'See what I mean?' Alamena said.

'Reverend Short, shame on you, pulling our leg like that,' Mamie said indulgently.

'If you don't believe me, go look at the bread,' Reverend Short challenged.

'What bread?'

'The basket of bread I fell into. It's on the sidewalk in front of the A amp;P store. God put it there to break my fall.'

Mamie and Alamena exchanged glances.

'I'll go look, you go call the doctor,' Mamie said.

'I want to look, too.'

Everybody wanted to look.

Sighing loudly, as though indulging the whims of a lunatic against her better judgement, Mamie led the way.

The bedroom door was closed. When she opened it, she exclaimed, 'Why, the light's on!'

With growing trepidation she crossed the lighted bedroom and leaned out of the open window. Alamena leaned out beside her. The others squeezed into the medium-sized room. As many as could peered over the two women's shoulders.

'Is it there?' someone in back asked.

'Does they see it?'

'There's a basket of some kind, sure enough,' Alamena said.

'But it don't look like it's no bread in it,' the man peering over her shoulder said.

'It don't even look like a bread basket,' Mamie said, trying to penetrate the early morning shadows with her near-sighted gaze. 'It looks like one of them wicker baskets they take away dead bodies in.'

By then Alamena's sharp vision had become accustomed to the dark.

'It's a bread basket, all right. But there's a man already lying in it.'

'A drunk,' Mamie said in a voice of relief. 'No doubt that's what Reverend Short saw that gave him the idea of fooling us.'

'He don't look drunk to me,' said the man who was leaning over her shoulder. 'He's lying too straight, and drunks always lay crooked.'

'My God!' Alamena exclaimed in a fear-stricken voice. 'He's got a knife sticking in him.'

Mamie let out a long moaning keen. 'Lord, protect us, can you see his face, child? I'm getting so old I can't see a lick. Is it Chink?'

Alamena put her arm about Mamie's waist and slowly pulled her from the window.

'No, it ain't Chink,' she said. 'It looks to me like Val.'


Everyone rushed toward the outside door to be the first downstairs. But before Mamie and Alamena could get out the telephone began to ring.

'Who in the hell could that be at this hour?' Alamena said roughly.

'You go ahead, I'll answer it,' Mamie said. Alamena went on without replying. Mamie went back into the bedroom and lifted the receiver of the telephone on the nightstand beside the bed.


'Are you Mrs. Pullen?' a muffled voice asked. It was so blurred she could scarcely distinguish the words.


'There's a dead man out in front of your house.'

She could have sworn the voice held a note of laughter.

'Who are you?' she asked suspiciously.

'I ain't nobody.'

'It ain't so goddam funny that you got to make a joke about it,' she said roughly.

'I ain't joking. If you don't believe me, go to the window and take a look.'

'Why the hell didn't you call the police?'

'I reckoned that maybe you wouldn't want them to know.'

Suddenly the whole conversation stopped making sense to Mamie. She tried to collect her thoughts, but she was so tired her head buzzed. And all this monkey business of Reverend Short's, and then Val's getting stabbed to death with Big Joe lying dead there in the coffin, left her feeling as though she had stepped off the edge of sanity.

'Why the hell wouldn't I want the police to know?' she asked savagely.

'Because he came from your apartment.'

'How do you know he came from my apartment? I ain't seen him in my house tonight.'

'I did. I saw him fall out of your window.'

'What? Oh, you're talking about Reverend Short. And you sure enough seen him fall?'

'That's what I'm telling you. And he's lying down on the sidewalk in the A amp;P bread basket, dead as all hell.'

'That ain't Reverend Short. He didn't even get hurt. He come back upstairs.'

The voice didn't say anything, so she went on. 'It's Val. Valentine Haines. And he was stabbed to death.'

She waited for an answer, but the voice still didn't speak.

'Hello,' she said. 'Hello! You still there! You're so goddam smart how come you didn't see that?'

She heard a very soft click.

'The bastard hung up,' she mumbled to herself, then added, 'Now if that ain't almighty strange-'

She stood still for a moment, trying to think, but her mind wouldn't work. Then she crossed to the dressing table and picked up a can of snuff. Using a cotton dauber, she dipped a lipful, leaving the dauber in the pocket of her lip with the stick protruding. It quieted her growing sense of panic. Out of respect for her guests, she hadn't taken a dip all night, and as a rule she lived with a dip in her lip.

'Lord, if Big Joe was alive, he'd know what to do,' she said to herself as she went with slow, dragging steps back into the sitting room.

It was littered with dirty glasses and plates containing scraps of food, ashtrays overflowing with smoldering cigarette and cigar butts. The maroon-carpeted floor was a mess. Burning cigarettes had left holes in the upholstery, burned scars on the tabletops. The ashy skeleton of a cigarette lay intact atop the grand piano. There was a resemblance to a fairground after a circus has gone, and the smell of death and lilies of the valley and man- made stink was overpowering in the hot, close room.

Mamie dragged herself across the room and looked down into the bronze-painted coffin at the body of her late husband.

Big Joe was dressed in a cream-colored Palm Beach suit, pale green crepe de Chine shirt, brown silk tie with hand-painted angels held in place by a diamond horseshoe stickpin. His big square dark-brown face was clean shaven, with deep creases encircling the wide mouth. It looked freshly massaged. His eyes were closed. His stiff gray kinky hair had been cut short after death and had been painstakingly combed and brushed. She had done it herself, and she had dressed him, too. His hands were folded across his chest, exhibiting a diamond ring on his left hand and his lodge signet ring on his right.

She removed all of the jewelry and put it down into the deep front pocket of her long black satin Mother Hubbard dress that swept the floor. Then she closed the coffin.

'One hell of a wake this turned out to be,' she said.

'He's dead,' Reverend Short said suddenly in his new croaking voice.

Mamie gave a start. She hadn't seen Reverend Short.

He sat slouched on the end of his spine in an overstuffed armchair, staring with a fixed expression toward the opposite wall.

'What the hell do you think,' she said roughly. All her social affections had left since the discovery of Val's

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