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Authors: Cornell Woolrich

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BOOK: Marihuana
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Both their gazes were fixed on it, the inanimate instrument, now; his in hair trigger menace, hers in swooning helpless frustration. If she could only knock it off the edge of the———

 

"-Keep your elbow down!- I saw it move———" His own hitched up.

 

"But it may be Matt, the man you saw bring me home. He knows I'm up here. If I don't answer, it'll be worse than if I do. I'll tell him I'm in bed, I'll tell him not to bother me———"

 

The continued ringing was an irritant, perhaps that helped. "Go ahead," he gritted. "Get rid of him." But the gun had come out now, was pressed into the soft flesh of her throat, just under the chin.

 

Her hand crept out toward the transmitter, cautiously, as if fearful of bringing on calamity if it betrayed too much eagerness. One of the breaks in the ringing had just occurred.

 

It didn't end! It stretched — it stretched——— Silence. The call was killed. He flicked her futilely-extended hand back with the point of the gun.

 

Her head dropped down on her chest with a swinging roll. He tilted it back with his free hand. Moisture squeezed out of her eyes.

 

"What're you crying for?" he scowled viciously. "You musta wanted to talk to him bad? You musta wanted to———"

 

She didn't make any answer. You don't reason with a hooded cobra or a hydrophobic dog or a time bomb. You can't. There was only silence in the room, waiting silence — and the three of them.

 

There were three of them in the room now, where only two had first come in. Death was in the room with the two of them.

 

Spillane touched the requisitioned passkey gingerly to the door, gun unlimbered in his right hand and standing well off to one side of the opening. He sent the freed door back with a stub of his toe and followed his gun in like a compass.

 

Darkness and silence.

 

The place swallowed him up. There was a wait. Then the snap of a wall switch and a gush of light. He came back again to the outside doorway, hitched his head at the empty hallway, and a lurking auxiliary materialized around a bend in it, almost as if by mind reading.

 

"Not here," Spillane breathed when he had approached. They both went in and he closed the door after the two of them.

 

Eleanor's picture was still where Turner had put it down after last looking at it.

 

"Pick your spit while we can still see," Spillane cautioned. "I'm going to kill the lights as soon as I try to get hold of her once more. He may show up from one minute to the next———"

 

He lifted Turner's phone, slotted the dial.

 

A voice said, "Good evening, Continental."

 

He asked without any introductory explanation, "Did she come in yet?"

 

The answer was given with immediate understanding, as though this was only the latest of many such calls, repeated at short intervals. "I'll try once more, but I don't think she has or I would have seen her." Then a period of vacant humming. The voice returned. "No, Miss Philips hasn't come back yet, her room doesn't answer———"

 

"Hold her downstairs at the desk with you, if she does!"

 

He hung up, eyed the picture somberly.

 

"I'd better get over there myself — and fast," he said. "She's got to be tipped off the minute she comes in!"

 

The other man had disappeared by now, though the room was still fully lighted. A low voice from behind a reversed wing chair said "I'm set. Give it the gun."

 

The wall switch snapped a second time, and they both disappeared.

 

"You sit tight here, we'll work both ends at once. He's still likely to come back here — if he can remember to locate it. If he does, don't take any chances — he's dynamite!"

 

"That's all right," the voice from behind the wing chair said dryly, "I used to be foreman of a blasting crew before I joined the outfit."

 

The outside door opened and closed again. Darkness and silence.

 

She was a rag doll now, a scarecrow in a stringy, silver dress, the beautiful thing that had alighted under the marquee downstairs so short a while before. But the will to live was left, continually seeking new outlets, groping, cajoling, tempting, keeping her on her feet when her flagging, beaten down spirit wanted to let her down in an inert heap at his feet.

 

" — and they put mayonnaise on them, and they toast the bread if you want them to; I've often had one sent up late at night———"

 

"Yes," he assented eagerly. "I haven't eaten since Tuesday night, before I went to that——— But how do I know you won't try to give me away?"

 

"You'll hear me, you'll be right beside me — I'll just give the order — not a syllable more."

 

"But when he comes up with it?"

 

"I'll have him leave it on the floor outside the door."

 

The hempseeds create a false, insatiable appetite, as well as distorting the time sense. He couldn't resist the picture she had so temptingly drawn for him. "All right, go ahead," he said truculently, and poised two fingers of his free hand directly over the transmission hook, ready to press down as on a telegraph key.

 

"But not into my cheek like that," she pleaded subduedly. "I can't speak clearly, it distorts my mouth———" He withdrew the gun a little, just beyond contact point.

 

She had it in her hand at last, at her ear; a skull that was still alive, sending down for sandwiches. She swallowed twice, to lubricate her strained throat. She was not going to try anything so foolhardy as to — that was not the plan. The will to live was too strong for that.

 

"Coffee-shop, please." His breath was coming down her forehead from above in a hot stream.

 

After a wait that seemed eternal, a voice answered.

 

She said: "Send up two sandwiches, double-decked and toasted———" Something wet fell on her forehead. "And coffee in a container, to 815." And she added, with quiet urgency, "-Just like the other night-. I can't seem to sleep."

 

The voice at the other end said, with sudden understanding: "Oh, you mean you want some of that sleeping-stuff I got from the drugstore for you to put into it again, Miss Philips?"

 

"A lot," she answered. "A lot———" And then as the connection broke, " — of mayonnaise." She replaced the transmitter as though its weight had broken her arm.

 

"What was that, just like the other night?" he demanded suspiciously.

 

"Not too sweet, I don't like the coffee too sweet."

 

"How do I know who you were really talking to just then?"

 

"But you heard me."

 

"How long will it take to get up here?"

 

"Oh, about five minutes," she said incautiously.

 

"Yeah? Well, we'll see. If no sandwiches have come in five minutes, I'll know you put something over on me, gave me away———"

 

This time her face turned ashen; more stricken than it had yet been since they'd come into the room. "No! Don't — you can't do that? That stuff has damaged your time conception — you think Tuesday night was a long time ago, and it's still only Tuesday night! You won't be able to tell———!"

 

He gave her a grim smile. "You seem frightened, Eleanor. If you just phoned down for sandwiches, why are you looking so white?"

 

"Let me call back, tell them to hurry it———"

 

He moved toward her with catlike agility. "You're not touching that thing again tonight! I was a fool to let you do it the first time!" He gave a foreshortened tug of rabid violence, and the phone cord dangled loose in his hands.

 

She ran a distracted hand through her hair. "Then in fairness to me, look at the clock over there? Set the time at which I made my call. Twenty-five minutes past four. See?"

 

He turned and glanced at it, but his face didn't change.

 

"Let me have a cigarette, in mercy's name," she breathed huskily.

 

He flung one at her. He began taking quick turns back and forth, directly in front of the room door. Every so often he'd stop and listen intently. There was silence inside and out. Only the sound her breathing made, and his velvety tread on the carpet.

 

The gun had stayed out. Presently his eyes stabbed over at her. "It's taking a long time———" he said threateningly.

 

She dropped the cigarette, as though it were top-heavy between her fingers. "But King, you're loading the dice against me," she moaned. "His coffee-maker may be out of order, he may have gotten off at the wrong door — any little thing like that, and you're penalizing me for it!"

 

"You didn't phone for any room service!" He had stopped pacing now. This was the showdown, at long last. She cringed back against the wall. "You gave way on me to the dicks, and they're probably on their way over right now———"

 

"But you -heard- me———"

 

"I can't remember what I heard any more. I can't think straight and you know it, you're trying to kid me——— I know how they close in on someone they're after; they sneak up and surround the place first. That's what's taking them so long. It's over half-an-hour already!"

 

Her head rolled dismayedly from side to side against the wall. "It isn't — it's only a little over three minutes! Look at the clock!"

 

She held out her arm, pointing, but this time he wouldn't turn. "You set it back. It's long ago you called down. I know how it -feels-!"

 

She only had one more dodge left. One more, and then the struggle for life was out of her. "Our song. Wait! I have it here———" She floundered across to a turntable, began shuffling through records with a furtive haste. One dropped, broke; another, a third; she didn't even stop to look at them.

 

She found one, fitted it on, set the needle-arm. Then she turned to face him, at last gasp. Already more dead than alive. He had already killed her, all but her body. Life wasn't worth this price, anyway.

 

The music came from behind her, seemed to well up out of nowhere in the room.

 

"King! Do you remember our first Christmas together? That little house in New Rochelle. The tree we put up. -Don't come any nearer-. The clock! It's only six minutes; he'll be here any———"

 

"Why did you have to give way on me? All I asked was to stay here in your room until the heat cooled."

 

"-Don't point it this way! Don't tighten your arm!- I'm going to get married again next month! I was going to be happy again, until you came here tonight! Don't take it away from me———!"

 

"Now I'm sure you squealed on me."

 

It crashed out like thunder, making the room seem smaller and lower-ceilinged than it was. She went down saying two things: "The clock!" and "I'm Eleanor!" Then she said one thing more, spoke a name he didn't know: "Matt!" Then she died on the floor.

 

"After you've gone, after you've gone a-wa-a-a-ay."

 

The record whined off into silence. The smoke thinned into invisibility. The knock on the door came just as the minute hand on the disregarded clock behind him nicked twenty-five minutes to five in the morning — ten minutes after she had telephoned down to the coffee-shop. A lifetime. A deathtime.

 

He pivoted, then stood there tense, without moving, gun ready again. The knob turned and it opened slowly. An aluminum tray covered with a napkin came in first, alone, as if suspended in mid-air. A voice came second, cheerfully unaware. ''Here y'are. How's 'at for quick service." A waiter's face came last, hitched back, smirking proudly.

 

He hadn't heard the shot. He must have been still coming up in the car shaft when it sounded. He looked in past Turner and gun, saw her there, like a rumpled silver flag lowered in defeat. His face turned flour-white. The tray slowly upended, somersaulted, went down flat with a crash.

 

The rest happened fast, while people behind other doors up and down the hall must have been still rearing uncertainly upright in their beds or trying to report over an unanswered telephone: "I thought I heard a shot up here somewhere."

 

Turner said, "In! In all the way!" and locked the bath door on the palsied waiter. Then he shoved the tray litter aside with his foot and closed the room door. Then he sprinted down the hall and around the turn and skidded to a stop on the rubber matting before the twin elevator-panels. He gouged a thumb into the push button.

 

There was a dial over each to indicate each car's position. An uncanny, an unbelievable synchronization, that might never have occurred again in ten years of nights, had taken place just as he arrived. The two cars were proportionately distant from him, one a floor below, one a floor above. The latter (evidently the same one that had discharged the waiter on its way up just now) coming down, the former coming up.

 

He shifted toward the dial whose indicator was descending toward "8." The effect of the fumes was beginning to wear off and perhaps he reasoned that a descending car would continue downward, while an ascending one would most likely continue upward, trapping him hopelessly in the building's upper reaches. In that slight step to the left lay eight or ten months' life, lay the difference between legal death and death by violence.

 

Both cars arrived simultaneously. The two slides slid back so in unison that it made one continuous motion toward the right — with just the interruption of a mail-chute in between.

 

The back of Turner's heel lifted into the one opening just as the hub of Spillane's toe preceded him out of the other.

 

The panel cut him off again, put bronze between them before there had been time for a full bodily glimpse, and Turner was soldering his gun like a blowtorch into the operator's spine. "All the way down — basement, and no stops!"

BOOK: Marihuana
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