Bloodlist Chapter 11
THE SILHOUETTE OF a head eclipsed the lights of the cabin. It looked familiar. I moved my hand in a feeble gesture to it, my fingers brushed against heavy satin. Not too far away I heard a woman draw a sharp breath, making a little surprised noise, the kind women make when they open a drawer and find a bug lurking in their frilly things. My ringers closed on the satin, but let go almost immediately because there was no strength in them. The angle of light changed on the silhouette and revealed some bony features.
’’Take it easy, old man, there's no hurry.’’
Escott? What the hell was he doing here? I blinked and made an effort to get my eyes working again. He was a little green in the gills himself, and for some odd reason he was wearing that silly purple bathrobe of his. My hand had clutched at the heavy quilted lapels.
’’Isn't that too warm for the weather?’’ I asked idiotically.
’’There was no time to change.’’
’’My invitation here was rather abrupt.’’
I thought about that one and blinked fully awake. ’’What the hell are we talking about?’’
’’You're concussed. Just take it easy and you'll sort things out soon enough.’’
He made it sound as though everything were fine, but something was going on that was very wrong, and I couldn't take it easy until I found out what. I got my elbows on the floor and pushed. Escott helped and I was sitting up, resting my back against a table leg. Feeling for damage, I found a bloodied patch on my head. It was sticky and the hair was matted.
Escott moved and I could see the rest of the room. I was the center of attention of four pairs of eyes.
Bobbi caught my attention first. She'd been the one who gasped when I first moved;she couldn't be blamed for that since she thought I'd been killed. She was in a loose black garment, her version of a bathrobe. Her face was drained of color and pinched, her hazel eyes wide with whites showing. She sat rigidly on the window seat, her hands clutching the edge of the cushion with her shoulders up by her ears. I smiled at her and tried to make it reassuring with a slight wink, and she relaxed, but only a little.
Next to her but not too close was Slick Morelli. His eyes were big, too, his whole body radiating tension. Of the two of them, he was the most frightened. For him this was the third time I'd returned from the dead.
God knows what was going on in his mind as he stared at me.
To the left, backed against the cabin door, was Gordy, his head crowding close to the low ceiling and his silenced .45 automatic in his big hand.
It wasn't aimed at me, but at Escott. Maybe he'd wised up somehow, I couldn't tell with him. He was looking more worried than scared and his eyes would twitch to one side, then back to me.
The fourth pair of eyes were sunk deep in gray hollows, studying me and missing nothing. They were eyes that should have belonged to a victim of starvation, but their owner was anything but underfed, chronically unsatisfied, perhaps, but not underfed. The brown bristle of the beard ringing his lower face camouflaged the spare chins and made his head look like it was growing straight from the shoulders without the convenience of a neck. The skin on his bald dome was dull, and I wondered if he was unhealthy or just shaved too much. He alone looked almost relaxed, but then he apparently knew exactly what he was dealing with, in his hands and cocked with the wood bolt aimed at my heart, was a crossbow.
Escott followed my gaze and looked apologetic. ’’Sorry, Jack. He turned that one up from my collection.’’
’’How much does he know?’’
’’Rather a lot, I fear. Allow me to introduce you to Lucky Lebredo, the rightful owner of the list.’’
’’I know he's the owner.’’
’’Then you know I want it back,’’ he said. He spoke as though the least amount of contact with me, even verbal, would somehow soil him.
’’How did you find this out?’’ I gestured at his weapon.
His eyes flicked from me to Escott. ’’Tell him.’’
Escott sighed and settled himself against the other table leg. ’’I'm afraid it got started when you rescued me from Sanderson and Georgie.
Mr. Lebredo, through channels he refuses to divulge, got my name from Georgie Reamer. Being interested in Paco's activities, he became curious as to why a relatively unimportant private agent as myself should be so permanently put out of the way, and how I managed to avoid such a fate.
Georgie said I had help, and so Mr. Lebredo had a watch put on me and I was followed. He must have been a very good man, too. My trips to your hotel were noted and he became aware of our association, and had you followed as well.’’
’’Yes, even to there.’’
Lebredo had a look of supreme disgust on his face. It was fine with me;I didn't like him, either.
’’He learned of our visit to Frank Paco and of the little incident in the alley behind the club which cost me a bloodletting. He learned that you had been killed, apparently at least, by Morelli's man during a clumsy attempt to obtain the list. The same day he visited your room to search for it and found you in your trunk and wondered how you got there from the street. The earth in your trunk struck him as being very odd. He is not an ignorant man, nor an especially superstitious one, but it did require some effort to piece his bits of information together to a logical, if unlikely conclusion. Your plaguing of Morelli confirmed his guess, and tonight he decided to make his move.’’
’’So he kidnapped you to use as a lever?’’
’’Yes. As I said, I had little choice in the matter when three of his men came crashing through my door. I couldn't put up much of a fight with these stitches, either. I am most frightfully sorry about the crossbow.’’
I looked at Lebredo, he made me forget how much my head hurt. There wasn't much to read in his face except for disgust, and that got old pretty fast, so I looked at Bobbi instead to see how she was taking all this. She was holding up fairly well, considering she was learning some things about me the hard way, that is, if it was making any sense to her. Her mouth tightened. I think it was meant to be a smile, at least she wasn't afraid of me and that was something.
’’I want the list,’’ said Lebredo in a flat voice. ’’I want it tonight.’’
’’It talks,’’ I said.
The crossbow moved slightly, I was one finger twitch away from dying permanently. ’’Gordy,’’ he said.
The .45 went off, the big silencer cutting the roar down to a manageable level. Escott jumped, jerking his hand. The bullet had gone between his spread fingers where they had rested on the floor. One of them had been nicked, he put it to his mouth. The guy had real guts, he wasn't even shaking. His eyes were on Lebredo, bright and cold. If their places had been suddenly reversed, Lebredo would have been dead and not easily.
The fat man ignored him and spoke to me. ’’I will give you that one warning. The next time Gordy will shoot off his arm.’’
Things were still, hearts and lungs were working hard. There were too many to tell one set from another, but I didn't need that kind of information to know he wasn't bluffing.
I drew a short breath. ’’Okay. I'll get it for you.’’
’’Jack--’’ said Escott.
’’It's all right. I've remembered. Between Morelli and this boat, things jogged into place. I know where I left it.’’ I looked at Morelli. ’’I also know what you and Paco and Sanderson did to me.’’
’’But it wasn't--’’ protested Morelli.
’’Be quiet. Slick,’’ said Lebredo.
’’But it couldn't--’’
His voice raised slightly. ’’I won't tell you again.’’
Morelli shut up.
’’That's better. Your skepticism is understandable, but your boundless stupidity is not. If you still need more proof, look at the girl's neck.
The marks there are small, but not invisible.’’
Escort's eyebrows went up and his mouth popped open and shut before he blanked out his face, wisely deciding that my love life was my own business.
Morelli was not quite as liberal minded and he pulled at the neck of her wrap. Bobbi tried to shrug him off, but he forced her to hold still.
When he saw them he let her go and crossed the room to get away from her. He even wiped his hands on his clothes. Bobbi glared at him--no woman likes that kind of rejection--then her eyes glazed at Lebredo.
’’You fat, stinking bastard.’’ She got up and went to the door, stopping inches away from Gordy. Gordy looked at Lebredo for a cue, seemed relieved when he got one, and moved aside. She tore the door open and left. Morelli started to object, but Lebredo curtailed it.
’’This is a boat, where can she go? Her faithlessness can be dealt with later, or need I remind you that you were the one to encourage it to start with? You have forgotten that women are very dangerous children and should not be trusted.’’
’’For now, we'll consider how to deal with you. You and Pace betrayed me to get the list for yourselves--
’’And why'd you go to Paco for it, huh? You could have asked me.’’
’’I'm not stupid enough to send an ape to look for a banana and expect to get it from him. I went to Paco because he obeyed orders as long as there was sufficient money, but he went to you, which was a very bad mistake. He found out exactly what he was looking for, then you both decided to keep it. I should have guessed at what was going on when you both disappeared for three days.’’
’’We still didn't get it.’’
’’That was very fortunate, or else I should have to take it back from you, perhaps even trying the same method you used with Fleming.’’
’’Try it and see how long you live. New York wouldn't stand--
’’Your New York friends and I have an agreement. They understand how valuable I can be even if you do not. I made sure of that. They're running a business these days and have learned that hotheads like you are a liability. Don't rely on them to avenge your carcass, because your crude actions have put you in a very bad spot. Three times you had this man in your hands and you failed because you didn't take the trouble to look for his weak points and play on them.’’
Morelli shook his head and went over to the bar to pour out a stiff one.
He drank it down straight and poured another, then lit one of his cigars.
’’Put that damned thing out,’’ I said.
He seemed surprised that I spoke to him but wasn't about to douse it on my order, so he kept puffing. I slowly got to my feet so as not to startle Lebredo. My head was still bad, but not unbearable. I went to Morelli, yanked the cigar from his mouth, and crushed it.
’’That is really a disgusting habit you got.’’
He hit me in the face with his fist, this time I didn't fake being hurt by the blow. It jarred my head a little, but for him it was like trying to punch out a tree. He yelped and clutched his hand. I grabbed the scruff of his neck and tossed him across the room. He smashed against the wall, sank to the floor, and didn't move. I went to the window seat and dropped onto it, tired. Lebredo and Gordy hadn't budged, which was fine with me.
’’All right, let's go get your stinking list and clear this up.’’
’’Where is it?’’ asked Lebredo.
’’I hid it in the big library on Michigan Avenue, up on one of the shelves. I'd have to show you where.’’
Gordy shook his head. ’’He gave us that kind of story before.’’
’’You weren't pointing a gun at my friend's head then.’’
’’The library's closed now,’’ said Lebredo.
’’I have a way to get in. Let's go get it if it's still there.’’
’’It had better be.’’
Morelli groaned and rolled over. That decided Lebredo, he didn't want to stick around for any debates. He took Gordy's gun in one hand, leaving Gordy free to find some rope. They had Escott stand and his hands were tied behind him and a gag was forced into his mouth.
’’Gordy’’ It was Morelli, looking groggy. ’’For Chris-sake, kill Lebredo.’’
Gordy paused, not turning to look at him. ’’I can't, Slick, you know I can't.’’
Morelli got unsteadily to his feet, leaning on the table.
’’I'm not going to forget you said that, Slick,’’ Lebredo told him. ’’Gordy knows better than to cross me. He knows what defenses I have arranged if anything happens to me, and so do you.’’
’’Damn you Goddamn you--’’ There was a soft click and Morelli threw his knife. It was the last thing he said and did. Lebredo ducked and fired twice. Morelli twitched back from the impact and lay still. He stared at us and we stared at him. Lebredo gave the gun back to Gordy and we all filed out.
Lebredo either had control of Morelli's crew or replaced them with his own men;either way they got a rowboat ready for us without questions on the gunplay below. Gordy and Escott got in it first, along with a man to handle the oars. They reached the pier and their figures left the boat and slowly climbed the steps. They waited for us just outside the cone of light from the streetlamp. The boat returned and I got in, clutching the sides and trying not to think about the black water all around and the crossbow behind me. It took forever to row to the pier. My presence made the passage difficult for the oarsman. He was puffing and covered with sweat from the effort when we finally got there. I thankfully climbed up the steps. All I wanted was plenty of land between me and the water.
Morelli's big car was waiting for us on the road. Escott and Gordy got in the front seat, Lebredo in the back. They put me behind the wheel and the first thing I felt was the crossbow brushing my neck. I could have whipped around and grabbed it, but that would have left Escott with a stomach full of lead and a convenient lake to sink him in. Lebredo, poker player that he was, held all the cards. I started the car, worked the gears as smoothly as I could, and drove to the big library.
As directed, I parked on an empty side street in between the glow of the two streetlights. Lebredo told me to get out. I got out.
’’No tricks, no funny stuff. You get it and come straight back here and I'll tell you where your trunkful of earth is.’’
’’You took it?’’
’’Ask your friend.’’
Escott nodded in confirmation, his shoulders drooping. He was feeling responsible for the mess and could do nothing to make things right again.
Lebredo went on. ’’You wouldn't have had it if you didn't need it. I put it in a very safe place, just in case Escott wasn't enough of a lever.’’
A lot of things to call him came to mind as I glared at his impassive face. I might have been able to take him out, but was in a tactically poor position to take care of Gordy as well, and he was looking nervous.
I pushed away from the car and walked around to the front of the library. It was well after two, but there were still a few lonely cars cruising up and down the street on their own business. A block away a beat cop was rattling doorknobs, but I couldn't ask him for help.
Explanations would take too long and Gordy could cut him down easily enough if Lebredo told him to. The cop might even be one of his blackmailing victims, Benny O'Hara had made that much clear. For the moment I was stuck.
I went inside and re-formed, climbing the stairs quietly to the right floor and keeping a look out for a night watchman. I was still dressed in what was left of my haunting clothes, odds were the guy would either shoot or have a heart attack at the sight of me.
It was a big place;my steps echoed loud in my ears, the quality of sound giving me the creeps. I found the right section and went to the very back to the correct shelf. Raising a hand, I felt along the top, but my fingers scrabbled over smooth bare surface. Nothing was there.
Partially dematerialized I let myself float up. The shelf was clean. Of all the lousy times to dust the joint I forgot to concentrate, went solid, and dropped to the floor with a jolt.
Damnation. And a lot of other useless words.
Lebredo would never buy it. Escott was a goner. I fumed and cursed and accomplished little in the way of coherent thought, wanting to tear the place apart, especially the jerk who had been cleaning. The papers could have gotten anywhere after all this time, most likely they were long lost to the garbage.
I sulked past the main desk. The wastebaskets were empty. Just for the hell of it, I rooted around. Some of the drawers were locked, but after seeing the handles were strong enough, I broke them open anyway and discovered the lost-and-found box.
Envelopes, magazines, a purse, eyeglasses, and a sheaf of loose papers.
The two sheets I wanted were mixed in with them. If I'd been breathing I'd have sighed with relief.
Lebredo's flat eyes took on a kind of gleam as he watched me return and get back in the car. Escott gave me a questioning look, I nodded, hoping Lebredo would keep his word and knowing that that was a long shot at best. Feeling naked, I turned my back on him and watched him in the mirror.
’’Hand them over.’’
He took them and leaned back to examine them in the dim light. Escott's eyes were closed and the air hissed softly from his compressed nostrils.
He wanted me to do something, but I was stuck until the situation changed. I was hoping Lebredo would not make his final move in the car.
’’Very good,’’ he said, folding them into his pocket with one hand. ’’Now you will drive where I tell you.’’
This was it, the kind of one-way ride that Chicago had made famous, only I was the chauffeur.
’’You got your stuff, let him go.’’
’’No.’’ A simple, unarguable denial. ’’Stan the car and drive. I can kill you both now or later, I think even you would prefer a little more time.’’
His undisguised disgust for me was reciprocated, but I did start the car. Teeth and gears grinding in frustration, I followed his directions.
The route was familiar. Escott and I exchanged puzzled looks as I completed the last order and turned the car into the driveway that led to Frank Paco's big house.
I braked next to the front door. Gordy got out and pulled Escott with him. Lebredo heaved his way from the back and held the crossbow on me as I emerged. The place was dark and quiet except for the sound of crickets and our feet crunching on the white gravel.
’’Is my trunk here?’’
''Open the door.’’
It was unlocked, the others followed me into a marble-lined entry hall.
The air still had a sharp, smoky tang to it and the ceiling showed signs of discoloration from soot. The electricity had been fixed. Lebredo hit the lights. I blinked in the sudden brightness. He wasted no time, planting his broad feet carefully and taking aim.
I tried to buy more time. ’’Why here?’’
’’Why not? Paco's men found you here the night of the fire. They've been squealing that often enough to save their skins from the arson charge, so the police know it, too. You've been connected with Paco and Morelli, the police will jump to the easy and obvious conclusion that Paco's men killed you out of revenge.’’
’’In an all-too-obvious location, don't you think?’’
’’A thin case for the district attorney's office, but a suggestion or two from me and the investigation will go no further.’’
’’They're on your list, too?’’
’’A few key people.’’
’’You don't ask them for money, do you? You don't really need it;it's being able to tell people what to do, to make them sweat.’’
’’But you don't have to do this. You must know I can be very useful to you.’’
’’But the only way I have of controlling you is with Escott and possibly Miss Smythe, and such an arrangement would be complicated and clumsy. If I can't have complete control over someone, I don't bother;my present arrangement is satisfactory. It's much simpler to kill you, you're too much of a threat to me and everyone else.’’
’’I can't see you doing this for the sake of saving humanity from my kind.’’
’’That's right, I'm doing it for myself.’’ He pulled the trigger.
I wasn't over running water this time, the second his finger tightened past the halfway point I vanished. The wooden bolt cut through the space where I'd been and imbedded in the wall beyond. At the same time a gun went off.
I hurtled past Lebredo, materialized in front of Gordy, and grabbed the gun from him. He offered no resistance even when I shoved him hard into Lebredo. Both men staggered and Lebredo's hard-to-balance body went down.
I expected to see Escott dead or wounded because of my delay and Gordy's speed, but he was standing, white faced, looking out the open front door. Gordy did, too, then glanced down at the grunting man on the marble.
’’Hey--somebody got Lucky.’’
I truly believe he never meant it as a joke, but outside someone laughed. Bobbi walked stiffly into the room, both her small hands held together clutching a gun. Her lips were knife thin, her face hard with hate. We all stepped away from her, except for Lebredo, who was gaping and glaring in sheer disbelief. He'd forgotten to take his own advice about women.
Gordy made a helpless gesture. ’’Bobbi, why'dya do that for? You know what'll happen to me?’’
’’I know how to take care of it,’’ she finally said. She was having trouble talking. Her breath was uneven as she tried to hold back the tears.
Escott made an impatient noise. I pulled the gag out. It took a moment for him to work the saliva into his mouth to talk. I unknotted the ropes on his wrists. He thanked me and went to check Lebredo.
’’Keep away from him!’’ Bobbi's voice went up to a near-shriek. Escott stepped hastily back and looked at me.
’’Bobbi’’ I said.
’’I heard him in the car. I heard him telling Gordy what they were going to do with you and how they were going to get rid of Slick's body.’’
Lebredo twisted himself upright with some difficulty. ''Gordy, take the gun from her. You know what will happen to you if I die.’’
’’Oh, do be quiet,’’ Escott said irritably. He had the right idea. The more Lebredo opened his mouth, the worse he made things for himself.
Bobbi made a short, sharp noise, like she wanted to call him a name but couldn't think of one bad enough. Instead, she pulled the trigger.
Lebredo yelled and grabbed his shoulder.
’’For Godsake, Gordy!’’
She fired again, clipping him in the side. Her eyes squinted slightly as some of the gun smoke drifted into her face.
Lebredo bared his short, blunt teeth. ’’You dirty little whore, I'll make sure you--’’
She gave out a strangled half-scream of rage and fired again, hitting him square in the face. He flopped back spread-eagled, his big stomach jiggling a little, then going still.
No one moved for quite a while. Bobbi's face took on more normal lines.
She seemed smaller in some way. Without looking at us, she carefully wiped the gun down with the hem of her black wrap, placed it on the floor, and walked outside.
Gordy chewed the inside of his lower lip and looked worried.
Escott heaved a sigh, then calmly picked up his crossbow and clucked over some scratches on the stock. He went through Lebredo's pockets, fastidiously avoiding the silent red explosions, and pulled out the list, offering it to me.
I shook my head. ’’You keep it, I don't even want to see the damn thing.’’
I gave him Gordy's gun and went outside.
Bobbi was leaning back against the car, her arms crossed with one heel resting on the running board. Her hair was a tangled, damp mess and her makeup had been smeared by a good cry. She was just beautiful.
I was hesitant to approach her, but she looked up and smiled wanly.
’’I was afraid I'd be too late, I thought he'd gotten you.’’
’’How did you get here?’’
’’The minute I was out of the cabin I rolled my shoes up in this robe and went overboard. It's not a long swim to the pier, and a person swims better naked.’’ Feeling modest now, she pulled the wrapper more tightly around her shoulders. ’’I knew he'd use the car sometime, so I hid in the trunk.’’
’’Are you all right?’’
She nodded. ’’Now I am. I didn't think I could do anything but when I heard him talking--it doesn't seem like I did it now, it's like it happened to someone else.’’
’’He made it easy.’’
’’I wanted to help you and to get back for Slick. He was a roughhouse, but sometimes he was good to me. I guess it's not just bodies after all.’’
’’Where'd the gun come from?’’
’’It's Slick's. He always kept a spare in the glove compartment. The cops'll think he did it.’’ She looked at the open door of the house.
’’He couldn't do it and be dead on the yacht.’’
’’He can if we get Gordy to help.’’
’’Lebredo's got some stuff on him, that's why Gordy had to play the stooge. I figure it's with his lawyer. You can imagine what kind of lawyer Lebredo had. We just offer him more money and buy it from him.’’
And if he doesn't sell?’’
’’Then you can burgle the place. From what I heard you've got a real talent for it.’’
’’You don't mind what I am?’’
’’I don't care about that. You are what you are. You don't judge me, I don't judge you. But could you tell me how you got this way?’’
’’Because of a woman.’’
She shook her head and laughed a little. ’’I guess we're starting even.
I'm the way I am because of a man.’’ She went tiptoe and kissed me. ’’Come on, let's get this mess out of the way. I'm tired.’’
With Bobbi's persuasion, we called a truce with Gordy. He drove us back to the yacht while she explained what she could do about Lebredo's lawyer. All Gordy had to do was transport Morelli's body to Paco's house so it'd look like they shot each other. I guess in a remote way they had.
’’With any luck,’’ she said, ’’no one's going to know they're dead for a couple of days at least, and by that time we'll have found your stuff.’’
Gordy nodded agreeably, he trusted her. He set the brakes and started out of the car, and I grabbed his shoulder.
’’Where's my trunk?’’
’’Trunk?’’ He winced. I eased my grip.
’’Lebredo took it,’’ said Escort. ’’Where is it?’’
’’But he didn't, said it was too much trouble. He told me to go along with him on that. He just let it drop to keep you both in line.’’
I shook my head. ’’A bluff.’’
Gordy shrugged. ’’Poker was his game.’’ We all got out and watched him walk down the pier to the rowboat. He started talking to the oarsman, telling him about the change of situation.
’’I hope he remembers to leave his gun with Lebredo so the bullets match up,’’ I said.
’’He might also wish to clean the clip and the unspent bullets left in it of any prints as well,’’ Escott suggested.
’’I'll make sure,’’ said Bobbi.- ’’We may need the car. Will you be able to get home all right?’’
’’Yeah, I'll call you tomorrow night. Promise.’’
She kissed me again and went to join Gordy.
’’What a very remarkable girl,’’ Escott commented as we walked slowly away, headed for my car that I'd parked near the club.
’’I think so.’’
’’You know this makes us all accessories after the fact?’’
’’Yeah, but do you think she should go to jail?’’
’’Not for a single hour.’’ He looked like he wanted to say more, but he was tired and it was a long walk for him. He eased into the passenger seat with a grateful sigh, then pulled out the list and squinted at the figure-covered pages.
’’Benny said something about substitution.’’ I started the motor.
’’Then it shouldn't be too difficult to solve.’’ He nodded at the eastern sky. ’’You'll have to hurry, the dawn does not wait.’’
’’I should be the one to say things like that.’’
’’Yes, but you're not as melodramatic as I am.’’
’’That's a shame. Considering what I've become, I really ought to go in for it.’’
His eyebrows twitched. ’’You're not seriously thinking of acquiring a black opera cape?’’
I chuckled. ’’Don't be ridiculous. It's the wrong season and they cost too much anyway.’’
He looked relieved.