Darker Than Amber

Darker Than Amber by Travis McGee Read Free Book Online

Book: Darker Than Amber by Travis McGee Read Free Book Online
Authors: Travis McGee
obvious fantasy and self-delusion, her mode of speech changing from imitation duchess elegance to clinical crudity. All the basic patterns emerged, the way a design will appear after the etcher has made his ten thousand tiny engravings on the copper plate. Perhaps some social psychologist would have given his chance of an honorary degree to have the whole recital on tape.

It was interesting at the beginning I guess any normal person has curiosity about the inner structure of organized prostitution, the dangers to avoid, the payoffs, the mechanics of solicitation, the ways of extracting extra bounty when they get hold of a live one. But after a time it was repetitious and dull. Too much detail about the furnishings of darling apartments, about the accumulation of darling wardrobes. The life of a sandhog tunneling under a river can be fascinating until you have to listen to a play-by-play of every shovel load of muck. And so when Meyer went below to fix lunch, and she decided she was maybe getting too much sun through reflection off the water and followed him down, the silence was welcome.

In the silence I wanted to sort her out. Her twelve years on the track had coarsened her beyond any hope of salvage. Though I know it is the utmost folly to sentimentalize or romanticize a whore, I could respect a certain toughness of spirit Vangie possessed. She had not howled as she fell to her death. She had not flinched or murmured as we cut the hooks out of her leg. And she had bounced back from the edge of death by violence with remarkable buoyancy. The talking jag seemed the only symptom of how shaken she had been. I could think of few women I had known who could have taken such terror in stride.

I realized I felt proud of her. This reaction was so irrational it startled me. I tracked it down to its obvious source. It was the inevitable sense of ownership. I remember talking all night long to a damned fine surgeon. At one time during the night he spoke of the ones he had hauled back through those big gates when he had no right to expect it could be done. "They become your people," he said. "Your kids. You want the good things for them because they get it on time you gave them. You want them to use life well. When they crap around, wasting what you gave them, you feel forlorn. When they use it well, you feel great. Maybe because it's some kind of a ledger account, and they have to make up for what those others would have done, those ones you lost for no damn good reason."

I knew that the risk I'd taken had been for the sake of putting another hooker back on the tiles. So I had to believe she had enough essential spirit and toughness to be able to make it some other way, and would.

At three-thirty, after Vangie had sacked out, the wind changed, moving in our direction, making it so hot at the topside controls I had Meyer take the wheel while I strung a tarp for shade. Then we sat and talked about our passenger, agreeing that the talking jag was reaction hysteria.

"Also," Meyer said, "she has to level with us. She can't help adding trimmings, but it is essentially true. Maybe she didn't want to tell a pair of civilians about her career. Maybe she wanted to pretend to be something else. But if she'd pretended to be something else, how would that work when we get to Miami? Say she was going back to the model agency? Back to the husband and kiddies? Back to the old secretarial desk? By leveling she's asking for help and advice. How does she get out of the range of the people who'll take another try at her?"

"But without leveling all the way. I had told him about that part of the conversation he hadn't been there to catch.

"Travis, she keeps walking around it, getting a little closer every time. I think she wants to tell us. I think she wants to get it off her chest. Whatever she's been doing for the past two years, it makes her feel guilty. But she has a real dilemma. If she tells us enough so we can tip off the authorities, her

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