“Johnny! I think I rang every phone in the house trying to find you! Max is around here looking for you with two big-”

“I met the gentlemen, ma.”

“You did?” Her voice soared. “What happened?”

“I signed a release. You're in his stable now.”

“Quit kidding. What did happen? You sound funny. Or have you been chasing some blonde through the corridors?”

Johnny flexed a bruised knuckle and tenderly explored a lumpy welt below his ribs. “I disremember, ma. Tell Paul I'll be down in fifteen minutes.” He hung up and walked into the shower, where he stood in a torrent of hot and then cold water. He grimaced at the muscled nudity in the mirror on the back of the bathroom door as he toweled himself vigorously. “Still lucky, aren't you, Ugly? There must be a corker lined up for you when they turn the right page.”

He drew on a robe, sat down in an armchair, and listened as the hammering pulse and heartbeat gradually lessened. He rose finally, took down a fresh uniform from the closet, dressed leisurely, and headed back to the service elevator.

Chapter II

The phone woke him; he looked at his watch as he came completely into focus in the first instant. Four thirty; the daylight four thirty. He cleared his throat. “Yeah?”

“Mr. Frederick would like to see you in his office right away, Johnny,” Myrna's nasal accents informed him.

“I'm on my time now, sis. He knows where to find me.”

He grinned as he hung up; he kept his hand on the receiver and picked it up again almost before it began its second querulous ring. “Who is it?”


He blinked; this was not Fussy Freddie's apologetic tenor. “Yeah?”

“You know who this is?”

“I not only don't know, I don't give-” He broke off as his mental card file fitted a face to the voice, and his eyes narrowed. “Can you whistle 'Edelweiss'?”

“I could when I had to. Sharp as ever, aren't you, boy?”

“I'll be right down.” He dressed quickly, in slacks and sport shirt, ran a wet comb through snarled hair, splashed water on his face and rubbed briskly, and left the room, pausing only to remove a chair whose upper back rest was wedged under the doorknob.

The elevator operator arched his brows at sight of him. “Up early, John.”

“Gettin' an idea how the other half lives, Roy.”

Frederick's office was on the mezzanine, but Johnny rode down to the lobby, took a quick but careful look around, and walked back up the stairs. At the office door he knocked once and entered.

“Ah, there you are, Johnny-” Ronald Frederick was not seated at his desk. The little manager sat primly on the edge of an imitation red-leather easy chair beside it, slim fingers twiddling the precisely arranged tips of the handkerchief in his breast pocket. The crease in the gray trousers looked sharp enough to serve as a cutting tool, and the narrow shoes glistened. “I understand you and Lieutenant Dameron are already acquainted, Johnny.”

The man behind the limed oak desk stood up, smiling. His hair was the same steel gray as his eyes, and the ruddy face had been much exposed to weather. Authority rode in the impressive bulk of the shoulders in the neat business suit. “Hadn't had time to tell the boss here the details,” he said easily. “Nice to see you again.”

Johnny nodded and looked from the apple-cheeked man to the neat little manager in his chair. “He means nice to see me outside the cell block, Freddie.”

Lieutenant Dameron smiled. “He's got to have his little joke, Mr. Frederick. Didn't Willie Martin tell you about Johnny?”

“Why, you mean our Mr. Martin, the-ah-owner? Why, no, but I think I may have-ah-sensed there was something-”

“It's a good yarn when it's told right, Mr. Frederick. Now you take a few years back-”

“Joe-!” Johnny interrupted warningly, and Lieutenant Dameron's conspiratorial smile included Ronald Frederick.

“Didn't know he was bashful, did you, Mr. Frederick? I don't want to spoil a good story, so you just ask Willie the next time you see him about the night Johnny swam the harbor in Marseilles with Willie on his back. Willie can really tell that story.”

“I'm tellin' you, Joe-”

“That was after they'd outscrambled a bistro full of very unfriendly people, and Willie broke an arm in the shuffle. Get him to tell you about it; Willie's a good talker.”

“And not only Willie, you thick harp. You lost your damn mind?”

The big man nodded to Ronald Frederick, who had un-clasped the primly laced hands in his lap to put on his steel rimmed glasses over whose top edge he was looking at Johnny. “See what I mean, Mr. Frederick? Bashful. Now the night he and I were lined up against the back wall of a cold, wet cellar in Taranto with a good man dead on the floor and a man standing across from us with a gun in his hand-you get the picture, Mr. Frederick?”


“Our boy here took off from the cellar wall, picked up three slugs on the way over, but he reached the man with the gun. Broke him all up with his hands. And that reminds me, Johnny-”

“'That reminds me, Johnny-'“ Johnny mimicked savagely. “You in the pulpit nowadays? I'm tellin' you: shut up!”

The ruddy-faced man shrugged. “You can see how it is, Mr. Frederick. And who's responsible for my gray hair. But here we sit visiting, forgetting that you're a busy man-”

The little man rose, reluctantly. “I should have a word with the-ah-chef,” he acknowledged. In his speech patterns he seemed to search carefully for the definitive word. His fascinated glance returned fleetingly to the furious bronzed features of his night bell captain before passing on to the big man behind the desk. “No reason why you shouldn't-ah-visit right along here, though. I'll leave word you're not to be-ah-interrupted.”

“Very kind of you, sir,” the lieutenant said genially. “If you must run along-”

“Why yes. It's been nice meeting you, Lieutenant. Johnny, I'll-ah-look you up later.” The door closed behind the slender figure, and the lieutenant held up his hands in mock defense as Johnny glowered at him.

“It'd better be a good reason, Joe.”

“Reason? Who needs a reason? Why should I let you be a shrinking violet? Relax, boy; get yourself appreciated.”

“Appreciation I can't use.”

“Now there's gratitude for you. I put you in solid with the boss, and you blow your stack. With him you've got it made; you're in like Flynn. You're-”

“I haven't heard a reason yet, Joe.”

The lieutenant delicately extracted a single cigarette between thumb and forefinger from the pack in his breast pocket and leaned back in his chair with it rakishly in his mouth, still unlit. “Let's come back to that in a minute. First things first, Johnny. They put a little piece of paper on my desk today that said that Max Armistead was D.O.A. at City General this morning.”

Johnny kept his face impassive as he flipped on his cigarette lighter and approached the desk. “Somebody else didn't like him? I'll contribute a dollar or two to the defense of whoever shot him.”

“Did I say he was shot?”

“With the muscle he hired, wouldn't they have to shoot him?”

The gray eyes studied him over the lighted cigarette. “Up to nine o'clock this morning I'd have thought so, too, but somebody roughed up the muscle.”

“I'd have paid admission to that if it'd been advertised.”

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