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Книга Farewell, My Lovely. Содержание - 5

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“Who did he leave behind him? Pour another drink.”

He corked the bottle firmly and pushed it across the counter. “Two is all, brother — before sundown. I thank you. Your method of approach is soothin’ to a man’s dignity . . . Left a widow. Name of Jessie.”

“What happened to her?”

“The pursuit of knowledge, brother, is the askin’ of many questions. I ain’t heard. Try the phone book.”

There was a booth in the dark corner of the lobby. I went over and shut the door far enough to put the light on. I looked up the name in the chained and battered book. No Florian in it at all. I went back to the desk.

“No soap,” I said.

The Negro bent regretfully and heaved a city directory up on top of the desk and pushed it towards me. He closed his eyes. He was getting bored. There was a Jessie Florian, Widow, in the book. She lived at 1644 West 54th Place. I wondered what I had been using for brains all my life.

I wrote the address down on a piece of paper and pushed the directory back across the desk. The Negro put it back where he had found it, shook hands with me, then folded his hands on the desk exactly where they had been when I came in. His eyes drooped slowly and he appeared to fall asleep.

The incident for him was over. Halfway to the door I shot a glance back at him. His eyes were closed and he breathed softly and regularly, blowing a little with his lips at the end of each breath. His bald head shone.

I went out of the Hotel Sans Souci and crossed the street to my car. It looked too easy. It looked much too easy.


1644 West 54th Place was a dried-out brown house with a dried-out brown lawn in front of it. There was a large bare patch around a tough-looking palm tree. On the porch stood one lonely wooden rocker, and the afternoon breeze made the unpruned shoots of last year’s poinsettias tap-tap against the cracked stucco wall. A line of stiff yellowish half-washed clothes jittered on a rusty wire in the side yard.

I drove on a quarter block, parked my car across the street and walked back.

The bell didn’t work so I rapped on the wooden margin of the screen door. Slow steps shuffled and the door opened and I was looking into dimness at a blowsy woman who was blowing her nose as she opened the door. Her face was gray and puffy. She had weedy hair of that vague color which is neither brown nor blond, that hasn’t enough life in it to be ginger, and isn’t clean enough to be gray. Her body was thick in a shapeless outing flannel bathrobe many moons past color and design. It was just something around her body. Her toes were large and obvious in a pair of man’s slippers of scuffed brown leather.

I said: “Mrs. Florian? Mrs. Jessie Florian?”

“Uh-huh,” the voice dragged itself out of her throat like a sick man getting out of bed.

“You are the Mrs. Florian whose husband once ran a place of entertainment on Central Avenue? Mike Florian?”

She thumbed a wick of hair past her large ear. Her eyes glittered with surprise. Her heavy clogged voice said:

“Wha-what? My goodness sakes alive. Mike’s been gone these five years. Who did you say you was?”

The screen door was still shut and hooked.

“I’m a detective,” I said. “I’d like a little information.”

She stared at me a long dreary minute. Then with effort she unhooked the door and turned away from it.

“Come on in then. I ain’t had time to get cleaned up yet,” she whined. “Cops, huh?”

I stepped through the door and hooked the screen again. A large handsome cabinet radio droned to the left of the door in the corner of the room. It was the only decent piece of furniture the place had. It looked brand new. Everything was junk — dirty overstuffed pieces, a wooden rocker that matched the one on the porch, a square arch into a dining room with a stained table, finger marks all over the swing door to the kitchen beyond. A couple of frayed lamps with once gaudy shades that were now as gay as super-annuated streetwalkers.

The woman sat down in the rocker and flopped her slippers and looked at me. I looked at the radio and sat down at the end of a davenport. She saw me looking at it. A bogus heartiness, as weak as a Chinaman’s tea, moved into her face and voice. “All the comp’ny I got,” she said. Then she tittered. “Mike ain’t done nothing new, has he? I don’t get cops calling on me much.”

Her titter contained a loose alcoholic overtone. I leaned back against something hard, felt for it and brought up an empty quart gin bottle. The woman tittered again.

“A joke that was,” she said. “But I hope to Christ they’s enough cheap blondes where he is. He never got enough of them here.”

“I was thinking more about a redhead,” I said.

“I guess he could use a few of them too.” Her eyes, it seemed to me, were not so vague now. “I don’t call to mind. Any special redhead?”

“Yes. A girl named Velma. I don’t know what last name she used except that it wouldn’t be her real one. I’m trying to trace her for her folks. Your place on Central is a colored place now, although they haven’t changed the name, and of course the people there never heard of her. So I thought of you.”

“Her folks taken their time getting around to it — looking for her,” the woman said thoughtfully.

“There’s a little money involved. Not much. I guess they have to get her in order to touch it. Money sharpens the memory.”

“So does liquor,” the woman said. “Kind of hot today, ain’t it? You said you was a copper though.” Cunning eyes, steady attentive face. The feet in the man’s slippers didn’t move.

I held up the dead soldier and shook it. Then I threw it to one side and reached back on my hip for the pint of bond bourbon the Negro hotel clerk and I had barely tapped. I held it out on my knee. The woman’s eyes became fixed in an incredulous stare. Then suspicion climbed all over her face, like a kitten, but not so playfully.

“You ain’t no copper,” she said softly. “No copper ever bought a drink of that stuff. What’s the gag, mister?”

She blew her nose again, on one of the dirtiest handkerchiefs I ever saw. Her eyes stayed on the bottle. Suspicion fought with thirst, and thirst was winning. It always does.

“This Velma was an entertainer, a singer. You wouldn’t know her? I don’t suppose you went there much.”

Seaweed colored eyes stayed on the bottle. A coated tongue coiled on her lips.

“Man, that’s liquor,” she sighed. “I don’t give a damn who you are. Just hold it careful, mister. This ain’t no time to drop anything.”

She got up and waddled out of the room and come back with two thick smeared glasses.

“No fixin’s. Just what you brought is all,” she said.

I poured her a slug that would have made me float over a wall. She reached for it hungrily and put it down her throat like an aspirin tablet and looked at the bottle. I poured her another and a smaller one for me. She took it over to her rocker. Her eyes had turned two shades browner already.

“Man, this stuff dies painless with me,” she said and sat down. “It never knows what hit it. What was we talkin’ about?”

“A redhaired girl named Velma who used to work in your place on Central Avenue.”

“Yeah.” She used her second drink. I went over and stood the bottle on an end beside her. She reached for it. “Yeah. Who you say you was?”

I took out a card and gave it to her. She read it with her tongue and lips, dropped it on a table beside her and set her empty glass on it.

“Oh, a private guy. You ain’t said that, mister.” She waggled a finger at me with gay reproach. “But your liquor says you’re an all right guy at that. Here’s to crime.” She poured a third drink for herself and drank it down.

I sat down and rolled a cigarette around in my fingers and waited. She either knew something or she didn’t. If the knew something, she either would tell me or she wouldn’t. It was that simple.

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