Statement No. 2
It's bad business to plug your client. It's bad business, bad for
PIs everywhere, just plain bad all around. Sometimes my line of work
calls for it.
Vincent Grigio? He had no idea what he was paying for when he
hired me, the poor sap. You ever come across a born victim? You know
the type. The bird who gets soup dumped in his lap. That mug waiting
for a bus in the rain and gets doused by a passing motorist. The
gink whose best pal in the world runs off with his ever-loving wife.
That was Vincent Grigio in a nutshell. But what do I know? I only
saw him twice. And hardly to his best advantage.
Grigio fashioned one sad figure. That's the truth. And now I get
to spin you his sad ending. Gentlemen, it's a tale of blackmail,
passion, and justice. Justice turned on its head, all right, but
justice nonetheless. I know you boys have your own version of
justice to dole out. The D.A.'s only a telephone call away, isn't
that right? You'll get your chance, all right. And the city's lawyer
will get his. Sure.
I can't begin to dream up the story concoctions that the little
one and his partner have fed you. There might even be the hint of
truth to them. What I lay down will be straight up. You can take
that to the bank. I'll give you the whole yarn, the full treatment.
Sure I will. Then you can clap me in bracelets and heap on whatever
charges you like—if you think you can make them stick.
Did I mention blackmail? As far as charges are concerned?
Whatever variety, blackmailers are as low-life as they come. None of
us are complete innocents. I guess we're all that way—it's a flawed
species. Even cops. Sure. Blackmailers seize upon those flaws,
expose and exploit our weaknesses, kick us when we're down. Then
kick us again. They take the ugliest kind of advantage of the
corruptible, and no one, not one of us, is immune to that. Maybe you
think I get carried away. Maybe you think they're not the lowest
life form out there. I guess even leeches need something to aspire
to. But just in case I haven't made myself clear on this—I hate
That's what Vincent Grigio said he was up against when he
telephoned. That was Tuesday the thirteenth. Over the wire, his
voice came across young, nervous, and weak. Call him shaky. I kept
asking him to speak up. He kept clearing his throat. A regular clay
pigeon made to order.
Grigio agreed to my fee, then asked to see me as far away from
his digs as possible. And he didn't want to be caught anywhere near
my office. He agreed to meet me that afternoon at a watering hole in
Old Town, an old, reliable dive.
The joint felt nice and somber when I walked in, about as lively
as stucco. A smitten couple cooed at a table off to the side. A
party of four college types gabbed in the middle of the floor. I
took three joes settled in at the bar for regulars. Those regulars
sat silent and still as parking meters, like they'd been screwed
into their barstools.
This lone johnny had a table to himself in the farthest corner.
He perched forward on his chair, both hands wrapped around the
martini glass. The rim of the glass pressed against his pencil
mustache. His gaze had an unregistered look about it, focused on who
knows what—his body may have been in the room, but his thoughts sure
He struck me as an everyday, plain sort. Black hair slicked back
and down, a la Valentino. Small, dark eyes. Conservative, business
dress. I tagged him for taller than average with a slight, wiry
build. Maybe thirty years old, at the outside. Maybe closer to
He never saw me coming. I stood by the table and gave him a
moment. He bobbled the glass when I finally spoke up. A splash of
liquor leapt for his tie.
"You spook easy, Grigio."
"Sorry," Grigio said. The narrow lips formed a pained grin. He
cleared his throat and dabbed his tie with a napkin. "Please sit
down. What will you have to drink?"
I took a chair, ordered a black coffee, and offered Grigio a
cigarette. He apologized and declined. I lit up and Grigio sucked on
his glass. We waited for my joe, and I watched Grigio. He had
nothing to say, and he didn't look me in the eye while he didn't say
"One coffee. Black." The waitress's years of experience showed in
her surly tone.
I exhaled, "You waiting for something?"
She got wise and took a powder.
I prodded Grigio, but he kept dancing. First he had to apologize
for the out-of-the-way meeting place. Then he thanked me for meeting
him under such unusual circumstances. I saw nothing so unusual, and
told him so. That surprised him. He thanked me anyway.
"There's nothing to thank me for, yet," I said. "What's your
"Sorry?" Grigio said. He cleared his throat.
"You're sure one for the apologies."
"Yes. I suppose I am."
"What's your racket, Grigio?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"What's your lay, your gig? What line are you in?"
"Oh, yes." He cleared his throat. "I practice law."
"So you're a mouthpiece, are you?"
"Yes, I am a lawyer."
"You don't have to appear in court, do you?"
"No, no. Nothing at all like that. The firm I've recently joined
deals exclusively in corporate law."
"You're probably joshing, but I actually find it quite exciting,
at times. It's a fascinating discipline."
"Sure, sure. That's swell. And would you say we've sufficiently
broken the ice?"
"I don't understand."
"Let's have the story, Grigio. What kind of trouble are you in?"
Grigio apologized again. I half-wondered when he'd get around to
apologizing for apologizing. I had to coax it out, every step of the
way, but here's the yarn he told me. A little tale about little
leaguers and their little league badger game.
Grigio met the twist after a Pump Room dinner party. A business
get-together, he said, celebrating a client's successful merger
negotiations. The blowout broke up not too late, but not too
early—Grigio's blabber was full of ambiguities like that. And him a
So back to the twist. They met up, after a fashion, when Grigio
hoofed it back to his car. That's when he spotted this figure across
the street. Leaning against a parked car. Facing him, all smiles. It
made Grigio go self-conscious. He searched for his keys and tried
real hard to look like he wasn't looking, if you know what I mean.
At the same time, someone else waited, too, someone in the
shadows. This someone waited for the right distraction, for the
right moment. Grigio popped the door lock, and paused. He glanced
over his shoulder at the figure across the street. That's when the
blackjack cracked the back of Grigios's skull, and with plenty of
gas behind it. That was lights out for Mr. Vincent Grigio.
When he came around, Grigio found himself in this run-down hotel
room. Peeling paint, chipped plaster, etcetera. Long on etcetera.
The throw rug at his feet showed more wear than the batter's box at
Grigio's head felt like Cream of Wheat, and all the strength had
been sucked out of his body. His mouth and tongue as dry as a
sandbox. He'd been flopped in an old armchair, his hat and coat
gone. Someone had popped the collar button of his shirt and loosened
Curious enough so far, but here's where it starts to get saucy.
On display in front of the unmade bed, less than five feet away, the
skirt was back, posing like. Doing a real Alice White or Jean Harlow
number. Pure cheesecake. Grigio wanted to stand but couldn't muster
the legs for it. He couldn't get his mouth to operate, either. Ain't
that a charming panorama? It gets better.
During this point in his telling it, Grigio showed signs of the
DTs. Sweat broke out on his tall forehead. A shaky right hand
twisted the band on his left ring finger. I rallied him on.
Grigio described his companion as "pretty young." He wouldn't say
how young. Short and slim with short, bobbed hair. A blonde. Wearing
a button down blouse and dark gray slacks. He gawked as the thin
fingers worked open the first button of the blouse. Then the second.
All very oh, so slowly.
Grigio moved his tongue and moistened his lips and swallowed
hard. The words came out hoarse, but they came out, all right.
"Where am I? How did I get here? Why am I here?"
His questions fell flat as the blouse slid off and billowed down
to the floor. The gray slacks peeled off next. Then Grigio watched
as the panties shimmied down around skinny ankles.
Grigio braced himself, squeezing the arms of the chair. He pushed
hard as he could, struggling to stand, but his playmate straddled
him with such force that he collapsed back helpless. He closed his
eyes as the warm body lowered onto his, the hips grinding into him.
Warm breath tickled his ear, and he heard the words, "I know what
you want. You know you want it."
Then a quick, hard bite on the neck opened his eyes. He lunged,
grabbing at arms, hips, anything he could to free himself. That's
when it really broke loose.
"I've got enough." That statement came from a third party in the
room. The words froze Grigio halfway out of the chair. His playmate
giggled and snorted and shook with laughter. The third party jeered,
"I've got enough, Babe. I've got more than enough."
The low, smooth voice belonged to a tall man, narrow and dark,
stepping out of a closet door on the other side of the bed. Grigio
failed to catch sight of the camera, at first. His eyes fixed on the
pistol tucked in the man's belt.
"Who are you?" Grigio croaked. "What do you want?"
"I could ask you the same," the man smiled. "I did wonder,
though, if you got any hobbies?" The man aimed the camera at Grigio.
"I just got me this. Been trying my hand at it. Got some great shots
of you and Babe, here."
"Quite the little ham, this one." The man shrugged.
Babe whispered, "Ride 'em, cowboy," hopped off Grigio, and
flopped onto the bed.
"I'm just thinking, maybe," the dark man quipped, "maybe you
might like a copy or two for your family album." He kept the words
light enough, but delivered them with the severity of a mortician.
A wave of dizziness flooded Grigio's head. He felt nauseous. He
forced down a painful swallow and felt a line of ice slip down his
spine. He blinked with dull eyes at the cameraman.
"Let's just make it a package deal." The cameraman's pan went all
grim. "Every print and negative. The works. You're probably thinking
all this can really add up, but I'm sure you'll find my prices real
reasonable. After all, I ask you, how can you put a price on
cherished memories? How can you?"
Grigio cleared his throat. "How much?"
"We'll be in touch."
"Tell me how much. Please."
"We'll be in touch. It's time for you to leave. Babe, get your
rags back on, already."
"Tell me," I interrupted Grigio, "did you consider trying him?"
"Trying him what?"
"Did you consider making a move and taking the camera away from
"I told you. He had a firearm. And there were two of them."
"But his hands were full."
"I'm not used to coming to blows. I am not a violent person."
"Uh-huh. And maybe you weren't exactly feeling up to snuff."
So Grigio couldn't, or wouldn't, stand up for himself. Sure. He
hauled himself up and out of the chair. Locating his crumpled hat
and coat on a dresser, he scooped them into his arms like a bundle
of laundry. He staggered towards the door.
"Don't forget this." The dark man tossed a billfold at Grigio's
Grigio nearly passed out stooping over, but he retrieved the
wallet, clutching his hat and coat close to his chest. He leaned his
face against the door. "I'm sorry," he muttered.
The man yapped. "What was that?"
Grigio half-yelled and half-blubbered, "I'm sorry."
"We'll see how sorry." The dark man spoke low and steady. "You
think about exactly how sorry. Now get out."
Grigio cracked the door just enough to squeeze through. A stale
smell hung in the hallway. It just about overcame him. He stumbled
his way down the corridor, a boisterous laughter tailing him muted
by the thin walls. When Grigio hit the stairway, he lost his lunch.
Like I said, a born victim.
"Is that it?" I asked.
"Yes. That's all there is to tell. That's my entire story."
"When was this?"
"Three days ago."
"That was Saturday."
"And they called today?"
"They made you sweat for three days. Very big of them. How is it
your wife didn't go to the dinner?"
"How did you—"
I spun a make-believe ring on my finger, nodded at his left hand.
"She had to babysit her niece. I believe the firm preferred me to
attend stag, anyway."
I asked Grigio if anyone at work could be mixed up in this. Any
of his clients, maybe.
"Oh, my gosh," he said. "No, of course not. That would make no
sense. I've only just joined the firm. I've been with them seven
"And you haven't told your wife anything about it."
"How do you know that?"
"Lucky guess. How long have you been married?"
"Less than one year."
"A newlywed. That's swell."
"Do you need the precise date?"
"Never mind that. So, they've contacted you. By telephone?"
"Yes, they certainly have."
"What'd they say? Give me everything you remember."
"They said they weren't messing around—that's how he spoke. And
they meant business."
"Sounds like a real tough crowd."
"And they want five hundred dollars!" He repeated in an
exaggerated whisper, "Five hundred dollars."
"That's a lot of scratch."
"It is indeed."
"Have you got it?"
"No, I haven't any savings to speak of."
"They've done their homework, all right. Can you get it?"
"I'll need some time for that."
"What can you come up with now?"
"Possibly two hundred? Possibly?"
"Don't ask me, Grigio. I'm just doping this out."
"At least one hundred right away. Is that good? I can't let the
wife find out. She can't know anything about it. How much will do?"
"It all depends."
"Tell me what it depends on."
"It all depends on what you want to do about it."
"I just don't know. That's why I telephoned you, for Pete's
"Sure. Is there anything else you didn't tell me? Something you
forgot to mention? Or maybe left out by accident on purpose?"
"Isn't that enough?"
"Okay. Let me give it to you as straight as I can, Grigio. You
can play it one of three ways."
"Very well, I've got three choices."
"That's right. All of them stink, but that's the fix you're in.
"I know, I know. I'm sorry."
"Sure. The first choice is to call the cops."
"I can't, I can't do that." Sweat began beading up again on his
high forehead. He patted the mustache with the back of his hand.
"You know what they're pulling is against the law. Big time. This
is a major crime being committed here, Grigio. Nothing penny-ante
about it. You have every right to bring these creeps to justice.
Wouldn't you like to see them behind bars? You're a lawyer, for
"No," shaking his head. "Can't do that. No."
"All right. You have to be sure."
"Can't. Not that, please. No police."
"All right. The second choice: pay up."
"Sure. Pay up and be done with it—as long as you realize you
might never be done with it. See, if you're good for the five
hundred, they may figure you're good for another five. Then maybe a
thousand. Maybe two. Get me? They could figure it like that."
"Oh my God!" Grigio got loud again and glanced around. He cleared
his throat and found his whisper. "I'm ruined."
"It ain't necessarily so. Sometimes they do take the money and
run. They're walking a fine line, themselves. Remember this, Grigio:
they don't want you calling cop, either."
"From the sounds of things, we're dealing with small-timers. They
might be perfectly happy to take the five Cs and blow town."
"Good. You've got a lousy decision to make, so the better you
understand the score, the better all round."
"What's my third choice?"
"You fight them."
"You don't mean with fisticuffs?"
"I mean anyway you can. Blackmailers are just about the worst of
the worst. They deserve every lousy break we can give them. It might
be that we can arrange to take them, for good."
"Those are my choices?"
"Unless you're considering a move to Pago Pago."
"Sure. Pago Pago. Zanzibar, if you prefer."
"Yes, yes. I understand. God." Grigio forced down a tiny sip.
"Tell me. What would you do?"
"It's not my call, Grigio."
"I see. Choices. Choices? I know what I don't want to do, but I
know what I can't do."
Grigio gave me this pitiable look right out of a tearjerker. I
knew what I wanted him to do, all right. But I was a good boy and
played it straight down the line. I didn't even blink. I let him
hash it out for himself.
"That's it," he declared. "That's all there is to it. I may be
doomed, but I have to fight, God forgive me."
Now he was apologizing to the almighty. He threw a good slug down
his throat, and the belt gave him a jolt. His eyes opened wide in
more ways than one.
"Okay," I leaned in. "Forget about the amount of dough involved.
I'm telling you these guys are strictly bush league. You can tell by
the way they set it up, the way they played you, and the payoff
they're after. Could be they've never done anything like this
before. This could be their maiden voyage. Sure."
"You mean they're a couple of amateurs?"
"That's in our favor, Grigio. How'd they'd leave it with you?"
"The man said he'd call back tomorrow. We'd make arrangements
when we talked again."
"That's fine, Grigio, just fine. I need you to do a couple of
things in the meantime. Can you do a couple of things?"
Another full belt hoarsened his voice. "Anything you say. I'm
"Agree to the money. You can tell him you don't know how you're
going to get it, but you'll get it. Next, when you set up the
meeting—sure, you make it a bar. It's got to be a bar, Grigio, get
me? You'll only meet them in a public place, and a bar's as good as
any. It has to be. The last thing—get two, fifty dollar bills and
ten ones. Stack them with the fifties on the outside, the ones in
between, and tuck it in an envelope. You bring that envelope to the
meeting. Got that?"
"I thought I was going to fight."
"The money's strictly for show. Just in case. You're going to
hold it all the time. Probably never even leave your sight."
"Is that all?"
"Just call me when it's set up."
"Will it work? I mean, can you make it work?"
Maybe I struck Grigio as the clairvoyant type. I had no idea
whether or not I could pull this off. It sounded like we were
dealing with a couple of lightweights, all right. That afforded a
certain amount of optimism. So why not put up a good front? Maybe
because neither one of us really knew what to expect. The smaller
the operator, the more likely you'll draw a wildcard. You can depend
on seasoned pros, but you can never tell what a rookie might pull.
Especially one with a roscoe snug in his belt. But I didn't see any
reason to make Grigio feel lousier than he already did. So I lied
without missing a beat. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.
"You're going to make them pay, Grigio. They'll never know what
Grigio rose from his seat, and for the first time I realized his
full, gawky splendor. He stood an easy six-plus, skinny like a rail,
with an awkward posture. He extended a thinly tapered hand.
"I sure can't thank you enough."
"That's why you pay me."
"Well, yes. The sum we agreed to on the phone. There'll be no
trouble on that account. I assure you."
Grigio picked up his bowler from the chair next to him, placed it
on his noggin at an awkward tilt, and tipped the brim. I watched him
as he cut out. His silhouette achieved something of the cliche
cowpoke in its slight, bowlegged bounce.
The next morning I made some stops on the way into the office. I
blew in around ten thirty. That's Wednesday the fourteenth. I
checked with my service—no calls. I made it a point to stick around
until something broke.
The call came in a little after four. Grigio reported that the
exchange was full steam ahead. His caller referred to himself as Mr.
Grey. This Grey instructed Grigio to be at the Columbia Tavern at
Clark and Belmont at seven that evening. That was seven o'clock
sharp, of course. Alone, of course. And, of course, with the dough.
Grigio got us a bar, all right. You couldn't ask for more of a
dive than the Columbia, a hole that suited me just fine. I asked
Grigio if he had pulled together the envelope like I wanted. Sure,
he said, he'd prepped it just like I instructed. I told Grigio he
was doing swell. I'd take care of the rest and see him at the
Columbia. I rang off before he could apologize for anything.
The idea was simple, the idea was basic—you turn the tables. You
play your mark for the sucker and set him up on some other rap. You
just never know how much finesse is going to be called for, or if
your mark will play one of those damn wildcards. That thought kept
me spinning. I grabbed an early dinner at the Belden before heading
The crowd at the Columbia was impressive, being the middle of the
week and all. I held up the bar with one shoe on the foot rail,
lingering over a draft, seeing if I could finger our Mr. Grey. I
might of overlooked him if not for this beautiful pair of legs a
couple stools down. Every joe within drooling distance kept cheating
a look at those gams, every joe but one—that made him stand out like
Elmer Fudd at a boardwalk beauty pageant.
This bird occupied a little table on the other side of the room.
No companion, no drink. Set back stiff in his chair. Arms folded. A
gaunt figure, dark skin like a rusty tan. Hard to judge at that
distance, but I guessed around thirty-five. A burning cigarette
dangled from his lips. He stared through the blue-white smoke from
deep-set pockets beneath bushy eyebrows, zeroed in on the front
door. He sat and gazed without hardly moving a muscle.
Was that the gink? Could of been—he struck me as small time, all
right. He should of bought a drink, but must've been too cheap or
too hard up. I observed him chain-smoke two cigarettes, and he wiped
his nose on his jacket sleeve three times. He wore an oversized cap,
uncommon for guys his age except cabbies and newsies. Then there was
that scar. It ran from just above the left corner of his mouth to
his ear. I don't know how Grigio missed that one. This mug had been
taught a lesson before. I'd have to teach him another. Sure.
Adolph caught my eye from a ways down the bar. He jerked his head
twice towards the mug I was giving the once-over. I shrugged, my
hands palms up. He strolled down the counter to me, glass and towel
"Can I get you a fresh one?"
"You're not sure? About the fish?"
"I'm pretty sure. Doesn't matter. It'll pan out soon enough, one
way or another. Never seen him in here before?"
"Has he had anything to drink?"
"We'll have to do something about that. You still remember the
Lone Star gag?"
Adolph made an exaggerated nod and wink. He strolled away
Grigio entered the bar five minutes ahead of schedule. Mud caked
his shoes and trouser cuffs—it hadn't been raining, but that's a
born loser for you. Right off he spotted the same guy I spotted.
Grigio was spotted. He removed his bowler and carried it with both
hands as he maneuvered around the tables with that gawky, awkward
gait. He tripped once and almost upset a party of four.
Grigio reached Grey's table. At first they exchanged nothing
except a silent stare. A waitress came up to Grigio's side. Mr. Grey
spoke to Grigio. Grigio sat down. The waitress spoke to Grigio. He
shook his head and she left. Grey watched her leave and spoke again.
He put out his cigarette, then turned to keep watching the waitress,
all the time yapping. He turned back to Grigio with a pointing
finger, then stopped talking. Grigio dropped his head and lowered
the bowler to his lap. Grey offered a few more words, hunching his
shoulders and gesturing with one hand. Grigio, for whatever reason,
had clammed up but good.
I abandoned my beer, strode over towards Grey and Grigio, yanked
a chair from the next table over, and joined the party. Grey's eyes
flashed my way. He spat low and reserved. A smooth and strong tone
it was. Made me think of a viola, of all things.
Grey said, "We've got a private conversation going, mister."
"I'm with him, pal," I said. "Sorry I'm late, Mr. Grigio."
Grey gave Grigio the bug eyes. Grigio's thin mustache squirmed as
his lips formed the slightest of guilty smiles.
"Say, what gives, Grigio?"
"Mr. Grigio was rolled once," I said. "He didn't care for it. I'm
here to make sure he isn't rolled again."
"Grigio, we agreed to meet alone."
"Skip it, Grey. Mr. Grigio isn't about to be steamrolled. And
he's not interested in gamesmanship. He's here to settle up with a
"Say, I don't have to stand for none of this. Grigio, we already
have a deal."
"I didn't hear Mr. Grigio agree to anything. If you insist on
screwing around, we can end this right now and you can take a hike."
Grey stood up. Unsure of himself, he went for tough. "Take a
hike, you say?"
"Sure," I smiled. "Maybe we'll bring in some law."
"How's by you, Mr. Grigio? You prefer the nineteenth or twentieth
"You guys don't want no trouble, do you? Don't you just want the
"Of course we want it, Grey. That's why Mr. Grigio's here. That's
why you're here. Sit down and let's see if we can come to terms."
"Aw, come on, you guys," Grey beseeched both of us. One doesn't
get beseeched a whole lot in this burg. "I don't mean to play tough
guy. I just don't like for some stranger to yank me around."
"Sit down if you want to make a deal, Grey."
Grey sat down. "Mr. Grigio knows my deal. Five bills for the
photos and negatives. I didn't catch your name?"
"I didn't pitch it. We're all men of the world here, aren't we,
Grey? Let's be realistic about this thing. You think a simple lawyer
like Mr. Grigio can cough up five bills? Just like that? He hasn't
even made partner, for chrissake. Two-fifty. That's more in the
"I don't get it." Grey's pan displayed dumb astonishment. Grigio
pulled up the bowler just below his eyes. "This isn't how it's
supposed to go. I had this all worked out. What I've got should be
worth plenty to Grigio, or to his wife, even."
"Threats, Grey? Don't turn ugly on me. We were conducting a real
nice business transaction and then you have to go and say a thing
"But I should get at least four hundred out of this. I mean, I
went to an awful lot of trouble. And I got this partner—"
"Mr. Grigio appreciates your position. He'll be willing to go up
to three hundred. That's three hundred dollars, Grey. Think on that.
You ask yourself how much you made last month. In the last year. You
ask yourself. Mr. Grigio will give you three hundred dollars for all
the prints, all the negatives. A one-time swap. You can take it or
Grey lit another cigarette, the scar pinching inward with every
suck on the butt. Grey tried to think. You had to admire the effort.
I trained my focus on Grey but hard. I said, "You bring the
envelope, Mr. Grigio?"
Grigio cleared his throat. He placed the bowler on his lap and
gingerly groped inside his breast pocket. He came out with the
envelope, offering it like a rotten fish.
"Drop it on the table, if you'd be so kind," I said.
The number ten fell to the center of the table with a slap.
Grey's greedy fingers darted for the envelope. I struck the back of
his hand with a stinging whack, then slowly picked up the package. I
coaxed out the wad, just enough to expose the fifty dollar bill on
"That's the color of Mr. Grigio's money. Where's your product?" I
placed the packet back in the center of the table.
Grey leaned forward in order to dig out a bandana concealed under
the back of his jacket.
"Put it on the table," I said.
Grey laid down the bandana, ever so careful. He went pale as a
golf ball. "That's all of it. You don't have to look through them."
"Inspect it," I said to Grigio. I kept my stare fixed on Grey. By
this time, Grey couldn't take his eyes off mine.
"Is it all there, Grigio?"
Grigio's face scrunched up as he unfolded the kerchief and
fingered through its contents. He winced and kept closing his eyes,
reviewing the prints with sideways glances.
"Is this everything, Grey?"
Grey showed worried eyes. "That's the whole lot."
"The whole ball of wax?"
"Everything I got."
"It better be."
"It is, I'm telling you."
"Good. Now, listen up. There's one last thing."
Grey used the end of his butt to start off another. His eyes
darted between the operation and my stare. "What's that, mister?"
"It's a bit delicate, I'm afraid."
"I'm sure you can imagine that this whole affair has been quite
uncomfortable for Mr. Grigio."
"So, to put it bluntly, he has a problem taking your word for it.
That there will be no more pictures or demands. You understand Mr.
"I guess so. What's it to me?" Grey cheated a quick glance at
Grigio. Then at the envelope of money.
"Mr. Grigio would like us to toast the deal. That gesture would
afford him some confidence, here. Make it an agreement between
"Is that all?"
"Mr. Grigio's buying."
"Well." Grey gave Grigio the eye. "Well, okay."
"Waitress," I called. "Name your poison, Grey." I couldn't
Adolph sent a waitress over PDQ. We placed our order and got
"To an honorable deal," I raised my glass.
Grigio lifted his glass with a pained grin. Grey held up his
drink with a simple, "Yeah." He threw back his head and swallowed
"Grey," I said, "take your money. Mr. Grigio, the package."
Grigio didn't know what to do with his bowler and the packet, but
finally managed to place one on top of his head and the other in his
breast pocket. He got it right, too. Grey folded and tucked the
envelope in his back pants pocket. A quick glint flashed off the
revolver shoved into Grey's belt.
"We're through here, Grey. Would you like to leave first or shall
That called for Grey to think again. He came up with, "You two."
"After you, Mr. Grigio." I stood and extended a hand toward the
Grigio rose and headed out. I gave Grey one last, icy glare. Then
I followed Grigio out.
As soon as the door shut behind me, I took up a brisk walk. "Come
on, Grigio, we've got to make tracks."
"He's got my money."
I paid Grigio's words no mind and picked up the pace. Grigio fell
in behind me with that long-legged, off-kilter stride. We
high-tailed it around the corner of the building and made a beeline
for the alley. We came down the alley until we gained a clear view
of the Columbia's back entrance. We waited, but not for long.
The back door flew open in less than a minute, slamming against
the outside wall. Then nothing. No action. Grigio put a finger to
I told Grigio, quietly, "Wait for it."
Practically on cue, Grey stumbled out. His lean figure stepped
once, hesitated, and walked straight into a telephone pole. He
rubbed his noggin. He glanced up the pole. He couldn't make sense of
it and staggered, weaved and tripped over himself, generally in our
Grigio asked out of the corner of his mustache, "What's wrong
"I'd say our Mr. Grey's been doped."
"Doped? You mean like a thoroughbred?"
"That's right, Grigio. Like a thoroughbred." I smiled to myself.
I hadn't expected the dose to act so quick.
Grey caught sight of us. He stopped in his tracks, offering up a
quizzical look. He swayed in place, glanced behind him at the exit
door, looked back our way. He reached out for a fencepost, a gate, a
bus strap, anything to grab hold of and steady himself—he found
nothing. Grey dropped to his knees.
"Ow! Say, what are you trying to pull? What's—Samantha?"
Grey's eyes rolled up, the lids shut fast, and he crumbled like a
I stepped over to Grey and nodded as I looked down on the heap.
My client was simply aghast. I enjoyed a nice, smug laugh. I hate
"Is he dead?"
"No, Grigio. He's not dead. You don't dance the last waltz from a
Mickey Finn. He's just cooperating."
I pried the cash envelope out of Grey's pants pocket and tossed
it over. Grigio, ever on the ball, watched the packet land at his
feet. While he bent down for the package, I rolled Grey onto his
back with a nudge of my shoe. I grabbed the pistol from his belt and
pocketed that. Going through the rest of his clothes, I came across
"Let's see just what we have." I stood up, browsing the wallet
for some kind of ID. "Grigio, what we've got here is Mr. Heniek
Szary. Ever heard of this mug?"
Grigio kept his distance and his silence.
"Uh-huh. Well, I guess he knew you, all right. Got it. He's on
West Roscoe. Right in his own backyard. Very small time. We've got
just a short drive, Grigio."
My coupe was parked behind the tavern. We packed up Szary in the
rumble seat and made for West Roscoe. Grigio remained quiet,
seriously quiet, but Szary was quieter.
We found the small apartment, a second story job, above the
laundry at Clark and Roscoe. I hauled out Szary's carcass and slung
it over my shoulder. Szary let out a sleepy grunt. We climbed up a
terrifically narrow and dimly lit stairway. Grigio carried Szary's
keys. When we reached the door, Grigio kept diddling with the lock.
I told him I was no fireman and to get on with it. Then a tiny voice
The lock gave all of sudden and the door swung open fast. The
tiny voice welcomed Grigio, crying out, "Ahoy, Vincent!"
"Step aside," I huffed, and pushed Grigio out of the way with my
shoulder. I lugged myself across the room and flopped Szary onto a
Murphy bed that bounced and clanged under the dead weight. I came
about to point at the door. "Close it, Grigio."
I squinted at my surroundings. Everything read dark. The
shadeless table lamp next to the bed cast the only light, and not
much at that. As far as studios go, this one was large for its kind,
a small bathroom just beyond the Murphy bed, and a corner
kitchenette on the opposite wall. The wood floor showed dark and
worn with a patchwork of bleached spots. In that light you couldn't
tell if the walls were tinged from age or if they were meant to be
that off-off-white color. Two windows, side by side, afforded a
dismal view of the elevated tracks. That view was the only view, and
the blue-yellow glow of the streetlamps didn't liven things up any.
A small stand by the door supported a vase. The plant in the vase
looked more than half dead, and that put it one up on Szary.
In the center of this lavish layout stood the young man. He
carried an air of maturity, but his face could've passed for sweet
sixteen. He was a short and slight thing, with cropped, blonde hair
and pale skin. He wore an athletic shirt and charcoal slacks.
The boy asked, "What's happened?" He looked from Grigio to me. He
showed no interest in the bed or its contents. Szary emitted a low,
"Who are you?" I questioned. "You a friend of Szary's? His
"He screwed it up, didn't he? He thinks he's so clever." He
shrieked at the bed, "You screwed it up!"
"I can't understand this," Grigio said. Lines of pain and anger
streaked over his long face. He pleaded directly to the boy.
"Gotta make a living, honey."
"The first time—I thought you liked me," Grigio whined.
"You know how it is, honey. Tough times." The boy placed his
hands gently on his hips and quickly shrugged his shoulders.
"Grigio," I busted in, "We're wasting time. I don't know your
little history with this one, but the first thing is to make sure
there aren't any more photos or negatives, savvy?"
"I liked you." Grigio spoke softly. There was the sound of defeat
in his voice. The pencil mustache quivered.
I shot it at the boy, cold and strong, "Give."
"Oh, it's in there," he pointed to the john. "His darkroom. More
like a stink hole, if you ask me. He doesn't know what the hell he's
doing. It just makes me sick."
I stalked into the bathroom, found the pull chain hanging from
the middle of the ceiling. One yank on the line cast the room with
an ugly, red wash. Pans of transparent liquid lay balanced on top of
the toilet and sink. Two more rested in the tub. I spied three
prints taped to the medicine chest mirror—I could've bust out
laughing. They were so out of focus I couldn't tell if I was looking
at animal, vegetable or mineral. That left just a quick search of
the main room. Then we'd be ready to set Szary for a tumble.
I exited the bathroom rubbing my hands and grinning to myself.
The last thing I expected to see was Grigio training a gun on the
boy. Every once in awhile your own client plays the wildcard.
I stopped dead in my tracks. "What the hell are you pulling,
"He's all pissy because it wasn't love, love, love," the boy
"You've got nerves of steel, son."
"There's nothing I ain't seen, mister."
"It was special," Grigio squealed. "It was real, and it was
special, and you do this to me."
"Grigio," I said. I went after a gentle, fatherly effect,
something along the lines of Barry Fitzgerald. "We can't have any of
"Leave me alone," Grigio said.
"I can't do that."
"Just leave me alone."
"Ha!" The boy folded his arms and shifted his hips.
"I can't let you do this, Grigio." I brought out Szary's pistol
from my jacket pocket, smoothly, and held it down at my side.
Grigio had eyes only for the boy. He went teary and his whole
body looked as stiff as an ironing board. The hand trembled, on and
off in spasms. The gun shook. He cleared his throat.
I raised the pistol, aimed the muzzle low, and cocked the hammer.
"I can't let you do this."
That metallic click got Grigio's attention. His eyes panned over
to mine, then down to my gun hand. He gawked at the rod. He breathed
short and shallow. The kid watched Grigio with no hint of emotion.
We made like three statues, and the stillness heightened every
sound. Grigio's shortened breaths. The metallic wheeze of the
bedsprings expanding and contracting beneath Szary. The light
jangling of the table lamp's pull chain. The knocking of chair legs
against the floorboards. The salt and peppershakers dancing on a
card table. The windows rattled once, twice, and then broke into a
non-stop, banging vibration as an elevated train came into range.
The heavy, metal wheels on metal rails shrieked louder and louder as
it approached. It hit the tracks outside the windows with a
bang-bang, bang-bang, and beams of streetlamps shot through the
train windows like a strobing nickelodeon. The flashing pattern lit
up the room like lightning.
Grigio jerked his head sideways to the boy. His gun arm snapped
straight. My trigger finger squeezed. Grigio yanked on his rod at
the same time. The deafening noise and pulsating light submerged us
into chaos for only seconds. Then it ended.
After the train rumbled passed, I stood poised for the next move.
The boy held himself motionless in a semi-crouch, each hand drawn to
his face for protection. We both looked down at the sight of Grigio
laid flat. A darkened rip tore down his right pants leg below the
knee. Splashes of blood decorated the nearby floorboards. A strained
pucker creased Grigio's face.
"Thanks for that, mister," the boy stuttered. His startled eyes
remained fixed on Grigio.
Grigio's lids fluttered open. He took shallow, panting breaths
through his mouth. He looked to the boy and found only cold
expression. He looked at me with great worry in his sorry eyes.
I asked the boy, "Where's the nearest phone?"
Grigio exhaled, "Tell..."
"We need a phone, boy."
Grigio sucked in as much air as he could. "Tell my wife—"
"A phone, now!"
Szary moaned and almost rolled off the bed. The distraction
caught me off guard.
Grigio sobbed, "Tell my wife I'm very, very sorry."
I turned back to Grigio with an impatient, "What?"
Grigio raised his weapon fast—the sudden swing of his arm had me
dead to rights. I raised mine in automatic response. I pumped two
shells into his chest. Grigio's tall, slim frame flinched from the
impact, almost bouncing. His head pulsed forward then snapped
backward, hard against the wood floor. Then he relaxed and went
still, like somebody let out the air.
"Jesus," the boy gasped.
Szary rolled over into consciousness, muttered "Samantha?" and
passed out again.
We paid no attention to Szary. My eyes held fast on Grigio's
motionless form. I watched him for about a minute. I shoved the rod
back in my jacket, lit a smoke, and took a deep drag. I stepped to
the wall behind Grigio, leaned against it, and let myself slide down
to the floor.
"I'll find that phone, now, mister." The boy carefully,
delicately, stepped over the lifeless body. He must've discovered a
newfound respect for Grigio as a corpse. He copped a sweater from
the back of the door and crept out.
I reached over Grigio's bloody form and wrenched out the packets
of money and photos. The cash went with the pistol in my jacket. I
undid the bundle of pictures and gave them a look-see. The first
shot was no better than what I saw in the john. As was the second.
And the third. Nothing more than blurs of light and shadow. They
read as abstract as Einstein's half-erased blackboard.
My gaze shifted from the prints over to the stiff. A born victim?
Maybe so, but that's no longer Grigio's kick. It's all mine, now.
* The photograph displayed at the top of this page was taken by Stanley Kubrick as a staff photographer for Look Magazine. Copyright in the photograph was donated to the United States by Cowles Communications, Inc. For more information on the photograph, see http://www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/cph/item/2005683174/.