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Книга The Deep Blue Good-Bye. Страница 3

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“People told me he was staying in her house, and that he’d come down in expensive clothes and a big boat of his own and moved right in with her. They would tell me and then look at me to see what I’d say or do. The fourth day he was there I came upon him in the town. I tried to speak and he turned around and hurried the other way, and I shamed myself, running after him. He got into her car and she wasn’t there and he was pawing his pockets and cursing because he couldn’t find the key, his face ugly.

“I was crying and trying to ask him what he was doing to me. He called me a busted-down little slut and told me to go back and hide in the swamp where I came from, and he roared away. Enough people saw it and enough heard it, so it gave them a lot to talk about. His boat was right there, a big cruiser, registered to him and owned by him, right at Mrs. Atkinson’s dock, and she closed the house and they went off in it.

“Now I know she lived careful, and couldn’t buy him a boat like that. And I know that living with us, Junior Allen didn’t have one dollar extra. But he looked and looked and looked and found something and went away and came back with money. But I can’t see there’s a thing in the world anybody can do about it.

“Chookie said tell you, so I’ve told you. I don’t know where he is now. I don’t know if Mrs. Atkinson knows, if she isn’t still with him someplace. And if anybody could find him, what could they do?”

“Was there a name and port of registry on the boat?”

“Called it the Play Pen, out of Miami. Not a new boat, but the name new. He showed a couple of people the papers to prove it his. I’d say it was a custom boat, maybe thirty-eight foot, white topsides, gray hull and a blue stripe.”

“Then you left Candle Key?”

“Not long after. There just wasn’t enough money with just one of us working. When I was little a tourist lady saw me dancing alone and gave me free dancing lessons every winter she came down. Before I was married I danced two years for pay up in Miami. So I came back into it and it’s enough money so I can send Christine enough and she can get along. I didn’t want to be in Candle Key any more any.”

She looked at me with soft apologetic brown eyes, all dressed in her best to come talk to me. The world had done its best to subdue and humble her, but the edge of her good tough spirit showed through. I found I had taken an irrational dislike to Junior Allen, that smiling man. And I do not function too well on emotional motivations. I am wary of them. And I am wary of a lot of other things, such as plastic credit cards, payroll deductions, insurance programs, retirement benefits, savings accounts, Green Stamps, time clocks, newspapers, mortgages, sermons, miracle fabrics, deodorants, check lists, time payments, political parties, lending libraries, television, actresses, junior chambers of commerce, pageants, progress, and manifest destiny.

I am wary of the whole dreary deadening structured mess we have built into such a glittering top-heavy structure that there is nothing left to see but the glitter, and the brute routines of maintaining it.

Reality is in the enduring eyes, the unspoken dreadful accusation in the enduring eyes of a worn young woman who looks at you, and hopes for nothing.

But these things can never form lecture materials for blithe Travis McGee. I am also wary of all earnestness.

“Let me do some thinking about all this, Cal.”

“Sure,” she said, and put her empty glass down.

“Another drink.”

“I’ll be getting along, thank you kindly-”

“I can get in touch through Chook.”


I let her out. I noticed a small and touching thing. Despite all wounds and dejections, her dancer’s step was so firm and light and quick as to give a curious imitation of joy.


I WANDERED through the lounge and tapped at the door and went into the master stateroom. Chook’s fresh clothing was laid out on my bed, and her sodden stomp-suit was in a heap on the floor. I heard her in the tub, wallowing and sloshing and humming.

“Yo,” I said toward the half-open door.

“Come in, darling. I’m indecent.”

The bathroom was humid with steam and soap. The elderly Palm Beach sybarite who had ordered the pleasure barge for his declining years had added many nice touches. One was the tub, a semi-sunken, pale blue creation a full seven feet long and four feet wide. Chook was stretched out full length in it, her black hair afloat, bobbing around in there, creamy with suds, utterly luxuriant. She beckoned me over and I sat on the wide rim near the foot of the tub.

I guess Chook is about twenty-three or -four. Her face is a little older than that. It has that stern look you see in old pictures of the Plains Indians. At her best, it is a forceful and striking face, redolent of strength and dignity. At worst it sometimes would seem to be the face of a Dartmouth boy dressed for the farcical chorus line. But that body, seen more intimately than ever before, was incomparably, mercilessly female, deep and glossy, rounded under the tidy little fatty layer of girl pneumatics with useful muscle.

This was a special challenge, and I didn’t know the terms, knew only that most of the time they are terms one cannot ultimately afford, not with the ones who, like Chook, have their own special force and substance and requirements. She had created the challenge, and was less bold with it than she wanted to believe.

“How about that Cathy?” she said, her voice elaborately casual.

“A little worn around the edges.”

“How not? But how about helping her?”

“There’s a lot to find out first. Maybe too much. Maybe it would be too long and too expensive finding out what I’d have to find out.”

“But you couldn’t tell about that until you looked into it.”

“I could just make a guess.”

“And not do anything.”

“What’s it to you, Chook?”

“I like her. And it’s been rough.”

“The wide world is full of likable people who get kicked in the stomach regularly. They’re disaster-prone. Something goes wrong. The sky starts falling on their head. And you can’t reverse the process.”

She sloshed a little and scowled. My left hand was braced on the edge of the tub. Suddenly she lifted a long steaming gleaming leg and put the soaking sole of her bare foot firmly on the back of my hand. She curled her toes around the edge of my wrist in a strange little clasp and said, her voice husky and her eyes a little alarmed at her own daring, “The water’s fine.”

It was just a little too contrived. “Who are you trying to be?”

She was startled. “That’s a funny thing to say.”

“You are Chookie McCall, very resolute and ambitious and not exactly subject to fits of abandon. And we have been friends for a couple of months. I made my pass, way back when, and you straightened me out very pleasantly and firmly. So who are you trying to be? Fair question?”

She took her foot away. “Do you have to be such a bastard, Trav? Maybe I was having a fit of abandon. Why do you have to question things?”

“Because I know you, and maybe there are enough people getting hurt.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Chook, dear girl, you are just not trivial enough for purely recreational sex. You are more complex than that. So this very pleasant and unexpected invitation has to be part of some kind of a program or plan of action or design for the future.”

Her eyes shifted just enough to let me know I had struck home. “Whatever it was, darling, you’ve bitched it good.”

I smiled at her. “If it’s pure recreation, dear; without claims or agreements or deathless vows, I’m at your service. I like you. I like you enough to keep from trying to fake you into anything, even though, at the moment, it’s one hell of a temptation. But I think you would have to get too deeply involved in your own justifications because, as I said, you are a complex woman. And a strong woman. And I am no part of your future, not in any emotional way.” I stood up and looked down at her. “Now you know the rules, it’s still your decision. Just holler.”

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