The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep Page 24

After all, there was no point in making it easy for them. I could picture them quite clearly, taking the last box from me, loading it into the trunk, and driving merrily away while I struggled out of the porch to wave byebye at them. No, I wouldn’t be taken quite that easily.

I waited in the car. They brought the boxes out quickly enough, one man handing them up, two others relaying them to the car, Odon placing them in the trunk, but they made enough noise to wake corpses. Lights went on in the house across the way. I had visions of the whole thing going to hell in a handcar. I called to them to hurry, and they hurried, and they hurried, and lights went on in the house whose porch we were robbing. My head ached dully. My mouth was dry. We loaded the last box, and the men piled into the car. In the distance a siren howled. Police? Probably.

Odon started the engine. It didn’t catch at first, and I was certain the idiot had flooded the motor. It caught the second time, and we got the hell out of there. He drove well, at least. He put the gas pedal on the floor, and we were back at home base in no time at all.

Odon stuck the car in the garage. “Get the others,” he told one of the men. “And hurry. We have to be on that boat before dawn. There’s no time.”

I got out of the car. I passed the hardware bench, scooped off a curved linoleum knife. As I walked around the car I stuck the knife into the left rear tire, pulled it out fast, and pocketed it. The tire did not blow but went down fast, almost instantaneously. I let one of the others discover it. He pointed it out to Odon.

Odon cursed rather colorfully. Someone remembered that there was a spare in the trunk. He opened the trunk. The spare tire was wedged in behind the strongboxes. Three of us wrestled it out, and in the process I got in a few good licks with the linoleum knife. No one noticed these at first. They thought the tire merely needed to be inflated, and Odon discovered an air pump in the rear of the garage. The damned garage had everything. They tried to pump up the tire, but it wouldn’t inflate, and then the one who had passed me the strongboxes spotted the cuts in the tire and showed them to Odon, and Odon went out of his mind. He cursed the two who had purchased the car, cursed the fates for giving him fools for companions and threw in a few words that were not part of my command of Bulgarian.

He was obviously not at all pleased. “We have to get another car,” he said. “Damn it to hell, somebody go out and steal a car. We have to-”

An argument developed. Two of the men utterly refused to make the trip in a stolen car. Another pointed out that they could get a tire in the morning and they could use some sleep for the time being.

“And if in the meanwhile someone runs off with the gold?”

“None but us know of it.”

“And if one of us does so?”

“How? In a car with a flat tire?”

The wait-until-tomorrow crowd carried the day. Odon locked the trunk and closed the garage door. We all trooped inside the dingy house. A cupboard yielded up a bottle of rather poor brandy. We all drank, and Odon’s spirits began to improve with drink. We drank and sang and drank and danced and drank, and one by one we dropped off to sleep until at last all of us were sleeping peacefully.

All but one of us.

When they were asleep, when it was as safe as it was likely to get, I slipped out of the house and into the garage. With such an abundant supply of tools around, the locked trunk was not much of an obstacle. I was very busy for almost an hour. Then I slipped back into the house. They were all still asleep.

I suppose the most intelligent move would have been to murder them in their beds. I cannot honestly say that the thought did not occur to me. It did, and I felt foolish rejecting it out of hand, but I could not possibly have done otherwise.

I had killed men in Macedonia. I told myself as much, reminded myself that I had quite fiercely gunned down men who had done absolutely nothing to me, while I was now unable to kill a group of unpleasant men who intended to rob me blind. This did not seem to make any difference. The men I had killed in Macedonia had been gunned down in the heat of real or imagined revolutionary passion. It was quite a different matter to slash half a dozen throats in the dark of night. I was evidently incapable of it. And, actually, I was more than a little pleased by the discovery.

But I did not suspect my fellows shared my reservations regarding the murder of sleeping men. And so I contrived to be obviously awake before them. Odon sent a man out to buy a tire. He came back with it and put it on the car. There was another argument: Should we or should we not wait for darkness? We decided not to wait. Around two in the afternoon we all piled into the car and headed for Burhaniye.

It was an easy drive. The ship, a trim little cutter, lay at anchor, with a thickset man on board. He came down to greet us. The harbor officials were taken care of, he reported. They would look the other way. We need only load the ship and be off.

Odon took me aside. He handed me a sack full of padlocks. “You must lock the strongboxes,” he said. “It is only fitting, as you are the man who will receive the greater share of the gold and you must be assured that we do not try to cheat you. If the boxes are not locked, we might take more than our share during the voyage. Do you understand?”

“But I trust you, Odon.”

He very nearly blushed. “No matter,” he said. “You take the boxes from the trunk. Inspect their contents, if you wish, and lock them. Then pass them to us, and we will relay them into the boat. And then we will all get on board and be off. For Beirut.”

I could not avoid the feeling that he had never told a lie before meeting me. I went to the trunk and Odon opened it with his key. I locked each box in turn and handed the boxes one by one to Odon’s men, who carried them to the ship and came back for more. By the time I was handing over the final box, all of the men had managed to work their way onto the boat. Only Odon was left, and just as I passed him the final box, a man called his name from the ship.

“Ah,” he said, “there seems to be trouble on board. Wait right here, I’ll be back in a moment.”

“I’ll go with you.”

“Oh, it’s not necessary. Ah, what’s that down there?”

I looked where he pointed. He had picked up the tire wrench and he telegraphed the blow so completely that it took a certain amount of effort to let him hit me at all. But he got me-going away, just a glancing blow on the side of the head. It hurt and it staggered me, and I followed through and sprawled in the sand.

It occurred to me as I lay there that there was a glaring flaw in my plan. Suppose he hit me a second time while I lay there like a lump? Suppose he very neatly caved in the back of my skull?

A glaring error. But, after all, I was new at this sort of thing. In any case, Odon didn’t try for a second shot. Perhaps he was as unused to hitting people as he was to lying. He dropped the tire iron, tucked the strongbox under his arm, and ran to the ship.

I did not move an inch until the ship was out of sight.

Chapter 17

I got into the car, a Chevrolet about ten years old, and I understood it well enough. They had been kind enough to leave the keys in the ignition. I turned the car around and drove back to Balikesir, found the house, pulled into the garage, and closed the door. I had work to do. Fortunately I had plenty of time to do it.

Because they would not open those strongboxes until they reached their destination, which would take a day at the least. They wouldn’t open the boxes because they would not trust one another well enough. As long as the locks were unimpaired no one would be able to remove some of the gold before they got back to Sofia and split it into their unrightful shares.

I could see them all, gathered in Father Gregor’s comfortable house, ceremoniously unlocking or breaking open the padlocks, lifting the lids of each box in turn, and finding nuts and bolts and files and weights and nails and screws and rusty hardware of all sorts. Some six hundred pounds of rusty hardware, by my own admittedly rough estimate. Six hundred pounds of scrap metal, some of it lying loose, some of it neatly wrapped in ancient cloth bags and leather pouches. But all of it junk, and all of it theirs, and not a scrap of gold anywhere.

I had presented my unofficial resignation from the Society of the Left Hand. It bothered me in a way-it was, as well as I could remember, the only organization from which I had ever resigned.

But it did not bother me very much.

The gold was where I had left it, piled under a tarpaulin in the farthest corner of the garage. I used a variety of tools to open up the door panels of the Chevy and packed the door solid with gold coins. I stowed more of them under the seats, inside the cushions, under the trunk lining, and on top of the hood liner. It took several hours to pack the car properly. I did not want anything to rattle too obviously. A certain amount of rattling was perhaps inevitable, but one expected rattles in a ten-year-old automobile. I used newspaper and rags to muffle the more obvious rattles, tightened the car up again, patted the fender gently, and went back into the house.

I found a razor and some soap. I got out of my clothes, bathed, shaved, and put my filthy clothes on again. I would have preferred clothes that looked as though they might normally be worn by someone prosperous enough to own a car. I thought of buying some clothes before I left. There would be time for that later, I decided, when I was well out of Balikesir. In some other city, where police were not schooled to be on the lookout for Evan Tanner, I could more safely prepare for the rigor of a border examination.

I went back to the car. The Turkish passport and the Turkish driver’s license were in the glove compartment. Odon had no further need of them, just as he had no further need of the car or of me, and so he had abandoned us all together. I drove out of Balikesir. I drove south and east and south and east and I kept driving for a very long period of time. The roads were bad, and the car would not go over forty miles an hour without the front end shimmying madly. I stopped every fifty miles for oil. From time to time I grabbed a sandwich or a cup of coffee, then got behind the wheel and went on driving endlessly south and endlessly east.

According to the speedometer, I logged about eight hundred miles all told. I drove nonstop for almost two full days. In Antakya, in the southeast corner of Turkey, I finally purchased some decent clothes. I paid for them with gold pieces, which occasioned a certain amount of interest, but gold is apt to circulate in that corner of the world, and the merchant was more interested in cheating me than in calling the gold to the attention of the authorities.

I had no trouble at the border. I did not particularly resemble my passport photograph, but no one particularly resembles his passport photograph, and I drove from Turkey to Syria with little difficulty. I headed due south through Syria, hugging the coast, and had even less trouble passing from Syria into Lebanon. The Customs guards checked my car well enough, but they had no particular reason to take the doors apart, so they didn’t. They looked in the spare tire, they rummaged through the glove compartment, and they let me go.

They missed the gold, the secret documents, and the fact that I was not the person whose passport I carried. Aside from that they didn’t miss a trick.

I stayed at a good hotel in Beirut and put my car in the hotel garage. I told the bellhop that I was interested in finding a reliable gold merchant, and I tipped him a sovereign. Within an hour a young Chinese came to me. Did I have gold to sell? I said that I did. Would I accept fifty dollars an ounce? I said that I would not.

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