Kelly spun, temporarily blinded by the sudden surge of light entering the darkened cavern. He squinted up into the stairwell, shielding his eyes until they adjusted. Tompkins, the ever so lazy foreman, was standing there with a smirk on his face and a gun in his hand. He was a big man, with hulking shoulders and craggy features. Worst yet, though, were his eyes. They had always appeared half-lidded and slow. Now there was an almost manic brightness to them, a glee for what was about to come. He no longer resembled the lackadaisical man he had first seemed.
"Thought I was gonna have to snore `til doomsday, the rate it was taking you to find this place," he grated out, his shifty eyes alight with delight." Mr. Leighton sure had you pegged. He said if we left out the bait we'd be sure to catch our rat. Hey, rat, how's it feel?"
"Like the other shoe finally dropped," Kelly casually answered. He appeared totally nonplussed though his eyes were making a careful circuit of the room as he weighed the odds. "I was wondering if you clowns were ever going to show. Have to admit, though, that you had me buffaloed. Never figured someone as all out stupid-looking as you could even manage to tie his shoelaces, much less point a gun. Guess your boss needs the occasional muscle job here and there though, huh? Don't need much upstairs to qualify for that. Must be right up your alley."
As Kelly was talking he was slowly moving ever closer to Tompkins. The big man was so busy reacting to Kelly's words that he wasn't paying much attention to anything else. His eyes had gone from shiny anticipation to a duller flatness, the flatness of a predator. Kelly's words had struck deep, and Kelly was startled to see the light of psychosis fill those dead orbs.
`You think you're so smart," Tompkins shrieked, what little control he generally possessed blown all to piece . I'm not the one that's gonna die here today, mister. You and your other rat buddy are gonna be shoveling your own graves soon enough. You two thought you were so smart coming in here with all your play-acting, but we were always one step ahead of you. My boss had you pegged right from the start. I could have finished you any time, any time at all, and I would have too, except for Mr. Leighton. He says we have to know for sure so he practically writes you an invitation to snoop. And you're dumb enough to walk right into it. So don't be calling me the stupid one, jerk. I'm not the one caught flat-footed."
Tompkins had surged down to Kelly while spouting off this diatribe. With his final words he back-handed Kelly into the nearby table. Kelly went down heavily, searching hands looking for the large wrench he'd spotted earlier.
"So why isn't your boss here then, if this is such a big deal trap?" challenged Kelly, wiping the blood from the side of his mouth. This guy wasn't going to go down easy. That wrench could be a big equalizer.
"You'd think he'd be mildly interested, wouldn't you? Can't be every day your organization is opened up for inspection. Why leave some half-witted muscle to spring the trap?"
Tompkins flung Kelly to one side with a powerful kick. Kelly's ranging fingers found what he'd been looking for as he curled up in pain. Not exactly his favorite way to effect an escape, but he'd go with any method at this point.
"You just shut up now or I'll forget what the boss told me," Tompkins spat out, death looking out from his grim visage. " You don't question nothing the bosses say, neither. They know what they're doin . They always know. They're right in the middle of some big plans and you're just a puny little nuisance. You and that so-called salesman. You walked right into our trap and your partner's bound to be just as easy. The boss will let me have some fun with you once he sees what all your people know about us, then we'll pack up and start all over somewhere else. You and your little squealing co-rat won't be caring at that point. And once I get done with you ain't no one even gonna find the pieces."
Another kick accompanied that last remark. Kelly rolled with it, bringing the wrench up close to his body, legs tensing as he readied for action.
"You think you're in their league, huh? What's to say I haven't already radioed my partner with all the information. He could be halfway out of the county already while you're sitting there preening. Think your boss would like that?" Kelly grated out from between clenched teeth. This guy's kicks were getting a little hard to take but he wanted to keep him talking and off-balance.
"What kind of a moron do you think I am," yelled Tompkins, aiming another well placed kick. Kelly rolled once more, then used the wall at his back to regain his feet. He kept hunched over though, as if in great pain.
"These walls are so thick, nothing could get out from here. And I was watching you the whole time. You couldn't have called out. No way. You ain't pulling that on me. Nah, nobody stops us, man. And you two aren't gonna be the ones to start. We got more brains than ten of you put together. Mr. Leighton knows that I can handle you `til he gets here. He trusts me, see. He knows that I can take you just like I took the last clown that came in, trying to bust us up," boasted Tompkins, eyes glittering wildly once again.
"Oh, so you're the one who dealt with him, huh? Good job, pal. Course, he was able to relay Leighton 's name and location before he died. Guess you slipped up a little bit there, didn't you? Don't suppose your boss was too thrilled with that little detail, was he?" taunted Kelly, braced against the wall .
Tompkins lunged forward, goaded beyond his small capacity for control, yelling as he came on.
"It's Mr. Leighton to you, rat. And he said he'd give me another chance. He knew I couldn't help that guy getting away. It wasn't really my fault, see. He's showing how much he trusts me, letting me correct that little mistake," whined Tompkins, fists clenching into massive balls. He stopped, looking almost defensive, almost normal.
"Mr. Leighton was real mad at me about that other guy," he muttered, rubbing some half healed bruises on his face." He didn't like that we'd have to move on if someone showed up. But he said it'd be ok, that he'd just build up a new name, new place. The others would follow his lead. And it'll be ok, just like I promised him. Soon as I dispose of the rats," he giggled, bringing up his pistol.
Which was when Kelly pushed off from the wall, letting his momentum carry him directly into the crazy man's body, striking out with his arm as he barreled into him. His first hit with the wrench landed exactly where he'd been hoping it would, knocking the pistol from Tompkins' grip. It went off, the shot burrowing harmlessly into the floor. Tompkins' shrieked, clutching at his numbed arm while Kelly took another swipe at him. His second blow was not nearly as effective. It landed on the big man's shoulder, a punishing blow but not a disabling one. Kelly had tried for the head but Tompkins was already moving, rage giving him added power. Kelly scrambled forward, trying to keep on the offensive . If he ever let this big behemoth get near the fallen gun he'd be done for. He plowed into the man again, allowing him to pummel him with ferocious intent, fists connecting with brain-numbing force. Just as Kelly felt consciousness leaving, he once more felt the intense thud of contact travel up his right arm. He'd connected.
Tompkins gave an audible grunt, then landed atop Kelly with all the force inherent in dead weight. The fight was definitely over . Kelly fought to stay conscious. Tompkins heavy body didn't help in the slightest. One of the big man's last blows had connected with Kelly's head and it was nearly as bad as a hit with the damned wrench. He shoved the massive man off him, only mildly interested to hear a moan issue from the man's lips. So, he hadn't killed him. He had to be down for a bit though and that should give Kelly time to get into town. Scotty had to be pulled out quick and then they'd both vamoose. The saboteurs had been overly confident and that might just let them pull this thing off.
He staggered to his feet, wavering a bit as he attempted to reach Tompkins' gun. They could use all the extra firepower they could get. Their cover was blown all to heck and gone anyway. Scotty had their guns stashed in the motel but they might not have time to go for them. His head pounding, he reached almost blindly for the fallen gun, doing some grunting himself when his ribs protested the move. The big man had definitely not been any fun .
In addition, Kelly was trying to mute the surge of disgust he was feeling. He'd blown this one so badly. If they got out it would be pure luck . He had to put that aside for now though and concentrate on grabbing Scotty and running . He quickly confirmed that he still had possession of the list, then staggered up the stairs and out of the house.
Scotty would be holding up the fort at the barn dance, waiting for his oh so brilliant partner to come and reveal what he'd found. If there was one thing he was going to remember about this little job, Kelly promised himself, it was that the two partners would stay together from now on. No more of this "you go there, I'll go here" stuff. Their strength was in their conjoined efforts and he was just damned lucky that he'd been able to get that wrench.
Kelly shook off the wobble in his gait and moved on, with purpose. The day had waned away in that hole in the ground and Kelly was glad of that. He was tired of the oppressive heat and welcomed the coolness of the night air coming on. He moved as fast as possible, knowing there was an old ranch truck that he could swipe. He'd pick up Scotty and they'd be gone.
Only Scotty wasn't alone when Kelly arrived at the barn social. There was a gentleman sitting next to him, very close, wearing sunglasses and a quietly smug expression. Scotty glanced up at Kelly, giving an apologetic shrug.
"Oh, don't tell me now, let me guess," said Kelly, sarcasm dripping with every word." You need rescuing, right? I've been off being absolutely brilliant, battling King Kong and saving the day while you're here sipping apple juice and getting in trouble. Sheesh! I can't leave you anywhere any more, Miles," complained Kelly, flashing Scotty a signal to indicate he had the goods. "And what about your good buddy over there? Didn't anyone ever bother to tell him that sunglasses at night can ruin your vision?" With that pronouncement, he directed a dead-pan stare at the newcomer.
"Mr. Leighton, I presume ?" Kelly asked .
"Very good, Mr. Robinson, and most amusing. I'm sure you keep your partner well entertained. I think I will relieve you of that duty now, though, just as I will relieve you of your wallet and any other little incidentals you might have on you," Leighton blandly ordered, turning his blinkered gaze to Kelly."Any attempt to cause a disruption or to call attention to our little group will have dire consequences for Mr. Scott here. I'm sure you understand my meaning."
"He's talking about the gun he's got jammed into my side, Kel. He's going to start pumping up oil any minute if he keeps drilling that thing into me. I'd say this mission hasn't exactly been an unqualified success so far," said Scotty.
"You'd gathered that too, did you? I've been getting something of the same impression all day long now," mumbled Kelly, as he started fishing things out of his pockets.
"Sorry, man," apologized Scotty. "He had a gun on me before I knew who he was. We've been sitting here for hours, waiting to see if you'd show. The rest of the crowd here must think we're engaged by now."
Kelly snorted, handing over his gun and wallet and all the little bits and pieces he'd accumulated. The list, in his shoe, was going to stay there for as long as he could keep it hidden.
"If you think you're getting a wedding gift out of me, think again, Jack. Besides, I only give it three months, max. But I got to say, you make a lovely couple."
Directing his gaze over to the completely unamused saboteur, Kelly leveled an equally straight look at him.
"What's to stop me from just calling out, pal? I might lose a partner but I'd stop you before you could get us both. Partners can be replaced, you know. Who's to say that I'm not a little tired of this one. And there'd be no way you could shoot your way out of here."
"I have no intention of doing tha . No, I'd just shoot Mr. Scott here, then you. Your partner's death would be ensured. Perhaps you might have a chance but I doubt it. You see, I'm very good with guns. Then, in the chaos that followed, I'd slip out. No, I think you'll do as I ask. I'm willing to wager that you don't want to risk losing your partner. Would you like to call me on it?" challenged Leighton, still with very little expression.
It was very difficult to read a man wearing dark glasses. Leighton used this fact to full advantage.
" Nah, I'd never find anyone else that I could tolerate sharing a hotel room with . Scotty is nicely housebroken in that regard. Sides, he's the only guy I know who has a mom that knits," said Kelly, shrugging off his lousy attempt at a bluff . Now he was the one who had to give his partner an apologetic grimace .
" For that, you get the green sweater, man . Even if I have to make it
myself," vowed Scotty . " Just so long as you promise not to be going on about partners needing replacement . Even I thought that was a total crock, Jack ," said Scotty, shaking his head in mock disgust .
" You, knitting ? God help us all," replied Kelly, his cheerful what-the-heck look back in full display . " We could be talking a fate worse than death
here, folks ."
His eyes were flicking everywhere even as he continued bantering with his partner, looking for an opening. His partner was matching him, look for
" So what's the story, then ?" queried Kelly . " I thought you were elsewhere, Leighton . Your little watchdog thought you'd left him in control of everything . What gives ?"
" Tompkins ? Have you killed him ?" the saboteur asked, with complete indifference.
" Don't think so . He's going to be sporting a real bad headache though . Nice to see such concern from an employer ," said Kelly, sarcasm present in every syllable .
" Too bad . You see, I don't tolerate mistakes . Tompkins made his first and last when he allowed my name to get out . I was going to dispose of him just as soon as he took care of you . I insist on people cleaning up their own garbage, you understand . Unfortunately, it seems as if Tompkins was just as sloppy with this last job as he was with the previous one ," said the saboteur, wiping his lapels down with fastidious concern .
" He's always been very good with my occasional disposal problems but I'm afraid he's a liability now. He's become a little too fond of his little white powders. I was no longer certain that he could accomplish the tasks I laid out for him . So, I decided to wait right here with Mr. Scott . If Tompkins had dealt with his rat trap in an effective manner, I would have happily accepted his presence here for the short time he has left . If not, well, I'd be here to snap that trap myself . As you can see, my presence was needed ."
" Glad I'm not on his pension plan . Sounds like it's a doozy ," muttered Scotty, subtly shifting a bit in his seat .
" Hey, bet he saves big time on retirement dues," murmured his partner, eyeing the slight shift with major disfavor . He needed more .
Leighton 's hidden eyes surveyed the two men, a grim little smile his only concession to his nasty little speech . Kelly was a bit spooked, though he'd never show it . He couldn't get a handle on this faceless non-entity and that made the man doubly dangerous . It threw Kelly a little off-balance and he couldn't afford that right now .
" What's next ?" Scotty asked . " I don't know about you, but I'm getting real tired of these benches . This wood is feeling harder and harder ," he complained, shifting just a bit more .
" Next is that your partner is going to hand over that list he's been trying so hard to distract me from," said Leighton, the first hint of anger briefly cracking his faÁade . " I've been doing this for a while, gentleman, and I'm not stupid . If you got away from Tompkins you undoubtedly took that list . I want it back ."
"Kel, you got the names ? Alright, good going , man," said Scott, trying to buy more time.
" Yeah, I told you I was off being brilliant . It's light reading but it keeps your interest . Names, locations, codes galore . Maybe not ready for the top ten, Duke, but it's a keeper," said Kelly, eyeing his partner intently . He slipped off his shoe, removing the list with his left hand as his right tightened up on the shoe . The saboteur's eyes went straight to the list .
And Scotty let out a yell at the exact same moment that Kelly swung his shoe with all his might at Leighton 's head. Scotty bolted forward at the same time as he yelled, hand automatically going down to knock the gun askew. The saboteur was momentarily startled but still able to fire, his shot barely missing the moving Scotty . Kelly was on top of Leighton then, fighting for control of the gun even as the room erupted into chaos .