Brian Garfield: Villiers Touch

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Brian Garfield Villiers Touch
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    Villiers Touch
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    Криминальный детектив / на английском языке
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    Английский
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Brian Garfield


Villiers Touch

Riches are a good handmaid, but the worst mistress.

Francis Bacon

1. Mason Villiers

The girl opened the bathroom door; a swath of light splashed across the bed where he lay. Momentarily he saw her silhouette, lithe Oriental girl in tight yellow silk, and then she switched the light off, leaving only the faint illumination that came in from the living room of the suite, where a lamp burned with a soft 25-watt glow. The girl walked to the hall door, long hips swaying, and paused there to adjust a bracelet, her head tipped to one side. Mason Villiers reached for the wristwatch on the bedside table, held it close to his face and squinted: four-thirty in the morning.

The girl’s voice was muted, courteous. “Will you want me again?”

“I’ll let you know.”

“Cheers,” she said, with no particular cheer. He listened to the hall door latch behind her. He stretched-a hard crackling of lean musculature; he yawned and closed his eyes and was almost instantly asleep.

He had always been a cat-napper; he rarely slept more than an hour at a stretch. At five-twenty he was up, padding across the deep carpet. The suite was mock-Victorian, heavy with the forced freshness of recent and frequent redecoration-hotel stationery and ashtrays; complimentary cut-glass bottle of Chivas Regal and bucket of ice, both of them reflected in the waxed surface of the table; thick nubby draperies, endless sets of white bath towels that were never quite big enough-all the impersonal size and ubiquitous big-city luxury of hotel quarters for rich transients. Villiers was unimpressed to the point of being oblivious; he might as well have been in a skid-row flophouse for all the attention he gave the room.

He came out of the bathroom drying himself, tossed the towel on a chair, and walked into the huge closet to paw through his bag. It was a Vuitton suitcase crested by a bar sinister coat-of-arms. The bar sinister amused him.

He put on silk socks and underclothes and a mustard-hued shirt, and a wide burnt-olive tie; he rattled hangers past a smoking jacket and a dark Dunhill suit, kicked into lean black shoes, and zipped up the trousers of an olive Italian suit while he walked to the phone in the living room. He picked up the receiver and waited, a young man who wore expensive clothes because he had once been poor.

When the sleepy-voiced switchboard girl came onto the line, he gave instructions to screen all incoming calls before putting them through; then he had the line switched to room service and ordered breakfast. He poured a drink from the cut-glass bottle, went back to the phone, and gave the girl Sidney Isher’s number.

It was good Scotch; he sipped it. Isher answered the ring coughing and mumbling. “What the hell, Mace, it’s not even six o’clock.”

There was a woman’s acrimonious muttering in the background. Sidney Isher said, “Hang on while I get to another phone.”

Villiers tipped the glass up and rolled whisky on his tongue, savoring before he swallowed. He heard a click and Isher’s nasal voice: “Okay-okay. How’s Canada? Find any old Rollses?”

“No. I picked up a twenty-seven Pierce Arrow.”

“They hard to find?”

“Anything good is hard to find.”

“Funny-you still don’t strike me as the hobby type.”

“Investment, Sidney.”

“Peanuts,” Isher said, and cleared his throat violently. “Where are you?”

“The New Executive.”

“That huge Goddamn barn?”

“In big hotels they care less.” He heard the click that meant Isher’s wife had finally hung up the bedroom phone. He began to speak, then stopped; he heard a whispering rustle at the other end of the line. “Turn off that fucking tape recorder, Sidney.”

“Ah?”

“Turn it off.”

“You know I always use the thing. I’d be a fine lawyer these days if I didn’t. Even my mother-in-law goes on tape.”

“Off, Sidney.”

“All right-all right.”

He heard the scrape stop. Isher said, “It’s off. Now, what’s so secret?”

“If it was a secret I’d hardly be calling you through the hotel switchboard. But I don’t like being taped.”

“Don’t worry about that-nobody’s ever taped you. But what have you got to say to me at six in the morning that couldn’t wait till office hours? Is this the one phone call they allow you before they jug you for molesting a minor?”

“Spare me the innuendo, Sidney.”

“Why don’t you ever relax?”

“People don’t get in my tax bracket by relaxing.” Villiers didn’t add that he preferred to catch people off-guard. With Isher it sometimes worked to advantage.

Isher was saying, “That’s something we’ve got to look into, your tax bracket. We may have some trouble with the IRS people over those-”

“Some other time. Now tell me about our friends in Edison Township.”

“You mean-”

“No names-remember the switchboard.”

“Sure. I can’t tape the call, but the switchboard girl can take it all down in shorthand. You suppose she’s listening because she owns forty thousand shares of the stock and wants to know which way it’s going? You think she’s listening for that, Mace?”

“Avidly,” Villiers said. “Don’t get flip, Sidney, it doesn’t become you.”

“For Christ’s sake, what’s a lousy switchboard girl going to know about-”

“Come on, Sidney.”

“Keep your shirt on. About the Edison Township people-oh, hell, how can I make sense without mentioning names and numbers?”

“Then get your clothes on and come over here.” Villiers removed the squawking phone from his ear and hung up.

The bellhop arrived faster than he had expected-an acne-faced kid wheeling the breakfast table into the room on big silent rubber tires. Villiers gave the boy five dollars. “Buy yourself some Noxzema.”

The bellhop flushed deep, dropped his eyes, and hurried away clutching the money. Villiers lifted the domed steel covers and scented the food; abruptly he had no sense of hunger at all. He put the covers back and walked to the window, carrying his glass of Scotch. Momentarily he wondered why he had inflicted that gratuitous bit of cruelty on the bellhop; it passed out of his mind quickly. Once a girl had rebuked him for his careless brutality with words, and he had replied, without thinking, “I offend, therefore I am.”

He drew open the blinds, turned off the lamp, and looked out at the gray morning. He was thirty stories above Park Avenue, with that incongruous stripe of trees and flowers overhung by grave-marker buildings and sooty air. Then he looked again at the breakfast cart, felt hungry, and dragged it over to the window.

He was seldom given to reflection, but the sound of Sidney Isher’s catarrhal voice had taken his thoughts back-not to the real past, but into the history he had invented for himself: dull, plausible, impossible to check, and carefully rehearsed so that he would not slip and contradict himself. Now and then, like an actor with a script, after many months’ run of the play, he went back over his lines.

He had devised it when he first came to New York and used it for the first time when he had met Isher six years ago. He had created a middle-class childhood for himself, pictured a quiet Chicago suburb where children rode bikes along shady sidewalks, housewives knelt on their lawns pulling up weeds and tending daffodils, weekending husbands waxed their cars in hedge-bounded driveways. He had named a public school which had subsequently burned down with all its records; invented an adolescence of proms and paper routes and hot rods; claimed three years’ education at an unspecified Midwestern university and pretended it had been cut off by the sudden death of both parents in a motor accident. Of course, they would leave more debts than assets; of course, the blameless dropout they left behind had vowed to make back every penny and pay off the creditors. It gave him a plausible reason for not possessing a diploma-and for leaving no outstanding debts against him which might later be checked. The invented Mason Villiers-even his name was an invention-was next to be found working as a trainee with a small suburban bank, which conveniently had failed and gone into bankruptcy nine years ago, its depositors reimbursed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, its employment records lost somewhere far beyond the range of any casual search; Villiers’ claim that he had worked there for two years was enough to explain his financial education.

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