Deno Stavrakis went back to his room to call hotel security. Getting through took a long time, and the functionary who received the message spoke with a distracted air, as if drug overdoses on the premises were an insignificant part of the quotidian routine.
“She needs serious medical help right now,” Deno insisted.
“Yeah. It’ll be taken care of.” Deno had heard postal clerks speak with greater enthusiasm.
“Soon as it can be gotten to.”
“That’s not good enough.”
“Look, buddy, we’ve got our hands full and aren’t going to drop everything just to tend to your girl friend. If you do drugs, you get into messes like this.”
“Just a minute, mister. Maybe you don’t realize that this young woman is a guest of Zephyrcon. Do you want me to read you the section in the hotel contract about responding to emergencies involving convention guests?”
“Read it to our lawyer, bub.”
Deno fumed. After twenty seconds of fuming, he placed a call to the manager on duty, who dripped syrup on the wound and promised to kick security as hard as necessary wherever kicking might inspire some action. “If this situation isn’t cleared up satisfactorily, sir, call me again personally.”
“Okay, I may take you up on that.” Deno put down the telephone is a less grim frame of mind than when he had picked it up.
Less grim, but far from sunny. Getting a doctor for Jody was the secondary problem. More disturbing was the fact that she needed a doctor at all. Deno thought about the savage glee in Colin Satterlee’s eyes and found himself on the verge of self-pity.
The telephone rang. Assuming that the call must be connected with Jody, he grabbed the receiver and grunted into the mouthpiece.
“Eh? Deno? Who is this?” The caller’s voice was partly perplexed, partly annoyed. It belonged to Mitch Morrison, under the best of circumstances one of Deno’s least favorite members of the Seattle bid committee.
“It’s me, Mitch. Sorry, I’m in a hurry.”
“That’s fine. I only need to talk for a second. I spoke to Pam a little while ago and wanted to hear exactly what happened.”
“What I told Pam.”
“A heart attack, you said?”
“That’s what the doctors think. I don’t have any way to second guess them.”
“Just goes to show. . . . I don’t know how many times I told Lars he should get a physical. Caroline pestered him, too. But you know how stubborn he was. One of his grandparents is alive at ninety-two, and that convinced him he was immortal.”
“Yep, you were right, Mitch. Now can I get back to you -”
“The other thing Pam said was that you want some woman from Florida to co-chair the bid.”
“That’s a bit complicated at the moment. I’ll know more later.”
Mitch Morrison was not, however, easily hinted at. “Pam said her name’s Jody. Lars lived with a Jody in L.A. This isn’t the same person, I assume.”
“It is, actually.”
“Then I don’t like the idea one tiny bit. Lars told me stories about her that I wouldn’t like to have to repeat.”
“Nothing’s settled, Mitch. We can talk this over when -”
“The other idea I don’t like, Deno, is your picking co-chairs without consulting the Board. You keep treating the bid like it was your private property, just the way you did AlkiCon.”
“Let’s not rehash -”
“I’ll get to the point, then. With Lars gone, the Board has to think about whether it’s worth while to keep the bid alive. I, for one, don’t think so.”
“Wait a minute, Mitch. Are you suggesting that we throw away all the sweat we’ve put into the bid, just because we’ve lost one co-chairman?”
“No point in throwing good sweat after bad. To be blunt about it, Deno, a bid run by you wouldn’t represent all of Seattle fandom.”
“That’s why I broached the idea of replacing Lars.”
“Replacing him with an outsider - that’s not much better than a solo performance. If you want the egoboo of chairing a Worldcon, why don’t you try linking up with Portland? I suppose they’ll have some chance, with us out of the race.”
Deno waited before answering, gathering his thoughts. The long pause extracted an impatient “Well?” from the other end of the line.
“This is fascinating news, Mitch, but I’m afraid you haven’t analyzed the situation quite thoroughly enough. Tell me, do you believe a majority of the Board feels the way you do?”
“All right, then. Let’s play the scenario out. Suppose the Board votes to terminate the bid. You and the members who think like you go home and sulk. Meanwhile, what’s to stop the rest of us from going on with the bid as before? The facilities will still be there, and the fan-in-the-street won’t know or care if a different Board takes over. There might be a flap in File 770 or on the computer bulletin boards, but that’s all the real difference that your would-be coup will make.
“In fact - I don’t like to put it this way, but sometimes I have to do things I don’t like - your leaving could be a big help. It might be the final shove needed to get Portland to withdraw. I was talking to Satterlee a few minutes ago. He said he wouldn’t fold his bid yet, because Seattle has too many of ‘that Gleason crowd’. I suspect he numbered you and your allies among them.”
This time Deno had to wait impatiently for a response. It came in an unexpectedly cheerful tone of voice.
“Deno,” Mitch Morrison announced, “you always were the best bluffer in fandom. But you can’t beat a full house with a joker and junk. The Board meeting’s scheduled for the first. You can come or stay away. It won’t make any difference.”
Deno did not bother to reply. After hanging up, he stretched out in his contemplative, beard-twirling pose and tried to survey the figurative battlefield. Like many a general of the past, he saw his carefully laid plans disintegrating in the presence of the enemy. He wished now that he had spoken more soothingly to Colin Satterlee. His view that he didn’t need the Portland chairman seemed a trifle premature.
When the phone rang again, his impulse was to disregard it. He did not want to speak to more members of the Seattle Board until he had reformulated his tactics. But he belonged to the generation that feels guilty in the presence of an unheeded telephone. In the middle of the sixth ring, he picked it up.
“This is Gallagher. Hotel security. Are you the one that called about a medical emergency?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“You said a female was unconscious on the twenty-sixth floor - looked like a drug overdose?”
“Sure it was the twenty-sixth floor?”
“It was the top floor of the hotel. I think that’s twenty-six.”
“Right-oh, buddy. Only, there ain’t nobody unconscious up there. I’ve just been there myself.”
“The M.O.D. burned my butt to get up there, even though we got a real emergency in progress. So I called to let you know your prank caused the maximum possible inconvenience. Which makes it a success, I suppose. From now on, buddy, don’t call us and we won’t call you.”
“Wait!” The line went dead.
Two minutes later, Deno, panting heavily from a jog up the hotel stairs, stood on the twenty-sixth floor, surveying an empty corridor. No Jody. No Satterlee. No Bronkowski. No Harry Bramwing. He went to the spot where Jody had lain. The carpet there looked no different from anywhere else.
“Maybe God hates me,” he mumbled.
He had last seen Bronkowski and Harry starting up the stairs to the roof. It was a thin hope, but the only one he had. He puffed until his breathing had moderated, then opened the door to the staircase.
Despite his occupation, Piero Corsi had never before killed anyone personally. Nor had he formed any definite intention of killing Genie Galen. Her own momentum did most of the work of hurling her over the edge. His contribution had been reflexive pushing, which had provided the fatal instability that kept her from righting herself.
After the body had flown into the air, and Piero had realized its inevitable fate, he found it hard to focus his attention on the other woman, his prisoner. Before he grasped the fact that she was going, she was gone.
His immediate instinct was to hide. By moving a few steps and kneeling, he shielded himself behind a massive tangle of air conditioning equipment, cutting off the line of sight from the stairs.
Soon he heard approaching sirens and felt chilly beneath his overcoat. He dared not crawl to the edge and look down. In his imagination, hundreds of policemen stood below, all peering upward through binoculars, waiting for their quarry to betray his presence.
He would have to go to ground, he reflected. The Hole was no good as a long-term hideout. Maybe he could go abroad - Italy, South America, even Africa - or drop his identity and start life over again.
Assuming, of course, that the Corsi Family retained any interest in protecting a bungler.
He was crouched as tightly as humanly possible, imitating a baby in the womb, and wondered how the wind could be so piercing when he had protection on two sides. Aggravating the cold, his shoes were soaked and his legs were beginning to cramp.
How long until the cops searched the roof? He thought more and more about his father and grew less and less willing to be taken alive. His revolver lay in his right hand, cool and solid, a last, uncomplaining friend.
Steps on the roof - the loud, careless steps of one who knows that he is the vanguard of an overwhelming force. Slowly, with some cracking of bones and rasping of muscles, Piero unwound from his crouch.
“Bronc! Harry! Anybody here?”
Piero attempted to extend one eye around the corner without exposing anything more of his head. Lacking eye stalks, he did not accomplish this very successfully.
When he had finally contorted himself into a position where he could view the rest of roof, he saw that the shouting came from an obvious civilian, apparently unaccompanied and uninterested in Piero.
The man was walking toward the far side of the air conditioning apparatus. Piero watched for an opportune moment, when the target’s gaze was directed the other way, then glided out of his hiding place.
It was impossible to move silently on the mushy surface. The other heard him coming and turned, showing no symptom of alarm. Piero smiled broadly and elicited a weak grin in return.
“Looking for someone?”
“Oh, yeah. I thought a couple of friends might be up here.”
“Sorry to disappoint you. Nobody but you and me. Is anyone downstairs?”
“That’s why I came up. They were supposed to be waiting for me on twenty-six. . . .”
Piero unpocketed his right hand and motioned casually with his gun. “You got a room in the hotel?”
“What is this?”
“Answer the question. You got a room?”
“Ye - es.”
“Take me there. And don’t make any foolish noises.”
They walked down by the back stairs, encountering no one. Once inside Deno’s room, the stranger bolted the door and settled into an arm chair. The expression on his face was relaxed and pleasant, but his hand gripped the revolver fiercely. Deno sat on a bed. The situation seemed absurd, almost imaginary, and his mind refused to contemplate it seriously.
The telephone rang. He was not allowed to answer it. After the ringing stopped, the message light began blinking. Deno felt a rush of irrational irritation at the small, red, undiscerning light and a longing to smash it to bits.
Irritation stimulated thought. Scowling at the telephone, he realized that his circumstances were not so constrained as he had despairingly assumed.
He stretched casually. “Is it okay if I use the bathroom?”
His kidnapper tossed his shoulders. “If ya gotta go, ya gotta go. Make it snappy.”
Deno traipsed delicately, as though his need were indeed urgent, and quietly locked the door behind him.
Until now, he had considered telephones in bathrooms to be pretentious, tasteless and of no practical use. He would have to revise his opinion on the last point. He punched four digits, simultaneously flushing the toilet and turning on the faucet.
“This is Mr. Stavrakis in room ten-oh-six. I’m calling from the bathroom, because there’s an armed man holding me hostage.”
“Sure. Stavrakis, is it?”
“Room ten-oh-six. You should call the -”
“Aren’t you too old for kid games, buddy?”
“I’m telling you -”
“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The line clicked and went dead.
Deno emerged in a bitter humor. In an unconscious gesture of anger at the universe, he flung the door back so that it banged against the shower stall.
The sound drew the other man to glance into the bathroom. “Don’t make so goddam much noise,” he hissed.
“Sorry,” Deno mumbled. He moved toward the bed where he had been sitting, his eyes fixed straight ahead.
A growl halted his steps.
“Just a goddam minute! There’s a telephone in there!” The barrel of a revolver stabbed into Deno’s back, not far from his kidneys.
It was worse luck that, a handful of instants later, a siren blared, coming in the direction of the hotel.
“You’re in real trouble, scumbag. If that’s the cops looking for me, you’d better know a few good prayers.”
Court time - the racquetball court, this is - was the most precious hour of Jace Barrington’s Sunday, not only because the slots were booked weeks in advance but also because she regarded her weekly game as duty rather than recreation. She had lost the most important man in her life two years back, when her weight briefly bulged above one hundred sixteen pounds. That was never going to happen again.
So she felt not just annoyance but grievance when her beeper went off as she stepped onto the elevator and compelled her to rush back to her apartment and telephone. Grievance turned to smoldering resentment when she learned who had summoned her and found herself on his line. Unhappily, she could not cut off the State’s Attorney’s principal deputy. Trying to sound interested and business-like, she pawed through an assortment of files for the one labelled “THOMAS, Melisande R.”
“Yeah, I met with her attorney a few hours ago. We worked out a plea. What’s happened? Are they trying to renege?”
“No, the problem’s with the local force. They all at once have a new theory, and it needs to be checked out ASAP. I don’t want publicity to snowball.”
“Turn on the tube. A woman jumped from the roof of the Carmody Park Hotel. She’s the new suspect.”
“What did she say to the investigators?”
“Nothing. She’s dead. To answer the question you’re thinking of, no, there was no suicide note confessing to murder. The whole idea that she had anything to do with the Gleason matter was dreamed up by an off-duty Chicago cop, and his case sounds screwy to me.”
“Does it have to be followed up instantly, then?” Jace cast a hopeful eye at her watch.
The deputy’s voice turned chilly. “The media have already heard his theory. You want to hear on the six o’clock news about how the State’s Attorney’s office is so desperate for plea bargains that it won’t look at evidence?”
“I see, sir.” Lying on a silk-covered hassock, her racket looked forlorn.
“Two mysteries left.” Sergeant Bronkowski theatrically held two fingers aloft. “One, where is Jody? Two, where is Deno?”
Melisande’s brief jubilation had dissipated. She was a sadder and older Melisande, Harold thought, than even the one who had returned from the police station under arrest for murder.
“From what you tell me, he had plenty of time to alert the hotel staff before the thugs grabbed you.” She chewed on her right forefinger, then, her puzzlement evidently deepening, switched to drumming her teeth on a silver ring shaped like an uncoiling serpent.
Ponderously, Bronkowski shook his head. “I can’t figure it at all. If I didn’t know him, I’d say he ran away. Well, we’ve got a good lead on Jody, at least. It sounded like they dragged her into a room. Must have decided to leave her behind when they made their getaway.”
“Then shouldn’t we start looking?” Melisande asked, momentarily releasing her fingers from the custody of her teeth.
“I’ve already asked the front desk to send a guy from security out here. When he comes, we’ll get the search under weigh.”
It occurred to Harold that a change of subject might break the tension of waiting. “Judging by the way the police reacted when you talked about the murder, I gather that Melisande’s off the hook.”
“Could be. I’m not making any - nah, the hell with it - sure she is. A couple of loose ends to tie up, and they’ll close the case. Lots simpler when you don’t have to go to court.”
An uneasy thought stirred in Harold’s mind. “We still have a third mystery, don’t we? Who pushed Miss Galen off the roof, and why?”
“That qualifies as a loose end,” Melisande said, nodding.
Bronkowski disagreed. “Not very loose. The guys who nabbed us are in the drug trade. I don’t have much doubt Galen was a customer. One of them was dealing on the roof. You can see from the tracks that he and Jody were walking together. Genie ran up and interrupted them. Maybe they’d cheated her, and she’d just found out. Anyway, there was a tussle, and she went over the edge. Probably an accident, to tell the truth. . . . Hey, Melisande, what’s the matter?”
“You - Bronc - you don’t really think -“ Her voice turned soft and shaky. “ - that Jody would buy. . . .”
“Sorry, Melisande. I know she’s a friend of yours.”
“I - I guess it’s the only explanation. As in that saying from Sherlock Holmes.”
Into this crevice of gloomy silence, a beaming young man wearing a hotel staff identification badge thrust himself. “You Sergeant Bronkowski?” he asked, scattering the question broadly enough to encompass both of the males in Melisande’s vicinity.
“That’s me,” Bronkowski replied.
“Ned Gallagher. Security. What’s your problem, officer?”
“We need to search some rooms. Looking for a missing woman.” Bronkowski rapidly summarized the reasons for the search. The hotel employee grew noticeably less relaxed and jovial as the tale continued. By the end, he was imitating Melisande’s finger-chewing tic.
“I have a question, officer,” he said in a small voice. “Did someone from your group try to call security?”
“There was another guy who was supposed to. Beats me why he didn’t.”
Gallagher’s Adam’s apple bobbed as if it were on a yo-yo. “He did. We - I - there’s no time to explain, but we have to check room ten-oh-six right away. No. First, we need the police. Pardon, officer. I mean, we need a SWAT team.”
“What in God’s name are you babbling about?” Harold had never before seen Bronkowski look peevish.
Gallagher pulled himself to attention. “Your buddy’s being held hostage. We - I - it seemed like a prank. Well, he called, say, ten minutes back and claimed there was an armed man in room ten-oh-six.”
“That’s Deno’s room number,” Melisande confirmed mechanically.
“Sounds fishy,” Bronkowski rumbled.
“That’s what I thought, too, but -”
“Let’s not try to do everything before everything else. Jody’s been alone too long already. You and Melisande start hunting. Savoy and I’ll keep an eye on Deno’s room till you find her. The first rule in handling hostage situations is not to be hasty.” The last sentence was addressed firmly to Gallagher.
“Don’t you want to get your gun?” Harold asked.
“Didn’t bring it to the con. This wasn’t supposed to be a working weekend.”
The door to Room 1006 looked peaceful and ordinary. Harold realized that it had no reason to look any other way but could not shake off a sense of surprise. His imagination tried to look behind the dull, brown slab, to visualize the scene within.
For a gunman, he conjured up a vaguely Middle Eastern figure, the sort whom he associated with hostage taking. The figure paraded with an Uzi at its hip, barking denunciations of the Great Satanists. An image of Deno sat glumly, cowed into silence by the Uzi’s menace but inwardly volcanic. A long, red welt across his face told of his punishment for having dared to signal for aid.
But this playlet could not be correct, Harold told himself. There was no sound coming from the room. That fact suggested a different image. Perhaps the terrorist, anticipating rescuers, lurked with his ear to the keyhole, straining to hear footsteps in the hall, prepared to burst forth at the first provocation, spewing bullets and death.
Semiconsciously, Harold shrank from the direction of the door, forgetting that Sergeant Bronkowski was standing beside him. They collided with a mutual “ooph” that sounded, to Harold’s overalert ears, like the foreshock of an earthquake.
The policeman’s large hand steadied Harold’s shoulder, and he felt able to breath safely again. Then he heard another noise. He looked at Deno’s door.
The knob was turning.