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Two pairs of eyes watched Richard Garrison and Vicki Maler leave their holiday residence and disappear into the maze of steep narrow streets leading down into the heart of the Greek island village; two pairs, neither one aware of the other. One pair belonged to a thief, the other to an assassin.
The latter, Joe Black by name, was seated at a table on the raised patio of the taverna where the pair he watched normally breakfasted—a taverna they were obliged to pass on any excursion away from their accommodation—whose open-air eating area presented Black with a distant but unobstructed view of the door to their courtyard, seen above rising tiers of flat white rooftops. The village, dropping down into a valley or bay, seemed to have been built on much the same lines as an auditorium or amphitheatre; for which kindness Black gave the ancient architects a generous ten. It made his task as observer that much easier.
Black wore Lederhosen and braces, a wide-brimmed straw hat and an open-neck shirt loud with red and yellow flowers. He was not German—despite his dress, his fat face and cigar—but Cockney: the hired hand of a middling Mafia boss, Carlo Vicenti, who once owned a quarter-share of one of London’s less reputable and far more profitable casinos. Richard Garrison now owned that quarter-share, a fact which irked Vicenti more than a trifle. Hence Joe Black’s presence here in Lindos, Rhodes, the Aegean.
Black was not alone on Rhodes: a second hit-man, his brother Bert (“Bomber Bert Black,” to his dubious circle of friends), waited in Rhodes town itself. Bert was the “hard” part of the team on this occasion. That is to say, his was the hand which would directly terminate Garrison’s life. Brother Joe’s role was simply to tell him when to do it.
Just a minute or so after 11:00, the subjects of Black’s covert surveillance emerged from an alley into the narrow “main” street, crossing it to climb wooden stairs to the breakfast patio. He waited for them to seat themselves close by, waited again until they engaged the waiter’s attention and started to give him their orders, then folded his shielding newspaper and left.
He glanced only once at the pair as he went, his eyes lingering momentarily on the black-as-night lenses and frames which Garrison wore. A blind man, this Garrison, allegedly. Black snorted as he descended the stairs to the street and made his way towards the open village square and coach-and-taxi booking office. “Huh!” The damnedest blind man he had ever seen! And his mind went back to the first time he ever came into contact with Garrison…
That had been at the Ace of Clubs, where on occasion Black had used to do bouncer (or “floor attendant” as the dealers and their minders preferred it). The “blind” man had come in one night with his woman, also blind, the first time they had ever visited the place. The last, too, if Black’s memory served him correctly. As patrons, anyway. He snorted again: “Huh!” Well, and hadn’t once been enough?
That had been, oh, six or seven months ago, but Black remembered it like yesterday…
…Remembered Garrison buying one large pink chip worth fifty pounds sterling, and the way he had casually crossed to the central roulette wheel to toss the chip onto the table’s zero. And how with the next spin the ball had dropped, as if pre-ordained, directly into that very slot—how in fact it had fallen into that slot twice in succession. And how Garrison had let the spoils of his first incredible gamble ride!
The gasps of shock, astonishment and appreciation that went up then had been the summons which brought the boss, the raven-haired Carlo Vicenti himself, hurrying up to the table, his face darkening under brows already black as thunder. “Mr, er, Garrison? Yes, your custom was recommended. The club’s misfortune, it appears.” He forced a smile. “Well, sir, you have won a great deal of money, in fact a fortune, and—”
“And I want to let it ride one last time,” Garrison had unsmilingly cut him short.
“On the zero?” Vicenti’s jaw had dropped.
Garrison had frowned thoughtfully, only half-seriously, almost mockingly. “Certainly, on the zero, why not?”
“But sir, you have already won over sixty thousand pounds, and—”
“Sixty-four thousand and eight hundred, to be exact,” Garrison had cut him short again, “—including my stake, of course. But please do go on.”
Vicenti had leaned towards him then, staring up into his dark, heavy lenses and stating in a lowered tone, but perfectly audibly, “Sir, unbeknown to you, the operator of this wheel has already been obliged to ask the house for permission to cover your second bet. Normally, you understand we would have a limit of one thousand pounds on this wheel. And besides, the zero cannot possibly come up a third time.”
Garrison had stood rock still, apparently frozen to the floor by something Vicenti had said. His answer, when finally it came, was delivered in a voice steady, firm and chill: “Am I to understand that this wheel is fixed?”
Vicenti was astounded. “What? I said no such thing! Of course the wheel is not fixed. I did not mean that the—”
“Then it can ‘possibly’ spin a third zero?”
“But certainly, sir—except it is most unlikely, and—”
“Unlikely or not,” Garrison cut in for the third time, “I wish to bet.”
A half-apologetic shrug. “We cannot cover it. And sir—” this time Vicenti’s voice had been almost conspiratorial, wheedling, “—aren’t you being just a little frivolous with your money?”
“Not with mine,” and now Garrison smiled broadly. “With yours, perhaps, but not mine. I only started with fifty pounds.”
All of this Joe Black had witnessed from a position close at hand. Also the way Vicenti had turned an explosive purple at Garrison’s last remark. At that moment Joe had known, whatever the apparent outcome of this confrontation, that the little Sicilian would take a terrible revenge on the blind man—in one way or another. The one thing Vicenti had never been able to stand was to be laughed at—and here he stood, an object of ridicule. Certainly in his own eyes. Possibly in the eyes of half of the club’s regular clientele, who now gathered about the table in various attitudes ranging between awe and delight. In fact it was mainly Garrison’s lucky streak which had fired their imaginations, not Vicenti’s discomfiture; but the Sicilian had taken their smiles, their subdued laughter, chuckles and excited whispers as being derogatory to himself.
“Wait!” he had snapped. “I need to confer.” And the wheel had remained stationary for a full five minutes until he returned.
“Well?” Garrison had remained cool, smiling—at least with his mouth, for of course his eyes had been invisible.
And now Vincenti had seemed eager that everyone should hear him. “Mr—er, Garrison?—I am a part-owner of this club. Indeed I own one quarter of all its assets. Even so, I personally could barely cover tonight’s losses. Your winnings, that is. But…I am a gambler.” And he had paused to smile a shark’s smile, teeth white and gleaming in a veritable death-grin. “Since you, too, are a gambler—a most extraordinary gambler, obviously—I have a proposition which might interest you.”
Vicenti had shrugged, continued: “I have been authorized to take full responsibility in this matter. Responsibility for the current, er, damage, shall we say?—and for my, er, proposition.”
Vicenti had then taken out his personal checkbook, written a check for £64,800, folded it neatly and delicately placed it on the table’s zero. “Take my check by all means, or—we spin the wheel. But on this understanding: since the club does not have that sort of money, if you win you accept my share of its ownership by way of payment.”
Which was where, if Garrison was a normal, sober man and in his right mind, he should have backed down and taken his winnings. Everything was against him: namely the incredible odds against the zero and the fact that he could win no more real cash. And at the same time Vicenti stood to gain immeasurably. For despite the fact that all the odds were on his side, still he had shown that he was indeed a gambler—that he personally was willing to risk his all on this one spin of the wheel—and that Garrison was up against a man of equal verve, daring and determination. But more important by far to Carlo Vicenti, there was no longer any laughter from those patrons crowding the table, no more amused sniggers and whispers. Instead the mood had become one of tense excitement, of breathless suspense. Quite simply, it was now Vincenti against Garrison. This had become a very personal matter.
Joe Black remembered a very strange thing, something which even now, six months later, made him shudder in a thrill of almost supernatural intensity. Garrison had seemed—to change. His very shape inside his evening suit had seemed somehow to bulk out, to take on weight, solidity. He had become—squarer. His face, too, had taken on this squareness, and his smile had completely faded away.
No one else appeared to notice these things—with perhaps the one exception of the blind man’s woman, who backed off from him a little, her hand going nervously to her mouth—but Joe Black was absolutely certain of what he had seen. It was as if, in the space of only a few seconds, a different man stood in Garrison’s shoes. A man with a different voice. A harsh, arrogant, authoritative, somehow Germanic voice:
“I accept your gamble, my little Sicilian friend. Let the wheel spin. But since so very much rests upon it—in your eyes at least—please be so good as to spin it yourself.”
“That’s most…unusual,” Vicenti had grated in return. “But so is everything tonight, it appears. Very well—” and in utter silence he had moved through the throng, which opened to let him pass, spun the wheel, raced the ball against the spin—and waited.
Rock steady he had stood there as the wheel gradually slowed and the ball skittered and clicked, ramrod straight at the head of the table, his face split in a frozen, almost meaningless grin. And the ball jumping, rolling, skittering, and the wheel slowing. And a sea of faces watching the wheel—except Garrison’s which, blind or not, seemed turned upon Vicenti’s face—and Joe Black’s, which watched only Garrison.
And the wheel still turning but the ball now firmly lodged in its slot. Vicenti’s eyes bulging. A touch of foam at the corner of his madly grinning mouth. Concerted gasps, sighs, amazed little utterances going up from the onlookers—and all of them drawing back from the swaying Vicenti to give him space, air.
And his half-gasp, half-croak, as the fingers of his left hand clawed at the table’s rim, giving him support: “Zero!”
“You have my address,” Garrison’s voice was still the new, cold Germanic one. “I shall expect the documents delivered in the near future. Goodnight to you.” And he had picked up Vicenti’s check and pocketed it, and without another word had led his wife across the floor, out of the room, out of the club and into the night.
Oh, yes, Joe Black remembered that night. How rage and utter hatred had blazed in Vicenti’s fever-bright eyes as he watched Garrison leave; how he had then switched off the table’s overhead light and given the dealer and his assistant the rest of the night—indeed the rest of their lives—off, telling them never to return; and how he had retired rubber-legged to the club’s offices. There he had consumed large amounts of alcohol, being quite drunk later when, after the club had said goodnight to its last patron, he staggeringly returned—returned with a fire axe and great gusto to reduce the table, wheel and all to very small fragments.
Not a night Black might easily forget…it was the night Vicenti had offered him the contract on Garrison’s life…
* * *
The second pair of eyes watching Richard Garrison and Vicki Maler belonged to a gentleman from Genoa named Paulo Palazzi. A gentleman, that is, to unacquainted eyes. Unlike Joe Black, Palazzi had no prior knowledge of Garrison beyond the fact that he was a very rich man. Anyone with his own chartered aircraft sitting idle in a hangar at Rhodes airport would, of necessity, be very rich. This had seemed indisputable to Palazzi; nevertheless, he had made several discreet, local inquiries to prove the point; and if further confirmation were needed there was always the fact that Garrison and his lady had paid for and were now enjoying the luxury of rooms large enough to accommodate three to four times their numbers. Privacy costs money. A lot of money…
Paulo Palazzi was small, slim, immaculate in a white, lightweight Italian suit and patent leather shoes, and bareheaded to show off his mop of curly black hair. Light-skinned, clear-eyed and fresh-faced, he could be anything between twenty-five and forty years of age. A cheerful, fairly well-to-do Italian tourist—to anyone offering him less than a very close scrutiny. And indeed he was fairly well-do-to, on the spoils of various illicit occupations, including his very successful summer trips. This was one such: a week on Rhodes which, with a bit of luck, would pay for itself many times over.
He had been watching Garrison’s comings and goings for three days now, sufficient time to acquaint himself quite intimately with the man’s humors and habits. Only one thing continued to concern him: Garrison’s blindness. For plainly Garrison was not blind, despite the heavy dark glasses he constantly wore. Or if he was, then his four remaining senses had expanded out of all proportion—or, more likely, he was richer than even Palazzi had reckoned. For who but an extremely rich man could possibly afford the very special and miniaturized aids he would need to make so light of so serious an infirmity?
Not that Garrison’s blindness—real or assumed—gave Palazzi any sort of moral pause, on the contrary. The thing was a positive boon, or might be if Palazzi’s plans needed to be altered. No, it was just that Garrison seemed to see so very well…for a blind man. Well, doubtless he had his own reasons for the subterfuge, if indeed it was such. And for Palazzi…it must remain simply a curiosity, one of the idiosyncrasies of a victim-to-be.
Palazzi sat upon a spread handkerchief, his slim legs nonchalantly crossed, his back to a merlon of the ancient battlements, high over Lindos on the precipitous wall of the Acropolis itself. He held a pair of powerful binoculars to his eyes in slender, highly articulate and well-manicured hands, his gaze fixed upon the vine beneath which he could just make out the light blue of Garrison’s T-shirt and the coolly contrasting greens of Vicki’s skirt and top. He smiled to himself, idly reflecting upon his own cleverness.
His modus operandi was simplicity itself, perfected over the last three seasons. Three seasons, yes, for he had discovered Lindos three summers ago. Lindos and its mighty rock.
From the old battlements, courtesy of the crusading Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, he could see virtually all of the village. Not a single house or home, shack or taverna was hidden from his scrutiny. Sitting here, warm in the brilliant sunshine and breathing the sweet, clean air of the Aegean, he could study any victim’s to and froings at will, picking and choosing the perfect time to strike. And occasionally, just occasionally, there would be enough in it to keep him in luxury for…well, for a little while at least.
As for the way it worked:
Tomorrow evening, for example, Garrison and his lady would very likely go out. They would eat, drink, talk a little in one or another other taverna late into the Lindos night. Their movements would be languid, leisurely. They were on holiday, in no mood to hurry. Later they might go to a disco, burn off a little excess energy. But whatever they did, it would make little difference. Palazzi, having seen them leave their rooms, would have plenty of time to get in, discover their hidden valuables (they all did that, hid away their jewelry and spare cash), take what he wanted and get out.
And of course Garrison would not be his only victim tomorrow night. There was also a fat, rich Frenchman and his mistress, who Palazzi knew were booked to see a show tomorrow in Rhodes; and finally there was a Swiss playboy and his girlfriend, who invariably danced and drank the night away. And all of them would be leaving their accommodation at approximately the same time, their movements entirely visible in the magnifying lenses of the thief’s binoculars. And the cost of remaining up here when the crowds of visitors were finally ushered out of the place and the Acropolis locked its door? Oh, a few hundred Drachmas, enough to keep the gnarled old watchman in ouzo for a night or two.
And in the early hours of the following morning—with the sun not long up and the local constabulary still rubbing the sleep from their eyes—why, Paulo Palazzi would be gone! Lone passenger in a taxi headed for Rhodes town, where he would change his suit, his style, unload a few choice items for cash and re-adopt his real name. Under which, four or five days from now, he would fly back to Genoa and business as usual. And if what he had seen of Mrs. Garrison’s jewelry alone was anything to go by…it would be quite a long time before he needed to do any “serious” work again.
Which was probably why he was so cheerful, nodding a bright good morning to a couple of pretty British girls with Birmingham accents where they leaned out over the wall close by and oohed and aahed their awe at the scene spread below. Yes, it was a very pretty scene, and a very good morning. Hopefully tomorrow would be just as good, and especially tomorrow night.
Putting his binoculars away, snapping shut the catch on their case and standing up, Palazzi smiled at the girls again. One of them had the most exquisitely jutting breasts. He licked his lips. A pity this was a purely business trip, but—
Well, business is business…
* * *
Five minutes after Joe Black left the elevated patio where his intended victim now breakfasted, Garrison paused with a forkful of scrambled egg raised halfway to his mouth. Suddenly upon his mind’s eye, leaping into view from nowhere, he had viewed—something. A scene. Not a true memory but something else entirely. Just what…he couldn’t say, except that for a moment all of his senses had seemed electrified into a tingling defensiveness. The scene had been dim and smoky and had depicted a male figure, seated, his hand spinning a small roulette wheel which he held between crossed legs. The thing had lasted no longer than a split second. Now it was gone, beyond recall.
“Richard?” Vicki’s voice reached him. “Something with your egg?”
He unfroze, relaxed shoulders grown too tight, and lowered his fork. “No,” he smiled, “it’s fine. I’ve had enough, that’s all.”
“You looked so strange just then,” she was concerned.
“Did I? Oh, I was probably miles away.”
She tilted her head questioningly. “Is it nice there?”
“Um?” He was still distant.
“What were you thinking?”
“Thinking?” He shrugged, shook his head, said the first thing that came into his mind—something which mildly surprised even him.
“Did you notice the man who left a few minutes ago? With the leather pants and flowery shirt?”
“Yes, a German like me. Or rather more typical—or at least how you English believe a typical German should be.” She smiled. “A bit loud, really. You were thinking about him?”
“Too loud,” Garrison answered, “and not at all German. And yes, I suppose I must have been thinking about him.”
“Not German? But he looked so—” She stopped smiling. “You were eavesdropping? Listening to his thoughts? But why, Richard?”
“Actually, I wasn’t,” he said truthfully. “Hell, I hardly noticed the bloke. But—oh, I may have seen him before somewhere. He’s not German, though, you can be sure of that.”
“And does it matter? His nationality, I mean?”
He wrinkled his nose, gave her question perfunctory consideration, grinned and said, “Shouldn’t think so.”
Now Vicki relaxed, reached across the table and took his hand, laughed out loud. “Oh, Richard, you really are the strangest man!” And because it had been spontaneous, she failed to see the significance of her words.
Garrison continued to grin outwardly, while inside:
Oh, yes, he thought, I really am. But there are stranger things in heaven and earth, Vicki, my sweet. Stranger by far.
And he knew that one of those things, those oh-so-strange things, was even now beginning. Or perhaps it had started long ago and only now was coming to a head, like pus gathering in a boil.
All about Garrison the Psychosphere eddied and swirled, pulsing endlessly, apparently ordered and serene. But occasionally it carried the ripples of far, distant disturbances beyond his understanding. Such ripples were there even now; they did him no harm, but they troubled him. He felt like a fish swimming in the Great Sea of the Psychosphere, and like a fish he sensed the presence of some mighty predator. Out there, somewhere in the fathomless deeps—a shark!
That was an interesting thought:
A shark in the Psychosphere, and Garrison not so much a fish as a spear-fisherman. While he preyed on smaller denizens of the deeps, somewhere close at hand a large predator circled him. But he wasn’t afraid, or at least not wholly afraid, for he had his spear-gun. Except…if a confrontation was in the offing, would his gun be powerful enough? Its once-tough rubber hurlers were getting old, growing weaker from continued stretching.
Worse than this, would he even see the enemy if it came—or would it coast up silently behind him, jaws agape?
Suddenly fearful, lost in his fantasy, Garrison cast about with his mind. Terror was the spur, boosting his ESP even as it boosted his adrenalin. Searching, he peered deep into the Psychosphere. Somewhere, somewhere…
That mottled, marbled shape, silent as a shadow, intent upon the pursuit of some other prey, showing no interest in Garrison whatsoever. Until—
—The shark-shape turned suddenly in Garrison’s direction, came at him in a blind, head-on fury, a dull-gray bullet snarling through the matterless stuff of the Psychosphere.
It was close, looming closer…it sensed him!
“Richard?” Vicki’s voice reached in to him, causing him to start as if slapped—which in turn made her jump. “Wandering again?” she nervously asked.
Garrison’s face felt drained of blood—but he forced a grin, rose and reached across the table to draw her up with him. He hoped she couldn’t feel the trembling in his arms. “Good idea,” he said. “To wander, I mean. Let’s walk down towards the beach…”
But even as they set out she could tell that he was still not entirely with her…
Copyright © 1984 by Brian Lumley