فصل 01

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CHAPTER ONE

Moose Malloy

It was a warm day, almost the end of March. I was over on Main Street, looking up at the sign of a second floor nightclub called Florian’s. There was a man near me looking up at the sign too, his eyes dreamy and a little shiny with tears, as if he was thinking of other people, other times he’d known there. He was a big man, but not much taller than six and a half feet and not much wider than a bus. His hands hung at his sides; in one of them was a forgotten cigar, smoking between his enormous fingers.

Passers-by were looking at him. He was interesting to look at, too, with his old gangster hat, worn, wool jacket with little white footballs on it for buttons, a brown shirt, yellow tie, grey trousers and snakeskin shoes with white bits over the toes. A bright yel-low handkerchief, the same colour as his tie, was stuck in the top pocket of his jacket. Main Street isn’t the quietest dressed street in the world, but even there you couldn’t miss him. He was like a spider on a bowl of pink ice-cream.

He stood completely still, then slowly smiled and moved towards the door at the bottom of the steps up to the club. He went in and the door closed behind him. A couple of seconds later, it burst open again, outwards. Something flew out fast and landed between two cars on the street. A young black man in a purple suit with a little white flower in his buttonhole, stood up slowly, making a sad sound like a lonely cat, shook himself and walked painfully away down the street.

Silence. Traffic started again. It was none of my business at all, so I walked over to the door to take a look inside. A hand as big as an armchair, reached out of the darkness of the door and took hold of my shoulder, squeezing hard. The hand picked me up and pulled me in through the door, up a step or two. A large face looked at me and a quiet voice said: ‘Blacks in here now, huh? Just threw one out. You see me throw him out?’

He let go of my shoulder. It wasn’t broken but I couldn’t feel my arm. I kept quiet; there was talking and laughter from upstairs. The voice went on quietly and angrily: ‘Velma used to work here. My little Velma. Haven’t seen her for eight years. And now this is a black place, huh?’ He took hold of my shoulder again, wanting an answer.

I said yes, it was, but my voice sounded broken and weak. He lifted me up a few more steps and I tried to shake myself free. I wasn’t wearing a gun, but the big man could probably just take it away from me and eat it, so it wouldn’t have helped.

‘Go up and see,’ I said, trying to keep the pain out of my voice.

He let go of me again, and looked at me with his sad, grey eyes. ‘Yeah. Good idea. Let’s you and me go on up and have a drink or two.’

‘They won’t serve you. I told you it’s for blacks only up there,’ I said, but he didn’t seem to hear me.

‘Haven’t seen Velma in eight years. Eight long years since we said goodbye, and she hasn’t written for six. Don’t know why. She used to work here. Let’s go on up now, huh?’

So we went up the stairs to the club. He let me walk, but my shoulder still hurt and the back of my neck was wet.


The talking and laughter stopped dead when we walked in. The silence was cold and heavy, like a stone. Eyes looked at us, heads turned. A big, thick-necked black, with a flattened face, slowly stood up straight near the bar, getting ready to throw us out. He came towards us. My big friend waited for him silently and didn’t move when the black put his hand on the front of my friend’s brown shirt and said: ‘No whites in here, brother. Sorry. This place’s for blacks only.’

‘Where’s Velma?’ That’s all he said.

The big black man nearly laughed. ‘Velma? No Velma here, white boy. She’s not in the business anymore, maybe.’

‘Velma used to work here,’ the big man said. He spoke as if he was dreaming. ‘And take your dirty hand off my shirt.’

That annoyed the black. People didn’t speak like that to him, not in his job, throwing drunks out of the club. He took his hand off the shirt and then suddenly pulled back his arm and hit the big man hard on the side of the face. He was very good at hitting people hard, but this time it was a mistake. The big man didn’t even move. He just stood there. Then he shook himself and took the black man by the throat. He picked him up with one hand, turned him in the air, put his other enormous hand against the black man’s back and threw him right across the room. He went over a table and landed with a crash against the wall. The whole room shook. The black man didn’t move - he just lay there in the corner.

The big man turned to me. ‘Some guys,’ he said, ‘are stupid. Now let’s get that drink.’

We went over to the bar. In ones and twos, like shadows, the other customers were moving towards the door, getting out of there fast.

‘Beer,’ the big man said to the white-eyed barman. ‘What’s yours?’

‘Beer,’ I said. We had beers. I turned and looked at the room. It was empty now, except for the big black man moving painfully out of the corner on his hands and knees, suddenly old and out of a job. The big man turned and looked too, but didn’t seem to see him.

‘You know where my Velma is?’ he asked the barman.

‘Beautiful redhead, she was. Sometimes sang here, too. We were going to get married when they sent me away.’

‘Sent you away?’ I asked. Stupid question.

‘Where d’you think I’ve been these last eight years?’ He looked quite pleased with himself. ‘Prison. Malloy’s my name. Moose Malloy. The Great Bend bank job - that was me. On my own, too. Forty thousand dollars.’

‘You spending it now?’ I asked, just trying to be polite.

He looked at me sharply. I was lucky - just at that moment, there was a noise behind us. It was the big, hurt black man going through another door at the other end of the room.

‘Where does that door go to?’ Moose Malloy asked the frightened barman.

‘Boss’s office, sir.’

‘Maybe the boss knows where my little Velma is,’ said Malloy, and crossed the room to the door. It was locked but he shook it open with one hand, went through and shut it behind him. There was silence for a minute or two. I drank my beer and the barman watched me.

Then suddenly, there was a short, hard sound from behind the door. The barman froze, mouth open, eyes white in the dark. I started moving towards the door, but it opened with a bang before I got there. Moose Malloy came through and stopped dead, a strange smile on his face. He was holding a gun.

He came across to the bar. ‘Your boss didn’t know where Velma is either. Tried to tell me - with this.’ He waved the gun at us wildly. Then he started towards the door and we heard his steps going down fast to the street.

I went through the other door, to the boss’s office. The big black man wasn’t there anymore, but the boss was. He was in a tall chair behind a desk, with his head bent right back over the back of the chair and his nose pointing up at the ceiling. His neck was broken. It had been a bad idea to pull that gun out when he was talking to Moose Malloy. There was a telephone on the desk, so I called the police. By the time they arrived, the barman had gone and I had the whole place to myself.

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