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Authors: James Hadley Chase

1972 - You're Dead Without Money

BOOK: 1972 - You're Dead Without Money
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Table of Contents

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

 

 

One

 

W
ith the temperature down to sub-zero and snow piling up on the sidewalks, to me New York had become a hole in the head. I longed for the sun. I hadn’t been to Paradise City for two years and I now had the itch to relax in the comfort and luxury of the Spanish Bay hotel - the best hotel on the Florida Coast.

I had sold a couple of shorties to the New Yorker and my last novel had been third on the bestseller list for the past six months so I didn’t have to worry about money. Looking out of my window at the grey sky, the snow and watching people moving around like ants far below me in a freezing wind gave me the incentive to reach for the telephone.

A telephone can be a miracle of convenience. You get an idea and the telephone will turn that idea into a reality - always providing you have money. I had money, so in a few minutes I was speaking to Jean Dulac who runs the Spanish Bay hotel at Paradise City. In another few minutes, a room with a balcony that caught ten hours of sunshine per day and overlooking the sea was reserved for me.

Thirty-six hours later I arrived at Paradise City airport to be met by a gleaming white Cadillac that conveyed me to this fabulous hotel which catered only for fifty guests - each guest getting V.I.P. treatment.

I spent my first week relaxing in the sun, chatting up the dollies and eating too much, then I remembered Al Barney.

Two years ago, I had met this fat, beer-bloated beachcomber and he had given me an idea for a book. Barney described himself as a man with his ear to the ground. What he didn’t know about the background, the crime, the sex life and the muck behind the City wasn’t worth knowing about.

I asked Dulac if Barney was still around.

‘Of course.’ He smiled. ‘Paradise City without Al Barney would be like Paris without the Eiffel Tower. You will find him, as always, outside or inside the Neptune Tavern.’

So after an excellent dinner, I went down to the smelly waterfront with its crowd of camera festooned tourists, its fishermen and its fishing boats: one of the most picturesque scenes along the Florida coast.

I found Al Barney sitting on a bollard outside the shabby Neptune Tavern. He was still wearing the tattered dirty sweatshirt and the grease-incrusted trousers he had been wearing when I first met him. Someone had patched the sweatshirt and had made a bad job of it - probably he had done it himself. An empty beer can in his enormous hand, he sat like a bloated piece of flotsam with the crowd of tourists moving around him.

To say Al Barney had seen better days would be to make one of the world’s great understatements. Looking at him now, he just had to have had better days. I had been told by Dulac that at one time Barney ran a skin diving school and had been an expert skin diver. To see him as he sat on this bollard, this was hard to believe. Beer had ruined him. Enormous, bloated, his face almost black by years of the Florida sun, his head balding, his small, blue eyes restlessly hunting for any opportunity for the fast buck, he sat there like a vulture in search of a sucker.

He saw me coming.

I knew by the way he stiffened, tucking in his great belly and tossing the beer can into the sea that he remembered me. He regarded me like a man lost in a desert would regard a long sought for oasis.

‘Hi, Barney,’ I said, coming to rest beside him. ‘Remember me?’

He nodded and his little mouth that reminded me of the mouth of a red snapper went through the motions of a smile.

‘Yeah . . . sure I remember you. I have a good memory.’ His eyes were now quizzing. ‘It’s Mr. Campbell . . . the writer.’

‘Halfway there. The writer part is right . . . the name is Cameron,’ I said.

‘Yeah . . . Cameron . . . I remember. If there’s one thing I’m good at its people’s faces. I gave you the dope about the Esmaldi diamonds . . . right?’

‘That’s what you did.’

He scratched one of his hairy arms.

‘Did you write a book about it?’

I wasn’t that much of a sucker. I shook my head.

‘Well, it was a good story.’ He scratched some more, then he looked towards the door leading into the Neptune Tavern.

‘I’m a guy with his ear to the ground. You want to hear something new?’

I said I was always interested in hearing anything new.

‘You want to hear about the Larrimore stamps?’ He stared at me, his eyes probing.

‘Stamps . . . what’s new about stamps?’ I asked.

‘Yeah . . . a good question.’ He put his hand under his sweatshirt and scratched his belly. ‘You know anything about stamps, mister?’

I admitted I knew nothing about stamps.

He nodded and withdrew his hand.

‘I didn’t either until I heard about the Larrimore stamps. I keep my ear to the ground. I have contacts. I have friends; newspapermen who talk. Even the cops talk and I listen.’ He rubbed the back of his hand across his rubbery lips. ‘You want to hear about it?’

I said stamps didn’t interest me.

He nodded.

‘That’s right. They didn’t interest me, but this is interesting. Let’s go drink a beer.’ He heaved himself to his feet. ‘No one but me knows the complete story and I got it by keeping my ears open and my trap shut. Let’s talk.’ He moved through the crowd like a bulldozer through rubble. People either got out of his way or bounced off him as if hit by a truck. I followed him, knowing he was thinking about beer and when Al Barney thought of beer no one received his consideration except the guy who picked up the tab.

Sam, the Negro barman, was idly polishing a glass when we entered the Neptune Tavern and as soon as he saw me, his eyes lit up. He not only recognized me but he knew for some hours he would not only supply a lot of beer, but he would get paid for doing it, plus a tip.

‘Evening, Mr. Cameron, sir,’ he said, beaming. ‘Long time no see. Glad to have you around again, sir. What’s it to be?’

‘Two beers,’ I said and because you did this sort of thing in Paradise City, I shook hands with him.

Barney had already settled his bulk on a bench by the window and was resting his elbows on the stained table. Sam produced two beers and brought them to the table. I sat opposite Barney. I knew the procedure. Nothing was to be rushed.

Before Barney would talk, his thirst had to be slaked. He drank the beer steadily and slowly, but not taking his lips from the glass until, the glass was empty. Then he set down the glass, wiped his mouth with his forearm and released a long, soft sigh. I didn’t have to signal Sam. He was already at the table with the second beer.

‘You know, mister, when a guy reaches my age,’ Barney said, ‘beer is a great consolation. There was a time when I went for women. Now, women mean nothing to me, but beer keeps me going.’ He fingered his flat nose that was spread half over his face. ‘If it hadn’t been for a woman, I wouldn’t have a sneezer like this. Her husband walked in on us and he was a puncher.’ He shook his head as he reached for his glass. ‘It was lucky for me he bust his fist on my snout . . . otherwise I could have had a lot more trouble from him.’

I sipped my beer, then lit a cigarette. There was a pause while I thought of what Barney could have looked like in his heyday: an image impossible to conjure up.

‘How’s Mr. Dulac?’ Barney asked. ‘I haven’t seen him in weeks.’

‘He’s fine,’ I said. ‘He told me this City, without you, would be like Paris without the Eiffel Tower.’

Barney smirked.

‘He’s a gentleman . . . I don’t often say that . . . most of the rich creeps living around here wouldn’t know what the word ‘gentleman’ means.’ He emptied half his glass, then looked thoughtfully at me. ‘Do you want to hear about Larrimore’s Russian stamps, mister?’

‘What’s so interesting about them?’

‘Anything worth a million dollars must be interesting,’ Barney said firmly. It beats me how bits of paper with designs on them can get so valuable. It wasn’t until I got all the dope about these stamps that I realized what some people do with them.’ He leaned forward and poked a finger as thick and as big as a banana in my direction. ‘Did you know some people behind the Iron Curtain use stamps as their getaway stake? Did you know some people put their money in stamps to avoid income tax? Did you know some people use stamps as foreign currency?’

I said I had heard such stories and what had this to do with this man called Larrimore?

‘It’s a long story,’ Barney said. ‘I can give you all the dope on the same terms we had last time . . . that is if you want the dope.’

I played hard to get. Stamps, I said, didn’t interest me.

He finished his beer and rapped on the table. He didn’t have to alert Sam who was leaning on the bar watching every sip. He came around, dumped another beer, then went away, carrying the empty.

‘I can understand that,’ Barney said. ‘You’re not interested in stamps because you don’t know anything about them. This is a story you could turn into a book. I’ll tell you something: if I could write, I wouldn’t be giving it to you. I’d be writing it myself, but as I can’t write, I can do a deal. How’s about it?’

I said as I was on vacation with nothing better to do, I would listen.

His little eyes became probing.

‘The same terms as last time?’

‘Terms? What terms?’

He didn’t hesitate. He might not have remembered my name, but he certainly remembered what he had screwed out of me for his last story.

‘All the beer I want, some food and a few bucks to take care of my time.’

‘Okay,’ and I parted with twenty dollars. He put the bills into his hip pocket as he signalled to Sam.

‘You won’t be disappointed, mister. Are you hungry?’

I said I wasn’t hungry.

He shook his head, disapprovingly.

‘When you get the chance to eat, mister, you should eat. You never know when the next meal is coming.’

I said I would bear this in mind.

There was a pause, then Sam brought over a three-tier hamburger that oozed grease. He planted it before Barney who regarded it with a satisfied smirk. To me, it looked as appetizing as a drowned cat.

Barney began to munch while I waited. He took his time.

After getting through the second tier of the hamburger and after finishing his beer, he sat back, rubbed his lips with his forearm and prepared to talk.

‘A lot of people got involved in this stamp thing,’ he said. ‘To put you in the picture, I’ll start with Joey Luck and his daughter, Cindy. Then I’ll tell you about Don Elliot.’ He paused to peer at me. ‘You remember Don Elliot?’

‘The movie star?’

Barney nodded.

‘That’s him. Did you ever see any of his movies?’

‘Not my style. Didn’t he take over Errol Flynn’s mantle – a strictly cut and thrust performer?’

‘You could say that, but he had his fans. He made six movies and they all made a pile of bread.’

‘I haven’t heard his name now for some years. What happened to him?’

‘All in good time, mister, I’ll get around to him later. I want you to get this story in its right perspective.’ Barney looked anxiously at Sam who was pouring another beer. ‘Step by step . . . one thing at the time. For you to understand this set up I’ve got to tell it my way.’

I said that was fine with me and would he get on with it?

‘I’ll start with Joey Luck and his daughter, Cindy, short for Lucinda, because they play a big part in the Larrimore stamp steal.’ He looked slyly at me. ‘I bet you never heard that this one million dollars’ worth of stamps were stolen?’

I said if I had heard it would have been no skin off my nose.

Barney frowned. He wanted to create drama and he wasn’t getting the right reaction so far from me.

‘I’ll get around to the steal in due time.’ He paused to attack the third tier of his hamburger which had become a revolting looking mess of congealed grease. After he had munched a while, he squared himself on the bench, rested his enormous hands on the table and leaned forward. I could see he was at last ready to shoot in earnest. ‘Joey Luck . . . now the only thing lucky about Joey was his name,’ he began. ‘He was a dip.’ He paused. ‘You know what a dip is, mister?’

BOOK: 1972 - You're Dead Without Money
4.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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