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Authors: Cornell Woolrich

Tags: #Mystery

The Black Angel

BOOK: The Black Angel
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Cornell Woolrich

CONTENTS

1.
Angel with Whisk Broom
2.
Visiting Angel
3.
Announcement of Widowhood
4.
Farewell Scene
5.
Revery by Matchlight
6.
Crescent 6–4824
.…Marty
7.
Atwater 8–7457
.…Mordaunt
8.
Butterfield 9–8019
.…Mason
9.
Columbus 4–0011
.…McKee
10.
Butterfield 9–8019
Again (and hurry, operator, hurry!)
11.
Closing Scene

1

ANGEL WITH WHISK BROOM

H
E ALWAYS CALLED ME

ANGEL FACE
.”
THAT WAS HIS
name for me when we were by ourselves. That was a special thing, from him to me. He'd bring his face down close to mine and say it low. He'd say he wondered where I got it, that angel face. And things like that your husband says to you.

Then all at once it stopped. And before I knew it, it was weeks since I'd heard it. I waited for it to come again and wondered why it didn't. Then that stopped too.

His blue suit was missing from the closet, and that was strange. That was my job, to send things to the cleaner. I worked my way a little deeper in along the hangers. To the left, his side of the closet.

His gray one was missing too, and that was stranger still. Two suits at once? That was all he had, except the one that he was wearing.

If there hadn't already been one or two little things before this it would have been different. It would have been just a case of a couple of his suits gone from the closet. But there had already been one or two little things before this. And that made it something else again.

A lie now and then where there was no reason for a lie. There was the evening he'd spent with one of the fellows, had a few beers too many. No harm in that. I'd told him so. I'd said, “I didn't ask you, Kirk. You're the one is telling me.” Then, only a week or so later, when his companion of that particular night happened to be up in our apartment and I laughingly referred to the incident, why did he develop such a blank, puzzled look and give such a cagey, noncommittal answer? Until Kirk gave him a little signal on the side, which I pretended not to see, that seemed to work wonders with his powers of recollection.

Then there was the powder compact. He'd picked it up on the street and left it in the pocket of his overcoat. He saw me looking at it and he told me how he'd happened to find it. People do lose compacts. Even solid gold ones inscribed “To Mia from Craig.”

But then, on the very next day after that, no compact any more. I asked him what had become of it. “Oh, I got rid of it,” he said offhandedly.

But it had been gold, hadn't it? I tried to suggest.

“Nah,” he disabused me. “I thought so too, but I had a jeweler test it for me. It was just gilt metal. So I left it there.”

But would they be likely to stamp the symbol “14K” on anything that wasn't gold, as they had on this? I wondered privately. I didn't tell him that I'd glimpsed that on it. I don't know why. When you have an uneasy feeling that happiness is beginning to slip through your fingers you hang on as tightly as you can; you don't give it an added push away from you.

Little things like that, they made this matter of the two suits something else again, at sight.

But more than anything else, no “Angel Face” for weeks now. Only Alberta, that formal Alberta, never previously used, when he had anything to say to me.

They say everyone has to go through it at least once. They say the best is to let it ride, seem not to notice, and it will work itself out. They say. Try and do it sometime—when you're twenty-two and it's your first experience with it.

I'm a coward, I guess. I didn't tell Kirk I'd been to the jeweler where he said he'd left the compact, to try to reclaim it or at least make sure that it
wasn't
gold and he wasn't cheating Kirk. “What compact?” the jeweler said. “Nobody's been in here with any compact.” He might have been lying; I couldn't tell. Maybe I didn't want to know for sure.

What an odd name, Mia, I thought on the way back.

I saw her later. I couldn't tell for sure that it was the same person. It might have been somebody else with the same first name. But it was such a rare name. It seemed impossible that there could be more than just one person in the entire city with just that name. It was a publicity picture on the theatrical page of the evening paper. You know, that sort of thing they use at random to fill up space and not because of any intrinsic news value.

I remember I clipped the thing out, with the sort of morbid curiosity that makes you do those things, and slipped it under the lining paper in the bureau drawer, where no one but me was ever likely to find it.

It mightn't have even been the same person, for all I knew. But that was such an unusual, such a seldom-encountered first name.

I didn't try to talk to him about it. I was afraid to risk it. I buried my head in the sand like an ostrich, hoping it would blow over, go away, I wouldn't have to face it.

And now this business of the suits, and here it was anyway.

I turned away from the closet, white in the face. I went to the storage one in the hall, where he kept his valise empty and unlocked between business trips. I crouched down beside it, and the latch tongues wouldn't open; they were locked. I put my hand through the grip and tried to lift it clear of the floor, and it nearly pulled my arm out of joint, it weighed so much. Everything in it already, ready to go.

I let it down with a clump. It seemed to swim around a little, like a big leather boat, on the lake my eyes made. I said to myself: “It's not what you think. It's just a business trip for the firm.” But then why hadn't he told me? He always told me. He always let me do the packing for him.

I wondered when he'd found the time to do it. Probably that very morning; I'd found him up ahead of me. But more than that, even, I wondered how he'd found the heart to do it.

Something I'd once heard came back to me: “They're all cowards about having a parting scene. They'll grapple with an armed burglar barehanded, but there isn't one of them that won't slink out sooner than face a final good-by with a woman.”

I found myself by the phone, and I'd just finished dialing his office number. That whispered plea you heard in the waiting silence, that was me. “Make it a business trip. Oh, please, don't let it be anything else.”

I asked the big boss's secretary. She was nice. I'd met her once or twice. And, luckily, Kirk didn't happen to be in just then; that gave me the excuse to ask her instead.

“You don't happen to know just how soon he'll be going away again for Mr. Jacobs, do you? I forgot to ask him before he left this morning, and I happened to be going over some of his clothes just now and wondered if I should put them away in tar paper or wait a while in case he needs them to take with him.”

I wondered if that sounded as lame to her as it did to me.

“You don't need to worry about that,” she said. “He won't be going out again for months to come. Not until late spring. Everything's dead right now. I heard Mr. Jacobs say so yesterday.”

It was like something cold trickling into my ear from the receiver. I said a thing or two after that, but it was only sheer momentum that kept me talking; there wasn't really anything more to say.

I didn't even say good-by. She did, in a way. A way that showed she was no fool. Just before she hung up I heard her murmur almost compassionately, “Don't let it get you too much, honey.”

I don't remember what I did for a while after that. I think I just sat there on the telephone bench. Then outward movement came back again, slowly at first, in spurts and starts that finally worked themselves up into a flurry of action ending in a crashing exit.

I went in and opened the bureau drawer. I turned back the dust-paper lining and picked up that thing I'd taken out of the papers weeks before.

I knew what she looked like by heart by this time. That scrap of newspaper she was on should have been worn ragged by now, the number of times I'd pulled it out and looked at it when I was alone in the place.

She looked as lovely as only a publicity photograph can make them look. Probably one and a half times as lovely as she really was. She was brunette, as the Rachel powder in the compact had said she would be. Her eyes were wide and languorous, and her lips had a sullen, pouty look. She looked good to stay away from, but then I'm not a man; probably it worked in reverse with them. She was indicating a rose on her shoulder with one slender, upcurved hand. What supported it, the rose, was uncertain. There wasn't a sign of anything, until the lower frame of the picture cut across her just a moment too late. The caption below it read: “Mia Mercer, one of the attractions appearing nightly at Dave Hennessy's Hermitage.”

This time I didn't put it back. I hung onto it. I didn't want to hang onto her photograph; it was him I wanted to hang onto. I took it out to the kitchen with me and propped it up against something. I reached blindly all along the upper-case cupboards until I'd located and toppled down that bottle of ceremonial gin of his. I didn't know very much—yet—about the procedure of using it. That was his province, not mine. He was very good at fixing it with things like mint and lemon, but I didn't want cordiality now; I wanted courage. I let out a little into the jigger glass and gulped it down. I thought some plaster had fallen off the ceiling and hit me on the chest for a minute.

I sat there staring at her picture and hating her hard. I let a little more out and gulped that. The plaster didn't hit me this time. I started to feel a slow glow inside me instead. I sat there and stared at her some more.

I guess it was the gin made me decide to do it. It must have been. The gin made everything seem so easy, so plausible. I would have shrunk from it, unstimulated. It would have seemed like something out of
East Lynne
or
Camille
. The gin made it seem logical, perfectly natural, and by no means a futile thing to do.

I went in and started to get dressed. Dressed for calling, that is. I took more pains dressing for her than I ever had dressing for him. And yet he was the one I was dressing for, in a roundabout way. I had to be careful. Enemy eyes.

Finally I was ready and I got out fast. I knew if I didn't go quickly I'd never have the nerve to go at all. The two jiggers of gin were wearing off, so I stopped just long enough to gulp a third and last to see me through.

BOOK: The Black Angel
6.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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