Blood Sport Part 1

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BloodSport.

d.i.c.kFrancis.

CHAPTERONE.

Iawokewithforeboding.MyhandclosedinareflexontheLugerunderthepillow.Ilistened,acutelyattentive.Nosound.Noquicksurrept.i.tiousslither,norubofclothoncloth,nohalf-controlledpulse-drivenbreath.Noenemyhovering.Slowly,relaxing,Iturnedhalfoverandsquintedattheroom.Aquiet,empty,uglyroom.OnethirdofwhatforwantofalesscosywordIcalledhome.

Brightsuns.h.i.+neby-pa.s.sedthethinpinkcurtains,spillingagoldslashonthefadedbrownWilton.Ididn'tlikepink.AlsoIdidn'thavetheenergyitwouldtaketoarguethelandlordintochangingtoblue.AftereightmonthsIknewheneverrenewedanythinguntilithadfallentobits.



Inspiteoftheprevailingcalmthefeelingofforebodingdeepenedandthenidentifieditselfanddissolvedintoalessthreatening,moregeneralstateofgloom.Sundaymorning,June20th.Thebeginningofthreeweeks'leave.

Irolledbackontomystomachandshutmyeyesagainstthesun,andtookmyhandsixinchesfromtheLuger,whichwasfarenough,andwonderedhowlongamancouldsleepifhereallyputhismindtoit.Evenamanwhoneversleptsoundlytostartwith.Threeweeks,thethreeobligatoryoverdueweekscouldbegotthroughmoreeasilyasleep.

Threemillenniumsofsleeplayunderthepillow.Theninemillimetreequaliser,myinseparablefriend.Itwentwithmeeverywhere,tobeaches,tobathrooms,tobedsotherthanmyown.Itwastheretosavemylife.Nottotakeit.Ihadlivedthroughalotoftemptations,andIlivedwiththattoo.

Thetelephonebellputpaidtothethreeweeksbeforetheyhadgonehalfanhour.

'Lo,'Isaidblearily,balancingthereceiveronthepillow.

'Gene?'

'Uhhuh.'

'Youhaven'tgoneawaythen.'Therewasreliefinthevoice,thevoiceofmyboss.Ilookedatmywatch.Teno'clock.

'No,'Isaidunnecessarily.HeknewIwasn'tgoingaway.Ididn'tunderstandhisrelief.Itwasmissingwhenhespokeagain.

'Howaboutadayontheriver?'

HehadamotorcruisersomewhereontheupperThames.I'dneverseenit.Hadn'tbeenaskedbefore.

'Invitationororder?'Isaid,yawning.

Hehesitated.'Whicheveryou'llaccept.'

Whataman.Youdidmoreforhimthanyoubelievedyouwould,everytime.

'WheredoIgo,andwhen?'

'Mydaughterwillfetchyou,'hesaid.'She'llbethereinabouthalfanhour.Familyparty.Boatingclothes.Comeasyouare.'

'Sure,'Isaid.Completewithstubble,Lugerandshorts.Ariot.Ineverworepyjamas.Theyslowedyouuptoomuch.

Boatingclothes,Idecided,weregreyishbrowncottontrousersandanolivegreennylonjerseys.h.i.+rt.IcarriedtheLugerwithmeinthelefthandpocketwhenthedoorbellrang.Oneneverreallyknew.Butalookthroughthewide-angledspyholeshoweditwasonlyKeeble'sdaughter,asarranged.Iopenedup.

'MrHawkins?'shesaidhesitantly,lookingfrommetothedingybra.s.ssixscrewedontothesoliddarkstainedwood.

'That'sright.'Ismiled.'Comein.'

ShewalkedpastmeandIshutthedoor,interestedtonoticethatfourflightsofstairshadn'tleftherbreathless,astheydidmostvisitors.Ilivedhighupforthatpurpose.

'Iwasjustfinis.h.i.+ngmycoffee,'Isaid.'Wouldyoulikesome?'

'It'sverykindofyou,butDaddysaidnottowastetime,hewantstobeoffuprivera.s.soonaspossible.'

Keeble'sdaughterwasjustlikeherphotographonDaddy'sdesk.Halfwoman,stillatschool.Shortbouncydarkhair,andwatchfuldarkeyes,aroundedbodyslimmingdown,aself-possessedtouch-me-notexpression,andanendearinggauche-nessinherpresentsituation.

Shelookedcautiouslyroundthesitting-room,whichneithershenorInoranyoneelsewouldhavecla.s.sedaselegantliving.

Thelandlord'sfurniturewasjunk-shopstuffandIhadmadenoefforttoimproveit.Mytotalcontributionstothesceneweretworowsofbooksonth.e.s.h.elvesandinonecorneratintrunkofoddmentswhichIhadneverbotheredtounpack.Adrawnbackcurtainrevealedthekitchenalcoveanditsentirecontents:cupboard,refrigerator,sink,andcooker,allofthemshowingtheirage.

Onewentthroughthesitting-roomtothebedroom,throughthebedroomtothebathroom,andthroughthebathroomtothefireescape.Theflathadeverythingbutadrawbridgeandamoat,andithadtakenmeweekstofindit.Onlythetinyspygla.s.shadbeenlacking,andthelandlordhadbeenfuriouswhenhefinallynoticedIhadinstalledit.Ithadcostmethreemonthsrentinadvancetoconvincehimitwasn'tthereforthesolepurpos...o...b..ingoutwhenhecame.

IwatchedKeeble'sdaughtersearchforsomethingnicetosayaboutmylivingquartersandgiveupthestrugglewithadefeatedshakeofheryounghead.IcouldhavetoldherthatIhadoncehadabetterflat,as.p.a.ciouscomfortablefirst-floorfrontwithabalconyoverlookingatree-dottedsquare.Ithadprovedtooaccessibletounwantedguests.Ihadvacateditonastretcher.

'I'llfetchmyjacket,'Isaid,finis.h.i.+ngthecoffee.'Andthenwe'llgo.'

Shenodded,lookingrelieved,oppressedalreadybytheemptinessofmyhomelife.Fiveminutesofithadbeenenough,forher.

Iwentintothebedroom,pickedthejacketoffthebedandtransferredtheLugerfrommytrousersintoitsbuilt-inunderarmholster,fasteningittherewithapressstudonastrap.Then,coatoverarm,Idumpedthedirtycoffeecupinthesink,pulledthecurtainacrossthekitchen,openedthefrontdoor,andletmyselfandMissKeebleout.

FouruneventfulstoreysdownweemergedintothequietsunlitPutneystreet,andshelookedbackandupatthesolidoldconvertedhouse.Itneededpaintandoozedrespectability,exactlylikeitsrowofneighbours.

'Iwasn'tsureI'dcometotherightplace.Daddyjustsaidthefourthhousealong.'

'Hegivesmealifthome,sometimes.'

'Yes,hesaidso.'SheturnedtothewhiteAustinstandingatthekerbandpausedwiththekeyinherhand.'DoyoumindifIdrive?'

'Ofcoursenot.'

Shesmiledforthefirsttimesinceshe'darrived,aquickflas.h.i.+ngaffairwhichvergedonfriendliness.Sheunlockedherdoor,climbedin,andreachedovertounlatchtheoppositeoneforme.ThefirstthingInoticedas1benttogetinweretheLplateslyingonthebackseat.

'Whendidyoupa.s.sthetest?'Isaidmildly.

'Well...'thesmilelingered,'asamatteroffact,yesterday.'

Forallthat,shedroveverywell,carefulbutconfident,quietwiththegearsthoughabitheavywiththehandsignals.ShecreptsomewhattentativelyaroundtheChiswickroundaboutanduptheslopetotheM4.ThebigbluemotorwaysignsaidnoLdriversandhernosetwitchedmischievouslyaswepa.s.sedit.

'Didyoucomethiswaytofetchme?'Iaskedidly.

Sheedgedintotheslowlaneandhitforty.

'Er,no.IliveinahostelwithaboutsixtyothergirlsinSouthKen.DaddyjustrangmeandsaidasI'dgotthecarupinLondonthisweek-endIcouldcollectyouandmeethiminHenley.Sortofspurofthemomentthing.'

'Isee.'

Wecametotheendofthefiftymileanhourlimitandherfootwentdownwithdetermination 'DoIscareyou?'Theneedlequiveredonsixty-five.

Ismiledwryly.'No.'

'Actually...'Herhandsgrippedthewheelwiththetensionofinexperience.'Actually,youdon'tlookasifyou'dscareeasily.'

Iglancedatherinsurprise.Ilookordinary.Quietandordinary.Andveryusefulitis,too.

'Anyway,'shewentonfrankly,IaskedDaddyaboutcomingthisway,andhesaidheguessedyournerveswouldstandit.Heseemedtofinditveryfunny,forsomereasonorother.'

'Hehas.h.i.+sownbrandofhumour.'

'Mm.'Shedroveonforseveralmilesinsilence,concentratingontheroad.Thespeeddroppedslowlydowntofiftyagain,andIguessedshewasfindingthemotorwaynotsuchpurefuna.s.she'dimagined.TheusualnumberofSundayJimClarkswereshowingoffinthefastlaneandfamilyoutingswithGrandmadrivingfromthebackseatwereb.u.mblingaboutintheslow.Wewentdownthecentreandpulledoutbravelynowandthentopa.s.sanairportbus.

Eventually,inthinnertrafficafterWindsor,shesaid,doubtfully,'Youdo...er...workforDaddy?'

'Yes.Whynot?'

'Well,noreasonwhynot.Imean,'shelookedembarra.s.sed,'Imean,Ican'trememberhimeveraskinganyonefromwork...well,hejustdoesn'tusually,that'sall.'Shelookedasifshewishedshehadn'tstarted.

'Akindthought,'Isuggested;andwonderedwhathewanted.Notjusttogivemeasunnydayout.As.h.i.+sdaughtersaid,hedidn'tdothatsortofthing.

WemadeittoHenleywiththepaintintact,andsheparkedneatlyinalargegravelledenclosurebytherailwaystation.Herhandstrembledslightlya.s.shelockedthedoors,andIrealisedthat.i.tmusthavebeenherlongestdrive,aswellasthefastest.

'Youdrovebeautifully,'Isaidsincerely.'Likeaveteran.'

'Oh.'shegavealaughwhichwashalfacough,andlookedrelievedandpleased.'Well,thankyou.'Shewouldbemorerelaxed,Iknew,onthewayback,andlessstrungupwhenshegotthere.Togiveandtoremoveconfidenceweretoolsofmytrade,andtherewasnouniontosayIcouldn'tusethemonSundays.

'FlyingLinnet...that'sourboat...willbesomewherealongthebank,'shesaid.'Itisn'tfar.'Shesmiledagainandgestured.'Thatway.'

Wewalkeddowntotheriverandalongtheneatlybuiltbroadtarmactowpath,wherehalfthetownseemedtobeoutfeedingtheducks.Thesunsparkledonthedarkgreenwaterandtherewasaqueueattheboatyardforrowingboatsandpunts.Thereweregardensandlawnsandseats,andabowlinggreen,andaplaygroundwithaslideandswings,allofthemsprinkledwithsunnySundayfacesandmurmuringsummervoices.Familiesandcouplesandgroups:fewalone.Threeweeksalone,Ithoughtbleakly.Icouldspendthembesidethedeepgreenriverfeedingducks,andjustjumpinwhenIcouldn'tstandanymoreofit.

'There'sDaddy,'saidKeeble'sdaughter,pointing.Thesunlayalongherlightbrownarmands.h.i.+ftedinburnttoffeeshadowsonthecurvesofherorangetandress.Tooyoungforme,Ithoughtinconsequentially.Orrather,Iwastooold.Aeonstooold.FortystilllayacoupleofyearsaheadbutIcouldhavetoldMethuselahathingortwo.

Keeblehadsteppedash.o.r.efromoneoftheboatsmooredtoptotailalongthetowpathandwaswalkingtowardsus,handoutstretched,welcomingsmileinface.Myboss,exceptforanopen-neckeds.h.i.+rt,lookedhisusualweekdayself,ashortslightlychubbymanwithamildmannerandafaintlyanxious.e.xpression.Thelightblue-greyeyesblinkedfreelyasusualbehindtheunimpressivespectaclesandasusualhehadmissedapatchwhileshaving.Prematurebaldnesshadmadehimlookfiftyatthirty-five,butfarfromregrettingthis,hebelieveditwasthecauseofhisrapidpromotionoverwellthatchedcontemporaries.Hemayhavebeenright.Helookedharmless,cautious,unambitious,oneofnature'ssafestplodders.Itwaseightyearssincehehadinheritedmealongwiththerestofthesetup,andtodiscernthecuttingbrainbehindthewafflehadtakenmetwominutesflat.

'Gene,'hesaid.'Gladyoucouldcome.'Hepumpedmyhandupanddownperfunctorily,thesocialgestureasmeaninglesstohimastome,andweexchangedsmilestomatch.Forhisdaughterthewarmthcamefromtheheart.ShekissedhimaffectionatelyonthecheekandhiseyesheldaglimmeringprideIhadneverseeninhimbefore.

'Well,Lynniemylove,yougotheresafely.OrdidyouletGenedothedriving?'

'Domeafavour,'shesaid.'Hedidn'tevenflinch.'

Keebleflickedmeanamusedglance,andIrepeatedthecomplimenttoherskill,withherfathernoddinghisthankstomeoverherhead,knowingexactlywhyIsaidit.

Theyturnedandbegantowalkbackalongthepath,gesturingtometocome.Keeble'sboat,theonetheystoppedat,wasagracefulneat-lookingfibregla.s.scruiserwithacabinforwardandalargeopenc.o.c.kpitattheback,thedecksspotlessandthechromiums.h.i.+ning.Sittingcasuallysidebysideonthepaleblueplasticupholsterywereamanandawoman,bothofwhomraisedsmilingfacesatourapproachandneitherofwhomgotup.

Lynniejumpeddownintotheboatandkissedthewoman,andKeeblesteppedcarefullyafter.

'Comeaboard,'hesaidtome,andagaininhistonetherewasachoice.Aninvitationoranorder,whicheverIwouldaccept.Ioptedfortheinvitation,andembarkedonmorethantheFlyingLinnet.

'MywifeJoan,'saidKeeble,stretchingahandtotheseatedwoman.'GeneHawkins,honey.'

JoanKeeblewasafrailbirdlikewomanwithacoynessofmannerleftoverfromthetimewhenshewaspretty.Shetwinkledhereyesatme,invitingadmiration.Isc.r.a.pedsomeup,andexchangedthenecessaryplat.i.tudesaboutweather,boating,anddrivingdaughters.Keeblewadedintothiswithawavetowardsthemansittingbesideher.

'Youtwohaven'tmet...'hehesitatedafraction.'Dave...Gene,thisisDaveTeller.'

Tellerstoodup,shookhandseconomically,andsaidhewasgladtoknowme.Heworeasloppywrinkledpaleblues.h.i.+rthangingoutoverpatchedcottontrousers,batteredplimsollsonhisfeet,andadirtyoldbaseballcaponhishead.American,welleducated,prosperous,a.s.sured:thecategoriesclickedoverfromhabitinmya.s.sessingmind.Alsohewasaleanmannear-ingfifty,withastrongbeakynose,straightforwardeyesandamarvellousdentist.

Keebleofferednoinformationbeyondthatbaldintroduction,butbustledaboutgettinghiss.h.i.+preadytoputtosea.HisyellintothecabinforacertainPetertocomeandhelpproducednoresults.Istuckmyheadthroughthedoorandsawaboyofabouttwelveengrossedinfittinganewrolloffilmintoasmallsimplecamera.

'Peter,'hisfatheryelled.

Peterheavedamartyredsigh,scrambledthebackofthecamerashut,andwentoutpastmewithhiseyesdownandhisfingerswindingthek.n.o.b.Sure-footed,hesteppedwithoutlookingontothenarrowsideoftheboatandfromtheretothetowpath.

'He'llfallinoneday,'Lynniesaidtotheworldingeneral.Herbrotherdidn'tevenhear.Stillconcentratingonhiscamerawithonehandhewa.s.slowlyuntyingtheropefromthemooringringwiththeother,crouchingdownonthetarmacinhiscleanblackjeansandgettingupwithtwolargedustypatchesontheknees.Pointinghisviewfinderatapa.s.singformationofducksheclickedtheshutterandwithaserious,absorbedexpressionwoundonthefilm.

FurtherupthepathKeebleandTellerwereundoingthebowrope,talkingamicablyinthesun.Lynnieandhermotherstraightenedthecus.h.i.+onsandcoiledtheropesandfussedaroundoveralotofnothing,chattingtrivialities.Iwonderedwhattheh.e.l.lIwasdoingthereandfeltoutofcontactwitheverythingaroundme.Notanewfeeling,butrecurringmoreoften.Thetwolevelsoflivingweregrowingfartherapart.Thedaytodaysociallevelhadlostallmeaning,andunderneath,wherethereshouldhavebeenrock,hadopenedavoidofshrivellingloneliness.Itwasgettingworse.Thepresentwasbadenough:thefutureanabyss.Onlyworkbroughtmysplinteringselfintoanysortofwhole,andIknewwellenoughthat.i.twastheworkitselfwhichhadstartedtheprocess.ThatandCaroline.Or,tobemoreaccurate,Caroline'shusband.

'Isay,holdthisrope,w.i.l.l.you?'Petersaid.Itookthewetsnakeheoffered.'Hi,'headded,seeingmeproperlyforthefirsttime,'Wh.o.a.reyou?'

'Anybody'sguess,'Isaidwithmoretruththansense,andhismotherstaredatmewithastonishmentandtoldhimmyname.

Keeblecamebackonboardandstartedtheengine.TellerstooduponthesmallforwarddeckandcastoffthebowropewhenKeebletoldhim,andPeterleft.i.tuntilalmosttoolatetoleaponboardwiththestern.Thecamerabouncedonthecordroundhisneck.'BirthdaypresentfromGran,'hesaidtoLynniewithpride.'Super,isn't.i.t.'

'You'lldropitintheriver,ifyouaren'tcareful.'

'Thisisonlymysecondfilm.Iusedthefirstoneupontheboysatschool.Doyouthinkthoseduckswillcomeoutallright?'

'Iexpectyouhadyourfingerovertheshutter.'

'I'vegotabookinthere.'Henoddedtothecabin,expertlysiftingouttheaffectionbehindhersarcasmandshowingnoresentment.'Ittellsyouaboutexposuresandfocuses.IthinkI'lljustcheckwhat.i.tsaysaboutsunnydays.Itwascloudydullallweekatschool.'

Idon'tbelonghere,Ithought.IwishedIwereasleep.

TheFlyingLinnetnosedupstreamthroughascatterofrow-boats,Keebleatthewheel,Tellersittingforwardstillonthecabinroof,andPetertryingtogetpastLynnieteasinghiminthecabindoorway.JoanKeeblesatdownonthewideseatacrossthebackandpattedtheplacenexttoherformetojoinher.WithaneffortIdidso,butafteraminuteortwo,inthemiddleofapparentlyidlehostessychat,shepulledmebacktoattentionbytryingdelicatelytofindoutwhoIwasandwhyIhadbeeninvited,whilenotwantingtohavemerealisethatshedidn'tknow.

Icouldplaythatsortofgameforever.Inferenceoninference.Ididn'tknowtheanswertowhywasIthere,b.u.t.thatsheneededtoaskit,thatindeedshehadaskedit,toldmeagreatdealaboutnon-contactbetweenKeebleandhiswife,andopenednewdoorsontoKeeblehimself.Iknewthenwhyhe'dneverbeforeaskedmehome.Itwasonethingtoemployamicroscope,butanothertoputoneselfunderthelens.Ithought.i.talltheodderthathe'ddoneitnow.

AsifhecouldfeelmymindonthebackofhisneckheturnedroundandsaidThelock'sjustahead.'Istoodupandjoinedhim,andPetergaveuphisstruggleandwentbacktohisdutywiththesternrope.

'MarshLock,'Lynniesaid,standingbesidemeandlookingforwardthroughthewindscreen.'Notaneasyone,fromthisside,goingupstream.'

WhenwegotnearerIsawwhatshemeant.Thebroadstretchofrivernarrowedabruptlytothelockgatesontheleftandtheweirontheright,alongside.Babywhirlpoolsandtrailsofbubblesmetusfiftyyardsaway,withlargereddiesandconvolutionsbubblingupaswewenton.Theboattendedtoswingsidewaysundertheirpower,andKeeblespunthewheelrapidlytokeepherstraight.Aheadofuswaterintonstumbledovertheweir,greenandbrownandsplas.h.i.+ngwhite,thunderingdowningreatcurvingleaps,smellingofmustinessandmud.

Blood Sport Part 1

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Blood Sport Part 1 summary

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