Bill Pronzini: Scenarios

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Bill Pronzini Scenarios
  • Название:
    Scenarios
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    Криминальный детектив / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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Scenarios: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Bill Pronzini


Scenarios

It's a Lousy World

Colly Babcock was shot to death on the night of September 9, in an alley between Twenty-ninth and Valley streets in the Glen Park District of San Francisco. Two police officers, cruising, spotted him coming out the rear door of Budget Liquors there, carrying a metal box. Colly ran when he saw them. The officers gave chase, calling out for him to halt, but he just kept running; one of the cops fired a warning shot, and when Colly didn't heed it the officer pulled up and fired again. He was aiming low, trying for the legs, but in the half-light of the alley it was a blind shot. The bullet hit Colly in the small of the back and killed him instantly.

I read about it the following morning over coffee and undercooked eggs in a cafeteria on Taylor Street, a block and a half from my office. The story was on an inside page, concise and dispassionate; they teach that kind of objective writing in the journalism classes. Just the cold facts. A man dies, but he's nothing more than a statistic, a name in black type, a faceless nonentity to be considered and then forgotten along with your breakfast coffee.

Unless you knew him.

Unless he was your friend.

Very carefully I folded the newspaper and put it into my coat pocket. Then I stood from the table, went out to the street. The wind was up, blowing in off the Bay; rubble swirled and eddied in the Tenderloin gutters. The air smelled of salt and dark rain and human pollution.

I walked into the face of the wind, toward my office.

"How's the job, Colly?"

"Oh, fine, just fine."

"No problems?"

"No, none at all."

"Stick with it, Colly."

"Sure. I'm a new man."

"Straight all the way?"

"Straight all the way."

Inside the lobby of my building, I found an out-of-order sign taped to the closed elevator doors. Yeah, that figured. I went around to the stairs, up to the second floor and along the hallway to my office.

The door was unlocked, standing open a few inches. I tensed when I saw it like that, and reached out with the tips of my fingers and pushed it all the way open. But there was no trouble.

The woman sitting in the chair in front of my desk had never been trouble for anyone.

Colly Babcock's widow.

I moved inside, shut the door and crossed toward her.

"Hello, Lucille."

Her hands were clasped tightly in the lap of a plain black dress. She said, "The man down the hall, the CPA — he let me in. He said you wouldn't mind."

"I don't mind."

"You heard, I guess? About Colly?"

"Yes," I said. "What can I say, Lucille?"

"You were his friend. You helped him."

"Maybe I didn't help him enough."

"He didn't do it," Lucille said. "He didn't steal that money. He didn't do all those robberies like they're saying."

"Lucille…"

"Colly and I were married thirty-one years," she said. "Don't you think I would have known?"

I did not say anything.

"I always knew," she said.

I sat down, looking at her. She was a big woman, handsome — a strong woman. There was strength in the line of her mouth, and in her eyes, round and gray, tinged with red now from the crying. She had stuck by Colly through two prison terms and twenty-odd years of running, and hiding, and looking over her shoulder. Yes, I thought, she would always have known.

But I said, "The papers said Colly was coming out the back door of the liquor store carrying a metal box. The police found a hundred and six dollars in the box, and the door jimmied open."

"I know what the papers said, and I know what the police are saying. But they're wrong. Wrong."

"He was there, Lucille."

"I know that," she said. "Colly liked to walk in the evenings. A long walk and then a drink when he came home; it helped him to relax. That was how he came to be there."

I shifted position on my chair, not speaking.

Lucille said, "Colly was always nervous when he was doing burglaries. That was one of the ways I could tell. He'd get irritable, and he couldn't sleep."

"He wasn't like that lately?"

"You saw him a few weeks ago," she said. "Did he look that way to you?"

"No," I said, "he didn't."

"We were happy," Lucille said. "No more running. And no more waiting. We were truly happy."

My mouth felt dry. "What about his job?"

"They gave Colly a raise last week. A fifteen-dollar raise. We went to dinner to celebrate, down on the Wharf."

"You were getting along all right on what he made?" I said. "Nothing came up?"

"Nothing. We even had a little bank account started." She bit her lower lip. "We were going to Hawaii next year, or the year after. Colly always wanted to go to Hawaii."

I looked at my hands. They seemed big and awkward resting on the desk top; I took them away and put them in my lap. "These Glen Park robberies started a month and a half ago," I said. "The police estimate the total amount taken at close to five thousand dollars. You could get to Hawaii pretty well on that kind of money."

"Colly didn't do those robberies," she said.

What could I say? God knew, and Lucille knew, that Colly had never been a saint; but this time she was convinced he'd been innocent. Nothing, it seemed, was going to change that in her eyes.

I got a cigarette from my pocket and made a thing of lighting it. The smoke added more dryness to my mouth. Without looking at her, I said, "What do you want me to do, Lucille?"

"I want you to prove Colly didn't do what they're saying he did."

"I'd like nothing better, you know that. But how can I do it? The evidence — "

"Damn the evidence!" Her wide mouth trembled with the sudden emotion. "Colly was innocent, I tell you! I won't have him buried with this last mark against his name. I won't have it."

"Lucille, listen to me…"

"I won't listen," she said. "Colly was your friend. You stood up for him with the parole board. You helped him find his job. You talked to him, gave him guidance. He was a different man, a new man, and you helped make him that way. Will you sit here and tell me you believe he threw it all away for five thousand dollars?"

I didn't say anything; I still could not meet her eyes. I stared down at the burning cigarette in my fingers, watching the smoke rise, curling, a gray spiral in the cold air of the office.

"Or don't you care whether he was innocent or not?" she said.

"I care, Lucille."

"Then help me. Find out the truth."

"All right," I said. Her anger and grief, and her absolute certainty that Colly had been innocent, had finally got through to me; I could not have turned her down now if there had been ten times the evidence there was. "All right, Lucille, I'll see what I can do."

It was drizzling when I got to the Hall of Justice. Some of the chill had gone out of the air, but the wind was stronger now. The clouds overhead looked black and swollen, ready to burst.

I parked my car on Bryant Street, went past the sycamores on the narrow front lawn, up the concrete steps and inside. The plainclothes detective division, General Works, was on the fourth floor; I took the elevator. Eberhardt had been promoted to lieutenant not too long ago and had his own private office now, but I caught myself glancing over toward his old desk. Force of habit; it had been a while since I'd visited him at the Hall.

He was in and willing to see me. When I entered his office he was shuffling through some reports and scowling. He was my age, pushing fifty, and he seemed to have been fashioned of an odd contrast of sharp angles and smooth, blunt planes: square forehead, sharp nose and chin, thick and blocky upper body, long legs and angular hands. Today he was wearing a brown suit that hadn't been pressed in a month; his tie was crooked; there was a collar button missing from his shirt. And he had a fat, purplish bruise over his left eye.

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