Blonde’s Requiem

by James Hardley Chase

One look at Cranville was enough.
As I drove down Main Street a smell of dirt and decay drifted in through the open windows of the Packard. In the far distance I could see the high brick stacks of the smelters stuck up against the skyline. They belched black smoke that had, in the course of time, yellow-smoked everything into  uniform dinginess.

There was a sordid, undisciplined feeling about the town I didn’t like. The first policeman I saw needed a shave, and two buttons from his uniform were missing. The second, directing traffic, had a cigar in his mouth.

The sidewalk, littered with papers and trash, was crowded. Groups of men stood around at street corners. Some of them read newspapers, while others tried to read over their shoulders. Women slouched past like they had something on their minds. Shops seemed empty; even the bartenders were
standing outside in the sunshine. I didn’t have to be told that Cranville was coiled up like a spring with suppressed anger and excitement. I could see it just by looking at the people.

I stopped at a drugstore and, using one of the phones, called Lewes Wolf. I told him I had arrived.
‘Well, come on out.” He sounded like a man used to getting his own way.

His voice was harsh and impatient. “You go through the town and turn right at the traffic lights. It’s a mile or so further on.”

I said I’d be right over and left the drugstore.
There was a small crowd of loafers around my car. I didn’t cotton on at first.

As I started to ease my way through the crowd, I heard someone say: “That’s the dick from New York.”
I looked quickly over my shoulder, but I didn’t stop. They were a sick, seedy-looking bunch, dirty, tired and angry. A guy with a big Adam’s apple said: “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll get the hell outa here.” I was startled to see he was talking to me.

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