He turned her around. “Where's the hooks on this damn thing?”

“Let me. Why do you always look at me there first?”

“Some day I'll tell you. You're quite a piece of machinery, kid.” She smiled up at him as he swung her clear of the floor and over to the bed. “Now, baby. Andantino. That the word?”

“That's the word. And that's the… way.”

He could see the torn lace on the pillow case's edging. “Now. Allegretto?”


He could hear her breathing, and his own. “Hit it, baby. Sforzando.”

“Ahhh … con … molto!” The soft voice trailed off in a wordless bubble of sound….

She stretched lazily on the bed while he mixed a drink, and he smiled across at her as he deftly juggled bottles and ice cubes. Carrying the glass to her he caught up her robe from the floor in passing and lightly admired with his hand the luxuriantly full-fleshed amplitude before spreading it over her as she leaned up on one elbow to accept the proffered drink.

He shook his head wonderingly. “Damn if you don't surprise me every time, kid.”

“You mean the Sunday-schoolish appearance?” she asked, sipping her drink.

“I mean period. What you've got, lady, the world needs more of, in spades.”

“Thank you, sir. I don't know what I'd do, Johnny, if I didn't have these little twice-a-year visits to look forward to. You can't even begin to imagine how desperately dull it is in my little home town.”

“Packin' your own antidote, the way you do?”

She smiled, but her tone was wistful. “Who's to unpack it? Or even know it's there? I'm just that nice, plain Maria Stevens who plays the organ in church and is vice president of the garden club. Sometimes I think I can't stand it another minute until I can get up here again… you're wonderful for me, Johnny. And to me.”

He grunted and picked up his tray.

“I mean it,” she insisted, handing him her empty glass as he walked back to the bed. She looked up at him. “Do you think we might-?”

“You damn right I think we might. When you leavin'?”

“Day after tomorrow.”

“I'll call you, for sure.”

“Fine. Goodnight and thanks. And I don't mean for the drink.”

He closed her door quietly behind him, his long stride noiseless he retraced his steps in the corridor and approached the elevator he had left anchored. He stopped dead. The elevator was occupied.

Two large men in dark suits flanked a dapper little man in faultless sports clothes, but even a stranger's glance would have ignored the physical disparity; plainly the little man was the heart of the matter.

“Welcome aboard, Killain.” Max Armistead smiled unpleasantly, thin lips under the wisp of mustache showing scarcely more color than the pallid features. “Get my messages?”

“I got them.” Johnny set his tray down carefully on the corridor — floor, straightened up, and stepped aboard. He closed the elevator door and started down slowly, and the black anger rose in his throat. He eased the car to a stop between floors. Let it come … get it over. He felt the old familiar tightening in stomach and shoulder muscles, and it pleased him unreasonably. There was still a thing or two in the world besides women. “You figure New York is big enough for both of us, Max?”

“I'll debate it with you, wise guy.” The small eyes in the pallid face glittered as Johnny turned carefully to face them; he inched his feet fractionally apart, as equidistant from all three as he could manage without being obvious.

“Listen, Max,” Johnny said abruptly. “Let's look at the blueprints. You think you can put a collar on me. Well, I'm tellin' you that you can't. You want to move a few women in here nights, I imagine, and you want me to do business. The answer is no.”

“I don't think you can make that stick, Killain.” Max Armistead's voice was soft, but his face was not. Slender, foppishly dressed, thin featured, effeminate looking except for the arrogant light eyes … a man used to the driver's seat.

“I don't run your kind of ship, Max.”

“You could change your mind. Or have it changed.”

“Not by you, mister. I don't like you. You're a dirty little pimp, besides I don't know what else. You're-”

He broke off as the man on his left drew back suddenly. The pent up violence in Johnny exploded; he charged them, the weight of the big body bouncing them into each other as they tried to find working room in the elevator's narrow confines. Almost happily he slipped under a punch and swung the rigid edge of his palm viciously against the nearest fat neck overflowing its crumpled collar, and the man's eyes turned inward as he sagged floorward like a rag doll, face down.

Johnny grunted as a jolting blow took him in the short ribs, and he reached for the second man. “Come on, pretty boy,” the man wheezed, and light glinted from his knuckles. Johnny absorbed another body punch, but snapped a hook to the straining face and felt flesh and bone crunch under his knuckles. The man staggered back, blood spurting from his nose, his bulk pinning the smaller Max in the farthest corner.

“Now, you sonofabitch-” Johnny stepped inside the big man's aimlessly flailing hands and circled the blocky body with his arms. He locked his grip rigidly, and for the first time in longer than he could remember he called on all the strength in his power-packed body, channeling it into the constriction. The man in his grip writhed, screamed hoarsely until his voice soared to a shriek, then fell to his knees, his dead weight breaking the terrible pressure. Johnny straightened reluctantly, set himself, and swung down in short, brutal arcs into the popeyed face, left, right, left, right, left.

He drove the face right down onto the floor of the cab, and on the way down it disintegrated into a crimson blob. He stepped back and pivoted to confront the six-inch blade on Max's knife as the little man moved whitefaced from his corner. Feinting with his left hand, Johnny stamped hard with his heel on the nearer instep in its low-cut cordovan, and Max yelped in anguish. A sledgehammer blow to the elbow of the knife arm caused the blade to fly across the elevator and clatter noisily on walls and floor.

Brushing aside the ineffectual opposition, Johnny grabbed the white silk shirt front and hound's tooth checked jacket in a twisting grip that pinned the wearer to the wall. “I got a lot of people rootin' for me now, Max. You've had this done to a lot of people… now try it on for size-”

The slender man thrashed frantically at the end of the pinioning arm, toes straining to reach the floor. “I'll kill you, Killain-” It came from deep in his throat.

“Don't miss your first shot, then, because if I ever get my hands on you I'll break you up three quarters of an inch at a time. Now, damn you-”

The elevator rang with the deliberate full-armed slaps he dealt the crimsoning face. A thin trickle of red ran down from the nose and dripped onto the wreckage of the fancy clothes; when the straining figure went limp, Johnny felt only surprise. He stepped back and let the sodden mass slip slowly to the floor where it sprawled leadenly over the bodies of the other two, and in the sudden silence Johnny became conscious of his own harsh breathing. He stared down at his hands and relaxed them with a shudder. It was over, finished….

Almost tentatively he placed a hand on the elevator's controls, as if wondering whether it would once again perform the familiar duty. He shook himself roughly and dropped the car like a stone to the sub-basement. He flung open the door in a crash of metal, grabbed a pair of heels and dragged a heavy body fifteen feet along the cement floor and out a side door to the alley, damp with night mist. On the second trip he felt his saturated uniform split through the shoulders; he was wringing wet and shaking from the reaction, but his resentment still smouldered.

He threw the whimpering Max out onto the pile of flesh, straightened, and released a great explosion of breath from pent-up lungs. From the alley bed drifted a mewling cry. “Don't hit me again- Don't-”

Johnny growled in disgust and jerked shut the heavy outside door with a clang. He slid the bolt, wiped the perspiration from his streaming features, returned to the elevator and rose swiftly to the sixth floor. Standing in the middle of the room he ripped and tore the sticky shreds of the uniform from his body and on the way to the shower picked up the phone, the dark hair matted on his still heaving chest and his skin gleaming with the sweat running down his flanks.

“Sally? Everything quiet?”

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