Maxie felt too ill to talk. The barrel of the revolver had bitten deep into the ridge of his nose, scooping out bone and flesh the size of a dime. Whitey wasn't so good either, the sensitive bones in his foot badly bruised, maybe smashed by Bannister's heavy patrol boots.
Nick was the only one who wasn't scared. At any rate, he didn't let on he was scared. He acted calmly, instructed Pop and Jeff to get hot water and bandages so he and Maxie could patch themselves up.
Nick neatly fastened a length of sticking-plaster across a deep gash in his elbow caused by broken glass, and sipped at the brandy Pop had thoughtfully poured.
"We all saw it," said Whitey. "We'll back you up. It was self-defence. It was the cop who had the gun. You were only defending yourself."
Nick flashed him a silent look of hatred and hurled his empty brandy glass across the room. It smashed against the wall and as the broken glass tinkled on the floor he snarled at Jeff: "Get me another brandy."
Tobias said soothingly. "Don't lose your head, son. That's no way to deal with trouble."
"I'm not losing my head," shouted Nick. Then he kinda got a grip on himself, forced himself to take out a cigarette slowly and light it without letting his hand tremble too much. "Okay, Pop," he said quietly. "I'm taking it easy."
"You've gotta get this straight, son," said Pop. "What're you gonna tell the cops?"
Nick furrowed his brow. "I dunno," he said. He took a couple turns up and down the room, hesitated as he almost stumbled over Bannister's body. He tossed away the cigarette he'd just lit with a savage gesture of annoyance, pounded his fist into the palm of his other hand. "Why the hell did this have to happen?" he demanded angrily. "Just the kinda thing I've always been careful to steer clear of."
"I've got an idea," said Whitey.
Nick swung around to stare at him viciously. "You!" he sneered. "You've got an idea! When did you ever have an idea?"
Whitey scowled. "Just the same," he said determinedly, "I've got an idea."
Nick stared at him, curled his lip contemptuously. "Okay," he growled reluctantly. "Let's have it. What's your idea?"
Whitey nodded towards me. "The dummy did it," he said. "That's easy ain't it? The dummy did it. He's stoopid. He's crazy. Doesn't know what he's doing."
The nerve of that Whitey, looking at me that way, saying those kinda things about me! I could feel my head swelling and the slow beating in my brain that warned me it was going to happen. They were all staring at me - Pop, Whitey and Nick. Nick staring with a speculative look in his eyes.
"It's a cinch," said Whitey. "You know the way he is. You've just got to say he's a dummy. He is, too. He's a dope. He's nuts. We tried but we just couldn't stop him doing it."
The hammering was in my head like the beating of a war drum. It was starting now. I couldn't stop it. The sweat was bursting out all over me and I was scared they'd taken my gun from me. Nick's eyes were still looking at me speculatively, wonderingly.
I wasn't worried about Nick now. I was worried about my gun. I was afraid they'e taken it from me, sneaked up on me when I wasn't looking, stolen it from my pocket. I was dripping with sweat now, could feel it running down my legs. And it wasn't in my pocket! I felt for it, plunged deep down in my pocket, fumbling frantically, desperately, knowing I'd die if I couldn't find it.
And the sweat was running out of me, drenching me through and through and I couldn't find it and I was going crazy, feeling madness sweeping over me.
I found it!
It was in my other pocket. I sighed with relief as my fingers slipped around the smooth, comforting butt. Suddenly I was drained of strength, empty and weak like a paper bag that's been busted. I drew the gun out of my pocket, stood staring at it, noticed my hand was trembling badly. Then I pointed it at Pop, got his face lined up between the sights.
Nick's quiet voice said: "That's not the answer. We don't want any part of this. We mustn't be connected with it. It didn't happen here. It happened way out of town. We don't know a thing about it."
Pop was staring at me through the sights. His eyes were brown, soulful and sad. I wasn't gonna like shooting Pop. But he was there, framed in the sights of my gun. There wasn't gonna be any alternative about it. Pop was gonna be shot.
"Can I shoot now?" I asked.
"None of us are gonna know anything about this," Nick said. "When Bannister was shot it wasn't in this neighbourhood. In was way out of town. Remember that, you guys. He was shot way out of town. We know nothing about it."
I still had Pop lined up. I was anxious to shoot now, my finger twitching on the trigger. "I wanna do it boss," I called. "Can I shoot him now?"
"Somebody had to have a reason for shooting him," said Whitey. "Cops don't get shot for nothing. There has to be someone who's got a reason."
Nick's eyes narrowed. "Sure," he said. "Someone did have a reason. Randy Regan had a reason. Let the cops worry him for a change. And just to make sure the cops know Randy did it, we'll carve his initials on the cop's forehead."
The red mist was coming up, engulfing me. I was sweating again, my hand trembling so it was hard to keep Pop focused between the sights, "Please, Nick," I pleaded. "Can I shoot him now?"
"Sure, sure," said Nick absently. "You can shoot him now."
I sighed with relief, squeezed the trigger and heard it click on the empty chamber. I relaxed then, let my arm fall to my side and watched the red mist dissolve together with the rushing sound in my ears.
"How're you feeling, Joey?" asked Nick kindly.
"I feel fine," I said weakly.
"Put your gun away, huh?" He crossed over to me, patted me on the shoulder. "You feel good, don't you, Joey?"
"Sure," I said. "I feel good."
"Put your gun away then."
I put my gun away.
"You feel better than you've ever felt before?"
"Sure, boss," I said. "I feel real fine." I did, too. Nick always made me feel that way. How could you help loving a guy like that?
"I want you to do something for me, Joey," he said. "Something special. I wouldn't want anyone but you to do it for me."
My c'est puffed out. That's just the kinda thing I love doing. Something special for Nick. Something he preferred me to do instead of other folk.
"Sure. boss," I said proudly. "Anything you want."
He thumbed towards Bannister. "That guy got himself shot," he said.
"I know," I told him.
"We've gotta get rid of him, Joey," he said, seriously. "We've gotta dump him on the outskirts of town. We've gotta leave him there. We don't want any evidence around connecting him with us."
"Sure," I said. "I understand." I did too. It was as clear as daylight. He didn't want any part of a cop-killing.
"Got a penknife, Joey?"
"Sure," I said brightly. "I know what you want. You want me to carve Randy Regan's initials on him."
"You've got it, Joey," he said. He slapped my shoulder encouragingly, squeezed my arm. "You're a good guy, Joey." he said.
I felt all warm and happy inside. "You want I should go now, boss?"
"That's the idea, Joey," he encouraged. "Whitey will help get him into the car; then you're on your own, Joey. And don't let anybody see you."
"I won't, boss," I promised happily. "You leave me to handle this."