I must have only looked at the dead man for a long moment, but I was in sort of a daze. When I woke, Benny Miller had his hand on my shoulder, and Doug had gone back up to the club house to phone for the police.
“Let’s not stand here, eh?” Benny was mumbling. “It’s a wee-bit morbid.”
He dragged me back up to the club house where everyone had gone inside except for Orr and the little boy, Samuel. Orr spoke to me as I crossed the porch.
“I didn’t see anything, Mr. Jay— nothing,” he stammered. “I swear on my mother’s grave.”
“Alright, Orr. Alright,” I said.
I walked on inside because I could hear nervous voices now that Benny had gone on ahead of me, and I was curious. I found the lights all back on in the wide front bar. It was a miniature twin to the larger club room upstairs, done up a little more for a woman’s eyes.
Clairmont, the second bartender, was behind the counter putting on a pot of coffee— as black as his skin, he joked. But no one really paid him any attention. He was not like Oldie.
The four men who had been on the porch with Orville now stood around Doug, who was talking into one of the two telephones the club possessed. “No, operator— yes, of course, it’s urgent…” His voice sounded strange and dissonant in the quiet room.
Clairmont began to whistle.
“No— no— I don’t know his name,” Doug explained, his lips trembled just a little.
“Warhouse,” I said into that weighted silence that hung around Doug’s voice. “His name is Gerry Warhouse.”
Doug stopped mid-sentence and looked at me and his eyes were so big I thought I could see my reflection. Abruptly, he caught himself. “Ah— yes, yes, I’m still here. His name is Gerry Warhouse— yes— he’s been shot…” Doug droned on but the silence surrounding his speech was overcome.
“Warhouse?” demanded one of the less-than-sober lingerers. “Like the rat who built this place, Warhouse?”
“You mean that healthy looking foreign fellow who was walking around the club earlier?” someone else asked.
“Well, I’ll be darned,” Louis McCafferty’s cold voice was like a sledge hammer. McCafferty was a self-built factory man from Birmingham. “Not too good for business, now is it?”
I looked over them all and said nothing. I played cards with them on a regular basis, but I didn’t really know anything about them. They were what I liked to call weekenders. They would come for the weekend, invade the little town nearby and flock like locusts to St. Claire at night. They weren’t the kind of friends one paid visits to during the week. The only one I knew anything about was Benny Miller, and I didn’t really trust him either. Benny had a temper.
“Listen,” I told them all. “Before you go jumping to conclusions let’s just calm down and wait for the police.”
“A gut idea,” said the only man in the room who had not yet spoken. He was tall and his shoulders were broad but his skinny body was lither than it was strong-appearing. He had blond hair cut very short on the sides, which in those days was strange, and it was slicked back where it was longer on the top. His blue eyes were frozen and capable of conveying only one feeling: a sick sort of creeping terror that boiled the pit of your stomach.
We all turned to look at him where he stood very correct and straight against the bar.
“Who the heck are you?” Louis said impolitely.
This made the man smile. “Giovanni Luciuk,” he told us. “And you are?”
Louis looked at him for a moment and then laughed, turning to the dish of coffee Clairmont set out for him. “Two foreigners in one night. Only here, right, Monte?”
“Yes, sir, Mr. McCafferty,” Clairmont agreed.
It didn’t really surprise me very much that this subhuman creature in our midst was Warhouse’s son, the son I had been contracted to entertain. In fact, it was almost like he had been there all along, right through the night. It was like he already knew our faces and names and was laughing at us. That was an odd feeling to get, I know, but then he was a very odd man, Giovanni Luciuk.
“When did you arrive, Mr. Luciuk?” I asked politely because I didn’t want him to sense the tension in all of us, let alone in me.
“Just,” replied Giovanni. “My driver was leaving me just as the good men here stumbled across my father’s body. My train was grossly delayed… Thank you.” He accepted his coffee from Clairmont and eyed the young man with a smirk.
Doug abruptly hung up on the police and shook his head as if it hurt him. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Luciuk,” he began. “If there’s anything the club can do for you consider it done. Your father wanted us to treat you with our best and so we shall.”
Giovanni bowed slightly. “Thank you. The coffee is enough.” And he sat down on a stool.
We eyed him with suspicion. We had just found his father shot in a dark drive and here he was with no emotion, no worry or wonder. I had never seen such a cold man, and I’m sure the others hadn’t either. I was to understand why later… a very long time later.
“Are the police coming, Doug?” one of the men asked, putting down a jittering white coffee cup into its saucer.
Doug, absentminded, was surprised. “Ah— yes— of course. Right away.”
“Good. Then all we have to do is wait, and then we can go home.”
And wait we did, for a good twenty minutes. You know how the drive is now. Well, it was worse then. We sat in that creaking, humming quiet bar for twenty aching minutes before anyone came. And then, when the police finally got there, it wasn’t in a whirl of lights and sirens. All we heard was the crunch of tires on gravel and then some car doors slamming shut.
Detective Hopper came in from off the dark porch with his hat in his hand. He was a tall skinny fellow back then with dark hair and blue eyes. In those days he wasn’t married yet, and he was a bit of a playboy because he was so darn pretty. I could almost hear Doug groaning inside when Hopper came in.
Hopper nodded at us all in greeting. “Well, Doug,” he said. ‘I guess you’ve gotten yourself into it now, haven’t you?” He smiled that smile that every man secretly wanted to punch off his face. “Listen men, I want you to give your names, addresses, telephone numbers and such to Van Gordon here.” He slapped a little man in glasses on the back, meaning that poor Van Gordon had to push the frames back up his nose. He was a willowy one that Van Gordon. “Don’t try to lie either— I already know most of you,” Hopper added that with a smile. He walked back out onto the porch, leaving us all with Van Gordon, who sort of blinked like a toad once and then started asking us our particulars in a stuttering, unsure voice.
We endured this for maybe half an hour, Van Gordon taking down our statements. He even interviewed Luciuk, though this, no doubt, caused him no end of fright. I never really knew what everyone else’s story was, but I told them I had been playing cards the whole time and had no idea when exactly Warhouse had left the club house. We all vouched for each other saying that, of course, there had been bathroom breaks at the end of a few rounds, but that was pretty much the extent of leaving the table.
The others, I gathered, established right away that the place had been very busy, and the police did have a mound of suspects to fish through because really anyone could have done it. At this point, Hopper returned from outside and demanded a list of people who had been present in the club that night— a list as complete as Doug could make it. For a moment, Doug had gone completely white and then he had called Orville in and delegated the task.
Next Hopper had Van Gordon look through out coats and on our persons for any weapons we might have. I was very thankful no to have my gun on me, but Doug, Queen, McCafferty, and Luciuk— of course— were not as lucky. The weapons were laid out on a nearby table, bagged and tagged. We watched the process with an odd fascination.
By the time this was done, dawn was touching the sky in the east and already the sky was becoming pink behind the club, though we could not see it. The windows on our side were staring at a gray world, though we could see out into the drive now. There were several cars parked there, including the coroner’s van. This we watched as they piled a white leaden stretcher into it and shut the doors. Another one of Hopper’s men tapped the doors and then the van drove away, after which the man joined us.
“Dalton says he’s been dead for hours, sir” the man said as he came in.
Hopper turned and nodded. “Of course, thank you, Mac,” he replied. “Just as I thought.” He walked very slowly across the floor and tucked his hands in his pockets. He was a handsome man, Hopper, but he was also very intelligent, very cunning. In that respect he reminded me slightly of Warhouse, in the mere minutes I had talked to him. But Hopper was calmer, quieter than Warhouse— just as much presence but in a still sort of way.
“So that was the infamous Mr. Warhouse?” he asked, stopping in front of the bar, in front of us. He raised his brows and smiled. “He’s not exactly what I pictured, but then death always makes men lose something, you know.” He shook his head. “That always amazes me… Clarimont?”
“Yes, sir?” the barkeep stopped in his tracks.
“Would you take a pot of coffee into that office over there, please?”
Clairmont nodded. “Yes, sir,” and started about his task.
“I want you, you, and you first,” he said, pointing to Benny, Black and Doug.
“Those two are last.” He pointed at Luciuk and I. “I’ll only take a few minutes of your time, men, and then you can go home.”
At the time I got a little hot under the collar because I couldn’t understand why he would save me for last— my initial alibi was the same as the other men. I also did not understand why he was interrogating us on the spot. Besides a few guns, he had nothing on any of us.
But now that there’s time and distance between me and that night, I realize by some stroke of intuition Hopper knew that he had Warhouse’s killer in the room with him right then. And if I had been in his shoes, I wouldn’t have let us go either. So he didn’t. He walked over to the open doorway of the small office that belonged to Doug and his clerk. Benny Miller followed him hesitantly, and when the door shut behind the two of them we all looked at each other with a kind of dread deep in our eyes. I don’t think any of us really realized what was happening. It hadn’t quite sunk in yet that someone had been murdered.
For the next few minutes the world without the club grew bold, bright— like a flame with too much force. Our universe had been whittled down to that in a matter of moments: one stuffy room and a closed door. After a while I lost track of who came in and who came out and what their faces looked like. I just knew that no one really left like Hopper said they could. They came out and drifted to some peripheral corner of my vision like shadows in the wings. It was unnerving. I knew that somewhere out there my beautiful Louisiana day was shinning across the river and the murky swamps and the birds were singing and the air was full of childlike promise, but in that room it was oppressive like the night had found a haven in the day hours. I remember feeling as if time had become a heavy weight on my shoulders.
I can’t tell you for certain how much time passed— I was lost inside myself. But I came too from a brush against my shoulder. Someone had slid into the chair beside me, and when I turned I wasn’t too surprised to see Luciuk.
“You’re next,” he said.
An instant passed. I could not understand. “What?” I asked, blinking.
“You’re next. He’s going to call you in next.” And there was a smile that haunted his lips. “He’s saving motive for last.”
That was my first impression of Luciuk— a cold, sarcastic smile. I wanted to run from him and strangle him all at the same time. But instead I just stared at him like I was dumb.
He took me in. That cunning on his face was his father’s. “You’ve never run into the law before— have you?” he said. There was something quieter about him than about Warhouse.
“Not really,” I told him. I had always had been a good boy, kept my nose clean.
“Don’t let them see your fear. Fear is guilt. An innocent man has nothing to fear.” And his cold Prussian eyes— the eyes of his dead father— took me in like daggers. “My father was not a wonderful man. The world is well rid of him.”
“How do you know he was not a wonderful man if you’ve never met him?” I demanded, shocked at my boldness. Warhouse had entertained me, but his son turned my blood to ice on a midsummer’s day in the heat of Louisiana.
“Genetics,” was his reply, and his frigid eyes sparked. “I am not a wonderful man.”
There was nothing to say to that. Men were cunning frauds where I grew up. They certainly never looked you square in the eye and said they were bad men; it was just something you knew from the discomfort of having them watch and critique your every step. I think it was Luciuk’s honesty that made me soften toward him. There wasn’t much to say against a man who understood exactly what he was and admitted it. It’s his honesty that’s stayed with me all these years rather than his actions.
I studied him levelly for a few seconds after that, and then the dusty door sprang open once more, dragging away our attention. Oldie stepped out, his wise face placid but his eyes were sharp and glittering. He looked straight at me, keeping his hands in his pockets, and said: “He wants to take to you next, Mr. Will.”
Benny said beneath his breath: “He wants to lynch one of us cause it’s a foreigner. Give Louisiana a bad name. I’ll be darned if he thinks he can solve this in one night.”
“You hush up, Mr. Benny,” Oldie said. “You’ve done had you’re turn now. Quiet ’for ya git us all in trouble.” He turned back to me and nodded. “Mr. William.”
I stubbed out my cigarette and licked my dry lips. When I stood, I felt as if the whole place was watching me, and my ears burned red. I passed Oldie slowly, and he patted my shoulder.
“Don’t you worry now, Mr. William. Don’t you worry,” and then his finger were gone.
I entered the room.
Hopper sat across from the door behind a cluttered desk that took up more than half of the cramped room. It was stuffy in there like someone had built it right next to the gate of Hell, and even though the tiny window was open, the hot day did nothing but stir a warm breeze. I was already sweating.
As I came in, Hopper stood up. “Shut the door,” he said. “I’ll get you some coffee. Have a seat.” He pointed to the beat up wooden chair that someone had scrapped over from the corner. I thought it looked like the chair your mama always put you in when you’d been bad.
I sat down slowly, hands wet where they lay against my knees. I didn’t know Hopper well, and I certainly had never had any experiences like this before. My knowledge of proper etiquette was a little lacking.
When Hopper turned back, he had a cup and saucer in his hand. He set it down in front of me and then rested into his seat. His eyes were level and tight and seemed to pierce straight through the dusty gloom of the cramped room as he looked at me.
I didn’t know what to do or where to look. There were only the dim walls, the burning shine of the window, or those bright, intelligent eyes. Where did the innocent look to? My heart pounded wildly inside my chest.
“How’s your father?” Hopper asked at last. For a few blistering seconds, I actually thought he would never speak.
“Fine,” I told him.
He nodded and curled the corner of his lips. “That’s good.”
I nodded, too, glanced down at my jittery hands.
“Tough business— this.”
I looked up, wary. “Yes, sir.”
“The club might close if we don’t get it resolved, you know.” His tone was very matter-of-fact and slow, as if we were chatting up stairs on any average night.
“Yeah— it’s a shame.”
For a moment, Hopper was quiet. I didn’t dare look up at him, but then he moved and by instinct I was compelled to glance. He leaned up against the table, forearms making a triangle around his cup. “I hate to have to bring good men like you into this, Jay— but you realize that you’re close to several people who have motive. Therefore you could be a vital link. Of course… well… I can’t rule out that you might have done it yourself.” He held up his hand before I could reply. “As an outside possibility, of course. In that case, I have a few questions for you.”
“Yes, sir.” I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t want him to ask his questions— I was afraid of what I might say… or might not. The eyes that watched me were canny— not easily fooled. I’ve never considered myself a very intelligent and witty man.
“You were upstairs tonight? Playing poker?” Hopper picked up a pencil, but he still watched me.
“Yes, I was.”
“Did you leave the game at any time?”
“To go to the bathroom.”
“At what time was that?”
“Don’t really know. Between one thirty and two, I guess.” He made a note of this in a scarred, black notebook and then flipped a page.
“How long were you gone?”
“Well, it was between games— I don’t know, maybe fifteen minutes. I— ah— I went downstairs. The one upstairs was occupied. Clairmont stopped me on the way back up.”
Hopper’s brow lifted again, his lips pulled together, and he flipped another page. His hands were blunt and hard. They made me shiver. Killers had hands like that. When he brought his head back up, his stare was deadpan. “Then you continued to play for the rest of the night?” he asked.
“Three thirty, I think. Right before they found him.”
Hopper noted this down. “You never saw or heard anything suspicious during that time?”
“No.” I stared at the same small path of steam that slipped up from my cup of coffee. “The game was pretty intense. Those boys owe me some money.”
Hopper smiled. “Understandable.” The smile lingered around his lips like a memory and then dwindled into nothingness. A faint press of stress appeared between his brows as he continued to flip in his little notebook. The pages made strange noises in the silence and I could hear the sudden stir of the birds out in the swamps. I had never felt that alone in all my wide-open Louisiana before.
“How well do you know Doug Stewart?” Hopper’s eyes stuck me to the spot.
“Quite well. He worked for my father before Warhouse offered him the management of this place.”
“Did you know that Warhouse was going to let Doug go?” Hopper studied me carefully.
The silence was profound. I felt my face lengthen. “Excuse me?” My heart beat fast again. I knew I couldn’t take much more of this.
“The management was changing— Warhouse was going to give the club to his son. It meant that he had to let Doug go.”
My brow was hot, my eyes wild. “How do you know this?”
Hopper leaned across the desk, retrieved something from the top of a stack of papers, and then handed it to me. It was a letter. I read it fast, skimmed it really, and felt my face continue to get hot as I did so. When I was done, I threw it down on the table.
“Did you know about this letter? He definitely received it. I found it in his desk. Did he tell you about it?” The questions were constant, non-stop. I wanted to punch him, mostly because I wanted to punch Warhouse. Doug couldn’t afford to not have this job.
“No,” I said. “I didn’t know anything about it.”
“Would you say that’s odd… for Doug not to tell you something like that?”
Hopper’s eyes were cold and dispassionate at their core. He watched me as if waiting for me to break.
I leaned forward in my chair and stared at him straight. “No, I wouldn’t say it’s odd,” I said. “Doug and I are good friends, but neither of us are ninnies… Listen, if you’re thinking Doug could have done this, you’re up a tree. Doug’s got a temper, but he’s no idiot. Killing Warhouse would gain him nothing. Wouldn’t the club have gone to the son anyways?”
Hopper’s grin was quick, amused. “Look, Mr. Jay, I’m not here to speculate or answer your questions. You’re here to answer mine. Now— if you’ll please.”
I sat back in my chair, waved my hands. What did I care anymore?
“You spoke with Mr. Warhouse before your game?” Hopper went back to his efficiency.
“Yes,” I nodded.
“He was personable to you?”
“Yes, of course. He seemed like a very proper man.” I could still see that confident, eye-crinkled smile in my mind’s eye, and the smooth way he smoked his hand rolled cigarettes.
“Did he seem to mistrust anyone or be afraid of them?” Hopper was noting something down again, and he only looked at me from the tops of his eye sockets.
“If anything he seemed like the kind of man who’s not afraid of a soul.”
Hopper looked away and made a single notation. “Indeed.” His lips pressed hard in concentration when he looked at me again. “He asked you to keep an eye on his son— why would you say that was?”
“He said he wanted his son to see the best of Louisiana and St. Claire. He wanted someone to show him around.”
“But Luciuk never showed up?”
“Not until we found Warhouse,” my words sounded hard and impersonal in my ears, but then what connection did I have to Luciuk? If he had killed his father it was no skin off my nose. So why then was I so worried? Luciuk’s motive was completely believable.
“What was your own impression of Warhouse?” Hopper asked. “Did you like him?”
I paused a moment and the stuffy room drew very close. The breeze from the window stirred a few sheets of paper that sat on the edge of the desk, and I could feel sweat trickling down my back. “He seemed like a cold man— on the inside, you know,” I said carefully. “He seemed like one of those people who are too cunning for their own good.”
“Why would you say that?”
“I think he made a pretense of being familiar with people to meet his own ends; all the while he was laughing in his sleeve.”
Hopper nodded just once. “Interesting observation… You’ve never met Warhouse before this?”
There was a small sigh that I heard then, but it was so strange and odd that I’m not sure if it came from Hopper or from the breeze at the window. I glanced up at him from the corners of my eye, but all he did was flip through that little black notebook and chew his lower lip. Finally he let his pencil drop and the notebook flutter closed. His hard intelligent eyes took me in with what looked like profound inspiration. Suddenly he stopped chewing his lower lip.
“You may go, Mr. Jay, but if you would… send in Luciuk.” He smiled as I stood up, took a glance at my untouched coffee, reached for it, and then dumped it out the window.
I opened the door with a snap.
All eyes were on me. No one had left, and the air of the room bore down on me as more claustrophobic than the office. Luciuk was still seated at the bar. He stood as I opened the door and stubbed out his cigarette. He mumbled something in German and then started toward me. I just stood there as he went into the office behind me and shut the door. I couldn’t stop staring at the floor. I don’t know why. From somewhere in the room I heard someone mumbled something about being almost home-free, but I knew it wasn’t true. I could feel the sweat clam up my shirt, and I pulled at my collar.
At last I felt a hand on my arm. “You alright, Mr. Jay?” It was Oldie talking low and cool in my ear. “Mr. Jay?” That wrinkled, old hand shook me.
“I’m fine, Oldie,” I replied, bringing my eyes up.
He drew his old face into a puckered frown. I was sure he didn’t believe me.
Without thinking, I drew out my cigarette case, but it was empty. The gold insides blinked back my tired reflection so I jammed it shut. “Monte!” I called almost too loudly into the hot dusk that was contained only in this room.
Clairmont had been lounging behind the bar, but he snapped to now. “Yes, sir,” he answered.
“A cigarette.” I approached the bar just as he drew up the large box of refills only club members knew about. I grabbed a few and took my pleasant time arranging them in my case. It took a great effort of concentration to keep my hands from trembling.
“You like a drink, Mr. Jay?” Clairmont asked in a low tone, leaning over the bar.
I speared him with a look and shook my head. “It’s far too early for drinks, Monte,” I replied and snapped my cigarette case shut. I took one last cigarette from the box and backed away. As I crossed the floor, I pulled out my lighter and lit my cigarette. I started to walk out the front door, but Doug was sitting there at one of the nearest tables, and he made me pause with a look.
It took only a second that look, but it was a second that made me uneasy.
I snapped my lighter shut and walked out onto the front porch.
The day was hot and bright and hazy across the swamp flats, but it was beautiful and alive unlike the room inside. Birds called to each other from the tops of the ancient trees that lined the drive and filled the lawn. Way down on the river the water rushed happily, lazily by. This part of the Mississippi was rather pacific. I think that’s why I like it so much. That and it smelled amazing. The earth was rich and heady here so close to the river and was only faintly scented of hot dust. The trees were even gave off their own perfume right along with the flowers in the hedges and the wildflowers that bespeckled the underbrush.
It was an amazing sight after the closeness inside the bar, but as I surveyed it my eyes fell on the old Rolls Royce parked rather hapha-zardly in the drive. Even though it was a dark car, the even darker stain right behind the front bumper stood out like neon. I looked at it as dispassionately as I could, but I kept seeing flashes of Warhouse’s dead face in my mind and then I saw him as bright as day while he was alive. He was saying: “When two people— two men especially— share a cigarette, there is a bond, you know…”
The drag I had just taken turned to ash in my mouth and I spewed it out. For a moment, I just looked at my cigarette and frowned. Then I swore. I won’t tell you what I said. It’s not for polite company. But I swore loudly and then threw the thing away into the dust. I sighed and leaned against the post that was at the top of the stairs. My head hurt so badly, and I didn’t want to move, so I just stood like that for a very long time.
I don’t know how long Luciuk was in with Hopper— a long time, I suppose— but my mind didn’t keep track of it. The hot day had lulled me into a daze that my sleepless mind found welcome and the noise of the birds, the swamp, calmed me. It was like being somewhere else entirely.
When I came to, it was from the sound of a door being opened in the room behind me. I swung around when I realized what was happening and came back inside. After the brightness of the outdoors, my eyes were blind for a moment in the dim room and all I knew were voices.
The first was Hopper’s, strong and level on the air— not angry or rushed: “Van Gordon. Take him out to the car. Read him his rights.”
And then Van Gordon’s voice, surprised and hesitant: “Sir?” A pause. “Yes, sir.”
And then I could see.
Luciuk stood in the doorway behind Hopper, his Prussian face devoid of emotion but his cold blue eyes were alive and glinting. Van Gordon came up to him and turned him around, putting handcuffs around his wrists and reading him his rights. When Van Gordon turned him it was toward me, and those cool, knowing eyes met mine almost at once and then he smiled, slowly and maliciously. I felt my stomach lurch.
There was a general exclamation and murmur that ran across the room, but I didn’t hear any of it, not while Luciuk’s eyes stayed against mine. Van Gordon led him right past me and out the door. As he went by, Luciuk nodded to me and then he was gone, and I was left looking straight into the bloodshot eyes and slack-jawed face of one Doug Stewart.
“How’d you figure it out so fast?” I heard someone— I’m still not sure who— ask Hopper.
Hopper glanced across the room that had all gathered to watch Luciuk be put into the car and a muscle in his jaw twitched. “He confessed,” was all he said, and then he put his hat on his head and walked past me out onto the porch. We watched him walk down to the car and get in along with Van Gordon. They drove away slowly down to New Orleans.
As I stood and watched, I felt someone come up behind me. “I don’t think I ever met a stranger man, Mr. Jay.” It was Oldie. He ticked his tongue. “No, sir. Not in my life. Somebody like that— he’s better off wherever they’s takin’ him.”
I nodded. What else could I do? Oldie knew the truth, Doug knew the truth, but how did Luciuk know the truth? I’ve wondered that for a very long time…
William Jay stopped talking quite abruptly and for a moment the flip-flip of the fans was a solid replacement for his voice. I frowned at his quiet, pensive face as he stared down into his cup of coffee. “So Luciuk killed his father? What’s so surprising about that?” I asked.
Will brought his face up and his tired, old eyes were full of pain and not the kind that came from dying. “Don’t you see, Andy? I killed Luciuk’s father.”
There was nothing I could say to that. I simply sat very still in my chair. I suppose it could have made sense, but I never would have expected it. I must have looked surprised because Will smiled and let out one of those raspy laughs, though it was a melancholy sound.
“Yes—” he said, taking a slow sip from his coffee cup. “You see the letter Hopper showed me— I knew about it. Doug had showed me weeks before. He hadn’t meant to, but he was drunk out of his mind after work one night when I found him in his office. Of course, there wasn’t much either of us could do about it— at the time we didn’t know Warhouse would be paying a visit. We didn’t know until he showed up. I knew immediately from the look on Doug’s face when he saw Warhouse come up those stairs that he was going to do something crazy.” Will’s eyes were far away again, full of memories and tears and faces.
“So— why did you kill him?” I know I sounded like an idiot, but I didn’t understand. Will was such a gentle man. I couldn’t see him killing a man in cold blood.
Will’s eyes met mine again, and he was back in the amber light of the bar once more with the creeping Louisiana swamp whispering across the air. He sighed and ran an age-spotted hand across his wrinkled forehead. “Well, you see when I was playing with the boys, I saw Doug leave and go downstairs. This was right after Warhouse had left so I had a feeling that Doug was gonna have it out with Warhouse.” He sighed heavily. “But I had an excellent hand and was this close to winning.” He showed me an inch space between his thumb and forefinger. “So I played it out and then opted for a bathroom break. I practically broke my neck racing down the stairs so I could get to Doug before he did something dumb. I went out the back way so no one would see me or get suspicious. When I found Doug and Warhouse, they were both next to his Rolls, real up close to each other, and talking in low voices. They were both angry— I could tell. So I came up slowly, easily. They weren’t paying attention to what was going on around them.”
“’You lied,’ I heard Doug say. ‘You told me ten years and the places was mine. Ten faithful years! That was in ’07, you rotten piece of crap!’
“’This is business, Doug. Things happen,’ Warhouse told him in that slimey, smooth voice of his. ‘My son has precedent above all else.’
“’Above your word?’ Doug flung accusingly.
“’Yes. Now put the gun away because killing me will only put the place into Giovanni’s hands faster.’
“I had come close enough now that I could see by some magic gleam from the club’s terrace that Doug was holding a gun flush against Warhouse’s fleshy German gut. I chose that moment to step up.
“’Do as he says, Doug,’ I told him calmly. ‘Doing something stupid now won’t gain you anything.’
“’Go away, Jay. This is my fight.’
“’Doug, I’m not gonna let you do something stupid.’ So I did the only thing I could think of. I drew my own gun and leveled it at Doug.
“He looked at me from the corner of his eye and smiled. ‘What are you gonna do, shoot me? Your best friend?’
“’I’ll shoot that gun out of your hand if I have to,’ I assured him. Then to Warhouse: ‘Why don’t you get in your car?’
“Warhouse backed a step or two away from Doug, but not into the car. He just stood there looking back and forth between the two of us, and all of the sudden he reached inside his jacket for his own gun. I don’t know why he did. I think Doug cocked his hammer, but Warhouse was like lightning. I only had a second to make a decision, and I was sure he was going to shoot one of us so I shot him… straight through the heart. He slumped back surprised and dead against the front bumper of his beautiful car. And Doug and I just stood there for a minute and looked.
“Then Doug started to go crazy. He said we couldn’t call the police. He said it would ruin the club— that he couldn’t go to jail. I couldn’t bear the thought either so I went along with him. We left Warhouse against the car, got rid of my gun in the river, and went back into the club like nothing had happened. The gun shot wasn’t a problem. Idiots were always getting drunk and going out into the swamp for target practice. As long as they didn’t shoot toward the club, we left them alone. So no one questioned it if they had even heard it at all. We just went back into the club and went on like nothing had happened. We left Warhouse for Benny Miller to find later.”
Again his voice dwindled off into nothing and we were left alone in the silent bar with no one but the barkeep. I took a slow drag on my cigarette and then tapped off its ash. “So how did Hopper not figure this out?” I asked, after a few minutes.
Will sighed and smiled. “I think he did figure it out. Or at least some of it. But Oldie supplied us both with at least a slightly less leaky alibi, and then Luciuk confessed.”
I shook my head. “Why? Why did he confess? Even if he didn’t know that you had done it, he knew that he hadn’t. Why would he confess to a murder that he didn’t commit?”
Will stared off into memory for a moment. “I don’t know,” he told me, at last. “The day Hopper took him away was the last I ever saw of him. He must have told Hopper something incredibly convincing because I think Hopper always questioned himself on the truth of the St. Claire case. He died in ’42 in the Pacific, so he never really got the chance to question it too much. But I think there was always the doubt.”
“What happened to Luciuk?” I questioned.
A smirk curled the corners of Will’s lips. “Well, you see that’s the crux of it. Luciuk had immunity— or whatever they call it— and he was taken back to his country. Word has it, they never even tried him. He was too important to some very important people. He was a Nazi— that much I knew for sure, got some cushy rank in the SS, I think. Had something to do with the concentration camps. Last I heard of him he was one of the lesser names on trail at Nuremberg. I figure they hung him like the rest. A fitting end, I supposed, though a bit of a paradox.”
My brows crashed together at this. “Why do you say that?”
Will’s smile was a bit satirical. He huffed. “Don’t you see? Luciuk saved us really but went on to kill countless Jews, Poles and God knows who else. All these years I’ve asked myself why, and I still can’t find the answer.”
He let that hang there, a true mystery indeed— one, perhaps, we would never know the answer to. He was silent for close to a minute fingering the burnt out stub of his second cigar. He put it down in the ashtray and then leaned back in his chair.
“It’s funny, really,” he told me then, “it’s like we were linked together the four of us: Doug, Luciuk, Oldie, and I. It’s like we were some sort of league or conspiracy, an unfortunate one. You see nothing but tragedy followed us. A month after the murder Oldie died of a heart attack while serving his beloved bar. Doug got the club just like he wanted, but it was hit bad in the Crash, and he shot himself down on the jetty on a sunny Sunday morning in late fall of that year. St. Claire was auctioned off to the highest bidder, and although it’s still considered a clubhouse, the actual club died with the Crash. Most of its members either became destitute or moved off to gather their shattered pieces somewhere else. St. Claire was never the same without Doug and Doug was never the same after Warhouse was murdered. None of us were really.”
Will took a breath and then another sip of coffee.
I, silent, just sat and watched him. The cigarette had burnt out between my fingers and the night was deep and velvety outside of the window. I turned to look down at the river and felt the sticky breeze of the flower-scented night reach in to brush my face. Behind me, I could hear George clinking around with cups and dishes as he washed up for the night. He whistled as he worked, a cool sound across the air, and as if to join him, someone started to play the old piano downstairs— a bygone melody from forgotten years. And down in the drive below a car started and slowly lumbered up the drive; its headlights cutting an eerie swath through the night.
I would only see William Jay a few more times before his death three weeks after his confession. Surprisingly he still had a sister who flew in from New York to arrange the funeral. He had never even told me about his family. His service was quiet and small in a little country church not far from St. Claire. He was buried in a tiny, rural cemetery that lay along the road to the club. It surprised me the day we laid him to rest because his sister and I were supposed to be the only ones at the graveyard. But after the reverend had said his last words and we had turned to go, I spotted an older gentleman standing beside a big, old car that was parked along the road. The man was dressed in a dark black suit and a black tie. He wore a black fedora that shielded his face, and the hat sported a bright red ribbon. The car he stood next to was a 1920’s model black Rolls Royce.
I stopped up abruptly when I realized this, and the older gentleman saw me watching him. He smiled, the gesture hardly warming his cold blue eyes.
Jay’s sister, Trixie glanced at me uncertain, and then she too saw the old man standing next to the Rolls.
He watched both of us for a moment then took off his hat, revealing severely cut faded blond hair that was only peppered with gray, and he bowed his head to us. Straightening he replaced, his hat and then got into the car and his driver pulled away.
That was the only time I ever saw or even heard anything more of Giovanni Luciuk. I suspect that if he’s still in America, it’s under a different name.
A year after Will died the club was closed and boarded up and that old gray road fell into disuse. No one drives by Jay’s grave anymore, except for me— once in a while. I live in the city now so it’s hard. But once in a while when the summer blush of heat is mellow at night and the smell of the rich earth and smooth foliage is startling in the gray twilight— even now— I feel the restless tug of sometime beyond myself, and I have to go back. I have to go back even if it’s only to sit on the little jetty from twilight until dawn with St. Claire boarded up and molding behind me, with the trees and their Spanish moss swaying in the breeze just to watch the big orange Louisiana sun rise up above the river and the swamps out of the hazy memory of the night and unfold its sleepy arms across the horizon.