Книга The Deep Blue Good-Bye. Содержание - Nuevo


MY MOTEL windows were turning gray when I placed the overdue call to Chook. She was outraged, but when she calmed down she reported that Cathy lay listless on her hospital bed and answered questions in a small voice, in as few words as possible. And she liked Lois Atkinson. Very jumpy, sort of wild-eyed, but nice. They talked dance. Lois had studied ballet when she was little, but had grown too tall. And when was I coming back? That evening probably. Friday. The sun was visible from Florida, but it hadn’t gotten to me. She was trying a replacement, temporary, for Cathy. The damned girl was fair, but she kept getting so winded you could hear her gasping forty feet away. Hurry home, darling McGee.

I slept until ten, arranged afternoon airline connections, then phoned my questions to a sly elderly angle-player in New York, an old friend, a quaint hustler of the unwary marks, a sometime dealer in everything from faked Braque to union dues, from gossip column items to guest shots. I said he would hear from me again.

I checked out and had a quick breakfast and went to George Brell’s home. The pretty maid I had seen before had me wait inside the door while she checked with Mr. Brell. She came back and took me to him. He was propped up, reading the newspaper and drinking coffee. He was in a gigantic circular bed, with a pink canopy over it. In all the luxuriant femininity of that big bedroom, George looked shrunken and misplaced, like a dead worm in a birthday cake.

He threw the paper aside and said harshly, “Shut that door and pull that chair over here and sit down, McGee.”

Pride quickly rebuilds the fallen walls. And refashions the past to fit its own requirements. He stared at me. “You’re very cute, boy. I’d done a lot of drinking, and I was upset about Angie, and I was exhausted from all the deals I’ve been making lately.”

“I certainly took advantage of you, George.”

“I did a hell of a lot of talking, and some of it I can’t even remember. I’ve got some kind of a flu bug.”

“And I was pretty rough, George.”

“I want to know where we stand, McGee.”

“In what way?”

“I’m warning you, boy, the worst mistake you can make is try to use anything against me. I’m not about to try to buy you off, if that’s what you’re after. I can get rough too. Damned rough.”

“Are you planning on getting rough anyway?”

“I’m thinking about it.”

“I guess if those tax people knew exactly where to look, and what historical facts they could check out, they could come back at you with a little more ammunition, George.”

He swallowed and fumbled a cigarette out of his pack and said, “You’re not scaring me. Not a bit.”

“I think we ought to forgive and forget the whole thing, George.”

He boggled at me. “You’re not here to clip me?”

“Frankly I don’t think you’ve got enough to be worth clipping, even if I went in for that line of work.”

“I’m a rich man!” he said indignantly.

“George, you just live rich. Two years from now, if you’ve got a pot left, I’ll be astonished. All I wanted from you was information, and I had to be sure you weren’t being shifty. I’m after what Dave brought back. So far all that’s been found was what was left of the canteen. Not much, after eighteen years of tropical weather.”

“Somebody got there first?”

“But they haven’t had much of a start, George.”

He tried a frail smile. “And that’s all you wanted from me?”

“I tried to tell you that.”

He sat up. “Any time you’re in the Valley Trav, this house is your house. You want to change your luck, I’ve got deals around here I just haven’t had the time to work on. In ten years this area is going to be the most…”

“Sure, George.”

He called to me as I reached the hall. I came back into the room. He moistened his lips. “If there should be any kind of trouble, and you have to do a lot of explaining…”

“I guess you better wish me luck.”

He did and fell back into the percale pillows. As I started to find my way out, I looked back through the terrace glass toward the outdoor pool. Gerry and Angie were out there, standing on the far apron of the pool, talking intently, taking the sun before the day became too hot. Angie wore a conservative swim suit, and her stepmother wore a bikini.

At that distance they looked of an age. After the promise of Gerry in clothing, her figure was a mild disappointment. She had high small breasts, and she was very long-waisted. The long limber torso widened into chunky hips and meaty thighs and short sturdy legs. As I watched them, Angie turned abruptly and started away. Gerry ran after her and caught her by the arm and stopped her. The girl stood in a sullen posture, her head lowered, as Gerry talked to her. Then she permitted herself to be led back to a sun cot. She stretched out, turning her face up toward the sun. The woman moved a white metal chair close and sat and talked down at the girl. Perhaps it was a trick of sunlight, but I thought I saw a silver gleam of moisture on the girl’s cheek as I turned away.

This family was a circus act, balanced on a small platform atop a swaying pole, as the crowd goes ahhhh, anticipating disaster. A vain foolish man and a careless young wife and a tortured girl, swaying to the long drum roll. When it fell, the unmarked House Beautiful would sell readily, the Lincoln would be acquired by a Mexican dentist. Who would survive? George, perhaps, as he had the shortest distance to fall.

On the long east-southeast slant of the Houston-Miami jet flight, high over the blue steel silence of the Gulf, I thought of dour David Berry in the night, lifting away the big slabs of stone, tucking the shiny fortune down at the base of the pillar and replacing the stones, then waiting for his family to wake and find him.

He had hoped for luck, stubbornly vowing to live and come back, knowing his women could not cope with the crafty problem of turning blue fire into money, knowing there was no one he could trust. Then Junior Allen had moved close to him, perhaps sensing a secret, chipping at it, prying.

Maybe, in his despair, David Berry had even considered trusting Junior Allen. But he had decided against it, or death came too quickly. But Allen knew it was there, and had lived there and thought and searched and finally found it.

A lump of wax like a huge blueberry muffin? All the rains and the heat and the salt damp had corroded the container away. And there would have been some bug with a taste for wax. Loose and gleaming probably, amid pale stalks and dirt, with Allen kneeling, his breath shallow and his heart thumping as he gathered them up.

Bugs would eat the wax. Chaw the old canvas. And one day there would be a mutation, and we will have new ones that can digest concrete, dissolve steel and suck up the acid puddles, fatten on magic plastics, lick their slow way through glass. Then the cities will tumble and man will be chased back into the sea from which he came…

The large yellowed headlamps of Miss Agnes peered through dusk as I turned into Bahia Mar and found a slot a reasonable distance from the Busted Flush. There were lights on in my craft, a curiously homey look. Welcome traveler. I bing-bonged to save her unnecessary alarm, then stepped over the chain and went aboard, startling her when she pulled open the door to the lounge.

She backed away, smiling. “Hello. Or welcome home. Or something like that, Trav.” Three days had made an astonishing difference. Dark blue stretch pants patterned with ridiculous little yellow tulips. A soft yellow blouse with three-quarter sleeves. Hair shorter, face, arms and throat red-gold with new tan.

“Tourist!” I said.

“I thought maybe I wouldn’t look so scrawny in this kind of…”

“Beach girl.”

She drew herself up. “You think so? You think that’s all there is to do?”

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