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Книга The Deep Blue Good-Bye. Содержание - Ocho

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He came lounging out, thumbing a new load into his pipe. “Personal matter?”

“I came up from Florida this afternoon just to see you.“

“You could have phoned and I would have told you I have too heavy a load here.”

“This won’t take much time. Do you remember a crew chief named Sergeant David Berry?”

It snapped him way back into the past. It changed his eyes and the set of his shoulders. “ Berry! I remember him. How is he?”

“He died in prison two years ago.”

“I didn’t know that. I didn’t know any-thing about that. Why was he in prison?”

“For killing an officer in San Francisco in nineteen forty-five.”

“Good Lord! But what’s that got to do with me?”

“I’m trying to help his daughters. They need help.”

“Are you an attorney Mr. McGee?”

“No.”

“Are you asking me to help Berry ’s daughters financially?”

“No. I need more information about David Berry.”

“I didn’t know him very well or very long.”

“Anything you can tell me will be helpful.”

He shook his head. “It was a long time ago. I can’t take the time right now.” He looked at his watch. “Can you come back at eleven?”

“I’m registered here.”

“That’s better. I’ll come to your room as near eleven as I can make it.”

“Room seventeen-twenty, Mr. Callowell.”

He rapped on my door at eleven-twenty. He’d had a full measure of good bourbon and a fine dinner and probably some excellent brandy. It had dulled his mind slightly, and he was aware of that dullness and was consequently more careful and more suspicious than he would have been sober. He refused a drink. He lowered himself, into a comfortable chair and took his time lighting his pipe.

“I didn’t catch what you do for a living, Mr. McGee.”

“I’m retired.”

He hoisted one black eyebrow. “You’re young for that.”

“I keep myself busy with little projects.”

“Like this one?”

“Yes.

“I think I better know a little more about this project.”

“Let’s lay down the shovels, Mr. Callowell. I’m not on the make for anything you have. Berry came home rich from his little war. I’d like to find out how. And if I can find out how, maybe I can get a little of it back for his girls. His wife is dead. All this will cost you is a little time. And a little remembering.”

For a little while I thought he had gone to sleep on me. He stirred and sighed. “There were ways to get rich over there. They said it was even better earlier in the war. Berry had been there a long time before I came along. ATC. Flying C-46’s out of Chabua in Assam. Passengers and cargo. Calcutta, New Delhi, and over the Hump to Kunming. Go sometimes to twenty-two thousand feet in those creaking laboring bastards, and then come down through the ice and get your one and only pass to lay it down at Kunming. I’d say I made twenty-five flights with Berry. No more. I didn’t get to know him. Crews didn’t stay together too long in that deal. The first one I had, my first airplane over there, quit. Structural failure, and the landing gear collapsed, and I slid it a long long way. Just three in a crew. They split us up. I got the ship Berry was on. Berry and George Brell, copilot. I was uneasy, wondering if Brell thought he should have been moved up. Their pilot wangled a transfer out.”

“Sugarman?”

“That was the name! He was killed later. Brell didn’t resent me. It worked out all right. Brell and Berry were competent. But they weren’t friendly. Berry was pretty surly and silent, but he knew his job. I think he was sort of a loner. We had probably twenty-five flights together, probably ten of those round trips to China. Then one night we came up from Calcutta and I had let down to about a thousand feet when the starboard engine caught fire without any warning at all. It really went. Too much for the extinguisher system. I goosed it up to as much altitude as I dared, leveled it off and we went out one two three. Five seconds after my chute opened, the wing burned off and it went in like a rock, and five seconds after that I landed in a bed of flowers right in front of the station hospital and wrenched my ankle and knee. Very handy indeed. I hobbled in with my arm around a great big nurse. Berry and Brell visited me and thanked me and brought me a bottle, and I never saw them again.”

“Did you hear any rumors about Berry making money?”

“I seem to remember hearing a few vague things. He was the type. Very tough and silent and cute.”

“How would he have done it?”

“By then the most obvious way was by smuggling gold. You could buy it in Calcutta, and sell it on the black market in Kunming for better than one and a half times what you paid for it. And get American dollars in return. Or, take Indian rupees and bring them back and convert them into dollars at Lloyd’s Bank. Or buy the gold with the rupees. It could be pretty flexible. But they were cracking down on it. It was a risk I didn’t want to take. And I knew that if Berry or Brell was doing it, and got caught, there would be a cloud on me. So I kept my eyes open. You could do a lot with gold in China then. They had that runaway inflation going, and damn few ways to get the gold in there. You could even make a profit by smuggling rupee notes in large denominations into China. They say the Chinese used the rupees to trade with the Japs. The Japs liked the rupees to finance their espionage in India. Hell, the Chinese were trading pack animals to the Japs in return for salt. It was a busy little War. I think Berry was a trader. He had that native shrewdness. And I think he had the knack of manipulating people. Once I think he actually sounded me out, but there was nothing I could put my finger on. I must have given him the wrong answers.”

“Was he close to George Brell?”

“Let’s say a little closer than a sergeant and a lieutenant usually get, even in an air crew. They were together quite a while.”

“Then Brell, if still living, is the next man to talk to.”

“I know where you can find him.”

“Really!”

He hesitated. It was the business syndrome. He had something somebody else wanted and he had to stop for a moment to consider what advantage might be gained. This reflex brought him all the way back from the jungly old war in the back alcove of memory, where he was Lieutenant Callowell, agile, quick and very concerned about the ways of hiding and controlling the fear he felt every day.

He fell back into the portly disguise of William M. Callowell, cushioned with money and authority, shrewd builder and bidder, perhaps privately worried about impotence, audits and heart attacks. I could sense he did not often think of the war. There are middle-aged children who spend a part of every day thinking of their college or their war, but the ones who grow up to be men do not have this plaintive need for a flavor of a past importance, and Callowell was one of these.

He relit his pipe, shifted his weight. “Two years ago there was a short article in Newsweek about our operation, in connection with the Interstate program. They used my picture. I got letters from people I hadn’t heard from in years. Brell wrote me from Harlingen, Texas, sounding like a dear old flyboy buddy, which he wasn’t. Letterhead stationery, thick parchment bond, tricky type-face. Srell Enterprises I think it was. One inch of congratulations to me, and a yard of crap about how well he was doing, closing with the hope we could get together and talk over old times. I answered it with a very short cool note, and I’ve heard nothing since.”

“You didn’t like the man.”

“For no reason I can put my finger on, McGee. We had dull, dirty, dangerous duty over there, but, after all, it was Air Transport Command. Brell was the tailored uniform type, with the hundred mission cap, and when we were in Calcutta he’d put on the right hardware and turn himself into a Flying Tiger and cut one hell of a swath through the adoring lassies. And he toted a thirty-eight with pearl grips instead of the regulation forty-five. And he didn’t like to make landings. He would get very sweaty and overcontrol when he made landings.”

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