Woman in the Dark


  “I remember,” Brazil replied without enthusiasm.

  Donny stabbed another sausage. “Well, Ben was in a place called Finehaven once and—”

  “He was in a place called the pen when we knew him,” Brazil said.

  “Sure; that’s what I’m telling you. It was all on account of Ben thought—”

  Fan came in. “Everything’s ready whenever you are,” she told Luise Fischer.

  Luise Fischer put down her coffee cup and rose. “It is a lovely breakfast,” she said, “but I am too tired to eat much.”

  As she left the room Donny was beginning again: “It was all on account of—”

  Fan took her to a room in the rear of the flat where there was a wide wooden bed with smooth white covers turned down. A white nightgown and a red wrapper lay on the bed. On the floor there was a pair of slippers. The blonde woman halted at the door and gestured with one pink hand. “If there’s anything else you need, just sing out. The bathroom’s just across the hall and I turned the water on.”

  “Thank you,” Luise Fischer said; “you are very kind. I am imposing on you most—”

  Fan patted her shoulder. “No friend of Brazil’s can ever impose on me, darling. Now, you get your bath and a good sleep, and if there’s anything you want, yell.” She went out and shut the door.

  Luise Fischer, standing just inside the door, looked slowly, carefully around the cheaply furnished room, and then, going to the side of the bed, began to take off her clothes. When she had finished she put on the red wrapper and the slippers and, carrying the nightgown over her arm, crossed the hallway to the bathroom. The bathroom was warm with steam. She ran cold water into the tub while she took the bandages off her knee and ankle.

  After she had bathed she found fresh bandages in the cabinet over the basin, and rewrapped her knee but not her ankle. Then she put on nightgown, wrapper, and slippers, and returned to the bedroom. Brazil was there, standing with his back to her, looking out a window.

  He did not turn around. Smoke from his cigarette drifted back past his head.

  She shut the door slowly and leaned against it, the faintest of contemptuous smiles curving her mobile lips.

  He did not move.

  She went slowly to the bed and sat on the side farthest from him. She did not look at him but at a picture of a horse on the wall. Her face was proud and cold. She said: “I am what I am, but I pay my debts.” This time the deliberate calmness of her voice was insolence. “I brought this trouble to you. Well, now, if you can find any use for me—” She shrugged.

  He turned from the window without haste. His copperish eyes, his face were expressionless. He said: “O.K.” He rubbed the fire of his cigarette out in an ashtray on the dressing table and came around the bed to her.

  She stood up straight and tall, awaiting him.

  He stood close to her for a moment, looking at her with eyes that weighed her beauty as impersonally as if she had been inanimate. Then he pushed her head back rudely and kissed her.

  She made neither sound nor movement of her own, submitting completely to his caress, and when he released her and stepped back, her face was as unaffected, as mask-like, as his.

  He shook his head slowly. “No, you’re no good at your job.” And suddenly his eyes were burning and he had her in his arms and she was clinging to him and laughing softly in her throat while he kissed her mouth and cheeks and eyes and forehead.

  Donny opened the door and came in. He leered knowingly at them as they stepped apart, and said: “I just phoned Klaus. He’ll be over as soon’s he’s had breakfast.”

  “O.K.,” Brazil said.

  Donny, still leering, withdrew, shutting the door.

  “Who is this Klaus?” Luise Fischer asked.

  “Lawyer,” Brazil replied absent-mindedly. He was scowling thoughtfully at the floor. “I guess he’s our best bet, though I’ve heard things about him that—” He broke off impatiently. “When you’re in a jam you have to take your chances.” His scowl deepened. “And the best you can expect is the worst of it.”

  She took his hand and said earnestly: “Let us go away from here. I do not like these people. I do not trust them.”

  His face cleared and he put an arm around her again, but abruptly turned his attention to the door when a bell rang beyond it.

  There was a pause; then Donny’s guarded voice could be heard asking: “Who is it?”

  The answer could not be heard.

  Donny’s voice, raised a little: “Who?”

  Nothing was heard for a short while after that. The silence was broken by the creaking of a floorboard just outside the bedroom door. The door was opened by Donny. His pinched face was a caricature of alertness. “Bulls,” he whispered. “Take the window.” He was swollen with importance.

  Brazil’s face jerked around to Luise Fischer.

  “Go!” she cried, pushing him toward the window. “I will be all right.”

  “Sure,” Donny said; “me and Fan’ll take care of her. Beat it, kid, and slip us the word when you can. Got enough dough?”

  “Uh-huh.” Brazil was kissing Luise Fischer.

  “Go, go!” she gasped.

  His sallow face was phlegmatic. He was laconic. “Be seeing you,” he said, and pushed up the window. His foot was over the sill by the time the window was completely raised. His other foot followed the first immediately, and, turning on his chest, he lowered himself, grinning cheerfully at Luise Fischer for an instant before he dropped out of sight.

  She ran to the window and looked down. He was rising from among weeds in the unkempt back yard. His head turned quickly from right to left. Moving with a swiftness that seemed mere unhesitancy, he went to the left-hand fence, up it, and over into the next-door yard.

  Donny took her arm and pulled her from the window. “Stay away from there. You’ll tip his mitt. He’s all right, though Christ help the copper he runs into—if they’re close.”

  Something heavy was pounding on the flat’s front door. A heavy, authoritative voice came through: “Open up!”

  Donny sneered in the general direction of the front door. “I guess I better let ’em in or they’ll be making toothpicks of my front gate.” He seemed to be enjoying the situation.

  She stared at him with blank eyes.

  He looked at her, looked at the floor and at her again, and said defensively: “Look—I love the guy. I love him!”

  The pounding on the front door became louder.

  “I guess I better,” Donny said, and went out.

  Through the open window came the sound of a shot. She ran to the window and, hands on sill, leaned far out.

  Fifty feet to the left, on the top of a fence that divided the long row of back yards from the alley behind, Brazil was poised, crouching. As Luise Fischer looked, another shot sounded and Brazil fell down out of sight into the alley behind the fence. She caught her breath with a sob.

  The pounding on the flat’s front door suddenly stopped. She drew her head in through the window. She took her hands from the sill. Her face was an automaton’s. She pulled the window down without seeming conscious of what she was doing, and was standing in the center of the room looking critically at her fingernails when a tired-faced huge man in wrinkled clothes appeared in the doorway.

  He asked: “Where’s he at?”

  She looked up at him from her fingernails as she had looked at her fingernails. “Who?”

  He sighed wearily. “Brazil.” He went to a closet door, opened it. “You the Fischer woman?” He shut the door and moved toward the window, looking around the room, not at her, with little apparent interest.

  “I am Luise Fischer,” she said to his back.

  He raised the window and leaned out. “How’s it, Tom?” he called to someone below. Whatever answer he received was inaudible in the room.

  Luise Fischer put attentiveness off her face as he turned to her. “I ain’t had breakfast yet,” he said.

  Donny’s voice came through the doorway fr
om another part of the flat: “I tell you I don’t know where he’s gone to. He just dropped the dame here and hightailed. He didn’t tell me nothing. He—”

  A metallic voice said, “I bet you!” disagreeably. There was the sound of a blow.

  Donny’s voice: “If I did know I wouldn’t tell you, you big crum! Now sock me again.”

  The metallic voice: “If that’s what you want.” There was the sound of another blow.

  Fan’s voice, shrill with anger, screamed, “Stop that, you—” and ceased abruptly.

  The huge man went to the bedroom door and called toward the front of the flat: “Never mind, Ray.” He addressed Luise Fischer: “Get some clothes on.”

  “Why?” she asked coolly.

  “They want you back in Mile Valley.”

  “For what?” She did not seem to think it was true.

  “I don’t know,” he grumbled impatiently. “This ain’t my job. We’re just picking you up for them. Something about some rings that belonged to a guy’s mother and disappeared from the house the same time you did.”

  She held up her hands and stared at the rings. “But they didn’t. He bought them for me in Paris and—”

  The huge man scowled wearily. “Well, don’t argue with me about it. It’s none of my business. Where was this fellow Brazil meaning to go when he left here?”

  “I do not know.” She took a step forward, holding out her hand in an appealing gesture. “Is he—”

  “Nobody ever does,” he complained, ignoring the question he had interrupted. “Get your clothes on.” He held a hand out to her. “Better let me take care of the junk.”

  She hesitated, then slipped the rings from her fingers and dropped them into his hand.

  “Shake it up,” he said. “I ain’t had breakfast yet.” He went out and shut the door.

  She dressed hurriedly in the clothes she had taken off a short while before, though she did not again put on the one stocking she had worn down from Brazil’s house. When she had finished, she went quietly, with a backward glance at the closed door, to the window, and began slowly, cautiously, to raise the sash.

  The tired-faced huge man opened the door. “Good thing I was peeping through the keyhole,” he said patiently. “Now come on.”

  Fan came into the room behind him. Her face was very pink; her voice was shrill. “What’re you picking on her for?” she demanded. “She didn’t do anything. Why don’t you—”

  “Stop it, stop it,” the huge man begged. His weariness seemed to have become almost unbearable. “I’m only a copper told to bring her in on a larceny charge. I got nothing to do with it, don’t know anything about it.”

  “It is all right, Mrs. Link,” Luise Fischer said with dignity. “It will be all right.”

  “But you can’t go like that,” Fan protested, and turned to the huge man. “You got to let her put on some decent clothes.”

  He sighed and nodded. “Anything, if you’ll only hurry it up and stop arguing with me.”

  Fan hurried out.

  Luise Fischer addressed the huge man: “He too is charged with larceny?”

  He sighed. “Maybe one thing, maybe another,” he said spiritlessly.

  She said: “He has done nothing.”

  “Well, I haven’t neither,” he complained.

  Fan came in with some clothes, a blue suit and hat, dark slippers, stockings, and a white blouse.

  “Just keep the door open,” the huge man said. He went out of the room and stood leaning against an opposite wall, where he could see the windows in the bedroom.

  Luise Fischer changed her clothes, with Fan’s assistance, in a corner of the room where they were hidden from him.

  “Did they catch him?” Fan whispered.

  “I do not know.”

  “I don’t think they did.”

  “I hope they did not.”

  Fan was kneeling in front of Luise Fischer, putting on her stockings. “Don’t let them make you talk till you’ve seen Harry Klaus,” she whispered rapidly. “You tell them he’s your lawyer and you got to see him first. We’ll send him down and he’ll get you out all right.” She looked up abruptly. “You didn’t cop them, did you?”

  “Steal the rings?” Luise Fischer asked in surprise.

  “I didn’t think so,” the blonde woman said. “So you won’t have to—”

  The huge man’s weary voice came to them: “Come on—cut out the barbering and get into the duds.”

  Fan said: “Go take a run at yourself.”

  Luise Fischer carried her borrowed hat to the looking-glass and put it on; then, smoothing down the suit, looked at her reflection. The clothes did not fit her so badly as might have been expected.

  Fan said: “You look swell.”

  The man outside the door said: “Come on.”

  Luise Fischer turned to Fan. “Goodbye, and I—”

  The blonde woman put her arms around her. “There’s nothing to say, and you’ll be back here in a couple of hours. Harry’ll show those saps they can’t put anything like this over on you.”

  The huge man said: “Come on.”

  Luise Fischer joined him and they went toward the front of the flat.

  As they passed the living-room door Donny, rising from the sofa, called cheerfully: “Don’t let them worry you, baby. We’ll—”

  A tall man in brown put a hand over Donny’s face and pushed him back on the sofa.

  Luise Fischer and the huge man went out. A police-department automobile was standing in front of the house where Brazil had left his coupé. A dozen or more adults and children were standing around it, solemnly watching the door through which she came.

  A uniformed policeman pushed some of them aside to make passageway for her and her companion and got into the car behind them. “Let her go, Tom,” he called to the chauffeur, and they drove off.

  The huge man shut his eyes and groaned softly. “God, I’m schwach!”

  They rode seven blocks and halted in front of a square red brick building on a corner. The huge man helped her out of the automobile and took her between two large frosted globes into the building, and into a room where a bald fat man in uniform sat behind a high desk.

  The huge man said: “It’s that Luise Fischer for Mile Valley.” He took a hand from a pocket and tossed her rings on the desk. “That’s the stuff, I guess.”

  The bald man said: “Nice picking. Get the guy?”

  “Hospital, I guess.”

  Luise Fischer turned to him: “Was he—was he badly hurt?”

  The huge man grumbled: “I don’t know about it. Can’t I guess?”

  The bald man called: “Luke!”

  A thin, white-mustached policeman came in.

  The fat man said: “Put her in the royal suite.”

  Luise Fischer said: “I wish to see my lawyer.”

  The three men looked unblinkingly at her.

  “His name is Harry Klaus,” she said. “I wish to see him.”

  Luke said: “Come back this way.”

  She followed him down a bare corridor to the far end, where he opened a door and stood aside for her to go through. The room into which the door opened was a small one furnished with cot, table, two chairs, and some magazines. The window was large, fitted with a heavy wire grating.

  In the center of the room she turned to say again: “I wish to see my lawyer.”

  The white-mustached man shut the door and she could hear him locking it.

  Two hours later he returned with a bowl of soup, some cold meat and a slice of bread on a plate, and a cup of coffee.

  She had been lying on the cot, staring at the ceiling. She rose and faced him imperiously. “I wish to see—”

  “Don’t start that again,” he said irritably. “We got nothing to do with you. Tell it to them Mile Valley fellows when they come for you.”

  He put the food on the table and left the room. She ate everything he had brought her.

  It was late afternoon when the door opened aga
in. “There you are,” the white-mustached man said, and stood aside to let his companions enter. There were two of them, men of medium height, in dull clothes, one thick-chested and florid, the other less heavy, older.

  The thick-chested, florid one looked Luise Fischer up and down and grinned admiringly at her. The other said: “We want you to come back to the Valley with us, Miss Fischer.”

  She rose from her chair and began to put on her hat and coat.

  “That’s it,” the older of the two said. “Don’t give us no trouble and we don’t give you none.”

  She looked curiously at him.

  They went to the street and got into a dusty blue sedan. The thick-chested man drove. Luise Fischer sat behind him, beside the older man. They retraced the route she and Brazil had taken that morning.

  Once, before they left the city, she had said: “I wish to see my lawyer. His name is Harry Klaus.”

  The man beside her was chewing gum. He made noises with his lips, then told her, politely enough: “We can’t stop now.”

  The man at the wheel spoke before she could reply. He did not turn his head. “How come Brazil socked him?”

  Luise said quickly: “It was not his fault. He was—”

  The older man, addressing the man at the wheel, interrupted her: “Let it alone, Pete. Let the D.A. do his own work.”

  Pete said: “Oke.”

  The woman turned to the man beside her. “Was—was Brazil hurt?”

  He studied her face for a long moment, then nodded slightly. “Stopped a slug, I hear.”

  Her eyes widened. “He was shot?”

  He nodded again.

  She put both hands on his forearm. “How badly?”

  He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

  Her fingers dug into his arm. “Did they arrest him?”

  “I can’t tell you, miss. Maybe the District Attorney wouldn’t like me to.” He smacked his lips over his gum-chewing.

  “But, please!” she insisted. “I must know.” He shook his head again. “We ain’t worrying you with a lot of questions. Don’t be worrying us.”

  THREE

 
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