As soon as he stepped into the dim apartment he knew he was dead.
He wiped sweat off his palm, looking around the place, which was quiet as a morgue, except for the faint sounds of Hell's Kitchen traffic late at night and the ripple of the greasy shade when the swiveling Monkey Ward fan turned its hot breath toward the window.
The whole scene was off.
Out of kilter...
Malone was supposed to be here, smoked on booze, sleeping off a binge. But he wasn't. No bottles of corn anywhere, not even the smell of bourbon, the punk's only drink. And it looked like he hadn't been around for a while. The New York Sun on the table was two days old. It sat next to a cold ashtray and a glass with a blue halo of dried milk halfway up the side.
He clicked the light on.
Well, there was a side door, like he'd noted yesterday from the hallway, looking over the place. But it was nailed shut. And the window that let onto the fire escape? Brother, sealed nice and tight with chicken wire he hadn't been able to see from the alley. The other window was open but was also forty feet above cobblestones.
No way out...
And where was Malone? Paul Schumann wondered.
Malone was on the lam, Malone was drinking beer in Jersey, Malone was a statue on a concrete base underneath a Red Hook pier.
Whatever'd happened to the boozehound, Paul realized, the punk had been nothing more than bait, and the wire that he'd be here tonight was pure bunk.
In the hallway outside, a scuffle of feet. A clink of metal.
Out of kilter...
Paul set his pistol on the room's one table, took out his handkerchief and mopped his face. The searing air from the deadly Midwest heat wave had made its way to New York. But a man can't walk around without a jacket when he's carrying a 1911 Colt .45 in his back waistband and so Paul was condemned to wear a suit. It was his single-button, single-breasted gray linen. The white-cotton, collar-attached shirt was drenched.
Another shuffle from outside in the hallway, where they'd be getting ready for him. A whisper, another clink.
Paul thought about looking out the window but was afraid he'd get shot in the face. He wanted an open casket at his wake and he didn't know any morticians good enough to fix bullet or bird-shot damage.
Who was gunning for him?
It wasn't Luciano, of course, the man who'd hired him to touch off Malone. It wasn't Meyer Lansky either. They were dangerous, yeah, but not snakes. Paul'd always done top-notch work for them, never leaving a bit of evidence that could link them to the touch-off. Besides, if either of them wanted Paul gone, they wouldn't need to set him up with a bum job. He'd simply be gone.
So who'd snagged him? If it was O'Banion or Rothstein from Williamsburg or Valenti from Bay Ridge, well, he'd be dead in a few minutes.
If it was dapper Tom Dewey, the death would take a bit longer -- whatever time was involved to convict him and get him into the electric chair up in Sing Sing.
More voices in the hall. More clicks, metal seating against metal.
But looking at it one way, he reflected wryly, everything was silk so far; he was still alive.
And thirsty as hell.
He walked to the Kelvinator and opened it. Three bottles of milk -- two of them curdled -- and a box of Kraft cheese and one of Sunsweet tenderized peaches. Several Royal Crown colas. He found an opener and removed the cap from a bottle of the soft drink.
From somewhere he heard a radio. It was playing "Stormy Weather."
Sitting down at the table again, he noticed himself in the dusty mirror on the wall above a chipped enamel washbasin. His pale blue eyes weren't as alarmed as they ought to be, he supposed. His face, though, was weary. He was a large man -- over six feet and weighing more than two hundred pounds. His hair was from his mother's side, reddish brown; his fair complexion from his father's German ancestors. The skin was a bit marred -- not from pox but from knuckles in his younger days and Everlast gloves more recently. Concrete and canvas too.
Copyright © 2004 by Jeffery Deaver.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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