THE THINGS MEN DO: Chapter 1 – 4

THE THINGS MEN DO

JAMES HADLEY CHASE

CHAPTER ONE

The truck’s headlights picked her out of the darkness the way
a spotlight pinpoints a solo act on the stage.

She stood beside a 1939 Buick Roadmaster that hadn’t
been washed in months nor polished in years. She had on a
grey flannel skirt and a wine-coloured suede jacket that zipped down the front. She raised her hand and waved to me.

I make it a rule while I’m driving not to stop when a girl
tries to thumb a ride, but this was different. From the look of it, she was in trouble with her car, and trouble with cars happens to be my business.

I pulled up by her and leaned out of the truck window.

“I’m stuck,” she said. “Can you help me?”
The hands of the dashboard clock showed twenty
minutes past eleven. I was tired and hungry. I had been
wrestling for the past two hours with a car that had broken down a mile or so beyond Northolt airfield, but I opened the truck door and got down on to the road.

“What’s the trouble?”
“It’s not petrol. The tank’s nearly full. The engine just
packed up.”

I went over to the Buick and lifted the hood. A smell of
burning told me all I wanted to know. I paused long enough to
throw the beam of my flashlight into the works, then I shut
down the hood.

“The ignition’s burned out. It’ll take a couple of days to
fix.”
“Oh, h*ell! Are you sure? You scarcely looked at it.”

“I don’t have to look at it. Can’t you smell it? Besides, I’m in the racket.”

She glanced over her shoulder at the truck. In the
reflected light from my headlamps she could read the red lettering on the white panel:

HARRY COLLINS, LTD.
Motor Engineers.
14 Eagle Street, W.1.

A couple of years ago I had been proud of that truck.
When I had taken delivery of it I had had a struggle to keep my
eyes off it, but the enthusiasm had worn thin. Now, it was my
idea of a whited sepulcher.

“Would you believe it?” The girl laughed. “Any other girl
would have stopped a masher, but I pick a motor engineer.
I’ve always been lucky.”

“You’re not all that lucky. There’s nothing I can do. I’ll
take you to the nearest garage if that’s any good to you.”
“There can’t be any garages open at this hour.”
“Then I can tow you until we find a place.”

“No, thanks. I don’t fancy being towed. Anyway, this old
ruin isn’t mine. I’m going to leave it right here. My friend can send out for it tomorrow.”
“Your friend will be tickled pink.”

She laughed.
“That’s his worry. I want to get home. Will you give me a
lift to the West-end?”

“If that’s what you want.”
She opened the truck door and got in.

I hesitated, looking at the black shape of the Buick.
“I don’t like leaving that car without lights. Someone
might run into it.”
“For goodness’ sake! Do you always worry about things
like that? It’s a wonder you haven’t grey hair.”

“I’m accident-minded. I wouldn’t like to hit it myself.”

I went around to the back of the truck, found a red
lantern, lit it and hung it on the Buick’s off-side rear door
handle.

“You won’t get that lantern back.”
“Then I won’t get it back.”
I climbed in beside her and started the engine. The light
from the dashboard fell on her slim, nylon clad legs. She was
showing her knees, and they were pretty knees. I looked at
her out of the corner of my eye. She was staring ahead, her
chin tilted. The light wasn’t good enough for me to see much
of her. I had only had a glimpse of her when my headlights had picked her out. I had noticed she had dark hair, parted in the middle, and that it fell to her shoulders and curled inwards.

I had a vague impression that she was above the usual
standard of prettiness, but I wasn’t too sure of that.
“Is this your truck?” She was opening her bag as she
spoke. She took out a packet of cigarettes and offered me
one.
“Yes, and it’s my business too.”

She held a match to my cigarette. I wanted to take a look at her in the light of the match flame, but a lorry was coming, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the road.

“So that makes you Harry Collins.”
“That’s right.”
“I’m Gloria Selby.”

We drove for a couple of hundred yards before she said:
“Do you often work as far from your base as this?”
“What makes you think I’ve been working?”
“You don’t seem the kind of man who’d go driving with
hands as dirty as yours unless you had been working.”

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