“Forget it, kid.”

She looked up at him, exasperated. “He's not going to like it if you don't call.”

“He wouldn't like it if I did, either.”

She sighed, and reached for a plug as the board buzzed. “May I help you?” She looked over her shoulder at Johnny. “For you. No, it's not him. 705.”

He reached over the railing and picked up a house phone on the mantel. “Yes? Bell captain.” Thick fingers twisted at the trailing cord. “Okay, ma'am. On the double.” He depressed the phone rest momentarily. “Ring housekeeping, Sally.”

The phone rang interminably before a soft voice answered languidly.

“Get the lead out, Amy. Accident in 705.”

“What kinda accident, Mist' Johnny?”

“Bring your mop.”

“Oooh,” Amy mourned. “That kinda accident. Looks like a looong night. 705. Okay, I'm flyin' low, Mista Johnny.”

He hung up and replaced the phone on the mantel, then leaned forward and breathed warmly on the back of Sally's slender neck. A prolonged shiver ran through her, and he looked down at the goosebumps prickling the downy hair on the smooth skin of the thin forearms. “You comin' up in the mornin', ma?”

“If I disconnect someone-!”

His heavy voice was muted thunder in her ear; his lips nuzzled at her as she ducked awkwardly under the constricting headphone. “You gettin' anything strange lately, ma?”


“You know why Max is after me, baby?”

Her head came around sharply. “Why?”

“Him an' me split the women in the place right down the middle. You were in his end, but I'm holdin' you out. He's jealous.”

“Oh, you-” But she smiled involuntarily, the planes of the thin features softening remarkably. “You be careful, y' hear? That's a bad man.”

Johnny grunted skeptically. “He show you his clippings? I'm gonna lean on that little bastard, he don't stay out from underfoot-”

“But he's never alone!”

“He wants to keep a good polish on, he better not be.”

Sally was looking behind her down the narrow aisle. “Vic's calling you.”

Johnny looked inquiringly down the congested walkway between the enclosed switchboard and the marbled registration desk to where Vic Barnes, the night front-desk man, held out his phone invitingly. “See if you can find out what this one wants, John. The police or the pope, sounds like.”

Johnny thrust his bulk in behind the desk and accepted the phone. “Yes?” He listened, a faint smile gradually replacing the rugged impassivity; a forefinger traced the course of a stubby blond eyebrow. He spoke after an interval, the deep voice lightening as liquid syllables of a foreign language rose and fell in patient exposition. He turned away as he hung up. “I'm goin' out front for a smoke, Vic.”

“Okay. What'd she want?”

“You guessed it. The pope.”

“Aww, come on-!”

“The nearest Spanish speaking church.”

“Oh. I thought she was French-”

“Spanish. Andalusia.” Johnny's pale eyes stared out un-seeingly over the darkened lobby. “They've got olive trees there. And sun… and dust-” He pulled himself up. “Tell Paul I'm out front, if he needs me, huh?”

It was cooler on the sidewalk in the neon refracted surrealistic shadows. He lit his cigarette and leaned back until his shoulders rested solidly against the polished granite buttress and invited a mental blankness that soothed. It was all written down somewhere….

Movement caught his eye; his glance passed beyond the two women approaching on his left and then returned with quickened interest. The figure on the inside had a nicely articulated walk, an easy way of moving, gracefully deliberate. She was tall, very well put together, and a little more fully fleshed than he remembered.

Johnny flipped his cigarette out into the street. He knew the plainly tailored lightweight summer suit, the flat-heeled shoes, the undistinguished features, the mild eyes behind the horn-rimmed glasses. She was smiling as they came up to him. “Nice to see you again, Johnny.” Her voice was a breath, low but dear. The dean lines of her face were just beginning to be blurred with excess flesh; even in the after-midnight half-darkness her skin was fresh looking, and the dose-cut uncharacterized brown hair as usual a little untidy. There was a softness about her….

“Nice to have you with us again, Miss Stevens. I hadn't seen the register. Another group on tour?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “Lovely little monsters. This is Mrs. Crosby, Johnny, a fellow chaperone.”

He bowed slightly, his glance flicking fractionally from the dumpy, white-haired older woman back to Miss Stevens.

“Johnny is a real help to us unfortunates chaperoning these groups, Carolyn,” Miss Stevens explained. “When you've made as many trips as I have you'll begin to realize the purely devilish ingenuity of these kids in evading authority. Johnny runs his own bed check on them for us, keeps the sexes separated most of the time, and in fact will be the mainspring in preserving a few shreds of sanity in us before we leave.”

“I see,” Mrs. Crosby murmured, nearsightedly peering at Johnny.

“Do you think you have any of that wonderfully cold orange juice, Johnny, at this hour of the morning?”

“Be right up. Something for you, too, ma'am?”

“No, thank you, young man-” She half turned to look back at him as they passed on into the foyer, and in the night air her voice carried farther than she realized. “Most unusual face, Maria. Like a blond gladiator.”

“Entirely deceiving, Carolyn. In five years I've never even heard him raise his voice.”

“My dear, I've lived a little longer than you: don't wager he couldn't raise it. Why, years ago I knew a man-”

The lobby doors closed behind them, and Johnny grinned and settled back against the building. He debated lighting another cigarette, and decided against it. Give them fifteen minutes….

Inside he glanced at the desk at Vic working over his transcript. “Gonna prowl the top decks a while, Vic.”

“Right, John.”

He took the service elevator which he used nights and shot back up to the sixth floor, where he propped the elevator door open with a slab of wood. In the room he had just left with Willie Martin he quickly divested the small refrigerator of ice cubes, orange juice, and vodka, arranged them with a pitcher on a tray, and returned to the elevator. He got off again five floors up, closed the cab door all but a crack, and crossed the dim corridor until he confronted 1109. He knocked lightly, and Miss Stevens opened the door at once. She nodded, and he stepped inside.

Gone were the horn rimmed glasses, and the severely tailored suit. A gossamer robe fragmentarily hid a pastel blue silk nightgown, and the unspectacular street-time hairdo had given way to a softly rolled crown on the small and delicately made head. Johnny put down the tray, settled his big hands on the slim shoulders and rocked her to and fro. “You're lookin' great, kid,” he told her in his husked bass. He could feel her warm flesh moving under his hands.

“Grand … to see you again,” she breathed.

“I thought the second I knocked I should've checked the room list.”

“You know they always give me this room.”

“Some day they won't, and I'll be fifty percent of a surprised duet. The dragon retired?”

She smiled and nodded, and pulled his face down to hers. “It's been too long, Johnny-”

“Yeah. You still teaching music, baby?”

“Still… teaching-”

“You want a drink first?”

She shook her head; her voice was a whisper. “Later-”

Вы читаете Doorway to Death
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату