Woman in the Dark


  After leaving the sedan in front of the building, they walked under a black-and-gold sign that said “Hilltop Sanatorium” into an office.

  “We want to see Mr. Lee,” Donny told the nurse at the desk. “He’s expecting us.”

  She moistened her lips nervously and said: “It’s two hundred and three, right near the head of the stairs.”

  They went up a dark flight of stairs to the second floor. “This is it,” Donny said, halting. He opened the door without knocking and waved Luise Fischer inside.

  Besides Brazil, lying in bed, his sallowness more pronounced than usual, there were two men in the room. One of them was the huge tired-faced man who had arrested Luise Fischer. He said: “I oughtn’t to let you people see him.”

  Brazil half rose in bed and stretched a hand out toward Luise Fischer.

  She went around the huge man to the bed and took Brazil’s hand. “Oh, I’m sorry—sorry!” she murmured.

  He grinned without pleasure. “Hard luck, all right. And I’m scared stiff of those damned bars.”

  She leaned over and kissed him.

  The huge man said: “Come on, now. You got to get out. I’m liable to catch hell for this.”

  Donny took a step toward the bed. “Listen, Brazil. Is there—”

  The huge man put out a hand and wearily pushed Donny back. “Go ’way. There’s nothing for you to hang around here for.” He put a hand on Luise Fischer’s shoulder. “Go ahead, please, will you? Say goodbye to him now—and maybe you can see him afterwards.”

  She kissed Brazil again and stood up.

  He said: “Look after her, will you, Donny?”

  “Sure,” Donny promised. “And don’t let them worry you. I’ll send Harry over to see you and—”

  The huge man groaned. “Is this going to keep you all day?”

  He took Luise Fischer’s arm and put her and Donny out.

  They went in silence down to the sedan, and neither spoke until they were entering the city again. Then Luise Fischer said: “Will you kindly lend me ten dollars?”

  “Sure.” Donny took one hand from the wheel, felt in his pants pocket, and gave her two five-dollar bills.

  Then she said: “I wish to go to the railroad station.”

  He frowned. “What for?”

  “I want to go to the railroad station,” she repeated.

  When they reached the station she got out of the sedan.

  “Thank you very much,” she said. “Do not wait. I will come over later.”

  Luise Fischer went into the railroad station and to the newsstand, where she bought a package of cigarettes. Then she went to a telephone booth, asked for long distance, and called a Mile Valley number.

  “Hello, Ito?… Is Mr. Robson there? This is Fraulein Fischer… Yes.” There was a pause. “Hello, Kane… Well, you have won. You might have saved yourself the delay if you had told me last night what you knew… Yes… Yes, I am.”

  She put the receiver on its prong and stared at it for a long moment. Then she left the booth, went to the ticket window, and said: “A ticket to Mile Valley—one-way—please.”

  The room was wide and high-ceilinged. Its furniture was Jacobean. Kane Robson was sprawled comfortably in a deep chair. At his elbow was a small table on which were a crystal-and-silver coffee service, a crystal-and-silver decanter—half full—some glasses, cigarettes, and an ashtray. His eyes glittered in the light from the fireplace.

  Ten feet away, partly facing him, partly facing the fireplace, Luise Fischer sat, more erectly, in a smaller chair. She was in a pale negligee and had pale slippers on her feet.

  Somewhere in the house a clock struck midnight. Robson heard it out attentively before he went on speaking: “And you are making a great mistake, my dear, in being too sure of yourself.”

  She yawned. “I slept very little last night,” she said. “I am too sleepy to be frightened.”

  He rose, grinning at her. “I didn’t get any either. Shall we take a look at the invalid before we turn in?”

  A nurse—a scrawny middle-aged woman in white—came into the room, panting. “Mr. Conroy’s recovering consciousness, I do believe,” she said.

  Robson’s mouth tightened, and his eyes, after a momentary flickering, became steady. “Phone Dr. Blake,” he said. “He’ll want to know right away.” He turned to Luise Fischer. “I’ll run up and stay with him till she is through phoning.”

  Luise Fischer rose. “I’ll go with you.”

  He pursed his lips. “I don’t know. Maybe the excitement of too many people—the surprise of seeing you back here again—might not be good for him.”

  The nurse had left the room.

  Ignoring Luise Fischer’s laughter, he said: “No; you had better stay here, my dear.”

  She said: “I will not.”

  He shrugged. “Very well, but—” He went upstairs without finishing the sentence.

  Luise Fischer went up behind him, but not with his speed. She arrived at the sickroom doorway, however, in time to catch the look of utter fear in Conroy’s eyes, before they closed, as his bandaged head fell back on the pillow.

  Robson, standing just inside the door, said softly: “Ah, he’s passed out again.” His eyes were unwary.

  Her eyes were probing.

  They stood there and stared at each other until the Japanese butler came to the door and said: “A Mr. Brazil to see Fraulein Fischer.”

  Into Robson’s face little by little came the expression of one considering a private joke. He said: “Show Mr. Brazil into the living room. Fraulein Fischer will be down immediately. Phone the deputy sheriff.”

  Robson smiled at the woman. “Well?”

  She said nothing.

  “A choice?” he asked.

  The nurse came in. “Dr. Blake is out, but I left word.”

  Luise Fischer said: “I do not think Mr. Conroy should be left alone, Miss George.”

  Brazil was standing in the center of the living room, balancing himself on legs spread far apart. He held his left arm tight to his side, straight down. He had on a dark overcoat that was buttoned high against his throat. His face was a ghastly yellow mask in which his eyes burned redly. He said through his teeth: “They told me you’d come back. I had to see it.” He spit on the floor. “Strumpet!”

  She stamped a foot. “Do not be a fool. I—” She broke off as the nurse passed the doorway. She said sharply: “Miss George, what are you doing?”

  The nurse said: “Mr. Robson said he thought I might be able to reach Dr. Blake on the phone at Mrs. Webber’s.”

  Luise Fischer turned, paused to kick off her slippers, and ran up the steps on stockinged feet. The door to Conroy’s room was shut. She flung it open.

  Robson was leaning over the sick man. His hands were on the sick man’s bandaged head, holding it almost face down in the pillow.

  His thumbs were pressing the back of the skull. All his weight seemed on his thumbs. His face was insane. His lips were wet.

  Luise Fischer screamed, “Brazil!” and flung herself at Robson and clawed at his legs.

  Brazil came into the room, lurching blindly, his left arm tight to his side. He swung his right fist, missed Robson’s head by a foot, was struck twice in the face by Robson, did not seem to know it, and swung his right fist into Robson’s belly. The woman’s grip on Robson’s ankles kept him from recovering his balance. He went down heavily.

  The nurse was busy with her patient, who was trying to sit up in bed. Tears ran down his face. He was sobbing: “He stumbled over a piece of wood while he was helping me to the car, and he hit me on the head with it.”

  Luise Fischer had Brazil sitting up on the floor with his back to the wall, wiping his face with her handkerchief.

  He opened one eye and murmured: “The guy was screwy, wasn’t he?”

  She put an arm around him and laughed with a cooing sound in her throat. “All men are.”

  Robson had not moved.

  There was a commotion, and three men ca
me in.

  The tallest one looked at Robson and then at Brazil and chuckled.

  “There’s our lad that don’t like hospitals,” he said. “It’s a good thing he didn’t escape from a gymnasium or he might’ve hurt somebody.”

  Luise Fischer took off her rings and put them on the floor beside Robson’s left foot.

 


 

  Dashiell Hammett, Woman in the Dark

  (Series: # )

 

 


 

 
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