Candidate for A Coffin by T. W. Ford
Wilson Lamb cuddled his automatic to play "Mr. Death" and fingered
little Louis Engel for coffin cargo. But when he pulled the
trigger, Whisper, the gun-cobra from Chi, spilled out of Doom's
Death stood on the Times Square subway platform, uptown side, waiting
for a subject. Death looked at himself in the gum machine mirror, then
down at his watch. It was exactly 4:12 P. M., Wednesday, December 10th.
When the second hand hit the "30" mark, he would turn around and the
person nearest would be It. Death wore a blue pin-stripe suit, well
fitting but slightly unpressed. Death's name was Wilson Lamb.
The second hand wiped over the "20" of the smaller dial, jittered on
toward the half-minute spot. Inexorable and meaningless. Just as what
Wilson Lamb planned. He said "Now" with a little sucking in of breath
and a thin anticipant smile and spun on his heel. He was a slim
saturnine-faced man with cigaret-ash stain on a coat lapel.
Undistinguished from any typical strap-hanger except perhaps by the
light-hued eyes. His shoes needed a shine. He lifted the pale eyes from
them and looked for the corpse to be. To the left. To the right. Then he
came as near recoiling from the thing as he ever would.
It looked as if it might be a woman. Somehow he had always thought of
killing a man. Something that could strike back. Not that he would get
the chance. It was just the idea of the thing. But she, the woman, was
descending the stairs that led up to the shuttle, bearing down toward
him, less than twenty feet away. Big and billowy and red-faced, waddling
along like a sow. To face a jury, charged with doing away with a hunk of
human beef like that and—
He flashed a glance to the left again. Nobody near. It was a fluke of
circumstance a score of people weren't buzzing all about him. He whipped
his eyes back toward the woman as a local thundered in. And Luck took a
hand. A stocky man dodged around from behind the woman and came rapidly
down the platform, neat, crisp, briefcase under his arm.
Wilson Lamb's pale eyes flickered with amusement. He said softly, "Tag,
you're it, John W. Goon." This was his corpse to be. Mr. Death had made
"Ex-cuse me." An express rolled in and cutting over for it, the stocky
man brushed Lamb. His voice was mild, colorless. He wore a gray
snap-brim hat; it was set squarely on his head, precisely level. Lamb
had seen hats worn like that by show-window clothing dummies. The man
entered the third car, middle door. Wilson Lamb boarded it on his heels.
His victim almost got a seat. A pimply-faced office boy elbowed him out
of it and the man turned away meekly. He hooked himself onto a strap,
hitched the briefcase up under his free arm, and concentrated on a
segment of his folded-open newspaper. It was one of the conservative
sheets, comic-less, reactionary Republican to the core. Wilson eased
down the aisle, casually pushing a woman out of his way, and glanced
over his victim's shoulder. The goon was studying an advertisement for a
nine-piece living room suite, overstuffed, at "special reduction this
week only." It was at one of the better department stores.
Amusement flickered in Wilson Lamb's pale eyes. He got the picture. A
typical George Babbitt in the flesh. To the core.
At Seventy-second Street, the stocky man got a seat. When he faced the
light, Lamb saw that he was turning slightly gray over the ears. He had
a roundish face, a little fleshy under the chin, a soft-lipped mouth
that from habit he held slightly pursed, muddy eyes. He was inclined to
plumpness. Somebody had scuffed his right shoe in getting out and now he
pulled up the pant leg of his dark grey suit to study it ruefully.
"Typical taxpayer," Lamb said to himself, savoring it. "Always makes his
insurance payments on time.... Probably has weak arches.... Is going to
buy the Five Foot book-shelf, always next week, and read it.... Would
like to get up nerve enough to take that blonde steno at the office out
to luncheon...." Wilson Lamb wanted to laugh out loud; it was as good as
having a duck flutter down smack in front of your blind.
Past 86th, the Express roared. Lamb's victim had turned his paper,
halved back the last page. Automatic pencil poised, he was scanning the
crossword puzzle intently. As they lolled through 91st, he bared his
teeth in a satisfied smile and rapidly filled in four vertical blanks,
then filled out the lower right-hand corner. Lamb saw that his four
upper front teeth were a neatly fitted denture. He wondered how they'd
look after a bullet had gone through them.
The victim got off at 96th, carefully straightening his muffler inside
his black overcoat. He went downstairs, crossed beneath the local
platform to the west side, mounted to street level. He had a cigaret in
his mouth but waited until he was outside the subway entrance before he
put a match to it. Lamb lit one too. He picked up an evening paper from
the newsstand—it might come in handy if he got to close quarters with
the dope and wanted to mask his face. The newsdealer was looking the
other way as he made change so Lamb plucked back his nickel.
The victim started to cross 96th Street, heading north. A traffic
officer's whistle shrilled. Broadway was spattered with the ruby red of
traffic lights. Vehicles moved crosstown. Dutifully Lamb's goon turned
and retraced his steps to the curb, holding his four-square hat
carefully. A little trick with skimpy skirts whipped about plump calves
crossed on over. Watching her, Lamb's victim shook his head.
Lamb could hear him saying: "Tsk! Tsk! Foolish to take chances like
that." Imagine him saying it, anyway.
Lamb kept at a cautious distance as they moved several blocks up
Broadway. Walking briskly, the victim turned into a side street. There
was something smug about the way he picked up his heels, swung his
"Little man who has had a busy day with a job well done," Lamb
paraphrased it sarcastically. He pushed his battered felt hat further
back on his head in a gesture of disgust. His cheap unbuttoned
raglan-style coat fluttered in the wind off the Hudson. Abruptly, the
man ahead halted, wheeled.
Lamb calmly turned and opened the rear door of a parked sedan whose
driver was at the wheel. Put a foot in. Down the block, his victim
headed into a distinctly second-rate apartment hotel. Lamb said to the
sedan driver, "I thought this was a hearse" and went down the block.
His victim was getting his mail at the desk when Lamb entered the shabby
lobby. Lamb got on the elevator after him. The victim said "nine,"
immersed in his paper again, studying that living room suite. He had his
key ready in his hand, terra cotta-hued tab swinging loose. "914" was
lettered on it in black.
"Ten, Bud," Lamb told the operator.
On the tenth floor, he moved quickly down the frayed carpet of a
corridor and found the service stairs. Back on the ninth, even when he
was yards from the door of 914, he caught the odor of cooking. Rich and
greasy. He got his ear against the door.
"Spare-ribs and sauerkraut, huh, Ede?" the victim was calling out
inside. Lamb could visualize him putting his coat on a hanger, carefully
folding a scarf over it.
From the rear of the apartment came Ede's voice, reedy and with a bit of
a whine. Lamb could visualize her too, a dyed blonde who devoured film
fan magazines and thought the girdle was the world's greatest invention.
"Uh-huh. How'd things go downtown today, Lou?"
Through the thin door, Lamb heard him clear his throat, mutter, "Oh,
But Ede wasn't to be put off. "Lou, did you tell the boss you had to
have a raise, that the job is worth more?"
Lou started to mumble something. Ede's voice, penetrating the door
easily, rose to a querulous pitch. "Lou, you're too easygoing! You ain't
got the sense to stand up for your rights. You're an expert in your line
and you know it. There's never any kick-back or complaint on a job you
"I know, I know, Ede but—" Wilson Lamb's victim got in.
"You're entitled to more money, Lou! You've never bungled a job yet. I
need a new coat. And you said you wanted to put the kid in a private
school after the first of the year. How're we gonna do it if you
Lou said, "Look, Ede! Something came up today and the boss had to leave
in a hurry—right in the middle of a conference. I just had time to grab
my briefcase myself. Let's get to work on those spare-ribs."
They moved toward the rear of the apartment and Lamb out in the hall
could hear no more. He was chuckling as he walked away, loose mouth
curled in a sneer. Back on the tenth floor, he boarded the elevator
again. Again it was empty except for the operator, a tow-headed kid with
a Racing Form tucked in a side pocket.
"Funny thing," Lamb mentioned casually, "I could've sworn I knew that
man who rode up with me. Stocky chap. Got off at the ninth. But I can't
seem to recall his name."
"Mr. Engel, yuh mean?"
"Engel ... Engel ... Lou Engel? Is he an accountant?"
"Yeah, Louis Engel's the name. But he ain't no accountant. Comes from
Chicago. I heard him tell the manager he was an efficiency expert."
Lamb stopped rattling the coins in his pocket suggestively, kept them
there, and strolled toward the main entrance. Behind him, a lobby
lounger moved over to the elevator boy, jerking his chin in Wilson
Lamb's direction as he asked a question.
At the corner, Lamb stopped in and bought a drink. Thin face creased in
a smile of self-satisfaction, he glanced at the paper he had bought.
Below the latest war communiques was a small column-head about a
threatened gang war in the numbers racket. "Police Raid Joe 'The
Flasher' Abadirro's Headquarters," it said. Lamb's eyes picked up
flashes of it. "... when plainclothes squad walked into luxurious
apartment ... mid-town West Side hotel ... several henchmen taken into
custody on technical charges ... Abadirro reported out of town ...
police acting on tip killers imported from Chicago ... showdown
anticipated on who will boss numbers racket in metropolitan area...."
Lamb turned the paper over and winked at himself in the concave mirror
of the semi-circle of bar. That was unimportant claptrap to somebody
like him. That kind of tripe was for the little Joe Dopes who got their
thrills vicariously. There was going to be nothing vicarious about what
he was going to do. He was going to rub out Louis Engel. Blast him.
Louis the Goon, as he had already christened him in his mind. He had put
the finger on him.
"Louis the Goon is going to die," Wilson Lamb said softly. He liked the
sound of it.
He wasn't crazy. Long ago he had assured himself of that. It was just
that his mind operated on a different, a higher, plane than the norm. He
was not one of the little pieces of protoplasm running along with the
herd. He was above them. Looking down on them. Studying them. His
perspective ranged somewhat further than the end of his nose, the latest
double-feature at the neighborhood movie house, and spare-ribs.
That last made him laugh out loud. He picked up his change and headed
back for the subway and his two-room apartment in the Village. His gun,
a .45 automatic, was there. He would be needing it soon. Louis the Goon
practically demanded, invited, the use of a .45 automatic on him.
"Efficiency engineer," Lamb said to himself once.
The guy was the perfect subject. Ripe for murder. The more Lamb thought
of it, the more he was convinced he couldn't have dreamed up a better
stooge. Engel was a model—for homicide. He himself might die for it.
But that was unimportant. The killing of Louis the Goon was the only
thing that counted. The results, materially speaking, meant nothing.
This slaying was to be an exposition of the ego. Without other cause.
Emotionless. With no hope of gain, financial or otherwise. No female
involved. Nothing. Just a killing, a plain open and shut case of
homicide for no earthly reason imaginable to the police. It would be
amusing to watch those flatfoots sitting around trying to sift a motive
out of the thing. Baby, they'd sweat their so-and-so's off trying to
cook up a reason for this one.
It was so simple to Lamb himself. Inevitable. A logical step in a
sequence. The final step, perhaps. Louis the Goon Engel was a mere
walk-on in the piece, a spear-carrier doomed to death. Little better
than a papier mache dummy set up to be a target for the custard pie.
Only, in this case, the custard pie was to be a cupro steel-nosed
To Lamb, it boiled down to an ultimate expression of the psyche. The
final test of one's ability to project the personal ego over all else in
the material world. Because the ego was the alpha and omega of all
living the moment one got above the level of animal existence, the mere
feeding of the face and satisfaction of the other instinctive physical
hungers. As Braunitsch had put it so succinctly, "Even the lowest worm
can procreate itself—unfortunately."
Then, of course, there was Nietsche and his superman. And some of Freud.
And that treatise of Van de Water, the Belgian, on the sublimation of
the sub-conscious by the negation of the self-censor. And the papers of
Braulinski of the old University of Warsaw on the fear trauma which he
termed a birthmark of civilization. Lamb had gone into them all, deeply.
All of them dealing with the ego. The ego and its development and
complete consummation. And the killing of Louis the Goon Engel was going
to be the consummation of Wilson Lamb's experiments in the total
exemplification of that ego.
It was no brash idea, no hare-brained impulse concocted in one's cups,
perhaps. Analytically, objectively, he had thought out the whole thing.
The axis of life was the psyche. Its two poles were birth and death.
And, as Braunitsch had stated, the former was a function, often
accidental, of which the lowest animal order was capable. A mono-cell,
the amoeba, was able to reproduce itself by the simple stratagem of
sub-division. But death—when it became a deliberate action,
administered without emotion or hope of material gain—was one step
removed from the godhead. Perhaps less than one step. But the step that
would raise one above all the little fumbling, blind-spawning, life
hugging bipeds who infested the scene.
In short, birth was fortuitous, a product of circumstance plus
proximity, its get a biological accident. But death—the taking of
life—was a selective process, intentionally executed, the result a
foreseen conclusion. In so doing, the taking of life, you broke the
greatest law of humanity and so became above it. You unfettered the ego
with a single ineradicable stroke. In taking a life, one tasted the
essence of living. He tried to remember who had said that. De Maupassant
had put it better but Lamb could not quite recall the quotation....
He was still trying to remember it as he lounged down the block from
Engel's apartment hotel at 8:10 the next morning. There was a
bone-chilling breeze off the Drive that made Lamb belt his coat tighter
about him. When, at 9:35, Louis the Goon Engel had not made an
appearance, Lamb went down to the corner drugstore and had a cup of
coffee. He could not see the entrance of the hotel through the window.
But he commanded a clear view of the street and anybody coming up it
toward the subway. And if he ever saw one, his corpse-to-be was a
methodical little piece of humanity. He would come and go to the subway
by the same route.
Wilson Lamb was correct as he had never doubted. But it was 11:07 by his
wrist watch before Engel emerged. The gray hat just as squarely set on
his head as before, without a glance around, Engel came out of the hotel
and turned his steps dutifully in the direction of the subway. Lamb was
strolling on the other side of the street at the moment. On sight of
him, he turned up the front stairs of a brownstone. But a few seconds
later, his long legs were carrying him rapidly toward Broadway. By
hustling, he got to the other side of it, entered the subway on the
uptown side, crossed underneath and was waiting in the by-pass when
Engel came along. Engel trotted up to the downtown express platform.
When the next train pulled out, Lamb was in the vestibule, half a
car-length away from him.
Taking the trouble to keep at a distance, to make himself inconspicuous,
seemed almost wasted effort. Louis the Goon went along, looking neither
to right nor left, docilely intent on minding his own business.
"Efficiency expert," Lamb said to himself. "Bet he's a cracker-jack at
cutting down on the overhead."
It was like playing a game of cat-and-mouse with him, Wilson Lamb, the
cat. Only in this instance, the mouse seemed as good as blind.
Lamb could have given it to him any time, a slug in the back that would
terminate his little life the way you would step on a cockroach. On
second thought, he would not give it to him in the back. It would be the
front so he could see the stricken stupid look of surprise. He'd
probably try to get his foolish little briefcase in front of him like a
shield. Lamb could just see it. Hear his squeal of futile protest, too.
Yes, he could give it to him whenever he chose. Just walk up to him and
squeeze the trigger and savor omnipotence for a moment. Very simple. At
his leisure. But Wilson Lamb wasn't going to do it that way. That would
have been like a blind stab, in the dark, meaningless, impersonal. Like
taking a hack at a piece of meat. Or tossing a bomb into a crowd.
Instead, he wanted to know something about his specimen before he
exterminated him. Understand his background. Get a fair picture of the
little sphere of the life from which he was all unknowingly about to
Lamb didn't figure it to take long in the case of Louis the Goon. What
Engel was was pretty patent. A typical little taxpayer, careful to keep
his nose clean, asking only to be permitted to tread his narrow path
unmolested. Undoubtedly the type who got sick to his stomach at the
sight of blood even though it might be no more than a nose-bleed.
At 42nd Street, Louis the Goon got off and trundled over to the shuttle.
He passed through the Grand Central Station, stopping off to buy a
package of Camels en route. The cigar store had a counter display of a
bargain buy of razor blades combined with some unknown brand of shaving
cream. Engel hovered over it like a bargain-hunting housewife. The clerk
put on his spiel. Engel bought, got stuck for a bottle of after-shave
Lamb saw it all from over by the counter of the baggage-checking room.
"'A penny saved is a penny earned,'" he paraphrased for him.
They cut through the Graybar Building to come out on Lexington. Engel
proceeded north a few blocks, turned into one of the commercial hotels
noted for its name band. Halfway across the lobby, a tall swarthy man
with one of those deadpan faces rose to greet him. They shook hands.
"You're right on the dot," the tall man said.
Engel's pursed mouth lengthened in a flattered smile. "I always make it
a point to be punctual," Lamb dawdling in the background, overheard him
Then they headed for the elevator bank. The tall one shot two glances
backward as they did so Lamb couldn't make it too obvious. When he
rounded the corner of the ell where the elevators were, they were gone.
Lamb went back into the main lobby and ensconced himself behind a
morning paper. Midway down the page was more about the threatened strife
in the numbers racket. It didn't interest Lamb in the slightest.
Engel probably had gone upstairs to try and peddle one of his efficiency
schemes to some big shot. The guy he'd met in the lobby was a
go-between, doubtlessly. Lamb wondered whether Louis the Goon would get
up the nerve to hit his boss for that raise today, as Ede had demanded.
Lamb almost lost him. Half an hour later. Louis the Goon came down and
scooted out the side entrance in a hurry. When Lamb got out there, his
man was already in a cab, shooting away. There was something wrong about
the conservative, penny-saving Engel taking a taxi. Wilson Lamb did not
realize it at the time.
They went westward across town. Over near Sixth, Lamb's driver lost the
other cab. Lamb was cursing when he spotted Engel on the sidewalk,
coming back across town. That was strange because he could have sworn
Engel's cab had not stopped. Must have gotten it mixed up with another.
Out, he threaded his way recklessly through a welter of vehicles and
picked up the tail as his man entered an office building.
It was fairly crowded in that foyer and it was simple to step onto the
elevator right at Louis the Goon Engel's back, then wheel behind him out
of sight as he turned. Engel called "Fourteen" and got out there,
briefcase tightly clutched up under his arm, its flap unbuckled.
"Going in to high-pressure somebody on a sale," Lamb figured.
Another passenger had called fifteenth, the next floor. Lamb got out
there, found the built-in fire escape, and got down to fourteen. This
was a little foolish, he realized. There was no way of finding what
office Louis the Goon had visited. Still, he might see him when he came
out. Maybe he had gone to see the boss about that raise Ede was
demanding. Maybe he'd come out bouncing on his tail-feathers. It was fun
following and watching Louis the Goon. Like watching an ant on a
sidewalk flagstone puttering about its puny business, knowing you were
going to stamp out its life when it so pleased you.
Lamb was just lighting a cigaret, gazing down the hallway of the
fourteenth floor, when the muffled report came up the staircase. It
didn't seem possible, a gun seemed so out of place in such
surroundings.... Then there were two more shots, a scream intermixed.
The shattering of plate glass. Lamb was down the stairs and pulling open
the firedoor onto the floor below. Immediately he sniffed the acrid
fumes of gunpowder.
He was looking out onto an ell of that floor. Onto a tableau of
violence. There was just a single office suite on that ell, directly
opposite him. On one of its double doors was lettered "Continental
Exhibition Corp." The frosted glass of the other door was almost
completely broken out, leaving a jagged-fringed aperture through which
to view the scene within.
Wilson Lamb flattered himself on being pretty cool headed under all
circumstances. But he blinked three times rapidly now. Inside the
Continental Exhibition Corporation one man was slumped over a desk, an
automatic half-gripped in his inert hand. He was very dead. Half his
head was shot off. Another man was sprawled on the gray broadloom of the
reception room, a brownish puddle beneath his side. He wasn't going to
be going any place in a hurry, either.
Even as Lamb stared at the carnage, a third figure appeared, wobbling
drunkenly from an inner office. He came stooped over, holding his side.
Crimson-speckled froth at his lips. He got to the shattered glass panel
and moved the lips at Wilson Lamb.
"Tell 'em—the police—it was—was Whisper Ross from—from Chi—" He
coughed twice on the "Chicago," then caved in on himself and went flat
in the hallway.
Lamb saw an ashen-face bespectacled man peering around the corner of an
ell. From further back, through an open doorway, a girl's voice was
shrieking for the police over the phone. Lamb remembered the fact that
he had a gun on his person. It might be extremely embarrassing if the
police picked him up for questioning. Ducking back through the firedoor,
he ran quickly up to the sixteenth floor, up past the fifteenth. Nothing
had been heard up there yet. He caught a down car and got out just as
the first prowl car came sirening its way into the side street curb.
Afterward, outside the police cordon thrown around the building,
somebody jostled against him, peered under his hat brim. Later, Lamb
recalled the bluish scar crescent on his left cheek.
"Hey, aren't you Reynolds of the Dispatch, pal?"
"Nope," Lamb said.
"You're a reporter with one of the local sheets, aren't you?" the other
persisted. "I know I've seen you around before."
"You must have been wearing your other glasses, Bud," Lamb said and
Maybe it was the effect of seeing the handiwork of that other unknown
killer. For the police had nabbed nobody yet in that mid-town mid-day
shooting. Anyway, Lamb had the itch to strike. It was like a thirst
building in a guy. You've seen somebody else dip into a tall cool one
and after a while you feel like you got to have one yourself. Those
three dead men on the thirteenth floor of that office building had acted
like an aphrodisiac on Wilson Lamb. He wanted to get him his corpse. But
He knew it when he picked up his victim again. It was almost 4 P.M.,
shreds of snow drifting down through New York's early darkness. He was
hanging around by the cab stand above 96th on the west side of Broadway,
waiting hopefully. He had got so that he felt a little lonely when he
didn't have Louis the Goon right handy. He felt on familiar terms with
the guy. Of course, Louis the Goon didn't know him. And when he
introduced himself, Louis was going to get one hell of a big surprise.
Like a kick in the teeth only a lot more permanent.
One of the hackies turned up his radio. A news commentator was on. He
came to the topic of the mid-town shooting. Three dead, gunned in the
office of the Continental Exhibition Corporation. Lamb edged over
nearer. The Continental outfit, the announcer said, was the business
front of one Big John Girra, well known local racketeer. Girra was a
powerful figure in the metropolitan pin-ball game syndicate and had a
piece of the number policy racket too.
"Police, promising an arrest within twenty-four hours, claim the triple
killing a step in the fight for control of the numbers game business in
this city. They are still seeking the missing Joe The Flasher Abadirro,
also reputed to have boasted he would take over the numbers game. Two of
the slain men have been identified as close associates of Big John
Girra. A building employee stated earlier today that Girra left the
premises less than five minutes before the killing. A prominent police
official who refused to be quoted asserted the killer was a Chicago
torpedo imported for the job, a killer who would not be recognized by
members of the New York mobs. 'We are closing in on him at this very
instant,' the official concluded."
The news broadcaster went on to another item of the day's reports. Lamb
turned around. And there was Louis the Goon Engel, not four feet away.
En route home from the subway, he had paused to listen to the report
too. He stood now with a calculating look, almost as if he were checking
the verity of the report. Lamb wanted to laugh in his face.
"If you'd seen those three carcasses leaking blood all over the place,
you'd probably have swooned in your britches, my little dope," Lamb
addressed him mentally. And the funny part was that the little dope had
been so close to it. Just a floor away, in fact.
As he followed him on uptown, down his side-street, Lamb had a curious
sense of elation. He was in on the ground-floor of Death, Inc. Even
before voting at a stock-holders' meeting himself. For he knew who had
triggered those three today, who the Chi torpedo the cops wanted was.
One Whisper Ross. Of course, he might have tipped off the police say, by
a phone call. But he wasn't going to.
"We killers must stick together." The thought tickled his sense of
They were almost at Louis the Goon's roost when Lamb saw how he was
going to do it. A boy with a carton of groceries almost ran down Louis,
then ducked down into the delivery entrance of the apartment-hotel. And
Wilson Lamb had his cue.
Some ten minutes later, after due investigation, he knew how he was
going to put Louis the Goon on the spot. And how he was going to get
away with it, get clear afterward. The taking of life was the important
thing, the major premise. Whether he was caught or not had never seemed
important before. But after reviewing the handiwork of Whisper Ross—who
had ambled off unimpeded—Lamb saw no reason why he should not do the
same. It would be the nth degree in the epitomization of the ego to kill
and get away with it.
The building's delivery entrance was a perfect avenue of escape.
Actually it did not enter the hotel at first. Down a few steps and then
it ran rearward between the side of the building and the retaining wall
next door, an open-topped alleyway. The delivery doorway was in the
rear. A few feet further on was the backyard laid out in a garden with a
waterless age-browned concrete fountain in the center. A low concrete
wall separated it from the property that backed onto it. And there was
Ambling casually through in the darkness, Lamb had discovered that the
property in the rear, facing on the next street downtown, was several
feet lower. It would be simple to drop over the wall to its paved
courtyard. And from that ran a concrete passage beside the apartment
house out to the street one block below.
Emerging on it, Lamb lit a cigaret and went back around the block to
Engel's place. He appraised it like a surveyor. First off, it was one of
those second-rate places that boasted no doorman. Across the street were
those brownstones for a nice dim background. The nearest street lamp was
down about ten feet from the entrance of Engel's place. Engel would come
walking along primly, right into its light. A man crossing the street
from the brownstones, a little behind Engel, calling out, "Hey, Mr.
It was a very nice set-up. The property line of the building where Engel
lived was set back several feet further than that of the old-fashioned
private homes between it and Broadway. They would serve as a screen for
his movements from one direction when he hit into that delivery alleyway
after fixing Louis the Goon's wagon once and for all, Lamb realized. It
was almost ridiculously simple.
Why he could almost have chalked an "X" right there and then on the
sidewalk where little Louis would lie down and forget it all. Wilson
Lamb hummed as he headed up toward Broadway and decided to have dinner.
He had a swell appetite. He was humming snatches from something. Minor
key, descending scale. It went "Come to Papa, come to Papa, come to
Papa." He didn't know whether it was from a song or a crap game. Anyway,
the dice were sure loaded against a certain party he knew.
Down the block, a taxi that had been parked with meter ticking across
from Engel's apartment-hotel drew away slowly.
He went to the movies with Louis the Goon that evening. Louis didn't
know anything about it and Lamb bought his own ticket. That too had been
extremely simple. After dinner, he had phoned Engel. When Louis himself
answered, Lamb had asked for Toots. Louis said they had no Toots there
and Lamb said he was very sorry, that he must have got the wrong number.
And Louis said that was all right, no harm done. And Lamb said he was
sorry he had disturbed him and Louis said to think nothing of it, no
trouble at all. And Lamb said a four-letter word after he had hung up
and laughed out loud in the phone booth.
Then he hung around and saw Louis come out after dinner. Ede was with
him this time. Ede was the type after which some department store
advertising-department diplomat had coined the term "stylish stout." Ede
toddled and she was pretty hefty. If there was a family argument, Lamb
would have laid two to one she would have come home in front by a t.k.o.
before the fifth round.
They went into the movies on the north-west corner of 96th. The closest
Lamb could get was some three rows back. He was disappointed because he
could not watch Engel's face. It was a double feature. Pampas Nights
was one of those alleged South American musicals whipped up by a couple
of submorons with the intent purpose of sabotaging the Good Neighbor
policy. The other picture was some ghoulish thing about a mad surgeon,
described in the script as an "ego-maniac," who had a pleasant pastime
of revivifying electrocuted felons. That one gave Lamb a pain in the
pants too. He had really made a study of ego-maniacs.
He got out in the foyer right behind the Engels. He heard Ede say she
thought the one about that "nutty doc" was so thrilling. Louis the Goon
did not agree. He liked those musicals.
"They take my mind off business," he said.
Lamb left them and went in and had a drink. He had two drinks. Now that
everything was settled, he felt no impatience. It was all lined up right
down to the final curtain. Louis' final curtain. Lamb had already
decided he would give it to him as he came plodding his smug little way
home some evening. Any evening. Maybe tomorrow evening. Now that the
details were ironed out, it was fun to leave the closing date open. He
could play the fly-on-the-wall in Louis the Goon's life as long as he
wanted. And when he got bored with Louis's act—bop! he would deliver
his compact little package to Louis....
He started to get bored fast the next day. He rode downtown with Louis
and they went over to that same East side hotel and Louis went upstairs.
He was gone a long time. Lamb said to himself, "That dope goes around in
a rut and I'll get in one too just following him and then I will get
sore." Eventually Louis the Goon came back down into the lobby. The
tall, swarthy man he had met there the day before was with him.
"Well, I guess there'll be nothing doing today," Louis the Goon said.
"Nope, nothing," the other said.
They parted. Louis went down to the telephones, used one after
consulting a little black book. When he came out, he bought a white
carnation for his button-hole in the florist shop, then treated himself
to three twenty-five-center Perfectos.
"Something builds," Lamb told himself. Outside, when Louis the Goon got
a taxi, there was something positively cocky about him. Lamb was humming
his "Come to Papa" again as he took another and trailed him eastward
this time. Louis got out at a Third Avenue bar and grill and went in.
Lamb gave him five minutes and strayed in himself. There was no Louis.
Not at first, anyway. Lamb could feel his pulse beat faster.
Then he spotted the dim backroom with the booths. And he went through it
to the Men's Room. And there was Louis the Goon—his little clay
pigeon—in one of the booths with a doll. She was red-haired by courtesy
of the local beauty parlor, cuddling up in a flashy little leopard fur
number. She looked like a dance-hall hostess from one of those joints
where everything goes so long as you keep time to the music.
As Lamb passed, she was saying, "Now, Daddy—" That almost unbuttoned
Lamb. Daddy! On his way back, he noticed there were two others in the
backroom, a couple of men gnawing on pretzels over beers.
He stepped back into the bar just in time. Three men had entered. They
headed straight for the rear. One of them shouldered Wilson Lamb from
his path as if he did not see him. The second one pulled out a cannon
and poked it at the bartender and told him to keep his britches on. Then
the other two were in the rear and letting go with their cannon.
Slammed over against the bar, Lamb had a split-second glimpse of it. For
a moment, it almost seemed as if the damn fools were out after Engel.
One shot smashed the table lamp in the booth where he sat. Then the two
beer drinkers back in there were around and swapping it out with cannon
of their own with the newcomers.
Lamb got out of there fast. He got across the street. He saw two men
dash out of a side entrance and into a dark sedan that roared away. He
did not see Louis the Goon get out. Then the howling prowl cars
converged on the scene. And there was an ambulance. It took one guy
away. Another guy, it didn't. Lamb worked his way up into the throng and
got a glimpse of the other guy getting stiff on the backroom floor.
Everybody else was lined up in the bar for questioning. Engel was not
among them. So Lamb knew he must have gotten away all right.
"This is some more of that numbers racket war," a gray-haired sergeant
said. And then Lamb began to taste something like panic even as the
first neon signs began to smear the wintry shadows. He got afraid he
might lose his little clay pigeon. Louis the Goon seemed to have a
blind genius for getting on the scene when some blood-letting was due.
He felt a certain possessiveness toward Louis. Louis belonged to him.
And he wasn't going to have him chopped down by any piece of stray lead.
Lamb had a bullet ear-marked for Louis.
He said, "I've been wasting time." He got on the shuttle and over to the
West side and up to 96th and across the street from where Louis lived.
Well, where Louis used to live, anyway. He was there just twenty
minutes—it was 4:43 by his wristwatch—when Louis the Goon came down
from the corner. He couldn't make out his face at first but he knew him
by that square-set hat. Lamb eased away from the stairs of the
brownstone, humming "Come to Papa, come to Papa, come to Papa...." This
The ultimate in the demonstration or the ego.... He told himself that as
he moved over the scabrous snow of the street.... The zenith in the
projection of the psyche.... Louis the Goon had his briefcase clutched
up under one arm instead of swinging.... The final triumph over the fear
trauma.... Louis was abreast of him, then passing by. Wilson Lamb
brought the automatic out from under his coat. He called, "Mr. Engel—"
And Louis the Goon turned and Lamb held it, wanting him to get a good
look at the heater, wanting to get a good look at him as he saw it.
Engel had the briefcase open, unbuckled. He was bringing something out
of it swiftly, jerkily. It was a heater too. That wasn't in the script.
Louis the Goon was stepping out of role. But Lamb knew he had him anyway
and started to squeeze. He would squeeze three times on that trigger
Somebody else squeezed first. It was the man running from that parked
car down the street. Lamb got it in the side and then a red-hot finger
was probing down into his guts. A man stepped from the vestibule of one
of those brownstones and he squeezed and Wilson Lamb couldn't feel the
side of his head any more. Knew he would never feel it again. He was
down on one hand and one knee and his gun was gone. Some place in the
black haze seething around him. Like a hurt animal, half crawling,
knowing only the base instinct of self preservation, he tried for that
Somebody else had figured that was a good spot too. It was the man with
the bluish cheek scar who had accosted him after the triple-killing in
that office building. He squeezed. And Lamb took that one square on the
chest. In a vague way, as the sidewalk slid up at him, he was aware of
that car back-firing away like hell.
The man with the blue scar was standing over him, throwing words to
Louis the Goon in a quick, harsh whisper. "This is the one, Whisper. He
come in here with you Wednesday. He was on the spot when you give it to
them boys in Girra's office, yesterday. Today, he was in that bar when
they tried to get you. The Flasher said to stick close to you—an' him."
"Girra's finger man, eh?" called back Engel softly.
"Yeah, Whisper." The blue-scarred man ran. In a moment, a car roared off
down the block toward West End Avenue.
Lying there on the sidewalk, blasted for keeps, his wagon fixed, Wilson
Lamb tried to put it together. Things moved very slowly for him.
Whisper. Whisper Ross, Chi torpedo. Then he had it. Whisper Ross was
Louis the Goon Engel. Hired killer of Joe The Flasher Abadirro. The guy
he, Wilson Lamb, had fingered for an exposition of his ego.
Down the sidewalk, little Mr. Louis Engel, alias Whisper Ross, stood
looking at the body and going "Tsk! Tsk!" through pursed lips. Wilson
Lamb's ego died a horrible death seventeen seconds before he did.