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"Dear G.o.d! She was waiting for me in my car. She should have run when she knew something had gone wrong."
"He came out of nowhere and swooped her right up and jumped aboard with her. She started to scream and then she saw you and stopped. He let go of her and she just stood there, staring at you. While she wasn't moving... he... he hit her. With his fist. It was such a terrible blow it made me sick to my stomach. She fell like a rag doll and he picked her up and put her in a bunk. I got off. But he caught me and brought me back. He threw the lines off and started up. When he got out of that little ca.n.a.l he went real fast out to the main channel and real fast for a little while south down the channel, then he slowed it down and fixed it to steer itself and came back and threw my gla.s.ses away and started... doing things to me. I guess... I could have jumped overboard. But I couldn't think of anything... and then you..."
"Come on! Can you make it now? Come on, girl!"
We swam side by side. It all seemed so d.a.m.ned slow. I headed for the brightest cl.u.s.tering of lights. We ended up in the sh.e.l.ls and shallows at the base of a five-foot sea wall. I got the top of it and wormed my way over it, reached down and got her wrists and yanked her up. She stumbled and fell into the damp night gra.s.s at the base of a coconut palm. I picked her up and herded her along with me, our rubber shoes squelching, breaths wheezing, strides unsteady.
I had to get to a phone. My face felt like a multiple fracture. I steered us around a rock garden before we fell into it. It was a motel complex, and for reasons which defy the imagination it was named The Bearpath. They were doing a nice little summer business. The dance instructors were BossaNovaing a clutch of tourists, all of whom looked as if they did each other's hair for a living. Bidding was vicious in the cardroom. We came churning in, dripping and battered and winded.
Dapper little fellows came running toward us, wringing their hands, making shrill little cries of consternation.
"Phone!" I demanded.
"But you can't come in here like this..."
I grabbed the nearest handful of silk blazer and lifted it onto its tippy toes, and he pointed a rigid arm at a salmon phone on a baby blue counter. When I asked the switchboard girl to get me the County Sheriff 's office, she asked in voice wet with acid and post-nasal drip if I was a guest of the hotel. I told her that if she delayed the call one more second, I would start throwing their guests through their window walls, as a gesture of impatience. Patty stood docile beside me, chin down, shoulders rounded, and her little rump tucked humbly under.
I got a deputy who was so bright and so quick it helped me pull myself together. I was aware of all the silence behind me, the stilled dancers, the frozen card games, the fellows in pastel silk. I described the boat. I said it had left the Citrus Inn maybe forty minutes ago, and was headed south, A. A. Allen, Junior, possibly psycho, in command. Young girl aboard, drugged and unconscious. Deeleen. Last name unknown. And a Mrs. Lois Atkinson, taken aboard against her will, and slugged. May plan to head out from Lauderdale to the Bahamas.
"What's your name and where are you calling from?"
"The Bearpath Motel. I have a girl who needs attention, and needs to be taken home. A Miss Devlan..."
"We have an alert on a Patricia Devlan, eighteen, dark hair, slender build..."
"The same. In her case it was attempted kidnapping and attempted a.s.sault. You can pick her up here."
"What's your name?"
I hung up and gave a brief glance at the forty or fifty pairs of bulging eyeb.a.l.l.s, and turned and found a way out. I went through some hedges and a flower bed and a parking lot. I had a vivid little silvery grinding in my chest with each breath. I headed toward commercial lights and oriented myself. Better than a mile back to Miss Agnes. Scout pace, they call it. Run fifty steps, walk fifty. The car was there. No key. But the spare was up under the dash in a little magnetic box.
I headed her for home. I heard myself sob. It was like a big hiccup. A sad brave wonderful gal who had trusted me. She'd trusted me. She'd trusted reliable old McGee. They had to stop trusting me. d.a.m.n them for trusting me. I blinked and drove and cursed McGee.
A DRY shirt and pants made no remarkable improvement in my appearance. I trudged to the huge neighboring cruiser where my joyous friend, the Alabama Tiger, operates the world's only permanent floating house party. He had some hundred proof for immediate medication, asked me who had dragged me down a flight of stairs by the heels, and offered me the temporary loan of my choice among several eager amateur nurses.
But I told him I would rather borrow the Rut Cry. He didn't ask why. He told me to take it. He likes to get up and fly. The Rut Cry is twenty-one feet of white water hull with big tanks and two big Mercs astern. It was moored alongside, ga.s.sed and ready. A chattering flock of the Tiger's girls helped me strip the weather canvas off it, and handled the lines and shoved me off, the fast motors burbling; then they stood and waved me their musical good-bys.
I belted myself down into the foam rubber seat, found the switch for the running lights, spun the boat and took it out and down, under the bridge, past the Navy and on out into the Atlantic. Once clear of the channel chop, I figured a rough heading for Bimini and let it go. At forty it began leaping clear, banging my teeth, collapsing my spine, cavitating, slamming, roaring. It was punishment for past sins, sticking knives in every bruise.
Once I put a bow corner under and came too close to tripping it over. I pulled it back down to thirty. When I was well clear of any possible traffic, I cut the running lights. Southeast wind. No chop in the Stream. Big long ones I could take on the quarter. I estimated his hull would give him a cruising speed of fifteen tops. I could run in one hour what he could run in two. So give him a two hour head start, right at the sea buoy. No. Make it an hour and a half from that point.
And I had cleared it at nine-fifteen. So at nine-fifteen I was twenty-two miles behind him. Forty-five minutes. Give him another ten miles by the time I got to that point. Twenty minutes more. By rough reckoning, if all the guesses were right, I could run up on him by ten-thirty. So I ran until ten-thirty, then cut to dead slow and headed directly into the long shallows swells. I undid the two straps and stood up, my hand braced on the top of the wheel.
Each time I was at the crest of a wave, I tried to sweep one segment of the horizon. Moonlight silvered the spill of water. I was too far off to pick up the Cat Cay light. My heart jumped when I saw lights east and north of my position, but after three good looks at them, I knew it was a southbound freighter staying clear of the Stream. I stared until I began to see things that weren't there.
I sat down again and leaned my forehead against the top of the wheel. My tongue found an unfamiliar place where a corner of a tooth was gone. The valiant slob. Goof McGee. This was like trying to fill a straight with a three card draw. He could run without lights too. He was too canny to head this way. He had enough range for Cuba. Or he knew a nice little corner he could tuck it into, down near Candle Key.
The irony of the stars looked down at my grandstand play and dwindled me. One man in one small boat in the vast night. In my despair I let the boat swing and a small wave broke and slapped and sprayed my face. Tears and sea water taste much the same.
The authorities wouldn't stoop to the idiocy of a night search. They would wait for dawn and bring the choppers out, along with some playmates from the C.A.P. And some of the reserve boys needing flight time.
Suddenly the silver was gone. I looked up and saw a haloed thunderhead obscuring the moon. There was lightning under it, low and blue against the sea. So I began my run back, taking it slow, taking the bad motion of the sea on the stern quarter, climbing the long slow hills and then scooting down the other side. I looked toward the storm. I could outrun it by giving myself a beating. I had a rough heading home. It didn't have to be on the nose. It's a big coast. Hardly anyone ever misses it. When you come in at night you pick out the huge pink haze of Miami and then adjust your course accordingly.
The lightning was almost continuous. And as I looked toward it, I picked up something out of the corner of my eye. Some sort of blob between me and the lightning. I thought I had imagined it, and then I saw it again. I spun and headed toward it. It was gone and then I picked it up again. No lights. Just an outline against lightning in the darkening night. I soon had it again, larger, too big to miss. I made a big swing to come up astern. The next flash of lightning was close and bright, bright enough to give me the after-image of the pale cruiser on the black sea.
The Play Pen, slower than I thought, way behind the estimated schedule, and picked up by a freak light and vision.
I hung back off his stern quarter and adjusted my speed to his. I lay about two hundred yards off. He was between me and the storm. There was little chance he would pick me up unless he happened to be looking in that direction when the next bright flash occurred. He was doing ten knots, possibly to conserve fuel, and according to my compa.s.s, he was on a heading that would bring him in well south of Bimini. It seemed possible he might figure on getting inside, in on the Bahama Bank and dropping the hook, and then heading on for the Berry Islands at first light. Get his fuel at Frazier's Hog Cay, a good reach for him, but possible.
It made a nice problem. I couldn't run up on him without him hearing the snarl of the Mercs. Shoved into my belt was the little Czech automatic I had picked up when I had changed clothes. It would fire every time, with a little bit more accuracy than a garden hose. And at the moment of trying to get aboard, I would be very vulnerable.
There was a click of blinding lightning, an ozone stink, a hard slam of thunder; I heard the hiss of the rain coming, and suddenly it moved across him and he was gone. It came drenching down on me, and I turned toward him, giving it a little more speed, straining to see him. Suddenly the stern loomed up in the rain. I spun the wheel and reversed both motors and narrowly avoided slamming into him. I could ask for no better cover than the rain, than the sound and the blinding screen of it.
He moved on, and I hurried after him, risked leaving the wheel and scrambled forward and made it fast to the bow cleat. I hurried back and came back on course, and held the other end of the line in my teeth. He was pulling a big mound of water behind him, but I felt that if I could slide past that, there was relatively flat water alongside of him.
The rain felt as solid as hail, and it was surprisingly cold. Squinting ahead, I made two false starts, and then ran it up just where I wanted it. I killed the motors, leaped and caught the rail. And felt the little pistol slide down my pant leg and rap the top of my foot. But it was too late to change my mind. As I went over the rail, I saw him hunched at the wheel in the next gleam of lightning. I took a quick turn of the line around the rail an instant before the dead weight of the Rut Cry came against it. The line did not pop, as I half expected. It felt like half-inch nylon. I made it fast.
I squatted low and looked for Junior Allen. The lightning came. He was gone. The wheel was turning. Without warning, the drenching rain stopped. The Play Pen had begun to turn in a big circle to port, rolling badly when it entered the trough. I glanced over my shoulder. The Rut Cry was plainly visible, riding well, nose high on the hump of water the cruiser was dragging. And the d.a.m.ned moon came out. I was a black bug in a bright silver box. Something snapped twice. A finger flicked at my hair, a bee whirred by my ear. I rolled into the far corner of the c.o.c.kpit. My hand landed upon the haft of a boat hook.
I yanked it out of the clips, half rolled and hurled it like a spear at the dark entrance to the cabin. There was a grunt and clatter and a soft curse. Then both engines slowed and chuckled and died and we lay dead in the water. The Rut Cry moved up and nudged the stern. We rocked. Gear creaked and rattled. I s.n.a.t.c.hed up a chair we hadn't smashed during the earlier game, hurled it toward the darkness where I thought he was, and grasped the overhang of trunk cabin roof and swung myself up and crawled forward. I was in the open and in white moonlight, but he couldn't get to me without my seeing him.
The rain wind had moved the open boat out to the side, starboard, amidships, at the end of the nylon line. Holiday boat. Play pretty for the Tiger. I flattened myself out beside the overturned Fiberglas dinghy and, by touch, loosened the lashings which held it fast. I had no great plan. I wanted to create some more variables, trusting I could use them to my advantage.
I wondered why he was so silent. It was unnerving. He had whipped me once, and I knew how brutally quick and strong he was. And I was not in as good shape as the last time. I could not recall doing him very much damage. But I couldn't let it come out the same way again. Not and live. I had made the mistake of thinking of him as a man, rather than an animal. He wasn't even a furry animal. He was reptilian. He had to be planning something.
Suddenly I realized that the Rut Cry was gliding slowly toward the cruiser. I inched forward and looked, and saw him bringing it in, a squat dark shape in the c.o.c.kpit, outlined by the pale moonlight. He swung and snapped and as I yanked back like a turtle, a slug whined off the aerial into the night.
Suddenly I realized what he could have been doing during all that silence. He could have been grabbing the wad of bills and a bag of marbles out of his hidey hole. I had come out of nowhere bearing the gift of a small fast boat and, presumably, enough gas to get back to the main land. So adios, compadre. It made a nice solution for him.
He would know that I had gotten away, and things were going very sour for him. He could right it very neatly. He could head for a dark piece of the mainland, set the boat adrift, and live to play other games in other places. I could do him no more harm than I had already done. It would not matter to him whether he left me dead or alive aboard the Play Pen. Once he freed the line and dropped into the Rut Cry, his chances were d.a.m.ned good. I couldn't catch him.
I waited just as long as I dared. The Play Pen was in the trough, rocking and thrashing, taking white buckets of water into the c.o.c.kpit whenever a crest hit the port side as it was rolling that way. It was a so-called self-bailing c.o.c.kpit, which merely means that the c.o.c.kpit deck is higher than the normal waterline, and the water runs on out the scuppers set low into the transom corners.
When the Rut Cry was alongside and had been there for about five seconds, I put my hands under the bow of the overturned dinghy and flipped it up and over and down into the c.o.c.kpit, and went after it. It made a great brong and boomp, and came bouncing up off the teak, giving him a glancing blow as it leaped out over the stern. It knocked him sprawling, and he dropped the coiled line from the Rut Cry.
The line began to play out rapidly, as the wind, more effective in moving that hull than the hull of the bigger boat, began to push it off and away on the starboard side. I landed off balance, and timed the roll, and as he came up, I fell toward him, snapped both hands down onto the gun wrist as his arm started to swing around, and, against its resistance, went right on over it, clamping it, curling tight, like a kid doing a trick on a tree limb. I smacked the crown of my head onto the teak, legs swinging over, and felt something give in that arm just as I had to release it. We spilled into the tangled heap, awash in the stern starboard corner, both fighting to get loose.
He went clawing and scrabbling after the end of the line as it moved on out over the starboard rail, and came within frantic reaching inches of it just before a wild roll to port rocked him back. In the moonlight I saw the white end of it yanked over the rail and off into the night as we rolled away from the slow pull of the drifting Rut Cry. I was kneeling, patting around in the water, reaching and feeling for the gun. His hands were empty, and I wondered if it had flipped overboard. He skidded on the seat of his pants, and for a moment the roll held him nailed against the port side. Water smashed in on him.
I knew that he knew what he had to do. He had to take care of me and get the Play Pen moving and go downwind and get the smaller boat. I was the problem. My fingertips brushed the gun and I grabbed at it just as he used the roll to starboard to come at me. If he had come crawling he would have made it in time. But he got onto his feet to drive at me, and it gave me time to bring the gun up and fire once into his leathery paunch, and yank the trigger twice more without effect before he got his hands on me. He had begun a strange screaming, a whistling sound with each exhalation. It was not pain or fear. It was just a violent exasperation. If he was trying to stomp something that wouldn't lie still enough, he might make that same sound.
He grabbed me around the neck, but as I broke out of it, I realized the strength of his right arm was gone. He could use it, but it did not have that sickening power in it. I scuttled away from him and we were braced on hands and knees, nose to nose. The motion was too violent to risk standing up. We could not guard against each other. I had lost the gun. He used his left hand. I used my right. We traded blows as they do in cheap television, groaning with effort, a measured grunt-smack, grunt-smack, grunt-smack.
I knew that if I could keep it up, time was on my side. He had a bullet in him. Probably he realized he was losing ground. I saw him reach his left hand into the front of his shirt. Another gun? A knife? In sudden fright, I tried to hit him hard enough to finish it but he yanked his head back, catquick, and I missed and sprawled flat as I rolled, I saw him bring something down at my head, and I yanked away It struck me a glancing blow and hit the teak deck and burst. Then there were all the jelly beans, rolling and spilling, scattering and fleeing in the moonlight, the bright treasure from the cloth sack.
e gave a howl of dismay and began scrambling, pouncing, s.n.a.t.c.hing at the round gem stones. Water smashed in, sweeping them inevitably toward the stern, out the scuppers, seeding the deep with riches. I think he forgot for a moment that he had to do something about me. I got low, as I had been taught, and timed the roll, and as he lifted up a little too far, I drove at him, shoulder into the pit of the belly, legs driving. I drove him back into the starboard rail as it dipped low, and he went over, grabbing at me, clawing at me. But I got hold of the rail and he missed it and went into the sea.
I don't know why I expected him to go down like a stone. I clung to the rail, gasping and gagging, and saw him pop up, snap the water out of his eyes, orient himself, and turn and start churning his way toward the Rut Cry. With a sprained arm, with a bullet in his gut, I could still believe he would make it.
It was out there, rising and falling in the moonlight in a strange kind of panic, I groped for something to throw at him. The Play Pen was drifting in the same direction. He was not getting out of range very fast. There was a big Danforth anchor in the open storage locked in the center of the transom. I pulled it out, chain rattling on the shaft, got the shaft in both hands, braced myself, threw it out there as hard as I could in a high clanking arc. It landed on the back of his head and neck and shoulders just as a wave lifted him, and tumbled forward over his shoulder-and the sea was suddenly empty.
The line which had been bent onto the chain whipped at my ankle. By instinct I stepped on it. I bent weakly and picked it up. I didn't have the strength to pull the anchor back in. I gave it a couple of turns around the starboard stern cleat. I kept looking for him. I couldn't believe that anything had ended him. I took a step to catch my balance, and stepped on something like a pebble. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. I pulled myself to the controls. I had to stop all that d.a.m.ned motion before I went out of my mind. I got the engines started, turned it into the wind and put it on dead slow, and jacked the Metal Marine pilot into gear. it took over the wheel, holding it there. My underlip was in two segments, and one was folded down, exposing my teeth on the left side. I put the running lights on. There was a flashlight in a bracket beside the instrument panel. I went below. The violent motion had spilled both women out of the bunks. They lay in the narrow aisle, both face down, Deeleen atop Lois. I heaved Deeleen back up onto the port bunk. She was deep in her sleep, long exhalations rattling in her throat.
I was gentler with Lois, kneeling, turning her, gathering her up. I put the light on her when she was on the bunk. Her face was the color of yeast. Her lips were blue and bloodless. The whole left side of her face was a dark bruise. I could not detect respiration, but when I lay my ear against her chest I thought I could hear a thin, small, slow sound, a thready struggle of the heart.
I covered them both with blankets, tucking them around their bodies, muttering to myself. My head seemed full of distances, of wraiths and, mists, a wide and lonely country encased in a papery fragility of bone.
Find the Tiger's boat. Priority one. Look downwind. I went to the control and took it out of pilot and swung it to take the sea dead astern, and stepped it up a little. Suddenly I remembered the d.a.m.ned anchor. I wasn't tracking well. It would be very clever to wind the line around a shaft. A towed anchor will swing up and bobble around in the wake. I put it back on pilot and went astern. I decided I would just release the line and let it go. I put the light back into the wake to see if I could see it. The wake made a smooth hump about forty feet back of the transom. Junior Allen rode that hump, face up out of the water, grinning at me.
Suddenly, as if to show off, as if to prove how well he had everything under control, he made a complete roll, exposing the metallic gleam of the anchor for an instant, then steadying again, face high, making little white bow waves that shot past his ears.
I could not move or think or speak. The known world was gone, and in nightmare I fought something that could never be whipped. I could not take the light off him. He rolled again. And then I saw what it was. His throat was wedged in that s.p.a.ce between the flukes of the Danforth, and the edges of the points were angled up behind the corners of his jaw, the tension spreading his jowls into that grin.
I got to the cleat, and with nerveless stumbling hands I freed the line. He disappeared at once as the anchor took him down. I hugged the rail and vomited. When I looked forward, eyes streaming, I suddenly saw I was coming too d.a.m.ned close to running the Rut Cry down. I sprang to the controls, circled it, came up on it slowly, got its line with a boat hook and made it fast to the center cleat in the transom.
I made an estimate of the course, guessed it at two-ninety, and, watching the Rut Cry to see how it rode, I slowly put it up at 2800 rpm. I went down and looked at the women. Lois's hands were limp and icy. I found a pulse in her throat with my lips. She was alive.
I turned on the ship-to-sh.o.r.e and transmitted on the Coast Guard emergency frequency. On my third try they came in loud and clear. I told them who I was and where I was, and something of the nature of the medical emergency. It was after midnight. My lip made my voice strange. I told them I did not think from the looks of the woman and the sea a copter pickup was feasible. They told me to stand by.
They came back on, and at their request, I took the flashlight and lifted her eyelids and looked at her eyes. I told them one pupil was tiny and the other was very large. They told me to stand by again.
I went topside to look around. I saw a glow of lights on the western horizon. I swung the flashlight beam around and spotted a little red gleam in the scupper. I picked it up. I found three more after that. Five all told, the only ones which hadn't been washed into the sea.
They came back on and gave me a five-degree course correction, having spotted me in some mysterious way, and told me to make all possible speed for Lauderdale, and come right to Pier 66 gas dock where an ambulance would be waiting. I gave it all it would take. The marine engines roared. At full throttle they turned close to 4500. I backed them off a little. The tanks were half full, I slammed toward home, steering it by hand, the Tiger's boat wallowing and swinging astern.
Red lights were revolving and blinking on the shiny vehicles parked at the gas dock. I laid it in close and a gang of people swarmed aboard with lines, yelling orders to each other. They came aboard and took the women off, giving them an equally gentle professional handling. I rode to the hospital with them. They st.i.tched my mouth, X-rayed me, taped my ribs, eased my nose back to a reasonably central position.
While they were doing that to me, other people shaved her head and cut into her skull and released the c.u.mulative pressure of the ma.s.sive cerebral hemorrhage. The operation was a great success.
Three days later the patient died of pneumonia, under oxygen, with me sitting there, staring at her through the Pliofilm, willing every struggling breath she took, until finally she just did not take the next one. She settled smaller then, her face little and gray under the turban of gauze and adhesive.
WHAT DO you do when they turn all your lights out?
I guess you answer the questions. There were a lot of people and a lot of questions, because it was what they call an interesting problem of jurisdiction.
And though you do not really give a d.a.m.n how much or how little you tell them, there is, after all, an instinctive caution which takes over and tends to simplify the answers you give. I had no idea where he had gotten his money. Cathy had no idea either. She just thought he might possibly be the same man who had beaten her up. I was her friend. I was just trying to check it out, and had gotten caught in the middle. And had had some luck.
Deeleen was as angry as a boiled squirrel for having slept through all the action. Patty made a resolute witness, precise, outraged and articulate.
I had a simple little story and told it forty times. Yes sir, I was pretty silly trying to find him in the dark out there in the ocean. He let me come aboard and then knocked me out. I was getting up when he was trying to climb into the other boat. I saw him lose his balance and fall in. I saw him swimming, trying to catch the other boat, but it was drifting as fast as he could swim. I was too weak and dizzy to do anything. I think I heard him call out once. I got the big boat started and I went looking for him, but when I found the other boat, it was empty.
I soon created a ma.s.sive disinterest on the part of the reporters. I talked very freely and at great length. I could do twenty minutes on the characteristics of the Play Pen, and another twenty on the hull design of the Rut Cry. I could give an hour lecture on setting compensated compa.s.s courses, and what the weather had been like out there. They listened until their eyes glazed and their jaws creaked when they yawned. I did not tell them of my night visions of Junior Allen down there, his neck wedged into the anchor, his heels high, dancing slowly in vagrant currents.
There are some other things you do when they turn your lights out.
You learn how to use the darkness. Varieties of darkness. The darkness of hot sun on the beach, and intense physical effort. The small darkness of liquor. The small darkness of the Tiger's girls. But these do not work in any lasting way. The body mends, but a part of it took its last breath behind that gla.s.sine barrier.
Once in a while they show up to ask some more questions, but you are amiable, slightly stupid, and very polite. The sister-in-law had come down and gathered up what was left of the lady and had taken the remains north, for suitable burial in the family plot.
One day I realized I was nearly broke. And I had gone into this thing for the money. It was to laugh. Somewhere behind my heart I thought I heard her small amus.e.m.e.nt, a faint melody. Who are we laughing at, darling, it said.
So I took some of the last of the funds and went up to New York and sat in a cheap hotel room and made contact with Harry. I showed him what I had. His eyes glistened even while he tried to tell me they were junk. I gave him the one that looked least valuable to me. We settled for seven per cent as his end. It took him a day and a half. He brought me back thirty-eight hundred and thirteen dollars. He got rid of two more the next day, one at a time, at a little over four thousand apiece for me. A full day for the next one. Five thousand and a bit.
When I turned over the last one, I had a hunch I would not see him again, so I told him I had been holding out the cream of the little crop. He wanted to see it. I told him he could see it when he came back with the money for the fifth one. It made a serious problem for him. He did not know just how to manage his own greed. So he came back, again with a little over five thousand.
He didn't look sufficiently disappointed when I told him there wasn't any more. So I knew he had covered all bets. I had covered mine too. Leaving Harry to batter his way out of the bathroom, I had the elevator boy, greased with a ten, take me to the bas.e.m.e.nt where a slightly more expensive fellow, prearranged, let me out a back way into a narrow alley. Forty minutes later I was on a train to Philadelphia, and from there I arranged air transit to Florida.
On an afternoon in late September I had the brown-eyed, sad-eyed blonde come over to the Busted Flush. Draperies muted the light in the lounge. She wore a blue dress faded by many washings, and came shyly out of the blaze heat of the day into the coolness of the lounge, wearing her blue dress. and her humble company manners, moving well on those shapely, sinewy dancer's legs.
"I call you and you trot right over, just like that, Cathy?"
"I guess so."
"You're a very humble gal, aren't you?"
"I don't know. I guess so. You tried to help out, Mister. I'm right sorry about that woman. I told you so before, I guess you remember. I'm sorry it had to come about that way."
Her shy oblique glance caught me and moved away. She looked down at her hands. I guess she knew about drunken men. Maybe she could understand the reasons for the drinks I had taken. Maybe she had heard it all in my voice when I had called her to come over.
"Your sympathy touches my heart," I said.
She sighed deeply. "You can talk ugly if it suits you. I don't mind. Seems like nothing comes out right for any person any more these days."
She was sitting on the yellow couch. I picked up a small table and took it over and put it down in front of her. I went and locked the door and then went into the master stateroom and came out with the money. As I had planned, I put it in three piles on the table. A big pile and two slender ones.
"During the fun and games," I said, "Junior spilled the goodies. He got some back and went down with them. There was one time when I could have hauled him in, dead, and picked him clean, the wet money and what other stones he had, and let him sink again. I didn't have the stomach for it. In fact, I didn't even think of it. I got five stones. The rest went overboard. I sold them in New York. I got a total of twenty-two thousand six hundred and sixty-eight dollars for them. There's sixteen hundred and sixty-eight dollars in this pile right here."
She looked at it and looked up at me, eyes as attentive and obedient as a learning child.
"It will cover my expenses," I said. "I spent about that much. This pile is one thousand dollars. I'm taking it as a fee. That leaves twenty thousand in this pile. Yours."
"You said it would be half for you."
"Cathy, I'm not going to argue with you. It was a lousy recovery. It was peanuts. The fee is for self-respect. It's yours."
"I never could touch that much all at once in my lifetime. You should take half."