Authors: David Goodis
by David Goodis
Copyright 1954 by David Goodis
January cold came in from two rivers, formed four walls around Hart and closed in on him. He told himself an overcoat was imperative. He looked up and down Callohil Street and saw an old guy coming toward him and the old guy featured a big overcoat and big, heavy work shoes. The overcoat came nearer and Hart worked his way into an alley and waited. He was shivering and he could feel the cold eating into his chest and tearing away at his spine. He came out of the alley as the old guy walked past, and he was behind him. The street was empty. He moved up on the old guy and then noticed how the old guy was bent and the overcoat was old and torn. The old guy would have a hard time getting another overcoat.
Hart turned and walked down Callohill Street. He pulled up the collar of his chocolate-brown flannel suit and told himself a lot of good that did. He turned around again and walked toward Broad Street, and he was hating Philadelphia.
The cold was even worse on Broad Street. From the east it brought an icy flavor from the Delaware. From the west it carried a mean grey frost from the Schuylkill. Hart had been brought up in a warm climate and besides that he was a skinny man and he couldn't stand this cold weather.
He looked south on Broad Street and the big clock on City Hall said six-twenty. It was already getting dark and lights were showing in store windows here and there. Hart put his hands in his trousers pockets and continued north on Broad Street. Then he took his hand out of his left pocket and looked at three quarters, a dime, a nickel and three pennies. That was all he had and he needed an overcoat. He needed a meal and a place to stay and he could use a cigarette. He thought maybe it would be a good idea to walk across Broad and keep on walking until he reached the Delaware River and then take a fast dive and put an end to the whole thing.
He grinned, Just thinking about it made him feel better. It made him realize that as long as he was alive he'd get along somehow. He could hope for a break.
The cold hit again from four sides, got inside him and began to freeze there. He walked on fighting the cold. He passed a store window with a mirror border and stood looking at himself. The flannel suit was still in fairly good shape and that helped some. The collar of the white shirt was grey at the edges and that wasn't so good. He had a mania for clean white shirts. That was something else he needed, a few shirts and underwear and socks. It was a pity he had to get off that train in such a hurry. In a few months or so the railroad would be auctioning his suitcase and his things.
He stood there looking in the mirror, and the cold beat into his back. He needed a haircut. His pale blond hair was wisping around his ears. And he needed a shave. His eyes were pale grey and there were dark shadows under his eyes. He was getting older. In another month he'd be thirty-four.
He smiled sadly at the poor thing in the mirror, the poor skinny thing. Once he had owned a yacht.
It was really dark now and he told himself he better get a move on. He walked on another block and then stopped in front of a clothing store. A sign in the window announced a sale. A prematurely bald man was arranging garments in the window. Hart walked into the store.
The salesman smiled eagerly at Hart.
Hart said, "I'd like to see an overcoat."
"Why, certainly7 the salesman said. "We've got a lot of fine ones'
"I only want one," Hart said.
"Why, certainly," the salesman said again. He started toward a rack and then turned and stared at Hart. "How come you're stuck without an overcoat in this weather?"
"I'm careless," Hart skid. "I don't take care of myself."
The salesman was looking at Hart's turned-up coat collar.
Hart said, "Do you want to sell me an overcoat?"
"Why, certainly," the salesman said. "What kind would you like?"
"The warm kind."
The salesman took a coat from a hanger. "Just feel that fleece. Try it on. You never wore anything like that in all your life. Just feel it."
Hart got into the coat. It was much too large. He took it off and handed it back to the salesman.
"What's the matter?" the salesman said.
"It's too small," Hart said.
The salesman handed Hart another coat, saying, "Try that on and see how it fits'
Hart got into the coat. It was a fair fit.
"There's your coat," the salesman said.
Hart ran his fingers along the bright green fleece. He said, "How much?"
"Thirty-nine seventy-five," the salesman said. "And it's a buy. I'm telling you it's a real buy. You can see for yourself, it's a buy' The salesman whirled, and as if he was summoning help for a drowning man he waved an arm and yelled, "Harry, come over here!"
The prematurely bald man came out of the window and walked across the store.
The salesman said, "Harry, come here and take a look at this coat."
Harry put long fingers into his trousers pockets and looked at the overcoat and began to nod solemnly.
"That's what I call an overcoat," the salesman said.
"It's one of the specials, isn't it?" Harry said.
"Why, certainly," the salesman said. "Why, certainly its one of the specials."
"How much did you say it was?" Hart asked.
"Thirty-nine seventy-five," the salesman said. "And if you can get another value like that any place in town, you go ahead. You go right ahead and see if you can find another overcoat like that in town. A genuine Lapama fleece for only thirty-nine seventy-five. I'm telling you I don't know how we stay in business."
Hart frowned dubiously and looked down at the front of the coat. Then, as his head was lowered he brought his gaze up and he saw the salesman winking at Harry.
The salesman said, "Harry, if he doesn't buy this coat you put it in the window with one of the big price tags and five will get you fifty we sell it in ten minutes."
"Do you mean what you're saying?" Hart asked.
"Why, certainly," the salesman said. "Do you realize what fine fleece that is? If you don't take that overcoat you'll never forgive yourself."
"All right," Hart said. "I'll take it." He walked toward the door.
"That'll be thirty-nine seventy-five," the salesman said. He was walking behind Hart, and then he got excited as Hart moved faster, and he said, "Hey, listen--"
Hart opened the door and ran out.
There were three customers in the small taproom on Twelfth Street off Race. As Hart came in the three customers turned and looked at him and the man behind the bar kept on wiping a glass. Hart walked into the lavatory and took off the coat and tore off the size slip and the price ticket. With the coat over his shoulder he came out of the lavatory and went up to the bar and ordered a beer. He was two-thirds finished with the beer when a policeman entered the taproom and stood there in the doorway examining the four faces and then walked slowly toward Hart.
Hart looked up, holding the glass close to his mouth.
The policeman gestured toward the bright green coat. "Where did you get that?"
"In a store," Hart said.
"I think it was Atlantic City. Or it might have been Albuquerque."
"Are you trying to be smart?"
"Yes," Hart said.
"You stole that coat, didn't you?"
"Sure," Hart said, and he tossed the beer into the policeman's eyes, going forward as the policeman let out a yell going backward, and he was past the policeman, hearing the excitement behind him as he ran out.
Holding tightly to the coat over his arm he ran down Twelfth Street and turned east on Race. Then he went up Eleventh and ran down an alley. In the middle of the alley he came to a stop and he got into the overcoat and leaned against a wall of splintered wood and breathed heavily. He was trying to decide where he should go. He couldn't take another risk with the railroads or roads going out of town or boats going down the river. It was at a point where odds on all those things were too big. Now that he was here in Philadelphia he had to stay here. It was a big enough place. What he had to do was find a section of the city where they wouldn't be likely to pick him up, where he could take his time and pull himself together.
He knew Philadelphia because very long ago he had put in a couple of years at the University of Pennsylvania and at that time he had been an impressionable boy who liked to roam around alone and pick up things. In those two years he had covered a lot of Philadelphia, and he found out it was a lot of cities inside of a city. Germantown was complete in itself, and so was Frankford. Across the Schuylkill there was West Philadelphia with its University. And because the city was divided so distinctly he was thinking now that what he had to do was get away from the center and cross a few boundaries. He wondered if there was a lot of crime in Germantown. If things hadn't changed there wouldn't be much police activity up there, because long ago when he was at the University he saw Germantown as a collection oLdignity, Just a bit smug and perhaps unconsciously snobbish against the historical background and the old colonial flavor. It might still be quiet and dignified up there. He wished he had cab fare. The dime for beer left him eighty-three cents, and he knew a cab to Germantown would cost much more.
"God Almighty," he said, because even with the overcoat it was so biting cold, and he smiled remembering that this was why he had left the University, because these Phil adelphia winters were just too much for him. He remembered one day when it was as miserakle as a day can possibly be, no rain or snow but a cold grey day with meanness written all over the sky and the streets, and he decided he didn't have to put up with that sort of weather, even though he liked the atmosphere of the University and the things he was learning there. So he packed his things and took a train, feeling the luxury of walking out on something he didn't care for. But now there was no walking out, there was only running away. There was a vast difference between walking out and running away.
He walked down the alley, then went up Tenth to Spring Garden. The Delaware wind came crashing down the wide street, hitting him hard, almost knocking him flat. He needed food and he needed rest, and he went over to a street lamp and leaned against the pole, wondering if he should take the chance of going into a restaurant. Then all at once there was a policeman standing in front of him.
"Plenty cold," the policeman said.
"What?" Hart said. He had his hands away from the pole of the street lamp and he was wondering if he should run north or west or try his luck across the street and down another alley.
The policeman clapped black leather mitts together and said, "I said it's plenty cold."
"This?" Hart said. "This is nothing. You've never been in northern Canada."
"This is cold enough for me," the policeman said.
"This is summer, compared to where I've been," Hart said. He knew he hadn't lost any of it. It was still good, the way it came out, the way it sounded, with just the right balance between conviction and nonchalance. As long as he could hold on to that way of pitching words, he was all right.
He left the policeman standing there, and he walked west on Spring Garden Street, deciding on Germantown.
He walked up Tulpehocken Street, watching the fronts of houses and hoping to see a room-for-rent sign. He went up two blocks without seeing such a sign, and then he was on Morton Street and he decided to turn there and try two or maybe three blocks east on Morton. He was very careful about it as he walked along Morton Street, watching the doors, the porch posts, the brick walls underneath the porch, any place where there would be a sign. He was finished with one block, startin on the second, when from somewhere back in the blackness he heard the crackling sound that had fire in it, and he started to run.
He knew how to run. For one thing he was built for it and for another he had been working at it for a long time. Without extending himself he was covering a lot of ground, and presently he decided to have a look back there. He turned and looked back and all he could see was the street and houses on both sides of the street and the empty pavements.
That was all. That was what had been chasing him. The emptiness.
He made a fist and walked up to a tree. He slammed his fist against the tree and pain shot through his knuckles. Not enough pain. He had to cure himself now, get this ended before it could really get started, because once it got started he would have much difficulty curing it and maybe he wouldn't be able to cure it at all. He had to hurt himself more than this, make himself realize that he couldn't continue this sort of thing. The pain made him close his eyes. He told himself even if he had to break his hand he had to cure himself now. He shaped the hurt hand into an ever harder fist and readied another blow at the tree.
He had the fist in motion but something got into the focus of his eyes aiming at the tree. The fist stopped a few inches away from the tree. Hart turned and looked down the street. It was quiet, it was still. But it was no longer empty, because something dark was on the pavement a block away.
Hart walked toward the dark thing, knowing this was all wrong. He should be going in the other direction. But he couldn't be a machine all the time. He had to follow the emotional impulse once in a while, and now the impulse was pure curiosity and he kept going forward until at last he was there where the dark form of a man was motionless on the pavement.
Bending down, Hart saw the vague sign of life, the battle to breathe. He got his hands on the man's shoulders. He tugged, and rolled the man over and he had a look at the man's face.
He was a young man and he had his eyes open and he looked at Hart and said, "Are you a doctor?"
"No," Hart said.
"All right, then," the man said, "take a walk." He closed his eyes and his throat contracted and then some blood came out of his mouth. He opened his eyes and when he saw Hart still there he seemed surprised. He said, "What are you hanging around for?"
"I'm trying to think of a way to help you."
"Do you have a car?" the man said.
"Do you live around here?"
"Jesus Christ," the man said, and some more blood came out of his mouth. He tried to roll over and his face tightened and he started to let out a scream, forced it back just as it began to shoot from his mouth. And instead the blood came again, and again he said, "Jesus Christ." Then he looked at Hart and he said, "Do you know anyone around here?"
"No," Hart said. "But maybe I can help you anyway. Do you want to roll over?"
"All right," the man said, "roll me over."
Hart did it more gently this time. The man was face down and Hart saw the small hole very black against the yellow camel hair. It was halfway down and maybe two inches to the left of the spine. The man was going to die in a minute or so.
"Where is it?" the man said.
Hart told him.
"Jesus Christ," the man said. "I'm done." His shoulders began to quiver. He seemed to be crying. Then he made the sounds of dying and he was trying to get words into it. Hart bent low, trying to catch it. And he heard, "--pocket--wallet--you might as well--they want it--I don't want them to have it--you might as well--oh Jesus Christ oh Lord in Heaven it hurts it hurts--go on, take the wallet and get out of here and if you know what's good for you don't go to the police don't tell anybody just take the wallet and take the money out and throw the wallet away, you better burn it, that's right, burn it--now take it--now--buy your wife a diamond ring--buy your poor old mother a house--buy yourself a car--"
Hart heard something coming down the street. He twisted his head and he saw two figures a little more than a block away, running toward his eyes. He started to go away, then he twisted again and he had his hand underneath the camel's hair coat, going into the back pocket of heavy tweed sports slacks, getting a hold on a wallet. As he took the wallet out, the man who owned the wallet shuddered and died, and then Hart was on his feet, sprinting down Morton Street.
Someone yelled, "Stop!"
"Sure," Hart said. "Right away."
The crackling noise came again. Then again and three more times. He felt a bullet rip some fabric from his bright green coat. He knew he had to get off Morton Street but he couldn't see any alley on this block and he knew a side street wouldn't be any good. He was going to chance it for another block, if he could last that long. If he didn't see any alley by then, he was going to throw the wallet in the air and let them see it, and maybe they would leave him alone.
He crossed the side street, making it in two big jumps, then he was on his way again, going down Morton Street as fast as he could go. He saw an alley sliding toward him and then a bullet went by and it couldn't have been more than an inch under the lobe of his left ear. As he entered the alley he heard a door opening somewhere, a scream, the door shutting, and he could imagine the housewife fainting dead away.
Running down the alley he put the wallet in a coat pocket. He made a few more yards, selected his garden, vaulted a wood fence four feet high, went flat going backwards and finally hiding behind a bush.
He heard them coming down the alley.
If there was a market, he would have sold his chances for one thin dime. There were two lamps in the alley; and one of them was tossing light toward this garden. They were taking their time about it, going over each garden and Hart could hear them talking it over as they went along. They weren't excited. They were very sure about it, just as he was. He wondered what they wanted most, him or the wallet. If it was him, it was because they thought the dying man had said something that they didn't want repeated. If it was the wallet, it was because the wallet contained something they wanted.
Hart estimated that he had about twenty seconds at the outside. He took the wallet out of his pocket, edged it toward where the light from the lamp was thickest. The wallet was goatskin, very soft, and it opened smoothly and Hart took out eleven bills. They were thousand-dollar bills.
A voice said, "He's got to be somewhere around."
Another voice said, "Talk to him. We'll save time that way."
"All right," the first voice said. Then it was louder and it was saying, "Come on out, mister. You won't get hurt."
Hart was digging a hole behind the bush. When he thought it was deep enough he inserted the eleven thousand dollars and then he quickly patted the soil on top. He rubbed his soil-stained hands on his trousers, put the wallet back in his pocket, and heard the first voice saying, "I'm telling you you won't get hurt if you come out now. We just want to talk to you, that's all."
"Okay," Hart said, and as he got up and came out from behind the bush he said, "You got the wrong man. I didn't kill him."
He saw the two men watching him from the other side of the fence. One of them, tall and young and wearing a skater's wool cap and shaker sweater, went over and opened the gate. The other man, silver hair showing under a soft-brim felt, had a revolver pointed at Hart.
"Come on out and let's have a look at you," the silverhaired man said.
Hart went out through the opened gate. The young man in the skater's cap came up to him and threw a fist at his face. He was under it and the skater without skates was wide open for a left hook. Hart thought of the revolver and kept his hands down and knew he was going to get hit on the skater's next try and there was nothing he could do but stand there and take it. The skater pushed him against the fence, setting him up for a right cross. He stood there and the fist came toward his face and he let his head go back as the fist came in. It was a slow punch, but there was a lot of force in it, and it hurt.
The skater smiled. He had a long, thick nose that came to a knob at the end. He had big teeth in a thin face. Both cheeks were mottled with the scars from a bad case of some skin disease. The skater was getting ready to hit Hart again.
Hart looked at the man with silver hair and said, "Revolver or no revolver, if he tags me again he gets a busted pelvis."
The skater smiled very wide and said, "Well, whaddya know--he's a kicker."
The man with silver hair looked at the skater and said, "Choke him--we've made enough noise with bullets."
"Sure," Hart said, "go ahead and choke me." He extended his head and lifted his chin obligingly. The skater put up two large hands and showed the fingers to Hart, then walked in to put the fingers around Hart's throat. Hart stood where he was, stood quietly until the fingers were fastened on his throat, and then he brought up his left leg and his knee caught the skater between the legs and the skater let out a tremendous screech and went backward. Hart went along with him, grabbed him and threw him at the man with silver hair. The skater screeched again, colliding with the man with silver hair, and Hart heard the gun go off. The skater and the man with silver hair were on the ground and the skater was making weird noises and the man with silver hair was trying to aim the gun.
Hart was undecided. If he ran now he would have his back turned to the gun, and he wasn't sure he would be able to run fast enough. And if he stood here he was going to get shot. The only thing he felt right now was a definite regret that he had selected Germantown.
Now the gun was aimed and the man with silver hair was getting to his feet. The skater was on the ground, squirming and moaning. Hart raised his arms and smiled foolishly.
The man with silver hair was saying, "You're too much trouble."
Hart said, "I don't know about you, but I don't like to be choked."
"Do you think I like to shoot people?"
"No," Hart said. "You're a nice guy. You're a swell guy. You wouldn't shoot anybody."
"Unless I had a reason."
"And would it have to be a good reason?"
"Sure," said the man with silver hair. "I don't like to shoot people. I don't get any special kick out of it."
"That's fine," Hart said. "That means you won't shoot me."
"That means I will shoot you."
"You think you've got a reason?"
"A good reason."
"Oh, all right," Hart said. "You want the wallet? I'll give you the wallet."
He took the wallet out of his pocket.
"Toss it," said the man with silver hair. "If it comes toward my eyes I'll shoot you in the stomach."
Hart tossed the wallet. The wallet was caught and pocketed. The man with silver hair was looking at Hart's face and saying, "We don't have too much time, Paul. See if you can stand up."
The skater was sobbing now. The skater said, "I'm ruptured. I'm all smashed down there."
"Take a look at it, Paul," said the man with silver hair.
"I'm afraid to look at it," the skater said.
"Go on, Paul. Look at it," said the man with silver hair.
Paul sobbed loudly. Paul said, "I'm afraid, Charley. I feel bad enough as it is. If I look at it I'll feel worse."
"What are we going to do?" Hart said. "Stand here?"
"I don't know," said the man with silver hair. "There's not much sense just standing here, is there?"
"I guess not," Hart said. He reasoned he could just about put two yardsticks between his chest and the revolver.
"It hurts something fierce," Paul said. "Charley, do something for me. I can't stand it."
Charley twisted his lips and bit at the inside of his mouth. He was thinking. He seemed to be looking past Hart's shoulder as he said, "Let's get him out of here."
They heard a police whistle. It was short, then it was long, then it was short twice. Then it was very long and then there were more whistles.
Charley bit hard at the inside of his mouth. "All right," he said, "let's get out of here fast. You take his legs. I'll have one hand on his wrist and one hand on the revolver. Turn your back to me and pick up his legs."
Hart obeyed. Paul groaned and was bringing it up to a yell when Charley said, "Now you cut that out, Paul."
Paul sobbed again. They were carrying him down the alley. He said, "I can't stand it, Charley. I just can't stand it, that's all."
"Let's hurry it up," Charley said.
Hart moved faster.
"Please, Charley--" Paul was groaning and sobbing. "Give me a break, will you?"
Charley had no reply for that. They were going rather fast down the alley. They heard the whistles again. As they came toward the end of the alley Charley said they ought to turn toward the right so they could get back to Tulpehocken. Paul was begging Charley to get him to a hospital. Hart was wondering if it would be a good idea to let go of Paul's legs and gamble on a sprint. Then they were at the end of the alley and turning into another alley.