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Authors: James Hadley Chase

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BOOK: Like A Hole In The Head
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     I got out of the car, went around to the back and opened the lid. I looked at the engine. When a car makes the noise this one is making, the first thing to do, if you know anything about cars, is to check the distributor head and he prepared to clean the points. So I looked. The distributor head was missing.
     That cooled me. My temper and my irritation with Lucy went away. Again I felt that itchy Prickle run up my spine.
     "No wonder you couldn't start it . . . the distributor head has been taken away. Have you the bond with you?"
     With wide eves, Lucy stared at me, then opened her bag and gave me the bond.
     "I never expected it would be easy. honey," I said. "No one can earn money this big without sweating for it. Now listen : there was something Savanto said to me which I haven't told you. He said you would be best off away from here while I'm teaching Timoteo to shoot. I can call a taxi and you can go to a hotel. We have the money, and it will be only for nine days. What do you say?"
     "I'm not going!"
     Although she looked scared, she also looked determined.
     "Fine." I put the bond in my hip pocket, then went to her, and put my arms around her. "I don't want you to go. Go and keep Timoteo company while I talk to Raimundo. It's my bet he's taken the distributor head."
     "Be careful, Jay. That man frightens me."
     "He doesn't frighten me."
     I kissed her, then set off across the sand towards the distant palms.
     It was a longish walk in the sun and I was sweating by the time I was within sight of the truck.
     Raimundo and Nick were pitching a tent. They had picked a good spot. There was shade, plenty of beach and the sea. As I approached, I saw Nick, his Hawaiian shirt black with sweat, doing most of the work. Raimundo was singing. He had a good voice. It sounded good enough to come out of a transistor.
     He stopped singing when he saw me, turned and said something to Nick who looked up, stared at me and then went on driving in a tent peg.
     Raimundo came towards me. He moved well, and he was very sure of himself.
     I stopped when I was within six feet of him. He stopped too.
     "You have the distributor head of my car," I said. There was a bite in my voice, but I wasn't bawling. "I want it."
     "That's right, Mr. Benson. I have it . . . orders."
     "I want it," I repeated.
     "Yeah." His grin widened. "Mr. Savanto gives orders too : he said no one comes in; no one goes out. That's his idea of security. You call Mr. Savanto if you don't believe me." He cocked his head on one side. "You're doing your job. I'm doing mine. The truck doesn't work either."
     I thought fast. Savanto could have given this order. We had no reason to leave the range now except to put the bond in the bank. If Savanto considered security so important, he wouldn't want either Lucy or myself to leave the place, and yet this could be Raimundo's way of getting even with me for the way I had bawled him out.
     "I'll talk to your boss," I said. "If you're being smart, I'll be back and you'll be sorry."
     "You do that." He was very sure of himself. "You talk to your boss. He'll tell you."
     He threw a lot of weight on the word
your.
It wasn't lost on me.
     I walked back to the bungalow. It was a long walk. I didn't hurry. It was now getting too hot to hurry and I had some thinking to do. If what Raimundo had said was true, then I had a problem on my hands. I had in my hair twenty-five thousand dollars that didn't belong to me.
     I reached the bungalow and walked into the sitting-room. I went over to the telephone and lifted the receiver. There was no dialling tone. The telephone was as dead as an amputated leg.
     I sat down in my favourite armchair and lit a cigarette. I sat there for some minutes thinking. No car . . . no telephone . . . fifteen miles from the highway. To say we were cut off was an understatement.
     I wasn't fazed. This kind of situation was something I thrive on. I got to my feet, went into the kitchen and inspected the food that had been delivered. It was quite a selection : at least we wouldn't starve. I went over the dozens of cans of food: all of the best and enough to keep three adults eating well for a couple of months. There was an impressive selection of drink including six bottles of champagne, lots of canned beer, whisky, gin and tomato juice.
     So being cut off from Paradise City wasn't a problem. But what was I going to do with this bond which didn't belong to me?
     I thought about the problem, knowing I was wasting time, but this was important; more than important.
     Finally, I went to our store cupboard and found a small empty biscuit box. I put the envelope containing the bond into the box. Then I found a roll of adhesive tape and taped the lid to the box.
     I left the bungalow by the rear door and crossed over to a row of palm trees that gave the bungalow its only shade. I paused to look around the way I had so often looked around before setting up an ambush in Vietnam. When I was satisfied I was on my own and no one was watching me, I scooped a deep hole in the soft sand under the third palm tree in a row of five and buried the biscuit box against the tree root. I smoothed down the sand. It took me some minutes to get rid of my footprints around the tree. I was finally satisfied.
     I dusted the sand off my hands and looked at my watch. The time was 09.26. Timoteo had been on the range for close on three and a half hours and he hadn't fired a shot.
     I hurried across the sand towards the shooting gallery. I felt under sudden pressure. If I was going to teach this beanpole, I just could not have any further trouble. And even before I made a start to teach him, I had to get him relaxed !
     I reached the gallery. The sand deadened my footfalls. I heard Lucy's voice. She sounded animated. I slowed, then stopped in the shadow of the lean-to and I listened.
     "I was like you before I met Jay," she was saying. "You may not believe it but I was. I'm pretty bad now, but I am better. Before I met Jay I was so mixed up, just looking in a mirror made me jump. I guess it was my father . . ." A long pause, then she went on, "They say most kids when they are in a mess blame their parents. What do you think?"
     I rubbed the sweat off my face and edged closer. This was something I wanted to hear.
     "It's as good an excuse as any." I scarcely recognised Timoteo's voice. He too sounded animated. "We are all looking for excuses. Maybe our parents are to blame, but we're to blame too. It is a comfort to us to say if our parents had only been different. There are special cases of course, but I think we just have to help ourselves."
     "You're lucky to be able to think like that," Lucy said. "I know my father was a lot to blame."
     "For what?"
     "For why I am a mess. You see, he wanted a boy. He was set on it. When he got me, he just refused to accept me as a girl and I couldn't have been more girl. He always made me wear trousers. He always expected me to do the things boys do. Finally, he realised it was hopeless, then he dropped me . . . ignored me. All the time I was struggling to get some love from him. To me love is important." A long pause, then she asked, "Don't you think so?"
     "I wouldn't know." Timoteo's voice was suddenly flat. "I've been brought up in a different way. Didn't your mother give you love?"
     "She died when I was born. How about your mother?"
     "Women don't count in the Brotherhood. I scarcely ever saw her."
     "Brotherhood? What's that?"
     "A way of life . . . something we don't talk about." Again there was a long pause, then he said, "You said you're in a mess. Why do you say that? I don't think so."
     "I'm in less of a mess than I was, but I'm still messy. I have no confidence in myself. I feel inadequate. I scare easily. I almost die if there's a thunderstorm. I was much worse before I met Jay. You mustn't think because he shouts and scowls he isn't kind and understanding. He is . . . anyway, you'll find out. I don't know why I'm talking like this." She laughed. "You looked so depressed and worried, the same way I know I look sometimes, I just couldn't help sounding off."
     "I appreciate it, Mrs. Benson."
     "Please call me Lucy. After all you're going to live with us. I know we're going to be friends." A pause, then she asked, "Is that your rifle?"
     "Yes."
     "Can I try it? Jay never thinks of letting me shoot. He's a marvellous shot. I've often wondered what it is like to be able to shoot so well. Will you show me how to shoot, Tim?"
     "I don't think Mr. Benson would like that."
     "He wouldn't mind. Besides, he's busy trying to fix the car. Please show me."
     She must have picked up the rifle because Timoteo said sharply, alarm in his voice, "Be careful. It's loaded."
     "Show me."
     "I'm no good at it. I don't think . . . I think we should wait for Mr. Benson."
     "You must be better with it than I am. I'm not going to wait. I'm going to try. What do I do?"
"You'd better not."
"I'm going to."
     Lucy had never fired a rifle. She might kill him. He might kill her. I started forward, then stopped. She was handling him better than I could. This was a risk that might pay off.
     I heard him say, "Wait! You're holding it too loosely. You must hold it hard against your shoulder. The recoil can hurt if you don't. Don't you think we'd better wait . . ."
     "Like this?"
     "Harder against your shoulder. Lucy, please . . . you shouldn't . . ."
     Then the rifle went off. I heard Lucy squeal.
     "It hurt!" She was all feminine now.
     "You've hit the target!" His high-pitched voice showed his excitement. "Look !"
     "I meant to." A pause. "It's not bad, is it for a first shot. Now, you try."
     "I'm no good at it."
     "Tim Savanto ! If you can't do better than me you should be ashamed." She was laughing at him and her voice offered a feminine challenge.
     "I don't like guns."
     "I'm going to try again."
     A long pause, then the rifle cracked.
     "Oh !"
"You let the sight drop as you fired. I saw it. Let me try."
     "I bet you don't do any better." There was a friendly jeer in her voice. "I bet you a nickel. Are you on?"
     "I'm on."
     Again there was a long pause, then the rifle barked.
     "Oh, you stinker !" Lucy's voice was indignant. "You said you couldn't shoot ! You've stolen my nickel!"
     "I'm sorry." He was actually laughing. "It was a fluke. Forget the bet ! I wouldn't have paid if I had lost . . . honest."
     I decided it was time to walk in on this scene. I backed off silently, then started to the gallery whistling softly to herald my approach.
     I entered the gallery. The moment I walked in, I felt the relaxed atmosphere change. Timoteo was holding the rifle. At the sight of me, he became transfixed. Fear jumped into his eyes and he looked like a dog expecting to be kicked. Lucy was sitting on one of the benches, her face a little flushed, her eyes sparkling. When she saw me, the sparkle died and she looked hopefully at me as if asking for my approval.
     "What goes on?" I asked, grinning at her and I was conscious my grin was a little fixed. "Don't tell me you've been shooting."
     She played up to me, but it didn't quite jell.
     "Of course . . . and I've hit the target. You're not the only shot around here, Mr. Big-shot. Look . .
     Ignoring Timoteo, I looked at the distant target. There was a hole on the outer ring and another hole by the outer bull.
     "Hey . . . hey ! That's shooting," I said. "The inner's a good one !"
     "You would say that ! You men stick together. That's his. Mine's the outer one." Even to me the dialogue sounded terrible. I turned to Timoteo and grinned at him.
     "You see? It's not so tough, is it? That's a good start. Go ahead. We have all the ammunition in the world." I turned to Lucy. "I've got a gun that'll fit you. Do you want to shoot with him?"
     She hesitated, then nodded.
     I went over to the gun case, unlocked it and took out a gun that Nick Lewis lent to his lady pupils. I loaded it and handed it to Lucy.
     "Hang on a minute, you two. I'll put up new targets. Get off fifty rounds. Okay?"
     Timoteo looked like a rabbit about to bolt. I took no notice. Leaving them I went out into the sun and put up new targets.
     "Okay, you two," I called. "I'm going back to the bungalow. I've letters to write. When I come back, I want to see these targets in bits."
     I grinned towards them, waved to them, then I headed back to the bungalow.
     I went straight to the refrigerator and fetched out a can of beer. It was a little early in the day for beer, but I was thirsty . . . so what the hell ! I carried the beer on to the verandah and sat down. I drank half of it and then lit a cigarette.
     I waited.
     There was no shooting.
     I waited another five minutes . . . still no shooting. I finished the beer, threw my half-smoked cigarette away and lit another. The time was now 10.43. Timoteo had been on the range now for four hours and thirty five minutes: during that time he had fired one shot.
     What were they playing at? I felt a rush of blood to my head. Lucy must know how important it was to get this slob shooting. Were they sitting there yakking about their parents, their weaknesses, their goddam phobias?
     I heaved myself out of the chair, hesitated, then I forced myself to sit down again.
BOOK: Like A Hole In The Head
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