Return to Ramble House Page
Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page
THE SHARKSKIN BOOK
Ogden Farlow knew that he was about to break! To confess—something—anything. Even, if necessary, the actual murder of Peter van Dervelpen. He’d stood it now 3 interminable days and nights—question—question—question —“Why did you kill van Dervelpen?”—question—question—question—”What did you do with his body?” He hadn’t had, he judged, over 5 ounces of water during those three days and nights—and little or no food—only a bit of one or the other when he seemed about to go under—he hadn’t had, in the entire time, over a couple of hour’s sleep, for every time he dropped off, in his cell, he was awakened by a watchful guard and dragged back here again—to sit, this dazzling light beating into his eyeballs—into his very brain—and back of it, in the shadow, the cruel thin face of Steve Moggs, better known to Niagara City’s Detective Bureau as Third-Degree Moggs—the brutish face of the German plain-clothes man, Hufnagel—the leering face of the Italian plain-clothes man, Santa Garafalo.
“Goddam you to hell, Farlow,” Moggs was saying even at this moment, “unless you ’fess up, I’m going to take you our of this goldfish room here—take you secretly from the Bureau here, by the back way, to Sky-High Bridge—and from there, by Christ, I’m going to hang you by the wrists till you—”
“Gi’—gi’ me drink—of water, will you?” rasped Farlow.
“Will you confess—if I give you a big pitcher of it?”
“How—how—how c’n I c’nfess,” said Farlow, “when I—I didn’ kill him?”
“Lees’en, Boss,” said the Italian Garafalo, “sheez time now—I tall you—to use theez!” And blinded as Farlow was by the dazzling light above his head, he could see the wire-wound rubber hose which Garafalo held up.
“Wan wallop—joos’ to begeen weeth—for each year ol’ he is. That make 32 wallops to start. An’—”
“No, no, no—not yet,” said Moggs irritably. “For with or without that wire, the hose’ll leave welts. And—”
“What eef does, Boss! Planty good-lookeeng son-o’-beetch like heem maybe not look so good-lookeeng after that. An’–”
“Oh, that isn’t the point, Mussolini II’d. The point is that the doctor that sees him’ll be a witness at his trial, and any welts’ll knock out—”
“Aw, Boss, a poleet’cal croaker like Doc Wheeley?—go against the Organeezation?—what’s got ever’bodee een it—soch as Shereef Dirmoseer—an’ State’s Attor-nee Murdie—an’ Chief Poleece Dan—”
“Cut out the reciting of the political hookup in this town,” snapped Moggs, “which we know well enough without hearing it. And get to work on some arguments that’ll make this rivet designer—or con-sult-ing civ-il engyneer, as he calls himself!—sing. I’m—I’m all in. That anonymous tip we got that he got rid of his friend so’s he’d have clear sailing with some red-headed striptease dancer was certainly the McCoy. Seeing there hasn’t been hide nor hair seen of his blond Dutch friend now for 4 months. Or 122 days—if we take it by days—from June 1st, when van Dervelpen plainly was first non esty!—to today—which is October 1st, if I haven’t gone screwy myself on my dates from putting in days and nights on this bird. And backed up as it is—the tip part, I mean—by the fact that even the S.A. saw him squiring the dame one night in a hot spot. And here—here this bird won’t even admit he knows such a dame! Hell, that all hangs together perfectly—and in view of the S.A.’s order to get his confession—or else!—we got to get it. For he did it a’right—and he’s going to tell us how, when, and where he did it—and why he did it—as well as who the gal is—where she is—and the whole lowdown.”
Now Farlow, even more than ever dazed by the cascade of light beating into his eyeballs, both of which were silently shrieking with pain, saw the leering face of Garafalo take the place of the face of Moggs, wearied by his third-degree work.
“So ya ain’ gonna talk, heh?” said the Italian. “Ya bomp off yer fran’ fer a tweest—becoze she loves heem—an’ t’eenk to mak’ big fool of poleece department w’en State’s Atornee Murdie he say, ‘van Dervelpen went to college weeth me an’ I want heez body foun’.’ Aw-right, lug. Now I’m gonna talk weet’ you log’cally. An’—but firs’—tak’ a dreenk av dees.”
Farlow saw a thick glass of cold water, tinkling with a trio of ice cubes in it—a glass which had come miraculously out of the black-ness, held—actually held—to his lips! Slobberingly, he leaned his head forward to suck in the contents of that thick glass—to envelop those contents, every precious drop!—then, suddenly, it had vanished—he heard it clank against the wall that faced him most directly—at least, saw the splash of the water that had been in it, bounding from that wall, reflecting, for the barest instant, light from that cascade of light over his head—heard ice cubes and glass both fall to the floor—bound—bounce—lie still. And his dazed brain heard the mocking laugh of Garafalo. “T’ought you ’uz gonna dreenk hearty, heh?—an’ dan geev’ us de ronaroun’ anodder twan’y-four hours?” Garafalo reached back somewhere in the darkness, and from some table or chair of wonders, brought forth into visibility a cold bottle of ginger ale—with actual mist frozen on it—even an opener fastened to it with a rubber band. “Bot you confass dat bompoff—no phoney—an’ you gat dees—”
“But,” rasped Farlow, dry-throatedly, “you—you ask me—ask me—to—to send myself—to the chair—for—for a bottle—of ginger ale. I—”
“W’y not? You gonna reach de chair an’way! Might as well ’ave good dreenk—on it. You gonna set in dat ch—”
“No,” said Farlow explosively.
“Yes,” said Garafalo unruffledly, “an’ you kinda locky man at dat—you no got nobody in whol’ worl’ to boo-hoo—or cry!—or feel deesgrace’—becoze you tall trut’ how you keel your fran’. You lone wolf—all alone in worl’—hurt nobody by talk. So com’ now. For w’y you ’ave dat rod heed in your flat there—onder board in your keetcheenette? Becoze you commeeted morder weeth it? Why you had heem heed?”
“Because I—I didn’t want the kids—in the party I was going to give—for the—the kids in the neighborhood—to—to find it. And—and maybe hurt themselves with it. For I—I didn’t know how to unload it—so I—”
“Sheez rod, mabbe, stashed weeth you?—by theeze crook? Joe Long?—av Buff’lo, New York?—heh?”
“No! No! Joe Long—of Buff’lo—whoever he is—has nothing—to do—with an’thing—in this case. Nothing, I tell you—nothing—”
The impact of Garafalo’s open hand stung like a whip. Fire surged into half of Farlow’s brain. “Cot dat, you son-o’-beech. Dat—dat goddam’ monkey beez’ness. Don’ we fin’ scrap av paper?—heeden in your theengs?—’bout Joe Long?—av Buff’lo?—yet no can fin’ heem in Buff’lo? You lie—’bout dat Joe. Eef he no woz crook, then heez name shood be in direct-oree. For two cents I—I beat your teet’ down your—”
Steve Moggs, thus far but a blurry white face in the background, had been sighing audibly “That’ll do, Santa. Trouble is, I can’t trust your Latin temp’ment. Next time you’ll use your whole mitt—and clenched—and your knuckle’ll maybe knock this guy’s glim out—then he’ll have an A. No. 1 basis to repudiate anything and everything he may even tentatively admit—here, I’ll take over—no, I won’t—Hufnagel, you take over—while I inhale this cold Coca-cola; watching this guy lickin’ his lips with that dry tongue of his makes me thirsty as hell—yeah, hand me that big cold bottle—you take over, Huf—he’s about due to sing—that I know goddamn well—and I want it a clean sing—without any welts, broken bones, lost eyes, or even a goddamn purple bruise.”
Now one face—at least for Farlow—proceeded to take the place of another. For Hufnagel’s relentless red face, with its close-set pig eyes, the face constituting seemingly but the near side of a cube the upper edge of which bore a pompadour, wafted in in place of Moggs’s.
“So you vassn’d going to dell us v’y you kill’t your friend, eh? Or vat de argyment vass—apout de girl? Or who she iss? Vell, vat you dink now—” Hufnagel’s face was so close to Farlow’s that it seemed to be like a great white map—indeed, to Farlow, tempo-rarily delirious, it was a great map—he was back on that Tibet expedition whence, as engineer in problems of fording streams and scaling crags, he’d accompanied the explorer Robbins—they were even now surveying the map of Mongolia—wondering whether to change the expedition, which was providing so many difficulties—to try Mongolia—dinosaur eggs—now here—here is Mount Kwing—Mount Kwing—but why two great black openings on the map?—and now, running up Farlow’s leg he felt fearful, fearful pain—the two black openings in Mount Kwing turned to nostrils—Mount Kwing turned to a nose—the map of Mongolia turned into Hufnagel’s face—and Hufnagel—Hufnagel, foot atop Farlow’s, must be putting all his weight on Farlow’s foot—who—
“How you lige sdone-crusher drough shoe, heh? Does dot mage you dalk?”
“Goddamn it, Hufnagel,” Moggs ordered, “don’t bust his foot, you fool. A foot’s nothing but an arch of—of small bo—”
“Nefer busts foots,” said Hufnagel triumphantly. “Nefer pruises foots even. Ve used to use id in Berleen on dem Gottdamn Chews. Dey qvick dell vere vass derr chewels. But vatch now—how he’ll dell me—who iss Choe Lank—bei Buff’lo.” And now the square pompadoured face, driving down on Farlow like the front of a great armored army tank, shouted fiercely: “Who—iss Choe Lonk?”
“Don’ know. Wish knew. So—so could answer. F’rgot. Think—think is—was name of—of crim’nal lawyer—saw—in news story. Made note. That’s all remember.”
“Aha! So you vass deenking ven you mage dot nodation dot shordly you voot be neeting crim’nal lawyer, heh? Unt maype you voot hire him? Vot baber vass dot sdory een—apout Choe Lonk?”
“If he practiced by Buffalo in—vy he iss not in diregdory?”
“Buffalo? D’rect’ry? Buff’lo d’rec—oh—you—you mean—Joseph Long? I—I think—story said—form’rly—of Buff’lo. Form’ly. Don’ know—where is—t’day.”
“Vell, I geef you some more sdone-crusher shoe vot make you feegure qveeck vere ees dees Choe Lonk who iss no lawyer but iss some crook. Now—how you like—”
“Stop, Huf.” And a helpless sigh came from Moggs. “I see I got to take over. You fellows are going to bust this confession sky-high with—a knocked-out eye—or—or a broken foot. Goddamn it, this is tougher on me than it is on him. I haven’t had a decent sleep for three nights—just watching you other two birds!”
Now there was a peculiar change of faces. Indeed, Farlow realized that he was a boy again—back at the county fair—fascinatedly watching the charlatan with the three walnut shells hide the pea. Left, right—interchange; right, middle—interchange; middle, left—int—then suddenly, the walnut shell closest to him enlarged—became Steve Mogg’s face. The latter was holding a newspaper clipping, of sorts.
“Well, at least, Farlow,” Moggs was demanding, “you do admit this, don’t you! That you put this blind want-ad in the New Fork Blade, on June 5th—as a stall—so’s if any inquiries came up about your victim later, you could prove you were trying to find him yourself? And yet ’twouldn’t be circulating in the town where he had friends to see it? You admit that, don’t you?” Only two words of Moggs’s complete question filtered into Farlow’s brain.
“Wan’-ad? Wan’-ad? N’York—Blade? Why, yes—sure I admit that. I—”
“So-o-o—you admit it, heh?” thundered Moggs. “Now that we’ve uncovered the receipt slip—from one of your blueprint portfolios—same portfolio, by Christ that we found that penciled notation in—about this Joe Long of Buffalo—but here—while we’re on that duck again—what Buffalo—of all the Buffalos in the U. S. A.—does this Joe Long live in? Quick. What Buffalo?”
“Yeah—what Buffalo? There’s 7 in the U. S.A.! And that notation’s got only the three words, ‘Joe,’ and ‘Long’ and ‘Buffalo.’ ”
“Don’ know. Not an’ more, that is. T’day. Think—think was crim’nal lawyer. Think—think was Buffalo—New York. But can’t—r’member. An’ more. Jus’ wrote down, Don’ know why. Now. Wish did.”
“Well,” granted Moggs, as one who had made and forgotten a few notations himself in his life, “if you did just happen to write some name down once—for some goddamn fool reason—you probably sure wouldn’t be able to remember it now—er—today. And—but to hell with Joe Long. Whoever the hell he is. And back to this receipt slip we’ve uncovered in one of your blueprint portfolios—and by which we got a report from New York—with a clip of the ad that receipt slip represents. So you admit you put the ad in for a stall? For a stall, heh?”
Only one word was now bounding about elusively in Farlow’s brain. The word “stall.”
“Stall?” he repeated stupidly.
And kept visualizing, as he tumbled it hopelessly about, a boarded-in enclosure full of hay and straw—smelling of horses—then, suddenly, another meaning filtered into him.
“Oh—stall?” he cried in sudden panic. “No—no stall—no!—I put the ad—an ad—in—bu’ wait—” The cunning of a pinioned beetle came into Farlow’s soul. He played, craftily, for a bit of rest, a minute’s surcease. “Can’t admit I put ad in—till I hear it read. But ’f I did, I’ll tell all—’bout it.”
Steve Moggs, with a speculative look at the captive as though wondering whether now the “facts” were going to pour forth, turned the clipping slightly so that it faced the light, cleared his throat, and read sonorously from it.
WANTED: INFORMATION AS TO THE POSSIBLE whereabouts of my friend Peter van Dervelpen who left our apartment at 14 Brisbane Terrace, Niagara City, after a quarrel, and who has been missing now, from Niagara City, for several days. May be in New York City, which he always wanted to visit. If so, may be under a pseudonym, in the breadlines, or living in a relief shelter, as he had little or no money on him. Description: blond, blue eyed, about 5 foot ten. Note to P.V.: “If you see this, dear fellow, communicate with me at once. O. F’.” Anyone else seeing this ad, and definitely knowing his whereabouts, communicate with below box number. X-4487, New York Blade.
“Is that—the ad you put in?” now demanded Moggs categorically.
“I—I guess it is,” Farlow sighed. “Can’t seem—t’ quite follow—th’ words—they—”
“Well, it’s the one the New York Blade sent us conforming to the receipt slip from your portfolio. So it’s yours all right, all right. And you put it in for a stall, didn’t you?”
“Stall? No—no stall,” Farlow cried hurriedly. “No stall—on’y trying get hol’ Peter, that’s all I—”
“Only trying—to get hold o’ Peter!” Moggs mimicked. “Well, why in the goddamn hell didn’cha never even get in touch with the one person in the entire world who might have put you back in touch with him—his old lady? Wh—why—why?”
“Why? Why—why, because he’d broken with her—because she—she’d ragged him—for—for living off her—he—he begged me never to let her know anything—about him—unless she wrote firs’—but she never co-communicated—with me—so I—oh God, I’m tired.”
By the time Farlow had jerked up his head, which had started to fall forward, the clipping in Maggs’s hands had miraculously rolled itself into a white tube—had become a cigarette! Except that—the cigarette was a real cigarette! Was no mirage. Moggs was even saying:
“Here, Farlow, take it. I guess you’re entitled to a rest.”
Farlow’s dry lips closed desperately on the cigarette. The call for tobacco was agony. “Li’te,” he managed to say.
Moggs was even holding a lighted match.
“Clos’r,” Farlow was saying. He felt himself already inhaling the fragrance of the smoke.
But the match was out. Gone. Even the cigarette was gone from his lips—flipped therefrom.
“You get that,” Moggs was saying, “—and a whole pack, to boot—when you confess. You also get a hot meal. You get a quart bottle of cold ginger ale. You get put with the Sheriff, in the County Jail, in a comfortable cell—that’s got a bed you can sleep in for 3 days. If—if,” he added, “if, you bastard, you tell the truth and prove it’s the truth.”
Farlow’s brain whirled dizzily about those concepts just painted: Hot meal. Cold ginger ale. Bed—sleep—sleep—slee—swee’ slee’—“But if—if—if I can’t prove it,” he managed to mumble. “Wha’ then?”
“Oh—you don’t get none of all that—till we know you’re telling the truth. Now come on, you bastard—talk, by Christ. I’ll—”
“How—how can I talk?” said Farlow desperately. “When—when can’t prove an’thing? When I didn’ kill—”
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” bit out Moggs. “You fellows are right, I guess. This guy—with the explorationing he’s done—can go without water and food and sleep like nobody’s business. All right, Garafalo—Doctor of Hoseopathy!—we will call you in on the case now!—only, we’ll give him first only the rubber hose without the wire—and through all his clothing. It’ll raise welts all right—but they’ll be down before we’ll be able to locate Doc Wheeley—” He laughed nastily. “And—if the plain hose don’t work, Doc Garafalo, I promise you you can shoot the works—yeah—the wire-wound hose—yeah, on his nude body—an’—”
He himself had the hose in his hands. Was rapidly unwinding the wire. Garafalo’s self was represented only by a pair of hands—the hands of a sadist—rubbing—rubbing each other in the penumbra of the light—Moggs kept unwinding—unwind—
Farlow felt his head dropping on his chest.
“You—y’ win,” he managed to say faintly. “I—I can’t take that—after all—all I’ve had. I—” He felt himself going right now. “I’ll tell—tell—what can. But gotta have drink—at leas’ sip—jus’ sip—wat’r.”
He had been conscious, as he talked, that a bell had sounded; now he was conscious that a door had opened from an adjoining room, and that a young man, apparently all ready and waiting and armed with pad and pencil, had come through—was even now taking up a chair in the very edge of the light; though to all of this Farlow gave little or no heed, compared to that he gave to a bottle of Coca-cola that was being put to his lips—a straw in it—and at which he sucked—stranglingly—till, that is, it was firmly drawn away.
“A’right,” Moggs was saying, “let’s hear it—whatever it is. But remember—”
“Remember, Farlow, it better be good. Goddamn good! A’right, catch all this, Benny.”
Return to Ramble House Page
Return to Harry Stephen Keeler Page