"Then why didn't you check them?"
"Will you let me handle this?" I was now using the tone of voice I used with the dopes who came to me to learn to shoot in the Army, but I was using more polite language. "I'm doing what is best for you and for me. "Let's skip the talk. . . . Let's eat."
She looked at me, then away. We began to eat. I found I wasn't all that hungry. Lucy merely nibbled at her sandwich and finally, she dropped it back on her plate.
"You do realise we stand to make fifty thousand dollars, don't you?" I said when I could stand the silence no longer. "You do realise what such a sum of money could mean to us?"
"I'd better get his bed ready. When is he corning?" She got to her feet. "Have you finished?"
"Lucy! Cut it out ! I'm telling you this is a chance in a lifetime! Fifty thousand dollars! Think ! We're home ! With that kind of money we won't have a care in the world!"
She collected the debris of the meal.
"It sounds wonderful . . . not a care in the world."
I let her go into the bungalow. I sat there in the growing darkness, staring at the moon as it crept out of the sea and continued its slow climb into the cloudless sky. For the first time since I had married Lucy, I was tense and angry.
I saw the light go up in the spare bedroom on the other side of the bungalow to our bedroom. Ordinarily, I would have helped her make up the bed. I liked to share the work around the place with her. I never liked to be far from her, but now, I let her make the bed. I just sat there, looking at the moon until it was time to get the car and drive into Paradise City.
I heaved myself out of the chair and found Lucy making coffee for tomorrow's breakfast.
"I have to go to the Imperial Hotel," I said, standing in the doorway. "Savanto wants to finalise this thing. I'll be back around eleven thirty. Okay ?"
During the four months we had been married, I had never left her on her own on this lonely range. I knew she scared easily and I was annoyed with myself for not thinking of this when I had said I'd meet Savanto at his hotel.
But although her eyes were a little scared, she smiled.
"All right, Jay. I'll wait up for you."
I grabbed hold of her and hugged her to me.
"Honey, this means everything to me," I said and slid my hands down her slim back until I cupped her buttocks. I pulled her hard against me. "I love you."
"You scare me . . . I've never seen you like this . . . suddenly, you're so hard and tough . . . you scare me." She was speaking with her mouth against my neck and I could feel her trembling.
"Come on, Lucy," I said, pushing her away. "There's nothing about me to scare you." I looked beyond her at the kitchen clock. It was close on 21.15. I would have to hurry. "Lock up. Wait for me. I'll be back as soon as I can."
I reached the Imperial Hotel a few minutes after 22.00. The hall porter told me Mr. Savanto was in the Silver Trout suite on the fourteenth floor. A snooty bus boy in a cream and scarlet uniform took me up, opened a door and waved me into a big, luxuriously furnished sitting-room. On the far wall was a big silver trout, lit by concealed lights and looking very opulent : a set-piece to please the customers.
Savanto was sitting on the balcony, overlooking the promenade, the beach and the sea, lit by the silver-white moon. As I walked into the sitting-room, he called to me and I joined him on the balcony.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Benson," he said. "You had to leave your beautiful wife on her own. I should have thought of that. It was thoughtless of me."
"She's durable," I said. "Have you talked to your son?"
"All business?" Savanto looked up at me and smiled. "I am now satisfied that you won't fail me, Mr. Benson."
"Have you talked to your son?"
He waved me to a chair.
"A whisky . . . something?"
"No . . . we're wasting time. What did he say?"
"He is a good boy. He does what I say. It is all right, Mr. Benson. Until the evening of the 26th he is yours, body and soul." He paused and looked at me. "That is what you want, isn't it?"
I sat down and lit a cigarette.
"What else do you want to say to me?"
"Looking at you now, Mr. Benson, I can understand how it was possible for you to have spent so many hours alone in the jungle, waiting to kill your enemies."
"What else do you want to say to me?" I repeated.
He regarded me, then nodded with approval.
"Here is five hundred dollars." He took from his wallet five one hundred dollar bills and offered them to me. I took them, checked them and then shoved them in my hip pocket.
"You tell me you are shutting the school and getting rid of your pupils?"
"That's right. They are a waste of money and time anyway. When your son arrives I will have no time for anyone else."
"That is good. Has your wife any relations, Mr. Benson?" I stiffened.
What's that to do with you?"
"I was thinking it would be better for her to visit someone while you instruct my son."
"If you mean she might take my mind off what I'm going to do, you're making a mistake. My wife stays with me."
Savanto rubbed his jaw and stared for a long moment at the sea, glittering in the moonlight.
"Very well. Now there is another thing, Mr. Benson, you should know. It is absolutely necessary that no one . . . I repeat that. . . no one knows that you are instructing my son to shoot. No one . . . especially the police."
I felt a sudden prickle of apprehension crawl up my spine. "What does that mean?"
"We are embarking on a deal that will make you wealthy, Mr. Benson. I am sure you are reasonable enough to expect certain rules which you, I and my son will respect. One of these rules is strict secrecy."
"I heard you the first time. Why shouldn't the police know your son is getting instruction from me?"
"Because he would go to prison if it was found out."
I tossed my cigarette butt over the balcony rail not caring if it landed on some dowager's wig.
"Keep talking," I said. "I want the whole photo."
"Yes, Mr. Benson, I have no doubt that you do. My son is unfortunately tall. He is also very shy. He has many good points : he is kind, considerate . . . he's well read . . ."
"I don't give a goddam what your son is. Why shouldn't the cops know he is getting shooting instruction from me? What's this about prison?"
Savanto regarded me, his eyes glittering.
"My son went to Harvard. Because of his appearance and his shyness, he was picked on. From what I hear, he had a pretty bad time. In a moment of desperation he shot one of his tormentors who lost an eye. The Judge was understanding and wise. He realised that Timoteo had acted under the greatest provocation. There was a suspended sentence." Savanto lifted his heavy shoulders. "The Judge ruled that Timoteo must never touch a firearm as long as he lived. If he does, he must serve the suspended sentence of three years."
I stared at him.
"And yet you made a bet that your son could become an expert shot in nine days?"
Again the heavy shoulders lifted.
"I was a little drunk. What is done, is done. I take it what I have told you doesn't alter our arrangement?"
"Not as far as I'm concerned," I said after a moment's hesitation. "If it leaks out he is using a gun that's your funeral . . . not mine."
"It could also be your funeral, Mr. Benson, because then you
wouldn't get your money."
"As I see it, my job is to teach your son to shoot," I said. "I don't want any complications. It's up to you to take care of the security. I'll be busy enough taking care of your son."
"I have already thought of that and I have made arrangements to take care of it. Two of my men will he arriving tomorrow with Timoteo. Neither you nor Mrs. Benson need bother about them. They will be there and not there, but they will look after security and they will also look after Timoteo if he gets difficult."
I frowned at him.
"Is he likely to get difficult?"
"No . . . but he is sensitive." Savanto waved his fat hand vaguely. "Nothing that can't be controlled." He paused, then went on, "You will impress on Mrs. Benson not to talk to anyone about this arrangement? You see, apart from the police, I wouldn't want my friend with whom I have made this unfortunate bet to know what is happening. I know he is curious. Security must he very strict."
"She won't say anything!
"That is good." He got abruptly to his feet. "Well, then, tomorrow at 06.00." He walked ahead of me into the brightly lit room with its lounging chairs in white and red satin, its cream-coloured carpet and the big silver trout on the wall. "There is one other thing." He crossed the room to a Chippendale desk, opened a drawer and took out an envelope. "This is for you. It is a sign of trust and to give you encouragement, but you will have to earn it."
* * *
I took the envelope, lifted the flap and looked at a piece of paper worth twenty-five thousand dollars.
As I drove up the sandy road leading to the shooting range, I spotted a red and blue Buick convertible parked outside the bungalow.
The sight of this car gave me a shock.
Who was visiting at this time of night? It was pushing 23.30. I thought of Lucy on her own, and my heart did a somersault. The excitement of having a bond worth twenty-five thousand dollars in my pocket vanished. I shoved my foot down on the gas pedal, roared up the rest of the road, slammed on the brakes and slid out of the car.
The light was on in the sitting-room, the windows were open and as I started for the front door, ready for anything, Lucy appeared before the open window and waved to me.
I drew in a breath and relaxed.
"Of course. Come in, Jay. We have a visitor."
I opened the door and walked into the hall and entered the sittingroom.
A man in a light-weight well-worn suit was sitting in my favourite armchair. He had a glass of Coke in his hand and a cigarette dangled from his thin lips. I took him in with one quick glance. He was tall, wiry and tough-looking with a lined, sun-tanned face and clear, ice-blue eyes. His dark hair was cut close and his jaw line was aggressive. He got to his feet, putting the glass on the occasional table as Lucy said, "This is Mr. Lepski. He wanted to see you. I asked him to wait."
"Detective 2nd Grade Tom Lepski . . . Police headquarters," Lepski said and offered his hand.
Maybe for a split second I stiffened, but immediately I forced myself to relax. The ice-blue eyes were staring directly at me with that disconcerting stare all cops have. I was pretty sure he had noticed my reaction. Cops are trained to notice a thing like that.
"Trouble?" I asked, forcing a grin as I shook his hand.
Lepski shook his head.
"Sometimes I hate being a cop," he said. "Whenever I call on folk, they react like I'm going to make an arrest. It louses up my social life. Believe me, I'm a very sociable hombre . . . like I was telling Mrs. Benson. No trouble, friend. I just missed you as you left. Mrs. Benson was on her own, we got talking, and hell ! the time's rushed away. I guess my wife will be wondering where I've got to."
"You wanted to see me?" I couldn't relax with this man. I was thinking what Savanto had said : no
one must know.., especially the
"Jay, would you like a Coke?" Lucy asked. "Do sit down, Mr. Lepski."
"Sure . . . I'll have a Coke," I said. "Sit down, Mr. Lepski."
Lepski resumed his seat. Lucy went off to the kitchen and I sat on an upright chair, facing him.
"I won't keep you a few minutes, Mr. Benson," he said. "I shouldn't have come out here so late, but something is always cropping up and I was late getting away from headquarters."
"That's okay. I'm glad you kept my wife company . . . this is a lonely place." I took out my pack of cigarettes, offered it and we lit up. "I've been out on business."
"Yeah . . . Mrs. Benson was telling me."
What else had she told him? I began to sweat.
Lucy came back with the Coke.
"Mr. Lepski wants you to sharpen up his shooting," she said, handing me the Coke. "I told him I didn't think you had time for a couple of weeks." Seeing the way I was looking at her, she went on, "I told him you
had a special pupil you had to give all your time to."
I drank some of the Coke. My mouth was as dry as sand.
"It's this way," Lepski said. "I've got my promotion exam coming up. I'm a pretty good shot, but it helps to get extra points. I wanted you to give me a few tips."
I stared at the ice in my glass.
"I'd be glad to, but not just now. I'm sorry. As Lucy has told you I'm committed for the next two weeks. Can you wait that long?"
The ice-blue eyes began to probe my face again.
"You mean you've got someone to teach as important as that . . . who'll take up all your time for two weeks?"
"That's it. Can you wait? I would be glad to help you if you can wait."
"It would be cutting it fine. My exam is at the end of the month."
"I can give you two or three hours on 29th . . . any time convenient to you. That should be enough, shouldn't it?"
He rubbed the back of his neck. He was still looking thoughtfully at me.