sonia kept the motor running when joe got out of the car.
the street was dark and deserted.
most of the snow had melted but a light rain was falling through the fog.
joe crossed the street to the little store on the corner.
if the store had a name it was too faded to make out in the dark. signs in the window announced - beer - sandwiches - lottery. a larger more boldly printed sign said “ big drawing tuesday”.
joe opened the door and walked in. a little old man was seated behind the counter reading a comic book.
joe showed the old man his gun. “give me all your money.”
“no money, sir.”
“you must have some money.”
“no sir, security service just come by. you first customer come by since.”
“no, sir.” the old man shrugged. “ beside, security only take few dollars. most people pay with card. you look like smart feller, you know that. buy energy drink, buy candy bar, buy beef jerky, pay with card.”
“take what you like, sir,” the old man continued imperturbably. “take energy drink, take potato chips, take big game ticket, but no money.”
the old man put his comic book own on the counter. joe thought he saw the old man start to reach under the counter.
joe shot the old man in the chest.
then he heard a car outside in the street.
when joe got out the door, he saw officer riley coming toward him with his gun drawn.
joe raised his own gun. out of the corner of his eye, he saw his own car still in position and the motor running with sonia behind the wheel.
dead game, that girl, joe thought. but it was the last thought he ever had as the slugs from officer riley’s gun ripped through his guts.
another squad car pulled up, with its lights flashing, and parked behind sonia, cutting off her escape.
callahan got out of the second squad car and approached sonia.
sonia rolled her window down. “my uncle is - “
“we know who you are, miss,” said callahan. “we will make sure you get home safely. you just stay away from guys like joe b from now on, you hear me.”
a rookie cop had accompanied callahan and he drove sonia away.
callahan walked over to where riley was standing over joe’s body.
“joe b.,” said riley. “he had big plans.”
“yeah,” callahan laughed. “he was going to be the new emperor of crime.”
“a smart guy,” said riley.
“he was a smart guy, all right,” callahan agreed. “a real smart guy.”
billy waited as johnny, mary, and frankie came up the road..
as they got nearer he knew right away that johnny was number one, mary was number two, and frankie was number three.
the trio approached billy the way three dogs might approach some small furry creature of a kind they had never encountered before.
“hello,” billy said. his voice didn’t shake, which surprised him.
“hello yourself,” johnny answered.
mary and frankie came closer, and the three formed a semicircle around billy. he still had his back to the hill.
“what are those things?” billy asked, pointing to the shoe shine kit slung on mary’s back.
johnny looked at the kit, surprised by billy’s question. after staring at billy for a few seconds to give him the message that his question was idiotic, he said, “it’s a shoe shine kit, what did you think it was?”
“i never saw one before,” billy admitted.
that all laughed. “i guess you never shined shoes,” mary sneered.
“um - sure i have - “ billy stammered. “i mean - “
“you mean what?” johnny demanded.
“i mean i never shined anybody else’s shoes,” said billy. he thought that was a good answer.
“do you shine your own?” mary asked.
“sometimes?” mary raised her eyebrow. “who shines them the other times?”
“my governess,” said billy. as soon as he said it, he knew it was the wrong answer.
“what’s a governess?” frankie spoke for the first time.
“a shoe shine kit with wings,” said mary, and frankie and johnny laughed.
“maybe you could use a shine right now,” johnny said to billy. “those nice brown shoes look a little scuffed up.”
“i don’t think so,” billy answered.
“i think you do. you got any money on you?’
“i think you do,” said johnny, coming closer to billy.
billy tried to turn to run back up the hill, but johnny and mary each grabbed one of his arms.
“look in his pockets,” johnny told frankie.
frankie put his hands in johnny’s pockets, but all he found was a little pack of kleenex.
“no money, huh?” johnny looked billy in the eyes. “what, your butler and your chauffeur carry your money for you? you’re rich, aren’t you? live in a big house with a hundred butlers and maids.”
“do you play doctor and nurse with the maids?” frankie asked.
“shut up!” mary said, and smacked frankie on the side of the head.
“i don’t have any butlers and maids,” billy insisted. he pulled away from johnny’s and mary’s grasp. they let him go.
“no?” johnny raised an eyebrow.
“just a governess.”
“just a governess,” johnny repeated, and they all laughed again.
“let’s get out of here,” said mary. “we’re wasting time.”
they started away.
“wait!” billy called after them.
“what now?” johnny turned back to him.
“can i go with you?”
johnny laughed. “you mean just tag along?” he glanced at the others. “sure, why not?”
“what’s your name?” mary asked billy.
“i bet they call you william.”
they started off down the road, walking fast. billy had a hard time keeping up with them, and they did not speak to him, or to each other, until they reached the town, which consisted of a single square with about eight buildings.
there were no people in the streets.
“look at this hick town,” said frankie. “i knew there’d be nothing here.”
“let’s look around,” johnny told him. “any bars?”
”mickey said the town was dry,” mary reminded him.
”there’s a drugstore over there,” said johnny. “the next best thing.”
they headed over to the drugstore, with billy bringing up the rear.
there was a narrow alley between the drugstore and a barber shop.
a bum was lying in the alley, asleep.
johnny and mary began going through the bum’s pockets.
frankie grabbed the bewildered billy and stood him beside him so that the two of them blocked the alley from anybody passing by - not that anybody was.
“nothing,” said johnny. he stood up.
“let’s take his shoes,” said frankie.
“why would you do that?” billy asked. “can you get any money for them?”
“no, stupid, just for fun,” frankie told him.
“we aren’t taking his shoes,” said johnny. ”or even his hat. let’s get out of here.”
they walked down to the other end of the alley.
“maybe this isn’t the town,” said mary. “maybe there’s another town down the road.”
they looked across a vacant lot and down the road leading out of town.
but there was no sign of another town on the horizon, just a range of low hills.
despite doctor frank’s apparent age, and the fact that he was carrying his heavy black leather bag - which ray had offered to carry for him - ray was having a hard time keeping up with him as they made their way through the snow back to the abandoned building where red was waiting with the corpse of cindy.
the wind was blowing in their faces. and blowing the snow in drifts on the streets and sidewalks.
a light was showing in the basement window of a building.
there was a faded poster on the wall above the lit window. doctor frank stopped to look at it and ray stopped beside him.
the poster announced: “one week only - the international singing sensation - sleepy barlow - returned from her triumphant tour of the continent”.
the poster exhibited a barely legible picture of a young woman in a strapless gown singing into a standup microphone.
ray was not sure where “the continent” that sleepy barlow had returned from was.
“sleepy barlow!” exclaimed doctor frank. “she puts on a great show!” he peered closer at the small print. “looks like this is the last night she’s here. we have to see this!”
“but - “ ray protested, “what about cindy? we have to save cindy.”
“she’ll be all right,” replied doctor frank. “or not. i can either save her or i can’t. come on, let’s catch the show.”
ray did not know what to do. “isn’t it a matter of life and death?”
“maybe, but i can either save her or i can’t.“
there was a guard rail in front of the lit window, and below it was a door that seemed to lead into the basement . a short flight of steps led down to the door and the doctor started carefully descending them.
“maybe i should go on ahead and tell red you are coming,” ray said.
“suit yourself.” the doctor continued down the steps.
but, thought ray, could the doctor find his own way to the abandoned building? did he know where it was? ray decided to stick with him, at least for a while.
the door opened when the doctor tried the handle, and ray followed him inside, into a passage with an open door at the end of it. light spilled from the door, and they headed for it.
a small sign on the wall beside the door said “elite cafe” and below it was another poster like the one outside, advertising the appearance of sleepy barlow.
ray followed the doctor inside the elite cafe. he saw a small bar with three stools but no bartender and a tiny stage with a standup microphone like the one on the poster. there was no sign of a band or any room for one.
there were four small tables on the floor, but the only person visible at them was a young woman that ray assumed must be sleepy barlow.
the young woman turned to them and as they got closer ray saw that she looked exactly like cindy and red - their twin, or triplet, except that she had shoulder length black hair. she was wearing the strapless gown from the poster but had a sweater over her shoulders.
she did not seem suprised to see doctor frank, or to notice ray at all.
“hello, doc, you’re looking well.”
“as are you, my dear.” doctor frank put his bag on the floor and took a seat across from sleepy. ray hesitated, but sat down between them. sleepy continued to take no notice of him.
“it’s not very nice outside,” sleepy addressed the doctor. “i was wondering if anybody would show up.”
“i just happened to be passing by,” the doctor told her. “ this is ray, by the way. he is an old friend of red’s. and cindy’s.”
sleepy did not seem to be interested or impressed by this, but she did say, “hi, ray.”
“hello,” ray answered.
“of course, you don’t have to perform just for us,” the doctor continued. “if nobody else shows up.”
“oh no, no!” for the first time sleepy showed a little animation. “the show must go on! you’re an old timer, doc, you know that.”
sleepy looked back at the bar and the stage. “blackie should drag his miserable carcass out here pretty soon and you can get something to drink. the show starts in five minutes. anything particular you want me to start with?” she asked doctor frank.
“what seems to be the matter, sir devilish?” jordan, the countess’s faithful butler intoned. “but come in, sir, come in, let me assist you, get you out of this nasty wind. looks like rain, sir, we wouldn’t want you to get wet.“
sir devilish keene was round and red-faced, with a waxed mustache and a gold-tipped cane that he flourished without fear or favor. at jordan’s signal, a footman sprang out of the shadows and helped him assist the heavy old man into the foyer.
“the matter? the matter? “ sir devilish sputtered. “where’s that girl? where’s that damned girl?”
“girl?” jordan enquired. “what girl?”
“the driver! the damned insolent little trollop of a limousine driver! didn’t want to help me in! made a damned fuss about helping me - a sick old man with a cane and her passenger - into the house!”
“ah - well, you are safely here now, sir, and in good hands, in good hands. here, sit down, sit down. would you like a wheeled chair, sir?
“a wheeled chair! do i look like a damned cripple? none of your damned wheeled chairs!”
the butler and the footman lowered sir devilish into a chair. “where is the countess?” he demanded.
“a good question, sir devilish. i am sure she will be here to greet you and the other guests - but especially you - shortly.”
“hmph.” sir devilish continued to scowl as he settled into his chair.
“would you like a drink, sir devilish?” jordan asked.
“of course i would like a drink! do i look some kind of damned teetotaling methodist woman? brandy and water, if you please. and none of your damned ice.”
“of course, sir devilish.”
sonia and joe had been watching all this, and overhearing most of it.
“am i going to have to be introduced to him?” joe asked.
“no, it might be best to stay away from him, “ sonia murmured.
joe and sonia moved away, back into the depths of the house.
“no sign of mister madison,” joe noted.
sonia shrugged. “i am sure he will be here. be patient.”
they entered a room with a large fireplace.
joe noticed the back of a head visible over the back of an armchair in front of the fireplace. on the head was a red skullcap.
“oh, there's the cardinal,” said sonia.
“another famous detective, right?”
“yes, but a much nicer one. let me introduce you. “ sonia added in a lower voice, “we don’t want to avoid all the detectives.”
but before sonia and joe could approach the cardinal, they heard loud voices in the room behind them.
they turned and saw the ubiquitous cleve.
“some kind of announcement in the blue room, “ cleve drawled. “they want all the guests to assemble there.”
sonia glanced at joe. “then i suppose we may as well hear what they have to say.”
sonia and joe followed cleve.
“probably another murder,” cleve sighed. “i always say they are tempting fate by inviting all these damned detectives.”
“oh,” sonia answered with an attempt at a smile, “it is probably just that the countess does not feel well.”
but when they entered the blue room, they found a pale, trembling jordan standing in the center of it. a stern-faced sir devilish keene stood beside him, leaning on his cane.
“is everybody here?” jordan asked. “i am afraid i have some terrible news to impart - there has been a murder!”
“you do not say so,” muttered cleve, with a smirk.
“how awful!” cried a woman seated behind jordan. “the poor countess will be devastated!”
“i am afraid the countess is in no position to be devastated,” jordan replied sadly. “for you see - it is the countess herself who has been murdered.”
“no!” cried several guests.
“perhaps,” said a melodious voice behind joe, “it is some sort of accident.”
joe turned. a tall, hawk-faced man in the regalia of a cardinal stood in the doorway.
“i am afraid not, your excellency,” jordan addressed him, “unless there was some sort of accident that left her with her throat cut from ear to ear.”
wherever the gang stopped or hid out, it was always up to the three kids - mary, johnny, and frankie - to raise money for the day to day expenses like beer and cigarettes.
mickey was very strict about saving the bankroll to be just that - a bankroll, to plan and finance the next job with.
so the three kids had to raise money, wherever they were, sometimes by panhandling but mostly by shining shoes.
mickey and the others were very strict about their not stealing or doing anything illegal, which would attract the attention of the police and get them in trouble.
so, on the morning after the arrival in the hideout where they would hook up with roger and pull off the big score that would set them up for life, the three kids found themselves trudging down the road towards the town, with their shoe shine kits slung on their backs.
a light rain was falling.
as usual, frankie was walking slower than the others, and although they kept threatening to leave him behind, mary and johnny kept stopping and waitng for him to catch up.
johnny was talking big about how he was going to make just enough to go to a movie, and then quit for the day.
they might not even have a movie, said mary.
every town has a movie, said johnny.
i don’t know, it looked like a pretty small town.
they stopped again to wait for frankie to catch up.
they did not know that they were being watched.
mickey thought the hideout was completely secluded, but there was a house high up on the hill beside the road, almost hidden by the trees.
the house where billy lived with celeste-maria.
billy was going for a walk down the hill. but before he got to the bottom he had seen johnny, mary, and frankie straggling along, and stopped to watch them.
he wondered who they were and what they were doing and what the things on their backs were, as he had never before seen a shoe shine kit.
he wondered if he dared to speak to them, or if they would laugh at him and beat him up and maybe even kill him.
jordan, the countess’s faithful butler, recognized sonia, and sonia and joe entered and were ushered into the big house.
the countess was nowhere to be seen. a number of guests, some of whom joe recognized from the party at mr madison’s, were sitting around looking at newspapers or magazines or strange into space.
it was not a lively group.
sonia was greeted by a little old woman who was sitting on the edge of a sofa, knitting something - a shawl or sweater. the old woman herself was dressed in a plain gray dress a size too large for her.
“good evening, miss chuff, “ sonia responded. “miss chuff, this is my friend mr joseph b—————. joe, this is no other than the celebrated miss chuff.”
joe had never heard of the celebrated miss chuff, but he took the little claw she offered him. “a great honor,” he told her.
“you look like a serious young man,” miss chuff told joe.
“i try to be serious as i have to be,” he replied, with a smile.
“who was she?’” joe asked sonia, as they moved deeper into the house.
“she is one of the famous amateur detectives the countess likes to invite. didn’t i tell you that before?”
“miss chuff is here, and i think cardinal gogol and sir devilish keene will also be here.”
“does she expect somebody to be murdered?”
“she just likes to invite them.”
“i guess you can’t be too careful,” joe said. “look who’s here.”
sonia and joe were suddenly confronted with cleve, the rude individual they had encountered previously at mr madison’s.
“hello, cleve,” sonia greeted him. “you must remember joe.”
“of course!” cleve cried. “the filmmaker! i see we are looking a bit less rumpled tonight, sir,” he addressed joe.
“i was just telling joe how much the countess likes to invite her detectives to her gatherings.”
“ah! too bad they had so many films made about them already. eh! but i suppose there is always room for one more,” cleve laughed heartily,
suddenly there was the sound of a commotion at the front door. loud voices were raised.
“that sounds like sir devilish keene now,” said sonia.
as she had promised, lucinda stayed behind after samantha’s presentation on the subject of crime was over.
samantha found the empty classroom a bit depressing, and suggested that they go somewhere else to continue their discussion.
lucinda readily agreed, and they went to a popeye’s fried chicken a few blocks away.
samantha realized that socializing in this way with the young people who were compelled to attend the police presentations was frowned on, but because of her social connections she did not worry overmuch about it.
a light snow was falling outside as they made their way to the popeye’s, and the streets seemed deserted.
none of the other young people who had sat through samantha’s presentation were in evidence.
samantha was not accustomed to places like popeye’s and was a little relieved to find it almost empty.
the only other customer was a derelict almost invisible in a heavy old overcoat, and after ordering , samantha and lucinda sat on the other side of the room from him.
seated with lucinda in the almost empty restaurant, samantha was a little taken aback at just how small, young, and serious she looked - more so than she had appeared at the meeting surrounded by other young women and men.
“well,” said samantha, after they were settled in their seats by the window, “what was it that we were discussing?”
“we were going to continue the discussion about income,” lucinda replied, with her serious look.
“yes, of course,” samantha smiled.
“but more generally, we were talking about crime and how it doesn’t pay.”
“indeed we were,” samantha replied encouragingly.
“i have a theory,” lucinda announced.
“oh?” samantha glanced out the window at the snow, which was falling a little more steadily. she felt strangely peaceful, sitting talking to this curious little person. “and what is your theory?’
“i think there is going to be a big crime wave. i know everybody thinks crime is over, but i think there is going to be a big crime wave.”
“and what makes you think that?” with the little plastic spoon, samantha stirred the styrofoam cup of coffee, which she had not yet found the nerve to taste.
“because the system needs it.”
samantha did not reply right away, and lucinda continued. “the system - the whole huge system of police surveillance - needs to justify its existence, so they are going to start a crime wave to do it. i don’t know the details, but that is what they are going to do.”
samantha thought that was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard, but did not want to laugh in the girl’s face. she smiled, and finally took a sip of the coffee. “that certainly is an ingenious theory.”
“it’s in the air,” said lucinda. “you heard it here first. you just wait and see.”
samantha tried to think of something to say in reply. she glanced around.
the derelict who had been seated on the other side of the restaurant was gone. outside, the snow continued to fall.
dooley had no problem finding the countess’s country place, but was not impressed with it when it came into view.
her passenger was a fat old man with a cane, whom she had been given to understand was some sort of famous amateur detective.
whoever he was, he was a very demanding passenger, and had been complaining and grumbling since dooley, in her capacity of limo driver, had picked him up in the city.
“why are you stopping, driver?” he demanded, when dooley slowed down on approachimg the line of cars parked at the bottom of the hill. “do you expect me to walk up that hill?”
“i am stopping because i am being stopped, sir,” dooley told him. a tall man in a white shirt and a black bow tie, apparently some kind of parking attendant, was approaching.
it was green. dooley recognized him, but did not say anything.
“this is far as you can go,” green told dooley, peering into the car. “if the gentleman wishes, we can bring him right up to the house in a car we have here -“
“i will be damned if you will!” cried the fat man from the back seat. “why should i have to get out of one car and into another - wth my damned leg! take me up to the door if you please, driver!”
green hesitated. “it can be tricky getting up the driveway,” he said. “but i can drive it up for you , if -“
“no, damn it! i want to get up there now!”
“very well, sir, if you insist.” green pointed down the road. “turn right up there,” he told docley. “but be careful of the rosebushes. especially when you get right up to the house and have to turn around, be very careful of the rosebushes.”
“i will be,” dooley assured him. she drove off.
green waited until she returned. he watched her park the limo at the back end of the line of cars and walked down to meet her.
“i hope you didn’t hit any rosebushes,” he told her.
“i don’t think so.”
“that was the big thing i was told when i got here. the countess - that’s the owner - is very obsessive about her rosebushes.”
“i don’t think i hit any rosebushes.” dooley got out of the car. “do i know you from someplace?”
“i don’t know,” green said. “where would i know you from?”
they started walking up the line of cars to where the other chauffeurs were hanging out.
“packy’s pinball, maybe?” dooley said.
“oh yeah! i used to hang there sometimes. “ green turned and looked at dooley. “sure! you were the champ! you were there all the time. i didn’t recognize you, in your driver’s uniform.” he laughed. “yeah you were the champ!”
“i put a lot of time in,” said dooley. “i should have got halfway good.”
“whatever. it’s a small world.”
dooley did not tell green that she had deliberately maneuvered herself into this particular job, because she had heard joe b might be there.
she looked up at the house. it looked like most of the guests had arrived, and she wondered if joe was already there. she had arrived later than she had planned, as the fat man with his aggravations and back seat driving had slowed her down.
dooley checked her phone, but there were no messages. she wondered if the fat man would complain about her to the limo service. he had wanted her to assist him into the house, but she had been afraid of running into joe, and had left the fat man at the door and handed him off to a servant.
she wondered if she could try to ask green about joe, without making him curious.
once the supplies had been brought in from the two cars, mary and johnny explored the hideout.
the hideout had two floors. there were five small bedrooms and a bathroom with a tub but no shower on the second floor.
the first floor had a kitchen, a room with a pool table (but no cue sticks or balls), and a big front room with a fireplace, a big table, and some couches.
mickey, hank, duke, and pee wee settled down to what they did best - playing pinochle, cribbage and rummy.
hank looked over and saw johmmy, mary, and frankie sitting on the couches.
“what are you kids doing , just sitting there - why don’t you make yourselves useful?”
“doing what?” frankie asked, scowling at hank. mickey was sort of the leader of the gang, but hank was the meanest and bossiest to the three kids.
“what do you mean, doing what?” hank retorted. “you have your kits, don’t you? get out and use them.”
“i didn’t know we needed the money,” mary put in.
“maybe you don’t need the money,” hank replied.
“we can always use the money,” said pee wee. “we might be here a while, we might need money for smokes and beer.”
“it’s the middle of the night,” said frankie, who was usually the quietest of the three kids. “and it’s a three mile walk to the town. i don’t think there are too many people walking around the little town at two in the morning, looking for a shoe shine.”
“you never know until you try,” said hank, who was getting a little hot because the kids were talking back to him. “the bars might be closing, ever think of that.?’
“they would be closed by the time we walked into town,” said johnny.
“it’s a dry town, hank,” said mickey. “we went over that before. there aren’r any bars. and it’s on you. duke just put down the nine of spades.”
“i just don’t like the way they are sitting there,” hank grumbled. but he turned back to the game. “maybe they should get some sleep so they go out and make some money in the morning.”
“they can sit there,” said mickey. “as long as they keep their mouths shut.”