Barbara lay on her side, facing me, beautiful with the relaxed softness of sleep. My wife was thirty-two, but in sleep she looked no more than twenty. I studied her face a moment, and then, knowing how little it took to wake her, I got out of bed carefully and walked on bare feet to the bathroom. She was still asleep when I finished dressing and left for the station house.
In the squad room, I lifted a container of coffee from Joe Hayes’ desk, and drank half of it.
“Don’t drink it all, Walt,” he said.
“I’m tired of waiting,” I said.
“You talking about Liddie White again?”
“Don’t get any crazy ideas, Walt. The lieutenant won’t like it.”
“To hell with him.”
“Why don’t you wait a couple of days? Hell, Tim Casey is one of the best men on the force. Liddie wouldn’t be getting dope without his seeing it.”
“She’s getting it somewhere,” I said.
“Maybe she’d stocked up on the stuff. You ever figure that?”
“Sure, I figured it. And I’m still tired of waiting.” I handed the coffee back to him. “I’m going over there.”
Tim Casey was on his way toward my car even before I’d cut the motor. He saluted, grinning at me. “Hello, Sergeant.”
“Hello, Tim. Any action?”
“Not a damn bit. She hasn’t been out at all.”
“Okay. Well, as long as I’m here, we might as well make the most of it. Why don’t you go down the street and have some breakfast? I’ll spell you a while.”
“Thai’s a hell of a good idea. Sergeant. I’ll make it fast.” He turned and walked off toward the diner at the corner.
I left the car and headed for the brownstone where Liddie White lived. The building was near the middle of the block, flanked by a cut-rate drugstore and a grimy-windowed bar. I climbed three flights of sagging stairs, walked along a dark corridor, and knocked on Liddie’s door.
The door opened a little, showing one gray eye and part of an unnaturally white face. The eye narrowed, and Liddie started to close the door. I got my foot in it.
“Open up, Liddie,” I said.
“What the hell do you want?”
I pulled the door all the way open and stepped inside. Liddie slammed it shut behind me, and then leaned against it, staring at me.
“What the hell do you want?” she said again. She was a very pretty woman, Liddie was, even when her gray eyes were angry and the uncombed auburn hair splayed loosely across her back and shoulders. Her body, beneath the thin material of her housecoat, was lush, and she had the smallest waist I’d ever seen.
“Don’t you go out any more, Liddie?” I asked.
“Look, copper. I’ve been a real good girl. You got no right to come barging in here like this.”
“I didn’t barge in,” I said. “You invited me in. You insisted on it. Remember?”
“You’re just like all the others. You haven’t even got a warrant.”
I muled at her.
“That’s right. Liddie. No warrant. You could probably get me in a lot of trouble.”
She glared at me.
“Damn you. You know I can’t get anybody in trouble.”
I nodded. “Just so we understand each other, Liddie.”
“If you’re looking for Horse, you’re wasting your time. There isn’t any here.”
“It’s here,” I said. “It has to be. We’ve had a tail on you for almost two weeks. You haven’t made a buy in all that time. And with a big habit like yours, Liddie, that means you’ve got a supply right here.”
“Since when arc cops interested in users? What’ll it get you to hang a beef on me? You think the commissioner will give you a gold star?”
“I’m not interested in you, Liddie. I want your pusher.”
“You crazy? You think I’d cut off my supply?”
“You can always get another. Who’s the guy, Liddie?”
She took a slow step toward me, and there was fear in her eyes now. “Give me a break, for God’s sake.”
“I’m giving you one. I know you’ve got heroin here. I’m not even going to look for it. All I want is the name of your pusher, and an idea of where to find him.”
She bit at her lower lip a moment. “What’ll I do when the pile’s gone?”
“You’ll find another pusher. You junkies always do.” I paused. “This is the last time around, Liddie. Tell me who and where.”
She told me who and where.
I let myself in with one of my skeleton keys. There was no one home. I went through the pusher’s apartment until I found the stuff. I’d expected more, but there were only seven packets of it. I stuffed them into my pocket, darkened the room, and sat down in an easy chair to wait.
An hour crawled by, and then another, and finally the door opened. I got up silently, slid my hand down into my trenchcoat pocket, and worked my fingers around the butt of my short-barreled .38. The guy was fumbling for the light switch, a very tall guy with outsize shoulders.
When the light came on, I said, “Easy, Carter. Keep your hands in sight.”
He closed the door slowly, and if there was any expression at all on his face, it was only a very mild surprise.
“You a cop?” he asked.
“That’s right. Come over here.”
He stayed where he was. “You been here long?”
“Long enough to find the stuff.”
“Yeah. Well, that’s not so good, is it?” His right hand came up to one of the buttons on his coat and he began to toy with it.
“I told you to come over here,” I said.
“Can we make a deal?” he asked. “I’ll make it pretty good.”
“No deal,” I said.
He nodded slowly, as if thinking it over, and then suddenly his hand was inside his coat.
I could have shot him then, but I didn’t want to ruin a good trench coat. I jerked the .38 out and shot him twice, once in the stomach and once in the face.
When I got home, the first thing I noticed was the ash tray. It was loaded with butts. I closed the door and took off my coat.
Barbara came in from the kitchen. I tried not to look at her face. I knew what I’d see there.
“Any luck?” she asked. “I — I’ve been going crazy, Walt.”
“In my trench coat pocket,” I said.
She grabbed up my coat and shoved her hand into one of the pockets.
She was so jittery she dropped the coat. She picked it up and clawed through the other pocket, whimpering a little. I had to look away from her.
“Is this all?” she asked. “Just two?”
“There were only seven packets to begin with,” I told her. “I had to take five of them to the station house, to book as evidence.”
“You turned over five of them? Why? Damn you, Walt!”
“There’s a man dead because of this,” I said. “I had to make it look good.”
But she wasn’t even listening. She was too busy tearing open one of the packets of heroin.
By Thrya Samter Winslow
(56 min read)
The Black Mask | Aug. 1922 | Vol. 5 No. 5
The story about the execution of Stuart Dennison shook Irma as she recalled her old life back in New York. Before she was Irma Martin. When she was Mrs. Stuart Dennison.
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