The League of Frightened Men | Chapter 19 of 30 - Part: 1 of 4

Author: Rex Stout | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 5913 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 13

I didn’t know Perry Street much, and was surprised when I walked up in front of number 203, across the street, having left the roadster half a block away. It was quite a joint, stucco to look like Spanish, with black iron entrance lamps and no fire escapes. On both sides were old brick houses. A few cars were parked along the block, and a couple of taxis. On my side of the street was a string of dingy stores: stationery, laundry, delicatessen, cigar store and so on. I moved along and looked in. At the delicatessen I stopped and went inside. There were two or three customers, and Fred Durkin was leaning against the end of the counter with a cheese sandwich and a bottle of beer. I turned around and went out, and walked back down to where the roadster was and got inside. In a couple of minutes Fred came along and climbed in beside me. He was still chewing and working his tongue in the corners. He asked me what was up. I said, nothing, I had just come down to gossip. I asked him:

“Where’s the other club members?”

He grinned. “Oh, they’re around. The city feller is probably in the laundry, I think he likes the smell. I suppose Pinkie is down at the next corner, in the Coffee Pot. He usually deserts his post around this time to put on the nose bag.”

“You call him Pinkie?”

“Oh, I can call him anything. That’s for his necktie. What do you want me to call him?”

I looked at him. “You’ve had one or ten drinks. What’s the big idea?”

“I swear to God I haven’t, Archie. I’m just glad to see you. It’s lonesome as hell around here.”

“You chinned any with this Pinkie?”

“No. He’s reticent. He hides somewhere and thinks.”

“Okay. Go on back to your pickle emporium. If you see any kids scratching their initials on my car, pat ’em on the head.”

Fred climbed out and went. In a minute I got out too, and walked down to the next corner, where if you was blind the smell would have told you Coffee Pot. I went in. There were three little tables along the wall, and half a dozen customers at the counter. Pinkie was there all right, along at one of the little tables, working on a bowl of soup, trying to get the spoon out of his mouth. He had his brown cap on, over one ear. I went over alongside his table and said to him, keeping my voice low:

“Oh, here you are.”

He looked up. I said, “The boss wants to see you right away. I’ll sit on the lid here a while. Make it snappy.”

He stared at me a couple of seconds, and then squeaked so that I nearly jumped. “You’re a goddam filthy liar.”

The little runt! I could have reached down and jerked his gold teeth out. I slid the other chair back with my toe and sat down and put my elbows on the table and looked at him, “I said, the boss wants to see you.”

“Oh, yeah?” He sneered at me with his mouth open, showing his gilded incisors. “You wouldn’t string a guy, would you, mister? By God, I’ll tell the goddam world you wouldn’t. Who was I talking to a while ago on the goddam telephone?”

I grinned. “That was me. Listen here a minute. I can see you’re tough. Do you want a good job?”

“Yeah. That’s why I’ve got one. If you’d just move your goddam carcass away from my table …”

“All right, I will. Go on and eat your soup, and don’t try to scare me with your bad manners. I might decide to remove your right ear and put it where the left one is, and hang the left one on your belt for a spare. Go on and eat.”

He dropped his spoon in the soup-bowl and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “What the hell do you want, anyway?”

“Well,” I said, “I was having tea with my friend, Inspector Cramer, this afternoon, and he was telling me how much he enjoyed his talk with you last night, and I thought I’d like to meet you. That’s one story. Then another story might be that a certain guy whose name I needn’t mention has got the idea that you’re selling him out, and I’m supposed to find out, and I thought the quickest way was to ask you. How many people are you working for?”

“Of all the goddam curiosity!” He sucked something from between his teeth with his tongue. “Last night the goddam inspector, and now you. Hell, my soup’s getting cold.”

He got up from his chair and picked up the bowl and carried it ten feet to the table at the end. Then he came back for the bread and butter and glass of water and took them. I waited till he was through moving, then I got up and went to the end table and sat down across from him. I was sore because my nifty opening had gone wild. The counterman and the customers were watching us, but only to pass the time. I reached in my pocket and got out my roll and peeled off a pair of twenties.

“Look here,” I said, “I could spot you in a day or two, but it would cost both money and time, and I’d just as soon you’d get it. Here’s forty bucks. Half now if you tell me who’s paying you, and the other half as soon as I check it. I’ll find out, anyhow, this’ll just save time.”

I’ll be damned if he didn’t get up and pick up his soup again and start back for the first table. A couple of the customers began to laugh, and the counterman called out, “Hey, let the guy eat his soup, maybe he just don’t like you.” I felt myself getting sore enough to push in somebody’s nose, but I knew there was no profit in that, so I swallowed it and put on a grin. I picked up the runt’s bread and butter and water and took it down and set it in front of him. Then I went and tossed a dime on the counter and said, “Give him some hot soup and put poison in it.” Then I left.

I walked the block back to the roadster, not in a hurry. Fred Durkin was in the cigar store as I passed by. I had a notion to see him and tell him to keep an eye on his friend Pinkie and maybe catch him on a phone call or something, but knowing how his mind worked I thought it would be better to let it stay on his main job. I got in the roadster and headed uptown.

I couldn’t figure the runt at all. Was it possible that a dick that looked like that was as honest as that? Who was paying him enough to make him look at forty dollars like it was soap wrappers? Who was so particular about its not being known that he was having Paul Chapin tailed? The inspector’s idea didn’t seem to me to make sense, even if Leopold Elkus had helped out that day with Dreyer’s highball. Why would he put a shadow on Chapin? Of course it was possible, but my practice was to let the brain off easy on an idea until it got a little better than possible. If it wasn’t Elkus, who was it? It might have been any one of the bunch who was too scared for Wolfe’s memorandum to quiet him down and thought he needed his own reports of the cripple’s activities, but in that case why all the mystery? Driving uptown, I went over the list in my mind, without any results.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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