Книга Farewell, My Lovely. Содержание - 6

“She’s dead,” the woman said. “She was a good kid, but she’s dead, copper. Beat it.”

The tawny mangled brows worked up and down. Her hand opened and the whiskey bottle slid to the carpet and began to gurgle. I bent to pick it up. She tried to kick me in the face. I stepped away from her.

“And that still doesn’t say why you hid it,” I told her. “When did she die? How?”

“I am a poor sick old woman,” she grunted. “Get away from me, you son of a bitch.”

I stood there looking at her, not saying anything, not thinking of anything particular to say. I stepped over to her side after a moment and put the flat bottle, now almost empty, on the table at her side.

She was staring down at the carpet. The radio droned pleasantly in the corner. A car went by outside. A fly buzzed in a window. After a long time she moved one lip over the other and spoke to the floor, a meaningless jumble of words from which nothing emerged. Then she laughed and threw her head back and drooled. Then her right hand reached for the bottle and it rattled against her teeth as she drained it. When it was empty she held it up and shook it and threw it at me. It went off in the corner somewhere, skidding along the carpet and bringing up with a thud against the baseboard.

She leered at me once more, then her eyes closed and she began to snore.

It might have been an act, but I didn’t care. Suddenly I had enough of the scene, too much of it, far too much of it.

I picked my hat off the davenport and went over to the door and opened it and went out past the screen. The radio still droned in the corner and the woman still snored gently in her chair. I threw a quick look back at her before I closed the door, then shut it, opened it again silently and looked again.

Her eyes were still shut but something gleamed below the lids. I went down the steps, along the cracked walk to the street.

In the next house a window curtain was drawn aside and a narrow intent face was close to the glass, peering, an old woman’s face with white hair and a sharp nose.

Old Nosey checking up on the neighbors. There’s always at least one like her to the block. I waved a hand at her. The curtain fell.

I went back to my car and got into it and drove back to the 77th Street Division, and climbed upstairs to Nulty’s smelly little cubbyhole of an office on the second floor.


Nulty didn’t seem to have moved. He sat in his chair in the same attitude of sour patience. But there were two more cigar stubs in his ashtray and the floor was a little thicker in burnt matches.

I sat down at the vacant desk and Nulty turned over a photo that was lying face down on his desk and handed it to me. It was a police mug, front and profile, with a fingerprint classification underneath. It was Malloy all right, taken in a strong light, and looking as if he had no more eyebrows than a French roll.

“That’s the boy.” I passed it back.

“We got a wire from Oregon State pen on him,” Nulty said. “All time served except his copper. Things look beter. We got him cornered. A prowl car was talking to a conductor the end of the Seventh Street line. The conductor mentioned a guy that size, looking like that. He got off Third and Alexandria. What he’ll do is break into some big house where the folks are away. Lots of ‘em there, old-fashioned places too far downtown now and hard to rent. He’ll break in one and we got him bottled. What you been doing?”

“Was he wearing a fancy hat and white golf balls on his jacket?”

Nulty frowned and twisted his hands on his kneecaps. “No, a blue suit. Maybe brown.”

“Sure it wasn’t a sarong?”

“Huh? Oh yeah, funny. Remind me to laugh on my day off.”

I said: “That wasn’t the Moose. He wouldn’t ride a street car. He had money. Look at the clothes he was wearing. He couldn’t wear stock sizes. They must have been made to order.”

“Okey, ride me,” Nulty scowled. “What you been doing?”

“What you ought to have done. This place called Florian’s was under the same name when it was a white night trap. I talked to a Negro hotelman who knows the neighborhood. The sign was expensive so the shines just went on using it when they took over. The man’s name was Mike Florian. He’s dead some years, but his widow is still around. She lives at 1644 West 54th Place. Her name is Jessie Florian. She’s not in the phone book, but she is in the city directory.”

“Well, what do I do — date her up?” Nulty asked.

“I did it for you. I took in a pint of bourbon with me. She’s a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud and if she has washed her hair since Coolidge’s second term, I’ll eat my spare tire, rim and all.”

“Skip the wisecracks,” Nulty said.

“I asked Mrs. Florian about Velma. You remember, Mr. Nulty, the redhead named Velma that Moose Malloy was looking for? I’m not tiring you, am I, Mr. Nulty?”

“What you sore about?”

“You wouldn’t understand. Mrs. Florian said she didn’t remember Velma. Her home is very shabby except for a new radio, worth seventy or eighty dollars.”

“You ain’t told me why that’s something I should start screaming about.”

“Mrs. Florian — Jessie to me — said her husband left her nothing but his old clothes and a bunch of stills of the gang who worked at his joint from time to time. I plied her with liquor and she is a girl who will take a drink if she has to knock you down to get the bottle. After the third or fourth she went into her modest bedroom and threw things around and dug the bunch of stills out of the bottom of an old trunk. But I was watching her without her knowing it and she slipped one out of the packet and hid it. So after a while I snuck in there and grabbed it.”

I reached into my pocket and laid the Pierrot girl on his desk. He lifted it and stared at it and his lips quirked at the corners.

“Cute,” he said. “Cute enough, I could have used a piece of that once. Haw, haw. Velma Valento, huh? What happened to this doll?”

“Mrs. Florian says she died — but that hardly explains why she hid the photo.”

“It don’t do at that. Why did she hide it?”

“She wouldn’t tell me. In the end, after I told her about the Moose being out, she seemed to take a dislike to me. That seems impossible, doesn’t it?”

“Go on,” Nulty said.

“That’s all. I’ve told you the facts and given you the exhibit. If you can’t get somewhere on this set-up, nothing I could say would help.”

“Where would I get? It’s still a shine killing. Wait’ll we get the Moose. Hell, it’s eight years since he saw the girl unless she visited him in the pen.”

“All right,” I said. “But don’t forget he’s looking for her and he’s a man who would bear down. By the way, he was in for a bank job. That means a reward. Who got it?”

“I don’t know,” Nulty said. “Maybe I could find out. Why?”

“Somebody turned him up. Maybe he knows who. That would be another job he would give time to.” I stood up. “Well, goodby and good luck.”

“You walking out on me?”

I went over to the door. “I have to go home and take a bath and gargle my throat and get my nails manicured.”

“You ain’t sick, are you?”

“Just dirty,” I said. “Very, very dirty.”

“Well, what’s your hurry? Sit down a minute.” He leaned back and hooked his thumbs in his vest, which made him look a little more like a cop, but didn’t make him look any more magnetic.

“No hurry,” I said. “No hurry at all. There’s nothing more I can do. Apparently this Velma is dead, if Mrs. Florian is telling the truth — and I don’t at the moment know of any reason why she should lie about it. That was all I was interested in.”

“Yeah,” Nulty said suspiciously — from force of habit.

“And you have Moose Malloy all sewed up anyway, and that’s that. So I’ll just run on home now and go about the business of trying to earn a living.”

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