Authors: James Hadley Chase
‘Well, I’m lucky too.’
‘I’ve seen you on television. It must be marvelous to be a star.’
‘Don’t you believe it.’ I was looking at her, liking her. ‘I’m glad to be out of it.’
‘Oh, no. You must tell me about it. Let’s go. You have a wonderful home and your car . . . !’
She led me down the corridor to the elevators, then down into the garage.
‘Here it is,’ she said, pointing to a pale blue, two-seater, drop head Mercedes. ‘Isn’t she a beauty?’
I had always wanted a Mercedes. I walked around it, patted it and grinned at her.
She opened the offside door and slid into the seat.
‘We must hurry, Mr. Stevens. I’ve a load of work to do this afternoon.’
I got behind the driving wheel, aware two guards were watching me. I drove to the barrier that lifted.
Man! Was I driving on a cloud!
‘You turn right and keep along the boulevard,’ Sonia told me. ‘I’ll tell you when to turn off.’
I drove in a Technicolor dream: a marvelous car! A beautiful girl!
At the end of the boulevard, she told me to turn left to the beach. We drove along the crowded seafront, then she told me to turn right. That brought us to a narrow sandy road.
‘This leads to Mr. Ferguson’s private beach,’ she said.
Ahead of us were high iron gates and a guard who saluted as he swung back the gates. I drove further up the road, came to high hedges and palm trees, then I saw the beach cabin.
I pulled up.
‘Is this it?’
‘One of them. This is yours.’
‘One of them?’
‘There are four cabins on the estate, but each one is completely private. Mr. Ferguson doesn’t use them anymore.’
I got out of the car and with Sonia, approached the cabin.
It was constructed of pinewood with a big veranda with sun chairs, tables and a bar. It oozed opulence.
Sonia ran up the steps to the veranda, unlocked the door and waved me in.
I walked into a lush, luxuriously furnished living room. There was everything: TV stereo radiogram, bar, lounging chairs, polished pine flooring with Persian rugs, a desk, two telephones and modern art on the walls.
My new home!
I just stood there and gaped.
‘There are two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a fully equipped kitchen,’ Sonia went on. ‘You’re lucky, Mr. Stevens! It’s paradise!’
She led me to the master bedroom: an enormous bed closets, TV at the foot of the bed. The other bedroom was smaller but equally luxurious.
‘Mrs. Swanson looks after the cabins,’ Sonia said. ‘Right now, you are the only occupant. She will get you breakfast and cook for you. You have only to dial 22 on the green telephone and tell her what you want. I hear she is a great cook. She’ll take care of your laundry.’
‘The refrigerator is well stocked, but ask for anything you fancy.’ Watching my face, she laughed. ‘It’s marvelous, isn’t it? What it is to work for Mr. Ferguson!’
‘You can say that again.’
As we moved back into the living room, a car horn sounded.
‘That’ll be my car, Mr. Stevens. I must run. You’ll be all right, won’t you?’
‘Just one thing. Call me Jerry.’
She gave me a flashing smile.
‘Okay, Jerry. ‘Bye,’ and she ran down to the waiting car. At the wheel sat Pedro, probing his teeth with a matchstick.
The sight of him made me uneasy. He looked such a murderous thug. I went out onto the veranda and Sonia waved as Pedro drove away.
I sat down in one of the sun chairs and stared across the silver sand to the sea.
I had to adjust. This seemed a fantasy. Only last night, I was scared I was going to be murdered, and now this!
You are too valuable to lose
Thinking about what Ferguson had said, I decided it made sense. Ferguson, watched by rivals, hampered to make important business moves, had found a perfect standin who not only looked like him, but spoke like him and could forge his signature. For this, he was prepared to give me a seven year contract and pay me one hundred thousand dollars a year! At first thought, this seemed a grossly exaggerated figure, but thinking of Ferguson’s empire, his vast wealth, it would be peanuts to him.
I would need to have my head examined not to accept such a proposal!
Having made my decision, I realized it was past lunchtime and I was hungry. I went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. As Sonia had said, there was plenty of cold food. Heaping a plate with cold chicken, ham and salad, I carried the plate to the veranda and sat down at one of the tables.
Man! I thought as I began to eat, this is the life!
* * *
At 17.30, I drove to the Ferguson Electronic & Oil Corporation and entered by the back entrance. The guard recognized me, nodded and lifted the barrier. I took the express elevator to the top floor.
I had spent a wonderful afternoon, making plans. I needed clothes. I couldn’t go around in my shabby suit. For clothes I needed money, then remembered I had seven thousand dollars to my credit at the Chase National Bank. I telephoned them and told them to transfer the money to the Paradise City branch. They said they would telex it right away. I then had a swim. As the mile long beach was completely deserted, I swam nude.
Later, I drove to the bank, signed the necessary forms, got a checkbook and drew out one thousand dollars.
Tomorrow, I told myself, I would have a shopping spree.
I felt like a ten foot tall man when I tapped on my office door and walked in.
Sonia was typing. She looked up and smiled at me.
‘Couldn’t be better,’ I said. ‘Mr. Ferguson wanted me at six.’
‘He’s free now.’ She flicked down the switch on the intercom.
There was a pause, then Ferguson’s voice, the voice I could so faithfully imitate, said, ‘Yes, Miss Malcolm?’
‘Mr. Stevens is here, sir.’
‘Fine. Send him in, please.’
She switched off and smiled at me.
‘Go ahead, Jerry.’
‘If you have nothing better to do, would you like to have dinner with me tonight?’ I asked.
Her smile widened.
‘I’d love it, but first, see what Mr. Ferguson wants.’
‘I’ll be right back and we’ll fix something.’
I walked down the corridor to Ferguson’s office door, tapped and entered.
Ferguson was at his desk. Sitting in a lounging chair was Joe Durant. The sight of him startled me. He regarded me with cold, steely eyes.
Ferguson got to his feet.
‘Come on in, Jerry,’ he said with a warm smile, but I saw there was tension in his eyes. ‘What’s the decision?’
I moved further into the room and shut the door.
‘I’ll be happy to work for you, sir.’
The tension went out of his eyes.
‘Sit down.’ He waved to a chair near where Durant was sitting. ‘That’s good news. You are happy with your office, your car and your accommodation?’
‘Who wouldn’t be, sir?’
‘Right. Joe has the contract. Seven years. You understand?’
‘You will be paid in advance. Eight thousand, three hundred and thirty three dollars: a month’s salary. Miss Malcolm will arrange the tax deduction and for a check to be paid to you.’
As I sat down, Durant took a paper from his briefcase and handed it to me. It was a simple contract, but I read it carefully. It stated the facts: I was to be Ferguson’s personal assistant. I was to be paid one hundred thousand dollars a year with a raise of ten thousand dollars after three years. The contract was for seven years and could be terminated with a six months’ notice by either side.
Durant thrust a pen at me, so I signed. He then gave me a copy which was signed: ‘Joseph Durant, Vice President.’
‘You are now a member of my staff,’ Ferguson said. ‘You will remember my staff do not talk to anyone about what goes on here. You will remember if the press question you, you are my personal assistant, and you say nothing more. Right?’
‘Now, I have work for you.’ He smiled. ‘I’m sorry to start you so soon, but it is necessary. I am leaving in an hour. I need to avoid the press and others.’ He waved to the bathroom. ‘You will find your make-up kit and clothes there. Will you change? I want you to leave by the front entrance with Mazzo. You will return to my residence. You will remain there until I return. Probably, I’ll be back in a day or so. As soon as I return, you will be free for maybe a couple of weeks to do what you like.’
I felt a pang of disappointment. I had been looking forward to taking Sonia out to dinner. Then I remembered I was Ferguson’s hired assistant at one hundred thousand dollars a year.
‘Yes, sir.’ I got up and went into the bathroom where I found the suitcase Mazzo had packed. It took me some fifteen minutes to change and put on the mask. I limped to the bathroom door and opened it.
Ferguson had left his desk and was standing by the window. Durant had gone.
At the sound of the door opening, Ferguson turned and looked at me. He stood rooted, staring at me, then he lifted his hand to his face. I lifted my hand to my face. He took a step back. I took a step forward.
‘Good God!’ he exclaimed. ‘It’s uncanny!’
‘Good God!’ I said, imitating his voice. ‘It’s uncanny.’ Then in my voice, I went on, ‘I’m glad, sir, you think so.’
He gave a shaky laugh.
‘You are marvelous, Jerry! Goddamn it, it’s like looking in a mirror.’ He came over and peered closely at me. ‘That’s a remarkable disguise.’ He patted my shoulder. ‘I wouldn’t have believed it possible.’ He laughed again. ‘And the voice.’ He looked at his watch. ‘I have only a few minutes.’ He went to the intercom, flicked down a switch, said, ‘I’m ready for you Mazzo.’
The door opened and Mazzo came in.
‘Take Jerry back home, Mazzo,’ Ferguson said. He turned to me. ‘Please do what Mazzo tells you to do.’ He smiled. ‘You are a damn fine artist.’
‘Let’s go,’ Mazzo said.
I followed him out of the office, down the corridor towards the elevators. As I passed my office door, I hesitated. I wanted to ask Sonia to give me a rain check, but Mazzo gently shoved me on.
The press were waiting, but the guards got me to the Rolls. It was like playing the same old disc once again.
As the Rolls drove away, I heard the plaintive shouts: Mr. Ferguson! One moment, Mr. Ferguson!
‘Those bastards never give up,’ Mazzo growled.
I was thinking, only hours ago, I was planning to steal the Rolls and make a break out. Now, I was a member of Ferguson’s staff, pulling down an unheard of salary.
I relaxed and thought of Sonia. She was my kind of woman. In a few days, I would take her to dinner. I wanted to develop our association: badly wanted to.
Back in Ferguson’s suite, I took off the mask, then returned to where Mazzo was waiting.
‘I’ve got instructions,’ he said. ‘The instructions say you stick around, and I don’t have to bother with you. You’ve got the free run of the place, but don’t go near the gates where someone might spot you. Get it?’
‘You mean I don’t have to stay in this room? I can go anywhere on the estate?’
‘That’s it. You are now one of us, palsy. I told you you were going to survive, didn’t I?’ He pointed to a green telephone on the desk. ‘You want something to eat, you want anything, use that phone.’ He moved to the door. ‘I have a date with a doll.’ He grinned. ‘Man! Am I going to give her a going over! Right now, palsy, you are on your own, but keep clear of the gates.’ Still grinning, he left me.
The time now was 17.05. I went to the rear window and looked down at the swimming pool. It looked marvelously tempting. I found it hard to believe that I was now free to do what I liked as long as I remained on the estate.
I stripped off, put on swimming trunks I found in one of the clothes’ closets, then taking a towel from the bathroom, I went down the stairs to the hall.
As I walked around the terrace to the pool, I saw Mazzo take off in the Jaguar. I gave him a wave, but he didn’t see me.
I spent an hour in the pool. The evening sun was perfect. As I was toweling myself, Jonas appeared.
‘Perhaps a drink, Mr. Stevens?’
‘Why not? A very large, very dry martini.’
‘Certainly, Mr. Stevens,’ and he went over to the bar.
Man! I thought, this is the life!
I settled myself on one of the lounging chairs, catching the last rays of the sun.
Jonas brought the drink.
‘For dinner, Mr. Stevens, I suggest chicken breasts in a lobster sauce,’ he said. ‘Perhaps a prawn cocktail. The prawns are exceptional.’
‘You have a deal,’ I said, my mouth watering.
‘Would you care to dine in the dining room or would you prefer to dine in your suite?’
I looked at him. The dark, old face was deadpan.
‘She will be dining in her suite.’
‘She will also be dining in her suite.’
‘Okay. I’ll dine in Mr. Ferguson’s suite.’
‘Certainly, Mr. Stevens,’ and he went away.
I lay there, sipping the drink and watching the sun slowly sink. It was hard to believe this was happening to me. The menace had gone. I was in a fantastic dream world. I thought back on those days when I had sat by the telephone, practically starving, waiting and waiting for the telephone bell to ring. Now this!
I stayed watching the sun sink and the moon climb.
Watching the moon, I remembered what Mrs. Harriet had said: Whenever there is a full moon, she will be confined.
The moon was nearly full: in another three days, the moon would be full.
My mind switched to Loretta. I was sure she was out of her mind. She had to be! But this talk of about a full moon I couldn’t accept.
Why should I worry? I told myself. I was now a member of the Ferguson’s staff. I was free. I wasn’t supervised any longer. John Merrill Ferguson, enormously rich and powerful, was pleased with me.
What more could I want?
Leaving the terrace, I returned to the suite. I took a shower, then put on one of Ferguson’s shirts and slacks.
As I moved into the living room, Jonas came in, wheeling the dinner trolley.