I checked my watch. 10.15. Just time for a quick one. Things seemed clearer when you looked at ‘em through the bottom of a whiskey glass.
I settled down at the same seat I’d been at earlier. A few tables over was a big guy, greasy hair and sweating like a pig. He raised his glass to me as I sat down, and I half nodded back.
A few moments later, the waitress came over, put down a coaster and took my order. She returned with it a minute later. My mind was miles away, and I mumbled some thanks, all the while thinking about the days events. So I didn’t really notice that the greasy guy had picked up his drink and invited himself onto my table. He leered at the waitress as she walked away.
“Now that, my friend, is a fine behind!” he chuckled. “Might see what time she gets off work and see if she wants to earn a little overtime. Know what I mean?”
He raised his glass to me. I half raised mine back and took a drink. I didn’t want any interruptions, certainly not from an oaf like this, so I sure as hell wasn’t going to encourage him.
“Brad Wilkins.” he said. “I’m in commercial plastics. Out here on business for a few days, but no reason why you shouldn’t mix a little pleasure in with it! Am I right?”
He didn’t seem put off by the fact that I was taking no part in this conversation at all. I guessed that wasn’t his first drink of the night.
“I mean, what the wife don’t know, don’t bother her, right? Right? And this hotel got some reasonable looking waitresses. Not too reasonable though. The good looking ones are all pretty high and mighty. You get the plainer ones, and they’re more likely to go the extra mile, y’know? Do some of the kinkier stuff... well let’s just say if I tried it at home, I’d be sleepin’ on the sofa for a week”
He clearly thought this was hilarious, and laughed for a full minute.
He finally stopped, oblivious to look of disgust I was giving him. I was just about to finish my drink and leave when he suddenly slammed down his empty glass.
“Well I’ll be damned,” he said. “Is that who I think it is?”
I looked over at the bar. A party had just walked in. As they turned to order drinks, I recognised it as Lily, Hayden, Jezebel and Kennedy.
“Man, I’ve got every film they ever did.” he said. “And some of them - pretty hard to come by.”
He didn’t strike me as your typical Matt Kennedy fan, but I guess it takes all sorts. He got up from the table, which came as a relief. And talking of relief, I was getting the call of nature, loud and clear.
“I’m gonna go see if I can get her autograph.” said Wilkins as he walked off towards the bar. Me, I headed for the bathroom.
o o o o o
I stared at the sports pages of the paper which had been put in a frame on the wall of the mens room - I guess over the course of an evening you might get to read the whole thing if you drank enough. The words were starting to blur a little - these early mornings were catching up with me. There were a few things I wanted to mull over, and I decided to call it a night. I daren’t risk trying to get into Smith’s room now, but chances are he’d go down for breakfast.
As I zipped up and washed my hands, the first inklings of a plan were starting to form in my mind. Instead of going straight to the lift, I stuck my head out of the front doors. The night doorman was standing there, stamping his feet to get the blood moving.
“Say, buddy, can I ask you something?”
I explained what I needed, and he gave me directions. I scribbled them down in my pocketbook.
With that, I made for the elevator.
Ten minutes later I was in bed and asleep, with a chair jammed underneath the door handle, just in case. You never know what sort of lowlife was wandering around with a lockpick...
o o o o o
Next morning, the alarm woke me at some hellish hour. I couldn’t believe that people actually got up at this sort of time every day. I dragged myself into the shower and eventally came round.
Making sure the picks were in my pocket, I went up to seventeen and tried to lurk as discretely as I could, round the corner from Smith and Floyd’s rooms. Every time I heard a lock go, I’d peer round the corner. The fifth time I did, I hit paydirt. Smith locked the door behind him and took the lift down.
Time was a-pressin’. I was through the door like greased lightning, and headed straight for the safe. It popped at the first time of asking, and there was what I was after. A sheaf of papers in a folder. I thumbed through them until I hit the jackpot. The actual last will and testament of Norm Lillywhite Snr. I chuckled to myself. Why Barclay had thought that this would be any more secure than his own safe? Presumably he figured that Smith would be babysitting it twenty-four hours a day. Luckily for me, even hoodlums have to eat.
Now, I had to be quick.
Slipping the will in my pocket, I shut the safe, locked the door and took the elevator straight to the ground. Then I followed the directions the guy on the door had given me last night. Ten minutes later and the deed was done.
I hoofed it back to the hotel, looked round the dining room door and was glad to see Smith still stuffing his face. I made for the lift, got back in Smith’s room and put things straight in pretty short order. Locking the door on the way out I took time to congratulate myself. I gotta say, when I’m good, I’m really good.
I straightened up and strolled down the corridor back to the elevator feeling pretty smug, when suddenly I remembered that it wasn’t only Smith staying on this floor. I remembered because the door to 1712 opened, and I found myself face to face with Floyd.
I would have sworn but I didn’t have time...
There’s a time for witty quips, there’s a time for getting into a stand up fist fight and there’s a time for pulling a gun. This wasn’t one of those times. This was a time for running like crazy.
I ran. Like crazy.
And being crazy, I ran the wrong way. Dead end. Floyd arrived puffing at the corner of the corridor, realised he’d got me trapped and bent double, getting his breath back. I’d got about ten seconds before I got pulped. Much as I hated doing it, sometimes you gotta pull a gun on a guy. Then again, if you’re gonna pull a gun on a guy, make sure you haven’t left it in your sock drawer...
Now I swore.
Clearly, swearing helps your brain to do it’s stuff, ‘cos suddenly I had a brainwave.
“FIRE!”, I yelled, and started hammering on the nearest door. “FIIIIIRE!!” All along the corridor, doors started opening. “FIRE!” I yelled again. “RUN!”
Floyd suddenly got engulfed by a dozen or more people in various states of undress and I was one of them. By the time he picked himself up of the floor, I was already two flights of stairs down. Hopes of keeping my cover any longer had gone out of the window, but hey! I’d done pretty good to manage this far, right?
I stopped running when I got to the lobby. Well that’s where the stairs stopped, so I figured I would too. While I was getting my breath back, I saw Chastity coming out of the dining room. I caught her arm and steered her into the bar, weaving round the cleaner.
“Things,” I said. “Are looking up. Now what time is everything happening tonight?”
“Really. You think it’ll be ok?”
“I do. The trick is going to be figuring out exactly who’s behind it.”
“Ok,” she said. “Well, the plan tonight is that the family leave about 10pm - we’ve got a car coming. We get to the film set at about 11.00pm, and then I believe the will’s being read on one of the soundstages. Mr Barclay’s taken care of all the details.”
She looked at me.
“Are you really sure he’s got something to do with this? I’ve just had breakfast with him - he seems such a nice man. Look, there he is - he doesn’t look like a fraudster,”
She pointed at the man walking out of the dining room. I might not have seen his face while I’d been in the hotel, but I’d certainly seen it before.
I was looking at the so-called ‘Scofield’.
Well, well, well.
The plot, as they say, thickened. It thickened like someone had dumped a ton of cornflour in it.
o o o o o
Chastity said that she had to go. I sat down in what I was coming to think of as ‘my seat’ to consider my next move. ‘Scofield’, or Barclay was definitely in it up to his neck, and probably some way past that. I needed to find out what was behind it all.
I sat and stared at the empty bar while I turned things over, and my mind wandered back to last night. I hoped the waitress had managed to avoid that greasy scumbag. I still thought it was bizarre that he was a fan of some teenybopper film star. What on earth had he wanted with Kennedy’s autograph?
Then I stopped. Wait a second. What was it he’d said?
“I’m gonna go see if I can get her autograph.”
“I’ve got every film they ever did... And some of them - pretty hard to come by.”
Every film they ever did?
I needed some help. Floyd would have found Smith by now, so it was time for me to be someplace else. I hurried across the lobby and went east a couple of blocks until I found a convenience store with a payphone. I bought some gum and asked for a shedload of dimes in change and then went back to the phone. I looked at my watch. It was still only 8.30 - chances are he might not even be up yet, but business was business. I dialled.
“Hello?” said a remarkably alert voice. Clearly I was the only one who thought this was a ridiculous time to be awake. Then I remembered - it was 11.30am in New York.
“It’s Able. I need some info - no favours this time. I’m paying and I need the full service.”
“Ok,” he said. “Whaddya need?”
“Two things. First, a lawyer named William Barclay. Works out of NYC. Been the family lawyer for the Lillywhite’s for decades. He’s got some dirty laundry stashed away and I need to know what it is, sharpish.”
“Ok, what else.”
“Bit of a long shot,” I said. “Lily or Jezebel Lillywhite. I need to know if they’ve ever had anything to do with the film industry, and if so, what? And I need it all by six o’clock tonight.”
“Then I’d better start digging.” said Flint. “Call me back on this number at six, your time”
He hung up.
I tapped the cradle and placed a second call to the NYC Eighteenth Precinct.
“Hi,” I said when I got the operator. “Do you know if Pat O’Halloran is working today, please?”
Turned out he was. The girl put me through.
“Pat? It’s Chuck Able.”
“Chuck? Social call?”
“Nope, this is serious, Pat. I need a favour.”
“Sure,” said O’Halloran. “Shoot.”
I explained the situation, and what I needed him to do.
“Ok,” he said. “I’ll see what I can do. You take care now.”
“Will do.” I said, and hung up.
I figured that for now, I was best avoiding the hotel. Smith and Floyd would be after my hide. And besides, there wasn’t much that I could do for a while.
I decided to see if Gina did breakfast. Turned out she did.