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hard dicks


Hard Dicks

A Nu Prose Arrangement



Peter Ramon


©  2010 by Peter Ramon

Hard Dicks


He was a tall man with the sleek self-confidence of a champion race-horse.  “A swift pursuit is not always wise,” he said softly.  He was something to look at, an amazing spectacle of a man.  He smiled at me in a self-satisfied way.  He was seeking news about the center of an approaching typhoon.  I heard footsteps come along the street.  A man was eating alone at a small table in the corner.  He brought the chair up and around in a violent swing.  He put a foot on the small of the boy’s back.  Her hand disappeared down the front of her dress.  It was obvious that in his daily intercourse with men he was use to demanding respect.

He smiled grimly as he looked at the target on the wall.  After locking the door, I undressed and went to bed.  I fell asleep at once.  The events of the day before crowded in on me.  He’d poked his big nose into trouble this time!

He flung open the window and raised a police whistle to his lips.  There was foul play.  There must have been.  His features sagged a little.  There was no use trying to explain anything to him.  She came into the living room wrapped in a wooly white bathrobe.  A minute dragged past, then another.  The room was severely modernistic.  It’s funny how fear will make a guy squeal on his own mother…

His face was distorted with rage.  He was a heel.  He felt fine counting the night’s winnings.  I was really scared out of my pants.  She came around and grabbed the peg-leg man’s shoulders.  Unseen hooks seemed to take hold of the corners his mouth.  There was a booth outside the toilet door and he entered it.  “That’s why he was named as the go-between!” I exclaimed.  Then the wind died again.  He turned and opened a cabinet behind the table. 

I knew why the doctor was wearing a tuxedo.  He came up to him of his own accord.  He worked with difficulty because of his wounded shoulder.  He’d told that scatterbrained frill he wasn’t in on it!  But fitting each part so it dovetails with the corresponding part to make a complete picture is something else.  I’d kept an eye on those who checked out to see who they were.  He had taken a long dive into very cold waters and was seeking to catch his breath.  A gag like that stunk of moth balls, I thought.  He caused the scalpel to drop a little.  She swerved her eyes to stare for an instant at the body behind me.  They were out there in the dark.  He went on signaling with his homemade heliograph.  Long, tightly rolled photographs were found in the packages.

I reached for the phone and called police headquarters.  He held up a pint flask of whiskey that was two-thirds empty.  He was thinking about the one who had thrown a knife at him.  The whole affair was very cheap.  She was haughty and indignant.  Her old man had me arrested.  He sat for a moment in silence.  Through another doorway he reached the alley.  He looked levelly at me for a moment.  They had the drop on me coming and going and wasn’t a thing I could do except bluff and stall.  “You want the moon,” she said.  He was so exhausted, it hurt him to breathe.

The steel shutters they were putting on the windows were new and modernistic.  He didn’t want him subjected to an undue noise or jar.  He let some guy drag a red herring across the trail.  The warmth was balm to his chilled bones.  I guess I barked at her, because her eyes widened at my question.  She still slept motionless on the sofa, under the fur coat.  He was only here because this was a good hideout.  It took me half an hour to reach the sleepy suburb.  His clothes were always haphazard, badly pressed.  “I think I know where it is!” he cried.  This time the wind blew steadily, with increasing force.  He remembered that he had only a few of his brown-paper cigarettes in his office.

The sun shining on his face awakened him.  He began getting the small Diesel motor ready to run.  He sat there, holding the door so it wouldn’t open.  They decided to switch plans and wash their hands completely of the details.  Her eyes were filled with dreamy thoughts.  The word “quit” was not in his lexicon.  Steam misted the mirror.  They wore dress overcoats with the collars turned up.  The diamond bracelet on her left wrist was a good four inches wide.  He had my job but he couldn’t deliver.  The messenger sounded like a pig squealing when they got him by the leg and pulled him into the cabin.  He thrust forward certain favorable facts and kept others in the background.  I made a long hank and placed it snugly against the crack at the bottom of the door.  He tried not to show the surprise he felt.  They discovered a lot of hidden, dusty prescription pads.  He was alone in the somber consulting room, but he was not resting.  I could hear him grunt with each swing.  I was entirely alone in the tomb, with only my laborious breathing for company.

There were more than a dozen rifle shots in rapid succession.  “Now can I have a cigarette?” he asked.  It was a nice scheme, except the guy got drunk.  Two big men were sitting in chairs.  The slight man kept coming forward.  He was mentally the equal of many men years older.  He spoke casually, and after he had spoken he yawned.  He was the most famous crook in all Vienna.

I took down a length of clothesline from the service porch.  The carpeting felt almost pneumatic under my feet.  He used his fingers to spread the ink after squirting it from his fountain pen.  “Eighty grand makes a mighty big package and it’s somewhere in this shebang,” he said.  The blade of the scalpel backed me away in slow steps.  He wiped the right side of his mustache with the back of his hand, giving the lie to his denial.  His mouth became grim.  They went off and fixed some business up while I jiggled on pins and needles.

The waves came up around them, the short, steep waves that make shoal water so dangerous.  It was a small world after all.  “There must be some way to open it.  Or else, how did they get the note inside?” the blonde whispered.  There was a little silence, broken only by the sound of the wind against the screens.  Ten minutes went by and there was no answering signal.  He thought there was no harm in thinking out a theoretical solution.  His face was a brown mask.  He turned on his heels and walked out of the office.  I felt like a wreck, as if all my joints were knocked loose.  He added another thousand dollars to the pile of money within reach of my hand.  The fang marks were plain.  He made it look like someone had rifled her desk.  She swallowed and made a gulping sound when she did.

A hot wind was blowing in gusts.  It had been dark for an hour or so.  I paced back and forth a few minutes.  He told me how he did the job.  He’d followed the road to the very top of the mountain.  He knew they were getting pretty close.  Part of the roof protruded eerily into the night.  A bullet smashed into his shoulder like a giant fist.  She had come to secure treatment for her niece, who was highly nervous.  That left him in a tough spot.  I got my body in such a position that I could see the street.

He seemed to be getting on all right.  He was a tall, heavy-set man who smoked a ragged cigar and wore the same overcoat and battered hat for years.  I flicked a switch and the same instant there was a clap of thunder in the night sky.  He reached down under the little shelf that served as a bar.  He wanted to ask me about some jewels I wasn’t negotiating to buy from thieves who didn’t steal them.  “I’m only here because this is a good hideout,” he said.

I headed for the main stem, crossed it, and went into the Hot Spot Club.  He confessed he had poured hot water over him while he was drunk, and taken him for a walk.  He frowned at her, his eyes narrowing.  I dropped to my knees beside the porch.  He was trying to do her a favor.  A bullet swatted through the leaves.

A thousand Niagara’s were roaring in my ears.  He liked his drivers to put up a smart appearance, but still he was forced to hire him back.  The puff died quickly.  There was a new federal law about doctors filling narcotic prescriptions.  (He hated to be inquisitive but he wanted to be sure.)  The book fell from his hand.  I herded them all into the big living room.  The short man’s eyes were staring at the man he had just shot.  Men began climbing out, all of them armed to the teeth.

Rumba music rose pleasantly muffled from below.  The broad man did not turn until he reached the door.  I came back up the steps and shot the beam of the flash over the peak of the roof.  The sound of the slam was like a bursting echo.  She said she had to get in touch with him on an important matter.  They hung red lanterns over the doors.  I quickly leapt to my feet.  He wanted to ask a favor.  He was downstairs making things fast.  He was going to make an appointment with a fence.

A paved street groped its way through the dunes, past fewer and fewer houses.  His eyes were not sleepy now.  He spoke pleasantly to the man he knew hated him.  Diamonds sparkled on her fingers.  Her lips trembled.  I was sweating like a soda glass.  The fool recognized me.

I jumped out of the shadows.  He got down on his draft-horse knees and jammed a hand into the brown leather bag.  On the table I found a pocketsize case containing a hypodermic needle and a tiny vial.  The bloated bruise on the right side of my jaw was sore to touch.  When he was a young man he had lived a rough life.  She fixed her eyes on the ceiling.  Something happened to make that the only course possible.  She told him not to come near her again.  “They should bury me before you see me again,” she said.  He was indeed in his cups.  There were many gems in that bag, gems that sparkled and glittered.

The moment they expressed an interest he would shift the weight of his attack to them.  He took a good look around himself.  He began cleaning his nails with a penknife.  His eyes peered deep into mine.  He had a wooden tool shed built under the tower.  I tip-toed into the lavatory and drew myself flat against the tiled wall.  She shrugged a little.  The color of his cheekbones showed yellow in the dull light.  I finally relaxed in a straight oak chair.  I took a breather and wondered what in hell to do.  He had homicidal tendencies.  I grabbed a fistful of strong old vines and swung myself up.

He ate an anchovy.  The paper said he was found frozen to death.  He knew he was signaling.  She had what it takes.  You couldn’t keep her down.  I thought I could patch them up by putting a feather in his cap.  He showed up just before they found the girl.  It was equally obvious, when he walked in, that he was upset.  He wanted to drive that chariot of his but I wouldn’t let him.  The sky hung low with dark angry clouds.  She had about her that confident air often found in small women.  He looked bitterly at his big henchman.  Radios in almost every house poured out static that sounded like breaking glass. 

He bobbed into the room.  He said that he hated me and that I was afraid of him.  He walked softly but with a determined step.  I didn’t let him make a move that wasn’t reported.  The fixture lifted out, disclosing a cunningly designed hiding place.  He worked with incredible rapidity.  He was a funny kind of blackmailer.  In his great loneliness he continued to preach the doctrine of the Unavoidable, Unalterable, and Inescapable.  He didn’t give any hints about killing himself.  He saw the chauffeur emerge from a tunnel behind the garage.  He was a lousy skunk at heart and for two cents I’d have bashed in his kisser.

He saw another object where the hat had lain.  One murder a day was all he wanted.  He had a private elevator to his place.  He said he thought he understood.  A man doesn’t have to know a man to kill him.  He didn’t look happy when he grumbled.  From the bathroom on the left came the spattering thunder of a shower.  He moved slowly and carefully.  It cost money to argue with him.  He went into the combination cigar store and barber shop on the corner.

I arrived in time to stop the cops from clamping steel bracelets on him.  A key clicked in the lock of the entry door and a young woman entered swiftly.  For a little guy, he seemed to be giving him and the girl a hell of a big headache.  She stumbled from the living room.  Somehow I got the feeling he meant this fight to be my last.  She wanted me to sign certain important papers.  He stood there, rigid with surprise.  He swore to himself and dialed the number again.  I didn’t think he cared much about leaving anyone behind.  Far in the distance, they saw a tiny huddle of buildings, a little village.  His wife meant a great deal to him, despite her unpleasant behavior.

He gave considerable thought to a hiding place.  Dark eyes looked deep into mine, but no thoughts were given away by them.  He wouldn’t get up from under the blankets.  He spelled out the message in the Morse code of long and short flashes.  He fought to regain his grip on things.  I really didn’t have to see that stuff to identify her.  The bulletin was a brief one.  “Florida must be nice,” she sighed.  “No snow.”  Her lips burst apart and she cried passionately.  I did not close the window.

In the corridor two men were engaged in a casual conversation.  I let my feet thud to the floor.  Inside the apartment there was a rumbling thump, and then the sharp smash of breaking glass.  There was no more sound from above.  We all die, and most of us die sooner than we expect, I thought.  You can’t get finger prints off gravel.  Some guy tried to beat him to death with a pick handle.  There was a tall rusty gate, locked with chains.  As long as they couldn’t get the real article, they were going to take a substitute.

Nothing at all had happened to her.  I began to feel down.  They thought she might sell out.  He was sticking around for a while.  She put firm hands on the table.  His hands were resting on the driver’s wheel.  He started all over again with a judge they couldn’t fix.  He began pawing at the snow with mittened hands.  All the place lacked was sunshine.  He wondered how long he’d been there.  She came out carrying a large flat square of cardboard. She was certain this was the place.  It had an international reputation.  They decided to ignore him.  “I’m funny as hell all day long,” he said.  He was sorry to hear about his brother-in-law’s death.  “You mentioned the possibility of foul play.  You may omit the word ‘possibility’.”

The cab jolted over snow ruts and ice hummocks.  They had both gone south in a speedboat.  He let his lips expand into a grin.  He breathed heavily.  His eyes were bloodshot and brimming with impotent fury.  I only saw his back, the shrug of his shoulders.  While I was waiting, what would be more natural than to take a drink?  The boy’s forehead wrinkled.  The knife made a sharp humming sound.  “She was supposed to go to the party with him last night!” he exclaimed.

I was warned against telling the police.  He was exceedingly eager to acquire a large sum of money.  His mother always told him to treat women folk and kids with kindness.  His pessimistic doctrine didn’t prevent him from having a hell of a good time.  My nose didn’t feel broken but it was swollen.  He was too young to be mean.  Eddies of dust whirled in the narrow street.  He seemed to know a lot about me.  I bent down and examined the tracks in the fading light.

He was a public figure in the case.  He wanted to speak to me about those gambling expose articles in the press.  This was once he wasn’t taking no chances.  A muttering undertone marked the restless motion and conversation of the hustling throngs.  The light ebbed and flowed with the regularity of clockwork.  I never took any interest in his love life.  He stepped to the edge of the road and looked down it again.  He let his eyes move about the room.  Her breathing began to be very audible.  Although there was much food before him and he was making motions with it, he was not eating.  He leaned back comfortably on the rolled armrest of the blue divan.  He was trying to sell her knowledge.

He hit the bull’s eye.  He was short and fat, a rather jolly fellow.  I stepped cautiously into the living room to see what happened.  I felt a little ashamed about it afterwards.  We were back where we started from.  Ether dissolves rubber and simple ingredients help it work faster.  The road was steep and he was hurrying.  “I like to get on a boat any chance I get,” he said.  His thought-slitted eyes were brittle hard with interest.  Just below the cemetery he found a mangled body.  She was frank and guileless.

There was a series of bedrooms on both sides of the long hallway.  To his keen ears there seemed to be a combination of two sounds.  He halted and looked down on the thin man.  He knew she had a new man now.  I swallowed a fast breakfast and boarded a big red interurban trolley.  A train came down the railroad tracks with a faster flicker of lights. 

He wasn’t to be disturbed for any reason.  His mouth opened in surprise.  The statue, even broken, was too heavy to lift.  He was about to put the clutch in gear when he made up his mind.  She wanted him to send one man – only one man – with the money.  I found a slip of paper, folded, in his pocket.  He was crawling feebly across the floor.  Their big bodies crashed against the wall.  He had come suddenly from a corner thick with smoke.  “Don’t give your right name,” he said.  He had to wait until they got tired and went away.  I reached out and touched one of his hands.  He sat behind a broad walnut table, smoking a cigar.  He never turned his face directly towards her.  They were anxious, worried.  His eyes gave me a stern third-degree.  I went to the Hot Spot Club to drown my sorrows for a while.

They were almost exactly the same size.  She walked with the hip movements of a goose.  Knuckles tapped the door twice.  She was going to stage a fake.  Out there he couldn’t possibly hope to last another day.  He felt about as capable of defense as a boy scout against the National Guard.  The taxi driver hocked out of his mouth.  He gave her his things.  He let himself in with a key.  A pair of snowshoes adorned the walls.  Bare brown hills with scattered houses on them faced the sea.  He was the last kind of guy you’d suspect of being a detective.  It was damn dark where I stood.  They couldn’t hurt him.  He had the political boys greased.

He popped into the garage and backed out an ancient looking station wagon.  He was practicin’ up on foolin’ people.  They weren’t fooled by his story.

He suddenly caught a flash of light from the distance.  On his forehead was a superficial break of the skin.  Probably by accident he got wind of him.  It was moving so fast that the eye had difficulty following it.  He was giving her a little surprise.  He bled her to death, bit by bit.  She had a firm little chin, direct blue eyes.  He wore no rubbers, no gloves.  He named the employee he felt had stolen his jade.  I found a map of his section, torn to bits.  In New York, there’s always someone stealing from a firm.

He killed the one who tried to kill him.  The light on his floor gave no glow.  “Bub!” he snapped.  “Get to bed!”  He hoped he wouldn’t be too lonely in his womanless world of remorse.  Weather and salt had not left much color in his hair.  He said he had a sick friend to see.  He was apparently paying no attention to what was going on.  That left him in a tough spot.  He’d been doing a pretty good job at that recently. 

His garish house might have been designed by a movie studio for a film depicting the future.  He stopped the long Rolls and went back to lock the gate.  The knots in the ropes had been greased.  He mentioned that the Feds were after him.  There was a small stepladder against the back wall.  His were not the eyes of a habitual narcotic.

He told him to stick to his pencils and stay out of man-sized company.  He placed no importance on the note he gave me.  It was a cold, black windless night.  He lived in a not-too-run-down rooming house.  He raised his gun in the air and fired three shots.  Almost directly across from the office entrance, the doorway of a spice shop was dark.  He chuckled as he fondled the binoculars.  The whole place looked like nobody had come near it in years.  There was something funny back of this.  Then the suspense was killed.

It was visible only when the sun was the strongest.  “They can’t keep me here against my will!” he panted.  The wheels creaked monotonously in the cold night air.  He was drinking, that is true, but he was not a fool.  He had to step over his body, which was lying in the kitchen.  I reached in my pocket and pulled out my penknife and snapped open the blade.  Every minute was precious.  He took a chance, not holding on to the handrail.  The hallway seemed unduly active.  The detectives joined in a guffaw.  He found a feather at the bottom of the cage.  His face was twisted into an expression not exactly pleasant.  He found the weapon but not the man who wielded it.

I needed sleep myself.  The night before had been a busy night.  Then there was a thunderous explosion down the mountainside.  It was such a very interesting crime.  He read it in the newspaper, he said hastily.  He was supposed to be negotiating for return of most of the jewelry that had been stolen.  “He looked pretty bad the last time I saw him,” he said.  They behaved pretty rudely to her.  I wondered if she could tell me something about his business dealings.  He sipped at his brandy, enjoying himself.  There was a stupid expression in the dark eyes of the seated one.  That didn’t remove any of the fright from her pale cheeks.  Another violent shudder shook her body.  I saw by the thermometer out front that it was three below.  He rolled over on his face and groaned and blubbered.  His friend departed with soft regular footsteps.

He was a parachutist.  He came by air.  That’s what made him know it was some mistake.  Only its gaping doorway opened out onto the road.  The blood got on the killer, and some of it rubbed off on his clothes.  Her hooded head nodded vigorously in the dark.  I piloted them down the alley and up a flight of cement steps.  He had a happy expression on his face – like he’d just seen my corpse.

The women went upstairs.  He went to the bathroom.  He crawled beneath a motionless string of boxcars.  Someone killed the rattlesnake with a club.  He did not think the reason sufficient.  He was sorry to hear of that knife that was thrown.  What kind of puzzle was he trying to put together?  Why fill your mind with a lot of chaff?  The rumba music was very catchy.  Men and women drifted languidly.  For one second he turned his back on me.  While I was waiting for him, I lighted a cigarette.  “None of us here is above suspicion,” he said.  He told me he would be in tonight.  His dad had cracked down on him lately.  He wouldn’t go in on a plan like that for any money.  A faint smile, bitter, flitted across his mouth.  “Let’s see you get out of that hold,” he said.

He often visited the dowel factory in the street where he was murdered.  He hung around and watched him take a bag from the ashcan.  By looking straight ahead he could gaze across the park to an unnatural looking horizon.  He looked down at his well-manicured nails.  He had been stabbed twice in the throat and three times around the heart.  He wanted to get the conference over as soon as possible.

His eyes were crazed, his teeth were bared, and inarticulate sounds rasped from his throat.  One of the men walked a little ahead of the others.  He leisurely approached the summer resort crowd.  He saw two figures in swift pursuit.  He needed time to get his affairs together and start a new racket.  His tone became brittle:  “I want to find that roll.”  It was a target, not a foot in diameter, hanging on the wall, such as tiny darts are thrown against in sport.  He cut the cord with a penknife and pulled off the heavy brown wrapper, revealing a book.  The funny thing about justice is you don’t know where it begins and ends.

The carved lips were having trouble forming words.  The drunker they got the more they walked.  Seagulls in the air were the only moving things.  He was waiting for a lull so they could get out of this slip.  He recognized me easily.  They roared up the street to the door, sirens wailing, just as I left.  The snatchers who jumped her piled into the plane and they all took off for points unknown.  “Don’t put it on too thick or I’ll giggle,” she said.  He was glad they could discuss it privately.  He didn’t want any more of his damn bawling.  Maybe he went a little too fast.

He looked and found his name.  He nibbled his lip in indecision.  They hit the door together, grunting in concert.  He stood up, white fire in his eyes.  In a majority of cases the victim is let go.  One of her gloves got torn on a nail.  She lay there on the sofa with no more motion that a hewn log.  I then found another small stucco cottage built in the dunes.  He had to fire him.  Couldn’t do anything else.  They thought that because they don’t get hurt, they’re good.

They were the cheapest scabs in the business.  The request didn’t seem unusual then.  Behind him, a girl came running, her lithe figure crossing the clearing in long strides.  He used his head.  They had to earn that bond.  The lawyers hired a private detective to follow him.  He had a smile on his pock-marked face.  He would have to fuse them together again.  I thought it was a gag myself.  He drew her slowly but firmly into the small foyer.

He was detained as a material witness.  What did he have to lose?  He’d heard about it and came down to blow it up.  I heaved the gun out and away.  A pair of downy swans paddled blissfully in the terraced lily pool.  He had gone away but first he had left a note.  He looked very flat and thin and deflated. 

She used to get dope from him but recently couldn’t get enough.  He pulled her back down off the steps.  He looked very dark and worn and grim.  She was giving him a hell of a fight with temptation.  He had their murderer cornered now.  He turned back in the direction of his office.  He did not look particularly wide awake.  He consumed great quantities of cigarettes and chocolate bars.  She looked kinda sick.  The electric bulb he did not switch on.

I patted the mangy pony on the head.  The rectangular reception room was furnished with low modernist chairs.  The cab stood there as I left it, dark and silent.  He got pictures of him eating and drinking in a restaurant.  Evidence like that you can’t skid around.  There was no crooked work involved at all.  Nobody concerned got the real ice.  His head jerked towards the target.  He saw the one who had used the gun.  He peered from beneath a slab of sandy hair with amused eyes.  He came up out of his crouch and slid into the bedroom.  His hands went behind his back and caught hold of her.  He smiled with his lips, not his eyes.

He mused out loud.  His voice was still toneless.  He moved his right hand as much as he could without it hurting.  Shaking hands with a fervor was too exclamatory to be genuine.  There was nothing on the main drag except the rain falling steadily.  He tilted his head, listening intently.

It was a somber, heavily dignified building.  He knew more crooked lawyers than I did.  Old Screwball was having one of his fits again.  There was nothing unusual about that.  They were the little pups that hang around the mother wolf.  He was frantic trying to find me.  After an awfully long wait, he came and let me out.  He permanently altered the fat young man’s dentistry.  He waved a hand impatiently.  She didn’t know the dough was there until he found it.  He brought a vicious looking sub-machine gun from the car.  The girl was bound hand and foot with a white rope.  Successions of brown muddy waves were breaking with sudsy turbulence.  A brilliant thought pervaded my struggling mind.  He figured it was as good a place as any for a last fight.  He seemed to have been better acquainted with the dead accountant than any of the others.  I would be ashamed to admit to such a degree of incompetency.   It was a small chance, but the only one.  He’d been looking for her all over.  I pulled down the shades and turned on the light.

He shook his head.  I’d spilled it, the whole damn thing.  The bullet went over my head with an angry whine.  I removed the keys and went around the car again.  That explained why they were unable to settle their accounts.  Traffic still moved slowly.  I knew he wouldn’t commit suicide by a stunt like that.  He made no objections.  She thrust the money down the top of her stocking and grinned.  He told her all these things in a voice that could be heard half-way down the mountain.  She was unmoved by it all.

“You’re a very unusual person,” he said.  He had lost his hat somewhere.  He’d figured it all out before he came there.  All his calmness was gone.  He was trying to pin something on her.  I was willing to pay her price but not to hear her comments.  A little choked sigh escaped her lips.  He did not knock.  He opened the door and drifted in.  He had been trying to look through the keyhole.  They were a couple of old dodos with hay in their hair.  They had been indefinite as to the name and location of the hotel.  She scared him some more.  That was the most ignominious spot to spit – in his eye.

He was not fond of legwork.  As he turned she kicked him in the shins.  He went to the floor amid breaking glass.

I knew he was gunning for me.  The tram wasn’t running so he spent the night.  “You sure take chances,” I told him.  He had his man run his buggy back to the garage.  He knocked a dozen empty gin bottles off the kitchen drain.  A blast of wind knocked the killer into the tool shed.  Something outside made a gently scratching sound against stone.  He was in it for the finish, and his eyes had grown accustomed to the dark.  I went through the trash bins in the basement.  He was afraid of “almost.”

The effect of dullness was lent by the almost drugged lifelessness of the flesh around her eyes.  The cabin contained a great deal of gear cleverly concealed.  He saw and heard things.  The big limousine was rolling again.  All of them made an unending source of trouble for the law.  I found a bottle of ammonia in one of the cabinets.  His shoes, his socks, the cuffs of his trousers, were covered with mud.  I pulled up and came to a stop at the gate.  I was not followed after.  He went around to the passenger terminal and into the toilets.  He left a gaping valet standing awkwardly, one hand on the door knob.  He had a wonderful ability to recognize scents.  There was a wilting gardenia in the lapel of his coat.

Several people were listening with various expressions of interest.  They schemed and connived and finagled.  He was drowning noisily.  He dropped his bucket.  His tuxedo, trim-fitting, was now rumpled from the night’s orgy.  He didn’t like to play that song, he said.  He always looked as though a stiff wind would blow him over.  “Everybody ought to be happy,” he repeated.  That was really all that he knew.  I caught up with the kid and he damned near fainted.  Then he began to really reason things out.

He limped over to the building.  His arm dropped back into the snow like a rigid stick.  He first came in around six and didn’t find what he wanted.  So he left.  An auto horn blatted flatly, and gears clashed.  They sprang to attention and settled back into despair again.  He opened the lid of the big wicker clothes hamper.  He used to cash checks for her husband.  I took a newly cleaned Panama hat from a closet in the office, and placed it on my graying hair.  I discovered a ten-inch cut in the tweed material of my best suit.  Her red mouth sagged wide.  After a moment, she followed him.

He picked up two lugs and hired them to keep me down indefinitely.  She wouldn’t dirty her hands on that slob, she said.  He gave her two guesses.  “They were killers and would have killed again,” he explained.  The car rolled across the little clearing and began descending.  His eyes were glazed with a fierce singleness of purpose.  He fished out a handkerchief and dabbed nervously at his lips.  I studied the embroidered initial over the breast pocket of his uniform.  There was a big center hall fitted with mirrors and high-backed heavy chairs.  A touch of drunken madness was in his voice.  He wanted him arrested!

Behind him a small worried little man was carrying a doctor’s satchel.  Everything had the smell of gasoline.  A stranger was not likely to leave through his kitchen.  He saw he had been mistaken.  The interior was paneled in old, dark oak and the chandeliers were ancient.  The girl swept her magnificently inviting body through the door.  Running feet pattered along the walk.  He sadly informed the press that he would fight on alone.  She decided to get rid of him.  I traced him through some laundry marks on his clothes. 

The pungent smell of soft coal smoke boiled in his nostrils.  His bloodshot eyes were also harassed.   It was a racket plied against lonely people, against the sick, the worried, the aged, the deranged.  They’d all left, even the stragglers, and we were alone on the steps.  Evidently they weren’t taking any chances on meeting me along the way.

The Brain was sitting behind his desk, smoking a cigar.  “You’d make a pretty good copy of yourself,” he said.  She made a face.  As I passed him, he frisked me.  “What’s the attraction around here, fella?” he wanted to know.  He charged blindly and I fired.  She slipped three hundred dollars into her pocketbook.  He had served a rap for something similar in the past.  They used certificates issued by the government.  I gathered from their talk there was a girl in the speedboat.  They got hold of a couple of lawyers who don’t get tired.  I looked under the ashes in the alley.  I didn’t want to dash out and start an argument with the other tenants.  There was no dough in the treasury and no kilowatts in the power house.

One of them had killed the mark and swiped his money.  He looked into the mirror over the washbowl.  He was already lounging in the most comfortable chair in the place.  The skid-chains dug into the snow as I lurched the car forward.  The hell with it, the hell with screwy people on treasure hunts, and husky thieves with pickaxe handles, I thought.  I glanced around the desolate, rainy landscape.  There was a storm held in check in those depths.    

He pounded the man’s head on the floor.  He wished to go bare-footed without attracting attention.  But why hadn’t he waited until the appointed hour?  She looked so puzzled at the question, I knew her answer was the truth.  “What is eating you?” she asked.  The sound of the horn was like a siren in the night.  She had a peculiar combination of nervousness and rage.  He was too dumb to make a getaway.  Only his eyes seemed alive.  He was a dull-witted bozo.  His face glowered down upon his subordinate.  She lived with him, heard everything he said, knew everything he did.  He was careful to take a limited number – only a few, only the best.  There were some odds and ends left, amounting to a goodly sum.  Everything was fine.  I told him I would fix it up.

“That was quick work,” he said.  There was a slow sucking in of breath and a rustle of cloth.  A steel fence surrounded this “heaven.”  He seemed to be living a clean life, driving a nice car, running a legitimate nightclub.  He leaned closer to look at my face, and then blew out the match.

You can’t make hamburger without grinding up a little meat, I figured.

-- based on the anthology The Hardboiled Dicks, ed. by Ron Goulart; Pocket Books, 1967

--July 22 – August 6, 2010