The Pequod Review:
John D. MacDonald's Murder in the Wind is in many ways a superior rewrite of The Damned (1952), as six separate groups of characters are brought together by a exogenous event — in this case a catastrophic hurricane that threatens central Florida. MacDonald has become an even better writer in the four years since his earlier book. This is most apparent in his excellent character development, and especially the backstories that introduce each of the characters. His early chapter on the washed-up tennis player Bunny Hollis and his wife Betty is a particularly outstanding example of this; it is difficult to appreciate its brilliance through excerpts so the entire chapter is at the bottom of this review.
MacDonald has several other great lines throughout the book too:
He was an amiable looking man. Sun and whiskey kept his soft face red. He smiled easily and had a knack of kidding people. He wore round glasses with steel rims and the glasses were always slipping a little way down his blunt nose and Johnny Flagan would look over his glasses at you and grin wryly about his morning hangover and you would never notice that the grin did nothing to change the eyes. The eyes were small and brown and watchful and they could have been the noses of two bullets dimly seen in the cylinder when you look toward the muzzle of a gun.
The highway slants down across the bridges and the causeways and the keys -- Largo, Matacumbe, Grassy, Boot, Pigeon, Ramrod, Sugarloaf -- a shining engineering project -- which should lead only to a city fairer than yet designed by man. Yet it ends in Key West, a shabby, dirty and uninspired town from which it is very difficult to catch a glimpse of the sea, a town of tough bars and honky-tonks, fairies and whores.
John D. MacDonald remains more famous for his Travis McGee novels, but Murder in the Wind is further proof that his best and most creative work was in his standalone books.
Bunny Hollis awoke before nine in a motel on Route 19 and he lay there listening to the hard roar of the rain. It was a rain so intense that when you listened to it carefully it seemed to be increasing in force from minute to minute. It was a muggy gray morning. He wondered what morning it was. He counted back and decided that it had to be Wednesday, October seventh. He stretched until his shoulders creaked, knuckled his eyes and sat up. There was a faint pulse of liquor behind his eyes, a sleazy taste in his mouth. He sat naked on the edge of the bed and took his pulse. Seventy-six. And no suggestion of a premature beat. Lately when he smoked too much and drank too much the premature beat would start. He had been told by a very good man that it was nothing to worry about. Just ease off when it started.
He turned and looked at his bride in the other bed. She lay sprawled as if dropped from a height, a sheaf of brown hair across her eyes. She had kicked off the single sheet in her sleep. The narrow band of white across her buttocks was ludicrous against the dark tan of her.
Betty did look better with a tan, he decided. And he had chided her into losing ten pounds. Another fifteen off her and she’d look even better. But not tan nor weight loss was going to do very much for pale eyes that were set a little too close together, for teeth too prominent and chin too indistinct. But she was young and she could be amusing and at twenty-one she was worth close to three million dollars, and when she became thirty there would be another chunk coming in that should bring it damn near up to ten million.
He went quietly into the bathroom, closed the door and turned on the light. He examined his face in the mirror with great care, as he did every morning. He thought the face looked about twenty-six, nine years younger than his actual age. And, as always, he wondered if he was kidding himself. It was a face in the almost traditional mold of the American athlete. Brown and blunt, with broad brow, square jaw, nose slightly flat at the bridge, gray wide-set eyes with weather wrinkles at the corners. A very short brush cut helped mask the encroaching baldness. It was a face made for grinning, for victory, for locker room gags, for Olympic posters.
He cupped cold water in his hands and drenched his face and rubbed it vigorously, massaging it with strong fingers, paying special attention to the area under the eyes, at the corners of the mouth and under the chin. He massaged his scalp and dried his face and head and then turned and studied his body in the full-length mirror on the inside of the bathroom door. Athlete’s body to match the face. Waist still reasonably lean, though not what it once had been. Deep chest and slanting shoulders. Brown body with the crisp body hair on the legs and arms burned white by the sun. Long slim legs with the slant of power. Muscle knots in the shoulders, square strong wrists.
At least the product she was getting was adequate, he thought. Cared for. Slightly rotted, but not enough to show. Years of wear left in it. Enough virility to be able to fake adequately the intensities of honeymoon.
Three zero zero zero zero zero zero.
And heah, ladies and gentlemen, we have a little girl who represents thu-ree million dollars. Who will be the lucky man?
Bunny Hollis, of course.
Bunny, who always ran out of luck every time but the last time. Like the good old Limeys. Never win a battle and never lose a war.
A long, long way from the skinny, sullen kid out in southern California, practically living at the public courts with a secondhand racket and one hell of a forehand drive for a twelve year old. No net game. No backhand. No lobs. No cuts. Just that base line drive that had heaviness to it, had power and authority.
Cutler had come down from his personal Olympus to look at a girl on the public courts. He hadn’t thought much of the girl, but he had seen Bunny Hollis. Life changed then.
“Do you want to learn the game, kid?” He looked at Cutler, heard the harsh voice, saw the red face, the round belly, the small unfriendly blue eyes.
“I know how to play.”
“All you know so far is which end of the bat to hold. You want to learn the game?”
“I got no money for lessons.”
“Where do you live?” Bunny told him. “Come on. My car’s over there. We’ll go out and see your folks.”
He learned the most important thing the first week. Cutler had him swinging the racket. No ball. No court. Foot work and swing on the count. One two THREE. One two THREE. “Too much break on the wrist on the backswing, kid. Elbow down.” One two THREE.
He tossed the racket onto the grass. “Nuts,” he said.
The meaty hand cracked against his face and split his lip, knocked him down. He cried, more from anger than pain. Cutler leaned over him, eyes cool, voice low. “A wise kid. You come from nothing. You are nothing. You ever try that again and I’ll throw you out and you’ll stay nothing. Maybe you think this is a game. Pat ball. If you want to be something, do as you’re told. Who told you it would be easy? Get on your feet and pick up that bat. You’re going to do what I say, eat what I say, think what I say, live what I say. Every damn minute of every damn day of your stinking little life. Okay now. One two THREE. Better. But keep that handle parallel to the ground all the way through the imaginary ball. One two THREE. Brace that right leg. Put something in it, kid. I want to hear that bat whistle.”
When he was fifteen, the first year he really started winning, Cutler got him a job and a room at his own club, the Carranak Club. He had lost a lot of the sullenness. He was beginning to be treated as someone of importance. It felt good to be treated that way. He seldom went home. He’d never gotten along with his stepfather. His mother was having one kid after another, regular as a machine.
He was skinny and brown and tireless. He had the fundamentals of what could grow to be a big game. He won junior tournaments up and down the coast. Cutler would go along when he could, but Cutler had other players who were nearer their peak, who were on the national circuit.
He had learned to smile at the people, take adverse decisions with grace, enjoy the look of his name in the papers. They were good years, fifteen, sixteen and seventeen. Cutler insisted that the schooling continue. The right sort of strings were pulled and at eighteen he went into U.C.L.A. on an athletic scholarship. Cutler had good friends. He achieved the last of his growth at eighteen. He was six-one, one hundred and sixty-two pounds, rangy and fast, with power in every stroke. Under Cutler’s guidance, under his orders, Bunny led a monastic life, with every free hour subject to the discipline of constant practice. He no longer minded. He had learned to enjoy winning. If you had to live like this to win—it was little enough to have to do.
Bunny often wondered what the years would have been like if Cutler had been able to accompany him on that first big trip out of the state to the tournament in New Jersey. Cutler had planned to go. But an ulcer started to bleed and there had to be an operation. Cutler had given him his instructions in the hospital.
“It’s big time. Don’t get sucked into the social routine. You’ve got money enough to get your own place to stay. Eat right and sleep a lot. You’ll have three days to practice. The ball floats different there. Your timing will be off. Don’t get into the high society deal. A lot of them are sharks who want to feed on you. Play your game. I don’t expect a win. I’ll expect a win next year. I expect a good showing this year. Good enough so they’ll think about you for the cup.”
He went out by train. He felt scared of what was ahead. The letter told him where to report. It was a bigger place than he expected. He saw some people he knew because he had seen their pictures. They told him where to find the man with the list.
“Yes? Bunny Hollis. Let me see, F.G.H. Hollis. Singles. Let me check the schedule. Today is Tuesday. Here you are. Saturday, one-fifteen. Court number seven. Against Bill Tilley.”
Bunny felt enormous relief. He had beaten Tilley once in Sacramento and once in Los Angeles. “How about practice?”
“Find Mr. Glendinning. I think he’s down in the locker room. He’s assigning the practice courts and hours. Wait a minute. Don’t rush off. You’re billeted with the Lorrings.”
“I was going to a hotel.”
“Don’t be silly, Hollis. They’ve got a nice place and they’re nice people. Tennis fans. Great supporters of the tournament. They’ve got private courts just as well surfaced as these. You’ll live well there, better than you will in a hotel, and they’re glad to do it. If I remember, Mrs. Lorring asked for you particularly. She’s been following your career. Wait until I give her a ring.”
He waited out in front with racket case and suitcase. It was warm and he was sweating and he wondered if he should take his jacket off. A green convertible came in and swung around across the gravel with a certain flair and stopped so close to him that he stepped back. “Bunny? Of course it is. I know you from your pictures. I’m Regina Lorring. Sorry if I kept you waiting. I was in the tub when George phoned me. Put your stuff in back and get in. Now remember which way we go, so you can find your way back.”
She was a smallish woman. He could not guess her age. She could have been thirty or forty. She had a tanned pretty face, but so heavily lined it made him think of a small brown monkey. She wore a low-necked blouse and her breasts were large and it made him feel uncomfortable to look at the front of her. She drove very briskly and competently. Finally they went up a ridge road and turned through big iron gates and up a private road to a house that looked like a president had lived there. A polite man came and took the racket case and suitcase. She said he might as well look the place over and then she would show him where his room was. The keys would be in the little green convertible and he could use it as his own. He saw that she had a nice figure.
She showed him the courts and the stables. His room was big and the bed was vast. That night at dinner he met Mr. Lorring, a man who looked about eighty. His head shook all the time and he had white hair. Things kept dropping off his fork and he didn’t seem to be able to follow the conversation very well.
He went to bed early, following Cutler’s wishes. It took him a long time to get to sleep. He was awakened in the middle of the night and he was so confused and startled and dazed by sleep that it took him a long time before he understood that it was Mrs. Lorring who was in bed beside him in the dark room, holding him in her arms and smelling of liquor and laughing in a low funny way deep in her throat. He was a virgin. It shocked him and terrified him and yet at the same time it made him feel deliciously guilty. He was frightened and then it was all right and when he awakened in the morning she was gone, but she had left one of her slippers beside the bed. He hid it in the back of the bureau.
He had breakfast alone and got lost twice driving down to practice. He got home at five and she was having cocktails with some people he didn’t know. To look at her you would never know anything like that had happened. He began to wonder if it really had. But there was the slipper. He knew the slipper was real. She introduced him to the people and said they were going out to dinner, but she had arranged for him to have a nice dinner alone here. He went to bed early and he was still awake and waiting when he heard the car and later footsteps in the hall, and much later the sound of the door opening and closing, softer footsteps, then felt the edge of the bed sag under her weight, felt the softness of her under something sheer as she came into his arms.
He fought hard for the first set. Three times he got it to set point, but Tilley was very brave and very determined and he was playing over his head. Tilley took it eleven and nine. Bunny was stung and came back strong to take the first four games of the second set, breaking Tilley’s service twice. Tilley took the next game. Bunny took the next to make it five and one. The first point of the next game was a very long point. It went on and on. Bunny began to feel oddly leaden. He could not float across the court. His feet came down heavily, jarring him. Tilley’s returns seemed to be where he could barely reach them. Tilley took the next two games, and then another one, to make it five and four. Bunny summoned up every ounce of energy and took the final game and the second set, six to four.
Bill Tilley, almost without opposition, took the final and deciding set by a score of six love.
As the train pulled out of the station he unwrapped the gift she had pressed into his hand on the station platform. There was gray heavy paper around a small flat box. It was tied with pale blue ribbon. Inside the flat box was tissue paper. When he opened it he saw a plain gold money clip. The engraving on it was very tiny. R.L. to B.H. There were five one-hundred-dollar bills in the clip, twice folded. It was the newest and crispest money he had ever seen.
He sat with the money in his hand. He thought of her and of her wrinkled simian face and her heavy breasts. He thought of the pleased and surprised look on Bill Tilley’s face when they had shaken hands after the match. He shut his hard brown hand on the money and he looked put the train window. After a long time he uncrumpled the bills, smoothed them out against his thigh and put them back in the money clip and put the clip in his pocket.
Cutler looked thinner, tireder, older. “I heard about it. I got three letters about it, from dear friends. Get your stuff out of the Carranak today.”
“But I . . .”
“You threw it away. You were nothing. You wanted to keep on being nothing. Now I’m going to let you keep on being nothing. Get out of here.”
Cutler, he found out later, tried to fix his wagon with all tournament committees, but because Cutler had as many enemies as he had friends, it didn’t work. Bunny found sponsorship. He did better in the next few tournaments. Never top man, but a creditable showing. By the time he was twenty-one he was a tournament veteran. He knew several specifics for hangovers. His game was more clever, though not as powerful. Due to the peculiar customs of amateur tennis, he lived very well indeed. He had long since given up U.C.L.A. When not on the tournament circuit, he was a popular and engaging house guest. And he had learned to identify the Regina Lorrings of the tennis world at fifty paces, and to respond to them. From them he acquired his own car, matched luggage, a Rollex watch in a solid gold case, a Zeiss camera, cashmere jackets, cruise tickets and, whenever possible, cash.
When he was drafted he sold most of his possessions and put the money away in a Building and Loan Society. He went through basic, was given a commission in Special Services and assigned to a large camp in the southwest where he gave regular tennis instruction to field grade officers and played exhibition games with other tennis stars who passed through the camp. It was a pleasant life and, but for a certain unfortunate episode with the wife of a full colonel, he could have stayed there for the duration. He found himself assigned to Korea and, as the word had gone ahead of him through the West Point Protective Association, assigned to a test area in Japan. He began to work out seriously and regularly at the Officers’ Club near Tokyo. He got permission to enter the All Pacific Tournament and made such a splendid showing he was sent on tour to Australia and New Zealand playing exhibitions.
At the time of his discharge he almost had his big game back again. But he was twenty-five, and he had lost a lot of time. He did get on the Davis Cup squad as an alternate. After that, during the next two years both his energies and his charm seemed to wear a little thin. It is one thing to be called a tennis bum. It is something else again to be called a tennis bum and be knocked down simultaneously.
The week after that happened he turned pro. That change warranted no press coverage. He went on two tours, one slightly profitable, and one not profitable at all. Through good luck, after several jobs that did not work out, he at last landed the job of tennis pro at the Oswando Club in Westchester. There were six splendid indoor courts, and so it was a year-round job. He had found that he liked working with kids. He was thirty-three that first year at Oswando. All he knew was tennis. All he would ever know was tennis. And the future had begun to look very black.
Betty Oldbern came to him to be “brushed up” on her tennis. She was nineteen. She was not attractive. She was too heavy. She was very shy of him. She knew how to play tennis because she had been given lessons ever since she was a small child. Lessons in tennis, swimming, golf, riding, dancing, fencing, conversational French, painting, sculpting, creative writing. She was the product of private schools in Switzerland, France and Philadelphia. And of innumerable tutors. She did many things competently, and none of them with grace or style. She had few friends, and quite a few relatives, all elderly.
And the name was Oldbern as in Oldbern Shipping Lines and Oldbern Chemicals.
She was nineteen and living on a generous allowance and in two more years she would be twenty-one and on that birthday she would receive something like three million. She had had the most sophisticated education in the world, yet she was almost entirely naïve. She still wore her baby fat. She could blush like a sunset. Within a month she was deeply, hopelessly in love with him. It had not been hard to manage. The hard thing was to get her to keep her mouth shut and wait. He explained that she had to be of age first, or all the relatives would cause trouble. He kept his hands off her. That was not a great chore.
Four days after her twenty-first birthday, Bunny made an appointment with Harrison Oldbern, Betty’s father. He did not state his business. Harrison Oldbern was on the Board of Governors of the Oswando Club, a thin alert tanned man, sportsman, deep-water sailor, shrewd businessman.
“Sit down, Bunny. First time you’ve seen the office, isn’t it?”
“Yes sir. Pretty impressive.”
“Drink? I’m afraid I’m only going to be able to give you about ten minutes.”
“I’d like a Scotch and water, thanks.”
As Oldbern mixed the drinks he said, “What’s on your mind, Bunny? Contract for next year? I think I can personally assure you that the membership wants you to stay. You’re doing a marvelous job with the kids. In fact we’re going to raise the ante a little. We don’t want to lose you.”
He brought the drinks over and handed Bunny his. Bunny looked up at him and said, “It isn’t anything like that, Mr. Oldbern. Betty and I want to get married.”
Oldbern’s face stiffened. He stared at Bunny. “Betty? She’s just a kid.”
“She’s over twenty-one, sir.”
“How old are you, Hollis?”
Oldbern went behind his desk and sat down slowly. “What kind of nonsense are you trying to pull? What the hell is going on?”
“The usual thing, I guess. Love.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“Nearly two years. But we thought it would be best to wait until we were both sure.”
“You mean wait until she reached twenty-one.”
“It happened to come out that way.”
“Yes, it happened that way. Hollis, you’re a dirty conniving back-stabbing son of a bitch.”
Bunny looked down at his drink. “I’m sorry to hear you talk that way, sir. Betty and I have been hoping there wouldn’t be too much friction.”
“I’ll never permit it.”
“Betty says we’re going to get married no matter what anybody says. Being twenty-one, I guess she’s her own boss on that. I’m not married and I never have been. She’s certainly in her right mind. I just don’t understand how anybody would go about stopping it.”
Oldbern waited long moments. He leaned back in his chair. “Betty is not a pretty girl, Hollis. She is not even close to being pretty. She happens to have three million dollars.”
“She knows I wouldn’t marry her for her money. She knows me better than that. We’ve gotten well acquainted over the past two years. She knows I have ideals, Mr. Oldbern.”
“You haven’t any more ideals than a mink.”
“I just hoped it could be handled without friction.”
“I’ll put a firm of investigators on you. I’ll have a report on your past that’ll make Betty’s eyes stand out on stalks.”
“You know, Mr. Oldbern, I haven’t looked at another woman for two years. That’s the honest truth. I’ve felt pretty bad about some of the things I’ve done. That’s why I told Betty a pretty complete history. I don’t think you could surprise her. She knows I’ve changed and she knows why. She’s watched me work with the kids there at the club. Love can change a man, Mr. Oldbern.”
“You thought of everything, didn’t you? You’ve had two years to work on it.”
“I’d hoped we could get along.”
“Do you have a price, Hollis?”
“What do you mean?”
“I can write a fairly large check.”
“I’m not thinking about money, Mr. Oldbern. I’m in love with your daughter. And she’s in love with me. We want to be married. That seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?”
“My God, I wish I knew this had been going on. Have you two been . . .”
“No sir. I swear that all I’ve ever done is kiss Betty. I guess I’ve done that pretty often. And I talked her out of running away to be married last year. She wanted to do that.”
“But you knew it might mean a cash loss.”
“I don’t want to tell you what to do, but I think you ought to face this, Mr. Oldbern. It’s going to happen.”
The man looked older. “Sit down, Hollis. Let me think.”
Bunny sat down. The man sat with his hand cupped over his eyes. He sighed heavily a few times. When he took his hand away, he looked intently at Hollis. “I understand you, you know. I know what you’re doing. She’s so damn vulnerable. Are you going to try to make her happy? Are you going to even try?”
“Of course I’m going to try.”
“Are you going to ask me to give you some kind of a job with a title? You certainly can’t stay on at the club.”
“Her income figures out to about a hundred and sixty thousand a year before taxes. Taxes will take a lot, but we can live comfortably on the balance. We’re thinking about trying some place along the Mediterranean coast. After the honeymoon, that is. I’m paying for the honeymoon with the money I’ve saved up.”
“White of you, Bunny.”
“I think she’ll feel better about the honeymoon if she isn’t paying for it.”
“There isn’t anything I or anyone else can do, is there?”
Bunny permitted himself his usual likeable grin. “If there is, I wasn’t able to think of it.”
“I certainly hoped she’d do better when she married.”
Bunny still grinned. “Like you said, she isn’t what you’d call a pretty girl. Maybe she’s doing about as well as she can do, Mr. Oldbern. Maybe she’s doing better than she would have. We think we’d like a small quiet wedding. Just the family.”
“When do you want it?”
“A month from tomorrow.”
The capitulation was far easier than Bunny had expected. He wondered if Oldbern would have made a more valiant effort to defend his chick had the chick been more decorative, more personable.
Bunny stuck his hand across the desk. Oldbern looked at him, started to take his hand and then changed his mind. “You did this damn neatly, Hollis. But I don’t have to shake your hand. I don’t have to do that.”
“Suit yourself, Mr. Oldbern.”
He remembered how jubilant he was as he went down in the elevator. He wished Cutler hadn’t died. It would be nice for Cutler to read all about it. The sullen skinny kid from the public courts.
Three zero zero zero zero zero zero.
The wedding had been quiet. The tabloids were noisy. None of the news accounts bothered him. One columnist got a half millimeter under his hide:
“Bunny Hollis, ex-almost tennis great, and bronzed glamor boy emeritus, proved yesterday to fellow refugees from sports headlines that with patience, a file of scrap books and the ability to balance a tea cup, a spotted past can be parlayed into a glowing future. Our Bunny bided his time at the swank Oswando Club where, for the past few years he has been teaching the game he once played well to the children and the wives of the almost rich, the middle rich and the big rich. And yesterday, just a little over a month after a coarse wad of cash was handed over to twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth Oldbern, Bunny cut his notch in that bankroll in a double ring ceremony attended only by the family and exceptionally close friends. The groom, a well-preserved thirty-five, wore a dark suit and a satisfied smile. Though the former Miss Oldbern does not come up to the standards of pulchritude this correspondent has noted among Bunny’s previous playmates, we believe that Bunny has at last firmly established the standard of living which for so many years he has tried to become accustomed to. No prior marriages blot our Bunny’s escutcheon. And that, fellows, is what we mean by patience. He began giving Miss Oldbern tennis lessons two years ago. They left cozily in a Mercedes-Benz, a wedding present from the bride’s aunt, Janice Stawson Fielding Chancellor—who is soon, it is rumored, to become the Baroness Von Reicker.”
Bunny remembered the column again and glowered at his own image in the motel mirror. He went back into the bedroom. Betty still slept, in the same position as before. He looked at her fondly and thought, Good kid. They had driven down to Miami, with stops at Nags Head and Myrtle Beach. They had taken a boat to Curacao, had flown to Nassau, and flown back to Miami for the car.
He had expected to be bored by the honeymoon, bored by the aura of adoration, but to his surprise he had had fun. It had at first shocked and alarmed him and then pleased him to find that he had married a virgin bride. He was quite aware that the incidence of twenty-one-year-old virgins in her particular social and financial strata was very very small. It had given him a very strange feeling to be able to lead her with gentleness through the fears and pain of the first nights, then through the passive acceptance of nights that followed and then at last into more than acceptance—into a gratifyingly lusty participation. It gave him a strange feeling of responsibility to be the only man she had ever known. And he felt a certain amount of pride in realizing that through gentleness and understanding he had been able to arouse her completely. He knew how easily it could have gone the other way—how through brutality she could have been made frigid for life.
Knowing her for two years, knowing her shyness, her physical awkwardness, he had expected her to be a woman of meager desires. He thought her flames would be turned low and would flicker. But she soon became a woman of considerable ardor, sensitive, imaginative, demanding in her lovemaking. He knew she was not pretty. Her figure was fair, at best. Yet during the last week at odd moments he would happen to notice her with half his mind when she moved, when she turned away from him, when she walked toward him, when she pulled herself onto a swimming float or dived into a breaking wave—and at those moments he would feel a quick surprising surge of desire for her. Her skin was marvelously clear and unblemished. She was tidy as a cat and her body was fragrant. In a dark room her brown hair would crackle and there would be faint sparks when he ran his fingers quickly through it.
He knew he did not love her. But he was fond of her. She had her own quiet sense of fun. And secure in her own conviction that she was loved, she had begun to blossom for him.
He sat on the edge of her bed and put his hand on her waist, shook her gently. “Come on, fat lamb.”
She spoke clearly, and without opening her eyes. “Not so daggone fat. I’m being deprived of my starches.”
“How long have you been awake, you sneak?”
“Maybe five minutes.” She opened her eyes. They were pale gray eyes. He had talked her into using dark pencil on her pale brows, into touching up her eyelashes that were like fine gold wire. It gave her eyes more expression and he realized that while he had been in the bathroom she had gotten up and fixed her eyes, run a brush through her hair, used a breath of perfume.
“And this week,” she said, “I shall lose another two pounds. In a few months I will weigh one hundred and fifteen. And then I shall wonder why I wasted all this unearthly beauty on a tired old man.”
“Mmmmhmmm,” he said. “Tired.” He grinned and caressed her.
“Are you being bawdy, Mr. Hollis?” she asked primly.
“A touch. Just a wee bit.”
“That’s what I hoped,” she whispered, smiling, reaching her arms out toward him.
The hard rain came down. The room was gray with the light of the dull morning. Somehow it became a very special time for them. They had a cigarette and then, after showers, got dressed and packed quickly and got in the car and headed north in the dusky gloom of the constant rain.
The sports car was built like a low fleet expensive boat. It squatted low on the road, thrillingly responsive. The wind out of the west did not make it sway. But Bunny saw the hard sway of the palms and the pines and he wondered about the hurricane. They had thought it was going to catch them in Miami and they had talked about it and been excited by the idea and been disappointed when the storm had veered to the west below Cuba.
When they stopped in a roadside restaurant for a late breakfast, the few customers were all talking about the storm. An old man with the long sallow knotted face and pale narrow deep-set eyes of the cracker said, “They say they know where it is. I ain’t fixin’ to listen too hard to ’em, with their planes and charts and all. You get this here rain and then it comes right at you like you had the bar’l of a gun aimed right down your gullet. Nobody knows where it is. Where the hell you think all the birds went? Me, I say it’s fixin’ to roar right down on us. I got me all boarded up and ready, by God. Try to breathe this here air. There ain’t enough goodness in it. You got to keep a-fillin’ your chest. That’s one sure sign.”
When they were back in the car Betty said, “He sounded awfully certain, that old man in there.” “So we’ll add a few knots and get out of here. It would have been fun in Miami, but I wouldn’t want to have to sit it out in a car.”
The gray car, gray as the rain, sped through the moist heavy air. It threw up a great spume of spray behind it. When the winds became strong enough to make the car swerve, he had to slow down.