Read 1977 - My Laugh Comes Last Online

Authors: James Hadley Chase

1977 - My Laugh Comes Last (16 page)

BOOK: 1977 - My Laugh Comes Last
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Joe stood over me, and let me soak in the hot water for some ten minutes, then he reached down, grabbed my wrist and hauled me upright. I released a groan for his benefit.

"Dry yourself, and hurry it up, man. The boss wants you,' and he went into the bedroom.

I took my time. Touching my bruised body was bad, but I dried myself, slowly put on my shirt, climbed into my trousers and moved slowly into the bedroom. I was surprised that my movements gave me no pain, but I was careful to groan at every step.

‘Want something to eat, man?' Joe asked, and waved to a tray containing a jug of coffee and sandwiches.

I realized I was ravenously hungry. Careful to move slowly, I poured coffee and sipped.

‘What time is it, Joe?'

'Night time,' he said. 'Those pills the boss gave you sure knocked you out.'

I was feeling stronger now. The coffee helped. I ate the sandwiches, standing and half bent over, while Joe sat on the stool, playing his harmonica. I felt even better when I had finished the meal.

‘You know something, man?' Joe said, putting the harmonica in his shirt pocket. ‘You sure brought trouble on yourself. I told you the boss was smart, and you wouldn't listen. I told you not to dig your own grave. Still, you wouldn't listen. I told you, working for the boss, you would get on the gravy train, like me, but you wouldn't listen. So you had to do it the hard way.'

I straightened slightly and looked at him.

'I'm still warning you, Joe,' I said. 'A black boy means nothing to Klaus. You are going to be taken for a ride like me.'

He grinned.

'That's what you say. Come on. The boss wants you.'

As he caught hold of my arm and moved me to the door, the door swung open and Benny shoved Glenda past me.

The shove was so violent she went sprawling, landing on hands and knees.

I started towards her, but Benny blocked me off, shoving his fist into my face. I had an urge to hit him, but this wasn't the time. I let Joe lead me down the passage, and into the living-room.

Klaus was sitting at his desk.

Joe shoved me into a chair, facing Klaus, then stood back.

'All right, Joe,' Klaus said. 'Wait outside.'

Joe left the room, closing the door behind him.

'How do you feel, Mr. Lucas?' Klaus asked, leaning forward and staring at me.

I sat, bent forward, my arms wrapped around my body, 'Mr. Lucas!' There was a snap in his voice. 'Don't put on an act for me! You asked for a beating, and you got it. Be careful, you don't get another. In another four hours, you will lead my men into the bank. Is that understood?'

I lifted my head and stared at him.

‘Yes.'

'There are things to do. Now once again, Mr. Lucas, I warn you: no more tricks if you want your woman to stay alive. Understand?'

‘Yes.'

‘Very well. Now in case you are wondering if you will be reported missing by your secretary, I can tell you she has received a telegram saying you have been delayed, and she can expect you on Tuesday. That will give you plenty of time to go on the run.'

I was sure once the three had stripped out the bank, they would murder me. I had no illusions about that.

I didn't say anything.

He pressed a bell button, and Harry came in.

'Take care of him, Harry, and watch him.'

Harry grinned at me: cocky, confident and sexy.

'Let's go, buster,' he said. 'You've had your try, now, it's strictly business.'

I got slowly to my feet, and still hunched forward, I followed him out of the room and into the hot, steamy night.

Harry switched on a powerful flashlight and walked with me across the lawn to a big barn. We entered.

The barn was lit by two naked bulbs, hanging from the rafters. In the middle of the barn, stood a security truck. It was a facsimile of the truck I had seen so often on Sharnville's Main Street. Standing by it, were two tall, thick-set men, wearing the brown uniform of the Security Company.

'Take a look, buster,' Harry said. 'What do you think?'

The two men eyed me as I looked them over, then I walked slowly around the truck. I couldn't fault either the uniforms or the truck.

'It's a good job,' I said.

Harry nodded and grinned.

'I guess. Make sure, buster. Take another look. We don't want to slip up, do we?'

'It's a good job,' I repeated.

'Watch this.'

He opened the driver's door, leaned in and pulled a lever.

The Security Company's name, painted in red letters on either side of the truck, slid out of sight into the roof of the truck: another panel appeared with the lettering: Calo Furniture Co. The licence plates swivelled over to a Los Angeles number.

'Cute, huh?' Harry said. "We all take off in the truck, once its loaded.'

All except me, I thought.

'Pretty neat,' I said.

'Okay. Now we'll go to your pad and collect your gimmicks. Let's go.'

We left the barn and crossed the lawn to where the Chevy was parked.

‘You drive, buster. I'll watch you.'

With him sitting by my side, I started the engine and drove on to the dirt road.

Harry said, 'I've been thinking about you, buster, and what you said to me. Where you went wrong was to trust Joe. Now Joe is a simple black boy. The boss has taken care of him, and when a simple black boy believes in someone, he stays with him. Everything you said to Joe went back to the boss. It was the boss's idea for Joe to give you a gun. The boss is smart. He looks ahead all the time. He figured unless Joe gave you a gun, you would buy one for yourself. That's looking ahead. It was a fine idea of yours to get Joe to get Glenda out. The idea was fine, but you went wrong in think-ink you could trust Joe. So what happens? You get a beating, and Glenda is still locked up.'

I didn't say anything. I slowed at the end of the dirt road, and waited for a break in the traffic before moving on to the highway,

'I'm not kidding myself,' Harry went on, 'that there's three million in that vault. I think Klaus is as nutty as you say he is. Maybe there's a million. A million split up by three isn't so hot. Here's a proposition, buster. You have Glenda and fifty thousand bucks, and I have the rest. Like the idea?'

Was this yet another con? I asked myself, 'What would happen to Joe and Benny?'

'Tell me something. If a gun went off in the vault could it be heard on the street?'

'It wouldn't even be heard in the bank.'

'I was wondering about that. The idea I've got is when the cartons are packed, I knock off Joe and Benny, then I give you fifty grand and a gun. I take off in the truck with the rest of the loot, and you go out and knock off Klaus, and get Glenda. This car will be parked near the bank. You use it. How about it?'

And what is there to stop you shooting me after you have shot Joe and Benny? I thought.

'How about the two men handling the truck?'

'No problem. As soon as they drive into the cellar, they leave. They have their own getaway car. It is after the loot is in the truck that I go into action. I'll be handling the money. I'll put fifty grand in one of the cartons. As soon as I've knocked off Joe and Benny, I give you the carton and a gun, and you're on your own, and I'm on my own.'

We were now driving down Sharnville's main street. I turned off and headed for my apartment block, ‘Klaus will be on his own with Glenda?'

'Sure. There's no one else. All you have to do is to walk in and knock him off. Like the idea?'

If I lived to reach Klaus after the breakin, I liked it, but I trusted Harry the way I would trust a rattlesnake. It would be too easy for him. Bang - and Benny was dead. Bang - and Joe was dead, and bang again — I was dead, ‘Yes.' I said. 'I like it.'

He leaned forward and patted my knee, 'Okay, buster. It's a deal.'

I parked outside my apartment block, then shifted around in the driving seat so I could look at Harry. The light from the street lamp fell directly on his face.

'Tell me something, Harry,' I said. ‘Doesn't it mean a thing to you to kill Joe and Benny? You could just shoot them down, and it would mean nothing to you?'

He grinned.

'Let me put it this way, buster: to get Glenda, would you give a damn about putting a bullet in Klaus?'

For a long moment, I thought about this. If I didn't kill Klaus, he would certainly kill Glenda and me. I was sure of that.

'I guess you have a point,' I said.

'To get a million bucks, why should I care if I knock off a couple of stumblebums like Joe and Benny? Who would miss them anyway?'

I opened the car door and got out on to the sidewalk.

Harry joined me, and we rode up in the elevator to my apartment.

While Harry lounged around, I quickly put together the gimmicks I needed to get into the bank. I found a plastic sack in the kitchen and put the gimmicks in it.

I looked at my watch. The time now was 01.10. Time was running out.

'All fixed,' I said, putting the sack on the table.

'Got everything?'

'Yes.'

'Sure? We don't want a foul-up because you've forgotten something.'

'All fixed.'

'Okay.' He moved to a chair and sat down. 'How about a drink?'

I went to my liquor cabinet and took out a bottle of Scotch and two glasses. I made two mild drinks, gave him one, and then went over and sat near him.

He lifted his glass, 'Here's to success. Now, listen, here's what we do.' He drank, put down his glass and leaned forward. 'Klaus has told me to stay close to you. He doesn't trust you, but don't worry about that. You and me will go up to Manson's office while Joe and Benny remain by the vault door. You do your telephone and cassette act. You open the vault and Joe gets to work. He really knows his stuff with a cutter. You say there are four hundred boxes to open. Benny and me will take the loot from the boxes as Joe opens them, and we'll pack the the money in the cartons. You just keep out of the way. If Joe works fast, maybe I'll get you to help fill the cartons. We work all through Saturday. We have around twenty-seven hours to bust into all the boxes. The truck arrives at eight o'clock, Sunday morning, and the driver and his pal take off. We load the cartons into the truck.' Harry paused, and grinned. 'While Benny and Joe are clearing up, I knock them off. I give you a gun and a carton with fifty grand in it, and you go after Klaus. Got it?'

I drank some of my whisky.

Would Harry shoot me as soon as I got them into the vault? My mind worked swiftly. I thought that unlikely.

None of them would want a dead body with them in the vault for twenty-seven hours. No . . . when Harry had shot Joe and Benny, I would be next.

'I've got it,' I said.

'Joe handles the cutter. Benny handles the cartons. You'll handle your gimmicks and a sack of food. I've got that packed and ready. No point in starving. My chick will be ready to chat up the guard.' He looked at his watch. 'Another hour and a half.'

He got to his feet and began to roam around my room.

'All that money!' he exclaimed. 'This is something I've dreamed about!'

'Those bonds Klaus gave me,' I said, watching him. 'Joe tells me your father did them. They looked good to me.'

He paused and grinned at me.

'Joe talks too much.' He laughed, cocky and confident. ‘Yes, Klaus made you a sucker. Those bonds would look good to anyone. My father was an artist, but he was also stupid, He was so goddamn greedy, he got careless and he landed himself and me in jail. Working together, we could have made a fortune, but he tried to rush it, and a set of bonds were spotted. We had the Feds after us.' He shrugged, 'That's the way the cookie crumbles, but this time, I'm not handling dud bonds, I'm handling real money.'

'And what are you going to do when you get the money, Harry?'

'A million - maybe more! With that kind of bread, a smart guy like me can drop out of sight.' He gave me a sly grin, 'With that kind of bread, I can buy me a regiment of women. That's my thing - women. I'll keep moving and keep screwing. I can't wait to start.'

'Once the police are alerted, Harry, they'll come after you.'

He laughed.

'They've come after me before. I'll get lost this time. They only caught up with me last time because I had no money, but with a million - I've got no problems.' He scratched at his beard. 'What do you plan to do with fifty grand and Glenda?'

This was something I hadn't thought about. Just suppose Harry wasn't conning me, and he did give me fifty thousand dollars and a gun, and I did get Glenda . . . what would I do?

I knew the moment the police found I had left Sharnville, they would come after me, knowing that I was behind the bank breakin. But the bank breakin wouldn't be discovered until 08.30 Monday morning. If Harry wasn't conning me, I would have twenty-four hours to get out of the country.

'I guess I'll fly to Canada,' I said. 'Once there, I'll have time to make plans.'

He nodded, and again his grin was sly.

'Glenda's a smart cookie. You two talk it over. She'll fix something.'

I looked at my watch. I had another hour to wait.

'I'm still feeling pretty bad, Harry. While we wait, I'll rest on my bed. Okay with you?'

'Go ahead.' He poured himself another drink. ‘Waiting around is hell.'

I went into my bedroom and stretched out on the bed. I was sure Harry wouldn't give me fifty thousand dollars, and I was even more sure he wouldn't give me a gun. I lay still and thought. I concentrated my thoughts on the vault.

Harry, Joe, Benny and I would be in the vault for some twenty-seven hours. I thought of the slide-up door in the vault that gave access to the cellar garage. I had so arranged this door that when it opened, the vault doors automatically closed. The electronic control which opened the slide-up door was operated by a press button, inserted in the wall by the slide-up door, and painted white, as the walls were painted white. The button was practically invisible unless you knew where to look for it.

I continued to think, and finally, a risky solution to my problem began to take shape.

I was still lying on the bed, still thinking, when Harry looked in.

BOOK: 1977 - My Laugh Comes Last
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