Long Gone Forever
Old man Savage's driveway seemed full of a cool beige limousine. It looked as comfortable as a high floating cloud and made Raymond Slater, private detective, all the more aware of his ragged '69 red Chevy. Slater clattered up behind the limo, parked and got out.
The Savage residence was a vast expanse of emerald grass and brilliant design with a circular drive and plenty of well-clipped flowerbeds. There was a white marble fountain on the front lawn, and two naked pixy statuettes perched on its rim spat water into it. A more than warm breeze blew across the grass as if it were trespassing and trying to be damn quiet about it.
It was easily 98 degrees and, with no air-conditioning in his car, Slater was as hot and damp as a piece of steamed fish. But that was Pasadena, Texas, for you in July.
Around the edge of the mansion, and that was some distance away, a tall man all dressed in black, looking as cool as a polar bear, moved out across the lawn toward the detective. When he reached Slater he held out his hand, said, "I'm Mr. Savage's assistant, Jason Neely. Mr. Savage is expecting you."
"Raymond Slater," the big detective said, and while they shook he took a good look at Jason. He was tall and bald with a face that might have been thirty or fifty years old. He had a thin nose and lips, sharp chin and blue eyes that could have been any color and looked the same: bored. Or maybe it was just indifferent.
The black suit he was wearing was not a uniform as Slater had thought originally, but it certainly gave that impression. Jason looked perfectly comfortable and correct in it, as natural as an English butler. His grey shirt and little black bow tie looked as unworn as if they had been on the department store manikin all day, and never once exposed to the humidity of July. There wasn't a drop of sweat on him.
"Please come with me," Jason said and he led Slater to the house, up a trio of steps as wide and white as marble tombstones, then inside a wide blue-tiled hall.
"Wait here a moment, please," Jason said, "and I'll inform Mr. Savage that you have arrived."
Slater nodded and Jason went down the long hall and through a set of metal-banded doors that looked large enough and strong enough to protect a castle. Slater got out a cigarette, lit it, sat in an expensive lobby chair with an ornamental knee high ashtray by it and smoked.
After a while Jason came through the castle doors, walked over to the detective, said, "He'll see you now, but please don't let him overdo. He's a very sick man."
"I understand," Slater said, standing. "I'll just go on in."
"Surely," Jason said. "Meg will bring refreshments. Excuse me. I need to put the car away." They half-nodded at one another. Jason went outside and Slater went down the hall and through the huge doors.
It was very cool inside, almost uncomfortable. The carpet was as white as the peaks of the Himalayas and Slater thought whoever did the vacuuming must have a hell of a hard time. The curtains were white and so were the walls and so was Kerwin R. Savage.
The old man sat in a rattan chair on a mass of white cushions with a low, glass-topped table at his right elbow. He looked very small and like a plantation owner without his broad brimmed hat. He had milky white hair and he wore a white suit with white shirt and glossy white tie. Even his socks and shoes were white. His pale face and faded grey eyes were topped by bushy brows of snow. He looked very worn and, oddest of all, he was sweating. Even his hair looked damp.
Slater stepped over to the chair and took the hand Savage was offering. The old man shook weakly with his damp little paw, rather like a dying rat giving one last shake before the trap did him in.
"Mr. Slater, of course," the old man wheezed. "I'm Kerwin R. Savage." He gave Slater a thin glimpse of his pearly dentures. Even his lips seemed white. "Hell of a name for a wimp like me, isn't it?"
Slater just smiled, thought maybe the old man had dressed up for his arrival and was obviously hot and uncomfortable, so he slipped off his battered sports jacket and draped it over his arm, said, "Hot day for a coat and tie of any kind."
"Proper breeding," Savage said, splitting his thin little smile, "has ruined my common sense, Mr. Slater. Actually, I never had proper breeding, just money." He waved Slater at a chair, added, "Drag it over close, son. My voice is weak enough. And put your jacket on. This room isn't fit for normal healthy folk."
Slater pulled his jacket on, picked up the chair with its white cushion, carried it over and sat it less than six feet from the old man.
"How do you like the decor?" Savage said. "I had it done in early Antarctica to help me feel cool and comfortable. It's like this damn body of mine, all screwed up."
Slater didn't say anything about the interior decoration. Savage slipped off his coat, draped it over the arm of his chair, loosened his shiny white tie and unbuttoned his shirt at the neck. He was perspiring like an Eskimo in the Congo.
"How can I be of service to you?" Slater asked.
Savage fished a handkerchief, white of course, from his draped coat and wiped his face and neck with it. "I want you to find my wife, Reba. Lieutenant Burney at police headquarters recommended you."
Savage went back to his jacket and this time he brought out a long brown wallet and removed a string of celluloid picture casings. He handed them to Slater.
All five pictures were of a beautiful woman with ebony hair and eyes to match. She had perfect teeth and a ripe mouth that said, "Kiss me," at the least. The body in two full-view photos was less subtle. She didn't look a day over twenty-five.
Savage said, "Young, isn't she? You're wondering what an old coot like me could do for a woman like that?"
"It is a bit unusual," Slater said, handing the pictures back.
"Keep them," Savage said. "You may need them."
Slater put the pictures in his coat pocket.
"I want to tell you right away," Savage said, "I have no illusions. None whatsoever. Reba married me for my money. I knew that from the start, but I was lonely and sick. I love her and I want her back. Most of all I want her happy.
"What I'm saying so clumsily is this: Find her, find out what she's doing, if she's happy. If she doesn't want to come back, don't try and make her. I don't even care why she left, just that she's all right and doesn't need anything."
"You think she left on her own?" Slater asked.
"I think she may have. An old man like me, money or not, isn't a lot of fun. Socially or at home. The home part no amount of money can substitute for."
"Tell me everything about Reba that you believe is relevant," Slater asked. "Start with how long ago she disappeared."
"It'll be a week Tuesday," Savage said. "Sometimes she leaves and doesn't come back for a day. Boyfriends, I suppose. I don't blame her for that. But six days. That's a long time."
Just then a side door opened to the left and a young lass with black hair arranged like a southern belle entered with a silver tray. On the tray were two glasses and a beaded pitcher of yellow-white liquid with ice cubes tinkling within.
The woman wore a crisp white dress, simple but well tailored, with black trim about the hem and short sleeves. There was a black sash belt to go with that. The dress fell almost to her knees. She looked very prim and dependable and, except for her hot, wet, black eyes and long, sleek legs, just like a maid.
She sat the tray down on the table, poured the two glasses full, looked at Slater out of the corner of her eye, then more fully when she handed him his glass.
Savage took that in.
"Meg, this is Mr. Slater—Mr. Slater, this is Meg Bailey. I've employed Mr. Slater to do me a service. I'll be wanting you to show him around after a bit. I'm much too worn."
"Certainly," she said.
"You may go now," Savage said, and she did, but she looked back smiling and Slater smiled at her.
Savage said, "I could have one that was old and fat and far more experienced but what fun's in that. When you get my age scenery is very important. Anything pleasant is."
Slater laughed at that and took a swig of his drink. It was lemonade. The old man sipped his, picked up where he had left off
"Last time I saw Reba was last Tuesday morning about eight. She was going to play tennis and swim at the club. She does that every Tuesday. It's an exclusive club called The Green Lawn. It's been in Pasadena less than a year. Big place for the rich, a bit snobby, if I say so myself. It offers tennis, swimming, health bar, steam room and, when they're finished building, a golf course.
"The best I can remember she was wearing a red tank top, white-and-red tennis shorts and white tennis shoes. She had a racquet with her, of course, and a bathing suit and towel. I don't think anything was missing from her room. My maid looked and thought the same. Her car was at The Green Lawn the next day and she had a few things in her locker. I had Meg drive Jason over to pick up the car."
"What are the police doing about this?" Slater asked.
"They have more missing persons than they can shake a stick at. They hardly have time to chase down some old, rich coot's young, promiscuous wife. Lieutenant Burney said, if I wanted something done right away, I should see you. He said missing persons is your specialty.
"Besides, I'd rather not embarrass her if possible. The police can't afford that luxury. You see, Mr. Slater, there was a night club in Dallas I used to frequent. Reba had an act there. The place was called the Blue Derrick and her act went quite a bit beyond the floor show."
"On the head. Our crowd beats about the bush on these things. You'd never make it in our group, Mr. Slater. Not even with money. Be glad as hell for that. Okay, I went to the club regularly to drink and to see Reba and, like I said before, I was lonely and she was friendly and had no particular distaste for money or a marriage of convenience."
"You're trying to tell me to play hush-hush because you might be shown with a dirty nose?" Slater suggested.
"Not at all. I gave up giving a fat damn about the Yacht Club and the cocktail parties long ago. I'm in a rut and now I'm too old to crawl out with a step ladder. It's Reba I care about. She got to me for money, no guesswork there. She spends more in a week than you probably make in a month. I don't even try to keep count.
"I don't care where it goes or what for. Reba didn't come up with a silver spoon in her mouth and, if the truth be known, neither did I. I was lucky. I had a rich uncle who died and liked me. Reba had a whore for a mother and no father that she knew about. Maybe there's a sort of Oedipal note to be read into all of this. Can't say.
"Reba married me, and for the first time in her life she didn't have to scrape and show her flesh to make a living. I don't want her reminded of her past. Not at any cost. She may not love me, but I've given her a sort of respect. It's all she's got. And now, knowing I've done that for her, it's all I've got.
"Petty business to a man like you," Savage concluded, sitting his half-empty glass on the table, "but that's how I want it."
"I'll keep it quiet as I can," Slater said. "Jason and Meg know about all this?"
"Yes. Jason has been with me a long time and I trust Meg dearly. Son"—Savage drew out the word—"to tell the truth, I'm not a very good judge of character. I've been taken to the cleaners more times than a Clergyman's collar, but I trust you. I honestly believe you'll do your best to keep this whole thing as quiet as possible. Now, let's talk money."
"I brought along a contract," the detective said.
Slater took out the contract and pen, watched painfully as Savage's wet, claw-like hand scribbled with the ballpoint. When that was done, Savage leaned back on his cushions, crossed his hands in his lap. There were beads of sweat on his forehead and upper lip. He seemed too weary to use the handkerchief on them.
"Damn if I'm not all done in, son," Savage said. "I'd like to rest. You just go through that door," he lifted a bloodless finger in the direction Meg had made her exit, "on down that hall and you'll find Meg. She'll show you around. You look all and anywhere you like, son."
"Thank you," Slater said and drained his glass. The clattering of the ice sounded as loud as a maraca in that sterile room. The detective put the glass on the table as he stood, said, "I'll do my best. You can count on that."
The old man's eyes were half closed. He whispered. "I am, son, I am." Then he closed his eyes completely and rested his chin on his chest.
Slater went out and closed the door softly.
Meg was outside Reba's room, waiting.
Slater went up to her, said, "This is it?"
"Uh-huh." Meg opened the door and led Slater inside to a room that was definitely feminine, almost childlike. It had light blue walls and a big bed decorated with fluffy blue-and-green flowered pillows and a bedspread to match. There were several stuffed animals and pleasant surroundings. Nothing really odd in that.
After the room, Meg took Slater for a tour of the labyrinth that was the Savage estate. Nothing really caught his eye. Meg walked him to the door.
"How many employees besides yourself?" Slater asked.
"Three others. Two women who work at the same thing I do part time, and that's almost everything. One gardener—Jason—handles several jobs. He's incredibly efficient, if a bit boring."
"The others know about Mrs. Savage's disappearance?"
"I don't think so. If they ask about her, Jason and I just say she's on a trip. That's what Mr. Savage told us to tell them."
"Thank you," Slater said. They exchanged smiles. With that, the private detective went out to his steaming car and climbed inside. Meg, standing in the doorway, waved to him as he rolled out of the drive.
The luxurious Green Lawn Health Spa and Athletic Club lay on the outskirts of Pasadena and it smelled of money a block away. The oldest car Slater could see parked there was last year's model. Out back were several large tennis courts, and except for the players, they looked as if the builders had just cleaned up the place and the first net had gone up ten minutes ago.
The pool lay beyond that, large, blue and crowded with people. Behind it all lay several acres of red dirt sparsely patched with fresh planted grass and trees—the soon-to-be golf course. There was also a parked bulldozer out there.
Slater parked in front of a modern hunk of redwood, glass and several thousand dollars worth of architectural know-how, got out and went inside. The interior was bright with pale green walls and blue plastic furniture. There was a man just to the left of Slater, sitting at a see-through plastic table.
He was wearing peroxide-blonde hair, beige slacks and a tight white tee-shirt that displayed a whole Charles Atlas course worth of muscles. He got up, flexing the Atlas course, and went over to the detective.
"Pardon me," the blonde said, "but this is a private club, sir."
"Oh, I'm very private," Slater said.
The man's eyes went from brown to muddy.
"I'm thinking of joining," Slater added quickly. "Could I speak to whoever is in charge."
"I'm the manager."
"Is there someone over you, a superior."
The blonde nodded heavily. "Yes, but I assure you..."
"Thanks," Slater said, "But it's your superior I want to see."
"Very well," the blonde said, rippling the muscles in his chest. "If you'll just sit down over there a moment." He nodded at the table where he had been sitting, then turned and walked stiffly toward the back.
Slater went to the table and sat down. Not long afterward a tall, slightly overweight but formidable-looking man, with a blue tee-shirt stretched tightly over a size fifty chest, came out with a peroxide blonde and sat down across from Slater. The manager sat next to the burly detective.
The man in the blue tee-shirt had iron grey hair, black eyes, a boxer's nose and a silver-studded ring on his left middle finger that could have anchored a ship. He held out his ringless hand, said, "I'm Jasper Clewson, the owner.
"This"—he nodded at the scowling blonde—"is my manager Anthony Kyd." Clewson and Slater shook. When it was Kyd's turn he tried to mix up the detective's knuckles.
"First of all," Slater said holding his injured paw against his thigh, "I've got to straighten one thing out. I'm not here to join. I'm Raymond Slater, a private detective."
Slater took out his license and passed it to Clewson, who in turn passed it to Kyd. After Kyd had made a more-than-thorough examination, he handed it to the detective.
Slater slipped it away and brought out the pictures of Reba Savage. He passed them in the same manner, said, "Know her?"
"Sure," Clewson said. "Reba Savage. Tomorrow's her day." Slater watched Kyd look at the pictures. His face was impassive, perhaps a bit too impassive.
"Her day?" Slater asked, feigning ignorance.
"She comes for her workouts on Tuesday," Clewson said. "Plays tennis, swims, saunas, that sort of thing."
"Have any regular tennis partners?" Slater asked.
"Anyone available," Kyd snapped. "This is a private club. We don't pair folks two by two at the door, and we don't keep tabs on our members. They pay their money and do what they like, as long as it's within the rules."
"I didn't ask what she did in the manager's office," Slater said.
Kyd half-rose out of his chair. Slater's voice held a chilled razor edge. "Sit down, muscles. I don't think you'd look so good on crutches."
"You talk tough," Kyd started, but Clewson reached up and clapped a heavy hand on his shoulder.
"Sit," Clewson said gently. Kyd had raised out of his chair for a moment, then, very slowly, sat down. His face was as red as a Hawaiian sunset.
Clewson gave Kyd a disparaging look, said to Slater, "My manager is a bit excitable. Over-protective of the members. If Mrs. Savage is missing we'll be glad to help. You asked about tennis partners. I don't see what bearing that has on anything, but here goes. Tony here was one of her partners from time to time. Then there's Marilyn Cunningham and a nut named Eric Stroheim."
"Nut?" Slater asked.
"Member of the Pasadena Nazi Party. Bunch of weirdos. Reba played with him from time to time, and maybe some games besides tennis."
Kyd's mouth fell open. He took a deep breath, pushed back his chair and stood. "Clewson, you sonofabitch, you can take this job and bounce it." With that, Kyd went out the way Slater had come in, doing his stiff walk.
"Now what the hell did I say?" Clewson growled.
Slater dug a notepad and pen out of his pocket, tossed them on the table, said, "I'm sorry about your manager. He's a hothead. Maybe something's riding him and he'll be asking for his job back when he cools off."
Clewson sat with a perplexed look on his face. "I certainly hope so."
"I hate to persist, but I'd be obliged if you'd write down the names and addresses of Stroheim and Cunningham."
Clewson sighed. "Yeah, sure. I'll have to go back to the office to get them. Be right back." He picked up the pad and pen and went toward the rear.
Slater sat and thumped his fingers on the glass tabletop. Something was spinning around in his head like a roulette wheel, something important, something that had to stop eventually to show its colors.
When Clewson came back with the addresses, he said, "The Stroheim kid will probably be easy to find. He doesn't work. Parents foot his bill. Marilyn works nights at the Del Rio, some kind of singer. Late afternoon, before work, is probably your best bet with her."
Slater thanked him, tucked the addresses away and went outside, hoping his car hadn't been towed away as a public nuisance.
Kyd was leaning on the driver's side of Slater's Chevy, picking absently at his fingernails. Slater thought he had looked big inside. Out in the sober light of day he was Apollo and Hercules rolled up in a tight tee-shirt.
Slater sauntered over to him as if he was no more than a gutless fly on the windshield. The detective said, "You waiting for me?"
Kyd leaned away from the car. "Yeah," he said. "I want to apologize."
That caught Slater off guard. "What the hell for? I think maybe I lost you a job in there. I owe you the apology. I'm the one with the big mouth."
"Naw, you didn't cost me nothin'. I was a sap. I was sick and tired of the job anyway. Sick and tired of Reba, for that matter."
Slater didn't say anything, just got out his pack and lipped a cigarette but didn't light it.
"Clewson's a jerk," Kyd went on. "That stuff about Stroheim is true enough, but after all the crap he's fed me about the customers' privacy, he's sure quick with the lip. Pays small potatoes anyway."
Slater said, "Uh-huh."
"See that big tree up there?" Kyd asked.
Slater walked over by him and looked. There were several big trees. He said, "Which one?"
"The oak, the biggest one out there, on the other side of the bulldozer." "Uh-huh. I see it. What about it?"
"That's where I saw her last. That help any?"
Slater got out his folder of matches, peeled one off and lit his cigarette, took a short drag, said, "Reba, you mean."
"Yep. Reba. Damn good-looking broad."
"Howsabout you backtrack some for me."
Kyd turned to Slater. "Okay. Why not? I'm not working for nobody. I don't owe Clewson a cold drink. He didn't even try to keep his mouth shut.
"Last Tuesday, Reba came like always and we played tennis for a while. She always, no matter what, plays first with Marilyn. They don't spend fifteen minutes on the court, but they always play first. I don't see what fun's in a fifteen minute game, do you?"
Slater told him he didn't know a tennis racquet from a baseball bat.
"So Reba and Marilyn played, and then me and Reba and then she played Stroheim. Stroheim was always putting the hustle on that Savage chick and getting nowhere."
"And you?" Slater asked. "You always played it straight down the line, just a sports fan?"
Kyd smiled thinly. "Okay. I hustled the chick, scored even. I knew she was married and that bothered me. I mean, I got scruples, but she didn't seem to think she was married. Said she married the old geezer for his money and he didn't have the stamina to even hug her hard let alone sack up with her."
"This all leads to the tree!" Slater said pleasantly.
"Yeah. You see, last Tuesday Reba and I had this argument. I tried to set us up for the evening, but she was giving me these nutty excuses. Her hair needed washing, her nails needed doing, the old man wanted her around, that sort of stuff.
"A bit later she and Stroheim are batting the ball. I'm working, but part of my job was to watch the customers, play tennis and swim from time to time, that sort of thing. Anyway. I come out and see that jerk Stroheim leaning on her, pawing at her.
"She starts to push and he keeps on, and to make it short, I get my big nose in and Stroheim tries to land a haymaker on me. I pushed him down on the court, skinned his knees, slapped him a couple of times. That's all there was to that."
"Somehow," Slater said, "the part about the tree bothers me. I keep trying to work it in."
Kyd chuckled. "I'm getting to that. This place closes at 9:00 PM. I stayed till ten to do some paperwork on new members. I don't drive a car to work. I live on the other side of the golf course, Northridge Apartments, and I jog over here every morning coming to work and every night going home. Health nut.
"So it was a pretty bright night, and I'm starting to head out, and I see these two walking up by the big tree over there. The 'dozer wasn't parked exactly where it is now. It was shadowy underneath that tree, but before they were completely beneath it I recognized the woman.
"I'd recognize that build anywhere. It was Reba, no doubt of it. The guy with her was in the shadows and he seemed to be dressed all in black. I figured it must have been Stroheim. Well, that made me mad as hell after all that stuff that afternoon; fending him off, me acting like a fool, and there they were under the tree, and when he started to reach out and paw her, I said what the hell and just turned and went on.
"This is probably about as important as what I had for breakfast, isn't it?"
"You never know," Slater said. "The tree fits in."
Kyd screwed up his face. "Meaning?"
"Meaning nothing," Slater said. "I think maybe you could get your job back if you really wanted it."
"Nuts to Clewson and his silly job. I'm tired of fat old hags who think I come with the place."
"What about young married ones?" Slater said, walking over to his car.
Kyd followed. "Them, too. I don't care if I never see Reba again."
Slater got in the red wreck, coughed the engine to life, said through the open window, "See you." He drove down the circular drive and back to smoggy Pasadena.
A little preliminary research in the form of Slater's pal Lt. Randle Burney at the Pasadena Police Station informed him that Eric Stroheim was a legal name change from Ted Louderdale. He'd been in a few minor scrapes with the police, but nothing serious, so far. Stroheim was, as Clewson had said, a member of Pasadena's growing Nazi party. He was also, according to Burney, very bored and very rich.
Slater called at his house, pretending to be a friend and his mommy dear, with whom he still lived, let him know that Teddy was out with friends at a little place called Adolf's. She gave Slater the address and the detective drove over there.
Adolf's was a burger stand converted to a club by the use of lots of paint and little taste. There was a '70 Dodge pickup parked out front, two motorcycles and a just-off-the-production-line Mercedes Benz. Slater presumed the Mercedes was rich Teddy's.
Three crudely painted signs, on and at either side of the door, told him the place inside was private. Slater opened the door and went into a reasonably cool bar laced with cigarette smoke, the clacking of pool balls and jukebox polka music.
A beefy, crewcut bartender sporting a Nazi uniform with a swastika arm band was sitting on a stool behind the bar, picking at his teeth with a shredded match. On the wall behind him was a three-dollar picture of dear old smiling Hitler bordered by a twenty-dollar picture frame.
None of the little round tables dotting the place was occupied, but the two pool tables in the back had customers—a couple of men at each and one kibitzer. None of them was in uniform, but Slater had the impression that they had left theirs at home on hangers.
The thing that was a bartender discarded his match on the floor and said, "Hey dumplin'. This ain't no regular joint. This here's a private club for the Pasadena Nazi Party. No membership, no admittance." He sounded about as German as Slim Pickens.
Slater walked over to the bar, got out a cigarette and managed to light it without his hand shaking, said, "That's the second time today I've heard that private hogwash and the first time was a lot classier place that this outhouse. I'm liking the sound of that line less and less."
The bartender smiled, showed Slater some teeth that could have chewed an elephant's hind leg off. "Well, well," he said easing off his stool to stand six-foot five worth of rock quarry. That reminded Slater that his .38 was in the glove box of his wreck. Not that he would have been within his rights to use it, but it would have made him feel less like a worm that was about to be stepped on.
"I'm with the police," Slater said, "and I'm looking for Teddy Louderdale."
"Well, well," the bartender repeated.
The fellows at the pool tables had stopped their play to listen, and now one of them stepped forward with a pool stick in his hand and, pointing it at Slater, said, "Fellow, I don't know who in the hell you are, but I'd better not hear you call me by that name again. Police or not, that don't buy nothing from me."
Rock Quarry, the bartender, made a casual step in Slater's direction. Slater said evenly, "We can save ourselves a lot of grief if you'll just let me ask you a few questions, Stroheim, in private."
Stroheim, a large but gangly youth with side-walled blond hair and a mustache like a sick caterpillar about to drop off a limb, walked slowly toward Slater, still holding the pool stick. All the pool players at the tables had stopped playing pool and were holding their cues in an unprofessional manner, for pool. The kibitzer picked up a cue ball and practiced his curve-ball grip on it.
Slater dropped his cigarette on the floor and crushed it slowly with his heel. He tried to keep an expression of bored disinterest on his face. Teddy was now within distance to strike a vicious blow. Up close, he looked more baby faced than Audie Murphy.
"Boy," Slater said, "I may not have made the best entrance that I could have, but I'm short on time. I'm looking for someone that I feel could be in big trouble. If you know something about it and I don't, you could be in big trouble. Got me?"
The bartender leaned over the bar, said, "Well, well."
Stroheim didn't say anything for a moment. His Adam's apple seemed to be trying to find a nice place to lie down. He worked the sick caterpillar with the tip of his tongue, licked the sweat off it. "All right," he said, "I'll talk at him."
The boys in the back relaxed. The bartender didn't bother to say well, well. He just sneered. Stroheim led the way to a table next to the wall, pulled out a chair and sat. Slater sat across from him, back to the wall.
"Make it quick," Stroheim said.
"I just want to know when you last saw Reba Savage. And do you know where she is?"
"Probably shacked up with somebody."
"You know from experience, I guess."
"Manager at the Green Lawn says different."
"Just jealous 'cause he couldn't make the grade."
"You see her a lot then?"
"Any time I want. Any way I want."
Slater tried a long shot. "Ever want to see her dead?"
"What?" Stroheim blinked.
"She's dead. That missing business was jive. She's colder than a carp."
"Now wait just a doggone minute."
"Maybe a big stud like you takes her out and she says no go and you kill her."
Stroheim was swearing heavily now. "Hey, I ain't killed nobody."
Suddenly, Stroheim let out a squeal of frustration and came out of his chair with a wild swing at the detective's head. Slater caught Stroheim's wrist, slid out of his chair simultaneously and jerked him across the table head-first into the wall. Stroheim's head sounded like a beaver's tail slapping water.
No sooner had Stroheim crumpled, unconscious against the wall, than Fritz, the rock quarry that walked like a man, flew out from behind the bar with a longneck in hand.
Slater stepped directly into the huge goon, ducked beneath his downward swing with the bottle and blocked the striking arm with a glancing edge of the hand, a blow that sent the bottle flipping from the assailant's grasp.
He threw a hard right into the man's solar plexus and bent him, then, with both hands, grabbed him by the back of the neck and brought him down into his updriving knee. Fritz went back amidst a spurt of blood and flying molars.
Then the others were on him.
Instinctively, Slater spun, threw up his hands in a defensive position.
The closest attacker swung his pool stick at the big detective's head. Slater ducked. The stick whizzed by close enough to lift his hair. When the cue-wielding Nazi started with the backhand swing, Slater slid, catlike, toward him, in close where the power of his blow would be weakest, he took some of the stick in the ribs, sent a right uppercut between the man's arms and clipped his chin hard enough to lift him a couple inches off the floor.
No sooner had that Nazi bit the dust than Slater felt the lash like sting of a cracking cue across his broad back. Ignoring the pain, he bent forward and grabbed the stick his recent assailant had dropped. He turned and lashed out blindly, struck no one, but forced the three remaining to fall back.
One of the Nazis, the one that had struck Slater across the back, held a jagged piece of cue in his hand. To his left, another held a whole cue. The third guy was the one with the cue ball. He was bouncing it up and down in his paw.
Slater backed toward the door, waving the stick before him. The one with the cue ball yelled, "Get him!" and then there was a white, expanding blur before the detective's eyes. He leaned just enough for the cue ball to miss, slam into the door sill behind him and bounce all the way back to the tables.
The goons rushed.
Slater tossed the stick just right. It caught between the foremost attacker's legs and tripped him. He went sprawling in the path of the other two.
Slater wheeled, jerked the door open and sprinted for his car. He snagged the .38 out of the glove box only seconds before they were on him. The sliding of their heels churned up gravel. The one that had thrown the cue ball said, "Now wait a minute, pal. That gun makes things permanent."
"Yeah," the hard-breathing detective said, "and that cue-ball would have just bounced off my noggin and we could have had a few laughs together later, while we were picking up what was left of my nose." Slater cocked back the hammer on the .38. "Back inside, scum."
They went back inside and closed the door. Slater thought he heard a key turn even from where he stood.
With his back screaming for help, he climbed in behind the wheel, tossed the .38 on the seat and steered for home, hunched over the steering column like Quasimodo.
After a couple of hours in a tub of hot water and Epsom Salts, the pain in his back had slackened to the point that he could dry off with a very soft towel, very gingerly. He managed to swab some iodine on the wound and a wrap around body bandage without having to grow a third arm. He dressed in an old cotton workshirt, blue corduroy pants and white tennis shoes without socks. After that, he treated himself to a beer and a few stale pretzels. He was enjoying an after-snack cancer stick when the phone rang. It was Meg Bailey.
"I'm calling for Mr. Savage," she explained. "He's gotten worse, much so."
"He's checking into the hospital right now. Jason drove him. Mr. Savage insisted that I let you know and tell you to call him at the hospital—his room—the minute you know anything about Reba."
"Tell him he can rest assured," Slater said. "I'll find her and he'll know the instant I do. What's the room and phone number there?"
She told him, said softly, "I don't think he's going to make it this time. He's trying to be a tough old soldier, but I don't think he's gonna make it. If it weren't for Reba, his waiting, wanting to hear from her, he'd be already gone."
"Don't count the old bird out yet," Slater said and they made their goodbyes.
Slater groaned off the couch, checked his watch. Quarter to four. Enough time to get over and check on Marilyn Cunningham before she went to work at the Del Rio in downtown Houston.
It was a nice house of pink brick but not the sort Slater imagined the average Green Lawn member owned. That place took bread, and not the sort with yeast.
The detective parked at the curb, went up and pushed the doorbell. A long silence went on behind the door. He pushed the bell again. More of the same nothing.
Slater went around to the garage and looked through the little windows there. Last year's economy Chevy was taking a nap inside. He went back to the door and tried the bell again. No dice. He tried the knob. It wasn't locked.
Accidentally-on-purpose, the big detective twisted the knob, and accidentally-on-purpose he slipped inside. He called a few times and got no answer. He made a few light steps through the living room and into the kitchen, called again. He was alone with his voice.
Looking around the kitchen, he found a few unwashed plates and two glasses in the sink. He picked the glasses up and sniffed. Someone had had a drink of whisky not long ago. The plates smelled of lemon and fish.
He went into the bedroom and found her.
She wore only her long blonde hair. She lay halfway on the fluffy green bedroom carpet and halfway on the blue tile of the bathroom. Her hair fanned around her head and onto the bathroom tile like the golden sun slowly sinking into the sea.
Slater went over to her and touched her neck for a pulse. You could have chilled drinks with her flesh.
Pulling back her hair—the part that wasn't glued to her face by drying blood—he found what had done her in. She had a nasty wound on her right temple. Her right eye was bulged from the socket—the blow on the head had done that. It had been a good solid lick.
Slater got up and checked the room. Her robe and undergarments were folded neatly on the chair. The covers on her bed were thrown back. Nobody was under it or hiding in the closet with a tire iron.
He went into the kitchen and made a couple of phone calls. The last one was to the police.
Lt. Burney said, "You should take up being a freelance mortician, Ray. It seems more your line of work. Every time I see you it's over a dead body. 'Cept when you're trying to con me into some kind of fool deal."
"Without me," Slater said, "you'd have half the business."
"And twice the rest."
Slater covered a yawn with the back of his hand, put a heel on Burney's desk, a position he had taken a half dozen times in the last two hours. "You about through with me, Burn. I've told you ten times how I came to find the body."
"Uh-huh," Burney said, pushing at Slater's foot with the toe of his shoe. "And about ten times you haven't told me who your client is. How do Stroheim and Marilyn tie in with you? What are you up to?"
"I'd rather not say." Slater said moving his foot so that Burney couldn't kick it.
"Get your damn heel off my desk," Burney said.
"You got yours there," Slater said.
"It's my desk. Any ideas about the murder?"
"Same ones you got," Slater said, inspecting a hangnail.
"You don't think she was raped either, do you, Ray?"
Slater put his other heel with its companion. "No. The coroner told you she had had sexual intercourse recently, that much he could tell right off. He didn't say she had been raped."
"He hasn't had time for a thorough examination," Burney reminded Slater.
"Uh-huh," Slater replied. "But he won't find she's been raped. The robe and the underclothes were all folded neatly on a chair next to the bed, for one. I'd say that's odd."
"So she got attacked by a tidy rapist," Burney said.
"Maybe. There were two glasses in the sink. They had the smell of whiskey. There were also two plates, unwashed."
"So? I've got a setup like that at home."
"I called the Del Rio right before I called you. I pretended to be a cousin from out of town trying to find Marilyn. They told me she had asked for the night off and that she was home."
"I know," Burn said. "I checked that out myself. What you're saying is she had planned the afternoon and maybe the night."
"Yep. I think after they spent their time in the sack, they had an argument. She made a break for it, probably to lock herself in the bathroom, he caught her and crowned her with something. By the way. What's the coroner say about that?"
"He doesn't say anything. Just that she was killed by that blow, that it was probably something heavy."
"A fist maybe?"
"Heavier, he thinks. Something round and smooth. That's guess work, but he's pretty damn good at it," Burney said.
Slater lit up a cigarette, took the feet Burney resented off the desk, said, "Maybe I could help you out, Burn."
Burney sighed, leaned back in his chair and held himself in place with his heels. He took a slightly bent cigar out of his coat pocket and put it in his mouth. He dragged a wooden match across his desktop, lit it, puffed, said, "Help me? Sure, Ray. I'll believe that when I see it."
"Say you let me look at the info you guys have dug up on Marilyn in the last two hours."
"Against the rules."
Slater frowned at him. "You've done it before."
"Against my better judgment," Burney said, scowling. Then, "Oh hell—here." Burney swung his feet on the floor, picked a manila folder off his desk and handed it to the detective.
What Slater read was little more than three solid paragraphs and only one thing caught his eye. Marilyn Cunningham had worked as a waitress, in Dallas, at the Blue Derrick.
Slater kept his wooden Indian face and handed the folder back to Burney. "No help there," he said. "Guess maybe I'll be going now. That is all right, isn't it?"
Burney took the cigar out of his mouth and spit a bit of tobacco off his tongue. "Ray," he said, "you wouldn't be holding out on something, would you?"
"Burn," Slater said sadly, "have I ever done that?"
Burney puffed a big blue-grey plume of smoke, said, "Yep. Believe you have."
Slater got up and went to the door.
Burney said, "Of course, you'll let me know all about it the minute it's too late."
"Of course," Slater said, and went out.
Out in the parking lot, Slater checked his watch beneath a bug-swarmed pole lamp. Eight thirty-two. The night was young. He got in his heap and drove home to get a couple of shovels, then went over to the Northridge Apartments. Something was trying to burrow its way out of his subconscious, and maybe, just maybe, thought Slater, he had a grasp on it now.
It was a nice place. Slater got the room number from the night manager, climbed up the stairs and knocked.
Anthony Kyd had his shirt off when he answered the door. He wore grey sweat-pants and jogging shoes. He looked like Tarzan about to try out for the track team. In the background, sitting on the couch, was a girl with long, red hair. She wore only a short nightie. She didn't seem concerned about that. She smiled at Slater before Kyd had time to step outside on the landing and close the door behind him.
"Your mother visiting?" Slater asked.
"How would you like to go downstairs over the rail, gumshoe? You better not have come up here just to crack wise."
"Get your job back?"
"Wha—no. Totally disconnected with the place."
"That's handy," Slater said.
"You trying out lines and riddles, or are you here for a reason?"
"Get dressed," Slater said. "We're on our way to the golf course."
"Oh, I see. Just passing this way and you happened to have your clubs in the car. That does it. I'm bending you."
"That wasn't a smart remark," Slater said quickly. "I meant it. We're going to the golf course. I want you to get dressed now. It's me or the police."
"I don't think I follow you," Kyd said.
"You will. Come on."
"I got a date, man."
"Put her on hold, Kyd."
Kyd looked at Slater for a long moment. Shadows clouded his face, hid his expression. He wiped his palms on his sweatpants. "All right. Give me fifteen minutes to get dressed."
It took Kyd more like 25 minutes and Slater didn't think that he spent all that time pulling on his pants. When Kyd got in he said, "This had better be good."
"It won't be nearly as good as what you just had," Slater said and started up the engine.
The golf course clay was the color of blood in the moonlight. The huge oak seemed eerie and unreal. A gentle breeze moved its limbs in a manner that made them seem to clutch at the night like a dying man.
Slater parked, got the flashlight and two shovels our of the trunk, gave one of them to Kyd. Kyd said, "Are you crazy?"
"Maybe," Slater said. "Let's go on up to the oak."
Shadow lay thick beneath the oak and Slater used the light to check around for a spot that looked as if it might have been dug recently.
He probed a few places with the shovel, skipped over those where a few anemic patches of grass grew.
Kyd said, "Exactly what is it you're looking for?"
"A place fresh dug with a bulldozer and covered."
"The contractors haven't been here in weeks, not since that hellish rain."
Slater felt a knot in his stomach. "Stupid of me!" he said. "A key. No way in the world you or Clewson could have a key for that thing?"
"Of course not but..."
"Well, if it matters, there's a key beneath the seat in a magnetic box." Kyd went over to the 'dozer, climbed up on it and pulled out the little container. "Got to visiting with the 'dozer operator one day. Saw him put the key there."
Slater said, "Can you drive that thing?"
Kyd said, "Can a duck tread water?"
"Back it off ten feet and kill it. I got an idea."
"Can't see any reason for that" Kyd said, "but all right." He got the 'dozer cooking, backed it off about ten feet.
When Kyd climbed down, Slater told him to pick up a shovel and help. They started digging directly where the 'dozer had stood. Fifteen minutes later they found something long and white protruding from the muck. It seemed to point to the stars. Flesh had already begun to peel from the bone, insects had been at work. A slaughterhouse odor floated on the night wind. It was a human finger. Kyd stumbled back. "Oh Christ!"
Slater took his shovel and began to scrape until he uncovered the once-beautiful face of Reba Savage. He covered his nose with his handkerchief to wipe the clay from her face. Part of what appeared to be clay was dried blood. The right side of her head was smashed. The method of death was familiar.
"How long," Kyd gasped, "has she been there?"
Slater stood up. "Say last Tuesday, shortly after you saw her and the man in black."
Kyd tightened his grip on the shovel. He dropped the light. "You think I did it, don't you?"
"I didn't say that," Slater said.
"But you're thinking it."
"I'm thinking you're making a damn fool of yourself. If you're innocent, what are you so excited about? Put down that damn shovel before I dig your liver out with it." Slater kept his hand on his shovel in what appeared a loose unconcerned grip, but he was ready to swing it if need be.
After a moment of consideration Kyd threw down the shovel. "Christ!" he moaned. "It looks bad for me."
"That it does," Slater agreed, "but I know someone who can help us find the killer, pronto."
Slater could almost hear Kyd's heart pounding, "Who? Who can help me?"
"Come on," Slater said, throwing down his shovel. "we'll get over there right now, and I'll need your help."
The rain had arrived suddenly and by the time Slater pulled up at Clewson's house it was in full blow. Slater thought, looking at Clewson's place, old man Savage can put this house in his garage, but Clewson can put my place in his living room.
There were no lights. Slater checked his watch—12:26.
Kyd said, "I couldn't remember if it was this street or the next."
"No matter," the detective said. "You got us here."
They got out of the car and splashed their way up to Clewson's front porch, rang the bell. After a while lights went on and a voice behind the door said groggily, "Stand in front of the peep-hole so I can see who it is."
Kyd did that, said, "It's me, Clewson, Tony."
The door opened. Clewson in dark robe and slippers said, "Get in before you drown."
Slater and Kyd went inside and Clewson closed out the wet chill of the rain. Slater said, "We found Reba. She's dead, buried at The Green Lawn."
"Some kind of joke?" Clewson said.
"No joke," Tony said. "Slater's got an idea who did it. I'm in a tight spot. I had a quarrel with Reba and one with Stroheim. It could be interpreted as a jealousy fight. I need help."
"Sure. But what can I do?"
Tony turned to Slater. Slater dug his pad and pen out of his damp shirt pocket, handed them to Clewson, said, "I want you to write down the very date that Eric Stroheim started at your club."
Clewson gave Slater a puzzled look. "What difference does that make? How can that help anything?"
"Just write," Slater said. "I guarantee an explanation."
"All right," Clewson said. He rested the pad in the palm of his right hand, and with his heavy ringed left began to scrawl.
Slater said, "You even wear that big ring to bed?"
Clewson looked up. "Huh?"
Slater hit him. It was a hard punch and the burly detective put every bit of his weight into it. The shoulder rolled, the hips turned and Slater's big scarred knuckles connected with Clewson's chin like a slaughterhouse hammer. The pad and pen went up in a flurry and Clewson went off his feet as if they had been jerked out from beneath him by a trip-wire.
Clewson hit the carpet on his buttocks, slid, rolled to the left and got up!
Slater said, "Oh hell!"
Kyd said, "What the—"
Clewson lunged at the detective and even as Slater began to lash out with a hard front snap-kick, Clewson suddenly seemed to dangle in mid-air and start back for the floor.
Kyd's hand had shot out like a badger and nabbed Clewson by the neck of his robe. As he fell for the floor, Kyd followed him down and slammed a hard right into his face. He pressed a knee across the fallen man's mid-section and clipped him another trip-hammer right that sent him out.
"You just got yourself a killer, Tony," Slater said.
Kyd blew our a long breath, looked up at Slater. "I hope like hell you know what you're talking about."
"I know," Slater said. "You done good. Call the cops while I tie this cookie up with his robe belt."
They sat in Homicide Detective Lt. Burney's office—Slater, Burney and Kyd.
Tony Kyd said, "Clewson's confessed, but I still don't see how you put it all together. You said the pad and pen trick was to check and see if he was left handed. What did that have to do with anything?"
Burney lit up a cigarette. "Shouldn't ask the bastard that," he said. "He loves to gloat and show me how big a snoop he is." Burney blew out some smoke, looked at Slater's grinning face. "Get the hell on and tell us, Sherlock."
Slater got out his cigarettes, lit one, put a heel on Burney's desk, rocked back in his chair.
"First of all, I missed out on the most important clue right from the first, at least consciously. My subconscious stored it away and it eventually surfaced. If I could have pulled it out earlier I might have saved Marilyn's life."
"When I first met Clewson, he said something to the effect that 'if Mrs. Savage is missing we'll be glad to help.' I never said she was missing. I just asked if he knew her. I should have caught that immediately, but I'm afraid your animosity was distracting me, Tony."
"Sorry," Tony said.
"All right. You were just trying to keep a tight lip on the Green Lawn's members. I can sympathize with that. Another thing was Clewson's capsule histories of Stroheim and Marilyn. He was trying to throw me off the track. He also tried to make you look suspect and to be perfectly honest, he did a damn good job."
"He painted Stroheim as the nut he really was and threw suspicion that way. When it came to Marilyn, who is at the bottom of all this, he was careful to let me know she worked nights and slept during the day and that Stroheim was free all the time.
"He thought, as long as I was just making with the routine questioning, that this would distract me from Marilyn for a while and I'd see Stroheim first. That would give him a chance to get to Marilyn."
"He killed Marilyn?" Tony asked.
"It's in the confession," Burney said.
"But why her?" Tony said. "And how is she at the bottom of all this?"
"I know the answer to that. I've read the confession, but Slater hasn't. How about that one, Sherlock?" Burney said, grinning.
"Okay," Slater said. "I learned from you, Burn, that Reba and Marilyn had worked together at a place in Dallas called The Blue Derrick. Marilyn was a waitress and she knew what Reba's job was. Anyway, Marilyn liked money but didn't make much as a singer, and since she knew Reba before her marriage to Savage, knew what she was. She threatened to reveal Reba's past to the newspapers and make a big scandal. I prefer to think Reba paid off to keep the old man from getting hurt instead of herself. If she'd known the old man would have loved her if she'd run through the streets of downtown Houston naked, this all might not have happened.
"On the other side of the coin, maybe she was just covering for herself. Reba had access to all the money she wanted. It wasn't beans to Savage how much she spent, and those trips to The Green Lawn were for payoffs to Marilyn, not tennis."
"That's why the short games," Tony said.
"Un-huh," Slater said. "Marilyn had to have known Clewson better than it appeared. Maybe they were keeping their relationship quiet so that the blackmail wouldn't be traced to Clewson and The Green Lawn."
"What your saying," Tony said, "is that Marilyn and Clewson had a racket going."
"Yep. Clewson and her must have got together. He found out about Marilyn knowing Reba from The Blue Derrick, played up to Marilyn and cut himself in on the action. It had to be that way. When I found Marilyn's body it was apparent that she'd had company, and since she'd taken the night off from work, she and Clewson had expected to make a holiday out of it.
"What Clewson really wanted was to go over there and explain that I was on her tail and not to get nervous and spill the beans. She must have panicked and decided to deal herself out, but Clewson, being cautious, dealt her out. He grabbed her and slammed her with his fist.
"That's why I was checking to see if he was left handed. Both death blows for Reba and Marilyn were on their right temples, and both were delivered by a heavy object. With those big arms of his, Clewson could swing a mean blow. With that massive ring he had a perfect murder weapon."
"Well I'll be damned!" Tony said. "Then that was Clewson I saw with Reba that night."
"Right. I figure Reba decided there was no end to the mess and told Marilyn to do her worst. Clewson, aware of Reba's loose reputation, made a false play for her and lured her to the oak. He must have revealed that he was in on the blackmail business and that he could make it a damn sight hotter than Marilyn had promised. Reba called his bluff and he killed her."
"What about the bulldozer? How'd you know about that?"
"Partly hunch. And part of it was a misconception that just worked out. It never even occurred to me to consider the contractors. I was looking through a knothole. You said the bulldozer wasn't in the same spot when you saw the pair beneath the oak. It never occurred to me that the contractors might not have the key.
"That was just pure stupidity on my part, and luck that you knew about the key. Once I discovered you did, it seemed logical that Clewson might have found out about it in the same way, and taken advantage of it to dispose of the body. He forgot to consider that someone might notice the 'dozer had been moved a bit."
"And why did you drag me out there tonight?" Tony asked.
"One, I'm a gregarious grave-digger. Two, if I was right about the body, I was going to need some directions to Clewson's place. Three, you're bigger than he is."
"You're not exactly a midget," Tony said.
"If that's all," Burney said, "you may tip your deerstalker and depart."
"That's all," Slater said.
Dead tired, Slater was about to drop into bed when the phone rang. It was Meg.
"Ray, I've been trying to get you for an hour. Mr. Savage has taken a drastic turn for the worse. Have you found out anything? He keeps asking."
"I found out things all right."
"I'm at the hospital right now with Jason. Can you get over here right away."
"I'm on my way," Slater said.
Meg and Jason met Slater at the elevator, walked with him to Savage's room. A lean, mustached doctor was coming out, along with a worn looking, young nurse when they got there.
Meg said, "How is he?"
"Not good." The doctor's voice was professional but kind. "I don't give him an hour. I don't see how he's hung on this long."
"He's waiting for the word," Slater said.
"What's that?" the doctor asked.
"Nothing," Slater said. "May we see him?"
The doctor nodded. "And if he has any next of kin, you might notify them."
"We're it," Jason said solemnly.
Slater took Meg by the arm and the trio went into the room, closed the door behind them.
The old man in his white hospital pajamas with his equally pale face lying against white sheets looked as lifeless as a china doll. The tubes that seemed to stick out of him everywhere gave the appearance of a collapsed marionette. They went over and stood by the bed and Meg leaned over and managed to kiss Savage on the cheek without disconnecting anything.
The old man smiled briefly, demureless, said, "Reba?"
"I've got word," Slater said.
Savage swallowed with difficulty. "My head," he said, "Raise it, please."
Jason reached through the tubes and wires, got a pillow doubled and positioned under Savages's head.
Savage said, "Not that it really matters anymore, but I'd like to see Mr. Slater alone for a moment."
Meg patted Savage's hand. Then, with Jason holding her arm, they went out of the room.
"I found her," Slater said. "She's doing fine and she's coming home. She's on her way to see you right now."
Savage cracked his mouth in a dry grin. "Thank you. But try again. You don't lie to a dying man so well."
"Very well," Slater said and pulled a chair over and sat down close to Savage's face and held his hand. It was as thin and fragile as tissue paper. "She's not coming home. A guy and a gal tried to blackmail her. They knew about the Derrick and they threatened to embarrass you if she didn't pay them off.
"She's been paying them for a while. I found out, told her you didn't give a damn. I got her to understand. Now here's the hard part—she's not coming back. Says she's not good for you and all she'll do is cause you trouble. She loves you too much for that.
"She's going to play it straight down the line from now on. She's gone and didn't tell me where and she said she wouldn't. That's the thick and thin of it."
Slater leaned back in his chair and tried to look sad instead of like a liar. There was no way in hell he could tell Savage that Reba was gone forever.
Savage smiled and for the first time his eyes seemed to have fire. He said, "That's good, son. It's the best an old man like me could ask for. You did a fine job." Then he turned his head away from the detective, closed his eyes and coughed a spittle onto his lips.
After a moment, Slater stood up, went quietly to the door and closed it softly behind him as if the old man were merely sleeping.
Love that Slater! Now mark your calendar for Thursday, February 05, when we'll post another dose of that Mojo elixir that's so good for you!
"Long Gone Forever" originally appeared in the December 1978, issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. It later appeared in Private Eye Action As You Like It, a collection published by Crossroads Press. "Long Gone Forever" © 1978 Joe R. Lansdale. All Rights Reserved.