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- A Sniveling Quitter
- He's Got Her
A Sniveling Quitter
Bars in the Nation’s Capital are mostly garish, red-leather-and-chrome affairs that do no more than add to the restless, tense loneliness that forever grips most of the populace. There are no neighborhood saloons, and there is no neighborliness. You have to be seated to be served a drink even of plebian beer. You can’t move about, but only stay at your tiny table, or cramped booth, while a who-the-hell-cares type of waitress infrequently appears discourteously to serve you another of whatever-it-is you’re drinking. A guy, looking for camaraderie, the good-fellowship that goes with imbibing, is better off taking a train to Baltimore.
I used to go to the Maryland metropolis to do my friendly drinking, but now I didn’t want any of that. I just wanted to be alone, to crawl into my dismal shell and get stinko. A Washington bar is just suited for that—that is, if you get one where the barkeep or the proprietor will continue to serve you. The law says you get no service if the server considers you’ve already had enough, or when he so considers. But it’s hard to tell if a man’s drunk when he’s sitting down; anyway, most places are too money-conscious to refuse you a drink no matter what your condition. I didn’t ever want to stop, unless I fell over.
But then this vision, this girl, slid into the booth, facing me, where I was proceeding to drown my woes. “It is Dan Wilkins, isn’t it?” she asked.
I nodded, trying to focus my eyes in the afternoon dimness of the place, trying to get into line the cherry-brown hair, the pert face beneath it, the firmness where her tight-fitting jacket only suggested a plunge. Light brown eyes looked into mine and helped me get the picture.
“Have a drink?” I queried. I held up a hand and the waitress appeared. “The same for me,” I said, which meant a double rye with water to wash it down.
“Planter’s punch,” the vision said.
“So?” I said, my head feeling light “So what do you see?”
Her eyes had raked me over and over and the rye in me rebelled at the inspection.
“A sniveling quitter,” she replied.
“What,” I growled, “business is it of yours? A great guy, my best pal, murdered, and me fired from my job because of it! Kicked out on my can! So I got a right to get plastered.”
The words rolled thickly off my tongue.
“A man would fight back.”
The way the dame accented the word, the disgust in her voice, roiled me and took the edge from my insobriety. Bitterness and a touch of honest shame—the girl was right— had a slightly sobering effect. A maddening one, too, so I grunted, “Who the hell are you, sister, and how did you find me? And what do you want?”
“I found you,” her brown eyes flashed, “by calling at your apartment-house and being told you were probably at the nearest cafe. I looked in on two others before I got to this one. The name is Dee Morgan and I want…”
“What?” I jumped at the name, quite sober now.
“Johnny’s sister,” she said, softly gravely.
“Johnny’s sister,” I gulped. “I knew he had one, in school somewhere, but I didn’t…”
“Cedar Crest College for Women,” she said. “I left the school yesterday to come here; I won’t go back until I find Johnny’s murderer. I thought you would want to help.” Her lovely face twisted into lines of pain, determination, vengeance.
The waitress served the drinks and I gulped mine needing it to cushion the shock. “Sure,” I said, my voice low, serious, “I’d like to find him, too. I’d also like to fly like a bird, or maybe break the bank at Jim’s place over in St. George’s County. But I can’t even get in the joint. Or sprout wings,” I added.
Dee Morgan seemed not to hear me. “I need help.”
“I know,” I said. “But, honey, Johnny’s murder was just one more in a long list of murders. You could even add to the list the thousands of our boys killed by the Chinese Reds in Korea, killed with weapons made in U.S.A. The best brains in the law enforcement agencies of every country in the free world can’t put a finger on the man, or men responsible. What can you—or the two of us—do?”
“Johnny was my brother,” she said, simply, as though that was the only answer.
“And my best friend,” I said. “I worked with him, drank with him. I was at his side the night he got it, and,” my voice took on a bitter tone, “I got kicked out of the Department because my pig-headed supervisor held me responsible for Johnny’s death. How do you think I feel, Dee Morgan?”
Her brown eyes looked into my bleary, bloodshot blue ones. I felt something new, something strange, twist at my heart.
“Like my brother,” she spoke softly, “you were an investigator, an undercover agent. for the Munitions Division of the State Department. Your job was to collect information on arms smugglers, the kind of rottenness that makes millions in profit while the enemy kills our men with guns and ammunition of our own manufacture.” Dee’s eyes hardened; she sipped her drink.
“No lecture, please,” I said, “You’re not telling me anything new. And the profit is in billions, not just millions.”
“I’m sorry,” she tossed her head and the cherry-brown hair whipped enchantingly back from her shoulders. “I can’t help myself sometimes.”
“Johnny felt the same way, honey,” I said. I reached out a hand and covered hers. It felt soft and warm beneath my touch and I knew then that here was a hand that I would always want to hold.
“Profit from guns, and blood,” her words had a harsh ring. “Did Johnny tell you anything before he…he died?” she asked suddenly.
“Tell me anything? He didn’t take me into his confidence, if that’s what you mean. He didn’t have time to; I knew from his actions, his hints, the excitement in his manner, that he felt he had something on his return from Manila. But…”
Dee Morgan interrupted. “He did have something, Dan. He found something in Manila that proved to him there was a traitor, a leak of some kind, in your own Division—right here in Washington.”
“What?” I gasped, then, “How do you know?”
“He wrote me, Dan,” the girl said, and I liked the way she bad begun to use my name, liked the way it came from her full, luscious tips. “He always wrote me, in a special code we had between us. I think he did it mostly as a big brother trying to satisfy a kid sister’s appetite for adventure. I knew about you because he wrote me often about you, described you, and once he sent me a picture of the two of you together.”
“But about this—this leak in our own offices?”
“He didn’t have a name,” Dec said. “He only was certain the person existed. He was going to tell you his suspicions, and take them up with Paul Pleven…”
“Paul,” I said, slowly; “Johnny reported to him immediately he got in from Manila, was with him for several hours. Then Paul ordered us both to take the next plane to New York. Johnny hadn’t had time to unpack. That very night, down on the lower East Side—where we were supposed to rendezvous with a couple of stool pigeons—Johnny got it.
“All Johnny said to me up to then was that he had latched onto something big; he’d tell me about it when we got back here.”
“But he didn’t get back.”
“No,” I said. “And I got back to have Paul Pleven boot me out. Officially, so he said, I turned yellow; I let Johnny die. He twisted the report from the New York cops to make it look that way.”
Dee’s wonderful eyes bored into mine, “The way I see it, you should be dead, too. But you escaped; so the next best thing was to have you discredited. Then, even if you knew what Johnny had known you’d be laughed at; you’d be a discredited sorehead trying to even up for the loss of his job.”
“You mean that whoever this traitor is, he was on to Johnny—that the deal that sent us rushing off to New York was a trap?”
“I mean just that,” Dee’s brown eyes snapped. “He must have told your supervisor…”
“Pleven? But I don’t think he…”
She interrupted my interruption. “It doesn’t have to be Pleven; he could have passed Johnny’s report on up the line and whoever is guilty was in a position immediately to contact some of his racketeer pals, arrange this New York deal, and pass the assignment back through Pleven.”
“Yes,” I admitted.
“Whoever it is,” Dee Morgan showed the steel that was in her, “That’s the man who murdered Johnny.” She turned her flaring gaze on me again. “Will you help me get him?”
“If this is true,” I said, “it’s big. Bigger than both of us. Bigger than just Johnny’s murder. Too big for just you and me. But I’m with you; where do we start?”
“With Pleven,” she said.
“You go back to your apartment,” she advised me, “and get yourself completely sober. Shower, eat, do whatever it is that offsets the whiskey. I’ll see you later this evening; I’m staying at the Smith-Plaza Hotel; I’ll call you from there.”
We left the bar together after I paid my check. I put her in a cab, then walked slowly, thoughtfully, to the building that housed my one-room-bath-and-kitchenette efficiency apartment.
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- A Sniveling Quitter
- He's Got Her