The Copperplate Killer
Thyme eased his way through the crowd, spilling more of his whiskey as he went. By the time he was nearing the piano, his glass was more or less empty. He also had taken a good look up the stairs and along the second-floor walkway. A latticework screened off the bedroom doors - enough to preserve some bit of privacy for the clients, not enough to prevent the madame and the bouncers to see who was coming and going from which room. After ten minutes of scrutiny, Thyme was no closer to figuring out where Thomson was. He was debating how he might go upstairs and start "accidentally" knocking on doors when he got lucky.
The madame had a harsh voice that went from molasses sweet when she was cajoling a client, to oxhide rough when she was berating one of the girls. After thanking one of the clients, who was going downstairs with a wide grin and a bounce in his step, she turned to snarl at the girl he'd been with. An argument ensued, which ended when the madame slapped the girl hard across the face. The girl picked up a tray from the floor in front of one of the doors and stomped down the stairs. The handprint on her face brightened to a shade of red like an overheated stove, but whatever pain she felt must have been vastly outweighed by anger. She practically flung the tray at one of the barmen and told him that she was no goddamned waitress or scullery maid, and that he could clear away his own dishes. The slap and the march down the stairs had attracted some attention. A couple of men propositioned her, clearly enticed by the idea of having a woman while she was so furious. With a toss of her head, she named a price and took on upstairs with the first man who agreed to it.
Thyme watched her go. Practically every other man in the vicinity did the same, so he felt safe in examining her closely. As they passed by, she kicked at the door where the tray had lain.
And that's where the son of a bitch is holed up, Thyme said to himself, right there.
At every other door, a whore and her client went in or out about every twenty minutes. The madame kept the girls busy, so the upstairs hallway was an active corridor. As he mentally reviewed what he'd seen since he came in, though, that particular door hadn't opened once. And why would a tray of used dishes be outside a floproom? Anything other than the usual bar food would have had to come from one of the eateries nearby. Therefore, Thomson must have had the tray sent up after being here long enough to get tired of eating pickled eggs, beef jerky and pig's knuckles. The tray had held only one soup bowl and one plate when the girl flung it at the barman, so he didn't have any of his gang with him. And if he was holed up that way, for that long, then he would have already had a girl or two by now and been done with it. He was almost certainly up there alone, killing time and waiting for the 7:05 freight train to Topeka.
Thyme looked around the room for an unoccupied whore. They were doing a pretty good business tonight, and the were all engaged in negotiating with fresh clients. He'd been in enough whorehouses to know that the minutes spent flirting and enticing were as much to allow the girls to rest their thighs between clients as it was to get the clients to pay for more exotic (and more expensive) delights. It took him a few minutes to spot one who wasn't having as much luck as the others, but he found her.
Even for a whore, she was ugly. Pop-eyed and dumpy, the heavy layers of pancake makeup couldn't hide a stupid-looking face badly scarred by the pox. As he sidled up to her, he could see she was drunker than was necessary, and mad as hell that one of her prospects had been snatched away by one of the other girls. Thyme slipped his left hand around her waist, ignoring the scream of pain from the gunshot wound.
He gagged, trying also to ignore the smell of her, a sour mixture of old sweat, whiskey and the leavings of her more recent clients.
She turned in surprise, then put on her best honey face, a visage that was more disgusting than enticing.
"Why, hello, there," she said, "how are you tonight? Lookin' fer some fun?" Her voice was gravelly and slurred, her teeth tobacco stained. Good lord, he thought, how low-rent do they come, anyways?
Thyme, playing the drunk, got through the preliminaries as quickly as he could. They settled on a price for some basic, meat-and-potatoes servicing and, still with his arm around her, he led her across the room. He could hear the snickers and even an outright laugh behind his back as he took her up the stairs, but he made sure to keep his left arm draped around her waist. They went down the hall toward one of the empty rooms.
As they passed by the door to Thomson's room, he reached his free hand up and squeezed her through her loosened bodice, hard enough to make her jump away from him. Like a squaredancer, he stepped in time with her and crashed her against the door. Whorehouse doors are never locked, and it burst open. They went stumbling in, the girl first, held in up front by Thyme's strong arm.
Thomson fired twice, two shots as fast as he could get them off from where he was sitting by the bed. Thyme felt the impact of them in the whore's chest, her body pounded back against his shoulder, thud, thud. If she'd had a scream in her, it came out as an explosive cough, a spray of blood and pieces of lung. Her arms flailed in front of her like a wounded bird. Shielded behind her, Thyme saw Thomson's face go wide with surprise as he stood, still frozen in a gunslinger's half-crouch, his eyes on the bloody froth gushing from her naked chest, visibly appalled by the jerking wreckage of the innocent woman he'd just killed.
A moment was all Thyme needed. His hand had been on his gun the instant they'd crashed open the door.
Now, shooting from the hip underneath the dying whore's arm, he fired at the shocked and immobile Thomson. Once in the left arm, twice in the left leg. Thomson staggered back with each impact, scattering the solitaire game he'd had lain out on the bed. Thyme flung the girl aside and leapt forward. Thomson raised his gun, but Thyme kicked him in the head, swinging his boot around as hard as he could. The brass toepiece caught him on the temple and raked across his face, tearing open Thomson's forehead and snapping his head back. The killer slumped down to an insensate pile, his blood pulsing steadily onto the cheap woven rug.
... to be concluded...