Page 83 of Wheels

Leonard Wingate sat listening with a mixture of impatience, pity, frustration, helplessness, and anger - until he could sit no more. Then, while Rollie went on talking, Wingate paced the tiny room.

When the recital was done, the Personnel man's anger exploded first. He stormed, "You goddam fool! You were given a chance! You had it made! And then you blew it!" Wingate's hands clenched and unclenched with a complex of emotions. "I could kill you!"

Rollie's head came up. Briefly, the old impudence and humor flashed.

"Man, you gonna do that, you take a card 'n stand in line."

The remark brought Wingate back to reality. He knew he was faced with an impossible choice. If he helped Rollie Knight to escape his situation, he would compound a crime. Even failing to act on his own knowledge at this moment probably made him an accessory to murder, under the law. But if he failed to help, and merely walked away, Wingate knew enough of the inner city and its jungle law to be aware that he would be leaving Rollie to his death.

Leonard Wingate wished he had ignored the telephone bell tonight, or had not yielded to May Lou's plea to come here. If he had done one or the other, he would now be seated comfortably at a table with congenial people, white napery, and gleaming silver. But he was here. He forced himself to think.

He believed what Rollie Knight had told him. Everything. He remembered, too, reading in the press of the discovery of Leroy Colfax's bullet-punctured body, and it had been drawn to his notice in another way because, until recently, Colfax had been an assembly plant employee.

That was barely a week ago. Now, with two of the four conspirators dead and a third having dropped from sight, Mafia attention was likely to move to Rollie soon. But how soon? Next week? Tomorrow? Tonight? Wingate found his own eyes going nervously toward the door.

He reasoned: What he must have, without delay, was another opinion, a second judgment to reinforce his own. Any decision was too crucial to make unaided. But whose opinion? Wingate was sure that if he went to his own senior in the company, the vice-president of Personnel, the advice given would be coldly legalistic: Murder had been committed, the name of one of the murderers was known; therefore inform the police, who would handle it from there.

Wingate knew - whatever the consequences to himself - he wouldn't do it. Or at least, not without seeking other counsel first. An idea occurred to him: Brett DeLosanto.

Since their first encounter last November, Leonard Wingate, Brett, and Barbara Zaleski had become good friends. In course of an increasing amount of time in one another's company, Wingate had come to admire the young designer's mind, realizing that beneath a surface flippancy he possessed instinctive wisdom, common sense, and a broad compassion. His opinion now might be important. Also, Brett knew Rollie Knight, having met him through Barbara and the Auto City filming.

Wingate decided: He would telephone and, if possible, meet Brett tonight.

May Lou had slipped into the apartment unnoticed. Wingate didn't know how much she had heard or knew. He supposed it didn't matter.

He motioned to the door. "Can you lock that?"

May Lou nodded. "Yes."

"I'm going now," Leonard Wingate told Rollie and May Lou, "but I'll be back. Lock the door after me and keep it locked. Don't let anyone else in. When I come, I'll identify myself by name and voice. You understand?"

"Yes, mister." May Lou's eyes met his. Small as she was, scrawny and unimpressive, he was aware of strength.

Not far from the Blaine apartment house, Leonard Wingate found a pay phone in an allnight Laundromat.

He had the phone number of Brett's apartment in a notebook and dialed it. The Laundromat's washers and dryers were noisy and he covered one ear so he could hear the ringing tone at the other end. The ringing continued unanswered, and he hung up.

Wingate remembered a conversation with Brett a day or two ago in which Brett mentioned that he and Barbara would be meeting Adam and Erica Trenton - whom Leonard Wingate knew slightly - later in the week. Wingate decided to try there.

He called Directory Assistance for the Trentons' suburban number. But when he dialed it, there was no answer either.

More than ever now, he wanted to reach Brett DeLosanto.

Leonard Wingate recalled something else Brett had told him: Barbara's father was still on the critical list at Ford Hospital. Wingate reasoned: The chances were, Barbara and Brett were together, and Barbara would leave word at the hospital about where she could be reached.

He dialed the hospital's number. After waiting several minutes, he spoke with a floor nurse who admitted, yes they did have means of getting in touch with Miss Zaleski.

Wingate knew he would have to lie to get the information. "I'm her cousin from Denver and I'm calling from the airport." He hoped the Laundromat's noises sounded sufficiently like airplanes. "I've flown here to see my uncle, but my cousin wanted me to meet her first. She said if I called the hospital you'd always know where I could find her."

The nurse observed tartly, "We're not running a message agency here."

But she gave him the information: Miss Zaleski was at the Detroit Symphony tonight with Mr. and Mrs. Trenton and Mr. DeLosanto. Barbara had even left the seat numbers. Wingate blessed her thoroughness.

He had left his car outside the Laundromat. Now he headed for Jefferson Avenue and the Civic Center, driving fast. A fine rain had begun while he was telephoning; road surfaces were slick.

At Woodward and Jefferson, crowding his chances, he beat an amber light and swung into the forecourt of the Ford Auditorium - blue-pearl-granite-and-marble-faced showplace of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Around the Auditorium, other Civic Center buildings towered - Cobo Hall, Veterans' Memorial, the City-County Building - modern, spacious, brightly floodlit. The Civic Center area was often spoken of as a fountainhead - the beginning of a vast urban renewal program for downtown Detroit.

Unfortunately, while the head was finished, almost nothing of the body was in sight.

A uniformed attendant by the Auditorium's main doors stepped forward.

Before the man could speak, Leonard Wingate told him, "I have to locate some people who are here. It's an emergency." In his hand he held the seat numbers he had copied down while speaking with the hospital nurse.

The doorman conceded: Since the performance was in progress and there was no other traffic, the car could remain "just for a few minutes," with the key in the ignition.

Wingate passed inside through two sets of doors. As the second doors closed, music surrounded him.

An usherette turned from watching the stage and the orchestra. She said, low-voiced, "I won't be able to seat you until intermission, sir. May I see your ticket?"

"I don't have one." He explained his purpose and showed the girl the seat numbers. A male usher joined them.

The seats, it seemed, were near the front and center.

"If you'd take me to the row," Wingate urged, "I could signal Mr. DeLosanto to come out."

The usher said firmly, "We couldn't allow that, sir. It would disturb everybody."

"How long to intermission?"

The ushers were unsure.

For the first time, Wingate was aware of what was being played. He had been a music lover since childhood and recognized Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Orchestral Suite. Knowing that conductors used varying arrangements of the suite, he asked, "May I see a program?" The usherette gave him one.

The passage he had identified was the opening of the "Death of Tybalt."

With relief, he saw it was the final portion of the work before an intermission.

Even waiting impatiently, the music's magnificence swept over him. The swift-surging opening theme moved on to a quickening timpani solo with strokes of death-like hammer blows . . . Tybalt had killed Romeo's friend Mercutio. Now, on the dying Tybalt, Romeo wreaked vengeance he had sworn . . . Horn passages wailed the tragic paradox of human destructiveness and folly; the full orchestra swelled to a crescendo of doom . . .

Wingate's skin prickled, his mind drawing parallels between the music and the reason for his presence here.

The music ended. As a thunder of applause swept through the Auditorium, Leonard Wingate hurried down an aisle, escorted by the usher. Word was passed quickly to Brett DeLosanto whom Wingate saw at once. Brett appeared surprised, but began moving out, followed by Barbara and the Trentons.

In the foyer, they held a hurried conference.

Without wasting time on details, Wingate revealed that his search for Brett had been because of Rollie Knight. And since they were still downtown, Wingate's intention was that the two of them go directly to Rollie and May Lou's apartment.

Brett agreed at once, but Barbara raised difficulties, wanting to go with them. They argued briefly, Leonard Wingate opposing the idea, and Brett supported him. In the end it was agreed that Adam would take Erica and Barbara to Brett's Country Club Manor apartment and await the others there. Neither Adam, Erica, nor Barbara felt like returning to the concert.

Outside, Wingate led Brett to his waiting car. The rain had stopped.

Brett, who was carrying a topcoat, threw it on the back seat, on top of one of Wingate's already there. As they pulled away, Leonard Wingate began a swift-paced explanation, knowing the journey would be short.

Brett listened, asking an occasional question. At the description of the murder-robbery, he whistled softly. Like countless others he had read published reports of the killing at the plant; also, there was a personal link since it seemed likely that events that night had hastened Matt Zaleski's stroke.