THE THINGS MEN DO: Chapter 11-14

THE THINGS MEN DO

JAMES HADLEY CHASE

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Ann got back soon after eleven o’clock the following morning.
She came briskly down the garage to where I was working
with Tim, putting on a new cylinder gasket.

“I’ll be up in about ten minutes,” I said, waving my oily hands at her to show her I couldn’t kss her. “Did you get on all right?”
“Yes, fine. Did you?”

I knew she was looking searchingly at me, and I knew
my white face with the dark shadows under my eyes I had
seen when shaving this morning had given her a bit of a
shock.

“Had a night out with Bill. Got a head on me this
morning, but I’m all right.” I smiled at her, meeting her eyes.

“I’ll be up in a moment.”
She nodded to Tim, and then went on through the office
and up the stairs.
It took a little more than half an hour to fix the gasket.

“That does it,” I said, and picked up a lump of waste and
wiped my hands on it. “I’ll leave you to clean up. Don’t forget to clean the tools.”
“No, Mr. Collins.”
I walked back to the office and lit a cigarette.

Around nine-thirty in the morning, Berry had come in to
relieve Joe, who had driven away in Berry’s Humber. Berry
hadn’t looked in my direction. He bad locked himself in the
partitioned room, and I hadn’t seen him since then.

My mouth was a little puffy where he had hit me, and I
had two big purple bruises under my heart from Dix’s punches.

Outwardly I looked like a man who has had a late night and
perhaps three or four drinks too many. Inwardly I was like a
frozen block of stone.

By betraying Ann I had landed myself into a trap from
which there seemed to be no escape. If it wasn’t for Ann, I
might have been able to do something about it, but with Dix’s threat to throw acid at her and to show her those pictures, I was ham-strung.

Thinking about it, I realized now the trap had been
sprung from the moment I had first met Gloria on Western
Avenue. She must have followed me in the Buick when I had
left the garage to go to Lewis’s help out at Northolt, and had staged her breakdown where she knew I would have to pass her.

If I had listened to Ann and to my own conscience I
wouldn’t be in this trap now. I had deliberately done the wrong
thing, and now it looked as if both of us would have to pay for it.

But oddly enough, I had got my second wind. Last night,
after I had returned to the empty flat, I was nearly out of my mind with funk. I couldn’t see any way out.

At first I had
decided the only thing I could do was to tell Ann the truth, then go to the police and tell them the whole sordid story and ask for protection.

But the more I thought about it, the more impossible
such a solution became. I knew I couldn’t go to Ann and tell
her I had broken my promise not to see Gloria again. I couldn’t
admit that I had been unfaithful to her. I had walked up and down the sitting-room until dawn, wracking my brains for a way out, and after a while I began to recover my nerve.

I had been played for a sucker and I had been fooled all
along the line. The realization of this made me viciously angry.

The situation was now something personal between Dix and
myself. I hated him as I had never thought it possible to hate anyone. I became determined to beat him at his own game. I had no idea how I was going to do it, but sooner or later, the chance must come and I would take it.

I don’t want you to imagine I have always been such a
weak, despicable fool. Since the war, I admit I had become
soft, but during the war, I had built for myself a reputation as an individual fighter. Then I had been pretty tough. When a
patrol went out after prisoners I was always chosen to lead it.

If there was a sentry to be silenced before a raid, I was given the job. Towards the end of the war Bill and I had been
transferred to the Burma patrol where we specialized in
ambushing and killing Japs.

Killing became my business, and it was only when I got out of the Army and met Ann that I
began to relax. Five years of marriage and civilian life had
made me soft: one night in Dix’s company had turned the
clock back.

I wasn’t soft any longer. I wanted to kill Dix. Nothing less would satisfy me. He had got mo into this trap. He was going to send that film throughout the poison spots of the world for degenerates to snigger at. He was forcing me to put Bill into danger. He had threatened to throw acid at Ann. By these four things he had given me the right to take his life.

At the moment he held all the cards, but sooner or later,
he must play one badly, and then I’d step in. In the meantime I had decided to let him imagine he had got me where he wanted me. I intended to lull his suspicions and wait for my chance, and when it came, I would take it.

It was odd, too, that I had no misgivings about looking
Ann in the face. The set-up was too serious for me to feel
guilty about something that was already in the past, and which
would never happen again. Her happiness and mine were
involved now. I had got us into the trap, I had to get us out of it. It was now between Dix and myself. Ann didn’t come into it.

I went upstairs where Ann was preparing lunch. As I
stood at the kitchen sink, washing my hands, I felt she was watching me anxiously. I turned to smile at her.
“You look pale, Harry.”

“I feel pale,” I said, wiping my hands on the roller-towel.
“I don’t think my supper agreed with me. It was too greasy and
then I drank too much beer. Otherwise I’m fine.”
I knew she wanted to believe me, and the fact I could
meet her eyes quieted her misgivings.
“You look odd somehow, Harry. You remind me of how
you used to look when we first met: tough and angry with the
world.”
I laughed.
“I’ll be angry with you if you don’t get my lunch ready.”

I slid my arm round her and hugged her.
“Harry, when are those men going? Are they going to be
here much longer?”
“They’ve paid for a month, so I suppose they’ll stay a
month. I don’t know.”
“Will you let them stay on after the end of the month?”
I knew there was no chance of them staying on: they
would probably be gone by next week.
“Not if you don’t want them to.”
“I know the money’s important . . .”

“Now, stop worrying your brains about them. Let’s eat.”
After lunch I did something I had never done before. I
crossed the street and walked into the sorting-office. I found myself in a big concrete floored shed full of mail vans. Men in brown overalls were piling mail bags into several of the vans.
Everyone seemed busy, and for a minute or so no one noticed
me.

During that time I had looked around and summed up the
geography of the place.
“You can’t come in here, mate. What do you want?”

I turned. A short, thickset man in a brown overall was
staring at me suspiciously.
“Sorry,” I said, grinning. “I was looking for Bill Yates. I’m
from across the road: Harry Collins. Maybe Bill’s told you
about me.”

The short, thickset man’s face cleared and he nodded.
“That’s right. Bill often mentions you. He’s not around at the moment. It’s his day off.”

“Of course it is! I remember now he told me last night. I’ll
be forgetting my own name next.” I took out a packet of
cigarettes and offered him one. “We painted the town red last
night. Bill can still drink a dozen pints in a night.”

“Always could drink beer. My name’s Harris.” He took the
cigarette and lit it. “He said you and he were going out last
night.”
“I’m glad he’s got promotion. He’s just the man for the
job.”

“He is at that,” Harris said. “Used to be a boxer, didn’t
he? You can always tell by the look of a man if he’s had the
gloves on.”
“He was the light-heavy-weight champion of the Battalion.

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