The Threateners

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Authors: Donald Hamilton
to the man before me: “Well, what’s it to be, Mr. Government Man?”
    His glance wavered briefly; he steadied it and said contemptuously, “You’re bluffing, Helm, but I haven’t got time to play macho games with you. You may keep your weapon if it means that much to you. ” He fixed me with a hard and intimidating stare that he’d undoubtedly practiced in the mirror. “But you will forget all this. You will also forget the code word we used, which should never have been given you. Is that understood?”
    I regarded him for a moment. He was slightly incredible, but they all are. "It’s understood and rejected," I said. “Pull in your horns, buster. You come onto my property and announce that you’re going to take this and I’m going to forget that, just because you’re carrying an ID you won’t even give me a good look at, that you probably found in a box of cornflakes. Well, you’ll take nothing except what you came for and I’ll forget nothing except what it pleases me to forget. Goodbye now.”
    He tried the stare again and, when I displayed no signs of terror, opened his mouth to speak, changed his mind, turned on his heel, and marched out, making no apology for bumping against Madeleine as she returned from the street alone. She glanced after him, shrugged, and watched me roll the gate closed and snap the padlock.
    “What was all that about?”
    “All what?”
    “You acted as if you wanted a gunfight or something.”
    I grinned. “The man who takes care of the yard, Juan, says we should get some manure for the compost heap to make it work right with all the leaves he’s raking this fall; apparently there’s some kind of chemical reaction in there that requires excremental stimulation. It occurred to me that Mr. No Name would do fine, full of shit as he is. But I guess we’ll just have to buy it, although I’m always reluctant to pay good money for it when there’s so much of it around, and more generated every minute.” I realized that I was talking too much. I hadn’t really thought the guy would go for it, but it’s always a strain. I took Madeleine’s arm. “Come on, I promised to feed you. I’ll let you pick the can. I’ll open it and warm it. How’s that for a deal?”
    She grimaced. “Damn, what happened to all the glamorous secret agents who dish up gourmet meals at the drop of a bullet-proof vest?”
    “You came to the wrong place for glamour, babe; around here all you get is Dinty Moore’s beef stew.”
    Actually, she settled for a plate of corned beef hash with a poached egg on top—Prairie Farms AA Extra Large, if it matters. Since they’re just about the only things I cook, aside from an occasional steak and a few potatoes, I’m particular about eggs. After cleaning up the kitchen, we took our coffee into the living room. Earlier, I’d touched a match to the firewood I keep laid and ready during the colder seasons of the year. Madeleine, in one of the massive wooden chairs before the flames, let her jean-clad legs sprawl apart in an unladylike manner.
    “Just what were you trying to accomplish, Matt, being so tough with that government character?” she asked lazily at last. “Not that he didn’t ask for it, but you were really pushing.”
    I shrugged. “I’m hoping his feelings are hurt enough that he’ll phone Big Papa in Washington to report that a nasty man was very rude to him.”
    “If he does call Washington, what will that accomplish?"
    "Then his chief will, we hope, check out a certain individual named Helm and, if he looks hard enough in the right places—it can be done, if you’re persistent and have good government connections—find out that I also work for the government. If the pushy character who just departed is professionally interested in the Steiners, he should have had me traced when I first got friendly with Mark last summer. Maybe that’s what made him so hostile; he realized that his sloppy operational habits were going to be exposed.

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