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Книга The Deep Blue Good-Bye. Содержание - Once

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“I just wanted to check on a generator that was ordered, find out if it has come in yet.” She sighed as though I had asked her to hike to Duluth. “Who placed the order?” Sigh.

“A. A. Allen.”

She got up and went over to a bank of file cabinets. She began rifling through cards. “For the Play Pen?” Sigh.

“That’s right.”

She took the card out and frowned at it. “Ordered June second. That’s a Kohler 6.5A-23. Goodness, it should be in by now.”

“Doesn’t it say on the card?”

“No, it doesn’t say on the card.” Sigh. “All I can tell from the card is that it hasn’t been delivered or installed.” Sigh.

“Does the card say who handled the order?”

“Of course the card says who handled the order.” Sigh. “Mr. Wicker: He isn’t here today.”

“Joe Wicker?”

“No. Howard Wicker. But people call him Hack.”

“Do you keep a running list of the boats you have in?”

“Of course we keep a running list of the boats we have in.” Sigh. “Down at the dock office.”

“Of course you keep a running list of the boats you have in. Down at the dock office. Thanks a lot.”

She looked momentarily disconcerted. “Excuse me. The air conditioning isn’t working right. And the phone keeps ringing. And people keep coming here.” Sigh.

“I’m sorry too. Be of good cheer, Red.”

She smiled and winked the crooked eye and went back to her gunfire typing.

I phoned the only listing for a Howard Wicker from a chilly saloon. A very small child answered and said, “Hello.” No matter what I said, it kept saying hello. I kept asking it to get its daddy and it kept saying hello, and I began to feel like Shelley Serman. Then the child gave a sudden howl of anguish and a woman with a tense exasperated voice came on the line.

Hack was out in the yard. Hold the line. The child came back on and started giving me the hello again. Tearfully.

“Yes?” Wicker said.

“Sorry to bother you on your day off. I understand you installed a Kohler 6.5A-23 on a forty-foot Stadel custom, and I’d like to know how it worked out.”

“What? Oh. I don’t know what you mean. It’s a good rig. If there’s room for it, and you don’t hit over a second thousand watt peak demand, it’s going to be okay, isn’t it?”

“I mean noise and vibration and so on.”

“It’s quiet enough for that rating. You’re asking about a boat called the Play Pen?”

“I think that’s the name.”

“We got the generator in last Monday or Tuesday, and it hasn’t been installed yet. They’ve phoned in a few times asking about it. I expect they’ll phone in again this week. Then bring the boat around and we’ll put it in. You want to see how the job goes, I could let you know. What have you got now?”

“An old Samson 10KW diesel. Manual and noisy. And big.”

“It would depend on peak load, if you could get along with less.”

I told him I would appreciate it if he’d give me a ring when the appointment with the Play Pen was set up. A collect call in Lauderdale. He wrote the number down and said he would.

“It won’t be too long, will it?” I asked. “The Play Pen is in the area?”

“Far as I know. He knows it’s due about now.”

I drove back through late afternoon heat. The world darkened, turned to a poisonous green, and somebody pulled the chain. Water roared down the chute. Rose-colored lightning webbed down. Water bounced knee high, silver in the green premature dusk, and I found a place to pull off out of the way and let the fools gnash each other’s chrome and tin-work, fattening the body shops, busying the adjustors, clogging the circuit court calendars. The sign of the times is the imaginary whiplash injury.

Miss Agnes squatted, docile under the roar of rain, and I tried to pull Junior Allen into focus. Like the most untidy little hoodlum knocking over a Friendly Bob Adams Loan Office, he was on a short rein. Or reign. In these documented times, where we walk lopsided from the weight of identifications, only the most clever and controlled man can hope to exist long on a hijacked fortune. And Junior Allen was a felon. Maybe he was clever, but certainly not controlled.

Returning to Candle Key to rape and corrupt the lonely woman who found him distasteful had been foolish. Bashing Cathy had been idiotic. Showing gems to the little Haitian bitch had been the act of a careless, over confident man. He was a swaggering sailor with money in his pocket, and if he kept on being careless, neither he nor the money could last very long. Viewed in that light, his luck was impressive. His victims, thus far, had kept their mouths shut. Perhaps his present victim, whoever she might be, might not be so obliging. And I might not have very much time.

A sulphur sun pierced the gloom, and the rain stopped and I drove to the hospital.

She could look at me out of both eyes now, and the shape of her mouth looked more familiar. Chook had brought her a pretty new robe. With the nurse’s permission, she moved from the bed into a wheel chair, and I pushed her to the sun room at the end of the corridor.

“Tomorrow I can go home,” she said.

I moved a chair closer to her. Old bruises turn green and yellow. The old swelling kept her brown eyes pinched small.

“Maybe I’m going to catch up with him soon, Cathy.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Play it by ear.”

“I’d like it fine if you could kill him some way you wouldn’t get into trouble about it.”

“I didn’t know you were so savage about it.”

“Savage? I’m not savage about it at all. The way that man does you, he’s better dead. I was plain foolish, Trav. Even after everything. I was still hoping. You know? He’d find out it was best he should be back with me. Now wasn’t that dumb? I couldn’t even let myself know that was what I was wishing on. Then when he taken me and hammering me there in the dark, nobody to hear, not caring if he killed me dead, that killed it for good. I saw his face once when he’d spun me toward the palm tree lights, and he was smiling.”

“Had he come looking for you?”

“He didn’t say.”

“Do you think he did?”

“I think it was just accident. There aren’t so many places with a summer show, and a man roving around could come there and be as surprised as I was to see him. Trav. you be careful getting near him. He’s mean as anything you like to find in a swamp.”

“I’ll be careful.”

“I have the feeling he’s not long for this world, and I don’t want him taking you with him when he goes. I think when they had him locked away for five years, something went wrong with him. Something stopped. Something other people have. And he’s sly. He must have tricked my daddy, and my daddy was real sly hisself, they say.” She stared thoughtfully at me. “I guess you have to be a sly man too. Your face doesn’t show much. But go careful with him, like as if he’s a snake.”

I got back to the Busted Flush at six-thirty. The rain had washed the sunset time to a lambent beauty. A fine east wind had driven the bug life inland. Scores of little groups were cocktailing aboard their craft, lazy-talking, working themselves into Saturday night.

Buddy Dow, hired skipper of a big lunker owned by an insurance company in Atlanta, had enlisted two recruits and was despairingly in need of more. He tried to enlist me, and I paused for a moment to say no politely. He had them primed. A plain hello was a comedy line that set them all giggling. What Buddy calls the dog-ratio ran pleasantly low on this group. I had the feeling that if I got too close, greedy secretarial hands would haul me aboard, kicking and screaming. They all work toward a memorable vacation.

I went on along to my broad scow, and for a time it seemed as if she wasn’t going to unlock it and let me inside. When she did, she went running to the couch and threw herself face down, rigid.

“What’s the matter with you?”

An agony had blanched and dwindled her face. “He’s here,” she whispered.

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