Whip Hand by W. Franklin Sanders (Gold Medal, 1961)
For your reading pleasure, the full text…
MY reinitiation was off to a thundering start. It was my first day back in Traffic after three good years in the Auto Theft Bureau, and the day was not a pleasant one for me. Not pleasant in the smallest detail. My determination to make the best of my comedown and see it through was already running into serious trouble. Shame and disgust were banging brutal, body blows against my determination, and my hot temper was a rotten referee in the clinches.
I told myself I wasn’t the first man on the force to be knocked down as an example. I had seen it happen before. It wasn’t entirely a new idea. But this time it had happened to Bill Brown, and that made it seem all too new and personal. With a bit of 20-20 hindsight, the events leading up to my humiliation were not too hard to trace. In fact, the trail was quite clear.
The Auto Theft Bureau snarls the lines on a pair of raids which fills our nets, and the big ones get away. Then we overlook another lead passed to us from Homicide in routine paper work and it turns out that a prompt follow-up would have paid off big for us. A big stink is raised. A bigger investigation is ordered, and stuff bounces off the fan in every direction. A shake-up rattles through the Bureau and the whole Los Angeles Police Department.
When the charges and counter-accusations start flying back and forth it isn’t amusing. Every instance of lax efficiency, questionable conduct, or carelessness is apt to be spread out and raked over, and usually is. It boils down to every man for himself—and anybody he thinks he can depend on to help whitewash him. My short seniority in the Bureau didn’t rate me much help or sympathy.
Before one of these investigations is over, fingers get pointed at some vulnerable miscreants found in any large organization. Also at a few unlucky individuals trapped by circumstances and appearances. This time those fingers were pointed at me, among others. And they had pushed me right down to where I stand now. Demoted. Back in uniform. Turning with the signals at Eighth and Broadway, downtown L. A.
Only petty allegations against me had been substantiated by the investigation, like keeping the wrong company. But serious charges had been rumored and strongly suspected. They wondered if I had been taking payment for services rendered on both sides of the fence. My previous record and the natural absence of any tangible evidence had saved me from getting blown off the force completely. I knew I should quit, but I was sore and a little stubborn. And accustomed to eating regularly.
My one dubious consolation was that I was better off than the police commissioner had been. He had quit under the pressure, and a new commissioner, a real fire-eater, had been appointed. At least I wasn’t out of work like the ex-commissioner.
I had more work than I could handle. In moving up the ladder to the Bureau it had pleased me to forget what a traffic job was like, but today was the time for remembering. The day was a scorcher; one the Chamber of Commerce would like to take back to the exchange window. People were angry. Most of the pedestrians were bent on jumping under rolling wheels, and impatient drivers apparently were anxious to accommodate them. In the middle of all this, I was uncomfortable.
I had put on a few surplus pounds in the Bureau and my uniform pants were too tight in the waist. The heavy .4? on my hip wasn’t doing the kidney section any good. I longingly thought of the compact shoulder holster I’d carried until today. The kidneys were full of pain. The feet hurt. I was hot all over, and my clothes were damp and sticky in the most bothersome places. And I no longer doubted the statistics on the number of cars and trucks in L. A.
Being very conservative, you might say I wasn’t too happy. But I got even less happy when a familiar blue Lincoln sedan charged into the intersection and rocked to a sudden stop beside me. I had to bend the traffic around the Lincoln.
I knew the driver, too. I wished I had never seen his pasty face. I also knew some of his hard-bitten playmates, in a casual pool-hall, card-room, off-duty-type acquaintance. I’d always figured them as comparatively harmless hoodlums. I had been disillusioned to learn during the investigation that most of them were important cogs in the organized rackets up and down the coast. They had been under tight surveillance by the Narcotics Division, which had not nailed them yet, but had certainly helped to establish my erstwhile accidental association with them.
That flimsy association had been the main reason I was slapped under a suspension during the investigation and later booted out of my Bureau assignment, back into the fever of this intersection. I didn’t like them before; I intensely disliked them now.
I had learned from the interrogations that the one driving the Lincoln was supposed to be some kind of a payoff messenger working for unknown higher-ups in the rackets. Maybe even for the syndicate’s top dog on the coast, a human eel no one had been able to finger. He was referred to by our side and the opposition alike as simply The Man.
I stepped up to the Lincoln and leaned down to the driver’s window. “Have your wisecrack and go on through, Hubs,” I ordered.
He gave me a lazy laugh. “Take it easy, Flatfoot. This will interest you. I’ve got orders for you from the top. You know, from The Man.”
I wanted to pull the talking corner of his mouth out of his face. He was one reason I was on this particular corner of Hell.
“My orders come from a different headquarters, Hubs. Pull out of here before I run you in.”
“If you want to live, you’ll listen, Brown. Did you know The Man has a connection or two in your headquarters?”
An obvious fact, considering the crime boss always knew when his operations had the green light and when to apply the brakes. It meant buying inside information and protection where it counted. But no large payoffs had been traced yet; peanuts to beat cops for winking at everyday infractions, but nothing big.
“So he has connections. What’s it to a working cop like me?”
“There’s a lot in it for you. You’re in between a rock and a hard place and just don’t know it.”
I had been thinking along that very line for many days; but Hubs made me wonder what could happen next.
“Pull over there in that loading zone, out of the way. You can tell me about my troubles better over there.”
Hubs moved the shiny sedan smoothly into the soot I pointed out. I walked over to his window again. “Break the news, but don’t waste my time. As even you can see, I’ve got a job to do.”
“I’ll give it to you straight, Brown. Your new commissioner has some pull, down south of the border. He’s got his hands on those missing witnesses—you remember, the weedheads they couldn’t locate during the investigation. He thinks he can tie you in tight with them, like helping them get dope through the border check point to deliver here in L. A. Or even bringing it yourself, maybe.”
I had been down to Tijuana and Mexicali and deeper into Mexico several times, working with the border guards and the San Diegan and Mexican police. We were trying to root out hot car change-over plants at the time. But I couldn’t remember ever talking with the pair Hubs referred to. I was pretty sure none of my reports had mentioned anyone like them. I had heard quite a bit about them during the investigation; but their names and descriptions had meant nothing to me. But, hell, neither had most of the other deals the commissioner had tried to fit me into.
I shook my head. “Those boys are your friends, Hubs. I never saw them in my life.”
“Well, it ain’t my say-so. But I guess The Man thinks the commissioner could be right. Nobody knows. And just a little bit of a certain kind of information can hurt business for a long time.”
“Send him word not to worry—if I had anything, the commissioner would already know it.”
“Oh, I don’t think he expects you to volunteer any dope, because like you say, you already would have. But it could be you’re in so deep down Mexico-way it would hang you to open your mouth.”
“So even if I knew anything, would I open my mouth? That isn’t very bright.”
“The trouble is The Man thinks the new commissioner is mean enough to twist whatever you do know out of you, the hard way.”
“Get out of here, Hubs, and send a message to your boss that I wish I had enough to ruin his business for keeps. Nobody would have to beat it out of me.”
“That won’t satisfy him, Brown. Tomorrow morning, if they can find you, it’s the sweatbox with you and those mugs from Mexico in the middle. The Man ain’t worried too much about them—they’re off the stuff and they’ve come through grillings before. But he don’t want no ready-made surprises thrown at them; maybe like any statement they get out of you. The Man can’t afford to let another big roundup get under way right now. So he says you’ve got to disappear. Now. That’s what he said—just plain disappear.”
I considered the ultimatum only a moment. The hell with it.
“Wait here, Hubs. I want to use the call box over there. I’ll see you at headquarters after they drag you in.” I started moving away.
“Now, Brown, use your head. You don’t think I’m crazy enough to come here and lay myself wide open if I didn’t hold all the cards, do you?”
I turned back toward him. “You are wide open, but you’ll be closed up soon.”
“Don’t try it, Flatfoot.” His voice was cold, confident and unafraid. I waited, hesitating, to see if he would elaborate.
“This play is well organized. You’re covered from several angles right now, Brown, in the scope sights of high-powered rifles. The instructions are you don’t call and you don’t go back to headquarters where they can put you on ice till morning. Think it over.”
“You’re bluffing,” I said, but I didn’t go toward the call box.
“You know I ain’t bluffing. And I’d kind of hate to see you get dead. You’ve got time to get across the state line before you’re due off. It’s simple—you go or you get rubbed out. It’s up to you.”
“Is everybody in L. A. crazy? If I did run, it’s like confessing I was on the dope ring’s payroll! The commissioner would turn the country upside down to bring me back.”
“He won’t find you before we can spring the mugs he’s holding; and nobody will take them in again. Ever.”
I could see that I was an important prize in a big game, and all my knowledge put together wasn’t worth a white chip. The hell of it was I seemed to be the only one who wanted to think so. Well, I’d make them believe it. I wouldn’t run and let the commissioner think I was guilty and hiding out.
“I’ll think it over, Hubs. Now you pull out of here. That’s my last time to tell you.” I was sure I could get word to headquarters without his gunmen knowing it. A prowl car could pick me up at a slow roll and the planted executioners would be caught with their pants down. Then I’d meet the commissioner anywhere but at headquarters.
Hubs prepared to go. “Okay, I’m on my way. If you aren’t off this corner and on your way ten minutes after I leave, they’ll pick your remains up here.” The Lincoln rolled forward a few inches, slowly. He stuck his head out the window and looked back at me. “I forgot to tell you—if you try to cross us or have to be knocked off your brother Ed gets erased, too. Right after you.”
I lunged for the window to get my hands on his throat, but he had timed it right and gunned out of there so fast my hands just brushed the side of the Lincoln behind the rear window. I instinctively went for the .45, then thought better of it. I was stunned by Hubs’ last remark.
Why should they bother my brother? Ed was on the force, too; but he didn’t know any more than I did. The investigation hadn’t even touched him. Maybe they figured I might have spilled anything I knew to Ed. Or that I’d be more likely to go underground if it would keep Ed off their list. The more I thought about it, the more I decided they might be right.
For a few minutes I worked hard at my job and got the flow of iron through the intersection fairly well regulated, without bloodshed. But Hubs’ threats were eating at my mind and irritating the itchy spot between my shoulder blades. I didn’t have much time. I was certain Hubs hadn’t been bluffing and was so crazy mad I couldn’t think. But two things kept spinning around dizzily in my hot brain: the threat to kill Ed, and what the commissioner was going to think.
There wasn’t any out, and I knew I was going to have to run for cover this time. And everyone would be sure I’d sold out to a dope ring. If only I had some other reason for disappearing. But nothing could be done about it in the short time I had left.
A sudden commotion among the pedestrians behind me diverted my attention from my unpleasant contemplations for a moment. A driver had started to swing right, against the red, and screams and threats were being hurled at him by his near-victims. I blasted with the whistle in time to prevent plural manslaughter. He stopped, and when I turned away I was grinding my teeth. I thought of something I could yell at him without breaking too many regulations and turned back to give him some witty sarcasm. Just in time. He was making the turn anyhow.
He heard the whistle—I guess they heard it in Pomona —and stopped once more. Then he grinned at me. A slow, insulting grin. It made me hate him; it made me like him; and it made me sorry for him. He was a ready-made excuse for the disappearance of Bill Brown.
I was very deliberate about walking over to his car, opening the door and slamming my big fist into his silly grinning face. The grin disappeared, and he slumped down with his head rolling loosely. I think that’s when my headache began.
I’d never had a headache in my life that wasn’t a hangover. Before I got away from the mess I had made, two barbed arrows ran through my temples and joined somewhere in the middle.
The guy was out. I didn’t know for sure if he was even breathing. A kid about seventeen was standing next to me with his jaw at half-mast.
“You sure slugged him!”
“Never mind. Can you drive?”
He sneered. “Show me a heap I can’t drive.”
“Know where Georgia Street Receiving is?”
“Sure I know.”
“Then get in there and get going. Fast!”
The kid was quick-witted. He shoved the sleeping victim over in the seat, climbed in beside the body, and shot away down Eighth toward Figueroa. He would probably set a record to the hospital. I just hoped it wasn’t too late when he started. I felt sorry for his limber-necked passenger. I felt sorry for myself, too.
It took a couple of minutes to get the crowd moving. There was no more blood to see and they were disappointed. When the confusion was normal, I took a slow breath and a quick look around. Then I walked away, looking straight ahead. Let the blaring horns and fist-shaking pedestrians work out their own rights of way. I had problems of my own.
I crossed over to Main and walked into the bus station. The cop on duty knew me. It was Griego of the Main Street Detail. He was hoping the other Mexican he was watching would make a wrong move. Griego bobbed his dark head at me, grinning.
“Bill Brown. I heard yesterday you were back in harness.”
“Griego,” I said, “you haven’t seen me. At all. Okay?”
“Sure, Bill. More trouble?”
“You just haven’t seen me. It’s best for both of us.”
“I haven’t seen you.” His eyes shifted back to the other Mexican.
I started into a vacant phone booth, and when I tried to close the door I learned I had company. He was short, squint-eyed, pale, ugly and serious. His right hand held the booth door, about shoulder high, and his left rested on the lapel of his sport jacket. If I’d had any doubt my movements were covered, he quickly dispelled them.
“Leave the door open, copper. I’m supposed to keep you from getting yourself in bad trouble.’
I left the door open and dialed my apartment. I was in luck; Ed was still there. I tried to shake the pain out of my head enough to remember what I would need.
“Ed. I want you to come to the bus station on Main.”
“I go on duty in a hour, Bill.”
“Never mind. Bring me a suit and a shirt, and a hat.”
“What for? Why not come home and change clothes?”
“I’ll tell you that when you get here. Make it fast. I’ll be in the men’s can.” I hung up and my eavesdropper moved away so I could leave the booth, but I knew he’d be around for awhile.
I went to the men’s room and bought a shine to pass the time while I waited for Ed. I wondered how soon the alarm would go out for me, and if the pock-marked bodyguard would try to perform the execution right in the station if a squad came after me. He hadn’t bothered to follow me into the can. I thought about the citizen I had hit, afraid I had hit him too hard. Much too hard.
The shine boy patted my toe. I paid him and eased into the waiting room.
There was no excuse for putting it off any longer, so I checked my billfold. As I’d figured, I was short. Much too short. I read the signs ringed around the walls showing fares to various places. L. A. to San Francisco. L. A. to Seattle. L. A. to Chicago. L. A. to Dallas. That one appealed to me. It fit. It was the farthest point my billfold would reach.
I couldn’t think of anybody I knew in Dallas. It was big, I’d heard; and I didn’t want to drop into a whistle-stop.
It wouldn’t do to be remembered by any ticket clerk, so I returned to the men’s room.
“Shine, go buy me a one-way ticket to Dallas.” I pressed the exact fare into his hand. He looked surprised but went.
When he came back, I took the ticket and handed him a dime. He stared at the dime a while, but when it didn’t grow he put it away.
Then my brother, Ed, came in. He hadn’t thought to bring a suitcase. The clothes were bundled in newspaper. I took the bundle, squandered a nickel and entered a pay toilet to change. I could hear Ed walking around on the hollow-sounding tile.
I unrolled the newspaper and swore at him. He had brought the suit I hated, the green gabardine, and a yellow sports shirt and a checkered cap. I’d be real hard to identify if they ever learned what I wore out of town! The kid had the taste of a Boyle Heights Vaselino. I let him sweat his curiosity until I finished changing. Then I stepped out.
“What’s up, Bill?”
No one was in earshot.
“I hit a guy.”
Ed didn’t look happy.
“Yeah,” I went on, “a citizen. And I think I hit him too hard. I’m going to Mississippi, if I can get there in this outfit.” No point in burdening Ed with the truth.
“I was hurrying, Bill. You said—”
“Yeah, I know. I’ll try to let you know the layout when I can.”
“Maybe this will blow over, Bill. Why don’t you stick around and see?”
“Not this one. I’m just out of one jam, remember? They’ll play it tough this time.”
“How about the apartment? The rent’s too much by myself.”
“That reminds me. How much dough you got?”
“Only a buck. And a little change.”
“Give it here.” He did. “Move one of your girls in. They all work. Or you can sell my gun to tide you over.”
“No. I want your gun. Don’t worry, I’ll make out. Just be careful yourself, Bill.”
We shook hands. He used the same newspaper to wrap up my uniform, the harness and equipment, including the gun he wanted. I poked him in the ribs as he walked out, still looking a little sad. I wondered if I’d ever see him again. A good kid. Not overly bright, maybe, but a damn good cop.
I hated to spend any money. I knew I’d need every nickel—twice. But I couldn’t stand the head any longer. I bought a small tin of aspirin at the drug counter and washed four of them down with a coke. I waited expectantly, my teeth hard together. No effect. This was a special kind of headache. I asked for a glass of water at the fountain and took two more; then I dug for the change and bought two more boxes for the bus trip.
I started sweating out the time. Things were all right so far; but I had the feeling my luck was reaching hard ground. I saw Griego; he still was not watching me. I knew he must have seen Ed; but he wouldn’t spill. We had worked together once. Sometimes it pays to know a great deal about your friends. Especially about the wrong kind of deals.
I counted all my cash. It was easy. One dollar and seventy cents. I’d be hungry when we rolled, into Dallas. If I got that far. I looked at the clock. Almost time. I edged toward the gates trying to watch all the entrances at once. My reflection in a window made me shudder. I peeled off the checkered cap and threw it in a trash can near the door.
The dispatcher’s last call finally blared through the station. El Centra, Yuma, Phoenix, Lordsburg, El Paso, Fort Worth—and Dallas. That was me.
First in line, I grabbed a seat in the rear by the window. The bus finished loading, and a few moments later the driver pulled it out into the stream of traffic. We passed the front of the station and I saw two men from Central Headquarters talking to Griego. I watched, keeping my face in the shadow. Griego was shaking his head, hands spread apart. Griego, I love you!
Through the city, across the Los Angeles River Bridge, out past Lincoln Park, down the highway stretching through the orange groves. Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and hello, Dallas—
Maybe I had a chance to make it.
MY plan shore had worked smooth, just like a fresh-oiled pulley inside a well rope.
Split three ways, we had us five thousand dollars apiece! Me, my brother Donald, and old El Mercer! None of us hadn’t never had nothing. And if we had stayed in Oklahoma we never would of had nothing.
But now we was rich!
I looked at the little gal we’d snatched. Setting in the old straight chair, sniffling like she wanted to cry some more. I just waited. I was hoping she would cry some more. I hated to slap her again without no good reason.
Donald and old El, they was setting at a table in a corner of the room, and I turned around so’s I could see them.
They was counting the money again.
Donald he was smiling, turning his head side to side, mostly feeling them greenbacks and day dreaming.
With old El it was different. He was counting. So dead set on it I would of laughed—but, fifteen thousand dollars!
Course, I’d planned this here trip for money-making from the beginning. But riding down here to Dallas in El’s old LaSalle, I didn’t have no idee of us making this much. Reckon it was that fancy-pants feller from Tulsa that come into the pool hall back home that changed my luck. I had to shoot pool awful bad to keep from beating him so much he would of quit earlier.
I had fifty dollars when he did quit.
I talked old El and Donald into coming to Dallas and tying my fifty dollars up in a load of whisky. I knowed I could double the fifty, or triple it maybe if I taken my time, taking the whisky across to Oklahoma and selling it to them college boys in Norman.
But in Dallas things worked out different to what I’d figgered, and a whole lot better.
We got here without no trouble. But them big signs along the roads in Texas, telling about how the state fair was on in Dallas, had dern near drove my brother Donald crazy. You’d of thought he was a half-growed kid; he wanted to git out to them fairgrounds so bad.
I hadn’t never seen such a big state fair, neither. So I give in to Donald and made El foller them signs to the fairgrounds; and we went in just to look around a little bit.
For a while we walked up and down looking at everything on the Midway. I wouldn’t give Donald no money to ride no rides; leastways not till we come across the shooting gallery with them fancy .22’s. Iff’n I spent money to shoot, I’d have to let Donald ride, dead certain. But there’s just something inside of me that any kind of a gun gives me the itch.
The first thing I knowed, what with me shooting and Donald going on all them crazy rides, we was just about plumb out of money.
I still don’t see how we spent so much, but it shore hadn’t took long. El kept telling me I was spending too much; but I told him to shut up. Whose money was it? He whined at me.
“Awright, Junior! Just don’t forget you done the spending. Ten dollars ain’t hardly enough to buy gas and oil to go home, let alone whisky to take back to Norman.”
Whenever I was mad at El he wasn’t nothing to me but a dirty old fat man; and he was shore making me mad now. I looked him up and down.
El’s face was sunburnt, with more furrows in it than a cornfield. He never had on no shirt or socks a-tall. His undershirt and the rest of his clothes looked as if he’d been a-plowing in them that very morning. His hightop shoes was unlaced most of the way down, and dry mud was caked all over them. His jeans had been boiled so many times they was as white as they was blue, except where they was greasy. The only halfway clean thing he had was the coat to a old suit of his, and the ends of the sleeves of it was unraveled pretty bad. He was holding it by two fingers in the collar, slung over his shoulders. He was a mess.
I looked El straight in his yeller eyes.
“Looky here, El, I don’t want to hear no more about spending. Come right down to it, some of that there money was spent on you. So shut up!”
But I never felt no better. Never kept what El said from being true just cause I wouldn’t let him say it no more. Me, Junior Knowles, gitting suckered out of the money I’d meant to use for me and Leonie to git hitched. Well, no use of crying over it—I figgered we might as well find Donald and git rolling.
I started looking around and seen him down the Midway a piece.
He was squatting down, talking to the little gal. She was about six year old and all dressed up in red clothes, cute as a speckled pup. Me and El walked down there.
“Junior,” Donald said to me, “gimmie a dime. I want to buy this little gal a ice cream cone.”
“Naw. We done spent all we’re going to. Let’s go.”
“Aw, Junior, just a dime. Ain’t she a sweet little old gal?”
“Donald, we got to git moving. Turn that kid’s hand aloose and let her git.”
He seen I was mad and let go of her. I give her a scary look, but she never got scairt. She taken a step or two towards Donald and opened the top of the little red purse she was holding.
“I got money,” she told Donald. “See?”
I went over quick and looked, and old El was right behind me. Doggoned if the little purse wasn’t plumb loaded with quarters and dimes! Old El slobbered some and reached in front of me to git the purse.
“Let me count it for you, little girl,” he said, with a ugly, fat grin.
I caught El’s wrist, twisted it, and taken the purse myself.
“I’ll count it, El.”
I made like I was counting the money but I was doing some fast thinking instead. The little blonde-headed kid had put one hand back into Donald’s, looking up at him like she done had her ice cream and he was it.
“Three eighty-five,” I told El. There was probably more than that.
I handed Donald a dime of it and dropped the rest in my pocket. El watched it slide out of my hand like a hungry dog watching a man eat a rare steak.
“Buy her some ice cream, Donald, and see you don’t let her out of yore sight.”
She looked happy walking away with my brother. I tried to watch everybody in the crowd and see if anybody cared about her wandering off with Donald. Didn’t look like nobody give a hoot. Didn’t make no sense.
El commenced whining about that three eighty-five.
“Shut up, El—I’m a-thinking.”
That little gal must of got lost or she wouldn’t be in that crowd without none of her folks. If she was lost, her folks was shore to be hunting her. Wasn’t hard to tell she belonged to folks with money. I was gonna have to have some. If she was lost for a spell and her folks had money, they’d pay a reward. If I could take her home, I’d git that reward.
I was probably the only human being at them fairgrounds who knowed who she was and where she lived. I don’t never miss much, and that white strip of cloth sewed inside her purse had told me. That there purse was inside my shirt right now. My heart beat fast when the plan come to me.
We never had no place to keep her, but I was shore if her paw just kind of thought we was gonna keep her he’d pay a big reward without making us wait around. If he was bullheaded we’d send him a little piece of her ear, sliced off. That’d probably fix it so’s he’d pay. I had to grin. As simple as I’d saw it in pitcher shows, only this was the first time I’d ever fell into the chance to work it.
Donald would do whatever I said, and I knowed I could bluff El into it. That or it wouldn’t be healthy for El. We’d only git this one chance, and nobody was gonna keep me from taking it.
“El, that little gal means five thousand dollars apiece to us.”
“I said, how’d you like to leave Dallas with five thousand dollars in yore jeans? All in brand new fives, tens and twenties, I mean.”
“Now Junior, doggone you, you’re trying to git me in trouble.” His lips was fluttery.
“Naw, El, not trouble. Just some reward money. Couldn’t hardly git in no trouble taking that little gal back to her paw, could we?”
“Nor git no five thousand dollars, neither.”
“We could, by keeping her a few days, first.”
“Where in thunder could we keep her? Junior, I got a good notion these here Texans don’t fret none too much about how they treat kidnappers. Sounds like what you’re trying to git me into, we best don’t talk no more about it.”
“You scairt, El?”
“Shore I’m scairt! Ain’t you?”
“Naw. Not for five thousand dollars—cash—apiece—”
“Apiece?” El licked his fat lips.
“Shore, apiece. Look at how she’s dressed. And carrying that purse full of money around and her just a shaver of a gal. That much reward would be easy.”
“And if we git caught?”
“How? Who in Oklahoma knows we come to Dallas? This here’s a city, man. It ain’t knowed as Big D for nothing. Nobody here knows us neither.—Call Donald.”
El called my brother, just like I knowed he would.
The rest wasn’t hard a-tall. We had to be sort of careful, that’s all. I never told Donald no whole lot. Knowed I could tell him a smidgen at a time as we went along. The little gal never put up no fuss neither. Reckon that was because she had took to Donald so. He had her a-calling him Uncle Don awready.
We went out on the Fort Worth road a-piece and drove in at a cheap-looking tourist camp. The kid thought it was a game when I hid her under the big tow sacks on the floor of the car.
Soon as we was in the cabin I paid for, I yanked the cloth with the kid’s name on it out of the little purse. When I wrote the note, I printed it with my left hand so’s to be shore it couldn’t be brung home to me. I told El just how to take the note and the scrap from the purse and git directions to the address it showed. I told him to shove them both under the front door and git right on back to our cabin. In case he got lost or something happened, I copied the address and put it in my pocket. I wasn’t taking no chances.
El was gone for quite a long spell and I commenced to worry some. But finally he come rolling back in the old LaSalle and said he done just like I said and never had no trouble a-tall.
I left El at the cabin to guard the kid while me and Donald went to watch for the reward to be brung out. I located a good spot to stop and watch from, about half a mile from the place I’d spoke about in the note. It was surprising how quick it come.
A big new car stopped across from the wire fence around that big cement factory. Somebody throwed something out in the ditch, turned around, and started right off towards town again. I waited about thirty minutes to be shore nobody was following that car or watching that there place. Then I couldn’t hold in no longer. I had to know.
I stopped the old LaSalle about fifty yards away with the engine running and sent Donald over to git the bundle out of the ditch. He come right back toting a leather suitcase. If my plan had worked it would be stuffed with fifteen thousand dollars! My fingers was trembling so I couldn’t hardly git it open.
I never had no call to fret. The money was in there, all right. In little bundles with strips of paper around every one telling how much. Ain’t a city slicker a-living that would try to trick me after reading that there note I wrote. Leastways till he knowed if his gal was gonna be safe. He done the smart thing and paid off.
Yep, it had been real easy. I turned the LaSalle around and drove the two-three miles back to our tourist camp.
And here we was, a mite sleepy cause we’d been up most of the night counting money. It was all there. Now all we had to do was kill the kid and be gone. Up till now El and Donald never knowed about this part of my plan. I was just fixing to spring it on them.
I was commencing to like Dallas, and I’d made up my mind to stay here a spell. I wanted to git some soft living. Tall buildings, paved roads, and me and Leonie! I’d already had enough hell, hard work and pore folks around me to last me till doom’s day.
Nobody nor nothing wasn’t gonna stop me. Not Donald. Not El. And not that kid, neither. The hard times could be made up for now. I ain’t never seen nothing better than them three big piles of money laying on that table.
One of them piles was mine. El and Donald was both so happy they was trying to outshine each other. They hadn’t never been that happy before. I wondered if I ought to make one of them kill the little gal. Draw straws, maybe. I decided against that. Would be a smart way to make shore El never spilt the beans, to make him do it. Before he had the money I could of made him, easy; but not now.
I could of bossed Donald into it too; but I didn’t figger that’d be fair, him so young and all. That brought it right back to what I wanted. Left it up to me. Putting her past talking or recognizing me might save my gullet from gitting stretched at the end of a rope. I knowed that’s what I’d git anyways if I got caught trying to take her home, or let her loose to talk about us. She knowed all our names and what we looked like.
“Donald. Take her to the bathroom.”
He done what I said, just like always, and shut the bathroom door.
“El,” I said, “we’ve come to the parting of the ways. We got to make a clean gitaway and we got to watch out. Me and Donald will keep yore old car, but we’ll carry you down to the bus station. That there car will have to be ditched right away, so I cain’t trust you taking it. You want to go back to Oklahoma, don’t you?”
“Where else would I go but Oklahoma?”
“Nowheres. Me and Donald, we’re going to New Orleans.”
“What we gonna do in New Orleans, Junior? I want to go back to Oklahoma, too.”
“Naw. Me and you are gonna split up, too. You’re going by train. I’ll drive the car down there and meet you down there somewheres.”
“The only way to travel is in ones! I seen it too many times.”
“Heck! I want to buy some new clothes, and maybe a new car, and we can git drunk as seven hundred dollars, and—”
“Hold yore hosses, Donald! We’ll stick around here long enough to pick us out some new clothes ‘fore we leave, awright. But then we’ll split up, and travel like I told you. Anyways, I’m gonna need a good night’s sleep ‘fore I make that there long drive to New Orleans. But by tomorrow or next day we’re gitting out of here, and that’s that. Everything else is gonna have to wait.”
“Where you gonna sleep, Junior?” Donald asked me.
“Don’t you worry none. They’s maybe fifty good hotels downtown. Better than this here place. And we can afford it, cain’t we?”
El butted in. “What about that little gal?”
“I’m tying her up and leaving her here. They’ll find her; don’t you worry. You can take the suitcase, El, and carry yore part of the reward in it. You’ll look more like a bus rider. Donald, put our’n in one of them tow sacks in the car. We’ll git some grips when we git them clothes.”
They got real busy. El was glad to git the suitcase arid I was honing to git rid of him with it. I wanted him to be long gone when it come out about that kid being dead.
El picked up the suitcase and waddled outside and dumb into the car. Donald was standing there with our money in the tow sack.
“Go ahead and git in the car, Donald. I’m gonna tie the little gal up. I’ll be right out.”
Donald never wanted to watch me tie her up. He looked real sad as he walked out and closed the door. I felt better about not telling him my plan.
I went to the bathroom, straight off. She tried to back through the wall to git away from me. She wanted to cry but I reckon she remembered what happened the last time. I’m strong.
It wasn’t no worse than wringing a chicken’s neck.
I sort of folded her up and stuck her in the closet for towels and such. Then I went out and locked the door, and felt mighty good a-walking over to the old LaSalle. Donald and El was used to me doing the leading and had left me the driver’s seat.
When we rolled past the office of the camp I throwed the key so’s it would fall on the front porch. Then I swung the car over onto the highway and headed towards Dallas.
YOU might say it was warm in Dallas.
The middle of America. A gathered-in collection of white buildings wanting to be a city. Heat waves rising from pavement and bricks. A large town sprawling and shimmering in the Texas sun. A fitting destination after the miserable trip through the desert.
I had picked a great place to start over. The dubious prospect of this new start was crowding for space with the pain in my head.
My assets were not impressive. An ex-cop who could hardly apply for police work. In green gabardine with black shoes, I’d be irresistible to prospective employers. A three-day growth of black beard and no razor. One thin dime in the cash on hand. Ten cents. I could buy coffee.
Carrying the coat-half of my present wardrobe, I stepped from the bus and dripped my way into the station, trying to get a decent breath of air from the hanging mass of humidity.
I wasn’t sorry to find the waiting room was air-conditioned. I walked about halfway through, then took a comfortable seat on the outside end of a row of joined chairs. I could at least cool off and delay squandering my last dime. I wanted a cup of coffee but I dreaded the idea of going flat broke before I had made any plans.
My mind was as barren as the desert I had traveled through. I gave it free rein but no brilliant method of regaining my former living standard leaped into my visions. The visions rapidly descended the ladder of employment possibilities to the level of an apprentice dishwasher in some greasy spoon which had just lost its latest drifter. At least I’d be in a kitchen, insured against hunger. No references required. Just be sober when you come to work and get out if you get drunk on the job. Right in line with my qualifications. I was savoring these pleasant prospects when I was interrupted by a traveler who wanted a seat.
He was a clumsy rube, bumping against my crossed legs, stumbling over my feet, and banging me on the kneecap with the corner of the heavy leather two-suiter bag he was manhandling. He grunted a couple of times; but I didn’t think if was an apology. He folded heavily into the third chair in the row, leaving one empty seat between us. The big bag he placed flat in his lap, handle-to-stomach, and draped his heavy forearms and stubby fat hands across it. He was an oddity of some magnitude.
Obviously a man of the soil. A loose-looking, fat, ultra-seedy hick. Faded Levis hugged sockless ankles above half-laced brogans which had displaced their quota of clods. An old suit coat hung in an ill fit over his once-white undershirt. He didn’t look prosperous.
His red face was weathered into crevices starting from various points of the compass, running carefree through the fat to the corners of his mouth. He wasn’t pretty. But that new suitcase lying on his flabby thighs was no eyesore.
If I had a piece of luggage like that I could check in at a middle-class hotel on its looks. My eyes narrowed a I shoved that thought around the turntable in my mind again for another look. And once more, it had definite appeal. I liked the comforting possibilities of the idea. Instead of wishing for some luggage like his, why not relieve the farmer of the burden of that particular suitcase?
My conscience offered a weak protest against pursuing this line of scheming. Too weak. Right now I wasn’t inclined to hear the little voice inside. Besides, this rube had stepped on me.
Maybe there was a razor and a change of socks in that bag. My own socks were stiff and thick from the drying sweat that had run into my shoes. I grinned when I remembered he wasn’t even wearing socks. If he had any, they were in the suitcase. Well, if not, in a hotel room I could wash and dry my own.
But how could I take possession of this object of my new desire? I couldn’t risk just grabbing it and running out of the station. If I got caught I couldn’t describe the contents and the farmer could, which would leave little doubt as to its legal owner.
I’d have to get him to move around. Maybe he’d get tired of holding it sooner or later and set it down for a minute. If I was ready with a good line, I could try to make him forget about it. Try to get him away from it for a few minutes. Watch it for him while he went to the can; or talk him into going for a couple of cokes, or cigarettes, or aspirin. Anything. And disappear with it before he got back.
Or maybe—and better yet—maybe I could get him to store it in a locker, so I could work the old key-switch gag on him. On the surface he wasn’t the type of world traveler likely to be familiar with that game. I decided to try whatever opportunity I could foster. The old man noticed me studying him and offered me a repulsive scowl.
I leaned toward him confidentially across the empty seat between us.
“You here to catch a bus, too?” I asked, in what I hoped was polite and natural curiosity.
He just nodded.
“Where to? Maybe we’ll be traveling together,” I persisted.
He cleared his throat with a deep rattle; but he still didn’t speak.
“Sorry, sir, I didn’t catch that. Where did you say you’re going?”
“Oklahoma, I reckon,” he answered, rather defiantly.
I settled back in my chair and waited for him to think I had run out of curiosity. Then, “Have you bought your ticket yet?”
“Naw, I ain’t. I’m just trying to rest a spell, mister. I’m wore out. And I got to eat breakfast first anyways.”
I smiled pleasantly. “You won’t get much rest that way.” I pointed to his suitcase. “Why don’t you put it in a locker? That’s where mine is. Left it there while I ate my own breakfast. Didn’t want to worry with it while I ate.” I pointed to the row of coin-operated lockers against the wall nearby.
An interested glow lit his puffy eyes. “I been thinking some about that,” he said. “Them lockers must be pretty safe. I’ve saw lots of people using them.”
“Safe? Why, of course they’re safe. Haven’t you ever used them?”
“Naw. I ain’t never. I always went in my own car before this here trip.” He looked rather sad as he said this; then his expression brightened, as though some cheerful thought had pushed the inconvenience out of his mind.
“Well, believe me,” I told him, “once your bag is inside a locker and the key is in your pocket, nothing’s coming out of there until you turn that key again yourself. Real handy, I find.”
“Reckon you’re right,” he said. And to my joy he started shifting the bag and his tonnage in an effort to get out of his seat.
“I’ll help you find an empty locker, sir,” I told him. He nodded and looked very pleased as he started bumbling away from the row of seats.
I had plenty of time to hurry across to the lockers ahead of him. I quickly spotted two adjacent empties with their keys sticking out, and unobtrusively slid my dime into one of the slots and palmed the key. I was glad I had postponed that last cup of coffee.
I turned and waved encouragingly to the rube, and watched contentedly as he waddled flatfootedly toward me. I opened his locker with one hand and reached for his suitcase with the other. But getting it away from him was not as easy as I anticipated. For a moment his pudgy fingers retained their grip around the handle.
“I’ll put it in the locker for you, sir.” He nearly sprawled on the floor when I gave the bag a final tug that tore it loose from his hand. While he recovered his balance I carelessly tossed the bag into the locker, and turned around with my open hand outstretched.
“A dime, sir. It takes a dime to turn the key.”
The farmer dug in the pocket of his tight pants and handed me a dime. The yellow eyes watched me closely as I put the dime in the slot and turned the key and removed it. I tugged at the locker door to show him it was tightly fastened.
“See? Tight as a bank vault! Try it yourself.” He did, and seemed reassured that everything was as it should be.
“Gimmie that there key, mister,” he demanded.
I placed a key in his hand—the one that fit the locker next to his. To divert his thoughts from checking the numbers or practicing with his key, I started conning him once more. I put a whining note into my voice.
“Sir, I haven’t been entirely honest with you.” That got his attention promptly,. “You see, I’m not a traveler. I’m just a very sick man. I was waiting here in the station just hoping to help a kind stranger like you, who would help me in return. I’m hungry, and I’m a very sick man. What I need at the moment would only take twenty-five cents, just a small quarter of a dollar. Won’t you please help me, sir, as I helped you?”
My hand was out entreatingly again, palm up. He stared at it and back up at my sad expression. Then he shrugged his thick shoulders, carefully buried the locker key in his watch pocket, and fumbled in another pocket for change. He came up with a dime, two nickels, and five pennies which he carefully counted into my begging hand, to my eternal surprise. Not changing expression, I chuckled inwardly to think that I had increased my cash investment by a hundred and fifty per cent.
“Thank you, sir. God bless you,” I said, and pretended to shuffle away. As he also walked away, the hick muttered something about the questionable character of any city which let beggars and winos hang around inside the bus station.
Out of the corner of my eye I watched him set a course for the lunchroom. As the door to the lunchroom closed behind him, the door to his locker opened. In thirty seconds I was outside on the street with his suitcase.
I covered two blocks in a hurry and checked into the Southwesterner. In my relief at setting up suitable headquarters, I almost became an honest man. I registered as Bill Brown, and remembered just in time to change my address to Lancaster, California. I’d left the Mojave Desert town years ago but I could still call it home, in an emergency. The clerk read my registration and smirked like the whole entry was phony anyhow.
The bellhop tried to take my bag but I was too quick for him. I couldn’t afford the price of a tip and I wanted no contempt directed at me just now. I don’t appreciate contempt.
“I can manage it,” I said.
He looked disappointed but led me into the elevator and pushed the button for the fifth floor. He hadn’t entirely written me off as a prospect, either.
“Anything you needs, Boss?”
“I means anything,” he said, his grin displaying a set of golden choppers.
“It sounds like you mean it.”
“Mean it? Boss, just you give me one request!”
I guess he did mean it, but I couldn’t cooperate. I opened the door to 502, then the window. I turned the cold water on in the shower, undressed, came back to the bed and opened my new bag.
There was nothing in it but money.
Fives—tens—and a little digging turned up a layer of twenties. Hello, Dallas. I started to count, then said the hell with it. I just made sure it was real. Then I found the phone and called the desk for a fifth of I. W. Harper and a set of shaving equipment. I closed the bag and pushed it under the bed.
The shower felt good. I felt fine, the headache notwithstanding. I was a very fortunate ex-cop. It made no difference how the hick got it. Or how he felt without it. He wasn’t getting it back. With assault and battery charges following me, or maybe even manslaughter, a little unarmed robbery was just kicks for variety.
A knock on the door announced the bellhop with my liquor and the shaving gear. He had a sixth sense, or powerful logic, for he’d added a toothbrush to my order on his own. I gave him a ten dollar bonus.
His eyes showed me ten dollars worth of whites, but the real profit was in his wide grin. All the gold that wasn’t in Fort Knox was shining between his thick lips.
“Hot damn! I sho’ do thank you, suh!”
I waved him out magnanimously, wondering why I should be anything but generous.
I sloshed a triple of the Harper into a water glass, and when it found the shrunken boundaries of my stomach I knew I’d better eat. With priority. I shaved carefully but rapidly, dressed, and fattened my thin billfold with a nice sheaf of twenties. I delayed my own appetite to count the money left in the suitcase. I was curious to know just how well-to-do I had become.
Forty-seven hundred hard ones passed through my fingertips. Very nice odds on a dime.
I couldn’t really hide the bag, so I stowed it in the closet, took the elevator down, and made my way to the grill next door. I spent some time over a medium-rare sirloin, grateful for every bite of juicy Texas steer. Very satisfying to the inner man and it gave my mind time for a little cog work.
I could taxi to a quiet section of town and find a room. Hole up incognito for a couple of weeks. That would give the hick time to get discouraged and hitch-hike to whatever destination he had in mind. It would give me time to contact Ed at my leisure, if I couldn’t learn what I wanted to know from the local papers.
After a brief retirement, I could look around. Pick and choose; find some kind of job I liked or buy a small business and become a respectable citizen in Dallas. Summer couldn’t last forever, even in Texas.
By the time I followed the steak with apple pie and ice cream, I had settled on that plan. I left a respectable tip on the table, hauled the overload out of the chair, and moved over to the cashier’s corner. She wasn’t repulsive. As a matter of fact, she’d be welcome to share any desert island of mine.
“What have you got for a headache?”
She handed me some powders wrapped in blue oil paper, smiled brightly, and rang up my check.
“Just open one and shake the powder down your throat,” she instructed me graciously.
I did just that but I didn’t notice any relief. For a moment I considered the idea of investing my new wealth in producing an effective headache potion. I bought two packages of cigarettes from the willowy lovely and started for the door.
“Hurry back, now—you hear?”
“Yeah, I hear,” I said over my shoulder. I was still wondering just what she meant when I got into the elevator. I made a mental note to ask her when I came out of hiding.
The bellhop who had anything took me up. He stopped at the third floor.
“I’m on five,” I reminded him.
“Please, Boss, follow me, suh!”
There was urgency in his eyes. I followed him past three doors; then he produced a passkey and jumped into a room. I walked in behind him.
“Boss, I don’t know if you is in trouble or if you ain’t, but I ain’t forgetting that ten-spot.”
“That makes two of us.” I was feeling witty.
“Mister, I don’t know what’s wrong, but I does know there’s two detectives in your room, not counting our house dick.”
“Well, don’t stop to count! What are they up to?”
“Boss, I don’t want you mad with me, but maybe it’s my fault. You see, suh, I was telling Jack—Jack he works the second floor—about that ten dollar tip you give me. This here house dick, he heard us talking and he got s’picious. He seen, pardon me suh, he seen how you-looked when you checked in. He took hisself a look in your room and first thing I knows here comes two city detectives. They is all up in your room and if the desk clerk seen the elevator indicator stop at this floor they’ll be coming down here. And you better go if they is something wrong, and if they ain’t, excuse me, suh!”
His eyes were rolling in fear.
“Quick! Where’s the fire escape?”
Already I heard heavy feet pounding on stairs, and then somebody rapped loudly on a door down the hall.
“Out through that window, Boss! Oh, Lordy, I sho’ was praying you was just lucky in a honest poker game, suh!”
He was scared. Hell, who wasn’t? And I couldn’t even get back to my room for a try at the loot. That dream was over and done. Gone.
At least two men were shouting in the hall as I squeezed through the window onto the fire escape. I started down in a wild rush. In my garbled mind I wondered if I had drawn cards in a bank robbery when I stole the suitcase. Or if the boys above were just curious to know if I always carried a small fortune around with me. Either way I couldn’t let them get their hands on me.
A shout inside the room I had just vacated added speed to my feet. A second or two later I was sure a booming voice ordered me to stop, but I pretended not to hear. Then the game got deadly serious.
A shot exploded above and rust showered from the second-floor landing of the steel stairway. It answered my question—I had stepped into something big and unhealthy. I had come all this distance in all that heat and misery to be shot down in a dirty little alley in a town like Dallas. I could have died among friends and in comparative comfort in Los Angeles. But then, there was Ed, too. I reached the rough pavement of the alley, and I hit it running.
The gun roared from above, and I felt the wind off of the slug as it slipped past my neck. As I zigzagged and bounced toward the nearest street opening, I thought the next shot would surely knock me down. That fellow was obviously an expert, and I was too big a target to think he would miss with them all.
The alley was a block long, and I had a little less than half of it to cover from the fire escape. But in my frightened eyes it looked like a half-mile tunnel about the size of a small culvert. The next slug from the gun zinged off the concrete between my feet as I turned and dodged in an effort to spoil his aim. I mentally braced to take the next one somewhere in my back. I was nearing the street opening and saw there was a smattering of pedestrian traffic moving at right angles to the alley.
The gun behind me didn’t fire again, and I hoped it was from fear of hitting one of the pedestrians instead of me. I also hoped it didn’t mean the end of my escape tunnel was sealed and that I was running into the waiting arms of other cops. I didn’t slow down to see.
I wheeled out the mouth of the alley, did a left turn at full speed, kept it up to the next street crossing, did a right at that corner on a yellow signal, and then slowed to a fast walk on the outer edge of the sidewalk. I searched frantically for a cab, either standing or cruising. I saw a cruiser coming up from behind me, and jumped out in the street to stop it by force if necessary. It wasn’t necessary.
It stopped and I leaped in. I leaned back, almost through the backrest, took a deep breath, looked at the driver, and abandoned a lifelong inhibition right then. Henceforth I would tolerate women drivers—this hackie was a female.
She gunned the cab up the block and called back to me over her shoulder, “Where to, Mister?”
I peeped out the back window and couldn’t see any signs of pursuit.
“The railroad station,” I answered, “I have to catch a train.”
WE was going back to town to take El to the bus station.
Junior, he was setting there driving just cool as you please, and me, I didn’t have a worry in the world. Money in the tow sack itching to get spent, and I was itching to spend it.
My brother put the brakes on about a block from the bus station.
“Git out, El,” he said. “You better walk the rest of the way.”
“But that’s dang nigh a block off, Junior.”
“That don’t make no never mind. Ain’t taking no chances. Git.”
El dumb out and started hoofing it down the sidewalk towards the station. Junior was smart. I reckon there ain’t nobody’s got a big brother much smarter than mine. He drove on down the street, and I could tell there was something on his mind. But pretty soon he started talking to me.
“Donald. Me and you, we got to split up for a spell.”
“You done told me that, Junior. But not yet, huh? Cain’t you wait a while and help me buy some new clothes ‘fore we leave?”
“We’ll see about it.”
He didn’t say no more, but he turned the old LaSalle into a big parking lot. The little old office building in the middle wasn’t no bigger than a outhouse but it sure was fixed up and painted a lot nicer. When Junior stopped, a man in white overalls come out of the office.
“How long you gonna be?” he asked Junior.
“Reckon I’ll stay as long as I want to,” Junior said. He don’t take nothing off of nobody. He’s always been touchy. The man started to open the door on Junior’s side of the car.
“I’ll park it for you,” he said.
“I’ll park it,” Junior said. And he did.
He pulled over in a empty space four or five rows away from the street. He cut the engine off and just set. He didn’t say nothing to me about getting out, so I set too. I just do whatever Junior says do.
“Donald, here’s what. You go down the street and git two suitcases or grips. Buy ’em, and then come straight back. We ain’t about to mosey down no city street toting a tow sack full of money. I’ll stay here in the car till you git back.”
He handed me a roll of them brand-spanking new bills and I stuffed it in the pocket of my jeans. I started to get out of the car.
“Donald. Tell me back what I told you to do.”
I did. I ain’t near as dumb as Junior thinks I am, but I learnt long ago it’s best to go along with him. He just likes to be sure about everything. I reckon he’s right to do that.
The street signs said I went down Commerce Street.
There was lots of nice stores and I seen a lot of things I wanted, but I didn’t piddle none, cause I knew Junior wouldn’t like setting there waiting on me in that parking lot. I found a store that didn’t have much else but leather stuff in the windows and I went in.
A man that was mostly face come up to me, rubbing his hands together like they was damp.
“Looking for something, my boy?”
“I’m a-looking some.”
“Maybe I can help you?”
“I want to buy me some grips to put clothes in.”
He was tall and lanky and he turned around and stretched up on a high shelf and drug down a grip. It was mostly cardboard and canvas. I didn’t even ask how much it was.
“I don’t want them kind,” I told him. “I got to have real leather.”
He grinned at me, one corner of his mouth reaching hard for his ear and the other side staying put. I was getting mad, and I didn’t know what in thunder ailed him that he was so thickheaded.
“I said I want good ones! Ain’t you got no nice bags?”
That fetched him around. He went to the other side of the store and I follered right along. He showed me a real good bag, all saddle leather with hand tooling on it, and zippers on both sides.
“How do you like this one?”
I slid one zipper down to open one side and there inside is three bottles and some little cups, and even a corkscrew. Just the thing for a man traveling in Oklahoma. I closed that side and slid the other zipper back. Inside was one of them fancy sets with places for everything and room for clothes too.
“This is what I’m a-hunting. Get me one more just like this here one.”
“These are one hundred dollars each.” He give me that lopsided look again. “Do you wish to write a check?”
“I don’t know nothing about no checks,” I told him. “I always pay cash.”
I dug out the roll of money. I don’t know why he looked so silly. Seemed like his eyes was gonna pop right out of his head.
“Never mind wrapping ’em up. I’ll carry ’em as is.”
I counted out two hundred dollars while he was writing out a ticket showing he sold them. He give me a copy and taken my money. I took on out, leaving him counting it for the second time. That fool was still shaking his head the last time I seen him. I reckon he was wishing he’d charged me more.
I went back to where Junior was waiting on me in the old LaSalle. He took one look at them bags and smiled all over his face.
While he packed our money in them I just stood watching. He didn’t ask me to help him. Then I showed Junior the ticket with the price on it and the place where the whisky bottles was under the other zipper. He laughed out loud.
“Man,” he said, “we’re eatin’ high off’n the hog!”
Right off we decided to buy some likker to put in them bottles. We picked our bags up and walked off the parking lot and on down the street looking for a likker store. There’s lots of them in Dallas. We picked one and Junior bought three bottles of the highest priced drinking whisky the man had. We started to fill the little bottles right there, but the man chased us out. Seems like they got some kind of law says you cain’t open a bottle in the same place you buy it from. Don’t make sense to me.
But we found a alley and went in a little ways. Junior opened up one of the bottles and started pouring, easy, into one of the bottles from his grip, so as not to spill ary drop. And then a cop come walking up.
When I seen him, I wasn’t happy no more. Everything come back to me like a mule kicking me in the stomach. I wondered what in thunder that cop would do if he seen all that money in them bags.
“What’re you boys doing?” He didn’t sound too put out, yet.
“If you look right close you can see I’m pouring whisky out of this bottle into this here other bottle,” Junior said.
“I can see that, all right. Nice luggage. Have much trouble boarding freights with it?”
Junior quit pouring. He looked that cop over, holding them bottles right side up by the necks. He was mad, and I was scared he’d start something. “We breaking any law?” he asked the cop.
“Well, now, maybe not exactly, I guess. Where’d you get those bags?”
“Donald. Show him the bill the guy give you down at the store.”
I dug the paper out of my pocket and handed it to the cop without opening my mouth. He read it slow and give it back to me. He didn’t seem to understand what it meant. He just walked away, shaking his head. I don’t know if it was something about me and Junior or something wrong with them people in Dallas, but everybody shook their heads every time they left us or we left them.
Junior went on filling them bottles like nothing happened. He didn’t spill none, he was so steady; and when he was through he zipped up both of the bags and handed me mine.
“Sure am! Always am when I ain’t et breakfast and missed supper the night before, too. Like right now.”
“Let’s put on the feed bag, then.”
We walked down the street a-piece looking for a cafe. We started past a pawn shop, but we never got by. Junior seen the pistols in the window, and he sure likes guns.
He looked them all over good and then went to the door.
“Reckon I better git me a pistol,” he said.
He picked out a good pistol and a box of shells to shoot in it and didn’t have no trouble with the man. But when it come to him wanting the big black leather blackjack the man did give him some lip.
“What you want with that?”
“Reckon that’s my business,” Junior told him.
“Then it’s my business not to sell it to you.”
Junior studied a while. I knew he wanted it mighty bad.
“I’m just gonna kill hogs with it down at the farm.” I’ll bet it hurt Junior to lie to that feller. We ain’t got any hogs, nor no farm neither.
The man handed over the blackjack and said, “Well, why didn’t you say so?”
Junior paid him for all the stuff and stuck the blackjack in his hip pocket. He put the pistol and shells in his grip, and we went on out again to look for a place to eat. I wanted a pistol, too, but with Junior already mad over the lip he took, I knew I just better shut up for a spell.
We found us a cafe and ordered double sizes of ham and eggs, with cold beer to wash it down. We set our bags under the table. My feet was on both sides of mine, just pressing it and liking the feel of it.
“Donald, as soon as we’ve et we’ll git us some clothes. Long as we got these work clothes on, we’re gonna be asked questions by ever fool Texan sees us.”
I washed a big mouthful of good salty ham down my gullet with half a glass of beer and just nodded my head. I sure put away that breakfast.
When we finished eating Junior took me to this men’s store. We both bought suits and all the trimmings, from the skin outwards. I got me a yellow shirt and Junior made me get a suit that was dark brown. It fit with the shirt all right, but I wanted me one with more color in it. I didn’t beg Junior, though. I was thinking to myself I could soon buy me any dang thing I wanted.
Junior, he bought hisself a white shirt and a blue suit and one of them new-fangled, hand-painted ties. That there tie cost him five dollars but it looked real good on him. The blue suit and fancy tie set off his yellow hair just so. We stood together in front of the looking glass and you could tell we was brothers even if he was a head taller than me.
We was like two people I hadn’t never seen when we left that store. We went back to the cafe and Junior ordered two beers. When we got the beer he told me to listen, like I was ever doing much of anything else if he was talking.
“Donald. El’s gone, I hope. I been making a few changes in our plans. It’s like this here. Me and you, we’re gonna stay right here in Dallas and I’m gonna send for Leonie. Me and her, we’ll git hitched and git us a place to live. Me and you will git jobs making good wages and stay right in this old town. I ain’t gonna work no farm for nobody else no more, and you ain’t neither.”
“We got to get jobs, Junior? With all this here money?”
“Banks keep money. They’ll keep our’n. Mine, leastways. You can do whatever with yore own; but if you live with me and Leonie you got to pay just like any boarder. If you’re smart, which you ain’t, you’ll put yore money in a bank. I don’t mean all in one place, but some here and some yonder. Spread it out, like. Dallas is mostly banks and insurance companies, anyhow, far as I can see.”
“I don’t care, Junior. Whatever you say. Only I want to have some fun out of this money, too. I cain’t see no good of it laying in banks.”
“You got to learn to keep money and have fun too, Donald. You’re gitting to be a man now.”
“Oh, all right, Junior. I reckon I can do both.”
“Now then, there’s something else you got to know, Donald. You got a good holt on yoreself now, with yore new clothes and yore belly full?”
“Sure, Junior. I feel real good now.”
“Good thing. I killed that little gal at the tourist camp.”
I couldn’t hardly believe what he said. But he don’t never lie and don’t know how to, so he must have done it. My insides drawed up in a hard knot and I felt like I was going to be real sick in a minute. Tears come in my eyes and I couldn’t talk.
“Don’t start blubbering, Donald. It’s did and I had to do it. It was either her or us, cause she knowed too dang much. I wouldn’t of told you, but you was gonna find out anyways. Now quit, cause I got to do some more planning. We shore cain’t leave things like they are now.”
I wiped them tears away and just set there looting at him, wondering how he done it. I hoped he didn’t hurt that sweet little gal too bad.
“You okay now, Donald?”
I nodded my head up and down. I couldn’t say nothing. I reckon Junior was doing his planning cause it was a long time ‘fore he said anything, too. He just kept turning his beer glass around and around on the table. Finally he looked up and started talking again.
“I’m going back out to that there tourist camp. I don’t like the idy of messing around out there, but I’m worried. I got to git that gal and take her somewheres and hide her, or bury her. Some place where nobody never will find her. Understand, Donald?”
I understood all right, but all I could see was that little gal, so cute, hanging onto my hand and calling me Uncle Don. I wondered again how he done it, but I couldn’t ask him.
“I understand, Junior.”
“Well, the sooner the better. You wait on me right here, Donald. And take it slow on the beer. We cain’t git drunk yet. You hear me, Donald?”
“I’ll stay here, Junior.”
“I mean about the beer guzzling, too.”
“You better not. I won’t be gone too long. Keep yore trap plumb shut about us, you hear?”
“Sure. I ain’t gonna say nothing.”
I looked up in a minute and Junior was gone. I ordered another beer and drunk it, but it didn’t taste good no more. Just something cold going down, and I was cold enough in my insides already.
Somebody passed the table and bumped into my arm. I started to tell whoever it was to watch out where they was going, but I seen it was a gal. She was smiling at me, and she set down in Junior’s seat. She had too much paint and powder on her face, but was a pretty little heifer anyhow.
“What’re you crying about?” she asked me.
“I ain’t crying.”
“I’m sorry. I thought you were.”
“Well, I ain’t.”
She reached over and run the ends of her fingers across the back of my hand.
“All right, honey. You ain’t. I could stand a glass of beer.”
I knocked my glass on the table and stuck up two fingers for beer. When the guy brought it over and she lifted her glass to drink it, she looked at me across the top like I was really something, and winked at me. She downed the beer like she was mighty dry.
“Lonesome, honey?” she asked me.
“Naw, I ain’t lonesome.”
“I am. Real lonesome.”
“Well, I’m real sorry, miss. You can set here and talk to me. I’m waiting on my brother.”
“It’s not very comfortable here, do you think?”
“Good enough for me, I reckon.”
“Why don’t we go up to my room?” she said, and she was twiddling with my hand again. Texas people don’t never seem to hear what I say!
“I told you I’m waiting on my brother.”
“You can wait up there. He can come up afterwards. The bartender can tell him.”
Her fingers was under my chin now, and I reckon I was liking it, sort of.
“I better not,” I told her, but some more words slipped right out of my fool mouth. “Where you live?”
“In a nice room. Handy. Right next door in the Crescent, honey.”
“Well, I might like to see your room. Might want to get one around here myself. And since you’re lonesome, maybe I could go up just a little while and cheer you up some.”
“Oh, you’re sweet. I knew you would be when I saw you here looking so sad.”
She was up and raring to go. I stood up, thinking Junior wasn’t due back for quite a spell, and I couldn’t see no harm in it. Junior’d think I was dumb if I was to walk off and leave a pretty gal I had eating right out of my hand.
I lifted my bag of money and we started for the door. She yelled at the bartender.
“If his brother comes back tell him he’s with me.”
The bartender held up his right hand and made a circle with his thumb and finger. I reckon he heard what she said.
She opened the door and I walked on out with her.
I SAT behind my lady driver, riding the front four inches of the rear seat, twisting around and looking through the back window of her cab, ready to hit the floor boards.
After sitting that way for two blocks, I slowly let out my breath when nothing happened. For the time being I had postponed a closer acquaintance with my friends who missed me at the hotel.
“Say, Mister, why don’t you relax? I don’t ever have accidents any more.”
“What? Oh—just not used to lady taxi drivers, I guess.”
“Don’t girls drive cabs where you come from?”
“Some, I guess. Say, I’ve changed my mind. Drop me at the bus station instead, will you?”
“Which bus station?”
“The Greyhound—This isn’t a very friendly town, is it?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Mister. Not as much as Fort Worth, maybe. Depends on what kind of friends you like, I guess.”
“Could be that, I guess.”
“Where you from?”
She rolled the cab to a smooth stop at the bus station. I read the meter and paid her.
I circled around the bus station looking for the cause of my recent high blood pressure. I spotted him through the window, and he was a very, very sad hick.
He was standing near the lockers, and as I watched he walked over and searched an empty one, running his whole arm into it and feeling all around the edges with his hand. He turned away with the bewildered look of a small child who has witnessed a coin disappear right before his eyes. A coin had disappeared for him, all-right. A lot of coin.
I entered, circled around behind him, and tapped him on the shoulder.
“Pardon me, fellow, but didn’t you get the wrong key?” I asked him. I smiled pleasantly into his yellow eyes.
He sputtered and gulped. I guess my new shave fooled him for a second. Then suddenly his eyes lit up, flickering like two neon tubes.
“I shore did, Mister! And I’m shore glad to see you, let me tell you.”
I could believe him. There was true joy in the folds of that face.
“Suppose we go outside where we can talk, friend,” I invited.
“Nothing for us to talk about. Shucks, Mister, I ain’t mad about that little mistake you made. I made mistakes in my time too, I reckon. Just hand me my right key and—”
“Outside, I said.” I quit smiling and put meaning into it. He pursed out his flabby lips and a thinking slit was drawn between his eyes.
“Guess there ain’t no harm in talking, then,” he said.
He followed me out. I walked a few doors down the street and found a storeroom with a for rent sign hung in the window. He was easy to guide and we stepped into the alcove.
He was in just about the right position. I started a low one—not too hard, but a little nasty—and sunk my fist three or four inches into his underbelly. He took it fairly well for his age. He didn’t fold up, but his breathing ran into some trouble.
“Where’d you get the money?”
I pulled my fist back to bury it in the same spot as before. He held up his hand to signal he’d talk when he got his breath. I waited one more minute, and he was able to get words out.
“What money?” he croaked.
I shoved the first two fingers of my right hand into his big nostrils and pushed viciously upward. His yellow eyes were swimming in tears. He backed into the plate-glass window and could go no farther.
“Where’d you get the money?”
I jerked my fingers out of his nose and he grabbed at it with both hands. He groaned pitifully. I wiped my fingers on the lapels of his coat. His nose was bleeding nicely, now.
“It’s just reward money,” he said. “Don’t ram your fingers in my nose no more, Mister—that hurts!”
“That’s very interesting, but I know things that hurt worse. If you don’t explain about the money, I’ll show you what I mean.”
I reached for him again and he panicked. In jerks and rushes he blurted out the wildest tale I ever heard, and I’ve listened to a lot of mad fairy stories in the department in L. A. But his yarn was too fantastic for invention, and it carried a ring of truth. I couldn’t ignore the fact that I’d seen close to five thousand in cash. Considering this clown’s general appearance, he hadn’t made it in the stock market.
“Where’s that little girl you’re talking about, now?”
“Junior tied her up and left her out where we stayed last night. She ain’t hurt ary a bit, Mister. Shucks, that kid liked it with us, with Donald buying her ice cream and her calling him uncle and everything.”
“Don’t tell me how sweet it all was. Just tell me the location of the motel you stayed in.”
He told me, with such detailed directions that he had to be telling the truth. For a man as deep in a capital crime as he was, he was certainly free with his tongue. I wasn’t overjoyed while listening, but I realized it was necessary. And fortunate. Otherwise I couldn’t have known how deep into their crime I had fallen, and I might have done something foolish. The more he talked the deeper he pushed me.
He couldn’t know it, of course, but everything pointed to me. Bill Brown, a fresh name on a hotel register, with a pile of ransom money found in my room. Probably marked bills, at that.
I could clear myself if I had time, but time was the commodity I couldn’t afford. By the time they were ready to release me, I’d be tied into that mess in L. A. Then I’d be a free boarder of the city of Dallas until papers could be cleared to take me back to California. For trial.
My headache didn’t blind me to the only way out. Troublesome, you might say, but the only way. I couldn’t run and dodge with my own handwriting on that hotel register following me around the world. My only bet was to gather this band of comic-book kid-snatchers, all three of them. I’d turn them in with their confessions. Then I’d get the hell out of Dallas. Perhaps I could start by making a deal with this talkative, bloody-nosed old man in front of me.
“Listen, Pop. I’m just a nice guy, looking for nice ways to make money. Right now I have some of your money, and you’d like to get it back. In fact, you’d be very happy to get half of it back. Am I right, so far?”
“Me, I’d be a lots happier if you’d plain turn me a-loose.”
“Okay, Pop; go ahead. I won’t stop you. Just forget the money.’
“Would you give me half of my money back, Mister?”
“Our money, you mean? You’ll get all you have coming. Just help me get my hands on the other two shares. Is that fair?”
“Naw—it ain’t what I’d call fair. But I don’t want to go back to Oklahoma with just a hundred dollars after having all that there money once’t.”
He shouldn’t have said it, but some people never learn. I took the hundred away from him.
“Okay, Pop. I’ve got to handle all our funds so I can trust you. You help me, and we’ll settle for this hundred along with our other deal.”
“I done told you I’d help!”
“Thanks. Here’s what you’re going to do. Somehow, and I don’t care how, you get those partners of yours back to the bus station. I’ll ask them for the rest of the ransom money when I talk to them. I’ll be persuasive. That’s when you’ll get yours—when I get theirs. Can you do that?”
“Maybe I can. I think I can. I ain’t right sure; but iff’n I do, Mister, I’m a-telling you one thing—you better have a mighty good story to tell Junior. He likes his money and he ain’t likely to listen to nobody who’s trying to talk him out of it.”
“You get them here. I’ll worry about the rest.”
“You’re bitin’ off a big chaw of worrying.”
“Get started. I’ll meet you in the bus station later. You wait till I get there.”
He walked around me in a wide circle and shuffled up the sidewalk.
I thought he would round up this tough boy Junior and the other one he had called Donald. Those two would be very happy to see me.
The fat farmer’s wild tale hadn’t helped my headache even a little. I couldn’t formulate any definite plan. Maybe I could grind out some idea later about stepping out of this mess. Right now I had to get to that motel and untie the little girl and see that she got home safe and sound; if she really was sound when they left her.
Old Pop had seemed pretty sure of Junior’s mean disposition, and if he was still hanging around in Dallas, I was a little doubtful he’d left the girl in any condition to talk. Why would they stay in Dallas after the payoff? How could I think with the hammering of an off-key Chinese gong in my head?
I whistled at the first taxi that passed. Another woman driver, but I got in. Might as well live it up.
“Start for Fort Worth,” I told her.
She did, with a nice big lurch, and she kept up a running and dull chatter about the traffic situation in Dallas.
The motel the old man had described was not hard to spot. A row of decrepit shacks which had a seldom-occupied look. I let her go about two hundred yards beyond it before I tapped her on the shoulder.
“Let me out here.”
She burned rubber all over the highway and I nearly joined her head first.
“I thought you were going to Fort Worth,” she complained.
“I was. But the thought of leaving Dallas is just more than I can bear.”
She gave me a dirty look. I paid her and waited at a safe distance while she slid the cab around on the gravel shoulder and gunned it into a small opening in the traffic bound for Dallas. Then I took off my coat and walked across a plowed field toward the motel. I circled in behind the row of shacks and counted down to number sixteen, which was supposed to be the right one, according to the hick.
I walked quietly along the row, stopped in back of sixteen and listened. Nothing. I tried the back door. Locked. So was the screen on the one window; but it was old and rusty. It took a second to pry it out with my fingers, enough to get a grip. I’d already made too much noise to start being careful now, so I tore it off with a quick jerk.
The window slid up with no trouble. I moved it to the top, and using both hands on the sill I threw myself up and in, head first. I don’t know whether or not I ever got inside.
WHEN I left Donald in the cafe, I walked around to the parking lot to git the old LaSalle.
I paid the smart aleck in the white overalls for letting us park. Reckon he makes a lot of money that way. I figgered that might be a good business for me and Donald to git into, with me handling the money and Donald doing the work. But right now I had to cover up the way I’d got the money we had.
“I guess you’ll drive it out yourself,” this car-parker said.
“You’re guessing better than you was when I come in.”
I drove it out fast and kicked up as much fuss as I could going by his little office. I never liked that there feller. He give me a dirty look and I laughed in his face as I went by.
I drove back out the same way we come to town. When I come to the tourist camp I pulled in and stopped, but I left the engine running. We hadn’t been gone so awful long, and I never figgered the manager would of been in the cabin yet. But I did wish I hadn’t of throwed that key up on his porch. Now I was gonna have to ask him for it back. No way to git around it. I knocked on his door and kept one hand on the blackjack in my hip pocket in case anything went wrong.
It taken him so long to git to the door. I got nervous, but he finally showed up.
“Where’s my key?” I asked him.
“I don’t know you, Mister.”
I reckon my new suit throwed him.
“I stayed in number sixteen last night, and I forgot something. I got to git it.”
“Oh. You the feller left that key on the porch?”
“I never seen no use of stopping the car and bothering you. We was all paid up. Hurry up and git my key. Won’t take me but two shakes to git what I want.”
“I think I rented that cabin already. Wait a minute—”
“Never mind, iff’n it’s rented. I wouldn’t want to bother nobody.”
I was trying to figger out what I’d do if there was people in that there cabin. It would shore make taking the body out of there a hard nut to crack.
“No, it ain’t rented now,” the man said. “They left. Get some pretty regular couples from the honky-tonks. Shift workers, night and day. They don’t stay very long, as a rule.”
“Them people give you anything they found in the cabin?”
“Nope. If something’s stole it ain’t my fault, neither. You can look for yourself. Here’s the key. But bring it right back, you hear?”
“Don’t worry none. What would I do with yore key?”
I drove down in front of the cabin, got out and went inside. I felt a lot better now. If them people had of found that there kid stuffed in the closet, they would of been hollering yet.
But she was still in there. I drug her out and was fixing to wrap her in a blanket when a rattling noise at the back door scairt me. I put the gal on the bed, easy and quiet, and tiptoed towards the back. I stood still in the little kitchen.
Somebody tore the screen off of the window, and I knowed whoever it was must be figgering to pay me a call. I taken my blackjack out and moved over to one side of the window. The blackjack was solid and hard in my hand.
The window slid up and a big black-haired feller dove in head first. The top half of him was sticking through the window when I dough-popped him behind his ear with my blackjack. Surprised me when it never knocked him plumb out, but he shook his head a time or two and hung on. So I hit him once’t more and that done for him. Knocked him colder than a panhandle blizzard.
Seeing as how he wanted in so bad, I drug the rest of him over the window sill and dumped him in a big pile on the floor. I run my hands over him and he never had no gun. Wouldn’t be no cop, coming in the back window and without no gun. Wouldn’t be no hired hand, neither. Who in tarnation was he and what was he after? Maybe breaking in to see what he could steal? Well, he shore picked a pore time. He was just what I needed.
Idees hit me so fast sometimes I don’t know how I keep up with all of them. Here he was, cold turkey, without no invite. When he woke up he’d have a kidnapping and killing hung around him so tight one wiggle would cut him right in two.
To make shore he’d stay put I bashed him over the head again. Then I went outside and walked back to the office to see the manager. Couldn’t take no chance of somebody coming into that cabin before I was done. I banged on the door and he poked his head out. I told him what I was wanting.
“Reckon I’ll stay another night,” and I shoved some money at him.
“Find what you lost?”
“It wasn’t lost. It was right in the closet where I left it.”
“Another night’ll be two dollars apiece more; that is, if your friends are staying too.”
“You don’t see no friends, do you? Just me. They got some sense and went on home.”
“Nobody forcing you to stay here, Mister. If you don’t like—”
“Shut up and gimme the change. I shore ain’t come here to gab with you.”
He seen I meant business.
Back at my cabin I looked my caller over to see if he was still out. It was fun hitting him, but I never wanted to kill him or he would miss out on his fun with them Dallas cops.
I moved the car around to the back door. Then I picked up the kid to dump her in the blanket. She was a little stiff, except for her neck. Her head rolled around like the crank on a Model T Ford. But she wasn’t much to handle, and when I had her all wrapped up I throwed her in the back seat of the car.
It wasn’t so easy with the big feller. He was harder to handle than a loose bale of alfalfa. I got him in the car, though, without nobody seeing nothing, far as I could tell. I locked the cabin door and climb in under the wheel. I drove the old LaSalle out to the road and turned towards Dallas again.
Finding the house where the kid’s old man lived taken me longer than I figgered on, and I got to worrying about Donald back in that there cafe waiting on me. I wasn’t sure I should of left him by hisself, but it would of tore him up to see the little gal, dead like she was.
I finally found the place. Like El had said, it was in a rich-folks section, almost like a big park. It was a great big house, setting way back from the street with about two acres of trees, bushes and green grass and flower beds in the yard. It had one of them curving driveways where you pull up in front of a porch, and big tall posts holding up another porch above. It shore was a rich-folks house, and I was sorry I never asked for a bigger reward than what I did.
I never used that there driveway, though. I just pulled over and parked next to the curb out at the street. My window-buster from the tourist camp was snoring away on the floor boards behind me. I wanted to put him under the wheel but I was scairt to make any fuss. He wouldn’t never be able to explain anyways, cause he never knowed what happened hisself. Iff’n a guy cain’t prove to the cops what he’s been doing, then they just know he’s the guy they’re hunting. Any fool knows cops is like that.
I got out and raised the hood of the car like somebody was working on it. Then I found a pair of pliers and taken off the license plates and stuck them inside my shirt. I throwed the pliers back in the car and put the hood down. When I couldn’t see no cars coming, nor nobody else in sight, I just walked off down the sidewalk. I wasn’t wishing that feller no luck in gifting out of the mess he’d stuck his neck into. The cops likely wanted him for a hundred other things anyways. I was doing them cops a favor…
A couple of blocks down the street I got to thinking about him trying to answer questions at one of them third degrees. It was all so funny I got to laughing out loud, like a dang fool. I reckoned he’d think twice’t before he tried robbing a tourist cabin again.
I waited a little while at a bus stop and got on the first one what come along. All I had to do now was go git Donald and call Leonie and we’d all be in high cotton. My troubles was over. When the bus went over a viaduct, I throwed them license plates out and seen them land in a empty gravel car down below on the tracks.
When the bus got to town I got off and found the cafe where Donald was supposed to be waiting on me. But the dang fool wasn’t nowhere inside. Neither was his bag of money. I was throwed for a minute, and I seen red. Mister Donald Knowles was gonna learn I was boss and what I said went. I bought a beer and while I was drinking it I cooled off some. Donald wanted to stay as close to me as he could, I knowed that. He wouldn’t be mad enough about the little gal to start out by hisself. Probably he wasn’t very far away. I’d set a while and he’d be back after a bit.
The bartender kept looking at me and at my bag. I never liked that none.
“What’s the matter with you?” I asked him. “Ain’t you never saw a suitcase before?”
“Oh, it’s not that. But a young guy in here a while ago left a message for his brother. You kind of look like him; and he had a bag like that one.”
“What did he look like?”
“Well—sort of thin, not as tall as you, and hair nearly the same color.”
“What did he tell you?”
“Well, he left here with Madge. She’s a girl that works around here. Got a room in the hotel next door. She said his brother could come on up there.”
Just like my fool brother. But I had to laugh. Stinking rich, and he just couldn’t wait to spend some of his money on the first splittail what come along.
“My brother do much drinking before he left?”
“Naw. Nothing hardly. They had a beer together. He wasn’t drunk, but he was a little dizzy about Madge, looked like.”
“I reckon he would be, yeah.”
“Well, it’s no disgrace. That gal’s a pretty smooth dish, and she’s a smart operator.”
When he said operator, I got a mite uneasy. Supposing she operated a lot of talk out of Donald, or seen the money in his bag? That could cause me a lot of trouble. I never figgered Donald would talk too much if he wasn’t drunk.
Then it hit me. Donald had plenty of whisky with him to stay drunk for a couple of days! And feeling sad like he was and not too much sense working on his side neither, he might do it. If he did git drunk and start talk-in front of that gal—
“What’s that there gal’s room number, bartender?”
“Three-o-three. If you go up, tell her I sent you.”
“Tell her yoreself!”
I was hoping Donald hadn’t told her nothing a-tall. And I hoped she hadn’t acted smart and learnt nothing by herself. I really hoped it, cause if she had found out anything, it was just too wet to plow.
It looks like a man, once’t he’s got hisself into something big, keeps on gitting in further and further. People keep butting in and won’t leave-him alone. All a man needs is being left to hisself to git along.
Walking out of that there cafe, I shore wished Donald had of waited on me like I said.
I THINK we were in my hotel room before he realized he’d left the joint downstairs.
He was a bashful kid, but that didn’t keep him from having some pretty definite ideas. The first one was real sharp. While I was watching to see what he’d do, he took off his coat, folded it, and laid it on the chair.
“You only got one chair?” he asked.
“How many do you want, honey?”
“Well, I had to put my coat on it; so I reckon we’ll have to set on the bed.”
He was about as subtle as a Fort Worth cowhand. Now he started the make in a big way. He put his tie on the chair with his coat, and loosened his shirt an extra button, pulling it apart. He kicked off his shoes, sat down on my bed and leaned back against the headboard.
“Still lonesome, gal?”
“Why no, honey. I feel fine with you here.”
“Well, come over and keep closer company!”
He drew his feet up toward the middle of the bed, scooted over to make room, and patted the place for me to sit. I sat down by him, put my hand on his chest and leaned toward him.
He was cute. I didn’t give him any of the standard patter that goes with the job. I didn’t have to. This one carried the ball himself. He wasn’t treating me like a pro. Maybe he didn’t know how. To him I was just a roll in the hay if he played it right. For me, that’s progress.
He snuggled up confidently and put his mouth to my ear. Finally he whispered hoarsely, “Want a drink of likker?” I managed not to laugh.
“I could stand one, honey, sure; but this place don’t have service. I wouldn’t want you to have to go out after a bottle.”
“Shucks, never mind about the going. Slide that there bag of mine over here.”
Oh— Did you bring a bottle? I’ll get it out for—”
“I’ll get the likker, gal!” His voice was sharp. “You got a chaser?”
“Some cokes. But they’re not cold.”
He unzipped one side of his grip, watching me as he brought three fancy flasks and matching cups into view.
“Git them cokes, gal, and a couple of glasses. These here cups are fancy but they won’t hold nothing. I’m gonna make us some highballs.”
I brought two glasses and opened a couple of cokes. He went to work. If six ounces of hundred-proof cut with a splash of warm coke is a highball, that’s what he made.
“Well, I’ll be! I ain’t even asked what your name is. What do they call you round here?”
“Call me Madge, honey. And how about a little more coke in this? You sure mix them strong.”
“Shucks, Madge, we don’t never worry about mixing likker up where I live. Most times we ain’t got nothing to chase it with a-tall. I just mixed these here cause I’m drinking with a lady.” He filled my glass with more coke.
“Where are you from?” I asked him. “And I guess you have a name, too, don’t you?”
“I’m from Oklahoma.” He seemed proud of it. “My name’s Donald. Here’s how, Madge.”
He reached out to touch glasses with me, and it was important to him. We drank, me sipping, but he went all out. He swallowed half that glass of whisky before he stopped. The bed jerked but he held back the cough.
“Don’t drink so fast, Donald. You’ll think I’m a bad drinking partner.”
“Okay, Madge, I’ll sort of wait on you. You know, you look a lot prettier now than you did down in that old café.”
I knew why. The light was softer in the room.
“Maybe that’s your whisky flattering me,” I said, sipping at my drink.
“Maybe, and maybe not, but you sure do look nice.”
His eyes wandered around the room. “Who’s the little gal in that pitcher on your dresser?”
“My baby sister. That’s about ten years old. She’s fourteen now.”
Donald’s mind seemed to wander, and he looked sad again. I smoothed his hair with my hand until the shy smile came back into his eyes and lips. He was sweet that way, and I wanted to keep him cheerful. For just long enough, I let my hand wander into the V of his shirt. Then a soft pat on his cheek widened his grin a little more. He squirmed with pleasure at the attention he was getting.
“Heck, Madge, you’re shore a nice gal. Real settling, being here with you.”
I mixed another drink but not as strong as he’d made them. He toasted me again and my drink had a hard time getting around the swelling I suddenly felt in my throat. Funny, how every so often you get a sample of things the way you’d like to have them—the things you’ve kicked around till they’re dead.
“I’m glad you like me, Donald.”
“Yeah— Ain’t it a little stuffy in here, Madge?”
“I could fan you with the newspaper, Donald.” The windows were open but there was no breeze.
“Naw, I don’t want you fanning me. I want you touching me. But we could get out of some of these hot clothes.”
I took his glass and set it down for him. Looking straight into his eyes, I started unbuttoning his shirt. One button at a time, letting my fingers touch the flesh beneath. It bothered him. It bothered me too, and I haven’t been bothered in years.
He raised up and let me pull the shirt from under his belt, and I took it off over his arms. I tossed it over on the chair, waiting.
“You hot, Madge?” “Yes, Donald, I am. Maybe if my blouse—do you think it would be all right? It is stuffy in here.” “Why sure, Madge, sure! A few old clothes ain’t nothing to us. Turn around here and I’ll unhook it for you, like you done for me.”
I did as he said and his hands fumbled with the tiny buttons. I cursed silently at the goose bumps rising on my arms. He slipped the blouse down over my shoulders, and threw it aside. I felt his fingers touch, then hesitate, on the fastner of my bra.
But his nerve didn’t hold out.
“Go on, Donald.”
Suddenly his hands were at my breasts. Tenderly and exploringly at first, then hungrily. My nipples stood erect and I lunged across his body, my mouth pressing on his. His arms were strong and fierce as he tore at my skirt. I wrenched myself away. “Please, Donald, you’ll tear it.”
“Well, take it all off, then.”
I kicked my shoes away and pulled the zipper at my side. My skirt fell to the floor, leaving me completely bare.
“Now you, Donald.” I helped him, eagerly.
His hands were busy on me again, touching and exploring. I could feel my breath quicken, but I wasn’t faking. With Donald my business was a pleasure. I touched him and he gasped.
“Not so fast, sweet love,” I murmured.
He must have had the same desire to prolong our joy.
“Okay, Madge,” he grunted, “fix us another drink first, huh? A stiff one.”
I made us one, which I intended to be our last. I didn’t know how much beer he’d had in the cafe and I didn’t want him going under. Not this boy. He tossed his drink off too fast and handed me the glass. I took it and walked across to the window to pull down the shade. Halfway there I turned in time to see the empty flask fall to the rug as he tried to set it down. He’d finished it.
All of a sudden Donald was drunk. I was sore. I wanted him, sober. Now I’d waited too long.
He had been quiet and sweet, but now he started talking as fast as he could. His tongue was thick. His babbling meant nothing to me at first. Then parts of it sank in.
He was telling a wild story about being a no-good kidnapper and a murderer, and wishing he’d never left Oklahoma. He rambled and raved. I didn’t want to hear. I put my arms around him—the Madge Baeder solution to every problem. That seemed to free the tears he was holding back.
He laid his head on my breast and sobbed. The gentling that boy got from me would have made me the permanent laughing stock of Dallas, but cheering him up was the most important thing in the world right then. No matter what kind of trouble he was in.
After he cried it out, I went to the bathroom. I wet a rag and washed his face and eyes and cooled his forehead. He was watching me with a haunted look in his eyes.
“You must figger I’m a awful damn fool, Madge. Coming up here and shooting off my mouth with a whole mess of lies, and getting you all tore up over nothing.”
“Hush, Donald, honey. I don’t think that. What you said didn’t make sense, and everybody tells me their troubles.”
He smiled, but his eyes were frightened. “You ain’t gonna tell my brother the stuff I raved about, are you? He’d think I was going stark-starin’ crazy.”
“I don’t know your brother, honey. And as far as I’m concerned, you didn’t tell me a thing.”
I wondered about that brother, though, and just how much of what Donald said was true.
“Come on, Donald, cheer up. You didn’t murder anybody. Let’s have fun together.”
“Suits me, Madge— Let’s seal the bargain with a drink first, straight out of one of them other bottles.”
I hesitated, but he seemed in a lot better shape after his crying jag, and I didn’t want to make him mad. So I took a small slug out of the second flask before I handed it to him. I had to pull it away from his mouth, and he coughed up the heat.
I leaned over to kiss him and he put his arms around my neck and wouldn’t let go. It was a long kiss. Too damn long.
By the time it was finished he was out. Wouldn’t you just know it? The only man I’d wanted in—oh, hell! Running my hands over his young body, I had to laugh. Bitched up by the Sandman! Well, he’d wake up sometime. Resting beside him, I thought back over the stuff he had raved about earlier.
Several pieces of the jigsaw puzzle started falling into place. Cute as Donald was, he was still a hayseed and not used to fancy things like the grip he was carrying. Or those nice clothes, for that matter. He was too proud and anxious to show them off. And his fear of his brother hadn’t been acting.
Donald had been nervous when I started to open the grip to get the whisky. Why? Maybe he had dirty clothes in it and was ashamed for me to see them? Then I sat straight up in bed.
He’d said something about ransom money. Could that be in his bag? Pipe dreams. I lay back down and cuddled up to him. But Donald, passed out, limp and unresponsive, was not as interesting as Donald awake, shy, rough and fumbling. I couldn’t shut off my curiosity about that bag of his. If he would only wake up. But he didn’t.
I had to face it. There was just one way to find out. I rolled away from Donald and got up and walked around to his side of the bed. If he woke up I could tell him I wanted a drink. I even went so far as to spill a stiff slug into one of the glasses and poured the rest of one of the cokes on top of it. Then I slid open the zipper on the other side of the grip.
Money. No clothes at all. Nothing but money! Neat stacks of fives, tens and twenties. I zipped the bag closed in a hurry and set it just like he’d left it. Then I grabbed for the drink and swallowed it like water. Weak in the knees, I went back around the bed and crawled in beside Donald. So it was all true!
I tried not to let my thoughts get into the old rut, but I’m human. I’d always said that if I ever took enough dough off some sucker I would shake the dust of Dallas off my heels and quit this crummy racket.
I felt like I was still young enough to go legit without too much trouble, but I’d need a long vacation to erase the crust of hardness that had become a part of me. Nobody had offered to foot the bills for a deal like that in a long time. The bag standing beside my bed would foot a lot of bills if I could talk Donald into it. Maybe I could. Then I remembered his brother.
Would that brother stand by and watch the kid leave for parts unknown with me and a grip crammed full of ransom? Yes he would—not! I doubted if Donald would scram out of here with me without seeing his brother. His brother seemed to be Donald’s own private hero.
Blood money—it had no identity or legal ownership. Did anyone ever go to the cops and report losing money they’d collected in a kidnapping? Well, I’d been trying to dodge it, but there it was.
If I didn’t? Donald would wake up after a while and we’d have a few hours. It had been silly for me to think I could interest him permanently.
If I did? Would they find me and put a part in my throat? They would if I was handy. Their movements might be limited, because they were probably being hunted themselves. I was beginning to jump at every sound in the hotel and realized I was expecting the big bad brother to pop in, raising hell in general. I made up my mind in a hurry.
Once I started I didn’t waste any time, and Donald kept snoring away. Except for the bag I intended to borrow from him and a couple of changes of clothes, I was going to travel light. It was a matter of very few minutes until I stood, dressed and ready to leave, looking down at the sleeping boy.
I had quite a battle with myself over leaving him that way. I settled it by making a bet with myself. If he woke up, I’d stay; if he didn’t, it just wasn’t supposed to be for the kid. I leaned over and pressed my lips against his—and I didn’t short him on his chances.
It didn’t even pay for the effort. His mouth stayed limp.
So I patted his cheek for the last time, picked up the bag that held my future, and walked from the room, closing the door softly. I wouldn’t want him to wake up now that I’d gone this far.
I walked to the elevator and pushed the button. Me for the airport and the first plane west—a long way west. San Francisco, maybe—new clothes—a nice little apartment and a long rest—a new name, and a fresh start.
BY God! That ain’t no way to treat a damn dog, let alone a man. Sticking fingers in a man’s nose thataway is just about the meanest thing a man can do to a man. Cinch I ain’t never had nobody treat me mean as that big black-headed thief done. Stealing all my money in my suitcase—and then that wasn’t enough! Oh, no! He even taken the little bit I had in my pocket. Hitting me in the stomach the way he done was bad—but worst of all was them big old stiff fingers gouging plumb up in my nose where it’s too dang little for them to go. Nothing but a danged Injun could be that mean. Junior’ll kill that feller as sure as God made little green apples—I’m gonna stand and look and laugh when he does it. I got to find Junior—I must of already walked twenty mile and been through fifty clothing stores around this town. Sure hope he ain’t changed his mind and taken out from Dallas already. Iff’n he has it’s just the end of it all for me. It cain’t be thataway. It just cain’t! I cain’t go back to Oklahoma now without no money. I ain’t even got my old car no more. If Junior was to give it back, which I reckon he never would, it’d only git me in more trouble, likely—Bet that dirty, long-fingered coward ain’t aiming to give me none of my money back, not a dang penny, I bet. I wish I could shoot that feller, right where he hit me. I’d stand there cool as a cucumber and blow the smoke out of the gun while he died—and laugh and laugh —But if I cain’t find Junior and Donald pretty soon that big devil’s gonna be coming back to the bus station to see me. I cain’t figger what to do. Should of knowed better than to give that thief my suitcase in the first place. Must of been plumb out of my fool head, the way I let him git it. And him coming around later to laugh at me and ram his damn dirty fingers up my nose.
I’m so dumb I need one of them keepers like they got for people in the state ‘sylum. I even give him a quarter tip. By God, I did! I give him a tip for stealing all my life’s savings right away from me! Junior’ll only tell me I’m a clabberhead if I ever find him, and it looks like I ain’t. But he said he wasn’t leaving today. Iff’n I don’t run onto them, I just got to check every dang hotel in town tonight—a hundred more miles of walking, I reckon. I wonder if I could outsmart this feller and git some of my money away from him? Maybe I could tell him Junior has went back to Oklahoma and git him to go up there. Once’t I had him in Oklahoma there might be some way—Aw! I reckon sometimes a man would just as well be dead as not, to have no more brains than me. I cain’t figger out no way to git even with that big bully without Junior. I swear if I had some money I’d buy me a pistol right now and shoot him when he comes back. But it don’t do no good to figger like that when I cain’t buy no pistol. Just supposing this and supposing that ain’t gitting me nowheres—I wonder if he put my money in another one of them lockers? If he did I could watch, and when he’s fixing to git it out, I could bash his head in with something. He’s got my money someplace, shore, and I’m gonna hang onto him. He ain’t about to git out of my sight from now on—My belly’s shore sore. I wish I was twenty year younger, we’d see then, dang it. I don’t know what I can do by myself, but I ain’t gonna find Junior and Donald, seems as if, so I might as well git on back down thataway. Donald wouldn’t be no help much, nohow; but I’d shore love to see Junior. He’d help me. He’s smart, that Junior is, and can figger ways— Wonder how smart that other feller is? How’d he know my suitcase was full of money? He might be most as smart as Junior, to figger that out—My dang head’s going around and around, and my nose is sore as a boil, and I’m so doggone sleepy I cain’t hold my head up. Might as well git on down to the bus station and set and take a load off my feet for a spell. I wish I never had to think no more. My nose is throbbing like it was full of Injuns beating tom-toms for a war dance—I really got troubles, and when I keep thinking about it all, I just want to cry. And I cain’t help it if I am crying! Let ’em look, damn em—damn everybody! They don’t know how bad I feel, and I just cain’t help it—
AT the hotel where that gal had took my brother I punched the elevator button. Right away I heard it coming down.
It stopped and the door opened, and a gal was standing in my way. She wasn’t a bad looker and I give her the once-over, but I never got as far as her legs.
At the end of her arm I seen the twin suitcase to mine! I figgered it had to be Donald’s.
I throwed a quick look over my shoulder and seen the room clerk wasn’t watching, and I hit that gal hard, right in the stomach. The air come out of her like a engine coughs when it runs out of gas. Time she hit the floor of the elevator, I was in and had the door slid shut. I punched the button for the third floor and we started up, slow but sure.
The gal was sort of green around the gills. I jerked her to her feet and twisted her arm behind her back.
“Where’s my brother at? And this here ain’t no time to lie.”
“He’s asleep,” she managed to git out.
She was bent in the middle, holding one hand tight against her belly.
“If you done anything to Donald, I’m gonna kill you.”
I hadn’t got real mad at nobody much up till now. But now I was talking through my teeth; they was mashed together so tight. So many folks butting in was gitting on my nerves. I had a idee we was in a new mess of trouble, and all on account of Donald never done like I told him. This gal wouldn’t of stole his bag without knowing what was in it. When the elevator come to a stop, I flung her out in the hall.
“Show him to me—quick!”
I give her arm a twist to show I meant business and she pointed down the hall to the right. We walked down thataway and I kept a hold on her arm. She stopped at number 303, like the bartender said. The door wasn’t locked and I shoved her halfway across the room in front of me. I backhanded her one good one across her thieving little face. Under all the war paint her skin was getting white.
“Scairt, ain’t you? You got plenty right to be, woman.”
There was Donald, sleeping away on the bed. Naked as a jay bird and real peaceful, just like he must of been when all his money went for a walk in this gal’s hands. Snoring and snorting, without a worry in the wide world. The worrying was all mine, looked as if.
I was mad enough to dump him on the floor, but I never did. If something ever happened to me, I didn’t know what in the world that kid would do by hisself. Probably git hisself run over the first time he tried to cross the street. I closed the door and pushed the bolt and then I went over and shook Donald.
All I got was a loud snort. I grabbed a glass setting by the bed and run it full of water in the bathroom. I pulled Donald’s head off’n the pillow by the hair of his head. Might be painful but he’d brung it on hisself, and he had to tell me what I had to know. I splashed the water in his face.
Him and that bed smelt like a moonshine dump. You could of slapped whisky out of the air with a paddle. He probably wouldn’t remember nothing. His eyes opened a crack and I slapped him a couple of times. He give me a stupid grin and I had to back out of his breath.
“All right, fool,” I said, “git awake and tell me what you been telling this here fancy gal.”
He mumbled but it wasn’t no words I could understand. He started to lay back down, but I shook him up again.
“Git up and git yore clothes on!” He got off’n the bed and near fell on his face, but he held on to the bedstead and started fumbling with his clothes. I wasn’t helping him ’cause I was so mad I could of pinched his head off. I turned back to the gal while Donald was trying to git dressed.
“Where’d he say he got the money?”
“What money?” she asked.
“You trying to tell me you ain’t looked into that there suitcase?”
“I was just taking it downstairs to check it for Donald and see if I could get him a room here, and—”
I smacked that gal so hard her teeth rattled. Blood started to run out of her mouth. She begin to cry, and damn if Donald didn’t hit me in the back of my neck with his fist! I had to put him down, which wouldn’t of been hard if he was sober, let alone drunked up like he was. I held him with his arms behind his back.
“All right, fool, now listen to me. This here gal was leaving the hotel with yore suitcase when I caught onto her. What you think she’s dressed like that for? She ain’t figgering on nothing but traveling. I know I’m right, and you know I always am. So, what did you tell her about our business?”
“I didn’t tell nothing, Junior, honest.”
He never looked me in the eye. He twisted his head and looked at the wall.
“Donald, if you wasn’t my flesh-and-blood brother I’d pull yore arm off at the shoulder and beat the truth out of you with the bloody end of it. You, siding with this here hustling gal against me! What did you tell her, I said?”
He never said nothing but I seen the answer because he kept his head down and started crying. The fool! He’d done told her everything. He wasn’t going to git another drink as long as he lived, or I’d wham it out of him with a tree limb.
“Git them bags, Donald. Quit squalling! It don’t help none. Git them bags like I say. Git down to the elevator door and wait on me. And if you don’t do like I say this time, Donald, I pity you. I shore do.”
“You want me to take both bags, Junior?”
“Both bags—and hurry up!”
After he went, I locked the door again. Deeper and deeper a man gits, until—
The gal was spitting into a towel and I seen she was missing a front tooth. She was crying hard. Who wouldn’t, after coming so close to being rich and having it jerked right out of their hands?
There wasn’t nothing I could git out of her I didn’t already know. She reminded me of a kid I used to know, watching his mean stepdaddy. She looked so much like him, I had to laugh. It scairt her.
“What are you going to do?” she screamed at me when I started towards her.
“Lay down on the floor, on yore belly.”
She was scairt to lay down but she was scairter not to. She went down on her knees like a old cow and then stretched her arms out, sort of crawling, and looking at me like maybe she was praying. Her eyes was running black paint and the crying had spread it on her face. I never had no time to piddle.
“I said, on yore belly,” I told her.
She went down flat then, and tried to hide her face in the old rug. That was just right.
The first time my blackjack smashed down on her head she quivered a little bit and her crying stopped. I hit her time and again on top of the head, up and down. Her head got softer and softer.
I used the towel she’d been sucking on and wiped off my blackjack. My worries about Donald’s playmate was over. I stuck the blackjack back in my pocket.
I taken a look around to make shore Donald hadn’t left nothing. Then I picked up the door key laying on the dresser and locked the door behind me when I went out. It was a good thing for Donald that he was waiting on me like I told him.
“Did you do something to Madge, Junior? Bad, I mean?”
“Shut yore trap!”
When the elevator stopped, me and Donald went through the lobby and out to the sidewalk. The room clerk had his nose so deep in a funny book, we could of took the furniture with us.
“Where we going, Junior? I’m kind of sick.”
“How sick would you be if I hadn’t took yore money back?”
“Maybe she was going to check it for me. She liked me good.”
“You got a clod for a head? She was checking out with it.”
I couldn’t stay mad at Donald, though. He didn’t know no better. I shore did worry about him, the little fool. “I’m so tired, Junior. Where we going? Cain’t we get a “The walk will do you good. You’ll git plenty of riding. We’re going to the bus station and you’re catching the next bus back to Oklahoma.”
“I ain’t going unless you do.”
“You ain’t got nothing to say about it, Donald.”
“I can get off, first time the bus stops. I want to stay with you, and Leonie, when she comes.
“I cain’t let you out of my sight for five minutes without you blabbing everything to somebody. I cain’t watch you all time like a kid playing with a straight razor, Donald. You ain’t got no business in a place like Big D.”
“I didn’t know I was saying all them things, Junior. Honest I didn’t. I got drunk, and Madge she got me all excited. I just didn’t think, with all that whisky in me, Junior.”
“That’s just what I’m a-telling you, Donald. You shore didn’t think.”
“Don’t make me go back to Oklahoma. I promise, cross my heart, I won’t never drink no more whisky.”
I knowed he meant what he said right then, but there wasn’t no telling if he’d remember it a day or a week. I’d just have to watch closer and keep him with me all the time. I never really wanted to send him away. I didn’t like to think what not seeing Donald would be like. We’d been walking all the time we was talking, and before he knew it, we was at the bus station.
“I’m going in here and call Leonie on the phone, long distance. I’ll see what she’s got to say, and maybe I won’t send you home. I ain’t making no promises about it.”
“Can I talk to her too, Junior?”
I shoved the door open and when we walked into the station, I seen old El Mercer setting on a bench in the waiting room. I thought he’d be long gone before now. He was bent over like a wearisome old man, holding his head in his hands. Maybe he was drunk, and I didn’t want to listen to him. I’d had me enough drunks for one day.
“Look, Junior! Yonder’s El!”
“I ain’t blind, Donald.”
He went over towards where El was washing his face in his dry hands. Hell with El. I went into a phone booth and asked Central to git me Sulphide, Oklahoma. I didn’t even git her straight on who I wanted before El come a-trying to git in the booth with me. He was so excited I thought he was gonna climb on top and try to come in through the roof. He got his head in the door.
“Goddammit, El! I’m trying to call long distance!”
I put my hand in his face and pushed his head out of the phone booth. He squealed like a stuck pie and grabbed his nose with both hands like I’d half-killed him.
Finally Central was talking to Sulphide, and then she had a hard time gitting Leonie to the phone. Had to call Mrs. Allister and ask her to run git Leonie. Leonie and her folks never had no phone. And all this time El was acting like he was going plumb slapdab crazy.
I could see him prancing back and forth outside the booth. He was making hurry-up signs and begging me to come on out. I still thought the old coot was drunk.
I finally heard Leonie answering and after a little argument with Central, I put in the change she said it would cost. Leonie was shore excited.
“Leonie, this is Junior—Shore is. I’m in Dallas. That’s what I’m phoning you about—Naw, ain’t nothing wrong— Now looky here, suppose you let me talk a minute and I’ll tell you—Dang it, Leonie, I done told you there ain’t nothing wrong. I got me a job here in Dallas—What kind of a job? Oh, selling insurance. Now listen, Leonie, you got to catch a bus and come down to Dallas. Right away, soon’s you can. I’ll meet you here at the bus station. Nothing to be scairt of, now. If I ain’t right in plain sight when you git here, you just set and wait a spell in the station till I show up—Yeah. And Leonie, bring all yore clothes. We’re a-staying—’Course we’re gitting married.— Dang it, yes, I got plenty of money, I tell you—Okay, Leonie, honey, tomorrow morning, then—Listen, I got to hang up now. Or this’ll cost me more money—No, dammit, I ain’t drunk and I’ll be here—Now would I be doing this if I didn’t love you? I got to go now—Good-by, Leonie.”
I come out of the phone booth and old El collared me. He was shooting off his mouth so fast there wasn’t no sense to what he said.
“Now, cool off, El, and tell me again slow and quiet. Who’s been sticking fingers in yore nose, and for what?”
When I got it straight, it was worse than I’d figgered. Some skunk had done stole every penny of El’s money. But he wasn’t satisfied. The crazy fool wanted to meet me and Donald, thinking he could pit our’n too. I was beginning to think a man with money ain’t got no friends a-tall.
Before El got done talking, I knowed who the feller with the big idees was. Couldn’t be nobody but the one laying in El’s old car that very minute where I’d left him with the little gal. I seen more trouble coming.
“El, you old fool! I swear I should of kept all yore money—and yore’s too, Donald—and only give it out to you one dollar at a time. I never seen folks so easy to take money away from, a whole suitcase full at a time!”
“Gee, he never stole Donald’s money too, did he, Junior?”
“Naw, not him. I had to git Donald’s away from a gal what put him to sleep in her bed while she snuck out with it.”
“I shore hope you can git mine back, Junior. Can you, Junior. Huh, Junior?”
“Shut up, El.”
The little gal was out there in the car with this feller. When he got found, he was gonna tell the cops all about El. How did I know he knowed all about us when I left him out there? When the cops knowed about El it wouldn’t take them long to latch onto him; and with a little slapping around I knowed El would tell them all they wanted to know about me and Donald.
Trouble shore was a-hounding me, and what hurt me so bad was not none of it was my own making. But no matter who brung it on me, something had to be did.
“What did that feller look like, El?” I asked him.
“He’s a big feller, about yay tall and all man. And he’s got black hair.”
“That’s the same feller, all right.”
“You mean he’s done been after you too, Junior?”
“I mean he probably thought he was. El. Listen to what I’m saying, you hear? Me and Donald, we got to go and git him. I think I can find him. You might as well know it, El—you done fixed it where I got to kill a man, you old fool.”
“But he was so doggone anxious to help me check my—”
“Shut up! That ain’t helping to kill him. I’d make you do it; but I figger you’d give him the clothes you’re wearing and maybe kill the wrong man besides.”
“I’m sorry, Jun—”
“Dammit, shut up! And just listen, like I say. If he ain’t where he’s supposed to be, I got to find him wherever he’s at. You wait here. Iff’n I miss him and he shows up to meet you, you take him out to the fair grounds. Cain’t kill him in the middle of Dallas. We’ll meet you out there and I’ll figger out how.”
“Whereabouts at the fairgrounds, Junior?” El asked.
Donald stuck in his two-bits worth then.
“Let’s meet at that there Twirly Whip,” he said. He wanted to git on that ride again. But I was in a stew and that was as good as any place.
“That’s where we’ll meet, El, at the Twirly Whip. If he comes back here, I mean.”
“Suppose he don’t?”
“El, use yore head! If he don’t, you’ll just be waiting for him, ain’t that right? And that’s how I’ll know where to find you again if I catch him out where I’m going now.”
“Oh. Oh, yeah. I understand now, Junior.’
“The thing a-worrying me ain’t likely to enter yore fool head, El. That’s if he ain’t where I’m going and he don’t come back to meet you. No matter where that feller’s at, we got to find him. We got to—Come on, Donald.”
We left after El whined at me to try and find his money before I killed that feller.
I shore was disgusted. Donald gitting drunk and telling everything and El telling everything without even being drunk. And me trying to git around fast enough to keep things all straightened out for them. I ain’t never been so tired in all my born days. And they kept hauling me in deeper all the time. There didn’t seem to be no end of it in sight.
All I knowed was that if I didn’t git it all to a stopping place soon, it might even git to be too much for me and something terrible might happen to all of us. And it was me that planned everything in the first place, so there just wasn’t nothing else to do but git it straightened out.
I TRIED to turn my head and felt like someone was pounding a thousand needles into my scalp with a one-by-four plank.
I cranked my neck around, a half-inch at a time, until I could get one hand up to the back of my head. My fingers traced the dried blood matted in my hair and I was pretty sure somebody had practiced on me with a sap.
I opened my eyes. I closed them again, for a full minute. No one had hit me yet, so I became very brave and, lying there, started looking around. I had a lower berth— doubled up on the floor boards in the rear of an old sedan. A blanket-wrapped bundle occupied the rear seat.
The blanket wasn’t the thing for concealing outlines, so I unrolled it to see who was keeping me company. I realized immediately that I was still an important cog in a kidnapping machine. Dallas was something of a disappointment to me.
Disturbing the small figure as little as possible, I rolled the bundle back up. Using the rest of my strength, I raised my head until my eyes were on a level with the window. It was a quiet, peaceful neighborhood, with wide lawns and large homes. I used a dirty rag from the floor boards and wiped the door handles when I got out.
I tried not to stagger, but so does a drunk. A sprinkler was spraying away on the nearest lawn, so I went that way. I shoved my throbbing head down into cool mist. I soaked, then had a long drink. It helped a little and washed some of the fuzz from my brain, if I still had one.
I knew I had to find a telephone directory. I needed to make a call, but it was the address I wanted because the call had to be in person. I walked a few miserable blocks and found a drugstore. I went in.
“You got any Bromo?” I asked the soda clerk. “Yessir!”
“Keep ’em coming then, till I tell you to stop.” He was a bit skeptical, but cooperative. I was his only customer, and it occurred to me few people in this neighborhood would condescend to shop in a corner drugstore. Probably a fast-delivery business, mostly. After four sizzling glasses of the stuff, I held up my hand for the red light. “What’s the use?” I said. “Hang a big one on last night, sir?” “You could say that. Got a newspaper?” He reached under the cigar counter and came up with The Morning News. There it was, on the front page. I made my burning eyes focus on it:
DIXON CHILD BELIEVED DEAD!!
Police Lieutenant Fred Campbell, in an interview with a Morning News reporter, stated, ‘We are doing everything in our power and bringing to bear every facility of one of the finest modem crime detection departments of any great city in the United States, to apprehend and bring to justice these nefarious, unscrupulous kidnappers. However, indications from certain sources, which, for obvious reasons, I cannot reveal at this time, leave us scant hope that little Mary Ann Dixon will be found alive.’
What a jerk—but true to form for frustrated, explaining policemen the world over. I read a few lines more.
Mr. Galin Dixon, the wealthy, broken-hearted father of little Mary Ann, will not admit reporters. According to a statement received from his oldest daughter, the popular Miss Kay Dixon, Mr. Dixon is under the care of his private physician.
And blah, blah, blah.
I laid down the paper and walked across the store to the phone booth. I found the listing of the wealthy but broken-hearted father of little Mary Ann and copied the address on a slip of paper from my wallet. I went back to the fountain and motioned to the clerk.
“Where’s this address, buddy?” I shoved the piece of paper toward him.
“Man! You did hang one on! That’s right here in Highland Park. About the third block down to the left, you’ll run into it.”
“Thanks.” I paid up and walked out, squinting against the glare.
I checked the few numbers I could find as I walked, and had no trouble spotting the one I wanted. The ancient LaSalle I’d left shortly before was still right there at the curb in front of it.
The Dixon house was a sumptuous Texas colonial, dove-gray brick with huge white columns. Like the paper said, wealthy. A movie-set driveway curved up to a wide veranda facing the pampered lawn. I managed the red brick drive without crumpling in awe and pushed an ornate silver button that rang chimes somewhere deep inside the mansion. I wasn’t quite sure I wanted that door to open. But it did.
The young woman who opened it stood very still and examined me with eyes that must have inspired the choice of the dove-gray bricks and were as cool as the spray in which I had drenched my head. But the rest of her was strangely out of harmony with the cold eyes. The warmth of pervasive sex oozed from her full-blown figure like milk from a discarded can. She’d be better in a dream than the cashier in the grill would be in wide-awake flesh.
“I’m Bill Brown,” I explained lamely.
“A reporter?” She was ready to slam the door.
“No.” I hated to be the one to hurt her. “I have information about Mary Ann. I can tell you where she is, in fact.”
I don’t know just what joyous reaction I expected; but I could still be waiting, because there wasn’t any.
“Come in,” she invited in a level voice. Then an expression almost like recognition altered her deadpan features as she examined me again. “Did you say Bill Brown?” I nodded, waiting, as her features assumed the former cold mask. “Follow me,” was all she said.
I followed her down a hallway lined by a photo-mural of an oil field in full production. Bathed in indirect lighting, it was symbolic advertising, in a small way, of the origin of wealth in a big way.
“In here,” she said. She was certainly thrifty with her words. And she must be thinking that I might have answers to a lot of questions she should be asking.
She had brought me to a library too large to be called a room. Two walls were filled with books, and an enormous photograph, in full color, of a single steel oil derrick and rotary drilling rig dominating a barren desert area of sagebrush, mesquite trees, and a few scattered white-face cattle hung on a third wall. The last wall was all glass, facing a garden planned for color by somebody like Bonnard.
“Sit down,” she told me, just under the inflection of a direct order. I took a different chair than the one she offered. Just to be short of obedient.
“Dad,” she said, and we both looked at the elderly man across the room sitting in a lounge chair the size of a respectable throne, richly upholstered in spotless white slick leather. He was facing the window-wall, staring out into the garden, and made no sign that he had heard us come in. I decided he must be the affluent, brokenhearted Mr. Galin Dixon. And the girl would be the popular Miss Kay ditto if I was right.
“Dad,” she reported, “this is a Mr. Brown, and he says he has some news about Mary Ann.”
Mr. Dixon finally let it through and slowly turned his head toward us. His eyes belonged to a dog that gets a daily beating, is due for that beating, and knows he can’t escape it.
“I’m Galin Dixon,” he said, and neither of us made any move to acknowledge by physical effort the delayed-action introductions. “Tell us what you can, Mr. Brown.” His voice was tired but calm and steady, and his strong gnarled hands were clenched in tight bunches on the arms of his chair. The girl I took to be Kay stood almost before the center of the desert scene with her hands behind her, her straight back and proud head strangely incongruous among the cattle and sagebrush upon which her beauty was superimposed.
I hated the job I had fallen heir to. Mr. Dixon—and Miss Dixon—I wish I had good news for you. I’d like to soften this, but I don’t know how. The little girl is dead.”
They took it well. But then I guess it was about what they had been expecting. Mr. Dixon unbailed and reclenched his fists and turned away to stare at the garden again. Miss Dixon audibly exhaled the breath she’d been holding, and her own hands curled and flexed like large claws.
“You dirty tramp! Why didn’t you tell me she was dead—so I could tell Dad?”
“You didn’t ask, Miss Dixon, remember? I think you were convinced of it before I came here.” Mr. Dixon stirred and turned to look at me again.
“Where is my little girl, Mr. Brown? Who’s got her?”
“She’s out front in an old car someone drove here and left.”
Miss Dixon took a couple of steps toward the big desk. “Yes—someone named Brown drove it here.” She reached for the telephone.
“Hold it, Miss Dixon!” I was with her in a split second and held her wrist in my hand. “Let’s get it all straight before lousing the place up with those incomparable Dallas policemen.”
“I believe I’ve got it pretty straight—straighter than you know, Brown.” She relaxed a little and I released her hand. “But let’s hear you tell it before they work on you.”
The old man was watching us, and held up his hand to cut us off. “First, Kay, Mr. Brown, please get Mary Ann into the house, at least.”
“Sorry-I’ll bring her,” I told him.
“We’ll both bring her,” Miss Dixon told me. She picked up a purse lying on a small comer table inside the door. I shrugged and walked out through the oil field in the hall to the door, Miss Dixon right at my heels.
As we approached the old LaSalle she asked, “Will that thing run?”
“Maybe,” I replied, “if they left the keys.”
“They!” she snorted, when she saw the lone, ringless key sticking in the ignition lock. She took a long look at the blanket-bundle in the back seat, then opened the front door next to the curb and got in. “Get in and drive it around to the back.”
“Yes, ma’am!” I got a little edgy with sarcasm.
The old engine jumped to life and was surprisingly smooth as I swung into the drive and turned into a loop that circled toward the back of the estate.
“Stop at the second set of steps—with the iron railing,” she ordered. “I’ll open the door, you carry her in and I’ll show you where to put her until I can make arrangements.” Keys from her purse opened the big door and I followed with the little body still wrapped in its blanket. She led me to a downstairs bedroom and motioned to the big satin-covered bed.
“How was it done?” she asked me. “You ought to know.
“No. I wasn’t present, Miss Dixon. From a brief look, out of simple curiosity when I found her out there, I’d say she was strangled.” She’d learn about the child’s broken neck soon enough.
“Uncover her, and throw that filthy blanket over there in the corner. The police will want it.”
I didn’t get sarcastic. I just did as she said. She stood beside the bed looking down at the little girl. She reached down to pat the blonde hair into its natural shape, and a short, sharp moan escaped her lips. I didn’t know if it was finally a bit of evidence that she was human and expressing some grief, or had noticed the child’s ravaged neck, or if touching the cold, waxen flesh had simply shocked her. She covered her face with both hands for a moment and turned away, leading me again through the house to the sumptuous library.
“I put Mary Ann in the south guest room, Dad,” she said. The old man just nodded. “Now we’ll listen to whatever story Mr. Brown has made up.”
“My story may not be told at all. If I’m a liar before I start, what’s the percentage?”
“A few percentage points could be that it might keep you alive as long as it takes to tell it,” she said.
“You have a persuasive and compelling personality, Miss Dixon. All right, here’re the hard-to-prove, hard-to-believe facts. All I want is freedom from judgment on circumstantial appearances.” I was trying to decide how much to tell, how much to hold. “First, I can see you wouldn’t be too disturbed if you don’t recover the ransom. But I feel sure you’re both eager to have the kidnappers run in. Right?”
“If there were more than one, yes. We are. I think we have one already. You.”
“Wrong, Miss Dixon. I am not and never was one of them. I do know there are three. I’ve met one personally—even chatted with him about this very subject. Another one of them bashed me over the head subsequently, before I saw him, dumped me in the car with Mary Ann, and apparently left me out there to be found with her body. The third one I haven’t had any business with at all. I swear to God I had absolutely nothing to do with the crime against Mary Ann. I got involved in this trouble purely by most unfortunate coincidence. I may as well admit I am probably wanted for questioning by the police in connection with it, but only because I got involved after it was all over and done.”
“I’ll bet!” she said. “And after we are through with you they’ll get their chance. If you are able to answer any questions then.”
“And if you turn me in before I do a job on the real murderers, they’ll get away from you altogether. I’m your only hope, Miss Dixon. The only one with a lead to them. It all hinges on whether you want the right ones, or whether you are so upset you just want anybody you can get.”
“I want all of you.” No encouragement, no objection. Just a statement of her desire, and the cold eyes punctuated that statement with a big period. So I went on, thinking feverishly and feeling my way through the look in her eyes.
“I’m out of a job. Not a tramp, but I need a job. If you ever expect to get them, you’ll hire me. My services are expensive.”
“You must be crazy, Brown. Or think I am. It’s plain you’re one of the gang, if there is any gang. It’s possible I’ve got a little information you don’t know I have.’
“But you don’t have the information that will throw a loop around this gang, or you’d know what I know. I know. And I repeat, I am not one of them. I have quite a personal score to settle with the one who used a sap on my head. Not to mention how he set me up for a frame.”
“Are you quite sure the frame doesn’t fit you to a T? You pretend to be so smart and expensive, for a tramp-how could your friends frame you so easily?”
“Not my friends, Miss Dixon. In a most unfortunate and unheard-of set of circumstances I—let one of them leave a suitcase with me. I had no way of knowing that suitcase was wanted by the police. I was, to put it mildly, unlucky. The police found it in my hotel room. When I learned they were looking for the occupant of my room, I naturally postponed returning there. It would be embarrassing now to try to prove the suitcase was not mine, I’m sure.
“As they say in so many books and plays, that’s a likely story. Do you honestly expect me to fall for it?”
“You have no choice, Miss Dixon, if you ever expect to get your pretty hands on the real killers. I am the only lead and as we have both mentioned before, unemployed at the moment, but expensive.”
“Even if you are one of a gang, Brown—if I can buy the others from you, we just might make a deal. Remembering, of course, that I can always get you later, somehow, somewhere—and make you real sorry you ever asked me for a job.”
“Are you hiring me, Miss Dixon? Shall we discuss contract?”
“I’m just considering.” She looked at me, long and thoughtfully, half-shook her head. “Why should I? The best men in Dallas are working on it.”
“Yeah. I read the sage remarks of one of them in the morning paper.”
“I don’t mean just the police.”
I considered. I was going to have plenty of trouble staying out of the lockup long enough to clear myself, without wondering if every citizen who happened to be going my way was one of her private eyes, intent on grabbing fame and part of her fortune for nabbing me as a fugitive from a hotel room full of ransom money.
“So pull them off this job. Now. There’s no openings for the bright private boys on this job. You’ll pay out good money for perfect alibis of every known Dallas hoodlum and dopehead. I’m telling you, they didn’t do it. Except on the million to one chance one of these rednecks I’m after does something logical, nobody can tag them. Nobody, and I repeat, nobody but me, Bill Brown.”
I’ll take the million to one chance.” “Then you don’t hire me. I don’t want a crowd of bright boys tailing me when I leave here for the roundup.
She started to be obstinate, but I cut her off.
“Call them off, Miss Dixon, or you lose your bet.” She stared at me for a long time. I wasn’t sure, but I told myself those cold gray eyes thawed just a little.
“There’s another thing,” she said. “We want them before the police get them. How do you feel about delivery here, if you can deliver at all?”
“I think I can deliver, and money talks. If it talks here, here is where I deliver.”
She debated my offer in her mind for so long I almost dozed off. Finally she walked over toward her father. “What do you say, Dad?”
“Hire him. Pay him. To bring them here.” He kept looking, without seeing, at the garden. “He’d be crazy to come here if he’d been one of the gang. And he wouldn’t be hiring out if he had the ransom.”
I smiled at her as she came back to the desk. “Five hundred will do for the retainer,” I told her. I was trying to beat that greasy spoon out of a star performer. “And a bonus of five hundred for each one I deliver before the police touch them.”
The old man had been listening. “Brown, the bonus will be one thousand apiece if they are alive and you bring them here to me.”
“That’s fair,” I agreed. I figured rapidly that I’d soon be back in something like the chips those goons at the hotel had removed from me. Then I could put my interrupted plans back to work.
Miss Dixon sat down at the desk and started to fill in a check.
“Cash, Miss Dixon. If you don’t mind. I’ll be too busy when I leave here to transact any banking business.”
She curled her lips in a contemptuous sneer, stood up, and walked out of the library. She came back with the purse she had left in the bedroom where we took Mary Ann’s body. She carelessly counted ten bills off a large head of cabbage taken from the purse and tossed them to me.
“Make the call,” I ordered her.
“The one that pulls the private eyes off my tail.”
I had to hand it to her. When she played a hand, she played it to the showdown. It only took a couple of minutes. She got some objections from the other end, naturally, but she plainly informed the man who paid his operators’ expenses that the gravy train had pulled into a siding. I knew their interest would die hard but awfully fast when the well dried up.
“Satisfied?” she asked me.
“I’ll need a gun.”
She shrugged, dug in the purse again and came up with a pretty, pearl-handled .25 toy. I knew then why she had taken the purse with her when we went after Mary Ann outside. The girl would have shot me if I pulled a fast one! When she held this dainty bit of lethal artillery out to me, I just shook my head.
“I’ll need a gun,” I repeated.
She dropped it back in her purse, impatiently jerked open a drawer of the big desk, reached deep inside and threw me an Army .45 automatic. She hadn’t even checked the safety. It was loaded.
“I’ll need a change of clothes.”
She left the room without a word and I went right along behind her. I watched the play of her flesh as she preceded me up the sweeping staircase. She was some bundle. Her rhythm of calculated movements disclosed that she was aware of it.
I guessed the room we entered was her father’s bedroom. She slid open the door to the wardrobe and carelessly pointed to a long rack of suits. She stood watching me, and I waited. Again I had a feeling the eyes were warming a little. She kept watching. I began to wonder what she would do if I started stripping down. But it was bad enough just being in a room that contained both this woman and a bed.
“I’ll be down as soon as I change.”
I couldn’t tell whether or not she scorned my cowardice; but as she turned away, I felt she did. She left.
Mr. Dixon had class. Being closer to thirty-eight than thirty-two at the centerline I had to play a lot of hide-and-seek before I found anything to wear. I finally found a tweed suit I could get into, and I suspected Mr. Dixon had seen more portly days at some period in the past.
Tweed, in Dallas, in the middle of the summer. Well, I couldn’t wear the rag Ed had brought to the bus station any longer. I picked a white nylon sport shirt, no tie, argyle socks. I felt better when I found the shoes were the right size and I took a pair of perforated Oxfords. At least my feet would be cool. I went downstairs.
She was waiting, the deadpan right back in place. “I’ve decided to go with you.”
“No, Miss Dixon. The party may be rough. Some other night, maybe.”
She sneered from the doorway as I walked down the drive to the street. I found a bus stop at the drugstore corner and waited. I boarded the first bus. I took off the tweed coat and wished I could do the same with the pants.
With the help of the driver, I left the bus within a couple of blocks of the right bus station. It was discomforting to realize I still had no plan of action. I walked to the station and went in. The air conditioning was efficient and I enjoyed it for a short while.
Then I looked for, and found, my man.
He was looking at a much-thumbed comic book he had probably saved from a broom pusher. An intense frown separated his yellow eyes and his lips moved slowly as he struggled with the printed word. Between the eyes and lips his big bruised nose glowed, red and repulsive.
I aimed a sharp kick at his shin. It landed, and he leaped to his feet, or, rather, one foot. He was holding his shin and doing an odd dance.
“Where are they?” I asked him.
“Dangit, dangit, dangit! You done skint all the hide off my leg! What in thunderation’s eating on you, Mister?”
“Let’s talk business.”
“Heck of a way to start a talk! Trying to break a man’s leg.”
I moved toward him.
“Now wait a minute! They’re gonna meet us, Mister. I had a hard time finding Junior; but I told you I would. Only thing, Junior, he wouldn’t meet you in town.”
“No? Then where?”
“They’re waiting on us out at the fairgrounds.”
“What part of the fairgrounds?”
“They’ll wait at the Twirly Whip. That’s a carnival ride. It goes—“ and he described it with some crazy hand waving.
“Okay, okay. We’ll take a cab.”
We walked out and I opened the door of the first taxi in the line. I watched the fat farmer as he got in, to see if he had prepared himself for battle. I could see no bulges on top of his own bulges. I followed him in.
“Fairgrounds,” I said.
The cab lurched away from the curb and gears ground. I took a look at the driver. Another woman hackie—
DAD didn’t know what Lieutenant Fred Campbell of the police had told me—that a Bill Brown had escaped from them in a cheap hotel downtown, or that Dad’s suitcase with about one-third of the ransom had been found in his room.
I hadn’t said anything about it to Dad because I didn’t want him to know it looked like the money had been divided between two or three people. I thought that meant they had done away with Mary Ann, and even if my own hopes were gone, I didn’t want to shatter Dad’s until it was absolutely definite. Of course, it was definite now, with Mary Ann’s cold little body in the guest room.
Now what? We’d handed a man who said his name was Bill Brown five hundred dollars in cash, about a hundred dollars worth of Dad’s clothes, and a loaded gun. And, knowing all that Lieutenant Campbell had told me, I’d let him walk out the front door like he owned the city. I had even taken our detectives off the case. Should I set them back on his trail? After the deal I’d made with Brown? Why in heaven’s name had I made it?
I wished now that I had told Dad all I knew about Brown. I don’t believe Dad would have been soft—nor soft-headed, like me.
The name, Bill Brown. And knowing he’d had Dad’s suitcase full of the money, or some of it. I just couldn’t honestly believe Brown’s story about the suitcase being left with him by someone else. But why tell us all about it?
Because he felt sure we would have heard about it?
How could I let him just walk out the front door? Because I was so desperate for revenge, and he talked fancy about a gang and how they were going to get away? Was that the reason I lost my head?
I did know that if I let even one person who had a hand in it get away, I’d never rest. That Bill Brown must have realized it, too—the way he played his tune about letting a gang escape if we didn’t hire him.
Now here I stood, like a damn fool, waiting for him to turn his friends over to me. If they all got away together now wouldn’t I be proud of myself? More especially if someone got hurt or killed by the gun I’d given this Bill Brown?
Was Bill Brown just a fake name, as Fred Campbell had said? If so, why would that tramp use it here? He knew the police had it. Why didn’t he just make up another name, like Joe Black? Was he that dumb, to run around Dallas using a name he knew the police were after, when it was an alias to start with? Why? It just didn’t make sense. He didn’t seem to be too stupid, no matter what else he was. Did he just not give a damn? I got that impression, all right. A couple of times, just when I figured I had his hide nailed to the wall.
Coming here, of all places, and saying ‘I’m Bill Brown’! It would be simpler to go to the police station and borrow a sheet of note paper to write his confession on. I wonder why he brought Mary Ann home? Of course I’m glad that we found her! But why did Brown bring her? Why should he care if we never found her? Conscience? No, I didn’t think that was it. To make more money because Lieutenant Campbell got his share? That might be it. But, again, he wouldn’t have had to use the name Bill Brown for that.
Brown looked like a hungry wrestler with just slightly hunched shoulders. But I watched him closely, and he handled Mary Ann’s little body like he wouldn’t want God to think he was responsible for the slightest bruise. His face was frank enough, and almost handsome, in a rugged way; but how many crooks and murderers could you say that about? He said they had beat his head in —whoever they were—and his eyes seemed to brim with pain and trouble. But he didn’t show me any cuts or bruises or complain of any pain. I was afraid maybe I’d made an awful mistake, turning him loose in Dallas. Everything seemed to say he was the kidnapper, or one of them. Oh, I admit being with him in Dad’s bedroom had given me ideas I should be ashamed of, but knowing myself, and with all the excitement, that was to be expected—not surprising.
I walked tiredly back into the library and sat on the arm of Dad’s chair. I smoothed his hair back with one hand and started talking.
“Would you like to see Mary Ann, Dad?”
“No—Not Yet, Kay. I couldn’t yet—Do you remember what I did with that whip? The last one I made out at the ranch?”
“I can find it with no trouble, Dad. But—Right now there’s something else I want to talk about. Please, Dad.”
I told him the whole story; all I knew about Bill Brown. Dad was quiet when I finished. I waited, knowing he was looking at it as I had, trying to read Bill Brown from what he now knew. He stirred and took a deep breath through open lips.
“Well, Kay, there’s no way to be sure. Is there?”
“I’m not sure of anything, Dad; except that if I’ve done wrong, I’ll never forgive myself.”
“Forgive yourself? There’s no reason for that kind of talk. None a-tall. In a wrangle like this, you never know what’s right until it’s blown over, Kay.”
“Dad, do you think I should put the detectives back on the job? And tell the police?”
He considered it a long moment. “No. Neither bunch could find the Magnolia Building if you turned the lights off the flying horse. We’ll wait and see what happens.”
“I’m glad, somehow, that you said that, Dad.”
“Kay—it’s hard, this—loss. I never should have moved you all to town. It’s my fault. A ranch was the place for us.”
“Dad! Don’t ever say things like that—hush! You’re not to blame. It’s more my own fault.”
I interrupted him. We were both close to the breaking point, and a Dixon just wasn’t supposed to break. All Texas knew that.
“Never mind—I’ve lots to do now, Dad. I’m going to call Lieutenant Campbell first.” The lieutenant had said he was working round the clock, so I dialed police headquarters. It was a good thing I didn’t need him in a hurry. Having to wait so long made me less sorry about throwing him off the track. He finally answered.
“Lieutenant, Mary Ann is home,” I told him. “Yes, they did—the worst. Some man brought her in. No, he didn’t give his name. I was under great shock, naturally. And I gave him a reward. Five hundred—I don’t know—he left here walking, I think. I can’t remember if I heard a car—Well, he said he wasn’t interested in publicity—Hold him? Now, Lieutenant, how could I hold him?—I couldn’t say for sure; but I don’t think so. He said he wasn’t one of them, anyway—No, I’m afraid I couldn’t even describe him. He was here such a short time, and under the circumstances I just—Yes—Yes—Yes, of course I realize now if we had cooperated with you sooner things might be different, but—I’m sorry, that’s the best I can do! Really, Lieutenant, I feel so little like talking at all. You know it’s hard for me to talk about it; even to you. But I felt it was a duty that couldn’t—I’m awfully sorry, but I must go— I’ve so much to do now, and these next hours will be very difficult for us. So if you don’t mind—Good-by, Lieutenant.”
My report hadn’t been all lies, at any rate. I’d have to manage alone.
When Martha Jane had phoned me from the fair that she had lost Mary Ann, I told her not to come back to the house until she heard from me. And knowing Dad’s temper, I’d sent the rest of the servants home, too. Dad was wonderful to his family, always; but he was a cold, brittle sample of terror to anyone else when he was in a rage.
I couldn’t understand how in the world Martha Jane had lost Mary Ann in broad daylight. Like many of her superstitious race she had been so scared, she had cried and moaned into the phone so hysterically, I couldn’t get any details about what had happened. Just that Mary Ann was lost, gone.
But somebody was going to pay for this rotten deal, if I had to spend every oil well and every head of cattle we owned. Whoever paid wouldn’t enjoy the method of collection, either. In all my years on the range, I had never seen any man as skillful with a bull whip as Dad was. I saw him use one on a cowboy once when I was about sixteen.
The hand had let his romance turn from guitar strumming to mauling me around quite a bit before I got away from him and ran into the house crying and yelping, with my denim shirt in tatters. The rest of the boys caught him before he got to the border and brought him back a few days later. Dad had been judge and jury, and the punishment still makes me shudder. But it had been thrilling and exciting, too. When the rash cowboy was able to travel again the boys escorted him to the border he had tried to make the first time. I felt sorry for him.
But I knew I would thrill at the sight of these kidnappers getting a taste of the whip! I went to the closet off the back hall and found the whip and took it to Dad. He fondled the short heavy handle, and I could guess his thoughts. With just a suggestion of motion he flicked the long lash across the room into the corner, like a striking snake. It was uncanny, his easy command of that writhing, searching coil. Deep inside me I felt a surge of fear mixed with pleasure.
“Thank you, Kay. Feels good in my hand again—Will you take care of the funeral arrangements, and call everybody that should know?”
“Don’t worry, Dad. I’ll take care of things.”
“I hate to ask you to shoulder these burdens.”
“Never mind. We’ll find those men sooner or later, and I’ll get as much satisfaction out of it as you will.”
He didn’t answer, and I went to my room to spare him from hearing the calls I’d have to make.
The undertaker was prompt in coming, and left with Mary Ann. Except for insisting on an evening funeral, which he objected to, I left most of the details up to him. A reminder that it was my grief, my wish, and my money, stopped his objections.
I called the newspapers and gave them bare essentials. They would distort everything anyhow; so the less they had to work on the less they could sensationalize. They weren’t satisfied; but I hung up when they had what I decided to give them.
At last I was through. I soon began to feel lost, with nothing else that needed doing.
I showered and changed into a tailored linen suit just to kill time. I went down to the kitchen and browsed around, trying to think of something nice to fix for Dad. I fixed a bowl of beef broth and took it to him. He didn’t want it, and as I threw it out I wondered if he would remember I had offered it to him.
I perked some coffee, drank a few swallows and poured the rest of the cupful into the sink. Then I went back up to my room. The inactivity was maddening. I doubted that Dad would stir for hours. I read the first sentence in a book four times and threw it across the room. I was listening for something and I wasn’t at all sure what. I thought I’d like to have a report from Bill Brown, whether or not he was on our side; but I didn’t really believe I’d ever see him again until I tracked him down.
I went downstairs and Dad was just the way I had left him; but the tip of the lash was in a different corner. I tried to think of more phone calls I should make, but I couldn’t think of anyone. I opened the front door and looked out into the dusk and closed the door again. The house seemed so big and empty! I walked into the den and fixed myself a drink, but I had no taste for it and left it warming on the bar.
Not a sound in the whole house. I started back up to my room, but stopped because I knew there was nothing in there I hadn’t picked up and put down again.
I sat down on the bottom step of the stairs. This quiet house was terrible, with Dad so upset and Mary Ann lying dead in some cold room in the funeral parlor.
A mean feeling took hold of me, a sudden yearning for pain, physical pain. Who would hurt me? There was no one around to even talk to me. I needed to be mauled, raped—anything to stop the vicious craving I felt inside.
I leaned against the staircase and forced my right breast between two of the posts, under the top rail. The space between was a tight fit. The pressure felt nice around my flesh. I hunched forward and downward, squeezing my breast into the narrower space lower down, where the posts were bigger around. I twisted my body as much as I could and the pain was nearly brutal. I flipped my skirt up to my waist and dug my fingers deep into the soft flesh of my upper inside thighs, pinching as hard as I could grip and digging my nails in, all the while punishing my captive breast between the posts. In a few short moments I felt better. I knew as I released myself from the staircase I’d be bruised. I didn’t give a damn. I’d gotten some relief for my screaming nerves.
I tried to straighten out my clothes and looked at the front door until it blurred. I felt a new kind of pain and discovered I was almost biting through my lower lip. I thought of Mother, and was so glad she wasn’t alive to know our heartache over little Mary Ann. I thought of Mary Ann and the way she had looked in her little red suit and how excited and cheerful she was when she left to go to the fair. Why hadn’t I gone with her? Was I too sophisticated to be seen walking up and down a Midway? I couldn’t take it. I began to cry. One Dixon had broken.
I DON’T know what got Junior in such a hurry when we left out of the bus station. I was half-running to keep up with his long legs. He hollered at a taxi, and when it pulled up we jumped in.
I lean’t back, hoping whatever came off it would work out, so’s we could get out to them fair grounds again. The taxi driver asked us for a address.
“Just you start driving,” Junior said. “Straight down this here street and take the turns I tell you.”
The driver’s shoulders moved up and down once, and he done like Junior said. Junior told him the turns. I didn’t try to watch where we was going. I didn’t care, we-was riding.
After while Junior told the driver to stop at a drugstore ahead of us. He paid the man and waited till he drove off. I looked around and seen we was in a real pretty neighborhood. All the streets was curved like a race track, with houses set way back from the streets. All the grass looked smooth as a cue ball. Wasn’t a weed in sight.
“Come on,” Junior said.
“You coming, Donald?”
“Well, sure, Junior, but we had a ride. Now we got to walk?”
“Donald. If you and old El could ask as many questions before you git into trouble as you do when I’m a-trying to straighten it out, we wouldn’t be here. Walking ain’t much trouble—the trouble’s at the end of the walking.”
So we started down the sidewalk and walked one block and about half of another one. Junior stopped quick and I bumped into him. He had a frown on his face. “You see El’s old LaSalle anywheres, Donald?” I looked every whichaway but there wasn’t no cars on the street.
“Naw, I cain’t see it. Where’s it at?
“That’s just it. I left it right in front of that there big house. The one with them tall white posts.”
“Well, it ain’t there now, Junior. Does it matter?”
He looked mad enough to eat tenpenny nails and cussed a blue streak. I moved away from Junior. He spun around and started back towards the drugstore. I followed along behind.
“We should of kept the taxi,” Junior told me. “Now we got to wait for a bus to git back downtown.”
Heck, I had wanted to keep it all the time, but I was scared to say so.
We waited a few minutes at the drugstore till a bus come along, and we got on. Junior was so quiet it didn’t seem like him. Worried, I reckon. I couldn’t figger out why; and I felt like it was part my fault.
I wished I could tell him I was sorry for being such a danged fool with Madge and pert-nigh losing my money to her. I wasn’t sure if it would make him feel better or make him mad to remind him. It ain’t good to bother my brother when he’s so quiet.
Me and El had got him in a lot of trouble. He must of been pretty tired of trying to keep us out of hot water. But it does look like me being his brother he could of told me what we was going to do. He never said nothing. First thing I knew we was back in town again.
Junior signaled the bus driver that we wanted off. When we was afoot again, he got us another taxi, only this time he told the driver where to take us.
“Which one, buddy?”
“The one next to that there newspaper building—and don’t buddy me! I ain’t got no friends in this here town.”
At the bus station Junior paid him and give him a mean look; then we went into the station. Junior looked over where we had left El waiting on the man Junior was hunting. El wasn’t there. We walked all over the station. No El nowhere.
“Come on,” Junior told me.
Outside the station he took the first taxi. I was feeling good again, with him grabbing taxis every time we got near one. Sure makes a difference when you get used to having money. I snuggled my bag up closer to me. I was right glad when Junior told this driver where we was going.
“Fairgrounds—the shortest way.”
It was about dark and I was thinking how pretty the fair would be all lit up. Junior was a mite more cheerful, too. Reckon he was glad he didn’t find El. That meant the feller had come back to meet El, and El must of took him out to the Twirly Whip to wait on us.
When the driver got us out there, I thought we was going to have some trouble. Junior had made him go to the truck gate and the feller at the gate wasn’t going to let us in the grounds with the taxi without we could show him a pass from some old association. I started to get out but Junior pushed me back.
Then he run a mighty smooth bluff on that gatekeeper. Acting real friendly, Junior swore to the man that he was the mainest part of a hillbilly band and that we was twenty minutes late right now for a important show. On top of that, Junior was holding a ten-dollar bill out to the man between his fingers. The man must of believed Junior. He took the money and waved us on in.
Junior made the driver go on in and drive around. We got away from the brightest parts, and anyhow you cain’t drive close to the Midway. In a few minutes Junior seen what he was hunting. He made the driver circle back up a street we had just come down.
“We’ll git out by that there opera house.”
“I think that one’s closed, Mister. The open air show is—”
“Feller, if you want to git paid, stop this here taxi where I tell you!”
The driver wanted to git paid, and he let us out right where Junior said. I’d rather of got out where I could get me a hot dog and maybe ride the Twirly Whip, but I wasn’t doing none of my wishing out loud. Junior paid the driver and the taxi drove off. We stood there holding onto our bags of money while Junior looked around.
“Donald. This here’s a opera house and it’s all closed up. Nobody here a-tall. Right over yonder is some trees. See? It’s good and dark in them trees. That’s the place I want to talk to that there feller what stole El’s money, if we find him. Don’t forgit this here spot. I got to figger out some way to git him down here.”
“Well, Junior, cain’t we go on over to the Midway? We can git us something to eat first; then we can go see if El’s got the feller where he’s supposed to meet us.”
“Ain’t no time for no eatin I We’re going straight to the Twirly Whip.”
But Junior didn’t cut over to the Midway from where we was. He just went right up the street we was on. We went past a place that was just a big high fence all around except where the ticket window and entrance was. I could hear music coming over the sides, and singing, and it sure sounded pretty floating out in the hot night air. Wasn’t no hillbilly music. I wished I could go in.
“This must be that open air place,” I told junior.
The big signs out front said SHOWBOAT—finest operetta of the season. Junior just grunted and turned off to cut across the grass towards the Midway. We kept out of sight and moved up behind a hot dog stand where we could see across to the Twirly Whip. I was so hungry the smell of them hot dogs was about driving me wild. But just then I seen what Junior had already saw.
El was standing over there with a big man in a white shirt holding a coat over his arm. Lots of people was walking up and down the Midway between us and them, hollering and laughing. The man with El was rubbing the sides of his head with his fingers. Every little bit he’d say something to El. I don’t know what he was saying, but each time he talked I thought El was going to run for the gates.
I wasn’t scared none. The feller wasn’t much bigger than Junior and the way my brother was feeling, I sort of felt sorry for that thief. That feller with El would have to go some to be as mean as Junior when he was mad, and he was awful mad right now.
“Come back here, Donald!”
That was the first I knew my nose had been pulling me around towards the hot dog counter. Junior yanked me back of the building out of sight.
“Listen to me now, and forgit them dang hot dogs till we git this here mess straightened out!”
“All right, Junior. What’ll I do?”
“Just what I tell you. Listen. I’m going back down the street to them trees I showed you. You got to give me five-six minutes to git set. Then you git on over to El and that stranger and say I’m ready to talk, but I don’t want to git out in the lights.”
“Okay, Junior. Go on down to the trees.”
“That ain’t all—keep listening. You lead them down to where I’m at. When y’all git there we’ll start talking. When I scratch my head we’ll all pile on that feller and git him down. When he’s down I’ll fix his clock—with my blackjack, so’s it won’t make no noise. After we git it out of him where he’s hid El’s money, that is. Now, you got it straight?”
I nodded my head.
“How straight you got it? Tell it back to me.”
I did, just like he told it to me. He told me that was pretty good and he lit a shuck down towards them trees.
Six minutes, Junior said, so I had plenty time to get a hot dog. I put a lot of mustard on it to make it twice’t as good. Then I started across to where El was standing, eating my hot dog and watching that big feller. He even looked bigger when I come close.
“Hi, El,” I said.
I didn’t like the way that other feller looked at me. Guess he never liked me too much. Nor nobody.
“You’re not Junior, the brain, are you?” he asked me.
“Me? Shucks no, mister—I’m just Donald.”
El looked mighty worried. The big guy swung around towards him and El throwed his hands up between them.
“Hold your horses, now, mister,” El said, “till I find out where Junior’s went.”
“Thirty seconds. After that you won’t be able to hear about Junior. You’ll be wondering what else can happen to you.”
“Donald, where’s Junior?” El was whining like a old hound caught chasing the chickens. “Tell him, Donald, quick—where’s Junior? This here feller ain’t got no pity on nobody. Tell him. Hurry up and tell him!”
“Sure, El.” I looked at the stranger and laughed. “You may not be so awful glad to find him, mister.”
Next thing I knew my hot dog was mashed all over my face. Mustard squirted everywheres. In my eyes and hair and on my new clothes, and it stung my eyes as bad as onion juice will. I wiped at it with tears running out of my eyes, and backed away from him. El caught me and helped me. He taken my handkerchief out of my hip pocket and wiped me off. When I could see again, I seen some of the mustard on my money bag and started to clean it off. El even done that for me, talking all the time.
“Donald, for gawd’s sake tell the man what he wants to know, boy! He’s the meanest one man I ever seen. Don’t rub him the wrong way, son—no telling what he’ll do to both of us.”
I figgered maybe El was right.
“Junior’s waiting on us, Mister. He told me to tell you he’ll listen to what you got to say. He sent me after you and El.”
“That’s better. Where?”
He was blinking at me like a owl in the sunshine, like his eyes was burning as bad as mine. I thought maybe he was going crazy. Must of been, if he was planning to take Junior’s money. I stayed away from him.
“I’ll show you where, Mister. You got to go with me.”
“We’re wasting time, Donald, my boy. You two go in front. I’ll just tag along behind.”
So with him follering I started off, walking in behind the hog dog stand. Them hot dogs didn’t smell so good no more. I cut across the grass, with El walking beside me.
“Where’s Junior at?” he asked me.
I looked over my shoulder but the big guy was about fifteen yards back.
“He’s down yonder in some trees by a opera house.”
I hadn’t no more than got them words out of my mouth when my bag of money tore right out of my hand!
I hollered, and I seen the stranger hotfooting it across the street and toward that open air show place with the big fence around it. He stopped at the ticket window and was buying a ticket just as cool as you please. After stealing my bag with all my money! I hollered at him again and run towards him, with El right behind me. The feller had his ticket and was going up them steps about four at a time. I had to get me a ticket, too, or I wouldn’t get in to catch him. I shoved El to one side and went towards the ticket window.’ El started fumbling in his pockets.
“Don’t foller me, El, you crazy fool! Go down yonder and fetch Junior!”
El turned and started running to them trees after Junior.
“I want a seat right alongside of the man that just went in,” I said. “He’s a uncle of mine.”
She give me a ticket and I had to pay full price for it. I knew the show had been going on quite a spell, but there wasn’t no time to argue.
I went on in and never seen the feller with my bag nowheres. I was still looking for him when a girl come up and taken my ticket. She led me with a little old flashlight to where my seat was and pointed at it. Sure enough, I set right down next to the feller.
He didn’t seem a-tall surprised. Just kept watching the show, like he was a honest man and had been there all the time! I reached for my bag and he slapped my hand. He moved the bag on the other side of his feet and went on watching the stage.
“You give me that bag!” I told him.
He never answered me, but a old biddy setting in back of me shushed me, right in the ear, “Sh-h-h!”
I shushed for a little; but I wanted that there bag, same as anybody else would have. I was going crazy wanting to get my hands on my money again.
“Mister, that’s my bag you got there,” I whispered.
He turned his head just a little bit and said “Sh-h-h-sh!” so loud I jumped. And the man in front of me turned around and give me a terrible disgusted look. I felt like crying, it all made me so mad.
They all turned back to watch the show and I could see there wasn’t no use trying. He wasn’t going to give it back just on account of me asking for it. And if I didn’t stay quiet, them other people would have me throwed out. That was what he was after, I figgered. A few of the people’s heads kept turning to me like they just wanted one more peep out of me, so what could I do? Well, he wasn’t going to outsmart me!
I just lean’t back and watched the stage myself. After all I’d paid for the show; and I could count on Junior to rake care of the man with my bag just as soon as El brung him All I had to do was set tight and watch him and wait for my brother to come. He’d make this big bully sorry he ever seen Dallas!
IT was gay on the Midway.
A poor man’s Santa Monica—everything except ocean and cool breezes. The roar of the damned Twirly Whip magnified the pain in my head while I watched the stupid people passing by.
These Dallasites worked at being a cosmopolitan clan. The women were all fully dressed, lots of them with hats and gloves. I thought of the sensible shorts and halter of the California female bent on recreation.
Sweat. Running down my face, down my back. Gradually saturating the twigs in the tweed of my pants. Under my shirt the gun was sticky against my stomach. The tweed jacket lolled heavily across my arm like a passed-out drunk. I was sick of waiting, but I couldn’t think what I’d do if the other kidnappers did show. This wasn’t the best place to start fireworks.
I gave the fat man beside me a hard time.
“Pop, what makes your nose so big and ugly?”
“You hadn’t ought to josh me about my nose, Mister. Not after what you done to it. It’s hurting me, something awful.”
“If your partners don’t show in about five minutes, it’ll hurt you a lot more.”
“Now wait a minute, mister. It ain’t my fault if they ain’t here in five minutes! Junior said he’d come and he will, all right. But he never said what time.”
“I said. Five minutes—then nose, look out.”
It worried him. Well, I felt like passing some of it along. Brown, you’re a mean man. I tried to shift the pain around, rubbing hard on my temples.
Then a kid coming toward us was giving me a close inspection. In one hand he carried an expensive hand-tooled bag, and in the other a foot-long hot dog was dripping mustard into his sleeve. From his interest in me and the way Fatso stiffened beside me, I pegged him for one of the pair I was gunning down.
If my guess was right I could go farther and picture his leather bag being lined with folding stuff. Except that his eyes were shifty, he looked like anything but a criminal. He seemed a bit under the weather. His face was pasty white with sprinkled paprika cheeks, and his eyes were two blood-covered lemon drops. Perhaps his financial success had led to a recent celebration.
A couple of witty questions on my part established he wasn’t Junior, the ringleader. So this was Donald. The sore-nosed farmer tried to get Donald to rat on his brother. The kid cracked wise and I mashed the hot dog into his face. It made a bit of a mess. It also loosened his tongue and he offered to lead me to Junior. I made them go in front and I followed at what I hoped was a safe distance.
They crossed the Midway, and a strip of lawn to the next street, and turned left. There was only one lighted area in the direction they were leading me. I had little or no intention of being decoyed beyond that light and silhouetting my bulk against it to furnish Junior with target practice. My scrambled brain began to grind out a glimmer of a plan. We were nearing an amphitheater, which was the source of the light. The plan crystallized.
I swooped to the side of young Donald, gathered his bag into my arm, and double-timed it across the street. At the ticket cage I slapped down a five-dollar bill.
The caged angel slid a ticket out to me. I bounded up the steps and into the darkness around the audience, regretting that I had to transact all my business with the home-grown beauties under such adverse circumstances. They were all so friendly, too. Except Miss Dixon.
An usherette took me to my seat and left me with the rumbling bass notes of Old Man River to vie with the rest of my aches and pains. I sat quietly a moment, watching the aisles in hope of seeing Donald and his red-nosed friend follow me into the audience. I would lead them back to the foyer for a conference on Junior’s whereabouts and his plans for my immediate future. It did occur to me that this brilliant idea could fizzle into the biggest mistake of my life if they went for Junior instead and sealed the exits of my little hideaway tighter than an Egyptian tomb. Then they could simply wait for me to walk into their-loving arms.
I wasn’t even sure I had guessed right about Donald’s bag being loaded with loot. I started to check it, but it wasn’t necessary.
Less than a minute after I sat down, the usherette brought Donald down the aisle and put him in the seat next to mine. I knew nothing would persuade him to be that reckless except a wild desire to regain his part of those ill-gotten greenbacks. I ignored him and waited a brief instant to see if the hick had been sucked into the trap with him. He hadn’t, which rather upset me. He probably went to get Junior. Donald was upset too, and he reached for the bag between my feet. I rapped his hand and moved the bag a little further out of his reach. “Sh-h-h-sh!”
He gave up quickly, got quiet, and just sat waiting and watching me. The old man playing the blustering showboat captain on the stage was having himself a time. I had a fleeting wish that I was on a showboat myself, pulling into New Orleans—maybe with a plane waiting. But that wouldn’t get me anywhere. I had to get out of here before Junior arrived or I might never leave the fairgrounds under my own power.
I got up and squeezed past Donald, holding the bag well out of his reach. “Excuse me.” Maybe there was time, if Junior delayed long enough to worm the whole story out of old red-nose before taking steps to close the trap. It seemed longer, but from the brief progress of the scene on stage I knew Donald couldn’t have been with me more than two or three minutes at the most.
Donald got up and followed me out to the lobby. I paused at the water fountain, quickly washed down a couple of pain powders, and wondered how long it had been since that gorgeous cashier had told me to hurry back. I hadn’t lost Donald, but he was hanging back, not getting too close.
I dodged through a side exit and out into the street. Donald’s shadow followed along, not close enough for me to grab. I went toward the lighted Midway in a hurry, expecting something unpleasant every step, like a bullet in the back or a flying tackle. Where was Junior? Nothing happened.
Outside the nearest exit from the grounds I found traffic, and in the traffic I found a cab. It backed up when I whistled.
“Wait just one minute. I’ll have company, I think. Keep the engine running.”
I left the door open and didn’t even look out the window. It was less than a minute. Donald stuck his head in the door.
“Where you going with my suitcase?”
“Want to find out?”
He hesitated. I could read the struggle in his face, as if it had been printed: what would happen to him if his brother found out that I had escaped from him? If I did get away, how would he ever see his precious bag again?
It turned out he was less afraid of me than of Junior, or else the money was a most powerful magnet. He got in the cab unassisted, scrambling to the far corner of the seat. His eyes were as wide as double doors.
“Highland Park,” I said to the driver.
I relaxed as he moved smoothly out into the traffic, professionally, like a good male cabbie anywhere.
FINALLY I had cried myself out. No more tears would come, and it seemed that only made the aching worse inside me. My lungs felt so dry and stuffy, and the tightness in my throat just stuck there and could no longer release itself in crying.
I thought it might help a little to bathe my face and throat in cold water; but I guess I just didn’t care enough to move. Thoughts of Mary Ann and Mother and Dad crowded everything else out of my mind. Everything else except the terrible thing I had let happen to my little sister. I tried concentrating on the wrinkles setting in the sleeves and skirt of my suit, trying to guess how long it had taken, sitting here bawling like a motherless calf, for my clothes to wrinkle up so much. I tugged my skirt down where it belonged and tried to smooth out part of the wrong-way creases.
When the chimes rang softly, I felt a surge of hope and relief. With someone at the door, I’d have to move. Dad wouldn’t pay any attention; he probably wouldn’t even hear the chimes. Maybe it would be Brown, but I doubted that. More likely Fred Campbell, I thought.
The ringing continued while I made myself get up. I wiped damp strands of hair away from my face and eyes as I made my way to the door, gave my suit a final smoothing down and opened the door.
It was Brown, after all; and he had someone else with him. I moved my eyes away from Brown’s haggard-looking face and glanced at the other man. It wasn’t a man, at all, just a boy. I waited for Brown to explain the scared kid in the stained suit.
“The gang got scattered,” he said.
I tried to connect his words. This kid, and the tough gang I had hired him to bring in; but I couldn’t make any sense out of it.
“Oh,” I said, “they did?”
He went on talking like it was all very easy to understand. “So I decided to bring one at a time, Miss Dixon. Donald here was handy, and cooperative, so I brought him first.”
It finally dawned on me what Brown was trying to say. He wanted to sell this poor kid off as one of the kidnappers!
You’re trying to tell me that boy is one of the gang of murderers I hired you to catch?” I laughed in his race.
“I was rather lucky, Miss Dixon. If you’ll let us in, as agreed in our contract, we’ll see what’s in this bag I took away from that boy, as you call him.” He held up a large leather grip and pushed the kid through the door ahead of him with his other hand.
I closed the door and led the way to the library, thinking that Brown took Dad and me to be pretty gullible. I announced our arrival to Dad, who still sat quietly by the large garden window.
“Mr. Brown’s back, Dad. He thinks he has one of the gang—” Dad turned and watched them enter, with more life in his eyes than I had seen all day. I thought he was in for a big disappointment before this visit was over.
“Sit right over there, Donald,” Brown said. He motioned, and the boy sidled over to the chair in a circle that took him beyond Brown’s reach. The chair was at the end of the big desk; and Donald propped himself on the front edge, twisting nervously. He watched as Brown unzipped the bag, and I thought there were tears brimming in the kid’s eyes. I didn’t know what to think of it. Donald looked like any average, nice boy off the farm.
Brown turned the leather grip upside down over the desk, and I was certainly surprised to see it pour packages of currency in a spreading pile before us. I looked at Dad and saw him jerk his eyes away from Donald, glance at freckled face distorted in honor. Words came—fast, high-pitched.
I liked her, I tell you! I never done anything to her! I bought her ice cream and was good to her, and she was a-calling me Uncle—”
I heard the short sibilant sound ending in a cruel, wet snap; and I blinked my eyes at the suddenness of it. A wretched scream broke from Donald’s throat and echoed through the library. Dad’s movement had been a blur, but the money, then look bleakly at Brown.
“Just a minute,” I said. “How do we know the boy and the bag go together, Brown? You didn’t pick them up separately and then put them together, did you?”
“My God, Miss Dixon—” Brown whirled and glared fiercely at Donald. “How much did the bag cost you, Donald?”
“A hundred—” The boy saw then that he could have denied it, and also that now it was too late. His voice was a whisper as he said, “dollars.”
“All right, Kay,” Dad said. “That’s good enough for me.” He nodded towards the money on the desk and spoke to Brown. “Is that all of it, Mr. Brown?”
Brown’s head did a half-shake. “Only part, Mr. Dixon. His part.” He pointed at Donald with his thumb. Then Brown reached for the edge of the pile and took out a bundle of twenties. “And this is my part of his part. He’s alive.” He smiled and said, “The bonus.”
Fees were not in Dad’s mind as his eyes bore holes across the room at the squirming kid on the chair. His knuckles gleamed white around the whipstock. A shock ran down my spine and it was hard for me to name it. Pleasure, or dread? Dad spoke.
“So you didn’t get away with it, huh, boy?”
“N-no s-sir. Reckon not.”
The outright admission startled me. I had at least expected him to blurt out a denial. But maybe the boy thought Dad was speaking of getting away with the money.
“Why did you kill my little girl, boy?” Dad’s voice was cold and soft.
Donald licked his lips, looked at Dad, dropped his eyes again. A picture of guilt if I could recognize one. I resolved that I would enjoy whatever was coming now. No matter what my dreams might be afterward. The kid started lying then, too late.
“I didn’t hurt her, mister, honest I never! Nary hair of her head. It wasn’t me what done it!” The words tumbled out of his mouth in fear.
“Why did you do it?” The same chill tone stayed in Dad’s voice. The tension in his hand caused his arm to move slightly and attracted Donald’s eye to the whip for the first time. He cringed back against the chair with his I was watching Donald. I saw the blood spurt from the two halves of his upper lip. It quickly flooded his chin. The lip was split up into one side of his nose and laid back bright and ugly on both sides. He screamed again and his hands were red and slick from trying to hold back the flow.
I forced my thoughts to Mary Ann, choked and bruised and broken, and stifled all compassion for the boy. I knew I should be ashamed, but excitement started building up in me, and I intended to see it to whatever point Dad intended to carry it. Calling him Uncle! Poor Mary Ann. Such a friendly and trusting child, he might really have had her calling him Uncle just before she was killed!
That had come in a gagging voice from Brown, who was standing beside me. A lot of the tan was gone from his craggy cheeks. He stared as if he couldn’t believe his eyes, first at Dad, then back at Donald.
Donald finally got himself under a little better control and started trying to plead with Dad. His eyes, streaming tears, begged for mercy. His tongue tried to push words out and crimson bubbles built up and burst on the wreckage of his mouth.
“Just a minute, Dad,” I said. I raised my voice. “Donald, is this man Brown here a friend of yours? Did he help steal my little sister, help kill her?”
The boy shook his head between sobs. Well, could I or could I not believe that? Did he understand clearly what I asked? I had no time to go through it with him again.
Crack! Dad’s whip crashed through the air again.
The whip went into the flesh under the kid’s left eye, tearing a mushy hole. The eyeball was almost torn out. Donald jerked erect with a wounded animal’s yelp, then fell off his chair in a dead faint.
Brown started yelling at Dad.
“Goddammit, Dixon!” He started toward Dad. “Give me that whip—there’ll be no—”
“Brown! Get out! Now!”
Brown hesitated. Their eyes met in a wicked cross-challenge. I knew Brown thought of his gun, and wanted to try to take the whip away from Dad. I sort of hoped he wouldn’t do either. He turned suddenly and walked quickly out into the hall. I followed right behind him and shut the door. He was leaning against the wall, with his eyes closed and perspiration glistening on his face.
“What did you expect?”
He whirled on me. “Miss Dixon, I’ve been around. I’m a cop—or was. I’ve watched, yes, and even helped, the toughest policemen in the country take confessions from men determined not to talk. When I was sure we were right and the crime was serious. I’ve been through the mill. But in there—I just got plain sick.”
“I know,” I told him. So he was or had been a policeman!
“You know nothing! That boy could easily be killed in there.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it.”
“Your father will burn—on my testimony—if he dies. Don’t you understand that?”
“I do doubt that, Mr. Brown. This is still Texas, you know.”
“I’ll be damned if I stay here and see a kid whipped to death!”
He started for the front door. I didn’t want him to go. I wanted to learn more about him.
“Wait! I’ll go with you.”
“No you won’t. I’m going after the rest of them.”
“Don’t argue, please. Wait out front. I’ll bring a car around.”
He went through the door. My keys were in my purse in the library. I took a deep breath, opened the door, and walked over and picked up the purse. The scene was still the same. Donald was lying where he had fallen and Dad was glaring at him. I took a good look at Donald and turned to leave.
“I’m leaving for a while, Dad. To help Bi—Mr. Brown.”
“Good luck, Kay. But be careful.”
I hurried out the back door. I crossed the garden to the garage and unlocked the Cad convertible, ran the top down, and drove around to the front. He had waited, but he wasn’t happy.
“I’ll drive,” he said.
“I’ll drive,” I said.
“Okay, Okay!” He got in and almost pulled the door through the side after him. The man was sore. He was used to having his way, I supposed. I waited, saying nothing.
“Donald’s pals are probably waiting for me. Somewhere around the summer amphitheater at the fairgrounds. My small problem is to persuade one or both to join me.”
“Join us.” I laid my hand on his thick forearm. “I’ll help you, Bill.”
He moved his arm. “Thanks.” He didn’t expect much help from me. “You can drive me to the gate and then you can stay out of it.”
“No. I’ll drive you to where you think they are.”
“Fat chance. The fair is no public scenic drive. You don’t take the family bus right in with you.”
“A few families do. The Dixon family does. A fair on the Texas scale takes a big slice of financing. Galin Dixon is one of the names on the honor roll of the State Fair Association.”
“So—do the guards know you?”
“They know the state seal on the letter of special privileges in my purse.”
I waited while he digested our privileged ranking.
“Donald’s partners won’t expect me to arrive in such luxury. Maybe I could surprise them and get this .45 leveled on one—preferably Junior—and march him into your car.”
“If so, you can drive back while I control his emotions. He’s dangerous. But it’s just stupid enough to work, driving up and saying hello that way.”
“It sounds simple.”
“It is. So am I. If anything goes wrong and Junior sees Donald like I saw him—it’s not too late for you to get out and stay home with all the doors locked.”
“I’m going with you, Bill.”
“Well, drive! Don’t just park here. Move it out!”
I did, but too fast; and his head bounced backward. He groaned and held both hands over his face.
“Dear God! Deliver me from Dallas—and women drivers!”
WHEN I was shore my brother Donald knowed just what to do I moseyed on back to them trees and hid. All I had to do was wait on that greedy feller to come and poke his nose into my business for the last time.
I figgered to turn his damper down for good. He must of had a awful hard head to git over that blackjacking I done give him without going to a hospital. I’d be real shore he wouldn’t never wake up this time.
He hadn’t made nothing off of me, nohow. But he shore was hell on El. As long as him and El was both around they was liable to gum up my business most anytime.
If I could find out what he done with El’s money, I didn’t know if I’d give El any of it or not. Come to think of it, bringing that stranger to the fairgrounds was the first thing El hisself done right since we come to Texas.
I hadn’t waited long when I heard a flap-flapping noise. Sounded like loose corners of a tarp over a truck-load of cotton, a-whipping in the wind. I got behind a big tree and taken out my blackjack. I soon seen what it was.
Old El, running with his tongue hanging out and his big feet making them slapping noises. He come tearing into them trees lickety-high-cut, yelling my name over and over.
The fool! I should of let him bust his brains out on a limb. But I couldn’t; I wanted to know what he was so rambunctious about. When he come close to the tree where I was standing, I slung out my foot and tripped him up. He plowed the ground head first and come up a-danging everything in sight. I kicked him in the fat of his rump.
“Quit yore cussing, El.”
One good look at his face and I knowed him or Donald had done got me in some more trouble. Like I never had plenty awready. They kept a-piling my load bigger and bigger. But Donald was my brother. El wasn’t no kin of mine. I taken holt of his ear and twisted him up onto his feet, him squawking like a stubborn old setting hen shoved off her nest.
“Shut up before I give you something to holler about. Where’s that there feller was with you? What happened up yonder?”
“Dang it, boy, gimmie a chance! That man done took Donald’s money away from him!”
I watched him rub his ear and wipe his nose. So Donald had finally managed to give away his part of the reward. God knowed he’d been a-trying to. Just like El. Maybe it was catching! El’s underwear ripped when I grabbed a handful of his chest and shook him back and forth.
“You derned old fool! Tell me what’s going on!” I was blind mad, and scairt I’d bash his head in before he could tell me.
“Now, wait a minute now Junior, dang it. All right! I’m a-telling it as fast as I can!—Everything was going fine. We was all on the way down here to find you. First thing we knowed that feller jerked Donald’s bag out of his hand! He got a head start on us and run right into that place up yonder with the lights in front, and he’s in there now.”
“Keep a-talking, El. Where’s my brother at while all this is going on?”
“He bought a ticket and follered him in, yelling at me to come and fetch you. He’ll probably stick to that feller like a tick on a jack rabbit.”
“It shore taken you long enough to say so! C’mon! Let’s git up there!”
I picked up my bag on the run and heard El trying to keep up with me. I begin to think maybe the big stranger was smarter than I’d give him credit for up to now. Leastways he never done things I figgered him to do, and he did have a nose for money.
I slid to a stop in front of the show and taken a good look around, trying to plan the best way of sitting to him and Donald. Wasn’t nobody in sight and the ticket window was closed. Reckon they quit selling tickets after Donald got his’n. El come up all petered out. He was pointing up the steps to show me where they went in—as if I never figgered that out first off.
“El. You stay right here with yore eyes peeled to make shore they don’t come out. And by God you better not miss nothing!”
I went on in. It was darker than pitch except up on the stage where the shindig was going on. There was bright lights up there on the people in the show. Out where people was setting they all looked alike. Just dim heads and shoulders. None of them moving a hair and all of them watching the stage like blinded cottontails looking into bright headlights.
Wasn’t no use walking up and down them rows a-looking. I went on back out to where El was waiting on me. Like always he started blabbing.
“Did you find ’em, Junior? You seen ’em, didn’t you?”
“I never looked.”
“Shut yore mouth, old man. Wasn’t for yore mouth, I’d be plumb shut of all this here mess now. Stand here and watch some more.”
I moseyed around the place both ways from the steps. Only found two ways to git out besides the front doors. There was a side door a little ways back on both sides. I figgered they might open them up when the show was over. Only three doors to watch. I knowed I could see everbody coming out the front and same time watch the door on the left side. If El couldn’t take care of that other side, he was even a bigger damn fool than what I thought.
“El. Come around here.”
“What you found, Junior?”
“A hole, fool. You’re gonna play like a big fat torn cat and watch the hole. From right here.”
El was flabbergasted, but I made it plain. I pointed to the door in the side of the fence.
“See that there door, El? If Donald or that other feller comes out, or both of them, you got to light a shuck around to that tree at the other side of the steps and git me. You understand?”
“Yeah, Junior—Yeah, I see what I got to do, but—”
“Shut up and commence yore watching. El, if they git past you, don’t you never let me catch up to you. You hear?”
I went back to my spot under the tree at the left side of them front steps and started watching and waiting, straining my eyes back and forth, front and side and back again. Time drug by like cold molasses. I leant my back against the tree trunk and shifted around every so often. I was standing in soft white sand, and I wanted to git barefooted and shuffle my hot feet around in it; but I was scairt I’d have to leave there in too big of a hurry to put them new shoes back on. I was plumb tuckered out, and I wondered if Donald and El would ever let me git our business straightened out enough to git me some shut-eye.
When all the clapping and whistling started inside the walls, I taken a big breath. The show was over, and now we’d git some action and see who was so dang smart. I had to watch close. Two out of three chances they’d come out one of my doors.
People come a-rolling out like ants deserting a hole in the ground, but I managed to git a look at every dern one. The crowd started thinning out after a short spell. I never seen hide nor hair of Donald or the feller with his money.
I figgered El to come high-tailing it after me any time. But he never come, neither.
Nobody else was coming out a-tall and lights started blinking off a few at a time. I was standing under the tree by myself, trying to think what went wrong. Then I heard El clomping up and I swung around.
“Whichaway did they go, El?”
“Ain’t you seen them neither, Junior? They never come out my—Junior! They never come out my side’, now— I’m shore of that! Don’t you try to say they—Honest, Junior, you seen them, didn’t you?”
“Iff’n I seen them would I be standing here listening to yore blabber? I’m going in for another look.”
I taken a good look all around inside. All I seen was bottles of all kinds, paper cups, popcorn sacks and such, scattered from hell to breakfast. I went on back out.
“They done give us the slip, El. You better pray when I find Donald he don’t say they come out on yore side.”
“Aw, Junior—Donald wouldn’t want to give you the slip, would he?”
“Naw he wouldn’t want to.”
“What we gonna do, Junior?”
“I ain’t got the slightest idee, El.”
El blinked at me and his mouth fell open. But I’d spoke the truth. I never had no idee a-tall. This Dallas was a awful big place with Donald lost somewheres in it. I never even knowed whichaway he went.
“You ain’t gonna let that feller keep our money, are you? Huh, Junior? You ain’t, are you?”
Looking at him and listening to him made me sicker to my stomach than worrying about Donald. I made up my mind once’t and for all.
“El, Goddammit, you git away from me—you hear me? I don’t never want to see you again! Git!”
“But Junior—What’s got into you? We’re friends, ain’t we? You’re joshing me!”
“Old man, do like I’m a-telling you while you can.”
“I swear, I cain’t figger you out, son. Where you want me to go?”
“El, I’m telling you to save yore fool life. Git away from me.
“Dang it, Junior, I cain’t go nowheres a-tall without no money. I ain’t even got a car no more since you taken it— and that’s all I ever did have, that there car. You know it, boy!”
I watched him. He was gonna bust out crying most any time. I helt myself off of him and unzipped my suitcase. I taken out a stack of fives and throwed them at him. He caught the little bundle one-handed.
He was blubbering when he walked away from me, scraping his big feet on the pavement. He never knowed how lucky he was, I reckon. Iff’n I ever seen El again he was a dead duck. I just couldn’t stomach him no more, not never. He’d brung me nothing but trouble, this here whole mess of trouble. I was glad it never taken him long to git out of my sight.
But with all that had happened to my plans to kill the big nosey stranger, and losing Donald and his money to boot, I felt lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut. I set down in the sand against the tree to rest a spell and try to figger out what to do. I put my bag of money between my feet and just set there brushing sand into little piles around me and then brushing them out flat again, and thinking. But like I told El, I still couldn’t git no idee of what to do or where to go. Seemed like all I could do was hang around here, so’s Donald could maybe come back and find me. I shore did hope so.
Pretty soon all them lights was out around the doors and it got so dark, about all I could see was the white sand around me. Everything was quiet as a graveyard in this part of the fairgrounds. I reckon I must of dozed off a little bit, setting there with my shoulders propped against the tree.
Then there was a gun barrel poking hard into the side of my neck. Funny how I knowed right off what it was, when I couldn’t even see it. Guess that’s something you just seem to know without being told. But I was told, besides.
“It’s a .45, Junior,” somebody behind me said. “If I were you and had all that loot, I’d have a room in one of the better hotels. All right, on your feet!”
I dug my hands deep into the soft sand on both sides of me and gripped a fistful of sand in them so hard my knuckles ached. Me, Junior Knowles, gitting trapped asleep, right off the sidewalk! I shore called myself some bad names while I got up and stood there with my fists in the air and waiting. I never looked around to try and see who was holding that there pistol. I awready had a dern good idy who it was. And I figgered my suitcase setting there had give me away, it being just like Donald’s which he had done took.
“Keep your hands higher, and take two steps forward-Now, hold it right there.”
He patted up and down on me and jerked my blackjack out of my hip pocket. Then he taken my pistol and the roll of bills Id been a-using to pay for little things that come up while we was chasing around this Dallas. He clucked his tongue, like at a little kid.
“Concealed weapons! The law wouldn’t like that, Junior.”
All I could think was how bad I wanted to kill him.
“Walk slow out to the curb, Junior. And just make one move I don’t like—I’ll carry your bag. You look a bit weary.”
I done just like that there feller said, holding my fists up high and walking slow and easy in the dark toward the street. He shore had him a mean voice. His gun wasn’t touching me no more, but my back skin wrinkled up while he talked. I figgered he’d just as soon bang a bullet into me as not. Now he had the whole fifteen thousand dollars I had made! I hated myself as bad as him, for not killing him the first time I laid eyes on him a-coming in that back window of that there tourist cabin.
When I was next to the curb out at the street, he said, “Hold it right there, Junior.” I stood still, and a big car with the top down come a-floating down the street in the dark without no lights on. It run through my mind that a man cain’t live forever nohow and it shore looked like my time to kick the bucket. Just a question of who done it, this here feller or them Dallas cops. Or I could even git hung by a mob iff’n the people in Dallas was mad enough about that little gal. I shore never wanted to git hung.
I turned a mite to one side, like I was looking at the car rolling up. But I twisted my head around slow to try to sneak a look at him. I figgered he just might take his eyes off’n me for a second to look at the car or maybe say something to the driver. And right then whoever was driving turned them car lights on. I seen him good, then.
He was close behind me and he blinked his eyes in them bright lights. Quick as a cat I throwed a fistful of sand in his eyes just as he opened them again. I jumped to one side when he started cussing and swinging at me blind with the gun barrel. He had dropped my money bag and was a-wiping at his eyes hard with his other hand. The driver must of seen what he done, cause the car lights was turned out just as I kicked the big feller in the groin. I heard the gun slide on the sidewalk when he dropped it and grabbed with both hands at where my shoe must of just about ruined him. He groaned something pitiful, but I never had time to finish him off right then.
I jumped back to the car and leaned over toward the driver and slung my other handful of sand into where I thought his face ought to be. It was a face there, awright, but it wasn’t no his. It was a hers and she was a-trying to open a purse in her lap when the sand blinded her. I grabbed the purse away from her and throwed it in the back behind her, and then I turned around and caught the other one just trying to git back on his feet. Slick as a whistle I swung a real haymaker at his jaw. He quit groaning and grunting and went down again like a pole-axed steer in a slaughter chute.
Still moving like greased lightning I felt along the edge of the sidewalk for his pistol. I found it easy and come up with it at the side of the car, sticking the end of it in the gal’s face. She had got most of the sand out of her eyes now and I seen how pretty she was, but I had just been too smart and fast for both of them. And now I was boss again in this here ruckus.
“Set there, gal. And just set there!”
I kept a eagle eye on her while I got my bag and throwed it behind her on the floor of the car. Then I drug the big smart aleck, who wasn’t smart enough to tangle horns with Junior Knowles, over to the curb. He groaned once’t, but he was helpless as a old cow in labor and derned near as heavy. Stuffing him in the back seat of the car was like manhandling a bale of cotton onto a wagon bed. I taken my blackjack and pistol and my roll of money out of the side pockets of his fancy coat. Then I got in beside the gal.
“Where’s Donald at, gal?”
She just lifted them slick eyebrows and said, “Donald? Who’s he?”
I turned around and whomped down on nosey’s head with the gun barrel. Maybe that would get better results than my blackjack had the last time. He quit moaning and got real quiet and the gal taken the hint.
“Where’s my brother at?’ I said, waving the pistol close to her face.
“He’s at my house.”
“That’s better, gal. Git moving! I got a hankering to see him.”
She started the big car and rolled it down the street. I tapped her on the shoulder with my gun and she cut her eyes at me. “One peep, gal, just one, will git you a bullet through yore pretty little stomach!”
She just nodded and rolled out the gate and started home.
When we stopped in front of the house with them big white posts I knowed the answer. Mr. Dixon had my brother Donald! Might of killed him for all I knowed. But most likely he was gonna turn him over to the police.
“Mr. Dixon yore paw, gal?”
She nodded and kept twisting around to look at the feller I was gonna kill.
“Anybody here besides him and my brother?”
“How would I know?” she said.
She did, while I checked on her boy friend. His head was bleeding right good. I was gonna kill him in some special way. Soon as I come out with Donald we’d take care of that first off.
I made the gal go up to the door and motioned her to open it up. She couldn’t git the key in, so I taken it away from her and done it myself. I opened the door slow and easy and pushed her in with the gun barrel and stuck her keys in my pocket. We went down a long hall and she must of been weak the way she helt herself away from the wall with one hand. Scairt, I reckon. She opened another door, so I shoved her in and stuck my head in after. What I seen give me an awful jolt.
Donald was laying on the floor in the middle of a puddle of blood. Hard to tell it was him he was so cut up. His whole face put me in mind of a rag soaked in blood and piled up on itself. A old man in a chair looked up and see me. He had a long whip and drawed it back for a cut at me, so I yanked the trigger.
A hole come in the old man’s face on one side of his nose. Must of went all the way through ’cause blood was running down on the chair out of the back of his head. The gal screamed and clawed at me and I swiped at her with the gun. It caught her real solid alongside the head. She flopped on the floor without no noise a-tall. I would of emptied my gun into her, but I’d made plenty of noise awready and I was worried about Donald.
He was still alive, breathing red bubbles. I had to git him out of there to a doctor. I looked for something to wrap around him, and taken a fancy cloth off of a big table in another room. I rolled Donald in it as gentle as I could. Blood soaked right through but I got my arms under him and toted him out to the gal’s car. Then I seen red and cussed a blue-curdling streak.
That big nosey feller was gone! Gone again! How in tarnation could he move after me bashing his head so hard? I thought he must of got some help, till I seen my bag of money was still there. He couldn’t of got far by his lonesome. I looked all around close to the car, but I never had time to spend on that whole big yard with all them flower beds. He might git at me before I seen him, too. I figgered I better git out of there and git Donald to a doctor. I could come back and kill that feller later.
Donald was so still I was scairt maybe he’d died since I brung him out. I felt the big blood vessel in his neck and thought I could feel his heart a-pumping. Slow, but some. I fished the gal’s keys out of my pocket and jumped in the car. For a minute I set still, shaking all over like I was cold. Then I got holt of myself and started the engine. I gunned it out of there.
Lieutenant Fred Campbell
THIS entire case was nothing less than a studied insult to Dallas.
My hunch was that this business was the work of well-trained thugs from the East, but there was nothing tangible for the tie-up. I was sure of absolutely nothing. In fact, everyone else and his brother seemed to know more about developments than I did.
And here I sat. Cooling my heels in the living room of the late Mr. Galin Dixon—who was shot through the face by someone. What was it the Dixon girl had said? “Junior shot my father, Lieutenant. On account of his brother. But I can’t tell you about it right now. Mr. Brown was badly hurt and I must look after him.” Yes, those were her words.
Then she had scurried off upstairs. I should have stopped her. No man could watch Miss Dixon hurry up a flight of stairs and keep his thoughts on legitimate business. Now that she was out of sight I went over it again.
Junior—there must be thousands of Juniors in Dallas. I couldn’t recall any of the local bad boys with that monicker, however—Because of his brother? Whose brother? Junior’s? Miss Dixon’s father’s brother? My own brother, maybe? Maybe I was going psycho—Mister Brown?
Mister nothing. Bill Brown. Fugitive from a hotel room full of ransom money. I wanted to talk to that one. I said so the next time Miss Dixon made the quick trip down for items to comfort the injured Mister Brown.
“No,” she said. “He really doesn’t feel up to talking now. He didn’t sleep last night. He’s napping a bit now. We’ll just have to wait.”
This little drama was giving me a pain that would keep me awake, too; but I didn’t tell her. I waited. And thought about the case.
The Dixon maid had been paid off by the mob, probably. We’d find out about that when we found her. The little girl gone, the money paid without protest. And then, after it was all over the Dixon tribe had condescended to call on the Department for a little help. Mighty decent of them to dump all their negative information in my lap. Damned decent.
Mary Ann Dixon, dead. Galin Dixon—dead. The killers—gone. One suspect available—and where was he? Now resting comfortably—napping, that is—in Galin Dixon’s bed. And he doesn’t wish to be disturbed! By God!
The goat? The Homicide Bureau, and that meant me.
Well, we’d see about that!
Miss Dixon came down the stairs again and broke up my pointless soliloquy.
“Mr. Brown will speak to you now, Lieutenant.”
“Well, will he now? Shall I knock, or just go right in?” You’d have thought this Bill Brown was an executive granting five minutes to a tie salesman, instead of the number one entry on my list.
“Oh, please knock; but I’ll go in with you, Lieutenant.”
“That won’t be necessary, Miss Dixon. Our conversation may—”
“Just follow me. And please be brief. The nurse wants to give him some broth shortly.”
“Why, I wouldn’t want him to miss that! Lead on, Miss Dixon.”
I followed her up the stairs, wondering how any woman could appear so cold and make me feel so uncomfortably warm and guilty in her presence. I went into the room behind her and found I was almost tiptoeing in spite of my low regard for this Brown who was in her protective custody.
I didn’t like his looks. Envy? Maybe. But that’s how I felt. His head was wrapped in bandages, but his grin was insolent. I had a feeling it was faked; that he wasn’t as carefree a tramp as he looked. He was stretched out in the large canopied bed as if he owned it and had never slept in a boxcar in his life.
All in all he was a typical no-good if I ever saw one.
“Miss Dixon said you’d like to talk to me, Lieutenant.”
“She was right. To get to the point, I’m interested in kidnapping, extortion and murder. Considering my position, you’ll agree that’s normal. I’m particularly interested to know just how you fit into these things.”
“Sure, Lieutenant—I fit like this: in the employ of Miss Dixon. She and her father hired me to find the kidnappers for them.”
I see. And I’m employed by the citizens of Dallas—to find kidnappers for them.’
“Meaning I’ll have help? Or competition?”
“Meaning neither, Brown. Right now, with no malicious intent to shock a sick man, understand, I am seriously toying with the idea of labeling you the kidnapper. Which would naturally terminate your employment and lead to locking you in jail.”
“A mistaken idea, Lieutenant. I’m no kidnapper.”
“I’ve got the evidence to convict you. Has that occurred to you?”
“I’ll admit I gave it some thought. But it won’t hold.”
“A mere difference of opinion.”
“No. More than that. Too many loose ends. You’d never cover them all up, Lieutenant.”
“When I’m through, Brown, you’ll know I gave it a good try.”
“You want to know something, Lieutenant Campbell? I’ve changed my mind about you, somewhat. It may cost me money, but I think I’ll tell you what I know.”
“It’s good of you to offer. I was about to forget my manners and come right out and ask you.”
Brown told me. An absorbing yarn that didn’t touch my own theory at either end or in the middle. The trouble was it was just impossible and involved enough to have some truth woven in among the fantasy. A pay your money and take your choice kind of story.
I thought perhaps the licks on Brown’s head had stimulated his imagination. I knew he was holding out on me. But at least I had something to go on, and if none of it checked out I could still put him in a cell. I reached for the phone on the bedside stand and put a call through to our man covering the bus station.
“Al, check the station for a fat and slouchy individual as follows: sore red nose, appearance of a dust-bowl farmer, wearing a dirty undershirt under his coat, Levi’s, no socks. Call me back here.” I read him the number on the base plate, hung up, rolled a cigarette and waited.
The nurse hurried in cheerfully with a bowl of chicken broth. I recalled I wasn’t eating with my usual regularity. She started feeding it to Brown and the slob winked at me. He was getting real service and he knew it. But it was to get better.
Miss Dixon came in and took over.
“I’ll feed him, Nurse,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am.” The nurse’s reluctance was disgustingly obvious as she left the room. I became more and more irritated. What the hell they saw in him I didn’t know. The phone rang and I jumped to answer. It was Al. I listened to his report. A strike!
“Okay, Al. Find out if his name is Mercer—Elsworth Mercer.” It was. “Hold him. Take him in and book him for investigation. Don’t let anyone get near him before I can see him—Right. I’ll be down—What the hell is that, Al? Al? Hello! What the—”
It sounded like Al had thrown the phone against the wall, and I heard shouts fading away after a moment, then nothing except a faint rustle of normal bus station activity. Then a shot! The guy must have made a break for it! I breathed a prayer that Al wouldn’t throw a slug into some bystander. A faint echo of a woman’s scream followed the sound of the shot.
I grabbed the directory and got the number of the ticket office, broke my connection, dialed it and got a busy signal. Twice. Three times. I hung up. If Al didn’t call me back, his family was going to get hungry.
Brown was obviously disgusted. “Cops!” he said. “I guess El heard you guys talking about him and your boy Al just let him walk away.”
I resented his sarcasm, but I had no way of knowing how near right he was.
“Something happened—I don’t know what. Al will call me as soon as he can. If Mercer gets clear where are you supposed to meet him?”
“Now Lieutenant, that’s unreasonable. Didn’t I put him on the spot for you?”
“If I recall your words, you said a man of that description was involved and just might possibly be loitering around the station. He could be any hobo you might have known.”
“And run, and get shot?”
It was true. No sense antagonizing him.
“Remember this, Brown: you don’t get clear in a job like this simply by throwing someone else to the lions.”
“Forget it. And don’t worry—I’m clean.”
I grunted. Why didn’t Al call? I had to use that phone in case some more of Brown’s fairy tale was straight. I risked missing out with Al and called headquarters. Nothing there from Al. There was a lot to say, but I made it as brief as possible.
I relayed the description of the Cad to get out to the roadblocks; the description of the so-called Junior, a caution about his quick trigger; instructions for a re-check on all motels, hotels, hospitals, rooming houses, clinics, doctors, quacks, chiropractors—hell, practically everybody in the city, as the clerk at headquarters insinuated. I hung up.
The thankless part of police work: check and eliminate anything and everything a running criminal might think of. Try to anticipate his thoughts, his movements. But in this case the trail was a good eight hours old. A man on the run will think of a great many angles in eight hours. We might have trouble gaining on him. The phone rang and I grabbed it. It was Al.
“Hello. Yes, Campbell here—What?—Oh, hell!—Well, don’t feel too bad. Those things happen; that’s all. Anybody else hurt?—Well, that’s one consolation. Look, Al, I don’t think anything will come of this down your way, but —”
I gave him Junior’s description and told him to keep an eye out, just in case. Then I turned on Brown.
“One in your favor. Mercer won’t be testifying against you. He made a break, ran out on the ramp. Al fired in the air to stop him, but when Mercer looked around he didn’t stop. He was crushed between a bus rolling into the station and another one standing on the ramp. Spread him like jam, Al said. The driver felt the impact and pulled away from the standing bus and hit his brake; but Mercer was dead before the ambulance arrived.”
“Jesus Christ,” was all Brown said.
Well, I had to get on with it. “Miss Dixon, I’ll be going now; but I’ll leave a couple of men here at the house. Mainly for your protection.”
“We don’t want it.”
She meant what she said, apparently. I shrugged. “All right, Miss Dixon. We’ll try to get your car back.” I threw a dig at Brown. “I have an idea Bill Brown just might be your real name.”
“Sure. Why would I use a phony?”
“I think I’ll check it out with the boys out in Lancaster, California—and surrounding areas.”
“Check for what?”
“We’ll see for what. Consider yourself under arrest.”
Miss Dixon got huffy. “Why should he? He’s done nothing but help you. Is that the thanks he gets?”
“He’s a very material witness,” I said, trying to mollify her. “Also, he admitted to outright theft of a suitcase from a locker in the bus station. We can’t allow that sort of thing, Miss Dixon. Not in Dallas.” I edged to the door. “Well, I’ll keep you informed, and would appreciate your doing the same for me.”
“Good-by, Lieutenant,” she said in a flat voice.
I went downstairs, out the front door, and got into my official Buick.
“Anything new come over?”
My driver, Bob, shook his head.
I picked up the mike. “Fred Campbell. I’ll be at headquarters for the next hour. For the next hour.” I racked the mike.
Bob let the horses take hold and we started downtown.
This entire case was nothing less than a studied insult to Dallas.
THE tires on that Cadillac sounded like a hundred screech owls when I busted out of the driveway and took out up the street.
I never knowed which way to go. I just knowed my brother Donald had to git some doctoring and he had to git it P. D. Q. or it wasn’t gonna help him none. When I looked at the speedometer I jerked my foot off the gas and slowed down. This here shore wasn’t no time to have no police chasing me and git us both. I pulled over and stopped and messed with the jiggers on the dashboard till I found the right one, and I got the top raised up over us and fastened.
From here on out everything I done would be cram-full of danger. First I made up my mind to git Donald in a bed in some tourist camp. Then I could git a doctor to come and take care of him. Driving the big shiny car and macked out in new clothes, and with all the money I could flash around, I figgered gitting into a high-class camp would be a dead cinch. By now I was sort of in the edge of town, so I started watching for a place that would suit me.
That big black-headed thief might of called the police by now if he wasn’t scairt to. They might be looking for the Cadillac, so it would be a good idee to git it out of sight. After driving around a little and passing up a couple of cheap-looking places, I seen one that taken my fancy.
The office building was rimmed in blue neon lights. The brick cabins was built around a green yard in the middle with a big fountain right in the center with water shooting into the air and colored lights a-flickering all through the water. I turned into the opening through the trees in front.
Nobody couldn’t see Donald nohow, but I went past the office before I stopped. I walked back and punched the night bell. A tall lanky feller with patches of gray hair on his head opened up the door. He was in fancy pajamas and acted like he was mad.
“The sign yonder says no vacancy, Mister. Didn’t you read it?” the man asked me.
“Read this here yoreself,” I told him. I poked a crinkly new twenty into his bony hand. He could read it, awright. He stuffed it in the pocket of his pajama coat.
“Just a minute, sir; I’ll get some keys and see what we can do.”
Money shore put that feller into high gear—he come up with a big key ring, throwed on a thin robe, and come out. He taken me down to the third cabin. He sort of giggled when he swung the door open.
“Here you are, sir; lucky, that’s all I can say. Thought maybe this couple would be gone by now—heh, heh, heh!”
I never liked that there laugh of his’n and wished I had time to teach him to mind his own business. But I couldn’t have no truck with nobody. I walked into the cabin with him and wrote Zeb Rice on the card he told me to sign. Then he asked if they was anything else he could do for me.
“Yeah, they is something else. You can git me a dang good doctor up here, quick. A eye doctor would be best.’
“Eye doctor? This time of night?”
“Eye doctor’s what I said. My eyes is hurting something awful.”
“But I don’t know any eye doctors, Mister. Why not wait till morning and go to a doctor’s office?”
Only one way to deal with this feller. I peeled off another twenty for him to read and handed it over. Then I hunted for a one and give him that, too.
“Here, feller—now do like I tell you, you hear? Git a handful of change for that dollar and start calling up some eye doctors in the phone book. I ain’t asking for nothing I cain’t pay for, and doctors likes money—same as you. Now hurry up.”
“Yes, sir! I see. I’ll do my best.”
Rate we was going he’d probably sew on more pockets and hope I’d fill them up for him. That last twenty slid into his robe mighty quick. He lit out.
I drove the Cadillac into the fancy lean-to next to the cabin and lifted Donald out real careful and toted him into the cabin. I fixed what was left of him as comfy as I could on the bed. I fetched some wet towels and laid one over his face so’s he wouldn’t be bothered by the light and so’s I wouldn’t have to see his face. It was cut Tip worse than his back and the rest of him.
He never had come to hisself and was breathing hard out of his chopped-up nose. At least he was alive, and maybe the doctors could fix up his face some. It made me sorry I’d killed that old man Dixon so easy and quick. I should of drag it out and give him what he give Donald and then let the old cuss die slow and painful.
I started walking the floor and wondering what was taking the manager so long. I went to find out, but first I locked the cabin door.
He was phoning, awright. Must of been waiting for a answer when I got there. He helt the receiver against his ear and started talking to me.
“Fourth one, Mister. Don’t seem like they want to come.”
“Who’s that on the phone now?”
“This is a Doctor Mercedes—or rather, his wife has gone to get him.”
“Gimmie that phone.” I taken it and waited till the doctor answered.
“Doctor! You got to come and help me! Quick! I’ll pay you good, and you got to come. I’m going blind— my eyes feels like fiery coals and I cain’t see. Don’t even know where I’m at. The manager will tell you.”
I jammed the phone into the manager’s hands and give him a hard look.
“Give him this here address and back up what I said to him.”
He done what I told him, but he give me a awful funny look when he hung up.
“He won’t like us telling him lies. Says he don’t live far and will come right over—but it’s gonna cost you.”
“I can stand it, feller. You mind yore own business. I never give you that there money to mind mine. Keeping that doctor happy won’t be hard.
“When he gits here, send him to my cabin—don’t bring him. I don’t want nobody hanging around to see iff’n I holler when he pokes around in my eyes.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll just be glad to get some sleep, Mister.”
“You better git at least forty dollars’ worth.”
Donald wasn’t breathing so hard when I got back. I never knowed if that was a good sign or not. I soaked another towel in warm water and started washing some of the dried blood off his neck and hands, being gentle as a cow licking her calf. Then I happened to think of something and I run out to the Cadillac.
Here I’d done let all my money lay around in the car while I was messing around! I was snore gonna have to be more careful and keep my mind on my business. Gawdamighty! Leonie!
She would be in Dallas in the morning! I’d had me so dern much trouble a-hounding me, I’d plumb forgot about her. Well, there was a few hours yet before she’d pull in, and I’d just have to cross that there bridge when I come to it.
We couldn’t live in Dallas now on account of me being hunted for stealing a car and shooting old man Dixon. People was beginning to know me by sight. I was hoping I’d git one more chance to kill that feller what started all this trouble. I still couldn’t see how no man could have a head so hard he could git around after the way I beat on it. That there Dixon gal, too, ought to be killed—and she got off with only a bump on her noggin.
And just look what they done to my brother! Now me and him was like mad dogs. Anybody that seen us would start shooting on sight, most likely. Soon as Donald could be jostled some, we was gonna run for it and git out of Dallas.
I’d manage it all some way—nobody hadn’t hurt me none yet and I still had my money. Figgered I was about to spend some of it, too. A car come in the camp and stopped at the office and I could hear the manager talking. I shut off the light and opened the cabin door a crack.
The manager was pointing out the cabin to a feller carrying a little handbag, so I felt easier. I switched the light on and waited and when he got there I let him in.
“Come on in, Doctor.”
He grunted and looked around, blinking. He seen my brother and walked over by the bed, looking down at him. He taken the towel off Donald’s face and it fell out of his hand onto the floor.
“Holy Mother of God!” said this here doctor. I never knowed doctors was that squeamish, but this one was.
Donald wasn’t moving, not a quiver. He was still out cold, but in a ugly sort of a way he kind of looked happy to me. Reckon that was ’cause a lot of his face was missing, and I could see his teeth plumb to the back of his mouth. Put me in mind of a big wide grin.
That there doctor wasn’t grinning when he looked up at me.
“What on earth has happened to this boy?”
“Telling you that wouldn’t do him no good a-tall, Doctor. I’m awful worried about him. Please hurry up and fix him, hear?”
“Fix him! Man, are you crazy? I can’t touch him! Phone for an ambulance. He’ll have to go to a hospital immediately!”
“Naw, Doc. Fix him here. He’s lost too much blood to go gallivanting around some more.”
“He’ll have to—If it’s money, there’s a County Hosp—”
“It ain’t money, Doc. It’s time. And you ain’t doing nothing for him.”
He bent over and opened his little bag.
“I’ll do what I can first, certainly; but that won’t be much help. His condition’s critical—You must believe that—Get him to a place for proper care.”
He started messing around with Donald’s face. Pretty soon I seen what he meant about him not doing near enough. He dabbed and bandaged and dabbed some more. Looked like he was scairt to do anything.
“Doc. Ain’t you gonna sew up them rips in his face?”
“I can’t do that work here! It’ll take time, equipment, assistants—he must go where they are available!”
“You got that sort of stuff in yore office, Doc?” “My office is in my residence. Quite well equipped, but it’s no hospital.”
“Then we’ll take him to yore place. That would be better than this, I reckon?”
He straightened up from behind over Donald. “Try to understand. This boy’s life is in the balance. You’re the man I talked with on the phone. Your whole attitude reeks of secrecy. You may as well know I have to report this to the police.”
“Shore, Doc, shore— I’m gonna report it myself. But he needs help first. Then we’ll do the reporting, however you say.”
“Dammit, man, nothing more can be done!” He bent down to hold Donald’s wrist. While he wasn’t looking I poked a hand into my bag and helt it behind me.
The Doc had me in a stew. And now Donald come to hisself a little and started groaning. His fingers twitched like he wanted to reach for help but was too puny. Made me plumb desperate.
“Doc, we’ll carry him up to yore place. We can put him on a cot or something. You could give him some shots—whatever you got—and put him to sleep while you worked on them cuts. Look at him! He’s suffering terrible!”
“Take the boy to a hospital. That’s my last word.”
This here doctor had asked me if it was money kept me from taking Donald to a hospital. I’d see if the doctor hisself could use a little extra. After all he’d dumb out of a soft bed to come out and make a few dollars. I brought the hand I’d been a-hiding out where he could see the stack of ten-dollar bills. I eyed the Doc and riffled the ends of the bills like a deck of cards. They made a nice noise.
“Doc. Would you help us for money?”
He looked at them bills, close. But his head was shaking from side to side.
“No. There’s something wrong about all of this. I won’t be a party to it. Except my report to the police.”
I roughed the edges of them tens again. I’d awready learnt to let money do most of my arguing. His eyes watched them bills.
“Listen here, Doc. There’s two hundred and fifty dollars in this here little stack. For a hour’s work or so.”
“Wait, Doc—I ain’t through. This here’s what you git now, like a deposit. When I leave your place with Don— with my friend, you git the rest of yore pay. That’ll be another stack just like this.”
He was weakening! I seen it in his face.
“And nobody’ll never know, Doc. We can git out of there before daylight. You can be shore I won’t tell nobody nothing.” I give a little laugh and he knowed I would keep my trap shut about him.
I tossed the money at him and he caught it almost as slick as old El had done when I run him off. I could of promised him more but I never wanted to overbait the trap. I reckon even some doctors owes debts or bills of some kind. Anyhow, he never throwed it back at me.
He said, “We’ll go in my car.” He headed for the door with his satchel.
I got my hand on the pistol under my coat and follered him. He was my only chance, and if he tried to git away they’d have him to bury. But he started his car, a old Hudson, and backed it up to the cabin door. We put Donald in as easy as we could, then I gathered up my bag of money and dumb in with the Doc. When we was all set he drove off.
At his place later on, I was satisfied he was trying to earn his pay. He had my brother laid out on a operating table and was working real hard on him. The Doc’s old lady had come in to help. She must of helped him lots of times—she knowed what she was a-doing. The pain killer Doc shot into Donald done the trick, too; and he was resting easy when they got done, seemed like to me.
“How about his eyes, Doc? Any chance?”
“I don’t think he’ll ever see. A very slight chance for the right one, but very doubtful. A better chance he won’t live until morning. I’ll tell you once more—get him to a hospital.”
“Now, Doc, we done settled all that.”
“It’s up to you if you want him to die of shock. I’ve done all I can.”
“I’m much obliged for that, too, Doc.”
“And now I’m going to call and report this case. What happened? You’ve never told me.”
I grinned at him. “That’s right, Doc. I ain’t never told you.”
He started for the phone but I slipped my gun out. I’d done picked a spot for him and his old lady.
“Hold everything, Doc. You and yore missus stand right over here, facing the wall.”
They couldn’t argue and done like I said. I taken my money out of Doc’s pocket. “Thanks, Doc. Now, both of you git into that there little closet.”
I locked them in and hollered through the door. “Now, if y’all are quiet, I won’t have to tie you up or stuff no rags in yore mouth. One yell and you both git stuffed.” Wasn’t no answer from in there.
I flopped down in a soft-chair. It shore felt fine. I was petered out and this had been a long night. We’d be safer here than anywheres else. Me and Donald could both use some rest. I was shore them police wouldn’t find the Cadillac till the next day some time. I’d know more at daybreak about if I could chance taking Donald with me when I seen how he made the night. He shore didn’t look as if he’d be able to do any traveling.
I went and locked the front door and then the back, and pulled down every shade they was. I found a narrow white sheet of the Doc’s and taken all my money out of the new bag and bundled it in the sheet. That bag and Donald’s was too well-knowed to be meeting Leonie with it in my hand. When it was ready I stretched out on the couch in Doc’s waiting room. I ain’t never been as wore out in my life, and Leonie was due in a couple of hours.
I went right off to sleep.
MY bus didn’t get to Dallas none too soon to suit me. It was a hot old ride down there from Sulphide.
All the way to Dallas I couldn’t help feeling awful strange, leaving home and Mama and Papa and their young-uns thataway. Mama and Papa was getting on in their years, and according to their talk they was always having pretty serious ailments. But their ailments hadn’t got serious enough to stop their bedsprings from squeaking more nights than not. Nor was they too old to stop the coming of a new youngun every year so far, for me to tend to and wash and iron and cook and sew for. But I wasn’t getting no younger neither, and I’d loved Junior for so long, and if I didn’t grab him now while I could, I might not never get away from home.
Mama had cried a lot and tried to talk me out of coming to Dallas. She said I’d ought to wait until Junior was more settled and could come after me proper-like, and have a wedding among my own folks. But I didn’t want to be such a bother to my Junior in his new job, to worry him about taking off after me. Papa outright forbid me to go, but I didn’t pay him no mind, neither. He said Junior wasn’t no good and would only ruin my life. But they wasn’t really worried about my life. They was thinking the canning wasn’t, half-finished, and about the extra cows they’d have to milk, and the diapers they’d have to wash and all the meals they’d have to fix. But anyhow I knew I’d always miss them and the younguns too, a whole lot.
I was real nervous about me and Junior having to live in a big town like Dallas; but I made up my mind to learn the ways of townfolks as fast as ever I could, so as to help Junior be a success in his new job. Folks back home always said I was a right pretty girl; but now I sort of wished my hair wasn’t so bright red and I didn’t have so many freckles, and that my hands wasn’t so rough, now that I was going to have to make friends with city-bred girls.
I was wishing I had more book learning, too; but when the other older girls in our family left home with the first man that would take them away from Papa after they was fifteen, Mama and Papa had took me out of school when I was eleven and made me work around the house and farm and do most of the raising of the new babies. I didn’t never have a chance to Team much of anything except how to work. I hoped me and Junior wouldn’t have to be society folks. I wasn’t a mite worried about making Junior a good wife at home by ourselves, because the Lord knows there wasn’t nothing I couldn’t do in a house or a kitchen. And I wasn’t scared of how we would be matched in our bed, cause me and Junior knew the answer to that already. I just hadn’t been able to turn down every pleasure in this life for Mama and Papa and the younguns.
I thought the bus never would find the station in Dallas, but it finally did. I carried my old suitcase and the paper sack full of fried chicken I’d brung along and went on into the waiting room. Lots of people was in there, but I didn’t see me no Junior Knowles while I was walking around and looking.
I set down to wait on Junior, like he told me on the phone, and wondered if Donald would be with him when he come for me. I hoped he would, cause Donald was a real nice boy, and I was going to be right happy at having him in the family. But I sure hoped Junior wouldn’t have that old El Mercer with him when he come. If there was only one man in the whole wide world I didn’t want to see, it was El Mercer. To start with, El had always drank too much, and when he was drinking he’d talk your ears off. You just couldn’t shut him up. More than once’t he’d come ‘twixt me and my Junior, too. They was always into something together. I couldn’t stand El, and I didn’t want him around us a-tall. But I was getting upset over nothing; and while I was thinking about it, I seen my Junior come into the station by his-self.
Golly, but he was handsome! All dressed up in a new blue suit and wearing a rainbow-colored tie. He stood there just inside the door with that way of his, sort of looking down on everybody like they was dirt, with his chin stuck way out and them blue eyes a-flashing. He needed him a shave, like always; but somehow I was thinking he was the best looking man in the whole wide world. I ran towards him in a hurry.
“Junior!” I yelled.
He grinned real big and shoved a bundle he was carrying up under his arm so’s he could tote my suitcase.
“There’s my gal!” he said, smiling big. And he grabbed me and kissed me hard enough to make me know he meant it. I pert-nigh suffocated. Then he held my arm and we started out.
“Let’s git out of here, Leonie.”
We went out the door to the street and got into a car Junior took me to. The motor was still running, and he drove right off from the station. Only time I’d ever rode anywhere with Junior before was when he borrowed El Mercer’s old car.
“Where’d you get this car, Junior?”
“Oh—down where I work. Belongs to the company.”
“You mean, they give you a car to use yoreself?”
“Shore. Look, Leonie, quit talking so much. I want you to git yore clothes out of yore suitcase and stick this here bundle in it.”
“What in the world for, Junior?”
“Leonie, gal, we got to git one thing straight, right now. Don’t you be asking dern-fool questions every time I say something. Me and you we’re going to be doing some fast moving for a while which won’t leave me no time for all them questions. So when I say do something, you just go ahead and do it cause I say so. You hear me?”
Of all things! Well, I’d let him have his way for a little while. I done like he told me and stacked my clothes on the floor of the car and stuffed the bundle in my suitcase. But there was still room for my new nylon nightie, and I put it back in, careful-like.
Then I turned back around and said, “Where’s Donald at, Junior?”
“There you go, Leonie, asking fool questions. Don’t ask me no more about Donald. What you got in that there sack, honey?”
“Just some fried chicken I fixed and brung along.”
That made Junior grin again. He always bragged about my fried chicken.
“Now you tell me what you got in that old bundle in my suitcase you’re so all-fired proud of, Junior. And it wouldn’t hurt you to tell me why Donald didn’t come with you to meet me.”
“Reckon you’ll find out about the bundle anyhow. Just take yoreself a peek in it, Leonie.”
I opened the lid of the suitcase and unrolled one corner of the bundle and looked in. It was plumb full of money! When I got the corner folded back up, I shut and locked the suitcase and set it back down on the floor of the car.
“Where’d you get it, Junior?”
He just laughed.
“It’s a funny way to carry money, Junior.”
He laughed louder that time. “You think I could git all that long green in my billfold, Leonie?”
“Belongs to your company, don’t it?”
“All right, then—don’t tell me!”
I was put out with him cause he wouldn’t say, so I shut my mouth and looked out the window. We was getting out to the edge of town.
“Where we going?” I asked him.
“If I ain’t mistook, I asked you to come down here and git hitched. You forgit awready?”
“Oh, Junior! Junior, sweetheart—you mean that’s where we’re going? To get married?”
“I never meant nothing else but.”
For a minute I was so happy I nearly cried. But things was happening too fast for me. Before I could get one thing figgered out something else come along to mix me all up.
“Junior, sweetheart, I’m real happy that’s where we’re going—but if you don’t tell me where all that money come from, I think I’m gonna bust!”
He just laughed. Times, if he wanted to, he was the most aggravating man in the whole wide world—besides being the handsomest. I felt like shaking him.
He turned off the highway onto a dirt road so quick I was throwed over against him. Then he stopped and backed up and got on the highway again. We was going right back the way we had come!
“Where you going, Junior? Forget something?”
“Didn’t you see them fool policemen blocking the road?”
“You mean that bunch way up yonder?” I pointed back.
“I mean them. They ain’t waiting just to kill time. They was waiting for us. Good thing I seen them first.”
“Us? Waiting for us? I—Junior, you’re in trouble, ain’t you?”
“Sort of, I reckon. But not if they don’t catch me, and I ain’t aiming to let ’em.”
“What sort of trouble? Tell me!”
“Look, Leonie. You know I don’t like lying, specially to you. If I was to tell you what’s what, you wouldn’t like that, neither. So it’s better if I don’t tell you nothing a-tall and better if you don’t ask no questions.”
“But I got to know! And you got to tell me. You got to sometime, Junior, so it might as well be now.”
“Maybe I got to tell you sometime—but not now.”
“Did you steal that money?”
“Sort of, I reckon. Hard to say. I sort of earned it, too.”
“That’s mighty funny talk, Junior. And you ain’t said yet where Donald is at. That’s mighty funny, too. Where we headed now?”
“I been trying to figger the same thing. If they got police on the highways it’s a cinch they’re watching the bus stations and the depot. We better try the airport. They might not figger me to try and git out of Dallas on a airplane.”
“Junior, I just got to say something. I know you’re in trouble and I’ll stick by you cause I love you. But I don’t want to git in no trouble myself. I don’t want to wind up in no jail.”
Junior slammed on the brakes and slid to a stop so quick. I bumped my head against the windshield.
“Git out, Leonie,” he said. I couldn’t believe my own ears. I looked at him and started crying. I couldn’t help it.
“I don’t want to get out.”
“If you cain’t trust me, don’t figger on going with me and marrying up with me!”
“I trust you, Junior, sweetheart, it’s just—”
“Then quit yore bellyaching and asking me all them questions. I’m trying to think and doing my best to git us both out of trouble. Yore dang nagging ain’t helping me ary bit.”
I promised not to nag him any more and he started the car. Wasn’t long till we was in sight of the airport. Junior turned into a dirt side-road and went a little ways. Then he turned right off of the dirt road across the weeds and stopped in a big clump of trees alongside the road. In amongst them trees I couldn’t see the road, so I knew nobody couldn’t see us from the road. I felt a little safer and started to say so.
“We’ll walk the rest of the way.”
“Ain’t somebody liable to take the car?” I asked.
“I reckon so.”
“You stole it, along with the money, didn’t you, Junior? Huh?”
“Shut up and git out of the car!”
I did and he follered me, toting my suitcase.
“Gimmee that sack of chicken, Leonie.’
He opened up the sack and stuck his hand in, and we walked up the road towards the airport. I was scared about out of my skin, finding out he done stole everything he had. But he wasn’t. Not him. He just walked on up the road eating on the piece of chicken like he didn’t care about nothing in the whole wide world.
I cared and was scared. He must of done something mighty, mighty mean to have policemen all over Dallas trying to catch him.
I sure wished I knew more about what he done.
BY unloading some of what I knew, I had hoped to give the brainy Dallas detective a generous chunk of my headache. It didn’t work. He left, but the headache stayed.
I felt a little better after Miss Dixon finished spooning that hot broth into me and rubbing my temples with her fingers. I relaxed, even dozed again. I don’t know how long, but not very. Unfortunately I woke up, and the little riveters were still working on my skull. Miss Dixon was there.
“Guess I dropped off. Was I out long?”
“Not enough to do you much good. How do you feel?”
“So-so. Headache, of course.”
“Want an aspirin?”
“Not an aspirin—ten aspirin.”
“Here’s one. Hold it till I get some fresh water.”
I swallowed the one lousy aspirin. I could hear her moving about the room while I held my eyes screwed together against the throbbing.
“Get me my clothes, Miss Dixon. I think I’ll get up.”
“You’ll never make it.”
Swinging my feet out from under the sheet, I slid to the floor on my knees and couldn’t stand up. I crawled back into the bed. Lying there felt mighty nice.
“Stay there and rest. You’ll never make it,” Miss Dixon said.
“You said that.”
“You just proved it.”
“I think you ought to get in here with me.” When my words registered in my own mind I got ready to dodge.
“I thought of that before you did, Bill. It’s a pleasant thought.”
I stared at her. Rather an unpredictable woman at times, this Miss Dixon. I picked up the ball.
“Well?” I said.
“When you’re strong again: Not before. I don’t want us to be half-good, Bill.”
I wanted to argue the time element, with the pressure of desire building up in me. She walked over to the bed, leaned down on me and engulfed my mouth in a hot, moist promise from her full lips.
“You’ll wait,” she said.
I looked at her face. She was beautiful; even with the dark bruise on her temple leading to the corner of her eye. She was lucky Junior hadn’t killed her. But then, so was I. I couldn’t remember getting out of the car and into the shrubbery where she found me. She had kidded me a little about being mercenary because when they found me I had her purse clutched in one hand. I didn’t remember how I got that either; but she said Junior had dumped me in the car on top of it.
Thinking of Junior I entered enchanting reverie. How nice it would be to kill, torture or maim little Junior from Oklahoma. I imagined several very satisfying ways to handle it. I must have been smiling as I conjured up these brutal scenes.
“Why the happy face? Headache gone?”
“Why’d you interrupt?” I groaned. “I was just mentally putting Junior through his paces—Get me my clothes, will you?”
I tried again, this time just sitting up for a starter. My head peeled off like a plane leaving a tight formation, buzzed the field, then settled down for a straight shot at the horizon. The ceiling cleared. I pushed the sheet off. Moving gingerly I got my feet to the floor and sat on the edge of the bed.
They had really prepared me for comfort—I didn’t even have shorts on. Miss Dixon was sitting there watching me.
“Will you get my clothes?”
“All right, Bill. I wanted to see if you could make it— that’s all.”
She left the room, but the nurse came in, quick like a panther.
“You can’t get up Mr. Brown! You have to stay in bed Mr. Brown!”
I pushed a hand through the air. “Go and get me an aspirin.”
“It’s too soon. You’ve taken too many now. You lie down, do you hear?”
“Nurse. I’m going to count three and you’d better be gone. Or I’ll do something I’ll be sorry for the rest of my life—a terrible thing. One—Two—” and the door closed behind her as she ran.
I opened my eyes again. I stood up, and danced a mad, uncontrollable tango across the room to a chair. I landed in it. Wow! A bit rocky. Quite a bit! I felt the bandage on my head. Junior wasn’t a nice playmate.
Miss Dixon came in carrying my green gabardine suit, a white sport shirt, and underwear.
“The suit wasn’t cleaned, but I had it sponged and pressed.”
“I’ll need shoes too.”
She pointed to them, under the bed. I remembered my buck-and-wing across the room.
“Would you—?” I waved vaguely at the shoes.
She brought them over to the chair and took a sock out of each one. She pulled on for me the socks. Then the shoes. What the hell, I thought. If it didn’t bother her, why me? I was too weak to be conspicuous, anyhow.
I stepped into the shorts, getting up as I did so. Taking it easy, I balanced myself into the pants of my suit, then slid into the shirt. I was beginning to feel a little like a normal man. Back in the land of the living.
My mind began clicking again, things to do.
“May I use your phone?”
She brought it over and I sat down with it. I dialed the operator and asked for Western Union.
“Hello. Put me on with an operator, please— Hi. Take this message. To Ed Brown. Apartment 3C, 4125 Figueroa Street, L. A.—That’s Los Angeles—Yes, that’s what we call it out yonder in California. Want the message? Okay, here goes: How are things on West Coast. Question mark. Clear comma or warmer. Question mark. Having a terrible time. Wish I was there. Rush answer care Western Union. Love. Bill. Just sign it Bill-All right! The sender is Bill Brown, operator—What?— Oh. F-i-g-u-e-r-o-a.—Yeah, odd. Think it comes from Mex. Now read me the wire, will you?…. Fine. Very good—No, I appreciate your helpfulness but I can’t possibly cut this wire to tea words. Charge it to this number and if I’m not here to receive the answer just deliver it to this address.”
She finally got the phone number and Miss Dixon’s address right. I hung up, hoping I wouldn’t have to send any more telegrams.
“Well, Miss Dixon, guess I’d better get going and earn my retainer.”
“You don’t have to. Why don’t we just wait for some news?”
“I’ll feel much better after I find Junior.”
“Let Lieutenant Campbell find him. He refused our help.”
“He’s a little better cop than I first thought, at that. But he can’t recognize Junior—never saw him.”
“We gave him a good description.”
“It’s not the same.”
“He’ll find him.”
“I’ll find him,” I said.
“Then we’ll find him.”
“You can lose lots of cars that way.”
“There are three left in the garage.”
“Okay. Let’s go downstairs.”
I stood up and waited a minute for the dizziness to clear. Then Miss Dixon helped me get as far as the bottom step. That stopped me. I sat down. Chimes sounded.
“It’s the door,” she said. “I’ll get it.”
In walked the curious detective. I wondered if he’d drawn his blank from Lancaster yet.
“We found your car, Miss Dixon. One of the men is driving it over. Should be here soon.” He spotted me. “What got you out of bed, Brown?”
“Don’t leave the house—you’re still under arrest.”
“I wouldn’t think of it.”
“You heard that, Miss Dixon. He’s in your charge, and you’re responsible when I want him.”
“Thank you for your confidence. Where was my Cad?”
“At a motel, just as I thought we’d find it.”
“Brilliant!” I murmured.
“Merely routine. As a matter of fact, it was reported by the motel’s manager. Seems someone stole a blanket and left your Cadillac.”
“Tsk, tsk,” I put in. He got sore.
“Listen, Brown. I’m talking to Miss Dixon. No remarks from you are required.”
“Uh-huh. And how did they carry the blanket away? By motor boat, on foot, camelback? Did you ask?”
“That’s the strange part. They left with some doctor. The place was a mess—blood. Funny part is the manager called the doctor, but he can’t remember what doctor it was. One of the doctors in the phone book. With a fairly old Hudson. He remembers that. Funny, huh?”
“Ha-ha!” I faked a laugh for him. “That is funny. Maybe he’d remember if you threatened to feed him the phone book.”
“I’ve got a man with him. Routine. It’ll come back to him.” He turned his back on me. “Meanwhile, Miss Dixon, we’re running a check on all the doctors in town. We’ll find him. The roadblock teams all have a description of the Hudson. Dark green, two-door sedan. That’s about all we have. I wanted to keep you posted. Your car will be here soon.”
“Thanks a lot, Lieutenant,” I butted in again.
“You stay here, Brown. And cracking wise with me isn’t helping your case any.”
Miss Dixon, as he so frequently called her, led him to the door. She came back to where I was sitting.
“So why did you ride him so much?”
“Talking makes me forget the head. Almost. Well, Miss Dixon, when your car gets here, we’ll take a drive and have a look for ourselves.”
“Think it’ll do any good?”
“I’m anxious to be of service to our protector.”
“All right—why wait? I’ll bring another car around— Oh, by the way, Bill, you can call me Kay.”
“If you want to, I’d like it.”
“Okay, Kay. You may call me Bill.”
“That’s okay, Kay.”
Lieutenant Fred Campbell
WHEN I got back to the car after leaving Miss Dixon, Bob was rolling a cigarette. That was one thing we had in common. Other than that he was a peaceful, happy driver, and I was the butt of all the serious pranks of all the maniacs who dropped off in Dallas. I got in.
Bob blew a cloud of smoke at his window.
“Where to, Lieutenant?”
“I’m not sure. Hold everything a minute.”
That stupid motel manager. Couldn’t remember what doctor he talked to, but remembered the laundry mark on the missing blanket and described it like he had slept under it every night of his life. That’s the world. Materialism. I hoped some day I’d have a case where everyone involved would have a photographic memory.
Oh, well, we’d find the doctor. It’s just a matter of check and eliminate. The old routine. Sooner or later there he would be. The next link in the chain. That is, if we didn’t find him dead and our boys gone again. In that case the next link would be still tougher, and we’d get farther behind unless we got an unforeseen break. Well, one thing at a time. Police work is very simple.
“Let me make one, Bob.”
He passed me his tobacco and papers. I listened to the radio calls as they flew back and forth while I rolled the cigarette. Several no-makes on stolen cars. Some woman in Oak Cliff received a box through the mail and wanted a policeman to come out and open it. A disturbance in a joint on Jackson. On and on. We get all the troubles, big and little. I lit the cigarette and started to give Bob a gripe about this fact, but the radio voice asked me to come in. I picked up the mike.
“A lead on the kidnappers, Lieutenant,” the radio barked, “and it looks good. A Doctor Mercedes claims to have one of them. Picked him up at a motel last night or very early this morning. Must be the one that’s hurt—”
“What’s the address?”
“2358 Roseland Avenue. Repeat, 2358 Roseland Avenue. Doctor Paul E. Mercedes.”
“On my way! I’ll report in from there.”
I stuck the mike back on the rack.
“Let’s go, Bob.”
He threw on the siren and opened up the Buick. In a little under seven minutes we rolled up in front of the address, and parked behind the prowl car which had been radio-dispatched to the scene ahead of us. A small crowd had gathered, as crowds will when a patrol car and blaring siren stop in their neighborhood and a uniformed patrolman was trying to move them on about their business. But not them—they wanted to see what brought us there. I jumped out and climbed the steps. It was an old frame building with the yard kept in very good condition. Flowers bordered the walk, and on the porch railing a few pots of pink geraniums were lined up. Somebody in the crowd recognized me.
“When you gonna catch them kidnappers, Fred? Me, I got the rope!”
The crowd laughed; and I smiled back at them, waved, and entered the house. The talk about a rope was supposed to be a joke.
Tommy Conover was on duty inside. A woman was prattling away in his ear, telling him all about it. I took her to be Mrs. Mercedes and it turned out she was. From Tommy’s expression I knew this wasn’t the first time he’d heard her story.
“Please tell me all about it, ma’am,” I said.
She stopped the steady flow of gab, happy at the chance to start over, took a deep breath, and did so. She didn’t give me much. It was the first night she’d ever spent in a closet and she made the most of it. She reached the end of her tale and started over again with hardly a pause.
“Thanks a lot, Mrs. Mercedes. Tell Officer Conover here, now.”
He threw me a look, and settled back.
“Where’s the doctor?” I asked.
Tommy pointed, and I went into what looked like an operating room. Doctor Mercedes was there working over some remains of a boy who had been literally chopped to pieces. From what I could see, I knew I wouldn’t want to stay if all the bandages on his face were removed. The doctor glanced at me.
“Lieutenant Campbell, Homicide,” I said.
He went back to work. “I don’t know why I’m doing this, Lieutenant.”
“Yes. No doubt of it.”
“Suppose that’s why he was left here?”
“Well, I don’t know. The other one was dead set on getting him treated and talked about taking him with him last night. Could be I convinced him the boy wasn’t going to live. I don’t know. That fellow was crazy. Maybe he just didn’t care any more, or meant to come back.”
“Maybe crazy some ways. Maybe like a fox, others, Doc.”
“Could be he couldn’t feel any pulse and left him for dead. It’s the faintest sort of a beat—he’d need a stethoscope, or awfully sensitive touch.”
“Can I talk to this one before it’s too late?”
“Sure. You can talk to him. You won’t get an answer, though.”
I lifted the pile of wet gauze covering the lower part of the boy’s face. “Jesus!” I put it back.
“Lieutenant, who did this?”
“Dixon, himself—the kidnap victim’s father. Quite a beating, wasn’t it?”
“Worst I ever saw. Can’t believe a leading citizen could do it.”
“Dixon was old school—law of the range and all that. In his blood.”
“Well, that’s a terrible thing lying there,” the doctor said.
“Dixon is dead. Good thing, I guess. I wouldn’t want this on my conscience. Dixon probably didn’t have a conscience, though.”
“Obviously not one in good repair, at any rate,” Doctor Mercedes said.
“Doc, did you get any hint of the other one’s intentions—like which way he might go?”
“No—I don’t think so. No. He stole my car, though.”
A slight tremor ran through the boy’s body. His jaw worked weakly and I bent down over him just in case.
He died then.
It was eerie seeing him go like that after looking for him so hard. My luck to find him in time for that. The doctor threw a sheet over him and lit his pipe.
“The beating killed him—right, Doc?” I asked.
“Well—depends, I’d say. That was the cause, o’course. But I think he could’ve been saved with prompt and proper treatment and close attention—when I first saw him. What really killed him was shock and exposure.”
“Can you say that on the certificate, Doc?’
“Don’t see why not. That’s my opinion.”
“Well, that’ll make it a little better for Dixon’s family —what’s left of it.”
“What’s done’s done. No use making it harder on the living ones.”
“Okay, Doc. Thanks for seeing it that way. Looks like we’re through here. I’ll send an ambulance and get the body cleared out of your way.”
“Any time. I cancelled my appointments when I saw that mob out front.”
“They’ll break up. I’ll leave a good man, in case Junior gets lonesome for his brother and comes back.”
“Suit yourself, Lieutenant. And much obliged.”
“Doc, do you think your wife can keep this quiet?”
“Well, talk to her anyway, Doc.”
“I’ll try.” He shrugged.
“Did the other one leave anything, by the way?”
“Yes, he did. There’s a fine leather bag—over there.”
I went over and looked. Something clicked. A new leather bag, no, two of them just alike, were all we’d had to look for in the murder of that hustler in the hotel room downtown. It just might be. We could use that bartender in the grill where Madge Baeder made her last pickup to identify the dead boy or his clothing. It was worth a try, and I could sure use something to feed the wheels upstairs. Thinking back now to the grill customers with the identical leather bags, I decided it was a cinch. Well, it would help.
I used the doctor’s phone and ordered the ambulance for Donald, left instructions for the bartender to be called in, and was told the description of the doctor’s green Hudson had been broadcast after the Doc reported Junior had borrowed it.
Then I called Miss Dixon. She didn’t answer. Neither did Mister Brown. Now what could I make of that? I thought of having a pickup, put out on them with orders to book Brown for complete investigation. By God, I would!
I took up the phone, remembered a few things about Miss Dixon, and hung up again, halfway through the number I was dialing. Hell!
I told Tommy Conover to stay in the house and set up a twenty-four hour guard outside, back and front; that I’d be in the car and expected to have Junior rounded up before dark so we could all start sleeping occasionally again.
Bob was on the porch talking to the patrolman who’d tried to reason with the crowd. “Let’s roll, Bob,” I said.
He got up, opened the car door for me, and I stepped in. The crowd was still thick along the sidewalk. Morbid curiosity. Well, why not? Dallas doesn’t have a kidnapping every day, thank God.
“All right, Bob. We’ll make a round of the roadblocks, starting at the Fort Worth Pike.”
Check. Check. Check. That’s all there is to it. I sensed the old feeling of getting warm. I thought I’d have Junior before the day was out if he was still in Dallas.
And I was pretty sure he was.
THAT cold fried chicken shore hit the spot. I ate three pieces while me and Leonie walked up the road to the airport. I was watching things up there, but I never let on to be worrying none. If I done that she would start all them questions coming at me again.
They was a couple of buses and maybe twelve-fifteen cars setting in the parking spaces in front of the building. Then I seen two of them cars was police cars.
“Whoa, Leonie,” I said and taken holt of her arm.
“Just a minute—I got to figger before we git any closer.”
The ditch beside the road was deep enough to hide in, setting down. I pulled Leonie in and set her down alongside of me. Nobody couldn’t see us over the tall grass even if a car come by.
“Here’s what, Leonie. You got to go to that building yonder and see how many policemen is in there. How many of ’em and where they’re at.”
“I don’t see how that’ll help any, Junior.”
“We got to git past ’em to git on the airplane, ain’t we?”
“Junior,” she said, real serious, “I don’t go nowhere till you tell me about all that money, and about where Donald’s went. I know you stole that money, didn’t you? I want the gospel truth. I’m scared, Junior.”
“Aw—you ain’t got no call to be scairt, honey. Shore, we stole the money. But it’s done been done. No help for it.”
“Oh, I just knew it! You’re in real terrible trouble, Junior! Where’d you steal it?”
“From a bank—that’s all. They got plenty left.”
“A bank! You robbed a bank, Junior? Lordy, mercy —You was taught better, I know.”
“Once’t I git out of this here town, ain’t nobody could find me. Now go on—”
“No! Cain’t you see, Junior? God knows, I’d like to have money, too; but not this here money. It ain’t right—’tain’t our’n.”
“No it ain’t. Now Junior, sweetheart, you got to listen to me. You got to give it back, and ask the judge, or whoever, for mercy. It’ll go easier on you than getting caught; and I can wait for you some more, like I always have. Why, maybe they wouldn’t even send you to jail a-tall when the bank gets the money* back. It’s the onliest thing you can do—Junior, I don’t want to lose you. I love you; please do like I’m asking you, honey.”
She was talking crazy, o’course. But she thought she was making sense, I knowed. And she was really scairt. I only knowed one thing to do—excite her by gitting her more scairt than she awready was and then make love to her. It’s the only way I know how to calm down Leonie when she’s having a hissy.
I grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her till her teeth rattled before I turned her aloose. “Now, you listen to me a minute! You don’t know everything yet, and you’re babbling about something ain’t none of yore business. I ain’t gonna give that there money back. And all I can tell you about Donald is he’s gone for good. So shut up about it!”
Now Leonie was a-bawling, and that nearly always meant she would do my bidding whether she wanted to or not. I knowed how to handle Leonie.
“Don’t cry,” I said. I hugged her up to me, tight. “Everything’s gonna come out all hunky-dory. You just wait and see. If you’ll do what I say we’ll git to some real loving in a little while—you’ll see.”
After a lot more blubbering she finally slowed down and wiped her face on her petticoat. She was pulling herself together a whole lots better, like I’d planned it.
“I’m all right Junior. What do you want me to do?”
“That’s my gal! I don’t want much, Leonie—nothing that’ll hurt you. I just want you to help, to do what I tell you we got to do.”
“Well-All right, Junior.”
I lean’t over and kissed her, but not too long; just enough to put it on her mind. Then I got down to the real business.
“Go on up to the building yonder and see about them cops, first. And then come back right here. I’ll wait on you.”
Leonie’s shoulders drooped and she looked sad. But she got up and started down the road. I felt better, for a few minutes I’d sort of been leery of what she might do, mixed up like she was. Now I figgered she’d do what I said from here on out.
After while I stood up in the ditch to look and I seen her coming back. I waved at her and set back down out of sight. She come into the grass and set beside me. “How many, Leonie?”
“All I could see was three. In uniform, I mean. How do we know all of ’em wear uniforms?” “Where they at?”
“Well, one was by the door when I went in, a little man, nice-looking, for a policeman. He had a little old red mustache, and—”
“Dern his looks, Leonie! Where’s the rest?” “I was just telling you what I—” “Where’s the rest?”
“Well,” she said, “the other two stayed pretty close together, not far from the ticket windows. But one went over to the other side of the building twice’t while I was there. Watching the airplanes outside, I reckon.” “Three, huh? You shore?”
“That’s all I seen, Junior,” she said in a tired sort of voice.
“That’s a plenty when you’re talking about policemen.” Too dang many, I said to myself. But the roads had more than that; and by now they was looking for that doctor’s car like monkeys looking for fleas, I bet.
“Leonie, here’s some twenty-dollar bills. I don’t know how much you’ll need. Put ’em in yore purse and go back up there and git two airplane tickets. To Houston.” “Houston?”
“That’s right—lots of airplanes will be going there. When you git ’em, find out what time we leave. And then look around, or maybe the ticket man will tell you, and see what door we go out to git to the airplane. If he wants to know who them tickets is for, say Mr. and Mrs. George Smith—so’s they won’t know who we really are. Now, say it back to me.”
“Oh, I can remember, Junior. Get tickets to Houston, calling us Mr. and Mrs. George Smith. Find out what time we leave and the door we go out!”
“That’s pretty good. But it ain’t all. Here’s the main thing—mosey around and see if I can git to where that door leads out without no policeman seeing me from where they was a while ago. Look good, Leonie. You understand everything now?’
“Yes, Junior. I do.”
“Awright, then, light a shuck.”
This was my only chance to git out of Dallas, with the roads all stopped up with cops. I put on a sweat waiting on Leonie this time. But just so she done everything like I said and found me a way to git out, I could wait till the cows come home.
She finally come back. She was smiling a little smile when she set down again.
“I made it easy, Junior. Got the tickets, and we leave at one o’clock.”
“The doors, how—”
“Let me finish. It’s gate number seven. And if we walk on past the front door and down to the baggage room, then go in through there, we can come out in the hall right across from the right gate.”
“No policemen in the baggage room?”
“No, not hardly nobody, when I was in there.”
“Anybody say anything when you got them tickets?”
“Huh-uh. The man just wrote down that name you give me.”
“You done real good, Leonie. What time of day is it now?”
“It was nearly ten when I got the tickets.”
“Ten? Means we got three hours to wait! But it cain’t be helped.”
“How’ll we know when it’s time, Junior?”
“Dang if I know, ‘cept by the sun. But maybe they’s a whistle blows at noon somewheres around here. That’d give us a good idee when to start up there.”
“That’s smart, Junior.”
“Anyhow we better not wait in this ditch, I don’t think. Better go back and hide in them trees where I put the car. We can rest some. Maybe I could even git a little shut-eye. Shore ain’t had much lately.”
“Are you real tired, sweetheart?” she asked.
“Just plumb tuckered, Leonie.”
She follered me back to the car. I put the suitcase on the grass in the shade under the trees, used it for a pillow when I laid down. Leonie laid down beside me. Having her there was good. We snuggled up a little and I kissed her. She always kisses back real fine. She was gonna make a wife worth having around, all right. My heart beat a little fast and I knowed Leonie was gitting excited. While we was kissing our hands was crawling on each other, and she was breathing hard.
She was wearing one of them dresses without no sleeves, with little bows on both shoulders a-holding it up. I pulled them bowstrings undone and drug the top of her dress down to her waist. Then I pulled on her shift straps and she let me shuck them off over her arms. I started to pull her clothes plumb off, but she grabbed my hands and pushed them away.
“Sweetheart,” she said, panting fast, “I thought we promised we wasn’t going to do that no more till we was married. Remember, the last time that’s what we said.”
I remember that’s what we said last time, awright, and just about every other time we’d ever done it. Trouble was we never could quite seem to git married before the next time. And I had a real painful hunger for her right now, not seeing her for so long. I figgered she must want me to beg, so I started a-begging her.
“Aw, honey, come on. We’re as good as married, right now. That’s what I made you come down to Dallas for. Some old preacher saying a few words ain’t gonna make us no never mind. It’s just this one more time. What’s one time make any difference?”
Leonie must of wanted me real bad, too. She played like she was thinking it over real hard; and I kissed her real long and slow to help her think.
“Well, I don’t guess it would be too awful bad this once more, Junior, since we aim to really get married this time. I know you wouldn’t want us to do nothing wrong no more than I would. I reckon it’s all right, sweetheart.
I finished taking off her dress and petticoat, and then what little else she had on. I liked to watch Leonie’s body come in sight a little at a time like that. Then she made me wait while she folded up all her clothes and put them in a neat stack behind the suitcase. I started laughing.
“What’s so funny, Junior Knowles?” \she said, standing there pouting.
“It’s funny, at a time like this, you acting like you was folding up the week’s ironing to put it away, Leonie.”
“Now you listen to me, Mr. Junior. I’m getting married in these here clothes and I ain’t going to be shamed in front of no preacher. They got messed up bad enough on that old bus. Hurry and get your own clothes off, sweetheart, before I change my mind.”
I done her bidding, cause after all’s said and done Leonie can be a real determined woman when she sets her mind to be.
Soon we kissing and loving again. Then there wasn’t nothing but me and Leonie. No cops, no Donald, no troubles. Just me and Leonie and hard, sweet loving that was just as good as it ever was.
Afterwards, when we was resting beside each other in that lazy way you feel, I begun slowly to remember.
“Leonie—Just thought of something, just now. See if that clock in the car’s running, will you, honey?”
She got up and went to the car. “It’s ticking away, Junior. It’s almost eleven.” She laid back down and we snuggled up together again. I was feeling comfortable for about the first time since I come to Dallas. But all of a sudden Leonie set up. Naturally I bounced right up, too.
“What is it, Leonie?”
“I just thought of Donald again. Where’s he at, Junior? He’s just a boy! We cain’t go off and leave Donald here in Dallas by his lonesome.”
I couldn’t tell her how bad I’d wanted to bring him.
“Is that all’s bothering you? Donald’s done gone—taken his share of the money and left town awready. We split up, so’s not to git caught. Don’t worry none about Donald. He’s safe enough where he’s at, awright.”
“He go on back home, Junior?”
“Now how could he do that? They’ll look just as hard for us back home as in Dallas. He ain’t never going back to Oklahoma, and I ain’t neither.”
“Then that means I cain’t go back neither. Oh, Junior! I’m scared!” And, woman-like, she busted out crying again.
“Dang it, Leonie, don’t go being scared again. I’m with you, ain’t I? And please don’t cry no more, honey. Come on and lay back down here by old Junior again, and we’ll just think about us—about what we’ll do when we git to where we’re going.”
She stretched out by me again, sniffling, and I knowed she was still scairt, shaking like she was.
“Leonie, I’m gonna buy you scads of new clothes, and we’ll go stepping at them big dance halls all the time. You’ll have the time of yore life, honey, in all them big stores, buying any dang thing you want. All kinds of dresses and shoes, and bathing suits. Say, how about a pretty white bathing suit? You’d shore look nice in it. How’s that sound?”
“I don’t want no white bathing suit—”
“Well, it ain’t got to be white. Color don’t make me no never mind, long as it’s on yore pretty figger.”
I could tell she was settling down some, and I stroked her sweet-like to help her along, trying to take her mind off of my troubles. Soon she was breathing deep, against my neck.
“It sounds nice, Junior. What else you gonna buy me?”
I just said, “Anything you see that you’d like to have,” and kept on petting her. She snuggled closer and closer against me. I was drowsy and my eyes went shut. “You sleepy, Leonie?”
She give a sort of a grunt and said she wasn’t.
“Well, iff’n I doze off a little, would you keep yore eye on the clock?”
“Uh-huh, Junior,” she said, almost whispering it.
“Just you think of what things you want, and I’ll git ’em for you in Houston, Leonie.”
She would watch for me, I knowed. I got sleepier and sleepier; and then I guess I was asleep, cause I was dreaming I heard the twelve o’clock whistle and me and Leonie was on our way to git on a big airplane that would git me out of this Dallas-town forever.
FROM my lowly station at the bottom of the stairs I was watching Kay and trying to make conversation. She was nice to watch. It could be a pleasant, permanent hobby.
I knew I should stir my stumps, get the hell out into greater Dallas and try to get a couple of hooks into my boy Junior. But I wasn’t quite as ready for strenuous exertion as I had thought before I made that long trip down the stairs.
I had a hunch the pride of Homicide, Campbell, would get close, but that Junior would break away from him in the end.
I eased up from the stair I had sat on and crossed the hall to the bar. I made the zigs and zags come out even until I had a grip on the edge. It was well stocked. I poured and downed a couple of good-sized hookers. No effect to speak of. I poured three fingers more, fat ones, in my glass. Kay came over.
“Is drinking going to do any good?”
“Nothing could do me any good.” I chewed up the three fat fingers.
“I don’t think you’d better drink any more.”
“It’s your whisky,” I said.
“I didn’t mean that.”
“Well, what did you mean?”
“I meant drinking wouldn’t help you.”
“Are we going through that again?”
“Pour you one, you mean?”
“Please don’t drink any more!”
I fumbled around and found a cigarette.
“May I smoke?”
“You’re being hateful.”
“It’s customary to ask a lady, isn’t it?”
“Yes—You may smoke, Bill.”
I lit the cigarette. I was sore at myself and taking it out on this poor little rich girl. She wasn’t a bad kid. Plenty on the ball, considering everything she’d had to take on the chin.
“I’m sorry, Kay. I don’t feel so good. Don’t pay any attention.”
I set the glass down on the bar.
“I know, Bill.” She smiled at me sweetly. A martyr. She squeezed my arm. Then the phone rang and she walked over to answer it.
“Hello? All right, I’ll take it,” she said.
She nodded once, twice, thanked whoever it was, and racked the phone.
“It was a telegram for you, Bill.”
“It was? Too bad I wasn’t here to take it.”
“I took it for you. I thought with your head and all—”
“Thanks. Would it bear repeating? Or do you think with my head and all—?”
“It didn’t make sense to me.”
“It wasn’t sent to you.”
“It was from Ed Brown, Los Angeles. Her forehead wrinkled and she closed her eyes. “’You never liked L. A. anyhow. Forget it. Love. Ed.’”
Kay raised her eyebrows. “See? It doesn’t make any sense, does it?”
It made a lot of sense to me. The short-cutting brother. Deciphered it meant I was through, and wanted. That hot, hot day was a long time ago. How long was it? Let’s see—Actually, less than a week! Jesus.
“What does it mean?” Kay asked.
“It doesn’t mean good. I lost my job.”
“I’ll get you a better one right here in Dallas.”
“Thanks. I can’t wait.”
I drained my drink without moving my head more than I had to, and dropped the butt I’d been dragging on into it.
“Is that meant to be sarcastic?” she asked. “I can’t tell what you mean half the time.”
“Maybe I’d better finish this job first. Before we settle my future.”
“Where do we start?”
“I start by talking to that doctor who had Donald. The Lieutenant could’ve missed a lead there, maybe.”
“Not me. I need another gun. I loaned mine out.”
Kay crooked her finger and I followed her, steadying myself against the wall, into the library. I wasn’t anxious to see that room; but if she could take it I could. It had been well cleaned. She opened a wall-case full of small arms, shotguns, rifles and a scattering of knives.
“Weapons were—Dad’s hobby.”
I chose a .38 Police Special. I like them. I checked it to see if it was loaded. It was. I wouldn’t know why, in a trophy case like that, but it was. The old man seemed to have kept everything ready.
“Nice collection,” I said. “And all primed, to boot.”
“So are we, aren’t we? Shall I get my Jaguar? It’s pretty fast.”
“One of those too, huh? Good idea. Junior could want to race, if we get near him.”
She went for the Jaguar and I went out the front door to wait. It was getting to be routine. Kay brought a dust cloud with her as she swung the English car across the drive and slid up in front of the porch. It was slick as a wet seal. A California seal. So was Kay. I got in but I wasn’t too comfortable. It wasn’t custom built for my bulk.
“Do you know where to go?” I asked her.
“I’m driving, am I not?”
I must have made a picture. Over two hundred pounds of beef with a white bandage around the top of my head like a turban, sticking out of a red, midget car. Oh, well.
We knew the doctor’s house before we saw the number. A small crowd was milling around in front. We pulled up behind a police car parked at the curb and the crowd gave us a thorough once-over and started arguing about who we might be.
Kay ordered the uniformed policeman over to the car. More and more she registered as the imperious type. Maybe I would be too if I had more money than an entire firm of public accountants could account for.
“Is Lieutenant Campbell here?”
He counted her breasts and said, “No, ma’am. He left a while back.”
“We want to see the doctor, then.
“Sorry, ma’am. Him and his wife ain’t talking. The Lieutenant’s orders.”
“I want him to look at my head,” I said.
“He ain’t seeing no patients, neither. Sorry.”
“Thank you,” Kay told him.
A siren came down the street and the crowd stretched rubber necks. The ambulance stopped at the curb; two men got out, took a stretcher from the back doors and went into the house.
“Let’s go,” I said.
“Wait a minute.”
The stretcher bearers brought out a covered body and slid it in the back. They drove away, not bothering to turn on the siren.
Donald didn’t have a chance, I thought. This would be with me a long time. A full-grown cop, walking out on a plain, premeditated, vengeful murder.
“I’ll be right back,” Kay told me.
She got out and went into the house. No ordinary patrolman could keep a Dallas Dixon out of any place. I smoked a cigarette, and she came right back as she had promised. She got under the wheel and drove away.
I waited a few blocks, then, “All right, I give up. What did you find out?”
“Where the Lieutenant is. I want to check with him for the latest.”
“And where is he?”
“Out on the Shreveport highway.”
“Better drop me a block this side, or he won’t like you no more.”
“I’ll handle it.”
The shock was wearing off; her tone became rather sharp again, as if when she cracked the whip Dallas would have to jump through a hoop. I’d seen enough whipcracking. I filed it away under one of the knife blades in my head.
The fresh air felt good on my face. There was plenty of it, the way she kept jamming her toe down on the accelerator. We got to the roadblock too fast to suit me. Campbell’s Buick was there. He leaped out of it and rushed over.
“You, Brown! I left you under arrest—told you to stay in.”
“So you did. But my Jailer was leaving. I’m with my jailer. What more could you want?”
Kay took the ball away from me.
“It’s perfectly all right, Lieutenant. Don’t scream so. Mr. Brown has a headache.”
“I’ll cure it for him. I’ve had enough of his damned headaches.”
“Got an aspirin on you, Lieutenant?” I asked.
His face was livid. He started the explosion; but the look on Kay’s face or the yell from his driver stopped him. I didn’t know which, but would have put my money on Kay’s look.
“Lieutenant!” his driver was calling. “I think you better hear this. It’s the boys at the airport—Love Field.”
The Lieutenant wheeled away and walked quickly to his car. He wasn’t on the radio long, and I couldn’t hear a thing he said. He shouted to Kay from his car, “Take Brown back to your place and keep him there; or I’ll lock him in jail so deep he’ll need a week to get back to the ground floor.”
He said something to his driver and the Buick roared away.
Kay turned to look at me. “Well?”
“He’s latched onto something,” I said.
“He may have at that.”
“May have? Didn’t you see how brave he got? Almost insubordinate!”
“Well, where to now? Home?” she asked.
“Later, maybe. The airport first.”
“You think it was a report on Junior?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised—not in the least.”
“Let’s go, then,” Kay said.
I couldn’t be absolutely sure because we were going so fast; but I got the impression Lieutenant Campbell’s face turned awfully red as we went around his Buick on the way to the airport.
JUNIOR dropped off and started snoring.
Laying there with my arms around him, I was trying to think about buying things down at Houston, like he told me; but I couldn’t keep my mind to it. There was oodles of things I’d like to have, but what good would they do me?
What good would pretty clothes, shoes and permanent waves do me when I was a-setting in jail or a penitentiary for women, looking out of windows with bars across? When I helped Junior get past them policemen and escape, I’d be in ‘most as much trouble as him. In all the pitcher shows, girls doing what I was doing get caught—every time. I’d be a gun moll, that’s what; and up to now no policeman had ever spoke to me except to say howdy.
I reckoned I wouldn’t be treated as bad as Junior; but I knowed it would be awful just the same. Ever since Junior first started a-courting me, Mama and Papa always said he’d wind up in jail some day. I hadn’t never believed it; but he was getting mighty close to it right now— and taking me along with him, too.
He laid there propped against the suitcase, peaceful as a just-born lamb, with sweat oozing out of his face. There wasn’t no breeze a-tall and it was awful hot. Everything was quiet, and over where the shade stopped the heat made the air look wavy above the ground. The hair right next to Junior’s head was a little darker than the rest, cause his head was sweating too. He looked so sweet, sleeping, and I loved him with all my heart, I didn’t care about all that money. I mean, I didn’t care about it if it would get us both in prison. I just wanted plain old Junior, without no trouble or taking all them chances. Just like he was, and forever. Not for just a few days before they put us both in different jails where we couldn’t even see each other.
Oh, if Junior would only do like I asked him! The judge might have mercy and not be too hard on him if he was honest enough to take the money back to the bank and own up to doing wrong. He might go to jail, but if he was good in there he could get out sooner. And I could wait on him, just like I’d been doing most of my life.
If I helped him and we did get away this time it would do no real good. They wouldn’t quit hunting us, not never. They’d track us down like sheep-killing dogs. Even if they didn’t find us for a spell, most of that money would get spent while we was running and hiding. Then Junior would think he had to get us some more; and most likely he’d try robbing somebody else or another bank! And it’d go on and on and on, getting worse and worse, till we was in jail—Or maybe even shot by policemen!
It’s better not to start running in the first place, cause the road just don’t have no end once’t you start. How in the whole wide world was I gonna get Junior to see that? He wouldn’t listen to me no more, not in a hundred years. There was only one thing for me to do if he was dead set against saving hisself from such a terrible end.
I’d have to do it for him. I loved him too much to let him get in such a mess, even if he might hate me for taking it on myself to keep him out of it. Once’t I got my mind made up it wasn’t too hard to do.
I eased away from Junior and got up and put my clothes back on.
I lifted his head up real slow and slid the suitcase out from under him an inch at a time. Then I let his head back down on the grass, careful and gentle, and he kept on snoring slow and soft. I tiptoed out to the road with the suitcase.
Once’t out of the trees I lit out a-running hard as I could go for the airport. I didn’t look back till I got to the door. Junior wasn’t chasing me, so I knew he hadn’t woke up. I don’t know what he’d of done to me if he’d caught me before I got there.
I went in the front door and stopped to catch my breath and think about what I had to do. It still wasn’t too late. I could still go back and run away with Junior for the rest of my life. Tears was rolling down my face and my heart hurt like a sore tooth. The ways of a woman are hard. A woman ought not to have to make big decisions for other people. But it looks as if we always have to.
I was sure I was doing the right thing, but that didn’t make it no easier. Some folks was looking at me kind of curious, so I tried to quit crying. I wiped the tears off my face with the back of my hand and marched right up to the policeman with the little red mustache.
“I want to talk to the Chief of Police,” I said.
“I don’t doubt it, lady. Lots of people do. But it’s like this—these airlines charge just so much and they figure if you don’t like it you can travel some other way. The Chief himself can’t make it any cheaper.”
He walked away from me and left me standing. He must’ve thought I wanted to argue about ticket prices. The man at the information window was counting up figgers on a adding machine and I waited on him to finish.
“Yes, ma’am?” he said, real polite.
I didn’t know just how to start.
“I got some real important information,” I said, “but I won’t tell it to nobody but the Chief of Police.”
“It’s real important.”
“I’m sure it is, ma’am.”
“Would you get him on the phone for me?”
“I’d rather not.”
“But it’s real important!”
“Well, look, lady, why don’t you talk to one of the policemen over there? They’ll help you. Or if they can’t they’d be glad to call downtown for you.”
“All right, Mister, but—” He hollered at the policeman I’d just got through talking to, and he come towards us with a sour look on his race.
“This little lady has a problem,” said the information man. Will you help her out?”
“Of course,” the policeman said, turning to look at me again. “What can I do for you, miss?” “Y’all are looking for the man that robbed the bank, and I know where he is!” I said real fast, and then I broke down crying again. I’d said it now and it was too late to take it back.
The policeman took my suitcase and led me over to a bench and set me down. He was real nice and started patting me on the shoulder, smiling, and telling me not to cry; but I couldn’t help it.
“I want to talk to the Chief of Police!”
He called over another officer. I stopped crying now and I was bound and determined I wouldn’t break down no more. But I wasn’t going to turn Junior over to no everyday policemen. I was going to make a bargain where Junior wouldn’t get hurt or killed. Either they’d do it my way or I wouldn’t tell them nothing a-tall.
They walked a few steps away and held a confab. Then they come back and they was both smiling. The tall one talked to me first.
“What bank was it that was robbed, ma’am?”
“I don’t know.”
“But you know the man who robbed it?”
“I reckon I do. I’m engaged to him.”
His eyes opened wide. “Well, where is he now?”
“I ain’t saying. I don’t want him hurt none; and I want to make a swap to be sure he ain’t. I ain’t telling y’all, cause y’all don’t have no right to bargain with me. I want to talk to one of yore high-up bosses.”
They didn’t much like me saying that.
“You’re right about us,” he said, “but you’re wrong about our bosses. The police in Dallas don’t make deals, high up or not. But you could be arrested yourself—for obstructing justice.”
“Don’t scare her, Marvin,” said the one with the red mustache.
“He ain’t scaring me! Not a bit. I may be from Oklahoma and the country, but I know a little. I won’t talk to nobody but the Chief of Police, scairt or not.”
“All right, lady, all right. But we’ve got to know you’re telling the truth. We can’t get our boss out here on a wild goose chase.”
“I can prove it. Don’t you worry.”
“With what’s in my suitcase. Take a look, if you doubt it.”
He opened it up.
“Holy Christ!” was what he said.
They took a good look at the money, and then the one with the red mustache lit a shuck out the front door like Satan was after him. The tall one shut the suit case and picked it up. He took me by the arm and started for the door.
“You’ve made me a very happy man, he said.
Well, I didn’t know why he was so happy. I wasn’t happy a-tall, and I knew Junior was gonna be awful unhappy about everything, even though it was for the best.
The happy policeman took me to their car outside. Inside the car a radio was blaring away and the red-mustached one was talking into it, and somebody at the other end was talking back to him through it.
I reckoned we’d get a little action, now.
DREAMING about that twelve-o’clock whistle must of woke me up. And it was so hot I was smothering, even naked like I was.
The leaves hanging over me in the trees was gray from the dust settled on them, and they wasn’t no breeze to shake it off. I stretched out my arms and then —the suitcase wasn’t there!
I come straight up and looked every whichaway. Gone! Leonie, too! No Leonie and no suitcase! It was then that it come to me the twelve-o’clock whistle wasn’t no twelve-o’clock whistle, a-tall. It was a siren, and it was coming closer and closer!
I run behind a tree to watch. A police car whanged past wide open, sireen a-screaming bloody murder, and went right on up the road towards the airport. Them fellers meant business, and my breath sort of stuck in my throat. At first I felt like lighting out running somewheres—anywheres. But I ain’t one to be scairt for long. I’d have to hold myself on a tight rein now, for shore.
Leonie and the money both being gone meant they must of went together. Of course! Any fool could see that. I shore hated to think it, but it was bound to be. From there it wasn’t hard to figger out.
It was my own fault; my own dern fault! Thinking back, I knowed I should of saw it coming. And I guess I had saw it and just shut my fool eyes to it. I was so tuckered out and so close to gitting out of Dallas, I’d got careless and just went along—not giving Leonie credit for being a woman, when all the time I should of been remembering it. That’s all she was—just a woman.
A woman ain’t nowheres near like a man and cain’t think straight like a man. They always got to do something without thinking it out ahead of time. That must of been Leonie’s trouble. She was probably sorry right now. She probably had told herself she was a-helping me out! Well, it never made no difference now what she told herself. It was awready done. But I shore did wish Leonie had asked my advice.
Waking me up was one time a sireen had did some good, anyhow. Now I could git away. Dang good thing that bunch of cops never drove up quiet. They’d of got me like a naked baby in his cradle. I had to move fast.
I looked at the Doc’s car while I got my clothes on. Naw. If I taken it, every cop in Texas would know it was me driving it. Best let it set. Then they’d have to wonder if I’d stole another car, or walked, or how I was moving around.
Them cops would figger me to light a shuck towards town and try and git some other kind of ride out. So I started running the other way, down the dirt road towards the country. I’d git in somebody’s house and hide, till night come, anyways. If they started looking in all the houses, I’d find some way to ditch them. They just might do that, too, I figgered. Ain’t smart to think cops are too dumb.
Wasn’t but one of me, against all of them; but if I could ever git out of Dallas I’d be long gone. No cops wouldn’t never git me then. Lucky they was some loose money in my pockets when Leonie robbed me. Had about a season’s laboring wages, at least. And I had me a plan that might fool them cops if I was lucky.
I still had them tickets Leonie had got. I could hole up in some house till the sun went down. Then I’d work my way back to the airport and see if I couldn’t use one of them tickets. That’d shore be the last thing they’d expect, so it was the best thing to do.
I had a good head start on ’em now, so I slowed down and just walked for a spell. Might need my wind later on in case I got in a hurry again. I went right on by the first few houses. They’d be shore to check the first house or two away from the Doc’s car. About another half a mile on down the road I come to this two-story house a-setting pack a good piece from the road on the left-hand side. They was a big scraggly old hedge ‘twixt the front yard and the road. That’d do.
A fence run from the chicken yard in back of the house plumb out to the hedge at the road in front, and the fence-row was growed up in tall grass and weeds. That was on the side of the house towards the airport and them trees where I’d hid the Doc’s car. Iff’n they come after me, it would likely be from that way.
I went in at the gate and crossed the yard and dumb a few wood steps to the gallery. I banged on the door with my fist and waited. I banged again. Shore be lucky if nobody wasn’t home. But a old woman about fifty-five or sixty opened the door. The screen was hooked when I tried to pull it open.
“What you want, boy? I was taking my nap!” she whined at me.
“I’m awful sorry, ma’am. It’s mighty dry, a-walking in this here sun. Wanted to ask iff’n I could git a glass of water.”
“It’s too hot for a body to be walking today.” “Yes, ma’am, it shore is. Wish I could curl up somewhere in the shade myself. But I shore do need that drink if you can spare it.”
I figgered on gabbing with the old woman till she got the screen open. I could have broke the hook, but I never wanted to scare her unless she made me.
“Oh, excuse me, you poor man! You come right on in and I’ll fix some icewater.” “Don’t go to no trouble—”
“No trouble a-tall. Just come on in. I’ll fix it in a jiffy.” She unhooked the screen and went towards the kitchen. I shut the big wood door, locked it, and pulled my pistol out. I caught her before she got to the kitchen and shoved the gun in her back. She turned around and let out a squeak like a mouse and dropped on the floor like a bundle of rags.
I found a closet and drug her to it and shoved her in. “That’s a dang good place to finish yore nap,” I said; but she never heard me joshing her. After locking her in, I taken a look at the rest of the house.
It was a big one. Six rooms downstairs and four up, not counting bathrooms. I locked all the windows and doors and pulled all the shades down. I picked out a window upstairs where I could see all of the front yard and up the road a-piece both ways. A side window in the same room give me a look at most of the back, the chicken houses and on out to the fields. A fence was built from the chicken yard out to the hedge that run alongside of the road.
Iff’n I had to make a run for it, I might could make the chicken houses without too much danger of somebody seeing me—if they come after me from the front. Then I could belly along behind the weeds a-growing down the fence-row till I come to the hedge, and git from there into the ditch. I could crawl in the ditch to some trees about fifty yards back up the road.
They was a lot of if’s in my plans on how to git away. I never had too good of a spot, awright; but I figgered I had a chance. And maybe they wouldn’t decide to look in all the houses. Anyhow, they wasn’t nobody in sight a-coming up the road yet, so I went back downstairs.
I pushed the settee and some chairs up against the front door and moved a big heavy table in the kitchen over against the back door. If they only come one way, that’d slow ’em down till I could git out in a different direction. I taken a look in the icebox and made me a good sandwich out of some baloney and onions and tomatoes. I washed it down with a pitcher of cold milk.
I went on back up to my lookout window and set down in a chair and started waiting and watching. I was feeling good now. I’d shore got around some, the last few days. But I was, gitting fat on it. More excitement than I’d saw in my whole life in Oklahoma, and I was looking forward to some more in a dang short time. I’d got to where I sort of craved it, like El was about his likker. My name was beginning to be knowed, I reckoned.
Folks back to home might awready be reading about me or hearing of my doings on their radios. Kept on thisaway, I’d probably be ahead of old Pretty Boy Floyd. No telling how famous I’d git to be, and I hadn’t even figgered on it, a-tall.
Just one of them lucky spells what come along once’t in a lifetime. But most folks gitting such a break don’t have enough gumption to grab a-holt and make the most of it.
One thing, nobody’d never take Junior Knowles alive, neither. Not with my reputation. I started laughing out loud.
In about eight-ten hours, if my luck helt out, I’d be a-landing down in Houston. And I figgered to have some more fun and make me some more easy money down thataway. Maybe my name would git to be knowed in Houston as good as in Dallas. But I was gonna work it different in Houston.
From here on out I’d be working by myself. No more dang fools or womenfolks to git in my way. One lone wolf, that’s what. I’d git even for Donald. And for what Leonie done to me, too. Somebody’d pay for all the things what went wrong in Dallas.
I reckoned they’d done caught old El down at the bus station. He’d stretch a rope. I never cared much. Wasn’t for him, I’d of been out of Dallas and safe someplace. He shore had got my dander up, acting such a derned old fool. Well, it was too late for me to help him or hurt him, no matter where he’d got to. Let ’em hang him. He’d done lived about as long as me and Donald both put together, anyways. He never had no complaint coming, but if I knowed El he’d do plenty complaining, awright. Wouldn’t doubt but what the old fool would try blaming me, too—right up to the last kick of his big feet. I laughed again.
They got everybody but Junior now, I thought. If they ever got close enough to git me they’d be a-hollering for somebody to help ’em turn me aloose. I checked my pistol, and broke a hole in the screen so’s I could shoot through it easy. If I went out I’d shore take some company along with me.
I was still sort of sleepy, but I fought it off. Junior Knowles had done slept his last wink in Dallas. Every time I shut my eyes, I got closer to my coffin. I thought about a Coca-Cola I’d saw in the old woman’s icebox, and went downstairs and got it. I was back at my chair a-sipping at the coke when I seen the police car creeping along the road.
It come real slow, like a big old snail, and they was a cop on each side of the front seat with their heads stuck out the windows. They must of been looking in the ditch on both sides for me. Well, I wasn’t in no ditch. They could of saved theirselfs the trouble.
Then I seen a little old red car a-follering them along, just as slow as the cops was going and about as far behind them as I could throw a middle-sized brickbat. Two people was in it, but I never figgered they was policemen. One of ’em had his head all wrapped up in white bandages I had me a hunch who them two was. But about that time the police car stopped—in front of the house!
The driver dumb out, holding a gun in his right hand. He come to the gate and stopped, and I seen he had a red mustache.
“Hey! Hey, in the house!” the fool yelled. “Anybody at home?”
We was at home, awright, but I never told him so. Even with that red mustache Leonie thought was so dern cute, I still hoped he’d go on about his business a-looking for me—somewheres else. But he wasn’t that smart, the pore fool.
“Cover me, Marv. I’m gonna check the house,” he hollered at his partner.
He got the gate open and started walking onto the grass. I taken good aim. Don’t usually need to bother about aiming, but I wanted to be shore not to have no hurt cops a-crawling around in that hedge with guns in their hands just now.
I squeezed the trigger off slow, and caught him just where I’d been a-looking—square-dab in the middle of his chest. He wouldn’t be doing no crawling. He wouldn’t even know when he hit the ground, he was so dead. The bullet had sort of balanced him in the middle of a step for a second. Then he toppled onto his belly, and I seen a big sticky-looking spot in the middle of his back.
His partner must of saw it, too. He had that car in high in less than fifteen yards. He never had to be in such a hurry—specially going away from me—cause I wasn’t gonna waste no shots. Mine was every one gonna be for keeps.
I looked up the other way, where the little red car was stopped by the ditch on one side of the road. A man and a woman had got out of it and was watching the house. So now I could git on with the plan I’d worked out. This place would most likely be swarming like a beehive before long. I was shore glad the black-headed stranger and the Dixon gal had come to the party early. I laughed out loud. Looked as if my luck was still a-holding out.
Right now I meant to find out. Them two was still sanding in the road talking to each other when I left the window and headed for the back of the house.
THE Lieutenant’s driver must have found some extra space between his foot and the floor board after we went around him. When we got to the airport and Kay stopped at the entrance to the terminal their siren was screaming uncomfortably close behind us.
“Stay in the car, Kay,” I said.
“I just think it’s best.”
A pair of police cars were in front of the entrance ahead of us. Two cops were standing by one of the cars with a girl between them. The cops looked as if they’d just been informed of joint ownership in a winning sweepstakes’ ticket. But the girl’s face wasn’t happy.
She was a pale creature, rather slight but well-proportioned, generously freckled, and crowned with a mass of dark red hair. She had evidently been crying but appeared calm enough now, even if a bit dazed, and unquestionably sad. Two cops and one unhappy girl didn’t add up to anything but three, for me.
“I wonder who she is?” Kay said.
“I wouldn’t know,” I admitted. “Pretty, though, isn’t she?”
The siren dwindled from shrill to guttural tone and died entirely as Lieutenant Campbell’s car pulled up beside us. He was on the ground before it stopped rolling.
“You two will stay in your car and not interfere in this,” he said.
“We’re helping you,” Kay said. I didn’t say anything, but I noticed the red flush wasn’t quite faded from his face.
The lieutenant held a conference with the cops and the girl. She talked a blue streak, and he was being mighty kind and polite to her. He went so far as to pat her gently on the head once.
He got into his car, with the girl sitting in the front seat beside him, and used the radio.
“Kay, you’d better have him tell you what he’s up to,” I said.
She went over and talked to him a minute and came back.
“You’d never guess. It’s Junior’s girl friend. She’s turned him in and agreed to lead the lieutenant to his hiding place. Nice girl friend!”
“I’ll be damned! He’s even managed to work in a love affair! He gets around.”
“Let’s follow along,” she replied.
Lieutenant Campbell pulled out, without the siren this time, and we trailed him. Three-quarters of a mile down the highway toward town they turned into a dirt crossroad, followed it a short distance, and stopped near a clump of trees. Kay drifted to a stop behind his car.
Campbell took his driver with him into the trees, with their guns ready. We could see them stalking from tree to tree, covering the ground thoroughly.
“Wait here,” I said to Kay. I climbed out of the midget with some difficulty and joined the lieutenant, who was then sneaking up to an old green car parked in the middle of a grassy patch among the trees. Nothing happened.
“Did he skip?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He was disappointed. “Couldn’t have been gone long. But he is gone.”
“Sirens are strange that way. They urge some people to move rather swiftly.”
He threw me a disgusted, unfriendly look.
“He probably hitched a ride back towards town on the highway. Then again, he could’ve gone on down that way.” He pointed down the sandy lane.
One of the other prowl cars from the airport drove up and stopped.
“Marvin!” the Lieutenant called. “You and Harry drive down this road and check each house. And the ditches on both sides. No use going over three or four miles. He can’t be far.”
“Yes, sir,” said Marvin.
“I’ll check the other way and keep the radio hot to get a real hunt organized. We’ll comb this whole end of the county if we have to. You contact me if you hit on something. And Marvin, be alert—all the way.”
“We will, Lieutenant.”
“Bob, call in and get more men out to the airport. Get the whole damn field surrounded.”
Bob got busy on the radio. My respect for the Dallas homicide officer took another upward curve.
“Lieutenant,” I said, “do you mind if Miss Dixon and I follow along behind Marvin there?”
“Does it make any difference whether I do or not?”
“I just thought I’d ask—”
“Go ahead. Get out of my hair. It’s probably safe. I think Junior went the other way.”
I went back to the Jaguar and Kay, telling myself he could be right. But if my hunch about the siren-scare had scored, he probably was heading away from town. He wouldn’t run toward a siren, no matter how unpredictable he was. I squeezed back in beside Kay.
“Let’s go down this road, Kay.”
“Do you think he went that way? That he’ll walk clear out of Texas?”
“That’s my guess, considering police cars, sirens and other probabilities. Let’s go, but take it easy for my headache’s sake. Follow Marvin in the car up ahead, but don’t get too close.”
As we pulled away, I caught a glimpse of the girl who had tattled on Junior hunched forward in Campbell’s car, sobbing away as if all the world’s burdens were on her shoulders. Kay tromped on it until we almost caught Marvin’s car, then trailed it at about fifty yards.
Marvin and Harry stopped at the first house, but they didn’t get in to do any looking. The farmer wouldn’t let them in because they didn’t have a warrant, so they took his word that Junior wasn’t inside. I guess they figured Junior would have needed a warrant himself, or would have had to kill the cantankerous old man who came to the door. The cops got back in their car and started easing down the road again.
We went at a slow crawl. Those cops were being dutifully alert. I knew they wanted the credit for trapping Junior, but I had a hunch they weren’t anxious to tangle with him. They watched the ditches as the lieutenant had instructed them, and checked several more houses with no luck, or with good luck—depending on how they felt about finding Junior.
They came to one house that looked like a natural to me. Set back from the road with a large yard to cross before reaching the porch, it had the look of a good place for a man to hide and be able to see all the moves of his pursuers.
“Stop the car here, Kay. Now, back up a bit. Good. We’ll watch from here on this one.”
It didn’t take long for my hunch to be substantiated. Harry was about halfway across the yard when a shot boomed out from the house shattering the afternoon silence. Harry hesitated a moment, then fell face down on the grass to lie very, very still. Sand and gravel spewed from under the rear wheels of their car as Marvin vacated the scene in a hurry, rounding a slight bend in the road to go out of sight.
“Mark up one more for Junior,” I said. “Nice to be back here out of range, isn’t it?”
I got out of the car. Kay stepped down into the road, too.
“What now, Bill? Do we go in after him?”
“Do we think that would be wise? We do not.”
“Are you afraid of him?”
“Let’s say I’m prudent. We can wait. Marvin’ll radio for help, and the taxpayers’ boys can take the chances. Besides, we don’t have a search warrant. Remember the argument at the first house?”
She snorted, but we waited. I swore at the heat and the pain in my broken head.
We stood around a few minutes watching and seeing nothing, and I got restless. I walked over to the edge of the ditch and went a few steps in the direction of the house. I wanted to get closer and still stay out of pistol range, and see if I could catch any movement at the windows to keep our boy located for the hired help. I knew they would show up any minute. I wasn’t close enough yet, so I jumped down in the ditch to crawl nearer.
The jump saved my life.
A shot cracked out as I jumped, and a slug tugged at my shirt where it billowed out a bit in the back from my sudden movement. I dived face forward in the ditch, chewing dirt with my teeth. My head spun dizzily as I waited for another report from that gun. That shot had come from behind me!
I was quiet as a mouse while I worked up enough nerve to get my gun out. It took guts to get it and raise my head to the level of the ditch for a look to the rear. Junior had shot at me—though how he got back there I couldn’t guess. I’d hit the ditch so fast and nestled so close to the dirt he must have thought he’d nailed me good.
He was under the steering wheel of the Jaguar now, fumbling with the controls and trying to start the engine. I couldn’t see Kay, and I was afraid Junior had beat her head in and thrown her off in the ditch on the other side of the road. But just then she came out of a ditch about a dozen yards behind the car.
She was holding that little pearl-handled .25 toy in front of her. She walked deliberately up behind the car and came around to Junior’s side. I saw generations of vengeful, hating Texans alive in her set features. She was almost abreast of Junior and he hadn’t noticed her. I was too fascinated to move or speak as I watched her.
“Junior!” Kay screamed sharply.
Things happened fast.
The midget car’s engine roared to life, and at the same time Junior twisted his head around with a startled look at Kay. He was fascinated, too, but not enough not to go for the gun he’d laid on the seat. He made a quick grab for it as Kay pulled the trigger.
The car lurched forward after the shot, but the engine stalled because there was nothing to feed it fuel. It stopped with one wheel over the edge of the ditch. Junior had stopped with a small hole spreading red dye around itself a little off center in his forehead. I came out of my trance and stood up.
Kay walked to the car. She held the gun at four-inch range and carefully spaced four more holes in Junior’s head, working as if by a mental pattern she had prepared long ago.
She stood looking down at him, her face a mold of stark, fiendish glee as she gazed hungrily at his butchered face, drinking it all in like a slightly insane but jubilant female demon, etching her work permanently in her memory.
I experienced an odd feeling. An ice-cold hand was inside my back and around my spine, running up and down and giving each separate vertebra a clammy squeeze as it passed. I wished for something to halt that endless minute, and something did.
The siren was coming down the road. Lieutenant Campbell’s car, with a dust cloud attached behind, pulled up to us and stopped. He got out, gun in hand, and looked at Junior. Seeing his gun, I realized mine had fallen from my hand back in the ditch, but I didn’t bother to go after it. I wouldn’t need it any more.
“Three down, none to go,” the lieutenant remarked.
Kay looked at him. Her face was perfectly composed now, natural and beautiful.
“Get that body out of my car, Lieutenant,” she said.
Campbell and his driver obliged and I pushed the car back onto the gravel shoulder. Kay took off her light jacket, wiped the blood from the leather upholstery of her car, and threw the jacket into the ditch. Then she got into the car.
“Come on, Bill. Let’s go back to the house for a drink. It’s hot out here in the sun.”
“Where’d the girl go, Lieutenant?” I asked him.
“I sent her to town for medical care. She went all to pieces listening to the radio calls.”
“You know Harry has to be picked up there at the house?” I said.
He nodded somberly.
“Well, I guess it’s all over. Be seeing you, Lieutenant.”
“That’s truer than you think, Brown. You probably will be seeing me—soon. I’m not entirely satisfied with your story of how you learned so much about the mess in such a short time. Maybe I’ll have time to finish checking you out, now.”
Ungrateful fellow, that Lieutenant Campbell. I got into the car and Kay turned around and started back to Dallas.
“I want you, Bill,” she said. “If you’re feeling better when we get home, you’re going to help me erase this last week. After a few days we’ll see about making it permanent, on a more socially acceptable basis. It’s time I got married anyhow, and you’re the boy.”
I was set. Her I was, riding with the richest and probably the most beautiful girl in Texas. She was alone in the world and I held the inside track. From the brink of an emotional breakdown, I would nurse her back to normalcy. Then we’d get married while cash registers played the wedding march.
Ranches with meat and riches on the hoof. Oil wells with cash in every barrel. I’d have a house on the Riviera, another in Honolulu, and a large beach cottage at Malibu. Luxury. Once a year I could bring her back to Dallas and we’d spend a week or so in the bank vault—clipping coupons. I had it all figured out. It was so easy.
Then the look on her face when she fired the last four shots into Junior intruded into my pleasant dream. I shuddered as the vision chased all me pretty pictures right out of my mind.
“Kay,” I said. “Would you mind turning back and take me to the airport?”
“Why the airport, Bill? Did you lose something out there?”
“You don’t have to—let me off here. I can hitch a ride.”
“No. I’ll take you.”
The rest of the ride was silent. She didn’t look at me and I didn’t look at her. I was afraid to, afraid I’d change my mind. When she pulled up in front of the terminal building I did take a long look at her, and found it was easy.
“Thanks, Kay, for trusting me like you did. And thanks for the offer, anyhow.”
“Where are you going?”
“Away from Dallas. I don’t know, yet.”
“Would you mind kissing me good-by, Bill?”
“No, Kay, I don’t mind.”
I did, and without looking back I walked into the terminal. As I approached a ticket window, I realized something momentous.
My headache was gone! Disappeared. Just like that.