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Authors: James Hadley Chase

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BOOK: Like A Hole In The Head
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     He was wearing a black short-sleeved cotton shirt, black cotton slacks and black rope-soled shoes. He looked like a stork that had fallen in tar. "Hi, there," I said and offered my hand.
     He ducked his head : his face was anonymous with his eves hidden behind the black goggles. He took my hand in his limp, sweaty clasp and immediately released it.
     "Come and see your room," I said. "Would you like a cup of coffee?"
     "No, thank you. No . . . I've had all I want." He looked helplessly around.
     "I'll show you your room, then let's get over to the range."
     "It doesn't matter about the room. I'm sure it's all right."
     "Fine . . . it is." I turned to the Chimpanzee. "Take the hag to the bungalow. Mrs. Benson will show you where to leave it."
     Raimundo and Nick were coming out of the bungalow, having got rid of the two cases.
     Raimundo lounged up to me.
     "Nice little place you have here, Mr. Benson," he said chattily.
     "The stuff's all delivered." His eyes took in Timoteo and his smile became an insulting jeer. "Hi, Mr. Savanto : you all ready for the bangbang act?"
     I saw Timoteo cringe and turn red.
     I've had to handle lots of smart boys during my time in the Army. I decided to crack down on this hairy know-all right away.
     "Get the ammunition and the rifle to the range!" I barked at him, using my Army voice that can carry a quarter of a mile. "What the hell are you hanging around here for?"
     If I had hit him across the face he couldn't have looked more startled, but only for a moment, then he stiffened. His face turned viciously hard and his eyes glittered with fury as he glared at me.
"You speaking to me?"
     Every now and then I had run into the tough guy who didn't react to a barking voice. Then I had to throw my rank at him, but I had no rank to throw at Raimundo. That didn't worry me. I had Savanto's twenty-five thousand dollar bond behind me and I was sure, strong as he was, in a knock down and drag out, I could take him.
     "You heard me, glamour-boy ! Get the stuff delivered and quit flapping with your mouth!"
     We looked at each other. For a moment I thought he was coming at me, but somehow he managed to control himself. He forced a vicious grin.
     "Okay, Mr. Benson."
     "And wipe that goddam grin off your face," I snarled. "I don't like it."
     He looked quickly at Timoteo, then he looked beyond me at Nick who was gaping at me.
     "You don't have to talk this way to me," he said.
     I spotted the uncertainty in his voice. He wasn't scared of me, but he was scared of his boss.
     This was the time to dig in the blade and turn it.
     "Don't I?" My parade-ground voice bounced off the roof of the bungalow. Who the hell are you? I talk anyway I like! I'm the boss around here! if you don't like it, get the hell out of here and tell your boss! Tell him what you told me : you're his right hand, his left hand and possibly his left leg. He might just laugh himself sick but it's my guess he won't. Get this stuff delivered and then get lost !"
     There was a long explosive pause. Raimundo had turned grey under his tan. He seemed unable to make up his mind whether to go for me or surrender.
     "No one . . ." he began, his voice quivering with fury.
     I had him on the run and I knew it.
     "Hear me !" I bawled. "Get lost!"
     He hesitated, then walked slowly to the truck. He climbed into the driver's seat and started the engine. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Nick climb in beside him. The truck moved off and headed for the range.
     I looked at Timoteo who was standing, transfixed. The black sun goggles were pointing my way. I assumed he was looking at me, but I couldn't swear to it.
     I grinned at him.
     "I don't like that guy," I said. I purposely softened my voice. "I'm an ex-Army man. When I don't like a guy, I bawl him out. Are you sure you wouldn't like a cup of coffee?"
     He gulped, then shook his head.
     The driver of the Cadillac who had been watching this little scene, came over.
     "Excuse me, sir," he said to me. His flat Chimp face was tight and his breath whistled through his flat nostrils. "Okay for me to speak to Mr. Savanto?"
     At least I had put the fear of God in him.
     "Go ahead," I said and walked over to the bungalow where Lucy was standing under the roof of the verandah. I knew she had seen and heard what had happened. I wanted to reassure her.
     She looked at me as I reached her, her eyes very wide and shocked.
     "I had to handle him, honey," I said quietly. "He's a trouble maker. Just relax. Now he's been told, he'll stay told."
     "Oh, Jay !"
     I saw she was shaking.
     "Come on, baby, snap out of it." I gave her a quick kiss. "Don't let my Army voice scare you." I grinned at her, trying to be reassuring, but she was staring at me, bewildered and still shocked. "It's a trick. You just bawl and you get things done. Come on, honey, I've got things to do."
     "I'm sorry, Jay." She made an effort to pull herself together. "I've never heard a voice like that. I couldn't believe it was coming from you."
     "Like I said, it's a trick . . . it's Army." Again I grinned, but it was a little forced. I knew I was wasting valuable time. "You'll go to the bank?"
"Yes."
     "If there's anything else you want, buy it. Have you looked at the food they've delivered?"
     "Not yet."
     "Well, look at it. If there's anything missing, get it. Okay?"
     "Yes."
     I heard the Cadillac start up. Turning, I saw the car heading down the drive. Timoteo Savanto still stood where I had left him in the sun. He had his hands clasped behind his back and he was looking after the departing car. Even with the sun goggles hiding his eyes, he looked like a pet dog watching his master leave him.
     "I have to take care of Timoteo," I said. "See you lunch time."
     I left her and walked across the sand. When I came up to Timoteo he stiffened and turned his goggles towards me.
"Let's go over to the range and have a talk."
     Beyond him, I saw the truck moving away from the shooting gallery and head towards the distant palm trees.
     We walked in silence to the gallery and entered the cool, dim leanto. Away from us were the targets, a hundred yards out in the hot sunshine.
     By one of the wooden benches were two cases of ammunition and a rifle in a canvas case.
     "This your gun?"
     He nodded.
     "Sit down and relax."
     He lowered himself on to the bench as if he expected it to collapse under him. His thin swarthy face was covered with sweat beads. His hands shook and jerked. He was as fit for a morning's target practice as an old lady who finds a burglar under her bed.
     I've had them before: the guys who hate guns, who hate the noise a gun makes, who can't see anything exciting in using a gun well. There are two ways of handling them in the Army. First, the sympathetic approach, gentling them along as you gentle a nervous horse. Then if that doesn't work, you scare the crap right out of them, and if that doesn't work, you forget them, but I knew I couldn't forget Timoteo. He wasn't a man : he was a fifty thousand dollar bond.
     "I've an idea you and I will get along together," I said. I sat on the other bench and took out my packet of cigarettes. I offered it.
     "I don't smoke."
     "That's fine. That helps. I shouldn't smoke, but I do." I lit a cigarette and drew smoke right down into my lungs, then breathed out slowly. "As I said, you and I will get along : we have to." I grinned. "You have a tough job ahead of you, but I want you to know I'm here to help you. I can help you, and I'm going to help you."
     He sat there and stared towards me. I couldn't tell his reaction. The goggles hid the expression in his eyes, and men's eyes are important to me when I'm sounding off.
     "Can I call you Tim?"
     His eyebrows came together, then he nodded.
     "If you want to."
     "You call me Jay . . . right?"
     He nodded.
     "Well, Tim, suppose I take a look at the gun your Dad has bought for you?"
     He didn't say anything. He shifted on the bench and looked helplessly towards the gun in its canvas case.
     I stripped off the case and examined the gun. As I knew it would be, it was a beautiful job. Weston & Lees don't produce anything but beautiful jobs. If he couldn't shoot with this gun, he wouldn't shoot with any gun.
     "Very nice." I broke open one of the boxes of ammunition and loaded the gun. "I want you to look at the first target on the left."
     He turned his head slowly and stared across the hundred yards of sand at the target.
     "Just keep watching it."
     The gun wasn't built for me, but in the Army I had to use a lot of guns that weren't built for me nor for anyone else. I braced myself. To me, it was easy shooting. I fired off six rounds. The centre of the target came away and fluttered to the sand.
     "You're going to shoot like that pretty soon, Tim. Hard to believe, isn't it? I assure you you will do it."
     The black goggles gaped at me. I could see myself in their twin reflections. I saw I was looking tense.
     "Will you do me a favour?" I asked, forcing myself to relax.
     There was a long pause, then he said in husky voice, "A favour? I've been told to do anything you say."
     "You don't have to do
anything I
say, Tim, but will you take those sun glasses off?"
     He stiffened and reared back, his hands going protectively to the goggles that were forming a wall between us.
     "I'll tell you why," I went on. "You can't shoot behind sun glasses. Your eyes are as important
as
your gun. Take them off, Tim. I want your eyes to get used to the light here which is pretty strong."
     Slowly, his right hand reached for the goggles like a virgin taking her pants off in mixed company. He hesitated, then slowly the goggles came off.
     Now I saw him for the first time. He was younger than I thought : maybe around twenty, not more than twenty-two. His eyes altered the whole of his face. They were good eyes : direct, honest and without guile : the eyes of a thinker, but right now they were also frightened eyes. He was no more like his father than I was like Santa Claus.
     I was sitting by Timoteo's side, explaining the parts of the rifle to him when Lucy appeared in the doorway.
     I knew I was wasting time going over the rifle with him, but I wanted him to relax, to get to know me and to stop shaking. This was the gentling process. I spoke quietly. I was trying to will into him that this rifle could come alive in his hands, could obey him, could be his friend. I didn't say all this crap in so many words, but I tried to convey it. So far, my words were bouncing off him like a golf ball against a concrete wall. But years as an instructor had taught me that often just when you were despairing, you get the break-through. Lucy's sudden appearance broke the beginning of his concentration and sent a rush of blood to my head.
     "I'm sorry, Jay," she said, seeing the way I reacted. "I didn't mean to disturb you . . ."
     "What is it?"
     The snap in my voice made Timoteo stiffen. It also made Lucy take a step back.
     "The car won't start."
     I drew in a deep breath. I looked at my watch. I was surprised to see I had been talking to this beanpole for close on an hour. I shot him a quick look. He was staring down at his feet and I could see a vein in his forehead pounding. Lucy and my barking voice had undone the work of an hour.
     I put down the rifle.
     "What's the matter then?"
     She looked like a kid caught with her fingers in the jam.
     "I — I don't know. It just won't start."
     I made an effort to hold down a burst of temper and succeeded, but only just.
     "Okay, I'll come." I put down the rifle. Then to Timoteo, I said, "I won't be a moment. Stay here now your eyes are getting used to this light. Don't put those sun glasses on."
     He mumbled something, but I was already moving to the door. Lucy fell back, giving me room to pass.
     "Did you put your foot hard down on the gas pedal?" I asked as she trotted alongside me to keep up with my strides.
"Yes."
"A hell of a time for it to play up. Well, I'll get it going."
     I was sure she had done something stupid and it infuriated me that she had come to me just when I was getting this goddam beanpole in a more relaxed state of mind.
     The Volkswagen was parked under a palm thatched lean-to. I jerked open the door, slid into the driving seat, sure that under my hand, the car would start.
     Lucy stood by watching.
     I jiggled the gear lever to check it was in neutral, then I shoved the gas pedal to the floor and switched on. I got a noise, but no start. I did this three times. Finally, the noise convinced me that the engine wasn't going to fire. I cursed under my breath, my hands resting on the steering wheel as I glared through the dusty windscreen. I weighed up the importance of making the car start against the importance of getting Timoteo to shoot.
     I had this twenty-five thousand dollar bond. This was like having twenty-five thousand dollars in cash. This bond had to be lodged in the safe keeping of a bank. Suppose someone stole it? Suppose our bungalow caught fire and the bond got destroyed? I was now responsible for it. I could imagine Savanto's reaction if I had to tell him I had lost it.
BOOK: Like A Hole In The Head
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