Hip Cities and Lost Souls
The noise struck him full in the face-- the roaring musical expression that marked the Boulevard's circus at full tilt. Night-time brought all its elements together, jesus freaks and acid heads and dirty old men, mingling into a mass of shifting flesh. The sidewalk became nearly impassable with wall to wall people. He felt weak and lost. Contact with those at his apartment had left him a little disoriented. He wanted to curl up in a corner and wait for it to end, for the stores to close and lights to cease and tourists to vanish again. But that wouldn't happen for hours and he needed to find Mike.
Marie seemed undisturbed, walking at his side like an aristocrat, strutting herself before the bikers and horny college boys the way Sarah often had.
"Stop that," Lance scolded.
"Drawing attention," he said. "It's bad enough we've got to be here."
Her pretty face soured with contempt. "You're being paranoid," she said. "Just like Mikie."
With good reason, Lance thought, feeling as if he walked beside a neon sign saying: Here we are to whomever wanted to look.
"I don't understand you're with Mike at all if you think that," Lance said.
"Because I thought it would be exciting," she answered, surveying faces in the crowd as they passed-- pressing a little too tight against Lance's side.
"And you don't think that any more?"
She shrugged. "This is exciting," she said, giggling. "And I liked the party. But Mike doesn't like any of that, he wants to live somewhere quiet where nothing happens at all. Like on the farm."
"I suppose he wants to protect you," Lance said, studying her face, noting the lines that had formed around the mouth and eyes, hard lines, lines of experience.
"If I wanted to be protected I would have stayed with my daddy," she said sharply-- the drugs making her speak a little too loudly.
More attention! Curious eyes staring at them!
Los Angeles was a city filled with curious eyes, from the dirty old men to the angry cops, staring at everything that looked out of place, trying to find a place for it, trying fuck with its head...
"Shush!" Lance hissed.
"What are you afraid of, Lance?" Marie asked, her eyes laughing. "My Daddy? He doesn't know where I am."
"Just keep your voice down, all right?" Lance said, feeling her grip tighten on his arm as she laugh, and her soft breast pressing into him.
"Oh don't be so silly," she said, then stopped short in front of a particularly flamboyant tavern, pink and white lights illuminating its sign. "Can we go in here?"
"That's a gay bar, Marie," Lance said.
"So? Are you afraid?"
Curious males in silk and feathers eyed him from around the door, their lustful smiles smearing their lipstick.
"Of course I'm not afraid," Lance said. "It just doesn't seem like your kind of place, that's all. Besides, we're supposed to be looking for Mike and I doubt very much we'd find him in there."
"Which is why I want to go in," she said playfully. "Mikie would never think to take me to a place like this. Be a sport. I promise I won't let go of you the whole time."
For some reason this stung. Did Marie see something in Lance he did not?
She propelled him through the door, reading his silence as consent. The smell of perfume, booze and sweat striking him full in the face-- the air thick with rising plumes of cigarette smoke and conversation.
Low light disguising the real intent behind the slow moving bodies on the dance floor, a grinding, sensual sense of close space that gave Lance immediate claustrophobia. It could have been a Saigon bar full of B-girls and GIs, or a Lower East Side club full of a horny queens, though the mixture of sexual preference here seemed more diverse, men with men, women with women, and a fair number of more conventional couples as well. A few of the single queens near the door blinked their painted lashes as he passed saying: I'm available, honey.
"What's the matter with you, Lance?" Marie said with shinning eyes. "I thought you said you weren't afraid."
"I'm not. It's just too smoggy in here. I can't breathe." His palms sweated in hers. He wiped them on his jeans and squinted through the smoke, ignoring the grins from the barstools. "Can we go now?" he asked. "Have you seen enough?"
"Sure," she said, then disappeared, vanishing into the crowd, her slim form mingling with those of the more flamboyant gays. Lance yelped and charged after her. But a hand grabbed him by the arm.
"Rude boy!" a large male said, though the touch of lipstick indicated his orientation. "Don't you even say excuse me?"
"I'm sorry," Lance said trying to peer around the man's wide chest, as if around a line backer for the L.A. Rams. "I'm looking for someone."
"Aren't we all? Do you have a match?"
"You miss the point," Lance said, staring desperately into the dim light, searching the smear of bright colors for Marie's white blouse and red hair. "I'm not interested."
The gay did not release his grip, but eased back against one of the eye-beams, smiling as he blew out a stream of smoke. "Then what are you doing here, honey?"
"Looking for a friend, all right?" Lance barked. "Now leave me the fuck alone!"
This last he said too loudly, the words penetrating the wall of music and conversation-- the last of which petered out into a wall of stares.
"Are you a cop?" the line-backer gay asked, hard eyes focused straight on Lance's face.
"A cop? Hell no," Lance said as the jukebox halted mid-song.
"You smell like a vice cop to me," someone else said. A strong sense of riot touching everyone there.
"Well I'm not," Lance said, moving away from the linebacker to face others like him, angry, brutal faces of inflected femininity-- they wanted his blood, yet parted as he moved. He cursed Marie and wondered just how he was going to tell Mike he had lost her.
Another large man met him near the door, his face grim, his body thick-muscled beneath a fishnet shirt. "We don't like vice cops here," this man said amid smells of sen-sen and alcohol.
"Look," Lance growled. "I'm not a cop. I didn't even want to come in here. So just leave off me, all right?"
"Let him go," someone from behind the bar said. "We don't need no trouble here."
The gay man grumbled and motioned Lance towards the door. "All right. Get out. But don't ever let me see you again, you hear?"
Lance heard and scurried out, not even glancing back for Marie. If she wanted to mingle with that crowd, it wasn't worth his hide to stop her.
Two blocks later, he saw her red head floating smugly up the Boulevard, a catwalk parade he'd been through a thousand times with Sarah, wearing a waiting-to-be-discovered air. Lance darted up and snagged her arm before she had a chance to escape again.
"That was a dirty trick you played in there," he said.
"Go away," she said, yanking her arm free. "If I needed protection I'd go find Mikie."
"I'm sorry," Lance mumbled, appropriately shamed.
"I'm sure," Marie snapped. "Why don't you go save your old lady and leave me alone."
"It's too late for her."
"Meaning it isn't for me?"
Lance shrugged. "Something like that, I guess."
"Well you..." She bit off the rest of the sentence, her face twisting into an expression of horror. "No. I can't be. Not here."
"What's the matter?" Lance asked, turning to study the crowd into which she stared, seeing nothing but tourists and hippies.
"Quick," she said and grabbed his arm, yanking him on a mad dash along the sidewalk.
"But you just said..."
"Shut up," she growled. "Daddy's men are back there."
"Daddy's men? You mean as in the detective agency?"
"Of course I mean the agency," she said, steering a weaved course through the crowd, panhandles and jesus freaks looking up as they passed. "Someone must have tipped Daddy off. As if things weren't bad enough with Mikie and the police. We have to find him quick. Did you say anything about where he was going?"
"He mumbled something about seeing Free Press Bob," Lance said, recalling his parting words. "But that was hours ago. I doubt if he'd still be there."
"We have to try it. Staying on the street with Daddy's men is suicidal. You don't know them. They're blood hounds. They never give up."
As if to prove the point two men stepped out of the crowd behind them. Not macho-movie detective types, but slightly pudgy men wearing the same hawaiian garb of tourists, almost invisible in the crowd.
"Leave me alone!" Marie screamed and bolted again. But more little men appear, four or five crossing the street between honking cars. They reminded Lance of the Cong, of street vendors who turned suddenly into soldiers with the pulling of a grenade pin, wearing the same brainwashed expression of solider ants. The old fears surged into Lance's chest.
He caught up with the fleeing Marie. She staggered, her fancy shoes stuck in a crack near the curb. She took them off and threw them back at the advancing men. The orange `don't walk' signed blinked, but she plunged into traffic. Horns blared and taxis squealed to a stop to avoid hitting her. Behind Lance, the bulldogs came, sniffing out the trail.
Cong again, Lance's mind screamed, lacking only the slant eyes and yellowed skin. But he could hear the bicycle bells and the groaning soldier vanishing in the midst of the crowded city, always a knife or gun waiting to steal a life when least expecting it. Back behind the lines. Back where Lance could not save them. Death stalking each and every soldier through the drunken alleys and drug infested streets.
Death! And frightened Americans.
Half way across the Boulevard, Lance saw more of them. Hawaiian shirts racing along the sidewalk to intercept them. Lance howled and tugged Marie down the center line, in between the string of cars, coming finally to the light, where Daddy's men gathered on either corner waiting to converge. Not smiling. Not grim. Just like ants.
"Run!" he shouted.
"Run where?" Marie asked, looking bewildered, a strand of red hair strung across her face.
"Into traffic," he said, shoving her towards the flow of warm metal ahead of them. More horns and curses and swerving cars. But they made the far side safely, leaving a wall of metal between them and the army of ants.
"Keep going," Lance said when Marie slowed, turning up the next street and into the tangle of twisted streets that marked the lower portion of Hollywood hills. Right, then left, then right again. Lance glancing over his shoulder at intervals to see if Daddy's men had managed the maze.
Finally-- too tired to keep running-- they stopped and rested. The street sign said "Franklin," giving Lance a clue to how far they'd come. They had circled back towards the Boulevard without knowing. And down the street, the army of Hawaiian shirts marched towards them filling both sidewalks, moving passed the Selma Hotel, unaware or attracted to the host of prostitutes asking for dates.
Inhuman bastards, Lance thought, remembering the same cold-faced expression on the Cong when it came to whores.
"What now?" Marie asked, looking weary enough to give up.
"Only one direction now," Lance said. But he distrusted the hills above Hollywood. Too many dead-ends. Or cul-de-sacs. And he didn't trust a trip through Griffiths Park. "But we're not taking it. We'll try and lose them in the cross streets. Come on."
He dragged Marie down Franklin to Wilcox-- Old Hollywood thick on either side in four-floor brownstone hotels. The Blackburn grinning from one side while new Hollywood invaded across the street with a small convenience shopping mall and associated apartments. He turned down Wilcox back towards the Boulevard. On either side empty store fronts hinted of changing times, old headshops, poster stores and hippie fashions closing up as money became tight. Only the Boulevard retained its magic and as they plunged out into it, Lance thought he saw bits of tinsel wearing away even here, some aspect of it growing grungy beneath neon lights and back-beating rock & roll.
"Hey!" Marie said holding back when he turned the corner. "I thought you said we're going to the Free Press office."
"We are. But I don't want to lead your father's men there," Lance said.
"But where else are we going to go?"
"You'll see," Lance said, managing a grin.
Again, he pushed across mid-block, drawing more horns and curses, as well as a few dark looks from cops on the north side of the street, cops too lazy to give chase on a jaywalking ticket.
He glanced back over his shoulder. He didn't see any of Daddy's men, but knew they were there, and kept moving.
Circling inward. A trick of the jungle. Always move towards the sound of your own guns.
He stopped in front of the Golden Cup Tavern.
"What the hell are we back here for?" Marie protested, eyeing Lance as if this was some kind of trick.
"Don't ask questions, just get inside," Lance said and shoved her through the door before she could argue, following after her as someone-- one of Daddy's men-- shouted for him to stop.
The big gay in the fishnet shirt still hovered inside the door, most likely a bouncer of sorts. He cried out upon seeing Lance and pounced upon him, muscular arms closing around him.
"What did I tell you about coming back here?" he hissed in Lance's ear.
"Look, man," Lance pleaded. "There are people looking to hurt us outside."
The big gay's brows folded down. "Who?"
"Detectives," Lance said, breathing hard from the pressure on his chest. "They're from her father."
Understanding flickered in the hard eyes. God only knew how many others had been through similar rituals, families hiring men like the Tinkertons to save their children from this world. The man's arms eased from around Lance as the big gay peered out the door's stained glass. Lance could just make out the wobbly image of Daddy's gathering men.
The man snarled, like a dog smelling cop. "This way," he said, motioning Lance and Marie towards the back of the club. He signalled others behind the bar, and a sudden electricity filled the room-- different from when they had marked Lance as a vice cop, more like preparations for a siege.
The man led them to a back door and a narrow alley running parallel to the street.
"Just follow it," the gay said.
Lance nodded, took Marie by the hand and scooted out. He didn't look back.
"I love you, Michael," Chris whispered in his ear, sounding distant despite the closed space, her voice made raspy by weariness and running.
"What?" Mike mumbled, stirred awake by its sound, his legs and arms cramped and achy from too long sitting in one position. They had wedged themselves into a crevice of stone never meant for human occupation, part of the planetarium's decoration-- a space just side enough for them to crawl into. He'd half expected a bear or raccoon, though neither was native to this part of the country.
"I love you."
He twisted his head around to look at her face. It had the same terrible expression he remembered from every previous time they'd been together. "Are you going to start that again?"
"I don't mean to," she said, her eyes so watery that he expected a flood of tears to start at any moment. "It's just the way I feel-- the way I've always felt, even after all those bad things you said about me."
He wanted to shake her, but couldn't lift his arms to where she sat. "What bad things?" he asked through gritted teeth.
"About-- well, you know."
The urge to murder her roared up inside him. Why did it always have to come back to this?
"Look, Chris," he said with great patience. "We've talked too much about that already and we both know it can't work."
"Because we're different people now."
He wrenched his neck around another inch to look at her face more closely, at the wrinkles that had begun to etch themselves around her nostrils, mouth and eyes, like rings to a tree trunk, signifying lean, bitter years. Her mouth had twisted cruelly, a new feature of the girl he had married.
"We could try again," she said, hopefully.
"It wouldn't work," he said, letting his head fall forward to a more comfortable position.
"Sure it would. We could have another baby and..."
"Shut up!" he barked. "I don't want to hear anything from you about babies."
She fell silent the way she always did. And the images of their last child roared up into his head-- only altered and strange, a walking-talking-two-year-old version who called someone else Daddy now.
But the vision didn't sicken him half as much as the ritual did, another circular pattern in his life-- like some worn long playing record stuck in the same groove. He kept coming back to the same place. He needed a new start, a different, happier pattern in which he could come out a winner.
"Besides," he said in a softer voice. "I have Marie in my life now."
"That bitch!" Chris spat. "She doesn't care about anybody but herself."
"Keep your voice down," Mike warned.
While he hadn't heard sounds of pursuit in some time, they cops wouldn't give up so easily. Nor would it end here irregardless of their escape. Word would spread down into the city like a disease. Cop killing was bad business. Relatively innocent street people would suffer out of frustration and rage.
Everything would tighten up; informal agreements would vanish into a domino effect. Mike worried about the eventual consequences-- like Buckingham being scared off. And with so many more official eyes looking, someone could even recognize Mike in the fray.
"What time do you think it is?" he asked.
"After two, maybe later."
"The bars close at three here, don't they?"
"What does that have to do with anything?"
"Everything," Mike mumbled. "We stay up here too long we might as well stay the night. But if we can get down into Hollywood before the bars close, we might not look so obvious."
Not that Hollywood ever emptied completely. Speed freaks and others wandered the streets like vampires, vanishing only with the rising sun. Though a large number would see the inside of the Wilcox station house tonight.
"Why not wait until daylight?"
"Because in the morning the pigs'll be up here in force for a serious search of these hills."
But Mike felt the urge to keep moving, to make his connections and get out of town before everything snapped shut-- if it wasn't already too late.
"Oh, all right," Chris said-- a mingling of regret and exasperation in her voice.
Mike eased forward, hands feeling their way along the cold stone until the passage widened. He stood slowly, knees cracking as he stopped at the front door. The steps descended down from it into the parking area where banks of unlit lights gave it the eerie sensation of a martian landscape. But if the police had come up this far, they had long gone back down into the city.
"Come on," Mike mumbled and led the way.
Marie giggled at the hippies fucking on the lawn. She seemed to want to join them the way she had back at the apartment. It annoyed Lance. He hated public scenes of any kind, even arguments with Sarah, and his nerves still hadn't gotten over the chase through Hollywood. He kept looking over his shoulder expecting to see the army of Daddy's men descending upon him.
Bulldogs. Not human. Not Charlie. Even the cong had known when to give up. Lance didn't expect them to be fooled for long by his back door escape.
Yet it seemed safe here back in Free Press Bob's little haven, a bit of old insanity rather than the new variety, the line as long as usual with the same grumbling hippies staring at them as they moved.
"We're not here for papers," Lance said, echoing Mike's earlier visit, and like earlier, none of the hippies seemed to believe it, casting dark glances as Lance shoved Marie through the door.
"About time you got here!" Free Press Bob bellowed, leaping up from behind the counter. "Where's Mike?"
"We were kind of hoping we'd find him here," Lance said, sagging against the door frame, a confused hippie chick eyeing him and Marie with bright, paranoid eyes. She gathered her papers and scooted quickly.
"Well, he's not," Free Press Bob barked. "Didn't you people get my message?"
"You sent someone to the house?"
"Hours ago," Free Press Bob said. "But never mind that. You're here at least..."
Another hippie came in through the door. Free Press Bob exploded. "Out! Can't you see I'm busy?"
"I just wanted...."
"No more papers tonight. Tell the rest of them on your way out."
The hippie vanished. Free Press Bob motioned Lance to lock the door.
"You didn't have to do that," Lance said. "We could wait for Mike in a corner..."
"If Mike is coming," Free Press Bob said, fishing a joint out of a pack of cigarettes. His hands shook as he lit it, and he studied them through a billow of smoke.
"He said he'd stop here."
"But he might not get the chance. All hell is breaking loose in this town. First the narc story we published, and now a cop killing up in the hills."
"Someone killed a cop?" Lance said, horrified, wondering which cop? Wondering if Demetre had finally caught up with Buckingham after all.
"Four of them," Free Press Bob said after another long toke. "I don't know all the details, but people said there was a gun battle up in Griffiths Park-- and the cops came out on the short side."
"But who would be that stupid?"
"The rumor mill has mentioned Billy Night Rider," Free Press Bob said. "Billy does a gig up there near the observatory. I think his gang picked on the wrong woman this time. Maybe an undercover cop."
"But what does that have to do with Mikie?" Marie asked.
"One of my people saw him wandering up in that direction earlier. If he's mixed up in it, he'll never get out of those hill alive. The cops are out for blood."
"That's terrible!" Marie moaned. "We've got to do something."
"Like what?" Free Press Bob asked sourly.
"Send someone to warn him."
"Like hell I will!" the newspaper man roared. "It's hardly safe to walk the streets let alone sending someone up there."
"But you sent a messenger to the house," Lance pointed out.
"Earlier, before any of this happened."
"Why?" Lance asked.
Free Press Bob paused and studied Lance's face across the counter, the eyes going softer after a time. "I suppose it's all right to tell you two," he said. "Buckingham left a note here for him."
"Buckingham?" Lance roared. "You saw him?"
"He didn't come inside. He just handed this to one of the people on the line."
Free Press Bob held up a folded piece of paper. Marie reached for it, but the newspaper man kept it out of reach.
"It's for Mike," he said.
"Give it to her," Lance said. "We talked to Demetre earlier and the cop had nothing good to say about Buckingham. If something's happened to Mike, the note might be the only clue we have to finding him."
Free Press Bob's face twisted sourly, but he dropped the note down on the counter; Marie snatched it up, tearing the cheap notebook paper as she unfolded it.
Large third-grade block letters showed on the page in blunted pencil, like some perverse gammer school joke.
Meet me on the Venice Pier at midnight, monday.
English Friend to the Musketeers.
Lance frowned over this last. "Who the hell is this English Friend."
"It's from a Defoe novel," the newspaper man said. "The Three Musketeers had and English ally named Lord Buckingham."
"That seems like an odd reference," Lance said.
"Not if you're Mike-- he's a Defoe fanatic from way back when. The odd thing is that Buckingham should know it."
"It's monday now," Marie said. "Does this mean Mike missed the meeting."
"Maybe," Bob mumbled. "It might mean tonight-- or nothing at all."
"You mean it could be a trap?" Lance asked.
The newspaper man shrugged. "There are lots of people in town interested in that drug shipment."
"But not a lot of people who know Mike's in town."
"Maybe Mike got word some other way and already went to Venice," Marie suggested.
"Then why was he wandering up around Griffiths Park?" Free Press Bob asked.
None of them seemed to have an answer to that.
The tapping on the door woke Lance from solid sleep. At first, he thought it a woodpecker. From his room back east he had heard them often this time of year-- and he'd been dreaming of the east and his uncle's house, and his still living there as if nothing had happened, no stolen money, no tour of Vietnam. But even after his eyes were open, the tapping continued. No woodpeckers lived in Southern California. And none pecked at doors an hour before dawn.
A light went on in one of the back rooms, sending a spray of dim orange across the floor. The widest angle illuminated Marie's sleeping form, her hands wrapped around her own legs like a child. Lance felt something stir in him and turned his attention towards the grumbling Free Press Bob.
"Is that someone at the door?" the newspaper man asked, looking more haggard than usual in underwear and socks-- his body an accumulation of sticks, each of which threaten to poke through his greying flesh.
"I think so," Lance said.
"Who? The Police?"
"I didn't sound like their knock."
"It never does," the newspaper man said, lifting a section of counter. It rose like a draw bridge with a hinge on one side, allowing him to pass beneath. He eased close to the door and bent his ear to it.
"Who is it?" the man asked sharply.
"Me-- Mike," the voice answered.
"Mike?" Lance said just loud enough to wake Marie. She opened her eyes with a small cry.
"Let me in, will you!" Mike's insistent voice said.
The crease along Free Press Bob's brow deepened, as his suspicious eyes shifted nervously towards Lance.
"I think it's him," Lance said.
"It better be," the man grumbled, working open each of the three dead bolts. "Other wise we're all in for a visit downtown."
As soon as the door was free, Mike tumbled in. "Close it!" he hissed. "And lock it! The whole fucking word is going crazy out there."
Mike looked bad-- his face drawn tight around his jutting cheek bones, like flesh sucked dry of blood. Flecks of dirt, pine needles and tree bark clung to his clothing. A jagged hole in his jeans dripped blood from some fall along his way back.
Free Press Bob stared for a moment, then complied with the request, throwing closed the door and jerking each bolt back into place.
"Did you kill them?" the newspaper man asked, leaning against the inside the door.
Mike frowned, though didn't sit, his gaze sweeping around the room as if in a cage, eyes narrowing at the sight of Lance and more so when they found Marie.
"Kill who?" he asked.
"The cops up in Griffiths Park."
This drew Mike's disbelieving stare. "You know about that?"
"It's all over town by this time," Free Press Bob said. "News like that spreads fast."
Mike nodded and sat heavily down onto one of the bundles of paper. He glanced at Marie again who had faded back into dream-land.
"How did she get here?" he asked.
"We came looking for you," Lance said.
A slow sigh escaped Mike. "I suppose I was gone longer than I figured." He reached down and stroked Marie's hair. Her eyes fluttered open and stared at the upside down face, her thick, blond brows folding inward before recognizing him.
"Mikie!" she yelped and leaped up and into his arms. "Are you really here?"
"Yeah really," Mike said, emitting a weary laugh. "Though I don't exactly believe it myself yet."
"But where did you go?" she asked, stepping back from him, her hands flicking bits of brush off his shoulders and hair. "We were so worried about you."
"I wound up in Griffiths Park, but I didn't kill any of the cops," he said, pushing her hands away to rub his face-- his fingers pressing deep into his eyes sockets.
"Daddy's men are here, Mikie," Marie said.
This drew up Mike's reddened eyes-- not with disbelief so much as greater weariness. "When it rains, it pours," he mumbled. "Where did you see them?"
"On the Boulevard," Lance said. "They chased us for a while-- we barely managed to escape."
"I'll bet," Mike said, eyeing Lance with spark of admiration. "Not many people do. But it spells another bit of trouble we don't need."
"And that's not all of it," Free Press Bob said., moving back behind the counter, withdrawing Buckingham's note from a box. "Maybe you should take a gander at this. Unless of course you already know about it."
"What is it?"
"A message from Buckingham."
Mike snatched the piece of paper up and quickly read its contents, a thick crease forming between his brows as he looked up. "Why would I know anything about this already?"
"We figured you might have run into Buckingham while up in the hills."
"Not Buckingham," Mike said. "Billy Night Rider and Chris."
"Chris?" Marie howled. "What did that bitch want?"
Mike laughed. "The usual shit. She begged for me to run off with her."
"I ought to kill her!"
"Not likely," Mike said, patting her shoulder paternally. "She'd give a dozen of your Daddy's men a tussle if she wanted to. But don't worry. I wouldn't go off with her if she was the last woman on earth."
"But you were with her."
"She followed me up to Los Felix. Billy Night Rider hooked onto her thinking she was fair game. The cops clamped onto the whole thing. That's when the shooting started."
"Who exactly off-ed the pigs?" Free Press Bob asked.
"Mostly Billy," Mike said with a note of something painful in his voice.
"It's not important."
"But it's bad news no matter what," the newspaper man said. "If the cops snag Billy he'll blame the whole thing on you."
"Maybe," Mike said, staring at the note again. "Maybe they won't catch him."
"Can you take that chance?"
"No," Mike mumbled. "Which is why this is so important." He flapped the note.
"Then you intend to meet with him?" Lance asked, strangely surprised. Somehow he'd thought it unlikely after all the craziness.
"Damned straight," Mike said. "Provided I haven't missed it already. I'm supposed to hook up with Demetre sometime before midnight. Maybe he'll have something I can use to bargain with."
"If he doesn't bust you," Free Press Bob said.
"We have an agreement," Mike said.
"Maybe. But things have a way of changing when cops get killed."
Mike sighed. "That's a chance I'll have to take."
Mrs. Landsford's door snapped open when Lance started up the stairs-- Mike stopping short ahead of him, his face taunt and his hands near the bulge in his belt.
"Mr. Drummond, could I speak with you?" the blue-haired old lady asked, stepping free of the shadow. A mingled sense of relief and panic spun dizzily in Lance's head.
"Certainly," Lance mumbled and eased back down the steps aware of the eerie quiet that had settled over the building. He almost preferred the sound of the party to this kind of silence. "What can I do for you?"
The woman hugged closed her terry cloth robe, the lack of over-zealous makeup making her look less tough. "I've received complaints from the neighbors about noise," she said. "There seemed to be a racket coming out of your apartment last night."
"I'm afraid that's impossible," Lance said. "I wasn't even home last night."
The woman's face crinkled as if to explode, but the eyes showed just enough doubt to hold it back. "Not home?"
"I've just got a new job," Lance said. "Working nights."
"What about your wife?"
"She's off visiting a sick friend," Lance explained. "The neighbors must have heard the noise coming from another apartment, or someone's car stereo."
"I suppose that could explain it," the woman said. "I should have been here. These things always happen while I'm away."
"Indeed they do," Lance said, trying not to show his relief.
"Well, keep down your stereo anyway," the woman said. "You tend to be loud at times."
"Absolutely," Lance assured her and turned back towards the stairs.
"Good, good," the woman muttered and paused outside her door.
"Is there something else, Mrs. Landsford?" Lance asked from two steps up.
"You will have rent for me later this morning?"
"The moment the bank opens," Lance assured her, and wondered as he climbed up the stairs again if he would have to rob it.