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Authors: Donald Hamilton

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BOOK: The Wrecking Crew
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Wellington laughed. “I warned you she’d be a wildcat.” He gestured toward the door. “Our part of the operation went like clockwork. We caught him with the photographs in his possession, all legal and proper. Herr Grankvist, may I present Herr Caselius?”

I looked toward the door. The dapper small figure was practically invisible in that room jammed with tall men; but I had reason to remember a deserted road and a swift blade. Unlike Lou, the little man had apparently allowed himself to be taken without a struggle. He looked neat and serene between his police guards, and the pin in his tie reflected the light brightly.

“There must be some mistake,” he said calmly. “My name is Carlsson. Raoul Carlsson, of the house of Carlsson and LeClaire...”

Well, I had my answer, for what it was worth. I went back to my room. They’d be coming for me soon enough, but maybe I could get some sleep first.

23

It was four in the morning when they started breaking down the door. At least it sounded like that to a man fighting his way upward out of fathoms of sleep. Everybody else had seemed to have no trouble whatever getting in and out of my hotel rooms, wherever they might be. I couldn’t see why these jokers had to make such a production of it.

“This is the police.” It was Grankvist’s voice. “Open the door, Herr Helm.”

“I’m coming,” I said.

I turned on the light and glanced at the knife on the bedside table. There have been cases of people getting dead from opening the door to cops who weren’t cops. But the voice was familiar and I wanted to look gentle and peaceful in the eyes of the local law. I’d finished one theatrical engagement; now I had a new role to play. I dropped the knife back into the pocket of my pants, where they hung on a chair, yawned, checked the time—that’s when I learned it was four o’clock—and went over barefooted to let them in.

I turned the key in the lock. The door came back at me, knocking me off balance. I caught a glimpse of Wellington’s massive shape; then his fist caught me alongside the jaw and I went sideways and down. Like I say, I never could do much with fists myself, but there are people who can.

He gave me no chance to pick myself up. He was on top of me as I got to hands and knees. He was growling like a bear. I gathered he was mad about something. I could even make a fairly accurate guess what it was. He clubbed me across the back of the head and I went down again. I had barely consciousness enough left to roll away, knowing that a kick was next. It caught me in the ribs and slammed me against the wall. That was enough. I curled up and played possum. He kicked me once more and yanked me up and slapped my face a couple of times, but you don’t get much of a charge from beating up a guy who apparently can’t feel it. He let me go again, and I dithered artistically to the floor and stayed there with my eyes closed, thinking about the fun I’d have with him some day. I love big tough men who shove me around. They buried the last one I met with five bullets in his chest.

“You dirty renegade,” Wellington was saying. “You miserable scum, to call yourself an American—”

I didn’t pay much attention to him. What he said didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to finish me off, obviously, and that was his mistake. He got into a hassle with Grankvist, who thought he’d overdone it a bit, I guess. Finally Grankvist lost his patience.

“I am in command here, Herr Wellington!” he snapped. “Your help has been appreciated, but if you do not take control of yourself I will call the men outside and have you escorted from this room. There was no need for such violence!”

Wellington said in a sour voice, “All right, all right, I’ll be good. I just wanted a couple of swings at him before you boys took over. After all the trouble we’ve gone to, to have it all shot to hell because of one lousy—”

“Please, Herr Wellington!” Grankvist approached and knelt beside me. “Herr Helm.”

He rolled me over. I let myself come to, gradually, opening my eyes and looking up into his narrow Nordic face. I sat up and rubbed my jaw without speaking. Grankvist looked embarrassed.

“Are you all right, sir? Can you stand up?” He helped me to my feet. “It was an error on my part, I’m afraid. I misjudged the strength of Herr Wellington’s feelings.”

I said, “That’s not the only part of Herr Wellington you misjudged the strength of. Jesus!” I glanced at the big man, and looked back to Grankvist. “What’s that gorilla have against me, anyway?”

Grankvist frowned. “You ask that?”

“Damn right I ask it,” I said. “I’m just a poor damn American photographer, I know, a foreigner and all that, but I was under the impression this was a peaceful and law-abiding country. So the police wake me up in the middle of the night, and I open the door, and a crazy man eight feet tall knocks me down and walks all over me!”

Wellington stepped forward. “Listen, Helm, that innocent stuff isn’t going to get you—”

“Mr. Wellington, I must insist!” Grankvist held up his hand. “Let us approach this matter reasonably.”

I rubbed my bruised ribs. “Let’s do,” I said. “It’s about time. First let’s get our identities straight, if you don’t mind. I know who you are, Grankvist; at least you seem to have something to do with the police. Okay. But what’s this guy doing here? The last I heard, he was an American businessman and an admirer of Mrs. Taylor’s. Will somebody tell me what an American businessman is doing beating up people for the Swedish police? What’s the matter, haven’t you got anybody big enough among your own men?”

“Herr Helm—”

I turned on the anger a little more. “Look, Grankvist,” I said, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I do know that the American Embassy’s going to hear about this business. What do you mean by busting into my room...” I wheeled on Wellington, who’d started to dig through my open suitcase. “Damn you, leave my stuff alone!”

He gave a triumphant laugh, and came up with the little Smith and Wesson. “I thought so! Here, Grankvist. Would an innocent American traveler be packing a .38?”

He tossed the weapon across the room. Grankvist caught it and looked at me questioningly.

I said, “What the hell does that signify? If you want to be technical, I’ve got import licenses—”

“For this?” The Swede shook his head. “I doubt it, Herr Helm. We do not often permit the importation of pistols by private citizens.”

I said irritably, “Well, hell, I had papers for the rifle and the shotgun; I didn’t figure it would bother anybody if I tossed that pea-shooter into my baggage. I’ve always had a handgun around, out west where I live; I’d feel sort of naked without it.”

“It’s highly illegal here, I’m afraid.”

“All right, so arrest me!” I said angrily. “Is that what this is all about? Two big operators in my room and God knows how many more out in the hall, a sock on the jaw and a couple of kicks in the ribs, just because I slipped a little five-shot .38 into my gear when I was packing?”

Grankvist was watching me narrowly. I sensed that behind his official calm he was just a little worried. He said, “You really claim not to know why we are here, Herr Helm?”

Wellington made a rude sound in his throat. “You’re not going for that routine, are you, Grankvist?” he demanded. “This guy’s obviously in cahoots with—”

Grankvist said, “Mr. Wellington! I’ve asked you—”

“Rats!” Wellington snorted. “He knows why we’re here! ” He reached into his pocket and jerked something out. It was long, wet, and black. It stuck to itself, and I didn’t think it had benefited the lining of his pocket any, either. He hauled another one out of the other pocket. It was a hell of a way to carry film, but then, after what I’d done to it, the stuff wasn’t much good anyway. “There!” he said, throwing the two films on the bed. “That’s what we’re here about, Helm! Those two and a bushel of others just like them! The military just finished developing them for us, rush. All black! Fogged! Completely blanked out, so you couldn’t tell what had been on them! Useless as evidence, absolutely useless, after all the work—”

He stopped as I burst out laughing. He took a step toward me. I stopped laughing abruptly. “Come on, Large Boy,” I said. “This time I’m ready for you.”

“Gentlemen!” Grankvist protested.

I turned to him. “Keep this Ivy-League ape away from me,” I said. “Nobody kicks me and gets away with it—but nobody. I’ll settle with him one of these days. If you don’t want it to be right here and now, keep him off me.”

Wellington said tightly, “Don’t look now, Helm, but your act is slipping. You don’t sound like an innocent photographer now, to me or to Mr. Grankvist either.”

I said, “You let me worry about that, partner. I’ve been taking care of myself a long time in a lot of rough places. I’ve taken pictures where you couldn’t have held a camera, you’d have been kept too busy changing into dry pants. Don’t you worry one little bit about me, son. Nobody’s yet kicked Matthew L. Helm and got away with it, and I don’t propose to let them start now.” Then, as if overcome by a sudden memory, I snickered again.

Grankvist stared at me. “What do you find so humorous, Herr Helm?”

I shook my head ruefully. “I don’t know what you boys have been up to, and I’m sure sorry if I’ve spoiled anything for you, but I’d have liked to see the face of the man who pulled that first film out of the hypo—expecting thirty-six fine exposures of military secrets, I suppose!”

Wellington burst out, “So you admit—”

Grankvist held up his hand. “I’ll ask the questions. Or perhaps it would be best if Herr Helm just told the story his own way.”

I said, “It’s not much of a story. Like I say, I’ve been taking care of myself for quite a while. She was a hell of a nice-looking girl, but she sure had gone to a lot of trouble to have everybody eating right out of her hand, and she sure was set on having just the right pictures taken just the right way, clear and sharp. After a while it became pretty damn obvious we weren’t going to be selling the stuff to any magazine. It just wasn’t magazine material, if you get what I mean. Well, I like to stay out of trouble. So I’d spend the day taking pictures with her, and in the evening I’d just kind of pull each film out of the cartridge and hold it under the light for a spell before I rolled it back up—”

“If that isn’t the damndest story I ever heard!” Wellington snorted. “You know damn well you got wind of what we were up to and fogged the film to protect Caselius from the trap we were setting for him!”

“Caselius?” I said. “Who’s Caselius?”

Grankvist said, “If you had suspicion of espionage, it was your duty to report it to the authorities.”

I said, “Mr. Grankvist, with all due respect to your country, I don’t happen to be a citizen of Sweden. My only duty as a guest here, as I saw it, was to make sure that my cameras and my pix weren’t put to any harmful use. Well, I made sure, didn’t I?”

The Swede shook his head. “It still does not seem very logical to me, Herr Helm. Why go to all the trouble of taking pictures, if you were going to destroy them the same day?”

I sighed and looked uncomfortable. “Well, now you embarrass me, son,” I said. “But that was a mighty sweet little girl—I certainly hope she hasn’t got herself in any bad trouble. And as long as she thought I was taking the pictures she wanted, she was real nice to me, if you get what I mean. And my wife left me some months ago, and you know how it is when a man gets used to having… Well, like I said, it’s embarrassing. I guess you’d say I’m no gentleman, Mr. Grankvist. On the other hand, trying to trick me into taking her pictures like that, I don’t think you could call her a real lady, either.”

Grankvist cleared his throat. “Yes,” he said. “Well, I see.” Obviously he disapproved and thought I was a calculating and immoral character; and the fact that I’d willingly revealed such a reprehensible side of my nature, as always happens, inclined him toward believing in me. If I’d acted pure and virtuous, he’d have thrown me in jail. After a moment, he said: “As you’ve probably gathered, Mr. Wellington and I, as agents of our respective governments, have been trying to capture a certain troublesome foreign espionage agent, a man who sometimes goes by the name of Caselius. We went to considerable lengths to insure that this man would be caught with incriminating evidence upon him. Unfortunately, due to your precaution in exposing your films to light, our evidence is worthless. We’ve had to release the man and his female accomplice with apologies.”

“I see,” I said. “Well, I sure am sorry, son.” I hesitated. “It’s a silly question, I suppose, but why didn’t you tell me what was going on? As an American citizen, I’d have been happy to cooperate.”

Grankvist hesitated, and glanced at Wellington without friendliness. “The suggestion was made,” he said coldly. “Mr. Wellington didn’t approve it, for some reason.” He cleared his throat. “I am sorry for having disturbed you, Herr Helm, and I am truly sorry for the violence that occurred, for which I must take responsibility, since I am in charge. Under the circumstances, I can hardly be legalistic about your little gun, can I? However, your possession of it is contrary to law, so I will have to confiscate the weapon temporarily. It will be returned to you when you leave this country. Is that satisfactory to you?”

We looked at each other for a moment. We understood each other. If I made no trouble about getting pushed around, he’d make no trouble about my illegal weapon… On second thought, I wasn’t quite sure I’d better assume that I understood him completely. He’d gone for my act just a little too quickly, and it hadn’t even been one of my best performances.

“Quite satisfactory, Herr Grankvist,” I said. “I’m sorry to have spoiled your plans.”

He gave a shrug that was more Latin than Nordic.
“Det händer
,” he said. “It happens. Are you coming, Herr Wellington?”

“I’ll be along,” Wellington said, watching me.

Grankvist frowned, and looked at me quickly. I said, “It’s all right. As a fellow-citizen, whose taxes presumably pay his salary, I’ve got a few questions to ask Mr. Wellington. I’ll scream for help if he tries to bully me again.”

Grankvist looked from one to the other of us, gave his shrug again, and walked out. Americans have the reputation of being crazy the world over, I guess.

BOOK: The Wrecking Crew
8.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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