Woman in the Dark

  “Sure,” he said, and laughed. “But you’re a pip.”

  She did not seem to understand him.

  He drank again, then leaned forward. “Listen, you’re going to look funny riding the train like that.” He flicked two fingers at her gown. “Suppose I drive you in and I’ve got some friends that’ll put you up till you get hold of some clothes you can go out in?”

  She studied his face carefully before replying: “If it is not too much trouble for you.”

  “That’s settled, then,” he said. “Want to catch a nap first?”

  He emptied his glass and went to the front door, where he made a pretense of looking out at the night.

  As he turned from the door he caught her expression, though she hastily put the frown off her face. His smile, voice were mockingly apologetic: “I can’t help it. They had me away for a while—in prison, I mean—and it did that to me. I’ve got to keep making sure I’m not locked in.” His smile became more twisted. “There’s a name for it—claustrophobia—and that doesn’t make it any better.”

  “I am sorry,” she said. “Was it—very long ago?”

  “Plenty long ago when I went in,” he said dryly, “but only a few weeks ago that I got out. That’s what I came up here for—to try to get myself straightened out, see how I stood, what I wanted to do.”

  “And?” she said softly.

  “And what? Have I found out where I stand, what I want to do? I don’t know.” He was standing in front of her, hands in pockets, glowering down at her. “I suppose I’ve just been waiting for something to turn up, something I could take as a sign which way I was to go. Well, what turned up was you. That’s good enough. I’ll go along with you.”

  He took his hands from his pockets, leaned down, lifted her to her feet, and kissed her savagely.

  For a moment she was motionless. Then she squirmed out of his arms and struck at his face with curved fingers. She was white with anger.

  He caught her hand, pushed it down carelessly, and growled: “Stop it. If you don’t want to play you don’t want to play, that’s all.”

  “That is exactly all,” she said furiously.

  “Fair enough.” There was no change in his face, none in his voice.

  Presently she said: “That man—your little friend’s father—called me a strumpet. Do people here talk very much about me?”

  He made a deprecatory mouth. “You know how it is. The Robsons have been the big landowners, the local gentry, for generations, and anything they do is big news. Everybody knows everything they do, and so—”

  “And what do they say about me?”

  He grinned. “The worst, of course. What do you expect? They know him.”

  “And what do you think?”

  “About you?”

  She nodded. Her eyes were intent on his.

  “I can’t very well go around panning people,” he said, “only I wonder why you ever took up with him. You must’ve seen him for the rat he is.”

  “I did not altogether,” she said simply. “And I was stranded in a little Swiss village.”


  She nodded. “Singer.”

  The telephone bell rang.

  He went unhurriedly into the bedroom. His unemotional voice came out: “Hello?… Yes, Evelyn… Yes.” There was a long pause. “Yes; all right, and thanks.”

  He returned to the other room as unhurriedly as he had left, but at the sight of him Luise Fischer half rose from the table. His face was pasty, yellow, glistening with sweat on forehead and temples, and the cigarette between the fingers of his right hand was mashed and broken.

  “That was Evelyn. Her father’s justice of the peace. Conroy’s got a fractured skull—dying. Robson just phoned he’s going down to swear out a warrant. That damned fireplace. I can’t live in a cell again!”



  Luise came to him with her hands out. “But you are not to blame. They can’t—”

  “You don’t get it,” his monotonous voice went on. He turned away from her toward the front door, walked mechanically. “This is what they sent me up for the other time. It was a drunken free-for-all in a roadhouse, with bottles and everything, and a guy died. I couldn’t say they were wrong in tying it on me.” He opened the door, made his automatic pretense of looking out, shut the door, and moved back toward her.

  “It was manslaughter that time. They’ll make it murder if this guy dies. See? I’m on record as a killer.” He put a hand up to his chin. “It’s airtight.”

  “No, no.” She stood close to him and took one of his hands. “It was an accident that his head struck the fireplace. I can tell them that. I can tell them what brought it all about. They cannot—”

  He laughed with bitter amusement, and quoted Grant: “‘The strumpet’s word confirms the convict’s.’”

  She winced.

  “That’s what they’ll do to me,” he said, less monotonously now. “If he dies I haven’t got a chance. If he doesn’t they’ll hold me without bail till they see how it’s coming out—assault with intent to kill or murder. What good’ll your word be? Robson’s mistress leaving him with me? Tell the truth and it’ll only make it worse. They’ve got me”—his voice rose—“and I can’t live in a cell again!” His eyes jerked around toward the door. Then he raised his head with a rasping noise in his throat that might have been a laugh. “Let’s get out of here. I’ll go screwy indoors tonight.”

  “Yes,” she said eagerly, putting a hand on his shoulder, watching his face with eyes half frightened, half pitying. “We will go.”

  “You’ll need a coat.” He went into the bedroom.

  She found her slippers, put on the right one, and held the left one out to him when he returned. “Will you break off the heel?”

  He draped the rough brown overcoat he carried over her shoulders, took the slipper from her, and wrenched off the heel with a turn of his wrist. He was at the front door by the time she had her foot in the slipper.

  She glanced swiftly once around the room and followed him out.

  She opened her eyes and saw daylight had come. Rain no longer dabbled the coupé’s windows and windshield, and the automatic wiper was still. Without moving, she looked at Brazil. He was sitting low and lax on the seat beside her, one hand on the steering wheel, the other holding a cigarette on his knee. His sallow face was placid and there was no weariness in it. His eyes were steady on the road ahead.

  “Have I slept long?” she asked.

  He smiled at her. “An hour this time. Feel better?” He raised the hand holding the cigarette to switch off the headlights.

  “Yes.” She sat up a little, yawning. “Will we be much longer?”

  “An hour or so.” He put a hand in his pocket and offered her cigarettes.

  She took one and leaned forward to use the electric lighter in the dashboard. “What will you do?” she asked when the cigarette was burning.

  “Hide out till I see what’s what.”

  She glanced sidewise at his placid face, said: “You too feel better.”

  He grinned somewhat shamefacedly. “I lost my head back there, all right.”

  She patted the back of his hand once, gently, and they rode in silence for a while. Then she asked: “We are going to those friends of whom you spoke?”


  A dark coupé with two uniformed policemen in it came toward them, went past. The woman looked sharply at Brazil. His face was expressionless.

  She touched his hand again, approvingly.

  “I’m all right outdoors,” he explained. “It’s walls that get me.”

  She screwed her head around to look back. The policemen’s car had passed out of sight.

  Brazil said: “They didn’t mean anything.” He lowered the window on his side and dropped his cigarette out. Air blew in, fresh and damp. “Want to stop for coffee?”

  “Had we better?”

  An automobile overtook them, crowded them to
the edge of the road in passing, and quickly shot ahead. It was a black sedan traveling at the rate of sixty-five or more miles an hour. There were four men in it, one of whom looked back at Brazil’s car.

  Brazil said: “Maybe it’d be safer to get under cover as soon as we can; but if you’re hungry—”

  “No; I too think we should hurry.”

  The black sedan disappeared around a bend in the road.

  “If the police should find you, would”—she hesitated—“would you fight?”

  “I don’t know,” he said gloomily. “That’s what’s the matter with me. I never know ahead of time what I’ll do.” He lost some of his gloominess. “There’s no use worrying. I’ll be all right.”

  They rode through a crossroads settlement of a dozen houses, bumped over railroad tracks, and turned into a long straight stretch of road paralleling the tracks. Halfway down the level stretch, the sedan that had passed them was stationary on the edge of the road. A policeman stood beside it—between it and his motorcycle—and stolidly wrote on a leaf of a small book while the man at the sedan’s wheel talked and gestured excitedly.

  Luise Fischer blew breath out and said: “Well, they were not police.”

  Brazil grinned.

  Neither of them spoke again until they were riding down a suburban street. Then she said: “They—your friends—will not dislike our coming to them like this?”

  “No,” he replied carelessly; “they’ve been through things themselves.”

  The houses along the suburban street became cheaper and meaner, and presently they were in a shabby city street where grimy buildings with cards saying “Flats to Let” in their windows stood among equally grimy factories and warehouses. The street into which Brazil after a little while steered the car was only slightly less dingy, and the rental signs were almost as many.

  He stopped the car in front of a four-story red brick building with broken brownstone steps. “This is it,” he said, opening the door.

  She sat looking at the building’s unlovely face until he came around and opened the door on her side. Her face was inscrutable. Three dirty children stopped playing with the skeleton of an umbrella to stare at her as she went with him up the broken steps.

  The street door opened when he turned the knob, letting them into a stuffy hallway where a dim light illuminated stained wallpaper of a once-vivid design, ragged carpet, and a worn brassbound staircase.

  “Next floor,” he said, and went up the stairs behind her.

  Facing the head of the stairs was a door shiny with new paint of a brown peculiarly unlike any known wood. Brazil went to this door and pushed the bell button four times—long, short, long, short. The bell rang noisily just inside the door.

  After a moment of silence, vague rustling noises came through the door, followed by a cautious masculine voice: “Who’s there?”

  Brazil put his head close to the door and kept his voice low: “Brazil.”

  The fastenings of the door rattled, and it was opened by a small, wiry blond man of about forty in crumpled green cotton pajamas. His feet were bare. His hollow-cheeked and sharp-featured face wore a cordial smile, and his voice was cordial. “Come in, kid,” he said. “Come in.” His small, pale eyes appraised Luise Fischer from head to foot while he was stepping back to make way for them.

  Brazil put a hand on the woman’s arm and urged her forward, saying: “Miss Fischer, this is Mr. Link.”

  Link said, “Pleased to meet you,” and shut the door behind them.

  Luise Fischer bowed.

  Link slapped Brazil on the shoulder. “I’m glad to see you, kid. We were wondering what had happened to you. Come on in.”

  He led them into a living room that needed airing. There were articles of clothing lying around, sheets of newspaper here and there, a few not quite empty glasses and coffee cups, and a great many cigarette stubs. Link took a vest off a chair, threw it across the back of another, and said: “Take off your things and set down, Miss Fischer.”

  A very blonde full-bodied woman in her late twenties said, “My God, look who’s here!” from the doorway and ran to Brazil with wide arms, hugged him violently, kissed him on the mouth. She had on a pink wrapper over a pink silk nightgown and green mules decorated with yellow feathers.

  Brazil said, “Hello, Fan,” and put his arms around her. Then, turning to Luise Fischer, who had taken off her coat: “Fan, this is Miss Fischer, Mrs. Link.”

  Fan went to Luise Fischer with her hand out. “Glad to know you,” she said, shaking hands warmly. “You look tired, both of you. Sit down and I’ll get you some breakfast, and maybe Donny’ll get you a drink after he covers up his nakedness.”

  Luise Fischer said, “You are very kind,” and sat down.

  Link said, “Sure, sure,” and went out.

  Fan asked: “Been up all night?”

  “Yes,” Brazil said. “Driving most of it.” He sat down on the sofa.

  She looked sharply at him. “Anything the matter you’d just as lief tell me about?”

  He nodded. “That’s what we came for.”

  Link, in bathrobe and slippers now, came in with a bottle of whiskey and some glasses.

  Brazil said: “The thing is, I slapped a guy down last night and he didn’t get up.”

  “Hurt bad?”

  Brazil made a wry mouth. “Maybe dying.”

  Link whistled, said: “When you slap ’em, boy, they stay slapped.”

  “He cracked his head on the fireplace,” Brazil explained. He scowled at Link.

  Fan said: “Well, there’s no sense worrying about it now. The thing to do is get something in your stomachs and get some rest. Come on, Donny, pry yourself loose from some of that booze.” She beamed on Luise Fischer. “You just sit still and I’ll have some breakfast in no time at all.” She hurried out of the room.

  Link, pouring whiskey, asked: “Anybody see it?”

  Brazil nodded. “Uh-huh—the wrong people.” He sighed wearily. “I want to hide out a while, Donny, till I see how it’s coming out.”

  “This dump’s yours,” Link said. He carried glasses of whiskey to Luise Fischer and Brazil. He looked at the woman whenever she was not looking at him.

  Brazil emptied his glass with a gulp.

  Luise Fischer sipped and coughed.

  “Want a chaser?” Link asked.

  “No, I thank you,” she said. “This is very good. I caught a little cold from the rain.”

  She held the glass in her hand, but did not drink again.

  Brazil said: “I left my car out front. I ought to bury it.”

  “I’ll take care of that, kid,” Link promised.

  “And I’ll want somebody to see what’s happening up Mile Valley way.”

  Link wagged his head up and down. “Harry Klaus is the mouthpiece for you. I’ll phone him.”

  “And we both want some clothes.”

  Luise Fischer spoke: “First I must sell these rings.”

  Link’s pale eyes glistened. He moistened his lips and said: “I know the—”

  “That can wait a day,” Brazil said. “They’re not hot, Donny. You don’t have to fence them.”

  Donny seemed disappointed.

  The woman said: “But I have no money for clothes until—”

  Brazil said: “We’ve got enough for that.”

  Donny, watching the woman, addressed Brazil: “And you know I can always dig up some for you, kid.”

  “Thanks. We’ll see.” Brazil held out his empty glass, and when it had been filled said: “Hide the car, Donny.”

  “Sure.” The blond man went to the telephone in an alcove and called a number.

  Brazil emptied his glass. “Tired?” he asked.

  She rose, went over to him, took the whiskey glass out of his hand, and put it on the table with her own, which was still almost full.

  He chuckled, asked: “Had enough trouble with drunks last night?”

  “Yes,” she replied, not smiling, and returned to her chair.

  Donny was speaking into the telephone: “Hello, Duke?… Listen; this is Donny. There’s a ride standing outside my joint.” He described Brazil’s coupé. “Will you stash it for me?… Yes… Better switch the plates too… Yes, right away, will you?… Right.” He hung up the receiver and turned back to the others, saying: “Voily!”

  “Donny!” Fan called from elsewhere in the flat.

  “Coming!” He went out.

  Brazil leaned toward Luise Fischer and spoke in a low voice: “Don’t give him the rings.”

  She stared at him in surprise. “But why?”

  “He’ll gyp you to hell and gone.”

  “You mean he will cheat me?”

  He nodded, grinning.

  “But you say he is your friend. You are trusting him now.”

  “He’s O.K. on a deal like this,” he assured her. “He’d never turn anybody up. But dough’s different. Anyhow, even if he didn’t trim you, anybody he sold them to would think they were stolen and wouldn’t give half of what they’re worth.”

  “Then he is a—” She hesitated.

  “A crook. We were cellmates a while.”

  She frowned and said: “I do not like this.”

  Fan came to the door, smiling, and said: “Breakfast is served.”

  In the passageway Brazil turned and took a tentative step toward the front door, but checked himself when he caught Luise Fischer’s eye and, grinning a bit sheepishly, followed her and the blonde woman into the dining room.

  Fan would not sit down with them. “I can’t eat this early,” she told Luise Fischer. “I’ll get you a hot bath ready and fix your bed, because I know you’re all in and’ll be ready to fall over as soon as you’re done.”

  She went out, paying no attention to Luise Fischer’s polite remonstrances.

  Donny stuck a fork into a small sausage and said: “Now about them rings. I can—”

  “That can wait,” Brazil said. “We’ve got enough to go on a while.”

  “Maybe; but it’s just as well to have a getaway stake ready in case you need it all of a sudden.” Donny put the sausage into his mouth. “And you can’t have too big a one.”

  He chewed vigorously. “Now, for instance, you take the case of Shuffling Ben Devlin. You remember Ben? He was in the carpenter shop. Remember? The big guy with the gam?”

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