You are a child of the sun, you come from the sun, and that is something true with the Earth also... your relationship with the Earth is so deep, and the Earth is in you and this is something not very difficult, much less difficult then philosophy.

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Tác giả: Sidney Sheldon
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Book III - Chapter 20
t's time to begin my new life, Tracy decided. But what kind of life? I've gone from an innocent, naive victim to a... what? A thief--- that's what. She thought of Joe Romano and Anthony Orsatti and Perry Pope and Judge Lawrence. No. An avenger. That's what I've become. And an adventuress, perhaps. She had outwitted the police, two professional con artists, and a double-crossing jeweler. She thought of Ernestine and Amy and felt a pang. On an impulse, Tracy went to F.A.O. Schwarz and bought a puppet theater, complete with half a dozen characters, and had it mailed to Amy. The card read: SOME NEW FRIENDS FOR YOU. MISS YOU. LOVE TRACY.
Next she visited a furrier on Madison Avenue and bought a blue fox boa for Ernestine and mailed it with a money order for two hundred dollars. The card simply read: THANKS, ERNIE. TRACY.
All my debts are paid now, Tracy thought. It was a good feeling. She was free to go anywhere she liked, do anything she pleased.
She celebrated her independence by checking into a Tower Suite in The Helmsley Palace Hotel. From her forty-seventh-floor living room, she could look down at St. Patrick's Cathedral and see the George Washington Bridge in the distance. Only a few miles in another direction was the dreary place she had recently lived in. Never again, Tracy swore.
She opened the bottle of champagne that the management had sent up and sat sipping it, watching the sun set over the skyscrapers of Manhattan. By the time the moon had risen, Tracy had made up her mind. She was going to London. She was ready for all the wonderful things life had to offer. I've paid my dues, Tracy thought. I deserve some happiness.
o O o
She lay in bed and turned on the late television news. Two men were being interviewed. Boris Melnikov was a short, stocky Russian, dressed in an ill-fitting brown suit, and Pietr Negulesco was his opposite, tall and thin and elegant-looking. Tracy wondered what the two men could possibly have in common.
"Where is the chess match going to be held?" the news anchorman asked.
"At Sochi, on the beautiful Black Sea," Melnikov replied.
"You are both international grand masters, and this match has created quite a stir, gentlemen. In your previous matches you have taken the title from each other, and your last one was a draw. Mr. Negulesco, Mr. Melnikov currently holds the title. Do you think you will be able to take it away from him again?"
"Absolutely," the Romanian replied.
"He has no chance," the Russian retorted.
Tracy knew nothing about chess, but there was an arrogance about both men that she found distasteful. She pressed the remote-control button that turned off the television set and went to sleep.
o O o
Early the following morning Tracy stopped at a travel agency and reserved a suite on the Signal Deck of the Queen Elizabeth 2. She was as excited as a child about her first trip abroad, and spent the next three days buying clothes and luggage.
On the morning of the sailing Tracy hired a limousine to drive her to the pier. When she arrived at Pier 90, Berth 3, at West Fifty-fifth and Twelfth Avenue, where the QE II was docked, it was crowded with photographers and television reporters, and for a moment, Tracy was panic-stricken. Then she realized they were interviewing the two men posturing at the foot of the gangplank--- Melnikov and Negulesco, the international grand masters. Tracy brushed past them, showed her passport to a ship's officer at the gangplank, and walked up onto the ship. On deck, a steward looked at Tracy's ticket and directed her to her stateroom. It was a lovely suite, with a private terrace. It had been ridiculously expensive, but Tracy decided it was going to be worth it.
She unpacked and then wandered along the corridor. In almost every cabin there were farewell parties going on, with laughter and champagne and conversation. She felt a sudden ache of loneliness. There was no one to see her off, no one for her to care about, no one who cared about her. That's not true, Tracy told herself. Big Bertha wants me. And she laughed aloud.
She made her way up to the Boat Deck and had no idea of the admiring glances of the men and the envious stares of the women cast her way.
Tracy heard the sound of a deep-throated boat whistle and calls of "All ashore who's going ashore," and she was filled with a sudden excitement. She was sailing into a completely unknown future. She felt the huge ship shudder as the tugs started to pull it out of the harbor, and she stood among the passengers on the Boat Deck, watching the Statue of Liberty slide out of sight, and then she went exploring.
The QE II was a city, more than nine hundred feet long and thirteen stories high. It had four restaurants, six bars, two ballrooms, two nightclubs, and a "Golden Door Spa at Sea." There were scores of shops, four swimming pools, a gymnasium, a golf driving range, a jogging track. I may never want to leave the ship, Tracy marveled.
o O o
She had reserved a table upstairs in the Princess Grill, which was smaller and more elegant than the main dining room. She barely had been seated when a familiar voice said, "Well, hello there!"
She looked up, and there stood Tom Bowers, the bogus FBI man. Oh, no. I don't deserve this, Tracy thought.
"What a pleasant surprise. Do you mind if I join you?"
"Very much."
He slid into the chair across from her and gave her an engaging smile. "We might as well be friends. After all, we're both here for the same reason, aren't we?"
Tracy had no idea what he was talking about. "Look, Mr. Bowers---"
"Stevens," he said easily. "Jeff Stevens."
"Whatever." Tracy started to rise.
"Wait. I'd like to explain about the last time we met."
"There's nothing to explain," Tracy assured him. "An idiot child could have figured it out--- and did."
"I owed Conrad Morgan a favor." He grinned ruefully. "I'm afraid he wasn't too happy with me."
There was that same easy, boyish charm that had completely taken her in before. For God's sake, Dennis, it isn't necessary to put cuffs on her. She's not going to run away....
She said hostilely, "I'm not too happy with you; either. What are you doing aboard this ship? Shouldn't you be on a riverboat?"
He laughed. "With Maximilian Pierpont on board, this is a riverboat."
"Who?"
He looked at her in surprise. "Come on. You mean you really don't know?"
"Know what?"
"Max Pierpont is one of the richest men in the world. His hobby is forcing competitive companies out of business. He loves slow horses and fast women, and he owns a lot of both. He's the last of the big-time spenders."
"And you intend to relieve him of some of his excess wealth."
"Quite a lot of it, as a matter of fact." He was eyeing her speculatively. "Do you know what you and I should do?"
"I certainly do, Mr. Stevens. We should say good-bye."
And he sat there watching as Tracy got up and walked out of the dining room.
She had dinner in her cabin. As she ate, she wondered what ill fate had placed Jeff Stevens in her path again. She wanted to forget the fear she had felt on that train when she thought she was under arrest. Well, I'm not going to let him spoil this trip. I'll simply ignore him.
After dinner Tracy went up on deck. It was a fantastic night, with a magic canopy of stars sprayed against a velvet sky. She was standing at the rail in the moonlight, watching the soft phosphorescence of the waves and listening to the sounds of the night wind, when he moved up beside her.
"You have no idea how beautiful you look standing there. Do you believe in shipboard romances?"
"Definitely. What I don't believe in is you." She started to walk away.
"Wait. I have some news for you. I just found out that Max Pierpont isn't on board, after all. He canceled at the last minute."
"Oh, what a shame. You wasted your fare."
"Not necessarily." He eyed her speculatively. "How would you like to pick up a small fortune on this voyage?"
The man is unbelievable. "Unless you have a submarine or a helicopter in your pocket, I don't think you'll get away with robbing anyone on this ship."
"Who said anything about robbing anyone? Have you ever heard of Boris Melnikov or Pietr Negulesco?"
"What if I have?"
"Melnikov and Negulesco are on their way to Russia for a championship match. If I can arrange for you to play the two of them," Jeff said earnestly, "we can win a lot of money. It's a perfect setup."
Tracy was looking at him incredulously. "If you can arrange for me to play the two of them? That's your perfect setup?"
"Uh-huh. How do you like it?"
"I love it. There's just one tiny hitch."
"What's that?"
"I don't play chess."
He smiled benignly. "No problem. I'll teach you."
"You're insane," Tracy said. "If you want some advice, you'll find yourself a good psychiatrist. Good night."
o O o
The following morning Tracy literally bumped into Boris Melnikov. He was jogging on the Boat Deck, and as Tracy rounded a corner, he ran into her, knocking her off her feet.
"Watch where you're going," he growled. And he kept running.
Tracy sat on the deck, looking after him. "Of all the rude---!" She stood up and brushed herself off.
A steward approached. "Are you hurt, miss? I saw him---"
"No, I'm fine, thank you."
Nobody was going to spoil this trip.
When Tracy returned to her cabin, there were six messages to call Mr. Jeff Stevens. She ignored them. In the afternoon she swam and read and had a massage, and by the time she went into the bar that evening to have a cocktail before dinner, she was feeling wonderful. Her euphoria was short-lived. Pietr Negulesco, the Romanian, was seated at the bar. When he saw Tracy, he stood up and said, "May I buy you a drink, beautiful lady?"
Tracy hesitated, then smiled. "Why, yes, thank you."
"What would you like?"
"A vodka and tonic, please."
Negulesco gave the order to the barman and turned back to Tracy. "I'm Pietr Negulesco."
"I know."
"Of course. Everyone knows me. I am the greatest chess player in the world. In my country, I am a national hero." He leaned close to Tracy, put a hand on her knee, and said, "I am also a great fuck."
Tracy thought she had misunderstood him. "What?"
"I am a great fuck."
Her first reaction was to throw her drink in his face, but she controlled herself. She had a better idea. "Excuse me," she said, "I have to meet a friend."
o O o
She went to look for Jeff Stevens. She found him in the Princess Grill, but as Tracy started toward his table, she saw that he was dining with a lovely-looking blonde with a spectacular figure, dressed in an evening gown that looked as if it had been painted on. I should have known better, Tracy thought. She turned and headed down the corridor. A moment later Jeff was at her side.
"Tracy... did you want to see me?"
"I don't want to take you away from your... dinner."
"She's dessert," Jeff said lightly. "What can I do for you?"
"Were you serious about Melnikov and Negulesco?"
"Absolutely. Why?"
"I think they both need a lesson in manners."
"So do I. And we'll make money while we teach them."
"Good. What's your plan?"
"You're going to beat them at chess."
"I'm serious."
"So am I"
"I told you, I don't play chess. I don't know a pawn from a king. I---"
"Don't worry," Jeff promised her. "A couple of lessons from me, and you'll slaughter them both."
"Both?"
"Oh, didn't I tell you? You're going to play them simultaneously."
o O o
Jeff was seated next to Boris Melnikov in the. Double Down Piano Bar.
"The woman is a fantastic chess player," Jeff confided to Melnikov. "She's traveling incognito."
The Russian grunted. "Women know nothing about chess. They cannot think."
"This one does. She says she could beat you easily."
Boris Melnikov laughed aloud. "Nobody beats me--- easily or not."
"She's willing to bet you ten thousand dollars that she can play you and Pietr Negulesco at the same time and get a draw with at least one of you."
Boris Melnikov choked on his drink. "What! That's--- that's ridiculous! Play two of us at the same time? This--- this female amateur?"
"That's right. For ten thousand dollars each."
"I should do it just to teach the stupid idiot a lesson."
"If you win, the money will be deposited in any country you choose."
A covetous expression flitted across the Russian's face. "I've never even heard of this person. And to play the two of us! My God, she must be insane."
"She has the twenty thousand dollars in cash."
"What nationality is she?"
"American."
"Ah, that explains it. All rich Americans are crazy, especially their women."
Jeff started to rise. "Well, I guess she'll just have to play Pietr Negulesco alone."
"Negulesco is going to play her?"
"Yes, didn't I tell you? She wanted to play the two of you, but if you're afraid..."
"Afraid! Boris Melnikov afraid?" His voice was a roar. "I will destroy her. When is this ridiculous match to take place?"
"She thought perhaps Friday night. The last night out."
Boris Meinikov was thinking hard. "The best two out of three?"
"No. Only one game."
"For ten thousand dollars?"
"That is correct."
The Russian sighed. "I do not have that much cash with me."
"No problem," Jeff assured him. "All Miss Whitney really wants is the glory of playing the great Boris Melnikov. If you lose, you give her a personally autographed picture. If you win, you get ten thousand dollars."
"Who holds the stakes?" There was a sharp note of suspicion in his voice.
"The ship's purser."
"Very well," Melnikov decided. "Friday night We will start at ten o'clock, promptly."
"She'll be so pleased," Jeff assured him.
The following morning Jeff was talking to Pietr Negulesco in the gymnasium, where the two men were working out.
"She's an American?" Pietr Negulesco said. "I should have known. All Americans are cuckoo."
"She's a great chess player.."
Pietr Negulesco made a gesture of contempt. "Great is not good enough. Best is what counts. And I am the best."
"That's why she's so eager to play against you. If you lose, you give her an autographed picture. If you win, you get ten thousand dollars in cash..."
"Negulesco does not play amateurs."
"...deposited in any country you like."
"Out of the question."
"Well, then, I guess she'll have to play only Boris Melnikov."
"What? Are you saying Melnikov has agreed to play against this woman?"
"Of course. But she was hoping to play you both at once."
"I've never heard of anything so--- so---" Negutesco sputtered, at a loss for words. "The arrogance! Who is she that she thinks she can defeat the two top chess masters in the world? She must have escaped from some lunatic asylum."
"She's a little erratic," Jeff confessed, "but her money is good. All cash."
"You said ten thousand dollars for defeating her?"
"That's right."
"And Boris Meinikov gets the same amount?"
"If he defeats her."
Pietr Negulesco grinned. "Oh, he will defeat her. And so will I."
"Just between us, I wouldn't be a bit surprised."
"Who will hold the stakes?"
"The ship's purser."
Why should Melnikov be the only one to take money from this woman? thought Pietr Negutesco.
"My friend, you have a deal. Where and when?"
"Friday night. Ten o'clock. The Queen's Room."
Pietr Negulesco smiled wolfishly. "I will be there."
o O o
"You mean they agreed?" Tracy cried.
"That's right."
"I'm going to be sick."
"I'll get you a cold towel."
Jeff hurried into the bathroom of Tracy's suite, ran cold water on a towel, and brought it back to her. She was lying on the chaise longue. He placed the towel on her forehead. "How does that feel?"
"Terrible. I think I have a migraine."
"Have you ever had a migraine before?"
"No."
"Then you don't have one now. Listen to me, Tracy, it's perfectly natural to be nervous before something like this."
She leapt up and flung down the towel. "Something like this? There's never been anything like this! I'm playing two international master chess players with one chess lesson from you and---"
"Two," Jeff corrected her. "You have a natural talent for chess."
"My God, why did I ever let you talk me into this?"
"Because we're going to make a lot of money."
"I don't want to make a lot of money," Tracy wailed. "I want this boat to sink. Why couldn't this be the Titanic?"
"Now, just stay calm," Jeff said soothingly. "It's going to be---"
"It's going to be a disaster! Everyone on this ship is going to be watching."
"That's exactly the point, isn't it?" Jeff beamed.
o O o
Jeff had made all the arrangements with the ship's purser. He had given the purser the stakes to hold--- $20,000 in traveler's checks--- and asked him to set up two chess tables for Friday evening. The word spread rapidly throughout the ship, and passengers kept approaching Jeff to ask if the matches were actually going to take place.
"Absolutely," Jeff assured all who inquired. "It's incredible. Poor Miss Whitney believes she can win. In fact, she's betting on it."
"I wonder," a passenger asked, "If I might place a small bet?"
Certainly. As much money as you like. Miss Whitney is asking only ten-to-one odds."
A million-to-one odds would have made more sense. From the moment the first bet was accepted, the floodgates opened. It seemed that everyone on board, including the engine-room crew and the ship's officers, wanted to place bets on the game. The amounts varied from five dollars to five thousand dollars and every single bet was on the Russian and the Romanian.
The suspicious purser reported to the captain. "I've never seen anything like it, sir. It's a stampede. Nearly all the passengers have placed wagers. I must be holding two hundred thousand dollars in bets."
The captain studied him thoughtfully. "You say Miss Whitney is going to play Melnikov and Negulesco at the same time?"
"Yes, Captain."
"Have you verified that the two men are really Pietr Negulesco and Boris Melnikov?"
"Oh, yes, of course, sir."
"There's no chance they would deliberately throw the chess game, is there?"
"Not with their egos. I think they'd rather die first. And if they lost to this woman, that's probably exactly what would happen to them when they got home."
The captain ran his fingers through his hair, a puzzled frown on his face. "Do you know anything about Miss Whitney or this Mr. Stevens?"
"Not a thing, sir. As far as I can determine, they're traveling separately."
The captain made his decision. "It smells like some kind of con game, and ordinarily I would put a stop to it. However, I happen to be a bit of an expert myself, and if there was one thing I'd stake my life on, it's the fact that there is no way to cheat at chess. Let the match go on." He walked over to his desk and withdrew a black leather wallet. "Put down fifty pounds for me. On the masters."
o O o
By 9:00 Friday evening the Queen's Room was packed with passengers from first class, those who had sneaked in from second and third class, and the ship's officers and members of the crew who were off duty. At Jeff Stevens's request, two rooms had been set up for the tournament. One table was in the center of the Queen's Room, and the other table was in the adjoining salon. Curtains had been drawn to separate the two rooms.
"So that the players aren't distracted by each other," Jeff explained. "And we would like the spectators to remain in whichever room they choose."
Velvet ropes had been placed around the two tables to keep the crowds back. The spectators were about to witness something they were sure they would never see again. They knew nothing about the beautiful young American woman, except that it would be impossible for her--- or anyone else--- to play the great Negulesco and Melnikov simultaneously and obtain a draw with either of them.
Jeff introduced Tracy to the two grand masters shortly before the game was to begin. Tracy looked like a Grecian painting in a muted green chiffon Galanos gown which left one shoulder bare. Her eyes seemed tremendous in her pale face.
Pietr Negulesco looked her over carefully. "Have you won all the national tournaments you have played in?" he asked.
"Yes," Tracy replied truthfully.
He shrugged. "I have never heard of you."
Boris Melnikov was equally rude. "You Americans do not know what to do with your money," he said. "I wish to thank you in advance. My winnings will make my family very happy."
Tracy's eyes were green jade. "You haven't won, yet, Mr. Melnikov."
Melnikov's laugh boomed out through the room. "My dear lady, I don't know who you are, but I know who I am. I am the great Boris Melnikov."
It was 10:00. Jeff looked around and saw that both salons had filled up with spectators. "It's time for the match to start."
Tracy sat down across the table from Melnikov and wondered for the hundredth time how she had gotten herself into this.
"There's nothing to it," Jeff had assured her. "Trust me."
And like a fool she had trusted him. I must have been out of my mind, Tracy thought. She was playing the two greatest chess players in the world, and she knew nothing about the same, except what Jeff had spent four hours teaching her.
The big moment had arrived. Tracy felt her legs trembling. Melnikov turned to the expectant crowd and grinned. He made a hissing noise at a steward. "Bring me a brandy. Napoleon."
"In order to be fair to everyone," Jeff had said to Melnikov, "I suggest that you play the white so that you go first, and in the game with Mr. Negulesco, Miss Whitney will play the white and she will go first."
Both grand masters agreed.
While the audience stood hushed, Boris Melnikov reached across the board and played the queen's gambit decline opening, moving his queen pawn two squares. I'm not simply going to beat this woman. I'm going to crush her.
He glanced up at Tracy. She studied the board, nodded, and stood up, without moving a piece. A steward cleared the way through the crowd as Tracy walked into the second salon, where Pietr Negulesco was seated at a table waiting for her. There were at least a hundred people crowding the room as Tracy took her seat opposite Negulesco.
"Ah, my little pigeon. Have you defeated Boris yet?" Pietr Negulesco laughed uproariously at his joke.
"I'm working on it, Mr. Negulesco," Tracy said quietly.
She reached forward and moved her white queen's pawn two squares. Negulesco looked up at her and grinned. He had arranged for a massage in one hour, but he planned to finish this game before then. He reached down and moved his black queen's pawn two squares. Tracy studied the board a moment, then rose. The steward escorted her back to Boris Melnikov.
Tracy sat down at the table and moved her black queen's pawn two squares. In the background she saw Jeffs almost imperceptible nod of approval.
Without hesitation, Boris Melnikov moved his white queen's bishop pawn two squares.
Two minutes later, at Negulesco's table, Tracy moved her white queen's bishop two squares.
Negulesco played his king's pawn square.
Tracy rose and returned to the room where Boris Melnikov was waiting. Tracy played her king's pawn square.
So! She is not a complete amateur, Melnikov thought in surprise. Let us see what she does with this. He played his queen's knight to queen's bishop 3.
Tracy watched his move, nodded, and returned to Negulesco, where she copied Melnikov's move.
Negulesco moved the queen's bishop pawn two squares, and Tracy went back to Melnikov and repeated Negulesco's move.
With growing astonishment, the two grand masters realized they were up against a brilliant opponent. No matter how clever their moves, this amateur managed to counteract them.
Because they were separated, Boris Melnikov and Pietr Negulesco had no idea that, in effect, they were playing against each other. Every move that Melnikov made with Tracy, Tracy repeated with Negulesco. And when Negulesco countered with a move, Tracy used that move against Melnikov.
By the time the grand masters entered the middle game, they were no longer smug. They were fighting for their reputations. They paced the floor while they contemplated moves and puffed furiously on cigarettes. Tracy appeared to be the only calm one.
In the beginning, in order to end the game quickly, Melnikov had tried a knight's sacrifice to allow his white bishop to put pressure on the black king's side. Tracy had carried the move to Negulesco. Negulesco had examined the move carefully, then refuted the sacrifice by covering his exposed side, and when Negulesco had sacked a bishop to advance a rook to white's seventh rank, Melnikov had refuted it before the black rook could damage his pawn structure.
There was no stopping Tracy. The game had been going on for four hours, and not one person in either audience had stirred.
Every grand master carries in his head hundreds of games played by other grand masters. It was as this particular match was going into the end game that both Melnikov and Negulesco recognized the hallmark of the other.
The bitch, Melnikov thought. She has studied with Negulesco. He has tutored her.
And Negulesco thought, She is Melnikov's protegee. The bastard has taught her his game.
The harder they fought Tracy, the more they came to realize there was simply no way they could beat her. The match was appearing drawish.
In the sixth hour of play, at 4:00 A.M., when the players had reached the end game, the pieces on each board had been reduced to three pawns, one rook, and a king. There was no way for either side to win. Melnikov studied the board for a long time, then took a deep, choked breath and said, "I offer a draw."
Over the hubbub, Tracy said, "I accept."
The crowd went wild.
Tracy rose and made her way through the crowd into the next room. As she started to take her seat, Neguleseo, in a strangled voice said, "I offer a draw."
And the uproar from the other room was repeated. The crowd could not believe what it had just witnessed. A woman had come out of nowhere to simultaneously stalemate the two greatest chess masters in the world.
Jeff appeared at Tracy's side. "Come on," he grinned. "We both need a drink."
When they left, Boris Melnikov and Pietr Negulesco were sill slumped in their chairs, mindlessly staring at their boards.
o O o
Tracy and Jeff sat at a table for two in the Upper Deck bar. "You were beautiful," Jeff laughed. "Did you notice the look on Melnikov's face? I thought he was going to have a heart attack."
"I thought I was going to have a heart attack," Tracy said. "How much did we win?"
"About two hundred thousand dollars. We'll collect it from the purser in the morning when we dock at Southampton. I'll meet you for breakfast in the dining room."
"Fine."
"I think I'll turn in now. Let me walk you to your stateroom."
"I'm not ready to go to bed yet, Jeff. I'm too excited. You go ahead."
"You were a champion," Jeff told her. He leaned over and kissed her lightly on the cheek. "Good night, Tracy."
"Good night, Jeff."
She watched him leave. Go to sleep? Impossible! It had been one of the most fantastic nights of her life. The Russian and the Romanian had been so sure of themselves, so arrogant. Jeff had said, "Trust me," and she had. She had no illusions about what he was. He was a con artist. He was bright and amusing and clever, easy to be with. But of course she could never be seriously interested in him.
o O o
Jeff was on the way to his stateroom when he encountered one of the ship's officers.
"Good show, Mr. Stevens. The word about the match has already gone out over the wireless. I imagine the press will be meeting you both at Southampton. Are you Miss Whitney's manager?"
"No, we're just shipboard acquaintances," Jeff said easily, but his mind was racing. If he and Tracy were linked together, it would look like a setup. There could even be an investigation. He decided to collect the money before any suspicions were aroused.
Jeff wrote a note to Tracy. HAVE PICKED UP MONEY AND WILL MEET YOU FOR A CELEBRATION BREAKFAST AT THE SAVOY HOTEL. YOU WERE MAGNIFICENT. JEFF. He sealed it in an envelope and handed it to a steward. "Please see that Miss Whitney gets this first thing in the morning."
"Yes, Sir."
Jeff headed for the purser's office.
"Sorry to bother you," Jeff apologized, "but we'll be docking in a few hours, and I know how busy you're going to be, so I wondered whether you'd mind paying me off now?"
"No trouble at all," the purser smiled. "Your young lady is really wizard, isn't she?"
"She certainly is."
"If you don't mind my asking, Mr. Stevens, where in the world did she learn to play chess like that?"
Jeff leaned close and confided, "I heard she studied with Bobby Fischer."
The purser took two large manila envelopes out of the safe. "This is a lot of cash to carry around. Would you like me to give you a check for this amount?"
"No, don't bother. The cash will be fine," Jeff assured him. "I wonder if you could do me a favor? The mail boat comes out to meet the ship before it docks, doesn't it?"
"Yes, Sir. We're expecting it at six A.M."
"I'd appreciate it if you could arrange for me to leave on the mail boat. My mother is seriously ill, and I'd like to get to her before it's"--- his voice dropped--- "before it's too late."
"Oh, I'm dreadfully sorry, Mr. Stevens. Of course I can handle that for you. I'll make the arrangements with customs."
o O o
At 6:15 A.M. Jeff Stevens, with the two envelopes carefully stashed away in his suitcase, climbed down the ship's ladder into the mail boat. He turned to take one last look at the outline of the huge ship towering above him. The passengers on the liner were sound asleep. Jeff would be on the dock long before the QE II landed. "It was a beautiful voyage," Jeff said to one of the crewmen on the mail boat.
"Yes, it was, wasn't it?" a voice agreed.
Jeff turned around. Tracy was seated on a coil of rope, her hair blowing softly around her face.
"Tracy! What are you doing here?"
"What do you think I'm doing?"
He saw the expression on her face. "Wait a minute! You didn't think I was going to run out on you?"
"Why would I think that?" Her tone was bitter.
"Tracy, I left a note for you. I was going to meet you at the Savoy and---"
"Of course you were," she said cuttingly. "You never give up, do you?"
He looked at her, and there was nothing more for him to say.
o O o
In Tracy's suite at the Savoy, she watched carefully as Jeff counted out the money. "Your share comes to one hundred and one thousand dollars."
"Thank you." Her tone was icy.
Jeff said, "You know, you're wrong about me, Tracy. I wish you'd give me a chance to explain. Will you have dinner with me tonight?"
She hesitated, then nodded. "All right."
"Good. I'll pick you up at eight o'clock."
o O o
When Jeff Stevens arrived at the hotel that evening and asked for Tracy, the room clerk said, "I'm sorry, sir. Miss Whitney checked out early this afternoon. She left no forwarding address."
If Tomorrow Comes If Tomorrow Comes - Sidney Sheldon If Tomorrow Comes