Bad Company

Free Bad Company by Jack Higgins

Book: Bad Company by Jack Higgins Read Free Book Online
Authors: Jack Higgins
Tags: thriller
their heads.
    “Thank you, my friends.” The Baron took off his hat, and Meyer helped with the heavy coat and seated him. “It’s a bad night, so I’ll have champagne. It’ll liven things up a little.”
    Meyer departed, and the Baron took out his case, selected a cigarette and lit it, aware of the man standing at the bar drinking beer and scowling at him. This was one Hans Klein, a huge brute, a local farmer and drunkard. He was seriously in arrears with his rent, had failed to pay again and again. At the town appeals court the previous month, the Baron had given him three months until eviction.
    As Meyer brought the champagne in a bucket and a glass, Klein said loudly, “That’s all right for the high and bloody mighty.” He turned to the barmaid and slammed his hand on the bar. “Schnapps, and be quick about it, or do we all have to stand in line for him?”
    Conversation faltered and Meyer, thumbing off the cork, looked agitated. “Baron, I’m so sorry.”
    “Just pour.”
    It was at that moment the door opened, snow whirled in, and the stranger appeared.
    He was wearing a hunting jacket with a fur collar, and a tweed cap covered with snow, which he took off and beat against his thigh. Strangers were not usual in Neustadt and he attracted immediate attention. He had black hair, not quite to his shoulders, but long enough, and a handsome wedge-shaped face with a broken nose, with the look of some medieval brave about him. He unbuttoned his coat.
    “Good evening,” he said. “A bad night for it.”
    His German was almost flawless, but as von Berger recognized, there was a hint of Italian there.
    Meyer said, “Welcome, Mein Herr, you’ve come far?”
    “You could say that. All the way from Sicily.”
    Klein turned to those nearest him. “Italian,” and there was contempt in his voice.
    The stranger ignored him and said to Meyer, “I need something to warm me up. You look as if you’ve got every drink in the world back there. Would you have grappa?”
    “As a matter of fact, I do.” Meyer took a bottle down from the shelf and held it up.
    The stranger read the label aloud. “‘Grappa Di Brunello di Montalcino.’ Jesus, that stuff is firewater. Pour me one now.” He took it straight down and coughed. “Wonderful. I’ll hang on to it.”
    He turned, saw a small table vacant and, in the same glance, the Baron in his booth, amused. The stranger stopped smiling and almost stepped back, as if recoiling physically. He paused, then went to the vacant table, sat down, opened the bottle and poured another one. He glanced at the Baron again, then lowered his eyes.
    The Baron frowned, strangely uncomfortable. There was something familiar there. It was as if he knew him, but how could that be? Not that it mattered, for it was at that moment that Klein, drunker than ever, erupted. He reached over the bar, grabbed the bottle of schnapps, pulled the cork with his teeth and drank deeply, then he slammed the bottle down and turned.
    “You think you’re God Almighty, Baron, but I’ll tell you what you are. You’re a bastard.” He was so drunk he didn’t know what he was saying. “And I know how to treat bastards like you. Try to come onto my farm, I’ll take my shotgun to you.”
    There was total silence from everyone there. The Baron stayed quite calm, sat there, his hands folded over his cane.
    “Go home, Klein, you are not yourself.”
    Klein lurched forward and swept the champagne from the Baron’s table. “You old swine. I’ll show you.”
    “You’ll show no one,” the stranger said, and poured another glass of grappa. “And I suggest you apologize to a great man for insulting him so.”
    The Baron glanced up at him, a slight frown on his face, and Klein turned, lurched across and leaned on the table. “Italian pretty boy, eh? I’m going to break both your arms.”
    “Really?” The stranger reversed his grip on the bottle and smacked it across the side of Klein’s skull. The big man

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