Книга The Deep Blue Good-Bye. Содержание - Uno
John D. MacDonald
The Deep Blue Good-Bye
The first book in the Travis McGee series
IT WAS to have been a quiet evening at home. Home is the Busted Flush, 52-foot barge-type houseboat, Slip F-18, Bahia Mar, Lauderdale. Home is where the privacy is. Draw all the opaque curtains, button the hatches, and with the whispering drone of the air conditioning masking all the sounds of the outside world, you are no longer cheek to jowl with the random activities aboard the neighbor craft. You could be in a rocket beyond Venus, or under the icecap.
Because it is a room aboard, I call it the lounge, and because that is one of the primary activities.
I was sprawled on a deep curve of the corner couch, studying charts of the keys, trying to work up enough enthusiasm and energy to plan moving the Busted Flush to a new mooring for a while. She has a pair of Hercules diesels, 58 HP each, that will chug her along at a stately six knots. I didn’t want to move her. I like Lauderdale. But it had been so long I was wondering if I should.
Chookie McCall was choreographing some fool thing. She had come over because I had the privacy and enough room. She had shoved the furniture out of the way, set up a couple of mirrors from the master stateroom, and set up her rackety little metronome. She wore a faded old rust-red leotard, mended with black thread in a couple of places. She had her black hair tied into a scarf.
She was working hard. She would go over a sequence time and time again, changing it a little each time, and when she was satisfied, she would hurry over to the table and make the proper notations on her clip board.
Dancers work as hard as coal miners used to work. She stomped and huffed and contorted her splendid and perfectly proportioned nociy. I n spite of the air conditioning, she had filled the lounge with a faint sharp-sweet odor of‘ large overheated girl. She was a pleasant distraction. In the lounge lights there was a highlighted gleam of perspiration on the long round legs and arms.
“Damn!” she said, scowling at her notations.
“Nothing I can’t fix. I have to figure exactly where everybody is going to be, or I’ll have them kicking each other in the face. I get mixed up sometimes.”
She scratched out some notes. I went back to checking the low tide depths on the flats northeast of the Content Keys. She worked hard for another ten minutes, made her notes, then leaned against the edge of the table, breathing hard.
“Were you kidding me that time we talked about… about what you do for a living?”
“What did I say?”
“It sounded sort of strange, but I guess I believed you. You said if X has something valuable and Y comes along and takes it away from him, and there is absolutely no way in the world X can ever get it back, then you come along and make a deal with X to get it back, and keep half. Then you just… live on that until it starts to run out. Is that the way it is, really?”
“It’s a simplification, Chook, but reasonably accurate.”
“Don’t you get into a lot of trouble?”
“Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Y is usually in no position to make much of a fuss. Because I am sort of a last resort, the fee is fifty percent. For X, half is a lot better than nothing at all.”
“And you keep it all sort of quiet.”
“Chook I don’t exactly have business cards printed. What would I say on them? Travis McGee, Retriever?”
“But for goodness’ sake, Trav, how much work like that can you find laying around when you start to get so broke you need it?”
“So much that I can pick and choose. This is a complex culture, dear. The more intricate our societly gets, the more semi-legal ways to steal. I get leads from old clients sometimes. And if you take a batch of newspapers and read with great care, and read between the lines, you can come up with a fat happy Y and a poor X wringing his hands. I like to mark on pretty good-sized ones. Expenses are heavy. And then I can take another piece of my retirement. Instead of retiring at sixly I’m taking it in chunks as I go along.”
“What if something came along right now?”
“Let’s change the subject, Miss McCall. Why don’t you take some time off, and make Frank highly nervous, and we’ll assemble a little group and cruise a little houseboat party on down to Marathon. Let’s say, four gentlemen and six ladies. No drunks, no whiners, nobody paired off, no dubious gender, no camera addicts, nobody who sunburns, nobody who can’t swim, nobody who…”
“Please, McGee. I’m really serious.”
“So am I.”
“There’s a girl I want you to talk to. I hired her for the group a couple of months ago. She’s a little older than the rest of us. She used to dance, and she’s working back into it very nicely, really. But… I really think she needs help. And I don’t think there’s anyone else she can go to. Her name is Cathy Kerr.”
“I’m sorry, Chook. I’ve got enough right now to last for months. I work best after I begin to get nervous.”
“But she thinks there is really an awful lot involved.”
I stared at her. “She thinks?”
“She never got to see it.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“She got a little drunk the other night and very weepy, and I’ve been nice to her, so she blurted it all out to me. But she should tell you herself.”
“How could she lose something she never saw?”
Chookie wore that little fisherman smile which means the hook has been set. “It’s really too complicated for me to try to explain. I might mess it up. Would you just do this, Travis? Would you talk to her?”
I sighed. “Bring her around sometime.”
She padded lithely over to me and took my wrist and looked at my watch. Her breathing had slowed. Her leotard was sweat-dark and fitted her almost as closely as her healthy hide. She beamed down at me. “I knew you’d be nice about it, Trav. She’ll. be here in twenty minutes.”
I stared up at her. “You are a con artist, McCall.”
She patted my head. “Cathy is really nice. You’ll like her.” She went back to the middle of the lounge and started her metronome again, studied her notations, and went back to work, leaping, thumping, making small grunts of effort. Never sit in the first row at the ballet.
I tried to get back to channel markers and tide levels, but all concentration was gone. I had to talk to the woman. But I was certainly not going to be shilled into some nonsense project. I had the neat one all lined up, waiting until I was ready. I had enough diversions. I didn’t need more. I was sourly amused that Chook had wondered where the projects came from. She was living proof they popped up all the time.
Promptly at nine there was a bing-bong sound from the bell I had wired to a push button on the pier piling. If anybody should ignore the bell, step over my chain and come down my gangplank, the instant they step on the big rope mat on the transom deck there is an ominous and significant bong which starts many abrupt protective measures. I have no stomach for surprises. I have endured too many of them. They upset me. The elimination of all removable risk is the most plausible way of staying alive.
I flicked on my rear deck lights and went out the aft doorway of the lounge, Chookie McCall gasping behind me.
I went up and unsnapped the chain for her. She was a sandy blonde with one of those English schoolboy haircuts, where the big eyes look out at you from under a ragged thatch of bangs. She had overdressed for the occasion, the basic black and the pearl clip and the sparkly little envelope purse.
In explosive gasps Chook introduced us and we went inside. I could see that she was elderly by Chook’s standards. Perhaps twenty-six or -seven. A brown-eyed blonde, with the helpless mournful eyes of a basset hound. She was a little weathered around the eyes. In the lounge lights I saw that the basic black had given her a lot of good use. Her hands looked a little rough. Under the slightly bouffant skirt of the black dress were those unmistakable dancer’s legs, curved and trim and sinewy.