Authors: Richard Stark
Grofield, on his way by the front desk, stopped and looked at the clerk, feeling suddenly very wary. Barnes' car radio hadn't reported the robbery as yet, but it was ten minutes to three and the alarm should be going out pretty soon. And thirteen thousand dollars was in the attachй case dangling from his right hand.
He moved toward the desk, walking as though his shoes were glass. "Yes?"
"There have been several calls from your wife."
Grofield frowned. "My wife?" Mary knew where he was, naturally, and what name he was using, but she didn't know what the job was or when it would take place.
The clerk had some small papers in his hands. "She called first this morning at nine o'clock, and several times during the day. She wishes you to phone her at once, and she says it is urgent."
There was some sort of undertone in the clerk's voice, something beyond what the words were saying. Grofield, his mind involved in the robbery, took longer than he should have to realize what it meant. "Yes, thank you," he said. "I'll call her." And then he noticed the little smile on the clerk's face, and finally got it; the clerk thought the felony that had been taking place today and tonight was adultery, not larceny. Grofield almost grinned back, but controlled himself. Let the clerk think what he wanted; any explanation of Grofield's eighteen hour absence other than the true one was fine.
He started away again, and then looked back to say, "I'll probably be checking out in the morning."
The clerk's smile – smirk – widened. "Yes, sir," he said.
Grofield took the elevator up, hurried down the hall to his room –
had something happened to Dan? because of Dan?
– and when he walked in Myers waved a gun at him and smilingly said, "Hello, there, Alan. Nice to see you again."
Grofield shut the door. Myers was smiling, pleased with himself, but the guy with him looked mean-tempered and stupid. He had a gun in his hand, too, but he hardly needed one. He was huge, with the body of a heavyweight and the head of a cabbage. He said, "About time the bastard got here."
"I'm sure Alan's been busy," Myers said pleasantly. "Planning, planning. A caper is not that easy a thing, Harry. By the way, Harry Brock, Alan Grofield; Alan, Harry. Sit down, Alan."
Grofield put the briefcase on the floor at the foot of the bed and sat down on the bed. Myers was in the room's only chair, and Harry Brock was standing, leaning against the wall beside the window.
Grofield said, "What now, Myers?"
"A visit, Alan. Why be ungracious? In the first place, I owe you thanks. You talked sense to that idiot Leach. If it hadn't been for you, he might still have been carting me around, like the ancient mariner with his albatross. So I thank you."
"You're welcome," Grofield said, sourly. He was thinking he'd made a mistake with Dan, he should have kept his mouth shut.
"Besides which," Myers said, "I must admit I know you're involved with a caper somewhere around here. And you could use a couple of good men, couldn't you?"
I wouldn't use you to collect tickets.
What he said was, "What about that job in Los Angeles? The three old cons and their tunnel?"
Myers grinned in surprise. "Did you go for that one, too? I must be a better bar than I thought."
Harry Brock said, "What three old cons? What tunnel?"
Grofield said, "Myers' last partner, the one whose throat he slit, told him about a-"
Smoothly, Myers said, "That will be enough of that, Alan. There's no point telling Harry silly stories to try to drive a wedge between us. We're partners, and we know we're useful to each other. And we also know we could be useful to you. Tell us about this caper of yours. When's it going to be?"
"It isn't," Grofield said. "It's a washout."
"Oh, nonsense. You've stayed here a week already. You wouldn't do that unless you were planning a job. Where's the job to be?"
The one advantage Grofield had was that Myers knew most jobs were planned far from where they would take place. Myers would be unlikely to guess that this job was right here in the St. Louis area, and was already done.
Tell him a lie? Certainly. Tell him a hundred lies. But not too easily, no point making him suspicious.
Grofield said, "I can't tell you things like that. I have partners, they wouldn't like it."
"Well, now you have two more partners."
"I could bring you around tomorrow," Grofield said. "You could talk to them yourself. But I shouldn't tell you anything tonight."
"Now why would they let us in," Myers said, "unless we already knew the whole thing? Why split with us unless the alternative was to scrub the job? Come on, Alan, you're going to tell us about it before any of us leave this room, so why not do it now?"
Brock said, "Maybe the plans are in that case he brought in with him?"
"No," Myers said. "His part, perhaps, but not the whole thing. Alan isn't an organizer. Who
On that one he could be told the truth. "Fred Hughes."
"Hughes. I don't think I know him. Harry?"
"Never heard of him."
"He drives, too."
"Organizer and driver? Unusual."
Grofield said, "He says we'll probably buy the truck we'll need from a fellow named Purgy."
Myers smiled with recognition. "Up in Arkansas? So where does that put the job? Memphis? Nashville?"
Harry suddenly lifted his arms and brought his hands together. Squeezing his right fist with his left, he made all the knuckles crack. At the same time, he said, "We're doing all the talking. This bird don't talk at all."
"He'll talk. Alan is intelligent, he knows it's best to avoid violence. Don't you, Alan?"
Grofield was thinking,
He got to me through Mary, but she's been calling so he must have left her alive. There may be all kinds of mess up there at the theater, but he did leave her alive.
Grofield said, "What?"
"It's time for you to join the conversation," Myers said, and his smile was suddenly wearing thin.
Grofield glanced at Harry, who wasn't smiling at all. It was time to allow himself to be cowed a little. "I can tell you it's in Little Rock," he said.
"Little Rock. And what are you going to do in Little Rock?"
"You know," Grofield said, "you two can give me a bad time tonight if I don't talk, but what if I
talk? Then the other guys give me a bad time tomorrow."
"Well, tonight is here," Myers said. "And tomorrow's a long way off. Maybe you ought to just, worry about one thing at a time."
Grofield looked over at Harry again, and shook his head. "I don't like this," he said.
"Then get it over with fast," Myers suggested. "Like taking off adhesive tape. One yank and it's done with. What's the thing you're going to do in Little Rock?"
"A bank," Grofield said, reluctantly.
"A bank. Which bank?"
"First National," Grofield said. He didn't know if Little Rock had a First National Bank or not, but most places did, and with any luck Myers wouldn't know Little Rock well enough to be able to catch him in a lie.
"First National," Myers echoed. "Come on, Alan, why do I have to keep asking questions?"
"Well, we don't have the whole operation worked out yet," Grofield said. He was thinking about the guns he'd helped throw in the Mississippi just an hour ago. He never carried a gun or any other weapon except during a job, and this was one of the very few times in his life he was regretting that. A pistol would be a very nice thing to have right now.
Myers was saying, "I'm not asking about the operation, I'm asking about the bank. Is it the main office? A branch?"
"I don't know, in a suburb someplace. In a shopping center."
"What's the shopping center called?"
"I don't know."
"Well, what's the suburb called?"
Grofield had no idea of the names of Little Rock suburbs. He had to say again, "I don't know."
"He's crapping on us," Harry said. His voice rumbled in his chest. He sounded very irritated.
"It is taking you a long time, Alan," Myers said. "Now, tell me which Little Rock suburb."
"I don't know. I never paid attention, it didn't matter to me."
"We'll let that pass for a minute. But we'll come back to it, Alan. What's your job in it?"
"Crowd control," Grofield said. "That's what I'm good at. I talk to the customers, keep them cooled out, watch them while the others clean out the cages."
"This is a daytime job?"
A sudden siren erupted outside somewhere, interrupting him. Myers looked surprised, and then as the siren receded he grinned and said, "Maybe somebody's working in
town tonight." He grew serious again. "In a shopping center, you're pulling a daylight robbery?"
"That's right," Grofield said. He was sweating lightly, he could feel it. Improvisation had never been his strong suit, he'd always preferred to work from a prepared script. The caper he was making up wasn't emerging very well, it didn't have quite the smooth sound of truth.
"So the gimmick," Myers said, "must be in the getaway. What's the brilliant getaway, Grofield?"
Grofield licked his lips, trying to think about brilliant getaways from daylight robberies in shopping centers. "We're starting a fire," he said. "In a… in a hosiery store just down from the bank."
"You're pulling the job dressed as firemen? That's
gimmick!" Another siren sounded outside, farther away; Myers turned his head to listen to it, his expression growing thoughtful. Grofield watched Myers' face, sensing what was going on in the brain behind there, and knowing what it meant when Myers' eyes moved and he looked at the attachй case on the floor at the foot of the bed.
Grofield threw an ashtray at Brock and a pillow at Myers, jumped to his feet, grabbed the attachй case, and ran for the door. It took him too long one-handed to get the door open, and both of them were swarming all over him. He kicked and punched, lunging himself backward through the doorway, knowing it was more than the money involved now; Myers would kill him for trying the Little Rock con, there was no question about that.
Myers had both arms wrapped around the attachй case, and Harry Brock was trying to get both arms wrapped around Grofield. Finally there was no longer any choice; Grofield let go the handle of the attachй case. Myers jerked backward into Brock; Grofield tore his arm loose from Brock's fist; and while the two of them in the room sorted themselves out, Grofield ran like hell down the hotel corridor.
Grofield walked into the theater at four in the afternoon, and stood for a second just inside the door, looking down past the rows of seats at the stage. A white sheet was draped over the sofa. Grofield had called here last night, after getting away from Myers and Brock; the conversation had been short, neither of them wanting to say much over the phone, but Grofield had understood from things she said and didn't say that Dan Leach was dead. She had lived here for thirty-four hours now with that thing under the sheet.
Grofield hurried down the aisle and went up the steps to the stage. Mary was on none of the sets, nor in either of the wings. Grofield didn't want to call her name; he didn't know why, exactly, but he just didn't want to shout in here right now. He thought it would be bad for Mary. He found her in the female dressing room, a long narrow room under the stage with one stone wall. She was sitting at the make-up table, doing nothing, and when he walked into the room their eyes met in the mirror and he saw no expression in her face at all. He'd never seen her face so completely empty before, and he thought,
That's what she'll look like in her coffin.
And he ran across the room to pull her to her feet and clamp his arms tightly around her, as though she were in danger of freezing to death and he had to keep her warm.
At first she was unmoving and unalive, and then she began violently to tremble, and finally she began to cry, and then she was all right.
They were together fifteen minutes before they started to talk. Grofield had made soothing noises and said words to reassure her before that, but there had been no real talk. Now she said, "I don't want to tell you about it. Is it all right?"
"It's all right." She was sitting again, and he was on one knee in front of her, rubbing his hands up and down her arms, still as though trying to keep her warm and alive.
"I don't want to talk about it ever."
"You don't have to. I know what happened; I don't need the details."
She looked at him, and her expression was odd-intense, and somehow sardonic. She said, "You know what happened?"
He didn't understand. They'd come here, Myers and Brock. They'd killed Dan Leach. They'd forced Mary to tell them where Grofield was and what name he was using. What else?
She saw his face change when he realized what else, and she closed her eyes. Her whole face closed, it seemed; it went back to the expression he'd seen when he'd first walked in here.
He pulled her close again. "All right," he said. "All right."
Grofield dropped the body in the hole and picked up the shovel again and started pushing the dirt back in. It was a cool night and cloudy, very dark. Despite the chill, Grofield was sweating as he worked. His eyes glared at everything as he moved, his jaw was clenched, his mind was turning and turning and finding no rest.
He finished filling in the grave, returned the pieces of weedy sod to the top, and walked back and forth to tamp the fresh dirt down. Then he walked over to his car, a five-year-old Chevy Nova he'd bought secondhand two years ago, put the shovel and flashlight and ground cloth in the trunk, and drove on back to the theater.
Mary was moving around in bathrobe and slippers, making a midnight snack. They'd made love earlier, downstairs in the dressing room, more awkward with one another than they'd ever been before. The sex had been cumbersome and difficult and not very satisfying in the usual sense, but afterward Mary had been more relaxed, more her normal self. And now that Dan was gone she was even better.
The sofa looked strange. He'd taken the slipcovers off and burned them, but the upholstery itself was stained with blood – Myers had been using his knife again – so Grofield had covered the thing with an old blue bedspread from the storage room downstairs. Under normal circumstances, they would have had their midnight snack sitting on that sofa, but tonight Mary without comment put the things on the table in the dining room set, and Grofield said nothing about it.
She'd made sandwiches and coffee, and she'd put out cookies. They sat at right angles at the table, eating, and Mary started a conversation about the coming season. There were three or four actors from last year they should get in touch with again, people they particularly wanted back. Grofield kept up his part of the conversation and did his best to keep his voice normal and not to glare all the time at the opposite wall. He thought he'd been doing pretty well, when Mary suddenly said, in a matter-of-fact way, "I don't suppose there's any point to my asking you not to go after him."
Grofield looked at her in surprise. "I don't know what to do," he said. "I don't want to leave you here alone."
"I'll go to New York," she said. "Remember, June said we could always stay with her if we came to the city. I'll go there and talk to some of the people we want this year."
"We still don't have the money," Grofield said.
"You'll get it." She said it offhand, as though there were no question.
"You don't mind going to New York?"
"Of course not… Alan?"
He couldn't read her face. "What?"
"Please don't leave tonight," she said. "Please don't leave till tomorrow."
Surprised, he suddenly realized he'd been turning over in his mind various ways to tell her he had to leave right away. As though there were any hurry now. "There's no hurry," he said. Abruptly his face changed; he stopped glaring, and uncovered a natural smile. Reaching out to hold her hand, he said, "I won't leave till you're ready."