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Authors: Richard S. Prather

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BOOK: Over Her Dear Body
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I took the chance, turned and started to leap down the ladder toward my boat. But I didn't do it. There wasn't any boat.

I got a quick flash of it putting out into the bay with a big burly guy sitting behind the wheel, but I didn't have time to think about it. I could hear big feet thundering closer, and I knew about two tons of ugly people, angry people, anxious-to-pound-on-me people, were practically on my neck. When I had time, I'd be able to figure out that the first thing Chuck would have done after being alerted by his bleeding boss would be to have one of the boys quickly remove my means of flight—if it hadn't been removed as soon as I came aboard. But right now there wasn't time to consider the little things. Right now I knew just one thing, and it burned in my mind like a bright flame:
This is no place for me!

So I did the only logical thing. The only sane, sensible, wise thing.

I gave a great leap, went over the rail and soared through the air like a goonybird.

Chapter Nine

I landed in the drink with a great smack, and it was only when I got about ten feet down in the water that I understood completely what it means to go swimming fully dressed, with a gun in your hand.

You don't swim. You just keep going down.

I kicked and wiggled and waved my arms and started making a little headway. But it still seemed like headway the wrong way. Down. I got a kind of all-gone feeling, and even with my eyes open it seemed that only blackness surrounded me. The horrible picture of me just going down and down and expiring feebly on the bay's bottom loomed behind my eyes. And even if I got to the surface, there was one of Goss' men nearby in the motorboat. I'd have to be able to move, and fast. I could feel the wet, heavy clothing pulling at me, and I struggled out of my coat, fumbling for my belt. My lungs felt as if they were going to start leaking and my heart thudded in my chest, seeming to shake my whole body.

In another few seconds I'd managed to get rid of my trousers, and only for a moment did I think of the wallet in my coat—or the three hundred and forty dollars in it—or any of the rest of the stuff I'd been carrying. I swept my arms through the water, and finally my head popped up above the surface.

I was about fifteen feet from the
Srinagar's
hull, and snorting like a whale sneezing. I blinked my eyes, tried to take in everything at once. Several guys were up on the rail, and Chuck stood on the landing where my boat had been. The boat was about thirty yards away now, past the
Srinagar's
bow.

The .38 was still clutched in my fist. I would have let go of my shorts before I'd have dropped the Colt. I raised it above the water, shook it a time or two so there wouldn't be too much water in the barrel or chambers, and aimed it just to the right of Chuck.

I didn't know if this would work or not; I'd never tried it before. But I squeezed the trigger and the gun cracked, kicked in my hand. The slug banged into the metal hull of the yacht, and paint chips flew. Chuck flew too, up the ladder.

I put one foot beneath the other, kicked off my shoes, swam awkwardly, head half under the water and pulling with one arm, a little farther from the yacht. Then I stuck the gun into the clamshell holster, made sure the holster's spring-tensed sides hugged the gun firmly, and went beneath the water again.

Free of shoes, trousers, and jacket, it was easy to swim. By the time I surfaced again I'd put several yards more between me and the
Srinagar.
I could see men at the rail, but nobody—including the guy in my motorboat—was yet coming after me. Probably they would let me go now, rather than having the hell raised that I'd for sure raise if they came after me. And I didn't think they could afford to use me for target practice, not at this point.

Besides, they didn't have to come after me. They could try to pick me off later—or maybe just watch me drown.

I didn't drown. Swimming, then dog-paddling for a few seconds while I caught my breath, I made good time toward the little beach fronting the Fun Zone. I even had time to think a little. And every thought made me madder. Before I'd covered half the distance to shore, I was boiling, and by the time I was ten yards from the beach I was about ready to pop. If I'd had a torpedo and had known how to use it, the
Srinagar
would have been the first ship ever blown up and sunk in Newport Harbor.

It also wasn't until I'd reached a point ten yards from the beach that I noticed the people.

On bright sunny afternoons, like this one, there is always a pretty good crowd at that little beach, and in the amusement centers, too. And it looked as if they had all come down here to watch something exciting or unusual that was happening out there in the bay. I wondered what it could be. When I twisted my head around to look, there wasn't anything out there except small boats and the
Srinagar.
Of course, then I got the idea.

When I looked back at the beach, and the packed mass of people, I saw numerous expressions of amusement. A couple men were even laughing, and one of them was pointing. I made my mind as completely blank as possible. It was either that or swim back to the
Srinagar.
And I was pooped, too; I didn't think I could make it back.

So I swam on ahead until I could feel the sandy bottom. My hand scraped it, and when I stood up, I was in about two feet of water. The crowd seemed pleased with me. I suppose I was a kind of
different
sight, standing there in a long white dress shirt and maroon tie, dripping, shoulder holster strapped over the shirt. Especially with no pants on. But I tried not to think about it.

I walked toward them, and several of the people seemed to be having a swell time. One fat guy, sitting on the sand, was sort of whooping and beating his thigh with one hand. I suppose I asked him how he'd like for me to throw him in the ocean, or something like that; I don't exactly remember. But then I pulled myself together and strolled on through the crowd with as much dignity as I could muster.

I made it to the Cad and reached into my pants for the car keys. That, it may be, was the least brilliant thing I'd done all day. If I wanted to feel in my pants for keys, I'd have to go back and dive for them.

So there I stood, on Palm Street near the amusement zone, which seemed like the perfect place for it, sort of rubbing my thigh aimlessly, a stricken expression on my wet face. Actually, the situation wasn't as bad as it might have been. I don't think it could have gotten worse, even without a key, but the key part didn't worry me. I've locked my keys in the Cad a time or two, and had to take off the top to get in, so taped behind the rear bumper there's a spare set to avoid such difficulty. So there wouldn't be any trouble about getting into the car and driving away. Only that's not what I wanted to do. Not just yet, at least. There was one item more important than anything else at the moment.

I walked to the rear of the Cad, got the keys from beneath the tape, and opened the luggage compartment. In the luggage space I keep no luggage, only the spare tire—and about four thousand dollars worth of equipment I've had occasion at times to use in my work. There's electronic equipment, a snooperscope, wire and rope, a small case containing a gun kit and extra .38 Colt Special cartridges, walkie-talkie, a great many different items. Everything except a spare pair of pants.

But the gun kit was what I wanted.

I grabbed it, closed the trunk, opened the car door and climbed in. While I dripped on the white-leather upholstery I dried the Colt, cleaned and oiled it. Then, with six bright, dry slugs, I loaded the gun.

It took me over an hour to get back into Hollywood. And it was an hour during which I thought some dark thoughts. Instead of calming down as I drove, the fire seemed merely to burn hotter, barely under control. I'd had enough, more than enough. I was fed up to my tonsils. Navarro, the two mugs in my apartment last night, and now Goss and that miserable swim.... I put that part out of my mind.

But I also had time on the drive to go over everything that had happened so far. Goss' actions had eliminated any possibility that he was merely an innocent bystander. Navarro, too, was splashed with the blood somehow. Of the three men who'd been in that stateroom with Craig Belden shortly before his murder, that left only the white-haired, tall and smooth one about whom I knew nothing. Obviously I had to find out more about him—specifically, who he was. And
what
he was. As well as everything else I could get about Goss and Navarro.

Maybe there was more to it than that, and other persons involved in whatever was going on, but I felt sure much of the answer was centered in that small group. Of course, someone else was in my mind, along with the rest of it. More, actually, than the others. Elaine, the lovely Elaine.

I parked directly across from the Spartan's entrance and sat there a moment. I was fairly dry by this time, but still pantsless, so I was going to make a run for it. If another gang of cretinous citizens gathered and began pointing at me, I might become unhinged and leap upon them. No, I was going to run like the wind and pray that nobody would see me.

I pushed the Cad's door open, leaped out and sprinted toward the Spartan. And then, when I wanted only silence and the absence of people, it seemed as if the gates of hell clanged open and sounds rushed at me from the pit.

I heard a shot; and then a shrill, piercing scream that started about high M and went on up wailing through N-O-P to Q or some place where sounds chill blood.

Everything happened so fast that I couldn't be sure what came first, the scream or the shot, and at first I thought the screamer must be some old bat who'd spotted me, in my state of extremely casual dress rushing across the street at her, and had jumped to a horrid conclusion.

But then the shot registered. The slug didn't hit me, but I heard it snap past—behind me, very damned close behind me—and I heard it smack solidly into something far down the street. At almost the same moment I saw the woman who was screaming, saw her face and extended arm with its pointing finger. She was pointing down the street and to my left, but that wasn't what jarred me so at first. It was the face. The woman was Elaine.

It all registered, slammed into me and sent a bolt of saw-toothed electricity raking through my nerves, but it was just sensation. And I didn't take time to wonder about anything. When I hear a shot, I move in a hell of a hurry. I was already moving in a hurry, so I just let go and dropped to the street. As I fell, I jerked my head around to my left, where Elaine had been pointing, and saw my car maybe twenty yards away. If it hadn't been for the peculiarly irritating events of this afternoon, I would probably have noticed the car sooner. But to balance that error, if I hadn't leaped from the Cad sprinting, that first slug would have done the job.

As it was, the bullet missed, but as I fell to the hard, bone-bruising solidity of the asphalt, the gun cracked again. I saw it this time. The car was in the shade of trees on the opposite side of Rossmore from where I'd parked. The gun, some kind of rifle, was thrust through the left rear window of a dark sedan facing away from me. That second bullet hit the asphalt inches from me, whined off down the street.

Then the Colt was in my right hand and I was aiming toward the car. It started to pull away from the curb as I fired. I was still moving, too, not steadied yet from my sudden dive, and I didn't even hit close to the man. I heard the slug smack the rear of the sedan, then I steadied myself and let three more shots go, with about a second to aim between each shot.

I could barely see the man holding the gun, but I aimed at what I could see, and knew my slugs went through the open window. The rifle cracked again, but the bullet was well away from me—and I could see the bore of the rifle dip, see the barrel sag. I fired once more, but the car was moving fast by then. That barrel sagged almost straight down the side of the car. I thought it was going to fall to the street, but at the last moment it was pulled back into the sedan.

So I'd hit him. I didn't know where or how badly I'd gotten the creep, but I hoped I'd killed him.

Elaine had screamed more than once since that first loud high one, but she was silent now. I heard her shoes on the sidewalk, then on the street, as she ran toward me. And that was about when the pain started, too. I'd raked flesh off one knee, and from the other thigh and ankle, when I'd hit the street hard, sprawling flat and rolling. Fire burned the raw spots, and my head throbbed painfully. But there weren't any bullets in me. I was just raw, not loaded with rifle slugs.

I managed to get up as Elaine reached me. She had on a dark skirt and white blouse, and her face was pale and twisted, looking torn with fright. Fright—and something else.

She reached me, threw her arms around me, and at first I couldn't make out the words spilling from her mouth. Then she said, “Did they ... are you all right? Shell, what—”

I pulled her tight. “Easy. It's all over. Whatever it was.” I grabbed her shoulders, pushed her away from me and looked into her face. “How'd you get here? What happened to you this morning?”

“I—” She paused, ran her tongue over her lips. More color was coming back into her face.

But then, beyond her, I noticed a couple of faces at hotel windows, saw an old gal standing in the Spartan's entrance—and I remembered a few other items. “Come on, let's get inside,” I said to Elaine. “We can't talk here, and—”

I broke it off. She was looking me up and down, with an astonished look replacing the previous fright. “How—how did it happen?” she asked in a strange tone.

She was looking at my lower extremities, which seemed awfully extreme at the moment.

“Never mind that now. Let's go.” I took her arm, and pulled her toward the Spartan.

Inside the lobby, the old gal who'd been eyeballing the action from the door moments earlier was sitting on a lounge against the far wall, talking excitedly to another gal approximately her own age, which was about a hundred and ten, I guessed. We have quite a wide variety of types at the Spartan.

BOOK: Over Her Dear Body
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