Read I Would Rather Stay Poor Online

Authors: James Hadley Chase

I Would Rather Stay Poor

James Hadley Chase
Ken Travers, P
e’s deputy sheriff, sat in his aging Packard, chewing gum, his mind clouded with the frustrating prospects of his future.
Tall, lean and dark, Travers
had an aggressive jaw, grey in
telligent eyes and a burning ambition to gain a position in life that would enable him to marry, raise children and have a decent home of his own.
It was frustrating to know that this ambition could only be achieved when the present sheriff either retired or died. Sheriff Thomson, who Travers not only admired but liked, was nudging seventy-six. Travers felt the old man, no matter how smart he happened to be, no matter how good a sheriff he might be, should have retired long ago and allowed him (Travers) the chance to take over the well-paid job of sheriff of Pittsville. Holding that position and with that income, Travers could have married Iris Loring, a nineteen-year-old beauty he had been courting for the past year and with whom he was very much in love.
Apart from these frustrating thoughts, Travers was also labouring under the grievance of having to spend his Saturday afternoon guarding the Pittsville bank when he should have been spending the time with Iris: a date he had arranged and had had to cancel when the news came to the sheriff’s office that Joe Lamb, the manager of the bank, had had a stroke.
Sheriff Thomson, who planned to spray his rose trees, had handed the job of guarding the bank to his deputy.
‘Sorry, son,’ he said with his genial grin, ‘but I’ve important things to attend to. You watch
the bank. You never know. Some
one might get ideas and there’s Miss Craig waiting for the fellow from head office to take charge. I know Iris and you have a date, but this is an emergency. You’ll have plenty of time to meet each other weekends, so go to it.’
Travers had been sitting in the car since half past ten a.m. The time was now three forty-five and all hopes of seeing Iris had now vanished. As he shifted irritably in the
ar seat, he spotted a dusty Mercury with San Francisco number plates pass him and then slow down as it passed the bank. It drove on to the municipal parking lot. He watched a tall, heavil
uilt man get out of the car and come walking back towards the bank.
Travers studied the man, his eyes alert. Obviously an a
thlete, Travers told himself. H
e had an easy, long stride, his shoulders were broad and he had that springy step that could cover miles without fatigue. Travers had no time to form
further judge
ment for the man had started up the path that led to the bank doors. Travers got out of his car and moved forward.
‘Hey!’ he called, his voice pitched so it would carry. ‘Just

The big man turned and looked around, pausing. Travers joined him in five long strides.

‘The bank’s closed,’ he said and flipped back his lapel to show his badge. ‘You want something?’

Now he was close to this man, he was aware of piercing blue eyes, a lipless mouth, a square brutal jaw, but all this suddenly dissolved into charm when the man smiled: it was a wide, friendly smile that softened the brutal lines and made Travers suddenly wonder why he had disliked this man at first sight.
‘I’m Dave Calvin,’ the man said. ‘I’m the new manager of the bank.’
Travers returned the smile.
‘Deputy Sheriff Travers,’ he said. ‘Will you identify yourself, please?’
Calvin took out his bank pass and offered it.

‘Will this do? I see you people take good care of the bank when you have to.’

Travers studied the pass, then returned it.

‘The sheriff didn’t think Miss Craig should be left alone,’ he said, ‘so I got stuck with the job. Now you’re arrived. I guess I’ll clear off.’
The piercing blue eyes ran over him. The wide, friendly smile was very evident.
‘How’s Mr. Lamb?’

Travers shrugged his shoulders.

‘He’s pretty bad. The doctor says it’s touch and go. We’ll know by tomorrow if he’s
going to get over it or not.’
Calvin made sympathetic noises.
‘I’d better meet Miss Craig. She’ll be glad to get home.’
‘She sure will,’ Travers said. He walked up the path with Calvin. ‘This has given her a shock. She found him on the floor in his office.’
As the two men reached the bank entrance, the door opened and a girl stood in the doorway. Calvin took her in with one quick, searching glance. She was about twenty-five or -six, above medium height and frail looking. The rimless spectacles she wore gave her
spinsterish look. Although she was plain looking, her complexion was good. Her mouse-coloured hair was neat.
‘This is Mr. Calvin,’ Travers said. ‘I thought I’d stick around until he arrived.’
The girl was looking at Calvin:
painful flush rising to her face. Calvin smiled at her. His wide, friendly confident smile coupled with his staring blue eyes generally made an impact on women. It seemed to be having a devastating impact on Alice Craig.
‘I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, Miss Craig,’ Calvin said, aware of the impression he was making on the girl, ‘but it was short notice and I had quite a way to come.’

that’s all right,’ she stammered. ‘I

I didn’t expect

won’t you come in?’
Travers said, ‘Well, I guess I’ll get along. Glad to have met you, Mr. Calvin. Anything I can do, just ask. I’m over the way at the sheriff’s office.’
Calvin shook hands with him, then followed the girl into the bank. Travers walked back to his car.
Calvin shut the door of the bank and looked around. It was very small. There was the usual grill-protected counter. Behind this was a glassed-in office. There was a door near him and a
other door facing him behind the counter. There was a wooden seat for waiting customers and a table on which stood magazines and a vase of flowers.
Alice Craig watched him. He could see she was making futile efforts to control the deep flush that still stained her face.

‘I’m sorry about Mr. Lamb,’ Calvin said. ‘It must have been a shock for you. I’m sure you want to get home. Suppose you give me the keys and then get off? There
nothing we can do now until Monday.’

She looked startled.

‘You don’t want to check?’

‘Not right now,’ Calvin said, smiling. ‘I’ll do all that on Monday.’ He moved past her, not looking at her because her embarrassment began to irritate him. He opened the door leading into the manager’s office. It was a nice room with a carpet, an armchair, a handsome-looking desk and a high-backed desk-chair. He went around behind the desk and sat down. Alice came to the door and stood looking helplessly at him.
‘Come in and sit down,’ he said, waving to the armchair. ‘A cigarette?’
‘No, thank you. I

I don’t smoke.’ She came in reluctantly and perched herself on the arm of the chair, looking down at her slim, well-shaped hands.
What a type! Calvin thought. She has as much personality
as a
potato and she’s as sexless as a nun.

‘Well, now,’ he said, keeping his voice mild and friendly. ‘How about the keys?’

‘They’re in the top drawer on the left,’ she said, still not looking at him.

He opened the drawer and took out
set of keys. They were all neatly labelled.

‘What keys do you hold?’ he asked.


I have
key to the front entrance
you have and I have a key to the vault. There are two locks on the vault. You have
one key and I have the other.’
He smiled at her.

‘So I can’t rob the vault without your permission and you can’t without mine. Is that it?’

She gave a nervous little smile, but he could see the joke as such wasn’t appreciated.

There was a pause, then he asked, ‘Can you give me Mr. Lamb’s address?’

‘The Bungalow, Connaught Avenue. It’s the fourth turning on the right down the main street.’

‘Thanks.’ He made a note of the address on the scratch pad on the desk. ‘How about accommodation in this town? What’s the hotel like?’

She hesitated, then she said, ‘It’s very bad. The best and the most comfortable place is where I’m staying. Mrs. Loring’s rooming-house. The food is very good and it isn’t expensive.’

Calvin realised he had made a mistake by asking her such a question. He had no wish to live where she did, but now, it was impossible for him to turn down her suggestion.

‘Sounds fine. Well, okay, let me have the address.’

‘It’s on Macklin Drive. The end house. It’s about a mile and a half off the Downside highway.’

‘I’ll find it.’ He put the keys in his pocket and stood up.
‘I guess I’ll call on Mrs. Lamb
now, then I’ll come on to Macklin Drive.’ He looked curiously at her. ‘How come you don’t live
your parents?’
He saw her flinch.

‘I haven’t any,’ she said. ‘They died in a road accident five years ago.’

‘That’s too bad.’ Calvin curs
ed himself. He seemed to be ask
ing all the wrong questions. He moved to the door. ‘You lock up. We’ll talk business on Monday. I’m sure we are going to get along fine together.’
It amused him to bring the painful flush to her face. He watched it for a brief moment before walking quickly down the path and along the sidewalk to the car park.

He drove to Connaught Avenue and pulled up outside Joe Lamb’s bungalow. It was made of brick and timber, showing signs of wear.

Calvin sat in the car for seve
ral minutes, looking at the bun
galow. This was bank property and his possible inheritance. If Lamb died, he would have to move into this depressing box of a place.

He got out of the car, opened the wooden gate and walked up the path. An elderly woman opened the door. She was bemused and tearful. She stared stupidly at him as he introduced himself.

He spent half an hour with her in a gloomy, cramped sitting-room full of heavy depressing furniture. When he finally left, he knew she thought he was wonderful and because this opinion nattered his odd ego, he didn’t begrudge the time spent with her. He had learned that Lamb was desperately ill. There was no possibility of him returning to work for some months.

Back in the car again, Calvin drove slowly to the highway. He stopped just outside the town at a bar and asked for a double Scotch. It was not yet six o’clock and at this time the bar was empty. He sat on a stool up at the bar and rested his fleshy face between his hands, staring down at the tiny bubbles in his glass.

Months! he thought. He c
ould be stuck in this dreary hole for months and if Lamb died, he could be permanently stuck here. He and Alice Craig would grow grey together. Even when she was fifty, she would still blush when a man looked at her. A fifteen-year jail sentence might be easier to bear. He drank the whisky, nodded to the barman and went out into the gathering darkness.

Macklin Drive was a mile further on at the cross roads. When he finally reached the roaming-house he was pleasantly surprised. This was a compact, three-storey house set in a well-kept garden with a view of the distant hills. Lights showed at the windows. The house looked solid and cheerful and completely unlike the other cheap little houses and bungalows he had seen in the town.

He left his car in the drive and walked up the four steps to the front door. He rang the bell and waited.
There was a pause, then the door swung open and a woman, her back to the light, stood looking at him.

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