"Call it." Henry bounced a nickel in the palm of his hand, putting a little flourish on it.
Quick off the mark, no hesitation--that was Johnny for you. Henry launched the coin, watched it spin. Caught it, smacked it. Tails it was. He glanced up at the schedule board. "The Broadway Limited. No dice, kid, call it again."
"Aw, c'mon, Henry! We could rub shoulders with the rich and famous!"
"Uh-huh. We could also find ourselves in the next compartment over from Lonnegan, if he decides to get back to home turf as quick as he can." Henry idly walked the nickel between his fingers, across his hand and back. "We're not going to New York anytime soon, so call it again."
"Let it ride. Tails."
Henry spun it high this time, watching Johnny's face as Johnny watched it go. Even in the full dinner jacket and trench coat getup, he looked as eager and excited as any farmer off the slow freight with hayseeds in his hair. What a face for the grifting game.
The catch and slap, and it was tails again. He squinted up at the board. "Let's see, that gets us...the next sleeper to Kansas City."
"Say, that wouldn't be a two-tailed nickel, would it?" Johnny reached out for it, and Henry moved his hands just right and made it vanish. Right into his overcoat pocket, of course, but Johnny didn't seem to catch the move.
"That'd be telling. Besides, what do you care, if you go on calling tails all the time?" Henry picked up his case and headed for the ticket window.
The line moved at a good clip, and they made the platform just in time to reach their compartment before the last "all aboard". Johnny stowed his cap and case, shucked off his coat, and threw himself down by the window, peering out at the last glimpses of Union Station. Henry left his hat on, and removed his own coat a little more carefully, checking the door latch first; he didn't want an unwary porter barging in to see one of his passengers with what looked like a bright red bullet wound in his belly. The dinner jacket could cover the worst of it, if he was careful, but it wouldn't pass close muster.
"So long, Chicago," Johnny said, giving the window a little salute. He turned to watch Henry slipping out of the dinner jacket. "Too bad about your shirt."
Henry shrugged philosophically. "Small price to pay."
"Yeah." Johnny's knee jittered up and down. "That sure was something. The most beautiful thing I've ever seen." His face was enraptured and a little dazed, like a man who'd just come out of his first cathedral.
"You took a nice fall." Henry draped the jacket out of harm's way and undid his tie so he could detach his collar.
Johnny grinned. "I picked it up on the wipe, times I played the knife man. You should see Erie go down, though, he's the best. We do this move where I toss a suitcase right into his knee, and he tumbles so hard, but he never gets hurt. Luther taught us that." His expression faltered, and he turned to look out the window again. "I just wish Luther coulda seen this one, is all."
"Me too," Henry said.
Things were quiet for a while, Johnny looking fixedly out the window, Henry leaving him be while he stripped off his stained shirt. But finally, Johnny spoke again, his voice forcibly calm but thick underneath.
"Did you know Luther has a brother in Kansas City?"
"I didn't even know Luther had a brother."
Johnny shrugged. The set of his shoulders, mostly turned away, was stiff and pained. "Neither did I. Not even...not till that last night."
Henry couldn't say anything to that, so he didn't try. He rolled up the ruined shirt and bent to his suitcase.
When Johnny turned back, blinking but composed again, Henry was fastening his collar. This was his backup stiff shirt, so the starch wasn't fresh and it all looked a little wilted, but it'd do for now.
"I ain't never been to Kansas City," Johnny said, sounding resolutely casual. "You?" Barely time for a breath before he went on: "Yeah, sure, I bet you been everywhere. Not me. Joliet had me by the neck, brother."
Henry left his bow tie dangling and settled down opposite Johnny with a newspaper, jacketless. "You've been to New York."
"Hell." Johnny shifted, propped one ankle on his other leg. "I'd never been further from home than Chicago until I met you. Can you believe I'd never seen Grand Central Station before you and I rode up there to rope that son of a bitch?"
Henry raised his brows. As a matter of fact, it was hard to believe. Johnny hadn't done any of the standard gaping-and-staring that even Henry had gone through, his first time in the Big Apple. But he kept that to himself, and read his paper.
Johnny filched some of the paper and thumbed through it, crossing and re-crossing his legs. It was like he was sitting on an anthill. When the train reached the outskirts of Joliet, he took one look out the window and got up like he'd been stung, tossing the paper aside.
"Hey, Henry, how about a drink?"
Henry turned a page. "Yeah, all right. I think I have a bottle somewhere."
"No, I mean in the lounge car or someplace. We can meet people, maybe sniff out a good mark, huh? You gotta have dough to ride the sleepers these days." He was still practically shivering with the aftermath. Henry felt for him; it was a fact that the short con was better for burning off that leftover steam, since you usually had to leg it to a safe place afterward. The big con jobs had gotten too classy for that kind of thing, and that was a damn shame. Johnny was keyed up like a blood horse after a winning race, with nowhere to walk it off.
"No thanks, kid, but you go ahead."
Johnny just stood there, his gaze moving restlessly around the compartment but avoiding the window, and Henry eyed him covertly over the paper. He actually seemed hesitant for a change, which was odd. He hadn't been reluctant to jump the fence and run off in his own direction before, even when it gave Henry trouble. "You sure?"
"Sure I'm sure," Henry said. "Go on, find some greedy real-estate millionaire who doesn't know what to do with all that scratch."
Johnny practically leaped to the door, but hung there one more second, looking at him. Henry jerked his head. "You run along and play, sonny." A frown flashed across Johnny's face, and he left, jerking the compartment door closed behind him.
After a while, Henry realized he'd started smiling at the newspaper as he read it. Grinning away to himself like some kind of lunatic. He sighed and read a piece on the latest trends in the stock market. This day wasn't turning out how he'd expected at all. He'd been ready to get out as soon as the mark blew, back on the lam again--and back by himself, just like it had always been since the Federal warrant went up.
The whole past year of ducking and dodging had just been him, a suitcase, and a bunch of no-account hick towns where he'd poked around for awhile before getting itchy and moving on. In some towns he'd checked in with the home guard, saw what they were getting up to and what jobs they had planned, pitched in if they needed it. But sometimes he hadn't, whether he had a bad feeling about the G-men having too many local connections, or he couldn't find a job to his taste. He'd spent a hell of a lot of time on trains, in his compartment, reading the newspaper, the landscape rolling by outside. Only back then, he hadn't been smiling to himself. Far from it.
This was a peculiar turn of events, no two ways about it.
He re-read the stock reports, as was his habit (never knew when you might have to make market-talk with some top-drawer winchell you were fleecing), then put his feet up and tipped his hat down over his eyes.
The compartment door banging open woke him from a light doze, and he peered out from under his hatbrim to see Johnny standing there in a glow of eager self-satisfaction. It felt like maybe an hour or so had passed, given the late afternoon light slanting past the window.
"Boy, have I got one on the hook," Johnny said, exuberant. "He's so ripe for picking, I hardly know what to do with him."
Henry sat up, taking off his hat. "A fat one, huh?"
"Rich as blazes--he trades in wheat, mostly--and he didn't even need softening up. He tied in to me, asked me for a match and couldn't stop talking." He shook his head. "Henry, you've gotta come see this guy. He practically ropes himself!"
Johnny's face was all appeal, eyes wide, and Henry saw no reason to buck. "Give me a minute," he said, reaching for the loose ends of his tie.
That got him a bright grin, and with another bang of the door Johnny departed. Henry pulled himself together, smoothed out the creases, donned his dinner jacket and headed for the lounge car. True, they didn't have anywhere particular to steer him, and they didn't have the resources of a crew. But that just seemed to put a little extra spring in Henry's heels. Maybe whatever Johnny had was contagious.
The lounge was slowly filling up with the cocktail crowd, whetting their appetites before it was time for the dining car. Henry strolled in and got himself a Rob Roy, and cast his eye casually over the various groups of two and three. Johnny was easy to spot, even on the far side of the car: broad shoulders and gold hair, casually sophisticated, talking with a sincere and elegant charm. He held a highball glass in one hand, and his shirtfront gleamed pure white between spotless black lapels. Henry sipped his drink, watching. Sure was a far cry from the Johnny Hooker who'd slouched into his life not so long ago, raw and touchy and carrying a chip on his shoulder big enough to sink the Titanic. If Henry hadn't seen it himself, he'd scarcely have believed it.
A few more minutes, and the mark shifted around for a second so Henry could get a glimpse. Older gent, obviously well-heeled, and old-fashioned to boot: cutaway coat, Van Dyke whiskers, little round spectacles. Might as well have had "Wealthy Industrialist" stamped on his head. Or, actually, Johnny had said he traded in wheat, hadn't he? Henry slipped along the edge of the increasingly convivial room and got a better view.
The winchell was lighting a cigar--a big, thick, expensive one, with gold bands--and watching Johnny with dignified interest as Johnny chatted along on whatever cover story he'd concocted. Henry couldn't quite hear over the drinking hubbub. Whatever it was, it seemed high-class enough, as out of a pocket of the cutaway coat came a visiting card. Johnny didn't have one to offer back, of course, but he didn't let that throw him; he went right into the apologetic pocket-checking of a man who was so in demand that he'd run plumb out of cards. He laughed, the mark tipped back his head and chortled. Such a sweet scene. Fast friends already. Shame, really.
Henry considered leaving it alone, letting the roping finish up and get good and tight, just for fun. But he guessed not. It wouldn't be fair.
He took one more sip and headed through the crowd right up to them. "Hello, boys!" he said.
They turned as one to look at him, Johnny's expression going a little stiff--annoyed, no doubt--and the mark's a little wary. Dignified, though, always dignified, with that giant cigar and those dainty spectacles.
"You're beautiful," Henry said to the both of them. "Absolutely beautiful, and I do hate to interrupt. But I believe introductions are in order."
Johnny, his annoyance shading into irritated confusion, opened his mouth, but Henry forestalled him. "Case, may I present Johnny Hooker. Hooker, shake hands with Casey Jones, premium train-rider of the Midwest. Or any other west, for that matter. His mama named him Clarence, but it didn't stick."
Casey's dignified old fossil act split into a big, curling smile, and he looked from Henry to Johnny with delight. "Say! What about that! How do you do?"
To Johnny's credit, he was only frozen in place a few seconds, and he kept a pretty good lid on a big stew of emotions. He finally reached out and shook Casey's hand. "I'm pleased to meet you," he said. It was probably true, too.
"Sorry to put the kibosh on your very fine work, Case," Henry said, "but Hooker's not the fish for you."
"The one that got away," Casey said philosophically. "Too bad."
"Anything else on tap we can help you with?" Henry sipped his cocktail, and as if reminded of his own drink, Johnny sipped too, his gaze moving from Henry to Casey and back.
Casey shrugged, flicking ash from the end of his cigar. "Afraid not, old boy. This run has been feeling a little dead. Vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience all 'round."
Henry shook his head sympathetically.
"I must say, I'm damn happy to run into a pair of civilized men," Casey said, hooking a thumb into his vest pocket. "Why don't you fellows dine with me?"
It was a date, and Casey made his slow and dignified way across the car for a refill, the crowd parting before him like he was a Vanderbilt. Which he very well might be, on this trip, Henry mused; he'd have to check and hear the latest tale.
He turned his attention to Johnny, who was on a slow burn, his shoulders curled in. Henry took a drink and didn't say anything, but Johnny practically flinched.
"Yeah, okay, let's hear it. Get it out of your system," Johnny muttered. "Ha ha ha."
Henry plucked the cherry out of his glass and chewed it, now that it was good and soaked with whiskey. "Don't get yourself lathered, kid. Casey's a pro."
"I'm supposed to be a pro, too. But I coulda been suckered in and taken just like any lop-ear on the street. Boy, Luther'd be laughing." He looked miserable, even defeated. Didn't sit well on him.
"Hey." He leaned in, caught Johnny's eyes. "You better get it through your head now, save you some grief later. Any grifter can be conned. Anyone. The only thing you can do is handle what's really on your plate. Don't get so far along in the con inside your head that you aren't looking at what people actually want from you at the moment."
Johnny looked at him steadily, his anger fading to something else. Henry stayed with it, trying to drive the point home; it was just getting a little too long to be comfortable when Johnny let it go and dipped his gaze downward. He rolled his highball between his hands, looking at it beneath his lashes.
Casey reappeared, and went into a little amiable shop talk. Henry nursed the last of his cocktail until it was down to the cherry stem.
Once they'd been seated in the dining car, the conversation had to get a little twistier, with more euphemism and lingo in it; they couldn't count on the same level of crowd and noise as in the lounge. It might have left Johnny at a disadvantage, but he didn't show it; he ate up, drank wine he'd surely never tasted before, and listened closely. Henry kept an eye on him as he tackled the fancy place-setting, curious about how he'd handle the elaborate spread of flatware. He did well, sometimes watching for cues and sometimes just making a stab at it. Granted, he used his dessert spoon for the soup; but even once he figured it out, he carried it off without apology, like someone to the manor born who just didn't care. He was a credit to the profession. Henry savored his wine and enjoyed himself.
Over the cheese course and brandy, the talk turned a little more somber. Casey hadn't known Luther personally, but his condolences were sincere, as were his congratulations on the Lonnegan job. He got a kick out of hearing that the wire'd been resuscitated.
"I'll have to pass that along to the old folks at home," he said. "Nice to know there's a whole new generation who might enjoy a little flutter on the ponies."
"You shoulda been there," Henry said, leaning back with his brandy glass in hand. "It was like the old days coming back to haunt us."
Casey smiled for a second, but it didn't last. "That reminds me. I was sorry to hear about J.T."
Henry stopped in the middle of tipping the brandy to his lips, a sudden icicle piercing him right below the heart. "What about him?"
"You haven't heard?"
"No, Casey, you know I've been on the--" he caught himself and set the glass down carefully, trying to ignore the pounding in his chest. "I've been traveling." Goddammit, he was dead, J.T. was dead, just outta nowhere--granted, he'd been getting on, but he was hale and hearty last time Henry'd seen him, and surely someone would've passed the word up to Billie's--
"Hm." Casey pulled at his whiskers thoughtfully. "Yes, I suppose I might be among the first to know. I just rode back from St. Louis, and I met some friends on the southern line there. They brought the news up."
Henry ignored Johnny's worried glances and kept a grip on himself. Casey always had been one to milk the moment. And Henry didn't think he really wanted to hear about it, anyway.
"It's like this," Casey said. "He's been...invited to take a vacation as the guest of the sovereign state of Florida."
It took a second for that to sink in, and once he had his mind wrapped around it, Henry could've laughed. "Is that all? Jesus, Case, the way you were talking, I thought he was dead." That icicle was melting all at once, in a rush of grateful relief. "The fix is okay in Jacksonville, that much I do know. When does the parole come through?"
"It doesn't." Casey lowered his voice. "This one's bad, Henry. This isn't the county jail, or something the fixer can comb out. That's why the southern line crew was passing it on: he got sent to the State Prison Farm, and no joke."
Henry stared. "Hard time?"
"But he's an old man! And he's never been near the heavy rackets--he's never done a violent thing in his life!"
Casey nodded solemnly. "I know that. But what happened was--"
"Excuse me, gentlemen," Johnny broke in. Henry turned to him, barely controlling a scowl, but Johnny went on as if he didn't see it: "Why don't we all go back to our compartment for a cigar? We have a lot of catching up to do." He smiled urbanely and stood, smoothing his jacket.
Casey stood as well, and only then did Henry notice how quiet the dining car was getting. Other tables were emptying, and their conversation would be more and more noticeable, especially as the lingo fell away. He nodded abruptly and followed behind them, as Johnny, safely in character, led the way back to the compartment. Thank God somebody still had his head on straight.
In private, Casey laid out the bad news without any pussyfooting. J.T. was at the Farm, striped outfit and ankle chain and all (a picture that had Henry grinding his teeth). The mark was a bad egg who had a friend in the prison guards, and that guard kept a special eye on J.T. to make sure he didn't get any useful slack. Applications for transfer, or requests to meet with a lawyer, got torn up and laughed off, with a boot in the ribs for good measure. J.T., in his turn, wouldn't let the crew go to any further lengths to help him. The problem was that he'd been betrayed by a stool pigeon, but they didn't know who, and given the circumstances and the aftermath it could only have been someone tight inside the crew. So J.T. made them swear to shut down and split up, and keep their noses squeaky clean. No more efforts to fix things, no extra money spread around among the lawyers, no pushing on his behalf at all. He wasn't willing to risk anyone else's freedom on it, no matter how they argued. And he meant it.
Henry took it all in without much to say about it; he felt sick and shaken up, all the leftover satisfaction from the Lonnegan job gone with the wind. Casey, rising to go, gave him a warm, sympathetic handclasp, peering over his spectacles like a doctor watching the progress of a fever. Johnny ushered Casey into the hall and talked quietly to him for a minute, then closed the door. Henry just sat.
He sat there for a good while, arms crossed, and went back and forth in his mind: trying not to think, but thinking anyway. Johnny stood around, leaning against the sink.
"You want something to drink, Henry?" he asked at last.
Henry nodded vaguely. "There's a bottle in my case. I think."
He listened with half an ear to the rummaging noises, but mostly he just sat and tried to argue himself out of things. Johnny finally handed him the clean toothglass half-full of rye, and he automatically drank down a few swallows.
More noises, indistinct rustling. Eventually Johnny sat down opposite him with the bottle on his knee, no dinner jacket, no tie, stiff collar gone, top button undone. The soft gold wings of his slicked-back hair were starting to ruffle up. Henry blinked at him and took another sip.
"Henry," Johnny said. "Who's J.T.?"
Henry sighed and patted his pockets for a cigar. He bit it, took his time lighting it, and looked at Johnny through a curl of smoke.
"They call him Jersey Tom," he said. "He was one of the big ones, in his day. And I mean the really big ones, kid, one of the greats. An original."
"You known him long?"
Henry drew a few slow puffs on the cigar. "Feels like all my life. He found me cheating at penny-smack in the railroad yard, before I was old enough to shave. Taught me everything I know. He's the one turned me out on the big con. Wasn't for him...well." He drank the last of the rye.
Johnny poured him another slug. "So, what are we gonna do about it?"
"J.T. said we're gonna do nothing, that's what," Henry growled. He tossed off the booze all in one shot this time, taking the burn.
"You always do everything he says?" Johnny had his chin set, that way he did. Stubborn. That was the voice of the guy who'd dragged him up from the floor and folded him into the bathtub, bringing him out of the pit with a barrelful of cold water and a challenge. And a real pain in the neck.
He set down the glass and rubbed his eyes, feeling old and tired. "I'd throw myself off a bridge if he pointed. All right? So, yeah, wiseguy, I guess I always do everything he says."
Johnny's expression didn't change; if anything, it just got more mulish, his eyes brighter. "What about things he doesn't say?"
Henry looked at him, his head singing from the extra liquor, but before he could figure out a good answer, there was a tap on the door; the porter had arrived to draw the shades and fold down the beds. They went through the ordinary sleeping compartment rigmarole, and Henry tipped the porter and answered his pleasant good night. He stood in front of the sink and slowly started dismantling his tuxedo, studs and collar and all.
He could tell Johnny was still watching him, though, the whole time they undressed. Every time he glanced up, the mirror showed him Johnny's eyes, intent and alive; avoiding them was a full-time job. Even flicking out the light and rolling into the lower berth didn't end it; Johnny stood in the middle of the room for a minute, his undershirt and shorts a ghostly white in the dimness, before he padded close to Henry's bed and climbed on up to the top berth.
Another cigar would have been good right about now, since he knew he wasn't going to sleep. But he didn't feel like getting up, either. So he folded his hands behind his head and listened to the sound of the train wheels rumbling, the occasional muted wails of the horn, and Johnny's soft, barely-audible breathing above him. It was quick and light. Sounded like he wasn't sleeping either.
Finally, as he expected, came the hushed words: "What are we gonna do, Henry?"
He took a deep breath and let it out slow and long. "I'm going to Florida."
Silence. Maybe surprised, though why, Henry had no idea. He must've seen this coming. Then Johnny asked, "Your federal warrant's from Florida, isn't it?"
"That's why they won't expect me. Who'd think I'd be so stupid?"
The upper berth creaked slightly as Johnny shifted his weight. "I'm coming with you." He had that voice again, that bullheaded, pain-in-the-ass voice that expected a fight.
Henry closed his eyes. "Yeah. I know." He smiled, despite himself. "Get some sleep. We got a long way to go, and we'll need to find some extra working money. So be sharp."
"Just watch me."
And, again despite himself, Henry slept.
They said goodbye to Casey in Kansas City and bought tickets right back the way they'd come, this time heading for St. Louis to switch to the Southern Railway. And for the next few days Henry fell into the rhythm of living on a train: regular meals on nice white tablecloths, fresh newspapers bought from the butcher boys, quiet nights with Johnny's steady breathing overhead.
And every day, there was work. Johnny threw himself into it like a man possessed. He didn't take the risk of playing anyone onboard, but every time the engine had a scheduled stop that took long enough, he'd be off roaming the station looking for a solid mark for a short-con. The best ones were impatient businessmen waiting for a later train; they got bored enough to find Johnny's latest line tempting, and they were greedy and arrogant enough to enter into wagers that were...unwise, to say the least.
Henry helped out now and then with the latest version of the smack or the tip, him against Johnny and the mark. The mark always thought he was in cahoots with Johnny to cheat poor drunk Henry; but by the time everything was said and done, he'd be pacing on a streetcorner, waiting for Johnny to come meet him and split up the ill-gotten gains, while their train was already steaming away.
But Henry never took the reins, happy to play second man. Frankly, Johnny was on a real rip and tear, leaving a trail of perplexed pinstriped gents along the entire southern route, and it was a pleasure to watch. Luther'd done himself proud. What Johnny didn't have yet in seasoning, or in true sleight of hand, he more than made up for with charm, persistence, and far more than his share of sheer damn brio. Time after time, he'd swing aboard just as the engine was pulling out, and end up bursting into the compartment with his hair blown every which way, a huge grin on his face, and another wad of greenbacks in his pocket. It was like fresh air.
Nope, it hadn't been like this before at all, being on the run. Even the times when Henry'd been flush, heading off someplace on the tail of a successful small job in some hick town, there hadn't been this feeling of joy to it. And if ever there was a time he could use a little joy, it was now--as he headed inexorably back toward Florida.
Last leg of the trip, due in to Jacksonville before mid-morning. Johnny was alternately peering out the window and fidgeting. Henry ran a sinkful of hot water and then stood in front of the mirror for a while, just looking. He knew Johnny was keeping an eye on him, but he also knew he was trying like hell not to ask any questions. He finally dug out his cutthroat, scissors, and shaving brush, ending the suspense. Trimmed his mustache good and close, soaped his face, warmed the blade. Waited another minute, hips braced against the sink. That mirrored face looked increasingly strange.
"You're not planning on doing anything rash, are ya?" Johnny asked at last, his patience obviously exhausted. "This is all getting kinda ominous."
Henry lifted the razor and scraped a careful patch clean above his upper lip. Only then did he answer, swishing the blade clean in the water. "You use a cutthroat much, kid?"
"Nah, I learned on a safety."
"Surest test of the hands," Henry said, raising the blade again. "A cutthroat on the last curves into Jacksonville." Steady and sweet, he cleaned off another patch of skin. Not a nick, not a scrape. He kept at it, holding his concentration, even when Johnny moved around behind him. When he paused to rinse the blade, sometimes their eyes met--at some point over the past few days, he'd stopped avoiding Johnny's ever-present gaze in the mirror, and by now he was coming to like it. A final splash of cold water and a towel, and he turned to pack up his kit.
Johnny looked, and closely, too, tipping his head like the dog on His Master's Voice records. "That's funny. I didn't think it'd make much difference...but you know, it does."
Henry latched his case and put on his hat. His lip felt chilly. "We'll see," he said. "If somebody knows me, they'll still know me. But if somebody doesn't, it could just be that one little thing that throws 'em off."
"You expecting a welcoming committee?"
He sighed. "I'm not expecting anything in particular. Just trouble. That much is guaranteed."
"Yeah," Johnny said, flopping back in his seat and slouching down comfortably. "That's how I like it."
Goddamn dauntless. And right here with him. A sudden swell of feeling jostled Henry some, and he cleared his throat and looked for yesterday's paper.
In Jacksonville, Henry used some of their stockpiled working money to hire a car, and they drove west to Raiford State Penitentiary.
"If we'd had more time to set this up," Henry said, leaning his left arm on the window ledge as he steered, "I'd have gotten you a chauffeur's uniform and had you drive me over there in style."
Johnny tugged his cap brim down. "Don't think so. I don't know how to drive."
Henry did a double-take. "Well, you better learn. You can't always depend on the railroad taking you where you want to go. I'll school you in it, if this goes through."
"When this goes through."
"Right." He rubbed his smooth upper lip. "Soon as we get there, go on up to the entry shack and ask for Mr. Davis."
A couple seconds of consideration, and it clicked. "Isn't he the guard who keeps J.T. on such a tight leash? What do we want him for?"
"We don't." Henry slowed and turned. "We can't visit J.T. if Davis is on the clock. We'll have to come back when he's off. If he's in, just sound him out a little bit, you know the sort of line."
Johnny sat up straighter and rubbed his hands. "Uh-huh. I've heard he's the man to see about things, maybe shoot the breeze about cutting in on the cigarette concessions. Give him the idea I'm his kind of guy." He was practically champing at the bit, and Henry could feel some of that anticipation spilling over onto him. Johnny'd brought the devil's own luck with him up from Joliet into the Lonnegan job; Henry hoped it was still hanging around.
Lucky break the first: Davis wasn't in, wouldn't be there until later in the afternoon. Henry had hoped that'd be the case; if he were a guard at the Farm, he wouldn't want to be working under the Florida sun at noon either, even in September. Lucky break the second: the guards at the entry shack were bored and good-natured, just itching for a nice line of patter. Two breaks right in a row--Johnny was better than a rabbit's foot.
The way in to the prison was the way into pretty much anyplace: hand enough chat and enough cash to the right people, butter the right cogs in the machine without coming on too strong, and you could slip through. So they made with the talk and sprinkled the money on top, and within an hour they were sitting at a scrubbed wooden table in an empty prison workroom.
Henry's heart was thumping unpleasantly in his ears as they waited. The door opened, and he looked up, his breath coming short; at the same time, though, he felt Johnny's arm against his, where he sat close on the same wooden bench, and he felt peculiarly relieved. Touch the rabbit's foot and you got a little luck, but wear it round your neck and you were all set.
A gum-chewing young guard led J.T. in. He'd never been a big man, but now, in his baggy convict's stripes, he looked so very small. Fragile. His fair, graying hair was combed straight back, his face had sharp angles. He still had the same roll to his walk, but now it was more pronounced, more like a limp; Henry couldn't stop himself from glancing down, and he saw the shackle. Blood mounted hot to his head, and he had to bite his tongue. He concentrated on the pressure of Johnny's arm until he could see again.
J.T. sank onto the bench across the table. The guard hovered a second, but Johnny murmured a few things and gave him a friendly handshake, with a palmful of cash, and he shrugged and wandered out again. He probably locked the door from the outside.
Henry didn't know if it was locked for sure; he couldn't listen. He was just looking at J.T., shrunken and sun-weathered. His eyes hadn't changed, though, still as piercing as a hawk's. And he was clearly unhappy--above and beyond the stripes and the cuff and the iron bars, he was unhappy with Henry.
"He said my nephews were here to visit me." His voice was even more gravelly than it used to be, husky and dry. "Since I don't have any nephews, I figured it had to be some damn fool up to no good."
Henry tried to smile. "I'd like you to meet your latest nephew, Johnny Hooker."
Johnny rose to his feet and pulled off his cap. "It's an honor."
"Sit down, son," J.T. said to him gently. "You don't need to doff your hat to these stripes."
"What happened?" Henry asked.
The old man frowned. "You must know that, or you wouldn't be here. And if you know that, you know why you'd better turn right around."
"Come on, just a crumb. Humor me."
"I always did humor you," he said. "Learned my lesson. Spare the rod...."
Henry leaned on the table. "Tommy. Please."
J.T. gave a rough sigh and slowly folded his hands, looking down. Long seconds went by. But Henry had learned a good part of his patience at this man's knee, so he made himself content just to sit and wait. Even Johnny wasn't fidgeting.
"We had the copper mine dodge going," J.T. said at last, talking to the table. "Like oiled watchsprings. And getting big, too, an office full of clerks and money-men. Really impressive."
"If you do say so yourself," Henry put in.
J.T. looked up, the old affection glinting somewhere in there. "I know a good job when I see it. We just got the wrong egg, that's the long and the short of it. The mark was a local, for one thing. You know how I feel about that. But more, he was...." He shook his head. "He's not highly-connected, but he's the outside man for most of the crooked stuff going on in this place. Even after the new warden cracked down, Davis and the mark kept running a few deals on the sly. So he had the ability to hit me where it hurts. And that's just what he did."
Henry paused, and spoke carefully. "He had a little help, though, didn't he."
Those eyes looked knives at him, humiliation and sorrow. "That's enough. I didn't want you to come here. If you ever thought well of me, you'll get up and go."
"I can't. I'm sorry."
J.T. looked at him a little longer, raw emotion barely concealed, but said nothing.
"It's not a crime to trust the wrong person," Henry said. "Whoever sang, he's the one to blame. You've never been anything but good to your crew. I should know."
He didn't relent, not quite, but something changed in his eyes. "You are not planning anything on my behalf," he said. He flicked a glance to Johnny and back. "Do you understand me? I won't have it."
"I understand you," Henry said. He knew J.T. would hear more than his words, and that's just what happened.
"Will you give us a minute, please?" J.T. asked Johnny, with great courtesy. Johnny slowly rose and moved away to another table, but everything about him screamed reluctance.
J.T. hunched forward. "Henry. You, of all people. Do you think I want you to end up in the federal pen? Just let it go, and get out of here before somebody gets wise."
"It won't take long. I won't have to risk talking to the crew, and I'll be gone before you know it." He smiled, really feeling it this time. "I've got a secret weapon."
Henry shrugged, keeping his smile easy. J.T. always could see under his skin a little further than was comfortable.
"I never thought I'd see you get coupled in the betting," J.T. said. At least he didn't sound disapproving. "You were always leading the pack, not running in double harness. Does he know what he's in for?"
"He's a fast learner. Just wait and see."
J.T. waved that aside. "Not on the job. I trust your instincts on the job, and you know it. What I mean is, you've got that warrant, you may as well have smallpox. Whoever's with you, chances are he'll catch it too. Is he ready for that much heat?"
Yeah, that took care of the smile. "Don't worry," he said, ignoring the clench in his gut, keeping his voice steady. "Just help me out."
J.T. shook his head slowly, but it was the 'what am I gonna do with you' shake, not the 'no way in hell' shake, so Henry forged ahead. He asked a few questions about the mark, and actually got a few answers, begrudging but informative. But when a whistle blew outside, J.T. broke off and stood up.
"I can't say I'm glad you came," he said to Henry, his voice low.
"I know, Tommy."
J.T. gave a crooked smile, and then the young guard came back in and led him out, that shackle dragging at him all the way.
"Well?" Johnny was quick at his side again.
Henry took a breath, his shoulders feeling heavy. "We have what we came for."
Johnny pulled his cap on. "Great!"
But it didn't feel so great to Henry. He was quiet during the whole drive back to Jacksonville. Johnny kept his questions and restlessness to a minimum--maybe he thought Henry was busy planning. And he was, part of the time. But the rest of the time, he was aware of Johnny's live-wire presence in the passenger seat. Far too aware. And worried.
He tried to distract himself for the rest of the day by keeping Johnny on the hop, sending him for the rest of the supplies while Henry took his time browsing the back stock at the stationer's, rubbing paper between finger and thumb, choosing the specific kind they needed. Out of sight, out of mind, went the theory. It wasn't working so well, but he stuck to it.
Johnny finally knocked on Henry's hotel room door and staggered in around sunset, carrying an armload of brown paper parcels and looking disgruntled.
"This better be good enough, because I think I wore the leather off the bottom of my shoes," he said darkly. "Did we have to return that car already?"
Henry ignored him and unpacked the goods, doing a quick inventory. Bottle of black ink, bottle of green ink, scissors, metal pan, eyedropper. Folded map of the Okefenokee Swamp, right where north Florida turned into Georgia. Bottle of creolin disinfectant. A couple empty little glass bottles with stoppers. One of 'em had the glassmaker's name etched on it in German, a real nice choice. Big fat chemistry book by a guy with a German name, with fancy chemical formulas on the jacket. What a doorstop, it put him to sleep just looking at it. Perfect.
"Yeah, it's all right," he muttered, counting off objects in his head. "But where's the--"
As he turned to ask, he saw where the last items were: Johnny had put on a starched lab coat and plain-glass spectacles, looking intelligent and ridiculous. The bright white cloth and the shining wire of the glasses made his coloring seem even fairer, like a towhead, flaxen and light. "Oh, give me those."
Johnny grinned and tipped the spectacles down his nose, then started slowly unbuttoning the coat. "What's the matter, Henry, don't think I could pull it off?"
"Luckily, we'll never have to find out," Henry said, busying himself with unwrapping the pieces of black paper he'd bought, retrieving a couple notes from the working money, keeping his eyes off Johnny stripping to his shirtsleeves.
Johnny eventually leaned against the table, sleeves rolled up over his forearms. "Okay, so now what?"
Henry laid one of the bills carefully on top of a piece of black paper and grasped the scissors. "Now nothing. You know the roping plan, you're set. Go on over to your room, hang your suits up, take it easy. He won't be at the club till after dinner."
"Take it easy?" Johnny leaned down further on the table like he was trying to catch Henry's eye, but Henry concentrated on the scissors, cutting along the edge of the bill in one smooth slice. "You kidding? What about all this stuff?"
"I'll take care of it."
"Go on. Go to a show or something. Just be dressed and ready by nine."
The silence said a dozen things, all of which Henry steadfastly didn't listen to. He checked the black rectangle he'd produced, measuring it against the bill, feeling the texture. It had to be just right.
The latch on the connecting door flicked, the door opened and shut, and Johnny was gone. Henry sighed. Out of sight, out of mind. In a pig's eye.
He laid the bill down on another section of the paper and kept working.
They got to La Caverna about nine-thirty, in character and ready to go. Henry had the spectacles on, his bow tie was crooked and sloppy, his shoes regretfully unpolished, and he was taking advantage of the sad state of his backup stiff shirt by letting the wrinkles show. He blinked at the lights, the girls, the musicians, thinking like a stranger.
Johnny, though, looked like a million bucks. His shirt and collar were perfectly starched, his tie centered and his shoes glossy; his hair was sleek but not plastered down too tight. He looked like he was made to wear a dinner jacket, showing off the width of his shoulders and the angle down to his narrow hips. Crowds parted before him. Henry followed along in his sophisticated wake: city mouse, country mouse, a time-honored story.
Just as J.T. had told him, there was the mark, settling in at the end of the bar, ordering the first of his regular batch of martinis and pitching the occasional peanut into his mouth. He was a looker, and aware of it, too--features chiseled like a hero from the pictures, his jawline sharp and his eyes dark and deep-set. His hair was tossed back casually from his brow, his posture as lazy as a lion after the kill. Hold on to your hat, Henry thought, watching him from the corner of his eye. Have we got a deal for you.
As per the plan, Johnny deposited Henry at a little table and started making the rounds, talking to the bouncers, a trombone player on a break, a messenger boy, one of the bartenders. His story was always angled to get a no out of them, and that was working out just fine; the more shaking heads he left behind him, the better. It took time, more than an hour, and Henry fervently wished his character could have had a big glass of whiskey in front of him. But instead, he tapped the table, looked impatient, and waited. He had some fun when the cigarette girl approached him, even managing to muster up a scowling blush, but otherwise it was all about hovering in the starting gate, listening for the bell.
At last, Johnny went disconsolately to the bar, draping himself over it not too far from the mark. Henry took a breath, stood, and scuttled across to him.
"Well?" he demanded. He gave it a taste of a German accent, but not too thick. Just enough for spice.
"No luck," Johnny said. "But don't worry, we'll find somebody."
"Don't worry, don't worry! That is what you say! But that money will be not be there forever!"
"Easy, doc. There's bound to be somebody around here with connections. Somebody with his head on straight." He signaled to the bartender, ordered a martini. "If it comes to it, I'll just grab a shovel and go dig it up myself."
Henry gave him a scornful look through the smudgy glasses. "Might I remind you that the bills are in a lead case the size of a steamer trunk? It took twenty men to bury it, and they were not fools, they put it deep."
Johnny leaned back on the bar, surveying the room. "Then we'll just keep asking around. We've got a few days. Something's bound to turn up."
"Mein Gott, save me from American optimism." Henry ran both hands through his hair, rumpling it further.
"Say, doc..." Johnny gave him an apologetic smile. "How about paying for the drink, huh?"
Henry grumbled and complained, pulling out his wallet and scrabbling through it. When he clumsily produced money for the bartender, he let a five-dollar bill and one of the black rectangles slip unnoticed from his hands and flutter to the floor near the mark's feet. Then he led Johnny back to the little table, where they conversed in urgent undertones about picks and shovels, and waited for a tug on the hook. The worm was a little bit flashy, Henry knew, but he also knew that that was how this particular winchell liked it. J.T. had said so, and J.T.'s grift sense was second to no one in recorded history.
Still, when the first bite came, it brought a pang of relief. "Excuse me, gentlemen?" The mark stood there, holding the black piece of paper in one hand and his drink in the other, handsome and slick like an ad out of a magazine. "I believe one of you dropped this."
Henry started, and thumbed frantically through his wallet. He looked up, alarmed and trying poorly not to show it, holding out an eager hand. "Oh yes! That is mine. One of my--" He snatched the paper, stuffed it in the wallet and gave a quick smile. "An experiment. Nothing of any importance." He was pleased to note that the mark was not returning the fin; as Henry had expected, that bill must have slid right into his pocket without a qualm. A fish was much less likely to notice trouble with a tasty appetizer settling in his belly.
"Thanks!" Johnny rose, as comfortable as Henry was twitchy. "Awfully nice of you. Won't you join us? Mr...."
"Paulsen," the mark answered, and they shook hands, sizing each other up.
"Wolf," said Johnny. "And this is my associate, Dr. Schmidt."
Henry nodded coolly to him, contrasting with Johnny's welcome, and Paulsen sat on down. Johnny made a remark about the martinis, and their conversation was rolling, two privileged fellows finding common ground over their choice of gin.
Now Henry could use more than his instinct and the corner of his eye, now he could look the mark over head to foot with a good excuse. Michael Paulsen, local small fry, had a big ego but not a big talent to match: looks and charm, sure, but not a lot of gumption. Mostly he ran light contraband into and out of the State Prison Farm through his guard friend Davis, and the rest of the time he dreamed of hitting it big. Greedy and impulsive, like all good marks--but dirty, and a backstabber to boot. So he needed to be handled just right.
Johnny was proceeding to do so, and doing a bang-up job of it. Slowly, as they chatted and smiled at each other, their postures were shifting until they were practically mirrored. A very good sign, when you were reeling someone in. They looked like bookends, like hand-matched matinee idols, Paulsen playing the devil to Johnny's angel.
The martinis were almost gone; time for the next tug on the hook. Johnny finished his first and stood up.
"Let me get you another," he said. "Doc?"
Henry shrugged stiffly. "I do not care for any of that swill. Maybe some soda water."
"Yeah, I know, but I meant...how about some dough?"
Paulsen started shaking his head, but Henry pulled out the wallet anyway and looked through it, as if searching for something in particular.
"No, no, let me," Paulsen said, rising.
Johnny gave him a friendly pat on the back. "Please, I won't hear of it. You're our guest. And the doc here can swing it, can't you."
Henry said, "I thought I had a smaller bill in here. But I am afraid I only have a hundred." He proffered a C-note he'd prepped at the hotel, soaked in creolin and dried.
Johnny grabbed it, turning to Paulsen and holding it out to him, so Paulsen would take it on reflex. "You're the regular here--what do you think, could they break it for us?"
"Sure, this place does great business. They know how to handle high rollers. Come on." Holding the bill, he led Johnny back to the bar. When they returned with martinis and Henry's soda water, Paulsen gave Johnny the change, then waved the hand he'd held the hundred in.
"Phew," he said, smiling at Henry. "Smelled like chemicals."
Henry spoke as he lifted his glass, distracted: "One of my experiments. I--" he broke off, stiffening slightly, and did not return the smile. "It is of no consequence."
Paulsen sipped his drink, wagging a playful finger. "You're not whipping up fresh money in your lab, are you?"
"Certainly not." Henry put his glass down hurriedly and frowned at Johnny. "That is enough noise and smoke for me. Time to go."
Johnny traded an exasperated glance with Paulsen--they were already uniting against Henry's determined raining on the parade--and shrugged. "I'm having a good time, doc. You go on ahead."
Henry stared at him, shot Paulsen a suspicious look, then muttered a wounded good night and left the club in a little Teutonic high dudgeon. One glance back as he left showed him Paulsen leaning in and saying something to Johnny, who grinned and replied, picking up the conversation as easy as one-two-three. Peas in a pod.
He stayed in character in the taxi, then went up to his hotel room, hung up his dinner jacket, undid his collar and tie, lit a cigar, and took off those damn spectacles. They'd baited the mark all right for starters, hooking him to Johnny like forcing a card. Henry was obviously involved in something odd, something with a lot of money in it, the kind of thing a lazy, crooked dreamer might be interested in. The more suspicious and reluctant "Dr. Schmidt" was, the more interesting Paulsen found him, but since Schmidt was unapproachable--some might be so kind as to call him a pill--the way for Paulsen to find things out was through his own mirror image, the friendly and expansive Mr. Wolf, who shared his taste in gin and thought he was a swell fellow. So if all went well, right now Paulsen was plying Johnny with drinks and trying to pump him for the secret.
The morning paper he'd picked up at the station on their arrival was still mostly fresh, so he sat on the bed, slid his hat back, and tried to occupy himself with it. He kept having to read the same pieces twice, though, and nothing seemed interesting. His mind wasn't ready to leave La Caverna.
Granted, it wasn't nearly as nerve-wracking as the rope on the Lonnegan job had been, having to watch Johnny go off in that car with no way to help him. At the time, Henry couldn't guarantee that Johnny wouldn't end up as dead as Luther, if Lonnegan decided to vent his temper before he got an earful of the tale. This mark, comparatively, was soft as a fur stole. Henry could imagine him sniffing around Johnny, smiling, plotting, feeling so clever, as Johnny dropped just the barest bits and hints that would keep him taut on the line and coming back for more. He wished he could be there to watch it.
Every little noise in the hallway made him look up, until he was practically ready to have himself committed. He sternly buried his nose in the paper, and was concentrating so hard on not jumping that he almost missed the knock when it finally came. It repeated, three soft, syncopated raps, and Henry got up and walked very casually to the door.
Johnny sauntered in, chin held high, hands in his pockets, cool and breezy. And smelling powerfully of good gin.
"Holy crow, kid, how much did you have to put away?"
Johnny took off his hat, lofted it at the table, and missed. "Oh, my share."
"Sit down, and let's hear it." He pulled out the chair, but Johnny strolled past him to the bed and sat, then lay backward with a sigh.
"This was a little more fun than hooking Lonnegan," he said to the ceiling.
"I was just thinking the same thing," Henry said, scooping the newspaper off the bed.
Johnny craned his neck and looked at him upside-down. "Were ya?"
"Yeah. It's nice to have a little less chance of ending up face-down in the river." Henry folded the paper on the night table and settled on the bed again, propping a pillow behind his back. "So how'd it go?"
"Swell," Johnny said, his upside-down smile beatific. "Nobody punched me in the belly this time."
"Maybe he's not taking you seriously enough."
One of Johnny's arms shot up into the air, a single finger pointing emphatically skyward. "He thinks I am the bee's knees, wearing the cat's pajamas."
"Of course he does," Henry said patiently. "You've got something he wants."
"You got that right." Johnny beamed at him, letting his arm drop loosely back down. "And boy, does he ever want it."
"Good fishing, huh?"
Johnny gave a long, replete sigh, like a family man after Thanksgiving dinner. "And how. Not to mention that he bought most of the drinks."
Oh, surprise. "Did he now."
"Mm-hm." He toed off his shoes and squirmed all the way onto the bed, pushing his face into the other pillow.
"He wasn't trying to get you off your guard, was he?" Henry said, to the tousled back of Johnny's head.
"Probably," said Johnny, muffled.
"Sounds like a good sign. Of course you got a little sauced, and spilled where we're going to be having lunch tomorrow."
Johnny laughed against the pillow, then rolled over and grinned up at him. "Gee, I guess I did."
Henry smiled. He couldn't help it, it was catching. "That was careless of you. Why, he might show up there and try to press Dr. Schmidt for his secrets."
"Poor Doc Schmidt. And his little spectacles." Johnny considered him, blinking slowly, his eyelids now only reaching half-mast. "Shame about those things."
"What about 'em?" Henry asked absently, watching Johnny stretch and nestle in for all the world like a sleepy pup.
Johnny yawned, and half-mast went to no mast at all, his lids sliding closed. "Nothin'. They hide your eyes, that's all."
He was lying so close, so unguarded and relaxed, that his hair was almost brushing against Henry's leg. If Henry were of such a mind, it would've been easy just to let his hand slide down and rest on Johnny's head, touch that ruffled cornsilk. He kept his hand to himself, but he did look, savoring the tumbled hair, the peaceful face. Enough time went by that he thought Johnny was asleep, his chest rising and falling deeply under the rumpled evening clothes. But then, without a warning sign, Johnny's eyes blinked partway open again, catching Henry's gaze cold.
"Hey, Henry," he said lazily, as if pleasantly surprised to see him.
The back of Henry's neck prickled. He looked away, nowhere in particular across the room, and crossed his arms over his chest. "If you're done napping, why don't you finish telling me about the rope."
A few beats of quiet, and then another yawn. "I ain't done napping, but all right. Uh...It mostly went like we thought: I gave him just barely enough, and he went digging for the rest. You were right about the science bit, so keep hard on that tack tomorrow. He thinks science can do just about anything. He's no highbrow himself, but he loves the whole idea of you and your test tubes."
"Some marks are like that," Henry said. "Keep an eye out for 'em, cause they can be real good pickings. They like tubes and chemicals, and they love electricity--they'll swallow a lot of guff if it's dressed up like Marie Curie."
Johnny snickered. "I'd pay good money to see that."
"Yeah, well, the glasses are as close as you're gonna get, smart guy, so get used to it."
Silence was settling in again, and almost getting comfortable, when Johnny said, "How'd you know? How could you tell what kind of bait to use, before you even saw him?"
Henry thought it over. "He fell for the copper mine story, so we know he's a sucker for an expert. An authority. And J.T. saw him up close and personal on that job, before it blew up, so he had a couple tips."
"Mmm." Johnny's voice was slowing down, getting faint. "He sure knows a lot."
"Yeah," Henry said. He stared across at the wall and listened to Johnny's breathing for a while, going deep and steady. J.T. did know a lot. He knew too much, more than Henry was ready for, and he'd put his finger right on the spot. Does he know what he's in for?
Henry didn't like being sized up like a mark. It stung. But the damn shoe fit, and he had to face up to it. The longer Johnny stayed, the more chance he'd catch the smallpox. Just being with Henry was enough: the Feds would nab him first and think up charges later. Accessory, aiding and abetting. And that was just the A's.
It was self-indulgence that made Henry keep him around, pure and simple. On his way out the door after the Lonnegan sting, he hadn't expected to find Johnny waiting, all packed and ready. He even gave him an out, but the kid wouldn't take it. So he'd lammed out of there as a they, not just a he. Best day of his life. Selfish as the day was long.
He resettled his hat, tipping it forward, shading his eyes. He should've hooked Johnny up with Casey first thing. Johnny'd be a smash as a highfalutin private secretary, traveling around with a Vanderbilt or a Rockefeller or whoever Casey was these days. Case would teach him the arts of the train-rider, maybe even branch out and take him on a passenger liner over to the Riviera, where the juiciest marks wintered. It'd be a good, fat living, and a safe one.
There was still time. Few more days, if all went well, they'd have this job tied with a red ribbon. And then he'd set Johnny up with somebody else, somebody well off the law's hitlist, and dig himself into a nice dark hole where the Feds didn't shine. He'd done the solo Lamster's Tour of America before, he could do it again. After all, self-indulgence made you careless, and careless got you caught.
"Get up," he said firmly, finally looking at Johnny again. "If you're gonna sleep, go do it right."
Johnny's eyes moved beneath his eyelids. "Hm."
"Up," Henry said. He got to his feet and raised his voice a little. "Let's go."
"Go soak your head," Johnny murmured, slow and comfortable.
"No vacancy, Hooker. That's grownup for 'beat it'."
He squinted his eyes open at that, looking equal parts startled and irked. "You giving me the bum's rush, Henry?"
Henry went to the main door to the hallway and opened it. "I'm giving you a hearty goodnight. Now scram."
Johnny slid out of bed, his mouth set, tugging his dinner jacket closed. He didn't take the door Henry was offering, though; he headed for the connecting doors instead and silently stalked through to his room, closing each door decisively but without a slam.
Henry slipped his suspenders down and sat heavily on the end of the bed. He thought about taking off his hat, but mostly he just sat there. After a while he varied things by propping his elbows on his knees and resting his face in his hands.
The connecting door opened again. He rubbed his face and looked up. "Yeah."
Johnny stood just inside the doorway, his room a dark void behind him. His hair falling in his face just asked to be smoothed back. "I left my hat."
Henry looked around vaguely, spotted the hat on the floor, poked a thumb in its direction. "Help yourself, kid."
Johnny almost said something, seemed to think better of it, and came in to retrieve his hat without any comment. Out again through the connecting doors, closing them quietly this time. Henry thought about latching his. But why should he? It wouldn't be much longer, anyway.
And so to bed. And an hour or two later, to sleep.
The next act of the show was at two o'clock in the afternoon, in a little restaurant a few blocks from the hotel. Henry'd picked it for its combination of showiness and privacy: it made them look like a couple of swells all right, providing a backdrop of discreet (if ill-gotten) luxury, but it also gave them a quiet nook in which Paulsen would be able to corner them without interruption. And nobody could sneak up on them in their secluded booth; Henry had no desire to have to talk completely in character all afternoon, just for fear that Paulsen would pop out from behind a plant stand.
They ate quietly, waiting in that suspended hush before the curtain went up. Henry had the smudged glasses on, his hair slightly mussed, and strategic smudges of black ink on his hands. He'd gone the extra mile and scented his breast-pocket handkerchief with a drop of creolin--not enough to spoil lunch, but enough to put just a whiff of chemical mystery in the air. Now they had to leave the rest of that day's work to Paulsen: if he showed, they were on. If not, a little regrouping was in order. Was he curious enough to overcome his natural sloth, without feeling railroaded? It largely depended on how Johnny had handled him last night.
Henry spotted him first, even through the glasses, and kicked Johnny lightly under the table as he started talking. "Are you sure you have exhausted all possibilities of construction equipment? A mechanical digger would solve many problems."
"I told you," Johnny said, as exasperated as if they'd been arguing for an hour, "if your map's right, that ground's too swampy. It'll take men and tools, and old-fashioned elbow grease."
"I do not like involving so many people. With more men come more risks. And we will have to pay them. Do you want to reduce your share?"
"Look, doc, I've got a line on--"
Paulsen stopped an apologetic distance from their table, natty in pin-checks and holding his hat in one hand. "Hello, John," he said, sounding surprised. "I forgot--this is your lunching spot, too."
"Why, hello, Mike!" Johnny rose, and they shook hands enthusiastically.
Well well, John and Mike already. That was some nice work. Henry turned up Doc Schmidt's nervous scowl as Johnny urged Paulsen to sit and have some coffee with them.
"I don't want to interrupt," Paulsen said, smiling. "But if you insist..."
Oh, Johnny insisted. Henry was reluctant, but not too aggressive. It had to be believable enough when he spilled his part of the tale, so he had to keep Paulsen intrigued even without being friendly. Johnny was being friendly enough for the both of them. And Paulsen was responding to it, like last night but warmer--he and Johnny already had their own growing catalog of jokes and references, and every bit of playful small talk only nurtured that bond. You naturally trusted someone more if you somehow felt that you had things in common, that he was your kind of fellow.
Henry left them to it most of the time; he talked only now and then, mostly occupying himself by picking at a dish of tapioca. They both drank copious amounts of coffee, and at one point Paulsen slipped an engraved silver flask out of his inner pocket and tipped a taste into his cup and then Johnny's, giving Johnny a wink. The two of them clinked cups. Very all-boys-together.
The conversation turned gradually toward the topic of money. Johnny was steering it, of course, with the occasional line from Henry--but Paulsen was trying to steer it, too, and it was a stitch to watch him. He wasn't hopeless, but he definitely didn't have a grifter's finesse, so Johnny sometimes had to play on his side by slowing things down and smoothing out the more abrupt lurches. Just to make it believable that neither of them--the doc in particular--would feel on the spot and clam up.
It was a relief when all the steering got them where they needed to be at last, so Henry could shoulder his part of things more fully. It was time for the tale.
"...and at the time of the redesign, the bills were reduced in size by twenty-five percent," Henry said, in lecture-mode, as they all peered together at a dollar Paulsen had taken from his wallet. "Less expensive to produce, yes, but also an attempt to cause trouble for the counterfeiting industry."
"Industry," Paulsen said, grinning conspiratorially at Johnny. "Get him." Johnny grinned back, like a kid passing notes.
Henry felt a real stab of irritation underneath the role. Fine, use it. He looked down his nose at the both of them. "An industry, Mr. Paulsen, is a sustained effort of art, craft, or manufacture, all of which, you must agree, apply to the creation of unauthorized banknotes." He noticed Paulsen didn't tell him to call him Mike.
"Don't let Uncle Sam hear you say that." Paulsen turned the one over, hefted it, tugged it between his fingers. "So a one is the exact same size as a hundred? Precisely? Are you sure? The hundred feels bigger, somehow."
It was a clumsy way to go about getting a hundred out of Henry's pocket, but you had to give him points for effort. The disbelief in his tone pricked like a mosquito.
"Here, I will show you," he said impatiently. Out came one of the creolin hundreds, with its chemical smell. He handed it to Paulsen, who went through the motions of measuring the bills against each other before he moved on to what he'd really come for.
"Oh!" Paulsen sniffed. "There it is again. Another one of your experiments, doctor?"
Henry hesitated, and Johnny put a hand on Paulsen's shoulder. "Aw, c'mon, doc. No harm in just talking. He can keep it to himself, can't you, Mike?"
"I could use the education," Paulsen said, with a good attempt at humility. He fixed Henry appealingly with his dark, soulful eyes.
"Very well," Henry grumbled. He took out one of the black rectangles and dropped it on the table. "This, Mr. Paulsen, is a hundred dollar bill. A real one, I assure you."
Paulsen frowned at it. "What happened to it? Dye?"
Henry clicked his tongue in reproof, like a professor he'd met once upon a time. "That would make it worthless. This bill has been...temporarily disguised, yes, but it is completely reversible. And only I know the formula to do so."
"Well, I know a thing or two about it, too," Johnny broke in, "but he invented it."
"Gee." Paulsen poked the black bill with a fingertip, but his interest was obviously on the wane. "Undercover money. Can't be much call for that, can there?"
"You are still not thinking clearly," Henry said, adding more haughty to the mix, to poke him in the ego. "This money is completely secure. It is mine, unless and until I say otherwise. If someone were to steal it, he could not use it. If I had access to someone else's money and disguised it thusly, he would be helpless until he had convinced me to reverse the coloration." He swept the black bill and the real bill off the table and busied himself putting them away, giving the story time to percolate down through Paulsen's brainpan. Think it over, showboat, he urged him silently.
Paulsen did think it over, sipping his coffee. "Just theoretically," he said, "you could be quite a terror with that stuff. You could move big shipments of cash anywhere you wanted, no risk. And you could...cause a lot of trouble for other people's shipments."
"Theoretically, yes." Henry put enough mustard in his tone to make it clear that it was a lot more than theoretical.
"And no interference from the government," Paulsen added.
Henry waved a contemptuous hand. "The government. Pah. They are no trouble. At least they do not generally make a habit of personal betrayal."
"Betrayal?" His curiosity was on the rise again. The temperature felt just about right.
Henry exchanged a look with Johnny so Paulsen could see they were on the edge of spilling something. Then one more gentle pull back: "It is nothing. Nothing you can change."
Paulsen leaned forward, his handsome face as innocent as a schoolboy's. "Look, doctor, I know you don't know me from Adam, but maybe there's some way I can help you. You're not from around here, and I am. I know the lay of the land. "
"The lay of the land," Henry said slowly, as if tasting the phrase. "Yes, Mr. Paulsen, that is precisely our problem."
"See," Johnny said, "we have a big shipment waiting for us. We just can't seem to get to it, that's all. It's too big for just two of us, and buried too deep."
"Buried treasure?" Paulsen looked from Johnny to Henry and back again, his grin lighting up. "Well, I'll be. You wouldn't be pulling my leg, now, would you, John?"
Henry made an exasperated noise. "Mr. Wolf is prone to foolery, but not about this, I assure you. It is no laughing matter."
Johnny shrugged. "We had...sort of a disagreement with our other partners, and got here ahead of 'em. They won't arrive for three more days. So now, whoever can dig up the trunk first will be able to wash the money and get away scot-free."
"Yeah," Paulsen replied, leaning his chin on one hand. "Yeah, I see. What about hiring diggers?"
"That's what I--" Johnny began, but Henry cut him off.
"Absolutely not." He fixed Johnny with a stern look. "How can we guarantee their silence? Money? No amount is enough to ward off blackmail and loose talk. And even at ordinary wages, how shall we pay them? We will not have the million until after it has been retrieved, transported, and washed."
Paulsen reached for his coffee cup. Maybe he had a dry mouth, hearing the word "million" drop so casually.
"Yeah, I know, doc," Johnny said unhappily, "but if we--"
"Think before you speak. Perhaps you can become less of a fool." Henry gave him a withering frown, and Johnny subsided, exchanging a glance with Paulsen.
Paulsen patted Johnny on the back, and absently left his hand slung over Johnny's shoulder. "Well, that is a pickle. But like I said, maybe there's some way I can help." He hesitated, and smiled apologetically. "I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to pay for your diggers. But you wouldn't want that anyway, would you."
Testing them. Just enough instinctive caution to do that, trumping his greed for the moment, even if only slightly. He thought that con men always wanted cash on the barrelhead, and Henry saw no reason to shake his worldview.
"Certainly not," he said. "If you share Mr. Wolf's opinion about hiring laborers, please do not waste your time. They cannot be adequately controlled."
"Maybe so," Paulsen said thoughtfully. He seemed comforted to hear Henry actively turn down his money. "But there might be another option. Listen--I have a friend who might be able to help us."
Henry stared at him. "I thought you understood that this was all in confidence!"
"Sure, don't worry, I wouldn't tell tales out of school. But he has...something we might be able to use. If he's willing, would you let him on board?"
Needless to say, Doctor Schmidt was less than willing. They spun the argument out for ten minutes or so, with Paulsen being level-headed and irritatingly charming, Johnny pitching in earnestly on Paulsen's side, and Henry letting himself be ever so slowly cornered. In the end, he gave in, with bad grace and a temper to match, and agreed to meet with Paulsen tomorrow to hear his friend's decision. Then he beckoned imperiously to Johnny, and marched from the restaurant out into the warm, damp afternoon.
It took the wind out of his sails, though, when he realized Johnny wasn't next to him on the sidewalk. He risked one fuming in-character glance back, and saw Johnny and Paulsen standing together in the doorway, absorbed in conversation. Couldn't go back; Schmidt certainly wouldn't be caught dead having to repeat an order. He just kept walking.
He expected Johnny to catch up any minute, but he landed in his hotel room alone.
Half an hour later, Johnny's cheery whistle came down the hotel hallway, passing Henry's door and vanishing inside Johnny's room. Henry held on to his concentration and tipped the creolin a little further, filling one of the little glass bottles to the lip. He stoppered it and set it beside the other bottle, which contained a splash of creolin darkened with a mix of black and green ink. He was getting sick of the smell, but they did look nice and mysterious.
Before long, the connecting door opened and Johnny whistled his way through.
"How's tricks?" he asked. He was hatless, his necktie loosened.
"Just about ready." Henry poked around in his suitcase and found one of the little rubber bags he used for blood packs. He sat down and steadied it in one hand, preparing to pour in a bit of black ink.
Johnny sat on the end of the bed and kicked his legs idly. "Oh. I was gonna help ya."
"I've got it," Henry said. The ink went in in one perfect stream, not a stray drop or a smudge anywhere. He tied the bag shut with satisfaction and practiced palming it. Felt just right.
A glance at Johnny made him relent, though he knew he shouldn't. "Yeah, okay, don't give me the dog's eyes. Just get me a C-note and roll it up real small. No folds."
Johnny rooted enthusiastically through the working money. "Treat it first?"
"Nope." Henry pulled one of the black paper bills from his wallet. "It'll get all the creolin it can stand, tomorrow."
Johnny handed him a hundred, rolled up tight. Henry made it vanish, turned his hand over and showed him where it was anchored in the hollow of his palm. "Ready?"
He took the black bill and started the washing motions, ink bag palmed in one hand, hundred in the other. "Come tomorrow, I'll put a pinhole in the bag. And while I'm rubbing the paper around like this, and you're pouring the stuff on, I have to do three things in a row. One, roll the black bill up under my palm. Two, drip a little ink in the pan, like the black's coming out of the bill. And three, unroll the real bill. Like...so."
In rolled the black bill, out rolled the real bill, smooth and ordinary.
"Jesus, that's slick," Johnny said. "Do it again."
He did it again. "It'll be a little tougher on the day, with the creolin wetting everything up, and needing to keep the ink from coming out of the pinhole too soon, but you get the general idea."
Johnny rewarded him with an admiring grin. "I don't see you slipping anymore, like you did before Lonnegan's game."
"Yeah, so maybe I was nervous," Henry said. "That's only because I'm smart. But I didn't slip when the time came, remember that."
"I remember." Johnny took the hundred and rolled it up again, deftly, between thumbs and fingers. "So Paulsen doesn't make you nervous, huh?"
Henry flexed his hands and took the roll back, palmed it, pantomimed the wash a little faster. "Nah. He just makes me laugh. Thinks he's Clark Gable."
"He doesn't think much of you, either," Johnny said, shrugging.
"Good. That's the whole idea."
When Henry washed the hundred into existence again, Johnny picked it up, rolled it, and tucked it inexpertly into his own left hand. "Let me try." He turned his palm toward the table, but the cramped back of his hand clearly telegraphed that something was up.
"Haven't done much pure sleight, have you?" Henry said.
"Shows, huh." He tried to flex his hand to a more natural-looking position and dropped the rolled bill on the table. "Dammit."
Henry pulled a single out of his wallet and rolled it up. "All right, watch. This ain't like the wipe or the poke, you're not just stuffing one thing in your pocket and pulling out another. All you have is your bare hand, so you've got to make the most of it."
He palmed his bill, then turned his hand over and let it look natural. Johnny, frowning slightly in concentration, nudged his bill back in his hand, but couldn't keep it there without giving the game away. Henry repeated his actions extremely slowly, several times; Johnny followed along, aping each move.
Henry watched his hand. It was sun-brown, compact and powerful, like the rest of him, and he'd kept his nails smooth and neat ever since Henry'd dragged him by the ear to a good barber. He had fine natural grace and a leaning toward fancy flourishes. But he was trying to go a little too fast, and getting ahead of himself.
"Don't rush it," he said, as Johnny flipped his hand over and the bill slid free again. "Forget you're holding something. You've got all the time in the world. If you forget, they'll forget too."
That helped some, the jitter leaving his movements, smoothing him out. But still, one more thing.
"Try starting your tuck down lower. No, the other lower. Look--c'mere."
Johnny came closer and settled one hip on the table, and Henry reached out and impatiently unbuttoned Johnny's sleeve, pushing it up, clearing the field for action. He took Johnny's hand in both of his, turned it palm up.
"Now, relax," he said. "Let's go with the classic palm. There's a couple muscles, right here, and right here--" He poked two spots toward the heel of Johnny's hand. "Those are the ones to use. Not this higher one, and for God's sake, don't go arching your thumb. Makes you look like a moron." He kneaded the muscles in Johnny's palm, flexed them back and forth, until Johnny's hand lay open and trusting in his.
Henry tucked the bill right where it ought to be, flicked Johnny's thumbnail as he started to arch his thumb into the classic beginner's tell, and said, "All right, now slow. Relax the rest of your hand, let your thumb curve in. Natural."
Johnny went through it again, and then again, a dozen times, steady and stubborn. He jumped and swore the first couple times Henry flicked his thumbnail, and that telltale arch went away. Each time, the palm got better, his fingers spreading out and relaxing into a natural curve, the cramp fading out of his hand and the furrow of concentration out of his forehead. Henry touched him lightly, guiding, reminding, looking from his hand to his face and back again. Together they molded Johnny's hand like a living sculpture.
The last few tries were easy, ordinary, the hand with the bill matching the empty hand, the effort and strain disappearing. Henry looked up with a proud smile, right into Johnny's eyes, and Johnny's grin spread like sunshine.
"You've got 'em on the run," Henry said. "Might just make a grifter yet."
"Yeah, maybe," he answered, his eyes alight, his fingers warm. "Gimme thirty years or so."
For a moment, that was the best thing Henry had ever heard, and he felt like they were looking down a long road together, a wide paved ribbon with a big gold chance at every mile. Let us loose on the world, boy, we'll play 'em all.
But oh, then his conscience reared up, crashing down on his head like the worst hangover after the best and happiest drunk. He'd forgotten his plans for just one gorgeous minute; he'd forgotten that that road most likely had a Fed with a bear trap waiting just over the hill. Bear traps weren't particular about whose leg they crushed. And there was no way that he was letting Johnny pay for his screwup. No way. None. He'd see Johnny off and safe if it was the last thing he did before he fell off his perch.
Here he was, though, grinning into Johnny's bright blue eyes like a damn fool, touching his hand, watching the casual slouch and the cock of his hip as he rested on the table. He thought about Johnny lying next to him on the bed last night, mellow and content. His conscience pummeled him sore. Keep him safe from the Feds, eh, Henry? Is that the only bear trap in his way?
"Okay," he said, suddenly gruff, getting up and turning resolutely away. "Don't knock those bottles over on your way out. We'll need 'em tomorrow, and I don't want to have to buy any more of that stuff. Gives me a headache."
Johnny was quiet for a minute, as Henry busied himself with fetching the Okefenokee map. But when he spoke, he sounded fine. Lighthearted, in fact. "Sure thing. Say--I'm taking my evening duds to get brushed and pressed. You want yours done, too?"
Henry almost said yes right off the bat, but choked it down. Easy, too easy, to keep leaning on him without thinking. To get used to him. "No thanks, kid." He unfolded the map and squinted at it, so sorry, terribly busy.
"All right. So long." The connecting doors opened, and closed.
Henry turned, tossing the map onto the table, and went to the connecting door. He rested one hand on it for a few breaths. Then he locked it. He didn't know if Johnny could hear that through the thickness of the connecting door on his side. But it was for the best, really.
The secret to success on the grift, and most particularly on the long con, was attention to detail. Henry'd had that drummed into him, and by now he lived and breathed it. A mark could smell if something wasn't quite right, if you were getting sloppy and letting the details slide. Even the richest, greediest, lop-eared drop-in, stepping into a store for the rag or the wire, could freeze up on you if something about the details just didn't mesh, if it didn't really feel like a broker's office or a betting parlor.
Granted, he didn't have the guys and the connections to rig up an actual lab right now. But that wasn't the point--it wasn't how big you went, it was how smooth, not leaving little jagged pieces to snag the mark's sleeping brain.
So he gave his hotel room a hard look and went about turning it, not into a lab, but into the room of a cranky German scientist who had a big head, a temper, a few bright ideas, but not a ton of ready money--till he could get his paws on that million, of course. He smudged up the white coat with stains of creolin and ink, poked a small hole in the breast pocket where his pens would be wearing through, then crumpled it up to let it gather more wrinkles. Incriminating evidence, like the original creolin bottle and the dregs of the ink, got pitched out back in the big hotel trash barrels.
No noise from Johnny's room the whole time he was working. Of course, the walls were plenty thick; he could be back from the laundry by now, or he could be out someplace whiling away his time. Long cons had plenty of waiting built in, and if you didn't come up with some way to handle that, it wasn't the place for you.
Late in the afternoon, Henry put on the glasses, just in case, and went out for a walk. September in Jacksonville still had a lazy end-of-summer feel to it, gents in shirtsleeves lounging on park benches in the shade, straw hats and white suits, linen and seersucker. It made Henry walk a little slower, hooking his thumbs into his vest and turning his purposeful stride into a stroll.
He asked his way to a Lutheran church, a respectable old place, and wandered up and down nearby avenues until he found a little shop that sold German-language newspapers in among the others. Come evening, he was back with a couple of those under his arm, some paper and an envelope, and a fresh packet of cigars.
He set one of the newspapers aside and spread the other one on the table to set up his workspace, with the pan and bottles and dropper. Then he settled down with the chemistry book, the map, and a pencil, to mark them up and give them some wear.
No word from Johnny through dinnertime, so eventually he ducked out and got himself some late grub. It didn't sit too well. When he got back, he wore the coat for a while to get used to it, and comforted his innards with a shot of rye.
It got late. The noises from the street were dying down, as people went home from dances and nightclubs, or moved from legit clubs to places a little more off the path. Henry was sitting on the bed, hat tipped forward, revolving an unlit cigar between his fingers. There was no way to go looking for Johnny, that was a fact. He could be anywhere. He could even be in his room next door, completely quiet, already tucked up in bed without running any water, though it's true the chances of that seemed low. But he was a grown man who'd gotten along fine before he found Henry, so what was the worry.
Of course, he'd had Luther looking out for him for a while, and if Henry knew Luther, he'd kept Johnny out of the worst of harm's way. From Luther's occasional letters over the past five years, Henry had the idea Johnny'd been taken right into the family, fed and scolded and loved like one of their own. And now he was out of the nest, footloose in Jacksonville, this guy who'd never been further than Chicago till he met Henry.
He heard voices in the hallway, getting louder as they approached. Idly, he palmed the cigar and made it appear from behind his ear as he listened. They stopped outside his room. Yep. He'd know one of them anywhere.
Softly, he got up and crept to the door, leaning his ear against it. He heard Paulsen, finishing a dirty joke about a bartender and a horse, and knew that the appreciative chuckle that followed it was Johnny's. So, Johnny was on the job--had been all night, judging from the talk, and from the easy, liquor-influenced sway of their speech. He didn't know just what Johnny was up to, or if there was a hitch in the plan. So he stayed right where he was, alert, ready to grab the glasses off the table and jump out into the hall if Johnny signaled.
But Johnny didn't signal--not in any way Henry could recognize, anyway, and he flattered himself that he'd know it if it came. Instead, the two men just meandered through a conversation, tossing around references Henry didn't catch, falling into hushed laughter. Thick as thieves. Which fit both of them well, come to mention it.
"...you know, it used to be a speak," Paulsen was saying.
"Which one?" came Johnny's voice. "The one with the murals, or the one where the orchestra had--"
"--that one. S'why all the steps and hallways to get down there. If the law came knocking, by the time they got all the way through, everybody'd be sitting there sipping lemonade out of teacups."
"Or just on out the back."
"More fun to stay and gall 'em. Where's your sense of adventure, boy?"
"I don't know, things seemed pretty adventurous tonight." He laughed quietly, and Paulsen joined in.
"Good thing I took you there, then. See what you're made of." The scratch of a match. Paulsen must have been lighting a cigarette.
"Yeah?" Johnny's voice had a flavor of challenge to it, but it also sounded like he was smiling. "You think one time down those steps and you know what I'm made of, huh?"
"I'm working on it."
"Mm-hm. You keep digging, Mike."
"Think I'll hit paydirt?"
"Maybe." Slow, confident.
A short silence. "Say, I brought the rest of that last bottle away with me. How about a nightcap?"
"Nah. I got lots to do tomorrow. And so do you, if you're meeting whatsisname before you meet with the doc."
"That's what coffee's for."
"A little more of that stuff and there won't be enough coffee in the world," said Johnny. "See you tomorrow."
"Later today," said Paulsen, and Johnny chuckled like he hadn't heard that damn old chestnut before, even though it must've been moldering around Joliet since the stone age.
Johnny's door opened and closed, and after a moment, Paulsen's footsteps receded down the hallway. Henry pushed away from the door.
He finally lit the cigar and smoked it, back on the bed, listening to the faint sound of the pipes as water ran in Johnny's room. Johnny was back and safe, the mark was still obviously secure on the hook--hell, settling in and furnishing the place, sounded like--and everything was set for tomorrow's convincer.
Not a hitch in the world.
As agreed, Paulsen came back to the hotel the next afternoon. Henry could hear him in the hallway again, knocking on Johnny's door. They greeted each other and fell into jawing out there like old friends, while Henry sat at his worktable, in costume, poring through the chemistry book. He hoped the conversation would end soon, before the equations permanently dented something in his brain.
Finally, Paulsen knocked, a big, hearty thumping totally unlike Johnny's distinctive pattern. Henry sat and waited, and made him knock again. Showtime.
Paulsen, like the smooth egg he thought he was, started off with small talk, trying to jolly Dr. Schmidt into a good mood while avoiding the point of the meeting, playing hard to get. Henry responded tersely, which wasn't difficult, and kept scribbling incomprehensible notes in the margin of a particularly complicated page.
When Paulsen's store of cheerful nothings ran down and he was reduced to exchanging looks with Johnny, Henry still didn't give him his full attention. You had to make the mark do some running. It helped him trust you. And the convincer was all about nailing that trust right home.
"I, uh, managed to talk with that friend of mine," Paulsen said at last, fishing for Schmidt's approval.
Henry rewarded him by looking at him directly, but didn't jump or get eager. "As you know, I would have preferred to keep this among ourselves, but that is neither here nor there."
"Sure, water under the bridge," said Johnny. "And Mike knows what he's doing."
Paulsen gave that humble smile. "I like to think so, anyway."
Henry grunted and turned the page. Talk me into it, sharp guy.
After a few seconds, when it was clear Schmidt wasn't hopping to ask the verdict, Paulsen said, "Anyway, he agreed he might be able to help."
"Is he a mining engineer?" Henry asked, as if he could scarcely be bothered. "Does he plan to dynamite it from the ground singlehanded?"
"He can get diggers," Paulsen replied. "Men and tools, experienced digging teams, and he can transport them to the site."
Henry looked coldly at him through his spectacles. "We discussed this. Laborers are too expensive, and they cannot be controlled."
"These ones can." Paulsen almost let the pause lay there to make Schmidt gasp and ask How On Earth--but the smart boy, he figured out real quick that that wasn't gonna happen. "Listen, he runs some chain gangs, out of the Prison Farm. They're all set up for hard digging, you can work 'em like donkeys, no wages required. And they won't be curious about any of it--they just do what they're told, and if they get lippy, he has them right there under his thumb. Trust me, they can't cross him."
"That sounds right up our alley," Johnny said.
"Perhaps." Henry wrote a few more symbols in the margin and closed the book. "You say he might be able to help. Might? Is he uncertain of his ability to divert these gangs from their authorized work?"
Paulsen tried another smile, this one more sheepish. "Oh, no, not really. He knows how to do it without getting caught. It's just... Well, Doctor Schmidt, it's like this. He hasn't met you, so naturally he's a little...skeptical."
Henry blinked at him, and waited.
"It's nothing personal," Paulsen added hastily. "He just hasn't seen the money like I have, and he doesn't understand the process."
"I see," Henry said. "And what would make Mr....ah...?"
"Davis," Paulsen added, automatically.
"...Mr. Davis, what would make him change his wording from 'might' to 'will'? Shall I explain the situation to you again?"
"He was thinking...that is, we were both hoping...that you'd show me."
Henry leaned toward Paulsen and spoke more slowly, as if Paulsen needed an education. "I cannot show you the trunk until it is unearthed, and we will need Mr. Davis's gangs to do so."
"No, no," Paulsen said, smooth white teeth shining. "I meant, show me the process. If you show me how it works, I can explain it to him, I'm sure of it."
In other words, Henry thought, you'll do our job for us, win him over, if we can just convince you. He had Schmidt give a sigh, part weary and part impatient, and he cast a glance at Johnny. "Very well. Mr. Wolf, assist me, if you please."
Johnny touched Paulsen's elbow and said something to him in a low voice, Paulsen smiled, and Johnny went about getting him a chair at a good distance and angle from the table. While he took care of the distractions, Henry dipped his hands casually in his lab coat pockets and loaded each palm with its cargo. Then he took out his wallet and withdrew a black bill, which he tossed in the metal pan.
"I will first make some remarks on the principle of currency disguise, and the reversibility of manipulated pigments," he said. And that's just what he did--or at least, he flapped his gums awhile, talking some nonsense about the special paper they made money with, and the particular chemical bonds he could create and then dissolve using his experimental materials. Blah blah blah, the more syllables the better.
Paulsen made a good audience, quiet and respectful, looking up at him. Henry stood like a lecturer, holding his coat lapels with some self-importance (it was also a handy way to keep his hands completely curled up until it was time for the wash. No point in running the risk of Paulsen getting a bad angle and glimpsing something too early).
"The dissolution of the molecular links," Henry concluded, "will one day surely be managed by machine. But for now, it must be done by hand, so as to apply the precise amount of fluid and pressure. Too little, and the black pigments will be rearranged and permanently hardened; too much, and the original currency inks will be dissolved along with the black pigments. Either incident would, of course, ruin the money beyond repair."
He gestured to Johnny. "You may begin."
Like a magician's assistant--just lacking the feathery outfit--Johnny came forward and gravely lifted the full glass bottle of creolin. Henry put his hands in the pan and took hold of the black bill.
So they started the wash, with a breathless atmosphere of importance and discovery in the room that would've rivaled a Houdini show. Johnny poured the creolin just right, not too much, but enough to help obscure things. Henry carefully revolved the ink-bladder in his hand so the pinhole wasn't pressed closed against his palm, and drops of ink oozed into the liquid. His fingers made the washing motions, his palms and thumbs rolled up one bill and unrolled the other. And there was the hundred dollar bill, soaking wet and real as all get out.
Henry held it a moment, to let the drama sink in. Then he passed it to Johnny, casually, as if it had lost its interest for him now that it was merely an ordinary note. Paulsen's eyes were following the dough, of course, so Henry took the opportunity to flick the black bill, rolled and wet, into his lab coat pocket. Then he took his handkerchief from the table, wiped his hands dry, and stuffed the empty ink-bladder and the handkerchief into the pocket for good measure.
Chew on that, he thought. Take it on back to your pal and get his appetite all built up.
Johnny handed Paulsen the bill, and Paulsen gave it a good close look. "That's amazing," he said. "None of it stuck at all."
"That is because I have the necessary practice and expertise to do it correctly," Henry replied, full of himself. Or, actually, full of Schmidt.
"Well, I'm no slouch myself," Johnny said. "I'm learning fast, wouldn't you say, doc?"
Henry shrugged. "Yes, yes, perhaps so. You will certainly make the process go more quickly, when we have retrieved the trunk." He had an answer ready, if Paulsen started balking at the amount of time it'd take to wash a million's worth of C-notes by hand, but Paulsen was too much in love with his bouncing baby bill to raise a squawk. Shame, really. Henry could've dazzled him with arithmetic.
"Impressive, I must admit," Paulsen said, offering the bill back with concealed reluctance. Henry pretended not to notice at first, carefully pouring the inked-up creolin into the second glass bottle, the slop bottle with muddied creolin in the bottom already. When he finished and turned to see the money thrust at him, he furrowed his brow.
"What do I need with another one? We have plenty coming to us, more than enough. Keep it. Take it to your friend." He paused, let a thought strike him. "Why don't you have it authenticated at a bank? This would surely make Mr. Davis happy. He must not be tempted to ask if I am creating money in my lab." He gave this last comment a little dig, Schmidt still smarting from their first meeting. Same principle as a magician, of course, having the startled audience member feel the reappearing coin or watch to prove there aren't any holes or strings. Of course there aren't, and it's a waste of time to expect that kind of guff--but the act of looking for it and definitely not finding it helps redirect potential suspicion. Builds confidence. Convinces.
"Say, now that's an idea. I could get something signed to say that serial number is from a real bill. He's bound to feel better then," Paulsen said.
Johnny patted his arm. "I'd rinse it out first, if I were you. Nothing against the law about spilling something on your own money, but still. No point in raising any eyebrows."
Paulsen rose and nudged Johnny with one elbow. "Attaboy. You've got your head on straight, and no mistake." They exchanged grins. "Lead the way, brain trust."
They used Henry's sink to wash out the bill, and blotted it on a towel till it was just damp. Henry pretended to read the German newspaper.
"Well, sir," said Paulsen when he returned, shiny with joyful greed, "I think this ought to do it. Once I've talked to Davis, I don't see anything else in our way. All he'll need is directions to the site."
He said it more rhetorically than otherwise, clearly expecting another round of meetings and fencing and smiling till his teeth glittered. So Henry took a little extra pleasure in brusquely handing over the rumpled-up map.
Paulsen looked at the map, probably only managing not to gape by force of will, then at Henry. "That's...this is it?"
"Yes," Henry said. "The area is marked, as is the only path in. The ground is too swampy for automobiles for the last few yards, but the men can surely walk into the thicket under their own power."
"Well!" Paulsen stared hungrily at the map a moment before putting it in his inside pocket. "Shall I telephone, once I know the day and time Davis can get the gangs away?"
"If he cannot do the excavation tomorrow, then he should not bother to do it at all," Henry said. "Our time is running out, and we cannot waste it."
"I remember," said Paulsen. "It shouldn't be any trouble. I'll talk to him, and we'll arrange it for tomorrow afternoon. He'll make it happen. Will you drive out yourselves, or come with me?"
Johnny made to answer, but Henry said irritably, "We will do no such thing. I have many preparations to make here, I cannot go grubbing in the dirt. And Mr. Wolf must remain to help me. We will need large amounts of my formula, and that will take work."
Paulsen's eyes brightened; time away from Schmidt, and in the company of a trunk full of free money, surely cheered him up. But he only said, in a straightforward and charming manner as always, "It's a pleasure doing business with you." He held out his hand for a shake, even.
Henry shook it. "Keep me informed of your timetable, so that I can prepare my equipment."
"Will do," Paulsen said. "I'm off to the bank, and then I can get it all squared away." He headed for the door, but paused on the threshold. "Want to come along, John? Make an afternoon of it?"
Johnny glanced quickly at Henry--or was it Wolf glancing at Schmidt?--and grabbed his hat. "Sure, I'm game. See ya, doc." And out they went.
Henry pulled off the coat and glasses, and threw open the window. The German words, the chemical fumes, the damn spectacles--his eyes were smarting. He was tired. They were in the home stretch, though, and the convincer had sunk in its teeth. From here, the job should almost run itself, like a windup toy. If everything went right, that is.
The funny part was, here was Paulsen, walking out of Henry's room a hundred bucks richer, no effort or risk required. A hundred and five, actually, counting the fin Henry had dropped in the nightclub. There was nothing to stop Paulsen--hell, any mark--from eating up the convincer, wiping his mouth, and just walking away. But they never did. When they got this far, and the bait had dazzled 'em, they wouldn't stop gulping down the hook. A hundred in hand was never enough--they kept reaching for the dirty million in the bush. And that was how you got 'em.
Henry stoppered the bottles and sat down heavily at the table with paper, pencil, and the envelope. He could've used Johnny's help cleaning up and getting packed. But that'd have to wait. For now, he had one more thing to do, to lay the ground for the sting.
Johnny and Paulsen didn't just make an afternoon of it. Henry didn't hear a peep from either one of them, and afternoon turned to evening, and evening to night. He did the cleaning and packing himself--leaving the bottles and pan out on the table, but getting his clothes and case ready for the lam. He hoped Johnny was ready to pack and skedaddle too, because as soon as they saw the final wheel in motion, they'd need to be on a train and gone. No more tempting fate. They'd get in their compartment and into a bottle of whiskey, and not show their faces until they'd crossed the state line. And then they could stretch out at last, see what else fortune might toss in their laps--
--No. No, that's right, they weren't going to see anything of the kind. Henry was going to take Johnny back to K.C., find some of Casey's old cronies, drop him off like a goddamn baby in a basket. Johnny might not be crazy about it, but that was how it had to be. Casey could school him up, polish him to a shine. Not that he needed much of that.
Henry skipped dinner in favor of a few glasses of rye and water. Bottle was getting low. He slung his shirt over a bedpost, untucked his undershirt, and sat barefoot in a chair near the window, the room lights out but a wavery glow spilling up from streetlights and the occasional passing car. He wondered if Paulsen drove, wherever these places were he was taking Johnny. These adventurous places. Henry didn't remember enough about Jacksonville nightlife to be able to guess. J.T. could've told him; he knew the city--more, he knew the whole county, and the corridor all the way down the Gold Coast--like Henry knew the sound of a deck shuffling. If J.T. were here, of course, and not lying in some filthy barracks with an ankle iron sized to fit.
Night turned to late night. Down on the street the people came and went, fewer and fewer. He sat and told himself he wasn't waiting.
But there were two sets of footsteps in the hall, an outburst of familiar laughter and a voice shushing him. And Henry knew it wasn't the job, he didn't need to wait on tiptoe in case Johnny waved a flag for him, it wasn't his place to listen--he knew, but he got up and prowled to the door, his face hot in the darkness, the wood cool under his cheek.
Their voices were low, and Henry had to strain to hear. "...just as good. Better, even, since you're..."
"Mike, for pity's sake...couldn't...counting on me."
There was rustling, and movement from the wall across the hall, to the wall right next to Henry's door. Paulsen's voice was still soft, but clearer: "Maybe I'm counting on you too. Maybe you're counting on me, a little. Huh?" He spoke gently, almost beseeching.
Johnny sighed, and a startled shiver ran down Henry's backbone. His voice was so close to the door that it was practically breathing in Henry's ear. "Maybe I am."
"Good." There was the slosh of a tipping bottle as Paulsen swallowed. "Because you know something? He doesn't need you."
Johnny started to talk, but Paulsen cut him off. "No, he doesn't. Not really, not like I need you. And he can't do for you what I can."
Another sigh, quieter, with a defeated edge to it Henry'd never heard from him. "I know you're right," Johnny said, plaintive and defenseless. "I know it. But...look, there's a lot you don't understand."
"I understand enough."
"You're one up on me, then."
Paulsen laughed. "Don't worry. I'll help you."
The bottle sloshed again, and there were a few seconds of silence. Then Paulsen said, almost whispering: "So, how about that nightcap? Are you going to ask me in?"
"You've got a helluva nightcap in hand already," Johnny replied, a smile in his voice.
"All the more reason. I should be using a glass. C'mon, John...civilize me."
More silence, Henry's heartbeat filling the quiet by pounding in his ears.
"Well." Johnny's voice moved away from Henry's door. "In the interests of civilization." His key clicked in his lock, and two sets of footsteps disappeared into Johnny's room.
Henry turned and leaned his back against the door, breathing heavily through the tightness in his chest. He reminded himself that it was late, and was only gonna get later, and he needed to be on the ball tomorrow so they could zip things up. But he couldn't bring himself to move for the bed. So he just stood there for a little while, looking out the window at the sky, the treetops hanging still in the warm dark air.
When he did manage to push himself upright and get moving, it was like he was sleepwalking. He circled the room once, lightly touching things: the packed suitcase, the bedpost, the bottles on the table. The connecting door.
He stopped his wandering in front of the connecting door, spreading out both hands, his fingertips barely pressing against the wood, like he was taking a pulse. His fingers could find the ace anywhere in the pack, deal smoothly from the bottom or second spot, hit the pinky break every time. Tools of the trade. But now they felt numb somehow, helpless, everything gone inert and cold under his touch. The wood was as hard and slick as marble.
It felt like a long time. He was stuck, no way back and no way out, his fingers reaching for no purpose, just brushing the surface of the door. When he could think, intermittently, he called himself all kinds of a fool. And he wondered if he'd still be in this exact spot come morning.
But. His whole life, on the job and off, he'd learned that it was the little things that saved you. And there was one more little thing that woke him now: the noise of Johnny's main door opening and closing, footsteps going down the hall. One set of footsteps leaving.
Before he'd formed the intention to do it, he unlocked his connecting door, opened it, and stood in front of the connecting door on Johnny's side of the wall. The wall was thick and solid, strong old construction from the boom days before the crash. Looked like you could almost fit someone in the airspace between the doors. He had a crazy urge to try it, close the door in on himself and hide.
Instead, he knocked, and whether he meant to or not, he used Johnny's syncopation: three knocks in a set of two and one. His mouth was dry as he waited for the sound of the lock releasing from the other side.
The sound didn't come, though. Just Johnny's voice, muffled: "It's open."
Henry swallowed and stepped in, closing each door in turn. He wasn't sure what he expected to see.
Johnny looked up from where he slouched against the headboard, a bottle of something clear in his lap. He'd changed into his evening clothes since the last time Henry saw him. No jacket now, though, his collar and bow tie off, his sock feet crossed at the ankles. His stiff shirt and dress suspenders were still brilliantly clean and creamy white. Just one bedside lamp was on, spilling gold and shadows across his hair.
"Everything okay?" Johnny asked.
Henry hesitated right where he was, close enough to the connecting door to beat a hasty retreat at a moment's notice. "I thought I should be asking you that."
Johnny's brows lifted. "Sure, course. All silk. Why wouldn't it be?"
"No trouble with the mark."
"Any idea when he's going to let us know the timetable for the dig?" Henry asked.
"He got ahold of Davis around dinnertime, and Davis is already making plans to steal the gangs and everything right out from under the warden's nose. He'll let Mike know first thing tomorrow, and Mike's going to telephone me. Or Wolf, anyway."
"Not Schmidt, huh."
Johnny smiled a little--just with one side of his mouth, not his usual uncomplicated grin. "Guess not." He popped the cork from the bottle with his left hand, tossed it to his right, re-corked it. Did it again.
Henry tipped his hat back a little, put his hands in his pockets. "He still on the hook?"
Some of the smile remained, but his eyes narrowed. "Up to the gills. I told you, everything's jake." Around and around went the cork.
"You have to be sure," Henry said, watching him fidget. "If there's anything has you on edge, any trouble brewing, get it out now. We can't waste this one."
"I swear," Johnny said, face like a choirboy, "he's so far up the hook he's gonna bite my hand off next. He ain't gonna curdle. What's this about?" But there was still something there, something in his wide eyes or his nervous hands.
So Henry said, "Just seems like you've been having to work too hard to keep him, that's all. If he's pulling away that much, he must have a bad feeling somewhere."
Johnny fumbled the cork on its next go-round. Not much, but it was more than enough, and Henry's stomach sank.
"I haven't." Johnny busied himself re-corking the bottle, his eyes averted. "Been working too hard, I mean."
"Morning till night, night till morning," Henry said. "Not just till the cows've come home, but after they've already put their tails up in curlers and hit the hay."
A reflexive smile passed over Johnny's mouth, but it didn't stick around. He glanced up. "It's not work, though. I hardly even have to drop a breadcrumb to keep him following. It's actually harder to--" He stopped himself, looked back down at his hands.
Henry waited. But Johnny'd clammed up, redirecting his fidgeting to that oldest of pursuits, actually twiddling his thumbs, his fingers linked over the bottle.
"What?" Henry finally had to ask. "Tell me."
Johnny whistled without sound, more a long breath out than anything. "Nothing. I was just thinking that it's a lot harder to stop him from following. Never had a rope like it. Course, maybe lots of 'em are like this on the big con."
"They aren't," Henry said at once. "That's why it takes a little goddamn skill to go grifting. They don't just jump in the boat when you whistle."
"It's going good," Johnny insisted. "If it wasn't, I'd say something."
"It's going too good."
"Not the job! He's eating that up just like we planned it. And if he wants to take me out for a whirl during the off-hours, ain't that all the better?"
Henry clenched his fists in his pockets, the worries he'd been shoving down threatening to split his pounding skull. "There are no off-hours in a con, kid. Not for the mark. How he acts between pieces of the show, that's just as important."
Johnny scoffed wordlessly, but his shoulders were getting so anxious they were nearly up around his ears.
"You done this a few hundred times, you maybe start to get a little feeling for it," Henry said. "It's a bad sign, somebody pulls away too hard--or doesn't pull away at all. You understand? This one feels like a--"
"Grant me a little eyesight, wouldja, Henry?" Johnny said, gesturing with the bottle, gripping it white-knuckled by the neck. "He doesn't know what we're up to!"
"He doesn't have to." Henry took a big breath. "You ever heard of a badger game?"
Johnny eyed him, reluctant. "Dunno...Is it a long con?"
"Not really. It's a...side-game, you can use it to steer things. Get people where you want 'em."
"How's it played?" Johnny's voice was subdued; he uncorked the bottle and took an abrupt drink from it. He was still holding the neck tight, the tendons in his hand ridging up.
Henry felt like pacing, like pounding something, but he couldn't. He stood, fists in his pockets, chest and belly painfully tight. "At its best," he said, "it's just a trick, it can sharpen the hook or get a sluggish mark to make up his mind. But at its worst..." He looked at Johnny's shadowed eyes, heartsick. "It's blackmail."
"What're you talking about?" Johnny's surface frustration was cracking, and Henry could see him groping for answers he wasn't sure he wanted.
"You, uh...you figure out someone's weakness," Henry said, trying to keep his voice even. "Say your mark's a big businessman, pillar of the community. You...send in a chorus girl. She really likes him. He maybe takes advantage of that." He wanted to look away, but he couldn't. "Then she shows him the photographs."
Johnny stared at him.
"Or maybe someone playing her father busts in, or her husband. Point is, you step in, you protect him. He owes you. He'll do whatever you say. He's grate--"
"This ain't no badger game," Johnny said, his tone stubborn and vulnerable. "I'm not that stupid."
"I know you're not. You don't have to be."
"Henry," he said. His eyes pleaded. "I wouldn't let anything happen to this job. Not one thing."
"I--" Henry barely managed to choke his voice off. But God, it was close. How could he protect him when he was part of the threat? He had no idea how to save Johnny now--Henry cornering him on one hand, Paulsen on the other, the deep blue sea and the devil. And Henry had no idea who'd win the devil stakes. He thought it should be Paulsen, but he had a sick feeling it was actually himself.
Johnny'd waited for the sentence that didn't come, and his face blazed. He dropped the bottle and rolled off the bed in a move like lightning, charging up to Henry so ferociously that Henry's hands instinctively jolted out of his pockets.
"You don't believe me?" Johnny demanded, but it wasn't anger there, it was despair, and a vulnerability both brave and uncertain. His chest rose and fell rapidly with shallow breaths. "Okay. You don't have to. Maybe you think I deserve it. All I can say is watch me. Watch and you'll see."
A few long moments passed there, Johnny's eyes searching Henry's, all of Henry's words sticking just below his throat in an agonizing jam.
"Yeah," Johnny said, softer now. "I'll go on over there--the way he keeps asking me to--and you'll see." He gave a rueful smile and started to turn, maybe to get his shoes.
The pain in Henry's head and the lump in his throat seemed to spread, to merge, in a blossoming ache that darkened his sight and engulfed his entire body. Everyone had his breaking point. Something had to snap.
"Wait." He thought that was his voice. He didn't recognize it.
"For what?" Johnny said, still softly, turning back to him. "For what, Henry?"
He swallowed, but the knot in his throat wouldn't go back down. He felt dizzy, like it was blocking most of his air. "Just--don't go over there."
"Why not?" It didn't sound like a question. It sounded like an encouragement, like a prompt from someone who already knew the answer. But he couldn't figure that right now. All he could do was try one more time to get himself in line.
Then he made his biggest mistake, and let himself look in Johnny's eyes. So clear, so curious and hopeful, nothing in them of anger or fear. He couldn't help himself then. He couldn't think. All he could do was say what he'd stopped himself from saying--
"I know you wouldn't let anything happen to the job. I know that. I know if this bastard caught you in a badger trap, you'd throw yourself on the fire to save the job. Save me." He reached out, despite his best intentions, and gripped Johnny's arms. "That's not gonna happen."
Johnny didn't twitch in his hold. He just lifted his chin, his lips slightly parted. "Then what is?"
Henry could've said a lot of things to that, if he'd been able to put two words together. But instead, he clung to the one threadbare thought he had left: he was losing Johnny one way or the other. Nobody could stop that. Whether Johnny stormed out on his own or got apprenticed to Casey, he'd never partner up with Henry any more. And that was best. It would keep him safest, in the end, to be far away when the G-men brought the net down. At least this way, Henry'd have something to remember him by.
So he answered, though he knew he shouldn't. He took the half-step he needed to come right up close, easing his grip as he leaned in. And he tipped to kiss him, like he'd been telling himself not to, kissed him warm and firm and sweet, told him a few things that way. Including goodbye.
He didn't pull back after, just stayed right there to take a breath from Johnny's lips. And when Johnny started to say, "You--", Henry spoke up quick.
"Just wait," he said, feeling his breath against Johnny's skin. "Please, Johnny. I'm asking."
Johnny sucked in air suddenly, like a quiet gasp. Henry followed that gasp to Johnny's mouth and kissed him again, already remembering this moment as shameful and perfect and lost.
He let go of Johnny's arms and felt for the shirt studs, his fingertips alive again, slipping them one by one from the starched cloth into his palm, and from his palm into his pocket. That left the shirt hanging open, letting Henry slide his hands under it and untuck it, then push both the white suspenders and the shirt back off Johnny's shoulders. Johnny's undershirt stretched smooth across the muscle of his chest, dipped down his flat belly into the cummerbund and trousers. His bare shoulders and arms were carved like a statue's, but warm and tawny and strong, flexing as Johnny tugged himself free of the last of the starched shirt and flicked it to the floor.
Henry found the fastening of the cummerbund blind and made short work of it, then slid finger and thumb around the button at Johnny's waistband and gently used his body and mouth to nudge him backward.
At last he had Johnny sitting on the edge of the bed, trousers and socks kicked aside, looking up at him with his breath coming quick and deep. Henry took his time, this one time, first and last, and looked his fill. No, not his true fill, not that ever--but this once, with nothing left to lose, he just let himself look. The white of undershirt and shorts set off Johnny's golden-brown skin, the streaky gold of his hair. His body was taut with coiled power, corded muscle, neat and hard and fine. But his mouth was soft, his mouth and his clear eyes. He moistened his lips as he watched Henry watching him, seemingly always on the verge of speaking, but never quite managing it.
Henry put it all away in the back of his mind, this perfect picture of strength and vulnerability that said Johnny to him. He soaked it up and saved it, even if he wasn't sure he'd be able to stand thinking about it again, on his next lonesome train trip to nowhere in particular.
He couldn't say any of this, this and a lot more besides. But he had to show him, even if--even though--it'd hurt more to remember, turning all his cards up, nothing close to the vest anymore.
So Henry knelt to him, close enough to kiss him again, curling one hand around the back of his warm neck. Then he kissed the side of his throat just under the strong line of his jaw, and again where his shoulder joined his neck, lips grazing against the chill of the long silver chain that disappeared under the shirt. One last brush of a kiss on the side of Johnny's face, touching the faint, healed scars from flying glass on the Lonnegan job. He let go and settled back on his heels, his breath feeling short and his head spinning a little, and couldn't help but almost smile into Johnny's eyes, which almost smiled back. And he slid both hands along Johnny's thighs, stroking once, twice, before tugging the shorts deftly open and bowing his head there.
Johnny let out a little noise that strangled off tight, and brought his hands up to knock Henry's hat off. He didn't grab Henry, though, to try to push him off or pull him down; he slid his fingers again and again through Henry's hair, his touch light, thumbs soothing away the tightness at Henry's temples. Henry closed his eyes and shivered, the tingle in his scalp spreading down his spine.
He took his time here, too, one last impossible self-indulgence, listening to the changes in Johnny's breath, feeling the tension build in his body. Johnny's hands smoothed across his head with a startling tenderness, lingering and kind. Even when Johnny's breath sped and choked into final pleading gasps, even when his belly and thighs clenched tight, straining, his hands never lost that ease.
Henry let his head lay on Johnny's lap a few moments after, his eyes still closed, stalling just a little longer. The depth of his own feeling pulled at him, though the strength of his conscience and purpose steadily hauled from the other side, and he knew they had to win. Just one more breath, though. Just one more quiet moment before thought and meaning and trouble got the upper hand, set down those four aces and wiped him out of the game. One more.
The effort to lift his head at last, to slip out from under those gentle hands, was wrenching. He'd never done anything so hard, and he'd lived through a goddamn world war. But if something was worth doing, you had to do it well, so he moved back on his aching knees and looked around for his hat. He missed the warm closeness of Johnny's body already, and took longer than he needed picking up the hat and dusting it off, so he wouldn't have to look up at his face.
"Catch a little shuteye," he said, and he could've sworn his voice was solid. "Let me know when the telephone call comes, and I'll take care of the last step."
On with the hat, a pause to gather himself, then up he got onto his feet. He gave Johnny a workmanlike glance, but made it quick so he couldn't really see. "Night, kid." He headed for the connecting door, and it was like making himself march through quicksand.
A hand on his shoulder startled the hell out of him. "Where do you think you're going?" Johnny demanded, right in his ear, and in seconds Johnny had moved around and managed to slip in between Henry and the door. He was tousled and flushed and gold and white, and his eyes glittered danger.
"To sleep," Henry said peaceably. But Johnny stared, anything but peaceful, his face wild and his hands half-clenched. If he needed to hammer home the split with a left cross to Henry's jaw, fair enough, that was one way to do it. Henry didn't go in much for fisticuffs--bad for the dexterity--but he figured Johnny was made of tougher stuff, and his hand would be fine in time for whatever job he got onto next.
"Oh, no," Johnny said. "Oh, no you don't." He raised his hands, and Henry didn't flinch, waiting for it. But Johnny didn't smack him; he landed both mitts on Henry's bare shoulders and pushed, shoving him steadily backward into the room. The edge of the bed hit behind his knees, and Henry stumbled back onto the mattress, landing on ass and elbows.
"'Catch a little shuteye,'" Johnny said. "You would say that." He stood over him, glowering, and then in one movement took the hem of his own undershirt and stripped it off over his head, yanking it impatiently free when it caught in the silver chain.
Henry made to say something, but Johnny wasn't having any, pointing a silencing finger at him. "Henry, so help me-- After all my hard work--" He took a breath and threw himself on the bed, and mostly on top of Henry, as it happened, pinning him with an expanse of warm bare chest and a gimlet stare.
Henry's thoughts couldn't seem to keep up, somehow, after that. Johnny was more than an armful, like something unleashed, and he got Henry out of his undershirt and down to his drawers before Henry hardly even had time to notice. Now those were good hands, no two ways about it. Of course, Henry's attention was a little occupied, what with Johnny's skin, and eyes, and--Jesus, Johnny's mouth--not to mention the fact that at last he was touching Johnny's hair, tangling and stroking with all ten luxuriating fingers.
Maybe Johnny had punched him after all, a good hard left to knock him out, and he was unconscious, falling through dreams full of confusion and bliss. But when someone pinched you in a dream, you were supposed to wake up, and when Johnny gave a low, shameless laugh and bit down on the soft flesh of his thigh, he just hissed and swore and kept right on dreaming.
Best damn dream he'd ever had. And he never even had to close his eyes. Though at the end, he couldn't help it, tossing back his head and squinting tight enough to see nothing but sparks of gold, and silver, and flame.
They lay in a heap for a while, Henry feeling like a whirlwind had picked him up, shaken him senseless, and dumped him down again any which way. Johnny's right hand rested on Henry's stomach, rising up and down with his breathing, and Henry was dully mesmerized by the glint of the silver band on his third finger--it caught the light at the top of its rise, sparked, and went shadowy again on its way down. He could go to sleep to that, like a pocketwatch swinging in front of his eyes, working to erase the last shred of thought. The last niggling curiosity about whatever was going on, whatever the hell Johnny had meant when he said--
"After all your hard work?" Henry asked.
Johnny groaned into the mattress. The hand with the ring spread and flexed, and Johnny's thumb started moving across the tender skin.
"You can't distract me just yet," Henry said, working to ignore the flutter in his belly. "What did you mean?"
"Oh, brother. I shoulda known you'd catch that."
"Yeah, you shoulda. So give."
Johnny stretched, one leg slipping over Henry's. "You're gonna want to plug me," he said, though he didn't sound too worried. "But listen, it's like this. I had to do something."
He paused, and Henry turned his head to watch him. "I'm listening."
Johnny turned a little himself, half his face still mashed against the blanket. "Well...I know you've been looking out for me. Turns out you been doing that since we met. And I also know you've been looking at me."
Henry's neck and ears felt warm, but he kept his face easy. "Oh yeah?"
"I thought you'd take it like that," Johnny said, unruffled. "It's just that you're always so careful."
"Somebody's gotta be," Henry growled. "You sure as hell ain't."
Johnny smiled. "Guess not. You do enough of that for the both of us. So I figured, I could either get in a plain old tug-o-war with you, or I could try to use my head."
Henry looked at him, his mind slowly turning over its gears again at last. He thought very carefully, and Johnny blinked at him sleepily, letting him think.
"You pulled a con on me," Henry said.
"I don't know if I'd call it--"
"You pulled a con on me," Henry said again, events snapping into place, stunning him like a gust of ether: the bait, the gentle tugs to the hook. Those hallway conversations, just loud enough, just meaningful enough.
Johnny struggled up onto one elbow. "Jesus, Henry, what was I supposed to do, wear a sandwich board? You're the one who said any of us could get conned. And you were so busy pushing me off, I had to think of something."
"Goddamn right I pushed you off," Henry said, but he didn't feel angry, just increasingly amazed. And even proud. "You think I want you on the road with some old grifter who's got a Federal warrant? Who can't help looking at you?"
"You're not trying to tell me that's supposed to be for my own good."
Henry sighed. "Look, Johnny. Just because you happen to have no sense of self-preservation whatsoever, that doesn't mean I want to see anything bad happen to you."
Johnny's grin was so warm it lit up the room, his eyes deep and bright. Like Christmas morning, like he'd seen the sun up close and reflected it back. "Me too. And that's twice." At the shake of Henry's head, he added: "My first name. You've said it twice. That wasn't so hard, was it?"
"Oh, swell." Henry squeezed his eyes shut, opened them wide. "What have I gotten myself into. What have I gotten you into?" The back of his mind was all tentative and frightening euphoria, an entire world of possibility like a dive into a swimming pool of bathtub gin.
"Ah, don't worry," Johnny said, head propped on one hand, his thumb moving across Henry's stomach again. "Nobody's gonna catch me, because nobody's gonna catch you. Not now that I'm here to watch your back for a change." His grin turned teasing. "And you didn't let old Mike get me, didja."
"Mike," Henry said, like a curse word.
Johnny paused, and mused thoughtfully, "You know, you must be right, he's working the badger on me for all he's worth. He wants something."
Henry's tone was deadpan: "I bet."
"No," Johnny said, his little laugh surprisingly shy, "not--well, not just that. He keeps trying to get Wolf to steal the formula, cut Schmidt out of the deal. And with me blackmailed, he'd have me on a string, wouldn't he? He knows I've been learning the right washing technique, so he could make me do it without having to pay me a dime." He shook his head. "How d'you like that? Trying to cheat us!"
"The nerve," Henry agreed mildly. "A bad apple. Something oughta be done."
Johnny drummed his fingers on Henry's midsection. "Makes me think, though."
"Which means trouble."
"Which means," Johnny said, his eyes getting a faraway look, "maybe there's an extra bird we can kill with the same stone."
Henry wasn't tired anymore, or worried. He was on the job--the job that was his life, his grift sense sharp and ready, happy to let Johnny show him the track. "Let's hear it."
"Paulsen ain't got no crew," Johnny said slowly, feeling it out. "I'd swear to that. All he has is Davis, and they run their deals in and out of the Prison Farm by themselves. If Paulsen's gonna spring his trap on me, he's gotta do it tomorrow; he's been leaning on it hard enough to split rails. I know Davis is out at work tomorrow, because that's the day he steals the chain gangs to dig up our imaginary trunk." He paused, thought it over, and concluded: "So...who's gonna help Paulsen catch me in the badger game? Somebody's gotta bust in, or somebody's gotta take photographs."
"Sounds like you know who."
"I don't know, but I have a guess." Johnny refocused his eyes and said earnestly, "The stool pigeon, Henry. Whoever it was that ratted J.T. out. He did that dirty work for Paulsen...maybe he'll do the dirt to catch me, too. So why don't we catch him instead?"
"Longshot," said Henry, slowly.
"Nothing much to lose, though," Johnny said. "I'd take any shot at those odds. And if we got the pigeon, can you imagine? We won't just have Davis and Paulsen off J.T.'s back, once they get caught stealing the prison labor. We'll have everything safe again, and the crew can go to work and get the fix in, get him the hell out of there."
Henry mulled that over a good long time. It sounded better than a lifetime of steak dinners, even on a longshot.
"Whaddya think?" Johnny prodded.
"I think J.T.'s gonna give us both holy hell," Henry said. "Let's do it."
Johnny's eager relief was a gift in itself. He sketched out his plan, and Henry helped him shape it, talking in easy shorthand like they'd been doing it for years. Then Henry turned out the light and sorted out the blankets, because there'd only be a few hours till Paulsen's phone call, and they needed a little rest. No, he didn't think the plan needed any more work. No, he didn't want to play cards. No, he wasn't interested in--
--well, maybe a little interested.
Okay, maybe a lot.
He reached out, giving himself over to the darkness and Johnny's insistent arms. Neither one of them was gonna be rested tomorrow. He couldn't bring himself to care.
The hotel switchboard patched Paulsen's call through first thing, far too early for the night they'd had, but Henry wasn't complaining. He had the thrill of the final chase settling into his stomach along with the butterflies, like always, and it tasted good.
He lazed in bed a little and watched Johnny at work. It was better than breakfast. Johnny sat with the sheet carelessly rucked across his lap and his hair falling over his forehead, murmuring into the phone, playing the line just right. Charming but a little shy, clinging to a few morals but not very well, getting seduced without quite knowing how. By the time Johnny hung up the phone and gave a mighty stretch, Henry was ready to applaud. He smiled at him instead, and climbed out of bed to get bathed and dressed for the last act.
"Ready?" Johnny said later, wandering in through the open connecting doors, spiffy in a blue suit with his hat cocked just so. "He's expecting me pretty soon."
Henry looked around for the glasses, grabbed 'em, and patted his pockets. "Yeah, go ahead. Though he probably would've preferred you in your pajamas."
"I don't wear pajamas."
They grinned at each other, drum-tight and in tune, and Johnny headed out the door, fingers tapping a nervous rhythm against his thigh. Henry waited long enough, a few minutes, making himself count off, before he stepped out and walked through the warm early morning toward the hotel where Paulsen waited to spring his trap.
It was a nice place, though not tip-top, which made Henry's life a little easier--not too many doormen and bellhops and chambermaids to stumble over as he made his way to Paulsen's floor. It was still awful early, too, and that helped. He slowed and knelt to tie his shoe right outside the door of Paulsen's corner room, listening; the words were muffled, but the tones were fine, getting warm. They were most likely sipping mimosas, if not straight champagne. Paulsen was probably in a smoking jacket, a nice silky one with a velvet collar, something to show him off. But Johnny'd be the star of the room, the blue suit picking up his eyes, his smile increasingly warm and vulnerable.
Henry leaned against the wall, waiting for the first signal. You never knew; the pigeon with the camera might be hiding in the wardrobe or the bathtub, or, God forbid, under the bed. So Johnny's first job was to casually wander around until he either tripped over the guy or knew it was all clear. It worked with his character, a little nervous hard-to-get circling, giving Paulsen a nice slow chase to whet his appetite.
There was the sound of a coughing fit from inside the room, momentary and quickly soothed--champagne sure did take care of a dry throat. All clear, then. Now it was up to Henry. He'd been giving the place a good professional once-over, and he had an idea.
In the badger game, you had a couple choices for the sting: you could have somebody stumble in and catch your target in person, or you could take photographs for later. Henry doubted the in-person approach was on tap here. It had its uses, but it was old-fashioned, and it was easier in a semi-public space--a park at night, a garden shed in the rain--or even an apartment, not a hotel room. Besides, having pictures was a harder, dirtier gambit, with much more ammunition to aim at Johnny if he resisted. Much more this mark's style.
Given that, and given that the corner suite only had one neighboring room, he strolled down the hall and back, sorting through the picks he'd brought along, not rushing. He needed to give Johnny the time to get Paulsen--not to mention the watching pigeon--a little more distracted, in case of noise. As he returned, he heard the radio start up in Paulsen's room, a little light morning music, and he smiled to himself. Perfect. And how romantic.
With both his ears and the eyes in the back of his head primed for interruptions, Henry bent to the lock on the next-door room. It was a strong one, sturdy enough against a kick, but old enough that Henry'd had decades of practice on locks just like it. He'd sprung his first one sitting next to J.T., in fact. So it wasn't really a fair fight. He eased the tumblers and the spring just right, and it turned over with the quietest snick. He slipped in and closed the door behind him, back braced against it, waiting and listening. Once there was something that looked compromising enough in that corner suite, he'd have his answer. Once Paulsen got Johnny where he wanted him, surely with his jacket and tie off by now, maybe even slipping the buttons on his shirt, coaxing him into an embrace--
Click. The sound was unmistakable, the camera shutter snapping. Henry tilted his head, his eyes slowly adjusting to the dim room. One more click, he had the range. He saw the shadow of the connecting door standing a little ajar, and prowled up on soft feet.
Henry might not have been one for fisticuffs in the ordinary run of things, but when he saw the stooped figure pressed up to the other room's connecting door, camera lens solidly planted on--what, a drilled peephole, maybe?--he felt an unfamiliar, slow-banked rage take hold.
One hand folding tight around the pigeon's mouth, one hand taking hold of the camera, Henry pulled him off balance backward and spoke low and deliberate, right into his ear. "We're stepping out of this room together, friend. And...if you'd like to give me an early Christmas present, you just resist me."
A few shocked seconds passed, and Henry didn't know which result to hope for. But finally, the figure against him sagged, and Henry pulled him silently from the room, one hand clenched tight--barely restrained--on his neck. Quick sneezing fit in the hall to give Johnny the high sign, so he could start extricating himself without knocking down the rest of the con. A tall order, but Johnny was more than up to it. And out Henry went, linking a comradely arm with his new pal, taking a nice morning stroll back to his hotel. If his arm was tensed up tight enough to snap, who was to know?
He put the camera on the table and the pigeon in a chair, harder than necessary, and stood between him and the door, his skin creeping. The guy was skinny, beaky about the face, sandy haired and mustached. His eyes were wide and bloodshot, fixed on Henry, blinking fast.
"I--" he started to say, but Henry lifted one slow finger, and maybe it was something in his face, but the pigeon shut his mouth.
"First," Henry said evenly. "Is Paulsen gonna miss you?"
The pigeon swallowed, looking at him.
"Just answer, and let's set things right." Henry crossed his arms. "I'm not a hit man."
"I know. I just-- No. Not--I mean, not now. I'm not supposed to meet him again till he gets back to his apartment tonight."
"And you bring the pictures."
"Well...yeah. Don't I--"
"Not yet." Henry looked at him with more attention, now that his immediate fury was under control. "I know you, I think. You ring a bell."
He nodded miserably. "I was gonna say...I think I know you, too. You look different, maybe it's the glasses or something. And it's been a while. But...you're Henry Gondorff, aren't you?"
"I'm asking, not answering," Henry said, but without much pepper. He'd known he might get spotted, and it didn't matter now. He was busy thinking. Matching faces. Ernest? Edward? No. It was--
"Everett," he said, snapping his fingers. "They call you Two-Button Ev."
"I used to be the best at the shell game," Everett said, but there was no pride in his voice. Nothing but pure soaked shame, and more of Henry's anger faded away at the sound of it, even with the circumstances.
"Aw, Ev," he found himself saying, frustrated, like he hadn't just wanted to throw this tear-off rat right out the window. "What happened?"
Everett put an elbow on the table, sank his head down on his hand. "Jesus, Henry. I wish you were a hit man. I can't stand it, living this way." He managed a sick smile. "But I can't kill myself, either. Too scared. Can't even stand up to him."
"Paulsen," Henry said.
"He got something on me." Everett looked up and met his eyes. "It was...it was enough. And he said we'd be square if I...helped him, just that one time...."
Henry squeezed his fists tight, though he knew he couldn't hit him, not even for this. "You ratted out J.T."
"I did." His voice was honest and horrible, hollow, no defense in it. "It was just supposed to be that one time. And I thought the fixers could take care of it before anything...really bad happened. But Paulsen had Davis out at the Farm, and...J.T. knew it was somebody close..." He took a few breaths, his face going blank as a dying man's. "You give in one time, and you'll never get it back. Never. Paulsen had that over me, now, and that put me in his pocket. If the crew found out...." He made a little noise that was probably trying to be a laugh, and looked up at the ceiling. "See, what did I tell you? Too scared. Can't kill myself, can't let someone else do it."
Johnny's room door opened and closed, and he strode in through the open connector, hat in hand and his face high with color, like he'd been running. Henry gave him a good look, and Johnny's eyes and a tiny movement of his head told him everything was copacetic.
Everett had jumped and tensed, gripping the edge of the table as if he needed it to keep from falling out of the chair. Johnny eyed him, steely cold.
"Sorry I can't make proper introductions," Henry said. "Give us a minute, will you, Ev?"
He drew Johnny across to the far side of the room, out of easy earshot, and told him the layout in an undertone.
"That worked out real sweet," Johnny said, just as quiet but obviously tickled.
"No trouble with our pal?"
He waved it off. "Nah, we're gold. I got charmed into stealing the formula, and leaving Schmidt to join up with him. You know, me and Mike, we're destined for great things."
"Like Romeo and Juliet," Henry said dryly. "Dead in a pile."
Johnny flipped his hat from one hand to the other, contented. "But of course, if I wanted to grab the goods and all without Schmidt knowing about it, I needed to get going. He didn't care--he was purring like the cat in the cream. He thinks he has enough to spring on me later, make me toe his line."
"Mm-hm. So the dig's still on?"
"Late afternoon," Johnny said. "Trucks and prisoners and all, heading right up where your map's marked. He figures to get in two good digging hours before sunset, and work by headlights after that. Harder for the gangs that way, but Davis says it's good for 'em." His voice was rich with contempt.
Henry smiled. "Okay. Looks like they have a date with the authorities. Now it'll only be polite for us to let the authorities know they're expected." He dug the envelope out of his inner pocket, thick with relevant names, details, explanations, and directions. "Turn around." Using Johnny's back as a nice solid desk, he added notes about the time, and folded the pages back inside.
"Want me to take that?" Johnny asked, clearly hopeful. Henry figured he had that leftover itch again, energy jumping in his bones. He could use a little more footspeed to burn it off. But...he'd have to handle it some other way, because Henry had a new idea. Probably a crazy one. It'd almost be enough to make him worry about himself, except for the fact that crazy wasn't so unusual for him just lately.
He patted the envelope against Johnny's shoulder and came back to Everett, looking at him close and sober. He looked scared, but not twitchy or weaseling with it--scared of the jam he'd gotten himself into, and scared of what came next, but sitting there like a grown man and waiting to take it. Henry hoped to God his decision was the right one. He figured it was what J.T. would want, and that pushed him toward it--but then, J.T. was willing to bite off more than any man should chew.
"Ev," he said. "You want to know what I think?"
Everett's reddened eyes glanced between Henry and Johnny, and he said, with a deep breath, "I'm sure it's no more than I deserve." Even something like that, he said it without crawling so you wanted to kick him. He just up and said it, like it was true and he knew it.
"No, listen. I'm thinking a couple things." Henry held out the envelope. "I'm thinking you want to run this over to the Times-Union offices as quick as you can."
He could feel Johnny's tension behind his shoulder, but there was no outburst from him. Everett didn't take the envelope. He looked at it with his brow wrinkled, like he couldn't remember the word for it in English.
"You want to give it to a fellow there called McGill," Henry went on, holding the envelope steady and his tone calm. "Big, voice like a foghorn. Wears a black Homburg winter and summer. If he's not at his desk, he'll be down the street eating fried chicken like they just passed Prohibition on it. You want to give him this, and tell him J.T. says now they're even."
Everett blinked at the envelope, and at Henry, and at the envelope. Then he took it with one thin hand and held it in his lap.
"Second, you want to keep an eye on the paper. And you wait to see a piece show up about Paulsen and Davis--probably tomorrow morning, a big splash, illegal prison labor scandal across state lines or something. It'll sound better than that, McGill's got style. Anyway, when you see that, I think you'll want to make a little trip out to the Farm. They'll be letting J.T. have visitors."
While Everett was taking in that idea, Henry picked up the camera and popped the back open, pulled out the film, and handed it to Johnny. Johnny unspooled all of it so it was good and ruined, and dumped it in the wastebasket.
"You really think I could?" Everett asked. Hope was starting to slip in there, under the scared.
"Yeah, I know you can. Go talk to him." Henry closed the camera and offered it.
Everett's face contracted like he was being handed a dead possum. "I don't want that thing," he said. "I don't ever want to see it again." He stood up, gripping the envelope hard. "You won't regret this."
Henry moved out of his way, leaving the path clear to the door. "Neither will you."
He left at a half-trot, not trying to shake hands, which Henry appreciated.
That was it. That was all. The last shot was launched, and nothing more to be done about it but stay out of sight and get out of town. Henry cleared his throat in the quiet and took off the glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
"You sure?" Johnny asked, stepping close.
Johnny thought it over, and finally he grinned, energy crackling out of him. "I see. Revenge is for suckers."
"I guess so." Henry felt his pockets for a cigar. "I guess you just do what needs doing."
"Yeah." There was a world of satisfaction in that one word. Johnny kept smiling at him, and he couldn't help but smile back, feeling the spark in his blood, now times two. Then Johnny turned and hefted the camera to sling it around his neck. "How about we beat it, get lunch in the dining car? I'm starved."
Fast taxi to the station, slow train toward St. Louis and parts west, and goodbye again to Florida. Henry tossed the spectacles down onto the tracks someplace in Georgia, savoring the thought of them getting smashed to smithereens.
It was just a couple nights later that Johnny sidled into the compartment after a late-night station stop, his face so innocent that Henry knew something was brewing somewhere.
"You ready for your Christmas present?" he asked, leaning one hand on the upper berth, beaming down to the lower one where Henry lay.
"Still a few months yet," said Henry, settling up on his elbows.
"This won't keep. Catch." From beneath his jacket he pulled a newspaper, dropping it onto Henry's legs. The Times-Union, from just yesterday. As Henry sat up, Johnny sauntered away and started undressing, whistling the dirty blues under his breath.
Henry read the front-page story twice through, admiring the drama of it. McGill still had the knack, all right. And he'd gotten everybody in on it--Florida cops, Georgia cops, prison officials, the District Attorney, cars of 'em had showed up and cornered the marks red-handed, in that swampy thicket with one road in. If Henry'd had a scrapbook, entry number one would've been the photograph of Paulsen and Davis, faces white and furious in the flashbulbs, getting hauled away to the wagon. He basked in it.
"Hey," he called to Johnny, bent over the sink. "How'd you get this?"
Johnny spat out toothpaste. "You like it?"
"I love it." Oh, that photo should be hanging in a museum someplace.
"Well..." He padded over in his skivvies and nudged his way into bed next to Henry. Next to, and under, and on top of, given the berth's size. Henry absently made room, peering over one outflung arm to savor some of his favorite lines.
"Someone in J.T.'s crew got copies from a newsstand as soon as he saw it," Johnny said, getting comfortable. "He passed a pile on to one of Casey's boys doing the turnaround in Jacksonville, who brought 'em up on an express. Tonight, I saw a guy in the station playing the tear-up with some fat cat, so I gave him the office." He stroked the side of his nose in the recognition signal. "He gave it back, and after he finished his touch, we got to talking. S'how I found out he's on Casey's racket, and got one of the papers."
Henry folded the paper reverently. "Casey's better than the Western Union."
"Merry Christmas," Johnny said, burrowing in against Henry's shoulder, using his teeth a little.
Henry said thanks without many words, and he took his own sweet time with it.
"Hey, Henry. You awake?"
"Once we hit K.C., where to next?"
"Uhm. Grab me that timetable. Nickel's folded up in it."
Johnny reached over Henry and filched it with two nimble fingers. Henry'd already crossed off Chicago and New York for now, and other places around there that were still boiling hot for them. But the rest he'd marked up with heads and tails, so they could let his nickel do some choosing. They could go anywhere, do anything. The Pacific northwest, the desert southwest, the Rocky Mountains, California. Canada, even.
He bounced the coin in his palm, lazily, watching Johnny in the near-dark.
The nickel spun.