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TAKE YOUR LAST LOOK
by Joseph Shallit
CLIFF HARDIE poked his head deeper under the hood of his car, cursing, feeling certain the man had spotted him. Through the wedge opening at the base of the hood, Cliff could see him standing on the opposite corner, outside the drugstore, a good-looking, smooth-featured fellow with a sun-lamp tan, dressed jauntily and expensively in a tan patch-pocket gabardine and a perfectly creased snap brim. The man was looking casually around, both hands in his trouser pockets. His glance drifted past Cliff and the car, then shifted around to the drugstore window. He seemed to become promptly fascinated by the display of razor blades and shaving cream and the big cutout of the bosomy girl who was proclaiming what an easy mark she was for men who used these products. The man didn’t move any more. He was, of course, watching Cliff’s reflection in the glass.
Cliff debated bitterly whether to go right over and grab him or play his luck a little longer and wait to see if anybody else would show up on the corner. He was burning at how quickly the guy had made him. Cliff was wearing a simple disguise—a denim cap, dirty work pants, a big brush sticking out of his back pocket. He was a painter coming home from work, developing engine trouble on the way. He hadn’t put paint streaks on his face, hadn’t made the act obvious by overdoing it. But the guy on the other side of the street evidently had a highly developed nose for trouble. Something had changed in his manner almost the moment Cliff stopped his car and got out; something vague, something about the angle of his shoulders, the set of his head. Cliff couldn’t identify it, but he knew it by instinct. Just the way the guy on the other side of the street knew him by instinct. Or was it instinct? Was it possible that the bastard knew him?
He was moving, going inside the drugstore.
Before Cliff could figure a move, the guy was inside a phone booth, dialing. Cliff came out from under the hood, anger choking him. Of all the goddamn stupid stunts! Staying there when he knew the guy had made him. He should have hopped right hack in his car, taken off, and phoned the office to send somebody else down. But no, he had to play it all by himself, and now here was this jerk sitting in the phone booth, calling up his little pals and telling them to stay away, the dicks were on the prowl.
The phone conversation was very brief. The good-looking tan-faced lad came out of the store. He didn’t look in Cliff’s direction. He turned the corner and headed up the street at a nice leisurely pace, his hands in his pockets.
“Oh, no, you don’t” Cliff said. He slammed the hood down and climbed into the car. He slammed into gear and sent the car spinning around the corner. Tan-face didn’t stop or turn as Cliff eased in at the curb. His eyes widened in apparent surprise as Cliff ran around the front of the car and stopped, facing him. “Police,” Cliff said quietly. “Put ’em up, boy.”
“What’s this?” Tan-face said, his hands staying in his pockets.
“Get those hands up!” Cliff yelled, grabbing at his shoulder holster.
“O.K., O.K.,” Tan-face said, and whipped both hands in the air.
The motion was so fast, Cliff couldn’t be sure whether he had seen something fly out of the man’s hand or not.
“Turn around,” Cliff growled.
Tan-face joggled his body around. “Mind telling me what this is all about?” There was no worry in his voice.
Cliff ran his hands along the man’s chest, the armpits, the small of the back, and down the legs. No sign of a gun or knife.
“Whatever you’re looking for, I don’t have it,” Tan-face said.
“Quiet!” Cliff was going through the man’s pockets. His fingers brought up some pinches of gritty stuff, but it was only pocket lint. He pulled the wallet out of the man’s back pocket.
“Hey, wait a minute,” Tan-face said. “How do I know you’re a cop? Let’s see your badge.”
“There’s my badge,” Cliff said, and jabbed upward, hitting the man on the side of the neck, just under the mastoid bone, with the heel of his hand; not very hard, but you didn’t have to hit hard there to hurt.
Tan-face staggered a step and turned, one hand going down to the side of his neck. “You son-of-a-bitch, you’re going to be sorry for that.”
“Shut up before I lose my temper,” Cliff said, looking through the wallet. There was a thick wad of bills, fives, tens, and twenties; a driver’s and owner’s license made out to Harry M. Lanker, with a 23rd Street address; a calendar card; an AAA card; and, finally, the inevitable little collection of photos showing undraped women and men in what are known as artistic poses.
“What’s your name?” Cliff said.
Tan-face tensed his full, somewhat girlish lips and started a hard answer, but thought better of it. “Lanker,” he said sullenly.
Cliff threw the wallet back at him. “Lanker, what did you have in your hand?”
“Nothing. What’re you trying to pin on me?”
“I’ll show you in a minute.” Cliff felt sure the man had been holding capsules when his hands flew out of his pockets. It was the junk pushers’ standard dodge; they were always ready to toss away the evidence as soon as the law grabbed them. Cliff looked around the pavement, looked into the street, still muddy from the morning rain. A cap of H had a devilish ability to roll into corners and holes, to merge into its surroundings.
A uniformed cop turned the corner. Cliff called him over. “I’m Hardie—Narcotics,” he said. “Keep an eye on little Roscoe, will you, while I see if I can find what he threw away.”
“Sure thing,” said the cop. He was a small, dark Mediterranean. He turned hard eyes on Lanker. “Don’t try any funny business.”
“I’m not trying a goddamn thing,” Lanker said. “I’m minding my own business. That jerk is trying to frame me.”
“Shut up!” The cop raised a threatening hand, prompt to enter into the battle.
Cliff got down on his knees and started a search under the parked cars at the curb. It was hard to see; the sun had already set. He flipped open his cigarette lighter and moved it over the muddy gutter. No little white cap of H waited for him.
He got up and looked over the tops of the cars; he looked around the sidewalk again, at the steps and window ledges of the nearby houses. He walked back to the drugstore and looked into the phone booth Lanker had used. Nothing. The guy evidently had the stuff hidden in his clothes.
Cliff returned. “Thanks,” he told the cop. “I’m taking him in.”
“What for?” Lanker said belligerently.
“Want me to go along and keep an eye on him?” the cop said.
“Won’t be necessary, thanks,” Cliff said. “O.K., Roscoe, hop in.”
“He might try something,” the cop said, looking for an excuse to do something more exciting than walking his beat.
“Not going to try a thing,” Cliff said cheerfully. He jerked a thumb at Lanker. “Move.”
Lanker’s lips made a disgusted curve, but he moved. “Around the front seat,” Cliff said.
“Wise up, copper. You got no case,” Lanker said, getting into the car.
Cliff slid in behind the wheel. He looked at the man beside him, looked directly into the dark brown, somewhat
watery eyes. “Listen to me, pal,” he said softly. “I’m driving you to the Hall. If you think you can make a break, try it. Don’t hesitate. Because there’s nothing I’d like better than an excuse to plant a slug in your head.”
Lanker’s eyes half closed and he turned his face away irritably, his lips forming some private curse words. Then he subsided, and looked silently, bitterly out the window all the way to the Hall.
Cliff parked in the wide cindered lot across from the Hall entrance. Big John, the ancient traffic cop who had been put out to pasture here, watching the parked cars of city employees, gave Cliff a big wave and curiously eyed the prisoner, the way he always did. Cliff marched Lanker across the street, across the wide sidewalk, and in under the two naked marble ladies who reclined above the doorway. He gave him an elevator ride to the second floor, then piloted him through the complaint room, through the swinging door marked “Private,” and down the long corridor past the offices of the various detective squads, down to Narcotics, which was the office after Missing Persons and before Safe and Loft.
It was almost six P.M. There was only one man left in the office, bald Andy Thomas, the oldest man on the squad, who was bucking hard for the vacant sergeancy. He looked up from his desk, where he was pecking out a report on the typewriter, made a quick appraisal of Cliff’s prisoner, then went on typing. On the bulletin board just behind him was a newspaper clipping with a photo showing Thomas and two other members of the squad, Chet McVane and Ray Colson, examining the haul from a raid on a freighter. On the shelf above the bulletin board were five bottles containing marijuana leaves, crude opium, and some “works”—hypo needles, syringes, cotton wads, spoons—the beginnings of an exhibit the Lieutenant had once decided to set up and then had abandoned. The Lieutenant’s desk, at the far wall facing the doorway, was clear except for the office phone; the Lieutenant was a clean-desk man. The other four desks, two on each side of the room, were messy with reports, newspapers, and overloaded ash trays.
Andy Thomas looked up from his typewriter again. “Need any help, Hardie?”
“No, thanks,” Cliff said. “Me and this pusher are just going to have a little talk.” He motioned toward a door in the left wall, between the two desks. “Let’s go in the conservatory, Roscoe.”
The conservatory was a little cubbyhole of a room that Lieutenant Morwitz had created by getting the City Hall carpenters to partition off a piece of the office. It had no window, and it got pretty unbearable in July and August, but it marked a big improvement over the time when the detectives had to quiz suspects out in the middle of the office, with all the competing confusion of ringing phones, side conversations, detectives walking in and out.
Lanker didn’t move. “I want to talk to my lawyer,” he said loudly.
“Sure, sure,” Cliff said amiably. “Right this way.” He gripped the man’s arm and heaved him toward the door. Lanker jerked around to free himself, but Cliff got hold of the back of his neck, hauled him to the door, kicked it open, and sent Lanker sprawling inside. He pulled the door shut behind him and watched Lanker get to his feet. “You’ll have plenty of time to talk to your lawyer,” Cliff said. “First you’re going to talk to me.”
The smooth tanned features were taut with appre-hension. “You can’t do this. You got nothing on me.”
It gave Cliff a warm, cheerful feeling, listening to the shrill edge on the man’s voice. He wasn’t going to be hard to crack, not hard at all.
“Sit down, relax,” Cliff said, motioning to the long bench that was the only furniture in the room. He opened the door again, removed his shoulder holster, dropped it into the nearest desk drawer, then went back into the conservatory. Lanker was still standing. “Take off your jacket,” Cliff said.
“Come on, get it off.” Cliff’s voice was harder this time.
Lanker shrugged with a fair simulation of casualness and unbuttoned his gabardine coat. Cliff jerked it out of his hand. “Now, sit down, will you?”
Lanker let himself down gingerly on the bench, like a cat on a wet floor. Cliff stood over him, feeling the seams of the coat. He rolled the seams between his fingers, carefully traversing every inch of the bottom hem, the collar, the pockets. In the inside pocket was an alligator-covered cigarette case with a built-in lighter. Cliff flipped it open, lit it. There wasn’t any false bottom to it. “You’ve got high-class tastes,” Cliff said. “What did you pay for this?”
“Go hump yourself,” Lanker told him.
“Such language. What makes you such a bad boy? O.K., here’s your jacket.” He dropped it on the floor. “Let’s have your pants.”
“You can go to—”
Cliff’s hand whipped out, fingers bunched and forward, and sharply tapped the man’s Adam’s apple. “You talk too much.” Lanker’s eyes bulged. He swallowed convulsively, took in a frantic breath.
“Your pants,” Cliff said.
Shakily, fumblingly, Lanker worked the belt open and slipped the trousers down over his shoes. Cliff slung them on the bench and sat down beside him. He went through the pockets. There was nothing but the wallet and a handkerchief, not recently washed. He made a note of the address and license number on the cards, then counted the bills out on the bench. There were three hundred-dollar bills in the wad. The total was $520. “Always carry your bail with you, eh?” he said. He fingered the seams and cuffs and found no interesting bulges. “O.K., your shoes and underwear.”
Lanker didn’t protest any more. Cliff found no sign of a compartment in the heels or soles of the shoes; nothing in the underwear seams. He looked at the quivering, goose-pimpled, smooth-muscled, hairless body. There were no needle marks on the arms. Roscoe evidently had sense enough not to use his own merchandise.
“Stand up and turn around,” Cliff said. Lanker’s eyes were big and alarmed. “Come on, quick,” Cliff prodded him. “Bend over.” He took a quick look. “O.K., Roscoe, get dressed.”
Cliff sat there and watched him. He waited till Lanker was fully dressed, his collar buttoned, his tie knotted— then suddenly leaped up and lunged at him. He caught the tie and collar in a tight bunch. He twisted it slowly. Lanker gave a whimpering cry and pushed weakly at Cliff’s forearm. “Don’t make so damn much noise,” Cliff said, and whacked the back of his hand across Lanker’s jaw. Lanker’s eyes widened, his lips formed tremulous defiance. “I don’t know what—”
Whack! Cliff’s hand caught him again.
Lanker twisted loose and backed against the wall, almost falling over the bench. “Stop it, stop it,” he said hoarsely. Cliff pressed after him. “Stop it!” Lanker’s voice rose to a soft, hysterical cry. “I’ll get you for this!”
“You will?” Cliff said, biting the words, savoring the deliciousness of his anger. “You’re going to be mean to me, eh?”
Lanker shrank into the wall, his hands coming up in a gesture midway between defiance and supplication. “Stop!”
“Start talking and I’ll stop,” Cliff said happily, grabbing his collar again.
The door opened behind Cliff. He turned his head sideways, then stiffened. He let go of Lanker and jerked around. “What do you want?” he barked.
“Craig!” Lanker cried, and started away from the wall. Cliff swung his arm and sent him sprawling on the bench. “Stay still!” He looked again at the man in the doorway, a short, broad-chested, broad-bellied man in a brown suit. His eyes were heavy and mean; his lips thick, angry.
“You touch that man again and you won’t have a badge,” he said.
“Who the hell are you?” Cliff exploded.
The man’s hand pushed out, a card between his fingers. “J. C. Craig, attorney at law,” he said.
Cliff turned slowly and looked at the man on the bench. “You son-of-a-bitch, you were so innocent, you were phoning your lawyer the minute—”
“Come along, Lanker,” the attorney said.
“Like hell!” Cliff waved the attorney away. “Beat it, before I throw you out of here.” He saw Andy Thomas peering over the attorney’s shoulder. “Andy! How’d this guy get in here?”
“Went right by me before I could flag him,” Thomas said.
“What the hell is this, the Greyhound bus station? Get him out of here.”
The lawyer raised a hand. “Suppose we end this quickly. I’m a busy man. If you want to question my client, go ahead—that’s your right. He insists I be present, which is his right. And I’m advising him not to say anything except his name and address.”
Cliff’s teeth ground together. “I’ll kick your dirty, conniving guts in—”
“That would be foolish,” the lawyer said blandly. “Now, let’s wind this up. If you think you have a case against this man, book him. If not, let him go. One thing or the other.”
The anger that clogged Cliff’s throat was murderous. He’d been completely outmaneuvered by a second-rate junk pusher. He stood there between the two men, his body bent forward, his hands curling, on the verge of grabbing both of them and grinding their faces together. “I’m going to slate him,” he gritted.
“On what charge?”
“You know goddamn well what charge.”
The lawyer’s face was calm, unruffled. “I think you’re wasting your time, but that’s your business. Take him out and book him so I can get a copy of the charge signed and get him out.”
Cliff stood there in helpless anger. The lawyer was right: He was wasting his time. Slate the guy, and all it would mean was that he’d have to go down to a magistrate’s hearing in the morning and watch the bastard get discharged for lack of evidence. He wouldn’t be accomplishing a thing; he wouldn’t even be able to lock the guy up for the night. This shyster probably had a magistrate already lined up to sign a copy of the charge and get Lanker out before he even had a chance to sit down in a cell.
“What do you say?” the lawyer prodded him.
“Scram!” Cliff burst out.
The lawyer didn’t blink. “All right. I’m going right up to the Commissioner.”
“And I’m warning you, if you lay another hand on my client, I’ll bring charges against you.”
Cliff slammed toward him, grabbed the door, and pulled it shut. It opened again almost at once. But it wasn’t the lawyer there; it was Andy Thomas. He had a mournful look on his worn, melon-shaped face. He beckoned with a nod.
“What?” Cliff said irritably.
Thomas beckoned again.
“What, for God’s sake?” Cliff went out into the office. Thomas carefully closed the door after him. “If you got nothing on the jerk,” he said softly, “why don’t you let him go before old Lawbones gets the Chief worked up?”
“What’s the matter with you?”
Thomas shrugged. “Just trying to save you trouble.”
“That right? You trying to save me trouble when you told that shyster where I was?”
“Didn’t have to tell him. Craig’s a City Hall louse.”
“Before I let any two-bit shyster tell me where to go, I’ll toss my badge in the ash can.”
“But if he’s got you in a spot?” Andy Thomas said gently.
“You haven’t got anything on the guy.”
“I will in a couple more minutes,” Cliff said grimly. He headed back into the conservatory. “And for God’s sake, keep the sight-seers out of here, will you?”
But he had hardly started in on Lanker again before Thomas was back, opening the door. “Phone for you,” he said. And, as Cliff hesitated, he added, “McDermott.”
Cliff stamped bitterly through the office to the Lieutenant’s desk and picked up the phone. “Hardie,” he said gruffly.
“Hardie, what’s this all about?” came the irritable voice of Dan McDermott, the Commissioner’s chief deputy.
Cliff told him the story, briefly, feeling sick.
“But you don’t have anything on him?” McDermott said complainingly.
There was an exasperated intake of breath. “Why didn’t you use your head, for God’s sake?”
And what the hell did that mean? Cliff wanted to know.
“You put the Commissioner in an embarrassing position, you know that?”
“I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t expect the lawyer to barge in on me.”
There was a long silence at the other end. Then: “Let the guy go.”
There was a click in Cliff’s ear. He looked at the dead phone. He put it down in its cradle. He turned, closing his eyes, bottling his anger. “Andy,” he said quietly, “go in there and let the guy go. I don’t want to see him. I’ll kill him.”
Andy Thomas moved to the conservatory. “Tell him,” Cliff said, his eyes still closed, “not to make the mistake of ever letting me catch him with any junk on him. It’d be the unluckiest day of his life.”
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