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Книга The Deep Blue Good-Bye. Страница 18

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I saw her later in the Houston terminal, stilting along, laughing and chattering into the face of a big florid youngster in a nine-gallon hat.

I was in Harlingen at a little after five, the sun high and blazing, the heat as wet and thick as Florida ’s. I rented an air-conditioned Galaxie and found a tall glassy motel with green lawns, pool and fountains, and checked into a shadowed icy room facing the pool. I showered and changed to sport shirt and slacks. I drove around. it was a village trying to call itself a city. Pale tall buildings had been put up in unlikely places for obscure reasons. it was linked to Brownsville by the twenty-five mile umbilicus of Route 77.

The George Brell residence was at 18 Linden Way, Wentwood. Big plots, big sweeping curves of asphalt. Architectured houses, overhangs, patios, sprinklers, driveways wad turnarounds pebbled in brown, traveler palms, pepper trees, Mexican gardeners, housewives in shorts, antique wrought-iron name signs. Number eighteen was blond stone, glass, redwood, slate. Formal plantings. A black Lincoln and a white Triumph in the drive, a black poodle in a window of the house, glaring out at the world.

I went back among the common people and found a beer joint. Standard opening conversation gambit. “Sure hot.” Standard answer. “Sure is.”

The beer was so cold it had no taste. The juke played hill country laments. I found a talkative salesman. Local economy: Damned town had been too long at the mercy of the Air Force. Close the base, open the base, et cetera. Oranges and grapefruit were basic. Bad freeze year and everything goes to hell. Little winter tourist business building up pretty good. Padre Island and so forth. More transient traffic through into Mexico now the Mexicans fixed their damned road decent from Matamoros to Victoria. Quickest way from the States to Mexico City. He was talkative and cranky.

I got him onto local success stories, and when he got onto George Brell I kept him there. “Old George is into a lot of things. His wife had some groves, and now he’s got more. His first wife, dead now. God knows how many of these Beeg-Burger drive-ins he’s got now. A dozen. More. And the real estate business, and warehouse properties, and the little trucking business he’s started up.”

“He must be a smart man.”

“Well, let’s say George is a busy man. He keeps moving. They say he’s always in some kind of tax trouble, and he couldn’t raise a thousand dollars cash, but he lives big. And he talks big. He likes a lot of people around him all the time.”

“You said he married again?”

“Few years back. Hell of a good-looking girl, but I don’t think she’s more than maybe three years older than his oldest girl from his first wife. Built her a showplace house out in Wentwood Estates. Gerry, her name is.”

My salesman had to get on home, and after he had gone I went back to a booth and phoned George Brell. It was ten to seven. I got him on the line. He sounded emphatic. I said I wanted to see him on a personal matter. He became wary. I said that Bill Callowell had suggested he might be able to help me.

“Callowell? My old pilot? Mr. McGee, you come right on out to the house right now. We’re just sitting around drinking, and we’ll have one ready for you.”

I drove out. There were a half-dozen cars there. A house man let me in. Brell came hurrying to me to pump my hand. He was a trim-bodied man in his late forties, dark and handsome in a slightly vulpine way, and I suspected he wore a very expensive and inconspicuous hair piece. He looked the type to go bald early. He had a resonant voice and a slightly theatrical presence. He wore tailored twill ranch pants and a crisp white shirt with blue piping.

Within ten seconds we were Trav and George, and then he took me out to a glassed back deck where the people were. A dozen of them, seven men and five women, casually dressed, friendly, slightly high. As he made the introductions he managed to give me the impression that all the men worked for him and he was making them rich, and all the women were in love with him. And he made it known to them that I was a dear friend of one of the most influential road builders in the country, a man who had flown desperate missions with George Brell, and had survived only because George was along. His wife, Gerry, was a truly stunning blonde in her middle twenties, tall and gracious, but with eyes just a little cold to match a smile so warm and welcoming.

We sat around on the sling chairs and leather stools, and talked the dusk into night. Two batches left, cutting the group down to five. They made it unthinkable not to stay to dinner. The Brell’s, a young couple named Hingdon and me. A little while before dinner, Brell took Hingdon off to discuss some business matter with him. Mrs. Hingdon went to the bathroom. Gerry Brell excused herself and went to see how the preparation of dinner was coming.

I went wandering. A harmless diversion. It was a big rambling house, obviously furnished by a decorator who had worked with the architect. And they had not been in it long enough to add those touches that would spoil the effect. There was a room off the living room, a small room with lights on inside. I saw a painting on the far wall of the small room that looked interesting. I listened and there was no sound of voices from the small room. I thought Hingdon and Brell might have gone in there. So I wandered in for a closer look at the painting. Just as I reached the middle of the room I heard a gasp and a scuffling noise. I turned and saw there were two people on a deep low couch to the right of the doorway. The couch had high sides, and I had not noticed them.

One was a pale-haired girl of about seventeen. She was slumped back in the couch against pillows. She had on short khaki shorts and a pale gray blouse unbuttoned to the waist. She had the long sprawled luxurious body of maturity, and she was breathing deeply, her face revealing that telltale slackness, the emptiness of prolonged sexual excitement. It was a child’s mouth and a child’s eyes set into a woman’s face. Her lips were wet and her nipples swollen, and she was very slow in coming back from the dreamy land of eros. The boy was older, twenty possibly, and he was a massive brute, all hair and muscles and jaw corners and narrow infuriated eyes.

Left to my own devices, I would have gone very quietly away from there. But her warrior gave me no chance. “Why don’t you knock, you silly son of a bitch?” he said in a gravelly voice.

“I didn’t know it was a bedroom, boy.”

He stood up, impressively tall and broad. “You insulted the lady.”

The lady was sitting erect, buttoning her blouse. The lady said, “Deck him, Lew!” Sick him, Rover. He swarmed at me, obedient as any dog.

I am tall, and I gangle. I look like a loose-jointed, clumsy hundred and eighty. The man who takes a better look at the size of my wrists can make a more accurate guess. When I get up to two twelve I get nervous and hack it back on down to two oh five. As far as clumsiness and reflexes go, I have never had to use a flyswatter in my life. My combat expression is one of apologetic anxiety. I like them confident. My stance is mostly composed of elbows.

Lew, faithful dog, wanted it over right now. He hooked with both hands, chin on his chest, snorting, starting the hooks way back, left right left right. He had fists like stones and they hurt. They hurt my elbows and forearms and shoulders, and one glanced off the top of my shoulder and hit me high on the head. When I had the rhythm gauged, I counter punched and knocked his mouth open with an overhand right. His arms stopped churning and began to float. I clacked his mouth shut with a very short left hook. He lowered his arms. I put the right hand in the same place as before and he fell with his mouth open and his eyes rolled up out of sight.

The little lady screamed. People came running. I massaged my right hand. “What’s going on!” Brell yelled. “What the hell is going on!”

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