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Authors: James Hadley Chase

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BOOK: 1977 - My Laugh Comes Last
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'That's too bad. Anything I can do?'

'Thanks, no. I'll be all right. Sorry about die game.'

‘We'll set up another date. Take it easy, son,' and he hung up.

My head still raging, I crossed the corridor and rang Glenda's bell.

'She's gone, Mr. Lucas.'

I turned slowly. The old black cleaning woman was at the end of the corridor with her mop and her bucket.

'Gone?'

'Sure, Mr. Lucas. She left around seven this morning. She seemed in an awful hurry, carrying her bags. I offered to help her, but she walked through me as if I wasn't there.'

She gaped at me. ‘Your poor face, Mr. Lucas!'

'I had a car accident,' I said and returned to my apartment.

I dropped on my bed and held my aching head in my hands. What was happening? What the hell was happening?

Forcing myself upright, I went into the kitchen and got ice from the refrigerator. I wrapped ice cubes in a towel and held the towel to the back of my head. Moving slowly, I returned to the living room, holding the ice bag against my head. It helped a lot. Then after some minutes, I transferred the ice bag to my swollen face. That also helped. The raging pain began to diminish.

Then die telephone bell rang.

Glenda?

I snatched up the receiver.

'Mr. Lucas?' A brisk male voice.

‘Who is this?' I managed to mumble, shifting the ice bag to the back of my head.

'The name is Edwin Klaus.' He spelt out. 'K-l-a-u-s.' A pause, then he went on, "We have business together. I'll be with you in ten minutes, Mr. Lucas, but first do me a favour. Take a look in your car trunk. I am sure you have a headache, but make the effort. Take a look,' and he hung up.

A hoax call? A nut?

I sat still. No, not a hoax call. A cold chill swept over me.

I dragged myself upright and walked slowly to the elevator.

I rode down to the garage. I reached my car and unlocked the trunk. I swung up the lid.

Curled up, like an obscene foetus, blood on his crumpled white suit, his beard matted with blood, was the squat man.

His blank eyes gazed up at me as only dead eyes can gaze,

 

 

chapter three

 

A
s I opened the door of my apartment and walked unsteadily into my living room, I saw him, sitting in my favourite armchair, his legs crossed, his hands resting in his lap, relaxed and at ease.

He could have been anything from fifty-five to sixty-five years of age. His thick, snow-white hair was immaculate.

Everything about him was immaculate: his charcoal-grey suit, his white silk shirt, the Pierre Cardin tie and the glistening black shoes. His face could have been chiselled out of teak: nut brown, a thin beaky nose, a slit for a mouth, big slate-grey eyes and flat pointed ears.

The shock of finding the squat man dead in my trunk had stunned me. I felt as if I were experiencing a horrible nightmare, and in a few moments, I would wake up and find, to my utter relief, all this had never happened, and it was just another Sunday morning.

This man, sitting facing me, was just an addition to this nightmare. I closed the door and leaned against it and stared at him.

T found your door open,' he said. 'Excuse me for taking the liberty. The name is Edwin Klaus: K-l-a-u-s.'

I felt a trickle of sweat run down my aching cheek. This was no nightmare: this was for real.

'What do you want?'

His slate-grey eyes, as expressionless as blobs of ice, regarded me.

'I want to help you.' He waved to a chair. 'I can see you are suffering. I told Benny to be careful.' He lifted small, brown hands in a gesture of resignation. 'He doesn't know his own strength. Do sit down, Mr. Lucas.'

Because my head began to ache again, and my legs felt shaky, I moved to the chair and sat down.

"You have a problem, Mr. Lucas. It would seem you too don't know your own strength,' Klaus said, in his soft, gentle voice. 'But your problem can be arranged if you care to accept my help.'

'Who are you?' I asked, staring at him.

"We won't go into that for the moment. The problem is Alex Marsh, whom you murdered. What are you going to do about the body, Mr. Lucas?'

I closed my eyes. The scene came back to me. I had wanted to kill him. I remembered smashing my fists down on his up-turned face. I was lifting my fists to hit him again when I received a blow on my head. I had hurt him: probably broken his nose, but I was sure I hadn't killed him. If only this pain in my head would go away so I could think clearly!

'I didn't kill him,' I said, meeting Edwin Klaus's slate-grey eyes.

'That is for die judge and jury to decide, isn't it, Mr. Lucas?'

I got to my feet and, moving unsteadily, I went into the bathroom and swallowed four Aspro tablets. I ran the water, then picking up a sponge, I bathed my face. I was now beginning to think more clearly.

I didn't know who this immaculately dressed man was, but my instincts told me he was a blackmailer. I put my hands on the toilet basin and forced myself to stand upright.

I stared at my reflection in the mirror above the toilet basin.

I stared at a stranger: someone remotely resembling myself, but with a puffy bruised cheek and wild, frightened eyes. I remained staring for some five minutes, and then the pills began to work, and the pain in my head began to recede to a dull throb.

Alex Marsh! So the squat man had been Glenda's husband!

Who was this man, sitting in my living room so quiet, so relaxed, offering to help me?

I waited, still holding on to the toilet basin, still staring at myself in the mirror until the throb in my head became bearable. He had asked me what I was going to do with the body in the trunk of my car.

What was I going to do?

My immediate thought was to call Sheriff Thomson and let him handle the whole thing. If I did, would he, would anyone, believe my story? Suppose, by the merest chance, I was believed, I knew I would be finished in Sharnville. I would have to admit I had been making love to a married woman when her husband surprised us. Would they believe someone - who? - had hit me over the head while her husband and I were fighting?

I thought of the body, screwed up in the trunk of my car.

For a moment I had the wild idea of driving the car to some isolated spot, dragging the body out and burying it. A wild idea! This, I knew, I couldn't do.

Your problem can be arranged if you care to accept my

help.

Why should this man offer to help me? What was in it for him? This I had to find out.

Now in more control of myself, I returned to the living room.

Edwin Klaus was still sitting in my favourite armchair, [ relaxed, his legs crossed, his hands in his lap. He exuded r infinite patience.

'Feeling better, Mr. Lucas?' he asked. 'I don't want to hurry you, but, no doubt, you have heard of rigor mortis. In an hour or so, Marsh will be very difficult to handle.'

I felt a cold shudder run through me. This, I hadn't thought of, but now began to think about it. Marsh had been forced into my trunk, curled up. His body could jam when he stiffened. The thought turned me sick.

I sat down, facing him.

'I didn't kill him,' I said. 'While we were fighting, someone hit me over the head. That someone must have killed him while I was unconscious.'

'Mr., Lucas,' he said patiently, 'at the moment, it doesn't matter who killed him. The fact is he is in the trunk of your car, and he can't remain there much longer. Do you want my help or don't you?'

'Who are you? Why are you offering to help me?'

'The name is Klaus: K-l-a-u-s.' He spelt it out. The reason why I am prepared to help you is that I have followed your career, and find it remarkable how well you have succeeded. I think it would be a tremendous pity for you to lose all you have built up and have worked for.'

'Don't tell me you are offering this help for nothing. What do you get in return?'

He lifted his small brown hands and let them drop back in his lap.

'Something, of course, but this we can discuss later. The immediate problem is the disposal of Marsh's body. I have an organization that is equipped to handle this kind of emergency. However, you may not wish to accept my help. You can either call the Sheriff and face a certain murder charge or you can attempt to dispose of the body yourself. You have the freedom of choice, Mr. Lucas. I assure you if you refuse my help, you will hear nothing further from me. It is entirely up to you.'

'What do you want from me? I must know!'

'A service, but I am not prepared to discuss this until later.'

'I must know! Do you imagine I'm that stupid I would do a deal with you without knowing what the deal is?' I said, raising my voice.

Again he lifted his small brown hands.

‘Then I take it you don't want my help.' He got to his feet. ‘Then I will leave you. You had better hurry, Mr. Lucas. Very soon the body will be impossible to handle. Don't forget to buy a spade, though where you will get one on Sunday will be your problem. I suggest the safest way for you is to bury him at Ferris Point, but you must hurry. I wish you luck,' and he moved to the door.

My mind worked swiftly. While he was moving to the door, I visualized all the grinding hours of work to build Better Electronics. I thought of my position as one of the leading citizens of Sharnville. I thought of Bill Dixon. Then I thought of driving my car to Ferris Point, digging a grave, if I could find a spade, dragging the body from the trunk and dragging it to the grave. The very thought of touching that squat, blood-soaked body sent a sick chill through me.

‘I assure you if you refuse my help, and you attempt to dispose of the body yourself, you will hear nothing further from me.’

It was just possible I would hear nothing further from him, but he had only to put an anonymous telephone call through to the Sheriff to fix me.

A service?

What did that mean? By now I was in such a turmoil, I didn't care, "Wait,' I said feverishly. I had to get rid of the body! I had to have his help! Once rid of the body, I would be in a better position to deal with this man. Once I knew what service he wanted, I would be able to think of a way to outwit him. I had to have time to think!

He paused at the door and looked at me.

'I agree. I need your help,' I said, my voice husky.

'Very wise, Mr. Lucas.' He moved back to his chair and sat down. 'I have three trustworthy men who will handle it for you, but you must go with them. You must see what they intend to do so you are convinced that, once buried, the body will never be discovered. If you will go down to the garage, you will find them waiting. The whole operation can be over in an hour or so. I suggest you go now. The longer you wait, the more difficult the operation.'

I stared at him.

'And when do you pick up the price tag?'

'There's plenty of time for that. Let us get this problem solved first. Go along, Mr. Lucas.' He glanced at his strap watch. 'I am already late for an appointment.'

Bracing myself, I left him and rode down in the elevator to the garage. The time now was 10.15: still a safe hour. The people who lived in my complex seldom stirred into life on Sunday before midday.

As I came out of the elevator, I saw them, standing by my car.

Three men.

As I approached them, I looked searchingly at them.

The man who caught my attention was leaning against the driver's door. He was tall, lean, around twenty-five years of age. He had blond hair and a beard. He had minor movie star good looks. His eyes, exuding a cocky confidence, were sky blue. He looked, from his heavy tan, as if he spent days idling in the sun, most certainly ogling the girls. He had on a green singlet and tight white jeans.

The second man was standing at the head of the car. He was built like a bar bouncer: dark, hairy, a flat face, little eyes and long black sideboards. As a muscle man for a B movie he was perfect. He wore a shabby leather windcheater and black slacks.

The third man was a Negro. He was so tall, he was resting his elbows on the roof of the car. His massive shoulder muscles rippled under a white T-shirt. He reminded me of Joe Louis, when in his prime.

The bearded man came forward with a cocky, cheerful grin.

'I'm Harry, Mr. Lucas,' he said. 'That's Benny,' he jerked his thumb at die second man. 'And that's Joe.'

The Negro's face split into a dazzling grin, but the man called Benny just stared sullenly at me.

Benny! The man who had hit me over the head!

'Let's go, Mr. Lucas,' Harry said. 'I'll drive. You just take it easy.'

The other two got into the back seats while Harry went around and opened the passenger's door for me. I wasn't fooled for one moment by this politeness. I felt the menace of these three men as one feels the oppressive atmosphere of an approaching thunderstorm.

I got in the car. Harry went around and slid under the driving wheel and drove the car up the ramp and on to Sharnville's main street.

Church bells were ringing and people were on the move.

Harry swung the car down a side street, and keeping to the side streets, he headed for the highway. He drove just below the speed limit and drove well.

Joe, sitting behind me, began to play a harmonica. The tune he produced was sad and forlorn. It could have been a Negro spiritual.

As we headed towards Ferris Point, my mind was busy.

I had an instinctive idea that Benny, after knocking me over the head, had been the one who had murdered Marsh. He had that sullen, brutal look of a man who would kill without thought or feeling. My head still ached, and my face hurt me. My mind wasn't clear enough yet to form a complete ' picture of what was happening to me. I felt as if I were still in a nightmare, but it was gradually dawning on me I was now in a deadly trap. By allowing Klaus to get rid of Marsh's body, I was delivering myself into his hands.

Harry swung the car off the highway and drove down the sandy road to Ferris Point. He pulled up under the shade of a clump of palm trees.

‘Wait a moment, Mr. Lucas,' he said. 'I'll take a look-see.'

BOOK: 1977 - My Laugh Comes Last
2.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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