his head whirling more than ever after his encounter with merry and delbert, jerry sat back down in the booth across from moe. he put the new pack of old golds down in front of him, and took a sip of the draft beer.
at least my hand is steady, he thought.
“o k, fill me in here.” jerry leaned across the booth. “what happened exactly with stan? and what am i supposed to be looking for when i get over to the east side?”
moe looked a little bewildered, but then he usually did. “well, kid, if i knew what you was going to find, i would already know it, wouldn’t i? that’s what i wanted you to do - find something.”
jerry shook his head. “all right, moe, start at the beginning. stan was accused of what - knocking off packy miller? that’s ridiculous - stan wasn’t in packy miller’s league. sure, stan was a bookie, but he just had his little patch. and he was as honest as a roast beef dinner on sunday afternoon. you won, he paid you. he never even had anybody working for him except maybe a couple of kids - like me.”
“that’s all very well, kid. you think his lawyer didn’t say all that and more? but red fuller and the rest of packy’s boys had him in a frame tighter than you could get at the louver in paris france.”
“wait a minute,” jerry interrupted moe. “red fuller? what has red fuller got to do with anything?”
“he’s taken over for packy. but everybody still calls it packy’s gang. you know, they make a big deal about missing packy and being sad he’s gone. as broken hearted as a kid who didn’t get no valentine.”
jerry shook his head. “red fuller? that cheap punk? what about freddie fitzgerald? manny the greek? are they taking orders from red fuller? that doesn’t sound right.”
“hey, what do i know? i’m just telling you what everybody is saying.”
“all right, it’s not important. so - how does stan get fingered for this in the first place? did you say packy got gunned down over on the east side? stan never went near the east side. he hardly ever moved from 65th street.”
“packy’s guys came up with a dozen witnesses that said he did.”
“but didn’t he have an alibi? “ jerry ripped open the pack of old golds. “he must have been at his own shop, or making his own rounds. didn’t twenty people see him?”
“not on that night he wasn’t.”
“no!” jerry had been lighting a cigarette but he almost dropped it in his lap. “what do you mean? where he would go? he never went anywhere!”
moe shrugged. “nobody knows.”
“but didn’t anybody ask him? didn’t you ask him?”
“sure, i did, but he wouldn’t tell anybody nothing. not even his lawyer.”
“that reminds me - who was his lawyer anyway?”
moe hesitated. “billy tompkins.”
“billy tompkins! are you kidding me? that old rumbunny - he couldn’t fix a parking ticket for the pope. stan couldn’t have got a worse lawyer.”
“billy was stan’s friend. you know how stan was - loyal.”
“yeah.” jerry looked down at his draft beer as if seeing it for the first time. he took a sip. “he was - wasn’t he?”
“you know what i think?” moe asked.
“no, moe, what do you think?”
but moe fell silent as he saw ruby the waitress returning with jerry’s sandwich.
ruby put the sandwich down in front of jerry. “sorry it took so long. you see, you might as well of ordered a burger. or a steak dinner.”
“not a problem,” jerry told her. “thank you, i’m glad to get anything.”
“so,” jerry continued, after ruby had left, “you were saying?”
“i was saying you know what i think?”
“and what do you think?”
“i think stan was covering for somebody.”
“you don’t say. “ jerry looked own at the ham sandwich. suddenly he wasn’t hungry any more. “any idea who?”
“i don’t know - maybe a dame. it’s always a dame, isn’t it?”
“yeah.” jerry pushed the sandwich away. “i better get going if i’m going to do anything. you want this sandwich? i’m not hungry anymore.”
“sure - if you insist.”
the blue light taxi service was right where merry had said it would be, though jerry probably would not have noticed it if he had not been looking for it.
there was a dim light showing in the window of the dispatch office. a cab was parked in front of the office, and another across the street, but both were dark.
jerry tried the door of the office. it was locked. he started to look into the window.
he heard a voice behind him, a woman’s voice. “can i help you?”
he turned but did not see anybody. then he saw some movement in the front seat of the cab across the street.
he started to cross the street. as he got closer to the cab, he could make out the form of the driver, slumped behind the wheel.
it was merry! he almost jumped back.
“can i help you?” the girl asked again. “the office is closed.”
“uh - yeah,” jerry answered. what was the name merry had given him? terry - that was it. terry. sure - this girl must be her sister, maybe her twin.
“merry sent me.”
“oh.” the girl sat up straighter. jerry could see she looked just like merry, except that under her cabbie’s hat she had blonde hair. “you know merry?”
“not really, i came in on the bus and - .”
“oh yeah, sure. get in. get in the back,” she added, although jerry was already opening the back door.
terry started the cab up. “where to?” she asked as the headlights came on.
“uh - the east side.”
“just - the east side? the east side’s pretty big.”
“uh - “ jerry tried to think. didn’t packy miller have a flower shop? would his gang still be running it?
“a flower shop,” he told terry.
“a flower shop.” she swung the cab on to a wide boulevard jerry didn’t recognize, that must have been new. “just any old flower shop?”
“i think there’s a flower shop over on madison.”
“you mean packy miller’s flower shop?”
“that sounds as good as any.” jerry looked out the window. the boulevard was almost deserted. it was so wide he could hardly see the stores and other buildings along it. it didn’t look like the chicago he remembered.
“packy doesn’t run it any more,” terry told him. “a woman named mellow jackson runs it. you familiar with her?”
“no, i - uh - i’m not familiar with any of these people.”
“that’s good. because they are what you might call bad companions.”
“if you say so. thank you for the warning.”
“i bet your mother told you to stay away from bad companions.”
“yes, she did. and the nuns in school did too.”
“uh-huh. so you just want some flowers at this time of night, huh?”
the boulevard was getting darker. there seemed to be no more stores.
“yes, i just got back from deep space - “
“i noticed the uniform.”
“and i wanted to get some flowers for my girl, you know, to surprise her.”
“ha, ha - you weren’t enough of a surprise yourself, huh?”
“i guess not.”
“but really, that’s so sweet. so romantic. there isn’t enough romance in the world today. that’s my considered opinion.”