Lublin stood at the foot of the stairs and looked at them, and at the gun. To Jill he said, “You’re a damn fool, Rita. I don’t keep cash around the house. Maybe a couple of hundred, no more than that.”
“We’re not looking for money.”
“No?” He looked at Dave, eyes wary. “Then what?”
“Then put the gun away. What kind of information?”
“About Corelli.” He didn’t put the gun away.
“I don’t know him,” Lublin said. “Who is he? And put the gun away.”
The man looked soft, Dave thought, except for the eyes. There was a hardness there that didn’t go with the pudgy body or the round face. “Corelli is dead,” he said.
“I didn’t even know he was sick.”
“You had him killed.”
Lublin was smiling now, with his mouth, not with his eyes. “You made a mistake somewhere,” he said. “I never heard of this Corelli of yours. How could I have him killed?” He spread his hands. “You two oughta relax and go home. What do you want to point a gun at me for? You’re not going to shoot me. What are you? You’re a couple of kids, it’s late, you ought to go home. Then—”
Dave thought, he has to believe it. He has to take it seriously, he has to feel it. But the mood wasn’t right for violence. A plump little man in a bathrobe, talking easily in a calm voice. You couldn’t hit him, not out of the blue.
Jill, he thought. They raped Jill. He fixed the thought very carefully in his mind, and then he stepped forward and raked the barrel of the gun across Lublin’s face. Lublin looked surprised. Dave transferred the gun to his left hand and hit Lublin hard in the mouth with his right. He hit him again, in the chest, and Lublin fell back against the stairs. He sat down there, breathing heavily, holding the back of one hand to his mouth. Blood trickled from his face where the gun barrel had cut him.
“You son of a bitch,” he said.
“Maybe you better start talking.”
“Go to hell.”
Dave said, “Do you think you can take it, old man? You didn’t kill Corelli, you had it done. All I want to know is the names of the men who killed him. You’re going to tell me sooner or later.”
“What’s Corelli to you?”
“He’s nothing to me.”
“Then what do you care who killed him?”
“You don’t have to know.”
Lublin thought this over. He got to his feet slowly, rubbing his mouth with the back of his hand. He avoided Dave’s eyes, centering his gaze a foot below them. He patted the pockets of the robe and said he needed a cigarette. Dave tossed him a pack. Lublin caught the cigarettes, fumbled them, bent to scoop them from the floor. He touched the floor with one hand and came up out of the crouch, leaping for the gun. Dave kicked him in the face, stepped back, kicked him again.
They had to get water from the kitchen and throw it on him. His face was a mess. His mouth was bleeding, two teeth were gone, and one was loose. He got up and found a chair and fell into it. Dave lit a cigarette and gave it to him. Lublin took it and held it, looked at it but didn’t smoke it. Dave said, “Corelli,” and Lublin took a deep drag on the cigarette and coughed.
Then he said, “I knew Corelli. We had dealings now and then.”
Dave didn’t say anything.
“I didn’t have him killed.”
“The hell you didn’t.”
Lublin’s eyes were wide. “Why would I have him hit? What did he ever do to me?”
“He owed you sixty-five thousand dollars.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“From Corelli.” He thought a minute, then added, “And from other people.”
Dave watched his face, watched the eyes trying to decide how to manage the lie, whether to tell none or part of the truth. And he thought suddenly of law school. Techniques in Cross-examination. They didn’t teach you this, he thought. You learned how to make a witness contradict himself, how to trip him up, how to discredit testimony, all of that. But not how to worm information out of a man when you held a gun on him. They taught you how to do it with words, not how to get along when words didn’t work any more.
Lublin said, “He owed me the money;”
“How? In cash.”
“Why did he owe it to you?”
“A gambling debt.”
“So you had him killed when he didn’t pay.”
“Don’t be stupid,” Lublin said. He was more confident now; maybe his face had stopped hurting. “He would have paid. The minute he died I was out the money. He can’t pay me when he’s dead.”
“When did he lose the money?”
“February, March. What’s the difference?”
“Cards. He got in over his head, he borrowed, he couldn’t pay back. That’s all she wrote.”
“What kind of game?”
“Poker. You let him have sixty-five thousand?”
“Fifty. Fifteen gees was interest.”
He thought a minute, and Jill said, “He’s lying, Dave.”
“How do you know?”
“He made two-dollar race bets. You saw the slips. He wouldn’t plunge like that at a card table.”
Lublin said, “Listen, dammit—”
And she said, coolly, “Hit him again, Dave.”
Techniques in Cross-examination. He used the barrel of the gun, raked it across the side of Maurie Lublin’s face. He was careful not to knock him out this time. He just wanted to make it hurt. Lublin winced and tried to shrink back into the chair. Dave hit him again, and the cut bled lightly. It was easy now, mechanical.
“Start over,” he said.
“I loaned him the money. I—”
“The truth, all the way.”
“We were in on a deal.”
“What kind of a deal?”
“Corelli’s deal. There was a warehouse robbery in Yonkers. Instant coffee, a hijacking deal. The heavies who took the place came up with a little better than a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of instant coffee. That’s wholesale. When they got it, they had it set up to push it to an outfit in Detroit for a hundred thou. The thing fell in.”
“So they got in touch with Corelli. Joe handled this kind of a deal before. They didn’t want to play around with the load, they just wanted their money out. He offered fifty grand for the load but they wanted better, it had to be carved up a few ways. They settled for seventy-five.”
“And Joe didn’t have the seventy-five. He could raise ten but anything more was scraping, he couldn’t make it. He came to me and offered me half the gross for sixty-five thousand. My capital and his connections. He had other people on the line, in Pittsburgh, to take the pile off his hands for a hundred and twenty-five thousand, which meant a gross profit of fifty thousand dollars with the whole play figured to take a little less than a month. My share would be twenty-five, and twenty-five less costs for Corelli.”
“You went in with him?”
Lublin half-smiled. “For thirty, not for twenty-five. That still gave Corelli twenty thousand for his ten and nobody was going to give him a better deal. Besides, he didn’t have that much time to shop around. The hijackers were in a hurry. He took my sixty-five and his ten and bought them out. That gave us half the coffee in the world, and Joe had the place to move it, to Pittsburgh.”
“The rest made the papers. This was in March. Corelli hired a trucker. The trucker stopped to make time with a waitress, and the other trucks with him got ahead of him, and this one schmuck got nervous and started speeding to catch up. On the Pennsy Turnpike, in a truck, the son of a bitch is speeding. One of those long-distance trucks and they never speed, they always hold it steady.” He shook his head, still angry with the driver. “So a trooper stopped him and this driver got nervous, and the trooper got suspicious, and the driver pulls a gun and the trooper shoots his head off, like that. They opened the truck and found a load of hot coffee, and they radioed ahead and cut off the other trucks, and that was the shipment, all of it, with the drivers off to jail and the coffee back to the warehouse where it came from in the first place.”
“And you were out the money?”
“We weren’t exactly insured.”
“But why did Corelli owe you the dough?”
“Because it was his fault the deal fell in,” Lublin said. “It was his play. I was investing, and he was supposed to manage it. He was responsible for delivering the load and collecting payment. All I had going was my capital. When it fell in, he owed me my cost, which was sixty-five thousand.” He narrowed his eyes slightly. He said, “I knew he didn’t have it then, because if he had had it he would have carried the deal all by himself, he wouldn’t have cut me in. It wasn’t the kind of debt where I was going to press him for payment. He didn’t have it, and the hell, you don’t get blood from a stone. But he would get it, little by little. He would pay up, and I had no instant need for the money. When he got it he would pay me. In the meanwhile, he owed me. If I needed a favor I could go to him because he owed me. Joe was small but not so small it hurt me to have him owe me favors. That never hurts, it can always be handy.”
“Then why have him killed?”
“I didn’t. That’s the whole point, why I wouldn’t be the one to have him killed. There was nothing personal. It was his fault the deal went sour, sure, but that was nothing personal. And killing him could only cost money without getting any money back. Use your head, why would I kill him?”
“Then who did?”
“I don’t know.”
“But you have ideas.”
“No ideas,” Lublin said.
“He was out his own ten thousand dollars and he owed you sixty-five thousand on top of it. He must have been hungry for big money, and fast. What was he doing?”
“He didn’t tell me.”
“Who was he involved with?”
“I don’t know.”
“He mentioned your name when they went to kill him. He said to tell you he would pay up the money, but they shot him anyway.”
“You were there?”
Maybe it was a mistake to let him know that, he thought. The same mistake as Jill’s mentioning his name. The hell with it.
“He mentioned your name,” he said again. “He thought you were the one who had him killed.”
“I don’t get it. Where do you and the broad come in?”
“We come in right here. Corelli thought you killed him. Why should I think any different?”
“I told you—”
“I know what you told me. Now you have to tell me something else. You have to tell me who had him killed, because that’s something you would know, it’s something you would have to know. Corelli left town three months ago, running for his life. He owed you a pile of money. If anybody owed you that kind of money and skipped town you would know why. He was either running from you or running from somebody else, and either way you would damn well know about it.”
Lublin didn’t say anything.
“You’re going to tell me. I’ve got the gun, and your man over there isn’t going to be any help to you, and I don’t care what kind of a job I have to do on you to get you to talk. I’ll take you apart if I have to. I mean that.”
“How did you get so hard?” Dave looked at him. “You talk too clean, you look too clean. You don’t come on like a hotster. But you got guts like a hotster. Who the hell are you?”
“Nobody you know. Who was Corelli running from?”
“Maybe his shadow.”
A slap this time, openhanded across the face. Lublin’s head snapped back from the blow, and he said something dirty. The back of the hand this time, again across the face, the head snapping back once again, the face flushed where the slaps had landed. Techniques in Cross-examination.
Dave said, “I don’t care who had him killed, whether it was you or somebody else. I’m not looking for the man who gave the order.”
“I’m looking for the two men who did the killing.”
He didn’t answer. Lublin looked at him, then at Jill, then said, “I don’t get it.”
“You don’t have to.”
“You want to know the names of the two men who took Corelli and shot him. The ones hired to hit him.”
“Weil, I don’t know that.”
“If I had him killed,” Lublin said guardedly, “even then I wouldn’t know the actual names of the guns. I would call someone, a friend, and say that there was this Corelli and I wanted him found and killed, and I would pay so much dough to this friend, and that’s all I would know. He might fly a couple of boys all the way in from the West Coast, and they would do the job, make the hit, and then they would be on the next plane back to S.F. or somewhere. Or even local boys, I wouldn’t know their names or who they were.”
“Then tell me who you called.”
“I didn’t call anybody. I was just saying that even if I did I still wouldn’t know the guns.”
“Then tell me who did make the call. Who had Corelli killed?”
“I told you. I don’t know that.”
“I think you do.”
Monotonous Techniques in Cross-examination. It took a long time, a batch of questions, a stonewall of silence, a barrage of pistol-whipping and slapping, a gun butt laid across Lublin’s knee, the barrel of the gun slapped against the side of his jaw. There would be a round of beating, and a round of unanswered questions, and another round of beating.
Jill hardly seemed to be there at all. She stood silent, cigarette now and then, went away once to use the bathroom. Carl never moved and never made a sound. He lay inert on the far side of the room and nobody ever went over to look at him. There was Lublin in the chair and there was Dave with the gun, standing over him, and they went around and around that way.
Until Lublin said, “You’ll kill me. I’m not so young, I’ll have a heart attack. Jesus, you’ll kill me.”
“I swear I did not have him hit. I swear to God I did not have that man hit.”
“Then tell me who did.”
“I can’t tell you.”
“You know who it was.”
“I know but I can’t say.”
Progress. “You don’t have any choice. You have to say, Lublin.”
He did not hit him this time, did not even draw the gun back. Lublin sat for a long moment, thinking. Outside, it was light already. Daylight came in around the edges of the drapes. Maybe Lublin was trying to stall, maybe he thought he could take punishment until somebody showed up. But he was running out of gas. No one had come and he couldn’t take it any more.
“If they find out I told you,” he said, “then I’m dead.”
“They won’t find out. And you’ll be just as dead if you don’t talk.”
He didn’t seem to have heard. In a dull dead voice he said, “Corelli wanted money fast. He owed other people besides me but nothing big, not to anybody else. He was strapped for capital. He couldn’t make fast money legit because his construction operation was down to nothing but the office and the name. He was mostly a middleman anyway and everything he had owned before was tied up now or cleared out. He stripped himself pretty badly getting up the ten grand for the instant-coffee deal.”
“He did a stupid thing. He was stuck and he was up against it, and he knew I wasn’t going to wait forever for the sixty-five thou, not forever, and he needed maybe a hundred grand or better to be completely out from under and able to operate. He got a smart idea, he was going to middleman a hundred grand worth of heroin to someone with a use for it. You understand what I mean?”
“Yes. Where did he get the heroin?”
“He never had it. That was the stupid idea. He was going to sell it without having it, get the money and deliver something else, face powder, anything. It was stupid and he would have gotten himself killed even if he pulled it off, but he maybe figured that with a hundred grand he could get into something good and double the money and pay back before his man tipped to the play, and then he would be back in the clear. It was risky as hell and it didn’t stand a chance. He was sure to get himself killed that way.”
“The man he was dealing with—”
“Who was he?”
“You’ll tell me anyway. Make it easy on yourself.”
“Jesus. It was Washburn. You know him?”
“No. His first name?”
“Ray. Ray Washburn.”
“Where does he live?”
“I don’t know. Up in the Bronx.”
He’s lying, he thought. He said, “You’ve got an address book in the house. Where is it?”
“An address book—”
“Yes. Where is it?”
Lublin was defeated. He said it was upstairs, in the den, and Jill went up for it. He looked under “W” and found a Frank Washburn listed, with a Manhattan address and a telephone number. He said, “You must have gotten the name wrong. It’s Frank Washburn, and he lives in Manhattan. That’s right, isn’t it?”
Lublin didn’t answer.
“All right. He went to Washburn. What happened?”
“Washburn said he would let him know. He checked around, and he found out that Corelli was in hock up to his ears and he couldn’t have the stuff, that it had to be a con. He didn’t let on that he knew, just told Joe he wasn’t interested, that he couldn’t use the stuff. Joe dropped the price still further and Washburn knew it had to be a con then, it couldn’t be anything else at that price, so he just kept on saying he wasn’t interested.
“But the word got around, about what Joe had tried to pull, and Washburn saw it was bad to let him get away with it, if people tried to con him like that and got by with it, he would get a bad name. And he was mad, anyway, because he is not the type of man people set up for stupid con games and Joe should have known this. So he marked Joe for a hit.”
“Who did he hire?”
“I don’t know. If I knew that I would give it to you. I would give it a long time before I would give you Washburn.”
“Why didn’t Corelli know it was Washburn who was after him? Why did he think it was you?”
“Because Washburn turned the deal down. Corelli didn’t know Washburn had it in for him. He thought he just turned the deal down because he had no use for the goods.”
“Then why did he get out of town?”
“Because Washburn sent somebody to make a hit, and Corelli was shot at but the gun missed, and he knew somebody was trying to kill him, and he must have figured it was me because I was the one he owed heavy money to. When somebody’s shooting at you, you don’t look to see the serial number on the gun. You get the hell out of town.”
Dave looked over at Jill. She was nodding thoughtfully. It all made sense. He nodded himself. He looked down at Lublin now and he said, “You’re not calling Washburn. You don’t want to warn him.”
Lublin looked up.
“You took a hell of a beating to keep from giving me his name,” Dave went on. “You don’t want him to know you talked to me. He won’t find out from me. If he finds out, it’ll be from you. You know what he’ll do to you if he finds out, so you don’t want to tell him.”
“I won’t call him.”
“Because I’ll get you myself,” Lublin said. “It may be fast and it may be slow, you son of a bitch, but it is damned well going to happen.” A hand wiped blood from his mouth. “You are going to catch it, you and your pig of a broad. You better get to Washburn very fast, kid, or you won’t get to him at all. Because there’s going to be a whole army with nothing to do but kill you.”
Dave knocked him out. He took him out easily, not angry, not wanting to hurt him, just anxious to put him on ice for the time being. He did it with the gun butt just behind the ear and Lublin did not even try to dodge the blow, did not even shrink from it. Lublin took it, and went back and out, and when Dave poked him he didn’t move.
An army, Lublin had said.
But the army would not include Carl. They checked him before they left and he was still out, all that time, so they checked a little more closely. They saw that the last blow, with the lamp, had caved in the side of his skull. He was dead.