Книга Farewell, My Lovely. Содержание - 37

“A man like Brunette wouldn’t hide Malloy,” I said. “After he had killed two people.”

“No. Not unless there was some other reason than money. Want to go back?”


Red moved his hands on the wheel. The boat picked up speed. “Don’t think I like these bastards,” he said. “I hate their guts.”


The revolving searchlight was a pale mist-ridden finger that barely skimmed the waves a hundred feet or so beyond the ship. It was probably more for show than anything else. Especially at this time in the evening. Anyone who had plans for hijacking the take on one of these gambling boats would need plenty of help and would pull the job about four in the morning, when the crowd was thinned down to a few bitter gamblers, and the crew were all dull with fatigue. Even then it would be a poor way to make money. It had been tried once.

A taxi curved to the landing stage, unloaded, went back shorewards. Red held his speedboat idling just beyond the weep of the searchlight. If they lifted it a few feet, just for fun — but they didn’t. It passed languidly and the dull water glowed with it and the speedboat slid across the line and closed in fast under the overhang, past the two huge scummy stern hawsers. We sidled up to the greasy plates of the hull as coyly as a hotel dick getting set to ease a hustler out of his lobby.

Double iron doors loomed high above us, and they looked too high to reach and too heavy to open even if we could reach them. The speedboat scuffed the Montecito’s ancient sides and the swell slapped loosely at the shell under our feet. A big shadow rose in the gloom at my side and a coiled rope slipped upwards through the air, slapped, caught, and the end ran down and splashed in water. Red fished it out with a boathook, pulled it tight and fastened the end to something on the engine cowling. There was just enough fog to make everything seem unreal. The wet air was as cold as the ashes of love.

Red leaned close to me and his breath tickled my ear. “She rides too high. Come a good blow and she’d wave her screws in the air. We got to climb those plates just the same.”

“I can hardly wait,” I said, shivering.

He put my hands on the wheel, turned it just as he wanted it, set the throttle, and told me to hold the boat just as she was. There was an iron ladder bolted close to the plates, curving with the hull, its rungs probably as slippery as a greased pole.

Going up it looked as tempting as climbing over the cornice of an office building. Red reached for it, after wiping his hands hard on his pants to get some tar on them. He hauled himself up noiselessly, without even a grunt, and his sneakers caught the metal rungs, and he braced his body out almost at right angles to get more traction.

The searchlight beam swept far outside us now. Light bounced off the water and seemed to make my face as obvious as a flare, but nothing happened. Then there was a dull creak of heavy hinges over my head. A faint ghost of yellowish light trickled out into the fog and died. The outline of one half of the loading port showed. It couldn’t have been bolted from inside. I wondered why.

The whisper was a mere sound, without meaning. I left the wheel and started up. It was the hardest journey I ever made. It landed me panting and wheezing in a sour hold littered with packing boxes and barrels and coils of rope and clumps of rusted chain. Rats screamed in dark corners. The yellow light came from a narrow door on the far side.

Red put his lips against my ear. “From here we take a straight walk to the boiler room catwalk. They’ll have steam in one auxiliary, because they don’t have no Diesels on this piece of cheese. There will be probably one guy below. The crew doubles in brass up on the play decks, table men and spotters and waiters and so on. They all got to sign on as something that sounds like ship. From the boiler room I’ll show you a ventilator with no grating in it. It goes to the boat deck and the boat deck is out of bounds. But it’s all yours — while you live.”

“You must have relatives on board,” I said.

“Funnier things have happened. Will you come back fast?”

“I ought to make a good splash from the boat deck,” I said, and got my wallet out. “I think this rates a little more money. Here. Handle the body as if it was your own.”

“You don’t owe me nothing more, pardner.”

“I’m buying the trip back — even if I don’t use it. Take the money before I bust out crying and wet your shirt.”

“Need a little help up there?”

“All I need is a silver tongue and the one I have is like lizard’s back.”

“Put your dough away,” Red said. “You paid me for the trip back. I think you’re scared.” He took hold of my hand. His was strong, hard, warm and slightly sticky. “I know you’re scared,” he whispered.

“I’ll get over it,” I said. “One way or another.”

He turned away from me with a curious look I couldn’t read in that light. I followed him among the cases and barrels, over the raised iron sill of the door, into a long dim passage with the ship smell. We came out of this on to a grilled steel platform, slick with oil, and went down a steel ladder that was hard to hold on to. The slow hiss of the oil burners filled the air now and blanketed all other sound. We turned towards the hiss through mountains of silent iron.

Around a corner we looked at a short dirty wop in a purple silk shirt who sat in a wired-together office chair, under a naked hanging light, and read the evening paper with the aid of a black forefinger and steel-rimmed spectacles that had probably belonged to his grandfather.

Red stepped behind him noiselessly. He said gently:

“Hi, Shorty. How’s all the bambinos?”

The Italian opened his mouth with a click and threw a hand at the opening of his purple shirt. Red hit him on the angle of the jaw and caught him. He put him down on the floor gently and began to tear the purple shirt into strips.

“This is going to hurt him more than the poke on the button,” Red said softly. “But the idea is a guy going up a ventilator ladder makes a lot of racket down below. Up above they won’t hear a thing.”

He bound and gagged the Italian neatly and folded his glasses and put them in a safe place and we went along to the ventilator that had no grating in it. I looked up and saw nothing but blackness.

“Good-by,” I said.

“Maybe you need a little help.”

I shook myself like a wet dog. “I need a company of marines. But either I do it alone or I don’t do it. So long.”

“How long will you be?” His voice still sounded worried.

“An hour or less.”

He stared at me and chewed his lip. Then he nodded. “Sometimes a guy has to,” he said. “Drop by that bingo parlor, if you get time.”

He walked away softly, took four steps, and came back. “That open loading port,” he said. “That might buy you something. Use it.” He went quickly.

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