William Winthrop turned the key in its lock, pushed open the apartment door and stepped inside. Kicking the door shut behind him, he stopped in the foyer and looked at the key in the palm of his hand. He grinned to himself and slowly turned the hand palm downward. The key made no sound at all as it hit the carpet.
Winthrop moved from the foyer to the living room, leaving hat and tie on a sofa as he went by. He walked into the bedroom, tossing his coat and shirt in the corner of the room as he removed them. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed and put his head in his hands.
He could feel his hands trembling against his cheeks, and was surprised. He felt his chest for his cigarettes, realized he didn’t have his shirt on, and walked over to where the shirt lay, on the floor beside the chair. He picked it up, took the cigarettes from the pocket, and dropped it on the floor again. Removing one cigarette, he dropped the pack on the floor beside the shirt, then lit the cigarette with his pocket lighter. He looked at the lighter for a long moment, then dropped that, too.
He stuck the cigarette into the corner of his mouth, walked over to the dresser on the other side of the room, and opened the top drawer. He felt under a pile of shirts, came up with a .45 automatic. The gun dangling from his hand, he went back and sat down on the bed again. He dropped the cigarette on the floor and stepped on it.
He took the clip from the handle of the gun, looked at the eight bullets, then put the clip back. He pressed the barrel of the gun against the side of his head, just above the ear, and sat there, his finger trembling on the trigger. Perspiration broke out on his forehead. He stared at the floor.
Finally, he looked up from the floor and saw his own reflection in the mirror on the closet door. He saw a young man of twenty four, long brown hair awry, face contorted, dressed in brown pants, brown shoes and a sweaty undershirt, a gun held to his head.
He hurled the gun at the mirror. The crash startled him and he jumped. Then he lay face down on the bed, his head in the crook of his left arm, his right fist pounding the bed. “Damn it,” he cried, over and over, in time to the pounding of his fist. “Damn it, damn it, damn it.”
At last, he stopped swearing and beating the bed, and a sob shook his body. He cried, bracingly, for almost five minutes, then rolled over and stared at the ceiling, breathing hard.
When he had calmed down, he rolled out of the bed to his feet and walked across the room to where his cigarettes lay. This time, after he’d lit the cigarette, he stuffed cigarettes and lighter in his pants pocket, then recrossed the room, past the bed and the dresser and the shattered mirror and the gun on the floor, and on into the bathroom.
With water filling the sink, he took a comb and ran it through his hair, to get it out of the way while he washed. Then he turned the tap off, dipped a washcloth in the water, and scrubbed his face until it hurt. Grabbing a towel, he dried face and hands, and looked at himself in the mirror. Again he took the comb, this time combing more carefully, patting his hair here and there until it looked right to him.
The cigarette had gone out in the ashtray, so he lit another. Then he went back to the bedroom.
Kicking the gun and the larger pieces of glass out of the way, he opened the closet door and looked over the clothing inside. He selected a dark blue suit, shut the closet door, and tossed the suit on the bed.
Back at the dresser, he took out a clean shirt, underwear and socks. From the tie rack on the back of the bedroom door he took a conservative gray number and brought all back to bed.
He changed rapidly, transferring everything from the pockets of the pants he’d been wearing to the suit. Then he went back to the living room and made himself a drink at the bar in the corner. He gulped the drink, lit another cigarette and went to the front door, to make sure it was unlocked. On the way back, he picked up the key and put it in his pocket.
He sat down, crossed and recrossed his legs, buttoned and unbuttoned his suit coat, played with the empty glass. After a minute, he crushed the cigarette in an ashtray, got up, and made another drink. He swallowed half, lit another cigarette, threw away the empty pack and went to his room for another. When he came back, he reached for the half-full glass on the bar, but his hand shook and the glass went over, shattering on the floor behind the bar. He jumped again.
Leaning back against the wall, eyes squeezed shut, he whispered to himself, “Take it easy. Take it easy. Take it easy.”
After a while, he moved away from the wall. He’d dropped the cigarette when the glass broke, and it was still smoldering on the rug. He stepped on it and took out another. He got another glass and made a drink, then went back to the sofa and sat down again.
He was just finishing the drink when the knock came. He was facing the door. “Come in,” he called.
The door opened, and the two of them came in through the foyer to the living room. “William Winthrop?” asked one.
The man took out his wallet, flipped it open to show a badge. “Police,” he said.
“I know,” said Winthrop. He got to his feet. “Anything I say can be used against me. I demand my right to make one phone call.”
“To your lawyer,” said the detective. It wasn’t a question.
“Of course,” said Winthrop. He crossed to the phone. “Care for a drink? The makings are over there, in the corner.”
“No thanks,” said the detective. He motioned and the other one walked into the bedroom.
“Don’t mind the mess in there,” called Winthrop. “I tried to commit suicide.”
The detective raised his eyebrows and walked over to the bedroom door to take a look. He whistled. “What happened to the mirror?”
“I threw the gun at it.”
“Oh.” The detective came back. “At least you’re sane. A lot of guys try to cash in. Only the nuts do.”
“That’s a relief,” said Winthrop. He dialed.
The detective grunted and sat down. The other one came back from his inspection, shook his head, and sat down near the door.
Winthrop heard the click as a receiver was lifted, and a man’s voice said, “Arthur Moresby, attorney.”
“Hello, Art? This is Bill.”
There was a pause, then “Who?”
“Bill. Bill Winthrop.”
“I’m afraid I don’t recognize the name. Are you sure you have the right number?”
“Oh,” said Winthrop. “Like that. It’s in the papers already, eh?”
“On the radio.”
“You don’t know me, is that right?”
“That’s right,” said Arthur Moresby, attorney. “Goodbye.”
Winthrop heard the click but continued to hold the phone against his ear.
“What’s the matter?” asked the detective.
Winthrop shook his head and returned the phone to its cradle. He grinned crookedly at the detective. “Wrong number,” he said.
“How a wrong number?”
“I’m a sinking ship.”
“And your lawyer?”
“He’s a rat. He doesn’t know me. He never heard the name.”
“Oh,” said the detective. He stood up. “I guess we can go then, huh?”
Winthrop shrugged. “I guess so.”
He followed them out of the apartment. They walked to the elevator, Winthrop pushed the button, and they waited without speaking. When the elevator came, they stepped in and the detective pushed the button marked ‘1’.
On the way down, the detective said, “Mind if I ask you a question?”
“For the insurance,” said Winthrop. “I was in debt. Either I paid or chhhhk.” He ran a finger across his neck.
“That isn’t the question. I want to know why you waited for us to come before you called the lawyer. You had a lot of time before we got there. Why did you wait?”
Winthrop stared at the door. Why had he waited? He thought a minute, then said, “I don’t know. Bravado or something.”
“Okay,” said the detective. The door slid open and they walked across the vestibule to the street. A few passersby watched curiously as Winthrop got into the back seat of the police car.
“I’m twenty four,” said Winthrop, as they drove through the streets to Police Headquarters.
“So?” said the detective.
“Seems like a hell of an age to stop at.”
“How old was your mother?” asked the cop.
Winthrop closed his eyes. “Do you hate me?”
“No,” said the cop.
Winthrop turned and looked at the cop. “I do,” he said.
“I hate my guts.”
Copyright © 1958 by Donald Westlake