illustrated by roy dismas, rhoda penmarq, and konrad kraus
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
click here for previous episode, here to begin at the beginning
williams was a night person, and found his employment as butler with the collinsons congenial. all the members of the family expected immediate service at any hour of the day or night, and an unspoken agreement had evolved that he would be available at night, and that the under-butler or one of the maids would be sufficient during the day after breakfast (when they - the collinsons - tended to be asleep or absent). williams had found that the collinsons expected prompt, but not constant service, and so he was free to spend most of his time at night daydreaming, looking out the windows at park avenue or 86th street, doing crossword puzzles, or doing absolutely nothing at all.
especially since the demise of old colonel collinson, the nights had passed like a parade of peaceful dreams.
such slight duties as he had to perform at night never bothered or surprised him. so it was with perfect calm, and only a twinge of curiosity, that he observed mister conrad - the most resolutely nocturnal of all the collinsons - exiting from a cab below the window, followed by two persons he had never seen before. conrad was always bringing guests home, usually, but by no means always, young persons of his own class. the brief glance he had of the man and the young woman who were following conrad to the front door led him to surmise that the man, at least, did not fit that description. conrad would let them in with his key, and given the lateness of the hour, would not necessarily expect williams to greet them immediately. but, having nothing else to do, he turned from the window and was heading for the stairs when the telephone rang. he crossed swiftly to the telephone stand and lifted the receiver.
"williams. it's cosima."
"williams, i'm at the gallery. i will be over in a few minutes."
"yes. will you be staying the night?"
"probably. is the red bedroom available?"
"i am expecting a guest. a man named fortescue. he should be there in about half an hour. have some coffee and sandwiches ready, please."
"yes, miss. would the green room be acceptable, or the front room? mr conrad has just arrived with some guests - "
"and he will probably want the library? fine, i can use the green room."
"very good, miss."
"i won't keep you. i will be over in a few minutes and let myself in."
"very good." williams could hear conrad and his guests downstairs. he hung up the phone. he could hear conrad calling him - not too loudly - then saying, "oh, he is here somewhere. carol, you can take your coat off. "
in the darkened gallery, cosima put her phone down. she was mildly annoyed, but not surprised, that conrad would be there with friends. she hoped they weren't too drunk and that she could avoid them altogether. maybe i should have invited the detective to my own place, she thought, or even had him come here. she decided to take her time, maybe smoke a couple of cigarettes, before heading over to 86th street. a reefer? tempting, but she wanted a completely clear head when dealing with fortescue. a thought flashed through her mind that conrad's "friends" might have something to do with the matter she was consulting the detective on. then she laughed. that, she thought, is exactly the sort of thinking i'd do if i smoked some dope.
"ah, there you are, williams. take this young lady's coat, will you, please."
"my pleasure. by the way, sir, miss cosima just called and she will be over shortly and a guest of hers will drop by."
"she requested the use of the green room."
"no problem. we were going to use the library anyway."
"excellent. i was going to make some coffee and sandwiches for them, so if you would like some too?"
"no, thank you, i don't need any. how about you two?" conrad turned to frisco johnny, who was gazing placidly at williams, and carol, who was openly gawking at the surroundings.
it wasn't exactly what carol was expecting, but there was something about it - something she couldn't put a name to - it was just - "oh, sorry, did you ask me something?"
"would you like some coffee and sandwiches, miss?'
"uh - sure. i'm starving. i'll take anything you want to give me. if it's no trouble."
"none at all. and you, sir?"
"yeah, i'll take a sandwich. no coffee. you got roast beef?"
"certainly, sir. rare or well done?"
"very good." williams had had time to take the measure of the guests. the young woman seemed sort of an unlikely companion for conrad, but no one he was going to spend time wondering about. but the man - conrad often brought persons home who might charitably be described as "colorful" or borderline low-lifes, but never anyone as genuinely menacing as this fellow. also, the man and woman did not seem to be together, but attached separately to conrad.
"this is mister ramirez, williams. we may be seeing a lot of him."
"he's in the fight game. you know, boxing."
"ah. very good."
"you a fight fan?" johnny asked williams.
"not really, sir. i'm more of a baseball fan."
"williams is a giants fan," added conrad.
"occasionally a fight comes along whose publicity and expectations can not be avoided, but otherwise -"
"no problem." johnny smiled. "just asking. not everybody is a fan of everything."
"how true, sir."
"and this is carol - carol -"
williams nodded to carol. no mention of seeing a lot of her.
"so - we will be in the library." conrad gestured to carol and johnny to follow him.
williams turned and left, with carol's coat on his arm. after hanging the coat up, he walked slowly to the kitchen. johnny had made him a little uneasy. probably the nastiest looking character he had encountered since the war, which he had spent the last two years of in the capacity of driver and general factotum to colonel collinson.
the colonel had had a barely defined job usually well behind any shooting, in london, paris, marseille and points in between, usually involving money, "papers", seldom seen "supplies" and even less often seen "information". williams's silent nature, lack of curiosity, and lack of greed on his own behalf, had suited the colonel to the extent he had offered him the employment he now enjoyed.
only after the war was over and he was safely back in the states, had williams begun to wonder about exactly what he and the colonel had been doing. had he been in the "secret service"? williams read a magazine article about something called the "oss". had the colonel, and he himself, been in the "oss"? at the time, if asked, the colonel had been a "liaison between g-2 (allied) and g-4 (usa)" - whatever that meant. whatever he had been doing, williams had come in contact, usually very brief, with a number of unpleasant looking individuals, but only one as chilling as "mr ramirez". and that of course, had been the colonel's other assistant, corporal gray, who was often driven by williams, left to do - what? - better not to ask - and then picked up again.
williams and gray had had long "conversations" in which gray had done all the talking - spinning forth endless, usually violent and sometimes salacious stories which williams assumed and hoped to be fantasies. after the war, the talkative corporal had not been offered a job by the colonel. williams only occasionally gave him a thought.
but now, as he put the coffee on and began carefully making the sandwiches, williams wondered - is gray still alive? where is he tonight? what is he doing?
cosima turned the corner of lexington avenue. as she approached the apartment she noticed a cab parked across the street from it and two buildings down.