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Lead With Your Left
This page formatted 2004 Blackmask Online.
Tuesday NightWednesday MorningWednesday AfternoonWednesday EveningThursday MorningThursday AfternoonThursday NightFriday MorningFriday AfternoonFriday EveningSaturday Afternoon
This is entirely a work of fiction; all names, characters, and incidents are purely imaginary. While I hope the people in the book seem like real people, they are not intended to represent any specific person or persons, living, dead, or about to be born.
It was a few minutes before eleven when I unlocked our door. The dumb lamp we had in the two-by-four “foyer” was on. The lamp looked like a drippy flower and cost fifty-seven bucks strictly because it was imported from Denmark. If all their lamps are like this job they must be blind over there. I could just about make out the couch opened as a bed, was surprised Mary was in the hay so early. I called out softly, “Babes?” She didn't answer.
I took off my coat and tie, then my shoulder holster, went through my pockets and put everything on the table beside the lamp. I dropped my suit on the floor; it was due for the cleaner's anyway and we only had one closet and no room for soiled clothes. I went to the John and washed, afraid I'd wake Mary if I moved the Chinese screen in front of our “kitchenette” for a snack. For a hundred and twenty bucks a month you'd think we'd have room enough to move around. But not at this “good” address on East Sixty-ninth Street. Still I couldn't entirely blame Mary, I got some kicks out of living in a swank joint, and all the modern nutty furniture we were in hock for. And yesterday almost all my pay check went for old bills. What kicks.
But the old railroad flat in the Bronx had its features too. Like now I could go way up to the front room and get the news on TV, see who'd won the fight as I worked on an apple. But no TV watching in a one-room apartment, not even a swank one. Turning out the damn light I carefully threaded my way through the furniture and climbed into the sack.
Bed felt great. I'd been going since eight in the morning. Staring up at the darkness I wondered if Ed Owens had lived in a hundred-and-twenty-buck apartment. I saw Owens in the alley again. The wrong angle his body made said he had to be dead. Who dropped the newspaper over his face, the headline and pictures about the ball game? Why don't they want anybody to see a dead face? Or maybe the dead don't want to see us live jokers.
Mary had a heavy way of breathing, almost a light snore. I didn't hear it so she wasn't asleep, just laying there sore as a boil at me. I reached under the cover for her hips. She wasn't wearing one of my old shirts, but those damn ski-pajamas she bought to spite me. When my fingers found her she pulled away. I said, “Look, honey, I did try to call—at six—but you weren't home. I got stuck on a big case.”
“Sure, you put in overtime, four to eleven, seven hours—a day's work on a normal job. What did you get, time and a half or double time, for it?”
She had that nasty shrillness to her voice that reminded me of Mom when she was steamed, way she sounded when she knew I was out boxing. The shrillness that meant—with both Mary and Mom—that talking was a waste of time. But I was so full of it I had to talk. “Look, Babes, this is real big. I was in on the killing of an ex-cop. Guy named Ed Owens was shot down right in—”
“I'm not interested!”
“Mary, this was one of these dumb killings where a—”
“I couldn't care less!”
I sat up in bed. “A man who'd been a good cop, gave almost thirty years of his life to protecting people, was shot down in an alley. Sure,- you're not interested, nobody is. That's the trouble today, nobody gives a fat damn about any-. thing or—”
Mary turned over, faced me in the darkness. “Dave, you came home seven goddam hours late, seven hours, so I'm hardly in the mood for any of your childish speeches.”
She said “childish” to steam me but I said evenly, “Maybe Owens' wife doesn't think it's a speech. Maybe she's wondering what the hell living is all about when a retired cop has to work as a twenty-five-buck-a-week messenger and gets killed in the bargain. Some bargain!”
“Is that what I have to look forward to, Dave, you lying dead in the street some night? My God, what do you think was going through my head when you didn't come home?”
I found her shoulder in the darkness, held it when she tried to turn away. “Babes, I said I tried to phone you. That was the only time I was near a phone. Had the big brass from downtown with me, couldn't get away even for a moment. Another thing, this is why I'm so interested in this case, I kept thinking if this was going to be me, working as a lousy messenger when I'm too old to be a cop. Nothing makes sense about the killing, no motive, no—”
“You're too old to be a cop now! Dave, I can't take this much longer.”
“Now Mary, let's not start that.”
“Why not?” she asked loudly and I knew her mouth was a hard line the way it always got when she was angry. When I first met her I thought that hard line was cute, used to tease her just to see the red lips fade into a line and finally burst into a big smile. “I come home and make supper, sit around jumping out of my skin wondering what's happened to you. And at eleven o'clock my husband comes home and makes some small talk about his job—he talks about a killing!”
“Small talk? Damnit, an ex-cop was killed this afternoon!”
“I don't want to hear about it!”
“It concerns you, concerns everybody. A cop was killed!”
“Davie, the boy do-gooder! I don't want it to concern me. And let go of my shoulder, or is this the loving touch, the third degree?”
“That's dumb talk,” I said, letting go of her. “And don't start crying.” I reached out and snapped on the indirect lights that ran along the back of the studio couch. Even in the middle of the night Mary always looked sharp, her blonde hair tidy, the curves of her breasts trim even in the damn pajamas. I reached for one of the curves and she slapped at my hand and missed.
Anyway she wasn't going to bawl. When she's real mad Mary gets into a cold rage like she was about to spit ice. I looked at the hard line of her mouth and knew she wasn't going to cry at all: she was going to talk.
“A husband and wife can usually talk over what happened to them during the day, the office gossip and jokes, but what am I supposed to ask you? Who you caught robbing? What pimp you hit? And when can we ever talk? You work these crazy hours, nights, days, middle of the days, Saturdays, Sundays. You're off Thursday and Friday this week—a big week end ahead for me! Dave, what kind of a life do we have? I want to go out and see people, take in a movie on a Saturday night, but you're only off one week end a month. I get up in the morning and see my husband getting his tools ready for the day—a gun and a blackjack. And for what? I'm just a steno in the agency yet my take-home pay is larger than yours.”
“In a little while I'll be making full salary. And I'll be eligible for retirement when I'm forty-one,” I said and kept seeing Owens' puffy dead face. What kind of job could I get after twenty years as a cop? A store cop, guard, messenger? Why should a guy need a job when he retired? What was the point in retiring? “Babes, be reasonable, I'm doing okay. What the hell, I've no trade, only one year of college—you want me to be a forty-buck-a-week stock clerk?”
“Yes. You're an eager beaver. Start out as a stock clerk and in time you could be a sales manager or—”
“Or/and own the firm. Stop talking like a movie. Last year when I was sweating in that five and dime for thirty-eight bucks a week, they gave me a movie title—I was one of the 'assistant managers' instead of stock boy. Mary, you were all for me taking Civil Service exams: okay, now I'm a cop, I have—”
“Of course I wanted you to take the exams and get out of that horrible store basement. But if I'd known the risks you take as a cop, the crazy hours, the way it would shake up our life, I would have been against it then.”
“The point is I did take the exam and I'm a cop now, I have a trade. I've only been working five or six months at it. In time I'll be making a decent salary, take other exams and maybe become a captain. Give me a chance.”
She shook her head and most of her trim body under the pajamas shook too. “Don't try to sell me, I know the pitch—you're David Wintino, the youngest detective on the force. Want me to take out the newspaper picture of the Commissioner shaking your hand?” She paused. “And I wasn't talking like a movie before. Some people do get ahead. Clerks do become executives—when they have somebody behind them. Uncle Frank called me at the office, asked why you haven't been down to see him.”
“I thought there was something beside my coming home late. How's his ulcer?”
“Babes, I'm not interested in the freight business or in being the boss's pet relation.”
“You were interested when he used his influence to keep you off the Youth Squad, or the times you got into trouble socking other cops—you didn't worry about his ulcer then! Dave, I said I can't take much more of this and I mean it. I'll be jittery as a sick cat in the office tomorrow and you know the way things are there—I goof once and I can forget about ever becoming Mr. Jackman's secretary. You're just selfish, you're always against everything I want. You didn't want to live in a decent apartment, you argued about the furniture, you don't like my friends—I've taken enough from you!”
“I know, now tell me how you stood up to your hundred and fifty per cent all-American family when they found they were getting a Jew and an Italian in the family, all in one package.”
Her mouth opened wide now and her pug nose quivered and her eyes went big as she gasped, “David! That's a dirty, horrible, lousy thing to say!”
“Yeah, it was. Sorry, Babes. I'm on edge.”
She got under the cover, turned her back to me. I put out the light. After a moment I could hear her weeping. I rolled her over, kissed her, her hair so soft and her skin cool where it wasn't wet with tears. I held her tight, a little proud that this beautiful chick was mine. For a moment that was all that mattered. “Honey,” I whispered, “I don't mean to make you cry. We'll work things out.”
“Will we, Davie?” she said in my ear, her lips warm.
“Of course we will. Okay, I'll go have a talk with your uncle.”
“And nothing will come of it. You like being a detective?”
“Babes, you want me to soft-talk you? All right, I like the job.”
Mary rolled out of my arms, said to the darkness, “Know why you like it? Because you're cocky, a know-it-all, and being a detective makes you feel good, you like authority, bossing people. You and your pretty face, you like that part of it too. You even enjoy looking like a seventeen-year-old sharpie—you eat up the amazed look when people finally believe you are a real cop, a detective.”
“Lay off me. Somebody has to be a cop,” I said weakly.
“Somebody doesn't have to be my husband!”
“And if anything happened you'd break your back screaming for the police. You're like all the other fine law-abiding citizens.”
“That's it exactly, whenever I need a cop I'll call for one. That's much different from being a cop's wife.”
“How do you know, you never tried being a cop's wife.”
She shrilled, “Go ahead, say you resent my working. You'd like me to mope around the house like a glorified maid, thinking up ways of cooking supper for my big strong provider, whenever he decides to give the little lady a break and come home. Wise up. That corn went out with silent pictures. If I ever find myself doing that I'll give you a fine supper each night—right in your face!”
I pulled her to me again, held her when she pushed me away, my hands going over all the curves I knew so well. “Listen to me, Mary, I—”
“I won't listen.”
“Yes, you will. This is you and me talking in bed, not a couple of strangers shacking up for the night. You want to work, a career—great. I never asked or wanted you to spend all your time handling a dust mop or a frying pan. I never tell you to change your job. Why can't you understand that being a cop is my work, something I think is important? That's what I mean by being a cop's wife. Honey, before you get too set up in this advertising business, let's have a kid.”
“I want a baby,” I said, not really sure if I wanted one so soon. “We have a child now, by the time he's fifteen, we'll only be thirty-six, we'll all be pals. Have your career but let's make a baby first. And in a year—you'll only be twenty-two or—three by then—we'll get somebody to look after the baby and you can go back to the agency business again. I don't know, maybe that's what we need to settle us. Don't you want a kid?”
“Not this way. I want my baby to have a father not a lousy posthumous medal. No, Davie.” She started pushing again and I let go of her.
“What's this add up to, the kiss-off, Mary?” ..
“You know now where I stand. As to how it's going to add, that's for you to decide, Dave. Are you married to me or to your badge? I told you, I mean it. And I do, really.”
That was a wallop that shook all the tiredness out of me. “You realize what the hell you're saying?”
“I certainly do because I know what fun it was before you got on the force. Even when we were living in that crummy room and watching our pennies. It was fun then. It isn't now. Good night, David.”
“Good night, Mary.” I turned toward the windows. Outside a car went by now and then, in the distance a horn sounded, then the small scream of brakes. We ever got the furniture paid up, we could get on rubber ourselves, a good secondhand heap—although Mary would want a new car. Our marriage was getting to be one of those deals where everything had to be her way. And I'm selfish! Didn't matter whether I wanted to work for Uncle Frank or not. Uncle Frank, what a case. Him and his silly wife and those fat-assed kids who acted like a couple of fags.
But what had happened to us? Babes was right, it had been great in the beginning. Even when I was a soldier and Mary had to sneak out of her house to see me. Maybe I was her way of getting to New York City, a one-way ticket from the hick town? Naw, that wasn't fair, Babes was the best at times. Maybe it was her job: ever since she'd gone on this Madison Avenue lack she'd been rough. Trouble was, lately I felt as if I'd married Mom and... damn, hadn't phoned the folks in a couple of days, not since last Friday.