hotel manager’s equivalent of the purple heart, but I didn’t wait around to see. I didn’t know how long my brown paper bag would hold up, and I had some thinking to do.

My ’34 Buick had recently been painted a straight dark blue by No-neck Arnie, the mechanic on Eleventh. The paint was already bubbling. I had sixty bucks and a problem. The immediate problem was the stain on the seat next to me being made by the Lombardi kosher-style cold cuts. The next problem was a client I supposedly had named Cooper. I turned on the car radio and listened to the war news for a few seconds and then turned to KFI to catch Don Winslow, who was winning the war even if we weren’t.

What did I have? A client named Cooper, who had something to do with movies. Lombardi, who had recently moved to the Coast from the East and wanted to remain a noncelebrity. How many Coopers were there? Gladys Cooper, Jackie Cooper, Meriam C. Cooper, Gary Cooper. Something pinged in my head. Something about Gary Cooper. I urged it to come out. Don Winslow urged a spy to come out of a submarine, but both remained inside.

The sky was clearing but the day was still damned cold when I pulled in front of Mrs. Plaut’s boarding house on Heliotrope, where I lived. Mrs. Plaut greeted me on the porch. She was somewhere in the vicinity of eighty years old, with more determination than the Russians holding Leningrad and as much hearing as a light pole. She was under the impression that I was an exterminator with connections in the movie industry. With my help, she was writing a history of her family.

“Mr. Peelers, you are home early,” she said.

“Yes,” I said. “I …”

“Yes, problems,” she sighed as I came on the porch. “My father used to say this is a doggie dog world.”

“Right,” I said, trying to skip past her.

“I’ll have another chapter by Saturday,” she said, putting her bony arm out, an arm that had uncanny strength.

“Right,” I said, easing past her with my brown bag held out to keep from further ruining my suit.

I did not bound up the stairs, but I went as quickly as I could. I passed my own door and knocked at Gunther’s. Gunther Wherthman was my next-door neighbor and probably my best friend. Gunther, all three foot nine of him, answered immediately. He was, as always, dressed in a three-piece suit, though he worked at home translating books from German, French, Italian, Spanish, Polish and Danish into English. Gunther was Swiss. We had met on a case of mine.

“Ah, Toby,” he said with reserved enthusiasm. “I have a query for you.”

“Join me in my room for an early dinner,” I said. “Cold cuts.” I showed him the bag.

“Yes,” he said. “Let me clean up first.”

Gunther dirty was more clean than I would be after going through a car wash without a car. I went to my room. I had learned to appreciate the room, which was nothing like me. There was one old sofa with doilies on the arms, which I was afraid to touch, a table with three chairs, a hot plate in the corner, a sink, a small refrigerator, a few dishes and a bed with a purple blanket on which “God Bless Us Every One” had been stitched in pink by Mrs. Plaut, a painting of Abraham Lincoln and a Beech-nut gum clock on my wall received in payment from a pawnshop owner for finding his runaway grandmother. Every night I took the mattress from the bed and put it on the floor. I slept there because of a delicate back crunched in 1938 by a gentleman of the Negro persuasion, who took exception to my trying to keep him away from Mickey Rooney when I was picking up a few dollars as a guard at a premiere at Grauman’s Chinese.

I took off my jacket, shoes and tie and dumped the cold cuts into a bowl. I pulled out some leftover hard rolls and a bottle of ketchup and was trying to get a dark spot off of one of my plates when Gunther came in carrying a bottle of Cresta Blanca wine and two glasses.

He put the wine on the table, examined the cold cuts, trying to hide a critical look, and made a sandwich. We drank wine and ate.

I told Gunther my adventure and asked what he thought of the food.

“While I appreciate your hospitality, Toby, I think Mr. Lombardi’s cuisine could be improved.”

We ate for a while longer-at least I did. Gunther finished only half a sandwich and then told me his own problem.

“I am translating what I take to be a humorous American story for an overseas broadcast. And in that story is a comic demolition company named Edifice Wrecks. I assume that is a waggish reference to Oedipus Rex. However, the joke does not translate well into Polish, and I am not adept at humor.”

I could confirm that. Gunther had sat in polite amusement on several nights while I giggled at Al Pearce or Burns and Allen. I couldn’t help Gunther with his problem, and he couldn’t help me with mine.

“It’s Gary Cooper,” I said, finishing my third sandwich and downing the last of the small bottle of wine. “I know it. Something … Hold it. About a month ago I had a message to call Gary Cooper. Then the next day a call came canceling the message. I thought it was a joke. What if …”

“Someone got to Cooper saying he was you and then called telling you to cancel your call,” Gunther finished.

“Right,” I said. “Someone beat me out of the job.”

“There could be many other explanations,” said Gunther reasonably.

“Sure, but remember it’s a doggie dog world out there,” I said.

Gunther looked puzzled.

“I think I’ll get on it right away.”

Gunther volunteered to clean up. I had learned to let him. He didn’t like the way I cleaned up. I didn’t either.

If someone was playing Toby Peters, he had started something that could lose me a right hand. I had to deal myself in or sit around waiting for Lombardi to come and deal me out.

The first step was to find Cooper. I pulled some nickels out of my pocket and went to the pay phone in the hall. Below me I could hear Mrs. Plaut singing “I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good.” She had all the words screwed up, but the melody was close.

A guy I know, a writer at Variety who used to do publicity at Warner Brothers, told me that Cooper was making a baseball picture for Goldwyn. He didn’t know how far they were on shooting. He also said in passing that Cooper was a shoo-in for the Academy Award for Sergeant York. I hadn’t asked him. After saying good-bye to Gunther, using the washroom down the hall and readjusting my tie, I went out in search of Gary Cooper.


Finding Cooper wasn’t hard. Getting to him was the problem. I went to Goldwyn Studios, where I had no contacts. After I said I had an appointment with Cooper, I was told that he was on location. The guy at the gate made a phone call to the location, gave my name and after five minutes got the go-ahead from Cooper for me to come. The gate guard gave me an address in Los Angeles, and I headed for it.

Kate Smith had gotten through “Rose O’Day” on the radio when I turned the corner and parked next to an old ball park. I remembered going to a boxing match in the place when I was a kid. My old man, who never punched anyone in his life, dearly loved watching grown men go after each other in a fifteen-foot square.

I could hear voices inside the park; not the voices of crowds, but the tired voices of men at the end of a workday. A guard at the gate asked who I was and let me through. The sun was about to give up and call it a day after elbowing at the clouds without much success. The rain had stopped, but the air had a cold bite.

I walked into the stadium and saw two men out on the baseball field near first base. One was tall and lanky; the other looked chunky and older. Both of them wore baseball uniforms. I took a step toward them from behind the backstop, and a figure blocked my way.

“Where you headin’, son?” came a voice I recognized but couldn’t place.

“I’ve got an appointment with Mr. Cooper,” I explained, looking up at the man before me. For a second I had the feeling that I was dreaming. I had to be. Dressed in full Yankee uniform and barring my way was Babe Ruth. The face was a little weathered and sagging, the belly a little lower than in the newsreels, the legs a bit thinner,

Вы читаете High Midnight
Добавить отзыв


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

Отметить Добавить цитату