Like any good citizen would, I checked to see that no-one was watching and then fled the scene. The nearest subway was five blocks, and as I got close, I could see a drug store that was still open. I went in, staying as far away from the counter as I could and looked around. Bingo! There was a payphone on the back wall. I kept my hat pulled low and my back to the assistant and got to the phone. I probably looked as suspicious as all hell, but as long as I wasn’t identifiable, I didn’t care.
I dialled 9-1-1. The dispatcher picked up straight away.
“Hello ma’am. Can you get the police and an ambulance to the phone box on the junction of Hamilton and Riverside? A man’s been stabbed. I’m fairly certain he’s already dead.”
“Ok, sir, I just need you to…”
I hung up. Time to be elsewhere.
I hopped on the subway. It was pretty quiet and I took a seat and kept my head down. I hadn’t done anything wrong as far as the dead guy was concerned, but I had blown the bail conditions, so the sooner Vicky was back in my ‘custody’, the better. A few stations later, I hopped off and changed lines, heading for Lee’s place. As the train pulled in, I could see there was a bunch of guys who’d been drinking, and were being pretty rowdy. I got in the end of their carriage, figuring that while they were kicking up a racket, nobody would notice the quiet guy in the end seat.
Ten minutes later and I was knocking on the door of Lee’s apartment. His buddy Steve, that Lee shared the place with, opened the door. I guess he’d just beaten me there, as he was still taking off his coat.
“Hi! I’m looking for Lee?” I said.
“Sure, come in. Lee!” he shouted. “You’ve got a visitor.”
Lee appeared in the hallway.
“Hey Chuck!” said Lee, “Come on in.”
The guys’ apartment was about the same size as Vicky’s place, but it was obvious that it was a bachelor pad. The hallway was lined with empty beer bottles in neat rows, and was decorated with movie posters. From what I could see of the kitchen, they appeared to be trying to break some kind of world record for the most pizza boxes in one room. I guess when you cook all day for a living, you don’t much feel like doing it when you get home.
I followed Lee into the living room. None of the furniture matched, and most of it was pretty shabby apart from the big TV with a games machine underneath it. Piles of films were stacked up next to the screen and there were magazines everywhere. Some Coltrane was playing on the stereo. Russo, I thought to myself, would be right at home in here.
Vicky was sat in one of the two armchairs and Lee waved me at the overstuffed blue sofa as he hunkered down and sat cross legged in front of the TV.
“So did you find the guy?” said Vicky, sitting forward.
“First things first.” I said. “Tell me what happened here?”
“We got back here at, what?” she looked at Lee. “Just before 9.00? I called you pretty much straight away. Then we sat and waited. The phone went at...”
“9.26.” said Lee. “Guy said ‘Is that Lee?’, so I said yes. Then he said to me, did I know that my date had spent most of the last decade in prison, as she was a thief, and if I had any sense, I’d kick her out of the house now. Then he hung up.”
“We phoned you, and then rang the operator to try and find out what number the call had come from,” said Vicky, “but he told us that the caller had blocked the number.”
She looked at me.
“And that’s pretty much it for this end. Other than that I’ve just been filling Lee in on what’s been going on. So what happened with you? Did you find the guy?”
I leaned over and pushed the living room door closed.
“I found him.”
“Great!” said Vicky. “So now maybe we can start getting some answers. What did he have to say?”
“He didn’t say much, on account of having heart trouble.”
“Heart trouble?” said Lee “What kind of heart trouble?”
“The ‘knife buried in it’ kind.”
Lee’s mouth fell open and Vicky gasped.
“Was he dead?” she said.
“Either dead or really good at holding his breath.” I said.
“So now what do we do?”
I’d been thinking the same thing on the subway.
“I think it’s fairly safe to assume that this was the guy who made the calls to the museum and the bookstore. Now. Either he was on his own, and he just got unlucky. Maybe got tangled up with a mugger or something. Or else someone didn’t want him talking. The fact that the phone that I was watching had the cord cut, so he couldn’t use it, and had to go somewhere else, makes me think that someone else is definitely caught up in all this.”
“But who?” said Lee.
“That’s the $64,000 question.”
“So we’re back at square one.” said Vicky. “Even worse. At least while he was making calls, we had some sort of lead. Now we’ve got nothing.”
“Well I wouldn’t say we got nothing.”I said, getting up out of the sofa. “We got a stiff. And contrary to what Long John Silver would have you believe, dead men tell plenty of tales.”
o o o o o
Pretty soon we were back in the office. Vicky tickled Ella’s ears until I opened a can of tuna. Then Vicky got dumped like yesterday’s paper.
I fixed us a drink.
“Ok,” I said, after I’d taken a sip. “The next question is, where do we sleep tonight?”
Vicky frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Bail. You’re in my custody. We’ve already broken the conditions once, and I hope we got away with it. But I think Cash will want to catch us out, and me sending you home alone ain’t going to cut it. So either you crash at my place or I crash at yours.”
“Do you have a spare room?” she asked.
“I got a comfy sofa.”
“Well I’ve got a spare room, so that’s settled.” she said. “Do you need to pick anything up?”
“Nah, I’m good.” I said. I crashed at the office often enough that I had spare clothes and a toothbrush here. I threw a few things into a holdall and was good to go in two minutes.
Dames could learn plenty from me.
On the walk to the subway I realised I hadn’t eaten in hours, so we grabbed a slice of pizza and a soda. Do I know how to show a girl a good time or what?
o o o o o
We reached the third floor of Vicky’s apartment block and she fished in her bag for keys. I held out my hand.
“Better let me go first.” I said. “This has just got way more serious than somebody telling tales on you.”
She handed the keys over.
Motioning her to stand way back down the corridor, I hefted my revolver and put the key in the door. It unlocked quietly, and I crouched down to push the door open. The only light in the room came through the window from the street. I looked into the living room. It all seemed quiet.
There was a breakfast bar that separated the kitchen area from the living room, and three doors off the main room. One to the bathroom, one to Vicky’s room, and one, I guessed, to the spare room.
“Anything?” whispered Vicky in my ear.
I stifled the words in my throat.
“When the hell did you sneak up?” I whispered furiously. “I told you to stay back there.”
“Noisy cat burglars get caught,” she grinned, “Stay there.” She pushed past me, silent as a ghost.
I didn’t know the apartment, and chances are I’d crash into something, so against my better judgement, I stayed put.
She reached behind the door and picked something up. In the gloom I couldn’t see what it was, but with whatever it was in one hand, she glided over to the kitchen, keeping low.
She edged round the counter, and then a second later, stood and gave me a thumbs up. Next she made for the bathroom door. Standing to one side, she eased the door open. A couple of seconds later she disappeared inside, then reappeared moments later.
She repeated the same thing with her room, then stood outside the spare room. A shaft of light fell across her from the living room window, and I realised she had an ice pick in her hand. I remembered the rock climbing magazine I’d been reading earlier in the day and made a mental note not to make her mad.
She eased the door open.
Seconds later she strode out of the spare room and flicked the living room light on.
“All clear.” she said. “Hope I’m not going to have to do that every time I come home.”
“Pays to be careful.” I said. “You not got an alarm on this place?”
“I keep meaning to do something about it,” she said “but I never seem to have the time.”
“Well you should make time.” I replied. “There’s burglars about.”
Vicky cleared some of her junk out of the spare room and piled it up in the corner of the living room. Meanwhile I got a chair and wedged it under the handle of the front door. There wasn’t much to be done about the windows, but we were three floors up, so I guessed that would have to do.
“So what’s the plan for tomorrow then?” said Vicky, falling back onto the sofa.
I leaned on the kitchen counter.
“Well first thing, I want to get down to the Precinct and try and find out who the John Doe is. We get a name, and maybe we can get somewhere. Trouble is, I can’t waltz in there with you, but I can’t go in there without you either.”
“Because of the bail thing?”
“Because of the bail thing.”
“So what do we do?”
I was still thinking about it when my head hit the pillow.
o o o o o
Next morning we were up early. I got washed and dressed and as I came into the living room, Vicky waved a mug at me.
I wandered over and looked at the bowl of stuff that she was eating.
“I don’t know what that is, but it sure ain’t breakfast.” I said. “Breakfast comes on a greasy plate and consists entirely of things that have been fried.”
“Well I’m clean out of breakfast then.” she laughed.
“Don’t worry,” I said, drinking my coffee. “I’ll eat on the way.”
o o o o o
I picked up a breakfast burrito from a cafe that we passed on the way to the subway. Vicky wrinkled her nose.
“How do you eat that stuff?” she said.
“This?” I said, holding it up and waving it in her face, making her recoil in mock horror. “Bacon, eggs, fried potato, onions. All the major food groups in one handy tortilla. Ideal for the busy detective about town.”
I wiped my fingers on a napkin and threw it and the empty wrapper in the trash as we reached the subway.
“So, thought of a plan yet?” Vicky asked.
“I’m playing this one on the hoof.” I said. “We’ll just have to see how things pan out.”
Half an hour later, we pushed through the doors of the 18th, and I heaved a sigh of relief.
Pat was on the desk.
“Chuck. Good to see you, young man.”
Pat’s gaze landed on Vicky, who’d come in behind me. While he might come across as a genial old sort, counting the days until his retirement, there was still a razor sharp cop brain behind those eyes.
“Pat.” I said, turning to Vicky.
“I’d like you to meet my sister…”