VENGEANCE IS MINE
First Published 1950
To Joe and George who are always ready for a new adventure and to Ward . . . who used to be
The guy was dead as hell. He lay on the floor in his pajamas with his brains scattered all over the rug and my gun was in his hand. I kept rubbing my face to wipe out the fuzz that clouded my mind but the cops wouldn?t let me. One would pull my hand away and shout a question at me that made my head ache even worse and another would slap me with a wet rag until I felt like I had been split wide open.
I said, ?Goddamn it, stop!?
Then one of them laughed and shoved me back on the bed.
I couldn?t think. I couldn?t remember. I was wound up like a spring and ready to bust. All I could see was the dead guy in the middle of the room and my gun. My gun! Somebody grabbed at my arm and hauled me upright and the questions started again. That was as much as I could take. I gave a hell of a kick and a fat face in a fedora pulled back out of focus and started to groan, all doubled up. Maybe I laughed, I don?t know. Something made a coarse, cackling sound.
Somebody said, ?I?ll fix the bastard for that!? but before he could the door opened and the feet coming in stopped all the chatter except the groan and I knew Pat was there.
My mouth opened and my voice said, ?Good old Pat, always to the rescue.?
He didn?t sound friendly. ?Of all the damn fool times to be drunk. Did anyone touch this man!? Nobody answered. The fat face in the fedora was slumped in a chair and groaned again.
?He kicked me. The son of a bitch kicked me . . . right here.?
Another voice said, ?That?s right, Captain. Marshall was questioning him and he kicked him.?
Pat grunted an answer and bent over me. ?All right, Mike, get up. Come on, get up.? His hand wrapped around my wrist and levered me into a right angle on the edge of the bed.
?Cripes, I feel lousy,? I said.
?I?m afraid you?re going to feel a lot worse.? He took the wet rag and handed it to me. ?Wipe your face off. You look like hell.?
I held the cloth in my hands and dropped my face into it. Some of the clouds broke up and disappeared. When the shaking stopped I was propped up and half pushed into the bathroom. The shower was a cold lash that bit into my skin, but it woke me up to the fact that I was a human being and not a soul floating in space. I took all I could stand and turned off the faucet myself, then stepped out. By that time Pat had a container of steaming coffee in my hand and practically poured it down my throat. I tried to grin at him over the top of it, only there was no humor in the grin and there was less in Pat?s tone.
His words came out of a disgusted snarl. ?Cut the funny stuff, Mike. This time you?re in a jam and a good one. What the devil has gotten into you? Good God, do you have to go off the deep end every time you get tangled with a dame??
?She wasn?t a dame, Pat.?
?Okay, she was a good kid and I know it. There?s still no excuse.?
I said something nasty. My tongue was still thick and uncoordinated, but he knew what I meant. I said it twice until he was sure to get it.
?Shut up, he told me. ?You?re not the first one it happened to. What do I have to do, smack you in the teeth with the fact that you were in love with a woman that got killed until you finally catch on that there?s nothing more you can do about it??
?Nuts. There were two of them.?
?All right, forget it. Do you know what?s outside there??
?Sure, a corpse.?
?That?s right, a corpse. Just like that. Both of you in the same hotel room and one of you dead. He?s got your gun and you?re drunk. What about it??
?I shot him. I was walking in my sleep and I shot him.?
This time Pat said the nasty word. ?Quit lousing me up, Mike. I want to find out what happened.?
I waved my thumb toward the other room. ?Where?d the goons come from??
?They?re policemen, Mike. They?re policemen just like me and they want to know the same things I do. At three o?clock the couple next door heard what they thought was a shot. They attributed it to a street noise until the maid walked in this morning and saw the guy on the floor and passed out in the doorway. Somebody called the cops and there it was. Now, what happened??
?I?ll be damned if I know,? I said.
?You?ll be damned if you don?t.?
I looked at Pat, my pal, my buddy. Captain Patrick Chambers, Homicide Department of New York?s finest. He didn?t look happy.
I felt a little sick and got the lid of the bowl up just in time. Pat let me finish and wash my mouth out with water, then he handed me my clothes. ?Get dressed.? His mouth crinkled up and he shook his head disgustedly.
My hands were shaking so hard I started to curse the buttons on my shirt. I got my tie under my collar but I couldn?t knot it, so I let the damn thing hang. Pat held my coat and I slid into it, thankful that a guy can still be a friend even when he?s teed off at you.
Fat Face in the fedora was still in the chair when I came out of the bathroom, only this time he was in focus and not groaning so much. If Pat hadn?t been there he would have laid me out with the working end of a billy and laughed while he did it. Not by himself, though.
The two uniformed patrolmen were from a police car and the other two were plainclothes men from the local precinct. I didn?t know any of them and none of them knew me, so we were even. The two plainclothes men and one cop watched Pat with a knowledge behind their eyes that said, ?So it?s one of those things, eh??
Pat put them straight pretty fast. He shoved a chair under me and took one himself. ?Start from the beginning,? he said. ?I want all of it, Mike, every single detail.?
I leaned back and looked at the body on the floor. Someone had had the decency to cover it with a sheet. ?His name is Chester Wheeler. He owns a department store in Columbus, Ohio. The store?s been in his family a long time. He?s got a wife and two kids. He was in New York on a buying tour for his business.? I looked at Pat and waited.
?Go on Mike.?
?I met him in 1945, just after I got back from overseas. We were in Cincinnati during the time when hotel rooms were scarce. I had a room with twin beds and he was sleeping in the lobby. I invited him up to share a bed and he took me up, on it. Then he was a captain in the Air Force, some kind of a purchasing agent, working out of Washington. We got drunk together in the morning, split up in the afternoon, and I didn?t see him again until last night. I ran into him in a bar where he was brooding into a beer feeling sorry for himself and we had a great reunion. I remember we changed bars about half a dozen times, then he suggested we park here for the night and we did. I bought a bottle and we finished it after we got up here. I think he began to get maudlin before we hit the sack but I can?t remember all the details. The next thing I knew somebody was beating my head trying to get me up.?
?Is that all??
?Every bit of it, Pat.?
He stood up and looked around the room. One of the plainclothes men anticipated his question and remarked, ?Everything is untouched, sir.?
Pat nodded and knelt over to look at the body. I would like to have taken a look myself, but my stomach wouldn?t stand it. Pat didn?t speak to anyone in particular when he said, ?Wound self-inflicted. No doubt about it.? His