THE DOOR TO suite 1705 stood open. The chambermaid was there, a man from Security, and the hotel’s first assistant manager, who stood in the middle of the room staring at the wall above the sofa. Mr. Perez came out of the bedroom, finally taking off his topcoat and throwing it over a chair. He went to the bookcase bar and began making himself a drink.
“They took one of the paintings,” the assistant manager said. He seemed mildly surprised as he realized it.
Mr. Perez came away from the bar with his drink. “They did, huh? That’s the first indication of genuine concern I’ve heard from you. As I recall, it was a print of a Winslow Homer. A photographic reprint.”
“Mr. Perez, I just noticed it. That’s all. I didn’t mean to imply-”
Mr. Perez wasn’t finished. “Two men, two nigger men, come in here and steal valuable documents and you’re worried about a picture you can get in a ten-cents store.”
“I wasn’t worried about it.”
“You let anybody you want come in your hotel?”
“Well,” the assistant manager said, “the problem, we can’t actually screen everyone who comes in. You can understand that.”
“I understand I’ve been robbed,” Mr. Perez said. “That’s what I understand. What I’d like to know is what you’re gonna do about it.”
“Well, we’ll call the police, of course. If you can give them a list of what was stolen-”
“A list? My friend, they stole”-Mr. Perez almost said, “my whole goddamn business,” but stopped in time-“papers, documents, beyond commercial value in themselves.”
The assistant manager didn’t understand. “Not notes then, or stock certificates?”
“I mean records and proposals that can’t be duplicated and are worth, conservatively… several million. That’s why, sir, I hope you don’t mind my asking what you’re gonna do about it. Or do I have to sue your ass for some kind of negligence?”
“Mr. Perez,” the assistant manager said, “you know the hotel can’t be responsible for anything left in the room. That’s why we have safe deposit boxes.”
“That’s a sign,” Mr. Perez said. “You can bring it to court with you and show it to the judge.”
It was not the assistant manager’s hotel. When Mr. Perez moved out, someone else would move in. He said, “As I mentioned, we’ll call the police, and it’s possible your… documents will be recovered. If you’ll give me a list of what was taken-I know they’ll also want to question you.”
Mr. Perez knew it, too. He wanted to threaten and kick ass, impress and intimidate the assistant manager; but he didn’t want to talk to the police just yet, or perhaps ever, for that matter. He knew who’d taken the papers, or had them taken; that wasn’t hard to figure, though it did surprise him. But now, what would the two niggers do if they read in the paper tomorrow about Jack C. Ryan, Process Server, Found Shot to Death? Better wait and see.
“I’ll let you know,” Mr. Perez said to the assistant manager. “Good night.”
“You’ll give me the list of items?”
“That’s right. Then you can call the police. But not before I tell you.”
“If you prefer to do it that way,” the assistant manager said.
“I prefer everybody out,” Mr. Perez said.
Jesus, he’d no sooner closed the door and walked over to his chair when somebody started knocking and he had to walk all the way back to open the door.
Raymond Gidre came in.
Driving back to Detroit in the Hertz car, once he’d slipped past the blue flashers that were all over the place and screaming up the Interstate toward Rochester, Raymond kept telling himself, You hit him. You must’ve.
So by the time he was sitting with Mr. Perez and had heard about the niggers breaking in and was holding a cold drink on his lap, Raymond was convinced Ryan was lying dead somewhere in a wet ditch. He told Mr. Perez it was so because he thought it would make him feel better. Mr. Perez was more itchy than he’d ever seen him. His skin was blotchy from drinking and the red veins in his nose were sticking out. Even sitting in the chair he was hunched forward, wouldn’t let himself relax.
“What do you mean you think you got him? You either got him or you didn’t.”
“I know I hit him,” Raymond said, “on account of the blood.”
“See, I must’ve hit him good when he started running again, but as I told you, it was dark. He cut through some yards and come to a street where there’s this donut place open-counter where you get your coffee and different kinds of donuts you order to go or else take over to a table there.”
“Raymond,” Mr. Perez said, “where was the blood?”
“In this place I’m telling you about. The boy works there’s standing by the pay phone, dialing it, till he sees what I got. Then he like to shit. I said to him, ‘Where’s he? Man come in here.’ He points to a door leads out back. Then I see the blood on the counter where he must’ve put his hands, smeared on it. Out back was a field and then a ravine full of scrub and shit. That’s where I figure he’s laying.”
Mr. Perez waited a moment. “You didn’t go find out?”
“I couldn’t. A squad car come in the alley as I was standing there, starts shining a spot all around. They was others, you could see the blue flashers over the other side of the field and up by the apartments, you could hear them all over. Was time I had to get out of there.”
“So they find him and he’s alive,” Mr. Perez began.
“I don’t see how he could be.”
“He gives them your name and address. You get rid of the gun?”
“Jesus, you know what that Weatherby cost me?”
“You know what it could? Twenty years.”
“I’ll dump it somewhere.”
“There’s a river out there, the Detroit River,” Mr. Perez said. “That’s where you put it. On your way over the bridge to Windsor, Canada, where you’re gonna be staying awhile.”
“I’m pretty sure I got him.”
“Raymond, check into a motel, then call me, give me the number and I’ll be in touch with you.” Mr. Perez seemed calm now, because he knew what he was doing. He was patient with Raymond, because it was the way to handle him.
“Want me to leave right now?”
“In a minute. Bring the phone over here.”
Mr. Perez dialed Ryan’s number. When the answering service came on, he hung up. “Not home.”
“I told you where he’s at,” Raymond said. “In the field.”
“Or at the police station,” Mr. Perez said. “Or the lady’s apartment.”
“Was cops all over there.”
“You remember Miz Leary’s number?”
“I never had it.”
Mr. Perez looked over at the bare, cleaned-out desk. “You certain you didn’t write it down someplace?”
“I never even saw it.”
Mr. Perez sat back in the chair. It wasn’t going to do any good to blame Raymond or curse or break things. If Ryan was alive-or even shot-up some-and got hold of the papers, he’d learn the name of the stock and the show would be over. Not only that, Ryan would likely press charges-assault with a deadly weapon or attempted murder-and here’d come the police looking for two ex-cons who’d done it before in Louisiana. If Ryan was alive, it was time to go. And start compiling another list of names to get himself back in business again, which could take him three or four months, at least. On the other hand, if Ryan was lying dead in the weeds, if Raymond wasn’t bullshitting him…
“Raymond, fix me one, will you please?”
… he’d be free to work on Miz Leary some more and, goddamn it, get her signed up this time. But if Ryan was out of it…
“Make it a good one, Raymond.”
… the flunky niggers wouldn’t know what to do with the papers and most likely throw them away. He’d still have to spend months, time and money, making up a new list.
For the most part, Mr. Perez’s reasoning was sound. Where he missed was assuming what the flunky niggers would do. He didn’t know Virgil Royal.
When Ryan came in, Denise clung to him. He put his arms around her and they held on to each other.
“You’re gonna get all dirty.”
“Where were you?-I heard the shots, I knew it had to be you as soon as I heard the noise.”
“Raymond was waiting.”
“Did they get him?”
“I don’t know. He chased me-the guy’s crazy, running down Main firing a shotgun, people watching him. I couldn’t believe it-blowing out store windows.”
“You’re soaking wet.”
“I came through that field back of here, it was all mud and crap.”
“You’re covered with blood.” She had backed away to look at him. “My God, are you shot?”
“No, it’s from broken glass. Just my hand, it’s not bad. I must’ve got some on my face.”
“You look like you were in a war.”
“I feel like it.”
He got his clothes off and took a shower. Denise came in while he was drying himself, and he stopped and kissed her and held her again, wrapping the towel around both of them. It felt good under there, and he knew it was going to get a lot better once they talked a little and got that out of the way.
He sat in bed with the covers up around his waist watching her undress. She was neat, folding her slacks over the back of a chair as she told him about the police being here, squad cars outside more than an hour while they questioned the tenants.
“What’d they ask you?”
“If I’d seen anything, recognized anyone. Or if I knew of anyone in the building that might be involved. I didn’t know where you were, I wasn’t sure. I kept thinking, I’ll hear from you soon. If I don’t, I’ll do something.”
“What were you going to do?”
“Call the police and tell them.”
He didn’t want to get into that now.
“You look good, still tan.”
“You don’t know how glad I was to see you.” In her white bikini panties now in the lamplight, taking off her work shirt, very natural about it, but still keyed up and in her mind, concerned about him, no bra, good, those neat breasts, white, and the slim tan body, hooking her thumbs in the panties now. He loved the word girl. She was a girl. She was more than that, way more, someone who talked to him with quiet awareness in her eyes, the person in there looking out as they looked at each other and talked and didn’t have to finish sentences-which was beyond his comprehension, to feel natural, more himself, because of a closeness to someone else-but what made it even better, he was always conscious of her girlness. He wanted to touch her and hold her, and when he did he couldn’t touch and hold her enough.
“What’re you waiting for?”
“I’ll be right back.” She went out of the room, still in her panties. Ryan lay back, settling his head on the pillow.
He began to think of Raymond again, what Raymond would do if he hadn’t been picked up-Raymond out there loose, reporting to his keeper, and Mr. Perez throwing him a fried shrimp and patting him on the head. Jesus, call the police and get those two put in a cage, quick.
No, he had to hear from Virgil first. If Virgil got the papers, the list-okay, then call the police. If he didn’t-shit, then what? Get Raymond arrested, involve Mr. Perez if that was possible. Go on. And Mr. Perez fingers you as an accomplice. Or he doesn’t get arrested but says fuck this, it isn’t worth it, and takes off. And nobody ever gets to touch the hundred and fifty thousand. Sitting there.
He had to quit thinking. Or else call Virgil right now.
“I stuffed newspaper in your shoes so they wouldn’t curl up,” Denise said, coming into the room as he rolled out of bed. “Where you going?”
“I got to make a phone call.”
“You always talk on the phone naked?”
“Not always.” He thought of Virgil, his hat shading his face, Virgil doing something, letting the phone ring. Virgil not home yet. There was a click. The voice said, “How you doing?”
“The other way around,” Ryan said. “How’d you do?”
“Say ten thousand, huh, for all this paper?”
Ryan let his breath out, relieved, all the worrying for nothing. “You got it.”
“Yeah, I got it. I’m looking at it.”
“No problems,” Virgil said, “some questions in my mind. Like what is it in here worth the money? Worth how much?”
Ryan felt himself tense. He kept his voice calm, though. “You said ten thousand, your figure, right? I said I wasn’t going to argue with you. Remember?”
“I remember how easy you said it. Worth ten thousand to you.”
“I agreed with you. Why argue?”
“But maybe worth more, huh?”
“I thought we made a deal. You holding me up now, seeing if you can get more?”
“I’m asking you, worth how much?” Virgil said. “Or worth how much to somebody else?”
There it was. Ryan came up with a pretty good imitation of a laugh. He said, “Hey, you want to see if you can get some bids? You don’t even know what you’re selling.”
“But you know,” Virgil said, “and so does the man used to have it. Think about can you go any higher than ten and maybe I’ll call you back.”
“You want to discuss it,” Ryan said, “okay, but I’ve got to see what you’ve got first. Virgil?” He was saying it as Virgil hung up.
Ryan got a cigarette from the counter and lit it going into the bedroom. The lamp was turned off, Denise was in bed.
“Virgil’s holding us up.”
“He got the papers?”
“He doesn’t know what he’s got, but he thinks it’s worth more than ten.”
“Why don’t you come to bed?”
He stubbed the cigarette out in an ashtray on the nightstand and got in next to her.
“Warm me,” Denise said.
“I should’ve known better, handing him something like that.”
“Let’s not talk about it anymore tonight, okay?” Denise said, moving close to him.
“You know who he’s gonna call now.”
“Let’s not talk about anything unless, you know, you want to say something… good.”
“You feel good.”
“So do you,” Denise said in the darkness. “I know the feel of you now. I could be blindfolded and pick you out in a crowd, you know that? In a locker room at the Y. I’d feel my way along, just feeling arms and maybe chests. I love to touch your chest… and your flat stomach, and your… thigh.” She waited. “Where are you?”
“You haven’t said that in a while.”
“I’m not saying it for me this time, I’m saying it for you. Where are you?”
“No, you aren’t,” Denise said, “not yet. But I’m going to get you here.” She did, too, touching him and saying, close to him in the darkness, “What do we need?”
“Here we go,” Virgil said.
“Here you go,” Tunafish said. “You doing it.”
Virgil picked up the phone and dialed a number, glancing at the phone book open next to him. The suitcase and most of the papers were on the floor of Virgil’s living room. The Gideon Bible was on the coffee table. The picture of the cat on the boat with the busted mast and the storm coming was on the wall over Virgil’s hi-fi system. He had given the .32 Beretta to Tunafish, making him take it.
Tunafish watched Virgil. He wanted a smoke, but Virgil didn’t have any. He didn’t like it at all, getting into something else now, thinking each time, Okay, when it’s over he won’t need me no more. Then Virgil would call him again. Add them up, the things he was in.
Following the man. Getting nothing for it.
Stealing the other man’s papers.
Add stealing the panel truck for shooting Lonnie.
Stealing the papers. What else?
Having the man’s gun in his pocket.
Now some other shit going down.
Virgil said, “Yeah, 1705, please.”
Add what the police didn’t know about him, Tunafish was thinking, to what they did know. Right now, extortion, Bonzie’s idea, making the phone calls to the mamas: bring money to save their little girls. Tunafish saw himself in shit up to his chin with the chance of it covering his head any day now. The police kept worrying him about the extortion, telling him what Jackson would be like for the next three to five. Asking him which mamas was it he had called and which Bonzie had called, asking him what did he want to hang around with Bonzie for, asking him how Virgil was doing, slipping Virgil in, asking if he’d seen Virgil lately. Asking did he want to tell them anything was bothering his mind.
“Line’s busy,” Virgil said, his hand over the phone. He straightened in his chair then, getting ready. “No, she can ring now.” Virgil waited, then seemed to smile. “Who am I speaking to, please?”
“Who do you want?”
Tunafish, sitting in his leather coat, deep in a chair, could hear the man’s voice.
“You the man lost something this evening?”
There was a pause. “Yes, I lost something.”
“Well, I’m selling scrap paper,” Virgil said. “Paper that’s gonna get scrapped if nobody wants to buy it. You dig?”
Mr. Perez placed a call to the Elmwood Motel in Windsor, Room 115.
“Me again, Raymond. You in bed?”
“Almost. I been looking out the window, I don’t see a thing to do. You know, coming here”-Raymond laughed-“I seen a sign, you know what it said?”
“What’d it say, Raymond?”
“It said ‘Chinese and Canadian Food.’”
“You’ll have something to do tomorrow,” Mr. Perez said. “One of our nigger friends in the paper business called up.”
“You don’t tell me.”
“Wants to sell my own property back to me. I asked him how much. He said he already had a bid of ten thousand. I said all right, I’d give him fifteen. He said if I could pay fifteen I could pay twenty.”
“What he had in mind, huh?”
“To him, all the money in the world. I said all right, twenty.”
“He believe you?”
“He wants to, so he does.”
“You ask him if he’d take a check?”
“They don’t think about how a person goes about getting twenty thousand dollars together. They think anybody staying here must be rich and rich people have money in their pockets.”
“He’s coming tomorrow?”
“No, says he’d soon as not walk in the hotel carrying my suitcase. I said you walked out with it, it didn’t bother you none. He wants to meet us two o’clock a place called the Watts Club Mozambique.”
Mr. Perez repeated the name. “On a street called Fenkell. Look it up in your directory.”
“You go look at the place in the morning, then we’ll meet and talk about it.”
“That sounds good,” Raymond said. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Mr. Perez hung up.
Less than a minute later the phone rang. When Mr. Perez answered, Raymond said, “I forgot to ask you, what do you think they mean, Canadian food?”
There had been time to think during the night and time to think after waking up with Denise and finally getting out of bed to shower and get dressed. They didn’t talk about Virgil or Mr. Perez or any of it until they were sitting at the counter with juice and coffee and Ryan told her he was going to call the police.
“Good,” Denise said. “I’ll get the number.”
Ryan was stirring his coffee. “I don’t mean the cops here. I’ve been thinking, maybe the best thing would be to call Dick Speed first. Tell him what’s happened, you know, get him in on it instead of going right to the local cops and trying to explain why a guy was shooting at me. You see what I mean? It’s pretty involved.”
“Whatever way you want to do it,” Denise said, “as long as we get it over with.”
“He knows about most of it. I’ll ask him what he thinks we should do, if we’ve got a chance of involving Mr. Perez-” Ryan stopped. “Shit, I can’t tell him the whole thing. How do I explain I sent a guy to burglarize a hotel room?”
“Don’t tell him that part,” Denise said, “just tell him about Raymond. All we want is for them to leave us alone. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with Virgil… does it?”
“I don’t know. Once I open it up…”
“Call him.” Denise reached for the phone on the counter and moved it closer to Ryan. “You know you’ll have to sooner or later.”
Ryan lit a cigarette first, getting ready, before dialing the number. He asked for Dick Speed and could hear sounds, voices in the Squad Six offices as he waited. Then Speed was on the line. They said hello and how’s it going, fine, and Ryan got to it, saying, “I want to talk to you about something. A guy tried to kill me.”
“I believe it,” Dick Speed said. “Which one?”
“You remember the two guys from Louisiana you looked up for me, Perez and a Raymond Gidre?”
“Hold on a second.”
Ryan could hear voices again, Dick Speed asking someone for a file, saying it was right there on the desk. Denise was watching him expectantly. He looked at her and shrugged. “He told me to hold on.”
“Okay,” Dick Speed said. “Perez and Gidre tried to kill you.”
“No, it was just Raymond… Gidre.”
“A shotgun.” Ryan told him about it briefly, the high points, the breaking glass. He didn’t mention shooting at Raymond; he’d save that.
“You reported it to the police?”
“That’s what I’m doing. Aren’t you the police?”
“The Rochester police,” Dick Speed said. “Outside Detroit I don’t give a shit who tries to kill you.”
“Look, I’m calling you because it’s kind of an involved situation,” Ryan said, “if you know what I mean. I’m not sure what all I should tell them.”
“You mean if you should tell them about the papers were stolen from room 1705, the Pontchartrain Hotel, at approximately eight-fifteen last night?”
“Jesus,” Ryan said. There was a silence.
“You still there?”
“How’d you like to go someplace with me this afternoon?” Dick Speed said. “Maybe eyeball the guy tried to shoot you. How’s that sound?”
“I don’t believe it,” Ryan said. “How could you know all that, I mean about the papers?”
“How come you know they were stolen?” Dick Speed said. “You want to answer that?”
“I told you it was complicated.”
“Isn’t it, though,” Dick Speed said. “You want to go with me or not?”
Ryan felt tired, like he hadn’t gotten enough sleep.
He listened, nodding, then hung up the phone. Denise was waiting.
“Well, I talked to the police,” Ryan said.