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He woke me by shaking me and shouting my name, and I came out of sleep with a cocked fist, ready to smash his head open. The nightmare had been on me again, the dream in which Trina laughed at me, half-naked in Garth's arms, the dream that always ended the same way, with my .45 going back and down, again and again, against Garth's rotten face, and with Trina screaming over and over in the background. Only this time there was a new voice in the dream, and it shouted, "Matt, Matt Cordell!"
I jerked up violently, and I brought my fist back, and I felt strong hands close on my wrist.
"Matt, for God's sake, it's me. Rudy!"
I forced my eyes open, and I tasted the sour taste of wine on my tongue. I blinked in the semi-darkness of the room. There was a cot under me, and a blanket over me, and a gorilla sat on the edge of the cot, leaning over me. The gorilla's name was Rudy, and I remembered him vaguely as a guy I'd known long ago, a guy who lived somewhere in the Bronx.
I passed my hand over my face, trying to wipe away the sleep. I rubbed my bristled jaw, and then I reached for the pint of wine, took a long swallow, and asked, "What the hell is it, Rudy?"
"Boy, you're harder to find than a needle in a haystack."
"Maybe you haven't been trying the right places." We were in a two-bits-a-night flophouse in the Bowery, and I didn't imagine Rudy was well acquainted with this particular type of resort. "What's so important, Rudy?"
"We need your help, Matt. My wife told me to get a detective."
"Then why don't you get one? Is that why you woke me? Rudy, I ought to..."
"Matt, you're the only one I know. I came because you're the only one Iknow."
"Don't you read the papers, you stupid bastard?" I said. I uncapped the pint and took another swallow. "I don't own a license any more. The cops took it away when I beat up the guy I found with my wife." It was easy to talk about. It wasn't as easy to forget.
"I know all about that, Matt," Rudy said. I looked into the broad planes of his face, studying the large, broken nose, the deep brown eyes. There was something of sympathy in those eyes, but not much. I wasn't looking for sympathy, anyway. I just wanted to be left alone.
"Someone gave you a bum steer, Rudy," I said. "I haven't got a license any more. I'd appreciate it if you spread the word around. Now get the hell out and..."
"It's my wife's sister, Matt," he said, ignoring me. "The reason I came is she's pregnant."
"Good for her," I said.
"You don't follow, Matt. She's a seventeen-year-old kid. Been living with us since my mother-in-law passed away. She ain't married, Matt."
"So? For Christ's sake, Rudy, what the hell do you want me to do about it?"
"My wife wants to find the guy who done it. Matt, she's been driving me nuts. The kid won't tell her, and she's beginning to swell up like a balloon. My wife wants to find him to make him do the right thing."
"What's her name?"
"And she won't tell who did it to her?"
"No, Matt. She's got a funny sense of loyalty or something, I guess. My wife's been after her ever since she found out about it, but she won't peep."
"What makes you think I can find the guy?"
"If anyone can, you can, Matt."
I shook my head. "Rudy, do me a favor. Go to a certified agency, will you? Get yourself a detective who can stand up straight."
"I'll tell you the truth, Matt, I can't afford it. I got two kids of my own, and another on the way. Help me, Matt, will you?"
"No! Goddamn it, I'm getting good and sick of this parade to my doorstep. I don't practise any more. Let's leave it at that. Go back home, Rudy. Forget you found me. Do that, will you?"
"It ain't so much for me, Matt. It's the wife. This thing is making a wreck of her. Matt, I never asked you for anything before, but this is something else. Believe me, if I didn't have to ask you..."
"All right, all right!" I shouted. I cursed and swung my legs over the side of the cot, reaching for my shoes on the floor. They were cold, and I cursed a little more, and when I finally had them laced, I asked, "You still driving a cab?"
"Yes," Rudy said.
"You got it with you?"
"Yes, Matt." He looked at me hopefully. "Are you going to help me? Are you going to help me, Matt?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm going to help. I'm the craziest bastard alive, but I'll help you."
"Matt, thanks, you don't know what this will mean to the wife. I can't begin to..."
"Let's go," I said.
His cab was parked downstairs, and I smiled when I saw a few other winos look up in surprised shock as I stepped into it. He drove quickly, and he filled me in on a few more details as we headed for the Bronx. His wife, Madeline, had found out Betty was pregnant about a month ago. The kid was already three months gone by that time, and Madeline was frantic. Both she and Rudy talked to the girl, but they couldn't get anything out of her. They asked discreet questions around the neighborhood, but since they didn't want the secret to get out, they had to be very careful--and their questioning had netted a big fat zero. They'd asked the kid to get rid of the baby, and she'd refused. And then they'd asked her to have it at a home where they'd take the baby off her hands as soon as it was born, and that drew a blank also. All the while, Betty refused to name the guy.
"That's a little strange, isn't it?" I asked Rudy.
"Sure," Rudy agreed. "But you know how these teen-agers are. Crazier'n hell."
"Is she pretty?"
"A knockout," Rudy said. "Blue eyes, black hair. Looks just the way my wife did when she was that age. You ever meet Madeline, Matt?"
"Well, she's changed a lot since I first married her. But the kid is a dead ringer for what she used to look like. You'll see."
"Does she have a lot of boy friends?"
"The usual. Neighborhood kids mostly."
"Did you talk to any of them?"
"A few. I couldn't tell them what I was after, though, so it was kind of tough."
"What kind of a crowd was she in? Fast?"
"I really don't know, Matt. She didn't talk about it much."
"You think you'll find the guy?"
"You haven't given me a hell of a lot to go on."
"That's all there is, Matt. Maybe Madeline can give you a little more. She talked to her more than me."
"We'll see," I said.
He pulled the cab up in front of an apartment house in the East Bronx. A few women were sitting on chairs in front of the house, and when Rudy got out of the cab, they nodded at him. When I got out, they stared at me distastefully, and then went back to their gossip.
We climbed four flights and then Rudy knocked on a painted brown door. The door opened wide, and a woman's voice reached us.
"What took you so long?" it said. The voice belonged to a woman of about twenty-eight, a few years younger than both Rudy and me. If Rudy hadn't told me she was expecting another child, I'd never have guessed. Her stomach bulged slightly, but she didn't have a prize-winning figure to begin with, and that could have been normal with her. She had black hair, and it was pulled to the back of her neck, tied there with a white ribbon. Her eyes were tired, very tired.
"Gee, honey," Rudy said, "I made it as fast as I could."
"You didn't make it fast enough," Madeline said tonelessly. "My sister's dead."