Blind Woman’s Bluff

Michael Paulson


BLIND WOMAN’S BLUFF Copyright 2014 by Michael Paulson, all rights reserved. No portion of this novel may be duplicated, transmitted, or stored in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.


Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.


This is a work of fiction. All characters, events, and locations are fictitious or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or people is coincidental.

“A Doll’s Tale”

Where the fuck’re my Bling-blings?”

The screaming man was Harry Steiner. He was short, thin, and slightly built with olive-white skin. His skull was enormous, shaped like a slightly flattened volleyball. His black hair was cut in bowl-fashion, the fringes of which hung below a rumpled, aluminum-foil cap.

“Please don’t hit me again!”

The plea came from Meri Darling. She was a twenty-something model-type; tall, gaunt, blue-eyed and bottled blonde. The scent of lavender floated around her denim-clad form. It mixed with Meri’s fear and sweat, producing a murky, cloying cloud.

“You brought the fuckin’ doll in from Paris!” Steiner’s voice had a nasal tenor, with mushy overtones due to tooth loss. “That means, Cunt, you still got the fuckin’ doll.”

“I’m not lying, Harry.” Her terror-struck eyes scanned the little man’s ugly face. “Sydney’s got the doll.”

“I’m Captain a’ the ship!” Steiner bellowed. His hands went up to the metal Tam O'Shanter and stroked its blinking, colored lights, as if to sooth his anger. “If I say you got the fuckin’ doll, you got the fuckin’ doll.”

With the exception of the blinking foil, the elfin male dressed entirely in black. His leather jacket and shoes were new. His dirty t-shirt bore a leering, gray skull and his jeans were frayed at the cuffs. Holes gaped at the ankles in his socks.

“You’re the Captain, Harry,” she whimpered.

“I give the orders!”

“You give the orders, Harry. But, I’m telling the truth.”

The oddly-matched pair were sprawled on the floor next to a small dining booth in an old Dodge Van. The vehicle idled in a parking space at Logan International Airport. It was mid-October.“You should’a stopped Sydney-Boy, Cunt.”

“I tried, Harry. I swear to God, I tried.”

A frantic struggle had disheveled their clothing. Near the vehicle’s rear door was Meri’s handbag, its contents turned out. Closer to the couple was a pair of round sunglasses with silver frames: Steiner’s spectacles.

“You didn’t try hard enough!” the elfin man returned.

“There was nothing I could do. Sydney had a gun.”

A bleeding split disfigured the young woman’s lower lip. Bruised tissue nearly closed her left eye. Her Grecian nose and delicate chin were swollen and smeared with blood.

“Nobody in my organization gets guns but me! That’s my number one rule.”

“No, Harry. That’s rule number three.”

Steiner weighed Meri’s words. In so doing, his forehead bulged like an overinflated inner tube, pulsing with pressure. Seconds passed. Then he asked if she was certain of her facts.

“Positive,” Meri returned, her voice box quivering beneath his thumbs. “Rule number one bans pineapple from pizza.”

“What’s rule four?”

“No mixing vodka with prune juice.”

He squinted in confusion, his lips forming a kiss-like pucker beneath his long, crooked nose. “Rule number two?”

“No discussing your genitalia size during sex.”

“That one I remember.” Abruptly, Steiner shot out a hand and gripped Meri’s throat. “But none of ‘em gets me the doll.”

Her long fingers wrapped around his boyish wrist, trying to ease the pressure on her larynx. “I can help you get it back, Harry.”

“You?” he scoffed. “You gave the doll to Sydney-Boy in the first place.”

“Harry, listen to me. Nikolay Kandinsky will be back in town in less than a month. You know what he’ll do if you don’t hand over the doll.”

“Of course I know!” Steiner winced. “Kandinsky’ll chew me a new asshole. Then the bastard’ll shove in a bridge-piling.” The little man let go a whimper. “I hate when that happens.”

“It won’t. Not if we get the doll from Sydney.”

“Tell that to the splinters in my ‘roids.” The corners of Steiner’s mouth quivered. “How big’s Sydney-boy’s gun?”

“Real big.”

“Bigger than mine?”

Meri’s chin moved slightly within the confines of his grasp.

“How much bigger?” he asked, his voice harsh, demanding.

“Deep breaths, Harry.”

“Is it a lot bigger?”

“Size doesn’t matter, Harry. Everybody says that size doesn’t matter.”

Steiner abruptly released his grip, and eased onto his haunches; his eyeballs rolling back into his head. Meri’s fingers went to her throat and massaged the fresh bruises. The moldy smell of him lingered over her like rotting death.

“I gotta’ know, Meri. You gotta’ tell me. No bullshit.” Steiner held one arm out and slowly spread the fingers of that hand, eyeing the digits as if having never seen them before. “What about the other—you know?”

Meri Darling hesitated. A lie, considering Steiner’s agitated state, could be fatal. The truth could also get her killed. Then an idea struck. It still tempted fate. However an oblique falsehood might tilt the odds of survival in her favor.

“It’s even bigger than Leon’s, Harry.”

The little man stood up; his small chest heaving, the foil cap just touching the van’s ceiling. Despite his diminutive stature, Steiner loomed above Meri like a stubby ogre. Suddenly, he turned and eyed the emptiness at the rear of the van, as if noticing something or someone.

“Did you show her your dick, Leon?” the little man growled to the empty space.

“He forced me to look at it, Harry.” Meri Darling quickly shifted into a sitting position, the corners of her mouth quivering as she fought to keep her lips from spreading into a mocking smile. “I didn’t want to.” She slowly skidded away from him. “I tried to avert my eyes. But Leon wouldn’t let me. He kept saying how much bigger his was than yours.”

“I should cut off your balls, Leon! I should shove ‘em down your throat!”

To those who had not experienced Harry Steiner’s schizophrenic outbursts, his invisible tormenter, Leon, was a source of amusement. For Meri, Leon was a means of taunting Steiner. But as far as the little man was concerned, Leon was all too real. They were inexorably linked for eternity like the two venom shooting heads on the serpent Amphisbaena.

“Leon shook it at me, Harry.” She paused a beat, enjoying the impact her lies had on Steiner’s interaction with his schizophrenic hallucination. “Once he got the wrinkles out, it looked like a purple-headed snake. All I could think of was you, and how it could spit venom in my eye.”

The little man staggered toward the rear of the van, his legs splayed, his narrow shoulders bunched. “I’m gonna’ kill you, Leon!” His jug-ears flushed crimson with rage. “I’m gonna’ kill you so dead you’ll be dead a thousand years before you’re dead!”

A siren sounded in the distance. Steiner abruptly stopped and twisted toward the noise, as if trying to gauge its distance.

“What’s the matter, Harry? Did Leon bad-mouth you, again?”

Steiner faced the rear of the van, again. For many seconds he stood in silence as if listening. Then the little man twisted toward the blonde, his mouth slightly open in surprise.

“Leon says he’s gonna’ piss on my grave.”

“That is so like him, Harry.”

“He says that Sydney-Boy knows ‘bout the Bling-blings.”

Meri Darling cringed with renewed fear. “That’s because Leon told him.”

Once more Steiner faced the rear of the van, again glaring at the emptiness. “You been jaw-flappin’, Leon?”

“Leon wants the doll for himself, Harry. He helped Sydney take it, from me.” Sadistic crinkles formed at the corners of her eyes as her courage regrouped. “Then Leon tried to rape me.”

“You bastard, Leon!” Suddenly, both of Steiner’s hands pawed at the foil, repeatedly forming it across his skull. “My head is killing me.”

“It’s Leon, Harry.”

“No. The feds are brain-draining me, again.”

“Only because Leon told them to, Harry. I heard him. He and the feds are in it, together.” She wetted her lips. “They’re after your brilliance, your talent, your charisma.”

“They’ve gone lower. Sweet Jesus! They got me by the balls!”

“Try your mantra, Harry. Like your P-Doc told you.”

The little man twisted toward her, the ugliness in his face accented by lines of despair. “Leon’s got the feds suckin’ me dry and you’re talkin’ mantra?”

“You’re right, Harry.” Meri quickly got to her feet, crouching slightly beneath the van’s ceiling. “When you’re right, you’re right. And you’re right.”

“About what, for the love of God? My scrotum’s shriveling.”

“Leon. But, don’t worry. All we have to do is outsmart him.”

“Nobody outsmarts Leon. Nobody.”

“Together, we can.”

He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes. “I can’t think when the feds are wringing my balls!”

“Let me do the thinking, Harry.”

“My whole body’s frying!” His mitts moved to the nape of his neck, clawing at it. “I’ll tear you apart, Leon. I’m gonna’ shove a wrecking ball up your ass and shake it ‘til your eyes bug out!”

“Listen to me, Harry. Mike Zeeman and Tio Menotti will be out on parole soon. You remember me telling you?”

The pain eased and the little man’s hands dropped to his sides. Steiner’s face, wet with perspiration, softened slightly.

“Tio and ‘Baby’.” He took a handkerchief from his trouser pocket and wiped at the moisture dribbling across his cheeks. “So what?”

“They’ll help us, Harry.”

“Why would they?”

“They’re in love with me. They’ll do anything I say.”

Steiner squinted at her suspiciously. “You said they were gonna’ kill you ‘cause you rolled over on ‘em.”

“Don’t worry about that, Harry. I can fix it.”

“Fix or not, they got no reason to help me.”

“They’ll do it if I ask.”

“I ain’t so sure. For some reason people don’t like me, once they get to know me.”

“Baby and Tio will need money. We’ll pay them. People always like you after they get paid.”

The elfin man wagged his head, the foil cap sliding back and forth with the movement. “Forget it.”

“Baby’s nobody to mess with, Harry. Neither is Tio.”

“I heard they’re tough. I know they’re also on Boston P.D.’s radar.” His head made another negative move. “I don’t need their shit comin’ back to bite me.” He winced, his knees tilting together. “I got enough aggravation in my fun parts.”

“You want the doll, don’t you?”


“Without Baby and Tio we can’t get it.” Meri Darling tilted toward the little man. “In November, Sydney’s taking his wife to Hull.”

“Not if he’s deader than dead—like I’m gonna’ make him.”

“You can’t kill Sydney, Harry. Not ‘til we get the doll. And that’s going to happen in Hull.” She made a casual movement with one hand. “After that, we’ll have Baby and Tio take care of Sydney. They’re good at that, Harry. They know how to cover their tracks.”

“No way. Sydney-Boy’s my meat.”

“We can’t take a chance with Kandinsky, Harry. If you do the killing, the Russian might ask questions. We don’t want Kandinsky asking questions, Harry.”

“But, Sydney-Boy’s gotta’ pay!”

“He will, Harry. I’ll tell Baby and Tio to take special care of him, just for you.”

The little man thrust a finger at her. “Okay. But, I get to watch.”

“Sure, Harry. We’ll go to Hull and get front row seats.”

“What makes you think Sydney-Boy’ll bring the doll there?”

“Sydney takes the doll every place he goes.”

“Yeah. Every place.”

“You and me and Baby and Tio will go to Hull. We’ll wait for Sydney and wifey. When they get there, I’ll have Baby and Tio make their move. You and me will sit back and enjoy the show. Okay, Harry?”

“I don’t get it.”

“Get what?”

“Why’re them two ain’t gonna’ make their move until we’re in Hull? Why not Boston? I know my way around, Boston. If things go south, in Boston I know where to hole up. I don’t know shit from Shinola in Hull.”

“Hull’s a small town, Harry. It has a small police force. They won’t know how to handle a killing. But, best of all, you and me and Baby and Tio aren’t known there. When Sydney turns up dead and nobody can link it to you. That’s the important thing, Harry. No matter what, we’ve have to protect you. You’re the important one. You’re the one with the brains.”

The little man considered the scenario she had laid out for many seconds. Then, his head did another back and forth spin.

“What if your pals run off with the doll?” Steiner demanded.

“They won’t, Harry. Not with you and me there to make sure they don’t.”

“Says you.”

“Leon got us into this, Harry.” Meri Darling forced a nervous smile. “Like it or not, Baby and Tio are our only chance at getting straight with Kandinsky.”

Again, Steiner weighed her words. Again, he gave his head a wag.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Them two are still in the joint. You said so, yourself. And like you pointed out, Kandinsky’ll be back in Boston within a month. We gotta’ come up with something, now.”

“Baby and Tio will be out in two weeks, Harry. Relax. We’ll have plenty of time before Kandinsky returns.”

There was more silence. Then Steiner turned to refocus his eyes on the back of the van. He cocked his head several times as if listening to someone speaking softly. Afterward, the little man faced the beautiful blonde.

“Nietzsche said, ‘The lie is a condition of life.’” The little man’s eyes narrowed on Meri, his mouth twisting into an icy smile. “That means lies end with death.” Abruptly, Steiner’s face stiffened. “You get my meaning, Cunt?”

She shivered with fear. “I’m not lying, Harry.”

“Tomorrow, you call Baby and Tio at the joint where they’re hangin’. Tomorrow, you tell ‘em you wanna’ meet at Derne Street, 5 B—Sydney-Boy’s flop—soon’s they’re out.” The lid on Steiner’s left eye drooped, slightly. “Tell ‘em you got two grand to spread around. And Meri…” He paused, gritting his teeth. “You’d better not be playin’ me.” He jabbed a finger at her. “Or, I’ll add your pretty blues to my pickled peeper’s collection.”

The blonde nodded, still shivering under his glare. Meri knew that Steiner would make good on his threat. Steiner always made good on his threats.

“I’ll handle it, Harry.”

“We’re leavin’.” He pointed at the van’s steering wheel.

“What about my car?”

“It stays.”


“Move, Cunt!”

Meri scrambled into the driver’s seat. “Where to?”

“Sydney-Boy’s place.” Steiner’s bloated forehead flexed like melting gelatin. “I’ll show him whose fuckin’ gun is bigger.”

“But Tio and Baby…”

“They’re Plan ‘C’,” he cut in, impatiently.

Meri Darling frowned, her face showing bewilderment. “What’s Plan ‘B’?”

“Still workin’ Plan ‘B.’” Steiner went over to his sunglasses, picked them up and slipped them on. “Plan ‘B’s the thorny one. Gotta’ be real careful workin’ Plan ‘B.’ One mistake with Plan ‘B’ and you’ll find your dick in a vice. And take it from me, you don’t want your dick in a vice.” He moved to the front of the van and slumped into the passenger seat. “Drive.”

Meri Darling shifted uneasily in the seat, carefully considering the little man’s body language. He was tilted forward, slightly; eying her askance. His chin was tucked, a cruel smile curling the corners of his lips. Meri had seen that look on the little man’s face before. It was the last look he gave another woman who had crossed him. She was dead, her eyes now part of Harry’s private collection.

“You can count on me, Harry.” Her left hand slipped down to the door handle. Her fingers curled around it. “You know that, don’t you?”

“Sure, I know.” He offered her a plastic grin. “I see the blood in your eyes.”

A moment later, the driver’s door banged opened and Meri Darling leaped out. She broke into a frantic run. A run for her life.

“I’ll kill you, Bitch!” Harry Steiner clamored from the van. “I’m gonna’ kill you so dead, you’ll be deader than dead, before you’re even dead!” He stamped one foot. “Now, you made my head hurt, again.”

Chapter 1
“Wrong Apartment”

Three years in the joint and nothin’.”

The speaker, Tio Menotti, was short, burly, bald and pushing fifty. He moved like a bulldog, and had a face to match. But, his voice was high and sharp, like a terrier’s yip.

“Out two days,” he continued, “suddenly Meri’s gotta’ see us? I don’t like it.”

The burly man wore a wrinkled brown suit and a black overcoat. His white shirt was yellowed around the collar, its frayed cuffs jutted below his coat-arms. Menotti’s big feet were encased in scuffed black leather; the soles worn-down.

“Two days isn’t sudden.” Mike Zeeman had a pleasingly deep voice, with a Boston accent.

“Baby, I’m tellin’ ya two days’ notice after three years is something to worry about.”

“Paranoia has you by the short hairs, Tio.”

Zeeman was fortyish, his heavily muscled body wedge-shaped. His hair was coarse, dark, and wavy; parted in the middle. The tall man had a Greek nose, and a firm wide mouth which, at the moment, was compressed in a thin cruel line. His eyes were intensely dark, as if molten with fury. Men found Zeeman intimidating. Women found him irresistible.

“Where Meri Darling’s involved, Baby, my short and curlies have a right to be scared.” Menotti held out a thick, wide palm; his face crimson from the cold. “You and me did three years on account of her.”

“Old news, Tio.”

The two men were moving quickly, following the sidewalk fronting Derne Street, their cleated heels clicking in unison. It was a cold, gray afternoon in early November.

“She screws us over and then wants to meet?” the burly man ranted. “That’s a lot of balls, if you ask me.”

“Nobody’s asking.”

Zeeman wore khaki slacks, western boots, a plaid shirt, and a flight jacket. With each determined stride, he exuded the impression of a man on a grim mission.

“Like she didn’t think we meant it when we said we’d kill her?” said Menotti.

“You’re going to blow a gasket.”

“Baby, I’m gonna’ blow a gasket ‘cause I’m wondering how she plans to screw us.” The burly man jabbed a stubby forefinger from one hand into the palm of the other. “I’ll give you any odds you want this whole gig is a setup.”


“No maybe about it, Baby.”

The tall man glanced over at his partner, grinning. “We won’t know ‘til we talk to Meri.”

“I ain’t talking to her. You wanna talk to Meri, fine.” Menotti fanned the air in front of him. “But I ain’t talking to her.” The burly man hesitated for two breaths. Then he said, “That note didn’t look like her handwriting.”

“It wasn’t.”

“Then how come you think she sent it?”

Zeeman shoved his big hands deep into his jacket pockets, to protect them from the chilly wind. “I don’t.”

“Then why’re we out here freezing our jewels?”

“Nobody forced you to come.”

The change from sunshine brought a granite sky and gusting winds. The frosty air carried the promise of snow. Darkness would arrive by half-five.

“What’s Meri’s address?” Menotti tugged at his red nose, glancing at the building numbers.

“I told you.”

“I forget.”

“Derne Street, 5-B.”

The burly man cleared his throat. “B?” he muttered eventually. “That’s basement, ain’t it?”

“We’ll know when we get there.”

Zeeman’s tone was irritated. Nevertheless, the importance of Menotti’s observation had not eluded him. Meri Darling was the penthouse type. Basements had never been part of her varied and deeply illicit lifestyle.

“Baby, I ain’t never gonna’ forgive her for rolling over on us at trial.”

“You think I’m happy about it?” Zeeman’s face twitched as sudden anger sent the right side of his mouth down slightly.

“I’m just sayin’ it’s crazy to re-hook with Meri Darling when we know a re-hook’ll get us screwed.”

“We need the money, Tio.”

Menotti pulled a thin, green-dappled, cigar from his coat and stuffed it into his mouth. “I was running a superfecta when Meri’s testimony booted us behind bars.” His tongue lolled the tobacco stick back and forth until it lodged in one corner, angled toward the grim sky. “My brother-in-law collected the winnings. Never saw a damn dime.” His jaw muscles rippled. “I woulda’ killed the son-of-a-bitch, but for my sister.” The burly man nodded his bald head, slightly. “I might, anyway.”

“What’s past is past.”

“That’s what you’re gonna’ tell the cops when she gets us busted?”

Zeeman nodded, but he was paying little attention to Menotti’s words. The tall man’s mind was on his own emotions. He could verbally dismiss Meri’s betrayal. But his heart and soul had other ideas. Zeeman knew that if he lost control, he would kill her.

“Baby, you know how much I’ll get from Social Security when I retire?”

The burly man took out a disposable lighter and flicked it to life. He touched the orange flame to the cigar’s end and puffed until the smoldering tip took on an even cherry color.

“What has that to do with anything, Tio?”

“I won’t be able to buy paper to wipe my ass.” The burly man put the lighter back into his pocket. “Because of Meri, my retirement’s gonna’ be sticky.”

“That’s an image I didn’t need.”

The minutes ticked by.

“Baby, since when did Meri have two grand?”

“We won’t know ‘til we see her.”

They continued for another block.

“Baby, I say we kill Meri.”

“Yeah, Tio, we’re out here, walking all this way, freezing our balls, so we can kill her.”

Zeeman was tired and cold. The muscles in his legs and shoulders twitched with adrenalin. The closer they got to Meri’s address, the angrier he became.

“We talked about it,” the burly man pressed. “We both talked about killin’ her.”

“Talk is cheap.”

“Cheap, my ass. It’s all we talked about for three years.” He paused to take in a deep breath. “I was looking forward to it.”

“So deal with the disappointment.” Zeeman’s voice betrayed his growing agitation.

“It’s just that you know how you get, when you get how you get.”

“I won’t get how I get.”

Menotti’s eyebrows arched, as he eyed his partner. “But, we’re gonna’ kill her?”

“Someday, Tio. Not today.”

The burly man puffed on the cigar for nearly a minute, and then said, “Baby, “I’ve been doing a rethink.”

“You’re always doing a rethink.”

“I’m thinking we give Meri a chance.” The burly man took the cigar from his mouth and flicked a finger across the smoldering end, to dislodge the ash. “You know, a little breathing room so she can explain.”

Zeeman smirked. “You want her to explain before we kill her?”

“Baby, I’m just saying Meri could have reasons for doing us dirt.”

“People always have reasons, Tio.”

“You know what I mean.” Menotti glanced at his partner from the corners of his eyes. “Then there’s the money.”

“The two grand she offered?”

“We could use that two grand.”

“Yeah, Tio. It’ll give us two grand more than we’ve got.”

“All’s I’m sayin’ is, maybe we should forgive and forget.”

“After we get the two grand?”

“Well, that goes without saying.”

Zeeman’s laughed softly. “Tio, you’d kiss Meri’s ass.”

“Yeah, Baby, like you haven’t?”

An orange corvette, with the top down, rumbled past. Driving it was an elderly man wearing a ski cap, parka, and gloves. He was hunched over the steering wheel. His face looked purple with cold. Beside him was a young blonde draped in furs, and jewelry.

“That’s what I need,” declared Menotti, pointing after the car.

“You couldn’t afford the tire stems.”

“Not the car. The old guy’s parka.” The burly man slapped his hands together to generate heat, as they continued along the sidewalk. “Did you see the fur on his hood? Probably wolf.”

“What’ve you got against wolves?”

“Nothing. But without hair my head’s got no insulation.” Menotti hunched his shoulders, against the wind. “I think my brain’s icing up.”

“Maybe that’ll do it some good.”

Menotti moistened his lips, hesitated. “Once we collect that two grand, I’m gettin’ that parka.” He glanced up at the gray sky. “That’s why I’ve always hated bein’ a plumber.”

“You hate plumbing because you can’t wear a parka covered in dead wolf?”

“I hated it because every job dumped me dick-deep in ice water. Talk about shrinkage.”

“You should’ve become an electrician, like me.”

“I couldn’t. After you and me got busted that first time, they dumped me in Old Colony Correctional. It was learn plumbing or hair design.” He shivered. “When you’re fourteen and locked up with a bunch of rough, tattooed bastards who’d gut you for a quarter, you don’t learn hair design.” Menotti took a couple of puffs on the cigar, his eyes resuming their tour of the neighborhood. “You were lucky. You got sent to Pondville.”

“Yeah, Tio, I did a cakewalk all the way to my eighteenth birthday.”

“All’s I’m sayin’ is, Pondville had a more liberal view of rehabilitating youthful offenders.”

The two men traversed another block.

“I wonder what Meri’s been up to?” Menotti said. He waved the smoldering tobacco-stub at a trio of tired buildings. “Or, maybe I should say ‘down to’?”

“Don’t be quick to judge,” Zeeman returned. “Those townhouses cost a fortune.”

Road traffic accompanied them for another two blocks.

“Baby, we gonna’ take the job?”

“We got seven bucks between us, Tio,” Zeeman replied, without enthusiasm. “Meri’s offering two grand. What do you think?”

“I’m thinking we take the job.” The burly man puffed several times on the shrinking cigar. Then his voice became concerned. “Only we don’t know what the job is.”

“Meri’ll tell us.”

They crossed a street against the light.

“Baby, it just hit me.”

“Birds are flying south, Tio. Shit falls.”

“Not that. I’m wondering how Meri got two grand.”

“Do you care?”

Menotti gave his partner a penetrating look under lowered brows. “Not so long as it don’t land us back in the joint.”

“You’re a man of rare scruples, Tio.”

“Well, that goes without saying.” The burly man gave his bald head a thoughtful nod. “Maybe Meri won it at the track?”

“Horses don’t run in winter, Tio.”

“I’m thinking last summer.”

“Since when did Meri save money?”

Menotti screwed up his bulldog face. “Maybe she’s got a rich boyfriend?”


“Or maybe she had a rich boyfriend. Only, she killed him.”

“For a lousy two grand?”

“I’m just sayin’ there could be lots of reasons how Meri got the money. Some not so nice.”

There was another period of street noise.

“I dreamed about Meri, while we were in the joint.” Menotti chewed the remains of the cigar. “Bet you did, too.” Then, he took the butt from his mouth and gave it a toss. “You think Meri dreamed ‘bout us?”

“Everybody has nightmares.”

Zeeman stopped in front of a dilapidated row-house. Its brown brick went three-stories high with white sandstone trim. The wooden front door, up five steps from the sidewalk, was a round-headed double leaf with arched panels. Flanking it were vaulted windows with painted flower boxes mounted to the sills. Above the door was a brass plaque bearing the number: ‘5’. Another door, three steps down from the sidewalk, was wood and round-topped. This marked the entrance to the building’s basement level.

“This is it, Tio.”

The burly man walked past, stopped and looked back, eyeing the old building skeptically. “It’s a dump.”

Zeeman pointed at the plaque. “Numbers don’t lie.”

“So much for buyin’ a parka.”

A teenage girl came out of the upper entrance. She hurried down the steps, holding a lit cigarette. Tio Menotti eyed the weed-stick with despair. She gave the two men a quick visual once-over, and then hurried on.

“Baby, you think that kid’s mother knows she smokes?”

“Not our business, Tio.”

“All’s I’m saying is a kid that age shouldn’t smoke. It’s bad for her hormones.”

“Let’s let the kid’s mother worry about hormones while you and me talk to Meri.”

“Forget Meri.” Menotti clapped his hands over his ears, trying to warm them. “Let’s get our summer clothes out of storage. Then, we’ll jump a freight to California. I got contacts there.”

“We got contacts here.”

“But, in California we can start fresh.”

“For guys like us, there are no fresh starts.” Zeeman headed for the lower-level steps.

“Ain’t goin’ in, Baby,” Menotti called to his partner’s back. “If Meri’s living there, ain’t no money so there’s no point in goin’ in.”

Zeeman’s shrugged, his lips thinning. Then he went down the steps to the basement door. He tried the knob. It turned. The tall man pushed and the door creaked open. Ahead of him another short series of steps descended into a tomblike corridor. He followed the stairs down.

“Cozy, huh?” Menotti said, clamoring after his partner.

“Like the path to Dracula’s love-nest.”

“Baby, maybe you should go first.”

“I thought you weren’t going in.”

“Why wouldn’t I go in? Of course I’m goin’ in.”

Zeeman led the way along the corridor, with Menotti following. Their heels clicked out echoes on the concrete. Overhead two bare bulbs, dangling about fifteen feet apart, splashed yellow on the floor. A scrap of paper was thumb-nailed below the brass ‘B’ on one of the three doors. A second had a hand-painted ‘exit’ sign, above it. Zeeman went over to the ‘exit door’ and pulled it open. This gave him a view of a large yard thick with tall weeds and grass. He shut it and went over to the third door. Upon opening it, he saw a shadowy staircase leading up.

“No heat.” Menotti shivered. He glanced back the way they had come as if wishing he had not followed. “Must get freezing cold in winter.”

“Probably why it’s freezing, now.”

“Baby, you think I should ask for what Meri owes me?”

“Did asking do any good, before?”

“Not so far.”

“Then, why bother?” Zeeman went to the door labelled with the ‘B’, and tore the paper free.

“What is it?”

“Note. Computer printed.” Zeeman handed the correspondence to his partner.

The burly man glanced at it. “We come all this way and she ain’t in?” He crumpled the paper and dropped it to the floor. “That means there won’t be any ass-grab.”

Zeeman eyed his partner in bewilderment. “Ass-grab?”

“It’s our thing, Baby.”

“I’ve known you thirty-five years, Tio. Not once did I grab your ass.”

“Meri and me.”

There was a short pause while Zeeman considered the other man’s words. “Tio, since when did Meri grab your ass?”

“Baby, I grabbed hers.”

Zeeman opened the apartment door, and peered inside. “Something’s not right.”

“Meri never complained.”

“I’m talking about this setup.”

“I knew that from the git-go. But you didn’t listen.”

The tall man’s eyes went from wall to wall, ceiling to floor. Directly ahead, painted wooden shelves were lined with dozens of dusty books cloaked in colorful wrappers. From the ceiling dangled glass fixtures in the shape of mushrooms. At room-center sat a heavy couch with wooden disks for legs, and a covering of maroon velveteen.

“Is this what they call, shabby chic?” Menotti asked, peeking around his partner.

“In our day it was called a slum.”

Zeeman stepped onto a landing above a single flight of stairs. These descended to the apartment’s front room.

“Meri?” he called.

“What’re you yellin’ for?” Menotti complained, rubbernecking at the gloomy interior. “The note said she ain’t here. You think all that stuff is antiques?”

“Yeah. And I’m the king of Boston Commons.”

To Zeeman’s left was a kitchen-dining area. Computer printers cluttered the dining portion of the space. Several large computer-monitors stood on a Masonite counter. Near them were a computer keyboard, a printer and a stack of external hard drives.

Across from this, within the kitchen proper, an aged refrigerator rattled between a wall and another counter inset with a sink and its drip pan. To his right, Zeeman noted a hallway that led to the rest of the apartment.

“Meri used to be classy,” Menotti grunted. He went to the landing rail, still rubbernecking. “What d’you think happened?”

“Poverty. Just hang loose.”

Zeeman descended the steps, uneasiness showing in his handsome face.

“We get paid up front, Baby,” Menotti called. He heeled the door shut and followed. “Cash. And I’m counting it before we turn a cog.” The burly man stopped at the stair-bottom, watching his partner. “Are you listening, Mike?”

In the front room Zeeman pointed to the computer hardware. “Meri must be living with a geek.”

“Them guy’s is a dime a dozen.”

“Yeah,” Zeeman returned, his voice caustic with sarcasm. “Living with me was upscale.”

“You gotta’ quit putting yourself down, Baby.” Menotti ran his stubby fingers across his bare scalp, grinning ruefully. “We got plenty of style, when we put it on.”

“Jailbirds with style?” The tall man’s words were heavy with sarcasm. “You’ve always had a way with words, Tio.”

“Baby, you know what I mean.”

“From the looks of this flop, the geek doesn’t earn much,” Zeeman remarked. “So what’s the draw for Meri?”

“It’s the economy. You heard me talk about the economy.” The burly man sucked his teeth. “It’s got everybody by the balls.”

“Not everybody.”

“Well, it’s got you and me by the balls.”

“Life, in general, has you and me by the balls.”

Menotti frowned, his eyes again moving about the place. “We gonna’ wait?”

“I’ll check things out. You watch the street.”


Zeeman headed down the hallway. The burly man strode into the kitchen.

In the bedroom, Zeeman carefully looked around. The space was almost as large as the front room. Its yellow, plastered walls had cobwebs near the ceiling. A door on the south wall accessed a closet. The north wall held a wide window, providing a view of the property's fenced-in back yard. Against the east wall was a Queen Anne style desk with chair, and a four-drawer bureau. Occupying the west wall was a king-size bed. A fuzzy, brown carpet covered the floor.

His eyes locked upon the framed photograph atop the bureau. It was of a thirtyish couple he had never seen. The man was blond, well-muscled and tanned. The woman was dark-haired, pale and beautiful. Both were smiling. From their clothing and the bouquet, it was a wedding portrait.

Zeeman quickly opened the bureau’s drawers. Then he searched each, closing the drawer as he finished.

The third drawer had a false bottom. Within the secret space were half a dozen snapshots of a nude woman he recognized as Meri Darling. There were several more pictures. These were European shots of Meri and the man in the wedding photo. Zeeman tucked the pictures into his pocket. Then he closed the bureau and went over to the closet. He tugged on the door but it didn’t budge, its knob fitted with a lock. Zeeman slid his fingers along the top of the doorframe searching for a key. He found nothing.

Menotti looked over one shoulder as he heard his partner’s rapidly returning footsteps.

“Smorgasbord, Baby.” The burly man stood at the counter next to the refrigerator, building a cold-cut sandwich. “Step up and grab the lunch we skipped.”

“No time to eat, Tio.”

“Baby, the fridge is loaded with goodies. Sliced meat. Four kinds of cheese. One of ‘em’s bier kase, my favorite.”

Zeeman’s face showed marked anxiety. “I said it’s no time to eat.”

“But, I’m hungry.” The burly man took a bite and turned to face his partner. “And you remember how the prison Doc said I gotta’ watch my sugar count.”

“This isn’t Meri’s flat.”

“Sure it is. You saw the note.”

“It’s the note that started me wondering.”

Menotti took another bite and chewed out, “Wondering what?”

“Since when does Meri know enough about computers to write a note?”

There were seconds of silence as Menotti munched and mulled, his face vacant. Then, abruptly, the burly man swallowed. A split second later his eyes bulged with terrified realization.

“Shit!” Menotti’s cry echoed back from the low ceiling. “That lousy bitch!”

“My thoughts, exactly.”

“Meri set us up!” Menotti stuffed the sandwich into his coat, and hurried toward the staircase. “I’m gonna’ kill her, Baby! I don’t care what you say, I’m gonna’ kill her.”

Zeeman fell in behind his partner, as both men hurried up the steps. “So much for forgive and forget.”

“We shouldn’t have come in,” Menotti seethed. “You heard me, Baby. I told you, we shouldn’t go in.”

“I heard.”

Before either man reached the knob, the apartment door swung inward.

“Jesus!” Menotti squealed, jumping back in shock.


Chapter 2
“Unpleasant Surprises”

Harry Steiner stood in the doorway. The little man was dressed in the same clothing he’d worn during his interaction with Meri Darling weeks before, including the sunglasses and foil headgear. But, the lights on his makeshift cap no longer worked.

“You want something?” Zeeman growled.

“This and that, Mr. Zeeman,” the little man replied. Steiner’s mouth curled up at the corners in a self-satisfied manner. “The other thing, too.”

Zeeman’s right hand went into his jacket pocket; the fingers coiling around a revolver secreted there. He eyed the little man malevolently, not unlike a python considering the snack-potential of a rabbit.

Steiner stepped onto the landing. “How’s tricks, Menotti?” He went past the two men, quickly clattering down the staircase.

“You know him?” Zeeman asked, glancing at his partner.

Menotti shook his head. “Never seen the creep, before.” Then he called after Steiner: “Does your headgear come with stereo?”

Steiner stopped at the foot of the staircase, and looked up at the other two. “Protection.”

“Where I come from safe sex starts farther down.”

“The CIA’s on my fuckin’ ass, Menotti!” Steiner’s head rocked back and forth atop his neck, as if having heard something unnerving but unable to pinpoint the sound. “They know I’m a genius. They’re after my plans. They’re trying to suck me dry.”

“You hear that, Baby? The genius is being sucked dry.”

Zeeman grinned. “Yippee-ki-yi-yea, Tio.”

“Glad ya made it,” the little man said.

Zeeman brushed past his partner, taking the steps down in measured movements, his hand still gripping the gun. At the bottom of the steps, he crowded Steiner.

“You wrote the note, Bad man?”

“Somebody had to, Mr. Zeeman.”

“What name’s on your dog collar?”

Harry Steiner man retreated from the tall man, like a chicken fleeing a fox. Over one shoulder he identified himself.

“The Mars Steiners?” Menotti mocked, closing the apartment door. “The ones who own all that red sand, up there?”

Steiner frowned, as if seriously considering possibilities, his eyes going to the burly man. After a few seconds, he slowly shook his head.

“My people don’t do air-travel, Menotti.”

The burly man winked at his partner. “Must be I’m thinking of the Steiners from Poughkeepsie.”

“Why would the CIA be interested in you, Bad Man?” Zeeman followed the elfin man.

“Yeah, Creep,” chimed Menotti, as he walked down the stairs. “If you’re a spy, this country’s in deep shit.”

“I’m not a spy, Menotti. The Fed’s got a brain-drain machine.” Steiner stopped his retreat and adjusted the lay of his cap. “They want my juices.”

“We must be in more desperate times than I imagined.”

“It’s Top Secret.” One of Steiner’s fingers stroked the unlit cap as he put more space between himself and Zeeman. “My battery’s dead.”

“That would’ve been my second guess.”

“Where’s Meri, Bad Man?” Zeeman asked.


“Busy at what?” Menotti demanded.

Steiner shrugged, eying the other two askance. “Just busy.”

“I want to see her,” Zeeman insisted.

“And Meri’s hot to see you, Mr. Zeeman.” The little man adjusted his dark glasses. “Meri gave me the lowdown on you guys.” Steiner moved his narrow shoulders in a disappointed heave. “Have to tell you. Not what I expected.”

“Then we’re all surprised.”

“You the new boyfriend, Creep?”

“Jealous ‘cause you couldn’t get into Meri’s pants, Menotti?”

The burly man let go a growl and started toward Steiner.

Zeeman cut off his partner’s attack by stepping between the two men.

“You don’t look like a computer-geek, Bad Man,” Zeeman remarked.

Steiner tossed a disinterested glance at the machine on the kitchen counter. “Sydney-Boy’s.”

“What’s a Sydney-Boy?”

“Sydney Popovitch.”

“Like pullin’ teeth, huh, Baby?” Then the burly man glared at Steiner. “Fill us in on Sydney-Boy, Creep.”

“Sydney-Boy’s a fuckin’ jerk-off, Menotti. All flash. No substance.”

“Details, Bad-Man.”

“You know what Meri’s like, Mr. Zeeman. Always fallin’ for shallow types.” The little man did a quick, nervous swallow. “No offense intended.”

The burly man lit a cigar and blew smoke at Steiner.

“Meri didn’t mention you, Bad Man,” Zeeman remarked.

“Which gives us pause for reflection, Creep.”

“Relax, gentlemen.” The little man tapped his left temple. “Nothin’ to worry ‘bout. Meri and I have known each other for years.”

Zeeman’s face was hard as flint. “I never worry.” His left hand knotted, his shoulder muscles flexed, his entire body tensed for a quick, crushing blow.

“That’s gospel, Creep,” Menotti chimed. “Baby knows how to take care of anybody who might get worrisome.” He grinned. “You feel like a winter dip in the Charles?”

Steiner backpedaled a step, his tongue wetting his lips repeatedly. From the greenish hue spreading across his skin, the little man realized that he was in more trouble than he could handle.

“Meri knows how we operate, Bad-Man. Her not telling about you breaks protocol.”

“Yeah, Creep,” Menotti added, flanking Steiner. “Meri knows we got protocol up the ying-yang.”

“What’re you holding back, Bad Man?”

“Shit can come up fast and furious, Mr. Zeeman.” Steiner hurried over to the rattan rocker, across from the davenport, and sat down. “When it does, there are complications. In this case, big complications. Complications sometimes ignore protocol.”

“What do you think, Tio?”

“I don’t like him.” Menotti eyed the little man with derisive amusement. “’Specially now that I know the Creep’s got complications.”

“I’m with you, Tio.” The tall man’s eyes narrowed on Steiner. “What complications, Bad Man?”

“Not to worry, Mr. Zeeman,” the little man returned. “Meri’s handling it.”

“Handling complications doesn’t top Meri’s credentials, Bad Man.”

Steiner splayed his hands. “Can’t a woman change?”

“You wanna’ hear change, Creep?” the burly man growled. “Try hanging on a wall upstate, ‘cause Meri played dip-the-wick with a horny judge.”

“Let it go, Tio,” Zeeman cooed.

The little man pointed to the davenport. “Let’s talk business.”

“We’re fussy ‘bout how we do business.” Menotti blew another stream of smoke at Steiner. “We’re fussy ‘bout who we do business with. In case you ain’t figured it out, Creep, we’re fussy.”

Steiner jumped to his feet. “You fucks want the two grand, or not?”

“What say I kick his balls past his eyebrows, Baby?”

Mike Zeeman held up a warning hand to his partner. “You got the money with you, Bad Man?”

“I got your front money,” Steiner returned. “You’ll get the rest after the job’s done.”

“I want it all up front, Creep.”

“Let Bad Man talk, Tio.”

“For now, sure.” Menotti cracked the knuckles on his right hand as he added. “We’ll listen. He’ll talk. But if the Creep jumps up again, Baby, his balls will be chimin’ in his ears.”

“Nietzsche said, ‘The best weapon against an enemy is another enemy.’” The little man settled back into the rocker, crossed his legs, and pointed to the table in front of the chair. “Hardware.”

Menotti snorted, “You, and your pal, Nietzsche, can kiss my ‘hardware’ ass.”

Steiner looked over at the tall man, the little’s eyebrows arched as if in pleading. “I’m tryin’ to do business, Mr. Zeeman. How ‘bout a little help, here?”

Zeeman went over to the rocker and, with a sharp shoe-jab, put the chair into motion. “Let’s get down to cases.”

“Yeah, Creep. What’s the gambit?” Menotti went over and stood next to his partner.

Steiner dropped his feet to the floor, stopping the chair’s back and forth motion. “Just out of stir. No job. No money. Meri and I thought you could use some cash in return for a little help.”

“Baby, he’s playing us.”

“Talk or we walk, Bad Man.”

“Couple hours of your time, gentlemen.”

“Doing what?”

The little man put his hands together at his narrow chest, dropping his elbows to the rocker’s arms. “There’s this stolen doll. All you have to do is get it back.”

“Doll?” Zeeman echoed, in bewilderment.

“We don’t play with dolls, Creep.”

“A special doll.” Steiner’s fingers formed a teepee over his belly. “A collector’s item. Getting it back is an easy-peasy job for a couple of pros.”

“Sound easy to you, Baby?”

Zeeman wagged his head. “Confusing.”

“Want me to recharge the Creep’s battery with something hard and heavy?”

“Might come to that, Tio.”

Steiner put his tongue between his lips, made a raspberry noise, and then pulled the pink protrusion back. “I’m a busy man, gentlemen. In or out?”

The burly man moved past the rocker then Menotti turned, rested a shoulder against the wall adjacent to the chair, and eyed the back of Steiner’s foil adorned head.

“You call it, Baby.”

“Question, Bad Man. If you’re willing to pay two grand to get the doll back, what’s it worth?”

“Let’s see the hardware, gentlemen.” Steiner smiled at Zeeman for a second. “Then we’ll get down and dirty.”

“I’m clean,” Menotti lampooned. He tossed his partner a wink. “You holdin’, Baby?”

“Just the lucky piece between my legs.”

“Nietzsche said, ‘A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.’” Steiner’s tone became acidic. “Gentlemen, my faith is unshakable. But, I can’t do business unless you get on board.”

Menotti flicked the ash from his cigar with a fingernail, without removing the tobacco stick from his mouth. “How’re you fixed for deadly, Steiner?”

The little man casually took a stiletto knife from his jacket pocket. He pressed the button on the handle. Instantly, a glinting blade popped out.

“Scary guy,” the burly man scorned.

“Strictly for toenails,” Steiner returned.

“Long blade for trimmin’ toenails, Creep.” Menotti tugged at an earlobe, continuing to eye the back of Steiner’s head. “Better put your toe-jabber on the table before I get so scared that I take it from you.”

“No can do, Menotti.”

The burly man took a threatening step toward Steiner. “Why the hell not?”


“You’re already protected, remember?”

“Protection against Leon.”

“Who’s Leon, Bad Man?” Zeeman’s voice echoed his alarm.

Steiner folded the blade back into the handle. “You wouldn’t like Leon, Mr. Zeeman.” The little man returned the knife to his jacket. “Leon’s got attitude, and a big gun.”

“What do you think, Baby? Should I show this piece of shit real attitude?”

“Feed him the toe-jabber, Tio, pointy end first.”

Menotti, grinning, started toward Steiner.

“Not smart, gentlemen.”

“On second thought, Tio,” Zeeman intervened, “give Bad Man a chance to finish his show and tell.”

“Baby, I never have fun.”

“Time’s coming.” Zeeman glared at Steiner. “You got one shot at it, Bad Man. Make it good—like your life’s on the line.”

“You get the doll from Sydney-Boy and deliver it to me.” Steiner nervously glanced over one shoulder at Menotti. “When I get the doll, you get two grand, less front money.” He waggled both his hands. “How much simpler does it have to get?”

“Does this Leon own the doll?”

“It’s Meri’s, Mr. Zeeman.”

“And Leon has it?”

“Leon’s not involved.”

“Then who has it?”

“Sydney-Boy has it because Sydney-Boy stole it.” The little man hesitated. “There’ll be a bonus, after you get the doll, for terminating Sydney-Boy.”

“How much bonus?”

“Five grand.”

“What’s this doll look like?” Menotti asked.

“Porcelain head,” Steiner returned. “Calf-skin body. Twenty-eight inches tall. Made in 1934.” He gave Menotti another wary look. “Dressed in a blue gown and black leather shoes. Real hair, red.” The little man smiled. “Like I said, a collector’s item.”

“When did Meri take an interest in dolls, Bad-Man?”

“What’s the difference?”

“Meri never mentioned dolls to us, Creep, that’s the difference.”

“She took up a hobby. You got a problem with hobbies, Menotti?”

“Nope,” Menotti returned. “But a doll that size being an interest to Meri, makes me think there must be more to it. Like, maybe, there’s something valuable inside.”

“Value’s purely sentimental, Menotti.” The little man leaned back in the chair, his eyes wide; the pupils mere pinpoints. “Do we deal?”

“Still your call, Baby.”

“Sentimental or not, Bad Man, if Sydney Popovitch stole it he’s not going to just give it up. Is he armed?”

The little man pursed his lips slowly, as though thoughts were turning in his oddly-shaped head. “If he wasn’t I wouldn’t need you and Menotti, Mr. Zeeman.”

“I’m in if you are, Baby.”

“All right, Bad Man. Consider us on board.”

“Time to discuss front money, Creep,” the burly man said. “I’m thinking that five hundred should do us.”

Steiner took a rubber banded roll of cash from a pocket and tossed it onto the table. “Meri thought a thousand split might be close to the mark.”

Menotti lunged around the little man and snatched up the bundle.

“Since when did Meri get generous?” Zeeman asked.

“‘Is man one of God's blunders or is God one of man's blunders?’” Steiner made an irritating clucking noise with his tongue. “We’re suckin’ hind tit on this gig, gentlemen, due to a Russian’s pending arrival. Are we also in agreement that tomorrow is start day?”

“It’s straight, Baby.” The burly man handed half the money to his partner. “We eat Italian, tonight.”

Zeeman pocketed his portion of the cash. “Why not tonight?”

“I have information that puts Sydney-Boy in Hull, as of tomorrow. Meri thinks it would be best if we take our action there.”

“Hull is fine.”

“How did Popovitch steal the doll, Creep? Meri’s no pushover.”

“Sydney-Boy had some help from Leon. Leon’s got a real big gun.”

“You said Leon wasn’t part of this.”

“He’s not. All you’ll have to deal with is Sydney-Boy.”

Menotti’s face became suspicious. “Baby, I’m not sure two grand is enough if we have to deal with both them guys. Things could get crowded.”

“I thought you were tough, Menotti,” the little man taunted.

“I am. I just like to know what I’m getting’ into. You’re sure that Leon clown won’t be involved?”

“I’m sure.”

Zeeman said to Steiner, “What’s the connection between you and Sydney Popovitch?”

“Sydney-Boy and Meri…” The little man gave the chair arms a momentary rattling with his fingertips. “You could say they worked for me.”

“Doin’ what, Creep?”


“You hear that, Baby?”

“With interest, Tio.”

“A guy with a long, pointy blade could catch Popovitch unawares, Creep. How come that didn’t happen?”

“Leon got in on the action. I had to back off.”

“Again with Leon,” Menotti grunted.

“I’ll take care of Leon, Menotti. Don’t worry about him.”

“You? A blind and deaf kitten could kick your ass with its crippled paw.” Then the burly man faced his partner. “What say, Baby?”

“The deal is for getting the doll from Popovitch, Bad Man. If Leon cuts himself in, we get double.”

The little man shrugged. “Deal.”

Zeeman said, “One more thing… There’s a wedding picture in the bedroom.” The tall man’s words came out slowly. However, there was an edge to his voice. “I’m assuming Popovitch is the man in the photo.”

Steiner grinned. “The Errol Flynn look-alike standing next to the pretty brunette.”

“How does the brunette fit in?”

“Deidre doesn’t, other than being Sydney-Boy’s wife, Mr. Zeeman.” The little man adjusted this sunglasses. “You don’t like the idea of roughing up a woman?”

“Baby, I’m not getting tough with a broad.”

“Why Menotti. Meri said you threatened to kill her.”

“That was different, Creep.”

Zeeman put his hands on his hips and studied the man in the foil hat for a long moment. Then he said, “Maybe the doll’s here?”

“I searched, Mr. Zeeman. No doll.”

“There’s searching and then there’s searching, Creep.” The burly man’s eyebrows shot up in question. “You want me to tear this place apart, Baby?”

“We can do that after Popovitch heads for Hull.”

“What if he don’t take his wife?”

“Trust me, Tio. The way she looks, only a dead man would leave her home.” Zeeman moved closer to the little man. “Meri and Sydney had a thing for quite some time?”

Steiner made an enclosure for his thumbs with his fingers. “When it comes to women, I don’t mind sharing. Why?”

“I’ve got this nagging feeling that I’m missing something.”

“You’d better not be playing us, Creep.”

“Relax, Menotti.”

“Where are the Popovitchs, Bad Man?”


“Out where, Creep?”

“Out where they won’t get under foot.” The little man checked his watch. “We’re runnin’ past time.”

“You’re sure ‘bout tomorrow being game day?”

“I’m sure, Menotti.”

“What’s to keep Popovitch from going to Hull without the doll?”

“He won’t.” Steiner got to his feet. “He takes the doll every place he goes.”

“What makes you think you got the straight dope on Hull, Creep?”

“Radar, Menotti.” The little man tightened the foil cap against his skull. “Heard everything on the radar.”

“You believe him, Baby?”

The sound of a cane-tapping came from outside. The three men turned toward the kitchen windows. A beautiful brunette moved across the sidewalk with the aid of a white cane. She wore a brown suit with a high-necked white blouse, white stockings, and brown shoes and had pulled her hair in a bun.

“Who’s that?” Menotti demanded.

“Deidre Popovitch,” Steiner replied. “She’s home early. Bitch’s blind. But, as you can see, she’s got a body that won’t quit.” He made the slurping sound. “Makes my dick beg to get outa’ my pants, and past hers.”

“That wedding picture doesn’t do her justice,” Zeeman breathed.

From the tall man’s perspective, Mrs. Popovitch was near-perfection. Her sightless eyes were large and almond shaped. Her face was a perfect oval, milky-white. Her delicate features might have been formed from flawless marble. He judged her to be about thirty-five. She reminded him of the prim and proper school teacher he had when he was in first grade. The one who had kissed his cheek to make everything better after a six grader had punched him.

“I’d give my left nut for her, Tio.”

“Baby, this ain’t no time for impulsive commitments.”

“Time to boogey, gentlemen.” The little man pointed toward the stairway to the apartment door. “One of the doors in the hall leads to the upper floors. We’ll pop up one flight and slip out the front door. The bitch’ll never know we were here.”

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