“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.”
they had been driving for sixteen hours straight, and it was dark when they got to the hideout.
duke snd pee wee pulled in just minutes after mickey and hank. the two cars had stayed within sight of each other almost all the way from tennessee.
johnny was in the back seat of the car behind mickey and hank. mickey lit a cigarette.
hank grunted in that way he had and opened the passenger side door. he looked back at johnny as he got out.
“what are you waiting for? help me unload this stuff.”
“maybe you should see if the door is open,” said johnny.
“if the door isn’t open, we’ll break it open,” hank replied. “now, help us unload this stuff.”
johnny crawled out of the car. he could see duke and pee wee getting out of the front seat of the other car and mary and frankie dragging themselves out of the back.
it was a dark night, with not much moon or stars. kind of cold, but at least it wasn’t raining.
johnny watched mickey go up to the door and push it open. like it had not even been locked.
johnny kept his eyes on the house to see if any lights came on.
hank opened the trunk of the car. “i’m not telling you again,” he told johnny . “let’s move this stuff.”
over at the other car, duke and pee wee were watching as mary and frankie began taking bags and boxes up to the house.
a light went on in the house. that’s something, johnny thought.
“make sure you get your kits,” johnny heard duke tell mary and frankie.
it took almost half an hour to get the trunks emptied and the stuff carried into the house. hank and duke mostly watched as johnny, mary, and frankie did the heavy lifting. pee wee helped a little bit, and mickey was roaming around in the house, checking things.
they were going to be in the house for eight days, until mickey, hank, duke and pee wee finally pulled off the job they had been planning for almost a year.
just as the girl calling herself red had told him, ray found the old diner he had known as dave’s, at 17th ave and 34th street, changed into a chipper’s chicken.
snow was piling up in front of the entrance and ray kicked it aside and entered .
ray had never been in a chipper’s chicken before. he was a wendy’s guy, always had been.
there was only one customer in the place, but ray barely glanced at him as he approached the counter.
places like this usually had teenagers behind the counter, but this one had a big mean-looking guy with five o’clock shadow.
a big sign on the wall behind the counter proclaimed “your just like momma used to make all you can eat special - 5 dollars”.
“you want the special?” the big guy asked ray.
“uh - no thank you.”
“then what do you want?”
suddenly ray was ravenously hungry. he glanced over the counterman’s shoulder at the menu.
“um - a chicken sandwich, and a cup of coffee. light cream.”
“cream’s over there. you want anything on the sandwich?”
i should be giving him the message, ray thought. but he just said - “everything.”
the big guy started to turn away and ray said, “one more thing.”
“i’m looking for dwight. foster sent me.”
the big guy stared at ray. “why didn’t you say so?’”
ray didn’t know what to say, but the guy did not wait for an answer and pointed to the lone customer, seated at a table in front of the window. “you want the doc over there.”
“uh… thanks. ”the doc” … red had said something about a doctor.
“you really want that sandwich and coffee?”
“oh yeah, sure.”
“coming right up.”
ray approached the customer, the “doc”.
the “doc” did not look up at ray but continued to stare out at the swirling snow.
the “doc” was very old, maybe the oldest person ray had ever seen. he was wearing an old-fashioned gray hat of a kind ray had never seen, except maybe in an old movie.
ray noticed beside the “doc’s” chair a contraption he never seen before. it was an old-fashioned doctor’s black leather bag, with wooden handles.
“excuse me,” ray said.
“yes?” the “doc” finally looked up at ray. his eyes were barely visible in his old face..
“i’m looking for dwight. foster sent me,”
“yes, i heard you tell blue that. have a seat.”
ray guessed that blue was the counterman’s name. he pulled a chair out and sat down.
“my name is doctor frank,” said the old man.
“pleased to meet you,” ray answered.
the doctor ignored this. “who sent you?”
“uh - like i said, foster.”
“that was the password, young man. you have successfully given the password. who actually sent you?”
“red. a girl named red.”
“red. so she hasn’t come to a bad end yet.”
“no,” said ray, “but - uh - somebody else has.”
“oh?’ the doctor turned away from looking out at the snow and looked at ray.
“cindy. cindy has.”
“and what is the matter with cindy?”
“she’s dead. at least she seems dead. she seemed dead to me.” ray decided to skip telling doctor frank that he, ray, had carried cindy’s dead body through the streets for several miles. “but red seemed to think you could do something.”
“i see.” the old man turned back to looking out the window.
“i can show you the way,” said ray, “if - if - you think - “
“oh, i will go wth you,” the old man said. “but didn’t i hear you order something from blue? do you want to wait for it?”
“well, i can -“
“can you eat and walk at the same time?”
“i think so. i ‘ve done it before.”
“good. then we will wait until blue gives you your order, and then we will depart on our errand of mercy.”
white had big ears and excellent hearing, and she had heard almost the whole conversation between joe b and murphy.
she had heard them talking when murphy had first sat down at joe’s table in the corner.
what they said at first made her curious, and since she was a naturally nosey person and there was nobody else in the place, after she gave murphy the two burgers and the coffee he bought with the money joe gave him, she had gone back to the storeroom that was directly behind the wall their table was up against and listened some more.
white knew who who joe was, although she had never been much impressed by him, and he had never paid any attention to her.
she knew he was a punk with big ideas - that he liked to express freely - about being a master criminal.
when she had heard enough to get the idea of what joe was talking about she went back behind the counter. the place was still empty except for joe and murphy.
white leaned nonchalantly on the counter. the two would be desperadoes had let their guard down a bit and were talking a little louder than before, and she could hear every word.
what joe was saying sounded ridiculous and pathetic to her. in fact she thought he might be dreaming or making the whole thing up. but what did she know?
she knew some people who might be interested in joe’s plans. especially her friend dooley.
white owed dooley a couple of favors, so she would let her know what she had heard.
the door finally opened and another customer came in. a dummy looking old man all wrapped up against the snow with a scarf across his face.
white looked at the old man suspiciously, but he had money, and by the time she had finished serving him joe and murphy were gone.
murphy trudged through the snow, which was starting to fall faster.
he was hungry, and wondered if he should spend his little bit of money at wendy’s before going home to his little room.
as he always did in such cases, he decided to spend the money.
having made his decision, he felt a little better.
but then he started thinking about telling joe b that he had failed in his efforts to recruit kelly or anybody else to joe’s new crew, and he did not feel quite so good.
the snow stated falling a little harder, and he was glad to finally get to wendy’s.
but when he opened the door to wendy’s and walked in, he got a surprise.
there was only one person sitting at a table - and it was joe! in a table in the corner away from any window. with just a cup of coffee in front of him.
but joe looked like he was in a good mood and waved to murphy.
there was no way murphy could not sit down at joe’s table.
suddenly murphy did not feeling like eating, so he just got a cup of coffee from the teenage girl who seemed to be the only employee in the place.
as soon as murphy sat down he told joe that he had had no luck recruiting anybody.
but joe just laughed. “don’t worry about it,” he said. “we don’t need those guys. i got other plans now. better ones.”
“oh?’ murphy did not know what to think.
“i figured i might find you here,” joe went on. “that’s why i’m here.”
murphy just nodded. now he really did not know what to think.
“i got something for you. you don’t have to do it.”
“i want you to be my chauffeur. just for a few days. for a weekend.”
murphy was perplexed. “you want me to drive you somewhere? why can’t you drive yourself?”
“well, i could. but it would look better if i had a chauffeur. i am going out to this rich guy’s place - his mansion - or estate, or whatever. “
“ahh. i get it - you - we - “
murphy looked around but the girl who had been behind the counter was nowhere in sight, and the place was still empty. “are going to rob this place,” he finished in a low voice.
“no, no, nothing like that. nothing like that at all.” keeping his voice down, and looking around from time to time to make sure no one had come in, joe explained the setup with commissioner morton and mr madison - whose estate they would be visiting for the weekend - and sonia’s plan.
“that’s the craziest thing i ever heard of,” said murphy when joe had finished.
“it’s not crazy at all, it is the inevitable endgame of civilization.”
“if you say so.” now that he knew that joe was not mad at him, murphy was hungry again, and wondered if he could get joe to buy him a couple of burgers.
“so you are with me?” joe asked.
“sure, sure,” murphy assured him. “it’s just that - that -“
“well, it doesn’t really seem like crime at all - like a real criminal empire at all, if it is done like this, you know?”
“you are right, it isn’t.” joe took a sip of his coffee. “but this is something even better.”
“conquering the world. forget a criminal empire, this is a chance for empire, period.”
“no, dufus, we will just make a start this weekend.”
“i know, i know, i was just kidding.” murphy laughed. “you know i’m game for whatever. say, I’m a little short, think you could give me a little something to get something to eat?”
“sure. get whatever you want.” joe looked around again. “then we’ll go over to my place, i will give you more details.”