Ellery Queen

Cop Out

We dedicate this our fortieth anniversary novel to our readers, here and abroad, who have so loyally followed our adventures in print.

No man is an island, entire of itself.

– Donne, 1624


The Bag

It had been a good Indian summer and there were still leaves on the tiring maples behind the plant. It was the evergreens that looked expectant, under the moon they stood like girls waiting to be asked by the tall dark handsome sky.

Howland turned away from the window, unadmiring. He hated November. November meant December, and December meant Christmas bills. He had no feeling for nature or religion or almost anything else but money. It seemed to him that for all his fifty-seven years he had been reaching out for money that would stick to his fingers. The irony was that so much of it had passed through them.

He compared his watch with the steel hands over the Manila driftwood door, lettered in computer-type characters Curtis Pickney, General Manager.

Almost ten.

Howland went back to his desk. He studied the payroll.

So near and yet so far is the story of my life.

It had started with his first job out of the commercial course at New Bradford High. Old man Louie Wocjzewski had taken him on to tend register in the sandwich shop across the blacktop from Compo Copper and Brass. It had seemed to him then that there could not be so much cash in the world. They were working six-day shifts in those days and eight to nine hundred dollars a week had gone through the register. What he had got from it was twelve greasy singles, counted out in cautious cadence by old Wojy every Saturday night.

It had been worse at The Taugus County National Bank during his cage days when he had handled thousands belonging to everyone in town but Teller Howland. He had not even been able to afford a checking account at first because he had just married Sherrie-Ann and she had stupidly got herself pregnant and sick and then aborted in a mess of hospital and doctor and drug bills, she was still that way throwing their lousy few dollars around like he was a millionaire, my personal dollar drain, Howland’s Sewer I ought to call her. Why I didn’t ditch her long ago I’ll never know, she even makes rotten chowder.

He sat down at his desk before the greenbacks.

He had felt the tiny kick of hope when Curtis Pickney hired him for the new New Bradford branch of Aztec Paper Products. Pickney had spoken rapidly of company expansion, opportunities for advancement (to what?), fringe benefits (and no union), salary to start $103 (take-home $86.75, but you know those g.d. do-gooders in Washington, Mr. Howland), and after nine years he was all the way up to $112.90 take-home and he was still the bookkeeper of the New Bradford branch of Aztec Paper Products. And he would remain its bookkeeper at Pickney’s pleasure or until he was hauled out feet first or he made a stink, in which case he’d be still breathing but out on his canister. And where would a man fifty-seven get a decent job in New Bradford? Or anywhere else?

What in hell is keeping them?

As he thought it he heard the triple knock at the back door of the plant.

Howland jumped.

One, two-three.

But he stood there.

The payroll was in undistributed sheafs of rubberbanded bills beside the canvas bag as he had brought it from the bank in the afternoon accompanied in their every-Wednesday waltz by Officer Wesley Malone, the town cop with the eyes that always seemed to be scouting for Indian sign or something.

I wonder what Wes would think of this, probably stalk me like he did the bobcat that showed up from Canada or some place and played hob at Hurley’s chicken farm. And put a bullet between its eyes.

The thought turned about and it strengthened him. Still, as Howland hurried to the back door through the dark plant his lungs labored and his heart punched away at his Adam’s apple.

But his head held trueblue to his plans. They did not include Sherrie-Ann. They did not even include Marie Griggs, the twitch-britches night countergirl at Elwood’s Diner.

He was not sure what they did include. Except $6,000.

A year’s pay practically, tax-free.

Howland unlocked the door.

* * *

Hinch was at the wheel. My wheelman, Furia called him. Hinch drove into the empty parking lot behind the plant and stopped the car on the tarmacadam ten feet from the rear entrance. It was a Chrysler New Yorker with a powerful purr, like Hinch. Black satin under the dust and not a dent.

Furia had picked it out personally on the main drag in Newton Center, Mass. in broad daylight. They had switched plates on a back road near Lexington and Hinch crowed. It was a sweet bus, the neatest they had ever copped. It even had a police band on the radio. Furia was sitting up front with Hinch. Goldie was in the back seat flipping one of her Lady Vere de Vere cigarets, goldtipped what else.

Furia got out.

He had a stiff’s skin, tight and yellow, and Mickey Mouse ears. Goldie, who was gone on Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy, had once called him Mr. Spock for a gag, but only once. Furia wore an executive three-button Brooks, a no-iron white shirt, a bleak gray silk tie, a two-inch Knox, black gloves, built-up heels, and amber goggles, the latest type, that made him look like a frogman. His London Fog he had left on the front seat.

He stood there like a spinning top, motionless to the eye. He looked around.

“No.” He had a spinning sort of voice, too, so hard and tight it practically sang.

Goldie stopped in the act of stepping out of the car. Hinch did not move.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because I’m giving you the word.”

“Bitch,” Hinch chortled.

Furia looked at him. Hinch gave him a rather embarrassed spread of the hand.

“I gave you the word, Goldie.”

Goldie shrugged and stepped back into the Chrysler banging the door. When Goldie shrugged her long gold hair shrugged with her. She had borrowed the effect from the TV commercials. She was all gold and scarlet, a girl of bottles and pastes. Her miniskirt came eight inches under her crotch. She was wearing gold fishnets and tall gilt

Вы читаете Cop Out
Добавить отзыв


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

Отметить Добавить цитату