Fire In The Blood Chapter Two

HE STOPPED ABOUT five feet short of me and glared, breathing hard. With wavy black hair and a strong, square jaw, he was matinee-idol handsome, but his hands were big and he looked as though he wanted to fasten them around my neck.

I was tired of him and he'd already put scuff marks on my suit. My conscience didn't chafe too much when we locked eyes and I told him to calm down. He was plenty upset, but soon stopped puffing so much, and the red mottling finally drained out of his face. He was unaware of what had happened; one minute he was ready to tear into me, and the next we were walking up and down the parking lot having a smoke like old friends.

"What was the donnybrook about, Summers?" I asked in a reasonable tone. "You must know I'm not interested in Marian."

Summers rumbled a curse and wearily leaned against a car, shaking his head. "I dunno. Something just comes over me when I see her look at another guy. She's crazy and she only makes me crazy. I wish I'd never met her."

I could sympathize. "You can't pick fights every time she looks."

His face was sour. "She was doing more than that with you. I saw it. Christ, the whole room saw it."

"Her idea, not mine."

"Then what were you with her for?"

"She didn't give me much of a choice. I'll level with you, Harry, I'm doing a job for her father and she only came on like gangbusters hoping I'd tell her about it."

"What's the job?"

"I can't say."

Like a lot of people, he ignored that fine point and pressed on. "Does it have to do with Marian?"

"Not really. What's she want to hide from her old man?"

He shrugged. "Me, probably."

"Something the matter with you? Pierce seems to think you're okay."

"Only because Marian doesn't let him look too close."

"Got a past, huh?"

Summers nodded. "Cops had me on a couple of assault charges."

What a surprise. "Like what you pulled on me tonight?"

"Yeah. Sorry. Nothing much came of it. I did some time and got out, but the records are there for anyone to find. Pierce won't think that that's okay."

"Tell him about it and see."

"I don't think it's worth it. Marian's flighty, she'll probably drop me for someone else after this. She doesn't forgive much of anything when she's crossed."

She'll have to learn sometime or lose a lot of friends." With her dough, she can always buy more," he said bitterly.

I didn't gainsay him or offer advice or anything stupid like that. If he wanted to feel sorry for himself that was his business, doubly so if it had to do with Marian.

He tossed away his cigarette. It was only half-smoked and continued to smolder long after it bounced off the sidewalk. "I know I'm out of my class with her. She's as much as said she goes with me because I did time. I'm not the tough she thinks I am.

all I got is a bad temper. But it makes her feel like she's breaking the rules herself.

You know how that makes me feel?"

He didn't really want an answer, so I kept my mouth shut.

"She's got everything now and will have more of that when her dad goes. Maybe I'd have a chance if she didn't have so much."

"You don't want a rich wife?"

The money doesn't matter to me, it's hers. I'd be working my own way no matter what. What it is... I dunno. it just gets between us somehow. Like with this." He gestured at the I lavish front of the club. "I wouldn't come to a place like this in I a million years, but she's here and she expects me to be here, I so I come."

"No taste for the high life?"

"Too much of a good thing. I love strawberry ice cream, but I don't eat it till I'm sick. Marian would, and she'd insist that everyone else do the same."

The more I learned about Marian, the happier I was at ditching her, but Summers was genuinely miserable. He saw her faults and still wanted her, which could add up to a bleak future. We can't always choose whom we're going to fall for, and I felt sorry for the guy.

"Guess I'll be running," I said.



"If you see her, tell her I said I was sorry."

I looked up at the brightly lit entry doors to the club. Marian was just starting to come through them. Her step was brisk and she wore a determined look on her delicate face. "Right, but maybe you should tell her yourself. See you around."

I ducked down among the cars before he could stop me again. In the general darkness, she might not have been able to spot me from the club. A second later, nobody could see me at all, and I floated off with the wind. When enough distance and time passed, I went solid and kept walking until I reached the rear of the building. At the top of some wooden steps was a metal fire door that could only be opened from the inside. I had to sieve in around the door, using the extremely thin space between its dense metal and the jamb.

No one seemed to be around. I materialized under a dim red exit light and ditched my nearly forgotten cigarette in a bucket of sand hanging on the wall. I rarely smoked the things anymore; my lungs didn't like them, but they made useful social props.

The band blared away in front of me, masked off from the backstage area by a silver curtain. It was flimsy enough to see through when the lights were up on the other side. A dozen girls wearing strategic bits of tinsel and tap shoes were trying to beat holes in the dance floor, an encouraging sight, because it meant Bobbi would be in her dressing room. I didn't waste any more time.

She said "Come in" to my knock. This time I turned the knob and walked through like a normal person. Bobbi was at the dressing table checking her makeup, a glowing oasis of platinum blond sanity in an otherwise screwy evening.

In the light-lined mirror she saw the door open and shut all by itself. Her wide hazel eyes blinked once in puzzlement, and then she broke into a smile.

"Jack!" She turned around so she could see me and opened her arms. I did what I could to fill them, half lifting her from the padded satin chair she'd been perched on.

We were pretty incoherent for the next few minutes until she insisted on coming up for air.

"How's the show going?" I asked.

"Pretty good for a slow night. What are you doing up here so early?"

"On a job for Charles. If you have time, I'll tell you."

She glanced at a clock on the dresser. "I got five minutes."

"Okay." I gave her a very quick rundown on things, including Marian's attack on my lips, and the follow-up with Summers. Bobbi looked my face over and pursed her own lips critically.

"You run in rough company, buster. I didn't notice before, but that is definitely not my shade." She grabbed a cloth and briskly wiped my mouth. "The little tramp,"

she muttered. "Good thing you confessed or I might have clobbered you myself."

"What's to confess? I was just an innocent bystander. She was the one who got all the ideas, and then her boyfriend added a few of his own. He could have busted my eardrum."

Bobbi tossed the cloth on the table and swung around to sit in my lap. "Which ear?"

I pointed. She kissed it and tugged at the lobe a little with her teeth.

"Does that hurt?"

"Keep doing that and you won't make it out of here in time for your cue."

"Ah, nuts," she complained, and stood up to smooth her dress. She was wearing some kind of sparkly black thing tonight. Everything important was covered, but it looked as though it had been painted on. "I get a thirty-minute break after this set.

Will you still be here?"

"Sure. If I watch out for your boss, you think I can see the show?"

"If you're careful and stick backstage. The girls won't say anything to him, but tell them to keep their mitts off you."

"Yes, ma'am."

I followed her out and hung close as she wound her way to the stage. A dozen breathless leggy girls in rustling tinsel clattered past us. One of them gave out with a wolf whistle and the others laughed. Bobbi looked at me with mock jealousy.

"They must have noticed the tie," I whispered. "Real silk." I waved the end at her like Oliver Hardy and she playfully swatted it down.

The band started another fanfare. She pecked my cheek and made a smooth entrance to welcoming applause. The lights went out except for a single spot centered on her. It sparked off her gown and turned her hair into a molten blond jewel. My heart ached, she was so beautiful. I forgot about looking for McAlister, hiding from the management, and any other complications the world had to offer.

Bobbi was singing and that was all the world I needed or wanted.

After the show, behind the locked door of her dressing room, Bobbi peeled out of the clingy gown. "I love having a live audience, but it's so hot under that light. Radio work is much more comfortable."

I reclined on an old chaise lounge that was jammed up against the wall, admiring the view. Bobbi rarely used underwear with her working wardrobe, maintaining that it spoiled the lines. All she had on now were her stockings, knee garters, and heels.

All I could think was, Wow.

She hung up the gown, turned on a little fan, and stood in front of it with her arms raised, which did interesting things to her breasts.

"Maybe I should go outdoors for a minute, that would cool me off," she mused.

"Or heat up half the city."

"Is it warm in here to you?"

"Yeah, you could say that I'm feeling a little hot and bothered."

"I can open the door to create a draft..."

"Don't you dare."

She dropped her arms and sauntered over to sit next to me on the lounge. "It's not fair, I've got my clothes off and you-"

"My hat's on the rack," I defended. "The way I'm set up now, I don't have to take

'em off."

"But what if I want to touch your skin, too?" One of her hands wormed under my coat and started plucking at my shirt-tail.

"Uh..." Now I really was too distracted to answer. She got under the shirt and ran her nails up my back, which made me squirm. I caught her arm and did a thing or two to return the favor. We had to keep the laughter down; the walls weren't that thick. Her other hand successfully unbuttoned my coat as she began crawling all over me.

It was absolutely wonderful.

Bobbi craned her neck in the mirror to get a look at her throat. "Good thing I'm wearing a high collar tonight," she said, her linger lightly touching the small red marks there.

"Is it bad?"

"It's never bad with you."

"I mean, are you hurt?" Since our method of reaching a climax required my breaking her skin in a very vulnerable area, her comfort was of serious concern to me.

"What we do never hurts, you know that. I was talking about the hickey around it. It'll fade in an hour or so, but not before the next show starts."

"Next time I'll show a little more restraint."

"Uh-uh. I like things just as they are. Besides, it gives me an excuse to buy more stuff like this." She shook out a red satin gown and let it slither down over her body.

Watching Bobbi get dressed was as absorbing an activity as watching her strip.

There aren't many girls around with that kind of talent.

Someone knocked at the door. "One minute, Bobbi."

"Gonna stick around for the rest of the evening?" she asked, touching up the powder on her nose.

"I'm supposed to be here to look for McAlister. Maybe I can slip out front, do a quick gander, and come back."

"What if you find him?"

"The one weak point in all my plans," I confessed with mock drama.

"That and getting spotted by my boss. He'll know all about the lounge ruckus and be in a wonderful mood. You stay back here and I'll ask around for you. Someone's bound to know this fella. Clubs like this thrive on booze and gossip."

"Well, I..."

But she only smiled and winked and flashed out the door, locking it behind her.

She wasn't trying to keep me prisoner, only make sure no one else got in. That mirror over her table reflected nearly the whole room, and neither of us wanted to borrow trouble.

The band already had the next fanfare going and Bobbi made her cue just in time. I relaxed back on the lounge and listened to her distant voice through the intervening walls. Throughout her set, I pleasantly speculated over how many other couples had used the same lounge for their own romantic interludes. I had plenty of time to think about it, but when Bobbi finally came back she had news.

"I talked with Gloria-"

"The hat-check girl?"

"I was hoping you hadn't noticed her."

"What'd she say?"

"McAlister was here for a while and then left."

"What time?"

"I'm getting to that. He was here when you arrived and didn't leave until after the ruckus. Looks tike little Marian was trying to keep you two apart."

"Why do you think that?"

" Marian came back after you lost her in the parking lot and made a beeline to McAlister's table off the dance floor. Tina was running the drinks in that section, but neither of them wanted anything. They had their heads together for a bit, and the next time she looked he was gone. Gloria said he got his coat, stiffed her on the tip, and took off. She saw Marian walk past a minute or so later."

"Charles ought to have you as a partner instead of me. McAlister's probably halfway to China by now."

"Maybe, but chances are, he'll stop to pack first. Where does he live?"

"He's got a flop in a hotel..."I fumbled out my notebook, where I'd scribbled the address. It wasn't far; if I hurried I might get there in time to watch his dust settle.

"Gotta go, sweetheart. If I'm not back by closing, get a ride with one of the girls."

She laughed when I kissed her and wished me luck.

* * *

The Boswell House was a cheap residence hotel in a tough neighborhood that hadn't quite made it to being a full-fledged slum, but was trying all the same. No clerk at the desk challenged me when I walked into the dusty lobby and looked around. The stairs were on the right; ancient wooden things full of more creaks and pops than an old man's joints. I double-checked the lobby to be safe, then went semitransparent and floated up over them, guiding myself along with a ghostly hand on the banister. In this form I could see and hear what was going on. but it could scare the willies out of anyone spotting me.

Either the timing was good or for once my luck was holding. I went solid just as a leggy gal in a bright kimono emerged from the room next door to McAlister's. She had carroty hair and hard eyes and looked at me looking at her for exactly two seconds before spinning on her bare heel to go back into her lair. I must not have been the man of her dreams, after all.

A moment of listening at McAlister's door confirmed that he wasn't at home. The door was locked, but no problem.

The small room beyond wasn't much: cheap, battered furniture at the edges, and a Murphy bed taking up most of the space in the middle. It hadn't been made in a couple of weeks; that, or he was an incredibly restless sleeper. I figured he slept alone, since I couldn't think of a woman born who would voluntarily lie down in those stale sheets. I lifted the end of the bed and closed it up into the wall to give myself a little working space.

Escott had taught me how to poke and pry without leaving signs, so I went through everything, taking my time. Chances were, he'd be back before I was finished, and then I could tackle him about the bracelet.

His clothes were still in the wardrobe and bureau, which was good news. A dented metal suitcase was tucked under the spindly legs of a washstand. Unless he had plans to buy clothes along the way, he hadn't skipped town yet.

I'd just lowered the bed again to check under the mattress when the stairs outside warned me that someone was coming up; a man, by the sound of his shoes.

He was going slow, but the old wood announced his progress like a brass band. I eased the bed down the rest of the way and vanished.

He took his time at the door and then opened it slowly, as though he expected a problem was waiting for him inside. He clicked on the light, waited another moment, then closed the door up again. He made a quick circuit of the room, brushing right past me. He stopped in his tracks.

"Jack? Are you here?"

A clipped English accent. Escott.

I materialized with some relief and squinted. After working in the dark for so long, the room lights seemed painfully bright to my sensitive eyes. "Yeah, I'm here.

How'd you know?"

He looked relieved as well. "I felt a sudden cold spot cut right through my coat.

When that happens I am inclined to think you must be lurking nearby. Have you been here long?" He pocketed a worn leather kit that held a number of lock picks and skeleton keys. It explained the excessive time he'd spent at the door.

"Long enough for a search."

"Is it clean?" A fastidious man himself, he couldn't help wrinkling his nose at the place.

"Figuratively speaking, yes, but we may have a problem..." I told him about my little square dance at the Top Hat with Marian and Summers and Bobbi's news on McAlister.

"Dear me, but Miss Pierce has thrown a spanner into the works by her misinterpretation of her father's actions. If McAlister is the guilty party with the bracelet, he'll have the wind up by now."

"Which is why I got over here. Bobbi figured he'd stop long enough for his clothes."

"I may put Miss Smythe on a retainer," he murmured. "I've just come from a betting parlor McAlister frequents. It seems we're not the only party looking for him."

"He lose big?"

"Almost two thousand dollars-"


"-to a bookie anxious to take it from McAlister's hide if the money is not immediately forthcoming."

"Let's hope he stops here first."

"Indeed. If he's carrying the bracelet with him it could be lost to our competition to cover his debt."

"Want to wait here for him?"

"It's much warmer than the street below, though we should shut off the light." He relocked the door.

When he was settled in a wobbling chair, I hit the switch. The darkness washed comfortably over my eyes and they adjusted easily. The dim gray illumination coming from the room's only window bounced off the mirror hanging over the bureau and caught the edge of Escott's face.

"Can you see all right?" he asked.

"Just fine."

"Then perhaps you might answer a question for me."


"Why do you need a light in your workroom if you can see so well in the dark?"

I'd wondered about that myself. "I think it's because the place is so totally sealed up."

"The darkness is absolute then?"

"Like a... cave." I nearly said "tomb" and changed it at the last second. "In most places there's always some kind of light available, like what's here now. It's more than enough for me to work with, but that room is the exception."

" What about your hearing?" You talking about the car that just pulled up out front?"

He nodded. We waited and listened. I heard a lot more besides the slam of the car door outside. Some guy was snoring two rooms down, and above us a happy couple were having an athletic engagement. The showgirl in the kimono must have been reading. I concentrated on the lobby below and picked out the clack of a woman's high heels quickly coming up the stairs. She paused at the landing and again just outside, then a key slipped into the lock and turned. Escott hastily vacated the chair and was crowded next to me behind the door.

It opened slowly and she fumbled for the light. She surveyed the room only a moment, killed the light, and left. When the door was closed, I quietly told Escott I was going after her, and vanished. I swept past her down the stairs and out the building, then materialized. She was just coming out as I came in, and I made sure we bumped into each other.

She was tiny, not much over five feet even in her heels, and despite the bulky lines of her coat I could tell the rest of her was built along the same scale. She automatically looked up when we collided, and I had a pleasant view of big blue eyes limned with golden lashes and a fringe of golden hair escaping the edges of her hat.

Sebastian Pierce had said she was a little doll and he'd been perfectly right.

I stopped her as she started past. " 'Scuse me, but aren't you Stan McAlister's girl?"

"What?" She blinked at me, properly confused.

"Kitty Donovan?"

"Yes, what do you want?" She must have been concentrating heavily on something else. Her mind had to visibly shift gears to this new distraction.

"My name's Jack, I know your boyfriend." It was an exaggeration, not an outright lie, so I was able to get away with it.

"Oh... well... how nice," she said, a little blankly. I could have told her I was Teddy Roosevelt and gotten the same response.

"Are you looking for him, too?"

At this, her big eyes went very round and she broke into a kind of frozen smile.

"Looking for him? Why, yes, but he's not here tonight."

"He's not? That's too bad... I really needed to talk to him. Do you know where else he might be?"

She shook her head. "No, I just thought I'd drop in and see, but no one's home."

"Isn't this kind of a rough place for a nice girl like you to-"

"I don't think it's really any of your business," she told me brusquely. She started to duck past. I caught her arm. "Lemme go or I'll scream my head off."

"No, you won't. You need to know why I'm looking for him."

She was ready to question that, but let me lead her back into the lobby. I kept a loose hold on her arm, as though to steady her. She unsuccessfully tried to shake my grip.

"You lug," she grumbled. I didn't argue with her.

Escott was just coming down the stairs. I nodded at him and he joined us, politely removing his hat when I introduced Kitty Donovan to him.

"A pleasure," he said, bowing a little. She didn't expect his accent or such a high polish on his manners; neither of them went with the neighborhood.

"What's this about?" she asked.

"We're friends of Stan and we're looking for him," I said.

Her lips curled in cynical disbelief. "I'll just bet you are."

Escott stepped in. "He was at the Top Hat Club earlier tonight, do you know where he might be now?"

Eyes guarded, she shook her head. I was pretty sure she was telling the truth, but Escott wasn't satisfied. He cocked an eyebrow, indicating a lounge area off the lobby.

It was just slightly more private and out of immediate line of sight from the door. We walked her in. I sat next to her on a couch and Escott took a chair in front of us.

She was scared now and trying not to show it. "Listen, if you are Stan's friends, he won't like what you're doing."

"We're doing nothing. Miss Donovan, only waiting until such time as Mr.

McAlister returns."

"He's not here. I was just up in his room, see?"

"Perhaps I do. I think you have us mixed up with two other fellows. My word of honor, we are not working for Leadfoot Sam."

"Leadfoot Sam?" I echoed.

"Mr. McAlister's annoyed bookie. I believe he earned his colorful appellation due to his driving style during Prohibition."

Kitty was all anxious attention. "What about Leadfoot?"

Escott tried a reassuring smile that she wasn't interested in. "Nothing about him-at least as far as I'm concerned. We are not his agents."

"Then who are you working for?"

He pulled out his investigator's license and she studied it for a longtime. "We're on an errand unconnected to Stan McAlister's debts and only wish to obtain some information from him."

"I'm sorry, but I can't help you, and I really have to go now." She started to stand, but I gently pulled her back.

"We require but a few minutes of your time," he continued.

"But I don't want to be here. Now, let me go or I'll scream the house down."

"Kitty..." First I got her full attention, then stepped up the pressure. Her eyes seemed to get bigger and bluer as I held them with my own. She was on her way to slipping under when the entry door opened and a dapper-looking guy with straw blond hair walked in. He distracted me and, worst of all, he distracted Kitty. Her eyes shifted over and she gave out with a little gasp, then drew breath for a full shout.

"Run, Stan! They're after you!"

He whirled in a flash and was out the door before she finished. Escott charged after him and I started to move, but Kitty made a tackling dive for my legs. She was tiny, but more than enough to trip me. I crashed backward into a chair and flipped up and over, feet flying in a clumsy somersault. The floor was wood and awfully damned hard to land on.

When the room stopped spinning, I slowly crawled upright. Kitty had recovered and stood facing me. She dug into her purse and brought out a gun, slipped off the safety, and leveled it on my heart.

"Aw, now, kid, don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Her hand was shaking, but there was a grim set to her mouth. "Back. You stand right back."

I raised my hands to show cooperation. She carried some kind of .22 automatic and knew how to use it or she might have forgotten about the safety. The five bullets it probably carried wouldn't kill me, but getting shot hurt like hell, and my suit had been through enough rough stuff for one evening. There were other ways to take care of her.

"Kitty, we don't want to hurt Stan. We just want to ask him a few questions."

She shook her head and told me to move back. I could try hypnotizing her again, but she looked too nerved up to easily respond. It would also be necessary to get closer and she'd already made a firm decision to keep me at a distance.

"Gonna keep me here all night?" I asked. "What will the management think?"

"Wha'd'ya think I'll think?" A middle-aged man who looked as tough as the rest of the place came around the check-in desk. His hair was sticking up in different directions and he wore a drab bathrobe over his shorts and undershirt. He carried a massive shotgun that made Kitty's .22 look like a water pistol.

Before I could answer, Kitty cut in. "I'm Stan McAlister's girl. This guy and his friend outside were trying to kidnap me."

"Is that what all the noise is about?" His unfriendly eye caught sight of the overturned chair. From his expression, you'd have thought it was his grandma's priceless antique.

"This is a misunderstanding," I said. "My partner and I are-"

"Trying to kill Stan," she blurted. "Please, mister, could you hold him here while I get away?" There were tears and a crack of fear in her voice. Whether they were real or not was anyone's guess, but the man was willing to buy it.

"Sure, little girl. You take off. He won't get out of here for a while." He hefted both barrels in my direction and looked confident.

She whispered out her thanks and was gone.

"Look, mister, my partner and I are detectives."

"Uh-huh. Got any proof?"

I hesitated. Technically I was just along for the ride; Escott was the only one with a valid license. The hesitation was enough to bolster any doubts and the man took a firmer grip on the stock. Outside I heard an engine gun and the whine of wheels us Kitty's car tore down the street. I wondered what had happened to Escott.

"What I said was on the level." I lowered my arms as though they were tired. It didn't seem to bother him.

"Yeah, yeah."

"She just got a little nervous, is all."

He shook his head in patronizing disbelief.

"Now, I don't happen to have my license with me..." I started to reach inside my coat.

He dropped the disbelief for a scowl, renewing his grip on the gun.

"But I do have my wallet... so maybe we can make a deal?" I opened one side of my coat so he could see where I was reaching.

He licked his lips. "Okay. Double sawbuck."


"Double or nothing, buddy."

"Okay, okay." I pulled out the wallet and fumbled around with it, walking toward him. The change in my posture and attitude worked. His hold on the shotgun went slack as he came forward. His attention was on the money, but at one point he looked up at me.

His mistake.

A few minutes later he was peacefully snoring back in his office and I was outside looking for Escott and McAlister. Kitty was long gone, of course, and there was no sign of her fleet-footed boyfriend. The street was empty and black and the infrequent glare of tall lamps only deepened the shadows they were meant to relieve. It looked cold and was beginning to feel cold, even to me.

A distinct gasp and cough caught my attention and drew me to the alley running between the hotel and a closed coffee shop. The bundle of clothes lying in the middle of it was Escott, curled on his side, trying to remember how to breathe.

He stifled a groan as I helped him sit up. The only visible damage was a cut above one eye.

"I almost had him," he complained.

"What stopped you?"

"His blackjack."

It seemed like a good excuse to me.

"He thumped me and broke for his car."

"Round one to Stan, then." I got him out of the alley and folded into my Buick. He groaned again at this, since Stan had also booted him in the stomach for good measure.

"If this keeps up, I shall certainly consider raising my basic retainer," he said, hugging the damaged area.

"You go right ahead. Kitty got away, too. She had a gun and the manager's sympathy."

He didn't seem too upset. "Straight on, then. There's still a chance we can salvage things."

"How so?"

"I'm speculating she will head directly for her own home."

"Yeah? You got a crystal ball?"

"Hardly, but seeking a place of safety after receiving a bad fright is a very strong instinct. If she should follow that pattern, then we'll have the opportunity to question her without interruptions."

Escott gave me the address from Pierce's notes. I got the car in gear and we took off.

Kitty's home was in a nice block of modern apartments in a nice part of town. We parked on the curb out front next to a has-been of a car. I'd hardly stopped when Escott was out and pulling off one of his gloves. He put one hand on the old car's hood to see if it had been running recently, and his lips thinned with satisfaction.

"Stan's?" I asked.

He opened the door and checked the registration, then nodded. While I nervously watched the street for beat cops, he did something under the hood to make sure it wouldn't start.

The apartment entrance required either a key or that visitors buzz. I saved us some trouble and slipped through to open the door for Escott. Kitty lived on the second floor at the end of a carpeted hallway. After trying her door and finding it locked, I did the same thing again, but slowly. Still invisible, I checked the room beyond to ascertain that no one was there. It was very small, probably no more than an entry with a coat closet. I reformed and spent a moment listening, but picked up nothing. I clicked the lock back as softly as possible and let Escott inside.

He already knew to be quiet and his manner was calm enough, but I could hear his heart thumping like a drum. He enjoyed this sort of work.

The living room was new looking, the furniture comfortably plump, but not fussy.

A low table displayed drawing pencils, a battered sketch pad, and a stack of fashion magazines. Escott flipped a few pages of the sketchbook. It was full of stylized drawings of heads, all tilted to show off the crazy hats they wore.

The first bedroom was a work area. A couple of card tables in the middle were covered with a colorful scatter of ribbons, feathers, netting, lace, velvet, and similar junk. In the corner stood a small black sewing machine, and stacked next to it were different kinds of hat blocks. A wall full of shelves held samples of the finished product. Most of them looked awfully strange to me, but were probably just the thing for Bobbi to go crazy over.

Escott went down the short hall to the other bedroom and I followed. It was done up in pale blues with an eye for comfort, especially the central furnishing.

"That's a pretty big bed for such a small lady," I said. It looked nearly double the regular size, filling most of the room. I'd seen something like it once in a movie and had thought things like that only existed in Hollywood.

"Agreed." He went over to one of the nightstands and opened the top drawer, immediately pulling out several packets of prophylactics. "Well, well."

I shifted uncomfortably. The girl was entitled to some privacy and I didn't feel right about invading it on such an intimate level. Escott dropped them back and shut the drawer with hardly a raised eyebrow. To him it was simply information. He collected it in the same absent way other people collect string. He checked the closet and bath and came back right away, shaking his head to indicate they were empty.

That left only the kitchen at the other end of the flat.

The dining room was clean and uninteresting. The door from it to the kitchen was shut. I listened and this time heard the faint sound of someone breathing within.

Just as I touched the doorknob I jerked my hand back as though from an electric shock.

"What is it?" asked Escott.

It was unmistakable, but I drew another cautious breath just to be sure.


I swallowed with difficulty, because my mouth and throat had gone bone dry.

"Bloodsmell," I whispered.

He started to say something but caught the look on my face. He nodded, understanding, and slipped his glove back on to open the door.

A lot of different images crowded my eyes: gray-speckled linoleum, shining steel cabinets, white curtains with red trim. The trim almost seemed to accent the red pool at our feet.

Kitty Donovan had pressed herself into a corner formed by the steel cabinets. Her hands gripped their edges on either side with white fingers. Her mouth hung slack and her eyes were too big to be real, as though they'd been painted on her face. She was staring at Stan McAlister, who was sprawled on the floor in front of her.

He was on his back. His coat and shirt had been unbuttoned, their pockets turned out, and the contents scattered. There was a nasty bruise on his temple; bad enough, but whoever had hit him had wanted to be sure of things. The blood had oozed from at least a dozen wounds in his chest and one in the neck, where the carving knife was still embedded.

Kitty looked up at us, shivering violently from head to toe. Her lips moved, but only a soft hiccupping came out of them. Her eyes fastened once more onto McAlister's body, then abruptly rolled up in their sockets. With an audible sigh, she dropped gracelessly forward in a faint.

Prev page Next page