© R.Chandler, Nevada Gasб 1935
Source: R.Chandler. The Simple Art of Murder (collection)
E-Text: Greylib .
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Hugo Candless stood in the middle of the squash court bending his big body at the waist, holding the little black ball delicately between left thumb and forefinger. He dropped it near the service line and flicked at it with the long-handled racket.
The black ball hit the front wall a little less than halfway up, floated back in a high, lazy curve, skimmed just below the white ceiling and the lights behind wire protectors. It slid languidly down the back wall, never touching it enough to bounce out.
George Dial made a careless swing at it, whanged the end of his racket against the cement back wall. The ball fell dead.
He said: "That's the story. chief. 12-14. You're just too good for me."
George Dial was tall, dark, handsome, Hollywoodish. He was brown and lean, and had a hard, outdoor look. Everything about him was hard except his full, soft lips and his large, cowlike eyes.
"Yeah. I always was too good for you," Hugo Candless chortled.
He leaned far back from his thick waist and laughed with his mouth wide open. Sweat glistened on his chest and belly. He was naked except for blue shorts, *hite wool socks and heavy sneakers with crÍpe soles. He had gray hair and a broad moon face with a small nose and mouth, sharp twinkly eyes.
"Want another lickin'?" he asked.
"Not unless I have to."
Hugo Candless scowled. "Okey," he said shortly. He stuck his racket under his arm and got an oilskin pouch out of his shorts, took a cigarette and a match from it. He lit the cigarette with a flourish and threw the match into the middle of the court, where somebody else would have to pick it up.
He threw the door of the squash court open and paraded down the corridor to the locker room with his chest out. Dial walked behind him silently; catlike, soft-footed, with a lithe grace. They went to the showers.
Candless sang in the showers, covered his big body with thick suds, showered dead-cold after the hot, and liked it. He rubbed himself dry with immense leisure, took another towel and stalked out of the shower room yelling for the attendant to bring ice and ginger ale.
A Negro in a stiff white coat came hurrying with a tray. Candless signed the check with a flourish, unlocked his big double locker and planked a bottle of Johnny Walker on the round green table that stood in the locker aisle.
The attendant mixed drinks carefully, two of them, said: "Yes, suh, Mista Candless," and went away palming a quarter. George Dial, already fully dressed in smart gray flannels, came around the corner and lifted one of the drinks.
"Through for the day, chief?" He looked at the ceiling light through his drink, with tight eyes.
"Guess so," Candless said largely. "Guess I'll go home and give the little woman a treat." He gave Dial a swift, sidewise glance from his little eyes.
"Mind if I don't ride home with you?" Dial asked carelessly.
"With me it's okey. It's tough on Naomi," Candless said unpleasantly.
Dial made a soft sound with his lips, shrugged, said: "You like to burn people up, don't you chief?"
Candless didn't answer, didn't look at him. Dial stood silent with his drink and watched the big man put on monogrammed satin underclothes, purple socks with gray clocks, a monogrammed silk shirt, a suit of tiny black and white checks that made him look as big as a barn.
By the time he got to his purple tie he was yelling for the Negro to come and mix another drink.
Dial refused the second drink, nodded, went away softly along the matting between the tall green lockers.
Candless finished dressing, drank his second highball, locked his liquor away and put a fat brown cigar in his mouth. He had the Negro light the cigar for him. He went off with a strut and several loud greetings here and there.
It seemed very quiet in the locker room after he went out. There were a few snickers.
It was raining outside the Delmar Club. The liveried doorman helped Hugo Candless on with his belted white slicker and went out for his car. When he had it in front of the canopy he held an umbrella over Hugo across the strip of wooden matting to the curb. The car was a royal blue Lincoln limousine, with buff striping. The license number was 5A6.
The chauffeur, in a black slicker turned up high around his ears, didn't look around. The doorman opened the door and Hugo Candless got in and sank heavily on the back seat.
"'Night, Sam. Tell him to go on home."
The doorman touched his cap, shut the door, and relayed the orders to the driver, who nodded without turning his head. The car moved off in the rain.
The rain came down slantingly and at the intersection sudden gusts blew it rattling against the glass of the limousine. The street corners were clotted with people trying to get across Sunset without being splashed. Hugo Candless grinned out at them, pityingly.
The car went out Sunset, through Sherman, then swung towards the hills. It began to go very fast. It was on a boulevard where traffic was thin now.
It was very hot in the car. The windows were all shut and the glass partition behind the driver's seat was shut all the way across. The smoke of Hugo's cigar was heavy and choking in the tonneaU of the limousine.
Candless scowled and reached out to lower a window. The window lever didn't work. He tried the other side. That didn't work either. He began to get mad. He grabbed for the little telephone dingus to bawl his driver out. There wasn't any little telephone dingus.
The car turned sharply and began to go up a long straight hill with eucalyptus trees on one side and no houses. Candless felt something cold touch his spine, all the way up and down his spine. He bent forward and banged on the glass with his fist. The driver didn't turn his head. The car went very fast up the long dark hill road.
Hugo Candless grabbed viciously for the door handle. The doors didn't have any handles-either side. A sick, incredulous grin broke over Hugo's broad moon face.
The driver bent over to the right and reached for something with his gloved hand. There was a sudden sharp hissing noise. Hugo Candless began to smell the odor of almonds.
Very faint at first-very faint, and rather pleasant. The hissing noise went on. The smell of almonds got bitter and harsh and very deadly. Hugo Candless dropped his cigar ard banged with all his strength on the glass of the nearest window. The glass didn't break.
The car was up in the hills now, beyond even the infrequent street lights of the residential sections.
Candless dropped back on the seat and lifted his foot to kick hard at the glass partition in front of him. The kick was never finished. His eyes no longer saw. His face twisted into a snarl and his head went back against the cushions, crushed down against his thick shoulders. His soft white felt hat was shapeless on his big square skull.
The driver looked back quickly, showing a lean, hawklike face for a brief instant. Then he bent to his right again and the hissing noise stopped.
He pulled over to the side of the deserted road, stopped the car, switched off all the lights. The rain made a dull noise pounding on the roof.
The driver got out in the rain and opened the rear door of the car, then backed away from it quickly, holding his nose.
He stood a little way off for a while and looked up and down the road.
In the back of the limousine Hugo Candless didn't move.
Francine Ley sat in a low red chair beside a small table on which there was an alabaster bowl. Smoke from the cigarette she had just discarded into the bowl floated up and made patterns in the still, warm air. Her hands were clasped behind her head and her smoke-blue eyes were lazy, inviting. She had dark auburn hair set in loose waves. There were bluish shadows in the troughs of the waves.
George Dial leaned over and kissed her on the lips, hard. His own lips were hot when he kissed her, and he shivered. The girl didn't move. She smiled up at him lazily when he straightened again.
In a thick, clogged voice Dial said: "Listen, Francy. When do you ditch this gambler and let me set you up?"
Francine Ley shrugged, without taking her hands from behind her head. "He's a square gambler, George," she drawled. "That's something nowadays and you don't have enough money."
"I can get it."
"How?" Her voice was low and husky. It moved George Dial like a cello.
"From Candless. I've got plenty on that bird."
"As for instance?" Francine Ley suggested lazily.
Dial grinned softly down at her. He widened his eyes in a deliberately innocent expression. Francine Ley thought the whites of his eyes were tinged ever so faintly with some color that was not white.
Dial flourished an unlighted cigarette. "Plenty-like he sold out a tough boy from Beno last year. The tough boy's halfbrother was under a murder rap here and Candless took twentyfive grand to get him off. He made a deal with the D.A. on another case and let the tough boy's brother go up."
"And what did the tough boy do about all that?' Francine Ley asked gently.
"Nothing-yet. He thinks it was on the up and up, I guess. You can't always win."
"But he might do plenty, if he knew." Francine Ley said, nodding. "Who was the tough boy, Georgie?"
Dial lowered his voice and leaned down over her again. "I'm a sap to tell you that. A man named Zapparty. I've never met him."
"And never want to-if you've got sense, Georgie. No, thanks. I'm not walking myself into any jam like that with you."
Dial smiled lightly, showing even teeth in a dark, smooth face. "Leave it to me, Francy. Just forget the whole thing except how I'm nuts about you."
"Buy us a drink," the girl said.
The room was a living room in a hotel apartment. It was all red and white, with embassy decorations, too stiff. The white walls had red designs painted on them, the white venetian blinds were framed in white box drapes, there was a half-round red rug with a white border in front of the gas fire. There was a kidney-shaped white desk against one wall, between the windows.
Dial went over to the desk and poured Scotch into two glasses, added ice and charged water, carried the glasses back across the room to where a thin wisp of smoke still plumed upward from the alabaster bowl.
"Ditch the gambler," Dial said, handing her a glass. "He's the one will get you in a jam."
She sipped the drink, nodded. Dial took the glass out of her hand, sipped from the same place on the rim, leaned over holding both glasses and kissed her on the lips again.
There were red curtains over a door to a short hallway. They were parted a few inches and a man's face appeared in the opening, cool gray eyes stared in thoughtfully at the kiss. The curtains fell together again without sound.
After a moment a door shut loudly and steps came along the hallway. Johnny De Ruse came through the curtains into the room. By that time Dial was lighting his cigarette.
Johnny De Ruse was tall, lean, quiet, dressed in dark clothes dashingly cut. His cool gray eyes had fine laughter wrinkles at the corners. His thin mouth was delicate but not soft, and his long chin had a cleft in it.
Dial stared at him, made a vague motion with his hand. De Ruse walked over to the desk without speaking, poured some whiskey into a glass and drank it straight.
He stood a moment with his back to the room, tapping on the edge of the desk. Then he turned around, smiled faintly, said: " 'Lo, people," in a gentle, rather drawling voice and went out of the room through an inner door.
He was in a big overdecorated bedroom with twin beds. He went to a closet and got a tan calfskin suitcase out of it, opened it on the nearest bed. He began to rob the drawers of a highboy and put things in the suitcase, arranging them carefully, without haste. He whistled quietly through his teeth while he was doing it.
When the suitcase was packed he snapped it shut and lit a cigarette. He stood for a moment in the middle of the room without moving. His gray eyes looked at the wall without seeing it.
After a little while he went back into the closet and came out with a small gun in a soft leather harness with two short straps. He pulled up the left leg of his trousers and strapped the holster on his leg. Then he picked up the suitcase and went back to the living room.
Francine Ley's eyes narrowed swiftly when she saw the suitcase.
"Going some place?" she asked in her low, husky voice.
"Uh-huh. Where's Dial?"
"He had to leave."
"That's too bad," De Ruse said softly. He put the suitcase down on the floor and stood beside it, moving his cool gray eyes over the girl's face, up and down her slim body, from her ankles to her auburn head. "That's too bad," he said. "I like to see him around. I'm kind of dull for you."
"Maybe you are, Johnny."
He bent to the suitcase, but straightened without touching it and said casually: 'Remember Mops Parisi? I saw him in town today."
Her eyes widened and then almost shut. Her teeth clicked lightly. The line of her jawbone stood out very distinctly for a moment.
De Ruse kept moving his glance up and down her face and body.
"Going to do anything about it?" she asked.
"I thought of taking a trip," De Ruse said. "I'm not so scrappy as I was once."
"A powder," Francine Ley said softly. "Where do we go?"
"Not a powder-a trip," De Ruse said tonelessly. "And not we-me. I'm going alone."
She sat still, watching his face, not moving a muscle.
De Ruse reached inside his coat and got out a long wallet that opened like a book. He tossed a tight sheaf of bills into the girl's lap, put the wallet away. She didn't touch the bills.
"That'll hold you for longer than you'll need to find a new playmate," he said, without expression. "I wouldn't say I won't send you more, if you need it."
She stood up slowly and the sheaf of bills slid down her skirt to the floor. She held her arms straight down at the sides, the hands clenched so that the tendons on the backs of them were sharp. Her eyes were as dull as slate.
"That means we're through, Johnny?"
He lifted his suitcase. She stepped in front of him swiftly, with two long steps. She put a hand against his coat. He stood quite still, smiling gently with his eyes, but not with his lips. The perfume of Shalimar twitched at his nostrils.
"You know what you are, Johnny?" Her husky voice was almost a lisp.
"A pigeon, Johnny. A pigeon."
He nodded slightly. "Check. I called copper on Mops Parisi. I don't like the snatch racket, baby. I'd call copper on it any day. I might even get myself hurt blocking it. That's old stuff. Through?"
"You called copper on Mops Parisi and you don't think he knows it, but maybe he does. So you're running away from him . . . That's a laugh, Johnny. I'm kidding you. That's not why you're leaving me."
"Maybe I'm just tired of you, baby."
She put her head back and laughed sharply, almost with a wild note. De Ruse didn't budge.
"You're not a tough boy, Johnny. You're soft. George Dial is harder than you are. Gawd, how soft you are, Johnny"
She stepped back, staring at his face. Some flicker of almost unbearable emotion came and went in her eyes.
"You're such a handsome pup, Johnny. Gawd, but you're handsome. It's too bad you're soft."
De Ruse said gently, without moving: "Not soft, baby-just a bit sentimental. I like to clock the ponies and play sevencard stud and mess around with little red cubes with white spots on them. I like games of chance, including women. But when I lose I don't get sore and I don't chisel. I just move on to the next table. Be seem' you."
He stooped, hefted the suitcase, and walked around her. He went across the room and through the red curtains without looking back.
Francine Ley stared with stiff eyes at the floor.
Standing under the scalloped glass canopy of the side entrance to the Chatterton, De Ruse looked up and down Irolo, towards the flashing lights of Wilshire and towards the dark quiet end of the side street.
The rain fell softly, slantingly. A light drop blew in under the canopy and hit the red end of his cigarette with a sputter. He hefted the suitcase and went along Irolo towards his sedan. It was parked almost at the next corner, a shiny black Packard with a little discreet chromium here and there.
He stopped and opened the door and a gun came up swiftly from inside the car. The gun prodded against his chest. A voice said sharply: "Hold it! The mitts high, sweets!"
De Ruse saw the man dimly inside the car. A lean hawklike face on which some reflected light fell without making it distinct. He felt a gun hard against his chest, hurting his breastbone. Quick steps came up behind him and another gun prodded his back.
"Satisfied?" another voice inquired.
De Ruse dropped the suitcase, lifted his hands and put them against the top of the car.
"Okey," he said wearily. "What is it-a heist?"
A snarling laugh came from the man in the car. A hand smacked De Ruse's hips from behind.
De Ruse backed up, holding his hands very high in the air.
"Not so high, punk," the man behind said dangerously. "Just shoulder high."
De Ruse lowered them. The man in the car got out, straightened. He put his gun against De Ruse's chest again, put out a long arm and unbuttoned De Ruse's overcoat. De Ruse leaned backwards. The hand belonging to the long arm explored his pockets, his armpits. A .38 in a spring holster ceased to make weight under his arm.
"Got one, Chuck. Anything your side?"
"Nothin' on the hip."
The man in front stepped away and picked up the suitcase.
"March sweets. We'll ride in our heap."
They went farther along Irolo. A big Lincoln limousine loomed up, ablue car with a lighter stripe. The hawk-faced man opened the rear door.
De Ruse got in listlessly, spitting his cigarette end into the wet darkness, as he stooped under the roof of the car. A faint smell assailed his nose, a smell that might have been overripe peaches or almonds. He got into the car.
"In beside him, Chuck."
"Listen. Let's all ride up front. I can handle-"
"Nix. In beside him, Chuck," the hawk-faced one snapped.
Chuck growled, got into the back seat beside De Ruse. The other man slammed the door hard. His lean face showed through the closed window in a sardonic grin. Then he went around to the driver's seat and started the car, tooled it away from the curb.
DeRuse wrinkled his nose, sniffing at the queer smell.
They spun at the corner, went east on Eighth to Normandie, north on Normandie across Wilshire, across other streets, up over a steep hill and down the other side to Melrose. The big Lincoln slid through the light rain without a whisper. Chuck sat in the corner, held his gun on his knee, scowled, Street lights showed a square, arrogant red face, a face that was not at ease.
The back of the driver's head was motionless beyond the glass partition. They passed Sunset and Hollywood, turned east on Franklin, swung north to Los Feliz and down Los Feliz towards the river bed.
Cars coming up the hill threw sudden brief glares of white light into the interior of the Lincoln. De Ruse tensed, waited. At the next pair of lights that shot squarely into the car he bent over swiftly and jerked up the left leg of his trousers. He was back against the cushions before the blinding light was gone.
Chuck hadn't moved, hadn't noticed movement. Down at the bottom of the hill, at the intersection of Riverside Drive, a whole phalanx of cars surged towards them as a light changed. De Ruse waited, timed the impact of the headlights. His body stooped briefly, his hand swooped down, snatched the small gun from the leg holster.
He leaned back once more, the gun against the bulk of his left thigh, concealed behind it from where Chuck sat.
The Lincoln shot over on to Riverside and passed the entrance to Griffith Park.
"Where we going, punk?" De Ruse asked casually.
"Save it," Chuck snarled, "You'll find out."
"Not a stick-up, huh?"
"Save it," Chuck snarled again.
"Mops Parisi's boys?" De Ruse asked thinly, slowly.
The red-faced gunman jerked, lifted the gun off his knee. "I said-save it!"
De Ruse said: "Sorry, punk."
He turned the gun over his thigh, lined it swiftly, squeezed the trigger left-handed. The gun made a small flat sound-almost an unimportant sound.
Chuck yelled and his hand jerked wildly. The gun kicked out of it and fell on the floor of the car. His left hand raced for his right shoulder.
De Ruse shifted the little Mauser to his right hand and put it deep into Chuck's side.
"Steady, boy, steady. Keep your hands out of trouble. Now-kick that cannon over this way-fast!"
Chuck kicked the big automatic along the floor of the car. De Ruse reached down for it swiftly, got it. The lean-faced driver jerked a look back and the car swerved, then straightened again.
De Ruse hefted the big gun. The Mauser was too light for a sap. He slammed Chuck hard on the side of the head. Chuck groaned, sagged forward, clawing.
"The gas!" he bleated. "The gas! He'll turn on the gas!" De Ruse hit him again, harder. Chuck was a tumbled heap on the floor of the car.
The Lincoln swung off Riverside, over a short bridge and a bridle path, down a narrow dirt road that split a golf course. It went into darkness and among trees. It went fast, rocketed from side to side, as if the driver wanted it to do just that.
De Ruse steadied himself, felt for the door handle. There wasn't any door handle. His lips curled and he smashed at a window with the gun. The heavy glass was like a wall of stone.
The hawk-faced man leaned over and there was a hissing sound. Then there was a sudden sharp increase of intensity of the smell of almonds.
De Ruse tore a handkerchief out of his pocket and pressed it to his nose. The driver had straightened again now and was driving hunched over, trying to keep his head down.
De Ruse held the muzzle of the big gun close to the glass partition behind the driver's head, who ducked sidewise. He squeezed lead four times quickly, shutting his eyes and turning his head away, like a nervous woman.
No glass flew. When he looked again there was a jagged round hole in the glass and the windshield in a line with it was starred but not broken.
He slammed the gun at the edges of the hole and managed to knock a piece of glass loose. He was getting the gas now, through the handkerchief. His head felt like a balloon. His vision waved and wandered.
The hawk-faced driver, crouched, wrenched the door open at his side, swung the wheel of the car the opposite way and jumped clear.
The car tore over a low embankment, looped a little and smacked sidewise against a tree. The body twisted enough for one of the rear doors to spring open.
De Ruse went through the door in a headlong dive. Soft earth smacked him, knocked some of the wind out of him. Then his lungs breathed clean air. He rolled up on his stomach and elbows, kept his head down, his gun hand up.
The hawk-faced man was on his knees a dozen yards away. De Ruse watched him drag a gun out of his pocket and lift it.
Chuck's gun pulsed and roared in De Ruse's hand until it was empty.
The hawk-faced man folded down slowly and his body merged with the dark shadows and the wet ground. Cars went by distantly on Riverside Drive. Rain dripped off the trees. The Griffith Park beacon turned in the thick sky. The rest was darkness and silence.
De Ruse took a deep breath and got upon his feet. He dropped the empty gun, took a small flash out of his overcoat pocket and pulled his overcoat up against his nose and mouth, pressing the thick cloth hard against his face. He went to the car, switched off the lights and threw the beam of the flash into the driver's compartment. He leaned in quickly and turned a petcock on a copper cylinder like a fire extinguisher. The hissing noise of the gas stopped.
He went over to the hawk-faced man. He was dead. There was some loose money, currency and silver in his pockets, cigarettes, a folder of matches from the Club Egypt, no wallet, a couple of extra clips of cartridges, De Ruse's .38. De Ruse put the last back where it belonged and straightened from the sprawled body.
He looked across the darkness of the Los Angeles river bed towards the lights of Glendale. In the middle distance a green neon sign far from any other light winked on and off: Club Egypt.
De Ruse smiled quietly to himself, and went back to the Lincoln. He dragged Chuck's body out onto the wet ground. Chuck's red face was blue now, under the beam of the small flash. His open eyes held an empty stare. His chest didn't move. De Ruse put the flash down and went through some more pockets.
He found the usual things a man carries, including a wallet showing a driver's license issued to Charles Lc Grand, Hotel Metropole, Los Angeles. He found more Club Egypt matches and a tabbed hotel key marked 809, Hotel Metropolc.
He put the key in his pocket, slammed the sprung door of the Lincoln, got in under the wheel. The motor caught. He backed the car away from the tree with a wrench of broken fender metal, swung it around slowly over the soft earth and got it back again on the road.
When he reached Riverside again he turned the lights on and drove back to Hollywood. He put the car under some pepper trees in front of a big brick apartment house on Kcnmorc half a block north of Hollywood Boulevard, locked the ignition and lifted out his suitcase.
Light from the entrance of the apartment house rested on the front license plate as he walked away. He wondered why gunmen would use a car with plate numbers reading 5A6, almost a privilege number.
In a drugstore he phoned for a taxi. The taxi took him back to the Chatterton.
The apartment was empty. The smell of Shalimar and cigarette smoke lingered on the warm air, as if someone had been there not long before. De Ruse pushed into the bedroom, looked at clothes in two closets, articles on a dresser, then went back to the red and white living room and mixed himself a stiff highball.
He put the night latch on the outside door and carried his drink into the bedroom, stripped off his muddy clothes and put on another suit of somber material but dandified cut. He sipped his drink while he knotted a black four-in-hand in the opening of a soft white linen shirt.
He swabbed the barrel of the little Mauser, reassembled it, and added a shell to the small clip, slipped the gun back into the leg holster. Then he washed his hands and took his drink to the telephone.
The first number he called was the Chronicle. He asked for the City Room, Werner.
A drawly voice dripped over the wire: "Werner talkin'. Go ahead. Kid me."
De Ruse said: "This is John De Ruse, Claude. Look up California License 5A6 on your list for me."
"Must be a bloody politician," the drawly voice said, and went away.
De Ruse sat motionless, looking at a fluted white pillar in the corner. It had a red and white bowl of red and white artificial roses on top of it. He wrinkled his nose at it disgustedly.
Werner's voice came back on the wire: "1930 Lincoln limousine registered to Hugo Candless, Casa de Oro Apartments, 2942 Clearwater Street, West Hollywood."
De Ruse said in a tone that meant nothing: "That's the mouthpiece, isn't it?"
"Yeah. The big lip. Mister Take the Witness." Werner's voice came down lower. "Speaking to you, Johnny, and not for publication-a big crooked tub of guts that's not even smart; just been around long enough to know who's for sale . . . Story in it?"
"Hell, no," De Ruse said softly. "He just sideswiped me and didn't stop."
He hung up and finished his drink, stood up to mix another. Then he swept a telephone directory onto the white desk and looked up the number of the Casa de Oro. He dialed it. A switchboard operator told him Mr. Hugo Candless was out of town.
"Give me his apartment," De Ruse said.
A woman's cool voice answered the phone. 'Yes. This is Mrs. Hugo Candless speaking. What is it, please?"
De Ruse said: "I'm a client of Mr. Candless, very anxious to get hold of him. Can you help me?"
"I'm very sorry," the cool, almost lazy voice told him. "My husband was called out of town quite suddenly. I don't even know where he went, though I expect to hear from him later this evening. He left his club-
"What club was that?" De Ruse asked casually.
"The Delmar Club. I say he left there without coming home. If there is any message-"
De Ruse said: "Thank you, Mrs. Candless. Perhaps I may call you again later."
He hung up, smiled slowly and grimly, sipped his fresh drink and looked up the number of the Hotel Metropole. He called it and asked for "Mister Charles Le Grand in Room 809."
"Six-o-nine," the operator said casually. "I'll connect you." A moment later: "There is no answer."
De Ruse thanked her, took the tabbed key out of his pocket, looked at the number on it. The number was 809.
Sam, the doorman at the Delmar Club, leaned against the buff stone of the entrance and watched the traffic swish by on Sunset Boulevard. The headlights hurt his eyes. He was tired and he wanted to go home. He wanted a smoke and a big slug of gin. He wished the rain would stop. It was dead inside the club when it rained.
He straightened away from the wall and walked the length of the sidewalk canopy a couple of times, slapping together his big black hands in big white gloves. He tried to whistle the "Skaters Waltz," couldn't get within a block of the tune, whistled "Low Down Lady" instead. That didn't have any tune.
De Ruse came around the corner from Hudson Street and stood beside him near the wall.
"Hugo Candless inside?" he asked, not looking at Sam.
Sam clicked his teeth disapprovingly. "He ain't."
"Ask at the desk'side, please, mistah."
De Ruse took gloved hands out of his pocket and began to roll a five-dollar bill around his left forefinger.
"What do they know that you don't know?"
Sam grinned slowly, watched the bill being wound tightly around the gloved finger.
"That's a fac', boss. Yeah-he was in. Comes most every day."
"What time he leave?"
"He leave 'bout six-thirty, Ah reckon."
"Drive his blue Lincoln limousine?"
"Shuah. Only he don't drive it hisseif. What for you ask?"
"It was raining then," De Ruse said calmly. "Raining pretty hard. Maybe it wasn't the Lincoln."
'Twas, too, the Lincoln," Sam protested. "Ain't I tucked him in? He never rides nothin' else."
"License 5A6?" De Ruse bored on relentlessly.
"That's it," Sam chortled. "Just like a councilman's number that number is."
"Know the driver?"
"Shuah-" Sam began, and then stopped cold. He raked a black jaw with a white finger the size of a banana. "Well, Ah'll be a big black slob if he ain't got hisself a new driver again. I ain't know that man, sure'nough."
De Ruse poked the rolled bill into Sam's big white paw. Sam grabbed it but his large eyes suddenly got suspicious.
"Say, for what you ask all of them questions, mistah man?"
De Ruse said: "I paid my way, didn't I?"
He went back around the corner to Hudson and got into his black Packard sedan. He drove it out on to Sunset, then west on Sunset almost to Beverly Hills, then turned towards the foothills and began to peer at the signs on street corners. Clearwater Street ran along the flank of a hill and had a view of the entire city. The Casa de Oro, at the corner of Parkinson, was a tricky block of high-class bungalow apartments surrounded by an adobe wall with red tiles on top. It had a lobby in a separate building, a big private garage on Parkinson, opposite one length of the wall.
De Ruse parked across the street from the garage and sat looking through the wide window into a glassed-in office where an attendant in spotless white coveralls sat with his feet on the desk, reading a magazine and spit over his shoulder at an invisible cuspidor.
De Ruse got out of the Packard, crossed the street farther up, came back and slipped into the garage without the attendant seeing him.
The cars were in four rows. Two rows backed against the white walls, two against each other in the middle. There were plenty of vacant stalls, but plenty of cars had gone to bed also. They were mostly big, expensive closed models, with two or three flashy open jobs.
There was only one limousine. It had License No. 5A6.
It was a well-kept car, bright and shiny; royal blue with a buff trimming. De Ruse took a glove off and rested his hand on the radiator shell. Quite cold. He felt the tires, looked at his fingers. A little fine dry dust adhered to the skin. There was no mud in the treads, just bone-dry dust.
He went back along the row of dark car bodies and leaned in the open door of the little office. After a moment the attendant looked up, almost with a start.
"Seen the Candless chauffeur around?" De Ruse asked him.
The man shook his head and spat deftly into a copper spittoon.
"Not since I came on-three o'clock."
"Didn't he go down to the club for the old man?"
"Nope. I guess not. The big hack ain't been out. He always takes that."
"Where does he hang his hat?"
"Who? Mattick? They got servants' quarters in back of the jungle. But I think I heard him say he parks at some hotel. Let's see-" A brow got furrowed.
"The Metropole?" De Ruse suggested.
The garage man thought it over while De Ruse stared at the point of his chin.
"Yeah. I think that s it. I ain't just positive though. Mattick don't open up much.
De Ruse thanked him and crossed the street and got into the Packard again. He drove downtown.
It was twenty-five minutes past nine when he got to the corner of Seventh and Spring, where the Metropole was.
It was an old hotel that had once been exclusive and was now steering a shaky course between a receivership and a bad name at Headquarters. It had too much oily dark wood paneling, too many chipped gilt mirrors. Too much smoke hung below its low beamed lobby ceiling and too many grifters bummed around in its worn leather rockers.
The blonde who looked after the big horseshoe cigar counter wasn't young any more and her eyes were cynical from standing off cheap dates. De Ruse leaned on the glass and pushed his hat back on his crisp black hair.
"Camels, honey," he said in his low-pitched gambler's voice.
The girl smacked the pack in front of him, rang up fifteen cents and slipped the dime change under his elbow, with a faint smile. Her eyes said they liked him. She leaned opposite him and put her head near enough so that he could smell the perfume in her hair.
"Tell me something," De Ruse said.
"What?" she asked softly.
"Find out who lives in eight-o-ninc, without telling any answers to the clerk."
The blonde looked disappointed. "Why don't you ask him yourself, mister?"
"I'm too shy," De Ruse said.
"Yes you arc!"
She went to her telephone and talked into it with languid grace, came back to De Ruse.
"Name of Mattick. Mean anything?"
"Guess not," De Ruse said. "Thanks a lot. How do you like it in this nice hotel?"
"Who said it was a nice hotel?"
De Ruse smiled, touched his hat, strolled away. Her eyes looked after him sadly. She leaned her sharp elbows on the counter and cupped her chin in her hands to stare after him.
De Ruse crossed the lobby and went up three steps and got into an open-cage elevator that started with a lurch.
"Eight," he said, and leaned against the cage with his hands in his pockets.
Eight was as high as the Metropole went. De Ruse followed a long corridor that smelled of varnish. A turn at the end brought him face to face with 809. He knocked on the dark wood panel. Nobody answered. He bent over, looked through an empty keyhole, knocked again.
Then he took the tabbed key out of his pocket and unlocked the door and went in.
Windows were shut in two walls. The air reeked of whiskey. Lights were on in the ceiling. There was a wide brass bed, a dark bureau, a couple of brown leather rockers, a stiff-looking desk with a flat brown quart of Four Roses on it, nearly empty, without a cap. De Ruse sniffed it and set his hips against the edge of the desk, let his eyes prowl the room.
His glance traversed from the dark bureau across the bed and the wall with the door in it to another door behind which light showed. He crossed to that and opened it.
The man lay on his face, on the yellowish brown woodstone floor of the bathroom. Blood on the floor looked sticky and black. Two soggy patches on the back of the man's head were the points from which rivulets of dark red had run down the side of his neck to the floor. The blood had stopped flowing a long time ago.
De Ruse slipped a glove off and stooped to hold two fingers against the place where an artery would beat. He shook his head and put his hand back into his glove.
He left the bathroom, shut the door and went to open one of the windows. He leaned out, breathing clean rain-wet air, looking down along slants of thin rain into the dark slit of an alley.
After a little while he shut the window again, switched off the light in the bathroom, took a "Do Not Disturb" sign out of the top bureau drawer, doused the ceiling lights, and went out.
He hung the sign on the knob and went back along the corridor to the elevators and left the Hotel Metropole.
Francine Ley hummed low down in her throat as she went along the silent corridor of the Chatterton. She hummed unsteadily without knowing what she was humming, and her left hand with its cherry-red fingernails held a green velvet cape from slipping down off her shoulders. There was a wrapped bottle under her other arm.
She unlocked the door, pushed it open and stopped, with a quick frown. She stood still, remembering, trying to remember. She was still a little tight.
She had left the lights on, that was it. They were off now. Could be the maid service, of course. She went on in, fumbled through the red curtains into the living room.
The glow from the heater prowled across the red and white rug and touched shiny black things with a ruddy gleam. The shiny black things were shoes. They didn't move.
Francine Ley said: "Oh-oh," in a sick voice. The hand holding the cape almost tore into her neck with its long, beautifully molded nails.
Something clicked and light glowed in a lamp beside an easy chair. De Ruse sat in the chair, looking at her woodenly.
He had his coat and hat on. His eyes shrouded, far away, filled with a remote brooding.
He said: "Been out, Francy?"
She sat down slowly on the edge of a half-round settee, put the bottle down beside her.
"I got tight," she said. "Thought I'd better cat. Then I thought I'd get tight again." She patted the bottle.
De Ruse said: "I think your friend Dial's boss has been snatched." He said it casually, as if it was of no importance to him.
Francine Ley opened her mouth slowly and as she opened it all the prettiness went out of her face. Her face became a blank haggard mask on which rouge burned violently. Her mouth looked as if it wanted to scream.
After a while it closed again and her face got pretty again and her voice, from far off, said: "Would it do any good to say I don't know what you're talking about?"
De Ruse didn't change his wooden expression. He said: "When I went down to the street from here a couple of hoods jumped me. One of them was stashed in the car. Of course they could have spotted me somewhere else-followed me here."
"They did," Francine Ley said breathlessly. "They did, Johnny."
His long chin moved an inch. "They piled me into a big Lincoln, a limousine. It was quite a car. It had heavy glass that didn't break easily and no door handles and it was all shut up tight. In the front seat it had a tank of Nevada gas, cyanide, which the guy driving could turn into the back part without getting it himself. They took me out Griffith Parkway, towards the Club Egypt. That's that joint on county land, near the airport." He paused, rubbed the end of one eyebrow, went on: "They overlooked the Mauser I sometimes wear on my leg. The driver crashed the car and I got loose."
He spread his hands and looked down at them. A faint metallic smile showed at the corners of his lips.
Francine Ley said: "I didn't have anything to do with it, Johnny." Her voice was as dead as the summer before last.
De Ruse said: "The guy that rode in the car before I did probably didn't have a gun. He was Hugo Candlcss. The car was a ringer for his car-same model, same paint job, same plates-but it wasn't his car. Somebody took a lot of trouble. Candless left the Delmar Club in the wrong car about six-thirty. His wife says he's out of town. I talked to her an hour ago. His car hasn't been out of the garage since noon . . . Maybe his wife knows he's snatched by now, maybe not."
Francine Ley's nails clawed at her skirt. Her lips shook.
De Ruse went on calmly, tonelessly: "Somebody gunned the Candless chauffeur in a downtown hotel tonight or this afternoon. The cops haven't found it yet. Somebody took a lot of trouble, Francy. You wouldn't want to be in on that kind of a set-up, would you, precious?"
Francine Ley bent her head forward and stared at the floor. She said thickly: "I need a drink. What I had is dying in me. I feel awful."
De Ruse stood up and went to the white desk. He drained a bottle into a glass and brought it across to her. He stood in front of her, holding the glass out of her reach.
"I only get tough once in a while, baby, but when I get tough I'm not so easy to stop, if I say it myself. If you know anything about all this, now would be a good time to spill it."
He handed her the glass. She gulped the whiskey and a little more light came into her smoke-blue eyes. She said slowly: "I don't know anything about it, Johnny. Not in the way you mean. But George Dial made me a love-nest proposition tonight and he told mc he could get money out of Candless by threatening to spill a dirty trick Candless played on some tough boy from Rcno."
"Damn clever, these greasers," De Ruse said. "Reno's my town, baby. I know all the tough boys in Reno. Who was it?"
"Somebody named Zapparty."
De Ruse said very softly: "Zapparty is the name of the man who runs the Club Egypt."
Francine Ley stood up suddenly and grabbed his arm. "Stay out of it, Johnny! For Christ sake, can't you stay out of it for just this once?"
De Ruse shook his head, smiled delicately, lingeringly at her. Then he lifted her hand off his arm and stepped back.
"I had a ride in their gas car, baby, and I didn't like it. I smelled their Nevada gas. I left my lead in somebody's gun punk. That makes mc call copper or get jammed up with the law. If someody's snatched and I call copper, there'll be another kidnap victim bumped off, more likely than not. Zapparty's a tough boy from Reno and that could tie in with what Dial told you, and if Mops Parisi is playing with Zapparty, that could make a reason to pull mc into it. Parisi loathes my guts."
"You don't have to be a one-man riot squad, Johnny," Francine Ley said desperately.
He kept on smiling, with tight lips and solemn eyes. "There'll be two of us, baby. Get yourself a long coat. It's still raining a little."
She goggled at him. Her outstretched hand, the one that had been on his arm, spread its fingers stiffly, bent back from the palm, straining back. Her voice was hollow with fear.
"Me, Johnny?Oh, please, not .
De Ruse said gently: "Get that coat, honey. Make yourself look nice. It might be the last time we'll go out together."
She staggered past him. He touched her arm softly, held it a moment, said almost in a whisper:
"You didn't put the finger on me, did you, Francy?"
She looked back stonily at the pain in his eyes, made a hoarse sound under her breath and jerked her arm loose, went quickly into the bedroom.
After a moment the pain went out of De Ruse's eyes and the metallic smile came back to the corners of his lips.
De Ruse half closed his eyes and watched the croupier's fingers as they slid back across the table and rested on the edge. They were round, plump, tapering fingers, graceful fingers. De Ruse raised his head and looked at the croupier's face. He was a bald-headed man of no particular age, with quiet blue eyes. He had no hair on his head at all, not a single hair.
De Ruse looked down at the croupier's hands again. The right hand turned a little on the edge of the table. The buttons on the sleeve of the croupier's brown velvet coat-cut like a dinner coat-rested on the edge of the table. De Ruse smiled his thin metallic smile.
He had three blue chips on the red. On that play the ball stopped at Black 2. The croupier paid off two of the four other men who were playing.
De Ruse pushed five blue chips forward and settled them on the red diamond. Then he turned his head to the left and watched a huskily built blond young man put three red chips on the zero.
De Ruse licked his lips and turned his head farther, looked towards the side of the rather small room. Francine Ley was sitting on a couch backed to the wall, with her head leaning against it.
"I think I've got it, baby," De Ruse said to her. "I think I've got it."
Francine Ley blinked and lifted her head away from the wall. She reached for a drink on a low round table in front of her.
She sipped the drink, looked at the floor, didn't answer.
De Ruse looked back at the blond man. The three other men had made bets. The croupier looked impatient and at the same time watchful.
De Ruse said: "How come you always hit zero when I hit red, and double zero when I hit black?"
The blond young man smiled, shrugged, said nothing.
De Ruse put his hand down on the layout and said very softly: "I asked you a question, mister."
"Maybe I'm Jesse Livermore," the blond young man grunted. "I like to sell short."
"What is this-slow motion?" one of the other men snapped.
"Make your plays, please, gentlemen," the croupier said.
De Ruse looked at him, said: "Let it go."
The croupier spun the wheel left-handed, flicked the ball with the same hand the opposite way. His right hand rested on the edge of the table.
The ball stopped at black 28, next to zero. The blond man laughed. "Close," he said, "close."
De Ruse checked his chips, stacked them carefully. "I'm down six grand," he said. "It's a little raw, but I guess there's money in it. Who runs this clip joint?"
The croupier smiled slowly and stared straight into De Ruse's eyes. He asked quietly: "Did you say clip joint?"
De Ruse nodded. He didn't bother to answer.
"I thought you said clip joint," the croupier said, and moved one foot, put weight on it.
Three of the men who had been playing picked their chips up quickly and went over to a small bar in the corner of the room. They ordered drinks and leaned their backs against the wall by the bar, watching De Ruse and the croupier. The blond man stayed put and smiled sarcastically at De Ruse.
"Tsk, tsk," he said thoughtfully. "Your manners."
Francine Ley finished her drink and leaned her head back against the wall again. Her eyes came down and watched De Ruse furtively, under the long lashes.
A paneled door opened after a moment and a very big man with a black mustache and very rough black eyebrows came in. The croupier moved his eyes to him, then to De Ruse, pointing with his glance.
"Yes, I thought you said clip joint," he repeated tonelessly. The big man drifted to De Ruse's elbow, touched him with his own elbow.
"Out," he said impassively.
The blond man grinned and put his hands in the pockets of his dark gray suit. The big man didn't look at him.
De Ruse glanced across the layout at the croupier and said: "I'll take back my six grand and call it a day."
"Out," the big man said wearily, jabbing his elbow into De Ruse's side.
The bald-headed croupier smiled politely.
"You," the big man said to De Ruse, "ain't goin' to get tough, are you?"
De Ruse looked at him with sarcastic surprise.
"Well, well, the bouncer," he said softly. "Take him, Nicky."
The blond man took his right hand out of his pocket and swung it. The sap looked black and shiny under the bright lights. It hit the big man on the back of the head with a soft thud. The big man clawed at De Ruse, who stepped away from him quickly and took a gun out from under his arm. The big man clawed at the edge of the roulette table and fell heavily on the floor.
Francine Ley stood up and made a strangled sound in her throat.
The blond man skipped sidewise, whirled and looked at the bartender. The bartender put his hands on top of the bar. The three men who had been playing roulette looked very interested, but they didn't move.
De Ruse said: "The middle button on his right sleeve, Nicky. I think it's copper."
"Yeah." The blond man drifted around the end of the table putting the sap back in his pocket. He went close to the croupier and took hold of the middle of three buttons on his right cuff, jerked it hard. At the second jerk it came away and a thin wire followed it out of the sleeve.
"Correct," the blond man said casually, letting the croupier's arm drop.
"I'll take my six grand now," De Ruse said. "Then we'll go talk to your boss."
The croupier nodded slowly and reached for the rack of chips beside the roulette table.
The big man on the floor didn't move. The blond man put his right hand behind his hip and took a .45 automatic out from inside his waistband at the back.
He swung it in his hand, smiling pleasantly around the room.
They went along a balcony that looked down over the dining room and the dance floor. The lisp of hot jazz came up to them from the lithe, swaying bodies of a high-yaller band. With the lisp of jazz came the smell of food and cigarette smoke and perspiration. The balcony was high and the scene down below had a patterned look, like an overhead camera shot.
The bald-headed croupier opened a door in the corner of the balcony and went through without looking back. The blond man De Ruse had called Nicky went after him. Then De Ruse and Francine Ley.
There was a short hail with a frosted light in the ceiling. The door at the end of that looked like painted metal. The croupier put a plump finger on the small push button at the side, rang it in a certain way. There was a buzzing noise like the sound of an electric door release. The croupier pushed on the edge and opened it.
Inside was a cheerful room, half den and half office. There was a grate fire and a green leather davenport at right angles to it, facing the door. A man sitting on the davenport put a newspaper down and looked up and his face suddenly got livid. He was a small man with a tight round head, a tight round dark face. He had little lightless black eyes like buttons of jet.
There was a big flat desk in the middle of the room and a very tall man stood at the end of it with a cocktail shaker in his hands. His head turned slowly and he looked over his shoulder at the four people who came into the room while his hands continued to agitate the cocktail shaker in gentle rhythm. He had a cavernous face with sunken eyes, loose grayish skin, and close-cropped reddish hair without shine or parting. A thin crisscross scar like a German Mensur scar showed on his left cheek.
The tall man put the cocktail shaker down and turned his body around and stared at the croupier. The man on the davenport didn't move. There was a crouched ten sity in his not moving.
The croupier said: "I think it's a stick-up. But I couldn't help myself. They sapped Big George."
The blond man smiled gaily and took his .45 out of his pocket. He pointed it at the floor.
"He thinks it's a stick-up," he said. "Wouldn't that positively slay you?"
De Ruse shut the heavy door. Francine Ley moved away from him, towards the side of the room away from the fire. He didn't look at her. The man on the davenport looked at her, looked at everybody.
De Ruse said quietly: "The tall one is Zapparty. The little one is Mops Parisi."
The blond man stepped to one side, leaving the croupier alone in the middle of the room. The .45 covered the man on the davenport.
"Sure, I'm Zapparty," the tall man said. He looked at De Ruse curiously for a moment.
Then he turned his back and picked the cocktail shaker up again, took out the plug and filled a shallow glass. He drained the glass, wiped his lips with a sheer lawn handkerchief and tucked the handkerchief back into his breast pocket very carefully, so that three points showed.
DeRuse smiled his thin metallic smile and touched one end of his left eyebrow with his forefinger. His right hand was in his jacket pocket.
"Nicky and I put on a little act," he said. "That was so the boys outside would have something to talk about if the going got too noisy when we came in to sec you."
"It sounds interesting," Zapparty agreed. "What did you want to see me about?"
"About that gas car you take people for rides in," De Ruse said.
The man on the davenport made a very sudden movement and his hand jumped off his leg as if something had stung it. The blond man said: "No ... or yes, if you'd rather, Mister Parisi. It's all a matter of taste."
Parisi became motionless again. His hand dropped back to his short thick thigh.
Zapparty widened his deep eyes a little. "Gas car?" His tone was of mild puzzlement.
De Ruse went forward into the middle of the room near the croupier. He stood balanced on the balls of his feet. His gray eyes had a sleepy glitter but his face was drawn and tired, not young.
He said: 'Maybe somebody just tossed it in your lap, Zapparty, but I don't think so. I'm talking about the blue Lincoln, License 5A6, with the tank of Nevada gas in front. You know, Zapparty, the stuff they use on killers in our state."
Zapparty swallowed and his large Adam's apple moved in and out. He puffed his lips, then drew them back against his teeth, then puffed them again.
The man on the davenport laughed out loud, seemed to be enjoying himself.
A voice that came from no one in the room said sharply: "Just drop that gat, blondie. The rest of you grab air."
De Ruse looked up towards an opened panel in the wall beyond the desk. A gun showed in the opening, and a hand, but no body or face. Light from the room lit up the hand and the gun.'
The gun seemed to point directly at Francine Ley. De Ruse said: "Okey," quickly, and lifted his hands, empty.
The blond man said: "That'll be Big George-all rested and ready to go." He opened his hand and let the .45 thud to the floor in front of him.
Parisi stood up very swiftly from the davenport and took a gun from under his arm. Zapparty took a revolver out of the desk drawer, leveled it. He spoke towards the panel: "Get out, and stay out."
The panel clicked shut. Zapparty jerked his head at the baldheaded croupier, who had not seemed to move a muscle since he came into the room.
"Back on the job, Louis. Keep the chin up."
The croupier nodded and turned and went out of the room, closing the door carefully behind him.
Francine Ley laughed foolishly. Her hand went up and pulled the collar of her wrap close around her throat, as if it was cold in the room. But there were no windows and it was very warm, from the fire.
Parisi made a whistling sound with his lips and teeth and went quickly to De Ruse and stuck the gun he was holding in De Ruse's face, pushing his head back, He felt in De Ruse's pockets with his left hand, took the Colt, felt under his arms, circled around him, touched his hips, came to the front again.
He stepped back a little and hit De Ruse on the cheek with the flat of one gun. De Ruse stood perfectly still except that his head jerked a little when the hard metal hit his face,
Parisi hit him again the same place. Blood began to run down De Ruse's cheek from the cheekbone, lazily. His head sagged a little and his knees gave way. He went down slowly, leaned with his left hand on the floor, shaking his head. His body was crouched, his legs doubled under him. His right hand dangled loosely beside his left foot,
Zapparty said: "All right, Mops. Don't get blood-hungry. We want words out of these people."
Francine Ley laughed again, rather foolishly. She swayed along the wall, holding one hand up against it.
Parisi breathed hard and backed away from De Ruse with a happy smile on his round swart face.
"I been waitin' a long time for this," he said.
When he was about six feet from De Ruse something small and darkly glistening seemed to slide out of the left leg of De Ruse's trousers into his hand. There was a sharp, snapping explosion, a tiny orange-green flame down on the floor.
Parisi's head jerked back. A round hole appeared under his chin. It got large and red almost instantly. His hands opened laxly and the two guns fell out of them. His body began to sway. He fell heavily.
Zapparty said: "Holy Christ!" and jerked up his revolver.
Francine Ley screamed flatly and hurled herself at him-clawing, kicking, shrilling.
The revolver went off twice with a heavy crash. Two slugs plunked into a wall. Plaster rattled.
Francine Ley slid down to the floor, on her hands and knees. A long slim leg sprawled out from under her dress.
The blond man, down on one knee with his .45 in his hand again, rasped: "She got the bastard's gun!"
Zapparty stood with his hands empty, a terrible expression on his face. There was a long red scratch on the back of his right hand. His revolver lay on the floor beside Francine Ley. His horrified eyes looked down at it unbelievingly.
Parisi coughed once on the floor and after that was still.
De Ruse got up on his feet. The little Mauser looked like a toy in his hand. His voice seemed to come from far away saying: "Watch that panel, Nicky. . . ."
There was no sound outside the room, no sound anywhere. Zapparty stood at the end of the desk, frozen, ghastly.
De Ruse bent down and touched Francine Ley's shoulder. "All right, baby?"
She drew her legs under her and got up, stood looking down at Parisi. Her body shook with a nervous chill.
"I'm sorry, baby," De Ruse said softly beside her. "I guess I had a wrong idea about you."
He took a handkerchief out of his pocket and moistened it with his lips, then rubbed his left cheek lightly and looked at blood on the handkerchief.
Nicky said: "I guess Big George went to sleep again. I was a sap not to blast at him."
De Ruse nodded a little, and said:
"Yeah. The whole play was lousy. Where's your hat and coat, Mister Zapparty? We'd like to have you go riding with us."
In the shadows under the pepper trees De Ruse said: "There it is, Nicky. Over there. Nobody's bothered it. Better take a look around."
The blond man got out from under the wheel of the Packard and went off under the trees, He stood a little while on the same side of the street as the Packard, then he slipped across to where the big Lincoln was parked in front of the brick apartment house on North Kenmore.
De Ruse leaned forward across the back of the front seat and pinched Francine Ley's cheek. "You're going home now, baby-with this bus. I'll see you later."
"Johnny-she clutched at his arm-' 'what arc you going to do? For Pete's sake, can't you stop having fun for tonight?"
"Not yet, baby. Mister Zapparty wants to tell us things. I figure a little ride in that gas car will pep him up. Anyway I need it for evidence."
He looked sidewise at Zapparty in the corner of the back scat. Zapparty made a harsh sound in his throat and stared in front of him with a shadowed face.
Nicky came back across the road, stood with one foot on the running board.
"No keys," he said. "Got'cm?"
De Ruse said: "Sure." He took keys out of his pocket and handed them to Nicky. Nicky went around to Zapparty's side of the car and opened the door.
Zapparty got out stiffly, stood in the soft, slanting rain, his mouth working. De Ruse got out after him.
"Take it away, baby."
Francine Ley slid along the scat under the steering wheel of the Packard and pushed the starter. The motor caught with a soft whirr.
"So long, baby," De Ruse said gently. "Get my slippers warmed for me. And do me a big favor, honey. Don't phone anyone."
The Packard went off along the dark street, under the big pepper trees. De Ruse watched it turn a corner. He prodded Zapparty with his elbow.
"Let's go. You're going to ride in the back of your gas car. We can't feed you much gas on account of the hole in the glass, but you'll like the smell of it. We'll go off in the country somewhere. We've got all night to play with you."
"I guess you know this is a snatch," Zapparty said harshly.
"Don't I love to think it," De Ruse purred.
They went across the street, three men walking together without haste. Nicky opened the good rear door of the Lincoln. Zapparty got into it. Nicky banged the door shut, got under the wheel and fitted the ignition key in the lock. De Ruse got in beside him and sat with his legs straddling the tank of gas.
The whole car still smelled of the gas.
Nicky started the car, turned it in the middle of the block and drove north to Franklin, back over Los Feliz towards Glendale. After a little while Zapparty leaned forward and banged on the glass. De Ruse put his ear to the hole in the glass behind Nicky's head.
Zapparty's harsh voice said: "Stone house-Castle Road-in the La Crescenta flood area."
"Jeeze, but he's a softy," Nicky grunted, his eyes on the road ahead.
De Ruse nodded, said thoughtfully: "There's more to it than that. With Parisi dead he'd clam up unless he figured he had an out."
Nicky said: "Me, I'd rather take a beating and keep my chin buttoned. Light me a pill, Johnny."
De Ruse lit two cigarettes and passed one to the blond man. He glanced back at Zapparty's long body in the corner of the car. Passing light touched up his taut face, made the shadows on it look very deep.
The big car slid noiselessly through Glendale and up the grade towards Montrose. From Montrose over to the Sunland highway and across that into the almost deserted flood area of La Crescenta.
They found Castle Road and followed it towards the mountains. In a few minutes they came to the stone house.
It stood back from the road, across a wide space which might once have been lawn but which was now packed sand, small Stones and a few large boulders. The road made a square turn just before they came to it. Beyond it the road ended in a clean edge of concrete chewed off by the flood of New Year's Day, 1934.
Beyond this edge was the main wash of the flood. Bushes grew in it and there were many huge stones. On the very edge a tree grew with half its roots in the air eight feet above the bed of the wash.
Nicky stopped the car and turned off the lights and took a big nickeled flash out of the car pocket. He handed it to De Ruse.
De Ruse got out of the car and stood for a moment with his hand on the open door, holding the flash. He took a gun out of his overcoat pocket and held it down at his side.
"Looks like a stall," he said. "I don't think there's anything stirring here."
He glanced in at Zapparty, smiled sharply and walked off across the ridges of sand, towards the house. The front door stood half open, wedged that way by sand. De Ruse went towards the corner of the house, keeping out of line with the door as well as he could. He went along the side wall, looking at boarded-up windows behind which there was no trace of light.
At the back of the house was what had been a chicken house. A piece of rusted junk in a squashed garage was all that remained of the family sedan. The back door was nailed up like the windows. De Ruse stood silent in the rain, wondering why the front door was open. Then he remembered that there had been another flood a few months before, not such a bad one. There might have been enough water to break open the door on the side towards the mountains.
Two stucco houses, both abandoned, loomed on the adjoining lots. Farther away from the wash, on a bit of higher ground, there was a lighted window. It was the only light anywhere in the range of De Ruse's vision.
He went back to the front of the house and slipped through the open door, stood inside it and listened. After quite a long time he snapped the flash on.
The house didn't smell like a house. It smelled like out of doors. There was nothing in the front room but sand, a few pieces of smashed furniture, some marks on the walls, above the dark line of the flood water, where pictures had hung.
De Ruse went through a short hall into a kitchen that had a hole in the floor where the sink had been and a rusty gas stove stuck in the hole. From the kitchen he went into a bedroom. He had not heard any whisper of sound in the house so far.
The bedroom was square and dark. A carpet stiff with old mud was plastered to the floor. There was a metal bed with a rusted spring, and a waterstained mattress over part of the spring.
Feet stuck out from under the bed.
They were large feet in walnut brown brogues, with purple socks above them. The socks had gray clocks down the sides. Above the socks were trousers of black and white check.
De Ruse stood very still and played the flash down on the feet. He made a soft sucking sound with his lips. He stood like that for a couple of minutes, without moving at all. Then he stood the flash on the floor, on its end, so that the light it shot against the ceiling was reflected down to make dim light all over the room.
He took hold of the mattress and pulled it off the bed. He reached down and touched one of the hands of the man who was under the bed. The hand was ice cold. He took hold of the ankles and pulled, but the man was large and heavy.
It was easier to move the bed from over him.
Zapparty leaned his head back against the upholstery and shut his eyes and turned his head away a little. His eyes were shut very tight and he tried to turn his head far enough so that the light from the big flash wouldn't shine through his eyelids.
Nicky held the flash close to his face and snapped it on, off again, on, off again, monotonously, in a kind of rhythm.
De Ruse stood with one foot on the running board by the open door and looked off through the rain. On the edge of the murky horizon an airplane beacon flashed weakly.
Nicky said carelessly: "You never know what'll get a guy. I saw one break once because a cop held his fingernail against the dimple in his chin."
De Ruse laughed under his breath. "This one is tough," he said. "You'll have to think of something better than a flashlight."
Nicky snapped the flash on, off, on, off. "I could," he said, "But I don't want to get my hands dirty."
After a little while Zapparty raised his hands in front of him and let them fall slowly and began to talk. He talked in a low monotonous voice, keeping his eyes shut against the flash.
"Parisi worked the snatch. I didn't know anything about it until it was done. Parisi muscled in on me about a month ago, with a couple of tough boys to back him up. He had found out somehow that Candless beat me out of twenty-five grand to defend my half-brother on a murder rap, then sold the kid out. I didn't tell Parisi that. I didn't know he knew until tonight.
"He came into the club about seven or a little after and said: "We've got a friend of yours, Hugo Candless. It's a hundredgrand job, a quick turnover. All you have to do is help spread the pay-off across the tables here, get it mixed up with a bunch of other money. You have to do that because we give you a cut-and because the caper is right up your alley, if anything goes sour.' That's about all. Parisi sat around then and chewed his fingers and waited for his boys. He got pretty jumpy when they didn't show. He went out once to make a phone call from a beer parlor."
De Ruse drew on a cigarette he held cupped inside a hand. He said: "Who fingered the job, and how did you know Candless was up here?"
Zapparty said: "Mops told me. But I didn't know he was dead."
Nicky laughed and snapped the flash several times quickly.
De Ruse said: "Hold it steady for a minute." Nicky held the beam steady on Zapparty's white face. Zapparty moved his lips in and out. He opened his eyes once. They were blind eyes, like the eyes of a dead fish.
Nicky said: "It's damn cold up here. What do we do with his nibs?"
De Ruse said: "We'll take him into the house and tie him to Candless. They can keep each other warm. We'll come up again in the morning and see if he's got any fresh ideas."
Zapparty shuddered. The gleam of something like a tear showed in the corner of his nearest eye. After a moment of silence he said: "Okey. I planned the whole thing. The gas car was my idea. I didn't want the money. I wanted Candless, and I wanted him dead. My kid brother was hanged in Qucntin a week ago Friday."
There was a little silence. Nicky said something under his breath. De Ruse didn't move or make a sound.
Zapparty went on: "Mattick, the Candless driver, was in on it. He hated Candless. He was supposed to drive the ringer car to make everything look good and then take a powder. But he lapped up too much corn getting set for the job and Parisi got leery of him, had him knocked off. Another boy drove the car. It was raining and that helped."
De Ruse said: "Better-but still not all of it, Zapparty."
Zapparty shrugged quickly, slightly opened his eyes against the flash, almost grinned.
"What the hell do you want? Jam on both sides?"
De Ruse said: "I want a finger put on the bird that had me grabbed . . . Let it go. I'll do it myself."
He took his foot off the running board and snapped his butt away into the darkness. He slammed the car door shut, got in the front. Nicky put the flash away and slid around under the wheel, started the engine.
De Ruse said: "Somewhere where I can phone for a cab, Nicky. Then you take this riding for another hour and then call Francy. I'll have a word for you there."
The blond man shook his head slowly from side to side. "You're a good pal, Johnny, and I like you. But this has gone far enough this way. I'm taking it down to Headquarters. Don't forget I've got a private-dick license under my old shirts at home.
De Ruse said: "Give mc an hour, Nicky. Just an hour."
The car slid down the hill and crossed the Sunland Highway, started down another hill towards Montrose. After a while Nicky said: "Check."
It was twelve minutes past one by the stamping clock on the end of the desk in the lobby of the Casa de Oro. The lobby was antique Spanish, with black and red Indian rugs, nailstudded chairs with leather cushions and leather tassels on the corners of the cushions; the gray-green olivewood doors were fitted with clumsy wrought-iron strap hinges.
A thin, dapper clerk with a waxed blond mustache and a blond pompadour leaned on the desk and looked at the clock and yawned, tapping his teeth with the backs of his bright fingernails.
The door opened from the street and De Ruse came in. He took off his hat and shook it, put it on again and yanked the brim down. His eyes looked slowly around the deserted lobby and he went to the desk, slapped a gloved palm on it.
"What's the number of the Hugo Candlcss bungalow?" he asked.
The clerk looked annoyed. He glanced at the clock, at De Ruse's face, back at the clock. He smiled superciliously, spoke a slight accent.
"Twelve C. Do you wish to be announced-at this hour?"
De Ruse said: "No."
He turned away from the desk and went towards a large door with a diamond of glass in it. It looked like the door of a very high-class privy.
As he put his hand out to the door a bell rang sharply behind him.
De Ruse looked back over his shoulder, turned and went back to the desk. The clerk took his hand away from the bell, rather quickly.
His voice was cold, sarcastic, insolent, saying: "It's not that kind of apartment house, if you please."
Two patches above De Ruse's cheekbones got a dusky red. He leaned across the counter and took hold of the braided lapel of the clerk's jacket, pulled the man's chest against the edge of the desk.
"What was that crack, nance?"
The clerk paled but managed to bang his bell again with a flailing hand.
A pudgy man in a baggy suit and a seal-brown toupee came around the corner of the desk, put out a plump finger and said: "Hey."
De Ruse let the clerk go. He looked expressionlessly at cigar ash on the front of the pudgy man's coat.
The pudgy man said: "I'm the house man. You gotta see me if you want to get tough."
De Ruse said: "You speak my language. Come over in the corner."
They went over in the corner and sat down beside a palm. The pudgy man yawned amiably and lifted the edge of his toupee and scratched under it.
"I'm Kuvalick," he said. "Times I could bop that Swiss myself. What's the beef?"
De Ruse said: "Are you a guy that can stay clammed?"
"No. I like to talk. It's all the fun I get around this dude ranch." Kuvalick got half of a cigar out of a pocket and burned his nose lighting it.
De Ruse said: "This is one time you stay clammed."
He reached inside his coat, got his wallet out, took out two tens. He rolled them around his forefinger, then slipped them off in a tube and tucked the tube into the outside pocket of the pudgy man's coat.
Kuvalick blinked, but didn't say anything.
De Ruse said: "There's a man in the Candless apartment named George Dial. His car's outside, and that's where he would be. I want to see him and I don't want to send a name in. You can take me in and stay with me."
The pudgy man said cautiously: "It's kind of late. Maybe he's in bed."
"If he is, he's in the wrong bed," De Ruse said. "He ought to get up."
The pudgy man stood up. "I don't like what I'm thinkin', but I like your tens," he said. "I'll go in and see if they're up. You stay put."
De Ruse nodded. Kuvalick went along the wall and slipped through a door in the corner. The clumsy square butt of a hip holster showed under the back of his coat as he walked. The clerk looked after him, then looked contemptuously towards De Ruse and got out a nail file.
Ten minutes went by, fifteen. Kuvalick didn't come back. De Ruse stood up suddenly, scowled and marched towards the door in the corner, The clerk at the desk stiffened, and his eyes went to the telephone on the desk, but he didn't touch it.
De Ruse went through the door and found himself under a roofed gallery. Rain dripped softly off the slanting tiles of the roof. He went along a patio the middle of which was an oblong pool framed in a mosaic of gaily colored tiles. At the end of that, other patios branched off. There was a window light at the far end of the one to the left. He went towards it, at a venture, and when he came close to it made out the number 12C on the door.
He went up two flat steps and punched a bell that rang in the distance. Nothing happened. In a little while he rang again, then tried the door. It was locked. Somewhere inside he thought he heard a faint muffled thumping sound.
He stood in the rain a moment, then went around the corner of the bungalow, down a narrow, very wet passage to the back. He tried the service door; locked also. De Ruse swore, took his gun out from under his arm, held his hat against the glass panel of the service door and smashed the pane with the butt of the gun. Glass fell tinkling lightly inside.
He put the gun away, straightened his hat on his head and reached in through the broken pane to unlock the door.
The kitchen was large and bright with black and yellow tiling, looked as if it was used mostly for mixing drinks. Two bottles of Haig and Haig, a bottle of Hennessy, three or four kinds of fancy cordial bottles stood on the tiled drainboard. A short hall with a closed door led to the living room. There was a grand piano in the corner with a lamp lit beside it. Another lamp on a low table with drinks and glasses. A wood fire was dying on the hearth.
The thumping noise got louder.
De Ruse went across the living room and through a door framed in a valance into another hallway, thence into a beautifully paneled bedroom. The thumping noise came from a closet. De Ruse opened the door of the closet and saw a man.
He was sitting on the floor with his back in a forest of dresses on hangers. A towel was tied around his face. Another held his ankles together. His wrists were tied behind him. He was a very bald man, as bald as the croupier at the Club Egypt.
De Ruse stared down at him harshly, then suddenly grinned, bent and cut him loose.
The man spit a washcloth out of his mouth, swore hoarsely and dived into the clothes at the back of the closet. He came up with something furry clutched in his hand, straightened it out, and put it on his hairless head.
That made him Kuvalick, the house dick.
He got up still swearing and backed away from De Ruse, with a stiff alert grin on his fat face. His right hand shot to his hip holster.
De Ruse spread his hands, said: "Tell it," and sat down in a small chintz-covered slipper chair.
Kuvalick stared at him quietly for a moment, then took his hand away from his gun.
"There's lights," he said, "So I push the buzzer. A tall dark guy opens. I seen him around here a lot. That's Dial. I say to him there's a guy outside in the lobby wants to see him hushhush, won't give a name."
"That made you a sap," De Ruse commented dryly.
"Not yet, but soon," Kuvalick grinned, and spit a shred of cloth out of his mouth. "I describe you. That makes me a sap. He smiled kind of funny and asks me to come in a minute. I go in past him and he shuts the door and sticks a gun in my kidney. He says: 'Did you say he wore all dark clothes?' I say: 'Yes. And what's that gat for?' He says: 'Does he have gray eyes and sort of crinkly black hair and is he hard around the teeth?' I say: 'Yes, you bastard and what's the gat for?'
"He says: 'For this,' and lets me have it on the back of the head. I go down, groggy, but not out. Then the Candless broad comes out from a doorway and they tie me up and shove me in the closet and that's that. I hear them fussin' around for a little while and then I hear silence. That's all until you ring the bell."
De Ruse smiled lazily, pleasantly. His whole body was lax in the chair. His manner had become indolent and unhurried.
"They faded," he said softly. "They got tipped off. I don't think that was very bright."
Kuvalick said: "I'm an old Wells Fargo dick and I can stand a shock. What they been up to?"
"What kind of woman is Mrs. Candless?"
"Dark, a looker, Sex hungry, as the fellow says. Kind of worn and tight. They get a new chauffeur every three months. There's a couple guys in the Casa she likes too. I guess there's this gigolo that bopped me."
De Ruse looked at his watch, nodded, leaned forward to get up. "I guess it's about time for some law. Got any friends downtown you'd like to give a snatch story to?"
A voice said: "Not quite yet."
George Dial came quickly into the room from the hallway and stood quietly inside it with a long, thin, silenced automatic in his hand. His eyes were bright and mad, but his lemoncolored finger was very steady on the trigger of the small gun.
"We didn't fade," he said. "We weren't quite ready. But it might not have been a bad idea-for you two."
Kuvalick's pudgy hand swept for his hip holster.
The small automatic with the black tube on it made two flat dull sounds.
A puff of dust jumped from the front of Kuvalick's coat. His hands jerked sharply away from the sides and his small eyes snapped very wide open, like seeds bursting from a pod. He fell heavily on his side against the wall, lay quite still on his left side, with his eyes half open and his back against the wall. His toupee was tipped over rakishly.
De Ruse looked at him swiftly, looked back at Dial. No emotion showed in his face, not even excitement.
He said: "You're a crazy fool, Dial. That kills your last chance. You could have bluffed it out. But that's not your only mistake."
Dial said 'calmly: "No. I see that now. I shouldn't have sent the boys after you. I did that just for the hell of it. That comes of not being a professional."
De Ruse nodded slightly, looked at Dial almost with friendliness. "Just for the fun of it-who tipped you off the game had gone smash?"
"Francy-and she took her damn time about it," Dial said savagely. "I'm leaving, so I won't be able to thank her for a while."
"Not ever," De Ruse said. "You won't get out of the state. You won't ever touch a nickel of the big boy's money. Not you or your sidekicks or your woman. The cops are getting the story-right now."
Dial said: "We'll get clear. We have enough to tour on, Johnny. So long."
Dial's face tightened and his hand jerked up, with the gun in it. De Ruse half closed his eyes, braced himself for the shock. The little gun didn't go off. There was a rustle behind Dial and a tall dark woman in a gray fur coat slid into the room. A small hat was balanced on dark hair knotted on the nape of her neck. She was pretty, in a thin, haggard sort of way. The lip rouge on her mouth was as black as soot; there was no color in her cheeks.
She had a cool lazy voice that didn't match with her taut expression. "Who is Francy?" she asked coldly.
De Ruse opened his eyes wide and his body got stiff in the chair and his right hand began to slide up towards his chest.
"Francy is my girl friend," he said. "Mister Dial has been trying to get her away from mc. But that's all right. He's a handsome lad and ought to be able to pick his spots."
The tall woman's face suddenly became dark and wild and furious. She grabbed fiercely at Dial's arm, the one that held the gun.'
De Ruse snatched for his shoulder holster, got his .38 loose. But it wasn't his gun that went off. It wasn't the silenced automatic in Dial's hand. It was a huge frontier Colt with an eight-inch barrel and a boom like an exploding bomb. It went off from the floor, from beside Kuvalick's right hip, where Kuvalick's plump hand held it.
It went off just once. Dial was thrown back against the wall as if by a giant hand. His head crashed against the wall and instantly his darkly handsome face was a mask of blood.
He fell laxly down the wall and the little automatic with the black tube on it fell in front of him. The dark woman dived for it, down on her hands and knees in front of Dial's sprawled body.
She got it, began to bring it up. Her face was convulsed, her lips were drawn back over thin wolfish teeth that shimmered.
Kuvalick's voice said: "I'm a tough guy. I used to be a Wells Fargo dick."
His great cannon slammed again. A shrill scream was torn from the woman's lips. Her body was flung against Dial's. Her eyes opened and shut, opened and shut. Her face got white and vacant.
"Shoulder shot. She's okay," Kuvalick said, and got up on his feet. He jerked open his coat and patted his chest.
"Bullet-proof vest," he said proudly. "But I thought I'd better lie quiet for a while or he'd popped me in the face."
Francine Ley yawned and stretched out a long green pajamaclad leg and looked at a slim green slipper on her bare foot. She yawned again, got up and walked nervously across the room to the kidney-shaped desk. She poured a drink, drank it quickly, with a sharp nervous shudder. Her face was drawn and tired, her eyes hollow; there were dark smudges under her eyes.
She looked at the tiny watch on her wrist. It was almost four o'clock in the morning. Still with her wrist up she whirled at a sound, put her back to the desk and began to breathe very quickly, pantingly.
De Ruse came in through the red curtains. He stopped and looked at her without expression, then slowly took off his hat and overcoat and dropped them on a chair. He took off his suit coat and his tan shoulder harness and walked over to the drinks.
He sniffed at a glass, filled it a third full of whiskey, put it down in a gulp.
"So you had to tip the louse off," he said somberly, looking down into the empty glass he held.
Francine Ley said: "Yes. I had to phone him. What happened?"
"You had to phone the louse," De Ruse said in exactly the same tone. "You knew damn well he was mixed up in it. You'd rather he got loose, even if he cooled me off doing it."
"You're all right, Johnny?" She asked softly, tiredly.
De Ruse didn't speak, didn't look at her. He put the glass down slowly and poured some more whiskey into it, added charged water, looked around for some ice. Not finding any he began to sip the drink with his eyes on the white top of the desk.
Francine Ley said: "There isn't a guy in the world that doesn't rate a start on you, Johnny. It wouldn't do him any good, but he'd have to have it, if I knew him."
De Ruse said slowly: "That's swell. Only I'm not quite that good. I'd be a stiff right now except for a comic hotel dick that wears a Buntline Special and a bullet-proof vest to work."
After a little while Francine Ley said: "Do you want me to blow?"
De Ruse looked at her quickly, looked away again. He put his glass down and walked away from the desk. Over his shoulder he said: "Not so long as you keep on telling me the truth."
He sat down in a deep chair and leaned his elbows on the arms of it, cupped his face in his hands. Francine Ley watched him for a moment, then went over and sat on an arm of the chair. She pulled his head back gently until it was against the back of the chair. She began to stroke his forehead.
De Ruse closed his eyes. His body became loose and relaxed. His voice began to sound sleepy.
"You saved my life over at the Club Egypt maybe. I guess that gave you the right to let handsome have a shot at me."
Francine Ley stroked his head, without speaking.
"Handsome is dead," De Ruse went on. "The peeper shot his face off."
Francine Ley's hand stopped. In a moment it began again, stroking his head.
"The Candless frau was in on it. Seems she's a hot number. She wanted Hugo's dough, and she wanted all the men in the world except Hugo. Thank heaven she didn't get bumped. She talked plenty. So did Zapparty."
"Yes, honey," Francine Ley said quietly.
De Ruse yawned. "Candless is dead. He was dead before we started. They never wanted him anything else but dead. Parisi didn't care one way or the other, as long as he got paid."
Francine Ley said: "Yes, honey."
"Tell you the rest in the morning," De Ruse said thickly. "I guess Nicky and I arc all square with the law ... Let's go to Reno, get marriedm sick of this tomcat life . . . Get me 'nother drink, baby."
Francine Ley didn't move except to draw her fingers softly and soothingly across his forehead and back over his temples. De Ruse moved lower in the chair. His head rolled to one side.
"Don't call mc honey," De Ruse said thickly. "Just call me pigeon."
When he was quite asleep she got off the arm of the chair and went and sat down near him. She sat very still and watched him, her face cupped in her long delicate hands with the cherrycolored nails.
© Aerius, 2004