Authors: James M. Cain
“So there was a corpus delicti,” said Edgren, “a corpus she knew about.” And then, to Jill: “A corpus delicti, miss, doesn't always mean a body. It generally means that, too, but mainly it means evidence a crime was committed.”
“And it's important,” said Mantle, pretty solemn. “In this case, especially.”
“Very important,” said Edgren.
“Thanks, Dave!” sobbed Jill, coming over and grabbing my hand. However, I shook her off. “I don't want your thanks,” I told her, “or any part of you.” She crumpled up on the sofa and really started to bawl. “Dave,” snapped my mother, “you must be under a strainâI think you forget yourself. If you're going to marry this girlâ?”
“I'm not! Stop trying to say I am!”
By then Edgren and Mantle were at the door. Edgren made a stiff little speech: “Thanks ever so much, Mrs. Howell,” he began.
“Miss Giles,” she corrected.
“Mrs. Giles, I'm sorry.”
“Miss Giles, I'm not married.”
“Miss Giles, for being so cooperative.”
My mother bowed, her face set, as though it was chiseled in marble.
“Mr. Howell, thanks for your help, and Miss Kreegerâ”
But all Jill did was bawl, and on that pleasing note the officers finally left.
O, NOT TO STRING
it out, they had the inquest Tuesday, by now a week late, kind of a triple, in one of Santos' parlors, with the coroner, Dr. Snyder, a jury of six people pulled in from the street, Mr. Knight, for the state's attorney's office, and Mr. Bledsoe, for my mother, Jill, and me. And three verdicts were brought, two of homicide, justifiable, and one of accident, by drowning, with nobody held. So that rang down the curtain, and the three of us walked out free.
Then one thing happened that I'll get to, but after that nothing at all for two or three months. My mother went back to Indianapolis and called often but didn't come out any more. Then, however, things happened and happened fast. The wire came from Arizona, and my father at last was free. So in a few days he and my mother got married, and showed up in his car, a big Rolls limousine, with him and my mother in back, and his secretary and the driver up frontâwith grins on everyone's face and an invitation to the bridal supper in one of Marietta's swank hotels. His name, it turned out, is John Gilmore Rider, who I'd heard of as the president of Husky Bus Lines, but it turned out that was a sideline with him. He was mainly president of Polaris Oil, which had started Husky 20-odd years before as a way of using up surplus gas. It also turned out how he and my mother had met. It was in Logan County, West Virginia, when she was a secretary for the Boone County Coal Corporation, at Clothier, and he was a young stockholder of Polaris, locating bus lines for them. He began taking charge of my life, how I should change my name to correspond, go to Cornell, to finish my college education, then move to Oklahoma to learn the ropes at Polaris, so I could succeed him as president when he felt he ought to retire. But I told him to back it up, that I'd decide those things, not he, and it made him laugh. But just to act friendly with him, I did agree to tape up all that happened, from the time Shaw came down until the inquest was over, so his secretary could type it up, and he would know everything. So I did, and this is it. Nothing's been settled yet, but I image I'll go to Cornell, and eventually head for Tulsa.
So that takes care of him, my mother, and me, but it doesn't take care of one other, and maybe a wedding we had, some weeks before my mother's. But to explain about her, and how one thing led to another, I'll have to backtrack a bit to that same afternoon after the officers left and we were all three sitting thereâmy mother, Jill, and me in the living room of my houseâor at least my mother and I were, with Jill stretched out on the sofa. And my mother closed her eyes, saying: “How wonderful it would be if that phone were to ring right now, with the news I've been praying for. No, I don't pray for it, I wouldn't pray for somebody's death, but if it has to come, why couldn't it come now, so we could have it double, a real ceremony!”
“Double?” I asked her. “Double what?”
“Wedding, of course.”
“Mother, if you're getting married, fineâI'll love it, and it'll be a wonderful day. But me, I'm not getting married, at all.”
“You're damned right you're notânot to me anyway.”
That was Jill, coming to life on the sofa. I said: “OK, Jill, that said it. Now how'd you like to get out?”
“I'll go when I get ready.”
“You'll go now.”
her!” screamed my mother at me.
“Me and who else?”
Nobody moved, to go, kiss, or anything, but my mother let me have it.
“You're just like your father!” she yelped, into my face. “Stubborn as a mule, one of those mules they have in Kentucky, that has to be hit with a chunk, a two-by-four scantling chunk, before you can get their attention and knock the stubbornness out! That stubbornness has kept me waiting for 20 years, because once he said we'd wait till that woman died out there, he was too bullheaded to switch! And fool that I am, I've waited and waited and waited, without finding myself any chunk. And she's still there and I'm still here andâyou go over and kiss her, I say! You hear me?”
“I'm not deaf,” I told her.
!” she bellowed at Jill. “Why aren't you finding a chunk? Why aren't you hitting him with it?”
“The chunks are all on the fire.”
“You could bang him with that poke!”
But at that Jill jumped up. “I'm sick of the poke!” she screamed, bursting out crying again. “It's ruined them allâevery last one that has touched it is dead, and it's not going to ruin me.” She reached for the firescreen, pulled back when it burned her hands, then reached for the tongs, to topple it over with them. I suddenly realized she meant to heave that money right in the fire. That's when I grabbed it and flung her back on the sofa. “Oh no you don't!” I told her. “And there's not any jinx on it eitherâexcept for those who stole it, or tried to. For others it's perfectly good money, and that includes you. So take it and get out. It's yours, it's what you've been living for, praying for, and lying forâtake it to bed at night, take its pants off and kiss it, and
get the hell out
I yanked her to her feet and gave her a boot in the tail. She whirled, perfectly furious, and let me have it in the head, with the bag, swinging it by the strap. I went out, seeing white lightning first. I was out a long time, and when I came to I was falling. I caught myself, staggered somehow to my feet, and started for her again. But her eyes opened wide, my lip suddenly tickled, and a blood spot showed on the floor. She hadn't hit me in the nose, but it was bleeding just the same. She came close, pushed me back on the sofa, and tilted my head back by raising my chin. My mother handed her a swatch of Kleenexes she got out of her handbag. Then she dived for the kitchen and came back with two clean dish towels, one wet. The wet one she put on my head, handing the other one to Jill. Jill jammed it under my nose and held it there, all the time sitting close, so I could feel how warm she was and how soft, especially her swellings in front. She kept whispering how sorry she was for those rotten things she had said: “But I wanted that money soâit was mine and I hated to lose it!” And then: “Bop me!”
“I said, bop me.”
She reached around behind, flipped her skirt up and slid down her panty hose, so her bottom was bare. “If you don't bop her,” said my mother, “there's something wrong with you!”
I didn't bop her. I lay there with my eyes closed, wondering what her warmness, softness, and smell, which I could catch in her hair, had to do with what she had said, and how sore I was about it. I didn't have anything that I could see and yet I didn't feel quite so sore any more. 'Stead of bopping, I patted her. Then my arm went around her. Then her mouth found mine. If you can't guess the rest. ...
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
copyright Â© 1975 by James M. Cain
cover design by Mimi Bark
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