The Threateners

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Authors: Donald Hamilton
and squatted on his heels beside Steiner’s wife. It’s a position that doesn’t come naturally to many Anglos, although I’ve known some cowboys who could make it look comfortable—when I try it, I don’t last very long—but people of Spanish descent seem to be able to sit that way by the hour. He examined her bruised head gently.
    His partner spoke to me: “I’ll take the gun.”
    I looked at the well-manicured hand he held out for it. There was really no reason why I shouldn’t give him Ruth Steiner’s gun. But then again, there was really no good reason why I should. I get very tired of these officious jerks with badges who march onto the premises and lay claim to every firearm in sight. The weapon goes for around three hundred bucks, retail. He was probably under the mistaken impression that it was my property; but in any case he knew damned well it wasn’t his. I should make him, or the U.S. government, three hundred bucks richer without even a please?
    I said, “That’s a pretty reckless statement, isn’t it? The piece is in my hand and yours is in your holster. How are you planning to work this confiscation?” He stared at me, shocked. Representing the U.S. government as he did, he hadn’t expected a refusal. I went on: “You came for a dame, mister; just take her and blow.”
    " Listen, you . . . !” Then he stopped, looking past me.
    Madeleine’s voice spoke behind me: “Visitors, Matt?”
    I answered without turning my head: “The federales , ma’am. They’ve supposedly come for Mrs. Steiner, but this one seems eager to cart away everything that isn’t tied down. He’s starting with the firearms, but he’ll undoubtedly go for the patio furniture next, after which it’s good-bye to the stove, sink, refrigerator, and TV. We call him El Hombre sin Nombre , since he’s very shy about revealing his name, assuming that he has one. That one over there is less anonymous; he’s called Mike. See if he needs help with Mrs. Steiner, will you, please?”
    The man in front of me didn’t like it. In feet he was pale enough with anger that the boyish freckles stood out very clearly. However, he couldn’t think of a move to make that might not earn him a bullet. He tried to convince himself that I couldn’t possibly shoot a fine government employee like him, and failed.
    Madeleine came into my field of vision, dressed in jeans and a man’s shirt, white, with the tails hanging out. I won’t say she looked as good in those sloppy garments as she had in her smart legal costume—I like dressed-up ladies—but for a denim girl she didn’t do at all badly. On her feet, Reeboks or Adidas or whatever; I can’t keep track of them all. Life was simpler back in the Keds era. She was carrying, incongruously, the smart black purse that went with her business clothes. As I say, dressed up or dressed down, she was still very pleasant to look at. The man called Mike regarded her with frank Latin admiration.
    After a moment he cleared his throat and said, “If you can give me a hand, we’ll get her to the car, Miss. . . .” Madeleine took her hand out of her purse, which didn’t leave the purse empty. What had started as a peaceful Sunday, with just a few target .22s popping for fan, seemed to be getting pretty heavy with serious firearms.
    “Rustin,” Madeleine said. “Madeleine Rustin. Are you a doctor?”
    “Miguel Ortiz at your service, Miss Rustin. No, I’m not a doctor; but they’ve got me kind of specializing in making temporary repairs until the real doctors can take over.”
    “How is she?”
    “It looks messy, but there’s not enough external bleeding to worry about; they can patch up that ear later. I’d say what she needs is a bed, some X rays to determine if there’s a skull fracture, and in any case plenty of rest until it’s certain there’s no serious concussion or internal seepage. Let’s get her on her feet. . . ."
    As the three of them moved awkwardly toward the gate I said

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