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In spite of the questioning, the confusion and the general all around hysteria, Big Mike was the first one to arrive at the apartment on East Thirty-first Street. He got out of the elevator and knocked on the door at exactly eight thirty-five.
Marvin Unger’s face was like chalk. His voice, coming through the thin panel, sounded hoarse and frightened when he asked who it was. His hands were shaking uncontrollably as he pushed the door open from the inside.
Big Mike slipped in without a word.
The Venetian blinds were down and there was no light on, although it was past dusk.
Big Mike went to the couch and slumped.
Unger stood with his back to the door.
“Christ,” he said. “Oh, Jesus Christ, I never thought it was going to be like that!”
Big Mike looked at him without expression.
“Like what?” he said.
“Were you there?”
Marvin nodded dumbly.
“O.K.,” Big Mike said. “Then stop worrying. It went off just as Johnny planned it. No one else here yet?”
Unger shook his head. He went out into the kitchen and then returned with a partly filled bottle of rye.
His hands still shook as he poured two drinks and handed one to the big Irishman.
“God!” he said.
“Take it easy, boy,” Big Mike said. “It went off perfect.”
“I know,” Unger said. “But you haven’t heard the radio. That horse was killed. Four of the jockeys are in the hospital. There were dozens of people hurt in the riot.”
“Yeah,” Big Mike said. “And if you listened they also said that the kitty was over two million dollars.”
Unger didn’t say anything. He lifted the shot glass to his lips and spilled half of the drink getting it down. He started to cough.
“Peatty should be here,” Big Mike said. “Hell, they didn’t even hold the cashiers. Guess they’ll get around to them tomorrow. We all got to get back early tomorrow morning. Everyone who works out at the track.”
“Cops just had too damned much to do,” Big Mike interrupted. “They picked up probably a couple of hundred suspicious characters at the track. And they’re questioning the people who worked in the main offices. They’ll get around to the rest of us, don’t worry.”
“God, I wish it was over,” Unger said. “This waiting is driving me crazy. Where the hell are the others, anyway?”
“Take it easy,” he said. “Randy has to check out and he didn’t want to come direct. He’ll be along soon. Peatty should be here, but he probably stopped home to check up on that wife of his. Johnny—well, Johnny has to go back and pick up the loot where Randy dumped it off. He’ll be here all right.”
“I can’t understand why Kennan couldn’t have brought it direct,” Unger said.
“Don’t be a damned fool. You think he wanted to take it in with him when he checked out of the prowl car? For Christ’s sake!”
“What happened about the fight?” Unger asked.
“Nothing,” Big Mike said. “So far they haven’t made the connection. Killing that horse, that’s all they’re thinking about right now. And I don’t think they’ve even figured yet what happened to Black Lightning.” He stood up suddenly and walked over toward the door.
“Hear the elevator,” he said. “Probably one of the boys.”
# # #
George Peatty was able to get away from the track by seven o’clock. No one had bothered him with questions. They’d only told him to show up the next morning, at ten instead of the usual time. The cops had their hands full without bothering with the cashiers. Apparently they still hadn’t figured out exactly how Johnny had got into the offices in the first place.
George’s nervous system was shot and he knew it. But every time he started feeling sorry about ever getting mixed up with the thing in the first place, he’d remember Sherry. And that made it all right.
When he got off the train at Penn Station, instead of going across town and over to the meeting place as he had at first intended, he decided to stop up at his own apartment. For some reason he had been worrying all afternoon about Sherry. He just wanted to stop in and see her, see that she was all right.
He knew, somehow, the minute he put the key into the lock and twisted the doorknob, that something was wrong. He couldn’t tell how but he knew.
She wasn’t there, but then again, that in itself was nothing to worry about. But this time he did worry. Walking over to the telephone, he looked at it for several minutes. It told him nothing. Then he went through the rest of the apartment. Everything seemed normal. But he still worried. He went back to the phone and he called several of Sherry’s friends. No one had seen her that afternoon or evening. He went into the bedroom and opened the top bureau drawer.
George locked the apartment door and went downstairs. He walked over to Broadway and called a cab.
Heading downtown, he felt the bulge where the automatic weighted down the inside breast pocket of his jacket. His face was yellow and drawn, but his hands were steady.
George had heard at the track that the robbery loot was more than two million dollars.
Johnny had thrown the bag containing the fabulous fortune out of the window. Randy had picked up that bag and driven off. Randy, George knew, was going to transfer the money back to Johnny and Johnny was to bring it to the meet tonight.
For the first time George began to wonder if Kennan actually did transfer the money.
For the first time he speculated on the possibility that Johnny Clay might take that money and light out alone with it.
His mouth set in a tight, hard line and his weak chin was temporarily firm as once more he felt the outline of the revolver.
# # #
It was nine o’clock and Randy was talking. Big Mike and George Peatty sat on the couch listening to him as the cop spoke. Marvin Unger paced the floor.
“Sure they know,” he said. “They know the dough went out the window. They know that somehow or other it was picked up. So far that’s all they do know. They haven’t yet connected a police car with it. Whether they do or not, I have no way of telling.”
“About you, though,” Big Mike asked. “About you? They figure yet you were off your…”
“Yeah. The Lieutenant knows that I didn’t answer a couple of calls. But he thinks I got half a load on and was sleeping it off. I’ll be busted probably and put back on a beat. But that’s all, as far as I know.”
Peatty suddenly looked up.
“God damn it,” he said, “where the hell is Johnny? He should be here. What the hell’s keeping the son of…”
“Take it easy,” Randy said. “Keep your pants on. I dumped the bag all right and Johnny will pick it up all right. He’s taking it easy and playing it safe. You don’t have to worry about Johnny.”
“I do worry,” Peatty said. “How do you know…”
“Look, you little bastard,” Randy said, stopping and turning toward him, “don’t you get any fancy ideas about Johnny.”
“Right, lad,” Big Mike said. “You don’t have to worry about Johnny.”
Marvin Unger stopped his pacing and swung toward the rest of them.
“Well, as far as I’m concerned,” he began. And then his voice died out. He turned toward the door. The eyes of the others in the room also suddenly swung toward the door.
They had all heard the soft, rustling sound.
# # #
Johnny Clay left the newsreel theater at seven-thirty. He had seen the program through and then sat on for half of the second showing. Once more he was feeling all right. It was almost like coming out of a post-operational shock.
He walked across town, taking his time. When he arrived at the parking lot on West Fifty-first Street, the place was rapidly beginning to fill with the theater crowds from the suburbs. He waved the attendant who approached him aside, and went to the office.
“I’m a friend of Randy Kennan’s,” he said. “Supposed to pick up his car. He tell you about it?”
The man at the desk looked at him for a second, and then smiled.
“Sure,” he said. “Sure thing. You know the car?”
“It’s the Dodge sedan—the blue one, second row over at the end,” the man said. “Key’s in it. You want to go down and take it out yourself? The boys are kinda busy right now.”
Johnny said that he’d take it out.
“Any charges?” he asked.
“No, he keeps it here by the month,” the man said.
Johnny thanked him and walked out.
It felt strange driving again.
Joe Piano opened the iron grilled door in the basement when he rang the bell. He said nothing until after Johnny was in and he had started following him down the hallway.
“He came,” he said then.
“Yeah, he came and he left it. It’s up in your room.”
“Thanks,” Johnny said.
He followed Johnny to the door of his room.
Johnny started to unlock the door.
“You won’t be back, I guess?”
Johnny went into the room and then turned and closed the door after Joe Piano followed him in.
“No,” he said, “I won’t be back.” He hesitated a moment, his eye taking in the duffle bag laying over in the corner.
“I’d like to do something for Patsy,” he said.
Joe Piano shook his head.
“You don’t have to,” he said. “You already done enough.”
“I’m going to leave something for Patsy in the bureau drawer,” Johnny said.
Piano stared at him for a minute.
“O.K.” he said. “You can do that then. I’ll tell him.” He turned and reached for the doorknob.
“Some stick-up out at the track this afternoon,” he said. A moment later and he was through the door and was closing it softly.
Johnny went over to the duffle bag. He opened the draw cord and put one hand in, pulling out a sheaf of bills. He didn’t bother to count the money but went to the bureau drawer and opened it. He shoved the bills inside and then closed the drawer.
A moment later and he closed the top of the duffle bag and threw it over his shoulder. He carried it downstairs.
Joe Piano was waiting at the iron gate and opened it for him.
“I left the key on the bed,” Johnny said.
“Good luck,” Joe said. “I’ll tell the boy what you did for him.”
Johnny went to the car at the curb and tossed the duffle bag over the door so that it landed on the floor next to the driver’s seat. He climbed in and pushed the starter.
# # #
Val Cannon stopped the car in front of the apartment house and cut the lights. He turned and spoke over his shoulder.
“Get the key out of her bag,” he said.
The thin-faced man reached down to the floor and picked up the leather strapped, woman’s pocketbook. He fumbled around inside and finally took out three keys on a small silver ring.
“Must be one a these.”
“Ask her,” Val said.
The heavy-set man laughed.
“Ask her hell,” he said. “She’s passed out again.”
“O.K. Get her ass off that seat and carry her inside. You pass anybody, say she’s drunk. Take her upstairs and dump her.”
“You want we should try and bring her to?” the thin-faced man asked.
“I want you should get her inside her apartment and drop her.” Val turned into the back of the car. “And God damn it, get back down here right away. You’ve had your fun with her. I want to get on downtown.”
The big man carried her and the thin-faced man opened the doors. Entering the apartment, the smaller man flipped on the light switch at the side of the door.
The other man dropped Sherry Peatty on the couch in the living room. He turned away.
His partner walked over and looked down at her for a minute.
He lifted his hand and slapped her twice across the mouth. She didn’t move. Deliberately, he spit into her face, then turned away.
“Dumb bitch,” he said.
Val had the engine going as they both climbed into the front seat. Twenty-five minutes later he pulled up in front of Marvin Unger’s apartment house. He cut his lights and as he did a man stepped out of a car across the street and walked over. He leaned on the side of the door.
“The guy got in shortly after six,” the man said. “The big Irishman came in around eight-thirty, then the other guy who works at the track and the cop soon after.”
“No. He hasn’t showed. Of course he could have got here before I did, but I doubt it.”
“O.K., Trig,” Val said, at the same time reaching for the ignition key and taking it out. “We’re going on up. You stay down here and wait. If he’s already up there—fine. But I doubt it. If he should show; I want you to give him plenty of time to get inside and upstairs and then follow him on up. I’ll see you.”
He turned to the others.
“You all set, Tiny?” he asked,
The heavy-shouldered man grunted.
“Couldn’t be more set,” the smaller man said. He shifted in the seat and loosened the gun in its shoulder holster.
“Let’s go then,” Val said, opening the door on his side of the car.
# # #
Randy Kennan was reaching, almost instinctively, for the gun he always carried as the door burst open. He was standing not more than three feet away and the big man’s blackjack caught him across the eyes before he had a chance to move.
Val followed the big man into the room and Jimmy shut the door quickly behind them.
Unger, Big Mike and Peatty stood frozen.
Randy Kennan slowly slumped and then sprawled on the rug. Blood began to seep from his nose and down across his chin.
“All right,” Val said. “Just hold it. Don’t nobody make a move.”
The gun was in his hand and he stood with his back to the closed door. The heavy-set one, the one he had called Tiny, stood balancing on the balls of his feet, gently moving the blackjack back and forth. Instantly the thin man went into the bedroom. He returned a moment later.
“No one else,” he said.
“Get that slob on the couch and take his gun,” he said.
The other two lifted Randy to the couch, at the same time frisking him. Kennan opened his eyes and stared at them.
“The rest of you sit down.”
Peatty slumped into a chair near the kitchen. Unger, his face deadly pale, leaned against the edge of the couch. Big Mike just stood for a second. His face was red as a beet.
“I said sit down.”
Mike went over and sat on the couch next to where Randy was slowly trying to get up. He put a hand on Randy’s knee and held him down.
“Search the joint,” Val said.
There wasn’t a sound then as Tiny and Jimmy started going through the place. It took them only two or three minutes.
“Nothing,” Jimmy said, finally returning from the bathroom. “It ain’t here yet.”
Val nodded. He turned to Unger.
“All right, you bastard,” he said. “When do you expect him?”
Val didn’t answer. He walked across the room and using the barrel of the gun, swiped it across Unger’s forehead, leaving a wide red gash which quickly filled with blood. Unger half sobbed and sat down on the floor.
“I’ll ask the questions. When do you expect him?” Val turned to George Peatty.
“We don’t expect anyone,” George said.
Val walked over in front of him.
“You’re cute too,” he said. This time he used the butt. Deliberately he smashed it into Peatty’s face.
“Two down and one to go,” he said as Peatty fell from the chair to the floor. He turned to Big Mike then.
“O.K., Papa,” he said. “We know all about it. We know you guys knocked off the track. We know you’re splitting it up, here, tonight. And we’re cutting in. Now when does that other son of a bitch show up here with the money?”
Big Mike looked at him for a moment before speaking.
“He don’t,” he said then. “We were just getting set to meet him.”
Val started toward him, again holding the gun by the butt. As he did, Randy suddenly kicked out and caught him with a blow on the shins. At the same time he rolled off the couch and started to reach for the blackjack he carried in his hip pocket. Tiny’s own blackjack caught him across the top of the head as Val stumbled and fell over him.
It was then that Peatty fired.
The bullet caught Val Cannon in the throat and he suddenly coughed and the blood began to pour down his shirt. Big Mike leaped for Tiny and at the same instant Jimmy began shooting. His first shot hit Marvin Unger in the chest.
The second one entered George Peatty’s right cheek.
Big Mike, backed against the wall in a bear hug, hit the electric switch. A moment later the place was in complete darkness.
And then hell broke loose.
# # #
Mrs. Jennie Koisky, sitting in her living room in her apartment directly under Marvin Unger’s, got up and walked over to the telephone.
“I don’t care what you say, Harry,” she said, “they got no right making all that noise over our head. Like it or not, I’m calling the police.”
She picked up the receiver and dialed for the operator.
Five minutes after she had put the receiver back, Mrs. Kolsky was in her bathroom, washing her face with cold water. She was nervous and it always calmed her to wash her face. It wasn’t often that Mrs. Kolsky had found it necessary to call the police department.
Lifting her face from the washbasin, she reached for a hand towel. She was looking directly into the mirror. That’s how she happened to see the face.
The blood-soaked face of the man who was making his way, fumbling blindly, down the fire escape which showed through the opened window opposite the mirror over the sink.
Mrs. Kolsky screamed and the sound of the scream suddenly blended with the sirens from the street below.
# # #
Tune in next week for the next chapter of Clean Break!
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