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Page 5

The fear was alive now, a dark nightmare squirming in my guts, draining whatever powers of decision I had left. Desperately I turned back to the face for help, but he was fading fast. For the first time I actually felt his despair as he made one last attempt to communicate. "Don't do it." He mouthed. "Please Joe, I beg you, don't do this to us."

The Hump was banging on the door."Open up damn you. Open up or I'll leave the stuff right here and tell The Chicken I handed it over as planned."

For a moment I froze. Confused, torn, uncertain what to do. Then logic took over and I moved to the door. After all, in the spot I was in there wasn't much else I could do. Even if I ran the hoods would catch up with me by morning - and anyway, you need money to run. No, better to do the job or die trying, those guys had habits that turned my bones to jelly. What the hell were a few doom filled prophecies from a doubtful ghost compared to that? Anyway, maybe the guy was pure hallucination, there was a lot of dope around town and people with a weird sense of humour. It wouldn't be the first time some joker had slipped a snort into somebody's beer for fun.

I opened the door and the creepy little dwarf scuttled inside, his grotesque arms wrapped like tentacles round a suitcase. "What took you so long - entertaining guests in the dining room?" Cackling at his joke, he eased the case on to the bed and hopped up to sit beside it.

"Now listen good to what I tell you. It ain't complicated so don't expect me to say it more than once. You're to deliver this case to the Blue Ranch Motel, it's about fifteen miles out of town on route 39. If everything's OK they'll have the No Vacancy sign switched on and blinking, but don't let that fool you, the place has been closed down for months. Take the case to reception and put it on the desk, a guy behind the desk will put an identical case next to yours. Pick up the swap, put it in the trunk and drive straight to the Everglades Hotel. Park the car at the back of the hotel, lock it and go home. That's all there is to it. The Chicken says he'll arrange for your pals to be called off and get your share to the apartment in a couple of days." He fished in his pocket and tossed some keys on the case. "There's a black Chevy outside. It's hot, but the owner's away for a week, so just ditch it somewhere after the job and you won't have no problems."

As I bent forward to pick up the keys a clap of thunder split the sky, shaking the old building to its foundations. "That does it!" The Hump leapt nimbly to the floor and sidled crab-like to the door. "It's OK for some lucky bastards, you've got a ride. But if I don't find a cab in the next two minutes I'll be stuck in this no good neighborhood for the night" He reached up, opened the door then paused a moment. "Oh, one more thing, The Chicken thinks you oughta know the swap case has a million dollars inside it. He wanted you to know that he knows what's in it too. Just in case you get any smart ideas." The door slammed behind him as the first drops of heavy rain slapped into the window. It looked like I was in for a stormy night.

It was like driving through a river. The windshield wipers did their best but they weren't designed for these kind of conditions. The only machine truly at home in this weather was a submarine. I crept along route 39 keeping my speed around twenty, even then I could hardly see where I was going. I just hoped no one else was mad enough to be out practising water sports on a night like this. Now and then I felt in my pocket to stroke the snub nosed 38. I had bought it in a moment of senseless desperation to protect myself from the hoods, but now all that was left of my self confidence was centred in that shiny piece of metal and I knew I wouldn't have the guts to go on without it. Before leaving I had cleaned and loaded the little beauty and though I didn't intend to use it, a part of me longed to give it a try.

A pinprick of light appeared in the gloom quickly swelling to reveal the blinking No Vacancy sign dancing wildly in the storm. I turned the car into a short driveway and headed towards a thin strip of green neon that flickered Reception. Switching off the ignition I slid the lever into park and sat there for a while listening to my heart beating loud enough to call an ambulance. How long I sat there I'm not sure,

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