The enchanted isle, p.10
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       The Enchanted Isle, p.10
 

           James M. Cain
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  “Yeah. And I’d go to jail for Mandy.”

  “You could stay there and stay there and stay there.”

  “If they have that much time.”

  “He’ll do. This guy is elected.”

  Mr. Wilmer went over and took Steve by the hand. He said, “Steve, my hat’s off to you.” Mother went over and kissed him. I kissed him.

  14

  NEXT WAS TO FIGURE out how we would do to get the thing in the works, and Mr. Clawson said Steve should stay there, right in his office with him, while he called the state’s attorney with his item of news. But while the discussion went on, he wanted me out of the way, as well as Mother and Mr. Wilmer, until the time would come for me to “do my stuff,” as he put it. But at the same time he wanted me near, so I would be on call and get there quick when told. That way, he said, no time would be lost, “and we could wrap it up, right here, this afternoon.” So Mr. Wilmer suggested a hotel, where we could be in a suite and at the same time be ready to come “as soon as we get your call and you give us the word.” So lo and behold, we walked around the corner, Mother and Mr. Wilmer and I, to the same old hotel Rick and I had stopped at two nights before. Mr. Wilmer asked for sitting room, bedroom, and bath but, of course, had no luggage, as the car was still on the parking lot and he hadn’t bothered to get it just to take us a block or two. So he took out his wallet to pay or show his credit card or whatever he meant to do, but the clerk held up his hand to stop him. He said, “Please, Mr. Wilmer! We don’t have such rules for you.”

  What it means to be a big shot.

  So the suite was even fancier than the room Rick and I had had, and as soon as the bellboy went Mother took off the green so it wouldn’t get mussed and stretched out on the chaise lounge in her black pantyhose, black shoes, and black bra, like in Playboy magazine—’specially around the bra and what she had in it, which was plenty. Mr. Wilmer threw me a wink, and maybe I winked back, but I didn’t take off my dress. Then he sat me down on the sofa and asked what was my favorite poem. I said, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

  “Really? Why?”

  “It sends shivers down my back.”

  “You know it?”

  “Some of it. Not all. It’s awful long.”

  “Let’s hear you recite what you know.”

  It seemed like a funny idea, but turned out he had a reason, as he later explained to me, which I’ll tell all in due course, when I get to it. However, anything to please, and I commenced giving out. And he commenced watching me, not only listening but watching, as though he was seeing something about me that I didn’t know about. When I came to the line “I shot the albatross,” who got in it but Mother. “I’ll say she did!” she popped off, and I’m telling you that broke it up. We all three got to laughing so I couldn’t go on. So then, of course, we had kisses, and I had to kneel beside Mother to sniff her and touch her and feel how pretty she was. I said, “It’s a mess from beginning to end, and I hate myself that I ever got into it. And yet it’s almost been worth it, to bring me at last so close to my wonderful mother.”

  “Yes, Darling, and I’ve been thinking the same.”

  He sat on the edge of the chaise, holding one of her hands, while I kept kissing the other, and that’s how we were when the phone rang. He answered, then said, “Steve’s on his way up. Sally, get yourself dressed.”

  She took her time, as she always did, getting up from the chaise and sashaying into the bedroom, but at lease the door was closed when Steve sounded the buzzer. Mr. Wilmer let him in, and he burst out very excited, talking to both of us but looking mainly at me, “They’re on their way over, Mr. Clawson, guy name of Haynes from the state’s attorney’s office, couple of detectives, a police stenographer, a guy from the bank, and a guy from the insurance company. But, Mandy, I put it over. It’s what I ducked out to tell you before they get here. They didn’t want any piece of a deal, tried to break me, tried to make me spell it regardless, and, hey, they handled me rough. But Mr. Clawson kept looking at me, like trying to telegraph something, which he couldn’t tell me about by whispering in my ear, as it would look like he was coaching me, which would have loused us, of course. Then at last I got it: no insurance man was there. But, the insurance company, of course, was the one under the boom. If the money was not recovered, they were the ones had to pay. So once I caught on to that, did I let them have it! I said, ‘So you don’t want money at all, just this person’s blood, so you see justice done? My, how noble of you. I’m fainting from admiration.’ Then I faced the guy from the bank, a vice president name of Clark, and cussed him out by the book. Then I said, ‘Will you kindly stop being funny? You want me to name this person, that’s Jake with me, but I do it to Mr. Big, not you. Get your bondsman in here! I won’t spill it to nobody else! If he wants blood, OK, but could be he’d rather have dough.’

  “I’d played the right card, I could feel it, and when I looked at Mr. Clawson, he had this smile on his face. The rest of it went fast. The insurance man was called and got there in just a few minutes, little guy name of Richter. And when he got the straight of it all, what he said to Clark made what I said sound like a Sunday school. He really went to town, telling him what he’d forgotten, that unless he took all possible steps to help in the money’s recovery, ‘your goddam bond is canceled.’ And that did it. Mr. Clawson insisted they call a judge to get court approval by phone for immunity, but then at last the deal was made. That’s when I slipped out, like to the little boy’s room, to hightail it over here so I could tell you myself. Mandy, I did it. It was me.”

  I went over and kissed him. Mother had come in by then, in time to hear the last of it, and she patted him on the head. Mr. Wilmer gave him a wave of the hand. When the phone rang he took it and told us, “They’re on their way up.”

  Real quick Steve said, “Mandy?”

  “Yes, Steve?”

  “Kind of put it on me. You know?”

  But Mr. Wilmer said “Steve” real sharp.

  “Yes, sir?”

  “Quit telling her what to say. It’s up to her who she puts it on. She’s in enough trouble already without any help from you.”

  “OK.”

  We sat down again on the sofa, me in the middle, Steve on one side, Mr. Wilmer on the other, each of them holding one of my hands. When the buzzer sounded Mother opened the door. She didn’t look like Playboy anymore, but more like the Ladies’ Home Journal, from being so elegant. And the black gloves topped it all off. They were cotton and elbow-length, but instead of wearing them she carried them, occasionally pulling them through one hand so she was oh, oh, oh, so casual, as though it was all of no real importance. And if you ask me, that helped. She let in quite a bunch, giving them each a separate smile, very friendly and warm: a bald-headed guy named Haynes, the assistant state’s attorney in charge of the case; a woman in police uniform, carrying a stenotype case; two detectives, one carrying a tape recorder, the other cans of tape; a middle-aged man from the bank, introduced as Mr. Clark; a small, gray-haired man from Patapsco Mutual, introduced as Mr. Richter. And, of course, Mr. Clawson, who did the introducing.

  So Mr. Haynes no sooner saw Steve than he commenced bawling him out “for giving me the slip,” but Mr. Clawson cut him off. He said, “Jack, slipping over here first to help you out on this case is not giving you the slip! I suggest you quit hacking at him for what at worst was a breach of protocol, amounting to nothing. So he should have asked your permission to leave. So OK. Let’s get on.”

  “Then, I stand corrected.”

  He wasn’t too nice about it, but it gave me quite a buzz that even a state’s attorney would back down to Mr. Clawson. However, he kept on talking to Steve, “All right, Baker, where’s the guy?”

  “What guy, Mr. State’s Attorney?”

  “The one involved in this case?”

  “I didn’t say guy. I said person. Right here.”

  He held up my hand after kissing it, and Mr. Haynes stared, hardly able to speak. Then he s
aid, “The...person? Is a girl? Is that girl?”

  “That’s right, Mr. Haynes. Just gives you a nice rough idea how wrong a tree it is that you’ve been barking up.”

  Mr. Haynes asked me, “What’s your name?”

  “Amanda Vernick. Mandy, they call me.”

  “Well, well, well!”

  “I drove the getaway car.”

  He kept staring at me, but during that the phone rang, and Mr. Wilmer, after answering, told him, “It’s for you.”

  He said hello and right away took a looseleaf notebook from his pocket and wrote in it with a ballpoint. He asked questions like “When was this?” and “What hotel?” and at last hung up. Turning back to us he said, “We could even say chasing my tail. They found Vanny Rossi in the Rogers Hotel on West Fayette Street dead from an overdose of heroin. But the checkout showed he’d been in that room for a week, without leaving it once. So it’s clear: he didn’t drive that car.”

  “I told you, sir. I did.”

  “Then you’re a friend of Vito Rossi’s?”

  “No, sir, I don’t know him.”

  “But he helped out in the bank. He held the basket the money was thrown in. The girl, the teller who handled it, picked him out from one of our mug shots.”

  “She made a mistake. The guy looked like Rick.”

  “Who’s Rick?”

  “The boy who did hold the basket.”

  “How do you know Vito Rossi looked like him?”

  “From his picture, the one that was in the paper.”

  “Oh. Oh, that’s right, so it was.”

  It was hard prying him loose from the idea the Rossis were in it, even with one of them dead, but at last Mr. Clawson said, “Jack, why don’t you let her get on? Tell you what actually happened? I assure you, from even the little I know, she was there, she knows, and can clear the thing up in ten minutes. So far as the tree goes, your tail, and the false scent the police have been on, it’s happened before and reflects no discredit on anyone, especially after that girl, from overeagerness to help, made her mistake on that picture. Mandy, if you’ll let her, can clear everything up.”

  “OK, Mandy, start clearing.”

  They set it up then for me. I moved to one end of the sofa, with Mr. Haynes at the other, both with mikes on our chests, and the tape recorder between. On the cocktail table in front of us the girl set her stenotype machine and sat on the floor beside it, so they had me two ways, on tape and on stenotype. Why, don’t ask me, I don’t know. The detectives, the bank man, and the insurance man all gathered around, some sitting, some standing, while Mother sat near me, holding my hand, on a chair by the sofa, while Steve and Mr. Wilmer stood by. Mr. Haynes said, “Mandy, will you give your name, age, and home address into the mike, and then go on in your own words and tell what happened Tuesday. What led to it and what it led to.”

  So I did, almost the way I’d already told it three times, to Steve, Mr. Wilmer, and that same day to Mr. Clawson, except that I left stuff out, though not to speak untruth. Like, on why I left home I said, “I was kind of fed up, like with school and A-square plus B-square, and decided to visit my father a while.” That was all and everyone nodded, like A-square plus B-square would kind of feed anyone up. So, except for the algebra, I didn’t put it on either one, Steve or Mother, I mean. And about my father I said, “I called him that night, but me shacking with Rick kind of loused it, my moving in with him.” And about the mink coat I said, “I wanted it, wanted it bad, as I wanted my father to know I wasn’t mooching off him.” And about Pal and Bud I said, “Mr. Haynes, I don’t know if you ever faced guns, but I tell you one thing: the butt of one sticking out, a blue butt in an armpit holster, is going to talk louder to you than anything you ever heard.” And about Rick I said, “I bear him no ill will, but I’m sick and tired of this thing, and I want to help all I can to get it all the way cleared up and get that money back, as I think can be done if you handle it right with him, with Rick I’m talking about, so he cooperates. I’m doing him a favor, I feel, by telling it all like it was, so the word can go out to him, so he’ll read in the papers about it and then go and give himself up, so he’ll be shut of it too. So OK, Mr. Haynes, that’s all. I’ve told it like it was, partly to wind the thing up, and partly for Rick’s own sake.”

  “OK, Mandy, thanks.”

  In between it had come out about Mother’s remarriage, which was mainly due, I said, “to this wonderful man, Mr. Wilmer, trying to make it up to her for her upset at losing me.” They all kind of bowed very friendly, first to her, and then to Mr. Wilmer; a little extra for him, I thought, as he was a very big wheel. When I finished, the question of money came up, and I had to hand over the balance of what I had left in my handbag from what I had grabbed from the floor of the car, less what I’d spent on the coat, meals, and bus fare. Then the coat was brought up, and they decided an officer should “impound it,” as Mr. Haynes said, as evidence, after going to Hyattsville. But then Mother got in it, protesting, “Evidence of what? It was not part of the crime, but it is a beautiful thing, and to have it kicking around in some kind of locker under the tender care of policemen.”

  “Something wrong with them?” asked a detective.

  “Everything, from a mink coat’s point of view.” Then, very snappish: “It’s the woman’s angle, of course, but I remind you, it’s her coat.”

  “It was bought with stolen money.”

  “Just the same, it was bought!”

  They had it some more, but then Mr. Clawson got in it. He said. “Jack, technically speaking, Mrs. Wilmer is right. It’s not evidence of anything the indictment will cover, assuming we get that far. So far as the money goes, the money she found in the car that she used to pay for this coat, Ben Wilmer has already agreed to make good whatever it amounts to, which covers the coat and any turpitude it involves. If you want, we’ll stipulate.”

  “For the time being, then, OK.”

  “It’ll be there, don’t worry, in case.”

  It was decided that I’d be released in Mother’s custody, and then they all got up. Mr. Haynes told me, “OK, Mandy. The lady will type this up today, and then tomorrow you can come in to my office in City Hall and sign. Mr. Clawson will bring you over.”

  “Will do. And thanks, Jack, for being so decent.”

  They left to call the FBI and get them started looking for Rick, and to go on their teletype to police all over the country.

  Then at last we were alone, Mother, Mr. Wilmer, Steve, and I, but Mother had barely started. She ran with real quick steps, her bottom all aquiver, to the phone and gave the girl a number. I felt my heart go bump, as I recognized it at once as Vernick’s. A man’s voice came on and she started to talk. She brought him up to date, telling how things stood, real quick, and went on, “Ed, Mandy handled it beautifully and really gave you a break. She said not one word about the rotten way you treated her or the things you alleged about me. They’ll be calling you, especially the papers will, but I’m telling you, Ed, one crack from you out of line, and I’m letting you have it. You may have forgotten, but I don’t, that you owe me nine thousand six hundred and fifty dollars, and that under Maryland law you can be jailed until it’s paid.” Then he must have said something mean, because she listened and then went on. “I don’t care what proof you have, what proof you think you have. I’ll move in just the same. And I suggest that you think this over: I’ll be the plaintiff, you the defendant, when my suit comes to trial, and proof or no proof, though the plaintiff’s lawyer takes a contingent fee, the defendant’s has to be paid, in cash, before he goes to court. He wants a retainer, as it’s called. So unless you want to shell out that retainer, you talk right when they call you today. But why must you talk at all? Ed, Mandy has treated you decently, not saying a word, not one, about the rotten reception you gave her, and I appeal to your decency now, before hitting you with a brick. But if you don’t have any decency, Ed, I just happen to have a brick. That’s all I wanted to say. Ed, did you hear me?


  When she hung up she was hysterical, and Mr. Wilmer, Steve, and I all had to take turns calming her. But at last she was quiet and said, “It wasn’t myself I was thinking of, but of us, Ben, and our marriage. Because if he starts shooting his mouth off, even if not one word of it’s true, I can’t go home anymore. Oh, dear God, beat some sense in his head!”

  15

  MR. WILMER BEGGED ME to stay with him and Mother there in the suite at the hotel, where they decided to spend the weekend, or part of the next week, until things would be settled in Baltimore. He said the suite could be enlarged by unlocking the door to a bedroom, and then I would be there with them. And I have to omit I was tempted to stay again in that hotel, with my own color TV and all, wearing Mother’s nighties and having lunch in the coffee shop. But even more I wanted to be with Steve and thank him for what he had done, on account that at last I had a father who took up for me. So I drove home with him in his car, a Chevy, the way we had come over. On the way, we had dinner in a new place near Laurel, and I told him how I felt. I said: “It’s so funny, here a week ago I was mad, at you and also at Mother, and sure that Vernick was the answer, that he would take me in. And now it’s all come opposite. You’re my father at last, and Mother’s my mother at last, and Vernick’s just a rat. How can that be?”

  “Well, look at me. I was ready to jump off the roof. I mean I wanted to die, ’stead of which I drunk me some beer. Then when I opened my eyes you were there.”

  “It’s all backwards.”

  “OK, and I’m glad it’s that way.”

  “Steve, you mean it’s all for the best?”

  “I hope it is. We don’t know yet.”

  “You’re talking about Rick?”

  “He’s the wild deuce in our deck.”

  “But they’ll get him, don’t you think?”

  “Yes, but will they get the money?”

  “And that’s important?”

  “It’s the whole story, Mandy.”

  “Anyhow, tomorrow should tell the tale.”

 
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