What’s Better than Money?

by James Hadley Chase

All of a sudden the bar door crashed open and a man came in. He took four plunging steps into the bar, the way a man walks on a rolling ship, and then came to an abrupt standstill.

It was then Rima began to scream, and it was then I became aware of her and the man who had entered.

Her scream made me jerk around to stare at her. I’ll always remember my first sight of her. She was around eighteen years of age. Her hair was the colour of polished silver and her wide, large eyes were cobalt blue. She had on a scarlet lightweight sweater that set off her breasts and a pair of black, tight-fitting slacks. There was a grubby unkempt look about her as if she had been living rough. On a chair by her side lay a plastic mac that had a rip in the sleeve and looked on its last legs.

In repose she would have been pretty the way so many girls her age are pretty who clutter up the sidewalks of Hollywood, hunting for film work, but she wasn’t in repose right at that moment.

The terror on her face was ugly to see. Her wide-open mouth as it formed her continuous scream was an ugly hole in her face. She was pressing her body against the wall like an animal trying to get back into its burrow, and from her fingernails came a nerve jarring sound of scratching as she clawed at the panelling in a futile, panic-stricken quest for escape.

The man who had come in looked like something straight out of a nightmare. He was around twenty-four, small, fine-boned with a thin, pointed face that was as white as cold mutton fat. His black hair was long and plastered to his head by the rain. It hung down either side of his face in limp strands. It was
his eyes that gave him his nightmare appearance. The pupils were enormous, nearly filling the entire iris, and for a moment I got the impression that he was blind. But he wasn’t blind. He was looking at the screaming girl, and there was an expression on his face that had me scared.

He had on a shabby blue suit, a dirty shirt and a black tie that looked like a shoestring. His clothes were soaking wet, and from the cuffs of his trousers water dripped, forming two little puddles on the floor.

For about three or four seconds, he stood motionless, looking at Rima, then out of his thin, vicious mouth came a steady hissing sound.

Rusty, the two drunks and I stared at him. His right hand groped into his hip pocket. He pulled a wicked looking flick-knife. It had a long pointed blade that glittered in the light. Holding the knife, its blade pointing at the screaming girl, he began to move forward, the way a spider moves, quickly,
slightly crabwise and the hissing grew in sound.

“Hey, you!” Rusty bawled. “Drop it!”
But he was careful to stay right where he was behind the bar. The two drunks didn’t move. They sat on the bar stools and watched, their mouths hanging open.

Sam, his face suddenly grey with fear, slid under the table and out of sight.

That left me.
A hay head with a knife is about the most dangerous thing anyone can tackle, but I couldn’t sit there and watch him stab the girl, and I knew that was what he was going to do.

I kicked my chair away and started for him.
Rima had stopped screaming. She pushed the table sideways so it blocked theentrance to the booth. She held onto the table, staring with blind terror at the man as he came at her.

All this took less than five seconds.

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