by Colin Deerwood
“Becky? Becky!” but with the gag covering my mouth I could have just as well been saying “cookie.” I clattered around in my severe confinement and yelled, “Becky! Get me out of here!” I had managed to slip the gag off to one side of my chin. “Becky! Hurry!”
“I can’t, Lack. They would know it was me and I would be in much more trouble. I am confined to my room and was only able to sneak out because, as your native Americans say, they were having a big powwow.” She sounded sorry sad and I might have sympathized except that I had a pressing need.
“Becky, listen to me!” I strained to make my voice heard, the gag now around my chin. “You don’t understand! This is very serious!”
“Lack, I know,” she spoke quietly, “I have overheard them talking. It is serious.”
“Then get me out of here!”
“I can’t, I’m sorry.”
I figured I’d let her in on the emergency. “How can I put this delicately, uh, I have to whiz so bad my back teeth are floating!”
“Whiz? What is this whiz? Oh, perhaps it is the new all color film from Hollywood? But teeth, I’m not certain. . . .”
“Becky!” I yelled, “Listen to me! If I don’t get out of here I’m going to wet my pants! Just let me out of this box so I can find a corner to do my business and I promise I’ll get right back in and no one will ever know. I’ll even let you tie me up.” I was desperate. I would have crossed my legs if they hadn’t been tied at the ankles.
Silence. Then, “The teeth that float. . . .”
“Becky! I’m begging you! Let me out of here!”
“Shush!” she hissed. “I think I hear them calling for me.” I heard movement away from the box. “I’ll return if I can.”
That decided that. It didn’t matter that I wet my pants because worse was yet to come and once I was ripe enough, the mugs would sort through what’s left of me and get their diamond. I would have to come to terms with that, but incrementally.
Wet wool is itchy. Maybe that would make a good epitaph for my tombstone not that I could be guaranteed anything more than cement socks at the graveyard bottom of the East River. The happy thoughts just weren’t coming as I tried to distract myself.
I’d managed to get the gag off my face and somehow loosened the rope binding my hands only to have them explode into a swarm of pins and needles. Problem was, I was breathing my own air and it was making me drowsy.
I could hear workmen nearby hammering. Someone raised a shout. And the sporadic hammering resumed. I was surprised by the sound of running and suddenly my confinement was given more light as well as a large displacement of air. I was crushed by a heavy weight consisting of knees, elbows, and full torso with a voice shushing in my ear. The lid to the box snapped down and I was in the dark again. It was Becky. And it was the last straw that emptied my suffering bladder.
I grabbed her by the elbow and brought my face close to hers. “What I heard wasn’t hammering, they were gunshots. Who was doing the shooting?”
She was breathing hard in my ear, her chest heaving. I started to say something but she shushed me again. “Stay quiet they won’t find us.” She whispered and I realized I could get used to those whispers in my ear. I tried to relax but trussed up the way I was and with her knees in my kidney and her elbow in my neck, I just couldn’t get comfortable. She wasn’t tied up so she could shift her weight and her hip pressed down on my ribs causing me to gasp for breath. I grunted. She whispered “Sorry,” and that made it all better. We stayed quiet listening to each other’s breathing and for any sounds outside our confinement. My stomach rumbled or maybe it was hers. The minutes seemed like hours.
I heard a hinge creak and a shaft of light pierced the dark interior. Now both her knees were gouging into my arm and my thigh. There was enough light for me to catch her profile as she peaked outside the box which I realized was a large trunk with a domed top. Then she sat back down on me and let the lid drop and we were in the dark again.
“It was awful, Lack, they burst in shooting everyone.” She started to blubber.
“What? Who? Becky, untie me and get me out of this box so I can understand what you’re babbling g about.”
The trunk lid was pushed open and I was bathed in a dim grey light.
“These knots are impossible! And they’re wet!”
“I have a penknife in my vest pocket, use that!”
I felt her frisking me but maybe she was unfamiliar with men’s vests?
“Yeah, not that pocket.”
Finally she found it after fumbling under my coat and began sawing at the rope tying my hands to my feet. The ropes came loose and I was able to free one hand and pull myself upright. She stood on the outside of the trunk helping me stand up. I took the knife from her and freed my feet. I pulled myself over the edge of the large trunk and fell to the floor. It hurt and felt good at the same time.
I didn’t waste a minute getting rid of the ropes, rubbing the circulation back into my wrists. I grabbed her by the elbow and brought my face close to hers. “What I heard wasn’t hammering, they were gunshots. Who was doing the shooting?”
“I don’t know,” her eyes wide with fright, “Their faces were covered by kerchiefs and they wore auto racing goggles. I heard one of them shouting ‘Where are the diamonds?!’ Issac and Golie and the others were shooting too, and Herr Doktor I think was. . . .”
We were in some kind of storage loft. A dull light seeped through the dusty windows along one wall, packing crates, more large trunks, odds and ends of bulky furnishings made indistinct shadows and shapes. The windows were closed but I could still hear the sirens getting closer. “We have to get out of here.!”
Rebecca pointed to the door set into the far wall and I followed, limping the cramps out of my legs. I was reminded once again that I’d been left to my own devices and that certain things can’t be put off forever.
The door led to a dimly lit hallway at the head of a flight of stairs leading down. At the opposite end a window allowed access to a fire escape. I could hear the shouts and clomping of flatfeet spreading out over the crime scene several floors below. From the vantage of the window onto the fire escape, the alley was swarming with the flashing lights of patrol cars.
“What floor are we on?”
“We are at the very top, seven.”
“I shook my head. “Too much can go wrong on a fire escape seven stories up. What’s on the roof?”
“A little garden where the women of the building grow edibles for their kitchen. Oh, and Golie’s pigeon coop. He is so gentle with them, you wouldn’t think that he was the same fearful enforcer.”
“How close are the nearby buildings?” I was thinking if worse comes to worse.
She shook her head. “No, they are either too distant or many stories shorter.”
“Well, that’s it. We’re cornered. The cops are after me in connection with my lawyer Ralphie Silver’s murder I heard through the grapevine. They found my prints at the scene. Kovic’s mob is after me for dumping him in the drink and icing his muscle. That I should have figured, but Max confirmed it. Somebody else is after me for something I don’t even know about. And my ex is after me for alimony payments. The cops are gonna turn this place upside down looking for witnesses, victims, or gunsels and I’m a hot property.”
She looked at me perplexed. “I am not certain I understood everything you were saying except that maybe you are in a lot of trouble if the police find you. I too must avoid contact with the police because if they ask for my papers, they will learn that I am in this country illegally.”
“Rats, just as I get out of one pickle I end up in another!”
“Lack, this is no time to think about food. I have an idea. Come.”
She hurried back into the storage loft and I followed on her heels as she rushed over to a bank of shelves and started pulling down bags and suitcases. She rooted through some large boxes, yanking out articles of clothing, handing me a dress. “Here, try this on.”
It was too tight around the shoulders and the neckline was too revealing. I saw what she was up to and I liked what she had in mind but I didn’t think it was going to work. Not many dames of the six foot square shouldered variety.
She must have realized that too. She pulled out a large man’s overcoat that likely belonged to somebody who was wider than they were tall. The bottom hem came to my knees. She fit a big ugly green scarf over my head and tied it under my chin.
“Take off your pants.”
I wasn’t sure I heard right. “What?”
“And your suit jacket. Put them in this bag”
She had me step into a large skirt with lace around the hem and then fit an apron over that, cinching it at the waist. My hairy ankles and clodhoppers were still in plain view.
She frowned. “Stoop down. Yes, bend your knees. Good, that hides most of your ankles and your socks and garters. Here, keep this bag with your clothes in front of you so that they cannot see your big man’s shoes.”
She hurriedly slipped into a large gray overcoat and slung a leather purse over one arm. She wrapped a multicolored scarf over her head and tied it under her chin. Then she fussed with my scarf, closing it around my face so that nothing but the tip of my nose and my eyes were showing. She stepped back to admire her handiwork and gave a big smile. “If we had a mirror we could see that we look like a couple of old babushkas on the way to market!”
The first cops, a couple of plainclothes mugs running up the stairs with their guns drawn like Saturday matinee cowboys didn’t expect to see us. We were on the back stairs that existed for services not the front where the lobby, elevator, mezzanine, and carpeting were for looks. The young one with the slicked back hair and the twenty five dollar suit stared at us and then spoke to Rebecca. “You ladies live around her?”
I looked him over. I could take him and his cheap suit but what about his partner, a downtown cop I’d seen in the company of Hogan before looking back wondering why the kid was bothering?
It was the two cops guarding the other side of the door on the steps leading to the alley that wanted to make a deal of it..
Rebecca, shoulders hunched timidly, pointed a finger up the stairwell and said “mop,” miming the action, and then mimed passing an iron over a board.
“Ok, yer the housekeepers for the apartment upstairs? You seen any guys with guns running around?”
I had a hard time keeping from bursting out laughing and covered with a sneeze. Rebecca’s shock and disbelief looked real.
“C’mon,” the older cop called, continuing up, “they don’t understand a word you’re saying.”
The second set of cops were mostly uniforms clustered around the exit door to the alley and looked mean the way street cops do, having seen it all, and too worldly wise to be taken by some cheap disguise, parted like the Red Sea as Rebecca held me under the arm and I shuffled along as best I could to the exit door, head bowed down, not one of them thinking what are these two old broads doing at the scene of a crime?
It was the two cops guarding the other side of the door on the steps leading to the alley that wanted to make a deal of it.
“Hold up, ladies, and where do we think we’re going now?” He was a tall skinny redhead with his cap sitting on the back of his head. His partner was a beefy bloke with a cauliflower for a face. He said, “What you two’s doin here?”
Rebecca put her fists to her hips and got close, frowning into his grainy mug. “Ve are to verk how ve cannot eat not verk?”
“Now, ma’am,, he just wants to know the reason why you’re being at a crime scene seeing as how it being off limits to all but the police and all.”
“I vant complain!” she shouted, “but no is listen! Mrs. Krawitch old lady!” she said tugging me down the steps, “cannot sleep all that bang bang bang. I call police can’t sleep! Tell them must verk Vest Side, mop, mop, mop, clean, clean, clean!”
“But lady, we are the cops!” pasty face offered.
She pointed a finger at his puffed out chest. “Then something do it about!” she said with all the authority of a shrew. “I have verk go now. Come, Mrs. Krawitch.” Hooking an arm around my stooped shoulders, she carefully steered my shuffling progress through the maze of idling squad cars, occasionally glaring back accusingly at the two perplexed coppers.
I had to admit that she had talent and I could just imagine what those dumb flatfoots were saying behind our backs.
“That’s the trouble with them foreign broads, they’s ugly as sin. Ya seen the mug on that old hag. I swear she was growing a moustache. Smelled like an outhouse.”
“Yeah, but the young one’s a looker.”
“Problem is they all end up looking like they got crippling arthritis, five o’clock shadow, and permanent shiners.”