Helm - The Shadowers Part 5

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aThe h.e.l.l heas dead, Miss Darden! How come? He was thras.h.i.+ng around vigorously enough when I got here!a She shook her head. aHe was unconscious when we came in. Jack and I went right to him while Dr. Maria.s.sy took care of you. Jack helped me cut him loose and get the gag off. He didnat respond. His pulse was very weak. I called Dr. Maria.s.sy and we tried artificial respiration but it didnat help. We couldnat bring him around.a There was a little silence. I looked at Olivia. aI donat like asking, Doc, but it wasnat another of your ricochets?a She shook her head. aNo. There was no wound, Paul. He simply died. It may have been a heart condition, aggravated by fear and partial strangulation. The gag was very tight.a aHeart condition?a I said slowly. I heard myself laugh. It wasnat a very nice laugh. aDoc, youare kidding. Do you expect me to believe that the one man I needed to talk to died of heart failure? Youare an optimist if you do.a I looked at the other two. aOr somebody is!a It was suddenly very quiet in the concrete room. They were all watching me. Olivia started to protest as I pushed myself up, but she thought better of it. She helped me rise. I had a sore leg, but it carried my weight after a fas.h.i.+on. I looked around. The place was getting pretty crowded, I decided. A couple more bodies, dead or alive, and wead have to start turning away applicants.

Olivia said quietly, aI think youad better say exactly what you mean, Paul. What are you hinting at?a I studied her face for a moment. I looked at the other two. Olivia looked as if she was considering being angry. Braithwaite looked bewildered. Dottie looked scared. I didnat really blame her. It was quite a situation for an innocent young girl to find herself in, knee-deep in dead bodies-if she was an innocent young girl. At the moment I would have put no trust in a white-robed angel from heaven complete with security clearance for Final Secret.

I limped over to the corner where Mooney lay. It wasnat really difficult. Getting down on my knees was the hard part. It had to be somewhere. I found it in the neck, at the edge of the hair.

aNo wound, eh?a I said to Olivia, pointing to the tiny spot of blood.

She knelt beside me quickly, heedless of her nylons. Tending to the wounded had already given them enough of a beating on the concrete, I noticed, and another run wasnat going to make a great deal of difference. It was easier to look at her ruined stockings than to watch her pale face and wonder what was going on behind it.

She said, aWhy a why, it looks like a hypodermic puncture!a aNot really!a I murmured. aDoc, you astonish me!a She looked at me. aPaul, what-a aI gave you a message to give to young Braithwaite. In that message I said I might use the needle and a certain injection. Did you pa.s.s the word to Jack when you got in the apartment?a aYes,a she said. aYes, of course.a aNever mind that. The fact is that everybody here-everybody alive-knew there was a hypodermic available. Obviously somebody whoas acquainted with the kind of kit we carry took advantage of that knowledge to silence Mooney in the confusion after all the shooting.a Olivia watched my face and didnat speak. n.o.body spoke. It was getting very tight in there, very close. I could feel something or somebody getting ready to break or make a break. Mooney had been killed to keep him from betraying one of three people. The person whoad done the job was waiting for me to put the finger on him -or her. I checked Mooneyas clothes quickly. What I was looking for wasnat there. Toni was next. It wasnat nice, but I had to do it. She didnat have it either.

I struggled to my feet and limped over to Kroch where he lay face down in a pool of blood. Head been thoroughly shot up and head done a messy job of dying. I felt in his coat pocket and my little drug case was still there. However, when I opened it, the hypo was missing as Iad expected. Having run the risk of picking the dead manas pocket for it, the murderer wouldnat be likely to run the risk of being caught returning it.

Something else was missing, too: half an ampoule, if thatas the correct term, of the stuff we use when we donat want them to wake up. As Iad figured, under cover of the confusion, while the others were tending to the wounded and dying, the murderer had cleared my needle of the sleepy-stuff Iad been planning to use on Kroch and loaded up with a lethal dose of something permanent. Well, our techniques and equipment are fairly well known to the opposition, just as theirs are to us.

They were all watching me closely. I made a production of inspecting the case and Krochas body. He didnat have it, either. That established the elements of the problem clearly: four concrete walls and a concrete floor, three people, one hypodermic syringe. I reached out and grabbed Krochas fallen pistol out of the pool of blood. I aimed it at Braithwaite.

aYou said you had a gun, Navy. I want it.a aBut-a aYou have five seconds. At five, youare dead.a That was pure bluff, of course. I wasnat killing anybody. Iad lost one potential informant to death; I wasnat about to give away another.

Braithwaite swallowed. aYes, sir.a He reached gingerly into his pocket and brought out a revolver resembling the one Iad lent Olivia. I donat know what makes Was.h.i.+ngton so partial to the sawed-off little monsters, but they pa.s.s them around like chewing-gum samples.

aLay it down and back away from it,a I said. aYou, Doc, on your feet. Get over there with him.a Olivia hesitated. Her eyes were wide and questioning, maybe hurt, but she didnat speak. After a moment, she rose and stood beside the boy. I looked at her bleakly. She could be very sweet and wead had some fun, but I didnat know. I didnat know and I wasnat taking any chances.

aYouave got a knife somewhere,a I said. aI know because I gave it to you. Itas no good for throwing, the balance is all wrong, so donat try. The gun I gave you, you shot empty. As for you, Miss Darden, stand right there with them. I donat know what youave got, weapon-wise, so donat scratch yourself anywhere, not even if it itches real bad.a I managed to get back to my feet. I switched hands on the pistol, wiped my right hand on my pants, and switched back. I didnat really know whether Krochas sticky little popgun would fire or not-it might even be empty-but neither did they. I gestured. They backed up. I moved forward and managed to get Braithwaiteas weapon off the floor without falling on my face. A quick check told me it was fully loaded. I dropped the Spanish .22 into my coat pocket. I was in business as long as I could remain vertical.

Olivia said, aPaul, youare not doing your leg a bit of good. And youare acting like a madman. That blow on the head-a aLetas postpone the diagnosis, maaam,a I said. aThe treatment, too. Iam doing fine. I donat need medical attention. All I need is a hypodermic syringe. Just one little hypo, folks, and we can all go home.a aI donat understand,a said Dottie Darden plaintively. aI donat understand-a aYou will,a I said. aWe might as well start with you. Take your clothes off.a It went over big. Olivia gasped and looked at me incredulously. Braithwaite stared at me with shocked indignation. The little blonde nurse thought I was pretty terrible, too.

aWhat?a she demanded.

aYou heard me,a I said. aAnd donat tell me I should pa.s.s you up because youare just an innocent bystander. You may be innocent, in one way if not another, but youare certainly no bystander. You worked for Dr. Mooney, you may or may not have slept with him-a aI most certainly did not! Anybody who says so is a dirty liar! And if you think Iam going to undress in front of all these people-a Olivia gave a sharp little laugh. aDonat be a hypocrite, dear. You know youall just love undressing in front of us; you just wish we were all men!a I said, aThatall be enough out of you, Doc.a I looked back to the blonde girl. aCome on, Dottie. Donat make me get rough.a aSir,a Braithwaite said. aSir, I donat think-a aThatas fine,a I said nastily. aLetas keep it that way. Dottie?a She hesitated; then she gave a defiant little youthful toss of the head that reminded me painfully of Antoinette Vail alive-another kid whoad got mixed up in things bigger than she was. Dottie threw an accusing glance at Braithwaite, apparently blaming him for this humiliation rather than me. She unb.u.t.toned her uniform rapidly down the front, slipped out of it like a coat, and pa.s.sed it over. A pink nylon slip came off over her head and followed the uniform into my hand. There was nothing significant in either garment. What remained wasnat worth taking off, except perhaps the st.u.r.dy white nurseas shoes.

She started to unfasten her bra.s.siere, more deliberately now, even provocatively. She was beginning to enjoy herself, I saw, in a wicked, perverse, abandoned way; she was getting a charge out of standing there almost naked with everybody watching her or trying not to watch. The bra.s.siere wasnat very substantial, and it obviously contained nothing but Dottie. I cleared my throat.

aThat wonat be necessary,a I said. aJust take off your shoes and shake them out upside downa . Thatas fine. I apologize, Miss Darden. When we get out of here, you can slap my face. Mr. Braithwaite, youare next.a He was quite red, and he was having a hard time keeping his eyes off the well-developed little girl beside him. Very calm and self-possessed, even smiling a little, she started putting her clothes back on as casually as if she were in her own apartment. Youad have thought no man was within miles of her as she dressed; certainly no young man with whom shead been keeping company, to use the old-fas.h.i.+oned expression, earlier in the evening.

aMr. Braithwaite,a I repeated.

He started, aWhat, sir?a aYou, sir,a I said.

Dottie giggled. aItas your turn, Jackie. Take them off, Lover-boy. Give us girls a thrill.a He glared at her, and at me. aSir you canat think Ia You canat suspect me.

I said, aSonny, youare temporary help. You havenat been trained. To the best of my knowledge, you havenat even been properly cleared yet. They just picked you off the street to help out in a minor way. Why did you want to leave a soft Navy berth to work for us, anyway? Sure, I suspect you. Somebody in this room slipped a hypo into Dr. Mooney. Why not you?a I made a gesture with the gun. He undressed very quickly. He was a good-looking young fellow, lean and sunburned. Dottie stared at him boldly and whistled admiringly to torment him. I wondered if he still thought her a nice kid. Well, her morals werenat my concern, and on the whole I found her att.i.tude more convincing than if shead put on a show of blus.h.i.+ng embarra.s.sment. After all, she was a trained nurse, and Queen Victoria was dead.

There was no hypodermic in Braithwaiteas clothes. I threw them back to him and drew a long breath. Wead had a million laughs, and wead seen a couple of fine young bodies, and wead stalled long enough. I turned.

aWell, Doc,a I said. aThat puts it up to you.a Olivia faced me stiffly. Shead lost most of her unaccustomed lipstick during the course of the evening. She looked plain and rather dowdy, like the woman Iad met on the carrier a few days ago. She was back where shead started. It was almost as if nothing had ever happened between us-almost but not quite.

There was the memory of that in her eyes. There was also the fact that, like me, she was somewhat older than the other two. I was asking her to discard her adult dignity, along with her clothes, in front of a couple of relative youngsters, one of whom she had reason to hate.

aI havenat got it, Paul,a she said stiffly. aYouare being absurd. Why should I kill Harold?a Dottie laughed. aI can think of a reason!a aShut up,a I said, and to Olivia: aMaybe Mooney wasnat killed to silence him. Maybe you just saw a chance for revenge and took it. Youare a doctor, you know how to handle a needle, and maybe you can even tell the stuff thatas deadly from the stuff that isnat, by smell or taste or something. Maybe the killing has nothing to do with what Iam after, but Iave got to know who did it.a aWell, I didnat!a she breathed. aYouave got to believe me-a.

I said, aAnd maybe all this personal stuff between you and Mooney is sheer camouflage and there are things I donat know about. You hinted at something like that once, something very mysterious. Anyway, the h.e.l.l with motives, for the time being. You told me definitely that Kroch was dead, Doc. That means you must have given him some kind of an examination. You were also called over to look at Mooney, says Miss Darden. From Kroch to Mooney, the way the needle went. Where is it?a aI tell you,a she said, aI havenat got it.a aIam sorry. Youare going to have to prove it just like the others did.a She said quietly, aI am not going to undress for you, Paul. You will have to a to strip me by force.a aI can do that, too,a I said. aBut why make it so tough if youave got nothing to hide? Youare a doctor. Before that you were a medical student. Whatas so secret about the human body? I want that hypo, Doc. Or I want to know you havenat got it. Will it help if I say please?a She shook her head minutely. She faced me, very straight, waiting. There was an odd kind of panic in her eyes, however; and I remembered that although Iad been allowed to make love to her, Iad never been allowed to see her naked: shead kept a slip on or asked for a moment to change into a s.e.xy nightie. Maybe she did have a thing about it, doctor or no. Maybe that was all it was. Or maybe she had something else to hide. There was only one way to find out.

I took a limping step forward. Olivia awaited me unmoving, but when I reached out to grasp the neck of her dress with both hands-one holding the gun-she drew a sharp breath and caught my wrists.

aNo!a she gasped. aPaul, no! Please. I havenat got it. I swear. You canat-a she hesitated, and looked me in the eye, and said deliberately: aYou canat do this to me, Paul!a I returned the look. h.e.l.l, anybody can look. I said harshly, aYou have to make this just as tough as you can, donat you?a aYes,a she said fiercely, ayes, and when youave shamed me without finding what youare looking for, I hope you remember the rest of your life that I told you, swore to you, that it wasnat there!a aIall remember,a I said. I shook her off and reached for her dress collar again. I saw defeat come into her face.

aWait!a she gasped. aWait, Iall do it.a She hesitated. aJust let mea . Just one thing first, Paul. A favor.a aGranted,a I said. aWith reservations. What is it?a She put out a hand. I stepped back quickly. aHold it! What do you want?a aJust the comb,a she said.

aComb?a aThe comb in your breast pocket. Just a cheap little pocket comb. You can examine it carefully before you give it to me. I wouldnat want you to take any chances!a Her voice was bitter.

I regarded her for a moment, wondering what was in her mind. Then I shrugged, took the comb from my pocket, and gave it to her.

aNow what?a aNow,a Olivia said, and turned abruptly to look at Dottie Darden, anow I want permission to comb her hair.a There was a dead silence. Dottie raised her hands protectively toward the elaborate golden beehive-a little wispy now-that crowned her head, that any stupid policewoman would have made her take down as part of a thorough search. It wasnat the brightest evening of my life.

Olivia took a step forward with the comb, and Dottie broke for the door. I did have sense enough to stick my foot out and trip her. My wounded leg gave way, and I came down heavily beside her. I saw what she was doing, and grabbed for her to keep her from getting her hand to her mouth. It took a bit of brutal wrestling to get the death pill away from her.

Then I struggled to my feet and looked at the deadly little capsule in my hand and at the shapely little girl in hospital white, disheveled and dusty now, with her fancy hairdo disintegrating into sagging tufts and loops above a face that suddenly looked much older and not nearly as pretty as it had before.

Above one ear, like an exotic jewel, a bit of metal and gla.s.s gleamed among the tumbled blonde strands. She reached up, felt for it, found it, s.n.a.t.c.hed it out, and hurled it at me. Her aim was poor. I heard it shatter against the concrete wall behind me.

aIall never tell you anything!a she panted. aYou canat make me talk!a They always say that.

XXI.

His NAME was Emil Taussig, but in St. Louis, Mo., he called himself William Kahn. He was an old man with white hair and kindly brown eyes. At least the people in the neighborhood were quoted later as saying they thought his eyes had looked kindly. I never got close enough, myself, to form an independent judgment. I was seventy-five yards behind him, across the street, and he was starting up the steps to his apartment house, when he fell down and died.

There was a doctor handy to make the examination and call it a coronary, carefully ignoring the tiny bullet hole at the base of the skull. Karl Kroch wasnat the only one who could use a .22, and the caliber does have certain advantages. You can use an efficient silencer with it, for one thing. Silencers donat work too well with the heavier calibers.

After that a lot of things happened all over the country, as the shadowers that had been identified by other agencies were picked up in a nationwide net which had been prepared and held in readiness pending Taussigas demise. Many that had not been identified escaped, no doubt; and a few struck back. It didnat go quite as smoothly and bloodlessly as Was.h.i.+ngton had hoped, even with the top man dead, but when did it ever? There were also, I was told, a few international adjustments made at this time which may or may not have been connected with the affair.

That part of it didnat really concern me. Anyway, I was in the hospital with a badly infected leg. Another characteristic of the .22 is the fact that the greasy little bullet carries a lot of dirt into a wound; and maybe I hadnat stayed as quiet as I should.

A gentleman from Was.h.i.+ngton visited me while I was still fiat on my back and told me I was a hero and had probably saved the world or some small part of it. Theyave got a department for the purpose, Ithink. They call it internal public relations, or something. I wanted to tell the guy to go to Florida and make his speech to a lady with a degree in astrophysics, but it wouldnat have been diplomatic. Neither did I succ.u.mb to the temptation to ask him just what the h.e.l.l made him think any part of the world was saved. It was spring when I visited Pensacola again, on instructions from Mac.

aThe lady wants you to sign some papers,a head said, in Was.h.i.+ngton. aI told her youad stop by when you could.a aSure.a aIncidentally, you may run into young Braithwaite down there. He didnat work out for us. Heas back with his s.h.i.+p.a Mac threw me a glance across the desk. aYou gave him a rather rugged introduction to the work, Eric. There was no need for him to witness the interrogation of the girl, for instance.a aHead had a part in catching her,a I said. aI thought he might as well get used to seeing a job through.a aAfter watching the I-team at work on Miss Darden-she died afterward, you know-Lieutenant Braithwaite apparently decided he didnat want any part of the glamorous life of an undercover agent.a Mac was looking at me in a speculative way. aPerhaps that was what you had in mind, Eric?a aPerhaps,a I said. aIs my, er, wife still living at the same address?a She was, Mac said, but when I wanted to call the house from the Pensacola Airport, I couldnat find the name Maria.s.sy in the phone book. Then I realized what I was doing wrong and turned to another section and there it was: Corcoran, Paul, 137 Spruce, 332-1093. It gave me a funny feeling to see the name again. I hadnat used it since the previous autumn.

I called the number and got a maid who said Miz Corcoran was out but if I was Mr. Corcoran I was supposed to pick her up at the lab-Building 1000 at the Naval Air Station. She was expecting me.

A taxi took me through the gate and across the big base, past a drill field where some kind of a military ceremony was in progress. There was a reviewing stand that seemed to contain a lot of naval rank. Solid ma.s.ses of lesser officers stood on the side lines. The colors were just coming onto the field, followed by a long column of naval aviation cadets or mids.h.i.+pmen or whatever the Navy calls them.

My driver managed to find a street that wasnat blocked and got me down to the waterfront, from where I could look out across the harbor at Santa Rosa Island, but I couldnat see anything that looked like a deserted fortification out there. I probably wouldnat recognize it in daylight, anyway. I could still hear the bra.s.sy sound of the Navy band as I went to the front door of the building. That was as far as I got, not having the particular clearance required to penetrate farther into the sacred mysteries of science.

aMr. Corcoran?a said the elderly guard. aYes, sir. Please have a seat. Iall call Dr. Corcoran. Sheas expecting you.a Then she was coming down the stairs. At least the approaching woman looked in a general way like the woman I remembered from last fall, but her hair was styled in a different and softer way, and the lipstick was obviously firmly established now, smoothly and expertly applied. She was wearing a brown sweater and a tailored brown skirt that made her look tall and slim. Only the legs hadnat changed. They were still very fine, nicely displayed by nylons and high heels.

I got to my feet, not knowing exactly what to expect. She came across the lobby and put her arms around my neck and kissed me hard, which surprised me in more ways than. one. We hadnat parted exactly friends.

I heard her voice in my ear. aPlay up, d.a.m.n you! The guardas a terrible old blabbermouth. Donat just stand there!a Presently she stepped back and said a little breathlessly, aIave missed you, darling.a aI tried to get back sooner, but theyave been keeping me busy. Youare looking great, Olivia.a aAm I?a She did something embarra.s.sed and feminine with her hair. I remembered that shead always been a great girl for fussing with her hair after a kiss. aDid you have a nice trip?a she asked.

aModerate. It was a little rough over the mountains, but not too bad.a aIam sorry I couldnat meet you at the airport but something came up. The caras right outside.a She took my arm and led me out into the sunlight. aThanks, Paul,a she said in a different tone. aSome of them in there have been acting as if they didnat really believe I had a husband. The guard will put them straight, the old gossip.a She laughed apologetically. aAfter all, I do have a career and a reputation to maintain, now that Iam no longer a desperate undercover agent.a aSure.a aDo you want to look around? I canat show you our work, of course, but theyave got some interesting equipment here that isnat too highly cla.s.sified, like the human centrifuge and the rotating room in which they study problems of equilibriuma . Well, it was just a suggestion. Paul?a aYes?a aI wanted to apologize afterward, but you were gone.a aApologize? What for?a aFor making it harder for you. That night. There was a reason why I just couldnat undress in front of everybody. I didnat mean all the nasty things I said.a She hesitated and glanced at me with a hint of mischief in her eyes. aWould you really have stripped me naked?a aSure,a I said.

She laughed softly. aIam glad. I donat like people who talk tough and act mushy. I donat like people who mix sentiment with business or science. At least youare a consistent monster. I am glad to see you again, Paul. I mean, really.a aI like you, too, Doc,a I said. aShall we go sign those papers?a I mean, it was nice talking over old times, but somebody had to bring the meeting to order.

She stopped smiling. aYes,a she said. aYes, of course.a She still had the same little black Renault; she hadnat even managed to put many miles on it, I noticed. I remembered to fasten my seatbelt without being told. She drove, but after a couple of blocks we were turned back by a base policeman: the ceremony was still going on. The next street wasnat any better. We were at the side of the field but they wouldnat let us drive along it. I heard commands being snapped out. The cadets, or whatever they were, were about to pa.s.s in review.

aCome on,a I said. aLeave it here and letas look. Iam a sucker for parades.a She looked unenthusiastic, but I pulled her out of the car and dragged her over to the field and found a spot where we could get up close. They were coming along the edge of the field toward us, four abreast, in perfect step, with the colors out front. I remembered to take off my hat. The military spectators were saluting.

Olivia nudged me, and I looked where she was looking, and there was Lt. (jg) Braithwaite among the others near the reviewing stand, in uniform, holding his salute smartly as the flag pa.s.sed. He looked happy and untroubled. He was back where he belonged.

The cadets marched by, looking sternly ahead, and the band followed, belting out aThe Stars and Stripes Forever.a It was all very corny and obsolete, of course. There had been a time when they would march right up to the guns like that, with the drums going, but we donat fight that way any more. Perhaps itas just as well. Maybe weare better off just leaving the drums out of it.

The Navy musicians were right on top of us now, giving Sousa everything they had. I knew Olivia wanted to stick her fingers in her ears, but I was remembering standing on the island of an aircraft carrier bathed in a different kind of sound, watching the jets being catapulted into the wind.

I remembered that Iad been feeling rather superior to the kid pilots and their noisy toys that day last fall; but now I came to the conclusion that I hadnat had a very sound basis for that feeling. They might not be much good at doing what I did, but then, there were times when I wasnat very good at it myself. And Iad play h.e.l.l trying to do what they might have to do some day, Braithwaite included. It was a humbling thought.

aLetas blow,a I said, and ten minutes later we were entering the house with the picture window, in the development with the French-curve streets. It wasnat entirely a good feeling, coming into the familiar room after the better part of a year. aWell,a I said, ashow me where to make with the pen and paper, Doc. Whereas this stuff you want signed?a aThere isnat any stuff,a she said. aThat is, the lawyers have something, I think, but it isnat here.a I turned to look at her. There wasnat anything to say, so I didnat say it. I waited.

aI had to get you down here,a she said.

aSo you could lure me to the laboratory and show me off as your husband?a aYes,a she said. aThat was one thing. Donat say anything, Paul. Thereas something I want you to see before you say anything. This way.a She walked quickly across the living room and down the hail past the door of the big bedroom I remembered. She opened a door on the other side of the hall. aIn there,a she said, stepping back to let me by.

I moved past her and stopped. It was a small room. The wallpaper had bunnies on it. There was a crib, and in the crib was a baby, an unmistakable human child. It was sound asleep, wearing blue knitted booties. As a onetime daddy, I knew that blue booties meant a boy.

I turned to look at Olivia. Her face was expressionless. She put a finger to her lips. I went back into the living room, leaving her to close the door. When I heard her coming, I was standing by the picture window, thinking that I would never understand why people built picture windows just so they could look across a street at other peopleas picture windows; but that was kind of beside the point.

aNow do you understand?a she said, beside me. aI told you it wasnat my secret. It was his. He had to have a name. Well, he has one. Itas the name of a man who doesnat really exist, but that doesnat matter. Itas legal, and thatas what counts. n.o.body can take it away from him.a I turned to look at her. She looked slender and attractive in her nicely fitting sweater-and-skirt outfit. I remembered the loose, clumsy clothes shead worn. All the pieces fitted into the puzzle perfectly.

aI was going to be very clever,a she said quietly. aIad agreed to marry an unknown government man-very reluctantly, of course. And I planned to arrange it so that you a so that the government man, after the wedding, would never protest that the child wasnat his. He might guess, but head never know. But of course you do know whose it is.a aNow that you say it.a aWhen I learned I was pregnant, I went to Harold and, well, you know what happened that day. I probably didnat make much sense to you where Harold was concerned. I despised him and still a and still, Iad loved him once, and I was carrying his child.a She drew a long breath. aWell, heas dead. Head never have married me, anyway. The most he would have condescended to do was operate. You know what I mean. Iam not really the maternal type, but I didnat want that.a I looked at her. aJust what do you want, Olivia?a I asked.

She faced me steadily. aHis name is Paul Corcoran, Junior. I suppose heall grow up being called Junior. Anyway, he has a name. There was a little pause. Iad like him to have a father, too,a she said. aNot much of a father, necessarily. Just a man who comes around now and then, a man whoas off on business most of the time, but seems to be a pretty nice guy when he does turn up.a aIam not a pretty nice guy,a I said.

She smiled. aI know that, and you know it, but he doesnat have to.a I said, aYouare working hard for this kid.a She hesitated. aIt isnat entirely for the kid, Paul or Matt or whatever your real name is. Ia itas been a very lonely winter.a There was another little pause. aSure,a I said. aBut youare a good-looking woman. You can find somebody who can make it a full-time job.a aIad hate him,a she said. aIad hate him, going to his stupid insurance business or law office with his stupid briefcase every day of the year. Iad despise him. Iad be brighter than he, and Iad have to hide it.a aYouare brighter than I am,a I said.

aTechnically speaking, maybe, but it doesnat matter,a she said. aWith us, it doesnat matter. Donat make me throw myself at your head, Paul. Weare the same kind of people, in a funny sort of way. We could make it work. Itas as much marriage as either of us needs, but we both need that much. You, too.a I said, aYouare a cold, calculating wench, Doc.a She shook her head minutely. aNo,a she said softly. aNo, I may be calculating but Iam nota not cold. You know that, unless youave forgotten.a I said, aI havenat forgotten.a We stood by the big window, facing each other wearily, almost like enemies. Then I had her in my arms, slim and hard and responsive; and then I was looking over her shoulder at something lying on the little table behind her.

aWhat is it?a Olivia whispered after a moment. aWhat is it, darling? Whatas the matter?a I let her go and walked past her. I picked up the knife and remembered who had given it to me. I remembered how Gail had died, and why. I remembered kneeling by Tonias body, knowing that I was responsible for her death, too, because anybody with whom a man in my line of work a.s.sociates is bound to attract danger sooner or later.

Olivia was watching me. Her face was pale. aI put it out so I wouldnat forget,a she said. aI thought youad want it back. The knife, I mean. Paul, whatas the matter?a I didnat know how to say it without sounding like a pompous jacka.s.s or a self-pitying martyr to duty, or something. I didnat know how to tell her that she was a swell girl and I liked her proposition fine but shead better find herself a man who wasnat a human lightning rod, if not for her own sake then for the babyas. I was glad when the telephone began to ring noisily. Somehow I knew it was for me. With that kind of timing it could only be Mac. It was.

aEric? I was hoping to catch you before you left,a he said. aHave you finished your business with the lady? Can you get over to New Orleans fast? You know the number to call when you get there.a I looked at Olivia. aYes, sir,a I said into the phone. aIam finished here. Iall be there before midnight.a I stuck the knife in my pocket, picked up my hat, and left. The first three steps toward the door were the hardest. After that it got easier, a little.

THE END.

Helm - The Shadowers Part 5

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Helm - The Shadowers Part 5 summary

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