Visitor:
Hatful of Pain
Hatful of Pain   Chapter 23


I figured that Chief York might've had me tailed. I looked out the window. Light snow was coming down at an angle. No one was peeking in.

I flung myself on the bed and read Slim Twitchle's latest column. Laurel was offering a $10,000 reward for the return of some 'confidential test procedures' that had been stolen over the weekend. Good. Laurel hadn't hidden them.

I called Bill. My nerves tensed with each ring. When the machine answered, I hung up. He should have returned home by now, unless he'd gone into hiding. Or blew his cover on Beezil's hunt, in which case he might be a fresh ingredient in the food chain.

I read the three confidential reports I'd lifted from Laurel. The first was from The Food and Drug Administration. It stated, "Compared to contemporary biological techniques, animal testing is crude, cumbersome, and misleading. Stress and fatigue of isolation and laboratory life grossly distort reactions. Therefore it is not possible to extrapolate results from animal testing to humans."

The second report, mostly formulas and data, concluded: "There are more reliable results from methods such as cell cultures, chemical tests and computer modeling than from animal testing."

By the time I'd finished reading the third report, I was on the verge of needing to breathe into a paper sack. It basically concluded that you probably shouldn't drink Thalo Green nail polish or pour it into your eyes. Handwritten in the margins was: "Results modified to conclude more testing is necessary to determine toxicity levels. Apply for more NIH grants--they have $4 billion to give away this year."

Tomorrow I'll deliver these reports to Slim Twitchle. When he sees the confidential stamp, nothing will stop him from publishing them.

The reports reminded me of the failure to find the test procedures. Which reminded me of my failure to find out who shot Richard, my failure to connect emotionally with Ann, and somehow, every failure in my life. I decided to use the energy born of my frustration to straighten my room. Big mistake. I made a royal mess out of putting the potato chips back inside their bag because I kept squeezing my hand into a fist and squashing whatever chips I held.

When the telephone rang, I punched the receiver off the base. In a commanding voice, Chief York said, "Come to the station. We have a break in the case."

I shouldn't have fallen for it. Not after all I've fallen for in my life.

"Yes ma'am. Be right there." I couldn't remember having given her my phone number. Let's see. First, I'll notify the press to meet me at the station. Then, when I'm asked to identify the gunman, I'll keep everyone in suspense. I'll dramatically stare at each suspect in the lineup, slowly shake my head, then glare until the gunman's fidgety movements escalate into uncontrollable shivers--and he confesses. Then I'll find myself a good agent for the talk shows.

I called the Holiday Inn and asked for Slim Twitchle. He wasn't in his room so I left a message for him to meet me at the police station. Not that I wanted to do him any favors, but when the gunman was booked and the A.L.F. was cleared I wanted Boston to know all about it. I also wanted to give Slim the confidential Laurel papers.

I called Ann and asked her to watch Hoover and Alice. Then I pulled down the window shade and started getting dressed. Snow was blowing hard against the window. While I was putting on my underwear there was a knock at the door, and the window shade snapped up. Two pigeons on the ledge were facing me. One cackled.

"Just a minute." I pulled the shade down again and finished getting dressed.

When I opened the door, Ann stepped inside. She wore a dress covered with a print of big white poppies with round yellow centers. It looked as if she had been pelted with fried eggs. She sat gracefully on the couch.

The telephone rang. When I picked it up, the line went dead.

As I sat across from Ann, the phone rang again. This time I ignored it.

Ann drew her legs up under her. She reminded me of a cat, completely at ease, yet hiding the tension of a coiled spring.

"Where are you going?"

"The police caught the gunman. They want me to identify him."

"But you can't identify him."

"True. But the gunman doesn't know that."

"Chief York does."

Also true. So why does she want me at the station?

The phone was still ringing. I looked at Ann, who shrugged. I crossed the room.

"That pesky Madonna, she can't seem to get enough of me."

Hoover, near the phone, heard me approaching and blew air out of his nostrils as if to say, "It's about time you answered it. . . ."

"Hello," I said. Silence. "Hello?" A muffled male voice spoke so low that I jammed the phone into my ear.

"If you want to know who shot Richard, meet me at Union Street and Jefferson Avenue at nine p.m."

"Nine? Why not tell me now?"

"It needs to be at nine."

"Deal. Nine. But please wait for me if I'm late." I couldn't resist. "Shall I dress casual?"

He answered by suggesting I do something that, well, if I could do what he suggested, I would never leave my room. Then I heard a humming sound in D-flat. The phone line. I went back, sat across from Ann, and told her about the strange call.

Ann reached over and touched my arm.

"Don't go, Clark. It sounds like a trap."

I appreciated her concern. "Okay."

"Just like that? I had this vision of you trying to out-trap the trapper."

I smiled at her. "Magnum always has a fancy scheme when somebody snarling through a rag calls and says to meet him in a bad neighborhood on the far side of town. I don't have any scheme."

"But you told him you might be late." She was beginning to grin, too.

"If he's going to waste my time, the least I can do is waste a little of his. And I have the satisfaction of imagining him hanging around a street corner, maybe getting beat up by some drug dealers." It was 5:05 by the upside down Timex on Ann's wrist. "I'd better get to the police station."

"How long will you be gone?"

"Red tape is like flypaper; I could be stuck for hours. Will you feed Alice and Hoover?"

"My pleasure." Ann leaned over and kissed my cheek. Floundering, I searched the coffee table for something to rearrange. There was only a tin ashtray, so I went for that, turning it in bashful circles.

I wanted to tell Ann that she meant a lot to me. My jaws worked, but the words stuck fast to the roof of my mouth.

"I, uh, like your dress."

* * *

Outside the police station, I heard distant church bells playing Holy Night. Inside, it was silent until the Oriental receptionist snapped open a compact and began examining herself in small oblong patches.

As I approached the Chief's office I could hear her talking. When I reached her door she said into a telephone, "He's here now." She hung up and hastily slid the file she'd been reading under a stack of other files, then made a fuss over all the papers on her desk, curiously in desperate need of rearrangement.

I settled in the chair in front of her. She appeared as if she hadn't had much sleep. Bags drooped under her eyes and her lipstick was smudged sideways, forming a crimson crescent with a distinct bias to the right, making her look like a demented clown. I decided not to mention it. She wasn't that fond of me to begin with.

"Speaking for the Cavalry Police Department," she said, "thank you for helping us bring a criminal to justice." Her eyes looked as though they were laughing at a private joke.

"The fingerprints on the dart I gave you probably belong to a trigger man," I said coolly, "not the brains of the operation."

Chief York removed handcuffs out of the top drawer and laid them on the desk in the way a suspicious poker player might lay a revolver on the table before the deal. There would be no nonsense here, or I'd be arrested for obstruction of justice.

"Au contraire."

I was certain she had it wrong. I tried not to smirk.

"Thanks to you," she said, "I will make an arrest shortly. We've identified fingerprints at the scene of the crime that shouldn't have been there."

"I thought you wanted me to identify Richard's gunman."

The Chief looked down her nose at me.

"I'm talking about Lester's killer."

Then why call me in? What mental compost pile are you rooting around in now? What's that look in your eye?

In her eyes I began to see the picture: the fingerprints were Bill's, and she was taking me hostage to flush him out.

"Whose prints?"

Chief York leaned over the desk and looked at me, real close so I had to look her right in her eyes, because her eyes, dancing to a heavy beat, filled my field of vision.

"You are under arrest."

I doubt the English language holds a more distressing combination of words than "You are under arrest" (I must concede something to the phrase, "We interrupt your regular programming for a Presidential election update. . . .").

Hatful of Pain 24

Fair Use Notice and Disclaimer

Send questions or comments about this web site to Ann Berlin, annxtberlin@gmail.com