staring into it.
"So I will tell you. I made a foolish bet with an old friend of mine for a very large sum of money. My friend is an excellent shot and always boasting about what he can do with a rifle. Foolishly I said that anyone could become a good shot with training." He regarded me sharply with his flat snake's eyes. "Even I, Mr. Benson, when I have had too much to drink, can be stupid. My friend betted me that my son couldn't kill a fast- moving animal with a rifle after nine days' tuition. I was drunk and angry and I accepted the bet. Now, I must win."
"What animal?" I asked.
"A monkey swinging in a tree : a deer in flight : a hare running from a dog . . . I don't know . . . something like that. My friend has the choice, but it must be a clean, certain kill."
I wiped my sweating hands on the back of my jeans.
"How much did you bet, Mr. Savanto?"
He showed his gold-capped teeth in a smile.
"You are very curious, but I will tell you. I bet half a million dollars. Although I am a rich man, I can't afford to lose that amount of money." His smile became fixed. "Nor do I intend to."
As I stood hesitating, he went on, "And you can't afford to lose ten per cent of that kind of money either." He stared at me for a long moment. "Then at seven this evening, Mr. Benson."
He left the room and started off across the hot sand towards the Cadillac. I watched him go. Halfway to the Cadillac, he paused, turned and raised his hat. He was saluting Lucy.
Fifty thousand dollars!
The thought of owning such a sum turned me hot with a frightening, terrible desire.
Fifty thousand dollars for a miracle ! So I was going to perform a miracle !
* * *
I heard the front door open, then Lucy came in.
"Any luck, Jay? What was it all about?"
The sight of her brought me sharply down to earth. In those few moments as Savanto was driving away and Lucy was coming for news, my mind had been ablaze with the thoughts of becoming rich.
"Get me a beer, honey," I said, "and I'll tell you."
"There's only one . . . Shouldn't we keep it?"
I didn't mean to speak so sharply, but I was pretty worked up and I wanted the beer because my mouth was dry and my throat constricted.
She gave me a startled look and then ran off to the kitchen. I walked out of the bungalow and sat down on the sand under the shade of the palm trees.
Fifty thousand dollars ! I kept thinking. God ! It can't be possible! I scooped up a handful of dry sand and let it run through my fingers. Fifty thousand dollars !
Lucy came from the bungalow, carrying a glass of beer. She came to me, gave it to me and then sat down beside me.
I drank until the glass was empty, then I found a cigarette and lit it.
Lucy watched me.
"Your hands are shaking," she said, her expression worried. "What is it, Jay?"
I told her.
She didn't interrupt, but sat still, her hands clasping her knees, looking at me and listening.
"That's it," I said, and we looked at each other.
"I just don't believe it, Jay."
"He showed me the two bonds . . . Each are worth twenty-five thousand dollars . . . I can believe that ! "
"Jay ! Think a moment ! No one would pay that sum of money without a good reason. I don't believe it."
"I'd pay that sum of money to save half a million. Don't you call that a good reason?"
"You don't believe he made that bet, do you?"
I felt blood rising to my face.
"Why not ! Rich men make big bets . . . He said he was drunk at the time."
"I don't believe it !"
"Don't keep saying that ! I've seen the money !" I found I was shouting at her. "You don't know anything about this ! Don't keep saying you don't believe it!"
She flinched away from me.
"I'm sorry, Jay."
I pulled myself together and gave her a wry grin.
"I'm sorry too. All that money ! Think what we can do with it ! Just think! We can turn this place into a dude ranch. We can have staff . . . a swimming pool . . . we can't miss! I've always thought with enough capital . . ."
"Can you teach this man to shoot?"
I stared at her. Those words brought me down to earth. I got up and walked away from her, stopping a few yards from where she sat. She was right, of course. Could I teach this beanpole to shoot?
I knew I couldn't teach him to shoot for six thousand dollars, but for fifty thousand . . . a miracle, I had said. This is the age of miracles, Savanto had said.
I looked at Lucy.
"This is a chance in a lifetime. I'll teach him to shoot if it's the last thing I do. Let me think about this. I have only an hour and a half before I telephone Savanto. If I say yes, I've got to know what I have to do. I've got to convince him and I've got to convince myself I can do it. Let me work it out."
As I started across the sand to the shooting gallery, Lucy said, "Jay . . ."
I paused, frowning at her. My mind was already busy. What is it?"
"Are you sure we should get mixed up in this? I — I have a feeling . . . I . . ."
"This is something you have to leave to me," I said. "Never mind how you feel, honey . . . this is a chance in a lifetime."
I sat in the gallery and smoked cigarettes and thought. I sat there until it was close on 19.00 and by then I had convinced myself that I could earn Savanto's money. I had been one of the top range instructors in the Army, and God knows, I had had dozens of dopes through my hands who didn't know one end of the rifle from the other. Somehow, with patience, by shouting at them, by cursing them, by laughing with them, I had turned them into respectable riflemen, but a respectable rifleman is miles away from an expert shot. I knew that, but the thought of all that money lessened the problem.
I left the gallery and crossed the sand to the bungalow where Lucy was still painting the window frames. She looked at me, her eyes troubled.
"Have you decided?"
"I'm going ahead. I'll talk to him now. I'll need your help, honey. I'll go into the details after I've talked to him."
I went into the bungalow. I looked up the number of the Imperial Hotel and after a delay, Savanto came on the line.
"This is Jay Benson," I said. "One thing I want to know before I commit myself. . . . Just how co-operative will your son be?"
"Co-operative?" I heard the surprised note in Savanto's voice. "Of course he will be co-operative. He understands the situation. You will find him most willing to learn."
"That's not what I mean. If I take him on, he's got to be more than willing. He's got to work at it, and I mean work. When do you have to put up?"
I thought for a moment. That would give me nine clear days, starting from tomorrow.
"Okay. From tomorrow at 06.00 until the evening of the 26th, he's mine . . . body and soul. He will stay here with me. He will do nothing but shoot, eat, sleep and shoot. He doesn't leave this range for a second. He will do everything I tell him to do and he won't argue, no matter what I tell him he is to do. I have a spare bedroom he can have. Until the evening of the 26th, he belongs to me . . . I'll repeat that . . . he belongs to me. Unless he agrees to these terms, it won't work."
There was a pause on the line. I could hear Savanto's breathing. Then he said, "It sounds as if you are thirsty for my money, Mr. Benson."
"I am, but I intend to give you value for your money."
"I think you will. All right . . . my son will be with you at 06.00 tomorrow."
"How about my terms?"
"That is all right. I will explain everything to him. He knows how important it is."
"I don't want any mistake, Mr. Savanto. When he comes here, he is mine. Is that understood?"
"I will tell him."
"That's not good enough. I want your guarantee. He's mine or we forget it."
Again there was a long pause, then he said, "You have my guarantee."
I drew in a long slow breath.
"Fine. Now I want some money. I'll have to buy a lot of ammunition. I must buy him a gun. He has to have a gun to fit him. He can't shoot with my rifle. His arms are too long."
"You don't have to worry about that. I have bought him a gun : it is a Weston & Lees. I had it made for him. He will bring it with him."
Weston & Lees were the top gunsmiths in New York. To buy a madeto-measure gun from them costs around $5,000. He was right. If Weston & Lees had built a gun for his son I had nothing to worry about on that score.
"Okay. I want an advance payment of five hundred dollars," I said.
"Do you, Mr. Benson? Why?"
"I am closing the school. I am getting rid of my pupils. I have bills to settle. We have to eat. I don't want anything on my mind except your son."
"That is reasonable. Very well, Mr. Benson, you shall have five hundred dollars if it will make you happy."
"That's the idea."
"And you think you can make my son a good shot?"
"You said this is the age of miracles. I've thought about it. Now, I believe in miracles."
"Good." Again a long pause, then he said, "I would like to have a final word with you, Mr. Benson. Have you a car?"
"Then would you come to my hotel tonight . . . at ten o'clock?" He wheezed a little and then went on, "I would like to finalise our arrangement. I will have the money for you."
"I'll be there."
"Thank you, Mr. Benson," and he hung up.
Lucy was in the kitchen, cutting sandwiches. In our present state of economy, we had agreed that sandwiches were about the cheapest food we could live on. The previous day, I had bagged four pigeons and Lucy had spit-cooked them. With their breasts cut very fine plus a touch of Tabasco and a sliced pickle they made an acceptable sandwich.
I propped up the kitchen doorway.
"We have to have Mr. Savanto's son here, honey," I said. "For the next nine days, I've got to live with him eighteen hours a day. Is it okay to put him up in the spare bedroom?"
She finished cutting off the crusts of the bread, then she looked up. Those clear blue eyes were a little cloudy. Worry never helps anyone's face. For the first time since I had met and loved her she looked a little plain.
"Must we have him here, Jay? We've been so happy. This is our place."
I remembered what my old man had once said. My old man had been a great talker and he had been very proud of his successful marriage.
Women are tricky, he had told me when I was too young t care. My mother and he had had a little spat and I had listened, noting that my father had got the worst of it. When we were alone together, he had sounded off. I guess he was trying to justify his defeat. Maybe he was, but his words stuck.
"Women are tricky," he said. "You have to treat them with kid gloves if you want to get along with them, and there'll come a time when you will want to get along with one particular woman, so remember what I'm telling you. The right woman will be the pivot of your life: you'll find everything important revolves around her. A woman has different ideas from yours, but her ideas should be respected. But there comes a time when you know you are right, when you know you have to do this or that and she might not agree. You either do one of two things: you either spend a lot of time persuading her to see it your way or else you stamp over her. Either way works. The first way tells her you respect her opinion, but she is wrong: the second way tells her you're the boss . . . and make no mistake about it, providing you are on the level, a woman wants her man to be the boss."
I hadn't the time to persuade Lucy I was heading the way I had to head, so I stamped over her.
"Yes, he has to come here. We are about to earn fifty thousand dollars. Unless I have him here, we won't get the money. Nine days from now, we will be rich and we will have forgotten him. So he comes here."
She hesitated for a brief moment. We looked at each other, then she nodded.
"All right, Jay." She put the sandwiches on a plate. "Let's eat. I'm hungry."
We went out on to the patio.
I was disappointed that the thought of making all this money hadn't excited her as it excited me.
"What is it, honey? What's on your mind?"
We sat down in the sling chairs that creaked under our weight. Even when I knew she was worried I couldn't help thinking that before long we would get rid of these crummy chairs and have something lush on wheels with a sun umbrella clipped to its arm . . . before long.
"The whole thing is crazy!" she burst out. "You know it is! There's something wrong about it! All that money ! That fat old man ! You must know there's something wrong!"
"Okay, so it's crazy, but crazy things do happen. Why not to us? Here's a man rolling in money . . . he makes a bet . . . he . . ."
"How do you know he's rolling in money?" she demanded, sitting forward and staring at me.
For God's sake ! I told you. He showed me those two bonds . . . fifty thousand dollars. Of course he is rolling in money!"
"How do you know they aren't stolen . . . forgeries?"
Kid gloves, my father had said. My gloves were beginning to wear thin.
"Honey. I've been offered a job of work . . . something I can do. The pay off is more money than I've ever dreamed of. I will have to earn it. Okay. I wouldn't want so much money for nothing. This is a chance in a lifetime. He said I could go to my bank and check the bonds. Would a crook take such a risk?"