Michael Collins

Walk a Black Wind


Most of us pass through life without ever meeting real danger or fear. We slide from day to day, and nothing very bad happens. We like it that way, I think, even if we do sometimes feel that life is flat. But fear and horror come to some of us, and we meet it in different ways.

There are some who face it naked and early and come to terms. Nothing ever scares them again, or even worries them. They are the great, the saints, and the monsters. Then there are some who see fear once and are destroyed. If they go on, they are hollow shells. Most neither come to terms nor are destroyed. They simply endure the moment, survive, and never know how they will meet fear the next time.

The man who came to my one-window office that Thursday in late October had met fear or horror or both.

“Two weeks ago I met a girl,” he said. “She’s dead, Mr. Fortune, murdered. I want her murderer caught.”

He was my height, about five-foot-ten, broad and solid in a good blue pin-stripe business suit under a navy topcoat. His olive-colored face was faintly Latin, clean-shaven and deeply lined, but somehow youthful despite the deep wrinkles. I guessed his age at about forty-five. He held a blue homburg where he sat in my one extra chair, and his thick hair was dark brown and coarse. There was no gray in the hair, and his hat was unusual these days. The business card he placed on my old desk explained the hat: John F. Andera, Sales Representative, Marvel Office Equipment, Inc. Salesmen were among the few who still always wore a hat.

“What was the girl to you, Mr. Andera?” I said.

His eyes were a cloudy blue as if he had been stunned. He looked like a man who has been hit by a train and isn’t sure yet what damage has been done. Not sure if he was alive or dead, holding himself together inside, breathing carefully.

“A friend,” he said. “I liked her. I had… hopes.”

He spoke with a kind of stiff, prep-school diction that was not natural to him. The sound of some faint accent underneath.

I said, “What was the name originally? My grandfather was Fortunowski when he got off the ship. Sometimes I miss it.”

He didn’t smile. “Anderoparte. We came from Corsica. My father changed it for business. Will you take the job?”

“I’ll have to know more about it,” I said. “You only knew this girl for two weeks?”

He glanced around my cubicle office with its view of an air-shaft wall as if he was surprised I’d think twice about any job. With the shabby office, my rough clothes, and my missing arm, I don’t look affluent, and we are a world based on cash and prospects. Andera had expected me to be hungry to work, but he said nothing. He took two newspaper clippings from his pocket, gave them to me.

They were both from The New York Times. The first was from yesterday’s late edition, Wednesday. An inch from page nine:


Fran Martin, of 280 East Eighty-fourth Street, Manhattan, was found stabbed to death in her bed at 8:30 A.M. this morning by her weekly cleaning woman. Police report that the victim died sometime after midnight last night. No motive is yet known for the brutal slaying of the woman who worked as a cocktail waitress at the Emerald Room on East Sixty-sixth Street. Police are investigating.

The second clipping was much longer, dated Thursday, today, and had run on page two of The Times:


The attractive young victim of Tuesday night’s slaying at 280 East Eighty-fourth Street has now been identified as Francesca Crawford, daughter of Mayor Martin J. Crawford of Dresden, New York.

On his arrival at the Plaza, the Mayor of the upstate city stated that he knew of no motive for his daughter’s murder, and neither he nor his wife could cast any light on the tragedy.

Mayor Crawford revealed that his daughter had left home three months ago, and had not been in contact with her family since. He could offer no explanation for her living in Manhattan under an assumed name. The Mayor and his wife are now in seclusion at the Plaza.

Police identified Miss Crawford through her roommate, Celia Bazer, who had been away visiting friends on Long Island. The roommate is now being interrogated, but police emphasize they have no leads.

Miss Crawford, first identified as “Fran Martin,” was found stabbed in her bed-

The rest was a repeat of the first story, with more words but no more facts. I handed the clippings back to John Andera.

“Any ideas why she was killed?” I asked him.

“No, none,” he said. “I met Fran two weeks ago today at a party. She was alone, I took her to a late dinner. I liked her. I took her out twice more. We… got along. She seemed much older, more mature, than she really was.”

“How old was she?”

“Twenty, Mr. Fortune. Just twenty. I went away a few days on business this week, returned on Wednesday for a date with Fran. She didn’t show at the restaurant. I was angry, so didn’t call her. Today I saw that second story.” His thick hands shook. “She had been using a false name. Then she was dead. I had hoped… well, that we…” He stopped.

“You can prove you were out of town?”

“Yes, of course.” He had expected the question, and he anticipated my next one. “I’m not married, I have no jealous women, and I don’t know if she had other men. I don’t know anything, that’s why I want you. I can pay well.”

“For a girl you hardly knew?”

“How long does a man have to know a girl to know he likes her? I liked her a lot! I’ll pay you a thousand dollars in advance, another thousand when you bring in her murderer!”

His voice was still steady, but inside he was bleeding hard where it didn’t show but hurt just as much. Inside, he was crying for a girl who hadn’t even given him her right name. Then, that wasn’t so unusual in the fast world of New York.

“That’s a lot of money,” I said. “You could get a big agency for that, and the police will handle it well enough.”

“The police have too much work, and I don’t want Fran lost in a big agency’s computers. I want a man who will work for Francesca. I want to do something!”

“It’s still a lot of money,” I said.

“Yes, it is. Because I want to make you take the job, and because I want my name kept out of it. I don’t want to be involved.” He said it bluntly. Either he was naive or bolder than he looked.

“Even though you can prove you were out of town?”

“I’m not worried about being thought guilty,” he said. “It’s just that a young girl, a salesman, a few weeks, you understand?”

I understood. The newspapers, and his office people, would have a fun-time with it. We love to see dirt.

“All right,” I said. “In murder, I have to work with the police. If I can’t keep you out, I’ll tell you first.”

Andera thought for a moment, then nodded, and stood up. He counted ten hundred-dollar bills from his wallet. They were all new bills, he’d come prepared from his bank.

“I’ll come here for any reports,” he said.

When he had gone I thought about him. He had paid me more than I was worth on any market, and I had a hunch that he knew it. Had he decided how much it would cost to make me take a case I didn’t quite believe?

Вы читаете Walk a Black Wind
Добавить отзыв


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

Отметить Добавить цитату