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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Hamilton Donald
 

«The Intriguers», Donald Hamilton

I

The morning I got shot at, down there in Mexico, I'd been out fishing in the high-powered little boat Mac had lent me, along with a trailer to carry it and a station wagon to pull it. Generosity with government equipment is not my superior's outstanding characteristic; but he'd explained that the outfit had been assembled by another agent for a job which was now completed. As a reward for years of faithful service and for taking a bad crack on the head in the course of a recent assignment-he put it differently,.but that was the general idea-he was willing to let me take the rig on leave with me, since I'd be needing a fishing boat where I was going. When I brought it back, in good condition of course, it would be sold for whatever it would bring. Unfortunately, our departmental budget doesn't cover the maintenance of yachts, even fifteen-foot ones.

That morning, I'd been fishing at an offshore island, an hour's run-some twenty-four miles at my relatively cautious cruising speed-from where I was staying in the little resort village of Bahia San Carlos, just outside Guaymas, a good-sized port on the mainland side of the Gulf of California. I've had to learn a little about boats and oceans in the line of business, but I'm still a landlubber at heart, and from a small boat twenty-four miles of open water looks like a lot of water to me, even when it's calm. When it starts getting rough, I want no part of it, so when the wind began to pick up gustily around ten o'clock, I aborted my day's fishing plans and got out of there in a hurry, leaving the big boats and the real sailors to cope with the waves and the weather without me.

It was a hell of a frustrating way, I reflected, to end what had been a hell of a frustrating vacation. Of course, in a sense it had actually ended a day earlier when the girl had got really mad at last and walked out on me. Never mind her name. She doesn't figure in this, honest. She was just a girl I'd met on a job a few months earlier. It had been a rough and nasty business, and we'd both wound up in the same hospital. One thing had led to another, as it often does, and we'd agreed to do our convalescing together, down in sunny Mexico. Since I'd been more or less responsible for her getting hurt in the first place, I'd been pleased and flattered by her forgiveness.

At least it had seemed flattering at the time. What I hadn't realized was that, having had lots of time to think things over in that hospital bed-to think me over-she'd come to the remarkable conclusion that, in spite of my reprehensible profession, I was really a sweet and gentle guy who just needed a good woman to reform him from his violent ways.

It was too bad. She could have been a lot of fun if she hadn't decided that I needed a conscience and that she was it; she was a tall, slim, blonde kid who, in addition to her indoor talents, which were considerable, could swim and hike and handle a fishing rod adequately, once she got her strength back. We'd done quite a bit of fishing, and she hadn't been at all squeamish about sticking a big, barbed hook through a small, wiggling sardine to be used for bait; but she'd proved to have a thing about other life forms.

I never can figure how they make these distinctions. This one had absolutely no sentimental feelings about fish or fishing, but she bled copiously for all little birds and animals killed by cruel hunters. When, tired of angling for the moment, I innocently suggested borrowing a couple of shotguns and going out after the doves that swarmed locally, she looked at me with shock and horror-and this was, for God's sake, the same girl who'd casually impaled a live bait fish on a hook; the same girl who'd just hungrily cleaned up a large helping of arroz con polio, a rice-and chicken dish for which a good-sized bird had died. Of course, that bird had been killed by somebody else. She hadn't had to get its blood on her own hands. All she'd had to do was let me pay for the crime.

When I pointed out the hypocrisy of this, or what seemed like hypocrisy to me, and asked how she could possibly reconcile it with her fierce anti-killing convictions, she got very angry. Apparently there was another delicate distinction, too subtle for me to grasp, not only between fish and birds but between birds and birds: between a dead chicken and a dead dove. I said, sure, a dove tastes better, if you like doves. At that she really blew up and said I couldn't possibly be expected to understand, a callous monster like me, who carried a gun and showed no respect whatever for life, even human life.

As you'll gather, it hadn't been a very restful leave. Being reformed is kind of wearing, even when it doesn't take. After putting her on a plane a week early at her request, I'd decided to spend a final day doing a little angling and exploring alone before heading back to the US to turn in the boat and wind up my leave in other surroundings, but the weather had just put an end to that project. I decided that I might as well use the rest of the day getting the boat back on the trailer and hosing it down thoroughly to wash off three weeks' accumulation of salt and fish scales. Any time I had left over could be used for packing-but first, of course, I had to make it back to the San Carlos marina.

It was a reasonably exciting ride, surfing along before the mounting waves with the wind getting stronger and gustier by the minute. The Gulf is no farm pond or stock tank. At Guaymas, it looks like the ocean-you can't see across to Baja California-and it acts like the ocean, too, upon occasion. The Mexicans call it the Sea of Cortez and treat it with respect. I wanted to get in before things became really rugged, so I kept the 85-horse Johnson blasting-well, as hard as you want to blast in that size boat in that kind of a seaway, actually not much over half-throttle with a mill that large.

It was quite a power plant. I'd only had it wide open once in the weeks I'd been using it, and it had scared hell out of me. I'd thought we'd go into orbit before I could get it shut down again. I've dealt with some fairly potent machinery on land, but speedboating is not my bag, and my only previous experience with outboard motors, to amount to anything, dated back to an era when ten horsepower was considered pretty hot stuff.

Even at half-throttle, the boat was a bit of a handful with the sea astern-I guess they all are. It was a relief to conic around the towering rocky point guarding the mouth of San Carlos Bay and feel her stop making like a runaway surfboard and settle down to a steady planing attitude in quiet water. I unfastened my parka and threw back the hood. Being designed for fishing originally, whatever my mysterious predecessor had used her for, the chunky little blue-and-white fiberglass vessel was wide open all around so there'd he nothing to interfere with the rods and lines. You did your steering from an exposed midships console with no windshield to hide behind. If you wanted to stay dry, you put on something waterproof and zipped it up tight, even on a downwind run.

I'd mopped the spray off my face and sunglasses, and I was reaching for the throttle to hasten things along, now that the traveling was smooth and easy, when I saw the seal off to the right-excuse me, to starboard. They're actually sea lions, whatever the technical distinction may be, and they're fairly common down there in the Cortez, but I was just a country boy from the arid inland state of New Mexico, and I still hadn't seen enough of them to take them for granted.

I was feeling nice and relaxed and a little triumphant at my victory over the wind and the waves, the way Columbus or Leif Ericson must have felt upon reaching America after a stormy Atlantic crossing. I was in no real hurry to get ashore now that I'd made it into sheltered water, so I put the wheel hard over to get a closer look at the swimming animal. You might say the sleek little beast saved my life, since the rifleman up on the point picked that moment to put the final pressure on his trigger.

He must have been aiming well ahead of me, giving plenty of lead to allow for the forward motion of the boat. It wasn't a long shot, only a little over a hundred yards, but even loafing along as she was, the boat was doing at least twenty miles per hour-close to thirty feet per second-and rifle bullets do not travel with the speed of light, although people keep trying to make them. When the hidden marksman's projectile reached the spot where he'd expected me to be, I wasn't there. My sharp turn away from him had thrown his calculations off just enough for a clean miss, but not enough that I didn't hear the bullet go past or catch a glimpse of the characteristic dimpled splash off to the left-excuse me, to port.


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