A Novel

Chapter 23: Call the Turn

Blondie wanted out. She regretted ever getting in: involving herself with Floyd, setting Connie up with him, telling Ora where he could find them. She regretted retrieving Floyd's backpack. She regretted setting the whole thing in motion. And now she wanted to stop what she had started, and the only way she knew how to stop it would be to give this man, Delaney, the two things he wanted: the Western Union directory and Floyd.

Which would also mean calling the turn on Durney. But it also might mean saving him from a framis she was now almost certain could only backfire. She had been overly confident; Durney had been overly confident. He was used to being the big shot: the big gee calling the shots, saying what was what. But this other man, Delaney—Blondie had this bad, bad feeling that Delaney was even bigger stuff than Durney. Delaney was an unknown quantity: this person, this organization, this thing that was out there, somewhere in Chicago, or Chicagoland—in the 312—with his agents, like satellites orbiting a vulnerable little planet that she and Durney inhabited. Delaney and his agents would crush her, and they would crush Durney, and they would crush Durney's little kingdom of crime. What had once seemed to her Durney's big kingdom of crime now seemed so little, contemptible even. And she had difficulty repressing the nasty little doubt: was this the man she had wasted her life loving, and by "loving" she meant serving? And she couldn't silence the voice of her grandfather, admonishing her from the grave even: these are the wages of sin, Blondie.

Goddamned sin.

She had a feeling she hadn't experienced before, or hadn't experienced in a long, long time. She felt that events had moved beyond her ability to control them. ⇆ Ever since Durney jilted her, all those years ago, she had unknowingly resolved never again not to be master of the events that impacted her. And she had succeeded: first by binding Durney to herself through his sense of guilt and his very real affection for her, and second by making herself indispensable to him, by helping him to build up his rackets, by providing trusted counsel, by collecting intelligence and giving him the truth. She knew that she was the only person he trusted completely. And through him and his control of the county, she herself remained in control. Call it vicarious, but she believed she was likely in more control even than Durney himself. He had become her instrument. → But now, something foreign, something invasive, had entered her world and seemed on course to destroy it. And all, she feared, because of her idea to commandeer Floyd's blackmail scheme.

Friday morning, September 4, 1987 » the Ranch House » Blondie called the number from the Western Union directory. She thought she would get Delaney's answering service again, but a man picked up after just two rings. He sounded very sleepy as he said, "Hello?"

"I want to speak with Delaney."

"Who is this?"

"This is Blondie."

He said, sounding now quite wide awake, "This is Delaney."

"How do I know this really is you?"

"You killed one of my men two days ago. He was staying at your motel. Mr. Esquire-Man? Who the hell else would know that?"

"Okay, you know that much. Do you know what he was doing in my home?"

"I've got long arms, lady; long arms that can reach things, even you down there in shit-hole nowhere. I sent him to find Floyd."

"That's right." She lit a cigarette. "What if I told you I was willing to play ball?"

"What do you mean?"

"Tell you where Floyd is hiding."

"Just like that? Why would you do that? You think I can't spot a trap?"

"Because I've had enough. I'm calling my bets off. I don't know who you people are, but I'm sorry I ever stumbled upon you."

"You should be sorry. You could still end up being even sorrier. Tell me where he is."

"Not so fast. I'm looking at a manslaughter rap thanks to your man's little house call two nights ago. I've got State police questioning me about the death of a man who was traveling with Floyd. You might say your operation, whatever it is, has got me up to my neck in trouble, and I want something for it."

"Do you have the directory?"


"Then how did you get this telephone number?"

"Floyd gave it to me, on a slip of paper. He said that if he got himself into a fix, that I should call you, and you'd get him out. Next thing I know, he was shacked up some place, putting the screws on you, and he told me to destroy the number. Which obviously I didn't do. But he gave it to me, the first and last time I saw him, before he left the bar with some woman."

She could hear Delaney sit up in bed: "A woman? What woman?"

"I don't know. Just some lady that's always around here."

"What did she look like? How old was she?"

Delaney's voice had an edge, a paranoid edginess. She sensed that he was dangerous, like a cornered dog. Not wanting to cause anymore trouble than she already had, for herself, or for Durney, she lied: “A younger woman, a little older than him. Blonde hair. Pretty." Then, trying to get off the subject, she said, "He took his backpack with him, but left this sheet of paper with your number on it."

"Alright Blondie. I'll do business with you. How much do you want?" She heard what sounded like pills rattling in jar.

"Five thousand."

"Fine. Where is he?"

"Not so fast. I want some earnest money first."

"Okay, I'll send somebody out. Twenty five hundred when you give the address, and then another twenty five hundred after we have him."

"I guess you already know where I live. Send somebody to my house again. Eight o'clock. No funny business. I'm making a detailed record of this entire conversation, putting it in a safety deposit box, and mailing the key to a friend: to be opened in the event that anything happens to me. So tell your man to be careful."

"He will be. Is tomorrow too soon?"

"It's not soon enough, as far as I'm concerned. Like I said, I want out."

He said, a little sarcastically, "I just wanted to make sure you'd have enough time to write down all this damning evidence, put it in a safety deposit box, and mail it to your friend."

She laughed her husky smoker's laugh. "This is a small town Mr. Delaney. I'll have all that done before noon today."

"Okay, I'll send somebody with the money, and you can give him the address. Then when we have Floyd, he'll bring you your second twenty-five hundred. If you double cross me I'll have you killed. You can put that in your little note too." He hung up the telephone.

She regretted pulling the rug out from under Durney, but it was for his own good. As for the money—that wasn't betrayal. She had sized up the situation and seen the chance: why let this kid go for nothing? It was the kid Delaney wanted, not the book.

A couple hours later, Blondie received a telephone call from Durney: "Hi, Blondie. Just called to tell you you're in the clear. The police could find almost nothing on the man you shot. As far as they can tell, he was a burglar who was staying at the motel for the purpose of finding some easy quarry. His car registration and license plates were fraudulent. And the identity under which he registered at the motel too. The state's attorney just told me he wouldn't prosecute, says it was justifiable use of force against an armed intruder."

"Good," she said, as she lit a cigarette.

Sounding disappointed, he said "You might thank me."

"You know I know that, Durney."

"Police think he cased your home while staying at the motel, after pegging you for an easy target."

Angrily, she responded, "The only person who pegged me for an easy target was Art, who put the finger on me."

"I've taken care of Art. He's gonna learn a long, hard lesson."

"And what about the state police? They could still cause trouble if they can connect this man with their dead body down in Powerton."

"Why would they do that?"

"Because right after they finished interrogating me, Mr. Esquire-Man stopped them in the motel parking lot. I saw them talking for at least five minutes."

"Alright. I'll fix it. Christ. I don't have as much pull with the state police. This scam is starting to take more fixing than I bargained for. Do you remember the names of the troopers?"

"As a matter of fact I do. The captain left his card: John Braddock and his partner was...Leo Schlage-something. I don't remember—"

"Schlageter. Leo Schlageter. That's good news. He's on the take."

She asked, pretending not to know, "How long do you think it'll be before Delaney finds out what happened?"

Durney said, "I wonder if we've underestimated this guy. My guess: he already knows. He probably has at least one other person working in the area, maybe more. He sure as hell wants this kid and that directory." Then, before ringing off, he added, "Oh, and we did get a slap on the wrist for letting a guest register under a name so obviously fraudulent."