Authors: Richard Stark
Myers struggled up again, and back into the trunk. Grofield wanted to go sit in the car, but he thought he should stick around and watch until Myers was tucked away. Dan might start punching and kicking out of irritation and frustration.
Finally Myers was in, lying on his side in that cramped fetal-like position, and Dan slammed the lid again. "Come on, I'll take you home."
They got in the car, and Grofield gave directions, and they started up.
Driving, Dan said, "I don't know what to do."
"Let him go," Grofield said. "The aggravation isn't worth it."
"I'll have to think about it."
Mary called, "Dinner!"
Grofield was on the platform containing the bedroom set, changing his clothes again. When Dan had dropped him off, he'd changed out of the wet stuff into different work clothes, and had gone back to washing flats, which meant he'd immediately gotten all wet again. But he didn't mind it so much when he was moving around and in sunlight. He'd gotten most of them finished by the time Mary came home from her job at the supermarket, her arms full of groceries, some of which she'd paid for, and he'd gone ahead and done the last two flats before coming in to clean up and change. The sun was going down, it was getting chillier, and he was just as glad to switch again to dry clothes.
The bedroom set had two walls, made of flats, with the double bed against one and the mirrored dresser against the other. An armless wooden kitchen chair stood out in limbo at the wall-less corner of the platform, and mismatched end tables with mismatched bedside lamps flanked the bed, completing the furnishings. Extension cords ran from the lamps back into the wings and plugged in at the lightboard.
Dressed again, Grofield stepped down from the platform and crossed from stage left to stage right. The central part of the stage, the main playing area, was done as a living room, but only with the furniture, without any flats to give the illusion of walls and doors and windows, so that behind the furniture there was only space, filled with odd pieces of stage junk, and then the rear wall of the barn. As for the living room set, a wide, low maroon mohair sofa was exactly in the middle of the stage, facing the audience, on an old faded imitation Persian rug. End tables flanked it, with a table lamp on the left and a floor lamp on the right. A black leather chair, sideways to the audience, was stage left of the sofa. A lone bookcase, eight feet high and three feet wide, stood in naked solitude about six feet back from the black leather chair. Stage right of the sofa, set back a ways, was a rocking chair, and beside it a drum table holding a fake telephone.
Grofield crossed now behind all this furniture, and stepped up on a platform on the other side that contained a dining room set. Two walls again, one with a window that looked out on the rear wall of the barn. An old but sturdy maple dining room table and four chairs, two of them matching the table and the other two odd strays. A maple bureau from some forgotten bedroom suite was standing against the windowless wall; it was in the drawers of this bureau that Mary kept their dishes and silverware and tablecloths.
And candles. Two were burning on the table now, which Mary had already set. She wasn't in sight, and as Grofield stepped up on the platform the stage lights dimmed, lowering till the candlelight became obvious on the table. Grofield bent and peered past a side drapery backstage; Mary was at the lightboard, just releasing the master lever. "Be right there," she called, and waved to him, and went off to the star's dressing room to get dinner off the hotplates.
Grofield sat down at his place. He was facing the audience now. The house lights were out, so all he could see was the darkness out there beyond the living room set. It was a comforting darkness, somehow, warm and pleasant, and he smiled at it. This hopeless theater was more home than anyplace else he'd ever lived.
Mary came out with dinner; meat loaf and one vegetable, broccoli from the supermarket freezer. She was on the small side, neat and compact, and looked like the heroine of a thirties musical. Grofield was out of his mind for her.
While Grofield served meat loaf and broccoli onto their plates, she went off again, this time to the refrigerator in the green room, and brought back a half-bottle of moselle; at a dollar per half bottle, it was one luxury they could go on affording.
During dinner, she said, "Who was it came to see you today? Anybody I should know about?" She knew about his other career, he'd met her in the course of a robbery four years ago, but they didn't often go into the details together.
Grofield swallowed meat loaf and said, "How do you know somebody came to see me?"
"Mrs. Brady told me." That was the tenant in the farmhouse across the road. "She said you went for a ride with him. In a Plymouth. And it was from Texas."
Grofield grinned, shaking his head. "The smaller the community, the tougher it is to have any privacy. It was Dan Leach, the fellow that won the money when I was in Las Vegas. I told you about that, remember?"
"Did he have a job for you?" She looked eager; she knew their financial condition.
"Not exactly." He told her about the afternoon and Myers, and the three old prisoners with their tunnel and their hundred thousand dollars.
"It doesn't seem right to take their money," Mary said. "I'm glad you said no."
"I know what you mean, but that wasn't why I said no."
She went on, following her own line of thought, saying, "What you do is best. Taking from banks and armored cars and places like that. That's not really
because you aren't taking from people, you're taking from institutions. Institutions don't count. They
to support us."
Grofield grinned at her. "You'll make a great defense witness."
She made a face. "Don't joke about that."
After dinner they did the dishes together, and then Grofield turned on the radio. It was tuned permanently to a background music station that played lots of Mantovani and nothing recorded later than 1955, and it was hooked in to the theater's speaker system. With the volume fairly low, the theater was filled with lush music, which seemed to drift gently down from the raftered cathedral-type ceiling like spring rain.
They sat together on the sofa, facing the empty seats out there in the darkness, and talked, mostly about the plays they might do this coming season. Later on, they made love on the sofa, and fell asleep there, wrapped around each other.
He heard a sound.
Grofield opened his eyes, seeing nothing but Mary's rumpled black hair, and for a second or two he couldn't figure out where he was – face down, entangled, warm all over except for his backside.
He lifted his head, and Mary made a small grumbling noise in her throat and moved her head slightly from left to right. He looked down at her sleeping face, listening. He looked up, looked around the dim-lit stage, the dark body of the theater.
There was someone there. He couldn't see anybody, he couldn't really even hear anything, he didn't know precisely where the someone was, but he knew he and Mary were no longer alone.
A small shiver started in the base of his spine, where his bare skin was cold anyway, and ran lightly up his backbone like mercury through a thermometer. He and Mary were in the light, however dim, both of them half naked. The intruder was in darkness.
Mary was frowning in her sleep. She moved her head again, disturbed by the tension in Grofield's body. Resting his weight on his right elbow, jammed down between her shoulder and the sofa back, he slowly moved up his left hand and cupped it over her mouth.
Her eyes opened, startled. He felt her mouth strain against his palm, wanting to yell. He stared tensely down at her, and slowly shook his head back and forth. The fright faded from her eyes, and she nodded. He released her mouth leaned on both elbows, and lowered his head beside hers to whisper in her ear, "There's someone in the theater. Out in the seats someplace."
She whispered, "What are you going to do?"
"I'm heading for the lightboard. You stay here. Don't move unless I yell at you to."
"All right. Do you think it's that man Myers?"
That hadn't occurred to Grofield. He'd thought of it as a peeping tom, maybe some local high school boy. But if Dan had taken Grofield's advice and released Myers, and if he'd done it too close to here, it was just possible that Myers would show up. Myers was very unprofessional, which meant unpredictable, there was no telling what his response might be to anything.
"Let's hope it isn't," Grofield said. "I'm going now."
Grofield tensed himself, bringing his knees up slightly underneath him to get more leverage, then abruptly pushed himself upward with hands and knees and rolled violently to the right, over the top of the sofa and onto the dusty thin carpet behind it. He landed heavily on his left side, having turned almost completely around, rolled onto his stomach, got his feet under him, and made a fast weaving dash, bent double, to the wings and the light-board, where he simultaneously pushed the stage lighting master lever all the way down and the house lights lever all the way up.
It was a quick step to the left to look out past the edge of the opened curtain at the house. The stage seemed just as bright as ever, with spill from the house lights, and poor Mary was lying there on the sofa unmoving, in the traditional pose of the naked woman trying to cover herself.
And there was no one to be seen in the house. The seats stretched back, level after level, absolutely empty. The four entrance doors at the rear were all closed.
Had he been wrong? But he had a sense for that kind of thing, he'd come by it naturally and he'd trained it in the service of his other profession. He'd heard some sort of sound, something small but real, which had awakened him and told him there was another presence somewhere nearby. Not a cat, not a squirrel, both of which made occasional visits. Something human.
There was a tool kit up on top of the lightboard. Grofield reached into it, came out with a ballpeen hammer, and turned it so the ball was the business end. He felt stupid, dressed in nothing but a polo shirt, but his trousers and shoes and everything else were over on the floor in front of the sofa. There was neither time nor opportunity to dress.
Grofield ducked out from behind the curtain, made the edge of the stage in two running steps, and jumped down. He trotted up the center aisle, going up a level at every second step, and scanned to left and right as he ran. The hammer was ready in his right hand.
And there was nobody there. He stood at the top finally, up by the doors, and looked around, and he was absolutely alone. He glanced back at Mary, who had moved nothing but her head, so she could watch him, and he was about to call to her that it was a false alarm when he heard the thud.
From where? He cocked an ear and listened, and it happened again, a dull-sounding thud, muffled, from behind him.
From the doors.
He turned around and frowned at the doors. The other side of them was a large square platform built out from the face of the barn, ten feet above the ground, to match the height of the rear rows of seats inside. Wide wooden steps led down to ground level, with wood railings up the sides of the steps and around the platform.
There was someone – or something – out on the platform. The thud came again, sounding very low on the end door to the left, and Grofield frowned again, trying to figure out what it was. It wasn't the rapping sound of knuckles, but it wasn't the scratching noise a cat or a dog makes either.
Feeling more foolish and vulnerable than ever with no clothes on – and with this hammer in his hand – Grofield went down to the last door at the other end from the noise, slowly and silently unlocked it, and abruptly pushed it open and jumped out into nighttime darkness.
There was a quarter moon, and a sky full of stars, giving just a little light. Enough to see the shape of a body lying face down on the boards of the platform over to the left. As Grofield watched, the body pushed itself slowly up on its elbows, and lunged forward, thudding its head into the door.
Grofield peered around, but saw no one else. Cautiously he approached the body, which had collapsed again after hitting the door. Was it familiar?
"Good Christ," Grofield whispered. Still staring down at Dan, he backed up to the open doorway and called, "Get your clothes on and bring me my pants. It's somebody hurt."
Mary called, "Hey!"
Grofield was on the roof in the sunlight, with shingles and nails and a hammer. He looked down. "What?"
"No, really awake this time. He wants to talk to you."
"I just get started on something-" Grofield grumbled, and shook his head. "I'll be right there. Soon as I finish this one I started."
She was keeping the sun from her eyes with one hand, and now she waved the other and moved off, disappearing from his sight when she approached the building.
It was two days since they'd brought Dan in, bleeding from four knife wounds, and put him to bed on an Army cot in the men's dressing room. Mary, afraid he'd die, had wanted to call the First Aid Squad ambulance to take him to the hospital, but Grofield had known that would be bad for everybody and had insisted they could nurse Dan themselves. Mary had gotten the first aid book from the box-office down at ground level under the rear theater seats and they'd followed its instruction. And apparently it was working out.
Grofield finished with the shingle he'd been putting in, hooked the hammer over a nail partway driven into the roof, made sure the rest of the new shingles and the bag of nails weren't going to slide off, and then made his way down the slanting roof to the ladder, and then to the ground.
Dan looked very pale, but he was awake. He said, "You got a beautiful wife."
Mary looked pleased. Grofield said, "And you've only got eight more lives."
"How'd you know where to find me?"
"You came knocking at the door. Don't you remember?"
Dan frowned. "Are you putting me on?"
"No. You came here and crawled up the steps out front and beat your head against the door till we let you in. Don't you remember any of it?"
"The last thing I remember is Myers with that knife."
"Where the hell did he get a knife?"
"From the car. It was his car, you know, he had one in a sheath under the dash. I left it there, I didn't need any knife."
There was a folding chair closed up and leaning against the wall. Grofield opened it and sat down. "Tell me what happened," he said. "From the beginning."
"I took your goddam advice," Dan said. "That's what happened."
"You let him go."
"I underestimate the bastard. I do it every time. I took him back to where I had him tell you the story, and I let him go there."
"Thanks a lot. You couldn't take him a few hundred miles first."
"I was sore," Dan said. "I just wanted to get rid of him."
"Not around me."
"You're right. I wasn't thinking. Anyway, he didn't come here."
"That's lucky for you, he might have finished the job. Will you tell me what happened?"
"I got him out of the trunk, and took off the cuffs, and he got a lucky kick in at my head. He got me down and hit me with a rock, and I was out for a few seconds or a minute or something, and when I was getting up he came back around the car with the knife and let me have it. I thought I was dead."
"And that's it?"
"Till I opened my eyes and saw your wife. It beats me how I got here."
"It beats me," Grofield said, "that you weren't seen."
Dan reached up a shaky hand and wiped his mouth. He was still very weak; the talking had worn him, and he was beginning to breathe hard. He said, "Can I stay? I know how you feel about-" He let the sentence lapse.
Grofield shook his head. "There's no choice," he said. "Naturally you'll stay."
"Only for a few days, till I get my strength back."
It would be more than that, but Grofield didn't say so. "Sure," he said, and got to his feet. "Your wallet looked pretty fat when I undressed you. I'll want you to pay your way."
"Sure," Dan said. "Take what you want."
"Just your expenses," Grofield said. "Ordinarily I wouldn't, but we're running kind of tight."
Mary said, "Do you like minestrone? Canned, I mean."
"Rest for a while," she said, "and I'll make it. Come on, Alan, let him rest."
They went out and shut the door, and Grofield said, "I'm sorry about this."
"That's all right. We'll say he's my cousin that came to visit and caught a cold on the trip and has to stay in bed for a while."
Grofield grinned at her. "Okay."