Authors: Richard Stark
Myers' voice sounded shocked: "You, too?"
Grofield opened the door and stepped through into the other room. He felt Dan coming along behind him, and heard Dan close the door on Myers' calling voice and on the other voices also starting up.
The wrestler was lying face down on the floor, on his right cheek. He was unconscious, and his nose had stopped bleeding.
Grofield said, "You really hit them, don't you?"
"Only when they ask."
They went out to the hall and headed for the elevators. Grofield said, "Now, will you tell me who that madman is and how you rung me in on it?"
"He's a friend of my wife's brother," Dan said. "He's supposed to of done some stuff down around Texas."
"He's a simpleton," Grofield said.
The dice ricocheted from the backboard, bounced back on two separate trajectories across the green felt and came up three and four. The shooter groaned, money changed hands, and the dice passed to Dan Leach. "Operate the numbers for me," he said, and Grofield said, "Sure."
You couldn't get out of one of these Strip hotels without going through the casino. Grofield wasn't a gambling man, but Dan was, so on the way by he'd said, "Let's earn us our plane fare anyway."
"Well, I will. Hang in and watch, and take the free drinks."
Grofield had nothing to do until he took another plane out of here tomorrow, so he'd stayed. Dan obviously had played on a Las Vegas-style layout before, and he'd been picking up a few dollars on the other shooters' rolls. Now he had a chance on his own roll.
"For the boys," he said, to begin with, and dropped a one dollar chip on the six-five come. If he rolled an eleven, the four housemen it took to work this table would split the fifteen dollars that bet would win; if he rolled any other number, that dollar would be lost.
"Thank you for the chance, sir," said the stickman neutrally, and pushed Dan the dice; red translucent plastic with large white dots.
Dan rolled the dice between both palms, to warm them. He had the slightly loose smile on his face that has nothing to do with humor, but that means the player feels at home, his adrenalin is pumping. He held the dice in his right hand, shook once, and threw.
"The point is eight," said the stickman, and drew the dice back down the table to Dan.
Dan said to Grofield, "Cover the numbers."
Across from Grofield, in six squares imprinted on the felt were the numbers
4 5 6 8 9
and 10. A round black thing something like a hockey puck had been put by the houseman there over the
square; that was the shooter's number, and could not be bet. Grofield put three dollars of Dan's chips on each of the other numbers. If he rolled one of those numbers before rolling either his point – eight – or losing with a seven, the house would pay off on that number. No bet would be lost on any of those numbers until he either won or lost his try to make his point; the money could ride, roll after roll.
"Keep 'em covered," Dan said, rolling the dice around between his palms again. "I feel a long roll coming on."
"I'm on it," Grofield promised.
Dan proceeded to roll thirty-four times without either a seven or an eight coming up. Twice in the course of it he had Grofield up the bets covering the five numbers, the second time to fifteen dollars each. On the thirty-fifth roll, the dice did their jig and wound up four-four. The lady across the way with twenty-five dollars on the hard way blew Dan a kiss, and he winked at her. The houseman inspected the dice again – he'd been inspecting them every four or five rolls – and another houseman pushed the rest of Dan's winnings to him. It made a messy mountain at his corner of the table.
Dan said to Grofield, "Cover don't-come for me. I'm through. I can feel it."
Dan threw a five. Grofield covered don't-come, and Dan threw a seven. He won some and he lost some. "That's it," he said. He passed the dice to the red-haired man to his left, and he and Grofield filled their pockets with chips and went over to the cashier's window to turn them in.
It came to twelve-thousand eight-hundred dollars. Dan looked at his watch and said, "An hour and ten minutes. That's not bad wages."
"Not at all," Grofield said.
Dan looked at him, stuffing money away. "You don't gamble at all?"
Grofield thought of the fourteen nickels. "Sometimes I take a whirl," he admitted. "I never had a night like you, though."
"I believe I'll go back to the hotel and pack," Dan said. "Nice to see you again."
"Sure. You hear of anything else, keep me in mind."
"That I will."
They went outside and took separate cabs to their separate small-time motels far from the Strip.
They kicked the lock off the door and came in with their hands full of shotguns. Two of them, in black hats and anonymous black raincoats with the collars turned up. Also black handkerchiefs across their faces, like stagecoach robbers.
Grofield had been sitting there going over a play he thought they might do this summer. He'd come back to the motel, got himself a bite to eat, called the airport to arrange for a morning flight to Indianapolis via St. Louis, and had been sitting there ever since with the yellow-jacketed Samuel French edition of the play open on the writing desk in front of him. Then they kicked the lock off the door and came in and pointed shotguns at him, and he dropped his red pencil, put his hands up in the air, and said, "I'm on your side."
"On your feet," the tall one said. The other one was shorter and fatter.
Grofield got to his feet. He kept his hands over his head.
The tall one kept a shotgun pointed at him while the short one searched the room. He went through Grofield's suitcase, and the closet, and the bureau drawers. Then he searched Grofield. Grofield recoiled slightly; the guy had bad breath.
Finally the short one stepped back and picked his shotgun off the bed and said, "It isn't here."
The tall one said to Grofield, "Where is it?"
"I don't know."
"Don't waste time, Jack, we're not playin' a game."
"I didn't think you were. Not with guns, and kicking the door in and all. But I don't know what you're looking for, so I don't know where it is."
"Ho-ho," said the tall one. It didn't sound very much like a laugh. "You won almost thirteen grand tonight," he said.
"Sorry," Grofield said. "Not me."
"You," the tall one said. "Cough it up."
"You got your choice," the short one said. "You can be alive and poor, or dead and rich."
"I'm sorry," Grofield said. "I hate to be killed because of somebody else's mistake, but I didn't win any money tonight."
They looked at one another. The short one said, "We picked the wrong one."
the wrong one," the tall one said, as though the correction were important.
"Yeah, that's what I meant," the short one said. He turned back to Grofield. "Turn around," he said. "Face the wall."
Grofield turned around and faced the wall. He knew what was coming, and hunched his head down into his neck, trying to make his skull soft and resilient. It didn't do any good. The lights went out very painfully.
"I'm drowning!" Grofield yelled, and thrashed his arms around, trying to swim; his nose was full of water.
"You aren't drowning, you bastard. Wake up."
Grofield woke up. He rubbed water from his face, opened his eyes, and looked up at the angry face of Dan Leach. "Christ," he said.
"Not even close," Dan said. "Sit up."
Grofield lifted his head, and the back of it made a commotion like it was glued to the floor. "Ow," Grofield said. He snorted water out of his mouth, and wiped his face with his sleeve. "My head."
"Your head. My dough. Do you sit up, or do I beat the crap out of you right here?"
"Beat the crap out of me right here," Grofield said. "I hurt too much to sit up."
Doubt creased Dan's forehead. "Are you putting me on?"
Grofield had gently touched his fingertips to the back of his head, and hadn't liked it at all. Now he looked at his hand and saw brownish-red smears on the balls of his fingers. "Sure I'm putting you on," he said, and turned his hand around to show it to Dan. "You want ketchup for your hamburger?"
Dan was having trouble changing from a conviction he'd been happy with. "If it wasn't you," he said, "how'd they get to me?"
"You'll have to give me a minute on questions like that."
"Listen, let me get you up on the bed."
Dan picked him up, and Grofield tried to keep his head from flopping around. Dan put him down on the bed and said, "Can you roll over on your side? I wanna see your head."
"Sure," Grofield said. He rolled over, and bitterly studied the wall while Dan was out of sight, seeing to his head.
Dan said, "A cut, that's all… not deep." He touched Grofield's head, which stung like fury. "Nothing broken. It'll hurt, though."
"Definitely," Dan said. He had no sense of humor at all. He said, "Roll back over now, we got to talk."
Grofield rolled back over. Dan pulled up a chair, as though he were a visitor in a hospital, and sat there with his elbows on the edge of the bed. His face was very close to Grofield's. He said, "You wanna know what happened to me?"
Grofield moved his head slightly so he could see Dan with both eyes and said, "Two guys in raincoats and shotguns took your money away."
"They were here, too."
"I know that," Dan said. "They thought it was funny. They picked the wrong guy first, followed you home instead of me."
"Very funny," Grofield said.
"But then they corrected their mistake," Dan said.
"And that's what I got to thank
for," Dan said. "Head or no head, blood or no blood, that's still what I got to thank
"You think I sent them to you?"
"Who else? What other way are they gonna get to me? They followed
they didn't follow me. The only way they get to me is if you tell them where I'm staying."
"Wrong," Grofield said.
"What do you mean, wrong? They followed
"No, they didn't."
Dan frowned, trying very hard to understand. "Cough it out," he said.
"They didn't follow anybody," Grofield said. "Didn't you recognize them? It was Myers and the guy you knocked out."
Dan stared. "Are you crazy?"
"They muffled their voices behind those masks," Grofield said, "But I recognized them anyway. The bouncer, at any rate." He wrinkled his nose in distaste.
"You're sure it was them."
"I know definitely it was them. Even if I didn't recognize them, and I did, I know I didn't tell them where you were staying. They didn't even ask. The fat one said something about picking the wrong one, and Myers told him he meant they'd
the wrong one. Trying to cover a slip of the tongue."
"They hijacked me," Dan said, as though he couldn't believe it. "Called me here to this lousy town for a caper, come up with a heist out of the comic books, and then hijack me."
Dan got to his feet. "They need to learn some things," he said. He was suddenly in a hurry to go somewhere.
"Manners, for instance," Grofield said. Experimentally he lifted his head from the pillow, and it didn't seem to hurt as much.
"I've gotta go talk to them," Dan said, and turned toward the door. The lock was still broken, but the door had been pushed all the way closed.
"Hold on," Grofield said. He sat up, a bit shaky. "I'll come with you. I'd like to talk to those birds myself."
"You're in no shape to go anywhere," Dan said.
"There's two of them, there should be two of you. Give me five minutes."
"Five minutes?" Dan was so impatient he was practically tapdancing.
"If they're gonna check out tonight," Grofield said, "they've done it by now. If they're gonna wait till morning, you can afford five minutes. Go get me some ice."
"I want to put it on the back of my head," Grofield said, patiently.
Dan went out – the door made unhappy rending noises whenever it was moved – and Grofield went shakily into the bathroom to soak his head and grit his teeth.
Grofield opened the closet door and the wrestler smiled up at him with his slit throat. "Here he is," Grofield called, and Dan came in from the other room saying, "Which one? Let me get my hands on him."
Grofield stepped back, and Dan looked at the thing on the floor of the closet. "Jesus," he said.
"Your friend Myers," Grofield said, "is around the bend."
"He cut his throat for six grand," Dan said. He sounded awed.
"He was going to kill everybody in New York State for one-sixth of a hundred grand," Grofield said.
"I can't believe he's so penny ante," Dan said. He looked at Grofield and shook his head. "That's what gets me. He was supposed to be such hot shit down there in Texas."
Grofield said, "He's left us a mess. You remember everything you touched?"
"Good Christ on a crutch!" Dan looked around. "This room, the next room. I had a drink in there, when he was showing us all those pictures. We've
got prints scattered around in there."
"Do a fast wipe," Grofield said. "That's all we have time for."
"Maybe what we want is a fire."
"No. It would just call attention to this room earlier than necessary, and it wouldn't destroy things like doorknobs."
Dan was still agitated. He looked at the thing in the closet again and said, "Maybe we oughta move him. Carry him out like he's drunk, dump him somewheres."
"Forget it, Dan," Grofield said. He went over to the bed and pulled a pillowcase off its pillow. "He's all over blood," he said. "Here, catch." He tossed the crumpled pillowcase, and turned away to reach for the other pillow before waiting to see if Dan had caught it or not. "We'll wipe the place down," he said, shaking the pillow out. "That's all we have time for."
"All right," Dan said. He sounded doubtful, but willing to be led.
They spent the next five minutes wiping hard surfaces in the two rooms. Myers had cleared out with his goods, including the suitcase full of maps and photos and graphs. Grofield, wiping glasses, said, "You think he still means to pull that factory job?"
"He doesn't have time," Dan said. He sounded grim.
The last thing they wiped was the inside doorknob. Out in the hall, Grofield wiped the outside doorknob with his jacket sleeve, and the two of them walked down to the elevators.
"I hate it that I have to go after that bastard," Dan said. "I got other things to do with my life."
"Then let it ride," Grofield said. "If you ever meet up with him again, you'll take care of things. If not, it didn't cost you anything."
"Over twelve grand."
"I don't count gambling winnings as money," Grofield said, and shrugged. They'd reached the elevators; he pushed the down button.
"I count money as money," Dan said.
"I guess I don't blame you," Grofield admitted.
The elevator came. It had three passengers already, so they didn't talk any more until they reached the main floor.
Walking around toward the lobby, Dan said, "You remember the names of any of those other guys?"
"Up with Myers? Bob Frith, George Cathcart, Matt Hanto."
"Wait a second." Dan brought out a ballpoint pen and a crumpled envelope. Grofield repeated the names, and Dan wrote them down. He put the pen and envelope away and said, "You know any of them from anywhere?"
"No. Don't you?"
"They looked all right," Dan said. "They looked like pros. Somebody'll know them, in the business."
"They weren't in on it," Grofield said. "That was strictly Myers and his fat friend, I'm sure of it."
"I know, I know. But one of the others might know where I can get in touch with him."
"Ask your wife's brother."
"I will, don't you worry. I'll ask him a
They were going-through the casino. Grofield nodded at the crap tables: "You want to get it back again?"
But Dan shook his head. "My luck is gone for tonight," he said. "I can feel it."
They went on outside. Cabdrivers looked alert at their exit. Dan said, "You want to come with me?"
"To find Myers?"
Dan shrugged. "Half."
"Six grand?" Grofield considered it, then shook his head. "Too much like work," he said. "You don't know how long it'll take, you don't know if you'll ever find him at all."
"Still, I got to try."
"Good luck," Grofield said.
"And if you hear of anything in my line, let me know."
They took separate cabs again, and when he got to his room Grofield found his luggage gone. Naturally; it had been possible to close the door, but not lock it.
"Lemons don't lie," Grofield said bitterly, and went away to the motel office to report the theft. Not that he expected the cops to find the stolen luggage; a resort town like this was always full of crooks. But at least he'd get the tax deduction.