Dan Marlowe

Doom Service


In the cloakroom behind the bell captain's desk in the Hotel Duarte, Johnny Killain straddled a suitcase leisurely, leaned back and, propping his shoulders comfortably against another bag, elevated his feet. He removed his cigarettes from the breast pocket of his uniform, shook one free from the pack and lipped it up into his mouth. Beyond the cloakroom, through the intervening closed door, he was aware of the familiarly hushed after-midnight sounds of a big-city hotel.

In the flare of his lighter, his face was almost forbidding. High cheekbones jutted boldly beneath deep-set pale eyes and tufted blond brows, and the craggy features dominated by a several-times-broken nose were bronzed to an extent suggesting prolonged exposure to a tropical sun. The mouth even in repose was a hard line, and the close-cropped unruly hair was the kind that sturdily resisted comb and brush.

He looked up inquiringly as the cloakroom door was thrust open and Paul Sassella looked in at him. Paul, a stockily taciturn middle-aged Swiss, was Johnny's right-hand man on the hotel midnight-to-eight shift. “Booth phone, Johnny. Second from the end.”

Johnny grunted acknowledgment, then looked up sharply in the act of swinging his feet to the floor and stubbing out his scarcely begun cigarette. “Booth phone? How come-” But the door had closed again behind Paul; Johnny rose reluctantly, snapped off the cloakroom light and walked out into the lobby in its customary early- morning half-darkness. He bulked hugely in the sheath-fitting blue-gray uniform with its neatly gold-lettered Bell Captain over the breast pocket, and his purposeful walk across the marbled lobby floor was a shambling, bearlike shuffle created by nature's overendowment of chest and shoulders.

In the booth phone he picked up the dangling receiver, and in the glassed-in airless confinement his voice was a basso rumble. “Yeah? Whatchawant?”

“Mickey Tallant, Johnny. Your kid's got his belly up against my bar down here.”

“He's not my kid, Mick. Bounce him.”

The Irish voice reproached Johnny. “Would I be callin' you if it was only a brannigan? Come down an' get the lad.”

“Why the hell should I?” Johnny said.

“If you don't know, sure then I can't tell you.” The brogue lowered itself conspiratorially. “He's talkin', Johnny, talkin' wild, an' folks are beginnin' to listen. He's pure out-of-his-mind spoilin' for trouble, and he's carryin' a wad you couldn't jump over. Did you see the papers?”

“I saw them,” Johnny replied grimly.

“Then hear me now-another fifteen minutes an' they won't need this investigation they're talkin' about. The drink has the lad's tongue hinged in the middle, an' it's kerosene he is, just waiting for the match. The wrong word, even-”

“I'll be down, Mick,” Johnny interrupted.

“Do that. An' hit just a few of the high spots on the way.”

“Mick-” Johnny cleared his throat. “Thanks for not calling through the switchboard.”

“It's not a fool I am, I hope,” the brogue replied in injured dignity.

“How cold is it out?”

“I'll have your antifreeze set out on the bar. You're leaving now?”

“Right now. Start pouring.” Johnny left the booth and recrossed the lobby in his light-footed shuffle, avoiding Sally Fontaine at the switchboard behind the little wooden gate at the end of the registration desk. In front of the foyer's glass doors he waited impatiently for the elevator indicator to return to street level, and he leaned into the cab as Paul threw open the shining bronze doors. “Sally's brother is down at the Mick's, Paul. Stoned.”

The stolid Paul nodded. “Lucky he didn't try to come in here to see her.”

“Burn a little incense for small favors,” Johnny agreed.

“I'm goin' down to get him. If he should happen to get past me, don't let him near that switchboard. She's doin' enough worryin' already.”

“I could put Dominic on here,” Paul suggested, “and go along with you.”

“No need, boy. I could drop-kick the little bastard that far.”

“The papers tonight-” Paul began, and hesitated.

“The papers were right,” Johnny said brusquely. “He tanked it. They're only hintin' now, but there's gonna be one hell of a big stink over that fight. Throw me that old trench coat out of the cloakroom, will you?”

“It's way too small for you.”

“It'll do. I'm in a hurry.” He pulled the semistiff material over his shoulders, cape-fashion. In the foyer he could feel the first onslaught of the cold outside; he parted the outer doors and stepped out onto the scraped-bare sidewalk beneath the marquee and looked up and down Forty-fifth Street at the multi-colored neon refraction of light from the three inches of freezing slush in the street. Instinctively he glanced upward at the patch of night sky visible between the canyon-like buildings; it had stopped snowing, and the stars were out, but the icy wind nipped at his ankles. He jammed his hands deeply into the inadequate uniform pockets and trotted heavily toward Seventh Avenue.

The loose ends of the coat flapped wildly about his knees as the cold bored at him relentlessly; he jumped a puddle in the gutter at Broadway and felt his foot slip in a pile of slush. A cold trickle oozed down into his shoe, and he shook the foot disgustedly. It was one hell of a night to be out doing missionary work.

And two days ago no one could ever have convinced you that missionary work for this boy would be needed, Johnny reflected. If ever a kid had it all in front of him… Charlie Roketenetz, the small-town boy, Sally Fontaine's kid brother. Not clever, not too fast, but a punch. What a punch! Twenty fights he'd had, maybe, but he was on the way; some imaginative sportswriter had tagged Charlie Roketenetz as The Rockin' Horse, and The Rockin' Horse had rocked them. Until that fight last night…

At Eighth Avenue Johnny turned north and immediately saw the green-neoned outline of the unlifelike boulder that proclaimed Mickey Tallant's Rollin' Stone Tavern. A babel of sound replaced the shrill bite of the wind in Johnny's ears as he pushed open the wide door with its heavy plate-glass center section; as befitted a sporting gentleman, the Mick never lacked for sporting customers, even on a night like this. The booths along the far wall were crowded, and the dog-leg bar swarmed three and four deep.

Johnny savored the rush of heat a moment as he surveyed the familiar scene, and then Mickey Tallant bustled down the bar toward him, his red face anxious as his wet hands automatically rearranged the dampened semiwhite apron about his ample girth. “Glad you made it this quick,” the bar owner muttered in a fervent undertone. “Yonder he is. First time he's shut up since he come in here.”

Johnny turned in the direction of the Irishman's nod and did a double take at sight of the slim figure in the short-sleeved sport shirt propped up on his elbows at the end of the bar closest to the door. “He's on the street like that on a night like this?”

“He don't know is it Sunday or Tuesday,” Mickey Tallant said flatly. “An' don't bother lookin' at me like that, because he didn't get it here.” The red-faced man looked unhappy. “Did he dump the fight, Johnny?”

“You saw it. You need to ask?” Johnny said, shrugging out of the trench coat.

The tavern owner sighed deeply. “An' him a punchin' fool at the weight,” he mourned. “Rougher'n an unplaned two-by-six, by God, an' a left hook can cut a man in two at the middle. So he has to throw fights. You drop a bundle?”

Unheeding, Johnny wormed his way through the rear ranks at the bar and eased in alongside the sport- shirted figure slumped over the bar, head nodding. “Charlie,” Johnny said softly, and dropped a hand on the nearer shoulder.

The towheaded crew cut came up slowly as Charlie Roketenetz straightened and turned to blink unsteadily at Johnny. “'Lo, big man,” he said thickly. “Have a li'l drink wi' The Rockin' Horse?”

Вы читаете Doom Service
Добавить отзыв


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

Отметить Добавить цитату