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Enter Without Desire
This page formatted 2007 Blackmask Online.
All characters, names, places, and incidents in this novel are purely fictional. No part of this novel is based on actual incidents or real persons—which is unfortunate: in real life I would very much like to meet an Elma.
Copyright, 1954, by Ed Lacy. Published by arrangement with the author. Printed in the U.S.A.
I sat there, waiting in this dull Bronx back yard, the gun in my right pocket, safety off. It was simple... wait till he was on top of me, one shot in the heart... then run across the lot to the car. Sid had an ordinary looking heap; nobody would notice it, or the license number. The license number—that was one of the chances I had to take—one of the too-many chances.
But this would work, if my luck held out. IF... IF... Damn, I hoped to hell he didn't have a wife and kids, looked too young for that, but even if he did—I had a wife and kid, too. God knows I didn't want to kill this detective, but I was caught in this web,
to do it.
No point in thinking about that—more important to think of some way of disposing of the gun. Couldn't pull the same gag about losing it on Tony again. Well, have to work that out, somehow. Sloppy thinking on my part not to plan.... Hell with plans, no time for it. Not like the other one.
Marshal Jameson, the promising young sculptor, sitting on his butt in a strange Bronx back yard on a sunny afternoon... carefully planning his second murder.
I grinned, a sour, nervous grin—I was damn near bawling. Me, who'd never hurt a fly, waiting with a gun for a...
I heard a car stop in front of the house. It was five to three. The dick was on time. I stood up and peered around the corner of the alley. He was alone.
I waited: no running from this, no backing out. Or was killing the easy way out for me?
ON NEW YEAR'S EVE day I couldn't take it any longer. Nothing special happened, the same old rut. But just as there's a boiling point, there's a breaking point, and I sure had reached it You can only go so far without a victory, even a little victory. And I was simply sick of the loneliness, the damp cold, of being hungry, of being a flop. I tried getting high on some homemade raisin wine, nipping at a quart of it during the day, but that didn't help.
New Year's Eve really didn't mean a damn to me, but somehow I felt entirely lost this time. And the wine wasn't doing a thing for me. I had exactly eighty cents in cash. And seven bucks in the postal savings but the p.o. was shut. It was six o'clock, getting dull-dark: and I looked at the stinking kerosene lamp, at the can of beans and hunk of fish I was going to have for supper, and thought... I can't stand this any longer. I'm going to New York.
Now there wasn't a thing waiting for me in New York, and I'm the guy who knows how lonely a big city can be, but right at that second all I wanted was to be with people, with all the milling impersonal people of Times Square on New Year's Eve. I wanted to see smiles, hear noise, even lots of drunken noise.
Taking my one suit out of the cedar bag, I heated a pan of water and shaved, found a clean shirt. My overcoat wasn't in bad condition and even being dressed made me feel a little better. I walked through the village, along the road that led to the highway. I never wanted to see my shack again—or any of my lousy, unfinished statues.
My luck took a change the moment I reached the highway. A sleek roadster stopped the first time I raised my thumb. A beefy young fellow in a tux was at the wheel. He asked, “Want a lift?”
“That's what I'm standing here for. Trying to get to the city.”
“Hop in. I'm headed for 62d Street and Madison Avenue.”
“That'll be perfect,” I said, getting in, feeling the rich softness of the leather seat, the power of the car as he shifted gears. The car was his badge of the thing I lacked most—security.
The guy pulled a cigarette from his breast pocket—not a pack but one cigarette. As he lit it, he asked if I wanted one. I shook my head, got my pipe out.
“Going to a New Year's party?”
“Call up a few people, see what's doing,” I said, casually, as though I was really on the town, had some place to go.
“Lousy night. I'm stuck with this dinner party at my aunt's. Boring as bell, but you know these family things. Been an unusually raw winter, hasn't it?”
It was his car; the least I could do was make conversation. “Yeah, it's been pretty rough.”
“I live in Easthampton.”
“You're quite aways out,” I said. “I'm at Sandyhook.”
He said, “Oh,” as though I was a freak, added, “You an artist?”
“I don't know. Trying to be a sculptor.”
“I knew some bim who hung around there couple summers ago. Said she was a model. Built like a goddess but very ordinary between the sheets. Took me all summer to... Say, didn't know anybody lived in those eh... shacks during the winter. Must be rugged.”
We didn't talk for a while, then he said, “Watch this,” and put the gas pedal on the floor. We cut through the twilight at seventy an hour and he handled the car well.
In less than twenty minutes he hit the outskirts of Brooklyn, or maybe it was Queens, and slowed down to a normal forty miles an hour. He said, “Doesn't make sense, my speeding to a dull evening. How about a shot of anti-boredom syrup?” He reached over and pulled out a nearly full pint of rye from the glove compartment. He took a long drag; then I wiped the bottle and took a big gulp.
Either that rye was damn good stuff, or it was the raisin wine and the fact I hadn't eaten a decent meal in a long time, but I was nicely high and mighty when we pulled up in front of a ritzy apartment house on East 62d Street. We took another drink while the doorman pretended he didn't see us; then we shook hands and wished each other a Happy New Year's and I floated down the street.
For a moment I was almost going to brace the guy for a buck, but I can never get that drunk. Only a buck would have been a big help. I mean all I wanted was a few beers to sort of bring the new year in—all that sentimental crap—but I was in a sentimental mood. I had a few people I could call, but at a dime a call that would slice my eighty cents to hell.
I reached 55th Street and was thinking how empty and cold Madison Avenue seemed, when it began to rain a little. That lousy rain tore it. I cut over to Broadway fast—to be near people. The rain hitting my face was as cold and damp as my shack, made me want to scream. I felt chilled to the bone.
Dropping into a drugstore, I had a cup of coffee and felt better, even though the bastards charged me twenty cents. I sat in a phone booth and decided I'd better stop acting like a one-man jerk—I didn't have enough money to be alone. I dialed Marion, almost hoping there wouldn't be any answer.
“Hell-ooo?” Her voice sounded as spirited as ever. “Marion, this is Marsh. Marsh Jameson.” I tried to sound cheerful. “Merely called to wish you all of the best.”
“Marsh, boy! When did you get into town?”
“Little while ago. Friend drove me in.”
“How's the work coming?”
“Slower than I expected, but I'm getting on,” I lied.
“Dear boy, I'm going to a party at the Martins—you know Robb and Ida Martins? Maybe you don't. He's a writer, knocks off these terrible western stories, cowboy drivel, isn't that zany? Makes scads of coin at it, too. He's giving a shindig where you're supposed to come as a cowhand, or an Indian, or something silly like that. I'm going with a young chap named Tony, a...”
“One of your bitter young men?” I asked, and the words sounded as phony as Marion Kimball, as I said them.
“Of course, darling. He's even more bitter than you were —lost several toes in Korea. Oh, much more bitter than you,” Marion said, mocking me. Marion who'd been my mother, my mistress, and a real friend. “Point is, why not join us at my place in about—anytime you wish before eleven? You'll have a good time.”
“Well... sure I won't be in the way?”
“Nonsense, I'll be the belle of the ball, falling in with two men. Look, if you come around nine, I'm cooking a turkey, and you remember my pies...”
“Sure, the career woman who showed them she could cook, too.”
“Marsh, you're such an angry slob I love you. I have an extra Indian hat, lot of feathers... Coming up?”
“Well... I was supposed to call a... Look, if I'm not there by ten, don't wait. And Happy New Year, Marion dear.”
“Same to you, Marsh darling, and do come over. Need any money?”
“I'm loaded. See you.”
I hung up. It was batty; I liked Marion, I was hungry and broke, ten minutes before I was thinking of putting the bite on a stranger, yet I knew my clumsy pride was going to make me turn her down.
I called Sid Spears, who owned the shack I was living in. He gave me the, “Marshal! Great to hear your voice. How you making out, finished anything yet?”
“Kiddy, we're having open house tonight. Drop in any time after ten, all the drinks you can blot up. If you want to spend the night here... Hell, there's the doorbell and Laura is soaking her fat can in the tub. Drop in. Okay, kiddy?”
I said maybe and hung up. Sid was a swell guy but some day I'd clip him when he gave me that kiddy routine once too often.
I walked toward Broadway with forty cents in my kick. I had two parties to take in and knew I wasn't going to either. I didn't know why, merely that I wasn't going. I'd have a few beers and hang around Broadway till morning, take the subway to Flushing, hit the highway and try to thumb a ride back to Sandyhook.
Only I couldn't take this damn rain.
To be honest, rain scares me, always did since the time I played football. You can get hurt—unexpectedly and badly hurt—on a slippery, muddy field.
I passed a theatre; people were lined up waiting to get in. Wondering what show could pull in a crowd on New Year's Eve, I stopped. It was some radio quiz program called TAX-FREE!
The last person on line was a mild-looking old man. “How does one get tickets for this show?” I asked him.
“Get in line. Take in the first thousand people. But you don't have to worry, line's small tonight.”
I stood behind him and felt better—I was no longer wandering around, I was now doing something; even if it was something dumb, it would be a way of killing a few hours, getting out of the rain, away from the cold.
We moved up slowly and the old man said, “My wife bawled me out for coming tonight. This is the third time. Maybe I'll be called, though, I figured it would be a short line.”
“Called for what?”
He lifted his bushy eyebrows as he turned to glance at me. It was a neat movement and I should have tried a quick sketch of him. “Called as one of the contestants, get a chance at the prize money. You see they're supposed— or that's what they say—to pick every fiftieth person. But they don't.”
“Oh. They don't?” I asked to make conversation, maybe see those eyebrows go into action again. The soles of my shoes were those rubber things you buy in the five and dime and cement on yourself, only mine were so worn I could feel the wetness of the sidewalk. As the saying goes, I was truly beat to my socks.
“All a matter of advertising,” the old man said indignantly. “Let me tell you, advertising is ruining the moral fiber of our country. Why from the ads in the subway you'd think holding up women's breasts and under-arm odor were the only and greatest American industries. The impression foreigners must have of our country.”
“I understand their impression isn't any too good, even without the bra ads. This show sponsored by a bra company?”
“No, no, a soap company. Merely using bras to illustrate the power of advertising. As we go in, they'll ask where you come from, and your occupation. If you come from a small town, or have an unusual job, why they pick you, whether you're the fiftieth person or not. I'm a retired school teacher, nothing sensational. But if I were a cop or a soldier, or wearing a funny suit, or said I came from Alaska, they'd pick me.”
“What happens if you're picked, get a box of soap?”
The old man worked his eyebrows again as he gave me an annoyed look. “You get a chance to answer the four questions, and a hundred dollars for every right answer, tax-free. The two couples making the most money get a chance at the jackpot question. And the money balloon.”
“Sounds exciting,” I said, tired of talking to him. The coffee had worn off and I was getting high again. All I wanted to do was sit down and get out of the cold.
We finally made the doorway where two handsome men with practiced smiles gave each one a fast handshake, asked, “Where are you from, sir? What's your occupation?”
They merely shook hands with the old guy, but when I said, “I'm a sculptor from Sandyhook,” I thought they would faint with happiness as they pumped my hand, shouted, “Congratulations! You are the 400th person to enter the theatre! Go up to the stage, sir, for a chance at TAX-FREE DOLLARS!”