Authors: James M. Cain
“But then he lost his nerve. He looked out and couldn't jump. That's when we hit the air pocket and dropped I don't know how farâcouple hundred feet at least. Two or three women screamed. I'm used to air pockets, and it wouldn't have bothered me, except that the whole plane creaked and I knew all of a sudden, that with the door open like that, another drop could tear us apart. Lefty knew it too because he yelled at Shaw real loud: âIf you're going to jump, jump! Will you for Christ's sake jump!' or something like that. But still nothing happened. Shaw just stood there looking out, a scared look on his face. When the plane creaked one more time I spun him around and pushed. But he grabbed me to keep from going out. Then the two of us were spinning down through the night, him hanging onto me and me hanging to him. Then I remembered the ripcord and found it and pulled. I was almost shaken off when the parachute opened. Then, like in some horror movie, I was over my head in water, but water so cold it stabbed inside me like ice. I screamed, but when the water went down my throat I cut it off quick. Then I came up and could see what looked like shore, with bushes and stumps and trees against the sky. I swam to it, but when I crawled out and stood up, it hurt my feet horribly. The water had taken my shoes off, and I was in my stocking feet. Nothing on but my pantyhose and my skirt, bolero, and braâbut they were soaking wet.”
“Wait a minute,” said Edgren. “You're now on that island out there?”
“I was and he was, soon as he climbed out beside meâbut we didn't know it was an island then. He was the one who found it out after circling around. He still had his shoes on and could walk. Then he turned on me, blaming it all on me, saying that we were âtrapped in this Godawful place' and saying that he would kill me. For that, he began drying the gun, blowing into the barrel and rubbing it on his trousers to get the water off. Then he saw what looked like a house, with a light showing upstairs.”
“That was this house?” asked Edgren.
“I don't think so.”
She turned to me and I started to speak, but Edgren cut in with his speech about my rights. Bledsoe then motioned to me, and I explained about the other house. She went on: “He yelled at it and so did I. I'm here to tell you I did. Then two flashlights came over the hill, and Mr. Howell was there with this lady.”
“Just a second,” said Edgren. “While this was going on, while he was drying the gun and while you were yelling at the house, did he still have the money?”
“Sergeant Edgren, it was dark. I couldn't see. It was cold, so cold. All I could see was that gunâbut I couldn't rightly see that. When he jammed it against me, sometimes against my head, I could feel it.”
“Did he mention the money at all?”
“Not as I recall.”
“Didn't blame you, or something like that, for its being lost in the river?” That was Mantle, getting into the discussion.
“He said nothing about it at all.”
On that, Edgren, Mantle, and Knight put their heads together, and Bledsoe looked at me. I knew what he was thinking: that Knight and both officers thought it peculiar that if Shaw
lost his money, slipped it off when he unsnapped the parachute, he wouldn't have mentioned it to her, to blame her for it, as one more reason for killing her or at least to start to search for it. But when Edgren resumed, he told her: “OK, take it from there. Mr. Howell came with his mother. What then?”
“Shaw asked, did he have a boat, and Mr. Howell said yes. Shaw said, go get it or he would kill me. So he left and Mrs. Howell started hollering at Shaw and he hollered back.”
“About the money? Or what?”
“Why the money?” asked Bledsoe. “How did that get in this?”
“It's what Mrs. Howell said she was thinking about at the time.”
“Repeat the question.”
“What was she hollering about?”
Jill looked at Bledsoe, at York, and at me, at me the longest, then said: “Sergeant, with a gun jammed to your head and your teeth chattering from cold, you don't pay too much attention to what's being said by a woman you can't even see a hundred feet off in the dark. She was arguing with Shaw, that's all I remember now, but what about, I have no idea.”
She made the rest of it short, how the voice said “drop that gun,” how Shaw had whirled and fired, how a rifle spoke, how Shaw had dropped at her feet, “his brains running out of his head.” She told then how she'd started for me, “and fell on account of my feet,” and how I'd come “piling through the bushes, put his coat on me, and carried me to his boat. I'd been praying to God, and I don't mind saying right here that he looked to me like God. How do you like that, he still does.”
She put her hand in mine and there was a kind of pause. Then Edgren asked: “What then?”
“How do I know, what then?”
There was another pause, and she said: “He carried me to the house, and this lady mentioned the money, said she meant to start looking for it. I think that's what she said. I had my mind on that coat, Mr. Howell's heavenly coatâthough it left him bare to the waist.”
She mentioned the bed, the bath, and my call to the sheriff's office, then remembered her call to Chicago, but didn't say anything about the brawl we had had when Mom came in with the rifle. Edgren pressed her about how much time had gone by between Shaw being killed and my phone call, and she guessed a half hour. “Long as it took to roll me into that bed, then put a blanket on me and carry me up to the bathroom, then dunk me in the tub.”
“One other thing,” said Edgren. “How did this man, this Shaw, get his gun past the metal detector? Did he mention that while you were with him on the plane?”
“You'd like to know, wouldn't you?”
“I think everyone would.”
“Well, you work on it, mister. You won't get it from me. If I tell you that and you tell everyone because they want to know then we start all over on this hijacking thing. How he did it was so simple anyone who has 10 dollars could do it. Yes, he mentioned it, he bragged about it. But he's dead now, and I'm not telling you or anyone.”
HAT SEEMED TO BE
that, and York came over to give her a pat on the cheek. Edgren asked if I had anything to add to what I'd said that morning. Then he turned to Mom who said: “I got plenty to add, to officers who I try to give some help and they treat me like a thief. But outside of that, nothing. Not at all.” Mantle cut in to say that she hadn't been treated like a thief or any other particular way, and she said: “It's what I'm talking aboutâand especially, nobody's thanked me for the help I've tried to give.”
“Thanks a lot,” Edgren said.
But Knight cut it off by motioning the officers over for a huddle. That's when Bledsoe knelt in front of Jill, beckoned to Mom, and whispered to the three of us, but with York still standing behind Jill. “I think,” he whispered, “the officers want all three of you held. That time lag after the shooting still sticks in Mantle's mind, and that, coupled with Mrs. Howell's acknowledged interest in the money, must set up the possibility in his mind that Dave Howell plugged him for the money while his mother and Miss Kreeger cooperated. I think that's what they're whispering aboutâand Knight is naturally reluctant to face that judge when I move to have you released on bail. But why let it come to that? I can settle the whole thing now, I'm pretty sure, in one very simple way. Now look me in the eyeâall three of youâand give me a straight answer. Is there any reason, any reason at all, why this place shouldn't be searched? And that other place, too, wherever it is?”
“No reason I know of,” I told him.
“Of course there's not any reason!” exclaimed Mom. “What reason could there be? Do
think I'm a thief, too?”
“Well, I certainly know of no reason,” Jill told him.
He stood up at once and called over to Knight: “Marion, the officers, I suspect, still have their minds on that moneyâand think Howell held up his call so his mother, Miss Kreeger, or he himself, could hide it. That being the case, they want the place searched, this house and the other one,
They'll waive a warrant.”
“Well?” said Knight, looking first at Edgren, then at Mantle. “That does it, I think.”
“OK?” asked Bledsoe.
“All right, let's go.”
So the two officers searched. I'd heard that a search turned your place upside down, but that's not how it was that day. Both officers knew their stuff and went through the place fast, leaving things just as they found them, first downstairs, then up on the second floor. That surprised them plenty, because nothing was up there except for linen in the two bathroom closets. I showed them the stairway to the attic. “There's nothing up there,” I assured them, “at least, as I think. To tell the truth, I only looked once.”
They made it quick, then we got in their car to drive to the other houseâdown the lane, maybe a quarter mile, to route 60, then a quarter mile south, in the direction of Marietta, then up the other lane and to the other house. I unlocked it and they shivered at how cold it was. The front rooms were empty, but I pointed to the light I kept burning, then led them through to the back rooms which were full of sacks of seed corn, seed lettuce, seed radish, and fertilizer, where another light was burning. I unlocked one of the back doors and took them out through the yard to the kitchen, where I'd had the door cut bigger to let in the big farm machinery. In one corner were gardening toolsâshovels, hoes, pick, rake, and so onâwhich Mantle grabbed up to look at, for fresh dirt, I suspected, in case we'd buried the money somewhere. But Edgren stood in the door looking around. Suddenly he turned to me, saying: “Your father built it, you say. Where was your father from?”
“Texas,” I told him.
“That's right, this is a Texas ranchhouse. The dining room's in the house, and they cooked here in this kitchen. But in the old days, the slave boy that carried in the food had to whistle as he cameâso he couldn't lick the gravy off the meat. If he didn't whistle, he was in real trouble.”
“My father mentioned that.”
Edgren seemed satisfied. If Mantle was, I couldn't be sure.
We drove back to the other house, where they were all getting quite sociable, Mom telling Knight and Bledsoe “how messy his brains looked, scattered all over the ground,” the nurse sitting with Jill, and York in the hall talking on the phone. “Nothing.” Edgren reported to Knight. “So far, anyway,” Mantle said, slightly amending the report. But it was York who took charge of the conversation when he came out, first dropping a bill in Mom's lap and thanking her for letting him use the phone.
“That was Mr. Morgan I was talking to,” he explained. “Russ Morgan, I mean, president of Trans-U.S.&C. He's cleared it all up, I think, in regard to the moneyâas far as Jill is concerned. He's given it to herâin appreciation for what she's done. I suggested the idea to him, and he didn't even let me finish. âShe's got it coming,' he kept saying. âOh, brother, has she.' It's hers if it's ever foundâand if it's
found, she'll still be nicely rewarded. That's one thing about Mr. Morgan. He always does it big. So...that winds, it up, I think. Jill can't very well be held for stealing money that's already hers.”
That got a blank stare.
“Well?” he asked Knight.
“She's not charged, Mr. York.”
“OKâbut now she can't be.”
“Listen, anyone can be!”
“Easy does it.”
That was Bledsoe who always wanted to shade things a little bit, “so we don't meet these issues head-on.”
No one mentioned holding us, and Knight got up. “They should do the autopsy tomorrow,” he said, “so we'll be holding the inquest Tuesday. All three of youâMr. Howell, Mrs. Howell, and Miss Kreegerâwill be called as witnesses, so please make yourselves available to testify.” He put on his coat and started for the door. “We ready?” asked York, turning to Jill.
“I guess so,” she told him, half turning to me.
“I'm taking her in,” I said, reaching under her knees, as I had quite a few times, putting the other arm around her and lifting her up.
“Well?” she smiled at York. “I don't really have much choice. I have to do what Dave says.”
“All right,” he said rather grumpily.
Knight nodded to everyone, then went out the front door, got in his car, and drove off. “We'll let you know,” said Edgren, and he and Mantle left. Bledsoe looked at his watch, gave Jill a little pat, nodded to Mom, and left. The nurse and York left. I turned to Mom and said: “Be back,” but whether she heard me or not, I didn't know, as she didn't look at me.
I carried Jill to the door and she opened it. When we were out, she pushed it shut. I carried her to my car which was parked beside the house. I opened the door and helped her climb in.
“Well?” she asked when we'd turned onto route 60, headed for town. “Was I all right?”
“Perfect,” I answered. “I was relieved that you left out what was said in the dark, that stuff you thought meant that
meant Shaw should kill you. I don't think she did, butâ”
“I don't think itâI know it. Don't you know why I left it out?”
“All right, why did you?”
“It was because of you. She's your mother, and Iâ”
“Yes? You what?” I asked as she stopped suddenly.
“Don't you know?”
“No, I don't.”
“Then it's not up to me to tell you.”
“Who's it up to, then?”
She didn't answer, but hooked her hand in my arm and whispered: “Are we getting somewhere together or not?”
“So far as
concerned, we are.”
“Then a woman sticks by her guy whether she likes his mother or not. I couldn't talk against her.”