CARMODY isn't really a private eye; rather, he's a sort of freeelance bodyguard and international dealer in "legal and extralegal services and material." Still, in the course of his adventures, he often must make like a detective. He has contacts all over the world, but Carmody, an American, works out of an isolated hilltop villa outside of Parma on the island of Majorca.
A humourless, rather taciturn man, well-tanned, lean, almost predatory looks and flat green eyes, he's got a reputation for being "hard as flint." And while he's nobody's idea of a party animal, he does enjoy his short, thin black cigars and his 911-T Porsche Targa.
Carmody has had a rather interesting publishing history. He first appeared, under the byline of Bill Pronzini, in a novelette in 1970 in the short-lived, digest-sized Adventure. That story, "The $50,000 Bosom", was later expanded into a full-length novel and published as "A Run in Diamonds" in 1973, under the pseudonym of Alex Saxon. He also appeared in three short stories from 1971 to 1975 in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine under Pronzini's own byline. Finally, in 1992, Pronzini collected the stories and the novel, polished them up, and reprinted them as "Carmody's Run."
Pronzini created the Jack Reacher archetype, and no one walks meaner streets than Carmody. – Steven Savile
"Pronzini makes people and events so real that you're living those explosive days of terror."– Robert Ludlum
"Once in a crocodile's age you come across a writer whose work you instinctively like... I've found one Bill Pronzini. Buy him, read him, and relax."– Los Angeles Times
"Pronzini is the master of the shivery, spine-tingling it-could-happen suspense story."– Publishers Weekly
THE DESPERATE ONES
Carmody had never liked Algiers. It was hot, overcrowded, dirty, and seemed saturated with a permanent sweet-sour stink. But the main reason was that it was full of people you couldn't trust, people who would cut your throat for a couple of dinars and smile while they were doing it.
In his room at the St. George, on the Boulevard Salah Bouakouir, he stood sourly looking out over the harbor and the Mediterranean beyond. It was washday, and every grillwork balcony on every stark-white, tile-roofed building was draped with laundry: a gigantic open-air dry-cleaning plant. In the hotel garden below, the palms and the olive and acacia trees had a wilted, strangulated look. Like Algiers itself, even on its best days.
Carmody turned from the window, began to pace the room a lean, predatory man, thirty-seven years old, with flat green eyes and shaggy graying-black hair. A sardonic mouth made him appear faintly satanic. There was a vague air of brittleness about him, as if you could hurt him physically without too much effort; but his eyes told you this was a lie, that he was as hard as a block of forged steel inside.
The room was air-conditioned but he was sweating inside a thin yellow shirt and white ducks. A Rum Collins would have gone good about now, but he was supposed to go to work soon and he seldom drank when he worked. He glanced again at his watch. Almost four-thirty. The woman, Nicole, was late. He didn't care for people who weren't punctual, especially where business was concerned. He was not a patient man.
Carmody was a freelance bodyguard, a supplier of legal and extra-legal services and material, with connections that reached into nearly every country in the world; he dealt with desperate men and desperate women, with profiteers and black marketeers, with thieves and smugglers and murderers on his terms, according to his own brand of ethics; and he thrived on the action, adventure, danger in each of the jobs he undertook. He worked inside the law and outside it, whichever suited the occasion, and had never failed a client or been arrested for even the most minor of offenses. It wasn't cheap, going to him, but you were guaranteed results. He was good, so good that in the shadow world in which he operated his reputation commanded the highest respect.
The job that had brought him to North Africa had to do with a quarter of a million dollars in assorted raw gems. The day before, at his villa on the island of Majorca, he had received a call from one of his contacts, an Algerian black marketeer named Achmed. Achmed had been approached by a Frenchman calling himself Paul Tobiere, the man with the gems. Tobiere had come to Algiers from the Sudan, where he had lived for several years; come by way of the Libyan Desert, Tripoli, and the coast of Tunisia. Twice en route he'd nearly been killed by former associates who wanted the stones and their ex-partner's skin as a bonus. How Tobiere had come by the gems, who the former associates were, didn't concern Carmody. What concerned him was that Tobiere was so anxious to get out of North Africa, he was willing to pay one-tenth of the gems' worth for safe passage to France and a new identity when he got there.
Contact with the Frenchman was not to be made through Achmed, as Carmody would have preferred, but through a woman Tobiere had known in the Sudan named Nicole Moreau, now a resident of Algiers. Apparently Nicole was the one providing Tobiere with his hidey-hole here. He hadn't told Achmed where that was; he was too frightened to trust anyone with that knowledge, he'd said, except Carmody himself.
The meeting with Nicole had been arranged for four o'clock, but there was still no sign of the woman. Carmody would give her until five o'clock. If she hadn't showed by then, the deal was off. He didn't need $25,000 that badly. It was the work that energized him anyway, not the money he got from it.
It didn't come down to a call-off; Nicole Moreau beat the deadline by ten minutes. She was in her late twenties, tall, broad-hipped, with thick blue-black hair cropped short. Dark brooding eyes appraised him coolly as he let her into the room.
He said, "What's the idea of keeping me waiting so long?"
"I apologize, m'sieu. I was detained."
"With my profession."
"What profession is that?"
"I am a dancer at the Café Bulbul."
"Yes? Why didn't you call?"
"There was not time to use the telephone."
"What's more important, your dancing or Tobiere's life?"
She made a pouting face. "You are not very pleasant, m'sieu."
"I'm not paid to be pleasant. Where's Tobiere?"
"A house on the Rue Kaddour Bourkika."
"That figures," Carmody said. "He have the gems with him?"
"Did he tell you where they are?"
"No. He will tell only you."
Carmody went to the wardrobe, strapped on his Beretta in its belt half-holster. The woman watched him without expression. He donned a lightweight cotton jacket; with the bottom button fastened, the gun didn't show at all.
He said, "You drive here or come in a taxi?"
"A taxi," Nicole answered.
"Then we'll use my car."
It was in the hotel garage, a small Fiat he'd rented at the Dar-el-Beida Airport. He knew the steep, twisting streets of Algiers only slightly, so he let Nicole direct him through the congested midday traffic. They climbed one of the hills on which the city had been built, toward the basilica of Notre Dame d'Afrique on Mt. Bouzarea high above. Two-thirds of the way up Nicole veered them to the left and into the fringes of the Casbah.
It had a romantic image, the Casbah, thanks to the Pepé LeMoko nonsense, but the reality of it was anything but romantic. It was a vast, squalid slum in which eighty thousand Arabs were packed like cattle into ancient buildings sprawled along a labyrinth of narrow streets and blind alleys. It teemed with flies, heat, garbage, and vermin both animal and human. Europeans and Americans were safe enough there in the daytime, as long as they didn't venture too deep into the maze of back alleys. At night, not even Carmody would have gone there alone.
The Arabs had a saying: Thwakkul' al' Allah. Rely on God. If you lived in the Casbah, Carmody thought, and you weren't a thief or a cutthroat, you'd have to rely on God; you wouldn't have another choice.
The woman directed him into a bare cement plaza crowded with dark-skinned children, veiled women, old men in burnooses and striped jalabiyas. It was the nearest place where a car could be parked, she said. They went on foot down the Street of Many Steps, into the bowels of the district. On the way a rag-clad beggar accosted them, asking baksheesh; Nicole brushed by him roughly but Carmody gave him a dinar. He reserved his cruelty for those who deserved it.
Half a dozen turns brought them into Rue Kaddour Bourkika. It was no more than three feet wide, the rough stucco walls on either side chalked and crayoned in Arabic and English, in one place marred with old bullet scars—mementoes of the French-Algerian War. They passed beneath balconies supported by wooden poles cemented in stone in the old Turkish manner—some of the buildings in the Casbah dated back to the Second Century and went down more littered steps and finally stopped before an archway.
"Through here," Nicole said.
Carmody followed her through a tunnel-like passageway adorned with mosaic tile, walking hunched over to keep from cracking his head on the low stone roof. The passage opened into a small courtyard with a waterless fountain and a half-dead pomegranate tree in its middle. Doorways opened off the courtyard, off an encircling balcony above. The air here was filled with tinny Arab music, the cries of children; the hot, sweet-sour stink, sharp in this enclosed space, made Carmody's head ache.
Nicole rapped on one of the doors beneath the balcony three times, a five-second wait, and another three times. The man who opened up was in his late thirties, muscled, dry-faced in spite of the heat. He had long blond hair and pale features, the eyes of glacial blue. His white suit was rumpled but not unclean.
He said in English, "What took you so long?"
"Ask your friend here," Carmody said. "Are you Tobiere?"
Carmody prodded the woman ahead of him, inside. A weak ceiling light let him see old square-cut furnishings covered with hand woven blankets. A window was open but there was no breeze and the air in there was stifling.
He said, "Let's have a look at the gems."
"I don't have them here," Tobiere said.
"No? Where are they?"
"In a safe place. Outside the city."
"How soon can you get them?"
"What's wrong with right now?"
"Tonight," Nicole said. "Late tonight."
Carmody turned to her. "Are you his partner?"
"Not exactly that, m'sieu..."
"Then let him talk for himself."
"She's going with us to France," Tobiere said.
"Oh, she is?"
"Yes. She won't be ready to leave until later."
"The arrangement was for you alone."
"I know, but my plans have changed. Nicole will go with me."
"She will if you pay me another ten thousand."
"Another ten thousand!"
"Two people are twice as much trouble as one," Carmody said. "Plus I'll have to make arrangements for a second set of papers. I should charge you double, fifty thousand."
Tobiere started to argue, but Nicole put a hand on his arm to silence him. She said, "He will pay what you ask. Thirty-five thousand American dollars."
"Is that right, Tobiere?"
"Yes. As you wish."
"What time will you be ready?" Carmody asked Nicole.
"Midnight, perhaps a little sooner."
"All right. We don't leave from here, though. I'm not coming back here after dark. Pick another place."
"Your hotel?" Nicole said.
"Too public. This place where you dance, the Café Bulbul. How about there?"
"Yes, good. I live nearby."
"What's the address?"
"Rue de Marbruk. Number Eleven."
"I'll find it," Carmody said. He shifted his gaze back to Tobiere. "You'd better have the gems with you. We don't go anywhere until I get a look at them."
"I will have them," Tobiere promised.
Carmody went to the door. "You coming with me or staying here?" he asked the woman.
"I will stay."
He left them, returned to the Rue Kaddour Bourkika. But instead of turning upward toward the plaza, he hurried down several more steps to the Street of the Slipper Makers. There were several open-air markets here, swarming with activity, and doorless shops of all types set into tiny niches no larger than coat closets; there was also a small open-front native bar, its tables occupied by Arabs drinking glasses of mint tea. Carmody took a chair at one of the tables, positioning himself so he could look up along Rue Kaddour Bourkika; he had a clear angled view of the entrance to the courtyard. He ordered a glass of mint tea, closed his ears to the din around him, and waited.
He didn't have to wait long.
Inside of ten minutes Tobiere and Nicole Moreau came out through the passage, began to climb upward. Carmody dropped a couple of dinars on the table and glided after them. When they reached the upper plaza they crossed to where a dark green Citröen was parked at some distance from Carmody's Fiat. Carmody stayed hidden inside the Street of Many Steps until Nicole, who was driving the Citröen, circled past him; then he ran for the Fiat. There was only one street out of the plaza, so he had no trouble locating them and then following at a measured distance.
No trouble keeping the Citröen in sight, either, as they descended toward the harbor. The heavy traffic made speed impossible. The way Nicole drove told him she had no idea they were being tailed.
They proceeded past the Place des Martyrs to the harbor, turned west, and followed the shoreline crescent out of the city. Traffic thinned considerably then, and Nicole began driving at a hurry-up pace. Carmody dropped farther back, adjusting his speed to match hers.
The Citröen stayed on the coastal road for some thirty-five kilometers, until the village of Bou-Ismail took shape in the distance. Then the woman swung right toward the Mediterranean on a badly paved secondary road that slanted in among fields of vegetables. Carmody slowed, made the turn, fell back even farther. After another three kilometers, the Citröen swung off again and disappeared. Narrow sandy lane, Carmody saw when he reached the place, leading to an ancient farmhouse set at the foot of high, reddish dunes; the sea shimmered in the hot glow of the setting sun just beyond. The Citröen was drawn up near the farmhouse porch, Nicole and the man just emerging from it.
Carmody continued past the intersection by a hundred yards, to where a line of scruffy palms blocked out his vision of the farmhouse. Then he parked, got out into the humid, early-evening stillness.
There were no other cars in sight, no signs of life. He trotted across the road, climbed a fence into one of the fields, made his way toward the farmhouse. The vegetables were laid out in squared patches, separated by woven straw fences that acted as windbreaks. By moving in a low crouch, he was able to make good time without worrying about being spotted.
When he could see the farmhouse through chinks in the woven straw he stopped and gave it a long scan. Nothing moved over there, at least nothing outside. He worked his way in a wide loop, coming in from the rear, until a small barnlike outbuilding again cut off his view of the house Then he ran across to a sagging wooden fence that enclosed the yard, climbed it, went to the wall of the barn and peered around the corner. Still no activity at the house.
He was sweating; he dried his face and cleared his eyes with the sleeve of his jacket. He drew the Beretta, ran in a low weave to the house's side wall, flattened back against it. Again he waited, listening. Quiet, except for the murmur of the sea beyond.
Carmody eased ahead to a closed window of dirt-streaked glass. As he leaned up close to it he could hear voices, but what they were saying to each other was unclear. A drawn shade kept him from seeing inside.
He went to the front corner, looked around it at the porch. Empty, the house door shut. He leaned back against the wall, the Beretta held down along his right leg, trying to make up his mind whether or not to break in on them. He didn't like the idea of that because he didn't know what the situation was in there. But he didn't like the idea of waiting around out here, either.
As it turned out, he didn't have to make a decision either way. The door opened abruptly and the blond man stepped out onto the porch. Carmody tensed. From inside he heard Nicole's sultry voice call out in French, "Hurry, cherie. It's getting late."
"We have plenty of time," the blond man answered. He turned to shut the door.
Carmody stepped around the corner, caught the porch rail, vaulted it. He landed running. The blond man spun toward him, confused, his hand fumbling at the pocket of his jacket. Carmody hit him in the face with the Beretta, a blow that sent him reeling, then veered to his left, kicked the door wide open, and went in low and fast with his gaze and the Beretta sweeping the room.
Nicole cried out, "Zut alors merde!" and a heavy gun crashed. She wasn't much of a shot; the bullet came nowhere near Carmody. He might have had to shoot her if she'd kept on potting at him but she didn't; she tried to run away through a rear doorway. There was a straight-backed chair on his immediate left, and he caught it up and threw it at her in one motion. She shrieked as it smacked into her backside, knocked her sideways against the door jamb; she went down hard to her knees. She still had the gun in her hand, a big Luger, but only for another couple of seconds. He was on her by then and he yanked it out of her hand before she could bring it to bear.
The fat sun-darkened man who had been sitting in one of the other chairs, and who had thrown himself to the floor when the shooting started, now yelled at Carmody from behind an ancient daybed, "Look out! The front door!"
Carmody's reaction was instantaneous: he whirled to his left, down and around into a shooter's crouch. The blond man stood in the doorway, the mate to Nicole's Luger in his hand, blood streaming down from a cut on his forehead. He fired once, wildly, just before Carmody shot him in the upper body. This time, when he fell back onto the porch, he stayed down and didn't move.
Carmody straightened slowly, letting breath out between his teeth, and looked over at Nicole. She was crouched against the wall, hating him with her eyes. He put her gun into one jacket pocket, went onto the porch and picked up the blond man's weapon and put that into the other jacket pocket.
The fat man came out from behind the daybed as Carmody walked back inside. His moonface was slick with sweat. He said, "He's dead? You killed him?"
"No. He'll live if he gets medical attention."
That disappointed the fat man. With good reason, Carmody thought. There were marks on his face, arms, neck: beaten on and burned with cigarettes, among other indignities. Carmody watched him turn blazing eyes on the woman, call her a vicious name in French, take a step toward her with his hands clenched. He stopped him halfway by catching hold of his shoulder.
"She's not worth the trouble. Leave her alone."
The fat man took a shuddering breath, relaxed a little. His pained eyes focused on Carmody without recognition. "Who are you?"
"Mon Dieu! But how ?"
"We'll get to that. You're Tobiere, right? The real Paul Tobiere?"
Convulsive nod. "They were going to kill me. Nicole and that... that fils de putain."
"I figured as much. Who is the blond?"
"His name is Chagal," Tobiere said. "One of Nicole's filthy lovers."
Carmody said, "They were trying to pass him off as you, to take advantage of your arrangement with me." He didn't add that they must have known of his particular code of ethics, that he couldn't be bought off and that any kind of double-dealing was anathema to him. One hint that the real Tobiere had been robbed and murdered and he'd have called off the deal immediately.
"I was a fool to trust her," Tobiere said. "But I believed she cared for me; I believed -"
"Gochon! Je t'emmerge, a pied, a cheval et en voiture!"
Carmody said, "Shut up, Nicole." His tone said he didn't want any arguments. She didn't give him any.
"How did you know to come here?" the fat man asked.
Carmody told him how he'd followed Nicole and Chagal from the Casbah.
"But what made you suspect Chagal was not me?"
"Several things. She seemed to be running the show, not him; that didn't jibe with what Achmed told me. Neither did the way he acted. Achmed said you were frightened and anxious after what happened to you en route from the Sudan. Chagal wasn't either one. Then there was the fact that you lived in the Sudan for years, came here through the Libyan Desert. No man can spend time in that kind of desert country without picking up a black tan like you have, or at least some sun color. Chagal is pale–no tan, no burn. He's been nowhere near Sudan or the Libyan Desert. Not long out of France, probably."
Tobiere nodded. "I owe you my life, m'sieu."
"I'll settle for ten percent of those gems," Carmody said. "Where are they? You didn't tell Nicole and Chagal or you'd be dead already."
"No, but I...I think I would have." He shuddered. "The things they did to me...the things they threatened to do. . ."
"Never mind that. The gems, Tobiere. Are they here?"
"Nearby. Shall I get them?"
"We'll both go get them. If they're as advertised, you'll be on a boat for France by midnight."
"Nicole? You will kill her before we leave here?"
"I'm not an assassin," Carmody said.
"But they were going to kill me. . ."
"They've got each other, her and Chagal, and they've got Algiers. That's worse than being dead. That's a living hell."
He took Tobiere's arm and prodded him out into the breathless North African twilight.