26 ноября 2022 года

Раздел: Детектив - Детектив - James Hadley Chase - A Coffin From Hong Kong

A Coffin From Hong Kong - James Hadley Chase
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I was just about to shut down the office for the night when the telephone bell rang. The time was ten minutes past six o'clock. It had been a dull, long and unprofitable day: no visitors, a mail I had dropped into the trash basket without even slitting an envelope, and now this first telephone call.

I lifted the receiver and said, "Nelson Ryan." My voice as alert and eager as I could make it.

There was a pause. Over the open line I could hear the sound of an aircraft engine start up. The din beat against my ear for a brief moment, then faded to background noise as if the caller had closed the door of the telephone booth.

"Mr. Ryan?"

A man's voice: deep toned and curt.

"That's right."

"You are a private investigator?"

"Right again."

There was another pause. I listened to his slow, heavy breathing: he was probably listening to mine. Then he said: "I have only a few minutes. I'm at the airport. I want to hire you."

I reached for a scratch pad.

"What's your name and your address?" I asked.

"John Hardwick, 33 Connaught Boulevard."

As I scribbled the address on the pad, I asked, "What is it you want me to do, Mr. Hardwick?"

"I want you to watch my wife." There was another pause as another aircraft took off. He said something that was blotted out by the high whine of the jet's engines.

"I didn't get that, Mr. Hardwick."

He waited until the jet had become airborne, then speaking rapidly, he said, "My business

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takes me regularly twice a month to New York. I have the idea that while I'm away, my wife isn't behaving herself. I want you to watch her. I'll be back the day after tomorrow—Friday. I want to know what she does while I'm away. What will it cost?"

This wasn't the kind of business I welcomed, but at least it was better than nothing. "Just what is your business, Mr. Hardwick?"

He spoke with a touch of impatience. "I'm with Herron, the plastic people."

Herron Corporation was one of the biggest concerns on this strip of the Pacific Coast. A quarter of Pasadena City's prosperity came from them.

"Fifty dollars a day and expenses," I said, jacking up my usual fee by ten bucks.

"That's all right. I'll send you three hundred dollars right away as a retainer. I want you to follow my wife wherever she goes. If she doesn't leave home, I want to know if anyone visits her. Will you do this?"

For three hundred dollars I would have done much harder things. I said, "I'll do it, but couldn't you come in and see me, Mr. Hardwick? I like to meet my clients."

"I understand that but I have only just decided to take action. I'm on my way to New York, but I'll see you on Friday. I just want to be sure you will watch her while I'm away."

"You can be sure of that," I said, then paused to let another jet whine down the runway. "I'll need a description of your wife, Mr. Hardwick."

"Thirty-three Connaught Boulevard," he said. "They are calling me. I must go. I'll see you on Friday," and the line went dead.

I replaced the receiver and took a cigarette from the box on the desk. I lit the cigarette with the desk lighter and blew smoke towards the opposite wall.

I had been working as an investigator for the past five years, and during that time, I had run into a number of screwballs. This John Hardwick could be just another screwball, but somehow I didn't think he was. He sounded like a man under pressure. Maybe he had been worrying for months about the way his wife had been behaving. Maybe for a long time he had suspected her of getting up to tricks when he was away and suddenly, as he was leaving for another business trip, he had finally decided to check on her. It was the kind of thing a worried, unhappy man might do—a split-second impulse. All the same, I didn't like it much. I don't like anonymous clients. I don't like disembodied voices on the telephone. I like to know with whom I am dealing. This setup seemed a shade too hurried and a shade too contrived.

 

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