The Full Count

The Full Count

 

The scarred face, bulky body, gnarled knuckles and go-to-hell look seemed out of place with the green-and-yellow plain sports coat, lavender slacks, white shoes and blue-and-gray striped tie the man was wearing.

He closed the door of his shiny, black Lincoln, put a nickel in the meter, and made his way up the hot mid-day sidewalk to a little bar with a sign overhead that read The Idle Hour Lounge.

It was cool dark inside, just right for groping couples. Not many couples were there to grope at the moment, however. Just one old man who should have been with his wife and TV set, was putting the clutch on the plump thigh of a bleached blonde working girl about twenty years past her prime. Her plastic giggles were shrill enough to shatter a beer mug.

A couple of not-so-young, executive types with loose ties and tired eyes were sitting alone at booths looking as if they might break down and cry in their beer at any moment. A pot-bellied patron in a green leisure suit with more quarters than good sense or musical taste was keeping the jukebox in business.

The bartender, a young blond man in a red-and-white pinstripe shirt with black elbow garters and a matching bow tie, was leaning over the bar with a rag dangling from his right hand and a look as distant as the Sahara in his eyes.

In the rear booth, Raymond Slater, private detective, was passing an idle hour with a lukewarm beer and a cigarette. It was almost time for the evening stampede and elbow war, coupled with the seemingly endless coinage of the music lover, and Slater decided to break his routine a little early. He was finishing up his beer when the big man in the expensively mismatched outfit came in.

Slater wasn't the only one who noticed him. The ill-clad bruiser pushed his six-three, 240 pounds up to the bar and called for a beer. His voice sounded as if it had been fished from the bottom of a deep barrel.

He was interesting enough for the old man and the hooker to stop their play for a look. The two lonely executive types checked him out. Even Music Lover lost a few foot-pats over it.

The bartender brought him a beer, snapped up the change, fed the register and went back to his bar leaning. The old man and the hooker returned to the business at hand. The sad boys returned to the bottom of their glasses for comfort, and Music Lover clacked two more quarters.

Beer in hand, the man went directly to Slater's table and sat down across from the detective.

The neon light was dim, but not so dim for Slater to get a look at the man's features. They looked as if they had been chiseled out of a coral reef. He had a flat nose, wadded ears and dark, liquid eyes that looked eerie in the pulsating blue and white of the neon sign that blinked BEER. Later, in better light, Slater would see that the man's close-cropped black hair was peppered with grey.

"You Raymond Slater?" he asked.

"Uh-huh," Slater said cautiously. "You're...?"

"Yank Callahan, Ray," the bottom of the barrel voice said. "Call me Yank." He shoved a hand the size of a catcher's mitt at Slater. They pumped. Slater thought it was like shaking hands with a mechanic's vise.

"How do you know me?" Slater asked.

Yank drank the beer down almost in one glug, licked his lips. "Burn down at the cop-shop told me this is where I'd most likely find you this time of day. Gave me a good description. Said you looked like a well dressed street fighter."

"Flattering!"

"You see, Slater, I checked with the cops in Gulf City and here in Pasadena about advising me on a private dick. When I found out that my buddy Burn worked for the Pasadena bunch, I asked his advice and quit looking. We used to be pretty tight buddies, me and Burn. He told me this was a Monday through Friday routine with you. Want a beer?"

Slater said that he did. Yank turned and yelled over the wailing of the jukebox—no minor feat—at the bartender for two beers.

A skinny waitress who had just come on duty brought them over with an exaggerated wiggle and a smile that would have looked more at home in a beaver's mouth. Yank gave her a bill. She set the beers down, took his empty glass and went away, the wiggle still at work.

Slater drank some beer, got out another cigarette, offered Yank one. Yank declined. Slater lit up.

"What exactly do you have in mind?" Slater asked.

"I need you to find someone, Slater. My trainer, Jason Krim."

"Trainer?"

"Uh-huh. I'm a fight manager. Do a little promoting, too. Maybe you've heard of my man. Anibal Martinez."

Indeed Slater had. Martinez had been a nothing until recently. His surprise victory over the number-two contender for the crown had jumped his ratings by more than a few notches, and since he was a Pasadena, Texas, fighter, the papers had been chock full of it.

"I've heard of him," Slater said. "Seen him fight on TV a couple of times. He's good. Probably got a good shot at the championship."

Yank nodded. "Real good chance. Listen, Slater, Burn told me you were the best private detective in Pasadena—Houston for that matter."

"Burn told you that?"

"Sure did. But I don't imagine he wants you to know. He doesn't like to let on he likes anybody."

"Doesn't do a bad job of it, either."

Yank laughed shortly. "That he don't." Then: "About the job, Slater?"

"I'm listening."

"You see, I got my own gym. It ain't much, but I'm proud of it. I used to fight some—hell, a lot. I didn't get this mug from tennis. Wasn't ever a number-one contender or nothing, but I was pretty good. I had the size and the strength, a little talent. I was good enough so that when I retired from the ring I got some training jobs. Trained some pretty good fighters. Remember Kit Miller, Miller the Killer? Ted Niven?"

Slater nodded. "I remember. They your boys?"

"Yep. I trained those pugs. Made some pretty good bread on account of it. Bought this gym in Gulf City. It ain't much, but it's paid for and I've lined up some pretty good local talent."

"One of them is Anibal Martinez."

"That's right. Anyway, I've done okay, and I got myself one fine trainer, Jason Krim."

"And Krim's missing?"

"Almost a week now. The police haven't found a single lead, least not anything that's helped."

"And you saw him last, when?"

"A week ago Tuesday."

"Krim ever do this before?"

"Plenty, but not for this long. That's why I waited a couple of days to report it. He's a pretty temperamental guy, very apt to do this sort of thing—and, to tell the truth, he and Anibal don't get along so good. Least not outside of the ring. That might have had something to do with it. When Jason feels pushed, he does funny stuff."

"Like walks out?"

"Uh-huh. Odd thing, though, is, when it comes to boxing, things are different. They respect each other there, least on how a fight is won. They've just got the kind of personalities that grate on one another.

"I don't think there's a trainer alive that can work with and get more out of Anibal than Jason." Yank paused and drank the rest of his beer. "Yeah, he's done it before, but it's only three weeks before the fight, and there isn't any way in hell Jason would do anything to hurt the fight."

"You said that he and Anibal didn't get along very well. Wouldn't this be a good time for him to get even? Say they had an argument, and—"

Yank threw up a hand. "No way. Jason and Anibal can go at each other like starved rats, but there ain't no way you could get Jason to hurt a fight. He may not like Anibal in ways, but the guy's his handiwork.

"It's like a car in a way. You may not like the paint job, but if you tuned the engine it holds something special for you." Yank gave Slater a stiff look. "Whatayasay, Slater? Burn said that you could probably find him before they did on account of how busy they are."

Slater was still thinking, humorlessly, about Yank's car-tuning analogy. "All right, Yank," he said. "I'll find him. But I won't guarantee he'll come back. That's his decision."

Yank nodded. "That's fair enough, Slater." With that, he groped a huge wallet from his pocket and picked three hundreds from an ample collection of same. "This do for a retainer?"

Slater managed not to lick his lips. "Quite."

"You can bill me for the rest," Yank held out his hand. They shook and Slater got the address of Yank's gym. After that, they went out into the glaring sunshine together.

"Tomorrow at nine," Slater said.

"Right. Nine."

Yank went to his sleek, black Lincoln and drove away. Slater got into his red '65 Chevy with the stuffing leaking out of the seats and drove home.

 

II

 

Early the next morning Slater showered, dressed, had a grease-and-egg sandwich and drove over to the address Yank had given him. He spotted the Lincoln right off. It looked conspicuous in this dreary neighborhood. He parked, got out, took a look at the gym. It appeared overdue for the wrecking ball. He lit a cigarette and went inside.

The interior was unexpectedly slick. All new equipment, all shiny to the eye. Never judge a gym by its cover, Slater thought.

There were Nautilus weight machines, speed bags, heavy bags, racks of jump ropes and lots of people scuttling about making shadow moves and noises like boxers. On a raised platform, between the ropes, a stylish boxer Slater recognized as Anibal Martinez was slamming the hell, left and right, out of his puffing sparring partner.

No doubt about it the kid had the moves. There was champ written all over him. A half dozen men were gathered about the ring, hanging on the ropes. One of them was Yank. Slater went over and stood by him.

"Ain't he somethin'!" Yank said after shaking hands with Slater. The big detective agreed that he was in fact something all right. A real hell of a boxer.

"That's enough," Yank yelled to Anibal, and the grateful sparring partner dropped his tired hands for a rest.

Anibal spit his mouthpiece into a gloved hand. A short man wearing a grey sweatshirt and sweat pants slid through the ropes and untied his gloves, took off the head protector. That done he made his way over to the sparring partner. Anibal slid between the ropes, flopped down next to Slater and Yank.

"You the detective Yank hired to find Krim?" The boxer asked with just the slightest trace of a Mexican accent.

"That's me," Slater said.

"If I was you, I'd do my looking in the bars. Under some bar stool preferably."

"Something serious could have happened," Yank cut in. "For goodness sake ..."

Anibal tossed Yank a cold stare. "Could be the best thing that ever happened to us," he said slowly. With that he went over to the speed bag and put his taped knuckles to work.

"Nice fellow," Slater said.

"Foolish pride, Slater," Yank said. "He won't admit it, but without Jason he just ain't the same."

"Could have fooled me."

"I tell you, Slater, it's pride. The kid's got a chip on his shoulder for some reason and Jason is his prime target. Got some fool notion Jason's pushing him too fast."

"Is he?"

"No way. Won all his fights. He just can't stand the fact that he has to depend on the man so much. Likes to think he can do it all by himself."

"He doesn't have him to depend on now."

Yank nodded. "And it shows."

"Yeah, he's all torn up."

"Just believe me, Slater. I know him."

"All right," Slater said, "you know him." With that he took the folded contract from his pocket. "Shall we fill this out, and then I've got a few questions."

"Let's go back to the office."

The office, unlike the interior of the gym, was not the Ritz. It was so small that the two big men were almost enough to overload the straining air conditioner.

When the contract was completed and Slater had folded it away in his coat pocket, he asked for a list of the people who worked with Jason. None of the names, other than Anibal and Yank, were familiar to him. He gave Slater a newspaper clipping with Anibal and Krim's picture. They were both smiling.

Krim was a fiftyish black man with a once-muscular body now coated with fat. Even in the picture he maintained a certain air of reserve and capability. Slater put the clipping in his pocket with the contract. Last, but not least, Slater had Yank write out a list of Jason's hangouts. He could only think of three.

Yank and Slater shook hands, expressed hopes that Krim would be found soon and Slater left the office.

On the way out he stopped by the speed bag that Anibal was flogging. The bag thumped to a stop. Anibal looked at the burly detective with flat, brown eyes.

"Yank says you need Krim," Slater said, not trying to be the least bit cagey, watching carefully for the fighter's reaction.

"I don't need nothing but time. Krim don't give a damn about me and the feeling's mutual. He treats me like a side of beef. He only wants me to do well so he can pat his own goddamn self on the back. To hell with that! To hell with him!" Scowling, Anibal turned to the bag and slammed it a hard one.

"I don't need Krim," he snapped, looking back at Slater's impassive face.

"See you later," Slater said and moved away.

When he reached the door Anibal yelled, "If you find that sonofabitch, tell him not to come back. I don't need him. I don't want him."

Slater nodded in a disinterested way, pushed out the door. Behind him, even through the closed door, he could hear the speed bag. Anibal Martinez was going at it to kill.

He had driven two blocks when he decided that the late-model grey Plymouth was following him. Not too close. Not too far away. Just about right. Coincidence, maybe.

Slater took a few quick lefts, a right, then gassed it till he hit Pearl street. He eased up to a YIELD sign and waited.

He didn't see the Plymouth.

Deciding maybe that he was becoming paranoid in his old age—too much TV and Watergate—he chalked it up to stupidity. Feeling like a Junior G-Man, he drove the 25 miles from Gulf City to Pasadena and his office on Strawberry Street.

 

III

 

Slater sat in his office, heels on desk, looking at the paint-peeling walls till four o'clock, then locked up and drove back to Gulf City and one of Jason's hangouts, Happy's Good Time Bar.

Happy's was an ugly building with more beer and wine advertisements splattered on the outside than the off-white paint that showed between them. Red neon curlicue writing in a large, dirty window announced that there was live entertainment inside. Strippers.

Inside, it was the usual seedy little honkytonk with sticky tables, an unpolished bar, rows of bottles, a beer tap, a huge mirror that looked as if someone had deliberately wiped it with a greasy rag, and a small stage for the strippers.

The place stank of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol.

Behind the bar was a bored bartender with black curly hair, a lantern jaw and eyes like a lynx. It was too early for the strip show, and only one die-hard drunk was present. He sat at the table in the back, contemplating the empty glass before him.

Slater went up to the bar, perched on a stool and ordered a beer. The bored bartender squeezed one out of the tap and slammed it down hard enough for some to slosh out on Slater's hand. The bartender saw it happen, but if it bothered him he didn't let on.

Slater showed him his grillwork. "You look kind of bored, Curly. Maybe you'd like to talk."

He gave Slater a sour look. "The name's not Curly and talk from drunks I don't need. It's that that makes me bored."

Touchy, Slater thought. He showed him the nice smile again. "I haven't even had a beer yet, so how come I'm a drunk. Maybe I could even salt up the conversation some." Slater took out his wallet, removed a one, put it on the counter.

The bartender gave it the experienced eye. "Nothing but the big time, huh, Charlie?"

Slater pursed his lips, took a fin from his wallet, put it with the single, kept his fingers on them, but just lightly. "Nice job you got here," Slater said. "Bet you even make some money. But not off the joint."

He gave Slater a sigh and a smile. Neither was exactly first rate. "Something I can do for you, Charlie?"

Slater took his fingers off the bills and watched the bartender palm them with the professional ease of a sleight-of-hand artist. The bills disappeared into his shirt pocket. He looked at Slater out of the corner of his eye.

He said, "You just giving them away or have you got questions?"

Slater drank some of his beer. It was bad enough to spit out,

but the big detective restrained himself. "I've got questions," Slater said, a bit tired of the cat and mouse. "Ever hear of a guy named Jason Krim?"

The bartender lifted his eye brows, wiggled his mouth from side to side, said, "Nope. Sorry."

"For six bucks you didn't give the question a whole lot of thought."

"Don't know any Jason Krim. It's as simple as that."

"Maybe I can refresh your memory. He's been in here quite a lot. Trains fighters, Anibal Martinez in particular. Krim's a big black guy about fifty. Here."

Slater got the clipping out of his pocket and laid it on the bar.

The bartender picked up a glass and a rag, made like he was polishing the glass, looked down at the clipping.

"Maybe I've seen him," he said.

Slater let out a sigh. "Either you've seen him or you haven't. Which is it?"

Very carefully, as if it were fine china, the bartender set down the glass, put the rag away beneath the counter, kept his left hand there. "You a cop or something?"

"Private investigator. I'm looking for Krim," Slater said, all the while watching the hidden hand. "How about it? You seen him?"

The bartender brought his hand from beneath the counter. It was empty. He picked up the clipping and looked at it. "Okay. Yeah, I've seen him. Used to come in here a couple of times a week, drink himself bananas and watch the strip show."

"You told the cops about this?"

"Now why should I do that?"

"Surely they've been around asking. He's on the missing persons list."

"Not to me, they haven't. Cops I don't need, Charlie. Look, I'm telling you, I used to see the guy a couple of times a week. Last time was a week ago, a Tuesday night, and that's the truth." He held up his hand. Slater had the feeling that if a stack of bibles had been available, he would have sworn an oath on them.

"Seem awful nervous about cops. Wouldn't be running some kind of action out of this joint, would you?"

"I just work here. As far as I know the joint's as straight as Robins arrow."

"Uh-huh."

"I'm not kiddin'. Anything that goes on illegal here, I don't know nothing about it."

"Sure, the joint's a regular Sunday school." Slater looked at the bartender hard enough to crack an ice block. "Okay, preacher, wouldn't be more you'd want to tell me about this Krim fellow?"

"Okay now, don't get sore. It's just that chatty bartenders don't do an establishment any good. Weather and dames is one thing but ..."

"I get the picture." Slater picked another five from his wallet, handed it to the bartender. It went, quickly, into the shirt pocket with the other bills.

He licked his lips, leaned over the bar, said to Slater in an almost whisper, "This Krim fellow is a regular. Like I said, a couple of times a week."

"That line's starting to sound like an echo."

"Just listen. He sits over there." Slater turned to look where he was pointing. A corner table next to the stage. "He drinks like a fish and watches the strip show. Passes a lot of bills around to the girls."

"The last time you saw him—leave with anybody?"

The bartender put an elbow on the bar, leaned close to Slater. "Just between you, me and the wall, I did see him leave with someone, more or less."

"How do you leave with someone more or less?"

"This Mexican, the one here in the picture, came in and did some yelling at the old guy, finally jerks up the old dude by the shirt."

"What were they yelling?"

The bartender threw up his hands. "What am I, a tape recorder? This place was crowded and noisy. Ain't nothing worse than a bunch of noisy drunks."

"So what else happens?"

"Nothing. I go out back and empty the garbage, bottles and stuff. Out back I see the Mexican putting the old man in the back seat of a Lincoln. Can you believe that? The geezer's got a god-damned Lincoln! I drive a sixty-eight Ford. Well, anyway, the old man's as drunk as Cooter Brown, I reckon. The Mex puts him in the back, gets behind the wheel and drives off."

"Anyone with the driver?"

"Might have been. Wasn't paying that close attention."

"I guess you see that sort of thing every day? Often enough not to bother with calling the police."

"You see everything here after a while."

"Customers make a habit of parking out back?"

"They park anywhere the tires will set."

"Think the Mexican could have clouted the old guy?"

"Could have. A passed-out drunk and a punched-out one look a whole hell of a lot alike. If you know what I mean."

"The old man talk to anyone else that night?"

"Hell, I don't remember. I mean I wasn't keeping tabs on the guy."

"Give it some real deep thought. I mean, I could have the cops start checking around."

"Okay, okay, don't start with the cop talk. He did talk to Leona Blue some. She's a stripper here."

"Blue her real name?"

"No. Stage. I don't know what her real name is. What's it matter?"

"Maybe it doesn't. She here now?"

"No. Comes on at six-thirty, has her act at seven."

"Thanks."

The bartender didn't tell Slater he was welcome. The detective left Happy's and went to the other two places on his list. There was someone at both who had seen Jason, but not after Monday. It looked like Happy's was the last spot before his vanishing act.

Slater made a phone call to Yank, and in as casual a manner as possible, confirmed that Anibal sometimes drove his Lincoln, and that it was quite possible that he drove it the night in question. With that information in tow, Slater ended the conversation by telling Yank not to worry and that things were shaping up.

At six-thirty he drove back to Happy's.

 

IV

 

 

Leona Blue was not a movie queen, but she certainly had sex appeal. She was voluptuously built, and her costume, if you can call a G-string and a handful of sequins and gauze a costume, did nothing to conceal the fact.

She had nice things to go with the body—shoulder-length brown hair, beautiful smoky blue eyes and a quick smile that showed just the slightest trace of wrinkles at the corners. Slater quickly deduced that she wasn't old, but she was certainly not as young as she appeared at first glance.

After he made it clear that he wasn't a cop or one of the local lechers, Leona agreed to talk to him. She pulled a man's shirt over her "outfit" and sat with Slater at the table the bartender had said was Jason's usual spot.

After taking in the view for a period that Slater felt was just within being polite, he said, "How long have you known Jason?"

"Almost a year," she said. Her voice was soft and musical, the sort that could whisper sweet passion in the dark.

"Last saw him when?"

Her full lips quivered slightly. She leaned forward and said in a low voice. "He's not in some kind of trouble, is he?"

"None that I know of," Slater said. "I'm a private detective. His employer, Yank, hired me to find him. He's a little worried, that's all."

Leona nodded, bobbed her brown hair in a manner Slater thought was sensual. "I know about Yank. Jason speaks highly of him." She picked a pack of cigarettes out of her shirt pocket, shook one out. Slater took out his lighter and lit it for her, lit one of his own.

"To tell the truth," she said, "I'm a little worried myself."

"That right?"

"Uh-huh. He's done this sort of thing before, going off for awhile without letting anyone know—but somehow, I'm really worried this time. I've called his place and even went by. Nothing. Locked, and the landlady claims she hasn't seen him. Not that she'd care to help anyway."

"I take it you and Jason are better than friends."

She rested her elbow on the table top, her head in her palm. The cigarette drooped languidly from her fingers, soft, grey ash floated down across the table.

"That's right," she said. "Much better than friends. I suppose you don't approve?"

Slater shrugged his shoulders. "Why should I approve or disapprove. What's it to you, anyway? It's your business, not mine."

She lifted her head from her palm, stretched both arms out on the table top. "Sorry. I get to hear so many lectures about how nice, white girls ought not to run around with the niggers, I'm a little touchy. Bitter, too, I guess."

"You won't be hearing that from me."

"I can believe that," she said. "I'm just a little touchy, that's all."

"I can see how you would be. Gulf City isn't exactly the culture spot of the world, and the work you do doesn't cater to the upper crust. No offense intended."

"Nor your work."

"Touche. Right you are, present company excluded, of course."

They laughed, then Leona became solemn. She said, "Do you think Jason's all right?"

"I don't know what to think," Slater said truthfully. "From the way you talk, I take it no policemen have been around to ask you questions."

She wrinkled up her pretty face with concern. "Police? I thought you said he wasn't in any kind of trouble."

"I did. The police have a missing persons report on him. Yank hired me as insurance."

"No police," she said. "I haven't talked to any cops and the only cops I know are the two that show up here regularly for their payoffs. They must have a racket with half the dives in this area and no telling what else."

"Prostitution?"

"No. Drugs is my suspicion, and it's just that, a suspicion. I think James, that's the bartender, and the owner deal a lot of stuff from this joint. The cops are in on it. Just guessing, mind you, but when you've been around these places enough, you get to be a pretty good guesser. As it is, I just keep my mouth shut." She took a hard look at Slater. "Do you think you can find him?"

"If I didn't, I wouldn't be looking," Slater said, and for a rare moment his rugged face looked almost soft and vulnerable.

Leona blew smoke out with a sigh. "You know," she began, and she didn't really seem to be talking to Slater in particular, just addressing gentle memories, "Jason's a very special kind of guy. Tough, but gentle. That means something to me. I don't go for the old fashioned make-it-or-break-it kind of guy.

"You know what he likes to do?" She smiled briefly. "He likes to have me drive him down by the gulf. He has a special spot there. It's just an old ragged stretch with a little pier that sticks out in some oily junk-filled water. But that's where he has me take him.

"We always take my car because Jason doesn't drive, takes a taxi wherever he goes, one of his quirks. Anyway, he has me drive him out there and we park and look out over that ugly stretch of water and talk. He tells me that he used to go there as a kid to sort out his problems and he has a lot of childhood memories about that place.

"It's almost like an honor to share it with him." She looked out from her dreams and cigarette smoke. "Damn!" she said. "I must be getting old and sentimental. I sound like a fool."

"Not hardly," Slater said. "Not hardly."

They sat for a moment in awkward silence, then Slater said, "Leona, you were here the night of the argument?"

"Argument? Oh!" she said. "You mean with Anibal? How'd you know about that?"

"Bartender. You know Anibal very well?"

"No. I've never really met him. Matter of fact, the night of the argument was the only time I've ever seen him in the flesh. I've seen pictures of him, but that's it. Why Jason worries about that fool kid I'll never know. It bothers him to no end that the kid dislikes him. It's almost like a father-son generation-gap thing."

"That might be putting it lightly from what I've heard. Tell me about the argument."

She put her cigarette out in the ashtray. "Not much to tell. The kid got steamed up about the way he thought Jason was pushing him, had a few beers too many and came to tell Jason what he thought of him.

"Jason gave him hell for drinking, breaking training, something like that, and Anibal got mad enough to jerk him up from the table. They shouted at each other a bit, then Anibal let go and stomped out."

"No blows?"

"No. Just a lot of yelling. Jason told me after the kid left that he was going out back for some fresh air and that he'd see me at closing time. He didn't come back. It worried me, but not a lot. Jason was a temperamental guy and did that sort of thing now and then, often enough that I was used to it and didn't worry too much. Till now. Right now I'm worried."

"The night of the argument, the bartender tells me Jason was pretty drunk. That right?"

"He'd been drinking, but he wasn't drunk. I've never seen

him drunk. James would tell you that though. He thinks I should stick with young white men, like him. James isn't my type by a long shot. He loves to think Jason is a no-good drunk. It builds his ego."

"A little thing. James tells me that Anibal went out the front way. What about that?"

"Uh-huh. And Jason went out the back. They didn't leave five seconds apart of each other."

"Okay. Another thing. James says Jason passes out a lot of bucks. That true?"

"Yeah. He's a heavy tipper. I've told him that sort of thing could get him in trouble. I hope ..."

The lights went suddenly dim. A redheaded woman with a movie starlet's build, if not a starlet's face, came out on the little stage wrapped in a Chinese-style robe and yelled, "Five minutes, Leona." The redhead's voice was as sharp as a knife.

Leona waved a hand at her, turned back to Slater. "Head honcho. I've got to get a move on."

"One more thing, and I'll make it quick."

"Shoot."

"This spot where the two of you go—the pier. Could you tell me where it is?"

She had stood up from the table to go, now she sat back down, clasped her hands together, said, "May I ask why?"

"No particular reason. Just following a few hunches. Nothing really."

Leona stared at Slater's trained impassiveness for a long moment. "Got a pen?" she finally said.

Slater picked an old ballpoint from his coat pocket, gave it to her.

"It's easy to find," she said, and she pulled a napkin from the holder and started drawing. When she was almost finished, the redhead came out and screamed at her again. The knife-edged voice was sharper than before. Over his shoulder Leona said, "Coming, coming."

She handed Slater the map and pen. The shadows clung to her face like spiders. She said, "Listen, I love Jason, very much. I know it sounds silly but I'm telling you this because when you find him, even if it's bad, I want to know. My phone number is there on the napkin."

Slater looked at it, folded it away in his pocket.

"Promise me you'll let me know," she said. "Promise me that."

"I promise," Slater said.

"Good." She wiped at her eyes. "Contacts. I never have gotten used to them. Find him, please."

Slater nodded.

Leona turned and walked away quickly. Slater watched her go up the stage steps, across to the once dark-blue curtains and disappear behind them. He got up and made his way through the gathering crowd and out to the car, drove away feeling strangely small and very, very alone.

It was about a five-block drive to the place on Leona's map. More than a rock's throw, but no real trek. Slater eased his Chevy down an embankment made by recent bull-dozing, and parked near a rickety weather-chewed stretch of pier. He took a flashlight from the glove box and got out.

The salt spray blew cold against his cheek and stung his nostrils. The timber pilings of the pier creaked with the rolling motion of the water. Paper and other debris discarded by beach lovers blew up around his ankles and crunched underfoot.

He went down to the pier and walked out on it. It creaked ominously. There was an odor of decaying fish closer to the water, and when Slater played the beam on the shadowed sea, it looked dead, dirty and forgotten. Across the way, the lights of some factory's night shift showed their smoke rising into the blackness of the night, fading the moon. Down on the water the lights cast murky shadows. Behind him, over the rise, he could hear the hurry of traffic.

He flashed the light all around, turned, walked off the pier and went up and down the beach with the same lack of results.

Then he had a hunch. He didn't know what else to call it—just a thought, a strong thought. He went back to the pier and walked out on the lip, got down on his stomach, hung his upper body over and worked the flash around.

It was a good hunch.

It floated in the shallow brine halfway between the embankment and the shabby creosote piling that held up the left rear of the pier. Only half of it was showing. The torso bloated. The shirt that covered it was black from water and stuffed as tight as a German sausage. The head was grey, shapeless, with a lot of flesh missing. The arms were the same. Most likely crabs had been feeding. The body seemed to be held in place by the debris collected beneath the pier—a bobbing cork once human.

Slater flicked off the flash and vomited in the water.

 

V

 

 

It was hard to tell positively at such quick notice, as no identification was on the body, but the Gulf City cops agreed with Slater that it was most likely what was left of Jason Krim. As to the cause of death—too early to tell. But neither the police nor Slater thought it an accidental drowning.

Slater refused to tell how he found out about the pier or about Anibal Martinez and the borrowed Lincoln. He told them it was coincidence. He didn't think they believed him for a moment. Slater and the Gulf City cops were not on the best of terms.

Slater wanted to talk to Yank first before he tipped his hand. Of course the cops would get to Yank first. That's why he wanted to wait. Yank, solid as he was, might be inexperienced in these matters and let slip more than the cops need know at the moment. Besides, Slater decided, he needed time to think and rest.

After the usual hard time, the cops surprised him and let him go with a promise to stay in touch. Getting while the getting was good, Slater drove away from the station at just the proper speed, made sure to use his signals.

He tried to sort the whole business out in his mind. He decided he should feel pretty relieved about the whole matter, but somehow the decision wasn't enough. The missing persons case had been wrapped up in less that 24 hours and the cops, for some unknown generous reason, weren't holding him for with­holding information, downright lying, in fact. As for the reason behind Krim's death ...

Not his worry—Slater tried to convince himself. His job was to find Krim, nothing more. That he had done. It didn't help the image of Krim's bloated mutilated body fade from his thoughts however. He wasn't looking forward to sleep and dreams.

Maybe, if Slater had not been so intent on his thoughts, he would have noticed earlier than he did that a grey late-model Plymouth was following him. It looked just like the one he had seen after leaving Yank's gym. He could see it clearly beneath the street lights.

The Plymouth swung up behind Slater with a sudden burst of power, hung on his tail so close he felt as if he were pulling it with a chain. He gave the Chevy the gas, darted in and out of traffic, which was reasonably heavy, and scared the hell out of more than a few motorists. One of them gave Slater her middle finger to look at. The pursuing Plymouth received the same salute.

Slater made a quick turn in front of a brake-screeching Volkswagen, darted off the main drag onto a lightless street called Pleasant. In the rearview mirror, he saw the Plymouth make the same corner, still hot on his trail.

The Chevy was making a sound like a strangled pig, but Slater kept pushing it. He took a quick right, almost on two wheels, then a quicker left, certainly on two wheels, then a more reserved right up a residential street.

He almost ran over a luminous DEAD END sign. Slamming hard on the brakes, he slid slightly to a stop, killed the lights, put it in reverse. He checked the rearview mirror for lights. Nothing. He backed a hundred feet, caught a flick of lights out of the corner of his eye. Jerking it in D, he pulled up in a driveway and sat.

No dogs barked. No lights in the house came on.

Beams that might have belonged to the Plymouth paused at the intersection, then went on. After sitting for another 20 minutes, avoiding the cigarette he was dying to have, he eased out of the drive with his lights off. He had the window down and his ears cocked. Straining his eyes into the darkness, he eased up to the intersection.

The Plymouth wasn't hiding around the corner.

Slater turned on his lights and drove home.

Old age, Slater figured, was probably not a very good excuse, but it just might have been part of the reason he drove home not expecting them to be waiting for him. They had done their homework.

He pulled the Chevy up the drive and parked it in front of the garage and got out. He was starting up the walk when the metal door to the garage flew up with a shrieking sound.

A big man with a shaved head, grey squinty eyes and a nose that could have pecked its way through a cement block stood where the door had been. He held a .45 automatic in his hand. It was pointing at Slater's chest.

"Hi, sugar," the bald man said. "We've been waiting for you."

Slater raised his hands slowly. Even if he had been wearing a gun it would have been of no avail. Baldy had him dead to rights. Behind him he heard a car pull up the drive and park behind his Chevy.

Baldy waved the .45. "Turn around and move."

Slater turned toward the grey Plymouth. The man behind the wheel looked every bit as bright and handsome as a lobotomized gorilla. Almost as big, too.

Moving before the prod of the .45, Slater walked around to the passenger side and got in. Baldy sandwiched Slater in between himself and Gorilla. "Let's go," Baldy said.

Gorilla backed the Plymouth out on Mulberry and drove over to Southmore. From there he made a left off Southmore and down a dark narrow street that led away from the sights, sounds and lights of Pasadena proper. Slater realized that pretty soon they'd be out in the boondocks. The thought did not cheer him.

"Guess where we're taking you, snooper?" Gorilla asked sweetly.

"The drive-in movies?" Slater answered.

"Hey!" Gorilla growled across to Baldy. "The snooper's got a sense of humor."

Baldy threw a heavy arm around Slater's shoulders. "Good. That's real good, snoop, 'cause you're gonna need a sense of humor for what we've got in mind. We're gonna give you somethin' to scream about."

Slater sat quietly, thinking, weighing his chances. Baldy removed his arms, put his fingers together and cracked his knuckles.

"Impatient?" Slater asked.

Baldy just smiled.

Gorilla turned off at a dark dirt road decorated with storage buildings and an all-too-occasional burglar light. When they had gone a little less than half a block, he pulled over next to a row of aluminum warehouses and parked. Baldy got out and waved Slater to follow with the barrel of his .45. Gorilla got out on his side and went around to meet them.

Gorilla said, "You know, snooper, we could make this easy on you. Just one shot between the peepers and no more snooper." Gorilla showed the detective a tight grin. "But me and Sol don't go for no cheap way out.

"You see, I sort of enjoy my work, if you know what I mean. What's the fun of blowing a guy's brains out and making a lot of noise, when I can beat them out and enjoy myself a whole lot better."

He was cracking his knuckles now, warming up to the task. The knuckle-cracking, Slater thought dryly, must be something of a trademark for the pair.

Sol moved up close on Slater's right side.

Slater said, "Sol's going to hold me while you prove how tough you are, or is he going to shoot a leg out from under me so I won't be able to play rough?"

Gorilla scowled. "You like playing the tough guy, don't you, peeper?"

"It's not like I have a lot of competition in you boys."

"Ahhh!" Gorilla growled. "Okay, snooper, I'm gonna give you your big break, if you catch my drift. I hate you snoopers. Always with your big nose where it don't belong. So instead of beating your brains in real quick, I'm gonna make it hurt so bad you're gonna wish I would kill you."

"Your mouth is doing that now.

Gorilla snarled and threw up his big fist.

"The hell with this, Jerry," Sol said. He pointed the .45 at Slater. Slater winced.

Gorilla reached out and slapped his hand over Sol's gun and pushed it down. "Naw, let me have my fun."

Sol sighed, looked at his watch. "Make it quick. Put him away.

"Unh-unh, I'm gonna make him beg some first."

Gorilla took a boxer's stance and shuffled forward.

 

VI

 

Even while picking a fight with Gorilla, Slater had used the distraction to examine his surroundings. To the right of him was a row of storage stalls. To the left was a dirt road, a pasture and, in the distance, a few anemic house lights. Behind him was a chest-high chain-length fence and, behind that, a small stock pond that the moon showed to be below the water line.

Across the way was another fence and, opposite it, lightless houses. The only remaining direction was forward, and in that path lay the Plymouth, Gorilla, and Sol with his worthy companion, Colt .45. That was Slater's last choice.

Gorilla was three feet away from Slater, bobbing and weaving. It looked as if he knew something about the fight game.

So did Slater.

Slater went up on his toes, started shuffling.

Gorilla went for him like a heat-seeking missile.

Slater sidestepped nimbly and lashed out with a roundhouse kick to the burly man's groin. It struck Gorilla with a whap. He stumbled, blew out some air. Slater stepped in deep and slammed an elbow down, hard, into the small of the man's back. He made sure the blow wasn't too hard. He didn't want to put him away quick. That would mean a .45 slug in the head. Slater had other plans. He stepped back.

Gorilla got his back straight, blew out some short, choppy breaths, took in a few deep ones.

"Something take your breath away?" Slater chided.

The injured man got his back straight, said through wheezes, "I'm gonna ... huhhuh ... tear you ... huhuhu ... apart."

"Do tell," Slater said and the moonlight flicked off his smile. He stepped in quick and popped a few sucker punches at the big man's face.

Bulling his way forward, the Gorilla flicked out a lucky left and nipped Slater on the cheek. Slater managed to slip it well enough so as to get only a buzz from the blow. It got Gorilla excited, however. He thought he was moving in for the kill.

Slater let him come, flicked two stinging lefts to his eyes, went for the same combination of lefts. This time Gorilla parried. That was what Slater wanted.

He faked another left and, when the big man's hands went up to protect his face, the detective surprised him with a sharp kick to the kneecap by a sizzling right cross that staggered the enraged behemoth, but didn't send him down for the full count.

Slater slacked off, danced a little. Gorilla followed.

Slater's snazzy footwork was gradually moving him backward, carrying him eventually to the fence. He pressed his back tight against it, put up his hands and looked determined to hold his ground.

Gorilla smiled. He felt he had the detective penned now, and without room to move he concluded that his size and strength would win the day.

Slater had other plans. When Gorilla was nearly on top of him, he bent his knees, ducked his head and kicked back and up with all his might. The effort sent him over the fence backwards. He hit on his side and rolled to his feet running.

"Sonofabitch," Sol, or Baldy, as Slater unaffectionately thought of him, said.

"What the ...?" Gorilla said.

"Out of my way," Sol yelled and jerked the .45 up to fire. His aim was dead on target.

But Slater suddenly became a zigging target. The shot missed by inches, sang off into the night. Another blast and Slater's neck burned, but it was only a graze.

Slater zigged and zagged all the way to the other fence, went over it like a professional high jumper and landed in an unprofessional heap on the far side.

The two goons jumped into the Plymouth, turned it around with a screech of tires and headed around the other way, hoping to cut their prey off.

Slater stumbled to his feet, realized he was in someone's backyard. He veered wide of the house. He had no intention of drawing innocent bystanders into this. Crossing the blacktop road in front of the dwelling, he melted into a thick clump of trees that a real estate sign said was ready to be bought and contracted.

He caught the lights of the Plymouth out of the corner of his eye when he dove into the undergrowth. The grey car came by slowly and Sol hung a flashlight out the window, bobbed it into the trees.

Slater was lying behind a clump of thick foliage, making like ground moss. The beam didn't hit him.

They made several passes flashing the light. Finally they stopped, got out of the car and went down into the trees for a looksee.

Slater inched his way into a wet ditch that smelled of sewer or something equally rank, pressed himself down tight in the mulch and held his breath.

He listened to the crunching of leaves and the talking of hushed voices for what seemed like an hour but could have been only minutes. Then, when the sounds stopped, he listened some more. Silence reigned for another hour or so. Finally, he heard grumbled cursing, the sound of leaf-crunching feet about their business again.

They came right up to him, flashed their beam into the ditch once, but the shadows and Lady Luck protected him. He didn't breathe.

More time passed and the cursing began again, and he heard the sound of heavy feet going away. Car doors slammed, and engine coughed to life.

Slater crawled out of the ditch and elbowed his way back to where he could get a good look. The moonlight showed the Plymouth pulling away lickety split for Pasadena. It seemed that the goons had given him up.

Perhaps, thought Slater, they would have looked longer had they known he had memorized their license plates, and of course, he knew their first names, Sol and Jerry. Obviously these were not things that would have worried them earlier. That sort of information doesn't help a dead man.

Brushing himself off as best he could, Slater made his stealthy way over to the house next to the fence. He wrote a nice note of signed explanation on a check stub, stuffed it in the screen door of the house, hot-wired the '69 Galaxy in the drive with his pocket knife and drove the long way back to Strawberry Street.

Keeping an eye out for the Plymouth, he parked a block from his office and walked back. He used his key and took the stairs up. He unlocked his office door and went inside cautiously. No one was waiting.

He got some fresh clothes out of the closet, washed up in the bathroom, and changed. Next he got the .38 out of the desk drawer and loaded it. He put it in his coat pocket, went back down to the Galaxy and drove over to Gulf City and Happy's Good Time Bar, stopping along the way to make a phone call.

 

VII

 

Happy's wasn't closed but preparations were being made. All the outside lights were off, even the neon, curlicue beer, wine and stripper signs. The inside lights were on. That meant the crowd had cleared or was clearing rapidly. Honkytonkers don't honkytonk under the glare of lights. It cramps the style.

The last couple in the place was coming out as Slater went in. James the bartender was wiping off tables, pushing chairs around. Slater didn't see any other employees. It seemed they had all gone home. James looked up.

"Closing, Mr. Private Eye," James sneered.

Slater got out a cigarette and lit it, slowly. Said, "Do I denote a touch of sarcasm in your voice?"

James shrugged, balled up the rage and started back for the bar, scooping up a couple of empty beer mugs as he went. He eased around behind the bar, plumped down the beer mugs.

"I said, I'm closing."

"So you did," Slater said and he walked over to a stool, sat down across the bar from James.

"Shall I call the cops?"

"That won't be necessary. I've already taken care of that. They ought to be here at any moment." For emphasis, Slater glanced at the clock on the wall. "I think you and I have the time we need, however."

"Time for what?"

"Chit-chat. Wouldn't want to draw us up a couple of beers, would you?"

James didn't move.

"You know," Slater continued, "I really had my doubts about who murdered Krim." Slater looked at James for a reaction. He looked bored.

James put both hands on the bar top with the rag stretched out nicely between them. "Say your little piece if it'll make you feel better—then, get out!"

Slater put his cigarette out on the bar top and watched James frown.

"You see," Slater said, "I thought Martinez was the man at all times. I mean he was right for it, and with your telling me how you saw him lead Krim into the Lincoln ... well, that was good, James, real good.

"But no, it wasn't Martinez. The persons responsible for that were a couple of cops. I met them personally. You knew I would, I'm sure of that. Actually, you're kind of surprised to see me, aren't you?" James didn't look surprised. Slater continued.

"The only bad thing is the cops slipped. I got away with their descriptions, the car's description and their license number. They didn't try to keep that stuff concealed. Why would they? With me dead, it wouldn't matter.

"Now, I don't know it for positive, but when I called the police, which was right before I came here, I left that license number with them. I'm sure when they run it down, it'll belong to a plain-clothes, Gulf City cop that looks like a gorilla. I'm sure, too, that discovery will lead to the identification of his egghead friend.

"You see, James, they have to be cops—the same cops this place passes the payoff money to. That's why there wasn't any investigation in this area. Those two were the officers in charge. Slick, James, real slick."

"And why am I hearing all this?"

Slater ignored him. "Oh yeah, they have to be cops. How else would they know Yank was hiring himself a private detective. He asked around at the Gulf City and the Pasadena stations, that's how. I'll even narrow it down a little more. They were Gulf City cops. I know that because, when I left the Gulf City station tonight and started home, these two goons show up and try to do me in."

"Like I said, Slater. Why am I hearing all this?"

"What I'm getting at is the murder of Jason Krim."

"Can't pin that on me. I was right here all the time."

"Oh, I believe you were here. Like I said, the cops did it." Slater glared into the bartender's eyes. "But I think you paid them to lean on the old man."

James flipped the rag from under his hands and draped it over the edge of the bar, got a cigarette out and lit it with a disposable lighter. He put the cigarette pack and the lighter back in his pocket. Slater thought maybe his hands were shaking just a little.

James said, "Atso?"

"Uh-huh, atso."

James took some puffs on his weed, smiled around it. "You're not sticking me with no bum rap."

"I figured maybe you didn't mean for them to kill him," Slater admitted. "Just teach him a lesson. Too bad. Those guys like their work. Maybe the old warhorse put up a bigger fight than they expected. He was old, but no pushover."

"If you're trying to scare me to death," James said, "you're doing a lousy job." He moved down the bar toward the spot where his hand had disappeared during his and Slater's first heart-to-heart talk.

Slater eased his .38 out of his pocket and laid it on the bar, kept his hand on top of it. Slater said, "My memory's better than that. Both hands on deck."

James put his hands where Slater could see them, opened and closed them. He tried to maintain his confident air, but there was sweat on his upper lip and the sarcastic smile was a little crooked now.

"May I have a drink," he asked.

"Sure. Why not—but do be careful. I'm very excitable."

James turned to the counter slowly, picked up a shot glass and a bottle, poured himself a healthy one, went back to his station at the bar.

"Remember the hands," Slater advised.

"And just why should I go to all this trouble?" James asked, then tossed off half the drink.

"It would be nice if it were really complex, some kind of boxing-world scandal, drugs, that sort of thing. It's a lot older and less complicated, however. Jealousy, or, maybe more directly, rejection. You couldn't stand that Leona turned you down for an older man, and a black one at that."

"You can't prove a damn thing."

"Now I'll grant you that a lot of this is guesswork, but when the cops start looking, I bet they find a lot of juicy material to work with. Not that they'll need it. Those two-bit cops will probably sing to high heaven. You'll be in the song, James."

James turned his shot glass around and around in his hand. His eyes were hooded, his lips drawn.

Slater went on, "Here's how I got it figured. Jason comes in and makes a hit with Leona. Too bad for James-boy. He's not quite the romancer he thought and, worse yet, in your mind, it's a turndown for an inferior. What a blow to the ego!

"Now let's take two crooked cops who like the long green and, since they don't mind stretching the rules to get it, and, since you're onto their little racket here, maybe you have a little talk with them.

"Maybe you tell them that if they'll lean on the old man, you'll see that they get a few extra bucks. You know Jason's routine, so, you point him out and they wait for him to leave. You might even be hoping that Leona will be with him, most likely would be since he doesn't drive.

"Anyway, damned if things don't work out better than expected. You even get your fall guy. Martinez comes in, gives Jason a hard time and stomps out mad in plain sight of everybody. Your cop friends are posted nearby and they spot him leaving, know who he is.

"That's when they catch that he's driving the Lincoln, and that little piece of information is good for later. That makes a nice believable touch when you tell me you saw Martinez loading the old man in the back seat.

"Okay, Jason goes out and decides to take a walk. Why not? He hasn't got a car and he hasn't called a taxi. He wants to walk off his anger. His favorite meditating place is nearby. Okay, he walks down into the boonies and the cops couldn't have planned it better themselves, so they follow him down to the pier, and zap! The old man's out for the full count.

"That's the mess-up. It's unlikely that Martinez would have enough time to beat it around back and clobber Krim just in time for you to take out the garbage. But I'll give you that possibility.

"What I won't give you is the coincidence that the spot Anibal chooses to dump the body is Krim's one special spot. I suppose you could have lied about the Lincoln, and he could have still followed Krim and done him in, but in that case the cops wouldn't be on my tail.

"Too many things, James. Far too many. You were reluctant to talk to me, worried about the cops. Then I learned this place has a couple of cops on the payroll and two guys start following me around. Well, it just started to add up.

"You know, James, maybe if you'd kept those cops off me the three of you might have gotten away with it."

"Might yet," James snapped and there was a blur of glass and whisky whirling in Slater's face. The detective ducked left, caught sight of James' hand snaking out from beneath the bar. There was a revolver in it.

Slater's move carried him down and behind the bar just as the shot slammed into the wood and sent splinters into his face.

The worse part about it was Slater had left his .38 on the bar top. In the movies, he would have leapt up, grabbed it at a roll and shot the culprit between the eyes. This wasn't the movies. Slater had made a frightened, stupid move and that was all there was to it.

James palmed himself over the bar top and pointed the revolver at Slater's head. His smile was as chill as the arctic wind. "Goodbye, Mr. Private Eye." He cocked back the hammer.

The room was a cannon roar.

 

VIII

 

James threw up his left hand like a man tossing confetti to the wind. The revolver flew up and into the bottles behind the bar. The sound of tinkling glass seemed every bit as loud as an avalanche. James' feet went out from under him and he fell against the bar and began to slide languidly to the floor. A red stream blew high and wide from his shoulder and seemed to come down in slow, mesmerized droplets. In the doorway, gun in hand, stood Homicide dick Randle Burney. Two blue suits came in behind him. He walked over to Slater, putting the gun away. He picked a yellow handkerchief that was supposed to be white from his pocket and wiped his perspiring forehead with it. His hand was shaking ever so slightly.

"You know, Slater," he said. "You're a lot of trouble."

Slater let himself breathe, got up and went over to the bar for his .38. "I seem to have misplaced this in a moment of crisis," he said in a voice calmer than he felt.

Burney turned to the blue suits who were hovering over James. One of them said, "Nice shooting. Put the shoulder out of commission."

"Swell," Burney lied. "I was aiming for his head."

The blue suit smiled at him. "No notch this time. This one will live. I'll radio an ambulance."

Burney turned back to Slater, who had gone around behind the bar and poured himself a stiff one. "What was the idea of calling and telling us to meet you here pronto? That was crazy, Slater. Why?"

"I don't know for sure. I had to talk it out, get some kind of result. I just had a few clues and a lot of hunches."

"Uh-huh, and if we'd been one second later we'd have been picking you off the floor with a vacuum cleaner."

"The license number I left with you. Was it what I thought?"

"Halfway here we got the radio message. It's the number belonging to a Gulf City cop, just like you thought. We've already got feelers out for him and whoever his partner is. It shouldn't be hard, considering they aren't expecting us to know."

Slater nodded, went over to look at James. He was mercifully unconscious and breathing heavily. The blue suit had stopped the flow of blood with simple first aid. "I think it hit the bone and went out the back of his arm," the cop said.

"It's up to the ambulance now," Burney said. "I've got my car outside. I think we better go down to the station, Slater."

"Fine," the detective said. "But first I need to return a stolen car."

By the time Slater had finished with the cops and talked with Yank it was almost daybreak. He went home and sat in the dying dark, drank a beer, smoked a cigarette and thought about poor old Jason and the sweet stripper named Leona Blue who loved him.

He kept rolling the napkin with her phone number on it around and around between his fingers, wishing that when he finally got up the nerve to keep his promise, there would be something comforting he could say.

He picked up the phone and dialed.

 

 

 

 

 

   As if that weren't enough fun for you, head back this way on Thursday, December 25, for your weekly dose of vitamin Joe, available in new Mojo-sized tablets!

 

 

         "The Full Count" originally appeared in the June 1978 issue of Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. It later appeared in Private Eye Action As You Like It, a collection published by Crossroads Press. "The Full Count" 1978 Joe R. Lansdale. All Rights Reserved.