Mike showed up to taxi me back to the office. He’d left the kid with his parents and suggested they go visit relatives for a few days; not a bad idea. He figured on going down to the boathouse on the lake and having a look-see.
“Nobody’s been down there yet. Mr. Wade spent half his time on the Acapulco. We should at least check it out.”
“That might not be too healthy,” I said. “I’ll send one my ops over.”
He looked disappointed but said he’d take my advice and drove off. I didn’t think for a minute he would, but at least I warned him. I figured on calling a couple of freelance dicks and sending them to stakeout the Wade place. Somebody needed to be there when the sun rose to watch for a black Caddy with a gangster filling.
It was around 10 o’clock, 24-hours since Harry Wade went missing, The streets were deserted and my office building was dark. Letting myself in, I tapped my way to the elevator like a blind man and got off on my floor. There was a big lump piled in front of my office door that turned out to be Lenny the Leper.
“McElroy, that you?” he rasped. “Ya gotta help me.”
“No, I don’t,” I said, unlocking the door, “I should shoot you on sight, but I’ll wait. Wanna come in and tell me what’s on your mind”. Whatever’s left of it, I thought.
“I didn’t do it McElroy. The cops are all over me for Shelby’s bump and you know it ain’t my style.”
Lenny was about the ugliest mug I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of ugly mugs. The word was he’d passed out drunk in a fleabag hotel and rats gnawed off his left ear, half his nose and part of his upper lip before he woke up screaming in his own blood. When his face healed up it looked like half of it had melted off. He had baggy hangdog eyes shaded by eyebrows as fat as engorged caterpillars. It was enough to make women hide their children’s eyes when he walked by. Lenny stayed in a lot.
The Leper was a loan shark by trade and had a bunch of toughs as enforcers to get rough with clients ‘behind in their rent’. A loan from Lenny was rented money all right; you had to be desperate to agree to a 300% interest rate that compounded weekly. His toughs had lots of assignments but as far as I knew, nobody had ever turned up in the morgue…or the estuary for that matter. So I was willing to hear him out, if Shelby wasn’t his, maybe he knew whose handiwork did him in.
I hated pouring good liquor down his saggy throat but if it would loosen his lip, the booze was going to a good cause. Lenny tossed down the first blast and held out his glass for more.
“I’m thirsty,” he said, “Jesus, am I ever thirsty.”
“Knock yourself out,” I said, handing him the bottle. He had to stick it halfway down his throat to keep the liquor from pouring out of his mouth. Lenny stopped just short of drowning himself.
“Thanks pal,” he said, drawing a long quivering breath. He tried to hand the bottle back to me but I motioned it away.
“I’m not your pal,” I said. “What do you know?”
“All I know is, it wasn’t me or the boys that whacked Shelby. Shelby made good on his loan; he was free and clear. Why would I take out a good customer?”
“I don’t know, Lenny. You tell me.” I lit a cigarette and blew smoke at him.
“I wouldn’t, that’s what. I ain’t that smart but I ain’t that stupid, neither,” Lenny said. “I ain’t goin down for something I got nothing to do with.”
Lenny’s argument made sense in some kind of perverted criminal logic. He wanted me to get the cops off his scent so he could take a breather out of town until the thing blew over.
“If you catch the guy what killed him, I’m off the hook,” Lenny said, “and it’ll be back to business. I could make it worth it to youse”
“Lenny,” I said, “This may surprise you, but the town is better off without your business.”
He looked genuinely surprised. “How’s that,” he said, “Where do these chumps get the dough to get outta jams, then? Somebody worse than me, that’s who.” He put the whiskey to his lips again and drained the bottle, wiping his half a mouth with a satisfied burp.
“Scuse me,” he said.
I laughed. It was all too ironic and he was right to boot. Then I thought about the possibility that this murder was the start of a takeover attempt by a bigger scourge and stopped laughing.
“You’ve got to give me something to go on Lenny. Who would have it out for Hank Shelby? He’s nothing but a low level card sharp.”
He moved his sloppy frame uncomfortably in the chair. “Maybe I know something McElroy, maybe I don’t; I ain’t sure. But nothing I tell ya came from me, understand? I don’t fancy no fork in my neck.”
“How did you know it was a fork? That didn’t make it into the papers.”
“The snitches, McElroy, the snitches were ta me in a hot minute.”
“I’ll have the cops in here in a hot minute if you don’t spill it,” I said, “I’m starting to get bothered.”
“Okay, okay,” said the Leper. He leaned in close to me and I could smell his insides leaking out the extra holes.
“I hear it was Mexicans,” he whispered.
“That’s a big help Lenny. There’s half a million Mexicans between here and the border.”
“There’s this one guy, El Asesino, the Assassin they call him. I hear there’s some kinda caper went down and him and his crew are up here sortin’ it out.”
“Caper,” I said, “What brand of caper are we talking about?”
He waved me off. “I dunno nothin’ about that but a couple of card room dealers is missin’, now Shelby is took out. That’s all I’m saying. You gotta find the rest.”
“The rest of what?”
“Dere ain’t no rest Snoopy or I’d have my boys out. You know dat.” He hauled himself up. “You tell the cops it ain’t me what did it. I ain’t been here neither.”
Lenny pulled out a roll of cash that could choke a horse, peeled off several bills and plopped them on my desk.
“Dat’s five hunnert large,” he said, “And you ain’t seen me.” He pushed his bulk out of my office. I could hear his heavy footsteps thumping down the hall and the creak of the elevator when he stepped in. I watched from the window as the Leper wheezed himself out into the street. A Packard appeared out of no where. He swiveled his head around to make sure nobody was around, then slowly climbed in. I didn’t know it yet, but that’s the last I’d see of him.