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Black Ice: Chapter 32

...He was half-mad, stoked up with jealousy and anger, and he was out there running around with a Colt .45....

Oscar Murphy is back in Iceland – and he’s deadly dangerous!

Colin Dunne continues his exciting Cold War spy novel. To read earlier chapters please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/black_ice/

'Collect?'

In Jack Vale's mouth the word sounded like an extreme form
of perversion. Come to think of it, to him it was.

'Did I hear that woman correctly? You're calling me collect?'’

I began to explain that I didn't have much choice when I was
using a pay-phone at the hotel, to save time rushing back to
Hulda's, but by this time he was practically keening.

'Is this some new sort of interrogation technique you are employing? First of all, persistent deprivation of sleep, and then you hit me where it most pains every man of breeding and culture - in the wallet. Are teams of men waiting outside my apartment door even now, ready to rush in and douse me with buckets of ice-cold water?'

Somewhere in among this catalogue of self-pity I managed to ask him if he'd been able to get down to Jamaica. He had. He then began to explain, yard by yard, what a tremendous distance this was from Greenwich Village, by way of prepar¬ation for his expenses, no doubt.

'And of course there's the matter of all these collect phone-calls

'Oh, can't you go and sell a sporran or something. Was he there? Did you see him?'

He needed a minute then to get comfortable, find his notebook and light a cigarette.

'Now, your first question. No, he isn't there, hence I didn't see him. I told you he lives with this girl, Vicky. On his instructions, she'd given his brother this story about having influenza and naturally enough the brother had believed her. Which is why I believed him.'

'So where is he?'

'Right where you are, Sam. He's in Iceland.'

I was about to say that I'd just had breakfast with him when it struck me I needed to hear every single thing he could tell me. This was the heart of the confusion.

'From the top, Jack.'

'As best I can, Sam, as best I can.'

It came out in bits and pieces, some from his notebook, some scraps he remembered as we went along, and some in response to questions from me. And in one form or another I'd heard most of it before.

Murphy was an exemplary marine. He had made corporal on his first tour. He had got his wings flying helicopters out of Cherry Point. For his second tour he did come to Iceland and he was on embassy duty. Then there was the girl trouble. He was sent back to the States. He began drinking heavily. He bopped a sergeant one night. And the marines didn't want him
any more. It was true that he was now working for his brother and living with a woman called Vicky.

When Jack Vale arrived on the doorstep with his Hibernian charm she'd abandoned the story of his having 'flu. The truth was that she was none too pleased about him going off to Iceland like that.

'He's not a big success out of uniform?'

'He's struggling. This Vicky, she's pretty enough, or she has been. You'd give her seven out of ten for looks and one for brains. But she's sitting there eating food out of a can and killing roaches with her other hand. You know what it's like: no money, no clothes, no pretty hair-do . . .'

'Your story, Jack. Why did he decide to come back here?'

'This Vicky, she says about three weeks ago he got a letter from Iceland. She accused him of writing to his old girlfriend — is it Solrun or something? — and he showed her the letter and then gave her a smack in the mouth. We're talking about pretty basic communication here.'

'They'd do well in newspapers. Wasn't it from Solrun then?'

'Apparently it was anonymous. That's all she knows about it, or so she says. Oh yes, and there was a photograph too but again she says he wouldn't let her see it. Anyway the effect of it was quite dramatic. Old Oscar went right off his chump. He said he had to go back to Iceland, and that led to a free and frank exchange of views. He gave her a few more smacks in the mouth, flogged his old Toyota and headed north. Does that make any sense your end?'

'Almost. He's been here how long?'

'About a week, I think. She's not too clear on dates. She's been mooning about weeping most of the time, hoping he'll come back.'

There was a pause then, and I knew that was ominous. Jack didn't go in for costly pauses, not when he was paying.

'There's one thing you're not going to like too much. He took some of his old marine gear, sleeping bags and so on, as though he intended living rough. He also took a gun.'

'A Colt .45 automatic?'

'That's the one. They call that model The Mule because it kicks so much, but it's the old jar-heads' handgun, so it makes
sense, I suppose.'

'What sort of state was he in?'

'I wouldn't think too good. He'd been hitting the booze and popping pills, she said, and God knows what else she wouldn't admit to. Apparently he didn't want to come back from Iceland anyway, and he'd been under a lot of pressure since then. I think he's going to be a mite fractious.'

'I'll remember.'

'As they said to Mrs Lincoln, apart from that, how are you enjoying yourself up there? Are the girls as dazzling as ever?'

'Do you know Iceland, Jack?'

'I did, certainly. When you were a mere twinkle, my boy. I was there with the real military, the RN, just after the war. You couldn't get any booze, there was almost sort of prohibition then, as I recall, but the women. Och-la-la, as we Scots say.'

'Land of the Midnight Fun?'

'And then some. But I'll tell you something, your man Murphy wouldn't have got past first base in those days.'

'How do you mean?'

'They actually had an official deal with the US Government. They weren't too keen on those of a darkish hue.'

'Those of what? I do wish you'd speak English, Jack.'

'Blacks, my boy. They wouldn't let any blacks near the place.'

'You mean Oscar Murphy is a black?'

'Yes.' He sounded quite blank. 'Of course he is . . .'

I stood holding the receiver and not listening. Pennies, dimes and kronur began to drop. There'd always been one man too many, right from the start. The one in the kitchen at Solrun's, who'd knocked me cold with the pan. The one who'd set up camp in the spare bedroom at Palli's. The one who'd almost certainly have damaged hands from beating up Kirillina. He was the little Mr Nobody who did everything but was never seen.

He was half-mad, stoked up with jealousy and anger, and he was out there running around with a Colt .45.

Then it struck me. The chances were that he wouldn't take too kindly to people taking his name in vain. The man I'd just met - the white man who claimed to be Oscar Murphy - had
been publicly identified. That made him a target.

I put the phone down without saying goodbye. There wasn't time.

So far as I'm aware, no one has yet done comparative studies on the time it takes to bash a sodding great Vauxhall estate out of the way when you're in a rush. For those who care about these things, the answer is about three minutes if you're in a Daihatsu jeep.

But you have to be very bad-tempered.

Whoever had parked the Vauxhall two millimetres from my rear bumper would come back to find it three feet further north, and with its front several inches nearer the back.

It's always the same when you're rushing. As soon as I'd got out of that, I somehow took a couple of wrong turns and got myself stuck in the town centre. They were all there: house¬wives who hadn't been told about indicators, blind tradesmen in their vans, tourist coaches pausing to photograph every lamp-post.

Teeth gritted, hand on horn, I hopped from brake to accelerator as I fought my way through. Minutes clicked by. I had to get on the road out to the base. And all the time I was thinking how much quicker you'd do it on a Triumph Trophy.

When I did break free of the town, it was one of those days that demanded admiration. The sun sparkled on the apartment block windows in the suburbs and threw cheap glitter over the sea. You could almost reach out and touch the mountains. But it was all wasted on me. I had a nasty feeling that I was too late.

The tick-drum noise of the diesel engine didn't seem anything like enough, and I found myself rocking in the driving seat like a kid as I tried to will more speed out of it. If only I'd gone for a bonnet full of cylinders instead of four-wheel drive.

When the road narrowed to a straight two-car strip, I could see that I was the only man on the move. I was out in lava-country again. On either side the wastelands of stones stretched out. I was the only man on the moon, me and my moon buggy.

By the time I saw the car I was almost past it. It was about twenty yards off the road to the left, in a gulley nearly, but not quite, deep enough to hide it. It had plunged downwards and rammed its nose under a rust-coloured boulder the size of a small house.

I stopped, reversed, pulled in, and walked over.

I didn't run. The time for running was over.

I walked across to it, picking my way across the bomb-site left by nature's civil wars. All around the air was sweet and pure and silent, and the first thing I noticed about Dempsie was the way the sun lit up the brilliant jewels in his mop of black hair.

You might have thought he was running for Queen of the May if it wasn't for his face. It looked like an uncooked beefburger. As the Ford came bucketing over the rocks, he'd been flung through the windscreen and he'd ploughed up the screen with his face. That was how I found him. The smashed windscreen had provided him with the tiara.

But he was alive and, as far as I could see, the rest of him was undamaged.

I looked in the car, under the car, and around the car. Nowhere was there any sign of his passenger. There was no sign of a motor-bike either.

A minute later I waved down two US sailors and sent them on their way to raise help. As I waited with Dempsie, the blood bubbled on his lips as he tried to talk.

I leaned close to him. 'Who was it?' His lips moved without making a sound. I asked him again.

This time I bent right down to hear his reply. There was no doubt about what he said.

'Oscar Murphy,' he said. 'The bastard.'

I waited. The sentence that kept coming back to me was the one Dempsie himself had quoted from someone else -1 couldn't even remember who: 'The greatest threat to the American presence in the North Atlantic is the interface between the American male and the Icelandic female.'

Dempsie screwed up his eyes and shook his battered head in some wild dream. 'Oscar Murphy,' he whispered again. 'The bastard.'

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