The Baby Blue Rip-Off

The Baby Blue Rip-Off by Max Allan Collins

Book: The Baby Blue Rip-Off by Max Allan Collins Read Free Book Online
Authors: Max Allan Collins
Tags: Mystery & Crime
    “He says he wants you to come down there and... fight him like a man.”
    “Oh, for Christ’s sake.”
    “He says if you don’t, he’ll come up here and break the door down. He... he has a knife.”
    Pat hadn’t changed much over the years, had he? He was still sending people around telling me about him and his knife.
    “What’s he going to do?” I asked. “Stab down the door? I say the hell with him. Forget about him.”
    “No. No, that’s not the way to handle him. I’m going down and talk to him. Maybe he’ll listen to reason.”
    “Oh Christ, Debbie, get serious....”
    “Let me try.”
    “Okay. He’s your husband. Do it however you want.”
    “Thanks, Mal.”
    “For what?”
    I followed her through the bedroom into Cindy’s room. I stood beside the squat brown heater and watched her open the door and disappear from sight, going down the stairs. Her footsteps made slow, steady clops.
    I waited. Listened.
    I heard Debbie’s muffled voice, but I couldn’t make out the words.
    And then a sound I could make out: the sharp sound of a slap. And another recognizable sound followed right after: that of feet scurrying up the stairs, panic-driven feet.
    Debbie slammed the door and looked at me, her face crimson on the left side from the slap, and said, “He’s so drunk he’s crazy. He says... he says come down and fight him like a man, or he’ll come up here and... and cut you.”
    Looked like Pat Nelson and I were going to have our showdown at last. High Noon had taken over a decade to get here, but here it was.
    I walked to the door and opened it. Descended the stairs, the walls claustrophobically tight on me. Down at the bottom, in apool of dim light from a twenty-five-watt bulb next to the tenant mailboxes, was Pat Nelson. I could smell the booze immediately, growing noticeably stronger as I neared him.
    He was a mess. He was wearing a tee-shirt with booze soaked down the front of it; his blue jeans, too, were wet with liquor. He was tall, thin to the point of undernourishment, his cheeks still spotted with hints of acne; his hair was right out of the fifties: dyed blond greaser’s hair, with long dark skinny sideburns. His eyes drooped and his lower lip protruded, as if James Dean were the latest thing. His nose was pug, the sort a teenaged girl might find cute—which was his whole problem, really; he was somebody who’d been “cute” ten years ago and had tried to retain the image. He was what the phrase “callow youth” is all about, only he wasn’t a youth.
    “Mallory,” he slurred, a near parody of a drunk, “you goddamn bastard, Mallory, put up your hands and fight like a man.”
    I punched him once, right in his pug nose, and he went down like an armful of kindling wood.
    I headed back up the stairs.
    Behind me he was pulling himself back together, pulling himself back onto his feet like the Frankenstein monster coming to life for the first time.
    “Mallory!” he shouted, and his voice echoed in the stairwell like somebody shouting down a crap hole. “Mallory, you goddamn bastard, what are you doing with my wife in there!”
    And he scrambled up the steps, which I’d climbed about halfway, and I turned my head and saw the glint of his knife in his hand. When I turned, he froze, down two steps from me, and held the knife up for me to see and be scared of.
    But it was just a little thing—shiny, probably razor sharp, but a real anticlimax, not much bigger than a pen knife. Oh, it could kill you, but I couldn’t see getting upset about it.
    I was just high enough above him to be able to kick the thing out of his hand, and it went clumpety-clump down a couple of steps and lay there. Then I gave him a hard forearm across the chest, and he went clumpety-clump down all the steps and lay there. It wasn’t far enough a fall to hurt him bad, and he was too drunk to feel it, and after he’d looked up at me drunkenly for a moment, he went to

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