job I had been paid to do. I stopped for three cold cans of beer on the way, carried them with me.

The Hotel Stratford was middle class, not expensive but not a flop, either. The lobby was small but clean, the floor carpeted, and greenery in the pots. The heavy chairs and couches weren’t too old. A solid hotel where they even cleaned the single elevator. The night clerk was just as solid, neither old nor young, neat and a friend.

“I’m going to wait for someone asking for room 427 or Claude Marais, George. I’ll be quiet, and I’d appreciate a high sign. Okay?”

“Any trouble involved, Dan?” George Jenkins asked.

“Just talk, I hope. It’s worth ten, okay?”

“Keep your money, Dan. Drink the beer out of sight, and put the cans in the bag. The manager’s touchy.”

I nodded thanks-ten saved is ten earned-and found an armchair where a rubber plant hid me. I could see the entrance, desk, elevator and stairs. There were no other ways up. The lobby wasn’t air-conditioned, and the chair was heavy and hot. It was going to be a bad night.

For money and nothing else. I felt like a fool, a tool, or worse. A job I really knew nothing about, and didn’t care a damn about-because I had to have money. Work I should have turned down because it was work in the dark, but a desperate man can’t afford that luxury. The story of most men.

I had just finished my first beer when the stocky younger brother came out of the elevator and headed for the street. I had been paid to keep anyone away from Claude Marais, so I went out after him. In the stifling night, he turned uptown on Ninth Avenue. He didn’t act like a man with someone out to kill him. He just walked uptown in that slow, gliding walk as if he had a weight dragging him back. When he crossed Nineteenth Street, I guessed where he was going.

There was a light inside the pawn shop of Eugene Marais as Claude turned into it. He had to wait for the door to be opened. After he had gone in, I took up a station across the street, lit a cigarette, and waited. The whole city was out in shirtsleeves, walking aimlessly in a vain attempt to find, or make, a breeze.

It was just past nine when Claude Marais came out of the pawn shop again. He wasn’t alone. A short young girl was with him-heavy-bodied and big-breasted, her dark hair long on her bare shoulders, her face full-lipped and petulant. She wore a loose blouse off her shoulders, and tight shorts, and I recognized her-Danielle Marais, Eugene’s daughter. Nineteen, her heavy body was full and sensual.

I followed them back to the Stratford. They went up together. I wondered if the wife, Li, was up in the room? After all, what did I really know about why I had been hired? Or who I was really staked out to watch for?

Somewhere around ten, a big puff of cooler air ran around the lobby for a time, and I finished my second beer. I was about to open the third before it boiled, and almost missed the night clerk’s high sign.

The youth at the desk wasn’t middle-aged, scarred or German, but he had asked for Claude Marais or his room, and I cornered him at the elevator. I knew him-a twenty-year-old street kid from south of Houston Street: Charlie Burgos.

“Visiting friends, Charlie?”

He curled his lip. “What’s it to you, Fortune?”

Defensive and aggressive-both together, and immediately. Defensive, because like all street kids of the slums he knew his powerlessness. Aggressive, because aggression, immediate and animal, was the only hope of power any street kid had. Strike before you’re struck. The street kids of poor, dirty, tough, abandoned streets that didn’t exist to the daylight world of affluent America.

“I’m going to check you out, Charlie,” I said.

He had been checked for weapons all his young life, Charlie Burgos, whenever he ventured beyond his own streets and alleys. Guilty, until reluctantly found innocent by cops who knew that crime did live in the slums.

“Check,” Charlie Burgos said, indifferent.

My right to check him was power, nothing more. Physical power because I was older, social power because I had at least some standing in the proper community. Not like Charlie Burgos or his parents-they had no power, so no rights. Parents who had never escaped the same streets-uneducated, unskilled, without hope of a human joy beyond the bottle, the needle, the bookie, the street woman, and some joyless job with nowhere to go except down. No today, no tomorrow, beyond what they could steal, for a moment, from each other’s flesh.

He had no weapon. “Okay, Charlie. What’s up?”

He showed no resentment to being searched. Abstract anger and pride was a luxury street kids don’t have. Kids put down and ignored forever because they were young, and poor, and powerless. Lost to disease and drugs, but lost mostly to defeat. There are few fair ways out of the defeat of the slums, so they learn early to lie, cheat, steal, mug and scheme every minute. An angle, a scheme of profit, that is what they live with, and that was what was on Charlie Burgos’s mind.

“You on a job, Fortune? Stake out? Buck an hour, I’ll help, okay?”

“What’s your business with Claude Marais, Charlie?”

“Nothin’. It’s hot, take a break. I’ll spell you.”

“Never mind, Charlie.”

“I’ll go for a beer. Buck for goin’ to the store.”

I went back to my chair behind the rubber plant. The third beer was hot, damn! At the elevator, Charlie Burgos was gone. The wife, Li Marais, had said others might be involved, but Charlie wasn’t armed, and if he had anything on his mind he wasn’t going to tell me without more pressure.

I got my answer anyway. At ten-forty, my last beer gone, Charlie Burgos came out of the elevator-with Danielle Marais. The ripe pawn-shop owner’s daughter held the tall, skinny street kid’s arm. In his dark-eyed animal way, Charlie Burgos was handsome enough. He gave me a wink as they passed-“Look what I’m going to get, mister. I howl tonight!” the wink said. It’s the only relation to a woman a street kid knows.

He came into the lobby at 11:02 P.M. Taller than I had expected, the limp barely noticeable, but the scars clear on his left cheek.

He walked straight through the lobby to the desk, seemed to look at nothing and no one. Yet he saw everything and everyone. He seemed to look straight ahead, intent on where he was going, yet I saw his eyes on me. German eyes under thin blond hair-pale blue, smooth, self-contained.

Forty-plus, I guessed, but the stride of an athlete in shape. Not furtive, but calling no attention, either. Polite and reserved in a brown tropical suit he wasn’t quite at home in. He wore the suit casually, but somehow seemed restricted by it. He belonged in safari clothes in some jungle, or running guns in a fast boat. The kind of man who would sell both sides if he could, and would be wanted in many countries for a little official talk. A man who would live high, hard and well, until he ended in front of a firing squad in some remote capital, or, worse, slowly ran out of countries where he could go, people he could live off.

The clerk gave me the high sign, but I was already on my way to the elevator. When he came, I was in his path. I could see the gun under his right arm. He stopped. Surprised to see me in his path, but not scared.

“You’re looking for Claude Marais?” I said.

He thought about it. “Yes, I visit Claude.”

“For what reason?”

He thought about me. He considered my one arm. I sounded tough, and he had no way of knowing if I was or wasn’t.

“It is your affair?”

“It is now,” I said, and flashed an old private guard badge.

His blond eyebrows went up an inch. He looked at my arm.

“Special detective,” I said, before he could ask about a cop with one arm. “You’re an alien, you have a permit for that gun you’re carrying?”

His left hand moved to his thin blond hair, combed through. A mannerism. I imagined him doing that when deciding if he should shoot a prisoner or not.

“Claude, he is in some trouble?” he said.

“Let’s say I’m watching him. I want to know your business.”

“A private matter. Personal. I wish no trouble.”

“Good,” I said. “Maybe I better take the gun.”

I held out my hand, and he reacted. Like a snake. He jerked back, took two steps away. I could see him thinking. Somehow, though, he wasn’t acting like a man out to kill anyone. More like a man with a plan on his mind,

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