Читать книгу The Brass Rainbow - Michael Collins


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Страница 1

Michael Collins

The brass rainbow

1

Sammy Weiss once made seventeen passes in a row in a crap game where “two bits” meant twenty-five dollars, not a quarter. It was the event of his life, and they still tell the story around the Village and Lower East Side. It does not impress me. I was there.

But Sammy never forgot that once, briefly, he had been a big man. He was being the big man now where he sat in the only other chair in my one-room office.

“You swear I was with you twelve noon to two P.M.,” Weiss said, “and it’s a C-note for you.”

He was expansive, come to buy the services of a poor detective, but his shadowed Levantine eyes did not look at me. Weiss is short, fat and soft, and his eyes never look at anyone. He wears a clean shirt, but his suits never fit. His floral ties sport a diamond stickpin that went out of style long ago. His overcoat is too long and has a fur collar. The fur shows bare hide where it has rubbed so long against his fat neck.

“Make it two hundred,” he said. “I was with you, right?”

“You haven’t had two hundred at one time in ten years,” I said. “And I don’t buy.”

“Danny the Pirate, he’s so honest?”

The old nickname showed how long Weiss has known me. A relic of the ancient career in juvenile thievery that had cost me my arm. Unrecorded history, I’ve got no police record. All I have is a missing arm and old acquaintances like Weiss.

“I lost my arm, not my brains. My mother didn’t raise me to sell an alibi for two bills, and not in the dark.”

“Your mother I could of bought for a dollar!”

I closed my eyes. A cold wind was blowing down the air-shaft and through my single window. A Siberian blast that made my stump ache. I opened my eyes. You can’t really feel better by hitting a man weaker than you. At least, I never could. Maybe that’s why I never made my mark in the world.

“Hell, Danny, I’m sorry,” Weiss said.

He had begun to sweat. It was ten degrees outside, and not much higher in the office, but his face shined with sweat like a pale wet moon. Just as it had done years ago on his big night.

Weiss had begun with ten dollars, let the pot ride, and after his fifteenth straight pass there was $163,840 in that pot. Two more passes, maybe one, would have broken the game. That is the crapshooter’s dream: to be the last man at a long table in an empty room, stacking his money.

I remember the stink of his sweat-soaked clothes as the gamblers waited. I can see his hands shaking as he reached to drag $160,000 from that pot, and hear him croaking, “Craps coming, I got the hunch. Crap this time for sure.”

Crap had not come. He made two more passes before he crapped out, and when he walked out on stiff legs he left the game badly bent but not broken. The hard-faces smiled. They knew. Weiss walked out rich, but not a winner. He had won a battle; other men were going to win the war.

Now I said, gently for a born loser, “What trouble is it?”

“I don’t know, Danny,” he said, his hat held in both hands like a suppliant before a priest. “Freedman’s after me.”

He shuddered as if in pain. For Weiss, Detective Second Grade Bert Freedman was pain.

“You know,” I said. “Tell it.”

He looked at the ceiling as if trying to find some way of not knowing. “I went up to this guy in the Sixties: Jonathan Radford III. He got a nephew: Walter Radford IV. Like kings they got numbers.” He tried to grin to make it all okay. “Anyway, Walter owes me $25,000 from a big poker game. I go to collect from the uncle, see? A girl opens the door and sends me to a kind of office. This Radford don’t even turn around. He’s by the open window, breathing! Silk robe! The big man. He lets me cool my heels a while. I say where’s my money? He turns around, fast-like. He says no payoff! He says I can go whistle. He curses me out. So I throws a bluff at him, see? I say there’ll be trouble, heads maybe get broken. He comes on me like he’s nuts! He grabs me. He musses me up. I swing on him, maybe once. He goes over and just lies there. I mean, he don’t get up. So I go to turn him over, when he starts groaning. I got scared. I beat it.”

He stopped. I waited.

“That’s all of it?” I said.

“What else? I mean, he went over, he was groaning, and I beat it,” Weiss said. “Look, the doorman saw me go in, maybe one look. He wasn’t there when I went out. One old lady in the lobby saw me going out fast, and that girl saw me when I went in. She didn’t hardly look at me. How can they be sure? You tell Freedman I was with you, and it’s us against Radford. A lot of guys look like me. He made a mistake.”

It was so stupid, so full of holes, it was pitiful. An animal running blindly from a forest fire.

“Sammy,” I said, “Radford knows your name.”

“He don’t!” Sammy said triumphantly. “I never told him.”

“Then how do the police know?”

“I figure he give a description. Freedman hears that and comes after me first off.”

“How do you know Freedman wants you?”

“I got friends. I made my window a jump ahead of the Cossack golem two hours ago. I shook him.”

“Maybe it’s something else.”

“I ain’t done nothing else. Gimme an alibi, Danny?”

“No. Go in. See what Freedman’s got. Don’t mention Radford until they do. If it is Radford, he started the fight.”

“He’s a blueblood, Danny, rich. Who listens to Sammy Weiss? They’ll drop a year on me at least. I can’t take it inside. All you got to do is alibi me. I know how it works. Our word against his. Only it’s got to be two of us.”

“No,” I said. “It wouldn’t help, and it’d hang me.”

His moon face looked straight at me for almost the first time. “Okay, Dan, sure. Only go talk to the guy. Make him tell he started it. Talk to Freedman, you know? Tell him I got friends. Look, I ain’t got two C-notes. I can get maybe fifty bucks.”

“Freedman would laugh at me, and how do I prove this Radford hit first? What can I do, Sammy? Go in to the Lieutenant, skip Freedman. Tell your side of it straight.”

He blinked at me. He got up. His lower lip quivered. He put on his hat and walked out. A small, fat man with a ragged fur collar and a diamond stickpin. A small man who walked small and who knew it.

For a year after the night that had been his triumph and his tragedy, Weiss had walked tall. He spent, or lost, that $160,000 in the year to prove how tall he was. All he proved was that he was not tall at all. His moment had come and he had failed it. Most men fail their big moment, but most can evade the knowledge of their failure. Weiss could not evade.

He had not crapped out on the sixteenth roll. He had rolled two more passes, and those two useless passes would haunt Weiss forever. They proved he did not have what it took. So he bluffs. His cow eyes tell the world that the next time he will let the pot ride all the way. He doesn’t even fool himself. He knows he will always quit two passes too soon. Freedman probably wanted him for something about as important as rolling dice in public.

I hauled on my duffle coat and went out to eat.

On the dark street the wind blew a spray of old snow. I hunched inside my collar and headed for Eighth Avenue. As I neared the corner, I saw Weiss talking to a tallish, redheaded woman. She wore thick stage make-up, and black-net stage tights showed from under her fur coat. Her hair was almost orange and piled high. Weiss got into a taxi with her.

I went down to the Sevilla and had a paella. I thought about Marty, my woman. Marty was down in Philadelphia with a new show, so I thought about Sammy Weiss. I thought about his story, and a small point stuck out after a time and bothered me. If this Radford, or his nephew, owed Weiss $25,000, how could Sammy say that no one at Radford’s apartment knew his name? It made no sense.

I finished my dinner and went over to Boyle’s Tavern, where Joe Harris was working.

“You hear about Sammy Weiss winning $25,000?” I asked Joe.

“I ain’t heard of him winning twenty-five cents,” Joe said, and poured. Joe always slips me my first Irish free. “Where would Weiss get the stake to win that much, or the nerve to play for it anymore?”

“Yeh,” I said.

I wondered what Weiss had really pulled, or tried to. I didn’t wonder too hard. Not then.

2

I woke up to pounding on my outside door. My watch read six-thirty. The dawn light was gray, and the temperature in my bedroom was like the arctic tundra.

I shivered out of bed and grabbed my robe. I turned on the oven and two of my gas heaters. With my income I can choose between one warm room or five cold ones. I like space, but it’s a discouraging choice. While I lighted the heaters and wished I could afford five warm rooms without rearranging my psyche to fit the needs of the corporations, the pounding on my door did not let up.

I opened the door on Detective Bert Freedman. He was a short, stocky man with shoulders like a bear. He walked in without being invited, producing a warrant, or saying hello. It was a technical point I let pass. Freedman started a tour of my rooms.

I plugged in my coffeepot. Men who live alone too long, or live in too many places where no one knows them, develop habits instead of friends. A ready pot of coffee was my welcome to a new

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