Authors: Leslie Charteris
IHow Simon Templar Took Exercise, and Hoppy Uniatz Quenched His Thirst
IIHow Simon Templar Conversed with a Porter, and a Brace of Guardias Were Happily Reunited
IIIHow Simon Templar Read a Newspaper, and Reuben Graner Put on His Hat
IVHow Simon Templar Rose to the Occasion, and the Thieves’ Picnic Got Further Under Way
VHow Reuben Graner Took Back His Gun, and a Taxi Driver Was Unconvinced
VIHow Simon Templar Ate without Enthusiasm, and Mr Uniatz Was also Troubled about His Beakfast
VII How Mr Palermo Continued to Be Unlucky, and Hoppy Uniatz Obeyed Orders
VIII How Mr Uniatz Was Bewildered about Bopping, and Simon Templar Was Polite to a Lady
IXHow Simon Templar Enjoyed a Joke, and How Mr Lauber Was Not Amused
XHow Simon Templar Paid His Debt, and Christine Vanlinden Remembered Hers
THE SAINT BIDS DIAMONDS
How Simon Templar Took Exercise, and
Hoppy Uniatz Quenched His Thirst
SIMON TEMPLAR yanked the hand brake back into the last notch as the huge cream-and-red Hirondel shot past the little knot of struggling men, and stood up while the tires were still screaming for a hold on the cobblestones. The Hirondel rocked to a shuddering standstill just beyond the other car that was pulled in to the side of the road; and Simon sat on the back of the seat and swung long, immaculately trousered legs over the side. From under the jauntily tilted brim of his hat he gazed back at the inspiring scene with a glimmer of reckless delight beginning to dawn in gay blue eyes which should have seemed entirely misplaced in a man who was better known as the Saint than by any other name.
In the seat beside him, Hoppy Uniatz screwed his head round on his thick neck and also surveyed the scenery, with the strain of intense thought creasing its unmistakable contortions into the rugged contours of what, from its geographical situation rather than anything else, must reluctantly be called his face. Somewhere inside him an awe-inspiringly lucid deduction was struggling for delivery.
“Boss,” said Mr Uniatz, with growing conviction, “dat looks like a fight.”
“It is a fight,” said the Saint contentedly, and dropped lightly to the ground.
He had made the deduction several seconds earlier than Mr Uniatz, and with much less difficulty. From the moment when the headlights of the Hirondel swept round the bend and caught the “group of writhing figures in their sudden blaze of illumination, it had been comparatively obvious that the nocturnal peace of the road up to La Laguna from Santa Cruz de Tenerife was being vigorously disturbed by physical dissension and all manner of mayhem-so obvious, in fact, that the Saint was treading on the brake pedal and flicking the gear lever into neutral almost as soon as the spectacle met his eyes. He had only paused for that one brief instant to decide whether the fight was merely an ordinary vulgar brawl, or whether it possessed any features which might make it interesting to a connoisseur. And, while he perched up there on the back of his seat, he had seen the vague mass of seething bodies split up into two component nuclei. In one section, two burly males were apparently trying to hammer the insides out of a third whose hair gleamed silver under the dim light; and in the other section, which more or less clinched the matter, a girl who had been trying to help him was being dragged away, fighting like a wildcat, by another of the strong-arm deputation.
Either because the combatants were so absorbed in their own business that they hadn’t noticed the stopping of his car, or else because they proposed to continue operations in defiance of any casual interference, the tempo of the conflict showed no signs of slowing up as the Saint drew nearer; and a gentle and rather speculative smile shaped itself on his lips. The man who was wrestling with the girl had one hand over her mouth, and just at that moment her teeth must have managed to find one of his fingers, for his hand moved quickly and he let out a hoarse profanity which was cut off by her sharp scream for help. The Saint’s smile became even gentler.
“Not so loud, lady,” he murmured. “Help has arrived.”
She had a face which was definitely worth fighting for, Simon realised as the man swung her round as a shield between them; and the artistic perfection of the discovery sent blissful anthems carolling through his soul. That was just as it should be-beauty in distress, and repulsive blackguards to punch firmly in the eye… .
The latter ingredient struck Simon’s imagination as being particularly sound. The desire to prove whether it was as satisfactory in practice as in theory became almost simultaneously irresistible. The Saint saw no reason to resist it. He shot out an exploratory fist that whizzed past the girl’s ear like a bullet, and felt his knuckles smash terrifically into something crispy-soft which could have been nothing else but the desired objective in the pan of the man behind her.
The jolt ran up his arm and spread itself throughout his body in a warm tingle of ineffable beatitude. He had not been mistaken. The sensation left nothing to be improved on. It lifted up the heart and made the world a brighter and rosier place. It was the works.
“Lend me your other eye, brother,” said the Saint.
The man let go the girl and kicked at him viciously; but the Saint had learnt most of his fighting in places where there were no referees, and the savagely rearing foot that would probably have crippled anyone else, hissed harmlessly past him as he stepped smoothly aside. The foot swung on upwards under its undischarged momentum, and Simon cupped his hand under the heel and helped it enthusiastically on its way. The kicker’s other leg slipped from under him and he went crashing down on his back; and the Saint trod on his face and assisted the back of his head to collide with the pavement a second time, to remove all doubt.
He took the trembling girl’s hand for a moment in a cool grip.
“Get along to my car,” he said. “The red-and-yellow one. I’ll collect Uncle.”
She stared at him for a second or two, hesitantly and, it seemed, fearfully, as if she still couldn’t realise that he had helped her, and as if she was terrified of a trap. The Saint turned his head so that the light fell on his face; and there must have been something in his smile that answered her doubts, for she nodded and turned obediently away.
The Saint moved on.
Three or four paces from him the other two members of the tough brigade had made good use of their time. The old man was out, out of the fight for keeps, as Simon had known he must be after a few minutes of the treatment he had been taking. He lay sprawled on the ground like a rag doll, with his head fallen limply back over the edge of the curb. One of his opponents was kneeling on his chest; and the other turned round from the diverting pastime of kicking him in the ribs to meet the Saint’s approach with a rush of savagely swinging fists.
The Saint side-stepped like a dancer, blocked one blow, ducked another, and slid in with the same movement to catch him in the exact centre of his stomach with a blow that doubled him up as if he had stepped into the path of a runaway pile driver. After which something happened that the victim could never afterwards quite believe, and was inclined to attribute to the dizziness induced by the maltreatment of his solar plexus. But in the fog of agonising nausea which numbed his brain, it felt exactly as if two hands of incredible strength took hold of him at the waist and swept him high in the air, and a voice laughed softly and mockingly before the hands let him go. After which he had a feeling of floating gracefully through the air for one or two short pulsebeats before the earth rose up and hit him a frightful blow in the back that almost shattered his spine… .
Simon Templar relaxed his muscles and drew a long, deep breath of sheer content. Even viewed purely in the light of healthy exercise, the dull mechanical movements which less-adventurous souls employed to develop impressive bulges on every limb were not in the same street. This, undoubtedly, as he had always been convinced, was what the doctor ordered. This was the real McCoy. And he laughed again, softly and almost inaudibly, as the last man leapt at him.
He was the largest of them all, with shoulders like an ox, though the Saint topped him in height by a couple of inches; and he came in a swerving charge that gave him the space to jerk something dark and glistening from his hip pocket. The Saint saw it and lunged like a flash of lightning for the wrist behind it. He found it and fastened on it with a grip like iron, swinging the gun out of the line of his body. The man tried to wrench free, impatiently, as he might have done from the interference of a child; and a queer look of amazement spread over his broad face when his arm stayed riveted where it was held, as if it had been pinioned in solid rock. The Saint’s teeth flashed white in the gloom, and his free fist pistoned up and cracked under the other’s outthrust jaw like a gunshot. It should have dropped the large man in his tracks, but he only grunted and shook his head and hit back. Simon slipped under the punch, and they grappled breast to breast. And then there was another sharp thud, and the big man went unexpectedly limp.
Simon let him slide to the ground; and as he folded up he revealed, like an unveiled monument, the homely but supremely happy features of Hoppy Uniatz standing behind him with an automatic in his hand. For a second the Saint’s memory flashed backwards in a spurt of sobering alarm, searching for a more precise definition of the timbre of the sharp thud which had preceded his opponent’s collapse.
“You didn’t shoot him, did you?” he asked anxiously.
“Chees no, boss,” Hoppy reassured him. “I just pat him on de roof wit’ de end of my Betsy. He ain’t hoit.”
Simon breathed again.
“I’m not quite sure whether he’d agree with you about that,” he remarked. “Although I suppose it’s better than being dead… . But it looked like the makings of a good fight before you butted in.”
He gazed around him somewhat regretfully. The high peak of vivacity in the proceedings seemed to have gone by, leaving a certain atmosphere of anticlimax. The man with the damaged face was trying to get blindly to his feet. The man who had made the short but exciting flight through the air was leaning against the back of the sedan, holding his stomach and looking as if he would like to die. The man whose roof had been patted with the end of Mr Uniatz’ Betsy appeared to sleep. What with one thing and another, a shroud of appalling tranquillity had settled upon the scene.
The Saint sighed. And then he grinned vaguely and clapped Hoppy on the shoulder.
“Anyway,” he said, “let’s see what we fished out of the pot.”
He went over to where the old man still lay with his head in the gutter, and picked him up as if he was a child. Whatever else might develop, a strategic withdrawal from the field of victory was the first indicated move. Simon carried the old man over to the Hirondel, dumped him in the tonneau, where he told Hoppy to look after him, and opened the front door for the girl.
She hesitated with one foot on the running board; and again he glimpsed that cloud of suspicion darkening her eyes.
“Really-you needn’t bother. … We can walk -“
“Not with Uncle,” said the Saint firmly. “He doesn’t feel like walking.” Without waiting for her, he slid in behind the wheel and touched the starter. “Besides, your sparring partners might start walking too-they still have some life left in them —”
The shot whined over his head and smacked into the wall beyond, and the Saint smiled as if it amused him. He caught the girl’s wrist, dragged her down into the seat beside him, slammed the door and let in the clutch more quickly than the separate movements can be described. A second shot crashed harmlessly into the night; and then Mr Uniatz’ Betsy answered. Then a side turning caught the Saint’s eye, and he spun the wheel and sent the Hirondel screaming round in a skidding right angle. In another moment they were coasting smoothly down into the outskirts of Santa Cruz.
A little later, he heard far behind him a ragged fusillade which puzzled him for the next twelve hours.
But the general aspect of the affair met with his complete approval. He had no fault to find with it-, even if it had temporarily interrupted the urgent and fascinating business that brought him to the Canary Islands. Adventure was still adventure, and there was always room for more-that was the fundamental article of faith which had blazed the Saint’s trail of debonair outlawry through all the continents and half the countries of the world. Besides which, there were points about this adventure which were beginning to make it look more than ordinarily interesting… .
He glanced at the girl again as they turned out into the wide, open space fronting the harbour.
“Where do you live?” he enquired; and his tone was as casual as if he had been driving her home from a dance.
“Nowhere!” she said quickly. And then, as if the word had come out before she realised what a ridiculous answer it was and how many more questions must inevitably follow it, she said: “I mean-I don’t want to give you any more trouble. You’ve been awfully kind … but you can drop us anywhere around here, and we’ll be quite all right.”
Simon turned the car slowly round into the Plaza de la Republica and tilted his head significantly towards the tonneau.
“I’m sure you will,” he agreed patiently. “But I have to keep on reminding you about Uncle. Or will you carry him?”
“Is he all right?”
She turned round quickly, and the Saint also looked back as he brought the Hirondel to a stop outside the Hotel Orotava. The only person visible in the back seat was Hoppy Uniatz, who did not seem to have fully grasped his obligations as an administrator of first aid. Mr Uniatz was lighting a large cigar; and, for all the evidence to the contrary, he might have been sitting on his patient.
“Sure, de old buzzard is okay, miss,” said Mr Uniatz cheerfully. “He just took a bit of massage, but dat’s nut’n. You oughta seen what de cops done to me one time when dey had me in de kitchen.”
Simon saw the pain in her eyes.
“We must take him to a doctor,” she said.