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Authors: Donald Hamilton

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BOOK: The Wrecking Crew
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!” the little man panted. “Dirty killer. Pig!”

If it was an act, he was putting his heart into it. He was getting warmed up now, and he’d fenced in his lime, but edged and pointed tools have always been my specialty. Ever since I was a kid with a wooden sword and a shield made out of Dad’s old tobacco cans, I’ve had a fondness for the shining blades. A gun, after all, is good for nothing but killing. With a knife, as the old-timers used to say, when you’ve nothing more interesting to do, you can always whittle.

I wiped my cut left hand on my pants, and switched the knife over, in time to knock aside his sword as it came at me again. At the same instant I ducked and picked up the weapon he’d discarded, perhaps thinking it no weapon at all, perhaps wanting to see if I had sense enough and skill enough to use it. But I had no choice; I couldn’t keep him off forever with less than four inches of steel. I scooped it up: about thirty inches of strong and slender cane, tipped with a nice brass ferrule. Now I had the cane in my right hand and the knife in my left. It was the old Italian sword-and-dagger routine. They could also do mean things with a cloak, blinding an opponent or entangling his blade, but I didn’t have a cloak handy.

“All right, Buster,” I panted. “I don’t know what’s got you so burned up, but if you want to fence, let’s fence! I used to be pretty good at this in college.”

He came in again fast, and I took his blade on the cane, deflected it neatly, and lunged in my turn, driving the shiny brass ferrule straight at his eyes. He saved himself only by a frantic last-minute parry. It had been a long time, and I no longer remembered quarte from tierce, but my wrist hadn’t forgotten nearly as much as my mind.

His part of the sword-cane was somewhat longer than mine, and sharper, but I also had the knife, and obviously he’d never played that game before. It’s not considered respectable in contemporary
salles des armes.
I had the reach on him by several inches, enough to compensate for the difference in weapons, and the brass-tipped cane was plenty sharp enough to destroy a man’s eye or throat.

It was a weird scene, I suppose, on that deserted road up near the frozen top of the world, but I was too busy to appreciate it fully. We’d dance from the dull red glow of the Ford’s taillights into the bright white glare of the headlights of the Volvo, each trying to keep the more intense illumination in the other’s eyes.

We got better as we went along. The little man had a strong wrist and he was fast on his feet; he’d obviously been a good épée-and-foil man in his day, although like me he was rusty now. Sword against sword he might well have taken me. But he was fighting the handicap of the knife and his own anger, real or pretended. Time and again the short Solingen blade would break up a classic attack pattern that had never been designed for use against a two-weapon defense. And time and again he’d drive in furiously when he should have taken it easy and figured me out. He kept trying for the heart when he should have gone for an exposed wrist or arm.

His tie was flapping loose now; his hat was gone and his shoes were dusty. His face was shiny and sweating; so was mine, no doubt. He came in again, and as I parried I realized that he was tiring: his point was far out of line. There’s an old trick whereby you can, theoretically, disarm a man if he’ll stand still for it. I don’t suppose it was ever used in actual combat, any more than any of the old Western gunmen ever used such fancy stunts as the highwayman’s roll or the border shift. You don’t generally do juggling tricks when your life’s at stake.

But still, it was a theoretical possibility, and he was right in position for it, and I had to do something with him that wasn’t lethal. I made a sharp counter-clockwise circle with the cane—I’ve forgotten the technical name of the maneuver—catching that wide point and spinning it around, twisting the weapon in his grasp…

An alert swordsman, in good condition, would simply have come smoothly around my blade, or cane, and continued his attack; but the little man’s reflexes were slowing, his wrist was tired, and the sudden wrench caught him by surprise, took the sword away from him, and sent it flying across the road. He stood there for a moment, disarmed and vulnerable, and I couldn’t decide what the hell to do with him. I guess I was a bit tired, too.

When I moved, it was too late. He gave a kind of sob and ran after his weapon. He beat me to it and picked it up and came at me again, but he wasn’t fencing any more. He had the sword in both hands and he was wielding it like a club, beating at my head and shoulders. He was crying with frustration and anger as he whacked away, trying to chop me down like a tree.

It was all I could do to defend myself against the crazy attack. I could kill him, all right—he was wide open, with his arms above his head like that, and one straight-armed lunge would have driven the brass-tipped cane through the cartilages of his throat—but I wasn’t supposed to kill anybody.
Under no circumstances. This is an order. This is an order.
Suddenly I had too many weapons. My hands were full; I had to get rid of something if I was going to take him alive, although this seemed to have most of the pleasant aspects of getting a living, spitting bobcat out of a tree.

I parried a two-handed cut with the sword that would have laid my scalp open even if the weapon didn’t have a real edge on it. I threw my arms about the little man, dropped everything and, clutching him desperately—if he got free now, he could run me through in an instant—I gave him the knee just as hard and dirty as I could. When he doubled up, I clubbed him on the back of the head, not with the edge of the hand to break his neck, but just with the heel of my fist, like a hammer, to drive him down into the road. He went down, and curled up like a baby, hugging himself where it hurt.

Breathing hard, I retrieved my knife. I picked up the sword, and the cane sheath, and fitted them back together. It was a beautiful job of workmanship: you couldn’t see the joint at all. I picked up the Homburg hat and dusted it off, and carried it back to the little guy, who was still lying there. My left hand ached, and I didn’t feel a bit sorry for him, although I had to admit, in all honesty, that he’d put on a damn good show. Whether it was genuine or phony remained to be determined. I bent over to hear what he was moaning. I caught a name, and leaned closer.

“Sara,” he was whimpering. “I did my best, Sara. I am sorry.” Then he looked up at me. “I am ready,” he said more clearly. “If I were just a little bigger… But I am ready now. Kill me, murderer, as you did her!”


It took us a while to get things straightened out. When he’d finally become reconciled to not dying heroically at my hands, the little man told me he was Sara Lundgren’s fiancé, Raoul Carlsson, of the house of Carlsson and LeClaire, women’s clothing, Stockholm, Paris, London, Rome. He’d met Sara at her dress shop in the line of business, it seemed, and romance had flowered.

He’d been worried about his Sara lately, however. She’d seemed preoccupied and unhappy, he said. Finally, when she stood him up for lunch and then called up later the same day from a certain hotel to cancel their dinner engagement for reasons that didn’t ring quite true, he’d taken it upon himself to go there and… well, to tell the truth, he’d spied on her. For her own good, of course, not because he was the least bit jealous. He merely wanted to know what was troubling her so that he could help.

Watching her surreptitiously as she waited in the hotel lobby, he’d soon realized that she, in turn, was busy watching for somebody else. He’d seen me come through the lobby with Lou Taylor. Sara had followed us, and he’d followed Sara. After dinner, he’d trailed us all back to the hotel. Then Sara had got her car and driven into the park. He’d been behind her until she stopped. She got away from him briefly while he was looking for a suitable place to leave his own car. When he got back to the parking lot on foot, her fancy Volkswagen was standing there empty.

He’d waited in the bushes for her to return. He’d seen her come back to the car with me. We’d had a long conversation, not as friendly as it might have been, he thought. I’d left abruptly, he thought in anger, and disappeared into the darkness. Almost immediately, as if dispatched by me, two men had come and dragged Sara out of her car and carried her off in the direction I’d taken. While he, Carlsson, was still trying to make his way after her through the trees and darkness, there had been shots. He’d come to the edge of the clearing and seen me standing there, looking grim and terrible. At my feet was his beloved, his Sara, lying on the ground, brutally beaten and shot to death. He’d started forward, but the police had come…

“Why didn’t you tell them about me?” I asked, when he stopped.

He shrugged his shoulders expressively. “They would have put you in prison where I could not reach you. I was crazy with grief and anger. I was going to punish you myself, not give you to some stupid policeman!” After a moment, he went on: “I slipped away. I learned your name at the hotel. When you left, in the morning, it was easy to determine your destination. I followed.”

“With your little sword-cane,” I said dryly.

He shrugged again. “Pistols are not so common here as they are in your country, Herr Helm. It was the only weapon I owned. I thought it would suffice. I did not expect to meet a swordsman with an American passport.” He grimaced. “You are skillful, sir, but that little knife, I do not think that was quite fair.” After a moment, he said, “You cannot tell me this secret business in which, you say, my Sara was engaged, that led to her death? You cannot tell me who killed her?”

I said, “No, but I can assure you the man will be taken care of.”

That was big talk, for someone whose hands were tied by official orders, but I had to say something to get this little firebrand out of my hair. The situation was complex enough without being loused up further by vengeful amateurs. I finally got him to promise to go back to Stockholm and leave everything to me. I took his home address and telephone number, and promised to notify him when I had something to notify him about. I watched him get into his big American car and drive away. Then I got into my little Volvo, drove back to the hotel, stuck some band aids on my fingers, and went to bed.

In the morning, I had my breakfast in a corner of the hotel dining room, which I shared, for the moment, only with a pair of railroad workers and a tourist couple from Norway—the language sounds like badly garbled Swedish, to a Swede. Outside the windows, it was a bright, clear fall day. I hoped it would stay that way, for photography’s sake. I sipped my coffee, and nibbled at the stuff on my plate, and thought about Mr. Raoul Carlsson, which was a waste of time. If the little man was kidding me, I’d know more about it when Vance made his report, I hoped within the next day or two.

A shadow fell across the table. “Are you thinking deep thoughts?” Lou Taylor asked. “If so, I’ll go away.”

I rose and helped her with her chair. She was wearing the same rust-brown skirt and sweater as yesterday, with the same sturdy walking shoes. She had a trench coat with her, but she’d dropped it on a chair. As far as I’m concerned, a trench coat looks fine on Alan Ladd, and not bad on Marlene Dietrich, but she wasn’t either one.

She smiled at me across the table, and stopped smiling abruptly. “What happened to your hand?”

I glanced at my bandaged fingers. “I cut it,” I said. “I dropped a glass and cut myself picking up the pieces.”

She said dryly, “I think you’d better get yourself another girl, Matt.”

I frowned. “What does that mean? Are you bowing out?”

“Oh, I wasn’t referring to myself,” she said, laughing quickly. “I mean, your night girl, the one who plays so rough. A black eye yesterday, two cut fingers today—or did she bite you in an excess of passion?”

“Keep it clean, now.”

“Well, what do you do nights, to get yourself all beat up like that, if it isn’t a girl? The secret life of Matthew Helm... Helm?” she said. “Is that a Swedish name?”

“More or less,” I said. “It used to be fancier, but Dad whittled it down to something even Yankees could pronounce.”

“I thought you must have some Scandinavian blood, or you wouldn’t be sitting there eating that stuff so calmly. Fish for breakfast, my God!” She glanced at her watch. “Well, we’d better hurry; they’ll be here in ten minutes. Do you think I could possibly promote a simple cup of black coffee and some toast?
Rostat bröd,
they call it,” she said. “That means, literally, roasted bread…”

It was hard to figure her. If she was on the other team, she was very good indeed. She’d have been told I knew Swedish perfectly well, yet here she was calmly instructing me in the language of my ancestors, as she’d taught me their system of measurement the day before. Well, it was always nice to deal with people who knew their business.

When the company car arrived, right on schedule, it turned out to be a long, black, dignified-looking old Chrysler limousine complete with one middle-aged gent in a chauffeur’s cap to drive it, and one young guy named Lindström to answer our questions and keep us out of trouble. The two men helped me load my paraphernalia aboard; then we drove to the mine entrance, less than a mile from the hotel, and were passed through the gate with some formality. We took a road up the side of a mountain named Kimnavaara
means mountain in Finnish, Lou informed me. A great many of the local place names show the Finnish influence, she said, since the border is less than a hundred miles away.

It wasn’t quite Pike’s Peak, but it was a respectable hill nevertheless. Near the top, as high as the road went, we stopped and got out at a wide place, like one of the scenic-view parking areas you find along mountain roads back home. There was a cold wind up here, and the view was worth looking at in both directions. Outwards, to the east, we could see the arctic wilderness in gaudy autumn colors running clear to the horizon without much sign of civilization except for the town practically at our feet. Inwards, to the west, we were looking straight down a man-made canyon cut through the heart of the mountain itself.

BOOK: The Wrecking Crew
5.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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