Quicksilver (Nameless Detective)

BOOK: Quicksilver (Nameless Detective)
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Books by Bill Pronzini

“Nameless Detective” Novels:

The Snatch

The Vanished


Blow Back

Twospot (with Collin Wilcox)








Double (with Marcia Muller)






A Nameless Detective Mystery
Bill Pronzini





Copyright © 1984 by Bill Pronzini

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.


Table of Contents

For Ed and Pat Hoch—
good friends in difficult times

Chapter One

The loft was about twenty feet square, which made it plenty big enough for an office. The walls were a sort of beige color, the floor was half linoleum and half bare wood, the ceiling was high and had a skylight and a suspended light fixture that looked like an upsidedown grappling hook surrounded by clusters of brass testicles. There were two windows in the wall opposite the door, set apart from each other, and another window in the left-hand wall. That was all—no furnishings of any kind, no anteroom or alcove or closet, nothing else to see except for some miscellaneous streaks and blobs of vari-colored paint on the linoleum half of the floor.

Eberhardt said, “Well? What do you think?”

I didn’t know what I thought yet; we’d only just walked through the door. Without saying anything, I went over to one of the windows in the far wall. Wonderful downhill view of the back end of the Federal Bunding—or there would be on a clear day. Now, with early-December rain pelting down and the noonday sky as dark as dusk, that building and the others nearby were blurry shapes with their tops cut off by low scudding clouds. I moved over to the side-wall window. Out there you had an even more wonderful view of the blank brick wall of the building adjacent to this one.

“Well?” Eberhardt said again. He had followed me from window to window and was breathing on my neck. “Not too bad, is it?”

“Not too bad,” I admitted, turning.

“It’s not Montgomery Street or the Transamerica pyramid, but what the hell. There are worse neighborhoods; O’Farrell Street’s not a bad address, not over this close to Van Ness. And the other tenants are pretty respectable—a custom-shirt company below us and a real estate outfit on the first floor. It’s better than that office you used to have on Taylor.”

I nodded: he was right on all counts.

“It’ll look good when we get it fixed up,” he said. “Put down some carpeting, put some pictures on the walls, get the furniture moved in. Have our names painted on the window too, maybe. You like that idea?”

“It’s an idea,” I said. But I didn’t like it; it made me think of Spade and Archer, and how things went with them before Spade got mixed up with the black bird. “What’s all that paint on the floor?”

“There was an art school in here before,” Eberhardt said. “That’s how come the skylight; guy who ran the school had it put in at his own expense. He died a couple of months ago. Ran the school by himself, so it died when he did.”

“Who told you all that?”

“Sam Crawford, man who owns the building. He’s a friend of Cap Turner, down at the Hall; Cap’s the one told me about the place being available.”


“He’s anxious to rent it. Crawford, I mean. He told me he’ll take care of the electric bill, no charge to us. All we got to pay is the telephone and the rent.”

“So how much does he want?”

“Didn’t I tell you?”

He knew damned well he hadn’t told me. He hadn’t said anything on the phone except that he’d found a place and I should come take a look at it. “No,” I said, “you didn’t tell me. How much?”


“How much?”

“Including the electric bill, remember—”

“Eight-fifty a month is too steep, Eb.”

“For a place this size? And practically downtown? Besides, I told you before, I can cover the rent for a couple of months if it comes to that.”

“I don’t know ...”

“We won’t find a better deal,” he said. “And you admitted the place isn’t bad. You could work here all right, couldn’t you?”

“I suppose I could.”

“Well then? I say we take it before somebody else does. Go over to Crawford’s office right now and sign the lease. How about it, paisan?”

His eyes were eager; it was only the second time in the past four months, since an assassin’s bullets had nearly ended his life, that I had seen some of his old enthusiasm come back. The first time had been two and a half weeks ago, just before Thanksgiving, when I’d quit waffling and done what he’d been after me for weeks to do: agreed to take him into my investigating business as a full partner.

I’d made that decision against my better judgment, and against the advice of Kerry Wade and a few other people, and I had thought more than once of backing out of the commitment. Hell, I was thinking about it again right now. But I had given him my word; that was as much as I had to give anybody, and it was something I did not take lightly, especially with a friend as close as Eberhardt.

Still, I had trouble taking this final step, saying, “All right, Eb, we’ll take the place, we’ll go sign the lease.” The words seemed to lodge in my throat. Because once I said them, I would lose something that had been mine alone for twenty-three years, something I had built and that was an extension of me. The partnership would change it, reshape it into a thing shared, an uncomfortably intimate thing like a sexless marriage. I felt as if I were standing in front of an altar on my wedding day. I felt as if I were losing my freedom.

But it no longer mattered how I felt, really, because I was committed, and so I got the words said. And he grinned a little, with relief as much as anything else, and smacked me on the arm, and for those few seconds he looked like the old Eberhardt—the one without the extra gray in his hair, the one I’d known before his wife left, before he made the mistake that had led to the shooting and to his self-imposed retirement from the San Francisco cops. The one who once had cared. The one who might still care again.

So it was worth it after all, taking him in as a partner, giving up my little chunk of freedom. If it made him happy again, if it made him care again, then it wasn’t really that much of a sacrifice, was it?

No, damn it. It wasn’t.

Sam Crawford’s office was a gaudy two-room suite over on Bush Street, with a gaudy blond secretary to go with it. Crawford himself wasn’t gaudy, though. He was fat, he wore a three-piece suit, he smoked fancy cigars in an onyx holder, and he had a diamond ring on the little finger of his right hand that was probably worth enough to feed a starving family of six for a year. He looked like a photograph I had seen once of a Tammany Hall politician.

He drew up the lease, gabbling the whole time, telling us what a terrific deal we were getting. He also told jokes and laughed a lot, because he had money and money made him a very happy man; he was the kind who would laugh at funerals and make comments like, “Poor schmucks—they never had nothing and now they never will.” And he volunteered the information that he owned a dozen other buildings around the city, including three in Hunters Point and five in the Fillmore district. But he wasn’t a slum landlord, he said. Perish the thought. He gave his people a break whenever he could, damn right he did. That was the phrase he used: “his people,” as if he were talking about expensive livestock.

Yeah, I thought, some benefactor. I liked him about as much as I liked potato bugs and rodents with fangs. But then, I would have had trouble liking anybody I met about now. I was feeling blue and a little “grumy”—Kerry’s word to describe that low, snappish mood you get into sometimes, when nothing seems quite right and everything and everybody annoys you. It was a reaction to finalizing the partnership with Eberhardt, of course; I knew that, but I couldn’t find a way to bring myself out of it. I had enough trouble trying to control myself so I wouldn’t tell Crawford what I thought he ought to do with his three buildings in Hunters Point and his five in the Fillmore.

We signed the lease finally, and Eberhardt wrote a check, and we got out of there. The last thing Crawford said to us was that we could move in any time, he’d only charge us a half-month’s rent from the fifteenth; he blew cigar smoke in my face as he said it, making my stomach lurch. So I was doubly glad to get outside into clean air again, even though the rain was coming down in sheets now and the wind howled and moaned and assaulted the cars parked at the curb.

When we reached my car in the next block we were both sodden. I started the engine and put the heater on high, and we sat there for a time trying to dry off. Pretty soon Eberhardt said, “Crawford’s a jerk.”

BOOK: Quicksilver (Nameless Detective)
4.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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