Chapter Five

Good thing for me that I didn't mind having Angela wise on where I'd gotten to; in fact, I wanted her to know I was keeping Opal company. Then she might be more inclined toward setting up another face-to-face talk, and I could put this whole circus to bed in a few hours and go back to my typewriter.

I shut off the radio to better hear the other side of the conversation, but apparently Angela was as fast at giving orders as she was at making escapes. When I turned again it was to find Opal in the process of drawing a gun out of her purse. She aimed it square at me, one-handed, as she held the receiver in the other. My own hands slightly raised with the palms out, I tensed and waited to see if she was going to shoot. A dozen of her fast heartbeats went by with neither of us moving or blinking.

"You know how to use that?" I finally asked. It was a short-barreled .22 revolver, apparently double action since she didn't bother to cock it, one of the easiest guns in the world to use. Just aim in the right direction and pull the trigger like kids do when they play cops and robbers; it wouldn't have much of a kick and the balloon-popping noise of the shot would go unnoticed or ignored in this kind of joint. The bullet might not even go through the walls.

"Angela taught me," she said.

Opal had enough confidence in her manner to make me think twice about trying any quick moves. I could go invisible and get the drop on her, but decided to let things play themselves out. If she was going to shoot me, she'd have done so by now.

"I've got him," she said into the phone.

"Okay, put him on," said Angela, her voice thin through the wires. "Don't let him get close enough to make a grab."

Opal set the receiver down, backed off a few paces, and told me to pick it up. Too bad Angela hadn't told her to search me; I'd lifted a .38 off Tinny at the house and tucked it into my coat pocket just in case things got hot tonight, but didn't see much advantage to it right now. Besides, I was beginning to like Opal in spite of her associates, so I obliged her and said hello into the phone.

"Fleming?" Angela made it more of a demand than a question. She sounded pretty fed up.

"None other, Miss Paco."

"You're getting to be a pain in the butt."

"I do my best."

"You lay one finger on Opal and I'll skin you alive with a dull knife."

"She's safe. Besides, with that gun on me I'm much too scared to do anything."

Opal gave me a "go to hell" look, but I was used to those.

Angela made a growling sound in response. "What do you want?"

"Just to finish our conversation."

"You've got a hell of a nerve after leading the cops in and breaking up my place."

"Hey, that was nothing to do with me."

"I don't believe you."

"If I'd been with the cops, then I'd have had Opal down at the local station house answering a lot of questions right now, not sitting in this dump waiting for you to haul your act together. I'm sure they'd be fascinated to find out what Big Frankie Paco's little girl has been up to for the last few days."

"You-" She broke off into rapid, and probably very rude, Italian. The connection faded, followed by a sharp and loud clunking sound. My guess was she'd slammed the phone against something hard. The lady had a short fuse tonight.

"Hello?" I said patiently, eyes toward the ceiling. "Hello-hello?"

After a few minutes, where I heard a lot of raving and swearing in the background, she came back on again.

"What do you want?" She still sounded mad, but was in control of herself.

"To continue the little talk we were having before all hell broke loose."

"So talk."

Fine and dandy with me, but you can't hypnotize people over the phone. I can't, anyway. "Set up a meeting place, anywhere you like, and I'll be there. Or you can come here yourself. You can be certain that Opal's not going to let me go running off."

"I don't have time for this tonight."

"Make the time, Miss Paco. Your prize bookkeeper is standing here and not too happy about things. She's under the impression that you're going to take care of her.

You wouldn't want disillusionment to set in, would you? It'd be very easy for something like that to happen in an outhouse like this."

"You say one word-"

"I know, the dull-knife routine. So put some grease on the wheels, Miss Paco, and get things moving. We'll be waiting for you."

I hung up.

Opal squawked and for a second I thought she'd shoot, not in anger but from reflex, since she seemed to forget all about her gun. I got my hands up again and backed hastily away, making calming noises.

"What'd you do that for?"

"Seemed like a good idea at the time. I can see it was rude of me. Did you still have to speak with Angela?"

"I need to know what she wants me to do."

"Keep me covered just like this, but I'd appreciate it if you didn't shoot until after your boss and I have had our talk."

No more than a minute went by before the phone rang again. I'd expected Angela to call back with more instructions for Opal and I was right. Opal grabbed the phone up and they talked close. I didn't let on I could hear both sides. The upshot was no surprise: She wanted Opal to sit tight until a couple of her boys came around for us.

"What about the car?" Opal asked.

"One of them will drive it back for you."

"Angela... ?"

"Yeah, what?"

"I-I sort of accidentally told him about the money at the roadhouse."

"You what?"

"I didn't mean to, it just came out."

A long silence from Angela.

Opal got nervous. "I'm sorry, it was an accident, please don't be mad at me."

"Okay, okay, calm down, lemme think."

Opal waited, chewing her lower lip. "It was an accident."

"Yeah, yeah."

"He was asking a lot of questions and it just came out. Then he told me not to talk about it or I might get hurt."

"I'll just bet he did. Okay, don't worry about it. I'll take: care of it for you. Just don't say anything to anyone else."

"I won't, I promise."

"And make sure he keeps shut about it, too."

Damn. Maybe I should have told Opal to completely forget she'd mentioned the money in the first place. Now Angela had a whole new reason to kill me. Again.

A few more reassurances from her boss got Opal to feeling better, then Angela asked for me. Opal backed away and once more I said hello to Angela.

"So you know about Kyler's little nest egg?" she asked sweetly.

"Not nearly enough. Your girl shut up before she got too detailed."

"Uh-huh, but the damage has been done."

"What? Are you thinking I'm going to run out to chase down buried treasure?

She's got a gun on me."

"You're a smart operator, you could get away from her if you really wanted to."

"But I don't want to. We need to talk."

"That's what you keep saying. I want to know why. What's so important that you want to take such a risk?"

"No risk, Miss Paco," I hedged, trying to think of something that would hold her attention. The truth wouldn't do here.

"Well?"

The something I needed jumped into my brain just in time. "I want to go to work for you."

Silence, then a bark of laughter. "You what?"

"Chaven's dead, a lot of your boys were probably arrested tonight, Deiter, Chick, and Tinny ain't coming back-yeah, I took care of them-and Doc's gone with the booze most of the time. With all that working against you, I'm thinking you can use all the help you can get."

She sputtered, actually sputtered. "Like hell I-"

"Especially since Sean Sullivan's coming into town to take over Kyler's spot."

That completely shut her up for a moment. "How do you know about him?"

"You said I was a smart operator. Who am I to argue with a lady?"

"I don't believe you," she repeated, but her tone didn't go along with her words.

She had some doubts, and plenty of them.

"Your loss."

"Why would you want to work for me after I've been trying to kill you?"

"Because I figure if you'd really been trying, I'd be dead by now." It wouldn't hurt to throw a little flattery at her, but it had to be the right kind. Telling her she had beautiful eyes wouldn't work in this situation.

"You're right on that," she said, sounding wanner.

"But maybe after your boys haul me around to see you, I can convince you of my sincerity. As a sign of my good faith I won't mention that seven hundred grand to them on the trip over."

"Or I can just have them kill you when they get there before you even open your mouth."

"I'm willing to take that chance," I said dryly, trying to imitate Escott. He would have done it better with his accent, but I wasn't half-bad. I made her laugh.

"Okay, Fleming, Doc was right, you've got balls."

"And they're at your service."

Another laugh. "Don't get fresh. My boys will be there in about half an hour."

This time she hung up. I didn't mind, she was due a turn.

"We've got some waiting to do," I told Opal, and gestured at the silent radio.

"Sure you don't want to change your mind about those fox-trot lessons?"

"Angela's going to hire you?" She looked like she'd just bit a bad lemon.

"With any luck."

"I don't believe it."

"The boss lady said about the same thing, but she'll come around."

"I think it stinks. Besides, if it's so bad for me to be working for Angela, why is it okay for you to want to work for her?"

Oops. Damn good question. Not one I could answer, either. As I had Opal's full attention, it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity. "Opal, you need to forget that. Don't even bother to think about it. Okay?" The bad-lemon look went away as I concentrated on her.

"Okay."

Funny thing, or maybe it wasn't so funny, but I didn't have the least temptation to take Opal's blood while I was putting the eye on her. It would have been about as exciting as kissing one of my sisters. Just as well for both of us, I suppose. "Why don't you go to the other room and freshen up? I'll be all right here. Take your time and don't pay attention to anything I do. Just put the gun down. It'll be here when you get back."

"Okay," she said, her voice flatter than usual. She left the gun on a table and went into the bedroom, then the bath. Before the door had shut I was dialing Shoe Coldfield's number. He caught it halfway through the first ring, must have fairly pounced on it.

"What the hell's going on?" he wanted to know.

"I got a little sidetracked. Hasn't Charles checked in? I thought that movie would be done by now."

"Yeah, he called from the theater. He'll be back soon, but you-"

"I'm still working on things. I got started hammering out a truce with Angela-"

"A truce? With her?"

"-then the cops raided the joint..." I filled him in on the rest of it, and not without a lot of argument. He didn't want to believe me either, and I couldn't blame him for it. One of these nights I'd have to sit him down and tell him some important details about myself, then I wouldn't have to work so hard trying to persuade him about my ability to get things done. Of course, if it all worked out the way I wanted in the next few hours, I wouldn't have to, since Escott and I wouldn't need his help and protection anymore. Speaking of Escott... "And you can tell Charles I got her to call off the hit on him."

"You must be a miracle worker, kid."

"I didn't say it was easy, but we should all be back to normal pretty soon."

"Normal? There ain't nothing normal about this shit and don't try to tell me otherwise."

"Okay," I said cheerfully, knowing he couldn't take a slug at me over the lines.

"But pass all this on to him when he gets back and tell him to give my girlfriend a call for me so she won't worry so much."

"Can do. Just how were you able to get Angela to-"

"Charm and good looks go a long way with her."

His comment to that was somewhat less than polite, and grinning, I had to hold the receiver away from my ear.

"I wouldn't worry about it," I said when he paused for breath. "I gotta go now, sounds like Opal's coming back." Which wasn't strictly true, but why take chances? I hung up and paced around, shutting and locking the entry door almost as an afterthought.

Opal came back after a minute or so, picked up the gun again, and resumed scowling at me. If she'd powdered her nose I couldn't tell. I sketched a wave at her and turned the radio back on. I was feeling pretty damn cocky with myself and needing to work off the energy. The dance music was still playing, and I made a few turns with an invisible partner.

"You're nuts," said Opal, eyeing me with disdain.

"Maybe so, but I have fun. Come on and give it a try." I turned again and tried a dip.

"Angela told me to keep you covered."

"Hey, we're practically business partners now, so all that's off."

"Not until Angela tells me so."

The gun routine was boring me, and besides, she looked like she never had a good time in her life. I fixed her with another look. "Relax, Opal. Put the gun down and come take a dance lesson."

She blinked, then put the revolver back on the table. As a subject for suggestion, she was a dream. Maybe what I was asking of her was very much in line with what she really wanted. She came over and I waited until the blankness in her expression cleared.

"It's easier than it looks," I said. "I'll just hold this hand, then you put the other one here, and you start off counting one-two-three-four, one-two-three-four..."

Her feet seemed glued to the floor and no wonder, with the galoshes still on her shoes. Good grief, we were both still in our coats and hats. I decided to ignore them and make the best of it. After a minute she relaxed and the glue came slightly loose; she actually followed my steps, albeit on very stiff legs, staring down the whole time to watch where she was going.

"There, you're dancing, girl," I said after a minute, thinking she could use the encouragement.

Then she raised her head just enough to look at my tie and smile-a twisting of her lips that was there and gone in an instant. The muscles of her face probably weren't used to such acrobatics. Maybe I was wrong and it was a only twitch of concentration or maybe a wince of pain, but I hadn't stepped on her toe or kicked her shin.

I kept counting. She got confused, so I slowed down, and told her she was doing fine, just relax and listen to the music. She couldn't seem to do both at the same time, so we didn't magically turn into a poor man's Fred and Ginger, but I could tell she was really trying. I didn't repeat the hypnosis stuff; there are some things in life that it just won't work on and this was one of them. If Opal was going to dance, it would be on her own.

The song ended and I stepped back and made a little bow. "You ain't half-bad, ma'am."

"I was terrible," she stated. "I watched the dancers at the studio. I know."

"Ahh, give yourself a week and you'll be dancing circles around 'em. You're supposed to be so good at numbers, right? People good at numbers always make great dancers."

"They do?"

Well, I didn't know for certain, but assured her of the truth of it. "Hey, they're playing a waltz, and that's even easier. Hand here and here, one-two-three, one-two-three." More clumsy steps from her, but I'd been just the same years back. My mom, God bless her, made me take lessons when I'd been in short pants. I'd hated dancing then and had gotten into fights about it with some of the rougher boys at school.

Then I changed my mind when I realized it was a great way to spend time with girls.

Most boys go through a girl-hating stage; mine was remarkably short-lived.

"Oh! I'm sorry!" She landed square on one of my toes.

"Never mind, keep going." I got her to the end of it without either of us crashing to the floor. A coal commercial came on, interrupting the music. "There, we're not exactly Vernon and Irene Castle, but we could do okay at the Stardust Ballroom."

"We could?" she sounded doubtful.

"Well... maybe with a little more practice."

She nodded. Honesty was the best policy with her. Then her face twitched again.

No, it was a definite smile. Gone in a flash, but real. It did nice things for her, but I chose not to comment about it. She'd smiled to herself, after all, and it seemed better to wait until she was ready to share before I intruded any opinions on her.

"Did you like it?" I asked.

"I guess so."

She was usually much more decisive when expressing opinions. "Only guess?"

"I... my..."

"What?"

Her face was all screwed up until she finally managed to blurt it out. "My-my aunt told me if I danced with boys I'd have a baby."

I was very careful not to laugh. She'd flushed deep red at this confession. "Well, one thing can lead to another and maybe it could happen, but if all you do is dance, then you don't have to worry about having babies. What other bright things did your aunt tell you?"

She shrugged, eyes down.

"Your aunt raise you?"

"Yes. She didn't like me much."

"I'm sorry to hear that. You have a tough time with your family?"

"I don't want to talk about them."

Answer enough. "Okay. Then how about telling me about the last book you read?"

"Why?"

"To fill the time until Angela's boys get here. I know I'm fascinating, but it's your turn to talk."

A suspicious look. "Is that another joke?"

"A half-assed one, but yes." I dropped into the chair by the radio, throwing one leg over the thinly cushioned arm. "Okay, about that book..."

I lived to regret it. Instead of a popular novel, she'd last pored over some thousand-page cure for insomnia that had to do with mathematics. For ten minutes she nearly quoted chapter and verse to me of the whole damned volume while I tried to make sense of it and look interested. I wanted to keep up the encouragement with her, figuring she didn't get much, but every man has his limit.

"Whoa," I said, finally raising a hand. "What are you doing here? Why aren't you at some college teaching this stuff?"

I got a blank look for my question, and she wasn't under my influence. "Because I couldn't pass the entry exams."

"They're not that hard. I mean, if you can get this math down so solid-"

"That's all I can do. English, foreign languages, history, I don't know that stuff.

Just numbers."

"Pretty one-sided."

"It stinks."

"Yeah, but it's fixable. Learning stuff just takes practice, like dancing or playing the piano. Ever learn piano?"

"No."

"Maybe you should try. I bet you'd be good at it, it's all numbers, y'know."

"It is?"

"My girlfriend could find you a teacher to get you started. In a few months you could be the life of the party with your playing."

She shook her head. "That's not for me."

"How do you know until you've tried?"

I could tell from the way she scowled at the floor she was about to come up with another negative kind of answer, but someone banging on the door interrupted her.

She went all alert and scrabbled for her gun.

"Who is it?" I bawled out. It was too early yet for Angela's goons to have turned up. I put my hand in my coat pocket to assure myself the .38 was still there.

"The manager," a man called back. I recognized his reedy voice.

"What's the problem? Don't tell me we were making too much noise."

"I have a message for you from Angela."

I glanced at Opal, who was equally puzzled. "This is fishy," I whispered. "Go back to the bedroom for a minute."

"I can take care of myself."

"Yes, you can, but I need you to cover me in case there's trouble. Angela doesn't want either of us turning up dead if we can help it. Is there a fire escape at the window? Good. Get it open nice and quiet and be ready to run."

"To where?"

"You know the all-night theater across from the dance studio? If we get separated I'll meet you there."

"What about Angela?"

"Call her later. Now get behind that bedroom door. If you hear me say the word kosher, get the hell out and don't look back. Promise?"

She nodded, chewing her lower lip.

The manager knocked again. "Open up or I'll use my key."

"Awright, awright, keep your shirt on." I took my time to give Opal a chance to take care of the window. She came back and nodded from her shelter behind the bedroom door. I slipped the bolt, pulled the entry door two inches toward me, stopping it with my foot, and peered through, trying to put on a disgruntled face. It wasn't hard. "What's the problem?"

In the slice of hallway within view I could see the manager was ghost white and sweating. The smell of his obvious fear put me instantly on edge, but I didn't let any of it show. Behind him stood several men in blue uniforms. What the hell? Another raid? Or had some alert member of the Chicago police force tracked us all the way here from the studio?

"Let us in, Mack," said one of the cops.

There were three of them and another guy in plainclothes. "What's this about, Officer?"

"You'll see," answered the plainclothes man. His voice was sharply familiar, then I got a look at his face, knew him: Lieutenant Calloway, one of the cops who had been square in the late Vaughn Kyler's pocket.

"What's going on here?" I said loudly, drawing inside a bit and putting a hand up as if to rub my eyes. "You got a warrant to come in? It ain't kosher unless you got a warrant."

"I'll give you kosher," the first cop said, and started to shove his way past the door.

"Son of a bitch," said Calloway, grabbing his friend's shoulder and staring at me.

"It's you!"

He and I had had a run-in the other night at Gordy's club when he'd still been working for Kyler. I'd won. When he woke up out of the sleep I'd put him in, he'd been plenty sore. Right now he looked like he wanted to pay me back for the humiliation. With interest.

He pushed the uniform and the manager out of the way and started to bull in. I let him come. In fact I grabbed his arm and dragged him in, swinging him around like a square-dance partner as I slammed my weight against the door to stop the others. I shot the bolt, which might buy me a whole five seconds of time until they broke through. I heard thumps and cursing on the other side.

Calloway had his gun out, but I was moving fast now, lots faster than he could follow. I slapped it from his grip, then got his skull between my two hands and made him look at me.

" Take a nap," I whispered with as much force as I dared. His eyes rolled right up in his head and he fell like a brick. As his friends started banging their shoulders in earnest on the door and the hinges began to rattle loose, I took an instant to roll the man's body up against it. Maybe it would buy a few more seconds.

I shot through to the bedroom and was happy to see Opal was already gone.

Good, good girl. Now I grabbed the iron-framed bed and hauled it around to block this door. More time for us.

The window was open, the curtains flapping in the strong cold breeze. I clambered out and shut it behind me, then looked for Opal. She'd made the street and was clumping toward the Caddie.

Damn. She'd forgotten I still had the keys.

I went invisible and slipped down the stairs without a sound, going solid again as soon as I reached the sidewalk and began running toward her. She heard me coming, and glanced back in panic.

"It's me," I called. "Keep going!"

She kept going until she got to the car and tried the door, but I'd locked it earlier.

I got the key out, opened it up, and all but bodily shoved her in. No squawks of objection this time. Jabbed the key in the ignition, hit the starter... and nothing happened. I cursed and tried again, checking that the gears were right. Nothing.

"They must know the car and have done something to it," I said. "Get out and keep moving. Hurry!"

She did just that on her side, and I did the same, catching up with her in a few long strides.

"Put your gun in your purse," I told her. "We don't want to attract attention."

She shoved it out of sight. "What's going on?" she demanded, all breathless as we hustled along the walk.

I looked back at the hotel and saw cop cars blocking the street, their lights flashing in circles, bright red patches moving against the surrounding buildings. "I think some of Sullivan's boys are wise to this place and decided to check on it. My guess is that he's the one behind the raid on the dance studio. They had no real reason to bother otherwise, there's no election coming up just now."

"Sullivan? But those were cops at the raid."

"Kyler had some on his payroll, didn't he?"

"Yes..."

"So Sullivan just moved in and picked up the reins. Jeez, he must work as fast as Angela."

"But those were cops." She looked like someone had just told her the truth about Santa Claus.

"Bad apples in the barrel. The ones on the take sometimes do things for the mob.

I thought you knew that."

"I just know numbers." She stared straight ahead, a stubborn set to her mouth.

Right. Another subject she didn't want to talk about.

"We have to call Angela," she said. "Have to tell her what's happened."

"I'm all fork, kid."

"Don't call me kid!"

"Okay, I'm all for it, Opal, but first we get clear of all this and-"

Two cops stepped around the corner and stood right in our path. They were smiling, not at us both, but specifically at Opal. She wasn't hard to miss, and for all I knew the whole Sullivan mob had a description of her right down to her wire-rimmed glasses. They'd probably been beating the bushes for her since she disappeared with the books.

"Hold it right there," one of them said, drawing his gun.

"No need for that," I said. "Calloway told me to get her back to the studio."

"That's not what he told us."

He was too far away for me to chance jumping him, but at least his attention was on me, not Opal. "He changed his mind."

"Since when?" Great, now his partner had his gun out.

"Why don't you ask him? In the meantime I've got to get her-"

"I don't think so, wise-ass," said the first one. "Turn around and start walking back. We'll all ask him when we get there."

I tried focusing on him, but nothing happened. We weren't close and the light wasn't good enough for him to see my eyes clearly. Opal began to slip her hand into her purse, but I put an arm around her shoulder to stop her. "Take it easy. I'll get this worked out." She shot me a worried look. I winked back, but like the cops she seemed not to see in the darkness.

"C'mon, you an' your girlfriend head back to the hotel."

"I'm not his girlfriend!" Opal snapped.

They just laughed, which made her madder. I tightened my grip and muttered to her to calm down and do what they wanted. As our little parade proceeded along the street, Opal shrugged hard to shake my arm loose. I obligingly let go.

"What'll we do? " she whispered out of the side of her mouth.

"I got a plan," I lied. "Just let me do the talking." That seemed to settle her for the moment; as for myself, it only made my palms itch. The cops here could scrag me if they wanted-for all the good it would do them-but I wasn't sure of their intentions toward Opal. To anyone with brains she was more valuable to Sullivan alive since she had information on where the books were, but who said any of these mugs had brains? Maybe Sullivan was looking to make an example of her on what double-crossers could expect from him.

Sullivan...

What the hell, since I couldn't talk to Angela, then Sullivan was my next best choice. If I worked things right he could be a whole new cat to skin and nail to the wall. My date with Miss Paco would just have to wait.

The cops urged us toward the hotel until we reached its street entry with the cracked glass on the doors. Calloway was outside now, fully awake again, standing next to one of the squad cars, hands on his hips, looking both worried and disgusted until he caught sight of us. Then he looked delighted. On his face it was not a pleasant expression.

"Caught 'em at the end of the block, Lieutenant," said one of the cops.

Calloway was all but licking his lips over Opal, then he focused on me. "Fleming."

What a load of bright hatred the man could put into one word. That the one word was my own name did nothing to ease my worry about the situation. This might be a lot harder than I'd anticipated.

"You know this bird, Lieutenant?"

"I know him. Kyler told me a thing or two. You keep your heaters on him, and if he even tries to look cross-eyed at you for a laugh, plug him."

While his friend held his gun in my face the cop slapped me down and found Tinny's .38 in my coat pocket. After that they seemed to relax, thinking they'd made me safe to be around. They didn't even bother to search Opal or her purse. "He was with the girl. Tried to pass himself off as being with us. Thinks he's smart."

"We'll see how smart. Bring 'em inside."

The lobby had two cops in it, neither of them doing much to lift the tone of the place. The pale manager was off to one side, still looking scared. I didn't see any signs of the hotel's customers. Maybe they were making use of the fire escapes themselves.

"In there," said Calloway, pointing across the lobby to some double doors. They'd probably once sported etched-glass panels to match the ones out front, but the glass was long gone, leaving sad, gaping openings into darkness. One of the cops pushed ahead and hit the light switch. It looked better in the dark.

Opal and I were herded into the hotel's radio room, but the radio wasn't on and probably hadn't worked in two decades or so, it was that old a model. The chairs and sofas meant for the comfort of its listeners were as worn and dusty as the rest of the place, and the ancient rug was so thin, patches of drab flooring showed through in spots. I wanted to take a bulldozer to the joint and put it out of its misery, preferably with crooked cops like Calloway and his friends still inside.

Calloway was a stocky man but with a strangely thin face, and one ear stuck out farther from his head than the other. Put that with sallow skin and cigarette-yellowed teeth and he was anything but leading-man material. He lit up a smoke, then gave Opal another lip-smacking once-over, probably already spending whatever reward Sullivan had offered for her return. "You the bookkeeper?" he asked her.

"Yes. Who are you?"

"Never mind." He looked at me. "And what are you to little Miss Opal the bookkeeper, Fleming?"

"I'm just looking out for her."

"Uh-huh. Well, you ain't doing such a good job, are you, kid?"

In here the light was just fine. I focused on him, not too hard; I didn't want his boys getting wise. "What are you going to do with us?"

His face went a little slack, but it couldn't be helped. "Take you to see Sullivan."

"And where is he?"

Then one of his very helpful friends in uniform stepped in and slammed a fist into my right kidney. My change had toughened me up, but he was big and it was a hard enough hit for me to feel it. My legs buckled from the impact; Opal gasped and grabbed at my arm. I didn't quite make it to the floor, but it was a near thing. She kept me shored up until I could stand without wobbling. That son of a bitch had bruised me good.

"The lieutenant asks the questions here, Bo," the cop belatedly informed me. I remembered him from a couple nights back, Calloway's partner, Baker.

Any reply I might have had wouldn't have endeared me to him, so I kept my mouth shut and rubbed my bruise.

"You're not with Paco," said Calloway. He'd snapped right out of it, but I could put him back under as soon as it suited me. "I know most of Frank Paco's people, and you're not one of them either."

I kept shut.

"So who the hell are you, Fleming? And just why did Kyler think you were so dangerous?"

I threw a sideways look at the cop who'd hit me. He was grinning, indication that it would be his positive pleasure to pop me again. He wore brass knuckles. Jeez, no wonder he'd hurt me. "Kyler was nuts, not like Big Frankie, but nuts all the same, right? I just rubbed him the wrong way is all."

"You rubbed him out is what I heard."

"Not me, Chaven did the honors. Thought he could take over running things. He planned to work something out with Angela Paco, but she didn't want any of it."

"And how do you know that?"

"I heard things. Last night I was in the room when he put four slugs into his boss."

"You were, huh?"

"Yeah. Followed you and Baker from the Nightcrawler Club after you missed your chance to take out Gordy."

He'd been drawing a long pull on his cigarette and suddenly choked. Smoke came out of his nose and mouth. One of the cops started to thump him on the back, but Calloway waved him off. "You-"

"Yeah, me." I pretended to look around at the others. "Oops, did I let any cats out of the bag?"

The guy behind me. I caught the start of a movement from the corner of my eye, whirled, and sidestepped out of the way of his fist at just the right moment. He missed me and it threw off his balance. He recovered fast and looked ready to make another swing, but Calloway nixed him.

"Can it! Let him talk!"

Baker subsided, eyes full of hate, all aimed in my direction. He resumed his post behind me. I could hear his breathing.

"So you heard things at Kyler's?" Calloway prompted.

"This and that. Not too much because Chaven was in a hurry. He corked Kyler, but before he could plug me next, I jumped through a window and ran like hell." Not exactly, but the truth wouldn't do me any good with this bunch.

"And how do you know about Angela Paco's plans?"

"I was also at what was left of her daddy's mansion last night."

"Busy boy."

"I was-wasn't I, Opal?"

She nodded, looking serious.

"I had my ears open; I heard plenty. Angela took a shine to me and hired me on."

"To keep an eye on Opal?"

"Something like that." I hoped Opal would stay quiet until I played things out.

"Well, I'm firing you for her."

"Not a good idea, Calloway."

"Whyzat?"

I spread my hands, looking confident. "Because Sullivan's gonna want to know what I know about Angela and what she's got planned for him."

He thought about it, then shook his head. "And I think you're just gassing on to keep yourself alive."

Time to try again. "Listen to me, Calloway. I'm telling the truth and you know it."

His face went blank again, just for a few seconds. It was enough. Then his brow furrowed. "Listen... to you?"

"Yes. The best thing you can do is leave Opal where you found her, clear your men out, and take me to see Sullivan."

It must have been the complete opposite of what he really wanted to do, because he didn't fall all over himself trying to obey me. His expression clouded up as he struggled against it.

"Lieutenant, listen to me..." I put on a little more pressure, but it must have spooked Baker; the bastard popped me in the same place. This time I did hit the floor. Just to my knees, but it shattered the fragile link I'd made.

"Like hell I will," Calloway said somewhere above me.

Opal had dropped back this time; maybe she'd seen this kind of thing before and knew that she couldn't help me.

I should have told him to do one thing at a time, like having him get rid of his men first, then I could have gone full force on him. Live and learn.

"Now, what's the real story, punk?"

"It's what he just told you," said Opal.

We both looked at her in surprise. Calloway because she'd not been much of a participant until now and me because I didn't think she knew how to lie.

"Angela wanted him to watch me, like a bodyguard. I don't like him, though."

"Stop, my heart's bleeding," he said.

"I don't like you either. You'd better let us go or-"

"Or what?"

She bit her lower lip. "You'd just better, that's all, or there'll be big trouble."

"The only big trouble is the kind coming to you, four eyes."

Opal flushed red again, but from anger. "Don't talk like that to me!"

I lurched to my feet. Baker braced himself for an attack, but I hobbled over to Opal instead. "Take it easy," I murmured, touching her arm. "He's not worth it."

She shook me off, glaring.

"He's only trying to provoke you, don't give him the satisfaction. Just keep quiet and-"

"And what?" asked Calloway.

I turned back to him. "And give me a chance to get things worked out with your boss. You are planning to get us to him sometime in the next month or so, aren't you? So how about you leave off taking cheap shots at the lady and start things moving?"

He looked ready to belt me one himself, but held off, his bloodshot eyes going all hard. Then that unpleasant smile of his came back. "Okay. It's gonna be a positive pleasure. I can't wait to see what Sullivan does to you."

No reply from me, I knew when not to push my luck.

"Where's the phone in this dump?" he demanded.

"One at the desk," someone answered.

"Keep these two on a leash till I get back." He stalked out. I could see him through the empty panels turning his charm on the cowed manager at the desk. He got the phone he wanted and made a call. I could guess it was to report in to Sullivan.

Opal tugged hard at my coat sleeve, getting my attention. She didn't voice any obvious questions, but her face was eloquent. She was scared and mad. I knew the feeling. I patted her hand.

"Don't worry," I whispered. "They're not going to hurt you."

Baker polished his brass knucks on his shirt and laughed once. I wanted to pay him back for that and a couple other things, but it'd have to wait. The other three who'd followed us in all had their guns out. I wasn't about to tackle the whole team with Opal still in the room.

Calloway didn't take long and was full of orders when he got back. He sent one of his men out to fix the Caddie and his return signaled our general exit from the premises. I hoped the next joint would have better atmosphere. Before we'd quite got through the lobby, he made us all stop again and ordered another man to cuff me and Opal together.

"Hey-no need for this," I protested as he latched my right hand to her left. Opal gave out with a similar set of complaints, to no avail. They told us to shut the hell up and get moving.

"This stinks," said Opal.

"Goes double for me, sister," I grumbled as her big purse bumped against me. I thought about the .22 she had in it, but thinking about it was as far as it went.

There's a time and place for stuff like that, and it wasn't here and now. The right moment would come, preferably when I was with Sullivan, and then I wouldn't need a gun. If he wasn't loony like Kyler, I'd be able to deal with him, then Opal and I could both climb out of the jam pot.

Two cops held the front doors wide for us, and out we went into the cold wind.

Opal shrugged down in her coat.

Cars in the street: noise, exhaust, bright headlights. A big Packard that must have wandered into the seedy neighborhood by mistake swung around the corner and prevented us from jaywalking to the Caddie.

I saw what was wrong the same moment as the others and grabbed Opal, dragging her down. She yelped, the only human voice I heard before the machine-gun fire blotted everything out.

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