Читать онлайн «High Hunt»
“Look, Dan,” Jack said, “you’ve got a month and a half or so before you start back to school, right? Why don’t you bunk in here till you get squared away? We can move the two curtain-climbers into one room. This trailer has three bedrooms, and you’d be real comfortable.”
“Hell, Jack,” I said, “I couldn’t do that. I’d be underfoot and all.”
“No trouble at all,” he said. “Right, Marg?”
“It wouldn’t really be any trouble,” she said a little uncertainly. She was considerably less than enthusiastic.
“No,” I said. “It just wouldn’t work out. I’d be keeping odd hours and—”
“I get it.” Jack laughed knowingly. “You’ve got some tomato lined up, huh? You want privacy.” I don’t know if I’d ever heard anyone say “tomato” for real before. It sounded odd. “Well, that’s no sweat. We can—”
“Jack, how about that little trailer down the street at number twenty-nine?” Margaret suggested. “Doesn’t Clem want to rent that one out?”
He snapped his fingers. “Just the thing,” he said. “It’s a little forty-foot eight-wide—kind of a junker really—but it’s a place to flop. He wants fifty a month for it, but seeing as you’re my brother, I’ll be able to beat him down some. It’ll be just the thing for you.” He seemed really excited about it.
“Well—” I said doubtfully. I wasn’t really sure I wanted to be that close to my brother.
“It’ll give you a base of operations and you’ll be right here close. We’ll be able to get together for some elbow-bendin’ now and then.”
“OK,” I said, laughing. “Who do I talk to?” It was easier than arguing with him. I hadn’t really made any plans anyway. It was almost as if we were kids again, Jack making the arrangements and me going along with him because I really didn’t care one way or the other. It felt kind of good.
“You just leave everything to me,” Jack said importantly. He’d always liked to take over—to manage things for people—and he’d always make a big deal out of everything. He hadn’t really changed at all. “I’ll check it over from stem to stem and make old Clem give you some decent furniture from the lot—He owns the place where I work as well as this court. We’ve got a whole warehouse full of furniture. We’ll put in a good bed and a halfway decent couch—we might even be able to scrounge up a TV set from someplace.”
“Look, Jack,” I said, “it’s only going to be a month or so. Don’t go to any special trouble.” I didn’t want to owe him too much. Owing people is a bum trip.
“Trouble? Hell, it’s no special trouble. After all, you’re my brother, ain’t you. No brother of mine is going to live in some broken-down junker. Besides, if you’ve got some tomato lined up, you’ll want to make a favorable impression. That counts for a lot, doesn’t it, Marg?”
“You really will want some new stuff in there,” she agreed. “Nelsons lived in there before, and Eileen wasn’t the neatest person in the world.” Now that I wasn’t going to move in with them Margaret seemed to think better of me. I could see her point though.
“Neat?” Jack snorted, lighting a cigarette. “She was a slob. Not only was she a boozer, she was the court punchboard besides. Old Nels used to slap her around every night just on general principles—he figured she probably laid three guys a day just to keep in practice, and usually he was guessin’ on the low side.”
“How would you know about that, Mister Alders?” Margaret demanded.
“Just hearsay, sweetie, just hearsay. You know me.”
“That’s just it,” she said, “I do know you.”
There was a heavy pounding on the side of the trailer. I jumped. “OK, in there,” a voice bellowed from outside, “this is a raid.”
“Hey,” Jack said, “that’s Sloane.” He raised his voice. “You’ll never take us alive, Copper!” It sounded like a game that had been going on for a long time.
A huge, balding man of about forty came in, laughing in a high-pitched giggle. His face was red, and he wore a slightly rumpled suit. He looked heavy, but it wasn’t really fat. He seemed to fill up the whole trailer. His grin sprawled all over his face and he seemed to be just a little drunk. He had a half-case of beer under one arm.
“Hi, Margaret, honey,” he said, putting down the beer and folding her in a bear hug. “How’s my girlfriend?”
“Sloane, you drunken son of a bitch,” Jack said, grinning, “quit pawin’ my wife and shake hands with my brother Dan. Dan, Cal Sloane.”
“Dan?” Sloane asked, turning to me. “Aren’t you Alders’ college-man brother?”
“He went in the Army after he got out of college,” Jack said. “He’s out at the separation center now.”
“You on leave?” Sloane asked, shaking my hand.
“I told you, Cal,” Jack said, “he’s at the separation center. He’s gettin’ out. Why don’t you listen, you dumb shit?” The insults had the ring of an established ritual, so I didn’t butt in.
“Hey, that’s a reason for a party, isn’t it?” Sloane said.
“Isn’t everything reason enough for you?” Jack demanded, still grinning.
“Not everything. I didn’t drink more than a case or two at my Old Lady’s funeral.”
“Dan here’s been drinkin’ German beer,” Jack boasted. “He can put you under the table without even settlin’ the dust in his throat.”
“Didn’t we meet a couple times a few years back?” Sloane asked me, pulling off his coat and settling down in a chair.
“I think so,” I said.
“Sure we did. It was when Alders here was still married to Bonnie.” He loosened his tie.
“Yeah,” I said, “I believe it was.”
We talked for about an hour, kidding back and forth. At first Sloane seemed a little simple—that giggle and all—but after a while I realized that he was really pretty sharp. I began to be very glad that I’d called Jack and come on out here to his place. It began to look like I had some family to come home to after all.
About eleven or so we ran out of beer, and Sloane suggested that we slip out for a couple glasses of draft. Margaret pouted a little, but Jack took her back into the hallway and talked with her for a few minutes, and when they came back she seemed convinced. Jack pulled on a sport shirt and a jacket, and Sloane and I got ourselves squared away. We went outside.
“I’ll be seeing you, Margaret,” I said to her as she stood in the doorway to watch us leave.
“Now you know the way,” she said in a sort of offhand invitation.
“Be back in an hour or so, sweetie,” Jack told her.
She went back inside without answering.
We took Jack’s car, a slightly battered Plymouth with a lot of miles on it.
“I won’t ride with Sloane when he’s been drinking,” Jack said, explaining why we’d left Sloane’s Cadillac. “The son of a bitch has totalled five cars in the last two years.”
“I have a helluva time gettin’ insurance.” Sloane giggled.
We swung on out of the trailer court and started off down South Tacoma Way, past the car lots and parts houses.
“Go on out to the Hideout Tavern,” Sloane said. He was sprawled in the back seat, his hat pushed down over his nose.
“Right,” Jack said.
“I hear that a man can do some pretty serious drinking in Germany,” Sloane said to me.
“Calvin, you got a beer bottle for a brain,” Jack told him, turning a corner.
“Just interested, that’s all. That’s the way to find out things—ask somebody who knows.”
“A man can stay pretty drunk if he wants to,” I said. “Lots of strange booze over there.”
“Like what?” Sloane asked. He seemed really interested.
“Well, there’s this one—Steinhäger, it’s called—tastes kind of like a cross between gin and kerosene.”
“Oh, God”—Jack gagged—“it sounds awful.”
“Yeah,” I admitted, “it’s moderately awful, all right. They put it up in stone bottles—probably because it would eat its way out of glass. Screws your head up something fierce.”
We wheeled into the parking lot of a beer joint and went inside, still talking. We ordered pitchers of draft and sat in a booth drinking and talking about liquor and women and the service. The tavern was one of those usual kind of places with lighted beer signs all along the top of the mirror behind the bar. It had the usual jukebox and the usual pinball machine. It had the uneven dance floor that the bartender had to walk across to deliver pitchers of beer to the guys sitting in the booths along the far wall. There were the solitary drinkers hunched at the bar, staring into their own reflections in the mirror or down into the foam on their beer; and there was the usual group of dice players at the bar, rolling for drinks. I’ve been in a hundred joints like it up and down the coast.
I realized that I was enjoying myself. Sloane seemed to be honestly having a good time; and Jack, in spite of the fact that he was trying his damnedest to impress me, seemed to really get a kick out of seeing me again. That unholy dead feeling I’d been fighting for the last months or so was gone.
“We got to get Dan some civilian clothes,” Cal was saying. “He can’t run around in a uniform. That’s the kiss of death as far as women are concerned.”
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