THIS END OF the hallway was dark. On the wall, near the door, was a light fixture shaped like dripping candlesticks, but there were no bulbs in it. Ryan had to strike a match to read the room number. Two-oh-four.
He listened a moment before trying the door. The knob was loose, it jiggled, but wouldn’t turn either way. He knocked lightly on the door panel and waited.
“Lee?… You in there?”
He had driven past the Good Times Bar and the place was empty. If she wasn’t here…
He knocked again, giving it a little more but still holding back, and waited again. There was no sound. Silence. Then a creaking sound. But not from inside the apartment.
The figure approached from the far end of the hall where a dull orange glow showed the stairwell: a dark figure wearing a hat, coming into the darkness toward him.
“You locked out?” Virgil said.
A black guy who was bigger than he was-three o’clock in the morning in a dark hallway. Ryan did not have to decide anything. If the guy was armed he could have anything he wanted. The nice tone didn’t mean a thing.
“There’s supposed to be somebody in there,” Ryan said. “She’s expecting me, but I think she might’ve passed out.”
“Let me see,” Virgil said.
Ryan stepped out of the way. Virgil moved in. He tried the knob, then took a handful of keys on a ring from his jacket pocket. Ryan thought at first he had a passkey. No, he was feeling through the keys, trying different ones in the lock.
“Are you the manager?”
“I seen you, I wondered if you locked out.” Like he happened to be standing in the hall, three o’clock in the morning.
“You live here?” Ryan asked him.
Virgil didn’t answer. He said, “Think I got it. Yeah…” He pushed the door open gently, took a moment to look in, and stepped out of the way.
“Your friend laying on the bed.”
A dim light from somewhere showed the girl’s legs, still in the Levi’s, at one end of the narrow daybed. Ryan tried to move quietly across the linoleum floor. He could hear her breathing now, lying on her back in a twisted, uncomfortable-looking position, her hips turned as though she had tried to roll over and had given up. The place smelled musty. The only light, a bare fifty-watt bulb, hung from the ceiling in the kitchenette part of the room. The faucet was dripping in the sink. There were dirty dishes, a milk carton, an open loaf of bread on the counter. A jar of peanut butter with the top off. Three half-gallon wine bottles, empty, on the floor. The only window in the room, next to the bed, showed a bare, dark-wood frame, no curtains. A shade with brown stains was pulled below the sill. He could see her in here during the day, on a good day, the room dim, silent, the shade drawn against the sunlight and whatever was outside that frightened her. Alone with her wine bottle, feeling secure as long as there was wine in it, sitting in the rocking chair smoking cigarettes and forgetting them and burning stains in the wooden table.
She could use three weeks at Brighton Hospital. If she had the money, or Blue Cross. She probably didn’t have either one. It would cost about nine hundred. He had almost three thousand in the bank drawing 5 1/2 percent. How much did he want to help her?
Ryan went into the bathroom, felt for the light switch, and turned it on. They all looked alike. The rust stain in the washbasin. The dirty towel on the floor, from some hotel. The hissing toilet tank. A comb with matted strands of hair. One toothbrush. One twisted tube of toothpaste. He looked in the medicine cabinet. No prescriptions, no tranquilizers. Good. An almost empty bottle of Excedrin. He’d check the refrigerator before he left.
He had forgotten about the black guy and didn’t look for him in the room or by the open door. But as he knelt down next to the daybed, looking at the girl, he was aware of the rocking chair creaking with a faint, steady sound.
The black guy was sitting there watching him, the hat slanting down over one eye.
He turned to the girl again and brushed the hair away from her cheek. Her eyes were open and she was looking at him.
“You all right?”
“Fine.” Her eyes closed and opened again. She was a long way from fine, whatever that meant to her.
“I want to ask you a couple of questions before you go to sleep,” Ryan said. “You have any Valium? Anything like that?”
“I have some… Librium, I think.”
“Where? It’s not in the bathroom.”
“I don’t know.” Her voice was drowsy; she barely moved her mouth.
“Come on, Lee? Where do you keep it?”
“I don’t know. Someplace.”
“Don’t take any,” Ryan said. “You hear me? You’ll probably wake up, you won’t be able to sleep, but don’t take any pills, any kind, except the Excedrin’s all right. Lee?” He touched her shoulder and waited for her eyes to open. “You have any family here? How about your mother and dad, where’re they?”
“No, I don’t have-they don’t live around here. They’re home.”
“Where’s home, Lee?”
“Christ, you tell me. Home… shit, I don’t know.”
“How about friends?”
“You know some people, don’t you? You have friends?”
“Fuck no, I don’t have any fucking friends. My friends disappeared.” She seemed awake now.
“You know people who live here, don’t you? In Detroit, around here somewhere?”
But she wasn’t awake. She was here and she was spinning around somewhere in her mind. Ryan remembered it, like falling backward and looking up at nothing, feeling a dizziness. He could hear the faint sound of the rocking chair creaking.
“Lee, try to think of somebody. People you used to know.”
“I don’t know any-no, hey, I know Art.”
“He’s a prick. No, he’s all right, he can’t help it.”
“Who’s Art, Lee?”
“The innkeeper. Don’t you know Art? Arty? Don’t call him that, though. He’ll fuck up your drink.”
“How about Bobby Lear?” Ryan said. “You know him, don’t you?”
There was a silence. The creaking sound of the rocker stopped, then started again, slowly.
“You said he called you. Lee, what’d he call you for? Tell me.”
She laughed then. “Man, that’s great. I said now you’re asking me. Man, you got a lot of fucking nerve.”
“What’d he want you to do?”
“He wanted me to help him. Jesus. I said Jesus, do you know where I am? Where you left me? I’m down in the bottom of a hole, that’s where”-her voice rose-“and I can’t see out!”
Ryan stroked her hair. Her forehead was cold, clammy. “You’re going to be all right,” he said. “Where is he, Lee? Where’d he call from?”
The creaking sound stopped again.
“I said what’s it like, man-all that man shit-I’m tired, you know, I’m tired of all that cool shit.”
“What’d you say to him?”
“I said what’s it like, have it fucking turned around for a change?” She started to push up. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“Here.” Ryan held her. Her head drooped, nodding, staring at the floor. He felt her pull away and let her sink back to the bed.
“Save it till morning,” she said. “No, what I need-you don’t happen to have a chill bottle of Pully, Poo-yee, shit, or even a warm bottle nigger strawberry pop wine. God, I don’t care. Something.”
Ryan waited. She let her breath out slowly, her head settling against the pillow.
“Where is he, Lee?”
“He’s at a place, the Mont… something. It’s down, you know, it’s down there by-the Montcalm. That’s the name of it.”
“Yeah, for whores and people like-I can’t, I don’t want to see him, Jesus, please.”
“You want to take your clothes off? Get under the covers?”
“Leave me alone.”
“Lee, I’ll be back in the morning. Don’t leave here, okay? And don’t have anything to drink. Promise me. If you feel the urge like you got to have something, call me. Anytime you wake up and feel it, call, okay? You got my number.” What else? He knelt there looking at her, trying to think. He’d stop by a drugstore in the morning and get some B-12 tablets, load her up with it, stay close, and help her through the bad time. Check the refrigerator. Check her purse for the Librium. He felt like a cigarette. What else? Ryan was aware of the silence then. He looked around at the empty rocking chair.
Virgil was at the end of the hall, his hat shadowed on the wall in the raw orange light over the stairway.
“Wait a second.”
Ryan got to him as he started down the stairs.
“You know that girl in there?”
Virgil looked up at him past the stair railing. “Do I know her?”
“Do you know who she is?”
Virgil seemed puzzled. “Don’t you?”
“Lee somebody. That’s all.”
“Say you don’t know who she is?”
“I was talking to her this afternoon, the first time,” Ryan said. “We got on drinking, I saw she had a problem.”
“Yeah, she got a problem all right.” Virgil squinted at Ryan then, suspicious. “You honest to shit don’t know who she is?”
Ryan tightened up a little. “If I knew, for Christ’s sake, I wouldn’t be asking you.”
“That’s Bobby Lear’s wife,” Virgil said.
Ryan stared at him. “But her name-that’s not his wife’s name. Lee?”
“I don’t know about her name,” Virgil said, “but that’s Bobby’s wife.” In the orange light he looked up at Ryan with an amused expression, almost a grin. “Shit, you don’t know anything, do you?”
Virgil started down the stairs.
“Wait a minute,” Ryan said. “Do you know him? I want to talk to him.”
“I do too,” Virgil said, his hat disappearing into shadow. The sound of the man’s steps, receding, came back to Ryan from the stairwell. The guy looked familiar. Like seeing somebody who played for the Lions in regular clothes. A black athlete, the outfit. The hat.
That’s what he had seen, the hat sitting on a bar. A colored guy with a cowboy hat. Not a cowboy hat, but like one. The guy sitting there had been wearing a maroon outfit, maybe like a leisure suit. He thought of Jay Walt. No, the maroon outfit had looked good on the black guy. Light-colored shirt with the collar out. And a tight strand of beads showing. The guy sitting near the end of the bar this afternoon when he left the place.
She had called from there an hour ago.
The guy could’ve still been sitting there. If it was the same guy. No, but he could’ve come back and been there when she phoned. And heard what she said. And then waited for him to come.
Because he’s the one who’s looking for Bobby Lear. Hanging around the man’s wife, waiting. Sitting in the rocker while he talked to her and hearing her say it. The Montcalm.
Shit, handing it to him.
Ryan went back into the apartment and found the Librium, two capsules, in the girl’s purse and put them in his pocket. He’d give them back to her tomorrow, if she wasn’t drinking. And bring some milk and a can of juice and a couple of eggs, which she’d gag on and refuse to eat. He looked through the room again to make sure there wasn’t another jug of wine hidden somewhere. Then looked at her, asleep, at peace for a little while. Mrs. Denise Leann Leary…
Leann. Lee. It had never occurred to him to look at the wife’s name and fool with it and see what else she might be called. He wondered if she had always been called Lee. When she was a little girl. Before she knew what wine tasted like. She had probably never looked this bad in her life. Her face puffy, blemished, her hair a mess. He didn’t remember the color of her eyes. Dark eyebrows, a nice nose and mouth. She could clean up and be a winner, if she wanted to. And he could stand here looking at her all night, what was left of it, and it wouldn’t do either of them any good.
Driving home, he planned his day.
Get up at eight, stop by a drugstore for some B-12 and be back at the girl’s place a little after nine. Try to get her squared away, in the right frame of mind and something in her stomach. Or if she was in too much pain, with her nerves screaming at her, see about getting her into a hospital. Then stop by the Montcalm Hotel and ask for a Robert Leary, Jr. No, Leary would be using another name. All right, he’d start knocking on doors, and if a man in his mid-thirties appeared, if he opened the door, he’d say how you doing? If you’re Robert Leary, Jr., we’ve got a whole lot of money for you, buddy. See if the real Robert Leary, Jr., could resist something like that. He’d have to make sure Leary was there. It wouldn’t do Mr. Perez any good to have just the address.
He was getting close now, but God, it was a lot of work. He was tired of thinking. He was tired of driving, being in the car. Tired of waiting around. But more tired of thinking than anything else.
It was after four by the time Ryan got to bed.
When the phone rang at ten to seven he opened his eyes and immediately thought of the girl, Lee, crying for a drink.
But it was Dick Speed’s voice with a pleasant good morning and how would he like to come down to the morgue and meet somebody.