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Книга The Deep Blue Good-Bye. Содержание - Cinco

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“Go to the police?”

“Why? Whatever he got was already stole one time. Police never did any favors for the Berry family. When you’ve got a daddy dies in prison, you don’t look friendly on the police!”

“When was the last time Allen was in the area?”

Suspicion changed her placid face, tightening it. “You wouldn’t be some kind of police?”

“No. Absolutely not.”

She waited out the fade of suspicion, gave a little nod. “He was coming and going, taking her off on that boat, staying there with her, and maybe a month ago, one day the boat was gone and she was there alone. There’s a sale sign on that house and she stays pretty much inside the house and they say she’d turned to drinking more, so perhaps Junior Allen is gone for good.”

“Perhaps that’s just as well, for Cathy’s sake. He shamed her. People knew what was going on. And they knew Kerr ran out on her. Junior Allen called her names and people heard it. They laugh about her. I clawed one face bone raw and they don’t do their laughing in front of me. What Cathy doesn’t need is any more trouble. You remember that. I don’t think she can take one more little bit of any kind of trouble.”

“I don’t plan to give her any”

“She looks pretty good now. All slim as a girl.” She sighed. “Me, I seem to keep right on widening out.”

Cathy came rattling down the stairs with a crushed white box fastened with rubber bands. “They were down in the bottom,” she said. “And there was this picture.” She showed it to Christine and then brought it over to me. It was a snapshot. A powerful man sat grinning on the top step of the porch of the old house. A placid pretty woman in a print dress sat beside him. The man had his arm around a squinting, towheaded girl of about five. She was leaning against him. A younger girl was in her mother’s lap, her fingers in her mouth.

“Old times,” Cathy said wistfully. “Suppose somebody came to us that day and told all of us how things would be. You wonder, would it have changed a thing?”

“I wish that somebody would come along right now,” Christine said. “I could use the information. We’re due for good luck, Sis. The both of us.”

I stood up. “I’ll go along and do my errand and stop back for you, Cathy.”

“Shall we wait lunch?” Christine asked.

“Better not. I don’t know how long I’ll be.”

The town of Candle Key was a wide place on a fast road. The key was narrow at that point. The town was near the southwest bridge off the key. It had taken a good scouring in 1960 and had a fresh new look, modern gas stations, waterfront motels, restaurants, gift shops, marine supplies, boat yards, post office.

I stopped at the big Esso station and found the station manager at the desk marking an inventory sheet. He was a hunched, seamed, cadaverous man with dusty-looking black hair and his name was Rollo Urthis. He greeted me with the wary regard salesmen grow accustomed to.

“Mr. Urthis, my name is McGee. I’m trying to get a line on the present whereabouts of one Ambrose Allen. Our records show that he worked for you for several months.”

“Junior Allen. Sure. He worked here. What’s it all about?”

“Just routine.” I took a piece of paper from my wallet, looked at it and put it back. “There’s an unpaid hotel bill of two hundred and twelve dollars and twenty cents. At the Bayway Hotel in Miami, back in March. They put it in the hands of the agency I work for, and he registered there as coming from Candle Key.”

His grin exposed a very bad set of teeth. “Now that must be just one of them little details that Mister Junior Allen overlooked. When you run across him, he’ll probably just pay you off out of the spare change he carries in his pocket and give you a big tip for your trouble, Mister.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand, Mr. Urthis.”

“He quit me in February and got rich all of a sudden.”

“Did he inherit money?”

“I don’t know as that is just the right word. People got different ideas where he got it. He was away for nearly a month and came back on a big cruiser he bought himself, new clothes and a gold wristwatch no thicker than a silver dollar. I’d say he made a woman give it to him. He’s the kind can make women do things they might not want to do if he gave them time to think about it. He came here and moved right in with the Berry girls, big as life. Their ma was still alive then, last year. They had hard luck, both of them. Cathy is as nice a little woman as you’d want to know, but he got next to her pretty quick. When he got the money he dropped her and moved in on Mrs. Atkinson. She was a customer a long time, and I could have swore she wouldn’t stand for anything like that. But she did. Lost me a customer too. God knows where he’s at now. But maybe Mrs. Atkinson would know, if you could get her to talk to you about it. I hear she’s touchy on the subject. Nobody around here has seen Junior Allen in better than a month I’d say.”

“Was he a satisfactory employee, Mr. Urthis?”

“If he wasn’t I wouldn’t have kept him. Sure, he was all right. A quick-moving man, real good when we had a rush, and good at fixing things. The trade liked him. He smiled all the time, and he could always find something that needed doing around here. Maybe he was just a little bit too friendly with the women customers, the good-looking ones. Kidding around a little, but nobody complained. Frankly, I was sorry when he quit. The people you get these days, they don’t want to work.”

“Was he reliable in money matters?”

“I’d say so. I don’t think he left owing anybody, and if he did, he sure was able to pay up when he got back. I think he got it off Mrs. Atkinson some way. If so, it would be up to her to complain, not me.”

“Where could I find her?”

“See that big real estate sign up the road? Turn right just beyond it and go straight down to the water and turn right again, and it’s the second house on the right, a long low white colored house.”

It was one of those Florida houses I find unsympathetic, all block tile, glass, terrazzo, aluminum. They have a surgical coldness. Each one seems to be merely some complex corridor arrangement, a going-through place, an entrance built to some place of a better warmth and privacy that was never constructed. When you pause in these rooms, you have the feeling you are waiting. You feel that a door will open and you will be summoned, and horrid things will happen to you before they let you go. You can not mark these houses with any homely flavor of living. When they are emptied after occupancy they have the look of places where the blood has recently been washed away.

The yard was scrubby with dry weeds. A dirty white Thunderbird rested in the double carport. A new red and white sign in the yard said that Jeff Bocka would be happy to sell this residence to anyone. I stood at the formal entrance, thumbed a plastic button and heard an inside dingle. I heard a faint swift approaching tickety-clack of sandals on tile, and the white door was flung open, and I discarded all preconceived visions of Mrs. Atkinson.

She was a tall and slender woman, possibly in her early thirties. Her skin had the extraordinary fineness of grain, and the translucence you see in small children and fashion models. In her fine long hands, delicacy of wrists, floating texture of dark hair, and in the mobility of the long narrow sensitive structuring of her face there was the look of something almost too well made, too highly bred, too finely drawn for all the natural crudities of human existence. Her eyes were large and very dark and tilted and set widely. She wore dark Bermuda shorts and sandals and a crisp blue and white blouse, no jewelry of any kind, a sparing touch of lipstick.

“Who are you? What do you want? Who are you?” Her voice was light and fast and intense and her mouth trembled. She seemed to be on the narrow edge of emotional disaster, holding herself in check with the greatest effort. And about her was a rich and heavy scent of brandy, and an unsteadiness, the eyes too swift and not exactly in focus.

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