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Книга Farewell, My Lovely. Содержание - 17

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“Yes, they was here a minute. They didn’t know nothing.”

“Describe the big man to me — the one that had a gun and made you call up.”

She described him, with complete accuracy. It was Malloy all right.

“What kind of car did he drive?”

“A little car. He couldn’t hardly get into it.”

“That’s all you can say? This man’s a murderer!”

Her mouth gaped, but her eyes were pleased. “Land’s sakes, I wish I could tell you, young man. But I never knew much about cars. Murder, eh? Folks ain’t safe a minute in this town. When I come here twenty-two years ago we didn’t lock our doors hardly. Now it’s gangsters and crooked police and politicians fightin’ each other with machine guns, so I’ve heard. Scandalous is what it is, young man.”

“Yeah. What do you know about Mrs. Florian?”

The small mouth puckered. “She ain’t neighborly. Plays her radio loud late nights. Sings. She don’t talk to anybody.” She leaned forward a little. “I’m not positive, but my opinion is she drinks liquor.”

“She have many visitors?”

“She don’t have no visitors at all.”

“You’d know, of course, Mrs. — “

“Mrs. Morrison. Land’s sakes, yes. What else have I got to do but look out of the windows?”

“I bet it’s fun. Mrs. Florian has lived here a long time — “

“About ten years, I reckon. Had a husband once. Looked like a bad one to me. He died.” She paused and thought “I guess he died natural,” she added. “I never heard different.”

“Left her money?”

Her eyes receded and her chin followed them. She sniffed hard. “You been drinkin’ liquor,” she said coldly.

“I just had a tooth out. The dentist gave it to me.”

“I don’t hold with it.”

“It’s bad stuff, except for medicine,” I said.

“I don’t hold with it for medicine neither.”

“I think you’re right,” I said. “Did he leave her money? Her husband?”

“I wouldn’t know.” Her mouth was the size of a prune and as smooth. I had lost out.

“Has anybody at all been there since the officers?”

“Ain’t seen.”

“Thank you very much, Mrs. Morrison. I won’t trouble you any more now. You’ve been very kind and helpful.”

I walked out of the room and opened the door. She followed me and cleared her throat and clicked her teeth a couple more times.

“What number should I call?” she asked, relenting a little.

“University 4-5000. Ask for Lieutenant Nulty. What does she live on — relief?”

“This ain’t a relief neighborhood,” she said coldly.

“I bet that side piece was the admiration of Sioux Falls once,” I said, gazing at a carved sideboard that was in the hall because the dining room was too small for it. It had curved ends, thin carved legs, was inlaid all ever, and had a painted basket of fruit on the front.

“Mason City,” she said softly. “Yessir, we had a nice home once, me and George. Best there was.”

I opened the screen door and stepped through it and thanked her again. She was smiling now. Her smile was as sharp as her eyes.

“Gets a registered letter first of every month,” she said suddenly.

I turned and waited. She leaned towards me. “I see the mailman go up to the door and get her to sign. First day of every month. Dresses up then and goes out. Don’t come home till all hours. Sings half the night. Times I could have called the police it was so loud.”

I patted the thin malicious arm.

“You’re one in a thousand, Mrs. Morrison,” I said. I put my hat on, tipped it to her and left. Halfway down the walk I thought of something and swung back. She was still standing inside the screen door, with the house door open behind her. I went back up on the steps.

“Tomorrow’s the first,” I said. “First of April. April Fool’s Day. Be sure to notice whether she gets her registered letter, will you, Mrs. Morrison?”

The eyes gleamed at me. She began to laugh — a highpitched old woman’s laugh. “April Fool’s Day,” she tittered. “Maybe she won’t get it.”

I left her laughing. The sound was like a hen having hiccups.


Nobody answered my ring or knock next door. I tried again. The screen door wasn’t hooked. I tried the house door. It was unlocked. I stepped inside.

Nothing was changed, not even the smell of gin. There were still no bodies on the floor. A dirty glass stood on the table beside the chair where Mrs. Florian had sat yesterday. The radio was turned off. I went over to the davenport and felt down behind the cushions. The same dead soldier and another one with him now.

I called out. No answer. Then I thought I heard a long slow unhappy breathing that was half groaning. I went through the arch and sneaked into the little hallway. The bedroom door was partly open and the groaning sound came from behind it. I stuck my head in and looked.

Mrs. Florian was in bed. She was lying flat on her back with a cotton comforter pulled up to her chin. One of the little fluffballs on the comforter was almost in her mouth. Her long yellow face was slack, half dead. Her dirty hair straggled on the pillow. Her eyes opened slowly and looked at me with no expression. The room had a sickening smell of sleep, liquor and dirty clothes. A sixty-nine cent alarm clock ticked on the peeling gray-white paint of the bureau. It ticked loud enough to shake the walls. Above it a mirror showed a distorted view of the woman’s face. The trunk from which she had taken the photos was still open.

I said: “Good afternoon, Mrs. Florian. Are you sick?”

She worked her lips slowly, rubbed one over the other, then slid a tongue out and moistened them and worked her jaws. Her voice came from her mouth sounding like a worn-out phonograph record. Her eyes showed recognition now, but not pleasure.

“You get him?”

“The Moose?”


“Not yet. Soon, I hope.”

She screwed her eyes up and then snapped them open as if trying to get rid of a film over them.

“You ought to keep your house locked up,” I said. “He might come back.”

“You think I’m scared of the Moose, huh?”

“You acted like it when I was talking to you yesterday.”

She thought about that. Thinking was weary work. “Got any liquor?”

“No, I didn’t bring any today, Mrs. Florian. I was a little low on cash.”

“Gin’s cheap. It hits.”

“I might go out for some in a little while. So you’re not afraid of Malloy?”

“Why would I be?”

“Okey, you’re not. What are you afraid of?”

Light snapped into her eyes, held for a moment, and faded out again. “Aw beat it. You coppers give me an ache in the fanny.”

I said nothing. I leaned against the door frame and put a cigarette in my mouth and tried to jerk it up far enough to hit my nose with it. This is harder than it looks.

“Coppers,” she said slowly, as if talking to herself, “will never catch that boy. He’s good and he’s got dough and he’s got friends. You’re wasting your time, copper.”

“Just the routine,” I said. “It was practically a self-defense anyway. Where would he be?”

She snickered and wiped her mouth on the cotton comforter.

“Soap now,” she said. “Soft stuff. Copper smart. You guys still think it gets you something.”

“I liked the Moose,” I said.

Interest flickered in her eyes. “You know him?”

“I was with him yesterday — when he killed the nigger over on Central.”

She opened her mouth wide and laughed her head off without making any more sound than you would make cracking a breadstick. Tears ran out of her eyes and down her face.

“A big strong guy,” I said. “Soft-hearted in spots too. Wanted his Velma pretty bad.”

The eyes veiled. “Thought it was her folks was looking for her,” she said softly.

“They are. But she’s dead, you said. Nothing there. Where did she die?”

“Dalhart, Texas. Got a cold and went to the chest and off she went.”

“You were there?”

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