The small cloud of blue smoke had reached me, and I smelled the cordite. My legs were trembling. I said, scornfully I hope, “That's a lot of wasted coffee. Now, what about your names?”
The thin man said, “The lady's right. You didn't ought to of spilled that java, Sluggsy. But ya see, lady, that's why they call him Sluggsy, on account he's smart with the hardware. Sluggsy Morant. Me, I'm Sol Horowitz. They call me 'Horror.' Can't say why. Kin you, Sluggsy?”
Sluggsy giggled. “Mebbe one time you gave some guy a scare, Horror. Mebbe a whole bunch of guys. Leastwise that's what they tell me.”
Horror made no comment. He said quietly, “Okay. Let's go! Sluggsy, see to the cabins like I said. Lady, you make us some chow. Keep ya nose clean and cooperate and ya won't get hurt. Okay?”
Sluggsy looked me over greedily. He said, “Not much, that is. Eh, bimbo?” and walked over to the key rack behind the desk and took down all the keys and let himself out through the back entrance. I put down the chair and, as coolly as I knew how, but painfully aware of my toreador pants, walked across the room and went behind the counter.
The man called Horror sauntered slowly over to the cafeteria table farthest from me. He pulled a chair away from the table, twisted it in his hand, and pushed it between his legs. He sat down and leaned his folded arms along the back and rested his chin on them and watched me with unwavering, indifferent eyes. He said softly, so softly that I could only just hear him, “I'll take mine scrambled too, lady. Plenty crisp bacon. Buttered toast Howsabout coffee?”
“I'll see what's left.” I got down on my hands and knees behind the bar. The tin had four holes right through it. There was about an inch of coffee left and a whole lot scattered over the floor. I put the tin aside and scraped what I could from the floor onto a plate, not caring how much dust went with it. The unspoiled remains of the tin I would keep for myself.
I spent about five minutes down there, taking my time, desperately trying to think, to plan. These men were gangsters. They worked "for this Mr. Sanguinetti. That seemed certain because they had got my name from him or from the Phanceys. The rest of their story was lies. They had been sent up here, through the storm, for a purpose. What was it? They knew 1 was a Canadian, a foreigner, and that I could easily go to the police the next day and get them into trouble. The man called Sluggsy had been in San Quentin. And the other? Of course! That was why he looked gray and sort of dead! He had probably just come out of prison too. He smelled of it, somehow. So I could get them into real trouble, tell the police that I was a journalist, that I was going to write up what happened to girls alone in the States. But would I be believed? That VACANCY sign! I was alone in the place, yet I had left it on. Wasn't that because I wanted company? Why had I dressed up like that, to kill, if I expected to be alone? 1 dodged away from that line of thought. But, to get back. What did these two men want here? They had an ordinary car. If they had wanted to clean the place out, they would have brought a truck. Perhaps they really had been sent up to guard the place, and they just treated me as they did because that was the way gangsters behaved. But how much worse were they going to get? What was going to happen to me tonight?
I got to my feet and began to busy myself with the cooking. Better give them what they wanted. There must be no excuse for them to set on me.
Jed's apron was rolled up and thrown into a corner. I picked it up and put it round my waist. A weapon? There was an ice-pick in the cutlery drawer and a long, very sharp carving knife. I took the pick and stuck it, handle first, down the front of my pants under the apron. The knife I hid under a dishcloth beside the sink. I left the cutlery drawer open and lined up beside it a row of glasses and cups for throwing. Childish? It was all I had.
Every now and then I glanced across the room. Always the thin man's eyes were on me, old in crime and its counter-moves, knowing what was in my mind, what defenses I was preparing. I sensed this, but I went on with my little preparations, thinking, as I Lad at the English school, When they hurt me, and I know they're meaning to hurt me, I must somehow hurt them back. When they get me, rape me, kill me, they mustn't find it easy.
Rape? Kill? What did I think was really going to happen to me? I didn't know. 1 only knew that I was in desperate trouble. The men's faces said so—the indifferent face and the greedy face. They both had it in for me. Why? I didn't know. But I was absolutely certain of it.
I had broken eight eggs into a bowl and had whipped them gently with a fork. The huge chunk of butter had melted in the saucepan. Beside it, in the frying pan, the bacon was beginning to sizzle. I poured the eggs into the saucepan and began to stir. While my hands concentrated, my mind was busy on ways to escape. Everything depended on whether the man called Sluggsy, when he came back from his inspection, remembered to lock the back door. If he didn't, I could make a dash for it. There would be no question of using the Vespa. I hadn't run it for a week. Priming the carburetor, and the three kicks that might be necessary to start it from cold, would be too long. I would have to leave my belongings, all my precious money, and just go like a hare to right or left, get round the end of the cabins and in among the trees. I reflected that of course I wouldn't run to the right. The lake behind the cabins would narrow my escape route. I would run to the left. There, there was nothing but miles of trees. I would be soaked to the skin within a few yards of the door, and freezing cold for the rest of the night. My feet, in their stupid little sandals, would be cut to ribbons. I might easily get lost into the bargain. But those were problems I would have to cope with. The main thing was to get away from these men. Nothing else mattered.
The eggs were ready and I heaped them out, still very soft, onto a flat dish and added the bacon round the sides. I put the pile of toast from the Toastmaster on another plate, together with a slab of butter still in its paper, and put the whole lot on a tray. I was glad to see that plenty of dust rose to the top when I poured boiling water over the coffee, and I hoped it would choke them. Then I carried the tray out from behind the bar and, feeling more respectable in my apron, took it over to where the thin man was sitting.
As I put it down, I heard the back door open and then slam shut. There had been no click of a lock. I looked quickly round. Sluggsy's hands were empty. My heart began to beat wildly. Sluggsy came over to the table. I was taking things off the tray. He looked the meal over and came swiftly behind me and seized me round the waist, nuzzling his ghastly face into my neck. “Just like mother made 'em, baby. Howsabout you and me shacking up together? If you can— like you can cook, you're the gal of my dreams. What say, bimbo? Is it a deal?”
I had my hand on the coffee pot, and he was just going to get the boiling contents slung over my shoulder. Horror saw my intention. He said sharply, “Leave her be, Sluggsy. I said later.” The words came out like a whiplash, and at once Sluggsy let me go. The thin man said, “Ya nearly got ya eyeballs fried. Ya want to watch this dame. Quit foolin' around and sit down. We're on a job.”
Sluggsy's face showed bravado, but also obedience. “Have a heart, pal! I want a piece of this baby. But now!” But he pulled out a chair and sat down, and I moved quickly away.
The big radio and TV was on a pedestal near the back door. It had been playing softly all this time, although I had been quite unconscious of it. I went to the machine and fiddled with the dials, putting the volume up. The two men were talking to each other quietly and there was the clatter of cutlery. Now or never! I measured my distance to the door handle and dived to the left.
Nine: Then I Began to Scream
I HEARD a single bullet crash into the metal frame of the door, and then, with my hand cushioning the ice-pick so it didn't stick into me, I was running hell for leather across the wet grass. Mercifully the rain had let up, but the grass was soaking and slippery under my hopeless flat soles, and I knew 1 wasn't making enough speed. I heard a door crash open behind me, and Sluggsy's voice shouted, “Hold it, or you're cold turkey!” I began to weave, but then the shots came, carefully, evenly spaced, and bees whipped past me and slapped into the grass. Another ten yards and I would be at the corner of the cabins and out of the light. I dodged and zigzagged, my skin quivering as it waited for the bullet. A window in the last cabin tinkled with broken glass, and I was round the corner. As I dived into the soaking wood I heard a car start up. What was that for?
It was terrible going. The dripping pines were thick together, their branches overlapping, and they tore at the arms crossed over my face. It was black as pitch and I couldn't see a yard ahead. And then suddenly I could, and I sobbed as I realized what the car was for, for now its blazing headlights were holding me from the edge of the trees. As I tried to dodge the searching eyes, I heard the engine rev to aim the car and immediately they had me again. There was no room for maneuver and I just had to make headway in whatever direction the trees allowed me. When would the shooting start up again? I was a bare thirty yards inside the forest. It would be any minute now! My breath was sobbing out of my throat. My clothes had begun to tear, and I could feel bruises coming on my feet. I knew I couldn't hold out much longer. I would just have to find the thickest tree and try and lose the lights for a minute and crawl in under the tree and hide. But why no bullets? I stumbled away to the right, found brief darkness, and dived to my knees among the soaking pine needles. There was a tree like any other, its branches sweeping the ground, and I crawled in under them and up against the trunk and waited for the rasping of my breath to quieten down.
And then I heard one of them coming in after me, not softly because that was impossible, but steadily, and stopping every now and then to listen. By now the man, whichever it was, must realize from the silence that I had gone to ground. If he knew anything about tracking, he would soon find where the broken branches and scuffed earth stopped. Then it would only be a question of time. I softly squirmed round to the back of the tree, away from him, and watched the lights from the car hold steady in the glistening wet branches above my head.
The feet and the snapping twigs were coming nearer. Now I could hear the heavy breathing. Sluggsy's voice, very near, said softly, “Come on out, baby. Or poppa spank real hard. Da game of tag is over. Time to come home to poppa.”
The small eye of a flashlight began searching under the trees, carefully, tree by tree. He knew I was only a few yards away. Then the light stopped and held steady under my tree. Sluggsy said softly, delightedly, “Hi, baby! Poppa find!”
Had he? I lay still, hardly breathing.
There came the roar and flame of a single shot, and the bullet smacked into the tree-trunk behind my head. “That's just a hastener, baby. Next time it takes your little footsie off.”
So that was what showed! I said, weary with fright, “All right. I'll come. But don't shoot!” And I scrambled out on all fours, thinking hysterically, This is a fine way to go to your execution, Viv!
The man stood there, his pale head fretted with yellow light and black shadows. His gun was pointed at my stomach. He waved it sideways. “Okay. Get ahead of me. An' if you don't keep moving, you'll get a root in that sweet little keister of yours.”