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His name was Gil Ballard. And though at 31 he was six feet two inches tall and weighed 203 pounds, much of it muscle, he was easygoing and had not been mad enough to bruise anyone for years.
Until this moment at two o'clock in the morning where across the road from where his car was parked, a bar called the Gold Reef was locking its doors and blacking its lights.
Of course he had been angry enough to kill three men twenty-three days and five hours ago. But that had been quite impossible because at the time he had been conscious only for short periods. And though in two days he recovered his wits, it was three weeks before he got out of the hospital. Three weeks while they returned what had been a very straight and well-proportioned nose to a reasonable facsimile oGBP the same; while they patched a wide good-humored mouth so that it could smile again -- if it wanted to -- and not reveal anything of the ugly, three-tooth gap that had been bridged with good dentistry. They also had to mend the clean shelf of jaw, sew the cuts under the quietly intelligent gray-green eyes and reduce the right temple swelling below the dark wave of hair.
Altogether it had been a neat job all seven hundred and fifty dollars worth. And while the face had never been pretty, it was still handsome in a rugged way and the scars didn't show except on very close inspection. But there were scars that were not of the face.
But perhaps the hardest part to take was that the beating had been so completely unnecessary. It was about as motivated as some of those teenage-gang clubbings of strangers. And these men had passed adolescence long ago.
Motivated or not, someone was going to pay. And only part of the payment would be financial.
The Gold Reef was dark now. Everyone had left but the bartender-owner Beef Costigan. He was a ponderous, balding ape of a man with the squat chunkiness of a wrestler. No one seemed to know anything about him except that he had come south from Chicago with enough coin to set up the Gold Reef on coast Highway A1A above Miami and south of the swank area known as Golden Beach.
Ballard got out of his Pontiac and walked across the road to the darkened parking area beside the bar. A pale blue Olds was the single remaining car in the lot. It figured to belong to Costigan, so Ballard leaned against a fender and waited.
He saw now that there was a faint illumination from a window near the side door which he had not been able to glimpse from the road. When this too winked off, he flipped the cigarette he had been smoking into darkness and watched the door attentively.
In a moment Costigan came out, fumbled with the lock and lumbered over to the Olds. He did not see Ballard until he was almost on top of him.
"What the hell!" he said, and paused in midstride to peer into the gloom. "Who's that?"
"Come here and see, Costigan."
"That you, Marty?"
Ballard did not reply and Costigan moved in closer with a wary step. When he paused again three feet away, Ballard took the pencil flash from his pocket and shined it on his own face.
Costigan craned forward, said, "Who the goddamn hell are you?"
"What do you think, Costigan? Did they do a good job gluing the pieces back together?"
"Christ!" said Costigan. "Ballard, ain't it?"
"That's right, Costigan. They let me out of the hospital this morning. Three weeks and two days, seven hundred and fifty bucks worth of patching and stitching, toss in free phony teeth." He lowered the light.
"So? What ya want with me? I didn't have nothin' to do with it."
"You stood there and watched it happen, Costigan. I didn't see you interfere."
"Hell," said Costigan, "guys like that it don't pay to interfere."
"What do you mean, guys like that? Sounds like you know them, Costigan."
"Nah. I don't know 'em. They ain't been in maybe. . . two, three times."
"Sure, that's what you told the police. But while I was sitting at the bar, you were in a real chummy huddle with them over in a corner."
"Just passin' the time."
"Costigan -- listen to me. You're gonna pass some time on your back if I don't get those names. A whole lot of time. You're a lousy liar."
"Don't get hard with me, pal. I tole the cops, I tell you, I don't know those bums."
Ballard could see that Costigan was not the type to be convinced with conversation. He pocketed the flash and moved in. He gave the barkeep two sharp open-handed blows across the face and followed it with a piston jab to the belly that made Costigan do a groaning bend.
He didn't see the knife until Costigan had sneaked it out of his back pocket and flicked the long blade open.
"I'm gonna cut you," said Beef Costigan. "I'm gonna eat you good. This time you won't be back."
Until now the anger in Ballard had been idling, waiting to thrust itself at the real enemy. But the knife brought a change in him. As with the episode in the bar, there again was a sneaky advantage. The knife multiplied the forces against him unfairly so that the bartender seemed to join the opposition openly when he flashed the blade.
Ordinarily Ballard would have had a justifiable fear of the knife. But now it only triggered the hatred that had been building in him.
"That was where you made your big mistake, Beef," he said pleasantly. "You would have been all right if you'd just answered a few questions and kept that toy in your pocket."
Costigan advanced with the blade held low. His movements were uncertain, cautious. Apparently he did not understand men who were not afraid of a knife.
Ballard stood immobile and waited. But when the knife arced upward at him, he side-stepped gracefully and hammered Costigan's ear with a blow that staggered him off balance. The second blow fell on the side of Costigan's jaw before he could recover. Ballard caught him from behind as he was falling and hammer-locked his windpipe until the knife hand was limp and he was able to reach out and pluck it from loose fingers. Then he pulled Costigan to the ground and swung over him, pinning his arms with the heavy grind of knees.
Now Ballard touched the point of the knife to the tender spot just below Costigan's right eye. "I won't make you guess what I'm going to do next," he said. "I'm going to perform a little surgery, Costigan. I want your face to look like mine did. Let's see -- first we'll slice around the eyes, then the head and the nose. From there we'll slash the lips a bit. And while we're at it, we'll bash in a few teeth and finish by carving the jaw."
He meant to do none of these things but Beef Costigan was a primitive type who would be persuaded only with the primitive elements of fear and self-preservation.
"Don't!" said Costigan, sobbing for breath. "Please! I didn't have nothin' to do with it."
Ballard made the knife point sink a fraction deeper in the socket under the eye. "I might change my mind and kill you," he said. "Give me the names of those men. Come on. Quick!"
"I'm scared," he said. "They'd murder me."
"You want to die now or later? Come on. Hurry it up!"
Costigan moistened his lips. "I don't know their last names. Just one of them -- Gould, Russ Gould."
"Gould," snorted Ballard. "Where did you dig that one up?"
"That's the name he goes by. I swear it! Russ Gould."
"Which one was he?"
"One with the black hair, good-lookin'. The young one."
"The one with the smile and the pretty teeth?"
"Where does he live?"
"He. . . I don't know."
"Sure you do, you lying bastard. Guess I'll have to slice you."
"No! He lives up the coast a couple of miles on A1A. Golden Beach."
"Eleven-thirty-nine. You won't tell him, will ya?"
Ballard didn't answer but began to run his hands over Costigan's pockets. A suspicious bulge proved to be a .32 snub-nosed revolver. "Why didn't you use this?" he said.
"Didn't wanna kill you, just scare you."
Ballard folded the blade into the sheath, put gun and knife in his pocket, stood up. "You go near a phone," he said, "you tip Gould I'm coming and I'll be back to finish you."
"I'm a clam," he said. "I swear it. If I tole him where you got the word, he'd butcher me."
"And if he didn't, I would," said Ballard. "Remember that. Now you lie right there until I'm out of sight. Then you beat it for your rathole while you're still lucky."
He walked away without looking back, got in his car and drove off in the direction of Golden Beach.
Copyright © 1959, 2002 by Robert Colby