think he would
have killed them. He used to be a powerful man, Tal."

"So he killed them up there at the lake. He got rid of the bodies. He
could have wired weights to the bodies and sunk them in the lake, but
I'm more inclined to think he buried them. Maybe he buried them on his
own land there. He was lucky in that she had been seen at the Inn with
Fulton and she was seen leaving with Fulton. He had no way to know it
would work out so well. He killed them in anger, and buried the bodies
in panic. For a long time he was safe. He tried to go on as though
nothing had happened. He played the part of the abandoned husband. And
then somebody found the bodies. They didn't report it to the police.
They went to George."

Peary said eagerly, "And put the bite on him. They demanded money and
kept demanding money. He had to start selling things. When nearly
everything was gone, he killed himself. He couldn't face exposure and
trial and conviction. So we have to look for somebody who has gotten
rich all of a sudden."

"Or somebody smart enough to just put it away and not attract attention
by spending it," I said.

"He seemed so strange sometimes," Ruth said softly. "He said queer
things I didn't understand. He was like--one of those bad movies where
people laugh at the wrong places."

"It would be quite a thing to have on your mind," Peary said. "The more
I think about it, the more logical it seems, Mr. Howard. I think you've
hit it right on the head. The next step is to prove it. And that means
looking for the bodies. I--I'd like to hear what Mrs. Fulton has to
say, though. She's been annoying Prine by sending people here. I'd like
to know why she's so convinced that she's willing to spend money."

"We could phone her," I said. "If you could get her address."

He got out of the car. "I think I can get it. I'll be back in a minute."

We placed the call from Peary's office. Peary talked to her from the
inner office. Ruth and I listened on the extension, her ear close to
mine.

The woman had a harsh voice. "How do you come into this?"

"I don't, really. Mr. George Warden committed suicide last night. It
gives us a lead to what might have happened to your husband."

"He was killed and he was killed down there. Maybe that woman did it.
I don't know. Now I hear that man Grassman is missing. I talked to him
before he went down there. When are you people going to wake up down
there? What kind of a place is that, anyhow?"

"What makes you think your husband is dead?"

"Henry was no damn good. He'd chase anything in a skirt. I knew it.
That was the way he was. He'd always come crawling back. He even liked
crawling, I think. This business with that Warden woman was more of
the same. It wouldn't last any two years. He had fourteen hundred
dollars in his personal checking account. That's all tied up. He's
never drawn on it. He owed payments on the car. The finance company has
never been able to find the car. We've got two kids in high school.
I'll say this for him, he loved the kids. He couldn't go two years
without seeing them. Not Henry. Personally, believe me, I'm convinced
I'll never see him again and I don't care. But he had a couple of big
insurance policies. I insisted on that to protect me and the kids. What
protection have I got? The companies won't pay off. It has to be six
years from the time he dropped off the face of the earth. Four more
years I have to get along. What about college for the kids? I tell you,
you people better wake up down there and find out what happened to
Henry."

There was more, but she merely repeated herself. The conversation
ended. I hung up and looked at Ruth. Her smile was wan and she shivered
a little.

"That was pretty convincing, Tal," she said.

"Very."

Peary came into the outer office. He looked thoughtful. "Suppose I was
the blackmailer. I find the bodies. I came across them by accident. Or
maybe I was smart enough to look for them. Okay. What do I do? I make
damn well certain that nobody else finds them and spoils the game. I
want to do a better job of hiding them than George did. But I don't
want to completely dispose of the bodies. I want them where they can be
a threat. I want them where they can be dug up."

Ruth said, "That man Grassman. We saw him out at the lake, Tal and
I did. And now he's disappeared. That could mean that he found the
bodies."

"And found the blackmailer, too," Peary said.

I found myself remembering the odd conversation with George. When he
had said he couldn't give me a job. And had offered me a gun out of
stock. He had known I had come from Fitz. He had thought I was a friend
of Fitz, cutting myself in on the take. It was obvious that Fitz was
the blackmailer. I remembered the expensive look of the suit he was
wearing when I had seen him at the Inn. He had come to Hillston with
the idea of finding the money Timmy had hidden. He had stayed in the
cabin out at the lake. He made a point of telling me that the money
wasn't hidden out at the lake. He had looked there. And found something
profitable and horrible.

But what was most convincing was Fitz telling me that he was certain
Eloise hadn't taken the money with her. He must have appreciated his
own joke. Eloise had never meant to leave permanently. She would have
been a fool to leave as long as there was a chance of Timmy coming
back. She knew about the money. Yet Timmy had been shrewd enough not to
trust her with information about the hiding place.

I thought of that first conversation that must have taken place between
Fitz and George after Fitz found the bodies.

"What should we do?" Ruth asked. "Should we talk to Captain Marion?"

At four-thirty that gray Wednesday I stood on the lake shore with Ruth
and Allan Peary, Sergeant Brubaker and Lieutenant Prine. We were in
front of the place that had belonged to George Warden before he had
sold it. The narrow dock had been hauled out onto the shore for the
winter and hadn't been replaced. The wind had died and the lake was
like a gray steel plate. Voices had an odd resonance in the stillness.
Captain Marion came out of the cabin with a husky young patrolman. The
patrolman had changed to swimming trunks. He wore an aqualung with the
face mask shoved up onto his forehead. He walked gingerly on the rough
path in his bare feet. He looked serious, self-important, and chilled.

Captain Marion said, "Try to stay on this line right here. The water
looks kind of murky. How's the light?"

The patrolman clicked the watertight flashlight on. "It looks bright
enough."

Prine said in a low voice so Captain Marion couldn't overhear, "This is
nonsense."

No one answered him. Brubaker moved away from us. I glanced down at
Ruth's face. Her lips were compressed. She watched the patrolman wade
out into the water. It shelved off abruptly. He thrashed and caught his
balance, the water up to his chest. He adjusted the face mask, bit down
on the mouthpiece. He glanced toward us, then moved forward and was
gone, leaving a swirl of turbulence on the surface. The ripples spread
out, died away.

Prine lit a cigarette, threw the match aside with a quick, impatient
gesture. He had looked tall when I had seen him behind his desk.
Standing beside me he was not tall at all. His trunk was very long, but
his legs were short and heavy.

The long minutes passed. We made idle talk, but we kept our voices low.
The pines on far hills looked black.

The man came abruptly to the surface about forty feet off shore. He
swam to the shore and waded out of the water, dripping. He pushed the
face mask up onto his forehead. He was shivering.

"Man, it's cold down there," he said.

We moved toward him. "Well?" Marion demanded.

"Here, sir." He handed Marion something. We looked at it as it lay on
Marion's hand. It was the dash lighter out of an automobile, corroded
and stained. "I came right up from where it is. It's in about fifty
feet of water, half on its side. Gray Studebaker. Illinois plates. The
number is CT5851. Empty. Rock bottom. It's on a pretty steep slope. I
think it can be hauled out all right."

"That number checks out," Prine said in a reluctant voice. "Damn it,
how can you figure a thing like that?"

"Steve," Marion said, "I guess maybe we goofed on this one. I guess
maybe that Rose Fulton was right."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ruth had gone back to town with Peary in his car. She had seemed
subdued, thoughtful. As Peary had credited me with making the guess
that led to the discovery of the car, I was in Marion's good graces.
I had not told them the second installment of the guess--no longer a
guess, actually--that Fitzmartin was the blackmailer.

The tow truck had arrived. It stood heading away from the water, brakes
locked and wheels blocked. The taut cable stretched down into the
water. At dusk they had turned on the big spotlights on the tow truck.
About twenty people watched from a place just down the lake shore.
Captain Marion had herded them down there out of the way. More men had
come out from town. They had been searching the area, prodding into the
soft earth with long steel rods.

The tired patrolman surfaced again and came to shore. "It ought to
do it this time," he said. "I got the hook around the rear axle and
fastened back on the cable." He stood in the light. He had scratched
his arm on a rock. There was a sheen of water-diluted blood on his
forearm.

"Try her again," Marion called.

The winch began to whine again. The cable tightened visibly. I watched
the drum. The cable began to come in a few feet at a time. The progress
was uneven. At last, like some surfacing sea monster, the gray back of
the car emerged from the water. The car was resting on its wheels. It
came backward out of the water, streaming. Bright metal showed where it
had been dragged against rocks. The big truck moved forward until the
car was entirely on dry land. Water ran out of the car, runneling back
into the lake. There was a smell of dampness and weed.

"Get yourself dried off, Ben," Marion said quietly. "George, open up
that back end with a pry bar."

The cold, weary underwater swimmer went up to the cabin. A stocky
man in uniform opened the trunk expertly. The county police who had
arrived moved closer. I could hear the spectators talking excitedly
to each other. The floodlights illuminated the interior of the trunk
compartment brightly. There was drenched luggage in there, sodden
clothing. Water was still running out of the trunk.

Marion said, "Well, that's one place they ain't. Didn't expect them to
be. Tight fit for two of them. But you can see how it was. Those shirts
and socks. That stuff wouldn't jump out of the suitcase. He found them.
After he killed them he just dumped their stuff in the back end, loose
like. Then he aimed the car at the slope and started it up. It would
be night and he wouldn't have the car lights on because that would
attract attention. She got going pretty good. He knew it was deep right
off here. Hitting the water probably slowed it a lot, but once on the
bottom it would keep right on going down the underwater slope until it
wedged in those rocks where Ben found it."

I could see a woman's red plastic purse in the back end. The red had
stayed bright. It looked new enough to have been carried by Eloise
yesterday. Captain Marion reached in and took it out. He unsnapped it
and poured the water out of it. A corroded lipstick fell to the ground.
Marion grunted as he bent over and picked it up. There was a wallet in
the purse. He took it out and shook the water off it, and opened it. He
studied the soaked cards.

"Mrs. Warden's, all right. Al, can you tow the car on into town all
right?"

"Sure, Captain."

"Well, when you get there, spread all this stuff out in the back end of
the garage where it'll get a chance to dry off." In ten minutes the
car had been lashed securely and towed off. I heard the tow truck motor
labor as it went up the hill toward the road.

"Captain," Prine said, "shall I have the men keep looking? It's getting
too dark to do much good. They haven't had any luck."

"Might as well save it until morning. Tom, can you detail some of your
boys to help out in the morning?"

"I can send a couple around."

The spectators had gone, most of them. A wiry little man came over to
where we stood. The swimmer, back in uniform, had come down from the
cabin. I could smell a strong reek of liquor on his breath. Somebody
had evidently found a cold preventative for him.

Prine said to the elderly little man, "I told you people to stay back
there."

"Don't you bark and show your teeth at me, boy. I want to talk to you
fellows. Maybe you might learn something."

"Get off the--"

"Hold it, Steve," Captain Marion said in a mild voice. "What's your
name?"

"Finister. Bert Finister. Looking for bodies, somebody said. That's
what you're doing. You could listen to me. I live off back there, other
side of the road. I do chores around here. Most of the camps. Everybody
knows me. Carpentry work, plumbing, masonry. Put the docks in. Take 'em
out in the fall. I know these camps."

"So you know the camps. If you were hunting for bodies, Finister, where
would you look?"

"I'm getting to that. I know the camps. I know the people that come
stay in them. Knew George and Timmy Warden and their pa. Knew that
Eloise, too. Knew when Timmy used to come up and swim all the way
across to see Ruthie Stamm. Showing off, I guess. Then last year there
was a fellow named Fitzmartin up here. Guess he rented this place
from George. First time it was ever rented, and now it's been sold,
but that's beside the point. You know there's all this do-it-yourself
stuff these days. Takes the bread out of a man's mouth. Takes honest
work away from him. People do things theirself, they botch it all up.
Me, I take it like an insult. That Fitzmartin, he was digging around.
Didn't know what he was doing. I figured whatever he was doing it was
something he could hire me to do. Then by God, he trucks in cement and
he knocks together some forms, and I be damned if he doesn't cement the
garage floor. Pretty fair job for an amateur. But it was taking bread
out of my mouth, so I remember it. He put that floor in last May. If
I was looking for any bodies I'd look under that floor because that
Fitzmartin, he's a mean-acting man. I come around to help and he chases
me clean off the place. Walks me all the way up to the road with my arm
twist up behind me and calls me a trespasser. Nobody ever called me
that before. Folks are friendly up here. That man he just didn't fit
in at all. And I'm glad he wasn't the one who bought it. The folks who
bought it, people from Redding, they seem nice. Got two little kids.
I let them know when they want anything done, they get hold of Bert
Finister."

We stood in the glow of car lights. Captain Marion looked at Prine.
"Fitzmartin?"

"Runs the lumberyard for George. Shall I go get him?"

"We better look first, Steve."

"That cement floor fooled me. I went over it carefully. It hadn't been
dug up and patched. It never occurred to me that the whole floor had
been--"

"I saw a pickax in the shed," Captain Marion said. "Maybe you better
swing it yourself, Steve. Maybe you need the workout."

"Yes, sir," said a subdued Lieutenant Prine.

They parked the cars so that the headlights made the inside of the
garage as bright as a stage. Prine swung and grunted and sweated until
Captain Marion decided the punishment was enough. Finister came back
out of the darkness with another pick and a massive crowbar. The work
began to go faster. A big slab was loosened. They pried it up, heaved
it over out of the way, exposing black dirt. The men worked silently.
For a long time it didn't appear that they would get anywhere. I was
out in the darkness having a cigarette when I heard someone say
sharply, "Hold it!"

I started toward the garage and then thought of what they might find
and stopped where I was. The one called Ben came out into the night. He
bent forward from the waist and gagged dryly. He stood up and coughed.

"Find them?" I asked.

"They found them. Prine says it's her. He remembers the color of her
hair."

       *       *       *       *       *

I rode back in with Captain Marion. Prine had gone on ahead to pick up
Fitzmartin. Captain Marion felt talkative.

"It isn't going to be too easy with this Fitzmartin. What can we prove
that will stand up? Blackmail? We'd have to have the money and George's
testimony. Concealing The evidence of a crime? He can say George told
him to put a cement floor in the garage. He can say he didn't have
any idea what was under it. No, it isn't going to be as easy as Steve
thinks it is. Sometimes Steve worries me. He gets so damn set in his
mind. He isn't flexible enough."

"But you think it was Fitzmartin."

"It has to be. He milked George clean dry. George didn't have much
choice, I guess. Pay up or be exposed. If he was exposed, my guess is
he would have gotten life. A good defense attorney could have brought
out some things about Eloise that wouldn't sound very pretty to a jury.
George could have figured that when he ran out of money, Fitzmartin
might--probably would--take off without saying a word. That would leave
him free to walk around broke. Better than not walking around at all.
What I can't figure is how Fitzmartin got it in his head to look for
those bodies. He wasn't in this town when George killed the pair of
them. I understand he was in prison camp with Timmy. But how would
Timmy have any idea about a thing like that. There's some angles to
this we won't know unless that Fitzmartin wants to talk."

I could sense the way his mind was turning. He glanced at me a couple
of times.

"You gave us some help, Howard. I grant that. But I don't feel right
about the way you fit in, either."

"What do you mean, Captain?"

"Aren't you just a little too damn convenient? You hit town and
everything starts to pop open. Why is that?"

"Coincidence, I guess."

"You knew Timmy and you know Fitzmartin. Maybe before you came here you
knew Fitzmartin was milking George. Maybe that's why you came here,
Howard."

"I didn't know anything about it."

"I'm not through with you, son. Don't take yourself any notion to
disappear. I want you where we can talk some more. You're just too damn
convenient in this whole thing."

At that moment, about a mile from the Hillston city limits, a call came
over the radio. Marion answered it. I could barely decipher Prine's
Donald Duck voice over the small speaker.

"He's gone, Captain. Fitzmartin is gone. I've put out a description of
him and his car. He was living in a shed at the rear of the lumberyard.
All his personal stuff is gone. I felt the space heater. There was
a little warmth left. He didn't leave too long ago. How about road
blocks?"

"Damn it, Steve, I've told you before. Road blocks aren't worth a damn
around here. There's too many roads. There just aren't enough men and
vehicles in this area to close all those roads. That stove could have
been turned off three hours ago. You'd have to have your blocks set up
right now this minute on every road within a hundred miles at least."

"What do you suggest, sir?" Prine said more humbly.

"Wait and see if somebody picks him up."

Marion broke the connection. "Okay, Howard. You seem to know Fitzmartin
pretty well. Where does he come from?"

"Originally from Texas, I think."

"What's his line of work?"

"I think he worked in oil fields."

"Ever say anything about his relatives?"

"He never talked very much."

"That's not much help, I guess. Where can we drop you off?"

"My car's parked across the street from Peary's office."

"Want to tell you that I appreciate you making a pretty good guess
about this whole thing, Howard. I can't help telling you I wonder just
how much of it was guessing. And I wonder why you came here. I'd like
it if you'd play the cards face up."

I had thought him amiable, mild, ineffectual. Hour by hour I had
revised my opinion. I had thought Prine was the dangerous one. Prine
was the fool. Captain Marion was something else entirely.

"I'm not hiding anything, Captain."

"We've got George dead, and that Grassman missing, and we've got those
two bodies, and now Fitzmartin on the run. It has to get tied together
a little better before I feel right about it."

"I'm sorry I can't help you."

"I'm sorry you won't help, son. Good night."

They drove away. It was after ten and I was famished. In twelve hours
I would be picking Antoinette up. With luck, in twenty-four hours I
would be gone. Either with her or alone. I didn't know which it would
be. Call it a form of monomania. I had thought about the money for too
long. I had aimed toward it for too long. Tomorrow I would have it.
Once I had it, maybe I could begin to think clearly again.

I found a place to eat. I was just finishing when Brubaker came in. He
sat beside me at the counter and gloomily flipped the menu open. "A
hell of a long day," he said.

"It has been."

"And not over yet. At least they're giving me time to eat. And then
back on the job. Until God knows when. Nobody will get any sleep
tonight."

"I thought Captain Marion said he'd just wait and hope Fitzmartin gets
picked up."

"That's right. I mean about the girl."

I suddenly felt very cold. "What girl?"

"I thought you knew about that. The Stamm girl. Peary brought her back
to town. He left her off at her car. They found her car parked on North
Delaware. And nobody's seen her since. Her old man is fit to be tied.
Everybody is running around in circles."

I couldn't finish the little bit of food that was left I couldn't
drink the rest of my coffee. It was as though my throat had closed.
I wondered how soon they'd add two and two. Ruth had been subdued
and thoughtful when she left the lake. She would remember that
Fitzmartin had acted strangely. She was the sort of person to do her
own investigating. She was the sort of person who would go and talk
to Fitzmartin. She would have no way of knowing that he was a killer.
She would underestimate his cleverness. It wouldn't take him long to
learn that the car had been found, to learn that they were searching
the area of the lake cabin. It was time to go. The string was running
out. I could guess how it had happened with Grassman. Grassman, as a
result of his quiet investigation, had made some sound guesses as to
what had happened. He had paid a call on Fitzmartin. Maybe Grassman had
wanted to cut himself in. Maybe he had made a search of the place where
Fitzmartin lived while he was out. He could have found the large sum of
money Fitz had extorted from George Warden. Fitz could have found him
there and killed him, driven the body into town, and put it in my car.

From the violence of the blow that had killed Grassman, it could be
assumed that it was an unpremeditated killing. In the moment he killed
Grassman, Fitz became more deeply involved. He waited, expecting me to
be jailed for the Grassman murder. When I wasn't, he would know that I
had successfully gotten rid of the body. No one had spotted it in my
car. Thus, when it was found, it could as readily be traced back to him
as to me.

Assuming he could be questioned about Grassman, then George became the
weak link. George, by talking, could disclose Fitz's motive for the
Grassman murder. And so George had to die. Fitz had killed him boldly,
taking his risk and getting away with it. Prine had been right about
the towel.

Just when he thinks everything has been taken care of, Ruth Stamm
arrives. He can't leave without her immediately spreading the alarm.
He needs a grace period, time enough to get far away before someone
else makes the same guess she has made. That left him with a choice. He
could tie her up and leave her there. But that would be too clear an
admission of guilt. He could take her with him. That would be awkward
and risky. Or he could kill her. One more death wouldn't make any
difference in the final penalty.

"You're doing a lot of sweating," Brubaker said. "It isn't that hot in
here."

I managed a feeble smile. I said I would see him around. I paid and
left. It was too easy to visualize her dead, with raw new lumber
stacked over her body, her dark red hair against the damp ground in the
coolness of the night. What shocked me was the stunning sense of loss.
It taught me that I had underestimated what she meant to me. I could
not understand how she had come to mean so much, in so short a time.
More than Charlotte had ever meant.



ELEVEN


I went directly to police headquarters. I demanded to see Captain
Marion. After fifteen minutes they let me see him.

I told him that I thought Ruth's disappearance had something to do with
Fitzmartin. He looked older and tireder. He nodded without surprise.

He said, "She knew George pretty well. Maybe she remembered something
George said about Fitzmartin. So she tried to check it out herself.
Maybe he'd think she was the only one who'd guess. I've thought of
that, Howard. I don't like it. I've got a crew out there searching the
yard. I thought of something else, too. Maybe Grassman guessed. Maybe
that's why something happened to him. Thanks for coming in, Howard. I
added it up about a half hour ago. I don't like the total."

"Can I help in any way?"

"You look like hell. You better try to get some sleep."

"I don't think I'll be able to sleep."

I drove back out to the motel. It no longer seemed important about
meeting Antoinette in the morning. It didn't matter any more. I had
come here to Hillston to find treasure. I had thought I would find it
buried in the ground. I had found it walking around, with dark red
hair, with gray eyes, with a look of pride. And I hadn't recognized it.
I had acted like a fool. I had tried to play the role of thief. But it
didn't fit. It never would fit. The money meant nothing. Ruth meant
everything. I had had a chance and I had lost it. They don't give you
two chances.

I parked in front of my motel room. The office was dark, the _No
Vacancy_ sign lighted. Cars sat in the light of an uneasy moon, and the
travelers slept.

I unlocked the door with my key and stepped inside, reaching for the
light switch. Something came out of the darkness and slammed against my
jaw. Pain blossomed red behind my eyes, a skyrocket roaring was in my
ears and I felt myself fall into nothingness.

I came to in a brightly lighted place. I opened my eyes and saw nothing
but the white glare and closed them quickly. The white glare hurt.
My hands were behind me, fastened there somehow. I was in an awkward
position. Something soft filled my mouth, holding it open.

I opened my eyes again, squinting. I saw that I was in the small tile
bathroom of the motel. The door was closed. I lay on my side on the
floor. Earl Fitzmartin sat on the side of the tub. He wore khakis.
He looked at me with those eyes like smoke. His pale colorless hair
was tousled. I could sense at once that he had gone beyond the vague
borderline of sanity. It was like being in a cage with an animal.

He stood up, closed the lid on the toilet, bent over me, picked me up
with disconcerting ease, and sat me on the closed lid, holding me for
a moment until he was certain I wouldn't topple over. He sat on the rim
of the tub again, facing me.

"We aren't going to talk over a whisper, Tal. We aren't going to make
any sudden noises. If we make any sudden noises I'm going to snap your
neck with my hands. It wouldn't be hard to do. Nod your head if you're
going to be quiet."

I nodded. He took a knife out of his pocket, opened the blade, and
leaned toward me. He put the cold steel against my cheek, holding it
there, smiling in an odd way, then yanked it toward him, cutting the
strip of sheeting that held the dry washcloth in my mouth. I pushed the
washcloth out with my tongue and it fell to the floor at my feet.

"Where's Ruth?"

"That was just a little bit too loud. Not much too loud. Just a little
bit. So soften it up, Tal. Ruth is all right."

"Thank God."

"Not God. Me. I had the idea, not God. She was on the ground. On her
face. Out like a light. I took hold of that wonderful hair in my left
hand and I pulled her head up. I held this little knife against her
throat. It's sharp enough to shave with. I was about to pull it through
her throat when I suddenly began to wonder if she might be worth
something. So I didn't do it. She's all right. Don't thank God. Thank
Earl Fitzmartin. She isn't comfortable. She isn't happy. But she's
still alive, Tal."

"Where is she?"

"Not over a half mile from here. But you don't know what direction.
It's across country. I was trained to fight at night. I move well at
night, Tal. I'm good at night. You know how I used to get around the
camp. You remember that. She's well tied, Tal. She can't even wiggle.
She can't make a sound. You're really worried about her, aren't you?
She came to the yard. For a little heart-to-heart talk. Did they find
the bodies, Tal?"

"They tore up the garage floor."

"Now they can ask George all about it. But George won't have a word to
say. George isn't talking. George didn't have much more left. Just
a little equity in the lumberyard. A little stock in the store. Not
enough left to stay around for. He was good for forty-seven thousand,
seven hundred dollars. It should have been more. He didn't have to give
up. He could have gotten on the ball and started making more. He could
have tried to fatten up the kitty. But he was selfish. He would have
lived longer."

"You killed him."

"That was a shade too loud, Tal. Just a bit too loud. How are you
coming with Cindy, Tal. Find her?"

"You took an awful chance killing George."

He smiled again. "You won't believe this, but I didn't kill him. He
started to come to while I was stripping him, but I poured more liquor
into him. I read that people drown themselves and shoot themselves and
cut their wrists naked. Did you know that? Very interesting. I got him
propped on the side of the bed. I got the muzzle with the towel around
it between his teeth. The gun was about the only thing holding him up.
I wanted the angle to be right and I wanted to do it when there was a
lot of noise on the floor. But I wanted to do it, Tal. You know, you
plan a thing, and work it out just right, you want to do it. But he
opened his eyes. He looked right at me. He looked ridiculous, with the
gun in his mouth. He looked right at me and put his big toe against the
trigger before I could stop him. I don't know if it was an accident.
What do you think?"

"I think he did it on purpose."

"So do I. So do I. It makes me feel a little strange. He maybe did it
like a joke. He did that well. He didn't do much else well. He didn't
do well marrying that woman or burying her, either. I thought I'd hit
the sixty thousand when I dug under the pines. But it turned out to be
the woman and the salesman. It disappointed me, Tal. But it turned out
to be just like finding money, didn't it?"

"They're all after you now."

"Do you think that worries me? Now hear this. It doesn't worry me a
bit. Maybe you ought to be worried. Where is Grassman? I didn't think
you could get out of that. You surprised me a little, Tal. I thought
it would give you the jumps. What did you do with it?"

"I hid the body in a barn, an abandoned barn."

"And I bet you did some sweating. Grassman was smart. He was in my
league, Tal. Not yours. He added things up. He was a pro. He added
things, up and came after the money. He knew I had to have it around
somewhere. He knew I was too smart to spend it. I caught him looking
for it. We had a little talk. He got rough. I got mad and hit him too
hard. That made it awkward. I put him in the back end of my car. I
didn't know where to dump him. I was thinking of an alley, so they'd
think he'd been mugged. But I found your car by accident. It saved me a
lot of time. After I killed Grassman, I knew I had to get George out of
the way. He was the only one who could tie me to Grassman. It took some
planning, and some luck. I won't have time to work on the Cindy angle.
How are you coming?"

I could see the shape of it. George could tie him to Grassman and
George was dead. I could tie him to both of them. It was only through
his greed that I could buy time, buy my life. "I found her."

He waited ten seconds. He said, "A hundred and seven thousand sounds
better than forty-seven. I think I better have that much before I take
off, Tal."

"They're going to get you."

"I don't think so. I don't figure it that way. They might have got me
if I'd cut her throat. I wanted to. But I didn't let myself. They would
have hunted me too hard. Now you can trade information for her, Tal.
If she doesn't mean anything to you, too bad. I can kill you right
here and go and kill her and be on my way and be careful and take
my chances. I couldn't leave you here telling them about George and
Grassman and then finding my sixty thousand. I'd rather nobody found
it."

"Somebody is going to find it, anyway. The girl is going to find it.
She knows where it is."

"Where is it, Tal?"

"She wouldn't tell me. I told her too much. I couldn't find out any
other way. She's--more in your league, Fitz. I'm picking her up
tomorrow morning in Redding. At ten o'clock. She's going to go with me
to where the money is hidden."

He smiled in that wild, unpleasant way. "You're kidding the troops,
boy. You're stalling. I scared you and you're making things up. You're
just smart enough to know that if you are going to get it tomorrow, and
yet you don't know where it is, I've got to leave you alive. You're
that smart, and that's why you made it up."

"It's the truth."

"I don't think it's the truth at all. I think maybe you haven't gotten
any place. I think I've stalled around here too long. I think I'd like
to hear your neck snap. I can do it so quick you'll hardly know it
happened. Maybe you won't know it at all."

"Wait a minute. Look in the closet in the bedroom. Her luggage is
there."

For the first time he looked uncertain. He turned out the bathroom
light and went into the next room. He came back with the two suitcases.
He shut the door, turned the light on again. He opened them and looked
at the clothing.

"This is pretty good stuff. This belongs to her? What's it doing here?"

"We were going to get the money and go off together."

I could see him appraise that, and half accept it. "But I don't like
the idea of letting you go and get it. I can't keep an eye on you."

"Fitz, listen to me. I don't give a damn about the money. You can have
every cent of it after I get it. I'll trade all of it for Ruth Stamm.
Then see how it will be. You'll have the hundred and seven thousand.
They think George was a suicide. Maybe they'll never find Grassman. I
covered the body with hay. The barn is about to fall down. Nobody ever
goes in there. They won't look as hard for you. You'll be a lot safer."

"You're lying. This is a stall."

"It's not. I'll prove we were going to go away together when we got
the money. Look for the small black box in the bottom of the smaller
suitcase. Under all the clothes. Yes, that's it. Look under the
partition."

He took the money out. He riffled through it. He folded it once and
put it in his shirt pocket. He looked at me for long moments, his eyes
dubious.

I do not like to think about the next half hour. He put the gag back in
my mouth. He had his strong hands, and he had the small sharp knife,
and he had a sadistic knowledge of the nerve ends. From time to time
he would stop and wait until I quieted down, then loosen the gag and
question me. The pain and humiliation made me weep like a child. Once I
fainted. Finally he was satisfied. He had learned how much I thought of
Ruth. He had learned that I knew that we had to go where the money was
hidden by boat. He knew that I had guessed we would start from the Rasi
house north of town. And he knew that I knew no more than that.

After that he cut my hands loose. He was perfectly safe in so doing. I
was too enfeebled by pain to be any threat to him.

"You'll get the money. You'll dig it up. You'll come back here with it."

"No."

He took a quick half step toward me. I couldn't help flinching. Memory
of what he could do was too clear.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean I don't trust you to do what you promise, Fitz. I've got to
know Ruth will be all right. I've got to know she'll be safe. Or you
don't get the money."

"I broke you this far. You want to be broken the rest of the way?"

"I don't think you can do it."

After a long time he gave a shrug of disgust. "Maybe not. How do you
want it worked?"

"I want to see her. I want to see that she's alive before I give you
the money. It could be by the river. Then if you try to cross me, I'll
throw the money in the river. I swear I'll do that."

"You would, wouldn't you? You're making it rough. I can't risk being
seen."

"I'll see that we start off by boat at one o'clock. I don't know how
far we have to go or how long it will take. You could bring her to the
Rasi house at two."

"It's a risk."

"It's isolated. There's no phone there. At least I don't think they
have a phone. I'll give you the money and I'll see that you get a fair
start. That's the most I can do. I won't try to make it any safer for
you."

"But you promise a fair start?"

"I promise that."

He snapped out the bathroom light. I heard the door open, and then
heard the outer door open and close. I walked unsteadily through the
dark room to the front door. I opened it. The moon was gone. A wind
sighed across the flats on the far side of the road. There was no sign
that Fitzmartin had ever been there. The night was still. He was very
good in the night. I remembered that.

There was a first-aid kit in the trunk compartment of my car. I got it.
The small cuts had not bled very much. I cleaned myself up and bandaged
the cuts. I ached all over. I felt sick and weak, as though I were
recovering from a long illness. I kept seeing his eyes. His powerful
hands had punished nerves and muscles. Even my bones felt bruised and
tender.

I went to bed. I was certain that Ruth was still alive. I hoped his
greed would be stronger than his wish to kill. I hoped his greed would
last through the night. But there was something erratic about his
thought patterns. There was an incoherency about the way he had talked,
jumping from one subject to the next. He had a vast confidence in his
own powers.

I wondered where he had Ruth. A half mile away. Across country. Maybe
she was in his car, and it was parked well off a secondary road. Maybe
he had found a deserted shed.

As I lay awake, trying to find some position in which I could be
comfortable, I heard it begin to rain. The rain was light at first,
a mere whisper of rain. And then it began to come down. It thundered
on the roof. It made a drench of the world, bouncing off the painted
metal of the cars, coming down as though all the gates of the skies had
been opened.



TWELVE


I awoke at dawn. It was still raining. It seemed to be raining harder
than before. I was surprised that I had been able to go to sleep. I
took a hot shower to work the stiffness out of my muscles. The small
cuts stung. My face in the mirror looked like the face of a stranger,
with sunken eyes and flat, taut cheeks.

I prayed that Ruth was still alive. I prayed that she had lived through
the night. I knew what would have happened the previous night had I not
found Cindy. I would be lying dead on the tile floor. They would find
me there.

I shaved and dressed and left the motel. I got uncomfortably wet in the
ten feet from the motel door to the car door. I drove slowly into town,
the lights on, peering ahead through the heavy rain curtain. I drove
through town and found a gas station open on the far side. I had the
car gassed up. Farther along I found an all-night bean wagon. A disc
jockey in Redding was giving the seven-o'clock news. The plastic radio
was behind the counter.

"... as yet on the disappearance of Ruth Stamm, only daughter of Doctor
Buxton Stamm of Hillston. It is believed that the young woman was
abducted by a man named Earl Fitzmartin, Marine veteran and ex-prisoner
of war. Fitzmartin had been employed for the past year by George
Warden, Hillston businessman. Fitzmartin was a newcomer to Hillston.
George Warden committed suicide this week. But certain peculiarities
about the circumstances of Warden's suicide have led Hillston police to
believe that it may have been murder. Yesterday the Hillston police,
assisted by Gordon County police officers, searched a summer cottage
once owned by George Warden and found, under a cement garage floor, the
bodies of Eloise Warden, wife of George Warden, and Henry Fulton, of
Chicago. At the time of the Warden woman's disappearance two years ago,
it was believed she had run off with Fulton. Discovery of the bodies
and of the Fulton car, which had been driven into the lake into deep
water, has led police to believe that George Warden killed both of them
after finding them together at the summer cottage.

"An intensive search is being made for Fitzmartin and Miss Stamm. Full
details of the case have not yet been released, but it is believed
that there is some connection between Fitzmartin and the bodies
discovered yesterday at the summer cottage. It is expected that federal
authorities will be called in on the case today. Miss Ruth Stamm is
twenty-six years old, five feet eight inches tall, and weighs about a
hundred and twenty-eight pounds. She has dark red hair and gray eyes
and was last seen wearing a dark green skirt and a white cardigan
sweater. Fitzmartin is about thirty years old, six feet tall, weighs
about a hundred and eighty pounds. He has very blond, almost white
hair, pale gray eyes. He may be driving a black Ford, license BB67063.
Anyone seeing persons of this description should contact the police at
once. Listen again at eight o'clock to WRED for complete local news."

The disc jockey stopped and whistled softly. "How about that, folks?
They give me this stuff to read and sometimes I read it and don't even
listen. But that's a hot one. That one can grab you. Bodies under
concrete. Cars in lakes. Suicides that aren't suicides. A red-headed
gal and an ex-Marine. Man, that's a crazy mixed-up deal they've got
down there in Hillston. That's got all the makings of a national type
crime. Well, back to the mines. Got to spin some of this stuff. But
before I do, let me tell you a little something you ought to know, you
good folks out there, about the Atlas Laundry and Dry Cleaning people
right here in Redding, over on Downey Street. If you've got clothes
you're really proud of, and I guess we all got one set of those good
threads at least, then you--"

The fat young girl behind the counter turned off the radio. "That
character," she said amiably to me. "Ten minutes of commercials between
every number. Drive you nuts. I just turn him on for the news. If you
want, I can turn him back on or find something else."

"No thanks."

"How about that Stamm girl? I met her once. We had this dog, see. Got
him when he was a puppy. But this highway, it's bad to try to have a
dog when you live on the highway. He got himself hit and we took him
to Stamm's. The girl was real nice. Pretty sort of girl. But Blackie
was too far gone. Busted his back, so they had to give him a shot.
Honest, I cried. And you know what I think? I think it's a big deal for
those two. I think she maybe ran off with that Marine. You can figure
she wasn't getting any younger. She'll hear about all the mess she's
causing and she'll get in touch. That's just what will happen."

"Could be," I said.

"Of course it could be. You want more coffee, maybe? Sometimes I think
I'd run off with anybody asked me just to get out of this rat race.
That's on my bad days. Isn't this day a stinker, though? It keeps
coming down like this, every creek in the county will be flooded. It
gives me the creeps to think about those two buried under a garage
floor all that time. I never knew her, but my sister knew her. She was
in the high school with her, before my time. My sister says she did a
lot of running around. The way I see it, mister, if a husband catches
his wife and another man, he's got a right to kill the two of them.
It's like what they say the unwritten law. When I get married, I'm
not going to do any cheating. I guess it isn't so bad if a man does a
little cheating. They're all alike, beg your pardon. But no woman with
a home and husband and everything has any right to jump the fence.
Don't you think so? He made his big mistake burying the two of them
like he did. He should have just got on the phone and said to the
police, 'You boys come out here and see what I did and why.' Then it
would have been just what they say formalities. The way I look at it--"

I was saved by two truck drivers who came in from the big red combo
that had just parked in front of the place. After she served them she
came back, but I had finished.

As she gave me my change she said, "You remember what I told you, now.
That girl and that Marine ran off some place. Drive carefully."

I drove on through the rain. The cars I met were proceeding with
great care. It should have been full daylight, but it hadn't gotten
appreciably lighter since first dawn. It was almost nine o'clock before
I got to Redding. I parked near a drugstore and phoned her number from
a booth in the back of the store.

She answered the phone at once. "Hello?"

"This is Tal."

"I'm sorry. I'm afraid you have the wrong number."

"I'll be there at ten like you said."

"That's perfectly all right." She hung up. Her last comment had been
the tip-off. Somebody was there with her. She had answered as though I
had apologized. I wondered if it would be all set for ten. I wondered
if I dared try again. I went to the drugstore counter and had coffee.
The counter was emptying rapidly as people went to work. I bought a
Redding paper. The discovery of the bodies had been given a big play.
The article filled in a little more background than the radio item, but
essentially it was the same.

At nine-thirty I tried again. She answered on the second ring. "Hello?"

"This is Tal again."

"Yes?"

"Is this deal off or on. What goes on? Should I be there at ten?"

"This coming Saturday? No, I'm very sorry. I have a date."

"I'm at a pay phone. The number is 4-6040. I'll wait right here until
you can call me back."

"No, I'm so sorry. Maybe some other time. Give me a ring."

"Phone as soon as you can."

"Thank you. Good-by."

I took a booth near the phone booths. I went and got my paper and
ordered more coffee. I waited. Two people used the booth. At five
minutes to ten the call came.

"Hello?"

"Is that you, Tal? I couldn't talk before. I'm glad you phoned. Make it
ten-fifteen. What does your watch say?"

"Exactly four minutes of."

"Don't park out back. Park a block away. Start up at exactly
ten-fifteen and go slow. When you see me coming, unlatch the door.
Don't waste time getting away from there."

I began to be more nervous. I had no way of knowing what she was mixed
up in. I knew her playmates would be hard people. I didn't know how
closely they would be watching her.

The rain had begun to let up a little. I parked a block away from her
apartment house. I could see it. I kept the motor running. I kept an
eye on my watch. At exactly ten fifteen I started up. I drove slowly. I
saw a man in a trench coat across the street from the apartment house,
leaning against a phone pole.

As I drew even with the apartment house, slowing down, she came
running. I swung the door open. I didn't stop. She piled into the car.
She wore a dark coat, a black hat with a veil, and carried a brown case
like a dispatch case.

"Hurry!" she ordered. Her voice was shrill, frightened.

I speeded up. She was looking back. I heard a hoarse shout.

"Keep going!" she ordered. "He's running for his car. It's headed
the wrong way. They posted a man out in back. I didn't know it until
yesterday afternoon."

A light ahead turned red. There was cross traffic. I ran the light.
Tires yelped and horns blatted with indignation. I barely made the
next light. She kept watching back over her shoulder. It took fifteen
minutes to get to the southbound highway, the road to Hillston.

Once we were out on the highway and I was able to open it up a little,
she turned around. I glanced at her. Her left eye was badly puffed and
discolored. Her left cheek was bruised. I remembered the story of the
small girl who had stayed home from school because her brother had
blacked her eye.

"What happened to your face?"

"I got bounced around a little. People got annoyed at me."

"What the hell have you been mixed up in?"

"Don't worry about it."

"I'd like to know how much chance I was taking."

"You weren't taking it. I was taking it. They didn't want me to leave.
Anybody leaves they get the idea there's a subpoena in the background.
And a committee and an investigation. They were careless. I learned too
much. So they had a problem. Do they kill me or watch me. They watched
me. I'm stupid, I guess. I was having a big time. I thought I could
pull out any time. I didn't know they played so rough. If I'd guessed
it could be that rough, I wouldn't have gotten that far in."

"You can't go back, then."

"I can't ever go back. Don't make jokes. Just drive as fast as you can."

She had changed in the short time since I'd seen her. There had been a
lot of arrogance about her. Confidence and arrogance, and a flavor of
enjoyment. That was gone. She was bitter and half-frightened and sullen.

I drove. The rain finally stopped. The sky had a yellow look. Tires
made a wet sound on the road. The ditches were full. We went through a
village. Children romped in the schoolyard under the yellow sky.

I did not like what I was going to have to do to her. She had given me
a certain measure of trust. She had no way of knowing that the stakes
had changed. She could not know I was willing to betray her--that I had
to betray her. I knew I could not risk taking her to the motel. She
would want her luggage first of all. She would want to check on the
money. It was gone. She would want an explanation. And there was no
explanation I could give her.

I would betray her, but it was the money balanced against Ruth's life.
It seemed fantastic that I could have seriously considered going away
with this woman who sat so silently beside me, fists clenched nervously
against the dark fabric of her skirt. It seemed fantastic that I
could have gotten wound up in the whole thing. Charlotte was several
lifetimes in the past. When I had come home I had felt half alive. Now
I was entirely alive. I knew what I wanted, and why, and knew that I
would go to any lengths to get what I wanted.

"Are you serious in thinking they would kill you?" I asked.

She laughed. A single short, flat sound. "I know where the body is
buried. Ever hear that expression? It was a party I didn't want to go
on in the first place. I knew it would be a brawl. It was. A man got
himself killed. He got too excited. Not a bad guy. Young guy. Rich
family. Got a big whomp out of running around with the rougher element.
You know. Liked to know people by their first name, the ones who had
been in jail. Liked to be able to get his parking tickets fixed. He
got suddenly taken dead. Sort of an accident. A very important fellow
shot him in the head. I was the only outsider. I know where they put
him. The family has spent a fortune in the last five years, looking for
their kid. They're still looking. It could be very bad. It was very bad
at the time. I'd never seen anything like that before."

"They would kill you?"

"If they think I'll talk. If they were sure of it and had a chance.
There wouldn't be much heat over me. Not over this pair of round heels.
The kid they killed is real heat. The man with the gun was drunk. I was
with the man with the gun. The kid thought he was too drunk to know or
care. He had his arms around me when he was shot in the head. When the
bullet hit his head, he grabbed onto me so hard I couldn't breathe for
a week without it hurting. Then he let go and fell down and tried to
get up and went down for good. It was at a farm. They put him in an
old cistern and filled it with big rocks. They had his car repainted
and sold through channels. If nothing happens in six months or so,
they'll stop worrying about me, and maybe they'll stop looking. But
I know what I'm going to do. Blond dye job. Maybe glasses. I'll feel
better if I don't look like myself."

I was wondering how I could keep her away from the motel and still
stall long enough to get to the Rasi place at one.

She helped out by saying, suddenly, "What's been going on down in
Hillston, anyhow? Eloise and her boy friend under the cement. That
Stamm girl missing. George knocking himself off. Sounds like it has
been pretty wild down there."

"I want to talk to you about that."

I sensed a new wariness about her. "Just what do you mean?"

"I'm new in town. There's been a lot going on. I haven't had anything
to do with it. I mean I've been in on it as a bystander, but that's
all. But the police like to keep busy. I think it would be better if we
didn't go on back through town to the motel. I think it would be better
if we went after the money first."

"You could be picked up?"

"I might be."

"But what for? I don't like this. If they pick you up they pick me up.
And word would get back to Redding too damn fast."

"I'm sorry, but that's the way it is."

"I don't like it."

"I can't help that. I think we ought to go after the money. When we get
it, we can circle around town and get to the motel from the south. Then
we can pick up our luggage and be on our way."

"Then that means spending too much time in the area with the money on
us. Why don't we circle around and get the baggage first? Then when we
get the money, we're on our way."

"They know where I'm staying. Suppose they're waiting there to pick us
up."

"Damn it, how did you manage to mess this up, Tal Howard?"

"I didn't mess it up. It isn't a big city. I'm a stranger. They're
after a man named Fitzmartin."

"I remember that name. You said he knows about the money, too."

"He doesn't know where it is. You're the only one who knows where it
is."

"Why are they after him? On account of the girl? They think he took
her?"

"And they think he was blackmailing George because he found out about
Eloise and her boy friend being dead. And they think he killed George,
and maybe a private detective named Grassman."

"Busy little man, isn't he?"

"That puts me in the picture because the three of us, Fitz, Timmy, and
I, were in the same prison camp."

"I knew this was going to be a mess. I knew it."

"Don't be such a pessimist."

"Why the hell didn't you bring all the stuff along right in the car?
Why didn't you check out?"

"If I checked out, they'd be looking already."

"I suppose so. But you could have brought my stuff, anyway."

"I didn't think of that."

"You don't seem to think of much of anything, do you?"

"Don't get nasty. It isn't going to help."

"Everything gets messed up. I was all right. Now I'm out on a limb. I
should be laughing?"

"I think we ought to get the money first."

"I can't go like this. I don't want to ruin these clothes."

"Ruin your clothes? Where are we going?"

"Never mind that."

"You haven't got anything but good clothes in--" I stopped too suddenly.

"So you had to poke around," she said, vibrating with anger. "Did you
have a good time? Did you like what you saw?"

"It's nice stuff."

"I know it's nice. Sometimes it wasn't so nice earning it, but I know
it's nice. I have good taste. Did you count the money? Attractive
color, don't you think? Green."

"I counted it."

"It better all be there. And the jewelry better all be there. Every
damn stone. The jewelry more than the money. A lot of people thought it
was junk jewelry. It isn't. It's worth three or four times the money."

"It's all there. It's safe."

"It better be. I can't go in these clothes. We'll have to go somewhere
where I can pick up some jeans. I thought I could buy them in Hillston.
Now you can't go into Hillston. So where do we go?"

"You know the area better than I do."

"Let me think a minute."

She told me where to turn. We made a left, heading east, twenty miles
north of Hillston. It was a narrow, busy road. Ten miles from the turn
was the town of Westonville, a small, grubby town with a narrow main
street. I circled a block until I found an empty meter. I watched her
walk away from the car. Men turned to look at her. Men would always
turn to look at that walk. I went into a drugstore and came back with
cigarettes. She was back in about ten minutes with a brown parcel.

"All right," she said. "Let's go. I've got what I need."

We headed back toward the Redding road. She said, "Find a place where
you can get off the road. I want to change into this stuff. How about
ahead there, on the left, that little road."

I turned up the little road she pointed out. We passed two dreary
farmhouses. The road entered a patch of woods. I turned onto an old
lumber road. The clay was greasy under the wheels. After we went around
a bend, I stopped.

She opened the door on her side and got out. She bent over the seat
and undid the parcel. She took out a pair of burnt-orange slacks,
some cheap sneakers, and a wooly yellow sweat shirt. She took the
black suit jacket off and folded it and put it on the back seat.
The odd light of the yellow sky came down through the trees. The
leaves dripped. She undid her skirt at the side and stepped out of it
carefully. There was no coyness about her, not the slightest flavor of
modesty. She did not care whether I stared at her or averted my eyes.
She folded the skirt and put it with the jacket. She took her blouse
off and put it carefully on the back seat. She stood there in the
woodland in black hat with veil, black shoes, skimpy oyster-white bra
and panties, looking both provocative and ridiculous. The hat was last.

She gave me a wry look and said, "Strip tease alfresco. Aren't you
supposed to stamp your feet or something?"

"Aren't you cold?"

"I'm a warm-blooded thing." She put the wooly, baggy sweat shirt on,
then stepped into the slacks and pulled them up around her full hips
and fastened them with zipper and buttons. She sat on the car seat and
took off her black shoes and put them in back and put on the sneakers
and laced them up.

"Good God, I haven't had clothes like this in years. How do I look,
Tal?"

I couldn't tell her how she looked. It wasn't a return to the girl who
had gone on the bike trips with Timmy. I would have guessed it would
have made her look younger and fresher. But it didn't. Her body was too
ripe, her eyes and mouth too knowing. The years had taken her beyond
the point where she could wear such clothes and look young.

She read the look in my eyes. "Not so good, I guess. Not good at all.
You don't have to say it."

"You look fine."

"Don't be a damned fool. Wait a minute while I use the facilities, and
then we'll get out of here." She went off into the woods out of sight
of the car. She was back in a few minutes. I backed out. I looked at my
watch. The time problem had been nearly solved. It was a little past
twelve-fifteen.

I pulled into the yard of the Doyle place, the Rasi place where she had
been born. I saw that the boy had finished painting the boat.

"It looks even worse than I remember," she said. She got out of the
car and went toward the porch. The chickens were under the porch. The
dog lay on the porch. He thumped his tail. Antoinette leaned over and
scratched him behind the ear. He thudded the tail with more energy.

Her sister came to the doorway, dirty towel in her hand.

"Hello, Anita," Antoinette said calmly.

"What are you doing here? Doyle don't want you coming around here. You
know that."

"----Doyle," Antoinette said.

"Don't use that kind of language with kids in the house. I'm warning
you." The girl who had cried came up behind her mother and stared at us.

"You're so damn cautious about the kids," Antoinette said with
contempt. "Hi there, Sandy."

"Hi," the girl said in a muted voice.

"You give the kids such a nice home and all, Anita."

"I do what I can do. I do the best I can."

"Look at the way she's dressed. I sent money. Why don't you spend some
of it on clothes. Or does Doyle drink it?"

"There's no reason for her to wear her good stuff around the house.
What do you want here, anyway? What did you come around here for?" She
gestured toward me with her head. "He was here asking about you. I told
him where to look. I guess he found you there, all right."

"In the big sinful city. Good God, Anita. Come off it. It eats on you
that you never figured it out right. You never worked it so you got up
there. Now you've got Doyle and look at you. You're fat and you're ugly
and you're dirty."

The child began to cry again. Anita turned and slapped her across the
face and sent her back into the house. She turned back to Antoinette,
her face pale. "You can't come in my house."

"I wouldn't put my foot in that shack, Anita. Are the oars in the shed?"

"What do you want with oars?"

"I'm taking that boat. There's something I want to show my friend."

"What do you mean? You can't use any of the boats."

"Maybe you want to try and stop me? I'm using a boat. I'm taking a
boat."

"You go out on the river today you'll drownd yourself. Look at it. Take
a good look at it."

We turned and looked at the river. The gray water raced by. It had a
soapy look. The boil of the current looked vicious.

"I've been out in worse than that and you know it. Is the shed locked?"

"No," Anita said sullenly.

"Come on, Tal," Antoinette said. I followed her to the shed. She
selected a pair of oars, measured them to make certain she had mates.
We went to the overturned boat. We righted it. It was heavy. She tried
the oars in the locks to be certain they would fit.

She got on one side and I got on the other and we slid the boat stern
first down the muddy bank to the water. We put it half in the water.
The current caught at it, boiling around the stern.

Antoinette straightened up and looked at the river. Anita was watching
us from the porch. The pale face of the little girl watched us from a
cracked window.

"It's pretty damn rough," Antoinette said. "We won't have much trouble
getting down to the island."

"Island?"

"Right down there. See it? That's where we're going."

The island was about three hundred yards downstream. It was perhaps
three hundred feet long and half as wide. It was rocky and wooded. It
split the river into two narrow areas of roaring turbulence.

"I don't think we can make it back to here. We can walk the boat down
the shore and land further down when we leave. Then walk back up to the
car and tell them where the boat is. They can get it when the river
quiets down. The worst part is going to be right at the start. Let's
get it parallel to the shore, Tal."

We struggled with the boat. She slipped on the muddy bank and sat down
hard and cursed. I held the stern. The bow was pointed downstream.

"Shall I row?" I asked, over the sound of the water.

"I'm used to it. Wait until I get set. When I say go, you get into the
stern."

She got in and put the oars in the locks, held them poised. She nodded
to me. I got in. The current caught us. It threatened to spin the boat
but she got it quickly under control. It wasn't necessary to row. She
watched over her shoulder and guided us by fast alternate dips of the
oars. She was quick and competent. As we neared the island the fast
current split. She dipped both oars and gave a single hard pull that
sent us directly at the island.

The boat ran ashore, the bow wedging in the branches and rubble that
had caught there on the shelving shore, brought downriver by the hard
rains.

She was out quickly, and pulled the boat up farther. I jumped out
onto the shore and stood beside her. Her eyes were wide and sad and
thoughtful. "We used to come here a lot. Come on."

I followed her. We pushed through thickets and came to a steep path.
They had come to the island often. And so had a lot of other people,
leaving behind them empty rusting beer cans, broken bottles, sodden
paper plates, waxed paper, tinfoil, empty cigarette packs.

The path climbed between rocks. She walked quickly. She stopped at
a high point. I came up beside her. It was the highest point of the
rocky island, perhaps sixty feet above the level of the river. We stood
behind a natural wall of rock. It came to waist level. I could see the
shack, see Anita, in the distance, walking heavily across the littered
yard, see the gleam of my car through the leaves.

"Look!" Antoinette said sharply. I looked where she pointed. A
flat-bottomed boat was coming down the river. It was caught in the
current and it spun. The man, kneeling in the stern, using a single oar
as a rudder, brought it under control. A dingy red boat under a yellow
sky on a soapy gray river. And the man in the boat had pale hair. He
came closer and I saw his face. He looked up and saw us. To him we were
outlined against the yellow sky. Then the dwarf trees screened him.

"He landed on the island," Antoinette said.

I knew he had landed. I knew he had watched us. I guessed that he had
gotten hold of a boat and waited on the opposite shore. Fitzmartin
would not take the chance of trusting me. Maybe he couldn't. Maybe Ruth
was dead.

"That's Fitzmartin," I said.

She stared at me. Her eyes were hard. "You arranged this?"

"No. Honestly. I didn't arrange it."

"What does he know? Why did he follow us?"

"I think he's guessed we're after the money."

She leaned calmly against the rock and folded her arms. "All right,
Tal. This is the end of it. You and your friend can hunt for it. Have
fun. I'll be damned if I'll tell you where it is."

I took her by the shoulders and shook her. "Don't be a damn fool. That
man is insane. I mean that. He's killed two people. Maybe three. You
can't just wait for him and say you won't tell him. Do you think he'll
just ask you, politely? After he gets his hands on you, you'll tell
him."

She pushed my hands away. I saw the doubt in her expression. I tried to
explain what Fitzmartin was. She looked down the path the way we had
come. She bit her lip. "Come on, then," she said.

"Can we circle around and get to the boat?"

"This is better," she said.

I followed her.



THIRTEEN


I thought I heard him call, the sound mingling with the noise of the
river. I followed Antoinette. She led the way down a curving path
toward the south end of the island. The path dipped into a flat place.
Rock walls were high on either side of us. It was a hollow where people
had built fires.

She paused uncertainly. "It's so overgrown," she said.

"What are you looking for?"

She moved to one side and looked at the sloping wall. She nodded to
herself, and went up, nimble as a cat, using the tough vines to pull
herself up. She stopped and spread the vines. She was above a ledge.
She turned and motioned to me. My leather soles gave me trouble. I
slipped and scrambled, but I made it to the ledge beside her. She
pushed tough weeds and vines aside. She sat down and put her feet in
the dark hole and wormed her way forward. When she was in up to her
hips she lay back and, using her hands on the upper edge of the small
slit in the rocks, pulled herself in the rest of the way.

I made hard work of it. It was narrow. She pulled at my ankles. Finally
I was inside. She leaned across me, her weight on me, and pulled the
weeds and vines back to cover the hole. At first I could not see, and
then my eyes became used to the light. Daylight came weakly through
the hole. The hole itself, the slit in the rocks, was not over thirty
inches long and fourteen inches high at its widest point. Inside it
widened out to about five feet, and the ceiling was about three feet
high. It was perhaps seven feet deep.

She said, in a low voice, "Timmy found it. He was climbing on the rocks
one day and he found it. It's always dry and clean in here. See, the
sand is dry, and feel how fine it is. It became our place. It became
my favorite place in the whole world. I used to come here alone, too.
When things got too--rugged. We used to keep things here. A box with
candles and cigarettes and things. Nobody in the world could ever find
us here. We kept blankets here and pillows. We called it our house. Kid
stuff, I guess. But it was nice. I never thought I'd come back here."

"Then this is the place he meant."

"Let's look."

It was easy to dig in the sand. She found the first one. She gave a
little gasp of pleasure when she found it. She dug it out of the soft
sand. We held it close to the weak daylight and opened it. The wire
clamp slid off easily. The rubber ring was stuck to the glass. I pulled
the top off. The bills were tightly packed. I pulled some of them out,
two tens and a twenty.

We both dug in the place where she had found it. We found three more
jars. That was all. We lined them up against the wall. I could see
the money through the glass. I looked at the money. I remembered how
I had thought it would be. I had thought it would be an answer. But I
had found the answer before I found the money. Now it meant only that
perhaps it could still be traded for a life.

"Now he's coming this way," she whispered.

I heard him when he called again. "Howard! Tal Howard!" We lay prone,
propped up on our elbows, our heads near the small entrance, her cheek
inches from mine.

"Tal Howard!" he called, alarmingly close. He was passing just below
us, his head about six or seven feet below the ledge.

He called again at a greater distance, and then all we could hear was
the sound of the river.

"What will we do?" she whispered.

"All we can do is outwait him. We can't deal with him. He won't make
any deals. He's way beyond that. We'll have to wait until night. I
don't think he'll leave. We'll have to try to get to the water at
night. Can you swim?"

"Of course."

"We can make it to shore then, with the money."

There was no point in telling her the deal I had planned. There was no
chance of making the deal. I was certain that if he found us, he'd kill
both of us. When he had talked to me, I had sensed the pleasure he took
in killing. The way he had talked of George, and the way he had talked
about holding the knife at Ruth's throat. That can happen to a man.
There are men who hunt who do not take their greatest pleasure in the
skill of the hunt, but rather in the moment of seeing the deer stumble
and fall, or the ragged bird come rocketing down. From animal to man is
a difference in degree, not in kind. The lust to kill is in some men.
It has sexual overtones. I had sensed that in Fitzmartin. I could even
sense it in the tone of his voice as he had called to me when he had
passed the cave. A warm, almost jocular tone. He knew we were on the
island. He knew he would find us. He felt warm toward us because we
would give him pleasure. _Come out and be killed, Tal Howard._ A warm
and confident voice. It was not so much as though he had stepped beyond
sanity, but as though he had stepped outside the race, had become
another creature. It was the same way we all might one day be hunted
down by the alien creatures of some far planet. When the day comes, how
do we bargain for life? What can the rabbit say to the barrel of a gun?

I lay on my side. She lay facing me. I saw the sheen of her eyes and
the whiteness of her teeth in the half light of the cave. I could sense
the soft tempo of her breathing.

"So we wait," she said.

"And we'll have to be very careful. He likes the night."

"We'll be careful. It's worth being careful. You know, Tal, I thought
all along this would get messed up. Now I don't think so any more.
Isn't that strange? Now that it is as bad as it can get, I think we're
going to make it."

"I hope so."

She rolled onto her back. Her voice was soft. "We're going to make it.
We'll get to the car. There's enough money here. It isn't worth the
risk of going back after my things. We'll drive through the night, Tal.
We'll drive all night. We'll take turns. I'm a good driver. I know
just how it's going to be. We'll go to New Orleans. We can be there
late tomorrow. I know a man there. He'll help us. We'll sell the car
there. We'll catch our plane there. We'll have everything new. All
new clothes. Mexico City first, I think. Then over to Havana. I was
in Havana once. With--a friend. No, not Havana. Where will we go from
there, Tal?"

"Rio, Buenos Aires. Then Paris."

"Paris, of course. It's funny. I've always been looking. Like that
game where you come into the room and they've named something but you
don't know what it is and you have to find out. I've been looking for
something I don't know the name of. Ever feel like that?"

"Yes."

"You don't know what it is, but you want it. You look in a lot of
places for it. You try a lot of things, but they aren't it. This time I
know I'm going to find it."

We were quiet for a long time. She turned toward me again. I put
my hand on the curve of her waist, let it rest there, and felt the
quickening tempo of her breathing.

I do not try to excuse it. Until then she had had no special appeal
to me. I can try to explain it. It is an urgency that comes at times
of danger. It is something deep in the blood, that urgency. It is a
message from the blood. You may die. Live this once more, this last
time. Or it may be more complicated. There may be defiance in it. Your
answer to the blackness that wants to swallow you. To leave this one
thing behind you. To perform this act which may leave a life behind
you, the only possible guarantee of immortality in any form.

When catastrophe strikes cities, people learn of this basal urge. Men
and women in war know it. It is present in great intensity in many
kinds of sickness. Men and women are triggered by danger, and they lie
together in a hungry quickness in the cellars of bombed houses, behind
the brush of mountain trails, in lifeboats, on forgotten beaches, on
the grounds of sanitariums.

By the time it happened I knew that I was hopelessly in love with Ruth
Stamm. And I knew this woman in the cave with me was hard as stone. But
she was there. I took from her the stubborn slacks and the bulky sweat
shirt and the satin white bra. Her flesh gleamed dusky in the cave
light. We did not speak. It was very complete for us.

It was enough that she was woman. But with her first words she turned
back into Antoinette Rasi, and destroyed any possible emotional
overtones. "Well, aren't we the ones," she said, her voice a bit nasal.

She bumped her head on the roof as she was getting her shirt back on,
and commented on it with a very basic vocabulary. I turned so that I
did not have to look at her. I lay and looked out the entrance, through
the gaps between the vines and leaves. I could see the rock wall on the
other side of the hollow, thirty feet away. By lowering my head and
looking up, I could see a wedge of yellow sky above the rock.

As I watched I saw Fitzmartin's head and then his shoulders above
the rock wall. Behind me Antoinette started to say something in a
complaining voice. I reached back quickly and caught her arm and
grasped it warningly. She stopped talking immediately. She moved
forward and leaned her warm weight against the back of my left shoulder
so that she too could see. It was instinctive to want to pull back into
the cave, but I knew he could not see my face or hers behind the dense
screen.

He stood on the rock against the sky, feet spread, balancing easily. He
held a gun in his hand. His big hand masked the gun, but it looked like
a Luger. The strange sky made a dull glint on the barrel. When he moved
his head he moved it quickly, as an animal does. His mouth was slack,
lips parted. His khaki pants were soaked to the knees. He studied the
rock wall where the cave was, foot by foot. I flinched involuntarily
when his gaze moved across the cave mouth. He turned and moved out of
sight.

She put her lips close to my ear. "My God, I can see what you mean.
Dear Jesus, I'm glad I didn't wait to have a chat with _that_! He's a
damn monster. How come he was running around loose?"

"He looked all right before. It was on the inside. Now it's showing."

"Frankly, he scares the hell out of me. I tell you they ought to shoot
him on sight, like a crazy dog."

"He's getting worse."

"You can't get any worse than that. What was he looking over here for?"

"I think he's eliminating places where we could be, one by one. He's
got a lot of daylight. I hope he eliminated this place."

"You can't see much from over there. Just a sort of shadow. And the
hole looks too little, even if it didn't have the stuff in front of it."

"I hope you're right."

"He gives me the creeps."

I kept a careful watch. The next time I saw him, he was climbing down
the wall on the far side. Antoinette saw him, too. Her hand tightened
on my shoulder. Her breath was warm against my ear.

"What's he doing down there?" she whispered.

"I think he's trying to track us. I don't know how good he is at it. If
he's good, he'll find that our tracks end somewhere in the hollow."

"The ground was soft," she whispered. "Dear God, I hope he doesn't know
how."

He was out of sight. We heard one rock clatter against another, audible
above the soft roar of the river. We moved as far back in the little
cave as we could get. Nothing happened for a long time. We gradually
relaxed again, moved up to where we could watch.

It must have been a full half hour later when I saw him on the far
side, clambering up. He sat on the rim at the top. He aimed carefully,
somewhere off to our right, and pulled the trigger. The sound was flat,
torn away by the wind. He aimed and fired again, this time closer.

I realized too late what he was doing. I tried to scramble back. He
fired again. Antoinette gave a great raw scream of agony. Blood burst
from her face. The slug had furrowed down her face, smashed her teeth
and her jaw, striking at an angle just under her cheekbone. She
screamed again, the ruined mouth hanging open. I saw the next shot take
her just above the left collarbone, angling down through her body.
She dug her fingers down into the sand, arched her body, then settled
into death as the next bullet slapped damply into her flesh. I was
pressed hard against the rocks at the side. He shot twice more into her
body and then there was silence. I tried to compress myself into the
smallest possible target.

When he fired again, it was from a different angle. The slug hammered
off rock, ricocheting inside the small cave, hitting two walls so
quickly the sound was almost simultaneous before it buried itself in
the sand. The next one ricocheted and from the sharp pain in my face I
thought it had hit me. But it had filled my right cheek with sharp rock
fragments. I could move no farther to the side. If he found the proper
angle he would hit me directly. If he did not, a ricochet could kill
me. I grasped her body and pulled it over me. He fired several more
shots. One broke one of the jars. Another hit her body. My hands were
sticky with her blood. I shielded my head against her heavy breast, my
legs pulled up. I tried to adjust the body so it would give me maximum
cover. A ricocheting slug rapped the heel of my shoe with such force
that it numbed my foot.

I gave a harsh, loud cry of pain. The shooting stopped. After a few
minutes he spoke in an almost conversational tone. He was close under
the cave.

"Howard! Howard! Come on out of there."

I did not answer. He had thought of caves, had fired into the shadowy
places, had hit the right one. I hoped he would believe us both dead.
It was my only chance, that he should believe us both dead. I wormed
my way out from under her body. There was no loose stone in the cave.
There were only the jars of money.

I took one jar and crouched off to the left of the entrance. I heard
the rattle of the rocks and knew he was climbing. I saw the vines
tremble. I was poised and ready to hurl the jar at his face. But his
face did not appear. His strong hand appeared, moving slowly into the
cave, inviting me to try to grasp it. It was a clever move. I knew
that he was probably braced there, gun in the other hand, waiting
for such a try. More of his arm came into the cave. I could see his
shoulder, blocking off the light. But I could not see his head.

His brown hand crept across the sand. It touched Antoinette's dark
hair, paused for a moment, felt its way to her face, touched lightly
her dead eyes. She lay curled where I had pushed the body in crawling
out from under it. The hand moved across the sand again. It came to
her flexed knee, touched the knee, felt the material of the jeans. In
that moment I realized that he thought it was my knee. He had only seen
her from the waist up when he had approached the island in the boat.
She was curled in such a way he did not relate the knee to the face he
had touched. His powerful fingers bit through the blue jean material,
caught the flesh underneath and twisted it cruelly.

I heard his soft grunt of satisfaction. I readied myself. He put both
arms in, and wormed his way in head first. I knew he would not be
able to see immediately. The gun was in his hand. As soon as his head
appeared in the opening, inside the vines, I smashed the glass jar full
into his face.

The jar smashed, cutting my hand. I tried to snatch at the gun, but I
was too slow. He was gone. I heard the thud as he fell. I knew that I
could not afford to give him time to recover. I scraped myself badly
as I slid through the entrance. I grasped the vines and stood up,
teetering on the ledge. I saw him below me. He was on his hands and
knees, gun still in his hand, shaking his head in a slow, heavy way. It
was a twelve foot drop, perhaps a little more. I dropped onto him. I
landed on the small of his back, heels together, legs stiff.

My weight smashed him to the ground. The fall jolted me. I rolled to my
feet with agonizing slowness and turned to face the expected shot. He
lay quite still. His finger tips touched the gun. I picked it up and
moved back away from him and watched him. By watching closely I could
see the movement of his back as he breathed. I aimed at his head. But I
could not make myself fire. Then I saw that the breathing had stopped.
I wondered if it was a trick. I picked up a stone and threw it at him.
It hit his back and bounded away.

Finally I approached him and rolled him over. And I knew that he was
dead. He died in a curious way. He had fallen back off the narrow
ledge, fallen with the broken pieces of the heavy glass jar. Stunned,
he had gotten to his hands and knees. He was trying to clear his head.
When I had smashed him back to the ground, a large piece of the broken
jar had been under his throat. As I had watched him his blood had
soaked into the sandy soil. His blood had soaked a thick wad of the
money that had been in the jar. A wind blew through the hollow. There
were some loose bills. The wind swirled them around. One blew toward
me. I picked it up and looked at it stupidly. It was a ten-dollar bill.

I went up to the cave again. I think I had the idea of carrying her
down. I knew I could not make it. I looked at her. Paris was out. It
was done. I looked at her and wondered if this, after all, had been
what she was looking for. It could have been. It could have been the
nameless thing she sought. But I guessed that had she been given her
choice, she would have wanted it in a different form. Not so ugly. Not
with ruined face and cheap clothes.

I climbed back down. I was exhausted. A few feet from the bottom I
slipped and fell again. I gathered up all the money. I put it in the
cave with her. They could come and find it there when I told them where
it was. I went back to where we had left the boat. The river seemed a
little quieter. I took the line and walked the boat down to the south
end of the island. The current tugged at it. Below the island the river
was quieter. I got into the boat. Just as I started to row toward the
shore, it began to rain again, rain that fell out of a yellow sky. The
rain whispered on the gray river. It diluted the blood on my hands. The
rain was on my face like tears.

The banks were high. I found a place to beach the boat about a thousand
yards below the Rasi place. I walked through wet grass to the road. I
walked to the Rasi place.

Anita came out. I asked if she had a phone I could use.

"We've got no phone. Where's the boat? What did you do with the boat?
Where's Antoinette? What's all the blood on your clothes? What's
happened?"

She was still screaming questions at me when I fitted the key into the
ignition, started the car, and drove away.

Heavy clouds had darkened the afternoon. I had never seen it rain as
hard. Traffic crept through the charcoal streets of Hillston, their
lights yellow and feeble in the rain.

I turned through the arch and parked beside the police cars in the
courtyard of the station. A man yelled at me from a doorway, telling
me I couldn't park there. I paid no attention to him. I found Prine.
Captain Marion wasn't in. He'd gone home to sleep.

Prine stared at me in a funny way. He took my arm when he led me to a
chair. "Are you drunk?"

"No. I'm not drunk."

"What's the matter with you?"

"I know where to look for the girl, for Ruth. North of town. Near the
river. If she's alive. If she's dead I don't know where to look. She
wouldn't be far from where he got the boat."

"What boat?"

"Will you have people look for her? Right now?"

"What boat, damn it?"

"I'll tell you the whole thing after you look. I want to come, too. I
want to come with you."

They sent cars out. They called Captain Marion and the Chief of Police.
They sent people out to look in the rain. Scores of people searched. I
rode with Prine. In the end it was a contingent of Boy Scouts who found
her. They found the black coupé. The trunk compartment was open a half
inch. We sped through the rain when word came over the radio. But the
ambulance got there first. They were loading her onto the ambulance
when we arrived. They closed the doors and drove away before I could
get to the ambulance.

The car was parked behind a roadside sign. It had been covered with
roofing paper. Some of the paper had shifted in the wind. One of the
Scouts had seen the gleam of metal.

Two policemen in black rain-wet rubber capes were there.

"What shape was she in?" Prine demanded.

One of the men spat. "I don't think she'll make it. I think she was
about gone. She looked about gone to me. You know, the way they all
look. Just about breathing. Color of putty. Pretty banged up."

Prine whirled toward me. "All right. We've got her now. How about
Fitzmartin? Start talking."

"He's dead."

"How do you know he's dead?"

"I killed him. I'll tell you the rest later. I want to go to the
hospital."



FOURTEEN


I sat on a bench in a waiting-room in the hospital. Water from my
sodden clothing dripped onto the floor. Captain Marion sat beside me.
Prine leaned against the wall. A man I didn't know sat on the other
side of me. I looked at the pattern of the tiles in the floor as I
talked. From time to time they would ask questions in a quiet voice.

I told the complete truth. I lied about one thing only. I told them
that Fitzmartin had told me that he had hidden Grassman's body in a
barn eight or ten miles south of the city, on a side road. In a ruined
barn near a burned house. Marion nodded to Prine. He went out to send
men out to hunt for the barn. He had gone out once before, to send men
to the island. I had told how to find the cave, and told them what they
would find in the cave. I told them they would find the gun in my car.
I lied about Grassman, and I left out what I knew about Antoinette.

It would do them no good to know about her. They would learn enough
from the Redding police. They did not have to know more than that.

I told them all the rest. Why I had come to Hillston. Everything I
had seen and guessed. Everything Fitzmartin had said. Timmy's dying
statements. All of it. The whole stinking mess. It felt good to tell
about it.

"Let me get this straight, Howard," Marion said. "You made a deal with
Fitzmartin. You were going to have the girl find the money. Then you
were going to turn it over to Fitzmartin in return for Ruth's safety.
You made that deal yourself. You thought you could handle it better
than we could. Is that it?"

"I thought that was the only way it could be handled. But he crossed me
up. He followed us."

"We could have grabbed him when he got to the river. We'd have gotten
to Ruth earlier. If she dies, you're going to be responsible."

I looked at him for the first time in over an hour. "I don't see it
that way."

"Did he say how he killed Grassman? You told us why he did it."

"He hit him on the head with a piece of pipe."

"What do you think the Rasi girl was going to do when you turned the
money over to Fitzmartin? Assuming that it went the way you thought it
would go."

"I guess she wouldn't have liked it."

"Why didn't she come and get the money herself, once she knew where it
probably was?"

"I haven't any idea. I think she felt she needed help. I think she
decided I could help her. I think she planned to get away with all of
it somehow after we were both well away from here. When I was sleeping.
Something like that. I think she thought she could handle me pretty
easily."

"How many shots did he fire into the cave?"

"I wasn't counting. Maybe twenty."

A doctor came into the room. Marion stood up. "What's the score, Dan?"

The doctor looked at us disapprovingly. It was as though we were
responsible for what had happened to Ruth.

"I think I can say that physically she'll be all right She's young
and she has a good body. She might mend quite rapidly. It's hard to
say. It will depend on her mental condition. I can't answer for that.
I've seldom seen anyone handled more brutally. I can give you a list.
Dislocated thumb. Broken shoulder. Two cracked ribs. A cracked pelvis.
She was criminally attacked. Two broken toes. We nearly missed those.
She was beaten about the face. That wouldn't have killed her. It was
the shock and exposure that nearly did it, came awfully close to doing
it. She's been treated for shock. She's out of her head. She doesn't
know where she is. We just put her to sleep. I say, I can't estimate
mental damage."

I stood up. "Where is she?"

The doctor stared at me. "I can't let you see her. There's no point in
seeing her."

I moved closer to him. "I want to see her."

He stared at me and then took my wrist, put his finger tips on my
pulse. He took a pencil flashlight out of his pocket and shone it
directly into my eye from a few inches away.

He turned to the captain. "This man should be in bed."

Marion sighed. "Have you got a bed?"

"Yes."

"Okay. I'll have to put a guard on the door. This man is under arrest.
But look. Just let him look in the door at Ruth. Maybe he earned that
much. I don't know."

They let me look. She was in a private room. Her father sat near the
bed. He didn't look toward the doorway. He watched her face. She was
no one I would have ever recognized. She was puffy, discolored. She
breathed heavily through her open mouth. There was an odor of sickness
in the room. I looked at her and I thought of the movie heroines. They
go through terror and capture and violence, yet four minutes after
rescue they melt, with glossy hair and limpid eyes and gown by Dior,
into the arms of Lancaster, or Gable, or Brando. This was reality. The
pain and ugliness and sickness of reality.

They took me away.

       *       *       *       *       *

The formalities were complicated. I had to appear and be questioned
at the joint inquest. I told all I knew of the deaths of Antoinette
Christina Rasi and Earl David Fitzmartin. I signed six copies of my
detailed statement. The final verdict was justifiable homicide. I had
killed in defense of my life.

Both the money found in Fitzmartin's car and the money in the cave
became a part of George Warden's estate. A second cousin and his wife
flew in from Houston to protect their claim to the money and whatever
else there was. They arrived on Sunday.

George and Eloise Warden were buried in the Warden family plot. Fulton,
identified through his dental work, was sent to Chicago for his third
burial. No relative of Fitzmartin could be found. The county buried
him. Grassman's body was found. His brother flew down from Chicago and
took the body back on the train.

I had told them about Antoinette's clothes and jewelry and the money,
the precise amount, that Fitzmartin had taken. The court appointed an
executor for Antoinette Rasi's estate, and directed that the clothing
and furs and jewels be sold, and made an informal suggestion to the
executor that the funds be used for the Doyle children.

When something is dropped and broken, the pieces have to be picked up.
The mess has to be cleaned up.

They were through with me on Tuesday. Captain Marion walked down the
steps of the courthouse with me. We stood on the sidewalk in the
sunshine.

"You're through here, Howard. We're through with you. There are some
charges we could have made stick. But we didn't. You can be damn glad.
We don't want you here. We don't want to see you back here."

"I'm not leaving."

He stared at me. His eyes were cold. "I don't think that's very bright."

"I'm going to stay."

"I think I know what's on your mind. But it won't work. You've spent
all the time you could with her. It hasn't worked, has it? It won't
work for you. Not with her."

"I want to stay and try. I've made my peace with her father. He
understands. I can't say he approves. But he understands enough so he
isn't trying to drive me off."

"You're beating your head against a wall."

"Maybe."

"Prine wants to run you out of town."

"Do you? Actually?"

His face flushed. "Stay then, dammit. Stay! It will do you no good."

I went back to the hospital. Because of her private room, visiting
hours were less restricted. I waited while the nurse went to her. The
nurse came back. Each time I was afraid the nurse would say I couldn't
see her.

"She'll see you in five minutes, Mr. Howard."

"Thank you."

I waited. They told me when it was time. I went to her room as before
and pulled the chair up to the bed. Her face was not as swollen, but
it was still badly discolored. As before, she turned her face toward
the wall. She had looked at me for a moment without expression before
turning away. She had not yet spoken to me. But I had spoken to her. I
had talked to her for hours. I had told her everything. I had told her
what she meant to me, and had received no response at all. It was like
talking to a wall. The only encouragement was her letting me see her at
all. The doctor had told me she would recover more quickly if she could
recover from her listlessness, her depression.

As on other days, I talked. I could not tell if she was listening.
I had told her all there was to tell about the things that had
happened. There was no point in repeating it, no point in begging for
understanding or forgiveness.

So I talked of other things, and other days. Places I had been. I told
her about Tokyo, about Pusan, about the hospital. I told her about the
work I used to do. I conjectured out loud about what I could find to
do in Hillston. I still had seven hundred dollars left. I was careful
not to ask questions. I did not want it to seem to her as though I were
angling for a response.

She lay with her face turned toward the wall. For all I knew she could
be asleep. And then suddenly, surprisingly, her hand came timidly from
the cover of the hospital blanket. It reached blindly toward me and I
took her hand in both of mine. She squeezed my hand hard once and then
let her hand lie in mine.

That was the sign. That was enough. The rest of it would come. Now it
was just a matter of time. There would be a day when there would be
laughter, when she would walk again in that proud way of hers. All this
would fade and it would be right for her and for me. We both had a lot
of forgetting to do, and we could do it better together. This was the
woman I wanted. I could never be driven away.

This was treasure.

       *       *       *       *       *



                        A Bullet For Cinderella


HER VENEER WAS BIG CITY ...

But one look and you knew that Toni Raselle's instincts were straight
out of the river shack she came from.

I watched her as she toyed with the man, laughing, her tumbled hair
like raw blue-black silk, her brown shoulders bare. Eyes deep-set, a
girl with a gypsy look.

So this was the girl I had risked my life to find. This was the girl
who was going to lead me to a buried fortune in stolen loot.


     John D. MacDonald, "... one of the first-rate craftsmen of
     crime,"[A] is the author of more than 50 novels and the creator
     of the fabulous TRAVIS McGEE series, which includes such currently
     available titles as NIGHTMARE IN PINK, BRIGHT ORANGE FOR THE
     SHROUD, and A PURPLE PLACE FOR DYING.

     [Footnote A: NEW YORK TIMES]





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