Statement No. 2
Vincent Grigio

It's bad business to plug your client. It's bad business, bad for PIs everywhere, just plain bad all around. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.

Vincent Grigio? He had no idea what he was paying for when he hired me, the poor sap. You ever come across a born victim? You know the type. The bird who gets soup dumped in his lap. That mug waiting for a bus in the rain and gets doused by a passing motorist. The gink whose best pal in the world runs off with his ever-loving wife. That was Vincent Grigio in a nutshell. But what do I know? I only saw him twice. And hardly to his best advantage.

Grigio fashioned one sad figure. That's the truth. And now I get to spin you his sad ending. Gentlemen, it's a tale of blackmail, passion, and justice. Justice turned on its head, all right, but justice nonetheless. I know you boys have your own version of justice to dole out. The D.A.'s only a telephone call away, isn't that right? You'll get your chance, all right. And the city's lawyer will get his. Sure.

I can't begin to dream up the story concoctions that the little one and his partner have fed you. There might even be the hint of truth to them. What I lay down will be straight up. You can take that to the bank. I'll give you the whole yarn, the full treatment. Sure I will. Then you can clap me in bracelets and heap on whatever charges you like—if you think you can make them stick.

Did I mention blackmail? As far as charges are concerned? Whatever variety, blackmailers are as low-life as they come. None of us are complete innocents. I guess we're all that way—it's a flawed species. Even cops. Sure. Blackmailers seize upon those flaws, expose and exploit our weaknesses, kick us when we're down. Then kick us again. They take the ugliest kind of advantage of the corruptible, and no one, not one of us, is immune to that. Maybe you think I get carried away. Maybe you think they're not the lowest life form out there. I guess even leeches need something to aspire to. But just in case I haven't made myself clear on this—I hate blackmailers.

That's what Vincent Grigio said he was up against when he telephoned. That was Tuesday the thirteenth. Over the wire, his voice came across young, nervous, and weak. Call him shaky. I kept asking him to speak up. He kept clearing his throat. A regular clay pigeon made to order.

Grigio agreed to my fee, then asked to see me as far away from his digs as possible. And he didn't want to be caught anywhere near my office. He agreed to meet me that afternoon at a watering hole in Old Town, an old, reliable dive.

The joint felt nice and somber when I walked in, about as lively as stucco. A smitten couple cooed at a table off to the side. A party of four college types gabbed in the middle of the floor. I took three joes settled in at the bar for regulars. Those regulars sat silent and still as parking meters, like they'd been screwed into their barstools.

This lone johnny had a table to himself in the farthest corner. He perched forward on his chair, both hands wrapped around the martini glass. The rim of the glass pressed against his pencil mustache. His gaze had an unregistered look about it, focused on who knows what—his body may have been in the room, but his thoughts sure weren't.

He struck me as an everyday, plain sort. Black hair slicked back and down, a la Valentino. Small, dark eyes. Conservative, business dress. I tagged him for taller than average with a slight, wiry build. Maybe thirty years old, at the outside. Maybe closer to twenty-five.

He never saw me coming. I stood by the table and gave him a moment. He bobbled the glass when I finally spoke up. A splash of liquor leapt for his tie.

"You spook easy, Grigio."

"Sorry," Grigio said. The narrow lips formed a pained grin. He cleared his throat and dabbed his tie with a napkin. "Please sit down. What will you have to drink?"

I took a chair, ordered a black coffee, and offered Grigio a cigarette. He apologized and declined. I lit up and Grigio sucked on his glass. We waited for my joe, and I watched Grigio. He had nothing to say, and he didn't look me in the eye while he didn't say it.

"One coffee. Black." The waitress's years of experience showed in her surly tone.

I exhaled, "You waiting for something?"

She got wise and took a powder.

I prodded Grigio, but he kept dancing. First he had to apologize for the out-of-the-way meeting place. Then he thanked me for meeting him under such unusual circumstances. I saw nothing so unusual, and told him so. That surprised him. He thanked me anyway.

"There's nothing to thank me for, yet," I said. "What's your kick?"

"Sorry?" Grigio said. He cleared his throat.

"You're sure one for the apologies."

"Yes. I suppose I am."

"What's your racket, Grigio?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"What's your lay, your gig? What line are you in?"

"Oh, yes." He cleared his throat. "I practice law."

"So you're a mouthpiece, are you?"

"Yes, I am a lawyer."

"You don't have to appear in court, do you?"

"No, no. Nothing at all like that. The firm I've recently joined deals exclusively in corporate law."


"You're probably joshing, but I actually find it quite exciting, at times. It's a fascinating discipline."

"Sure, sure. That's swell. And would you say we've sufficiently broken the ice?"

"I don't understand."

"Let's have the story, Grigio. What kind of trouble are you in?"

Grigio apologized again. I half-wondered when he'd get around to apologizing for apologizing. I had to coax it out, every step of the way, but here's the yarn he told me. A little tale about little leaguers and their little league badger game.

Grigio met the twist after a Pump Room dinner party. A business get-together, he said, celebrating a client's successful merger negotiations. The blowout broke up not too late, but not too early—Grigio's blabber was full of ambiguities like that. And him a lawyer.

So back to the twist. They met up, after a fashion, when Grigio hoofed it back to his car. That's when he spotted this figure across the street. Leaning against a parked car. Facing him, all smiles. It made Grigio go self-conscious. He searched for his keys and tried real hard to look like he wasn't looking, if you know what I mean.

At the same time, someone else waited, too, someone in the shadows. This someone waited for the right distraction, for the right moment. Grigio popped the door lock, and paused. He glanced over his shoulder at the figure across the street. That's when the blackjack cracked the back of Grigios's skull, and with plenty of gas behind it. That was lights out for Mr. Vincent Grigio.

When he came around, Grigio found himself in this run-down hotel room. Peeling paint, chipped plaster, etcetera. Long on etcetera. The throw rug at his feet showed more wear than the batter's box at Wrigley Field.

Grigio's head felt like Cream of Wheat, and all the strength had been sucked out of his body. His mouth and tongue as dry as a sandbox. He'd been flopped in an old armchair, his hat and coat gone. Someone had popped the collar button of his shirt and loosened his tie.

Curious enough so far, but here's where it starts to get saucy. On display in front of the unmade bed, less than five feet away, the skirt was back, posing like. Doing a real Alice White or Jean Harlow number. Pure cheesecake. Grigio wanted to stand but couldn't muster the legs for it. He couldn't get his mouth to operate, either. Ain't that a charming panorama? It gets better.

During this point in his telling it, Grigio showed signs of the DTs. Sweat broke out on his tall forehead. A shaky right hand twisted the band on his left ring finger. I rallied him on.

Grigio described his companion as "pretty young." He wouldn't say how young. Short and slim with short, bobbed hair. A blonde. Wearing a button down blouse and dark gray slacks. He gawked as the thin fingers worked open the first button of the blouse. Then the second. All very oh, so slowly.

Grigio moved his tongue and moistened his lips and swallowed hard. The words came out hoarse, but they came out, all right. "Where am I? How did I get here? Why am I here?"

His questions fell flat as the blouse slid off and billowed down to the floor. The gray slacks peeled off next. Then Grigio watched as the panties shimmied down around skinny ankles.

Grigio braced himself, squeezing the arms of the chair. He pushed hard as he could, struggling to stand, but his playmate straddled him with such force that he collapsed back helpless. He closed his eyes as the warm body lowered onto his, the hips grinding into him. Warm breath tickled his ear, and he heard the words, "I know what you want. You know you want it."

Then a quick, hard bite on the neck opened his eyes. He lunged, grabbing at arms, hips, anything he could to free himself. That's when it really broke loose.

"I've got enough." That statement came from a third party in the room. The words froze Grigio halfway out of the chair. His playmate giggled and snorted and shook with laughter. The third party jeered, "I've got enough, Babe. I've got more than enough."

The low, smooth voice belonged to a tall man, narrow and dark, stepping out of a closet door on the other side of the bed. Grigio failed to catch sight of the camera, at first. His eyes fixed on the pistol tucked in the man's belt.

"Who are you?" Grigio croaked. "What do you want?"

"I could ask you the same," the man smiled. "I did wonder, though, if you got any hobbies?" The man aimed the camera at Grigio. "I just got me this. Been trying my hand at it. Got some great shots of you and Babe, here."


"Quite the little ham, this one." The man shrugged.

Babe whispered, "Ride 'em, cowboy," hopped off Grigio, and flopped onto the bed.

"I'm just thinking, maybe," the dark man quipped, "maybe you might like a copy or two for your family album." He kept the words light enough, but delivered them with the severity of a mortician.

A wave of dizziness flooded Grigio's head. He felt nauseous. He forced down a painful swallow and felt a line of ice slip down his spine. He blinked with dull eyes at the cameraman.

"Let's just make it a package deal." The cameraman's pan went all grim. "Every print and negative. The works. You're probably thinking all this can really add up, but I'm sure you'll find my prices real reasonable. After all, I ask you, how can you put a price on cherished memories? How can you?"

Grigio cleared his throat. "How much?"

"We'll be in touch."

"Tell me how much. Please."

"We'll be in touch. It's time for you to leave. Babe, get your rags back on, already."

"Tell me," I interrupted Grigio, "did you consider trying him?"

"Trying him what?"

"Did you consider making a move and taking the camera away from him?"

"I told you. He had a firearm. And there were two of them."

"But his hands were full."

"I'm not used to coming to blows. I am not a violent person."

"Uh-huh. And maybe you weren't exactly feeling up to snuff."

"That's right."

So Grigio couldn't, or wouldn't, stand up for himself. Sure. He hauled himself up and out of the chair. Locating his crumpled hat and coat on a dresser, he scooped them into his arms like a bundle of laundry. He staggered towards the door.

"Don't forget this." The dark man tossed a billfold at Grigio's feet.

Grigio nearly passed out stooping over, but he retrieved the wallet, clutching his hat and coat close to his chest. He leaned his face against the door. "I'm sorry," he muttered.

The man yapped. "What was that?"

Grigio half-yelled and half-blubbered, "I'm sorry."

"We'll see how sorry." The dark man spoke low and steady. "You think about exactly how sorry. Now get out."

Grigio cracked the door just enough to squeeze through. A stale smell hung in the hallway. It just about overcame him. He stumbled his way down the corridor, a boisterous laughter tailing him muted by the thin walls. When Grigio hit the stairway, he lost his lunch. Like I said, a born victim.

"Is that it?" I asked.

"Yes. That's all there is to tell. That's my entire story."

"When was this?"

"Three days ago."

"That was Saturday."

"That's correct."

"And they called today?"


"They made you sweat for three days. Very big of them. How is it your wife didn't go to the dinner?"

"How did you—"

I spun a make-believe ring on my finger, nodded at his left hand.

"She had to babysit her niece. I believe the firm preferred me to attend stag, anyway."

I asked Grigio if anyone at work could be mixed up in this. Any of his clients, maybe.

"Oh, my gosh," he said. "No, of course not. That would make no sense. I've only just joined the firm. I've been with them seven months."

"And you haven't told your wife anything about it."

"How do you know that?"

"Lucky guess. How long have you been married?"

"Less than one year."

"A newlywed. That's swell."

"Do you need the precise date?"

"Never mind that. So, they've contacted you. By telephone?"

"Yes, they certainly have."

"What'd they say? Give me everything you remember."

"They said they weren't messing around—that's how he spoke. And they meant business."

"Sounds like a real tough crowd."

"And they want five hundred dollars!" He repeated in an exaggerated whisper, "Five hundred dollars."

"That's a lot of scratch."

"It is indeed."

"Have you got it?"

"No, I haven't any savings to speak of."

"They've done their homework, all right. Can you get it?"

"I'll need some time for that."

"What can you come up with now?"

"Possibly two hundred? Possibly?"

"Don't ask me, Grigio. I'm just doping this out."

"At least one hundred right away. Is that good? I can't let the wife find out. She can't know anything about it. How much will do?"

"It all depends."

"Tell me what it depends on."

"It all depends on what you want to do about it."

"I just don't know. That's why I telephoned you, for Pete's sake."

"Sure. Is there anything else you didn't tell me? Something you forgot to mention? Or maybe left out by accident on purpose?"

"Isn't that enough?"

"Okay. Let me give it to you as straight as I can, Grigio. You can play it one of three ways."

"Very well, I've got three choices."

"That's right. All of them stink, but that's the fix you're in. Get me?"

"I know, I know. I'm sorry."

"Sure. The first choice is to call the cops."

"I can't, I can't do that." Sweat began beading up again on his high forehead. He patted the mustache with the back of his hand.

"You know what they're pulling is against the law. Big time. This is a major crime being committed here, Grigio. Nothing penny-ante about it. You have every right to bring these creeps to justice. Wouldn't you like to see them behind bars? You're a lawyer, for chrissake."

"No," shaking his head. "Can't do that. No."

"All right. You have to be sure."

"Can't. Not that, please. No police."

"All right. The second choice: pay up."

"Pay up?

"Sure. Pay up and be done with it—as long as you realize you might never be done with it. See, if you're good for the five hundred, they may figure you're good for another five. Then maybe a thousand. Maybe two. Get me? They could figure it like that."

"Oh my God!" Grigio got loud again and glanced around. He cleared his throat and found his whisper. "I'm ruined."

"It ain't necessarily so. Sometimes they do take the money and run. They're walking a fine line, themselves. Remember this, Grigio: they don't want you calling cop, either."

"I understand."

"From the sounds of things, we're dealing with small-timers. They might be perfectly happy to take the five Cs and blow town."

"I see."

"Good. You've got a lousy decision to make, so the better you understand the score, the better all round."

"What's my third choice?"

"You fight them."

"You don't mean with fisticuffs?"

"I mean anyway you can. Blackmailers are just about the worst of the worst. They deserve every lousy break we can give them. It might be that we can arrange to take them, for good."

"Those are my choices?"

"Unless you're considering a move to Pago Pago."

"Pago Pago?"

"Sure. Pago Pago. Zanzibar, if you prefer."

"Yes, yes. I understand. God." Grigio forced down a tiny sip. "Tell me. What would you do?"

"It's not my call, Grigio."

"I see. Choices. Choices? I know what I don't want to do, but I know what I can't do."

Grigio gave me this pitiable look right out of a tearjerker. I knew what I wanted him to do, all right. But I was a good boy and played it straight down the line. I didn't even blink. I let him hash it out for himself.

"That's it," he declared. "That's all there is to it. I may be doomed, but I have to fight, God forgive me."

Now he was apologizing to the almighty. He threw a good slug down his throat, and the belt gave him a jolt. His eyes opened wide in more ways than one.

"Okay," I leaned in. "Forget about the amount of dough involved. I'm telling you these guys are strictly bush league. You can tell by the way they set it up, the way they played you, and the payoff they're after. Could be they've never done anything like this before. This could be their maiden voyage. Sure."

"You mean they're a couple of amateurs?"

"That's in our favor, Grigio. How'd they'd leave it with you?"

"The man said he'd call back tomorrow. We'd make arrangements when we talked again."

"That's fine, Grigio, just fine. I need you to do a couple of things in the meantime. Can you do a couple of things?"

Another full belt hoarsened his voice. "Anything you say. I'm listening.

"Agree to the money. You can tell him you don't know how you're going to get it, but you'll get it. Next, when you set up the meeting—sure, you make it a bar. It's got to be a bar, Grigio, get me? You'll only meet them in a public place, and a bar's as good as any. It has to be. The last thing—get two, fifty dollar bills and ten ones. Stack them with the fifties on the outside, the ones in between, and tuck it in an envelope. You bring that envelope to the meeting. Got that?"

"I thought I was going to fight."

"The money's strictly for show. Just in case. You're going to hold it all the time. Probably never even leave your sight."

"Is that all?"

"Just call me when it's set up."

"Will it work? I mean, can you make it work?"

Maybe I struck Grigio as the clairvoyant type. I had no idea whether or not I could pull this off. It sounded like we were dealing with a couple of lightweights, all right. That afforded a certain amount of optimism. So why not put up a good front? Maybe because neither one of us really knew what to expect. The smaller the operator, the more likely you'll draw a wildcard. You can depend on seasoned pros, but you can never tell what a rookie might pull. Especially one with a roscoe snug in his belt. But I didn't see any reason to make Grigio feel lousier than he already did. So I lied without missing a beat. Sometimes my line of work calls for it.

"You're going to make them pay, Grigio. They'll never know what hit them."

Grigio rose from his seat, and for the first time I realized his full, gawky splendor. He stood an easy six-plus, skinny like a rail, with an awkward posture. He extended a thinly tapered hand.

"I sure can't thank you enough."

"That's why you pay me."

"Well, yes. The sum we agreed to on the phone. There'll be no trouble on that account. I assure you."

Grigio picked up his bowler from the chair next to him, placed it on his noggin at an awkward tilt, and tipped the brim. I watched him as he cut out. His silhouette achieved something of the cliche cowpoke in its slight, bowlegged bounce.

The next morning I made some stops on the way into the office. I blew in around ten thirty. That's Wednesday the fourteenth. I checked with my service—no calls. I made it a point to stick around until something broke.

The call came in a little after four. Grigio reported that the exchange was full steam ahead. His caller referred to himself as Mr. Grey. This Grey instructed Grigio to be at the Columbia Tavern at Clark and Belmont at seven that evening. That was seven o'clock sharp, of course. Alone, of course. And, of course, with the dough.

Grigio got us a bar, all right. You couldn't ask for more of a dive than the Columbia, a hole that suited me just fine. I asked Grigio if he had pulled together the envelope like I wanted. Sure, he said, he'd prepped it just like I instructed. I told Grigio he was doing swell. I'd take care of the rest and see him at the Columbia. I rang off before he could apologize for anything.

The idea was simple, the idea was basic—you turn the tables. You play your mark for the sucker and set him up on some other rap. You just never know how much finesse is going to be called for, or if your mark will play one of those damn wildcards. That thought kept me spinning. I grabbed an early dinner at the Belden before heading over.

The crowd at the Columbia was impressive, being the middle of the week and all. I held up the bar with one shoe on the foot rail, lingering over a draft, seeing if I could finger our Mr. Grey. I might of overlooked him if not for this beautiful pair of legs a couple stools down. Every joe within drooling distance kept cheating a look at those gams, every joe but one—that made him stand out like Elmer Fudd at a boardwalk beauty pageant.

This bird occupied a little table on the other side of the room. No companion, no drink. Set back stiff in his chair. Arms folded. A gaunt figure, dark skin like a rusty tan. Hard to judge at that distance, but I guessed around thirty-five. A burning cigarette dangled from his lips. He stared through the blue-white smoke from deep-set pockets beneath bushy eyebrows, zeroed in on the front door. He sat and gazed without hardly moving a muscle.

Was that the gink? Could of been—he struck me as small time, all right. He should of bought a drink, but must've been too cheap or too hard up. I observed him chain-smoke two cigarettes, and he wiped his nose on his jacket sleeve three times. He wore an oversized cap, uncommon for guys his age except cabbies and newsies. Then there was that scar. It ran from just above the left corner of his mouth to his ear. I don't know how Grigio missed that one. This mug had been taught a lesson before. I'd have to teach him another. Sure.

Adolph caught my eye from a ways down the bar. He jerked his head twice towards the mug I was giving the once-over. I shrugged, my hands palms up. He strolled down the counter to me, glass and towel in hand.

"Can I get you a fresh one?"

"No thanks."

"You're not sure? About the fish?"

"I'm pretty sure. Doesn't matter. It'll pan out soon enough, one way or another. Never seen him in here before?"


"Has he had anything to drink?"


"We'll have to do something about that. You still remember the Lone Star gag?"

Adolph made an exaggerated nod and wink. He strolled away whistling.

Grigio entered the bar five minutes ahead of schedule. Mud caked his shoes and trouser cuffs—it hadn't been raining, but that's a born loser for you. Right off he spotted the same guy I spotted. Grigio was spotted. He removed his bowler and carried it with both hands as he maneuvered around the tables with that gawky, awkward gait. He tripped once and almost upset a party of four.

Grigio reached Grey's table. At first they exchanged nothing except a silent stare. A waitress came up to Grigio's side. Mr. Grey spoke to Grigio. Grigio sat down. The waitress spoke to Grigio. He shook his head and she left. Grey watched her leave and spoke again. He put out his cigarette, then turned to keep watching the waitress, all the time yapping. He turned back to Grigio with a pointing finger, then stopped talking. Grigio dropped his head and lowered the bowler to his lap. Grey offered a few more words, hunching his shoulders and gesturing with one hand. Grigio, for whatever reason, had clammed up but good.

I abandoned my beer, strode over towards Grey and Grigio, yanked a chair from the next table over, and joined the party. Grey's eyes flashed my way. He spat low and reserved. A smooth and strong tone it was. Made me think of a viola, of all things.

Grey said, "We've got a private conversation going, mister."

"I'm with him, pal," I said. "Sorry I'm late, Mr. Grigio."

Grey gave Grigio the bug eyes. Grigio's thin mustache squirmed as his lips formed the slightest of guilty smiles.

"Say, what gives, Grigio?"

"Mr. Grigio was rolled once," I said. "He didn't care for it. I'm here to make sure he isn't rolled again."

"Grigio, we agreed to meet alone."

"Skip it, Grey. Mr. Grigio isn't about to be steamrolled. And he's not interested in gamesmanship. He's here to settle up with a blackmailer."

"Say, I don't have to stand for none of this. Grigio, we already have a deal."

"I didn't hear Mr. Grigio agree to anything. If you insist on screwing around, we can end this right now and you can take a hike."

Grey stood up. Unsure of himself, he went for tough. "Take a hike, you say?"

"Sure," I smiled. "Maybe we'll bring in some law."

"The law?"

"How's by you, Mr. Grigio? You prefer the nineteenth or twentieth district?"

"You guys don't want no trouble, do you? Don't you just want the merchandise?"

"Of course we want it, Grey. That's why Mr. Grigio's here. That's why you're here. Sit down and let's see if we can come to terms."

"Aw, come on, you guys," Grey beseeched both of us. One doesn't get beseeched a whole lot in this burg. "I don't mean to play tough guy. I just don't like for some stranger to yank me around."

"Sit down if you want to make a deal, Grey."

Grey sat down. "Mr. Grigio knows my deal. Five bills for the photos and negatives. I didn't catch your name?"

"I didn't pitch it. We're all men of the world here, aren't we, Grey? Let's be realistic about this thing. You think a simple lawyer like Mr. Grigio can cough up five bills? Just like that? He hasn't even made partner, for chrissake. Two-fifty. That's more in the ballpark."

"I don't get it." Grey's pan displayed dumb astonishment. Grigio pulled up the bowler just below his eyes. "This isn't how it's supposed to go. I had this all worked out. What I've got should be worth plenty to Grigio, or to his wife, even."

"Threats, Grey? Don't turn ugly on me. We were conducting a real nice business transaction and then you have to go and say a thing like that."

"But I should get at least four hundred out of this. I mean, I went to an awful lot of trouble. And I got this partner—"

"Mr. Grigio appreciates your position. He'll be willing to go up to three hundred. That's three hundred dollars, Grey. Think on that. You ask yourself how much you made last month. In the last year. You ask yourself. Mr. Grigio will give you three hundred dollars for all the prints, all the negatives. A one-time swap. You can take it or leave it."

Grey lit another cigarette, the scar pinching inward with every suck on the butt. Grey tried to think. You had to admire the effort. I trained my focus on Grey but hard. I said, "You bring the envelope, Mr. Grigio?"

Grigio cleared his throat. He placed the bowler on his lap and gingerly groped inside his breast pocket. He came out with the envelope, offering it like a rotten fish.

"Drop it on the table, if you'd be so kind," I said.

The number ten fell to the center of the table with a slap. Grey's greedy fingers darted for the envelope. I struck the back of his hand with a stinging whack, then slowly picked up the package. I coaxed out the wad, just enough to expose the fifty dollar bill on top.

"That's the color of Mr. Grigio's money. Where's your product?" I placed the packet back in the center of the table.

Grey leaned forward in order to dig out a bandana concealed under the back of his jacket.

"Put it on the table," I said.

Grey laid down the bandana, ever so careful. He went pale as a golf ball. "That's all of it. You don't have to look through them."

"Inspect it," I said to Grigio. I kept my stare fixed on Grey. By this time, Grey couldn't take his eyes off mine.

"Is it all there, Grigio?"

Grigio's face scrunched up as he unfolded the kerchief and fingered through its contents. He winced and kept closing his eyes, reviewing the prints with sideways glances.

"Is this everything, Grey?"

Grey showed worried eyes. "That's the whole lot."

"The whole ball of wax?"

"Everything I got."

"It better be."

"It is, I'm telling you."

"Good. Now, listen up. There's one last thing."

Grey used the end of his butt to start off another. His eyes darted between the operation and my stare. "What's that, mister?"

"It's a bit delicate, I'm afraid."


"I'm sure you can imagine that this whole affair has been quite uncomfortable for Mr. Grigio."

"So what?"

"So, to put it bluntly, he has a problem taking your word for it. That there will be no more pictures or demands. You understand Mr. Grigio's position."

"I guess so. What's it to me?" Grey cheated a quick glance at Grigio. Then at the envelope of money.

"Mr. Grigio would like us to toast the deal. That gesture would afford him some confidence, here. Make it an agreement between gentlemen."

"Is that all?"

"That's all."


"Mr. Grigio's buying."

"Well." Grey gave Grigio the eye. "Well, okay."

"Waitress," I called. "Name your poison, Grey." I couldn't resist.

Adolph sent a waitress over PDQ. We placed our order and got served, fast.

"To an honorable deal," I raised my glass.

Grigio lifted his glass with a pained grin. Grey held up his drink with a simple, "Yeah." He threw back his head and swallowed hard.

"Grey," I said, "take your money. Mr. Grigio, the package."

Grigio didn't know what to do with his bowler and the packet, but finally managed to place one on top of his head and the other in his breast pocket. He got it right, too. Grey folded and tucked the envelope in his back pants pocket. A quick glint flashed off the revolver shoved into Grey's belt.

"We're through here, Grey. Would you like to leave first or shall we?"

That called for Grey to think again. He came up with, "You two."

"After you, Mr. Grigio." I stood and extended a hand toward the front exit.

Grigio rose and headed out. I gave Grey one last, icy glare. Then I followed Grigio out.

As soon as the door shut behind me, I took up a brisk walk. "Come on, Grigio, we've got to make tracks."

"He's got my money."

I paid Grigio's words no mind and picked up the pace. Grigio fell in behind me with that long-legged, off-kilter stride. We high-tailed it around the corner of the building and made a beeline for the alley. We came down the alley until we gained a clear view of the Columbia's back entrance. We waited, but not for long.

The back door flew open in less than a minute, slamming against the outside wall. Then nothing. No action. Grigio put a finger to his lips.

I told Grigio, quietly, "Wait for it."

Practically on cue, Grey stumbled out. His lean figure stepped once, hesitated, and walked straight into a telephone pole. He rubbed his noggin. He glanced up the pole. He couldn't make sense of it and staggered, weaved and tripped over himself, generally in our direction.

Grigio asked out of the corner of his mustache, "What's wrong with him?"

"I'd say our Mr. Grey's been doped."

"Doped? You mean like a thoroughbred?"

"That's right, Grigio. Like a thoroughbred." I smiled to myself. I hadn't expected the dose to act so quick.

Grey caught sight of us. He stopped in his tracks, offering up a quizzical look. He swayed in place, glanced behind him at the exit door, looked back our way. He reached out for a fencepost, a gate, a bus strap, anything to grab hold of and steady himself—he found nothing. Grey dropped to his knees.

"Ow! Say, what are you trying to pull? What's—Samantha?"

Grey's eyes rolled up, the lids shut fast, and he crumbled like a stale pretzel.

I stepped over to Grey and nodded as I looked down on the heap. My client was simply aghast. I enjoyed a nice, smug laugh. I hate blackmailers.

"Is he dead?"

"No, Grigio. He's not dead. You don't dance the last waltz from a Mickey Finn. He's just cooperating."

I pried the cash envelope out of Grey's pants pocket and tossed it over. Grigio, ever on the ball, watched the packet land at his feet. While he bent down for the package, I rolled Grey onto his back with a nudge of my shoe. I grabbed the pistol from his belt and pocketed that. Going through the rest of his clothes, I came across his billfold.

"Let's see just what we have." I stood up, browsing the wallet for some kind of ID. "Grigio, what we've got here is Mr. Heniek Szary. Ever heard of this mug?"

Grigio kept his distance and his silence.

"Uh-huh. Well, I guess he knew you, all right. Got it. He's on West Roscoe. Right in his own backyard. Very small time. We've got just a short drive, Grigio."

My coupe was parked behind the tavern. We packed up Szary in the rumble seat and made for West Roscoe. Grigio remained quiet, seriously quiet, but Szary was quieter.

We found the small apartment, a second story job, above the laundry at Clark and Roscoe. I hauled out Szary's carcass and slung it over my shoulder. Szary let out a sleepy grunt. We climbed up a terrifically narrow and dimly lit stairway. Grigio carried Szary's keys. When we reached the door, Grigio kept diddling with the lock. I told him I was no fireman and to get on with it. Then a tiny voice called out.


The lock gave all of sudden and the door swung open fast. The tiny voice welcomed Grigio, crying out, "Ahoy, Vincent!"

"Step aside," I huffed, and pushed Grigio out of the way with my shoulder. I lugged myself across the room and flopped Szary onto a Murphy bed that bounced and clanged under the dead weight. I came about to point at the door. "Close it, Grigio."

I squinted at my surroundings. Everything read dark. The shadeless table lamp next to the bed cast the only light, and not much at that. As far as studios go, this one was large for its kind, a small bathroom just beyond the Murphy bed, and a corner kitchenette on the opposite wall. The wood floor showed dark and worn with a patchwork of bleached spots. In that light you couldn't tell if the walls were tinged from age or if they were meant to be that off-off-white color. Two windows, side by side, afforded a dismal view of the elevated tracks. That view was the only view, and the blue-yellow glow of the streetlamps didn't liven things up any. A small stand by the door supported a vase. The plant in the vase looked more than half dead, and that put it one up on Szary.

In the center of this lavish layout stood the young man. He carried an air of maturity, but his face could've passed for sweet sixteen. He was a short and slight thing, with cropped, blonde hair and pale skin. He wore an athletic shirt and charcoal slacks.

The boy asked, "What's happened?" He looked from Grigio to me. He showed no interest in the bed or its contents. Szary emitted a low, buzzing snore.

"Who are you?" I questioned. "You a friend of Szary's? His partner?"

"He screwed it up, didn't he? He thinks he's so clever." He shrieked at the bed, "You screwed it up!"

"I can't understand this," Grigio said. Lines of pain and anger streaked over his long face. He pleaded directly to the boy.

"Gotta make a living, honey."

"The first time—I thought you liked me," Grigio whined.

"You know how it is, honey. Tough times." The boy placed his hands gently on his hips and quickly shrugged his shoulders.

"Grigio," I busted in, "We're wasting time. I don't know your little history with this one, but the first thing is to make sure there aren't any more photos or negatives, savvy?"

"I liked you." Grigio spoke softly. There was the sound of defeat in his voice. The pencil mustache quivered.

I shot it at the boy, cold and strong, "Give."

"Oh, it's in there," he pointed to the john. "His darkroom. More like a stink hole, if you ask me. He doesn't know what the hell he's doing. It just makes me sick."

I stalked into the bathroom, found the pull chain hanging from the middle of the ceiling. One yank on the line cast the room with an ugly, red wash. Pans of transparent liquid lay balanced on top of the toilet and sink. Two more rested in the tub. I spied three prints taped to the medicine chest mirror—I could've bust out laughing. They were so out of focus I couldn't tell if I was looking at animal, vegetable or mineral. That left just a quick search of the main room. Then we'd be ready to set Szary for a tumble.

I exited the bathroom rubbing my hands and grinning to myself. The last thing I expected to see was Grigio training a gun on the boy. Every once in awhile your own client plays the wildcard.

I stopped dead in my tracks. "What the hell are you pulling, Grigio?"

"He's all pissy because it wasn't love, love, love," the boy said.

"You've got nerves of steel, son."

"There's nothing I ain't seen, mister."

"It was special," Grigio squealed. "It was real, and it was special, and you do this to me."

"Grigio," I said. I went after a gentle, fatherly effect, something along the lines of Barry Fitzgerald. "We can't have any of this."

"Leave me alone," Grigio said.

"I can't do that."

"Just leave me alone."

"Ha!" The boy folded his arms and shifted his hips.

"I can't let you do this, Grigio." I brought out Szary's pistol from my jacket pocket, smoothly, and held it down at my side.

Grigio had eyes only for the boy. He went teary and his whole body looked as stiff as an ironing board. The hand trembled, on and off in spasms. The gun shook. He cleared his throat.

I raised the pistol, aimed the muzzle low, and cocked the hammer. "I can't let you do this."

That metallic click got Grigio's attention. His eyes panned over to mine, then down to my gun hand. He gawked at the rod. He breathed short and shallow. The kid watched Grigio with no hint of emotion.

We made like three statues, and the stillness heightened every sound. Grigio's shortened breaths. The metallic wheeze of the bedsprings expanding and contracting beneath Szary. The light jangling of the table lamp's pull chain. The knocking of chair legs against the floorboards. The salt and peppershakers dancing on a card table. The windows rattled once, twice, and then broke into a non-stop, banging vibration as an elevated train came into range. The heavy, metal wheels on metal rails shrieked louder and louder as it approached. It hit the tracks outside the windows with a bang-bang, bang-bang, and beams of streetlamps shot through the train windows like a strobing nickelodeon. The flashing pattern lit up the room like lightning.

Grigio jerked his head sideways to the boy. His gun arm snapped straight. My trigger finger squeezed. Grigio yanked on his rod at the same time. The deafening noise and pulsating light submerged us into chaos for only seconds. Then it ended.

After the train rumbled passed, I stood poised for the next move. The boy held himself motionless in a semi-crouch, each hand drawn to his face for protection. We both looked down at the sight of Grigio laid flat. A darkened rip tore down his right pants leg below the knee. Splashes of blood decorated the nearby floorboards. A strained pucker creased Grigio's face.

"Thanks for that, mister," the boy stuttered. His startled eyes remained fixed on Grigio.

Grigio's lids fluttered open. He took shallow, panting breaths through his mouth. He looked to the boy and found only cold expression. He looked at me with great worry in his sorry eyes.

I asked the boy, "Where's the nearest phone?"

Grigio exhaled, "Tell..."

"We need a phone, boy."

Grigio sucked in as much air as he could. "Tell my wife—"

"A phone, now!"

Szary moaned and almost rolled off the bed. The distraction caught me off guard.

Grigio sobbed, "Tell my wife I'm very, very sorry."

I turned back to Grigio with an impatient, "What?"

Grigio raised his weapon fast—the sudden swing of his arm had me dead to rights. I raised mine in automatic response. I pumped two shells into his chest. Grigio's tall, slim frame flinched from the impact, almost bouncing. His head pulsed forward then snapped backward, hard against the wood floor. Then he relaxed and went still, like somebody let out the air.

"Jesus," the boy gasped.

Szary rolled over into consciousness, muttered "Samantha?" and passed out again.

We paid no attention to Szary. My eyes held fast on Grigio's motionless form. I watched him for about a minute. I shoved the rod back in my jacket, lit a smoke, and took a deep drag. I stepped to the wall behind Grigio, leaned against it, and let myself slide down to the floor.

"I'll find that phone, now, mister." The boy carefully, delicately, stepped over the lifeless body. He must've discovered a newfound respect for Grigio as a corpse. He copped a sweater from the back of the door and crept out.

I reached over Grigio's bloody form and wrenched out the packets of money and photos. The cash went with the pistol in my jacket. I undid the bundle of pictures and gave them a look-see. The first shot was no better than what I saw in the john. As was the second. And the third. Nothing more than blurs of light and shadow. They read as abstract as Einstein's half-erased blackboard.

My gaze shifted from the prints over to the stiff. A born victim? Maybe so, but that's no longer Grigio's kick. It's all mine, now.

* The photograph displayed at the top of this page was taken by Stanley Kubrick as a staff photographer for Look Magazine. Copyright in the photograph was donated to the United States by Cowles Communications, Inc. For more information on the photograph, see