THE neighbor's attic had some heat seeping up from the lower floors, but it was still cold. It took a few minutes to get myself moving again. My usual sanctuary was fairly close to the basement furnace, and I missed its comfort.
After floating back to the house, I made sure that no one had moved the trunk from the trapdoor, then descended through the floor and down the stairwell to the front hall. The kitchen phone was ringing as I materialized.
It was Bobbi, calling as she'd promised.
"How's Charles?" I asked.
"He's fine, sweetheart, just fine. It's a miracle." The jubilation in her voice flowed through me, warm and reassuring, and I sagged as the worry fell away. I knew she was smiling, and the spark would be back in her eyes.
"I'll be right over."
"Don't go to the hospital. He left."
I thought I'd not heard her right. "Come again?"
"He was well enough to check out this afternoon. The doctor wanted him to stay, but Charles insisted on leaving."
"What the hell? But last night-"
"He's better, I'm telling you."
Miracle, indeed. This I had to see.
"Shoe brought him to the hotel. The one I'm at."
"I'll be right over."
She made no reply.
"You should wait a while, Jack."
"Shoe's still upset by what happened."
"You are, too."
"Darling, I know that Charles getting blood poisoning wasn't your fault, but Shoe doesn't see it that way."
"He's right. It was my fault. If I'd... oh, never mind."
"What did you two fight about? Shoe won't tell me."
"He might not know. It was between me and Charles, and it's over now. Please, believe that." My tone begged her to drop it.
She grumbled something away from the receiver that I didn't catch, but it did not sound kind. Time to change the subject. I asked after Roland and Faustine. They were both fine and making plans to leave for Hollywood as soon as Roland was on his feet again. Things were happening, it seemed.
"Does it have to do with that guy who was there?" I asked. "The fast talker in the funny shirt?"
"Lenny Larsen? Yes, he's got a deal for them. A real movie deal!"
She went indignant. "For getting them work?"
"No, he's just a crazy guy. He's too slick by half."
"Jack, you only saw him for a minute."
"It was enough. Don't you let him spin you around, okay?"
"What do you mean spin me around?"
"Con you. The guy's got to be a con man."
"Well, of course he is. They're like that in Hollywood. You just have to make sure he's working for you when he's giving others the business."
Oh, God. She sounded as though she knew what she was talking about.
"What was that?" she asked.
"Nothing. Look, I've got to see Charles. I could find a way in if you tell me which room, which floor."
"The same floor as mine and Gordy's-he's better, too, by the way. He found it's easier to just rest than to argue with Adelle."
"That's good. I'll want to see him."
"Am I on your list?"
"You're first up, baby."
"That was the right answer."
I told her Derner's news about her apartment being clean and ready for her. She didn't exactly turn handsprings. "I'll go with you if you like," I added.
"You certainly will. I'm not sure I want to see the place yet. I'd like to stay another night here."
"At a noisy hotel?"
"It's about the same as my place, only I know everyone. I feel safer here with them around. How nuts is that?"
After what she'd been through in the last few days, it sounded perfectly sane to me. "It's a vacation. Not nuts at all."
"It can wait. When do you plan to sneak in?"
"Thought so. You've got business, right?"
"Has to do with Gabriel Kroun." I braced for a touchy reaction.
"Oh. That's okay, then."
What the hell? "Hey, you're not-"
"Mad? Jack, he saved Charles's life. If it wouldn't make you jealous, I'd give him one lollapalooza of a big kiss."
"Uh... um... uh."
"Oh, relax. He's safe. I'll just shake hands."
"Uh-nuh... um." I cleared my throat next. It seemed the best response. "Well, uh, if you really want to thank him-"
"He likes Adelle, seen all her movies. Maybe she could autograph a picture, put his name on it so it's specially for him?"
Bobbi thought that was a great idea. She wanted to know more about Kroun, but I didn't have much to say since I didn't know much. Telling her about the run-in with the cops, with Michael and Broder, the burgling of the house would just throw a cold, wet blanket on her high spirits.
We moved on to other topics, such as when Lady Crymsyn might open again and how to replace Roland and Faustine's big dance number. As always, I thought Bobbi should do the whole show, but her instincts were better on what to put on a nightclub stage. While I never got tired of hearing her sing, the customers might have other ideas.
Someone knocked on the front door, loudly rapping out "shave-and-a-haircut" but skipping the "two bits."
Bobbi heard the noise. "That your friend?"
"Not exactly friend, but I think so."
"Bring him over. Shoe won't have problem with you if he's along."
Optimistic of her. "Maybe. I gotta go, don't know how long it'll take. Expect me when you see me?"
"Don't I always?"
We hung up.
I moved a chair from under the doorknob and let Kroun in. He had a few smears of dust on his new overcoat and declined to say where he'd spent his day.
"What put you in such a good mood?" he asked after giving me a once-over.
He glanced around. "She's here?"
"She phoned." I told him about Escott's recovery. "He's at Coldfield's hotel-the one where Adelle Taylor is staying with Gordy." As I'd hoped, the mention of her got Kroun's attention.
"Maybe we should go over, say hello," he said. "Ya think?"
"You got anything else to do?"
He grimaced. "Unfortunately, yes. I've an appointment and need a ride."
"Where? For what?"
"Later. I need a shave first."
He took one suitcase upstairs to the guest room and soon had water running in the bathtub. He might be a while.
With little to do but kick my heels, I gathered up the day's papers from the porch and brought in the mail. Nothing in the latter was for me, but the papers were full of reworked angles on Roland Lambert's escapades as Chicago's newest gangbuster. Fresh pictures of him grinning or looking devotedly at Faustine were below the fold but still on the front page. Speculation was again raised about Hollywood doing a movie based on their exploits. No pictures of yours truly being affectionately assaulted by Faustine were there, though a couple papers mentioned me as a nightclub owner involved with the mobs. In one they called me "Jim Flem ming." I was almost used to people spelling the last name wrong, but they could at least get my given one right.
The Alan Caine murder had moved to page two, small photo, with the cops apparently following a new lead. There were hints they had a suspect and were close to capturing him. Hoyle had been found. On page four was a two-paragraph filler about a man's body in a basement under a garage, foul play was suspected. No name, no mention of the address book I'd planted, no connection to the Alan Caine investigation. The cops were playing it close to the vest there.
Back on page two the header on another column read, SINGER'S SUICIDE WAS MURDER! with a quote from the coroner about Jewel Caine's autopsy proving she had not taken her own life. Cold comfort. Very cold. For a few seconds I wished Mitchell alive again so I could kill him, then discarded it. If I had a wish, then better to use it to bring back poor Jewel instead.
Though the cops were still on the hunt, tomorrow the story would be considered a dry well by most editors and passed over for other news. There might be something in the obituaries about Jewel's funeral, but no more, a sad and unfair end to a tough life. What was the point in trying if this was all a person had to show for it: a few lines in a paper and a headstone no one would visit. Some people didn't get even that much.
I tried to shake it off, as this was just the kind of thinking that would annoy Escott. Better come up with a distraction... like the damned broken window at the end of the hall. Despite my makeshift patch, there was quite a draft blowing through.
Taking advantage of being the boss once more, I called Derner. He knew someone who knew someone who could fix the glass after hours.
"I'll be by the club later," I said, "to drop off the house key."
"He won't need no key, Boss," he assured me.
The surprise was that I wasn't surprised.
By the time I'd worked through the rest of the papers, Kroun came downstairs, ready to leave. His singed hair and eyebrows had filled out sometime during his day sleep, and he looked better for a shave and a fresh shirt.
"Where to?" I asked, resigned to playing chauffeur for the time being.
He gave me a matchbook from the Nightcrawler. There'd been some scattered on the office's big desk. This was the one he'd scribbled on during his one private call.
I opened the matchbook. An address was written inside. I knew the street, but not the number. "What's this?"
"Let's go see."
We didn't have much to talk about on the drive over, so I switched the radio on and listened to a comedy show to fill the time. It had me chuckling in the right places, and Kroun snorted now and then. He wasn't the type to go in for a full belly laugh, though he clearly had a sense of humor. When the show was over, he turned the sound low and asked how long I'd known Adelle Taylor. I filled him in and told some harmless tales about her work at the Nightcrawler.
"She's a real humdinger," he said, drawing the word out, looking content.
I grunted agreement and pulled my heavy Buick to the curb, having found the address. It was some sort of a rest home and private hospital in one, to judge by the discreet sign attached to the iron driveway gate. An eight-foot-high brick wall with another foot of iron trim on top ran around the entire block. The trim ended in sharp spearpoints poking up through the latest layer of snow, giving me an idea of just what kind of patients were inside.
Kroun had his box of cigars in hand. He tucked it under one arm and led off.
The gate was locked, and a sign posted visiting hours with a warning no one would be admitted without an appointment. Kroun pressed an intercom buzzer, gave his name, and the gate rolled open along some tracks as though pulled by an invisible servant. It ground shut once we were inside. I thought they only had stuff like that in the movies.
A paved walkway that someone had shoveled clean wound to the main building. It was red brick like the wall, three stories, and on the plain side. The fresh drifts of snow softened its lines, but it didn't seem too friendly. Most of the windows were dark, with their shades drawn.
A large man in an orderly's white shirt and pants unlocked the door for us, locking up again. He gestured toward a reception desk in a small lobby where a nurse sat. She was busy with a stack of papers, but left them to deal with Kroun. He took off his hat, switched on his formidable personal charm, aimed it right at her, and damned if it didn't work. She warmed up, acting like he was an old friend she'd not seen lately, and conducted us down a hall and up some stairs to one of the rooms. The big orderly followed.
He had the keys and opened doors along the way.
It was that kind of hospital, all right, where the patients are shut inside for their own good and everyone else's. Who the hell did Kroun know here?
I kept my yap shut.
The orderly unlocked the last door and stood back.
The nurse gave Kroun a sympathetic smile, told him to check in at the desk before leaving, then went off.
Kroun cut the charm soon as she was gone. Face grim, he put his fedora on a small table just outside the door. He paused-hesitated more like-before reaching for the handle. I'd never seen him unsure of himself.
"Be careful," said the orderly.
"Hm?" Kroun looked at him.
"We cut his nails today. They're gonna have sharp edges."
Kroun nodded, then went in. He didn't tell me to stay out, so I followed. Quietly. The orderly hung by the open door.
Pale green paint on the brick walls, a cage over the overhead light, and the tile floor was layered with newspapers. Most lay open with uneven holes torn from the middle of their pages as though someone wanted to save an article. The biggest thing in the room was a hospital bed. It had thick leather restraint cuffs at the corners. Next to it was a reading chair, which looked out of place, so it must have belonged to the room's occupant, who was in it.
He was a big-boned, lean old devil, seemed to be in his eighties, and ignored us as we came in. He had a newspaper spread over his knees, peering at it through double-thick horn-rimmed glasses. The lenses must not have been strong enough; he hunched low to read. He had things open to a department store's full-page advertisement for an undergarments sale. Drawings of female figures in girdles and bras sieres had his full attention. Carefully, he worked a hole into the sheet, his ink-stained fingertips and recently cut nails outlining an illustration.
On the bed next to him were a number of torn-out pictures, some like the one he was working on, others were photographs. All women. No portraits, he preferred them full length, matrons at charity events, debutantes, mannequins modeling the latest fashions. Painstakingly trimmed of their backgrounds, they lay in uneven piles, limp and ragged paper dolls.
Kroun took it in, his expression unreadable. "Hello, Sonny."
The old man grunted and continued his task. When he had the drawing torn free, he studied it under the harsh overhead light, then added it to one of the stacks on the bed. He had large hands, once powerful, but his fingers were twisted with arthritis, reduced to knobby joints and tendons. He had to work slowly to get them to do the job.
He looked up. His mouth was a wide straight cut with hardly any lip, and he had the big nose and ears that come with age. His skin was flushed a patchy red, mottled by liver spots. White hair on the sides, a shock of gray on top, it needed cutting.
The glasses magnified his blue eyes to larger than normal. They were blank for several moments, then sharpened as an ugly smile gradually surfaced.
Something inside me writhed; it was the kind of instinctive warning that says run like hell even when you don't see the threat. This old man couldn't possibly hurt me, but the feeling was there and damned strong.
"What d'you want?" he asked Kroun in a gravelly voice full of venom.
Kroun pulled an institutional wood chair-sturdy with a lot of dents-from a corner and sat almost knee to knee with him. He held up the box of cigars.
"Give," said the man, quickly shoving papers from his lap. He was in faded striped pajamas and shapeless slippers.
Kroun opened the box. "They're all for you, Sonny."
"My birt'day or som'tin'?"
"You want a smoke or not?"
Sonny grabbed a cigar, biting one end off, spitting it to one side. "You forget a light? G'damn jackets here won' lemme have no matches."
Kroun produced a lighter, a new silver one he must have gotten when he bought his clothes. He helped Sonny get the cigar going. I was glad I didn't have to breathe.
"Now that's a smoke." Sonny puffed, eyes narrowed to slits by satisfaction. "Who're you again?"
Kroun didn't show it, but he seemed thrown by the question. "Don't you remember?"
"I see lots of people. Which one are you?"
"Look at me. You'll know."
Sonny puffed and stared, but no recognition sparked in his distorted eyes. "What's wit' the hair?" He pointed the cigar at Kroun's white streak.
"Accident at my job, nothing much."
He nodded my way. "Who's the creep inna corner?"
"Just my driver."
"Fancy-schmancy, you gettin' all the drivers in town. Come here to high-hat me?"
"Thought I'd see how you were doing."
Sonny snorted and blew smoke into Kroun's face. "That's how I'm doin', you g'damn bastard. Locked in like a dead dog waitin' to be shoveled inna ground. You know how they treat me? No respect! You get me outta here!"
"I'll see what I can do."
"Liar. Everyone lies to me here."
"When you get out, where would you go?"
A slow, evil grin spread over Sonny's face. "You know."
"The fishing cabin?"
Sonny chuckled. At length. He sat back in the chair, his spine not quite straightening. The hunched-over posture was permanent. "Yeah... fishin'. I had some good times there. When you listened to me, you had a good time. You goin' up?"
"I don't know how to get there."
A scowl replaced the grin. "You're stupid, you know that? G'damn stupid. The g'damn place is still in g'damn 'Sconsin 'less some g'damn bastard moved it."
"Probably not," Kroun allowed. "I'm just not sure where in Wisconsin."
"Jus' over the state line, y'stupid dummy."
"And then where?"
"It was a long while ago, Sonny."
"You're g'damn stupid. They got me shut in, treat me like shit, but I know how long, so don' go pissin' on me wit' that. You was here two mont's back-"
"No, I wasn't."
"You was! Lying li'l shit! Sat right there jus' like now, an' y' had 'nother bastard like him out inna hall an' you had her over where that bastard's standin'. Nice li'l twist, but you can afford 'em to be nice, can't ya? Brought her in, then went off and never come back. You were gonna come back and you din'. 'Stead you show up two mont's late in a fancy coat and nothin' to say but a lotta g'damn lies!"
Kroun held himself still as a statue as Sonny's voice beat against the painted brick walls. "Guess I lost track of things at that."
"Puh!" Sonny drew on his cigar, threw me a murderous glare, then seemed to relax. "So... how'd it go wit' her?"
"How do you think?"
The ugly snigger was back. "I bet. Picked a good 'un. She was a real humdinger." He drew out the word.
Kroun went dead white.
Sonny leaned forward. "Well? How'd it go? Tell me, g'dammit!"
Kroun swallowed and continued to hold very still. His tone was conversational but tighter than before. "Remind me how to get there, and I'll show you. I'll spring you from this dump, and we can both go fishing again."
Sonny laughed out loud, then stopped, his gears abruptly shifting. "You liar. No sharin' wit' you. Y' too good to have me along. Too good! Now y' won' even tell me nuthin'."
"Wouldn't you rather I show you?"
"Puh! Teach yer granny to suck eggs, g'damn li'l bastard. There's still things I can show you."
"Sounds good. I want that, Sonny. We can do it again. Wouldn't you like one more trip?"
The old man's eyes blazed. One of his big hands dropped to his crotch. He chuckled and rubbed himself. "I still got juice in me. What d'you think?"
Kroun nodded. "Yeah, sounds real good. You tell my driver how to get there. We'll sit in the backseat and smoke cigars like a couple of big shots while he does the work."
Sonny abruptly rattled off directions fast as a machine gun. Belatedly I found a pencil and scribbled on my shirt cuff. He thought that was funny and took pains to repeat everything. His cigar died. Kroun got the lighter working and held it out again.
His hand shook.
Sonny noticed. He relit the cigar, puffed blue smoke in the air, and smirked. "Got you excited, huh? Jus' thinkin' about it?"
"Yeah, Sonny. Just thinking about it." Kroun snapped the lighter shut and pocketed it. He rested his trembling hand on one knee. His other hand gripped the chair arm hard, his knuckles white.
Then Sonny shifted gears again and glared. "You ain't springin' me! I see that. You 'n' your fancy ways. Think you're too good, huh?"
Quick as a striking snake, Sonny threw an open-handed slap at Kroun's face. The impact of palm on flesh cracked loud. Another crack-Sonny connected again, backhanded.
Kroun didn't try to duck or block, just sat there and took it.
Sonny's mouth worked, and he spat. It hit Kroun's chin, then dripped to his coat.
Kroun still didn't move. He stared at Sonny. Stared long enough that Sonny's gears shifted once more. He pressed back in the chair and showed teeth. "You stay away from me. The jacket out there ain't gonna let you touch me, tha's his job, so you get out."
When Kroun stood and turned my way, I understood the old man's reaction. Kroun's eyes had gone blank, all pupil and no iris. Hell pits. When they leveled in my direction, I again felt like running, but he blinked and was himself. I was no more superstitious than the next guy, but this... it made my skin crawl.
The normal-seeming man that I now saw jerked his head toward the hall. Time to leave.
I got out. Sonny's curses and threats poisoned the air until the orderly closed and locked the door. It did a lot to mitigate the noise.
"You okay?" he asked Kroun. "He nick you?"
Kroun felt his cheek, checking for blood. "I'm fine." He got his handkerchief and wiped spittle from his chin and coat, then collected his hat, putting it on. He wasn't shaking as badly as before but was still ghost white. "The nurse wanted to see me." His voice was calm, soft.
We followed the orderly downstairs. Kroun had to deal with some paperwork, sign a couple of things. I stood by the exit next to the orderly, ready to leave as soon as possible.
"Crazy old guy," I muttered.
"Yeah," the big man agreed. "Those cigars helped. Got him in a good mood. He's usually a lot worse with visitors. Not that he gets any."
"No one else comes?"
He shrugged. "Just two guys that I know of. Haven't seen the other for a long time, but I'm night shift."
"What's he look like?"
"Like a doctor. The bills get paid."
"Know anything about this fishing cabin?"
"If I listened to their baloney, I'd be locked in one of those rooms myself, so no I don't. That bird's right out of his head most of the time. Nothing he says is gonna be up-front. You point at a horse, he'll call it a dog."
Kroun put the charm on again with the nurse, but from my vantage it seemed brittle. He glanced my way once, indicating he'd heard my questions and the orderly's replies. The somber and sympathetic nurse pointed at something on a clipboard, and Kroun signed it.
When the time came, the orderly let us out of the booby hatch. The clean, cold winter air was sweet. Kroun and I breathed deeply, then headed for the electric gate. Someone must have been on the lookout; it opened as we approached.
Kroun paused on the sidewalk, watching the gate roll shut as though to make sure it locked properly. Only then did some of the tension leach from the set of his shoulders.
"You got those directions clear?" he asked.
"I remember most of it, but put 'em on paper for me, would ya?"
"No problem." What did he want with that fishing cabin? I had an idea and it wasn't pleasant.
"Leave it with Derner. I'll be by the Nightcrawler tonight."
"Where you going?"
"Gotta take a walk, clear my head. I'll cab over later."
"Gabe, I'm supposed to stick with you. If that guy was the old bastard that Michael-"
"Yes. Yes, he was. You heard some stuff."
"And I'm wondering why I heard it. You didn't have me in there just to take down directions."
"Actually, I did. But I figured if I had you wait in the car, you'd go invisible and sneak in anyway to listen."
"You figured right. What was he talking about?"
Kroun closed his eyes briefly and shoved his hands in his overcoat pockets. "Nothing I want to discuss. He's nuts. Didn't know me, my name. Lot of stuff comes from him that doesn't make sense."
"Made sense to you."
He turned away. "I'm going to get some air and think."
He snapped around. "And forget the goddamned watch-dogging for a couple hours! If Michael calls you on it, say I gave you the slip. He'll believe it."
"Who's the crazy guy?"
That got me a scorching glare. "Mike will tell you."
More glaring, then his anger suddenly faded. His shoulders didn't ease down so much as shrink. He seemed older. He took the handkerchief from his pocket where he'd absently stuffed it after wiping off the spit. Kroun studied the crumpled fabric a moment, then threw it away. The wind caught the white square, swept it a few yards, then it nose-dived into a snow-clogged gutter, merging with the trash already there.
"Yeah, sure. Why not?" He lifted his fedora, rubbed a palm along his streak of white hair, then resettled the hat again. "The son of a bitch is my father. Now ain't that a kick in the head?"
He walked away, moving fast.
Kroun had his thinking to do, and so did I, but mulling things on my own wouldn't do the job this time; I needed to see Gordy. Working hard to avoid going over what I'd seen and learned, I drove straight to the Bronze Belt, not quite crossing into the territory, and parked a couple blocks away. It didn't take long to leg the remaining distance to the residence hotel where Shoe Coldfield had obligingly given safe shelter to Gordy and just about everyone else I knew.
I took it for granted that one of the countless lookouts in the area had spotted me, but with my collar up and hat low, they might not know me from any other lost white guy. Soon as I had the building in view, I vanished and floated the last hundred yards-not easy with the wind-and sieved through an upstairs window.
Damned if I didn't get it right the first time. I partially materialized on the third floor, or so the door numbers declared once I was solid enough to see. The place was pretty active; I went invisible again and bumbled down the hall, careful not to brush close to anyone. Coldfield knew that an inexplicable chill might mean I was hanging around.
I passed rooms where people talked and radios played. Gordy was somewhere halfway down on the left, so I drifted from door to door, hoping to hear his voice. No such luck, but I did catch one that surprised me. I slipped under the threshold crack and hovered out of the way in a ceiling corner.
Michael, and presumably his tough friend Broder, were there.
"I don't like this guy you picked," Michael said. "He doesn't have what it takes."
It was Gordy's room, and his response sounded confident. "He does when it's needed. The boys are used to him. The trouble's over. I'll be back soon enough."
If I'd had ears, they'd have been burning.
"There shouldn't have been trouble in the first place. Your kid put his foot right into it with Bristow."
"That was me. I'm the one who took Bristow to the kid's club. It wasn't his fault Hog didn't like his face and decided to go buckwheats on him. That was out of my hands. Besides, Hog jumped the gun. He put me here. And that's your fault. You're the one who sent him."
I could almost hear the steam coming out of Michael's ears.
Gordy continued, "But the trouble's over. The kid's got things running smooth. That's all that matters."
Michael gave him the point. "All right. I get you. If he screws up again, it's on you both. You got that?"
"Yeah. No problem."
"We'll see. Next is Whitey. I want him on a train back to New York."
"He's your man. You make him leave."
This resulted in a long silence. It was Michael's night to paint himself into a corner. "You know he could be more trouble."
"It's part of the business. You said you got Fleming watching him. Nothing's going to happen."
"You sound very certain about that, why?"
"The kid has a way with people."
"Like he did with Bristow?"
"Bristow was nuts. If you're saying that Whitey would-"
"No, not the same thing. But he's dangerous."
Gordy sighed. "Still your problem. You ordered him home, and he wouldn't listen. Right?"
Michael made no reply.
"If he won't listen to you, what chance have I got? I'm thinking he'll leave when he's good and ready. You want him out faster, offer to help him do what he wants done."
Another long silence. Then, "C'mon, Broder."
Footsteps passed close below me, then the door shut. I waited. If anyone else was in the room with Gordy, they would say something, but it continued quiet. Drifting down, I slowly took on form.
Gordy was propped up in bed, and his eyes went wide. He was wise to my peculiar talents, but it didn't make them any less alarming to witness. "That's some cute gag you got, Fleming."
"It's handy. How are you?"
"Better. A lot better."
He looked it. His color had improved since my last visit. The sickroom smell was gone. One of the windows was open an inch. He'd apparently convinced someone of the benefits of fresh air.
"Was Michael here for long? I just caught the tail end of things."
"Couple minutes. He ain't one to socialize with the help. You heard he don't like you much?"
"I'm used to it. He's right. I don't have what it takes, but I'll keep swinging at the ball until you say different."
"Good enough. Have a seat."
I pulled up a chair and took off my hat. "Where's Bobbi and Adelle?"
"Down having supper. They'll be a while. Dames. Always talking. Coldfield's been looking after 'em good. Lookin' after us all. I owe him."
"Is he here?"
"Went off with Escott. Donno where. Heard your pal had a close one."
"Yeah. He did."
"Bobbi told me. What had you and him fighting?"
"Nothing important. But Coldfield's blaming me for nearly killing Charles."
"Bobbi told me that, too. She told me everything." He let that hang.
My mouth dried out.
"Think Michael knows about Kroun being like you?" he asked.
Oh, crap. "Gordy, you're not supposed to know that."
He waved a large hand. "I'm not supposed to know a lot of things, but I do anyway. If Kroun's got a problem with that, he can make me forget, can't he?"
"He'll have a problem with it all right. Bobbi shouldn't have told you."
"It wasn't only her. Coldfield put in a few words."
"Jeez, at this rate the whole city'll have the headlines in the morning, and Kroun's gonna blame me."
"Nah. It stops here."
"What about Adelle?"
"I won't tell her if you won't."
"Deal." I sat back in the chair but didn't relax. Some part of me was alert for trouble. I heard the doorknob being worked. It was enough warning; I instantly vanished.
Hinges creaked. "You okay, Gordy?" It was one of the guards belonging to Coldfield's hotel fortress.
After a pause Gordy said he was fine. My disappearance must have startled him.
A scraping sound as the man moved the chair. "Those two guys are gone. Didn't say where."
"No big deal. I'm gonna take a nap now."
"Sure. Lights out?"
"Leave that one in the corner on."
A click, steps, then the door was closed.
I went solid. The room was much dimmer than before.
Gordy's eyes remained wide. "Real good trick, kid," he said, his voice low. "You don't want no one knowin' you're here?"
"Coldfield's that sore with me. It's better I keep my head down for a while. You serious about that nap?"
I gently returned the chair to the bedside. "I won't be long, just a couple questions. On Kroun."
He nodded as though he'd expected as much. "You didn't answer-does Michael know about him being like you?"
"Kroun said no, and he wants to keep it that way. Take that how you like. Whether he's wise or not, Michael's got a hell of a worry going about him."
"Must have a reason."
"Yeah. I may have the why behind that."
I told about the visit to the nuthouse and Kroun's talk with Sonny. I told about the newspapers and how Sonny tore out pictures of women from them. I told about the hospital bed and its heavy cuff restraints. I told about the things Sonny said and Kroun's reaction to them.
Gordy didn't reply, just looked at me a long while. I'd given him something he hadn't known before. Something pretty big.
"Is that crazy old man really his father?" I asked, to break the silence.
"I can check into it and find out."
"Without anyone else catching wind?"
"No. If I was on my feet, maybe. Not now."
"Hold off then. I don't want Kroun to know I've talked to you."
"He'll figure you will."
"Yeah, and he won't like it. Why did he let me in on it, though?"
"Donno." Gordy's face was always hard to read, but I could tell this had thrown him.
"What do you know about this cabin? The other night Michael pitched a fit when Kroun said he might do some fishing. Putting that with what the old man said..."
"Don't sound so good, no. Sounds like he takes girls up there, gives 'em a rough time."
"You never heard anything?"
"If there was anything to hear, I'd have gotten it. Whitey comes over from New York now and then, does whatever business needs doing, has himself some fun, but I never got nothing on him visiting any old man, nothing on that cabin."
"What do you know about Kroun's past? Where's he from?"
"He came out of nowhere, worked his way up in New York. Only got to be a big noise in the last few years. Lotta boys are like that. Nothing on them their whole life, then suddenly they're running things. Happened to me."
That happened because Gordy's boss had been killed. Promotion in the mob was often the result of inheritance. "He knock off his boss to move up?"
"The guy before him was skimming off the top, then- for a guy who didn't hunt-he went on a hunting trip and never came back. That's the story I got. Whitey was in the right place at the right time and slipped into the empty spot. No one argued with him."
They probably didn't dare. "What about Michael?"
"He's the one who figured out the skim. He's got schooling, but keeps out of sight. He looks after the books, squares the deals, does the thinking. He runs stuff, keeps the money moving, but Whitey sometimes has the last word. For some it is the last word."
I asked more questions and got everything Gordy had stored in his file cabinet of a brain. Such history was not easy to hear.
Kroun had ordered at least a dozen executions over the last few years; those did not count however many he'd personally carried out himself on the side. Gordy had been present at three, twice as a witness, once as a participant.
About two years ago, when Slick Morelli had been the big boss, Gordy had helped get a man down into the Nightcrawler's basement on a pretext, then held him in place. Kroun put a gun muzzle in the man's mouth and took the top of his head off just that quick. The thick walls and the club band playing upstairs covered the noise. The whole process had taken less than half a minute. Kroun hadn't cracked a sweat, hadn't even blinked. Right afterward, he'd gone up to the club and danced with the chorus girls as though nothing had happened.
No, not good to hear at all.
I considered Gordy a friend, but that dark side of him was part of the package. When it was necessary, he could kill and not think anything of it. He didn't like the killing, but he'd still do it.
I found myself squirming inside, knowing I'd gotten that way myself, it just bothered me more. How long would that last if I stayed on this road?
"What had the man done?" I asked.
"Kroun never said. Just gave the orders, and we did what we did. He's good at that kind of job. Those mugs never knew from Adam when their number was up. He pals with 'em until it's time, does the job, then goes back and pals with their friends a few minutes later. Not a lot of guys are able to pull that off."
Michael had warned me. He'd said Kroun had no conscience. I'd met a few similar types, and you can usually tell there's something wrong with them even if you don't know exactly what it is. It's enough to make you cautious. Being able to hide it so well made Kroun different from them, and a hell of a lot more dangerous.
Gordy added, "When he came to town for you, I figured he'd do the same as always. Instead, he has you up to the office to hear you out. That never happened before."
"He always been called Whitey?"
"Yeah. Used to wear a white hat, winter and summer. The streak of white hair is new. Says he got skull-creased by a jealous husband who was a bad shot."
"Where'd that happen?"
He shook his head. "I heard it was in New York. But maybe that cabin?"
"And what happened to the husband? To the wife?"
A shrug. "You'd have to ask Kroun."
"I doubt he'd say."
"To you he might."
"You got plenty in common. He didn't try to keep you out when he talked with the crazy guy. If Kroun didn't want you to know this stuff, you wouldn't."
"Carelessness in his old age?"
"Don't count on it. He'll have a reason. And don't trust him."
No. I would not do that. "But how did he get to be like me? You'd think he'd tell me of all people."
But Gordy had no answer to that, either. Instead, "Derner phoned today. Said you did a good job dousing the fire on Alan Caine and the rest of it."
I shrugged. I'd done what was needed but wasn't proud of it. "That fire won't be out until they find Mitchell, only they never will. Someone could still get burned."
"It's the best you can expect, kid. The heat's off our bunch, that's what matters. Derner told me you didn't like the fix job on your car."
I managed a short grin. "It's okay. If I'm being the boss, I might as well have an armored car. The wheels-I just wanted them changed, not swapped for solid rubber."
"My eyeballs bounce so much I can't see the road."
That amused him.
"I'll swap for pneumatics once Kroun's gone home."
If he went home. He struck me as being sincere about getting away from the mobs. How would he do it, though? Fake his death again? That hadn't worked too well for him.
"Any idea where Coldfield went with Charles?" I asked.
"Said something about checking his mail."
"Then they'll be at Charles's office. I'll drive over and see. Maybe if Charles plays referee, he can calm Shoe down."
"Don't count on it," Gordy repeated.